"This must be Heaven," Sgt. Simmons said with a weary smile. He stared up at the beautiful blonde and sighed. "What's your name, angel?"
"Mercy," the young woman replied. "Corporal Mercy Jones, SOCM."
She sat on the ground, slid her arm under his thick shoulders, and lifted his upper body with surprising strength.
"Nice name," he said, as she cradled his head against her chest. "But what're you doing in a hot zone?"
"I'm a forward scout for the ResMed teams," she explained. "The battle is over. We won."
"Doesn't feel much like a victory," he said bitterly. "Last thing I remember was me and my boys charging one of those D'Couri particle beam emplacements." He nodded weakly toward a nearby slope that was littered with debris, both organic and metallic. "The damned cannon opened up on us and next thing I know there's you. Not that I'm complaining about the company. Be nice if I could feel my legs though. How bad is it?"
"I'm sorry," she said, keeping his face turned toward hers with a gentle hand. "Your wounds are serious."
"Yeah? Must have some spinal injuries, huh?"
"Yes, spinal injuries," Mercy agreed. "Nothing the Nanosurgeons can't repair. Just relax and wait for the ResMeds."
Simmons did as she suggested, letting her softness and warmth soothe away some of the horror of the past hours. "You know, I have some furlough coming up," he told her. "Was thinking 'bout hitting the beaches on Selacias V for some R and R. How'd you like to come with me? Once the Docbots get done patching me up, I mean."
She smiled down at him wistfully and stroked his face. "That would be nice. I've never been to Selacias V. Why don't you tell me about it?"
"Well, you'd like it, I bet. It's real pretty there. The beaches are made of blue sand and at night you can hear the coral bats singing to each other. There's this little floating bar there that makes the best margaritas. You like margaritas?"
"Um hummm...," she murmured in response, still gently caressing his face.
"It's getting a little hard to see, all of a sudden," he said, his voice growing steadily weaker. "Think I'm going to pass out. Hey, how 'bout a down payment on that date? Just to remember you by while I'm healing up?"
Wordlessly, she bent down to kiss him. As their lips came together, his body shuddered and went limp in her arms. She pulled back and looked down into his dark brown eyes, now flat and empty in death. A single tear rolled down her cheek and fell on his dirt-streaked face. She had seen a lot of men die since joining the United Earth Force and their ongoing war with the D'Couri. Sgt. Simmons wasn't any different, she told herself. But she knew that was a lie. Something about this man, this loss, cost her more than she was willing to admit. A connection had been severed before it ever had a chance to form and the pain of that loss, of that denied potential, left her deeply shaken.
A soft moan from farther up the slope caught her attention. Another wounded Marine. Mercy lowered Simmons to the ground, wiped the tears from her pale blue eyes, and stood up. There were others that she might be able to save today. And the cost of victory was already too high, she thought, as she looked down at Simmons' body, its lower half little more than ash-covered bones. Far, far too high...