From a distance the statue looks like a giant marine in full tac-armour, helmet on and faceplate engaged so you can’t tell gender. There’s a rifle, looks like a Xenon Mark Two, propped against one knee and they’re sat with head in hands and exhaustion etched in every line of their body.
I know that feeling. We all do, every damn one of us filing out of the carrier in civvies towards a future we never expected to see and mostly don’t want. It’s the same as being in service. We went where we were told then too.
Above us shuttles buzz back and forth like flies on a corpse. Tomorrow the gantry at the top will be just another stop for public transport but today the shuttles are just for us. We’re the first to see the thing unveiled, on our way to our new lives, before it opens to the public tomorrow. It’s supposed to be an honour, acknowledgement of the sacrifices we made in defence of Earth, and are still to make. Feels more like a kick in the teeth. No one gave a damn how tired we were during the war.
Up close the illusion starts to break down. The shape gets fuzzy, broken, and I can see the things the statue’s made out of. Pulse rifles, pistols, shock batons, pieces of tac-armour. Like the aftermath of a battle and my vision swims.
I lose a few minutes. When I come back to myself I’m on a bench and the line’s moved on so much I can’t see my place in it. The dark-skinned man next to me wordlessly holds out a bottle of water, watching the line pass.
“Thanks.” I drink, offer it back but he waves me off.
“You ready?” he asks.
“As I’ll ever be.” I don’t want to go, but it’s not like I can stay either. When they send you to war everyone expects you to come back the same, but no one does. It’s tough to watch people mourn you while you’re still alive. Kinder to everyone this way. At least, that’s what the brochure said.
He stands, and I realise he means to walk with me. When I stand the line opens a gap to let us back in. One of the things we’re good at is moving in formation.
The metal steps ring hollow as I climb. If I stare at my feet I don’t have to look at the art beside me, the mockery of a field of bodies. It’s hard not to. Eventually I work out if I look at the individual parts I stop seeing the scale of it. I mentally catalogue them as I go.
“Well fuck me.” I reach out without thinking, seeing a familiar cartoon scratched into the butt of a Mark Two. My fingers trace across my old service weapon before the line sweeps me on. My companion’s face shows he understands.
We climb the endless stairs. There’s a lift for those that can’t manage them but that’s not the point. It’s like they–the people who decided to turn our decommissioned weapons into a big damn statue–want us to face the enormity of the war. As if we weren’t in the thick of it. As if we had a choice about being there.
At the top the stairs open onto a long gantry, multiple shuttles parked along it for boarding. The shuttle at the far end departs and is replaced almost immediately by a new one.
From this height I can see the city stretched out below us. They’ve mostly fixed the damage but a couple of craters remain. I wonder how they’ll feel, seeing the statue every day. A constant reminder they still have to look at, even if they don’t have to look at us.
At the first available shuttle I give name, rank, and service number, and am handed a datapad. As I step inside I hear my companion give his. He sits in the seat beside mine, both of us silent. He browses the datapad. I stare out of the window.
Eventually the shuttle door slams shut and the pilot calls out for seatbelts. As the engines start to thrum I realise my companion hasn’t introduced himself, that he was waiting for me.
“Youniz.” I leave out rank because we’ve been encouraged to engage each other as civilians, but I’m certain there won’t be any officers on this shuttle with us.
“Garvey.” He shakes my offered hand, then gestures with the datapad in his other hand. “You read this?”
“The brochure? Seen it before.”
“Sounds like they pulled all the stops out. Swimming pool, gym facilities, therapists, cutting-edge medical treatment. Like a damn holiday camp.”
I shrug. “Makes them feel better if it doesn’t look like a prison.” Because none of us were coming back from it. Even if we stopped doing a threat assessment of every room we entered, even if the flashbacks and hyper-vigilance and night terrors stopped, the simple fact was we represented something they didn’t want to be reminded of.
“At least they’re not firing us into the sun,” Garvey quips.
“As far as you know,” I reply, and as the shuttle breaks orbit we sit in silence and wait.
C.L. Holland is a British science fiction and fantasy writer, and has been published in venues like Fantasy Magazine and Nature Futures. When not working or writing they can be found playing computer games and tabletop RPGs, or reading about history and folklore. They browses Twitter as @clhollandwriter, and their website is clholland.weebly.com.