Katherine and I, on a stage of blood-soaked sand baked hard by the heat of our battle. Muzzle-flash-lit smoke and fire and thunder. Hearing and scent long since shut down from overload. But my eyes still worked. Gods help me, for my soul is blinded by what I saw.
It was just as well that I was out of ammunition- I couldn't have shot her. Not after meeting eyes. To my immense joy, and my eternal regret, she blinked and lowered her weapon.
Her.. aura.. flickered as confusion and uncertainty undermined her will.
Then, defying likelihood, my stricken steed exploded, the shockwave knocking the two of us down and out. I regained conciousness quickly enough to observe a time-honored law of narrative- a burning road wheel bounced and rolled away from the wreckage.
The next couple of days are perhaps even more hazy and fragmented than the orchestrated chaos of the preceding battle.
Katherine spent much of the time unconcious- something had struck her when my tank exploded, and she was badly concussed, from my best guess. So I carried her when I could, dragged her when I had to and kept her as comfortable as I could when we had to hide. I had to ensure that we were found by not just the good guys, but the right good guys. I knew that if troops from my own, personal command found us, they'd at least give me the benefit of the doubt.
And, in the end, a squad of my cavalry scouts did rescue us. Apparently, I was listed as missing in action, having decisively engaged the enemy command element. Enough fast-talking and string-pulling later, and Katherine was officially listed as a 'female Protectorate noncombatant' who had aided me at the end of the battle.
I'm not sure that I ever conciously decided to hide her from my own side. She needed help, and I knew she would not find it from my countrymen. She would have been faced with interrogation, observation, hell- more '-ations' than I care to imagine. But I could help her. I could help her find her humanity, help her to be free.
There certainly wasn't a plan. I made it up as we went along. I wondered quite a bit at the time- wondered how this could possibly play out. Wondered how Katherine felt about this. She was.. compliant. Not meek, but willing to go with the flow.
There's so much information to convey here that dreams always take for granted. The rotation of my unit into garrison for reequipping and integrating new personnel. Me being put on convalescent leave for a few weeks. Getting to know Katherine. Baby Buddha- all this, and I've not even described her, let alone recounted any of our conversations. Such is the way of dreams, gods help me.
Most striking, and perhaps most sadly, was the incongruity between her smooth, unmarred skin, and the depth and darkness her eyes betrayed. At least with old grunts like me, with years on the line, we wear some of that darkness on our faces and in our skin. Even if you don't know us, you can usually tell we've been there, done that. But with Katherine, she was as fair as when she had been decanted. She had scars, but they were hidden behind her eyes.. but the worst scars always are, I suppose.
Katherine had scars because she didn't believe. She knew it was all bullshit, but she had been smart enough to play along. Apparently, there had been other subjects, other angels, who were not so devious. Those were subject to post-vitro abortion. The fanatic can justify any act, while the rest of us have to pay up, sooner or later. So Katherine paid- the deaths she took responsibility for branded into her soul. Even I didn't have it so bad- I did believe in what I was doing, and so did the men I had lost. That eases the burden, a little.
The Protectorate had designated her "Tceralj" (pronounced chur-ALL-yuh), but she spat the name out disdainfully. She was delighted with "Katherine". You see, it wasn't the designation of a tool, or a name bestowed upon a prized pit-fighting dog. It was a name for a human being. She adopted our name for her with joy. 'Converting' her was not going to be a problem- teaching her to be... well, human, was the task I faced.
Music, literature- culture beyond militant faith and fanatacism.
She wasn't ignorant- she was very well educated in many fields. In all the fiddly little things that make up being human, she was... innocent.
After a few days, I enlisted the help of an old friend. Master Sergeant Amanda Byrnes had led me into battle earlier in my carreer, and had followed me in more recently. Those days, she was in semi-retirement. She had lost both of her legs from the knee down a couple of years before, and while she got around on her prosthetics quite well, she knew that she'd never meet her own standards as infantrywoman. Somehow, Amanda had always seemed the most... well, female of all the female soldiers I knew. How she managed this while still being the most hard-assed NCO I'd ever known is a complete mystery to me.
I sought out Amanda's help because.. well, what the hell do I know about being a woman? If Ol' Sarge couldn't show her how to be a strong woman, well, no one could.
Duty pulled me away for brief periods, but Katherine and Amanda enjoyed one and other's company, and I had no need to worry about her well-being.
What can I say? I skirted around my feelings, trying to be near Katherine and avoid her at the same time. Trying to avoid the guilt of my desire- guilt because despite being my equal, she was.. so very innocent. So I danced, and I tried clumsily to ensure that she- and, ha, probably moreso, Amanda- knew that I didn't feel... entitled.. to anything from her. I probably looked like an idiot.. like a man in love, I suppose. Trying not to crowd Katherine, trying not to be overprotective, while still.. hovering, I guess.
Ultimately, Katherine's nature settled matters. She watched me dodge and weave, waited for the opening, and promptly attacked.
Clumsy as it was, it was a hell of a kiss.