The Front

A short story about a gun and her girl by Lena Raine.

1.

Jill and me got sent to the Front. It’s not like I haven’t known it was inevitable. All the girls in training knew it was just about our time. Can’t say I’m surprised, either. Jill and me, we’re tight. We’re a single unit. She points, I shoot. Bam. Gods, if only the others could see us here. They’d be jealous, I just know it. Even the li’l sidearms, polished and flirty. The rascals.

Jill told me all sorts in the nights up ‘til we got sent. The kinda nights we’d go out back and get intimate. She’d always been real courteous, though. Always laid each part of me out on the cloth all delicate, caressing as she’d go. Careful, precise. She’d tell me about her childhood, about the times she’d called up friends just to go stargazing. That her place was the best, all quiet and filled with cricket song. They’d come over, flickering holos in the twilight, grins and giggles at just the chance to see a constellation.

Jill and me, we looked up. There were stars on those nights too, and I’d laugh a li’l when her cloth clogged up my muzzle, only to see again and gasp at Cassiopeia, so clear and shiny.

She’d been telling me about a time she’d tagged in on a girlfriend in London when we got the word from Command. We’d been all titters over some story about how she’d gone to a park with her girl and some drunk had stepped right thru Jill’s holo all wobbly feet and slurs prodding the poor girl askin’ if they were “one’a them gays”. And he got told right off, and Jill was just gettin’ to the part where she and her girl brushed fingers right thru the connection and could just swear they felt a little tingle of something real, when in flew a Courier with the news.

“When?” asked Jill. The little Courier orb’s light flickered in the dark. Corporal Williams stood at attention like always, stiff and stern.

“The ‘morrow,” said Williams. And that was that.

2.

The corporal was always the same kind of woman, no matter if it was via Courier holo, real life, or ten-story projection with the day’s report. Always the kind that would sooner step on you than take no for an answer. Jill knew that, I knew that, everyone sitting at the mess hall tables knew it. Williams’ drone of statistics and annotated maps carried on above us as the girls ate.

Jill took another bite of whatever it was that fueled the troops and shuddered. It was for energy, not pleasure, but I knew Jill’s sweet tooth better than anyone. Tucked a strawberry stem in my sight once, called me her little berry. Would’ve blushed if I could.

She was a sweet girl, though, and I often wondered why she’d come all this way with me by her side. War was never her thing, she’d said. Wasn’t raised military, never played any shooting games either in or outside the Immerse. Never knew how to shoot ‘til she met me. Couldn’t shoot a damn without my help, if we’re being truthful. Didn’t antagonise the girl, just…care about her is all.

But we’d gotten acquainted first day of training and she seemed so hopeful. Jill Armistice, up from the country, raring to go. Told her myself she was no fit for it. She smiled though, took a little cleaning cloth from her Frames’ carrying case and gave me an introductory polish. I flustered, let her take things from there. Figured we’d get on fine. We did.

3.

It was hard to think on our way up to the Front. The sergeant, the tank and her driver all kept shouting at each other like a dysfunctional triad. Wild storm on its way. Rocky terrain ahead, too.

“Fuck you both I’m engaging hexapedal mode,” muttered the tank, who insisted she knew far better than her hapless pilot who was continually scrambling to catch up.

“H-hey, Ami, I’m trying my best!”

“You’re both useless unless you work as a team!”

Jill and I laughed to ourselves. A bit too loud, maybe. The sergeant turned her head, but Jill just made a little OK sign with her hand and she turned away.

“Close call,” I whispered.

Jill smiled and patted my stock.

The tank, Ami, jolted as she hastily raised her treads, jostling her six limbs free from the buglike exterior, rotating into place and ready to tackle the slick mountainside. All that we could see through the small viewport was endless rain pouring down Ami’s sides, with a brief punctuation of lightning.

Thunder rumbled in the distance. Or perhaps it was the groaning of rock against metal as we ascended towards the camp. The chatter stopped and everyone exchanged a few careful glances in the reddish light of Ami’s interior. It was all we could stand to do.

4.

The Front was quiet, like a hush had fallen upon the world in the interval between peace and death. The others that’d come back had talked about how it was a kind of limbo, where you knew that once the shooting started, that was it. You either ran out of breath and fell by the wayside, or you got filled back up by your girl, ready to shoot another day.

I tried to never think about what the others on the opposite ridge felt. The ones I’d spy in my sight, all close. Before Jill, I’d seen a man with a sandwich—a fucking sandwich!—all laid out in a pool of himself a moment later. I’d not been the one to pull the shot. That was another one, or her girl, or both. But I saw that man, the before and the after. That was before it was The Front. When it was just another skirmish, just another advance.

But the man and his sandwich didn’t matter anymore when my girl got shot.

It was a lot slower than the here-once gone-again man across the ridge. I’d felt the jostle, the sudden reaction, way faster than I could hear the endless bass of the shot to take her out. I flew up and out of her embrace, left only to gravity as I spun through the air. Every rotation I saw her closer and closer to the ground. Until I was well past the edge of the ridge and left to finish my own descent.

The recovery drones found me the next morning. Took me back, got me fixed up. Found me a new girl.

Found me my Jill.

5.

Sunrise on the ridge and all I can do is squint. The others have the advantage, and Jill knows, so she stays well out of sight. Keeps me primed, though. Keeps me on point. I taught her how to hold her breath, how to cycle her breath, how to never let the need for air give the enemy a target. We’re a good team. She takes care of me. I take care of her.

Two days on the ridge and we’ve only shot once. Silenced, clean, before they could draw a bead on its source.

A slight whirr overhead signals the return of a Scout, straight into the sunrise. Jill curses under her breath, and I shush her. It’s ok. We’ll get the next one. I know she gets the message because she looks up from the scope into her periphery, gives the smallest of nods.

The sun will rise for another hour. Sixty minutes of relative calm and quiet with my girl. We can’t talk like we did at the barracks, smile at her extremely gay stories. We can’t stay up late to pore over visual novels in her HUD, debate in text messages over which path to explore next while the girls snooze around us.

But we can watch the stars a bit longer, watch them fade away into a new day’s dawning.