3 - A boy called Teddy.
Nightfall came and everything was silent. The moon danced among the steel beams and the air fortress' glittering lights. Through the crevasse of a window the moon shown on Teddy, he sat at the edge of his bunk kicking his feet.
Rion looked down from his top bunk at his comrade, “What are you doing? Go to bed.” He rolled back over.
The little boy remained where he was though staring down at the moon on his feet. “Rion?” He said after a while.
“Do I have to fight tomorrow?” The little boy kept staring at his feet.
Rion peered over. “What kind of stupid question is that?”
“Well--it’s just that…it’s my birthday tomorrow.” The boy looked up at his friend, “Do I have to fight on my birthday?” Rion didn’t answer, “Rion?” Still there was no answer, “But it’s my birthday.” The little one said again. Rion closed his eyes; he leapt down and sat next to the boy. He gave the boy a hard pat on his head then rubbed his and though the boy’s red-orange cow licked hair.
“I can’t make any promises but we’ll see.” Rion drew the boy in close giving him a noogie. “Now go to sleep, Teddy.”
As Rion climbed back up to his bunk the door to their room opened. “Rion.” It was Ben, “It’s time; let’s go.” Rion slid back down. Teddy watched confused about what was happening. In this place it could mean death to be called out somewhere by someone, this he knew all too well.
“Rion what’s going on?” Teddy started coming out of his bunk.
Rion turned to face him, “It’s nothing. I’ll be right back.” Still Teddy shifted uneasily, “Really it’s nothing.”
Teddy was staring at his feet again, “You’re not gonna leave me behind?”
Rion turned again; he took Teddy by back of head and put his forehead against his own. “Of course not. Now go to sleep.” He let go and followed the blonde boy out. Teddy lay back in bed; he couldn’t wrap his head around what was happening. It would be his birthday in a few hours, and he was going to fight? On his birthday? But it was going to be his birthday! Back home when it was his birthday everybody let him do what he wanted, and he didn’t want to fight. He remembered on his birthday he’d come here, on his birthday he’d met Rion…soon it would be his birthday and Rion was acting weird. His birthday and Rion, his birthday, his birthday…
My birthday, it was my birthday when I came here. I had just turned six! That day was fun; we had gone out to the field to have a picnic and watch the windmills. We were all laughing and having a real fun time. She gave me a bear, and we called it Teddy, we were laughing. Then she stopped laughing for some reason, she was looking at something. Faraway in the sky there was something coming, small and shiny. First there was one then there were more of them. I remember that they were very pretty, but she didn’t say anything, she just kept looking. Then she picked me up and started running, I asked her what has happening, but she didn’t answer. Then she said it be ok. Rion says it’ll be ok…Rion is like Mom, they don’t say when something bad is going on. The ships got closer, and soon the whole town was running, and screaming. I kept asking what was happening but no one would say. All the other people in town were running too, they tried to get to their cars, and some even got guns. Suddenly lots of kids and people I never saw before came into town with guns and shot up some people and started taking other kids away. Mom dropped me and fell over. There was lots of blood and I couldn’t make it stop. I cried hanging on to Teddy. They brought me on their ship; they were mean and yelling at me. They took Teddy and shot him up. I cried a lot then too. They left and I stood there looking at him. Teddy…I said. Then Rion put his hand my shoulder from behind. Let’s go, Teddy. He said. What? I said. Then he said that when he asked me my name I said, Teddy. I went over to Teddy. Rion said that he was dead. Rion said let him go. He pointed over the rail of the ship. But I said I couldn’t. But I can’t, I said. I can’t…
Teddy fell asleep.
Rion and Ben walked in silence finally Ben spoke, “You haven’t told him yet?”
“I’m not going to trouble him with an uncertain plan.”
Ben frowned at his answer. “It’s not so uncertain now. Just make sure your kid doesn't screw this up.” He took a deep breath.
Rion's eyes narrowed. “It’s those jackasses who are likely to screw up.” He walked on head leaving Ben behind. Finally he came to their meeting room, Herve, Lou, and Dee were there waiting.
“Damn Ben, you actually got the bitch to come with ya?” Rion did not respond to his critic, he simply leaned against the wall. “Well excuse me Madam. I didn’t mean to offend you.” The put his hands up, then placed a smoke in his mouth. “Y’know if you didn’t spend so much time babysittin’ some runt and would cut your hair once in a while we wouldn’t think you were a lady.” Herve laughed, Rion just rolled his eyes.
“Shut up, Herve.” Ben finally walked in, “You don’t have to get so mad, Rion, I’m too fat to keep up with you when you get pissed and walk off.” Ben walked over to the center table, “All right, let’s go over this one last time. There haven’t been any major changes?”
“No. Our guys have kept them busy. They had to send all their man power to the front.”
Ben nodded, “Good. Then the plan remains the same. We use the chaos to our advantage, and we make a beeline for the cliff, we walk the ledge around and climb down to the landing boats. Herve make sure you stay attentive, we might need you for cover.”
“Rion, you’re my wing man. Stay focused, and please don’t let your kid do anything stupid.”
Rion scoffed, “Who exactly are you talking to? It couldn’t be me.” Ben shook his head and looked towards Dee.
“If anything goes wrong we’ll be counting on you.” He turned to the Lou, “Hopefully we’ll only need you for support fire.” Ben looked at the group; he pointed, to a spot on the map, “This is where we meet. Once things get going we won’t be able to wait long, don’t dilly-dally. This is our only chance; I'm not spending another day in this hell-hole.” After smoothing over a few more details they dismissed.
Rion returned to his room, he pulled the covers up over Teddy and climbed into his bunk. He looked up at the ceiling. “Teddy…I promise.”
Morning came, and as usual the "Grand Ideal" sounded. There was no class or training today, it was uniform check, weapons check, and breakfast, which as usual consisted of rock hard stale bread and half a cup of cold coffee. Suited up the platoons sat huddled together in the departure block. They tapped the rifles against the platform that would lower them down; they talked amongst themselves, voices melding. Waiting for the ship to land and release them to the field. Teddy looked at his feet, it was his birthday and he was going to fight. Rion pulled him in close, “Happy Birthday, you don’t have to fight today.” Teddy perked up instantly; he stared at his comrade, Rion smiled. “I mean it. Just stay close to me.”
The ship landed around midday and the army was released. The first line fell one after the next to the hail of bullets. Off in the distance in and between the rocks of the battered beach their foe, the Allies who had fought their way across the sea, raining down fire upon them. There was no time to wander what these adults from far off lands thought about firing on children. Rion held on tightly to Teddy hanging back using the charging lines as cover. “Rion where are we going?” Rion didn’t answer; he kept pulling Teddy, weaving in and out of pockets of child soldiers and boulders, occasionally slowing to peer at a map. When whistling of mortars came near Rion threw the boy down and threw himself on top of him, the loud whistle of a mortar whizzed passed them exploding. Rion got back up pulling Teddy alongside him. “Rion where are we going!?”
Rion looked down at him, “Somewhere where we won’t have to fight anymore.” They weaved their way through the chaos and finally made it to the rendezvous point. They fell gasping, “You still hanging in there Teddy?” Teddy nodded. “Ok….good.” Rion caught his breath and looked up, Ben and Herve were waiting. “Where are the other two?” Rion tucked Teddy behind a boulder.
“They’re not here yet.”
“Damn it! We can’t sit here much longer!” Herve fiddled with his Gatling rifle.
“Keep your cool; we’ve come too far to mess up now.” Ben scanned the area, soon he saw a familiar figure limping towards them, it was Lou, but there was some else with him. The uniform told them it was an engineer, not a real threat since they did not participate in direct combat, but it wasn’t the one who had been in on the plan it was the crow-haired-boy.
Finally the medic reached, toppling over. “What’s going on? Where‘s Dee?”
“…The kid didn’t make it…so I grabbed him instead.” The medic curled up, grunting.
“Ben what do you wanna do? We‘ve got to move soon.” Rion wiped the sweat from his face.
“I say we kill’im right here.” Herve aimed his rifle at the engineer.
“Don’t be stupid, we need him.” Ben walked over to the engineer, “You got a communicator?” The boy nodded. “Give it.” Ben took the device and smashed it then jabbed the boy in the chest. “Keep your mouth shut and don’t say nothin'.” Ben began making his way to the cliff.
“What about him?” Teddy pointed to Lou. “We can’t just leave him!”
“There’s nothing we can do. He’ll die soon anyway.” Herve followed after waving off Teddy’s comment.
“Rion...” Teddy looked at his guardian. Rion nodded and nudged him to go ahead; he picked up the medic and followed after them. The six of them made it around the cliff ledge.
“Careful, looks like a mortar hit here.” Ben made his way slowly over the crumbling edge. “Hurry, I don’t think this place is going hold up much longer.” Herve went next, then Teddy began making his way over. The boy wandered a bit too close to the edge, and under his weight it gave way. As he fell Rion dropped Lou where he was and swooped down catching Teddy by the arm.
“You all right?” Rion started pulling him up, Teddy nodded nervously looking down then back up at him. Off in the distance a large rumble could be heard, then the whistling of bullets. Everything seemed to go silent for a moment then one last whistle--
...Today is my birthday. Today I am seven. On my birthday I came here. On my birthday I met Rion. On my birthday they killed Teddy. Rion said I had to let him go. But I couldn’t. But I can’t, I said...I can’t. Rion pinched my hand to make me let go of him. Teddy fell. Teddy died on my birthday...my birthday...my birthday...
“...his birthday...it’s his birthday! His birthday! I promised! I said we’d go somewhere he wouldn’t have fight! I said--Teddy! Teddy!” Rion clung to the boy dangling over the edge. Teddy’s eyes were wide and empty, pupils dilated and lifeless. In his chest a small hole spewing blood.
“Rion! He’s gone there’s nothing you can do! Let him go!” Ben tried to pull Rion up but he wouldn’t budge.
“I...I can’t! I can’t!” Rion kept shaking Teddy as if the boy might come to.
Ben tried again to yank him up but to no avail, "C'mon we have to go!"
"I'll just send him to be with his kid now!" Herve pointed the rifle down at Rion's head, "Get your ass up! People lose their kids every day!" He pressed the rifle to Rion's head.
"Stop! Stop it! Leave him alone!" The engineer finally piped up. He was crouched over the now dead medic.
"You shut the fuck up! You're not even suppose be here!" Herve prepared to pull the trigger, "This is your last chance, move!" Still his order was ignored. "That's it!" As he was about to the pull the trigger a bullet streaked by his face. Herve snapped in the direction of the engineer now holding the medic's rifle. "You try to shoot me!? You're dead!" Herve took aim and the engineer cowered.
Ben stood up, "Knock it off Herve." His words fell on deaf ears, "I said stop!" Ben pushed him back, Herve stumbled trying to regain his balance and slipped over the edge before Ben could catch him. He stared down at his lost friend, wide eyed, he was shaking, the plan was falling apart. “Rion! Rion! We need to go! Rion! There's no time! Rion we've been waiting for too long we need to go!” He was gasping for air, he pulled out his knife, “Rion don’t make me do this to you!” Still Rion wouldn’t budge. With one thrust Ben shoved the knife into Rion’s forearm. The scarlet-haired boy screamed in pain, letting go of Teddy. They watched the limp body fall. Finally Ben managed to drag Rion to his feet and prodded him over the collapsing ground calling for the engineer to follow after. By the time all three crossed almost all the ledge had given out. Rounding the cliff the finally came to a small open stretch of beach, there the enemy’s abandoned camp and the landing boats. Ben scouted making sure the area was clear then he went back bring Rion down to a boat. He tied his friend’s arm up to hold the bleeding. “Is the engine working?”
“Yeah I think its ok.” The boy got it started. Ben took control; the engineer scooted closer to Rion. He stared at the now shell of a boy, “A-a-are you ok?” No answer came, Rion sat there just staring at nothing, not even blinking.
“Just leave him.” Ben didn’t look at them, as they cast off.
“...I’m Ellis by the way, where are we going?” The engineer rocked to and fro.
“There’s a small island west of here. As far as we know no one lives there. It should take us till around noon tomorrow to get there.” The engineer nodded, they headed towards the now red sun, the creaking of the boat accompanied their silence. They didn’t say anything, not about their lost friends, not about the battle they left behind them.