This, In Remembrance An Original Story by Peregrine & DotCom It gives me strength to have somebody to fight for; I can never fight for myself, but, for others, I can kill. Emilie Autumn, The Asylum for Wayward Victorian GirlsWhere the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved. Martin Luther *** It had been ten months since she'd returned from active duty, eight months since starting physical therapy, six months since being fired from her third job, four months since moving back in with her parents, nine weeks since being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and five days since she'd slept more than two hours at a time. So, really, Master Sergeant Molly Christine Rhodes, Air Battle Manager for the 339th Air Control Squadron, was doing just fine, thank you very much. And it was true, too. Well. Mostly true. Molly had been a climber since the age of two, literally. Twenty-eight-year-old Diane Rhodes had woken up some twenty-four years ago just in time to see her toddler maneuver herself over the edge of the supposedly inescapable, hyper-safe crib her mother-in-law had spent a miniature fortune on, not trusting her son's new wife to buy something "appropriate for the baby". Three days later, Diane had signed Molly up for a Tiny Tumblers class at the local gymnasium. To her knowledge, little Molly had really like the class, but she'd soaked up the lessons, anyway. Even at two, there was a drive in her, to learn everything she was shown, to be the best, and to achieve perfection long before the could spell, or even say the word. Molly had dropped out of gymnastics four years later, just as her teachers were making unofficial plans to enter her in the Olympics ten years down the road. But Molly was bored, and Molly was hard-headed. Molly would not be made to do anything she did not want to do, so Molly was done with gymnastics, but not before discovering she was good at learning, and good at taking orders. Very good. She graduated high school a year early, at the top of her class, having lettered in three varsity sports (soccer, basketball, and swimming, for what it was worth -- very little, as it happened), not because she like sports, and not because she was smart, but because she was a hard worker. She thrived on doing, and on being the best, and she knew, even before graduating Dartmouth College one and a half semesters early, that it was going to be the Air Force or bust. When she was accepted into the Air Force, after hours of training, studying, and piloting lessons, it was as one of eight females on a list of 93 total recruits. She graduated at the top of that class, too, and for the first time, she was proud of herself. Not because she was the only student not to have come from military background, and not because she was the first female ABM to have graduated in the top three percent in over ten years. But because she was, she knew, surrounded by other people like her -- people who weren't driven by hedonism or pride, but by a desire to serve, a need to push themselves to their absolute furtherest limits -- and she still came out on top. Her mother had cried when Molly learned she was going to be shipped out just two months after completing her training. She'd been just twenty-five at the time, one of the youngest pilots in her squadron. But Molly had been glad. This was where she thrived. She pressure, the nerves meant nothing to her. Her greatest fear was failure, slowing down, going backwards. In a jet, that was impossible. Ten days before Molly was headed home for two months' leave, she was flying recon with two of her pilots from their base. It was a strictly non-combat mission. This far out from the frontlines, they didn't except to see so much as a dog taking a shit. Hell, Molly had been singing some stupid pop song under her breath -- and Molly didn't sing. She couldn't remember the song, either. She didn't really want to. She did remember seeing a flare of orange out of the corner of her right eye. She remembered, because she'd thought it had been pretty at first. A burst of orange against a blue-black sky. Pretty. Pretty stupid. She'd turned, maybe expecting to see a watercolor painting. Instead, one of her engines was on fire. And then the world exploded. After that, things were hazy. Well, no. Memory was hazy. Voices, faces, colors had been hazy. The heat hadn't been hazy. The pain hadn't been hazy. And no, almost a year later, the burn scars covering her neck back, and right arm had been reduced to itchy pink whorls of skin. She still walked with a crutch and a limp -- impressive, after they'd told her she'd never walk again. But of course, Molly had never heard, never understood the word 'never'. She'd survived those long months after the crash where others had fallen apart, victims of insatiable anger and depression. Molly, though, Molly was a pusher. She loved to push. She loved to do. She loved to check things off the list, especially hard things, especially things she should have never been able to do. So, instead of crying or dreaming, or killing herself, she'd started to walk again. And then, after the Purple Heart, she'd started to work again. And just when it seemed like maybe things could go back to normal, she'd started to dream again. That was right around when she'd stopped sleeping, too. That was the worst part about all this, about what her family and her bosses said was totally acceptable, what her doctor, her therapist, and psychiatrist, all called PTSD. Molly didn't lose. Molly did. Molly fought. So, why the fuck couldn't she get over this shit? And why couldn't she sleep? Yawning, Molly raked a hand through unruly brown hair, adjusting the air conditioning to blow more directly into her face. Even in Fort Worth, she didn't need the AC at this time of year, but according to the painfully bright numbers on her dash, it was going on 4 AM, and Molly was tired and too smart to be on the road now. Or...smart, and too tired to be on the road. Whichever, she knew it was a bad idea to be driving half asleep, but lately, it was the only thing that worked. Fort Worth at 4 AM on a Tuesday morning was quiet. The garbage trucks weren't out yet. No one was rushing to work. The sun was nowhere near rising, college kids had gone to bed, and even the birds couldn't be bothered to be out not. Molly liked quiet. She craved quiet. That had never been true before, but then Molly was a very different person now. Dependent, for example. She'd moved back in with her parents after two months of increasingly desperate insistence from her mother, though the real trigger had been losing her job at the coffee shop in Dallas. Molly had never lost a job in her life, then, over the course of two months, she'd lost three. Lazy, irresponsible, needy. All of them were words Molly hated before they could have been used to describe her. Now? Now, she didn't even like to think about them. She hated the way her parents were so used to coming into her room to wake her from screaming nightmares, they had it down to an act. Like parents of a newborn. Her father would come in and wake her, sit with her until she stopped screaming and remembered where she was. Hold the trash can in one hand and Molly's hair in the other on the nights when hyperventilating made her sick to her stomach. Walk her downstairs to her mother, where she already had a cup of honey-sweetened hibiscus tea ready to go. And Molly would thank them tersely and insist that she was alright, and wait for them to go to bed again before turning on early-morning infomercials and adding two shots of whiskey to her tea. Molly's older brother, never as driven, never as ambitious as Molly, was a high school teacher in the next town over, with two young kids of his own. They weren't allowed to visit Aunt Molly anymore, because Aunt Molly woke the baby when she had 'special bad dreams'. But this morning, Molly beat the system, skipped trying to sleep altogether, and taken her father's car out. It was better when she slept during the day, anyway. Everyone was at work, so she wasn't ruining any nights when she woke up in hysterics. Her mother, she knew, an RN at the Mercy West Hospital ten minutes down the road (also conveniently where Molly went twice a month for continued PT for her leg), was probably only a few weeks from trying to take a night shift so she could be home with Molly. Molly planned on arguing that point as long as she could. She loved her parents. But this was getting out of hand. She hadn't realized she was falling asleep until she jumped in her seat at the honk of a taxi horn. She had drifted to a stop in the middle of an intersection. Better than an accident, she supposed, but still time to get off the road. The last thing she needed was for her parents to think she couldn't drive herself anywhere. There was a 24-hour Dunkin Donuts three blocks from her house, and that was where she headed now. She'd gone to high school with the kid who ran the early morning shifts, but that had stopped being awkward a long time ago. Molly wasn't shy about her handicap. Ten months ago, they'd told her she wouldn't be walking anymore. Now, she could leave the crutch in the car most days. Molly wasn't shy about most things. Maybe that was why Sara Jenkins let her finish off three pots of coffee at a go most nights. Yawning, she reached down to turn up the air again, and flicked the radio dial on a hunch. It was halfway through a song Molly didn't recognize when she realized she was wrong -- she did recognize it. Before she even knew what was happening, she saw a flash of orange out of the corner of her right eye. Gaping, Molly looked around in disbelief. No. This was impossible. She'd just been driving her father's car down an empty street -- hadn't she? But a look to her right confirmed otherwise. She could see the wing of her F-16 cloaked in a thick cloud of black smoke. She could feel searing heat at her back, could feel her stomach leap into her throat as the plane began to lose altitude. Remarkably, Master Sergeant Molly Rhodes did not panic. She gasped, coughed on the thick, acrid fumes, whimpered at the pain as the fire peeled flesh from her bones, but she didn't panic. Both hands on the joystick in front of her, she pulled up hard, already scanning her field of vision for somewhere to land if it came of that, eyeing the eject button carefully -- It was the sound of the tires screeching that brought her back just in time to see her father's car hit the dog that had run out into the road.