Godfrey’s Oath

 

Audiobook.
Music: “Setting Sail”, copyright 2009 Per Kiilstofte


GPODFREYS_OATH_bright

Before the clouds of Apophus, orange tendrils of sunlight would lay across the New Mexico desert and crawl up the slopes of Sandia Peak so that anybody looking out from its crest would have to shade their eyes and squint as they looked out over the miles of desert below.

But it wasn’t like that anymore.

A man and woman sat on the bare granite, now devoid of trees, bushes or grass. The only green left came from the sprawl of lichen which still clung to the rocks, slowly eating away their surface.

The sun hid above the permanent canopy of clouds that covered the sky. A murky haze of orange along their western edge told the man and woman the sun was setting. It was something they had learned to see – like the fleeting blush on a girls face in the fading twilight. It swirled in the sky, just another shade of gray if you didn’t know how to look for it.

Sitting on the cold granite of Sandia Peak and looking up at the clouds, she reached for his hand and watched the sky until the last hints of orange were gone. Then she looked at him as he searched the valley below. He always looked down at the ruins – never at the sky.

The last wisps of orange swirled away, leaving behind the night, which wasn’t all that different from day except for the flickering of blue halogen lights coming to life just outside the Albuquerque ruins.

The man and woman looked down on all that now, pretending not to hear the faint ripple of gunfire that soon rose up from the ruins.

Because they each did have a Purpose, the man and woman were allowed to sit atop what was left of the world and watch. But only for a little while.

The woman was Commodore Shannon Godfrey, commander of the soon-to-depart Second Expeditionary Fleet. But for the next hour, she would wrestle with a part of her that a lifetime of training had taught her nothing about. A part of herself she could neither embrace nor leave to the ashes dusting the desert floor below. A part of her, that even now, she didn’t really know.

The man was Seth Garon, the engineer who had built the ships she would soon take across the void above the clouds. As he sat next to her, his eyes searched the valley below for the yellow sparks of fire, hoping to catch a glimpse of somebody huddling in the cold – somebody who would be left behind. They were too far away, of course, but he still looked. He didn’t flinch when the faint echo of gunshots whispered in the dark. He didn’t flinch because he knew she had more important things to worry about now. So he pretended not to notice. Just as she did.

“Let me see her,” she said.

He stopped breathing as he stared back at her. She stopped stroking his hand and felt the tide of her will rise up. The soft uncertainty faded as a lifetime of training took over and closed doors, shut out fear and cast aside the aching flutter in her heart like a cool breath in winter. She did none of this on purpose. It was as natural as breathing.

She clenched her jaw and shut her eyes for a moment, reaching into the void of herself to find the last remnants of a feeling she still did not understand. A feeling she craved. A feeling that would be gone forever after that night because she could only find it when she held his hand.

Like a gossamer thread flung across an ocean, the feeling tugged at her when she felt his hand move and then stop. She held her breath, holding onto that thread as gently as she could, a lifeline that could be broken by the softest whisper of her mind.

“Are you sure?” he asked.

She nodded and let her mouth fall open so the night air could drip into her lungs. She dared not breathe any harder.

His hand moved again, reached into a pocket and gently slid out a square picture. He didn’t activate a hologram or even the com pad that stored a lifetime of knowledge and imagery. Anybody else would have shown her a digital image glowing on a flex screen. But not him. He had an actual picture, immutable except for the winds of time that would eventually steal it away.

He held it out by his fingertips and she cradled her hands underneath the picture as if it were a newborn child.

She stared into the face again – still wondering. She thought of the woman touching him. Again, the gnawing prickle of despair crawled along her neck. It was more of her self they had not trained her to understand. And she clutched at it desperately, as if she were drowning and gasping for a final breath that would save her.

The woman in the picture looked young and she wondered how long it had been since it was taken. The woman’s hair was long, glossy and black. Her face was plain, but her eyes were piercing, as if she were looking back at Godfrey, telling her that she could go no further.

The craving welled up inside her. She had to tell him.

“Have you ever…?” she started to ask.

A hint of a smile creased his eyes. “No.”

She was always in control, always in command. Whatever maelstrom of chaos the universe threw at her, she knew how to sort through it all and coerce the forces working against her back against the wind and carry her towards the mission. They had trained her to do all that. But the aching she felt just looking into his eyes – she couldn’t control that. And she let it sweep over her.

The gossamer thread whipped across the sea, its tendrils stiffening and she held on tighter. Then she dared pull back and it did not break.

“Why not?” she asked.

He moved closer, his eyes glistening. Delicious tendrils of fear rippled through her. She gasped as he drew a breath to speak.

“Exemption Privilege,” he said.

She heard and then felt the air gushing out of her lungs. A faint shudder ran through her body and then she felt a fine swirling in her head.

He had chosen not to bond with his assigned mate.

She had always assumed they had. Or would. Because that’s what the Directorate had mandated and following orders was something she understood. Orders were a way of life embedded in the marrow of her bones. Defiance was a delicious temptation that she only felt when she held his hand.

He let out a long breath and said, “I actually got to choose.”

He turned to look back at the valley below and his eyes narrowed.

“So you chose just because you could?” she asked.

He looked at the ground and shook his head. “No.” He leaned over and scraped at a patch of lichen with his thumb. “Choosing just because you can is petulance.” He huffed out a sigh, studying the lichen as he peeled it from the granite. “For people like us, anyway.” He flung the lichen to the ground and crushed it with the toe of his boot.

She felt her body soften and a warm glow ebbed through her. She was outside everything she knew, adrift in an alien sea, carried by the wind of his words. Words she didn’t really understand, but which still rang out, a single note in a chorus of darkness.

He was looking at the ruins again. Another muffled cry of gunfire echoed along the granite. He squinted at the sound, embracing its cruelty – refusing to turn away from it, even if he couldn’t stop it.

“You still believe, don’t you?” she asked.

He grunted and then nodded as a tired grimace sagged across his face. “Yeah. I will always believe.”

She stroked his hand with her thumb. “Have you figured out how?”

He half smiled. “No.” He watched the valley a moment longer before turning to look at her. She stroked his hand, waiting for him to explain because she knew he would want to. “You know how I am”

“Tell me,” she said.

He cocked his head and grunted. “Again?”

“Yes. Again.” She tightened her grip on his hand and inched closer. “For old times sake.”

He let out a sigh and pinched his nose. She rubbed his hand with her thumb and waited.

“When you have a choice,” he said, “you have to make it count.” He stood up and took her hand, pulling her towards him. “You have to choose what matters.”

Gently tugging at her hand, he stood up and paced to the edge of the crest.

She held her breath as they inched to the slope of bare rock sloping away and down a mile into the darkness.

Dizziness overwhelmed her and she stumbled back, staring at his face as it gyrated in front of her. He reached out for her.

She pushed his hand away, not because she was proud, but because she always had to stand alone. She was in command. “No,” she said. “I’m alright.”

She blinked, studying his face – now scowling at her, afraid for her. “I’m alright,” she said, her voice stronger this time.

She staggered back to her feet, brushed the front of her uniform and set her shoulders. She nodded once, urging him to continue.

“I’ve been down there,” he said.

“Where?”

He swept his hand across the empty air beyond the crest. “Down there, next to the fires, the huts made from rags.” He let his hand rest by his side. “I’ve seen them.”

“You mean you’ve been inside the ruins?”

“Yes.”

She hadn’t heard this before. Her first instinct was to make sure she remembered to file a report when the ship came for her. Entry into the ruins required a clearance – and only Enforcers ever got one. Everybody knew what happened in the ruins, but to step past the barricades and watch – not only was it prohibited, it was something no sane person would do.

That was the Commodore in her barking. She shook her head, trying to dispel such a notion. He was her friend. None of it would matter soon enough. Maybe that was why he told her.

She straightened her back and leaned forward, careful to keep her balance as she looked at the horizon. She wasn’t ready to look down at the ruins. “What was it like?”

She watched him toe the edge of the rock, wondering what he was really thinking. He had always been a pensive man, but now she wondered just how dark he could get – especially now that they would never see each other again. She leaned over the edge and heard his voice just over her shoulder – a low husky whisper she had never heard before.

“There aren’t as many fires as there used to be.” He leaned over the edge next to her and slid his hands up to his hips, slowly surveying the ruins.

“It gets so cold. People don’t even try to hide.”

He turned and looked at her with somber eyes. “They just crouch around the fires, holding their hands close to the warmth, even when they see the Enforcers coming.”

She let out a gentle sigh as he stepped away from the crest and walked away from her. She listened to the crunch of his boots on the granite and felt the tension in her body ebb with each step. She stretched her neck and furrowed her brow – puzzled that she had tensed up so much. She normally had more control.

He sat back down and hung his head, absently toeing the ground with his boot.

She still stood at the edge of the crest, but had yet to look down. She gazed at the horizon, a thin gray line where the ground and the sky were nearly indistinguishable. She closed her eyes and thought of looking at the ruins.

She took a deep breath and held it, then decided to turn around and walk back to him instead.

She crouched down in front of him and reached out to touch his face. But she stopped, holding her hand in mid-air as he continued to paw at the ground with his boot. She withdrew her hand, letting it hang by her side.

Studying the small circle he was grinding into the dirt, he said, “The Enforcers, they don’t stay back. You know, they could shoot people in the back of the head from a hundred yards. But they don’t do it that way. They walk up and stand there, as if they’re waiting for something. And the people around the fire, they don’t look up. Not at first.”

She tried to put her hand on top of his, but he pulled it away. He slowly sucked his breath in through his teeth and raised his head just enough to look into her eyes.

“When they raise their weapons, the people finally look up. And…” He bit his lip and looked away.

She could see him fighting back tears. He was so sentimental sometimes and she never knew what to do when he got like this.

“They hide.” He quickly wiped away a tear, dashing it off with his fingertips. She could tell he didn’t want her to see it. She set her jaw and nodded, urging him to continue.

“They hide behind their hands and then you see it in their eyes.” He rubbed his forehead and sniffed a short breath through his nose. He placed his hand on her knee, but she knew he was just trying to hold himself steady. Still, it felt nice. Even if he didn’t think of her that way.

A dull ache welled up in her chest. She didn’t bother to try and control it this time. She had a lifetime to be in control. For just that moment, she let herself explore the quiet shores of places she had never seen, places in herself she had learned long ago to shut away in the dark and keep silent. Places he still went, no matter how much it hurt.

Then she realized she couldn’t bear to see him this way. And he was always this way, even though he didn’t always show it. Like the rest of those chosen by Selective Qualification and assigned a Purpose, they had learned to set aside the psychological burdens that came with trying to save the world. But he had always held on to a part of himself that remembered what it meant to feel sad about it all.

Again, she wondered if she should tell him.

She reached out again to touch his face. She didn’t stop this time and his hand flashed out, seizing her wrist in an iron grip.

The urge to twist around, grab his other hand and knock him on his back flashed through her like a lightning bolt. She knew that was just her training kicking in. She gritted her teeth, choking down her reflexive response and let her arm go limp.

His eyes were on her again, dark. Afraid. He took a breath to speak and then stopped. His eyes were wide open and his breathing came in short pants.

“Tell me.”

He gulped, then took a sharp breath. His hand shook as he released her arm and wiped his now sweaty palm across his shirt. He licked his lips.

“You can see what they’re thinking. You can see it in their eyes.”

He flinched as the sound of another ripple of gunfire washed over them, unable to hide his reaction this time. His eyes glistened as he clenched his jaw.

“What are they thinking?” she asked.

He closed his eyes as more gunfire erupted below. She wondered how much more he could endure.

“Please let me live one more night,” he said. He opened his eyes, still glistening under his furrowed brow. “That’s what they’re thinking.”

His shoulders rose up as he filled his lungs, struggling to keep control. “At the end, they try to stop the bullets.”

He took a hard breath, his eyes almost brimming with tears. But he still held them back and said, “With their hands.”

She reached for him again and this time he let her touch him. She caressed his cheek with her fingertips and then drew her hand away.

She pretended to look at the sky, giving him a moment’s solace to recompose himself. When his breathing eased, she turned back to him and cocked her head with a faint smile she hoped looked gentle.

“You OK?

“Yeah.” He went back to studying his boot as it dug its small circle deeper into the ground. “Not something I really talk about.”

“Why?” she asked.

“What do you mean?”

She stood up and started pacing, collecting her thoughts. Something wasn’t adding up. He shook. He almost cried. She knew he was telling the truth. But it was a truth that didn’t line up with what everybody knew. It was exactly the sort of truth he taught her from time to time. She always wrestled with these things for a while, then reconciled them with what the Directorate expected her to know. What they expected her to believe. But she didn’t have time for that now. This was not how she wanted to spend their last night. She had to get there faster.

She whirled around and cocked her head. “Any non-designate can report to the allocation chambers at any time. Everybody knows that. It’s the easiest way. And it’s best for everybody.”

She stopped mid-step as his mouth curled into a curious smile.

“If everybody went to the chambers, we wouldn’t need Enforcers,” he said.

She furrowed her brow, annoyed at the trap of his simple logic more than anything else. Of course there were Enforcers. But that was because of the Homesteaders and their infuriating denial of the obvious. They were the ones who told everybody the technology existed to rebuild society. That everyone could live again. That they didn’t have to waste lives and resources building ships for a fool’s errand. It was their fault.

She shook her head. That was the Directorate talking. What Seth was trying to tell her went beyond all that. It wouldn’t be enough to settle for the obvious.

She slowly paced back to the edge of the crest to peek over the edge to look at the ruins. But she had to close her eyes for a moment and take several slow breaths.

She didn’t like looking at the ruins. She didn’t much like looking at the clouds, either. She did enjoy looking through the thick plastic windows of the docks hovering in low Earth orbit. There, she had seen the stars glistening in the black, piercing a thousand years to tell her they had a home to find, if they dared. There, she could look down on the clouds of Apophus wrapping her entire world like a blanket of cotton. They didn’t look so vicious from up there.

She opened her eyes and forced herself to look at the flickering fires left behind by the Enforcers. The valley was quiet now. She squinted, trying to see if anyone was moving. She absently pinched her lip as she studied the ruins and the dark slopes of desert stretching to the horizon. She cocked her ear and all she heard was the wind.

There couldn’t be anybody down there now or else she would still hear the Enforcers dispatching the remnants of those with no Purpose. But they came every night. She knew that. Where did they go? And why did they come back?

“Why?” she asked, still gazing down at the ruins.

“Why what?”

She whirled around and stomped over to him. Her fists on her hips, she bent down and scowled at him. “Why do they face the Enforcers every night? Why do they hide behind their hands? Why do they just sit there if they know they’re going to be shot? Why?” She felt her gut tighten with anger, impatient at something she could neither understand nor control.

He stood up, tugged at the hem of his uniform and smiled. A wicked gleam flashed across his eyes. “If only more would ask such a question.”

She planted her feet, refusing to move until he told her.

He placed his hand on her shoulder. She couldn’t help her eyes closing as a warm glow flowed from her shoulder, down her arm and then through her entire body. She could have stood there forever to fall into the soothing glow of his touch flowing through her like an endless ocean.

But she needed an answer. Because she knew she needed to understand. He needed to know she understood. Only then could she tell him.

The sound of his voice flowed like a cool well spring.

“Liberty,” he said.

Her eyes flew open and she had to stifle a laugh because she knew he meant it. But it was ludicrous. It was the sort of thing a Homesteader would say.

“Liberty is a luxury for an affluent society,” she said. She had a thousand axioms she could quote – paradigms ingrained by the Directorate her entire life. But she had come up with this one on her own.

He half-closed his eyes and slowly nodded, admiring her words. He grunted and then said, “Liberty is the right to face risk on your own terms.” He squinted and leaned in close. “You want to know why they face the Enforcers every night? Because they choose to huddle by fires and take bullets as they hold up quivering hands and plead one last time for their lives.” He pursed his lips, flicking a brow. “Yes, they could go to an allocation chamber. They could run into the desert and freeze to death by morning. They have choices. And nobody can take that away from them. Even if it’s just the choice of how to die.”

Her mouth fell open and her shoulders slumped. She felt her mind groping in the dark, trying to reach beyond the shroud of the obvious meaning of what he was saying. Whether or not the non-Purposed took a bullet or went to sleep in an allocation chamber didn’t matter much. They were just in the way. It wasn’t their fault, but there was nothing to be done about it.

Why choose to take a bullet when there were easier ways to die?

Extinction was inevitable either way.

Except for her mission. Again, the center of all settled into her mind. She didn’t have to spend time thinking about Enforcers or fires or trembling hands shredded by bullets. All she had to think about was her mission. That was all she was supposed to think about. But she couldn’t let go, because he was on the other side of those fires, hiding in the dark – even from her.

And she really did need to tell him.

The sound of his voice startled her. “I’m sorry,” he said. “You don’t need to hear this right now. You have – ” He shook his head and let out a long sigh. “I can’t imagine the pressure you must be under right now.”

She turned her gaze back to the sky. “Yep.” She sat back down and looked up at him. “It’s up to me to save the world.”

He smiled and let out another grunt as he looked back down at his boot and started swirling it in the dirt again. She reached over to stroke the top of his hand as she cradled it in her palm.

Her words had seemed to come from somebody else, even as she said them. Then the refrain she had heard her entire life echoed through her mind. Don’t worry about the world. Worry about your mission. Take care of the mission and the world will follow.

Selective Qualification had chosen her destiny on her fifth birthday. And then they had subjected her to the most ruthless and brutal training a human could endure. Now, thirty years later, they told her the ships the man sitting next to her had built were ready. They told her she was ready. Sitting in the dark, stroking his hand, she knew she wasn’t. She wouldn’t be ready until she told him.

He had ignited in her something they hadn’t taught her – something she hadn’t trained for. And therefore something she didn’t know how to control. It flowed through her like an electric current as she stroked his hand and imagined the world the way he saw it. She imagined a world where people were allowed to live because it was still a right. She imagined a world where the fantasy of human dignity lived as brilliantly in the streets as it did in the gleam of his eye.

Before him, she had known all of that was meaningless. When she thought of such things, she shook her head and dismissed them before they could even become a complete thought. But when he spoke, when he looked into her eyes and reminded her of something that had died centuries before, she felt like a little girl again, her mind free from a lifetime of conditioning to her Purpose. She felt something she still couldn’t understand. Something she couldn’t control. Something beyond Purpose.

That’s why she wanted to tell him. It was more than the electric tingle she felt whenever he touched her. It was a truth. And truth wasn’t something she saw much in the world anymore.

She saw it now – her own sacred truth. All her life, she had trained to save the world. All her life, she had been driven on by a relentless will to carry out the mission – whether it was to survive in the desert with nothing more than a knife and her wits or to compel the will of others to follow her own.

She had endured it all, mastered every challenge, all for the single Purpose of mission.

She realized then that she wasn’t driven by the urgency of saving the world. The real reason had been there all along, pushing her to the brink of everything she had – and beyond.

She wanted to save him.

She wanted to save everything about him. His touch. His curious gaze when he was thinking of things that had lost meaning generations before. His words, which she now knew had to be saved. She needed to hear them now. She needed to understand them, truly, and weld them to her own comprehension of Purpose.

She needed to save all of that.

She wrapped her hand around the back of his neck and leaned close enough so he could hear her whisper an oath she hoped neither would ever forget. “You will live free, I promise.”

She eased him away from her so she could look at him. His eyes sagged. His mouth frowned impassively.

Her voice fell away as a warm whisper that was just loud enough for him to hear. “I love you.”

His eyes receded until they looked like glass. His breathing faded until all she could hear was the wind.

Her hands trembled as all the defiance and uncertainty drained away. The only thing left was fear. Would he ever come closer? Or had she pushed him away, never to return? She plead with her eyes, and for a moment she felt like she was crouched next to a fire, warming herself in those cold moments, pleading for the only thing left that she really needed.

He stepped back, his hands trailing from her shoulder to hang by his side. The space between them fell into a void, swallowing up the gossamer. She clutched at it, watching it slip away and flutter into the darkness. It whipped away across a thousand miles of raging sea, drowned in the white crests of waves that would never end.

He stepped back again and she knew he would not say anything more.

Her will rose up like a shield. Her fear crashed against it and shattered like glass. She jutted out her chin and narrowed her eyes, once again in command. He stood quietly and she knew he was waiting for the moment to evaporate into a past that they could both ignore.

A final aching flutter of yearning surged through her chest and then was gone. All she could do was wonder what he really felt. If there was more. If the man who cherished liberty cherished the kiss they would never have.

When all that was left of her was Commodore Godfrey, commander of the Second Expeditionary Fleet, he finally spoke.

“Love is a luxury for a just society.” He took another step back, fixing his gaze on her. “I’m not the one who needs you now.” He glanced at the edge of the crest, at the darkness, at the edge of a sky that would forever boil until the last breath of humanity died away.

Where there had been, just a moment before, the bashful and ignorant hope of a woman for just one kiss, there was now a hard place in her heart where she would hold it away from the world, where nobody would ever see it again. Not even him.

She tucked her chin into her chest and closed her eyes, letting the last of her foolish sentiment wash away. But the gnawing ache in her chest wouldn’t relent. Instead, tears welled up. Tears she knew no man could ever see.

She blinked them away as she ran back to the edge of the crest. She sucked in a deliberate breath with each beat of her boots pounding against the ground. The air seared her lungs, cold and harsh. Her tears evaporated as every instinct she had learned from the Directorate infused her with the iron will she had always known, but never really seen until that moment.

As she approached the edge, she saw the faint flicker of a lone fire. Like a hawk to its prey, she focused on it until she couldn’t see anything else. The fire filled her consciousness until she could almost smell the curls of smoke rising up from the wavering licks of flame. There were answers in that fire. If only she could find the question.

She ran fast and the edge of the crest loomed up in front of her sooner than she expected. She slid to a stop as the edge spilled away into the rocks below. The toes of her boots hung out over empty space and she swirled her arms, fighting to catch her balance before she tumbled down into the granite chute leading into the valley.

Still, she looked at the fire.

She crouched down and leaned out as far as she could without teetering over the edge. Her breath settled back to normal almost instantly, another benefit of a lifetime of training she was only beginning to finally understand.

She didn’t know if he was still behind her, whether or not he was looking at her or had already turned away and walked back into the darkness. She didn’t see the fringes of a horizon that no longer changed or the blue electric haze of the lights that stopped at the edge of the ruins, standing back from the haggard glow of the lone fire.

She didn’t see any of that. All she saw was the fire and the smoke drifting into the halo of black surrounding it.

She imagined somebody crouching next to it, their hands leathery from the sand-worn life of a refugee. She imagined the tattered rags, the worn face creased with – what? She couldn’t make out the expression of the face she tried to see in her mind. Was it fearful? Hopeful? Or was it just vacant, devoid of humanity that had long been lost to the wind and the Enforcers?

Already dead, the face in her mind stared impassively at the fire, resigned to a future that no longer mattered. There was no tomorrow. There was only breathing. Existing.

Nothing more.

She gasped and reeled back from the edge.

The Directorate had given her a Purpose, but they had never explained its true meaning. And she wondered: did they even understand? Her mission wasn’t to keep humanity from dying out.

It was to find a way for them to live again.

She stood up, tugged firmly at the hem of her uniform and clenched her fist. She took a deep breath, collecting the years of what she had learned and firing it into a single glowing promise in the crucible of that moment.

She turned and saw he was still standing where she had left him, waiting for her to find what he had come to show her. She nodded once: I understand.

She strode back to him, her jaw set, her stride stiff with the regal commander’s stride she had honed over the years.

She stopped in front of him and peered into his eyes with an intensity that would never again leave her face. She looked into his soul, now as clear to her as the once-open sky.

A pool of light cascaded down from the sky and splashed onto the ground. The gentle hush of wind and then a torrent of air followed. The electric hum of engines rose up as the ship settled down behind her.

A door whirred open and then she heard footsteps grating across the granite towards them.

When they stopped behind her, a formal voice which seemed to know to revere the moment spoke quietly.

“It’s time, Commodore.”

She tilted her head, giving the soldier a cursory nod of acknowledgement. Then she turned back to Seth, staring back into his soul.

She spoke in the voice of a commanding officer who understood the gravity of the most important mission humanity would ever know. There was nothing else of her left now. The words she spoke next were her own, separate and apart from the reams of duty-bound slogans of the Directorate. Slogans she would never again remember because they were no longer important. All that mattered was the simple truth that hung between them now, a truth that would become her sole mission from that moment until her last breath.

“That they shall not perish.”

He stepped back, raised his hand smartly in a salute and repeated her oath. “That they shall not perish.”

She snapped a return salute and held it, soaking in the image of his face for a few moments more.

She let her hand drop and reached into her pocket to pull out a slip of folded paper by her fingertips. She held it out to him. He would have to take it from her. If he didn’t, she would let it slip away and scurry along the granite until it was shredded into oblivion.

She waited.

He reached out and plucked the paper from her hand, then retreated another step. She let the darkness envelop him and then turned on her heel. She nodded at the escort who had been standing behind her and said, “Let’s go.”

He listened to her boots grinding against the granite as she walked away and towards the ship that would take her to the Maracaibo launch complex. From there, she would be swept into the sky and then to the assembly docks in low earth orbit.

She would never see Earth again.

She walked deliberately, in long strides that were neither rushed nor ambivalent. Imbued with all the pomposity of a military leader, she still had the shape of a woman. Despite her commanding stride, she still moved like one, too. He let out a faint whimper as the remnants of humanness that even the Directorate couldn’t banish from a man’s soul clutched at his chest.

She walked up the steel-grate ramp and the door hissed behind her. She didn’t look back as the door thumped closed. Then the ship’s engines spooled up to a whining hum as it drifted into the sky. The light dimmed and then flashed out.

He stood, listening to the engine fade. Then he waited until the ship was a speck flitting along the bottom of the clouds. And then it was gone.

He stood a while longer, until he was sure that all he could hear was the wind and all he could see was the shadows cast by the dull blue of halogen lights reflecting off the clouds.

He gazed at the paper she had given him. He started to unfold it and then stopped. Whatever she had written, he would save for another time when he could once again dream. He carefully tucked it behind the picture of his chosen and then fell to his knees, weeping.

It was only then that he spoke.

“I have always loved you. Since the beginning of time. Until the end of all.”


©2017 Michael J Lawrence

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