He sets his knife down on a rock where I can see it. I focus on the blade; a Special Ops M9 Bayonet similar to my own—strapped to my left ankle. Our eyes connect under the full moon of the Syrian desert. It’s a stalemate between his cold stare and my apprehension. “David…we have to complete the mission.” He steps back from the seven-inch blade.
“If you don’t pick up the knife I will.”
“And if I don’t? Then, what? You’ll kill me out here in the desert,” I instigated. I just need a few more minutes. The radio was the only thing that survived the blast.
“You coward. I’m going back for them,” His bottom lip trembling, “I’ll kill you if I have too.” I could tell he meant it. “Pick up the knife!”
“I don’t want too.”
He picks up the knife.
“You don’t want to do this”
“You just left them to die!”
I rise up cautiously from the dirt; leaving the radio by the fire pit, and I meet his knife at eye level—he has it pointed directly at me. Tinder is scarce. The flames slowly die out. Tonight, is as good as any other night to die.
“There was nothing we could have done to save them,” I solemnly reply. “No one needs to know what happened. No one needs to know what you did.”
“I’m going back for them.”
“They’re dead. I need your help to complete this mission.”
“Fuck you! Fuck your mission!”
The blow landed me back on the ground. Thatta boy! That’s it. Keep hitting me. I can take it. I let go of my knife—still in its sheath. The years of combat have prepared me for this. But this wasn’t combat. This was his first mission. “David—it wasn’t your fault.”
He jerks away and drops the knife. It hits the ground with a thump.
“The radio,” I point to it, “David, it’s our only way out of this.”
“The bomb wasn’t supposed to go off,” he half mumbled over his sobs. “I—didn’t mean to—everyone’s gone, and it’s my fault!”
I dive for the radio—grabbing at the loose wires—and continue to work, faster. We’re going to complete the mission, David. We’re going to get out of here. “David, pass me the plyers!” I’m almost done. We’re going home.
A shot—then a thump.