High Speaker Khalia Noku had been no queen, but that is what the thousands at her funeral from all across the Milky Way call her. Imani thinks Speaker Noku had been more than that. She had been the star that lights the universe. The weight that balances the scale. The sight that leads the blind. The one humble enough to put her needs last.
The funeral is held on a metal platform just above Yabisi. The platform is a gift made by the dwarf people from Region Z200 of the galaxy, over three billion light years away from Yabisi. Imani has heard that dozens of dwarves lost their lives during the making of the structure.
Since Speaker Noku’s death, no one has paid Imani any attention. She has not been updated. So, not only does she daydream, but she dreams with her eyes closed now. Sleep dreams are the most terrifying because they seem so real. Sometimes, when she reboots, she thinks she is still asleep.
Per Ekon’s orders, Imani does not sit during the funeral. She stands at the front of the platform, hands folded in front of herself. Being beside the front row, she does not mind listening to everyone who speaks to Ekon. He seems distracted, uninterested, playing on his devices whenever he gets the chance. He begs off conversations, claiming he is too distraught to carry on. When the person in question leaves, he goes back to his devices.
Watching Ekon, Imani wonders how someone so young could possibly run the UJC. He is just two or three years older than Bahati, his sister. She is still a girl and has no political experience. Ekon has some but not much more than Bahati.
Imani wants to do something, needs to do something. She has followed Ekon around for days, but he acts as if she is not there. When she suggests something or tries to be of service, he chastises her. He tells her she is in the way. Then, he threatens to defuse her. Silence has become her retreat.
Through silence, she has learned Ekon feels he must assert himself leader of the Consortium, even though he already is. He has met with nearly every member to demand their loyalty and assurance they will reveal any traitors. She has also learned that an autopsy had not been done on Speaker Noku.
“She doesn’t need an autopsy. She died of natural causes. End of story,” Ekon had snapped at the doctor, as they stood over the cold body in the bedroom.
“If you say so, but I can’t make that my official ruling without performing my own analysis,” said the doctor-mortician.
Ekon lifted the smaller reptilian by his shirt. “You will do whatever I tell you to,” he said, throwing the man across the room.
Now, only a few paces away from Speaker Noku’s body which floats upright against the black backdrop of the universe and in front of the podium, Imani thinks the woman looks peaceful. Her weary black and gold eyes are closed forever. She has a smile on her face, one that had not reached fruition in life.
The funeral has not officially started yet, and the crowd is becoming restless. Seating thousands is not an easy job. Imani sees that from the frustrated faces of the Elkgart people. They are large, hairy beings, organizers by trade, but even they have their limitations. The Elkgarts have their own way of speaking Universal Tongue, so they must direct and redirect people who can not understand their accent.
Imani glances down the first aisle at the other eleven members of the Consortium. They are proud women and men of various species from all over the galaxy, some humanoid, some reptilian, some other. Maoka gives Imani a solid nod, her beak-like lips smiling. Imani smiles back, remembering the few times she met the woman but how gentle she had been, especially for an Aquila with sharp, armored feathers.
When everyone is settled, Ekon takes the stage and stands behind the wooden podium. Underneath the harsh white light of the small levitating globes above the platform, Ekon seems even larger. His pupils are as dark slits in golden irises, bright as his mother’s once were. Imani averts her eyes when Ekon’s glances her way.
Ekon drops his head and clears his throat. When looks up again, there is a note of sadness playing on the corners of his lips. His expression does not carry its usual vengefulness. Imani stares, really stares, and realizes his underlying indifference is still there, hidden beneath the emotional veil he wears.
“What can I say about my mother, the former high speaker of the Consortium, you all don’t already know?” Ekon says, his voice wilting. “She was a great mother? An even greater speaker? You know those things already.”
Silence. Imani hears nothing but the buzzing of the globe lights and sounds of the various animals brought from all over the galaxy in honor of High Speaker Noku. The moment of silence speaks when Ekon pauses.
Then, Imani hears a swoosh. It breaks the silence and grabs everyone’s attention. A black pod materializes just above the platform. Its top lifts back, and Bahati, Ekon’s sister, jumps from it. She lands in a squat on the platform, smiling. She finds her seat at the front row of the ceremony and motions for Ekon to continue. After a few seconds of staring at her, he does.
“My mother is gone. Today is less about her death than it is a celebration of the changing of the guards. I want to let each of you know, I will continue the good work she started. Thank you,” he says.
Applause and cheers ripple through the cosmos, jarring Imani. The sounds make her eardrums thud. Yet the emotion of the audience moves her. These people care about Speaker Noku. Her legacy is one that reaches far beyond Yabisi and will live on. Imani smiles.
One at a time, the UJC members take the podium. They share memories of Speaker Noku and hopes for the future. A humanoid woman, Stella, nearly comes to tears. Imani is struck by the woman’s beauty. Her skin is the color of the universe but has a gloss to it. Of all the species or races, she looks the closest to Imani, except where Imani’s hair is puffy, hers is twisted in long locks that dangle below her waist. She also stretches farther in the hips than Imani does. Absentmindedly, Imani touches her own hips and breasts.
At the end of her speech, the humanoid woman’s eyes fall upon Imani. A sadness invades Stella. Imani can feel that sadness for the briefest of moments.