Jesse could not contain his indignation as he stormed away from his aunt’s casket toward the hoverhearse that carried her corpse to the cemetery.
The burden of endless malicious emotion, ranging from natural sadness to consecrated rage, seethed in Jesse’s mind.
At the fragile age of fifteen, he realized that life and the world aren’t fair, and never will be. The frequency and magnitude of such fortune was a reality that was no longer acceptable to him.
The intolerable stress of losing another loved one collapsed upon Jesse when he leaned his right arm against the hoverhearse, covered his face on the brittle bone beneath his goose bumped skin, and resumed weeping.
Moments later, Matt and Mary approached their cousin.
“Jess?” Matt murmured.
A beet-red Jesse turned, saw his cousins, then buried his head in Matt’s shoulder.
After a brief feeling of surprise, Matt wrapped his hand around Jesse’s. Mary did the same around her brother and cousin, and they cried together.
“I’m sorry,” Jesse quivered into Matt’s now tear-saturated jacket. “I’m so sorry. To both of you! I don’t want to fight anymore!”
“It’s okay,” Mary shivered.
“I’ve been a jerk to you guys,” Jesse acknowledged. “I shouldn’t have forced my beliefs down your throats. I was wrong.”
“No, I’m sorry,” Mary shuddered. “I should have listened to you.”
“Me too, cuz,” Matt trembled. “You were right about everything.”
“I love you both,” Jesse said. “I mean it.”
“I love you too,” Mary cried.
“I love you, man… but of course in a plutonic way,” Matt quipped. The Maiths released their embraced and shared a laugh through their tears.
Shortly after, Sarah arrived by their side. “Is all okay?” she asked.
“Don’t mind us,” Matt replied, “We’re expressing our unrequited love!”
Sarah smiled. “Glad to see you haven’t lost your sense of whimsy, kid,” she said to Matt.
Matt chuckled while wiping away a tear. “Well, what am I going to do, not be a smartass?!”
Jesse, Sarah, and Mary scowled at Matt.
“Okay, I’ll timed joke,” Matt conceded. “Humor is how I cope.”
“Well,” Sarah stated, “I’m not sure if this is the time to change topics, but it’s inevitable it will come up again. Are we defecting to Canada after we’re drafted?”
“Wait what?!” Mary replied, “Sounds like something you and Jesse would do.”
“He hasn’t spoken to you about it?!” Sarah asked.
“I guess he muttered it right after the attacks,” Mary said, “but I was never under the impression we were dodging the draft.”
“Would we really consider, much less do such a thing?” Matt inquired. “Wouldn’t we get convicted of a third or something if we got caught?”
“That’s not a third violation, Matt,” Sarah countered, “but it’s treason, punishable by death at Rockefeller.”
“Now hold on,” Mary snapped. “We can’t just rush into a decision like this!”
“I’m not saying…” Sarah replied.
“No political posturing on this one!” Mary pled. “This decision should not be based on some vendetta against you-know-who!”
“Mary, this is not…” Sarah pled.
Suddenly, an unexpected statement.
“I’m going to fight,” Jesse declared, gritting his lips.
Matt, Mary, and Sarah all looked at Jesse in complete shock.
“I’m sorry?!” Mary asked.
“You’re joking, right?” Matt asked.
Jesse, stomping his feet, approached the three. They saw a conviction in his expression they had never seen before. “I’m not dodging any draft. I’m going to go fight those bastards.”
“Um, Jess,” Matt asked with his mouth agape, “Don’t you think you should…”
“I’ve decided,” Jesse growled back. “The New Alaskans will pay for what they did to your mother.”
“Um, okay,” Mary replied. “Then, all that stuff about project whatever… how you-know-who is…”
“The circumstances have changed,” Jesse rumbled. “I want revenge. I want to kill Fetisov myself.”
Sarah approached Jesse with concern in her complexion. “Okay, Jesse, can we sit down and discuss this?”
“Would you three consider going with me?” Jesse asked with a hint of desperation in his tone. Silence ensued. “Look,” he continued, “Matt and Mary, I wouldn’t hold you two to the comradeship for this scenario. I know it’s a tough decision, and I can’t and won’t force you two to go. I wouldn’t force you either, Sarah.”
Sarah collected her thoughts, struggling to foster a response. As she fumbled through gibberish reverberating out of her mouth, Matt stepped forward and nodded toward Jesse.
“I’ll go with you, cuz,” Matt said. He nodded again with no pretense toward a joke or any other smart-alecky response. “Comradeship or no comradeship, I’ll fight with you.”
Matt then stuck out his right hand and shook Jesse’s. Jesse nodded back in approval.
“Mary?” Jesse asked. Mary appeared forlorn, but a sudden surge of adrenaline raced through her mind, as if a lightbulb turned on inside it. “I mean, I’d hate to say I want to be Superman, but… well, facts are facts, and truth and justice are prevailing.” She creased her eyebrows down and nodded. “I want to avenge mom as much as you do.”
Jesse grinned, then turned toward Sarah.
“We’re going to kick some New Alaskan ass,” she replied with a sneaky nefariousness.
Jesse smiled and then shared a group hug with her and his cousins. “Well, Sarah,” he gleamed. “It seems you’re joining the Maith Youth Comradeship in the most daring endeavor we’ve ever undertaken!”
Sarah scoffed. “What’s that silly chant you do? Be free?”
The Maiths caustically rolled their eyes.
“Word of advice,” Jesse said. “Next time, don’t sound so sarcastic when you say it.”