* * * * *
* * * * *
I took my foot off of his neck and stepped cautiously around him in case he was still feisty but the fight seemed to have left him. As I put the rod down on a nearby small table he lifted himself to his elbows and peered at me in dawning recognition.
"Hello Jax," I answered evenly. I had replayed this meeting a million times over in my head, how I would face the former best friend who I was forced to fire upon to try and save civilians, who testified at my court martial and set up the conditions to get me drummed out of the navy. I was prepared for him to snarl at me, or haughtily mock me, or ask for forgiveness, or yell at me, or even wordlessly attack me... I was not, however, prepared for tears.
He fell back on the floor and sobbed. "So this is how it ends."
I was speechless.
"Did they ask you do it," he choked out bitterly, "or did you volunteer?"
"I'm not here to kill you Jax," I finally said. I turned on the lights and shut the door. I looked closer at him and saw he was near the breaking point. He was gaunt with ill fitting clothes that smelled stale and a thick unkempt beard and oily unwashed hair. I reached over to help him up and he startled and pulled back. Through the tears streaming down his face I saw confusion and fear. After a moment he let me grab his arm and help him up and I moved him to a chair near the wall. I saw brown and yellow bruises on his face and side of his neck. "Dammit, when is the last time you slept and ate?"
He slouched in the chair and wiped his nose and eyes with his sleeves. "I can't... I can't sleep too long." He waved in the general direction of the main console on the wall. "Fucking AI... starts buzzing and flashing... if I stop movin'.... can't unhack it..."
A little bit of psychological warfare, I thought to myself. Probably standard for non-coalition 'guests' at the station. "Why didn't you just get in your pod?" I asked as I waved in the direction of the gantry.
"Bomb strapped to the outside of the pod," he said dejectedly. "I activate it, boom." He looked up at me with wild eyes. "They got people working the vats, Kir, I barely got out last time!" The use of my short name brought an unexpected lump to my throat. I didn't realize how much I missed my best friend.
"Alright, Jax, relax. I'm here to help."
Confusion again. "How? Why?" He stammered. I opened my mouth to enter when I heard something scrape and bang on the outside of the door.
"GET DOWN!" I yelled as I jumped for cover.