The Post-Emotional Age

Terina fumbled in her pocket for her pill box, a present from her mother. If you had to live with such an unfortunate disease, Mama had told her bluntly, you might as well have something nice and unobtrusive to hide the necessary medication. Terina had needed a pill then, too, letting her six-year-old bangs hide the shame in her eyes. Thirty years later, she no longer had the benefit of the curtain of hair, but the enameled pill box was a good focus for her gaze. Terina popped out one of the small blue spheres and tucked it under her tongue, letting her body dissolve the medicine as she tried to pay attention to the feed in front of her.

Bodies. Dead bodies, everywhere, laid out across a bloody plain that nearly made Terina sick when she had to look at it. She swallowed bile and willed the pill to dissolve faster, sneaking a glance at her fellow commanding officers, all arrayed around the readout in stolid contemplation.

“Looks like the blast points were precise,” one of the men observed, pointing out charred circles on the readout with his stylus. “They maximized human casualties rather than structural damage.”

“That makes sense,” a blue-eyed woman replied. “That’s one of the few plants that isn’t automated. Without its workers, production will be halved at best. They did their research.” She shook her head in detached admiration. “Intelligent terrorists.”

“Lieutenant Carreas?” the colonel asked, turning to Terina for her opinion. She jumped a little before she got a hold of herself.

“We’ll have to write to the families,” she said softly, then immediately regretted it when six pairs of incredulous eyes turned towards her. Terina shrank back and crunched the pill between her teeth; anything to get it to dissolve faster and restore her composure.

“Let’s focus on the situation at hand, Carreas,” the colonel suggested, and his disapproval was clear. Terina swallowed the pill. She could finally feel the medication beginning to take effect, detaching her from the weakness of outdated emotional reaction.

“Yes, sir.” Straightening, Terina examined the readouts again, this time more easily able to ignore the mangled bodies at the crime scene. “This looks like Redox residue,” she said at last, circling a blackened piece of ground with her own stylus in order to enlarge it. “It must have been the Xiang rebels. No other group has access to that kind of technology.” The rest of the lieutenants nodded and murmured their agreement. Terina knew that all of them thought her more than a little flighty due to her condition, but they still showed a grudging respect for her skills as an analyst and tactician, provided she remembered to take her medication.

“Good work, Carreas.” The colonel nodded sharply and turned his gaze to the blue-eyed woman. “Lieutenant Holmes, you will lead the dispatch team. Flush out the rebels; if they’re Xiang, they should still be in the area. Make sure they’re caught promptly. We can’t afford any more production delays.” The woman saluted smartly and turned to go, with the rest of the commanding officers following a step afterwards, as soon as the colonel gave the signal of dismissal. Terina hung behind.

As the rest of the lieutenants filed out of the briefing room, Terina traced the images on the screen with her finger, swallowing a lump in her throat. She knew she wasn’t supposed to think about the families. She wasn’t supposed to feel any of this. She wasn’t supposed to feel anything at all.

Turning quickly, Terina hurried to catch up with the rest of the group before she was missed. The slight blur of her vision was something she had learned to accept. Once the medication took full effect, it would be gone.

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