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Chapter III

Crossroads

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Alya Silverwind, we need to talk about this report. It just says ‘Bad guys defeated.’”

Right. That sums it up rather nicely.”

Crashing End, Alya! Have you ever considered filling these out properly?”

You know Orion, that’s the thing I like most about you. You are adorable when you try to give me orders. Although I suppose I should have noted how that girl saved the mission. I think her name was Terra.”

Who?”

It was rather odd. Her tactics were awful.”

Well whoever it was, have you considered that she might be just a civilian?”

Oh. You may be right. I spend too much time around Legendary Blades. I tend to forget that even civilians can be brave. You know, I think I may actually look into that.”

The Hanns case?”

The girl. Yes. I think I will. Orion, I will send you the rest of the data on Hanns. Have Minerva issue a formal warrant. Meanwhile, I am going to take some personal time. I will talk to you later.”

Wait what? Alya? Crashing End. No one ever listens to me!”

-Conversation log appended to case file for Hanns Speer, full report still pending

These memories we will cherish forever…” the girl trailed off, her speech paused as she rubbed tears from her eyes.

Terra rolled her eyes. The graduation robes made the crowded gymnasium even more hot and stuffy. Graduation had dragged on long enough without every student giving a speech breaking into tears. Why did they care so much? She had no happy memories of this place. Almost all the classes were boring and most of the students didn’t even acknowledge her existence, except for the ones that annoyed her.

Hannah, the class valedictorian, dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief before continuing her speech. “These memories we will cherish forever, even though we go into a larger world. Now we, the graduating class of 2000, stand at a crossroads. We shall keep the past in our hearts while we go forward into the future.”

She walked off the stage as the history teacher, Mr. Smith, approached the podium. “Congratulations class of 2000! Go forth into a new world!”

A cheer went up from the students as applause thundered through the gymnasium. Terra allowed herself a brief sigh. High school was done.

Terra made her way through the crowd, searching for her parents. She just wanted to go home. Now a slow, packed crowd stood in her way.

She grimaced when someone stepped on her foot again. Such things happened often to her as people never noticed her presence until they stumbled into her. When she looked down, she saw a graduation card at her feet dropped by the person who had just walked by her. Terra looked over to see Ray who walked to meet his family.

One of the football team’s stars, Ray stood tall with a bulky build, but was not a perceptive individual. Ray was nice, if lazy and often coaxed admiring girls into doing his homework for him.

Terra picked up the card, opening it to read the words Congratulations Ray. Love Grandma!. Three one hundred dollar bills lay in the fold. Terra closed the card, leaving the money untouched and followed Ray.

“Such a smart young man and so sharp,” an older lady said to Ray. “What are you going to do after graduation?”

Ray grinned and saluted. “I’m joining the Marines.”

“Why?” she asked.

Ray smiled. “Because I want to be a baddass!”

Terra cleared her throat and Ray turned. She presented the card to him.

Ray checked the card. “Hey thanks! See. I have everything covered.”

Terra rolled her eyes as she walked away. She rejoined the crowd, trying to push through to find her parents.

“Well if it isn’t Terra the Terror herself,” came a voice from behind her.

Terra turned to see Hannah with her arm outstretched towards Terra’s face. Hannah’s graduation gown sleeve concealed her hand.

“What?” Terra asked, crossing her arms. She knew Hannah plotted something as usual.

Hannah smiled as she shot her hidden diploma out of her sleeve, stopping right in front of Terra’s nose.

Terra stared at Hannah, unblinking.

Hannah shook her head. “Didn’t even flinch. Do you know why I’ll miss you?”

Terra pursed her lips. She would not miss Hannah’s strange mind games. “No.”

Hannah grinned. “Because I’m better than you in almost every way. I’m prettier, smarter, have better grades, and I’m more motivated. Despite all that, you are better than me in one way.”

“I don’t stroke my own ego every five seconds?”

“You never flinch. In a way, I’m really glad you didn’t try hard in class. Otherwise, I would have had to actually work to be valedictorian. Though I am also kind of sad that you didn’t compete with me. I feel cheated, like I never got to see Terra Mason at her best.”

Terra scowled. “Are you done?”

Hannah stared at Terra for a moment before tearing up. She then embraced Terra. “I will miss my rival!”

Terra rolled her eyes while she patted Hannah awkwardly on the back.

After a moment Hannah let go and wiped her eyes. “Now if you excuse me I have to go gloat some more before I accept all my scholarships. A PhD won’t earn itself! Good luck and I hope you find a decent rival to replace me.”

Terra almost asked Hannah what her plans were after graduation, but decided not to give Hannah the pleasure. No doubt she had already planned her future, unlike Terra who spent most of her time reading about the past.

“Terra Mason,” came a voice from behind her.

Terra turned to see her history teacher, Mr. Alden Smith. “Mr. Smith.”

Smith nodded as he approached before cracking a slight smile that always preceded his usual criticism. “Well it seems you have graduated despite your lack of effort.”

“Hey! I made an A plus in your class after you gave me extra assignments, like that report on FDR.”

“I did that to push you into doing better. Why didn’t you try to get all As in your other classes? I know you are capable.”

“Why should I? This place is stupid.”

Smith shook his head. “Honesty isn’t always tactful, young lady. To you this place seems stupid, and yes much of school is foolish, but you still owe it to yourself to try harder. You are tougher than you look. I can only imagine what you could accomplish if you turned all that stubbornness into determination. So what will you do now?”

Terra gazed down. “I’m not sure. I want to go into geology, but I’m still undecided. Everyone else already seems to have a career choice.”

Smith smiled. “Well just remember, Terra, that you have a choice. I think the hardest thing for you is realizing that you have choices. You are always so busy holding still that you forget to move forward.”

Terra looked at Smith. “What should I do then?”

Smith gestured to the other graduates. “You see these youths? They all think they know what they want. Wealth and fame. Others have already planned their futures unaware of just how much the future doesn’t care about their plans. What should you do then?”

He locked eyes with Terra.

“While you live, shine,” he said with a smile. “Be the best person you can be. That is all anyone should ever do with their life. Don’t squander your time staying still, Terra Mason. Grab opportunity when it drifts by on the wind. Make the most of your life because time demands its toll on us all.”

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The next three months flew by as summer began to fade into fall. Days passed quickly while she read and spent time in her quarry. Today, Terra returned home after visiting the library for the first time all summer. She had avoided the library. She no longer felt safe there for some reason. She guessed it was related to that strange gap in her memory before graduation.

That missing afternoon at the library bothered her at first, along with her sudden fixation on World War II books. By the time of graduation though, she had dismissed the whole missing day affair. Instead, her mother’s relentless college campaign became Terra’s primary concern. She worried as the final battle over college with her mother drew close.

Terra approached the door to her home and opened it with care to avoid the creaking sound it made when opened too fast. She peeked into the hallway, making sure it was clear. With the hallway vacant, Terra tread with soft footsteps around the boards that squeaked. In the living room, she could hear the television playing while her mother, Bethany Mason, sat facing the computer with her back to the hallway.

Terra made her way to the stairs. When she was out of sight of the living room, she sighed in relief.

“Terra. Come here please,” Beth said from the living room.

Terra grimaced as she let out a low growl. How did her mother do that? She sighed in frustration before walking back towards the living room.

“I think you may like this one,” Beth said, still sitting, as she turned to face Terra. Bethany Mason was still in her business dress. Terra almost never saw her out of formal business attire or without an unimpressed frown. “They have a really good finance and accounting program. I think your high math scores can get you admittance.”

Terra looked at the computer screen, pretending to read. “Do they have a geology major?” Terra asked in a bored tone, already knowing the answer.

“Well no.”

“Don’t care.”

“There is that bluntness again. No wonder you have so much difficulty making friends.”

“Sorry, Mom. I have no interest in finance, accounting, business, nursing, law, or medicine,” Terra said, counting each with her fingers.

“Well you should. Those are all good, high paying fields. Geology is just a hobby. I want you to be successful.”

“I know,” Terra said, turning to escape while praying this conversation was finished.

“Young lady,” Beth said as she stood with hands on her hips. She was taller than Terra by a foot. “I did not say we were finished.”

Terra slouched, stopped, and sighed before turning around again.

Beth shook her head. “Terra, would it kill you to do something difficult every once in a while? You drifted through school without ever pushing yourself. You have done nothing all summer long but read World War II history books and dig up rocks in that pit behind the house. Now it’s fall semester and soon it will be too late to enroll in a good college.”

Terra crossed her arms and glared at Beth.

Beth frowned before pointing at Terra. “When your father and I still struggled–”

“Yes I know,” Terra said, trying not to roll her eyes at hearing the same story for the thousandth time. “Our family went through hard times before you were promoted. Dad had to work double shifts. You don’t want me to have to go through the same thing.”

Terra hoped that would end it. She turned to leave again only to find her father, Fredrick Mason, blocking her escape.

“Good news!” Fred said. He was a head shorter than Terra and as poorly dressed. He wore a stained T-shirt and worn bluejeans. She often wondered what her mother saw in him until Fred smiled, which was always difficult to not return. “I talked to my friend Jeff today. He says he could use a part timer for his garage. Basic stuff; answering the phone, a bit of cleaning. That sort of thing. Interested?”

Terra shook her head. “No, not really, Dad.”

Fred winked as he nudged Terra. “Come on. It will get your mother off your back.”

Beth glared at him.

Fred shrugged. “Look I know you want her to go to college, but maybe she just needs to work a little to find her calling?”

“Look,” Terra said, trying to hide the irritation in her tone. “I just want to take it easy for a while.”

“Easy?” Beth said as she crossed her arms, a habit she often criticized Terra for. “Very little of anything easy is worthwhile. This family prospered because of my determination and your father’s self sacrifice. Besides, I know you are capable of working hard. There isn’t much that can stop you once you make up your mind. God knows we could never do anything with that bullheadedness of yours.”

Terra clenched her jaw as she glared at Beth, unblinking.

Fred sighed. “Oh great. She just went into stubborn mode.”

Beth’s eyes narrowed. “Oh I know that look. Now you will just stand there until we give up. Fine! I didn’t want to do this, but here is your ultimatum. You have until the end of this week to enroll in a college.”

Terra wanted to say “Or what?” but decided against it since it would prolong the fight.

Fred put a hand on both Terra’s and Beth’s shoulders. “Okay. Why don’t you both stop trying to out stubborn one another. Families fight, but families love too.”

Beth scowled at Fred who simply smiled back. After a moment, Beth’s scowl faded. “Oh all right, but the ultimatum still stands. If she can find a job, then that is acceptable as well,” she said before leaving the room.

Terra let out a long sigh.

Fred turned to Terra. “I know she’s pestering you, but it’s only because she lo–”

“I know. Because she loves me,” Terra said as she returned Fred’s warm smile. “But I need time to figure things out.”

Fred nodded. “You just need to do something. Sometimes we have to follow the wind.”

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After dinner, Terra went upstairs to her room. The floor remained clear of any clothes or other items. A dusty television and old game system sat on the dresser in the corner. Her open closet contained untouched dresses, worn jeans, and stained tee-shirts.

A sizable overcrowded bookshelf took up much of the room. The top of the bookshelf, dresser, and window seal hosted an impressive collection of rocks, minerals, ores, and geodes. Diorite, gabbro, basalt, pumice, marble, quartzite, and obsidian all decorated the room. Some she had found herself while others she bought. Terra had arranged them in groups according to the layers in which they are naturally found.

Vestiges remained of Terra’s younger teenage years. A dusty make up kit lay on the dresser though a large lump of rock crystal rested on top of it. One could just make out the edges of a boy band poster under another poster of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The poster read Men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds.

Terra gathered her worn rock hammer, chisel, and a small spade, placing them in her tool bag before leaving. “I’m going to the quarry again. Be back in a bit,” Terra said before she left the house, not waiting for a response.

The colors of fall painted the trees as Terra walked through the backyard. Patches of yellow dotted the mountains in the distance while red leaves floated in the creek she crossed. Knee high golden grass swayed in the fall winds as Terra passed through the fields.

The quarry lay near her house a short walk away. The couple who had lived here before considered the pit an eyesore so they had planted a row of trees to block the view. In fact, her family had gotten a good deal for the property because of it. Although it devalued the property, for Terra it was a boon. She had often played there during her childhood. As she grew older, she used it to find a few of the ores and minerals for her rock collection.

The terraced pit descended five tiers, each six paces deep. A small dark pool was at the bottom. Moss grew in patches on the flats while tree roots grew into the top tier. Dark veins of ores marbled the walls. Over the years, Terra had chipped away at the walls, sometimes finding new pockets of ore like a gardener cultivating crops. After all, this place was like her garden. A place of sanctuary for her.

She climbed carefully onto the first tier. Terra took each step with care which she had learned years ago when she still rock climbed. When she reached the bottom of the first tier, her heart was racing from exertion while she wheezed. After resting for a moment, she stared working.

Taking out her small, worn rock chisel, Terra chipped away at a patch of dolomite. Last week, she had found traces of magnetite ore and now hoped to hit a larger vein. She dug around a large chunk of rock before trying to pull it out with her bare hands.

Terra grunted and strained as she pulled at the loosened chunk of dolomite stone. “Stubborn stone!” she said through gritted teeth as she pulled harder. The stone did not give and Terra slipped, falling down to the ground in a hard thump.

She lay on the ground, gasping at the exertion. Terra’s mind wandered to the future as she gazed at the sky. The clouds moved at a steady pace, swept along by the wind. She closed her eyes as a gentle breeze washed over her.

Terra sighed. “Do something. Follow the wind. Yeah right. That’s not how it works. The future never comes to the present.”

When she opened her eyes to the sky, they seemed to be playing tricks on her. It looked as though someone stood in the tree above her, balancing on a large branch. After a moment, her eyes focused. She then realized someone really was in the tree, watching her. A woman with silver hair. 

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