It was the first time he had made the trip from Earth to Terra without flying himself. He didn't recall the last time he ever taken public transportation. His ship was still sitting deadline on Terra, but his personal business couldn't wait any longer.
He looked rough. He hadn't shaved in months. No haircut, and he just looked tired... and he was.
He handed his boarding pass to the Stewardess and she scanned it. "Thank you, Mr. Lightfoot. You're in seat 3B, which is to my right."
It was crowded, loud, and an equal mix of noises and smells that both kept him awake and made him wish that he spent the extra money for first class. He made his way to his seat and stowed his carry-on. To his right, a grossly overweight businessman reading his notepad and stuffing his face with some form of sandwich, and to his left a pair of noisy, demanding kids with their mother doing nothing to keep them calm and quiet.
He kept thinking that the few extra credits would have been worth it, but he just popped a couple of sleeping pills and attempted to pass out for the remainder of the trip.
Bah, who was he kidding? He still couldn't sleep. He had too many thoughts running through his head. The passing of his father, and the encroachment of his greedy yet imbecilic uncle attempting to claim ownership of the salvage business that his father had owned and operated for the last thirty years. Not to mention the nightmares.
Ah, yes... the nightmares. Vivid memories of all the firefights, the times he put an alien down, and the amount of sheer destruction that he found himself in the middle of. The nightmares robbed him of sleep, of peace and quiet, and a sense of normalcy. He leaned back and attempted to lean his head back and at best, relax for a while. The sound of the businessman now conducting his dealings, barking orders, and the children playing among themselves was enough to drown out his own mind for the moment. The mix of the sleeping pills and the idle banter of the people lulled him right to sleep.
The sound of idle banter morphed into the the sound of gunfire and the incessant yelling of orders filled his mind. The sounds of explosions echoed in his ears. He began seeing memories of previous encounters with the Vanduul and the firefights that ensued. The feel of the body armor, and the weight of his rifle became all too familiar. He remembers running and taking cover behind buildings, shooting back at the incoming fire and killing ground forces. He made his way up into a building to set up a Listening/Observation Point for sniping and intelligence gathering. After setting up his rifle, he called in his position and started calling in targets for air support and sorties.
"Centurion Acutal, this is Spectre Six, Over."
"Spectre Six, you have Centurion Actual. Send traffic."
"Sir, I have visual on Vanduul Staging area, consisting of a battalion-sized element with Artillery and grounded air assets. Requesting immediate air support, Over."
"What is your grid, Spectre Six?"
"Grid is Delta Zulu, Six Five Three, Seven five Seven, Four Eight Six. How copy, over?"
"Grid Delta Zulu, Six Five Three, Seven five Seven, Four Eight Six. Solid copy, Spectre Six. Wait one."
From there, the comm silence was deafening. He was by himself at the front door of a fierce opponent. He wasn't nervous, as he's been here hundreds of times before... but something felt different. Not only felt, but sounded and smelled different. He was being tracked by a Vanduul Stalker that reeked of something fierce, but he passed it off and went back to calling targets and grid coordinates. He heard a shuffling of rubble to the rear of him and saw the Vanduul lunging at him. Taking a knife and trying to stab at him, he blocked with his arm. The blade, however, wasn't perforating. It wasn't even hitting hard. It was like a soft tap. Mareth reached and grabbed the Vanduul's uniform and drew back to punch him. All of a sudden.. he heard a very loud, and discerning, "HEY!"
Mareth came to...
The little girl that was sitting next to had began to tap his arm repeatedly, to which he jumped up and grabbed her shirt and drew back his fist. He came to and immediately realized what was going on, and he was being stared down by her mother and a few other passengers, and the little girl was petrified. He quickly released the child and apologized up and down.
"I'm sorry, sweetheart. You startled me." He said to the little girl. She was still petrified. He leaned back in his seat and tried to relax, amid the multiple sets of eyes glaring down on him. He reached up and pressed his call button for the Stewardess. She came by and asked, "Is there anything I can get you?" "May I have some water, please?" Mareth asked. He figured that it probably wouldn't be too good of an idea if he fell back asleep. They were only about an hour's time from Terra, so he should be able to stay awake for that long. The Stewardess brought his water bottle and he thanked her. The little girl, still affixed on Mareth's face, started to talk to him.
"Are you scared of flying?" She asked.
Mareth looked down at her and didn't say a word for a second. His face softened up, and he began to smirk a little bit. "No, not at all. I have a ship, actually. It's currently being serviced. I just had a bad dream. That's all."
"The little girl looked down and started to fiddle with her dress. "I have bad dreams, too. One time, I had this dream I fell out of my window. I was really scared. What was your bad dream about?
Mareth looked up at the girl's mother, who was now affixed at her GlasPad reading the morning news. He looked down at the little girl and said, "Memories. Things I've lived that I rather not remember."
The little girl looked down at Mareth's bag and saw his beret in the pocket. "What's that?" She asked, pointing.
"It's a Beret. It's a hat that goes on your head." he responded. He pulled out the Beret to show it to her.
The girl's mother piped up without moving her head from her GlasPad "Anna, I'm sure the man doesn't want to be answering all of your silly questions."
Mareth looked up at her mother with a disapproving glare, then looked back down to the girl. "Anna, is it?"
Anna shook her head and smiled.
"There isn't any question that is silly. Questions are how we learn. We ask questions and seek answers."
Anna, still affixed on the maroon beret, "Did you buy the hat?"
"No, I earned it." said Mareth.
"What did you have to do?" Anna asked.
"Lots of things. Lots of wonderful and terrifying things."
Anna start to kick her dangling feet up and down while looking at the beret. "Were you scared?"
"Oh yes. I was far away from home in a place I had never been to before, with a bunch of people that I had never met before. We had to think together and work together as a team. We learned a lot about ourselves and each other. It was scary, yes... but it was fun, too."
"How do I get a beret like that?" Anna inquired.
"First, you never stop asking questions." He replied.
A soft tone came over the intercom. "This is your Captain speaking. We'll be reentering Terran airspace in approximately five minutes. Please make sure you are buckled into your seat and in the upright position. Thank you."
"Better buckle back up, kiddo." Mareth said to Anna, who started to buckle back in. Mareth took a drink of his water and leaned back into his seat and began to relax.
"This part always scares me." Anna said.
"You kidding?" Mareth quipped. "It's like a Roller coaster. Have you ever rode a roller coaster?"
Anna shook her head no. "Nope, I'm too little."
"Well, this is almost just as good. You just hold your hands up and you turn with the ship. It's easy."
Another soft tone came over the intercom. "This is your Captain speaking, we are now beginning our descent into Terran atmosphere and airspace. We will be landing at the spaceport in approximately 10 minutes. Thank you for flying Terran Spacelines."
Mareth looked over to Anna. "Here we go, you ready?"
Anna looked up and smiled. "Yeah."
At that point, the spacecraft began to shake during re-entry. Mareth and Anna put their hands up and rode the ride. Anna giggled and Mareth smiled. Anna's mother, who was absolutely terrified of Space travel, looked over and smiled at her daughter and her new-found friend. He wasn't this scary man with sociopathic intentions, but just a man with no more demons than anyone else. The spacecraft turned and dove, and turned and dove, turned and dove until they were on approach to land at the Spaceport. The Captain brought the ship down as light as a feather. Once the ship came to a complete stop, people started to move about and gather their effects. The crew opened the door and released the passengers into the terminal.
Anna's mother stopped Mareth at the terminal. "I wanted to thank you."
"For?" Mareth inquired.
"Well, firstly for not plowing into my daughter's face. I don't know what your dream was about, but thank you for showing restraint."
"I assure you, I didn't have any intention of hurting your daughter." Mareth replied.
"I realize that, and I wanted to thank you for being kind. She's very inquisitive. It's not a trait many people appreciate."
"That's because people aren't questioning anymore. Most people don't like to be questioned, and that in itself is a troubling thing."
Anna's mother smirked and nodded with a "yeah, you're right" look on her face.
Mareth knelt down to Anna and said his goodbyes. "Never stop asking questions, Anna."
"Okay." she said.
Anna's mother looked at Mareth. "Do you need anything? Can I get you something to eat?"
Mareth smiled. "No thanks. Re-entry always makes me a bit queasy. I don't think I could stomach anything for about an hour."
She nodded. "Do you need any creds? Flying from Earth to Terra isn't cheap, and.."
Mareth didn't know how to answer that question. Did he look that destitute? He honestly couldn't remember the last time he looked into a mirror.
"Thank you, but I'm not hurting for money. I really am doing better than I look."
"Okay." She replied, looking pretty embarrassed. "Well, thank you again. I'll let you on your way."
Mareth nodded. He picked up his duffle bag and waved at Anna one last time. He headed down the Terminal to the Barber Shop that was down the way.