Author: Frances Koziar

My whole body felt warm as I closed the door to the bullet-proof training room—warmth like I hadn’t felt since my wife had died. It had only been tried unofficially—though successfully—in the field, but the new drug should sharpen my senses, they had said, and make me a better soldier.

I didn’t know about the sharpening my senses part—dulling my senses had been my goal for four months now—but I did want to be a better soldier. One who could take loss and keep going. One who didn’t talk to ghosts for her only comfort. One who wasn’t useless now that the love of her life was dead.

The targets appeared in a neat line at first, and then on the ceiling, the walls, the floor. I shot them faster than I ever had, a thrill coursing through my blood. My body, at least, remembered a life before my wife’s death. A life where I had been a rising star in the peacekeeping military. A life where I knew emotions other than devastation and heartbreak, loneliness and void.

Obstacles were added. I rolled behind a smashed truck and took out three more targets. Despite the weakness in my body from the ruin of the past few months, I could feel my old strength there too. I could feel the burn in muscles that not so long ago I had trained as hard and as carefully as the new recruits. I remembered when the questions of what I wanted and why I lived had had simple answers. I remembered even farther back, to a time—impossibly, incomprehensibly—when I had been happy without my wife.

I yanked some scrap metal out of the way, twisting it and pulling it to the side, surprised that the simulation was complex enough to make it feel smooth and solid in my hand. Behind it were moving targets: some frozen, some whizzing away from me into a tunnel. I followed, a humming energy a cross between desperation and joy spurring me on, and I threw debris out of my path as if throwing aside my past. My body felt feverish—was that a symptom of the drug they’d forgotten to mention, or the feverish touch of my own madness? The feverish release of too much crying, too much staring into memories, too much waiting for someone who would never come home?

My vision flickered—one, two—and the drug wore off.

My wild grin faded uncertainly. I was no longer in the room I had started in.

…Another phase of the simulation? I wondered at first, hoped, for a single inhale and exhale. Because what I saw now was what I had felt since my wife had died in the crash. Too much horror. Too much loss. Enough pain to drive me mad.

All around me, the people of the training facility lay dead.