The Island on the Edge of Forever
The Epic of Aravinda
by Andrew M. Crusoe
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 had changed.
“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. “Heh, 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. 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 have hearts.”
Another announcement rang around them.
“Please be advised: gate jump imminent.”
“They don’t have hearts?” 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.
This concludes the free sample.
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with a galaxy of gratitude,