THE NIGHT BEFORE
“Are you sure about this?” Ciara Brennan-Ward asked, her voice tense and flat. In the sea of all the comradery, there was Clyff’s mother, a beacon of sternness. It wasn’t that his mother couldn’t have fun—he’d just never seen her do it. He was assured she could. Maybe. But even now, she retained her matriarchal stance. For a woman that was nearly half the height of her son, she was terrifying. Her graying red hair braided behind her head, her tasteful suit crisped with tight angles on her body, and her hands clasped in a way that she could deploy them at a drop of a hat to grab her son’s collar and drag him down to her level. This woman could raise krogan. And honestly, she kind of had.
“Ciara,” Nelson Ward said, his voice soft. He was older than her, by about ten years. He wore his Alliance Naval Uniform. It was his go to for events like this. Also, any other form of celebration. Clyff swore that he wore it to a birthday party once. He was black, which caused people to pause whenever Clyff called him “dad.” They’d glance between the two and narrow their eyes. He had an odd family dynamic, but it was a solid one. “Clyff knows what he’s doing. And I think it’s brave.”
“It’s moronic,” she snapped. “Just like everything else he does.”
Clyff sighed. ”And here I thought I would regret leaving you guys behind.” He held up his hands “No regrets here.”
Ciara’s hand twitched, and Nelson laid his over it. “Alright, you two. I know you both love each other very much. Now stop being the prideful people, I know and love, and be civil to each other. I know you can be.” Nelson’s eyes narrowed. They both nodded their heads. At thirty-four, Clyff was still a child in his parents’ eyes. “Good,” Nelson said, patting Ciara’s hand. “Now I’m going to go find where they’re serving alcohol and grab you guys some glasses. We’re going to need some liquid politeness if we’re going to survive the night.”
It was at that moment that Clyff felt something lean against his leg, and arms slid around his waist—not all around, as that was a nigh impossible feat, but close enough. Sofia leaned into her dad, exhausted. She’d ran off into the sea of people earlier much to Clyff’s disdain. She’d probably seen one of her aunts or uncles. His five siblings milled about the crowd. Ana had probably found a diplomat to chat to. Rebecca was attempting to find something with a pulse to flirt with, considering this would definitely be a no-strings-attached deal. His brothers had never left Earth. So, they were probably gawking at all the aliens they could.
“I told you to take a nap earlier,” Clyff said, running a hand through the wild mane that was her hair. It was a lot like her mother’s, dark brown and kinky. It puffed around her head like a halo, and it was a bitch to help her brush. Honestly, Sofia was the spitting image of her mom with the exception of her green eyes, which currently stared up at her dad and narrowed.
“I’m about to sleep for six-hundred years. Sleeping now would just be a waste.” She stuck her tongue at him, and then let out a tired little giggle.
Ciara smirked. “At least there’ll be someone to keep you on your toes.” She looked at her son, eyes softening and shoulders lowering. “You’re not the child I thought that would give me grandchildren. Your sister maybe, Rebecca, she was always quite fond of sneaking boys in.” She sighed. “And here you are, taking her away from me.”
“Mom—” Clyff started. “We’ve discussed this.”
She held up her hand. “Yes, and I’ve made peace with it. It’ll just not be the same knowing that you’re out there, somewhere, and not at the dinner table at holidays.”
“From the way dad tells it, you thanked God when you learned you wouldn’t have to cook for me. I think there was so mention of ‘oh good, I don’t have to feed my bear of a son.’” Clyff laughed. She’d said worse to his face. Not out of spite or hatred. That was just the way his mother was. She didn’t have need for a filter and never would. Unfortunately, Clyff had inherited that was a few more splashes of vinegar. “Which is fine by me, because your cooking was bland but somehow too salty at the same time.”
Ciara looked him up and down. “Of course, you never ate any of it.” Her voice stung of sarcasm. “That’s how you ended up so fat.”
Sofia poked his stomach at that moment in time. “I don’t know, Dad.”
His brows knitted and brought a hand up to his nose, rubbing it. “How about everyone stop talking. Let’s just enjoy this moment for what it is. The last time we’ll ever see each other.” That sank in deeper than he realized. His mother’s hands unclasped, and Sofia pulled away. She ran over to her grandmother and gave her a long hug. Ciara held her close and ran a hand through her hair. She kissed the top of the girl’s head before whispering something, that Clyff failed to hear, into her ear. Sofia giggled and nodded.
Ciara then approached Clyff. Her hands came to his collar, but not in aggression—no she just buttoned it. “You’d look far more dashing if you tried a little bit.” He immediately felt like he was being choked, but he’d live. Maybe. “But for all the stupid things you’ve done in your life, and there’s been a lot—you’ve done a lot of good, too. You’re a good soldier, a good father, and an amazing son. Probably my favorite.”
“Did you just admit I’m your favorite child?” Clyff asked.
“No, my favorite son. Obviously, Ana’s my favorite child.”
He nodded. “That makes sense.” It was then that he hugged his mother. She pulled him in tight, and Clyff could have sworn he heard a light sniffle. Yet, when she pulled away, there was no gloss of possible tears in her eyes. “I love you, Mom, and I’m going to miss you. Miss all of you,” he said, catching his father approaching with a few drinks in hand—the stems cradled in-between his fingers. “Look’s like dad is coming back. Probably need to disengage and go back to barely liking each other.”
“Yes, he would be quite distraught to know I only show love through aggression.”
“Oh, so every time you swatted at me, those were love swats? No wonder my psych profile has a lot of red ink and question marks.” He narrowed his eyes. “I hug my daughter. Hug Say it with me.”
Ciara rolled her eyes. “I tried to hug you once. You head-butted me. Didn’t even feel a thing before you returned to be the little shit you were. Your noggins full of rocks.”
Nelson approached and sighed. “Really, you two?” Ciara snatched a drink, and Clyff took one as well. Nelson looked about. “Has Sofia not returned yet?”
Clyff raised a brow. “What, she was just right—” well, no she wasn’t. She was gone. He let out a noise that was somewhere between a bear growl and whine before downing his drink to go find his daughter.
“Stop finding enjoyment in my pain, Mom,” Clyff grunted before disappearing into the crowd. He didn’t hear what his mother said back, but he was assured that it was her same tactless response—not that he had any room to talk.
EOS 600 HUNDRED YEARS LATER
Clyff awoke to the sound of an alert. He attempted to slap a non-existent clock. His eyes cracked open to show that he was merely flapping wildly at the air. His omnitool showed that he was to be present and accounted for in ten minutes. It’d been a while since he’d been so rushed. Bootcamp came to mind, and he shivered.
He pulled himself from his bed and let out a growling yawn. He stretched and scratched his head. He looked at the others, realizing he was in the buff. He didn’t care though. They were all men of varying species. If they weren’t assured of their autonomy, then they probably shouldn’t be in a tight, shared space. Clyff was tall, broad-shouldered, red-haired, heavily muscular, but paunchy, and pale. He wasn’t hirsute by any stretch of the imagination, but he did have chest hair and a certain happy trail that led into a zone that no one should be staring at with much intent. Though, for those interested, it wasn’t something he would be shy about.
Fortunately, for everyone’s eyes, he slid on basic gear right after. He then moved towards his locker. His armor was bulky, and his guns were massive. ”So, apparently, I thought Kansas was the shithole of the galaxy, but Eos wins.” He started sliding on his armor, piece by piece. “Sure Tuchanka is bad, but it also has thresher maws and krogan. Kansas doesn’t have that. Though. Can you imagine krogan in Kansas? I can.” His armor was massive and made from extreme conditions, but that’s what he’d always dealt with. It was a deep red with heavy armoring that made his form bulkier than it was. It had Alliance officer markings and “Red Dog” written on it. Once he managed it on, he strapped his weapons on. “I wish this place had a pot of coffee. Two pots of coffee. Something.” He slid his helmet on.
Clyff exited the bunker slow, steady, but chock full of guns and grenades. He paused before his commanders. It was an interesting bunch. Still, that didn’t mean that they were any less important. Though the Angara was interesting.
He brought his hand up and snapped into salute. “Clyfford Ward, Gunnery Chief of the Alliance Military reporting for duty.” He knew to hold his salute until he was dismissed from it, so he kept it tight to his brow.