I waited as the plane’s door latch engaged. Any minute now, I thought. Sniff. Cha-ching. The engines whirled to life, drowning out all but the sounds generated by my seatmates – but I’d heard enough before their roar. “Newbie broke.” I turned to Darla with a grin, “just when I said she would.” We all broke. Darla and I only bet on when.
Darla snapped her harness together, readying herself for the flight. “You said preflight.”
“Yeah, and our wheels are still on the ground.” At least they were for a couple more seconds. Sure, there was a time when betting on when the newest recruit would break down into a puddle of tears would have sounded like one of the cruelest games imaginable, but I’ve long since witnessed far crueller. Besides, only a fraction of the green recruits managed to survive the first few days anyway, and those who did, well . . . they typically didn’t hold a grudge. When the only people between you and certain death are those you flew in with, you tend to become a little more forgiving.
Darla rolled her eyes. “Double or nothing.”
I smiled. I’d won the last three rounds in a row. Easy bet. It was also the only bet I would make against Darla. Back before, she’d once chaperoned an entire field trip of kindergarteners to the candy factory. Alone. The other chaperones having succumbed to a bout of food poisoning from the school’s volunteer thank you banquet the evening before. If that wasn’t medal worthy enough, she’d also somehow managed to do so while simultaneously coordinating the school’s fundraising carnival and spearheading the community’s clean water awareness campaign.
The rumor around the barracks suggested Darla may have had something to do with the banquet too and had intentionally given the other chaperones bad food just because she wanted an extra challenge – but I knew that story was garbage. Darla couldn’t ruin a dish if she’d tried.
In another life, I might have hated her, but in this one . . . In this one, I couldn’t think of anyone else I’d rather have on my side.
“You’re on” It was money in the bank. That is, it would be if banks still existed. Still, the on-going bet helped pass the time and ensured the new faces didn’t blend together.
The plane’s engines roared as we began speeding down the blackened earth serving as the day’s temporary runway. Traditional infrastructure had become a target in the same way as the banks had. “We survive. We improvise.” I repeated our unit’s motto to myself as my ears adjusted to the ascent.
“I always think it is so cute you repeat that phrase each time. It always makes it sounds like we were given a choice.” If it was anyone poking fun at my ritual other than my other seatmate, Christie, I might have been offended. But I owed her, in more ways than one. Decades of mastering a world of pins and ‘grams had gifted her with a number of other life-saving talents. She could disguise a weapon as a tea cozy, disarm a bomb using pipe cleaners, and could trick an eye with any number of camouflages. If I’d only known the various sites would be so useful in my later years, I might have actually paid more attention to them when I had the chance.
The smile left my face, as it always did at the thought of my former life and my kids. Especially my kids. I wondered if they still remembered their mom’s face or if their ‘new’ mom was now filling in for me in that role as well. I knew it was a bitter thought. The women, whose primary civic responsibility was now populating the next generation while caring for those left behind, had about as much say in their assignment as those of us now past their prime, but it hurt to think about all the same. I kissed my fingers wishing I could kiss my children instead. If Christie noticed, she was kind enough not to say anything more.
As the plane leveled off and hit cruising altitude, our sergeant’s voice placed over the speakers. “Listen up ladies. I know the last several years have been hard on us all. When the enemy struck and destroyed all of our military units in one coordinated attack, we might have thrown up the white flag. But we survived. We improvised. When that same enemy released the bio-pandemic and decimated nearly eighty percent of the population, we could have surrendered. But we survived. We improvised. We may be past our childbearing years. We may be of no use in repopulating our once great nation, but we are far from useless. Some of you volunteered. Some required more . . . persuasion. But each and every one of you are now part of the fiercest fighting team the world has ever seen.”
The sergeant’s voice paused allowing her words to wash over the ranks like a wave. Even I was affected and I’d thought myself jaded to these rallies years ago.
She continued, “I am pleased to report our intelligence has located the enemy’s stronghold. Our assignment is clear. It’s now our turn. They may be able to improvise, but rest assured, they won’t survive. Because we are the mother f–ing army.”
Cheers sounded throughout the plane. Even the woman who had been crying at take-off now looked optimistic. Darla slapped my back as the sarge’s words soaked in. Could this really be it? I dared to hope and wonder. Christie grinned like a maniac. If not, at least I’d go down with the best friends a woman could ask for.
To Be Continued…
October 31st not only marked the day my children manage to bring home their body weight in candy, it also was my self-imposed deadline for my second draft of my current work in progress. I am pleased to report that not only did I achieve this goal, I actually beat it by a couple of days. So now I’m leaving this project to sit and simmer, allowing all the lovely passive voice, clichés, and other typos proper time to rise to the surface before I attempt another round of rewrites and edits.
What this means is that I can finally allow myself to actually contemplate another novel project. Or I could, if it weren’t for the fact that I’ve taken on new responsibilities at work, am attempting to plan Kiddo’s birthday party extravaganza, and have come down with an ugly head cold. So instead, I hope you might enjoy this sample of some of my shorter fiction.