Make the Killing Fields Pristine
Street twenty-four was empty. Perhaps if it were any other street, James would have though it suspicious, eerie, or strange. But then again, it was street twenty-four. On the border between Imperial and Myronian territory, it was expectedly desolate. The terrifyingly agile fauna of Myronia had already taken advantage of this, however, claiming the road as their own. Buds of all shapes and sizes blossomed from the windows of abandoned buildings, vines and weeds twisting this way and that, painting the grey concrete and cracked pavement a lush green. James had wondered some times what it took to maintain an entire planet of ravenous plants. He had never worried about it, but only taken pleasure in the fact that the army had been forced to found the First Gardeners Division simply to keep the furious herbs in check throughout the base.
Sergeant Kerger raised his hand, coming to a slow stop. The squad stopped with him, standing perfectly still. Kerger made a strange noise, as if speaking in some harsh, unknown dialect, then turned to examine the squad. Grunting, he nodded and continued on. After a moment, he lowered his hand, apparently having forgotten he had put it up in the first place.
"Sergeant," said little Josef Pea, the man who's name James remembered simply because he found it so hard to remember. "Don't you think we ought to get started?"
The sergeant spun around, his face red with anger.
"Dammit Faulkner!" he bellowed.
"I didn't say anything, sir," James muttered, raising his eyebrows.
Kerger's nose twitched twice as he contemplated his next move.
"Right, I expect we should get started," he said calmly. "I hope you all brought your cleaning tools."
As one, the squad drew their over-sized machetes. Kerger did the same, running his finger down the blade slowly.
"You've seen a lot of action here, haven't you sweetness?" he purred quietly. Looking up, he bit his finger. "Why aren't you all working?" he blurted.
James bent down, beginning to hack away at a particularly meaty vine. It did not intend to go easily, its thick cellulose barely flinching under the repeated assaults of the machete. Of course, James did not intent to give up. He beat at the green monster with a passion. It was not every day that he was given a chance to rid himself of some of the anger that built up inside his, at least to his knowledge, hollow body. He could hear the vine down there, taunting him, laughing. He only swung down harder, leaving the vine mangled and frail.
Raising the blade above his head one last time, he let out a great cry. James Faulkner, the vine butcher, bane of all photosynthesis-users. With an explosive snap, the vine split in two, the two halves shooting to either side of the street. James laughed slightly, continuing his campaign of terror across the botanical landscape. Then, in an instant, he stopped. A hand was on his back. He turned, standing face to face with Gerret.
"James," he said sternly. "Calm down."
James nodded, panting. If there was one thing Gerret could do, it was to calm people down. James thought, perhaps, that this was because he was the most boring of all the squad members. He seemed sensible, rational, and overall just ordinary. It was that dullness that made him so likeable. He didn't smile at James, nor did he frown. He simply looked. His nose was crooked slightly, and one eyebrow over his hazel eyes was slightly larger than the other. This was all that differentiated him from the man on the front of a tube of shaving lotion, and from any man just happening to walk down the streets of any world, anywhere.
Let down, James began to chop at the vines with less emotion, his movement becoming robotic. He had not realized it while caught in a homicidal rage, but chopping vines was a tiring, trivial, and certainly tenacious job. He let out a yawn and wished internally that something would happen that could make the whole event more exciting.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw little Josef Pea, who had decided to cut vines next to him. James shrugged, continuing his work. In a moment, little Josef Pea was gone. Perhaps James had been hallucinating, and the little man hadn't been there at all. Only when he heard shouts of horror and the roar of auto-fire did he take the time to look for little Josef. He regretted ever deciding to do so, for when he did, he found at his feet a headless body, blood seeping from it like water from a funnel.
Cursing, James flung himself towards the nearest building, leaping over piles of mangled roots as he went. Before he knew it, he found himself face first in a sea of green. He had tripped. The vines were taking their revenge for the friends they had lost by James' hand. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw a scene of panic. The squad scrambled about like gnats, circling around and around aimlessly as they searched for safety. Sergeant Kerger stood in place and, reminiscent of a hero from the classic war-picts, fired his weapon at random into the empty alleys and lanes of the city beyond, roaring a perpetual roar that shook James' ears.
After a while, it was decided that there was no threat, and the clamoring died down. James picked himself up, his eyes still darting from dark building to dark building, expecting to see an armed man leaning out of every plant-ridden window. The sergeant sighed, as if let down, and turned to little Josef Pea's body and knelt down. Like curious idiots, the rest of the squad began to circle around him.
"Is he still alive?" Sam asked. "Check to see if he's still alive."
"Shut it, Sam," Jonas spat. "Man's got no head!"
"Someone tell Faulkner to keep his mouth shut so we can all pay respects to the damned man!" Kerger ordered from his position on the ground.
James sighed, making his way towards the others and examining the scene. Nothing had changed since he had lest checked. Little Josef still lay there, his head nowhere to be seen, blood soaking the thirsty plants around him.
"What are we gunna do with him?" Jonas questioned, stunned.
"Get Myers to pick him up…" Kerger began.
"Myers isn't here," Jonas reported.
"Where the hell is Myers?"
"The medical wing."
"Oh," the sergeant said. "Ok. Roland, Sam, pick him up."
"I'm not touching…" Roland looked down in disgust, "him."
"I'll get him," James said with a groan.
"Dammit Faulkner, did I ask you to pick him up!" Kerger retorted harshly. "I don't want to desecrate his body! Sam and Jonas, do it."
"Sir," Jonas said, his voice shaking. "What if…what if it's a trap?"
"What are you talking about?" the sergeant said skeptically.
"They didn't hurt any of us!" Jonas cried, as if he had just revealed a damning piece of information.
"They hurt Josef," Sam said.
Jonas shook his head sadly.
"You all know what I mean," he said to the others, aside from Sam. "What if they want us to bring him back to base? What if…"
"I don't want to hear it," Kerger said. "You've already terrified me enough. Let's just go back. I'll report the kill when we return."
There was a short silence as he turned to James.
"Don't think you'll get away with this one, Faulkner…" he whispered angrily.
James was confused. That confusion kept him occupied on the entire trip back to base.