Chapter 28: Tears of Rain
Aurora stood on the edge of the Red Lake, the heavy jungle breathing all around her. She stared out at the calm water, her face expressionless. Her hair hung limply over her shoulders, as still as if it made of stone. Even as heavy raindrops began to fall, she remained motionless.
“Aurora? Can you hear me?”
Future Libby appeared behind her, holding a large leaf over her head to ward off the downpour. She hurried over to her friend through the curtain of rain, sidestepping puddles and rocks as she went.
“Aurora, it’s startin’ to pour here. Maybe you better come back to camp. Hey, Aurora…you listenin’?”
Future Libby approached cautiously, and Aurora jumped a little when her friend laid a hand on her shoulder. She met Future Libby’s eyes for a moment then, blinking rapidly, returned her gaze to the lake. Raindrops landed on her eyelashes and slid down her face like tears, catching in the corners of her mouth before dripping off her chin.
“Libby,” murmured Aurora absently, “do you remember all the things we used to say when we were kids? All the things we planned to do?”
Future Libby regarded Aurora for a pensive moment before setting down her leaf umbrella on a small boulder. She settled onto it and drew her knees to her chest.
“I think so,” she replied softly. “But we said lots of things.”
“I keep thinking about all the stuff we planned to do…all the things we took for granted that we’d do.” Water droplets streamed down Aurora’s arms and dripped from her fingertips, as if from fingers carved of stone. “We never got to go to our high school prom…you know? I remember how I used to imagine what my dress would look like — I could picture myself on the dance floor, spinning, twirling, laughing — I felt so beautiful. Who knows how many hours I spent daydreaming about it. It’s funny how dreams are. When you’re young, you don’t stop to think that they might not come true. But I guess it doesn’t matter. Still, I think about it sometimes.”
She paused for a moment. “You know, not once in these past ten years has anyone ever called me beautiful.”
She turned her head a little, and a piece of sodden hair worked itself loose from her ponytail and tumbled down. Future Libby waited patiently for her friend to continue.
“I never got to learn to drive…or save up for my first car…or run my first red light. None of it. I remember — I think it was when we were trying to save Jimmy and Sheen from the League of Villains — you told me that if I somehow managed to get my driver’s license, you were ‘taking the bus’. I remember getting this hilarious image in my head of you in the back seat of my car, holding on for dear life as I went careening down the road. We never got to grow up together, Libby. I always thought we would. I always thought we’d roll down the windows of our first car and feel the wind in our hair, while blasting the radio as loud as we could and singing along with our favorite songs. Always.”
Future Libby reached out, but Aurora cut her off. “We were cheated out of so many rites of passage, so many firsts. In place of what should be happy memories is something else entirely…” Aurora’s shoulders began to tremble, and she wrapped her arms around herself. “I thought our first kiss was supposed to be wonderful…I thought I’d be able to tell you all about it. Now I can’t. I can’t. I thought we were supposed to fall in love, to share secrets, and to comfort each other. Oh God Libby, don’t you understand? We’ll never get to see what it feels like to finish high school, or to go to college, or to buy our first house, or to get married. We’ll never get to have kids or get to watch the looks on our parents’ faces when they meet their grandchildren for the first time. I never got to tell my Mom how much I loved her. Everyone we ever knew, all the things we ever said, all the plans we ever made — they’re all gone.”
There was a tremendous silence, and Aurora lifted one hand and gingerly wiped a drop of rain from her cheek. When she spoke, her voice was soft and gentle.
“Why?” She turned quickly and gazed straight at Future Libby. Her eyes shone clear and bright from under her glistening eyelashes. She blinked, and another stream danced down her face. “Why, Libby? That’s all I want to know.”
Future Libby’s eyebrows knitted together as she gazed up at the woman before her, a soldier made of crystal light in the falling rain.
“I don’t know the answer to that, Aurora. I don’t think anyone does. But I do know that if we spend our lives wonderin’ why bad things happen, then we’ll miss out on all the good things that happen too. What you went through was awful, and I’m not tryin’ to tell you otherwise. But somethin’ good happened too...you survived. You might not have got to go to Prom or get your first car, but Aurora, you got a spaceship instead. You’ve seen things and traveled to places that most people could never even imagine. And you might not think you have a future, but I’m not ready to give up hope. There’s still a chance for me, Aurora, and there’s still a chance for you.”
Aurora reached up and touched her own face as she spoke, as if recognizing her thoughts for the first time. “I’m…I’m…scared. I’m afraid of what might happen.”
“We’re all afraid, Aurora. But we keep on goin’, if not for ourselves, then for the people we love.”
“Tch, people we love…” her voice cracked bitterly.
“Life isn’t always easy to understand. People die, sad things happen, but we learn to make new friends and to care about new people. We don’t forget about the ones we’ve lost, but we don’t die with them either. Instead, we keep livin’ for the friends that we do have. The people we love aren’t all gone, Aurora. I see one of them standin’ right in front of me.”
Aurora raised her gaze to meet Libby’s.
“You know,” she continued, “it’s not a crime to feel. We all get scared, we all feel sad, and we all cry. It’s no big deal.”
“You might not have realized it yet, but I’m still here. We might not have gotten to go to high school or college, and we might not have gotten to ride together in our first car. But who’s to know if we’d have been happy doin’ those things anyway? There’s no way to know what would have happened or what could have happened. There’s only what DID happen, and while it might not seem like it, it’s not all bad. We still have each other. And in the end, isn’t that what we all really want? Friendship…love…trust? All I know is that I’ll be here for you no matter what, and when it comes down to it, that’s what counts. No matter what happens, no matter what you say or do, I’ll still be your friend. Always.”
Aurora bit her lip as her eyes flooded with emotion. Future Libby seemed to radiate warmth, so that even under the dark clouds and the torrents of rain, she appeared elegant and bright. She leaned forward.
“And Aurora…nobody may have told you this, but you are beautiful.”
Aurora seemed to break at these words, and with a cry she threw her head back and burst into despairing tears. Thrown by the force of her own emotion, she staggered backward as her foot slid in a patch of mud. Leg smeared with dirt, soaked to the bone, and shaking visibly, she hung in this unbalanced pose. Slowly, painfully, she pulled herself upright, then met her friend’s sympathetic eyes. With a choked sob she dove at Future Libby, who pulled Aurora into a comforting embrace. She wept violently as Future Libby held her, her cries muffled in the crook of her friend’s shoulder. After a time her loud sobbing became quieter, until her tears mixed with the raindrops in silence. Neither of the women moved, until at last Aurora straightened, sniffling and wiping her eyes.
“I’m sorry…I’m so pathetic.”
Future Libby's smile was kind. “Don’t be sorry, hun. And you’re not pathetic. You needed that.”
Aurora, somewhat embarrassed, pulled away and settled herself onto the boulder. She wiped her nose. “It’s just…all this is hitting me so hard. I’ve always been able to hold it in, you know? I've always been able to overlook all the awful things that happened. I managed to keep the emotions in check. But today I felt something different, something worse. Libby, I’m terrified of what might happen — I’m afraid of what I might lose tomorrow.”
“I dared to hope that the council might get on board with Jimmy’s antidote plan. I thought we’d get the support that we so badly needed. But as usual, hope was too good to be true. Now we’re completely on our own. Our little group of desperadoes is going to have to take on the most powerful man in the galaxy, all by ourselves. It’s so scary to think about what’s at stake.”
She reached absently for Future Libby’s hand.
“For the past ten years, each new morning felt like the start of a game of Russian roulette. New day, load the gun, spin the chamber, pull the trigger…and wait to see who dies. But even so, I had this weird sense of invulnerability. No matter how many were claimed by the war, no matter how many of our allies died in the fighting, April and I always came out victors in the end. The people who died were aliens, blank faces, numbers…as unrelated to me as the farthest star in the farthest galaxy. I had this idea that April and I were somehow the best of the best, and that no matter how bad things got for others, we couldn’t be touched. It happened so many times I got into a pattern…until that nightmarish day three years ago when I was captured. And even then, against all those odds, I managed to make it out alive. So you see, through all the battles I’ve fought, through all the close calls I’ve had, there was never anything at stake except my own life…so somehow it didn’t seem so bad. It was Aurora against the world. It was Aurora against the Dictator.”
Future Libby opened her mouth to say something, but Aurora cut her off.
“But tomorrow things will be completely different. This isn’t April and me we’re talking about here, charging out onto the front lines and blasting the heck out of anything that comes our way. This isn’t my life at stake. It’s all of yours. I'm taking the people I love most in this world and leading them into a deathtrap. I don’t think you understand the danger of what we’re getting into. I’m sickened by the thought of what might happen. I’m responsible for you, for April, for Nav, and for the lives of five children. I could lose the people I care most about all over again. Losing the kids would be like a repeat of what happened ten years ago: unimaginable, horrifying. But losing you would be even worse. That would be it for me: two lives taken for the price of one.”
Aurora dropped Future Libby’s hand and looked over at the lake.
“And what’s worse, I have this horrible feeling that we’re not going to be able to pull this off without losing somebody. I’m playing the game of Russian roulette again…and I keep thinking: who will die so that the others can live? I’m terrified, Libby, because the first rule of war is very simple. Someone always dies.”
There was a moment of dreadful silence, then Aurora abruptly pushed away from the rock and stood.
“Enough. This isn’t the time to be going all to pieces. Now is the time to plan. Every single one of us is going to need every ounce of our wits, strength, and resolve if we’re going to make it through this. There’s no room for emotions. There’s no room for mistakes. There’s no room for anything. Now Libby, are you with me?”
Future Libby laid her hand on Aurora’s. “To the end.”
“Then let’s get back to camp. We have a lot to do.”
-> Chapter 29