The Earth-born Emissary
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I was back on the endless plain of glass, seated before the same blinding light, holding the same machine in my arms. But this time, somehow, I knew that I was dreaming. Better yet, I knew how many times I’d had this dream before; it must have been hundreds. Which meant that I could get answers.

I set down the instrument in my hands, the same instrument that I had held in the heart of the Spire, and I held my hand in front of my eyes as I turned to the light. Somehow, this time, the light looked different, like it wasn’t quite as bright. I could even make out that it wasn’t really one source of light, but two lights close together.

For what felt like millions of years, I thought about what I was going to ask. There were too many questions. In the end I settled on saying, “You told me about the Spire. You showed me what it looked like. Did you want me to use that thing?”

There was a long stretch of silence. “Little hope,” said the first light, “there are many who would wish you damaged. The hateful ones are not all that lives in the cold.”

“The Spire was our greatest weapon,” the second light added. “We entrusted it to you so that you could be strong.”

I sighed. “I guess in the end it did save a lot of innocent people. But I’m not sure anyone should have that power, least of all me.”

“If it were not you, then the hateful ones,” said the first light.

“Did you create the Spire? And the Waterspindles, and all of the other ancient technologies?”

“No,” said the first light.

“Yes,” said the second.

There was another pause. Both lights flickered and flared erratically. Then the second light said, “Our thoughts went into it. But we were not the source.”

“Then who was?”

Another pause. It was like the light was struggling to put its thoughts into words.

“Was it the Emissaries? The Pioneers? The… Dominators?”

“The Emissaries put their thoughts into it, as we did,” said the first light. “But we were one of many. Countless. The Spire was a child of many worlds, all united in one purpose as they moved the void around them.”

“So it wasn’t just one big empire, it was like the old Alliance, different species from different worlds working in unison… Then what happened? Why are you and the Emissaries still around when that old society collapsed?”

Both lights suddenly became frenetically excited, blaring out bursts of fragmentary information in a state of panic, or even frustration.

“…the gates collapsed…”

“…the void, angered…”

“…hubris without reason…”

“…the fault of the dragons…”

“…he spoke to our flaws…”

And then, in unison, as the whole plane of glass turned deep red and a pounding agony entered my skull like a steel spike, they screamed a single word in unison.

“VERMILION.”

The pain faded slowly, and with it the overpowering red color. When I could speak again, I said, “What?”

The lights didn’t respond. Or rather, though I had no idea how I could deduce this from just a blindingly bright light, they were refusing to respond, absolutely unwilling to speak of the topic any further.

“Okay, we don’t have to talk about that any longer,” I eventually said. “So from what I heard, I’m the only one who could activate the Spire. Is that because of you?”

“Your lightning had to be made compatible,” the first light said immediately.

Th second light continued, “Certain differences had to be made up for, differences between that which exists now and that which existed before. It took a lifetime.”

“So you’ve been messing with my brain in order to make me capable of using the Spire,” I said. “That’s what these dreams are for, aren’t they?”

“Correct,” said the second light.

“Why me?”

“You are the Earth-born Emissary,” the first light said.

“It took a lifetime,” the second light repeated. “And you spent a lifetime within our country.”

“Emissary minds are accustomed to others,” the first light said. “An Emissary hope could adjust without hurt.”

It made a twisted sort of sense. Except, not really, but if I thought about it really hard than it almost made sense. There was just one thing I didn’t get. “Your country? The whole point is that nobody has a claim on the Forbidden Zone.” I paused. “Unless… your country is the Forbidden Zone? Which would explain why I stopped having these dreams after I left Earth.”

“Correct,” said the second light.

“Then, how has nobody noticed you? How do they not know that you’re the cause of it?”

“Crystal creatures live in the cold and dark of the void,” the second light said. “We are fluid, bright, we live in the heat and chaos which they cannot endure.”

That one took me several seconds to get. What kind of weird life-form would consider Earth to be cold and dark, and Pioneers and humans to be crystal? I tried looking to the lights for answers, but that quickly turned into a headache. It was like staring at the sun.

Oh.

“You live in stars?”

“That is the word you use,” said the first light. “But to us, they are worlds.”

Suddenly, the light began to fade. The whole plane of glass began to slowly darken, as though black silk were being slowly lowered over my eyes. “What the—I think I’m waking up,” I said.

“You have love to attend to,” said the first light.

“May your endeavors be successful, and may you find the joy you seek,” said the first light. “You have done well for a little hope. Both of you.”

“Wait, both of us? Who’s the other—”

And then I woke up.

I had fallen asleep on the common deck of the Helium Glider, face down on the dining table, soothed into unconsciousness by the white-noise rumble of the polyfac in the corner. Blinking the sand out of my eight eyes, I briefly tried to consider what the sun-dwellers might have meant about “both of us.” Then I remembered where we were, and that concern was quickly swept aside. 

Miri and Quinn must have already finished packing, so I ran to the elevator. We had just landed in the same forest, outside of Broadleaf, that we had left months earlier. This was going to be my last chance to talk to Miri for a long, long time.

The elevator trundled to a stop and I dashed out before it was even done settling. Miri hadn’t left without me, though Quinn was nowhere to be seen. She had her hair tied back and her backpack full of supplies on her shoulders as she stared out over the trees, back-lit by warm mid-morning sun.

“Hey, sorry, I fell asleep for a bit,” I said. “Hope I didn’t make you wait too long.”

“You’re fine,” she said with a smile. 

I looked around for a moment. “Where’s Quinn?”

“Oh, he’s already headed back. Didn’t feel like waiting for you, I’m afraid. You know how he’s been.”

The scars of his ordeal in the Spire hadn’t healed, physically or mentally. He’d become a lot more quiet and subdued. Not wanting to talk had become a personality trait. We’d had another fun drug-fueled get-together the night before, with one of Xara’s new hires sitting for us, so at least I’d managed to get in something of a goodbye. It still hurt, not getting another one.

“Oh. Okay. Well, you keep an eye on him, alright? And let him know that when I come back here, I’ll definitely check in on him.”

Miri nodded. “I will.”

I decided to not let the bad things get me down. Grabbing her by the hips, I pulled her body against mine and kissed her until I could hardly breathe. When we at last separated, Miri’s eyes were alight with joy.

“I’m never going to get used to that,” she said with a chuckle. “But I guess that makes it more interesting.”

I trilled softly. “So, any idea what you’re going to do when you get home?”

“I’m not sure,” she said with a shrug. “But I’ll figure it out.”

“You missed a lot of school. Like, a lot. Are you going to be okay?”

“As though you learn all that much in the second half of senior year anyway,” Miri said, rolling her eyes. “I’m smart enough to make up for it. And I’ll make sure Quinn makes up for it too. Plus, even if we don’t… I already got my college acceptance, and they aren’t going to fail me out of classes if I claim to have been sick. We’ll be fine.”

“Oh, Quinn’s going to love that,” I said. “You, of all people, faking an illness to get out of schoolwork.”

Miri kissed me again, this time on the forehead. “It was for a good cause.”

“That’s what they all say,” I said, my mandibles nipping at her nose.

“So what are you going to do?” Miri asked. “While I’m off getting a degree like a responsible human being.”

I shrugged. “Tasha says that there’s a Pioneer polity looking for skilled engineers to help them build a set of orbital rings, because they don’t have half as much sense as they do money. Sounds like a perfect opportunity for a bunch of freelancers.”

“Who’s Tasha?”

I sighed. “You’ve been sharing a ship with her for… The Unseen that Xara hired. Our navigator.”

“Oh, her. Well, don’t get yourself hurt with your freelancing gig, or I’ll kill you.”

I tapped the Waterspindle. “I’ll be fine.”

“I just wish… I wish you didn’t have to do it without me.”

My immediate reaction was to ask her to come with me if she hated the idea of being apart so much, but I checked that initial reaction quickly. Miri had a life to get back to. But I figured I should at least bring it up, so I wouldn’t feel like I’d been dishonest.

“Well, it doesn’t have to be the case,” I said. “You could come with me, leave your life behind. I’m sure there’s a place for you on the Helium Glider.”

Miri looked up at me, and I could smell her wanting to say yes. She shook her head. “I’m sorry, but I can’t. I can’t just leave my parents behind like that, or my friends, or my dreams.”

“Of course. I’m not going to blame you for that, Miri. You have a bright future ahead of you.”

“So do you!” said Miri. Her grip on my hips tightened, even though we were already pressed together. “I’m going to miss you.”

“I’ll be back, I said. “Somehow, someday, I’m going to come back here and see you again.” With gentle pressure, I pushed her away from me, relishing the feeling of my hands on her shoulders. “But until then, this is goodbye.”

“Goodbye,” Miri said. She pulled away, walking backwards into the woods, unwilling to take her eyes off of me.

“Miri, wait! I have something for you!”

I turned, surprised to see Xara out of the ship. He had been locked away in the engineering deck, and I had assumed he was doing maintenance on the ship to prepare her for the rigors of Forbidden Zone travel.

Miri stopped. “Oh? What is it?”

He was holding them under his arm, two palm-sized ceramic disks with screens and buttons on one side. Xara held one out for me and one for Miri. “Your parents gave these Q-comms to me, to give to you two. The war has caused a shortage, so they were only able to acquire a pair which were no longer functional, but they entrusted them to me to repair. I was only able to finish the repairs a few minutes ago.”

“Q-comms?” Miri asked.

“The only known method of superluminal communication,” Xara explained. “They can transmit two-way real-time sound, or still images, instantaneously, across any distance.”

I grinned, not bothering to restrain myself, and gave Miri a look. She returned it twice as bright, a look like she was about to start physically glowing from happiness. Instead, she just pulled me in for another kiss. We kissed for a while, until urgency finally forced her to pull away.

“I need to catch up to Quinn,” she said. “Talk to you soon.”

“Talk to you soon,” I said. Miri jogged off into the woods, and I waved her off. It wasn’t until several seconds after I was absolutely certain that I couldn’t see her anymore that I turned back to Xara.

“Thank you.”

“You are welcome. It took a good deal of effort, as I am unused to the internal mechanisms of a Q-comm, but that effort was worth it.”

I gave the forest around my childhood home one last look, then turned back to the Helium Glider. “Are we ready to take off?” I asked.

“Only a couple of minutes,” Xara said.

“Let’s get ready, then.”

I dashed up the ramp into the control room. Xara and Helium threw banter back and forth, going over the final checks as the elevator retracted and Tasha and Aihv slowly made their way out of their quarters. I was the first to buckle into their acceleration couch. As much as I missed Miri, Quinn, and everything else that Earth had to offer, I wanted nothing more than to return to the stars.

Tasha got in the couch to my left, her scaled coils carefully wrapped around the padded base. Xara was on my right. He began the countdown.

“Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven.”

I shot Tasha a grin. She grinned back at me. We barely knew each other at that point, but I had the feeling that being stuck on a ship together would change that.

“Six. Five. Four.”

I turned to Xara. Grinning at me would have been unprofessional of him, so he kept his attention focused on the console before him. I’m pretty sure I caught him shooting a glance my way as well. 

“Three. Two. One.”

I shut my eyes and let myself forget about the past and the future. The past was gone, and the future was just an idea. And in a universe as big as this one, there was no use trying to predict where I might end up next.

“Liftoff.”

And there you have it. That's the end. I hope that it was a satisfying ending to this long, long, long story. Unfortunately, due to the hardships of surgical recovery, I'm going to be taking a lengthy hiatus from writing. I'll be uploading more parts of Orchemy over the coming weeks to keep interest up, but I don't know when I'll get back to writing more novels like this one. My best estimate is that I might start uploading chapters again sometime in April, but that's only a guess. If you want more up-to-date information, check my Patreon; I'll be releasing chapters there as soon as they've been written, and I'm much more likely to make update posts there than here. You can also donate to my Kofi or become a patron if you enjoy my work and want me to be able to continue doing this. See you soon with the next update.

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