You’re tired. Sure, you haven’t slept in 22 days, but that’s not the source of your exhaustion—you might not ever sleep again and you wouldn’t miss it a bit. No, the problem is the repetition. The unending déjà vu on top of déjà vu, like standing between two mirrors, surrounded by infinite reflections of yourself. It’s a war of attrition; day after day after same old goddamned day, over and over again.
It’s 6:28 PM. You know this; you don’t need to check the time. You’ll have your answer in a couple of minutes, but there’s no need to watch the horizon. You know exactly when and where to look.
To pass the time you light a cigarette you bummed from Cofferman. That’s new, at least. You added it to your routine a few days ago—maybe a week? Impossible to tell anymore—just to break the monotony. The smoke and menthol coat your gums in a way that’s both hot and cool at the same time. You’re starting to enjoy it when you have a funny thought about how you might be forming a habit even though it’s technically still your first smoke. From a certain perspective, anyway.
You take one last drag and toss the butt to the ground. The sun is getting ready to kiss the horizon, so you grab the detonator and look a few degrees south of the middle of the valley between the ridges. Your eyes bulge, straining against the wind that’s about to pick up as you will things to be different.
Not again. Not again.
And there they are. Again. Marauders, spilling over the hillside by the thousands, coming to destroy everything you’ve sworn to defend. You can’t stop them, but you can slow them down. Buy a little more time.
You flip the safety on the detonator and pull the trigger. The valley quakes and spits white hot death in the form of magnesium and phosphorus. You stare right at it. The flame-bursts burn dark streaks on your retinas in the shape of fireworks, but you know there’s no risk of long term damage.
As the munitions turn the first wave of Marauders into fatty globs of paraffin and the low clouds begin to turn red like they’re soaking up blood, you turn and make your way briskly into the tunnel and board the waiting magtram. You had plenty of time to program the destination earlier, so all you have to do is launch it and have a seat.
It’ll be 48 minutes back to the facility, as usual. Then meet back up with the rest of the squad, strap yourselves into the cradle, a little pinch and then—it’ll be 14 hours and 18 and a half minutes earlier again, back in your slightly younger body. Without the scarred corneas. Without nicotine in your bloodstream. Without rest, though your body will have had a full night’s sleep. The only thing you’ll bring back with you are the memories, so you can try again, do it differently. Get it right once and for all.
The magtram comes to a screeching halt, and you tumble forward into the bulkhead as the lights go out. You groan and pick yourself up, and your swirling thoughts come into sharp focus all at once.
This is new. Oh, shit.