A tumblr prompt.


Behind the house they had a garden that was, like the house itself, inherited from her maternal grandmother. Her mother kept weeding and planting and growing herbs, working in the sunshine whenever she could. Connie was not a particularly sneaky child - quiet and docile, she never came home after what her parents declared "hours".

When she came home from school and went around the back to open the door, though, she would always see her mother there, and vice versa. A quiet bent-backed acknowledgement, Connie with her backpack and her mother with her trowel and the dirt speckling her elbows. Sometimes a radio on playing music or the news. Her mother liked local news but references to outer space still seeped in.

Connie did not like seeing her mother in the garden because it meant her mother was out of work again, another government or coffee-house job that let an artist who called herself 'free-spirited' go.

Her mother didn't pick up her paintbrush much any more. She just clipped leaves and weeded and looked up the names of bugs that were liable to hurt young plants, gaining an encyclopedic knowledge of the things she protected, ruing in a way that even a child could recognize the fact that she, Connie's mother, still lived in her parents' house.

So grade-school Connie and only slightly more free-spirited high-school Connie started noting the placement of windows and the front door and finally just asked for a key and snuck, in plain sight of the road and the driveway but not of her mother, up the old wooden staircase and into her room where she could see, in the garden not far from the sea, the bent back.

When Connie went to space, her mother said, then she would listen to the world news.

Field Manual 5-93

Guide to Living With Carolina

Item 1. Carolina keeps her lipstick on top of her locker and everything else inside and closes the door so fast that Connie can hardly ever see inside.

Item 2. She needs the lights off to sleep. Connie doesn't mind.

Item 3. She wakes up at five. No exceptions.

Item 4. Her mother is dead. (Sober.) Her mother is dead dead dead never said goodbye. (Drunken).

Connie and Carolina do not talk much about their families.

Carolina, everyone gathers, doesn't have one. The other Freelancers have families that are varied and quirky and warmly normal, like, Connie knows, her own. Carolina doesn't talk about family. Connie has known people who lost mothers at an early age before and they were not as vehement as this, not as snappish, as if drawing enough attention to the loss would make it go away.

And Carolina attaches herself to the director as a concept, moreso than a science officer, with an equal vehemence.

Connie and Carolina have a lot of conversations that skate around him and Carolina's mother and what Carolina thinks when she slows down to think them at all. Usually these conversations happen before bed and Connie starts them, with an innocent question from one roommate to another, trying to make conversation. She doesn't do it like South would, throwing something snide across the common room like daring Carolina to fight her right there. Connie is too afraid.

But they talk anyway.

"What are you doing this afternoon?" Connie asks, sitting on her bed and putting her kit bag down after a session at the firing range, thinking about taking a shower.

"Training." Carolina says, already starting to walk out the door again.

Connie says, "There's a group going down to the mess for some free time..."

"We weren't brought here to have free time." Carolina narrows her eyes.

Connie resettles on the bed, wanting to feel secure as she talks. "But he lets us have it."

(She's always wondering a little bit whether she's wrong. Maybe the director is just testing whether they'll slack off.)

"We're always supposed to be working," Carolina says, and although this was exactly what Connie had not wanted to hear, she doesn't move off the bed.

Sometimes Connie lets South finish the talks for her, like when South leans over the back of the couch from the other side of the open door and says "You don't have to. He's not your freaking father."

Carolina looks down, almost tucking her chin against her shoulder, and blinks her brilliant green eyes in the most lazy, noncommittal, hidden glance in the world.

Connie wonders whether she's agreeing with South because it's just easier.

Connie and Carolina do not take these conversations into their room because the smaller space couldn't contain them. There might be a real fight then. Something might get knocked over, some secret spilled, something lost.

Connie wants to figure things out because Carolina (and York, and Wash) do not. She wants to figure things out because maybe some of them have fathers and brothers and mothers to go back to but Connie must prove herself, must show that she is better, must not go back to that house.

Connie thinks that maybe the difference is that her parents were weak and Carolina's parents were strong.

But who is she to judge?

She's number eight? Nine? She doesn't know. They never show her score.

Field Manual 5-94

Guide To Talking To Wash

Item 1. No, nothing happened to me. This is just how I am.

Item 2. I mean, some bad things, you know, the normal amount of bad things.

Item 3. Normal family things.

Item 4. Isn't there a field manual to talking about this sort of thing, or...

Item 5: No, I wasn't making fun of you.

When Connie starts investigating the director she also starts wondering what he is bent-back weary over, what makes him tick, what made him cultivate the Freelancers.

She spends the time after she gets the data asking questions and getting more in return.

What are you building?

Why are some of the A.I. in this data marked as safe and some as volatile and all of them assigned to an agent?

Why did you make it so that I have to leave my friends to save them?

(I'm leaving them.)

She blames Allison, for a little while, when she finds the woman's face buried under layers of code and passwords.

Leonard, come on. Stop it, put that thing down. You're gonna make me late. They're waiting for me. Leonard-

Playing the recording over and over as she shuffles code around looking for more, Connie starts to notice the little things. Allison's stray hair, her smile, the name stitched over her heart never quite visible.

Connie writes to her mother before she leaves. The letter is vague in the way it outlines how her mother taught her all the skills she needed, because she doesn't think that her mother would consider thievery and treason skills she wanted to pass down through the family. That, and the censors would get her.

Leonard, come on. I have to go. Don't make me hurt you.

Connie starts to feel like she knows Allison, like they could have been friends in another life. Allison has iron under her smile but so does Carolina.

Connie puts the letter into her email drafts and looks at the things scattered around her room, allowed to get messy after days in which she didn't really pay attention and no one else did either: wrinkled sheets, thin-spined field manuals on the floor, one of Wash's sweatshirts, Carolina's lipstick tube fallen over on her table. Carolina is out somewhere, running or fighting. She won't come back tonight. Connie is confident of that.

If she does, well, Connie is watching a movie.

Connie snugs her datapad a little more securely into the pile of blankets she propped it on, scattering the green and gold light across the room.

Allison says, And don't worry, you'll see me again.

Connie thinks about how she did not want to be her mother, how she wanted to be the best, and how Carolina wanted to be the best also but there were such great gulfs between them because Carolina could actually achieve that.

"Who are you?" Connie asks the picture of Allison. "What did you mean to him?"

Connie reaches back and makes her pillow more comfortable and feels the leaving settling on her.

Allison says, Ready?