Read The Island on the Edge of Forever (The Epic of Aravinda Book 2) Online
Authors: Andrew M. Crusoe
Tags: #Science Fiction, #Adventure, #Philosophy
Andrew M. Crusoe
First published 2015
In a spirit of goodwill, this work is released under a
Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 License
, allowing up to one thousand words to be quoted. Cover has elements of image “STScI-2013-17” by NASA, ESA, CXC and the University of Potsdam, JPL-Caltech, & STScI, as well as elements designed by Shookooboo.
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Beyond the Known Cosmos, on the other side of time, a galaxy was born and blighted and bloomed, sublime. Of all the stories I could tell you, that path is the core of Aravinda’s tale, the prime.
Who is Aravinda? Many more have joined us since you were away, and not all of us know.
Truly? You must be from a remote system indeed not to know your own galaxy’s name. Aravinda means growth and unfolding. It is the core of our purpose here, and quite naturally the perfect name for our expanding, growing galaxy.
What makes the galaxy grow?
Catalysts of all kinds. Just as a catalyst acts on the individual, so it also acts on the entire galaxy. And the catalyst the Aravinda Galaxy chose was an especially dangerous and potent one, allowing a profound darkness to spring up from an ancient world, one of the five wellsprings of life.
What did it do?
This new race rapidly supplanted its natural environment, eventually distorting its talents into the ability to bend the fabric of spacetime itself to its whim. Thus was the beginning of the Vakragha race, bent on creating spacetime fissures to consume entire star systems. And over hundreds of generations, their dominion spread throughout the galaxy, growing so large that it broke up into separate factions, creating its greatest weakness.
But the catalyst was what the galaxy desired. Wasn’t there some positive result?
Yes. This new enemy pushed those bearing Love & Light to collaborate on a scale never before attempted. Their orchestrations grew to span entire star systems, and then, entire galactic arms. And thus the councils came together to form the Confederation of Unity.
Were they able to conquer the Vakragha?
After thousands of generations of war, they began to diminish, and there came a time when the Confederation believed they had finally been eradicated. They were, of course, mistaken. The Vakragha factions were masters of obscurity and hid within the vast void spaces between the galactic arms. The most cunning of these factions was led by the Darkest, one of the few left who still believed in the mythic Chintamani stones. The Darkest directed her attention toward retrieving an especially powerful Chintamani, capable of sealing up tears in spacetime. If the Darkest could retrieve it, there would be no antidote left to heal the wounds she’d cut into the fabric of space.
Which would make her unstoppable, wouldn’t it?
Indeed, and when they finally found the stone on Taarakalis, her faction was furious to find that their gravity weapons would not function near the planet. In a rage, the Darkest devised a plan to kill as many of the Taarakani as possible before being forced to retreat, unable to claim the stone. Afterward, the stone vanished.
And the war continued?
For many more generations, the war grew to once again span the galaxy. And in that time, the search for the Chintamani stones was all but forgotten, until a Confederation scout was shot down above the hatchling world of Avani. Barely surviving the impact, the captain was shocked to discover an ancient gate, capable of sending him across the galaxy, buried under the ice. And with both his comm and interstellar drive damaged, the gate was the only way for him to notify the Confederation of what had happened. Yet he quickly discovered that the gate would not respond to him.
What did he do?
He and his starship concluded that only someone native to Avani could activate the gate. And so, the captain felt it necessary to violate Confederation Code and brought a native Avanian to the gate itself. The captain logically chose the person who possessed the only physical evidence of the crash, a small fragment that had broken off from his crystalline starship. He had no idea how useful this Avanian would become, that they would become friends, or that their actions would lead to a direct assault on the Vakragha that would once again give hope to the Confederation and the free worlds. Of course, that was the story I told last time.
Which brings us to the Island of Forever, doesn’t it?
Yes, but you have jumped ahead. To tell that tale, we begin on the eve of an ancient disaster. We begin on the planet of Tavisi with a young girl, wrapped in a blanket of roiling, crimson clouds.
A HALO IN THE SKY
Asha felt a chill sweep through her body.
She was a young girl, sitting amidst a glimmering landscape of technology. All around her were flickering lights and rows of equipment scattered across the large, swooping workspaces that filled the room. And above her was a large glass dome that revealed a once clear sky, now thick with ominous clouds.
Asha winced. Her father hadn’t mentioned a storm. She looked back down to the small metallic sphere on her lap and twisted part of it. Dozens of points on its surface flared to life as it left her hands and floated up into the air.
She watched the sphere fly around in careful circles. “Do you think I have time to fix one more, Dad?”
Her father walked over and put his hand on her shoulder. In the reflection of one of the machines, Asha noticed that most of the zippered pockets on his graphite jumpsuit were strangely empty. Times really
“Absolutely, little lady,” he said. “We’re not due at the docks until half-point, so we still have time to eat, pack, and settle into our quarters. Don’t you remember?”
“Right.” Asha leapt up and walked over to a large bin filled with dozens more of the spheres.
“Heh, just look at all of this.” Yantrik wandered over to another table covered in a bizarre assortment of wires, half-built contraptions, and tiny metallic parts. “It’s too bad there wasn’t more room for the entire inventory.”
“But Dad, didn’t you say this was just your old stuff?” Asha sat back down at the workspace and ran a blue beam of light over the sphere. “I thought you said we’d be able to bring everything we truly need.”
“Don’t worry, Asha. We are. I guess your old dad has trouble letting go of memories sometimes.” Yantrik picked up three small dice with twelve sides each, rolled them onto the table, and laughed. “I guess it’s a good thing I gave these up. Still can’t roll to save my life. How’s that pod coming along, little lady?”
Back at Asha’s workspace, she had just finished replacing one of the sphere’s parts and snapped it back together again. “There you are. All fixed. You’re all healed.”
Yantrik walked back over to his daughter, brushing some of his long black hair behind his ears. “Just fixed, Asha. People we heal. Machines we fix, okay?”
They both watched as the sphere flew up into the air and began scanning the room with a sharp, magenta beam.
Asha turned to him and studied his face. “Do you ever think I could heal someday? I know there aren’t many healers left, but what if I found someone to teach me?”
Yantrik sat down next to her and looked into his daughter’s warm, brown eyes. The intensity of his gaze surprised her.
“You can be whatever you desire, Ashakirta, as long as you find the right teacher.”
“Thanks, Dad,” she said. “Except, what if I’m not good at it? What if I have no talent?”
“Asha, none of us start out with great skill. Time will bring that. It is the intention that matters. And goodness knows, this galaxy could use it.”
Asha embraced her father tightly.
Thunder rumbled above them, and Yantrik scanned the darkening sky above the glass dome.
“Something’s wrong. Climate Control forecasted clear skies.”
Just before Asha could reply, the comm around her father’s wrist whistled. He glanced down to it and darted over to one of the windows that overlooked the city. “Impossible,” he whispered. “There’s no way they could have gotten here this fast. Even with…”
Asha jumped up from her seat and ran over to the window. But before she could reach him, her father turned around and picked her up.
“What is it, Dad? Why don’t you want me to see?”
Yantrik was reading something on a silvery device around his wrist that Asha couldn’t see.
“I’m sorry, little one. We have to leave now.” A flicker of despair flashed behind his eyes, but he pushed it away. Still holding Asha in one arm, he grabbed a thin, crimson case with his other hand.
With his knuckles, he pressed some of the glowing buttons on the panel beside the door, and ran out, daughter in one hand, case in the other.
Asha held on tightly as her father ran down a twisting stone ramp that led to the lower levels of the building. Soon the light of day had left the tunnel, and only the red overhead lights remained, like tiny always-watching eyes along the ceiling. Asha shut her eyes and buried her face into her father’s shoulder. Even though she was mature for a seven-year-old, she felt like she was trapped in a nightmare she couldn’t wake up from.
She heard a hissing sound and a clunk. The air felt cooler now. A part of her wanted to know where she was, but another part wanted to stay in her father’s safe embrace. She didn’t want to think about what was coming. They had talked about it for months now, and some of her friends even seemed excited to settle on a new planet. But the full ramifications of the plan were still unthinkable to her.
She felt them accelerate and was tempted to open her eyes again, but decided against it. After a few moments, the wind kicked up and blew her long brown hair all around her. Her father was running again. She heard the sound of an airlock. Or was it an elevator? For some time, she felt a rising sensation in the pit of her stomach. She breathed deeply.
“Open your eyes,” Yantrik whispered. “We’re aboard.”
Gradually, Asha opened her eyes and an expansive room flooded her vision. They were moving upward in a transparent elevator, and far below was a huge cargo bay with many levels of platforms above it, all lit from below. In fact, there was no sunlight here at all, and she stared in disbelief as the huge room shrank in the distance below her.
The elevator stopped and slid open, revealing a crowded room filled with dozens of uniformed people darting to and fro. To the far right of the elevator exit, at the end of the room, was a wide window with a long console below it. Beyond that was a surreal sight: roiling, crimson clouds.
Yantrik ran over to a control panel on the far end, and Asha sat down next to him.
“She’s not supposed to be here!” one of the officers barked. “Someone get her out of here.”
“If she goes, I go.” Yantrik pulled out a silver medallion from one of his zippered pockets and flashed it at the man, who deflated slightly at seeing the small disc.
“Yes, sir. Just, don’t let her touch anything.”
Asha looked over to her left and noticed a row of smaller hexagonal windows spaced along the wall, just above her height.
A female voice echoed throughout the space.
“Priority alert to all stations: liftoff sequence engaged.”
Beneath her feet, she felt a rumble, and the clouds outside washed by.
She turned to her father, who was now engrossed in what he was doing at the controls, along with dozens more officers, all immersed in different tasks.
“Dad, are we really leaving for good?”
Her father remained silent, typing in commands as if his life depended on it. Ahead, Asha could see a few stars now, but part of the view was obscured, as if a perfectly black, jagged shape were obstructing her view.
She looked back to her father’s screen and watched as the tower they had just been inside and the glittering city around it shrank into the distance. She would never again see the ruddy mountain ranges, sheer cliffs, and pristine streams that she grew up with, and a deep sadness swept over her.
By now, her father had minimized the rear camera feed to a quarter of the screen. Most of the screen was taken up by navigational data and other symbols Asha didn’t understand.
Even though the camera feed was minimized, she could still see a few major features of the city. Once again, she tried to find the research tower they’d been in, and quickly spotted it, admiring its elegant dome one last time before a piercing, green beam of light shot down from the sky, slicing the tower in half. In what seemed like slow motion, one side crumbled down, exposing dozens of rooms. Words left her as she beheld thick green beams of death crisscrossing her beloved city, setting entire garden districts aflame in mere seconds.
Her father pulled himself away from the controls and took her hand. “I’m sorry, Asha. I’m sorry this had to happen.” She saw that her father was filled with despair, too.
“But why?” she managed to say through the sobs. “Why are they doing this? Don’t they realize what they’re doing? How can they be so heartless?”
Tears streamed down her face, and her father wiped some away with his sleeve. Ahead, she noticed they were approaching a colossal ring structure, hanging effortlessly in space.
“Asha, they don’t
Another announcement rang around them.
“Please be advised: gate jump imminent.”
“They don’t have
?” Asha watched as the void in space grew larger. The paths of light that were etched into the ring now glowed, appearing like a halo in the sky, and the starlight at the center of the ring twirled in a mad spin.
“Exactly, and that is why we will survive.”
And before another thought could enter her mind, the swirling maelstrom engulfed them, and all became darkness.
Asha felt a chill sweep through her once more, and her eyes flashed open.
Just ahead of her was a dying fire, and Asha shivered at the sight of the flickering embers. She pulled the blanket around her tighter and pushed herself up from the bare rock, noticing that Zahn was still asleep on a pad beside the fire. His mouth hung slightly open, and he’d kicked off half of his blanket in the night.
She wondered what time it was and glanced over to Zahn’s backpack where she’d stowed her comm for the night. Ruffling through it would probably wake Zahn up, so she let the thought go, and her gaze drifted up to the wealth of stars spread out above her. None of the constellations looked familiar, an ever-present reminder that she was on a world thousands of light-years from home.
The dream flashed back to her, and she considered how no other event had changed her life as much as that one day, long ago when she was a child. She had lost her home, and it had forever shaped the woman she had become.
But home could be rebuilt. Not always literally, but the idea of home could once again find fertile ground in her heart. And while living on the Outpost Ring didn’t stir her soul like the stunning cliffs and streams back on Tavisi, at least they had survived. That was what mattered.
Still snugly wrapped in one of Zahn’s travel blankets, Asha stood up and walked to the edge of the bare rock that formed most of the peak. Tiny pebbles littered the otherwise smooth stone, so she had to be careful not to slip on them. The wind kicked up, and she knelt down to keep her balance.
Below, she could see the mountain drop down sharply and then level off where a thick azure forest grew on a gentle slope until it became silvery beaches that met with the ocean. To her right, she could see the curved, northern coast of the island where the main city glowed with uncountable pinpricks of white light, like millions of fireflies. And to her left, she thought she could make out some lights from the other islands, although tonight was too hazy to be sure.
In the sky above, she noticed the colors begin to change and glanced back to Zahn, reflecting on their journey to the center of the galaxy that had eventually led to their battle with the Vakragha. During their adventure, anything had seemed possible. The breathtaking majesty of the galaxy had been spread out before them, she had embraced her talent as a healer, and her life had been irrevocably changed.
She admired Zahn’s feathery blonde hair, now messy in his slumber, and recalled what he had said to her.
“When the planet shattered, I woke up in timespace, and I thought I was dead. Do you know who I thought of first? I thought of you, Asha. In all of my life I’ve never met anyone like you.”
His words had touched her, and although she didn’t show it, she had felt drawn to him, too.
But then he asked her to stay on Avani, a decision that was more complex than he realized.
She and her father had a responsibility, after all. They couldn’t just up and leave the Outpost Ring. The marauder creatures would run rampant, swarming the innocent inhabitants of the ring and literally tearing their ships apart. And because her father was the only one in the ring that had enough firepower to counter the marauders, they had a responsibility to keep it safe.
Asha considered the previous night, when Zahn had brought her up here to the highest point of the archipelago. With great excitement, he’d pointed out Ashraya City and the lights from the distant islands. They got caught in each other’s gaze and grew close. He had leaned in to kiss her, but she had pulled back.
Her eyes studied the dying fire.
She wished there was a way. Her heart longed for a way to honor both sides of herself.
BZZT. BZZT. BZZT.
Asha gasped and ran over to Zahn’s backpack, frantically searching for the source of the alarm. She ruffled through it, finally finding Zahn’s wristcomm next to hers and silencing it.
She looked over to Zahn, and he let out a huge yawn.
He sat up and sniffed. “Good morning, Asha. Were you already awake?”
“Yeah,” she said, donning her wristcomm. It adjusted, retracting for a snug yet comfortable fit. “A dream woke me up.”
“Mmm…” He rubbed his eyes.
“Why did you set an alarm? You didn’t tell me.”
“I didn’t?” Zahn rubbed his eyes and looked around. “Oh, I’m sorry. My dad wants to have a big breakfast this morning. He’s still astounded at our story, so I thought we could start hiking down at sunrise. Is that okay?”
Asha squinted at him. “But didn’t your mom say she doesn’t like you coming up here? Might that have something to do with this, too?”
Zahn grumbled. “Okay, yeah. She thinks the trails are a little hazardous. But it’s nothing compared to what we’ve been through, and if we get down there before they wake up, she’ll never have to know, right?” He smirked at her.
She sighed. “Fine. I don’t want to cause trouble, but you should tell your parents where you’re going. And you should tell me when you set an alarm.”