“When are you gonna come home?” a little voice asked from inside a pile of blankets, the glow of the screen reflecting off tiny eyes peeking through.
The person on the other end smiled sadly.
“You know that question already,” they replied.
The little voice was quiet for a moment.
“How come I can only call at 4 AM?”
“Because of where this ship is at, it’s actually 7PM next Thursday for me.”
The little voice grunted and unraveled their self from the blankets.
“OH, THIS TIME THING IS SO FUCKING–”
“Oh, wow, where did you learn that one?”
The small child covered their mouth in embarrassment as the person on the other end started to cackle with laughter. The small child’s brown face turned a shade of red in frustration and shame. Their older “twin” was still laughing.
The siblings stared at each other for a moment when the eldest was done laughing.
“You should probably stop calling me like this. You start school soon and not getting your full, what, 10 hours of sleep will hinder your classes.”
“I hate school,” the child said, crossing their arms across their chest.
“Now you know that’s a bald-faced lie, you love school.”
“No, I love reading class, I hate school.”
Their older sibling looked away from the screen when a beep went off.
“I’ll have another package transmit to you in the coming week. But it seems like you won’t be able to call any more after this… I’ll only be able to send transmissions to you. I’m sorry, little one. I love you. I’ll be sure to flag my messages as first-class okay?”
For weeks, the younger sibling would wake up at 3:45 AM every day in preparation to call their sibling. They would stare at the busy signal on their screen when they couldn’t get through, only remembering what their older sibling said five redials later. For months, they woke up at 3:30 AM, only to roll over and cry themselves to sleep.
But for years, every Thursday or Friday, the transmissions would come in regularly. The younger sibling watched their sibling grow even older. The transmissions were hour-long stories made up by them, some stories even having some of their shipmates join in on the fun. The month of the younger siblings 13th birthday, there were no transmissions. The younger sibling, now tall and lanky, missed school that entire month, choosing to sit in front of or near the screen. Just in case.
They were dozing off around 2:38 AM when the screen let out a familiar and missed beep. In a blink of an eye, the younger sibling raced toward the room where the screen was. They touched the screen, a still of the older sibling’s face popping up. The younger gasped, reaching up and trying to touch their face. There was a fresh scar going across their forehead, a diminishing shiner under their left eye. Their usually trimmed beard was now a month’s worth of scraggle length. Their hair was now tucked under a bandage that had a small stain of blood on it. The younger sibling accepted the call.
“There you are!” The older sibling said with a smile. Some of their teeth were missing.
“What happened?” The younger whispered, tears in their eyes. The older sibling looked down.
“We were raided.”
The younger started to sob.
“Shhh, it’s okay. Hey, hey, I’m coming home. It’s gonna take me a few months to get back, I promise, we’ll be back together soon. I just want you to know that I’m okay. All this is about a week old. There was a lot more blood coming out of my head. Speaking of which, probably need to change the bandages. I got your transmissions. I’m so sorry I missed your birthday. I’ll make it up to you. I have to go now. I’m not sure if you’re still liking the stories I send–”
“I love them.”
The older smiled, tears falling down their cheeks. “Then I’ll send transmissions before I come home. I love you so much.”
The following 13 Wednesdays were transmission days. The last one, the younger sibling could tell something was wrong just from the way it started.
The older sibling wove a tale about a royal child who lost everything to a great fire that started a terrible, magnificent war. As the child grew into a warrior, the lights flickered as the older sibling was talking. They hesitated, took a deep breath and exhaled, smiling as they continued the tale of this warrior child gathering other children who lost everything to the war. As the story continued, the feed flickered. The older sibling kept going as dust fell from the ceiling, the sands of the warrior child kicking up and swirling around their enemies.
“Please come home,” the younger sibling whispered, watching the feed shake and distort. As the warrior child turned into a warrior adult, climbing mountains and slaying knights to rescue dragons, an explosion happened off screen. Fire roared from the dragon’s mouth as fire started to lick into the frame. The younger sibling got closer to the screen, tears and snot falling freely from their face.
The older sibling carried their own screen down a hallway, trying to finish the story. As people ran by them, people ran beside the now Royal Warrior as they charged into battle against the Faux King and his knights. Bullets rang out behind the older sibling the moment the Faux King used his magic to send sharp rocks toward the Royal Warrior who blocked them their own magic.
As bullets bounced off of walls, one hit the older sibling in the leg. They grunted, dropping the screen. They started to scream the rest of the story as they limped toward the fallen screen. As the Royal Warrior climbed the steps to the castle, the older sibling slid onto the floor. The younger could see the tiredness in their sibling’s face. As the dust and smoke cleared from the hallway and the Faux King’s feet, the Royal Warrior let out a yell in triumph as they ended the Faux King’s life, as a bullet went into the older sibling’s chest.
As the Royal Warrior lifted their blood-stained sword in triumph, a hail of bullets showered the older sibling’s body. The younger sibling started to scream in horror, clawing at the screen.
“I… love… you…” the older sibling managed to breathe before ending the feed.