Aphelion Issue 281, Volume 27
March 2023
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A Tear of Flesh

by Daniel Lerner

I had arrived at the Marine's driveway faster than I had hoped. It only took me about twenty minutes to get to his street from the highway where I had eaten a meal. It was so strange to be there, sitting in a car and staring at the tan ranch house. I sat there for another fifteen minutes, mentally preparing myself to open the door, get out, and walk up that porch. When I finally did, I found myself hypnotized by the grass that spilled over onto the walkway as I approached the house. Then, I stood on the porch, looking at a dark yellow doorbell. I thought for a moment, how simple it would be to turn around and leave. The family would get a letter in a few days, signed by some Corporal, and the soldier's family wouldn't have ever known I had existed. However, I would like to believe that I am more honorable than that.

I pressed the doorbell and heard a steady beep reverberate through the house. Soon, a young woman opened the door. Her face was filled with excitement, as if she had expected someone, but she was clearly surprised that it was me, or rather, someone she did not recognize. Quickly, that excitement became fear. Upon seeing me, she looked shocked, and readied herself to close the door.

"Hi, um, who are you?" she asked. Her voice had a sort of hopefulness, and her entire body appeared tense. I stood there, gathering thoughts, formulating words, preparing to finally communicate. "Excuse me, but who are you?" She moved the door slightly away from herself, preparing to close it.

"You are…" my voice trailed off. I sighed, realizing that I didn't even know her name, first or last. "Your husband was a marine, he is off-planet right now fighting above one of Saturn's colonies. Is this correct?"

"No. His shuttle is landing tomorrow. Who are you? How do you know him?" The woman had opened the door back to its original position from a few seconds ago, and now she blocked off any view into the house.

"My name is Uretein. I'm an engineer from his ship. Could we please talk outside? I'm not too fond of the lights." I nodded towards the glowing chandelier hanging above her head. I beckoned, motioning to a white bench on my left. She nodded and followed my hand gesture. She sat, but I remained standing and turned away from her, leaning over the metal railing of the porch.

"Why are you here? You said you were from his ship. Where is he?"

It is so difficult communicating with people. I feel as though any idiot would I knew would have understood by now, and have burst into tears. "I regret to inform you, your husband is dead."

"No! He can't! He wrote to me a week ago!" Her voice cracked, and I thought I heard her trying to stifle a sob, but I didn't look.

"I killed him two days ago, as our cruiser was passing over Earth's moon." I waited for her to curse me. Maybe not curse me, but to do something. People don't react to bad news in such a restrained fashion.

I risked a glance backwards and saw the woman sitting on the bench just as she was before. Perhaps, was she in shock? No, she was crying, simply doing so without making noise. She began to dig around in one of her pockets until she found a cigarette and then lit it. She didn't bring it to her lips though, she just held between her fingers and watched it burn. She then churned it to dust and looked up at me.

"We were attacked by four smaller explorers. They're the kind of ships that were built at the start of the colonization of Mars. They didn't have any external weaponry, so the Captain chose to ignore them. I had just started my shift in the second hangar." I turned back to continue leaning over the railing. My hands couldn't get a good grip on the surface of the railing. It was too round, too sleek, as if it was oiled. I always had to wear gloves when I worked with tools. I couldn't really grip stuff. My skin was very… dry. Metal would always shred my hands.

"I didn't realize what was happening until the alarms began to go off to warn us about the third ship that was approaching. The first one slammed into the communications relay, and the second one hit the bottom of the ship, where the engines and generators were. It wiped out all the electronics, and disabled the light barriers in place to seal the hangar. I guess that's the one place where those things fail." I chuckled to myself, forgetting about the woman who sat behind me.

I sighed. "The change in pressure destroyed all of the battle suits and single-pilot aircraft in the hangar, and sucked a few guys out into space. I was preparing to go outside to work on a damaged auto turret with another engineer, so we were attached by cables and prepared to be in space. We were the only two in the hangar that survived. This only took about thirty seconds to happen. In that time, the third ship smashed into the command bridge, and the fourth had landed in the wreckage of the engine rooms to let attackers flood the living quarters and cargo bay."

"It took about ten minutes for me to pull myself back into a pressurized part of the ship. By then, everything had gone to hell. Few of the marines on board had died during the first moments of the attack, but at least half of them died when the fourth ship landed on the engineering deck and let the attackers out. The entire ship was being torn apart by gunfire. I followed a group of marines who seemed to know where they were going, and your husband was among them." I glanced back at the woman to see if she was listening. She was indeed doing so, but she also gave off an aura of absolute misery. Her face was expressionless, and her eyes had slowly begun to sag. Her arms, too, were drooping at her sides rather than on her lap, as most people would have kept them. I ignored it, and continued speaking.

"We took a wrong turn and walked straight into a group of the raiders. Three people were shot before I could turn to run. Your husband got hit in the leg, and he couldn't walk. I didn't get a good look at it, but his leg was burned really badly. It looked like a corrosive round to me. I opened an air vent and jumped in, dragging him after me. Except for the dim amount of light from the vent, it was completely dark."

"We began crawling through the air vents, making our way to the escape shuttles. I didn't even notice it at first, but your husband started to moan. His leg was getting very bad. Eventually, he would have started screaming. The acid from the shot he took had begun to seep into his skin. I could actually see bone, and red water began to leak out from him."

She forced a bitter laugh, then said "blood. Not water."

"I don't bleed." I did my best to place my hand on the railing, and continued the story. "There was no way he would make it anywhere. The acid was consuming him, and he was going to die. He knew this, and asked me to kill him." I turned around to face the woman, looking her in the eyes when I next spoke. "Before I killed him, he made me swear to come here and tell you the story. I used the butt of his pistol to do it. I hit him once, here", I reached forward and touched the side of her forehead with one of my fingers, and she flinched, then moved away uncomfortably. "Sorry" I breathed.

She did not say a word. She barely breathed. Actually, at that moment she seemed very composed. In an instant, however, she fell apart. Tears poured down her cheeks and she tried to speak, but her words were muddled by sobs.

"It displeases me to leave on such a poor note. I was only allowed a few hours to tell you this. The shuttle to my own home is leaving soon." I reached forward and placed my hand on hers. A tear fell from her eye, and when it landed on my hand, my skin began to burn. "Goodnight" I whispered. I then turned and went back to the car. I looked back at that house and at the woman who sat on the porch and cried. Her sobs made me hate her slightly more. I understood her pain now; my hand throbbed where her tear landed.


2014 Daniel Lerner

Bio: Mr. Lerner is 16 years old. This is his first published story.

E-mail: Daniel Lerner

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