The rush of icy air claws at her face as the loading ramp begins to lower, snapping her back to reality. She had been so deeply inside her own mind that she hadn’t even noticed their transport carrier touch down.
“Game-time Commander.” One of her squad chirps with a wink as he walks past her pod. She rolls her eyes. It’s true though. Putting on a big show for the crowd at homecoming after each battle was almost more exhausting than the battle itself. But people needed it. They needed the hope, the reason to cheer, and to be optimistic. They needed to feel like we were winning, even if that was mostly an illusion. At this point, survival was winning.
She determinedly pushed the thoughts that had been swirling in her mind away as she rose and walked down the ramp, crossed the frigid walkway, and then set a very practiced expression of defiance on her face as she entered the main hangar.
Cheers erupted at their entrance – as they always do. Shouts and hollers of congratulations rain in from everywhere. She stopped for a moment to make a show of surveying the crowd before pumping her fist in the air in victory, bringing another cascade of cheers pouring down.
“Cheers Ghostwriter!” someone shouts at her, handing her a tin cup of an almost clear liquid. She shoots the drink back before nodding and handing the cup back, savoring the familiar taste – something resembles some combination of vodka and gasoline. She had no idea how it was made. But if you were going to be holed up in a frozen underground basecamp in the arctic, there had better be alcohol.
The same questions as always accompany each drink she’s handed while making her way through the main hangar.
“How many were there?”
“Did we make them run?”
“What did you find?”
“Did you bring back another dead one?”
The answers, always exaggerated, elicit looks of awe and excitement.
Fifteen minutes and half a dozen drinks later she manages to round the corner and descend a flight of stairs to leave the main hangar. Walking briskly past the bunking quarters and through the main research facility, she offers a quick nod to anyone passing, but keeps moving briskly, until she finally finds herself down in the recesses of an old storage area. This little abandoned room was one of the only
places where she could find some peace. And only after she had slid past a line of crates and into the much more dimly lit rear sections does she finally let the steely grin drop from her face.
She slumps down against the wall and absently begins to fidget with the ripped ghost patch sewn into the shoulder of her flysuit. Here, in the dark silence, she let those thoughts from the transport carrier resurface and take over.
Shrieking screams from a woman and a child as they are torn from the window of an apartment by long spindly claws. Feelings of dread mixing with rage and despair as they disappear from sight for the last time. The desperate look of terror from that little girl as she is yanked from their home plays over, and over, and over again in her mind as she helplessly watches.
Knowing that these are not her memories offers little comfort. The remote terminals required to operate their mechs were built using scavenged biomechanical alien technology. The experience was invasive, with cybernetics implanted deep into the brainstem to facilitate links between pilots, specialists, and their machines. But for humans, who unlike the invaders who built the original interfaces were not hive-minded, there were consequences to severing that link. Leftover thought patterns from the others that had shared it would always grip their minds for a time afterwards.
This sequence was the most common memory that she experienced from Adams, her co-pilot and tactical analyst. The two of them had never talked about it… there was nothing really to say. Each time she had to let the memory play itself out again, until eventually it faded into a quieter echo of itself.
And so she sat, alone with someone else’s thoughts, waiting for her own mind to return.