~Songs of Sirens~
We survive what we can't change
So let it fade
Just let it go
We pretend so nothing does change
We're flowers never breaking through the stone
…continued from Snowblind: Chapter 44; one hour after Dill deployment; ten weeks after Jacinto Evac, 14 E.D.
Looking out an open window from the Vectus Naval Base Headquarters, Colonel Hoffman placed his hand on his desk, brushing off a thick layer of dust, while getting a glimpse of his newly renovated office; renovated, as in nothing more than slapping some fresh paint over the mildew infested walls that were once eggshell white.
So this is paradise
…Hoffman wondered, feeling the sea breeze blow into the room, gently stirring the tattered, tan colored blinds that were at one time white. Taking a moment, Hoffman inhaled the salty air, in contrast to the odor of latex, reeking from the fresh layer of paint that was still drying on the sheetrock. In the moment of soaking up the fresh breeze, he looked over to a tattered box, sitting next to a makeshift, desktop computer and an old, tube monitor.
The box was his, filled with personal belongings he was able to salvage before Jacinto‘s fall, and then relocated with him to Vectus. It was all that was left of his personal belongings that he had to his name, and it wasn’t much. Glaring at the frail cardboard, he was quick to notice that the box had seen better days, after years of being exposed to the elements. Mold collected on the bottom while the edges warped from water exposure, causing the joints to deform. It was a tattered, frail box, but it was his box, the only physical evidence of his existence in this world.
Reaching into it, he pulled out an old wedding photo, something he kept on his persons for years, a picture of him and Margaret. Lifting it up into the light and glaring at the picture, despite the ragged edges of wear, Hoffman frowned. It was such a contrast to everything that was left now. The two looked so happy in love, with Victor in uniform and Margaret in her white wedding dress, wearing her mothers’ pearl necklace. It was one of his semi-happier moments that lasted a little while, like everything else that he could sum up as a “happy moment.”
Placing the old photo back, he looked further, pulling up a small, old photo album, brushing the dusty debris that was collected over it. He could smell the stale stench of time, the kind of scent you would register at an antique shop from years of accumulating the musty oils of being handled by human hands. Noticing the velvet cloth beginning to tether from decay, he was handling it with care, trying not to accelerate the aging process…Son of a b*tch, is this a precursor of things to come? Am I too going to wither away like an obsolete antiquity?
Despite the festering reality of age creeping up on him, after shoving years upon years of repressed emotions to the side, he started to look in it anyway…hell, what else to have to lose now?
Carefully peeling the pages apart from sitting under lord knows, how many years of sitting in this very box in a dreary, humid room, the Colonel tilted his head, squinting slightly to look past the discolored film that covered the photos…well, I be damned.
It was a photo of him at his coronation, accepting his promotion to Major. Looking at it, he could see a picture of himself, sixteen years younger, shaking hands with then, Chairman Dalyell, before things went sour after the events at Aspho Point.
Turning the page, he noticed a few wedding invitations, stuffed between the pages that were discolored and frayed now. Carefully pulling them out, he noticed old graduation announcements and other commencement ceremonies, mixed in with crumpled tissue paper and a few old business cards. Looking further, he pulled out several cut-out newspaper articles from the Jacinto Times…one being an sports article concerning his nephew, on Margaret’s side, and the other a baby announcement for the Santiago’s and their newborn girl, Sylvia. Setting the cut-outs back into the book, he noticed a folded graduation commencement from Professor Fenix for his son Marcus, an obituary for Captain Harrie, and then reached in to pull out an anniversary card, sent by Major Jonathan McNight, congratulating Victor and Margaret for their fifteenth wedding anniversary.
Feeling the weight of failure as a husband, or even a man, entertaining the illusion of things that could have been done differently, never hit him as hard before, but the sudden reminiscing of memories from photos of those long gone, curled into his conscience and festered, pulling at his sanity like a anvil weighing him down from under the water. His eyes glistened as a tear found refuge in the corner of his eye. He never found the time to mourn for Margaret, nor Major McNight, or Bai Tak for that matter. It was always the line of duty that came first, the constant race of trying to stay ahead, or humanity would have fallen into the cracks of this war, for good. Failure was not an option.
He couldn’t quite figure how he should feel about all of it, glancing back at his memories, the only thing he had, to keep things in a sane perspective, finding something to beguile him from the anguish he would probably be reveling himself in, otherwise. His own moral convention teetered between what was right and what was practical, keeping everything on a need to know basis, while focusing on the larger picture; basing his decisions on what was best for humanity, even at the sacrifice of few. He was starting to hate it. He was damned that he was ever going to stoop back down to the likes of some treaty signing, pencil pushing politician, drawing the line before compromising his ethics. Yea, I’m going to be human again, and I’m going to finally f*cking mourn.
…and so he did…carefully sitting in the wooden chair nearby, creaking under the weight of his armor, his ammo packs, his side arm, his dignity, his poise, his principles, and wept. Bringing his hand to his tired face, shielding his watering eyes from the waking world as tears flowed profusely, he lowered his head onto his new desk, with both hands cradling his weary head, letting the chips fall from where they stood, slumping off his shoulder one by one, as the weight of years of just sucking it up was now loosed.
The things than would run fervently through his head was no longer there. The skeletons he accrued over the years was buried and done; the things that would keep him up at night, just withered away, slipping to the wayside, never to be revisited again. It was all swept into quarantine, filed away in a landfill of red tape. It was the best he could do, considering the circumstances that he faced now.
Coming to calm as the mourning turned into reflection, he lifted his head to wipe the tears that clung to the lines of age from his face while looking out his window, noticing a faint pillar of smoke coming from out on the sea, rising into the air.
“What in…“ he mumbled to himself, rummaging in thought as to what it was, “…you’ve got to be kidding me…”
He turned his head over to his com, looking out towards the harbor where a few of their warships were still stationed,
“Lieutenant Mathieson, get Captain Michaelson on the squawk…”
“Roger that sir…”
The black smoke continued to rise as a Raven flew past the naval harbor, apparently dispatched towards the open sea ahead. It wasn't long before the radio activity started to increase while a faint noise was barely pushing through the Colonel's personal com.
“Captain this is Hoffman, you're breaking up.”
A few seconds pass as the static started to bounce in between the unstable frequency before the Captain could be heard more audibly.
“Come in Colonel...can you here me now?”
“Much better, Quentin...”
“Affirmative to that, Colonel.”
“So please tell me that the cloud of smoke out I'm looking at, west of your position, is another training simulation...”
“I'm afraid I can't confirm that, Vic. All ships, except for Clement, are at dock and accounted for.”
“Son of a
...alright Michaelson, you know the drill. I'll be calling back the 'Dill convoy we just deployed this morning. Keep me posted.”
“Affirmative, Colonel. Michaelson out.”
“Lieutenant Stroud, come in, Lieutenant...”
“Bring the boys back...it looks like we got something else on our plate that we're going to have to deal with here real soon.”
“Affirmative, Colonel. I'll be issuing a cancellation ASAP.”
“Roger that, Lieutenant...Hoffman out.”
Letting out a groaning sigh, Hoffman dropped the old album back into his personal box. Shortly afterwards, Hoffman slumped back into his chair and started to rub his head, reminiscing the events of late, going over the math between the insurgencies at Port Farrall, Massy and the pirates, the incident in Glacier Valley, Moroses’ militia, to the recent negotiations with Pelruan. For f*ck's sake, what kind of hornet's nest did we just stir up now?