Posted April 13th, 2018 by LarryPeterson
He sat here, on this gilded throne, on the tearing cushions where they’d sat so many times before, and stared out into the void. His finger absentmindedly traced the armrest of the bent sofa, the one that buckled down the middle, that sagged against the back wall of the room, facing the window. Before it, an empty coffee table rested atop a round carpet of Anthar hide, and several pieces of abstract art hung above. The room smelled of the rust of the ship and the wooden panelling that rose halfway up the wall was chipping to reveal metal bulkhead below.
The air was heavy with silence, the silence of long gone laughs and excited talking, of hands reaching out in the darkness, of smiles that broke faces into canyons. Even the creaking of the ship could not penetrate the silence. It tried, oh, it tried...but to no avail. The pipes whirred, metal clanked, the deck vibrated. But he heard none of it. All he heard was the nothing of their voices, the empty space above the couch where words had once flowed like traffic on an empty highway.
He stared into the void.
A nebula stared back, bright with purple and green, sending hues of violet filtering across the space. It was massive, gargantuan, spinning around in space as if a hurricane the size of five thousand planets had suddenly decided to glow neon. Stars winked away behind it, stretching as far as the eye could see.
Below, hundreds of miles away, a ship dropped out of warp before the nebula’s glow. He turned to tell her, to point it out-
And she wasn’t there.
Of course she wasn’t.
The nebula slowly spun out of sight as the gravitational ring of the ship spun, and the stars filled his vision.
He remembered the first time they’d sat here, how he’d kicked his feet up onto the table, how she’d nestled in beside him, how they’d sunk into the couch and looked out at the stars and just talked.
He remembered tumbling through the ovular hatchway that they called a door into this tiny oasis, how the lights had dimmed, the solar shield retracting across the window so they could stare at the mysteries beyond.
He remembered her head against his shoulder, how their hands had locked, how he’d looked off into the stars and thought about how he’d stay there until every single one of them went out.
The low light above the door flickered, taking his attention from the room and the couch. He turned his head and stood, numbly, still remembering…
He stepped out into the hallway, the narrow, curving metal passage that wound its way through the gravitational ring of the ship. Several doors lined it’s white metal walls, and the floor shone with black gloss. Several crates and boxes were scattered haphazardly about, and people bustled back and forth in a patchwork of uniforms, white and gray outfits marked with bright orange insignia on the shoulder. He brushed past one and saw her, standing, talking to a young privateer.
Her long brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail, her bright blue eyes shining out from behind miraculous eyelashes. Her cheekbones were raised in a smile, and her hands were stuffed inside the pockets on her rumpled flightsuit. She turned to him, and smiled, and he smiled, and they ran at each other in the hallway.
He took her in his arms, felt her warmth against his bare hands, felt the rough material of her flightsuit press against his torso as she threw her arms around him. He closed his eyes, the scent of her hitting his face; that burst of citrus and fresh fruit, yet mixed with the coolant of the ship and the singe of the fuel that feeds the mighty engines of starfighters. He breathed it in, that fantastic mix, and tightened his grip on her. He’d never let her go.
He opened his eyes, and the she was gone.
The hallway was dark and cold. The walls were tarnished with scorch marks. Piping stuck out like obscene fingers. Scuff marks from hurried boots covered the floor. His hands hung in open space, embracing a figure that wasn’t there, hearing nothing but silence.
His feet moved quietly across the opaque floor, passing closed doors where he knew bunkrooms lay empty. He stopped at the open door to the mess hall, where metal tables that were once filled with laughter and song and hearty food sat cold and empty. Several had slid into each other, scraping the tile beneath. His eyes ran over it all to a small round table near the corner of the room, where he’d sat with her and shared a rehydrated potato all those nights ago.
He could see them now, her elbows on the table, her face lit up in delight. They were both wearing their white T-shirts and cargo pants that were handed out for sleeping and rec time. He took a plastic spoon and tried to scoop a bit of the potato out, and she laughed, slapping his hand away.
“A spoon won’t work,” she beamed. “Here.”
She picked the potato up and extended towards him. With some difficulty, he took a bite. It was hard. They hadn’t “rehydrated” it as much as they could’ve. He felt something crack in his mouth and hoped it wasn’t a tooth.
“Is it good?” she asked, watching his face.
He swallowed hard, making movements with his lip to moisten his mouth. “Just...delicious,” he said, reaching for the water. “A little, like, ah, Thessian Moon Ale, you know-that mud-like taste-?”
“How romantic,” she said, trying not to laugh.
“Yeah,” he said, looking into her eyes and forgetting all about the taste in his mouth.
He blinked, and the room was empty. A light hanging from the ceiling flickered over the dull aluminum silver surfaces of the tables. It was silent.
He padded down the curving hallway once again, passing more flickering, decrepit, empty ship.
Suddenly; voices ahead. He increased his pace slightly, then remembered; it was only Lance and Vinson, Randor and Viatelle. The ones that remained.
He stopped before their bunk room, where white sheets were rumpled about and the smell of sweat and dank uniforms and mold hung heavy like locusts in the setting sun. His shadow fell across the four men inside.
“Hey…” Vinson said, leaning forward out of the bunk, looking into the light that entered the room from the doorway. A large bottle pillaged from the freezer room dangled from his loose grip. “Andon...are you good?”
Andon didn’t respond. He turned his head and kept walking. Around the curve of the ship, up ahead, appeared a solid black door; an emergency airtight compartment sealed shut, with nothing but the cold of space outside.
Andon diverted down a side hallway, peeling around, towards the command bridge. The hair on his wrists tingled, he could swear someone was there, walking with him as he’d walked this hall so many times before. He could feel her hand, wrapping around his fingers, enveloping each digit, warming his palm like a campfire on a cold, distant moon.
He swung his arm a bit with her, pulling her closer…
And she was gone.
He came before the bridge. The sliding door was jammed halfway open, and a broken stack of boxes and supply crates lay across the floor before it, almost like fallen soldiers... Inside, the holotable was crushed beneath a fallen piece of ceiling, a club of metal and vents and wiring. Sparks danced from computer screens and flickering hologram projectors. The curved window of the command module was spiderwebbed from a massive debris impact, and chairs were toppled throughout the place.
He walked silently through the place, down to the second of the two rows of computers where the crew of the Fortune’s Fury had worked for years. He counted the chairs as he passed. One, two, three.
His chair was sideways, knocked across the thin carpet on the ground. His desk was sloppy; the computer screen had shattered across the table. He bent silently and picked up his chair, spinning it to face the window before he sat down.
The nebula was visible outside again. He couldn’t see anything beyond the brightness. The ship from before was gone.
It was so quiet, he thought. So much quieter than before.
He remembered the alarms that cut through the air, the yells of Captain Gerin as the deck shook. He remembered the frantic calling of crew and pilots, the reverberating of laser cannons firing, the frantic calls of starfighter pilots that blinked out, one by one.
Suddenly, the nebula was gone, and before him lay a maze of starships and frigates, bombarding each other with light. Fighters danced throughout the mess, twisting, turning, exploding…
Around him, frantic others hollered into headsets. Holographic maps hung in the space of the bridge. Captain Gerin ordered the starboard cannons to fire on the Chancellery vessel. There was a tremendous booming sound. Someone shouted something about depressurization. Andon looked up for a second, saw a computer terminal against the wall burst into flames, and turned back to his computer.
“Delta Five, vector nine, pull right. You’ve got bogies on your six and eight. Watch those fighters coming in on vector 86--Delta Eight, pull up. Pull up! PULL-”
The dot on his screen vanished. His headset buzzed.
“Andon, this is Delta Five. Drax is gone. Do I have any backup?”
“I...I…” Andon’s fingers hovered above the control board, unsure. He glanced up at the window as Delta Five’s gray wings spun down and dropped below a ring of another mercenary vessel. “Can anyone assist Delta Five?” he hollered over the com.
“I’m on it,” came her voice, and he sat up a little straighter in his chair. Another fighter shot over the bridge and ducked after Delta Five and his pursuers, lasers dancing from her cannons. The ship shook again, but Andon didn’t notice. He followed the fighters as they swung in and out of gravity rings, past blazing turrets and floating debris, ducking around smaller frigates and shuttles, dodging massive fireballs.
“Ky-” he stopped himself. “Delta Six, watch your 3.”
“On it,” she said, taking out the last of Delta Five’s tail and spinning to her right. His heart beat as she spun around the approaching fighter-had that shot hit her wing!?
No, it hadn’t. It had missed. The enemy fighter exploded into a hundred shards of metal, it’s pilot gone. She shot through the wreckage and he heard a whoop over the com.
But they were losing. The Chancellery ships were closing on their flank, and the space outside was thick with fighters. From behind him, he heard people yelling about severe damage to the aft ring.
Suddenly, a huge piece of broken starship cascaded out of the night and slammed into the window. The room shook. Andon’s heart leapt from his chest. He grabbed the table as others around him were thrown back from the impact. Something somewhere exploded.
When he turned around, the roof had fallen in on Captain Gerin, their heroic commander, and a hand stuck out from underneath the sparking wires. Several people screamed.
Andon looked outside, his cheek swelling from a bite he didn’t remembering biting…
There she was, spinning through the darkness, tearing apart he enemy, that was her, that was his girl, that was Kyra…
The Chancellery Fleetship pounded into existence across the void, slamming out of warp with enough force to completely shatter the frigates and vessels around it. They broke like china in an earthquake, coming apart like snowmen in spring.
Fire danced before his wide irises as the turrets lining the immense fleetship opened up on the battle.
“Kyra! Kyra!” he called into his headset. “Kyra! Pull up! Get out-”
She spun between the laser blasts. One, two, three-
“Andon,” she said, and he could see her, in her rumpled flightsuit, her hair peeking out beneath her helmet, her blue eyes shining, her full lips pursed in determination.
“Andon, I lo-”
And then she was gone, obliterated in the darkness of space, her ship splintering into flame as laser beams cut through it indiscriminately. Gone, in a second. The com went silent.
“Jump!” someone called. The engines roared. The cannons blazed. The broken vessel turned from the gargantuan fleetship and the stars curled away in front of them.
They blasted away, alarms blaring, the scent of blood and sweat in the air, with fire tearing through the ship. Klaxons boomed. People screamed. He would later learn more than half the ship was being vented into space.
But he sat there, his hands limply hanging above the keyboard, his headset falling off one ear, her words still ringing in his head.
“Andon, I lo-”
A tear ran down his cheek as the nebula returned to him. The vibrant colors of the gaseous cloud danced in his dark eyes. He could feel his right leg trembling. All those moments, all those laughs, the way her lips had found his in the darkness, how they had trained and joked and fought in this great war together…
All for what? For this? For this crushing, unending silence. His fist curled on top of the table. His face was wet. All for what?
“Andon, I lo-”
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