"Tell me about before the war." The girl rested her chin on her folded hands over her knee and looked at the antique radio expectantly.
"I have one." She looked to the copper-haired man, surprised. "I said, I have one this time. I'm tired of the crap the Corporal spouts."
Oh really? You don't even remember—
"I was just a kid, but I do remember a bit."
Let's see what you got.
Kieli turned to face Harvey and drew up her other knee. A story from him was a rare treat.
"My brother and I went on a trip one summer break when I was a teenager. Times were starting to get tough, but our province was still wealthy and peaceful." Kieli made a small sound to indicate she was listening. Harvey continued, pausing now and again to take a drag on his cigarette.
"He was two years older than me, and had gotten to travel a bit for his job, so we went to nearby Sonora. First, we visited the citrus groves. There were trees full of bright-colored blossoms and fruit for miles around.
Fine, the radio harumphed. I remember the groves too.
"I lived in the city, so I'd never seen trees in the desert like that. If I had that much clean, clear water today I'd never have to gamble for fare or board again. But they threw it on the ground for the trees.
"We stayed with a couple that found us as we were getting ready to sleep in the truck on the side of the road. They saw us on their way home from a church service." He chuckled at the irony. "They invited us to stay at their home for the night. Insisted, really. Maybe we should have been suspicious, but it was easy to trust people back then.
"We had trouble with the truck in the morning. I spent half the day figuring out what the problem was — sand in the radiator, a broken fuse, a loose wire — and then it was too late to start out across the desert. We worked the other half of the day for board, and hoped the next day we could set off. The third day, I followed the farmer after dinner to our truck and found him letting air out of a tire. I convinced him to refill it and we finally got moving the next morning."
Kieli had little trouble imagining the scene, though she felt a little sorry for the farmer. "Why would he do that? I mean, why break your truck instead of asking you to stay?"
"Who cares? They probably needed the help. But later we found some of our money missing too. We didn't care enough to go back for it." He paused for an especially long time, finishing his cigarette and lighting another. Kieli wasn't sure he would continue, but knew if she pushed him to say more he would certainly stop.
"We had heard of this little station town with women who —"
He chuckled. "OK, OK. And it's Harvey." He paused and cleared his throat. After coughing a few times, he thought to take a sip of the drink he had poured an hour before. "Well, we found it. Boy did we find it."
"It's Harvey. After that we went to a factory town. Like today, not many factories were in the cities, so we hoped to see something new. My brother made fast friends with some of the local kids, so they showed us a secret facility."
If it was so secret, how did anyone know? the radio quipped.
"They had parents that worked there, and it wasn't completely closed off. The other kids took us where we could see through the fence. We saw soldiers doing drills, marching, shooting targets. They wrestled at the direction of the drill master, and a few practiced knife fighting. I'll never forget how they cut each other to the bone but kept fighting until the drill master told them to stop.
"When we came a few days later, it was if they'd never been touched. I'd seen Undying before, but never understood why they were special. The few in our city just wore a special badge." He sighed. "Right then, I wanted to be one of them."
You never did think long term, did you?
Harvey's arm shot out and grabbed the radio, but only slid it a few inches across the table, warning. "I was sixteen. Everything tough looks cool at that age. I was less interested when I found out I had to be dead to be eligible.
"There wasn't much to see but the training, so we moved on to something else pretty soon. My brother had heard of a place that made flying cars—"
A cough came from somewhere. Kieli thought it could be from the radio.
"—so we headed that way. It took a few days, but as we got within a day's drive, we started seeing the flying cars hovering over the road, and some high up shooting out of the town and diving into it."
The cough came again, louder. Harvey pretended not to hear it.
"When we finally got to the town, a lot of it was floating, including the car parks and cafes."
Bullshit! the radio hacked. That is the biggest bullshit I ever heard in my life! There was no such thing as flying cars here, ever. The radio began to cackle, finding the very idea laughable. And definitely no flying towns!
"How would you even know? You were a townie, then a soldier, then dead."
I know there were no flying cars!
As the radio continued to howl with laughter, Harvey silently stood and turned to go. Kieli glared at it, then followed him as far as the outer door.
"Harvey—" He turned to face her. "How much of all that was true?"
He looked away. "Enough," he mumbled as he lit a cigarette.
He took a long drag, then turned back to her and ruffled her hair. "It's mostly bullshit. Don't worry about it."
"Would you tell me more sometime?"
He flicked his lighter once, and she thought he smiled before he walked out into the night.