I ran my calloused fingers through my hair tiredly as I stared deadpan at the mountain of documents piled up on my desk. The war was over, yet I still have one more battle to overcome.
Knock knock knock.
A young woman seemingly in her mid twenties walked in. She wore her uniform with the utmost perfection with numerous medals attached unto her vest. This person was my secretary who was appointed to me three years ago.
“Commander Lark, when will those documents be ready?” She began seemingly annoyed.
“Hopefully before my flight.” I sighed.
Did she just click her tongue?
“Give me a hand and it will be done in a couple hours.”
That’s not too unreasonable of a request right? She is my secretary after all.
“I have other tasks to attend to so I’m afraid I won’t be able to help you much.”
Is being around me really that unappealing?
“How about this,” I compromise, “You can tell the ones who assigned you tasks that I ordered you specifically to help me out. There isn’t anyone that outranks me in the current fleet so you won’t have any complaints now right?”
She cleared her throat exaggeratedly, “It would be my honor to assist you finish your documents.
Hook, line, sinker.
Honestly my secretary was a little simple to read. I’m guessing the other tasks involved something with drills out on the deck which equates to physical labor. Staying in an air conditioned office was clearly the better option of the two.
I halved my stack of documents and pushed it towards the end of the table gesturing for her to sit.
“If you have anything you are unsure about just pass the document back to me and I’ll check it over. Also if we finish early I’ll give you a bonus on your next paycheck too.”
I noticed her expression change almost instantly as she began to diligently scan through the documents.
Without looking up she asked, “How much is this bonus if you don’t mind me asking?”
I shook my head internally, ‘Why was my assistant so greedy?’
“How about a 10 percent bump on your yearly salary?”
“You’re the best commander!”
I wish she praised me before she was baited with money though.
Leaning back into my chair I closed my eyes sinking deep in thought. It’s been 15 years since the beginning of the war. I was drafted at the age of 18 and now I have reached the grand age of 33.
My youthful twenties were all spent fighting a war involving casualties numbering more than the previous three world wars combined.
From the lowest ranked soldier, I proved my capabilities through risking my life countless times, pulling through operations deemed impossible pulling my squadron through the thick of it all. This eventually led to my promotion to the commander of the allied forces.
Today marked the end of the war, yet I wasn’t happy at all. Rather I felt empty. Like a part of me was missing.
“Sir, do you even want to finish these documents? You haven’t even touched your pile yet!”
An irked voice snaps me out of my thoughts.
“I’m just thinking about what the fastest way to tackle this task is.”
My assistant raised her brow and stared at me suspiciously. “Sure.”
Ignoring her I began to work.
Three hours later…
“Finally!” We both stretched our arms and gave each other a high five.
“Let’s go grab a meal in the mess hall before we reach the shore. I’m feeling awfully generous today so I’ll even share the commander's meal set with you.”
“Have I ever told you how much I respect you as a person boss?”
“First time I’ve ever heard it.”
Although my secretary was awfully tactless and rude at times, it was funny how she would change her attitude on a whim. That and she was good at her job so no complaints there.
“Morning commander.” A random soldier greeted me and I nodded in response.
“Good day commander.” Another soldier passed by and gave me a short greeting.
On our way to the mess hall several more officers greeted me as I noticed their unusually brisk pace. Then again it was the end of the war. I’m sure they’re excited to see their families again.
I was an orphan as a child so there really wasn’t a family for me to return to. At times like these I really am quite envious of my peers.
Arriving at the mess hall I ordered a large serving of pancakes as well as a side of waffles. Lower ranking officers only had different types of cereal to choose from.
After sitting down I passed my secretary a plate of pancakes, “Help yourself. You’ve been a great help today.”
“Don’t mind if I do!”
I noticed a couple of people glance in our direction enviously at my assistant scarfing down her breakfast.
What am I going to do with these guys.
“Chefs prepare everyone some pancakes and waffles! I’ll request a bonus for you guys!”
“Commander, you’re truly a man amongst men!”
“Commander, you’re the person I idolize the most!”
“I love you commander!”
Cheers echoed throughout the mess hall en masse.
I grinned to myself.
It’s the last day of their service, it should be okay to spoil them a bit.
After I finished my breakfast I made my way up to the flight deck. We were aboard the flagship of the United Federation of Liberty. An aircraft carrier capable of carrying over 200 aircraft.
Taking a deep breath the salty air penetrates my nostrils. I’m going to miss this smell, weird as that sounds. Currently all operations were halted on the flight deck so it was empty as can be.
The gentle sea breeze brushes my cheek as the coastline of Florida comes into view.
It’s been a long 15 years.
After another long and arduous hour, we finally docked our carrier. As I prepared to leave, I took one last melancholic look at the ship I’d called home for so long.
“Although we've been through so much together, I hope I never have to see you again,” I whispered under my breath.
As I joined the ranks of soldiers disembarking, we were immediately swarmed by eager reporters, their cameras flashing and shutters clicking away, undoubtedly for their next sensational headlines. I couldn’t help but imagine tomorrow’s news bearing titles like,
‘Our War Heroes Return Triumphant!’ or ‘Victory at Last!’
“Hey,” I called out to a familiar lieutenant, “could you call a cab for me, please?”
“Right away sir,” he replied, snapping to attention.
“Are you Commander Lark by any chance?”
Immediately after the lieutenant left a reporter shoved a mic into my face.
Despite my initial impulse to lie about my identity, I thought better of it upon noticing the camera pointed in my direction. A lie caught on camera would most certainly make me look like an idiot.
“Could you please share your thoughts about the war with us today?” The reporter asks, slurring the words together.
Is this what celebrities have to go through? I mused.
“I would prefer not to talk about this right now.”
“Is that so? Well how are you feeling today?” The reporter prodded.
Can this reporter not see I don’t want to talk to him right now?
“I’m exhausted, but relieved.”
“Could you elaborate on that further?”
Damn this guy was annoying!
“Commander, I’ve arranged a cab for you, as requested,” the lieutenant returned, rescuing me from the relentless journalist.
“Thank you,” I said with immense gratitude, turning my back to the reporter and making my hasty escape.
I sank into the worn backseat of the cab, sighing deeply as I settled in.
“Where to?” The driver inquired.
“Miami International Airport.”
The engine roared to life, and we began our journey. I gazed out the window at the endless rows of palm trees that lined the roadside. The sky overhead was a flawless canvas of azure, devoid of any traces of clouds. The streets were pristine, as if untouched by the turmoil of war. About twenty minutes passed in silence as I continued to peer outside.
“You are Commander Lark I presume?” The driver finally spoke up.
Turning toward him, I studied his weathered face, likely in his late forties or early fifties. He wore a distracted expression that hinted at a deep well of thoughts.
“And you are?”
“You can call me Charles.” He replied solemnly, not once glancing at the rearview mirror.
“Charles, it seems like you have something on your mind,” I noted.
Charles’s face hardened for a second before relaxing again.
“I want to hear your opinion, Commander, about the war. Was it worth it?”
I sighed, placing my hand on my chin, “War is never worth it. Lives are nothing more than numbers on a sheet of paper. It’s as if people have forgotten we are beings of the same species. Slaughtering each other in the millions.”
“So are you saying my son’s life was meaningless?” Charles said, his grip tightening around the steering wheel.
So this is what he’s getting at.
“Do not misunderstand me. War is never something glorifying, but whenever it breaks out, it is necessary. Although some may see lives only through a sheet of statistics, I know better than anyone that every soldier has a loved one waiting for their return.”
Not waiting for his response I continued, “I do understand your loss whether you choose to believe me or not.”
A momentary silence ensued.
“Would you be able to find out who was with my son in his last moments? I want to know how he died.”
That was a difficult request.
“Just give me your son’s name as well as your contact information. I’ll do my best.”
With that our conversation ended. People like Charles remind me no matter where I go, there are scars of war everywhere. Hearing about it first hand still puts a bad taste in my mouth.
Another hour passed as we began to pull up at the airport terminal. Stepping out of the cab, I felt Charles grab my arm.
His expression was serious as he began, “I want to apologize for my rude behavior towards you today. Also I would also like to thank you for agreeing to assist me find those who witnessed my son’s death.”
“It’s only a small matter. Do not worry about it.”
A small smile emerges on the cheerless man’s face.
“You really are a man of the people Commander. The rumors weren’t wrong after all.”
I returned his smile with a smile of my own. “I’ll be off now then. I hope you can come to peace with yourself as well.”
I waved to Charles goodbye, but of course not before leaving a fat tip. Although it might only be a small gesture, hopefully his day gets a little better from it.