The next morning as Lynne entered the airbase tower to check on the status of its repairs, the four women couldn't help but notice how strange and different she was acting.
"Good morning, girls." Lynne smiled at them as she made her way over to the view port window overlooking Alley's station to find that a new sheet of glass in place of the old shattered one from the day of the attack.
"Morning, Commander." Grace replied curiously, wondering what in the world it was that Lynne was so happy about.
"I do apologize that it's taken so long to fix all this." Lynne mentioned as she headed over to Grace and Lucy's stations. "But I do appreciate your patience. I know it hasn't been easy for any of us."
"But what about the floor?" Mipsy chimed in as she pointed out the permanent mark in the center of the floor where part of the jet's cockpit had embedded itself.
Lynne shot her an apologetic look. "I'm afraid there isn't much more we can do." She answered. "Not without tearing down the whole tower and I'd prefer not to do that."
Mipsy sighed. "I understand."
"Well just look on the bright side." Lynne reassured. "At least we're still here and I think it's safe to say that this is only going to make us stronger. Wouldn't you agree?"
"Sure." Mipsy nodded while Grace and Lucy exchanged looks.
"You seem a lot more cheerful and optimistic than usual, Commander." Grace commented. "What's the occasion?"
"Occasion? Lynne repeated feeling a little taken aback by her question. "Well uh, I kind of met someone you see." She nervously looked away.
"Well that explains it." Lucy remarked turning her attention back to her training session on screen.
"Really?" Grace raised her chin. "Who is it?"
Lynne blushed a bit as she toyed with her braid. "Oh just a really nice man who enjoys my company. That's all."
"You don't say?" Grace replied looking a little suspicious. "And where in the galaxy did you meet this nice man? And don't tell me y'all met in a bar."
Lynne's expression suddenly shifted as her pleasant smile quickly turned into a frown. "Yes as a matter of fact we did meet in a bar."
"Oh dear me." Lucy gasped then looked at Grace who shook her head disapprovingly.
"Is there something wrong girls?" Lynne asked sternly crossing her arms.
Grace and Lucy exchanged looks once more.
"No of course not." Grace answered nonchalantly turning her focus back to the screen in front of her.
"Good." Lynne nodded with her hands on her hips. "Now that that's out of the way I'm going to head back to my office so you girls can resume your training for the day." She started making her way towards the door when she stopped and looked back one last time. "But should you need anything, don't hesitate to call me alright?"
"Affirmative." Grace replied as Lynne made her exit.
But as soon as she was gone Lucy removed her headset. "She met this man in a bar?" She remarked with disgust shaking her head. "Oh this is not good, not good at all."
"I know it isn't." Grace said looking back at her. "This is yet another bomb waiting to go off. And I don't know about you dear, but I sure as heck don't wanna be here when it does."
"Me either." Lucy agreed.
But while the girls were busy gossiping about Lynne, she was already thinking about how nosey they were acting as she made her way to the elevator. That's the last time I share any personal details of my life, she thought bitterly to herself as she stepped inside.
She pressed the button for the third floor, staring straight ahead as the doors closed. Then as the car began heading down a sudden flood of memories swept over her, reminding her of the day she and William stood in that elevator together. The words she'd uttered to him echoed in her head now, and as she looked to her right it was almost as if she could see him standing in the exact same spot, bearing that same look of sadness and defeat.
"I'm sorry." She whispered to his ghost when the elevator bell suddenly dinged and the doors flew open, revealing a familiar face standing before her now.
"Admiral Grant?" She gasped with her eyes wide and tearful as she gazed up at him.
"Well hello to you too." He smiled back when she suddenly threw her arms around him hugging him as tight as she could.
"Easy, easy," he winced as he hugged her back. "The stitches may be out for good but that scar still hurts you know?"
Lynne released him and took a step back, wiping away the tears from her eyes as she smiled. "It's just so good to see you back. We've all missed you so much."
Abraham chuckled a little. "Well I wish I could say I was glad to be back, but I guess it couldn't hurt to admit that I'm thankful to have survived though. I got lucky."
"Indeed you did." Lynne nodded. "And now you've rightfully taken your place as admiral. My father would have been so proud."
Abraham smiled humbly. "Well I'm sure he would have been a lot more proud of you."
Her smile turned upside down and she bowed her head. "I don't know about that, Admiral."
"And why not?" He asked. "You're the reason I'm still standing."
Lynne sighed. "I know, but this attack never would have happened had I been more vigilant in the first place. I had a feeling in my gut that Corporal Sterling was keeping something from me and I ignored it. All because of my trust in him."
She hung her head in shame and closed her eyes. "Had I been more like my father I could have stopped this all from happening."
He frowned at her. "You sound so sure of yourself. But how do you know for certain that this whole thing could have been prevented? I mean if you ask me, it seems this whole uprising had been boiling beneath the surface for a long time. You need to forgive yourself."
She opened her eyes again and looked up at him. "What?"
"You need to forgive yourself." He repeated while placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. "What's done is done. It happened and you can't change that, so the only thing you can do now is learn from it and move forward."
She sighed and nodded in agreement with him. "I know you're right but what I don't know is how to forgive myself. It just feels like after all this time I finally understand how my father felt on the day that jet exploded. He felt like a failure and that's how I see myself now. I'm sorry Admiral. But if there's any forgiveness to find, well it's going to be a long journey getting there. I can't trust my own people, let alone the Tjatey anymore."
He shook his head at her. "You sound like you're ready to just give up on it all. Are you?"
She lowered her head. "Sometimes it feels that way." She replied lamentably. The faces of those men and women, they haunt me. And every time I see them framed on that memorial wall, I just feel like it's my fault they're there. I failed them, Admiral. Can't you understand that? How can I face the others without fearing the same?"
"Fear is supposed to be your motivator," he answered. "We know where we went wrong with the AMF, but we also know what to do in order to strengthen ourselves as well. There's no going back, we can only move forward."
She sighed. "You're right. "And right now that's the one thing I'm struggling with the most."
He patted her gently on the shoulder as he headed for the elevator. "You'll have to figure that out on your own. But you will."
"I hope so." She replied as she turned to see him off once he stepped inside.
"Well, give yourself time to think it over." He called back when the elevator doors suddenly closed and she was left to think about what he'd just said.
"I will." She said quietly, then turned around and continued on towards her office.
In the meantime at the Card Shack, Victoria arrived just to find the place practically empty as Enrique stood behind the counter wiping it down in an obsessive manner. She also noticed the floor was still barren and wondered if Maxwell would ever finish the job.
That lazy fool, she thought as she made her way over to the bar, right as Enrique looked up and saw her.
"Miss Thompson!" He said excitedly. "It's good to see you."
"You too, sweetie." She gave a half smile.
"You look very stunning today." Enrique commented, admiring the flashy golden speakeasy dress she was wearing.
"Thank you, sweetie." She responded in kind as she took a seat at the counter. "Say, would you mind making me a drink?"
Before answering back Enrique looked around the room to make sure Maxwell wasn't anywhere in sight, then nodded at her. "Sure thing, Miss Thompson. What are you in the mood for?"
"I think I'll have some of that red vodka." She answered, reminding him of the old stained carpet before Maxwell had it torn up.
"Uh sure thing, coming right up!" Enrique replied as he turned around and fetched the bottle and a glass while Victoria lit a cigarette and popped it in her holder.
Enrique knew he wasn't much of a conservationist when it came to talking to women, but with Victoria he felt like he could tell her anything. It was a kind of closeness he didn't have with anyone else and wondered if it was the same for her as well.
"So how are you doing these days?" He suddenly asked, expecting her to shy away from answering truthfully.
"Not so good." She answered glumly then puffed on her cigarette. "It's been rough."
Enrique frowned as he poured her drink. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"I suppose," she sighed deep, resting her chin on the palm of her other hand. "I've been struggling with finding gigs, that's all. Ever since those rotten reviews about me, the studios don't want to take any chances."
"I'm sorry." He apologized as he pushed the drink to her.
"Don't be," she said. "None of it was your doing, sweetie. It's just the way things are now. Remember I told you the same thing happened with my mother?"
Enrique gave a nod. "I do."
She sighed again, looking down at her drink. "Maybe it's a family curse and I was next in line?"
He shook his head. "I don't think that's what it is. I think some jerks were out to ruin you and they succeeded."
She slumped her shoulders. "You're probably right about that. And ruin me they have. I can hardly afford my own apartment anymore. I've even resorted to selling my belongings, such as mother's memorabilia and even the china set from her wedding." Then she looked down at her dress. "I've sold some of my best dresses too. But this one I refuse to part with."
"That's awful." Enrique commented. "Is there anything you can do to fix this?"
She gave a shrug as she picked up her drink and took a sip. "I need to find some way to make back the money I've lost," she answered him. "I think I might have an idea too, but where to start?"
But before Enrique could ask her about her plans, Maxwell suddenly arrived on scene and immediately noticed Victoria with her drink. His eyes burned with anger.
"Enrique!" Maxwell snarled as he stormed over and snatched Victoria's drink out of her hand. "What have I told you before?"
Enrique rolled his eyes and sighed. "No more free drinks for Miss Thompson."
"How right you are!" Maxwell snapped in response as he headed over to the sink and dumped the glass out, causing Victoria to scowl.
"You jerk!" She said through clenched teeth. "You wasted that drink!"
"No, I've merely kept it from you!" Maxwell hurled back. "Just because you work for me doesn't mean the drinks are free, Miss Thompson!"
She crossed her arms and huffed. "You try being broke all the time, Maxwell! See where it gets you!"
Maxwell scoffed. "Oh I know bloody well where it's gotten me. You're just not used to it yet. But give it time you'll figure it out soon enough. But in the meantime." He looked Enrique in the eye. "No more free drinks for anyone! Understood?"
Enrique nodded quickly.
"Good!" Maxwell remarked as he started walking away. "I'll be in my office for now."
After he left Enrique turned to Victoria and was just about to open his mouth and apologize to her when she suddenly got up and gave the stool a good hard angry kick, nearly knocking it over.
"You don't even have to say a word." She said irritably as she looked up at Enrique. "You were only being your kind and thoughtful self, the kind of person Maxwell loathes, so maybe you'd be better off quitting this horrid job after all. You deserve so much better than this."
Enrique shot her a look of sadness. "But I like being around you."
She shook her head at him. "I'm not worth this, sweetie. No one is. You'd be better off with a job where people respect you."
Enrique sighed. "But I choose to stay here."
She wrapped her arms around herself as she began sulking away. "Well I can't stay here. All it does is remind me of him and all my failures."
"Are you sure he didn't make it?" Enrique asked, stopping her before she headed out the door.
She looked back at him sullenly. "That night I saw all that was left of the base. And when I saw all that blood I just knew he was gone. I felt it." She lowered her head as tears began streaming down her face.
"He's not the only one." Enrique called over to her just as she pushed the doors open. "You'll find love again someday!" But the next thing he knew she was gone and he wondered if she even heard the words he said.
In the meantime, and also not that far away, Brian was on the opposite side of the street, passing by the AMF base when he soon stopped for a cigarette. He took a moment to prop himself up against the worn brick wall behind him, then pulled a single cigarette out of the carton sitting in his jacket pocket. But as he was feeling around for the lighter in the other pocket, his fingers came across the old photo of him and his brother instead, prompting him to pull it out.
He stood in a state melancholy silence as the unlit cigarette hung from his mouth, looking down at the photo. Then took a moment to glance over at the military base across the street, remembering all the commotion he heard coming from there about a month ago.
I didn't see it but I heard it, he thought now staring back. We all heard it.
He uttered a low sigh as he put the photo away again and pulled out his lighter. Whatever happened there happened because the AMF are a bunch of traitors. They should have known better.
Then he lit his cigarette, puffing on it a few times before continuing down the quiet street, attempting to get as far away from the base as possible now.
But by this time most of the downtown shops were closed, except for a lone obscure building wedged in between a small bakery and a Laundromat.
Brian stopped and stared at the building, his eyes immediately drawn to a peculiar looking neon eye symbol hanging in the window.
"Today must be your lucky day, child." Brian heard a woman's voice say from behind as he quickly turned around just to see some crazy looking dark haired lady in a gaudy Gypsy costume.
"Readings usually run about ten to fifteen." She said to him. "But on this special night, readings are free."
Brian met her with a crazy look as he puffed on his cigarette. "Sorry but I don't believe in all that hocus pocus crap."
The woman seemed a little insulted by his words. "Excuse me?" She exclaimed with her hands resting on her hips. "You dare to call my work crap?"
Brian narrowed his eyes at her in return. "I said I don't believe in it. Reading palms, telling fortunes, it's all a ruse. And sadly people are dumb enough to fall for it and pay money."
"Well alright then." The woman crossed her arms. "So then I'll just have to pass on you now won't I?"
"I'm afraid so." Brian gave a careless shrug.
"Well I'm willing to take a pass for your sake," the woman continued. "However I couldn't help but notice the darkness that surrounds you."
Brian scoffed. "Oh please." He started to leave when the woman suddenly stopped him and looked him in the eye.
"Yes there is much darkness surrounding you indeed." She explained. "So much that it cannot be ignored."
Brian wasn't sure what to think now. "What do you mean by darkness?" He asked.
"You are lost, poor child." She replied taking him by the hand and turning it over to look at his palm.
"Lost how?" Brian remarked with disbelief, wondering if this crazy woman was going to let up any time soon.
"Well I'd prefer to speak to you about it in private." The woman responded with caution. "After all this isn't the kind of thing you want others to hear."
Brian turned his head and noticed there was hardly anyone around at all and shot her a look of annoyance. "Now I know you're full of it." He yanked his hand away from her. "And while I appreciate you trying to humor me and all, I'm afraid I want nothing more to do with you."
"Whatever you say, Brian." She answered.
"Wait, what?" Brian's jaw went slack. "How did you know my name?"
The woman shrugged. "Why does it matter? After all you're not a believer of this sort of crap, remember?"
"Wait." Brian suddenly stopped her. "What else is it you know about me?"
"Aha," she remarked. "Now all of a sudden you're interested. I knew I could change your mind."
Brian frowned at her. "I just refuse to let you make a fool out of me, but if there is any truth to what you're saying, then I have a right to know. So how did you find out my name?"
"The universe speaks to me." She answered, triggering a look of ridiculousness from him. "By the way, the name is Madame La Rouge. Yes I am your stereotypical psychic but I am also much more than that."
"So I see." Brian shot her a blank stare. "So does this mean you're going to invite me inside so you can gaze into your crystal ball?"
She simpered with amusement. "I do have a crystal ball but I don't need that to see the darkness that follows you. I can see that with my own eyes. You harbor many secrets. Some of which you may not even be fully aware of."
Then despite Brian's skepticism, he soon found himself a bit more curious about this nonsense the woman spoke of and wondered if there was any truth to it at all. "Okay then. I'll step inside for my free reading."
"Excellent." The woman nodded as she led the way and he followed.
Now as Brian stepped inside the small little building he couldn't help but notice the strange relics hanging on the walls around them as he took a seat at the small round table, draped with a magenta colored table cloth. The ominous looking crystal ball sat atop of it and he gazed into it for a moment until the woman sat down and carefully removed it and set it aside.
"I'll be honest, kid." She spoke then. "I wasn't standing out there just to offer free readings. I was actually standing out there because the universe spoke to me and it told me that darkness was coming, and that's when I saw you."
Brian's eyes widened as he stared back at her. "I don't know if I can believe any of this at all. It all sounds so insane."
"Then take whatever I say with a grain of salt," the woman replied. "I was told darkness was coming and I sensed it coming from you, therefore I offered you a free reading."
Brian blinked. "Well that still doesn't answer any of my questions."
"Or maybe it does?" She countered. "But they aren't the answers you wish to hear?"
Brian grew silent then.
"Something happened at the military base almost a month ago." Brian said. "I didn't see it happen but I felt it and later saw the story in the paper. Now does that make me psychic too?"
"Did you sense it before it happened or when it happened?" She asked.
He shrugged. "I suppose it was when it happened."
"Well then there's your answer." She replied.
"Now back to this darkness you keep spewing about." Brian said. "What does it all mean exactly?"
"Well, darkness is a force." She explained. "And with it carries many things, sometimes emotions, sometimes loss, and sometimes…..
She suddenly raised a finger to her lips in a silent gesture. "Sometimes it carries a message, a warning of things to come."
Brian felt a cold numbing feeling as it swept across him in that moment, chilling him to the bone.
"So can you tell exactly what kind of darkness it is that's following me?" He asked with a hint of desperation in his voice.
"With you." She leaned forwards again. "I sense a message."
"A warning?" Brian asked a bit fearfully.
She nodded, which caused him to panic inside now.
"Well I think I've heard enough." He got up from the chair and started towards the door when she called after him.
"If it is a warning, Brian. Take heed. Find out what it means. Because only you will be the one to see it."
Brian swallowed hard as he walked out, letting the door slam behind him as the bells jingled wildly while he tried to get away from there as fast as he could.
Darkness, he thought making his way back down the street. I don't believe in it, any of it. She's just trying to scare me and it worked.
Later that evening, William had awoken from the sound of someone knocking on his door, and in a groggy state, stumbled over and opened it just to see his mother standing there.
"Mother?" William blinked with surprise. "What are you doing here?"
"May I come in, my son?" Letha asked politely.
"Sure." William nodded as he held the door open. "Alley is out drinking again anyway, so she doesn't have to know you were here."
Letha frowned a bit. "I wish she didn't hate me."
"Don't worry she hates everyone." William remarked, attempting to make light of the situation. "So it's not just you."
Letha shook her head. "So much like her father. It is no wonder we didn't stay together."
"Is that also why you didn't stay with my father too?" William wondered.
Letha appeared deeply saddened by his question. "No. Your father I loved with all my being but he didn't love me."
"Why not?" William asked.
"We were too different." She replied as she walked over to his couch and sat down. "The Tjatey didn't always know what it meant to love. All we knew was war and procreation. We have learned much more from the humans."
"Naeem seemed to learn nothing." William commented as he took a seat beside her.
She sighed as she reached over and took hold of his hand. "Because Naeem didn't want to."
"Is that all the war was about?" William asked. "Naeem and his followers not wanting to change?"
She nodded in response.
"Well they changed us." He said bitterly as he looked at her. "And I don't know if we're ever going to be the same. We lost a lot of our people that day, mother. That isn't something we can just gloss over you know?"
"I know." She nodded. "But you also fought bravely and saved a lot of those lives too."
William shook his head. "The damage is done, was done. Myself and Corporal Church are being ousted and punished for our bravery, mother. So please, don't try and make me out to be some kind of hero because I'm not." He lifted up the sleeve of his t-shirt and showed her his scar.
"The warrior who did this wanted to see if I bled like the humans, and I do. The humans have rejected me and so do my own kind for that matter."
"But not all of them," she reminded him. "There are those who do appreciate you, my son. And they are who you should treasure. Even as a warrior there were those who did not respect me." She explained. "So I stayed with those who did and it made me a better warrior."
William couldn't help but feel crushed inside.
"Chin up, my son." She said patting him on the hand. "Isn't that what is said to make others feel better?"
"Yes it is." He replied quietly.
"Well then I have learned the right words," she smiled as she stood up to leave.
"You're going now?" William asked with a forlorn look on his face.
"Well I should leave before your sister comes back." She answered. "I know things are hard enough now. I don't want to make them worse."
William sighed sadly. "Okay mother. I understand. But will you come back again?"
"Yes." Letha answered him as she headed for the door. "Until then my son, think about the things I have told you."
"I will." He replied as he watched her leave, then got up and headed over to a window and looked out. I sure do miss my freedom, he sighed as he observed the rest of the base. And to think I felt like a prisoner before? I didn't realize how good I had it. But that's just how it is. We're always realizing these things when we no longer have them.
Then all of a sudden, a single twinkling star caught his attention prompting him to look up at it. What is that? He wondered now. Are you another planet or just some ball of gas sitting in the galaxy like the rest of us?
His eyes remained fixated on it when he was suddenly reminded of something else. Victoria he thought then, wondering where she was and how she was doing. "You're the only star in my sky." He said quietly.
But little did he know that at that very same moment, Victoria was also observing the same star, right as she stood outside of the Card Shack wondering what the hell she was going to do for money.
"Are you a wishing star?" She asked it. "If so, then I know you can't bring back my beloved, so I'll just have to make another wish instead. She placed a hand over her heart. "What I wish then, is a chance to save my career."
But soon the twinkling of the star died down and Victoria began to wonder if it had listened to her plea.
"Nuts, I'm going absolutely nuts." She muttered with disgust and then began heading off to call for a cab when she heard the rustling sound of paper and looked down to find a day old newspaper that had been dropped on the ground.
"Ugh, so filthy!" She retched as she curiously picked it up and observed the front page when one of the articles suddenly caught her attention and she gasped. "So that's it." Her eyes widened. "This is how I save myself."