Chapter 30: Once a Coward

The video feed of the Donovackia Launch Center Mission Control Room was still abuzz with activity three days after the successful launch of the mission to Earth. Colonel Agastya watched the large screen as he sat alone in the Executive Command Briefing Room. He had just finished running another briefing for the Donovackia Military Senior Officer. He was exhausted, but satisfied. The launch had gone off without a hitch, and as equally important, those responsible for the bus explosion that killed the backup crew had been captured. They were nothing but some fringe, radical, political group that wanted attention.

He tapped a few places on the table in front of him, and a screen hovered in the air. He began scrolling through his messages, working to sort the important from the less important. It always seemed a nearly impossible task, but a necessary one. The image of his secretary appeared in the corner of the screen, and he tapped it, and it grew in size to cover the entire screen.

“I’m sorry to interrupt you, sir,” began the man, “but the housing authority needs your authorization to provide an apartment for General Chaldea. He is back, but his wife won’t let him back in the house.”

The Colonel chuckled. If he didn’t authorize this, the General would be homeless. Of course, that wasn’t true. He would find someplace while his administrative review was held. This whole process was going to be so painful. The illusion that the General had created was believed by so many. His character, Captain Luciano’s character, and even Lieutenant Padda’s were being quietly attacked. This whole damn thing would probably turn into an intolerable circus.

“Authorize the housing request,” replied the Colonel as he closed the session, and the screen disappeared. He watched the large monitor on the wall of the briefing room again for a while. Tomar Donovackia had returned to the Mission Control Room. He didn’t provide any real value, but he was the Chairman, and this was his game.

The Colonel pulled out the picture of Aridatha Dolce. He must have looked at it a thousand times since Earmon made him take it. Her smile was still the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. He could almost feel her arms around him as he looked into her eyes. Earmon’s words keep playing over and over in his head.

“In this life, my friend, there are some regrets you may be forced to take to your grave. But others, we can choose to die with those or not.”

He pulled the screen back up from the table and did something that he vowed to himself that he would never do. It wasn’t that he couldn’t, but he always believed that he couldn’t handle knowing what happened to her. In his position, it would be so easy to find where she went, what she did, who her friends were, and so much more about her life. It was just too painful for him to know. He always hoped she had found love, but then again, he hoped that she was missing him as much as he missed her.

The picture that appeared on the screen was as attractive as ever. Age had touched her, just like it does to all of us, but for her, it made her even more beautiful. Agastya struggled to hold back the tears as they tried to push themselves from his eyes. Why had he left her? Why had he never tried to find her and tell her what a stupid fool he had been? He flipped through the pictures, landing on one of her sitting on a beach, looking out to sea. He read the words that had been superimposed towards the bottom of the photo and then touched a few places on the screen. A physical copy of the picture appeared on the table. He folded it, put it into his pocket, and headed to Boatman’s.

*****

Earmon was waiting at the bar as Colonel Agastya walked into Boatman’s Grub and Pub. The Colonel smiled to his friend, but the bartender didn’t smile back. Agastya walked up to the bar and sat down. Earmon simply looked at him with a nearly expressionless face.

“Good evening, Colonel,” began Earmon as he pulled a glass that was already filled from under the bar. “Your usual sir, a double Grenadines Special.” The Colonel looked at the glass. He wanted this to be a joke, but he knew the bartender too well. It wasn’t a joke. There was someone, or more likely, more than one person, in this bar that wanted to kill the Colonel. He took the drink and downed the entire thing in one gulp. It was sweet but had no sting to it at all.

Earmon pulled another already filled glass from under the counter and set it in front of the Colonel. “Rough day running the whole military?”

“Probably not as rough as my night might become,” replied Colonel Agastya, quietly.

“I think it will be an easier evening than you thought. It’s always good to have friends,” assured the bartender as Captain Luciano sat down next to the Colonel.

“Give me a double Grenadines Special,” Luciano stated, without missing a beat.

The Colonel and the bartender looked at the Captain with surprise on their faces, as Earmon placed a filled glass in front of Luciano. “I am the senior officer of the Donovackia Military’s Elite Forces. I am trained to know when things are not how they should be.” The Captain paused and looked at the Colonel. “For example, there are four men at the second booth from the far wall that shouldn’t be here.”

Earmon shook his head affirmatively and pulled a bottle from under the bar. “I think the two of you will probably finish this, and it looks like everything is under control.”

“How did you know to be here?” asked the Colonel.

“Earmon messaged me about twenty minutes ago,” began the Captain. “I have no idea how he got my contact details, but he did, and he told me that you would need me here this evening.”

As the Colonel affirmatively shook his head, the Captain laid what looked like a pen on the bar. The Colonel picked it up and studied it. It wasn’t a pen. It was smooth and blunt on both ends. There were no markings, and nothing happened to it as the Colonel tapped it on the bar.

The Captain took it back and began to twirl it through his fingers. “It’s my new toy. Looks like I will get to show it off later tonight.” The two men continued to drink the sweet juice, pretending to become intoxicated. They laughed and joked while the four men at the booth occasionally stole glances in their direction. After a couple of hours, the officers’ plan was set into motion.

Colonel Agastya stood up from the bar stool and slapped the Captain on the back. He took a few steps, then staggered back, and said his goodbyes. Appearing to be unsteady on his feet, he headed for the door. Once he was outside, the four men in the booth stood up and followed. Captain Luciano followed silently, a few steps behind them.

Outside, Colonel Agastya leaned his hand on the wall of the building and began to cuss in a slurred voice. “Crap, I shoulda hit the damn head before I walked out. Oh well, fuck it, the alley works too,” He pushed himself up and headed into the darkened alley.

The four men spread out as they entered the alley, knowing their prey was compromised and alone. The man who appeared to be the leader stepped ahead of the other men and called into the dark. “You traitorous son of a bitch! Now you get what’s coming to you!”

“Four against one doesn’t seem fair,” came a voice from behind the men. Captain Luciano stood at the opening of the alley, still twirling the pen-like object in his fingers.

“Get out of here, dumbshit, and live to see another day,” called the leader.

Luciano stood there, continuing to twirl the object through his fingers. The largest of the men stepped back toward Luciano and began to take a swing. As the man’s arm moved through the air, the object in Luciano’s hand suddenly swelled and expanded into a six-foot-long staff, glowing blue at each end. Before the man’s fist landed, the staff spun through the air, redirecting the blow harmlessly past Luciano’s face. With the brute off balance, Luciano stepped back, dropped low, and struck the staff across the man’s midsection. As the man began to double over in pain, Luciano came upright, bringing the other end of the staff hard across the man’s head. Without a word or utterance, the man flailed out and collapsed on the ground.

The next two men were already moving towards Luciano, who reacted quickly, with fluid, graceful movements. Within a few seconds, both men lay sprawled on the ground unconscious. The leader took a step in the direction of Luciano, drawing a laser gun. Luciano spun the staff to a vertical position holding it in front of him. The two blasts from the weapon were absorbed by an energy shield that emanated from the blue tips of the staff, protecting the Captain.

“Boo,” asserted Colonel Agastya, who had quietly slipped a few inches from the leader’s back. As the man spun, Agastya leveraged the man’s weight, twisting and breaking his gun arm. The man crumbled to the ground in pain.

Agastya picked up the laser gun and shoved it in the man’s face. “Time to start talking.”

Over the next few minutes, the man explained that he and his fellow attackers were infantry soldiers and that General Chaldea had convinced them that Colonel Agastya was the lead traitor in a conspiracy bent on destroying the Donovackia military, the Corporation, and even the Ministry itself. The men’s task was to kill Agastya and then kill his traitorous accomplice—Ionia Villegas.

“What now?” asked Captain Luciano.

“I need you to get these men into military detention immediately,” replied the Colonel.

“What are you going to do?”

“I’ll have Military Justice meet me at the General’s apartment,” Colonel Agastya replied, “and by the way, I like your new toy.”

*****

The Colonel waved his hand over the lock to the General’s door, and the door swung open. General Chaldea rose from the couch in the middle of the room where he was sitting, dropping the bottle that was in his hands. “What in the hell do you think you are doing, Colonel?”

“It’s over. For you, it’s all over now,” Colonel Agastya stated.

The General, stepping towards the Colonel, began to take a swing at his face. Without hesitation, Agastya blocked the punch and drove his knee hard into the General’s groin. “That was for your wife, Camdrin,” remarked the Colonel, “and this is for your kids.” The uppercut came solidly through the General’s bent-forward face, sending him backward, crashing over the couch.

Colonel Agastya heard him fumbling around behind the couch. The telltale buzz of an energy blaster being powered on from behind the piece of furniture caused Colonel Agastya to dive to the side as two Military Justice Enforcement Officers decked out in battle armor stepped into the apartment, drawing their sidearms.

Agastya heard the energy blaster fire as he hit the ground and waited for a blow that he was afraid would hit him or near him.

“Sir,” called out one of the Justice Enforcement Officers.

Agastya rolled over and stood up. The blood spatter on the far wall told the Colonel that it truly was over for the General. Walking over, he looked on the floor behind the couch. The General’s body lay sprawled out. The back half of his head was missing, and the energy blaster that the General had stuck in his own mouth was still in the General’s hand.

*****

A few days later, Earmon Terman set three empty glasses on the bar counter. It was early afternoon, and there were no customers in Boatman’s Pub and Grub. He headed back into the kitchen to help with getting ready for the evening crowd, knowing he would come back shortly for a toast.

When he returned, Colonel Agastya and Captain Luciano were just pulling up their stools in front of the three glasses. He walked over, selected the appropriate bottle, and poured. “Here’s to the Grenadines Special,” announced Earmon, as the three men lifted their glasses and sipped some of the golden-yellow liquid.

“Alright,” Captain Luciano added, as he looked at the liquid in the glass, “I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to enjoy this as much as you, but I am beginning to appreciate it.”

“Some say it’s an acquired taste,” began the bartender. “I think it has something to do with the whole experience of it.” Earmon finished his drink and headed to help the other customers that were beginning to come into the bar.

“How’s Camdrin and her boys?” asked Agastya.

“They seem to be doing okay. None of this is easy, but I think they will be good in the future. Right now, my wife is at their house, helping them pack. They are all three heading to the other side of Koranth to try to find the boys’ sister,” explained Captain Luciano. They both agreed that it was good for all three of them to go find the daughter and hoped that they could find closure and peace together.

“Have you made a decision yet, Agastya?” asked the Captain. “Will you accept the promotion to General?”

Colonel Agastya slowly pulled a folded picture out his pocket and laid it on the bar. Captain Luciano looked at the photo and immediately knew that the woman sitting on the beach was Aridatha Dolce, the Colonel’s lost love. He knew that he owed much to her. Without the Colonel’s regret of letting her go, Agastya would have never stopped him from making the same mistake. He read the words on the photo and looked at this friend, not knowing what to say.

They looked up as Earmon began refilling the three glasses on the bar. He raised his glass, and the two officers did the same. As Earmon looked down at the picture, he began his toast, “In this life, my friends, there are some regrets you may be forced to take to your grave. Here’s to those that we choose not to.”

After finishing their drinks, they said their goodbyes. As he walked towards the door, Jecamiah Agastya, looked at the picture and read the words at the bottom one more time, before folding it and placing it back in his pocket.

Even today, my gaze falls over the waves
For far away what my heart so deeply craves
On a distant shore, I can only hope to pray
That my true love will come and finally stay

• • •

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