Jommy was crouched behind Colonel Dekker when Shahn’Dra screeched and fell on her back. He ran to her and started pawing at her body as she stared at the sky, her antennae draped along the side of her head. She wasn’t moving. As panic welled up inside him, he placed his hand next to her snout and felt the warmth of her breath. Then it stopped. It seemed like forever, but then he felt another shallow wash of air. He turned to look at the Colonel, started to say something and then changed his mind. He picked up Shahn’Dra’s hand and sat down next to her as Dekker fired the last shot from his plasma rifle.
Dekker rolled away from the weapon with a groan and leaned back against the crest of the ridge. Jommy felt his stomach turn when he saw the slick of blood all along the side of the Colonel’s body. Dekker pointed at one of the bodies lying next to him with a red cross wrapped around his arm. The Colonel’s voice was strained as his face twisted against the pain. “Get me the satchel off his back.”
Jommy padded his way to the body, trying not to step on the ground too firmly, as if he were tip-toeing into some sacred place that would awake too easily at the sound of an intruder. He unlatched the satchel from the corpsman’s back and tucked it under his arm as he backed away.
The Colonel’s voice was thin as he sputtered his words. “Open it.” Jommy unsnapped the flap and scooted the satchel towards the Colonel’s hand. Dekker grunted as he rummaged through the bag and pulled out a white bandage. He unrolled the bandage, took Jommy’s hand and draped it over his palm.
“I know it will be rough, Jommy.” The Colonel wheezed in a breath and groaned. “Work hard. Keep your head down. Be useful. Stay alive.” The Colonel ran his hand across his forehead and down the front of his face. “Remember what you’ve seen here today. Maybe someday you can tell somebody. Don’t ever forget.” The Colonel clenched his teeth and pushed out a raspy groan. “Until then, stay alive. You have to stay alive.”
He curled the boy’s fingers around the cloth and said, “It will be quiet soon.” The Colonel winced and sucked in a sharp breath. “When that happens, I want you to go stand on the crest and hold this in the air as high as you can until somebody sees you.”
Jommy let his eyes drift to the crest of the ridge and shivered when he thought of what must have been behind it.
“When they come for you, tell them your name.” A ragged cough erupted from the Colonel’s chest and blood dribbled from the corner of his mouth. “Then tell them you surrender.”
Dekker dug in one of the bags still slung over his shoulder and pulled out a handful of socks. Laying them on the ground, he reached back into the bag and raised his hand to reveal the clay cup cradled in his palm.
“This was made from the ground where the Second Battalion, Fifth Colonial Marines Regiment fought their final battle.” He placed the cup in Jommy’s palm. “Try not to let them take it.” Dekker looked at him and took a wheezing breath that Jommy could barely hear. “We are more than walking shadows.”
His face grew still. He stopped breathing. Colonel Dekker’s eyes froze then, and stared past Jommy. He looked as if he had something more to say, but no more words came. Jommy felt like he was looking at a photograph – something that would be lost in the winds when there was nobody left to remember it.
He stood up, letting the rising wind bite into is face and dry away the tears he felt on his cheek. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and then opened them again. He stepped deliberately to the crest of the ridge and gasped when he looked into the valley below.
Shuddering at the sight of the smoking shells of the Cats, the bodies still lying on the field and the broken corpse of the Paladin, he raised the bandage as far above his head as he could and let it unfurl in the wind.
“I surrender,” he said to himself, practicing the way he would say it when they came for him. He didn’t want to forget. He didn’t want to sound scared. He just wanted to go home.
©2016 Michael J Lawrence