Thursday, July 8, 2010

All's Fair

On an alien world, underneath the artificial light of energy weapons and cheap ballistic tracers, two abandoned humans find comfort in the arms of each other. Each a soldier in separate allied armies of a coalition, both were caught behind their respective salients when an enemy counterattack forced an all-out retreat. The timing of the ground attack coincided with a surgical elimination of orbiting communications satellites and a dispersion of the friendly fleet.

They've survived together for more than two weeks, and hopes of rescue are fading. The atmosphere here is breathable, but only for short periods, and their scavenging of oxygen from fallen comrades is resulting in fewer and fewer usable tanks. Virtually cut off from existence, they begin to believe they're all that's left of their homeworld. The Boy, for he is barely 20 years old, hails from Madrid and speaks little English. The Girl, for she is just over 21, hails from Korea and speaks even less English. But the two speak the same body language, and they find themselves surprisingly resilient. By the time their bodies are found when the coalition retakes the world, a military coroner make a disheartening discovery.

"Ah, damn." The Coroner has no vested interested in the dead woman, but the revelation affects him greatly.

"What is it?"

"This one was pregnant. Twins. About four months in."

The Assistant's reply seems cold, but her professionalism is merely a defense against sorrow. "They were down there that long?"

***

Sounds of guitar and piano fade away and guitarist and pianist stare at each other. The Guitarist has been in love with the Pianist since they met at university. Her boyfriend, though, frightened him to the point that he rarely talked to her then. But he's away with the French Foreign Legion fighting some fool's war. Serves him right, too. A stupid Arab in the French Army, stealing a Caucasian woman from France's pool of eligible Whites. But the Guitarist would never admit he feels that way. He needs to live the lie to win this one.

"I love you." The Guitarist may mean it, but he's not currently thinking with his head.

So far, so good. He studied as a composer after discovering that song-writing - in addition to playing - worked wonders for his bed count. He had long hoped the Pianist would succumb to his serenades, and with her boyfriend gone, she finally will.

"I love you." Heart wracked with guilt, the Pianist does mean it.

Of course, the Guitarist had to wait for her twin brother to deploy, as well, for even though the brother was not in the same unit as the boyfriend, there was a mutual respect of service. And the brother would not have stood for his sister's betrayal.

"It's okay. Quiet." Hands ready to play a different instrument entirely, he sits next to her on the bench.

All are gone, whether literally or figuratively. The sounds of guitar and piano fade away into a lustful song whose melody would result in many deaths, were it heard amid the din of battle.

***

Blood erupts from the Soldier's mouth as two medics check him for triage. "I... I need to get home."

One medic shakes his head, just barely out of the view of the dying infantryman, but the other medic pushes him away. In all likelihood, the second medic would have concurred and moved on to the next casualty, but this one happens to be a drinking buddy. He deserves the chance to live. And the Medic deserves the chance to save him. A brotherhood formed beyond the constraints of family... of blood. Too many friends already gone. They both need this.

Mortar fire hits danger close and the first medic leaves in a hurry. Burning dirt stings the back of the Medic's neck and there's little question that the enemy on the other side of the ridge has them sighted in. The next blast will be the last thing both men hear.

"I need... to get home, doc." The Soldier has less than 90 days left on his tour before he'd be allowed to rotate home on 30-days leave. Those 30 days were to be packed with last-minute planning, rehearsals, and a walk down the aisle with the woman he's loved for the past seven years. They already have children - twin boy and girl - from a moment of unrequited passion before he shipped out over nine months ago. "She's waiting."

The Medic starts to cry. He nods, injects the Soldier with an overdose of Morphine and some new-fangled synthetic painkiller. "I'll get you home."

There's just enough time to see the Soldier smile before dashing away from the next mortar.

***

"General?" The Woman addresses him hesitantly. The entire situation is hesitant, however, and no one thinks less of her for it. A hardened life has aged her quickly in the past five years. Still beautiful, still proud, she nevertheless shows the wear of her heart in her eyes, her smile, her laughter... when they manage to brighten.

"Yes, m'lady?" He is relatively young for a general, having taken quite a youthful appreciation of the art - and act - of war. The progenitor of a large family, he is no family man. But this exchange is of the most serious nature. And that his son - the father of the twins he accepts from the woman - is away at war leaves the General responsible for the arrangements.

"Please care for them." She can't bring herself to look at her infant son and daughter, wrapped comfortably in warm blankets and carried away by dutiful midwives.

"They are my grandchildren, m'lady. There will be no other option." He smiles, genuinely, though he fears she doesn't believe it. His reputation as a ruthless commander is well known. And certainly known by his son's affair.

"Richard and Matilda." The words are forced out quickly. She is very much ready to succumb to violent heartbreak. She knows her children will not remember this day, but she refuses to let even the impression of their last memory of her be one of sorrow.

"M'lady?" The General oversees the midwives mounting their heavily armored carriage and turns to face the Woman.

"Their names, General." She spins away from him, aware of escaping tears. "It's their names."

The General watches as the Woman runs to her attendant and mounts her horse. He smirks for a moment. She's always been outgoing, according to gossip. And that characteristic apparently extends to the way she rides. Like a warrior towards the sound of battle. Although, he reflects as she begins to trot away, perhaps that is what this is to her. An everlasting fight to leave this spot; this exchange borne of false chivalry and propriety.

"M'lady." He rarely yells, save for in the thick of a fray. She doesn't pause her retreat, but he knows she can hear him. "They will know you. They will know your name."

A quick flick of a horsewhip and the Woman gallops away with her entourage.

***

"They are wicked siblings, are they not?" It is a moonless night, and the Speaker wishes not to be seen. Light would have revealed little but an expressionless face.

The Listener merely nods. The two have known each other long enough to understand their unique nuance of the unspoken.

"Was it John Lyly?"

Another nod.

"It's a good quote, even if misquoted. Apropos, all the same." The Speaker looks up to where the moon should be and silently misses its presence. It seems forever since she's shone here.

Still another nod.

"I prefer this one." The Speaker inhales, preparing himself for a properly intoned oration. "A heat full of coldness, a sweet full of bitterness, a pain full of pleasantness, which maketh thoughts have eyes, and hearts, and ears; bred by desire, nursed by delight, weaned by jealousy, killed by dissembling, buried by ingratitude; and this is love."

Another nod. "And, let's not forget..." The Listener's voice almost shocks the Speaker. "... war."

It is the Speaker's turn to nod. "Ugly twins, they are."

8 comments:

  1. nice vignettes jeff...took me a minute when you made that first jump as i was wondering where this was going...like a jewel each facet appeciated, even more together...nicely done.

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  2. I enjoyed each of these individually, especially the first. But I can't figure out if they are meant to hang together or be read as unrelated looks at war.

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  3. i'm as confused as the others, but if it's meant to be a look at the individual faces of war, the people we never see and will never know, then it is beautiful.

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  4. All's fair in love and war . . although you know I disagree. Then your closing quote certainly fits both. I love these, all connected but so different and the potential to expand them if you choose. Being an erstwhile horsewoman, I did wince a little at the thought of galloping off soon after giving childbirth . .

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  5. I'm taking them as individual pieces with a common thread because all are bound together in war.

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  6. I've been reading and re-reading. With the commonality of twins in each vignette, I'm trying to piece them together. At first I thought that maybe it was a story told out of sequence, but then that doesn't work with the Korean woman dying while pregnant. Then I started thinking that you were doing snap-shots of war, with twins as your thread. I'm still confused, but I don't necessarily see that as a bad thing. I feel like each of these sections could be expanded upon. I'm especially intrigued by the first one. How war can make us instantly intimate, united in danger. Love the title you gave this.

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  7. Jeff:

    Twins & War? Interesting and confusing-- Most people, the older we get, the more closed-minded we become, and the more structure dependent. Are these unrelated different versions of a theme running through your head? If you were going to write a novel with this type of structure -- it would actually work and be quite interesting and an intriguing read, a screen play or movie - it would not.
    Like Baino ditto to her comment about the horse back riding. Other then that, you always manage to engage your reader, and have a good command of weaving a story.
    joanny

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  8. I see why my piece made you think of this one, Jeff. It fits.

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