Author : Desmond Hussey, featured writer

The troop ship hovers fifty feet above the drop zone under heavy fire from hostiles in the tree line. Low caliber bullets rattle harmlessly against the ship’s thick armor. I clip a rope into my belt carabineer, lean out the hatch and step off into the night.

I hit the ground running and head for cover. On the move, I switch my multi-optics to nightsight with thermal enhancement. I hear the rest of my squad touching down behind me. One by one, they sound off, indicated by a series of green icons and handles glowing in my heads-up helmet display. The jocular banter of eleven jarheads crowds my headphone implant.

“Cut the chatter.” I sub-vocalize into my bone mic.

We move like shadows through the jungle, closing in on the enemy’s last known position. Thermal imaging picks up some residual heat signatures on the ground. Footprints. They were here recently. I give flanking orders, flick the safety off my plasma rifle and creep forward, carefully scanning the dense underbrush.

Suddenly, two icons go red. Two men down. No gunfire. Not even a scream.

“They got Jervis and Cruz. Stay alert.”

I pick up my pace, keeping eyes out for snipers. I hear a brief subsonic throb nearby as McKenzie’s icon turns red.

I burst through the thick foliage and find McKenzie crumpled on the ground. I sweep the jungle for any signs of life. Nothing. I check the body. No entry wounds. No apparent signs of struggle.

Three more icons flash red. What the hell is going on?

I don’t even see my attacker. My body jerks and all goes black.

Dying is never comfortable. Mind you, it’s my clones that actually die. I just have to experience it vicariously through my neural link-up. The physical pain is filtered and stepped down for my convenience, but it’s never pleasant. The psychological effects are the most difficult to shake off. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to this, but it’s better than the alternative.

When the medics finish their protocols I’m pulled from the sensory deprivation tank. I tear out the electrodes and sensor plugs and stalk out of the room, still in my dripping, skin tight wetsuit.

When I burst into the debriefing room, Jervis, Cruz, McKenzie and seven others from my unit are already waiting, as well as Major Biggs and General Cavendish.

“What the hell happened?” I shout. “Those back-water rebs took us out like guppies in a pond!”

“Sit down, Captain Perkins.” General Cavendish looks grim. “As you are fully aware, we have a serious situation on our hands.”

“Damn right we do.” I take a seat and try to calm down. “Do we know what took us out?”

“Corporal Hayward is still in operation.” Major Biggs reports. “She’s managed to identify the weapon used to disable the neural link-up to your clones.”

We’re all on the edge of our seats.

“Somehow the rebels have managed to get their hands on portable Electro-Magnetic Pulse cannons.”

Everybody starts talking at once, firing an angry barrage of questions at the two senior officers. The Major and General patiently wait out the storm.

“Apparently they have a new benefactor supplying them with tech,” the Major continues when we’ve settled down. “We don’t know who and we don’t know how, but as long as they’re armed with EMPs our clones are next to useless.”

General Cavendish continues, “So, boys and girls, it looks like we’re going to have to do this the old fashioned way.”

Without clone surrogates?

This police action just became a whole lot less appealing.


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