Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

The soldier sat on the corner of his footlocker in the virtually empty barracks, the barrel of his sidearm pressed against his temple.

A respectful distance away, Major Ramses watched the younger man calmly, speaking in soothing tones with a Southern accent.

“Son, you don’t have to do this. There are people here that can help you, whatever it is you’re feeling…”

The soldier cut him off. “That’s the problem, sir. I don’t feel. There are soldiers in my unit that bleed, that scream, that cry sometimes when people die, but I don’t do any of that. And then there’s this.” He trailed off and raised his left arm into the light. Where the skin had been burned away, metal braided fabric showed through underneath. “I don’t know what the hell I am, but I’m sure as hell not one of you.”

Ramses raised his shoulders in a shrug. “Don’t be so sure,” he chuckled. “Look, son, we’ve been patching you boys up with all kinds of new medical tech. You got shot up pretty bad, and you were out for a while. The docs did the best they could do for you, and look at you. You’ve got a fully functioning arm, no missing pieces. The skin will grow back, or we’ll graft it fresh if it doesn’t. New parts don’t make you any less of a soldier, any less of a man.”

“What’s my name? My tags say Walton, Emmett J., but I don’t remember that. I don’t remember where I came from. If I dug through the skin on my chest, would I find metal there too? I expect I would. I’m not a messed up man, I’m messed up, but I’m no man. Why can’t I even pull the trigger on this thing?”

Emmett pushed the gun hard into the flesh of his scalp, straining with visible effort to pull the trigger, but his trigger finger wouldn’t budge. Gradually he slid the barrel up until it cleared his short cut hair and without hesitation his finger responded, firing off a round into the bunk beside him, the flash burning a path across the top of his skull. He quickly pushed the gun back to the side of his head and tried again to no avail.

“If I was human, I could end this. I don’t know what the hell I am, sir, but if I was human, I could end this right now.”

Again, his slid the barrel up the curve of his scalp until the barrel cleared the top of his skull and squeezed off a second round.

Neither man flinched as he jammed the still hot barrel into his cheek, the flesh singeing beneath the metal.

Major Ramses considered the soldier for a moment, and then spoke almost in a whisper.

“Sicherheit deaktivieren. Sicherheitsautorisierung echo november delta.”

Walton’s German was rusty, and as he traced a line up the side of his face with the barrel of his gun, he worked out ‘Safety’ and ‘Authorization’, and the acronym was easy…

The weapon fired again, the bullet tearing into the soft tissue and stopping cold against his armoured brainpan, the recoil and impact tearing the weapon from his hand.

“I’m sorry son, but even if I let you do it, won’t do you no damn good.” He shook his head in resignation. “We’ll get someone down here to patch up your software. Can’t have you breaking down in a platoon with meat-bags in it, you’ll upset morale something fierce.”

Walton sat startled, hand stinging and head ringing.

“At Ease soldier.” Ramses walked towards the barracks door, pausing only to add “Status-Herunterfahren”.

Behind him, Walton, Emmett J. slumped forward motionless, the haunted look in his eyes frozen in place.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows