Spring had been lazy, without consequences. Stefan approved an outline and booklist that Eran immediately scrapped and rewrote. Heat came and went, unable to settle in. Green appeared.
The transports were nothing to speak of. A skirmish here, a Parliament session there, and there had been a peaceful, starlit night in Belgium, the first gentle evening of spring.
“I’ve got a meeting with Stefan next week,” Kyle said. “See if he still wants to be my advisor. If I ever come back.”
“Want me to put in a good word?”
“Nah. To be honest, I’m not sure I want to keep working with him.”
Kyle had wanted to get out of the house, but Ian and Cam didn’t want a junkie poking around in their baby’s crib. (Although Eran suspected the real reason was that they, like all reputable yuppies, had an insecure stash of Percocet in their bathroom.) So they were at Chatterbox – Minneapolis; Eran had insisted on crossing the river – playing an old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
“Fucking tanks.” Kyle made as if to throw his controller down, remembering only at the last second that it wasn’t his.
“Who else would you work with?”
“I don’t know. Doesn’t matter. The department has to give me something. I mean, I’m trying here.”
Kyle was doomed. Passively bored, unwilling to plan, unwilling to participate, lying around waiting for someone to fix it. He had willpower from circumstance: Oops, I got in deeper than I wanted, but I’m not really an addict. It would dissolve with time. Nothing would happen, as it had before. What’ll it hurt? Just one shot. The only question was: surprise overdose or lingering decay?
Eran spared a moment of sympathy for Kyle’s parents, who would not take the loss of their only child well.
Kaspar rubbed his shoulders with the heels of his hands. Hauling canister after canister to the line, by hand, had turned his entire body into a knot. He arced toward the opposing line, tensed as if to smite them with the ache.
The wind? he asked.
Not yet, said the other soldier. Eran couldn’t divine his name.
Kaspar kept watch, and the sunlight slowly dimmed.
What would it do? They had all heard stories. Some were afraid. Some beat their chests and declared that Germany would by such means win the war. Kaspar did either, depending on which attitude prevailed among the others.
It’s the wind. Now.
Kaspar opened the canister. A green cloud wafted out, taking a leisurely course toward their opponents. But puffs of wind knocked arcs and segments away from the mass. Kaspar wondered if he could adjust the canister to direct the flow. He leaned in. He breathed in. He regretted it.
He was down on his knees, coughing until he retched, seeing red. Now the ache was to push the gas out, to pull air in. He couldn’t seem to get any. Eran, knowing the consequences of staying low in the cloud, willed Kaspar to rise.
The other soldier helped Kaspar to his feet, They staggered away from the canister. Kaspar thought: But what’s going to happen to them?
you should stay with Eran. At least until you’re back into the routine.”
“Yeah? You think?” Kyle died again. He had just missed the pizza wedge and fallen onto a Foot. “I dunno. I’d rather go work in a bookstore.”
It was Eran’s turn. He took the controller. “Your funeral.”
April 22, 1915: The Second Battle of Ypres begins. German forces opened the battle by releasing chlorine gas, in the first use of gas on the Western Front.