by T. Gene Davis
Gary ducked into the pressure suit locker pulling it shut behind him. The stench of sweat and disinfectant pushed him back against the locker door. He shoved himself into the claustrophobic space at the back of the locker’s rack where a third suit normally hung.
His rapid heart beat made him shake. If any of the officers saw him, he’d be scrubbing urinals with his tooth brush, or worse. He just couldn’t do the drills today. Not today. They were dropping tomorrow and he needed alone time.
Gary slumped down in the dark as much as the cramped locker allowed. His back pressed against one wall with his knees painfully jamming the locker wall in front of him.
“It won’t be that bad when they shut off grav,” Gary reminded himself in a mutter.
He waited in the darkness for the weightlessness, observing a solitary moment of silence in memory of Henry, his grandfather.
Gary smiled thinking of the honking Canadian geese. Henry always pointed out the lead goose. “That one’s the leader right now, but it takes its toll. He’ll drop back into the V soon enough, so another goose will get his turn.”
Henry passed one year ago. Every day Gary remembered him. Henry served in the marines back in the last draft. Now, Gary was space side serving in this draft.
“Grandpa, why don’t you ever talk about your war stories?”
“Because I saw so much. I really don’t like to talk about it.”
“Other people talk about their stories.”
“That’s ’cause they don’t have much. The more war you’ve seen the less you want to talk about it. Sure sign a man ain’t seen much death if he yaps about the war all the time.”
Gary did not plan to tell anyone this war story of hiding in a pressure suit locker on the eve of battle. He was embarrassed, despite being alone. Gary decided to get out when the locker door opened. Gary went into full stealth not daring move, especially his eyes.
“Wait up,” the voice of one of the officers called, hopefully to someone besides Gary. “I need a different suit. Mine has a weak seam.”
There was a rustling of the suits, and the locker got lighter.
“This one will work.”
Gary waited for the locker to close, but it remained open.
“You ready for tomorrow?” Another voice Gary did not recognize spoke to the officer.
“Yes, I am. Planning to send in the fodder first. No sense wasting good men where scum will do.”
“Well, that’s not exactly the way the orders put it.”
“You know that’s what they meant.”
The officer crammed his faulty pressure suit into the locker and the door slammed. In the dark once more, Gary took a deep breath and exhaled.
Gravity went out. He could still make the drills, if he rushed. It was more comfortable with the grav off. He stayed where he was.
Tomorrow was Gary’s first combat. Tonight was Henry’s first anniversary. Gary intended to spend this time remembering Henry.
“Grandpa. Why do the geese fly south?”
“Boy, they’re geese. They think if they can stay ahead of the snow and out of the jaws of foxes they’ll live forever. They don’t know we’re all mortal. That’s the difference between them and us. We know that even if they stay ahead of the snow and foxes, they’ll still die. That’s why men fight battles instead of flying like geese.”
“I think the geese are smart to fly.”
“You’ll understand when you’re older, boy. Real men stand and live, while geese waste their time flying.”
T. Gene Davis writes speculative fiction, when he’s not studying AI and game development. He loves gardening and spending time conquering the sagebrush on his someday-to-be ranch.