Story:A Schematic for Nostalgia

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A Schematic for Nostalgia
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A Schematic for Nostalgia

Ardan sat atop a throne of highly geometric, angular shape. Ancient in design, and besides the occasional renovation, the interiors of Kazel-Hal had barely changed in ten thousand years. Before him, a long opulent carpet descending a series of steps until it reached a massive door. On either side, intricately designed windows woven with copper wire and stained glass overlooking a formation of soldiers wearing ancient ceremonial armor. For a coronation of a galactic emperor, the crowd was unusually small. Over a trillion deaths from the Anathema Incident certainly had a tendency to reduce the amount of RSVP’s.

Next to Ardan, a bishop holding the jewel adorned crown. And with a steady motion, the bishop placed the crown on Ardan’s head. At that moment. Everyone before him took a knee, bowing their heads and muttering “Hail King Ardan.” It didn’t feel right. Suddenly being handed all of this in the wake of a galaxy-wide cataclysm. The weight of a galactic burden shifted onto his shoulders.

After a brief horn fanfare, he descended the stairs as camera bots captured three dimensional videos of the event. Not quite the extravagant event it could have been as only those living on the planet could watch it live. Nothing was connected to the tachyon transmitters anymore. And it was probably going to stay that way for a long time.

Ardan had no desire to mingle with anyone after the event. He left the other guests to mingle with themselves. Since Ardan had been around so many more socially skilled aliens at this point, to him all the Vaikan guests came across as shy, awkward teenagers who would only hang around the refreshments by themselves during a get together. But with so much weighing down on Ardan’s mind, even as a reputable, charismatic politician, he found himself giving in to his introverted tendencies.

Sure, Ardan was the new king of what was left of the Karalian Empire, but it seemed that too much was on everyone’s minds. Ardan didn’t ask for any praise anyway. He quietly slipped away, taking an elevator to the royal quarters.

After retreating to his chambers, Ardan sat at his study using the holographic screen, scrolling through documents. After a short time, he found a database on the local storage. Something that survived the information blackout caused by the loss of the jumpgate network. Something stored on old fashioned transistors with no quantum computing. A collection of two dimensional digital image scans. Photographs were the old word for it. An obsolete form of data storage.

Grandpa Golar was probably watching down from the edge of the universe getting the last laugh. He would always say to take digital photographs because the extranet won’t last forever. Who knows, he would always say. A supernova or gamma ray burst might one day wipe out the whole network. He was only half right. Rather than a supernova or gamma ray burst, instead it was a hive-minded world-eating femtobot intelligence.

Ardan took a moment, looking through the old database. A particular folder caught his eye. The time stamp on it dated about a century and a half ago. And in it, he found a photograph. There he was, as a happy young child standing next to another one about his age. The late king Karrel at no more than ten years old. Behind them to the left was an adult Vaikan that looked like Karrel. That was a young Reckar. And on the right, an older, middle-aged Vaikan looked just like him as well, only garbed in antiquated royal attire. The old king Golar.

They all look so alike, Ardan said laughing to himself. The Rustiagons were all clones of one another after all. But then, he took note of the background where the photo was taken. Not one of those virtual reality studios. No, it was a real location. An old farmstead. A summer home if you could really call it summer on a planet always so blistering cold.

An electronic doorbell rang interrupting his reminiscing.

“Ardan, am I disturbing you?” a soft female AI voice said through the intercom.

“No, not at all,” Ardan asked still a bit lost in thought

The AI materialized itself in holographic form in front of him. A virtual Vaikan whom the voice belonged to. “That technology is from the dark ages. Why are you looking at it?”

“Mira, aren’t we in the dark ages now?” Ardan said with slight sarcasm. “I mean, it’s not like we just lost the entire extranet and thousands of years worth of technological progress.”

“What were you looking for then? Maybe somewhere in these local databases are blueprints for new jumpgates,” Mira said stepping a bit closer to Ardan, placing her hand on his shoulder. Holographic, it was, but it stimulated the nerves enough so that it felt real. The gentle, yet radiant static electricity that would have been coursing the fingertips of a real Vaikan. And over his shoulder, she saw what Ardan was looking at. “What is that? A schematic?”

“A schematic for nostalgia maybe.” Ardan remained silent and paused for a moment in reverence. “Ironic isn’t it? A trillion people lost their lives fighting the Anathema. But that hardly means anything to me. I didn’t know any of them. It was all extra paperwork for me. Just a simple status change from living to deceased on a form. But Karrel was different. He’s the closest I had to a brother.”

“We just have to move on, don’t we?” Mira replied.

“It’s not just that. I didn’t ask to be king. That was Karrel’s passion. I’m just a politician dealing with boring things like spending plans and resource allocation.”

Mira caressed Ardan slightly. “You are going to be okay, I’m sure of it. All the Vaikan will love you as their new leader.”

Ardan slightly chuckled. “Not everyone loved Karrel. You hear about that time he got into a fight with his brother? A fight as in an all-out war with complex politics involving multiple alien factions intervening to promote their own agenda? Good times.

“But, it’s just...it just,” Ardan said shifting to a more solemn tone. “It just feels wrong to have it all now.”

“Then I think you deserve something special,” Mira said with a bit more energy. Mira took the photograph from Ardan to examine it for herself. She scanned the image then analyzed it.

“What are you doing?”

“Do you remember where this photograph was taken?”

“The old summer home we used to go to as kids. It’s probably buried under sand and dust by now. I wouldn’t recognize it if I saw it today.”

“Why don’t we go for a visit? I matched some coordinates against it somewhere in the Great Sculpting Field.”

“How?” Ardan asked. “I thought everything on the extranet was lost.”

“Silly, the coordinate data was in the photo itself!”

Ardan chuckled. Perhaps old man Golar was right after all to hang on to such an outdated medium. Even so, nothing lasted forever. Yet, maybe some things lasted longer than others. In any event though, he had a place to visit.

After pocketing the data drive that contained Mira, he then remembered as politician let alone king now, he was no longer allowed to go alone. He stepped outside his chambers to meet with the guard bot standing outside carrying a rifle.

“Feris, I need to go take a walk.”

“Your Majesty, to where may I ask?”

Your Majesty, he thought. He was never going to get used to that, was he? Ardan tapped a few buttons on Mira’s data drive. “These latitude/longitude coordinates.”

“But Your Majesty, these coordinates are unoccupied wilderness. What interest would you have there?”

“Is it really that hard for a Vaikan to just take a quick stroll somewhere?”

“Apologies, Your Highness-”

“Just Ardan will do,” Ardan interrupted.

“Right, apologies-”

“And quit apologizing, too.”

“As you wish, Ardan.”

Feris escorted Ardan to a hovercar in his private garage. He doubted anyone would have noticed he had gone from the party for a little while. He would not be too surprised if more of them were slipping away like he was, being too overwhelmed by the Anathema’s aftermath.

The hovercar automatically flew a short distance landing in the middle of an unremarkable field in the deserts of Yallvus. The sands only lightly covered in snowy mists. Ardan stepped outside to look upon it letting the chilly wind brush against his face. Feris followed shortly after standing a short distance away to make sure he was safe.

Ardan looked upon the largely empty field. He could barely make out the remains of an old farmstead buried in sand and snow reclaimed a centuries old structure. Forgotten by all but him.

The data drive containing Mira glowed for a brief moment before her holographic projection appeared next to Ardan.

“I’m sorry, Ardan. There’s nothing here.”

“Everything is here,” Ardan said taking a knee. He gathered a few nearby stones to set them in a pile. “The Tomb of Kings in Kazel-Hal means nothing to me. Just dozens of nondescript shrines in an underground catacomb that no one ever goes to. But here, this is a place of meaning. A personal place.”

“I don’t understand,” Mira said.

“Karrel wasn’t a king for me. Legally, I had to refer to him like that. But instead, I see him as a person. A Vaikan. Every one of those trillion lives were people, too. But we can only feel for who’s closest to us. I don’t know if I consider myself fortunate or not, but Karrel. He was a king that lived for the people. Mourning for him means mourning for the whole empire.” Ardan took a knee of solemn reverence as he set down the photograph he was looking at earlier atop the pile of stones.

Ardan’s head perked up as he heard light footsteps in the snow. Feris pointed his rifle at it instinctively only to discover it was nothing more than a Dwarf Dunecat on the hunt. A small brown-furred quadrupedal creature with a white mane. It skittered by, but stopped to look at Ardan. It let out a quiet yowl, then scurried off on its way to continue its hunt. Ardan would have brushed it off, but something about it caught his attention. He stopped to let his eyes follow it until it was no longer visible.

“In ancient folklore, they say Dunecats are the spiritual reincarnations of great warriors of the past,” Mira said.

Ardan couldn’t help but laugh. “Heh, you think that was Karrel passing by just now?”

“If that’s him, I hope he’s enjoying himself.”

Ardan nodded. They both remained kneeling there for a long time. The past one-hundred fifty years or so replayed themselves in Ardan’s head over and over. His mind concentrating on those key moments. Still kneeling, he no longer knew how much time had passed since he arrived here. It was just an experience. A moment with no definitive boundaries. Until, a short beep sounded off from one of Feris’s devices.

“Sir,” Feris said interrupting Ardan’s reminiscing. “It is time to go. The High Earls noticed you were gone, and they need you to return.” Feris looked Ardan again. “I imagine you have quite a lot of work to do.”

Ardan closed his eyes gently, then reopened them. Without saying anything, Ardan slowly stood up. Mira then dematerialized to return to her data drive, and Ardan went back to the hovercar. Before leaving the area, Ardan gazed one last time at the makeshift grave marker.

“Farewell. Long live the king. And a good friend.”