The chopper could be heard in the distance. Chakk-chakk-chak-chak. It was still out of view behind the sheet of mountains. The sound of the unicorn blade clacking over the sounds of gunfire gave the platoon courage.
Visions of our rescue deepened as I pulled the trigger of my assault rifle again and again at the enemy. The bastards fell in unison along with my ammo count.
“Four minutes!” Martinez shouted. The kid covered my six. Two days ago he had been fighting on the frontline infantry three miles south. A week before that he had been shipped out of boot camp. His brown eyes were afire from the constant exposure to live action.
I responded without hesitation, twisting my body to the left. My body and mind were running on fear and adrenaline. I was trained to be a machine, not to think. Three green uniforms emerged from the tree line that we had come from moments ago. I lit them up. Their bodies fell. I reported to the Lieutenant that they were exhausted. “Ragheads, tits-up.”
“Hold position! Almost there!”
Brusker, the final man in our platoon switched out his magazine, holding steady as he kneeled on the soft grass, “Already a bag of dicks, Lieutenant!”
The southern man was older than Martinez, and had fought with me for the last eighteen months. He had joined the platoon about half a year after I took residence under Lieutenant Marks. Brusker, although slow-minded, had proven himself to be an able-bodied soldier.
“Don’t talk like that, Brusker!” Lieutenant Marks bellowed. “We –"
Blood crowned the flesh above his eyes as the bullet blew through the back of his head.
I turned for only a moment to see the body. I ignored the dead commander, fearful of joining him if I did not stay focused. I took command.
“Brusker, grenade! Martinez, time!”
The beefy man truly understood how futile the situation was. Brusker ripped the grenade from his belt and tossed it down the hill towards the enemy. The ragheads dived out of the blast radius with ease. It was a wasted.
“That was my last pineapple,” the disappointment in the man’s voice was unmistakable.
“Two minutes,” Martinez muttered with less enthusiasm.
I attempted to maintain military discipline, to set a proper example. It was now my duty to get these men out of here alive. I had seniority among Brusker and Martinez. I didn’t quite have my heart in it. But I knew my duty, just as we all did.
The man was crying, covering his mouth with one hand as he kneeled behind my body as a human shield. I heard Martinez’s muffled wail as he made eye contact with me. The kid was slipping.
“What the fuck, Martinez!” I screamed at him. “Don’t be a coward!”
He fell to his buttocks and lay down to the ground. His hands fell from his mouth and he cried out. He opened his mouth and attempted to apologize. No words came out. Blood fell over his lips. I noticed the blood that dripped out of his sleeve. He had been shot in the stomach.
I hadn’t known.
“I will do better…I swear…give me another chance…” the kid forced the words as he choked on his blood.
My heart sank. It could not go any lower. His brown eyes were bloodshot and blameless. Tears slipped down my cheeks. Was this worth men going to war?
“Time?” I shouted at the kid.
“Fifteen seconds…” Martinez whispered. He kept the count up to his last breath.
Brusker hit me in the shoulder, “Adams, I cannot save us!”
Even as the helicopter cleared the ridge and rained fire upon the ragheads, I realized that my mind would never know peace. Even when I was home and aged, sitting on my back deck in the serenity of a summer evening, even as I write this, the memories of the war would forever haunt me. It was with that knowledge that I responded.
“Neither can I…”