Author: Josie Gowler
I slam on the retro brakes and skim past the first skyscraper, getting thrown forward and to the left in my harness as I dive within metres of the glassy face. The ship jolts into the gap between the first skyscraper and the jagged remains of the next one, then I bank again to make the second gap. Again and again through the megalith-like buildings and the ruins of the bombed-out ones.
“Cooper Tower to Idiot. I’m still here, you know,” crackles the com.
“Famous Pilot to Cooper Tower. What are they going to do, fire me?” I retort back. “And how did you manage to draw the short straw and be on duty today?”
“I’m off in fifteen minutes. Just long enough to chew you a new one.”
“I’m going to miss your grumpiness. No, really I am.”
“So it’s true then? You’re going to retire?”
I nibble on my lower lip before answering. I’ve known Leo so long, it doesn’t feel right to dissemble. “I honestly don’t know. There’s a part of me that wants to go back to teaching, but… the other part of me wants to explore the new worlds now those reptilian bastards aren’t going to make us extinct.”
“Now we’ve kicked their butts, you mean. And it sounds like we need a chat about the future in the mess hall before we get too drunk. Maybe you can help me decide too.”
I laugh. “Or we’ll both still be dithering. Famous Pilot out.”
Trouble is, in flying I feel alive. Once I’ve finished showing off, I break northwards and level out. Leaving the city, past lower buildings and patches of devastation, then over miles and miles of stark grave markers – white for us, blue for the aliens – to finally reach Cooper Strip. I slow as I come into land, halt above one of the few spaces remaining and waft gently downwards, barely a jolt to tell me that I’m on the ground again. Looks like I’m the last to arrive.
Checks done, engine off, I clamber out of the cockpit and onto the tarmac, smelling the ozone-like afterburn. It’s quiet out here: everyone’s already at the party. I limp across the base. The scorch marks are still there, the angry remains of hangers six and two.
I pause outside the mess hall. I can hear the celebrations inside, feel the throb of music under my boots. The war is over, I say to myself. Finally, irrevocably over.
I should be savouring the victory. In alcoholic form. In drinking games form. In clambering-over-the-bar-for-a-ten-hour-bender form.
Funnily enough, I don’t feel like it. The pilot who used to do that had her own legs, not cybernetic ones, and she had a husband, too.
Go in, I order myself, but I still stand there, leaning on the doorframe. So much has changed. But if David was here, he’d say; “To feel sad, you have to be alive.” Such an arse sometimes, my husband. And then thinking of him, Brad, and Ricko, and the other absent pilots of my squadron, as well as Leo and the others ripping it up inside, I stop hesitating, open the door into the mess hall and walk in to join my friends. Decisions can wait another day.