Short Story: Little Warrior

She was seven, maybe eight years old. Too young. Way too fucking young. The AK in her hands probably weighed as much as her. It had a foldable metal stock locked in place at its rear, tac-light on a forward rail, and a red-dot sight atop it. Even for the era the gear was ancient– Ex-soviet surplus rounds and mags stamped with Red Army designations in Cyrillic script. You could tell they’d had her clothes fitted, the tac-vest and camo-suit were just baggy enough to breathe but small enough to fit her.

She stood in the middle of the desert, rifle poised at-ease, curled hair blowing in the wind. She had eyes that didn’t fit her lineage; almost azure blue. There was something European in them– Scandinavian shape, maybe German corners. Her bushy mane almost said Latin, but her skin was white, bronzed from the Middle Eastern sun. In a way, I think she was all of those things.

I was on recon with the Airborne division of the Special Forces Command out of Fort Bragg, AKA the Green Berets. We’d been in country about six weeks, hadn’t seen any action. It wasn’t for lack of it, we were just that good. We’d migrated through about half the region without so much as a boot-print left behind, our paint and powder dry the whole time. We saw maybe one oasis in those six weeks. It’s just lucky we’d learned to sneak in and out of the villages without being tagged. Water’s gold out here, and the well-tender’s God. Well I guess even God’s gotta’ take a leak sometimes.

Our mission was straight forward; HQ wanted us on point to map and recon anything along the campaign trail. Then, we’d proceed to the rendezvous, pull out while the cavalry stormed the gates. The A-P and Bomber drones were meant to hit first; bombers would clear the way of any heavy artillery, give the anti-personnel regiment a fighting chance. They’d pull back to a carrier in the Gulf while the A-Ps handled the main resistance. The Marines would be hot on their tails to sweep and clear the villages, secure any VIPs or civilians.

But there’s an old quote about war, something like, “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” It’s funny, we’re taught to always follow orders, that our Officers– direct superiors– are to be trusted with our lives. Kinda throws a wrench into the works when you hear that shit. No plan survives the enemy? Then what good’s having stars on your shoulders? In boot they tell us all this shit about training, trusting your intel or XO, or some such shit. Then, when you hit the field they tell you, “this what you’ve trained for,” and “everything’s on the line.” But you hear something like that, “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” All you can do’s think, wonder what the fuck’s it all good for? Truth is, you’ve just gotta’ know how to improvise. We’re all just attack-dogs forced to improvise.

I think that was why it hit me so hard. They didn’t know we were coming. They couldn’t have. They were running off soviet gear that was sub-standard when it was new. It was forty to fifty years old by the time it ended up in that little warrior’s hands. We were rocking the latest tech– bone-conduction comms, full-rail stealth systems on us and our weapons, dragon-scale armor capable of shrugging fifty-cal rounds point-blank; shit that was so new, it didn’t have names yet. We were the field test. To hell with the well-tenders, we were Gods.

But like I said, or someone else did anyway, “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” Sure we got in and out without a peep, the UAVs did their thing, and the campaign began. The Marines though? Fuck, those poor guys didn’t know what the fuck they were getting into. I guess it’s partially our fault. We could only get so close to the villages, only do so much recon from the outside. Getting in was out of the question, but it wasn’t our job to know what we were missing either. It was above our pay-grade. We were told to move in, maintain stealth, and map out what we saw with vids, comms, paper– whatever we could, then feed it back to HQ over our satellite up-link. From our perspective, we did a damned good job of it. Even our XO said as much right before he green-lit our ex-fil.

But those fucking Generals can’t improvise. I dunno, maybe once you reach a certain age or rank your mind just starts to go, you get lazy or something. All I know’s that someone fucked up, and it damn near wiped out the first wave of Marines. It was so bad our unit was diverted en-route, air dropped just outside the village to flank and reinforce.

Us and the Marines. There’s a thought. Two of the most baddest-ass military groups on the fucking planet; the Green Berets and US Marines. We were the cream of the fucking crop, man, and we damn near got iced by civvies with fifty and sixty year old weapons. Shit, if it weren’t for my dragon-scales, I’d be dead on the ground in that fucking village too. Just another of those poor patriots whose blood watered the tree of liberty– if you believe the bullshit lines we’re fed.

You know, I’ve heard stories about some of the terrible shit that’s happened out here. I was on patrol with a guy who’d been forced into a second tour, said he’d watched some of those fuckheads we were fighting lace an apartment building with demo charges, blow it just as his unit went in. Only thing that saved him was his positioning on-six. The squad-leader wanted him watching their asses when they were walking face first into a fucking explosion. Tree of liberty my nuts.

Shame, lotta’ good guys go down that way. You know, doing what they’re taught to, being fucked over for it. But that’s not even the worst shit either. We signed on. We were called. We knew the risks. Them? Never. Not a chance. Not the one’s that matter anyway.

It’s what those fucks do to the people– their own people, that makes us sick. You wonder why some of the guys out here go nuts or turn into racist pricks? It’s a defense mechanism against the most gruesome shit humans can do being broadcast live, 24/7, for you to see. And believe me, we see the worst of it. In a way, you can’t blame ’em for those loose screws. Sure they’re assholes, and sure one rotten apple shouldn’t spoil the bunch or some bullshit nonsense, but most of those kinds of guys are kids when they enlist. They’re country boys straight outta’ high-school, or city-kids hoping the G-I bill’s gonna’ keep ’em from the gang life. They’re just hoping for a better life through the Army, Marines, Navy, Air-Force– whatever. No matter what their situation, they’re not prepared. They never would be. Still they enlist. I guess the US’s propaganda’s better than we think if we sign on to this shit.

Like one story I know from a guy; he was on-base just after the first campaign ended. We took our chow outside on one of the days that wasn’t ball-sticking hot. We were just discussing some of the shit we’d seen– shooting the shit we called it– when he got real serious. Told me about a time some nut-job strapped a kid with enough C4 to incinerate a tank, then sent him up bawling his eyes out toward the front-gate. Kid couldn’t’ve been more than four or five, and he knew he was about to die. My buddy didn’t talk much more that day. In retrospect, saying something like that doesn’t require much more talking afterward. Think he signed up for that? I know I didn’t.

They didn’t have a choice that day. And I guess, neither did I. There’s a select few people alive who’ve been forced to show the world what a fifty-cal round does to the human skull. But as far as I know, that group’s a hell of a lot larger than the one that’s shown the world what it does to a child’s skull.

The squeamish say it’s unthinkable, disgusting, what-have-you– to think about, speak of, but that’s war, and war is fucking brutal. It wrenches your guts out with knives, replaces them with a festering pit of emptiness. It hollows you out, runs the pieces through a meat grinder, then force feeds it back to you– And people wonder why ex-soldier suicide rates are so high.

I lost my taste for war that day we were air-dropped in to bail-out those marines. We were just outside the village’s East wall. It was like one of those old, stone things you see on the rich oil-Baron’s compounds in the movies or TV, except it was a small town. We breached with a series of C4 charges over the barks of gunfire inside. A few Marines shouted distant orders over a guy that screamed from a gut-shot. I don’t even know if he made it, but it makes you wonder.

We were inside before the smoke of the breach cleared, fanned out to provide as wide a line of flanking fire as possible. My unit probably bagged half that town in the first minute and forty seconds of engagement. But me? All I can do’s shake my head.

I got one.

One kill. It was more than enough– more painful, more monstrous than all the combined death that day.

That little warrior? She was that kind of childish beautiful that makes you have hope for the human race. That maybe, one day, something this wonderful will help all this shit end. I guess it won’t be her though. It couldn’t be. I made sure of that, had to.

I was huddled in cover when I heard the AK rack up behind me. I did an instant one-eighty and there she was. All of that hope I had was gone when that AK zeroed on me. She didn’t know, couldn’t have. She was only seven or eight years old and my dragon-scales were brand new– not even named yet. I think something was already dead in her eyes when they met mine, like she knew she couldn’t be saved no matter what anyone did for her. It was almost like she wanted me to save what was left of her innocence, her soul. Maybe that’s just bullshit I feed myself to cope.

She let loose a burst that slammed my scales. I was on my back in the hot dirt. I couldn’t breathe, but I was alive. A few bruises later, but not a scratch otherwise. I inched up with a groan, and she reset her aim. I didn’t give her the chance. I couldn’t. No one else would have either.

One round. That was it. That was all it took. No-one heard her die. No-one saw it. But her death-grip on her AK, and the chewed fabric on my armor made sure there was no doubt of her intent later. It was her or me, and she chose for us.

I try to tell myself that things’ll get better, that one day I’ll get over it. But I can’t, and I know I won’t. War is fucked up. It destroys people– destroyed me– in ways you can’t imagine ’til you’ve been there. But I wouldn’t wish that on the worst people in the world. Even they don’t deserve that. No matter how evil, you’ve always got something redeeming. Fuck, even Hitler was an artist. Sometimes, I wonder how many of those guys we took out would’ve invented the next wheel, or discovered the next fire, if they weren’t so fucked in the head and out of options.

But it’s all moot now. What I’ve seen– what I’ve done, is monstrous. They call me a hero. Bullshit. I’m a ten-cent rifle-jockey with a penchant for survival and improvisation. That girl? She was a real hero. She didn’t understand, couldn’t. Fuck, she wasn’t more than eight years old, but she gave her life and innocence to show the world how fucked up it can be. She was a little warrior, no matter whose side she was fighting for, and she deserves a fuck of a lot more honor and respect than any of the rest of us.