Advance Wars: Morning Dew

Chapter 1: Awakening

Mornings were cold.

Even now, ten years after the meteor strike, mornings in New Hope Village...and the world for that matter, were cold. Granted, it was autumn. Granted, it was in the upper latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. Granted, she'd spent a good portion of her life in a climate-controlled setting and hadn't truly experienced the world for what it was (weather included) until the world order that had once existed was wiped away in a single night. But even so, with everything from aerosols filtering sunlight to dew in the grass, mornings were cold.

Which was why Catleia had trouble facing them.

Maybe it was irony, she reflected, as she still lay between the blankets and silently debated the pros and cons of seeing the sun rise, but baring with the cold as a consequence. Cattleya's were native to Sura do Sul in the south-a tropical climate whose ecosystem probably didn't exist anymore. Far removed from Western Zephyria, ill suited to its colder regime. But indeed, in a way, she didn't belong in the world at all. She was a clone. A lab rat. A walking encyclopaedia of military knowledge to ensure that real human beings could continue to thin their numbers at will. A...a human being herself.

She believed it. Truly. Which was why, being an individual, she made the choice to get out of bed, watch the sun rise, and get ready to work with the rest of the community. A community that not once in the last decade had raised an eyebrow about her. Her celadon hair, her amber eyes...none of it. She wasn't going to play the role of outcast if no-one was intent on making her play it in the first place. Rather, she was intent on playing the role of a productive member of society.

Which, she bitterly reflected as she put on her jacket and exited the dwelling, was a role that she sometimes felt too secure in.

"Ah, Catleia, good morning!"

Stolos's prodigy smiled as she saw Doctor Mortiz walking by and waving at her, the old coot unchanged apart from a slightly more favourable ration of good to bad jokes and...well, being old. His hair whiter, his hands weathered, his brow creased...Mortiz was a measure of time. One of many.

"Doctor," the young woman smiled back. "I didn't figure you to be up this early."

"Well, what can I say? The early bird catches the worm. Or in this case, Mrs. Fleck's baby due anytime now." His smile became mischievous. "Worm coming out of the hole instead of into one."

Catleia kept smiling despite Mortiz's joke figures slipping back into the negative. "Thirteenth birth you've had to deal with this year. Lili will be out to get you if this rate keeps up."

"She's doing fine...as are you, I might add."

Catleia's smile faded. "Yes doctor...I am."

And that was it. Conversation over. Hello, goodbye, move on to your next patient. See you again maybe, don't care if I don't.

Unspoken words. But with a single raised hand in farewell, Mortiz got the message regardless.

The young woman remained silent as she turned away, glancing at the east for the first rays of morning. She didn't hate Mortiz. All in all, she didn't really hate anyone, Stolos excluded. But even so, there were emotions far less extreme than hate that one could experience, and over the years, she'd come to understand him. So while she didn't hate Mortiz, or even dislike him, that didn't stop antagonism from blossoming to the surface. Not after what he'd put her through a year ago, however unintentionally.

And still the years march on.

Or did they? The sun was a keeper of time, always perfect in its measurement, and that was part of the reason why Catleia liked it, in addition to the warmth it provided on early mornings. It was the start of a day that she could live. A reminder that she was indeed, living her life, however basic it might have seemed to the world that the meteor shower eradicated. It reminded her that she was still alive...

Even if her own body didn't. A body that was cloned from a madman. A body that after ten years, barely seemed older than that of an individual in her late teens, not a young woman who was approaching thirty. A year ago, she wouldn't have thought twice about it, bar kind, sometimes envious comments from other members of her sex that she was "growing up young," and not succumbing to the rigours of age and manual labour. A year ago...well, if she was inclined, she might have used her exterior biological trends to help fulfil her...internal ones. Or mental. Even before the meteor shower, the human mind was a mystery. In all its irrational trains of thought, the full spectrum of goodness and evil that her experiences with the 12th Independent Legion had taught her quite adequately.

A spectrum that she'd discovered included duplicity...

"Wait! We need this!"

"So do we...rest assured, I wouldn't be taking it if I didn't need it."

Speak of the devil...

Or not-Catleia had seen the devil and she didn't feel like speaking of him at all. Not to Richard-her co-worker in the wheat field and driver of the tractor/APC. Not to Trak, currently in the midst of removing the APC's blades and bucket to make it look like an actual armoured personnel carrier. And certainly not to the last person Catleia wanted to see, who seemed to be leading the group of armed men and women in the midst of commandeering the vehicle.

"This is preposterous! Do you think this wheat harvests itself?"

"No. But I do think that you're capable of understanding our vehicle situation. Besides, you have the rest of autumn to harvest your crop. We've got to move out today."

"And move out for what, exactly?"

Catleia didn't have a commanding presence. Not in form, and even as her irritation was soaring as high as the Pulsatrix, not in voice either. Still, it served her purpose as the leader of the troopers turned to face her.

Ed. Hard faced, bearded and looking far older than one in his late thirties should look, but Ed all the same.

"Catleia," he murmured, giving her the courtesy of at least meeting her gaze and fingering a holstered pistol while he was at it. "You're up early."

"I like getting up early...didn't think you did though."

"I don't. But duty calls."

Duty that included removing the last farming attachments to the APC. Duty that involved apparently commandeering one of the last functioning vehicles New Hope Village had, let alone one with enough fuel to use it. Duty that involved gesturing for two squads (as opposed to the usual one) to enter it.

"Bandits," Ed murmured, by way of explanation. "Currently based fifty klicks east of here. We go in, send them packing, and return in time for dinner."

"And meanwhile, we're stuck with scythes in the field."

"Well, if it makes you feel better, I don't think the Grim Reaper will be coming to collect them."

"No..." the young woman murmured, still not backing down. "I don't suppose you'll collect them."

The Laurentian Army's job (if it could still be called an army nowadays) wasn't something that Catleia or anyone resented in itself, but in a world of vehicles left idle due to maintenance issues and/or lack of fuel, their job often cut into that of the farmers trying to feed hungry stomachs. Once, Catleia's job had effectively been the same as Ed's. Once, their jobs had brought them together. But now, their jobs were approaching mutual exclusivity and apart from losing a tractor, that suited her just fine. Hell, remove the tractor out of the equation and Ed going off to get himself killed might be the best thing that happened.

Or not...

Emotion had a wide spectrum. But even now, Catleia found herself drifting back to ones that...well, ones that a chick might have after seeing its mother hen for the first time. Emotions that she'd felt over a decade ago in-...

"You coming sir?"

Emotions that Trak either didn't understand or didn't care about.

"Yeah, coming," Ed murmured, as he walked towards the APC's front cabin. Like the sniper, he could be an expert in minimal communication...as Catleia had discovered for herself.

With neither of the former friends sparing a second glance at each other, they went their separate ways.

Chances were, they'd always continue to do so.