Vessev hobbled along the dirty human roads in steps that, to any other species, would be deemed almost tentative, or hesitant in some way. True, the roiling, fluttering feeling in his gut told him to run, but he didn’t. He continued moving down the empty streets, gazing at the human dwellings, once so mighty, now brought low by the Covenant war machine.
That spurred him onward, as if the Covenant could bring down big scary human cities to heel, then they could do far worse to him if he showed fear in the line of duty. The rest of his Lance were probably up ahead, waiting for him, that had to be true. They wouldn’t just leave Vessev behind, not mighty Vessev, slayer of Imps, Deacon of the Faith.
He sucked in another breath of methane and continued to walk, plasma pistol gripped in shaky hands. He heard a sound like a twig snapping, and swivelled around to face it. Before he could even wonder what the sound was, a bullet ripped through his facemask breathing tubes, and severed them both.
Within seconds, Vessev found his lungs gasping for air that no longer existed. He fell to his knees, grasping at the severed tubes to control them, before the gas inside his rebreather vented out into the hostile alien atmosphere.
He went to shove them back into his mask, but they wouldn’t fit. He scrambled to rip off his entire rebreather mask, feeling his lungs burn, his eyes water, and his throat seize up and constrict.
The mask came off, and just as he was about to stick the tubes into his mouth, they stopped leaking the green, life-giving gas, and sputtered out.
Vessev had enough consciousness left to gaze up at the cerulean sky, before his eyes rolled back into his skull, and he fell to the ground dead.
One and a half kilometers away, nestled in a suburban apartment complex, Corporal David Irons chuckled to himself as he watched the twitching, lifeless grunt through the scope of his rifle, pulling the hammer back and ejecting the spent .50 cal casing.
He caught the bullet and stared at it for a little while, before sliding it into a pouch on his BDUs. He’d be wanting to reminisce on that kill later.
“Why do you do that?” a voice from his side asked.
David looked over to his spotter, a young woman with off-white hair and green eyes, staring at him with some look between confusion and disgust.
“Eh,” he waved a hand at her and settled back down on the rifle. “Gotta get some enjoyment outta this whole mess, eh?”
“You could’ve given away our position!” she hissed through her teeth.
“I could’ve, but I didn’t. And that’s really all that matters, isn’t it?” he shot back. “Now c’mon. We’re in a target-rich environment, let’s cause a little mayhem before we inevitably have to displace to the evac birds.”
“I’m not sure I want to enable your torture of the enemy,” she muttured, sweeping her rangefinder bipod due west, scanning over buildings and boardwalks.
David sighed, letting his head drop forward. “Tell me, Monique, what would they do if they caught us here?”
Monique blinked and her cheek twitched at the thought. “It wouldn’t be pretty,” she said.
“Exactly,” he made sure to emphasise the word with a slow, exaggerated nod.
“It just feels wrong, like we’re breaking a rule,” she said, shifting in place. “Or committing a war crime.”
“Well,” David tilted his head from side to side. “The good thing about aliens is that they didn’t sign the UN Accords. No rules of engagement,” he smirked. “No undue suffering.”
“Still,” Monique gave him a side-eyed glance. “Why do you enjoy making them suffer so much?”
“Because killing them is boring,” David answered like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “If I just shot the Grunt in the head, he’d be dead. That’s it.”
“Oh, so watching him suffer gets your rocks off, does it?” Monique couldn’t keep the disgust out of her voice, or the furrowed brow she shot her partner.
“No,” David sighed, “it’s the principle of it. There’s no skill in making the shot just to kill. But making that shot on the rebreather was beautiful, and it killed ‘im.”
Monique blinked in confusion. “We’re at war, David.”
“Well, I don’t consider a shot like that to be a part of warfare,” the Corporal shot back.
Monique shook her head. “What is it then?”
David grew a smile on his face. The kind of leering smile Monique got used to seeing in bars or nightclubs when she went out on leave.
“I consider this hunting,” David said, staring off to the middle-distance, at the burning skyscrapers and crumbling city streets down below. “War doesn’t take the same skills as hunting. Shooting an enemy is war, but shooting an enemy’s rebreather so they suffocate?” he trailed off, his mouth forming an ‘o’ as though he were savouring the idea. “That’s hunting.”
They lapsed into silence for a few more moments, before David reached over and clapped Monique between the shoulder blades. “Now c’mon. Find me a sturdier target than a Grunt this time.”
Monique went back to her rangefinder, a macabre shiver dancing up and down her spine.