The moon's reflection glittered in pale blue water of the natural pool. Above, the stars glittered in patterns that an Northern observer would find maddeningly similar yet subtly unlike the stars as seen from above the equator. Here, once proud Orion is stripped of his dignity and turned, topsy-turvy, to land on his head. Here, Graceful Cygnus glides along a different path, while around it all the Magellanic Clouds burn with the legacy of a poor doomed mariner.
The pool was dimly lit, with a few subtly placed shafts of light spread out from the rock and into the ever shifting water. The lights and sounds of the landing fields were blocked by the mountain, so it was relatively quiet here. In the palm trees, the birds were settling down for the night, and they fretted and chafed, and made their usual uproar. The only other noise was that of the swimmer's arms as they pulled him through the water, alternating between the backstroke and the front crawl. Whenever they reached an edge, the hands would grope at the pool's rough stone sides and flip the swimmer over, where he would continue on his journey.
Standing at parade rest, half-hidden in the shadows beneath an umbrella, Molly watched the swimmer wordlessly, her eyes following his every mood, her face impassive. This almost-tableau went on for quite sometime, the watcher watching serenely, the swimmer focused entirely on his campaign, until even the birds had bequeathed their noise making to the peaceful humming of the Cicadas. At last, his energy spent, the swimmer lay at rest, floating on his back in the water, his eyes closed. There was silence for a while. At last, Molly spoke.
"Hello. Virgil." To this, the swimmer laconically raised his arm, and gave a rather half-hearted salute, before he splashed it into the water.
"You didn't come to greet me. That's most unlike you." The swimmer began to draw himself towards the edge of the pool, where he lifted himself to sit on the edge, and proceeded to stare at the stars. At last he spoke.
"I do go in much for returns, anymore. It's departures that worry me most. Never miss a departure, if you can help it. They're much more reliable then returns." He spoke softly, reflectively, with out any bite or criticism in his voice. The breeze ruffled through the trees, but did not disturb the resting birds.
"It's been a long time."
"When was the last time I saw you?"
"That's a good question."
""It was in.... Pescotao? During the last air evac. You were the last one on the old TB2, screaming defiance until the end, still aiming at soldiers as the bay door closed." Virgil turned to look at Molly, as she smiled in bitter memory.
"They couldn't, or wouldn't, land any more Hercules. But you came back for me. You dropped into the golf course at Mach One, with angel flares burning in the dawn..... I remember that." She too looked up at the stars. "But that wasn't the last time you saw me."
"No. It was New York. You tried to stop me speaking before the Assembly. In the end, you were right. They didn't listen to me anyway.
"Where did you go, after that?"
"I went south. I just walked. I had thought of going back to Austria, but I knew the government wouldn't like that, much. I had to fight them tooth and nail to leave the country later on, and only for a short time." They listened to the water for a while, Virgil at the pool's edge, Molly remaining at rest beneath the umbrella. Again, she broke the silence.
"I left Alan arguing with Theo over whether or not the Airship should be airborne, and John was the one who fed me, but I didn't see the others."
"Dead" said Virgil quietly, after a moment. There was no response from Molly. "The reactor in the original TB1 had a tendency to... emit things it shouldn't, though we didn't realise it at the time. Cancer hit both Scott and Hiram in the eighties. Gordon... Gordon got his submersible caught in an underwater cave in. We tried to get to him, but...."
"He just sort of... stopped trying. Said he was tired, said he'd had a good run. Turned his radio off. When we finally found him later... he.... he looked very peaceful, you know. Very peaceful."
"And your father?"
"Dad didn't take Scott's passing very well. He started to talk a lot about going back into space, about seeing the stars again. Late one night, he just up and took TB3."
"Where did he go?"
"I don't know. Out there, somewhere." Virgil waved at the expanse of stars. "I like to think he made in through the asteroid belt. I like to think he's headed for something out there. I'd like..... I'd like a lot of things."
"You miss him."
"Oh God, yes. I miss them all. I was never supposed to be in charge. And we've changed. We have a staff now, and a payroll. Alan's been cranking out kids for years, its going to be a family business, rescuing others. That was always dad's plan... but it should be Scott behind that desk. It should be Gordon lapping me." He looked down from the stars, into his own dim reflection in the water. "I wanted to save people, once. Individuals. People I could see face to face. Now I sit behind a desk and speak diplomacy with princes. Now I try to save everybody. And I'm just too damn old." He sighed, and began to push himself backwards from the pool's edge.
"Do you want a hand, Virgil?"
"No. I'm quite used to this." In a moment, he reached his chair, and lifted himself in with a grunt. He wheeled himself over to Molly. Smiling, he said "I think we're the same height now. Who'd have thought?" Molly laughed. Suddenly, from far above, there was the crack of a sonic boom, which immediately woke the birds, sending them into a noisy cacophony. Virgil glanced up.
"That'll be Blazes coming down from the Command Centre. I've called a meeting, he wants to greet you in person. We'd better hurry." Molly nodded, and began to push the chair. "No, you don't have to... it's embarrassing, it's-"
"Don't worry about it" Molly said softly. "Besides, I owe you a few."
"But... I... well. Okay. I'll just... okay." They went inside, her short frame pushing him along, leaving a flock of disgruntled birds alone in the moonlight.