Author : James Marshall

Foray wondered why he didn’t just sit down and die. He was naked but for a pair of underpants, and his skin was stained red with the blood from hundreds of cuts and scratches. He was gaunt, and his hair and beard were long and itchy. The vines and thorns lashed at his body, grabbing on with their claws, dragging him back like needy children not wanting him to leave. He only stopped to pry them out when especially long stingers dug themselves into his naked, bloody skin and stopped his progress. Nothing hurt him anymore.

Foray’s ship had fought the enemy over this strategically important planet, inhabited by nothing of note but a species of dim-witted sub-humanoids and a few Terran missionaries, and had lost. The crash killed everyone on board but three. They didn’t have time to bury the dead. The enemy Searchers would arrive soon. Foray, Stavos, and Simmons had cut the implants from their palms and buried them deep in the pile of gore that was all that remained of the troopers in the Gpod, and then ran. Simmons’ hand became infected a few days later, and he got sick and quickly died. Then something out of the forest grabbed Stavos a few days later. It was funny, because the two of them had just been talking about the apparent lack of predators in the forest, when something came at him from their right and bit Stavos ‘ hip out. Foray turned around to see a large dog-like animal standing over Stavos, growling at him, almost daring him to try to save his friend. Stavos was under it, screaming loudly and beating the dog’s front legs. Foray backed off, hands up. “All yours,” he said, and when the dog turned its attention back to Stavos, he turned and ran, and didn’t stop until he was sick. That was weeks ago. He hadn’t seen any more dogs since then, but he assumed it was them he could hear howling at night.

It was difficult to be resigned to one’s death when the moment was postponed time and time again. When he was thirsty, he would come across a river. When he was hungry, he would find a dead monkey, or bird, and eat it. He was lucky, but he didn’t care. One day there would be no river, no monkey. His luck would run out and he would die. The creatures would eat him, clean his bones, and the floods would carry them away and leave nothing. He had fought for the Terrans for eight years, and being eaten by birds and bugs seemed a natural, even attractive death. He had seen confused men have their guts blown out and trampled into the mud as they watched. The enemy’s weapons suck men’s lungs out of their mouths like a pair of old, wet socks. Children mad with grief and fear, sitting trembling by the corpses of their parents, dead for days. He thought about those children a lot. This is what they would have wanted. Him dead.

He collapsed in the dark. He couldn’t walk anymore. He slept.

He awoke in the morning to see a face, a humanoid face, looking down at him, smiling. It was saying something. “Jesus?”

Foray blinked in the bright sun. “Huh?”

The humanoid’s face was dark green, with small, black eyes. “Jesus, yes? They say you come back one day.” The accent was thick, but it was English.

“Yes,” croaked Foray. He laughed as the strong humanoid helped him up. “Bless you, my child.”

Thank god for missionaries, he thought.

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