“Are you sure?” the Younger asked quietly. His arms rested on his knees as he watched the sun slowly rise over the tops of the mountains, bathing the wooded valley and the lake below with its warm light. The older man breathed calmly beside him, rigid as the stone bench they sat on, yet at ease.
“Yes, very,” he replied.
The Younger clasped his fingers together and sighed. “Well, then I guess this is it?” He looked at the Elder, the Elder back at him. “There’s nothing I can say to make you reconsider, is there?” he asked, feeling defeated. The Elder shook his head.
“I’ve been there and back again hundreds of times, now,” he said. “I’ve seen it all, or at least all I’ve needed to see. Now, I just want to rest; relax and enjoy myself without feeling like I have to worry about the next pirate attack or the next big escape. I won’t say I’m not going to miss it, but man, I certainly don’t crave it.”
“What about everything you fought for? All the injustices you helped quash? The rights you strove to preserve? What about all the people who counted on you and fought alongside you? Don’t you feel like you’d be abandoning them?”
The Elder smiled. At one point, just a couple of years ago, he had pondered those very questions. “They can handle themselves. They’ve proven themselves time and again. Over the last few years, I’m sure you noticed, but I’d been letting you guys do most of the dirty work. More and more, I relegated myself to the role of getaway driver. And I even scooted away from that as younger pilots joined up. With the exception of a few sparse duels, I have been stepping away from the action. You don’t need me anymore. I can trust that you and the crew will continue to fight for justice just fine without me, and I know you will do well. Besides, with your help, I have complete faith in the new government.”
The Younger turned his eyes back to the mountains. “I guess I knew this day would come. I just never really went through it in my head.” He gave a light-hearted chortle. “It’s better than our story ending with you dying!”
The Elder laughed. “And to think I always worried about you getting yourself killed!” The two laughed a while longer and then the Elder cleared his throat. “Don’t, though... get yourself killed, I mean.”
“Ah, old man! You know me!”
“Yes, I do know you. I was there when you chased after that mercenary and fell into that very obvious varmuth nest back on Pelmagris III.”
“Oh, that? That was nothing. I got out of there easy-peasy.”
“Uh-huh! After I stunned all the varmuths that charged at you! And that wasn’t easy.”
“Well, what about that time you led us right into the clutches of the Empire in the Eagle Nebula?”
“We were being chased by pirates! I had no choice but to speed through that nebula. There was no way I could have known there was an Imperial fleet assembling on the other side of that brown dwarf.”
“Yeah, well it was my quick thinking that saved us that day,” the Younger boasted. “If I hadn’t convinced you to fly straight into their formation, you might have tried turning back. And then where would we be?”
The Elder laughed and then said, “but that’s my point. Don’t you see? Your quick thinking got us out of that mess. I’m getting tired. Tired of outrunning, outgunning, and outwitting. I want to slow down, now, and maybe think about — I don’t know — bigger things. I never had time to really ruminate, to really appreciate the things I helped achieve, or to even stop and truly mourn the ones I lost along the way. After all, their sacrifice would be in vain if not one of us stopped to enjoy our gains; if we all died off one by one, killed by some new unstoppable force, what would we be accomplishing? What would it all be for? Why fight if we can’t find any peace?”
The Younger did not reply. Instead, they both sat there on that stone bench, quietly thinking to themselves. Nothing more needed to be said. The rest passed between them without words, like a wind of knowledge flowing from the Elder and washing over the Younger in a warm breeze that carried the leaves away.
Eventually, they stood up and walked into the woods. They reminisced with each other, recalling other adventures and retelling their favorite stories. They came upon a fork in the road and just kept walking — which way was unimportant. Just before noon, they stumbled upon an old buck and startled him. The buck stared at them for a long moment, the two men stared back, and then the deer took off at a leisurely trot deeper into the woods.
The two went into the nearby town at the end of the wood and stopped to eat, occasionally meditating in silence, but never forgetting where their conversation left off. When they were done, they went back into the little forest and wandered toward a babbling brook. The water in the creek kept on churning. The men stood there to watch it for more than a few minutes. It never stopped spewing its secrets, truths that no one could hear unless they stopped to listen.
Finally, the sun began its final descent into the red beyond and the pair made their way back to the stone bench. The Younger got a call from one of the crew that the ship was repaired and ready for takeoff. He looked to the Elder who was watching the sunset.
“So what will you do, now?” the Younger asked. The sun touched the tip of a mountain and the sky filled with purple.
The old man shrugged. “Probably get a boat; live out on the lake. It’ll be awhile before I’m used to solid ground and having constant gravity weighing me down all the time.” He paused, letting the words sink in; the Younger never broke his gaze. The Elder shifted his eyes to meet the Younger’s. “I’ll be taking it day by day. There isn’t a plan. Ha! Never was!” Both of them grinned.
Just then, a medium-sized ship flew overhead and landed behind them. “Well, I guess that’s my ride,” said the Younger as he stood up. The Elder stood up and they locked elbows and patted each other’s backs. “Take care of yourself, Old Man!” said the Younger as he walked to the starship.
“Watch your back, Young Man!”
“You’re sure, not one more adventure?” the Younger asked from the boarding ramp.
The Elder shook his head. “I’ve had my fun!” he called back with a wave. The Younger waved back as the ship lifted away and flew to the East. It suddenly lurched forward and zipped upward toward the edge of the atmosphere. Three patrol craft, red and blue lights flashing across the darkening forest, appeared from behind and chased after the streaking starship. The Elder shook his head again and lowered his waving arm, not the least bit surprised his starship was on the run again. And yet, he wasn’t even a little curious about their situation, nor was he worried whether the crew would be fine.
He stayed a while longer as the twilight turned to black and looked out at the lake. It was a clear night and the moon and stars reflected perfectly off its still surface. He used to think that one day he would die looking up at the stars. He never thought instead that he’d be looking down at them through the Earth’s lens. It was unlike anything he had ever seen before. He smiled once more as he caught the grin of the moon in the face of the lake.