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By Crystal Wimmer

Word Count: 688
Date: 10/29/04
Series: Mini
Rating: K+
Category: Challenge
Pairing/Focus: Cally
Summary: In response to Kylen’s Challenge

Ash. Who would have thought that ash would be harder to clean than anything else. It stuck to everything, charred and black. Cally’s uniform was covered in it, and yet despite the water she used – the solvents – it still clung to her gloved hands, her uniform… her heart. Despite the venting that had taken so many lives, the ash had remained.

No one had wanted to clean out the bay. It had finally come down to the volunteer system for this area. Too many of them had been traumatized by what they’d seen there while fighting the fire, and what had come afterwards. There were no bodies now, only melted metal and so much frakking ash that a person couldn’t walk across the floor without being covered in it.

What had she been thinking when she’d volunteered? That was simple. She had been thinking that this was the last place she and her best friend had worked together before the war had begun – as the war had begun. They’d been mopping floors, trying to keep out the grit that seemed to build on the decks more quickly then they could battle it. Lords, she hated to mop, but Prosna had always taken it in stride.

“Think of it as a dance,” he recommended as he took two swipes with the mop, then twirled himself under his own arm while still holding the handle like some really bad ballet. She had laughed; he had known she would, just as he knew how much she hated this part of their job.

“Somehow I don’t think dancing’s going to get it done,” she had told him with a sigh. “And there’s no point, anyway. As soon as it’s clean, they’ll just walk over it and get it dirty again, and we’ll have to mop it again. No point.”

He had shaken his head. “You’ve got it all wrong,” he corrected. “If we didn’t clean it, then the buildup would be incredible. Have you ever noticed that if we miss a day, it’s three times as hard to clean rather than twice? Grime builds exponentially. You have to stay on top of these things. Besides, it’s a time-honored tradition to swab the decks. Consider yourself honored.”

She had glared then. “Right.”

“Cally,” he’d said on a sigh. “It’s time to grow up.”

“What do you mean by that?” she had asked with her hands on her hips, mop resting for the moment in the dirty water. After all, she was three years older than he was.

“The lousy jobs don’t go away when you ignore them,” he said as he scrubbed at a particularly nasty spot on the floor. “They just get lousier. Get them done right away, and do them right, and then you can move on.”

So Cally was cleaning; scrubbing away the ash left from a hellish fire, burnt bodies, and the death of more friends than she’d realized she’d had until they were gone. She swiped her face against the sleeve of her uniform, removing wetness that she knew was more tears than sweat. She’d just made a mess of her face, but it was already that. She’d been crying for hours. Her eyes were puffy, her hair was filthy, and her face had as much ash on it as the deck. And yet she scrubbed, and scrubbed. The clean spot she’d made measured almost thirty feet down the corridor now, marred only by a few sets of footprints from people who’d had to use the pathway even before she could get done. She’d have to go over that again.

But it was okay. She would do it. She would clean it away, and then maybe – maybe – she would feel a little better. At the very least, she couldn’t feel worse. She was doing a job that no one else wanted – saving them the pain of it – just because it had to get done. That was the grown-up way to do things, she knew. The lousy jobs needed to be done, and done right. Then she could move on.