Monday, April 2, 2012

Desert Glory

Written Feb. 2

Lydia gasped in pain, wiping blood from her brow. Was it hers? She didn't know. It was only a little farther now, anyhow, and time was short. She could die, but later. Not now. She inched forward, well-armored knees, all but useless, plowing grooves into the sand.

Her vision wavered, black spots pulsating, threatening to swallow everything. The blood was hers, all right. She pushed through anyhow. Isn't this what she trained for, after all? What she had dedicated countless years to achieve? Not to mention the harassment of her male 'colleagues' (dead, long ago, in other conflicts, less meaningful, but who was left to care but her?). She had trained with the Monks since childhood, had yearned for the Abbot's approval all her life, had sacrificed her body and forged it to hardest steel. Had earned that approval, and finally the respect and admiration of the others, and the right to lead them. Had been chosen to serve her God, not just on any field of battle, but this one.

She closed her eyes; she could be glad she would not live to regret this fight. Too many men, good men, under her command, had died today. Jefferson and Kilpatrick and Andrews. Andrews had been the last, and the bravest, and the worst – she was already dead, it was the last enemy on the field, distracted by beating her bloody, and he could have done it, he could have followed orders, and done what they came to do, and let her die. He could have won it for them. And he had decided, despite her orders to the contrary, to save her, at the cost of his own life. She had forgiven him, of course. How could she not? Was it not God's will?

But none of it really mattered, in the end. Not the years, not the blood – not her blood, at least. All that mattered was the button. One little switch. And then she could die, but the rest would be safe. There it stood, unblemished in the chaos, like a rose, rising absurdly from the desert. She need only press.

There was a muffled tearing sound, and Lydia bit back a curse. Her sword belt – really a bandolier carrying all her various weapons – had been damaged in the skirmish, glanced by some brigand's blade before she'd split him throat to groin, and dragging it through the coarse sand with her chakram and daggers hanging on it had finally finished the garment. Too bad, she reflected, but she could make no more use of it anyway. Perhaps whoever found her corpse would take it and repair it, and would not use it for ill. She could hope so.

The blood, mixing with her sweat, dripped into her eyes, blinding her, and she dug at her eyes in a panic, getting sand and grit into them as well. It took a moment for her to calm herself and carefully clean away the obscuring mess. Her eyes still stung, but she could still see it. That was the important thing.

She reached the pedestal, but try as she might, from her prone position her fingers could not reach the button, not even the top of the pedestal. By God, was she tired. She could sleep for centuries, and soon she knew she would. But first she must prop herself up, and she grimaced for what would come next.

With nothing for support presenting itself, she gripped the pedestal itself. The smooth metal pole was strangely cool even in the desert heat, and she nearly wept in ecstasy in the sweet relief of it. Perhaps it was a sign – God's final blessing, a benediction for his most devoted daughter, who had given so much and seen so little reward (not that she would have ever asked for a reward in this life, oh no, that could come after). No matter. The coolness revived her, and she hauled herself up to a sitting position.

With every pull, pain shot up and down her body, and her vision swam. She knew her spine was broken, but it must have been lower than she had reckoned, for she could suddenly feel each of her ribs – most of them were broken, probably, and without a doubt she was bleeding internally was well as externally. God, if only the pain was a little less intense she could count them. Not that there was time for that. No, indeed. Only time enough for the button.

She could feel what little strength she had left leaving her. How long did she have before it was gone? Minutes, she thought, perhaps less. If she died now, she thought, no-one would blame her. No-one could blame her, because there would be nobody left, not on this piss-poor mudball of a planet.

But she knew then that God would judge her, for giving up, and that is what propelled her to almost a kneeling position, panting and fighting the urge to scream in pain. Her legs were still useless, that was true, but she could lean against the pedestal and hold on to it, trying to maintain a wobbly balance.

She used this new vantage point to survey the carnage. Her soldiers, her men, fallen in battle. The same went for every one of those who had chosen to sign up for the others, but it hung heavy nonetheless. She hoped someone would come to claim the bodies. Hers, too, soon enough. She wondered, distantly, if her parents would ever find out, if they were even alive or cared.

Lydia pushed away from the pole and looked askance at the button. Could it really be so simple? Just one press, to save millions, if not billions?

She saw something written just below the button, glaring, yellow on black. She had been told what it said in the briefing, but seeing it here, it was yet more absurd. Comical, even. Just one word.


Without another moment's hesitation, she struck it with the flat of her hand.

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