Once in a while, you come across a film on disc or TV, and go, "I can't believe I missed that in theatres." BATTLE FOR TERRA has become such a film for me.
The human CGI characters can seem a little basic in style (they're perhaps a nice 'tip of the hat' though to the old Gerry Anderson THUNDERBIRDS TV series), but the rest of the characters, and especially the settings, are detailed and very realistic. The story's premise takes the familiar sci-fi genre of alien invasion, turning it around, but in a way nicely different from AVATAR which to me is more of a 'space western', and doing what science fiction does best—getting us to look at serious questions of life from a different perspective through the metaphor of different worlds. Considering BATTLE FOR TERRA was made independently of a major studio and for less than one-twentieth the budget for a typical CGI film, the results are incredible. And with basically zero promotion when it came out on May 1, 2009, this PG-rated film deserves much better than it got in theatres. If a preview of it hadn't been included on another DVD from Lions Gate Films I recently bought (and which, if you read the first chapter of this story carefully, you might be able to figure out which other DVD that is), I still wouldn't know about it.
I would naturally recommend you see BATTLE FOR TERRA, now out on disc, before reading this story. But I realize you might want to read this story before deciding to shell out to rent or get it this under-exposed gem of science fiction and fantasy. So I've found myself having to tread a fine line here between continuing the film's story and portraying the atmosphere of it that captured me so much, without giving away too much of the film itself, so that you can enjoy it like I have. So this time, about the only spoilers revolve around the main motivations for, and aftermath of, the battle, with what the main film characters do or what happens to them in the movie being carefully minimized or avoided by focusing the story around my own characters instead.
The question for me however that the film left unanswered, was how do two peoples, two species, both of whom have suffered, with one at the hands of the other, learn to get along together after a conflict? And in particular, how do two individuals from opposite sides, both of whom have suffered tragic loss due to actions of the other's side, find what they need to even go on?
So, through the imagination and work of writer/director Aristomenis Tsirbas (who also single-handedly created the concept, character and production designs, storyboards, majority of the CGI models, and some eighty percent of the rough or 'animatics' animation that became the film . . . a one-man version of Pixar), with concepts, characters and settings owned by Terra Productions LLC and Roadside Attractions LLC, I invite you to experience how loss can become transformed into something that makes the journey of life worthwhile.
"KAILA!" I yelled as I beat my fists against the door that swung shut, separating us.
Pulled through a failed window. That's how my wife had died . . . in space. The irony is we had almost made it. We could see the final destination that had been promised to us for generations. Now, she had been killed when debris from our own ship had hit a viewport window on a passageway, shattering it. My wife ended up being listed as a battle casualty, the third human one in the Battle for Terra, as the debris was caused by a young Terrian who made an escape in one of our fighters as she blasted her way out of a fighter dock.
I was Second Engineer on what was simply called 'The Ark', a massive interstellar life raft that was carrying the last of humanity. It was part space station and part starship, being comprised of eleven rings, the largest up to three hundred metres in diameter. Each ring was made up of mostly square modules connected by tubular passageways. Together they rotated in opposite directions along a central hub that was over five hundred metres in length, to both simulate earth gravity while also allowing the ship to maintain a stable course through space. From a distance, it looked like a massive, contra-rotating oval beehive.
I, and everyone I knew, was born on the ship. We were supposed to be the final link in a multi-generational trek from an Earth that had been laid waste in a terrible interplanetary war of with our former colonies on the terraformed planets of Venus and Mars. Like most all colonies throughout recorded history, they got tired of existing to service the resource needs of another nation and people. In this case, the colonial overlords the Venusian and Martian colonies were rebelling against were us—an over-consumptive population on Earth that had depleted our own planet's resources some 200 years earlier. Our astronomers however had identified a planet we had called Terra as the nearest potential life-sustaining planet in another star system that we could terraform into a new earth. Hopefully this time, humanity would get living on a planet right.
Now, we were there. But we found the planet was already inhabited with life that depended on an atmosphere that was richer in hydrogen, helium and methane than Earth had been, but with much less oxygen. While we could stand on the planet's surface, even walk around with ease, we couldn't breathe its air. We found that our air was also poisonous to the life forms our scout fighters had captured with force fields and brought back upon our arrival in orbit around Terra. When some of the specimens were brought back wearing clothes that were multi-colored bodysuits over their floating, tadpole-like forms, carrying objects and tools, even a few sitting in what appeared to be some kind of hover chairs—we discovered that the planet also unfortunately already had a civilization. While it apparently was not quite as advanced as ours, they seemed to have found ways of living both peacefully and in remarkable harmony with their world. The hover chair I was ordered to examine and analyze was powered by a remarkably simple system that seemed to generate and harness a form of bio-electricity to power its propellers and fans from what was basically a hydrogen and methane-powered fuel cell. Ingenious, and completely sustainable given their atmosphere. These floating beings, while scared, had seemed to be remarkably curious about us initially.
But with our ship literally falling apart around us in space from age and use, a mania to take over that planet and terraform it into a new earth, no matter what, had overtaken a lot of us on the Ark. With our medical care having been largely turned over to robots long ago that were now supervised and assisted by Earth Force military personnel, who were distinguished by the tan uniforms and caps we all wore, the clothed beings were treated as things, even pests, rather than persons. They were in the way between us and the planet we needed to take over in order to survive. I was ashamed, even guilt-ridden, as I witnessed their treatment at the hands of our medical robots while I worked on analyzing that hover chair with an assistant. It was the subject of the last conversation I'd had with my wife, before she returned to supervise her staff and robots in the hydroponics modules that generated our plant life and vegetables.
"They're beings!" she said. "Look into their large eyes! You can see fear, tranquility, curiosity . . . every feeling we have!"
"I know!" I snapped looking down at the small dining table in our quarters while we shared a quick dinner before we each had to go on duty again as things were heating up and tensions mounting all over the ship.
"Then do something about it!" she challenged. "You're one of the most senior officers onboard! Speak up!"
"The chain of command has changed," I sighed. "The final decision has been made. They're taking over the planet, no matter what now. I can't stop it."
"Then I don't want to live on such a world," she quietly but angrily said as she got up and left our quarters in her civilian blue work suit, her brown hair tied back in its usual ponytail behind her head, turning down the passageway to return to her work. Married to her fifteen years but with no kids, Kaila was my conscience, in the best way I could ask for. She had always been that. She knew I'd soon follow her, we'd make up, and then decide to do the right thing, something, together. I was on my way to her, walking along the upwardly curving passages around the edge of A Ring between modules, when alarms sounded and passageway airlocks automatically sealed in front of me. Her choice came true . . . and I never got to make up with her.
The worst part was that through an airlock door viewport, I saw Kaila get pulled through that failed window . . . but she never saw me.
— — — — —
Now a day later, I was numb beyond words, and everything around me on the ship was in chaos. I didn't know what was going on, except that our Chief Engineer, my boss, had gone down with the Terraformer along with a good portion of our Engineering staff and our Earth Force commanding officer. The first I heard about it all was when I was summoned by name to the Council Chamber as part of the ship-wide broadcast informing all of us that President Chen and the Council were once again in charge onboard the Ark.
"Meyers, we have three weeks of oxygen left," I was told by President Chen personally on my arrival in the chamber, " . . . and that's it." Combined with the grave look on his dark brown face, no further words needed to be said. I knew what had happened. We had come all this way in hope and expectation; but now, we weren't taking over the planet.
"I'll prepare the final sleep protocol," I somberly replied. "Everyone will die comfortably. They'll just go to sleep. It will be ready for your or the council's order well before then."
"Mister President," Councilmember Maria Montez interrupted. She was a dark-haired, attractive, young military member of the council, who was nonetheless one of its most consistently outspoken advocates for peaceful solutions. "We're getting a message from one of our fighters. A Terrian delegation has visually hailed them and is now coming to us with the pilot."
"Very well," President Chen said, before turning back to me. "Meyers, you're Chief Engineer now. And since you're also the senior remaining Earth Force officer onboard, I'm making you Commander of the Ark as well. You report directly to me as Commander-in-Chief. Go ahead and make preparations for the protocol for now, but be prepared for a change of orders, and priorities."
"Yes, Mister President," I replied, saluting him as a visible sign to all around me that unlike my immediate predecessor, I respected civilian authority. That I did not receive a concurrent promotion in rank to General with my new positions also signaled that the civilians wanted to maintain more control now over Earth Force as well. But I didn't know what to think as I then turned to leave the chamber, grabbing my handheld commlink unit from my belt under my uniform tunic and calling for the Duty Engineer.
"Rogerson, Duty Engineer," the reply came.
"This is Meyers," I replied. "By order of President Chen and the Council, I am now both Chief Engineer and Ark Commander. Begin preparations for General Order Omega. The final command sequence will come from myself and the Council President when it's time."
"Yes . . . sir," the Duty Engineer replied very slowly.
"Mike," I added, knowing my fellow engineer well, " . . . there's hope yet. We're also ordered to standby for a change of priorities though. A delegation from the planet is coming onboard. Looks like there may yet be talks toward something. But keep that under your hat for now. Let's just get on with our job of keeping everyone as comfortable as possible . . . no matter what. Gotta go," I said as my commlink beeped. "Another call is coming in."
"Thanks for that, Chief," I heard as I clicked over to the other call.
"Commander Meyers here," I now replied to the other caller, using my other new title.
"This is Chen again," the unit's speaker now conveyed. "As Ark Commander now, would you join me at Fighter Portal A-Seven to welcome our guests onboard?"
"Yes sir, Portal A-Seven. On my way. Meyers out," I replied as my deputy Flight and Deck officers now both found me together in one of the Ark's semi-rusted tubular corridors. "Lady and Gentleman," I said since I didn't know these two very well, "as you likely know, I've just been made the new Ark Commander. This way now. Follow me."
Soon, I met up with President Chen again, who was waiting at the portal for its door to open once the fighter had docked with it inside the larger bay.
"John," the president now called me by my first name, " . . . our condolences on the loss of your wife. I'm sorry."
"Thank you, sir," I replied quietly, not really wanting to be reminded of that as I was being hit with so much at the moment.
I looked through the rounded door's viewport to see the arriving Plus-wing fighter now being automatically captured and brought through the landing bay in top and bottom slots running across the bay among retracted service lifts, to dock with the portal we were standing at. The portal door then swung open as the craft's cockpit hatch also rolled open upwards to reveal the craft's occupants.
In addition to the seated pilot, two Terrians were now floating, one on either side of him. Both were wearing respirators to breathe while in our atmosphere. One appeared to be older and dressed in an important-looking red and white robe and hat of some kind, while the other appeared to be somewhat younger and dressed far simpler in some kind of two-tone green close-fitting bodysuit. Even looking at them, while somewhat paler in skin tone than any of us, they were peaceful, wise, even beautiful and ethereal beings. They just flowed from their large, gentle eyes and round heads that had round, tail-like appendages at the back, then down their small necks and gently-curved and clothed bodies that had two arms with hands of tapering thumbs and three fingers. Their bodies ended in flat, almost tadpole-like tails that propelled them when they moved. From the ones I'd seen our medical robots examine, when stationary the Terrians seemed to be able to either float vertically, or sit or lie on surfaces at will.
"Greetings," the younger Terrian now said, in clear English with a female voice to my surprise. "I am Mala, and I will translate for Elder Doron."
"I am President Chen," my superior said next to me as he extended his hand in greeting. Elder Doron floated forward to accept his handshake. "First, please know, both of you, that I and the Council opposed what has taken place between our peoples. Another of us took control without authority, and went down with the Terraformer and our forces. We deeply regret what happened."
Mala translated the president's words for her elder. The elder briefly spoke back in their language.
"Elder Doron says we understand, and forgive," Mala now conveyed to the collective surprise, almost shock of both Chen and myself. "We know you now have little time or resources left here. We are already preparing interim habitable spaces for your people, and are prepared to start work on a larger habitat for you all as quickly as possible. We are also ready to show your fliers where to land on our world, and begin accepting at least a few of your people . . . if you pledge peace with us now, and to cooperate with us as equals."
Not wanting to make his reply alone, Chen looked at some of the other council members gathered around him. Every one of them was nodding yes, some with tears of amazement and gratitude in their eyes. "It will be peace, and cooperation, always now between us," the president replied as he extended his hand again to seal the understanding. "We are very grateful," he added. Doron just looked calmly at him as he accepted Chen's hand. "Commander," the president continued before he had even let go of Doron's three-fingered hand, "cancel General Order Omega, and execute General Order Alpha, Phase One."
"Yes sir," I said with a degree of quiet relief as I now picked up my commlink. "Engineering, this is Meyers," I said without waiting for a reply, "stand down on Omega. Repeat, stand down on Omega. Begin execution of Alpha, Phase One. Assign all available Engineering personnel and robots to Craft Support and commence conversion of all bombers and fighters to general shuttles."
"Yes Chief!" came the now enthusiastic reply, accompanied by a few cheers in the background via my commlink's speaker.
"Meyers out. Flight Officer," I now said, clicking off my commlink and turning to one of my deputies, "pick some pilots to fly fighters and accompany this one back down to scope out the designated landing sites. Deck Officer," I continued, turning to another, "start prioritizing and assembling personnel and cargo loads to be ready to go as soon as our Terrian hosts authorize, and shuttles are available. Let's get going."
"Yes sir!" my deputy officers both gladly replied around me as they departed, picking up their own commlinks as they began to coordinate the raft of details it would take to make everything happen now.
"Deck Officer," I added, not knowing his name yet, stopping him and walking to meeting him partway down the corridor, "let's also prepare the remaining specimens in our labs for respectful return to the Terrians. And do not destroy any records of what was done to them. I will hold you personally responsible for the safekeeping of both those records, and those remains, now that you've heard this order."
"Sir?" he questioned.
"We may have some things to atone for, Major," I said. "But on my watch, we're going to do things right from here on, and we're not going to hide anything, understood?"
"Yes sir," he now replied reluctantly but clearly, saluting me before turning to execute my commands.
That's for you, Kaila, I thought quietly to her, wiping a tear from my eye, as I returned to Chen and our Terrian guests at the portal.
"Pilot," I then said to the man who had just flown the Terrians to us, "can you lead our first contingent back down?"
"It's Lieutenant Stewart Stanton, sir," he replied. "But yes sir, I'm ready to lead them back down under the Terrians' direction here."
"You alright, Lieutenant?" I asked, seeing he looked somewhat depressed, beginning to know myself lately what that felt like.
"Yes sir," he now replied smartly. "I'm fine sir."
I detected Elder Doron now looking at both of us intently. But he said nothing to his interpreter.
"Mister President, Terrian guests," I now said turning to them, "if you'll excuse me, I have a lot to begin overseeing now."
"Yes, of course," Chen excused.
I knew I wasn't going to get much sleep now for the next few days, maybe even the full three weeks until the ship's air ran out. Mourning the woman who had been my wife and best friend would just have to wait.
— — — — —
The next days were a blur. I had no regular or sustained sleep as comm calls kept coming in for me, both through my portable link and on wall intercoms wherever I was at all hours on the Ark. Kaila was the organized one between us, so trying to pack up my quarters during quieter moments . . . I just couldn't bring myself to do it for the longest time. Every time I even touched anything that was hers, I found myself crying.
After a couple of confused first days initially, the transfer of people, goods, machinery, even components and modules of our Ark down to the planet began to proceed smoothly, thanks largely to the division officers under me . . . who hadn't lost their spouses if they had them. I could focus when I had to on details and work, but otherwise it was getting worse inside for me. I managed to mask it well though.
While they could fly on machines both primitive and advanced in their own atmosphere, the Terrians didn't have a space flight capability. So moving our people and materiel on the Ark to the planet was entirely up to us. I would watch at times as dozens of our former fighters and bombers, now stripped down as shuttles would come and go from the Ark around the clock as our ship became barer and barer, and started to fall apart even more with some of its modules being removed and shipped down to Terra as well. It had served its purpose, I consoled myself as I would walk increasingly alone through its corridors, even touching its familiar bulkheads at times.
I got a surprise in my quarters one day though, just as final evacuations to the planet were about to begin.
"Mike . . . and Sharon," I said seeing them unexpectedly in there as I came in. "What are you doing here?"
"The Deck Officer told me he hadn't seen any personal consignments or even shipment requests from you yet," my now Second Engineer and personal friend replied. "My wife and I thought we'd better come check on you. John, it's time for you to pack up here. We don't have much time left onboard."
I just closed my eyes and looked down, barely able to hold it together. Without telling anyone else, I had increasingly thought of just staying . . . the captain going down with his ship. My Kaila wasn't down on the planet anyway. She was out here, somewhere in space now. I had begun entertaining thoughts of just wanting to join her. Just going to sleep after everyone else had left, and not waking up.
"Tell you what," Mike's blonde wife Sharon offered, looking at me. "Mike and I are about all packed out. We're just camping in our empty quarters now. You've got enough to worry about as commander for the entire ship. How about I take care of things here for you? Don't worry, I'll pack up everything, even Kaila's. Looks like we may need things like women's clothing and other personal articles down there anyway for a good while. Would you mind?"
"No," I quietly said, still looking away but trying to smile. I just sighed, deciding to hide what I had been considering, allowing my friends to take that option away from me without their knowing. "She'd want that. I'd just like to keep a few mementos for myself."
"Of course," Sharon replied. "We'll just put it all in containers for now, and you can go through it all after we settle down there."
"Thanks," I said.
Sharon then moved towards me and embraced me. "It'll be okay," she gently assured.
"Please don't," I replied, backing away from her while I could see her husband watching me with concern. "I've gotta stay focused here until we're all off this ship . . . then I'll have time for everything else."
"John, you're human," she said, laying a hand on my shoulder nonetheless. "You need to grieve and heal. You also need companionship in your off-hours. Let Mike and I use your convertible sofa bed in here for now. It will make finishing the move out of our quarters easier, and allow me to work the rest of the time packing your and Kaila's things out of here. It will also give you some friends to be with. Even a commander needs that."
"Alright," I reluctantly agreed, unable to conceal some tears that just stubbornly leaked out of my eyes.
— — — — —
Sharon had Mike and herself moved into my quarters with me within hours. Over the next few days, I just found excuses to largely avoid my quarters, even sleeping in there as little as I could.
"Gotta get back to it, keep going," I'd say, quickly eating minimal portions of the meals Sharon prepared for Mike and I. She was a good cook, even an excellent one. But I found it increasingly hard to avoid crying around them. They brought a feeling of home, real home again, to my quarters. But it was just too painful for me. Sharon was as good as her word though, and soon reduced the warm haven I had known with my wife to a bare shell. As I looked around inside it the final few times, I now regretted my decision to allow Sharon to do that. I had increasingly found myself wanting to die in the haven I had known with Kaila. But that wasn't happening now.
Soon, the final moving day had come, but I had yet to land or walk on the Terrian surface, let alone even see it except from the Ark. By videocom, President Chen and the Council had decided to order the Ark moved and parked in a high enough orbit where it would not be a danger to the planet, but still accessible to us in case we had forgotten anything, or realized we needed something else. That job fell to just three people . . . my Second Engineer, his assistant, and myself.
"Ready to engage main engines and thrusters," my friend Mike reported on my commlink as Duty Engineer while I was alone on the Ark's now dimly lit bridge.
"Change in orbit entered," I said back to my commlink as I finished programming the orbital maneuver myself into illuminated buttons on the Navigation panel. "Engaging main engines . . . now."
The Ark lurched to life again around us as the planet and the starfield around it began to shift in front of me outside the viewports. Everything began to shudder.
"How are we doing down there, Mike?" I radioed.
"Systems acceptable," he replied. "Not good, but everything should last for the duration of the burn, and then the braking thrust. Wait . . . we're losing Number Four main engine."
"Compensating trajectory," I quickly replied as I hit more buttons on the Nav panel. "Cutting engines Two and Four to maintain course, and adding a quick burst on the lateral thrusters on Number Four's side . . . phew, we're back on course. The Nav Computer now indicates we'll have to add forty-eight seconds to the burn here though before we coast," I said reading the Navigation Status display. "We can't stress the ship anymore than we have to with starts and stops in her condition."
"Copy that," Mike radioed. "Aren't you glad we're getting off this bucket?"
I said nothing this time, just choosing to focus on the holographic displays around me, making sure everything was as it needed to be.
"John? You there?" my friend asked again.
"I'm here," I replied. "Just tracking everything."
I saw nothing but stars now looking up at the viewports. It was all I had ever known in life. I just accepted the peace and quiet, watching the stars through the viewports and the blinking lights of various panels, as well as listening to the various status sounds and hums of our machinery and the ship itself that I had known for a lifetime. Finally, a computer alert now interrupted my thoughts.
"Stand by for burn termination," I said via my commlink to my Duty Engineer. "Cutting main engines . . . now."
A silence now pervaded the ship as we continued to slowly move further away from the planet into space. I continued to confirm status updates with Mike but little else. After trying to make small talk a couple more times, Mike got the idea I really didn't want to talk. Parking the Ark in the most distant orbit we could around Terra, it now felt like I was burying a second friend in space—the ship itself. As holographic and panel displays around me dutifully reported most all aspects of the ship and its operation, I looked out and saw us pass beyond first the planet's rings of pulverized ice and rock, and then its inner and outer moons. The Ark would become Terra's new third, and by far smallest and most distant moon.
After what seemed like hours, but was really less than one, another computer alert was letting me know we had arrived. "Okay, we're arriving at the new orbit insertion point," I now commed. "Applying reverse braking thrust." The ship now shuddered even worse as a couple of damage alarms went off around me.
"Lost another module, even looks like a whole segment of E Ring now," I radioed on my commlink, looking at the holographic ship integrity display, and moving to double-check out a side viewport window on the bridge. "Yep," I confirmed. "It's even banging into D Ring, but fortunately it looks to be staying with the ship and not flying off my itself."
"Good thing we're leaving in a fighter from A Dock," my friend radioed back.
"Forward momentum stopping," I reported on my commlink. "Cutting braking thrusters . . . now," I said, hitting another button. "Computer is reporting . . . orbit stable. We're done, Mike. Open the doors for A Dock and then shut everything down. Just leave life support and lighting on in the corridors we need with batteries, and let the batteries run down."
"My assistant and I are completing general shut down," my friend reported. "Sure hope these reactors just stay out here in space. See you at A Dock in fifteen minutes."
"A Dock, fifteen minutes," I replied knowing I could get there long before then.
I proceeded to turn off the holographic displays, and shut down each panel around me in an orderly sequence, in case we ever needed to turn any of it back on again. Once I had finished, I looked around the now almost completely darkened bridge of my command. The only thing left blinking or illuminated were parts of the Navigation and Communication panels. The ship was now programmed to send out a continuous distress call if its orbit decayed and its trajectory was carrying it towards the planet. The remaining small auxiliary hydrogen fusion reactor we were also leaving on to power these systems would run indefinitely, even forever, by itself with the hydrogen available in space around the planet. We'd just have to ensure that a radio from one of our shuttles was left on somewhere down on Terra where we could hear it.
One more time, I was tempted to just stay. But with President Chen leaving open the possibility that the Ark could be re-boarded if needed in the future, I couldn't leave everyone with a ghost ship . . . with my floating corpse onboard to deal with or work around. I did take the time though to quickly take out some tools and remove two small purple cylinders and a short connecting hose assembly from an access panel on one bulkhead of the bridge. OMEGA – LETHAL, each cylinder was labeled, along with more detailed descriptions and instructions in fine print underneath. With personal sidearms and weapons now banned on the planet surface without authorization at the request of the peace-loving Terrians, and the concurrence of our human Earth Council, I still wanted to have one option for controlling my own life.
I tucked the cylinders and tools into a knapsack I had brought, hiding them under the last of my spare personal clothes and other items I was taking with me. "Goodbye bridge," I said, patting the doorway as I now left. Knowing that Mike and his assistant had a longer trip from Engineering Control back on J Ring, even traveling in the high-speed lift pods we used up and down spokes and along the hub between rings, I debated as I walked through the still lit corridors around the smaller A Ring to the docking bay, as to whether I should stop one more time at my quarters, which were perhaps unfortunately on the way, being just a brief detour down a corridor to the right within one habitat module as I went.
I love you, Kaila, I allowed myself to tearfully think as I walked. How I wished I could search for and retrieve her body somewhere out in this star system, and bring her home to the planet now and lay her to rest, even so I could someday be laid to rest beside her.
When I got to the crucial junction of corridors . . . I decided to turn the corner. Since the corridor to my quarters wasn't on a direct path from the bridge to A Dock, it was now darkened.
"Thought I might find you here," I heard a voice say, waiting for me in the darkened corridor in front of the door to my quarters.
"Mike . . ." I said hesitantly as I looked at him now as he illuminated us both with his flashlight.
"Sharon made me promise that I'd get you onto the shuttle," he simply explained.
"Wives," I said, beginning to tear up now.
"Go ahead, have a look inside John," he knowingly invited, " . . . even leave the door open. Then let's go, okay?"
"Could I have a moment alone in there?" I sniffed.
"I'll be outside the door if you want," my friend replied. "But the door's staying open then."
I just turned, wiping my eyes and pressing the button that opened the door to my quarters. I then stepped inside. My haven was completely barren, and dark now except for the flashlight I shined around. I could see stars out the windows . . . and that planet. I didn't know now if that place could ever be home to me—not without Kaila, as well as without most everything else I had ever known.
I just closed my eyes as tears silently ran down my face now. I was finally allowing myself to mourn. I tuned into my memories, almost hearing again the laughter and joy I had once known with Kaila in this very room. I didn't want to leave it now . . . I just didn't.
After patiently waiting for what must have been minutes, my friend finally spoke. "Come on, John," he said, putting a hand on my shoulder. "It's time to go. You are among the living. Sharon and I care about you. This place is dead now. Kaila is letting you go. It's time for you to let go, too, and move on into a new life. We'll help, Sharon and I both will."
"No 'captain going down with his ship'?" I sniffed, turning halfway towards him.
"Sorry sir," my friend replied. "But no. You can have me court marshaled before the Council later, but you're coming with me onto that shuttle. Sharon's been cooking a special welcome dinner for us all day down there. Can't let that go to waste. Let's go."
"Help me . . . move," I said, shutting my eyes as tears once more streamed down my face. My friend put an arm around me and guided me out. I managed to look back one more time inside my quarters as we stepped through the doorway. The star-filled windows, and then the main room faded from my view around the doorway and then down the corridors as Mike helped me walk towards the shuttle.
"Mike," my friend's commlink then buzzed. "I'm at a control junction near the docking bay and ready to shut down the rotation on A Ring. Battery power here is already low. You'll have to use handrails to make it to the shuttle."
"Gotcha, Izumi," my friend radioed back next to me. "Go ahead, and then board the shuttle yourself. The commander and I will be right there."
We walked back from my quarters to the central connecting passageway around the edge of A Ring. The lights in the tubular central passageway flickered as a hum audibly slowed down, as did the stars and the rest of the ship outside the viewports. My friend and I now found ourselves floating off the deck as we both grabbed nearby handrails, now having to pull ourselves along the corridor with the loss the ring's rotation, and gravity within it.
Mike then stopped briefly as we approached A Dock, looking at me with concern as tears were still quietly streaming down my face. "Let's compose ourselves, John . . . sir," he suggested. "We still have a couple of crew under us here, and you're still the commanding officer of Earth Force, even on the ground down there."
"I thought I was a civilian the moment I touched the ground on the planet," I sniffed.
"As you know, the Council and the Terrians are still negotiating our transition," my friend reminded me as we remained stopped floating in the corridor. "There's a possibility we senior Earth Force officers at least might become part of the Terrian Eldership somehow . . . join them as guardians of their world."
"But I'm not a warrior though, I'm an engineer," I replied.
"There is plenty of that to do, believe me," Mike assured, even smiling. "The Terrian technologies, especially their advanced ones, are amazing. You haven't seen any of that yet. It'll be good, trust me. Let's go."
"Okay," I accepted, finally smiling a little and wiping my eyes, as my friend and I started pulling ourselves along the handrails towards the fighter bay again.
Soon we were there. Our pilot was already seated in the cockpit, with Mike's assistant engineer strapped into a temporary standing restraint that had been installed along the back bulkhead of the cockpit. There were two other restraints arrayed behind the pilot's seat as well.
"Nice to see you again, Steward," I said recognizing our pilot.
"It's good to be flying you, sir," Lieutenant Stanton replied. "I volunteered for this last run myself. I have your final belongings and bedding stowed away in the multi-purpose compartment in back."
"Thank you," I replied. "The Ark, she has served us well," I then said to all of them, looking back through the still open portal doorway one last time. Another breach alarm now sounded in the corridor, indicating a nearby module or passageway had been compromised to space again. "As well as she could," I sighed. There was no point in fixing that integrity breach now, as we once would have done. The batteries would run down soon, the lights and life support would go out, and the alarm would be silenced. Instead, I now just closed the portal door manually and activated the lock and seal, for what it was worth, before powering down that panel, too.
"Close the shuttle hatch and let's depart," I ordered with a sigh as I turned and floated around the pilot to strap myself into the middle standing restraint, as my friend, Mike, did the same in the remaining side one next to me. "Bon voyage, Ark," I said as the pilot rolled the shuttle's hatch down and closed, before our circular cockpit module rotated vertically one hundred, eighty degrees within the fighter's four wings to face us ahead in the direction we were going. Stewart then moved his twin control sticks forward and we smoothly blasted forward out of the bay and into open space, even having to dodge some of the Ark's fragments and debris as we left.
"I sure hope we never have to come back here," Mike sighed next to me. "It would be tricky and very dangerous with all this stuff floating out here around the ship."
"Yep," I sighed as I just looked out the three long, tall windows in front of us.
I didn't know what I was flying towards now. I just felt utterly empty and directionless. All I knew is that I'd soon be sharing a good home-cooked meal with Mike and his wife, Sharon. A lot of me though wished I had made it to join Kaila in that passageway in time, and that I had just been sucked out through that window with her.