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Gelard 9 was a primitive world that existed snugly in its own time, cut off from the rest of the universe. The inhabitants of Gelard 9 only went outside in the large protective space suits of their forefathers, the original settlers of the planet. Their ways of space travel now long since forgotten, their ships used as cathedrals to pay homage to the stars from which they all knew they had come.
They believed in gods, and evils, and witches too. There was even a witch living among them out in the wild sands of the Droughtlands. They knew she was a witch because every once in a while a demoness would fall from the heavens and walk the Droughtlands to meet her. The demoness was tall, with long dark hair, and needed no suit to cross the sands as it kept itself suspended in a bright glowing magical bubble.
The kids of the outer villages were told warning parables about the demoness in the bubble, that if they wandered out after dark or were even up too late in their rooms she would snatch them up and take them with her back into the stars.
This terrified the children, many slept with their space helmets on just in case she did come and pull them from their beds.
Caligo, however, was not like the other children of his village. It wasn’t that he was a bad child, he just really loved the stars and offering a free magical trip as punishment for sneaking out to see them every night was quite honestly more than his little mind could ever hope for.
So it happened one night that as he was sitting out in his little space suit counting meteors on the hill while his mother and father slept soundly in their lead sheltering per the guidelines of the High Sect Elders, that Caligo spotted a falling star far brighter and greater than all the rest.
“The demon.” He whispered in awe. Caligo, while already aged to the looks of twelve cycles from too much time spent outside suit or not, was only just now past nine cycles and so he had not yet seen the demoness in his lifetime.
Excitement coursed through him as he ran into the desert. Very little grew on Gelard 9 as it was, all crops were harvested by the High Sect and kept in the church silo where it was prayed over for maximum distribution potential to all villagers and church keepers who were of forty cycles or younger. Resources were too scarce to be wasted on those over forty cycles as they were soon to die anyway to the Rot that took hold of most between their twenty-fifth and thirtieth cycle.
That was another reason the humans of Gelard 9 knew the woman to be a witch, not only was she have said to have lived at least eighty cycles with no signs of contracting the Rot, but nothing at all was known to grow in the Droughtlands that could sustain life. Many suspected that it was her unholy communion with this fallen celestial devil that sustained her where a natural life should have killed her.
Caligo lingered behind the rocks, now far out in the Droughtlands where he trailed the demoness. The Demoness of course was the quite human lady Nina Ajax and beneath the young Caligo’s feet were stores of green houses. The witch, a great chemical engineer and quantum physicist named Ellelia Bonton was no witch at all but rather a friend of Nina’s who had spent many cycles here studying the fascinating quantum riddles of Gelard 9.
Here sun, radiation, and unique multiple polarities found nowhere else in the universe aged this world in a way previously unseen. Bonton had spent many years studying world’s rotating pulsars that were similar in the aging but less sustaining. While forty cycles here was less than three on average human worlds beyond the Gelard System, it was still an entire lifetime here on Gelard 9. Bonton may have been on Gelard 9 for over eighty cycles but she conducted her experiments safely from a base atop one of the planets various poles in a lead valley. She then only need concern herself with basic lead maintenance including but not limited to filtering and processing all liquids thoroughly and keeping both herself and her plants out the sun of Gelard Sol 12 and its unique radiation.
Nina noted that Bonton looked barely more than a few years more than she should but she wasn’t surprised. Nina’s own people were bred over generations of space travel without solar time to age slow. Nina didn’t even bother to keep track of her own age as she hadn’t been on a planet for a full cycle since graduating the Academy. If she ever did pick a planet she would assume an age based off their aging cycle as to blend in and begin counting new cycles accordingly. Until them Nina had graduated at twenty-one cycles, the rest she left up to others to assume.
Caligo had never seen anyone so beautiful as the demoness, and was shocked to see the witch was also young and beautiful herself, not all the worn age someone of eighty cycles should be. Not that Caligo had any idea what eighty cycles should look like but he had seen forty and the blonde haired emerald eyed witch didn’t look even near that!
The demon turned, eying him in the darkness with her sharp hazel gaze and he gasped, hiding back behind the rock.
“Boo.” She whispered, laughing as he yelped and fell backwards, staring up at her with wide disbelieving eyes.
“You know.” Nina murmured, crossing her arms and smirking down on him. “I’ve flown to your planet easily thirteen times for Ellelia to fix my quantum weapons and gear and you are the first Gelardian to ever approach me in that entire time.”
She smiled with a sweetness only children ever got to see on the Demon Slayer’s face. “I’d say that makes you very brave.”
“What’s a Gelardian?” Caligo asked perplexed and Nina’s smile widened.
“And attentive.” She beamed, pausing thoughtfully. “Yes, I suppose you wouldn’t know what other humans call your planet if you’ve only ever been on your planet.”
“You and me?” Nina began, pointing at each of them in turn. “Are humans. We are the same. The way you all live here, we live, out there.”
Caligo followed her finger as she pointed to various stars in the night sky before turning back to him and smiling. “The ground you are standing on belongs to a big rock that floats in the stars. Other humans live on other rocks and things out there in the stars and the rest of us humans call your rock Gelard 9, and the people who live on Gelard 9 are thus Gelardians.”
Caligo nodded and Nina smiled, clearly pleased with the boy’s ability to process such complex things without any previous context, this caused him to blush and strive on in an effort to fully prove himself.
“So then she.” He pointed at Bonton. “Is a human too?”
“Yes.” Nina smiled. “She is my friend. I am Nina, and she is Ellelia.”
“But how come neither of you look like the rest of us Gel-Gel…” He trailed off embarrassed, trying to enunciate this new and foreign word.
“Gelardians?” Nina replied kindly. “Because we know more about such things than you do as we were taught more.”
Caligo believed it, she could see it in his eyes. It was a risky thing to say, and Nina would’ve never bothered to say it to an adult but children understood by the nature of being children that there was always more to learn. She could see it there, a hunger for it in his eyes. That same hunger for knowledge that had driven him to follow her out into the darkness. That allowed him to stand here and try and learn from her rather than running away back to the safety and familiarity of his own world.
“What is your name?” She asked softly.
“Caligo.” He replied.
“Would you like to learn what we know, Caligo?” She asked, still just as softly.
Caligo nodded and Nina straightened up, holding out a small metal band between them. “This is a watch, my friend Ellelia made it special for me as a sort of test object as it has the power to rewrite time.”
“You see time, is made up of choices.” She explained. “Cause and effect. A person chooses to follow a person into the desert or a person chooses to stay home. Your choice to follow me has already re-written your future as you now know more than anyone on your planet about the truth of us and Gelard 9.”
“The High Sect Elders don’t even know it’s called.” He replied genuinely. “They refer to it as The Destination.”
“This watch lets me undo one choice.” Nina stated gravely. “Any choice in my entire life. The results of such an act is completely unprecedented and unpredictable. Do you know why Ellelia would put me in charge of testing such a thing?”
Caligo shook his head, he was only following the bare concept of this as it was.
“Because I think before I chose.” Nina said. “Every possible outcome of that decision, so if I were to undo a decision, I would think it all the way through in ways normal humans could never even comprehend.”
“So.” Nina asked. “Are you sure you want to know what we know?”
Caligo paused, things suddenly clicking. This would change his life. No one on Gelard 9 would even believe he’d followed Nina out here tonight, let alone any of the things he had learned. He would be laughed at, or worse brought before the High Sect and questioned, possibly even punished. They weren’t very tolerant to stories they didn’t like and Caligo had a feeling they wouldn’t like this one very much.
Caligo looked up, at those shimmering balls of light shinning down on them out here in the desert, almost like they too were waiting to see what he would choose. “Will I learn about the stars?”
Nina smiled gently. “Oh yes. You will learn about the stars.”
“Then I choose to learn.” He nodded bravely. “To learn about the stars, and if it costs me my home here, then I will use what I’ve learned to go to the stars.”
Nina nodded, wincing slightly as she pressed an injector gun just under her jaw, Bonton nodded pulling out a controller and navigating the nanites into position around the necessary centers of her brain.
Nina looked down at him, tapping her temple pointedly with the gun.
“Right now I am taking knowledge from my own brain.” She tapped his temple lightly, holding his wide deep blue gaze. “And preparing to shoot it into you where Ellelia will transfer it over to your brain.”
“Will it hurt?” Caligo asked nervously, already knowing the answer.
“There will be a little pinch, then a massive explosion of pain like you’ve never known.” She groaned, pressing the gun back under her jaw and extracting the nanites. “The pain will be so great and overwhelming it should knock you out, but when you wake up…”
Nina paused, pressing the gun under the boy’s trembling jaw. “You’ll know.”
It all happened just like she said it would and when he woke up days later, somehow back home in his own bed she was already gone, only her knowledge now left behind in his throbbing head.
Caligo wasn’t concerned though, he knew how to find her, and when the time was right…
Check out these two amazing new art pieces Aidan Casserly made for Nina!