Ashes to Ashes
Jessica M. Scott
The Audacity was drifting aimlessly in space. Her warp ring had been damaged in an incident with raiders off the Bronx arm of G442. In the pilot's chair, Charlotte propped her foot up on the console and listened to the ringback tone echo off the brushed metal walls.
The way he said her name made her chest ache. "Live and in person," she answered.
"The news feeds have been reporting an attack in your research sector. Are you all right?"
She closed her eyes and imagined Finn walking home, a bag of groceries dangling from his hand, or his battered old satchel filled with papers to grade bouncing against his hip. The flowers on Astoria were blooming this cycle and the brightness of that yellow white sunshine would silhouette his frame. Her hands curled up, fingernails cutting into her palms.
"Figures this would be the only time the feeds are relaying across the galaxy sooner than a week behind," she replied. The solar flares and the gravitational pull from Manhattan usually meant news was slow getting back and forth between the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens. That was probably why her call connected live instead of bouncing into Finn's message cortex.
"Charlie," he said again, voice shimmering over the line. "What's going on?"
"We got hit by raiders. They locked onto our warp signature and tried to rip the ship in two. I think they've been out on the northern edges for a while. Most of their ships had copper patching." She hissed as the ship shook, jarring her. "They boarded, but we managed to chase them off and kill the ones we couldn't." Her hand came away from her ribs sticky red.
"What else?" Finn asked. There was less background noise. He must be home now. The blue walls of the entryway, her framed photos from their trip back to the Milky Way, first from the transport deck of the freighter and the three from each of the remaining Earth continents, hanging on the wall.
"They've gotten smarter since the last time I was out here. They took out the med bay first. Too bad they didn't know how much that equipment was worth." Charlie laughed and her mouth tasted like pennies.
"Gods, Charlie. How are you still laughing?"
"Where are you right now?" she asked instead of answering. "Tell me what you're looking at."
"Charlotte – "
"Please, Finn. Don't."
"Can you get on the vid screen? I can show you." Finn's voice was raspy now. It sounded the same way the day she boarded The Audacity six months ago. On the ride to the docking station, he gripped her hand. And as much as she wanted to stay, the minute she saw the gleaming bow of her ship, Charlie couldn't stop the giddy surge of adrenaline. There was so much about this galaxy that they didn't know yet and she wanted to be the one to figure it out.
"This is your last tour out there. After this, it's planetside until Sarita's eighteen. Believe me, there's plenty you can do here with all that raw data," Finn had said, handing over her bag. "We need you at home."
"I promise," she'd said and kissed him long enough that there had been catcalls and whistles from the ground crew.
"Took out all the visuals too. I'd admire them if they hadn't shot me through the stomach with a laser laced bullet."
"Jesus. Do you have morp packs at least?"
Charlie nodded, forgetting he couldn't see her. "There were a couple emergency ones up here on the deck. Long enough to call you and make sure the self-destruct runs before they circle back. Those fuckers aren't getting one scrap of this ship if I can help it."
"Good. That's good, Charlie," Finn said. "I – I'm in the living room now and all the solar panels are up. We've had three weeks of rain, but it cleared up and everything's green. It's – you'd like it. Except for how you'd be complaining about the pollen making your skin itch and having to renew your aloe prescription."
Her side throbbed as she typed in the override sequences. Outside, the warp ring disintegrated like powdery fireworks in the black of space. A panel from the hull floated past the window, the scorch marks obscuring the ship's seal.
"I like the flowers from the safety of indoors," Charlie agreed.
"What should I tell Sarita?" he asked and she knew he was sitting in his desk chair by the squeak when he moved. She meant to remind him to oil it.
"Tell her I love her. I love you. I'm an idiot for signing on for one last tour. But promise me you'll let her go if she wants." She thought about Sarita in the replica flight suit she'd asked for on her last birthday. She barely took it off for a week, her face shining with joy when she told everyone that her momma was a space explorer and she was going to be one too.
The panel in front of her was counting down. "I have to go, Finn."
"Charlie, I love you."
The call cut off abruptly and Charlie laid her head on the console. "Dust to dust," she whispered to herself as the ship imploded around her.