The scent on the air was still acrid. The smoke covering the world in a blanket of grey. Hard to believe that the land before him was once green, once teeming with life. Now the land was a scar, a deep groove on the planet, like so many. He shouldered his rifle and picked up his box of ammo. His staggered, pretending to walk with surety.
He made his way across the glass that was once sand and before that dirt. The world has aged so much that the soldier believed She herself would never recognize her face. The day wore on, the sun heated the man, causing sweat to pour down his back under his uniform. The uniform had seen better days, ripped and gouged, burned and singed, it still covered him, but was filthy.
His radio had stopped working. He was now a Solo, a designation given to all soldiers lost at sea. When this occurred the direction was clear. Continue, kill and move north. He was very good at orders, and very good at killing. His mind had numbed years before during the Sakmit village clearing. Once you have to kill so many, you stop caring.
The village was innocent except for the illness that was sweeping over the planet. It was not so much a guilt but an unforeseen bit of bad luck. The entire planet was at war, but the enemy was small and contagious. The threat of annihilation was clear and so the humanitarian side of the brain stopped thinking. The world was now in containment, which was a nice way of saying, Burn it baby!”
This was his job, this was the job of all soldiers now. Kill and burn, kill and burn, the mantra of the CullCorp. He wasn’t sure how many millions or billions have been burned in the name of the virus that could not be stopped. He never received much in the way of how the war was going. All he knew was the days had gotten quieter, lonelier. Less and less contact with anyone. He smiled at his lost comrades, losing himself in the memory of others.
As he thought more on it, he couldn’t remember the last time he had contact with anyone or anything. The glass below his feet seemed to go on for miles. He seemed to think this was not right. The last thing he remembered was sitting with his unit. A fire burning in the distance, the screams dying down with the fire. Screams? Should there have been screams? They were to kill then burn, not burn to kill.
The night was clear, stars were out. The moon shined with its winking smile. So many people living up there away from the virus. The final answer until the planet could be cleared of infection. Only how could it be? The virus was airborne and saturated the atmosphere. He tried to not think of that.
His fellow soldiers laughed as they recounted their kills. Such bravado, such pride, pride in the killing, was this what he heard. The laughter ringing in his ears.
“I mean did you hear her…not my child, not my child…hilarious!” the man in the mask laughed harder.
Another across from him spoke up, “did you POP POP, her?”
“Nah, picked her up and threw her in the fire,” they both laughed.
“Yeah and I made sure the little brat went with the mom!” the soldier across the fire yelled out to more laughter.
“Hey Sarge, how many you get?” a younger soldier looked at him with respect.
The Sarge didn’t answer, he looked around the fire and looked at the burning village. The numb slowly receding and the memory of his own life returning to him. He had a wife, had a child, he was once a man who enjoyed living. He looked at the young soldier as he heard the man cough.
Instantly his hand gun came out and shot. He was fast and unthinking. He continued his firing. Handgun to rifle. In an instant the fire was his and the laughter was over. He picked up his ammo box and went Solo.
Now on the glass, the burned out scar of earth, he knelt. He looked into the sky wishing that the moon would never hear the cough, see the blood, mourn for those left behind. He wished that the humanity up there would forget the crimes done in the name of whatever it was named.
Perhaps he was the last, perhaps on the broken world he was finally the only one left. He felt his lungs burn from smoke. He felt his arms ache from that ammo box. He shook his head and let the air out of his lungs. His turn to cough, to bleed, to finally give in to the enemy.
He was fast with his gun.
And the world was quiet.