Intercosmic - Chapter 8 - Don't Die

 

It doesn’t take long for the gunfire to return, more intense than ever. I can’t instruct my squad to shoot back, only run faster. How could I instruct them to do anything else when I know the truth now? They’re sending children and teenagers to fight us. They’re no older than when my older brother died. The same cause of death, different situations. Suicide was how he chose to die, guns are pretty effective at killing people, even yourself. The difference being my brother got to choose, and that kid didn’t, I chose for them. Even if they chose to become a soldier, and attack, I chose death for them.

“We have to return fire,” Habeeb calls out.

“Do whatever, just keep running,” the only answer I can give.

My brother had his heart broken by a girl. He just couldn’t see how his life could move forward without her. He moped around for days before taking his own life. The marines could have been better help for him, helped him sort out the mess he felt he was in. Perhaps he could have been provided with an outlet for those emotions, found a purpose in life. Those are the things I contemplate occasionally, nowhere near as often as I did when he first died. Sometimes I forget that I ever had a big brother, I’ve known him as a memory longer than I ever knew him as a person at this point in my life. Now that kid is just a memory to someone who cared about them.

The taste of dirt rips me from thoughts. Did I fall? No, the pain tells me I was hit in the back. Not by a bullet, likely a stone tossed using psionics. I roll over and realize we’ve been pinned down again. I can’t see the sun through the trees, and for the first time I’m realizing this jungle has been lit by some kind of growth on the upper tree branches. With no real visible sun, I have to wonder just how long we’ve really been out here. Casey tries to check on me, make sure I’m not hurt too bad to continue. I wave him off and crawl into a covered position, ready to return fire.

I aim my gun into the wall of brush, aiming where I know the enemy is. I know there could be more kids behind there, but I don’t want to die either. There’re over one million recognized religions in the Milky Way, each with their own view of the afterlife. I never chose one, didn’t want to, wasn’t sure I believed, wasn’t sure I could die so soon.

On the inside, I often laughed at others who were so devout to religions that science couldn’t prove. Didn’t matter if they were worshipping some man in the sky, unproven cells in our bodies, a concept such as karma or whatever. Now I’m wondering who was right? Did it bring them peace in their final moments? Were the hours of devotion spent worth it? I’d rather not find out what happens after death right now.

I don’t want to die. I want to start a family of my own. A wife, husband, alien or whatever, doesn’t matter, and a kid, maybe a few kids. Kids, they start as a smaller version of you, and then they grow into this completely different and new person. Sometimes they keep some of your traits and habits, just natural. My parents were never proud of my accomplishments, but if I had a kid, I’d be proud of everything they did, their biggest supporter. I wonder if the kid I killed was anything like their parents, were they proud of them?

I squeeze the trigger, but the gun doesn’t fire. It takes several attempts and rifle checks for me to realize my finger just won’t squeeze the trigger. I’m telling my body to fire, I’m giving the signal, I can feel the gun fire, but it just won’t fire. I’m trying to force myself, but my body knows I don’t want to fire this gun anymore. I just can’t. I pretend I’m aiming and firing as my squad shoots back, unaware they’re snuffing out the potential future of the Vaznian race.

“Everyone get ready to run,” Faramund tosses two grenades at once toward our attackers.

Before I can turn, I watch as the grenades stop and redirect in midair. Divine intervention, these rebel Vaznians really might have god on their side for sure. No matter what, they always seem to be one step ahead of us or they get one lucky break when we can’t seem to get one. I don’t have time to run, I just scatter with everyone else.

There’s no pain when the grenade makes impact. Dirt blurs my vision a little and I can’t hear a damn thing but the constant ringing in my ears. I pat myself down with both hands and seem to be in okay condition. My right arm is no good helping me get up from the ground. I look for my squad, they seem to be in a centralized location staring at something. I make my way towards them and realize Casey is the one missing, likely they’re surrounding him. He probably took the biggest part of the blast. I stumble, towards them, only stopping when I spot an arm on the ground. Casey should be left in full, I grab the arm from the ground and keep moving.

Horror fills the eyes of my squad when they spot me approaching. Casey isn’t dead, being treated by Maura, but still alive. His wounds don’t even look too gruesome. We’re less than half a mile from the exit of this hell, but he should make it just fine.

“Sergeant,” Casey’s eyes become the size of small plates when he catches a glimpse of me.

“Sorry about that, but I told you, I wasn’t going to let you die,” I force a smile that makes me lightheaded.

“Sergeant,” Casey just repeats.

“Hey, how about you take your arm as a souvenir. They might be able to put it back if we’re fast enough,” I place the arm on his chest.

I lose my balance and fall hard to the ground unable to catch myself. The blast must have thrown off my equilibrium. My armor should help me adjust in a few moments. Casey starts to scream, not in pain but horror. It happens, people come back changed from missions like this. PTSD, I feel sorry for him. Hopefully, therapy can provide him with some coping methods.

“That’s not my arm,” Casey pushes it away.

“Sure, it is, it looks a lot like mine, but it’s yours. Humans are funny like that,” I’m great at telling jokes.

I realize Casey has both arms as he continues to panic, so I take mental inventory of my squad. It’s getting harder to focus, but everyone seems to have two arms. I wonder who’s arm that was. Maybe it was another hallucination, it wouldn’t be the first one out here. Actually, that does look a lot like my arm.

“Captain, sit down,” Maura starts to yell but fades out.

“Oh shit, that is my arm.”

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