Transom street, which once ended at the bottom of a hill in a sweeping cul de sac, was now little more than a line of shelled out buildings falling in on themselves. Fighting between Smertios soldiers and Resistance units had left the entire neighborhood in a scatter of rubble.
Several high-end shops had been blown away, throwing stone and dirt in a wide arc through the street. Cold air froze puddles of water and turned breath to icy fog and yet from between the broken concrete walls of one remaining shelter, a thin curl of smoke spread out into the frigid night air. A glow of warmth emanated from between cracks in the walls where inside, a metal barrel filled with table legs and broken beams burned. Four humans and one Vilithii gathered around the heat, sharing laughter and stories.
“Makeba, toss that can of beans over here.” A fist sized canister whistled over Dieter’s head while he bandaged Makeba’s leg. The other man reclined in a sofa and bent his head low, fiddling with a radio propped on his lap. Rohit “Rocket” Hazarika snatched the beans out of the air and popped open the top.
“Don’t be stingy, man.” Rodriguez plopped on the capsized cushion of a seat close by and dug in with his fingers.
A heavy piece of metal scrap, which took the place of a door, squealed and announced the arrival of a Ximian and a small human woman. Chituxtu muscled the door closed again behind them. Bridgette Maloney slapped her hands together, blew inside her closed fists and cursed.
“What kind of idiot would start a war in the middle of winter.” She laughed and the others laughed with her.
“Good news,” she pronounced, taking a cup of hot tea from Bending Waves. “Chituxtu got the Rover working. Some kind of bypass with the electrical system. It’s not code, but it’ll work enough to get us back to base.”
There was a round of applause and Chixtuxtu was offered a hot drink and more food. Static screeched into the air. Everyone fell silent and turned to look at Makeba, his leg now entirely bandaged and raised on pillows, sat back from the the long range radio and returned a few tools to his bag.
“Just had to tweak my spare power cell,” he smiled and adjusted the levels. The radio squelched and buzzed and resolved into a thick voice.
“Falcata Unit distress signal received.” The voice said through more static. “Food rations on their way.”
“Three days too late, boys.” Rodriguez shouted at the radio and slapped his stomach.
“Transport arriving one hour at your location.” The room turned somber.
Rohit stood and cleared his voice. “Well, I think that’s our cue.” He helped Makeba to stand and threw an arm under the man’s shoulder.
“Thanks for the repairs and the bandages.” Rohit shook Rodriguez’s hand and tipped his head to Bending Waves and Chituxtu.
“We thank you for the food.” Chituxtu raised a can of beans in salute.
Bridgette and Dieter strapped on their Smertios uniforms, loaded their weapons and joined Rohit and Makeba at the scrap metal door. Rohit faced the Resistance fighters. When they saw each other after today things would be different.
“One day of peace a year,” Rohit smiled. “It’s not a bad start.”