By Jane Maree
I clutch the chest of stardust, staring at the space battle raging above. My crew on the Nebula is almost overwhelmed by Nova Alliance soldiers, even with the space-kraken crumpling their boarding vessel in its tentacles.
Breathless, I scoop up a handful of the glittering stardust, heedless of the blood on my skin from the fight it’s taken to get here. The rust-pink and golden dust gleams like a galaxy. Particles escape between my fingers, floating into the low gravity void. This dust will grant me one wish, but I suddenly don’t know which wish to request.
Utter destruction of the Alliance and long-awaited revenge for my parents’ deaths.
Or the hope for something… more beyond this endless war. The hope for a future.
I close my eyes. “I wish—”
An explosion throws me backward, a cannonball splintering a nearby boulder into shrapnel. Sand gritty in my mouth, I spit and struggle to my knees. My ears ring. Where’s the chest gone? I clutch my one handful of stardust, white-knuckled.
I must wish now, before it’s too late.
But what do I wish for?
Holuvian’s dual suns dim as the distant planet slides between us and the larger star, casting the space battle in auburn. The stardust guardian, Kalopsia, struggles to her feet a dozen yards away, clutching her wounded shoulder, seemingly torn between escape and stopping me.
Why am I delaying? I’ve fought for this vengeance for ten long years. Only a fool would back out now. “I wish—”
“Pete!” The Nebula’s cook clambers from a lifejet onto the moon. “We must retreat!”
“No!” I clench the stardust. “I cannot!”
Cookie meets Kalopsia halfway. “Get to the lifejet! This moon is unstable.”
Kalopsia casts me a final glance and flees.
“Come, lad.” Cookie hurries toward me.
“I have the stardust!”
His eyes widen behind his smudged glasses. “You will do it, then?” His voice droops with sorrow. “This is the choice you make?”
I clench my jaw, but before I can speak, a bellow pierces the thin atmosphere. One of the kraken’s tentacles smashes into the ground beside us as the creature writhes in pain, and I’m knocked off my feet again.
One hand clamped over my oxygen mask to keep it in place, the other still clutching the precious stardust, I stagger upright. Where’s Cookie?
Light is vanquished as the two Holuvian suns are eclipsed by their planet. The ships above are rimmed with silver from their lanterns, but the starlight doesn’t reach me. Only flashes of cannon fire illuminate the scene before me in dizzying snatches.
Blackness. Then a flash of red—Cookie clings to a stony outcropping, his torso wrapped in the kraken’s tentacle.
Black. Red. His mask has been knocked askew.
I run toward him. Sensing movement, I duck another coiling tentacle.
Black. Red. I grab Cookie’s wrist, fighting against the kraken’s impossible grip, but my footing slips.
If I had a free hand, I could grab the knife from my belt and slice the tentacle wrapped around Cookie, but… that would mean letting everything else go.
I clutch the handful of stardust. Black. Red. I stare at Cookie. His chest heaves for air around his loose oxy-mask, his skin greying already. His fingers slip.
Black. Red. His eyes close but his lips shape my name. Pete.
Not Captain, or even Dolion, but Pete. To him, I always was Pete.
As darkness plunges again, I release the stardust, draw my knife, and lunge at where I saw the kraken’s tentacle. Praying I haven’t miscalculated, I drive the blade into the coiling flesh over and over.
With another bellow, the kraken’s grip loosens, just as Cookie goes limp. I haul him free, and we collapse to the sandy ground.
“Cookie?” I gasp. Blindly, I fumble his oxy-mask into place. I can’t feel him moving. I kneel over him, gripping his shoulders. “Wake up!”
The darkness lessens slightly, revealing his pallid skin as the first sun begins to emerge. A shard of fear drives deep into my chest. He can’t be dead. Please. Memories flash before my eyes—Cookie’s gentle voice, kind eyes, weathered smile. Always listening, always ready should I need him.
Why has it taken me so long to realize? I’ve been so caught up in seeking vengeance for my parents… too obsessed with what I’ve lost to see what I still have.
“Please.” The word breaks as I whisper it. “Please, I don’t want to be too late.” I fumble at Cookie’s wrist, trying to find a pulse. Lean close to listen for breathing.
A faint throb flutters beneath my fingers, but it’s slowing. I don’t know how to save him. “Don’t die,” I choke. “I wish we had more time, so I could tell you…” Somehow, over these last ten years, Cookie has become like a father to me.
Tears blur my vision, and I press my fist to my mouth to hold back a sob.
My fingers tingle. Then a burst of light explodes from my palm, and I jerk backward, mouth and eyes wide. My hand pulses with a hundred tiny stars, all shining like pure gold. Like… specks of stardust.
Beside me, Cookie gasps and opens his eyes. “Pete?” His voice rasps.
I bury my face against his shoulder and weep.
And the gaping wound in my chest from the vengeance that I have been enslaved to for so long seems to knit together with every falling tear.
Weakly, Cookie pats my arm. “There, there, lad. It’s going to be all right.”
Another stray cannonball rocks the moon, and Cookie squeezes my shoulder. “Come, there’s still time.”
Time for what? Time to escape the Alliance? Doubtful. Time to be arrested for piracy and a thousand deaths? Most likely. Time to heal? Only if they let me live that long. But I hope so, for Cookie’s sake.
My eyes must betray my turmoil as I help Cookie toward the lifejet, because he smiles faintly and nods. “Time to live.”