May 4, 2028
The Pentagon, Arlington, Virginia
“I’m sorry.” Ira stated simply. “I lost my train of thought.”
Gazing stoned faced at the panel of board members, Ira clasped his hands on the table before him. Leaning next to his chair were metal crutches. His leg had still not fully recovered from the attack and the doctors said that he would need to use the crutches for a month. Buried deep in his pant pocket, he felt the leather notebook press against him, as if reassuring him during this second hearing.
Having given his full account of what had happened in the past month, Ira gazed from the general, to the Secretary of Defense, to the corporal; the only two missing members were General Allen, and Major Wilson.
The five star general, Phil Duncan, leaned forward and spoke into his microphone. “Captain Byrne, While your actions were consequential and your loss of men minimal, you never expressed your emotions when you spoke of General Allen, and Aether – Meryl’s – deaths.”
“I didn’t think it was necessary,” Ira stated bluntly. “While I regret and mourned for my friends, I knew that their deaths would be avenged the moment the war ended. I owed them that much.”
“Did you cry?” a person whom Ira did not know, asked suddenly.
“I’m… sorry?” The captain gazed at him, hoping he had heard wrong.
The others, too, gazed at the man. The Secretary of Defense tried to stop him. “Richard, this is neither the time nor the place to ask such questions.”
The man called Richard did not heed those words. “Captain Byrne. You were high school friends with General Matthew Allen and Meryl Grigori. You watched them die. I am asking if you mourned for them during your campaign.”
Choosing his words carefully, Ira stated, “When we lost Matthew, we all teared up. We all mourned. He was our general and our friend.”
“And what of Meryl?”
Turning away, trying to remove that image of seeing her crushed beneath the debris of plaster and fire, Ira stated a little quieter, as if she were right there, listening in on this conversation, “While we felt the ache in our hearts. We had to finish the mission the general had assigned us.”
“Which was not going after Erebus,” Richard responded bluntly.
Sitting straighter, affronted by this man’s lack of remorse or even gratitude, Ira declared brusquely, “Had Meryl not figured out Kai’s intentions, we would have lost President Bullard, President Ozerov, and many more people. We did what we had to because it was the right decision. Millions of lives were lost, including those of my former team, my general… and my love. But we defeated Kai and put an end to this war.”
Silence followed Ira’s outburst. While most of the committee members were too stunned to react, General Duncan could not help but smile behind his handkerchief.
He turned to the Secretary of Defense, and whispered incoherent words. The man nodded, and then they turned back to their subject.
“Captain Byrne,” General Duncan cleared his throat, “In light of recent events, we feel, and President Bullard has given his consent, that you are eligible to be promoted to lieutenant general; a generous offer, given the circumstance that you bypass many ranks. You have shown true leadership in the face of danger, and have equally shown that you are capable of carrying the torch, even as many have fallen around you. You can replace the late Matthew Allen.”
It was Ira’s turn to be speechless. How could they drop Allen’s title so quickly? Why in the world would they want him, Ira, to skip the line of ranks? Especially with his track record?
Recovering, with a look of disgust, Ira inhaled and exhaled, “I’m sorry, but I have to decline.”
The general, and the others looked at him in astonishment, their brows raised, their mouths slightly open.
General Duncan shook his head, “No one has ever declined such an offer.”
“Well, I am.” Ira felt his gut churn. “With all due respect, I cannot fathom this pressure any more. While I am not suicidal as my predecessor, Captain Arthur Collins was, I have lost too many of my friends in the span of seven years. I want to retire and spend the rest of my days helping this country rebuild.”
“For many years, you have lived and slept with war. Now you want a quiet, peaceful, uneventful life?”
Ira now figured out who that callous man, Richard was: a therapist.
Although Ira’s fingers tensed within each other, he stated impassively, “While I know my life will never be normal, I do know that it will never be uneventful.”
Standing up without permission, Ira clutched his supports.
Removing the captain’s badge from his uniform, he laid it squarely on the table before him. “Thank you for the offer, but I don’t want it, and I don’t need it.”
Silently, taken aback by his actions, the committee watched as Ira limped from the room.