The following is a piece from my forthcoming war novel, “Endgame.” In the story, sniper Captain June Vereeth and her colleagues must survive enemy attacks and the hostile environs of an uninhabited icy world.
This is a dream I’ve had, though with different people. Writing about it may be part of the cathartic process–only time will tell.
The dream used to strike with such frequency and clarity that I’d think of it in daytime, when I was supposed to be focused on other tasks. Hanging by my ankles doing vertical sit-ups on Rhyosh. Moving aside small rocks so I could get a better resting mount for my rifle. Eating steak sandwiches at Grooloo’s pub, out for a night with friends in Chiszits. Always the same, that damned dream.
In it, my four cousins—Bodie and his younger triplet sisters—lead me through a swamp. It was stinky and hot. Lily pads and muck and weeds in the gray water. I didn’t like the place without knowing why. Julia picked up on it and urged me on. Something gave me the creeps. Why was I, an adult (I’ve only had this dream as an adult) letting my younger cousins take me through here? A grown woman. Where were we going? This was nowhere near their home on Precor Max. I was sure this swamp wasn’t even on the planet.
We hopped from one wooden platform to the next, crossing the water. The smell got worse. Swamp rot—some combination of storm-cell heat and long grass and insect-friendly ooze. I heard crickets among my cousins’ laughter, as it must’ve been almost dinnertime. I was the last in the group. Lorelei giggled, dancing on a platform when it suddenly bucked beneath her. She screamed with fright but kept her balance. I felt something on my ankle, but I kept going. We all did, terror creeping into the scene. Ahead of me, a huge greenish shark leapt from the water across our path. More screams as we changed direction, all eyes on where it disappeared in the mucky surface. The kids hopped faster across the platforms, scared beyond belief.
It was after me. The thing circled around and pursued. I heard it leaping from the water and knocking the platform my feet had just left. It roared, airborne again, reeking of old fish. I kept going. From a safe spot on shore—they’d found a route that I had not—the kids screamed my name as the platform I landed on tilted down, back. It was pulling me back. The beast was behind me, roaring. Swamp water in my hair, soaking my shirt. I was going to fall back into the shark’s horrible maw.
In my grip was a rifle, my uncle’s old rifle. I could just turn and shoot and end this creature. But I didn’t. Never.
How these things make no sense.
It was all I could think about the rest of that morning, the 21st of Bullah, 1507. That was about a year ago. The day I first took a life. In the third round of the Smuggler Wars. Dare I hope it was the last round of them.