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By Devin ThorpePublished 2 years ago 11 min read

It is the kind of mission I’ve grown tired of doing. I am jaded and weary, a lethal combination of attributes to possess on one’s final mission of their final deployment. Weariness wears away at a soldier’s ability to react. Makes them complacent. And complacency is a death sentence to someone in my position.

Eight months I’ve been in this hellish desert. Eight months watching bombs fall from the sky. Eight months being lulled to sleep by the distant vibrations of entire cities exploding. Decimated from the map.

Eight months can make a man a monster. And this is my final deployment of five, so I’ve far surpassed the status of monstrosity. Irredeemable. That seems to be a fitting word for what I’ve become. The things I’ve done in the name of this pointless war. Enough to make any sensible man sick to his stomach.

On my last vacation leave I laid awake late one night when my wife’s voice breached the silence. “Vaun?” she whispered, her tender, loving voice filled with a caress of comfort. I’d been in my head, lost in my thoughts as I spend most of my time. I’d nearly forgotten I was in bed next to her. Nearly forgotten I was back home, away from the hell-forsaken country I spent the majority of my year living in.

How lovely, to have her voice pull me from the noise of my mind instead of the explosion of nearby mortars and rapid gunfire. “Yeah Maev?” Hearing my voice follow hers was like hearing a monotonous asshole sing an Adele song. A disgraceful letdown.

“If you stood on a stage with all your life’s actions behind you,” she began, pausing so I could follow her thought. “And your eight-year-old self sat in the audience and got to look up at the man he will become; do you think he would be proud of the man he sees?”

Such an introspective question. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who lies awake late in the evening lost in my mind’s meandering thoughts.

No. The immediate answer is no. All previous versions of myself at various age ranges would be disgusted with the man I’ve become. But I can’t be so quick to admit that aloud. Such thoughts must remain repressed. What kind of wife wants to know she’s married to a monster? Surely not the angelic woman lying beside me in bed that night. The night that feels as if it were years ago.

This war has made me into a monster. I am irredeemable. I have committed atrocities that are unforgivable. I reach beneath my sweat-soaked shirt and grab my child’s binky. Quite the accessory on my necklace, swaying next to my rusted dog tags. A symbol of new life, amidst all the death I’ve dealt. A hypocritical item for me to keep on hand, that’s for sure. But I kiss the pacifier all the same, as I’ve done before every other mission these past five years.

A good luck memento. But I dare not let my thoughts wander to memories of Harper. Not here. Not now. I am not a father right now. I am a killer. There is a distinct switch that I must flip before each mission. To jump from this plane as a father will secure my death below. It will make me hesitant in my decision-making. The weight of knowing I have a family back at home will impair my conscience. Make me slow.

And a slow soldier is a dead soldier.

I shove the binky back into my shirt and force all thoughts of my wife and daughter back down into me. Deep, deep into my psyche. Into a dark, remote corner of my mind. A place that is inaccessible to the trained mind. To be able to switch one’s state of mind is only learned with practice, but it comes easy for a monster like me.

I have killed innocent children younger than my own. Looked them in their comprehensive, sparkling eyes as I pulled the trigger. I’ve watched a child’s head explode into an irreparable pile of smoking brain juice. An innocent child. One who could have grown to be a doctor or writer. A humanitarian or perhaps a musician. Their potential talent ended with the single flinch of my finger on the trigger.

To know that my daughter at home could be killed in such a manner—that is what allows me to so easily flip this switch. I don’t believe in karma, but I do know that if we don’t win this war then my many inexcusable actions will come back to haunt me. If soldiers like me don’t do dark deeds behind closed doors, this war will come to our home soil. And then it will be my daughter staring with innocent eyes down the barrel of a gun.

Once I came to that realization, flipping such an inhumane switch in my mind became easy. Knowing that it is more than my life that relies on my line of work makes my purpose clear. Kill or be killed, to state it plainly.

Do I wish things were different?

Wishing is a formality I can’t afford. All I can do is hope to make it through this last mission. By the end of the night my final tour will be over, and my military contract will be done. Then this job will fall to some other unfortunate bloke. I’ll be allowed to go on and live my life, enjoying the freedoms I’ve fought so diligently to maintain for my country.

I’ll get to take part in raising my daughter. The sweet child who doesn’t recognize her father whenever he comes home from duty.

I’ll get to be a better husband. One who doesn’t leave his wife for eight months out of the year.

War turns men into monsters, but maybe it’s not too late for me.

Maybe it’s not too late for me to start being the man I know I can be.

“Greylock mate,” a voice pulls me back to reality, followed by a brisk shove from my neighbor’s elbow. I look up from the ground. Look into the eyes of Sheridan, one of the ten men that makes up our team.

He holds out a half-burnt cigarette for me to share pleasure in. “Reds? Who the hell brought Reds? Was it you Baxter? Confederate piece of shit, I bet you smoke these after you fuck your sister, you incestuous bastard,” I say, grabbing hold of the filter and bringing it to my lips.

“Nicotine is nicotine, buddy boy!” Baxter howls with laughter.

“I think you mean to say lung cancer is lung cancer,” I respond, letting the smoke blow from my mouth. “And if I’m gonna be getting lung cancer, I’d prefer it to be from a Black n’ Mild.” I take another draw and let the smoke sit in my mouth a while longer, closing my eyes as I feel the turbulence act as a catalyst to my buzz. I exhale and pass the cigarette to Harlem on my left.

Not many words are said as we sit in the silent airplane hangar. Not many words that can be said. We know the mission. We’ve virtually cased the perimeter. Set up a mock dry run. Drilled the mission so many times we could do it blindfolded. There is no margin for error, but we are the best in the business of killing. The most elite killers contracted by the American government.

Our existence is off-the-books. Officially, we are known as Geospatial Hunting Open Source Troopers. GHOSTs, for short. But the few who know that name know us for much more than our label. Military generals aware of our existence know how befitting our acronym is.

We are dropped off in target areas where little intelligence is collected. With intelligence analysts in our ears, we melt into the area like shadows on walls and collate data on suspected targets. We are much more than soldiers. Any high school reject capable of tucking in their shirt and holding a gun can be a soldier. We are spies. We are assassins. We are warriors.

I look to Sheridan, a mere kid in my eyes. The ripe young age of nineteen-years-old. And yet, I’m only twenty-eight. A measly nine years older. But just as a lot can happen in eight months, so much more can happen in nine years. If eight months can make a man a monster, nine years can make a monster a devil.

Still, for Sheridan to be here is a testament to who he is. The youngest member to ever gain admittance to GHOST squadron. Fluid in five languages, Sheridan graduated Yale at the age of sixteen. As a coding genius, he serves as our expert hacker. Quite possibly the only irreplaceable member of the team.

“Nervous, kid?” I ask him earnestly. If I was nineteen and had seen half the shit this kid has, I don’t think I would have made it to my twenties with my sanity.

“Nah,” he replies, rubbing his grimy mustache. “The nerves left after the Hallowfort mission. Nothing surprises me anymore. Can’t get much worse than that.” He says the words with a distant look in his eyes, as if he isn’t physically present in this moment. As if he is replying to me through a stained-glass window. Removed, yet still there.

“It can always get worse,” I mutter back, licking the charred inside of my cheeks. Eight months of smoking has left the inside of my mouth a bitter wasteland.

“We slaughtered more than thirty children at Hallowfort, Greylock. I don’t think it can get much worse than that,” Sheridan whispers, almost like he’s afraid the children’s souls will hear him.

“The Warlords strapped them in explosive vests. Don’t think for a second killing them wasn’t necessary. If you allow yourself to question the decision we made then you will never be able to forgive yourself. We took down some of the world’s worst scum that night. In doing so we saved the lives of hundreds of children.” Now it sounds like I’m arguing in self-justification over the decision I made that night. I was, after all, the officer that gave the go-ahead to kill the hostage children.

But they would have been killed either way. And that’s not a fact I need to convince myself of in order to sleep soundly at night.

“I went GHOST because I thought we were the good guys. I’m not so sure of that anymore,” Sheridan whispers, more to himself than to me. The kid’s smart. And intellectuals naturally question every objective. They aren’t meant for mindlessly pulling a trigger. But war is not meant to be fought by philosophers. Ethical distinctions need to be checked out on the edge of the battlefield.

“No such thing as good guys, kid. There are men who strap innocent children in bomber vests, and there are men who hunt those kinds of men. Pick your poison.”

“We could have pulled back and reassessed the situation. Those children didn’t have to die. Khathul and the other Warlords would have left the compound sooner or later. We could have—”

“Enough,” I command. “This is war Sheridan. There may be no good guys but there certainly is no shortage of bad guys. And the men we are after are the worst of them all. Currently the head of the most profitable human trafficking ring in Northern Africa. They are arms dealers. They are terrorists. They have single-handedly extended this war for two decades with their persistence.

“They sell little boys and girls internationally to be raped until they die. Sure, we have done terrible things. Killed innocent children in the crossfire. But if we do this—if we take these bastards down tonight... The world will be a much safer place when the sun rises tomorrow morning. That you can be sure of.”

A muffled grunt is all I get in response. It’s concerning to know some of my men now question our role in this war. At least I have the decency to fake my enthusiasm. But I cannot motivate these men any longer. It would be like poking a caged lion with a spear to get it to perform. It’s insulting to their pride.

I know these men. They are my brothers. They don’t fight this war for the security of our country. They fight it for one another. We all signed the same contract, and until our years of active duty are complete, there’s nothing we can do but grin and bear the unspeakable alongside one another. And they all know this is my last mission. They envy me because of it.

They love me. And I love them. I have led them well these past five years. They won’t fail me now. They will see me home safely. They owe me that much, at least.

The dim yellow light of the cargo hangar is brutally overcome with a violent shade of twitching red. An alarm sounds, followed by the slow, monotonous droll of the hangar bay's hydraulic door opening. Wind rips into the bodice of the room.

We stand in unison, grabbing our helmets and strapping them securely upon our heads. It is no longer ten men fighting pre-battle anxiety in this hangar bay.

All I see around me now are monsters. And in a brief moment, I silently thank god for what he’s made me into.

And then I jump.

science fiction

About the Creator

Devin Thorpe

I am a 22-year-old recent graduate from Mars Hill University. I have a double major in Criminal Justice and Religion & Philosophy. I also played collegiate lacrosse! In my free time you can find me writing fiction and hiking with my dog.

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