For several years, but what seemed like many more, the girl, who had once been a princess, in another lifetime, existed on the frozen planet that as far as she knew never even had an official designation. It was at the farthest reach of the galaxy, and so she'd taken to calling it Galaxy's End. Astrid's only companion in all that time was an android, Etienne, who seemed to have lost his mind. Constantly, he babbled. She thought he was stuck in some nervous condition. He always seemed to be trying to process some unknown algorithm in the circuits that made up his brain.
Once, they stumbled upon an old man named Ledger, whom Astrid immediately recognized as the mentor of her arch-nemesis, Mogor, whose pursuit of her had led Astrid to the bleak landscape of Galaxy's End. Etienne claimed not to know him, but the old man's behavior betrayed otherwise. Ledger explained that he had been banished there for practicing the dark arts, and Astrid knew that he was telling the truth, at least to a certain extent. The truth was that he and Mogor had had a falling out. She considered them within the same breath, and as soon as possible, she left his makeshift workshop, and journeyed with Etienne back to her crashed ship.
Ledger's workshop, it should be noted, had been modified from the remains of another ship, probably his own. Astrid had not failed to observe this. She had also noticed the prototype androids tucked away in dark corners. She began to suspect the truth of Etienne's existence, even if the android himself remained oblivious, chattering away about utter nonsense. Most people would have found him very difficult to take seriously. Astrid was in a unique position. He was her only company, and in the beginning, that had been enough.
There was no way Ledger could know who she was, how she had run afoul of Mogor's dictatorial grip on Brinier, a world that had once been a vibrant utopia, or at least as her contemporaries now viewed it, in comparison. This was where Ledger had learned his arts, presumably at the behest of Mogor, who was otherwise powerless, dependent on the large retinue of experts who surrounded him. If Ledger had agreed to cooperate with Mogor, that would surely have been the end of them all.
In a way, Astrid's defiance had been much the same. She was the last of the royal family that had preceded Mogor's reign of terror. She had known Ledger in earlier days. He had served in her mother's court, until the day his son died, a youth named Aldan. After that he completely fell apart, and turned his interests in new and perilous directions, in the hopes of resurrecting him.
Here on Galaxy's End, he seemed to have succeeded. He had no doubt been here before. Etienne remembered, the one lucid thought he continuously returned to, Ledger's second landing, which her own had so vividly echoed in his addled mind. He had always claimed to remember a time when his circuits processed things more clearly, but never well enough to identify his own origins. Clearly that had been a deliberate move. In the end, Ledger couldn't bring himself to confront what had happened after all, much less meet his son all over again.
Somewhere in Etienne's circuits were the memories of Ledger's son, Aldan. Astrid's arrival had forced their resurfacing, and then a short circuit.
She'd puzzled out all of this over time. Time was all she had, after all. Etienne helped her survive, not the least because of the company he provided, but because he helped repair her ship, as much as possible, over time. The problem that loomed over them all was the prospect of Mogor discovering they all still existed, here on Galaxy's End.
Astrid decided that this was a possibility entirely out of her control. She instead chose to reunite father and son. Returning to Ledger's workshop was the most difficult thing she ever did, no doubt because of certain charms he'd put in place, as it didn't appear to be in the same place she and Etienne had originally found it. With Etienne's help, naturally, they succeeded.
Ledger was livid. This time he offered no pretense of ignorance, and instantly Astrid knew she'd been right. "How dare you," he shouted, not at her, as she might have expected, but Etienne. He had come to blame his son after all. It was a simple coping mechanism. Or he'd simply gone crazy after all these years.
Astrid refused to give up. "He deserves better than that and you know it," she said.
Ledger stared at them for an interminable amount of time. Etienne remained oblivious. "Excuse me," he said, "but I believe we have come quite a considerable distance. It would only be fair to treat us better than that, as a host."
Completely clueless, as always. "What my friend means to say is," Astrid found herself interjecting, "we just want to say how much we appreciate what you've been doing."
"Excuse me?" Ledger replied, incredulous.
"The charms," Astrid said. "I just realized it isn't just your workshop you've been shielding, but this entire planet. Whatever else you may be thinking, we appreciate that. All of us."
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Ledger said.
"The man I knew would have been dead decades ago," Astrid continued, ignoring the old man's protests. "You were already old when I last saw you. Frail. You know who I am. Let's just put everything on the table. I'm not asking for anything more. I'm not asking you to forgive anyone, least of all yourself. You know what you've done, what you could've done. All of it. You owe Etienne better than you've given him, and you know it."
For a moment, after silence once again consumed the workshop, Astrid thought she had pushed things too far. Then Ledger pushed her aside, and grabbed Etienne in an embrace. He began to cry. "My favorite thing," he muttered. "My very favorite thing."
Then he seemed to have pressed a button, because Etienne jerked a little, and then went limp. Ledger had turned the android off.
"It's for the best," the old man said. Astrid thought for a moment, and then she decided she agreed. "I'll try again," Ledger continued. "Some day. Not tomorrow."
The android collapsed into a heap. Astrid thought she'd be horrified, seeing Etienne like that, but it actually came as a kind of relief. Somehow she knew it would end like this. Some day, he would be switched back on, but his mind would be different. In another body, probably. But he would be the same, wouldn't he?
That's what she chose to believe, as she made her way back across the frost, to her ship, the one Etienne had repaired long ago, made it flightworthy again, and blasted off, gone from Galaxy's End at last.
Ledger's charm wouldn't be broken that easily. She was free to go anywhere. Mogor's reign would end, and maybe she would play a part in that. All things seemed possible.