Target Practice

“Excellent shot, sir!” chirped the Lieutenant.

The Colonel shouldered his smoking rifle and scratched at his beard. He fingered the scar that ran down the side of his neck.

“Go fetch the body.”

The Lieutenant scurried off while the Colonel sat down on the picnic table. He had grown tired of this work. He wasn’t sure how much longer he could take any of this. Too many easy targets, always running away, never forwards and into battle like the Zagred or the Kashmir. Too many shots through the back.

But orders were orders, and the Colonel had nothing else. The Deep Blue was his life. He’d been conscripted as a child, no older than twelve, and he’d been a Deeper ever since. He didn’t know what else he would do, where else he would go. He’d served his twenty years and then some. But, like most of the others, he stayed on well past his required time, watching the years slowly tick by. Now his beard was shot with grey and his vision was bad and his back always ached and his gut didn’t seem to stop growing.

“I’ve got him right here, sir!” The Lieutenant appeared over the rise, hauling the Growler’s body.

The Growler was a fat, hairy bastard, and the Colonel felt little sympathy for him. If you were born a Growler, you had to make yourself fit if you wanted to escape the purges of the Deep Blue. It was your own responsibility. It was the lean, fast ones that he hated to kill. The ones with rippling muscles and snarls like lions. These reminded him of the warriors of his youth, back when the Deep Blue had clashed with real enemies. The Kashmir of the southern steppes, the Zagred of the far east, the Dell tribes of the plains. But these foes were all gone, now, and the Deep Blue needed something else to wipe out. At least that was how the Colonel figured it. Still, those lean, muscled Growlers never attacked. They always ran. Ran and ran and ran until the Colonel put a bullet through their backs and brought them to the ground. The Colonel couldn’t remember the last time a Growler had faced him. Maybe one never had. The

Lieutenant hauled the body over. The Colonel checked him for the identifying markings. Dark skin, thin, slit-like eyes, small ears, and a stubby, upturned nose.

“He’s got all the qualifiers, Lieutenant. Mark him down.”

The Lieutenant pulled out their field journal and scribbled down his notes for the report. Every Growler killed had to be reported in, so that the Deep Blue could keep track. The Lieutenant looked up.

“Are those ears small enough?”

The Colonel scowled. “He’s a Growler anyway, Lieutenant, you know the standard. Three out of five qualifiers are enough to constitute Growler status.”

“Yes sir, of course, but for the sake of the report…”

The Colonel spat in the dirt, pulled out his measuring tape and squatted down beside the corpse. The flabby scum smelled like piss, and flies were hovering over the jagged hole in his back.

“Fifty-eight millimeters long. Are you happy now?”

The Lieutenant looked over the field journal at him. “Colonel, sir…the new mandate is below fifty-six.”

The Colonel grimaced. “Fifty-six? Bloody hell. The damn fools in the capital are petitioning looser restrictions again, eh?”

He pulled out his switchblade, squatted down again, and sawed off the tips of the man’s earlobes. “There, he’s a Growler again. Does that work for ya, Boy Scout?”

The Lieutenant was silent. He went back to writing in the field report. The Colonel lay back on a rock in the sun and lit a cigar. Even the new guys knew that sometimes you had to cut corners a bit. This wasn’t the first human he’d accidentally killed. There’d probably been hundreds over the years. But then again, what constituted humanity was changing with every new mandate from the capital, so who really gave a damn anyway? The Colonel puffed on the cigar, tugged at his earlobes. At least the Lieutenant was around to do paperwork.

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