City of the Dead – Sympathy for the Devil by Francis Marion
I rode a tank
Held a general’s rank
When the blitzkrieg raged
And the bodies stank
UN Permanent Executive Authority, California Territory September 17th, 2074
Desolation Wilderness World Heritage Forest & Ecosystem Preserve
The general climbed the last thirty feet to the top of the rock outcropping, crested the ridge and paused to take in the view. He took a deep breath in then exhaled and stretched his upper body. He could see his breath hang heavy in the twilight and early autumn air in front of him. This particular spot never got old for the general. Every year for the past forty or more years since he had landed on the west coast under the UN flag he had come to this spot in the Sierra mountains of eastern California. But this time was different. This trip into the mountains would be his last.
So he pulled his old solid fuel stove from his pack and began the same ritual he had repeated so many times in the years past. With the stove lit and the stainless steel pot on top of it filled with water he pulled his cup from his pack and set it on the stone next to him. Then he reached into his pack and pulled out a second cup and placed it next to the first.
He leaned back against the same rock he always sat against and turned his face towards the rising sun. Chen loved this time of day. The temperature always dropped right before the sun came over the ridge. He could feel the difference in the temperature change on the surface of his skin and if he watched and paid attention closely enough he could see the dew form at the same moment on the long blades of grass and the leaves of low lying brush all over the alpine. It was a time, albeit a brief one, of rapid change and it always reminded Chen of how the natural world moved, ebbed and flowed. For some reason, until today, he could not understand why it always brought him so much comfort.
The pot came to a boil in front of him and the general pulled two tea bags from his pack and placed one in each cup. He slowly poured the boiling water into each vessel and waited while the steam from both mugs rose and caught the strands of light peeking through the rocks and trees above and in front of him.
As the sun crested the mountaintop to the east the general closed his eyes and let the growing light warm his face. He could feel its heat on his cheeks, just like he had so many times before and he thought, of all the things he would miss it would be this he would miss the most.
He sat with his eyes closed, breathing slowly and deeply and meditated for a minute or two then said, “Good morning colonel. I’ve made you a cup of tea. Please help yourself.”
As he slowly opened his eyes he could see colonel Stevens through the spots of light and shadow alternating from the cells of his retina. He was standing ten yards off amongst a bit of scrub pine near where the trail came to an end on Chen’s plateau.
“I don’t drink tea,” replied Stevens matter o factly. He circled slowly around behind Chen who continued to peer into the sunrise.
“Of course you don’t. But I made you some anyways. It would have been rude if I’d done otherwise. Please sit and have a drink. It was a long hike in and you must be tired and thirsty,” Chen lifted his own cup to his face and let the steam hit his nostrils. He inhaled deeply and took his first sip.
“I said I don’t drink tea,” replied Stevens from behind.
The general chuckled, “I think you must be the only Englishman I’ve met who doesn’t.”
Stevens stopped behind the general, “There is something missing from the lab General. Care to tell me where it is?”
Chen grinned and took another drink of his tea, “It is where you believe it to be.”