Imagine waking up one day unable to recall who you are or where you came from – only to find you are serving a sentence as a convict conscript for crimes you have no memory of ever committing…
Vane nursed no illusions about the fate of those conscripted to serve under him. For the vast majority, joining the Specials meant nothing more than a deferred death sentence. His troops served with an average life expectancy of just under two years. Most died very quickly, either on active service or were killed in the gruelling training. Others fell afoul of their own violent recreational activities or failed to sustain the psychological strength needed and committed suicide. Some died in brawls or were murdered by their comrades. Yet it remained a truism whenever a dirty job needed doing anywhere in the Coalition’s sphere of influence, the Specials were first on the ground, often ahead of the AI mechs. Vane took pride from that. He heard the troops did too.
Ironically, it meant, to be standing here, this soldier could only be the toughest kind: a man who could survive and even thrive in such an environment.To date, those few up before him for release, fell into one of two categories: those who were ruthless and brutal in pursuit of their self-preservation, and those who were high functioning socially, surviving as much through their ability to engage with others as by their own prowess. He thought of them as the ‘Lone Wolves’ and the ‘Socialites’. The ones he passed fit to leave were of the latter type. Yet so far this man seemed to defy both categories and until he could fit him into one or the other it would be difficult to make a call.
He looked back from the screens to the man himself.
“How do you feel about becoming a civilian?”
The green eyes showed no expression.
“I have been informed it can be very rewarding, sir. I see it as an opportunity to serve the community of the Coalition and the chance for my own self-development and personal fulfilment – sir.”
Lines from a manual. The last individual he cleared for release, which must be over a year ago, said much the same: words any ex-criminal would have engraved into their psyche before being passed fit to rejoin society.
“You were arrested for perpetrating numerous acts of terrorism against the Coalition. How do you feel about that now?”
From beyond the holofacade, Vane noticed the lounging figure stir and pull the chair upright, leaning forward with sudden interest, staring a little to the side where, no doubt, screens were showing selected close-up angles and readings taken from the Lattice. But from Vane’s own perspective, there was little reaction to see. The soldier’s face remained impassive as he spoke:
“Although I acknowledge my guilt in many terrible crimes against humanity, due to my amnesia I have no memory of committing them. The Coalition is a just and compassionate association of free, democratic people. I cannot understand why I would ever have wished to commit such heinous acts.”
It sounded rehearsed, not at all the language of a ranker in the Legion and Vane noticed a frown forming on the face of the observer as their fingers moved, recording notes. The Commodore, feeling himself as much observed in this as Revid, pressed the point.
“Do you understand the nature of the crimes you committed?”
“I do, sir.”
The burly Sergeant Hynas standing behind Revid, had been glaring in silent protest for some time. Now he cleared his throat. Vane suppressed a momentary irritation and nodded his permission for the man to speak.
“With respect, sir, this man has been wired to the Lattice for the last five years, he has no real idea of what anything means except obeying orders and killing. He’s just a killer,” the Sergeant said, spitting the word, “and all he did before his arrest were killing, so it’s natural he would see nothing wrong with it now. I don’t care what the neurocologists say about it, I know this man and that’s the simple truth. That’s why it’s taken them so long to even consider clearing him for discharge, sir.”
For the first time since the interview began, Vane saw a spark of animation in Revid’s eyes. The fixed gaze shifted to meet his own, it’s intensity disconcerting.
“Permission to speak, sir.”
“He’s a – “
Vane silenced the protesting Sergeant with a curt gesture.
“Permission granted, soldier.”
“Sergeant Hynas is under the impression I am unable to judge the moral difference between unjust murder and just warfare, between mindless terrorism and the well considered use of force. I would like it to be on my record I am very much aware of the difference between the two.I made a public statement renouncing my previous criminal activities, some years ago, activities for which I have the deepest disgust.” It was his longest speech so far and for once his tone held a bite of emotion. Vane felt very sure Sergeant Hynas had been tormenting this man for a long time. “I have been given numerous additional tests to ascertain this and despite my application being rejected and returned for review four times, each time I have been cleared for release. I would like to vindicate the wisdom of the Coalition’s system of justice, offer service to the community as a civilian and take this chance to recommence my life. Sir.”
Vane sat still for a moment, shocked into silence. He had never heard any of his Legionaries speak like that. Coming from the mouth of the scarred, adapted creature before him, with an ugly direct brain-linked data port visible behind one ear, the incongruity of it left him feeling profoundly unsettled. The language sounded far from anything heard in the ranks and this did not seem like a well rehearsed speech, which made it increasingly difficult to line up such fluent expression with the idea of total amnesia.
From Trust A Few – book one in Haruspex, the second Fortune’s Fools trilogy by E.M. Swift-Hook – which is only 0.99 to buy throughout November.
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