Unfortunately, time never stopped.
It's roots had dug themselves into space, enwrapping it and embracing it, becoming the veins of its it empty body, all existence moving within it's infinite web. There was nothing to defy it, nothing to challenge it. Boundless time stood, with a reach of forever, and no dreams, no goals, no feelings. Just one long road to travel on, with no destination.
And no stops along the way. Listening to the sound of his own breath, Captain Rret Donnaar felt a longing for his youth again. The field rolled out in front of him, filled with the rich smell of young pine from the forest ahead, and what smelled like fruit on some of the trees and berries on the bushes. The land was mainly flat from the forest to a rock stack that stood some fifty feet below a large hill. Rret was the only occupant on the hill, left alone at the top with a sensational view of the beauty in front of him. It had been too long since he had gotten peace like this. What was puzzling him was why he was enjoying it so much. He had never been a huge supporter of relaxation time, always feeling that he never needed it. Rret was a strict Captain, with a "no room for error" policy and the will to back it up. Peace just never seemed to relax him as it did his subordinate crewmen.
Feeling a little flushed in all his thoughts, the Captain was gracious when a clam, peaceful wind brushed his body, cool and refreshing. It was truly wonderful to experience again.
As he gazed out across the sunbathed plains, he imagined himself as a child, running with fervor and energy through the fertile green grass, not a care in the universe. His inner-self yearned for the feeling of wind flying past his face, of jumping and playing like he had on his school-grounds long ago, for the joy of freedom that only a child could have. Unlike many of his old family and friends, Rret still had clear memories of the fun he had in his younger days. Most of the memories had included his brother, Yulna. They spent days together when then would do nothing but swim in the lake near their forest house. Both were fond of thrills, their favorite being simple rope swings, which they made many of at any spot where the excitement would be at its highest. Hours were wasted just jumping from branch-to-branch in fun but dangerous games of tree tag. They had wings on their backs, but Rret had discovered that flying was always less exciting than looking down from the tallest branch of a tree and letting the danger of the distance flood the body with a tingling feeling. Then his mother would somehow find out about their tree tag games(his little sister Sayyu had always been a tattler) and scold him and his brother until finally sending them to their burrows, where they would laugh hysterically at their mother's face every time she—
Rret's eyes widened suddenly. Damn! Hidden behind his face was the inner fear and sadness that accompanied every happy memory Rret had of his times with his brother. They all fell together on one memory.
The sun had been out bright in the afternoon, and he and Yulna were sitting at the top of one of the tall kooleg trees near their home. A small orus squirrel was on the branch next to them, hissing in anger as the two poked sticks at it and mocked it. The squirrel was twitching its tail, crouched in a defensive position, ready to pounce at the next person who touched it. Rret had been ready to trap it in a net, but never got the chance. A moment before Yulna was to poke the creature again, a crizzil vulture, who had camouflaged itself in the leaves of the tree, attacked. Its target had been the squirrel, but Rret and Yulna had gotten the creature so tensed that it jumped out of the way at the first sound of the vulture approaching it from behind. As the predator ascended back up into the sky, it's talons, raked to grab the squirrel, slashed Yulna across the face, poking out an eye and opening three deep gashes in his face.
Rret sometimes heard his brothers cry of pain in his nightmares.
Yulna had instinctively grabbed his face in anguish, and had lost his balance in the process, tumbling off the branch and falling several stories before opening his wings. Rret had managed to catch his brother before he hit the ground, but by that time, he had lost a great deal of blood. To make bad things worse, there were insects in the forests on Rret's homeworld, Shalene, that fed on any wounded animal they could find. Once those insects smelled the blood, they raced onto Yulna's face, shearing off more flesh with every tiny bite. Rret had tried to defend his brother, but in the end he failed. By the time he had driven the bugs away, Yulna's face has practically been opened to the bone. That face still haunted Rret's nightmares.
Slowly, the images of childhood faded to the back of Rret's mind. He again became aware of time, of the thin pockets of gray hair on his scalp and neck, of the wrinkles all over his dark skin, of his withered wings, and of the cane his body was propped up against in his right hand; the leg it was replacing had been permanently paralyzed in a battle six months ago. The Captain had rejected the robotic leg suggested to him. He wanted to be able to feel nothing from his leg, for it made him feel more alive, reminding him that even in long life, a man was still vulnerable to certain setbacks. The value he placed on that leg was considered insane by most of his comrades, but Captain Donnaar held battle scars in high regard, no matter how gruesome they were.
Still, even in his respect for the thing he had lost, the cane also reminded the Captain that he was indeed old, and there was nothing on the road of time that would change that.
Rret grinned to himself. Not even the wishes of an old man. His thoughts briefly drifted to his recent 102nd birthday, when his whole remaining family had taken him on vacation to the tropical moon Shalene Beta. His parents had once owned a summer burrow on an island there, when Rret was barely a youthling, but his father had lost the deeds to a criminal named Cornal in a bet; however, by some twist of fate, the deeds were returned after Sayyu won them in a duel with one of Cornal's assassins. The burrow was one of the most decorated dwelling of any home on Shalene, with hand-carved wooden statues, and rare spilek vines, which were rich in sap and bejeweled with lek stones, a most precious type of ruby. His father had always loved astronomy, and had his own large observatory at the tallest end of three giant trees. Stargazing was his favorite past-time, and he would spend hours at night, finding all the planets that he could, and studying and re-studying every star the lense could catch. Mother would always take flights amongst the trees, gathering natural fruits and vegetables for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and sunbathing in the lush foliage of the forest, a habit that Rret had never taken to well, but was a joy of everyone else in his family. His siblings played like they always did, but their mother was much lenient on where they could go the island then she ever was when they were home on Shalene. They often brought back animals to keep as pets, which they would all play with, and then free them at the end of the summer. Rret and Yulna had both learned to fly for the first time on the island, though they were always jealous of their older brother Coul, who got to fly and play wherever he wanted to on the island.
When Rret and the family had arrived at the home for the first time since Cornal lost it, they were thankful to find it in such good condition. Cornal's mercenaries had barely touched it. None of the rooms had been damaged; the observatory was still there, with the telescope locked away in its storage closet; his father's starmaps were whole; the cage space for all the animals was unfilled. The only thing Cornal had taken were the spilek vines, which, Rret remembered, had angered Sayyu. She had spent most of her summer days picking at the ground beneath the forest, finding the lek stones. For the most part, Cornal had treated the burrow with as much care as the Donnaar family.
That had been one of Rret's favorite birthdays. He was able to forget his actual age for a week and relive almost all of his childhood memories at the burrow. It had been the last time his wings were strong enough to let him fly. The tops of the trees had never looked any better on that one last flight—
The peacefulness and serenity of memories were suddenly broken by what sounded like a wave of static buzzing through the air. Rret closed his eyes at the sound, letting out an irritated sigh. He hated being interrupted when he was doing something important to him.
The sound belonged to a standard issue United Alliance Incorporation All-purpose Teleporter. Every starship in the Defense Force had their own; the latest in ship-to-ship transport technology. Also, the loudest piece of technology ever made as far as Rret was concerned. This particular teleport had come from his ship in orbit, the U.S.S. Fattosh.
The teleportation was quick. After only a couple of moments of noise, Rret sensed another person standing to his left, slightly over his shoulder. He recognized the man to be human, one of the members of his crew; Lieutenant Commander Brian Olben. At least two inches shorter, the man had a crop of jet black hair on his head, with a pair of jungle-green eyes to match. His cheeks were flushed with pink as always, a trait of humans that Rret found distasteful, and his chin ended narrowly, like the tip of a sword. The rest of his body seemed normal by human standards. The dove-white uniform he wore hid his rather large muscles well under its two layers. Rret had once faced the man in a sparring match, and had been surprised to find the stout human a worthy adversary. Despite his size, he was very strong. The Captain still had a small bruise on his chest where Olben's fist had hit in one match.
The LT carried himself like a disciplined soldier, with big steps and a stern frame. Everything was always so serious to Brian Olben.
"Pardon me for bothering you, Captain, but you forgot your Compiece." He spoke with as much softness as an angry teacher. "We weren't quite sure where to find you."
Out of the corner of his eye, Rret saw him extend his hand, holding out a small metal disc; another piece of Alliance Inco. technology; the standard issue Communication Microterminal. The one device that kept every member of a starship's crew in contact with not only themselves, but the ship's computer as well. It could access non-restricted files instantaneously from anywhere within the signal range, and could also contact any part of the ship in case of emergencies. Personally, Rret liked the idea of the machine. However, certain scenarios, like the one Rret was looking at, made the device a very annoying liability, which is why he had on-purposely left it in his quarters on the ship.
Rret made no move to take the Compiece. "I left it up there for a reason, Commander. I wanted to be alone down here, if you don't mind." He continued to gaze at the beautiful view, making no indication that he even saw Olben.
"I understand, sir, but can you please carry it with you? It's protocol, and I want to make sure you have it."
Rret eyed the piece without moving. "Commander, I don't need it, and I'm all right. It's a nuance. Please take it back and leave me alone."
Olben's voice remained as stern as before. "You have to have it, sir. It's a requirement for everybody, and as first officer, I can't allow you to go anywhere without this Compiece, for the sake of communicating with you. Now, please, will you just take it?" He extended the hand farther out.
While a good sparring partner, Olben's reputation to voice his thoughts at his own free will was what led Rret to dislike the man. He was constantly arguing with the Captain on the best course of action in just about everything. Once, their arguing had caused Rret to accidentally shoot one of his own crewmen in the stomach. Luckily, the shot hadn't killed, but it had surely damaged Olben's credibility as a first officer.
Rret turned his shoulder out towards the other man, glaring in anger. "Talk to me like that one more time and you'll be cleaning out the incineration chambers by hand." He paused for a brief moment to let his words sink in. "You don't dictate orders to me like that, Mr. Olben, they are not yours to give. Do you understand me?"
Olben's face tightened and his jaw tensed. Finally, he stood up as straight as he could, like a soldier. "Yes, sir. I apologize." His looked up at his Captain's face. "But I still have to do my job."
Rret let some of the air in his chest out in a sigh. "Fine." He reached out and dragged the Compiece out of the human's hand. "But next time, teach yourself some manners please." Moving his arm to attach the Compiece to his belt, he added, "The less annoyed you are, the better attitude you'll have." He clicked the disc into place. "There we go." He looked up again. "Satisfied, Commander? You've done you're job. Now go back up to the ship or find something else to do."
If Olben was feeling any anger at all, he didn't show it. "I can't. We're done. The final map was just finished and catalogued five minutes ago. We've been trying to tell you that, sir, but you haven't answered. We had no idea where you were, and at the time, we thought maybe you had been hurt or had another spasm attack—"
Rret shook his head. "As I said before, I'm fine, Commander, but thank you for the concern." He sighed again, this time in disappointment. "Have all the moons be taken care of?"
"Yes, sir. Everything here has been mapped. We're done with this system. Only planet left now is E-Epsilon-Five."
"Good." He leaned his weight full against his cane. "Be sure to compliment the stellar cartographers. They did well with the time they were given."
Olben bowed his head. "Yes, sir." His eyes reflected the urgency of his visit.
Rret nodded his head slowly, acknowledging his first officer. "Well, give me a few more minutes down here first." I never seem to get a break from this job. "Then I'll be up and we can be on our way. Tell Ravern to set a course for Epsilon-Five. We'll be underway within the next five minutes."
Olben hesitated, but then nodded. "I'll tell him when I get back to the bridge." He turned and walked away from Rret, calling back, "Enjoy your view, sir."
"Thank you," Rret responded.
A few moments later, the teleporter sound buzzed again and was gone.
'We thought maybe you had been hurt or had another spasm attack...' Rret felt the breeze come one more time, wisping his gray hair all around his head in calm fury. He closed his eyes and enjoyed it as much as he could. When he opened them again, the relaxation he felt was overwhelming. However, clouds had come within the last few minutes, and were now blanketing the sun in a cottony frenzy. Without the golden-yellow beams, the view suddenly became less exhilarating than it was before, and Rret found himself suddenly wanting to return to the ship, as he now felt a wave of exhaustion coming.
So he turned and walked to the very top of the hill. Thank you, Mr. Olben, for reminding me of how old I am, he thought spitefully. Not even bothering to get in one last glimpse of the landscape, he pressed the button at the center of the Compiece. "Donnaar to teleport station two.. Ready to come up."
Seconds later, Rret felt his body get sucked up by the Fattosh, while time moved on like it always had.