Silent Witness: An Exile Prequel Story

Aria stalked through the crowded corridors, forcing herself to be placid and polite to the many people who called greetings and inquired after her health. Her two bodyguards floated steadily behind, their stealth and the uniforms they wore providing them an easy passage through the crowd.
Determined to keep her cool, she recited the phrase she’d had ingrained in her since birth. “Temper has no place in a civilized society. Calm and intelligent reasoning are virtues we must cultivate.”
It was a virtue that hadn’t quite stuck with Aria, well into adulthood, she still fought against the strong feelings that arose in her, it seemed, on an almost daily basis.
And she only felt more angry, more tense, the nearer she got to her father’s chambers. When she reached the doors, her two guards stepped forward and each pulled a door open. She gave them a nod and walked through as they held the doors open.
Her father, as always was at his desk. The room was exactly what you’d expect from one of their people: filled with books and other information media, artwork, a few experiments set up on different tables throughout. A bird, one of theirs that had been bred with those from another place, sat in a gilt cage near her father’s large stone desk.
Upon seeing her, her father rose and immediately held his hands up in a placating manner. “Aria,” he began.
“Muldoon? You’re sending Muldoon to Earth, of all people?” she asked, trying, and failing, to keep her voice steady and calm.
“Aria, he is—“
“And if you say he’s perfectly suited to replace Dyson there, I will scream.”
“You’ll do no such thing,” he said, raising an eyebrow. “I suggest you remember yourself.”
Aria took a breath. “I apologize, father. You know I have spent my entire life in the study of Earth. Of all of the Witnesses, I’m the most suited to take up the mantle on Earth. Dyson’s knowledge of the customs and psychology of the Earthers is laughable.”
“He is a competent enough Witness,” her father said, waving her concerns away. “And you have other matters to attend to.”
Aria closed her eyes, forced her temper down. She would not win this battle if she let her passion loose. That was a sign of weakness that would not be tolerated. “And that is?”
Her father walked around the desk, took her hands in his. “You are the next queen of the people of this realm. Your concerns lie here, not in some backwater planet full of barbarians.”
She started to speak, and a short shake of her father’s head had her biting her words back.
“The Earthers are of no concern to us.”
“Yet you send your most trusted advisor there, when we both know you have use of him here.” Aria looked up at her father. Like most of their people he aged very slowly. In his ninetieth decade, he looked not much older than Aria herself. She had inherited his dark brown hair, even as she had her mother’s indigo eyes.
“I sent my most trusted advisor because he needs some time away to recollect himself. I can manage well without Muldoon. That is the end of it,” he said. He sat back down, and motioned for Aria to take a seat on the other side of the large desk, which she did, arranging the soft, flowing robes she wore around herself. “You are of age to take your place as queen, and, truth be told, I am more than ready for you to do so. I long to return to my studies, and there is little time for that now.”
“I would rather study as well,” she said.
“As has been the case since the day you first opened your eyes,” her father said. “You have ever been like myself in that way, despite your odd choice of subject matter.”
“I am not ready to rule. We both know this. My temper—“
“Is something you should be long past being able to control. And you can, when the mood strikes you. You are also stubborn, which is another trait your mother and I were never able to eradicate in you,” he said, shaking his head.
“Earth—“
“Is in its final days, Aria,” her father said, and Aria stared at him in surprise. He nodded. “that is why Muldoon goes. He is ready to bid life good bye, and will Witness the last days of Earth as his final service to our people.”
“How?”
“The Sarlene have finally figured out how to launch enough of an attack to eradicate them.”
Aria tried to focus on her breath. The Sarlene were a race who considered those on Earth an abomination, not because they were so different, but rather because they were too similar in appearance and biology to the Sarlene themselves. The Sarlene empire, deeply religious as it was, believed that Earth, with its people who were “inferior copies” of the Sarlene, was an evil sent specifically to test their faith. They had decided upon first contact that the only remedy for it was to destroy the planet and its inhabitants entirely. Distance and inferior technology on the part of the Sarlene had been the only thing keeping Earth safe.
The people of Earth, of course, had no idea that they’d been in the crosshairs the entire time. Each second since the moment the Sarlene had discovered them had been one second closer to Earth’s demise. Two hundred years, nine months, one week, three days, nineteen hours, fifty three minutes and twelve seconds, to be exact.
Aria watched her father. “The Earthers have done nothing to deserve this,” she said. “They exist. Just as any of us do.”
“And as a trained Witness and scholar, you well know that that is very often the case,” her father said. “Muldoon will Witness its final days. And your studies should turn to more important matters. Such as leadership and diplomacy.”
Aria kept her face expressionless, despite the urge to bare her teeth.
“Very well, father,” Aria said. “If I may return to my studies?”
Her father nodded, and Aria gave a low bow and made her way out of his study.
Aria stalked through the crowded corridors, the stark white walls and gleaming white floors almost blinding after the dark severity of her father’s study.
Earth.
Her stomach twisted. A planet most of the galaxy considered to be nothing more than a rock full of backward beings. A planet none of them would miss, but one that, for whatever reason, she’d been fascinated with from the first time her tutors had mentioned it during her studies. It had consumed every second of her research from the moment she’d been allowed to choose her own course of study, much to the chagrin of both her father and her tutor, Narin.
And it was facing its last days. And she was expected to sit here and study diplomacy theory and protocols.
Aria glanced back. Her two guards shadowed her as always, faces impassive, eyes studying the crowd as always, ready for a threat that never came. Their people never sunk so low as to use violence. Raising a voice was a sign of weakness. Showing emotion, frowned upon as uncultured and undisciplined.
Aria bit her lip. The first thing she would have to do is lose her guards. Harmeen and Jarle were dedicated. Not to her, of course, but to her father.
She walked, and a plan formed. She was a Witness. She was not supposed to have plans. She was forbidden by everything she was to act in any way. Witnesses were above such trivialities as action.
There was something wrong with her. Something faulty in her mind, in her heart. But the idea of standing by and letting a planet full of innocents disappear over an insane slight they hadn’t even known about was repellant to her.
She glanced ahead, then turned to her guards. “I need a moment. I will be right back.”
They nodded, and she walked casually into one of the rest rooms. She went into one of the small privacy rooms and locked the door behind her. She stood, and closed her eyes, and pictured one of the Common who often cleaned this part of the facility. She concentrated, forcing herself to remember every detail, from the exact shade of the female’s hair to the small pale scar on her pale greenish-gray chin. She was of average height, built in a stocky fashion similar to many of those of the lower castes. She pictured the female’s uniform, white. Short sleeves, a long skirt with deep pockets. As she thought, she could feel her body changing. Bones shifted and popped. Hair grew. The female’s hair was much longer than her own. Her hands roughened, and her skin went from its usual luminous blue to the color of the rocks outside, lining the cliffs. She stood for another moment, aware that she had to move, quickly.
The danger of living among Witnesses is that someone would show up to Witness this moment, this unthinkable moment in which she was making the choice not only to disobey her father and king, but everything she was supposed to stand for.
Time to go.
She left the privacy room, glancing at herself in the large reflecting screen. She tried to replicated the shuffling walk the Common female had, and she made her way out of the rest room. She walked past her guards without a glance, keeping to her shuffling gait until she was well past them, then around the corner. Once she was out of sight, she started walking faster. Her circulation system went icy, a common response to stress. She had to force herself not to look back to see if she was being followed.
The next step would be sneaking away on one of the transports. her world was, in addition to being the home of the Witnesses, a main hub of trade and shipping in their quadrant of the galaxy. There were always ships stopping to drop off, pick up, or refuel. No one ever stayed very long. She’d heard too often, from visitors from any number of different societies, that there were barren deserts more entertaining than her planet.
They were not wrong.
She reached the nearest docking bay and tried to look uninterested as she glanced around. She ran through her options in her mind. Who could she go to? Who would actually act on behalf of Earth? It wasn’t as if she could go to someone and count on the bonds of friendship with her people to sway them. She well knew that her people were held at arm’s length. There were superstitions about the Witnesses, that to see one was a sign of impending doom, because they were required to witness it. It wasn’t incorrect, of course, but no one ever made mention of the fact that Witnesses also were called to view and record the triumphs as well. So they had no friends. They likely would have been wiped out by zealots like the Sarlene long ago except for the fact that while her people never attacked or waged war, their planet had the best defense systems and technology just about anywhere.
She had to get away first. And then she could go from there. Aria glanced around and quickly made her way onto a nearby vessel that was running through its final checks before disembarking. It was an older model ship, probably used by private contractors hired to haul merchandise for trade. When she made her way toward the cargo hold, she nodded. It was empty, and the ship was humming. They were nearly ready to leave, and she would go with them. She noted a small cabinet and opened the door. It would have been too small for her in her natural form, but as she was now, it would work fine. Aria folded her body into the cabinet and pulled the door closed behind her. Now she jut had to wait and hope that no one had alerted her father to her actions. She’d seen the tell-tale golden light that most beings noticed when a Witness was nearby in their official capacity. Her only hope against being stopped by her father’s guards were that relaying that information specifically to her father was a form of action, and that went against what a Witness is sworn to do. It would be recorded and reported eventually, but by that time she would be long gone.
She sat in the cabinet and listened to the activity around her. She heard the crew boarding, their voices as they made their final preparations. After a few moments, she was able to pinpoint the language. This crew was from Alanor, which was a cluster of small planets known for growing vegetables and fruit. Fertile soil, plenty of sunlight. Very much unlike her own planet, where even those who lived there were poorly adapted for the native environment, hence the series of underground caverns that they inhabited. Not exactly a place where she could beg for aid for Earth, but she could likely find transport to another planet fairly quickly from there. It was better than sitting here, waiting for Earth to die.
After a short time, the ship began moving, and Aria felt nearly giddy with excitement. She was going somewhere. Actually leaving her home planet and seeing one of the many places she’d learned about. Taking action.
A stab of guilt made the smile fall from her face as she sat in the dark. Action. One more reminder that despite how good she was at learning about different cultures and memorizing their traditions and protocols, she was a failure when it came to representing those things that her own people held most dear. Her father would never forgive her.
She rolled her eyes. He would not, of course, go so far as to show anger. But there would be that constant sense of disappointment when he looked at her. Even more so than there  already was. She shook her head. It was of no use worrying about it now. She would not change the fact that she was called to act this time. It was wrong, to let millions of innocents die for merely existing.
She sat and listened to the engines hum, and felt her eyelids beginning to grow heavy. She knew she was due for a rest period, but falling into one here would be foolish. She needed to be alert, to hear when they were about to dock, or, worse, to know if they’d discovered that they were not alone on their ship.
She blinked, then forced her eyes open wide. The lingering giddiness over travel fought it out with the sleepiness brought on by her natural rhythms and the quiet hum of the ship’s motors, a sound she would have never guessed could be as soothing as it was. In the end, sleep won out.
She was jerked awake what felt like moments later by panicked tones and the sensation of the ship lurching beneath her. It seemed to bank hard to the left, and Aria braced herself in the cabinet to keep from falling out. The crew shouted, and she could hear hurried footsteps.
They were going down. The pilot had hit some debris and it had damaged their main motor. She could hear it now. The previously comforting hum of the motors was now a strangled, wheezing, sputtering that made the whole ship tremble. They turned, twisted, and Aria had to hold on tighter in her stowaway spot. The ship lurched and careened wildly, and someone screamed.
There was an instant of jarring pain, and then the whole world went black.
When Aria woke, it was with a confused fuzziness in her mind. As for her body, she felt nothing at all. it all came back to her. The screams, the crash, the sounds of metal crunching on impact.
She forced her eyes open, and it took her a moment to get her bearings. She was in a small room, on a cot. She was hooked up to what looked like some manner of monitors. She was able to turn her head, which she was taking as a good sign. When she looked to her right, she was started to see a large figure sitting there. His eyes were closed, his head tipped back against the wall behind him. Aria knew what he was. Maarlai. The muscular body, ferocious-looking face, and the intricate braiding of his long beard all marked him as such. Had the transport crash-landed in the Maarlai home world? She tried to think. It was in the wrong direction. They’d been traveling toward Alanor, she’d been sure of it.
Aria watched the Maarlai. Even in sleep, he seemed ready to do battle. The Maarlai had a long and prosperous history. They valued knowledge almost as much as her own people, but, unlike the society of Witnesses, the Maarlai had no qualms against action. Battle was part of their very nature. Strength. They formed strong bonds of family and friendship, and lived in small, close-knit communities. They made art so stunning it almost hurt to look at it. They protected their loved ones against any and all dangers. Aria had a feeling that convincing them to act against the Sarlene to protect Earth would be a long shot—
Earth! How long had she been unconscious? Was it too late?
She cleared her throat and tried to make her voice work. Her mouth was very dry and it took a while. She managed an annoyingly feeble “excuse me” in the guttural tongue of the Maarlai. The male sitting at her bedside came awake immediately and jumped to his feet.
“So you’re awake,” he said, and she nodded.
“Thank you for helping me,” she said in his own tongue.
“You are welcome. I must admit that it was a surprise to find a Witness among the wreckage of an Alanorian ship.” He studied her closely. “The cabinet you were hiding in was likely what saved your life.”
“The rest of the crew?” she asked, and he shook his head. She closed her eyes for a brief moment. “We are not on your home planet?” she asked.
“No. Your ship crashed into some debris and ended up crashing on a nearby asteroid. One we happened to be docking on at the time.”
“One of the inhabited asteroids, then?” she asked, and he shook his head again.
“No. We chose this one specifically because it was not inhabited. The last thing we expected was a rescue effort,” he said with a lopsided smile. She could see the glint of white fangs behind his lips. This one was a dark gray, but she knew that Maarlai ran the spectrum from pale yellow to nearly black. “Are you going to tell me how a Witness ends up as a stowaway on a vegetable transport ship?”
“Are you diplomats?” she asked. The Maarlai were not known for traveling much, tied as they were to their homes and families. They undertook occasional diplomacy missions, but even those were as limited as possible.
The Maarlai laughed. “That, we are not, Princess.”
Aria gave a start. “How did you know?”
“Your king put out a bulletin to all sectors a day ago. At first, you looked different,” he said, studying her, and she remembered taking the form of the Common to aid her escape. “And then you began changing.”
She nodded. “It is something my kind can do. It lasts for a certain length of time and then fades. How long ago did I change?”
“It has been  fourteen hours in regular time.”
She sighed in relief. Less than a full day, then. Earth likely still lived, unless the Sarlene were quicker than she gave them credit for.
“I was on a mission,” she said. She tried to sit up and winced in pain. The Maarlai gently pushed her back onto her cot, large, firm hands on her slim shoulders.
“Do not move,” he said. “My medic diagnosed some internal injury, though he’s not familiar enough with your anatomy to do much.”
She settled back, irritated that she would have to deal with yet another delay. “It will heal soon enough.” She would have to meditate, and pinpoint where the injury was. Her body would do the rest.
“So what was your mission? Your kind aren’t exactly known for stowing away in transport ships,” he said with a small grin.
“I am a disappointment,” I said, and his eyes met hers for a brief moment, and he nodded. “We learned that the Sarlene have finally developed the technology to fulfill their mission against Earth.”
He watched her closely. “So you were going to witness Earth’s last days?”
She shook her head. “I left to seek out someone who would help defend Earth. How can we stand by and let millions of beings die over one crazy planet’s inferiority complex?”
His face was expressionless and he didn’t respond.
“Would the Maarlai help, do you think?” she asked after a moment. “I know your people have the ability to travel quickly and easily. And you are warriors, perhaps more so than any other beings known to us.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere, Princess,” he said with that lopsided smile.
“My name is Aria,” she said. “And it is not flattery, but truth. I have spent my whole life learning everything I can about other cultures, preparing to one day Witness their existence.”
“We fight to protect that which we value. Earth is of little consequence to the Maarlai.”
She felt her frustration finally boil over. “Is that how it is, then? Everyone just looks after their own interests and to hell with anyone who doesn’t fit into that?”
He studied her. “‘Hell’ is a very Earth concept, Aria,” he said after a moment.
She frowned. “I know. Earth was my main topic of study and research. It is an odd concept, but colorful nonetheless. Like Earth itself,” she added. He did not answer, and after a moment she continued. “Will they not help, then?”
He shook his head. “I am not here on official business, and I can hardly speak for any of our leaders.”
“What are you doing so far from home, then?” she asked, her curiosity piqued.
“Selling stolen goods. And maybe collecting a bounty on a missing princess.”
Her heart sank. “So you’re… what? Pirates?”
He grinned. “That.”
“You can’t turn me over to my father,” she said, forcing herself to sit up despite the stabbing pain in her midsection. He moved as if to stop her, and she waved him off. “He will let Earth die. I am a failure as a daughter, as a future leader of my people. But I am not going to sit by and merely Witness while people die.”
“It’s what your kind do,” the Maarlai said. “It’s kind of disgusting, really.”
She glared at him. “Thank you for that.”
“You were already thinking it or you wouldn’t be out here,” he said.
“All right. Then you understand how wrong it is to just let the Sarlene have their way. If you turn me over to my father, Earth dies, and all everyone does is stand by and watch it happen. I need to get to someone who will help me. Can you get me to a port or outpost or something?”
“Sure. For a fee.”
She wanted to slap him. Shake him. Curse him.
“You greedy, duplicitous, superior bastard,” she said, getting to her feet.
“What do you expect? You’re telling me not to collect a bounty on you and to transport your Ladyship somewhere for free? I’m a businessman, Princess.”
“You’re a crook.” She closed her eyes and focused inward for a moment. Her internal organs were bruised, but nothing was punctured. After a few moments, she had them repaired enough to be able to move freely. Aria opened her eyes to see him watching her.
“This actually matters to you,” the Maarlai said.
“No, I betray my people, stowaway on strange ships, and end up almost dead because I find it fun,” she said dryly.
He watched her for a few moments. “My name’s Rikar,” he said.
“Well met,” she answered, still irritated with the greedy ass.
“Come on. You need to eat, and you can meet the rest of the crew.”
“Why? So you can start figuring out when to turn me over?” she asked. She followed him out of the small room nonetheless. She was starving, and the promise of food was just too enticing to ignore. Of course, the Maarlai palate tended toward things like pickled shellfish and barely cooked meats, but she felt as if she could eat just about anything.
Rikar didn’t bother answering, and she followed his hulking form toward a large ship that, she guessed, also served as their primary shelter and base of operations. It was an older model Maarlai vessel. She wondered if he’d stolen it.
Aria didn’t know what she’d expected when she walked onto the Maarlai vessel, but the clean, organized space she was surrounded by definitely was not it. It just didn’t seem to say “pirate” to her. It felt almost military. Charts and  photographs were pulled on on large monitors and holo displays on one wall, and a narrow table sat in the middle of the room. Five beings sat at the table, heads bowed over what looked like a map. Aria took a moment to study them. Five beings, of varied alien societies. She’d expected the rest of Rikar’s crew to be Maarlai, for some reason.
The nearly transparent Padria was not much more than a wavery shape hunched over the map. The thin, pale Escolian reminded Aria of the Earth reptiles she’d learned about. Snakes. Two tiny beings she recognized as Janu sat perched on the edge of the table. And… Aria’s eyes widened. A Zorlian. Better known as a Shieldmaker, the Zorlian people had the ability to create force fields. Even her people didn’t understand the mechanics behind how they did it. Though, she had to admit, they still didn’t completely understand how some of the Maarlai were able to transport from galaxy to galaxy in a matter of seconds without the use of a ship. On Earth, they would have called it magic. She had no better explanation.
Aria nearly jumped in excitement. This was the solution. It could work. All she had to do was convince them not only to not turn her over to collect the bounty, but to actually help her. They could do it.
“This is Aria, Princess of the beings of the planet of Kinar-5. Also a Witness, obviously,” Rikar added. He met her eyes. “I am responsible for my crew. You will refer to them as one, two, three, four, and five,” he said, pointing to each of his crew members in turn, “until such time as I think you can be trusted to know their names.”
Aria nodded. She really didn’t care. He gestured for her to sit, and one of the Janu, the one he’d indicated as “three,” brought her a large bowl of what looked like a kind of stew. It was the best-smelling thing she’d ever experienced. She picked up the long sticks the Maarlai used as eating utensils and began eating, almost in a frenzy, forgetting, for a moment, that she had an audience.
“The Princess is quite hungry,” Rikar said, and she could hear the humor in his voice.
“Starving. Thank you,” she added before taking another bite.
There was silence for a moment. She knew they were all watching her, but she didn’t care. She could feel herself getting stronger with each bite. After a while, Rikar spoke.
“She wants us to save Earth,” he said.
“What’s going on with Earth?” the Padria asked in its lilting tongue.
“The Sarlene have succeeded in developing the technology to wipe it out,” Aria answered. “It has been Witnessed. My king was preparing to send one of his oldest Witnesses there to record its last moments.”
She took a final bite, and then set her utensils down. “I don’t think we should just sit by and let it happen. It’s wrong. So I ran away to try to find someone to help. My plans definitely did not include being stranded on an asteroid with space pirates.”
Aria watched as the group seemed to exchange looks.
“We knew this day would come,” the Padria said.
“Look, if you won’t help me, and I know you won’t, can you please at least get me somewhere where I can ask for help? I will try to find some way to make the bounty up to you. It will take time, but I’ll figure it out. This is more important than personal riches.”
The Zorlian, who she was supposed to refer to as “five,” studied her closely. “Is anything really more important than that? Or more important than fulfilling one’s duties to her own people?” she asked. The Zorlian language was not all that different from her own, the result of long years of contact between their two planets, Aria guessed.
“Of course,” Aria answered. “I am a disappointment to my people. I have failed as a Witness. But I refuse to just let this go.”
“Why?” the Zorlian asked.
Aria stared at her, dumbfounded and more than a little irritated. “Because those beings matter. They’re beautiful and imperfect and passionate and… the things they’ve created in their short time in existence! They’re phenomenal. Brilliant. They’re so individual, so independent and yet as a whole, they’re so beautiful I can barely stand it. I’ve studied them since I learned to read. Maybe even before that. I love them in a way I can’t begin to explain.”
Rikar and the Zorlian exchanged a long look, and the Zorlian shrugged. “It would not be overly difficult,” she said.
“Everything has a price,” Rikar said to Aria.
“Of course. And I already told you I’d find a way to pay you the money you would have made form the bounty—“
“Not money. Not this time,” Rikar answered.
“What, then?”
“Join us.”
Aria rolled her eyes. “What? Become a pirate?”
“I think you’re beginning to realize that we’re much more than that. Piracy funds us, but it isn’t the ultimate goal. We offer services no one else does,” Rikar said.
“Such as?”
Rikar grinned. “Such as saving planets from annihilation. Thwarting attacks. Providing shelter. That kind of thing.”
“If that is the case, then you would have helped Earth anyway,” Aria pointed out.
He shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not. We would not have known about the threat in enough time to do anything, unless we’d made contact with a Witness, who knows everything about everything. Would we?”
Aria studied him. Very few understood how the Witnesses worked. Their knowledge was a shared thing. Once something was Witnessed and recorded by one, it was transferred to the knowledge of the others. It happened automatically.
“Is this really what you do? Or are you playing an angle?” she asked Rikar quietly.
“This is what we do. What was the last planet doomed to destruction?” he asked Aria.
“Vashir,” she said automatically. It had been on the brink of annihilation due to its never-ending war against its neighbors, the Urah.
“And what happened?” Rikar pressed.
“The Urah leader disappeared— wait. That was you?”
Rikar nodded. Then he tilted his head toward the two Janu. “They are brilliant at what they do.”
“He’ll never be found,” one of the Janu, the one she was supposed to call “two,” said in a dreamy, airy tone.
“It disrupted things enough to buy Vashir time. And then the next leader of the Urah was convinced, somehow, to make peace with their neighbors,” Rikar said.
“So you’ll help,” Aria asked Rikar.
“There’s a price.”
“What is it?”
“A Witness on our crew. It would make our jobs easier. And it would protect you from any trying to collect your bounty.”
She didn’t know if he realized how little of a price it actually was. Freedom, the ability to travel the galaxies, to see those she studied in real life and to, crazy though it seemed, act to protect them? It was no price at all.
She nodded. “I accept.” As she said the words, she noticed the golden, pulsing glow that signified that a Witness was present. This moment had been deemed important enough for one of her kind to bear Witness to. It was unsettling and more than a little terrifying. But there had been no other choice at all.
The next day, Aria stood aboard Rikar’s ship, dressed in the same dark green clothing the rest of his crew wore. Rikar stood beside her, and they watched the Sarlene attack vessels crash and explode as they hit the invisible force field their Zorlian crew mate had formed around Earth.
“You saved them,” Rikar said. She met his gaze for a moment, then turned back to watch the last moments of the failed Sarlene attack.
“Are you at peace with your choice?” Rikar asked her. Aria smiled as she watched the final Sarlene ship crash and burn.
“How could I not be? Action is beauty,” Aria answered. The final bit of debris bounced off of the Zorlian’s shield, and then it was as if nothing had happened at all. The millions of people below, on the surface, lived and died, loved and created, oblivious to those who watched from beyond.
Aria hoped with all her heart that it would stay that way.
The End

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