Barb slammed the car door shut, echoing Dirth's slam behind her.
“Sure you're ready for this?” He came around the car to stand near her.
Barb took a deep breath, aware of his smell for the first time. He felt two inches too close, but she couldn’t help leaning into him, drawing from his scent and his confidence. “Yeah, I’m ready.”
Before she knew what was happening, Dirth grabbed her hand and pulled her down behind Sandy’s car. "What the –"
Dirth motioned for her to stay quiet.
“Hello?” she suddenly heard her dad's voice calling out. “Sandy, that you?” Barb could just imagine her dad peering out their tattered screen window, working to get a glimpse of their car from six floors above. “I’ll be damned,” she heard him mutter as he shuffled his feet away.
“He’s leaving soon,” she whispered to Dirth.
“Yeah. He won’t come back.”
Dirth’s hand, still pressed into hers, pulled her quickly into the street, past the building entryway, and up the first floor of tenement stairs. At the sound of approaching feet, he tugged her under the nearest stairwell. “Hey, quit yanking me around,” Barb joked.
“I thought you said he wouldn’t be home now!” Dirth whispered back seriously.
“He shouldn’t be. Maybe he overslept.”
Dirth turned to look into her eyes then, like he was scanning them for honesty. As he scanned, Bob’s creaking figure passed over them. Bob's head, couched unobservantly on his thick neck, took no notice of the shadows beneath him. As soon as he'd descended past them, Dirth and Barb leapt up the stairs, their hands still held tight. Nestled in the grip of Dirth's fingers, Barb's own fingers felt thin and feminine in a way they'd never felt before.
“Do you have the key?” Dirth asked as they reached the front door.
Barb leaned across him, turned the knob until it clicked, and swung the door open. “Nothing to steal.”
Dirth’s grip on her hand suddenly tightened. “Whose shoes are those?”
“They’re Connor’s. God, you’re paranoid. Come on.” She pulled him into the apartment. In the safety of her own home, she was suddenly so aware of the heat between their fingers, the burn of their hands pressed together. She awkwardly broke away to turn on some lights and took a few steps towards her room. "It's in here."
Together, they stepped into her bedroom. Barb hurried to kick aside her and Bob's dirty clothes and clear a path to the alleyway between her twin bed and the wall.
‘Not much for cleanliness, are we?” Dirth remarked with a smile.
“Says the man living in a cave.” Barb kneeled down behind the bed and picked something up. “Here it is."
Suddenly serious, Dirth hurried around the bed and leaned over her to get a better look. The shadow he cast – his proximity, even – made her warm again.
“Connor Merck #79,” he read aloud. “Looks like a serious guy.”
“Yeah, well, he wasn’t.” Barb stood up, handing the access card over to Dirth. “Let’s go, we got what we need.”
“Don’t you want your things?”
Barb looked around, unenamored by the year-old piles of laundry surrounding her, the school papers littered with red marks, her heavily-angsted art on the walls, the stacks of music she’d so arduously collected. “What for?”
“For living in. You might not ever come back here.”
This time Barb pushed a look into Dirth’s eyes. He was sincere. The weight of his words came crushing down on her. Up to this point, she’d seen the Diggers as a new adventure, as a way of escaping the tyrannical establishment of the Routine. But staring at her hideous room, her lifelong entrapment, she suddenly realized that Dirth was right. This might be the end. In a weird way, she knew she'd already been gone for a while now. She cast a glance towards Bob’s bed, where his blankets sat sprawled and wrinkled in the exact way he must have exited them. She readily called to mind the way he would slowly sit up every morning and pivot in place to plant his feet on the floor. The way he sat there staring at her, as though each day was a new realization of her disappointment to him. The way he would tighten his lips for a second, and then heave himself up to start his daily shave. For a second, she wondered if the bed was still warm. The idea that Bob emitted warmth, and that every morning he ventured out into the cold to provide for her, gave her pause.
She felt Dirth’s hand gentle on her arm.
“I just need to write him a note,” she said finally.
As she scratched out her last words, Barb couldn’t help feeling that the paper she wrote on would somehow get lost in the wind, that as soon as she pinned it to the door, the slightest gust would pull it right off. There was no room for closure in this arrangement. She grabbed a magnet off the fridge and stuck her note under it. Beside the note hung a faded photo of her and Bob, when she was young. She stuffed it into her purse.
Dirth joined her at the doorway, holding several duffel bags of clothes.
“I seriously don’t need anything,” Barb muttered.
“They’re for me,” Dirth replied, smiling again. “You do grow short on clothes, living in a cave…”
The door clicked quietly shut behind them. It was strange to leave her home with a stranger, especially one towing the clothes of her dead brother. She remembered the brown and green fatigues Connor used to always wear. Seeing them in Dirth’s hands sent a pang of sadness down her spine. It was too soon to erase her brother’s memory.
Williams hustled out to line up. Jorge was standing in his usual spot, at ease. Jorge gave a slight nod, but his lips held taut. Approaching the line, Williams saw a familiar infinitum of soldiers disappear into the distance. Another day, he thought to himself. Another day and not a single one of us a-holes knows the big picture. He snapped into place at Jorge’s side.
Every day they did the Drill. None of them knew what the Drill was for, or how it was meant to be used, but they did it nonetheless. Privately, each of them wondered if the soldier next to him might know more, might see something he didn’t. It was the psychology of lines driving them – all you needed was one person in front and a network of close ties in between. A chain unbroken. A lieutenant began walking down the line, checking that their toes were in order. Hell, when you put a hundred clueless fuckers together, they can do anything, Williams thought. We can do anything. We’re unstoppable.
At the end of the Drill, P.P. Gonzalez cleared his throat from the spectatorship above. “Gentlemen, I expect this war to be immediate and effective. Klammath has focused all their resources on defending themselves in anticipation of our attack. All I want you to do is win. Alright, let’s go.”
The thunder of boots signaled the start.
Aniah dragged a stick through the sand. Everyone in the Digger encampment was subdued, occupied with their own thoughts and waiting for Barb and Dirth’s hopeful return. Kaemi drew near, wrapping her hands under Aniah's arms to lift him. She stopped suddenly. “Aniah, what are you drawing?”
“Siwvah and wed,” he replied calmly.
Kaemi peered at the bark-colored sand, trying to imagine new colors in them. She gasped. Aniah had always been prophetic, but his messages had never been so clear.
“Aniah, is this blood at the mine?” He continued to draw. “Aniah, tell me, is this new blood or old blood?”
“It’s siwvah and wed,” he repeated. His tracings became increasingly frenetic, looping back over themselves, the pattern becoming lost.
“Aniah, stop! Stop drawing!” She struggled to tear the stick from his hand. “I need you to stop, Aniah! I need you to tell me if it’s new blood or old blood!” Others began to look up. “Is it new blood or old blood, Aniah? Is it new blood or old blood!”
Suddenly Aniah released the stick, and Kaemi, still hanging on, stumbled backwards. Aniah became extremely still. When his mouth opened, his voice was changed. “Old and new; it’s blood of all.”
A loud thunderous roll through the earth above them turned everyone’s attention towards the door. Mardeth looked up, studying the sounds, then shouted, “War!”