Sine of the times

By Jared Vaillancourt [creative writing bureau chief]

“Are you sitting down, Jeremy?” Barbara’s voice asked. Jeremy sighed – he hated that question.

“Yes, he is,” Jeremy’s assistant Theresa answered. He grumbled and waved her off – her narrating his movements over the link was a habit he despised as well.

Nevertheless, he allowed her to place her hands on his shoulders as he relaxed and held his cane tight. Barbara only asked her nefarious question when she had one thing to say.

“Who’s dead, sis?” he asked. Barbara sighed.

“Eriksson,” she replied. “The damned Siglith are getting smart. Apparently a small group got into our northern minefield and extracted a mine or two… gave them little robotic legs,” she explained. Jeremy grunted and reached up to rub the sightless eyes beneath his sunglasses. Barbara’s daily calls almost always included news of another comrade-in-arms falling to the sneaky, dastardly Siglith. He had never – nor ever would – see one; they took to that almost personally.

“Let me guess,” Jeremy scoffed. “Eriksson went out on patrol and ended up giving a surprise piggy-back to one of our own tools.” Theresa gasped, but the silence from Barbara’s end of the line confirmed his suspicions. “I told that dumb fool he’d be caught with his pants down someday.”

“We found the creatures responsible,” Barbara whispered, knowing it made little difference. He made no noise as he sat there, trying to picture his replacement’s face. “He tried his best to measure up to you, big B,” she finished. He heard the click that announced her severing the link.

“Are you all right, Sergeant?” Theresa asked. Jeremy sighed and stood up, feeling her arms go around his left bicep as he did so. After a moment he offered a curt nod.

“You know, we don’t have to do our rounds today if you need time to… yourself,” she hesitated. He felt her hand slip down to his and squeeze. “I know it’s hard to lose friends, after all – my cousin’s fiance died in this war not two weeks-”

“It’s not a damned war,” Jeremy corrected, tossing his cane to the left. Something made a crashing sound. “These stupid Siglith show up out of nowhere, make some weird claim that we’ve ‘stolen’ their ancient homeworld and boom – they’re everywhere, disorganized and sloppy.” Theresa’s hands left his arm as she went to retrieve his cane.

“These aren’t warrior tactics – they’re damned terrorist ploys!”

“You shouldn’t yell,” Theresa whispered kindly as the weight of his cane reappeared in his hand, her warmth returning to the other. “If you want, we can go for a walk. Would that make you feel better?” she asked.

Jeremy nodded. “So long as it’s a short, sweet and to the pub.”

“Are you sitting down, big B?” Barbara asked. Jeremy grunted and cupped his face with his hands.

“Who was it this time?” he grunted up at Theresa. That worthy swallowed and repeated the question aloud, her tone making it clear she was glad he never accepted nor transmitted video feed whenever someone called. Jeremy shivered despite the warmth of her flesh against his as Barbara inhaled deeply.

“You remember Steiner, that creepy Aryan guy?” his sister asked. Silence. “Well… another small group jumped him and his men in the forest while they were weeding out surveillance equipment. Bloody lizard-bug-things tore him almost clean in two.” Theresa gasped, and Jeremy held her tight.

“Steiner was a good man,” Jeremy whispered, feeling the tear only once it had fallen past his cheek. “He had this old joke he loved to tell. ‘A German man walks into one of your English pub-bars. He says to the barkeep, ‘I will have two martinis!’ The barkeep asks, ‘Dry?’ The German immediately rebuttals’…”

“ ‘Nein! I said I want two’!” Barbara’s voice finished with a chuckle. He waited a second for Theresa to clue in, but after a moment, his sister continued, “I’ll give the weirdo that – he did teach the platoon to count in German.”

“What’s left of it.”

“Jeremy!” Theresa whispered, shocked. “I’m sorry, Barbara. I’m sure he didn’t mean to say-”

“No, no… it’s okay,” Barbara replied. “Some of us are starting to feel the same way. We’ve spent months killing Siglith and more pour out of that downed ship to replace them. If we could only nuke the bloody thing…” She sighed. He heard something like a plastic wrapper crinkle on her end. “How are the eyes, big B?”

“Worthless,” Jeremy scoffed. He hesitated as Theresa’s fingers gently caressed his cheek, moving up into the numb region between both temples. “The doctors still can’t figure out what the hell they hit me with. It’s hard… and the news doesn’t help,” his throat made a strange sound, the hybrid of a disgruntled grunt and a laugh. “But Theresa’s been a huge help.” That worthy’s lips brushed against his.

Barbara chuckled. “That’s good to hear.” The link clicked off.

“Do you need to be alone?” Theresa asked, her warm breath on his ear. Jeremy sighed.

“Ask me in a minute.”

Jeremy poked at the obstacle with his cane, imagining it to be a pylon or wet floor sign.

“Come on, Jeremy! You can do it!” Theresa called out, her hands clapping. He hesitated, but stepped as best he could around the obstacle, tapping his cane like she had taught him. Another block felt as though it was the hospital wall, and another could have been a spare bed from triage. He tapped past them until a hand touched his.

“Theresa?” he asked. Her lips met his, tongue darting quickly in and out of his mouth.

“You did it,” she whispered. He laughed as her arms cradled his bicep, guiding him back down the hallway athat had until now seemed infinite and frightening. “I guess I should be worried, Jeremy. Soon enough you won’t need me.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” he laughed. Another quick, discreet kiss danced in his mouth. She led him in silence, her hands secretly squeezing his arm as the welcome sounds of the recreational centre approached. “What time is it?” he asked once they were seated, the faint aroma of cinnamon teasing his nostrils.

“An hour before four,” Theresa replied, taking his cane. Her weight shifted the balance of the cushions on the sofa. He smiled and took in a deep breath, enjoying the cinnamon smell as it drifted away. Boots making cadence across the tiled floor interrupted the atmosphere he’d been enjoying.

“Sgt. Maxwell? Mr. Jeremy, I presume?” an unfamiliar voice asked.

“He’s a colonel,” Theresa whispered. “His name-tag reads ‘Blythe’.” Jeremy stood, his cane reappearing in his hand as he snapped a crisp salute. Colonel Blythe chuckled and instead shook Jeremy’s hand.

“It’s an honour to meet you, sir,” Jeremy announced. Blythe grunted and tentatively touched his arm.

“Here, over this way, sir,” another voice instructed with soft whispers.

“Bah, damned Siglith blinders, eh?” Blythe chuckled. “I was hit not three days ago.”

“I sympathize, sir,” Jeremy grunted as Theresa guided him back down, “but I don’t have a lot of time. My sister calls me every day at four o’clock tea-time prompt and–”. He hesitated. Not a sound could be heard.

Blythe sighed. “Are… are you sitting down, son?”

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