Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Land Leave 21: The Conclusion

My favorite bridge in Portland, the Fremont bridge, but closely followed by all the other bridges in Portland.

That's right, this is the END!

James awoke in the infirmary two days later. The Eve was now docked at the remains of the Baja mega-structure. The first thing he saw was his news feed on the screen in front of him.

Jovian system under UN control; former chancellor charged with war-crimes, terrorism.

James moaned, his arm felt heavy and sore, he looked at it. It was in a cast. He knew that he would need surgery for it. He scrolled through the headlines.

Death toll reaches 40 million as clean-up continues. Exposed, 60 congressmen charged with conspiracy and treason in connection to coup. Kansas mega-structure deemed irreparable, controlled demolition scheduled. Rebuilding the AmU fleet after the coup. Supply lines re-established with Ares colony. Escape from Manitoba Mega, one woman's story. Settled dust: how a relic of the past started an interplanetary war. The band plays on, finding hope in the remains.

He turned it off. The mere thought of the after-effects nauseated him, or maybe it was the morphine. He heard footsteps in the hallway, a nurse came in to take a reading, “you're awake. I'll get the captain.”

James tried to sit up but realized how sapped his strength was, “no it's,” he inhaled sharply as pain shot through his back, “fine.”

“Nonsense. We've been waiting for you to wake up now for two days; we can't miss the excitement,” it was the captain. He had obviously been waiting nearby. James heard more footsteps. Bill and Dr. Kelvin entered. They both looked like they had barely gotten any sleep.

“What's the occasion? What happened?” James tried to compose himself but the morphine and sheer pleasure of seeing familiar faces made him smile stupidly.

“We couldn't get you to let go of the ship. Your arm was badly broken but you'll live.” Bill seemed relieved that James was up.

“No, I meant everything else,” James said groggily.

“The AmU fleet is at about half force and dedicated to the clean-up. Every day more officers are being arrested, so far nearly a third of all captains have been relieved of duty pending investigation,” the captain was trying to say something, “and I have been promoted to Admiral.”

James looked at Dr. Kelvin. She spoke immediately “the cube is fine, we finally have it in a secure space, and members of the Hestia are working with it. The cube saved us and now we are learning about the universe before Sol,” Kelvin said with relief; everything had turned out for her.

Bill grabbed the railing at the foot of James' bed, “your dad is head of the hastily prepared Gaia Commission. Lots of people are going to stand trial in the AmU and at the Interplanetary Court. The circuit paper you found had a list and the key to bank accounts that chronicled the corruption,” Bill said with finality.

“And clean-up?” James looked at Bill.

“We have been working non-stop; and once you are out of surgery, you should be able to help,” Bill said lightly. He turned somber, “the Baja structure is stable but three have to be destroyed because of structural faults, and the lower Baltimore structure collapsed in the attack.”

James knew the answer but had to ask anyway, “and the cost?”

The captain cleared his throat, “nearly forty million. And that's not counting those who have died in the Jovian system.”

“What happened at Jupiter?” James was confused.

“The East Io Company created a Jovian rebellion—the force that attacked us—and to fuel it, they pinned the destruction of the solar arrays on the Eve.”

“But that's not what happened, Bill and I--” James' voice rose in indignation.

“We know. But the solar array was damaged so badly that the control systems on the moons are starting to fail—at least ninety were already killed from a sudden loss of air pressure,” Kelvin's voice was strained.

James was stunned. The East Io Company, in some half-thought out bid to take control of the AmU had killed its own people and caused the deaths of 40 million innocent civilians. The thought was accompanied by a deep guttural feeling; then retching and puking. The nurse was curiously attentive and had a trash bag at his face before he even knew he would puke. The captain, Bill, and Kelvin stood awkwardly as they waited for him to finish. James recovered and looked at them, “why aren't you cleaning up right now?”

“Well, it is night, but you can't tell from this windowless room,” the captain was making fun of him, “and I wanted to give you this before you went in for surgery,” the captain procured a gold medal from his pocket. It was emblazoned with the seal of the AmU Congress.

“The Congressional Valor Medal,” James barely moved his lips as he looked at it.

The captain put it on James, who suddenly felt small and undeserving. They saluted each other, and the captain spoke, “no big ceremony now. There will be. Rest up and have a good surgery soldier. We expect you on the battlefield,” the three turned to go. The captain stopped and looked at him, “I know it won't keep you warm like the booze and broads you normally sleep with, but honors like that have a deeper meaning. Think about it.”

James took a look at the medal and fell asleep almost immediately.

Bill and James were taking a break from their clean-up. They were on a supporting pillar, looking out at the sea. There were three ships docked in the waters, and one in low flight over the mega-structure. Bill pulled out two sandwiches and handed one to James, “well, nothing is going to be the same.”

James nodded and took a large bite of the sandwich, “but I guess everything is still the same,” he said with his mouth full.

Bill relaxed as he watched the sun sparkle on the waves below, “how so?”

“The Jovians still don't have enough aid to keep themselves alive, the AmU fleet is by far the strongest in the system, and we are still the little guys playing everyone's big game,” James picked up a piece of debris and looked at Bill, “I wonder how my throws are with this new arm,” he tossed the rubble out toward the sea. The two lost sight of it, “pretty good.”

Bill looked at the vastness before him, “yeah, pretty good.”

The End