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The Things We Must Do

By Randal Snyder, Copyright 1998

"Zeta, you're point. Gamma, left flank. I'll take the right." The voice cracked and chirped as the local radio network distorted. Here we were back in Hell. At least that's what I call it. I'm surrounded by trigger happy jokers on both sides. Fortunately we have the bigger guns.

I've been here since December sixteenth. That would make it five months, three days, and sixteen hours, but who's counting. I can't wait to get out of here.

My wife, God I miss her, and Joey, my two year old are all I need right now. I can't help but wonder what they are up to. I'm sure I've missed a lot with Joey growing and all.

"Zeta, snap to it!" the crackle of static in the robotic voice broke the silence.

Damn I could have been dead if that was a gunner. My heart raced.

"Sorry, Sarge, just thinking you know," as soldiers are supposed to I moved when told. When I wasn't day dreaming anyway.

"Yea, I know. We all have beautiful wives and babies to think about. So the sooner we finish our rounds we'll be safe." Safe in our kennels.

 I walked to the corner of the alley we were in; looked to see what I could in the dark. As usual, nothing. Just garbage, refuse, and remnants of food. After curfew no one dared to venture out side. That's why we were here, to make sure no one did. Our orders were to apprehend or subdue anyone found outside past nine and before five. It's been only five months and I already have five kills. Other guys have a lot more. For some reason I can't stop thinking about Meredith and Joey. Every time I level my M-16 I picture them.

I almost bought it not long ago. I've never been so scared in my life. This rubber suit still stinks.

We had walked half of our new route when we came up on what looked like a torn down old privacy wall. The Sarge sent Baxter to check it out, so he started climbing the debris. He stumbled over the rocks that were all over and worked his way to a perch half way up the wall. As soon as his fingers gripped the ledge all hell broke loose. The spreaders were coming out of the wood works, yelling "on to freedom". Before he could even react Baxter saw the cinder block coming at his face. It was a hysteria of screaming, falling rocks, and the Sarge's gun bursting out death. Next thing I know some guy is beating me over the head with a table leg. I don't know how, but he ended up under me with my bullets in his head.

I'll never forget that empty stare through the blood on my visor. Then it was over, my vomit filling the respirator and dripping further in to my suit. By the time I cleared my mask and could think straight six spreaders were dead. But they got Baxter. Jonathan Baxter, private First-class, US Marine Corps. dead at 21. It made me realize just how vulnerable we really were.

Yeah, we had the armor and the guns, but those damn spreaders had the will and desperation to try things like this. It would happen again, I could feel it. Like the rubber clothes I practically live in, constricting and suffocating the life from me.

So here we were waiting for orders, sitting in the open at the end of a "T" shaped alley. There were at least three likely routes of attack, should we be ambushed.

"What are we waiting for Sarge?" Gamma piped up. His voice tense and hoarse. Gamma was his code name, he was new to our trio patrol. We used code names in case someone was listening. At least then they couldn't antagonize us by name.

The Sarge is Sergeant William Stacey, a hard assed man from southern Texas. A good old American man who loves Hispanic women, but hates the men. Too much competition I think.

...and Gamma? I don't even remember his name. This is his first day with us.

...Johnson, Kevin Johnson, that's Gamma's real name. Big black guy from Up State New York. Nice guy, but huge! Just don't let him bear hug you. It's a wonder they had a HE-suit to fit him.

The HE-suit is a standard issue Hostile Environment suit, rubberized for your protection. They keep the bad air out and the good air in. Lord knows there isn't much good air in these body bags. After about ten minutes it stinks so bad you could die. But then we all end up doing that. Dying that is.

Damn I hate this place.

"Shut up and sit tight," the Sarge shifted and pointed to his bug-eyed mask, "look" then his ears, "listen" then to the filters where his mouth would be, "and shut the hell up!" He was normally more colorful, but this was Johnson's first day. Why spoil the fun?

All was still except for the hollow rasping of air being pushed through the air filters. The little electric fan whirred relentlessly circulating air through the masks.

"At least there're no misquotes," I though out loud.

"Shut up," It was the Sarge barking.

After what seemed like hours we sat in the shadows, finally to hear the sound of male voices.

"Okay, heads up," thump, thump, thump, the rhythm in my head increased its tempo. Cold chills ran up my neck as adrenaline surged. Once again I could feel the sickness as I felt the urge to hurl.

No, not this time. I swallowed over and over to the bass drum beating in my skull.

"Zeta, what do you see?"

"What?" for some reason I didn't hear.

"Get your head out of your ass. Take a look and report."

Inching by the wall I looked across from me and to the alley in front. All seemed clear.

"Safe to the right and ahead," back to the wall I pulled out a pocket mirror. Cheap plastic thing with a magnet on the back. Slowly I moved it closer to the corner, about knee level, watching each changing shadow. Four figures were huddled around an aluminum trash can passing a cigarette between them. The can was inverted to be used as a table.

"Four... smoking... junk on a table." Shifting the mirror in my hand I scanned the rest of the alley. "All on the left."

"All right, you know what the deal is. See any weapons?"


"Keep sharp and stay alive." All three of us freed the safeties from the rifles, the springs ringing eerily in the night. "If they run, track and kill. We don't want a bunch of their friends jumping into this party."

We lined up just out of sight hunched and ready to launch into the death making. "Shut off the radios, we don't need support. On three."

The count came way too fast as the shadows blurred. M-16s trained on a target we lunged in near blindness. A curse rose from the lips of one of the damned. Fire sparked from the commander's muzzle. Thunder cracked the quiet mask of peace. White powder floated from the man's clenched fist, blood sprayed as lead broke flesh, meat, and bone. A burst of pain from Johnson. Another man fell. Adrenaline taking command my muscles twitched and my soul broke again.

Overwhelmed by the facts of war the last man stood, mouth agape, eyes tearful, and face full of panic. The Sarge's bust threw him onto the table of cocaine to rest half draped on the crumpled aluminum. Looking through the haze of steam on the visors and the smoke of midnight we moved in. The Sarge leaned over each felled man and in turn stepped on their throats. No survivors, that was standard. He motioned for Johnson back the way we had come and me forward. We knew the drill. Ensure no other threats existed.

When I turned the corner I heard the crack of an M-16. Darting back I didn't see the Sarge. Scanning the alley passing the bodies, the can, and the steps they lay in front of. My rifle was trained mid-level. As I reached the corner we had begun at I saw the Sarge waiving me forward. At his feet was Johnson's body, crumpled like a rag-doll. I could faintly hear the Sarge's curses through the muffled mask.

Next thing I know I have something against the back of my head. The familiar sound of the safety unlocking rang deeply. Thunder again crashed my dreams and pain like none I ever imagined brought me down. I saw the rock crushing the plastic visor, the dust rushing into the mask; the blood fill the filter. I felt his grip, heard the crackle of the radio coming to life again. All my senses were alive like never before, the fire in my head racing throughout my extremities. I heard him lie. He said we were ambushed. I heard his breathing. I tasted the cocaine on his tongue and smelled it as he inhaled the stuff. Deep inside I knew what he had done. Sold six lives for a desire.

The midnight air took me as his feet ran past me, back to base to report.

That's how you found me. I'm one of you now. Locked in this little hell somewhere in New Jersey. Surrounded by live wires, machine-guns, land mines and unscaleable walls, but worst surrounded by the people that will do the things we must do.

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Copyright 1996-2017 Randal Snyder 

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