Today’s short story is part of a series inspired while writing my science fiction novel. It’s a chance for me to explore what other characters in my world would be doing both during and post apocalypse. Hope you enjoy my free short stories. Please share, tweet, and talk about my work. I look forward to your feedback.
Today’s story, The Soldier, goes along with “Infinite White” on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen by Steve Jablonsky.
Smoke and greasy green mist slung along the folds of the earth. Slime become air. Over the mud–brick wall, the artillery rounds flash, man–made lightning followed by man–made thunder as the rounds thump, thump, thump. Inside the compound nothing stirs except the soldier and the wind.
The soldier‘s hands are encased in clumsy gloves, taped around the wrists to seal them to the MOPP suit. It is hard to hold the pen, but she does. She balances on one foot, awkwardly fat in her heavy gear. She braces her other foot against the wall and uses the writing desk of her thigh. She squints in the pre–dawn gloom.
Her notebook is small and she turns it sideways to sketch the lay out, labeling as she goes.
Crossing the yard from the breech to the main house, she kicks a body obscured in the gas fog. A dog. They hate dogs, but here it is. Maybe in its last frantic moments it sought human solace. Maybe it just got lost.
Her com crackles, pours the disgruntled voice of the security commander into her ear. He‘s full of questions: “How much longer‘s this gonna take? What you find? We need to call for back up?”
“As long as it takes. Nothing I can say over the com and no.”
She turns back to her work, pushing into the guest house. There is a body behind the door. She rolls it over. The thin bare arm flops, fingers raise a cloud of dust as they drop, striking the ground.
It takes three tries to thumb open an eye. The soldier curses the gear that protects her from the gas that killed this child. Sweat in her face and she can‘t do a thing about it.
The pupil is cloudy and the white is the warm yellow–orange of a sunny side up egg. She adds a tick to her tally. She won‘t think about how this child is the age of her own. She won‘t notice the mother‘s body, curled in a futile attempt to shelter her baby. The baby is pale, skin marbled with blue veins of useless blood. Mother and baby are just more ticks on a tally sheet.
Over the com the security commander grumbles about ‘the bleeding heart humani–fucking–tarians‘. They‘re wasting everyone‘s time. There‘s no reason to count the dead. No one will claim them.
The killer chemicals are designed to rapidly breakdown in the environment. They speed the decomposition process and are themselves quickly rendered inert as they interact with the dust, the smoke, the sand of this last, worst place. Clean up is literally a breeze in most cases.
The soldier counts her tick marks. Outside the compound the mortars fall silent. She can see the glow of dawn illuminating the wall through the window. Surprised, she checks her watch, but it‘s obscured by layers of latex and tape.
“Hey, what time is it?” she asks the com. The verbose security commander has been rendered mute. She tries again, but gets nothing. She fumbles at the neck of her suit, trying to change the channel from 3 to 4, but the button eludes her overgloved hands.
The soldier is angry now. She does not want to be here, counting these dead people. She didn‘t ask for this assignment. The security commander has no right to ignore her. She wants to scream at him, make him take her and her job seriously.
Just because she‘s never shot someone doesn‘t make her less of a soldier. He‘s deliberately breaking communication protocol and she‘ll…what? Report his sorry ass? Oh, dear! Anything but that. He‘ll sneer and later, with his buddies, they‘ll laugh at her futile rage.
She steps out of the breech and looks around. The security commander sits in his vehicle, back to her. She storms over, MOPP boots squishing noisily with each step, her face reddening, her fatly gloved hands clenching into boxer‘s mitts.
“Hey, what the-”
He‘s dead. So is his driver. So are the others. The blood runs unclotting from nose, ears, eyes. If she looks at his lap she will see it pooling there as well.
The flash, the light. It wasn‘t dawn. It was retaliation.
The soldier looks around. Nothing stirs, nothing lives. Only the soldier and her tick marks remain.