The captain of the underground held gaze with me as he addressed us all. His eyes were steel but his voice cracked just enough to betray his message of hope, at least to those of us who knew him best. That simple slip told me with the slightest of subtlety that cap knew the resistance was all but lost. I did not let on with my eyes that I felt the same way, instead letting him continue his rallying cry unmolested. I would not be the one to break the spirits of everyone else that thought we still had hope. Not today, at least. Even if what cap was saying was ludicrous. We all knew we were down to the last assault tank, and we all knew that we were out of fuel. At one time it seemed like a miracle that weapons and tech had developed a war machine that could run on Kroger Generic Honey N’ Oat Clusters. But that miracle had turned into a curse as we also knew damn well that our stock had run out months ago and that it came at a cost of 1.89 per unit. And after weeks of attacks, raids, and robbing every damn horde convoy we could find, we were a standard penny short of the money we needed for one more unit of fuel.
One penny short of being able to launch one final blitzkrieg - a blitzkrieg that could have turned the tables to the advantage of the resistance. But it was not to be. We knew there wasn’t a standard penny left to be scavenged in all the rest of the region. We had come so close, only to have failed. History, if it remembered us at all, would tell of the extinction of humanity and it all coming down to being a penny short.
As cap continued on with his rallying cry, I looked around at the others I knew that understood the real gravity of the situation, and then my attention shifted to random people in the room and my own heart sank further. Little by little, I could see the souls of my comrades withering as the truth became apparent. We were going to lose the war. Murmers became whispers, and whispers grew to panicked shouting. Cap tried his best to reign in the masses, but hundreds of scared voices turned to thousands, and the reality of our defeat became a raw, open wound. A death blow.
I could sense the fear taking hold of the crowd. I had seen it before. Paris, 2019. Sao Paulo, 2022. The Battle of Toad Falls. It wouldn’t be long now before we turned on each other and rioting would begin. My thoughts turned to saving my own skin. I chuckled to myself with the realization that moments earlier I had still had a glimmer of hope that mankind could be saved, and now I wasn’t even sure that I would make it through the night.
Hope was lost, we were all going to die. And everyone knew it. Talks of mass suicide began. I overheard whispers of gassing the women and children in their sleep and friends shooting friends at dawn. Anything to prevent the horde from capturing and eating us alive, as they were known to do. Fear turned to accepted resignation as the whispers of self-expiration turned to actual planning. The human race, as it was, gave up.
I heard a scream. The killing has begun, I thought. Another scream, but not one of fear or despondence. “I have news from the west! I have news from the west!” All at once, the troops hushed. “What news!?” yelled our leader, as the man made his way through the crowd to the captain. “We are saved. The resistance lives!” Incredulous gasps hissed from the lips of my fellow warriors. “Do not give hope where there is none!” shouted someone. The man had made his way to the platform. He yelled something excitedly to the captain, but his words could not be heard over the resurgent hopeful chatter of the rest of us. The captain listened intently and grabbed his microphone. “Friends, family, fighters of the resistance. It is now no secret. Today could have been known as the beginning of the end of us all.” Silence washed over us. “But history will not talk of the failure of the human race on this day. For we have just received word that Kroger Generic Honey N’ Oat Clusters is, with absolute and verified accuracy, not one dollar and eighty-nine cents a box, but for a limited time, one dollar and eighty-eight cents per box!”
Stunned silence broke and gave way to the most glorious sound I have ever heard. A sound that I cannot put into words. The sound of the last of us finding a hope that had, moments earlier, been totally plucked from our hearts but now screamed from the deepest parts of all our souls. We would have fuel for our assault tank. We would not give in to the horde. The human race would live on, and even I cracked a smile. We live to fight one more battle. We will not slip away quietly in the night.