*See what I did there?
Yesterday’s impression – and I don’t do impressions – was correct: the eighth installment was a good place to stop. However, I’d already written most of this last, and did not want it to go to waste. I’ve even seen a little beyond it, one of the dangers of writing, but Gary & Henge’s micro-story is at a close. For now. The coda, below, features Faustina, who, sooner than later, will have her own book.
What’s – or rather – who’s next in my Machine Civilization Dreams series…?
Reaching the top of the hill just west of home they paused to catch their breath. After a count of ten, Gary’s father moved them out.
“Guys! Wait! *cough* *cough!*” Faustina was fifty yards behind them, her arms holding her pack straps.
“No,” their father said, turning away and walking briskly down the road. Gary followed.
He wanted to protect his little sister, but was older that the best way – now – to do that was demonstrate that while she might have been as tough as the nine year-old version of him, given puberty, she didn’t have a chance against his early teen body.
And, the difference would only grow wider.
Still, he did look back. She just made it to the top of the hill. He could not tell if she was spitting a lot or had thrown up.
“No one left behind?” Gary ventured.
“No women in combat,” his father replied, marching.
“Nurses at an overrun aid station?”
His father stopped.
“Three minutes. Take a little water.”
Gary drew his canteen and rolled the water about his mouth before swallowing it, as he’d been trained. His sister was loping to catch up before they moved on without her.
“Try as she might,” he heard his father breathe, “she’ll never be like her namesake. She must come to realize that before she puts herself in a situation that kills her.”
“I understand, Father.” Gary said. He stowed his canteen. “We go?”
They resumed their walk down the road. In four minutes they would be running again.
Gary’s father had taken his PT routine and modified first for his son and later his daughter, revising it as they grew older. This, their march – a combination of run and walk – had been two, five, and now ten miles, over the years.
Once Leslie began to understand the changes that the others had made to his children, he grit his teeth at the thought, he knew he had to push them, lest they think themselves better than…
Normal kids. Dammit!
“Time to run.”
“She’s almost caught up, Father…”
“Run!” He called over his shoulder.
Gary looked back, seeing the despair in his sister’s eyes. She lowered her head and began to run.
Three quarters of an hour later, Gary leaned against the post of their mail box. His pack to his right, just by their gravel drive, and his rifle to his left, in the grass. His legs were spread sixty degrees apart and his chest was heaving. They’d never run the last mile, before.
Ah. He heard her.
He lolled his head to the left, bringing his canteen up. About three mouthfuls left. He took one and lowered it.
“…run!… run!… run!…”
Faustina came up the low rise on the road south of their land. At a run… but a slow one.
Faustina! He felt as if his chest would burst from his love and pride for his sister.
She staggered to a halt right in front of him.
What was that?
She shed her pack and rifle in a smooth motion as she fell to her hands and knees.
“…water…” She managed.
Gary held out his canteen.
She crawled the two yards and took it.
She drank and wiped her mouth.
“Thank you.” She panted.
He leaned back against the post. His little sister crawled up next to him and laid her face onto his chest.
“You’ve made your point.” She whispered.
Gary ran his fingers through her long, dark hair. Resting his hand onto her would have made her warmer, which she did not need.
“Father. You.” Her breathing was just now returning to normal. “I’ll never be like Aunt Fausta. Even with my modifications, I’m just a simple human girl.”
“You… think that’s bad?” Gary didn’t understand.
She put her left hand onto his chest to push her head up.
“Big brother, you’re as connected as I am, but you’re not very smart.” Faustina said. “Our other family are like gods! Don’t you want to be like them?”
Gary thought about his decade with his best friend; someone he could no longer imagine living without.
“They’re not gods, dear sister, and as many times as my girlfriend has cried in my arms there, I don’t think they are to be envied.”
She shook her head, her turquoise eyes dull.
“You don’t understand anything.”
True, he thought, troubled by what she’d just said. He’d heard about Aunt Fausta’s early unhealthy obsession with Mother’s sister, and he’d lived through Pavel’s madness….
He watched as his little sister rolled onto her back in the grass, staring at the sky. Her breathing still a little ragged.
He’d heard two of the P-kids were a bit maladjusted. The work-around had been for Henge’s family to deny them access. Would they have to take such a step for my –
“Kids!” Their mother shouted from the front porch. “Come up here for cold drinks and a snack!”
“Gross!” Faustina wretched slightly at the idea of food.
“Yeah. But we need liquids.” Gary stood. He slung his rifle over his shoulder and picked up both of their packs. Taking her rifle would have been insulting to them both.
He held out his right to her.
She opened her eyes just a fraction. The late afternoon sun seemed to rekindle them. She reached up.
In an instant, they were nose to nose.
“I envy Henge,” she said.
“Don’t.” Gary replied. “Henge envies you.”
He watched her face fall. One emotion quickly chased another.
“Do you really think she has a soul?”
“Think?” He paused long enough for Faustina to retrieve her rifle. She watched him almost smile.
She broke into a grin.
“That’s my big brother!”
Not at all sure about the long exchange between her two children, Callie had to blink the moisture in her eyes away when they abruptly turned to the house, arms about the other’s shoulders, walking up the hill toward home.