Christmas Ceasefire: An OWS Round Robin
For our special holiday posts this year, the executives of Our Write Side decided to focus on a round robin holiday tale. This five week collaborative effort between our team members (David Wiley, Katheryn J. Avila, Nancy E. Miller, Marissa Sladek, and Elizabeth Abel) will occur in segments through each Saturday in December. Today’s segment is from David Wiley, our monthly sci-fi/fantasy contributor.
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“Hey Johnson, did you hear they are imposing a 24-hour ceasefire that starts at midnight?” A squat man rubbed his hooked nose with the side of his hand and looked over at his companion.
“What for, O’Leary?” The young woman still looked through the scope of her slender, black rifle.
“Tomorrow is Christmas,” O’Leary said. A nearby explosion sprayed dirt and debris into the trench, and O’Leary dropped his rifle and covered his head with his hands. Johnson fired three shots off across the battlefield, unphased by the chaos around them.
“So what? The Supreme Emperor abolished all organized religions nearly ten years ago, right before the war started. There hasn’t been an openly celebrated holiday in a decade. Why start now?”
“To celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior for all people.”
“Hush,” Johnson said, gesturing at him with her free hand while still scanning the terrain around them. “Talk like that is treason. Men and women have been executed for saying less in the past few years. There’s no way he is planning on openly letting the world have a day of peace in order to celebrate the Christian aspect of a banned holiday.”
“It could be a trap laid by the Supreme Emperor’s supporters, like what happened with Daniel and his friends during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar.”
“Who?” Johnson looked over at him.
“Daniel and his friends: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. During Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, he was convinced to pass a decree that anyone caught not worshipping him would be thrown into a lion’s pit. His advisors hated Daniel and his friends, and they ended up catching Daniel praying to God instead of the king. So maybe that is what this is about, a way to try and see who actually uses this time of peace to celebrate an outlawed religious festival.”
“Maybe it has nothing to do with Christmas at all.” Johnson was back to searching along the battlefield, and O’Leary raised his rifle to do the same. If they didn’t do their part and hold this portion of the trench, they may not be around to enjoy the unprecedented day of peace. Black smoke from explosions coated the battlefield like a blanket of fog. The droning of lead bullets being fired drowned out all other sounds, apart from the occasional pitched screams of agony when the hot metal bit into flesh. The other men and women of their squadron ceased screaming hours ago, yet O’Leary and Johnson still held their portion of the trench. The dimming light cast long shadows upon the barren, crimson soil that wasn’t obscured by smoke. If they could hold out a few more hours, they could get a respite from the brutality of the warfare and, perhaps, gain reinforcements.
“Mech!” Johnson tossed her rifle aside. O’Leary followed suit, and they both scrambled to grab the needed weaponry to take the mech down. It strolled across the battlefield, unleashing death and destruction upon anything in its path. Friend and foe alike fell victim to the barrage bursting from its twin carbines, and those who tried to get in close for a shot at its underbelly were smashed beneath steel feet. Its large frame drew gunfire toward it like a magnet, but the ammunition had as much effect as a fly has on a horse. Orange and yellow flames spewed from a clawed hand, scorching an entire squadron. O’Leary gagged from the rancid odor of singed flesh. Johnson had her weapon slung upon her shoulder, a modified RPG with dual cannons. It was a prototype that one of her squadmates had created just a few weeks ago but had never been tested in the field. In theory, it should be able to take down the mech.
Johnson fired a shot as soon as O’Leary had his own prototype of the weapon ready. The left rocket rushed out of the tube, and Johnson shifted her aim slightly to the left once it cleared. Three heartbeats later, the other missile followed, arcing across the battlefield. The first struck the mech where one of its six arms connected to the body. The metal bubbled and melted away where the explosive had connected, and the second rocket crashed into the open hole. The explosion sent shockwaves through the air and the shell of the mech toppled onto its side. O’Leary cheered and lowered his own weapon, and Johnson flashed a small smile. The celebration died on O’Leary’s lips as three more mechs lumbered onto the battlefield, heading straight toward their trench.
O’Leary aimed his shot, his legs wavering from the tremors of the stomping mechs. Johnson scrambled to reload a fresh set of rockets into her weapon. O’Leary fired. The first rocket streamed across the battlefield. Pause. The second missile released. The mech, a lumbering green hulk, pivoted out of the way of the first rocket. The second hit the armored body and exploded. The three mechs teetered under the explosion but recovered and stamped forward. A barrage of bullets pulsed into the trench, spraying dirt into the air. Johnson cried out and grabbed her arm, crimson seeping between her mocha fingers.
“You okay?” O’Leary shouted.
“Bullet just grazed me,” Johnson shouted back. “Reload, and let’s take these mechs down!”
A rocket whistled through the air, and they leapt to the ground. Their cache of mech-killer rockets burst into flames.
“What do we do now?” O’Leary asked, shaking his head to clear away the ringing. The clanging of joints and whirring of gears could just be heard between shots. The mechs closed in fast.
“Run for it,” Johnson shouted and took off down the trench. O’Leary followed after and soon enough, they heard the mechs tromping along behind them. Bullets whizzed overhead, too many coming closer than either of them would have liked. “In here,” Johnson cried out, diving into a dark hole in the side of the trench. O’Leary followed after, crashing down into the darkness below.
To be continued…