Moonman, on the Moon: it’s where his battles take place, where the green laser-fire crosses high overhead and somewhere in the inky black void lies the distant, sunken image of the Earth. Clouds over the ocean, the grass lush and wet; they fear they’ll never see her again.
Every time they go up it is like this: the shock like an impact, mind-reeling; and then the red-hued vision and the heat of battle in some vast crater, the ridge-line bristling with wiry alien guns and radar arrays. Those off-worlders putting up one hell of a fight, building as they advanced; how like black crystalline interlaced with the stringing of Christmas lights and the innards of a motherboard are the towers on the Moon.
Alone of any position he has ever held, the Moonman takes this one seriously. He gets up early. Washes his mouth out with a beer; something on the cheaper end of the spectrum, be plenty of time later on for the good and the hard, the private stocks of this here sergeant granted leave to go back down to Terra firma, where currently it is summer and the bugs in the yard are audibly alive.
He spits out a mouthful of beer from atop the patio and watches as the grass absorbs it, staring at that process, standing there in his white underwear and not entirely sure what to make of the haphazard tangle of nature that almost before his eyes is overtaking his yard. The stockade fence that when new gleamed as though more fit for furniture than the sharpened planks of a perimeter defense is now mottled with the spores of mold, the life born of and fostered by the moisture there, soaked like the air is wet. The concrete of the patio rough under his feet, his sandals no longer fit for service on account of he broke them when the front edge of the rubber sole got stuck under a rock or some other saboteur while he was walking around the block last night, a celebratory drink for a mission well done, directly upon his return from the Moon. A couple sips poured out for those who’d been lost, and with a quick shuffle recovery just ripped them fuckers right open, the thong pulling loose from the sole.
The lost, he thinks, holding the can up to his lips. Bug-eyed expressions on the new recruits when at first they’d encountered the low gravity, awe and dread and vomit.
“Hey sarge? What you think happens to our souls, you get killed up here?”
“Go up to heaven.”
“Yeah, but which way is up?”
Screams and nightmares and pleading. Not everybody always went home.
And then last night there’s that Moonman, just getting back down to Earth, and he’s walking around the block, drink in hand, thinking them cops better not mess with no American hero. All the shit he’s seen, the images battering his mind until drinking he sleeps, somewhere–
And then just as quickly it’s morning and the bugs are out, mosquitoes will be biting soon and already the sun is burning his back. There’s a droplet of sweat on his arm presently fighting against the force of its own surface tension. He spits again out into the grass, loving and hating this place, how he always comes back but can’t forget that he’s been gone.
Shading his eyes on the patio to look heavenward at the glare. That damn sun blind you when you up there, you look in its direction without you got your visor down and affixed into place. Recruits, affix visors, now! A white nimbus of powder underfoot made to glow in the ambient sunlight, the jagged lunar skyline of impacts innumerable and immemorial; the tight crunch under your feet when you’re running full tilt and sending out laser-fire towards the horizon, where soon again the void will reign and the dead will freeze as waning there at half-crescent the sun slowly falls.
The fortunate took it full in the face, it was over before they knew it. Just a hole drilled clean through the skull and then their bodies are limp and dragging forward, some inverted parabola of a fall, their weapons down, now; here’s the shattered visor touching with broken and jagged maw the Moon’s surface, now; cutting to rest the inertia of the body, and not a single sound in the headsets anymore.
The worst was when they got it in the stomach, the super-heated contents therein bursting out and spilling over and hanging in space before the gaze of the bug-eyed soldier, a slippery effulgence of gut and star-bursts of blood. And then the full cascade of his innards down the front of his suit and into the dust, which powdered in soft plumes the ropes of intestines; and then here come the screams, god, the screams in the microphone in each of their helmets.
Command had been forced to issue a new directive, some time back. It was classified at first, but the badgering and borderline mutinous entreaties for disclosure on the part of the recruits towards their NCOs and officers during pre-deployment briefings came out before long with the truth: casualties were to have their comm systems disabled as soon as some algorithm deemed them no longer battle efficient. You lose an arm, so long as you can still shoot, move and communicate you’re good to go; otherwise, you simply got turned off, and then you could scream for help from headquarters, for revenge against the aliens who did this to you, for forgiveness from the mother you abandoned when glory sunk its hooks into your skin; didn’t matter; they’d have already filtered out your pleading and hit the mute on your mic; your signal has been re-routed to the rudimentary and programmatic intelligence of the bots in control of the battlefield’s personnel management system, soldier, and now it is they who have been tasked with the collection of your remains…