Perchance's Dream by John Ryland

Perchance and his band of survivalists stalk the hills trying to find and destroy the long-dead robotic totems of a totalitarian government; by John Ryland.

Perchance crawled to the top the frozen hill and peered over the crest. A cold wind swept up from the valley into his face as his eyes fell on the hulking giant in the distance. He shook his head, both glad to have found it, and not at the same time. Although over a mile away, the giant dominated the landscape in the small, flat valley. Standing over fifty feet tall, the robot had an arm span of about twenty feet, at the end of which were two vice-like metal hands. Even standing still, it was an imposing figure.

He'd seen many of them before but seeing a new one always left him with a sense of wonder. The machines were built to generally resemble a man in an effort to humanize them, but it didn't work. The giant before him stood on two rusted legs, frozen in time as it towered over the tiny huts that littered the ground around it like crumbs from some unseen cookie. He thought briefly about counting the brown thatch roofs but decided not to. It didn't really matter. There were only three sizes. The village was either big, medium, or small. This one was big.

He produced a battered pair of binoculars and pressed them to his eyes. The feet of the iron giant were rusted badly, and the left leg had holes in the steel covering it. The tops of the shoulders were rusted as well, sending dark reddish-brown streaks down the torso. Moss grew in the crevasses of the sheets of metal that covered its upper chest, living in the perpetual shadow of the oval shaped head that was cocked slightly to one side. He trained the glasses on the giant's face and breathed a sigh of relief.

This one's eyes were closed. It didn't make a difference either way because the machines had long since fallen dormant, but seeing those wide, staring glass eyes was always a little unnerving. The sight of one of the giants alone was awe-inspiring for most people, but not him. He hated them all. He'd heard rumors throughout the years about people who'd never even seen one. It didn't sound possible, but there were rumors.

The hulks were remnants of a failed attempt by the Provisional Government, to police the people who refused to comply to the new world they found themselves living in after the Great Wars. Named Peacekeepers, the giants patrolled predetermined areas and struck fear in the hearts of men. The monstrosities obeyed only their pre-programmed orders and were heralded as a symbol of the might and intelligence of the new government. Everything was either right or wrong, allowed or not allowed. There was no gray area with the Peacekeepers.

When that government itself collapsed, the Peacekeepers were left to do what they did without upkeep or supervision. Eventually they all fell silent, either from forces of nature or disrepair. There was talk about some that still worked, but that was doubtful. He hadn't seen one operational in forty years.

Perchance scurried back down the small rise and settled in beside his friend, Camron. He was a dark-skinned young man from somewhere far away. He was dependable and one hell of a man to have on your side in a fight. He was also the only man in the world that Perchance trusted. Despite being almost half Perchance's age, Camron had quickly rose through the ranks to become his Chief Security Officer.

"It there?" he asked, his accent making it sound like "E tear?"

Perchance nodded. "Yup. Big and rusted and ugly as hell, just like the others."

"Good. That makes it easier."

"There's a village at its feet though. Nice sized one too."

Camron pursed his lips and shook his head. "Why do they always do that?"

Perchance shrugged. "They were built to keep everyone safe. I guess they still expect it to somehow."

"A lot of bloody good those tings did," he said. "They were the work of the devil's own heart. Infernal bastards."

A slight smile came to Perchance's lips. He liked to hear his friend talk, especially when he got angry. "It's not the first time. Probably won't be the last. C'mon. Let's tell the others."

Perchance clambered down the rocky hill, careful not to lose his footing. They were running low on medical supplies and they'd need all they had when they went after the colossus. The people who worshipped it wouldn't relish the fact that they were going to destroy it. None of the others had.

Picking his way through the plain of fallen boulders shaken from the mountainside during the wars, Perchance checked on his young friend. He himself was used to the cold, but Camron had grown up somewhere hot. Looking over his shoulder, he found his friend zipped tightly in his thick fur-lined coveralls with the hood cinched close over his bald head.

"You going to make it?"

"I be fine," Camron answered with a smile.

"Don't wrap up so much you start sweating. That'll make it worse."

"I be fine," Camron said again.

Perchance laughed and lead them into the dense forest at the edge of the plain. Pushing his way through the underbrush, he led them back to the camp a different way than they'd left, thereby avoiding disturbing the plant life enough to be noticed by prying eyes. It was one of the many tips he'd learned at the knee of his father, an adamant survivalist.

Of course, that was all before the wars began.

The smell of cooked meat began to warm his body as he slipped into camp, unnoticed by either of the sentries he'd left on duty.

"You need to talk to your guards again," he said over his shoulder to Camron.

"I will handle it." Camron peeled off and headed toward the closest sentry post.

Perchance walked through the quiet camp, nodding to his companions as they passed. When he reached the largest of the three tents, the command tent, he pulled back the rough covering and stepped inside.

His engineer smiled at him. Although pronounced "Rudy", he spelled his name Rooty. "From the look on your face I'd say you've found another one."

"You would be right too," Perchance said as he crossed the tent and drew in a long smell of the meat sizzling over the metal elements. The device, invented by Rooty, generated heat like an oven, but was powered by giving the handle on the end a vigorous crank for five or six minutes. It was a time-consuming method, but it prevented them from having to make a fire to cook food. Fires made smoke and smoke signaled others that they were in the area. He'd found out a long time ago that surprise was their best tactic.

"Smells good. Deer?" Perchance asked, slipping out of his heavy coat.

"Yes. Harwell got a big male with his bow. He's turning out to be a hell of a shot with that thing."

"Good," Perchance said, nodding. They always used primitive means when hunting. Like smoke, a gunshot would travel a long way. "There's a big village at the feet of this one. About half a mile around it in every direction. The valley is fairly open after the rock plain."

Rooty nodded, but continued to work on the disassembled radio on his lap. "Like up north?"

"More like that one out west. Oklahoma, I think they called it. We'll have to move in before dawn and be in position to move at first light."

Rooty stopped working and stared at his friend for a long time before sighing and returning to his task.

"I know," Perchance replied. "That one went badly, hopefully this won't go that way."

"I didn't say nothing."

"You don't have to. I've been thinking the same thing since I saw it." Perchance scratched the growth of gray hair on his face, his mind still on the raid Rooty's sigh was alluding to. It was by far the bloodiest battle they'd had to date. By the time they got away, eighteen members of their group and hundreds of villagers lay dead on the vast plain surrounding the Oklahoma Peacekeeper.

"I don't suppose we could talk to these people?"

"Have any of them ever listened? It's their damned god by now. You know how the villagers are." Perchance got up and went back to the makeshift cooker. "Have the others eaten?"

"All they wanted, over an hour ago. This is ours." Rooty touched a wire with the screwdriver in his hand, jumping as a blue flash arced from the wiring. "Dammit."

"There's probably no hope for that one, my friend. It took a far drop."

"Maybe I'll try later." He sat the broken radio aside and stood. "Where's Cam?"

"He's checking on the guards. We slipped right past them." Perchance picked up the butcher's knife and sliced a chunk of meat off the shank, wrapping it with a piece of flatbread.

"I suppose you've got a plan?"

Perchance nodded as he chewed his food but said nothing.

Rooty sliced his own meat off and ate it off the blade, casting a wary eye at his leader. "You know, we don't have to do this."

Perchance stopped chewing and looked at his engineer, his pale green eyes burrowing into him.

Rooty wanted to shrink away, but he didn't. All leaders needed men who would question them from time to time, if only to make sure they themselves still held the beliefs they espoused. Time had a way of softening things for some men, but not Perchance.

In his leader's look he saw the pain wrought by the "Peacekeepers". He saw his home being crushed under an iron fist. He saw his village being wiped out. He saw his mother pushing him toward the escape tunnel seconds before being killed. In his leader's look, he heard the echoes of the footfalls of a giant chasing an eleven-year-old boy. Rooty knew his leader's story well, but in his stare, he relived every terrifying moment.

"Okay," Rooty finally relented. "You know I just have to give you the option."

"There are no 'options'." The word came from his lips like it tasted bad.

Rooty looked at his leader, knowing that on the day he died, leaving one peacekeeper standing would be his biggest regret. He doubted if the man's very soul would rest until they were gone from the Earth. Perchance's story was wrought with pain and suffering, anger, and strife. Born on the day that the wars started, his very name was given to him by a mother that hoped he would be the difference in a dying civilization. She'd not only placed on him the name of hope, but also written his fate when she said, "If perchance the world should crumble, let you be the last warrior standing."

No, Rooty thought. For you there are no options, my friend.

"It will be a cold night."

Both men looked at Camron as he entered the tent.

"What?" he asked, looking from one to the other. "What I miss?"

"Nothing." Rooty tossed the meat into his mouth and stabbed the knife back into the meat, sending a stream of juices onto the red-hot element beneath it. "Eat up. Warm yourself, my friend. We've got plans to make."

"So it's settled then." Perchance stood and stretched his back, his eyes still on the crude drawing on the table before him. "We will rest here tomorrow and when the night comes, we will get into position. Hopefully, it will be a quick strike and we won't lose anybody. The left leg below the knee looks severely weakened by rust and decay. We will use the right leg to climb it."

"The people haven't taken very good care of their god, have they?" Camron asked as a wide smile broke out across his face.

"Be that as it may, they will still fight to keep it. Never doubt that."

"If they fight us, they will die." Perchance walked over to the heating element and gave it a few turns, warming his hands as the element began to turn red again.

"The valley floor may be muddy. It has rained recently."

"The valley floor will be frozen, and you know it, Rooty." Perchance didn't look at his engineer.

"C'mon, friends. We should be happy tonight. We have found another one of those bastards and tomorrow it will lie in ruins."

"And then what?" Rooty asked.

"Then we move on and find another one," Camron said, still smiling.

"And another, and another. To what end?"

"To the end of them," Perchance answered. "Until they have all been destroyed and there is no chance of anyone ever reviving them, or even the idea of them. Until the grass grown green over their rusted faces and the world realizes what a mistake they were."

Rooty sighed and exchanged a glance with Camron, before dropping his gaze to his feet. "Maybe I'm getting old, maybe I'm just tired. I'll be fifty in the spring. All of this is beginning to feel futile. We're never going to change the world."

Perchance closed his eyes, struggling to contain his anger. He wasn't angry at his engineer. He wasn't angry at himself. He was angry at the Provisional Government who created the Peacekeepers. He was angry at the world they helped create. He felt dearly for the men and women in his small tribe of warriors, but he hated the Peacekeepers more.

"I'm going to check the perimeter."

Camron watched Perchance slip from the tent and then looked at Rooty. "Why do you instigate him?"

"Everyone needs to hear the voice of reason every now and then."

"The voice of reason?" Camron asked, slicing himself off a chunk of the venison. "The voice of reason died a long time ago, I'd say. About the time they decided to launch the first missiles, before we were born."

"Just because I never saw those bastards in operation doesn't mean I don't know what a mess up they were."

"Mess up? That is putting it lightly. If you ever heard one walking, or saw them push through a forest, you'd feel like he does."

"They're dead. Lightning killed a lot of them. The others couldn't be maintained and simply died themselves. They might as well be a tree now."

Camron shook his head. "They are not trees, my friend. Trees do not kill people. Trees do not chase people into the sea and watch them drown. People don't kill to protect the trees. Whether they're working or not, those things will never be trees. Trees are part of the natural world. Those things are not."

When the first vestiges of daylight silhouetted the hulking figure of the giant against the eastern sky, Perchance said a silent prayer for the men and women in his charge. Some of them probably wouldn't make it out of the village alive, but when the sun set, the world would be rid of one more Peacekeeper.

Lying flat on the frozen ground, his breath floating before him in plumes of smoke, Perchance looked to his left and saw Camron. His security chief looked at him and nodded. To his right he saw Rooty. His engineer didn't look at him. His eyes were fixed on the behemoth that rose from the village a hundred yards ahead of them

Perchance closed his eyes and sighed, then got up into a crouching position. Looking back, he watched the seventy-three members of his troop do the same, almost in unison. They would all follow him into battle. He just hoped they'd all follow him out. They'd never felled a giant before without losing at least a few, but there was always hope.

He moved forward quickly, the rifle gripped in his right hand, a pair of climbers hanging around his neck. The plan was simple, but effective. When they reached the giant, the thirty soldiers with climbers would assemble on one of the legs while the other formed a defense line. The first man would place his set of climbers, flat powerful magnets six inches across that were outfitted with a metal spike sticking out from the center, then move out of the way. Then the next man, then the next. The fourth man would climb the spikes set by the previous men and place his, them jump down. This would continue until they passed the knee of the giant. Now too far to jump safely, the sixth man would stay, and magnets would be passed up the chain. He would climb higher with each set of magnets until he reached the waist of the Peacekeeper. There, explosives would be attached and the fuse lit.

The sixth man assumed most of the risk because he was completely dependent upon the troop to keep the villagers away. High above the fray, the sixth man would be clearly visible and an easy target. Today, just like every time before, Perchance was the sixth man.

Circling the village, they approached from the south and slipped between the crude huts ringing the settlement. Moving in unison, they all spread out and made their way around darkened huts, moving quietly, but quickly. Although the conditions made it difficult for them, cold winter mornings were the best times to attack. The simple villagers would be comfortably tucked in their beds, reluctant to rise early and face the bitter cold.

Perchance smiled, happy with their advancement. Maybe, he thought, maybe today we won't lose anyone. The hope was still on his lips when the sound of a horn pierced the darkness.

The troop abandoned their attempts at stealth and rushed forward, amassing at the right foot of the giant. As the first shots rang out, Perchance heard the first set of climbers strike the cold steel of the giant with a solid thunk, thunk. He began returning fire as the troop began to build the ladder behind him, dropping two villagers as they exited their huts. He slung his rifle over his shoulder and moved into position as the troop moved with a trained precision. Finally, it was his turn.

The coldness of the steel bit into his bare hand as he raced up the spikes, applied his own climbers, then climbed higher. He accepted another set of magnets and placed them, then another set. A bullet ricocheted off the steel above his head and he laughed. They wouldn't hit him. He believed it with every ounce of his being. He was doing noble work and would be protected by all the ancient gods.

When he finally secured the last of the climbers to the waist of the giant, he affixed a short rope tied around his waist to it. His frozen hands went inside the thick coat and produced two heavy, gray bricks. He pressed them against the cold steel and poked a fuse into the lump as another bullet sang past his ear.

He took out a Zippo lighter, cupping one hand around it to shield it from the icy wind and lit the fuse. Unleashing himself from the giant, he began working his way down the spikes. Using a long knife, its blade made of aluminum, he pried each set of climbers loose and dropped them to waiting arms below.

Half-way down the leg, a bullet struck the steel of the machine and ricocheted past his face, grazing his cheek. He ran a hand over his face and looked at the dark streaks of blood on his fingers before continuing his feverish work. The safe time was ninety-two seconds. Anything past that would put them in the blast zone.

The count running in his mind told him that thirty seconds had passed already.

He stabbed the knife between the steel and another magnet and ripped it free with a grunt. As he turned to drop the set, a searing pain roared through his shoulder. He knew what it was immediately. He'd been shot before.

He clenched his teeth against the pain and worked one-handed to remove the rest of the magnets before jumping off the forth spike. As his feet landed on the cold ground, the smell of smoke and gunpowder filled his nose, and another shot struck him in the side.

He passed the knife off to Camron and unslung his rifle, firing several shots in rapid succession. The villagers were pushing in close. "Let's go!" he screamed. "We're at forty seconds."

The group surrounded their wounded leader and began fighting their way out of the village through an angry mob filled with righteous indignation. The villagers knew who they were and what they were here to do and were fighting to save their god.

The troop, now down several guns, was still in the village when the deafening roar of the explosion rolled across the valley. The villagers, struck dumb by the sight, stopped fighting, and stared at the fireball.

Camron took Perchance's arm and slung it over his shoulder. "Let's go," he screamed as the sound of screeching metal filled the air.

The villagers rushed to the center of town just in time to watch their giant lurch to one side, teeter for a second, then fall to the ground with a crash, flattening several of the nearby huts. The people stood silent in their rags with their mouths agape as they stared in disbelief. A woman in the crowd began to wail loudly as she pushed through the stunned crowd. She went to the fallen giant and dropped to her knees beside it, crying.

"Who would do such a thing?" one man asked, joining the woman. "Why? Why?"

"Oh great Peacekeeper, forgive us for our failures. Forgive us for not protecting you," the woman cried. "Forgive our egregious sin."

"The raiders!" a man shouted. "The raiders did this to us!"

"What will we do now?" someone whined.

The crowd began to call for the heads of the raiders, chanting for their deaths.

"Who will go after them?" one man asked, standing before the crowd. "They've escaped the village. Who will bring them back?" He surveyed the crowd as the chants began to fade. "Look what they have done." He stretched one hand toward the twisted remnants of the giant's legs and the other toward the broken shell of its body. "Will no one avenge the destruction of our great Peacekeeper?"

"But they're in the yellow zone by now, and soon to be in the red. We cannot go out there."

The man looked at the crowd and shook his head. "But what are we to do now?" he asked before staggering away, his head hanging low.

"They're not chasing us," Camron said, grinning as he lugged Perchance across the valley floor.

"Good. That's good," Perchance whispered, his free hand pressed to his side to stem the flow of blood.

"You going to be okay."

"I don't know. It hurts like hell and I'm losing a lot of blood." Perchance raised his bloody hand before him as he staggered alongside his friend. He shook his head and put his hand back over the wound.

"We get you back to camp you be fine."

"Slow down. There's no hurry. Tell the others to go ahead so we can talk."

"No. No. Don't start that shit with me, Perchance."

Perchance smiled at his friend. "Please."

A wave of sadness washed over Camron's face as tears welled in his eyes. "Go ahead, get back to camp," he yelled to the group, waving them past him. "We will be along shortly." He forced an excited cheer as they streamed past. When the last of the group had gone ahead, leaving Camron and Perchance alone, they slowed to a walk.

"You know, when I first saw you, I thought you were an idiot."

Camron laughed. "This is what you want to tell me?"

"No," Perchance said, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "But when I got to know you, I realized you were a good man. A better man than me."

"Maybe you were the idiot."

"Look, Cam, you've been with me for a long time. I'm not afraid to say we couldn't have done what we've done without you. You've been a good soldier, a good man, and a better friend."

"Well," Camron said adjusting Perchance's arm around his neck. "Was either be with you or be in a village like that one. I do not like to be afraid all the time."

"Do you know why I started all this?"

"You do not like robots?"

Perchance laughed, then grimaced. "That is true."

Camron looked at his friend. His breath was coming in short, labored pants. He didn't have much longer and he wanted to say something.

"My dad was a great man. He never was in any type of official position, but he was a great leader. Other men looked to him for answers. I remembered seeing them come to the house and talk to him. When the blasts happened, he helped people get things back together. Everything was in chaos all around us, but in our little house things were right as rain."

Perchance coughed and stopped walking, casting his eyes to the boulder plain ahead of them. "My mother said he was a rock. When things changed, he stayed the same. He weathered the lightning storms without a complaint. He hunted and fished and grew our food and gave away plenty. He protected us from raiders countless times, and other people's houses as well. For all my life he never changed. He just adapted to whatever situation he was in."

"He sounds like a great father."

"He was." Perchance motioned for Camron to let him sit down against one of the larger boulders that had rolled into the plain and he complied. He settled on the cold ground and leaned against the stone with a pained grunt.

"But as great as he was, my mom was greater. She never spoke ill of anyone. When my father went to fight in the wars, it was just us two. I took over from my father and tried to be great as he was. Before long, people were coming to me for advice. Imagine that. A nine, ten-year-old kid. My mother said it was because they needed to believe in something, in someone."

Camron watched Perchance cough and took off his thick overcoat, draping it over his legs as he knelt on the frozen ground next to his friend.

"When my father came back from the wars, he was different. He was afraid. I never saw him afraid before, but he was then. He didn't act like it, but I could see it in his eyes. We did fine that winter, but in the spring the Peacekeeper that patrolled our area started getting closer and closer. I asked my father what we should do. He said we should hide. That's when we started digging the escape tunnels."

"That makes sense to me."

"One day a bunch of us guys decided to go and fight the Peacekeeper. We built this trap." Perchance grimaced and pressed his hand to his side.

"You've told me this story."

"Not all of it." Perchance doubled over as pain wracked his body. When the pain eased, he sat back up. "We went out and found it, but it killed three of us straight away. Like that." He snapped his fingers weakly before letting his hand drop back to his lap. "It was horrible hearing them scream, but I knew we were in for it then, so I fought on. We ended up breaking its eyes out and then tricked it into walking off a cliff. We all cheered when that son of a bitch smashed itself to bits on the rocks. We laughed and cheered. When my father found out, he was mad as hell. He spanked me and called me selfish."

Perchance looked up at the morning sky and shook his head, a sad smile on his lips. "Within a month there was another Peacekeeper. He climbed the mountain and came straight for our little village. It came for us because I fought and killed the other one. I brought it to us, and it killed everybody in the village except me."

"That's not your fault, man. You were a child."

"My mother never blamed me like my father did. She said I was just trying to find out what being a leader was. Once, late one night, she said she was proud of me for killing the peacekeeper. She said she wished they were all dead. That they were evil machines."

"She was right, too."

Perchance shrugged. "I guess she was. The night it came to our village she was reading the old bible to me. I don't know which one. But there was this story about this kid who killed a giant with a rock and a sling." He wiped a tear from the corner of his eye. "I said, 'that's like me', and she smiled. I'll never forget it. She said I was a giant slayer. That was what I was born to be."

"Aye, and you're the best."

"Do you know what my name means?"

Camron shook his head. "I just thought you had a funny name."

Perchance smiled. "It means 'if by some chance'. She said that's why she named me that. She always said, if by some chance this world gets any better, it will be because of men like you."

Camron inhaled deeply, struggling to maintain his composure. He looked back toward the eastern sky where the giant once stood. The soft rays of the morning sun lit the valley, now free of the hulking mechanism that dominated the landscape for the last fifty years. A thin trail of smoke rose from the village, marking the spot of their latest victim.

"The valley definitely looks better without dat thing," he said. As he turned back to Perchance, his smile faded. Looking at his friend's still, lifeless body, he began to cry. He leaned forward and pulled Perchance's body in a tight embrace, weeping openly as a cold wind ripped across the valley.

Camron held his friend close for a long time before finally laying him on the ground. He stood and looked around, surveying the valley. "Someday," he said as the wind gusted in his face, "This place will hold evidence of the death of a great man."

Camron scratched the patchy gray hair on his face as he approached the podium, a man half his age holding his elbow. He laid down the speech that he'd only helped write and cleared his throat, causing the microphone before him to squeal with feedback. The same younger man came forward and adjusted it in front of him.

The old man stood on tired legs and looked out over the throngs of people before him. Stretching as far as his failing eyes could see, they stood in the warm sunshine and waited for him to speak. He looked out over the valley, seeing it for only the second time in his life. His eyes went to the towering figure before him, draped in a massive tarp, and he smiled.

"Today," he began, then cleared his throat. "Today is the realization of the dream of many, many people that you've never met. Great people, strong people who dared to hope in the face of hopelessness. People who dared to fight in the face of fear. People who dared to dream in the darkest of nights. That dream survived the great blasts, suffered through the lightning storms, fought in the Great Wars, and suffered beneath the feet of mechanical beasts. The dream that you enjoy today began as a dream of a woman who dared to hope for a better future and named her son Perchance."

Camron paused when a great cheer went up. He smiled as he thumbed a tear from his cheek. His friend had grown into a legend these last sixty years.

"Perchance once told me that in an old text that his mother read to him, there was a tale of a young boy who was brave enough to fight a giant," he paused, smiling as another cheer went up from the crowd. "Ruth Davis told her son, only moments before she was killed by a peacekeeper, that if this world was going to get any better it would be because of brave men like him." He wiped another tear while waiting for the raucous crowd to settle down.

"I know that there were many men and women who fought the Peacekeepers, who strove to get us to where we are today, but every army needs a general, every movement needs a leader, every hope needs shoulders to ride on, and those shoulders belonged to my dear, dear friend, Perchance. He gave his life to help build the world we now enjoy. We've still got a long way to go, but because of men like him, we have the chance to get there."

Camron extended his hands to the figure before him. A deafening roar filled the air as the tarp began to fall, revealing the statue of Perchance. Standing with a rifle in his hand and a pair of binoculars to his face, it looked out over the plain, ever searching for the next Peacekeeper while one foot rested on the ruins of a dead giant.

The aid stepped forward and waved his hands to quiten the crowd. When they calmed down, Camron leaned closer to the microphone.

"My friend wasn't big on speeches and neither am I. I just want to leave you with this, and I hope you carry it with you everywhere you go." Camron drew in a deep breath and blew it out slowly.

"If, perchance, the day comes when the world needs a hero, let that hero be found in all of us."

The crowd erupted into applause as a hand slipped gently around his waist. Turning, he put his arms around the young woman and hugged her to him.

"You did good, daddy. You ready to go home now?"

Camron looked at his daughter, smiling as he cradled her cheek in his hand, then stared at the statue of his friend for a long time. When he turned back to his daughter tears were streaming down his face.

"Yeah, baby," he answered with a weak nod but didn't move.

The young woman followed his gaze to the statue of a man she never met. She rubbed his back lovingly as they stared at it in silence. The sadness on his face broke her heart.

"You miss him, don't you?"

"I do," he nodded. "To the world he was a hero, but to me, he was my friend. That's what I miss the most."


  1. I found this both entertaining and poignant throughout. It's compelling - no small feat in that the themes here have been explored before. Your take on it is refreshing and covers a lot of explanation and backstory in an elegant fashion. The emotional tone is fairly even, would have been interesting to have more highs and lows along the way. But, that is a small nit in something that's compelling and satisfying from beginning to end.