Author: Riley Meachem
When the Terrans had first set up camp on these plains, they’d massacred all the native animals, mostly for food, but also for convenience. It didn’t do to have cattle meandering around when you were trying to pull off tactical maneuvers. The corpses were long gone, but Max could still smell that rancid odor of pulverized meat, wafting over the flat and now desolate ground. He’d smelled worse–hell, he’d seen and done worse. But somehow this still bothered him.
From behind him, he heard the cries of intoxicated clones, the sounds of revelry and drunkenness. The relative victory in the town that day, and the influx of liquor it brought, had proved a cause enough for celebration. When times were this tough, almost anything was. They would probably expect him to take part in their inebriation and gambling. But, for whatever reason, Max had no desire to join them, not today. For the first time in weeks, he’d had a taste of conflict, of terror, of action. He was still coasting off of that high, or at least that was his thinking. Either way, liquor would be redundant and wasted on him.
“Hey! Max!” One of the other clones was calling for him. “Max, come over here!!” He would have to join them, or risk being seen as rude. That was not something he wanted. Hs life lay squarely in the hands of these men, and he often felt as though they weren’t very fond of him. He had no desire to make their distaste for him and his pointed complaints any more pronounced.
He turned around, only to visibly wince; the pain in his foot was bothering him again. It was his boots, he was certain. They were cheaply made, with no support on the soles. Plus he’d had these the whole campaign, and should probably have tossed them long ago.
Grimacing, he walked the relatively short distance to the camp, trying to keep his foot in a semi-comfortable position. “Yeah?”
“Max!” Huxley, the corporal, shouted again. “Nate wants you to front him forty units for the game!”
“I’ll pay you back!” Nate added, anxiously. Max knew this was almost certainly a lie; people made all sorts of bets when they were sure they were about to die, and would never have to pay the consequences. He also knew that this was the cost of friendship, and that forty credits was a relatively low price to pay in order to secure Nate’s support, during and outside of battle. Without complaint, he reached into the pocket of his fatigues, and unrolled 4 ten-scripp notes, which he then passed to Nate. The Gaudy gambler accepted them. “Thanks Max. Like I said, I’ll…”
“Don’t mention it.” Max sat down and languidly flattened himself against a nearby rock. Now that he was near the fire, it would be odd for him to leave.
He remembered he still had a few ounces of regulation Cannabis on his person– it was a strain grown by the military to serve as an anti-apoplectic and anti-depressant. He didn’t smoke much, but figured he might as well, given that he’d already staked Nate in a round of cards he was sure to lose.He had no desire to gamble, and it would look odd for him not to indulge in some sort of vice that the others were partaking of reflexively. He took out a sheet of rolling paper, then removed a dimebag from his coat pocket, and tapped some green leaves into the palm of his hand. No one was watching him as he slowly rolled everything together. They were all focused on the game. There always seemed to be some game, or task, or mission, or something, which kept all of their minds firmly elsewhere. It bothered Max, though he couldn’t really say why. It just did. They ought to be able to have nothing to focus on, though he wasn’t sure why he felt that way.
He took a long puff from the cigarette; it tasted like the smell of cat litter and swamp water. He held it in his lungs, then huffed it out, coughing.
“Do you guys hate these fucking boots? Or is it just me?” He wheezed, to nobody in particular.
“What’s to hate about them?” Murphy asked.
“Don’t they… I dunno, my feet always end up sore as shit when I walk in these. mine are goddamn decimated, too, from all this marching.”
“Those boots were ordered for us by Celestials, Max.” Nate answered, dryly. “It’s gotta have a reason if it came from that high.”
“Max would know. He is the highest of the high,” someone else answered, and there was a burst of chuckles from somewhere.
“It’s your fault for not taking better care of your equipment, Max. Carelessness is repaid with cramps,” Nate finished, ignoring this remark.
“Fuck you. I just gave you forty credits,” Max took another puff of the cigarette.
“I’m just saying,” Nate shrugged matter-of-factly. “And you didn’t give me the money. You lent it. I’m going to pay you back.”
“Sure,” Max snorted, before laying back and staring up at the sky. There were so many stars up there, his mind whispered to him. Probably millions. He wondered what they were like. If they would notice a clone like him, if he came there. If they would revere him, or be terrified by this simian stranger. He wondered if he would ever see terra. He wondered what he would do when he got there. There probably wouldn’t be much call for soldiers. There weren’t gonna be any more wars after this one, so they said.
Somewhere off in the distance, there was the sudden sporadic burst of automatic rifle fire. Everyone suddenly tensed up, their weapons at hand. Another loud crack, a scream, a final bang. Then silence.
They sat their, staring off in the dark at imaginary Jovians for nigh on three minutes.
“Like I was saying though, these have such tight toes. if we have to walk through marshes again, I’ll probably get trench foot,” Max added. Nobody replied to him this time. The game gradually resumed