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I have held many jobs in my day. Most of which ended in some kind of disaster, either with me fleeing the planet or being forced off in some way or another. It took many years for me to find a career that fit my skill set, but when the opportunity came I persevered and became one of the best in all of Humanity. I traverse the inhabited stars and take lives for a living, it’s a necessary service that I am happy to provide and If I do say so myself I’m damn good at it too.
You must understand that mercenary work is a perfectly reasonable profession in such harshtimes, the known universe is just too big to have to transport your own army from one star too another, the average person just can’t dedicate themselves enough to be freeze dried and sent on a rocket to some desolate sun for the sole purpose of fighting for country. That’s why nearly all the wars are fought by soulless monsters like me who will do anything to be payed. You may say that taking lives for a paycheck is wrong, but in a world of ninety billion and counting human life just isn’t that valuable anymore.
I basked in the last few moments of darkness before the eclipse came to an end and the cruel red sun showed its ugly face. I took a last desperate drag on the cigarette and flicked it away from me; I would have to wait another week before the next shipment came in.
“Man I hate this fucking sun; I hate this fucking planet man. This totally sucks, why can’t the sun just act fuckin’ normal you know?” my co worker observed with his usual obnoxious demeanor. When he spoke his lips curled up to reveal unkempt teeth. His wet bulbous eyes protruded from his head to an impossible degree and his ears curled forward like radar dishes. Every detail of his face bugged me in some way; I decided to look in the other direction.
“Dude why do you never answer? Fucking patrols with you suck man you never talk” Spittle escaped from his mouth as he talked and some of it landed on my hand, a greasy unclean feeling shot through the bones of my arm. My fist clenched and my eyes burned with hate.
The small complaining man looked up at his towering counterpart; saw that those eyes held zero sympathy for how much he hated the fuckin’ sun and the fuckin’ planet. He also did not like the idea of getting in a fight with someone who had won battles on six different worlds and stood four inches taller than himself. He quieted down. No matter how much I hated the man he did have a point, this fuckin planet did fuckin suck.
I had been under employment from the I.P.A.F for two years then. The company had many conflicts to attend to and was always looking for fresh faced fathers and husbands to be killed in wars over water supply, squashing revolutions, inciting revolutions, and had even wiped out an entire solar system by cutting off a vital water trade route over disputes involving executive pensions. This particular time we had been sent into a small recently conquered village to be an occupying force until whatever company that owned the planet could bring in their own men.
I spent the days wandering around in endless patrols enduring the god awful weather on the nameless world. The planet had two moons and nearly no tilt which meant the days had four cycles. Morning, then two or three hours of darkness as the first moon eclipsed the sun, noon, another eclipse, and then night time. It was mostly covered in desolate arid plains so the weather jumped from blistering hot to well below zero constantly throughout the day. But because the atmosphere was classified as breathable we weren’t issued environ suits, just standard issue out of date combat uniforms. We could switch the AC on when we were at base but otherwise it was almost unbearable. In the home system weather is a nonissue these days, most citizens will never feel a sunburn or slip on ice. But the farther away from home Humankind strays the less we can carry with us, meaning technology takes a steady dip after about 5 light-years from Sol.
The godforsaken place had been under the control of a mining corporation for about six months (common time). The natives were loyal to their monarchy and had been waging brutal guerrilla war against the colonists of the barren planet ever since the company settled there. The administration of the miners had gotten tired of the attacks and hired the I.P.A.F to settle their problem.
The good old Interplanetary Private Armed Forces had been founded over a hundred years before by a group of billionaire generals who saw the benefit in supplying death to the masses in a cheap and manageable package. Over the years the I.P.A.F recruited a force of over thirty million troops and thousands of aircraft, battleships, and tanks. The company was involved in most major armed conflicts in the last fifty years and their profits continue to rise exponentially.
I leant against the wall of a building in the middle of the near empty settlement. Most of the people were gone already, either forcefully moved to one of the larger cities or escaped to some rebel settlements farther into the desert. My mask was lifted up over my head so I could smoke and talk freely. My shoulder ached from the weight of my rifle in its sling. Including the full combat gear, my backpack, the gun, spare ammo and radio equipment it weighed about 80 pounds all in all. Even the pain killers administered by the company only dulled the aches my back was developing from the constant strain.
Hoping to stave off boredom I wiped sweat off of my face and looked around for anything interesting.
Some children played soccer in a dusty courtyard with a deflated ball. They all had the dark grey sclera, black iris and reddish brown skin common among the people of this planet; they were descended from immigrants that came with the first wave of space settling. Unfortunately the planet had lost contact with earth for over a century. They were just as human as myself, but over the years they had evolved darker eyes and dirt colored skin to suit the harsh sun on their planet. New races like this had sprung up all over the galaxy. From the tall, paper white and red eyed races of planets far away from any source of UV to the short extremely strong residents of mining shafts within asteroids. A few older men bartered over some blade flower they had collected in the desert. A popular mental escape with both soldiers and natives alike, the flower is a type of sharp leafy plant that induces fits of ecstatic hallucinations if stuck up the nostril and squeezed into the blood vessels on the inside of the nose. I’d tried it before but thought the synthetics from more civilized planets were better. The men walked behind one of the many cracked Adobe houses to continue their business most likely because they noticed I was watching. Finally something of interest came into view.
An urchin, probably about twelve was stealing from a cart filled with fruits from the more fertile Arctic circle of the planet. He was obviously malnourished, ribs were showing on his shirtless chest and his stomach was distended. After careening his head around to make sure the coast was clear he took four or five of the melon-like fruits and put them in the pockets of his baggy and ripped canvas pants. Deep down I knew it was awful to stop this boy from feeding himself when the fruit was probably stolen in the first place, but I had done some really awful things in my day and one starved boy wasn’t going to send me any further into hell. Besides I was extremely bored, with fifteen million starving and poor souls on this world the boy would have no effect on anything other than how long it took to clean his blood off the street. I pulled up the rifle and flicked the safety off. I put the gun to my shoulder and looked down my sights at the boy. At least the sergeant would reward me if I turned him in.
“Echem…” I cleared my throat and gestured to the boy to catch his attention.
The boy stared at me blankly and dropped the fruit. He waited another couple seconds with his mouth hanging open and his eyes full with fear, and then bolted down the street. I took several steps into the middle of the dirt road and readied the gun. There were no turns for another hundred feet and all the other civilians had already run away from the situation so there was no crowd to hide in; the boy stood no chance of getting away.
“You can’t outrun a bullet you damn thief!” I yelled, but the boy continued, legs pumping as fast as he could make them move.
My finger was halfway to the trigger when I hesitated. I thought back to the days when I had a conscience, when I was a fresh faced soldier who had got caught up in a private army thinking he was going to help a humanitarian organization bring aid to children in strange and exiting worlds. Maybe find a wife on some planet in the far out stretches of the Galaxy. Get a new start on a new planet and maybe bring some good to this world. It wasn’t as if I was an angel in those days, I had left earth to escape criminal charges and needed the money. I thought back to the moment that I realized my conscience was gone. I had been stripped of my humanity and made into a well oiled machine that spit out violence and cash at staggering efficiency. At the time I didn’t regard it as a loss, but just another improvement made to further my career.
We had been stationed on a world alone with its star; the poles were completely glaciated with vast oceans at its equator. It had no name, just an arbitrary number given to it by the water corporation that owned it. We were supposed to quell a revolution of some of the people who had been effectively slaves working at the ports and wanted to take the planet for their own. I was hung-over from some mineral drink the natives had given us and almost threw up when the gunshots started. Apparently some of the revolutionaries had hired mercenaries also. Forty men in dark grey uniforms opened up on the town hall where we were stationed. Three attack helicopters circled ahead and two tanks also came up the hillside. Not to say we were outmatched. We had plenty of armor in the town and AA guns to boot. Usually when mercenary corporations find out that they are fighting each other they choose a more profitable side and supply them it better, in this case the Mining company had a long standing relationship with the I.P.A.F so they were going to win anyway.
I ducked behind a car and prayed that I would hold out long enough for our tanks to come in from the other side of town. Three or four of our men dropped from sniper fire and smoke erupted from a couple bombs thrown by the locals. I tried to fire on the approaching enemy but the rifle was jammed. I pulled out my pistol and charged through the smoke. I saw vague shapes and shot at them still running under ther cover of the smoke. Suddenly I emerged from the smoke screen and was standing in front of a man with a heavy machine gun.
His troop had advanced in front of him and presumably he was there to provide support. I looked through his frosted over visor and recognized the face. It was an old friend I had known while growing up on Io. He had helped me get into the business from when I dropped out of high school and had been a close friend for many years. He obviously recognized me too and lowered his weapon. We stood there for several seconds, I listened to the battle happening about a hundred feet uphill, heard the screams of my troop being slaughtered. I was in perfect position to help them out here and wasn’t going to let a little nostalgia get in the way of that. I raised my pistol and put a round right above his left eye. It had been a cold calculated decision to kill that man and I hated myself for it. I almost took my own life at the thought of deciding such an inhuman choice of actions. It was at that moment I realized that any humanity I was clinging onto was gone, I had eliminated a man’s life, a man who had shown me mercy. Worst of all I had done it for a faceless company that would sooner spend my life than an extra dollar. His body crumpled in the snow, dyeing the perfect white with a pool of dark red that will forever be imprinted in my being.
Afterwards I picked up the gun and ambushed his troop from behind, killing fourteen men that day. We won that battle because of my decision but It brought me no rejoice. It was at that moment I realized that any humanity I was clinging onto was gone; I had eliminated a man’s life, a man who had shown me mercy. Worst of all I had done it for a faceless company that would sooner spend my life than an extra dollar.
I snapped back the reality of yet another impoverished hellhole of the universe I was hired to make even worse and pulled the trigger on my weapon. At the last second I decided I could spare at least some pity and angled the weapon slightly downwards.
Three bullets escaped the rifle. It was a nasty contraption, with 7.76 hallow points and a fire rate so fast you could barely count the individual rounds, it was murder perfected. It would take a master not to kill anything with it. Years upon years of combat and rigorous training in the I.P.A.F had given me a mastery over any weapon with a trigger and a barrel; if I had wanted to I could have put the whole fifty round clip into the boy without missing a shot. The three bullets landed in the boy’s thigh and he collapsed to the sand. Blood spilled onto the street as the boy tried desperately to bring himself up from the ground. The red liquid squirted into the air in a pulsating fashion in tune with his heart, a telltale sign of a severed artery. I walked towards the urchin struggling to stop the blood gushing from his leg wound.
Before I could reach the boy the sound of gunshots had attracted more soldiers and they got to the corner before I could. These men were so excited by the thought of battle that when the boy stood up and started to limp away he was immediately swept up in a wave of bullets shot by men who had nothing better to do. Eight to ten soldiers opened up on the boy and by the time he hit the floor he was so shot up as to be unrecognizable as a human being, just a crumpled mass of torn bone and flesh. The blood started to soak the sand under him.
The men looked my way one of them yelled. “There anymore of ‘em?!”
“Nope, sorry” I replied, somewhat disappointed. I had intended on bringing the child in to our Headquarters in the town. It was a good excuse to get inside an air conditioned building for several minutes.
The men looked displeased and walked down the other street leaving the torn and bloodied body of the boy in the street. Blood leaked from countless wounds and flowed down the slant of the street like a small river. At points pooling in bullet holes in the pavement and finally reaching my boots, filling the crevasses in the bottom of the I.P.A.F issue footwear. I raised my boot and looked down chuckling at the imprint in the pavement. The blood had filled the space under the boot except for the insignia imprinted on the soles; this had created the effect of an I.P.A.F logo in blood, written on the cracked and sandy pavement.
“Wow that should be on the god damn commercial.” I laughed to myself and walked into the alley to steal some blade flower from those grimy looking dealers under the awning of the embassy.