10 YEARS AFTER GREG RYDER'S GRADUATION FROM BULLWORTH ACADEMY. IN AN AMERICAN BASE CAMP SOMEWHERE IN NORTH KOREA DURING WORLD WAR 3, 2020. . .
"It was an honor to serve with you, Corporal." My squad leader saluted me as I was being hauled into the helicopter via stretcher. I was holding onto my dog tags as I grasped my stomach in excruciating pain.
I was shot in the stomach by some North Korean troops during our last assignment. I'll tell you about it some other time with a drink in my hand. But I'll tell you the aftermath:
Ten people were killed, three escaped. Private Merrill, and the wounded soldier who's name was Sergeant Greene, and myself. I actually ruined myself even more, even more than that day I took that Russian's life thirteen years ago. It's different taking a life, and watching your friends die right before your eyes. I would have preferred to be dead than have to live with what I saw.
I saluted him back and then he shouted over the engine, "Hey, Greg!" I asked, "Yeah, Sarge?" He smiled and said, "Get a haircut! Your hair grows too damn fast! It's like it don't wanna be cut!" I tried laughing but my stomach hurt from the wound. It is true, I got a crew cut 6 weeks ago and my hair just grows back. The helicopter door then slammed shut. The helicopter pilot put his earphones on and said into the radio, "Roger that, Whiskey. We are clear for takeoff. Panther is in our possession. Big Eye 3, out."
Panther was my nickname from the way I fight during combat because I like to sneak up on the enemy and take them out silently one by one. Anyway, I am on my way back to the States, with an honorable discharge, and I am comin' home. . .
16 HOURS LATER. . .
I walked out of the White House with the biggest smile on my face. I was just awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and a Purple Heart, which I had both pinned on my shirt. The press was snapping photos of me and I was trying to cover my face from the flashes.
"Mr. Ryder! How do you feel getting the second highest award in the military? What made you want to do what you did?" A reporter shoved a microphone in front of my face. I said irriatably, "I just did what any other soldier would have done."
I hailed a taxi and asked if I could go to the airport. I was planning on making a visit to someone very special who I haven't seen for many years. And I couldn't wait to see the look on her face when she saw me. . .
4 1/2 HOURS LATER. . .
I walked into the Schottler hospital in Liberty City carrying a glass vase with flowers inside, and approached the front desk.
"Hello, can I help you?" The lady at the desk asked me. I smiled and said, "Hey, I'm here to see Kristen Ryder."
The lady looked at the computer and looked back at me with a blank look on her face, "I'm so sorry, young man. But she isn't-" I interupted her, "I'm her son. I just got back from the war, and I wish to see my mother, please!"
The lady sighed, "Alright, she's in the 2nd room on the left." I thanked her and walked to my mom's room. She was sleeping, and the doctor was sitting next to her, writing in his notepad.
"Is she gonna be alright, doc?" I asked. The doctor stood up and he sighed. He put his hand on my shoulder, and I was scared of what kind of news he was gonna give me, and I knew this wasn't good.
"I'm sorry, son. She doesn't have much longer," My heart sank into my stomach and my mind went blank. I started shaking and I wanted to cry, but my tears dried up a long time ago. I haven't cried in over 10 years.
"You should speak with her. She kept saying your name as she slept. You're all she's got." The doctor said sadly. I spoke with my lip quivering, "And she's all I've got."
I kneeled next to her bed and her eyes opened. She smiled and said lovingly, "Hey, honey." I started breathing heavily, trying to convince myself that this wasn't happening and it was just a nightmare.
I put the flowers on her bedside table, "I bought these for you." I choked. She smiled, "You know how much I love flowers, Gregory."
I looked down at the floor and she took her finger and raised my jaw so I was looking at her, "Remember the day when we were on Bullworth Pier, right after you graduated?"
I nodded, "Yeah," Mom said in a raspy voice, "I want you to sprinkle my ashes in the water from off the edge of the pier.." I begged, "Mom, please don't talk like that-" She put her hand to my lips like she did when I used to ramble out of stress or anxiety when I was a boy, "Shhh. . . My end is near. . I want you to do something for me. . ." I whispered shakily, "What is it?" She rasped, "You're the last Ryder. . Don't do anything that will get you killed. . ." Her eyes started to twinkle, "I think I see Vincent. . . I'm coming, honey. . ." Her eyes closed and the life machine showed a flat line.
I shouted, "NO! MOM! PLEASE DON'T LEAVE ME! YOU'RE ALL I HAVE! PLEASE, GOD, NO!!" I tried to cry, but I couldn't. Mom was the only thing in my life that humanized me.
I picked up the vase of flowers and threw it against the wall, the vase shattered and the flowers fell hopelessly to the floor. I screamed in rage and picked up a chair and threw it at the window. The window broke and the chair flew into the street. I stormed out of the room with my fists clenched and a doctor asked me, "Are you alright, son?"
I yelled in his face, "She's dead! Get the fuck out of my way!" I punched him in the nose and he crumpled to the ground. I flipped over a coffee table and kicked a hole in the drywall. A random guy grabbed me by my shoulders, "Hey, calm the hell down, man!" I growled, "Piss off!" and shoved him onto the ground. I pushed through the emergency exit and the fire alarm went off. The sprinklers immediatley turned on, soaking everything and everyone inside.
I ran into the street in a fit of rage. Not looking where I was going, I was hit by an oncoming vehicle. I rolled over the top of the car and landed behind it on the unforgiving asphalt. I screamed in agony, while I tried to stand up but my leg was broken. I heard some police sirens and they were headed my way. It was hopeless.
My vision started to go fuzzy and I saw some cops get out of their cruiser and heard them say, "Call an ambulance. He needs a medic, stat!" The cop ordered his partner, "Take him back to the hospital. They'll take care of him." My eyes started to close and I remembered nothing more. . .