Author : Jay Hill

Corporal Hawkins woke to a loud ringing in his ears, the sound muted only slightly by the rush of pain swimming across the top of his skull. He undid the strap on his Kevlar helmet and ran his hand through the blood and sweat pouring down from his high and tight haircut. Probing with his fingers, he felt the raw flesh above his right eye, fingering the gaping fold of skin above his brow. A thin shred of shrapnel had sliced a long line in the space between the top of his shooting glasses and the lower edge of his helmet.

“That’s gonna leave a scar,” he said to himself.

A loose wet groan emerged from the mound of flak jacket and camouflaged utilities less than a foot away.

“Gunny,” he called over to the Gunnery Sergeant. The sniper lay on the ground. The laser targeting system that pinpointed his rifle, then heated the 50 caliber ammunition to nearly 621.5 degrees – the melting point for lead – caused the weapon to explode in his hands, turning each bullet into shrapnel that ripped his upper torso apart. A Chinese counter-assault weapon, made with technology stolen from the Japanese. The proximity to his chest, added to the magnitude of the detonation and the absorption limits of his protective armor left the young Marine severely wounded, but not yet dead.

“Gunny,” the spotter repeated, “You okay?”

“Hawkins,” Gunnery Sgt. Dickerson roused slowly. “Hawkins, you gotta go,” the scout sniper said. “You’ve got to leave me.”

“What are you talking about? I can’t leave you.”

After a hundred years of struggle in the Middle East over oil deposits, the United States found themselves once again poring over the Ghazni province in Afghanistan. Following the Great Recession, the U.S. lead the global conversion from fossil fuels to battery operated vehicles, but batteries need lots of lithium and vanadium. The latter proved abundant, but the former, lithium was abundant in only two places: Bolivia and Afghanistan. Once Bolivia emptied, it left only the old mountainous terrain.

“There’s nothing you can do,” the sniper retorted. “And I out rank you. Get back to the base and give them this intel.”

Securing the optimal locations for mining was never going to be easy, but with the recent advance by the Chinese front, Marine reconnaissance teams were stretched thinly over a wide and desolate region.

Still, the spotter hesitated.

“Corporal, I’m giving you an order!”

“But we never leave a man behind.”

“Mission first,” the sniper said, holding out his fist in a defiant gesture.

Hawkins placed his hands over the top of it. “It’s been an honor,” he whispered.

“Besides,” Dickerson continued, “They’ll send somebody out to make sure we’re dead.” He pulled the pin on his grenade and clutched it between his chest and arm, letting the weight of his torso compress the charge temporarily, then did the same with a second grenade.

“And when they roll me over.…”

Boom. Neither of them said the word, but both Marines understood the concept.

The spotter had enough water to last two days, enough food for three meals. Using the map, he estimated it was 150 to 160 kilometers to the closest thing resembling friendly civilization. If he averaged 80 kilos per day, about four miles per hour over the rough landscape, at ten hours a day, then he could make it before he ran out of provisions. There was little room for error, and practically no time for resting.

He plotted his direction and trudged off alone.


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