Image Credit: Reddit User Muziklover
“Storm’s comin,” I say.
“Yep,” says Oak.
We are cold, but we won’t build a fire. We are hungry, but we won’t hunt.
“How long?” I say.
“No tellin’,” says Oak.
He sits on a wet log in the middle of a field, as far from trees and what used to be utility poles as he can get. I sit next to him. He’s older than me, and more experienced, and higher ranking, but at this point, it doesn’t fucking matter.
He has taken his rifle apart six times.
He’s nervous. I don’t like it when he’s nervous. I’m supposed to be nervous. I’m supposed to be green and pissing in my boots and getting advice. He’s supposed to be salty and seasoned and spitting tobacco in the face of danger.
He cleans nonexistent dirt out of his rifle, scrubbing the inside until I’m afraid he might affect the integrity of the barrel.
As if it could possibly make any difference.
I watch him, cleaning endlessly, just needing something to do, and wonder how long it will take for us to die.
A year ago I didn’t wonder shit like this. I didn’t wonder how long it would take to die because I didn’t think I would. We had a squad then, and platoons and battalions and brigades and an army. We had weapons and uniforms and training centers and we were winning.
We were winning.
What the fuck happened.
He puts the rifle back together. Scopes it. Puts it down. Sighs. Picks it up. Begins to disassemble.
“What if they get here and your weapon’s in twenty pieces?”
He ignored me.
It’d be faster, is what he’s thinking.
I’ll never forget the first time the sky opened up. I was stationed with Charlie-Seven-Two-Delta down south of the fringe line. We were piloting drones built by engineers trained at RireTech and Yars. They had robots that looked like a seventh grader’s science project. They just knew they would win, like toddlers playing hide and seek with their parents, sure we would pretend not to see them until they could run out and touch base.
We were a defensive position, so we waited. That’s all we did. We weren’t scared or even a little nervous. We were highly trained and highly equipped and they wouldn’t attack us. It would have been suicide. We drank cold beer and ate warm meat and slept whenever we wanted.
The post cried out late one evening. We scrambled out of bed and went outside and he was on fire. He screamed as he burned and fled from the camp and fell down in a field and died.
It was raining, big, heavy, needle like drops that stung as they came down. Lightning struck a mile away, then half a mile, then in our camp. It hit a soldier next to me who shook and smoldered and fell down and didn’t get back up.
Some ran into the fields and the lightning found them.
Some ran into the trees and the lightning found them.
I ran into a tunnel with half the squad and the captain. The lightning didn’t find us.
How they managed to make the storm, we never found out. Whether they made the lightning or simply controlled it, we never knew. All we knew was that it took them less than six months to completely obliterate our entire army, without losing a single drone, without us ever seeing a single soldier.
The burned our country to the ground.
All we wanted was to make people happy. We had medicines and literacy and progress. We had real food and technology. We weren’t trying to ruin their lives, we were trying to help them.
His gun is back together.
He sets it in his lap this time, arm resting on it gently, and looks up at the sky.
Drops of rain hit his face. Soft, warm drops, the kind that make you want to open your mouth and drink the pure heavens.
He closes his eyes and breathes deep and knows that it’s over, but he will try. He will fire his gun into the clouds as if he can stop the lightning.
We have come above ground to die.
Six months before the war a group of settlers died on Pantoa. They said we poisoned their food. We were trying to help them not poison them. Of course we’re going to test vaccines before we distribute them to the entire population.
Seven hundred and fifty-two children died.
Eleven million took up arms.
How could we lose? We were superior in every way.
All it took was one, I suppose. One to figure out how to control the sky. One to figure out how to defeat an empire.
There are two of us left, now. They are hunting us with a vengeance that goes far beyond the desire for freedom. They are already free. They need retribution. They probably have their children’s photographs taped next to the button that controls the lightning and the storm. We are payment for the debt.
The drops are falling harder now, growing colder, beginning to burn.
I stand and drop my rifle into the mud. I am tired of running. I am tired of being chased. I am tired of paying for something I didn’t do.
I walk out into the field as the rain burns into my skin and a bolt of lightning strikes ground a mile away. I stretch my arms to the side, close my eyes, and raise my face to the heavens.
They have won their freedom.
I can hear it charging. I can feel the heat.
The fire is coming.