Jonah folded the piece of paper over again between his fingers, running the back of his nail along the edge to smooth out the crease. He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. The cheap, plastic edges had been pressing into his legs for hours, and he could feel his feet beginning to tingle as they lost feeling. He wiggled his toes in their boots to work the blood back into them.
‘You know, Hale still asks about you,’ Jonah said. He glanced across to Lorell asleep in the bed beside him. Across her chest, a white sheet rose and fell with each breath she took. Shuddering and unsteady.
‘I tell him you’ll be back in the air any day now.’ Jonah chuckled to himself, and folded the paper again. A fifth crease. ‘He doesn’t believe me most of the time, not that he ever used to anyway. But, every now and then, I think I can see it. That glint we used to have. Something of some hope’ His chest tightened, and a breath caught in his throat.
‘None of that anymore though, right? Not for you. Not for me,’ Jonah continued, clearing his throat loudly. ‘They don’t need another couple of broken birds up there. Got enough of them flying around as it is.’
Jonah took a glance at Lorell, still asleep on the bed. Her arms were bare wrapped with tight bandages, and a long, thin tube protruded from her throat.
Enough of us broken down here too.
‘You- you know. Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m telling Hale that you’ll be flying again for his sake or mine,’ Jonah stuttered, giving the paper a sixth crease. ‘Sometimes I don’t even tell him how you’re doing. I tell him instead of what you would be doing.
‘You’d be- you’d be out there, soldering iron in hand as you complained about a flight panel not registering right. Rita would suggest you to stop pushing the ship so hard if you didn’t want it falling apart, and you’d whip back that “screws and bolts are built to be broken”.’ Jonah laughed loudly. He leant back in his chair and itched at the stubble that had recently begun to pepper his chin, pondering aloud.
‘It’d be around noon that you would complain that you were missing the skies, and you would do that wistful look you do while you watched the horizon. I can tell, you know. I can tell every time you do that, that you’d be remembering what it’s like being up there. The rush of wind whistling out behind you. Hum of the afterburners at your back. The warmth as you punch out of that atmosphere and…’ Jonah went silent.
Air hissed from the pumps connected to the long pipe, their sound echoing in the compact room. The screens to the end of the bed hummed gently as they showed the rise and fall of a heartbeat, an unsteady blue line. The low sounds of equipment were not enough to cover the soft curse Jonah whispered, nor the stifled sobs as he leant over in his seat.
He ran a shuddering finger over the conscription letter he’d been delivered just hours before. Notice for Lorell to report to the front at Parabus once deemed fit for duty. That, or a tribute to take position in their place. Standard CAF conscription notice.
Jonah put a seventh crease onto the paper.