• Chase Walker

Writing Prompt

Updated: Dec 20, 2019

Every third week I want to do a writing prompt. Usually, I'll pull one off of Reddit from R/WritingPrompts but I didn't see one that I wanted to write today. Since nothing jumped out at me, I touched up a short story I wrote a long time ago for today's post. Since I'll be making this a regular thing, I would like to invite you, the reader, to comment on a writing prompt you would like to see me write in the future. Maybe next time I'll pick one of yours.


A quick warning for this short story: it is quite violent. Not suitable for all ages.


Subject 159


He cracked his knuckles in sequence. It was just about all he could do. The pops his fingers made echoed in the small room but he couldn’t feel them. His senses were dull. His head throbbed but he wasn't sure if it hurt. It just felt uncomfortable. The only other noise was the rhythmic ticking of a clock on the wall behind him but he could not crane his head far enough to see it. How long had he been strapped to that table? What was before? Had he always been strapped to the table? He shut his eyes hard and searched his mind. Red, white, blue flag on his shoulder. Stars and stripes. A sharp salute. Cold wood and steel in his hands. Pushed a helmet up out of his eyes. Incoming. Incoming!

“Incoming!” his voice rang in his ears as it bounced off the close walls.

The scars on his chest suggested he had seen combat. A long slash from his left nipple to the top of his navel. Three pink indentations the size of a fingertip. Bullet wounds. Some sort of heart rate monitor sat on a steel table on wheels with sticky sensors on his chest. He could barely see the screen when he turned his head as far as he could. Black with a jagged green line that peaked with each heartbeat. He welcomed the glowing green. A pleasant change from the drab darkness that surrounded him. There was a band wrapped around his arm with two electrodes digging into his flesh. The burn mark under them had blistered.

Padded leather restraints held his wrists and ankles. The only soft things in that room. The floor was covered in white tile with a single drain at its center. He knew this because he had vomited earlier and the attendants brought a hose from the other room and washed it down. Attendants? Nurses? Could this be a hospital? The walls were covered in the same white tile. Electrical outlets at the ends of aluminum conduit that snaked up and along the top of the walls to a junction by the thick steel door. The door had a single-window slot that ran horizontally at eye level reinforced with plating and rusty rivets.

His eyelids sagged. So heavy. The clock on the back wall didn’t help. The rhythmic ticking was a lullaby soothing him despite his uncomfortable condition. No sleep. Can’t fall asleep. Breathing slowly through his mouth, he slipped into unconsciousness despite his struggle. A sharp electrical charge surged through his arm, burning his skin. His adrenaline spiked and his eyes flew open. He roared into the darkness and the ringing in his ears came back. When the sharp noise faded out, he heard footsteps in the hallway outside. His heart thumped. and he gritted his teeth. The muscles in the sides of his head bulged.

The light came on and burned his eyes. He closed them but the bright light pierced straight through his eyelids.

“Turn it off!” he yelled, “turn it off!”

No response. He kept yelling with his eyes closed hard. Still no response. He thrashed, tugging on his restraints when he was shocked again. He could feel a blister on his arm rupture. Warm puss streamed to his elbow and dripped to the table. He turned his head and vomited again. Out of breath. So tired. He choked on bile and spat it out.

“Turn it off,” he begged. He waited for a moment. He lifted his head and squinted his eyes. A shadow under the door of someone standing there. The window slot opened and two blue eyes peered through.

“The light,” he begged again.

The eye slot snapped shut and the footsteps continued down the hall.

“Turn it off,” he yelled with tears running down his cheeks. He slammed his head into the tabletop. More lights sparkled in his periphery for an instant. The throbbing in his head turned to pounding. The loud bang reverberated in the room. The sour flavor of vomit crept up the back of his tongue again and his mouth watered. Picking his head up he slammed it down again. The footsteps rushed back and the slot opened again.

“Stop that,” a firm voice from the other side of the door said. Those two words sounded strange.

He picked his head up and slammed it down over and over. Another set of footsteps rushed down the hallway. Panicked voices speaking German outside. Then the door flew open on rusting hinges. A large man and a slender woman both wearing white coats rushed in. The man held his head to the table with both hands. Too strong. He opened his mouth wide and bit the attendant as hard as he could. The big man yanked his hand back with a grimace and a curse. The woman prepared a syringe with a clear solution from a small vial then pushed some out, squirting it on the floor.

The large man knocked the syringe from her hand and spoke to her angrily for a moment. She gave a rather apologetic look and backed away. The large attendant struck him with the back of his hand. In a daze, he could see blurred images of the attendants as they strapped his head to the table. A thick strap braced his forehead and a cupped strap ran over his chin, clenching his mouth shut.

As the attendants walked out, a slender man in white entered. He grasped the woman by her elbow as she passed and whispered something in her ear. She nodded and left. The man was tall and wore white slacks and a white overcoat. Under that, he wore a white shirt and a red tie. A white medical mask covered his mouth and nose. His gray hair neatly parted and combed over bushy eyebrows and relaxed eyes. He sat in a chair and crossed his legs. Resting a clipboard on his knee, he pulled a pen from his jacket pocket and clicked it. He looked at the clipboard for a moment then held it at arm's length, squinting.

“Pardon me,” he said with a thick German accent, “It seems, every day, that I am in fact older than I think I should be.” He produced a pair of bifocals from beneath his coat and rested them on the tip of his nose. “Much better.”

“Now, Mr.-” he glanced at his paperwork again, “Subject 159, let us discuss you. I will ask you a series of questions and you will answer them with a simple yes or no answer. If you do not, you will get another jolt of electricity into your arm. Please answer them truthfully so I may get you out of this dreary room. Would you like that?”

The man on the table whimpered.

“I will take that as a yes.”

The slender man leaned forward. “Let us begin. Are you in pain?”

“Yes,” 159 answered with malice.

“Have you lost any feeling in your extremities?”

“Yes.”

“Are you having any trouble breathing?”

“Yes.”

“Are you experiencing headaches?”

“Yes.”

“Are you sensitive to light?”

“Yes!” the man on the table yelled angrily, “You ask me these same questions every- I don’t know! I don’t know if it is night or day. I don’t even know how long I have been-.”

A shock jolted through his arm. He arched his back and screamed in pain.

“Please keep the answers to 'yes' or 'no',” the man in white said calmly, “we are almost finished.”

“Are you having any homicidal thoughts?”

“Yes,” Subject 159 sneered through his teeth.

“Suicidal?”

Would he if he could?

“Yes,” the man on the table sobbed.

“Have you been experiencing any hallucinations?”

“No,” he answered quickly but then he thought about it. He furrowed his brow. “I mean, I don’t know.”

“Excellent,” the man in white said with smiling eyes, “It appears you are a prime candidate for phase two. You are very resilient.”

The female attendant walked back in with a vial and a syringe on a platter.

“We will begin immediately,” the man in white said as he thrust the needle into the vial and drew the plunger back. The cylinder filled with a clear liquid. The man flicked it then pressed out a short stream before placing a hand on Subject 159's arm fingertips searching for a good vein. The man thrashed and yelled.

“What is that?”

“Just try to relax,” the man in white said, “this would be easier if you hold still.”

Subject 159 did not calm himself. He continued to writhe as the needle pierced his skin. The man pressed the plunger down and the cold fluid entered his bloodstream. He began to feel its effects immediately. The thumping in his head muffled. His skin felt like cotton. The air seemed to vibrate around him. The man in white gave the woman more instructions in German. Their voices seemed deeper and further away than normal. He felt as though he would slip into unconsciousness at any moment yet wide awake at the same time. The large attendant entered the room again pushing a wheelchair. He began unstrapping 159's restraints. The man on the table wanted to kick him in the face the moment his foot was free but he couldn’t lift it. The large man freed his hands, chest, and head then flung him over his shoulder. Subject 159 drooled down the attendants back as the large man dropped him into the wheelchair.

The wheels squeaked as the attendant pushed him out the door and turned left down the hallway. He could barely hold his head up on his own and his limbs were useless. More steel doors on either side lined the hallway. Hanging lights above. The light seemed to make a rushing noise as he passed through it. The hallway appeared as though it grew longer as they proceeded. 159 looked up at the man pushing his chair. The attendant's face drooped like warm wax.

Finally, they arrived at the end of the hall. The double doors opened to a dark room with a projector playing war footage on the far wall. There were several other people in wheelchairs facing the screen. Their heads were in some sort of brace. Behind them stood two men in black uniforms. Red bands on their left arms. To the left stood another female attendant in a nurse uniform. The large attendant wheeled the man to the line of others and set the brakes on his wheelchair. He rolled something up behind 159 then grasped his head with a hand on either ear.

Subject 159 tried to tell him to “get his Nazi paws off him” but it came out as a bunch of garbled sounds and more drool. Something clamped down around his cranium and he was completely immobilized again. The screen played images of D-day from the perspective of the Germans along the clifftops. One landing craft dropped its ramp and an eruption of machine-gun fire dropped every soldier before they had a chance to set foot in the water. The attendant moved in front of Subject 159 and spread his eyelids open on his right eye. He slipped a spring-loaded clamp under the eyelids that kept it open. He repeated the process on the other eye.

He could hear the attendant leave then there was only the music. A triumphant anthem played over the sounds of war. He felt sick again. His eyes were drying out. They still burned from the bright light in the other room. The nurse went down the line issuing eye drops to the other subjects' eyes. It seemed an eternity before she reached him. The drops were a relief but when she moved, the screen showed a map of the world but it was all wrong. It was impossible. The map showed all of Europe, Russia, and the United States in red with a big black swastika in the middle of each.

The next frame was the poster of Uncle Sam pointing with the caption “I want you.” Then it changed. Uncle Sam was no longer wearing red white and blue. Instead, he wore an SS uniform. The man next to 159 began to hoot. A strange sound. The man kept trying. 159 forced his eyes as far left as they would go. The other man’s tongue was hanging out and a long strand of saliva dripped down his front. Subject 159 could not make out what he was trying to say until one word came through clear.

“Never,” he drooled over and over, “never!”

Subject 159 could hear the sound of boots on the concrete floor walk up behind the man. Then, a single gunshot rang out and a fine mist of blood sprayed the screen. 159 heard buckles and straps as the man was released. Then he fell face-first to the floor, motionless. The clopping of boots returned to the back wall and fell silent again. The gunshot had left 159's ear ringing. When his hearing returned, the anthem seemed louder. The screen was playing images of allied prisoners of war being paraded through the streets of various cities. Nazi soldiers distributed rocks and rotten vegetables to the citizens of the different cities and urging them to throw them at the Russian, British and American troops. An old man in Moscow refused to take the rock that an SS officer tried to give him. The SS officer and several other Nazis beat the man with their rifle butts and boot heels before the officer drew his pistol. He shot the old man in the head as he lay beaten in the street.

As the Nazis walked away, a woman fell to her knees and cradled the old man's body in her arms. His blood stained her dress. The sequence continued with similar clips. Nazis marching through the streets of Dublin. Nazi zeppelins flying over London. A panzer division rolling through downtown Chicago, buildings crumbling around them. A young woman threw a firebomb at one. A nearby foot patrol released several dogs that ran her down and tore her to pieces. A shot of Hirohito shaking hands with Hitler at Pearl harbor. Japanese troops marching through Sydney and Perth. Japanese troops executing Chinese and Australian prisoners in Hong Kong. Japanese warships anchored off the coast of San Diego. Nazi and Japanese flags hanging from the Hollywood sign. In New York, they dismantled lady liberty and dumped her parts into the ocean. A statue of Hitler holding the spear of destiny in one hand and saluting Germany across the sea with the other had been erected in her place.

Subject 159's stomach hurt. He let out a grumble. He could hear an SS officer unsnap the retainer on his leather holster behind him as he stepped forward. He stayed as quiet as he possibly could, maybe the officer did not know who had made the noise. When the officer stepped back again, 159 discovered he could move his index finger. Maybe whatever they had given him was wearing off. Several hours passed replaying the same footage over and over. Finally, the orderlies began shuttling the subjects out of the room and bringing new subjects in one by one.

The large orderly unlocked 159's wheelchair and rolled him through the door in the back and into an examination room immediately on the right. The large man locked the chair in place and left the room. Subject 159 was alone. He wanted to sleep but his body would not let him. The stimulant running through his veins wouldn't allow it. He tried to move again. He could almost lift his hand. He tried his foot. Several moments of intense concentration and his foot shifted. He couldn’t help but snicker in triumph with a crooked smile and drool down his front. Just then the door opened again and he straightened his face.

The man in white entered with the large orderly. “How are you feeling, Mr.-,” the man in white checked the paperwork on his clipboard, “Subject 159.”

He waited several moments as if he could respond.

“That’s the good stuff we gave you.” He went on the check 159's vitals with fingertips on Subject 159’s wrist. He removed the eyelid clamps and shined a light into his eyes. He tapped a rubber mallet on his knees. No reflex. The man in white stood slowly and leaned close to the orderly. He whispered instructions in German and walked to the door.

“Get some rest, Subject 159. You have earned it.”

In an instant, a needle pierced his flesh again and the cold liquid flooded into his veins. 159's head spun. The next thing he knew he was headed down the hall again. The walls bowed inward and the ceiling seemed to rise higher and higher. The sounds of the orderly's footsteps echoed with an electrical reverberation.

They entered a dark room with a stainless steel cylinder in its center laying on its side like an iron lung. It's top hatch opened and fog poured out. The orderly fitted a breathing mask on the subject before lifting him from his seat. The air coming through the tube tasted metallic. The orderly lowered Subject 159 into the liquid inside.

“Nighty night,” the orderly said in a mocking tone as he closed the hatch.

The liquid felt cold and hot all at once. It soothed his throbbing eyes. It made his skin tingle and yet it was the most comfortable he had been in a long time. He drifted off to sleep.

The hatch opened and before he was fully awake, another needle pierced his skin. Again, the cold liquid coursed through him. Melting face, bowing walls, rising ceiling and reverberating footsteps as he was once again wheeled to the projector room. They locked his chair in front of the screen and pried his eyes open. This process happened again and again for what seemed like weeks each day 159 noticed he could move his extremities more and more before he was dosed again. Woken with a needle, brought to the theater, forced to watch Nazi propaganda, to the examination room for a check-up and another needle, brought back to the sleep chamber and into the strange fluid.

After his time in the theater one day, 159 knew his motor function was almost back to normal. He had to concentrate as hard as he could to make sure his reflex examination did not give him away. He must appear to be a lucid vegetable until he was ready to make his move. The man in white walked into the exam room. Asked the question he always asked as if he would get a response. The orderly prepared the needle as the man in white checked his vitals. He checked 159's elbows and the subject managed to remain still. He checked his right knee. Still. He checked his left knee with a tap. His foot jerked.

The man in white looked perplexed. He tapped again. Nothing, but he was not convinced. He checked 159's eyes again. As he stood to leave he tapped the orderly on the shoulder and spoke into his ear in German. The orderly nodded as the man in white left the room.

The orderly picked up the needle and vial again and doubled the dose. It had to be now. Subject 159 sprang from the wheelchair and placed a hand firmly over the orderly's mouth. He grabbed for the needle but the large man would not let go. The subject slammed the orderly’s face into the tiled wall. He still would not release the needle. He slammed him again and again until blood sprayed over the broken white tiles. The needle dropped to the floor. Subject 159 threw the man down and picked up the syringe. The large man lay on his back, teeth missing, lips split and bleeding down his cheeks. He groaned and 159 dropped on him, straddling his chest. He placed his hand on his mouth again and pushed the needle into the orderly's throat. He squirmed as 159 compressed the plunger.

“That’s the good stuff,” 159 spat.

He removed his hand as the orderly gurgled foam and blood from his mouth. Subject 159 sighed as he braced himself on the wheelchair to stand. It had been a while since he used his legs. How long?

He paced back and forth in the room, function returning to his stiff knees. He removed one of the orderly's socks and placed all the vials of muscle relaxers, adrenaline and the mysterious serum they had been giving him in it. He tied a knot, keeping all the vials tight at the end of the tube sock. He lost his balance and knocked over one of the steel tables. 159 froze as the crash echoed down the hallway outside. Those Nazis would have heard that. Eyes darting around the room, he found a fire extinguisher in a red case with a glass door. Limping over to it, he slammed his elbow through the glass and pulled the heavy fire extinguisher out. He padded to the right side of the double doors and pressed himself flat against the wall. Adrenaline pulsed through him as he tried to slow his breathing. Waiting. Waiting.

Bootheels knocked on the floor outside. The double doors opened slowly. Muttering in German. One rushed in and crouched next to the fallen orderly with a pistol in hand. As soon as the second entered the room, 159 darted from behind the door and thrust the bottom of the extinguisher into his teeth, dropping him in an instant. He pulled the extinguisher up and swung it down hard as the other Nazi turned to see what the commotion was. The pistol went off as the red cylinder smashed the Nazi’s face. The gunshot rang in his ears. No use keeping it quiet anymore. 159 scooped up the pistol and put two bullets in each of the unconscious men.

He reloaded the pistol when a shot ran out. Hot lead seared through his belly. 159 put two more bullets in the first Nazi in the doorway and kicked his pistol aside. He pressed a hand to his belly, holding pressure on the wound and stumbled to the door. The other gun. He stopped and turned to where he kicked the pistol away. Staggering over to it, he growled as he stooped to pick it up. Straightening with some effort, he tucked the gun into the front of his shorts.

He stumbled to the door and out into the hallway, bumping into a surprised nurse. He grabbed her roughly and held her against him. He placed the gun to her temple and told her to walk.

“The way out, show me,” he demanded.

She nodded frantically with tears in her eyes and pouting lips. The other nurse came out of the theater and placed a hand over her mouth with a gasp.

“Back,” 159 threatened, pressing the muzzle tightly into the nurse's head. She returned to the theater and closed the door. The nurse led the subject down a long hallway, left turn, right turn, up some stairs to double doors. They opened to the outside.

The night air was cool and crisp. 159 could see his and the nurses breath mingling in the air in front of their faces. He pressed her to keep walking forward. He looked around and saw that the bunker they had emerged from was in a thick black forest. A tall chain-link fence encompassed the entire perimeter except for a guard shack at the only fence opening. 159 could only see four guards. Two at the shack and two patrolling the fence.

“Be quiet or I put a bullet in you like Hans and Frans,” 159 hissed in her ear. “Nod if you understand me.”

She shook her head vigorously. They crept up on the guards at the shack slowly. Did they really care what happened to this girl? He would have to take the risk. Silently they drew closer and closer. The guards wore plain clothes, strangely. Not in uniform. They were smoking cigarettes and not paying much attention to inside the perimeter. 159 was confident he would catch them off guard and be able to get passed. A sharp stab of pain shot from the bullet wound in his gut.

Just as he was about to call out to them to drop their weapons, a loud siren went off back at the bunker. A red light blinked brightly. The guards quickly dropped their cigarettes and turned to subject 159 and his captor. They chambered their submachine guns and leveled them at 159. They yelled at him in German, he yelled back in English. The impasse seemed to last a lifetime until a burst of gunfire hissed passed 159's ear from the rear. One of the patrolling guards had opened fire and struck 159's shoulder.

The other two opened fire. 159 fired. The girl was struck dozens of times in the torso and legs. 159 struggled to keep her limp body upright with one arm as he returned fire with the other. He shot one guard in the face and killed him instantly. He struck the other in the belly and chest. The wounded guard roared as he pulled the trigger again. A bullet passed through 159's left forearm as another struck his leg. The subject dropped the nurse and fired three more rounds, all of which landed in the guard's chest. As the guard fell to the ground, 159 picked up his sub-machine-gun and turned to the other two guards who were still at a distance. He squeezed the trigger but nothing happened.

He turned and limped as fast as he could into the woods. He checked the submachine gun's magazine as bullets tore through the guard shack behind him. Empty. He dropped it and continued fleeing. He reached for the second pistol but found that it was not there. It must have fallen out in the excitement. He checked the magazine of the gun in hand. One in the magazine and one in the chamber.

The pursuing guards shot again ripping through the bark on several surrounding trees. He tripped and rolled down a steep decline. Rocks and sticks tore at his flesh as he tumbled into the darkness below. The air was pressed from his lungs when he struck the bottom of a deep ravine. His body ached but adrenaline flowed through him. He was wounded badly but he could not feel the pain. Subject 159 heard shouting on the ridge above him. He stood up and kept moving deeper into the woods. He heard an eruption of gunfire behind him but the shots were scattered. They were just spraying into the dark.

Tripping over roots and stones, 159 trudged through the thick underbrush. The rough forest floor tore into the bottoms of his bare feet. Shouts and gunshots grew more and more distant. Sweeping a bush aside, Subject 159 stumbled onto a dirt road. His wide eyes searched up and down the road.

He had to risk it. He followed the road downhill. Then suddenly, he saw headlights in the distance, beaming through the trees. He froze in his tracks. The shouts were growing louder behind him. He heard dogs barking. There was no way he could outrun them and no way to fight them off with two rounds in a pistol. He grasped a fallen tree that lay parallel to the road. As he lifted, blood gushed from his belly. He groaned and walked the log’s end across the road. When it was in place, he dove into the ditch beside it. He checked the pistol even though he knew it was loaded. Still loaded, safety off.

The car pulled up to the log and stopped. A civilian vehicle. No markings, military or otherwise. Rust lined each wheel well and the engine ran roughly. An old man sat in the driver's seat with a bewildered look on his face. 159 lunged from the ditch and opened the back door behind the driver. He pressed the muzzle to the back of the driver's neck. The passenger, a young woman, screamed.

“Shut up!” 159 demanded. “Drive, old man!”

The old man held open palms to the barricade at his front bumper and spoke French quickly.

“Back up. Go the other way.” The barking dogs drew closer. 159 pressed the pistol tighter into the man's neck and spoke through his teeth. “I mean it, old man.”

Gears grinding, the driver threw the vehicle in reverse and stomped on the throttle. He whipped the wheel swinging the car's front end around. As they sped off into the darkness, Subject 159 fell back into his seat. He pressed a hand on his belly. He held it up to his face and dark crimson ran to his elbow.

“You are injured,” the young woman said in a thick French accent, “I am a nurse. I can help you.”

159 did not respond. His eyelids grew heavy. She climbed into the back seat and pressed a towel into his bleeding belly. The old man said something in French. 159 recognized the word for “gun.” She grasped the barrel of the pistol gently and spoke in a soothing voice.

“I am not taking this from you. It will be right here.” She placed the pistol on the seat next to him. Too tired to protest. Getting cold.

“French,” he mumbled. “I'm in France.”

She nodded.

“Who did this to you?”

“I can't believe they won,” 159 mumbled again.

“Who?” she asked.

“Them,” 159 replied, slurring, “the Nazis.”

“What do you mean?”

“They control the world,” he said, annoyed this time. “What do you think I mean?”

“The Nazis control nothing,” she replied, “not even Germany. The war has been over for years. The war has been won. The Americans, the English, the Russians. They won. There are no more Nazis.”

“What?” Everything he had seen was so real. “What year is it?”

“It is the spring of 1956.”

Everything faded in and out. He saw only glimpses of the drive. The young woman tried to stop the bleeding. The next thing he knew, the young woman was helping him walk to a small farmhouse in the early morning light. Just before they reached the front door, a dull pain cracked the back of his head and brilliant light filled his vision. He fell to the ground. Cold mud under his back. Wet grass brushed his cheek. His vision blurred but he could see the young woman standing over him, yelling at the old man. He held something in his hand. A baton of some sort? He swept her out of the way with his left arm and struck 159 again with the club.

Black again. 159 could taste vinegar in his mouth. The ticking of a clock filled his ringing ears and he eased his eyes open. He was strapped down on a steel table. Panic. Eyes darting rapidly. He was in the sleep deprivation room again.

He thrashed and struggled against the restraints he knew all too well when the man in white walked in. He stepped very calmly to the metal chair and sat down. He crossed his legs and sat silently for what seemed like an eternity. He hissed a short laugh then spoke.

“Subject 159. You are exactly the kind of soldier we are looking for. Resilient, resourceful, utterly brilliant and most importantly brutal. You have sustained almost irreparable damage and yet you did not give up. Just what we were looking for. You have proven that once again.”

He laughed.

“I fear we will run out of staff before your transformation is complete.”

The man in white leaned forward and stood very slowly. “All we need to discover now is a way to break you down into something we can use.”

A new orderly walked into the room with a large syringe.

“Wipe him,” the man in white said. “We must start over.”

As he turned and walked out of the room, 159 screamed obscenities and threats at him.

#

He cracked his knuckles in sequence. It was just about all he could do. The pops his fingers made echoed in the small room but he couldn’t feel them. His senses were dull. His head throbbed but he wasn't sure if it hurt. It just felt uncomfortable. The only other noise was the rhythmic ticking of a clock on the wall behind him but he could not crane his head far enough to see it. How long had he been strapped to that table? What was before? Had he always been strapped to the table? He shut his eyes hard and searched his mind. Red, white, blue flag on his shoulder. Stars and stripes. A sharp salute. Cold wood and steel in his hands. Pushed a helmet up out of his eyes. Incoming. Incoming!

“Incoming!” his voice rang in his ears as it bounced off the close walls.

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