The orbital bombardment was miles away but the tremors still shook the burnt out carcasses of the broken buildings. There was nothing worth shelling in the city anymore, there was barely enough for the few scavenging refugees who had slunk back in.
Ryan was kneeling on the floor in front of Samantha. They were sequestered in a half-collapsed hotel and he paused as concrete shards and dust pattered down from the cracked ceiling. When the trembling ceased he carefully held the plastic spoon up to her mouth and pushed the purée past her lips. Her eyes flickered while she slup slupped at the mush and her head jerked as she swallowed convulsively, but at least it was going down.
When the jar was empty he licked the spoon clean and sat it on top of the case of baby food, their last case, half empty already. They would have to move on soon, but it simply wasn’t safe for them to go out.
Ryan stroked her head. A fuzz of dark hair had re-grown everywhere on her scalp except the rucked skin of the scar that ran from just above her left temple down to the nape of her neck. The scar was still thick, pink, but not as livid as it had been.
“We might have to make a run for it, Sam. We'll see who’s around come nightfall.”
He kissed her on the forehead.
“You have to drink something too. Sorry.”
He carefully tilted her chin back and held the bottle to her lips. He let a little trickle out, so she knew what was coming, then carefully poured a little more. It was a drawn out process, with more convulsive gulping, and the occasional weak choke when he timed it wrong, or tried to pour too much at once.
He wiped her chin dry with a piece of cloth torn from his spare shirt, and carefully untucked another rag he was using as a bib. He leant forward and rested his head on her shoulder. He stayed there a moment, holding one of Samantha’s hands in his own, then he sighed deeply and stood up.
He hung the rags of shirt up to dry before carefully making his way into the adjoining room. The curtains were drawn, but he had purposefully left a gap he could peer through. He couldn’t risk twitching the material; there was no glass, but there was no wind either and someone might notice the movement.
It was dangerous, leaving his lookout position to feed Sam, but it had to be done. It was worse at night. He barely managed a few hours sleep when exhaustion dragged him down, but it was fitful and his paranoia dragged him back up soon afterwards. He worried he was disturbing Sam, too, with his angry, futile nightmares. If she could be disturbed.
The rumble of another distant round of bombardment washed through the streets. The city quaked and cried its tears of grey. And something crept under the crumbling of masonry; somebody was using the disturbance for cover. Ryan had got used to the feel of the city, and it suddenly felt wrong.
One of the shadows in the building opposite was trying too hard to be a shadow. It was subtle, but he had that unsettled feeling that looking at optic camo often generated. Civilians would put it down to something in their eye, heat haze, imagination, but Ryan wasn’t a civilian.
He stepped cautiously back from the window and slipped his combat knife from his ankle sheath, holding it so the blade was below his fist, edge forward.
He crept towards the open doorway. No door made it harder to sneak up on him, and there was definitely someone sneaking out there. Several someones. He heard the quiet shffing of their clothes, the soft, sliding steps of their careful approach. They stopped.
A deep voice echoed down the corridor.
“Lieutenant Ryan Andrews.”
The spotter must have told them he had moved away from the window, that he knew they were coming.
“Surrender and she lives.”
Dismissed, by Pete Newman.
Dismissed, by Pete Newman.
(spot the shameless self-promotion... Dismissed is the first story not written by me to go live on my drabble project: 101 Fiction. Please go check it out, it's a fantastic, tiny slice of surreal fiction. And say hello! ^_^ )
And in case you missed it, I blogged yesterday about 101F and about my forthcoming anthology, including a glimpse at the very-much-in-progress cover design - comments and critiques welcome. =)