Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

In a room darkening as night falls, lengthening shadows are rearranged by the flickering of a grimy display screen.
White, blue, green, yellow, black.
The night briefly reforms.
An image of an emblem flashes up to fill the view. It trembles, then stabilises. A deep voice speaks in tones of exhaustion.
“Hey, Winona, it’s Bart. Not sure when you’ll be seeing this, but I hope it’s between the end of the war and my return. You can show it to those doubters who gave you such a hard time.”
The image changes to that of a man of indeterminate age. Beard and hair are unkempt, both crudely hacked short.
“Steady, love. There aren’t any grooming salons out here. We’re off to do what we were trained to do, and bring those bastards down. To get there quick enough, all the ships are light on amenities. We’ll get clean when we’re done.”
A voice comes from offscreen, the words unclear. The man nods without turning his head.
“That’s the quarter-hour warning. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but we’re doing good out here. The Betlie are so desperate to stop us they’ve started to make threats against our colonies. I heard a rumour they’ve even threatened Earth! Don’t worry, it’s just propaganda. Their pacification raids started this. We’re going to finish it by pacifying them. They’ll have nothing left, the arrogant bastards.”
He pauses to cough for a moment, hand covering mouth and nose.
“Don’t worry. It’s just the air quality difference between inside our suits and inside the ships. At least we’ll be able to sort that out before we head back. Once we’re done with them, we can replenish the ships at leisure.”
The face moves close to the screen.
“I love you, Winona. I can’t say that enough. You waited. You trusted. All these years and you never wavered. You’re some kind of angel according to many of this Brigade. A lot of troopers got deserted by their partners after that razebomb hit Sydney. Countries started questioning our resistance. It took ordinary people like you to keep it going. You’ve no idea how much it meant,” he grins and shakes his head, “how much it means to me that you keep believing.”
He plants a kiss on the screen.
“I’ve got to get ready, love. Hold me in your thoughts. They say we’ll be able to shift back in around eight months because we won’t have to use evasion routes. One more day, then a year at most. After that, we’ll have all the time we need. Until then, stay safe.”
The emblem reappears, then the screen fades to black. Darkness returns.

On the cracked paving far below, a hunched figure shakes itself as the dim light in the window above disappears.
“How many is that, Ari?”
The figure turns to a smaller figure pulling a hand cart.
“Eighteen, Tal. It first happened sometime during the month after the Betlie exacted Toll. Didn’t expect it to last this long. Whoever they were, they built a formidable lair. We lost many folk before Robin declared it off-limits. It became our year marker.”
“Do you think they’ll ever come back?”
“The Brigades? Never. Tonight is eighteen years. I’m sure the Betlie made good on their warnings.”
“They devastated us.”
“To make sure. Our civilisation relied on war to keep it running. Therefore, our civilisation had to end.”
“All we have left are worlds of farmers and artists, linked by Betlie Portals.”
“All? They’re peaceful worlds. The Betlie promised peace, and delivered it. That’s more than any Terran government ever did.”