Chapter EightMature

Gwen Churchmen

I laid upon gravel, rocks and sharp bits biting into my elbows and knees. My rifle was holstered up and over the crook of two rocks, dead grass surrounding me and high as my thigh. I scanned the area ahead of me before I looked down through the scope, directing the gun's cylinder towards one building after another. Waiting for movement was a horrible game of cat and mouse. Expect gunfire was involved and I had no intention of sinking my fangs into anyone. That's what bullets are for.

Being a sniper was my, for a lack of a better word, ”calling” in the army. I had amazing vision, something rooted deeply from both sides of my family. And I liked the distant it gave me, as well as the advantage. But the game was more dangerous for me to play now, with so much pressure for new recruits – and those that come through were passed to a more vital squad than ours – I was now leaving myself open and insecure.

Of course, being a sniper, leaving myself exposed and open to enemy view conflicted with my purpose. But I had no spotter. McGuire was my spotter, and now...he was dead. It wasn't as though I couldn't handle myself, it's just without another soldier watching my back...I felt...alone; forgotten; without support. But that's who I am: a person who needed someone else watching my back. I'd adapt though. Only until we got a new guy.

Hell. Let's hope we don't. Here I was, slumped against a pile of rocks and boulders, carefully watching the old, rusted town made of tin and metal. The poor, humble settlement now served as a base, and I was stuck on a large mound of dirt (somehow considered to be a hill) with a trigger-ready finger, keeping my eye on the village. And I kept seeing a boy, a little younger than me and still a fledgling to life and to war. Not to different from me when I first enlisted and made it through boot camp, I imagine. I began to feel sorry for whatever kid that signed up, eager, but far from ready to face a full-scale war. With that image haunting me, no recruits for a while wouldn't be too horrible. I mean, for me.

Lacking in numbers was strategically weakening, yes, but I won't be looking forward to a newbie anytime soon. Besides...Just imaging how awkward this faceless kid will be with Judd was enough to keep me from getting itchy for a new recruit. Man was frightening, to be frank.

I exhaled a quivering breath that appeared like a fog, and disappeared just as quickly. I tried to chase away the thought of that kid, whoever he'll be. “Focus, Gwendolyn, focus.” I whispered, tightening my hold on the rifle. At least I wasn't cold. Not really anyway. English weather was heaven for me, and a taste of it didn't even send a quiver down my spine. I even missed the rain.

When the radio in my helmet clicked on, it was as though that single sound slapped me straight across the face. At least a shot didn't go off, I thought miserably. “Churchmen,” Sully's voice rang, ”Get ready; we're moving in.” In barely the span of a minute, there was gunfire and panicked shouts.

The team sent in had breached past the entry point and certainly didn't attempt to keep their visit a secret. North Korean soldiers burst from their hiding place inside tin buildings and scattered. But it wasn't them who I was after. Not yet.

When Sull and the other soldiers cleared the first section of buildings, they came into my view and were almost surrounded. But they had cover, and they had me. I caught sight of three men trying to flank Sully by running over rooftops. Bad move, to be honest.

Three shots, three bodies. I doubt Sully even noticed, or he did, but he wasn't going to acknowledge my assistance.

I had no idea as to where Judd was but I knew he probably detached himself, along with a few other soldiers, from Sully and likely moved through the occupied town at his own pace. Strategising and killing, just as we planned. I, myself, was careful with my targets. “Don't attract too much attention. We need your eyes watching us.” Sullivan had told me, as though I didn't already know.

Keep my scope on them and their flanks, and keep my trigger at the ready. Easy enough, right?

I was sure the assault dragged on for a little less than half-an-hour. Sully and the men worked quick, but there were a lot more soldiers to shoot and a lot of buildings to clear than I initially assumed. The fact that the enemy was held up in some old town (hardly anything more than a squatter assembled village) made my stomach churn and my thoughts run rapidly around. I often wondered where the civilians were, after their life became a part of the front line.

Frankly, I hoped they never returned to their homes. I've seen what became of towns turned into battlefields. Broken windows, demolished walls, and, at times, raided houses. Either by the enemy or our side, I didn't want to know. It just made me sick. That's why it was always better to not think of such things, but looking down a scope for who knows how long gives you a lot of time to, you know,think. But I've always thought too much, it seems.

Eventually Sullivan radioed me down, and with my rifle close to me, I made my way down the hill I stationed myself up on. After a short stride, I found that I was welcomed by dead bodies and bullet casings. Not an unfamiliar sight, but never a pretty one.

I saw Sully and Judd exiting a building, one looking stern, the latter pale. I wondered if Judd was thinking of his wife. If he was, he was doing it so openly (mind you, I use that word rather loosely) that I imagine even the captain could've noticed. Don't get me wrong, I tried never to watch Judd whenever he was solemn and quiet, but I always had an irking within me, knowing that he was looking back, to his wife and his past life. But now, his expression made me restless. I felt as though as there was something following me around, large and breathing down my neck, but invisible to my keen eyes. Expect...I think it – whatever it was – was behind Judd and not leaving anytime soon.

I licked my cut lips, and made my way to Sully. He looked a bit beat up, but nothing serious as far as I could tell. “Sir.” I nodded, curt and direct.

“Churchmen.” Sullivan said in return, glancing over towards me. Judd didn't even turn his head.

“Any causalities?” I asked. I twisted my head to the left and to the right, watching as Sully's men huddled together and dispersed to examine the rickety buildings, weapons close to their sides.

“Thankfully, no.” Sullivan looked a little revealed, but who wouldn't be? I almost smiled at the news and wondered if I was the only one willing to smile after a battle.

“We still got work to do, Churchmen, so don't go slacking on us now.” Sullivan grinned, satisfied, but it left his face quickly. “We have reason to believe that the enemy has moved down to a nearby river.”

My face fell at his last words. There was a more killing to do.

I found myself speechless, so Judd spoke up for once. I'm not sure whether he was pleased or not by Sullivan's news.“You mean Command has reason to believe they're over by a river, right?”

Sully doesn't even spare a glance. Perhaps I should have expected this? Admittedly, I wasn't all too comfortable when the captain wasn't forward with us, although I never voiced that particular thought, despite my uneasiness. I hadn't made any friends in the military, and although I trusted both Judd and Sully with my life, I wasn't fond of doubting the person in charge. Never openly, at least.

“Intel suggests they set up a small outpost, east of the river. Probably monitoring movement around the area.” Sullivan explained curtly.

I frowned, despite myself. “Why weren't we informed of this earlier?”

“It was second priority. Destroying this base was more important.” He said, eying me from the corner of his eye. The expression practically shunned me:Don't question your captain.I made sure to keep my mouth shut from then on. My “loose lips” already caused me enough trouble back in the showers with Judd.

The lieutenant also countered the captain with a question, although his words didn't sound as accusatory as my own did. “You said they were located near a river, sir. Isn't that a highly compromising position?” Judd didn't look all too grounded yet, but that expression of fright and wonder was disappearing, unnoticed and carefully hidden under his scarred face. At least whatever was the focus of his thoughts wasn't stealing his voice, I thought in disdain.

The captain shrugged, if only slightly, and replied, “My thoughts exactly. The soldiers have merged themselves with the local populace. If we didn't know they were occupying the fishing village, we might have been caught by one of their scouts after we moved out. Nevertheless, the plain is quite simple: all approaching teams will split up before we engage. East and west, flanking them. Surprise assault.”

And just when I thought, we'd rest up for a moment too... Don't misunderstand me; orders are orders, and when Sullivan is giving them, I listened. I was never one to talk back to teachers and professors, and my obedience only came naturally. My father was a...tough sort of man, never cruel or unreasonable (although I had a totally different mindset as a child), but he didn't like “lip”, as he called to it. I doubt he expected my knowing of when to keep my mouth shut would serve me well in the army, but... I suppose he'd be proud. In his own way.

“Churchmen?” Sully called again. Being a good listener and a horrible talker left me in my thoughts often, and the captain was quick to notice.

“Yes, sir?” I sounded meek. Like I wasn't ready to fight again. Sullivan must've ignored it. “Before engaging, we'll examine the area. Find yourself somewhere out of sight. I need you watching our backs as always, but that's it,” he said, finishing with a sharp tone in his voice.

And I was completely fine with that order. Keeping them safe (as safe can get nowadays) was something I was good at. “Out of sight, out of mind” was being to become my motto, but in the case of Sully, nothing was entirely out of mind when it came to his troopers.

I nodded, keeping my thoughts shut behind chapped lips.

“Alright. We'll move out in ten; don't get shot.” Whether that was a joke or a helpful reminded was beyond me, as Captain Sullivan stalked off to round up and inform the other men.

I turned to Judd, whom watched our superior walk away in his own silence. He looked stoic, but that's no surprise, and ready for another fight. I could never describe Judd as being eager for battle – honestly, I preferred not to; he outranks me – but now he looked a little...aware? Judd is always on-guard, likely a survival instinct after the bombings, although now he seems to be in two places at once but completely alert.

I looked back into the past, just as much as he did. Frequently, actually, but I was able keep my feet on the ground more often then I allowed my head to drift into the clouds when it came to Gabriel. But Judd just appeared to be...conflicted about something.

“You look...” I tried to find a word that didn't express my concern so bluntly. “...Horrible. You look horrible, Judd.”

The lieutenant tilted his heads in my direction, his expression changing. Barely. “Thanks, Churchmen. You look like hell too.” He said dryly. At least he didn't last out again.

I shrugged, shifting my rifle to my hip. “Sorry, sir. I was squatting in some rocks of there.”

“Get used to it, you'll be doing much more squatting soon enough.”

“Yes, sir.” I looked around awkwardly, before opening my mouth again, saying, “Are you alright, Judd?” I had forgotten how to be indirect again, in that moment it seemed.

His eyes narrowed and he stared at me. I saw the black guard dog again, but the threatening stance was becoming easier and easier to shrug off. “Do I look like I'm bleeding?”

No. But he was covered in blood.

I must've sounded meek again. “I...That's not what I meant.” I sighed, shaking my head and giving up. I was tired and winded, and I knew we'd be moving out soon. Striking up Judd's anger for a second time would just be another reason for me to be less talkative and avoid the man, giving me something else to think about as I laid up on another hill, staring down a scope.

I licked my dry lips again, almost as a sign of defeat. “Never mind, sir. Must be seeing things,” I muttered. Ironically, that would've be a bad thing. You're a sniper, remember Gwen?

He scoffed, unconvinced, and grumbled, “Right. Get your eyes checked and get your gear, Gwen. We're moving out soon, 'less you've forgotten.” After that he turned his back to me and walked to Sullivan, his gun close and stalking away like the black dog I always imagined.

The End

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