Mark Wyler held his hand out behind him for the tool he’d requested. Not feeling the cold steel slap into his hand as he expected, he repeated the order a bit louder. Still nothing. Grumbling, he backed out from beneath the control panel he was working on and found himself alone. Then he remembered Trevvik’s return, smelling of alcohol and full of stories that distracted Asya from assisting Mark in the job he was wrapping up, and then the two of them heading back to the living complex. That was hours ago. That recollection was followed soon after by that of the conversation he’d been carrying on.
To no one. Probably for quite some time. He sighed and rummaged around for the tool himself. Coming up with it, he put the final panel in place and locked it down.
It was late. Just how late, his joints and muscles informed him when he tried to stand. With a wince and a groan he braced a hand on his lower back and leaned against a darkened console to wait for the pain to subside. He happened to glance up and caught his image looking back at him in the semi-polished metal panel across the room. Bent over, deepening wrinkles on his face defined even in that obscure reflection, hair going from gray to white, his mustache hanging onto the last of the color he used to have. Funny that he expected to find it black, as it once was. He looked like the old man he was becoming. At that moment, alone in the quiet ship, it hit him hard.
“Frak, I’ve gotten old,” he complained aloud, and straightened to his full, lanky height in spite of his body’s protestations.
He was dead tired, he realized, but he never left things out where he might wonder later where he had left them. Cleaned the tools, put them away. Gathered his things, checked his datapad. A number of messages from his wife. To see her name there eased the uncommon sadness that had settled over him.
“So it’s an office for me again. Yay, paperwork!” He chuckled a little.
“I’ve got a break for a few mins. Dinner?” His smile faded that he had missed that one.
“How’s it going over there? Don’t forget to eat something.”
“Need to talk to you if you’ve got a moment.”
“Was going to drop by the hangar but got caught up. Be prepared to have some pilots under your command…training, tactics, etc.” Mark groaned and rested his face in his palm. Janet must have known what his reaction would be. She added, “We need you, love. You’re the best.”
Then the final message, “Don’t work too late! Get some rest. Love you.”
It was early morning, she and the kids were surely in bed, sound asleep. Well…Les he wasn’t so sure about. Thinking about him creased his brow and caused him to worry. The sadness that had visited him earlier returned along with an empty, hollow place in his chest. He missed his wife.
It wasn’t unlike him, upon getting caught up in a project that kept him out till all hours, to fold out one of the bunks on board ship and catch a few hours then get back to work. But the image of Janet, shoulder length hair going gray though not nearly so much as his, framing her face as she slept the peaceful slumber of deep sleep that not even dreams invade, and the slow, even pace of her breathing that he found so soothing, made him want to be beside her for the few hours that were left before the drama the new day would bring. They had been through so much hell together, the two of them, that it was those small moments that he treasured most, that brought sanity back to the world and made it possible to face whatever would be thrown at them next.
Hurrying around, he secured the ship and headed down the landing ramp. “‘Nite, Raven,” he called, but the pain in his leg that gave him his limp reminded him that he’d gotten it wrong, again. “I’m sorry,” he said, pausing. “‘Morning, Stormcrow. See you tomorrow.”