~ Chapter 15 ~
With Gibber back, a feeling of hope and balance returned to the ship. He showed no ill effects from his capture and subsequent imprisonment by the Horde. The four stayed up late playing games with him. He was unbeatable at everything, no matter how Cosmo bent rules or threw up illusions to distract him. He chirped jubilantly after each win, and they all wore bruises from his wayward tail, which Aiden was sure he didn’t even know he had. Eventually Doctor Peasley showed up and insisted they go to bed.
Cosmo leapt into bed, thumped his pillow, and pushed it into place with his head. “How come you’re always the lucky one?”
“What do you mean, lucky?”
“You’re the one with a guide, healing powers, more energy than the sun. You’re the hero on Dreng. I’ll bet you could fly if you tried. Why is it always you?”
Aiden punched his pillow. “I’d gladly hand all my luck over to you! I’m the one with no parents, a powerful lunatic magwan after me, hunted by those bugs for eternity, having nightmares every night, the prediction of impending death – and let’s not forget my devoted guardian angel, Matong. Call that lucky! Do you want all that?”
“I forgot about those bits.”
“I wish I could,” grumbled Aiden.
Cosmo yawned. “I’m stuffed, see you in the morning.”
Aiden stared into the darkness, waiting until Cosmo’s breathing grew heavy. He still could not fathom how Cosmo could just switch off. He went through what had happened. What would Eulo say about his projection ability? He debated whether to call Surge or not. He knew Surge did not approve of him revealing his projection ability, but he wanted to talk to him about changing the doctors’ minds about going home.
Surge appeared on the edge of his bed. “It went well?”
“Everyone’s back safe and sound,” said Aiden, propping himself up.
“I see... and your projection?”
“I think only Amber and Eulo noticed, so we’re fine.”
“So it appears.”
“The only thing is, the doctors have decided to take us home, but with the Master still about, I can’t go. And I can’t really explain it. I have this feeling I must go to him, to save the Alliance.”
“Are you sure it is your true feeling?”
“I don’t know. It feels like what I need to do.”
“Then trust it,” said Surge.
This was not what Aiden was expecting him to say. He was expecting a lecture on being responsible. But Surge showed no concern and started speaking about life missions. He reminded Aiden he has to determine what his life mission was, and the role, if any, the Alliance and the Master might play. Aiden thought Surge was making a difficult problem worse. He was struggling with how to get everyone to support his decision to stay, and Surge was asking him to step back and consider the very reason for his existence? He was too young to be contemplating such things. Even so, he gave Surge nods of agreement that this was something he would do.
Aiden’s dream with the creature returned stronger and clearer than ever. The cavern in which he found it now had a comfortable, homely feel to it. He did not feel threatened by the creature, but a strong desire to move closer to it and the staff. And when the creature uttered “join me,” it felt like the natural and right thing to do, and he moved forward without thought or fear.
The dream ended abruptly as another voice spoke. “Aiden... Aiden...”
Shaking off the haziness of sleep, he peered into the darkness. “Goolma?” he said quietly. “Is that you?”
“Yes, must be quick,” said Goolma, and Aiden realised she was not actually there, but using telepathy. “I am on Orun, with the Master. We await your arrival. You have kept your promise to me?”
“Goolma, I don’t understand. You are a Genoa, and they destroyed Toora – your planet! How can you be helping them?”
“Yes, I suppose it is confusing... not to me of course... could not protect Toora, how could I? I am a seer... but loyal to the Alliance - yes, and of course - you know this. Have you kept your promise, our secret... the Sleeper prophecy is true?”
Aiden could tell from her disjointed thoughts that she must be very hungry. “I haven’t told anyone about the prophecy, or that I am not the Sleeper.”
“Dear boy... should listen more... perhaps I was unclear – no, was clear, silly you! I answered your question. ‘Am I the Sleeper?’ that was your question – I am sure, you are not the Sleeper.”
“That’s what I said. I’m not the Sleeper!” said Aiden, with more than a hint of frustration.
“Yes, but the question is - I think - who are the Sleepers?”
“There’s more than one?” Aiden whispered into the darkness.
“Now you get it. I have stretched the truth – necessary of course – Eulo will understand. The Sleeper prophecy is not complete. Never done this before - of course – should not meddle with prophecies – but necessary - yes. Have altered parts to reflect the Master’s wishes. Silly him, he above all others should know, but blinded he is, the false prophecy has itself ensured that parts will come to pass... The future is not clear – not clear at all. He is more powerful than anyone imagines...
“Toora, my dear Toora, a tragedy – could do nothing else. He means to control the galaxy... and he may... we must stop him - and he means to get you, Aiden.”
“What does he want with me? I won’t serve him!”
“That, I do not know.”
“And what is the complete prophecy?”
“Too dangerous to reveal - could jeopardise everything... must go – I will see you on Orun...”
The chosen ones sat in the recreation room with Aiden still mulling over his talk with Goolma. He now had no idea what part of the Sleeper prophecy was real, and what role he played in it. Before, he had thought he had no role. He was not sure he would be able to resist serving the Master. He also had the problem that everyone expected him to go home once they reached Sanctuary.
Cosmo slapped him on the arm. “Well?”
“Well what?” He rubbed his arm.
“We were just agreeing to meet up next September, in Australia. A sort of reunion. Weren’t you listening?”
“We have the best weather, you idiot! Are you in?”
“Yeah, of course.”
“I’m an idiot!” proclaimed Aiden, startling everyone and even himself. He turned accusingly to Cosmo. “Very funny!”
“Eulo told us to be wary of stray thoughts,” Cosmo said grinning.
Doctor Peasley summoned them to the training room, where Eulo waited. They sat well away from the Oken. For the first time, Aiden noticed Eulo also had something etched on his staff. It looked like the same sort of symbols he had seen on the creature’s staff in his dreams; and more startlingly, he understood what it said: let the journey begin.
Eulo passed on his congratulations for their excellent teamwork on Bargo, and then covered the more interesting news. In hushed silence, they listened. “With the death of their queen, the Horde is now in disarray. As a collective, they cannot function without a queen to bind them together. This gives us time to gather our defences. For the moment, at least, the Horde will not be attacking anyone.”
“So is the Alliance safe again?” asked Amber.
“We do not know what the new queen will do, but I believe the Alliance has been granted a brief reprieve,” said Eulo.
He answered a number of other questions, mostly from Amber, after which he pulled Aiden aside. “I understand you have locked eyes with one of the Horde,” said Eulo.
“Yes, back at Toora.”
“Let us walk.” He steered Aiden out of the room. “You understand, you are now marked and known to every member of the Horde. They will be drawn to you, pursuing you across space forever.”
“So I have been told.”
“There are worse things,” noted Eulo. “Not many, but there are worse things. What are your plans once we reach Sanctuary?”
Aiden suspected Eulo already knew. “It’s not time for me to leave yet, but the doctors said we’re to go home.”
“Ultimately, it is your choice. I believe you still have a role to play.”
“Eulo, do you trust Goolma?”
Eulo stopped walking. “I am not sure I understand all that is happening, but yes, I trust Goolma. Why do you ask?”
Aiden did not know what he could say without breaking his promise.
“Is there something I should know?” Eulo pressed.
This was something Aiden had dreaded. Should he tell Eulo about Surge, about Goolma and the prophecy, his dream about the creature and its call to join him, his feeling of needing to go to the Master, or about projection? He glanced at Eulo and knew there was no hiding from that gaze.
“Well, probably,” admitted Aiden. “I know we can trust Goolma... and... well, you saw on Bargo, I can project myself to places I have seen before and access my powers. I’ve been projecting myself home at night and healing people. I healed Drew!”
“Excellent! A very useful ability. How did you learn it?”
Aiden was not sure what to say. Surge materialised beside him, in the same red-and-yellow top and blue slippers. “I think it is time to tell Eulo.”
With a sigh of relief, Aiden spoke. “I have a guide, Surge, he’s an Ancient, and he told me how to do it.”
“An Ancient? That is something I did not expect. What does he look like?”
Not overly confident in his abilities to describe Surge, Aiden conjured up the best illusion he could.
“Odd clothes. I have never seen such a being before,” said Eulo. “Can others see or hear him?”
“No, just me. He is here now,” he gestured towards Surge.
“I will take your word for it,” said Eulo, patting Aiden’s shoulder. “How does Surge guide you?”
“He tries to teach me to use my powers responsibly. To think through the consequences before I use them.”
“That is indeed wise. We will need to talk more about Surge, but for now we have concerns that are more pressing. You should know the Master has plans for you that are not apparent at this time. I am sure Goolma has good reasons for her actions too. I just wish I knew what they were. But time will answer all our questions. I will speak to the doctors about you staying with us a while longer.”
“Thanks,” said Aiden, astonished Eulo was not more interested in Surge. He glanced at Eulo’s staff. “What language is that?”
“It is an old language, a dead language, not one we imprinted into you,... you can read it?”
“Yes; it says, let the journey begin.”
Eulo’s face stiffened. “Each of the seven magwans that fashioned the staffs on Alma inscribed on their staff a message which defined their purpose for the staff. The creator of this staff intended to travel throughout the universe, to discover new worlds and knowledge. It appears the Master gave you this language when he altered the imprinting ring. It is not a very useful language, but it will do you no harm to know it.”
Wandering back to the training room Aiden thought Eulo was right – with the Master destroying Toora and threatening the Alliance, Surge could wait. What couldn’t wait was his wrestling with the need to go to the Master. Was it something that was put in his mind during imprinting, or was it something he sensed was the right course? It incensed him that he could no longer trust his own judgement. He had relied upon it his whole life. It defined him. It made him feel a little bit special. If for no other reason, he decided he had to meet the Master to find out what he had been imprinted with, so he would know what thoughts were truly his.
The Horde’s capture of Doctor Hudson and Neba seemed to have eased the tension between the two guardians. There was a serious disruption in training, however, when Neba took a mouthful of coffee Doctor Hudson had offered him. Neba yelped and leapt up, spraying it over the table, floor and Doctor Peasley, screeching, “It burns...” before biting Amber’s water bottle in half and swallowing the contents.
As the days passed, all talk was about exploring Sanctuary and going home. Eulo had not yet spoken to the doctors and Aiden’s uneasiness increased. He did not want to expose the others to further danger. He didn’t even want to stay himself, but knew he had to. To put things right.
News from Doctor Hudson shook Aiden to his core. He had passed it on offhandedly, as he was reminiscing over what he would miss when they returned home.
“...and to think this Master character has visited Earth before.”
“Pardon, Sir... did you say the Master has been to Earth?” exclaimed Aiden.
“Yes. Eulo told us the Master was part of the Alliance Council a thousand years ago. In this capacity, he visited many outer planets, including Earth. Can’t imagine anyone being that old.”
Aiden’s mind raced. The Master was over a thousand years old, he had a staff, and he had been to Earth. What if he could project himself – then he could destroy Earth – whenever he wanted.
For two days, Aiden had seen no sign of Eulo. He decided to take matters into his own hands. He escaped from the others and took the ramp to the Oken’s level three. The Buwah stationed at the mid point of the ramp gave him a steely stare but said nothing. He headed down the corridor to where he guessed the recreation room would be. Sure enough, it was exactly where the recreation room was on level two, only it was nothing like what he expected. It had many different levels within it. Strange structures made of a stone-like substance were fashioned into an amphitheatre with ringed low bench seats and shallow pits. The colours were a drab blend of browns, greys and dark greens. Sitting on a crude throne was Prince Orka.
“Prince Orka, I need to speak with you.”
The prince paused to consider, and then beckoned Aiden forward with a wave of his claw.
The other Oken left the room.
“Why are you here?” grunted Orka.
“I’m staying to help fight the Master. Will you help?”
“Eulo has not requested our help. This is not our fight, nor is it yours. We will be returning to Quorn,” he said stonily.
“We need your help, without it we will fail.”
“You know this?” Orka leaned forward.
“The Master is powerful. He will not spare Earth or Quorn from his rule. The more magwans that stand against him, the better our chances are of defeating him. If he wins, you will be the prince of nothing.”
There was a long period of silence.
“Otha and I will stay on.”
The boys sat in their viewing room, sipping vitalise and watching a movie.
“How much do these things cost?” asked Cosmo, engrossed in the movie.
“Birthday present,” Aiden said, shrugging.
“This is the first thing I’m going to buy when we get back,” declared Cosmo, transfixed with the movie.
Aiden swallowed. “I’m not going back, not yet.”
Cosmo took his eyes off the PDC. “You have to, you don’t have a choice.”
“I have to stay until the Master is beaten. Eulo has agreed.”
“Eulo’s agreed!” Cosmo spluttered, dropping the PDC on the floor. “And the doctors?”
“He’s going to speak with them.”
“You’re bonkers!” declared Cosmo, picking up the PDC. “Do you have a death wish or something? The Master’s not a mindless bug. Even with your stores of energy, you can’t match his staff. He’s been a magwan for aeons, not five minutes like you! This hero thing is getting out of control. It won’t impress anyone. Leave it to Eulo and Matong. You’re out of your depth!”
“I’m not trying to impress anyone. I know I can help. Orka and Otha are staying as well.”
“Eulo asked them to stay as well?” said Cosmo incredulously.
“No, I did.”
“So you ask your buddy, the prince, but you don’t ask me? Aren’t I good enough!” rounded Cosmo.
“It’s not like that,” said Aiden, seeing this was going badly. “It’s just what I have to do.”
“How noble. You’re so childish. Grow up, Aiden.”
“Me, childish? You’re the child, ask Sarah-Jane...” Before he had even finished the words, Aiden knew he had gone too far.
Cosmo looked like his puppy had died. His body went limp. “She said that?” he asked, searching Aiden’s face. He stood up and glared. “Go then!” And left.
Aiden sunk back into the couch. It couldn’t have gone any worse.
The next day was very tense, with Cosmo not speaking to Aiden at all. To Aiden’s surprise, the doctors did not attempt to dissuade him from staying. Instead, Doctor Hudson announced that he would remain too.
They arrived at Sanctuary far from the happy unit they had been a few days earlier. Cosmo and the others departed in the pod to explore Sanctuary. Aiden stayed on-board, lamely excusing himself by saying he had to practise his healing.
After a full day on Sanctuary they returned. Amber described the planet to Aiden as an oasis. He had suspected it would be, as no one lived on Sanctuary, but commuted from the hundreds of space stations that orbited it. It was like a giant national park. It had certainly surpassed all of Amber’s expectations. She told him of the abundance of flora and friendly wildlife that would eat out of her hand. The birds were the most brightly coloured she had ever seen. The sounds of their song drove all tension away, lulling listeners to sleep. There were pristine streams and meadows with soft, lush grasses whose fragrance she described as heavenly. It sounded like the getaway Aiden needed, but he knew the tension between him and Cosmo would have spoilt the experience for everyone.
A jubilant Sarah-Jane almost floated into the recreation room that night, announcing she also would not be returning to Earth. The Genoa had made her an honorary exalted seer, and she had accepted their invitation to live and study with them. Amber congratulated her, but Aiden could see her heart was not in it.
Cosmo’s jaw dropped. “What about your plans to study economics and marketing?”
“It was more Dad’s idea. You know, to ready me to take over the business. I guess I never thought of anything better, until now. It feels right; they need me. I know now that Mom has a new life, I’m still part of it, but I have my own life to live. I’m sure when I tell her she’ll be fine with it. I can always visit Earth whenever I want.”
Aiden found himself alone with Amber. “You must be happy that Sare will be staying on with you,” she said sheepishly.
“I guess so, but I’d rather it was you or Cosmo. Every time she’s near me I think she’ll predict a new disaster for me.”
Amber smiled thoughtfully. “I didn’t realise…” she said softly.
The morning came and Aiden stood in the viewing room with his bags fully packed as Cosmo feigned sleep. Reluctantly, Aiden left him there and headed for the recreation room.
Amber and Sarah-Jane were quietly shedding tears. Gibber was farewelling Amber, and managed to squeeze her so tight her face turned purple. She said nothing. Cosmo was conspicuous by his absence, and Aiden felt very alone without his best friend.
Sarah-Jane took Aiden’s hand and gave it a comforting squeeze. “See you soon,” she muttered. Aiden was relieved she did not have another premonition and run screaming from the room. Doctor Peasley gave Aiden a motherly hug before moving onto Sarah-Jane. Doctor Hudson pulled Aiden aside.
“Now lad, you’re in a position you should never have been placed in. You have a lot of responsibility on your shoulders, especially for one so young, but I have never met a finer crop of young people than you four. Eulo expects you to be back on Sanctuary within a week, so I will see you then.” Doctor Hudson hesitated and his eyes glistened. “Stay safe, and stay close to Eulo.”
Sarah-Jane, Doctor Hudson and Goolee left for the landing bay to take the pods to Sanctuary. Doctor Peasley and Amber, wiping tears from their faces, followed to say their last farewell. Aiden waited impatiently for Eulo’s command that they too could leave. He kept glancing at the door hoping Cosmo would appear, but he didn’t. Aiden felt hollow inside. It was unlike Cosmo to hold a grudge for this long. He wished he could go back in time and undo this mess.
It was an age before Eulo announced the provisions had been loaded onto Lightforce and they were ready to depart. Aiden trudged behind Eulo and the Oken to the landing bay. The pods bound for Sanctuary had already departed. Amber and Cosmo were nowhere in sight. Aiden guessed Sarah-Jane’s departure had been too much for Amber.
Feng escorted Aiden, Prince Orka, Otha and Neba into Lightforce. It was disk shaped, like Deep Space Discovery, only a lot smaller, with sleeping quarters at the rear. Aiden sat on one end of a bench, keeping a large gap between him and the Oken. He didn’t think he was going to enjoy being in such a confined space with them and Matong for days on end.
They sped away from Deep Space Discovery. Aiden watched it get smaller and smaller. He was happy that at least his friends were safe, and said a silent farewell to them. He sent a special message to Cosmo, “You’re an idiot!”
Just then, the door to the sleeping quarters slid open, and out stepped Cosmo, Amber and Sarah-Jane.
“An idiot!” said Cosmo. “Perhaps childish, but never an idiot. You didn’t think I was going to let you risk your neck alone did you?”
Aiden was stunned. Matong flashed his red eyes at the stowaways.
Eulo turned. “Please sit on the seats provided,” he said. Aiden glanced at him suspiciously. Had he known?
Aiden looked at Amber. “Don’t tell me – you just knew you had to be here!”
“Yep!” she said, sitting beside him.
Sarah-Jane’s presence was the biggest shock. She had disobeyed Doctor Peasley and stowed away. “Yeah, I know,” she said, “There are times when you need to bend the rules a bit.”
Cosmo punched him hard in the shoulder. “Now we’re even.” And with a friendly jostle, he sat.
Amber rubbed his shoulder. “Cosmo is as stubborn as you. This is a job for all of us.”
“Do the doctors know?”
“Well,” she said sheepishly, “I guess they do now.”
Aiden’s spirits lifted. They were all together again, but this was not what he had wanted. He wanted them far away from the Master, not travelling towards him. He could not bear the thought of losing any of them.
With a great sense of achievement and satisfaction they listened to Eulo’s praise for their attitude and progress. Aiden and Sarah-Jane had both reached white power levels, with Cosmo and Amber not too far behind on sandy silver.
Amber raised the question that had crossed all their minds. “When do we become magwans?”
“It is all in the eyes,” said Eulo. “As a being’s power develops, their eyes change. The more power they possess, the more depth and movement there is.”
All their eyes had changed. Aiden had found it strange at first, the constant swirling clouds that drew him in, making strange intimate connections. This was particularly terrifying when Matong’s fiery eyes locked with his. Eulo’s blue eyes were hypnotic, and Aiden was sure he could see more than what was in front of him.
Those blue eyes sparkled as Eulo’s voice recaptured Aiden’s attention. “While you still have much to learn, you are now magwans!”
“ALL RIGHT!” yelled Cosmo, punching his fist into the air.
“It is indeed a time to celebrate,” said Eulo. “Your power levels are already higher than most magwans ever achieve. There is usually a formal ceremony, but given the circumstances it will have to wait.”
A sense of pride filled Aiden as he looked at his friends. He felt he had known them for years, not months. He could not imagine life without them.
Almost too casually, Eulo explained what they could expect on Orun. He described Orun as a desolate planet, which lay on the other side of the Source. Its gravity and temperature were within the bounds of comfortable. There was little water with which to support life. Eulo suspected the Master had resided on Orun for many centuries, exploring and tuning his powers. Eulo did not discuss what they would do when they reached Orun, and no one wanted to ask.
On the first night, the Master again invaded Aiden’s mind. Aiden fought to block his intrusion, but he swept past Aiden’s barriers, leaving him powerless and unable to move. “Soon we will meet... do not be afraid... I mean you no harm.” The voice left, and he lay shivering. How could he resist the Master, he could not even keep him out of his mind? When the Master had control of him, he could not move a muscle, or form a single thought. Matong may have been right. Perhaps it was too risky for him to have come. Had he played into the Master’s hands, perhaps, doing as instructed by the imprinting?
The others too moved uneasily in the confined quarters, knowing they were speeding towards the inevitable encounter with the Master. Amber was not asking her usual barrage of questions. The only one she had asked was why they had not brought the whole Alliance fleet and every magwan to battle the Master.
Eulo’s response was less than comforting, but exactly what Aiden had expected. “He is too powerful. He would simply destroy them all. A targeted strike and Goolma’s help are our only hope.”
Matong’s head spun around, and his eyes flashed. “You are counting on that traitorous seer!” he spat.
“Yes,” Eulo replied.
Matong spoke no more.
Seeing Eulo alone, Aiden took the opportunity to recount the invasion of his mind.
“You must block him,” advised Eulo, “offering as much resistance as you can. Even if you do not succeed, it is important you resist. The more we can divert his powers and attention to different things, the better chance we will have of finding a weakness.” Aiden was sure any resistance he had currently been able to muster was unlikely to help at all. Eulo’s eyes twinkled and, like someone who had discovered the meaning of life, he leaned forward and gripped Aiden by the arm. “I have an idea that may help.”
Eulo’s idea offered Aiden little comfort, as he still had to endure the invasion. Aiden asked another question that had been plaguing him.
“Are you all right?”
“I am old, but I still have some life left in me.”
They landed on Orun that night. Despite the darkness, they could see it was barren. There were no oceans, lakes or rivers visible through the viewer. Eulo seemed to know exactly where to land, and Aiden guessed he sensed the Master’s energy.
They left Lightforce with Feng leading the way across the desolate dark plains towards a mountain. Aiden hesitated, scanning the strangely familiar landscape. It was the mountain of his dreams. The revelation hit Aiden. The creature in his dreams was the Master! He was astonished he had not made the connection before.
“Eulo, I’ve dreamt about this place; I know the way to the Master!”
Eulo patted him on the shoulder. “I know. You will guide us.”
Eulo seemed to know everything that was going on. And there to Aiden’s surprise was Shadow, padding alongside.
* * *