Retribution: Part Five
They broke free of the thin atmosphere and spun away from
the moon like stones from a slingshot. Heavy over their heads was Neopia, that
ball of blue and green that was once their home. Before them were the running
fighters, the one in the rear their target.
"You take left, I'll take right," Nina ordered.
"Let's take him down."
Dimly, Danner realized that his foe didn't stand
a chance. He was already running wounded, smoke trailed from one of the engines.
The speed was reduced and so it was a simple matter for the ships to catch up
to him. His comrades had already fled, leaving him vulnerable and ready for
the picking. Danner's finger closed around the trigger and his tail lashed in
"He's splitting!" Nina cried and fired a steady
stream of shots to turn his course back towards Danner.
The targeting crosshairs locked and flashed
red. Danner fired and held down the trigger, sending bolts lancing through the
void and into the hull of the ship. It tore it apart and scattered it to the
There was a vast hollowness within him as he
let go of the trigger, every muscle in his body slumping out of agitated tension.
Dully, he turned his ship around, leading the
way back to the surface of Kreludor. Things seemed hazy before him, the sharp
clarity of thought and action lost when the nine kill markings had disintegrated
into dust. He didn't feel as good as he thought he would. Just… wrong. As if
oil had been slicked into his fur and would never come out.
"Are you alright?"
"No," he replied, his voice flat, "I think I
made a mistake."
She tried to say something more but the gulf
between them stopped her words. He switched his comm. back on and heard the
tail-end of Nina reporting to their captain that they were headed back to base.
The rest of the Gallions would meet them there.
"Danner, can we talk about this?" she then asked
And the Kougra merely switched his comm. off
again, private line and all.
The captain yelled at them for a long time when
they landed. Danner soaked it in, barely hearing what the Kyrii was saying.
Nina kept her head low and watched her friend out of the corner of her eyes.
After they both dutifully repeated that yes, they would follow orders or face
the consequences, they were free to go. Danner walked away without another word
and Nina trailed along behind him.
"We did this together," she said desperately.
"Please, did I do something wrong? Are you mad at me?"
"No - just go," he finally retorted and hurt,
she stopped and stared at his back.
But she didn't try to follow him anymore.
"The way I see it," Allan conferred later that
evening as day sunk into night, "he's having trouble sorting out everything
The two were in Danner and Allan's shared room,
Nina sitting on the bottom bunk in rapt attention and the Zafara leaning on
the wall. Danner had been missing all day and Nina was about to gnaw her tail
off in worry.
"I mean, let's face it. Danner is quite proud
about his ability as a pilot."
"That's apparent," the Wocky commented wryly.
"So he gets shot down. That hurts a lot," Allan
continued. "Plus, he was talking in his sleep. Apparently they found him helpless."
"Sloth's minions. Nina, don't look so frightened!
I guess he got away somehow or else he wouldn't be here, now would he? But still
- that's an awful large dose of humility he got served there. Wrap up this entire
war, what happened to Rya, and the fact he got shot down and you have a big
honking mess for Danner to sort through."
"Then he destroys the person who shot him down."
"And what happens then? Absolutely nothing!"
he elaborated, "It's a big letdown. Danner thinks that this will end things,
make everything better. But in the end it's just another fighter and nothing
is resolved because things aren't so simple like that."
"What can I do?"
He shrugged and gestured at the door. Nina stood
and waited for his final response.
"Go to him. He's on a ledge near the base, watching
the stars. Been there for hours. I figured it best to let him have his time
to sort things out himself. He should be done now - and he'll be wanting to
see you I imagine."
"Thank you," Nina murmured, making her way out
into the hallway.
At the last moment she paused and turned.
"How do you know all this?"
He smiled gently, a wistful and sorrowful smile.
"I helped with the resistance on Virtupets,"
he said, "until a mercenary by the name of Ylana Skyfire found my group. I was
the only person who escaped. Sorrow teaches you well, Nina, it is the hardest
teacher of all. You will bear its lessons for your entire life."
"I'm sorry," she whispered.
"It'll be alright. This is what war is about
after all. At least you have Danner. Now go to him."
She nodded her thanks, words being unable to
even come close to expressing the gratitude she felt. Then with a turn she broke
into a sprint and the Zafara watched her go in silence.
Danner was throwing rocks. Every now and then
his paw would clasp on another smooth gray stone, raise it, poised silhouetted
against the darkened sky, then the muscles would flash under the striped fur
and it would hurtle out over the edge to rattle down the steep side and rest
somewhere in the darkness. For a while Nina watched him do this until his grasping
fingers realized that there were no more stones within easy reach. Only then
did she walk over, settling herself down cross-legged beside him and dropping
a stone by his leg.
There were no words, just a mute acceptance.
Danner took the stone and tossed it from hand to hand for a moment.
"I'm sorry," he finally said.
"So many apologies," she sighed, "Must we spend
our lives apologizing?"
"Sorry. I mean… sorry, no."
He fell silent and listened.
"What has happened these past few days is not
your fault. This is war, this is reality. Things change, things happen that
are far beyond our control."
"I thought I could end things," he whispered,
"Could make the hurt go away. But… I didn't accomplish anything."
There was silence and the rock fell into Danner's
lap, his hands lifeless above it.
"I feel cheap."
"You aren't. You are very brave."
"Am I? I still hurt."
She smiled gently and took the rock from his
lap, turning it over in her own paws, brushing furred fingers against the cold
"Danner, who do you fear losing more? Yourself
"You," he replied immediately. "For then I'd
be left behind to bear that sorrow."
"And yet, you let us go after that ship together,
regardless of the dangers," she persisted. "We both made a promise and although
you say otherwise, you were brave enough to allow both of us to keep it, despite
the possible cost."
He turned to face her, his face solemn. She
smiled, despite herself. The singed remains of his whiskers hadn't started to
grow back yet.
"Was that a victory?"
"I think," she replied delicately, "That was
the only victory this war can ever afford us."
They thought on that together, both of them
turning their eyes to the stars to search the constellations. Perhaps they held
"I don't hate anymore," Danner finally said,
"I did. But not anymore."
"I am glad."
"I don't think that really solves anything.
Retribution isn't worth it."
The words were coming very fast now and each
one was like a raindrop, lightening the clouds so they could soar at great altitudes
"We're going to see a lot of grief and suffering
as this war goes on. That's just how it is. I think, if I let that hate consume
me, I'd become nothing. Because hate can drive and fuel a person through this
but after the war ends - what then? I don't want to be like that Nina, I don't
want to burn so bright that after its over there's nothing left to be light."
He shook his head, marveling at the sheer simplicity
of her answer.
"I won't," he affirmed. "We'll keep our promises
and I won't let hate rule me anymore."
He stood and she stood as well. Side by side,
they stared off over the ledge and across the surface of Kreludor, watched by
the infinite stars overhead.
"I would count them someday," the Kougra said,
"and weave their numbers into a bouquet for you."
"So eloquent," Nina laughed. "Let's go inside,
He nodded and turned to go. The Wocky paused
a moment, considering the stone in her hand. So smooth, so perfect. With a burst
of movement she raised it up and threw, sending it soaring through the sky in
a gentle arc, brushing the belly of the heavens. She never heard the rattle
of its landing - in her mind it would remain forever suspended in the sky, frozen
in time. For she had already ran to catch up by Danner's side so that the two
of them could walk back to the base. Together.