Prominence - Veteran by Shane Griffin

Del walked along the narrow dirt road under the intense heat of three suns. The two fading red dwarf stars, Vaz and Jadx sat low on the horizon and gave the sky its purple hue while the main star Hez blazed away brightly and with harsh intensity.
Prominence - Veteran
Prominence - Veteran by Shane Griffin
With three stars to contend with it was never truly dark on his home world. Something he was going to have to get used to again, after so many years travelling through the big black. It was a strange sensation to be back home on Hebra after so long, fighting on every godforsaken planetoid and inhabitable rock halfway across the galaxy. Returning to Hebra alive had seemed like a forlorn fantasy at times. Just some dream he clung onto to keep him calm when facing death. He came to the bottom of a small hill. His home was not far beyond its crest. Nerves suddenly struck him hard and he stopped for a few moments. He had no idea what the first thing he was going to say to his Tata would be. What do you say to someone you love when you have just spent a life time apart? When Ezva and he entered the Tata together they were both in their twenties, a young age to enter such an irreversible bond. They didn't care, they were both certain they wanted to be joined forever, but then he was drafted. Having entered the Tata so young he could probably have petitioned against the draft, but the war was a total war and word had already reached Hebra about the genocide on other colony worlds. What good was it to stay safe with her when at any time the Orlak could come? He left to do his duty not just for his people, but for the future generations of his family. It was the Vaslusian way to think in terms of generations instead of just self. He took off his shaded goggles for the first time since being back on planet. The light was so intense that it hurt to keep his eyes open, but he forced himself to endure and after a few seconds his inner eyelids kicked into action. The army doctors had advised him to keep the goggles on for at least a week, but he was determined to look at her with his own eyes. He wanted to see every color in her multicolored hair and every sparkle of ultra violet light that was reflected by her smooth metallic skin. Looking through the filters in his natural eye lids he was able to finally see all of the intense reflective colors of the vegetation either side of the little road. He had forgotten how beautiful home was and how much he had missed it or rather how much he had missed living in this tropical paradise with her. Since leaving home he had only used his full vision one other time, back on the Prominence when we was interrogating Alpha. His thoughts briefly flicked back to that moment and of the brave Orlak who gave his life willingly in the hope for peace. He took off his backpack and checked inside to make sure the canister was still secure. He tapped the side and a small holographic readout showed the temperature and humidity inside were still ok. The readings were all green so he carefully placed it back into the backpack. The canister contained a seed organ taken from Alpha by the other Orlak after the battle on Plorus. Just before he died apparently Alpha had communicated telepathically to the elder one and asked him to give it to Del. When planted there was a chance it would grow into a new Orlak and become Alpha's offspring. Returning Alpha to his home was another promise he still had to keep, but not until he kept his promise to Ezva. He closed the back pack, shouldered it again and kept walking. All he wanted to do was see his Tata again yet the war, even though it was now over, still invaded his mind. He had seen too much carnage and lost too many men to ever sleep soundly again. The lack of combat action to focus his mind had only exacerbated the demons in his head and served to heighten his distress at being separated from Ezva. The only one who did not appear surprised when he requested an immediate military discharge right in the middle of the peace talks was Relv. He could not take a minute longer away from Ezva knowing that each minute he spent meant more years for her that they would be apart before he returned. He crested the hill and for the first time he could see his home in the distance. As improbable as it was nothing appeared to have changed. He came to the gate and walked down the very long driveway until he reached the cozy modular domicile. He loved the rustic look of the cargo pods that it was made from. They were not real cargo pods, but they were designed to mimic those used to build homes during the first colonization. It had been a common fad at one stage on Hebra. He finally arrived at the front door and knocked loudly on the metal frame. After a few moments the door opened and a woman in her late thirties greeted him. His draw dropped at the sight of her. The colors in her hair and the reflective patterns on her skin were unmistakable, yet it was impossible. “Ezva,” he stammered. The woman frowned for a moment as though confused and then her eyes widened. “By the dying light of Jadx she was right!” she said in disbelief. “You are Del, yes?” “Yes,” he nodded. “Who are you and where is my Tata?” “Forgive me my rudeness I am Nadizam and I am your granddaughter. When she said she could feel you and that you were coming I thought she was just ranting again. She has not been well and I am never sure these days whether her senses are real, forlorn hope or more recently just delirium.” “Where is she?” he insisted. “Out back, I’ll take you...” “Thank you, but I know exactly where she will be and I’d like to see her alone,” he said his eyes watering involuntarily. He sprinted around the outside of the domicile to the back garden then stopped dead in his tracks. There she was, sitting on the stone bench that they had carved together themselves. The same stone bench that they had sat on the last time they were together. Anger at the unfairness of it all welled up inside him, but he quashed it. Right now he just wanted to be at peace next to her. He walked quietly over to the bench, but stopped short. “I have waited a long time Del, please don’t make me wait a moment longer,” said Ezva unmoved in her position. He took off his backpack and sat quietly beside her and she turned to look into his eyes. Her hair that was once a kaleidoscope of color was now a uniform grey, her once smooth skin was now wrinkled and none reflective. Her eyes however still had the same red intensity, though they looked tired. “I am sorry I am not more presentable, but it has been almost one hundred years.” He responded by leaning in, drawing her to him and then kissing her tenderly on the forehead in the fashion that was strictly reserved for Tata. As he held her in his arms he felt at peace inside for the first time in nearly six years. “You are still the most beautiful woman I have ever seen,” he said gently. “You on the other hand don't look the same. The war has changed you more than time has changed me I think." He had no response to that she was probably right and just made him feel even more guilty. She placed her hand on his. "Every day since you left I have sat here to watch Hez set and enjoyed the twilight of Jadx and Vaz. Each day I thought of you. I kept everything around here the same so that when you came back to me you would feel at home.” “I have travelled the galaxy, seen beauty and horrors that I could never explain to you properly even if we had another entire lifetime, but this place right here, right now, with you was all I ever thought about,” he said his voice wavering. “It was not your fault Del, I forgave you for leaving a long time ago.” “But you wasted an entire lifetime waiting for me.” “I didn’t waste anything,” she snapped. “I was sad at first, then lonely and then angry. At the same time I could sense your fear, your sadness and your longing to be home. This bond between us has taken away many things, but it was given too. A few years after you left I decided to live my life the way we had planned before you were drafted. I took the frozen genetic material we stored and I had a son and he in turn had your granddaughter Nadizam. It is you I pity now not myself. You were the one fighting in that dreadful war and missing our lives, your children’s lives and your grandchildren’s. They all thought I was crazy at some point. None of them had gone through the Tata, it's not fashionable nowadays, so they don't understand its strength. Distance had no effect on our bond, that’s how I knew you were back. Just in time too I think. I was getting sick of waiting.” She shot him a wry grin and for a few seconds she had that same mischievous look of her youth when she used to tease the pants off him for being too serious. He smiled back and kissed her on the forehead again. “So what do we do now?” he asked. “I don’t care,” she said letting out a loud contented sigh. “I just wanted to enjoy sitting here next to my Tata one last time before I died.” He put his arm around her gently again and she rested her head on his shoulder just as they had that last evening before he was shipped away to war. They sat there for some time in silence as they watched Hez slowly set. “It’s going to get cold soon we should probably get you inside,” he said gently. There was no response. He shook her very gently thinking she had dozed off, but she slumped forwards. He eased her down to the ground and checked her pulse and her breathing, but found neither. He gently opened one set of eyelids and her eyes had changed from a fiery red to a cold grey. She was gone. He knelt next to her and started to cry unabashedly as the feeling of her inside him faded. For the first time since their bonding he was truly without her. The emptiness he now felt inside was far worse than any length of physical separation. Nadizam, hearing his violent sobbing, came from the house and knelt next to him. She kissed Ezva’s cheeks and also began to cry. After a few moments though she stopped, wiped away her tears and turned to Del. He had trouble meeting her gaze, she looked too much like Ezva, but she held his face in both her hands firmly and looked into his eyes. “She always said to us she would never let go until you came back. We all thought she was crazy, but she was so determined. She often told me that she would die happy if she could look into your eyes a final time so that you knew she still loved you. She was worried you would hate yourself or feel guilty for leaving." Del pulled away, her could not look at her anymore. It hurt too much to see what he had lost in his granddaughter's eyes. He stood and turned to watch as the last sliver of Hez finally slipped below the horizon. “She gave me the will to live in times I thought for sure I was going to die. I will love her every day of my life the way she loved me for all of hers.” “What will you do now?” Del was silent. He had lost a lifetime with his love, he did not know his own son and his granddaughter was almost the same age as him. The war had taken so much away from him and millions of others both Vaslusian and Orlak. He had but one lifetime to spend making up for the life he had lost. He reached into his pocket and pulled his portable holographic projector. He brought up the legal document that was proof of his Tata with Ezva. He placed his eye in front of the retinal scanner on his projector and let it scan. He then tossed the projector to Nadizam. “Everything here is yours. I don’t want any of it. Live your life to the fullest and never ever let anyone take this bench away.” "You're not staying?" Del grabbed his backpack and checked the canister inside again. "One day I will return to Hebra to live out my final days so tell your children to expect me and keep me a room. Until then I have another promise to keep on Drrdetala."

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