I pace the common area of the ship with my arms crossed. A progress bar on the screen slowly crawls its way to completion. There's so much data on the ship's black box, it'd be a waste to leave it behind. "How long till our new ship is ready? We've been waiting for hours."   "Be patient," Fray replies, not even bothering to turn their head. They sit on the metal floors staring at the empty wall as if searching for something, an answer to some burning question they've yet to ask out loud. "Are we in a hurry? It's not like we're short on time."   I sigh and shake my head. "That's not the point. I'm restless." I look at them and still they stare. It only makes the anxiety worse. "What are you staring at?"   "Nothing."   I scoff. "No, not nothing. What's going on?"   "I'm thinking."   "You do that a lot."   Finally, they turn to face me. "Sorry. Does it upset you?"   "What? No," I reply, shaking my head with wide eyes. "Something's obviously bothering you, and has for a while. I figured you'd say something by now."   "Ah," they begin with a weak smile, "not really my way of doing things, I'm afraid."   "Talk to me. It helps to know."   "It's not you."   "But you'd say that even if it was." I reply.   They laugh and after a moment they nod. "Fair point. You remember the loop, yes?"   "How could I forget?" I reply, sitting beside them. "What about it?"   "The loop is more than an idea, it's a logical problem. Why does it exist, how, and why does it only affect some and not others?" They lean back, their eyes focused on the steel wall once more. "It's like a puzzle."   "And you think the missing pieces are somewhere in that wall?"   They shake their head. "Hardly. There's not many missing pieces left to find. I'm putting them together. The wall is a different problem, another clash of culture."   "How can you work two problems at once?"   "That's how the Lebha are. We have many trains of thought and they're hard to derail." They pause and turn to look me in the eye. "Why do you paint the walls of your ship?"   It takes me a moment to respond. I collect the right words, arrange them how they should be said, but somehow it doesn't feel correct, as if it doesn't fully convey the right answer. "I just enjoy it. It passes the time, sure. It makes the ship truly mine. It gives it a personality, an extra shade of beauty, if that makes sense."   They reply in a flat tone. "It doesn't. It's beautiful but what's the point?"   "Art doesn't need to have a point."   They turn back to the wall. Their face tightens. I guess that wasn't the right answer. After a moment they let out a sigh. "Maybe it's beyond me."   "Have you ever tried it?" Fray shakes their head and I leap from the floor. "Then maybe you should."   I grab the paint, the brushes, and gather water in a steel bowl. I hand a brush to them and ask, "What would you like to paint?"   "What should I paint?"   "Anything. You can paint anything you want." I reply.   "Do I just paint from memory?" They ask.   "You don't have too." I point to a painting of my own, the one with the angels. "I've never seen that before, I just imagined it."   "So it's about the creation of something new?" They say, dipping the brush in pale white.   I shrug. "That's one of many reasons." I watch as they touch the brush to the wall, lightly streak the paint in a near perfect line, then work the paint in, smearing it into whatever shape they desired.   Their body moves with precision and grace, an admirable form that is not unlike a work of art in and of itself. I can't help but smile at the sight, even when it goes rigid due to some perceived mistake.   My mind wanders to the stars above, how millions of Eden are dying at each other's hands at this very moment. "Wait. The other eden, are they like you?"   "What do you mean?" They reply, their eyes fixed to the metal canvas.   "You're immortal. I figured since it's the end of time, they would be as well."   They nod, washing out the brush as they speak, "I've been asking myself the same question. It's not as simple as that, I think." They dip the brush in deep, dark green. "Somnihein is conditional. If you exist in a future time, it stands to reason that you can't die until that time has passed."   "So you can't die until the timeline is done with you?"   "Exactly." They take a step back and study their work before deciding on their next step. "These Eden may be immortal, but we're close to the end of time, which means the odds of the timeline being done with you is much higher. That's why they can fight and die."   "So the future is predetermined?"   "Yes, but free will plays a roll. Things can change, but if they do, then the result is what's written in stone. We have no way of knowing the true course of events, however. It would take something on a higher plane of understanding."   "Gibraltar?"   "Gibraltar." They pause and turn to me then cock their head when I let out a fit of laughter. "What?"   "You're a messy painter," I reply, rubbing my cheek to indicate where a wayward drop of blue managed to land.   They rub their face clean, then smile. "Thank you. We managed to kill Gibraltar. How do you feel?"   "I mean, I accomplished my goal, so there's that." I reply. To be honest, I hadn't thought about it up till now. "That's a lie. I feel hollow; without purpose."   They laugh and return to their work. "That's the result of vengeance, I'm afraid. I shouldn't have kept it to myself, but Gibraltar spoke to me just before it died."   "How?"   "No idea, but it did. It made me feel…" they stop, forcing silence as if unsure if they should say it.   "What?" I ask.   "I felt targeted. It claimed to love you yet never spoke a word to you. It only addressed me."   "It loved me?" I shout. "I… what?"   "You saw the others like Gibraltar, the creatures fighting in the void. I've never heard of the Lebshi, but I believe the term refers to them."   "You're saying Gibraltar was an eden?"   "Gibraltar, Nergal, and all others like them, yes." They sigh, clearly dreading what comes next. "They are what we become, or maybe they're the gods themselves. The latter is most likely, but It would be self serving to say so."   "Self serving?"   "It said something to me with its dying breath. 'This is when we disappear.' It spoke like it knew me, my thoughts."   I put it together on my own. I understand why they don't want to say it. I hated Gibraltar, inflicted pain upon it, murdered it. I'm not sure if I feel sad or angry. "You think Gibraltar was you?"   "I think I do. If so, I've seen how I die. I know things that I can't change." They turn to me and their eyes go wide. They step forward and sit across from me, laying the brush down on the steel bowl. "I'm sorry. I didn't know, and I might still be wrong."   "No. I think you're right," I reply in a whisper. "Gibraltar's had us on a hook this whole time. It would make sense." The more I think the more it lines up. Gibraltar sought my mother, if the stories are true. It needed her to rescue me.   Whatever made it necessary to kill her still remains unanswered, but maybe that is how the chips needed to fall. Every moment of my life led me here and maybe I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be.   I feel powerless, now. To think I'm but a pawn, a puppet dancing to the whims of some alien god, even if that god could well be the only friend I currently have, or ever had. It begs the question… Why?   "If we assume that's true, then why? Did it tell you why?"   Fray shrugs and repeats the words, "Because you're worth it."   "Are you serious?" I ask.   They nod. "Not exactly climactic but that's what was said." They lean back and let out a lung full of air. "I think I understand, too. I told you I made a choice."   "Yeah, when we emerged from the Fever Breach."   "That choice was you. All the others out there are fighting for something we can barely grasp." Their hands wave as they speak, as if to illustrate their words. "They fight to break the loop, or maintain it, and some may not even understand why. Not me though. I think I will end up fighting for you."   "I don't understand."   A smirk appears then fades as quickly as it came. "You don't have to, I suppose."   "I'd like to, though." I reply.   "Me too, but I don't think I'm ready yet." They pause to laugh before continuing, "It's strange. I spent most of my life longing for death. I felt that urge most when I reached Somnihein and it was no longer possible. I blamed you, though it shames me to say it."   "Underatandable. Is it different now?"   "Yes it is. The Lebha believe death gives life meaning. I'm not so sure anymore. Death gives life urgency, not meaning." They clasp their paint stained hands together and shrug. "They'd call me a breaker of chains for such thoughts."   "What does give life meaning, then?" I ask.   A wide grind stretches from ear to ear on fray's face. "Me. I give my life meaning."   We hear a knock at the airlock, and when answered, an Eden soldier steps onto the ship. Their words spill out as fast as they can form them, which only makes it harder for the translator to catch up. "It's time to go, and we need to move quickly."   Fray cocks their head and slowly rises, their hand instinctively reaching for the rifle leaning against their bag by the wall.   The soldier notices and doesnt even try to stop them. Instead, they give a slow nod. "Arm yourselves. You'll need it."   On our way out of the ship, I catch a glimpse of the wall, and the near complete image painted on its surface. I see blue eyes staring back at me. I see white skin and blonde hair. If she wasn't so pretty, I'd say she looks just like me...


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Apr 15, 2022 12:23

OMG, I did NOT see that coming. I need to rethink everything, maybe go back and re-read it. This reframes it all the way back to - wait - breaking into heaven?

Apr 15, 2022 21:45 by R. Dylon Elder

Muahahhahahaa! Ahem. Indeed it may...

Apr 15, 2022 13:36 by Morgan Biscup

Fray...   Crying again. She is a good friend. And intelligent.   Awesome to see that I followed the breadcrumbs right, about Gibraltar. I still hope she can save her Mom, though.

Lead Author of Vazdimet.
Necromancy is a Wholesome Science.
Apr 16, 2022 17:16 by R. Dylon Elder

I love Fray, and I'm happy to hear the breadcrumbs were found! Were not quite done yet, so there is still hope.

May 9, 2022 23:03 by Morgan Biscup

Just letting you know you need the next button.

Lead Author of Vazdimet.
Necromancy is a Wholesome Science.
May 9, 2022 23:52 by R. Dylon Elder

Ahhh thank you.

Apr 16, 2022 11:59 by TC

*slams fists on table* my god!!! yeah!! I am on the edge of my seat. This confirms a lot of what I was thinking, gosh I cannot wait for the resolution of all of this im just. So excited!!

Creator of Arda Almayed
Apr 16, 2022 17:17 by R. Dylon Elder

Yesssss! Thanks so much! Soon. This story was hard and I'm just as excited to reach the conclusion.

Jun 4, 2022 08:41 by Grace Gittel Lewis

MY BRAIN IS PUTTY. I WAS SO CLOSE BUT SO FAR. God that makes so much sense though, holy hell. Also, man, real well done with the pacing here— you managed to give us a break right when we needed it, and then BAM, punched us right in the gut once our defenses were down!   Also, real nice to see what I called out way back on the Eden belief of death giving life meaning finally come full circle!

Jul 4, 2022 18:34 by Stormbril

Aaaaaaaaaaaaa it all falls together so nicely! What a surprise that seems SO perfectly fitting! Excellent excellent work Dylon, loving this as always :D

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