There’s chatter on the headset. The strike has been approved. She’s cleared to fire, but she doesn’t.
Sara is sweating. The trigger feels heavy under her finger. She takes a deep breath, but it doesn’t help.
The target makes a sudden change of direction and disappears inside an old building. Hopkins zooms out. There are kids playing behind the building.
Sara aborts the strike.
She sits back in her seat. She closes her eyes and tunes out the confused, frustrated voices in her headset. Her heart is pounding through her chest.
It’s the gentle hand of Hopkins on her shoulder that brings her back down. He has that same worried look her husband had the night before. She shrugs him off and pulls herself together, her eyes steely and focused as she rolls the aircraft away from the building. Inside her chest, though, her heart is still fluttering, the blurry image of the target as clear as ever in her head.
At some point in her career, driving a car had become less comfortable for Sara than flying. It might have had something to do with all the limits that come with ground-based travel—the rules, the lights, the traffic. It probably also had something to do with the other cars on the road that could swerve without warning and take her out. Even so, any time the family loads up in the Tahoe together, she’s the one driving. It’s a control thing, she figures. She’s always felt more at ease knowing she’s the one responsible for keeping everyone safe.
And so it is on a Sunday, just like every other Sunday that she’s not flying or recovering from a mission, that Sara is driving her family to church. She’s tired, as usual. Her eyes are still heavy. She’s only been awake for two hours and already has a headache, which isn’t helped by the tuneless vocals from the backseat. She tries to be a good sport. She forces a smile as her husband keeps time by tapping her thigh. She’s been so grumpy with them lately. All of them. Her husband seems like he’s walking on eggshells. The kids have been avoiding eye contact with her. The last thing they need right now is another outburst. But the singing is getting louder and her headache is growing sharper.
Sara looks out the window. There’s a pack of birds on the power line. It’s a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky. Perfect flying conditions. She wonders what Southern Nevada would look like from the camera of an MQ-9. Probably not all that different from most of the missions she flies in the Middle East. Rolling deserts, featureless plains, suburban communities filled with unsuspecting people. She imagines tracking a car along Route 95. A Tahoe, on its way into town for church. She thinks about what her family would look like on the screen right now, imagines a pilot in a Ground Control Station on the other side of the world watching them, finger on the trigger, waiting for the strike approval to come down the kill chain.