In Defense of Geneva

The spark of a match being lit illuminated the man’s face. The second man drew the flame into his cigarette as smoke swirled around the point of light. The third man drew from the dwindling match his last breath.

The third man’s body felt the full effect of gravity all at once as if he were a marionette whose strings had just been cut. Before the other men could react their strings also let them free.

In the bell tower of a distant church two men sat as the sole witnesses to the deaths.

“You killed them all…” said Fyodor. “I can’t believe it…”

A cold sensation pulsed from the base of Arthur’s skull and radiated behind his eyes. He recognized the familiar creep of adrenaline and knew that the shots were fatal even before his spotter had confirmed it. What he did not recognize was the sensation in his stomach. He became sick instantly and threw up, nearly choking on the packed ice he had kept his mouth to conceal his breath. These were his first kills, and Fyodor’s words felt much like an accusation of murder.

“Ah- you’ll get used to it, boy,” said Fyodor, sensing Arthur’s thoughts. “It’s natural to feel that way after taking life. It means you’re still human. Hahaha, when someone isn’t bothered by it… that’s when you have to worry.”

“I was just thinking of my family,” said Arthur. “I wonder if they had family…”

“We all do, boy. The difference is, those soldiers are here forcing us out of our home and trying to kill us even though we have taken no sides in their war. War is not pretty, boy. You must do this to protect your family and to survive. If you keep shooting like that… well boy we might jus-TARGET! Ten o’clock, heading west to the river, all black.”

“Roger. Ten o’clock, heading west to the river, all black. Target identified,” said Arthur. “I’m keeping the angle,” said Arthur. The soldier in black became a paper target. Just an outline like so many others that he had trained on before.

“Roger. Wind from nine o’clock, six mph. Dial wind left two point three mils,” said Fyodor.

“Roger. Wind nine o’clock, six mph. Left two point three mils.. indexed.”

“Wait. Wind gusting high,” said Fyodor. “Send it.”

“Splash, said Arthur, squeezing the trigger. “Bang.” The bullet had made impact.

“Hit. Center-hit.”

Arthur remained silent, eyes trained on the target.

“Stand by,” said Fyodor.

Arthur looked down the barrel of his rifle at the soldier in all black lying face down in the blood spattered snow. He saw a puff of breath leave the soldier’s body through the hole in his chest. The cloud of vapor dissipated into the air around him and he lay still.

“Four kills,” said Fyodor.

The strange sensation returned to his stomach once more. This time Arthur choked it back and gazed upon the once beautiful city around him. Perpetual fires emanated from the rubble. The rubble stood in the stead of ancient buildings. Craters occupied the roads. Where once there was a fountain that rose hundreds of feet in the air there was now only stagnant and putrid water. Bloated bodies lined the shore bobbing in the waves like timber that had been dislodged into the lake after a heavy storm.

He understood now that this is what had to be done. At risk was his his family. His younger sister and brother, his mother. He could not let them down. He pulled back the bolt of his rifle and chambered another round.

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