“I’m surprised he’s letting so many of us debark,” Sullivan said, glancing at Evann as she tugged her gray poncho over her head. Three crew members rushed by her. One, falling slightly behind the others, bumped into her shoulder as he bolted past, trying to catch up with his crewmates as they set off in a dead bolt—a mad dash—through the rain.  A deluge rushed down into the canyon, tugging at the sailor’s feet. Every step sent water and mud flying into the air. Sullivan watched the water sweep several men off their feet. Each one, coated in mud with his hair slicked back from the rain while grasping for a fingerhold on the smooth canyon side, would haul himself back upright and continue the climb.

Evann pulled her head through the poncho, having finally untangled herself, and tugged it down to smooth out the wrinkles. As she ironed out the few remaining creases with a wry smile, she looked up at the gaping mouth of the canyon above. “I don’t see what they were so excited about.”

“I see someone’s not a fan of the rain.”

“I don’t like getting my socks wet,” Evann grumbled. “There’s nothing worse than having to walk with a swamp sloshing around inside your boot. Especially once the rest of you is dry, but your boots are still waterlogged.”

“I don’t mind it so much.”

“Having waterlogged boots?”

“No. I mean the rain,” Sullivan said. “I love how it sounds at night. How it sounds hitting the roof—or the ship’s hull. It’s comforting.”

“Since you’re so fond of it, why don’t you lead the charge up the hill?”

“Sure. Are you ready to leave?”

“Almost. Let me double-check my pack before we go. I don’t want to forget our tent and spend the night in a tree,” Evann said, pulling her backpack aside. She removed and gingerly laid each item out on the cargo bay deck, carefully taking inventory of the bag’s contents. Sullivan sat down beside her, leaning against the bulkhead, and watched the water cascade off the edges of the open cargo bay door and fall onto the ramp extended below. The ramp had sunk several inches into the mud. Hopefully the weather would lighten up before long, maybe even stop if they were lucky. Which they never were.

“Hey, why did you say you were surprised about the captain letting so many of us leave?” Evann asked. “Do you think some will desert?”

Sullivan nodded. “There’s no chance all of us come back.”

“I guess I see where you’re coming from, but I just think most of them would—”

“No, think about it. This is the first time we’ve been ashore in two months. Most of us are tired. Tired of running. Tired of fighting. And now . . . we’re home. Everything on the island cluster is within a few days’ travel. Who wouldn’t desert at a time like this?” he said. “Oh, and don’t forget, we’re losing. And losing bad.”

“But we haven’t lost yet,” Evann said as she finished double-checking her backpack, slinging it over her shoulder. Sullivan reached over and flipped the back of her poncho over it—not that it would help much if she slipped.

“I take it you’re set on coming back, then?”

“Mm-hmm. Nailed in one, chief. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be. Not that I have anywhere else to go.”

“But didn’t you say you were from around here too? What about your folks?”

“I only lived with my dad. My mom refused to ever live outside of Port Royale. So they split up when I was little. And my dad . . . he . . .”

“What happened?”

“He was inside the munitions factory in Port Royale, trying to load the fighters into the Alexandriabefore it and the Corvus were set to launch. Pretty sure he was still in there when the Federation blew the Alexandria apart.”

“You think—”

Evann gently nodded her head. “Yeah. I think so.”

“Sorry,” Sullivan said. “It’s hard losing a parent.”

“Sure. Yeah. Anyways, you ready to go?”

The pair started their way up the hill, struggling against the flood tearing down the valley. After twenty minutes of fighting against the current, slipping up the muddy slope, and hauling each other to their feet, Sullivan and Evann finally reached the mouth of the valley, stopping briefly to rest on a large boulder before continuing on their journey, walking into the forest beyond.

“So. What about you?”

“What about me?”

“Will you come back?”

Pausing beneath an awning of branches hanging over the trail, shielding the pair from the sheets of rain, Sullivan gazed back at the Corvus as a few crew members, dangling from cables, began hauling the first camouflage net over the ship’s hull. “I’m not sure.”


The pair agreed to a meeting spot to return to by the end of the week (four days out) before each heading their own way. Sullivan had no intention of making that rendezvous but, nonetheless, he set the date, hoping it would reassure Evann and assuage her concerns. The journey home to Cordova normally took two days, but Sullivan stretched it out to three. He was in no rush, and he wanted to steer clear of the main road. Best to avoid attention.

When he finally arrived on the morning of the fourth day, the town itself was quiet. Crooked shutters and vacant windows watched empty streets. The air sat deathly silent over the old west road Sullivan took into town, and he eventually paused at a split in the road. He gazed over at the north side of town, once populated with vibrant markets bathed in the rich cloth Cordova famously exported, now reduced to a field of craters.

Water from the storm had pooled in the massive scars, and trickles of runoff filled them further. Remnants of buildings—abandoned carriages and rotting walls—dotted the wasteland. A rook, in a flash of slick, oily black color, snatched at the ground, likely grabbing breakfast, before swooping up and resting on a solitary lamppost, its top leaning slightly off-kilter. He watched for a moment longer as the rook enjoyed its breakfast.

Shutting his eyes, he saw, clear as the rubble now, the outstretched streets of Cordova spreading out before him: the roadside cluttered with a rainbow of stalls of every shape and color; people milling about, engaging in passing conversation; the gently sloping roofs of the North End. It was all there. He opened his eyes. Gone.

The pause was short.

He moved on.

Using the landmarks familiar to him and still standing, Sullivan walked toward home, trudging through puddles. Down 5th Avenue. Across Casmir Lane. Twice, he believed he saw figures huddling in the long shadows of Cordova’s uniquely tall houses. Upon closer inspection, the streets were indeed empty.  The town was still asleep in the early hours of the morning. Or so he hoped.

Chest-high debris blocked the mouth to his neighborhood. The skeletons of carriages and barrels of wine were piled against the remnants of the gate. As Sullivan climbed over, he saw his home still intact, its shutters barred and its paint fading. The charred husks of five houses on the right side of the road grabbed his attention immediately afterward. Bullet casings littered the street. Sullivan’s hand gravitated toward his belt—where he had his handgun tucked away—as he started toward his house.

Continuing, he cautiously edged forward, careful not to make much noise, each step carefully planted between the debris scattered on the ground. His home was the ninth house of twelve on the street. The house stood a modest two stories tall in contrast to the style of older homes, constructed with brick and steel. Its outer face was dressed in aging wood, the warm tangerine glow not yet entirely faded.

Sullivan reached the stairs and stood at the base, looking at the dark, inky surface of the windows peering out behind the boards over them. They betrayed nothing of the interior. The curtains had all been drawn. He quickly leapt up the stairs, taking two at a time (as he always had), and stopped before the rich forest-green door.

Searching for the key, Sullivan reached under the welcome mat. He ran his fingers back and forth along the edge several times. Nothing. It must have been pushed further back. He flipped the mat over against the wall, kicking up a small cloud of dirt. He pinched the bridge of his nose to prevent the musty odor from filling his lungs. Still nothing. Yet another thing was out of place.

Maybe his father moved the key. That had to be it. He took a step back and inspected the porch, looking for another possible hiding spot for the key. Eventually, his eyes settled on the lip of the transom window. He thought back to how his mother had tucked away all the keys to the house on the lip of each door’s molding (or high up on a piece of nearby furniture). Maybe there, then?

Sullivan stepped aside to grab his father’s old sturdy chair off from the left but thought better of it upon seeing several needles of wood bristling from the armrest. He paused for a brief moment before reaching for his belt, grabbing his pair of heavy, thick gloves and tugging them on. Then, grabbing the chair by its arms, he swung it over his head and set it in front of the door in one smooth motion. Stepping up, he fumbled along the lip of the molding, feeling for a key. He touched cold metal.

Key in hand, he hopped off the chair before returning it to its spot in the corner of the porch. Drawing in a deep breath, an anticipatory breath, he slid the key in and opened the door.

As he stepped over the threshold, Sullivan was stuck by the subtle, spicy yet peppery scent filling the room. The heavy whuud of his steady footfalls and the accompanying creak of hardwood were the only sounds to be heard, except for the airy crackle of the radio program—unintelligible from the foyer—drifting in from the kitchen. With the exception of those sounds, the air hung in a listless silence. His eyes swept over the room, searching for the source of the room’s smell.

The dinner table, situated in the center of the space, was spotless except for a bulb lying on the corner. As were his mother’s bookshelves; though they had long sat untouched (his father was no reader), they too were clean. The small metal chandelier dangled overhead, one bulb missing (likely the one lying on the table below). Finally, he saw it. A vase of yellow carnations, green luster fading, decay eating at its beauty, sat atop the table below the front window, adorning its otherwise plain and barren surface. He took a deep breath, filling his lungs. Yes. That was the smell.

Again, he thought about how odd it was. His father never liked flowers.

He walked into the kitchen, as spotless as the dining room, and peered further on into the living room. No one. No one was home. He sighed, leaning against the counter, listening to the crackle of the radio.

“Are you looking for someone?”

Sullivan whipped around. A woman, graying hair tumbling around her shoulders, her face worn and wrinkled, stood in the doorway behind him, cradling a spare bulb for the chandelier in her hands. She looked to be in her fifties. She must have been upstairs.

“Yes, I’m looking for Donovan Costanza. My father.”

Her eyes widened, mouth agape. “Oh. You’re Sullivan.” She walked over and stuck out her hand. “I’m Anne. Donovan’s wife.”

“Oh.” It made sense his father would remarry. It did. It really did. He just hadn’t expected it. He reluctantly took her hand and gave a light handshake. “And where is he?”

“Ah, yes, he’s upstairs.” She gestured toward the stairs.

Sullivan nodded, thanking her, before brushing past. He took the stairs two at a time, nearly slipping on the way up. He grabbed the handrail as he reached the top, knuckles white.


His father, just releasing the string to the attic space, allowing it to swing closed, whipped around at the sound of his voice. A leather coat, slightly faded and a little singed around the edges, hung from his frame. The coat was new, and his father had lost weight. But his father smiled—a wide, full smile too—and the thought vanished from Sullivan’s mind.


That evening, the three of them gathered around the dinner table. Sullivan had replaced the light for his father earlier. His stepmother (though it was odd to think of her that way) frowned at him as he stepped off the chair he used to reach. He had forgotten to take off his shoes when he came into the house and had left a trail of mud in his wake, and she hadn’t noticed until he had stepped off the chair. She sat across from him now and, thankfully, didn’t seem to be holding a grudge.

“I’m so glad you’re home, Sully,” his dad said between bites of salad.

“I am too.”

“How has your time in the military treated you?” Anne asked.

“Difficult. But I’ve—” Sullivan started.

“You’re quitting that now, right? You’re coming home?” his dad interjected.

“I think so. I’m just want—”

“You’re not sure. No, you’re done. You’re coming home,” his dad said.

“Dad, can I please finish talking?”

“I don’t see what’s left to talk about. You’ve had to kill other people’s friends, other children’s parents, and other parents’ children. Why stay? The war’s over.”

“There are a few people I want to see if I can talk into leaving with me.”

“Who cares about them? My son has no business being in their company. They’re killers.”

“So am I.” Sullivan watched his father recoil at those words. He opened his mouth to reply but closed it, lips furrowed in a grimace.

“Honey, he’s a grown adult. Let him do what he wants,” Anne said, resting her hand gently on Donovan’s arm. “Let’s just sleep on the issue. Talk about it tomorrow.”

His dad grunted as he stood from his chair and walked upstairs in a huff. Anne smiled apologetically as she ushered him upstairs to bed, leaving Sullivan alone at the dinner table still crowded with dinner, mostly untouched.

Guess he was sleeping downstairs.


Sullivan awoke to hear a knock at the door. The soft padding of feet echoed down the stairwell. He thought he heard his dad call Anne back to bed as she went to answer the door. The lock clacked to the side before the door creaked open.

“Hello? Oh, I’m sorry, gentlemen. Do you need something?” Anne said. Sullivan thought he could hear a tinge of fear creeping into her voice.

“We heard a report of a Cerulean soldier coming through the area. A local reported seeing him entering this neighborhood and not exiting. We believe he’s holed up in one of these houses. Do you mind if we search the house?” Sullivan’s blood ran cold. Federation soldiers. His hand crept out from under the blanket draped over his still form toward his handgun resting on the coffee table. He grabbed the cool metal handle and pulled the weapon beneath the covers, holding it tight to his chest.

“I do mind. Could you come back in the morning? My husband is asleep, as is my son visiting from out of town—”

“Where’s he from?” a second soldier asked, his voice a high-pitched, nasally whine.


“Your son. What does he do?”

“Ma’am.” The first soldier, his voice steadier and deeper than his partner’s, jumped in. “We need to search your house. Now.”

A brief sound of scuffling, the men pushing Anne aside assumedly, before two pairs of boots began stomping across the hardwood. One in the dining room. One coming toward the kitchen and the living room. Toward Sullivan. His grip on his pistol tightened.

“Here he is.” A gruff voice said. It sounded a few feet to his left. By the door to the kitchen. “Hey, are you awake?” Two heavy footsteps closer.

“Do you really need to wake him up? He’s my son. There’s no need to question him. He’s just visiting from abroad,” Anne said, pleading with the gruff soldier, her voice coming from the hall. Good. Out of the way.

“Of course we do.” The soldier shook Sullivan’s shoulder. “Hey, get up.”

Sullivan fired through the blanket at the gruff man. The first shot ripped through his chest. He stumbled back, eyes wide with shock. Sullivan whipped the blanket off (holding onto it with one hand), stood up, and fired again. The soldier fell wordlessly to the ground with a thud.

A cry echoed from the hallway—Anne shrieking in horror. He heard shouting from the dining room—the other soldier.

Sullivan slid across the floor, moving to take cover in the kitchen doorway. He peered around the corner. Anne was shivering against the wall, hands over her ears. Meanwhile, the remaining soldier edged toward the front door, gun trained in the kitchen’s direction. Sullivan quickly snapped back around the corner. Two shots rang out, punching holes through the wood paneling on the wall opposite him. He had to finish this quick.

He pulled the blanket he had slept with out of a ball, preparing to throw it, hoping the soldier with the nasally voice stayed jumpy. Sullivan threw the blanket high. Three shots roared past, ripping through it. Sullivan dropped low—to the ground, almost—and popped out, firing two, four, then six shots at the soldier.

He missed most of them. But one clipped the guy’s shoulder. The rifle clattered to the ground. Gripping his fresh shoulder wound, the soldier turned and ran, attempting to dart across the porch and break line of sight with his attacker.

If he escaped, he would radio for help. Sullivan immediately scrambled to his feet and darted into the hall, squeezing two more shots off. The glass shattered. The soldier fell. He pulled the trigger again. He heard a metallic clink. The cartridge was empty, and the fight was over.

“Are you okay?” Sullivan asked, turning to Anne.

“I’m not sure, but I think so.” He helped her to her feet. Her hand quivered. She was still shaking.

His father rushed downstairs in a storm of heavy footsteps. “That shrew, Miss Ratford, across from the neighborhood entrance, must have called them. Good thing they ran off.”

“They didn’t run off,” Sullivan replied grimly.

“What?” His father walked out onto the porch. He gasped, face pale. “How could you? How could you drag this war here? How could you kill them? They probably had families back at home. The war will be over in a matter of weeks, and they’ll never get to go home.”

“Would you rather they killed your own son?” Sullivan asked, his voice cold.

His father’s face fell. “You should never have gotten involved in this war. I never asked you too. It was your mother who pushed you to leave, not me.” He turned to Sullivan, looking him in the eye. “Can’t you go back to the way you were before all this? Can’t things just return to normal?”

“No, father, they can’t.” Sullivan shook his head. “I’m leaving. Just give me a few minutes to gather my things.”

This time there was no protest from his dad. Anne watched silently as he walked by and returned to the living room, gathering his few stray belongings he had brought from the Corvus and stuffing them back into his sack.

“Wait,” Anne called out as he walked to the door. He paused. She quickly ran upstairs, returning a few moments later, a bundle in her arms. “Here. Another blanket, an umbrella, and a poncho to stay warm and dry.”

Sullivan smiled. “Thank you.” He turned and exited the house. He moved on.


The chilly spring air nipped at Sullivan’s arms. He shivered. Normally, the spring freeze wouldn’t bother him. He was asleep at this hour most nights, but tonight he stared at the beige-toned steelwork over his head. The pipes above pumped air and steam throughout the ship, twisting like a writhing mass of serpents frozen in time. A shrill sound echoed in the barracks to the right. The hiss of steam, the whoosh of air, the humming of the engines beneath their feet, and the creaking of metal as the Corvus chugged across the twilight sky formed a midnight melody for her crew to drift off to sleep to. On most nights, anyway.

This was not most nights. Not for Sullivan. The rest slept like the dead.

Sitting upright, he whipped his new wool blanket over his shoulders. After pulling on his socks, he quietly slid out of his hanging bunk tied between two vertical pipes. A pair of bunks swayed with the ship, their occupants gently snoring. He crept out of the room—the door left ajar for those who needed to take a leak in wee hours of the morning—deftly weaving past the rows of beds, careful not to wake any of the still forms lying there.

Once out of the room, he ghosted down the thin hallway toward the aft anti-aircraft turrets. The halls were cramped, and Sullivan had to rotate his shoulders to squeeze through the doorways.

He passed a crewman who greeted Sullivan as he walked by. “Are you switching out the watch early, sir?”

“No, private, I’m not. Just a surprise inspection, that’s all,” he said. The young private was one of Sullivan’s gunners. He was new, having jumped on the Corvus at Rolinda’s Port, but didn’t even have three months of experience yet. Sullivan reached for his name and came up empty. It started with an A, he thought. Arthur? Ambrose? Too many new faces in too short a time. He missed the old ones. The ones now fading in his mind.

“Well, give anyone napping on duty a nice wake-up call, would you, chief?” he said with a wink.

Sullivan leaned back into the recess of a door, making himself flush with the wall. “Of course I will. Don’t you worry about that. Now, you go get some rest, private,” he said, patting the young man on the back as he shuffled by. The steps faded into the distance, the echo carrying them to Sullivan’s ears long after the private had vanished.

The night was short. He walked on.

From the outside, the Corvus’shull bristled with dozens of AA gun turrets to complement the larger pair of heavy cannons on the side. The controls for these turrets were placed within a small pod that protruded from the ship, giving the exterior an uneven, lumpy appearance. Sullivan half-walked, half-pulled himself through the thin hallways, casting rapid glances into the interiors. The gunmen inside, both men and women alike, were wide awake. It wasn’t an easy night to sleep, not after the day before. If their door was open, he received a curt nod or tired wave as he passed by, and he returned both. Many left their doors closed, keeping the warmth from the hot steam pumped into the guns from leaking out into the hall. What kept the ship working also kept everyone on it warm.

Eventually, he found who he was looking for, fourth station from the stern of the ship. He hauled the door open. Evann sat leaning against the bulkhead, head back, her short, ragged hair a mess, feet pressed against the opposite wall, gazing out the small viewport, no more than a few inches tall and three feet wide. She shivered when he opened the door and stepped inside, pulling himself through the small entrance and up several feet onto the raised floor.

“What are you doing? Close the door.”

“Sorry.” He hauled it closed after he finished climbing inside.

“You’re letting all the heat out.” She noticed the blanket pulled around his shoulders. She frowned. “Though I guess that wouldn’t bother you too much.”

“Where’s yours?” he asked, beginning to lean back against the wall too before starting when he brushed against the belt of ammunition hanging from the gun barrel behind him. He pushed his palms against the cold steel floor as he lifted himself and shifted slightly to the left, away from the barrel.

A sigh. She stared at the woolen covering with envy. “Claire needed one. Hers got blown out of the ship during the battle above Orinda. You remember when the stern got hit?”

He nodded. “That was the ambush in the morning, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah, that’s the one. Let’s just say not everyone had time to tie everything down before we engaged the enemy. And I don’t want to let the poor girl freeze to death trying to catch a wink of sleep.”

“That’s thoughtful of you.”

“Isn’t it? Aren’t I so generous?” she said with a small smile.

“You have your moments, Sarge. Few and far between as they are.”

“Thanks.” She slumped down further and planted her feet against the wall opposite, about level with his shoulder, and locked eyes with him. “But why are you up?”

“Couldn’t sleep.”

She didn’t say a word, her gaze fixed on him, waiting. He let the silence drag on for a moment, mulling over what he wanted to say.

“Is it about Leon’s death a few weeks ago?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he whispered. A half-truth. He didn’t want to talk about his trip home. Evann thought it went well, which is how Sullivan wanted her perception of that trip to stay.

“There’s nothing you or anyone else could have done. Whatever happens, happens. Nothing to do about it.” She gave his shin a light pat as she stared out the thin viewport at the stars glittering beyond.

“I know that.” He did. He really did. That didn’t make it any easier to deal with. “It’s hard turning around constantly, expecting to see a familiar face, and only seeing empty space or a stranger instead.” He sighed, following her gaze, and looked out at the night sky too. “I sometimes feel like a majority of the crew are strangers at this point. I miss how it used to be. And I don’t want to lose any more people I know, only for them to be replaced by yet another stranger. The world itself feels strange. Nothing is the same anymore.”

“Well, the war should be over by the end of the month. There’s no way the Cerulean Primacy can hold for much longer. We’re on our last legs. The government will wave the white flag any day now. After that, we can all go home.”

Yeah. Home.”