Tin Man

by 

Author : O. Alexander

I open my eyes. They burn after another restless night, filled with nightmares. Three weeks in the jungle, playing deadly cat and mouse games with a neo-leftist demolition squad, can have that effect.

I get up and walk unsteadily into the bathroom. Looking into the mirror, dark fear swells within me.

The Incident.

It is never far from my mind.

My man lost. A village massacred in retribution. Innocents slaughtered. I stood by, silent.

I pound both my palms against the hard porcelain sink, the pain clearing my head for a moment.
The One World de-brief begins at 9am. No time for regrets now.

Moving back into the bedroom, the TV is showing another cratered launch pad. This time they hit a base to the West. A primitive bomb again, crippling another launch facility.

I dress quickly and walk outside. The protestors just beyond the fence notice me and a swell of hatred is hurled in my direction.

“No to human murderers,” a strained female voice rises above the others.

My squad is part of an experiment. We are the first biologicals One World has allowed into front-line combat on its behalf in thirty years. With the rise of autonomous fighting machines, and the breakthroughs in Moral-Software that soon followed, war became a wholly non-human affair for the developed world three decades ago. Then, last year One World’s autonomous forces proved incapable of pacifying this jungle insurgency. The genetically enhanced locals proved too tenacious and clever for the agile machines.

Our baseline human squads have a good record in the test so far, giving the insurgents a series of bloody engagements with no civilian casualties. An Autonomous Witnessing Unit, the size of a small bear walking on four legs, is sent out with each squad. It records and reports the squad’s interactions with civilians and combatants back to One World.

The Incident happened in a zone too dangerous for communication transmissions. The images from the village remained inside the AWU when Owens attached the armor piercing explosive to its underbelly. The report we later filed told the story of our squad coming onto an atrocity clearly committed by our enemies. My job today is to walk the Council through that report, to keep the Baseliner’s record clean and my men off the gallows.

———-

Thirty minutes later I sit at the center of a drafty room, surrounded on three sides by elevated podiums. I watch as the colorful One World uniforms file in. When the last seat is filled, I sit up straight and prepare for my testimony. The room grows silent. A minute passes. Then five. No familiar words of welcome from the Director. Just silence.

Panic slices through my stomach. I stand, taking two steps backwards. Four strong arms meet me. I try to whirl, to run. The strong arms jerk me off my feet, carrying me to the far wall. One of the hands fumbles in a pocket, then holds something cold and metallic to my head. I am instantly paralyzed. They place me in a stiff chair. A metallic cap is fitted to my head. A screen descends from the ceiling.

To my horror, my skull under the metal cap seems to split in half. It happens smoothly. Mechanically. Without pain. Connections are made under the cap. A jungle scene appears on the screen, showing a view from just outside the village. The huts are still intact. Miller is just ahead on the trail. I remember this view. It is mine.

As the image leaps to life, I fear it is the end of mine.

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