Division

“When they ask, your gun jammed.”

Michael’s words are so softly spoken that my ears struggle to hear; and even when the words do register, I think I’ve misunderstood him. “What?” I hiss, confused.

His eyes flicker from the guard and back to mine. “They’ll want to know why you didn’t make the kill,” he says silently. “You have to be ready with an explanation.”

I’m aghast, and lean in towards Michael. “But – I can’t lie to Division!” I tell him, my voice a terrified whisper. “They’ll know!”

He shakes his head slightly, a tiny movement. His expression is sober, his gaze staring off into the distance, fixed on a point I can’t recognise. “And if they discover you couldn’t kill the target, what then?”

I swallow, the full weight of what I’ve done slamming home. I couldn’t pull the trigger. My target was at my mercy, knelt before me, begging for his life… and I couldn’t do it. Michael’s right, of course – if Division finds out, they’ll have no use for me. According to the government, I don’t exist – so they’ll be no problem in getting rid of me.

Heavy footsteps break me from my horrified thoughts. They crash down the corridor and the cell door flies open. The burly man standing there completely fills the doorway, scowling down at me from the ceiling.

“Bring the girl,” he grunts. The guard who’s been watching us grabs me. His hand is a vice around my arm, yanking me off my feet and out of the cell.

My last thought is to look back for Michael, for an answer, for some kind of reassurance. His dark eyes bore into mine, as serious as I’ve ever seen him. His chin dips in a nod just as the cell door slams shut, and I am left alone with the guard – and a decision to make.

Do I lie or do I confess? Exactly how far can I trust Division?

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Major

“Why is this so important?” I bark, frustrated at Sadie’s erratic behaviour.That girl has been acting weird all week, and now she demands to be taken to the Major for no reason. “Is there something wrong, Private? Some complaint that can’t go through your commanding officer?”

“Nothing’s wrong with me, I’m fine!” She hollers back, but her skin is flushed and she wears the look of a cornered animal. “Just let me go, for god’s sake. I need to see the Major.”

Even as she speaks I’m shaking my head, rejecting her crazy offer before it gets too far. “No way in hell. Not unless you tell me what’s going on.” I plant my staff firmly between my feet, standing in her path. “Private, something is clearly amiss. You’ve been acting odd ever since Ravenglass. You know I can’t have you in the field if you’re a liability.”

Staring down at her feet, she scuffs her shoes. I can tell she’s upset – her bottom lip overhanging, her eyes narrowed. Whatever the problem is, it’s clearly a big one. This is far from normal behaviour. “I’m not a liability,” she spits, her inner soldier recoiling at the insult. “Just let me see Major!”

“Why?” I demand, taking a step closer. I can see every fibre inside Sadie stretch, the muscles in her neck shivering with tension. And then something inside her snaps. Her head jerks up, chin outthrust, eyes burning and it’s impossible to look away.

“Because I love her!” she shouts in my face. I’m frozen in shock, expecting any answer other than this. Sadie reads the disturbed expression in my face and her jaw hardens.

“I know that there’s no future in this. I know about her husband, family, whatever. I know all that.” She swallows, her words rushing together. It seems to me like she’s never said this aloud before.

“I’ll never bother her with my problems. It’s a crush, that’s all it’s ever been – all it’ll ever be.” Sadie looks me in the eye, and I’m scared by how young she looks. Despite everything she’s been through, this – attachment – makes her seem like a child. “Let me see her. I know she’s injured, but I’ve heard enough rumours to be scared for her life. Let me go and put my mind at rest.”

I stare at my soldier. I never knew. Slowly, I take paper and pencil, scrawling her a note. While I write she’s as tense as a bowstring, seemingly terrified of receiving an insanity order. When I hand the note to Sadie, her eyes skim the words and then flash up to mine. The ocean of relief and expectation in her face is enough to sink me. I never knew, I never guessed.

My girl turns to leave, clutching the note like it’s solid gold, and I automatically bark at her. “Private!” Normally I would follow with a reprimand – something along the lines of, ‘I dismiss you, not the other way round’, and then a suitable punishment – but I my throat closes around the words.

“Sadie.” I’ve never addressed her with her first name before, and she turns back with startled eyes. “Stay as long as you need. I’ll make sure they don’t miss you.” Her watery smile speaks of a thousand thank-yous, and she nods gratefully before disappearing.

As she goes I wonder why I said that. I seem to be softening in my old age, like rotting fruit. Soon I’ll be a good-for-nothing old sap . But it was something about the way she spoke – the awful, awful loneliness of it. She’d locked herself into a cell with those feelings, and no-one knew better than herself that she was doomed. I hope that she receives some relief from seeing the Major, even if she can be no more than a Private to her.

The Storm I Dreamt Of

I stare out at the city in ruins, the streets piled high with stinking rubbish and bodies. Flies move in swarms, devouring rotting food and flesh alike. The sun winks off a million shards of broken glass that line the sidewalks. To the west, thick black smoke rises sluggishly from the Court of Justice. We are the law now, and the scum cower in their homes. This is my world. I am the ruler of this city. But I can’t find the bloodlust I had before.

Arms wrap around my waist, a sharp chin on my shoulder. I breathe in Kit’s perfume, pressing into her embrace, reaching for her body. I want her comfort, I want to feel – something. Her sly voice whispers in my ear. “Look at it. Isn’t it wonderful?” I look, and can’t feel the wonder she does.

“It’s chaos.” My voice sounds empty, even to my own ears.

Kit laughs, her hot breath against my scalp. “It’s the storm you always dreamt of,” she murmurs, pressing her lips into my neck. She’s right. I’ve wanted this ever since I was a child. Having nothing makes you greedy, and in me it created a thirst for power and wealth. As I grew older I grew stronger, more ambitious.

My bitterness grew as I watched the rich, owning more money than they could ever need, while they pushed the rest of us into starvation. There was a storm brewing, gathering on the horizon, burning inside my heart. I vowed revenge on everyone that pushed me down, on the corrupt and powerful and selfish.

But this city – a burning hulk, spread out beneath my feet like a map – this lawless anarchy is out of my control. I thought that I’d created this storm, but now it’s taken possession of me and I am lost. This city is wild, power-crazy, and more people die every day. Their bodies rot on the streets and in houses behind boarded up windows. There is no rich or poor, there are no good and evil. It has become a war between the people – each man for himself. The heartbeat of the city is the constant throbbing of gunshots.

Kit’s warm hands reach for the buttons of my dress, her calloused palm sliding over my stomach. I’m so numb. No guilt; no triumph; no regret. The war is won, but I’m so lost. My hands itch to tear my skin from my bones, just to feel the pain, just to embrace the ache. Kit pulls my dress off my shoulders, her tongue tracing bare skin. I want to feel her. I need the heat of her skin on mine.

I surrender, closing my eyes so that I can’t see the hell I brought to earth.

A Victory

We won.

The battlefield is littered with bodies, my enemies and my allies sleeping in each others deathly embrace, their blood mixing and soaking into the dark soil. I walk through the carnage, drifting. My head is curiously floaty; I feel as though my feet aren’t touching the earth.

I stride towards their so-called king. His power is gone now, the spell over his men rotted to dust. I felt it die. We all did – the moment his magic was broken, he was no longer a indestructible god. Just a boy.

He makes a weak figure, kneeling in the soft earth, head bowed in humility. My warriors – my brave, courageous soldiers – begin to follow me as though they’re in a dream. They can’t believe it either.

As I approach, I call out to the man. “It’s over, Saito. You’ve lost everything. Swear allegiance to me, and I will spare your life.”

He raises his head, his eyes venomous. “Never,” he hisses, and hacks a glob of phlegm into the soil by his feet. His expression of vindictive fury manages to raise goose flesh on my arms, and I am infinitely glad he no longer has use of his magic. The pain he wishes to cause me is gouged into the lines in his face, and he surges towards, his hand whipping out to smack into my head.

He can move no more than a couple of inches before his invisible bonds tighten, and he gasps in pain and his chest is crushed. He collapses again, clutching his throat.

“Fuck you…” He mutters weakly, and the molten golden sunset illuminates the tears running down his cheeks. “Fuck you.” He begins to scream, his voice a shriek, making the vultures and crows echo him in a discordant caccofany. “Just bloody well take it! Take everything I have! Take it all, you foul witch! You’ll never be queen!” His words do not effect me. I know what I have done; and I know what I must do. Instead of appearing frightened, my warriors simply look disgusted at his desperate shrieks. “My people will rise up against you, my people will take revenge! Don’t sleep easy, bitch, they’ll be after you! They’ll take your body. They – they’ll slaughter your children!”

His last comment is too far, and my anger automatically cause my fingers tighten around my sword.The steel that was meticulously polished the night previous is now rusty with flaking blood. He does not flinch at the weapon, despite his tears, and I admire him for this.

“I’ll ask you again,” the anger in my tone frustrates me. I need to be strong; not let the weak jibe of a defeated boy rile me. “Do you swear admit defeat and swear allegiance to me?”
His answer is short and bitter. “Kill me. I will never live under your rule.”

“So be it.”

I hate this perverse joy I have in his death. There should be no happiness in this situation: I cannot let myself stoop as low as him, this twisted less-than-human who delights in pain. Still, as my soldiers push him forward, bowing his naked neck, I attempt to justify my emotions.

“You can never again hurt an innocent man.” I raise my sword, the golden red of the sunlight gleaming on the blade.

He speaks so quietly that it takes me several moments to unravel the meaning from his words, and in those vital moments it is too late.

In one swift movement, I slice downwards. My blade meets resistance, but momentum carries it on and it bites through his neck completely. His head rolls away across the black dirt, his mouth still open around his last words
“As much as youllretend differently, you and me are the same.”

Aircraft

As the planes droned overhead the people looked up, their faces upturned like daisies, drinking in the sunlight. But the expressions on their faces were of pure terror, and screams filled the streets.
“They’re here!”
“They’ve come! The planes are flying!”
Some people turned and ran, trying to get away, but there was no way to run from the aircraft. There was no time. Everything was too late. Others dived into the arms of their loved ones, holding their sisters and fathers and sons and granddaughters tightly, whispering platitudes to them, reassuring them they they are loved and always will be. The streets were loud with liquid fear, spilling down the streets, the sound of screams and tears and approaching death.
One by one, the crouching planes released their fatal cargo. The bombs turned in the air, flying end over end. The pilots watched from the heavens, like god, as the map of the city was torn apart by craters. They smiled, turned the planes around and flew home, satisfied with a job well done.
On the ground, there was silence. No dogs howled or people screamed. No cars drove or buses squealed. The noise of humanity had been silenced.
Rubble filled the streets. Buildings lay topped, lampposts dented, shards of broken glass lying on concrete.
And the people – the brothers and mothers, the daughters and grandsons – lay mixed in with the rubble, their bodies broken like a dolls that a child no longer cares for.