Memories of Headstones That Symbolize Fathers

Memories of HeadstonesStarsoma has a strange effect upon the mind. Designed to prevent the onset of mental problems during real-space flight, its heady cocktail of chemicals and electrical stimulation creates a montage of looping imagery and cacophonic aural sensation like herbal vaporizer. The speculation concerning the exact nature of these waking dreams has existed for nearly as long as the Starsoma technology itself, remaining one of the most heated points of contention within the space faring community. No final conclusion has ever been reached, as memories seem to merge with dreams without rhyme or reason, and the physical manifestations confuse the issue further. Variations in temperature flow over the dreamer like sand, and the gentlest of air movements can feel like heavy…

….rain slewed down, pattering and slicking over the rows of polished marble and turning the grey of Lexia’s uniform from light to dark. It drummed on the hard brim of her peaked cap in a staccato march, invoking unwelcome memories of melancholic parades for non-existent victories. She removed the cap, peak first, and placed it on top of the headstone in front of her. The rain had turned the cap as dark as the marble upon which she sat it. It proceeded to slick her raven-black hair to her back, the obsessively neat pony-tail soaking into bedraggled rat-tails.

It hid her tears very well.

Lexia ran her fingers over the cold stone, tracing the strict, stark lines. The headstone was identical in shape, size and proportion as the ones to either side of it, and the ones in front and behind. They too were identical to their neighbours, as their neighbours were to theirs, on and on and on. Over fifty square miles of neatly trimmed grass and polished marble. Each headstone contained a glass section in its centre, displaying some treasured memento, something considered to convey the nature if the person who’s remains resided in the ground below. This one, just like thousands of others, contained a row of medals. Lexia’s fingers traced the glass, slick and cold in the rain as the marble that encased it. She paused at each polished medal, trying to remember what each one was for. Her father had gathered so many. This one, a silver-trimmed star, he had won at during the Forbidden Strikes, while the golden discs where medals of valor for forgotten and minor skirmishes that the other side no longer deigned to remember. Lexia’s collection of medals, gleaming dimly on her chest, seemed meager in comparison, but they were the one thing that had brought her closer to her father. She remembered when he had presented her with her own Shining Star with a vividness so strong and clear that it could have been yesterday. He had seemed so stern and proud and weary all at once, forged as he was in the image of the government he served. Given time, Lexia might become like that as well.

She withdrew her hand from the stone and raised it in salute, wondering how many others across the Memorial Fields were doing the exact same at that moment. The burial expanse was so great that she would never know. She was alone. One more soldier standing in the fields of the dead, mourning a passing that had come all too soon.

“Goodbye father,” She said, biting back the sobs that welled up unexpectedly, The words to the tradition Russian prayer seemed heavy and awkward on her lips and she stumbled on the words. Sighing, she retrieved her cap from the cold stone. The felt lining was sodden, but she barely noticed. She donned it peak first, carefully mirroring her early action, and turned…

…striding across the room, she swatted the tall glass as if it were in her way. It crashed against the wall and shattered. The scent of expensive vodka, harsh and sharp, rose in its wake. The clear liquid had splashed over the table and the papers and the wall. A cold silence settled over the room, and for a few long moments, no one stirred or spoke. Lexia stood and seethed, her pale skin whiter than usual, her lips nearly as white as her cheeks.

General Korchev broke the silence with a carefully timed cough, as small and neat and precise as the man himself. He ran one hand over his balding pate and forced a smile.

“Please, Captain Mashen’ka, we’re not blind to your grief, but surely you understand that there are certain…issues…that must be considered?” He gestured to the chair that Lexia had been sitting at until a few minutes before. She sat, if only because she felt that she might lunge over the table and strike him if she remained standing.

“General. Let me be absolutely clear in this,” Lexia kept her tone clipped to control her anger, “My father, Kommandant Garsha Evich Mashenvich, decorated war hero, has been killed during some sort of mission in Embyar space, killed during circumstances so secret that you refuse to even bring me his body for burial? You know dammed well I can’t accept that”

Korchev pursed his lips, considering for a moment. Neither of the other two Generals spoke out, preferring to let the older man do most of the talking.

“Captain….Lexia,,,,,there are often political considerations that must be given greater precedence than personal grief, or even that of the State itself. You know that as well as anyone here. It is for such reasons that we cannot acknowledge your father as having being killed in action.” He leaned forwards, placing his weathered hands palm down on the table. He lowered his eyes as well. “I miss Garsha just as you do, and I grieve for him. He was a good friend. But you know that if we give him the funeral he deserves then questions will be raised. We are not officially at war with Embyar…but one wrong move in this could spark one off.”

Lexia’s anger flared, stinging her eyes with new tears, and her voice was shot with more bitter coldness than she thought possible.

“I don’t care! You’re so wrapped up in your worthless schemes and plots and politics that you can’t see anything but border movements and past glories! I just want to bury my father!”

“A full State burial is out of the question.” The man to Korchev’s left grumbled out the words, sounding like a grav-tank with a faulty engine. Lexia leaned towards him him, nearly snarling, and he flinched nervously, flicking his eyes towards Korchev, seeking support. Korchev was placating as he came to his colleague’s rescue.

“There will be a funeral, we will honour your father as much as we can afford. But…” he left the word hanging for a second, “what we have discussed here will go no farther than that door. As far as anyone else is concerned, Kommandant Mashenvich passed away in his sleep, and old hero of our people. Is that understood?”

Lexia rose from her seat, gripping the table edge more to focus her hands than to steady herself. Korchev sternly cut short her angered reply.

“Lexia, I love you like my own daughter, and I’m sorry, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is a discussion. It isn’t.”

Lexia felt herself stiffen, her anger and grief seeming to solidify within her. She looked over at the Generals, so rigid in their worries and politics. Of the three, only Korchev had ever actually seen combat, which made his decision seem even more like a betrayal. He knew the strength of loyalties that lay at the heart of the State better than the others. He’d been a good friend and ally through many long years, had served together with her father, but looking at him now, Lexia…

….hated the feel of the unfamiliar material. It was thick and heavy, and felt coarse on her skin. Lexia tugged at the hem of the dress, trying to get it away from where it was rubbing the tops of her ankles. For what seemed like the hundredth time, her mother leaned over and rapped her hands with those delicate, porcelain fingers.

“Stop that, Lexia. You’ll stretch the fabric.” Mothers voice was firm, and Lexia clasped her hands together reluctantly.

“Don’t care,” She mumbled, “Don’t like it. Its heavy and scratchy and black and horrible and I hate it.”

Her mother sighed, and gave her that look. Lexia tried to glare back, but as always she could never hold her mothers gaze for long. But somewhere inside her a glimmer of defiance flickered. She didn’t want to be wearing that dress, and she certainly didn’t want to be sitting in that noisy shuttle as it glided over miles and miles of monotonous, boring forest, with nothing to do but listen to the jagged roar of the engines and watch the cold drizzle spattering against the windows.

“Don’t see why I have to wear this anyway.” She finally said, bitterly.

“Its tradition, Lexia. I have to wear one just like it.” And it was true. Under her long, fur-trimmed coat, Mother was wearing a very similar dress, plain cut and a deep black that served to make her seem paler than usual. Caught short, Lexia couldn’t think of anything else to say for a few seconds. She was about to repeat her early statement of dislike when Father’s deep voice rumbled out over the sound of the engines.

“Its not only tradition, Lexy. Its symbolic, and symbols can be very important.” The crisp, firm lines of his face flickered into that half-smile of his, and he fondly reached over and brushed a stray lock of her hair, “The black is a sign of respect.”

“It makes me look white.” Father always made Lexia uncomfortably aware of how childish she could be, and the words sounded silly before the even said them.

“Perhaps she’s still too young for this.” Mother said, sounding uncertain.

“No. I was Lexia’s age the first time I had to do this. It’ll be good to do this now.” Father wasn’t wearing black, but his uniform was black trimmed at the cuffs and collar, as was the peak of his cap. His rank pins and medals glinted against the grey material. Lexia thought he looked very fine.

“Where are we going, Papa?”

“We’re going to pay our respects to your Grandfather.” He answered.

“But, Papa, Grandfather died. How can we visit him?” Lexia felt her face screw up in confusion.

“You see, Garsha? She doesn’t understand. She’s too young for this!” Mother’s exasperation was plain. She had been arguing against bringing Lexia along for over a week. Lexia bristled. It was always the same. Mother always thought Lexia was too young, that she acted more like a boy than a girl. Only a month before Lexia had stated with that certainty that only a child can have that she wanted to be a soldier, just like Father, and have medals just like his. That one had sparked a blistering row between Father and Mother that had lasted for days. She wanted to tell Mother that she was old enough, but Mother had that look again, and the shuttle suddenly seemed cramped and stifling.

Suddenly, though, she wasn’t paying attention to what Mother and Father were saying. The roar of the engines had dropped to a barely audible whisper, but only Lexia seemed to have noticed. She leaned over so she could look out of the window, pressing her hands and face up against the cold glass.

The forest below had given way at last. There was a brief patch of manicured grass, and then the shuttle was gliding over row upon row of stone blocks, hundreds….no, thousands of them, more than Lexia could hope to count. They were laid out in neat, regimented lines; each one the same shape and colour as the next. Occasionally, dotted here and there, where small patches of colour like this site. Flowers in bowls and vases, or lying on top of one of the blocks of stone. Lexia had never seen anything like it. It seemed so grim and oppressive, and very lonely, as if the whole place was gripped by great sadness.

“Why have the engines gone quiet, Papa?” Her sudden query quieted Mother and Father, who had been arguing again. Mother suddenly looked very sad, and Father’s voice was low.

“Its to show respect.”

“Like the black?”

“Yes Lexy…..like the black.”

“What are the stones, Papa? There’s so many of them.” All trace of her earlier petulance was gone. The bleak vista made her feel very small.

Father was quiet for a long time. When he finally spoke, it was with a sadness that mirrored Mother’s expression, but with a reverence that stirred something in Lexia’s heart.

“They’re memories.” He said.

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