He didn't stride from the wreckage of the Zeus proclaiming victory on the behalf of the loss of all those men. Hadn't limped, nor even crawled forth in an attempt to reclaim some bit of his shattered composure and dignity. Instead he'd been pulled - probably just as surprised to find he was alive as those who had found him - dragged from the wreckage in tatters - practically in pieces. It was a miracle he'd survived, and Aki wasn't sure if he really had or not. Perhaps some part of him, the rescuers had forgotten to drag out. And fair enough that he should suffer, in whole or in part, for what he had done. It was good to see that he wasn't so insane that he felt no remorse. With her hands gripping the railing in front of her, she realized she wanted him to suffer. What he had put her through, put everyone through, went beyond criminal.
"I have no excuse for what I did, aside from desperation." It was hard to hear what he said, and he either raised his voice when he spoke again, or they turned up the microphone receiving him, hoping for more madness to spout forth, she supposed. Sensationalist media.
"I wondered how long it would take for everyone else to get as desperate as I was. If-" he seemed to consider the floor, as if taking his cues from the old stones therein, consulting something he never had before in humility. "If everyone else would have to lose all that was dear to them before action would be taken."
The death sentence had been absolved long ago. Dr. Sid helped remove it, insisting that every unique and viable piece of DNA would eventually be beneficial to the restructure of the human race. Aki supposed he had a point, with the world's population reduced to a tenth - if that - of its previous population. All of these lives sequestered in isolated cities, further limiting diversity. Still, she supposed, madness breeds. She didn't suspect that Hein's DNA would ever intermingle with the rest of society again. Deep down, she wished for a revival of the death penalty, just for him.
Instead, they gave him an old standby of 15 years to life, and a provision for counseling. Aki quietly seethed, one hand on the railing and the other on her stomach.
In prison, he wore gray. It wasn't too different, Aki realized, than what everyone wore. Prison drabs, designed to be inexpensive and easy to clean, lacked dye. But everyone wore greys, whites and blacks now. Tones substituted for color, in a world where color had been killed away by Phantoms fighting their perpetual war. Aki wondered if color had faded entirely from their world, too, as things had neared the end. She marveled at the power that hatred could create. Wondered if humanity could ever recover again, if that sort of end wasn't their fate. Humans had such a capacity for hatred, and she was only discovering the true depths of her own as she watched Hein move aimlessly in the yard.
"We have to watch the packages coming in for him." A guard said, irritated by the bother. "People keep sending him poisoned food, bombs, threats." He shouldered his rifle, and rolled his eyes. Aki wished she had thought of sending him poisoned food. "It's not like he'd eat it anyway. He didn't get a death sentence, but that's what he seems to have given himself." The guard spat. Good riddance. Isolation kept him safe from the other prisoners, who seemed to realize that he was a monster, and now defenseless. They'd have torn him apart, and Aki suspected he wouldn't have lifted a finger to defend himself. At that moment, her heart twinged faintly, and she jabbed at her chest with her thumb, attributing it to heartburn. That sort of thing happens when you're pregnant, she chided herself, of course things redistribute when there's a baby sitting on your stomach.
She wasn't sure why she had insisted on visiting him, though the guards had insisted on the distance. Apparently she wasn't the only one who wished him worse than he had gotten. The world was less dangerous now, people could focus on blaming others again, and he was a publicized target. So he had gained a sort of fame - infamy. Her status had allowed her this personal view into his suffering. How unfortunate, she thought, that she didn't enjoy it half so much as she thought she would.
Perhaps because she expected him to eventually snap out of whatever bout of depression he had fallen into and rage at his confinement, argue, tantrum, anything. Three months in, there was no change. He just stood, favoring the same leg that he had limped on in the council, regarding the ground. Perhaps his thoughts were torturous, but Aki suspected that he did not think at all.
She asked the guard to escort her back to her car.
Two years later, she went back. Surely, this time, she thought. Surely now he'll have found himself enough to suffer.
It was raining. He was out in the yard anyway, the guards neglecting to bring him in either because they didn't care or out of sheer cruelty. Aki watched from where she had usually watched, standing up in the tower. He got more sodden, and then, with a low threatening rumble of thunder, the sky really started to open up. Hein looked up for the first time since he'd been pulled from the wreck of the cannon, looked so far up that his spine arched and his neck became vulnerable to the relentless pound of hard, heavy raindrops. His arms were bent at the elbows, hands on level with his stomach and turned palms-up to the rain which plastered his clothes and hair flat, dripping, clinging to his frame like his skin now clung to his bones. The guard took this in with a snort. "Turkeys," he said, sounding almost bitter and halfway to cheerful at the same time. "Drown in the rain. We're hoping he will."
"A fitting end for a Turkey," Aki said, quietly, though her heart wasn't in it. Her attention was on his ribs, the way they jutted. He wouldn't suffer much longer if he continued not to eat - a cop out. Everything the general did seemed to be a cop out. When she thought about it, Aki wasn't entirely sure she wanted to see him suffer anymore. She made up her mind not to visit again, and was getting up when she cast one look back down at the yard. Hein's eyes had opened, and he'd turned to look up at the watchtower. Their gaze met, his and hers, held for a moment before he mouthed something in the rain that she could not hear. And then he dropped his gaze and sought shelter under the door's overhang. The guard on the other side let him shuffle in, sodden, and eyes downcast.
She made the excuse that she was keeping her babysitter waiting, and left. The guard just shrugged - she could have left for no reason at all and he'd have cared just as much.
Another six months passed before curiosity drove her to find out. It was getting close to her daughter's birthday - the girl looked more like Gray every minute. Aki wasn't entirely sure how it would translate when the girl got old enough to think of herself in terms of appealing to boys, but she trusted her own genes to step in when it really mattered. She wasn't entirely sure what to do for a two year old's birthday, but she'd managed to arrange a party.
The cities had been released from their protective shells once the world was searched over for phantoms and found negative. Seeds long dormant came to life in the rain, and did not have their very living stolen away from them by wayward alien soldiers. People were out rebuilding, and the earth seemed ready to throw her all back into things. The crater from the asteroid was surrounded by an uninhabitable area, but frequent landslides and earthquakes were the reason. The wound seemed to be healing it's self. Aki smiled at that thought, suspecting that many would scoff at it. Dr. Cid's theories had been proven, yes, but still weren't widely held as a belief. His life was still a fight to properly educate others in his theories.
At the party, he lamented that even General Hein had almost been prefferable to the mass skepticism that greeted his claims, however proven they were in the defeat of the Phantoms. Aki thought about him in the rain, the words that she hadn't heard but he had intended for her. She wondered again what they were - sarcasm? Venom? A hateful utterance that might signal a return to his senses?
She didn't know why she had to know, she blamed it on the scientific way her mind handled things. She found herself thinking about it when she washed dishes, replaying the event in her mind. She found herself wishing she'd been closer, that she could have heard. Or read his lips. Or even just asked him and solved this whole damn problem. Except, it wouldn't be a problem, if she could just stop letting it get to her.
When she dialled to set up a visitation, she didn't stop herself. The warden sounded somewhat skeptical that she was the real Aki Ross, but reluctantly set up the time and date.
She almost didn't go. Only practicality told her that she would have the one shot - if she tried to reschedule, they would assume it was all some sort of joke. So she showed up, dressed carefully. Like it was a serious visit. The guards looked curious, but didn't question. After all, saving the world gave her a few perks - a healthy sense of self-conscience in those around her wasn't such a bad experience. It cut down on embarassing questions - like the all important 'what was she doing here?'
They sat on opposite sides of bulletproof plexiglass, not that she hadn't been scanned for any signs of weaponry when she came in. And not that bio-etheric lasers couldn't penetrate plexiglass and the human flesh behind it anyway. But it made the inmates and out mates feel safe from each other and that was enough. Her chair was hard, but had a little cushion in the bottom of it's plastic bucket seat. It reminded her of a chair from high-school.
He was seated in a chair that didn't have the benefit of a cushion, his hands fastened together at the wrists, but with a length of chain between them so that he could move them some. He didn't meet her gaze, but she saw somewhere deep in his expression that he was confused. That it had become hard for him to experience much of any emotion anymore. She had never spoken to him privately before, but this was so different from the passion she had always witnessed in the council room, she could not imagine that he was like this even on a personal, private basis.
Maybe he was suffering, she realized. Just a little. Maybe he'd changed, he really had left something of himself behind in the wreckage. She decided that it was pride.
"Hein." She spoke evenly, and he looked up, brows arching over eyes that were dark and hollow. "That day in the rain, you saw me standing up in the tower." It wasn't really a question, but she paused for an answer.
He nodded, resolutely. Did not verbally answer.
"What did you say?" Her hands had twisted together in her lap. She worried it would be something terribly mundane, like 'Let me inside,' or 'It's cold'.
"I'm sorry." His voice, though disused, emerged strong. It took Aki a long, unblinking moment to realize that he had answered her question, and not asked her to repeat it or denied it an answer. He had, in the rain, apologized. Their eyes met, and both seemed surprised to find honesty.
"Oh." She felt weak, answering like that. It felt like a weak answer. She had built it up in her mind, envisioned a thousand ways to tell him off for what he had done. Built up a grand fantasy of just telling him off, and he would shout and get angry, and be dragged away by the guards.
Instead, he turned his palms upright again.
"I have no right to ask, but I can't..." He sighed, apparently aggravated with himself. "I can't get anyone else to do it." He reached out, toward a paper-pass through that allowed small items to pass under the glass, but not without a dip on either side to protect them from each other. He released a plain wedding band into the catch. It rattled against the metal surface. Aki stared at it as if it might fly out and bite her in the face, though her mind told her quite scientifically that it was impossible.
"I just want it to be buried with my wife." He paused a minute, and when she didn't reach for it, he added. "Please."
It was so human, and so unlike him. She was certain, after a moment, that this was the wrong man. Someone who looked like the General - or had, maybe, once. Through some horrible mix up, here he was, serving out the General's time. She reached out and took the ring, and he moved quickly, though not with intention to startle. His fingers dipped down and touched her knuckles in the paper well.
"I lived in San Francisco." He said, quickly, his eyes had regained a little light. She felt a flash of anger at herself for easing his suffering. "They're in the National Cemetery there." His family - she'd known he had one, but never thought about it. They didn't say goodbye, they just drifted apart. Two chairs scraped back, and guards escorted the failed hero from the room.
"If I'd have visited a year earlier, I'd have told you I couldn't possibly understand how you could love him." The graveyard was quiet and still. No one came here, everywhere was a grave now. You could just raise your voice and talk to the dead. Aki felt uncomfortable in the silence, and she spoke to fill it, finding herself explaining what was on her mind to the chill air around.
After all, after you died the soul returned, enriched, to the Gaea. Anything that had been Hein's family had been a part of the mass that had finally struck out against the Phantoms, and was now rebuilding the planet in a way that was truly astonishing. He'd probably be satisfied to know that, if he could ever accept their 'touchy feely' theory.
"I wonder what he was really like. I've met him at the worst times in his life, it seems." She squeezed her daughter's hand, looking at the list of two on the gravestone. There was space for a third, but she didn't know if his body would ever make it here. She stooped, and hid the ring in the grass at the base of the gravestone, it was freshly spouted, the dirt long still turning active with plant life again. It would soon take the metal circle down into it's roots. "I think he's remembering that, himself."
"Momma?" There was a tug at her hand, her daughter somewhat bored and unsettled by the silence. "Why are you talking to the rocks?"
"I'm not talking to -rocks-," Aki laughed, in the solemnity of the graveyard. "I'm talking to someone I wish I'd known a little better." Puzzled silence met her, and Aki suspected that someday, she would have to explain in more detail, when a childish mind wasn't so easily satisfied with a lack of science.
She visited him again.