A love triangle between Jack and Keith–both Captains in the United States Armed forces in Afganastan–and Julia, a Lieutenant who served under both of them results in a heroic play of valor that saves an important mission but not without the price paid in their friendships, and in death.
Captain Jim Morgan was numb.
He knew the anger and sorrow would overwhelm him eventually. But for now he felt nothing. And he couldn’t think.
Only one name and face was constant in his mind.
The Delta-company’s Dr. Talbot—a true friend—had been by earlier with a bottle of bourbon. He accepted it. But he couldn’t even drink. The doctor had already polished off quite a few before he came over, Jim could tell. And although his friend had meant to comfort him, his intoxicated presence only made it harder for the captain. They hadn’t exchanged many words at all. Only toasted to Jack. Talbot drained his glass several times but Jim only touched the liquor to his lips more sour than the mash he barely tasted.
Alone in his cabin now, aboard The Victory, Morgan sat slumped heavily at his desk. He was aware only of his skin sagging on his face, and the sore deep fatigue staining circles around his eyes.
The brass was already calling him a hero. No surprise there. It made him feel sick.
Jack’s the real hero, he knew.
And now he’s dead.
His cabin door ringed.
Morgan swore harshly in the empty silent room. Would no one leave him alone? He’d already given over command of Delta to Commander Spears—permanently, as far as he was concerned. And he had no intention of coming out of his quarters until they docked. Then he would wait until the ship was empty and he would leave her forever. He’d decided.
The door rang again.
“Who’s there?” he asked irritably a thread of even violence potent in his gruff voice.
Jim froze. He felt a flush of anger.
Why is she here? I can’t comfort her. And I don’t want to!
He didn’t know what to say, how to respond. But what choice did he have?
He let her in.
Obviously, she’d been crying. Her face was pale and swollen with blotchy redness here and there. Her long wild mane was limp and tangled. She was in civilian clothes, rumpled and miss buttoned so that one side of her gray jersey was hanging two inches lower than the other.
“Thanks for seeing me, Captain Morgan.”
Jim couldn’t acknowledge her at all. He turned away and went back to sit deskbound without a sound.
“I brought you something,” she said, her voice all nasal from hours of tears.
She lifted up and presented him the Samurai sword that he’d admired of Jack’s. He hadn’t even noticed she was carrying the long elegant weapon.
“What for?” he asked, the intensity of his own voice startling him. He couldn’t do anything about it, nor cared to. At all.
“He wanted you to have it.”
“He told you that?”
“No… not exactly. But I know he would want you to have it.”
“I don’t deserve it,” Morgan said bitterly. “Take it back.”
“Okay,” she said vacantly. But she went over and placed it on the couch anyway. Then she stood with her back to him, more silent than the air.
Morgan felt his anger rising still. He resented her presence here, now. He had nothing to offer.
“I think you should go,” he said after what seemed like an eternity.
She behaved as if she hadn’t heard a thing. Didn’t move. As if she’d intended to remain a mourning statue in his room for the rest of her life.
“Commander Pendant, if there’s nothing I can help you with, I’d like you to leave. I want to be alone. I’m sure Mr. Spears can handle any—”
“There’s nothing you can help me with Captain Morgan. But even so I’m not leaving. Not until you tell me what happened.”
“I told you. Jack sacrificed himself to—”
“No. That’s not what I mean. I want to know how he died.”
“I told you. He was blown up! He felt no pain. It was over quickly. He didn’t—”
“No. No! Don’t lie to me James. That’s not how it happened. You were there and you know how it ended. I want to know. Right now. Tell me. Tell me now! How did Jack die?”
Jim was infuriated. “Why are you doing this? What does it matter? He’s gone! We can’t bring him back and there’s no point in—”
“Goddamn you James Morgan! Damn you! There’s no point in what? The truth? Tell me how he died or so help me god I’ll never give you peace, you son of a bitch!”
He was out of his chair so fast it smashed against the wall behind him. His hands were on her before he even knew he was moving or what he intended to do.
Julia slapped him hard across the face with a chain of curses.
Morgan was so incensed he shoved her hard and she fell into the couch knocking the samurai sword to the floor.
“Get the hell out of here!” he shouted at her venomously. “Who the hell do you think you are?!”
Julia suddenly braced against the couch all back-up looking like she was about to lion-leap onto him to claw his face to shreds.
Jim responded by holding up his fists ready for a fight too.
It was a standoff.
“Go to hell!” she shouted back at him.
“I’m already there Commander! I’ve checked in! Where are you? You’re in my cabin and it’s the last goddamn place you should be right now, don’t you think?!”
“What the hell’s that supposed to mean? Don’t flatter yourself Captain!”
“Get out!” Jim raged, and he kicked once at her feet. “Get out of here before I throw you out!”
“You are so pathetic!”
“I’ll call security!”
“Yeah that’s right, get someone else to fight you battles, you has-been!”
The Captain lost it.
Seeing only red he lunged onto the couch—at her.
And the athletic woman—little more than half his age—met him in the air half way.
The collision was fierce.
The two of them wrestled to the carpet in front of the couch, too close to effect any punches but brutally engaged nonetheless, swearing between clenched teeth and held breaths.
They rolled around Jim’s room in desperate tandem.
Finally the captain was on top of her—barely—but Julia managed to scratch him across the face. He yelped and responded reflexively with a hard backhanded smack across her jaw.
Then Morgan hesitated for an instant in complete horror at his violence just long enough for Pendant to throw her legs up behind him over his head—with enough squeeze to kill a bear—clamping her feet around his throat smashing him backwards off of her. The back of his head hit the floor behind him and he saw stars.
Julia leaped to her feet and then kicked him hard in his side flipping him a full rotation in the air, his legs painfully a half beat behind the momentum of his upper body.
Morgan was pretty much done then.
Julia backed off.
Standing strong a few feet away, her face and breath twisted and hissed like an angry tigress with only pride and no living cubs to defend anymore.
The captain of The Victory painfully rolled over onto his side, defeated. And with a great effort to hang onto his consciousness he took a couple of deep breaths to calm himself, while the wild woman continued hissing.
“Feel better?” he managed to say, gratefully noticing that Pendant’s furious kick hadn’t broken any of his ribs.
He heard the angry woman’s breath halt. And he focused his dazed eyes into hers— which seemed to burn like molten lava.
Then he watched—the worst of sights—as Julia slowly collapsed from somewhere behind her eyes and forehead down into her face. Then, her neck and shoulders. Then her hips and knees, as she sank in a heap onto the floor next to him, holding her breath all the while in a mask of unimaginable pain, her mouth stretched hideously open in a silent scream of total and inconsolable anguish.
Then in a wide breath of toxic release she howled like a widow-mother at the funerary pall of her burnt-body-family taken from her in a wicked war of sick and heartless violence, a helpless victim to the villainy beyond the world of any sense of sense.
The anger in Jim was gone like a ghost in the fouler room of this shameless mourning-tide. And in all of the years he had been alive he’d never witnessed a scene like this, so destroyed beyond any chance of recovery or later-to-be-pinned-and-medaled meaning on the death-shroud of ended life.
He endured the terrible sound of her.
It was a sound that he knew would haunt him for the rest of his days and nights. He felt like he was in a purgatory with this woman. A place where even all the any noble spirits feared to listen-in on the driest wind, or look at anything, or even tread a step anywhere, in this truly deadly place of flesh and bone, the dusty realms of lost love, inevitable separation and decay.
Before Morgan even knew it, he was crying too. He wept uncontrollably. Next to her. And, in his memory’s ear, he heard the replay of the heavy stones crush Jack to a paste just like the first time.
And so he wailed too. Like a grandmother. And like a babe. Like a lost soul in a darker place than any burnt out hell could even manage to make.
In the grieving that followed for what seemed like an hour, each of them wept. Alone. And then, together.
They found each other in an embrace of tears, their wet-open faces running, a melting pain.
In a thoughtless, desperate search for life and connection,
For any release from the world around them,
They began kissing—passionately.
With complete and utter abandon.
Seeking the consolation that only the body-with-other might provide.
Hours later, they lied in Morgan’s bed.
Their naked bodies and naked souls were exhausted to an utter still. Yet, their consummation had not been completed after all. At some point they couldn’t go through with it. So they just embraced each other. And held on.
Finally, Jim brought over the bourbon and they drank and drank. To fall asleep. To try to forget it all. For just one night.
Before they passed out from their mutually desperate indulgence he simply said. “Jack wasn’t killed by a mine.”
“I know,” she responded absently and quiet as a homeless child.
“He was crushed by an avalanche. He saved me. He pushed me out of the way as it descended. It was a horrible death.”
Julia’s face was like a rock carving now, harder than frozen, seemingly acknowledging the elements that sought to wear her down, a mask of unmoving stone like the one that killed her lover. But he could feel her receive the news very deeply just the same. At last, she only nodded almost imperceptibly.
Then after finishing the last of the bourbon, they fell asleep, each turning away from the other on opposite sides of Jim’s bed.