He gasped awake, the cloying heat doing an almost better job of choking him than an enraged Hismerite. The presence of someone on the cot confused him, where?
A distant explosion answered his questions. Right, Hismer. Still.
"Eric?" the woman next to him asked through a yawn. "Bad dream?"
"A-" no, that wasn't right. "Isabel?"
She rolled against him, her voluptuous body hinted at by the few rays of morning sun through the tent flap. He eyes glinted with amusement. "Do you sleep with so many women you forget which one is in your bed?"
He smiled and ran a finger along her muzzle. "You're the only one I share a bed with."
"And fully clothed, it makes me feel so special."
His smile turned brittle, he didn't want to have an argument, not after... he couldn't remember the dream, thankfully. "You know I don't want this to just be a dalliance. When the war's over I'll take you home and we'll do this properly. MY mom is going to love you."
She kissed his fingers. "My father isn't going to approve of me dating a human boy."
"I'll convince him I'm the man for you. With the money I've set aside, I'll be able to afford going to Strongburgh. I'm thinking Mechanical engineer."
She laughed and his smile returned. He so loved that sound. "With your gift, you don't need Strongburgh, just invent things."
He kissed her to silence her. "Not so loud. If anyone overhears it's the Builder Division for me. All I want to do is get through this and go home, with you." He took the clock from the side table and brought it into the dim light, turning it until he say the hands. "The day's about to start. I should get back to my tent before the light's stronger and someone sees me leave."
She took his arm. "Eric, don't you think it's your responsibility to use your ability to help as many people as you can?"
He studied her. "I'm not sure I understand what you mean. I already help as much as I can."
"Without using your abilities. You could make something to make everyone's life easier here."
"It's not that simple, Isabel, you know that."
"No Eric, I do. You can do something about the heat, the dry air, the infections. But you don't."
He sighed. Hadn't he explained why to her the first time she'd asked? Maybe he just thought he had. "Isabel, the first time I do something that shows I'm a Builder, the Builder Division is going to grab me."
"So? They are helping."
Eric snorted. "No, they aren't."
"Eric, the job of the Builder Division is to make things easier for the soldiers."
He shook his head. "Isabel, the BD drives Builders insane. An insane Builder isn't interested in making life easier, just in proving that he, or she, is the best there is."
"I've never heard anything about Builders going crazy there."
"They don't talk about it, but I'm one, so when I joined I considered the Builder Division. I did some research, it was quickly shut down. I was told to be discreet in asking questions, because if they even suspected I was Builder they'd drag me in and do everything they could to dive me insane."
She was quiet. "Is that why you don't want to help? You're afraid someone will notice and force you to go insane?"
"It's why I'm careful how I help. There's plenty I can do without my ability."
"How about when you go home? Is there anything like the Builder Division back in Tiranis?"
"Not that I'm aware of, but I've heard stories. Builders and Powereds vanishing in the night. Some people say it's the government taking them, others say it's the corporations, using them to fuel their research."
"So you won't help even there?"
"I don't know. I'm not a hero, Isabel. I'm just a soldier. When I go home, I'll put that behind me and become a regular citizen, with a normal job, a beautiful wife." He kissed her lightly.
"I don't know what to do Eric. I'm scared."
"It's going to be fine Isabel."
"I wish I could just leave."
"Isabel, you can't be serious, deserting isn't something to even joke about."
She wrapped her arms around him and held him. She trembled. He held her back, not understanding what was wrong with her. She'd never been scared before. She was one of the bravest person he knew.
"I'm terrified of what's going to happen if they keep going."
"Who? The Hismerites? They're not going to get here, we have patrols."
She shook her head.
"Then who? Do you know something I don't?"
She chuckled. "It isn't about this. I don't even know what it's about, not really, I just know that the closer they get the more scared I am. No one wants to help me."
Eric opened his mouth, but she kissed him, hard with a need Isabel had never expressed. Before he got over the surprise she pulled away and the increasing light gave her eyes a golden color for an instant.
"If I told you something bad is going to happen today, would you stay with me?" She asked.
"What do you mean?"
"I can't explain it, I just need to know if you'd stay here, with me, however long it takes. I'd let you go afterward. I just-I just don't want to be alone in the end."
"You want me to stay with you until the war ends?"
"It doesn't have to be a war. It can be something else, something better. If you aren't going to help, the least you can do is stay by my side, don't you think?"
His eyes fell on the foil ballerina next to the clock. He'd given it to Isabel the night before.
He closed his eyes. "It's today, isn't it?"
The attack, the explosion, him repairing the transport. The Builder Division. He shuddered.