Today, I’ve concluded the short I’ve been working on. As usual, it’s rough, there are misspelled words and it needs a little more work. Enjoy–!
“I found out he died later,” Lucius said in a low, toneless whisper.
Dean almost didn’t know what to make of that. He said, “I’m sorry to hear that. You’ve brought him back to us today.”
“So I have,” Lucius agreed. “Good guy. Burned in all the worst places and still co-ordinating the initial defenses. They told me he kept at it for the better part of two hours before one of the Iota Series winged him. Quick, painless.”
Dean nudged the subject again. “What about your group? What were you doing?”
“Oh, that? We marched, quick as we could, right up to Anderson Square—sorry. It’s Anderson Square today. At the time, it was the center of the commercial district, the Anderson Building. It was offices and the like then. The building’s still there, but it’s all part of the SDF now.”
“Corporal, what’s the situation?”
Lucius saluted clumsily. “General, the Sergeants are engaged in combat back the way we came. Looked like fifty or sixty—”
The General turned away. Putting a finger to her ear, “Roland, we need to spread out more. They’re coming in from the west too.”
“General,” Lucius tried to cut in.
“Hold that,” she said into her mobile. “Corporal?”
“The Sergeant said we were needed back here. What can we do?”
“Hit up HQ,” she said, pointing at the Anderson Building. It would have been an impressive sight except for the smoke billowing out of the fortieth floor. “Don’t worry. It’s not under attack. Took a hit when we shot down one of the enemy ships. It should hold, we have Faction Six and Nine up there on evac and FRs”
“That’s right. First floor and the sub-basement. Get going.”
“Inside headquarters, we were referred right to the top.” Colonel Lucius laughed mirthfully. “We were Specialists and Corporals and they said “Go talk to the boss.” What humor! I almost told the Major to stop toying with us, but I held it. I don’t need to go in to any detail about the Commander. What a powerhouse. He’d been running around and had already decapitated a man that day before we got to him. He was covered in drying alien blood.”
“Hey kid. Long time,” he said. “You have time?”
Lucius was hesitant to answer. “Erm… yeah, Commander.”
“Good. Get up stairs. We need you on the roof.”
“The roof,” Lucius exclaimed.
“Yeah. Need you on repair up there.”
“Sir,” Lucius said as evenly as he could manage. “The building is on fire.”
“I know that. Have Daniel and John get you up there. The fire cut power to the defense system on the roof. Take this,” the Commander said placing a small box in Lucius’ hand. “That’s enough power to get the system running for about ten minutes. That should be enough.”
“Before I could answer,” Lucius told Dean and the audience, “the Commander told me, “Kid, you’re it. I have no one else who can manage this in as little time as you can. Got me?” And you know what I said?”
“Commander, you’re out of your God damn mind.”
“So I hear. Get on the fuckin’ roof and give ‘em what-for.”
“We got on the fuckin’ roof,” the Colonel said slowly. It was strange to hear that language from a man of his age, but Dean stopped his surprise from showing. The young host had some experience, but couldn’t top Lucius’.
“Hey, Luke,” one of the Corporals said. “Need an eight by ten over here. Transformer’s blown from seven to fifteen, but I think I can patch it.”
“We’re out. Here,” Lucius said rushing over, “let me take a crack at it.”
He tinkered with the board for a minute before slamming it against the concrete floor.
“What the hell,” the Corporal exclaimed.
“Need the wiring from inside the thing. Switch to wireless and shove this,” he held up the snapped board, “in number nine. It should hold for as long as the batteries do.”
“That’s gonna’ blow the moment the system hits cap.”
“The defenses won’t hit cap. The Commander only sent us with one power supply. Normally, I’d agree with you.” Lucius pointed out at the sky to punctuate his point. One of the alien ships was bombarding the coast. “We don’t have time to worry about what works. Make a path. Run power.”
“I’d grabbed the poor guy’s face and pushed him into the board to send my meaning home.” Lucius took a long breath. “He got back to work while I beat at my boards. Between the four of us up there, fifteen minutes was all it took.”
“Just got a call from HQ,” a Specialist said. “They want the defenses firing five minutes ago.”
Lucius was finishing up the wiring. It was an ugly rig. Cables stretched through the air and a sneaking suspicion that the sparking wasn’t from the fuel cell the Commander’d send them up with.
“We’ll be lucky this doesn’t kill us,” Lucius remarked.
“That’s for the ringing endorsement, boss.”
“You three get out of here.”
That got the three staring at Lucius.
“Brad,” one ventured.
“Someone needs to get the couplers firing. If the system flares, I don’t want everyone up here.” Lucius turned away, almost glaring at the couplers he mentioned. “Leave.”
One of the Specialists reached out, pulled his hand back, held it out again in a fist. “Give ‘em a Red Special, boss.”
Lucius tapped his own fist against the man’s. “See you in Hell.”
They turned, hesitantly and reverently. Lucius didn’t watch them go.
“They left you,” Dean Daily said almost painfully.
“Of course. There wasn’t one chance in a hundred this would work. We practically pasted components together with food and string and staples.”
“You didn’t want them there if something went wrong?”
“I didn’t want them there when the power surged. Would have killed us all.”
Lucius looked over his men’s work one more time. He nodded to himself, pleased that everything seemed to be in order. There was a single switch a meter or so from the couplers. Couldn’t get any farther than that – no extra cables. He took one last breath and threw the switch.
And the whole world exploded.
“Next thing I knew, I was on my back and the Commander was there. An unfamiliar canvas ceiling hung above me in the temporary hospital the Countess arranged.” Colonel Lucius laughed softly. “He said, “Brad, you stupid son of a bitch. You did it.” I didn’t know what be meant until I saw the other Generals around the room.”
Lucius was surrounded by dozens of people in the makeshift hospital. All was silent despite the fighting.
“Brad,” the Commander said as Lucius tried to get out of bed. “Stay still. Don’t want the docs getting angry with me.”
“Commander,” Lucius said, his throat dry and voice crackling. “Worked?”
“Course,” the Commander said. “Old Smith here can tell you first-hand how well it worked.”
“Fried my sphincters, kid. Takes a special kind of ass-kickery to put me out that long,” Smith said.
Lucius blinked at that, not knowing what he meant.
The Commander cut in. “Plan went off like a hitch.”
“He told me the enemy had turned to red mist, like what they called the day. That was that. The whole story.”
“And you were promoted?”
“Something like that. People called me Colonel from then out. Nothing official. Command tossed me a new button and said to wear it and take the lead when none of them were in the room, so that’s what I did. Still kept this,” he tugged at the jumpsuit, “but added a jacket so people could pick me out in the field.”
“Thank you for joining us today, Colonel. Ladies and gentlemen,” Dean said, “that just about concludes our hour with Colonel Lucius. Can we send him off right,” Dean said, eliciting a thunder of applause.