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Long Shadows

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Liberty; Naptrina Countryside  – Planet Thera

     Elongated shadows stretch up the wall and onto the ceiling of a small and dark room. A single light emits from a socket near the floor, a light so dim it takes my eyes a minute to adjust before I place my hat on the floor and easily sit in the chair.

     It was difficult to be here, difficult to be composed at a moment like this. I thought of what I would say, feeling as though I would only be welcomed for so long, but knowing well that I was welcomed as long as was absolutely necessary. ‘Come back when you’re ready’ the Captain said before I disembarked. I wouldn’t ask him to do it, but I know the Captain would delay our departure for longer if I returned later than I had requested.

     Gently…quietly…I rock in the chair and lean forward to put my hands to my face for a moment. A slow and quiet breath before I listen to the quiet room around me. What do I say? The hallway light slips through the cracked open door, slivers of yellow-orange along the floor and around its frame. I begin with the words I had rehearsed, not able to find a more suitable place to begin. I can’t bring myself to look anywhere else but the light slipping along the floor. Those first words bring my voice to a weaker version of itself, holding back a raw memory.

     “I swear” I begin with cracking voice, already my throat hot and feeling as though tightened by a rope. Fingers to my forehead, not able to bring myself to look away as my eyes redden and burn, “We were right there…”

—————————–
Enemy Ambush; Wullture Quadrant – Near Galaxy 6c76

     “ALL TO PORT!” the Commander yells as the only remaining engine strains and struggles to pull our ship away. Men clamor, the boys below doing the best they can to hold on as the ship vibrates and creaks under the pressure and weight of nearly being rolled over. The Captain holds onto the wheel with the helmsman as they force their weight onto the handles in an attempt to keep us upright.

     Gunshots blast as they are exchanged between our ship and theirs, the enemy having spired into us as she rammed into us from below. Torn and broken pieces of her had been protruding from her hull when she rammed into us, but now we were stuck together – a massive piece of her having thrust through our ship and failing to let go. Our guns were not in an angle effectively to shoot at her, though she was in the same situation. The enemy, however, was at an extreme angle and unable to right herself.

     The men aim their rifles and repeaters over the side, shooting as best they could as the enemy attempted to do the same. Blasts of gunfire ping off the hull and tear into our remaining sails and rigging. Our ship shutters and we hold on as the enemy repeats its fruitless attempts of pushing or pulling away.

     “What now, Mr. Wade!?” the Gun Master shouts as I hold onto a pillar in the gun deck. I look to the men who are doing their best to hold onto their guns, hold onto their gear, hold onto something. I look around quickly, straining as my muscles begin to atrophy.

     “Let them run out!” I shout, some of the men taking notice. The Gun Master looks around, only some of the ports were open, but none of the guns were run out before the enemy randomly snuck up from under us.

     “READY BOYS!” he shouts to the gun crews, men scrambling to get away from the walls and the path of the massive guns. The gravity of our listing ship would force the guns into place, but the gun ports would be too heavy to haul open at this angle. “And the ports, Sir!?”

     “Break them open! To hell with them!”

     “Mr. Wade!” the radio sounds with Ensign Maury’s voice. The men are in position, holding onto one another and prepared to set the guns free. We’re already charged – ready to fight.

     “Maury,” I say across the open communications. “Get the Marines back from the rail! We’re running out!” A quick ‘Aye’ in response and shouts above deck. Our boys stop shooting and haul themselves to the masts or anywhere else while the enemy keeps firing to the railing.

     “NOW!” I shout as the men kick the release and allow gravity to take hold of tons of armory, sending the massive beasts beating and blowing through the now irreparable port covers. The ship vibrates and shifts as the weight adds to the strain against the engine. The ship shudders, vibrations increasing as the enemy uses her weight to force us upwards, trying to roll us over.

     “Six guns, Sir!” the Gunners Mate shouts. Damn. At least sixteen guns made it through.

     “When we free from her, we will roll to starboard and get off a line of shots!” I shout along the deck. “Be ready!” The men shout and grunt, sounds of hope from a desperate situation. “Commander!” I shout into the open net. Nothing. “Maury” I say deliberately. Nothing. Something’s going on, so haul myself up tilting stairs and on deck.

     Up top, the Captain and others are straining at the wheel. The vibrations increase as the sound of steel and hull twist, creak, bend, and pop. The Signaleer is calling ‘Mayday’. The Commander is telling me to get away from the edge. Maury is holding onto the mast as he pulls out his pistol – an unsure and confused gesture, but at least he’s ready to fight. A blast is heard from the enemy ship as chains and rope fly up and out, through our rigging and over the ship.

    “DOWN!” I shout while others do the same, “DOWN, DAMNIT, DOWN!” The rope and chain retracts as lines, rigging, sail, and men are caught in its path. The enemy ship hauls in the lines as most of the lines tear away and take souvenirs of our ship with them. Screams from men are heard as crumpled and broken bodies slide along the deck and roll into the busted railing.

     “Cut them away, boys!” the First Mate shouts across the deck, the men chopping and shooting at the lines. A shrill scream comes from the railing, pieces of the ship bunched up in a mess of coils between myself and the sound. I run to the heap of pieces to find Maury half-crushed, bleeding from face and neck.

     “Hold on!” I say, pulling at the pieces that won’t budge. Other lines and chain are cut away. The ship begins to thrust, causing me to lose my balance and slam into the pile trapping Maury. He screams, with no help from myself, as I can feel the ship beginning to pull away from the enemy though we are still attached. Maury takes out a knife and begins to cut at the rope holding him and the debris down. “No Maury!” I shout, our hands fighting one another as he cuts with one and fends me off with the other. “NO!” The men watch as we struggle, Maury cutting at the only remaining line attaching us to the enemy. They’re unsure what to do, but they know any decision is bad. The ship lists harder toward the enemy – we were separating, but she was hauling us down sideways.

     “Get away, Clayton!” the Commander shouts while pulling on my shoulders. I fight to hang on, Maury’s bloody face in angst as he continues to cut and hack. Tears in his eyes, mixing with the blood and sweat, the pain of being crushed now stinging through his body. He lets out a few yelps from the pain of crushed bones and torn muscle in his final attempts. The line snaps, whipping across the deck and hitting a few of us while the heap of broken pieces carry the railing, steel, rigging, and Maury over the side. Our ears ring while our bodies are hammered by the concussions of our guns ripping out over the side. The ship rights as fiery pieces of the enemy blast up, out, and into our ship. Shouts of ‘Hazaa!’ are heard from the men below while those on deck just hold on, looking at the hole where the pile of debris was just before.

———————-

     “Maybe,” I say quietly into the night. “Maybe if I would have just cut it earlier. Then I wouldn’t have to be here.” It’s too much. I’d told the story as best I could, but the words just didn’t seem to do any justice. Quiet tears. The struggle to regain short breaths as my face tightens and struggles. I do my best to recover – a deep breath and let it out slowly as I wipe my face.

     I look up, the sliver of light from the door now a silhouette – covering her nose and mouth with one hand as she leans against the doorframe, listening while the emotion flows from me to her. Slowly I recover, the only sound catching my attention being a tiny breath, a quick and silent sigh from a deep sleep. Tiny breaths from her tiny body, rapid heartbeats as she lay in the crib sound asleep, tightly bound up in a blanket.

     The light casts long shadows of her crib up the wall and across the ceiling, the nightlight being just enough to see her tiny nose and cheeks.

     “I’m sorry, Celia” I tell her in a hushed voice as she stands in the doorway, my hands together and looking at her shadow across the floor. “I tried” I say with cracked voice. “We all tried”

     I look to his baby girl, sound asleep, her daddy now gone. “I’m so sorry.”

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