Author: Josie Gowler

My exoskeleton is in an uncooperative mood again. It doesn’t stop my daily march out of the camp and round the city, it just makes it more difficult. I’ve already lurched to two appointments today: first psych (boring) and then meditation (pointless).

Sa-Sa walks along behind me. “Wait, Per-Kine!” she exclaims, laughing. She fiddles on her cuff to adjust the adaptive feedback on her invention; I hadn’t even noticed the catch in my step amongst its other idiosyncrasies. She adjusts the fit around my leg with the nimblest hands I have ever known while I struggle to pull my hair back into its ponytail. “Better?” she asks.

I nod – I don’t tell her I haven’t noticed a difference – and carry on along the curved streets. Originally the city planners did it to provide a shady breeze in peacetime, but ever since I can remember the design’s been more use protecting against gauss fire in wartime, like the latest Vant attack last month. I’ll give it to those green-scaled bastards: they never give up. Pardon us for evolving right here where they want to expand their already massive territories. And we won’t give up, either. It’s our home.

Sometimes I stumble in these winding lanes. I can’t bear the sympathetic looks when I fall over: it’s like I’ve died and become someone else. But Sa-Sa’s hover chairs are worse – not that I’d tell her that, either – then the other soldiers, no matter how hard they try, see the floating contraption and not the soldier.

“I still prefer going out at night,” I mutter to Sa-Sa. The streets are safe; everyone is looking out for each other and preparing for the next siege or battle, petty jealousies forgotten. “I miss dawn patrol, too.” Almost as much as I miss my husband, I don’t add. And it was a sunny day when the war mech loped out of the fog and over the defences, digging poison-laden needles into my arm as it landed.

“Off to help Dha-Vu at the hospital again today?” Sa-Sa asks.

I nod again, focussing on navigating this steep bit of street, potholed from the last explosion. “Might as well.”

“’S’ good. Keeps you busy.” She is too polite to add “because you’re too broken even for the city militia.” Those misfits and weirdos wouldn’t take me, not with a withered arm, leg and – as far as they’re concerned – brain after the waking nightmares ate me. Because not content with its needles, the war mech also spat psychotropic venom into my mind while its army of micro-drones munched on my leg.

I say goodbye to Sa-Sa at the hospital gates. An hour of hard work hour later I limp over to the window to give myself a break, head pounding. Sa-Sa is back, the sneak, leaning against one of the pockmarked courtyard pillars, a mug of tea in her hand. She smiles and waves. I laugh and wave back, realising what she knew all along: in the hospital I’m alive, and all the new arrivals are helping me just as much as I’m helping them.