April 20, 2028
High above the white clouds, the afternoon sun shone brightly, undisturbed.
The ruined palace was miles away. Hours had passed but, to Ira, it felt like long, agonizing years.
President Bullard glanced at the captain then looked away, shuffling uncomfortably in his seat. He had questions that needed answering, but the solemn, mournful air kept him quiet.
“Captain Byrne, where is General Allen?” He managed to speak up after minutes of battling with himself.
“Dead,” Ira replied stoically as he nursed the wound in the palm of his hand. “Major Wilson killed him.”
“Major William Wilson?” Avery’s eyes widened in horror, “I thought he was on our side.”
“He was a mole. He leaked Blackbird’s and our whereabouts to Erebus when we were at Les Crayères. That is why it was destroyed,” Ira explained in a monotone voice. With his hand in a bandage, he refused to look at anyone and kept his gaze on the floor.
“What happened to Wilson?” Avery dropped the title in blatant disgust.
“I killed him,” He stated as satisfaction crossed his expression. His heart pulsed with an adrenaline filled rush. “I killed him with his own knife… to avenge Matthew.”
“What about Erebus? Is he dead?” Avery pressed on.
“Yes,” Alec stated. “Meryl, the woman who was with us at the palace, stayed behind to finish him and let us escape.” After staring at his captain, he added, “Matthew always trusted her.”
“I am sorry about your Meryl. She is a very brave woman.” Igor cut in. “Where is Allen’s body?”
He was eager to learn more about the valiant warriors who risked their lives to save the two leaders.
“At the safe house in London,” Charlie answered before his captain could. He hoped the leaders would not think Ira was impractical or Alec was biased in her favor.
“Let us take him back to the States. He deserves a proper burial,” Avery said quietly, he gave the sign of the cross in prayer to Allen and the good men lost.
Alec stood up and walked to the cockpit. “Garth, get us to the safe house. We are retrieving Allen’s body.”
Ira jumped. He forgot he still had the earpiece. He roughly unplugged it, realizing the sounds he heard earlier were not just the building collapsing; he also heard Meryl and Kai fight for the last time before they were crushed under the weight of the palace.
Everyone felt the aircraft shift course. “Alec, you’re bleeding,” Ira noticed as he saw his friend limp to his seat. “What happened?”
“Stray bullet,” Alec shrugged it off and stretched his wounded leg, attempting to hide a grimace. “I’m fine, you look worse.”
“I would like to say,” Igor spoke to the surrounding men, “Thank you for saving our lives. We would not be here without you.”
“It was Blackbird who knew what would happen. She realized that Erebus was after you. She saved all of us.”
“Blackbird, this was Meryl’s name, the asset you rescued in Denmark?” Avery asked.
“Yes, before we knew her identity. You knew her as Aether,” Charlie responded solemnly.
Unable to bear the pain, Ira unbuckled himself, pulled off his coat and tore it up. Something fell to the floor with a slight thud. However, no one took notice of this because of the loud rotors.
Successfully stripping his jacket, he passed a few shreds to his team; they fumbled with the makeshift bandages. Only now did they realize how shaken they were by what had happened in the past twenty-four hours.
As they attempted to staunch the wounds, at least until they could get medical treatment, Chris appeared from the cockpit and stated forlornly, “We’ll be at the safe house within the hour. We can refuel, retrieve General Allen, and head back to the States.”
“Wonderful,” Avery congratulated, even though he did not sound cheerful.
“Ira,” Chris knelt in front of his captain and held his uninjured shoulder. With a stern, concerned look in his brown-eyed gaze, Chris asked, “Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine soon.” Ira nodded, even though this was a lie.
The co-pilot saw through this fib but did not press the matter; he wanted to speak to his captain alone and away from prying ears.
He happened to glance down and noticed a small leather bound notebook. Gingerly, he picked it up and handed the booklet to Ira. “You dropped this, by the way.”
Without inquiring what was written in the small book, Chris walked back into the cockpit, leaving Ira to flip through the faded, scribbled pages. This was the tome Meryl had always kept with her, the one in which she had written for sixteen years.
The first date entered was June 20, 2012, her sixteenth birthday. Vigorously, he scanned through the slightly illegible pages until he reached the last page. To the others, it had no meaning, but to Ira, it was his only and last link to Meryl.
He promised silently that he would keep it safe.
An hour later, the aircraft landed at the same empty airstrip in London. The presidents remained behind while Noble refilled the transport and the men returned to the safe house to reclaim Matthew’s lifeless body. With dignity, they carried the sheet clad form back to the osprey. It had begun to rain.
No one spoke through this solemn, lamenting ceremony. Once the late general was secured in the aircraft, Garth and Chris set their coordinates for the United States.
They were finally heading home.