Prologue - Days of future
Kunduz Province, Afghanistan
My eyelids flickered at the blazing orange sky, adjusting to the torrential rain of wooden splinters. The arid desert air added to the dehydrated lament of my mouth. Powerful shockwaves resonated from a nearby machine gun. The rattles of shell casing hammered the sides of my temples, fusing metallic air into my lungs. The taste of wet earth, of grit and soot, wasn’t as harsh as was the coppery tang of blood in my mouth.
A thread of saliva hung over my lower lip, praying for mercy not to be wiped. Our canisters were emptied hours ago. The only water we could smell was when misfired grenades dug into the deeper core of the sunbaked earth, dredging up the moistened surface.
I turned around, scoping the militant firing post that now remained a grey mushroom cloud, seeping into the nearby areas like vicious tentacles of a sea monster. Counter firing ceased. There was no movement, no heat signatures either.
I dragged my body out of the barricaded trench. The uninhabited wasteland replayed our warfare - an echoed rendition of our win, thrumming it for miles. I slid off the dirt-paved slope. My right index finger hovered over the trigger, my left arm rose in the air, signaling my comrades.
“Can you see anyone?” Ishfaq asked, scrunching his face while removing the binoculars. He was an Afghan soldier who accompanied our troops.
Harsh noon lighting provided a brighter camouflage, searing our backs even through the thick uniform.
“Nothing,” I croaked. “Come down.”
I turned around and saw a man with arms aloft in a gesture of surrender. He emerged from behind the corner of a dilapidated wall and waved a blood-soaked handkerchief. He limped towards us, muttering. “No shoot...please.”
“Civilian,” I shouted after scoping him thoroughly.
Chanting to himself as he approached, the man gave me a good look at his missing front tooth. His venous arms clutched the sides of his vest, unidentifiable body fluids seeped through his tattered shalwar kameez. With pain dancing across his face, he waved his hands and head in tandem.
“Don’t worry,” I said, slipping the rifle over my back, turning out empty palms. “You are safe.”
He must have realized I wouldn’t harm him. He froze, muttering louder in a foreign language while ripping his sweater vest open. Coiled over his torso was a bomb.
“Cover,” I shouted. My parched throat couldn’t add volume. “Suicide bomber!” My feet fired up, reflexes came to my aid. My arms retrieved my weapon, pulling the trigger. Bullets riddled the grim reaper yet he dashed towards me.
He wrapped me over him, strength in his grip I didn’t account for. I shoved him harder, draining bullets into his gut. His smile remained etched, a last mock.
That day, sound travelled faster than light.
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