Twenty-Nine: Gravity

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Report: Quinn
Just off the coast of Nova Scotia.
Prototype mobile launch platform.
Designation: "The Firmament"

"There was nothing you could have done."

"It was not your fault."

"The TCC used a cheap trick."

People, men and women who hadn't been sent on the mission, continued to reassure the survivors of Yamantau. We'd returned to the Firmament in near complete silence, unable to talk about what had happened.

The final tally, as I'd last heard, was five pilots, all shot down in cold blood. Five men and women who had just wanted the war to end. That meant thirty mechs didn't have pilots. We'd also abandoned forty Barricade or Predator mechs during our retreat, meaning the TCC would be able to scan and reproduce them if they wanted.

The debrief had been short, with Commander Telbus doing most of the talking. Martin had commended the surviving pilots, myself included, for undaunting courage in the face of death. There was talk of medals. Nobody wanted them. Nobody felt like a hero.

Afterwards I gave Mallet what information I had about the blueprints and what Fisk had told me.

I'd skipped eating supper and retired to my bunk for the night. There I lay, staring at the bottom of the empty bunk above me. It would likely remain empty for some time now.

The gold coin sat on the edge of my bunk, untouched. I didn’t want to look at it.

For once I missed Daewi.

My door slid open and Dan and Lucas wandered in, a look of concern etched on their faces.

"The reports are in," Dan said, "most of the Korean mechs got out intact. Leaked TCC intel says they retreated shortly after we escaped."

Daewi's last words circulated through my head. He'd been working with someone. By now I had to assume he meant the Korean reinforcements we'd gotten, but I would never know for sure. People lied, constantly. The TCC didn't play by the rules, yet we were branded as the bad guys because they had control of the media.

Lucas said nothing for a moment, then walked over to his bunk and sat down.

“Jackson,” he said, “I heard you talking to Draco over the comms.”

He pointed at the coin. My coin.

“Why is that so important to you?”

I sighed. It has been a while since I'd thought about it. I reached over and picked up the coin, holding it above me as I lay on my back.

“After my mother died,” I began, “my father turned to gambling. She was always the breadwinner of the house, so even with life insurance we were bound to go into debt eventually.”

I could see Lucas' concerned face staring back at me. For once he had no comments. I only saw sincerity.

“My father thought that just one lucky spin or roll would turn our fortunes around,” I continued. “He thought that every time he went out, but he never won. Not a cent.”

The coin in my hand felt heavier than it ever had, the weight of my story adding pounds.

“This coin…” I tossed the dollar into the air and caught it again, feeling the weight leave my palm for a moment.

“This coin is the one he wouldn't spend,” I sighed. “He held it up to the machine and finally decided he wasn't going to let his addiction destroy him any more than it had. He took it home and saved it instead.”

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