Commander of His Fate by Joseph B. St. John

Image by Marc Pascual from Pixabay

The year 2090-

Biff Treadwell is a soldier in the American North Army.  In the course of his many battles, he became a transparent soldier, always there at the beginning and end but missing in the middle.  Treadwell’s gift was his ability to create beautiful tales of bravery and heroics. He became known as the greatest storyteller in the 65th division.

Treadwell joined the American North Army in 2082, right after the great fire as the soldiers liked to call it.  It always made him laugh at the money spent on technology and radar but how in the end all it had taken was two well-placed bombs to bring the country down.  A then unheard of organization, the Waterloo Company had managed to place one missile in New York and one in Argentina, aimed them at each other and a new world order was created.

Word was that the same thing had happened in Europe but no one was totally sure.  Six weeks of fire and devastation had left the country without TV or radio.  After the chaos, most were too concerned about themselves to care about the fate of the world.  Soon after the fires were extinguished, armies formed from all over and fought for what little land was left.  Mexico, Canada and the USA joined together for one great rag tag army.  Things had changed.  Battles were more like those in earlier times, before the knowledge of the bomb’s destruction was fully realized.  All that the bomb had left was charred earth and deep inside everyone knew the radiation would kill them but Treadwell thought, what the hell?  If the cockroaches could make it, then so could he.

Being a con man and a liar, he lived through the changes easily.  Today would be no different.  The 65th was about to meet the South American Cortez Resistance, a fight they all knew they would lose.  Death was a proud option for some but not for Treadwell.  Hell, his life was good. Before, he had to work for a living.  Now he just followed orders.  He could live like this and live well.

He had been the only survivor of the first Cortez assault.  General Cortez, the crazy rebel general had Treadwell’s original company the 60th, pinned down in the flatlands. Every man was killed except for one.

It was one of the bloodiest fights since the bombing.  The men from the American North Army had been slaughtered unmercifully.  The inhumanity was beyond compare and the gunfire was  so intense that it echoed for days after the assault.  Blood ran so deep that the bushes and outlining trees appeared to be oozing crimson.  Death’s heinous smell permeated the air and the agony of dying men could be heard throughout the battlefield.

As the fighting began, Treadwell had slipped into the woods and hidden from the onslaught.  After days of killing, Cortez and his men left. The evidence of their massacre laid upon the open fields.  Young men, fathers, sons and brothers remained lifeless, a testimony to Cortez’s great will.  In the breeze, the men’s last sounds cut the stillness.  Bodies scattered about the area, no longer holding to the fruitfulness of life.  Death’s face stood triumphant, a bullet hole in each forehead to assure certainty.

When it was over, Treadwell moved from his hiding place and every so swiftly shot himself in the left thigh with his own rifle.  He laid with the dead, blood smeared on his forehead.  The transparent solider had survived again.

When help finally arrived, he regaled everyone with great tales of his heroism, how he had fought to save the 60th to the very end.  He related how he lain still, feigning death until Cortez and his men left.  When asked why he wasn’t shot in the head like his comrades, Treadwell covered with a story of how he smeared blood on his forehead to appear mortally wounded.  As always, his answers were ready.

Hell, General Smith was so impressed that he gave Treadwell a medal, promotion and a highly responsible job in the 65th division that was now assigned to the highlands.   Treadwell loved his new responsibilities.  Being in charge of supplies was just the job for him.  The best part about it was that food and supplies could buy you anything; liquor, cash, women… it was excellent.

Treadwell knew all the local traders; the junkies, whores and marauders.  He was the black-market’s best friend.  He knew every hole-in-the-wall to sell and bargain.  It cost him nothing.  He took the supplies, free of charge.  The rest was left to his own ingenuity.

Treadwell loved the good life.  He had the world by its collective balls.  He was even admired by his fellow soldiers.  He was quick with a story and always had something special to share or give for a favor.  He even walked with a limp, a reminder to all of his sacrifice.   The men of the unit even talked of his courage.

The good life was forever lost when word reached him that the 65th was searching for Cortez.  They would join the 33rd and 18th division in pinning Cortez in the mountains.  Heavy casualties were expected but American North planned to kill the bastard, even if everyone died.  General Smith advised every soldiers including Treadwell, that they would fight in the battle.

Treadwell understood the casualties of war.  During the night, he packed his supplies and headed back to the lowland where the fighting had settled down.  Since Cortez had left, the area was abandoned.  He had left for other adventures and the 65th followed.  For days, Treadwell traveled to the lowlands until he reached the battlefield.

The area was deserted and barren.   The quiet was almost deafening.  Treadwell thought the battleground would be an excellent point of reference.  From here, he could chart his course.  The woods around the battlefield were regaining their color from the winter.  The makeshift cemetery stood broken and tattered.

The spring rains had washed open the shallow graves.  Bodies were strewn about by the local wildlife.  They had decomposed but still looked vaguely familiar.  Even the skeletons looked like acquaintances.  One of the bodies reminded Treadwell of Tom Oliver, who joined the unit the same day he had.  His skeleton was very average looking but Treadwell recognized his clothes and the shining gold watch his wife had given him on his 26th birthday.  Treadwell examined the watch carefully, removed it and swiftly placed it around his own wrist.

Treadwell laughed.  He had cheated the fate of the 60th.  All had died but him.  He was almost proud.  He was the commander of his fate.  As he pillaged the burial ground, he collected money, gold and weapons.  Why not he thought, the dead don’t need belongings.

A distant noise gently drifted through the air.  It was quite at first, than slowly the sound grow louder and louder.  It was the sound of battle and people dying.  He could hear the cries he had ignored before.  In his nostrils, he could smell death’s strange odor.

Treadwell become faint until the sounds subsided.  His mind raced uncontrollably.  He took a deep breath and looked around.  It was quiet again.  Nothing was in sight.  Treadwell thought that the walk and the stress of returning to the battlefield had caused him to hallucinate. Treadwell soon relaxed and sat on a wooden stump looking at his bounty.  He sighed an easy sigh.  He was comfortable, again.

In the distance, he spied a Venezuelan rifle perched strangely on another tree stump.  The rifle was beautiful and clean.  It would get him a good reward on the black-market.  The weapon alone could be worth more then the rest of his loot.  Treadwell knew with the right story of heroism it could fetch thousands of dollars.

He walked towards the rifle and noticed the hammer was cocked and ready. He approached carefully as not to disturbed the treasure. Then in an instant, he tripped over a root reaching out from the ground.  He fell out of control toward the stump.  His left hand hit the ground as he watched his right hand hit the stump and gun.  The weapon fell to its side as Treadwell observed the hammer fall, the barrel pointed between his eyes.

An endless echo rang the day.