The lights long since dimmed, and the passengers of the plane obligated themselves to peaceful rest. The majority of that rest was in the form of deep slumber, but those who didn't sleep quietly entertained themselves with electronics. One woman with powdery hair hovered over a hardback book while another woman, considerably younger and with pale yellow hair, tapped at a tablet's glowing screen. Even the ten-year-old girl with her forty-year-old mother were occupied somehow, though judging from their slacking postures Ann thought that they were probably preoccupied with nice dreams.

Only Ann, it seemed, couldn't preoccupy herself somehow.

Charles Dickens' superb classic, Oliver Twist, didn't interest her somehow, and sleep decidedly didn't aid her no matter how many times she readjusted her pillows. Even the pregnant lady beside her was asleep, and for the first time Ann felt a pang of loneliness over the energetic, lively woman's unconsciousness. Her fingers itched until she braided her hair, recollecting the times when she was younger and her mother would braid her hair. It soothed her, but it didn't do so completely, and she still felt restless.

With a hard sigh, she reached and plucked the book Oliver Twist from her large purse. She gazed at the cover for some time – a young boy sketched in gray against what was, presumably, the blueness of a sky and the words "Oliver Twist" engraved in gold at the top and the author's name at the bottom. It had a nice memory, this book. It was a present from her husband on their first anniversary. And the story itself was … unique. Unusual. It was a summary of life, she thought, and she ran her fingers over the yellowing pages of her favorite novel.

Still, she found herself wholly disinterested and reading it halfheartedly at best. She barely got to the second chapter when a chilly hand passed over hers.

It was, surprisingly, the hand of an adorable little girl. Little blonde curls framed the girl's chubby, rose face, and her blue eyes gleamed with some emotion Ann couldn't discern. It brought Ann's motherly instincts out, particularly when she noticed the girl's little brow to be dotted with sweat and her cheeks flushed in almost an unhealthy, feverish way.

"It's so dark," the girl whispered as she widened her eyes. "Why is it so dark? It's supposed to be sunny."

"Because the lights are dimmed," whispered Ann comfortingly. "The lights don't shine so brightly so people can sleep easier, sweetie."

The little girl's chin wobbled. "There is no light at all. It's so dark and scary. Why?"

Ann looked around for the child's mother, but, surprisingly, there was no sight of her. People either slept or read as if the girl wasn't even there – completely ignoring her. It didn't make any sense; the girl couldn't be traveling by herself, that much was clear, and who wouldn't notice a missing child?

"Where's your mommy, sweetie?"

In response, the girl pressed her finger to one of the book's pages – a paragraph in the first chapter. When Ann looked up, she saw that the girl's eyes were glossy and reflecting fire. Actual bright flames swayed in her pupils.

"Are you all right?"

It wasn't the girl's voice that spoke – it was that pregnant lady. The girl and the ignorant people around her were gone, and next to her hovered the mother-to-be with her forehead crinkled. Flushing, Ann realized that the strange child with the fire in her eyes and the ignorant people were merely a dream.

"Fine." She cleared her throat, wincing. "I'm fine, thank you."

The woman clenched her jaw, flicking auburn hair out of her eyes. Then she smiled tightly and politely looked away.

What a dream. That girl – her flaming curls, her very cold hand, her queer behavior, and even that fire reflected in her eyes – seemed so real, as if she was a ghost of a presence Ann couldn't see. But that was downright ridiculous; there weren't any things like ghosts or invisible presences. There was her imagination going into overdrive and giving her highly disturbing dreams, nothing more.

And... they were suspended in the air, right in the open, over Donbass. This information was told to her by a slight flicker of her eyes to the electronic screen she noted earlier, and the miniature airplane figure hovering over Ukraine made her palms go sweaty.

She sighed, touching her loose hair. It was the twenty-first century. This was supposed to be the century of justice, democracy, and compassion. Like that baby. What did the child ever do to become a poor orphan in a war zone? Yellow curls framed her tiny head, and her wide blue eyes were glassy with soon-to-be-shed tears. The grandmother held her tightly, sobbing, but from the looks of it the poor old woman wouldn't manage much longer. Healthy, stale young women wouldn't manage much longer, either, and probably neither would the baby. Bombs take old and young alike.

Then again, she thought idly, twisting her fingers in her hair, her husband called her "Drama Queen" for a reason.

"I'm sorry, were you speaking to me?"

Ann snapped her eyes to the pregnant lady, whose earlier sobriety seemed to have tripled. Then she flushed further. "No, I'm sorry. I suppose I was just thinking out loud."

"There's no need to apologize." She sent Ann a complementing look. "And I wouldn't call you a drama queen. You seem like a sensible person."

"My husband calls me that," Ann explained. Her words came out lighter, easier. "He certainly speaks his mind."

"I think he means for you to take things easier," supplied the lady hopefully. "I just have a similar relationship with my elder siblings and my mother. Either she's telling us to take it easy, or we're telling her."

"Funny, it's the same with my mother, too." Ann knotted her fingers in her lap, squeezing them. "She seemed quite worried when I was boarding the plane."

The pregnant lady dabbed her lips with a napkin. "You said before that you had to … make a choice."

"Don't we always?" Ann squeezed the bridge of her nose, briefly biting her lip. "It's the first time I left my daughter behind. She's so small, and she cried for me to stay, but..."

"But you just felt you had to do it?"

"Yes, you could say that."

The pregnant lady smiled sympathetically. "You know," she said, "when I was younger, I was babysitting my cousin a lot. Joan loved her parents, but they were very busy and for good reasons, too. Try explaining that to a six-year-old, though."

Ann chuckled quietly. "Keep them distracted, they say, but it's not easy."

"No, definitely not," agreed her companion, "but my mom told me that there are as many good things in the world as there are stars in the sky. Every smile, memory, flower, present, and sincere compliment, every good thing you can think of, is like a star in the sky. So I said that to my cousin, and she said, 'I want an extra star in the sky right now.'"

"She sounds like a very smart girl."

"So she is. And I said, 'Remember the flowers mommy gave you? Or that time when you had pancakes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, all in a row? Time goes faster when you think of good things, and that way your mom will come quicker.' And, thankfully, it worked. She smiled for the rest of the week."

"That's … excellent advice." Ann chuckled. "Thank you. I read it somewhere, too, something like, 'time isn't a subject of physics but of emotion.'"

The lady arched her eyebrows. "Doesn't sound like something modern. You like reading?"

"Yes, particularly classics." She blushed. "Some people find things like movies more entertaining, but as you said, time flies by more quickly when you're enjoying yourself."

"True," responded the mother-to-be, and sound of rolling wheels interrupted them.

Two stewardesses, backs straight and professional smiles gleaming, rolled two carts brimming with food down the aisles. One of them, the prim platinum blonde from earlier, paused to hand an elderly couple cups of juice while a plum stewardess with a halo of orange curls inquired about a girl's choice of meat. Then they came closer, stepping simultaneously forward. The orange-haired woman poured a cup of grape-colored drink; the platinum blonde primly handed out a tray of vegetables. Then, two rows in front of Ann, a teenager was whispering a question to the orange-haired one when Ann noticed a swelling spot of red on the stewardess's shirt. The stewardess looked down in wide-eyed surprise, and Ann expected her to frown, apologize, and wipe at the tomato juice stain. Instead, she opened her mouth and let out a shrill, blood-curdling scream.

It was that type of scream that people scream when they're painfully shocked or seriously hurt. It was the type of scream that came from the professional, cool stewardess, and it was the scream that made many people turn their heads and gasp loudly. Then she was falling down, hitting the floor with a thud as the platinum blonde screamed her name. By the time the orange-haired lady's colleague rushed over and knelt, the shot stewardess was clearly dead.

That was all that Ann noticed within the first five seconds. Then she noticed the high-pitched whistles of wind, the screams of the passengers, and, worst of all, black holes in the plane. Gaping, dark holes punctured by the bullets in the ground. The plane lurched, emitting another series of panicked screams from the passengers.

The pregnant lady shrieked, grasping her stomach.

Ann sat there, paling as she comprehended the situation. They were under attack. Somebody was trying to kill them. They were over Donbass, and something very bad was happening just as she feared.

Ann screamed, adding her outraged cry into the kaleidoscope of panicked shrieks, just as another series of bullets ripped through the plane. A young man howled, shutting his eyes.

"Save our souls," the pregnant lady gasped, keeping her hands firmly on her bulging belly.

"Ladies and gentlemen," a trembling voice of a man boomed over the speakers, "please do not lose your composure under this situation. We have everything under control. Buckle your seats and sit back. Thank you."

As the pilot was speaking, Ann saw, out of the corner of her eye, a dark airplane figure flash outside the window. Hardly did the pilot utter the word "thank you" that another series of bullets ripped through the plane. Fire ignited. Dark smoke rose around the plane and seeping into the interior. Stewardesses rushed to and fro, ducking and screaming as their professional slides slipped away to reveal humans as equally scared as the passengers. The platinum blonde stewardess from before did not rise from her position by the orange-haired lady's body, and presently she fell to the floor, blood blossoming around her. Ann saw the mother, who was in her forties, protectively place her hands around her daughter and sob brokenheartedly. An elderly man keened loudly for his wife, who was now lying limply in her seat and staring at the ceiling. There was no need for medical attention, even though a stewardess dragged a large medical box to the aid of an injured child.

Ann clamped her hands over her mouth, hacking wildly into her palms. The ten-year-old child was dead as her mother grievously sobbed into her late daughter's hair. More people she didn't recognize stared, screamed, and slumped, life draining slowly from their withering bodies. The plane lurched twice or thrice, once making a complete 360 degree turn, and by the end of it the stewardess who was carrying the medical box didn't move again. Ann imagined how the onlookers saw this: streams of fire spreading on from a falling Boeing.

"Ladies and gentlemen," the pilot's shaky voice registered over the speakers (the third time now, for the second time was reminding the panicked crowd to not panic), "please follow with the protection pose currently being demonstrated on the screen." There was a long-drawn pause, during which Ann shakily looked upward, as if hoping to see the heavens mercifully part before her. "We will be making an emergency landing."

Then the plane, with a great, victimized shudder, proceeded to drop steeply.

Screams reduced to whimpers. People grasped each other, throttling hands and shaking in embraces. They made eye contact with one another. They … were going to die. They accepted their fate tearfully.

Life flashing, Ann dug her fingernails into the lush chair in front of her.

Her family's quaint home, beautifully sincere in ways no mansion could possibly be.

Her mother, father, uncle, aunt, and herself, all compromising a cheerful family.

Her mother's touch, ginger and loving.

Her father's boastful smile, radiating a matrix of something paternal.

Her husband, grasping her hands and spilling promises.

Her daughter. Her love. Her bundle of joy – their bundle of joy.

Her uncle's passing. Her aunt's sickness, mainly bedridden yet grinning.

Her colleagues. Her friends. Her mother's garden party, twice every year.

Her husband's departure. Her daughter, left behind in the grandmother's resourceful care.

Sharing their one last smile and one last "I love you." Meeting all those people, children and elderly, young and old, in this fatefully cursed airplane.

Bombs take old and young alike.

Meeting this pregnant lady which, in another world where they weren't about to die, Ann was certain they'd be friends. She felt a shiver, and turning stared into the petrified eyes of this kind woman whose name she didn't even bother to ask.

This woman's baby, that precious little angel, will never be born and will die the same death as their mother.

Ann mouthed, "I'm sorry." She meant it. She sensed it. Even that girl in her dream foreshadowed it.

That orange-haired stewardess, with a smile all generosity and zero stony professionalism, was the first to die. They'd be the last.

This was supposed to be the century of justice, democracy, and compassion.

There's no justification in war.

Her one last thought was of her parents, her aunt, her husband, and her daughter, all whom she will never see again.

Then, just as Ann's fingers brushed the pregnant lady's belly affectionately, the plane burst, emitting a colorful boom. It was a boom of fire and blood.

The heavens invisibly parted while the killers smiled evilly at the 298 civilians whose lives they stole.

There will be people with helicopters and cameras. There will be sympathizers, wet eyes, and sad smiles. And then will come the daily routine, the unperturbed cycle of war, and the piled deaths of innocents. And nothing will be changed. And yet…

"No one is useless in this world … who lightens the burden of it for anyone else." Charles Dickens.

Thank you for reading my story. As said before, this story is based on a true story, the Malaysian Boeing tragedy, whereas 298 lives were taken and there were no survivors. Yet, this tragedy alone is only a sliver of what is called "war," showing us the ugliness which comes with lack of peace.

Thank you, again, for reading, reviewing, and supporting this three-chapter story. It is my hope that you will continue to support the theme.

Have a great day,