The Wishing Well
by Jorge Shaft
Part One of a series of short stories set in the same space opera universe called the Aftermath
So the locals call this the wishing well.
4 Human Republic soldiers, all of them less than spick after ages of hard fighting in the trenches, stand in a circle around the primitive well. Red bricks line the base, supporting a concrete-looking pulley with a rope. Far below, undoubtedly, is some kind of bucket, with one of them, a recon trooper with all of the incredible gear that goes with that position, leaning over to look for it. Over to the rest of the well, 3 infantrymen are in deep talking about the little thing.
One of them, a huge scruffy mestizo man who hasn't shaved in weeks, laughs at the sheer lunacy of it.
No way! The wishing well? So they actually believe it grants wishes? They're crazy.
The tall, thin blonde trooper with the sniper rifle shakes his head hard enough to shift the helmet on his head.
No, I swear it on my life. The aliens call this the wishing well, and they believe it grants them wishes. Little buggers even tried to defend this place with a good few soldiers, and we even lost a couple at Bigbrow Ridge just over in the distance.
The third soldier, a shorter man of obvious native American ancestry, turns to the well at that. His equipment is less worn than those of the others.
Heard about that. Friend of mine told me that was some fierce fighting. Do you really think that they were using all of those critters to try and defend this of all things?
I swear it. High command keeps telling us that it was because it was strategically important, but why? It wasn't an obvious road to anywhere, and you remember those fortresses and bunkers ended up being empty. No big cities around here either.
Soldier one's lost his smile.
Yeah, but the mountains made for a better defensive position. They could easily have reckoned that they stood a better chance fighting here than anywhere else.
The third one points and agrees.
And they would have been right. We've had to really throw a lot at these mountains to clear them out. The new colonists are being told to still stay away from them while we get the job done.
It's not often that you find a natural planet with a perfectly breathable atmosphere like this one. Sure, the ecology often looks strange, but the green plants, blue sky and running water rivers made this a place too valuable to orbitally bombard. And too valuable to waste any time before sending in some civilian settler volunteers to it. There's always many in the queue for an idyllic place like this. Worth the loss in army lives and equipment.
I'm sure of it! My wife cornered a xeno warrior and asked it what they were fighting for. Her computer said it translated to the wishing well.
This makes the recon look up.
Your wife? Wow, you're really here to settle aren't you?
For a place like this, who isn't?
Nods all around. It's true. Being on this planet is like being on old Earth, and the best part is that it has the all natural charm.
After a long pause, the mestizo man speaks up.
I hope I'm selected to stay. Hopefully I can get a seaside cottage, with a beautiful cliff-face and a roaring ocean. Landed near a place like that and you know, I just thought that this was a place I could happily grow old in. I'd tend to the gardens all day, maybe grow some vegetables. Just me, the plants, and the ocean.
The native american struggles to put a hand on his shoulder, setting instead to place it on his side.
Just you? Sounds kinda sad.
I dunno man. All of the war and the people you know. They make me hate people.
The recon soldier relaxes with his arms crossed cushioning his stomach from the bricks. From the top of the enormous backpack, a robot arm has emerged, angling itself inside the well giving it a good scan with red laser pointers.
Interesting. You sound like you should join the Reconnaissance corps. Lots of missions all on your own, nothing but you, the robot helpers and enemy soldiers for weeks on end.
Another incredulous laugh.
So you think that me getting stressed out at all of the other people around makes me want to be stressed out around millions of people who want to incinerate my ass? Nah man, gimme that damn seaside farm, and leave me alone.
The second soldier's also taken more of an interest in the well itself, strolling casually over to it.
What will you do when somebody introduces seagulls?
As if this planet doesn't already have it's fair share of... wait, what are you doing?
Both of the remaining riflemen turn to the sniper. Truth be told, it's not really a sniper, it's more that he has stolen a sniper scope from somewhere and put it on his ordinary service weapon, all of which now so worn out though that the distinction takes time to notice. Regardless, this is now being placed at the side of the well as the man kneels to peer inside.
Nobody says anything for a while, with the recon trooper shrugging a confused retort to the enquiring body language. Finally, the 'guide' soldier reaches into his pocket, and comments to nobody in particular.
My wife died in the Brownback Ridge battle. The medics says they're rezzing her, nothing serious, but you know it's not the same afterwards. Rezzing changes people.
The recon smiles, yellow teeth steering us fast into uncanny valley territory.
Nothing like a bit of dying to make you face the realities of life. Some take it by the horns while others drown in it.
From the back, the native American is a bit too forceful in the response.
She's fine! It'll be like nothing ever happened!
A hefty sigh shows that that didn't work.
They say that the conscious experience ends though. That when somebody's brought back, it's really a new spirit, a new consciousness, that's taking over and animating the body. Like a puppet.
Our recon soldier shrugs again.
I can't say.
After a slight pause, the wannabe farmer is the first to intervene.
You can't believe that cooky nonsense. There's no way to prove that. Far as they say, the person is the same; same memories, same dreams, same everything. Your wife is coming back.
Another wistful shrug.
She would have liked to see the wishing well. Instead I've got you guys for company.
So do you really think it grants wishes? You can't still be serious about that.
The husband peers down the well.
I don't know. The aliens think it does. I wonder if it grants human wishes?
The recon soldier chuckles.
If it grants alien wishes, then there is some real magic going on down there. Whole lot of nothing down there except air, air, a bucket and then some groundwater. Oh, and some alien coins I guess.
The blond looks straight at him.
Coins huh? I think I might have a few of those from the asteroid colonies...
A quick rummaging around gets us a little purse with some physical money. He smiles, holding up one.
Think the well takes Stans? One Stan says is does. Or do you think it might prefer dollars? There's this amazing casino asteroid in the sector flying the American flag where I got this. Got a Hong Kong -
If it takes human money, I don't think the well will care all that much. What's your wish?
A glance at the Stan. One Republican standard.
I wish my wife will be the same after the rezzing and that we get to live together on this planet happily ever after.
That's more than one wish. Gonna need more coins for that.
The sniper flicks the metal inside anyway, everyone staying silent until the thing lands with a little splash at the bottom.
Can I have a coin please?
Well that's a surprise. The man apparently angry at everything incredulous about the well takes a step forward. And the sniper nods to that.
You want to wish for that farm to be real?
Yeah. Even with seagulls. Just want to be selected to stay. Wouldn't even mind being garrison...
I wish to live in that little cliffside cottage on the north-western shore of this continent, and be left alone to grow vegetables. Please grant me this wish, you wishing well.
After a pause, the third soldier steps forward and pulls out a coin from his breast pocket.
I hope the well can take a a Rupee as well it takes Stans. I'd really like to live here too. But in the cities. Maybe start a bar. Do you think somebody's going to start a nice brewery on this planet?
The mestizo man smiles; a genuine one for once.
If nobody else does, I will. Seaside hops for the seashore bar. Sounds nice.
The reconnaissance soldier chuckles, the goggle-visor deployed down to scan the others no doubt.
Does this planet even have a name yet? And stuck with all of these weird aliens and their awful religions...
The third trooper offers him a smile instead.
Eh, don't care what they'll call this. A planet's a planet. Can always sell up the right to conquest house for a huge mark-up if you change your mind. But it'll be good to get away from all of the war for a bit. So yeah, I wish, oh wishing well, to win the lottery and get a bar on this beautiful planet.
After the obligatory silence to hear the splash far below the recon soldier makes eye contact with all 3 rifles.
I should report all of you for violating the law of secularism.
The first trooper scoffs, his AG 121 heavy rifle swaying wildly from his backpack.
As if! Don't you want to live here too?
To everyone's surprise, the recon soldier shakes his head.
No. Your friend was right, death changes you... and I love it. I want to die and be rezzed over and over again in service of the Republic. To spread and fight for the enlightened cause of humanity, to cast out the darkness wherever it may be found. My wish if I was going to make any would be fight in many more glorious battles under distant suns and in many far-flung colonies.... and maybe get an enemy one day with my knife.
Nobody has anything to say to that. With the weight of the silence weighing on the recon soldier, he instinctively pushes back by standing up properly, stretching his legs and reaching for the sky.
Don't worry though. I won't say anything. This well can be our well-kept secret. You have my word.
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