Soundtrack - www. youtube watch?v=NRcmtPVxrBU


I hate funerals.

Dress greens, fresh-pressed, with the beret just right and the boots barely cleaned of field mud. Walk to the podium, listen to the bagpipes and the minister and the twenty-one guns, hold a picture-perfect salute and a stone face as the world's finest get sent off in whatever way they could ask for. Closed casket - it's always a closed casket - goes up in smoke or down the hole, listen to the guns and stand at attention as the mothers cry and the children scream. Say what needs saying, comfort every man who needs comforting, (except for one) get my head shrunk and drink 'till I pass out.

I've had a lot of funerals lately.

I step off the Skyranger, the dirty men inside too exhausted to follow. They do it anyway, stumbling over themselves and dripping bits of classified blood and gore off their armor. The mission was a short flight away from Doc's hometown in Brazil, and though Protocol Almighty wouldn't let me bring "non-mission-critical" things like Doc's empty casket along for the ride, I made sure to stop here after the smoke had cleared.

In our tiny world of sociopaths and geniuses, Doc was the best. I don't give a damn for intelligence or accuracy, though we have a couple Nobel Prize winners on staff and Emo's shooting record hasn't been beaten. In a cave filled with people at the top of their fields, Doc was the only one who managed to stay human at the end of that tunnel. I've never met a kinder, gentler man, and most contenders for that title also can't kill you twenty different ways with a knife.

Can't have that, of course. Can't be too good, or too happy, or too anything on this rock. We stomped over to the faded house where Doc grew up, our gear getting us a small horde of five-year-old admirers. I recognize the woman waiting for us at the orphanage's door; Doc had her picture in his personal effects, and we've got enough resources to track down God and Elvis, let alone a retired foster home parent.

I don't remember what I told her, exactly. Too much was classified, too much of Doc's life left wrapped up behind Top Secret seals and red tape. Maybe they'll make a movie of us in thirty years. Maybe they'll even be close to the truth.

The truth, you see, is a tiny boy in Japan asking why 'Sis isn't coming home. "Doomsday" Tanaka would've killed anyone else calling her that, but her little brother was her pride and joy. He was everything she wasn't: a kid who wasn't a freak, a giant with a LMG, a Japanese special forces outcast with an estranged family and a criminal record two miles long.

I visited that boy and Tanaka's lover on my monthly day off. The boy cried, and the lover tried to stab me. I don't blame her for it, especially as I was the one who sent her fiance into Hell time and time again. "Doomsday" had proposed to her a week before that mission in Australia. It's almost funny, if I was the type to laugh.

Her rage was better than Mike's family in Vermont, all eleven of them. I got nothing but hospitality and kind words from them, not even a single yelling match or death threat. They didn't blame me for sending Mike off to die, and perhaps it was even true, but that didn't stop me from wishing I was dead after I'd taken that house of happiness and brought reality crashing down into it.

They say that you don't know a man until you've bled alongside him, but in my world, I don't know men until I bury them. Doc's religion and Tanaka's lover, Emma's toys and Mike's past: I learn all the things that made them human as I send them off one last time. It's tearing me up, to know that they're all going to die out there and sending them out anyway. The need is too great; sacrifices must be made; humanity needs us. Perhaps that's true. Mostly they're just full of shit.

Yet for all the blood and all the death, all those pictures on Remembrance Wall, we keep going. Perhaps it's blindness, our unwillingness to see that inevitable death before we're the next one being lowered into the ground as the pipes play. Maybe it's fatalism: if we're already dead men, then we might as well burn a few more of the enemy as fuel for our funeral pyres.

I don't know why my men fight, until they can't fight anymore and I finally learn why they lived and died. I don't know why everyone in this hole of madmen and geniuses stays here, making wonders and nightmares and perhaps also saving humanity as we know it. Down in these shadows, I only know myself.

I fight because tonight, a little boy in Japan will be able to cry for his big sister. Tomorrow, a man in Vermont will curse my name and my mission, before putting on a brave face and telling his town why his son won't be coming home. And sometime after this damn war ends, I will travel the world and find the people saved by a soft-spoken man from Brazil, and tell them that his sacrifice was not in vain.

I fight because it's worth it.

I step into the crowded hall, Remembrance Wall standing in a corner as a mute reminder to the rookies in front of me. I look over the sea of faces, seeing dossiers and records attached to each one. I will bury most of them within the next few weeks.

I know it. They know it. They came here anyway.

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