So instead she looked out the other side of the car across the wide-open West Texas plains. For a moment, lost in the vastness of it all, she forgot about the poop in her hair and the broken glasses and the three-day suspension. Even her teeth stopped hurting. Then she saw another bird, a vulture, turning wide, lazy circles out over the oil fields. It was a jarring sight, a heavy dose of perspective. She closed her eyes and said a prayer for whatever poor, innocent creature was left waiting to die on the ground beneath the circling predator.
“Sara.” Her mom’s voice wasn’t angry, but it wasn’t exactly warm either. “If you could do it over again, what would you do different?”
Sara opened her eyes. She knew the right answer without even thinking about it. “Turn the other cheek.”
Major Sara Wilkinson eases the yoke to the left and rolls her aircraft over the crowded Syrian neighborhood below. She doesn’t feel the roll. She’s sitting level at 1 G inside a modified shipping container thirty-something miles northwest of Vegas. It’s a rough commute, she sometimes jokes to those with a clearance high enough to get it: Vegas to the Middle East and back again before dinner. But someone’s gotta do it.
Hopkins, her sensor operator, pulls back, revealing the breadth of the neighborhood.
Sara listens calmly to the radio chatter in her headset, waiting for the order to come down as she follows the pixelated SUV bounding along the unpaved road. Hopkins, on the other hand, is mouthbreathing so deeply he has to push aside his microphone. This is only the second time the two have flown together. Their first mission earlier that week had been especially productive: a neutralized weapons cache and seven confirmed kills. Hopkins was radio-silent in that debrief and has been a ball of nerves since they stepped inside the Ground Control Station for this mission five hours ago.
“Let’s run the Dash-34,” Sara says, hoping the checklist will be enough to take his mind off of whatever it is that’s distracting him.
“Call when ready.” “Ready,” Hopkins says in a near whisper.
Sara’s eyes are glued to the SUV as they run through the protocol. The neighborhood is starting to thin out. It’s hard to imagine they’ll find a lower Collateral Damage Estimate than what it’d be right now. Even so, the order doesn’t come down, and ten minutes later the SUV is parked behind an old concrete compound.