by Mary E. Lowd
Originally published in Theme of Absence, June 2020
I didn’t cry. I didn’t flinch. I barely reacted at all.
Even the soldiers on the bridge — trained clones, grown in vats, raised to be soldiers — exclaimed in horror and shock. How could anyone order the destruction of an entire planet?
But Erith Danaya is more than a warlord to me. He is my father. Not the absent kind. He didn’t abandon me and my mother, though every day I wish he had.
Erith raised me. Not in a benevolent way. Not in a way you’re grateful for. Not in the way that leads you to want to care for your parent when you’ve both aged, and they need you more than you need them.
No, Erith dragged my mother and me with him, on his space cruiser. Dragged from planet to planet, unable to escape because anywhere we stopped, we had none of the local currency. No friend. No contacts. Not even enough knowledge of the local geography to know where we could find a hospitable city, anywhere with an embassy that would take us. Protect us.
But then who could protect us from Erith Danaya? He has the Supreme Commandant behind him. No planet in the galaxy is safe from him.
Not even the planet itself; I don’t just mean the people.
You see, I know him. So I was not surprised.
After the ensign at the weapons station yelps, she pulls herself together. She is a soldier. And she obeys his order.
The sparkling cities on the crescent of the night side.
They all burn.
Green and blue are lost in a horrifying inferno of orange, yellow, red, and finally brown and gray. Dead rock.
It almost breaks me that the fiery inferno that just engulfed an entire planet — the planet I’d almost escaped to; the planet where I’d hidden my twin toddlers with my mother, hoping like breathing that Erith would never find us — was beautiful.
Oh my god, I’m a monster. I’m just like him. I watched my mother and babies die, and I found the fire they died in — even if for only a split second — beautiful.
I don’t deserve to live. I’m just like my father.
And he doesn’t deserve to live either.
Erith turns to me in his long, regal, navy blue robes. They swish around his heavily booted feet, and his mouth, visible under the silver visor of the helmet he wears, twists into a grim, self-satisfied smirk.
He’s proud of himself for killing a whole planet. For killing my babies. My mother. They’re just pawns in a game to him, and he thinks he’s won.
“Now tell me,” he says, “where are the headquarters of the justice crusaders?”
But years ago, after my mother and I finally escaped — for awhile; why couldn’t it ever be forever? It never can be now… — I had my arm cut off.
I would cut my whole body to pieces if it would bring my home back. I can hardly even understand that the charred rock I’m looking at, only moments ago, was a verdant world, where my mother and daughters hid in a forest by a pond. They can’t be gone. It makes no sense. How can someone exist one moment and not exist the next?
How can this be real?
As if in a dream, I activate my robotic arm. The false skin boils away, and with a musical hum that I had hoped to never hear, the laser coils power up.
A beam of light flashes along my arm from shoulder to fingertips. The restraints around my wrist melt away, and the light — blue and cool, like the oceans that no longer cover half of the rock that was moments ago my home — burns through my other hand where the restraints held it too close.
Now I yelp, as I didn’t before. I feel my body make the sound before I’ve even managed to process the pain causing it.
I think my other hand is gone. Oh well. I won’t need it much longer. The soldiers around the room rush to stop me. But they’re already too late.
As pain and shock overwhelm my body, I swing my arm.
Before I die, I see him.
Erith Danaya crumples, folds in half, burning and sizzling. Cut down by the blue laser coursing across my robotic arm.
He’s dead before I am.
The rest of you will have to sort out the galaxy without me, try to stop anyone else from taking his place and anyone else from using that weapon ever again.
But I did what I could to make it better.
I took him down with me.