It's another perfect day on this char. The smoke from the piled-up bodies is choking, the air is bitterly cold, all the plants are burnt, rotting, or dead, and I haven't seen another living creature all week. Yep. Perfect.
My name is Jeff, I grew up on Earth, on a cul-de-sac with a bike, friends, and two divorced dads. I got conscripted by an alien race (big ugly heads, smell bad, no sense of humor, and a fondness for something that resembles a cattle prod) when I was seventeen. That was twelve years ago. I got implanted with some stuff--something that strengthened my bones (kinda like Wolverine, but not the cool blades and no adamantium--actually now that I think about it, not much like Wolverine at all), something that dispensed medicine so I never got infections and hardly ever got fatigued, and a controller for my brain that directed me on where to go and what to do when I got there. They dropped me down on battle after battle on various planets. Mostly I captured and collected other new recruits, when the species was suitable, but I also got to kill things. Weird things. You would not believe how weird these things were. All kinds of weird. I'm sure they probably didn't deserve to die, but they definitely would have killed me if I didn't kill them first...and it wasn't my fault I was there. Couldn't do anything on my own with that controller in me.
But I'm here now, stuck on this crappy dead planet. Well, I had a hand in making it dead, but it wasn't my choice. I guess I'm free. I'm not sure what happened, but we lost the battle. All the other soldiers are dead from what I can tell. I got knocked unconscious early on, got hit on the head by the track of what could be called a tank (they're sort of like that, but a lot bigger. They can carry fifty humans, and it's more of a troop transport thing, but they still have the big gun on the top. Shoots plasma instead of shells--looks fantastic at night). When I woke up I was lying in frosty mud with the lower half of a human body over my chest. Something like the northern lights was going on in the sky, pink and green and yellow ribbons wiggling around slowly, and there were fires and ash. Anything vegetative was in the process of incineration. Luckily it was a pretty barren planet to begin with, or all the oxygen would have been sucked up and turned into CO2 or something. And my controller wasn't working. At first I thought it was great, but then I realized I wasn't ever going to leave this place. My ride was gone.
So now I'm just trying to scratch an existence. I've collected quite a pile of rations from the dead bodies. I'm not going to go hungry for several months and I could probably stretch it out longer. I've had to burn the bodies, those that weren't already, just for some heat at night. I try to stick to humans and our fellow alien soldiers, because the aliens we were fighting smell really bad (plus their skin pops and sprays a mild acid when they're heated up. Disgusting, and I don't have the proper eyewear to deal with it). The dead soldiers have some interesting things on them. They didn't have a lot when they were conscripted, but they've managed to hide stuff or create stuff. A lot of them have drawings of home, or jewelry. Some have bits of bones or teeth or other momentos of our many battles. It's like we can't get through life without accumulating knick-knacks. The alien soldiers do to, but it's all strange stuff. They seem to like seed pods and twigs (could be food, but not sure), and they also have a sort of photograph. They had loved ones back on wherever they came from too. I guess we're not so different.
It's been two weeks, and I've been woken by skittering. I have my plasma gun, but I'm afraid to use it. If it's potential food, gloriously live food, I don't want to incinerate it into inedibility. I look up from my hole, trying not to make a sound, and in the light of the three moons I see a human. A human! A friggin' human!
"Hey!" I shout. The figure freezes. "I'm not going to shoot you if you don't shoot me."
"Ya got food?" It's the voice of a woman. I can't see her face, but I can see know that she's got her plasma gun too.
"What about water?"
"I got some."
"I boil it."
"Whatcha' boil it in?"
"Uh, alien helmet."
"Yeah, but the water's clean."
She shuffles down to me and I see her face in the firelight. She's emaciated. Probably a decade older than me but hard to tell. Got some battle scars on her cheek and neck. Her arm looks broken, but from some time ago. Our masters made us fight until we died. We didn't stop for injuries.
"Lemme see," she says. I give her some water. She takes the vessel between her wrists. All her fingers are gone, stumps healed over long before this last battle. I can see why she's emaciated. I'm surprised she survived this long. She takes long gulps.
"So..." she says when she finishes.
"So," I say. "Have you seen anyone else?"
"Had to put a few people out of their misery. They were going to die anyway. No point in the agony. You look healthy."
"I was lucky."
She laughs at this.
"What's your name?" she asks.
"Got a last name?"
"Does it matter?"
"I could make a joke with that," she says.
"Harhar. What about you?"
She looks up like she's thinking hard, probably to try to come up with something wild and ridiculous (like Xena, Daffodil, or Margaret Thatcher), which is pointless, but our whole endeavor here is pointless, so what does it matter?
"Grace," she says. "Don't make fun of me. My parents obviously couldn't guess at my awkward, shambling future." I smile. "You have a...nice little hovel here."
"You wanna share?" I ask. Her hands worry me. It would be cruel not to offer.
"Yeah, sure. But don't get any ideas. I'm not populating this horrid hellhole with you."
"I call it the char," I say. "Cause it's like a big lump of charcoal."
"The big barbecue."
"Hah, I guess."
We look at each other...two last people with no hope of getting back home. Looking at her face, without the influence of the controller, reminds me of Earth. In her face are all the faces I've ever seen and all the faces that could be (the human ones anyway). I wonder if she sees the same thing in me. And it hurts. Home hurts and I can't think about it.
I show her the stuff I collected. We look at the drawings for a long time and discuss them in detail. We wonder about the people who drew them from memory. Grace suggests we make a book out of them, rather than leave them loose, and we're distracted for awhile trying to figure out how to bind it with the stuff we have.
We're silent now, and tired. Through instinct, like the warm-blooded mammals we are, we curl up together like puppies. She's warm. She smells, but she's warm and comfortable. I don't know what the future holds for us, but this is a start.