©2001 R. Alexander Spoerer
The last meal.
I never thought I would see it. It was a pretty nice spread too, the steak actually looked like a real steak and not the usual SynthMeat that they served us. The baked potato was large with a generous serving of butter, sour cream and chives. Something that looked like a small tomato also graced the china plate in front of me. I held up the silver fork a generous chuck of meat atop the gleaming trident, and stared at it. This meal would have cost most families their entire ration card for the year and I sure as hell had not ever eaten like this before.
I guess there are some perks to throwing your life away.
A snort half laugh escaped me as I devoured the chunk of meat, savoring the juices expelled into my mouth. It felt as if I were eating a peace of heaven, basking in its succulence. Any sort of guilt at eating better than most of the inhabitants in Selene was pushed to the back of mind as I concentrated on the piece of ambrosia within my mouth.
"Enjoying the meal, Pilot?"
A chunk of sour cream drenched potato followed the steak into my mouth as I calmly looked up at the person standing before my table. The crude smile was short in coming as I acknowledged Commander Amika Navasen's presence before me. I always loved doing that half-leer at her; it made her shift her feet as if she were trying to control her involuntarily squirming.
I put down my fork and looked over her from top to bottom, absorbing all of her, the lithe medium frame and smallish pert breasts, the mid- length mousy-brown hair framing her thin, hawkish face and tiny mouth, offset by her large green eyes. Amika was not the most incredible looking woman, but a woman she was nevertheless. More than likely the last one I'll ever see, too.
At least she didn't remind me of her. Then I don't know if I could go through with it today.
With narrowed eyes she broke the silence, "Well?"
"Well, what?" came my slightly annoyed reply.
"Are you enjoying your meal, pilot? After all, many families would kill us both to get the food you're inhaling."
I looked at Amika for a second or so before returning my attention to something a hell of a lot more interesting, "It's alright."
I heard a sigh come from her as she slowly eased into the seat in front of me. Damn, she wanted to talk to me. Why in world did she want to talk to me?
And why do I want to talk back to her.
Maybe she is reminding me of her.
"Solenn, how are you feeling? You didn't stop by earlier," I felt the edge dissolve from her voice. I really did not want to see her. Not like this, especially not before what I have to go and do. Damn you Amika!
Her sudden silence caused me to glance up at her. Those big, beautiful eyes looked right back at me with barely contained emotion. God, those eyes… I feel like I could curl up inside of them and fall asleep, wrapped in a blanket of deep emerald.
My voice eventually returned to me as I diverted my gaze to the wall of my quarters, "You shouldn't be here, it isn't allowed to visit a Pilot before his mission."
"I know, but I had to see you alone once more before my duties require me to only act as your Commander. I…," her voice sputtered as she continued, whispering softly, "I needed to know if it really mattered."
Please, no, Amika. Don't ask me a question I should not answer. Especially since I can't do anything about it. I don't want to think or remember it. Not now.
Her whispered plea caused me to return my eyes to hers. She looked for an answer, the question coming across in those twin seas of green.
Looking into her eyes, I was reminded of those nights. When I saw her face covered in small droplets of sweat, her eyes heavy lidded with low moans of pleasure. Nights where we crossed the line between pilot and commander joined together in mutual passion. Before then I had felt nothing but afterward the feeling returned into my life.
And it scared me.
Perhaps it did matter to me, since I had lost Nadi when I joined the Selene Earth Recapture Forces. Nadi was almost like a distant memory but I still remember the tears flowing down her face when I told her I had volunteered to be a pilot, to throw my life away. I had loved her more than my own life and knew if I stayed with her I would have been happy. But, I had something else I needed to do. To help not only Nadi but everyone in Selene by bringing this damn war to an end. After I left her behind, the flame of life within me waned and threatened to snuff itself out. I was the perfect pilot, nothing to loose or hold me back until several weeks ago.
I was brought back by the gentle demand in Amika speaking my name. This time, I did not look away or let my thoughts stray as I placed my knife down, lifting my right hand to gently caress her left cheek. She closed her eyes at my touch, bringing her hand up to stroke mine in a return gesture of affection. I felt my own resolve crumble within me as she began to nuzzle my hand.
My meal forgotten I stood up from the table and walked around it to face her. I then helped her stand and picked her up in my arms. She wrapped her own arms around my neck as I brought my lips to hers in a gentle kiss. After a moment or so, I broke the kiss and rubbed the tip of my nose against hers ignoring everything around me except her as I spoke so softly I surprised myself, "It mattered, Amika."
Watching her face begin to glow in an emotion I thought I never would see again, I carried her toward the bed of my quarters for the last time we would have alone with each other. The last time I could openly share my love with someone who felt the same about me as I did about them.
Before I had to abandon them entirely.
"Thank you for coming, please be seated."
I sat down in the relatively plush chair of the large briefing room. Looking side to side, I noticed that at least fifty or so pilots used to come here for mission briefings but now they only needed three. No need to throw away fifty men when three could do as much good. The logistics in organizing sorties and minimizing casualties in a full squadron were staggering. With a flight of three, the planning was cut down only to the initial briefing and launch. No need to be concerned about the inherent problems of search and recovery or strategic retreat to a re-enforced position for extraction.
Since they were not coming back.
"Before we begin, I would like to say a couple of things. Pilots of the 723rd Special Attack Wing, the city of Selene is honored with the sacrifice you are about to make. Your selfless act will enable us to get all of the reconnaissance data we need to end this war against Earth as quickly as possible and avoid a costly repeat of the First Lunar War. Selene is forever in your debt."
God, it was so amazing how she said it with a straight face.
Amika looked nothing like she had a couple of hours ago after our final time together. She was all business in her Selenian Navy uniform, beginning the mission briefing. As she began, I idly wondered how many times had she said that particular passage before? Once? Twice? Ten times? There was no way for me to know and she sure as hell wouldn't tell me how many had come before me. Maybe she loved a couple pilots before me as well and she was trying to forget them. Would she do the same when I launch not too long from now? So many questions.
"….Pilot Valior, you will be taking Theta vector, which will put you right into the Imperial capital city. Your course will take you through several different facilities our intelligence has identified as strategically vital to Earth's war effort. Your command computer will relay further orders during the sortie."
I nodded in acknowledgment as she read my marching orders. They still had the nerve to call it a sortie instead of what it really was. It almost turned my stomach.
After a couple more minutes of her dolling out command directives, Amika paused and looked at all of us, "There is one final thing I wish to say to all of you. All of you represent the last mission for this operation. After you finish, Selene will launch a full scale attack on the Earth. Your information is the last needed in order to ensure the success of that assault. You will report to the launch deck at 0830 hours. I wish you all good hunting, dismissed."
I stood to salute Amika as she left and looked toward the pilot to my left, Renas, and silently shook my head. He nodded in morbid acknowledgement as we began to walk out of the room. The last mission. I wasn't sure what to think of it. If I had volunteered later perhaps I would not have been selected for this mission and may have lived a longer life. Maybe even with Amika.
Again I shook my head. No, I would have never even met her if I had not been selected. She is the commander of this operation and I was only an ensign. In a sick and twisted way, I am glad to have been selected for this unenviable job. At least I had met her and it was enough for me.
Time to get ready for my voyage down the Styx.
"Auxiliary flight system?"
"Primary flight system?"
"EOS comm. link?"
"Frequency open and receiving command and telemetry data."
"Secondary weapons interface?"
"Primary weapons interface?"
"Manipulator arm system?"
"On-line with full mobility."
Amazing the amount of pre-launch checklists we went through. It kind of seemed silly considering I was not expected to come back. Then again, I could see why they wanted to make absolutely sure everything worked so I would be able to stay alive long enough to get my mission done.
"That's the last one, Lieutenant. You're ready to be transferred to the main launch deck."
I nodded in acknowledgement of the flight crew chief under the cockpit and gave the thumbs up symbol to him. The crew chief began to move from the fighter when he was startled by Amika walking toward the fighter.
What the hell?
She climbed up the boarding ladder, and into the pilot's compartment, her body now blocking my view of front monitor. For a moment I just stared at her before retracting the reflective faceplate, "What are you doing, Commander?"
"I wanted to say goodbye to you."
"You already did, sir," I heard the professional edge in my voice. What was she doing here? Was she trying to make this as hard as possible for me?
She shook her head and leaned in toward me, "That was the commander saying goodbye. I wanted to tell you as well."
I sat there, mildly stunned as moved her hand toward my right cheek and softly running her fingertips against it. I felt a tingle run down my spine as I watched her hand retract. Strong feelings churned within me now that I had taken a couple of hours to get under control. Damn it, Amika, I did not need this! It was hard enough getting into this fighter when I knew there was something worth living for but now your making it down right unbearable. I could feel the frustration build within me as I realized that I could not bring myself to say what I had just thought, since I knew it would hurt her more than anything.
I am so pathetic.
I tired to look away from her face but the compartment was not large enough for me to fully turn around, so I focused on a flight crew working on Renas's fighter. I uttered a choked whisper, "Command….Amika, please don't do this to me. It's hard for me to, to see you."
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed her nod, "I know, Solenn. But I just couldn't let you go without saying goodbye….it would have hurt too much."
I turned to face her, not bothering to avoid her gaze, and she shifted forward onto my lap and kissed me passionately. I embraced her as best I could in my flight suit, her seemingly fragile body within my covered arms.
Oh god, did I not want to go.
She broke the kiss and rested her forehead against mine looking into my eyes, "Goodbye, Solenn….I love you so much."
I could only nod slowly as I dared not break out mutual gaze, "I love you too, Amika. Goodbye."
Amika slid off of my lap and out of the pilot's compartment before the bottom was sealed by the fighter.
I watched her walk off the secondary launch deck and out of my life for the last time. I quickly closed my eyes trying my best to keep tears at bay. A sudden hatred for the entire mission washed over me like a tidal surge. I was to throw my life away for some god-forsaken war when the one thing that I ever wanted is now out of reach.
"Transferring fighter to primary launch deck."
I almost ignored the EOS's voice as my fighter lurched, being moved the primary launch deck to begin my mission. Automatically, my now monotone voice replied into the comm., "Acknowledged, initiating final flight checklist."
I had never had anything worth living for before, even Nadi was not a reason for me live.
My fighter reached the primary launch deck and was secured to the launch catapult.
"Catapult ready, waiting for final checks."
And now it was being taken away from me before I even had a chance to embrace it. No way I was going to let that happen!
Like a robot, I had completed the final checks and looked out toward the bright blue surface of Earth before me, "All systems green, ready for launch."
"Acknowledged, Flight 2. Prepare for launch in 5, 4…"
As I opened up the main thrust of the fighter, I thought about how the survival rate of these runs were so far zero, that the only people who volunteered for this duty were either prisoners, Mars exiles, or people with nothing to live for. It was a sure ticket to a glorious death someone had told me once, but I silently vow to myself I will get out of this alive.
Someway, somehow, I will get back to Amika and hold her in my arms again!
Even if I have to destroy the entire planet below me.
My fighter jumped forward as it rushed down the launch ramp toward the Earth in front of me. Shot out of the ship at such speed that in no time I would contact the atmosphere and begin re-entry.
Another feeling began to rise within me to join the love I already felt, a feeling I had not felt since childhood it seemed: Hope.
I now knew I would come back.
All I need is to hope.