Sunday, February 10, 2013
The dark pool edged closer to his nose, seeping languidly into the sand like a summer tide.
Odd that I’d finally get poetic, so close to the end. Sgt. Wayne suppressed a wry chuckle at the thought, then fought hard against the wracking pain that followed that first effort.
It wasn’t that he was so much fascinated by his life-blood darkening the dirt around him. He literally couldn’t look away; the last time he glanced around, watching his rescuers cut down by the unseen sniper, he took a second round to the leg. For good measure, it seems.
He’d been thoroughly briefed, of course. That’s what got him into this mess. A veteran soldier, he’d never ask of any man what he wouldn’t do himself, and especially not the Ariadna-fresh recruits that had been assigned to him. This patrol through ‘sanitized’ territory was meant to be more training than practical, but of course there was no safe ground against a literally invisible enemy.
So he took point, and so he was the first to be cut down. A canny human sniper would have let the point man go past, to get at the meat of the patrol. A canny Shasvaasti sniper thought differently, perhaps believing that humans shared their alien psychology and going for the first available target, surgically wounding him. Expecting that racial preservation instincts would override good sense and that rescuers would inevitably present themselves as targets.
The alien was wrong about the motivation, but not about the results. They’d tried to get to him twice, and lost four in the attempts. At the edge of his field of vision Wayne could just barely see the still-steaming pile of meat that was once an eager 18-year old kid. He wished he could look away. Wayne hadn’t survived the ambush by chance; the sniper was keeping him alive. As bait. Thank god his men had gotten the hint after the second futile attempt, and left him for dead. If he played possum maybe they’d lose all hope and just go away.
And so they waited; he and the sniper, separated by race, distance and purpose, united by circumstances in this deadly game. All he had to do was wait a little while longer. The sun hung low and red in the sky, dripping languorously ever lower, beating on his face, baking the sand and dust onto his parched lips. Soon it would be dark, and then maybe he could risk putting a hand to the wounds on his leg. It itched so badly.
His gaze was fixed on the dark, expanding pool beneath him. Wayne suddenly realized that the sound of crashing waves was his own pulse - blood rushing past his ears in the near total silence - and he laughed at the absurdity of it all. The chuckle turned to a cough, blowing dust softly into a tiny column, at once affirming and betraying his existence.