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I was the golden child. The one all the Cerberus guys looked up to. I was on my way to becoming the next career Marine.
But after my last deployment to Syria, being a Marine was no longer an option.
Unfortunately, my not so honorable discharge from the Corps didn’t get rid of the demons created while I was enlisted.
Not even my childhood friend can save me. I’ll destroy her just like I destroyed everything else I touched.
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“Marine!” my lieutenant bellows from the safety of the north-facing wall, the pitch of his voice causes a shudder to race down my spine. It takes all I have not to pull the mic from my ear. “Do you understand your mission?”
We’re supposed to be fighting for the good of the country. We’re here in this God awful sandpit to protect the people of this village. We’re here to make their lives better, not to cause them more pain. Genocide wasn’t on my list of things to do today when I rolled out of my rack, back on base.
“There are civilians, Lieutenant,” I pant into my mic, my pulse increasing, becoming the only thing I can hear.
He can’t see the two families, but I can.
“They aren’t civilians,” he spits. The venom in his voice is so thick I can almost feel his words land on my overheated skin even though he’s twenty yards away. “They’re Haji, and it’s your job to arrange their meeting with Allah.”
“Children, Lieutenant.” I straighten my spine, blaming the sand swirling around us for the burn in my eyes. “At least a half dozen of them.”
“You have your orders.”
Looking over my shoulder, I wonder where Bird, Killer, and Wooch went. They’d have my back, and four against one is way better than the shit I’m facing right now.
“Just you and me, asshole.”
“I can’t.” I beg him with my eyes even though I know he doesn’t give a shit.
How the son of Morrison “Shadow” Griggs ended up with a commanding officer without an ounce of integrity and a broken moral compass, I’ll never know.
“Squirt told me no once.” I don’t miss the warning in his voice.
He’s just confirmed what I’ve suspected for the last month and a half.
I fight for bravery, hands trembling as I stall for time, and I come up empty.
“You have thirty fucking seconds, Griggs, or Long Shot will solve both my problems.”
Risking another glance, I stare in the direction I know our sniper is planted. I can’t see him of course, and by the time anyone knows where Long Shot is, their brains are splattered on the ground.
I’m a fucking coward — a selfish piece of shit.
Those are the thoughts that echo in my head as I compress the trigger and screams ring out around me.
The tears now streaming down my face don’t hinder me at all. Long Shot isn’t the only one true in his aim.
“This food sucks,” the guy beside me in the mess hall complains as he pushes his tray away.
The hard plastic screeches on the stainless steel table, but I don’t give the asshole any attention. He’s as green as they come, probably picked up a charge for punching his drill instructor in the face because he couldn’t handle the first week of basic training. He doesn’t have a damn clue what it’s really like in the Corps. If he thinks the food sucks here, he’s better off being discharged. He’ll never make it out in the field.
I turn to look in the direction my name has been called, to find one of the correctional officers skimming the room trying to find me. Although I’m in the brig at Camp Pendleton, I respond the way I’ve been trained. I stand the way I’ve been taught, and I walk toward him with my head held high like I’ve been instructed even though I’m filled with more shame than anyone could imagine.
The guard turns without a word, knowing I’ll follow him. My feet move of their own volition, but we don’t leave the facility as I expected. Instead, I’m escorted to an office near the reception area, and it seems I’m the last to arrive. Both Diego and Dominic Anderson are in the small waiting area with displeasure marking their faces. I avoid eye contact with them, not surprised my own father couldn’t make it. I’m actually glad he’s not here, but my shame is renewed knowing that Dominic is the substitute. He spent twenty years in service to our country, gave me tons of advice prior to my enlistment, and here I am in trouble for selling drugs on base.
The door to one of the inner offices opens, and I’m slow to look up. I react on instinct when both Diego and Dominic snap to attention. I’m already in proper formation when my eyes actually communicate with my brain. Before me is Brigadier General P.A. Holstead, the highest-ranking man on base. Surely this man isn’t the one who handles mundane cases like my own. He’s in command of nearly two hundred square miles with just this base alone.
“Dom,” the general says, holding out his hand after he snaps his return salute.
“General,” Dominic responds with a quick grin on his face. “Get that out of here.”
To my surprise, Dominic slaps the general’s proffered hand away and wraps the officer in a hug. I wait for the guard who escorted me here to lay my mentor out flat, but it never happens. Like old friends, they slap each other on the back before they untangle themselves from each other. General Holstead next offers his hand to Diego, whereas I merely get a quick nod.