Monday, August 31, 2015

Butter Bar Blues (06 JUL 2016)

Naomi and Jared sat together on the love seat in the farthest corner of the day room. They'd been talking all night, occasionally laughing, as they shared stories of their fallen comrades. Jade had been with them until about an hour ago, and for the last ten minutes, neither of them had spoken. They'd broken out the whiskey again, as they always did after a death, but the buzz was long faded, and they just sat in silence.

"It hurts," Naomi said finally, breaking into the stillness. "Doesn't it?" Jared just nodded numbly, his eyes far away. She knew exactly what he was thinking, feeling, as it had only been a week since CPL Cable had died on her watch. It had been her first mission after her promotion, too. She'd heard it whispered about as the Curse of the Butter Bar; Only LT Lindemann had managed to lead his first mission as a Lieutenant without any casualties.

"Was it your fault?" She asked the question, knowing it would hurt, and wasn't surprised when she saw him flinch and tense up. She knew the answer, of course, but she also knew that he'd be blaming himself. She waited for him to answer.

"Allah help me," he whispered at last. "I don't know." He leaned back on the couch, bringing his hands up to wipe at his face in frustration. "I've been replaying it all, ever since then. I didn't know that Bombshell's cover had been blown inside the building. I feel like I should have known, but I didn't. Carter though..." He trailed off, and stared at the ceiling. "He was a volunteer, did you know? He told me how he'd raised hell when the news reports starting coming in about the attacks, about how they should be doing something. Eventually, he got mysterious transfer orders, and was only told where he was going when he was already en route." Jared grinned hollowly as he spoke.

"I know," Naomi replied. "I spoke to him when he arrived, gave him a bit of a tour." Jared nodded, remembering that he was her countryman. "He was just so excited when he realized what we were up against. Kid wasn't even twenty, and nothing scared him."

"That's the honest truth," Jared agreed. "He told me that he had a clear line on the Cyberdisc, and he knew he could take it down. Hintikka reported that he didn't see anything else in the vicinity, so I gave him the go-ahead." He sighed, dropping his eyes from the ceiling, meeting her gaze for half a second before looking down into the hands he'd folded in his lap. "It was only after he'd reported the Disc going down that anyone saw the Drones move in."

"So you made the best decision you could, based on the information you had?" she asked gently. Jared looked up at her sharply, but after a moment of tense eye contact, he let out his breath in a gust, and looked away. "Merc', you know that leaving the Cyberdisc operational any longer than necessary would have put the whole squad in danger. He probably saved other lives by taking it down."

"I know," he admitted. "But seriously, two? No one else has lost two troopers, and this wasn't even that intense of a mission. It wasn't an assault cruiser flying through the sky, or anything." His voice was bitter, and she heard the thickness of tears in his throat.

"Lorena wasn't your fault," Naomi said. "She was my friend, and I loved her, but she was also a veteran who knew what she was doing. She took a risk, and it didn't pay off for her. She was strong enough to take responsibility for her own choices. Don't take that away from her by blaming yourself."

"It's just... It's getting harder, isn't it?" Jared met her eyes firmly, and she could see the worry in them. "Mistakes are costing more, the stakes are getting higher. We're seeing new threats we've not seen, and I don't think we've even begun to see what they've got." Naomi nodded quietly, as she'd had some of the same worries. "Can we even win this fight?"

"Of course we can. Yeah, we've lost a bunch of our friends, our brothers and sisters, but look at how far we've come. I agree that it's just going to get harder as the fight goes along, but we're going to win. This isn't a couple of nations disputing a border, or foreign policy. This is an enemy from behind the stars, and they've come to try to take the lives and freedom of every human on the planet." Naomi reached across and covered Jared's clasped hands, and squeezed. After a moment, he squeezed back and smiled a little. "We will win this fight, Jared. We'll win because we have to."