I Won't Forget This Time
All there was in response was a shift in the yellow sheets of the bunk bed. They buried their face into the soft pillow. It was so comfortable and warm; surely they weren't expected to wake up?
"Wake up. You have overslept!"
There were faint voices outside, shouting and laughing followed by the sound of pounding feet down the hall. A tuft of glowing 'hair' peeking out of the blanket was the only indication of anybody hearing the robotic voice. They pulled the blankets just below their chin, squinting at the pink face looking down at them with a raised eyebrow from the watch.
"What time is it?" The A.I. blinked at its owner before it disappeared, revealing the time. The Novakid's colour drained.
"You're late for your graduation! I can arrange for an email to be sent to the Grand Pro-"
"There'll be no need!" The Novakid gasped, flying out of their bed and across the room with their pyjamas half on. The S.A.I.L beeped franticly as they ran for something appropriate for a locker room, clipping the watch-like device around their wrist. With nothing on their bare feet, they threw themselves out into the hall of students.
Most were filing down towards the lecture hall, making it hard to push towards the lockers. Their height didn't help either, barely being able to see over the heads of everyone else. A group of Florans forced them to stick to a wall as they passed and behind them, a Hylotl towering over a Glitch, fixing his reflection on the robot's polished head. They gave a little hop, just managing to see their locker as a warm, fleshy hand grasped their wrist, dragging them from the sea of strangers.
"Look at you~! Still in your PJs huh?" laughed the human, pulling them into a hug. She reached up and graced her hand through their gas hair. "SAIL didn't get you up earlier?"
"I need my locker, can you help?"
She gave them a smile, leading them easily through the crowd. "Still getting lost? You're graduating in 15 minutes Gassy!" She chided.
The Novakid sorted through their locker, pulling their uniform from its hanger, a flyer fluttering to the floor. Hastily they pushed the flyer into their pocket, snatching the purse of pixels as well. As they shut the door, they huffed. "Aren't you too, Jemima?"
"Yeah, but I ain't as forgetful as you. See ya at the ceremony. Hope you've remembered your graduation speech!" Jemima gave them a pat on the shoulder, before slipping easily into the crowd.
It was easier to make it back to their room, the airlock sealing the room in silence. Taking a breath, they began to change into their uniform, gazing around their room. They'd be back after the ceremony, but after that their captain's ship would become their new home.
They'd miss it. The snoring of their classmates, the whites and yellows of their room that always put them at ease. Waking up warm with those huge windows or their friends playing guitar, or spending nights sitting together on their beds watching old movies from centuries ago, it would all be a time they'd miss. And memories they hoped they wouldn't forget.
Their reminiscing was interrupted by a warning from S.A.I.L. They sighed, buckling their belt and quickly leaving the calm.
It wasn't as crowded as before, most of them already at the lecture theatre. A few of the younger students sat at desks, studying flyers for future careers or completing last minute homework.
One of the older students, an Apex, sat staring through the wall-tall windows at the traffic of hovering vehicles gliding between the mazes of buildings. They passed Mami at her desk, rapidly typing away at her computer, and rounded the corner to slam into a snag of students surrounding a vending machine. There was a squabble as they approached, planning to slip by them, but the students broke off before they could get past, leaving them with a sour Avian.
They froze, the Avian now giving them a deadly side-eye. "Y-you alright?"
She turned her gaze back to the vending machine that really had her ire. "The stupid thing swallowed my pixels! Could this day get any worse?" To emphasise her point, she gave the machine a good kick, only to immediately regret it.
They paused, peering through the glass. Duly they remembered the pouch they'd snatched from their locker, finding it at their belt.
"Wada ya tryna get?"
"Oculemonade." She hissed, rubbing her talon, though her demeanour shifted as they pulled out all the pixels they needed.
The greedy vending machine took their pixels as well, finally releasing the can and letting it hit the bottom with a clatter. Glowing, they handed the can to their new, pink-feathered friend.
"Oh, thank you, pretty star! Maybe this day won't suck that much after all."
Pretty star, gassy... so many names, but they didn't mind. Any name was better than none.
Moving past her and up the stairs, the airlock opened, filling the room with the sweet smell of Spring. A few pink petals from the great Protectorate Tree flew past them and into the hallway, followed by the soft bells ringing over the hum of hover vehicles and excited chatter.
Walking through the glass hallway, a Glitch shuffled past, fretful and annoyed. He began sweeping away at the petals that had been swept away by the wind. He turned his gaze towards the Novakid as they shuffled away, embarrassed. Nothing changed on his metal face, but the still stare was filled with rage only an overworked janitor could be filled with.
They gave a bow, muttering their apology before speed walking away. They kept their gaze on the airlock leading to the lecture theatre, not allowing their gaze to be dragged to the great tree in the centre of the courtyard. They just passed the trunk before a scaled hand snatched them again. Glancing back, the star saw a Hylotl gazing up at them.
"Sit with me for a moment and let us enjoy the chimes of the great tree."
The Novakid glanced down to S.A.I.L, disappeared to show they had 7 minutes left. "Not now sorry, I'm gonna be late!"
The Hylotl didn't let go, giving them a soft smile. "Some situations call for haste, but don't let life's small moments pass unappreciated." Nevertheless, he let go.
Hesitating, they glanced at their exit, before letting out a sigh. They moved over to the Hylotl and sat down, making the fish grin.
As they leaned back, they spotted a piece of metal, warmed by the sun. They traced the words with their finger, S.A.I.L translating the 'human' language. "In memory of Esther Bright. She was the Grand Protector before Leda Portia."
"She must have been a remarkable Protector to be granted a spot in the main courtyard." They paused, straining their memory. "I can't remember anything about her though."
They remembered Leda though. That day she greeted them when they stepped through those grand doors of the Protectorate was one of the few days they remembered with absolute clarity. Nothing could beat that day, except for today.
The Hylotl began to recite what sounded like a paragraph directly from a history textbook. "She held her position in the Protectorate for a long time, and changed how we handle racial problems when we're called in to intervene. She also made it mandatory for us to educate and share technology with Floran tribes at the request of their respective Greenfingers. 'Course, they're bloodthirsty things, so only Glitch Protectors can get anywhere close without being eaten alive. It's a waste of resources if you ask me."
The Novakid remained silent. They had a Floran for a roommate and had little to no trouble with them. They thought about telling the Hylotl just that, but thought better of it. It was hard to convince Hylotls that not all Florans were evil, especially if they were as old as this one was.
The peaceful chimes of the tree and gentle growl of passing hover vehicles was interrupted by S.A.I.L's beeping. They flared up at the device for disturbing the peace, only to see they had 5 minutes left.
"Ah! I gotta fly!"
The Hylotl only smiled. "Be safe, young Novakid."
They jumped from the bench, only to have their gaze diverted by a pink flower gently swaying in the breeze. It was a beautiful thing, with four petals like a pinwheel, and a golden centre.
They crouched down, hands cupping the flower before carefully picking it. Absentmindedly, they settled it in their 'hair', where it sat happily. They weren't normally sentimental, but this was a special occasion.
"This is no time to be picking flowers!" Their head snapped up, shooting to attention at the Protector's booming voice. "You're running late! Hurry inside before the ceremony starts."
Not wishing to anger the Apex, they ran to the airlock beside her. Just as they passed through the door, the women placed a hand on their shoulder. They turned around, ready for a lecture.
Instead, her face was kind. "I know this is nerve racking for you, but remember; the life of a Protectorate will not always be easy, but know you will always have Earth to return to. Leda Portia believes we can keep the universe safe. I hope you do as well."
They nodded and she let them shuffle to backstage. The airlock seemed to shut far too loudly behind them.
Leda Portia stood tall and proud behind the podium on stage, heterochromatic gaze scanning the room with concern. Her gaze fell on them, glowing in the dark and she let out a sigh of relief, shaking her head with a small smile. She knew they were late… How embarrassing!
They scooted towards their roommates, Jemima raising an eyebrow at them. "You sure cut it close." Behind her a Floran and Hylotl were conversing with each other, playing some sort of communication game and a Glitch was fidgeting in her uniform.
Playing with their gloves was easier than looking at her. "I got caught up! But…" They paused, raising their voice just enough for the others to hear. "I seem to remember you all sleep in the same room as me and didn't wake me up!"
"Aww, you were sso cute lil' ssstar~!" The Floran, Venison cooed, a wide grin on his face that only grew wider when it saw the flower in their 'hair'. "And even cuter with that flower… If you were late 'cause of that, Floran thinks it worth it!"
The Glitch pulled on her uniform, gaze on their flower. "Anxious. I wish I had something to accessories. It'd distract from my bolts."
"Moonmate, your uniform is custom fitted. It's. Fine." The Hylotl huffed, taking her hands away from her shirt and tucking her shirt back into her belt.
Moonmate's lights began to flash franticly. "Frantic. B-but Axel, I can't be seen like this! Everyone will see me!"
Axel could only sigh, resting his hands on her shoulders. "You'll only be out there for a minute. Maybe 5, but you wouldn't be able to see them anyway. The smoke machines keep the crowd from view."
Jemima rested herself against the wall, gaze fond. "We all worry sometimes Moony, don't fret. Besides, we'll be there with you!"
Venison nodded giving her a big hug. "Floran will fight any beast that hurts nice metal man!"
Reassured by their words, Moonmate nodded.
They began talking about other stuff, time seeming to have gone to a crawl now that they were together. Venison was explaining this new game Axel had created to help with his common language, and was even starting the game when they were hushed by their neighbours.
"The ceremony is starting; we have to get in line!"
The group scattered, frantically moving into alphabetical order when a stranger snatched them and threw the Novakid first in line. "They go first, and then we go up in the order of our names. That's how these things work."
"Look." A stranger growled, "I know we aren't human, but we're not complete imbeciles Mary."
The lights went dim and a spotlight flashed, bathing Leda Portia in light strong enough to dim the star's own light. Leda smiled, raising her hands to the crowd covered in a light smoke as she stood up onto the podium. Behind them, their friends and fellow students were either giddy with excitement or close to crying.
Wondered who was behind the curtain, they peeked out. They knew they didn't have any family waiting, but this was a big event. The room was filled with anticipation, and was quite warm. There were no doubt hundreds of Protectors and families that had travelled from all over to see the newcomers enter into their big family. The idea of being seen by so many was nauseating.
"My fellow Protectors…" Leda's voice rang clear and sharp; a voice only a Grand Protector could channel. "Today, we come together to witness the Protectorate grow. For five-hundred years we have stood proud here on Earth, drawing together races of all kinds in the name of peace."
She paused, her gaze soft and caring as she looked over the many faces of loved ones and loved Protectors. "Our task: to protect our fellow beings; to support, house, and educate those that seek our aid, and to foster accord between those that aspire to it."
"In the five years our newest members have trained to be here today, each and every one of them has had to undergo trials and tests of character to handle the situations they may find themselves in." Her gaze turned serious. "Despite our goal, the universe will not be friendly to those that are not prepared. Each and every one of our students has not only been trained in many types of combat, but also on how to survive on their own should they be separated from their crew."
Leda looked out to the crowd of concerned parents and serious Protectors. "Such an outcome is unwanted, but with the areas our Protectors are deployed, it is best to be prepared. But that is why they stand here. They are here today, because they have proven themselves to be strong enough to not only take care of themselves, but also of others."
She took a breath, nodding. "Though our students shall leave the safety of our home, they will not be gone forever. Our doors shall always remain open to those who need us. Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it. We will always remember our students; they will always have a place here."
From where they stood, they could just barely see a list of names on the list in front of her. Their heart began to thrum, stepping forward just enough to keep themselves out of view, creating a gap between them and their classmates.
"Today, in the name of peace, we welcome our newest compatriots, and present them with our greatest tool…" She raised her arm to the sky, a beautiful gold tool held firmly in her grasp.
"The Matter Manipulator."
The room shook as a low guttural rumble echoed through the building.
"Huh? What was that?" Leda lowered the manipulator, eyes flickering around for the source of the interruption.
The crowd began to murmur, people sitting up and twisting in their seats to see what was going on. The Novakid looked back at their friends, and saw the students had broken out of line and were crowding around the staircase, curious. The star felt their stomach twist. Something was wrong.
Before anyone could react, the sound of shattering glass was accompanied by the screams of the crowd as the glass ceiling fell like crystal rain. The citizens below scrambled on top of each other in an effort to flee, others ducking under their seats or cowering in place as the Protectors in the crowd and standing guard ran to help those trapped under the glass that powdered the room like snow.
The screams of the other students were somehow louder to the Novakid as students flew from the golden curtains into the crowd of bodies struggling for a way out. In the chaos they saw a flicker of red in their peripheral.
The ceiling collapsed as the metal walls and bricks crushed the students that were unable to get off the stairs in time.
"Axel!" The Novakid heard Venison scream from the other side of the wreckage.
Running to help, they grabbed desperately at the bars, trying to lift the scaffolding off the growing pile of blood that belonged to Axel, and who knew who else. The screams of the audience filled their hearing, as their legs buckled under the weight.
"Ssstar! Star! Are you there?"
Hissing at the metal in frustration, the Novakid answered. "I'm here Venison! Can you and the others help move the wreckage?"
"Panicked. If we move it, it will fall down the stairs and crush us too!"
Mind whirling, they could only suggest one thing. "Find another way out, we-we can meet up somewhere else just- Please find another way!"
"Graduates, follow me!"
Too many voices were filling their head, some crying for their leader's help, others calling for the new students. Panicking, they turned to the Grand Protector for help as well, freezing when they saw her.
Leda twitched in the crushing grasp of the monster. She tried turning her head to look as the Novakid slammed their fist against the tentacle.
In retaliation, the creature tightened around the Protector's body making a snap echo above the chaos. Leda choked out a cough, blood bubbling down her jaw. Barely able to move, her arm slipped out of the monster's hold, Matter Manipulator hanging from her weak grasp. Looking down at the Novakid, they saw her eyes were going dull, her voice nothing but a gargled choke.
"You, graduate! Take the- ah! Take the manipulator! Get to safety!"
In anger, the tentacle held tighter, tighter, until the snap of her back caused her body to go completely limp, the monster slamming her against the floor before dragging her down into the building.
Their knees gave out, their body hitting the floor. S.A.I.L's voice rang out, frightful and alert.
"It is not safe to remain here. Take the manipulator and head to the shuttle pad!"
The Novakid stared at the golden tool that lay amongst the wooden rubble and blood. A jolt in their body suddenly had them standing to their feet, their mind going blank. "Get to the shuttle pad." was the only thought running through their mind.
Stumbling, they snatched the golden tool up and attached it to their belt and leapt over the bloody gap in the polished wooden floor that was now littered with glass crystals. Their gaze remained only on the glowing green 'exit' sign that glowed above the stairs and through the golden curtains to the other side of the stage.
There were others; sets and groups of civilians and Protectors running through doorways and branching paths, many heading down the hall with bright golden writing labelled 'Shuttle Pad'.
As they started to follow the crowd, there was a great rumble above and the roof was slammed by something large. The ceiling caved in, trapping those who weren't quick enough to move under a crushing pile of steel, dirt and snapped foundations. Those who had jumped back stumbled away down another hallway that led to the elevators, while others rushed forward, hands digging into the soft earth in an effort to snatch at the body parts trapped under.
The Novakid rushed forward, spotting three student uniforms amid the crowd. They shouted for them to help, clawing at the Matter Manipulator as they rushed towards the rubble; but the students looked at them, fear and unknown wildness in their eyes as they ran away. Many gave up on the fallen and joined the crowd, desperate to look out for themselves.
They aimed the tool at the rubble, S.A.I.L's voice babbling instructions to them, but it was not necessary; they had been training for years, and this was not something their mind would forget.
They grasped the tool with shaking hands, gloves being the only reason their grip didn't falter. They pulled the trigger like the guns they had wielded so many times before and stepped back at the force of the fine blue laser shot out, seemingly swallowing and changing the rubble to fine powder.
In the back of their mind, they could hear buildings being destroyed, knocked down by a being that had no care, as though the strong buildings were made out of cards. They could hear thousands of voices crying out in many languages below and around them. They were snapped out of their confused state when something slammed into their shoulder. Shaking themselves, they saw a mother run past, child in hand.
They followed, the lights flickering as they called after the women to stay close, not to stray too far but as they rounded the corner, they faced an empty hall, doors on all sides. They strained their gaze, glow dull with uncertainty. They jumped when their boots hit the ground with a sudden splash.
Looking down, the hall was flooding up to the third step and coming from the 2nd locker room. They rushed over and threw open the door, peering in to see knocked over lockers, floating books, posters and used-to-be treasures.
They stumbled through the dark and wet, hearing S.A.I.L's voice as they slammed into a door that was sealed tight. "Scans show the room beyond this door has flooded. It would be best not to go in… I advise you to find a way over it."
Looking this way and that, their back slammed into a ridged surface. Looking up, a ladder led up to a hatch in the roof, 'Emergency Access' in clear golden lettering under the ladder.
They glanced over at the lockers, wondering how to reach the ladder that was too high off the ground for them, an idea forming in their mind. A table and chairs sat where they'd been knocked aside; they would do nicely.
The building shook as they dragged the table to the ladder, leaping up and just managing to catch the lower rung. They used all the strength they could muster in their arms, heaving themselves up to the second rung, legs dangling in the air. The hatch seemed so far away…
They shook their head; they'd been trained to survive, they could do this. Another, and another, their body bending until their knee was pressed under their chin, setting on the first rung below. From there, the hatch seemed to fly towards them until the little latch was freed, and the red sky was choked with black smoke.
Their chest felt tight as they dragged their body over the soot covered metal roof. The hatch slammed shut, just missing their foot. As they strained their aching legs to a stand their hand grazed something soft, and warm.
Beneath their fingers was the tattered sleeve of a Hylotl, eyes open in mild alarm, as though paralysed. A quick check around her neck showed no signs of life, and her eyes were devoid of any recognition when they leaned over her. Had she died of a heart attack? Stress? Or had something-
"The scale of this disaster is immeasurable; the destruction occurring is beyond my capacity to quantify. You must leave this planet immediately!" S.A.I.L's voice was so much louder than it needed to be, its words only emphasised with the sound of something large slamming into something solid.
Looking up showed the building beside them being assaulted by a large tendril, its fine frame crippling under the pressure, glass showering down like deadly rain. With a dreadful wine, and the sickening snap of the last piece of metal framework trying to keep the building in tack, the building toppled dangerously. It almost seemed to hover in the air for a few seconds as gravity realised it had a job to do. It thundered to the floor as a frightening speed, crushing any unfortunate souls that had been fleeing that very building's doors.
They stumbled to their feet; if they could cry, they would. Gazing around in their hazy mind, they saw the cracked opening of a vent that had been pulled desperately away from its screws, leading back into the building. Being careful not to slice their body on the torn metal grate, they slipped themselves inside.
The academy shook dangerously as the shockwave from its neighbours gracious fall began to take hold. The building shuddered, struggling to hold itself together for the people inside.
Their breathing stopped, panic filling them. The walls were far too small; brushing their back against the roof of the vent as they crawled made them want to curl into themselves.
"Please remain calm. Your heart rate is exceeding recommended levels."
S.A.I.L's voice was a gift in their panicking mind, and before they knew it, an opening to the hall below had been kicked away, the grate lying below.
Carefully, gloved fingers gripping onto the edges, they lowered their body carefully, the flickering lights making their vision blur. The splash of water signalled their fall into the flooded hall.
The gold lettering was hard to make out, but the little lights attached to the stairs shimmered in the water. They followed those little glowing stars, slamming into an airlock that was just barely open. Squeezing themselves through the impossibly small gap, limbs burning where the metal had pressed so tightly, they fell without grace into the hall.
The once glorious hall that was designed to show off just what the academy offered to its visitors from the shuttle pad now laid in disgrace. The window walls were shattered, the framework unable to hold onto the roof while the building shook and the glass swelled. The howl of the wind was roaring, and threatened to suck them out into the hell outside. But even over the roar of the wind, the despairing cries of the poor souls below was deafening.
Mounds of dirt blocked the only exit, but the footprints imprinted in the soft earth stopped them from using the Matter Manipulator. They followed the steps to the roof; there was no one in sight, or any feasible exit to run through. No airlock or vent; whoever had come up here must have jumped.
Going back was a better option than the impossible fall below, but as they turned to run back, something bright stood out amongst the grass.
The banner above barely held to the pole it had hung proudly to. Its fabric was torn and whoever had tried to drag the banner from its spot had only succeeded in ripping the lower half to the floor.
The Novakid knelt down, knees damp from the grass. The remains of the banner were long enough to cover an adult, and its fabric was not too mangled from the attack; it was soft and warm. Selfishly, they couldn't bear to leave it there. It was useless, but…
In the hall the dirt dissolved into the Matter Manipulator, the way clear.
The abandoned luggage pickup still had bags and containers sitting on the stopped conveyor belt, some knocked over, spilling the inhabitant's possessions on the floor.
"There should be something we can use here, check the luggage!" S.A.I.L's suggestion to loot the possible dead's belongings irked the Novakid, but a S.A.I.L's programming was to take care of its owner above any moral code or rule.
Rummaging through the luggage, they found some pixels which they shoved into their purse with muffled apologies. Turning away to check another bag their foot kicked something harder than the usual plastic casing. Peering down in the dim light, a wooden chest with caution tape wrapped around its head, and dust clinging to its abandoned surface lay under the conveyor belt. Curious, they pulled it out.
Inside was one item; a Protectorate's sword, a blade only given to those who were sent off to dangerous locations that needed their help. A blade for soldiers. But this one was a rusted sword whose blade was bent and chipped, and the wires at its hilt were exposed and sparking. Despite its condition it would do.
It was heavier than they thought, but with two hands, it was doable. S.A.I.L was rehashing the lessons and training manuals they had spent so many sleepless nights memorising. Giving it a test swing, they believed it would hold if it hit something.
Past the luggage area was the hallway leading to the shuttle pad, but the building was shuddering again, the foundations unable to hold on any longer. For one horrifying second, the building felt like it was tipping.
They stumbled towards the exit, the screech of metal on metal as the docked ships began to slip from their hold on the floor masking their own scream. The floor was thundering underneath them, making their head spin with the vibrations when something flew out of the floor. They cried out, hiding their head under their hands as shards of metal tore through their uniform.
The shuddering stopped, the building somehow holding itself just barely together for the few that were still trapped. They carefully looked up, freezing at the thing looming in front of them.
Blocking the only exit was three of those red tentacles that had torn through the graduation hall before, although these were smaller. Despite their size they were strong enough to block anyone trying to escape, swaying as though they knew the star was there.
Their legs were shaking as they dragged themselves to their feet, stumbling towards the swaying mass. Raising their sword, the blade was steady as they swung. In a spray of red, the creature's tentacles scattered across the stairs, blood soaking into the tiles. In a trance, the Novakaid jumped over the twitching corpse and into the red light.
The world had deteriorated in the short time they had been running through the halls. Barely a building stood, and the screams had nearly died out. The howling wind and distant crash of buildings further away were muffled by the 'bang bang!' of fleeing ships activating their FTL.
Up above, the red sky was cut through by craters rocketing to the Earth, a dull round circle of light above them. They paused. The rocks were from the moon… the moon had been destroyed.
S.A.I.L was babbling now, repeating the same sentence over and over, volume at its highest. "I've overridden the controls, get aboard!"
The bay was strangely empty; ships had been either taken or fallen from the landing pad. The only one left was a beaten ship, its metal busted and cables sticking out, damaged from the falling debris. It didn't look like it would even be able to pick itself off the ground, but at this point, they'd take anything.
But the academy could no longer hold itself anymore. With a deafening snap, the foundations holding the bay up caved in. The dock began to crumble under the weight of the ship as the star bolted for the hanger. Dully, they spotted something glowing in the corner of their vision, but they ignored it as they hit the control panel, throwing their sword to the ground. They didn't even sit themselves down as they frantically pushed buttons that were vaguely familiar in their mind, praying it would work.
They hadn't been completely abandoned by whatever powers were in the world, as the ship roared to life as best it could, lifting itself from the dock that fell into the abyss below. Peering from the window, the Novakid stared down at what used to be their only home.
The academy was wrapped in a choking hold by the largest of the red appendages. The Protectorate's fight was finally lost as it toppled with a scream of snapping metal and shattered glass, joining the other buildings below.
With its fall Earth seemed to follow suit. Ravines sliced through the ground, swallowing anything in its path.
But they didn't get to see the remnants of their home blast to pieces, as the ship jolted forward without warning, throwing them off their feet and slamming them into the teleporter as the ship activated its FTL.
Something warm grazed against their body, bumping and nuzzling. The constant buzzing from exposed wires and beeping from their S.A.I.L's terminal stopping them from drifting back to sleep.
Shivering, they reached over to pull their blanket over them, gloved hand grazing something not quite as soft as their blanket. They rolled over, body aching from sleeping on the metal-
With a jerk they sat up, making the glowing creature jump back in surprise. A snugglet? They didn't own any pets, and no one they knew owned a snugglet. They examined their surroundings, mind slow on remembering what had happened.
The ship had lost power, and it was deathly quiet aside from the odd noise or two. Lights flickered and buzzed, making shadows grow and disappear. This ship wasn't theirs, nor was the snugglet that had hid in the ship from the destruction of their home, but it was Novakid in design. It was familiar, even if they didn't remember ever owning one.
Shakily, they got to their feet, a familiar voice setting them off.
"Please reboot the ship."
Simple and plain, but it was enough to make them cry out.
Desperate to hear more of their only companion, they ran down the ship and pushed their hand against the small power button in the left-hand corner of their terminal. The ship stuttered and paused, a screen replacing the S.A.I.L with an hourglass. In small pink lettering, instructions began to fill the screen.
'The ship and its computers are in the process of being rebooted. Previous data is being erased due to severe damage to hardware. Please place your hand here.'
A scanner appeared beside the instructions. Hesitating, they took their glove off and pushed their hand against the screen. A few seconds passed before it flashed and they drew away.
'Novakid identified. Please state your name, date of birth, and occupation. This is a precautionary method in case of potential ship theft.'
They stared at the little boxes they were to type into. Their name? They didn't know it! Novakid's never remembered anything…
'But you can make it up.' They thought. 'Start a new life.'
It was the only option they really had, so they typed in the data they made up, making sure their birth date at least made them old enough to own a ship. They paused at the box labelled 'occupation' for only a second before typing in 'Protector'.
The system recycled itself again, taking longer this time. The snugglet nuzzled against their leg, seeming shy but lonely. They reached down to pet the glowing creature.
A beep from above drove their attention away from the little snugglet.
'Did you own a S.A.I.L before acquiring this ship? If so, would you like to transfer your current S.A.I.L's data to the ship?'
Taking the watch carefully from their wrist, they gazed down at the cracked screen, before taking the cable that had popped out and inserting it into the watch's side. The screen flashed, before the words 'transferring' appeared. A glowing little S.A.I.L head was floating from a small Earth to the ship on the other side, repeating the animation over and over.
Can Novakid's cry? They didn't know, but they did then, even if tears didn't fall out like they did for the others. They were on the floor before they knew it, curled in on themselves. Their foot grazed something hard, and a glance down showed the sword they'd thrown beside them.
Shivering for warmth, they dragged the remains of the golden banner around their body hiding in the warmth its thick fabric provided.
"Are you there?"
They sat up just enough for the A.I to spot them. It tilted its head to the side, raising an eyebrow. "What are you doing down there?"
It paused, the watch beeping. "Please remove me."
With trembling fingers, they pulled the watch, the cable zipping back into its box. As soon as the watch was placed on their wrist, S.A.I.L frowned.
"Your heart rate and breathing are unusually fast. I believe you are… sad and scared. Your body temperature is also worryingly low. Please take care of yourself."
They couldn't hold themselves up any longer. Sliding back down, they made themselves comfy on the metal floor under S.A.I.L.
"I am not only an A.I but I am also your friend. I was designed and given to you before you had even begun to see." For a brief moment, its voice sounded sad. "Your health is of great importance to me. Earth…" It paused, as though wondering what to say.
Before it could, the ship stuttered to life, its roar meek compared to before. The lights blinded them, as the ship whirled up its heaters. The room wasn't as cold anymore.
"Rebooting…" S.A.I.L's voice had gone robotic once more. "My name is S.A.I.L, your Ship-based Artificial Intelligence Lattice. I manage the maintenance of your ship. I am also programmed to offer your information and advice."
"Earth was attacked by an unknown force, and was subsequently annihilated." The Novakid lowered their head, crying. "The ship's navigation systems were damaged in our escape. Our location is currently unknown."
Location… They hadn't even thought about where they were. They didn't really feel like figuring it out now either.
"S.A.I.L? What's the condition of the ship?"
"Navigation is down, thrusters are down. Currently operating on emergency power which should last one month. The FTL drive is down and empty. The teleporter is set to its emergency function to allow travel to the world below, but not anywhere else unless repaired. Locker and S.A.I.L can be accessed, along with the heating system and lights. Doors are functioning. The bathroom can also be accessed but water supply is limited and should be preserved for your hydration."
The Novakid laid their head back, signing. So much work to do, they knew they had to keep going, but they just couldn't. Not right now.
"I would suggest you clean yourself up. A good wash is believed to help clear the mind." S.A.I.L suggested.
The idea of being clean was far more appealing than sitting in their ruined uniform. Getting to their feet, they began to undress. It wasn't like anyone could see them anyway. The snugglet pranced around their feet, running to lie on their clothes but they quickly snatched them from the floor.
"Sorry little one, you can't lay on those."
The snugglet almost seemed to glower as they fled to the bathroom.
It was a small room, a sink and toilet crammed in front of each other and a shower-bath right next to it. A singular mirror and cabinet hung above the sink, with a stack of toilet paper and a small bin set next to the toilet. Cramped between the shower and sink was a rack for towels that weren't there.
Plugging and filling the sink with a little water, they placed their uniform inside to soak. They did the same with the bath, letting the showerhead fill it as they scrubbed at their filthy uniform. The dirt came out easily, and as Novakid's didn't bleed, they didn't have to worry about those stains. It was ripped in certain areas though, but they told themselves it would be okay. They'd been taught how to sew; they could patch it up if they got their hands on a needle and thread.
By the time the uniform was done, the bath was half full, and that was good enough for them. They dipped a toe in and sighed, melting into the pleasingly warm bath. A Novakid didn't need to bathe, but they absorbed the warmth. It soothed the aching in their limbs and the steam cleared their mind.
It was easier to think of Earth now, at least they didn't feel so small and lonely in the tiny bath. How long had they been knocked out? Where were they? Did everyone already know of Earth's destruction? How many had escaped?
How many had died?
They slumped down, vision going dark. They had no family as far as they remembered, but any personal items or friends had been in the academy… There wasn't anything else they could do. Except…
They pulled their arm out from under the water, finding the app labelled 'contacts' and pressed on the first name they saw.
Venison's picture shined, a little ring going around it, the words 'calling…' scrolling underneath. The watch vibrated, a big 'X' going across the Floran's image.
S.A.I.L's voice echoed through the bathroom. "Signal no longer exists. Their S.A.I.L has been destroyed."
They tried every contact they had, memories and names only surfacing when their faces appeared. Even Leda Portia, the number they had been told only to call if they were in danger, was unable to be reached, the same message repeating itself over and over.
They slammed their fist into the water, but it only splashed their face. Suddenly feeling too small, they slipped under until their head was completely submerged. It gave some relief to the suffocating feeling that threatened to engulf them.
The water was cool by the time they raised their head again, the room no longer full of steam, the cold of space having filled the bathroom once more. They dragged themselves out and drained the water in the bath and sink, S.A.I.L's voice asking if they wanted the water filtered.
"Not right now S.A.I.L. That'll just waste power."
They didn't need to dry themselves off, the cold doing that job for them. Their uniform was still damp except for the first layer of it; the long-sleeved black shirt and pants. Not wanting to be naked anymore, they slipped the lower layer on and decided to explore the ship while their clothes dried.
The academy only provided standard issue ships, and that was only for groups of Protectors going on missions. Outside of that, you had to buy your own ship and if you wanted it built a certain way you'd have to get a certain race to do it. Ships were expensive, and even in this day and age some people still couldn't afford a home.
They rummaged through their damp clothes, forgetting the pamphlet and bag of pixels they had in their pocket. They carried the items, feeling relieved that the pamphlet wasn't too damage. It marked the date and time of the graduation ceremony and was laminated but a little crinkled. They left the bathroom, wondering for a minute where they could store what little they had when they looked up.
Opposite to the bathroom was another shoot off door, leading to another room, and beside that was the ship locker embedded into the wall. It hadn't been activated yet nor had a pass code set, so it opened easily for them.
They were surprised that there was something actually in there. Four cans of preserved food sat at the very back with a can opener on top, a torch with a packet of spare batteries beside it, and ten large chunks of carved wood bound by thick cord with a dark cloth wrapped around their tops. Beside that was a box of matches. Was this emergency supplies?
They set the pamphlet and purse inside. They'd forgotten their Matter Manipulator in the bathroom and the sword lying under the terminal, collecting both before storing them in the locker. They looked for anything else in the main room they would have to clean up, but didn't find much. The ship and its internal problems were things they knew they'd need to fix, but it was a question on how to. And that sword… could they fix it? They decided to ask.
"No known technique that is available to the public can fix it. How Protectorate weapons are forged are a secret only the Grand Protector's and blacksmiths sworn to secrecy know." S.A.I.L answered.
"... So I can't fix it?"
Exploring the room beside the locker showed a very small bedroom. The bed was in the doorway, so the only way to move around would be to crawl on top of it. Above the bed hung a small light with a switch at the bed's head and just below the light was a shelf embedded into the wall that was currently empty. The bed was comfortable though so that was a plus.
The cockpit was next and it was in slightly good shape. The FTL drive was blinking with big red letters spelling 'EMPTY' appearing every second. The seat had no indentation that showed someone had sat beforehand, and the control panel looked okay, but many buttons were missing their lights. The navigation screen also had big red lettering telling them it wasn't working, not even letting them see where they were.
Exploration over, the Novakid went back and was relieved to find their clothes were dry. They slipped their socks and gloves on first, before putting on the shirt, pants, belt and boots. The only thing left was the golden remains of the banner. It would make a good cape to keep them warm, but they'd store it in the locker for now.
By chance, something made them look up. The light must have been flickering or the ship made a funny noise, they didn't remember because all they could think about was that pink flower sitting amid their gas 'hair'.
The banner fell to the floor as trembling hands plucked the flower from their head. Its petals had gone solid and strong. They dully remembered the idea that the flowers were genetically mutated so when plucked, they'd last forever, but maybe that was wrong. They didn't know nor care, not right now.
They fell, snatching at the sink to keep themselves up, chest tight and stomach twisting. It was far too hard to stand now.
"Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it." Leda…
A Novakid could not remember much. Often it was said that they barely remembered anything past a year. But this was different. They remembered everything, from the day they stepped through those doors, lost and confused, to now.
They stood without really knowing why. The banner wrapped around them with the flower cradled in their hands. The snugglet bolted forward from the main room, jumping on its tiny back legs to see what they were holding.
Through the thoughts running through their mind, one was clear. 'I won't forget. Not a single soul I saw on Earth, not a single stranger or friend. Every face I spotted while on that stage, I will remember. I won't forget…' Images flashed through their mind: the large red tentacles crushing civilians. The buildings snapping and falling to an endless abyss to crush those running away. The Grand Protector… Leda being thrown down like a useless toy by a bored child. The writhing mass of red limbs scattering the floor, twitching.
"I won't forget you. I will hunt you down to the edge of space if I need to!" They shouted, the sungglet shrinking back. "I'll avenge Earth! I'll avenge the Protectorate, I promise you that!"
Breath haggard now, it was almost hard to scream the words out to the endless galaxy outside. "I WON'T FORGET ANYTHING; NOT THIS TIME!"
The ship seemed to spin, but their legs didn't give out no matter how badly they shook. Their heat was burning with… something. Courage? Anger? Hope…
Breathing heavy, their body crumbled against the wall. The snugglet carefully approached nuzzling their leg.
"Are ya hungry lil' fella? I am too…"
They rested their vision, mind swirling with so many thoughts and ideas. But food came first right now. The flower now sat in their 'hair' once more, banner tied around their neck as they pulled out one of the cans.
It was orange, and appeared to be labelled as some form of stew. Snugglets and Novakids could eat anything though so the idea of it being edible or not wasn't a problem as long as it contained the nutrients they needed.
It was easy to open but there was nothing to warm it up or anything to eat with. They sat on the floor, gloves coming off and eating half of the can with their hands. It wasn't good on their sensors, but it kept them satisfied. They placed it on the ground for the snugglet so it could eat the other half.
A quick rinse in the sink and their gloves were back on. They grabbed their Matter Manipulator from the locker and attached it back to their belt before ransacking the rest of the locker. Reaching for the torch, they noticed a chunk of cloth at the back. Pulling it out revealed a small survival backpack with a small first aid box shoved at the bottom. Pleased there was something to carry their stuff in, they took the torch and batteries, the wooden torches, and two out of three cans left in the locker into the backpack before slipping it on their back.
Knowing better than to be without a weapon now, they took the sword.
The snugglet had finished eating and was peering up at them in curiosity. They reached down to give it a gentle pat on the head.
"I'm going out lil' fella. I'll be back soon though, so don't you worry." It only blinked up at them, not understanding.
The teleporter was glowing with a dull blue light that shone brighter when they stepped on the pedestal. A little control panel with a screen sat inside, with only one option.
'Teleport to the world below?'
Their heart hammered, finger hovering over 'yes'. What would they find? Would it be safe? Would there be civilisation?
There was only one way to find out.
With a shaky breath, they pressed down and in a whirl of pink light, they were gone, heart filled with determination for that future they had promised to fight for.