Monday, May 25, 2009

"Remembering the Dead"

"Remembering the Dead"

(c) 2009 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved.


Rains fell harshly upon the swamp world Dakkaran. Weather alerts were issued as a heatwave caved in under a cold front, bringing rain and wicked storms.

All operations for the Sarge and his squad had been called off. Thoughts riddled his head. He was wanting to see action, yet was stuck at the base with little to do but play cards with Pickles, Spooks and Diego. He tired of it quickly.

As he left their barracks, Diego asked, "Where ya goin', Sarge?"

"To Supplies. I need more cigars."

Wearing his deep blue longcoat, standard issue for sergeants, he stepped into the rain. So hard did it come down that it annoyed him. He lifted the hood of the coat over his head and steered himself for the Supplies Building. There he got a pack of a half dozen cigars, cheap ones that wouldn't taste good and would be difficult to keep lit, but he would enjoy the smell and the feel of thick smoke rolling out of his mouth.

Back outside he didn't want to return to the barracks with his men. He instead wandered the base for a bit. At last he found himself entering the Hall of Heroes, a part of the Hall of Records off the Basecamp Headquarters. The Hall of Heroes was a single large room with bare white marble walls. Speaking here was strictly prohibited to whispering. The Sarge had never heard of anyone being reprimanded severely for speaking loudly here, though he had heard guards ask others to remain quiet. On record, however, he knew speaking loudly in a Hall of Heroes could get a soldier court martialed, if not beaten and genuinely quartered.

This was no mere house of records; the Hall of Heroes was a tomb. But not a true tomb. No bodies of the dead lay here. No services were ever held here. Honor Guard simply placed small plaques with names of fallen soldiers on the plain white walls.

As he entered, one such guard nodded to him. The Sarge nodded back. The Honor Guard said in a whisper, "Welcome, Sergeant. Please keep all noise to a minimum."

This was the guard's duty.

The Sarge nodded again. He followed the line of plaques stretching deeply into the long room. He read the names at eye level as they went by his face. He checked for dates. The plaques were placed in chronological order according to the time of death. He at last drew near a date he remembered and found the names of his old squad, those that had died trying to save a strange girl wandering aimlessly in the swamps of Dakkaran, those that fought their own in the form of Death Dealers, those that had died in service and by violence.

Finely handcrafted wooden benches had been placed in the center of the room. The Sarge sat on one near the plaques of his fallen squadmates. He thought of them, smiled, frowned and, ultimately, missed them. They had been good soldiers. They had served well.

Now only he and Diego remained of the original squad.

He stood and walked a ways further, found another date. He did not find the name of a woman that had also served in his squad. She had turned traitor. He was not certain he could blame her. Somehow, he felt she was doing only what she felt was right.

The Sarge sighed, not fully understanding. But he knew he didn't have to understand. He simply had to go on the bounce when he was commanded to. And that he would do without any hesitation. He loved being a soldier, no matter how difficult the life and culture of a service man was at times.

He sat down once more, remembering all the recruits he had come through boot camp with. A lot of them had fallen away as they were weeded out leaving only the best to serve. A few had died, including one to cancer and another to an accident during live-fire training. A grenade had blown the recruit into three big pieces and thousands of tiny pieces. The Sarge was there to witness the accident. The recruit had been a very young kid and amiable, the eldest from a family of farmers. The economy on their world had grown so as to make family farms insufficiently viable. Their farm had swiftly become worth less than the dirt that made up the land. The kid was poor in every way. He had had two siblings, the Sarge couldn't remember if they were brothers or sisters but he could remember there had been two. They both died from some illness. They simply hadn't the money required to treat them. The recruit survived the illness, however, and when it came time for him to work and help the family with income, he couldn't find a job. Military service had been his only option.

The Sarge wondered if any war was virtuous, if any recruit had ever come into service out of philosophies. Perhaps. History said so. The Sarge liked to think he had, but knew that wasn't entirely true.

The image of the young recruit being blown up remained with him. Often, as he served a mission here or there, he would quietly dedicate his success to that blown away recruit that never got to serve yet paid the same price as so many others. He wondered if that recruit had been placed in a Hall of Heroes.

Finally, the Sarge thought of conversations had, his place in the military complex, his duties and the merits of character and duty.

And once more he wondered if a lowly grunt could truly ever become a mighty ruler.

The Sarge sighed again. He grew bored with sitting in the Hall of Heroes. He left.

He wandered the base a little while more but found the rain aggravating. He at last returned to his barracks.

His squadmates were stilling playing cards.

"That took you a long time," said Diego.

The Sarge grunted. He shoved off his longcoat and hung it up before he sat down at the table to join in the game. He pulled out the package of cigars, lit one up and started smoking.

"Where'd you go?" Diego asked. "Was there a line at Supplies?"

The Sarge shook his head.

"Nope," he said. "I ran into some old friends and decided to visit with them a bit."

Diego nodded.

The Sarge was dealt a hand of cards. A new game started.

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