Chapter Last:

So Much Better

"Good MORNING, and welcome back to the Starship Neo News Feed!" A young chromodora beamed at the screen. He was glowing to the point where he almost looked angelic. "First, let's have a moment of silence for everybody who died on this ship several months ago, including my predecessor, Eliea Telleth." He looked down and was quiet and solemn for several seconds. When he looked back up, a wide smile crossed his face. "I'm Meishen Daro, and today is 16 Ennea.

"Great news from Pukkon's capital of Klya. You heard me right, folks- we have Klya's signal!" In Meishen's defense, he was young and it was his first newscast. "The Universal Starships of Alpha, Omega, Halloyd, and Mhin landed near Orelo on the eighth and fought their way to Klya, making it there the twelfth.

"Derkaz has suffered several blows in the past week. First it lost one of its death ships, Nïazzen- though I don't think anyone minds that- then its capital was attacked. The city surrendered very shortly after their queen committed suicide." Meishen appeared to be resisting a joke. "The planet is now under the rule of the royal council.

"Eos has been freed from the TA regime by Anemos and Aietos. There was a battle that spanned over a month, but the TA forces pulled out after a bombardment on their main base. Major cities are now under reconstruction."

--

"Good morning and welcome to the Starship Neo News Feed. My name is Meishen Daro, and today is 23 Ennea.

"The invasion of Pukkon is still going strong. Even though the battle for Derkaz has been over for a while now, their grip on the planet is still tight, but it's breaking. Allied troops have spread across the planet, swearing to redeem it from the TA… one way or another." Meishen smiled devilishly.

"Surviving prisoners from Nïazzen have been identified as the ones who attacked the capital in the first place. The rebellion was led by Corporal Penne Fallie, who died in action." Meishen didn't talk for a moment out of respect. "The survivors are now at several hospitals across Derkaz being healed.

"Malitia is having problems of its own with attacks coming in from what seems like every Allied planet except Eos. Sorn has been faring the best, but is starting to slip in its defenses. Hopefully these are signs of the war coming to an end."

--

"Good morning and welcome to the Starship Neo News Feed. My name is Meishen Daro, and today is 30 Ennea, one of the best days of the whole deiced year- and I bet you know why!" He had such a huge smile that it seemed like someone should warn him his face would get stuck like that.

"Malitia has surrendered the war! All troops are being withdrawn from every other planet and its POWs are being sent home. Meijah, if I were old enough, I would drink to that." Meishen nodded. "Yes I would."

--

"Good morning and welcome to the Starship Neo News Feed. My name is Meishen Daro, and today is 7 Deka." He looked bored for once.

"Not much new in the war today. The invasion on Pukkon continues to progress and- oh, wow, I definitely did not read that- Derkaz tried to push them back! HA!" Meishen was finding this hilarious. "It ended in their own embarrassing defeat. Good job, guys. Way to be. Um…" Meishen scanned his notes, not finding them as exhilarating as the one he first announced. "Yeah, everything else pales in comparison, but I'm going to tell you anyways because that's what I get paid to do.

"The Star Forces from Sapiens and Helios have been trying to break through Sorn's defenses regularly, but with very little success. Unfortunately for Sorn, it's Sapiens and Helios." Meishen looked directly at the camera. "And they're stubborn."

--

"Good morning and welcome to the Starship Neo News Feed! My name's Meishen Daro, and today is 14 Deka, the best day, HANDS DOWN, of the whole dece-ed year." He smiled nervously. Nice catch.

"And do you know WHY it's the best day?" He paused for dramatic effect. "Becaaauuussse THE WAR IS OVER!" He threw up a fist and fell backwards in his chair. "I'm OK!"

He bounded back up. "When the Allies completely retook Pukkon a couple days ago, Derkaz must have realized that boy, they were screwed with a capital s, and they started flying that beautiful, beautiful white flag." Meishen was glowing even more than he was on his first day. "Then Helios broke through Sorn, but… that one is sad."

He sighed, looking down. "Breaking the treaty established by the first Interplanetary War, they dropped several nuclear bombs through Sorn's defenses and all over the planet. The cost of life was horrendous with over ten million dead."

"Um…" He cleared his throat. "Memorials are under construction on several planets now. It is unsure when they will be completed." He smiled. "In happier news, former prisoners are now beginning their journey home…"

--

He thought that he never fully appreciated what coming home meant. It was his consistency, the one thing he could count on his entire life. Now it was a miracle the whole village was standing, let alone his home.

Sim let out a sigh and slowly walked up to the door, praying that someone would be there. He hesitantly turned the doorknob and found that it was unlocked. Surely someone had to be here. The door clicked open and he entered, calling, "Hello? Mom? Dad? Saie?" He waited for a few moments before walking farther into the kitchen. It was pristine except for the sink where a pile of dishes was waiting to be washed- another sign that someone was here. "Hellooo...!" There was still no answer.

At least for a moment or so.

"SIM!" Saie tackled Sim from behind, squeezing him so tightly that he was turning dark blue from lack of oxygen, and her wavering voice gave away the fact that she was crying. "You're alive, you're OK, you're... you don't have a tail." She released her older brother and frowned, wiping at her eyes. "Sim, what happened to you?" She spun him around and saw the scars on his face and arms and the missing piece of ear. "Meijah," she murmured. Her vision started blurring.

Sim scratched the back of his head and smiled sheepishly. "I, um, got into some trouble," he explained, not wanting to elaborate, and so quickly changed the subject. "Where're Mom and Dad?"

Saie shrugged. "They went out for lunch," she answered and grinned. "Boy is Mom gonna flip when she sees you- you're alive and you got scars all over. Meijah, Sim... you look awful." She couldn't seem to stand it anymore. "I'm just so glad you're alive!" she cried, embracing him and crying again.

A little more prepared to be attacked, Sim returned the embrace. "The same for you," he said shakily as his vision blurred. "Ceddit, Saie, now you're makin' me cry." He sniffed and buried his head in Saie's light purple hair. "You shoulda seen me and Tig and Tal the day we lost you. We were a real mess.... I'm so sorry." He choked a little.

"No, no, no," replied Saie, now crying harder. "It wasn't your fault. And besides..." She laughed in spite of her tears. "You shoulda seen what was happening underground... we turned this place into a shelter and heard all kinds of stories. Some people kept secret radios and told the rest of us what was going on. We had a double agent stay for a night. He didn't say he was a double agent, but I really think he was. People were doing things behind the government's back." She said "government's" like it was poison. "There was so much going on and it was all kept secret..."

Sim patted Saie's back and they let each other go. "I'm really proud of you. You know that, right?" He wiped at his eyes and smiled when Saie nodded.

"Me too," she replied. She glanced out the window. "Tig and Tal and some other girl made it home yesterday morning." She smiled, knowing how excited her brother would be excited to hear that.

Indeed, he was very excited. He clapped his hands together and bit his lip as he looked out the window. "Um... oh God, I haven't seen them in months," he said breathily. He smiled at Saie. "I'll be back. And if Mom and Dad come home before I do- don't tell them I'm back, OK? I wanna surprise them."

Saie laughed. "Can do, Sim." It felt so wonderful to say his name again.

--

"Give me back my spoon, woman!"

"Hahaha, NEVER!" Tal dangled Tig's spoon high above his head while Sen laughed at the scene. She had spent the night at the Qyan's simply because she and Tig had decided to meet each others' families and T'ya just happened to be closer (Sen lived in the north).

"Tal, give your brother his spoon back," called Mrs. Qyan from the living room.

Tal laughed once more before dropping the spoon on the floor. Tig looked from the spoon to his sister and then to Sen. "You see what she does to me?"

Sen feigned a pitying look. "Aww, poor kid," she said patronizingly. She stood up and kissed him briefly before leaning down to pick up the spoon, taking her sweet time since she was wearing a rather low-cut tank top (she liked making her boyfriend squirm) and smirked when she saw Tig staring. She quickly stood up and punched him lightly. "Perv."

Tig closed his eyes. "Why do all the women in my life insist on torturing me," he whispered to himself. He opened his eyes again to glare at Tal when she took a turn at punching him. "That was uncalled for!" he protested.

Tal shook her head, pointing at the glass door where she saw Sim approaching. "He's home!" she practically shouted. She pushed Tig aside before he could react, rushed to the door, flung it open, and hugged him so violently that they actually fell with Tal lying on top of Sim. "I missed you so much," she said. You shouldn't be surprised that she had burst into tears the moment she made contact with him. She blushed and moved off of him so she was sitting beside him.

She wasn't the only one who was blushing (some things just don't change). Sim inched closer to her and put his hand on hers. "I missed you more than you could imagine..." He wiped at his eyes. He met Tal's eyes and saw that she really could not stop crying. "Are you OK?"

Tal nodded. "It's just..." She pressed her arm against her eyes. "Hearing your voice again... it's hard to describe." She sniffed. "It's like slipping into a warm bath after walking through the cold." She smiled wryly. "I almost died, y'know." Upon seeing Sim's stunned expression, she looked away and explained, "I was so ready to give up. I might've. Tig wouldn't let me, though. He kept me alive... you kept me alive."

Sim looked at her curiously and moved his hand to her shoulder. "You're not alone," he said quietly. "Sometimes I wished they would just kill me already. Then I remembered I had someone worth living for." He swallowed hard. "Tig... Kaye... Zephyr... Kit... and you." He said those last two words very gently (he didn't notice how Tal bit her lip when he mentioned Kaye and Zephyr). "As long as I had you, I didn't intend to die."

"Don't…" Tal pressed her arm against her eyes again. "I was horrible to you and there hasn't been a day when I didn't regret it." She let out a short breath of air. "I was so… scared that I ruined everything, and that would've literally killed me…" She sniffed. Now was the time. "I have to tell you something."

He looked worried. "Tal?"

She sat up, took a deep breath, and began, "I think… I think I… love you… but this thing I feel can't be love because it hurts too much." She sniffed, trying to avoid eye contact with Sim. "Love is supposed to be… warm and soft and gentle but this…" She shook her head, still not looking him in the eye. "This is like fire; it burns when you're gone and it burns when you're close. I can't sleep without wanting you next to me, I can't eat without wishing you were in front of me, so I'm asking- no, begging you, stay with me." She closed her eyes tightly, trying to stop crying. "I need you," she finished quietly.

Sim was floored at first and stared at Tal. This was it. He couldn't blow it now. "Tal?" When she wouldn't look at him, he moved his hand of her shoulder and touched her cheek to turn it towards him. Her eyes were wide, bloodshot, and watery. "I gotta tell you something I should've told you a long time ago…"

"What?" she asked nervously, knowing that this was the moment she'd been waiting for since she was thirteen.

Sim looked at the ground, trying to figure out the right way to say this. After a moment or so, he said, "I think… I think if I ever met someone as amazing as you…" His heart started racing and that queasy feeling in his stomach returned. "I think I would look into her eyes…" His eyes locked on hers. "And whisper, 'I… love… you.'"

Tal stared at him for several moments before whispering back, "Sim." Her heart was hammering as they stared into each other's eyes for several moments before the remaining gap between them closed and their lips slid in between each other, but that was it: a pure, simple kiss.

And of course such a sweet moment was destined to be ruined.

"Um, you are aware that you're still on the ground, right?" Tig would have been smirking if this wasn't the first time he had seen his best friend in four months. He held out his hand and helped Sim up, then Sim helped Tal up. Tig commented, "So you decided to do that whole save-my-kid-sister thing."

Sim nodded. "And save-the-girl-I-love thing," he added. "Either way."

"Either way," echoed Tig.

The two stood there until Tal groaned, "Would you two just hug it out! Meijah, it's been months!" She pushed Sim into her brother, which alarmed both of them. Tal looked at them like a mother would look at misbehaving children until Tig held out his hand. Sim took it, and the handshake rapidly evolved into a hug.

"Whoa, Tig, is there something you're not telling me?"

Tal laughed at the horrified looks on Tig and Sim's faces. "Yes, Sen," she said. "This is our best friend. Sim." She looked at him affectionately, linked arms with him, and slipped her hand in his. That felt wonderful.

"Tig?" Sim looked at Tig questioningly.

"Ah, yes. Sim, this is my girlfriend, Sen…" Tig realized that after all this time, he had no idea what Sen's last name was. "She used to be my mortal enemy."

Sim remembered the term. "Oh." He asked Sen, "So how's that work?"

Tal interrupted, "Sim, it's Tig. That's how it works."

"Fair enough... uh-oh." Sim's eyes lit up when he saw two other people all his life staring at him like he was a ghost. He let go of Tal's hand and turned to face them. She was important, but so were they. They were the ones who had always supported him and encouraged him his whole life. They hadn't seen him in ages now, and the looks on their faces said that they needed the reunion more than anything in the universe at that moment. "Parents."

--

29 Deka 4550.

It was strange being here again, to be honest. She had gotten so used to people dropping dead all around her and things exploding that a bit of normal life was more foreign than the war now. But it was also like she had never left, walking down these dusty streets. Nobody really seemed to notice her, just like it had been before she left. She didn't mind at all.

"Kit? Kit Maleijh?"

Of course.

Maybe if she kept walking then he would think he'd made a mistake. Then again, he had known her so long that he probably expected this of her. Still, she didn't want to meet him face-to-face again. She could barely stand him, especially since he decided he was in love with her when they were both seventeen. She'd tried to knock the idea out of him several times (literally), but nothing she did seemed to work. She thought that he would give up when she joined the army. Obviously no such luck.

"Kit!"

She heard him running behind her and froze when she felt his hand on her shoulder. "Why aren't you dead," she said coldly. She knew he wouldn't care how brutal she was to him. He never did.

She could hear the satisfaction in his voice. "I knew it was you. Only one girl would ignore me with that kind of determination." He spun her around and Kit glared at him hatefully. He hadn't changed at all since she left. He was still the presumptuous asciasin that he was when they were eighteen; it was obvious with that satisfied gleam in his dark yellow eyes. "There we go. Now the universe makes sense again."

Kit wasn't sure if he was trying to charm her or if he was just being pathetic- or both. "You're an idiot, Shea Dajïin. You know that, right?" she said waspishly.

Shea grinned like the kind of person Kit accused him of being. "I missed you too," he said. He made the mistake of pulling her into a close hug and instantly felt a swift kick to his more sensitive area. "Yep," he said in a higher pitch, slowly backing away. "Universe makes sense again."

Kit rolled her eyes and kept walking.

"Can I get you a drink? On me."

Kit stopped dead in her tracks.

--

"Another cold one over here please and thank you!" Shea grinned as the bartender slid over a tall dark bottle and he popped the cap off for Kit. "There you go."

"You're no frigga gentleman," said Kit, her words slurring into each other. "I drank too much. You take it." She pushed the bottle away.

Shea shook his head. "I have to drive you home, sweetheart." He pressed the drink into Kit's unwilling hands and went so far as to tip it into her mouth, even though quite a bit spilled down her face.

Kit pushed the drink away and glared. "I don't want any more deicem drinks," she said waspishly, but she took another swallow anyways. She set down the bottle and was quiet for a long time. "I wanna go home," she mumbled, but she sounded ready to start crying.

Shea clasped her hand. "You are home," he said, trying to sound comforting.

Kit slowly shook her head. "No- with Kaye. An' Zephyr." She swallowed hard. "I saw them die. I saw them frigga die." She laughed deliriously. "Kaye got stabbed, blood was everywhere, that was- that was when Firebird crashed. She said." She stopped there, staring at the bottle. "Zephyr just died. He gave up on us."

Shea, by now, had realized that Kit was seriously cracking and was hastily paying the bartender so he could get her out of there. This wasn't exactly the conversation he thought he would be having with her tonight, but he couldn't say he was totally surprised. This woman had seen so much in such a short time. "Kit, come on," he said, taking her hand and helping her off the seat.

He waited as she put on her jacket, fumbling with the small buttons. "Stupid buttons," she muttered angrily. She swatted at Shea when he tried to help. "I can do it myself, frimmar." Eventually she did get those buttons buttoned.

It wasn't a far drive from the bar to Kit's small home. When they got there, Shea was quick to open the passenger door for Kit and even though she didn't thank him, he still said, "You're welcome." Kit was too busy focusing on walking up to the door to pay attention to him. When she got there, she dug through her purse in search of the key. Shea was standing relatively close to her, making sure that she was able to get inside.

She kept muttering incoherently under her breath, but finally pulled out a little silver key. "Aha!" She stuck it in the lock and the door clicked open. She noticed that Shea was still there. "Why're you still here?" she asked wearily.

"Because I want to make sure you're OK," he said. He was being honest.

Kit stepped back outside. "Why didn't you ever give up?" she asked. "Why couldn't you ever take the hint that I hated you?"

Shea shrugged. "I dunno." He looked away. "Maybe because I'm in love with you." He didn't expect Kit to react to this, but he was very wrong.

Kit walked up to him, examining him closely. Then out of the blue, she grabbed the collar to his jacket, pulled him down, and kissed him flat on the mouth. He returned it enthusiastically, picking her up and holding her against him. She stopped to catch her breath and Shea put her down. They were both breathing heavily. Then Shea whispered two words: "Marry me."

--

Kit woke up in an unfamiliar bedroom to find a brand new piece of jewelry on her finger.

"SHEA DAJÏIN!" She stormed into the kitchen where Shea was eating a breakfast of toast and coffee. She was so mad that her skin was growing dark and she felt like she could strangle him. Yes, that was a definite possibility.

Shea beamed and held up his coffee as a salutation. "Good morning, Kit. You want some coffee?" He only said this to avoid what he knew was coming, even if it would only make her angrier. This was one of the cons of falling in love with Kit.

Kit snarled, "Don't 'good morning, Kit' me!" She pushed him out of his seat and screamed at the top of her lungs, "YOU KIDNAPPED ME AND MARRIED ME!"

Shea smiled broadly and nodded. "That I did. Now you're stuck with me forever." He stood up only to be pushed back down again.

"I'M GONNA KILL YOU!"

Kit's anger didn't shake Shea at all. He just kept smiling as he said, "No you won't. You like me." The smile turned suggestive. "You really like me." He stood up again, but he found himself on the floor just as quickly, but this time it was because Kit had punched him in the nose. He touched it gingerly and cringed. "I 'dink you broke it..."

Kit was starting to cry now. "I can't believe you took advantage of me like that! And after everything I've been through? How am I supposed to deal with this? I didn't WANT to get married, and you…"

She fell into a chair, glaring at that sapphire ring. She loved sapphires. How did he remember that? "I hate you," she whispered, wiping at her eyes. "I just came home. I wanted to see my family. Then you had to go and get me drunk."

Shea remained on the floor this whole time, his nose bleeding freely. "I'b sorry."

Kit sniffed. "I want a divorce," she demanded, trying to keep her voice even. "We'll go down to the courtroom and-"

Shea sighed and shook his head. "No," he said simply. He looked up at Kit, who looked outraged at his refusal. "I'b in lub wib you. I won' leb go." He paused and wiped at his nose. "Gib me a chance, Kib."

Kit searched his eyes. This boy was infuriating, but there was that look, the same one she had seen Zephyr give Kaye….

--

10 Martius 4551

It was raining the day they opened the memorial, which was appropriate. It was a late autumn rain that made you feel nostalgic, and this event certainly was nostalgic for the thousands that showed. They had all experienced it firsthand and could truly appreciate what had happened so many months ago. They needed no speaker, even though all the leaders of all the Allied planets had come and could easily deliver a speech. The memorial spoke for itself.

Sim and Tal entered through the tall gates hand in hand. The place was silent, but Tal could still hear the screams of battle. She could still see all those people dying around her. Now she wondered what their story was. What brought them into the military? Did they know what they were signing up for? She knew if someone told her when she turned fifteen that within months, there would be a massive war worse than the Interplanetary War that she would fight in, she would have called that person crazy. Now she never wanted to set foot inside a starship again.

Sim could see it sometimes. Things would get quiet and he would see that hopeless, haunted look in her eyes; that look that made him wish he could just wipe everything away. He knew she would never truly be perfectly fine, but neither would he. They had all seen too much. Tal was driven over the edge several times, and he... well, he didn't like thinking about it. He thought about the here and now, at least most of the time. He kept a picture Tig took of the day Sim got on board, and also a copy of the one from the day Tal came. They had done a lot of aging in a very short period of time, he thought.

He saw how Tal's eyes were starting to water. He squeezed her hand and met her eyes. It's OK now. They didn't die for nothing. You know that.

Tal nodded briefly. I know. She was distracted when she saw Tig and Sen come in. She looked over in their direction and Sim followed her gaze. Tig and Sen weren't holding hands, but they were walking very closely to each other. They were silent as they walked up to Sim and Tal and met them with solemn faces.

Sen looked into Tal's eyes, asking, Have you seen Kit yet?

Tal shook her head in response. She turned back to face the rows of little monuments, each one celebrating a life of honor. Standing before them was a massive alabaster wall that spread out as far as they could see. She looked up at Sim, pulling his hand and making a little motion towards the wall. Sim nodded and made the same motion to Tig and Sen. The four slowly walked up to it, taking in all the names.

This wasn't just a wall of the soldiers involved in the invasion. This wall commemorated all of those who fought in the war. Duplicates of the wall had been set up on every planet, even on Amra near the little garden of snowdrops that had miraculously started growing. They saw their names and smiled faintly, but those weren't what they were looking for. They kept walking along, searching up and down, until Tig came to a halt. He put his finger tenderly on two names.

Kaye Tyem Pylia.

Zephyr Pylia.

Tig, Tal, and Sim exchanged a significant look. Sen backed away, believing that this was something she wasn't part of. The other three stared at the names, even when their vision became watery from the tears that were slowly tracking down their faces. They heard someone make a choking sound behind them and turned around to see Kit. She didn't acknowledge any of them; she just walked right up to the wall and stared up at the names. They weren't surprised when they saw that she was starting to cry, but they weren't sure what to do. Kit was a generally mean person who took pride in her personal strength. They realized that all that had changed when a xanthomorphe came up next to Kit and wrapped his arms around her shoulders, which is when they noticed the twin golden bands on their fingers. She cried silently in his arms and kept shaking her head.

The four stepped away from the wall, getting the feeling that they should let Kit and her friend alone for the time being. They walked to the edge of the rows of glass spheres, taking a deep breath. They knew some of these people quite well and now they were gone.

Maybe not forever.

That was the wonderful thing about the spheres. They were life. Somewhere it had a beginning, but no one could tell where it was now that it was perfectly round and clear. Somewhere was an ending, but you couldn't tell where. It was like it was going round and round forever.

But they weren't thinking about that as they walked through the rows. They saw more than names here.

There was one for a xenopux, a twenty-year-old boy who grew up in Lisujobé. He wanted to be a doctor because he'd had enough with hurting people. His name was Kui.

There was another for a monavis, a lady who was "old enough to know better but young enough to do it anyways." She lived on a moon and wanted to be- was- an astronomer. Her name was Crey.

Here was a special one for someone who was never supposed to die like this. He held to the belief that violence, no matter how justified, always made things worse. He was a starship navigator, a chromodora, a boy named Lamae.

Tal had to close her eyes for a moment at one sphere. Loru. He may have only been her friend for a month or so, but that's all you need to get attached to someone. She swallowed hard when she opened her eyes again. She smiled weakly at Sim, who showed signs of worry. He was my friend. You would have liked him.

They walked for hours, taking in every name. These people were amazing, Tig thought. They never gave up… we never gave up. He looked at Sen, who was staring fixedly at a sphere for an unknown soldier: Anosco-a-vir, at nosco-a-Dei. He looked at Tal and Sim, both reading another marker. He looked around the field at everybody there, all those who survived.

Maybe these were the things that kept them going. They needed to survive for more than themselves. They had to keep going for the things that mattered. Their family. Their friends. The ones they walked by on the streets every day and never really noticed. They needed to keep going for them. They didn't know if the people they were fighting for were even alive, but they could always hope.

Even when it got dark.

Even when it got hard.

Even when they were ready to give up entirely.

But this ending, no, this beginning was something worth living for, even if it didn't happen as quickly as they'd like- since when did anything worth living for happen quickly?

They always had hope.

--

They sailed. They sailed. Then spoke the Mate:

"This mad sea shows its teeth tonight.

He curls his lip, he lies in wait

With lifted teeth, as if to bite!

Brave Admiral, say but one good word:

What shall we do when hope is gone?"

The words leapt like a leaping sword:

"Sail on! sail on! sail on! and on!"

-Joaquin Miller


It's done. I'll probably be freaking out tomorrow after it sinks in.

Thanks to everybody's who's been reading and to the wonderful reviewers: CaveDwellers, lovefantasyworkreality, Lord Immortalus, ForgottenTales, and Mreeb!

It's an all-you-can-eat buffet day. :)

Chat later.

-Qzie