October 08, 2010

Assignment to Earth Chapter Thirty-one

Glen followed Jenna down the corridor. He was at once relieved and filled with regret the time had come for him to return home. The last two days had been an experience he would never forget—although being shot at by seven-foot lizards with laser guns was probably something he’d want to forget, eventually. Jenna opened a door and led him into another of the dormitory-style sleeping rooms the Cavaliers used. Apparently, they didn’t mind the lack of privacy. His army days had not included privacy, but the barracks had also not included mixed genders. He shrugged, guessing it came down to whatever customs one was used to. The room was unoccupied with the exception of Skylar, sleeping on a middle bunk. Jenna silently crossed the room and lifted a pillow, hurling it at Skylar with extreme precision. It hit Skylar's back and bounced off. Immediately waking, he rolled over and grabbed, but the pillow already lay on the floor. Jenna giggled. "Wake up, sleepyhead. You've already missed breakfast. Are you going to skip lunch as well?" Skylar slid from the bunk and picked the pillow up from the floor, throwing it back at her. She caught it with the ease of one who's been in many pillow fights. Skylar stepped to the chair where he’d left his uniform tunic and quickly shrugged into it, then began pulling on his boots, wincing at the strain on his recently repaired arm as he did so. "How's your arm, can you fly?" Jenna wanted to know. "Fine." "Liar." She shook her head at him in mock despair. He grinned. "Stiff and sore, but it'll be fine and I’ve been cleared to fly.” “Good, because we’ve been ordered to take Glen home. You’d better grab a ration bar because Tyson wants us back before noon; the Charys is already behind schedule. I’ll go hurry the crews prepping our ships. See you in the hangar.” Jenna bounced out of the room. Skylar shook his head as he finished donning his boots. “Is she always this cheerful in the morning?” “She’s always been cheerful in the mornings, but I’ve never seen her this happy.” Glen replied, shaking his head. “Must be from being back where she belongs,” Skylar observed dryly as the men moved toward the door. Glen made use of some of his new-found knowledge and smugly slapped the button to open it. Skylar followed him out of the door with a low chuckle. “I see you’re taking all this pretty well.” Glen looked around. Jenna was nowhere in sight. Skylar started off down the hall, walking easily, but with a long stride which ate up the distance rapidly. Glen followed close behind. “It’s all amazing. A whole universe I never knew existed. I’ve always wondered if there were people out among the stars, and now I know there are.” They entered the hangar together, Skylar answering Glen’s questions. Not far from them, Jenna waited between two Wyverns. Glen ran his eyes over the ships, inspecting them from a pilot’s viewpoint. “Those two are bigger than the rest of them, aren’t they Skylar?” “Yes, they are,” Skylar’s grin was broad. “The two-man design is new and I can’t wait to try it out.” Jenna had climbed the stairs to her fighter as the men approached. "Ready to go home, Uncle Glen?" Glen’s breath came a little more quickly with excitement. "Not really, I'd love to stay longer, but I am definitely ready to fly in one of those." He pointed to the new Wyvern. Skylar laughed and clapped Glen on the shoulder, then climbed up the stairs to his own ship, motioning for Glen to follow him. The ground crew chief handed Skylar and Glen helmets, then leaned over the craft, helping Glen settle into the rear seat and fasten his straps. He snapped three different wire connections to Glen’s helmet. “And don’t touch any of the controls!” he admonished Glen with a severe look on his face. “Don’t worry about it,” Glen said, “I’ll behave myself.” The crewman turned to Skylar, snapping the wires to his helmet. “You behave yourself too, and bring my ship back in one piece.” Skylar grinned and saluted. “Yes, Sir! I plan on it.” The crewman grunted and pulled the canopy closed latching it down from the outside. Glen was seized by a momentary panic, wondering how they would open the thing when they wanted to get back out. He took a deep breath, forcefully telling himself there had to be way to open it from inside. He turned his attention to the cockpit, to see if he could figure out how any of it worked. The control stick that snaked from the floor between his knees gave him a comfortable sense of familiarity. He supposed there were only so many ways for human beings to comfortably control flying machines. The similarity amid so many foreign things warmed his heart and gave him hope for the future. Humankind would grow up and eventually take their place among the stars as a member of the Fellowship; but they could do so without losing what it meant to be human. “Skylar?” “Yes?” Skylar’s voice sounded in his ears. “I don’t suppose there’s any chance I could…fly it for a few minutes?” Skylar’s laughter sounded through his helmet. “It’s good for you I’m a Wyvern instructor. Let me get us launched, and I’ll give you the controls for a while.” Glen listened idly to the radio traffic between Skylar, Jenna, and a disembodied voice he supposed was coming from some controller someplace. Shortly, they had permission to launch. “Breathe in and hang on,” Skylar said, just before a giant’s hand took a firm grip on Glen’s ribcage and forced all the air from his lungs. "Launch is right! I feel like a missile," Glen said as soon as he got his breath back. Jenna’s laughter echoed in Glen’s ears. Skylar said softly, "Glen, look up." Glen looked up…and up, feeling as though he was falling into the depths of the stars spread before him. He breathed in sharply. "It’s beautiful. The stars go on forever. They look so peaceful!" They flew side by side for a short time, then Jenna backed off a bit as Skylar allowed Glen to take the controls. Closer to Earth, Skylar retrieved the controls and they soon landed near their camp. It was virtually undisturbed, although the tents had collapsed. No doubt the stakes and lines had loosened when the Klodfon base exploded. Skylar and Jenna helped Glen strike camp, placing his equipment into the jeep, while they secured their gear in the back seat of one of the Wyverns. When everything was ready, Jenna hugged Glen goodbye, clinging tightly for a long moment. “Thank you,” she whispered, “for everything you’ve done for me.” "Take care of yourself," Glen growled in a gruff voice. Jenna nodded. "You, too. I'll miss you both, terribly..." her voice choked off and she let go, turned and ran to her Wyvern, dashing the tears from her eyes as she inspected it for take-off. Skylar shook hands with Glen. "It has been a pleasure knowing you, Sir. Thank you for all you have done...for Jenna, for me, and for your planet." Glen cleared his throat. "It's been quite an adventure knowing you, Skylar. It’s one I’ll remember always. Thank you—and your people—for all they are doing for Earth; risking their lives to keep us safe. The same goes for you as for Jenna. If you're ever in the neighborhood, you're more than welcome in our home, and I mean that sincerely." "Thank you. If I get the chance, I'll do that." With a final smile at Glen, Skylar turned and walked to his own ship, gave it a quick inspection, and climbed in.