They meet in the ruins of New York City, rather by accident, right in the middle of what used to be Times Square, back when people actually lived there.
They are both armed: she with a pistol strapped to her hip, while he supports a rifle on his shoulder. Both are uneasy with these armaments; there are evidences of new calluses and deep shadows in eyes that have seen too much. They are not soldiers by choice, merely a man and a woman forced into their current position by circumstances far outside of their control. Still, both weapons are firmly pointed towards the other without more than a bare second of hesitation.
“Are you with Them?” the man demands, nervously straightening his glasses with his shoulder even as he holds the rifle.
The woman twitches, the pistol wavering for a moment before she rights it. “Why should I tell you?”
“I could kill you!” the man threatens with a certainty born of sad experience. “I’ve killed men and women both before!”
“So have I,” she says with sadness that he understands. “Anyway, I’m not with Them. Are you?”
That strikes him as an odd question. “Why would I ask you if I was?”
“To save yourself,” she replies. “To make me think you’re not, to keep me from shooting you. They say not to take any prisoners.”
“If you have the slightest doubt of a citizen’s loyalties, you should shoot without hesitation,” the man agrees. The words are rote, because he has heard them and repeated them so many times before.
The woman clicks the pistol’s safety off. “And do you doubt my loyalty?”
He considers this. “Well, I don’t know you. So I suppose I do. Do you doubt mine?”
“I suppose I do. And for the same reason: I don’t know you.”
“Then it seems we’ll both have to shoot,” he says regretfully. He hasn’t seen anyone else for two weeks.
She sighs with matching resignation. “You’re right. I’m sorry that we have to. It was pleasant, seeing another person.”
“Yes, it was,” he agrees with something like a smile. “What’s the protocol for this?”
She shrugs. “I don’t know. How about the count of three?”
“That seems fair,” he concurs, despite his disappointment. Then he hesitates. “Say, what if we’re it?”
“How do you mean?”
“What if we are on the same side, right? And supposing we shoot each other, They’d win?”
She considers this. “Well, that couldn’t be so bad.”
She looks down the darkening street. “Well, maybe we’re both lying. And so when we shoot each other, They will be the ones to lose.”
“That’d be worth it,” he admits. He no longer knows who is Us and who is Them. “On three, then?”
“On three,” she agrees. “It was nice, to have this talk with you.”
“And you,” he says. He levels the rifle at her heart. “I’m sorry.”
Her pistol aims at his forehead. “Yes, me too.”
“One,” he says.
“Two,” she echoes.
A second after he whispers Three, he realizes that he does recognize her, from a small cafe back in college. She was ordering a coffee, and he almost asked her on a date. But by then it’s too late.
Two gunshots ring out amidst the ruins of New York City, from the middle of what used to be Times Square.
The war ends.