This will be an intricate dance, Kip thought to himself. Weaving the truth around the holes the lies create.
He wasn’t thrilled about the boy’s questions, but he knew that to avoid a proper answer might reverse all the trust he’d earned with them in that short afternoon. This was the first time they’d welcomed his company and conversation. Giving them as much truth as he could without digging himself a pit was the only real option he had at this point.
Honestly, looking back on it, the story of his people was a fantastic one. Full of magic, space ships and otherworldly planets. He didn’t know how much Ben knew of his father’s origins, but he hoped these elements would be enough to captivate the children while he led them away from topics he didn’t want to face.
“Well,” Kip said aloud, slowly. He could tell by the look on Ben’s face that the boy expected nothing from him but evasion. Instead, the man started out with the most obvious information. Something they could grasp. “This is the Tower of Zot.”
Aur’s large gold eyes absorbed his words, as if searching his every syllable for the slightest inaccuracy. The longer the boy remained there, the more Kip began to realize that TsuMe was right – there was something beyond a normal human in the child.
“The reason it floats above the surface of the Blue Planet is due to the fact that it’s an observation base. It was built by the Lunarians to help study the humans who live below,” Kip explained carefully.
At least, that’s what he originally designed it for. What it was being used for, under Zemus’ growing influences, seemed to be something different. This was something that Kip struggled against more and more… and it was a losing battle for him. However, the boys didn’t need to know about that.
“Eventually, the Lunarians hope to come from the Red Moon to create colonies alongside the humans of the Blue Planet,” Kip summarized quickly. All the basic knowledge.
Ben just looked at him for a long, silent moment. Then, the boy tilted his head and asked, “What’s a Lunarian?”
Kip felt like someone just dropped a full-sized computing block on his foot. He didn’t mean to react so openly, but shock rushed through him. Overwhelming realization. “You mean, you don’t know?”
“Uh… should I?”
The boy has been raised as a human. A complete, unknowing human.
“KluYa never told you?” Kip almost stammered.
“Told me what?” the boy’s face was sincere, almost worried. He was telling the truth.
“About the…” He just stopped in mid-sentence, knowing that pressuring the boy was not going to make him more receptive to the truth that Kip was now going to have to introduce. “You really don’t know, do you?”
“No…” Ben confirmed one last time.
KluYa… why would you do that? Why did you hide your own truth from your son? Was it really that dangerous? Did you think he wasn’t ready, or wouldn’t understand?
The boy watched him with curious expectation.
How am I going to do this?
Kip took a deep breath, then replaced his concern with a cheerful smile. He waved one hand as if this was going to be a fairy tale rather than a story that ended with the destruction of all the people ever loved. “Okay kids. It’s story time.”
“Oh boy!” Sapling chirped, hugging Hinge to her chest as she sat down on the green floor.
The other children followed her example, both looking curious. Kip’s worry had not escaped their notice.
“This story begins a long time ago on a planet called Runne. This planet was a part of this very solar system, not too far from the Blue Planet. And like this world, it could also sustain life.” He took up a storyteller’s cadence. Slow and easy, capturing their attention. “People lived on Runne. They mastered both powerful magic and technology. Over time, we came to call ourselves the Lunarians.”
That’s when Ben snapped right out of it, eyes wide and focused on Kip. “Wait. Did you say ‘we’?”
Aur caught on to his friend’s train of thought instantly, adding, “Does that mean that you’re a Lunarian?”
“You’re an alien from another planet?” Ben took it a step further.
Kip rubbed the back of his head with a nervous look. He couldn’t deny it. “Well, ah… I guess if that’s how you want to see it…”
Both boys looked at each other with wide eyes, exclaiming, “Cooooool!”
“So this whole place is a giant alien tower!”
“Well…” Kip lifted both hands, trying to contain their excitement.
“And aliens are sitting up here in the tower, watching the people below?”
That’s when Ben’s look turned worried, “Are you here to invade the Blue Planet?”
“Wait, now. I already told you,” the man cut that train of thought off instantly. “We want to make a new home among the humans of the Blue Planet. We don’t want to hurt anyone.”
Aur cupped one hand over his mouth as he leaned towards Ben with a whisper, “Alien colonization.”
Ben whispered back, “Just like in a comic book.”
Kip faceplamed. “Boys…”
:We-hehe!: Alert just laughed with a sound that was alarmingly self-aware.
“But how come you speak our language so well?” Aur asked.
Ben pointed. “And why don’t you look like an alien? Aren’t they supposed to be green skinned or something?”
This was getting way off track. But Kip really couldn’t blame them. “I’d answer all your questions if you’d just let me tell the story.”
“Okay,” the boys finally settled down.
“As I was saying, the Lunarians are a race of people who are not too different from the humans. They originally lived on a planet named Runne.”
“And you lived on Runne, too?” Ben asked.
“That’s right. I grew up on Runne,” Kip forced a smile to his face.
It was hard to talk about it. Hard to think about it. He spent so much time avoiding it, and now here he was, telling his story to children who couldn’t possibly understand this kind of loss.
“Really? What was it like there?” Aur asked innocently. Even the golden eyes didn’t seem to realize the pain of those memories.
Kip looked down a moment, trying to focus through the heartache that threatened to bubble up through his calm outer surface. He reached frantically for an image in his past. Something stable. Something that could walk him through this.
Himself as a child, out on the streets. Fending for himself as an orphan. It was a place to start.
“I don’t know who my parents were or where I was born. I remember my youngest years as an orphan without a home.”
The words seemed to speak to Aur. A connection. Aur, too, was a child who didn’t remember his parents or his home. The boy seemed to be curious how someone like Kip handled the same situation.
“I lived off of whatever I could find on the streets. Mostly made a real nuisance of myself,” Kip cracked a wistful smile. “Running and stealing. What else could I do? I had to eat to survive.”
Ben looked like he wanted to say something, but he pressed his lips together instead.
“That went on for years,” the man told them. “Until the day I tried to steal from the wrong person. His name was Master SoYa. He was a mind mage, like myself. Back then, I’d never heard of the word Athrylith. I didn’t know there were other people who had the same kind of magic I did.”
“And you stole from him?” Ben asked.
“I tried to. But I got caught.”
“Did you get in trouble?”
“No, actually. Fortune made a kind turn for me,” Kip answered. “This man was not only a powerful Athrylith, but he was also a very generous person who was extremely understanding of the struggles of others. In fact, he took me in and became my Master.”
“Master… like what you call Ben?” Aur returned to his original question.
“This is a little different. Where I come from, you call a teacher whom you respect a Master,” the man explained. “Master SoYa taught me about my powers and talents. I spent many years training under him. We became close, and he was like the father I never had. Those were some happy years.”
Kip tried to keep from sighing. He knew that Master SoYa would want him to hold on to good memories, not the pain. But it was tough.
“Uh oh,” Ben’s voice broke through the hazy memories.
“When someone says something like that in a story, that always means something is about to go wrong,” the boy said.
“So, am I right?”
“Unfortunately,” Kip answered, steeling himself to face the harder memories. “Not everything was happy on Runne. Our people were ruled by a group called the Manor. They oversaw everything people did, and claimed to have the knowledge to lead the world. They did so undisputed.”
“That wasn’t a good thing?”
“I this case, no. They were not only the rulers, but also the source of education. They controlled the development of society.”
“So you mean, they were the ones who let people into school?” Ben asked.
“That’s right. They hand-picked people to come to the Manor to learn. Those were allowed to become magic users.”
“That’s not right,” the boy frowned. “Anyone can come to school in Mysidia.”
“For the most part, our people considered being chosen by the Manor to be a great honor. But they didn’t know that the Manor was using this school as a way of controlling the people who could use magic and using them for their own means,” Kip frowned.
Ben’s expression was troubled. He was picking apart this development and didn’t like what he heard.
“There were some people who knew what was going on. These people became a secret force that worked against the Manor. This group was led by Master SoYa.”
“Whoa…” Aur’s eyes widened.
“On the outside, Master SoYa pretended to be working for the Manor. In secret, he was using that knowledge to battle the grip it held over our society. In the end,” Kip paused, his voice wavering a little, “He gave his life for this cause. And I… tried to follow in his footsteps as best as I could after his death.”
“He died? How?” Ben was stricken, face pained.
“No one knows for sure. I think the Manor murdered him.”
“But they never caught you?”
“I spent a lot of time lying low and trying to make things look normal. I also pretended to work for the Manor, but that was mostly to protect my family.”
“Family?” Ben asked, as if he couldn’t imagine such a thing.
“That’s right. My wife and son,” Kip responded slowly.
“You have a son?”
“Yes… I did,” he could feel his throat tightening. “He was about your age when I last saw him.”
“What do you mean?” Innocent questions. “What happened?”
Do I have to relive this?
Heat. Fire. Screaming. Searching. Failing.
Running away like a coward.
Kip detached himself from the mind-images, trying to focus on a more objective moment in the story. “Things began to grow darker on Runne. The world itself became unstable, though no one really understood why. Nature was faltering and terrible disasters came over the lands. Many people flocked to the Manor for help. Many people died trying to reach the city.”
Aur made a shivering sound under his breath.
“The Manor tried to use magic and its students to battle the phenomenon. They were so arrogant that they actually believed that our meager power could overcome the planet’s unbalance,” he shook his head slowly. “They doubled their efforts to find students with the magical ability to fight the planet’s decay. That led to times where the Manor took children from their families without reason.”
Ben glanced around the room of the Tower, perhaps drawing connections to his own situation.
“Despite all that the Manor did, there was no reversing what began.”
The image of the explosion, so hot-bright, so terrible, yet silently beautiful from the distance of space. He saw it happen from the window of his ship as he sped away from the last moments of the dying world.
The ship had three beds. One for himself. One for ShiKon. One for NaTu. But only one bed was occupied.
“Our planet was lost. The fire…” Kip paused, his voice breaking. “Exploded. Shattered. It looked like a million pieces.”
“But what about the people there?” Aur shuddered.
“And your family?” Ben leaned forward.
The man looked down, the weight of grief in his voice. “Lost. The people of Runne were lost to the flame.”
The children remained motionless and silent. No one dared to speak.
Kip lifted a hand to cover his eyes. Then he rested his forehead on his balled fist. “I couldn’t save my family. I built a ship for them. But the end took us by surprise. I searched for them, but I couldn’t find them. All I could do was flee like a coward and save myself.”
They should be here. Alive. Not me. I don’t deserve…
Kip had never told anyone this story before. Never admitted to his failure. Never showed the depth of his loss. It was so hard not to, though. Not once the story started.
The children remained quiet for a long time, waiting for him to compose himself.
Get it together. This isn’t supposed to be about you, remember?
Finally, shaking himself out, he pulled the story back on track. “There was another group of survivors who escaped. They were on a ship that was built and piloted by your father, KluYa.”
“WHAT?” the boy’s whole body jerked up in a moment of complete shock.
Aur looked alarmed, too. He said in a tiny voice, “Your Dad was one of the people from Runne?”
“But… if Dad was… then that means… that I’m…” Ben started putting things together quickly.
“Half Lunar,” Kip supplied. The whole concept was odd to him, too. Who could have known that their people and humans were close enough in design to actually reproduce?
Ben was making strangled sounds, struggling to readjust everything he’d ever known in his short life.
“I was pretty surprised when you didn’t know what a Lunarian was,” Kip told him in a soothing tone. Hoping that a voice could give the boy something to hold on to through the confusion. “You even speak the Lunar language. I just assumed your father told you.”
“Language?” Ben stammered, green eyes flicking in every direction. Then he realized. It clicked. “I… I just thought that was an old Mysidian language! I didn’t know it was from another planet!”
“I’m sure KluYa had his reasons,” the man tried to soothe the boy’s turmoil. If anything could, it was stories of his father. “He always fought to do everything in his power to save people from the Manor.”
That worked. Ben was now focusing on something other than himself. “Really? Like what?”
“Your father led many of the children from the Manor to a ship, where they escaped Runne safely. They came first to the Blue Planet, looking for a new home. That’s when they discovered there were already people living here.”
“The humans,” Ben said.
Something the way the boy spoke the word gave Kip a chill. Already, he was starting to associate them with something more distant. Only half of what he was. They were humans. He was not. Not anymore.
“Yes, humans. But this was a long time ago, and the humans weren’t socially evolved at that point. So they decided to wait, and created a base on the Red Moon,” the man explained.
“Why the Red Moon?”
“That’s a good question. I’m not sure about that. I wasn’t involved with that expedition,” Kip told him. “I just know that under the surface of the moon, they built sleeping chambers. There, they sleep, waiting for the day when the Lunarians can come down to meet the people of the Blue Planet.”
“And that’s why my Dad is here. Living on the Blue Planet.” Again, Ben was putting things together.
“Yes, that’s right.” The man nodded. “KluYa chose to come down to the Blue Planet to learn about the humans and introduce new technology and magic. I think he believed that he could help teach the humans and get them ready for the day that the Lunars arrive.”
“That’s why Dad is teaching at the Mysidian Academy.”
“I’d assume so,” Kip agreed.
“But no one knew he was from the Moon.”
“He’s pretty sneaky, eh?” He tried to make it sound more of an accomplishment than a lie.
“Yeah. Just wait until Mom finds out!” Ben suddenly brightened, accepting the idea that his father, who was already larger than life, was truly someone special.
“So this Tower was built…” Aur returned them to the main topic once again.
“To observe the humans and life on the Blue Planet. Pretty nifty, don’t you think?” Kip said, trying not to brag too much. “It took me a while to perfect the designs. Making a tower float is a lot harder than making a ship that flies.”
“You made this?”
“Well, a lot of it, yes. Obviously, I had help building it. But the designs are all mine.”
Ben started to ask the hard questions. “Does Dad know about this place?”
“I’m honestly not sure,” Kip said. Not a lie. “I haven’t talked to your Dad since before the destruction of Runne.”
“You knew my Dad?” the boy blinked, as if he never considered the possibility.
“You could say that. We were sorta friends.”
The boy pushed himself to his feet, “If that’s true, then you’ll take me back home!”
Kip’s stomach sank. This was not the spot he wanted to be put on. But it made sense for the boy to ask.
“Ben… I… can’t do that. Not right now,” the man struggled, at a loss to justify his response. He could already feel all that goodwill and trust he built shivering under the weight of observation.
“Why not?” he demanded, looking angry again.
“I know you don’t understand. I just can’t,” Kip forced his voice to stay level. Then a thought came to him. “But how about I do the next best thing?”
“Like what?” Ben gave him a suspicious look.
The man turned away. He couldn’t look the boy in the eyes when he said this. “What if I try and find your father. And take a message to him to tell him where you are.”
Ben’s frustration softened a little. It wasn’t perfect, but it was something. “Would you do that?”
“Sure. Though you might have to be patient for a while. The Tower has to move close enough to Mysidia before I can travel down to look for him.”
The boy was no fool. He pressured, “Do you promise?”
Kip sighed and lifted one hand, picking his words carefully, “I promise that when I see him, I will tell him you are here in the Tower. Yes.”
The two boys turned towards each other with twin looks of triumph. “YES!”
Thankfully, triumph overcame suspicion. Ben even turned to tell the man, “Kip, you’re so cool!”
A human terminology, no doubt. But a positive one. One that Kip felt ashamed to accept.
“Well…” he began, feeling that gnawing guilt inside him again.
But there was trust in their faces. Trust that would allow Kip to help them, perhaps. Just maybe not in the ways they wanted him to help.
“Mr. Kip, please tell us more about the Lunar people!” Aur asked.
“Yeah! Tell us about the moon and how my Dad was a hero!” Ben echoed, haven taken all of this quite well.
“Huh?” Kip blinked at them, surprised at how quickly child-minds forgive and forget. “Oh, sure.”
And that’s exactly what he did.