I joined the military so I could feed my family. It looked like a good deal back then. Few years ago, I saw a flyer calling for volunteers, and I got tempted. After I lost my job in the gentlemen’s boutique, finding work was hard, and this offer seemed decent. As soon as I passed the tests and my documentation was in order, I was sent to Ildock, a black city settled in the base of a volcano that grew out of a plateau made of limestone.
“What am I doing?” I wondered every morning while putting on my uniform.
It seemed confusing, that Ildocian doctrine, noise and torturing in the muddy trenches. Just when I got promoted to a senior officer, I was assigned to another unit. We were pushed towards the outer limits, to the moment of exhaustion where hands go numb and blaster slips to mud by itself. At least my wife could feed herself and our daughter.
In six short months of intensive training I became an elite trooper. I started enjoying that flattering image of an officer and soon we attracted girls with flowers in their hair, but I remained faithful.
“Loosen up soldier. Don’t be so stiff.” I was teased by others, attending dances and brawls that followed the mercenary’s daily life.
Upon the end of our training, I was issued with a name-tag and a bonus that I spent in a tavern with my brothers. Military top wasn’t sharpening their mustaches for us anymore, so we were ordered to prepare for a long journey. I used a leave to say my farewells to my darling and daughter, before I boarded the armored ship. We departed the same day with a mission to aid some little country on the other side of the ocean. Tens of thousands of us left the white shores with sobbing women waving at us.
Rocky beach greeted the Ildocian boots where rebel forces lit up the city with fire. A smell of burning dust swapped the scent of fresh air and that’s when I knew we are into a fight. Blood stains on the buildings made us cautious, so we built our base on the ridge of a city.
“Here comes the shit.” One of the soldiers said, his long jaw fixed on the bodies hanging from the lamp posts.
On the first evening, we heard dimmed cries and echoing gunfire between the concrete pillars that grew tall in the yellow glow of flames pulsating under the stormy clouds. Air was shivering in distortion of plasma shots which left us with a sweet like taste on tongue. Waiting for the morning, deep thought haunted me.
I was a salesman, not a killer.
“You are going in the city with the first light.” Commander said, his posture held proud and complementing his thick mustaches.
“Do we count on a bonus?” A soldier asked with a broken smile.
“Of course gentlemen. You are Ildocian Godless-men. You always get the bonus… By the way, I am a Captain for you, not a barkeeper, you mutt!” Commander said in a mild negating of his head.
I was the first one to jump out from the armored vehicle and swing my gun over the street. I led the squad of men through the damaged streets while deadly snipers protected us from above. We formed a line over the whole front and grasped the shooting stands on the corners. Slow and bulky tank-cannons were on our noses where long muzzles cleared the path for us.
The back of our radio operator rustled with commands. Roads were littered with bodies in simple trousers and shirts – popular for this area. Knocked lamp posts and scorched cars obstructed our movement in the battlefield. Busted military jeep-wagon coughed smoke feet away from me, when tank-cannon drove over it and flattened it with a yard long caterpillar. From the apartment opened wide by one of our projectiles, a woman’s whipping brought us fear. She was hugging her son rocking back and forward, bitter tears wetting her blouse.
We moved our guns, gazed at the chaotic landscape and fought our plasma rifle butt stocks. My bowl helm was falling over my eyes, so I jerked my head like a boy trying to see where was I going. Tank-cannon fired at the temple tower where projectile landed in a deafening whistle. My palm sent men in the brick house on our right.
Door fell off from a violent kick, then a burst of turquoise flames ended whatever was in there. A guy from the last night came to me, running bowed in the hips, a sphere-zooka see-sawing on his shoulder.
“Money’s already in our pockets.” The boy spoke waving off a lingering trajectory that stayed in the air after every shot.
Cautiously we entered the cross-section anticipating the machine gun fire or a tank-cannon unit. My heart missed a beat when foot fell on the sidewalk covered with the debris of a house. There wasn’t one wall that hasn’t had a crater in it. Radio chatter rustled again from the unit breaching forward when an enemy sniper took out the guy in the far end of my column, just in the moment when caterpillars entered the broad street.
With a sound of mechanical twisting tank’s dome rotated to take aim at the sniper. I rushed to pull the wounded soldier out of the way, swinging my head around. One more soldier came to me and grabbed the wounded man by the arm pits, when a rocket slammed the tank-cannon dome. The machine had a dull rang and then the flames started sizzling from it like a torch. It exploded a moment later, throwing the dome up in the air. Shock wave pushed me flying onto a pile of rubble.
“Fuck the war and a bonus.” A thought flashed in my mind.
Disoriented, I looked at the grey clouds, panted and saw drops of rain. A piercing pain moved inside my chest, and some strange warmth started oozing over my body. I felt something draining my power, kicking the air out of me, holding me down in the dirt.
“What the hell is happening? I must return fire.” I jerked but I couldn’t bring myself to a sitting position, like somebody was standing on me.
My leg cramped in waves while blaster slid out of my hands. I barely brought my hand on my chest and a swift slashing pain struck me. I felt sticky warmth passing onto my fingers. I moved it away and saw a hot blood running down my skin.
A screaming soldier appeared from the cloud of dust and grabbed my front belts. Just when he was about to pull them, he shook and asymmetrical bullet holes dotted his flack jacket. He fell dead right there, near my face.
Torch like flames still gushed out from the dome while soldiers fell to the ground, roaring and moaning. I stretched my jaw from the shrieking sound in my ears, tried to get up, but failed and left lying, fighting for breath. I shouted for help, but could not hear the reply. Wall crumbled above my head from the shots that were spending the dusty wall. Enemy tried to silence me.
“How did they manage to set up an ambush?” I drifted in my mind not noticing that my legs weren’t moving anymore.
Blood came out with a cough and fell on my forehead, smeared my eyes, blinding me. I felt how my throat was filling up with hot liquid and that hum of lungs that were failing to take the air. Plasma vapor mixed with the dust where bullets kept flashing in front of my eyes like meteor rain. One of the fiery bullets twitched my head as I tried to peel of the blood from my mustaches.
“He-elp.” The soldier on the crossroads spelled it, all covered in a mud and blood, then a shot from a sphere-zooka blew him off the street.
I haven’t fired one shot in this war. I haven’t killed. I’ve failed to die like a soldier. First combat and I end up as casualty. Whoever attacked us, it was obviously better trained and skilled. These were no rebels, not a real army, so how it was possible for them to set up an ambush? We were on their turf; they had advantage, that wasn’t illogical to me. Strange, I don’t even know how they looked like, what uniforms do they ware, what weaponry they had at their disposal. I was just a mercenary in a foreign land fighting a foreign enemy.
What will my wife do when a letter of my demise comes to her from the Ildocian Ministry of Defense? Will she fall on her knees and sob, or will she take our daughter and hug her? She will mourn me for a year and wish to have a man by her side. Maybe she will find work and move to her mother’s. What if she doesn’t care about me and cheats on me with our first neighbor, the one who works as a scribbler in the court?
“Damn maggot did me a bad tax calculation for the last year.” I thought. “Whore. I already had my doubts about who was the father of our daughter. She looks less like me, and more like strangers I see on the street… No, that’s not true. She really loves me and she would never do something like that. I must believe in our marriage, she is a mother of my daughter and I still love her dearly.
Hot dark blood came dripping on the corners of my lips, and pain, he was creeping even more making my body shake without control. Fingers were cold, weak so I couldn’t move blaster away that lay on my hand. Squealing slowly decreased, fire in the dome was getting smaller and ammunition was absent in the air where rain drops took over.
A rhythmical vibration of the ground was on a rise from the opposite direction. Metal squeak stretched when heavy iron turned around the corner, wanting to enter the street. Wallops of steps ran up to me followed by the changing shadows. I wanted to turn my head and wipe off the blood from my eyes, but strength completely betrayed me. I was like a plant in my last moments.
A shadow leaned over me. It swung left-right blocking the little light behind the grey cloud. Silhouette of a soldier had red outlines which sharpened and blurred the next minute, twisting and doubling in my sight. I saw the enemy like an angel of death made out of dark that watched me like a cat watches her prey. He carefully circled around, kicked me as if I was a threat. He went through my pockets and talked to his friends that passed him. He then looked around and searched the soldier next to me, and then he got back and stopped above me – eclipsing the light.
“So this is how it feels when you die? That’s it… The end, no more of me.” I doubted the chance of mercy.
He used his barrel to hook on my helmet that was partially covering my eyes and moved it upwards, and then he placed a cold end of a gun on my wet forehead where whole his figure went motionless. I still spat blood that was drowning me, tried to see the face of my executioner. Unclear specter wasn’t smiling, or rejoicing the deed. He wasn’t regretting or pitying me for I left my loved ones to come here. He hesitated longer than expected, then a click shifted the gun to fire mode and he pressed the gun stronger against my skin like he was afraid to miss from this distance. I barely had energy to close my eyes before the blast.