The Mercenary

“Don’t take it personally, friend. It has never been about you. Fate conspired for you to meet me here today, in the middle of muddy fucking nowhere. That’s all there is to it,” the mercenary pats the shoulder of the dying enemy soldier propped against the crumbling wall.

The soldier, all too busy bleeding out now, is trying to dam the hole in his side with his bare hands. Eyes glossing, the breath coming in shallower with every passing instant. The soldier doesn’t have long to go now. The mercenary drones on, however, as if there was all the time in the world to wax philosophical amid the ongoing ruckus of war.

“You were just unluckier than me today. This is what we signed up for, remember? I mean, I hope you knew what you were signing up for, boy, because that would be all kinds of fucked otherwise. Did you tell your mum where you were going?  Eh? Does she know about you?” the mercenary asks, frowning at the soldier, dead serious, an older brother having caught his younger sibling shirking his homework and now demanding an explanation. But when none is forthcoming his eyes grow distant while he fishes for a memory of his own.

“I don’t have a mum who would care about my whereabouts anymore. I’m past someone caring.” There isn’t any hint of sadness in the mercenary’s voice. Then he comes to some sort of conclusion about the meaning of it all, nodding.

“No. I do this for a living. Kill first or be killed. That simple. I was never good at math but that’s an easy equation. Don’t teach you that at school. Maybe our cavemen ancestors shared the lesson over a campfire when coming to grips with the fact that a saber-tooth tiger could eat their asses any moment. But we’ve grown all sophisticated since. We kill from a distance now. Some with a fucking joystick,” he spits it out, cradling his rifle as if a handheld weapon you can point at someone somehow makes the act of killing just a little bit more authentic than using a precision-guided missile. “They don’t teach you that. And now, holding your guts in, it’s all too late for that lesson, innit?”

It comes out almost as an accusation. You should have listened boy, the unvoiced implication between the lines. You shouldn’t have joined the army.

“The fuck you on about there mate? You know the kid doesn’t understand shit of what you saying. He don’t speak our language,” one of the mercenary’s squadmates shouts from somewhere nearby.

He should get going. There are more enemies to kill. More muddy roads in the middle of a strangely talking land to defend or take back. But he lingers. The war won’t miss him while he sits five minutes on the sidelines. Right here and right now, it feels like the confession is not over yet. Only it’s him confessing and the dying soldier the priest.

“Why do I do this, you ask? This is who I am.” He peers at his hands, dirt, and blood smeared over them. “Shit, I’m no good at anything else in life. I’m no pianist. I’m no mason either, for that matter. This is what I’m good at. I travel from war zone to war zone, fight for the defenders, sometimes for the aggressors. You don’t need much of an excuse to join a conflict. Sometimes there’s some money in it. You certainly don’t need any convictions… Alright, maybe you do. Maybe there are still things worth defending for real and someone needs to do the bloody work until those shitheads in command see the futility of it all and someone talks some sense into them. Never happens fast enough though, in my experience, to prevent this kind of thing from happening,” he says, resigned, seeing the wrecked body in front of him, and judging the waste of it all.

“Humanity is just one long history of waging wars. Mostly against itself. There’s always a conflict somewhere, so a man like me can make a living. There are always people that need killing, even though most of them didn’t deserve it. Don’t blame me, I’m not the one making up the excuses why one side invades the other. As I said, this isn’t personal, friend.” The friend now looks like he’s beyond listening, forever frozen in position. The mercenary fishes around behind the soldier’s collar and pulls out a pair of dog tags, tears them free. There’s a name on them. He tucks them away. A postcard from war. Might try and return them to the soldier’s family, once this is over.

“Yeah. The things I gotta say to fool myself into believing this makes any sense at all.

It doesn’t.”


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