"Come on, over here . . . 2, 1, and . . ."
Click. The camera shutter clicked, capturing on film an image of the assembled, grinning furs of the third platoon, A company, 7-11 Infantry, Mechanized. They smiled as they posed, laughing among comrades and showing off for the camera. But three smiles seemed brighter than all the rest, filled less with the bravado of the rest of his platoon, and more with simple glee and joy of life. They wrapped the muzzles of a young, three headed wolf half kneeling in the front row, near the front of one of the large armored vehicles that formed the background of the photo. One of his two pairs of arms rested softly, one paw on his knee one holding his rifle at a relaxed angle, the other pair was folded across his chest, just below the name on his uniform. Private, First Class Khaos turned his head to look again at the cross flag staffs held at the center of the group. The vivid, bright colors of his country flag hanging by the darker, plain blue of his unit's banner. He smiled broader as he stood and waited with his buddies, his platoon mates to turn in their weapons, laughing and joking as they walked with the easy unease of soldiers waiting to leave for battle; unsure of what would happen but certain they would find glory or righteousness in a far off land.
And some where a figure felt pain in his heart for an innocence that could never return. And the blackness closed in like fog.
The young wolf trudged across the dirty concrete floor; one helmet tucked under an arm, his rifle slung loosely, the chinstraps on his other helmets open, letting them slip back on his head. Every moment seemed slow and long; every bit of him seemed to droop as he crossed to his bunk, dropping down to sit on the old green cot. He shrugged off his battle gear with molasses slowness, dropping his boots to the floor as he fell back, hoping to sleep. He heard a laugh and peered over at the next bunk, where his friend, A sleek black wolf, sprawled, cleaning his claws with a gleaming knife.
"Geeze, man," the black wolf smirked, "you look like hell. How was guard duty?"
"Same as always. Boring. You know those bastards wouldn't have the balls to do anything where we're at. They just wait until we turn around to kill each other. Now, come on, I want some sleep."
"Good luck, looks like Sergeant T might have something to say about that."
With a groan, he rolled back up to a sitting position and glared across the room. His eyes settled on the very rapidly approaching figure of his squad leader. But the anger drained instantly, replaced with confusion and worry at the medical aid bag his sergeant held in his hands.
"Khaos, get up! We have civilians down by the first platoon's building, mortar strike. Double time, medics called for all the combat lifesavers." The tall sergeant tossed the bag onto the bunks even as the young wolf pulled his boots back on. For just an instant their eyes met as he stood, no more words spoken but each knew it must be bad if the medics wanted every responder in the company there. He snatched up his rifle and the aid-bag and jogged out of the building and out the compound's gate. He hustled down the short block separating his compound from the first platoon compound. A few other responders from his platoon hurried along with him, all wondering at what could require them all. A turn of a corner around a last large hedge answered their questions, though, all too well. The company's senior medic stood in a field of carnage, directing one medic and a few first platoon combat lifesavers as best he could. Amid the large pools of blood it was hard to identify much, the pools seeming to dwarf the bodies, some deathly still, many writhing in pain and shock. But the true horror did not strike until their eyes fell on the two still forms in the largest blood pool, in the heart of the carnage. Once walking arm in arm, the two lovers must have died instantly, their heads completely gone from an exploding round overhead, now seeming to cuddle against each other, their backpacks pushing their bodies to lean toward each other. The sight of the blood soaked backpacks instantly triggered a flood of realization, the bodies looked small because they were, young teenagers walking home from school, trying to live a day of normalcy amid the chaos of war. Some bastard had done this deliberately, to children. The sun suddenly seemed hotter, the smell of carnage worse, the young wolf's heads started to swim. The words of his instructor flooded back to him.
"If all else fails, try not to throw up on the patient."
His knees buckled and he fell to the ground, crawling to the bushes and rapidly losing the whole contents of his stomach.
It was at least a full minute before he could shakily rise and turn to the medic for directions. The medic looked shaken, badly, too. His ears hung loosely down and he seemed pale beneath his fur. He shook his head, grimly, and spoke with a carefully controlled speech. "It's ok, kid. Got to me, too. It's bad, just pick someone, and do your best."
The wolf moved to the closest, bloody form, kneeling in the puddled blood, straddling the figure, He set his aid bag down on dry asphalt, opening it and quickly inventorying the contents, trying to avoid looking as long as possible. Finally, with a deep breath, he focused on his chosen patient. He tried to see them only as a technical problem, not a person, just medical needs to solve, but it was worse than he thought it would be. For a moment he looked into the face of a terrified young girl, a fox, not more than twelve, maybe fourteen years old. Her few tattered school books and papers stuck to the ground, glued in place by a spreading pool of her blood. She spoke rapidly in her native tongue. He shook one head, most of the words meaningless to him, but one stood out. "NATO," she said, recognizable even in her thick accent, calling him by a name that seemed to mark him only by the uniform he wore, a faceless savior. Her voice, however, sounded strange to his trained ears, faint, and weak, panicked even. Rapidly, he assessed what he could see wrong, noting with concern the spreading crimson stain on her lower chest and stomach. On pair of paws digging through his bag, he peeled back the blood soaked cloth of her tattered shirt. She moaned in pain, writhing slightly, a single gash oozed blood across her fur. He gulped, it looked like a piece of razor sharp shrapnel had come down into her frail body, entering through her lower chest and ripping into her abdomen. It was obviously bad; she was losing a lot of blood. Yanking a pressure bandage from his aid bag, he tore it open with his teeth, pressing it on the wound. The force pressed more blood from her chest, soaking the bandage as she moaned in pain. A second bandage quickly joined the first as he tried desperately to somehow stop the bleeding that was rapidly draining her young life away. Her face was losing color even as her cries slow, softer and farther away, she seemed to be begging now, her eyes no longer fixing on him, but past him on something miles away, that only she could see.
"NATO," the word a shuddering whisper, then she seemed to hold her breath; one second, two, three. Her once bright eyes suddenly filled with clouds, glazing with quiet escape of her life. Three heads, three pairs of eyes stared into hers, lost in their emptiness, the world seeming to him as if it had stopped with her death.
It seemed to him as if he was frozen there a second, or maybe an eternity, but in fact it was about five minutes before the sergeant noticed him and tapped his shoulder.
"Khaos, you ok?" The question snapped him from his reverie, but all he could do at first was nod. "There's nothing more you can do. Pick someone else, keep going." He rose, almost mechanically, clutching his rifle and aid bag, moving toward another small figure.
And somewhere in the darkness a figure huddled into a ball and cursed his weakness, his slowness. And, again, the blackness closed in like fog.
The wolf stood in the living room of his small apartment, his paws clenched into fists so hard his claws almost cut into his skin. He listened to his mate moving in the other room; they had been fighting again. The exact fight hadn't mattered; it was another stupid fight in a string of scores of fights, hundreds of fights. No, the details of why they were fighting this time didn't matter; it was the greater issues that fueled every fight. He couldn't tell her how he felt, he couldn't understand how she felt, they were no longer the same, he had changed; he could recite the list of issues like a mantra, but they no longer even spoke of them. They fought now on a hundred other, foolish issues. Dancing around the points they both knew were the true causes, as if afraid to give them more power by naming them, or just exhausted by fighting things they seemed never able to resolve. He could hear her, anger and a little sadness from the fight still tingeing her speech, discoloring her beautiful voice like copper tarnished in the weather. She was talking softly, no doubt assuring their daughter everything was alright, but he couldn't make out her words. *He wanted to do something, anything. He wanted to rush in and find out what she was saying; he wanted to have something to say to his daughter, to both of them that would make it all better. Instead he just stood, shaking slightly in a mix of rage and sorrow.
It wouldn't be alright this time, the voice in the back of his head screamed. She was going to back to packing again soon, then, when she finished she would walk out that door. She would walk out with a suitcase in one hand and their daughter carried in her other arm. For a few brief, painful seconds he could picture that scene, let it play out in his head too easily. Shaking his head to clear the image, he fought for control. He couldn't see that, it would destroy him. A grim surety gripped him, knowing where they would go. The name of the other one whose bed she filled taunted him, the unknown face his child now called daddy instead of him seemed crushing. There was no way to survive them running to that dark, unknown figure, and yet he couldn't stop them, either. Feeling the missing tears begin to run down the back of his brain, still hiding away with his lost feelings, he spun on his heel and fled the apartment he once called home. The slam of the front door seemed to punctuate the darkness of his world. He tucked his tail between his legs and ran for his car, wishing for a solution or even just the ability to lose it for awhile.
And somewhere in the darkness, a figure finally cried for everything he had lost. And, once more, the blackness closed in like fog.
In a dark room the wolf woke from a sleep he hated and feared more than anything that lived. It hurt to breathe, let alone to uncurl his body and rise to sit on the sweat and tear soaked pillows of the cheap hotel bed. One paw slipped under one pillow, thoughtlessly, almost as if on its own. Brushing aside the deadly, sheathed fighting blade he withdrew the powerful flashlight, blinking as its beam cut the shadows of the small room.
Time crept past like an arthritic snail in a salt mine. Each breath was a fiery struggle with inner demons and old hurts. After ten or fifteen centuries or minutes, he couldn't tell, he could force down his thoughts enough to take better stock of his surrounding, trying to remember where he was. Three pairs of eyes searched the still darkened room, sometimes following the beam of the light, sometimes just darting around the shadows. Three or four slow, agonizing breaths later his mind began reel more slowly, he could see his clothes tossed around a suitcase and across the desk. His eyes fell on the badge for the conference that had dragged him so far from home. Shaking his heads slightly he rose, sucking air loudly between teeth clenched in pain and memories. Stumbling into the bathroom and spinning the shower handles, he stepped under the steaming water, grimacing. Letting the water run down his sweat soaked fur, he shook one head, still fighting to clear the dreams of the past from his view, fighting off with a sneer the memories of the furs at the convention slapping him on the back and calling him one of the heroes there. He speaks softly to himself, listening to the echo among the rush of water.
"No, heroes aren't born, they're broken."