“I can’t believe we get paid to do this shit.” “What?”
“You know, lay down our lives for blah-blah-blah-blah.”
He blinked at her. Owlish smiled back at him.
“Have you seen it down there? It’s a fucking mess.”
The Colonel settled back and scowled at her.
“It’s what we do, Owlish, its what we do.”
“Yes, but its a fucking mess down there.”
“You’ve been in messes before, you’ve survived. Its just the same again.”
“Fuck that,” said Torvey, staring over the edge of the wall, “I ain’t never seen no fuckin’ mess quite like that fuckin’ mess.” He sat back down, pressing his helmet down on his head with one hand, as if it might make a dash for freedom.
“Fuckin’ people are gettin’ fuckin’ murdered down there.” He continued.
“Gotta earn our dollar somehow, people.” Said the Colonel, tipping his hat over his eyes as he leant back against his pack.
“Why does he keep saying that?” asked someone, “And what the fuck is a dollar anyway?”
“Some sort of credit. Pay.” Someone else answered.
“What the fuck is pay?” asked the same complainant.
There was a brief outburst of chuckling. Someone smacked a helmet, receiving a muffled curse in response. They all settled back in silence, listening to sounds coming from down below. Even here they could hear the tumult of that mess. Owlish thought she could hear the the screams of the dying. She scowled.
“Proper end of the world stuff, that.” Someone said, quietly. Belvue, she thought, always to the chase, that one.
“Well, it is.” Jackson.
“Who’d a thunk it?” Tamper.
“Fuckin’ mess.” Torvey.
Owlish closed her eyes and listened to the continuing to-ing and fro-ing of the words, drinking in the familiarity of the voices. Familiar as family. More so even. They were fucking family. Too many lost though, too many missing, buried in mud and shit and ash. She missed them. All of them.
She laughed then, silently, to herself. End of the world indeed. Fuck.
Silence settled, each buried in their own thoughts.
Her watch beeped. Around her arose a chorus of similar beeps. Someone swore softly.
Owlish straightened up and stood.
“Right.” She said, and paused, suddenly at a loss.
“Yeah. Right. Fuckin’ end of the world fuckin’ mess.” Torvey stretched and yawned. They were all standing then, gathering equipment, strapping their shit to themselves as if this time wasn’t any different.
You never knew, thought Owlish, you never knew. She laughed again.
The Colonel was the last to stand, as always, rolling his hat as he did so, stuffing it into its usual sack. He glanced at each of them, taking his time, nodding once in approval, receiving nods and grimaces in return.
“Right, people,” he said, “let’s go…” he paused then and thought, a rare smile breaking across his face. “Let’s go and do this one for free.”