Fiona Mbeke's moment of crystal clarity is so earth-shattering that it hurts, though that might be from the numerous razor-sharp teeth tearing into her flesh. Her life flashes in front of her eyes, but it's only a distraction as she screams and thrashes in appropriately dramatic fashion.
No one knows that her middle name is Astou after her great-grandmother, a linguist of some note who specialized in pre-unification languages and dialects that were close to extinction. No one cares about the three years she spent studying the desert life of the planet the Dub U calls Hephaestus, or the year she spent as the only human assigned to the T'Rasi; the experience means that she's the only other person on the ship who speaks Q'eeng's native language (other than a few halting words that do not mean what Captain Abernathy thinks they mean, and she wishes she could see the look on the captain's face if Q'eeng finally attempts to take him up on what he's offering). It doesn't matter that she's from the Pan-African Union, or that she's the youngest of six kids, or that her father tried to steer her to xenolinguistics when she started looking at the stars, or that her mother wanted her to study terrestrial biology when she started staring rapt at the zoo exhibits, or that they fought with each other the night she announced she had been accepted at the Academy.
Because none of it is real.
She looks back at all of the times in her life that she's revealed Christmas surprises, blurted out her sisters' crushes, accidentally tattled to her parents, blown her cover stories, told her best friend's secrets, and she understands that they never really happened. All of that was just back story to create a tendency to say the wrong thing at the wrong time.
She's not a person. She's not even a character. She's a plot device, a conduit of information. She exists because someone needed to make sure that Dahl knows about Jenkins, because someone had to keep Cassaway's ambush from succeeding, because someone has to die in a traumatically horrific manner to drive home the point. She's done her part. Now she's playing her final role.
As she glances over at Cassaway in his death throes, she realizes that he doesn't even have the solace of knowing what his purpose in life was. He was even less of a character than she was, even less defined, created- not even born, but created- to die on Eskridge colony. Judging from the rictus of his face, she's pretty sure he hasn't had the same sort of epiphany she's had.
Redshirts die so that protagonists can live. And she's the redshirts' redshirt, the extras' extra. She's a bit part on a TV show, a minor mention in a novel, a means to an end, nothing more.
And it's going to be a good end for her ship and its crew, a good end for a lot of people she's never even met. At least, it would be if they weren't fictional.
Fiona Astou Mbeke just wants to be real.
But then the venom hits her brain, and even these last clear thoughts dissolve into agony and rage. She dies twitching, lips parted as if to say something, brown eyes fixed on an alien sky, red blood pooling under her red shirt.