Chapter 36: Steel and Void — Part 8

Shadow stroked the tremollie absently for another two or three minutes until it grew bored with her attentions and walked slowly into the forest to join its own kind. The Chran were due to arrive soon, having stayed hidden on the opposite side of the moon until the Coalition had gone back home. She had decided that the best thing would be to expose the entire Chran populace to the symbiont so they could shed the mechanical pieces that had at one time been replacements for parts lost to the ravages of their original home world. The symbiont would do more than give the Chran a chance to crawl out of their mechanical shells: They could then stop living in constant pain.

Shadow and Xeti felt the heat of a humid sunset on their necks, and once darkness settled, headed back into the forest to build their new home. When their children were old enough to mate, Shadow would let others in the Coalition know that as leader of Earth, she would allow other families to return to Earth’s surface and become part of her tribe. By then the Chran would be well established on Earth and at peace with its forests. By that time nobody would argue that Earth was firmly under Shadow’s reign. Somehow, Shadow knew that none in the coalition questioned it, even now, but to make the statement a formal transmission also somehow made it permanent. First, however, she had to heal her world, and the people chosen to care for it.

Shadow came across Roxy and Didi, who were napping together at the edge of the forest interior.

Roxy, the shortest among them, crooked her head up so she could see Didi’s face, and smiled slightly. “I heard the ships leave. Earth is ours, isn’t it?” Roxy stifled a yawn as she waited for a reply.

“Yes dear, Earth is ours. I think we both need sleep.” Didi pulled Roxy down next to her, holding her close and drifting back into a catnap.

As Shadow and Xeti determined the best position for their new home, both of them guarded their crew. The others slept soundly, Didi and Roxy, David and Ferret all sharing one magnificent dream. Didi dreamed of Earth as it would be a thousand years from now. She smiled in her sleep, for in her dream it was a paradise that her children and her children’s children would enjoy. Everybody who shared her dreams with her smiled as well. Shadow and Xeti didn’t smile, though they held each other close. They could see the next thousand years, and knew that only vigilance would make their children’s dreams come true.

* * *

Susan walked with Devon, not happy with having their lovemaking interfered with by political matters. A package had just arrived from deep space. A cryogenic cylinder made just big enough for a child, had landed a mere hundred feet from her house. A boy could be seen clearly through its glass cover. Susan was certain the point of impact had been quite intentional. Had it been a bomb, it wouldn’t have made it to the planet’s surface, but the Antansi, sensing no threat had taken time to inform Susan of its arrival. Sebastian and Tonya stared inside, blocking everybody else’s view. Susan urged them away with loving swats on their heads and shoulders. They were practically adults, but still children in many respects, despite the fact that both of them would soon have children of their own. She looked inside, and Tonya and Sebastian crowded her on either side, curious. Devon looked inside as well. The boy inside was beautiful, and he came with a message. Susan waited impatiently for the message to play itself.

Riley’s face, now much younger looking, now much more confident, emitted from the flat screen. “I’ve sent this child to your world as an ambassador of peace. In time, when he is ready, this baby will return to Twilight to represent The Coalition in political negotiations.” The message ended abruptly, but since there was no sign of damage, Susan knew it was complete.

“Baby in a basket? What nonsense.” Devon said, letting out a small sigh. “She doesn’t really think we’ll let her take the child back, does she? She didn’t even give the poor boy a name.”

“She named him Kevin. She simply didn’t value the boy as somebody worth mentioning by name.” Susan sighed.

Tonya let out a stifled sigh. “I think I want to be in love with him.”

Susan’s eyes lingered on her daughter, as if seeing her for the first time. Tonya had fallen in love with the pale skinned little creature sleeping so soundly in the freezing liquid, and it made no sense, but such flighty thoughts were common to the girl. “If he’ll have you, when you’re both of proper age, we’ll discuss it. Until then you are to go and stay with another family. I’ve a new child to care for, and you can always come visit, but not for long. Not if you love him. Go now. Sebastian love, please see her to Vertigo’s family home.” Susan would say nothing more to her daughter on the subject.

Tonya, who was very astute, understood the power of pheromones, and the need for the boy to grow up without hers around him. Sebastian, not understanding, but knowing that Susan had her reasons for dispatching her only daughter into the care of Vertigo’s family, led her sister from the cylinder, leaving her with Vertigo’s mum, before returning to be with his wife and her family. Susan clicked her tongue, wondering about the boy.

“I won’t have Emperor Riley reclaiming what is no longer hers. When he is old enough, he may choose to return, but I will not force him.” Susan said, activating the trigger. When Kevin’s youthful lungs filled with Antans’s air, Susan confirmed her decision. “Kevin is ours. We’ll not send him back for negotiations. We will send a true ambassador in his place.”

“Is that the right thing to do?” Devon asked.

“Yes it is.” Susan said.

Kevin’s eyes fluttered open, and Susan took him to her chest. He never said a word; the sickness hit him and flung him into a coma. Within a week he would be one of the Antansi, and within twenty years he might mature into adulthood. Susan and Devon watched over him as if he was their own child. Kevin grew into something beautiful, and grew into love with Tonya just as Tonya loved him. One night, when Kevin was nearly a man, Susan and Devon took him above the clouds and showed him the stars for the first time since his arrival on Antans. Seeing the wonder in his eyes, Susan felt suddenly old, and terribly nostalgic. Devon held her tightly, hugging her close as if he had been with her since birth. He let her cry, wishing he could cry with her. He had never seen the stars while living on Earth, as he had never been granted access beyond the buildings in which he lived. He did not have her hundreds of years of memory from which to call up tears. Kevin, still lost in the beauty of the stars, squeezed her hand, and put his head on her shoulder, the smile never leaving his face.

3 Comments

  1. Comment by Theron:

    For those of you who have read to this point, well, this is the finish line: The conclusion of Shadow and Mist. If you liked what you read, and think others will enjoy it, please do feel free to share the experience:

    http://wp.me/plSFM-9

  2. Comment by Theron:

    Oh! And do let me know what you think!

  3. Comment by Antonious:

    One. Word. Wow.

    I am filled with the same longing for continuation balanced by the sense of fulfillment and completion that I had when I read the book that followed many of key characters of the LOTR novels as they returned to their homelands after the fall of Sauron and Mordor. I wanted the stories to go on, yet I knew for them, the greatest of tales was over and while future tales would be interesting, they could not be anything but less than the great tale.

    Shadow and Mist is the same. Future tales of Shadow, Susan, Riley, the Empire and the Coalition would be interesting but it is doubtful they can be anything but less than the grand tale that has concluded.

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