"Casualties: many. Percentage of dead: not known. Combat efficiency: we are winning." - Colonel David M. Shoup

Point of Divergence

He knew it was the one before he ever touched it, before he was even within arm's reach of it.

The paint was chipped on the left side, the "p" key partially broken and prone to sticking.

He approaches it with the uncertainty of meeting a friend after half a lifetime, eager to reunite, afraid to find they've changed and are no longer the same.

His hand brushes the keys with the lightest of touches, ignoring the cramp in his shoulder from the old wound.

He imagines he hears the sound of the keys typing, the sound of bombs whistling over head, explosions and shouted orders.

He sees the folded articles Conley stuffs inside his uniform as he runs.

His hands brush past the reporter's as they reach for the typewriter the second the bomb explodes.

He can't breathe through the dust, choking and gasping as he fights to sit up.

"Conley? Conley!"

There's a ragged cough and the older man crawls out from under the rubble.

"You hurt?"

"I don't think so." His light hair is grey from the dust, adding years to his lined face. "You?"

For the first time he feels the twinge in his arm, a new wound a few inches below the round he took in the shoulder a month before.

"A scratch. I'll live."

Conley starts tugging at the rubble, searching for the typewriter. He joins him, and it's his hands that find the machine.

The left side is smashed, almost severed. The ribbon hangs limp and lifeless, tattered beyond use.

He watches as Conley takes the damaged typewriter, cradles it against him like a child. There's a sheen of sharp tears in his eyes, a bitter anguish usually masked by the correspondent's ready smile.

It's more than a machine to the man, he knows. It's his lifeblood that he spills as ink across a page. He's never been wounded, not like the others, but he bleeds even more than they do, an internal hemmorage somewhere within his chest, bleeds words instead of crimson so the people back home will know why they're fighting here, a thousand miles and more away from home.

He can't stand the look in the man's eyes.

"Its not so bad, Conley." He gathers up the machine. "I'll work on it. Gibson, too, he's good with machines. We'll fix it."

He helps the man up and they start back to the buildings.

He slides a hand beneath the typewriter, brushing past the tag and feeling the knotch in the metal, the deep dent.

They'd fixed it, Gibson and he, almost as good as new.

His heart feels strangely lighter as he hands it to the correspondent.

There's a look of incredulous hope mingled with frail wonder as the man touches the keys as tenderly as he'd touch an infant. His fingers find the hole on the side, forehead creases.

"It was a chunk of shrapnel. We dug it out but it left a gash."

"You were standing on the left." The older man says quietly.

"Yeah. I guess it blocked the worst of it. Looks like that bundle of keys saved my life." He grins but Conley's face is serious.

"Nothing without a purpose, Pete." The smile, a shadow of it's usual vibrancy, but there none the less, plays at the corners of his mouth.

"I'll never get rid of it, you know. It's seen too much with me. It's become like an arm or a leg, connected somehow."

"Remember, I own it." He says with mock annoyance. "You pay me rent since that game you lost."

"You're a slob, D'Angelo." He grins, a full smile this time. "You stay that way. This world needs a scoundrel now and then."

"So they tell me."

"Can I help you, sir?"

His head lifts, turning toward the voice. It's a young man - but doesn't everyone look young to him nowadays? - looking at him with a hopeful yet slightly concerned expression.

"Are you all right, sir?"

He blinks, bringing himself to the present, to the four walls of an overlooked antique store in a hole - in -the - wall town. He breathes in the faint musty odor of the building, the scent of happy memories, of attics and forgotten treasures rather than the metallic scent of blood and death.

"How much is it?"

The boy gestures to the small white tag.

"$45. A real bargain, too. It's in excellent condition considering when it's from."

"Who sold it, do you know?"

"An estate sale, probably." He smiles pleasantly. "Much of our antiques come from those. The owners pass away and with no descendants their belongings wind up here or other stores."

He runs an almost reverent hand over the typewriter.

"I was friends with the man who owned this. He was a correspondent in the war."

The clerk nods politely. He isn't interested, he knows, only paid to sell the antiques, not hear their history.

"I'll take it." The old man says softly.

The boy looks relieved, gathering up the typewriter and heading for the checkout counter. He turns it sideways to remove the tag and whistles at the gash left by the shrapnel.

"Must have gotten pretty close to the action."

The man says nothing, only hands him a check and picks up his purchase.

"Sir." The boy's voice stops him as he reaches for the door. "I'm sorry about your friend."

He turns back.

"It was all a long time ago."

As the man leaves the store the clerk thinks he hears him humming, an odd tune that startles him. It's an Italian melody that his grandfather used to sing to him when he was a child, a song he learned from a private who saved his life once in the war. He hasn't thought of it in years but he's certain it's the melody and shakes his head. It must be more common a tune than he thought, and the old man must have picked it up years ago.

It's just a song, after all.