I am back in sci-fi land. If you've read my other stories you will remember Boden. If you want to know more about this setting you can read this and this. The first is about Boden's aunt. The second is about a woman Boden meets after the war. Before the second war. Which I want to write about someday. Today is a shortened version of Boden's path to where he in An Abominable Gift.
The Broken Path
Two days ago, Boden made up his mind.
Yesterday, he had been to the garrison to run their gamut of tests.
Today, he had to face his family.
On the whole, it felt like today was the worst of his hurdles.
“Boden! Turn that off.” His mother’s voice, even from the kitchen, drowned out the latest news report. “Go get your grandmother if you’ve nothing else to do than watch the lies broadcast on that evil box.”
The news wasn’t good. It hadn’t been good since the first arrival of the Graff. The small aliens had fled a larger, more dangerous species and all of the military talking heads said it was only a matter of time until the Unger arrived. Earlier in the week, a mining colony on the edge of the system had gone dark. No one said it was the Unger.
Upstairs, at the end of the hall, Boden poked his head into his grandmother’s room. She sat in an old rocker by the window and watched the world outside. Boden was careful to step on the proper board and he felt it give underfoot and watched the ripple until it hit his grandmother’s chair. She turned from the window and smiled with a mouth full of teeth to envy a woman a third of her age.
Fingers moved as she greeted him and he was swift in his reply. Boden enjoyed talking to his grandmother. In a family of ten it was a quiet peace he found nowhere else. So, rather than bring her downstairs he pulled up the worn bench he’d been sitting on since he was three.
“I went to the garrison today.”
“Yes. I saw you.”
“You did not. I went after work.”
Grandmother laughed and reached out to slap his fingers. It wasn’t often she interrupted their conversations. In all his nineteen years he could count on one hand how many times she’d done so.
“You’ll have to tell your father.”
“He won’t understand. I know what he thinks. He says it all the time. I just- Grandmother, if half the stories are true then we all need to fight together. The Unger won’t care about our borders. And, I know no one will say it, but that mining colony… I want to fight. To protect you.”
“I am old. I do not need protecting.” Before he might interrupt, her fingers flew to add, “But perhaps you are right. Your siblings are young. Will you tell your parents tonight?”
She shook her head.
“Don’t look so surprised,” she signed. “Boden, I will cry with worry over you every day, but I understand. Your mother, your father, they will not. Leave without saying anything. I shall give your goodbyes.”
He knew he had tears to match hers. Worn, wrinkled fingers brushed at his cheek and he helped her to her feet. This would be goodbye, he thought. She would die while he was far away. So, he embraced her a little longer and kissed her cheek twice.
After bed, he slipped out, but he saw the candle in her window.
The pain was immense. Even the drugs could not hide the feeling of life gushing from holes that should not be there. He could not feel his arm, his legs…how could they still hurt when he could not feel them? Boden bit down on a scream as a booted foot stomped on his chest.
Oh, he didn’t quite stifle it.
“He’s alive.” The voice sounded surprised.
Well, Boden was surprised. When the mine had gone off under him, setting off another and another and dropping his squad into this muddy, bloody pit he’d thought death had come. He had not wanted to die, but was satisfied with his actions. The Path would bend him in another direction, but he accepted it.
The pain was gone. There had been so much and now there was only a dull ache over his entire body. Crusted eyes peeled open and he stared around in alarm.
“I still think this is a mistake.”
“Orders are orders.”
“He’s a Seeker.”
“Where?” Boden managed to croak.
“Private D’Aramitz. I’m Lieutenant Chii. I work for General Suharto in Intelligence.”
“The others?” His squad, his family. “Where?”
“Private D’Aramitz. You are dying. We can keep you alive a short time longer.”
“I’m ready to die. She awaits me with all Her charity.”
“Are you ready to die then?”
“I- I’m dying. Ready or not. I knew this could happen.” His words slurred at the end. Dry eyes blinked closed.
“You can live.”
“Chii, I don’t think-”
“I have my orders, Harris.”
“I can’t live.” He remembered what he’d felt. More important, he recalled the hushed conversations in the transport back to the base.
“If you sign up for non-standard treatment.”
“Machines,” Boden whispered. “Abominations.” The end of his seeking. The path would be broken to Her great charity if he became an abomination.
“I’ve read your files, private. We think you’re an ideal candidate. And General Suharto wants you to come work for him.”
“Chii. He’s fading.”
“General?” Boden slurred.
“Yes. You’re an excellent soldier. Wouldn’t it be a waste of that gift to die now? When you could live.”
She watched him. He felt Her great eyes upon him in this moment. Which was why his own closed. Because he did not want to die. Not now. Not yet, with the Unger undefeated. Not with his friends unavenged. She would turn away, but he could not let that stop him.
“Yes.” Boden felt the room spin before even when he tried to open his eyes he saw nothing but black. “Let the path break.”
“Harris, move him now.”
Chii’s order was the last thing he heard. Other than the great silence of Her absence. Which was what he deserved.