A child's memory is remarkable. Although it may not always be the most reliable, there are events in everyone's life that they will never forget, even if they were young when they experienced them. Some memories contain people who are too special to ever be forgotten. I hold on to them because history deserves to know the people who made our world just a little bit better when everything appeared to get worse.
I was just a girl when the war called my father away. The Eastern front came closer every day and it was not long before I was evacuated to the mountains with my mother. Our refugee camp was established deep in the wilderness where we would be safe. No one expected us to have to stay there for long but certain complications arose. The city and suburbs that we left behind were torn apart as they became a battlefield. I remember the day an airship flew over our camp on its way to the battle. It was my first time seeing one and I can still imagine how it felt to gaze up at it and wonder how something of its size could float through the sky. I couldn't help but hope that my father was on board, watching over me but as it disappeared over the pine covered hills without a sound, I had a worrying thought. We had vanished from the world in our camp. We were so small in the grand scheme of it all. Dwarfed by the very events we had escaped. Beneath the enormous shadow of the ship, I never felt so small.
Months later, in February of 2127, the war ended and the world rejoiced in peace. I was inside the tent my mother and I shared when they made the announcement on the camp's speaker system. Everyone knew it meant we could go home. I found my mother in the "kitchens" where our food was kept to see if she had heard the good news.
"Does this mean we'll get to see daddy soon?" I asked her.
She stroked my hair and said, "Yes, my darling. We'll see him soon."
I waited every day for the trucks to come take us back to the city. The other children and I played by the camp perimeter so we could be the first to see them. Days became weeks and there was no evidence that we would be returning any time soon. As I wandered around the camp, I remembered hearing fragments of the adults' conversations.
"Devastated. One of their airships went down over
" and "Rebuilding is taking longer than predicted
" were among what I overheard. Most of the adults were trying to keep the situation a secret but I still found out. Roads and maglev tracks were crippled in the battles fought over our city. Our location was what kept us safe but now it blocked us from any relief. One conversation between my mother and one of the camp doctors stayed with me in particular. I listened to them from behind a crate so they never saw me.
"They can't drop supplies to us with the mountains in the way. It's too dangerous for those planes to fly that low and their cargo will end up somewhere even more inaccessible if they drop it from up high."
"What about an airship?" my mother asked.
"They have more pressing concerns right now. Something about rebuilding the cities first. We're on our own until they figure out a way to fix the roads. And even then, not even an Ursa tank can get through some of the craters they blew into other side of the mountain." The doctor's voice was charged with concern.
"But the food we've stored is running out and we can't grow in this cold. We just barely made it through the winter but we used up too much and the seeds won't take until it gets warmer." my mother told him.
"Meet with the others and see if you can work out a way to ration what we have." The doctor left the kitchen but my mother called to him through the fabric walls.
"We already did. We can only sustain ourselves until the end of the month."
After that I ate less food. My mother grew worried when she saw the desperation in my eyes. I saw the same expression on the other children and on some of the adults as the days wore on. They were starved in more ways than one and it was hard to tell which was more destructive. There was a sense of a silent panic as the grip of hunger tightened on us. Before long we were down to one meal a day and soon after, we had nothing.
I stood at the edge of the perimeter, alone. My stomach ached and I collapsed in the rough grass. I don't know how long I was there but I sat up when I heard an aircraft approach the camp. In the sky, I saw a lone craft nimbly weave its way around the hills and trees that had prevented our supplies from coming through. It was difficult to believe what I was seeing but as it drew closer I spotted numerous crates packed into its cargo bay. I had heard the name of the craft from one of the older children long ago. She called it a Pegasus, the workhorse of nation's air force.
The Pegasus was grey and unarmed, unlike the few that I had seen fly over us before the war ended. Its rotor pods swiveled as it circled us searching for a place to land. Although there wasn't much space, the adults directed the pilot to set down in a small clearing only a few yards from the camp. We gathered as the pilot brought the craft into a hover and slowly touched the ground. I wiggled through the crowd to see what was going on. The rotors quieted themselves as the pilot opened the cabin door and stepped out. She removed her flight helmet to reveal her neatly tied blonde hair and a kind face. From the patches on her grey uniform, I believed she had come from a combat airship like the one my father was on but I was too far away to see which one.
"Who is in charge?" she asked immediately.
A few of the adults stepped forward and introduced themselves. The pilot told them what she brought and asked that the contents of her Pegasus be distributed to the people of the camp.
"What are they?" one of the adults asked.
"We call them Major Units of Fortified Food, Intelligent Nutrition," she said smiling. "Or MUFFINS for short." Her crates were unloaded as she talked with the camp leaders. She explained that she had many more and was going to return with them.
"My friends and I packed what we thought could be useful but please tell me if you need anything in particular and I will try to include it in the future." After a moment of conversation, she returned to her Pegasus and took off again. The adults disappeared into the kitchen tents where they discussed what had just transpired. When they emerged, they announced that the young and the infirm were going to receive food first and that more was on the way.
Anyone who was there will tell you the same thing. The announcement sent a wave of emotion through the camp. However, the feeling was different for everyone. For me, everything that I felt could be summed up by one look at my mother's face. She was no longer saddened by the thought that her daughter might slowly starve before her. She was different then. She was free.
The children were escorted inside the kitchen tents where the adults in charge of the food had opened the hardened rectangular boxes. I was curious as to what kind of food the pilot delivered us although as long as it was edible, it did not matter too much to us. We had to start out with relatively simple foods because anything too rich would react poorly with our malnourished bodies. My mother handed me a small bowl of warm soup that to me, tasted like the most wonderful food in the world. As I would later learn, the pilot and her friends on board her airship designed the MUFFINs to last as long as possible. They used the ship's supply of Meals Ready to Eat as well as several items from the massive galley that served the hundreds of people on the crew. The beauty of the pilot's plan was these foods were highly nutritious and full of calories. The inclusion of soups meant that they could share the food with more people and by the end of the day, the children had been fed. The adults formed a line to eat and then assist in the preparation and distribution of the rest of the MUFFINs' contents.
As the sun sank low in the sky, I once again heard the unmistakable drone of an aircraft and I ran outside to spot the grey machine swoop in low over the hilltops. She was just in time too as the food she had delivered earlier was almost gone. When she landed again, the refugees who had eaten unloaded her Pegasus and helped feed those who had not. Historians looked back on such moments and said that our ability to help each other is what kept us from descending into chaos. This time, the crates also included water containers in addition to several purification pumps. As before, the lone pilot vowed to return with more supplies and took off into the sunset.
I was perhaps the only child who stayed awake that night for I did not want to miss watching the Pegasus come back to drop off its cargo. The adults worked all through the night as new MUFFINs brought more food to sustain our camp for the season. Our workers on the ground rested in shifts but I lay in the grass, wide awake and watching the sky. Sometime before sunrise, the pilot returned and just before she landed, her Pegasus tilted side to side as if she was waving to us on the ground. I smiled and waved back at her as she brought the machine down.
"Are you alright Miss?" I heard one of the unloaders say to the pilot when she opened the cabin door. It was then that I realized she had not been waving to me; she was tired from flying back and forth all day and night. She shook her head but by the way she stumbled when she tried to walk gave her condition away. I approached her and tapped her on the arm.
"You can sleep in my tent. It's just over here." I said softly. The man looked surprised to see me but it was evident that he liked my suggestion.
"Please Miss; you've done so much for us already. It isn't safe for you to fly without rest. We'll contact your airship and tell them what happened but for now you need to lay down." he said.
She accepted my offer and I led her to the dome shaped tent my mother and I called home. There was a cot inside where she sat down and untied her hair. It was short and fell down around her head. She brushed a stray blonde lock away from her face and gave me a fatigued smile. "Thank you." was the last thing she said before she drifted off to sleep.
I yawned and lay down on my own cot. "No, thank you." I whispered. When I awoke a few hours later, the pilot was still asleep. Due to way she was positioned, I could not see her name but I could read the patch on her flight suit that revealed the airship she flew out from. To my young eyes, the patch was unforgettable. The patch depicted a dark blue upturned crescent moon with stylized wings on either side of it on a purple background. It was the mark of the Crescent Sun, the ship my father was on. I was overcome with joy. There was a chance that she knew my father and I could not pass up this opportunity to reach him. Before she woke up, I wrote a letter to my father and folded it in the hope that she could deliver it to him when she returned.
A few minutes later, my mother came to the tent with a bowl of soup for the pilot as she sat up on the cot.
"You must be hungry." she said. My mother had not seen the Crescent Sun patch so I brought it to her attention. She saw the pilot's arm and began to ask her questions.
"We took some serious damage in the last battle. Our engines were crippled so we're dead in the water, so to speak." the pilot explained.
When I asked about my father, the pilot set her food down for a moment and thought.
"Yes, I know who he is! He works on the Pegasi in the hangars. Right now I think he's trying to fix our engines so we can move again."
"Can you give this to him?" I asked as I handed her the folded letter I wrote. She looked at me and then at my mother. She smiled and put the paper inside one of her flight suit pockets.
"I'll see that he gets this."
In the hours that followed, she prepared her Pegasus for take-off while I watched her. Soon, the other children joined me in the field when the rotorcraft came to life.
"What are you waiting for?" one of them asked me.
"I want to see if she's gonna wobble again." I replied.
"What do you mean?" they asked, not having seen her landing earlier.
"This morning she was really sleepy so she landed kinda funny. She was all ditzy." I said.
The swooshing from the rotor pods grew as the Pegasus lifted off. I jumped up and down and waved to the pilot. Before she got too far off the ground, I saw her smile through the windscreen and move the control stick from side to side. The Pegasus wiggled as the children and I waved.
"She did that." I said.
Every time she landed, the children were there to greet her and every time she made her craft wave back before she set down. I was always there to ask her if my father wrote back and for two days she shook her head. However, on the afternoon of the third day she walked up to me with a letter in her hand.
"He's just been so busy and he wants you to know he misses you and your mom very much." she said. I unfolded the paper and read my father's message. He told me he was working as hard as he could to make everything better. He said that if he did, the Crescent Sun could fly over to the camp and he could see us but until then, he was happy just to hear from me. Without thinking, I wrapped my arms around the pilot.
"Thank you Miss. Ditzy." When I looked up, the pilot gave me a puzzled look. "That's what we like to call you; because of the 'ditzy landings'. You're not bothered, are you?"
She laughed softly. "Not at all. It has a nice ring to it."
For the next week, Miss. Ditzy carried the letters between my father and me. Other refugees noticed and asked her if she could send mail from the airship to their relatives. When she told them that she could, they gave her their letters to take back to the Crescent Sun. In addition to mail, MUFFINs contained less food and instead came loaded with medicine, tools and other equipment to help us become more self-reliant. Miss. Ditzy also brought us news from the outside world which explained our predicament.
"They're rebuilding as fast as they can but with the level of damage to the city and the surrounding areas, they've decided to construct a whole new town just outside the ruins. It should provide a new place for you to live once it's finished so everyone can comfortably work on the old city. But all of this is still far off so for now everyone has to stay put." she said.
One day she even dropped off one of her friends from the airship who came to show the adults how to use an invention she developed to help us grow our own food. I followed her out to the field where she gave her instructions.
"Now, y'all can call me AJ and this here's Big MAC." she gestured to the humming box on the ground. "He's a Mobile Agricultural Cultivator and he can make this land right here suitable for growing your basic crops. It's not much, I'll admit but you can bet it won't hurt to have a little extra food coming in. We used parts from the hydroponic farms onboard
Miss. Ditzy tapped me on the shoulder and gave me another letter from my father. In it he told me I should continue to look after my mother and stay strong.
"He told me the repairs would be finished tonight." Miss Ditzy said. "But there's a problem. We need to move on. There are other camps that we have to help. We proved that we could keep the hunger at bay here and now the government wants to expand our efforts."
Slowly the realization sunk in. "So everyone's leaving?"
"I'm sorry, but we have to. There are people who need us now."
"Isn't there anything you can do? I could come with you!" I pleaded.
She told me that I couldn't but she would be back in the morning with one last delivery of food and to pick up Miss. AJ. She left that afternoon and I practically cried myself to sleep that night. In the morning, I woke up to write what I expected to be the last letter I could send to my father for a long time. An hour later, Miss. Ditzy flew low over the trees and landed her Pegasus as a crowd gathered. I remember standing at the back of the crowd, clutching the final letter in my little hand and waiting for her to open her door. Just as she had done countless times before, she climbed out so her cargo could be unloaded. With the rotors coming to a stop, I could hear her voice say, "Anything I can do to help? This one's kind of heavy." For the last delivery, everything was completely normal, until I heard a familiar voice. It was low and gentle, yet it carried a comforting strength with it.
"Dad?" I said as I pushed through the crowd. "Is that you?! Daddy!?"
I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw him there in the cargo compartment of the Pegasus. He stepped down and embraced me in his arms. My mother ran from the crowd, fighting back tears. Together we held on to my father with all of our strength as if letting him slip meant he would be gone forever. For that moment, we were whole again and something inside me felt healed. I was no longer hungry.
"I don't think we can thank you enough." my mother said.
Miss. Ditzy only smiled. "She wouldn't leave that hangar unless I was on board with her," my father said. "And with an opportunity like this, how could I not?"
I let go of my parents and turned to Miss. Ditzy, oblivious to the fact that there was a crowd watching. "What made you
?" I began.
"You remind me of my daughter," she said. "I don't know what I'd do if I had to be away from her for so long without saying goodbye. It's hard being away from the ones you love, especially for such a long time. But I know that no matter what, she will always be in my heart and I will be in hers. Even if we are apart, we are never truly alone."
I hugged her there in front of the other people. I didn't care if they understood although I had a feeling that they did. "Will I ever see you again?" I asked.
"Well, someone has to bring your father home," She smiled warmly. "Until next time, we'll always be with you."
My father left on the Pegasus that morning and it was almost a year before my mother and I saw him again. Even then, the government was using the Crescent Sun and other airships to help heal the areas of our world that were left scarred by the war. He left on many more trips but it wasn't so bad to away from him. Every time he left we never said "goodbye" but instead he always told me "Until I see you again." Years later, everyone came home for good. The Crescent Sun cruised over the newly constructed town and my mother and I drove out to the air base to meet my father. Other families were there as well with welcome signs and cameras but I just stood at the fence with my old letter in my hand.
The airship landed and opened its underside hangar doors so the majority of its crew could meet their families. However, my eyes were not fixed on the ground but rather they were trained on the sky where I saw the familiar grey Pegasus fly over the ship. Not much had changed, except for the asymmetrical features of the windscreen and the word DERPY painted on the body of the craft. The Pegasus wiggled as it approached the ground and I waved. Once the engines fell silent and the doors opened, I raced out to greet my father and Miss. Ditzy.
"I told you I would see you again." she said.
My mother joined me at the Pegasus but there were two people following her; a tall man in a brown coat and a girl about my age with blonde hair like her mother's except that it was tied in a ponytail. When Miss. Ditzy saw them she excused herself and embraced them. Together, our two families appeared to be so insignificant compared to all that had happened. The events that shattered our lives and the distances of time kept us apart but it was comforting to know that our love could survive. For some of us, it may have been the only thing keeping us alive.