Sunset falls to leave a dark night, and the lonely boy sits alone on the hilltop, wondering. It’s not something he normally does, wonder. But this night, he sits and he thinks, and he tries to see the flaw in the system. The break in the web that lets the raindrops through. And as he wonders, he remembers. He brings his mind back to those days, plays the events back on the screen of the darkened sky. And among the memories in the blackness, that lonely little boy puts the last of his hopes on a faraway star, and lets go.
Three Months Earlier
“Control to 815, control to 815. Have you lost control of your vehicle? Repeat, have you lost control of the vehicle?”
The screen flashed with another burst of static, and the room filled with screehcing feedback. Commander Kelp pounded the controls in exasperation, glaring up at the monitors, willing them to come back to life. The high-pitched weel died down, returning to the drone of a bad connection, and barely audible over it, a voice.
“815 to control, this is Major Vein!” came the urgent response. Kelp swallowed. That was the tone of someone who didn’t want his higher-ups to know he was panicking. “We have lost control of the vehicle, and are headed for the bottom. Estimated crash time, five minutes.”
Kelp swore under his breath, swiveling the chair around to the point that it almost spun out of control, and punching the intercom button that would connect him with the Captain. After a painful moment of tension, filled only by the buzz of Vein’s line, the familiar voice of Recon’s only female captain rang through.
“We’ve got nothing on our end, commander,” said Holly, her tone clipped and low. “How’s Vein?”
Trouble let out a frustrated breath. If Captain Short and her team had seen no sign of the shuttle yet, then they were in a bind indeed. For a moment, he regretted keeping this particular mission so quiet amongst the ranks. In hindsight, he would have loved to be able to call for backup. But anything that could be done would have to be accompanied with a long explanation, one that would take time that they were decidedly lacking.
“Stay calm and wait,” he replied, ignoring the captain’s question and choosing his words carefully. “If you don’t pick up anything in the next two minutes, contact control to receive further orders.”
Without waiting for a reply, the commander terminated the connection. He knew that Holly would give him a painful earful for that later, but he couldn’t deal with this right now. Worrying Holly would do nothing more than cause more unnecessary nerves, and maybe, knowing her as he did, more reckless actions. One officer down today was bad enough, and if it was necessary for anyone to die at all, he would have liked to keep the toll as low as he possibly could.
Trouble was drawn suddenly from his reverie by the static-broken voice of Major Vein once again crackling through the speakers. He turned back quickly, shifting his full attentions to the screen as the major continued speaking.
“Commander, was that the captain?”
Trouble shot a glance over his shoulder at the line he had disconnected, realizing that he must not have deactivated the interface with Vein completely before answering hers. The major had heard enough to recognize her voice, had he also heard the news?
“Yes,” Kelp answered, his voice guarded. There was no need to add even more to the major’s distress at a time like this. These could very well be his final moments, and although they would doubtlessly be a fiery hell of an end, he may as well hang onto his hope for as long as he could. A short bout of static preceded the major’s next words, as the connection cleared up for a brief moment.
“She hasn’t seen anything, has she?” It was less a question than a dejected statement. Trouble sighed. He knew, then, whether he’d heard or simply guessed.
“No,” Kelp confirmed. There was relative silence for a long moment, and the elf leaned forward, resting his head in his hands atop the control board. He had failed. He had failed not only two of his most valued employees, but the people as a whole.
And at that moment, as the commander gave up any last shred of hope he may have been clinging on to, every screen, speaker, and light in the control room winked out.
Shocked eyes met with darkness as they raised from the shelter of his palms, and Trouble Kelp was, for neither the first nor the last time that day, hopelessly confused. And then, from the silence and the blackness, the monitor mounted on the wall in front of him buzzed back to life, revealing someone whose face could not have been less welcome at the time.
“Gentlemen,” said the calm, cool voice of the People’s number one enemy, “It seems you are in need of assistance.”