So much had just happened. The revelations were coming thick and fast. He almost felt as if he was being swallowed by a sea of them. Every time he thought he’d be swept under, Sally looked at him, and he saw the certainty opening out in her gaze.
Once upon a time, Joseph hadn’t had much to grasp hold of in his life. Tortured memories, a broken childhood, and dreams that had never had a chance to rise.
Now, he had a heck of a lot more to grasp hold of.
His fingers proved that point as they tightened around Sally’s.
She didn’t speak. Neither did Forest.
It was clear she’d already said her piece.
It was now up to Joseph and Sally to head into phase space and win the final stage of this war.
Sally’s grip was strong, but it still shook ever so slightly. Good. Joseph would’ve been shocked if she’d managed to completely control her emotions. It wasn’t a good idea, anyway. Fight your emotions, and they’ll just fight back. You needed to let them wash through you, not controlling your actions, but guiding you forward.
People who suppressed their fear and anxiety ended up like Caxus.
Speaking of Caxus, he was still in Joseph’s mind, like this permanent infection that would never let go.
But he wasn’t in control, and Joseph couldn’t even hear him anymore. Would he rise again? Possibly. But Joseph would be ready.
Just as he was ready to tighten his grip around Sally’s. They stopped in front of her six-year-old form.
“Alice,” she said, her lips barely moving but the word strong.
“Yeah… that was her name. I remember now. But there’s also something else I remember. Sally, I’m—”
“An Omega guard,” she said quietly. “And you… assisted Layra on the Hendari homeworlds.”
With his free hand, Joseph gripped his face. That memory came slipping in almost as if it was water forcing its way underneath a firmly closed door. “Wait… I think… you’re right.” He thought he could see memories of the Omega guard running hand-in-hand with Layra through the tunnels of the Hendari prime homeworld. Her wide eyes were shimmering with shaking fear and need – their somber force filling him up with something more than the recognition of a lost memory. It was something that almost felt like love. It was similar to the powerful emotions that had infected his dreams and started all of this.
He still managed to force himself to move his lips. “It’s more than that. When I… encountered the Omega guard, you were the one who led me there. Sally… I don’t think you are….”
She looked up at him, still holding his hand, her head tilted at a regal angle. He’d once thought she could never pull that off. And to be fair, he hadn’t known she was the Queen at the time. But this wasn’t the Queen rising through her now. This was Sally, all right. Sally, with all her flaws, with all her strength, but with all her unstoppable will. It made the angle of her neck perfect, the look in her eyes inescapable. “I’m not human. I’m not an orphan. I don’t even come from this realm.”
A lump formed in his throat. He quickly swallowed past it, his eyes widening. “You come from… phase space, don’t you?”
She nodded. “Yes.”
“Is that even possible? I don’t know. Not all of my memories have come back yet. But I know phase space is where I ultimately come from.” She slowly brought up a hand and pointed to her six-year-old self. “And she is acting as a bridge between both realms.”
Once upon a time, Joseph hadn’t been able to stare at Sally’s young body. It was a grippingly unsettling sight. Now? Maybe it was the fact Sally was beside him, or it was his memories opening up within. He no longer thought he’d failed Sally. He recognized his past was far too complex to be able to easily assign blame.
And when you cannot easily assign blame, you cannot regret.
Not regret in the way where those regrets take on a life of their own, pile over you, and drag you down. You can still learn from your mistakes, but they won’t strangle you.
“Joseph, we can’t waste any more time,” she said quietly.
He nodded once, every muscle up his back and into his neck stiff with recognition.
So it was here. The final battle.
Sally went to take a step forward.
“Hold on.” Joseph slipped his hand further up her arm. “What should I do with the future boxes? Leave them here, or take them with us? They’re pretty awkward.”
She looked thoughtful. “Take one with us and leave the other three here. We can treat this as our base station and come back when we need to.”
He did as he was told, put three down on the floor, and straightened. There was a hell of a trapped breath pushing hard against his chest. It was the kind that made it feel as if there were a few prisoners down there, all clamoring for escape.
They weren’t gonna get it. There would be no more fleeing now.
Joseph had absolutely no clue what he was going to face in phase space. Even though Sally clearly now had a connection to the place, he doubted she’d know, either. Perhaps it was fundamentally unknowable.
It was meant to be the realm of the mind, right? Not just your mind, but everyone’s.
By the sounds of it, Caxus’s people were trapped there in some fashion – neither alive nor dead. And by the sounds of it, the Hendari crystals ultimately came from there, or perhaps had been produced there in some way.
That meant a hell of a lot of crazy would no doubt be waiting for them.
And what did they have to fight against it? Just each other.
It would be enough.
Reaching out, he grabbed her hand again. And together, they stepped forward.