The first shot is for father

(With apologies to George Lucas)


Jackson’s hologram imagine flickers to life on my screen, a welcome sight after too many hours staring at a field screen and the icy horizon of this tiny planet upon which we are stationed.

We are far from the front lines, part of the second line of defense should the enemy break through.

We spend eight hour shifts staring out from these concrete cubes on the surface waiting for something that would certainly doom us if it ever came.

The frosted landscape is so foreboding only Santa Claus would find it cheerful.

Each of the thousands of cubes houses one blaster cannon and three men like me to operate it, two men off duty while the third one watches.

My two companions hate me because I am not consumed with the booze, dames and music of the R&R world one light year away the way they are.

I like to talk about home and the little things I miss about civilian life.

Jackson is an outcast in his cube, too, consumed with more terrible memories of home when on that desert planet of his he saw his father die – blasted into a bumbling mass as the enemy began the steady destruction of his world.

Jackson’s uncle saved him, dragging him away from the planet moments before it exploded – leaving him with one more memory in his head for the moment he can eke out revenge.

Jackson doesn’t boast about killing the way most of the cube soldiers do. He says when the time comes for killing he will kill – although he has vowed to fire the first shot if and when the enemy arrives.

His cube companions find Jackson’s talk boring, of what it was like to walk through the desert at night, see his world’s three moons in their perpetual mating dance or to hunt on the sand dunes waiting for the moment when the desert deep leaps.

He likes most to talk about his father, how kind a man he was, how fair and how much he misses the voice – even when his father scolded Jackson over some silly intrigue.

Once, and only once, did Jackson talk to me of the death and escape.

During most of his electronic visits, Jackson strolls through that world which no longer exists, recreating it if only for the duration of the broadcast, and allowing me to stroll through it at his side.

We have little in common. He grew up rural; I lived in a city so overcrowded I feel uncomfortable unless my shoulders are pressed against other people’s.

Animals he lived with, bred or killed were exotic treats I might catch sight of at circus or zoo, or follow through some broadcast on nature.

Yet somehow when listening to him, I become him. I walk the desert where he once walked. I breathe the night air he once breathed. I hear the bellow of flying lizards he once heard.

And I ache with rage at the pointless slaughter that melted his father before his eyes.

What will he talk about tonight?

His call comes at an odd time when we are both on duty, a rare choice for a man so bent on being the first of us to see the enemy if and when it approached, his finger poised to be the first one to kill them when they come.

His whole life is attuned to their moments as if his father’s spilled blood had spouted a relationship between Jackson and the aliens similar to those of moon on tides, their passing stirring up something in his blood so he knows they are there.

He has told me about near passings only later reports confirmed.

His face comes into focus. His eyes are dilated. His breath is short. He looks like another man entirely, one to whom I have never been introduced.

“They’re coming,” he tells me.

A few minutes later red light flash on my panel and an alarm screams through my cube.

The front line is broken. The enemy pours through the gab like a tidal wave, all of it aimed at the little world upon which we wait.

Jackson says we are likely to die tonight, as his image shows him poised over his weapon the way I am over mine, his gaze staring out for the moment when they first appear

His first shot will be for his father.

So is mine.


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