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​​​​Seventeen

You enter the captain's briefing room, and stop dead.

"Ares?" you choke out.

The captain – for the man's uniform clearly identified him as such – frowns. "Do I know you?"

You swallow. "Probably not, sir, but everyone knew you. I mean, the retired, decorated war hero who was going to take the Genesis to the stars! I was one of the construction pilots, bringing whatever the Genesis needed from Exodus. When war erupted on Earth, me and the other pilots said we'd follow wherever you led. So when you announced to all of Exodus that you were still taking the Genesis out, as scheduled…and there were berths available, we all signed up. I'm pretty sure I owe you my life, sir."

Ares…you remember the speech he made, echoing across all the comm channels on Exodus. How he was done with Earth's wars. He'd fought for peace and a new start in the Altan system, and how a good soldier knew when to fight and when to run. And how it was the time to run, so they could survive to fight another day. To fight for the future of their race under the light of a new star. Fighting the darkness in their own souls to give light to new worlds which would never know war.

And yet…here you both are, at war again.

"Sir," you venture. "If I could ask…what was it about the Titans that made you take up arms again?"

Because if you knew that, then maybe you'd find the heart to keep fighting. To keep fighting until you won this awful war. Whatever it took.

Ares turns away. "Lieutenant, see if there's a spare bunk in one of the pilots' dorms. Both of you, dismissed."

You want to protest, but Torny's grip is surprisingly strong as she drags you out of the briefing room.

It's not until the door hisses shut behind you that she says, "The Titans killed his wife in their first attack. The one that started the war."

"Stars," you swear. "I didn't know."

"She was working in the terraforming lab. Pregnant with their first kid, too."

"Oh, stars! So why is he out here on the Genesis, instead of hunting them down on the inner planets?"

"Because of Jenny."

"Jenny? Was that his wife's name?"

Torny gives you a scornful look. "No. Jenny's the Genesis AI. She shares command of the ship with the captain, and Jenny says that the Genesis has to stay here, on the edge of the system, as far from the fighting as possible. It's the last colony ship left, after Captain Ares holed the Titanic, and if we can't live in the Altan system, it's the only way to somewhere else. Humanity's last hope."

You can't completely agree with her. Sure, a ship helped, but Humanity's last hope was in its people. People like you and Ares and Torny and whoever else was left. You open your mouth to argue.

Torny cuts you off. "Find a spare bunk in the pilots' dorm. Through that hatch. Mess hall's that way. Whatever you do, don't try the special of the day. Everything else is safe to eat."

Without another word, she walks away.

Sleep. Food. A captain you trust. Can't ask for more than that.

You head through the hatch.

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