B E V A T R O N
- Dim Aldebaran -
It was a grand effort, but the monument suffices only as a focus for the protests.
Everyone is high on their low: they gibber about the inappropriateness, the gaudiness, the callousness of a war memorial before the war is even over. At the very least, it's something for the civilians to do: something to distract themselves from the mourning, the rationing, the drafting, by the mere reminder of it. After all, oblivion lies on the path of forced remembrance.
This war is perhaps unique in history in that both sides participate in the protest.
The Neutrino is hot in your hands, so hot you can feel your skin blistering and the sweat trickling down your wrists… and yet you keep holding on to the hope, firing it with all the swiftness and accuracy that is left to you after a decade of this, a decade of firing into the dark hoping, hoping you'll hit something so you'll hear it scream and you'll finally know that you've done something…
It's not that you shouldn't be here; indeed, this is your place; your home even, the suburbs where the war never really was, where the fronts are drawn on the white picket fences, where the wives are wishing the war was over and they were widows, and the children draw a red sky with their crayons on the walls as they ask mummy why they can't watch the fireworks outside.
War has never changed, and it never will: there'll always be a reason to death and a death of reason. You cry and you scream and you struggle but the war won't change because of you since war can't change, the outcome won't matter but more importantly it can't matter, it's just another absurd loop on the scenic drive of life, war will never change the destination…
…and there's others, besides you, behind you, and they've stopped struggling, but they've stopped struggling long ago, the war can't change that, either.
One struggles. Its name is Grub, and it watches you with watery eyes. You think it's cute; but such thoughts never last long in a war. It's all you can do to find comfort in the familiar entropy of the rush of blood to the head as your mind dizzies and your conscience blurs and since war is a kinder lover, in the end.
Desensitization—a big word for a small concept; for what could be slighter than the absence of reaction, no matter the perception? It's the natural result of high emotion, whether from repetition or magnitude or duration you're never able to tell, only that it's there and the girl in the pictures isn't you anymore.
When the battle is done and the mind is numb, you return to your post at the Tor. It's not your home, but they tell you it is, it's your station, and that's all you need to be concerned about but it's never enough and you always leave in the night to fight where it doesn't matter.
You walk the long kilometers between with the false dawn of the underground tainting you with the mellow yellow and tickled pink of decades before. It was a time to sleep, those long stretches of empty streets, a time to sleep and remember…
…but you have a shadow, following you like that watery thing that clings to your boots. The shadow is voiceless—soulless?—but it was an odd comfort, like clouds in the summer or frost in September.
The shadow wouldn't always be relentlessly dragged behind you across the dirty streets; sometimes it hangs from your side, like a man from a cliff, or sometimes it lurks on the corners just ahead, gnawing at its breakfast of a moldy bagel and crumbling cream cheese.
One day, though, the shadow reaches out of the shades and touches your hand. It's a scar it's interested in, running across the wrist in a long rut of lucid pink skin. Old, but not something you like to think about, since sometimes, even the fight can't make you feel…
Its fingers are cold, but dry. You flinch by instinct, and then again: there's something like pain on its face, something that dulls the eyes and slackens the jaw and forces the lips into a tangent from the rest of the face, is it pain or is it—
—He's walking towards you and time stops standing around and begins its headlong rush as he starts asking, about the Tor, about duty and honor and brotherhood and it's all you can do to remember the feel of the hand, like a piece of quicksilver held in the hand, so precious and beautiful but you never know when it's going to slip away and fall, fall, fall and shatter against the floor—
—"You can't save the world," he finishes, and you can't even hear the sound of the quicksilver splatter.
Formalities have been largely cast aside: the spontaneous is more effective than the structured.
Reports are exchanged with slang and the helpless slump of the epaulettes; military pride is something gratuitous, now, and you're one of the few who sticks to the old ways. Guerilla tactics are employed for both managing the foe and managing what bureaucracy was left after a decade of civil war.
He considers his glass of whiskey—undoubtedly confiscated from the Rebels. You don't say anything, but inwardly, you want a taste. Sool has a taste for the stuff, you remember; how he'd lean forward with that sour whiskey breath and tease those thoughts of inadequacy from his lips into your mind. You wonder if whiskey is just something that people with power do, or if there's enough to go around.
It's looking at you—looking at you for the thousandth time since you first saw it picking his nose in the recruitment office, and you wonder what made it look all those times, and you wonder, why is it looking now…
He's sitting at his desk; besides the shotglass, he has a stack of papers that he'll grace with his uneven scrawl afterwards, since that's what people with whiskey do. He looks up from the glass and smiles at you; he smells sober, so far. "How's the Tor holding?"
It's a ridiculous question, since he can see it out the window, and he knows this, he's the one who assigned you there…. but he's asking, so you answer. "Fine, sir."
He takes out another glass, and fills it from a decanter with spidersilk cracks running through it. He sets this on the edge of the desk so it catches the light and flashes dizzyingly into your eyes in lucid sparkles.
"I'm fine, sir."
He ignores you: a standing invitation.
It shuffles his feet as his attention changes and sharpens to a story as sharp as a knife: "Colonel, report on the loss of the Finn District."
You watch its feet; the way the sole arches as its toes curl inside the boots, the way the ankles press together and gently squeak as polymer rubs polymer, crinkling... "It—"
He drums his fingers against the side of the shotglass. "Yes?"
It swallows; you watch its Adam's apple bob, and you listen to the voice, listen to that timid quaver: "It's 'Captain', sir."
You had almost forgotten the promotion; there hadn't been lapels since the Rebellion. The only way to tell these days was by the carriage of the figure, and it always had had the most terrible slouch...
"You have been replaced."
It's you that asks, strangely enough. They're both staring, the sand and the sieve, and you wonder why they're surprised: but you're surprised as well, and you assume it has something to do with the gleam of the whiskey, like a star in the fluorescent gloom of the office.
To answer the question was to be questioned: and to be questioned was to have no answer. It's not a situation he wants to put himself in. He instead attends to matters of its future employment—or rather, the lack of—and its all you can do not stare into those dark eyes and watch the knife twist…
It's looking at its feet again, watching the arch of the souls, the press of the ankles, the crinkle of the polymer… you know what it wants, you know what it wants you to say so badly with those watery eyes and damp hands, but you can't say it …
…because you know what they want.
He leans forward in his chair: "Dismissed, Corporal."
It looks up from its feet and looks at the shotglass, how the light diffracts through it—how the light plays across your face, and he's looking at you, looking, looking and wondering why…
…and then it snaps its heels together and it's gone.
You lean forward and grasp the shotglass and upend it into your mouth, savoring the sudden fire since suddenly, you feel so cold, so cold, it could have been murder…
…because you know what they want…
You aren't there when it happens: you're a good girl now, you stick to the Tor, you aren't there when Sool falls, you're not the one to fire the shot—
He's a hero, and the world knows it: his epaulettes gleam and his face is flushed and his lips are drawn into a heroic smile.
The shotglasses sparkle: habituated, you take yours and hold it to your lips. The whiskey is a strange way to go about it, but sometimes power's not enough, and he knows this as he takes his and slams it down, and the shotglass tinkles as it falls and his breath is rough as he tells you about dinner tonight, thank you kindly—
—you drink to a dead shadow and a dying war.
A bouquet exchanges hands. You smile, and crush the poppies to your breast; the scent of mad dreams drifts diffuses throughout the café.
In the space between, the petals fall; collectively lush, but individually lucid and so very alone.
"Is it over?" you whisper; the petals are falling—
—"Almost," he replies, and he's smiling that smile of the end of an eternity, but it's merely the beginning: infinity begins to curve back around as he leans in and the poppies crinkle and you close your eyes and somehow you know everything will be the same…
This was originally intended for the 'Revolutions' Aug-Sept Criminality challenge, along with Zevatron – the companion to this. Both are prequels to Tevatron.
Nothing amazing here, really.