Antark: Episode One

P6 cover
Antark: Episode One
by Alan Augustson
22 February 2017

In truth, there wasn’t a hell of a lot to remember. McGee couldn’t recall even so much as a flash of light. He was riding in a fairly well-packed troop vehicle, and then he wasn’t.

Afterward… now there was a wealth of material. Confusion, then pain and panic. The pain, dear fucking Jesus, the pain. No amount of morphine could make a dent in the blinding, ripping, tearing, rending pain in his head. McGee recalled moaning, then crying and eventually screaming until at last he was doped into sweet oblivion again.

A blink later, though he was told weeks had passed, there was the confusion again. The pain returned but to no more than the moaning stage. And then, the sorrow. Captain Danny McGee was short five Marines and an eye. Never mind the chain of command; these were people he had laughed, ate, labored and bled with. They were friends, loved ones, more family than family. He wept as if four sons and a daughter had just died. He wailed in despair, and there’d be no medicating his way out of this one. Their faces and names — their first names, which Marines never used and rarely even knew — played on infinite loop. He was tormented, inconsolable.

And eventually, the despair slowed to a trickle from his remaining eye, the torment giving way to mostly-numbness. He tried to muster a smile as a brigadier general came to visit, pinning a medal and major’s clusters on him for the valiant act of not dying. He felt a fraud as he shook the general’s hand, a traitor to his platoon mates for signing his advancement and hero’s status in their blood.

Then… home, of a sort. McGee had no permanent home or family to speak of, which was probably a blessing. The last thing he wanted to deal with right then was… well, people. He debated visiting the families of the men and woman he’d lost, but he couldn’t obtain their addresses anyway. Apparently “that responsibility will be handled through appropriate channels”. Assholes. They’d get a flag and a salute, or at best a visit from some newly-minted second lieutenant who knew nothing of the people, the incident or much of anything else.

So ‘home’, for a start at least, consisted of Bethesda. He underwent months of psych therapy and a few facial reconstruction surgeries, but balked at the prosthetic eye. What the hell for, he asked? It wasn’t survivor’s guilt talking; McGee was a pragmatist above all else, and he just didn’t see the point or purpose.

Today… a freezing, howling wind needled through his eye patch, and he applauded his inadvertent forethought. Even under the goggles, a prosthetic eye could have frosted and adhered painfully to the socket. He felt a terrible urge to remove parka and goggles and feel that wind, but left brain prevailed and McGee was content to stand in it, unsheltered at the rails of the dock, watching the brutal waves as they pounded the seawall and the ferry to his destination. The boat was already furiously heaving against the frozen lines; desperate to break its tethers to shore.

“¿Señor?” the Chilean dock hand called from behind. “You ready? We need to launch.”

McGee nodded and half-smiled, and bounded up the gangway with an ease that raised the Chilean’s eyebrows. Instead of going under decks, he assumed a spot at the bow, taking the ferry’s roll with ease and seeming comfort. As the deck hands unfastened the moorings and weighed anchor, he stared into this impossible wind toward the horizon, unable to see much just yet.

Next stop: Valhalla. It was already more than he could have asked for.

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