He stood in the shadow of the gateway, a high smooth stone arch with a dome top ordained in the ancient architecture of Islamic Conquest. It had been damaged by artillery fire, smouldering black rocks lay broken and sandy at his feet. The road that stretched to the capital building, laden with similar destruction, was before him. There were acacia trees blistering, naked pines with black tips and the heat rose from the earth. Everything a mirage, the entire city a dream or a ghost or a grave.
He revved his control on the left arm and his walker swung aside the husk of a car. The barricade was flimsy and he knew it wouldn’t slow down their advance. He had been separated from his platoon and he knew they wouldn’t come. Mercenaries lacked certain noble traits. War had changed in the last one hundred years. Large battalions had been replaced with small detachments of mechanized walkers, fueled by corporate money, patriotism replaced by a global survivalist capitalism.
A hunger for more in the wake of diminishing resources.
The pilot was no slouch. He knew history enough to feel the irony of the situation. That for thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of years mankind has battled for this land. From the first civilization to this last ditch effort at order in chaos they would continue to make war on its desert fields once lush. He imagined human blood must contain enough salt to leave a land barren. Things have only come to their end.
Through the miasma of the sun they came; slow awkward steps as their mechanical legs shook the dormant city, disturbed the tranquil nihilism he had come to reckon with and steeled his nerves as his knuckles whitened against the control levers. He had a case of 7.62’s loaded into the scapula gun and his finger kissed over the trigger. There was no wasting ammunition. Though he lacked the faith of survival he swore to bring to them a last impression. A starved wolf, his back to the wall.
His eyes were dry, they were unable to blink.
The slow encroach of the enemy machines stopped. They stood two hundred yards away. He could see the model types. Wei-Protectorate Dragoons. One had an 155 mm artillery augment and its fibula brace lowered to the ground with a clamor of dust. Silence perforated reality. There was no time left. He thought of his wife and his son. He heard the ocean, smelled sea salt and saw the cobalt waves of his homeland. The gypsum sands. The footprints of his family leading up the hill over looking aeons, the thick clouds casting cool shadows.
He did not hear the whistle of the pre-impact. He did not feel the white-hot death erupting beneath him. He did not feel his blood seep through the hull breach into the yawning street.
All he felt was water and it felt good. To lie on his back and let the sea carry him, this was paradise. The air to kiss him, this was home. The sky greeted him with a sparkling sun and he thought, perhaps he had always been home. Perhaps the war was a dream.