Sergei can’t help but think that the girl sitting across from him absolutely silently in their transport looks as tired as he realizes he feels, superhuman endurance or not. He’d lost count of the hours they’d been awake in the preparation and execution of this mission… but more than that, she looks drained.
That’s a sensation that Sergei Smirnov knows all too well. Though those days get further and further away with every heartbeat, he remembers being a rookie. The terror and rush of his first combat. The letdown when it proved to be rather anticlimactic. And then later, the first time he’d tasted defeat.
A part of him had believed himself to be invincible. The scar on his left eye is a constant reminder that he isn’t. Of course, he’s older and (he likes to think) a bit wiser now—beyond that delusion, anyway. He’s had to move too many names from “active duty” to “KIA” in his lifetime to believe in invulnerability. And today he’ll have to move nineteen more into that dispassionate and factual column.
He’d wondered, a long time ago, if it would get any easier. It hasn’t. He can deal with it better, yes, but the ache is the same as it always is. Sergei looks at the young pilot across from him and wonders what exactly is running through her mind.
She’s a good soldier—straight-backed and upright, the only visible symbols of her fatigue her unnaturally yellow eyes—but he can somehow tell she’s exhausted. Sergei can’t help but wonder what it’s like for her… if he thought he was invincible, what would someone like her feel? Someone told that they were superhuman and perfectly designed for combat?
The first time he’d failed as a rookie, he’d beaten himself up over it for days. Replayed the battle in his head, thought of the thousand different actions he should have taken—and even then, his failure hadn’t gotten anybody killed. Here she was, superhuman and piloting the most advanced mobile suit the HRL had to offer her. And despite her enhancements, despite his planning and the sacrifice of too many good men, here they were empty-handed.
Sergei wonders if she’s doing the same; if she’s going over every action she’d taken, every action of their foes, trying to think of how she could have prevented it all. Of how a different movement or two might have meant that Lieutenant Ming would be sitting here now with them. He recalls what the scientist had told him—about how the augmentations to her brain had deadened her emotions—and feels a sudden flush of revulsion at the whole thing. Part of him bitterly wonders if they haven’t preserved her capability to feel shame for this exact situation.
He can’t help but think, for what feels like the umpteenth time, that she’s younger than he was—entirely too young to carry out this duty that she’d never volunteered for. She should be going out and watching movies or doing whatever it was that girls her age were supposed to do, not sit silently in a transport that smelled faintly of ammonia and mourn a man who had died to save her life.
Then again, that pilot of the orange Gundam… he’d been young, too, hadn’t he? And with the way that the two had reacted to each other—Sergei frowns slightly, knowing that his hunch is entirely possible and once more feeling disgusted at the actions of those who called themselves men of science.
She’s too young to deal with this. To deal with the pressure that they—and he—put on her.
The transport stops, the doors slide open, and the two of them exit into the halls of the HRL base. There’s supposed to be a debriefing, and he knows it won’t be a pleasant one. But that’s his problem to worry about, not hers.
The young pilot turns, her long white hair trailing behind her in the low gravity. “Yes, Colonel?”
Sergei represses the urge to sigh audibly. “You flew well today.”
Though she makes an effort to be as composed and impassive as ever, he can see her eyes dull and her shoulders slump ever so slightly. Of course she doesn’t think so. Before she can say anything, he continues. “You far exceeded my expectations, Lieutenant.” It’s true, after all. If not for her they wouldn’t have even come close, and she’s shown herself better than any so-called ace he’s known in a long time.
Still, he gets the feeling that it doesn’t quite matter to her.
He places a hand on her shoulder for the briefest of moments. “You’re exhausted. Go get some sleep.” It isn’t a request, and both of them know it. Even so, the girl looks like she’s about to say something before nodding in confirmation and snapping off a salute that he returns.
And then she turns to leave as ordered, and Sergei can’t help but think once again that she’s entirely too young for this.
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