Chapter _; bi
working chapter title: residues of war
There was a small mirror he kept in the tent, about six inches by six inches. Matted with dirt, soot, and, he thought, blood. It wasn't as useful as it once had been. His face stared back at him from behind the residues of war; scarred and filthy, unshaven, underfed, exhausted.
There was a strangeness to his eyes, an alienness that struck up a moment of concern. He didn't recognize the man staring back at him. Then he blinked, and the abnormality was gone.
"Whoever fights monsters should see to it that, in the process, he does not become a monster," he reminded himself. Pilot wondered when that quote had first reached his ears.
Nietzsche's words, falling from Edens lips. Dropping like bombs, mushrooming up and out of his memory.
Had she been the first to recite the quote to him or was the imagery a symptom of his fatigue?
It was dawn. The warm orange-red sunlight seeped in through the thin cloth of the tent. It had been a long night.
He hadn't slept during his allotted sleep time; instead, he spent the time trying to reason the demons out of his skull. Hours sorting through his thoughts, his gaze lost somewhere in the spotted mess of the mirror. Staring intently at a clean spot, wishing it would grow. Wishing it would gobble him up and spit him out new, clean.
Someone approached the doors of the tent. He didn't turn around to look. He recognized the footfalls. Christian. He didn't wait for his squad-mate to speak.
"I will be out momentarily, Aden. Tell Aziz I'm on my way to relieve him."
He could hear the rustle of Christian's shirt as he tensed. He didn't ask how his commander knew it was him. "Yessir," he said, and left.
Six hours later, he stood guard in the center of their camp. They did all things in shifts, as a unit, as functioning parts of a whole system. They showered, slept, crapped, ate, and changed in rotations. One man guarding another.
The only remaining semblance of privacy was found during video sessions, when only one squad-mate stood outside the tent and pretended not to listen.
Right then, one man at a time was cleaning his gun. At first, the men had filled up the endless time spent together with mindless blathering. Arguing about politics, films, women, drugs. Pilot didn't participate in the group's chatter. Occasionally, he would share an anecdote, maybe a joke, but he usually kept his thoughts to himself.
It didn't do to pay attention to anything trivial. Real war, out in the gutters, pulling blades across throats and dodging mines, was not survived by conversations about movies or leaders. It was survived on skill, on perseverance. Knowing when to duck and when to jump.
It had nothing to do with inane conversation.
The longer they continued the hunts, it seemed, the more his squad-mates seemed to come around to his way of thinking. The gossip and bickering tapered off into the occasional teasing remark.
In their defense, there was very little humor to be found in the structured repetition of their days.
Eventually, they ran out of jokes. Ran out of movies, and hot-button issues, and ex-girlfriend horror stories. Ran out of Mommy issues, childhood traumas, and ghost stories.
Eventually, all that was left was war.
And how soon they could win it.