The wind had stopped blowing.
Spec. Five Richard Carson heard the change rather than felt it; the light breeze made a hushed roar as it rushed past his ears, then there was nothing except the faraway cry of a bird. Carson stopped his work, laid down the entrenching tool and pulled out his canteen. The water inside made a hollow gurgle as he swirled the plastic container. It was nearly empty, and Carson cursed himself for drinking it so fast. He still had a long way to go. But the pain in his leg was drying this throat, parching it so it seemed to stick to itself.
He took a long drink, letting the bland, tepid liquid seep across his tongue and down his throat. His eyes scanned the deciduous brown of the autumn hills lining the pass, then dropped to the hole he was digging at the side of the road. His gaze slipped to the black, metal monster sitting to the left of the hole, lifted again, and settled on the man Carson had just killed.
It was the first time Carson had looked at the dead man for any length of time since shooting him. After he fired the one fatal shot, he immediately set to work digging the hole. There wasn’t much time left; he was already behind schedule and with his right ankle broken, Carson wasn’t sure he could make it to the rendezvous on time. Yet with his leg throbbing, his arms tired from digging, his breathing coming in hard gasps and his throat still parched, Carson chose to rest a minute.
His eyes would not tear away from the corpse.
Sorry, mein Herr. Nothing personal. I mean … you just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I feel bad I had to do it but, you know, it really doesn’t make much difference. Not much difference between being shot today or vaporized tomorrow. No, sir. Who knows, maybe I may you famous? The war’s first casualty, that’s you. World War III’s first victim, Herr … whatever your name is. Was. Not that it matters now. I doubt if you’ll be written up in the history books. Probably won’t be too much history left after today. What was it Williams called it? The last day of history? Well, anyway, mein Herr, for whatever is left of history, you’ll be famous as the first man killed in World War III, and I’ll be infamous as the man who killed you.
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