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Image of Alex Rancher

Alex Rancher

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Two teens, almost men judging from the roughly shaven stubble, were arguing over the quality of their performances. One of the teens, with a name tag over the right side of his chest labeled “Madison, J”, said almost chastisingly,
“I’m just telling you that you wouldn’t have lost that wargame that fast if you hadn’t moved forward to get those ‘civilians’ out of the way - they weren’t even a part of the mission, just tacked on. No need to get so mad over that opinion.”
The other teen, his name tag labeled “Parker, M”, had fierce, passionate eyes. These eyes, however, were currently filled with anger and exasperation.
“And I’m telling you,” Parker jabbed a finger at Madison, “that it doesn’t matter that it was just a simulation, or that they weren’t a part of the mission! In live combat it would have been the right thing to do!”
Madison scoffed,
“You take everything way too seriously, Parker. Besides, they’re preparing us for war here, Parker. It’s not nice, but in war sacrifices must be made for the greater good.”
Parker had a look of resignation on his face,
“I get it,” he spat out bitterly, “I get that no one here has a heart!”
Madison scowled at that.
“Parker, you’ll get yourself killed with that mindset! The battlefield isn’t a place for a heart!”
Parker threw his hands up and stormed away, but not before replying,
“So be it then! I’d rather die with a heart then live without!”

Parker then woke up in his filthy, disorganized officer’s cabin. The smell of some combination of sweat, blood, dirt, and grass, permeated the room. The room had been this way for several days now, Parker was often too drained from the recent excursions to really do anything but fall on his now disgusting bed.
Parker was an officer of the Colony Defense Force on Idris VI, a lush jungle world that appeared to have no life but trees, grass, and everything green in between. About a year had gone by without any sort of incident, but they still patrolled the surrounding jungles as a formality.
One morning, one of the colonists had found a mangled body, and ran to the CDF outpost to raise an alarm. Everybody thought that it was some monstrous colonist with a lust for murder. The patrols immediately became much more serious affairs, as they searched everywhere for a murderer on the loose.
One patrol in particular, five months after the body was found, would forever remain in Parker’s memories.
The jungle’s only noises were the trees settling in their places, water flowing if they were close to a stream, and the snapping of twigs underneath their muddy boots. Today was different, felt Parker. He didn’t know why or how, it just felt... different.
Parker looked to his men and immediately knew what was different, his second in command was out of his line of sight. A rare occurrence.
“Rolands! Sound off!” Parker shouted.
No reply.
“Rolands!”
Silence.
One last time,
“Rolands!”
“Chill boss! I was just taking a leak.” Rolands said as he walked around a tree, redoing his belt.
“Rolands, do NOT do that again or so help me I will court martial your ass!” Parker threatened harshly.
“Jeez boss,” Rolands sheepishly replied, “I thought you’d be cool with that. I guess I’ll be more careful.”
Parker sighed in both exasperation and relief, but still thought that something felt off about the jungle today. The jungle didn’t look any different, nor did is smell any different. Humidity was about the same, and it was as hot as it usually was. Parker then noticed what was different, there was a new noise in the jungle.
It wasn’t loud, but it was getting louder slowly. Buzzing
This buzzing was like nothing he had ever heard before. A gut instinct told him that it was dangerous.
“Safeties off! Eyes open!” Parker commanded.
The soldiers looked at him incredulously, but nonetheless followed his command, albeit a bit hesitatingly.
One of the soldiers, Sgt Benjamin, asked the question that was on everybody’s minds,
“Boss? I ain’t gonna tell you how to be an officer or nothing, but why in the hell are we on guard against a couple of bees?”
Parker replied a bit on edge, “There are no animals, no insects, nothing but plants on this rock! They’re still building a pollinator strain for this environment.”
Parker’s men remained a bit unconvinced, they all knew what Parker said was true, but they doubted any native species of bug would anything to worry about.
They remained on guard for about half an hour, the buzzing getting louder; the enlisted men thinking of this as just an extended break disguised as an investigation.
One of the men, Benjamin, even took out a cigarette.
“Ben! What in the hell are you doing?” Parker demanded.
“Aw, boss, you need to chill. Ain’t nothing gonna happen from a little smoke.”
“I know I’m lax with regulation,” Parker admitted, “but smoking on patrol could get you, and the rest of us, killed!”
“From what?” Benjamin chuckled, “Secondhand smoke? Sure, maybe in thirty years.”
Benjamin then took a full drag, then grew confused as smoke rose to his face from his chest. His confusion grew further as he saw everyone looking at him with horror in their eyes.
So he looked down, and saw a spike coming out of the right side of his chest, smoke coming out of the exceedingly narrow space between his flesh and the object.
“Wha..." Benjamin thought in shock.
Benjamin then saw dark, he didn’t even feel pain before his sight went black. Before oblivion, Benjamin only knew a sense of disbelief - not enough time to fear death.
This, besides the fact that he was now dead, was what differed him from the other soldiers. They had enough time to dread the next moment.
Parker had fear too, as he was no different from the next man except for his higher rank and larger heart.
Parker wanted to give a calm, collected, and clear command, with a confidence that would assuage his men’s fear. Instead, he frantically screeched an order in a fearful voice,
“Shoot it! Shoot it! Shoot it!”
He received an equally frantic compliance to his command, his men scrambling to aim their guns and fire. Most of the bullets missed their target, but there were enough bullets in the air to fell the creature.
The mangled corpses drove one of the enlisted men, Daniels, to drop onto his knees and vomit. After his last few dry heaves he muttered wildly,
“Oh... oh my god. We fucking shot Benji... Why the hell did we shoot him?”
The bullets landed everywhere in the general direction of the creature, including the sack of flesh and bones formerly known as Benjamin.

The morale they lost that day was never regained, though his men were far more serious afterwards. The creature appeared to be a gigantic wasp, and there were many more to come.
“We have to get out of here,” Parker thought, “But Madison isn’t letting us go.”
The bugs were easy to kill, the only problem was that there were so many of them. Every day they lost someone new. Each death as bad as Benjamin’s
Parker grabbed his sidearm, a solar recharged laser pistol.
Madison insisted on staying because of the money invested into the colonization of Idris VI.
The ranking officer had the sole authority to get everybody aboard the escape shuttles and have them launch, and Parker was the second highest ranking officer.
“Is this worth going to prison for the rest of my life?” Parker pondered, while looking at his gun. He never hated Madison, but here he was, pondering whether or not to end his life. It was impersonal, should he end one life who didn’t really deserve to die to save many more lives?
He put the pistol down, and sighed. The moral calculus checked out, but he still wasn’t willing to kill Madison. It was a bit selfish, in his mind, to not want to kill Madison because it didn’t feel right. Killing Madison would be for the greater good, more people would survive, but directly killing someone was something Parker didn’t want to do. Parker didn’t mind going to prison, it wasn’t that consequence he was afraid of, it was the consequence of the soul. Parker didn’t believe in God, but he thought he shouldn't do things so distasteful to his heart.

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