"Have you ever wished that you could leave the Imperium?"
"I don't tolerate treason. So the answer is no, never. My turn, what's your favorite place to go to?"
"Hm, throwin' a toughie at me, eh? Well I do fancy a few hours over at Breaker's Point. It has those nice, warm beaches and I met a pretty nice boy over there, too. Alright, it's my turn again. How about…what was the first gun you ever got?"
"That would be a Gilead plasma shot with an Eicho brand scope. I was twelve."
"Ha, I should of known you'd remember that. Your turn again."
"Um…what's your favorite color? "
"Favorite color?!" The game of questions came to a screeching halt. Marita sat up, her curls bouncing around her, shining like a golden halo in the mid-day sun. Her green eyes narrowed into a skeptical look as she picked at one of the stocks of tall amber grass that surrounded them. "Was that the only thing you could come up with? I think you need to use a little more of your imagination, Fletcha' Lee." She tilted her head, a playful smirk stretching her lips. "Besides, what type of boyfriend are ya' if you DON"T know the answer to that question?"
Fletcher lay with his back against the worn plaid blanket, for once out of his military armor and in crisp standard issue black pants and a t-shirt with the Imperium insigma blazed across the chest, perfect to wear on leave. His usually conserved, lean face now broke out into a rare look of sheepish-ness. "Thinking up deep, exposing questions isn't in my area of expertise, sorry."
"Come on, there has to be something you're just dying to ask. You just need to think hard about it," With a sigh she flopped back down next to him, her white dress splaying out around her like petals on a flower. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, basking in the sun as the thick smell of freshly cut hay filled the air.
He let his eyes linger on the freckles that dotted her healthy pink face before turning them skyward, gazing up into that eternal blue. It seemed so vast, so endless and all consuming. He felt like he was about to fall up into it at any moment. Turning his head, he focused his sights on the small silver speck that was working class frigate slowly make its way over the barns and fields to the nearest port. He wracked his brain for a question as the faint rumble of its engines reached his ears. Finally, he had it. He turned back to her. She opened her eyes at the rustle of his clothes, and gazed at him questioningly.
His voice slipped out calm and smooth. "Do you love me? "
It was as if everything stopped. The breeze stopped tickling the grasses, their stalks suddenly stiff. The birds stopped chirping as even the distant roar of the frigate faded into nothing. Marita blinked, her fingers freezing inches away from his hand. Gently, she rolled over onto his chest, a lone finger coyly tracing the outline of his muscles through his shirt.
She gave a victorious smile as a blush slowly crept onto his face. "I will always love yah, Fletcha' Lee. I promise."
The hull shuddered as the clamps released and Fletcher's small tin can of a shuttle was set loose from the cruiser and into the emptiness of space.
Fletcher sat crossed legged on the riveted floor of the cockpit, pressed up against the torn back of the pilot's chair. The entire room smelled of budget cuts, with only the bare minimum of necessities installed (i.e. steering levers, oxygen monitor, ignition button) to keep whoever was manning the craft alive long enough to actually experience their suicide.
The two light tubes glued haphazardly to the ceiling flickered, casting a dim glow on Fletcher's back as he hunkered over the tin case before him. He had helped fill many a Jump case to send along with those grizzled old soldiers before they slipped into the abyss, but he never imagined he would be getting one for himself. It was an old tradition, one last salute from friends and comrades alike.
He had a week to stare at it, trapped in this cramped space, alone with his grim thoughts, as the cruiser carried him to his last destination. He wanted to save it, to savor the moment of flicking those cheap metal clasps and seeing what's inside. Now, finally his curiosity took over. It was time to see just what his they left him to die with.
With a click the case was opened, exposing its contents in plain sight. There wasn't much, just a complimentary cigar wrapped in a letter of approval; the High General's signature on it was clearly signed by one of his secretaries. Figures. To the left lay a stack of name cards, flimsy, discard-able things full of the signatures of his platoon buddies. On top of that sat an antique flashlight, something that he would have seen in a museum. A curious frown tugged at his face as he picked it up and read the note attached to it.
It's dark in there. Here, take this.- Tavs.
A wry smile cracked his lips. Funny, he thought he couldn't smile, but McTavish proved him wrong. Again. Maybe his bunkmate would of become his friend if things hadn't gone so….wrong, if things had been different.
Sighing, he set down the flashlight and was about to close the lid, but that was when he saw it. His green eyes grew big, his breath catching in his throat as he hesitantly reached down and picked up the picture.
Marita stood there, forever flush faced and smiling as she clutched the folds of her wedding dress, leaning lovingly into the man that held her. It wasn't Fletcher.
He let out a disgusted cough and turned the picture over, freezing as he read the words written across it, red ink and all caps.
Have fun on your trip, Fletcha'. And don't worry, I'll take good care of her- Arly.
His hands shook, the picture slipped away from him and floated to the floor. He could see that square jaw drop into a laugh, his brown eyes full of nothing but lies as he pretended to be his best friend.
It was like his insides were being crushed. He bent over, gasping for breath, shoulders quivering as he let the entirety of his grief pour out into a singular word. "Arly."
Lt. Arly Madison was currently sitting in the hospital with a broken nose and splintered ribs, courtesy of Fletcher, but that didn't make him feel any better. In the end, Arly would recover and go back to the arms of Marita, Fletcher wouldn't.
The console suddenly beeped, its lights flashing in warning. He was here, The Jump. His heart beat a frantic rhythm in his chest as he stood up and turned to look out the window. His mouth dropped as his pure shock and awe devoured any emotion that sparked through his brain.
There it was, the Jump, dark as the void and massive enough to rival the Imperium. It choked out the stars, leaving a vast emptiness in its wake, cold and without light. It was exciting and horrifying all at the same time. Goosebumps prickled underneath his armor, something tingling in the back of his head. This was no ordinary black hole.
" 5 seconds till gravity well. " The comms crackled with the last message sent from the cruiser , which sat comfortably out of range. "Remember the manual. For the glory of the Imperium."
Fletcher cast a look at the bulky, dusty manual that sat on the dash, ready to be read in the event that he somehow did survive and reach the center. He picked it up and carelessly threw it behind him. "For the glory of the Imperium," he muttered back right before the comms crackled and broke.
He sat back in the chair, letting his hands rest limply on his legs. So this was how it felt to die? jMaybe he should have been crying, screaming, something. Anything but this sudden numbness creeping over his body as gravity slowly began to claw at the shuttle. He had a week to think over all his mistakes, to regret his life choices and pine for everything and everyone he lost. The vastness of space had drowned out his sorrow, and now all he could do was give up and die. In the past he would view this choice as cowardly and pathetic, but now it seemed like the better option than letting his body slowly dissolve around him. The worst thing about it would be that despite all they've been through, despite what she said and promised…
He knew that he could die right in front of her, and she wouldn't care.
Head tilted back, he closed his eyes, suddenly feeling very, very tired. Even now he could feel it in his bones, scratching against his plating. It would be a relief not to deal with it anymore.
Suddenly the full force of the black hole kicked in. The shuttle lurched and buckled, beginning to get stretched out. The stars swirled and bent and eventually evaporated as all light faded and the crushing blackness enclosed in. Fletcher allowed himself one small smile as with a screech the hull broke and he was no more.