Sydney and Noella walked hand in hand along the small winding path leading to the top the
Mount Dothan. The dusking sky painted a sheet of orange and red light across the woodsy terrain
around them, giving the impression of wading through a sea of fire. Amid the grim moment of
the day and the burning sensation rising in Sydney’s throat, the tone seemed fitting. Silence
accompanied them, and it wasn’t until the pair hit the peak that Sydney finally broke the ice. “So
what do your people call this ceremony?” she asked.
“The time of the harvest. It’s the moment when a fallen soldier is said to join the being of the
sky. I think humans refer to it as God,” Noella said, her tone as flat as the expression on her face.
“Sounds cool,” she replied as she surveyed the surroundings; a patch of flatland that housed a
family of hawks who watched cautiously from above in a lone cedar tree. From here, every inch
of Madisonburg could be observed without the need of telescope or binoculars. A bed of
dandelions and weeping willows greeted them in the center of the field.
“This way. I’ll show you where I buried his body,” Noella said.
She could see that Noella was visibly shaken, slowly unravelling before her eyes. Her hands
trembled as her eyes began to redden. She wondered how long it’d take, amazed at how Noella
had not said a word since Arrion’s death a few weeks ago, only morning him in silence, which
she explained was customary on Fabricius. She had done the deed all by herself, refusing to
allow Sydney to assist in his burial. From scouting the plot of land to digging the hole, Noella
insisted that it was protocol on her planet for a lone fellow soldier to be assigned the arduous task
of preparation. Seeing as though William had departed soon after, there was no better candidate
left for the job.
She took Noella by the hand and drew her close, giving her the most delicate and firm hug she
could muster. Noella stood motionless, sinking into her friend’s embrace. After a few seconds,
she released her, unable to make eye contact. “I’m here for you,” she murmured.
“Thanks, Syd,” Noella replied, her voice ragged.
She finally looked up at her and gave a nod, following Noella’s lead over to the place where
Arrion’s body lay. Surprisingly, the disturbed clay seemed more settled than she expected, dried
from the sun and already showing signs of life as Bermuda grass had slowly began to encroach
along the edges. A makeshift tombstone had been erected, fashioned from metallic fuselage
scraps of the Daedallus, with only Arrrion’s name and handle tatted along the surface, minus
dates to hide his identity to hikers in hopes that most consider it a memorial to a lost pet if they
stumbled upon it.
Noella knelt next to the grave, slid her backpack from her shoulders and began to open it.
Searching her bag, she retrieved a small oval-shaped disk and a satchel filled with purple
powder. “These are crushed lilacs pedals. We must first prepare the path for Arrion’s ascension
by sending tribute to the sky.” She stood and sprinkled a few handfuls over the grave until a thin
layer had materialized before them. “On our planet we usually use the oil of a Tonosia Tree,
which is a lot thicker substance and is used for sterilization. Sarah thought it’d be a good idea to
use lilacs as a substitute because it was a similar color.”
“It’s beautiful,” she replied.
“I will now begin the ceremony.” Noella placed the disc in the center of the burial site,
depressed a red button on the top and came to her side. The two joined hands as the disc began to
spin and dig into the hardened clay. Noella pointed a hydrogen phaser at the site and fired a
stream of fire upon it that scorched the sheet of crushed pedals. The disc disappeared beneath the
flames and Noella broke out into song, in an alien dialect that Sydney could not understand. It
was less about the words and more the moment that choked at her, forcing the tears to flow
freely down her face. She squeezed Noella’s hand as she crooned on. By the time Noella had
finished, a small fissure had opened in the place where the disc had entered and a cloud of
embers swirled into the air; a mix of red, orange and yellow. It lifted high into the sky and faded
into the clouds.
Noella dropped to her knees in a whimper. “It is finished.”
Sydney came beside her and held her close. “It was… beautiful.”
The two sat in silence with only sobs to drown out the sounds of the forest.