Author: John Carrick
Charles had been at the station for six months now. Housed in a small assembly to the right side of the ammunition drum, the belts rattled as they cycled through their daily reseating. The heaters ignited and the cold of the evening was offset for a few hours, letting him shake the sensation that he and his partner, Marcus, had been forgotten at this god-forsaken post.
Charles stood second shift, scanning the horizon twelve hours a day, while Marc slept. Then he would enjoy his chemical coma for eleven hours, before his single hour warm-up of quiet contemplation would begin.
Six months, halfway through the tour, after the actual front lines had left him pretty ripped up. This was more of a rest and regeneration tour. While wired to the turret, his shredded limbs would be repaired, the destroyed tissue regenerated, and after his year; he’d be good as new. All he had to do was stay glued to his lenses for enemy activity in the valleys below. This was, as it had been explained, a win-win. This way he could still provide a service to the Republic.
Marcus had been at the post longer. Charles wasn’t sure how long, but he’d be relieved first. During his shifts, all he’d seen were the comings and goings of the wild creatures inhabiting the slopes below. He watched hawks and eagles hunt rabbits and mice. He watched deer graze, occasionally chased off by the coyotes and mountain lions.
A family of blue jays had nested in a nearby tree and had served as Charlie’s principal source of entertainment. He watched the parents construct their nest and tend to the eggs. He watched the baby birds develop their feathers and spread their wings for the first time. The only time he’d even come close to firing had been when a particularly ambitious fox had scaled half the tree, intent on devouring the family. Charles activated the weapon’s cleaning cycle, the clatter of the turret driving the fox away and allowing the young birds to survive.
When Charles first heard the roar of the approaching vehicle he scanned the ridgeline, but at a precipice, it was some time before the maintenance truck rolled into view. The running lights illuminated the clearing and the fire road along the ridgeline. The truck parked and Charles watched, captivated, as the vehicle doors opened and the young soldiers climbed out. These were the first people he’d seen since taking on this assignment. He and Marcus only communicated by text, over the turret’s internal systems.
The driver walked around the truck, joining his passenger, who’d left his door open. In the passenger’s window, the turret was reflected clearly. It stood tall, illuminated against the sky. Charles and Marc’s lenses were attached to the sides of the guns, which were mounted on swivels. Close to the central post, beneath the guns, were the ammo drums and the pods where Charles and Marc themselves were housed. This, in Charles’ imagination, required a large coffin-shaped compartment, where their medical rehabilitation could take place. However, the reflection illuminated metal containers the size of a small cooler.
From the back of the truck, the soldiers carried out a similar steel case; Marc’s replacement.
Charles realized; there was no new body coming for him. The only thing in the container, the only thing salvaged from his last engagement, had been his brain.
As the soldiers approached, the turret’s barrels swiveled toward them. The lenses on the scopes turned as the targets were dialed in…
The mean spirits of war claim another soul.