The drugs don’t work. They’re meant to repress REM sleep, but I still get the nightmares. They’re too strong, too vivid to bed down with sedatives, and they’re starting to leak out into my waking hours now. It doesn’t help they’re keeping us planet-side. Oh, the compound is secure enough, they say. Sealed in so tight even bacteria can’t get in, but you look at the platoon. Not one of them will get near a window or sit with his back to the door.

It was a simple babysitting job. Watch over the CPs while they poked plants and gathered up water in test tubes. I’d done it most days for three months, and not a round fired in anger. The most action we’d seen was when Digger had fallen over and lost some teeth. We immediately rechristened him Smiler, in the sympathetic way grunts will. He doesn’t smile nowadays. No-one does.

The doctors are shooting in the dark. They’re small, no bigger than a blood cell. They burrow into tissue, and it’s impossible to distinguish them from the genuine article. They’re mobile, moving from organ to organ. They tried blood transfusions, completely draining us then refilling us again, like rinsing out a canteen. That got some of them. They give us chemo and radio, and maybe that kills a couple more. The rest is as scientific as waving chicken bones at us. They try different drugs. They heat us up and all but freeze us. They dehydrate us till our piss is dark brown and flood us till it’s like water. Not one of us is free of it, though.

It was a three-day expedition: one day march, one day play-time for the scientists, one day return. We’d done it dozens of times. The first night we set up camp at the edge of the forest, sealed tents as safe as the womb, indoors by sunset. There’s no dangerous indigenous life in this region, at least not dangerous by intention, but we posted guard anyway. Sometimes you might get a large herbivore panic, and who’s to say we’ve documented all the wildlife? Four sentries, two-hour shifts. All of us taking a turn each night. A waste of time, but standing orders come from God Himself.

I’m so hot all the time. I must stink, the sweat staining anything I wear in seconds. I’ve taken to wearing just shorts. They’re not going to put me on a charge for incorrect dress, right? Doctor Morrison smiled and said that was good. It showed my body was fighting back against the infection, like I had the flu or something. Easy for him to say, in his immaculate white coat and dry skin, hiding behind the isolation window. I’m burning up. If I could I’d live under the cold shower. If I could I’d scrub myself with an industrial sander, down to the bone and beyond. Some of the guys have taken to cleaning their teeth obsessively. I’ve not been able to put anything in my mouth since.

Someone screamed just before dawn, and then we heard the gunfire. Every grunt hit the floor in various stages of undress, rifles at the ready. I found JT at the edge of the camp, the side of his head a mess. I think it was him that screamed. He hadn’t worn a helmet, see. They’d gone for his ear, leaving his mouth free. They’d gone through his middle ear and on into his brain. He was the lucky one. Death must have been quick.

We have counselling. We need to talk about it, they say. It will help us. They sit behind the glass, always two of them, the psychiatrist and the other one. The other one is never introduced, never acknowledged, never in uniform. Where the psychiatrist asks how we feel, what we thought at the time, how we’re coping, the other one asks how fast they moved, did they communicate with each other, was any form of defence more effective than another. It scares me that the other one might be more interested in using them than wiping them off the face of this God-awful planet.

The other three were gagging and coughing up blood. Benson was in the best shape, just some mild abrasions to his throat. He could talk, but he wouldn’t, not more than a couple of words. Two hundred pounds of muscle and attitude reduced to a shaking, sobbing wreck. The only thing we could get out of him was something about monkeys, a nickname we’d given one of the indigenous tree-dwellers. The others were bleeding badly from the throat. We patched them up as best as we could, rigged a couple of stretchers and got ready to strike back towards base. Someone else could come back for the tents and equipment. We called for an evac team to meet us halfway.

One of the nurses is too good looking to be in the corps. Even inside the biohaz suit it’s obvious she has a figure. She smiles whenever she has to take a blood sample or take my temperature. She’s so young, too. This must be her first assignment, and they sent her to this hell. Yesterday she collected my urine sample. I wanted to chat, to ask her what the initial on her name badge stood for, to joke about her dress sense, to pretend we were just two ordinary people who could flirt a little. Before I could ask her anything she smiled and turned. I reached out and touched her arm, just to let her know I wanted to say something. She jerked her arm away and just for a moment I saw the look of revulsion on her face, even from a touch through an environment suit. She was a nurse; God knows what she’d had to deal with, and even she was disgusted by me. What would an ordinary person’s reaction be? Even if they found a way to kill every last one of them in my system, I’d always be infected, soiled, untouchable.

A few clicks into the journey we heard a chattering behind us. Benson all but wet himself. He turned and sprayed the plain with fire until we could stop him. Then he faced front again and ran. We were keyed up already, but seeing a big man like Benson sobbing and running like a twelve-year-old girl will scare the bravest man. We picked up the pace, chivvying the CPs along, carrying the two wounded grunts and the corpse that used to be JT between us.

Patterson was carted out of here this morning. He lost it, screaming and fighting imaginary monkeys. They shot him with tranq darts, strapped him to a gurney and wheeled him away. The rest of us just looked away, embarrassed, grateful it wasn’t us, but knowing it so easily might be.

Another group chattered in front of us, towards our right flank. The Sergeant called us to a halt. Benson was nowhere to be seen. The chattering came closer. We decided to vector left towards a bluff, so we had something to our backs if it came to a fight. That was their plan all along.

They found some infected animals and some juvenile monkeys. They reckon they have a grasp on their lifecycle now. A gestation period of maybe a year. God knows how quickly they’ll grow before they start ripping our insides out. I hope to God they kill us before that happens. A bullet to the brain, that’s the way a soldier should die.

The bluff contained a narrow cleft. We formed up, rifles at the ready, the CPs at the back, ready for the monkeys to charge. They didn’t. Instead they dropped on us from the cliff, hundreds of them. We didn’t stand a chance. They knocked us to the floor and then, then… then they did it.

This is a screwed up planet. Everything’s arse about face. They mate, the monkeys. Two sexes, just like on a proper world. But the fertilised egg needs a host, so the female finds some animal to bring the eggs to term. Any orifice will do, they just need to be able to get to soft tissue, soft enough they can pierce and leave the eggs in the bloodstream. That’s why they went for our mouths; with combat gear and helmet covering everything else, it was the natural target. That much later I found out they were female didn’t make it any better, at the time I knew exactly what was happening. I can still taste it, still feel it rasping over my teeth, over and over.

So here we are, our planet’s finest. Rough, tough and buff. No enemy hard enough. There’s no describing the camaraderie, the esprit de corps, of the fighting unit, especially when you’re the only grunts on a foreign planet. Here we are, all cooped up in an isolation ward, and not one of us can meet each other’s eyes.

They shipped us out here with porn vids and war films and game machines and sports gear. Everything a modern soldier needs to pass the time. Who’d have thought a whole platoon would need rape counsellors?


About snodlander
Snodlander is the nom de plume of Bob Simms. He is an IT trainer, but it's not as glamourous as it sounds. When he's not enthralling classes with adventures through SQL Server, he writes, draws and drinks his own home-brew. Buy his novel on Amazon Kindle at The Young Demon Keeper, It's 74p, for crying out loud!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: