We had two days left to get ready and one day to make the trip to the moon. Five fighter ships went to Mars and the three to Saturn. All of us had the same mission: to reach our destination, ascertain if that planet could sustain human life, and send a message back to the Space Alliance as quickly as possible.
Those who went to Saturn took the Space Alliance DEW with the intention of using it as a means of communication if other, more conventional methods failed. This seemed insane to me. What if they ignited the atmosphere of Saturn with the direct energy weapon? But General Isaacson thought it was worth the risk, and the Russian Colonel, who had unwillingly taken second-in-command, had agreed.
“Have you noticed no one has tried to talk us out of our plans?” I asked Leon.
We were working inside the flight deck of the Space Alliance Base, repairing the Sparrow Hawk from the damage she had incurred when the Global E-fleet base was destroyed. A broken piece of hull metal had hit us from behind and underneath, tearing open the landing gear cavity.
“Their complete disinterest speaks louder than words,” my brother responded dryly.
“They think we’re suicidal.”
I paused in welding two seams together, and looked over at him. Leon was tired, but still humming under his breath as he worked. He kept time with his song as he hammered a piece of metal back into the right shape.
After all we’d seen and experienced, I couldn’t believe the portal-to-another-solar-system was the choice that would lead us to our deaths.
“What do you think?” I asked Leon. “Do you want to do this?”
He didn’t answer at first, just continued to hammer the metal panel until he paused to hold it up and eyeball his work.
“To tell you the truth,” he said in a low voice, “I think I would have chosen whichever option the General was least inclined to approve. I don’t want to end up on the same planet with him. He and that Russian Colonel are taking the war along.”
“It could be worse,” I pointed out. “We could die.”
“I’m not so sure that’s ‘worse’ than taking death to others,” Leon answered slowly and turned to hand me the finished piece of landing gear panelling.
It was the first time he had commented on our part in the war. I saw regret etched around his usually carefree eyes. He smiled soberly, turned away to begin work on the next panel, and went back to humming. We were only nineteen and already running from our pasts.
The three spacecraft headed to Saturn were gone already. They were all Russian, and seemed to know each other, by cultural familiarity if nothing else. The scouts to Mars were at a last-minute briefing with the General, and then they would be taking off. Of the five spacecraft to Mars, two were American, one was French, one Israeli, and one Chinese.
While Leon and I continued to work on the Sparrow Hawk, the Mars team walked out onto the flight deck and began to go through their departure checklists. One of the Americans came over to the Sparrow Hawk. I was still welding underneath and saw his boots walking toward us.
“Hey,” he said, when I rolled out from underneath our ship. I knew his name was Brian and that he had never been in space combat. He had arrived only a few days before the end.
I stood up and took off my welding helmet. “Hey, good luck out there,” I said.
“Yeah,” he replied, shaking my hand. “Same to you.”
Brian hesitated, turning his helmet over and over in his hands. His blond hair glinted pink and orange in the red lights over us. I waited, wondering what was worrying him.
“Look,” he said, at last, “There just aren’t that many of us left. If you— if we both happen to make it, could I have your number to look you up after—“ His voice trailed away as he realized the impossibility of his request.
There were no numbers. No addresses. I swallowed and smiled sympathetically. Brian blinked, like a lost deer in the headlights and turned away.
None of us would ever be the same.