Wyld FLASH – December 18th 2020
By Eric Fomley
We’re on the beach by the platform where the deployment shuttle is set for launch. There’s a light, salty breeze and I’m trying to soak in as much of it and the sunlight as I can before I get into orbit.
I sling the uniform bag over my shoulder and kneel in front of my daughter. Kiki puts one of her hands on each of my biceps and tears roll down her little cheeks.
“Promise me you’ll come home safe, daddy.”
I brush back her hair, look into her amber eyes, and smile.
I kiss her on the forehead and stand. My heart feels like it’s being torn from my chest, there’s something in my throat, and tears of my own blur my vision. I’ll miss her. My daughter owns my heart.
“Love you.” I tell her.
“Love you, daddy,” she says, and crinkles her nose.
The way she says it makes my heart melt, a fluttery feeling that never gets old.
“I’ll be home soon. Now run along to your grandma.”
She turns and darts back to where my parents stand by their shuttle. The three of them wave and I wave back.
It hurts. Every time I have to leave it hurts. But it’s what we sign up for.
I walk to the shuttle to join the other soldiers and try not to look back. I don’t succeed. I pass another wave and a smile to my little girl. We haven’t even left yet, don’t even know what the mission is, but already I’m sick for home.
The memory fades, but you know how it ends, and tears streak down your face.
You’re hanging in stasis in a prison cell, somewhere in the middle of an Obelisk Corporation ship. Tubes snake in and out of your stomach, giving you the nutrients you need and excreting what you don’t. Wires criss cross from different ports they’ve installed in your body, keeping track of your vitals, and, of course, supplying the implants they’ve installed in your mind with the memories they’re feeding it. Your skin is puffy and sore where they’ve made the modifications. You’re weak and it hurts to move the little bit that the machine allows. You don’t know how long you’ve been in this place.
All you know are the memories you’ve relived of five Obelisk soldiers you killed.
They always know when you’ve finished a set of memories and right on cue the cell door slides open. The short, fat warden waddles in first. He’s the one you’re used to seeing when you’re not living the memories. He checks the machine, your vitals, and looks up at you with his black, beady eyes.
Captain Parah comes in after him, her hands folded behind her back. She has rigid posture and looks up at you with menace and authority in equal measure. The hatred displayed on her face hasn’t lessened since the last time you saw her, when she first captured you and put you in here.
“He’s still alive,” the warden sneers, “and it looks as though his mind is still intact.” He sounds disappointed.
“Can he speak with me?” she asks.
“Yes, he’s quite capable.”
Her eyes narrow on yours. “I see you’ve just finished reliving the key memories from Corporal Snalt. He was a fine soldier, and he left quite an impressive young girl behind when he passed.”
It tugs at your heart and you feel broken. You relived most of the highs and lows of Snalt’s life through his eyes. You learned to love the people he loved, the people he left behind. You think about Kiki and shutter when you think about how you shoved a gun in her daddy’s face.
The corner of Parah’s lip twitches up in a smile. “Ah, I can see we are getting through to you. Not so easy to kill when you have to understand the people it hurts, is it? Now, where is Section 99? Cooperate and I will see to it that your sentence in this cell ends. You’ll be free to go.”
Section 99 is the shadow ops branch of the Dominion Corporation, your employer. It’s the leg up the Dominion has had on Obelisk and everyone knows it. When last you knew, the Dominion was winning the war. Divulge this information and you destroy the Dominion. Your family won’t be safe.
“Fuck off,” you rasp, and your throat aches from the effort.
She scoffs and her composure turns to rage.
“Give him another, in fact, give him all the rest of them. When your mind has left you, you don’t know which of the thirty seven lives you’ve lived are yours, and you’re crawling around on the floor of this cell talking to yourself, maybe then you’ll give us what we want.” She turns and walks out.
Your stomach twists into knots and you feel like you’re going to vomit, but the machine won’t even allow you that luxury. You wish you never signed up to fight as the warden slides a new chip into the terminal below your feet.
The information surges into your implants, making your head pulse with agony. The room around you starts to fade, replacing itself with a homely living room.
You scream, try to move, but the stasis is holding you in place.
You have thirty two more lives to live. Each one you live buys your family a little more time.
Author Bio: Eric Fomley is a member of SFWA. His work appears in Daily Science Fiction, Flame Tree, Galaxy’s Edge, and The Black Library. You find more of his work on his website www.ericfomley.com and follow him on Twitter @PrinceGrimdark.
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