Sparrow, like a war…
They were alone now.
Not the kind of loneliness that either had felt before, or would admit, even in the depths of their subconscious ego's that they had felt before. The two other girls had been lost months before to situations that were hardly worth mentioning except to say that neither of them could survive under the pressure. Sylvia, the first one, had been found dead in her bunk after swallowing the whole crews supply of acetaminophen pills, and Ryy, the other girl had slit her writs in the medical quad not long after.
For a long time it had been just the three of them. Traveling in a kind of mute normalcy through the oceanic star glades and focusing all of their combined attention on tracking the most obscure route for the mission, all while remaining far out of any operating system's tracking field.
Custer had been the last to go. Josie found him two weeks ago on the floor in the hallway, lying in the fetal position and muttering about the unborn children he had left gestating inside both his wife and his mistress. He went on and on about the secret instructions he left both women via coded sync-data to name both children (whether male or female) after their father.
Custer wasn't important to the overall mission though. The only reason he was even here was a political statement. Josie didn't know much about his family history until they boarded the unmarked ship together, but she had quickly learned from Ryy that some two generations ago Custer's ancestor was branded a coward by the System Federation and banished. It had been through careful political weaving, and Josie wagered high brides to the board of Senators that Custer's father, and eventually himself were exalted to a position as close as they were now to their former standing. A press release was sent – Josie learned, shortly after liftoff that confirmed that the disgraced grandson of a former general would accompany the brave souls on their mission, and sacrifice in the name of his family for the good of the Federation as a whole. He would be the "FACE" of the mission that the world they had left back home would remember. Josie knew it wouldn't be hers, or the other girls, or even Mick Kelley that the normal populace would recognize. Custer's 'self' or just the notion of himself left behind by news feeds and his pretty wife would come to be placed in the history books. Nothing would ever be said about what really happened.
"Damn it!" Mick Kelley spat from the other end of the room.
"What?" Josie looked up, slightly startled. She had never known real silence until she had boarded this ship, and whenever it was broken lately it made her skin crawl.
Mick Kelley shook his head: "Nothing." Josie stared him down: "No really, nothing." Josie raised her eyebrows, Mick Kelley was not one to speak without meaning behind it. He laughed at her expression: "It's just… I realized today is Saturday…"
"What does that mater now?" She was genuinely perplexed.
"Nothing, I guess, just seems like a shitty day to die, is all."
"It's set then, today?"
"I think so… No, I know it is…"
Josie turned away from him, going back to the work at her station. Although she had not meant to do it, she moved a little slower then she usually would have. Even stealing a long glance up at the portal view where the same dizzying pattern of stars and constellations assaulted her. They looked exactly the same as the first day she saw them after boarding the ship, but for the first time she drank them in like a lustrous work of art.
In the months that had passed in their time together Josie had often noticed Mick Kelly turn away suddenly, stepping obscurely off into a corner and bringing the talisman he kept around his neck to his lips and kissing the shiny surface. Josie had wondered often what it was, but it was only recently from the way he wore it that she had noticed it was a statue of a goddess. She had never heard of such a thing being done, and she was not the type to ask questions like that anyway.
Josie had finished her duties, though she lingered for a while, her eyes looping around the room slowly; her mind deep in thought. Finally she stood up. "Should I go, sir?" Mick Kelley focused on her, and sighed.
"Yes, I think you should." Josie took a step toward the door: "I just have to press the button…" He meant the auto-set navigation, and Josie nodded in agreement, taking another step away: "Allard?" He quested her: "Do you believe in what we're doing here? Do you believe what we're doing is right?" Josie brought her hand up to her face, and even though her hair wasn't long enough anymore she stroked the phantom lengths behind her ear as she did when she was a child – she could still hear her father chiding her for the strange delicacy of it.
"I believe that what we're doing will save millions of lives back home."
"Even at this cost? At the millions of lives that will be lost after we do what we set out to do?"
"I believe that we are doing the right thing. What our people have asked of us to do."
Mick Kelley nodded, and Josie took another step closer to the door: "Allard?" He called out again: "I'm glad you're here… That is to say, I'm glad you made it this far… with me."
"Thank you sir! I'll check on Custer before I go under and make sure everything is ready when you are."
He nodded again, and with the slice of her palm against the lock-read she was out into the hallway, making her way toward the medical quad. Her pace was steady, but she could feel the heaviest of knots curving inside her gut.
Custer had been put under early – neither Josie nor Mick Kelley could stand the sound of his howling and muttering and putting him down early seemed the only humane thing to do in his state. Josie checked his vitals for the last time and reset his feed to end approximately ten minutes pre impact. That way, he, Josie, and Mick Kelley would be long dead when the mission was completed. It was a textbook outcome; Josie knew what to do in every respect.
She ran her hands down her slacks, feeling the fabric, wondering if she should go under as is, or if she should change. Taking her overshirt off she removed all of her medical badges, and her tags that she wore around her neck. There would be nothing left, when everything was done, and she had a strange fear of suddenly awaking up because her tags were strangling her. Lying in the bed she ran her hands down her slacks again, her palms were wet, and she brought them up again to rest on her chest. Her breasts rose and fell with her breathing. She waited. The old adage said by soldiers back home that all brave souls speed to heaven strait away after battle comforted her slightly, but her mind raced. She thought about the baby she had given up years ago when she decided to enter the medical squadron; it had been a boy, and she thought about how she had wanted to name him Pence after her father. She thought about her brothers, and little about her mother. About the whole world she had left behind, wondering for a moment if she had made the right decision, although the clarity of her mind killed that idea with the straightforward notion that everything had already been done, and nothing could be changed.
They cryo seal sliced down around her, and her finger hovered over the injection command. In those last numb seconds a strange memory from her childhood came to her. She had been young and she and her brothers had found a sparrow on the ground near their house – it had been injured, and it flopped on the concrete. They all stood stupefied and hypnotized by it until Josie finally picked it up and held it in her arms. On the ground it had flopped and jerked with a violent need but in her palms it rested. She wondered now if it were soothed by her touch, or if it had simply given up. She thought that that sparrow alone was like the war. It moved and moved itself, hoping to change before finally it just gave up and withered into nothingness.
Josie closed her eyes, falling into the deepest of darkness's.
a/n: written for the march wcc.