"I'd known the Major for years, ever since he was just a keen, ruthless lieutenant who didn't mind volunteering for the battalion's nastier work and keeping his mouth shut about it. Just before his promotion, he'd been at the forefront of the incident that our enemy and most of our own media had described as a 'brutal, indiscrimiate ethnic cleansing-style massacre', but which the generals played down as an unavoidable anti-insurgency action. Those of us who were there knew the truth, but when people are trying to kill you, you don't tend to have a lot of sympathy when they get some of their own medicine back.

"I know how those poor bastards over in Iraq right now feel - we went through the same thing they're going through, years ago, we were just lucky enough not to have the world's press breathing down our necks the whole time. They were too bloody scared to come anywhere near the places we had to go. And when you're in a situation like that, the Marquis Of Queensberry rules don't apply, y'know? Yeah, we'd done some dodgy stuff, and the gaffer was always right in the middle of it, shooting people casually like he didn't give half a damn if they were with the rebels or not. He was a cold one and no mistake.

"But here, now? I'd never seen the Major like this. Ever since the orders had come through from HQ the previous evening, he'd been like a man possessed. His eyes were usually impassive and blank and gave nothing away, but there was a fire in them that night that seemed to jump from excitement to fear and back again in the space of a moment. It was a relief when he looked away from you, because when you'd seen what he could do when he didn't care, thinking about what he might do when he did - well, that put a chill down your spine, even if you fancied yourself as a hard man.

"When a sighting of the fugitive came in, and we heard he was on a horse heading across the moors, the Major took the whole company up to the stables of the local hunt, woke everyone there up and commandeered every mount in the place at gunpoint. Gave the snotty hunt guy a whack in the face with the butt of his pistol when he started bitching, everyone enjoyed that. There weren't enough horses for everybody, so the rest of us had to stick as close as we could in the armoured personnel carrier. We bumped across the moors at gallop speed, getting sore arses from bouncing off the APC's metal seats for about three hours, and it was just barely starting to get light when we saw him.

"The fugitive was sat on his horse by a stream, letting it have a drink. It had been pissing down and the guy had one of those heavy snorkel jackets with the hoods on, so I guess he hadn't heard us coming up behind the ridge. We were only about 300 yards away when he spotted us, and he yanked the horse's head up and kicked it into a gallop straight away. But it must have been knackered by then after riding all night, and it was obvious after a few seconds that we were going to catch them pretty quick.

"The guy must have realised it too, because we can't have been after them for three minutes when he pulled his horse up and turned round to face us. The Major got about 50 yards away then motioned everyone to stop. I'd stopped the APC about a hundred yards behind the rest of the company so as not to spook the horses, off to one side so I could see what was going on, and everyone else piled out with their rifles - I had to stay behind, because you don't leave an armoured vehicle full of assault weaponry unattended on the battlefield, even if it looks like the enemy's only one guy - ran up and stood aiming them at the fugitive.

"Now look, I'm just telling you what I saw, okay? They tell me it's just my mind playing tricks on me, a coping mechanism for the trauma, but when something is the last thing you'll ever see in your life, you don't forget it. When these bandages come off, they say I won't even know whether it's day or night - the optic nerves aren't just damaged, they're burned clear away. They've recommended taking the eyes out and putting artificial ones in so I won't frighten passers-by, but I don't want a couple of lumps of cold dead glass in my face for the rest of my life, reminding me of what I'm missing.

"Anyway, I'd grabbed the binoculars for a better look. The Major had obviously shouted something, but I couldn't hear it for the distance and the rain blattering off the roof. The fugitive held his hands up like he was surrendering, then slowly unzipped the hood of his jacket and pulled it down. The light was bad and with the rain I don't think anyone else could see properly, but I could and it freaked the crap out of me. It was like looking at the Major in a mirror. Literally a mirror, I mean. The Major's got this hollow in his right cheekbone where he got hit by some shrapnel from a home-made pipe bomb - and a load of poor bastards paid for that, I can tell you - and the fugitive had one just the same, except it was in his left cheekbone. Even through the night-vision binocs, you could tell this guy was the Major's double, only reversed. It was weird, but it was nothing to what happened next.

"I couldn't see the Major's face, but for a couple of seconds they just seemed to be looking at each other. Then the Major just pulled out his 9mm, pointed it straight at the fugitive and fired three shots. It looked like he'd hit him - Christ, he couldn't have missed at that range - but nothing happened, then the fugitive kicked at his horse like the gun had just been a starting pistol and came galloping straight at the company. A couple of the guys on foot got off rifle shots, but he'd caught everyone cold and before you knew it he was heading right for the Major. As they got near, the chief didn't move, like he was frozen to the spot. But then his horse reared up and everyone sort of scattered. He tried to pull it down and turn it round, but he hadn't got it under control. One of the guys galloped his horse into the gap between the fugitive and the Major, trying to make a barrier and get his gun out at the same time, but just as their horses started to shy away from the collision, the fugitive stood up in the saddle and dived right at the Major.

"There must have been a good eight feet between them, but with the momentum of the horse he flew through the air like an arrow. For a split second I could see both his face and the Major's, and the chief's mouth was wide open - you could see the bright glow of his teeth through the green night-sight, like he was shouting or screaming something. The fugitive looked like he was going to catch the Major around the neck in a kind of flying rugby-tackle, but then they both seemed to get incredibly bright and the next thing I knew I felt like I was flying through a big white sky in total silence. That's all I remember until I woke up here.

"They told me the guy had about 30 sticks of dynamite strapped underneath his jacket and he'd detonated them as he grabbed the Major, but I've seen all sorts of shit explode in my life - nothing looked like what I saw out there, and they all made a pretty bloody loud noise as well. One of the orderlies here told me that all the guys were dead - I can't believe the whole company's gone. But he said none of them actually had any injuries - no cuts, nothing blown off or broken - except they were all burned to a crisp where they'd been facing the explosion. He doesn't seem to have been around for the last few days, though, so I haven't had a chance to ask him about it. Someone who said he was from HQ came down and asked me a few questions, but when I told him how the guy looked just like the Major, he said I'd just been shaken up by the blast and was probably still confused. But I know what I saw.

"Anyway, thanks for listening. They've had me in here on my own all this time, and it's pretty boring having nobody to talk to when you can't see anything or do anything. They won't even give me a phone to ring my folks. And everyone locks the door when they leave, which is pretty funny - it's not like I'm going anywhere, is it? I shouldn't complain, though, I guess I've been pretty lucky. It's the Major and the rest of the company I feel sorry for. Been nice to have a chat, though, even if I haven't let you get much of a word in edgeways. Actually, you never did say who you were. You some kind of padre or something?

"Hey. Hey, you still there?"

"You Are The Generation Who Bought More Shoes And You Get What You Deserve" by Johnny Boy - CD single released 2 August 2004 on Mercury Records.

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