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Today's Story by Harris Tobias

I can see a couple of Drund bodies drifting along with me. I’m sure they’re dead.

Terra Fi

Tumbling. Drifting. Slowly spinning, head over heels. Peaceful. Quiet. One thing about being out here is that it gives a man time to think. So many things happen so fast. Too fast to consider anything. Ordinary life is noisy enough but combat, forget it. All the confusion. Explosions. Death. It’s all adrenaline and instinct. Trying to stay alive. trying to do your duty. People get killed. Some, like me, get forgotten. I’ve been drifting out here for a day and a half. Never had so much time to think.

I can still see the Cleo or rather what’s left of her. The Drunds don’t leave much when they’re through, the sneaky bastards. We showed ‘em though. And considering it was three against one, we did pretty damn good, I’m pretty proud of the old girl. There’s three Drund attack ships that won’t be going home again. A lot of Drund mothers will be crying tonight or whatever the hell passes for tears on those ugly faces of theirs.

We showed ‘em a good fight. They picked on the wrong ship. The Cleo was no fat merchantman. No sir, we tore them a new ass hole. It was a hell of fight. We showed ‘em what Marines are made of. Terra Fi boys, Terra Fi.

Count on the Drunds to pull every filthy trick in the book. We dodged and ducked until they scored a lucky hit. That’s all it took. Damn them and their luck. The captain ordered me, Waxman and Turner outside for damage control. We were just out of the airlock when the Cleo took another hit. Blew out the bridge. A big section of hull just blew up in our faces. Turner took the brunt of it. I saw him fly to pieces. Blew me and Waxman clean off the hull and into the void. Sent me tumbling. Blew out my com link. I have no idea what happened to Waxman. I hope he’s all right. He was just a kid.

I can’t tell if my beacon is sending but at least I’m in one piece. Suit’s integrity is good; vital signs good. I’m alive, unhurt and drifting. Even if my beacon is sending, I don’t think it matters. The Cleo looks done for. If there’s any life on her, the crew have their hands full.

Damn Drunds. Slimy, sneaky reptile fucks. I hate them. I hate their ships, I hate their looks, I hate their goddamn planet. I suppose it was inevitable we would clash. They’re too much like us. There are only so many habitable worlds and even though those scum suckers breathe nitrogen, it’s just too close to what we need. They can tweak a planet’s atmosphere as easily as we can. We call it Terra-forming. I wonder what they call it? Drund-forming I suppose.

That’s how this whole thing started. We were tweaking Nuron IV. The Drunds blew up our Tweakers and installed their own. So we blew theirs and that was all it took. Next thing you know it was High Noon all over again. Now we’re raiding each other’s colonies, shooting up each other’s ships, generally behaving like we always do when challenged. Like savages. Like Marines. Eat shit and die you lizard motherfuckers. What the hell’s the point of having a fighting navy if you’re not going to use it? I’ll bet the Drunds feel exactly the same. How long before we start nuking each other’s home worlds?

I Figure I have enough oxy and water for another 36 hours. I’m drifting away from the Cleo at something like four miles an hour. So I already must be a hundred miles away. At this rate, I’ll be home in about forty billion years. Distance in space is funny. So clear. No sensation of movement. I can still see the Cleo and the hulks of the three Drund ships. I can see all the debris around me. Everything on it’s own trajectory. It’s so quiet. Except for the sound of my thoughts, it’s the silence of eternity.

This mission was supposed to be easy. A quick raid on an undefended farming colony. A nasty, dirty little piece of work. Nothing I’m proud of. The corps is better than that. But orders are orders. They say go slaughter a bunch of farmers, who’s going to argue? Our job is to say “Yes Sir” and get it done. Trouble was, the colony wasn’t undefended. The Drund scrambled what they had. They were no match for the Cleo. Shit, we had them outgunned big time.

It was gnats versus elephants. Should have been no contest. Got to hand it to those Drund pilots. They fought like demons. Got in a few good hits. Knocked the Cleo out of the fight. Not the finest hour for the navy. Lucky bastards. Mission should have been a cake walk, now the fleet’s going to have to send a rescue mission. The Drunds will probably do the same. Gonna be a lot of action in this sector pretty soon. It’s one fight I’m going to miss.

I can see old Sol up there. She’s the brightest thing in the sky. Less than three light years away. I can see the Drund’s star too. Not as bright. Further away, I guess. I hope I’m not drifting toward it. I’d hate to have the Drunds Find my body. Not like I’d know anyway. This war will have long been over by then. Probably forgotten, ancient history. I’ll be a relic. They’ll put me in a museum. Wouldn’t that suck, spending eternity in a freaking Drund museum? Well it’s out of my hands. Still, I’d rather be remembered as Gunnery Sgt. Eric Stepson than some anonymous relic of the Drund War.

It makes me laugh thinking about the absurdity of it all. It’s not like fighting these guys is going to change anything. The Drunds are still going to breathe nitrogen no matter how many of them we kill and vice versa. Geeze, listen to me. I sound like a freakin’ Peace-nick. A few months ago, hell, a few hours ago, I was all for killing as many Drunds as their stupid god made. That’s what I signed up to do. That’s what I trained for. There’s nothing like facing one’s own slow death to make a man think.

I can see a couple of Drund bodies drifting along with me. I’m sure they’re dead. One of them has no helmet, the other has a hole burned clear through his body. Two more casualties of a battle that doesn’t even have a name let alone a purpose. Those Drunds are lucky in a way. They died quick. This slow death thing really sucks. I suppose I could always speed up the process, you know, help things along. There are a thousand ways to kill yourself in space. It’s not a kind environment to a warm body. I can speed things up anytime but right now I’m peaceful. There’s Sol again. Can’t see the Earth at this distance but I like knowing it’s there. I wish I could write a note. Maybe some one would Find it in a thousand years. Message in a bottle. Very funny.

There’s always a chance the captain wasn’t killed and he’s organizing repairs right now. He’ll get the Cleo patched up and under way. They’ll rescue me and we’ll all limp home together. Who am I kidding? Hope’s the last thing to go. How we do cling to hope. That’s one thing human’s love to do. I wonder if the Drunds have a word for hope. They probably do. They’re a lot more like us than we like to admit. I never did learn any of their language. Too busy hating them. I once read somewhere that it’s very melodic. They write poetry. I wonder what they’d make of Rock and Roll? I wonder if they have comic books?

There’s the Drund star. I don’t even know what it’s called. It’s a main sequence yellow star very much like ours. How did we evolve so different, yet so much alike? Even their technology is like ours. Same sun, different histories. It’s so rare in the universe to evolve intelligence at all. So what’s the First thing we do when we meet another intelligent race? We call out the Marines and start shooting. Same pattern we’ve always followed. Been doing it since we lived in caves. Nothing’s changed. They’re different, different bad, kill different. Makes me laugh.

What’s that over there? Looks like Waxman. Not a mark on him. “Waxman? Can you hear me? Are you alive?” Damn com link. Can’t tell if he’s okay or not. He looks peaceful. Could be drifting in his own thoughts like me. Running out the clock. Poor kid. So young. Just out of boot camp. Took him under my wing. Good boy. Farm kid. Where did he say he was from? Somewhere in Nebraska. Always wanted to be a Marine. Probably didn’t expect to end up this way but who would. Well here’s to you kid. Terra Fi. Keep the faith.

There’s the old Cleo again. Two big holes in her. She was a good ship. Captain Trask was a good man. He kept us tight. We trained and drilled until we were ready for anything. When the orders came to take out their colony we were all psyched. I remember how we high Fived each other down in the bunks like it was going to be a big win for our side. Didn’t know it was a sneak attack on a bunch of farmers. They were Drunds and they deserved to die. That’s all we knew. Turned out to be a farming colony. I thought we had an agreement to leave civilians alone. Can’t trust the politicians. I bet that dead Drund over there would agree with me on that.

The poor slobs. The Cleo was a shark up against minnows. Not a lot of glory in a raid like this. The Drunds fought like maniacs. Like Marines. You have to give them that. If there was any glory to be had yesterday, it was theirs. So I guess to be fair I owe them a salute. You fought like Marines. You died like Marines. You are some ugly fuckers but you know how to die. So Terra Fi Drunds, Terra Fi. Here’s hoping I can find the courage to die like you.


Harris Tobias lives and writes in Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of The Greer Agency, A Felony of Birds and dozens of short stories. His fiction has appeared in Ray Gun Revival, Dunesteef Audio Magazine, Literal Translations, FriedFiction, Down In The Dirt, Eclectic Flash, E Fiction and several other obscure publications. His poetry has appeared in Vox Poetica, The poem Factory and The Poetry Super Highway. You can find links to his novels at: http://harristobias-fiction.blogspot.com/

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