The drab interior of the warpcraft felt like a luxury skytrain to the survivors of Platoon 809, despite being seated on rock-hard metal seats for the three-hour flight back to the DRF.
The red lights above and the endless mazes of piping adorning the ceilings and walls did not appear like a warship set on a course for a battle location, but something between a dirty prison and a clean house.
Jesse’s subtle smile un-tranced his cousins, girlfriend, and friends from their near-slumbers as they looked at each other.
“You know,” Jesse began as he fluffed the lapels of his fresh beige military uniform, “I don’t know why I’m smiling. Movie-like narratives suggest I should cry my eyes out in remembrance of our fallen comrades. We’ll never forget them. But we can’t mope like little saps forever. We were a part of something special, whatever it meant. Most will praise us for killing Fetisov, some just for so-called fulfilling patriotic duties. The most important thing is that we accomplished it together. And when people you love, and love you back, were by your side doing it, it’s worth it. It’s never about one person, one’s ego. It’s about all of us, as a unit, working collectively for a common goal, to benefit others.”
“Yeah,” Matt gleamed. “We were all one big group penetrating that Capitol Complex, weren’t we?”
“You immature little…” Mary snapped, then guffawed as the rest did the same.
“I had to,” Matt quipped, followed by a glistening smile of his own. “But Jesse’s right. We accomplish marvelous things when we work together. And I learned there are more important concerns in this world than chugging harlowcane and throwing blocks on a Friday night. As we get older, and as we’ve become wiser after this battle, we can all agree.”
Mary nodded and patted her brother on the shoulder with her free arm. “Well guys, it’s been a hell of a ride,” she began. “I don’t know if we should feel like the X-Men or not, but what I’ve learned through all this, and thank you for this one, Jesse: sometimes it is essential to question everything, but other times, it’s important to put your trust in the ones you love. I didn’t do that enough. I thought you were crazy, Jesse. And yet, while you still are periodically, you’re the smartest person I know. And you can be pretty damn intuitive.”
Jesse produced a whimpering look on his face, which transitioned to a chuckle. “That… that’s beautiful, Mare.”
After the collective laughter of the group died, Sarah chimed in. “I… I’m speechless about this entire experience.” Her voice began cracking as she continued. “You know… I wasn’t as scared of what we were doing as much as I was losing all of you. I don’t know if this episode was worth it. Did we accomplish something great? I have no idea! But I know this… friends and family are everything. And you are all family to me now. We’re going to walk forever together. I love each and every one of you!” As Sarah’s voice trailed off into weeping, Jesse stood up and comforted her, and Matt, Mary, and the surviving Four did the same.
As that happened, Peter made his declaration. “You know,” he began, “God is good. He took Zachary from us, and like you said, Jesse, we’ll always remember him. But until we meet him and Joshua in heaven one day, the rest of you are as close to a heavenly relationship as it will get!”
“AMEN!” Isiah and Gabriel proclaimed.
They shared a long hug, then engaged in a prayer session.
The warpcraft touched down at Teterboro International Warp-Port as the sun began ascending over the eastern horizon and New York City skyline, coloring the early morning winter cloudless sky a shade of bright orange that served as a glorified welcoming beacon for the DRF’s newest heroes.
A massive contingent of approximately one hundred media, government officials, warp-port personnel, and other dignitaries stood on the freezing tarmac in front of the terminal surrounding the warpcraft, waiving mini DRF flags in the air. As the door opened and the first of forty Divine Army soldiers appeared and descended the rolling metal staircase, a chorus of thunderous applause percolated the frosty air, building to a deafening crescendo as the last soldier disembarked.
When they entered the terminal, the soldiers of platoons 809 and 140 waived to a crowd double the size, all waiving larger DRF flags and applauding louder. They cleared a path for the platoons to walk past as flashbulbs popped. Requests for comments from microphone-wielding media members went unnoticed or ignored. All they could hear aside from the applause were the occasional “Joshua bless the DRF” shouts, along with “thank you” and “we love you” all running together like a song mashup.
After they emerged in the baggage claim lobby, the Maiths were greeted by a bittersweet Bob. Sobbing, he embraced his children and thanked them, then approached Jesse and wrapped his arms around him and buried his head in his shoulder. Jesse, for the first time in years, returned the adoration.
“Thank Joshua you’re safe,” Bob quivered, then removed his glasses and planted his hands on Jesse’s shoulders. Jesse grinned in acceptance. “I’m so sorry again for taking you for granted. Do you think you can forgive me?”
Jesse extended his hand toward his uncle’s. “This is a start,” he replied. “Thank you for believing in me.”
They re-embraced as the roaring applause around them continued.
Minutes later, Lt. McFerry approached Jesse and Bob. Jesse stood aside and saluted his platoon leader.
“Well done, Private Maith,” McFerry said. “Mr. Maith, I presume?”
“Yes, sir!” Bob exclaimed, then saluted McFerry.
“You should be very proud,” McFerry replied. “Private, just wanted to brief you quickly: Police will escort us to the Capitol Towers, where the Ultimate Minister himself will greet and congratulate each one of us.”
“This must be the special event spoken of, sir?” Jesse asked.
“That’s affirmative, Private.”
“Thank you, sir.”
After McFerry walked away, Jesse and Bob looked at each other and chuckled uncomfortably, with subtle hints of sarcasm.
“Well… that’s going to be quite an honor for you,” Bob quipped.
“Heh, this will be awkward,” Jesse snickered.