SHE REMEMBERED the feel of paper, the subtle coarseness of a sheet, the strength in woven fibers.
Bone, however, had no nerves, gave no sensation. Tearing a blank page from the back of a batter folio on Sun Tzu, Reeves ran her skeletal thumb over the surface and felt nothing.
"So why am I doing this?"
At a beep from the door, she stiffened. She placed the torn sheet and tattered book onto her desk, and cast her gaze to the opposite wall, viewing the transport's bulkhead through the sensors and readout displays bolted into her sockets.
The doorway thumped aside. "They're prepared to brief you in ten minutes, Lieutenant."
Reeves nodded without turning to the private. He remained in the doorway, though, the respirator woven into his lungs breathing for him. As he lingered, the worry, concern, or perhaps envy escalated his pulse, one monitored by the same slew of gears and tubes within her chest.
Reeves might have tasted their metallic tang if she could still taste. The reminder of his artificial existence brought back the truth behind her own survival and its presence irked.
He snapped to attention. "Do you need anything ma'am?"
She didn't soften her stance until the private retreated with another "ma'am" and the door thumped.
Sitting, Reeves slid the torn page onto the bare spot on her desk. The blank sheet stared at her and the ballpoint she plucked from within her plate-bolted chest. The gilded Re and ves glittered on the pen's blackened side, and a flake of the v chipped off as she rolled it between her boned fingers.
"You're wasting time."
With a sigh at her procrastination, Reeves uncapped the pen and began.
I'm not sure why I'm writing this since you won't be able to read it. I suppose it's tradition putting me in this chair, putting this pen to paper. I'm using your pen, the one you'd use to write to me before you went off on assignment. The paper, well, you wouldn't want to know which book I ripped it from.
Regardless, here I am, hoping to let you know I'm thinking of you before we leave, to let you know we hadn't given up, that I still have victory in my sights. You see, the techs think they've found a way to get back at the bastard, the one who thinks he can play with flesh like some kind of god, the one who took your life, who took Jake and Maggie, who took our world, our universe.
You'd be proud of how we've managed to survive. You always said technology would save us, and it has, for the most part. On some days, I feel almost normal, then I look in the mirror, down at my hands, or at the platoon.
Goggles replace eyes. Patches of armor, muscle and skin. We're more bone than blood, these days.
Looks hardly matter though. Our cause keeps us together more than flesh ever did. I suppose it's leaning toward vengeance now or revenge, but I like to think we're simply the ones strong enough to fight back. We're the ones who are going to prevent the bastard from doing again what he did to us.
We'll get our chance, your technology has enabled that too. The dimensional portal is going to open and out we're going to go.
I'm not sure what we'll find on the other side. They call it an Astral Plane but names matter as much as looks. We'll be armed. We'll be ready. The bastard's there and he's going to die, by my bullet or someone else's.
I can hear you asking, Then What? as if this was some kind of planning session. I'd love to see the smirk on your face because you'd already have an answer. It would probably be better than what we've come up with but we do have plans.
The bastard's not just sitting in his dimension you see, plotting his next plague or experiment. He's seeking a power greater than any sun or explosive. Once he's out of the way, we're going to use that power and we put ourselves right again. We'll put flesh back on our bones, lungs in our chest, blood in our veins. We'll repair what he broke and with this power at our command, we'll never be victims again.
I know it won't right all the damage. No power in the creation could bring you back from the grave, but it will help those of us who've survived and keep him from hurting more. I'm hoping I can live with that because if I can live, I can die.
I've got so much metal and gears within me now I'm not sure I'd ever run down as long as replacement parts are available. I've become an old clunker kept running by pistons and accelerants, respirators and dials, tweaked and modified to last forever.
And forever's a long time.
It's been so long I have trouble remembering your face sometimes. But I can see it now, as I write, and maybe that's the real reason I'm bowed over this page scribbling to a ghost. I wanted to reach you. I wanted to stretch my hand through the past and across whatever lies on the other side of death, if there's anything at all.
I like to think you've discovered something amazing about how the afterlife works. Maybe you've found a way to watch what we're trying to do here, or maybe you're somewhere far beyond exploring with our kids at your side.
If this mission works, then I hope to join you, wherever you are. For now, the mission is before me and a hell of a lot depends on our success. I know at least if we fail, others will be right behind us, and more behind them. We'll put this right for ourselves and for the memory of all of you who perished.
We'll get the bastard for you, for us. And when I find you, I'll tell you all about it.
Until then - all my love, from here to the horizon.
Reeves reread the words, knowing at one point they might have brought tears, but tears required ducts and a weakness in her heart she couldn't afford. Standing, she rolled the page and fit it inside a shell canister. She sealed the cap and etched Reeves on the side while the entryway beeped.
The door thumped and this time she turned.
The private came to attention, hit a boney fist against his sternum, his dog tags clanking. "Lieutenant."
Reeves held out the canister. "Send this back home."
"Home?" He took the tube. "But you know there's no one left to-"
"Just send it."
"Yes, ma'am." With the canister in tow, the private clasped his hands behind his back. "They're waiting for you on the platform."
Reeves snatched her rifle and helmet from the wall rack. The barrel clacked against her fingers and the titanium slid over her skull, the memory of shorn locks tickling her spine. She flipped down the visor, the sensors activating in search for a target, and took the rifle in both hands.
"Then there's no time to waste."
TITANS TACTICS: THE GAMES BEGIN. Copyright © 2013 by Kathleen A. Magner and Imbalanced Games, LLC.