Until Next Time

Header image by Bigwavephoto under Creative Commons 4.0.

“Look.” A bruised and beaten hero pointed out the spectacle to his son from a faraway hill. It was Jackson. Explosions in the sky; amber, silver, sapphire. Tonight’s spectacle in the night sky was of risk, of sacrifice, of escape, of triumph. “Daddy set up a fireworks show for you.”

His commander several miles away saw the same sight, standing in a forest clearing with her main advisor. “I never thought that would ever end. I suppose he had one more surprise. It’s just a shame. I would have loved to at least get the full specifications.” Her advisor replied absent-mindedly, eyes fixed above. “I don’t think anything good would have come out of anything so destructive.” “Good point. And our backup provisions aren’t going to waste here, at least. If I didn’t know any better I’d think they knew we wouldn’t end up using them.” 

Over half of those on the original mission had been lost, yet still the remaining few remained in high spirit. It was done. It was over. The landscape faded into dead brown near the focus of the explosion – it was soon to be buried underneath the dreadnought’s lifeless form as a reminder to those who were there and a memorial to others. The commander spoke again, murmuring. “I suppose we’d better get going. They may not get here any time soon but they’ll be here to organise their cleanup operation and when they arrive, I’d rather not be here.” “Mmhm.” Only five – no, fifteen minutes later a convoy was gathered at the clearing. Commander Fennel was about to turn round to make her way to her vehicle, but froze upon catching a glimpse of Jackson and his son. Not heading in their direction, but retreating into the forest. She felt fear for a brief second. Then remembered what he’d said; he knew what he was doing. She turned back round. “Let’s move out.”

Meanwhile, a lone woman sat on the shore watched the dark sea under a hanging moon in a cloudy sky, thinking of their future and watching for something she wasn’t quite sure of. When all was said and done, when people had come and gone and sacrifices had been made, there was little left to do but watch; watch and wait. It was Eve; it was unusual for anybody to be at the beach this late, especially in the cold night, but after all that had happened, she could do with some time off at the beach – and she didn’t particularly care when. She felt sleepy, as if only her body was on the shore and her consciousness had drifted out to sea without her even noticing. Normal for somebody up at this time, normal for somebody who had just finished her part of the biggest liberation slash rescue slash defence plan of the last 100 years, expected for somebody fulfilling both criteria.

The sea was calling out – no, singing her to sleep, gently rocking back and forth. It could never seem to make up its mind on anything; back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. High tide, low tide, high tide. Maybe it chose both. Or maybe it was just doing what an ocean does all day, every day. Eve wondered if there was anybody else along the lonely shore, watching as she was watching, from a different angle. Would that be something she wanted? Could anybody see her from here? She decided she didn’t want anybody else along the shore. She didn’t want reality here, not just yet anyway – what was needed was more time: to think, to worry, to make baseless conclusions about what had happened, to eventually be reassured that everything was okay and everybody was alive.

Eve looked up suddenly and shifted slightly, snapped back into the world by her own senses. It suddenly struck her just how strange it was to be here at this time; if she still lived her normal life she’d be asleep back at home, or perhaps finishing odds and ends for the night before going to sleep. But instead, she wondered how many would make it back here: There were rumours of Coordinator Azalea’s return as well as Commander Fennel and her right-hand man, the one who never would reveal his name to Eve. Not very surprising, though she feared for Jackson, despite being unsure why. But enough speculation for now, Eve decided as she shifted focus to the horizon.

At the same instant Coordinator Azalea, clad in standard scarf and gloves, took a seat on the sand beside her, two mugs in hand. “Coffee?” Eve shot her a confused, yet grateful face. “Surprised?” “Well, I wasn’t expecting to be having coffee here. Still appreciated.” Azalea put both her hands outwards to her side. “Did you expect any less from me? We’re going to need a lot of coffee to deal with what’s ahead.” Eve paused mid-sip to wonder what was ahead before realising that if she knew, she wouldn’t be here. The co-ordinator picked up on this. “And let me guess, you’re here because you don’t know what that would be? Don’t worry, leave that to me. For now, your future is quite full of coffee.” “What if I stop drinking coffee?” Mock consternation. “Well, that’s one catastrophe I haven’t planned for. We would not be ready, I suppose.” Eve poked her. “Ooh, what if I take a liking to soda? Or hard to make cocktails?” Azalea raised her eyebrows even higher. “You might want to be careful there. You’re suggesting genuinely dangerous things for everybody now.”

Eve felt her heart tense slightly before she asked the question she’d asked the ocean without answer. “Mm, well, I’ll always have coffee. Still, I have to ask: where is everybody else?” Azalea deflected the question for fear of what the truth could do, no matter how mild. “They’ll be here soon. But don’t worry about that until tomorrow.” The truth was, just over half made it out alive and it wasn’t even certain they would make it back. Jackson and his son had last been spotted from afar, retreating into the trees and whether he’d contact them again was a mystery to everyone. Even after the losses they made, the commander preferred to keep everyone’s head high. For the odds, they’d done well. Eve watched Azalea intently as she spoke, coffee mug suspended, held to her mouth. She was too tired to actually detect anything worth bringing up, though. She sipped the last of her now lukewarm coffee and sighed.

“Well, my coffee’s gone. I guess I should get to my last question now.” Azalea interjected before Eve asked her question. “Do you want the rest of my coffee? I’m warm.” “Ah, no thanks, I’m fine.” The co-ordinator took her scarf off and put it around Eve, noting the lack of polite refusal. “Well, this should go some way at least. You were saying?” Eve stared back at the horizon, lost for words again. She could only hold off the main point of the conversation for so long and as the sea would always come back eventually, her final question had to be asked. “What now?” Azalea subconsciously followed suit and looked ahead. “We can rebuild, can’t we? We’re not on the brink of destruction anymore, so we’ll make it through just fine. We’re alive and safe for now, and that’s all that matters. Even with our losses, let’s hold our heads high and enjoy what’s ahead.” She heard Eve yawn loudly before feeling Eve leaning against her side with eyes closed. She really was tired, it seemed. Already half-asleep, Eve spoke: “I guess I’ll deal with my mistakes on the operation tomorrow.”

“We all have to live with our mistakes.”

“I’m more than fine living that way.”

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