Linka was still not sure what to think of her decision to return to the Planeteers rather than to stay home and take care of her ailing grandmother. Though both her grandmother and her brother Mishka had voiced their support of her work as a Planeteer, she still felt a vague sense of guilt for leaving them.
The decision was made now though. She had said her goodbyes to them and packed her belongings. The other Planeteers were waiting for her, so they could get going to whatever their next mission was going to be.
Linka was not sure she was ready for another mission at this point. She wished her father was still alive so she could talk to him about it. She had always admired his intelligence and logical decision making; she knew that he would know the right thing to do.
Thinking of her parents made her frown. She had not even gone to visit their graves since she had been home. That was the least she could do. She grabbed her wool jacket and headed for the door, deciding that their next mission could wait a few more minutes.
She froze when she heard someone call her name.
It was Wheeler, standing next to the door in the tiny kitchen of her grandmother’s house. Linka looked up at him but she did not respond. “You ready to go?” he asked her after a moment. “Gi has the Geocruiser fired up. I’m sure it’s a lot warmer in there than it is in here.”
"There is one more thing that I want to do before I leave," Linka answered evasively. She was not sure that she really wanted to talk about it with him, or anyone else.
"Oh?" Wheeler raised his eyebrow curiously. "And what's that?"
She shook her head and looked down at the floor. “It is...” she paused, as if searching for the right word. "It is personal. That is all." She brushed past him and headed out the door. "I will be back soon."
She quickly wound her way through the all too familiar streets of her hometown. Though she had been travelling the world as a Planeteer for a few years now, she still had not forgotten her home. The memories of this desolate place were forever etched into her memory. She made her way down the neglected streets, past the mostly abandoned shops, without much thought whatsoever.
It was not too long before she made it to her destination, a small, stone church that was gray and uninviting and the forlorn cemetery that lay next to it. Her parents were buried here, along with the last few generations of her family. Along with her cousin Boris.
She drew in a deep breath and stepped through the rusted iron gates into the cemetery. She strode quickly through the rows of gravestones, headed directly to her family's plot, as if she were on some sort of deadline.
She had not been here since Boris' funeral. She had not wanted to be here even then, for quite a few reasons. For one thing she had still been suffering from the withdraw effects of Bliss, which was compounded by the jetlag of flying halfway across the world to attend his funeral. She barely recalled what happened that day, other than a piercing headache and persistent nausea.
Besides the physical discomfort, there were other reasons she had not wanted to be there. It was not just the tragedy of losing her cousin, or the embarrassment of being found addicted to drugs by her teammates. Even if it had technically not been her fault, she had still been mortified for them to see her in that state. The worse part of it all had been an underlying anger, the source of which she could not quite identify, but which made her slightly uneasy.
Perhaps she was mad at Boris. His recklessness had cost him his own life and could have very well destroyed her life as well, had her friends not intervened. She thought that perhaps she was just angry at the unfairness of life. Her parents' graves were right next to where Boris was buried, and throughout the funeral she was forced to remember how they were taken from her at such a young age. They had done nothing to deserve this, but the pollution from the local mine had cut their lives tragically short.
She thought about how part of her motivation in being a Planeteer was to stop pollution, hoping in some way that it would rectify what had happened to her parents. She knew it would not bring them back, obviously, but she figured at least something good could come from their suffering. At the very least she would be a part of the solution, and not another victim of greedy people who ignored the consequences of their actions.
Her battle against those who sought to harm the environment had caused her a few brushes with death. Maybe she would not die from pollution the way here parents had, but if she died fighting against it then it seemed that she would indirectly be another one of its victims. The thought sickened her, but she had no idea what to do about it.
It had only been a few weeks since Plunder and Sludge had trapped her, along with the other Planeteers, in a mine full of toxic waste. They were going to leave them there to die of starvation, poisoning, or hypothermia, whichever came first. It hardly mattered to the villains as long as they were dead in the end. Linka scoffed bitterly at the thought. She hardly expected much from them in the way of morals, but she found the idea that they would resort to killing a group of teenagers to be entirely repulsive.
Fortunately the Planeteers had escaped without harm, but Linka wondered how long it would be before they did not manage to escape. The eco-villains were becoming increasingly bold in their schemes, more willing to do whatever it took to stop them, even if it meant killing them. Besides that, even if their enemies were not directly trying to kill them, they could die just as easily by accident as by design. An unexpected explosion in one of Blight's labs or exposure to a lethal dose of radiation while fighting Nukem would be more than enough to do them in. The possibilities of what could happen to them seemed endless, considering the dangerous things they encountered on a regular basis.
All of this left her feeling bitter and angry. The unfairness of her parents’ death, the pointless way in which her cousin died, the way the Planeteers risked their lives to stop these very things from happening. She wondered if they were trapped in some endless cycle of good versus evil. She wondered if there was an end in sight, a time where the good would win out and they could stop fighting. And she wondered how many more would have to die before that day arrived.
She sighed miserably and shoved her hands into the pockets of her wool coat. It was cold outside and she had not really dressed for the weather. She had hastily thrown on the jacket, but had forgotten a hat or gloves. At the time she had only been thinking of getting away. She knew she needed some time to think away from the others. She did not like for them to see her in this state. She told herself that it was not pride, but rather that she wanted to remain strong for them. That argument seemed unconvincing though, even to her.
Linka frowned as she stared down at her parents’ graves. The headstones were simple, their names inscribed plainly on rough cut rectangles of stone. Her family could not afford much better than that. They had lived and died in this town, and now all that remained of them was this- paupers’ graves in a forgotten cemetery in a pathetic town that was dying a slow death from poverty, unemployment and pollution.
Linka felt her frown change into a scowl. “This is not fair! Why did this have to happen?” she screamed, her voice piercing and loud in the otherwise silent graveyard. “All you did was try to provide a life for your family. And this…”
She stopped when she felt her throat grow tight with emotion. She brushed tears away from her eyes with the back of her hand and tried to compose herself.
She spoke again, her voice much softer this time. “You two are gone. And Boris too. And Grandmother… it will not be long before…” Her voice trailed off and she felt a tear roll down her cheek, though she did not bother to brush this one away. “I am trying to do what is right. I am trying to stop the kind of things that killed you.”
Linka bit her lip as she thought about her work as a Planeteer. Had she really done enough? Were her actions really making a difference? Certainly she and her teammates had stopped some horrible things from happening, yet the same villains always resurfaced later causing even more devastation and destruction.
“Sometimes I wonder… am I doing the right thing? Am I really helping?” She choked back a sob now; her ability to contain her emotions was quickly eroding.
“What is the point?” There was anger in her voice again. “No matter what we do people never stop! I keep trying, but it is like the pollution just keeps getting worse!” Her voice was reaching a crescendo now. “Sometimes I just… I just…”
She broke down at this point. There was no fighting the tears now, she simply gave in to her emotions for once, allowing herself to cry freely as she thought about the unfairness and injustice in the world.
Linka froze when she heard a noise behind her. “Who is there?” she demanded. She held her breath, waiting for a response. There was silence for a moment then another soft sound. She knew there was someone there, and she had a pretty good idea who it was. “Wheeler?”
She spun around when she did not immediately get an answer. Just as she expected the red-headed American was standing just a few feet behind her.
“How did you know it was me?” he asked with a rather sheepish grin.
“You followed me. You’ve been following me all week.” She folded her arms across her chest and gave him a stern glare, before she realized she probably did not look very serious with her eyes all red and swollen. She looked down at the ground, even though it was too late for him to have missed the fact that she had been crying. “How long have you been here?”
“Long enough.” Wheeler said. “I’m sorry, Babe.”
“Sorry for what? Sorry that you followed me when I said I wanted to be alone?” Linka snapped angrily, looking up to glare at him.
Wheeler looked a little stunned. “I… I didn’t mean to…” he stammered nervously.
Linka sighed. “I know, Wheeler,” she said dejectedly, immediately feeling guilty for being mean to him when he was only trying to be nice. “You were just worried about me, right?”
“Well, it’s been a crazy few days,” he replied, venturing a small smile.
“It has,” Linka replied with a nod.
There was silence between them for a few minutes. Wheeler cautiously took a few steps closer to her. “Did you really mean all that stuff you just said?” he asked, placing a hand on her shoulder.
“I do not know.” She did not shrug his hand away like she would have if they were with the others.
“I’ve felt that way before too, you know,” Wheeler said reassuringly. “Remember that time Blight convinced me to go back in time and stop myself from becoming a Planeteer?”
“Of course I remember. It was the most unusual New Year’s Eve I have ever had.”
“Me too,” Wheeler said. “And I still remember what the future was like when I decided not to become a Planeteer. Trust me, even if you can’t see it right now, what we’re doing is making a difference.” He smiled and squeezed her shoulder gently.
Linka relaxed a little. “You are right. I know you are right. It is just difficult sometimes to really believe it.”
Wheeler nodded. “I know, Babe.” He pulled her into an embrace and she wrapped her arms around him, resting her head on his shoulder. She felt very grateful that he had decided to follow her despite her attempt to be alone. What she really needed now was a friend, someone to listen and understand. And who better to understand what she was going through than him?
She was also glad he was there because he was warm. It really was much colder than she anticipated. She pressed a little closer to him and buried her face in the thick, woolen scarf around his neck.
“You do not think I am just being silly and emotional?” Linka asked, her voice muffled by his scarf.
“Not at all. I think we all feel like that sometimes. It’s easy to be disillusioned when we see the same villains up to no good all the time, but think about how much more they would have done if we weren’t around to stop them.”
“Da. You are right, Wheeler,” she said.
“Wow, I never thought I’d hear you say that,” Wheeler quipped.
“Wheeler!” she exclaimed, groaning at little at his humor. “Bozhe moi, only you can go from serious to jokester in a second.”
“Somebody has to have a sense of humor in this team. Could you imagine if I wasn’t around? You guys would never have any fun.”
Linka was thoughtful for a moment. “It is fun sometimes,” she said finally. “Dangerous, and exhausting but also fun. More fun than I would have had if I had stayed here.”
“Definitely,” Wheeler agreed.
Linka let go of him and took a step back. “So you really think I made the right choice?” she asked seriously, looking him in the eye. “Deciding to return to the Planeteers and leave home is not about having fun, it is about doing the right thing. This is the right thing, is it not?”
“Of course it is,” Wheeler said. “Your grandmother and brother have already given you their blessing, and I’m sure your parents would be proud of you too.”
Linka felt her throat grow tight with emotion. She looked away quickly, feeling tears form in the corner of her eyes. “Do you really think they would?” Her voice was strained.
“I really do. They lost their lives from pollution, and you are going out doing something to stop it. They would be proud of you. You should be proud of yourself. And I know that I’m proud of you.”
Linka found herself smiling. “Really?”
“Yes really. You’ve already made a difference in this town. They’re going to close down the mine, and work on the recycling plant. You may not be able to see the results yet, but I bet one day this place will be great, and a lot of it will be thanks to you.”
“Thank you Wheeler. I really needed to hear that.” She turned and gave one last glance to her parents’ graves. “I wish you could have known them. You would have liked them.”
“I’m sure I would have. I mean, they made you, so they must have been pretty great.”
Linka grinned and shook her head. It was typical of her American companion to flirt, but this time she did not mind so much. She was glad he was here, and that he had snapped her out of her doubt and despair.
She took a deep breath and stood up a little straighter, feeling better than she had in days. “We should get back to the others. I am sure they are wondering where we are.”
“Yeah they’ve got the Geocruiser ready. We wouldn’t want them wasting gas.”
Linka had just opened her mouth to inform him the Geocruiser was solar powered when she noticed the smirk on his face. “Wheeler!” she said. She laughed a little and nudged him lightly in the ribs. “You almost had me thinking you were serious that time!”
“Who me? Serious?” He chuckled and wrapped his arm around her shoulder before kissing the top of her head. “But if you ever need someone to talk to about this, you know where to find me.” The tone of his voice had completely changed. “And I am completely serious about that.”
“I know you are,” Linka replied, wrapping her arm around his waist.
As the two of them walked out of the cemetery, their bodies pressed closely together, Linka knew everything was going to be alright. They still had villains to fight and pollution to stop but they had each other. Not only that but they had an entire team dedicated to this cause. She knew the fight was not going to be quick, or easy, but they were on the right side and their efforts would one day make the world a better place.
She smiled as they walked toward the Geocruiser, not worried for once about what the others were going to think of her being so close to Wheeler. He knew exactly what she needed to hear, and thanks to him she was now ready to face whatever it was they were headed into next.