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I found Brodsky sitting at the stern of the craft, staring back toward our state. He was pensive, calm. There was a hardness about him, an immediacy in his gaze I had not witnessed, that I believe had not existed yesterday or any day before.
“Pinter,” he said. “There is no hope for us.”
He rose to his feet and walked toward the craft’s bow. He didn’t bother to take his rifle. I left mine, too.
We hopped the low lifelines, splashing into the swells, and started along the margin of beach. Dent called to us over the craft’s PA.
“Are you stupid,” he said. “Repeat. You must be stupid.”
We did not turn.
“Get back here,” he yelled. “Come back.”
The shore began to curve out of sight of the craft. We heard Dent’s footfalls in the breakers behind us.
“You’re not soldiers,” he said. “None of you. You’re not soldiers.”
As the sun climbed higher, the glare beat off the sea and the sand, and piece by piece we discarded our jackets and our shirts and our boots.
“I’ll kill you,” Dent kept saying. “I swear to God.”
We did not look back.
We walked clear around the island. There was no mining project or research facility. There was no sign of indigenous populations. We knew this not from visual confirmation but because there was no sign of resistance, just more discarded uniforms like the ones we had seen prior, and I began to wonder where the artillery had come from in the first place. Whether the general laborers back at the state’s edge were not trained killers with their own orders to carry out. Taking the last curve that brought our craft back into view, we saw a group of men marching toward us.
“It’s them,” Dent said. “There’s too many. Where are your rifles? For God’s sake why didn’t you bring your rifles?”
As we grew nearer, I realized the men were naked, tanned a shade I had seen on the skin of some of the fishermen from the farthest south of our state who were famed for staying on the water for months on end — men we champion in our state brochures. They were carrying rifles, rifles like our own that we had left aboard the craft, and those of the Northern soldiers. The sun was behind them, and I swore I saw a pair of reedy fellows in the glare, flanked on either side by shorter silhouettes. A man was leading them, a dark heat shadow shimmering against the white shore, and as he closed the distance between us the jungle seemed to shake and grow lush with his every step. They were our countrymen, or they were coming to kill us. I could not tell. I would have my answers soon. I kept walking toward them.