the scattered recollections of two boys in C O L L A P S E —

Amstead's army pressed ever onward across the Ossan landscape. A mountain range loomed to the north, breaking the horizon in a blend of reds and blues, hazy but nevertheless hungry—a hateful challenge always threatening, a topographical tear along the lacquertops of desk-tethered generals overseeing the arrangement of their ground forces. In the vast plateau before that change in elevation, towns and villages lay scattered. These hideaways were known to harbor insurgents masquerading as humble civilians; full of first time mothers claiming boys who, by traditional approximation, were not even close to being related. Any house became a safe house for Ossa's guerrilla rebellion, so Amstead saw fit to discourage such an effort with artillery. Gifts rained from the skies. First in propagandic flyers from unarmed single engine props, then in a flurry of shelling accented with the rapid chittering of cannon fire from low-altitude death dealers. The invading forces left the red clay plastered and pockmarked, then she sent in her clean-up crews.

A small convoy of canvas-wrapped trucks ambled across the uneven desert terrain carrying the most dispensable of what the foreign army had to offer: infantrymen. A squad of twelve was split among three vehicles and given a direction—south, northeast, northwest—where each would take a pair of three man fire-teams to their location except for northwest, who were tasked to go it alone. PFCs Kasse Sejan and Eoran Toriet were assigned to that third vehicle. Their team leader was huddled near the cab, hand over an ear as he shouted a string of jargon confirming their orders into the mouthpiece of his radio.

Between the yelling and the loud chugging of the diesel engine that moved them, Eoran glanced sidelong to Kasse. His nerves betrayed him in the frantic shifting of his eyes, the way they flitted back and forth, the way he clutched his weapon's stock with white-knuckled fingers. As the truck slid to a sudden halt, his shoulder was forced to collide with his friend’s. Eoran apologized but the noise surrounding them stole his sound from the shape of his mouth.

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