Andëx and Oligur: A Shaffer Short Story

Andëx operates the arsenic dispenser.

Oligur operates the lead dispenser.

Andëx has always wished to work the lead.

Oligur knows he’s jealous.

Andëx always sits on the left.

Oligur, always on the right.

The cockpit is shaky.

Occasionally, their knees bump.

They’ll glance at each other when it happens, but they rarely make eye contact anymore.

Andëx always sprays first.

Oligur goes second.

Andëx is responsible for maintaining direction.

Oligur, the blades.

Andëx is only allowed to spray 1 container per square terrafoot.

Oligur can spray 5.

Too often, Andëx over-sprays.

When it happens, they run out of arsenic to spray on the last several hectarods.

They both get reprimanded because of it.

Andëx holds his lever down too long again.

Oligur smacks his hand.

Andëx wants to glare at him, but the piece of old shrapnel lodged in his neck won’t let him.

Oligur has never been wounded.

Andëx blames Oligur for it.

Oligur blames Andëx.

5 units lead, 1 unit arsenic.

Always that formula.

If the formula is off, the Nylarkians will grow suspicious.

Andëx thinks Nylark is too humid.

Oligur doesn’t mind it.

Andëx got food poisoning their first day here.

Oligur ate seconds.

Andëx thinks the plan is stupid.

Oligur does too.

A hectarod jams the sifter gears.

There’s no use spraying the crops if the sifter gears are jammed.

If the crops aren’t sprayed, the Nylarkians win.

Andëx is the one who fixes jams.

Oligur calls them in.

Andëx secures the latch of his oxygen mask.

Oligur never takes his off.

Andëx slides his boots into his pekkasteel-coated waders and hops down into the mud.

Oligur closes the door behind him.

The combine rattles as it sits in neutral.

It’s an outdated piece of junk from before Nylark occupation.

Hard to spend resources on agriculture when the frontlines never end.

Andëx pushes through the head high hectarods.

Oligur raises the sifter.

Andëx hesitates before stepping under its blades.

Oligur considers it.

Andëx wonders if Oligur would actually kill him.

Oligur knows he would.

They weren’t always this way.

The horrors of war have changed them.

The boredom of farming, even more.

Andëx slings his waders to the back as he climbs back up into the cockpit.

Oligur watches a bead of the poisoned mud drip into Andëx’s boot.

Andëx doesn’t feel it.

Oligur doesn’t tell him.

Andëx shifts the combine into gear.

Oligur lowers the sifter.

The combine harvests well into the night.

The grain collector filling to the top with the eight different strands housed in the hectarod sleeves.

They’ve done this every day for the last 9 months, not a word spoken.

Andëx yawns as he signs their quota form at the Commission Post.

Oligur stands watch at the combine.

Andëx slides the guard twenty Tremsic credits.

Oligur is always uneasy with the bribes.

Andëx signals to Oligur.

Oligur pulls the combine into the warehouse.

Disguised in the floorboards of the warehouse is a trap door open, they pull it open.

Dismantling the arsenic and lead canisters from the combine and hiding them inside.

Another team will come change the empties for fresh tanks in an hour.

Andëx waits impatiently at the warehouse door.

Oligur always double checks.

Andëx walks the door closed.

Oligur locks it.

Andëx heads straight for the bar.

Oligur does to.

Their disguises aren’t awful but they barely pass for Nylarks.

The bartender asked their first night here, but they both just grunted and ignored him.

Doesn’t get much more Nylarkian than that.

Andëx orders a fermented grape solution that somewhat resembles wine.

Oligur hates it but knows it’s all they can drink; he’s orders one as well.

Andëx slugs his and immediately orders another.

Oligur will sip his all night.

Andëx always sits on the left.

Oligur, always on the right.

A dreary man three seats down from them orders liquor and meal 1.

Government mandated food restrictions, the only options are meal 1, meal 2 or meal 3.

All consist of some bland lifeless combination of the hectarod grains.

Andëx notices the man and nudges Oligur.

Oligur ignores him.

Andëx nudges Oligur harder this time.

Oligur finally snaps, “WHAT?!”.

Andëx flinches at his voice that couldn’t sound any more Tremsic and gawks at him.

Oligur exhales when no one hears him and sees what Andëx was getting at, quickly looking away.

The man picking at meal 1 is rail thin and covered with blistering sores and blotched skin.

His shirt collar hangs low as if he was once much heavier.

Could it be?

Andëx gestures to the man.

Oligur shakes his head.

Andëx knows he can’t speak to him but what if it’s happening?

Oligur nods to the door

Andëx pulls a synthetic pad from his pocket, cupping it in his hand & showing it to Oligur.

Oligur resists but agrees.

The two stand from their seats and head to the door.

As they do, Oligur bumps the into the man as Andëx swipes the pad across the man’s neck.

The man jolts from his seat and puffs up to Oligur.

Andëx steps between them as he conceals the pad behind his back.

Oligur takes the pad and slides it into his pocket.

Andëx signals two fingers to the bartender.

Oligur waits impatiently by the door.

Andëx shares a shot of fermented grape solution with the man as an apology.

Oligur contemplates returning later tonight and killing the man.

A screen by the door shows footage of the frontlines.

Aircraft scream over war torn land in dog fights.

Tremsic and Nylark soldiers clashing into one another underneath them.

Andëx watches, longing for those days.

Oligur does too.

Andëx can still feel the G forces punching against his chest as he throttles.

Oligur, the kick of his ordinances.

Andëx was already unconscious, he doesn’t remember the crash.

Oligur missed, he remembers.

Ten million died that day.

The war nearly lost in 20 seconds.

From legends to outcasts in the matter of 20 beats of the heart.

Andëx latches the metal sheets to the windows of their hut.

Oligur turns on the radio, blaring the Nylark propaganda station.

Andëx tosses Oligur a pickaxe.

Oligur swings it as hard as he can.

Andëx scurries to gather the debris with every blow to the stone façade.

Oligur finally busts through the floor and almost falls in.

They’ve never been in the hatch.

It’s pitch-black, but the top of the ladder is visible, plunging down the hole.

There’s no time to waste, both slide down into the darkness.

Andëx lands first, palming the wall for a light switch.

Oligur finds it, and turns on the dull string lights.

Andëx follows them left, down the tunnel.

Oligur follows them right.

Andëx tugs on the string lights when he finds the station.

Oligur sees the lights bounce and hustles to him.

An old terminal connects to a wire antenna that disappears up into the ceiling.

Both roll up their sleeves, and take turns carving their transmitters from under their skin.

They deposit the transmitters into the terminal, send the signal and wait.

Andëx keeps darting his head down each tunnel, pacing.

Oligur just sits against the dirt wall, picking at his gash.

Andëx always thought they could redeem themselves.

Oligur always thought that was foolish.

Andëx hears someone approaching.

Oligur reluctantly stands.

A lanky Tremsic agent-handler appears.

They haven’t seen one of their own since their undercover assignment began.

The handler has a silenced pistol trained on both of them.

Andëx shows the man his arm.

Oligur does as well.

Andëx winces as the handler swabs his blood.

Oligur doesn’t flinch.

Andëx loves seeing another Tremsic citizen.

Oligur is still bitter, he stands defiant.

Their blood checks out and the handler disarms, taking the synthetic pad from Oligur.

The handler inserts it into a sequencer built within the thick metal case he brought.

Across the display of the case the screen reads: Contamination Level- Irreversible.

Andëx can’t believe it’s worked.

Oligur can’t either.

Andëx laughs silently, smacking the handler on the shoulder.

Oligur doesn’t react.

Andëx plops down in disbelief.

Oligur doesn’t have the same patience.

“So, can we leave now or what?” Oligur says.

The handler jolts his pistol to Oligur’s head at the sound of his voice.

“The ground is poisoned, the crops will die, the Nylarks will starve, it’s over.” He says.

Andëx covers Oligur’s mouth before he breaks the rules again.

Oligur shoves him to the side.

Andëx darts in between the men with a finger to his lips.

Oligur glares past him to the handler.

Andëx can sense Oligur’s about to speak again and he punches him in the gut so he doesn’t get himself killed.

Oligur buckles, lungs wheezing.

“Piss off…” Oligur groans, knowing exactly what will come next.

The handler shoves past Andëx, about to pull the trigger, when the point of the pickaxe splits the back of his skull.

Blood bursts from the wound and the handler collapses to the floor, his pistol firing as he hits the ground.

Andëx quivers with adrenaline.

Oligur heaves the dead body off him.

Andëx stares at Oligur.

Oligur stares at Andëx.

Andëx reaches out his arm.

Oligur pauses, but takes it and pulls himself to his feet.

For a moment, they just stand there, neither quite sure how to react.

The distant echoes of a loud banging startle them.

Panicked voices of Nylarkian patrollers follow soon after it.

Andëx yanks the pickaxe from the handler’s skull.

Oligur grabs the pistol.

Andëx drags the body to the dark corner of the station.

Oligur gathers the sequencer case.

Andëx hears the patrollers descending the ladder.

Oligur does too.

Together, they take off down the tunnel where the handler came from.

Neither know where to go, they just run.

A voice shouts down the tunnel and the lights go dark.

Andëx skids to a halt.

Oligur crashes into him.

Andëx can’t see an inch in front of him.

Oligur can’t either.

Andëx shoves his back to the wall and inches down the tunnel.

Oligur points his pistol back into the pitch darkness and backpedals foot by foot.

In the faintest of noises, they can hear the crunch of dirt as the patrollers creep toward them.

A beam of light slices down the tunnel, probing.

Panicked whispers fill the dark.

Andëx continues to slide along the wall.

Oligur continues back as well.

Andëx feels the steel turn dial of a barrier door and reaches out to find Oligur.

Oligur feels something on his shoulder and nearly fires before realizing its Andëx.

Andëx strains to turn the dial but it won’t move.

Oligur swallows as he grips the pistol tighter.

The creeping footsteps grow closer and Oligur grabs Andëx, throwing him to the other side of the tunnel.

He flinches when the patroller’s light scorches his eyes.

“Citizen… Identify yourself!” One of the patrollers yells.

Andëx crouches perfectly still in the darkness, just a foot from the illuminated Oligur.

Oligur raises his hands slowly.

Andëx can see why the dial didn’t turn now, a scanner box sits mounted on the wall next to it.

Oligur obeys their orders and carefully places the pistol on the ground, kicking it in Andëx’s direction.

Andëx palms the ground silently, desperate to find it.

Oligur prays he kicked it in the right direction.

“On your knees.” The patroller says, the blinding light coming closer and closer.

The second set of footsteps appears from behind the light to apprehend Oligur.

“NOW!” Oligur yells.

Andëx finds the pistol and clamps down on the trigger.

Oligur dives out of the beam of light.

Andëx fires prayers into the darkness and the light drops to the floor.

Oligur shields himself behind the case as returning firing thunders against the tunnel walls.

Andëx clicks an empty pistol as pressure begins to swell in his chest.

Oligur rolls to the fallen light and scoops it off the ground.

Groans haunt the darkness.

The sound of reloading weapons is replaced with the gushing of a pickaxe puncturing torsos.

The groans melt into screams.

Andëx smells his own blood, it bubbles from a hole in his chest.

Oligur collapses, leaving the pickaxe inside the last mutilated corpse.

Andëx whimpers, shock beginning to wear off and pain beginning to set in.

Oligur is too tired to care anymore, “You hit?”

Andëx knows more patrols will hear their voice frequency but he speaks anyway, “Yeah.”

The string lights spit to life once more when Oligur finds a light switch.

He drags the handler’s body to the door after Andëx tells him of the scanner.

His fingerprint works and the dial turns.

Andëx struggles to his feet.

Oligur backtracks, rips the pickaxe from the stomach of the patroller and hacks off the handler’s finger.

Andëx notices a flashing beacon inside the handler’s jacket.

Oligur collects all the weapons and says a silent thank you to the bullet-peppered sequencer case.

Andëx snatches the beacon and his eyes widen as he shows the message to Oligur.

Oligur crushes the beacon in his hand as he reads it: Gunshots detected. Assets eliminated?

They should’ve known all loose ends would’ve been disposed of.

30 years of service would’ve ended in a bullet to the back of the head from their own kind.

It’s a harsh reality to swallow.

Andëx trudges up the narrow cement stairwell behind the barrier door.

Oligur doesn’t wait for him.

Andëx wonders what life would’ve been like if the missile had just missed them.

Oligur reaches the top and peeks through a crack in a plank of the false wall.

Andëx imagines the war over, life simpler and—He coughs up blood.

Oligur inspects the automated textile factory.

The thread machines hum as their needles speed over looms, not a soul in sight.

Blood droplets leave a trail along the smooth floor as Andëx tries to catch up.

At the exit, a bay door is open and the exhaust smoke of a rusted truck plumes into the sky.

Andëx finds Oligur concealed within the shadows of an industrial sewing machine.

Oligur scouts the truck.

Andëx takes the moment to dig the bullet from his chest with the pickaxe.

Oligur rips his sleeve off and hands the makeshift bandage to Andëx.

Andëx nods in appreciation.

Oligur meets his eyes for a moment then gestures to the trail of blood behind them.

The rhythm of the machines conceals their footsteps as they approach the truck.

By now, reinforcing patrollers will have investigated their vocal frequency and found their hut hatch.

There’s no going back, this truck is their only way out.

Andëx nearly blacks out from blood loss and exhaust inhalation.

Oligur steadies him against the back of the truck.

Andëx is ready to act.

Oligur is too.

Andëx counts down 3, 2,…

Oligur nods.

Just before they flank either side of the truck, it turns off.

Both have to dive back behind the bed as the driver door opens and the agent steps out.

When he sends another unanswered beacon, he starts off to investigate.

Andëx glances to the sky, swearing he heard the pulsing of helicopter blades but they’re gone.

Oligur springs out from behind the truck and clocks the driver with the butt of his gun.

Andëx hurries around the hood.

Oligur pats down the dazed driver, searching for the keys.

Andëx hears a faint whistle growing louder but can’t quite make it out what it is.

Oligur recognizes it immediately and he just turns and runs.

A steel pill the size of a keg plummets from the sky.

Filled with riot control foam and concussion beads, it erupts 20 meters above their heads.

Dozens of patrollers immediately reveal themselves from their ambush positions to capitalize.

Andëx writhes in pain, completely deaf.

Oligur nearly is.

Andëx can’t move his left leg, the riot foam already hardening around it.

Oligur gathers his wits and leans on the trigger.

Andëx watches two patrollers drop dead, the others diving back behind cover.

Oligur shoots the driver in the head as he attempts to crawl back into the truck.

Bullets hail down on the factory’s walls.

The hollow-skulled driver folded onto Andëx and now he uses him a meat shield.

So much blood covers the ground, it blends together to paint the street.

Andëx scrambles to break the hardening foam.

Oligur takes out two more, then three more.

Andëx wails as rounds sear into his thigh and shoulder.

Oligur sees the keys in the ignition of the truck.

Andëx stretches for the pickaxe but it’s just out of reach.

Oligur sees it, then glances to the truck.

The next moments play out in pairs of frozen beats.

Patrollers hurry to drag their dead and wounded to safety.

More reinforcements make tiny silhouettes as they storm down a compact street.

Andëx cries out for help.

Oligur glances to the axe.

Andëx points to the fresh patrollers barreling down the alley.

Oligur glances to the truck.

Andëx stares at Oligur.

Oligur stares at Andëx.

Not a man easily rattled, Oligur has to take a breath.

He glances once more to the axe, wondering if he has time, then glances to the truck, knowing he’d get away.

He checks how much ammo he has left, rests his head back against the wall, closes his eyes, tries to convince himself he’s making the right decision, and then in one final moment… decides.

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