Hwang Ce-Yul was certain he’d never seen the skies like this before. They were a rhapsodic sort of blue-grey, feathered with clouds both pure white and ebon black, wild and out of control. Something of a contrast to his fortress. Since the war began, he’d been holed up here. Well, at least as long since he was commanded to retreat from the Beacon. Those shells… those bombs… he thought they might be responsible for the skies. He’d never seen such ordnance as the US had brought to bear.


Nothing on the scope, again. The radio wasn’t safe, most of the time, even with the codes. He’d been callsign WR4, sending out on the military frequencies, but maybe there was jamming or maybe there were no partisans left. His parents had supported the old regime, of course, because there was no consciousness of resistance for practically everyone. Not until Chen-Zing Loak. With his ancient, unfamiliar name, his zeal and passion, somehow, freedom had triumphed. Irrelevant now. The dreamed of war had come.


A sniper rifle at the top of a brick tower. A functional rectangle, seemingly ex-hospital. Had they bombed the hospital? Had it been demolished in the few years of progress? Why the one tower? So clean, so silent…


Turned the radio back on. A bit of static. Calmed him down. Scopes – nothing. Couldn’t be too careful. Problem was, he didn’t have any orders worth speaking of. The mechanised forces had fallen in Hwanghae Pukdo, and the infantry had been told to scatter, but not what then. Like the erstwhile seeds of a windblown plant, they lay in all the empty places, but with no idea of how to grow.


And that’s why he was watching the sky as much as he was watching the barren fields. It mesmerised him, even as he worried it was more likely the sign of a man-made storm, some strange death machine turned against his comrades and his people. Who knew what the Westerners had spent their obscene money on? He’d seen their tanks, seen their guns, and they had scared him.


Scared him out of taking initiative. He turned the radio back on, wishing for orders. It kept going off. Insufficient power, haunting airwaves. Patterns in the sky he couldn’t see.


He’d have to move soon. Finite supplies. He had a map. Next station, twenty-five kilometres. All the reserves from the other war. He had never known how to fight that war – East versus West just fitted him better than North versus South. Maybe after the next one he would try and go home. Maybe he’d already done whatever counted as his duty. He wondered if the skies were like this back home. He wondered if there was any sense in portents anymore.

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