When Susan is eight, her older brother takes her to Red Square to watch the passing of the Pons-Brooks comet.
Their father has business at Lomonosov University, and he allows Ganya to tag along to Moscow on the condition that he supervise and educate Susan while they're there. They've been to six museums in three days, and Susan has never been so bored in her entire life.
She only agrees to go with Ganya tonight because her only other option is sitting in a stuffy classroom for two hours listening her her father talk about the same things he always talks about. Ganya promises her it'll be cool, just like he promised the Kremlin and Lenin's Mausoleum would be, so she isn't too inclined to believe him.
When they get there Red Square is teeming with people and noise. The sky above is bright and glowing with light pollution, and Susan can't imagine how they'll be able to see a comet through it.
"Don't be silly, Dushenka Moya," Ganya says, and turns her toward the giant bank of vid screens stacked high against the buildings at one end of the square.
There's a squadron of Earthforce Marines guarding the base of the screens, their brown and green uniforms crisp and precise under the glare of the ISN stream playing above their heads. Ganya leads her forward, moving tham through the crowd and nearer to the soldiers and screens.
"Are you going to be a Ground Pounder when you grow up, Ganya?" Susan asks, craning her neck to get a better look at the Marines.
Ganya laughs and shakes his head and says, "No, I'm going to be a Fleet pilot."
Susan's not sure what the difference is, but the images on the vid screens flash and change and capture her attention before she can ask Ganya. There are stars all over the screen, bright and bigger than any Susan's ever seen, even out at her grandparents farm in the Alazani Valley. The moon is up there too, and just coming out from behind it is a bright streak of dust and cloud and light.
"Ganya," Susan says, and grasps at her brother's hand, "is that it?"
"Yes, Dushenka Moya," Ganya smiles down at her and pulls her closer against his side. "Isn't it beautiful?"
In the taxi on the way back to their hotel, Susan says, "I want to be a Fleet pilot too, Ganya."
Next to her, Ganya smiles and squeezes her hand. "We'll be the best pilots the fleet has ever seen."
Seven years later Ganya comes home with the Earth Alliance Emblem over his heart and a crisp blue Earthforce flight cap folded under his arm.
Susan is 15, and Mama has been dead barely a month. ISN and the daily papers can talk of nothing but Earth Alliance's desperate scramble to find a diplomatic solution to the growing Minbari conflict, of the odds of wining a lone fight against Minbar. Susan hasn't smiled in days.
Ganya comes through the door with a grin on his face and his hair shaved down into a brush cut. Susan takes one look at him and bursts out laughing.
"What do you think?" He executes a neat little spin, coming to rest with his arms spread wide to show off his new threads. "Do I make a dashing picture or what?"
"Oh Ganya," Susan walks into the open circle of his arms and presses her face in against the soft fabric of his new uniform. Ganya's arms are solid and warm around her back, and under her ear she can hear the laughter rising up through his chest. "Father is going to have your hide!"
He pulls away from her to look down into her face, and Susan is struck by just how happy he looks. "He'll have to catch me first."
Four hours later Ganya has left for basic training at Io and Papa will not meet her eyes or hear her words.
The sound of the door slamming lingers in their tiny apartment for days, with no conversation or laughter to drown it out.
Ganya's been out of basic for five months, and Susan hears from him every three days. He's stationed on the EAS Lexington and flying combat missions like he always said he would. Susan can hear the joy in his words over the comm. channel when they talk.
Susan decides to go home to Saint Petersburg for Passover on a last-second whim, and she spends 11 hours in transit between her boarding school in New England and Russia. It's been four days since she's heard from Ganya, and she misses the sound of his voice.
She opens the door to her family's apartment with a smile on her face and a greeting on her lips. The house is silent and dark, and Papa is sitting at the kitchen table with a handkerchief in his fist and tears in his eyes.
There's a Ner Daluk siting on the table, untouched and unlit. Susan moves to her father's side, confusion and uncertainty rushing her breaths. The time for sitting shiva for Mama has long passed, and she can't understand why else her father would have the ceremonial candle out.
"Papa?" Susan asks, and the look in her father's eyes is all the answer she never wanted to hear.
"Ganya, " her father whispers and starts to cry, deep wracking sobs like nothing Susan heard after Mama died.
Susan wants to sink to the floor, to curl in on herself and ignore the world around her. But there are things that need to be done, words that need to be said. She takes her lighter out of her pocket and flicks the flame against the candle's wick. She takes a deep, shaky breath and begins the Kaddish.
Susan is a day over 17 when she walks into the recruiter's office. The man behind the desk is Papa's age, and he speaks to her in the tone of a father to his daughter.
He says, "You could wait - you won't be eligible for the draft for another year still." It's all Susan can do to stay silent and stare him straight in the eye.
He sighs then, like he's seen this before, and hands her a datapad to fill out.
When she's finished listing off her life's details he takes the pad back and asks, "So, how do you want to serve the Alliance?"
Susan's spine is ramrod straight and her hands are already clamped behind her back, just like Ganya showed her. She says, "I want to be a Fleet Pilot, sir."
Her hand only shakes a little when she takes her reporting orders.