AN: And so it finally ends. After such a long time, it seems strange that this is over. But, I did it, my second novel length fanfiction. I lost the original files through crashed hard drives and stuff, but I'm pretty certain we're looking at a 300+ page story here. What's most important is that while some of the characters are the property of James Cameron (Trudy, Jake Sully, Ney'tiri), the rest of the characters are mine. What's really important is that the plot is completely original.
In The Dark Wanderer I shadowed the plot of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and so that helped me write the story. This, I came up completely on my own. Maybe someday I may scrub this down, change certain things, and try to publish it (after all, a LOT of time and effort went into this bad boy) but for now, I think I'm going to bask in the joy of finishing yet another fanfic. Now, I can tidy up some of my other fanfics, but more importantly, work on some of my original works. Maybe someday I'll get published.
Honestly, my one dream is to write, get published, and then ready fanfics written about my work. Wouldn't that be cool, to not only write fanfics about my own work, but also to talk to writers on and to encourage them. Well, maybe someday in the future.
Thanks for reading and keeping loyal, even during my extended absences. You guys have been great, and I enjoyed getting feedback from you! As such, I ask one more time (at least for this story!) that you read, enjoy, and please review!
Something niggled at the edge of her consciousness, and she slowly swam to awareness. A steady beeping, and the pneumatic pump-hiss of something medical. Though it felt like they were a thousand pounds, she torturously forced her eyes open. A hospital room. So, she wasn't dead. She wasn't sure if she should be relieved or saddened by that fact. Sleepily, she smacked her mouth, painfully aware of how it felt and tasted like cotton. What had happened? Where was everyone?
"Ah, excellent, you are being awake." A female's voice, one that she had been partly convinced she would never hear again. Slowly, painfully, she turned her head to her right, and there she sat, Tanja Artyomov, smiling like a Slavic angel. She grinned tremulously in response. "The doctors hadn't been entirely certain if you would be waking up anytime soon…you were almost lost on the first day. I am very happy to be seeing you okay!"
Storch winced in response. Even through the haze of what she was certain were painkillers enough to make an elephant numb, her hip, shoulder, and right torso ached dully. As she came more into full consciousness, she realized that she was almost completely immobilized. A full body cast. Reasonable, really, when one considered her wounds. To stabilize her hip and her shoulder…at least her head was free, so she could look around. She did so, this time looking to her left, trying to find the source of the pneumatic hissing. It took her a moment to realize what it was when she saw it.
A life support machine, hooked up to Tan. He looked diminished, somehow, almost buried in tubes and wires, eyes closed, a machine breathing for him. "Tan…" she breathed softly, her heart broken. She was glad that he was alive, to be sure, but what damage had he suffered that he had to be comatose and on life support? Suddenly exhausted, her head dropped back on to the pillow. "Tanja…" she muttered weakly, wishing that she could even so much as reach a hand out to her Slavic lover, but to no avail. Her cast imprisoned her. But despite her inability to move, Tanja evidently understood, as she stood from her chair, walked over, and lightly grasped the fingers protruding from the end of the cast's arms with her own warm ones.
"Shhhh, my love. It is okay, I understand, sleep now."
As she drifted back into oblivion, she realized that not only was that the first time she remembered Tanja using the word 'love' but she also realized that she really didn't mind the word, when it was coming from her.
Her hips, shoulder, and ribs hurt, and her breath came in short gasps as she walked on the treadmill, and with each step she grew more and more angry. It had been three weeks since her operation to reconstruct her hip and her shoulder. The doctor had been helpfully informative both before and after the surgery. One of the things brought to Pandora were nanobots to help with reconstructive surgery…simple things such as muscle regrowth, rebuilding broken bones, even healing organs. Rebuilding her shattered bones had been relatively easy for the little machines. They couldn't regrow limbs, but for most bullet wounds, the little robots could perform miracles. But they couldn't perform all miracles.
She grit her teeth as an angry tear coursed down her cheek. Her hands tightened into fists as her breath hitched, and she was dimly aware of her physical therapist asking her if she was okay. No! She wasn't okay! She was walking because some stupid little robots could rebuild her hip, but Tan was still lying in a bed on life support because they didn't have the fucking capabilities to regrow nerves!
She had stopped walking. "Ellen? We still have another twelve minutes in this session. Do you still want to continue?" Joe Kohn, her therapist. A nice guy, really. While everyone was considered a soldier, others were almost considered reservists, the ones to first switch to civilian careers once the fighting really slowed down. Nurses, doctors, farmers, machinists…specialties across the board to help humanity get a good foothold on Pandora. Kohn was a physical therapist, a profession desperately needed now, with all the wounded from the war. She was just one of many…she was impressed that he remembered her first name.
"No. I'm done for today." She stepped off of the treadmill, peeling the electrodes off of her chest and stomach. Minutes later, she was heading back to her room, cane thumping against the floor as she made her way. The doctors said that she had maybe two months before she would be able to walk unaided. It would be maybe six months before she could return to active duty, should she so choose. Wasn't up to her, she knew. That decision was to be made by…
Her. Crap. "Colonel Reed." There she stood, face somber, in full dress uniform. Wait, that wasn't an eagle on her shoulder boards, that was a star. "General Reed, ma'am, my apologies." This was a meeting that she knew was coming, but one that she was dreading. And she couldn't even be in uniform, but instead in the nondescript grey sweats that every patient was issued.
Reed shot her an arch look that lasted for a very uncomfortable moment before speaking. "Are you able to talk?"
She almost snorted at the question. "Ma'am, I believe that since it's you asking the question, the answer is pretty much automatically yes."
General Reed's face remained as severe as ever. "Follow me, then."
Heart nervously hammering, she followed after her commander, going as fast as she could, ignoring the pain in her healing wounds. This meeting was not likely to go well for her. She had disobeyed a direct order in those last few minutes, and had been insubordinate before the Samsons had even lifted off to go to battle. But when they got to a conference room, it wasn't military police waiting for her, but the remainder of her platoon and the leadership of every level above that were standing in small clumps, talking quietly. She faltered, confused. Was she going to be arrested in front of all of them?
Then Command Sergeant Major Rodriguez spotted the two of them, and popped to attention. "Detail, fall in!" he belted out, and there was a flurry of movement as the group formed ranks and columns. General Reed strode briskly to the head of the formation, and again Storch hesitated, not certain where she was supposed to go. Rodriguez and Reed exchanged salutes, and she replaced him.
"Lieutenant Storch, Lieutenant Colonel MacDougal, post."
Even more confused, she limped her way to General Reed, the back of her neck starting to grow red she began to blush. She was embarrassed by her wounds, by the fact that she was being called out like this, and by the fact that she had no idea what was going on. But she finally made it, and she fought the urge to blush even harder, painfully aware of the eyes behind her, watching her every move. Lieutenant Colonel MacDougal joined her, his face just as somber as his commander's was. "Ma'am," she murmured as she saluted.
General Reed returned her salute, and then gave a soft smirk. "About face."
Storch blinked, finally realizing what was going on. She wanted to protest, wanted to cry out that she wasn't worthy of this. If this much brass was in this room, then this had to be…
"Attention to orders!" Colonel MacDougal called out to the room, reading from a piece of paper. "The commanding officer of the EEF hereby awards Lieutenant Storch with the Starburst of Extreme Heroism for her valorous actions during the Battle of Hill Four Hundred Twenty-One and the Battle of Heaven's Pass. Lieutenant Storch's dedication, initiative, and fortitude resulted in the successful defense of Hill Four-twenty-one as well as the destruction of Major Randall's plans to capture the nuclear weapons on this base to use against unknown targets." He paused and General Reed stepped forward and pulled the medal out of its case, placing the lanyard over her head so that the medal rested upon her chest. Storch almost breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that it was over, but Colonel MacDougal continued.
"In addition, Brigadier General Reed, acting upon the recommendation of Storch's commanders, has placed special trust and confidence in the patriotism, integrity-" (was that a hint of amusement in his voice?) "-and abilities of First Lieutenant Storch. In view of these special qualities and her demonstrated potential to serve the higher grade, First Lieutenant Storch is promoted to the permanent grade of Captain, Earth Expeditionary Forces Army, effective immediately. By order of the Commanding General of the EEF, Brigadier General Sarah E. Reed." General Reed stepped in front of her and Storch saluted as snappily as she could. The salute was returned, and then Reed held out her hand, pressing her captain's bars into her hand as they shook.
Then it was one more round of salutes, and then General Reed ordering her to stand at ease before turning around. "At ease," General Reed ordered the rest of the room, and the soldiers in the room applauded, some of their faces proud, others kept carefully blank. "As I'm sure many of you know, during the war we lost many fine officers across every level imaginable. Even though the fighting has largely died down, we still need exceptional officers to not only replace those that were lost, but also to start progressing in their own careers. Captain Storch is just such an officer, and I can't think of anyone else more qualified to be promoted than she is. I look forward to seeing her further develop as an officer and as an individual in the Army. Captain?"
And then everyone was looking at her, and she blinked, speechless. She had not only been promoted, but she had been awarded the highest military decoration that could be earned! She felt confused and dizzy, but woodenly opened her mouth. "I, uh, I certainly wasn't expecting this to happen today, when I woke up. Thank you, ma'am, for the honor of…" she stopped, biting her lip, thinking of Tan, still lying on his bed, still diminished, but at least he was off of life support, and there was positive brain activity. He wasn't dead yet, but he wasn't here. "Thank you." And she stepped back, medal bouncing against her chest, heavy with metal and with the ghosts of those very few who had earned it before her. The rest was a blur, the room being called to attention and then being told to fall out. A few approached her, but she couldn't remember who, much less what they had said, just that her hand had been shaken a few times. And then the room was empty, save for one other officer, who looked far more approachable now than she had an hour ago. "Ma'am, I…I don't deserve this," she whispered, not even looking at General Reed.
"I know." The words were sympathetic, not harsh, and Storch looked up to see an understanding in Reed's eyes. "Well, you do deserve it, but it's good that you don't think so. I find that the twits who think that they deserve medals generally don't last very long. You, at least, are burdened properly with honor, valor, and the lives of your soldiers."
A tear rolled down her cheek as her throat tightened. "God, so many dead! And all my fault…I killed Captain Burns, First Sergeant Balow, and everyone else dead on that hill. How have I earned this medal, ma'am?!"
"Don't get angry with me, Captain. And you didn't kill them, the enemy did, by using highly specialized personnel who had been training for nearly ten years for that one mission. Yes, they tricked you, and that's too bad, but if it weren't for your actions, if it wasn't for your attempts to keep up the fighting spirit of the other defenders by any means necessary, that hill wouldn't have been a stronghold, it would have been a mass grave!" Reed snapped, voice flinty. "I'm ordering you to go to counseling, your doctors will see to your schedule."
"And you want me to be a Captain, ma'am?" she asked, voice carefully blank.
"Yes. And not just me. It's not my signature on the line, Storch, it's Treleaven's. I'm only responsible for the final authorization, the very final push. You were to be promoted and then moved to the XO of one of the British companies after you got back from the Hill. That had come from the recommendation of Captain Burns. You had done very well for yourself, and we had all wanted to see how you did in a different environment."
Storch nodded, sighing at the same time. If only things had ended differently. "And now?"
"You're going to be the Company Commander of Delta Company. We're pulling in Lieutenants from other commands to fill what positions we can, and some NCOs are going to be getting battle commissions. The next wave of soldiers qualified to refill Delta completely are three years and forty-seven days away, already in transit. You'll be pretty light for a while, Commander, I'd suggest collapsing a platoon and modifying your tactics to reflect that, but it's not my company. Oh, and speaking of that…" she said lightly, and then her face hardened into something that would scare a basilisk. "If you ever disobey an order I give without a damn good reason, I can assure you that history will not look on you very highly, Captain!" she hissed in a voice cold enough to freeze liquid nitrogen. "The only reason you have that around your neck and not a noose is because of how much respect General Treleaven and I have for you, and the fact that your actions saved us all."
Storch's blood ran cold. "You mean…"
"You haven't read your entire transcript for that medal, but it turned out that they had about thirty seconds before the missiles were ready to launch. We'll never be certain of the targets, but the keys were in the ignition, and they had the codes almost, almost decrypted and cleared. Had the team that we originally selected gone in, they would have taken at least thirty seconds prepping for the breach, checking for traps and such. Hell, I've talked to the officer leading the team. He told me that he would have definitely waited for too long, just trying to figure out if the open door was a trap or not, and if it was, how was the safest way to spring it. Your stupidity and desire for revenge saved us all, Captain. However, I consider that luck, and little else. Keep in mind, that I'm a product of my time, and we were taught about Auftragstaktic while I was in OCS, so I understand the value of purposefully vague orders, get the mission done rather than do the mission this way, and that sometimes a disobedient and intelligent subordinate is more valuable than an obedient and stupid one, but those occasions are rare, rare indeed. I expect great things from you, Captain Ellen Storch. But know that I will be watching you and your evaluation reports very closely for a long time. Am I understood?"
Storch cleared her throat to hide how shocked and quite honestly frightened she was. "Yes, ma'am. You're perfectly understood."
"Excellent. You're dismissed."
Shakily, she turned and made her way to the exit, her cane thumping against the floor as she moved. She opened the door, and blinked in surprise as Tanja smiled at her from the corridor. That's right, she had been planning on eating lunch with her. Well, now it was going to be a later lunch, but she knew that Tanja didn't mind, and would never mind. She held out her hand, and Storch grasped it with a shaky smile. Tanja didn't say anything, somehow aware that she didn't have to. No, they made their way in quiet, comfortable silence, hands joined.
"So you can imagine how good we felt," she told Tanja as they relaxed in the café attached to the hospital. The coffee was still synthetic, but better than nothing. It had been a week since her promotion, and this had seemed like the first chance for them to enjoy themselves. Physical therapy was still a pain, but it was slowly getting easier. She had some free time, and had invited Tanja to come and have a cup of coffee. And so, here they were, lounging, Tanja's eyes twinkling with merriment as she listened to Storch tell her stories about basic training. "I mean, we had cleaned everything! It was probably the best that the barracks had looked since it had been built way back when. The drill sergeant goes into the latrine, and we're all looking at each other, like, we've got this, there's no way we messed up." She paused grinning at the memory, though at the time it had been frankly horrifying. "So the drill sergeant goes into the latrine, and a couple of minutes later we hear this horrified and completely pissed 'Oh, HELL no!' Turns out that someone had dropped a load in the toilet and not flushed. My God, the smoking that followed was epic," she laughed along with Tanja, who was laughing so hard that she was almost crying. "Basic sucked, a lot of the time, but sometimes I almost miss it. How about you? What was your initial training like?"
Tanja made a flipping gesture with her hand before sipping at her tea. "Nothing like your training, I'm sure," she grinned. "A lot of class time, and much reading of the manuals. A lot of running and climbing hills, some time with engineering tools. We had our…how do you say…smoking, but I'm thinking not like you." She took another drink of her tea, and was about to go on when an orderly arrived.
"Uh, Captain Storch, ma'am? You had said that you wanted to be told when Sergeant Tan awoke, and-"
Whatever else he had planned to say went unheard. Storch was already up, hobbling away as fast as she could, cane aiding her journey. In minutes, she was standing in his doorway. There he was, lying there, still surrounded by tubes and machines, but his eyes were open, and he was speaking quietly to the doctor. When he saw her, he smiled softly. Suddenly nervous, she stepped into the room, aware the Tanja was behind her. "Hey, Sarn't. How you feeling?" she asked timidly, not sure how he would react. To her relief, his smile widened.
"Like I've been shot," he replied dryly. "So I've heard that you've been promoted, ma'am. Congratulations."
"Couldn't have done it without you, Tan, you know that. So, how long until you get back on your feet and continue being the kick ass platoon sergeant that you are?"
The smile fled from his face, and the doctor cleared his throat uncomfortably as he continued to check the machines about the room. "Ma'am, I'm not…I'm not coming back."
Time stopped, and the world around her grayed. Sergeant First Class Tan, not coming back to the military that was such a big part of his life? It was impossible! Wasn't it? "What do you mean, Sergeant?" she asked, voice trembling slightly. Let him crack a smile big enough to crease his eyes, let him cry out 'Boy, did I have you!' as the doctor joined in with the joke.
He took a deep breath, eyes fixed steadily on the foot of his bed, and she noticed just how tired he looked, how worn down. "I've suffered nerve damage. The bullet to my neck…it nicked my spine. I'm lucky to not be completely paralyzed, Buddha be thanked that I'm not! But I…I can't control my left arm and leg, not very well, at least. I might be able to walk, with assistance, but I'll never be able to perform at the levels that I would have to perform at to be in the Army again." He paused, jaw muscles working. "The doctors expect that there will be further complications. By all rights, I should have died, and I am eternally thankful for whatever time I have from here on out." Again he paused, and she could feel the ominous presence pushing down on her.
"But…?" she prompted, knowing that there was more that he wasn't telling her.
His eyes closed, tightly, as though he was in pain, and the doctor stepped forward, opening his mouth to say something. Before he could say a word, however, Tan raised his hand. "The nervous damage may or may not deteriorate with time. The doctors here…they were surprised I woke up, honestly. But I have no doubt that they were right when they said that I will never fully recover, and that it will be a miracle if I live long enough to see the arrival of the medical equipment that they would need to fix the damage done." His eyes opened, and they were dark, filled with a terrible burden that he had to bear alone. "I am slowly dying, ma'am, and there's no way to tell when I will die. It could be today, it could be years from now."
She blinked, confused. She had just been standing up, so why was she sitting on the floor, several hands supporting her? Everything seemed distant, as though she was watching herself experience them, and she woodenly shook her head, trying to make sense of things. Through the ringing that she slowly became aware of, she heard people calling her name, voices concerned. Slowly she collected herself, aware that she had blacked out, possibly even passed out. And who wouldn't, after hearing such terrible news? Sergeant Tan, who could out PT her any day of the week, the ogre Platoon Sergeant whose energy made him seem almost larger than life…he was now crippled. He couldn't use the left side of his body, and it was her fucking fault! She grit her teeth, and gathered up her cane from where it had fallen to the ground, undoubtedly dropped when she had collapsed. "I see," she heard herself say. "I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to come back. I just…I can't…"
And then she was in the hallway, limping heavily towards her quarters, Tanja close on her heels, a comforting presence. She didn't know how she managed it, but it wasn't until her room's door closed behind them with a click that she collapsed into Tanja's arms, sobbing uncontrollably as the full implications of Tan's condition hit her with merciless, unrelenting waves. Her best friend and truest battle buddy was dying, it was her fault, and there wasn't a damn thing she could do about it!
She didn't go to physical therapy the next day. She had barely even left the bed, even when it grew cold after Tanja had left, so very early in the morning after whispering that she needed to report to her unit, and that she would be back after the duty day was done. Of course she did. She still had her platoon, still had a platoon sergeant, still had a body that wasn't broken like hers was, and-!
She took a deep, steadying breath. What made this whole situation worse was that she knew precisely what was going on. She was suffering from PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Her experiences in battle were leading her to have feelings of helplessness, depression, anger, and uselessness. And despite the fact that she knew what was going on, knew that she needed help, help that she could easily get…she just didn't care. She knew that she wasn't acting like she should…heck, if this were a novel that she was reading, she'd say that she was being out of character. She'd also probably insist that she buck up, stop bitching, and move on with life, preferably with the aid of some heavy duty medications. Easy enough to say when you're reading the book, not living it. Living it meant remembering everything, seeing in her mind's eye the CP get blown up by the Na'vi, smelling the smoke, blood, and death that came with battle, hearing the howling hordes hurling themselves up that damned hill time and time again! She whimpered, curling deeper into the blankets of her bed, curling deeper into herself.
She lost track of time, losing herself to her memories. When her datapad chimed softly, she blinked, pulling herself out of her self-made pit of despair, and turned her head, noting dimly that her pillow was wet, though she didn't remember crying. A quick glance at the gently glowing screen told her that she had a new message. Curiosity piqued, she picked the tablet up and tapped the pulsing icon. The message that popped up wasn't what she was expecting, not at all.
Alright, Ell-tee, on your feet, and smarten up, do you hear me?! As your Platoon Sergeant, I've got a lot to tell you, and not much time before my nurse yells at me, so open up your ears!
She had smiled at that. Back in training while on Earth, that had been one of his favorite commands to troops that needed to get yelled at. She could both picture and hear him shouting that, accent more pronounced in his anger, one hand on his hip, the other held in a rigid knife-hand, pointing at the poor soldier who had incurred his wrath. She continued to read.
When we first met, you asked, no, ordered me to quietly urge you back onto the right path whenever you made a mistake. Well, I'm not nudging, I'm shoving. In all my years of military service, I've known many officers, and while you aren't the best I've met, you are most certainly one of the better ones. I am completely honest when I say that serving as your platoon sergeant was one of the greatest honors of my life. You have made mistakes, yes. We all have, for we are human, and it is our fate to err. But what differentiates the weak from the strong is the ability to move on! We get knocked down, we get beaten, our bodies fail us…but it takes true strength to get back up, to heal, to push our bodies to new heights.
Right now, ma'am, you need to be as strong as I know you are. Yes, our boys and girls died, and I am crippled for the rest of my life. I have already accepted to this, and when I pass on, I will meet my next life with a smile, knowing that I brought honor to my family and that I spent my life doing what was RIGHT. I have little regrets about how I spent my life. Our boys and girls…to paraphrase a great man, they sang their death songs and died like heroes going home…
Her breath caught in her throat.
All of them were scared, as all are when they go into battle, but they were brave, too, and fought to the best of their abilities, trusting in you not to preserve their lives, but to preserve the life of the unit. As the saying goes, soldiers come and go, but the Army is eternal. Their trust in you was well spent. You saved the unit, held the hill, and then cast down madness before the world succumbed to flames. However, their task is done, and they rest in eternal peace now, returned to the heavens of their faiths. Now the task falls on you, Captain Ellen Storch. The task falls on you to learn, to strengthen yourself, to go on, bearing the weight of their deaths and the lives of those still living. You must stand up, shake yourself off, and take that brave step forward, that step forward to a harder future. Do not do this just for you. Do this for those who died. Carry their names with pride, and do their deaths justice. Your life is no longer your own. They watch from hallowed halls, telling those who bask in eternal grace around them that you were their leader with pride in their voices. Find the strength to earn that pride…earn it, and never give that up!
I grow tired now, which is so strange for a man who has slept as long as I have! But the next time you darken my doorway, I expect to see a Captain worthy of your name and your position, not the broken girl that I saw yesterday. And that's an order!
With greatest respect and honor,
SFC Yong-sun Tan
She cried. She cried for her soldiers who had died. She cried for Yong-sun Tan. And she cried for herself. But these weren't the painful sobs that had dominated her the previous night. No, these were cleansing tears, soothing her hurt and allowing her to breathe, to think clearly. After enough time passed for her to compose herself, she picked up her room's phone. It only took a few seconds for someone to answer the other end. "This is Captain Storch…yes…yes, I would like to speak to my doctor tomorrow about those counseling sessions that General Reed recommended…yes…uh-huh…I'd also like to talk about medication to combat PTSD…yes, thank you, sir…no, I won't be needing else today, thank you…you too, sir, goodbye." She hung up the phone, stood up, and stretched her arms above her head. With a sigh, she allowed herself to fall forward, her hands slapping onto the cool linoleum, halting her drop, her body in a perfect front leaning rest position. Wordlessly, she began to push, ignoring the slight burning in her hip and her shoulder. The doctor had told her her limits…it was about time she met them!
The television was on and set to the base's news channel, and she had an ear turned towards it as she did the dishes. It had been eight months since she had received that email from Tan, and while there were still bad days and the medicine sometimes messed with her mind, she was doing much better. It still hurt, and badly, too, going to morning formation, and seeing how few of them that there were. First Sergeant Gonzalez, formerly Platoon Sergeant Gonzalez, was doing well in his new position, even as he was taking evening classes to learn the new position. She still didn't have an XO, and that would likely last until the next load of soldiers came in. Everyone was short on troops, it was just a fact of life now. She had done as Reed had suggested, all those months ago, and collapsed a platoon, and it had worked, even if her heart hurt every time that there was a formation. She still expected to see Private Sanchez's bright and eager face as he stood ready with the guidon, still expected to see Tan being an ogre, still expected so many things…but that was the past, and there was no returning to it. Now it was her in charge of the entire company, and a British lieutenant was in charge of her platoon. He was a good officer, and he had told her platoon to show him no mercy, something that SSG Service, now Platoon Sergeant and likely to be promoted once he went before the board, had sworn with a vicious grin that they would never do.
At least her living accommodations were better now. Where before she had practically been living in a cubby, now she had a small apartment, complete with bathroom, small kitchen, and living room. Rank hath its privileges, after all. It had definitely helped that there was no trace of the apartment's previous occupant when she moved in…the cleaners had been quite thorough. Just the knowledge that Captain Burns had lived here was bad enough, really. If she had seen his stuff, she probably would have started crying again. She had cried enough to last a lifetime, it seemed. Shutting the tap off after she rinsed the last dish, she dried her hands and walked to the living room, glancing at the two soldiers sitting at a desk, the screen behind them projecting the news that they were talking about.
"-and the peace talks have finally concluded with a treaty favoring both humanity and the Na'vi. General Reed has promised that she will back up the human side of the treaty so long as she remains in power. One of the aspects of the treaty that should go a long way to improving relations between our two races is the formation of a military task force that will enforce it. Williams?"
"Yes, it was actually originally suggested by General Reed. This task force will be made up of elements from both the EEF and the Na'vi Army. While it hasn't been confirmed-" and a picture of her appeared on the screen behind the two, "-it is believed that Delta Company of the Fourth Special Operations Group, now commanded by Captain Ellen Storch, will be taking the lead role in this cooperative effort."
"Captain Storch has already had an illustrious career on Pandora so far, and was the recent recipient of the Starburst of-"
She turned the television off. She didn't want to listen to a couple of talking heads blather on about her career, about her 'heroic deeds' during the war. She relived it too often as it was. Shaking her head, she pulled up some files sent to her by First Sergeant Gonzalez, some standard stuff about the running of the company, training schedules, soldiers in trouble, soldiers out of trouble, what have you. Might as well get some of this stuff out of the way before-
The door buzzed, more a formality than anything else, as the person had the doorcode. The doorbell was more of a 'hey, I'm here' than a 'hey, let me in' and Tanja knew it. The lock beeped, and then the door slid open, revealing Tanja with some bags in her arms, likely some groceries. Woman had been spending more time here than at her own place, Storch thought to herself fondly as she powered down her datapad. "What's for supper tonight, hun?" Using the term of endearment sent a thrill through her, just like it did every time. She had asked her to be her girlfriend the same night that Tan had sent his email that had gotten her on the road of recovery. Hell, Tanja was part of her recovery. She could finally lay the ghosts of her past to rest and move forward. She had been slightly afraid that Tanja, who was openly bisexual, would say no, that she was happy with the current 'friends with benefits' arrangement. But she had smiled that beautiful smile and said yes. Tanja had made these months bearable. Without her, she'd be nothing, and that scared her at the same time that it thrilled and invigorated her.
"Thai, tonight, and I was being careful in picking the peanut sauce that you are so liking, yes?"
Tanja's head snapped up from where she had been looking down, untying her boots. "What?" she asked, tone shocked, her eyes wide with surprise. No doubt her own face almost matched Tanja's…she hadn't expected to ask the question, either!
However…she was resolved to see this through. She hadn't expected to ask it, but that didn't mean that she didn't mean it! "Marry me," she repeated breathlessly. "Tanja, you…you're my best friend, my lover, my partner, my life. Without you I wouldn't be where I am today, and I can't bear the thought of not having you with me. So please, please marry me!"
Tanja stared at her for a moment, her face blank. And then she smiled, and it was like the world slowed to a halt. "Da!" she cried happily, and then rattled something off in lightning fast Russian, too fast for Storch to catch. "Da!" she cried again, and then leapt into her arms. Needless to say, their dinner went forgotten, growing cold as it sat on the living room floor…
The wedding had come four months later. Not the first wedding to be held on Pandora, but nonetheless, her name was attached to yet another notable statistic: theirs was the first same sex marriage on Pandora. It had been the happiest day in her life, a day that would hold that place until two years later when the housing districts had been set up well enough that families could start being made. It had been a relief to leave the confines of the base, which was now merely a military base, and not the last shelter for humanity on Pandora. They had gone to the right doctors, made the right phone calls, got the right donors, and had agreed that Tanja would bear the first child, and that she would bear the second. It would be the end note of Tanja's military career. She had served well, and proudly, and had started her own engineering and construction company in her spare time. Due to who Storch was, Tanja's company had first rights to any of the buildings that Yong-sun Tan, USASF (ret.) had designed before he passed away, peacefully, seven months after their wedding. Tanja and her company would certainly be busy for some time.
The pregnancy was another first for Pandora. Medical advances had finally gotten to the point that genetic modification of human offspring would be more suited to Pandora. Moon-born humans would be a quarter taller than those from Earth, would have the same carbon-shielded bones, and would be able to breathe unaided in the alien atmosphere. It had been a difficult choice for them, but they volunteered to be the first to have true human children of Pandora.
It was a complete success.
It was difficult, as the children had difficulty breathing in an Earther-friendly atmosphere, so either mother or child would have to have exopacks whilst in each other's presence, but they showed that it could be done, that humans would be able to live here, truly live here without relying on life support.
Storch dedicated her life to the military. Her deeds had earned her fame, and the souls that she carried on her shoulders tempered her, allowed her to grow into any position that she was given. She worked for years alongside the Na'vi, making sure that violators of the treaty, either human or Na'vi, would not go unpunished. Her no-nonsense nature and willingness to work with the Na'vi earned their respect. Due to her connection with Storch, Tanja's company was one of the sub-contractors that helped build two stereolithography plants for the Na'vi, a sign of humanity's trust in the Na'vi. They could manufacture their own weapons, and Storch was one of the most fervent of supporters of sending teachers to the Na'vi, to teach them modern tactics.
Jakesully and Ney'tiri would come to count Storch as one of their staunch allies, a pillar of support through thick and thin. Never their friend, but someone who would follow Treleaven's and Reed's legacy to the letter. She was there when human doctors repaired Jakesully's spine, allowing him to walk once more. She was there when human insurgents, unhappy with how the treaty regulated where they could live and what they could trade, tried to assassinate Ney'tiri. She helped the Na'vi hunt down the insurgents, using both the Na'vi elite warriors and Delta Company to great effect. She was selected to be the commanding officer and the human liaison for Hell's Gate when the old human fortress was selected to be the site of a new army, one made of both the new breed of humans and of Na'vi braves. She was there, backing up the Na'vi when Earther colonists tried to change the treaties to suit human interest. Her long and illustrious career and her political backing had helped prevent a new and terrible war between the humans and the Na'vi. Human political leaders would never forget her devotion not only to humanity but also to peace and prosperity for all on Pandora, and she would serve as a Chief of Staff for two Prime Ministers.
Four people made their way across a graveyard, one set with military precision. The small road behind them led to a gate that was flanked by plaques that explained that this was the final resting place of the first of the EEF, laid out in neat formation for all eternity, ready to meet their superiors and brothers and sisters in arms in the next life. Two of the four were in full dress uniform, a young man and an old woman who supported herself with a cane as she limped along, her dress uniform resplendent with ribbons and awards, including a ribbon around her neck that bore the Starburst of Extreme Heroism. Two stars decorated her shoulder boards, and her gray hair was kept neatly short. Her shoulders were thin, and bent with age, but she still marched with military precision her hazel eyes sharp and alert behind the clear lens of her exopack. The young man towered over her, shoulders broad, Captain's bars on his shoulders. He was her youngest son, and the only to follow his mothers' military tradition, something the both of them had been glad for. He, his brother, and his sister all walked without exopacks, breathing freely in the Pandoran air, all of them tall, all of them bearing their mothers' good looks. An officer in the Army, a professional firefighter, and a civilian pilot, all three of them bringing pride and honor to both their mothers. All three of them fine children who had grown into fine adults, and the two oldest were raising fine children of their own.
No, Major General Ellen Storch thought to herself, her children were some of the best who had been raised on Pandora. Maybe not the flashiest, but that was to be expected. She was glad that none of them would have to deal with the childhood that either she or Tanja had had to deal with. They grew up in a time of peace and prosperity. Once the FTL drives for starships were perfected, their grandchildren might even be able to vacation to Earth and to Mars. Rumor had it that Earth was even growing green again. Unobtanium had been used wisely and to great effect, and Earth's children had come in a great exodus across the stars to this moon. Laws had been put in place limiting the number of children per family, but Pandora was such a vast place, and the humans and Na'vi worked hand-in-hand, brothers and sisters of the same moon. And she had helped that come into being.
She came to a halt, looking at the sign set in the ground. 3RD PLT, D CO, 2ND BN, 4TH SOG. Many of the graves of this one platoon were already filled, just as those in her sister platoons were, as well. Just last year, she came out here for Service's funeral. A sad affair, the man had made a great NCO. Before long, she would be lying here, right next to…
"Hey, Platoon Sergeant," she breathed softly, voice cracked with age and years of barking out orders. She was aware of her children moving to a respectable distance, allowing her some privacy. "It's been a while since I last came, and I just wanted to let you know the current situation."
A gust of wind blew over the yard, and she grinned ruefully, sadly, to herself.
"Yeah, I know, Tanja isn't here with me for this visit. She's babysitting our grandkids right now, probably teaching the little hellions how to cuss in Russian or something, maybe tell them some fanciful stories about the good old days. I'm sure you've already met with them, but Service and a few others have joined up with the Platoon since the last time I had the chance to talk. Make sure none of them get too lippy in my absence." She paused, briefly, letting the urge to cry swell up and recede once more.
"Jake and Ney'tiri are getting along fine in their old age…I swear they'll outlive all of use, Eywa be willing as they would say. Harrison…old goat has lung cancer, again. He had been in remission for a while, as I'm sure you remember me telling you, but it cropped up again. I don't know if he'll shake it this time, he…he's getting old, Tan. We're all getting so old! Chacon is still her firey self, but the arthritis is really getting to her, I can tell. Her daughter helps as much as she can, but she's running her mom's air transportation company at the same time, and is so busy, if the last letter was right. Can you believe that Chacon already has great grandkids? If I last another seven or eight years, maybe I'll see the same thing, but I don't know…I'm retired from everything, but it gets a little harder to get out of bed each morning. I know that the same thing is happening to Tanja. We'll keep fighting, as that's our way, but I'm thinking that our time to regroup with all you old timers is fast approaching. I must say, I look forward to seeing you all again."
A drop of rain hit her hands where they rested atop her cane, and she looked up. Rain showers, moving in pretty fast. Not likely to be too bad of a storm, but still…good a time as any to go. "Right, Platoon Sergeant. I believe that that's all I have to report." She popped to attention, and saluted the same snappy salute that she had given him all those years ago, when they had first met. "Reapers never quit! Carry on!" She paused for a moment before dropping her arm and performing a neat about face. Her children were waiting for her, and her wife was waiting for their return. She glanced up once more, and spotting a Valkyrie flying in for the spaceport. Likely a new load of immigrants. Humanity had really turned into a never-ending rain from Earth, she mused. But where some rains were destructive, others were nurturing, allowing for new things to grow. She took a confident step. She had helped the never-ending rain be one of peace, growth, and prosperity. That, she knew, was something that one could be proud of.
It was time to go home…