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“They take up arms against their ruler; but in this they deceive themselves, for experience will prove that they will have actually worsened their lot.”
—Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince
“Get him up!”
The guard unlocked Marzan’s chain link cage and threw open the door. Two storm troopers reached in, grabbed him by the ankles and dragged him out. They bound him with plastic zip ties around his wrists and hooded him as he lay face down on the ground. Jimmy did not resist. The four-by-four cage he had been in for weeks had rendered him stiff and weak.
He was taken outside. The sun was warm on his hooded face and shoulders. They stopped. He was lifted up into the back of a truck and made to sit on a bench seat and he sensed there were other men in the back of that truck with him, but they were silent. Jimmy didn’t speak, either. The engine turned over and they began to roll. The ride was bumpy; they were off the pavement.. Jimmy smelled the dust that blew in. He tried to remember the left and right turns but they changed direction multiple times. The engine whined into a lower gear. They were climbing.
“Where are they taking us?” someone finally asked.
“Shut up, Doc,” barked the MP riding with them in the back.
The truck rumbled on, bouncing and swerving, engine roaring for nearly an hour. Then it stopped. The tailgate was opened. The prisoners were lifted out and set on the ground, then marched away from the truck where they were made to kneel in a line, shoulder to shoulder.
“They gonna shoot us?” whispered the prisoner next to Jimmy.
“Don’t know,” Jimmy answered.
“They can’t do that.”
“Why not?” Jimmy replied.
“Shut your suck!” shouted an MP.
The last prisoner was pushed into the line. Marzan heard him whimpering at the far end. The rest were silent. Marzan leaned his head back, raising his face and letting the warmth of the sun penetrate his hood.
He sensed a presence melting into him in the form of the sun’s warmth. He prayed that death would be instantaneous. His anxiety dissolved. He was unafraid.
Someone yanked the charging handle on an M4 behind them. Marzan heard the prisoner next to him fall forward. He must have lost consciousness, he thought. It became completely silent. The whimpering and even the sounds of anxious breathing ceased, as if everyone had was holding their breath. Only the faintest trace of a breeze blew. James Marzan stared at the sun through the black cloth of his hood.
Was it worth it? he asked himself. There were a multitude of paths he might have taken to avoid this final moment. He could have chosen to never report to Captain Rick. He could have just blended in with the population. He could have stayed in the Humvee with Rollins, turning a blind eye to his atrocities. He could have never enlisted in the first place. Where would he be now if he had never enlisted? Probably unemployed, living in his mother’s basement, getting fat, going insane with isolation and loneliness, becoming less and less human by the day.
Was it worth it? he asked himself again. All the things I’ve done and seen, he mused, I’ve seen so much more than the zombies back home. A lifetime’s worth? Back in Shariastan…all those insurgents I killed. For most of them it was them or me. They told me I was fighting for America’s freedom, but then they sent me home to do the same thing to Americans. Whose freedom was I fighting for? What became of my brothers…my brothers who brought me here? When I was one of them, they taught us to hate the insurgents because they are animals and speak in tongues. But then I became the insurgent. We are all Americans and we look the same and we speak the same and were raised as Christians. Now my brothers hate me because I betrayed them. I guess I can’t blame them.
Would I do anything different if I had my life to live over? I don’t know. Probably not much. Did I accomplish anything with my life? I suppose I made that bastard Rollins dead. And what about Bob Garrity? I didn’t technically kill him. That woman there could’ve come back for him or called someone for help. But he is dead now and he wouldn’t be dead had I not done what I did. So it goes. I’d say he had it coming.
So what am I? Am I a soldier? I fight. Did I fight for anything worthwhile? I don’t know. I hope I did.
Jimmy thanked God for the sun in that moment. He breathed in the scent of the pines and tasted the air for the last time. He smelled water. He had never noticed the smell of water before. He waited for the end. He didn’t ask for forgiveness.
“Your time with us has ended,” shouted one of the DSF soldiers. It was the voice of the one who had pulled Jimmy out of the coffin weeks before. “I have something to tell you. As much as it pains me, it turns out that you traitors, you shit-sucking maggots, you actually do have some value. I’d say you have value, all right, value as target practice, but it seems that you have more than that. You lucky bastards have been sold. You’re being exchanged for some of our own. Go figure. Who would have thought a pile of trash like you would be traded for American heroes.”
Several of the insurgents began to breathe sighs of relief.
“You all need to wait here until your ride comes along. Don’t come back to us, either. You won’t get another chance like this.”
Someone put a wooden handle into Marzan’s hand behind his back. It felt like a cheap steak knife. He heard the truck start, then shift into gear and drive away.
“Is it a trick?” asked the prisoner next to Marzan.
“We’re gonna find out,” Marzan answered. “Here, let me cut you loose.”
Marzan cut his neighbor’s zip ties loose. Then the other prisoner returned the favor by cutting Marzan’s hands free. Marzan removed his hood. They were in a meadow at the edge of a pine forest at the end of a dirt road that ran towards the west, judging by the sun. There were seven of them, each in orange jumpsuits and flip-flops. Those who were unbound and unhooded were looking at each other in astonished relief.
“What do we do?” asked one.
“Wait for our ride, I guess,” answered another. “We ain’t getting far wearing these Jesus boots.”