Take Another Shot
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"I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity."
- Dwight D. Eisenhower

"You missed again, Cyrus. Take another shot." Zylphia said, binoculars held tightly against her face. She spat out the gum she'd been chewing for the past hour, quickly replacing it with another from the pack in her vest pocket.

I cursed under my breath and started the process of chambering another round into my clockwork rifle. "Sun was in my eyes. It's too fucking hot out here," I said as I wiped away beads of sweat that had formed on my brow.

Zylphia briefly lowered the binoculars to give me a sly smirk and accompanying wink. "Yea, sure it was. I think your aim's just getting rusty, just like tall and lanky down there." She nodded towards the target I had just missed, a lumbering clockwork automaton. It moved slowly through the ruined city street, occasionally colliding with debris, cars, and other obstacles. It had come in from the desert, as all it's kind had.

"My aim isn't getting rusty, it was the fucking sun," I argued, although I don't know if I was trying to convince her or myself.

"Just take the shot," she said, already looking for more possible targets in the city streets.

I lined up the scope and steadied my breath, all of my focus going to this single task. In moments like these, I knew I was born to be an Imperial sniper. It was my duty to take care of automatons like these, to destroy them before they reached civilization. My finger tightened on the trigger and seconds later I watched as the automaton fell, a brand new hole in it's chest-plate. "See that?! I got him, right in the chest!" I exclaimed as I started to load another round into the rifle.

"Yea yea, real impressive. Remember where we're stationed, Cyrus."

I felt a tiny bit of anger rise up inside of me. I knew full well where we'd been stationed. We were at the very rear, assigned to one of the cleanup crews tasked with taking down any automatons that wandered in from the desert. With how large the Gelvi Desert was, nearly any automaton that found it's way into the city was already on the verge of collapse from rust, disrepair, and buildup of sand in it's gears. It was a job that was looked down upon by nearly anyone in the service. "I know where we are. You don't need tell me." I said with ill-hidden frustration.

She gave me a sideways glance from the binocs, this time with no accompanying smirk. After a few moments of silence she said, "Sorry, I didn't mean anything by it. You're a good shot, Cyrus."

"Tell that to the higher-ups. It might get me back on the front-lines." I peered through the scope and was about to take a shot, but soon realized what I had thought was an automaton was instead a store mannequin in a window.

Zylphia chuckled a bit, taking a nearby rag to wipe away some of the accumulating sweat. "Yea, like me saying anything would help your case at all. You probably already heard what landed me here."

"Heard there was some mistake on one of your missions. Enemy went unnoticed and got the jump on your guys." In reality, I had heard that it was her that had failed to notice the automaton. I couldn't very well say that to her face though. She's probably already heard her fair share of comments about it.

"I made the mistake. It got two people injured and now I'm here in a tower on the edge of a desert nobody gives a shit about, spotting for a sniper with a rep worse than mine. Hey, one down on Fourth Street, bipedal model."

It took me a few moments of searching before I found Fourth Street. Sure enough a small automaton limped down the street, dragging one of its legs behind it. It was already littered with bullet-holes, and seemed to have a makeshift hatchet embedded in it's right arm. I took a deep breath, squeezed the trigger, and watched as a newer and much larger hole appeared in it's head-piece. It fell forward, colliding with a nearby trashcan before hitting the ground.

"Nice shot." Zylphia said as she grabbed the water canteen to take a swig.

"Thanks. So, is my rep really that bad now?" I extended my hand and waited for my turn to drink from the canteen.

She nodded, handing over the canteen after she drank her fill. "I wouldn't say it's terrible. More….blown out of proportions. Lots of people say that you were a battle-maniac, that you nearly got your squad killed when you went on ahead and charged the enemy. They call you "Killer" or something."

That was all just absurd! I got placed here because I disobeyed orders and went to help a stranded teammate. Just who was telling people that I was here for shit like that?! I said as much to her as I searched for a new box of ammunition. "None of that's true, y'know. I'm here because I disobeyed orders and tried to help a friend."

There was a few moments of silence, only the chewing of Zyl's gum echoing through the small room they were stationed in. Finally, she asked, "Did you do it? Help your friend, I mean."

"No. We took too long to get there." Slowly, my mind wandered to the day I had made the two biggest mistakes of my life. Trusting in the higher-ups and failing to save one man.

I watched from the trenches with my binoculars as the automatons slowly made their way across the battlefield, laying waste to the front-most encampments and bunkers. My hands were shaky from a mixture of fear from the sight and the biting cold of the frozen tundra. "Commander, shouldn't we be providing support?"

Commander Delroy lowered his binoculars, peering down at me with his beady mouse like eyes. Like always, he had a scowl across his face. "And what, die with them? No, the First Regiment is done for. We'll flank the enemy when they switch targets."

I just couldn't believe it. Before me was a man that was respected among many of the troops as a tough but capable general and he was suggesting we let our men die. I almost agreed with him, but I remembered just who was in the First Regiment. The man who had signed up alongside me for the Imperial Army, Private Zachary Tolva. Once again, I asked, "Are you sure we can't help them, sir?"

"We can't. There's nothing that can be done for them now. Pray if it'll make you feel better."

No fucking way I could pray if there was still something I could do. I stashed my binoculars and started to climb over the trench, faintly aware of Commander Delroy yelling at me to stay at my post. Before I knew it I was racing across the battlefield, bullets whizzing past me and deafening explosions going off in all directions. Ahead of me, a tall automaton lurched into view, turning towards me with it's glowing red eyes and gaping mouth. I brought my rifle up and fired a shot, watching as it ripped through one of it's legs. It fell forward into the snow and I would have finished it off were it not for my goal. So instead, I kept running towards the sounds of incessant gunfire up ahead.

By the time I had arrived there was only a few soldiers left fighting. None of them were Tolva, though. He had joined the countless bodies laying in the trench, the warmth of life gone from their bodies and replaced with the unending cold of death. I was too late.

We were able to push back the automatons and even saved the remaining First Regiment soldiers. Of course, I was reprimanded for charging in and there was even rumors that Commander Delroy petitioned for my discharge from the service. In the end though, I was shipped off to the rear guard and given the ever so important job of offing the occasional rustbucket that wandered in from the desert.

"Hey, Cyrus. You there? Cyrus, helloooo," Zyl said as she elbowed me in the ribs.

Slowly, I returned to reality, still feeling the cold of that fateful day despite the burning desert that surrounded us. "Huh? Yea, sorry. I was thinking."

She gave me a curious glance before returning to the binoculars. "Sorry about your friend, that's tough shit. Guess we've all lost someone in this, huh? Kinda makes you wonder what it's all for."

I shrugged and turned my head to face her with a small smirk. "We're saving humanity or some shit, right?"

"What, from things like that?" She pointed to an automaton that was crawling down Fourth Street, the entire lower half of it's body blasted off in what looked to be like an artillery strike.

I shifted my weight a bit, trying to find that perfect position for sniping. "Guess so. Every rusty ass automaton we take down is one less person getting Tetanus. We're doing the lord's work, really," I joked.

Zyl let out a small sigh and took up the binoculars once again, peering down towards the automaton slowly crawling its way down the decrepit street. "Whatever, just take another shot."

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