Chapter NineMature

Nick Sullivan

We found the enemy encampment by the river a little while later, and let's just say they were no longer a problem. Sadly, I lost a few men - Ramirez and his squad. He'd questioned me when I'd ordered him to take only a few lightly-armed men to clear out a large fenced area containing several tents.

"What the hell do you think you're doing, Ramirez?" I'd responded. "I give the orders here, you follow them."

"But, sir -"

"DO IT!"

After hesitating a moment, he'd said, "Yes, sir," and taken off to clear the area. I wished he'd staged a mutiny. It was my fault they'd been killed. At that moment, I realized just how bitter I'd been towards my troops - and I hated myself for it.

"Sir!" Churchmen came running towards me, dirt smeared across her face, rifle at her side, with Judd and a few other men. The other men spread out to wrap up the assault, while Judd and Churchmen continued in my direction.

"Judd! Good to see you made it. You too, Gwen." They didn't seem to know how to take this comment. "But you were supposed to stay behind cover and wait for the all-clear..."

"I know, sir," Churchmen said, sounding forlorn. She must've assumed I'd punish her for insubordination or something. "I disobeyed a direct order. I'm sorry."

"Well, I'm sure you had a good reason to leave your position," I said. "What is it?"

"I- I..." she attempted meekly, before trailing off, obviously not knowing what to say.

"Never mind," I said, cutting her off, "We'll worry about it later. We've got bigger problems. We lost Ramirez and his squad - I want to try and recover the bodies." That would be five calls for me to make. "Also, I think I spotted some North Korean troops running down to the river to try and wade across. Make sure they don't escape."

"Yes, sir," Judd and Churchmen both responded at once. Judd grabbed a few men to patrol the river banks; Churchmen approached the fenced area and began the work of recovering the dead. I walked away to make a few phone calls.

When I was finished on the phone, I pulled out a picture of Amber and stared at it for a while, letting the tears fall freely. Then, I pulled out the letter she'd written to me and was filled with sorrow: what kind of man would I be when - if - I returned to her? Would she still love me? Would I still love her? I didn't even know what I felt anymore.

Over the next few days, I made an effort to be kinder to my troops. Judd and Churchmen didn't seem to understand this sudden change in attitude. To be honest, I wasn't sure what had gotten into me. I just knew that I'd been hit hard by the deaths of those men under my command.

I just wanted this all to end.

The End

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