Author : David K Scholes
“You performed well,” said my unit commander mark 5A droid “courage above and beyond the call of duty and all that.”
“They were only virtual reality simulations,” I tried to hose his excessive yet perceptibly mechanical enthusiasm down a bit.
“Sometimes – when you are in there – it can be hard to tell the difference,” the droid persisted. “You went equally well in the urban pacification scenario and the off world mil-intervention scenario. No, I think my boy that you are ready for the real thing now – for actual combat!”
I bristled even at the thought. “Hey – it was just entertainment for me, admittedly at times some pretty hairy entertainment – but basically an interactive virtual reality game for all of that. That I paid for the privilege of playing too,” I added
“You turned out to be a lot better than you thought you would be eh?” my interactive virtual reality commander continued. “You do realise anyone scoring higher than 85000 in two combat simulations can be called up involuntarily.”
That was news to me and a puzzled look must have shown on my face.
“Oh!” he replied “perhaps you didn’t read the fine print in your contract? You know how bad the manpower situation is now. Trying to satisfy our senior partners in the Galactic commitment? Anyone under 95 has to have a pretty good reason for not being prepared to front up when requested. An even better reason if they have scored as well as you in combat simulations.”
I realised then I wasn’t going to be able to get out of it. Curse me for scoring so well in the game. For even entering it.
* * *
It was true what my old unit commander, correction interactive virtual reality unit commander, had said. That once you are in there in combat it can be hard to tell the difference between reality and virtual reality. My early real combat missions seemed pretty much like the virtual reality simulations. Relatively easy.
There was the physical toll of course despite all our advanced equipment. Yet the R & R spells helped a lot. Our senior partners in the Galactic commitment, and just about every one was senior to poor old Earth, spared no expense. Healing energy baths, yielding force field type cushion recliners, fantastic levitating wheelless wheelchairs. Wonder drugs to bring us safely down from the wonder drugs we had been fighting on. Other wonder drugs to take us safely back up again.
Still it got harder. A cumulative tiredness that the R & R couldn’t quite overcome. Physically we probably could have gone on longer but the mental weariness got to you.
As Earth’s manpower shortage became ever more acute the authorities, under pressure from above, kept lowering the physical standards and raising the age limit for combat recruits.
Our senior partners, the Vrell, the Spleeth, and the Dhleene among them had not been bothered about the price tag. Just as long as Earth did their dirty work for them and their own citizens were spared.
We continue to fight on – the old men and sometimes old women of Earth. Most of us now know that we will not see our home again.
I do not care to think of the consequences for Earth when we can no longer keep up our end of the Galactic commitment.