What Changed?

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Flash Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
An old man is enjoying his coffee and reading a good magazine, but what happens when his morning is shattered when an old enemy from war enters the same shop? This is a spin-off of a much larger novel I am working on. This was written out of pure boredom in one of my classes.

Submitted: September 30, 2016

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Submitted: September 30, 2016

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An old man entered his local coffee shop.  He was like any other customer that would come in for a hot beverage, but his appearance betrayed him as something more.  There was a jagged scar that adorned his face.  It ran from the bridge of his nose to underneath his eye before dipping down his cheek and ending at his chin.  He could hide it behind a dull grey beard, but if you actually paid attention, you could still see it through all the hair. The old man walked with a noticeable limp.  It wasn’t due to age or illness, but from an injury long ago that still pained him to this day.  If you were to ask him about these things, he’d simply give you a sad smile and declare.

“Work.”

Every day that man would walk into the coffee shop – a magazine or newspaper in hand – and order a plain black coffee.  The barista would ask if his coffee maker was still broken, to which he would nod his head in response.  That sad smile still on his lips.  The truth of the matter was, he never bothered to buy a new machine.  The young brunette reminded him too much of his daughter at her age.  After getting his coffee, his favorite barista would sit and talk with him for a while.  He would ask about her day, her family, and if she was doing alright. 

But on this particularly cloudy day, another older man entered the small coffee shop.  He was possibly the same age as the other gentleman, but he carried himself differently.  This man stood resolute.  He took sure, firm footsteps with an unspoken cadence.  A man who gave his life to the military.  He most likely went through the first rebellion, the Imperial Civil War, the Martian Revolutionary Conflicts, and the Lunar Skirmishes.  By that time, this man was an officer and decorated.  A tattoo was stamped on his arm with the date 3-27-2157.  The year the empire on New Genesis regained control of the planet. 

This man also had his fair share of scars.  One particular scar followed his jaw line on the left side of his cheek.  What made it stand out was how the man constantly scratched it.  When this former soldier entered the café, the regular customer spotted this new stranger, and his eyes grew as wide as dinner plates.  Immediately, the man buried his face in the magazine.

“I guess I should go take care of this man,” the barista said.

The bearded man let out a grunt in response.

“I’ll be right back, Mr. Charlie.” The brunette was off to the counter.

This newcomer ordered a regular coffee.  “Two creams and four sugars, please,” he told the barista politely.  All the while, Charlie hid behind his magazine.

“You can take a seat, and I’ll bring it out to you, sir.”

The man did as he was ordered and sat down in a chair just across from Charlie.  Of course, this customer didn’t pay any attention to the other man.  He was just another patron enjoying a good read and some coffee.  That was until he saw what the man was reading.  It was an old copy of a National Geographic.  A rare read too.  The cover was about the planet New Genesis before it was ever colonized.  Most likely, the paper was written before the beginning of the Collapse on Earth.  Most people who could get their hands on such a magazine that old either immigrated from the ruined Earth (and the magazine was passed down from one generation to another) or this person paid an insurmountable fee to get someone to scavenge on Earth for it. 

“I can’t help but notice,” the man began, “you’re reading a National Geographic.  How did you get that?”

“Oh, Mr. Charlie used to travel back and forth between here and Earth,” the barista answered excitedly.  She handed the man his coffee.

“I, too, used to travel to Earth.  But we were at war during that time.  I didn’t have the chance to look for such things,” he took a sip of his coffee and finished, “We were at war during those days.  The name’s Louis Trains.”

Charlie lowered his magazine and glared at the man across from him.  “Charlie Ash.”

A flicker of recognition crossed Louis’s face.  The man scratched his scar, but kept his gaze locked on Charlie.  Smothering the air around them, the tension grew.  Even the baristas could feel it from across the coffee shop. 

Finally, the man named Louis lowered his coffee cup and questioned Charlie, “How have you been?”

Charlie let out an audible sigh, and his shoulders slumped with relief.  “I’ve been good.  Thanks to you.”

A number of years before, during the first rebellion, these two men first met.  As a matter of fact, they gave each other the scars on their faces.  Louis was only a corporal at the time, and it was his first time to see combat during this rebellion.  They were fighting on a medium sized colony called New Hope.  It was one of the first colonies on New Genesis to break away from the empire.  It was also a safe haven for any rebels on the run.  The colony was larger than what the empire’s military was used to fighting in.  Outnumbered and outgunned, the imperial soldiers landed into the middle of a hornet’s nest.  Louis had become separated from his squad and platoon.  Likewise, Charlie was cut off from the fighting.  An explosion caused an injury to his leg, resulting in a permanent limp. 

Running through side streets and narrow alleys, the two soldiers eventually ran into each other.  Everything happened so fast, the opponents had little time to react.  They stared at each other for a moment in surprise.  Charlie went for his pistol, but Louis managed to lash out with his rifle, knocking the sidearm out of his enemy’s grasp.  Frustrated at this, the rebel drew his knife from his sheath and stabbed at Louis.  The soldier raised his assault rifle up to block the blade, but the sharp metal buried itself into the breach and receiver. 

The imperial soldier let out a disgusted grunt and released his weapon.  It was a useless piece of tin now.  He withdrew from Charlie and wrapped his hands around the grip of his own combat knife.  They locked gazes once again.  No wind stirred between them, all was silent.  Their hearts beat heavily within them, hammering their eardrums.  They charged.  In a single instant, they clashed.  Both of them cut across the face.  As if the blood running down their faces wasn’t enough to stop them, they charged again.  And again, and again.  Charlie’s previous wound slowed him down drastically, but he managed to land a cut for everyone Louis gave him. 

Louis found himself standing over Charlie’s discarded pistol.  He swiped it up off the ground and pointed it at his enemy.  It was fully loaded and there was a bullet in the chamber.  His finger was pressed against the trigger.  A simple twitch in his finger would be enough to end Charlie’s life.  But he never pulled the trigger.  Instead, Louis lowered the handgun and eventually dropped it at his feet.  Charlie looked at him in astonishment.  What was this man doing?

“You’re on the wrong side,” the soldier said with a labored breath.  He then turned on his heel and walked down the alley. 

Charlie passed out from his wounds, and came under the medical care of imperial combat medics and doctors…

Louis closed his eyes and frowned, “I often wondered what happened to you.  If you ever survived the wars.” He opened them again. “What would’ve changed if I decided to pull that trigger and shoot you?”

Charlie set his magazine down. “I’ll tell you what would’ve changed.” He took a sip of his coffee. “Everything.  I would’ve never been picked up by those medics.  I would’ve never been flown to the ship Bypass, where I received the care I needed to survive.  I would have never met that beautiful doctor that helped save my life.  We would’ve never fallen in love, got married, and had two beautiful daughters.  They would’ve never grown up to marry two outstanding officers in the Imperial Navy.  My wife would’ve never helped open my eyes to see the truth.”

Louis smiled and nodded. “Good woman.”

“She died.  Shortly into the civil war, she was killed when a fighter launched its missiles at the Bypass.  Those rebels…” Charlie trailed off.

Louis gave his condolences. “I’m sorry.  But I’m glad I let you live.  And I’m glad you didn’t shoot me in the back.”

Charlie looked at the retired soldier. “I figured if a dirty rebel like me deserved to live, a man such as yourself deserved that chance as well.  What would’ve changed if I killed you?”

Louis looked down into his cup and took in a deep breath. “A lot of hurt would have passed on to someone else.  I lost my wife and son in childbirth a couple of weeks after we departed.  I buried her only to return to the frontlines and bury my best friends.  I continued to fight.  I continued to rise in the ranks.  I took control of my own platoon during the civil war.  A lot of men were lost under my command.  But on all of those bodies, they decided to make me a major.” Louis looked into Charlie’s eyes. “I took a battalion under my wing during the Martian Revolutionary War.  All of them were killed in an attack on New Alexandria.  But they promoted me again for good measure.”  The old man shook his head. “My wife would’ve suffered for a short while, but death would’ve grabbed her in the end.  Those battalions and platoons would’ve had a better commander, and all of those men would probably still be alive and well today.” 

Charlie could understand the amount of loss the man had endured through his life.  He put all that rage and anger into fighting and rising through the ranks.  Only to build his road to the top in the blood and pain of his own men.  The two old men rose to their feet and shook each other’s hands. 

“But it was worth it to know the man whose life I spared is still alive and well,” Louis added with a big smile.  “Well, minus that limp, of course.”

“And it’s nice to look the man who saved me in the eyes and be able to talk with him.  Man to man.”

 

What’s harder: Killing your enemy?  Or giving them a second chance?

 

End… 


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