The Victory Lap
Second Page Conclusion
This time when she gets in front of him, she uses his blast shield as a proper mirror. Her hands try to toss
her dirty blonde locks into some kind of order. It is the first time that she notices how smudged her beige
skin is, how tattered her floral print dress has become. But her big blue eyes are clear enough.

"Do you have any food?--I mean, to spare? We... My daughter is hungry."

He snaps his fingers. Yes! He has the right tools! He points and waves for her to follow. They cleave
through the suddenly made winding canyons of screaming shapes.

"Mommy, isn't he?--"

"--Shh! Yes. He's one of them."

"Then why is he?--"

"--I don't know."

"Thank you, Mister Enemy."

He stops. The woman sighs: Why did her daughter have to remind him? A hideous pause. Without a
backwards glance, he leads on.

Their destination is a clearing on a bluff. Centered atop this barren plateau is a large metallic egg object
with  four legs protracted out from it. The shuttle. Metal blades inside the iris of its circular doorway recess
at their arrival. The entourage halts.

"That's a silly helmet," the girl observes, with a giggle.

"Shh! That helmet's not silly. It's probably very--"

The helmet is in her daughter's hands before she can finish her warning. The girl puts the helmet on,
backwards, and giggles some more. And they go in. As if she was visiting a neighbor to borrow a cup of
something.

Inside, the shuttle disabuses any homey notions. It has seats, but that's about it. The rest is idiot lights and
binary controls. No matter. She takes the cockpit seat furthest from the door, sets her child on her lap,
waits to be waited on. He goes to it, opening the ration cabinet above her. Its contents spill out into the
girl's lap.

"Fried brisket in beef aspect," the woman reads from one of the slight ration packets, feeling up the liquid
inside. "I bet!" she laughs--and then stifles any tone of sarcasm. As she sorts through the packets, she
takes her first good look at him.

He could be her neighbor. He gets no points for style, though--what with that out-grown bowl cut of black
hair and that ragged mustache of indeterminate perimeter. Maybe that's the way they groom, she muses.
No. She had it right the first time: he gets no points for style. He slumps into the seat next to her. An
illuminated plane materializes at reading length in front of him.

She turns her attention back to tending to the child, and attempts small chatter. "I didn't know what I was
going to do before you... This is very..." Has she been rescued? Is he being nice? Thus far he is quite the
homey touch, sans the uniform. But she wants to avoid saying anything 'political'. "Things have been so...
disorganized. I didn't know what I was going to do.--I hope we're not being any bother, because if we are
we could just take... we could just... go... Maybe?!--I'm babbling!--I mean, things are so confused--I'm
confused, not things, not what's happened. I'm sure there was a lot of planning and reasons for what...
you... for what's happened. I wouldn't know what your... the reasons are, but that doesn't make the
reasons... It doesn't mean that there weren't reasons. It's just, from my perspective, things have been a bit
mixed up--my perspective has been a bit mixed up. I still don't know what I'm going to do--What's going to
happen. Something is going to happen, right?"

No response. He's squinting at the illuminated plane, watching the dance of colored lines. But he has
heard her. She has a problem. As a pretext she must suck him into her confidence. And then she has to
hope he can solve her problem, discretely.  He remains within his context, as always. His eyes are noting
our glorious space fleet's movement pattern: determining where it can go, where it can search. The tool is
a 'right place': where the fleet can't go, where it can't search.

"Mommy, this stuff's bleccky."

"Ssh!--"

--Hiss, the illuminated panel dissolves into a cloud of diminishing sparkles, seemingly popped by his finger.
Abruptly, the door's iris of metal blades snaps shut.

A moment is caught in amber. She studies him, maintaining the most blank expression her face can
muster. He speaks. His delivery is heavy with a socially low-slung accent. "I am not being tracked in any
way. None of this is being recorded."

With the flick of a switch, he changes his fate.

Or at least that’s my explanation for it. The fact of the matter is, all I have are the facts—and I have all the
facts. He was a fifteen year veteran in the most glorious of all causes. His prior disciplinary problems,
although in the same breath both treason and blasphemy, were known only to the overmind at the time
and would not have been found out had this not happened. Neither he, the woman or the child are ever
heard from again. I cannot find it within my imagination to ratify concretely the overmind’s  precious
supposition that the failure to detect his not reporting female crew members’ plumbing problems inevitably
led to his desecrating by theft a shuttle craft and fleeing everything he knew for parts unknown with a
woman he had known for all of fifteen minutes. On the other hand, I cannot rule it out. Like our sacred and
most knowing overmind, I remain mystified.

We've never lost anyone on The Victory Lap before.
(Note: In the original draft, the daughter was dead. This was listed as a reason for rejection, so I changed
it. It wound up being published in largely the form presented here
.)
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