The sound of footsteps in the hallway forced the prince to temporarily stop the recording. Just in case. He doubted anyone would be able to get into the room, but if the wrong person discovered that he had been in here, they would tell his father. He didn’t want that to happen.
He quickly checked the time and discovered that he had been in here for three hours. He should have been at his final military strategy exam twenty minutes ago. He shrugged it off. He hated being late, but he never needed the whole time for those tests anyway.
He snatched the small message capsule up from the still-dusty bed and carefully tucked it into an invisible pocket where it would be safe from discovery.
His booted feet made no sound as he carefully stepped over to the door to listen. Whoever had been out there before was gone now. Probably just one of the security guards sentenced to patrol the boring end of the palace.
He pushed the button that would open the locked door and was through it before it was halfway open. It took another half a second to close and seal the door again.
He discovered that he didn’t need to sneak back out of the deserted wing. No one was even out looking for him.
Since there was no point in sneaking back to his exam, he walked all the way back in solitary silence.
At the sound of the door hissing open, Admiral Raymond Talan looked up to see his missing student stepping through the door. One look at the young man’s face told him not to push the issue.
Raymond’s son Masterson, though in the middle of concentrating on the exam, also looked up when he heard Desslok enter. The prince nodded at the admiral, and avoided Masterson’s questioning face altogether before sitting down to take the test.
After glancing through the questions, Desslok thought back to a conversation between Admiral Talan and Deun, his father, a conversation he was not supposed to have overheard. The memory echoed in his mind.
“Leader Deun, he is still your son, even if he is not your firstborn.” Raymond tried to reason with his ruler. To no avail.
“I have only one child, Talan.” Deun replied.
Raymond’s face clouded for a moment before he spoke.
“Forgive me Sire, but you remember what happened fifteen years ago. You cannot have forgotten about your -“
“I told you never to speak of that again!” Deun turned an enraged face toward his trusted aide-de-camp.
Raymond bowed his head in acquiescence before replying, “As I have already said Sire, he is still your son. Nothing can change that: not time, or death, not even you, my friend.”
There was silence for a time as Deun’s anger rolled off of him in menacing waves.
Raymond tried one more time. “Your youngest child needs you. His childhood is almost over and he needs someone to teach him what it means to be a man – to be responsible for more than himself, to use what he knows to make someone else’s life easier, to change his homeworld for the better, to – “
“Then you teach him, Talan!” Deun turned and yelled in Raymond’s unflinching face then whispered, “I have only one child, and it is not that twice-marked urchin who just happens to bear my father’s name.”
Raymond stared at his friend and said, “She would never have wanted this...”
Deun quickly turned away and ran one hand through his dark brown hair, then briefly stroked his short beard. “That is none of your concern, Admiral Talan.”
The bite in Deun’s words left Raymond’s good heart stinging.
Without looking back, Leader Deun I walked away.
From that day onward, Desslok’s father had neither spoken to nor intentionally been in the same room with him.
The prince shook the memory away like dirty pond water before switching his concentration back to moving the holographic test pieces to their appropriate locations before assailing his unfortunate virtual opponent with all the anger that he had harbored since the day he had overheard his father and new schoolmaster’s confrontation.
An hour and a half later, both of Admiral Talan’s students left the exam room victorious over their manufactured foes. Raymond watched as his son and the prince headed back towards their respective living spaces.
Desslok and Masterson walked in silence. Masterson knew better than to intrude on his troubled friend’s thoughts. Ever since the two teenagers had first met, those seven long years ago at the age of eight they had been friends. A lot of water had gone under the bridge of their friendship since then. Desslok’s mother’s death – her murder – the funeral, the rejection, the loneliness… Masterson had spent many a long afternoon sitting out on his family’s terrace with the prince and listening as Desslok poured out his soul to the only person he thought he could trust.
A lot of words passed between the two that they had both agreed would never reach anyone else’s ears. The prince had been brutally honest about what he thought of his father. Some of what he had said could even be construed as treason, but to Masterson, the venting of a hurting heart could not be so easily labeled. He took everything he heard with a grain of salt, sometimes a whole handful of it.
Masterson had told Desslok over and over that there was only one way to fill the cracks in his heart.
Expressing his faith around the prince sometimes got him an angry look, the occasional cold stare and once a very fiery, “I don’t want to hear it!” But ever the persistent one, Masterson had never given up. And he never would.
Desslok let the sound of his and Masterson’s footsteps echo through his head as something his father had said to Admiral Talan during that fateful conversation struck him as it never had before. Perhaps because before today he had never known what his mother had revealed to him about her family’s past.
He really was a twice-marked child. He ran his half-white left hand through his red-orange hair and shook his head, letting his hair fall back across his forehead. He did not understand the full implications of either mark yet, but he had a feeling that once he got another chance to sit down and continue his mother’s explanation, he would understand at least one of them in due time. For now, he needed to think about something else, and he turned his mind to the Talan family.
Masterson and his parents had become something of a surrogate family for him over these past three years, ever since the Admiral and his father had had their “discussion” about him.
Even though Desslok had known about Masterson’s father and the reputation that preceded him, the prince had been a little surprised to learn that everything he had heard the rank and file soldiers say about the Admiral was true. Many of the enlisted men had dubbed their superior “Sir Raymond.” The Admiral was not only a teacher of the highest caliber, but he was not beneath hearing out his subordinates. He knew when to push and when to stop – a skill lost to many of the officers in the Gamilon military.
Most of the people who met the man used the same word to describe him, “chivalrous.” The Admiral was indeed that. Raymond Talan was the only person he could ever remember his father referring to as a friend, so he supposed that he and his father had at least one thing in common – trust for the Talan family.
At the sound of that one word, one corner of the prince’s mouth turned upward ever so slightly and he let out a short laugh. “Masterson, you know you don’t have to call me that.”
“You are of the royal line of Gamilon. Even if your father does not recognize you as such, you are still a prince, and that means that you deserve the respect due your position.”
Desslok looked at his friend and let out a loud sigh, “You seem to be the only one who remembers that…” He looked out one of the gigantic windows that lined the palace hallway. The ever-burning altar outside the Temple shone brilliantly in the dimming light.
The shadows of the priests of Adonai crossed back and forth in the twilight.
“Well, your father will be very unhappy with both of us if we don’t study this evening for his Galactic History exam tomorrow morning.”
Masterson grimaced and nodded reluctantly. “True.” He took a long look at Desslok, trying to figure out what else he should say.
“Masterson?” The prince looked at the other young man with eyes that were far away.
Desslok shook the dazed look off of his face, “Never mind. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He said as he turned and walked farther down the hallway and into his quarters.
As soon as the door was closed and he was sure no one would interrupt him for a while, Desslok took out his mother’s message capsule again. He stared at the crystalline heart of the device and half a second later he almost jumped. The capsule began to lift itself out of the palm of his hand. It began spinning – slowly at first, then more quickly. Light poured out of the crimson shell on either end of the device and spilled through the transparent center shaft and blue core.
Desslok let the capsule float on its own and stepped back. He looked quizzically at the object as it rose above his head. All the light beaming out of the capsule flowed down to one area of the device and fell into a puddle on the floor below. An image began to form in front of his eyes as he heard his mother’s voice singing unfamiliar words:
“I’ve struggled on the journey,
‘Gainst storm and wind and tide,
Now like a weary trav’ler
That leaneth on his Guide
Amid the darksome shadows,
While sinks life’s ling’ring sand,
I hail the glory dawning
In Immanuel’s land.”
The melody hung in his mind like a phantasm, and although he heard every word clearly, their meaning was lost to him.
Before he could make an attempt to understand what he had just heard, instead of just her face, a life-sized hologram of his mother finished materializing before his eyes. Ironically, the first thing he thought when he saw her was that she was short. Then he remembered that the last time he had stood face to face with her, he had been younger and much shorter than her.
“I know you never really cared for my music, Desslok, but I pray that someday you will love it, and the God who made it, the way I do. Today I stand in His presence, my son. I hope that you will be here with me someday.
“Now, I would recommend that you sit down.” A chair materialized and she sat in it. “If you are seeing this portion of my message to you, then you have had to interrupt my telling of this history, and, as I am sure you have concluded, there is so much more to tell you.” She smiled.
Even though he knew she was only a collection of colored light, it seemed as if she was actually sitting across from him, and, impossibly – across time and in spite of death, she looked into her younger son’s face and said, “No matter what you do, or who you become, you will always be my son, and I love you.”
Talonka’s image waited a moment before picking up where he had stopped the retelling earlier in the day.