“Boy, if you don’t get into formation, I will come over and beat you until you do. Do you understand?” the hard faced officer called Mann shouted across the deck of the rolling ship.
The ‘boy’, with a young, rounded face, looked confident as he slowly made his way across the deck, exaggerating the slowness of his walk with an, “alright Sir,” as he went.
On the first few days aboard the vessel, the leading officers always had to beat out any hope that the new soldiers had. The freshers had to be put in their places, in the fear that some of them might make better leaders than the existing ones. The new boy, Gunn, had exactly this to come as he swaggered un-uniformly into the perfectly uniformed line.
“Back straight, Chin up.” He had already caught the attention of Mann, who was storming down the line to face him – “What’s your name, boy?”
“Gunn sir, Samuel Gunn.”
“And what the fuck do you think you’re doing Gunn?”
“Following orders, Sir, like you told me too.” replied Gunn, his voice oozing with sarcasm.
“Don’t get cocky with me boy. You may look like an underdeveloped criminal, but you’re certainly not going to act like one on my ship. Do you understand?”
Gunn looked resiliently back at Mann, muscles twitching furiously in his clenched jaw. For now he just nodded his head - but what Gunn didn’t realise, is from that one action against Mann, getting on his bad side, he was a good as dead.
3 days later.
“Do you know why you’re here Gunn?” Mann paused a second for thought. “An unfortunate name there boy, named after the thing I'm going to shoot you with if you pull another stunt like you did today.”
Gunn was backed up against the dimly lit back wall. The room was bare – a phone and desk in the musty corner were all that could fit with Mann insisting on squeezing himself into the room as well.
“I was named after my father and not after a piece of metal machinery...Sir.” a confident reply from the young boy.
“Was that sarcasm I heard there, Gunn? In answer to my question, you are here boy, because you need to be punished. From the moment your self-indulged foot stepped onto this shithole they call a warship, you’ve been nothing but a fucking nuisance. You have disobeyed and undermined my orders boy, and if you carry on like this – you don’t have a hope in hell of surviving this boat trip to China. Let alone the war.” Mann paused for a second, took a deep breath and lowered his voice –
“I have priorities, and I have loyalties Gunn. I'm second in charge to all of these men, and it is my responsibility to bring them back safely. And you, boy? You have nothing. I can make your death look like an accident – but truthfully, no-one would give a shit if it wasn’t. Now, get out of my office you-
-But the boy cut in with an even more confident “No.” With that he planted his feet firmly to the floor and rose his head triumphantly – he looked straight into Mann’s eyes – for the moment he had won.
“Boy, I can’t be fucked to deal with you right now. Get out of my sight before I seriously lose it with you.” said Mann trying to regain control, running his shaking fingers through his hair.
“And we all know what happens when you lose control, don’t we Sir? The whole ship does. We’ve heard the stories.”
That shut Mann up.
“So don’t you dare go threatening to kill me again,” continued Gunn, his face evolving into a beautiful smile as he went; “because if you kill me, a little thing called guilt is born honey, and it will drive you madder than I ever could have done.”
A moment silence –
-with a crash the boy was pinned against the wall, with Mann’s big hand clasped tightly around his throat.
“Killing? Do you seriously think that killing affects me anymore? Jesus Christ boy” Mann spat, his finger slowly starting to tighten around Gunn’s neck. “Thousands are being slaughtered every day. This war has been compared to the holocaust boy. And you think a naive little shit like you is going to affect me? Then you’re even more of an idiot than I thought. Most men with that much bravado, at least have some substance to back it up boy. But you, you –“
“-I do sir.” the boy cut him off again.
An excruciating silence. Mann raised his eyebrows expectantly. “Well fucking speak then!” he whispered, as Gunn failed to continue.
Gunn said nothing.
Mann’s hand dropped lazily from Gunn’s neck - unclenching his knuckles with a crack.
Gunn watched as Mann’s temple throbbed in his head. He was moving slowly, massaging his hands.
And then he lost it – as promised.
In a second the boy went from standing defiantly on his feet - to crashing to the floor, smacking his head on the desk on the way down.
He couldn’t say anything –
He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t open his eyes.
But he could hear the laboured breaths of Mann above him.
“That will fucking teach you” he said, with spit launched into the air and settling on Gunn’s seemingly lifeless form. “Now, fuck off.”
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