Fear was coursing through my veins, hell, I was sweating fear. I’m no pushover, I had fought wars on a dozen planets, but this, I was not trained for…

I don’t care how well trained you think you are, but nothing and I mean the big NOTHING, can prepare you for this. The whole expeditionary force of 5,000 warriors landed 3 weeks ago on VIRGAL 6. It was to be a week sweep up mission, and then three more weeks to install the base and we’re out they had said.

Shit, it’s not over yet, I don’t even know how many of us are left. Our battalion started at 500 warriors now there’s 5 left. And that includes me. Tattered uniforms, stained with sweat and the blood of fallen friends. I can’t even describe what we are fighting against, for the simple reason that WE NEVER SAW ANYTHING. That’s the creepy part, we can’t see them, we can’t hear them, we can’t smell them. In short we can’t nothing them…

They don’t register on our detection equipment even. We used every trick in the book we even tried the umbrella maneuver. A burst of fire power so intense a fly would not get through and yet two sometimes three warriors would get hit…

They looked like they had been passed through a giant shredder, not a pretty sight I assure you, even for the most hardened among us. One moment they are firing next to you, the next second, there’s a mess next to you and you never heard or seen a thing.

You are left to wonder why them and not you? What made them the target? What’s different about them? Just trying to understand, trying to make sense out of this madness. While you wonder another dies than another, and another…

One more week and the supply ship will beam us up, that is, if there is anybody left to beam up by then. That’s the mother of all “IF” I’ve ever seen.

“Jackson?” said Riverio, the only woman left in our group.

“Yes?” I answered “What is it?”

“The last sun is going down” she said her eyes a mixture of fear bravery, defiance all rolled up. Giving them a zombie like effect. Hell, the same could be said for all of us…

“Yeah so?” I said.

“Not one of us got hit today.” She said crossing herself and then touching the wooden cross on her neck.

It hit me like a revelation, left me speechless, that was the first time that nobody got hit. I nodded in assent. Not knowing what to say to that.

“Why do you think that is sir?” Asked Kirlikoff, the youngest of our unit barely 20 but I have seen more bravery out of him than many warriors twice his age.

“I wish I knew Ivan, I wish I knew.” I replied still pondering it as I spoke. The only difference between today and yesterday was that last night we found this low bunkerlike structure. We soon found out that no attack took place after sunset. Why? your guess is as good as mine. I just accepted the fact that it was like that. Maybe it was the stench from our unwashed bodies that kept them at bay, for all I knew.

“Maybe they are gone?” said Twelve, we called him that because that’s the only part of his name that is unpronounceable. His home planet as 68 letters. But is called 68, for the same reason.

“Maybe, but I would not be too hopeful, remember that with this place we could stack the maybe so high we could walk home on them and yet all of them could be wrong.” was all I could think of saying.

looked over at Lemieux, he just looked at me, winked and raised his shoulder, than looked out like he had done all day. He has not said more than a dozen phrases in three weeks.

Between us, if we are careful, we have enough food and water for about four days. That could be it… Maybe there are so few of us left they are observing us? Studying us, to see our resistance? There I was again piling maybes…

We huddled together, the nights are cold on Virgal 6 and I did not wish to risk a fire. We all took turn at guard duty during the night, and dawn came too soon. With two sun it’s bright early and ghastly hot. Made us thankful for the shade of the bunker.

The next day went with all of us surviving again. Which sparked a fresh round of maybes. The night was just as quiet. The next morning, I awoke to the sound of an argument between Ivan and Twelve.

“What’s going on?” I bellowed over the din of their voices.

“Nothing sarge, I need some fresh air.” replied Ivan

“Don’t go out there Ivan, it may not…”
I was wasting my breath, he was already out of the bunker. “What the hell happened Twelve.” I asked.

“I do not know, it was a stupid argument that got out of hand Sir, perhaps it was the inactivity, the nerve on edge. The pent-up emotions or all of the above, sir…”

I nodded, but I was leery of Ivan being out there, so I called out. “Hey Ivan get back in here.”

“But Sarge, it’s safe see? nothing is going on.” He replied.

“I said get your butt back in here and that’s an order.” I commanded.

He was mumbling as he walked back, kicking little clouds of dust as he went. He was about 5 feet from the door when they got him.

“Why? Why? Why?” was repeating Riverio sobbing softly. Nobody could answer her. I simply put my arm around her to comfort her. It was the only thing that could be done.

“We now know they are still there.” I thought to myself, knowing the others were probably thinking the same thing or would soon.

The sunset mercifully arrived with the one casualty only, only? As if it made it less important. Big sale today only one life to be taken. Hurry, only one day, only one life…Shit.

Before they went to bed I said “No one leave this place for any reason, Understood?” They all agreed with a nod or a grunt each in their own way.

The next day came and went with no casualty. Maybe the bunker is protecting us for some unknown reason. That only “THEY” can understand. I fell asleep, my turn at guard duty would be at 4am. It seemed like I had barely fell asleep when I heard “Jackson, hey, Jackson wake up Sarge.”

“What? Is it my turn at…?” I stopped mid sentence, They had gotten Riverio. the adrenaline rushed my veins and lifted the last tendrils of sleep from my brain.

“But, It’s night.” Twelve was saying incoherently seeking to understand. “There never was an attack at night, in the Bunker? Why?”

“Easy Twelve, Nothing ever makes sense here.” I tried to soothe him, unsuccessfully that is.

“It’s not fair… it… ” and he retired himself in one corner to grieve. He and Riverio had been so close, too close maybe…

Neither of us were able to sleep, until mid day, exhausted I fell asleep. When I awoke, it was dusk outside. Twelve’s snores echoed loudly in the small bunker, he likely was dreaming of Riverio. Lemieux was keeping watch.

I got near him and in a low voice, asked if he wanted to catch some sleep. He looked at me with his tired red eyes. “Yeah” was all he said. Great conversationalist as usual I thought, smiling. Nothing happened that night, I was thankful for that.

Twelve woke up and quietly approached me and said “Sorry Sarge,I guess I lost it yesterday.”

“It’s fine, you are allowed to go crazy like the rest of us.”

Tomorrow, the ship will be here, all that is left is to survive today. We have been without food or water for two days.

“Hey Sarge, there’s a bear out there.” said Lemieux.

I knew he had to be hallucinating, but I looked out to see what he was taking for a bear. I could not see anything


“Straight ahead about 100 meters.” He replied, I still could not see anything but the ever-present sand dunes.

“Can I shoot it Sarge?” he asked eagerness in his voice.

I figured what the hell let him. “Sure have fun.” Lemieux sighted, his finger squeezed the trigger gently and a second later a high pitch sound was heard as a cloud of dust and smoke rose fifty feet into the air.

“Got him sarge.” said Lemieux with a broad smile on his parched lips.

“You sure did” I said amazed “See anymore out there?” there’s one about two hundred meter to the right, Sir.”

“Get that bear, Lemieux.” Again Lemieux shot with the same result. His eyes puffy with a feverish look showed a mixture of enjoyment that were almost childish.

“There’s another coming up fast, Sarge.” said Lemieux.

“Get him, get all the bears you can see.” I said excitedly to him.

He fired two shots and again the clouds of dust rose high.

Twelve who had been looking out too, took me aside. “Sarge I can’t see anything out there, yet he’s hitting something. What do you see?”

“Nothing, absolutely nothing Twelve.” I answered confused as he was.

“Hey Sarge” Lemieux said “The bears are all gone” there was deep disappointment in his voice.

“That’s great Lemieux, you’re the best bear hunter in this outfit, keep an eye out just in case any bear comes back.”

“Right Sarge, thanks Sarge, you sure you guys don’t want to shoot some?”

“No it’s fine we don’t care for bear anyway.” I replied. I was puzzling over how he could see them. He spent all his time looking out ever since he got here, maybe his eyes adapted to the light and with the fever maybe he can detect some fluctuation in the scenery or something. Darn maybes again.

By the time dusk came, Lemieux his eyes bloodshot fell asleep.
So did I while Twelve stood guard. To my surprise when I woke up the sun had already risen. Twelve had got hit during the night, Lemieux was snoring. “Hey Lemieux wake up”

“What? What is it?” I could hardly understand him as his mouth was so dry like mine was. My voice had a creaky sound as I told him “Check for bear out there.” he got up looked at what was left of Twelve but he showed no reaction as he headed for the window. “Wow, there’s three of them Sarge.” he said.

“Good, get them Lemieux.” I was amazed he could still shoot. I felt so weak, I don’t think I could hold that eighteen pounds rifle up that long. Today the supply ship will be here, let it be soon. I activated the beacon so the ship can locate us. Sporadically Lemieux would fire a shot and make a little squealing sound, which I presume might be of joy.

It must have been near noon when a wave of dizziness overtook me and I passed out.

When I regain consciousness, I was lost momentarily, Then I realized I was on the ship’s sick bay. I was fighting to get fully conscious. The doctor gave me a shot and my head cleared up some but I still felt weak.

“Lemieux?” I croaked.

“Your companion is fine, relax, slightly delirious, he kept talking about bears.” Answered the doctor.

“He seen them as bears, and he could hit them too. Don’t know how or why but he did.” I replied.

“We will never know now.” Said the doctor.

“Why’s that doc.” I asked puzzled.

“High command nuked the whole hellish planet, In all, we found sixteen survivors. Now just relax you are on the way home Sargeant.” With that he administered a sedative and as I awaited for a merciful sleep, yet, fearing the nightmares sure to come.

I made plans for the future. My own future for a change…

The one thing I was sure of, was that as soon as I return to the base, I will resign. I’m too old for this crap… Besides, I have enough credits build up to retire on some safe peaceful planet, in some forgotten corner of the galaxy.

I will need lots of room, I have a lot of ghosts to live with after 27 years of non-stop action.

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