My flight jacket was wrinkled from a two day long shift at the helm. I stumbled into my cabin, smacking the light pad with my elbow as I passed by. A soft glow emanated from the walls to slowly illuminate my small, barely furnished cabin. Even a captain could expect few luxuries on a ship designed for intergalactic travel. Space was a premium.
I was going to hang my jacket over my desk chair, but I let it drop to the floor. A couple of my green scales fluttered down with it. Laundry needed to happen soon. The box was still waiting for me, framed between two holo photos, my only personal items. Although I hadn’t needed to do work at my desk in weeks, I would need to move the box eventually. It was only practical to open it. Sleep would have to wait a little longer.
The box was stamped with the seal of the Kudzu colony. I had not heard word from my home planet in years. Yet this package had been waiting for me when we stopped at the last Solar Navy outpost before we reached the galactic rim. I had avoided the box for weeks, but now there were no more excuses.
After taking a deep breath, I typed out my personal mail code and the box opened. A holo record was the top item. The moment my fingers grazed the screen, a message started to play.
“Hi Izzy, or should I say Captain Martinez now? News reached Kudzu about your involvement in the fighting. You’re a war hero now! We’re all proud of you, showing those Central brats what a colony kid can do. Even your dad was pleased to hear how well you’re doing.’
“Um… I guess you’ve heard that he passed away three months ago. His last thoughts were of you. He was too proud to send something himself, but he did send a final message. He says, ‘She don’t need me to be proud of her. Gotta be proud of yourself.’ Whatever that means. You know he loved you, right?’
“Anyway, I’m proud of you. And I heard about Jonathan… You finally found him? That must’ve been… I’m returning the knife to you. I known you didn’t think you deserved it then, but you do now. With all my love, Maxine of Kudzu Colony.”
I sat down heavily in the chair. There was a smaller box that had been hidden by the holo record. Before I opened it, I knew what was inside. I pulled out a small knife with a wooden handle. It had been a piece of cutlery, but on remote worlds where metal was scarce and guns were restricted, knifes like this one were used for self-defense. I remembered when Maxine had given it me years ago.
An old piece of paper was nestled at the bottom of the box. Paper was either used as a luxury item or on colony worlds where few people could afford holo records. I recognized the cramped hand writing, it was mine.
Dear Isabella Martinez,
Johnny got taken. We were playing in the gorge. He was teaching me how to catch hoppers.
I heard the ringing first. It wasn’t in my ears. I hurt my head.
“Izzy?” He looked at me and shivered. I grabbed for his hand. His fingers, still sticky from his jelly sandwich, touched mine. And then a hook tore through his arm.
His eyes grew huge. I screamed, but couldn’t hear it. He cried, whimpered, like the puppy that got stuck in the dragon trap. Uncle Nazir put it down. But I didn’t have a bullet for Johnny.
He pointed at my belt, at Maxine’s knife. My fingers shook. I couldn’t grab the handle. I wanted to hide under my bed until the monsters went away.
“Izzy,” he cried. Then he shot up into the air. Blood trailed below him. The ship appeared for only a second as Johnny was dragged in. Then Johnny and the ship was gone.
Maxine found me. I hadn’t moved. I didn’t think I had that much water in my eyes, but I would never cry again.
Johnny’s dad wouldn’t stop screaming. His wife got taken last year. He shook me. Asked why they took him, not me. My mommy slapped him. They hugged and cried.
I gave Maxine back the knife. I didn’t save Johnny. She said it wasn’t my fault. She was wrong.
The navy won’t take me yet, but I be big enough soon. I’ll never cry again. No slaver take Johnny from me.
Please, be stronger than me.
The note fluttered out of my hand to the floor. I had forgotten about the letter, but I never forgot its meaning or wish. My hands were shaking. I was amazed at how clean they were. People always commented about never being able to wash the blood away, but I never could see it. There were planets of blood on my hand, but it always washed off. Even Johnny’s.
My father had said that what mattered was if I was proud of myself. Honestly, I didn’t know. Without understanding, I began typing a message on my holo computer.
Johnathan was taken by the Sapien Slavers sixteen years ago. Four years later I was accepted by the Solar Navy academy.
I got beaten to a pulp more times than I remember. Other cadets despised outer colony kids. My nose is still crooked and I’ve got a scar the size of a dollar coin below my eye. That was from a laser burn. But I made it. First colonist from Kudzu to graduate from any official school. Top in my class in piloting and hand to hand combat. My false eye kept me from snatching top in sharpshooting too. I was honored with my choice of first assignment. I chose a posting at the ass end of the galaxy to fight slavers.
For doing my duty, I earned several medals. I killed many slavers and I don’t know if their deaths or that fact that I enjoyed slaughtering them haunted me more. No matter what I did, it was not enough. I was always looking for John. My friend Xara proposed to me, but I refused. I was so obsessed with avenging John. She didn’t deserve that.
A war broke out between factions of the government. Colonies like Kudzu tried to remain neutral, but you can’t be in war. I was sent to the front.
I became a war hero. Got shot down over Xeda colony and was forced to take out a mercenary group attacking a small town. Most of them I sniped from a tree. Two I killed with the spear. The last snuck up on me. I snapped his neck as he blasted my leg off. Don’t know how any of that made me a war hero.
When the hospital discharged me, I returned to the slaver runs. Another four years passed by. I never went home. The navy gave me my own ship and command.
I found John. His eyes were dead before I pulled the trigger.
Xara proposed again. I said I needed time to think. Why’d I say that? Should’ve said yes. But I don’t want to hurt her. Not good enough.
I don’t know if you’d be proud of me. Of what I’ve become. Not so proud of myself. But I’ve come a long way from Izzy in the gorge who couldn’t stop crying. Lizzy dear, I’m not going to lie. It’s been a hard road. I don’t have it all figured out. But you’ll be alright.
Have faith in yourself,
Captain Isabella Martinez
I looked up to see Xara Nile standing in the doorway. Her cat eyes took in the opened box, but she made no comment.
“Yes Engineer Nile? Anything I can do for you?”
She picked my jacket off the floor and laid it out carefully on the bed. “I noticed you hadn’t eaten lately, so I came to escort you to the mess hall.”
My stomach growled. “Yes, food would be a good idea!” I had been too tired to consider food earlier.
Her lips curled, showing off a fang. “And you should get some rest after that, Captain.”
“Yes ma’am…” I muttered. My fingers rested on the keypad. Then I deleted the letter. “Let’s go.”