After Days - Chapter 15
The field reports from Leon’s rescue had caused nothing but nightmares and unsettling rumours. More than two days since the destruction of Berlin, Tessa and her team – now back at full capacity, including Jackson – struggled to shake the night’s events from the forefront of their minds. Leon’s brother, who had since been dubbed ‘The Green Reaper’ by Tessa’s fellow soldiers, had set their mission back by years, so much so that it wasn’t yet clear whether the damage would be irreversible.
They needed guidance, leadership, but with Zayn still missing, Tessa struggled to bare the weight of the circulating questions. She had isolated herself in a deep chamber of the Moon base to avoid any further stress, but as she sat alone, the uncertainty haunted her. Until Leon woke up, no one knew what the Reaper’s objective was or what was driving him. One thing wasn’t in question, he was dangerous and every second he went unchecked was a potential setback waiting to happen.
She tucked her legs under her as she shuffled on the cushioned seat, waiting. The room was barely lit, and mostly bare. A sharp contract to Zayn’s office which allowed anyone to see into the deep mystery of space. The walls were smooth and the room was simple, a box with a massive, bizarre piece of engineering at the opposite side of the room to Tessa.
It cast a gentle purple glow across the room, bathing the confused woman and her now casual outfit. Her tight suit had been swapped for a baggy knitted cardigan over a white vest and loose grey bottoms. She had abandoned her boots, her painted red toenails now on display. She was a soldier through and through who would accept any mission asked of her, but there was no reason why she couldn’t look good doing it.
Tessa looked thoughtfully into the light, waiting patiently. She had given orders for no one to disturb her, and to only send a transmission if there were any change in Leon’s condition. It was a shame that the large air-lock type doors were so loud when they opened.
“He’s been gone for over two days now. Where do you think he is?” She signed, her eyes locked on the device.
“Somewhere far away or long ago.” A stern voice replied factually. “How did you know it was me?” The figure stepped into the room.
“You need orders just like anyone else, and you’re the only one ballsy enough to disobey my strict instructions. I figured you’d come eventually.”
A tall, strong man walked from the shadows and stood to attention beside the lonely seat, his eyes also watching the light of the machine. He let the woman sit quietly, not wanting to intrude on her time more than he already had.
“Carbon.” She addressed, dragging the man’s gaze from the light.
“Yes ma’am?” He responded invitingly.
“I have a favour to ask.” Tessa’s head sank and she knew there was no avoiding the conversation now, her tone solemn.
She sighed heavily before continuing. “It’s Leon. When he wakes up, I don’t want you to be disappointed. I know how much you admired him.”
The visitor chuckled through his nose. “Ma’am, I’m not sure what happened to you on that station, but you must understand that I do admire him, but I also owe him a debt, one which I intend to repay. He wanted me to find him, there must have been a reason for that.” Carbon’s back remained ramrod straight as he turned back to the light.
Tessa let her long sleeves swallow her hands as she tucked them under her arms, hunching to stay warm. “I’m just saying, he isn’t the same as he was back then.”
“Neither am I.” There was something in his voice, something wise but also prepared. “You’re tired. You should get some rest.”
“No I’m fine, he should be back soon enough anyway.”
“And when he does he will need you to be ready, right now you need to sleep.”
“I’ve tried, there isn’t much point in trying again. Still trying to think of a way to explain all this I guess.”
“You still need to tell me what happened down there. And I mean off the record. Spare me all the military bullshit and cut to the point.” He had let himself become aggravated, as he too had his own questions. A deep breath seemed to calm him, though as he ran his fingers tightly through his long, silver hair, it was obvious that something was still bothering him.
“You want to know if the Green Reaper can kill you?” Tessa asked, lifting her eyes from the device for the first time to see Carbon’s face twitch, confirming her suspicions. “Even if he can, you’ll be fine. A day or so later and you’ll end right back here.” She nodded to the light.
“I’m not concerned about my safety Tessa, you know that.” As the conversation flowed he talked to her more like a friend than as his commanding officer. “But this Reaper is something that we never counted on. He may be the enemy of our enemy, but he is not our ally. If I do go into an Echo, and he finds this place, there will be nothing to restrain him.”
“We have Leon.” Tessa reminded. She had admitted to herself that the Leon she found was not the Leon she knew, but she had faith that with Carbon’s guidance, he could grow into their expectations.
“Who at the moment isn’t able to move let alone go to battle.” The truth was starting to bleed into his voice. Disappointment wasn’t going to be an issue, but Carbon’s patience, that could cause problems. For all his understanding and intelligence, Carbon despised being reminded of what he had once been. Since recovering Leon, and looking into his face once again, the memories of his actions many years ago had left him feeling delicate.
“I’ve never seen you this worried, Carbon. Trust me, if we need Leon, he will fight for us. He did it in Berlin, he can do it again.”
“Suspending rock is not the same as going to war.” He snapped, baring his teeth. It wasn’t Tessa’s fault, and he knew that, but no one else alive could defend the survivors as well as Carbon himself, and for the moment, he would not trust anyone else with that burden.
Tessa didn’t question his judgement, after all how could she. This man could topple worlds if he wanted to, and that amount of power brought its own discipline. A soft hum filled the silence as the light began to brighten. Gasping with relief, Tessa jumped from her seat and took a step towards the revving machine, dropping all the tension that the conversation had brought with it.
Her hand clasped at her chest as one of her feet turned inwards. Carbon couldn’t ignore the innocent concern in her posture, the posture of a woman, not a warrior. In a sharp rising pitch, the light flared, flashing through the room as a shadow stumbled away from the device. Tessa quickly jolted forwards to catch Zayn before he could hit the floor. His arms sprawled for something to grab as his eyes snapped wide, but the woman was stronger than she looked, and the couple lowered to the ground with a controlled bump.
“Where in god’s name have you been?” She nagged like a protective mother as her fingers clasped tightly at his torn jacket, betraying her professionalism. Her hand lifted and traced through his thick, dark hair, silver hints by his temples showing his age.
Zayn scanned the room as it fell back into near darkness, rolling to his knees to compose himself. “Cyprus, I think.” He brushed sand from his dampened elbows as he tried to straighten himself before one of his subordinated saw him in a state.
“When?” Carbon asked, still waiting beside the now empty chair.
“2019, probably. It had to be around that time since the Tainted had just reached the island.”
Tessa quickly pushed herself away, the wall stopping her from retreating further. “Did it get you?” Her face was painted with horror at the possibility as she tried to sink through the wall.
“Almost but thankfully the Echo ended. How long was I gone?” He tried to fill in the blanks as he checked his equipment to make sure it was still in working order. Most of it wasn’t, fried by the journey.
“Fifty three hours. Is it possible that your dates were off?” It was clear that while he waited for an answer, Carbon’s mind was already trying to solve the riddle.
“It was 2019 at the earliest. Any later than 2021 and I’d be dead now.” Zayn shoved to his feet, clearly exhausted.
“Then fifty three hours is far too long. You should have been back within thirty at that distance.” He hurried towards the machine as the officers parted before him. “I can only assume that the Anchor is running low on energy. These past few years it seems to be unstable with the amount it consumes with each return.”
“Can you power it back up?” Zayn asked as Carbon analysed the eight canisters of light lining a cylindrical pivot.
The silver haired man looked down at Tessa with a stare that screamed ‘Just another thing to risk’. His eyes flicked to Zayn as he grumbled. “I can.”
Zayn looked baffled. Using a tone as spiteful as that was not in Carbon’s nature. Grabbing Tessa above her elbow, he led her away from the wall, whispering. “What’s with him?”
“It’s in the report. To save you the trouble, all you need to know is that there is now someone out there who stands a chance of getting to us and killing Carbon. He doesn’t like it. I mean we have Leon if that happens but-”
“You found him?” Zayn’s voice blurted in excitement, the original mission totally slipping his mind after days of tough survival.
“Yes but he’s not like we remember him.” Tessa warned, giving him the same look that she had worn when she asked Carbon not to be disappointed.
Zayn had already sprinted out of the heavy security door before he shouted back. “I have to see him!”
Tessa’s body suddenly felt tired though she wasn’t sure if it was the lack of sleep or knowing that her Commander was about to be bitterly let down. She turned back to Carbon as he flooded each of the cylinders with fresh, dense purple energy as it flowed elegantly from his palms.
Focus was carved into his face as he was steady, but the dancing tails of his pearl trench coat revealed how much frustration must have been tearing at him. First Berlin, then Leon and this Reaper, and now the Anchor was acting up. Suddenly, the security he had built seemed to be thinning, leaving him with a sense of vulnerability for the first time in years.