The Eschaton

Men and women stood in a line. It stretched across barren land and ended, quite abruptly, at a white tent. No birds flew overhead. No creatures scuttled for undergrowth. There was no undergrowth. Only the dirt. Only the harsh glare of the sun.

Gabriella shuffled forward. The man in front of her disappeared into the tent. Soon, it would be her turn. She waited three breathes and then Gabriella stepped out of the harsh light and into the dim interior.

Before Gabriella could prepare herself, a syringe plunged deep into the tissue of her upper arm. Gabriella sucked in a breath. Dark green liquid left the vial and seeped into her veins. The syringe wielding woman ushered her forward.

Another woman waited. She pressed a rapid succession of devices to Gabriella’s person and then, satisfied that everything was as it should be, she nodded.

“Fully synthesised. Please move forward.”

A shattered cry echoed from behind and Gabriella clenched her eyes shut. Sometimes the body rejected the serum, but that was only the first of a list of things that could go wrong. Gabriella moved toward the next station. A man waited for her.

“Arms forward. Palms up.”

Gabriella complied. A needle jabbed into her thumb. Pain jolted and something new awoke. A tiny lick of flame spurted from her hands. The man recoiled, but Gabriella stared in wonder.

A Firesage then. The military was not what Gabriella had intended, but it would do. Firesages were granted asylum.

The man gestured her forward. “Gate seven. Report to Commandant Alyssa on arrival.”

The portal was a mass of swirling darkness. Gabriella shuddered at the thought of stepping through, but there was nothing left for her here. She shed one last tear for her dying world and then, Gabriella stepped into her future.

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The Gypsy Dream

The marketplace bustled with activity. Animals bleated and bells jangled. The smell of too many creatures in too small a space. Of spiced foods and sweet foods. Foods frying and still more cooking on open fires. A multitude of colours as the trappings of different races and species merged and writhed like some giant organism. Merchants sang out their wares. Others haggled for better prices. It was a cacophony of smells and sights and sounds. And Ezzie ignored it all. She was neck deep in her own cut-throat squabbling.

“Now look here, that bauble isn’t worth more than forty chips.”

The merchant glared. “Seventy. My lowest offer.”

Ezzie palmed the glass sphere in her hand. It was smooth and cool to the touch. And near perfect too, but there was a slight warping where the glass rose up just a fraction. Inside the sphere was a butterfly with lemon yellow wings and a deep black body. It was just a decoration. A plastic toy locked in glass. Hardly worth Ezzie’s time, but something about those wings didn’t look quite fake enough and Ezzie had a hunch that this bauble could fetch numbers far beyond her grasp. Not that that would stop her from haggling for the lowest price possible. After all, she could be wrong. Her fingers thrummed across the tiny imperfection.
“It’s flawed.”

She pointed to where the glass warped.

The merchant scowled. “Do you want it or not?”

Ezzie glared at the Merchant. The merchant glared back. She needed to be careful with her next words. They would either break him or stubbornly set him at his current price. At the absolute worst, he would reverse and push the price higher again. That had happened to Ezzie before. When she was still young and new to travelling the galaxy. Before she had learned how to read people, where their buttons were and when to push them. Now, she let her eyes dart across the store to a framed picture on the back wall. It was of an old lady. She wore the same scowl the Merchant now wore and her face was set with the same grey eyes.

Ezzie cleared her throat. She smiled.

“Look, I’ll give you fifty five alright, even though its flawed. Yellow is my grandmamma’s favourite colour and she’d be utterly distraught if I came back without her birthday gift. Please?”

The man shifted his weight. He looked down at the bauble and shook his head.

“Fine,” he huffed. “Sixty. For your Gramamma.”

Ezzie beamed. She handed over the chips and held the ball to her chest. “You are too kind sir. Pleasure doing business with you.”

The Merchant huffed. Clearly he didn’t agree that their business had been a pleasure, but he took her currency all the same.
#

Ezzie made quick work of the crowd. She stopped in the shade of an overhang, the marketplace just a haze of sound behind her. Before her stood The Gypsy Dream. It was only a small craft, but what it lacked in size it made up for with attitude. It’s hull was a multitude of colours, of art and stories and pretty things that Ezzie had collected over time.

Ezzie sighed. Owning this ship, her ship, would never get old.

“Hello, beautiful.”

A figure pushed away from the hull. Lithe and tall and grinning.

“You get it?”

Ezzie smiled. She held the sphere out.

And then she dropped it. The sphere had barely settled in the dirt before Ezzie’s boot came smashing down. Glass crunched and glittery shards spat out. Ezzie sank onto her haunches. Her fingers tiptoed through the glass, pulling bits and discarding shards as she worked. She got the body free first.

Plastic.

Her heart thudded. She had known the body was fake, but a bolt of doubt speared through her nonetheless. Ezzie breathed, put the body aside and sent her fingers out once more. She hovered over a wing. Part of her wanting to stay in this moment where anything was possible. Part of her dreading defeat, but she could feel Gjen behind her. Waiting.

Ezzie lifted the wing. Yellow powder dusted her fingers. Ezzie swallowed.

It. Was. Real.

She looked up at her companion, eyes wide as saucers and a thrill of triumph shuddering through her veins. This butterfly and the powder on its wings would fuel her ship for years. Ezzie grinned. She only had one question for her partner in crime, “Where would you like to go first?”