Authors: Kevin Emerson
Before the beginning, there was an end
Three chosen to die
Three coffins on a gray beach.
To live in the service of the Qi-An
The balance of all things
Three guardians of the memory of the first people
They who thought themselves masters of all the Terra
Simple boxes built from the wreckage piles.
The boards warped but still flecked with paint.
Three coffins at the edge of a cobalt sea.
Who went too far, and were lost
To the heaving earth
To the flood.
It has taken me two days to build them. Rusty nails pulled out with my teeth, hammered in with a rock now streaked with blister blood.
I don't know why I bothered.
I could have sunk them in the waves, like Leech,
In the smoke, like Elissa,
In the silence, like Anna,
In time, like my parents,
In the ice, likeÂ .Â .Â .
Three who will wait
Until long after memory fades.
And should the time come againâ
But it won't.
This time, it is finally over.
This time, they are never coming back.
What's lost is lost.
Once, in a temple, beneath a lie, I said I wanted to be true. I wanted to see truth.
I have been true.
But still I sit here, as gentle waves lick the coffin edges.
I have not set them afloat.
Because to do that, I'd have to see.
See the truth.
Of what is inside.
And I cannot face that alone.
[GAMMA LINK CONNECTION LOADINGÂ .Â .Â . 100%â
welcome back to the Alliance Free Signalâ
âfrom the survivors in Heliad-7 of what we now believe was an EdenCorp assault. They report that the Three of Atlantean myth were actually in Desenna and were seen escaping to the south. It is believed that EdenCorp is seeking the fabled Paintbrush of the Gods for their secretive Project Elysium. There are whispers, too, that some kind of exodus is about to take place from all the Edens, that the domes are failing, and that the Eden citizens will be traveling to somewhere called EdenHome. There is still no word as to where this may be, but we've heard ominous rumblings, because of the uranium stolen from Cheyenne Depot and the rumor of the Ascending Stars, that the rest of the planet may be in terrible danger. We have tried to bring these reports to the Northern Federation, but so far, no one will listen. And so, we ask all of you out there to stay vigilant, and, if you still believe in a god, pray that the Three will succeed.]
“A JELLY BEAN CENTER!”
“UmÂ .Â .Â .”
“Inside a cheese puffÂ .Â .Â .” Lilly strained to hold the sail line as a gust smacked us sideways.
Above, the towering thunderhead loomed, blotting out the stars.
“Oh, right! And then dipped in chocolate!” I tugged my line while pressing the pedals in the floor of the craft. The swirling winds kept changing direction. I had to keep us aligned with them or we'd capsize.
“Yes! And calledÂ .Â .Â .Â ?”
“I know this! It'sÂ .Â .Â .” The craft responded slowly. The blue light of the vortex engine was dim. We'd flown almost two thousand kilometers since escaping from Desenna, over three days and nights. We needed a lightning charge to make it the rest of the way to the Andes. We had thought we'd be getting one from Heliad-7, except that Victoria had actually been planning to shoot us down all along.
“Here's a hint!” Lilly said through gritted teeth. “The song was: â
Once you get in the mix!
Rain began to pelt us, fat monsoonal drops, drumming on the sails and becoming a deluge.
“I can't think of it!” I called over the driving water. “I'm not sure I ever had one. They sound so gross!”
Above, lightning spidered across the roiling cloud bellies. We were close, now. A bolt was bound to sniff us out soon. The big danger was if three bolts, or ten, found us at the same time and blew us into a million pieces. I arced in tight figure eights, trying to keep us a moving target.
Lilly brushed strands of wet hair from her face. Her sweatshirt and tank top and jeans were soaked. “They were! But not really! You just put the whole thing in your mouth and it tasted sort of like bubble gum.”
“That's still gross!”
We'd been playing this game throughout the journey. Lilly and I knew, since Desenna, that we'd actually grown up during nearly the same years, and so we liked to quiz each other on candies and TV shows. It was all foggy from our time in cryo, but that made the game more challenging, and it gave us something to think about other than what we'd seen and where we were headed. There was only so much wondering and worrying we could do in a day. Lilly remembered more than me, probably because her memories hadn't been manipulatedâ
Elissa, Mom, cryo, Careyâ
I shook my head, keeping the surge of painful thoughts away. There was so much, back there in the dark and fire.Â .Â .Â .
Elissa: my lost sister, rising out of her cryo tube.
Francine: not my mother, actually a technician in Paul's lab, where they'd manipulated my thoughts and hidden the fact that I'd been in cryo for twenty-five years.
Carey: shot for reasons we still didn't understand, his life escaping him on the balcony of the sunken hotel, Lilly and I giving him to the waves. Carey who'd been my enemy, then maybe my friend, but definitely the only one who cared about me, about the truth, even remotely as much as Lilly.
Lilly: who was all I had left.
The grief over Elissa, over Carey, came and went like tides; same for my bitter anger at Francine and Paul, and also violent thoughts of vengeance. I didn't share those with Lilly. It all combined to spin me in hopeless circles whenever we had a quiet moment. I let my guard down, either while flying through the dark or hiding from the sun.
Thinking about candy was much easier.
“Did it have the word
in it?” I asked. “Oh, waitâ” I felt a tingling on my arms, the hairs standing on end. I locked on Lilly's sky-blue eyes. “I think we've got one!” I looked up, trying to see where the invisible column of electricity was forming. We hadn't done this before. Would I even have time to dodge the bolt if it was too big, too strongâ
But the sky exploded in white and it was on us before I could react. The bolt appeared fully formed between the mast and the clouds, a jagged wire of charge come to life. The craft vibrated and rocked. I held my breath, body clenched tight. It felt like, if I hadn't been blinded, I would have been able to see spaces between all the boards, the craft nearly bursting apart. Electricity buzzed around us, and my slow-healing rad burns tingled. The one on my scalp still ached almost all the time.
I heard the hiss of energy down the mast, then the reassuring whine of the mercury vortex. I opened my eyes to see it swirling at its brightest blue intensity, its magnetic propulsion at full effect.
“Okay!” I finally breathed. “Let's get out of here!” I repositioned my feet on the pedals, and maybe the relief of firing up the engine cleared my mind, because suddenly the name of the candy appeared. “Mixits!” I shouted, looking overâ
Lilly was gone. The sail line she'd been holding flapped in the storm. “Lilly!” I grabbed the line and plunged the craft into a dive. I scanned the mists and water sheets and clouds, but there was only dark. Seconds, that was all we'd have before she'd hit the unseen ocean below. “LILLY!”
I pushed the pedals full to the floor, the newly charged vortex a miniature blue sun. Rain stung my face. The clouds whipped around me. The wind screamed.
I broke through and there was the oil-black sea, its debris-covered surface heaving with giant waves. Where was she? Was I too late? I leaned back, straining to level off, then banked in a wide circle. Could she have survived the fall? Even if she had, the water might have knocked her out. No, no, no, I couldn't lose her, not now, not after all we'd been through, after everyone we'd lost and not just like this, so random and stupid like none of the pain and suffering and effort had meant anythingâ
A light caught my eye, growing above me, like lightning, butÂ .Â .Â .
I craned my neck and saw something illuminating the low layer of clouds, something turquoise. It brightened, and melted through.
Lilly appeared, bathed in blue light.
Not fallingÂ .Â .Â .
The sight of her nearly made me scream or cry or both. Never mind how she was doing what she was doing. She was okay. That was all that mattered. The feeling made it hard to breathe. I couldn't even imagine surviving if she'd been gone.
A gust of wind knocked me sideways. I had to pay attention to flying or I'd end up in the water. I righted and made a slow circle, watching as Lilly lowered toward me. Her whole body was aglow, and when she got close enough, I could see that she was smiling in wonder.
“Are you okay?” I asked dumbly.
“Yeah!” she called. She spread her arms and did a somersault. It reminded me of the young girl I saw inside the Medium's skull with Rana.
We could play with gravity and space same as you might play with wind and water,
Rana had said. That girl had held something this same blue color in her palms and risen off the ground.
But Lilly's whole body was radiating, like that light was from inside her.
She swooped under the craft. I banked around and she darted up alongside. “Meet you back at the beach!” she shouted, laughing, and then arced up, out of sight in the rain and clouds.
I flew in the direction of shore, wiping sideways rain from my face. For a moment, there were only curtains of water and galloping fogbanks, and I wondered if I was even flying in the right direction, but then I saw the dark outline of a small abandoned town that had been half eaten by the sea. The fronts of the buildings along the water had all collapsed, leaving their rooms open to the air. Waves crashed against the rubble piles at their bases. Grasses and palm trees grew in the streets, on second floors. Vines wrapped through windows and over cockeyed streetlights.
Lilly landed just south of town, on a high cliff with a thick canopy of trees that would protect us from the searing sun and prying eyes, while we tried to rest before another long night of flying.
I put the craft down and when I stepped out, Lilly, no longer glowing, met me with a hard embrace, the cold of our soaked clothes quickly warming between us. “Nice work,” she said in my ear, and then we kissed. My body surged, a feeling that was the closest thing to joy I think I'd ever felt, a feeling I was amazingly getting used to over our days and nights together.