Virid could feel the weight of the sky pressing downwards as he neared his ship. The sounds of celebratory laughing and dancing were lost to his ears as long as the thin threads of rank wove upon his chest. He slunk quietly to the loading bay and keyed in the code to close the doors behind him. As they shut, the tension strong in his body escaped like the pneumatic hiss of the doors. He sat and leant over gangling legs to hang his head, finally alone and free from the excitement outside.
But not quite.
The girl approached him quietly, sensing his mood. She had not escaped the excitement outside and was marked with blue painted charms that made the red of her hair and the paleness of her face all the more vivid. Her tunic was a mess of ribbons and symbols pinned on by the others during the dancing, and her eyes were wide with sweet foods and wine.
She stood, head down, in front of him and waited for him to speak, but he said nothing. She crouched a little to look into his face and scrunched up her nose. She stuck out her tongue, waggled her eyebrows. Still nothing.
"Virid?" she whispered, still not used to asking questions, "Virid?"
He said nothing. There was silence until she conjured up the courage to continue.
"I've been checking the circuits, they're all ok I think... and I, um, greased those panels that have been sticking, you know, the ones with the ceramics, the... the shiny ones?"
She exhaled loudly after the comment, her ribbons shaking about her. The whirl of the excitements outside left her eyes and she drew closer to the man. She was not used to talking so much, but more worrying to her was the response of the soldier.
Virid would always listen to her, respond, and cajole her into conversation. This was different, she knew why, but still his silence was so large that it made the ball of fear she kept hidden in her chest rise up coldly.
Finally, Virid looked up to her, sensing the fright his response was provoking. He was scared to talk in case his resolve broke, and so instead unfolded his arms so that the girl could sit next to him.
The girl settled close to his thin body as he hugged her tight. Both knowing what was soon to happen, that he would leave, that the fighting would begin. He knew that to reassure her about the mission would be meaningless, considering what she was likely to have already seen before they found her, and what she must know about the attack he was leading.
She knew too that his fear was great. It made her confused - Virid was her friend, was funny and good and never made her worried. He always knew what to do, was not wary of her or nervous that she had fixed the machine so quickly. She knew he was a brave man, so she knew why he was scared now. He was going to be lost in the stars like so many of the people she had known.
He was going to leave, and he wasn't going to come back.
"Virid", she tried again, "Virid! Please say something, you know all of those engineers are going to be in here soon and they're so noisy and they will want to be shouting at one another and welding and joking and they'll call me 'pipsqueak', or 'kiddo', and you know, we won't be able to talk or, or anything... and you're going... and , and..." she stopped, suddenly feeling the burn of tears threatening.
"Sorry", Virid said, looking to her at last. He smiled a little, "Pipsqueak, or should that be kiddo, squirt or little frog". The girl retaliated fast, tickling his knees and quickly scooting out of the way of his return attack. Soon though, she returned to his side, serious once more.
Virid was solemn again. He watched her carefully, returning her green stare. "You know, maybe I wouldn't call you all those names if I knew what your old name was. You don't need to tell anyone else, and I won't either. I know it must make you sad, to remember your name and the people who gave it to you".
The girl nodded, her tears returning. Virid continued.
"But it's important to remember, not just the bad parts, but also the good parts. Where I come from, which wasn't so far from you I think, you name is chosen just for you, and it is with you always as a reminder of home. Your name is important. It was given with love, just to suit you, and I wish I knew it, and could say it for you when I'm gone."
He felt her small arms around him now, her head in his neck and the hot tears sliding down her face.
They held on tight, the bond between them strong, until the sound of the returning engineers grew closer. The girl untangled herself from his arms and pushed the ribbons from her face, until her tears were dried and mixed into the painted charms. She leant close to Virid's dark eyes, matched them with her stare.
In a whisper, a mess of ribbons and paint, in the smell of grease and metal, she let out some of her past.
"My name..." she concentrated as he watched rapt. "My name..." She reached out to touch his face and leant close to his ear.
"Like the tree," he whispered in return but then the doors hissed open and he was lost in the barrage of the engineers and pilots, the men and women he was to lead and who came to him shrill with excitement and fear and talk.
The lights were brightened, the fuel cells fitted, checks made and repeated. So fast, the pilots bid farewell, the soldiers strapped into their seats, the ramps slid into their place, and with a great noise the ships began to move.
From the trees around the base, the children watched the ships disappear into the stars. Willow stayed long after the lights were gone, until the fires below had been lit and there were adults calling for her.
Virid was gone, and the third war had begun, but she had found her name again, and there was some hope for her and the others.