New Cardiff Spaceport, 09:35, 28th July 2094
Steve, Leah and Joe waved Terrwyn and her mother goodbye as she boarded the shuttle to Io. She was going to give a talk on synthetic sensory organs at Nova Volgograd Technical University. Leah had given her a (distressingly literal) crash-course in Russian on the way to the spaceport and Steve had given her a 'good-luck kiss' for the journey.
"So, just what are we going to do?" asked Steve.
"My mum's making-" began Joe.
"No," said Leah.
"Well, I hear there's a new bookshop on Penarth Street," suggested Steve.
"That sounds dull," said Joe.
"Actually, this year's Shooter's Almanack is coming out today," said Leah, "And you guys need the books for next school year,"
"It's settled then," said Steve.
The three headed back into the city centre and looked for the new bookshop. The front was plastered with signs- "Grand Opening Sale: 50% Off Selected Titles!" and other equally delectable deals.
Inside the shop were shelves packed with holographic representations of books- 'touching' them would display a preview of the title on a person's PDA or holotablet and from there, they could either 'put the book down' or add it to a virtual 'shopping cart'. It was really just a pretentious throwback to physical media that mixed in elements of digital media, but they were popular enough to make a tidy profit.
Steve and Joe headed towards the 'school essentials' section whilst Leah searched for the Shooter's Almanack 2094.
After making their respective purchases, Joe and Steve caught Leah outside, fixated on her holotablet.
"What's that?" asked Steve, peering at the tablet. Leah closed the book at once. "It's OK, you don't have to be embarrassed. You can tell us anything,"
"It's... Can we talk about this in private?" said Leah.
Back at Leah's place, Steve began making tea whilst Joe turned on the radio.
"So, what was that you were reading?" asked Steve.
"It's a poetry collection- Carol Ann Duffy. My Mum used to love these..." replied Leah, holding back a tear, "She died when I was five. Heart attack. I saw it and..." she wiped her eye with a tissue, "Thought of her,"
"That's..." began Joe.
"Don't you say a word. Since she died, I've been living with my uncle while my Dad's on his missions. He's in the Army,"
"What regiment?" asked Steve.
"I'm not supposed to tell you this, but he's a commander in the Special Astronaut Service. It's just so... hard, knowing that I could wake up one day and suddenly- BAM, he's gone,"
So that explains it, thought Steve, The... well, everything, really. What else would you expect, from the daughter of an elite Special Forces commander?
"Any idea when he'll be back next?"
"Another six weeks, at least. Most of what he does is shutting down pirates and slavers out in the Belt. The Army's got these fancy near-light-speed 'zippers', but there's just so many of them... It's a wonder they do as well as they do,"
The doorbell rang. Leah went to get it. Standing there was an Army officer in uniform.
"Are you Leah Enfield?" asked the officer.
"Yes, that's me," said Leah.
"Can I come in? I've got some news about your father,"
"Sure. Can I get you anything?"
"No thanks. I can't stay long,"
The officer sat at the table.
"Who are these?"
"Friends. Can they stay, or..."
"They can stay. Miss Enfield, your father... your father was killed in action last night, near Ceres. He held off a gang of pirates so that his team could escape," Silence fell across the room. "His body is being returned to New Cardiff. He'll recieve a military burial with full honours next Monday morning,"
"Uh, Steve, Joe," Leah wasn't sure if this was actually happening, "Can you go now? I... need some time alone,"
Later that day, Steve passed the news on to Terrwyn.
SMGSteve began a group conversation with terrwynator and connisteur75 at 15:34, 28/07/94
terrwynator: What's happened?
connisteur75: It's about Leah's dad.
terrwynator: OMG No- don't tell me he's dead!
terrwynator: He's dead, right.
SMGSteve: That's right. KIA saving his squad.
terrwynator: Oh no...
terrwynator: Is she OK?
connisteur75: We've heard nothing from her all day.
connisteur75: I'm actually kinda worried.
SMGSteve: Same here.
SMGSteve: When are you gonna be back?
terrwynator: I have to go now. Having dinner with the faculty.
terrwynator: Talk to you tomorrow!
Terrwynator left chat.
SMGSteve: Wanna play some AC?
connisteur75: Which campaign?
SMGSteve: There's only one, numpty. Barbarossa's Revenge.
connisteur75: Sounds good.
Chat closed at 17:39, 28/07/94
That Friday, Terrwyn met Steve outside Leah's house.
"So, how's Leah been?" asked Terrwyn.
"She's not come out since Tuesday," said Steve, "And she's not been talking to any of us,"
"So... Are we gonna talk to her?"
"That's what I had in mind,"
Steve rang the doorbell. Leah's uncle came to the door.
"Hello. Is Leah in...?" said Steve.
"I was wondering when you'd come. She's in a right state," said Leah's uncle. He led Steve and Terrwyn upstairs into Leah's room. Leah was curled up on the bed, an old book covering her head. "Leah? It's Steve and Terrwyn,"
Leah moved the book and looked up. Her eyes were streaming with tears and she was obviously drunk.
"Are you..." began Terrwyn.
"Don't start that. Just leave me alone- I've been going through a hard time," Leah's speech was slow and slurred, a stark contrast from her usual hot-blooded self.
"We've been worried about you," said Steve.
"That's nice. Now bugger off and leave me be," She reached for a bottle of whiskey.
"I know it's hard, dealing with a sudden death like this- but it happens, and you've just got to accept that," Steve knelt down beside her, "Come on- we've got something for you,"
Leah reluctantly got off the bed and followed Steve into the kitchen. He reached into his backpack and pulled out a metal box.
"What's in there?"
"Open it and see. I just know you'll love this,"
Leah opened the box and gasped. "That's..." She reached in and pulled out a Mauser C96 with a large red '9' painted onto the grip and the initials L.E. engraved on one side. "How did you-"
"High-powered laser beam," said Terrwyn.
"No, I mean-" Leah sighed and put the gun down. "Never mind,"
The next Monday, the funeral was held at RSF Europa. It was a fairly low-key event- just Leah's friends, family and the rest of her Dad's squad.
"I believe that he wished for a poetry reading," said the priest, as the casket was lowered into the ground, "From Rupert Brooke's The Soldier, I believe: If I should die, think only this of me..."
Leah was barely holding back the tears as she heard it in her father's voice. She remembered him coming home from a mission after her mother died, the day he first taught her how to shoot. She remembered getting her scoped Mosin-Nagant a year before, the look on his face as she'd hit a target nearly a kilometre away...
"...That is forever England," finished the priest.