Succession

Succession

A photo fell out of his pocket directly under the feet of the young soldier. It was no point to keep up appearances, thus the commander of the base raised it and handed to the soldier: “This is my father and I, shortly before his departure to the front … he was killed in the line of duty.” The soldier curiously looked at the photo of eight year old boy and a man of thirty-five, both dressed in military uniforms of the past war. Then, a little embarrassed, he gave it back, saluted and left. “They are so young!” thought the commander, and put the photo back into his pocket. Dawn was close.

Cold trenches surrounded their small base in the woods, everybody waited for the food supply that was about to come. The soldiers were starving, only food was corn from nearby fields and dry rations – one for ten people. Dissatisfaction was growing. Few people understood this war, but the commander said that a soldier should simply follow orders. There was an order to entrench themselves on this spot, and they did so. Nobody let them know about the further plans.

Distant roar of engines made everyone nervous: the sound was coming not from the expected direction. Soon two trucks appeared in the distance, slowly creeping to the forest by the frozen dirt road. Trying to keep quiet, everyone was afraid to move – icy leaves crunched underfoot. Winter was relentless: vapor came with every breath; fingers froze and became numb. Hunger and cold took weakened everybody and gradually affected morale of even the strongest. The food supply was their great hope.

The first truck pulled up in a hundred meters from the base and the driver looked out from the window, obviously trying to see something in the forest. Then he glanced at his companion and said, “Well, Captain, the decision is yours!” The Captain narrowed his lids, also peering into the forest. He didn’t like this mission from the beginning, and he didn’t like this senseless war. Coming from a military family, as a child he thought that to be like his father meant to protect the country from enemies. But it turned out that the concept of “enemy” is not as simple as we would like. A dozen years of military training has made major adjustments to the concept of “good” and “evil”, and now he poorly understood the difference between them. However, he didn’t need to understand, he had to follow orders. Later, he began to give orders to others as cold, impassible machine.

There was no way back. Unwittingly touching his breast pocket, the Captain opened his mouth to give the order, but stopped short. What are they doing?! These are forests and lands of their brothers; their grandfathers lived here, many of them have grown here, their close ones are still living on these lands… Who needs this war!? They have to attack and destroy the base of half-starved soldiers, many of whom are almost children! Who is the enemy? And to whom? The commander hesitated. But was he to decide who the enemy is, and who is not?! “Attack!” he commanded briefly.

Wiping the blood with a cold sleeve, young soldier reported: “Five killed, three wounded, and the rest captured … food is not found.” Base commander nodded. Now he is liable for one more dozen of hungry mouths and wounded people. His heart ached. He approached a man lying on the ground, moaning in pain. The commander squatted down and then noticed that the man took something out of his breast pocket. Suddenly the wounded started, raised a faint sigh and calmed down forever. A photo fell to the commander’s feet: a young man in modern uniform was holding his laughing little son.

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