Two teens were on the opposite sides of a wide, long, and impeccably shiny hall. These teens, almost men judging from their roughly shaven stubble, were arguing over the quality of their performances. One of the teens, this one had a name tag over the right side of his chest labeled “Madison, J”, said almost chastisingly,
“I’m just telling you that you wouldn’t have lost that wargame that fast if you hadn’t moved forward to get those ‘civilians’ out of the way – they weren’t even a part of the mission, just tacked on. No need to get so mad over that opinion.”
The other teen, his name tag labeled “Parker, M”, had fierce, passionate eyes. These eyes, however, were currently filled with anger and exasperation.
“And I’m telling you,” Parker jabbed a finger at Madison, “that it doesn’t matter that it was just a simulation, or that they weren’t a part of the mission! In live combat it would have been the right thing to do!”
“You take everything way too seriously, Parker. Besides, they’re preparing us for war here, Parker. It’s not nice, but in war sacrifices must be made for the greater good.”
Parker had a look of resignation on his face,
“I get it,” he spat out bitterly, “I get that no one here has a heart!”
Madison scowled at that.
“Parker, you’ll get yourself, and the men who’ll serve under you, killed with that mindset! The battlefield isn’t a place for a heart!”
Parker threw his hands up and stormed away, but not before replying,
“So be it then! I’d rather die with a heart then live without!”
Parker then woke up in his filthy, disorganized officer’s cabin. The smell of sweat and some sort of funk, likely some combination of blood, dirt, and foliage, permeated the room. The room had been this way for several days now, Parker was often too drained from the recent excursions to really do anything but fall on his now disgusting bed. The dream he’d had wasn’t one he had too often anymore, most nights he was too tired to dream, and if he did have a dream more often than not it was a nightmare. This dream was one of his special dreams though, it was the center of almost everything that he did.
Parker lived with his heart even when it threatened to kill him. Living in this way was the source of most of his nightmares. Most of his nightmares came from one incident in particular.
Parker was a member of the Colony Defense Force on Idris VI, a lush jungle world that appeared to have no life but trees, grass, and everything green in between. About a year had gone by without any sort of incident, but they still patrolled the surrounding jungles as a formality.
One morning, one of the colonists had found a mangled body, and quickly got to the CDF outpost to raise an alarm. Nobody thought that it was wildlife at first, why would they? Everybody thought that it was some monstrous colonist with a lust for murder. Parker thought differently, but was told to be wary of people anyways by his CO, Commander Jacob Madison. The patrols immediately became much more serious affairs, as they searched everywhere for a murderer on the loose.
One patrol in particular, close to five months after the body was found, would forever remain in Parker’s memories. The jungle, up till that point, spooked some of the soldiers, especially at night. But after five months of seeing nothing, the men of Parker’s platoon were becoming more comfortable. This patrol, much to the platoon’s relief, was a day patrol.
The jungle’s only noises were the trees settling in their places, water flowing if they were close to a stream, and the snapping of twigs underneath their muddy boots. Today was different, felt Parker. He didn’t know why or how, it just felt… different.
Parker looked to his men and immediately knew what felt different, his second in command was out of his line of sight. A rare occurrence.
“Rolands! Sound off!” Parker shouted.
One last time,
“Chill boss! I was just taking a leak.” Rolands said as he walked around a tree, redoing his belt.
“Rolands, do NOT do that again or so help me I will court martial your ass!” Parker threatened harshly.
“Jeez boss,” Rolands sheepishly replied, “I thought you’d be cool with that. I guess I’ll be more careful.”
Parker sighed in both exasperation and relief, one more than the other, but still thought that something felt off about the jungle today. The jungle didn’t look any different, nor did is smell any different. Humidity was about the same, and it was as hot as it usually was. Parker then noticed what was different, there was a new noise in the jungle.
It wasn’t loud, but it was getting louder slowly. Buzzing
This buzzing was like nothing he had ever heard before – even though his home world was home to several species of genetically modified bees. It was a slow and extremely low pitched phenomena. A gut instinct told him that it was dangerous.
“Safeties off! Eyes open!” Parker commanded.
The soldiers looked at him incredulously, but nonetheless followed his command, albeit a bit hesitatingly.
One of the soldiers, Sgt. Benjamin, asked the question that was on everybody’s minds,
“Boss? I ain’t gonna tell you how to be an officer or nothing, but why in the hell are we on guard against a couple of bees at worst?”
“Because!” Parker replied, a bit on edge, “There are no animals, no insects, nothing but plants on this rock! They’re still building a pollinator strain for this environment.”
Parker’s men remained a bit unconvinced, they all knew what Parker said was true, but they doubted that any native species of bug would be big enough to use a gun on.
They remained on guard for about half an hour, the buzzing getting louder; the enlisted men thinking of this as just an extended break disguised as an investigation.
One of the men, Benjamin, even took out a cigarette.
“Ben! What in the hell are you doing?” Parker demanded.
“Aw, boss, you need to chill. Ain’t nothing gonna happen from a little smoke.”
“I know I’m lax with regulation,” Parker admitted, “but smoking on patrol could get you, and the rest of us, killed!”
“From what?” Benjamin chuckled, “Secondhand smoke? Sure, maybe in thirty years.”
Benjamin then took a full drag, then grew confused as smoke rose to his face from his chest. His confusion grew further as he saw everyone looking at him with horror in their eyes.
So he looked down, and saw a spike coming out of the right side of his chest, smoke coming out of the exceedingly narrow space between his flesh and the spike dark with his blood.
“Ah,” Benjamin thought in shock, “So that’s what that taste in my mouth was.”
Benjamin then saw dark, he didn’t even feel pain before his sight went black. Before oblivion, Benjamin only knew a sense of disbelief – not enough time to fear death.
This, besides the fact that he was now dead, was what differed him from the other soldiers. They had enough time to dread the next moment.
Parker had fear too, as he was no different from the next man except for his higher rank and larger heart.
But Parker had enough presence of mind to see out of the corner of his eyes that everyone else was just as frozen as he was.
He wanted to give a calm, collected, and clear command, with a confidence that would assuage his men’s fear. Instead, he frantically screeched an order in a fearful voice,
“Shoot it! Shoot it! Shoot it!”
He received an equally rushed compliance to his command, his men scrambling to aim their guns and fire. The full auto barking of their rifles rang throughout the jungle. Most of the bullets missed their target, but there were enough bullets in the air to fell the creature that killed Benjamin.
The mangled corpses drove one of the enlisted men, Daniels, to drop onto his knees and vomit. After his last few dry heaves he muttered wildly,
“Oh… oh my god. We fucking shot Benji… Why the hell did we shoot him?”
The bullets landed everywhere in the general direction of the creature, including the sack of flesh and bones formerly known as Benjamin.
The morale they lost that day was never regained, though his men were far more serious afterwards. The creature appeared to be a gigantic wasp, and there were way more than just that one.
“We have to get out of here,” Parker thought, “But Madison isn’t letting us go.”
The bugs were easy to kill, the only problem was that there were too many of them to make any sort of sizable dent in their numbers. Every day they lost someone new. Each death as bad as Benjamin’s
Parker grabbed his sidearm, a solar recharged laser pistol.
Madison insisted on staying because of the money invested into the colonization of Idris VI. Parker thought Madison insisted on staying because of the money invested in him by the colonization company. They weren’t actually losing money, only losing lives on this colonization project, so why should they lose their investment just because a few soldiers did their job and died?
The ranking officer had the sole authority to get everybody aboard the escape shuttles and have them launch, and Parker was the second highest ranking officer.
“Is this worth going to prison for the rest of my life?” Parker pondered, while looking at his gun. He never hated Madison, but here he was, pondering whether or not to end his life. It was impersonal, should he end one life who didn’t really deserve to die to save many more lives?
He put the pistol down, and sighed. The moral calculus checked out, but he still wasn’t willing to kill Madison. It was a bit selfish, in his mind, to not want to kill Madison because it didn’t feel right. Killing Madison would be for the greater good, more people would survive, but directly killing someone was something Parker didn’t want to do. Parker didn’t mind going to prison, it wasn’t that consequence he was afraid of, it was the consequence of the soul. Parker didn’t believe in God, but he thought he should live the way he wanted to. He wasn’t willing to do something that was so distasteful to him.