The Third Life
part 5 of The Vanished Timeline
by Grace Grieve-Carlson and Channing Jones
(a fictional story in the Galactic Era universe)
part 1 here
Yanashi looked around. She and Kyrin were sitting across from each other at a wobbly table. She was in some sort of…bar? Cafe? On a small stage, a feline played jaunty piano music. The walls were hung with mismatched tapestries and blankets. In fact, Yanashi realized, they weren’t really walls. They were in a cave, and the strung blankets set the cafe space apart from people sleeping and lounging further away. All around them, felines ate and drank from mismatched dishes. Some talked and laughed, others stared at her warily. Kyrin shook Yanashi’s arm to get her attention.
“Yanashi, your mother is—”
“Na? Look who the rats dragged in,” boomed a voice from behind them.
Yanashi turned. A large feline loomed over them. Her pupils pointed in different directions, but Yanashi could tell she was staring at her.
“Silke, This is my colleague Yanashi. Yanashi, this is Silke, the bartender.”
Yanashi opened her mouth to greet Silke, but was cut off.
“Macke oder was, Kyrin? Warum ist sie hier?”
“I thought you’d be the last cat to judge her based on appearance.”
“Nein, Nachts sind alle Katzen grau. I’m judging her based on smell.”
German was a common language on Mars, but Yanashi wasn’t fluent. Silke held out her hand. Yanashi reached to shake it, surprised by the outmoded greeting. But instead, Silke brought the hand up to her face and inhaled deeply.
“Oh. You aren’t exactly human, are you?”
“Ah. Okay. Very nice to meet you.” Silke turned again to Kyrin. “Sei vorsichtig! Du machst allen Angst hier.”
Despite her poor German, Yanashi could tell Silke was unhappy with them. She felt the people around grow quiet to listen and watch.
“The ICC is looking for her, Silke,” Kyrin whispered. “She’s in danger.”
Silke’s expression softened. She sat down in a chair beside them.
“Ahhh.” She turned to Yanashi. “What did you do?”
“I’m supposed to help build them a weapon, and I refused.”
“Ahhh. Good! They say peace, peace, peace, but they build and build their firepower.” Kyrin moved to respond, but she cut him off.
“You may have noticed my eyes are schwach. Dracos took over our home planet. I had a beautiful bar there, a big stone tavern by a creek. In the morning, I’d distill the spirits, and at night I’d serve everyone in the neighborhood. When the Dracos came, I was a nobody. I didn’t have any power, so my life didn’t change. Then my friends started getting in trouble, and I started sheltering them in the tavern. One day I was out by the creek and out of nowhere, the tavern exploded in flames. I was so close that it really fucked me up. I could never see again. And the friends I tried to help are dead.
“Now, here, the ICC spouts nonsense about how the Dracos are their strong ally. You should feel proud to be among the people who don’t support them.”
Kyrin is from her planet too? Yanashi glanced over at him. His green eyes were tense and narrow as he listened to Silke. She continued:
“That’s why we have this encampment. The ICC doesn’t know about it and they can’t track us. No one can get here unless they teleport. So that’s why I have to be mean if someone unexpected drops in. It’s a…what’s the word. A breach. A breach in my security.”
Silke’s eyes wandered around the bar.
“But you, you can stay. You two want drinks?”
Kyrin and Yanashi agreed and thanked her. Silke stalked off.
“Don’t drink that when it comes. Some non-felines have had intense psychedelic effects.”
“You came here as a refugee?”
“I came with permission to work for the ICC. But effectively, yes.”
“And you speak German?”
“One of my native tongues. It’s been an official language on Gliese 581 since the Dracos handed the administration over to the ICC.”
“Okay. Just processing all that. You caught onto my new name quickly.”
“You have a different energy ever since you became Yanashi.”
Yanashi suddenly remembered the real reason Kyrin brought her here.
“Where is my mom?”
Backstep was Mars’s replacement for prison. Prison was deemed inhumane, and Backstep was designed to be as different as possible: short stays, intensive treatment, education and enrichment. But rumors and accusations abound about the true treatment of the people inside.
“For spreading confidential ICC information. As in, for spilling the facts about you, to you.”
“How did they even find out?”
Kyrin stared at her, then down at her phone, like she was stupid.
“Surveilling me? Can they do that? That’s been illegal since before I was born.”
Kyrin opened his phone, typed and showed her the screen. Her work ID photo was under a banner that read “Wanted.”
“Unless you’re ruled a menace to Martian society.”
Yanashi yelped, horrified, then silently held up her phone.
“Can they hear me now?” She mouthed.
“No. We’re too deep underground for any signals to get through.”
Silke plopped two heavy glasses in front of them, shaking the table on its unstable legs. Silke looked over Kyrin’s shoulder at the phone.
“Oof, you are in trouble. These are on the house. Good luck, maus.” Kyrin raised his glass to Silke as she walked off, then looked back at Yanashi.
“Can you pilot a ship?”
“I’ve…taken a class.”
“I have a ship you can take. I’ll teleport you on and teleport back here. Once you’re off Mars, it should be smooth sailing.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You will never be safe here, Yanashi. Somewhere out there, there’s a place you belong unequivocally. You deserve a chance to know it.”
“And I’ll make it my mission to see that no harm comes to Neela. Once you’re gone, they’ll likely let her go too, but I’ll step in if they don’t.”
Yanashi stared at him, looking at her so earnestly, and let out a laugh.
“Yanashi, I promise you. I’m in a unique position—”
“I believe you. I know you can. But why should you have to? I know how hard you worked to come here and climb the ranks in the ICC. You’re not going to sacrifice your life to get me out of town. Hell, they could figure out how to power that laser without me. That should be our focus.”
“I’m not—wait, laser?”
“Remember that tablet in the cave with the ruins? It had an illustration of Saturn’s rings forming a laser.”
“And you think that’s—”
“I had this dream…I watched it all happen. Someone turned a lever, and this laser beamed out of Saturn’s rings and blew up another planet. It was like I was looking into the past and seeing what the laser did back then, however many years ago.”
“You’re right.” Kyrin looked incredulous. “I’ve been doing my own research in the ICC archives, and that’s exactly what happened.”
“What else did you find?”
Kyrin’s eyes zoomed around the room. Yanashi knew he was doing mental calculations of how dangerous it would say what he knew.
“The ruins are from the Progenitors. Their civilization on Mars is about 500,000 years old, just like we suspected. They’re blueprints and materials for turning Saturn into…a super-powered beam weapon. It was supposed to be able to blow up entire planets—and it could. But they couldn’t control it. It backfired and destroyed a planet it wasn’t meant to, Maldek, which was then between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. And Maldek is where the weapon was created. So the Progenitors who survived made a base on Mars, and the blueprints were left here too.”
“So they never got the weapon under control?”
“No. The project was abandoned.”
Yanashi remembered her dream, where the ray aimed and blew 3 or 4 planets apart. She remembered the grating sound of the cheers and applause. How could my dream be right about everything but that?
“But you don’t have to worry about any of this, Yanashi. I am going to get you out of here. I know the risks. This job isn’t everything to me. The higher I climb, the more evil I see. You get so used to letting things slide that one day you think—where would I draw the line? This is my line. I know how special you are, and I won’t let them treat you like a tool or a science experiment.”
“Thank you,” she responded. She tried to hold back emotion. Kyrin seemed more invested in her life than even she was. Then a headache pounded into her forehead, almost as strong as the one by the ruins weeks earlier. Are these caused by being underground? Kyrin saw her wince.
“Just a headache.”
“Let me get you some plain water.” He grabbed their glasses and went to see Silke at the bar. Yanashi hadn’t noticed that he’d already finished both of their drinks.
With the moment alone, her headache subsided. Huh. Maybe they’re actually caused by Kyrin. Her mind turned again to their plans.
Am I really about to leave? The orange sky, the awe-inspiring architecture, the dust storms that looked so beautiful from indoors, all the deep and far away places where she’d found ancient remains and artifacts. I will miss my life here. Am I really about to leave and never come back?
“Is this seat taken?”
Yanashi shook out of her reverie to see an Avian standing above her with white and black striped feathers and dark, focused eyes. The felines around them weren’t staring. What the hell? He sticks out here more than I do.
“It is, actually. My coworker is just grabbing drinks.”
“I’ll only be a minute.” He sat down opposite her. “You’ve been trying to contact higher-density beings.”
“Um…no. I don’t think I have.”
“You recently found out you come from a planet of higher-density beings and wondered how to get in touch with them. No?”
“Oh. I guess I did. What do you mean by higher-density?”
“I mean everyone else in this room is made of dense physical matter, and likely believes that who they are stops at the edge of their skin. But you and I were born into societies that taught us that our minds are much bigger than the space inside our heads, and so our consciousness can…spread out. We intermingle with other minds, and thus have access to wisdom beyond what we’ve ever learned consciously.”
Yanashi stared at him blankly.
“I’m going to share something with you now. Relax your body and mind. Take some deep breaths and stay calm.” Yanashi did as he requested, still slightly on edge, when suddenly she felt a pile of long-forgotten memories unfurl inside her.
She remembered being an engineer on Maldek. Spending her life studying knowledge from dozens of advanced societies. She remembered her pride at being asked to engineer a special government project. She remembered the hours and hours of work and study to harness raw opal to power the interplanetary ray. Then she came back to the cafe, as if she was waking up from a dream.
“What the hell was that? Did I really do all that?”
“You did. In another life. It’s time for you to trust your inner knowing, Yanashi. You can’t logic your way through this path you’re on.”
“Are you…part of my family?”
“Not your physical family, but your spiritual one. But you can get in touch with your birth family, too, through thought and feeling. All you have to do is tune in.”
The Avian reached into the pocket of his silken pants and laid down a chunk of glistening opal on the table, the size of a peach pit.
“I heard you say a while ago that you wanted that. It’s my parting gift—so you know you really are connected to us.” Chills ran down Yanashi’s spine as she picked up the opal and turned it over in her hands, awestruck. She had just learned—or remembered—the process of harnessing its energy. And as always, it sent a current of silent joy through her body. She felt words rise up in her: This power comes from an unknown place and ends in an unknown place. You are its shepherd.
When she looked up, the Avian was gone. She barely had it in her to wonder who he was or how he found her, she was so exhilarated to have a piece of the opal and some clues about her life.
“Silke doesn’t have any water.” Kyrin reported, “but she gave me a piece of bread for you.”
Yanashi held up the opal.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Kyrin replied, putting his hand over it and pushing it under the table, “there are some characters in here who would kill you for a gem that big.”
Yanashi took a bite of the bread and let the words on the tip of her tongue slide off with no hesitation.
“You’re gonna think I’m crazy. I want to stay. I want to build it.”