Author : Catherine Preddle

“What the hell happened out there, Corporal?”

“General… General Dalton, Sir…” The young soldier stammered in surprise and tried to sit up at the same time.

“Easy, son. Lie back down.” Christ, the General thought to himself, this boy was young enough to be his grandson. He shot a worried glance at the medical technician as the soldier collapsed, coughing and spluttering, back onto the narrow metal bed. Out of sight of the boy, the technician silently tapped his watch. The last thing they both wanted was for him to realize what was going on.

Once he’d recovered, the soldier looked at the General expectantly, “Where am I, Sir? It’s so cold in here. I can’t even feel my legs.” That’s because they’re not there anymore, the Dalton thought grimly.

“You’re back at the base, in,” he hesitated for a moment, searching for the right words, “in the medical unit. Now, what do you remember?”

“It … it was chaos, Sir. Intelligence was wrong about the firing range of the enemy laser cannons, very wrong. We didn’t stand a chance, Sir.” The soldier convulsed into coughing again and closed his eyes, the effort of talking overwhelming him for a time.

“It’s alright son, we’re going to figure out what happened.” Somebody’s head was going to roll for this and the General was damn well sure it wasn’t going to be his.

“Are my wife and daughter here yet, Sir?” Oh great, so the boy was old enough to have a family; Dalton made a mental note to have some kind of valour medal awarded to make sure they were taken care of. The tech was getting agitated now – they must be running out of time.

“They’ll be here soon. Do you want me to tell them anything in case … in case you’re asleep when they arrive?” He made an attempt to sound breezy.

“Just that I love them and I’m going to be ok, I guess.”

“Sure, son.” Smiling reassuringly, the General patted him on the shoulder. God, he hated this part the most. “I’ll tell them.”

The boy visibly relaxed and sank further into the bed, shutting his eyes. Dalton continued to stare at him, a lump forming in his throat until the tech interrupted him.

“He’s gone, General. For good.” He snapped to attention; he had a job to do here. Bringing these kids back from the dead, even if it was for only three precious minutes, cost the military a fortune, had to be justified by a mountain of paperwork and required authorization at the highest level. But the mission had been sabotaged and he needed eye witness accounts.

“How many more?”

The technician gestured to the bank of morgue drawers behind him that stretched from floor to ceiling. “43 corpses. 30, maybe 31, possible reanimations.”

The General grimaced. It was going to be a long afternoon.

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