That one word means so much. The basic definition, though, for the civilians and military who live through it, is that soul-destroying feeling that the whole world isn't just collapsing, it's doing its best to take you out with it.
For some, war is a chance to prove your strength and courage, to help others.
For some, war is a chance to grow up, a painful reality that slaps you in the face and leaves you to fight your way to slap it back, only to realize that you deserved it.
For some, war is a chance to prey on the weak, to grow rich on the backs of the suffering.
For some, war is a chance to die.
But war always has a story.
The boy was tired.
He was young and he was tired, but he knew what his parents had said: Go to Corinth. Find your uncle. Tell him we love him. So he was going to Corinth. Everyone he'd met was walking this way, so this way he walked.
He knew there were bad soldiers on the way. They had hurt him, and he'd only escaped because a nice man with a gun had shot them away. He knew Mommy and Daddy were lying on the ground and sleeping, but he was supposed to keep going. They'd catch up. Mommy had promised.
He kept walking.
A car drove by, and it stopped. The boy smiled up at them, and a man lifted him up. The man had a soldier's uniform, and the boy hugged him. "Thank you!" He lisped, his mouth dry.
"No problem, son." The man said, smiling back.
The car started moving, and a woman glared at the boy. "Freak." She hissed.
Did she mean him? No, she couldn't.
"That little nigger boy's taking up good white people's space." A man said beside her.
"I'll take care of him." Another woman offered. The woman looked like his grandmother, and the boy felt his smile get even wider. She must be nice, she was picking him up and carrying him to the back. There was a good view from here!
The woman tossed him out.
The boy scrambled to his feet, but the truck was far, far away. The boy started running, crying, desperately hoping to catch it. But he had to fall down. He was only five. His legs weren't that long.
He sat there and cried for a while, then looked up. His daddy was holding out his hand, and his mommy too.
"Come on, son." Daddy said. "When you fall, what do you do?"
"Get up, Daddy!" The boy said, climbing up and taking his parent's hands.
Together they walked into the domed city. "Is that Corinth, Mommy?" The boy asked.
Mommy nodded, and the boy ran ahead. "Uncle! Uncle!"
The boy's uncle swept him up. "Chris! What are you doing here?"
"Mommy and Daddy brought me! See?"
But when the boy turned to look, no one was there.
They'd been hitchhiking for days.
Stephen looked at Mike. They loved each other so deeply. They'd get through this. They had to. They'd survived their parents, the hateful church, school, they could survive a stupid desert.
Mike curled up a bit more closely in his lover's arms. "This is it, hunh, Steph?"
Stephen smiled sadly and nodded. No point denying it anymore. They were dying.
"I guess it's not that bad." Mike whispered, kissing his boyfriend's cheek. "Hey, remember when we met each other's parents?"
"And we both had to sleep in the back of your truck." Stephen chuckled. "God, the sex was great."
"Your dad still thinks we'll get AIDs, I bet." Mike said.
"Probably. Hey, remember when we met?" Stephen asked, looking at the stars.
"Yeah. You got shoved into your locker and I pulled you out. And then we found out we had two tech classes together." Mike blushed. "I'm still embarrassed you saw my porn."
"Hey, it was hot."
The two laughed together. "Mike?" Stephen asked.
"I love you."
"I love you too, honey." Mike said, holding his lover. The two lay in each other's embrace, the sand a cool pillow below them.
"Night's falling." Stephen whispered. "Let's watch the stars again. Pretend we're in your truck."
"No more bullies. No more parents. Look, even our bruises are gone." Mike said, holding up a thin arm.
Stephen smiled. "You look better without them."
"So do you." Mike said, yawning. "So do you."
Stephen stroked his lover's hair. "You know, we ought to have saved the world or something."
"Yeah." Mike said. "But how do you do that when you don't even know if you're sleeping at home tonight?" He shut his eyes. "I..I think...Stephen? Goodbye. I love you."
Stephen felt his eyes drifting shut. "Not goodbye, lover." He whispered. "See you soon."
He was so damn lucky.
He'd managed to defect. Ventrix had allowed him to join as a repairman for his army, and now he was one of the few humans still safe, still alive. He kind of wished his wife had listened to him, but if killing her had been the price for his safety, oh, well.
He was alive, right?
He hummed as he worked. He didn't mind what he was asked to do. He'd been repairing things in the cradle. And if one survived, the whole species survived, right? Darwinisim at work. He could even hope a nice hot babe had defected.
Hell, they could be Adam and Eve, repopulating the planet. It wouldn't be that hard, would it?
Even if Ventrix wasn't worth his wife, surely the species was. She knew that.
He watched as a robot approached him. "Need a fix?" He asked, smirking to himself at the joke. There were too many drugs before, that was for sure.
The robot raised a blaster and shot him.
His last thought was that he should've found Eve first. A really hot one.
She still held the knife.
Trembling in the cold wind, she still held the knife, and she stared at it for a long time.
It had decorated her arms, had given her the release she didn't have before. It had felt like her pain had flowed away with the blood. The other marks, the ones on her soul, they were back now in full force.
But the same knife had twisted into a robot's stomach.
She remembered sitting in her bedroom, the hideous monstrosity of pink and white her idiot parents insisted on. She remembered the glint of steel. It was so beautiful, orange streetlight on silver steel.
She hadn't written a note. It had just overwhelmed her like a torrent, the constant bullying at school, the way her parents wouldn't shut up about her grades...honestly, what was wrong with her? She couldn't even get the As her parents wanted.
But then the robots had broken into the window. She'd reacted instinctively, taking them out. The steel had hesitated as she'd torn into metal. Sparks had flown, but she'd snatched her sister up and run.
She'd gotten her sister, her only remaining link to life, on a bus out. The bus was waiting overnight at the stop, trying to see if any more humans were left and letting the driver sleep.
She wondered if this time she could go through with it. Could slit her wrists like she'd meant to.
She held it to her wrist, but all she felt was the metal.
Below, she heard a scream. Instantly she leapt down, attacking viciously with her knife. The metal through metal felt better than anything she'd ever felt before.
When she stood, triumphant, she walked onto the bus, head held high.
"Let's get to Corinth."
She'd grown up on superheroes.
Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batman and the X-Men. She'd known nothing but those colorful worlds, only to be proven right when the Power Rangers appeared. Superheroes existed.
But superheroes didn't die.
The Power Rangers were dead.
It was odd, she mused. She ought to care, but after the first shock numbness had set in. All that had mattered was survival, and in this crystal-clear, super-observant mode, her thoughts had shifted.
If the Power Rangers weren't always there to save people, perhaps they weren't superheroes at all.
Why had they tricked everyone? Evelyn sighed, glaring at the road. She had singlehandedly saved her hometown, the tiny desert dwelling that her people loved so much. Had she been deluding herself when she had?
Were there heroes after all, or were the Power Rangers simply flukes? Idiots who never should have seen a weapon, let alone wielded them?
If the Power Rangers weren't heroes, who were?
She sighed and looked out at the night road. Corinth seemed the only available place now, but was it even worth it? There were no heroes. Nineteen-year-old Evelyn was fast learning that.
She looked to the side of the road, still expecting to see the body of the man she'd taken this bus from. He hadn't wanted money--her payment had been so much different, so much more devastating.
No hero had come to save her from him. She'd stabbed him herself in revenge, for taking the thing she'd wanted to save for the right one.
If heroes weren't real, what did one do? What could happen next when innocence was lost?
She saw a sign. Corinth, twelve miles.
Did she even belong there now?
She looked back at her passengers. She had sacrificed everything for them. She had become a superhero in a world without them. Maybe there was a reason there weren't any.
Maybe being an ordinary hero was a good thing.
The military stared as Evelyn herded her people out of the bus. "Miss...did you do this? All by yourself?" An officer asked.
The man shook her hand. "If you ever want a place in the military, let me know."
Evelyn smiled and walked away.
If heroes didn't exist, she would settle for fighting the bad guy. Tooth, nail, and innocence.
War is cruel. It offers no hope, no respite. But the most powerful thing about humanity is that even when there is no hope, humans will make it.
Humans find hope in surviving. In the lovers who will not let go of each other, the parent convincing her neighbors to look for her lost child, the way a mother will kill herself for her baby.
War can, if you let it, be hope.
After all, hope is just another story.