…a future…….somewhere near Dubrovnik, on the coast of the Adriatic Sea…
A calm sea broke upon a calmer shore, forever returning and receding like a mind unable to ignore one particular memory. Its dull crash upon the coastline still reached me, standing on the top floor. There is little noise besides, here, to compete for my attentions; excluding the occasional, errant seagull, borne aloft overhead on ocean winds, splitting the silence with each intonation. Since carrying a gun, I have often needed opportunity to practice my aim…
I sniffed, breathing deep through the nose, enjoying the fresh taste after so long deprived of sea-air. It smelled clear, of salt, of sand, of the promises of tropical storms.
And one other thing…
“You’ve inherited many good things in your time, Captain. A smoking habit is not one of them.”
I turned around to the sound of footsteps. Captain Sceptre, once such a proud, colourful and somewhat respected scrap of personality, shambled in like a man late for a funeral and dressed accordingly. A hi-tar cigarette drooped from an equally droopy side of his mouth.
CS: “That dwarf left so many of the damn things lying around. Might as well dispose of ’em. One at a time.”
“You’re even starting to sound like him.”
CS: “Don’t say his name.”
“I wasn’t going to.”
I looked back out to sea, the Captain standing alongside me on the room’s edge. He scanned about the place, around and behind us, with a general aura that was less than impressed.
“I am sorry, Quentin.”
CS: “So you’ve said a hundred times before.” He tapped the cigarette, scattering ash. “Why don’t you tell me what we’re doing here?” His gaze trailed outwards, to the south. “Especially when there is a better hotel or six, right over there?”
I did my own swift survey of the surrounding area.
“This used to be a hotel, once. Then, it was a shelter for soldiers. Now…”
Windowless panes, crumbling walls, nothing but sunlight to greet us – a lot more filtering in than the architect had originally intended.
A place can feel dead, much like an ex-living thing. The Captain and I held a meet within the insides of a corpse, just one of metals and brick.
Quentin, nee Captain Sceptre, flicked the finished cigarette outside. It was an easy shot. The whole wall was missing.
CS: “And I used to be someone. What’s your point?”
“It was bombed,” I said, oblivious, “in a short war that made little sense to all involved, much like every conflict to come before and after it.
“And rather than tear this place down when the war ended, they kept it. Neat, don’t you think? Rather than bury their wounded past and move on, they decided to own it, make it part of the landscape, something to be seen. Croatia wears its battle scars with pride.”
When I consulted my one-man-audience, he was preoccupied with commencing a fresh cigarette. Some people are just hard to please.
Or set to grieve.
His first inhalation started a coughing fit; the first this plaza had heard in several decades. I ignored him, watching the boats below us stream across the waves. One caught my eye, due north. Tourists, probably, heading to Dubrovnik. Where all the “interesting” stuff and excitement is.
“Isn’t it just.”
I like coming to places like these. The literal spoils of war. Berlin. Moscow. Vietnam. Obviously, I visit at a time after the conflict has burned out and these monuments remain. 1970s Vietnam, for example, is a much more stressful visit than, say, 2970. The history and the stories remain, though. The structures. The bullet holes. The reminder, and honour, for those that fought to those who lucky enough not to.
I wonder what Silent Plains will look like, one day…
CS: “C’mon, old man, we are we here? War tour? Boat rides? Croatian stag do?”
I regarded the ravaged hotel room again. Collapsed walls meant I could see through several suites at once; similar situation with rotting floors. But no matter the damage, the decay, the evidence of entropy, the Kupari Plaza was still standing – which thankfully meant, so were we.
“A preserved piece of the past, in a world that has moved on.” I met his gaze. “I offer you your own piece of the past, Captain. A return to your halcyon days of jubilation, exultation, and desecration of the known universe.
“I need you to kidnap someone for me.”
“Escort someone for me.”
CS: “No. Do it yourself.”
“The very fact that I’m asking you to do it should suggest that’s not possible.”
CS: “I won’t.”
“And yet you accepted my summons, after all this time.”
The Captain shrugged.
CS: “Little else better to do.”
“Then here’s a job for you.”
CS: “I don’t do that anymore.”
“Not even for the right price?”
I withdrew my hand from an inner coat pocket, clutching an old relic. Another piece of the past, a symbol of a better time. A bit tarnished now, scratched in places, and missing both of its jewels. One was yellow. The other had been pink.
Its owner eyed it hungrily, incapable of looking anywhere else.
I studied my companion with great interest. He had spoken without moving his lips, and thrown his voice to a point somewhere above us. My eyes roamed the ceiling, finding nothing but fades and holes, and went back to the Captain.
“Did you just hear something?”
I pressed a hand briefly to my head, unwilling to reduce my grip on the sceptre, lest its previous owner got grabby. A strange rushing sensation had just passed me by, like an airlock slamming open and then shut again. I shook my head.
“Where were we?”
…….the plaza would be quiet again soon…….