Selene opened her eyes. She blinked a few times, then waved a hand in front of her face. It was dark, so dark she could barely tell if her eyes were open or closed. Darkness held her, pulled her forward. She wasn't scared. It was comforting, being held in a warm dark cradle, away from the noise and discord of the world. She felt safe here…
Then there was something solid beneath her feet. There was still darkness around her, but now it had an expectant air, like something was about to happen.
Selene breathed out and smiled .She knew what this was, and she welcomed it.She was tired. She wanted to rest…
The she wasn't alone. With the suddenness of a heartbeat, a grey shape was next to her. It writhed, switching between shapes, mere outlines with no depth or detail. Markazians, Terachnoids, Novalians, even the bulky shape of a Cragmite.
Then it settled, and took the form of a Lombax, the only detail the black eyes that contrasted starkly against the grey shape.
The Kaos Entity.
"Where am I? What is this place?" It's voice was still harsh and cold, but tempered with confusion. It could sight of her.
"You! You ungrateful little minx! After all I've done for you, you drag me…where?"
"This is death."
"Yes. I brought you here somehow. And here you will stay! I swear by my fathers name!" Selene clenched her fists in anger. "Its more than you deserve…"
"You don't understand…" The voice of Kaos softened. She swore she heard a note of sadness creep in. "I was born in the first fiery second of the big bang. I have been present since the beginning, when the universe was empty, just rocks and stars. I was not a part of it, but I was content. Then an anomaly arose. A discord in the silence of the universe. Life."
Selene began to understand.
"You were jealous."
"I am the most powerful being that has ever lived! I have seen the raw strength of a supernova! I have danced in the heart of black holes! Yet the smallest creature that scurries in the grass is more alive than me! For a time, I watched them, saw life progress from blobs to more intricate beings, fascinated and appalled by the sheer chaos of it. There was no order to it, no pattern. Then I made the mistake of joining with one of the simple creatures forming on a young planet. My first taste of life, wonderful and terrible. Yet still, I was apart, living yet not living, simply controlling the creature, not being it, and it died too soon, leaving me cold and alone once more. My jealousy became rage. Why should such crude and weak creatures enjoy what I cannot? What gives them the right?"
"If you couldn't have it, no one could…"
"Exactly. But for millennia, there was little I could do but watch and seethe as life advanced and my hatred grew. Then, I found the Balance. I had never noticed it before. It had always been there. A case of being unable to see the forest for the trees. I found that taking an incarnation and committing the right deeds shifted it in a way that could potentially collapse it. It became my goal, my one focus. It consumed my whole being. It is all I have ever desired. Destruction, and the peace that will follow."
The Entities voice sounded tired. The sadness was stronger.
"From the beginning, I have always been aware. Of everything. Every chemical reaction, every electrical discharge, every shift in time, space and the Balance. Even in my Incarnations, I can still feel it. Endless, endless awareness. I have heard of this thing called…'boredom'? A universe of wonders, and you can be bored? Is it any wonder I was jealous? I have never been able to rest, or sleep, or escape. I am tired…"
Selene was silent. An emotion was filling her, one she thought she would never have for the Entity.
"What is it you want? Really? More than anything else? What is so precious to you that you'll destroy the universe to get?"
Selene pointed. Somehow she knew, deep down, what direction it should take.
"You go that way."
"And what is at the other end?"
"No one knows for certain. Some say you go to a better place, some say you get to start again. Others think you just…stop."
"Stop. Yes. To stop would be nice…"
The Entity turned, and walked away, soon swallowed up by the warm blackness. Selene gave it a little wave as it left.
She sighed and relaxed. No more Entity. It was gone. And now, it was time to follow it. She stepped forward…
And something blocked her. She looked down.
Drake smiled up at her and shook his head.
"It's not time yet, my little moon-child."
Selene gasped as she heard her child hood nickname. The name Selene meant 'moon' in the Lombax tongue.
She began to cry.
"Oh, father, I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to-"
Drake held up a wing.
"Hush, child. It was Kaos who struck that blow, not you. You were the one who showed it to its end. Selene, I'm so proud of you!"
"For what? I don't even know how I did it!"
"Out of all the Incarnations it had chosen, only you were strong enough to overcome its its influence and take control. Usually when the Incarnations die, it simply leaves them and returns when it regains it strength. It wears them lightly. But you…you were in control of it when you fell. You had bound it to you. And so you brought it here to die. Well done. Now you must go back."
"What? Father, please. I'm tired. I just want to sleep."
"You will see me again one day, moon child. But not this day. You must wake up, Selene. Selene?…"
She opened her eyes, gasping for breath. Her throat was a pipe of agony, and she groaned as she coughed up a large amount of water. A golden blur above her refocused into Ratchet's worried face.
"You OK? You gave me a scare! I couldn't find any heartbeat for a while…"
Clanks head appeared in her vision.
"it is very fortunate you know mouth to mouth resuscitation, Ratchet. I dread to think what might have happened if you didn't."
"How…what…I..What happened?" For the first time, she noticed Ratchet was soaking wet.
"This nutball dived after you." Selene recognised this voice as Jasmine's. The young Guard gently took hold of Selene's arm and helped her to her feet. Selene staggered, and leaned heavily on Jasmine, who winced. Selene was much taller than she was. Having her lean her six foot eight frame on Jasmines five foot one was not very comfortable.
"The dive was the easy part." said Ratchet, shaking himself vigorously in an attempt to dry off. "The hard part was catching up to you in the river. Man, I'm gonna hurt tomorrow. It was like being in a tumble drier!"
"Why did you save me?"
"Why did you save me? I was a monster. I did terrible things."
"Kaos did terrible things." said Clank. "But you are not Kaos. She used you. The gun does not hate the person it shoots, but the hand that wields is is a different story. Besides, the Entity is gone now! Look!"
Selene looked around. All she could see was the splendour of Elysium, and a crowd of fascinated Zenithi.
"I don't see anything."
"Exactly! Reality is no longer breaking. There is nothing to worry about now. The Lombaxes can return safely and it is all thanks to-"
Jasmine gently but firmly pushed Selene towards Ratchet.
"Take her! She's still unsteady! I have to go!"
"What's wrong?" Ratchet called after her.
"The deadline! I completely forgot about the deadline! I need to call the General!"
"Come now, Councillor, is this really necessary?"
Councillor Silk gave the General a look that could have frozen lava. The General was attempting to move between her and the cutoff switch, hoping against hope he could change her mind.
"Hospitals need power. Orphanages need warmth. The Project is too wasteful! I have given you as many delays as I can, but I just can't any more. I appreciate the attempt, but it just isn't working. I'm sorry."
"There's just one more crystal left to find, Councillor. Just a little longer…:
"Corporal Cain is dead, and the future of our race, last I heard, was in the hands of some civilian we don't even know."
The workers on the Exodus Project watched in horror as the General made another attempt to manoeuvre himself between the Project and Councillor Silk. She was starting to look annoyed.
"He defeated Tachyon, Councillor. If anyone can find it, it's him!"
"He got lucky. Now stand aside, David! I won't tell you twice!"
She pushed past him, and he grabbed hold of her wrist, nearly crying with helpless frustration.
"A little longer, I beg you…"
Her eyes flashed.
"Lay hands on me again, and I swear to God, you will be court-martialled! You were given a chance, and it didn't work. The Project must be terminated!"
"It's our only hope! Without this, the Lombaxes will die!"
She turned and looked at him, and his heart sank at the empty, distant look in her eyes, a look he saw too often, in too many Lombaxes. She'd lost hope. She'd given up.
"Then perhaps our time has come."
Her hand stretched towards the cut off switch. General Cross shut his eyes with a groan…
And one of the screens in the room flickered on.
"That's my name, don't wear it out!"
"But…but you're dead!"
"Really? Huh. I'm breathing pretty good for a corpse. I'm a Guard, General. We don't die easy. Look!"
She waved something red attached to a length of what looked like black velvet.
"I got it, General! The last one! I can assemble the jumpgate now!"
"I'm sorry, Corporal. You're too late."
Jasmines ears flattened. She knew that voice. It was the voice of God. Or the next best thing.
The tall, saturnine Lombax gently moved the General aside and solemnly addressed Jasmine.
"You ran out of time. I was just about to shut down the Project."
Tears sprang to Jasmines eyes. After all this time, after all she'd gone through, all she'd lost, she'd failed…
"No, Please! A little longer, councillor! I've got all the pieces! I can do this!"
The Project workers held their breath as Councillor Silk bit her lip and drummed her fingers on a desk, thinking deeply. A tiny spark of hope flared in a soul she had thought deadened by the emptiness of her life. One chance…
"I can authorise twelve hours, Cain. No more."
There was a cheer from the workers, and Jasmine sighed with relief.
"I won't disappoint! I promise!"
The screen cut out.
"Thank you, Councillor." General Cross said quietly. She nodded.
"That's the last chance you're getting. Cain better pull through."
Please, she added, in the privacy of her own head. I want to see blue skies and warm sand. I can't take much more of here. You're our last chance, Cain…
Heads turned as Jasmine did an impromptu dance.
"Good news, Jasmine?" Mia alighted on a stump next to her.
"I got us another twelve hours! That's more than enough time!"
"So how's Selene? She doing OK?"
"She recovered quickly. I haven't seen her in a while, actually. Said she had something to do…"
"What about the Kaos Entity? Is it really gone? How sure are you guys?"
"Temple workers reported a massive surge of energy at around the time Selene fell. Half our equipment is destroyed. The evidence is fairly conclusive, however. The Entity is no more."
"That's awesome! We saved the universe and the Lombaxes! Double win!"
"It's not over."
"Such a huge shift in the Balance isn't good for it. It's flapping around loose. It needs an anchor, something to stabilize it. The loss of the Lombaxes shifted it. You need to bring them back."
"We'll get right on it-"
"But not just now. Leaving it as it is won't have a noticeable effect for at least twenty four hours, and Ratchet has voiced a desire for a rest. Fighting Kaos took a lot out of him. He said he needs to recover."
"Fair enough. Fastoon isn't all that far. We have lots of time. Where do you think Selene went?"
"I think she was heading in the direction of the river bank further down that way. It's slower down there."
"Thanks. I'd kind of like to talk with her…"
This part of the river was indeed slower. It flowed in lazy curves through the forest, over hanging trees dangling curtains of green moss over the water. It was beautiful, and Jasmine was so distracted she nearly missed the snip of scissors. Following the sound led her to where a ledge of moss covered stone jutted out over the river. Selene was sitting cross legged on the ledge. Her black skirt and corset were gone, replaced by faded cargo pants, a black top, and a sturdy pair of hiking boots. She was cutting her hair, waist length tresses tumbling to the ground as she trimmed it into a wispy little pixie cut.
Selene jumped slightly.
"Oh! Hello. Sorry, I wasn't expecting you. You move very silently."
"Yeah, noted for it. Um…hair cut looks nice. Suits you."
"Thank you. I wish to distance myself from Kaos as much as possible."
"It's a little uneven at the back."
She checked her reflection in the river.
"So it is. Thank you."
"So what now? Where are you going from here?"
"The Zenithi offered me a place here. You know how they are with redemption. I also suspect I fascinate them. I'm a curiosity. The first Incarnation to fight and win against the Kaos Entity. Hardly surprising they want me to stick around."
She finished touching up her hair cut, and began unclipping her earrings and jewellery.
"You gonna take 'em up on their offer?"
Selene stood, a handful of gold glistening in the sun. In one swift movement, she threw them in the air. They flashed for a moment as the light caught them, then landed in the river and sank out of sight.
"No. I can't stay here. It's too painful. Everywhere I look I see memories. My father taught me how to swim here. Zenithi don't swim much as a rule, but he stood right on this spot and coached me. He taught me to read under that tree over there. I can read six languages now, thanks to him." She sighed.
Looking at the sad, slumped figure, Jasmine found it nearly impossible to believe this was the lithe, sleek killer that had been Kaos.
"Where are you gonna go?"
Selene picked up a back pack from the ground and slipped it on.
"I still have the teleporter, though I broke the part that goes between dimensions. I don't need it. I think I'll just wander for a while. See the planets, that kind of thing."
"It could be dangerous."
Selene gave her a sad little smile.
"Thank you for your concern, but I'll be fine. I know about danger, believe me. I was dangerous. And some aspects of the Kaos Entity didn't entirely leave me. I can still faintly pick up moods and intentions. Enough to know that, for example, you're still slightly afraid of me."
"Busted. In my defence, most of the time I've known you, you've been trying to kill me."
"Fair enough." Selene sighed. "You know, Jasmine, I've been Kaos for so long, I barely know who Selene is any more. Perhaps I can find her again, out there somewhere. Goodbye, Jasmine. You've been kinder to me than I really deserve."
She held out a hand, and Jasmine shook it.
"Good luck, Selene. I hope you find what you're looking for."
Selene smiled, and pressed a button on the teleporter. A flash of blue light, and she was gone.
With a smile, Jasmine turned and walked away.
3 hours later.
The little Cragmite sprang into her fathers arms, nearly knocking him over. The small Cragmite scout ship hovered over the nursery clearing as Emperor Markus was finally reunited with his daughter. He looked up at Mia, who was keeping a watchful eye on the bodyguards Markus had brought with him. The Cragmites seemed peaceful, but best to be careful….
"Thank you so much for this." he said. "I can't tell you how much this means to me."
He bowed his head.
"I'm sorry to hear about your father. He was a good fellow. You should be proud."
In his arms, Zoe sighed sadly. The girls had had Drakes absence explained to them, and they were feeling his loss.
"I am. I just hope I can follow in his footprints."
"You don't mind us being here? I must say, I was surprised to be called to your planet. Your late father told me you value your privacy."
"Times have changed, your highness. We must move on. Perhaps it is time for my people to come out of the shadows."
"Then I wish you the best of luck. Come, Zoe. It's time to go home."
Zoe wriggled out of her fathers arms.
"I wanna say bye to Shona!"
"Of course, dear."
She ran off, swallowed up by the bushes.
"I am very glad to see those two are friends. If they can get along, there is hope for us yet. I do not want to see another great war. Peace with the Lombaxes would be a precious thing. I just hope they can be brought back safely."
Mia nodded solemnly.
"You and me both, your highness…"
Goodness, Ratchet! Why the rush?
"Sorry, Aphelion. I'm a little excited.
Ratchet had rushed through his pre flight checks, heart beating wildly at the thought of their destination. So close…
He exchanged a glance with Clank, who smiled.
"Not long now, Ratchet…"
Jasmine flew over, hover wings whirring. The jump gate and crystals were dumped in Aphelions boot.
"Come on, come on, lets go!"
"Hang on, we're missing someone. I don't want Shona to miss this."
The young Lombax cub walked slowly up to Aphelion. She looked rather glum.
"Something wrong, kiddo?" asked Ratchet, helping her up into the ship.
Jasmine ruffled the girls hair.
"Cheer up! It's not like you're never gonna see her again. Emperor Markus is a decent guy, I'm sure he won't mind you visiting."
Ratchet engaged Aphelions engines.
"Now put a smile on your dial, kid. You're about to see history…"
Mia flew over, soaring like a ghost into Aphelion. She squeezed in between Jasmine and Shona in the back seat.
"I don't want to miss this. We've lost too much for it."
"Glad to have you along. Everyone ready? Fantastic. Take it away, Aphelion! Next stop: Fastoon!"
To a chorus of cheers from the watchers on the ground, Aphelion rose up, and soared away.
The ever present breeze ruffled Jasmine fur as she removed the equipment from the boot. Perhaps it was her imagination, but the city seemed less sad and deserted. It felt expectant. Almost…waiting.
"Where are we going?" asked Shona, clinging tight to Ratchets hand. She was nervous, and still a little unsure of what was going on.
"Good question. Where are we going? I want to find a good spot to set it up."
"What about the Court of Azimuth?" suggested Clank.
"Great idea! We can finish this in the place where it all started."
They began the trek through the ruined city. Jasmine was talking non-stop, a grin glued to her face. Ratchet couldn't help but notice how pretty she was when she smiled…
Her excitement was infectious. Even Shona found herself smiling. A number of Zenithi who had been on patrol joined them, sticking to the shadows.Old habits die hard…
"What are you going to do now the Entity is gone?" inquired Clank.
Mia was thoughtful for a while.
"Well, history still needs shepherding, but it doesn't really require all that much, just the occasional nudge. Now we no longer have Kaos to worry about, there isn't that much to do, so I've been thinking…"
"It's kind of a tradition that each new Guardian brings a new idea. It prevents staleness of thought. My fathers was the 'waifs and strays' policy. Mine, well…I'm going to reveal the Zenithi."
This caused a stir.
"Sure that's a good idea?" asked Ratchet.
"Well, we can still keep quiet about our role in history, but the biggest reason for our secrecy is dead. It is time for us to join the Galactic Union."
"Won't the other Zenithi object?"
"A number of us have always desired to be able to go out into the universe and not have to hide, me included. I do not anticipate that much of an opposition."
In fact, the other Zenithi, on hearing this, had set up an excited chatter in the Zenithi tongue. It sounded like music, but the meaning was clear. They liked the idea.
They reached the Court, its high walls looming overhead. It was dim and refreshingly cool inside. Jasmine plonked the Jump-Gate down in the centre of the floor and took out her notes.
"Wanna help, Ratchet?"
"Try and stop me."
They set to work, Jasmine's ability to read Lombax and Ratchet's skill with building things coming in handy. The onlookers watched in anticipation as slowly, the Jump-Gate began to take shape.
"Says insert tab A into slot B. Can't find slot B"
"No, that's slot D. Oh wait, here it is."
"This crystal won't fit."
"Try rotating it about forty five degrees."
"Got it! What's next?"
"The perma-ice. It needs to go in that slot there."
"Coldcoldcoldcoldcold-there! What goes here?"
Clank dearly wished a few Zoni were here. Now they were so close, time seemed to be taking twice as long to pass. The Zenithi were muttering amongst themselves, attention riveted to the two figures in the centre of the Court. Shona gently nudged Clank.
"What's gonna happen when the Lombaxes come back?"
"I do not know, Shona. We will have to see."
Ratchet's hands were shaking as he picked up the last crystal., the blood red gem that had formally adorned the neck of Kaos. He ripped it off its black velvet choker. Almost hyperventilating with excitement, Jasmine indicated where it should go. He worked it carefully into place, until it slotted in with a click. The faint humming from the Jump-gate that he'd barely noticed changed slightly in tone.
"Its ready." Jasmines voice shook. "We just have to push the button."
Ratchet blushed slightly as her hand, closing the panel on the side, brushed his.
"It…it's your mission. You should do it."
"No, I reckon you should. I mean, you've been so helpful, and you've never even had a chance to see many Lombaxes."
"I can't. You've worked too hard for this-"
"We've worked too hard for this-"
"JUST PUSH THE BUTTON!" the others yelled.
"Together." Jasmine said.
She reached over and took his hand. He gasped slightly at her warm touch.
"We went through this together, we finish it together."
Ratchet smiled, and, together, they placed their hands on the switch.
"On three. Ready?"
They pushed the switch. For one heart-stopping moment, nothing happened. Then it started to glow, a steady blue light tracing along the joins in its panels. It was worlds away from that first, rough portal that had spat Jasmine out fifty feet in the air. There was no pain, no pressure, just a tingling, crackling energy that sparked from their fur. A ball of coloured lights formed above the Jump-Gate, swirling and twisting in a galaxy formation.
It suddenly expanded, motes of light dancing across the faces of the watchers. Red, blue, green, every imaginable colour glowing and flaring as they whirled around the Court.
Shona laughed and tried to catch them. Ratchet and jasmine gasped in awe.
"Oh my…" said Clank quietly. Even the Zenithi, each of whom had seen more strange sights in their lives than anyone could dream of were enchanted.
Then the rainbow lights contracted, swirling and coalescing into a tall, shimmering vertical circle. The portal was open.
There was a cheer. Ratchet looked up at Jasmine, beaming.
And their eyes met.
It happened as softly as a breeze, as gentle as a kiss. Her eyes filled his world, glowing with something stronger than love, as their hearts joined, becoming one. They reached out slowly, still gazing into one another's eyes. The world faded. There was just each other…
"Is Ratchet alright?" Clank asked Mia. "He looks stunned!"
The Zenithi gave a little sigh.
"They're bonding! Oh, how romantic…"
The Lombaxes embraced each other, in the grip of an instinct as old as their race. They closed their eyes and leaned forward, lips parting. Jasmines heart raced. Her skin seemed to burn at his touch. She felt his breath on her face as he leaned in to kiss. He was so close…
And a deafening bang split the silence. The force of the shot tore Ratchet from her arms, sending him spinning through the air and crashing into a wall. He slid down it, landing in a broken heap on the floor.
"I'm sorry, was I interrupting something?"