War of the Red Planet
The body fell to the ground, stirring up the dust and coloring everything around it a dull rust-colored red. The red dirt mixed with the blood, creating a river of liquid rust that flowed away from Nathan’s kill. Just another day in the fight. Just another day on this great planet. He sometimes wished he knew what this was all about, why the fought, why he was killing people he knew deep down were family. Even if his Grandfather didn’t want to admit it.
“He is not my brother, he is a traitor, and his entire line must die.” He’d said the words with such a conviction, that Nathan had never second guessed it. A traitor. How could someone turn on their own brother? What had been so bad?
He looked at the body, it hadn’t moved, but he wanted to be safe. He raised the gun again, a long barreled rifle with a silencer at the end, and a blind to cover the muzzle flash. It was war after all, not right to give away your location. He pulled the trigger, a low pfft sound left the gun, and it kicked back comfortably into his shoulder. This weapon was no longer some unruly beast he had to tame, but an extension of his own body. He knew where the bullet would land long before sighting up the target. He knew, because he felt it. He felt the bullets in the magazine, he felt the slide when it chambered each round, and he felt the feeling of sweet release when he let one exit the casing, slide down the long, straight barrel, and explode out the end towards his target.
He didn’t know the target’s name, just his face. He’d seen it a thousand times before. The hit would come up, “Copeland Family – Head Of Security.” The face would be attached to a dollar amount, and a list of potential locations. Nathan would exit the Zunder family hall, rifle in hand, find a vantage point and line up his shot. To keep things interesting, he used multiple scopes. He would randomly choose one, figure out the range it afforded, and pick his vantage point accordingly.
Today it was a mile. One mile of range, the hardest shot to pull off. At a mile you have to worry about such awkward physics as the arch of Mars. You have to worry about sudden dust storms, or potential magnetic pockets in the area over the shot range, and you have to correct for all of these. But, Nathan Zunder wasn’t any killer, he was the grandson of the family founder, the head of his military, and highest scoring sniper the family had ever seen. So something as minor as the curve of the planet wasn’t going to stop him, and as the second bullet lodged into the already dead skull of his target, he knew his contract was complete.
The greenhouse had afforded him cover, though he could have shot from here with bells on and not aroused suspicion. He was, after all, sitting in the Zunder family greenhouse. One of the many, actually. It was difficult breathing outside, but in here? In the bubble? He closed the hatch that just moments before had allowed his bullet to slide through it, through the air, over multiple magnetic sinks, around the curve of Mars, and directly between the eyes of his contract. He could see a storm coming in, and he didn’t want to flood the greenhouse with the oxidized dust.
Nathan didn’t like killing, didn’t want to keep doing it. He loved his family though, so he did. He shot daily, each time taking out a target, taking down a man. Family. Blood. Relatives. What the hell am I doing?
He looked at his hands. The dust from outside had been creeping into the greenhouse for a while, and his hands were stained red with it, as was his weapon. That’s gonna be a bitch to clean. Nonchalant. Nothing to see here, nothing wrong with a man with red hands and a black soul. Nothing to worry about when you let a serial killer into your life, not when that serial killer is sanctioned by the military. The hypocrisy bemused him. Wasn’t this exactly what he was killing them for? He’d long forgotten why they were at war. These days it boiled down to you kill mine, I kill yours, so you kill mine again. Rinse, repeat, let’s go home everyone, nothing to see here, just men killing each other every night for the hell of it. For the men in the suits at home who keep telling you that it’s ok, because they are traitors to their blood, traitors to their family, and they deserve it.
Nathan wasn’t sure they did. He wasn’t sure of anything anymore, he just kept seeing the faces of all of these men. He left the greenhouse then, heading to his base. Base, he thought, my home. The only place I ever feel comfortable. The base itself was a military barracks, buried under the ground in a missile safe bunker. Not exactly the best place to raise a family, and he refused to do that—despite multiple arguments with his grandfather over the subject. Nathan knew his bloodline was running thin, dieing out. He’d lost three brothers, a sister and his father all to attacks in the last three years. But he wasn’t bringing children into this.
Article 12, Section 9, Chapter 11 of the war doctrine reads, “And no child shall be harmed directly, or indirectly, due to these actions.” These actions, Nathan thought, they mean the killing. He was right, of course. And he was also right when he would comment that of course children were harmed. They were harmed every time their fathers didn’t come home. Their brothers. Their sisters. They were left homeless, alone, and with nothing. If it wasn’t for the compound, they would die in the dust, and dissolve into the red just like everything else.
Nathan sometimes wondered how many children he had damned to that fate, himself. How many children was he going to make fatherless? How many men had he killed? A hundred? A thousand? More? He’d lost count. He wasn’t sure if he was more upset over having lost count, or having had to kill so many men that it was possible for him to lose count. As his head started pounding, he realized he didn’t care which he was upset about, and figured he’d be equally upset about both.
Headaches were common there. Especially for people like Nathan who refused to wear their masks. You could breath outside the bubbles, but the dust kicked up very quickly, and it didn’t just make you sneeze, it cut your sinuses. Nathan could picture it, thousands of tiny warrior dust particles inside his skull, hacking at his sinuses with miniature swords. The image was enough to make him laugh, and free some of the blood-red snot—a mixture of actual blood, and the dust.
I need to get out.
It came out of nowhere, punching him in his metaphorical gut. The realization that he needed out of the family business. He needed to free himself of the crimes, of the killing, of the risk. He wanted a family, he wanted to live. He wanted to make peace with the Copelands. He wanted to stop fighting someone else’s war. But, he knew what that would mean.
Bang. Brains on the walls.
It was an odd sensation, realizing that you couldn’t do anything because your own grandfather, the man who had raised you as his own son for years since your father was murdered, would be the one to put a bullet between your eyes. Something poetic in there, he thought. He tried to grin, but his face curled downward as he realized he was stuck.
That’s when he heard the all too familiar sound of ringing, and his computer lit up. He didn’t recognize him, but he never did. Just another face, just another title, another location. No names, no explanations. He tired of this, tired of being the hand of God, tired of being the one pulling the trigger, but knowing that he was the best, and he only took on the hardest contracts. If he didn’t do it, they would win. If they won, his family would die. He couldn’t let that happen, he couldn’t be the cause of his family’s destruction. He let out a sigh, which turned into a bloody cough, and wiped away the spittle as he stood up, walked towards his computer, looked the screen over one more time, hit print, and watched as the man’s picture came to rest on his desk.
Just another day, just another kill.
He grabbed his weapon, cleaned it, fitted it back into it’s carrying case and made his way out of the barracks and back out to the war.