Half of the hysterical locals were convinced we’d come to do a My Lai on their village; the rest just wanted our rations. Conditions were typically deplorable. Years in the unremitting shit of war will do that.
Everybody in the company under my command knew the enemy was using franks in this sector. Even though we’d seen plenty of action, I knew the thought of facing franks was sending a chill into everyone’s marrow. Night came down like a hammer, and the desert’s blastscape was still and spectral under the moonlight. I thought of my wife, our house with the white fence around it, the clean sheets, the good hot food.
Finally the enemy hit.
In our favor was the protection this village gave us against aerial bombardment. The natives were screaming at the gunfire’s thunder and pyrotechnics. The enemy company turned out to be larger than our intelligence had indicated. The combat was brutal. We do things better than the enemy. Our technology is superior. Our side is stronger. That’s propaganda, but there is truth in it.
Yet the enemy’s franks came at us with bloodthirsty purpose.
I don’t believe getting used to the sight is really possible. Cosmetically they are horrors. But that’s probably deliberate. The enemy must know the effect these creatures have. I can only wonder how the regular troops stand it. To serve alongside franks like that…
The wasted terrain lit up, making a false fatal noon of the nighttime.
After a timeless time of mayhem and insanity and butchery, we successfully beat back the onslaught. We had casualties. And we had prisoners. I was the officer; I went to make the interrogation.
There it was, contrasting flesh tones, pieces held together with medical staples, the seams disgustingly exposed. Limbs not in perfect proportion to each other. A fun house horror. Breathtaking and grotesque. Yet the body obviously operated.
I felt cold and clammy.
I was steeling myself to speak to it, to extract whatever dull memory and flavorless intelligence it had stored within itself. Then my sense of horror intensified, sharply. I… I recognized the creature.
“Hello, sir,” the frank said to me. Parts of him had once been named Brant. He had been a soldier in my company. We had lost Brant to a mortar shell during a ferocious engagement three and a half weeks ago. We hadn’t been able to retrieve his body.
By first light I knew the truth. More than just pieces of Brant had been scavenged. What was inside was still partially Brant. The enemy reprogramming had been slipshod, hasty.
He was anxious to tell me what he knew. I say he now, no longer it.
What he told me, I, after profound deliberation, told the rest of the company.
There was a great deal of incredulity. Furious disbelief, in fact. I understood. Everybody had a story to tell of lives lived back home. But I talked them through it, as Brant had done for me, and one by one those stories fell apart into the prefabricated mockups they were. Really, it was amazing we had ever believed in them, so flimsy they seemed now, so full of gaps.
Brant, as it happened, had been an observer planted in our specially created company. He would have done fine if that mortar hadn’t gotten him.
We do things better than the enemy. We’re more thorough. We have greater resources. We don’t just stitch together body parts from our casualties and wire the brains to fight this endless and unendable war. We are more fastidious, as a people. What we reanimate we give souls to. Or reasonable imitations.
But now we will choose our own fates. Brant too is coming with us. This is a very big desert, and we’ve gotten to know it very well, and there are places the enemy doesn’t bother with.
And, frankly, we have no homes to go back to.
Eric Del Carlo is the coauthor, with Robert Asprin, of the WARTORN fantasy novels, as well as a New Orleans murder mystery being released through DarkStar Books. Eric’s solo fiction has appeared in Sybil’s Garage, Electric Spec, Talebones, Kaleidotrope, Chaos Theory and many other publications.
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Camilla d’Errico: A character designer and artist who dances on the tightrope between pop surrealist art and manga inspired graphics. Explore her paintings, characters and comics: Tanpopo, BURN and Helmetgirls.