“I’ll be…somewhere else….”
A chill ran through Varsh’s body. Could Adric have known? Could he have seen something in those numbers he was so fond of? What was it his little brother called it once…odds? The chances of a thing happening in the flesh and blood world? Was that what he had seen? Could Adric’s numbers have told him his future?
Varsh felt a hand on his shoulder. Keara? Yes, it must be. Tylos was already….
“I’m sorry, Varsh,” Keara said.
Varsh felt like he should say something, but what was there to say? His little brother, the only family he had left in the universe, was dead. Dead because he hadn’t made the right decision. Because he hadn’t moved fast enough.
It all started with MistFall. That stupid, impossible thing the Deciders had droned on and on about for his entire childhood. Varsh was sure that it was just a story, a way for the Deciders to keep everyone else in line. He might be considered young within the larger group, but he was old enough to know that fear was a great way to get people to do whatever you wanted and not question it.
After the death of his parents, Varsh finally understood this. The worst thing that could happen, one of the biggest fears he had as a child, had happened and he was faced with the choice to meekly fall into the care of others in the village or decide his own fate from then on.
Varsh had looked over at Adric scrawling numbers onto a paper between bouts of crying and made his choice.
Eventually, Varsh realized that it was easier to deal with the pain of his loss by breaking away from the life he had before. He became an outsider. He gathered others who had their own reasons to leave their homes and families. He made a new tribe, a new family for himself, and led them as best he could.
But in the background, there was still Adric. Adric who could speak through numbers and who become one of the Elite and yet would still choose to never be far away from his older brother.
Varsh knew in some long neglected part of his heart that it was wrong to want Adric to be a member of his tribe. Adric was meant for other things. For the StarLiner. To guide others with his numbers. But that selfish, lonely feeling that never completely faded after his parents’ death persuaded him that it could be all right. Adric could be part of the group and could be an asset to them.
Then MistFall came...and with it, the MarshMen….
No one had told him about the MarshMen, but then again, Varsh doubted that he would have believed in them even if he had been told. Such horrible creatures with blank, black eyes that held no traces of a soul. Creatures that killed like they had no other purpose in the world. Varsh had wanted to destroy every last one of them.
Thankfully the Doctor, that odd, possibly mad, stranger from the stars, had known what to do. He always seemed to know what to do. Varsh wondered if he had a guiding knowledge like Adric did with his numbers.
More than that though, the Doctor was a leader. People listened to him. He cared about others, even those awful MarshMen. Perhaps that was what a leader had to be, that combination of wisdom and caring. Not just having the strongest will and voice.
It had made Varsh wonder if he had ever been a leader at all. And that doubt grew with Tylos’ death.
At the time, Varsh pushed the familiar grief that was welling up inside him aside. The MarshMen were still on the StarLiner, out of control and killing people, with no solution in sight. The Doctor seemed to have ideas about how to stop it, and thankfully, they had stumbled onto a weapon to drive the MarshMen back: gas canisters.
Tylos’ loss would have to be felt later. Varsh had shoved every thought of it into the place where he kept the wounds his parents’ death left behind. For now, he had to focus on stopping the MarshMen.
He had to at least try to lead so he wouldn’t have to lose anyone else.
“The Doctor needs this. Give it to him.”
Adric had thrust a small, cubical device into his hand and then went back to spraying the MarshMen with his canister. Varsh’s canister had already run out and he was about to grab Adric’s from him so his brother could run and get a fresh one. But before he could act, Adric had pulled that thing out of his pocket and given it to him. Then, he ran over to stop another MarshMan from entering the area.
“Adric, no! I’ll take that and you….”
“Go! Hurry!” Adric shouted at him over the sound of rushing air. “Give that to the Doctor and get another canister. I’ll hold them off.”
Every instinct Varsh had screamed at him that this was wrong, but he was also certain that wasting time arguing about it could get them both killed. He squeezed the device in his hand and shoved it into his pocket as he ran down the corridor to find another gas container.
It turned out to be the last time that he saw his brother alive.
The chill inside Varsh had dissipated into a numbing sensation as he placed his hand onto Adric’s still arm. He had believed that he wasn’t able to feel grief like this anymore. That he had spent it all on mourning his parents.
Unfortunately, he was wrong about this too. Just like he had been about allowing Adric to tag along with him, about MistFall, about not acting sooner to rejoin everyone else on the StarLiner.
About letting his brother be the leader he had tried to be.
“Here,” Keara said, pressing something into his hand. “You should hold onto this now.”
Varsh looked down at his hand. In it was Adric’s star, the star for mathematical excellence. It had been the proof that his brother belonged with the Elites. But more than that, it represented how Adric had chosen to direct his life: through his intimate understanding of numbers.
Varsh closed his fingers around the star on his palm. The pin on the back was sharp, the points of the star blunt pressure against his skin. It was a good reminder of the pain he felt over his brother’s loss.
He put it into his pocket, already knowing that he would always have it on him for as long as he lived. Which, if they could not find a way to stop the MarshMen, might not be all that long anyway.
Of course, Varsh should have known that the Doctor would find a way.
The MarshMen had left the StarLiner. Most of them were still alive, but Varsh figured the Doctor would tell them how to make sure that they wouldn’t return. The Doctor had so many answers, surely that would be one of them. Maybe he would even tell them how to finally leave Alzarius and find a new home away from the recurring threat of MistFall and MashMen.
But…was that what Varsh truly wanted for himself?
“I’ll be…somewhere else….”
Varsh slipped his hand into his pocket and traced his finger along the edges of the star there. That was his brother’s prediction for where he would be when the StarLiner left. It wasn’t meant for anyone else, but Varsh had related to what his brother had said even if he hadn’t understood it.
He and Adric…they had never belonged to the rest of them. Not after their parents had gone. Varsh had always thought that the answer was to strike out on his own. To create his own tribe and find a new sort of life on Alzarius.
But maybe his brother was the one who had gotten it right. Of course he would be. Probably was able to find the answer somewhere in his computations and figures. Maybe if Varsh had had some of his brother’s gifts…or maybe if he had been more of a true leader…he would have realized what Adric had tried to tell him.
Voices in the corridor pulled Varsh from his thoughts. He had snuck onto the Doctor and Romana’s craft and the device Adric had wanted the Doctor to have onto the control console. Varsh had been determined to honor his brother’s last request even if it meant little to anyone else. Doing so gave him the tiniest measure of peace.
But now, standing here on the bridge of this ship, Varsh suddenly realized he had been given another choice. He could heed his brother’s words and find a new way to live. Or he could go back to the StarLiner and betray every ideal he had tried to follow.
It only took seconds for Varsh to make his decision.
The voices in the corridor were getting closer, so Varsh dashed away to find a place to hide. He didn’t know where the Doctor would be going next, and he didn’t care. Maybe he would get off at wherever the next destination ended up being. Or maybe he could persuade the Doctor to let him travel with him and Romana for a while.
Varsh pressed himself into a dark corner, hunching down and gripping the star in his pocket again. He had no idea what would happen next. Still, whatever it was, Varsh was sure that he and Adric’s spirit would take the journey together.