Title from a song from the band, Chvrches. They’re pretty good. Look ’em up.
Finally wrapping things up from this battle. There’s still much to be discovered: past and present. And: here and somewhere else. I pray I can see more through these shadows to write more. For those of you that swing that way, pray for me.
No one leaves comment! Is it broken? I shall try from my wife’s laptop, Togame, and see.
Below the fold? I see dead people.
[edited; because I’m sober, now]
“Defiant” – Episode 28, Part 4
Gil wiped the back of his hand across his eyes to get some of the sweat out. The air was cool, but with the sun directly overhead, pick, shovel, and masonry work to repair the fort’s walls was hot work. His crew was just about finished: there had been two breaches that needed to be closed before they could even begin to consider their situation ‘under control.’ He looked about. By now, what had looked like buckets of red paint thrown everywhere in the first light of morning, looked like buckets of brown. Blood, everywhere.
Right after the rockets came another human-wave attack, but from the south and west, just like their captain predicted. Only a few on horseback, and the defenders quickly learned why: when the second rider with overloaded saddlebags got to the wall, he’d detonated, blowing open a partial hole.
Equestrian suicide bombers. Gil so badly wanted to wake up from this nightmare. A nightmare made worse when the cacophony of explosions from the dam reached their ears. He and his militia mates looked at each other in horror: did they blow up the dam?
Did they blow up her?! Gil thought.
By nightfall, the enemy was on the walls; there had been another wall breach at some point, but with shells falling all about them – most, but not all of them, outside the fort; was the enemy that bad a shot? – he’d not noticed. It was just one more explosion among hundreds.
In the first hint of color in the eastern sky, the fighting was hand-to-hand. Gil had run out of cartridges sometime around 0200. Only three of the militiamen had rifles with bayonets. He’d carefully laid down his battle rifle and drew his katana. For just a second he grimaced as he recalled overhearing what Captain Muller muttered days ago: ‘this is not the 21st Century I was expecting.’
“Militiamen!” The yell of the local sergeant pulled him back to the present. Brown, everywhere.
He and the other remaining three turned to see what they’d be doing next.
“Good job, men!” The fort’s NCO called. “Take three hours for food and rest! There’ll be plenty of more work later!”
Gil sighed. He brushed his hand over his shoulder to make sure his sword was still there and he put his pick and shovel over his shoulder and took a few steps towards the sergeant.
“If it’s allowed, I’ll be heading over to the dam,” he asked, meaning to leave anyway.
With a hard nod, the sergeant looked left.
“Let’s clear it with our officers, Haven.”
As the two walked over to Blaine and Muller, Gil heard the scraping and muttering from behind him, punctuated by a loud “eff this!” from Brunelli. With a glance over his right shoulder, he saw first the other three militia, then the remainder of the cavalry troop get their tools and move towards the gate. To go get their mascot.
Muller and Blaine were going over some lists on paper when Muller’s troop came up. For just a moment his eyes registered surprise. Seeing their equipment more than weapons, he understood.
“Men!” Muller called sharply. “We seem to be missing one of our own! Scout Reilly! What the hell can you tell me about this?!”
Gil had forgotten what a smile was.
“Sir!” Reilly called, bringing himself to attention with a salute, for once. “I apologize for my stupidity! I seem to have left something over at the dam! Request permission to retrieve it!”
Muller returned his salute.
“You think you need what’s left of the troop to get this back?” Muller called.
“Sir! Yes, I do!” Reilly blinked and was quieter. “Yes, we do.”
“On your way then,” the captain said softly. “See her home.”
Blaine and Muller watched them depart out the main gate. We were eighteen plus six plus one when we got here. He counted fifteen leaving for the dam, now.
“Think they’ll be back by nightfall?” Blaine asked.
“They be back when they’ve her body, and not before.”
“You’ve good men. Even the militia.”
The trooper that had seen to Toast – who was safe – guided them through the rubble of the southeast side of the dam.
“Is it, the dam, okay?” Gil had asked him.
“Seems to be,” he replied. “Most of these offices were already deserted.” He waved about at the rubble. “The main control rooms are in the dam, itself. We’ve already checked them, and their fine.”
Gil nodded. Good for the City.
And if she’s gone, then to hell with the City. No! A person is a just a person! They’re trying to save Western Civ here!
He clenched at the wooden handles of the pick and shovel. He almost believed that. Their guide stopped and pointed.
“She went into the office block here, just before the turn north to the spillway.”
“Shit,” someone behind them muttered.
What had once been a two or three story structure was now a pile of rubble about a dozen feet high, stretching from the edge of the spillway back almost one hundred yards. Where to even begin, Gil thought? To find one body would take days… weeks….
“…full of Grace, the Lord is with Thee…”
What was that? Gil turned, surprised to see a bruiser like Brunelli on his knees, a Rosary from around his neck he’d never seen before clutched in his hand.
“…and blessed is the fruit of Thy womb, Jesus.”
Brunelli stood, with his eyes shut, his right hand holding his shovel high above his head.
“Holy Mary, pray for us sinners – and Nichole – now at the hour of her death!”
Gil was shocked to see such a badass crying freely. He kept his eyes shut and took steps forward in the rubble. To be expected, after only a few seconds, he lost his balance. His shovel came down with a clang. Brunelli hawked and spat.
“We dig here!” Which he proceeded to do. The rest of the regulars moved around him to tear at the rubble. After only a moment’s hesitation, the militia did, as well.
Gil was not religious, thinking it all a con. But this was the first time in his life he’d caught a glimpse of the transcendent.
Christ, God, who-the-hell ever! He thought. Let us take her home! He swung his pick again.
The sun was once again close to touching the top of the mountain. Brunelli and Reilly had never let up. Everyone else would take a break for about ten minutes for every sixty; they didn’t, not even for water. They’d had to hollow out a cone in the debris as it kept shifting and falling inwards. Gil was on the spillway side, arranging some structural aluminum so it wouldn’t slide down. Shouldn’t they call it a night, soon? They’d no lights, so in an hour a pick or shovel would go right through –
He almost puked at the thought.
“ARM!” Brunelli shouted.
There was a moment of confusion as everyone tried to reach their pistols or rifles.
“You effing idiots!” Brunelli slurred though his missing teeth. “I’ve found her arm!”
While Gil remained frozen – from which, later, he would never forgive himself – two regulars leapt down next to Brunelli. He deftly used his shovel while those two used their gloved hands. Gil stared down in the waning light.
A right arm. Right side of a torso. Part of a right leg, twisted very badly; compound fracture. A head. A trooper gently held up about ten strands of strawberry-blonde hair.
“Haven!” Brunelli shouted.
His heart almost stopped.
“Down here, now!” Even Gil could hear Brunelli’s voice catch. “You’re carrying her out!”
So. They’d been noticed. For nothing, he thought, carefully making his way down the funnel of rubble to the three. Brunelli had tossed his shovel a few yards up, out, and away, and was using his hands, too.
“Gently.” He said.
They slowly freed the rest of her. Her left arm was also a compound fracture. Gil noted that her skin was torn; some sort of black mesh material was beneath it. One of the others was about to lift her head.
“Let me, please.” He said. The two looked to Brunelli who nodded. They leaned back slightly.
Gil put both hands behind her neck. He easily pulled the cords out with his left. He did not want to sully their memory of her with questions about what she was. Once that was done, he unconsciously drew her head up into his chest. He rested his head onto hers.
“Let’s give the man a minute,” Brunelli said. He gestured behind him. “We need to shore this up so he can carry her out!”
While they did that, Gil twirled his left hand a few times, wrapping up her cords, then putting them into one of his jacket pockets. The sudden silence told him they were ready.
He stood with her in his arms. He looked up out of the hollow. Those few that had hats took them off. The rest lowered their heads. Gil looked to the way out that’d been made. The footing was uneven, but he was able to make it to the top without incident. There, he let his breath out with a whoosh.
He looked down at her blank face.
“Now what?” He whispered. “Do you know how many people love you? Do you have any idea what you’ve done in five months?!”
He turned them both to look at the sunset behind Mount Hood.
“Joe’s alive only because you came here! I’m alive because you were helping the captains!”
He thought of the sixteen dead and everyone, literally everyone, injured after last night’s battle.
“Why you?” He started to lose it, a little. He didn’t see the others move away from him. “A civilian, out here on the dam…! Shit! You’re not… you’re not even hu-”
Gil grimaced. He used his left arm to lift her towards him. What was there to say?
He pressed his lips to hers, asbestos, dust, death, and all.
Nichole 5 Clarke awoke.
She opened her eyes. For just a split-second. She was older.
She closed them. She opened her mouth slightly as she moved her right arm to touch Gil’s back.