Author : Josie Gowler

I opened my eyes. I was lying on an army bunk. My lieutenant and best friend Nick was sitting at the foot of the bed. He sat there in silence looking a cross between concerned and pissed off. With a black eye.

I got up, staggered over to the toilet behind its flimsy screen and went for a pee. When I came back out, Nick hadn’t budged.

“What?” I asked.

He glanced to his right, towards the window up above shoulder level. I hadn’t noticed it before. It was then that I spotted the view outside the room. My stomach lurched. I clutched at the wall. Sweat stood out on my forehead. The bleak expanse of the army complex laughed at me. I slumped to a sitting position, eyes closed.

Nick crouched down next to me “Why didn’t you tell me, Captain?” he asked quietly.

I ignored him. I was gulping down air like I was drowning. For all I cared, the Confederation might as well march in here right now and blow me away: they’d be doing me a favour.

“Come on Em, breathe more slowly. You’ve got to get it under control.”

The edges of my vision started to go blurry. Nick shook my arm. “Think of the war. Think of the team. You didn’t survive this long just to give in now, before the final assault.”

I nodded. Why had I assumed I’d be fine? Because I wanted to defeat the Confeds on their home turf. I felt I’d earned it, after a decade of fighting across the heavens, the loss of a hand and an eye.

“I’ll look after you,” Nick said.

I nodded again. Very slowly, I got to my feet, back to the wall. I turned round and looked out of the dorm window again. I could feel myself tense all over. But then I felt Nick’s hand on my shoulder. I had to try. For my crew. My friends.

“So how did you get that black eye?” I asked Nick as we walked through the empty dorm.

“You did it. Don’t you remember anything?”

I shook my head and stumbled outside, Nick right next to me. “Look at the ground if you start to feel funny,” Nick whispered. “And remember: the darkest hour comes just before the dawn.”

“Oh, piss off.”

“That’s my girl.” We kept walking, my heart doing funny things in my chest.

“So why didn’t the General just ship me straight out of the staging camp and back to the stars?”

“I appealed to her better nature.”

I snorted. Nick explained: “I reminded them that you’re the best tactician this side of Arcturus. If you can do that up there-” he pointed up at the sky “-you can do it down here.”

We sat down on the stone wall at the edge of the exercise area. I stared at my feet. Water had collected in a shallow puddle beside the wall.

“Can’t believe you never let on you had terraphobia,” Nick muttered.

“Can’t swim either, but no-one made a big deal of that,” I muttered back. How could I explain all the years of fear in words? My reflection looked sick. But I had a war to fight. “Let’s stay outside,” I said, every bit of my brain rebelling.

The sun set in a sea of red, the stars appeared and the moon moved its slow way right across the endless heavens. I’d never sat planetside to watch the sky before. It was all quite beautiful. Staring at the winking, blinking stars, I knew I’d make it.


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