As they flew to their appointed fate, Christopher sat on the edge of the living room couch, staring into his hands.
"Could always be worse." Said Carl, sitting down next to him. "You could just be a helpless human."
“I feel like one.” Said Christopher, without looking up.
“But you’re not. You’re one of them.” Carl pointed to Atarchus and Samean, who were talking quietly at the back of the room.
“I am not!” Christopher said while glancing his cousin in the eye.
“Oh, but of course. You’re right. You’re not like them at all.” Carl grinned. “You’re a prince!”
“Ugh!” Christopher threw his head in his hands. “I don’t need your sympathy, but just give me a break!”
“Fine, sire.” Carl laughed. “I shall leave his highness to his stinking self.”
Carl sought his amusement with the other Andalans, instead.
"So, you speak English, right?" He asked Atarchus, who did. But the man twice his size didn’t care to speak to him.
“I heard you earlier.” Carl smiled. “I’ll get my royal friend here to command you to coöperate instead, huh?”
Samean grinned. Cocky kid, he said to Atarchus. He’ll get himself hurt someday with that attitude. Atarchus gave Carl a good cold glare.
"Where we going to?" Carl insisted. "No one’s told us!"
“To Kanan.” Said Atarchus. “To kill the rebel.”
“Kill?” Carl spotted the blades that Atarchus and Samean both had hanging from their belts. They looked so sharp you could lose a finger just picking one up.
“Jocaster will cut the jinn.” Atarchus said, pointing to the middle of his eyes. “From here.” Then to his crotch. “To here.”
“Oh, right.” Carl winced. “Then why are we going?”
“It is a vital ceremony. We are his witness.” Atarchus grabbed Samean by the shoulder. “And if there is trouble, we are his laiyeen.”
“Okay.” Said Carl, assuming he knew what that meant. “But then why am I going?”
“We need your ship.”
Christopher watched his ersatz big brother talking to these guys, and could scarcely believe that he had more in common with the Andalan men than Carl. Neither of them looked the least bit worried about where they were heading to. Neither of them could have passed as human for a moment, anywhere on Earth. And both of them looked like they could swat Carl out of existence in an instant if they felt like it. None of these was true for Christopher. And he could not see how they could ever be.
The flight did not take long. Towards the end, Jocaster emerged from his meditative silence to see the view from the cockpit. Out there, in Merope’s dazzling blue sun, the nebula’s ghostly wisps looked positively spectral.
"Fair pretty, for a cloud of dust." Said Alexander, always with his qualifiers. "Everything points to Merope, doesn’t it?"
“Radiation pressure.” Said Katerina. “The whole thing is being devoured by the star’s bright light. We just see what remains.”
Jocaster lingered in the passage behind them. He surveyed the cloud before the ship, stretching right across the sky now, they were so close. But he felt nothing.
"Where is he?"
“Uh!” Alexander jumped in fright at his voice. “What are we looking for? Just a transponder?”
Jocaster said nothing, as he focussed on the complex haze. He didn’t know.
"Let’s run a scan for disturbance." Katerina said. "Perhaps there’s a," she sighed, "a wake."
“That’ll take a while. We haven’t a baseline to kick off against.” Alexander complained, but got it started.
Like everything in space, the nebula was vast and could hide a ship as easily as a bottle in the ocean. Jocaster was on his own. And so they waited.
"There." He said, slowly raising his hand into the murk. "Madala?"
“Mmm.” She said. “There’s something. I don’t know what, but it’s out there. Take us in, Alex.”
“Into a dust cloud? Based on what, a hunch?”
“Something like that. Do it though.”
“All right. Slow.”
They went beneath the cloud’s otherworldly surface and all that Alexander could see was glowing haze. He didn’t like it one bit, and told them so. Katerina suggested that he shut up.
"Here. You stay here." Said Jocaster, as they found a place where, instead of blue, the haze glowed orange like the Andalan sun.
“Okay. Stopping now.” Alexander pulled them to a halt. “Care to tell me what you two are seeing exactly?”
“I don’t know.” Katerina said as she watched her brother head round back to get his men. “But it’s definitely something.”
“Consider me concerned,” said Alexander, “and frankly unimpressed.”
“Why? You think I have a radar dish inside my head!”
“You don’t?” He smiled. “Oh, well, I’m even more unimpressed now. We must be buggered!”
Atarchus, Samean and Jocaster readied themselves for whatever was out there in the stellar mist. The boys watched them. One part involved Jocaster touching each of the two on the cheek and muttering some sort of incantation. They then laughed and hugged him.
"And these guys are warriors?" Said Carl. "The rebel better not be serious. We could be in deep shit!"
“We are already.” Said Christopher.
Katerina approached her brother and said something very earnest in Anatara. She hugged him too, but without a hint of laughter. He said something back, and then in a ferocious white flash of incendiary light he was gone.
"Argh!" Yelled Carl. Atarchus and Samean both looked at him, shrugged and did the same. He did not shout the second time.
Katerina sat down by her son and put an arm around him. She spoke quietly, but loud enough for Carl to hear.
"Someday I’ll set all this straight, Christopher. But today I must be out there."
Christopher looked into her blue eyes, his own full of worry and unasked questions. She smiled at him, trying her best to fake the confidence she knew he needed most.
"I’ll be fine. You look out for Carl." She turned to him. "And you look out for Christopher. It’s going to get strange before it gets better."
Carl decided to give her a hug, and all three wound up in it. No one wanted to laugh, but to cry.
"Okay, I’ve got to be out there." She told them. "Close your eyes. Both of you."
Katerina gave them an extra squeeze, then, in a scarlet blaze, was gone. Christopher and Carl fell together right off the couch.
I fear that I’m overdoing it with Carl. His invention is still fairly new to me, and every writer has their doubts when in first draft above all else. I’ll punt this off to the vital editing pass once I’ve finished the whole book in first draft form, because, so far, I’ve found this “just getting on with it” approach to be as effective as it is novel.
Another point I’ll tend to then is the whole double disclosure thing of Katerina’s secret, true identity. She is Andalan, and she is Princess Madala. Her son, then, is Andalan, and Prince Christopher. I don’t think I made a big enough deal about he and his family’s reaction to that second reveal back when I recently wrote it. But then again there is such a thing as too much. Ah, writing. Let’s just not over think it.