No Song of Sacrifice

📅 Published on November 29, 2020

“No Song of Sacrifice”

Written by Ryan Harville
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 9.50/10. From 2 votes.
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“Last day,” Lieutenant Foster said. “By thirteen-hundred we’ll be done with this shit.”

Staff Sergeant Perez nodded, still staring out over the horizon from his chair atop the parking garage. Seagulls flew near the shoreline, their incessant cries echoing through the humid morning air. The sun was just starting to make an appearance, peeking over the bay and turning its choppy waves to gold.

Perez stood and fished his cigarettes out of the multipurpose pouch hanging from his ballistic vest. He placed one between his lips and lit the tip, the lighter’s flame casting orange light across his stubbled face. He inhaled the smoke with a grimace.

“Jesus, these things are stale already. You got coffee, sir?” he said, pointing to the lieutenant’s canteen.

Foster pulled his canteen from its pouch and handed it over. “We’re out of the fresh stuff. MRE ready-mix only. But it’s still warm, at least.”

“Is the last train still running on time?” Perez said, unscrewing the cap. He drank deeply.

“Yeah,” Foster said, his dark skin slick with the humidity coming in from the bay. “We should be seeing it soon. Last headcount was one-hundred and seventeen, which brings us to three-thousand and eleven civilians.”

“Even with our platoon on board, there’s still plenty of room left on the ship,” Perez said. “We have time. If we wait–”

Foster shook his head. “We’ve been over this, Sergeant. The evac order was given to the Gulf Coast three weeks ago, and only these few thousand have been found across the rendezvous points. You know as well as I do that we could be overrun at any time. We’ve got to get these people to the settlement.”

Perez took a drag from his cigarette, then let smoke pour from his nostrils. “We haven’t heard from Houston in two days. Are we even sure it’s safe?”

“Not sure of anything,” Foster admitted. “What’s left of First CAV has a perimeter set up. There’s food and clean water. We’ve got enough MREs here to last for two more days, just enough for the trip. We may have some time, but the window is getting smaller by the minute.”

“It just feels like we’re abandoning them.”

“I know,” Foster gestured over the edge, pointing to the people assembled in the center square. “But these people are here, now.”

Perez looked down at the evacuees. The square was a small village of white FEMA-issued tents. Acquired when there was a FEMA. It had been a reserved and sober couple of weeks, but today the crowd seemed livelier. A group of children kicked a soccer ball around, others played tag between the tents. Their parents watched with cautious optimism.

Perez worried about the orphans the most. He’d seen a young boy no older than seven drawing on the sidewalk with chalk dug up from God knows where. His drawing was mostly gray and depicted an unholy mashup of features. A sleek, eyeless head above short forelimbs, and a segmented body leading to insectile legs. The legs were almost the same size as the rest of the body combined. The boy had scribbled red strokes and dots all around the thing’s mouth, and Perez had walked away, his thoughts bleak.

Thank God and Mother Mary they’d all be on the ship soon and safely away from here. At least that was the hope. The ship was a cruise liner. Barely stocked and undermanned, but operational. It had arrived at the port two days ago, and the captain had agreed to wait for the last trainload of survivors. His crew had grumbled, but he understood their feelings. Every minute spent docked was dangerous.

He turned back to Lieutenant Foster. “You’re right, sir. I’ll let it go.”

“If you didn’t bring these things up, then I chose the wrong person to replace First Sergeant Collins. You’re a good NCO, Perez, a good man. Your heart is in the right place, I just need your head to be in the right place first. Not only do we have three-thousand civvies depending on us, but we’ve got twenty-seven soldiers down there as well.”

“Twenty-eight, sir,” Perez corrected.

Foster lowered his eyes. “Specialist Stuart died last night. His wound went septic, and it was so close to his heart…”

“Goddammit,” Perez said. “Two tours in Afghanistan only to die in a cruise ship terminal in Alabama. None of this shit makes sense, LT.”

“Did you know him well?”

Perez flicked his cigarette over the railing. “Yeah, he was a good one. Been with Third ID since he left basic training. Dogface to the end. Best machine gunner we had. Wife and two kids back at Fort Stewart. God knows if they’re still alive since we fell back.”

“I’m sorry,” Foster said. “I wish I’d known him better.”

“Yeah, me too.”

“Come on, let’s get back downstairs. The train will be here soon.”

Footsteps echoed up the ramp, followed closely by Specialist Holland. He stopped suddenly in front of them, red-faced and out of breath.

“Sir, Sergeant Perez,” he said between breaths. “We’ve spotted a carrier, still loaded with unhatched jumpers, about two miles out. It’s going for the train–”

A piercing squeal split the sky, the unmistakable sound of a train’s wheels grinding to a halt. The three men looked to one another in the sudden silence that followed.

Sergeant Perez closed his eyes. He counted the seconds, visualizing them passing behind his eyelids. He didn’t even make it to ten.

There was a hollow boom, then the shriek and crunch of metal on metal.

He opened his eyes.

“Holland,” he said, and put his hand on the man’s shoulder. “Get your squad, and get them loaded into the LMTV–”

“The truck is still inop, Sergeant,” Holland said.

“Shit, fine, get the Humvee. You’re driving. Get Reese, Quinn, and Coleman. Tell Coleman he’s up top on the gun.”

Holland nodded, then turned and ran.

“Our window has closed, Sergeant,” Lieutenant Foster said. “I’m ordering everyone on the ship.”

“Do what you think is best, sir,” Perez stared at the growing cloud of dust and smoke in the distance. “I’m going with them.”

“Excuse me?”

“Best case scenario, we neutralize the threat, escort the column of civilians back here on foot. Everybody gets out. Worst case, my squad doesn’t make it back. Either way, I’m not leaving over a hundred people to die out there when I have a chance to save them.”

Foster glared at him. “You would be disobeying a direct order.”

“Then don’t make me have to, LT,” Perez said. “Give us a chance. If you don’t see us by the time everyone here is on the ship, raise the anchor and go. Agreed?”

Fostered grimaced. “Agreed. Stay safe, Sergeant. I’ll hold out as long as I can.”

Perez went to attention and snapped a quick salute. Foster returned the gesture, and as soon as he dropped his hand Perez turned on his heel and ran for the ramp.

The Humvee was already idling at the gate, Holland at the wheel. Coleman was strapped into the gunner’s seat, his hands resting loosely on each side of the machine gun.

Perez called out to him. “Are you ready, Coleman?”

Coleman smiled brightly. “You kidding, Sergeant? Bring those jumpin’ bitches on!”

Perez laughed despite the situation. “Good man,” he said, and swung into the passenger seat. “Holland, get us moving.”

The Humvee shot forward, its tires squealing on the pavement. Perez turned to the rear, facing the soldiers sitting on each side of Coleman’s hanging legs.

“I’m ready, Sergeant,” Specialist Quinn said. Perez nodded, proud of the cold professionalism in her voice. She was originally their commo soldier, fixing computers and occasionally manning the radio. But after their last two skirmishes, she’d proven herself to be much more than their resident techie. Perez had promoted her as soon as they arrived at the ports, pinning the Specialist rank on her himself.

In the other seat, Private First-Class Reese looked like death itself, his face pale and drawn, his eyes focused on the world outside his window.

“Reese,” Perez said, reaching back and tapping his knee. “Eyes up.”

He did as he was told, his watery eyes threatening to spill tears over his cheeks.

“Listen up, soldier,” Perez said. “We don’t have time for tears.”

Reese swallowed hard and nodded. “I’m sorry, Sergeant. I… I grew up less than an hour from here. The last I heard…I was hoping, shit, I don’t know what I was hoping.”

“It’s possible he’s got family on that train, Sergeant,” Quinn interrupted. “His father at least, maybe more. When Reese last heard from them, they were heading for a station along the evac route.”

“Goddammit,” Perez said. Why in the hell hadn’t someone told him? “I’m sorry, Reese. If I had known, I would’ve never told you to come.”

Reese shook his head. “Ain’t nothing to be sorry for. I’m glad I’m here. It beats waiting back there, you know. At least out here, I’ll know. One way or the other.”

“Understood,” Perez said. “But you’ve got to get your head in the game, quick-like. We’ve got about two minutes before we see what we’re up against. The last word from recon was we’ve got jumpers. I don’t know how many, but I’m going to work under the assumption that we’re outnumbered. The carrier is still loaded–”

“Oh, Christ,” Reese whispered.

“–but we’ve got grenades, and Quinn has the two-oh-three. We’ve just got to make them count. We kill as many of the bastards as we can and escort the civilians back to the dock. If that fails, we spend every round buying the LT time to get the rest of them back there on board the ship. Are we clear?”

They both nodded, and Perez turned to face forward. Holland jerked the wheel to the left, hopping the Humvee over a curb. Ahead, the tracks crossed over the street, the gate arms down, red lights flashing.

Holland glanced at Sergeant Perez.

“Do it,” Perez said.

Holland nodded. “Hey, Coleman!” he cried out. “Head down!”

He straightened the wheel and slammed the gas pedal down. The truck slammed into the gate arms, exploding them into strips and splinters.

“Alright, it’s going to get rocky!” Holland said.

The Humvee bounced along the aged and pitted asphalt road that ran parallel to the tracks. Shipping containers and old corrugated warehouses went by in a blur of colors on each side.

Holland took a corner hard around a building, clearing their line of site. Within moments the smoke towered above them, and the train came into view.

The diesel engine was on its side, consumed by flames, issuing a black column of smoke into the sky. Two freight cars trailed behind, both toppled over as well. Perez silently prayed someone was left to save.

“Get us close, but not too close,” he said. “Take it to–”

The ground shook beneath them, rocking the Humvee.

“Shit. Stop the truck.”

“It’s coming,” Reese said.

Perez opened his door and stepped out. “Holland, you and Coleman hold here, cover us. Reese, Quinn, you’re with me.”

He took point, rifle raised, eyes scanning.

There was a thunderous boom, and the freight car closest to them was tossed aside, flipping end over end, its corners kicking up earth and gravel as it went.

“No!” Reese screamed as a shadow fell over them.

The carrier rose before them, its knobbed carapace pulsing as its forelimbs rose into the sky. It stood on its four hind legs, easily three times as tall as the engine. Its mandibles spread wide, and its piercing shriek tore through the column of black smoke.

Perez eardrums shook as he gave the order.

“Engage, engage!” He cried. “Kill it before it sheds!”

Coleman opened fire, his machine gun thumping from the roof of the Humvee. The carrier covered its face with its claw as nictitating membranes slid over its mud-colored eyes. Perez moved slowly to the right, choosing his shots carefully, trying to dig into the soft connective tissue beneath its head. The magazine in his M4 held the last of his armor-piercing rounds, and every shot had to count.

“Quinn!” he screamed over the noise. “Get a grenade under it!”

She dropped to one knee and took aim, barely hesitating before pulling the trigger. The high-ex round shot forward with a muted foomp.

The shot went wide, exploding in front of one of its legs, shattering the chitin there and sending the beast lumbering to one side.

“Again!” Perez cried.

Quinn slid open the under-barrel launcher and thumbed another round in. The carrier slammed its claw into the ground and drug itself forward, attempting to stand.

No, not to stand. To close the gap between them.

“Quinn! Adjust fire to the carapace! It’s gonna shed! Adjust fire!”

But it was too late. Its carapace undulated, a wave of movement that started behind its head and moved up its back. One by one the knobs burst open with a splatter of brown fluid the color of fresh motor oil, exposing gnashing teeth and sleek heads.

“Coleman, we got jumpers!” Reese screamed.

“I’m on it!” Coleman called back.

He fell back as Coleman swept the machine gun up and targeted the carrier’s back, unleashing a torrent of lead. Perez grabbed a grenade from his pouch and waited.

The jumpers emerged from their host like stones thrown from a catapult, leaping high into the sky, then landing on their thick hind legs with an explosion of earth. They hissed and clicked their mandibles, their iridescent skin shining in the dawn’s light. Patterns moved over them like the film of colors on a wet oil slick.

He pulled the pin and let it fall, then threw the grenade with a cry. It bounced twice, then exploded in the thick of the jumpers. Shrapnel tore through a few of them, briefly staining the air above with an almond-colored haze. More fell over from the concussive force, landing in slick piles.

The telltale sound of Quinn’s grenade launcher came again, and more jumpers were torn to pieces. Perez lobbed another grenade into the throng of shimmering flesh.

He readied his rifle again and caught sight of Reese. He wasn’t firing, just looking from the jumpers to the train cars and back again.

“Reese!” he cried. “We fight first!”

“I’m sorry,” Reese said, and ran for the cars.

“Goddammit, Reese!” he said, turning to Holland. “Holland, cover me!”

Holland lifted his weapon from the hood of the Humvee and ran to their flank, spraying automatic fire as he went.

Perez sprinted after Reese, gravel crunching beneath his feet.

The train car had landed upside down, revealing a gaping hole in its side. The metal had been peeled back into a blossom of steel, blood dripping from its petals.

Reese peered inside, then backed away screaming, a guttural wail of grief. He fell to his knees in front of the car, his hands limp at his sides.

The world seemed to slow. The gunshots were distant whispers, the explosions soft pops. From the hole came a jumper, its sharp and pointed forelegs gripping the edge, its head covered in gore from feeding. Reese didn’t even have the chance to scream again before it leapt, a black blur flying at him, driving the man into the dirt.

Perez brought his rifle up to fire, trying to find an opening between the thing and Reese. It rose and slammed its claws into Reese’s chest. The sound of the ceramic armor plate cracking seemed louder than the gunshots. Perez fired, squeezing the trigger three times in quick succession. The jumper bucked with the impact, its claws coming loose and slinging Reese’s blood into the air.

Perez knelt and grabbed the pull-ring of Reese’s body armor. “Come on, Reese,” he said, dragging the soldier. “We got to go.”

Reese wretched, spitting blood down his chin. “All dead in there, Sergeant. Nothing left but…but meat.”

Jumpers were coming faster than Holland could mow them down. Perez lowered Reese and took aim. He turned the rifle’s selector switch to auto with a well-practiced flick of his finger, then held the trigger down. The rifle kicked, its barrel rising, but Perez held it steady as jumpers fell before him. The magazine clicked empty.

“Quinn! Get on the radio!” he said, releasing the mag and slapping a fresh one into the receiver. “Tell the LT there’s no survivors and to get the fuck out of here!”

She rushed to the Humvee without hesitation and jumped through the door. He looked down to Reese. The boy was too pale, his color draining out of him with his life. There was no way back from this. No surgeons or medics equipped to handle it. Blood filled his lungs as he lay panting in the dirt.

“It’s okay…Sergeant,” he wheezed. “Let me go, I’m good…I’m…”

He trailed off, then was gone.

Perez stood, the sounds of battle circling him. Dust hung in a pall and the air hissed with flying bullets.

“Sergeant!” Quinn cried. “LT needs fifteen minutes!”

He engaged the jumpers once more, killing two and wounding a few more, his aim off from his shaking hands.

“Sergeant?” she screamed. “What do I tell him?”

His gaze met hers. “Tell him we’ll hold them off as long as we can.”

Perez watched as her face paled. She nodded.

“We got to give the ship time to clear the port!” he cried. “Holland, get behind the wheel! Let’s see if we can get the bastards to chase us!”

They piled into the Humvee, not bothering to secure the doors until after they were moving.

“Where to, Sergeant?” Holland said, slamming the gas pedal down.

“Anywhere away from the port,” Perez said. “With any luck they’ll follow us. Maybe we can find a building to hide in and get them to come to us. We funnel them through one entrance and start making a pile of bodies.”

Quinn’s voice was almost too quiet to hear over the Humvee’s engine.

“We don’t have the ammo for that, Sergeant,” she said.

Perez nodded. “True, but every minute we keep ‘em busy gives the LT more time.”

“They’re coming after us!” Coleman cried. “Just give me the word, Sergeant!”

Perez thumped his fist twice against the roof of the Humvee. “Let the fuckers have it!”

He watched through the side-view mirror as Coleman opened fire. The jumpers were bounding after them in great leaps. Some were knocked from the sky by machine gun fire, brown mist trailing them to the ground, but it wasn’t enough.

Not nearly enough.

“Going off-road!” Holland cried. “Hold on!”

Holland jerked the wheel to the right and they skidded around the edge of a shipping container and into a wide alley. Perez could feel the two wheels on his side come off the ground for a moment, then thump back down.

“Jesus, Holland!” Coleman said. “It’s hard enough to shoot these assholes as it is!”

“Sorry!” Holland cried. “Next time I’ll–”

Ahead of them, jumpers clogged the road, heading directly at them in short leaps.

“Twelve o’clock!” Perez cried. “Eyes front, Coleman, eyes front!”

The wave of iridescent bodies washed over them. Perez braced himself as the jumpers thumped off the grill of the Humvee. From above, Coleman screamed.

“Coleman?!” Perez cried. “Pull him down, Quinn! Get him back in the truck!”

Quinn grabbed the gunner’s seat harness and began to unclip it as Coleman’s legs shook.

“Find a place to park, Holland!” Perez said. “Somewhere we can hold them!” He turned in his seat. “Quinn, use your belt cutter on those straps!”

“Idiot!” she said to herself and pulled the belt cutter from the front of her vest. She hooked it around the closest strap and sliced through it.

Coleman’s weight did the rest. He fell back into the truck, landing in a sprawl across the back seat.

Quinn screamed.

Perez stared in horror at what was left of Coleman. His head was gone, and a diagonal slash stretched from the stump of his neck to his hip, revealing his shattered ribs and stilled heart between the shards of ceramic plating.

Perez faced forward and cried out, punching the dashboard in frustration and failure.

He was done, and the only sound was the Humvee’s engine. Perez watched in the side mirror as the jumpers fell away, outpaced.

“Sergeant,” Holland said, his eyes forward. “Up ahead on the left. We got a pier.”

Perez surveyed the area. The pier jutted out at least fifty yards into the bay and was blessedly clear of obstructions.

“Do it,” Perez said. “And Quinn, salvage what you can from Coleman. Check for ammo.”

“Roger,” Quinn said, her distaste at pilfering from her dead squad mate plain on her pale face.

Holland maneuvered the Humvee through the open gate.

The pier was silent as they made their way to its terminus. Perez watched the water on his side, staring intently at the morning’s light playing on the slowly lapping waves. The water was calm, and Perez felt oddly disappointed. This was the end, one way or another, and it deserved something more. Like booming thunder he could feel in his bones, lightning that split the sky, rain that poured down like God’s own tears. The military had taught him much in his years of service, but the most important of those lessons was that life was not a movie. There were no magic magazines with an abundance of bullets, no last-minute reinforcements, no glory in another man’s death.

And no sudden, dramatic rainstorms. Military life was mundane, and death was as common as wind.

The Humvee rolled to a stop inches from the barrier that separated the pier from the bay. The sun had cleared the horizon and stood defiant above the water. The squad exited the vehicle, and their shadows stretched in front of them, the dark forms seeming to reach toward the approaching enemy.

“Weapons check,” Perez said, and they went to work. Magazines were tapped against armor, rounds were expelled and reloaded, sights were adjusted.

Holland released a shaky breath and held out his last two magazines to Quinn.

“Take ‘em,” he said. “There’s still a box of ammo for the Two-Forty in the truck. I’m going to go up top and man the gun.”

Quinn raised an eyebrow at him. “And what will you use when you’re out?” She took one of the mags. “Keep the other. You know, just in case.”

Holland nodded, slipping the mag back into its pouch and trotting back to the truck.

“Sergeant,” Quinn said. “If this shit goes south–”

“I know, Quinn,” Perez said. “It’s been an honor. I’m glad to be your NCO.” He looked to Holland. “Both of you. We’ve dealt with shit that none of us signed up for, but you’ve made me proud.”

Quinn’s eyes shimmered with tears and Perez was surprised to find his vision was prismed as well. How long had it been since he cried? Four years, five? Five, he decided. The day his ex-wife had taken his kids and moved across the country. But Perez stayed. He had his orders, his goddamn orders.

The thought of his kids brought him back to reality. He put one arm around Quinn’s shoulders and squeezed. These were his kids now, these young women and men in his charge. And there were only two left.

The sound of a horn blared and rolled across the shining bay. Perez and Quinn turned in unison. The cruise ship sailed by in the distance, its red stacks high in the salty air, its bow cutting through the emerald waters.

It was too far away to make out details, but Perez could see a lone figure standing near the stern.

Perez went to attention and raised his hand in a sharp salute. He couldn’t be sure, but it looked like the figure saluted in return, and that was enough.

“Sergeant!” Holland yelled. “We’ve got tangos!”

Staff Sergeant Perez turned away from the water, from the ship, from safety sailing away at twenty knots per hour. He took a kneeling firing position, his finger resting on the trigger. Quinn did the same, kneeling beside him and readying her weapon.

This is what it’s about, he thought. Not the bullshit wars of the past. No money, no oil or resources, just making a stand. Right versus wrong, death versus survival. There would be no songs of their sacrifice, and he was fine with that.

All the work, the stress, the blood. The time away from family, even losing family. This was why.

So other families could have a chance.

The jumpers came in force, leaping through the alley, over buildings and shipping containers. From somewhere close came the shriek of an approaching carrier hauling pustules ready to burst with more of its spawn.

Perez didn’t hesitate.

“Squad!” he cried. “Open fire!”

And in the end, the thunder came not from the heavens, but from their guns.

Rating: 9.50/10. From 2 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Ryan Harville
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Ryan Harville

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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