“Go and get some close ups. Don’t forget the faces, always get the faces.”
The cameraman nodded and ran off through the wreckage. He was the perfect tool for her, he did whatever he was told and didn’t hesitate. She had no idea why, most of those she’d found herself stuck with on assignment fitted a familiar mould of moral squalor and self-doubting crusading, the hallmarks of those who seemed most drawn to and repulsed by the work she did as a war correspondent. Everything had to mean something to them, gnarled and numb as they got, there always had to be something for them to prey on in their own internal monologues. Not this new guy though, Ed, a browned and leathery Australian foisted on her on arrival in the war zone, apparently hand picked to work alongside her. From all she’d seen Ed had nothing to him beyond the actions of the job, every trip just a repetition of a well rehearsed routine.
Alone now she could survey the scene of, theoretically, unintentional carnage around her. There were corpses, lots of them. Rubble, dismemberments and still roaring fires made numbers hard to guess at though. A stray arm, a fragmented mosaic of bones, they could mean one death or half a dozen. A drone strike. Perhaps a well planned one but this was a civilian target, a market, even if they’d hit the victim they’d intended a lot more had perished at the same time. Regrettable, collateral damage, a tragedy and no doubt fleetingly mourned by those who’d pulled the trigger even if those giving the orders denied all knowledge of the potential for loss of life. That’d be the way it was sold at least, when a dour faced General delivered his monotone judgement on it.
It had happened less than an hour ago, she was first to arrive. First of the journalists at least. Improvised emergency services, survivors, crying strangers and traumatised looking passers by were all around but they hardly counted. No, from what she could see she was alone in the midst of it all and knowing that a smile crept across her face.
This was the purpose, this was the time, this was what drove her onward. There was something in the air as she walked through the destruction in the supreme isolation of other people’s distraction. Something vibrating through the air and resonating itself into her pores, tensing and easing muscles into a half-nervous peak of… something.
Her last cameraman had called her ghoulish, but then he was a prick. Self-involved and desperately trying to cultivate a drink problem to make up for his glib emoting in the face of anything and everything they confronted on the job. He’d been sad, constantly, nothing deeper than that but that wasn’t enough for him, it had all had to be elevated into something bigger and more special. Natasha had hated him and he’d hated her in return right up until he’d been shipped off to take picturesque long shots of tracer fire from hotel balconies. No loss, not to her anyway.
There was a body besides her. She hadn’t noticed it initially as she’d drifted forward amidst the rubble. Half buried and coated in white dust only the torso and face were showing, the rest covered by concrete blocks and steel fronds from the fallen trunk of a support beam. A man, in his twenties perhaps although death made it hard to tell. Natasha felt another shudder of that something as she looked down at him. How long since he’d died? An hour at most, she’d gotten the call seconds after the explosion and she moved fast. His life had ended and he’d never have realised it. That’d make people sad, if she told them about it, and she might – far be it from her to deny the dead their moment but there were other bodies too, other stories here and only a handful would reach the transmission. The saddest ones, the ones with the most grieving survivors left in their wake, not through Natasha’s choices, that was just the way it was. Networks and editors and audience ratings ordered the meaningful away from the sorry but forgotten detritus. She just stood in the stories, watching them swirl around her, she didn’t decide what they were.
There were sirens now, the last few ambulances that were still working probably. Or the police, or the military, rushing to stand where she was, to make their own contribution to the passing tragedy. That’d mean an end to her solitude as the distracted victims were replaced by a surplus of uniforms, each one eager to feel they could contribute even if it was far too late for the little they had to offer. She had to enjoy the moment while it lasted, enjoy her place in the heart of the already ebbing punctuation mark of minor human history.
Ed appeared in front of her, face as blank as ever, camera levelled and ready.
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