The twin moons shone a pale-bluish light in the icy night, bathing everything around the entrenched Marines in an eerie glow. Where the light would not shine, the shadows crept and slithered about, licking the feet and faces of the soldiers as they tried to stay warm. Fires could not be lit, nor could heat rods be used. Any excess thermals would give away the soldiers’ position. So their gloved hands rubbed their cold arms. Their cold arms rubbed their freezing bodies. And the enemy did not come.
For forty-two days, the men and women of the 58th Battalion held this position, preventing enemy advancement to the Outer Haven colony. Resupply dropships were scarce, often being shot-down before even reaching the inner atmosphere. Reinforcements were even scarcer, yet the 58th held. In the freezing temperatures of this yearlong winter, in a hand-dug, mile-long and five-foot deep trench and a night that lasted three months, they held. Four thousand colonist depended on them holding until EVAC ships arrived.
If they ever arrived.
No one knew where the enemy came from or who they were. Some soldiers had given them the nickname “the devils,” because when Sergeant Tobey saw one of them, he remarked that their slick skin was as black as the devil’s heart. He didn’t live long enough to give a more detailed description.
At first, the devils attacked nonstop, pressing wave after wave against the 58th for a week straight and reigning down plasma fire upon them constantly. When that didn’t work, the enemy let up, attacking at random times and then falling back. Sometimes they would go a half a day without an attack. Sometimes three days. Currently, it had been almost a week.
“Th-th-th-they h-h-h-had to h-h-have g-g-given up b-b-by n-n-ow,” whispered young Private Ames, his teeth chattering through the black scarf pulled over his mouth.
“Where’s your insta-heat, marine? asked Sergeant Gunnery.
“Here, take some of mine, Private. Not too much now.” Gunnery said, handing the young marine a round white tablet and a small flask.
Pulling his scarf down, Ames set the chalky tablet on his tongue and filled his mouth with the thick, tasteless liquid from the flask. The tablet instantly dissolved, and the liquid became warm. As he swallowed, his whole body filled with the warmness. However, it was the last of the liquid.
“I’m sorry, sir,” Ames replied as he handed back the flask.
“That’s okay, Private. I was more concerned about your heat sig than the last of the insta-heat,” Gunnery said, smiling.
For awhile, the two men sat silently amongst the shadows of the trench and the white fog of their breathes. The night was still. The only sounds around them were the hushed conversations of their fellow marines and the occasional caw of some bird-like creature high above. Ames looked over at Gunnery and saw the large smile still on his face.
“Sir, why are you happy?” he asked annoyed.
Gunnery laughed. “I’ll answer that, Private, if you tell me what makes YOU happy.”
“Not this place, sir. And certainly not waiting forever to get bombarded by plasma, either.”
“Are you afraid, Ames?”
The private paused a second. “Yes, sir. Aren’t you?”
“Naw,” said Gunnery, tilting his head back to look at the stars above. “Whatever happens, happens. The Lord watches over me, either way. You read the Bible any, Private?”
“No, sir. Not since Sunday School.”
“Psalms twenty-seven, verse one says “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear, of whom shall I be afraid?” Gunnery straightened up, and looked at the Private. “You see, if I make it out of this, I have a wife and son waiting for me. That makes me happy. If I don’t, I have a Heavenly Father waiting for me. That makes me even happier. Either way, I’m happy, Ames. There’s a joy inside that no devil, within or without, can take away.”
“With all due respect, that’s just twenty-three hundred year-old hocus-pocus, sir,”
“Oh yeah? Which one of us is content and which one of us is afraid?” Gunnery said, still smiling at the youth. He returned his gaze upward to the stars—and then specifically to a bright red star descending upon them.
“INCOMING!” he yelled as the ground around them exploded into a million bits of searing-hot fragments. The battle continued. And inside, Gunnery continued smiling.
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