This story takes place right after Burnett hides in mass grave. It's meant to answer two questions: what did Burnett discover to be the meaning of the war and how did he get so clean after falling in the mud?
This is has a Major spoiler for the movie (although I don't know why you'd be reading this if you haven't seen it). And please don't forget to review. None of the characters are mine, they belong to Fox entertainment. The song is from Godspell. I'm not making any money off this, yadda, yadda yadda . . .
Lt. Chris Burnett pulled his head out of the mud and gasped for breath. Two emotions were raging inside of him, fighting for dominancy. Fear and disgust.
"Oh God," he said mindlessly under his breath as he pulled himself out of the mud pile. "Oh God," I just hid under a dead body. "Oh God," those guys nearly found me. "Oh God," that kid couldn't have been more then six years old. "Oh God," we flew over this. "Oh God," that woman looks like she was pregnant. "Oh God," we must have pictures of this. "Oh God," they planted trees to hide this. "Oh God," we have pictures of this . . . "Oh God," that's why they killed Stackhouse.
He ran and ran, he couldn't stop. Every step, every breath was a revelation. His chest began to tighten and he started gasping for breath. But he kept running. He had to get away, he had to get far, far away. His eyes were burning as mud and sweat started to stream into them, but he couldn't close them, he couldn't blink 'cause when he closed his eyes he was suddenly back there, in that grave, with a hundred hollow empty eyes staring up at him, demanding to know why American had let this happen, begging him to bring them justice. "Oh God," he choked out again.
He ran blindly, without thought of his direction or his path. All he could think about was getting away. Then suddenly his foot caught on a tree root and he pitched forward onto a pile of snow.
The cold hit his face hard. He wasn't lying in the downy powder that fell on Christmas Eve, the stuff kids made snowmen out of and that got stuck in the eyelashes of pretty girls. No, this was hard and sharp, it stung where he had hit it.
The need to run evaporated. He was too tired, too weak. He would have vomited but there was nothing in his stomach, he would have cried but he was too dehydrated for tears. It didn't occur to him that he should get on his feet and run, put as much distance between himself and the grave. It didn't occur to him that he had to be quiet so that the half an army trying to track him down wouldn't be able to follow the noise of his sobs. It didn't occur to him that he wanted to keep his eyes open so he wouldn't be able to see Stackhouse being executed or the blank stares of all those people in the grave played over and over in his minds eye. He pushed himself onto his hands and knees, his chest heaved with sobs as he gasped for breath. Dead. So many dead. Just dead and forgotten. How could people die like that? How could someone kill a group of people, kids, pregnant women, and just leave their bodies to be forgotten? How could someone kill Stackhouse? He'd been helpless, injured, frightened. This was so wrong, so very wrong. How could there be this kind of evil, how could there be any kind of life in this place? "Oh God," he gasped again, opening his red rimmed eyes and glancing through the sweeping branches of forest above him to a heavy gray-blue sky. "How . . ." could you let this happen, can these people go on living, can I go on living, can I have been put here, can I make it better?
A wind blew through the forest, chilling Burnett, rustling the branches of the trees and sending two brightly colored birds Burnett couldn't identify into the air. The birds were the first moving things he'd seen since they'd gone on this godforsaken mission that didn't scare the hell out of him. They were the first thing he'd seen that were colorful and beautiful and graceful. He stared up at them and watched as they flew away, settling on a branch about a hundred yards from where they'd taken flight.
There was life here. There was beauty here. There was a sort of peace here too. And life was worth fighting for, so was beauty, so was peace. He wondered idly, whether some of those people in the graves would hade known the names of those birds, maybe someone would have spent their free hours wandering through the forests looking at the birds. Maybe, somewhere, one of those people had a book, like his mom, where she would write down the day, and what birds she saw where and at what times. Burnett hadn't noticed it, but he had stopped sobbing and started breathing normally. Without really thinking of it, he grabbed some of the snow and started to rub it on his face and through his hair, washing off the mud. With an odd sort of detachment he continued to create a world for the bodies he'd seen as he scrubbed himself with the snow. The six year old kid, he played soccer all the time but stunk at it. It didn't matter thought, the kid just loved to play, he was a great sport. The pregnant lady was the homemaking type. She would dry flowers and put cheese on everything. She was so happy when she found out she was pregnant. Burnett smiled for a second at this thought, and then his smile slipped. That baby would never be born, that kid would never play soccer again, and there would never be another entry in the bird journal. And that's when he understood.
"This isn't right," he said to himself as he wiped the muddy water from his face with his bare hands, leaving it somewhat dry and significantly cleaner. "This whole mess, it's . . ." He didn't know the words to describe what he had seen when he looked at the lifeless bodies of those people, or even the lifeless body of his best friend and pilot. But he knew that all the people who were sitting on the Carl Vinson were doing all they could to keep those words he didn't know from happening ever again to anyone else. Yeah, sure, they were doing a shitty job. But at least they were doing something.
He took a deep breath and pushed himself off of the ground and started walking again, crunching through the snow, towards the rendevous point with renewed determination and, oddly, hope. Without realizing it, he started singing a song he'd forgotten he knew under his breath, "When wilt thou save the people / Oh God of mercy when / the people, Lord, the people / Not thrones and crown / but men . . ."