Author : Helstrom
Neil hadn’t been the same since he became a MALCIV. For one, he didn’t drink anymore. Couldn’t, really. Of course we all tried to find ways around that, Neil first and foremost – leave it to the Marines to find new and interesting ways of killing braincells. The docs put a stop to that on the grounds that Neil was, actually, just braincells. Instead of the six-foot-three athletic young man he’d been before, Neil was now a brain rolling around the FOB in a little wheeled life support box.
But he’d changed more than just physically. At first we thought it was the trauma of the transplant procedure, and that it would pass with time. But he grew more glum as the months progressed, like there was some deep frustration, bitterness even, eating away at the back of his mind. He perked up a bit when we were deployed – but not much. He was still Neil and I still loved him like a brother, but I missed the cheerful son of a bitch I went to basic with.
All that changed when we got stuck in.
My squad was patrolling a little ghost town just north of the FOB. Jenkins was in the lead, about fifty yards ahead, with Colton and Archer on my flanks and Dominic making up the rear. The blast hit Jenkins full on and knocked the rest of us down hard. Smoke, dirt and debris rolled over me, my ears ringing. Red warning icons flashed across my visor – Jenkins’ life signs failure the most prominent. Heavy weapons fire erupted from across the market square.
“Ambush!” Yelled Archer, “Contacts left! Ambush!”
“No shit!” I spat blood into my mouthpiece and clambered to my feet, “Suppressive fire! Dom, check up on Jenkins! Colton, with me!”
I flipped the safety catch of the autocannon slung under my right arm as I crashed through the low houses ahead, circling Archer’s position. Colton came up beside me and we let rip. A second blast tore up the street we’d just left – close call. More fire from behind now.
“Neil! Pinned down in ambush, get your ass over here stat!”
“Already on my way,” – they’d saved his voice, and there was something else in it now, too, but I couldn’t put my finger on it – “Three minutes.”
“Nothing takes three fucking minutes!”
Mortar shells were coming down. They had us boxed in solid.
“Settle down. Got a pod for ya.”
Now that was better.
“Send it up! Thirty yards around.”
“Confirm danger close.”
“Confirmed, goddamn it!”
The pod was launched supersonically and it sure as hell didn’t need three minutes to get anywhere. Smart clusters came down first, beehives next, and the display was topped off with phosphorous for good measure. The whole town was reduced to burning rubble in a matter of seconds. Still we took fire – they were in bunkers.
Neil crested the hill, his eighty ton bulk shaking the earth with every crash of his mighty feet, his superstructure bristling with heavy weapons.
“What’s left for me?”
“Bunkers up ahead, little buddy. Go toast them.”
He strode decisively into the hail of explosive fire, crouched down low, and silenced the squat, battered structures with a few long jets of flame. And as I watched him machinegun the burning figures that fled from the blaze, I realized what I’d heard in his voice when I called him to battle.
Neil was happy.