The stony hillside gave way to an alien metal that glittered coldly in the light of the two moons. A mangled and unwanted contraption of flickering magelectric lights and crackling static twisted up through the earth, reaching into space. Waiting for contact.
Kip’s upraised face was highlighted with a slight crimson hue from the red moon’s closer proximity to the Blue Planet. It was the moon’s orbit that brought him to this place, called there by a message from his people.
They call themselves Lunars now, he thought with distaste.
The once-great society of mages and scientists were now nothing more than space refugees. They borrowed this “Lunar” name from the moon they slumbered upon. He discovered the majority of the population now lay in cold sleep until they could find a new world to colonize. Perhaps it would be upon the Blue Planet, the homeland of the humans.
How was I supposed to know they had survived?
The crackling static gave way to a high-pitched whine. His green eyes shifted to the machine, where a flickering hologram began to form.
“You underestimate the will to survive, KiNaTu,” a familiar, smooth voice intoned.
Kip turned with a shiver. It had been a long time since someone called him by that name. He spoke a name in return, “Zemus.”
If I’d known it was him contacting me, I wouldn’t have…
“Who else did you expect?” the image of the dark mage gave a slick grin, pushing up his glasses with one slender finger.
“Someone less annoying,” Kip retorted, crossing his arms.
Zemus began to slowly pace the short length of the metal hologram platform. “There is no one else, if you don’t count our fearless leader and his muck-up of a brother.”
“KluYa,” he breathed slightly, feeling a hint of hope at the thought that at least one old friend had survived. “I thought this machine bore familiar handiwork. He’s here on the Blue Planet, then?”
“Yes. Though it’s a lot of good he’s done for any of us.”
“What’s your point?” Kip frowned, keeping his defenses up.
“In all this time he’s been there, how often did KluYa visit your little… development… with the humans?” He waved his hand dismissively.
“Never. I didn’t know you or any of the others were still alive.”
Zemus flashed a knowing smile. “Ah, so nice of your old friend to include you in his plans of inter-human colonization, hmm?”
“I’m sure he had his reasons.” Kip shook his head and turned his back to the conversation. He knew how this worked. How Zemus loved twisting situations to turn people against one another.
“Reasons. Of course. Like his new family.”
“Family?” The word resounded in Kip’s mind with a sharp pang of loss.
Flickers of memory. Of his wife’s last frustrated expression as she closed the front door behind her. Of searching for his son as the world crumbled under his feet. Of fire. Of dying screams. The roar of ship engines. The silent ring of red that spread from the planet’s surface a moment before the complete implosion.
Zemus pressed on, not acknowledging the turmoil he’d caused. “KluYa has become entranced with the world of the humans. He’s left his people to languish, locked in this death-sleep. How much longer must we wait, KiNa?”
“Surely, there are plans?” Kip shook himself out, coming back to the conversation.
“Sending KluYa to scout out the Blue Planet was the plan.”
“And you? What are you doing?”
“I’m closed off in cold sleep, too.” Zemus’ eyes flickered with a slight green glow. The gaze caught Kip’s own, locking him down, even across the distance. There was power there. “I’m doing something right now. I’m coming to you.”
Kip fought to pull his eyes away, but he couldn’t. “What can I possibly do from here? Find KluYa and give him a thrashing for you?”
“No. I’ve given up on him to bring our salvation. It’s going to fall to us, KiNa.”
Sudden images pulsed through his mind, put there by an outside force. By Zemus.
A dark silhouette of a tower that floated through the clouds. Several smaller structures – perhaps little metal islands – floated, bound by chains to the face of the structure. Something about the image captivated him, burned into his thoughts, and stirred his imagination.
“It’s been a long time since you’ve worked to your true potential, KiNaTu,” Zemus’ voice almost purred to him. “You’ve isolated yourself among the humans, tinkering about with childish technology in hopes to provide a better life.”
Kip sucked on his bottom lip, blinking away the mind-image. This was true. But what else was there left for him to do now that everything he loved was gone?
“Maybe it’s time you put your skills to work for us. For your own people.”
He looked down in silence.
Zemus was also silent for a long moment. His next words came unexpected. “Did you know that most of the survivors sleeping on the Red Moon are children?”
Kip’s chin jerked up, eyes focusing on the hologram. For just one flickering moment of hope, he breathed the name of his son, “NaTu?”
“I can’t confirm anything,” Zemus replied. “But is this really the life you want for these children? They’ve already lost so much.”
It almost sounded as if the dark mage was genuinely concerned. Almost. But then, Kip reminded himself of who he was talking to.
“No,” he responded slowly. “But what can I do about it?”
“Build us a place on the Blue Planet. Being trapped in sleep pods on the Red Moon is not finding these children a home.”
Kip squinted. “Place? Like a ship?”
“Perhaps. Or a floating structure. Somewhere safe from the humans. Somewhere we can begin by observing and learning.”
“Floating structure?” his mind flickered back to the image of the tower.
“Yes,” Zemus almost hissed the word. “You know exactly what I’m hoping for.”
“A floating tower?” Kip put the idea into words. His tone sounded doubtful. Ships were one thing, but an entire self-sustained tower in the sky?
“I need you to design it. Make it a reality.”
“It won’t be very mobile,” he warned.
“It doesn’t have to be.” Zemus shrugged.
Kip gritted his teeth, “Something like that’s going to take…”
“Material and man-power are of no concern.”
“Can you do it?” Zemus pressured.
“Can I do it?” Kip echoed, knuckling his chest with a determined frown. “Of course I can do it! You’re talking to Kip, the one and only master technician!”
“Ah, yes. That pet name the humans gave you.”
“Hey, if you can change the name of an entire race, I can change mine, too.”
“Mmm…” the sound almost rumbled in Zemus’ chest. “Very well… Kip. Do I hear that we are in agreement?”
“As long as I’m in complete control of this project’s oversight.” Kip jabbed a finger at the hologram.
“Don’t worry. I wouldn’t dream of stepping on your creative little toes.”
“So, about those resources…”
“I was getting there,” Zemus frowned. “If you’d allow me?”
Kip shrugged, spreading his hands impatiently. Now that the idea was taking root, he knew he’d have to work fast to capture the concepts that boiled through his mind in a storm of creativity.
“Feel alongside the communication pedestal,” the hologram instructed, motioning to the metal structure. “There’s a hidden compartment.”
“Oh?” Kip traced his fingers over the cold metal. He was rewarded with a soft click as a hidden door opened on the side. “How’d you know–”
“Is there a device inside?”
“Yes.” The mind mage pulled out the small box-shaped machine. He identified it. “A tracking device? It’s been there for some time, though. Might be depowered.”
“Get it working,” Zemus instructed.
“Sure. No sweat.” Kip tried to ignore the fact that he was being ordered around by a hologram. Instead, he channeled a tiny static bolt of energy through his fingers into the device’s charging connectors. The dust-covered screen flickered, then lit up, emitting a low hum.
“I’m tracking something?” Kip inquired with an arched eyebrow.
“Do you think that you and KluYa are the only ones from the Red Moon who have come to the Blue Planet?” Zemus answered cryptically.
“How should I know?”
“Many turns ago, I sent someone to the Blue Planet to carry out these exact plans. However, KluYa intercepted and prevented it from coming to pass.”
Something about this sent a chill over Kip’s skin. “Are you sure this person is still…”
“KluYa is many things,” Zemus answered. “But he is no killer. The fact that he left the tracking device here indicates he meant to revisit this.”
“Alright. I’ll see what I can find,” the mind mage frowned. “How can I contact you again?”
“I will contact you.”
Then, just like that, the hologram was gone.
Kip looked down at the tracking device in his hand. He looked up at the crimson light of the Red Moon for a long time.
Then, he began walking, following the hum of the device.