History Repeating

History Repeating

image Isejor Xhefr awoke with a jolt. His head was pounding like an Agrolyte symphony in full swing and the floor was cool under his skin. As he stumbled to his feet, he felt himself sway and then staggered into the wall. A feeling of disorientation encompassed, him unlike anything he had experienced before. He imagined it must be similar to how lower life forms felt when drugged.

With the room spinning wildly, it took the soldier a moment to get his bearings. The hazy feeling was slow to fade but he finally recognized his surroundings as the walls of a corridor in the Waypoint - a place fixed in space and time, where all Xilon could go to meet with each other or to find some peace and quiet without losing hours from their own timeline.

As he struggled to remember exactly how he had gotten there and what he had been doing just before waking up on the soft metal floor, he fought surges of emotion too complex for him to fully process in his dreamy state. Waves of nostalgia, deep sadness and blind rage washed over him, acccompanied by flashes...memories, perhaps...that were too jumbled to make sense of but agonizing all the same.

After a few minutes, Xhef started to feel more composed. He was still dizzy and felt as if he were trapped within a dream, but had a better sense of time and movement. With a few deep breaths, he managed to pull himself together for a jump. As he warped out of existence, there was a brilliant flash of light, followed by excruciating pain, and then he was back where he'd started. He tried again with the same results.

After a third failed attempt, Xhef doubled over, confused. His zaelek must be damaged. He slammed a fist into his chest three times, pounding the lefthand heart, then tried warping out once more to no avail. He was well and truly stuck. A fresh wave of disorientation overcame him and he was hit again by a rush of feelings, more detailed this time. These were memories buried deep inside his mind that he had no desire to think about, but his brain waves were out of control. He sank to the ground and, after a moment, the nightmare passed. Once he realized that no one was coming and that he wasn't going anywhere on his own, Xhef forced himself to his feet and staggered down the hall in search of answers.

Elsewhere, deep within the Waypoint, Mars Xidonis was enduring a similar ordeal. He'd woken up in an abandoned storage room and couldn't seem to get out. Warps proved ineffective and there was no door to be found. As far as he could tell, he was completely trapped. He felt wrong, too, in ways that he couldn't describe. He was disoriented and haunting memories from his past, long buried, were suddenly hitting him from all sides. There would be a rush, then a lull, and then it would happen all over again, the thoughts becoming less chaotic and clearer each time.

After nearly thirty minutes of the maddening cycle, Mars fell back against the wall and screamed, if for no other reason than to release an overwhelming sense of frustration. Then a voice called out from beyond the far wall. "Someone in there?" Thanking the Ancients, Mars stumbled across the room and called back. "Yes! I'm stuck in here! There's no way out, I can't even jump." There were some shuffling sounds from the hall and then the voice said "Step back! Far as you can get." Mars retreated, skeptical. "It won't work. I already tried to blast my way ou-"

He was interrupted by a massive explosion as the wall across from him disintegrated in a controlled burst of throxin. Well...some Xilon were better at that than others. At least he had a way out now, and someone to help him figure out what was going on. But as the dust cleared, the scientist's hopes disappeared along with his pleased expression. "You."

image The tall, rugged Terran stared back at him, equally unenthusiastic. "Oh, fantastic." Xhef and Mars had crossed paths a few times before. They lived in different eras separated by half the life span of the universe so they didn't meet often. But when they did, there was unmistakable tension. They exasperated each other, their personalities in constant conflict. Mars was logical, grounded and highly educated. Xhef was a leader and warrior from much earlier in the timeline, which meant that he was more impulsive, driven by emotion and instinct, and couldn't care less about science, art, philosophy or the parts of life that Mars treasured. Consequently, the ego clash was enormous, each thought the other to be rather useless and neither was adept at keeping his feelings about it in check.

A brief banter laced with snide remarks, bickering and personal digs confirmed to the two Xilon that they were both trapped in time, with no memory of how they had arrived at the rest stop and no understanding of why they were unable to leave. This greatly concerned Mars while Xhef, of course, was woefully uninterested in the scientific implications of their ordeal, merely annoyed and anxious to get out and get back to work. Suddenly, there was a massive rumbling and creaking and before either of them could react, a new wall exploded from the rubble, separating them again.

"Okay," Mars cut in a moment later, interrupting the soldier in the middle of a rant about the inadequacies of Middle Era technology. "It's clear that we don't care for each other. Nevertheless, we are stuck here and something strange is happening. We need to work together to figure out how to address it." On the other side of the wall, Xhef rolled his eyes and shook his head. "You talk like a book, professor." He slapped his hands together and Mars could hear little crackles of energy in the air. He found himself bitterly wondering if the Prince of Acadia regularly downed throxin for breakfast.

"I'm going to find the control room and figure this out." Xhef called from the hall. "I'll find a way to get you out, just sit down and take it easy. That's what you brainy types are good at, right?" Mars banged on the wall a few times, yelling for the Terran to wait, but he had already run off. With a sigh, Mars crossed to the center of the room and sank into one of the chairs. There was nothing to do now but wait and hope that Isejor Xhefr was as clever as the history books said. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. This was going to be a long day.


As Xhef hurried through the empty corridors, he tried to shake off the increasingly aggressive memories that were forcing their way into his frazzled mind. He heard himself arguing with Jzerael, her voice echoing in his head along with his own. It's wrong, Xhef. Everyone knows it's wrong. You can't do this! It doesn't matter what they know. They'll follow me anyway. That's what I'm afraid of. You have too much influence to abuse it like this. You owe them more than that! It's necessary, Jzerael. I've made up my mind. It's against the will of the Council. How many times have I saved them now? I'm above the word of the Council! Now get out!

image The memories pained him more than he had ever imagined they would. The sound of a door sliding shut behind him snapped Xhef out of his fantasies and he found himself in a room stacked with articles, visual captures and historical accounts. Looking closer, he realized that every single item in the room related to him, his own personal database. Xhef wandered through the room, intrigued. He had never been one to look himself up in the archives, but the idea fascinated him now. It was interesting to view his life through objective eyes. Time was his life, his work. He had never thought of himself as a historical figure trapped within it before. In the far corner of the room, he came across a kyffra titled Ascension. The composition was unmistakable, showing his own bioreversal, the end of his life. The caption read Isejor Xhefr, the Prince of Acadia, departs this plane of existence. Simple but nice. He seemed peaceful in the artistic representation, yet something about it disturbed him. Shaking off the feeling, he tossed the work aside.

While Xhef relived his past and explored his future, Mars waited patiently in his own cluttered prison, which was starting to feel much like a tomb. As he sat quietly, attempting to pass the time through meditation, he began to hear whispers. They started softly, innocent whisps of sound, but rapidly grew into a deafening roar. And as the sounds became louder, the ancient memories inside his mind grew stronger too.

Think about what you're doing! You have so many years left. How could you live with yourself if you do this? He saw flashes in front of his eyes now, children's faces. The room seemed to be spinning around him. He was breathing raggedly, his eyes were watering and he struggled to slow the pounding of his middle heart. Then, all at once, the noises stopped. Mars tapped his ears, afraid that he had somehow gone deaf, the sudden silence was so disconcerting. Before his eyes, a door appeared in the wall. Wanting only to escape from the room, Mars threw himself through it.

Crossing the threshold, he entered a long corridor. But he had gone no more than a few steps when space itself bent around him and he was transported, by no means of his own, to another section of the Waypoint. After overcoming his surprise, the Zenonite studied his new surroundings. He was in some sort of sanctuary, a religious memorial. Sitting on the front bench was an elderly alien female wrapped in a shawl, weeping. Mars approached her silently but she seemed to register his presence without even looking up. "We waited so long for them to come home. For you to bring them back. Our babies..." Her voice suddenly dropped to a venemous hiss. "You are a monster, Xilon."

Mars couldn't move, her words stinging him like a thousand whips. "I didn't know. I'm so sorry." His response sounded weak and faint. Guilty. Pathetic. The woman seemed to agree. "Such empty words, killer of children." Mars flinched at that. "It seemed...at the time, it was the right thing to do." The woman still did not look up, yet he felt her eyes burning into him. "Did you lose one night of sleep? Did you feel anything at all?" Mars turned around to stare at the rows of pictures surrounded by softly burning candles. "More than you know," he whispered. "Liar. You forgot the moment you left." Mars shook his head, not looking away from the images before him. "You're wrong. I never forgot."

"Forgot what?" The sanctuary suddenly disappeared, as if it had been turned to smoke and blown away. Mars turned to see Xhef standing at the door behind him. They were now in an abandoned lounge with dim lights and broken furniture. It took him a minute to get his bearings; then he crossed over to the soldier. "How did you get here?" Xhef shrugged. "I don't know. I wasn't and then I was." Mars scoffed, partly just to break the trance he felt had been placed on him. "Something strange is going on. The Waypoint shouldn't be this unstable." Xhef gave him a skeptical look. "Agreed." There was an awkward pause, then "So you were talking to yourself?" Mars shoved past the Terran and stalked out the door. "Who the hell asked you?"

image Xhef whirled around and followed him down the hall. "That must be Martian for yes." Mars ignored him and kept walking. "You know, I'm not trying to get on your nerves." Mars scoffed again. "You're not succeeding." Xhef clapped a hand on his shoulder, pulling him to a stop. "I only asked because the same thing's been happening to me. Look, with all your book smarts, you must know about the things I've done. Saved millions of lower life forms. Saved our entire race. The whole damn universe." Mars raised his eyebrows. "And so very modest."

Xhef wasn't dettered. "Considering what I've done for creation, I think I'm exceptionally modest." Mars had lost interest again. He turned away and resumed his irate walk down the endless corridor to nowhere. "What you've done? You're a barbarian from the beginning of time. A savage left over from the ancient tribes of our ancestors. Ignorant. Violent. Impulsive." It was Xhef's turn to scoff now. "Careful, Zenonite. You might run out of witty words to abuse me with." Mars stopped once more, exasperated. "The contributions of the people of my era were intelligent. Educated. Extremely significant. We didn't go out and start wars to fix things. We developed ways to notice and fix them before they started." Xhef's eyes seemed to glow brighter, angry, but he ignored his companion.

"The reason I bring up my impressive personal record is that if you've studied my background, you should know that for the most part, I always worked with the Council, within their laws, made the right decisions. Helped people. I'm proud of everything that I've done. Every single thing except for one. Something that haunted me for a long time, that I haven't thought about in a long, long time. But then I woke up here and it's all I can think about. It started out vague, like flashes. But it's getting stronger, clearer, and from what I can tell, the same thing is happening to you. You think it's connected, us being here, unable to jump? The unpleasant memories of random events -"

"Not random," Mars finally chimed in. "Not events. Just one single event. The most important, the most painful. But how?" Xhef stared at him, perturbed. "You're the brilliant scientist, figure it out." Mars ran a hand through his shaggy blue hair. "Nothing. There's nothing that could cause this. Why can't we jump? And the Waypoint is static. It doesn't change -" Abruptly, the two Xilon realized that they were no longer in the storage room. "Like that," Mars finished, his point unexpectedly proven. They were now standing in what appeared to be a bedroom.

"You were saying?" Xhef walked over to the bed and collapsed onto it with a sigh. Mars looked around. "Looks like an old fashioned Terran bedroom." Xhef threw his hands up in the air. "Good job, professor, you've got it! It's Jzerael's room." His companion swiveled around. "Your mate? She's gone though, isn't she?" The Terran nodded. "Four lyren now." Mars's eyes widened. "You don't think this is a little strange?" Xhef remained on the bed, impassive. "Everything is strange. I've seen a painting of my own death. Why should a room upset me?"

Mars shrugged and turned away, then stopped short. Another door had appeared in front of him, standing alone in the middle of the room. Xhef didn't seem to notice, but it looked familiar to Mars. He slowly walked over and opened it. In a flash, he was somewhere else, another room. And the door was gone; there was no way out. Of course.

Back in the replica bedroom, Xhef continued to think out loud. "I have a theory about all this -" He turned to where Mars had been standing and was greeted by silence and an empty room. No, not quite empty. A figure stood at the main door. Xhef sat up quickly and stepped forward, his voice catching in his throat as he took in the appearance of his long lost love. "Jzerael? How -" She walked straight past him. Through him, as if he were nothing more than smoke and mirrors. "I've been wanting to talk to you for a while." Xhef whirled around to see himself sitting on the bed, donning battle gear as Jzerael approached. He felt light headed as he watched an unforgiving past play out before his eyes.

image I know what you're going to say. I thought we were past this, Jzerael. Past it? Isejor, you are making the biggest mistake of your life. I don't see any other way. Patience. Time. We don't have time. And patience has never been one of my virtues. It needs to be now. I'm sorry that your studies and magic crystal balls tell you otherwise, but I work with reality, with what's right in front of me. Every day we wait, more people will die. Better a few handfuls here and there than the death of an entire system. We've never seen an epidemic this dangerous. It needs to be stopped now, not later when you think the time is right. Xhef, I look at the timelines and the Myken System and all of its worlds are still there seven million years from now, thriving. If you do this, you are going to change the future. For the better. How many have to die so that a few worlds can survive? Anything that goes against the natural timeline is not for the better. It's forbidden for a reason. Perhaps your laws need to be changed. Your actions mimic a cocky student straight out of school. The only difference is that people believe in you. And you're about to betray them by doing something that can never be forgiven.

Jzerael, this virus will mutate, jump from one planet to the next, and even if it doesn't wipe out every life form in the region, it's going to infect every single one of them. They'll be carriers and at the rate that it's spreading, they're going to pass it on to their neighboring quadrants. This thing has a life of its own. It's going to grow and evolve and continue to kill. How do we know that this isn't how a disease like the Red Death began? Maybe you don't get off this rock enough to understand, but if you could trace something that terrible back to where it began and destroy it, wouldn't you? That's not our job. We are not here to improvise, we're here to make sure that life happens as it should, that the universe progresses as it should. The bigger picture, Xhef, not our petty personal vendettas. You know what? I don't think I've ever realized just how naive you are. Maybe if you'd get out, see things up close and personal once in a while, you'd have a more open mind. I know what I have to do. You're going to destroy eleven thousand species native to Myken. Wipe them out of existence. Hundreds of stars and planets. Genocide. That's right. That's exactly what I'm going to do if it means preventing the suffering of more innocents later on.

Jzerael shook her head sadly. This is the first time in near fifty lyren that I'm actually disappointed in you. Feelings mutual. With an aching heart, Xhef watched himself shove past her and storm out of the room as Jzerael faded into nothing, leaving him alone.


image On the other side of the interdimensional rest stop, Mars was reliving his own personal hell. Trapped in that desolate room, he had again become overwhelmed by the sound of children's voices. Laughing, playing at first, then the noises turned to fear, crying, screaming, becoming so loud that Mars dropped to his knees and covered his ears. Eventually, the din died down and disappeared, and he was in an outdoor meeting hall at Aarnaxis Lake. The feeling of Terran grass between his toes was surprising but not unwelcome. He slowly stood up and walked forward to see himself from years before, standing with seven other diplomats around a long wooden table covered with maps and charts. He heard himself speak and wished already that he could erase the words.

I don't see how we have a choice. The Nohslyns are adamant. If they don't get at least half of the Lydrelite children, we're going to have an interstellar war on our hands, the likely outcome of which will be the genocide of the Lydrelites. Or at least the adults, and then they'll take the children anyway. Better to preserve what we can.

Why don't we just crush the Nohslyns? Wipe out their entire army so that they're no longer a threat? We can't. A few generations down the line, they'll make huge advancements that will ultimately benefit the entire galaxy. We don't yet know whose offspring might influence those developments. Killing even one of their soldiers could alter everything. So what are you suggesting? We advise the Lydrelite government to give up their people's children? Definitely not. They'll die fighting the Nohslyns first.

What exactly do they want them for anyway? The Nohselian child mortality rate is almost 80%. Lydrelite child mortality falls about .05%. They need replacements, so to speak. To observe and understand the difference in genetics, to learn how they can make their own children healthier and guaranteed to survive the way their neighbors do. They can't just observe them at home? The Lydrelite government won't let them. They would consider it tantamount to a full scale invasion. Besides, the Nohslyns want the children on their own planets, to study in a controlled environment.

So what do we do? Our primary concern is to avoid war and conflict at any cost. The Lydrelites have no military capability so we must keep the Nohslyns from attacking them, but without stepping directly into the fight ourselves. The Lydrelites will never give up their children. No. Not intentionally. You are suggesting we lie? I'm suggesting that we do whatever we have to to resolve this unfortunate situation and to protect both life forms. We're talking about their offspring - Versus the fate of an entire galaxy. The Lydrelites will continue to reproduce at incredible rates. The population will even itself out again in only a decade or two. I'm not saying it won't be difficult for them, but we don't have a lot to work with. I agree. Hard decisions are part of the job. It has to be done.

image One by one, all members of the group voiced their agreement and turned back to Mars. What exactly do you propose?

The scene before him faded away, leaving him standing in nothing but a sea of blinding white light. Then the light dimmed to a dull grey and Mars was standing in a decaying laboratory. Not the type that he worked in as a scientist at home, but the subject of horror stories. Broken metal gurneys discolored by dried green blood, operating tables with leather straps and chains, buckets and jars with shriveled internal organs and locks of hair. He felt himself choke up but his emotional pain was interrupted by a physical one as a sharp stabbing sensation pierced his chest. He doubled over for a moment in agony before it passed. Then Xhef appeared behind him, looking equally distraught and shaken up. "I think it's time we got the hell out of here." Mars nodded and quickly pushed past him to the door. "I agree."

In the safety of the hallway, removed from the nightmare torture chamber, Mars took a moment to clear his head as Xhef paced around. "We have to put our heads together. Think, science boy! I may be an ancient relic but I do know that what's happening here isn't physically possible." Mars leaned against the wall and vigorously rubbed his face. "You're right. It doesn't make sense. The Waypoint is fixed in time and space. It's nowhere near a rift and even if it was suffering from some sort of chronospacial imbalance, it would be random. Logically, there is no way that this place could trap us here and throw around memories so specific to us." Xhef stared at him, as if surprised that that was all he could offer. "So how is this happening? Who's doing it?" Mars lowered his hand and pushed away from the wall. "I think we are."

Xhef look at him blankly and he continued, "Look, we're both nearing the end of our respective life spans. I've only got about 1,700 years left." Xhef raised an eyebrow questioningly. "So we're old. What's your point?" Mars ran an aggrieved hand through his hair. "Soldiers, you're all the same. Think about it. We've both lived incredible lives, made unparalleled contributions to the universe." Xhef snorted. "I can hear you thinking some of us more than others." Mars shook his head. "Will you shut up and stop competing? What I'm trying to say is...haven't you ever heard of instances where Xilon on their way out experience some sort of psychic episode a few years before they go? Some sort of subconscious need to address unresolved issues."

Xhef turned away, disinterested. "I don't have any unresolved issues." Mars actually laughed out loud at that one. Xhef looked murderous as his companion continued. "Of course, psychic episodes don't exist. It's just a way for primitive species to explain the odd cosmic rift. You've probably never heard of Rafa Kyveryk...a young zethres from Kappa Crucis, still alive in my time. He suffers from a brain mutation that overloads his system, causing throxin spikes. It allows him to see things, past, present and future. Similarly, some older Xilon produce increasingly unsteady levels of throxin, which is what eventually causes arlesk."

Xhef shot the scientist another withering look. "I did complete my primary studies, professor." Mars looked at him with genuine surprise. "I had no idea that they even had schools back then. Congratulations. But here's the point: couple our upcoming expiration dates with unresolved issues of universal importance and throw in a dash of elevated throxin levels, what do you get?" Xhef stared at him unflinchingly. "A couple of egotistical Xilon in the midst of a spontaneous meltdown?" Mars allowed a faint smile to cross his face. "To start with. But more importantly, you get a couple of Xilon who are subconsciously processing their own worst memories, forcing themselves to face questionable moments from the past before it's too late."

Xhef was somewhat mystified but he'd be damned before he admitted it. "So...we're inducing our own hallucinations?" Mars shook his head. "I wouldn't call them hallucinations. They're more like time/space lapses." But Xhef wasn't interested in the science behind it. "Okay, great. So we're doing this to ourselves. We've trapped ourselves here. Now how do we snap out of it?"

"We don't. The subconscious is a very powerful thing. On the surface, we're desperate to leave but on the inside there are serious issues that we aren't going to allow ourselves to leave without facing. So we're stuck here until we get our acts together." Xhef threw his hands up in the air. "Fantastic!"

image "There's more," Mars warned. "The strain of these abnormal throxin levels along with the time lapses and our approaching deadlines...it's dangerous. It conflicts with the structure of the Waypoint. Every moment that we stay here, every time that we experience once of those lapses, we get closer to a full scale biological breakdown." Xhef stepped forward, staring at him intently. "Are you saying we could die?" Mars lowered his head. "I'm saying, Isejor, that if we don't resolve our problems and get out of here very soon, we are both going to trigger a premature chemical decay. Yes, we'll die."

As he spoke, there was a powerful rumble and the whole room began to shake. "Oh, and we might end up taking this entire dimension with us," Mars added quickly as the walls started to crumble and break down on all sides. Xhef grabbed the Zenonite's arm and yanked him forward, running down the corridor to escape the flying debris. "Time is collapsing! We have to get out of here!" He slammed Mars into the wall around the corner as the structure fell apart around them. "You're supposed to be a genius! This is your area of expertise! So get us the hell out!"

Mars tried to clear his head as the metallic walls began to sizzle and disintegrate around them. "Okay. I think our imbalances might even out if we focus on what has brought us here. So far, I'm guessing we've both tried to block it out, avoid it." He paused and looked up at Xhef, drawing in a deep, determined breath. "So let it in. All of it. Everything related to the event that you've repressed, whatever is driving this self-destruction, accept it. Go back to it." Xhef shook Mars by the shoulders. "We can't cross our own timelines, you know that!" But Mars pushed him away, determined. "We have to try! There's no other choice. Focus and take yourself back. Do it, do it now. Right now!"

That was the last thing Xhef heard before an explosion rocked the flimsy corridor and they were violently blown apart from each other. Xhef felt jagged spikes of energy ripping through his body, tearing through his chest, hints of arlesk as light specks of energy broke off and floated into the air. He forced himself to focus on the most painful memory of all and with his last shred of strength, Xhef threw himself into a final jump and into his own past.

image The first sight that he saw was himself, about to leave Acadia Minor with the reactor that would detonante an entire star system. Xhef waited until his younger self had stepped out of the house to make some final arrangements, then stole the device. He was too weak to warp but managed to fly and hide it a safe distance away. When his past self returned, he was furious. Assuming that Jzerael was responsible, he sought her out at their favorite Kappa Crucian retreat, demanding to know why she had chosen once again to interfere. But as Xhef watched, his past changed before his eyes. His mate began to glow too bright, starting to painlessly break apart. His other self recognized the signs and all hostility melted away. He watched himself apologize, promising to wait and to find a better solution for preventing the spread of the epidemic. It was a beautiful goodbye, one that Xhef himself had never had a chance to experience, and he was grateful for it.

With that final thought, the universe exploded around him and Xhef tumbled out of the sky to land roughly on the ground outside of his Acadian home. He was still glowing and sparking with residual energy, but things felt right again. Better, even. He brushed himself off and wondered how his unlikely ally had done.


Far across time, Mars had thrown himself painfully through existence to the day of the most horrific mistake of his life. He stumbled like a blind man into the Aarnaxis council chamber and accosted one of his fellow diplomats, who was surprised to see him back so soon. Mars did not waste time on explanations. He felt himself beginning to break down faster and faster; there was no time for tact. "Larek, listen to me and don't question. Don't argue. Just do. The Nohslyns lied to us, maybe by omission, maybe flat out. They don't intend to just study the Lydrelite children. They are going to perform experiments on them, nightmare things that you can't imagine." His colleague was stupefied. "But we've already sent them away!" Mars nodded. "I know, but they're still in transit. Contact the nearest Athalite nation and let them know. The planets lie close to their region; they can keep an eye on the Nohslyns, regulate the treatment and conditions of the children, make sure that they're okay, that they're returned safe and sound...eventually." Although completely mystified, his colleague nodded and hurried off to make the arrangements.

Mars use his last burst of energy to move forward in time and when he arrived on the Lydrelite home world, he was weak but no longer losing pieces of himself, which was far better than he had been moments before. Time seemed to have stabilized. The Terran must have done his part as well.

image Mars found his way to the memorial that he had seen in his thoughts. So many families had lost their children, but at least they would see them again one day. It wasn't right, but it was certainly preferable to the alternative and the only viable way of preserving the futures of both species. He compressed himself down to Lydrelite size and took a seat in the front row of the tiny sanctuary, staring at the images of the children who were now living on another world. Although no one else was present, he found himself thinking I'm so sorry for the betrayal, for stealing your lives. But you will be looked after this time. You will be returned someday.

It wasn't perfect, far from it. But sometimes, in lives like his, when such decisions had to be made, the best result that one could aim for was still, at its core, flawed. In the end, all he could hope was that he had done his best; that he had made the right decision and done right by others to the best of his ability. And, for the first time in a long time, Mars finally felt that he had.

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