Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
You walk out the door and I can’t help but smile. Sure enough, you slam it, then shriek as the last remnant of wall topples your way. The door frame had been the only thing keeping it upright.
The cloud of dust goes away on the breeze to reveal you standing there, hands on hips, face stern but mouth pulling into a smile – despite your best efforts to remain angry. Sunlight in your hair, an orchard at your back, snowy mountains far behind.
Picture perfect. That’s how you’ll always be.
I blink and return from the past captured in the picture.
“Not wanting to doom you to a sad end in the next battle, is that a picture of your other half?”
Shaking my head, I pocket the image and take the battery pack Rena’s offering.
“Aside from me not wearing a red top today, it’s too late. I can’t get back home. Charlotte died a few days after it was taken, hopefully killed in her sleep during the bombardment that sank America.”
“I know that story. My Alfredo went when Russia became an island chain. Got the same hope, that it was quick for him and the family, not left huddled in the ruins, watching the wave come in.”
I stand up, snapping the blaster stock into place over the fresh battery. Rena comes up to stand next to me, looking out over the remains of the savannah.
“How high are we?”
“About 4000 metres above the new sea level.”
“You reckon there are any lions left?”
“Somewhere a long way from here, roaming what used to be a city, sleeping on rooftops amidst broken masts and silent aircon units.”
“I like that. Along with dolphins playing through sunken parks. Got to be some beauty left out there, somewhere.”
With a grin, I strike my very best macho soldier pose.
“Right next to ya, babe.”
Baz shouts from our left.
“Don’t give up your day job, sarge.”
I give him a hard stare.
“Less heckling from the ranks, soldier.”
He glances left and right, then nods towards Rena.
“All two of us.”
Rena brings her blaster up and scans the surroundings with the scope she’s got mounted on it.
“Looks clear out to a kilometre. We might make it to evac without being attacked again.”
Since that would mean our deaths, I’m hoping hard.
Lowering the blaster, she nods towards my pocket.
“Why do you carry a picture of her?”
“At night I don’t need light to see. I can feel it. I know what it is. Just holding it will do.”
She opens a pocket and flashes me Nadal’s dog tags.
“I know that story, too.”
Somedays I think that’s all we do: carry memories, because we’re running out of people to remember them. How many have we lost who we’ll never know about? How many cherished moments went as their holders died?
Giving myself a shake, I peer to the west.
“Point the ungainly rig you’re toting thataway. See if you can see our transport.”
Rena does so.
“Why have you got a scan and view scope welded to your blaster?”
She grins, gaze unmoving from the eyepiece.
“I like being able to shoot where I’m looking. Lost a friend to a sneak attack while they were using binoculars. With a short rig like this, I could kill any Exthe trying that on me.”
“Transporter inbound. We’ll be out of here soon.”
Baz jumps up.
“Home for tea.”
“Just a real home would be nice.”
War is hell, and it always will be. Poignant and well-imagined.
If you enjoy my stories on here, you might like to try my flash fiction collection – https://lothp.org/book/between-the-thunder-and-the-sun/ – or some of my other books.
They’re available as ebooks for all devices, paperbacks, hardbacks, and OpenDyslexic font paperbacks. You can find details of all currently available titles on my website – https://lothp.org/published-work/ (each book page has non-affiliate universal links for every available edition).