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BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! Gunfire rang out from the florist shop window and into the almost deserted had-been beer garden. I looked at my fire team leader, Gefreiter Schlager. He brought his head and G36 back inside, shouting, “Los wir gehen!” We obeyed, following him out into the ruined, bombed and burnt out ruins of what had once been Grazny’s main shopping district. Booted hooves clopped and clacked on the ground, cracked and torn.
I remembered this place from when I was a child. Mother often brought Traube, Zecran, and I here for ice creams. A corpse lay underneath our favorite leafy sycamore tree, an expanding puddle of blood and moans coming from the stirring limbs. I hugged my M4a1 more tightly against my chest and kept running. We heard helicopters droning from behind us. The one pony in our Chechneyan zebra outfit, a foreign volunteer unicorn named Bronco, who was our ace and support gunner, turned his brown body to see them, obscuring his eyes from view with his chestnut mane. The eyes went wide and the voice was unusually high. “Federal Defense Force – Bundeswehrmacht!” I cursed under my hot, ragged, breath. My heart thumped like a farmer’s cart over the cobblestones of this hilly district.
We dove into a mostly-pristine boutique in an eerily orderly shopping mall. It had been one of my favorite haunts. Before the war, my friends and I were always here whenever we had the time. It was the same one where I’d met a cute filly as a teenager. Gefreiter Schlager pulled out his map. He poured over it for a minute before growling and giving us all a very grim look. “Meinen Kommeraden, we’re boxed in.”
I wracked my brain before speaking. “Gefreiter, there are tunnels underneath this place. They can get us back to north central.” North central was where the heart of our defenses were, protecting our generals, leaders, and populace.
They all turned to me, cocking their heads. The Gefreiter raised his eyebrow. “How would you know, Flechte?”
I blushed. “Well, um, when I was a colt, a certain filly and I would…” He smiled and waved with his hoof.
“Gut genug. Show me where.” I grabbed the pen I always kept in my flack jacket and scribbled on the map as I explained the directions aloud.
“Ankommender!” BOOM! The storefront exploded. I leapt into cover, raised my M4a1, deactivated the safety and began to fire on what must have been a platoon of federal troops without cover. Bronco laid down suppressive fire with his FN Minimi. The Gefreiter gave orders to pull everyone out. I saw several soldiers fall to our righteous bullets fired in defense of our homes. I killed a few myself – how dare they destroy our beloved home?
I dropped my third magazine of the fight, the eighth of the day, and insert a new one. I hit the bolt release and felt it shut with a comforting click in the chaos. I fired back again with single shots, as per the gospel of our instructors, one of whom had been an Equestrian Antumbra veteran; as good as they come, unless one believed the rumors about the even more elite Eclipe. I heard their shouts in my head, guiding me through the harvest of death. With every few shots, their number grew fewer as one finally went down under my hail of lead. The M4a1 thundered comfortably in my grasp. I pulled the trigger again. CLICK. Silence – the loudest sound when you expect a bang. Ancestors, please, no!
Bullets whizzed by and guns thundered around me. I removed the magazine and reinserted it hard, ramming it all the way in. –CLICK– shit! I pulled the charging handle and looked inside. Two rounds were trying to occupy the chamber simultaneously, like a stallion trying to wear a colt’s trousers. Frantic, I tried to get them out, but to no avail! The extractor refused to grab the cases.
FWIP! A horrible, burning, sensation shot through my belly. My flack jacket was powerless to do anything against the bullet. I yelped in shock and pain. The carbine slid from my grasp, and then then I hit the cold checkerboard linoleum floor. I saw blood bright and red stain the black and white tiles under me. I tried to get up, but I could hardly breathe. I didn't have any strength; my body just didn't respond. In pain, I turned to my comrades. “Help me! I’m down!” I thrashed on the ground. Dear ancestors, it hurt!
“Stay there!” ordered the Gefreiter. “Prepare to lay down suppressive fire on my mark. We are falling back.” As I laid there, the adrenaline slipped from my system, prompting the pain exploded with a fresh wave of agony into my belly. This was bad; I was losing too much blood. Couldn’t I do something to save myself somehow? I remembered the coagulant packet and morphine syrette in my pockets. I frantically scrabbled to reach them. I bit my tongue to halt my screams. I tasted blood as I snatched the medicine.
The enemy didn’t seem to care as I ripped open the morphine and broke the seal with my crooked front teeth, teenage trophies of a scrape with a federal soldier. I found a vein on my ankle jammed the needle into it, and squeezed. Ouch! The pressure felt as if somepony tried to inflate a ball in my arm. I gasped and forced the drug in faster, leaving an ugly black and blue splotch on my ankle.
Okay, the pain was falling under control and it was no longer agony to breathe, the blood continued to spill from my wound. Woozy from blood loss, exhaustion, and the morphine, I bit clumsily to open the procoagulant power packet, unable to grip it with my blood-soaked hooves. Some of it got on my tongue and I winced at the awful taste. I held it in my teeth as I felt around frantically for the wound. My lungs and throat screamed at my mouth to scream, but I grit my teeth, trying to ignore them. I felt a happy wave of relief as the morphine flooded my system fully. My breathing slowed and my hooves steadied enough to find the holes in my uniform and stomach. I poured out the lifesaving powder onto my hooves before pressing them into the jagged wound. I felt the flow of blood shut off like a faucet, but I held it anyway. I grimmaced as laid down and waited for my comrades to come. Maybe I wouldn’t die after all?
Bronco came for me, laying down walking fire as he did. My head felt light for a moment, and I swear that I saw every single individual brass shell jump from the ejection port. I snapped back to reality when Bronco grabbed me by the back of my decrepit flack jacket with a sudden spike of pain through my stomach. I seethed, clutching at the injury. I felt something hot, wet, and sticky soaking my back. Ancestors, please, let this not be real. Please let it not have fragmented; we can’t treat those injuries!
I suddenly remembered my rifle. Forgetting my agony, I shot out my forelegs and shouted “My gun!” Bronco did not reply. He handed me his Minimi and I brought it up to my shoulder to cover our retreat. I fired a series of short bursts out into the parking lot, forcing the invaders to dive for cover. Some were too slow and they fell. Adrenaline dulled my pain, though the rush was deadened by the nausea I felt every time an enemy fell with my bullets in his body. I always felt it, despite everything they had done to us -- the occupation, forced assimilation, ethnic discrimination, making us live in ghettoes, always so high and mighty as if they were better than us.
I looked to my hooves and saw a long streak of bright crimson had trailed behind me. I was now behind cover, and my friend, Nuss, took something off his back. “Can you fight?” He asked, brow furrowed more deeply than usual.
I leaned against the wall and panted. I felt slightly lightheaded, but nothing to worry about. “Ja, ich kann.” I nodded. He reached around to his back and threw me something long and heavy, as well as a small messenger bag.
“An AK-47? Really?”
“Ammo’s in the bag,” he spat. “It’s an AKMS; thirty cal knockdown power, dead simple to use, and unstoppable.” Smartass. Of course I know about the things; heavy, inaccurate, and awkward. It beat a pistol, barely.
I heard the Gefreiter shout, “Flechte, Nuss! Suppressive fire!” Operating the weapon left-hooved I used my new rifle’s barrel as a fulcrum to rotate around the doorway and engage the enemy. I saw my first enemy in the open sights. I pulled the single stage trigger, and a bang erupted from the muzzle as the rifle jumped. I hit him in the chest and he went out like a light. Damn! The same fate befell the next bastard to step into his place, but not the third, for I hadn’t time to deploy the bottom-folding stock. He fell to Nuss’s FAL. I brought my rifle back under control and slew the next soldier just as she came around the corner. Unlike us, federals have the gall to put mares in combat.
I fired one last burst from my rifle at a trio of soldiers. One fell wounded to scream and thrash on the floor. The other two dove for cover. I pressed my back into cover and grabbed a grenade from my chest. I pulled the pin with the spoon compressed before lobbing it blindly through the doorway. I yelled at Nuss, “Nachladen – reloading!” I’m supposed to speak Equestrian, but in my situation, I accidentally kept crying out in my native Zebrische. I grabbed the magazine around the base, pressing the release with my thumb as I pulled forwards and down to rock it out of the well. Over all the fire and hell, I heard a downed solder wailing and crying out for his mother. Boom! The grenade exploded and the pitiful bawling stopped, but I felt a tear tug at my eye. I grabbed another magazine and placed the forward lug against the front of the magazine well. Then I rotated it straight back until I felt it lock into place. Finally, I pulled back on the charging handle and let it fly. “Weapon ready -- engaging!”
I returned fire upon the enemy. Their tracers and rounds came so close to me that I felt the breeze and shock of the sonic boom, as well as the buzzing, whistling sound they made as they few by, but I was unafraid and determined to fight like a true warrior; endure to the bitter end. Although they outnumbered us, Nuss and I had the advantage. We had granite pillars for cover. They didn’t have anything that would save them from our bullets. They couldn’t call in for support; we were too close, because then they’d hit their own soldiers with whatever they threw at us. And so we held the opening, despite the rising tide of enemy forces, and our dwindling ammunition. They’d overrun it in the end, if only because we caught diseases that bred in the corpses of their fallen.
We held them there until the rest of the fireteam reached overwatch position. My lightheadedness did not stop. Rather, it got worse. The Gefreiter ordered us to retreat. “Flechte, Nuss, pop smokes and prepared to displace.” I threw my smoke grenade first, with my comrade throwing his a few seconds later. It took what felt like an eternity for the thick grey and white clouds to suffuse the atmosphere. “Now!” Ordered Gefreiter Schlager as he and Bronco opened up with everything they had, pouring it into the enemy to buy us time to escape. We broke cover and sprinted. It was only fifty meters, but it felt like fifty miles. Bronco and Schlager covered us with a heavy curtain of fire, but I’ve never been more terrified than I was then. I kept low with one hoof on my Kalashnikov and my other hoof on the ammo bag. Bullets whistled all around and the noise of battle was deafening.
We ran by the now-dry fountain, where I had my very first kiss. Again, Bronco and the Gefreiter bought us time to run. “Are you alright, soldier?” inquired Gefreiter Schlager.
I coughed, “Y-Yes, Schlager.” I covered my mouth and felt something wet splatter against my limb. I looked down and saw blood. I felt all the color drain from my face. No. This can’t be happening. It just can’t!
He gave me a skeptical look and then ordered, “Lead us to the tunnels quickly.” So I did, despite the terrific pain in my body. I wasn’t really that badly wounded; just winded from all the combat. It’s not like I was actually gonna die, right? I can’t die. I promised momma I’d see her again. I promised Zecran that I’d tell him all about my adventures fighting for our beloved Chechneya. He still owed me a pack of gum from when we were in elementary school.
Surely enough, my memory did not fail me, and we soon found ourselves in the dank maintenance areas. These familiar tunnels were uncomfortably hot from the steam pipes, always cramped, and generally unpleasant. Light came from dangling bare bulbs and cobwebs cluttered the corners. I was running along one such passage at the foot of a staircase, when I hacked up a wad of blood and my strength finally failed. I fell to the ground, hooves raking the dust, and I couldn’t get up. I dragged myself over to the dark corner just a few feet away and sat down, facing the stairs a half dozen meters away. My comrades looked at me, concern etched deeply on their faces. I tried to smile weakly, despite the horrible realization that was dawning on me. “I’ll be fine,” I lied. “Go on.” More blood dribbled from my lips.
Nuss walked over to me and put his hoof on my shoulder. “I’m sorry, my friend…” he muttered, reaching into his rucksack and dropping what I immediately recognized as several loaded AK magazines at my feet.
“Your service will be honored, Felchte” said the Gefreiter stiffly, his face expressive as a tree stump. Just then, we heard the first sounds of the enemy. They must’ve tracked us somehow! We exchanged glances for a tense moment. “Fireteam, move out.” Just like that, they walked away, abandoning me to my fate. I wanted to say something meaningful, but the words got stuck in my throat. As their footsteps faded away, my attention was drawn to the approaching footsteps from the staircase. I tightened my grip, shouldered the AKMS, and put it in semiautomatic mode.
I listened to the thud of hobnail boots on concrete for almost a minute before I heard one of them speak, which was followed shortly after by the unnaturally white circles of weapon lights. The invaders stepped into the almost-gloom, illuminated by a single dangling, flickering, forlorn, incandescent light bulb. My forelegs shook and I clenched my jaw, steeling myself for the storm. They approached in that half-jog half-walk of soldiers trying to move quickly whilst keeping their weapons ready. The lights danced in the air like drunken fireflies. My failing heart pounded in my chest. Come on – just a little closer, you brutes! My sights aligned with a helmeted head.
I fired. She fell without ever knowing what hit her. The soldiers behind her jumped and startled. I cut them down like wheat on father’s farm. The unnatural lighting shone on eerily and I coughed up another wad of blood.
I heard more coming, the pigs running greedily into the slaughterhouse. I remembered father’s words: “Pigs always expect to get something, but only expect what they want.” The next batch of pigs rounded the corner with weapons raised. I allowed them to get just beyond the stairs before I fired a great burst from my kalash. The bullets tore through their bodies and they fell to the ground. “You like that, HUH?!” I challenged, no longer caring what happened, so long as I killed every last one of them I could. “That’s what you get, you worthless pigs! I won’t yield anymore! If you want to infest Chechneya, my beloved home, and rape Grazny, our sacred capital, then you’ll have to go through me!” I hacked up blood, spitting out another semi congealed wad to mingle with the growing red pool on the floor.
The pigs rounded the corner again, repressing their swagger in their flecktarn-pattern uniforms and tactical vests. I held down the trigger the moment I saw the horde appear. Bullets flew from my gun and struck those in front, sending them crumpling to the floor. The pigs shied away from the cacophony, trying to save themselves. However, I fired through the thin plywood steps. Screams unseen met my ears and I saw several tumble down onto the landing. I shot those who moved. The remainder retreated further. I could do this; I could win if I just held on…
“Werf Grenaten!” --Clink clink-- My blood froze. I tensed and curled up into a ball behind my flack vest and helmet as I saw several small objects bounce off the wall and roll down the stairs.
I whispered, “Mama, help me.” B-O-B-BO-B-B-BBOO-BOOM! The room shook. An unholy chaos filled the corridor, but only for the briefest moment. My ears rang, but miraculously, no pain was felt as I raised my weapon and opened my eyes. Then, to my horror, I saw a soldier come around the corner with his G36 aimed at me!
We locked eyes, guns poised to kill. Time stopped for an infinite moment. G36 faced AKMS. Soldier faced insurgent. AKMS faced G36. Patriot faced invader. My brain screamed at me to just pull the trigger, but my body was slow. I saw his finger go back just a bit immediately before mine. My rife clicked as trigger broke the sear, which engaged the hammer, which struck the firing pin, and roared as the firing pin struck the primer, ignited the powder, and launched the bullet. The bullet seemed to take an age to fly. Everything felt impossibly real. I could see every dimple on the bricks and every cobweb in the tunnel.
Finally, my bullet hit home and struck his chest. At that very moment, I felt something small, hot, and sharp, slam into my right breast. It pierced everything, and I felt several tiny fragments rip many holes in the skin of my back. He fell to the ground, screamed, and then moved no more. My heart sank as I felt the blood spill again. Stop bleeding. Stop, you damned war – just STOP! I don’t want to die here!
I could hardly move. My body just wouldn’t respond. I was in so much pain that I couldn’t even draw the breath to scream. One last hope sprang to my mind: get around the corner. I drug myself there, even motion and second living hell and trailing blood thick on the ground. Maybe if I kept quiet, they’d assume that I’d died and then go away. I saw my legs. The flesh was cut to ribbons by the grenade fragments, but I hadn’t felt it thanks to the morphine. My head gave a lurch as I hyperventilated. My heart thundered in my chest because of terror, because of pain, because of exertion, and because it was trying desperately to make up for all the life’s blood spilt on the floor. Tears welled up in my eyes. Mama, I’m so sorry. I didn’t want to die. There was time; I could’ve had a long, full, happy life if only I hadn’t chosen to come to this damn war! The sentence is set; the hammer has fallen, and I have paid the price, sad to realize too late that death was meant to be my fate. If only I loved Chechneya less and myself more, I could’ve lived long and happily in peace. But no, because I came here, it all has to end after only sixteen years. Why did this have to happen? Why me? The sound of boots filled the air once again. My head was lighter than a feather as I grabbed my assault rifle one last time. I knocked out the magazine and inserted a fresh forty-rounder. I moved the selector to fully automatic. I waited for them to come. I had one last grenade on my chest. My gun felt impossibly heavy. All I could think was: why? I braced myself for the storm.
Memories leapt unbidden into my head. Mother’s soothing touch as she tucked me into bed. I felt the soldier’s pistol smashing my teeth because I refused to salute their colonel’s motorcade. I felt the warmth of my sweetheart’s lips as she swore that she loved me. I felt the rumbling warmth of a purring cat. I heard crickets sing as I hunted fireflies with my brother. I tasted ice cream I’d eaten with my friends as a foal. I smelled the sulfurous odor of fireworks at New Year’s. Is it really all over? I’ve only live sixteen years. I don’t want to die! Somebody – anybody, please, tell me that this isn’t happening! Get me out of here! I don’t want to die! I cried. No, I sobbed, hugging my weapon to my chest.
There’s so much I didn’t do. I never paid back my friend for that chocolate bar when I was nine. I never visited my grandmother one last time before she died. I never told my girlfriend that I love her. I never wrote that novel. There’s so much that I haven’t had a chance to do yet. I always wanted to travel to Equestria. I always wanted to see Canterlot and the princesses in person. I never got to go spelunking with Traube. I always wanted to see Chechneya free. I always wanted to be a father. I promised mom that I’d come back alive, but there’s no hope now.
And what about all those ponies I killed? A fresh surge of guilt overpowered me. I never wanted to hurt anyone, honestly, I didn’t. They were going to kill me. I had to kill them. If I didn’t kill them, then I would’ve died. But didn’t they have lives too? Didn’t they have their own reasons to fight? What about families, friends, and loved ones, too? They’d miss the husband, or the father, or the son, or the brother, or the friend, or the uncle that I took away. Damn you, war. Damn you to Tartarus. How many of my friends did you take away? How many families did you destroy? How many wives widowed and children orphaned? In just Grazny, how many young colts are lying here; how many wasted years? How many mothers weep for the sons they’ll never see again, who were so alive when they left, but came home in coffins, or not at all? How many? How many, because of you, went down the long stairs to the well of souls, from which none return?
I dried my tears with shaking legs. It was time to die, and I was terrified. I didn’t want to die from gunshots alone and in pain, but I didn’t want to die crying and begging for mercy. I had to face death with dignity. I stood up as best I could, leaning against the wall. I felt as if I was fading out of reality. I brought the AKMS to bear and placed my hoof the trigger. I coughed up one more wad of blood.
God, please, tell me that this isn’t the end. The enemy was just around the corner. I counted six distinct hoofbeats. They emerged and I pulled the trigger. The rifle roared, and three soldiers started falling before they even knew I was there. I saw the steely determination in their eyes turn to confusion, and then to terror as they realized what was about to happen to them. The bullets hit and their eyes first showed disbelief, then outrage, and then agony as they sank to the ground. The last thing they always had was a look of perfect helplessness, as if they were pleading for anyone to save them. It always broke my heart to see it, but now I understood why.
Suddenly, someone tried to wrench my gun away! The world dissolved into a horrible sea of violence and noise. The reality of the present and hallucinations of the past mixed in that horrible frenzy. I don’t know what happened; my body acted on its own, fighting desperately to stay alive in spite of the howling dark drawing inexorably closer. I ripped open a mare’s cheek with my bayonet. The chords of a symphony blared in my ears. I slammed the butt of my rifle into a skull, crushing the bone and felt the body below go limp. I felt the warmth of my mare’s body, entwined with mine in passion. I saw flash of motion of a pistol being drawn and pointed at my chest. I wrestled for the gun, but he was just too strong. I was exhausted and had already lost a lot of blood. I tried to counterattack with my hoof, only for her to swing with the pistol. It flashed by my eyes. I recognized it as an M1911. Then, he slammed it into my jaw. CRACK! Pain. I hallucinated the taste roasted chestnuts. Time crawled again. My heart threatened to explode and my mind raced, desperately trying to find a way out; anything to get away from him and his murderous pistol.
I knelt before her, a condemned zebra. It seemed horrific and unread as he pressed it to my chest, laughed, and pulled the trigger. I’m sorry, Mama; I’m never coming home. Please forgive me; Bullets hitting me -- I couldn’t do anything! I didn’t want to die, and I didn’t even understand.
Bang! Fwip! Crunch! Pain exploded from my lungs. I was hit again and felt the strength go out of my body. BANG! BANG! I fell to the floor, my body entirely spent. He watched me fall as tears spilled from my eyes. I’m sorry, my friends, but in the end, I failed you. I failed Chechneya. I failed my comrades. In the end, I couldn’t even save myself! But it wasn’t over yet. There was just one last thing to do. I reached for the grenade on my chest and sparked the fuse.
I looked to my left and saw the mare who shot me, and I saw the tallion whose cheek I had torn open. He was on the ground, writing in pain. One thought filled my mind: I don’t want to die alone; I just want to be held. The sounds of more boots in the passage came, but I didn’t care anymore. My breathing tattered, my world fading away to black. I used my absolute last bit of strength to throw myself at her legs. She kicked me in the face and flipped me over, my legs sought the other, but I stopped inches short, alone on the cold ground. He looked at me and screamed. SHe looked down and saw the grenade on my chest. I saw the look in her eyes and realized that she was just like me. The grenade exploded! I felt everything just suddenly cease as my spirit flew to the well of souls.