By: Dave Clark

I remembered the can of Coke in my pocket and took it out, if I didn't drink it now it would be confiscated, so I might as well enjoy it.

I clicked the can open and took a big swig. I remembered that this was when we were captured, that the can would be knocked out of my hand as I digested the first mouthful, that I wouldn't taste Coke again for three years, until we were finally rescued half-starved from their shitty prison. So I savored the mouthful, every nuance of flavor, the gas, the energy, the sugar.

When the mouthful was gone I took another swig. Maybe I'd misremembered, it must have been the second mouthful.

When I'd finished the can I turned and looked round. No sign of the enemy. My comrades were gone too. I was alone in the Citadel. The fighting had stopped; there was no noise at all, just the sound of my own breathing.

Of course, it was just a dream. Dreams don't follow what happened in real life. I could just wake up, I knew where the key was now.

"Wake up," I told myself, "Wake up."

I was still in the Citadel, surrounded by the smell of war, though neither sight nor sound of it.

"Wake up, wake up." I pinched myself as hard as I could, but nothing. I was still there.

I was shell-shocked, confounded. I staggered around the Citadel, searching for signs of life, but found only death, the bodies of the dead were still there, just not those of the living. Eventually I found myself back in the canteen.

The key. If I found the key maybe it would take me back, remove me from my dream.

Standing well back, I pointed my gun at the Coca Cola machine and shot up the lock. Fragments of glass spewed everywhere; I sustained a few minor cuts, nothing serious.

I pulled out the Coca Cola cashbox. Nothing. The key wasn't there. I took out every coin and examined it in turn, twenty-five pounds and 50 pence, but no key.

I searched the mechanism, stripped it down until there was a mess of metal on the floor. Still no key.

"Wake up," I shouted to myself, "Wake up." I was desperate now, without the key there was simply no way for the dream to end, I was stuck there.

I lost some time; minutes, hours passed and I did nothing. Then I noticed the other machine on the other side of the canteen. Salvation, no, shit, it was a Pepsi machine. The key was in a Coke machine.

I tried it anyway, I had nothing to lose. Shot it up like the other one. I checked the cashbox. Ninety-five pounds. Is Pepsi really that much more popular than Cola? Maybe it was just emptied at a different time.

There was a metal tube that connected the coin slot to the cashbox. Might as well check it I suppose, I thought, even if it was the wrong machine, anything can happen in a dream.

I fisted my hand as tight as it would go and pushed it as far as I could reach. There was something there. Something metallic, might just be a coin but it was definitely something.

Desperation clenched my hand tighter and pushed my arm further. I touched it, felt it, pushed it, felt it free itself from wherever it was entangled, heard it tumble to the floor. When I picked it up and examined it there was no doubting. It was the key.

I wake up. Here, present tense, now. The man with the insignia is looking at me. Dr. Grayson is looking at me.

"I have the key," I say, "it's in my right hand."

I unclench my hand to reveal it. Dr. Grayson reaches to retrieve it.

"The only thing is," I tell her, "is that it's the Pepsi key. There was no Coca Cola key."

"That's all right," she says, taking it from me. For Dr. Grayson is now a woman, young and beautiful, Christ, very beautiful, especially if you've not seen a woman in three years. Our hands touch as the key passes from my hand to hers. Her touch is tender and warm.

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