Was it just a coincidence, or did the air actually smell clean this night? Foolishly, he stopped and gathered in a full chest of cool evening air, eyes closed for effect. He was rewarded with a moderately intense coughing fit and a slight watering of the eyes.
“Ah, Riga.” He smiled and walked on.
He stopped at the guard post to give his identification. One of the men on duty recognized him a struck up a conversation as the computer verified his pass.
“Going off base for business or pleasure?” the guard asked.
“My business is always a pleasure.”
Quiet laughter from both men.
“Hey listen,” the guard moved in a little closer so as not to be overheard, “Any chance you’ll be stopping by Opa Reiter’s tonight?”
He winked an affirmative and accepted the crumpled Rigan currency from the guard. It was an understandable compulsion. Spectran meal rations were generous, but nothing could compare with the sweet sticky treats of Opa Reiter’s bakery. The little shop was only a few miles from the base and was frequented regularly by the officers. It was so popular in fact, that Opa himself began making weekly deliveries right into the base! How the men would cheer when Opa’s old jalopy would sputter past the gates. On more than one occasion the mechanics would even take the old man’s car into the back for some tuning up just to make sure he kept coming back.
“All clear. See you in twelve,” the other guard returned his pass key.
Smiling, he continued on trying desperately not to literally bounce down the road in happiness. He had deliberately chosen to walk tonight instead of checking out a vehicle in order to work off some of this energy.
And why shouldn’t he be happy? Things on Riga had been quiet for months, he had received a sweet promotion today, and he was on his way to meet his girl. It didn’t get much better than this.
“Vaaron!” a voice called out, “Psst! Over here!”
“Bea?” he whispered back. Looking hastily around him for watchers he decided all was clear and dove into the back alley towards her voice.
She was waiting for him in a doorway, arms outstretched. The smile of anticipation was irresistible. More than anything he wanted to devour her at that moment, but urgency pushed itself forward.
“Bea! What are you doing? We agreed to meet behind the bakery! It’s too close to the base here. You might be seen!”
“Don’t worry so. I couldn’t wait to see you! It’s alright! Nobody saw you!” she smiled back.
“Bea,” Vaaron grabbed her shoulders sternly, “I am not the one in danger. My friends love you. It was you who was worried about being seen with a Spectran, remember?”
“So much has changed Vaaron! My people are more accepting now. Time is on our side. Even Opa has come to love you, and no one would dare question him!”
“Your Opa loves me because I keep you safe, and no one would dare anger him for fear of being cut off from those evil goodies he conjures up. Speaking of which,” he took her hand and led her out of the doorway, “I need to make a small purchase tonight.”
“You must pay in kisses,” she demanded.
Grinning, he kissed her on the forehead. They snuck back down the alley together and up a familiar fire escape. After a few daring roof-top leaps, they were snuggled on the roof of the bakery itself with a romantic view of the Rigan sunset.
They stayed there for hours, talking and cuddling, until the darkness had extinguished all remnants of the day. He felt her shiver slightly against him and sighed knowing it was almost time to go back.
“A few minutes more,” she implored.
“More than anything, I want you to be my life mate,” Vaaron blurted out.
She sat rigid straight and stared wide-eyed back at him.
“I will make it happen somehow. I will.”
“But you may have to leave! At any moment,” she protested.
“I got a promotion today – to start some special training. I should be here at least eight more seasons,”
“That’s wonderful!” she interrupted.
“There’s more. I’ve been hearing things around base, from the men. Even a few of my officer friends. Something is happening on Spectra. I’m not sure what, but there are rumors. Rumors of peace.”
“Do you mean this?” she put her hand on his arm, “Oh Vaaron. Be truthful now if ever. Would Spectra end the occupation?”
“Bea, I only know what I’ve heard and now you know. I cannot say what will happen on Riga. One would assume…”
“But then you’ll have to go,” Bea jumped from thought to thought. Her eyes spoke of her conflictions. The joy of freedom and the possibility of losing the man she loved. A man who belonged to the people who were currently holding her planet hostage.
“If it ends, I might still be able to stay. But if I go, will you come with me?” he held both her hands now, trembling. His soul was dangling over the Yormith’s mouth and he prayed she would not let it fall.
“Go with you. To Spectra,”
“Anywhere. We don’t have to go to Spectra. We could go anywhere! Even Earth!”
“We won’t leave until everything is settled. Until we know there will be peace and he will be safe. Or else we will take him with us! We have eight seasons to plan it all!
She nodded with each statement. Yes. Yes. Of course. No one on Earth would care if a Rigan was bound to a Spectran! Especially if peace was coming!
“Yes!” she shouted, “Oh Vaaron!”
They drank in each other’s happiness, holding each other while crying and laughing all at once. Vaaron felt as if his heart would burst. Never had he known such happiness.
“Walk me back to the forest!” he begged. It was the long way back, but they had a few more hours before his pass was up and the way was beautiful.
She nodded and they nearly floated back across the rooftops. Time seemed to lose meaning when they were together. As they walked they refined their plans, daring to dream just a little farther into the future.
The forest ridge was only a half mile to the base. The trees here were among the few pristine areas of growth on Riga. The pollution that had scorched Vaaron’s lungs earlier was beginning to take its toll even here. The leaves seemed sparse now and one could see farther than ever through the underbrush. Vaaron was pondering this when something caught his eye. The heart racing energy of pure fear suddenly sparked in every muscle. Throwing one arm around her waist and the other over her mouth, Vaaron dragged Bea to the ground. He held her through the initial moment of outrage then let her see the urgency in his eyes. He directed her with his finger, and then pointed into the trees.
Metal. Black? No - blue. And red. Huge. Tank? No – ship!
He motioned to her and they crawled together to an outcropping with better protection. From here they would get a better view.
He wasn’t sure who saw each other first, but the look on the big man’s face meant nothing but trouble. His dark green uniform was clearly visible in the moonlight and the cape outstretched behind him meant he was moving. Moving towards them.
“G-Force!” Bea whispered.
“Bea, he’s seen us. You’ve got to get out of here!”
“No, they’re the good guy! This is good!”
“Listen!” he cupped her face in his hands, silencing her, “I’m Spectran. If the ship is here it means they’re attacking the base,” he paused, “They are going to blow up the base.”
“What do we do?”
“I’ve got friends in there Bea. I’ve got to try and help them!”
“No! NO! You’ll be killed!”
Cracking of branches. He’s coming.
“Bea!” he grabbed her arm causing her to wince a little, “Go back and get your Opa out of the bakery. It’s too close. Try and evacuate your neighborhood!”
“GO!” he ordered.
She sprinted off, consumed by the need to follow his directions and save her Opa. She stopped a few paces off to look back at Vaaron. He was already disappearing into the woods towards the base. Realization suddenly hit her like a crushing wave. Her knees trembled. Their dreams were unraveling as quickly as they had weaved them. She closed her eyes and desperately tried to see a way out of this. Clinging desperately to a faint thread of hope, she dashed back towards home.
The crushing force of the man’s body knocked the wind from Vaaron’s chest. He had misjudged the big man in green. His training was not completed. Vaaron was not the Blackhawk yet, and what he had learned already was not enough. The G-forcer had managed to track him even though he was using his stealth techniques.
“Wait!” the G-forcer had called out, “Just talk to me fella!”
Civilian clothes. His only advantage. For a few brief moments he was able to pass himself off as Rigan. His facial features, however, were dead Spectran, and the stealth moves were even further proof. The G-forcer had decided he was enemy and launched a full attack.
Vaaron gathered his knees and sprung out landing in a branch above the man’s head. He leapt forward in a desperate attempt to get past, but again he misjudged. How did someone of that size move so quickly? He literally snapped Vaaron’s ankle out of the air and yanked him back to the ground. Vaaron reacted equally fast. He twisted and let his other foot come crashing down between the man’s head and left shoulder. He teetered. Vaaron lashed out with a vicious head butt. Sparks flew in his eyes. Not good. The man was wearing a helmet, remember?
Crumpled on the ground, Vaaron tried to shake his head clear. His bag of candy paid for in kisses was broken and spilled out beside him. The G-forcer was looking down at him quizzically, almost stifling a laugh. Vaaron’s cheeks grew red hot in outrage. A chiming sound suddenly came from the man’s wrist and he looked down as if remembering something he was supposed to be doing.
Vaaron didn’t hesitate. He was off in an instant, pumping his legs in an all out dash back to the base. He could see the guard house. They must be able to see him running towards them! Too many friends inside. Too many possibilities. He had to get there. Why? Why not just hang back? Bea. Don’t forget Bea! He pushed the thoughts aside. They slowed his stride only for a fraction of a second. He loved Bea, but he could not be the man he was and leave his friends to die. She could not love the man who would leave his friends to die.
Shadows raced past him. While he ran his mind began to form a train of thought. Four shadows. Shadows running past him. In the other direction. The chime. A summons…
Light. White light. Unbearable heat.