We Will Witness
How far can empathy reach? Martin Cahill’s incredible story of a fighter’s final moments has the answer.~ Julian and Fran, October 24, 2023
We Will Witness
by Martin Cahill
When Marcus was shot, he fell on his back; now he cannot help but face the sky. He sweats, staring into that cobalt expanse, a darker blue than before, each of them bleeding toward their end. The smell of hot earth and blood stings his nostrils; the jungle’s enormity is a wall of sound sheltering him.
Bullets sit in his gut, urging him to die. How they got there, he couldn’t say, not with confidence. They’d been marching through the jungle, his unit of young hopefuls, searching for the enemy off old intelligence. There’d been mechanical chatter, the language of loudness and lead, sudden and staccato. He’d fallen, his body smoking with fresh holes.
It came to him later that he’d been shot. He could feel the gush of life leaking from him, a little bit out of every hurt.
He’s sprawled on the jungle floor now, a stalk of wheat among other fallen, one sweep of the threshing blade all it took to lay them low.
Fuck, fuck, fuck, he thinks with desperation, with anger, with sorrow.
He’s dying here, isn’t he?
There is a rush of memories alighting on his eyes, as gentle as moths, but he shakes them away. None of them fit. Not the farm, not the bleachers, not the fair, not the barracks. None will do. Each of them demands; they don’t ease the pain as much as they make it sharper, these places he’ll never sink his teeth into again.
Finally, he recalls them. Thank god he remembers, shaking with exhausted relief.
The image of his family is in his eyes, piercing the sky.
Dee, Richie, Mom, Pop. Dee, Richie, Mom, Pop. Dee, Richie, Mom, Pop.
He says their names like a mantra; they’re the only thing keeping the pain from sweeping him away. That they exist far from here, worrying over the radio and the fuzzy television signal about if he’s alive or not . . . they’re alive. That’s what matters. It’s a shield from the truth that soon he won’t be counted among that number.
His breathing is quick. His body spasms, desperate to shake loose the lead boring into him from gravity’s insistent push.
It won’t be long now, a part of him thinks. It’s almost time to go.
Scattered on the jungle floor around him are the others from his platoon splayed in echoed agony, begging for release, one by one finding it.
Like the jungle, the chorus of the dying is a wall of sound, but they may as well not be there.
Marcus has never felt so alone.
Nura’s panic attack began in the thirtieth century and slowly ends in the twentieth. The cool, dark air of the temporal chamber was displaced all at once, the familiar sensation of traveling passing over and through her. An intense pressure, a wind that tousled one’s heart, a flash of brief blue-white light as the entirety of the timeline watched you plummet through it, and then––
A thickness in Nura’s lungs, a weight on her skin where there was none before; heat, such heat, aggravated by that same heavy wet that was everywhere among sudden trees, dirt, scrub, flower, bush, sky. She knows the word, has studied it like she’s studied everything in her dossier.
But it’s one thing to read the word humidity, another entirely to experience its strange glory.
Her training kicks in, now second nature after years of chronotopographic fitness and quantum study. As she breathes, reads her vitals, and pings the Hall to activate her beacon, a small smile blooms across her face: she’s made it to the past. She stands here, in this jungle, exposed to a climate her world has healed, and she marvels.
She’s marveled at the blanket knit by hand, lying at the foot of a grandmother’s bed in Edinburgh, bird blue and sea green, each square devoted to a different grandchild who may live to see the twentieth century.
She’s marveled at the real, unsynthesized oak beneath her feet as she kept balance on a fishing vessel left bobbing in a storm’s wake, her nose stuffed with salt and swordfish, somewhere in the early seventeenth century.
She’s marveled at the shadow of the Terra Dysonglobe being built in the early twenty-seventh century, its massive architecture spiderwebbing across the sky while the voices of many could be heard just past the tree line, celebrating some holiday that was new to them and already archaic to her.
All of those jumps had been practice for today’s.
Today’s her final test.