The Mobian Chronicles
Chapter XI Sidestory
The Hellcats had come home to Mobotropolis in the rain, and it was in the rain that afternoon that they paid their respects to their former leader and friend. Even Rikta had put on a real uniform for the funeral. Her ‘pet’ grenade was absent for the first time since Harrison had met her. The drizzling gray skies cast a monochrome pallet over the Memorial Garden, the largest military cemetery in the city.
“I have never seen so many suits in my life, Jack.” Harrison had made leader in the worst way possible, and now he confided his feelings into his comrade as they looked at congregation of mourners. In what seemed to be a who’s who of military V.I.P.s; overwhelmingly, they were old Mobians in full dress uniforms, with rank insignias and medals Harrison couldn’t fathom adorning his own dark uniform.
“Nathan always said he had a lot of friends in high places, whenever it was time to call in a favor.” Jack bowed his head. “I never imagined he had quite so many, and in places quite so high… It makes me feel a bit insignificant.”
“You.” Broadside placed a mighty hand on the short calico’s shoulder. “Shut up now. Important old people, they were Nathan’s friends.” The massive tiger gestured to the crowd, and then squeezed down on Jack’s shoulder for emphasis. “Hellcats, we were Nathan’s family. Not insignificant.” His attention turned to Harrison, who also received a hand on the shoulder. “How do you hold up, Johnny? All this, it is twice as hard on you.”
“I’m okay, big guy. Thanks, though.”
The tiger pushed him towards the other mourners a little. “You go shake hands and talk to old guys. Is important, more important than you think. I take care of things over here.
The motion was enough to attract the attention of one member of the crowd, a short Persian cat in a dark blue uniform with matching beret; he was heavy with decoration and age. His massive eyebrows curled as he saluted and then crushed Harrison’s hand in a firm handshake, greeting him in grizzled old voice. “Harrison, right? General Berttran, Second Cavalry. You got you some mighty big shoes to fill, boy. Mighty big.”
“Yes, sir.” Harrison new better than to say anything else.
“Nathan was a good man, good soldier. He was a good friend, too.” Berttran looked off into something in the distance; perhaps the past. “Fought in a lot of battles together we did. Had our share of the war, you could say. I was in the Hellcats, the original ones, mind you, back when they first formed, fifty years ago. Nathan was the one they put in charge of it, and he and I were as young as you back then. He didn’t get no say in it, just put in charge of the team and shipped off to makers-know-where on missions we had no business comin’ back from. Do you know how he felt about it?”
“He was scared, boy! Nervous! He didn’t know if he was good enough to do that kind of work. He thought he’d never be as good as the best soldier he knew. I reckon that’s how you feel, innit?
“Well then, let me ask you this.” Berttran arched a fluffy eyebrow. “How many people you reckon were in line ahead of you for your new position?”
“I have no idea, sir”
“A lot, boy! An awful, awful lot. But they ain’t in charge of the Hellcats, now are they? I don’t know you, boy, but I did know Nathan. So let me tell you somethin’ and you remember it, now. Nathan picked you, out of people more qualified, more experienced, more of anything you got, but he picked you. That tells me he thought more of you than anyone in this whole world. And he believed that you were the best cat for the job.” The Persian nodded sagely. “Nathan was the finest soldier I ever fought beside, and if he picked you, then that’s more than good enough for me. I believe in you, boy, and if you ever need advice, or help, you come see me and I’ll sort you out.”
Harrison was taken aback at this. He’d expected a lecture, not a pledge. “I… thank you, sir.”
“Carry on.” Berttran gave him a crisp salute before departing. It was the same as he spoke to more and more of the Mobians who had come to see their old friend off. More and more he heard about his departed friend and mentor, and the more he heard, the more he realized what it all meant for him.
There was one figure removed from the mourners, a tall tiger in a fancy suit and sunglasses. He shielded a match from the rain as he lit up a cigarette, ever silent and solemn. Unlike the others present, this was a figure Harrison knew.
“General Katzenov, sir.” Harrison offered a salute. “It’s good of you to come; I know you are very busy.”
“Nathan was a friend, Harrison.” Nikolai offered his usual tone and demeanor. If he was emotionally moved at all, it was hard to tell. “He did much for my predecessors, and much for me. I would not miss the funeral of my best agent.”
“Did… uh, did Nathan have any family, sir? Were they able to attend? I’d like to offer my condolences to them.” Nathan had never spoke to Harrison about a family, but he’d always found it hard it imagine him without anyone. More than anything, he hated the thought of his former commander leaving the world without any children or grandchildren to remember him.
“Nathan had a wife, Leina, two daughters, and several grandchildren. All of them died in the massacre at Kith Alunel decades ago.” The general’s tone was matter-of-fact and to the point, as always.
“…oh. I… I never knew that. He never told me.”
“That’s not surprising; Nathan blamed himself for a lot of things that weren’t entirely his fault, he fought a war of his own inside himself, every day.” Katzenov took a thoughtful puff of his cigarette, the smoke wisped its way up through the droplets of falling rain. “He did, however, confide in me not long ago that he had a someone he considered a son. He asked me to give him something at his funeral, if possible.”
This raised Harrison’s hopes, but begged another question. “Was his son able to make it to the funeral?”
General Katzenov cracked a faint smile; the first time Harrison had ever seen him do so. His eyes caught a glint of light behind his sunglasses. “Yes, Jonathan. He is in attendance.” He offered a handshake to the young black cat and Harrison accepted.
When the handshake ended, Johnny found that the general had slipped something into his hand. When he held it up to the dim light of the cloudy sky, he saw what. It was a medal, the symbol of a star and wreath, with an inscription on the back. It was the Promise Star, one of the highest honors a Mobian soldier could earn. They were given, always posthumously, to those who displayed a career of incredible merit and bravery. The back inscription read ‘In promise that those who die do it not in vain, that there will be a tomorrow, that the darkest night shows the brightest stars.’ The name on the front read ‘Nathan Halloway’.
“General?” Jonathan glanced up, but the tiger was gone. The opening chords of the National Anthem of Mobius drew his attention suddenly to the coffin, where the funeral was coming to a close.
The chaplain delivered his lines at the head of the empty coffin as it was lowered and the flag removed.
“As the creators brought you forth from Mobius, so too do they return you to the land of your birth. Such is the cycle of being that binds us all, for we, too sprang from this land, and one day, we, too shall return.
Be not afraid on your journey, for a thousand brothers and sisters have gone before, in life, in death, and beyond, to the Great Harvest. Be reunited now with the land, with those long passed, and with those who remain.”
“Present arms!” Broadside bellowed out from beside the grave, drawing his ceremonial sword and crossing it with the blade of the soldier on the other side; two more pairs of soldiers did the same, down the length of the coffin before sheathing them again.
Jonathan watched the final proceedings for his longtime friend, and wiped his eyes, his attention returning to the medal. As the anthem played on, he turned his gaze inward in introspection, nodding silently. “You kept your promise, Nathan.” He tucked the Promise Star into his uniform, casting a glance up at the rainy skies.
“Now, I promise, too.”