Harold fingers the button behind his ear but decides not yet. Maybe he can make it tonight without it. Maybe the last time was in fact the last time. Maybe he won’t have to remember, he hopes, even as the memories begin to drip into his thoughts.
Harold is a veteran. He fought on Europa. He killed fish. He killed fish-fathers protecting their fish-families. He stomped on freshly laid fish-eggs containing fish-babies destined for fish-sentience. He killed fish-mothers guarding their fish nests and fish-grandmas minding fish-stoves.
He personally killed thousands and thousands of fish. He watched them fall and be instantly replaced by thousands more fish ready to die.
The worst part is he isn’t sure whether the blue-scaled sea beasts deserved it or not. Humans invaded their world. Destroyed their civilization, but in the end, he felt like he was just protecting himself. They would just come and come and come. They would kill marines and devour the flesh right off the bone as marine bullets rained into their bodies.
The image of their jagged toothed face stretched into a hideous smile while dripping human blood haunts his dreams every night.
Eventually, they had to nuke the fish cities under the ice. Marines went in to do clean up. Marines went crazy when they saw the bombs did nothing to quell the numbers.
They just kept coming. More and more. Ten replacing every single one killed.
Harold does not like to think of himself as crazy, but he can’t sleep anymore and this night is no different.
Tonight he tried to sleep, but the face of his buddy Tony kept creeping up on him. If not Tony’s face, one of the hundred others he watched die every day joins him in his dreams.
They all are set upon by hungry fish screaming as the flesh is pulled from their bones.
He climbed out of bed deciding to walk it off.
He tries to walk it off every night.
He likes the pathway that circles the whole hab. It measures fifty miles. He has never felt the need to walk the whole thing, just a couple miles of it. He will walk a few hundred feet and stop and soak in the quiet from down below. Twenty million sleeping people live in a dome orbiting the moon.
He has trouble believing he gets to live here, sometimes he feels lucky.
Then the images of his war will spring up out of nowhere.
A devastated city deep under the ice shimmering with the light of Jupiter.
The men talked about how it must have looked before the nukes. Blue crystal shards are all that remain. Blue crystal shards and angry fish.
Piles of dead, piles and piles of dead marines being eaten by angry fish.
Nothing could stop the fish but abandoning the planet, and they did, but not until they threw all they had against them. But they just kept coming, billions and billions of them, nothing slowed their numbers, or cooled their anger.
Or stop the memories from ramming themselves into his brain.
Humans never went back to Europa. Leery, they set up watch and waited for the fish to come get their revenge. It’s been a decade and so far so good, but still Harold knows they are owed a revenge and if they come he knows he will kill himself before facing them again.
Two fighters race across the horizon of the moon. Probably just maneuvers, but still it makes his anxiety soar.
Harold does not know why he was asked to go in the first place. Maybe revenge for the first Europa exploration mission. Maybe resources. Maybe politics. Maybe preservation of humanity. Maybe so this nice dome could be built so the old folks can enjoy a view of the moon as they die.
Harold isn’t old, but he can’t work anymore either and feels the gravity of death pulling on him, getting closer every day.
He stops again and leans against the pathway railing and looks down at the homes below . The shimmering swimming pools. The lawn furniture. The grills. The fake grass. Happy people who don’t have to think about Tony screaming for help as he is being eaten alive. Eaten alive for what? So Harold can escape back to the surface and board a waiting evac ship?
Harold fingers the button behind his ear again. There is an implant there that turns off the negative thoughts. The V.A. gave it to him. Some of the guys he knows who made it back say it’s to save the government money on meds and therapy.
Harold still takes meds and goes to therapy. Nothing helps. But he hates hitting the little button. It does what they say it’s going to do. It makes his thoughts better, but then his thoughts always return to Tony and the fish.
He presses the little skin-tone colored button behind his ear anyway. He can’t help it. He needs the thoughts to stop. He needs to sleep.
He feels the dopamine receptor fire a burst of chemicals into his hippocampus and instantly he feels better.
Instantly he remembers he is a Space Marine. A Space marine until he dies.