A Father's Will
"He's conscious," someone was saying. "He's showing signs of a concussion." There was another voice, less coherent. "Hey, can you hear me? Stay with us, Lombax." Lombax... Right. That was right. He was a Lombax. That was...important, somehow? Slowly, his vision started to clear. He was trying to think to fast, trying to...remember...
It came to him in a cascade of emotions and broken thoughts.
The attack - Tachyon betrayed them. Court of Azimuth - Dimensionator, portal. Screaming, crowds of people fleeing from the attackers. Missing - someone was missing. Emily. Home. Go back. Go back, get back to the house, had to find her - had to save her, save them! (The house was in shambles, fire burning what could be consumed by the flames.) Nothing else mattered - he had to find them. Upstairs, run upstairs. Ignore the smoke, ignore the instability. Crying, someone was crying.
"Em...Emily..." he murmured, still dazed.
Blood. Blood everywhere. On the walls, the floor, on the baby's crib. Dead, dead. She was dead. She was dead! Appall, then anguish and fear. Back out, back away - this can't be real - it can't be real, it isn't real.
'There you are.' Turn around. That voice - bad, bristling fur and all bad, bad, bad! Something so small causing so much destruction. This was wrong. Evil. He was evil, he was -
"MURDERER!" he sat up all of a sudden, snarling, fur standing on end, all fury and fear and adrenaline. He had to run - run or fight and kill. Kill him. Kill him! Every molecule of his being told him to kill the murderer, the one who killed her.
Something wasn't right. This was wrong, all wrong. He wasn't there anymore. He was here; he was... where was he? His claws punctured the fabric of a sheet beneath him as he gradually made sense of the world immediately surrounding him. He was no longer on Fastoon, he told himself. He wasn't there. He escaped. He escaped the fire and ash and smoke and screaming, and he was safe. For now, he was safe. Slowly, he blinked and began to relax, suddenly becoming more aware of the firm grip on his shoulders that kept him from getting up. He turned his head to look at the owner of the hands, seeing the concerned face of a Novalian. He blinked a few times, releasing the breath he was unaware of holding in the first place. Only when he nodded slightly did the man release him.
His adrenaline nearly instantly disappeared, giving way to a feeling of numbness. He looked down at his hands, slowly relaxing his claws. Once he had extricated them from the fabric, he looked around the small room. There was another man and a woman - a nurse, his thoughts amended. There were rails on his bed, and monitors and machines to each side. A hospital room, he realized. Why was he in a hospital?
All of a sudden, the numbness was gone, fight-or-flight instinct no longer allowing him to ignore the pain of his wounds. He shivered with goosebumps rising uncomfortably beneath his fur and shifted a hand back on the bed to steady himself. He took a moment to focus on his breathing and reassuring himself that he was indeed safe for the time being. The man from moments ago was standing close by and waiting patiently, a holopad in hand. The Lombax looked at him blankly, unable to quite form the question on his mind.
"Can you understand me?" he inquired, gaining a weary nod from the patient. "What's your name?" His name? What did they need his name for? Everyone knew his name - he could be recognized a block away, easily. His thoughts stuttered before he once again recalled that he was no longer on Fastoon, probably no longer in Polaris, even. Of course they needed his name. Mandatory questions probably applied as well, he also thought.
"K-Kaden," he managed in a croak. He cleared his throat somewhat and swallowed. His mouth was dry and felt like sandpaper. "My...my name is Kaden." At this, the doctor smiled, seeming slightly less worried.
"Good, that's good. You had quite a shock from that crash - consider yourself lucky that you can remember that. Some aren't so fortunate." Crash? Kaden took a moment to process that, his memory fuzzy despite technically still being accessible. Yet he could not recall the cause of the crash or the location, oddly.
"Where am I...?" he asked drowsily, resisting somewhat as the doctor tried to gently push him to lay back down on the bed.
"A long way from home, Kaden. Planet Veldin, specifically, in the Solana Galaxy. You were admitted to the local General Hospital a few hours ago."
"Hours?" Well...small wonder then. He rubbed his head very gently, noting the headache forming as he tried to think.
"We just want to make sure you're stable and let your injuries heal before we discharge you. It shouldn't be more than a few days."
"I can't stay." There was a reason for it, but the exact one refused to enter the forefront of his mind - there was a reason. "I can't stay that long. I...I need to leave soon...before..." His brow furrowed in confusion - he was forgetting something very important. "Before..."
"Kaden?" The Lombax looked up at the doctor. "What's on your mind?"
"...I'm not sure," he said truthfully. "Something's missing." He felt the doctor pat his shoulder reassuringly before stepping away.
"It'll come to you. Just give it a bit - don't strain yourself. Nurse Cara would like to ask you some questions if you feel up to it. Just technicalities and memory testing." Kaden looked to the nurse on the other side of his bed. She smiled and gave a small wave in greeting. Kaden decided she was pleasant enough and nodded once in turn. The doctor went to his tasks, speaking to the third person in the room while Cara shuffled closer.
"You said your name is Kaden?" A nod from him led her to check something on her clipboard. "Alright, Kaden. When were you born?"
"October. Seventeenth." She didn't ask for a year, simply writing the information down for him. She looked over it again, chewing at the end of her pen for a moment.
"Good, good. What can you tell me about your family? Just parents and siblings, please."
"My mother passed away last year; father died in a mining accident. No siblings." She gave him a sympathetic smile, writing quickly.
"Seeing as there are none in that matter as next of kin, are you married?"
Kaden nodded again, but frowned. "Yes...Emily and I were married four years." He paused, rubbing his head. "We had a son, and today was his - " Kaden stopped dead, his body rigid in an instant. His son.
A baby's cry reached his ears. Something was held tightly in his arms as he fled, searching desperately for a ship. He had to get him somewhere safe! He promised he would!
Kaden started growling with the memory's return, quietly at first, unaware of the nurse trying to gain his attention. Her hand on his shoulder gained his attention enough for him to glare at her furiously. "Where is he?" he demanded in a hushed tone. His voice seemed stuck somewhere between anger and desperation. His hands curled into fists, showing his obvious struggle to restrain himself. His own claws pricked his palms. Instinct told him to find his cub and attack anyone who got in his way, but he was better than that - he had more control than that. He was raised as part of a civilized society, not one of the nomadic clans. Even so, his restraint was precarious. At any given moment, he felt that the flood gates would open. Panic rose, concern overtaking him. If his son had died in the crash...
"Where is my son?" he clarified, his tone harsher than he meant for it to be. His son...he had to be alive! He just had to be! He couldn't be dead; he was just a baby. He had a whole life to live! Tears started to form, stinging his eyes. He didn't want to think about the possibility, but knowing the state he had arrived in, Kaden was dreadfully certain that the child had fared no better.
"Kaden, please." It was the woman who spoke, her voice firm. "Sit down." Sit down? What was she talking about? He- When had he gotten up? He blinked once, trying to reign in his emotions as he made eye contact with the woman. Her own gaze was fierce, matching his, but also understanding. As if she knew how he felt. "Your child is safe. He is in the nursery right now. It is thanks to your valiant efforts that he is still alive and unharmed."
Once again, everything left him in a rush. One hand waved about until it found purchase on the bed's railing. The other hand went up to run through the thin fur on top of his head. His tail curled anxiously, but he did not show any more hostility to the hospital staff within the room. The nurse was the one to gently guide him back and have him sit down on the edge of the bed. Kaden wasn't sure how to express his relief. Even when everything seemed wrong, this one little thing was miraculously right.
"I want to see him," he stated, shocked at how firm he managed to sound. He looked up at the nurse still standing beside him. "I need to see him," he insisted a second time. "I want to see my son. I need to know he's safe." He started to get up again, but a wave of pain had him doubling over with a groan. The nurse told him to relax.
"You need to be tended, Kaden. I know you are anxious to see him, but you are still severely wounded." She frowned when Kaden merely answered that he did not care. Seeing how insistent he was about it, she created a compromise. "Let the doctors tend to you. I will go get your son. Is that agreeable?" The Lombax hesitated, staring at her for a moment. Finally, he nodded his consent. With a smile, the nurse left the room. The other two doctors in the room returned to their unfinished tasks, one trying to get Kaden to lay back down. Kaden resisted, watching the door impatiently. Eventually, however, he was coaxed to at least sit back against the pillows. His eyes were trained on the door in wait.
Kaden's thoughts were only on his son, the only person he seemed to have left in this world. His wife was dead; his friend had been exiled to some unknown corner of the galaxy. He frowned. Emily and Alister had been the only people to actually know him. Even after he and Azimuth fought, they were still friends. Just...not as close. And Emily...she was the light of his life. No one compared to her in his mind. They had been so happy when they learned about the cub. Who could have known that Tachyon would have attacked on the very day he was to be named?
The Lombax's train of thought was broken at the sound of the door opening. He blinked and focused on the returning nurse, now with a small bundle in her arms. She made sure to close the door gently before approaching Kaden, her shoes gently tapping on the tile floor. The father leaned forward, already reaching for the child by the time she stopped by his bed. With practiced care, she carefully passed the bundle to him, only smiling fondly when he immediately retreated to hold it in a protective manner. Though he was by no means totally relaxed, Kaden seemed to calm down with the fragile child now in his hands. He carefully adjusted the blanket, the shifting having obscured the small cub from view.
The tiny Lombax's tongue curled as it yawned, tiny points of teeth showing. It squirmed and whined in discomfort for a brief moment before settling down again while its eyes blinked open. Bright glassy emerald orbs gazed up at the elder Lombax in curiosity. With a coo, it reached up with tiny, fur-covered hands. Kaden adjusted his hold to allow the child's hands to grip one of his own. This was his son. His precious son.
"He's beautiful," the nurse said in a quiet voice. "What's his name?" Kaden turned his attention up to her, blinking in surprise at the question. His expression turned to one of silent dismay as he looked back down at the small being in his arms. "Kaden?"
"We never had a chance..." he murmured. When the nurse asked him to clarify, he sighed, holding the child closer and nuzzling him gently. "He was born only a short time ago. We...we didn't have the chance to give him a proper name...not before..." His claws were already extending before he could finish the words. He forced himself to relax as he reminded himself that they were both safe.
The nurse decided against pressing for more information on an obviously unpleasant memory. Instead, she steered the conversation to a more immediate matter. "We would like a name to place on his tag, for identification purposes. Should I place a surname?" Kaden shook his head. He couldn't do that. His son deserved a proper name. "I'll leave you to think about it," the nurse said with an understanding smile. Then she moved to speak with the doctor.
Kaden watched her for a moment, deciding he liked her demeanor. He wondered briefly if she was a mother. His attention then turned back down to the squirming cub as it mewled for attention. Kaden smiled fondly at his son, but the expression turned into concentration afterwards. A name, a name for his son... He shifted through the memories and thoughts in his mind, wondering what name would fit his son. He gazed into the small child's emerald eyes, as if he could find the answer within the bright orbs. Kaden could only guess why those eyes were so bright. His own were a dark forest green, and Emily's had been dusky golden-yellow. Perhaps it was a trait from an earlier generation of one of their families. Kaden hoped it wasn't indicative of any issues in the future - Lombaxes rarely had bright eyes like that.
Kaden wracked his brain, pushing away his stream-of-consciousness thoughts. There had been many considerations that he and Emily had discussed - they had even decided on one - but now giving that name to the child would be a beacon for Tachyon to track down. It was much too dangerous. He had to choose a different name. It was a question for the figurative rainy day. Giving the question more thought, he tried to see it from a different angle. What did he want for his son? What did he hope that he might one day become? He gave attention to these questions. What was he hoping for his son?
He knew for certain that he wanted the child to be able to live without fear, without having to hide from the creature that had essentially exiled him to an entirely different system. He wanted the child to have a good, long life. Though he would likely never learn of his roots, Kaden realized, the child deserved more than living in hiding. In that moment, Kaden resolved to do something, but slid the thoughts away for later on.
Kaden leaned his head back and thought of his own past. "Never look back." The words whispered in his mind as a foggy memory. A faint smile appeared on Kaden's face. His own father had said that, according to his recollection. What else had he said...? "Kaden means companion, but you are more than that. You're brilliant, for one. An amazing pilot for your age, and a remarkable fighter. That's why I named you after my own sire." There had been more than that, hadn't there? "You have to keep your goals in mind, Kaden. No matter what happens, don't stop. Keep moving forward - never go back. Imagine yourself like a ratchet, how it only goes one way. That's what you should strive to do - go only forward, and you'll go far."
The words stirred around in Kaden's mind for a while, a fond memory that he had kept for many years. How would these words apply to his own son, though? He looked down at the small babe in his arms, smiling as he saw that the young one had started drifting into sleep. "Move forward, like a ratchet." The words echoed again in his mind. For a moment, Kaden blinked. Then he tested something. "Ratchet...?" He paid no mind to the three other heads in the room turning to him momentarily, watching as the child shifted and fussed. He repeated the word. Bright emerald eyes focused up on Kaden, attentive. "Ratchet?" The child cooed, reaching its hands up again. Kaden bent to nuzzle the younger again, chuckling as the small hands clutched at his fur.
"That's right... You'll be okay. You'll go far, my little Ratchet..."
Kaden looked through the glass window of the hospital's nursery, gazing sadly at his son for what he knew would be the last time. It was the third day since their admittance into the hospital, and Kaden felt he could stay no longer. He knew also that he could not take his son with him. The child was already in danger as it was. Kaden refused to bring any further risk to his son. The Lombax was determined: his son would live.
Kaden lifted a hand to press against the glass as the cub stirred on its bed, the small child's whip-like tail twisting every which way as it tried to find a more comfortable position. It settled again soon after, content again. Kaden's hand curled into a fist as he bowed his head with a shuddering sigh. Fate was cruel. His son would never know anything about him or the Lombaxes. He would never know just how much he was loved. No one would be able to tell him what had happened.
Heart heavy, Kaden turned away, letting his hand fall to his side. He took a breath, either for courage or for resolve. He didn't look back through the window, knowing that, if he did, he would not be able to leave. He took another breath and walked towards the front door of the hospital. His tail swayed limply behind him, his ears lower than normal.
"Kaden!" His ears twitched up when he heard the voice call his name. He recognized her instantly as the nurse who had tended to him when he first arrived. What was her name? Carol? Camila? Cara...? That was right. He paused at the door for her but did not glance back, desperately clinging to his resolve. The click of the nurse's shoes stopped a few steps behind him. "Kaden, you...you aren't leaving...are you?"
"I am," he answered flatly when he finally spoke. He swallowed. "I have to." For a moment, Cara did not reply, gathering her thoughts. She blinked at him, stepping up closer and moving to his side. Her expression was one of confusion.
"You...but... Kaden, what about your son?" Surely he wouldn't just leave the child here, she thought. It was so obvious how much he cared for the cub.
"I'm leaving him here," Kaden said sharply, breaking the nurse's thoughts. "I've already signed off to allow for his adoption." Cara's expression fell in disbelief. That couldn't be right. Why would he do such a thing? Yet just as she was about to demand the answer to that very question, she frowned and took a good look at the Lombax. Kaden stood tense, his hands clenched into tight fist. His ears sloped downwards as he stared firmly at the cracks in the tile floor. Cara cooled down somewhat, adjusting her approach.
"Why?" she inquired gently, unable to fathom why a father with so much love for his son would just leave them like this. "Kaden...you love your son too much to leave him behind. Wherever it is you are going, surely you can take him with you?" Kaden took in a long, sharp breath and leaned his head back, blinking.
"You're wrong," he said, voice thick. "He..." His voice faltered. He swallowed and lowered his head, running a hand over it and tugging at his ear before trying again. "If he came with me, his death would be as certain as my own is."
"Your...death..." The nurse could hardly comprehend. Was he intentionally walking to his death? For what purpose? He couldn't just do that, could he? There had to be a way to avoid this. "Kaden, you must stay! Think of your son!" She moved closer to him and grabbed his arm. The Lombax wrenched away from her instantly, taking a few steps away and turning his head towards her.
"I am thinking of him!" he snarled. The volume of his voice caught the attention of other staff members for a moment. Most went back to their tasks, but some kept an eye on the two, ready to intervene if need be. Cara stood firm, as she had been trained for cases like this, when a patient showed signs of anger or violence. To her, though, Kaden was neither. He was sad and, without a doubt, frightened. His bristling fur and glassy eyes made it all too obvious to her. Under her calm, doe-like gaze, Kaden backed off and looked away.
"Staying here puts not only myself and my son, but everyone here at risk. This thing hunting me will stop at nothing until I am dead." He looked at her with an intent, haunted stare. "He cares not for what happens to those who die in the process, but delights in that misery. That is why I must go." Cara wasn't sure if she saw tears fall from his eyes, but she felt her own welling up. "If I stay...there is no hope for him."
"I'm sorry," she whispered. There really seemed no choice in the matter. Solana's defense force had no right to interfere with matters from another galaxy. There was nothing she could do for him. She realized, however, that there was something she could do. "Your son......I...I will make sure he is safely cared for." Kaden covered his mouth with a hand, taking a breath.
"I can't ask you to -" Cara stopped him with a gesture.
"You're not asking. I'm telling you." Her words were still gentle, but firm. She could do this much. "I know how it is having children. I have two of my own. I...can't say I fully understand what's going on, but I do know that a parent will do anything to keep their child safe. I want you to leave this place reassured that he will never be abandoned." Kaden's relief was very apparent as his fur fell flat, and he visibly relaxed. He rubbed his head, uncertain of what to say. He released a shaky sigh in contemplation. After a short moment,he held his hand out, palm up. Digital fragments gathered and formed an object, which he held tightly as it solidified. Cara was only slightly surprised - she had heard that Lombaxes had a thing for wrenches. She gave Kaden her full attention as he turned towards her.
"As is tradition, a cub's parent provides them with their first tool when they reach the appropriate age." He paused to take another breath. "It was my intention to give this to my son. I know it is a lot to ask, but...as I cannot...would you give this to him when he is old enough?" He offered the simple wrench, the handle up. His gaze was suddenly uncertain. Cara took the tool with a small smile and an understanding nod.
"Rest assured, Kaden. Your son will receive your gift."
"Habes benedictionem meam." Cara wasn't sure what the words meant, but they seemed to lift a weight she hadn't noticed she was carrying. She nodded to the Lombax, who returned the gesture. Then Kaden turned away and left the hospital. Cara was certain that this would be the last she would ever hear of him.
Kaden made it difficult for those hunting him. Having grown up in Polaris, he knew the system well, and knew how to avoid people without loosing them entirely. There were times he considered disappearing completely to escape and finally get to rest, but then he remembered Ratchet in Solana. If he did that, Tachyon would go after him, Kaden was sure. Regardless, the Lombax didn't make it easy. No, he led them off on a chase of circles and loops, taking them on a journey through the galaxy. Kaden saw a lot of things he hadn't seen before among those he had. At one point, he thought he glimpsed Perihelion, but it had been so brief that he couldn't have said for certain. It was a game of cat-and-mouse - or rather, Cragmite-and-Lombax. For weeks, Kaden evaded capture, yet Tachyon managed to remain hot on his tail, believing he still possessed the Dimensionator. Unbeknownst to Tachyon, however, Kaden had left the invention somewhere few would think to look, leaving only vague clues that only a Lombax should be able to follow. Perhaps one day, he thought, his son would get the chance to join the Lombaxes, to go home.
Kaden grew tired of his game, though. He was so tired of running, so tired of moving from place to place with hardly more a day's rest at a time. It was taking its toll on him. Aphelion noticed his heightened stress levels and paranoia, his shortened temper and anxious dealings with the few people he had to. He was exhausted, and he wanted to go home. So that's what he did.
"Aphelion...set a course for Capital City, Fastoon," he said quietly, leaning back in the pilot's seat. He stared out at the stars, watching them pass by, knowing them to be so absolutely oblivious to the world beyond their own existence.
"Are you certain, Kaden?"
The ship waited patiently for her pilot's answer, who eventually nodded, muttering an affirmative. He appreciated the AI's concern, but he didn't feel like having her question him now. He heard a beep as the course was set. "What's our ETA?"
"Two hours," the ship replied. Kaden settled back as his seat reclined and stared up through the cockpit's glass at the stars there. When Aphelion asked if he wanted Cryosleep, he refused. Rest sounded good, and thoughts of going home relaxed him. Eventually, he drifted off into a dreamless sleep.
Sometime later, he was woken by a shuddering jolt. He sat up abruptly, hands immediately taking the wheel as he blinked the blurriness from his eyes. "Aphelion?" For a moment, he held his breath, afraid the blast had disabled her.
"It seems we are under attack." Kaden let out a sigh, quickly taking a moment to adjust his seat and look around for their attackers. "Tachyon's forces, no doubt. Unless we're lucky enough for them to be pirates." Kaden shook his head.
"No. Pirates have an egotistical habit of announcing their presence for warning before attacking. It's Tachyon alright." He could just imagine the pint-sized Cragmite in question screeching a correction, his self-proclaimed title of Emperor. The thought nearly made him chuckle. Mouth set in a grim line, Kaden took a firm grip on the wheel, letting Aphelion take auto pilot and switching the control to the weaponry. Fastoon floated not far away, desolate and cracked. "Come on, come on..." Kaden muttered, looking around again. "Where are you?" The ship lurched forward again, the gravity of his home planet latching on and pulling them into a downward spiral. Kaden cursed, flicking the switch to turn off auto-pilot and trying to pull up. Without success, he flicked a few other switches. "Aphelion! Engage gravimetric stabilizers!"
"Negative. Gravimetric stabilizers are offline. Landing flaps: offline."
"You've gotta be kidding me..." Kaden's ears fell for a moment. Then he scrambled for his seat belt, hearing it click the moment the ship's AI warned him to brace for impact. The warning came nearly too late as the ship's nose dug into the hard, foot-worn sand and slid all the way across the wide courtyard before coming to a stop. Kaden hurriedly pulled his seat belt out and kicked the ship's hood open before she could shut down completely. He coughed violently and sneezed when tossed-up dust drifted into his nose. Once it settled somewhat, he glanced over the edge, looking back to see the long rut Aphelion's landing had created. He glanced in the direction they had been traveling, counting himself lucky that they hadn't fallen into the break in the land that surrounded a good portion of the courtyard.
Barely allowing any relief to seep into his mind, Kaden hopped down from the ship, wrench in hand. A quick glance around revealed that the area had already been settled by Nanophytes, pesky critters that usually stayed outside of settlements. Without any people to stop infestation, they moved in without a fuss. As he continued to observe his surroundings, he unlatched the holster on his pistol for ease of access. His ears were perked to catch any out of place sound. Oddly enough, he couldn't hear any enemy ships overhead yet. It was unsettling. Tachyon was too through to simply shoot him down like that. The fiend would be down here any second to finish the job.
With cautious strides, Kaden crossed the courtyard, gazing in saddened awe at the state of what had once been his home. The structure in the center of the courtyard was cracked and slanted. The complexes surrounding it were dented and charred from enemy gunfire and bombs. Beyond that was the residential district. The homes he grew up among, those of his neighbors, friends, and family, were in ruins. Dilapidated and crumbling against the harsh elements that Fastoon threw at them. Without their Lombax caretakers, they were left to ruin. The planet was in a terrible state and left Kaden with a heavy heart and stinging eyes. He was grateful he had managed to send his son away from this cursed place.
Sudden movement caught his attention, but whipping his gaze around revealed nothing but falling sand. He glanced around suspiciously, raising his wrench as his tail twitched anxiously. He was no longer alone. A resounding clang echoed through the courtyard on the cool breeze that rose beneath the setting sun. Kaden's heart was racing; his breath quickened. Adjusting and tightening his grip on his long-trusted weapon, the Lombax slowly backed his way towards Aphelion again. He had only taken two tentative steps before something behind him made him stop.
"I should have known you would return here." The voice was eerie, scratched and hoarse from consistent screeching. Its tone was smug, reflective of a predator that knew its prey was finally caught after a long, arduous chase. It made Kaden's heart stop and his fur rise stiff like toothpicks. Dark forest eyes widened drastically just before he whipped around with a snarl in response.
"Hello, Kaden." Tachyon's beady yellow eyes stared down condescendingly at the Lombax from his elevated throne. Kaden brandished his weapon in what he hoped was a menacing way. The Cragmite looking down at him merely laughed mockingly, unfazed by the threat. Despite this, Kaden showed no fear. He refused to go down without a fight. The last fleeting thoughts before the fight went to Ratchet. Kaden prayed to whatever god there may be that the child would be safe, and that he would grow up to be as great as Kaden believed he could be.