War as Horror
Witnessing war as a younger man my focus was on the victims and their stories but as I get older I see what Goya saw in his dark- est works, war is horror. I see children hiding their faces and either paralyzed with fear or scurrying to where they hope they won’t be found. The armed men who scare them would be no more terrifying if they were a pack of werewolves.
I do not know how many times I have had a young soldier telling me he wants to experience mortal combat and “kill the enemy”.
I always warn them “If you kill someone else you will kill part of yourself and the inner pain will strike like a bullet the moment of the others death.” I have been there when young men have had their first kill and often, that night, they will seek me out because I am not a member of their unit and will not judge them as weak when their tears flow. I remember one saying “my mother must never know about this or she will never stop praying for my poor lost soul.”
The Descendence stories belong to a much larger work called Night Vision, a trilogy of three graphic novels yet to be published. Virus Squad and Corporal Night feature in this three part epic which draws from my experiences in the other worlds as well as the wars of this, including: Nicaragua, Philippines, Cambodia, Rwanda, Mozambique, Somalia, Tibet, South Africa, Western Sahara, Bougainville, Bosnia, Yemen, Palestine, Israel, East Timor, Aboriginal Australia, Northern Ireland, North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.
I let my movie and still cameras witness the physicality of war but it is through the writing, drawing and painting that I communicate the supernatural aspect and what it feels like to be an artist or a soldier in the killing fields.
Virus squad moves cautiously through a farmyard. In contrast to the carnage on the beach everything looks peaceful. It is spring and Night finds himself wondering whether some daisy like flowers are mauve or blue. The intense fighting of the morning assault has left him spaced out. A breeze animates the tall trees – they have small round leaves, which shake and vibrate. Night is feeling unnaturally happy for a man leading a patrol with a brief to shoot anything that moves.
As his squad files past he smiles. Extreme danger brings a heightened awareness, like gun toting poets; combat soldiers soak up life’s beauty knowing the next step could be their last. The farm animals are enviably oblivious to the war. Night’s eye meets a stal- lion’s. The horse stands proudly with several mares, its dick extended down, like a thick rubber hose, drips fluid. Light glistens off its rump. Standing out among the flowers and clover are red poppies, the kind Veterans wear on Remembrance Day. The poppies have dark crimson centers like the point where a bullet enters.
Pop, Pop, Pop.. the dull sound of gunfire. Night looks up to see petals of blood burst from the uniform of the soldier in front – then more red bursts from the backs of other troupers. He has led his men into a kill zone – they crumple and hit the ground around him. His own chest explodes. Night is down. He thinks: So it is over at last, an end, oblivion, peace.
He is falling through a fissure in a volcano, red streaks flash by. The air burns. He bounces, caught in some sticky threads. His chest pounds but he knows he must be dead: Why do I still feel pain? His eyes blur into focus on a monstrous creature: Is this the Devil? It moves towards him. He is stung and eaten. Inside the spider is a jelly like existence. He finds he can squirm his way through its flesh. He comes up against two other members of his troop. But inside the spider it is each man for himself.
Time passes and he gets the urge to rise up through the tougher flesh. He presses his skull hard up against it and there is a snap- ping sound and his head pops out on the other side. He looks around him. Everywhere, human shapes are emerging. Night laughs, “Humanity has infected Hell.” The maggot was the larval stage. He flexes his new wings and flies into the darkness. A deep hunger is gnawing inside him – he needs to find food.
The mangled bodies of Virus squad have been dumped on the floor of a hangar inside Baghram Air Base. They might be dead but they are conscious of their surroundings and seem to have been waiting forever to be zipped into body bags and flown back to their families for the flags and grief and final ceremony.
No one comes and they have begun to change – first it was the teeth that dropped out and they felt structural rearrangements in their bodies. They thought: This must be what it is like to putrefy.
Then strong fangs pressed out of their gums and their arms got floppy letting them stretch like rubber. Lance Corporal Day was the first to speak: “If this is the Resurrection where the hell is Jesus?” They are each attached to two hoses with fluids running into them. Private Green jerks on a hose which is connected to a bank of computers: “We must be inside some kind of science experiment.” The section leader, Corporal Night, discovers he can make his body lift up and levitate off the ground. He turns to his men “We are still Virus Squad, right?” All respond loudly in the affirmative.
As Night hovers up to the curved roof he learns he can also pass through barriers. He is above the base. Disney Drive below is busy with traffic. Soldiers are gathering outside the canteen clearing their guns and washing hands. Soon they are just specks. He floats over Mountains to Helmund Province where Virus were taken out. Scavengers are all over their wrecked vehicles like ants. He looks at the stumps where his legs were but their loss matters less now – he can fly.
The night before shipping out his wife had a dream: she was holding onto a thin thread and he was a red kite. Perhaps she is all that is keeping him here. A weird bird approaches from the distance . It is Private Green and he is signaling. They fly back to Virus Squad. In this new existence they are some kind of Zombie Vampires and a hunger for the living is already churning their insides.
It is still Night’s job to keep Virus alert, keep them safe, but safe from what : “Once you’re dead there shouldn’t be anything more to loose.” A sixth sense tells Night the enemy are closing in, he feels a deep rush of fear, he knows they have to get away fast. Night wills his legs to grow back and they do. He barks an order to form up, announcing: “Physical death is nothing compared to what our new enemy can cause. It has our scent and will be hunting us down.” Virus march out, passing through the Hangar wall like mist.
It is Madaram, the holy month for Shia Moslems. Virus Squad have been warned there will be trouble. It is always mad at this time, Virus are sick of dealing with it. Night is trying to make a call to his wife on his cell: she never picks up – never! The argument in the squad is always about music preferences, metal verses rap and so on and on. The building they’ve occupied rocks from the force the building they’ve occupied rocks from the force of a nearby explosion – a mosque has been bombed. In seconds they are there. Body parts scattered in every direction, screaming women, the whole suicide bomb trip they have seen too many times before. Night’s gaze comes to rest on a 13 year old girl, her clothes have been blown off. Now she is covered in dust with one leg wrapped around her neck – vagina wide open. He picks up a scorched prayer mat and covers her. There is nothing Virus or Night can do – in this kind of war the enemy is never seen – just the dead.
Night has told his squad to go looking for any remains of the bomber. If he can be ID’d it might help track down the cell who put him there. They find the head in the courtyard of the mosque. It is messed up but still has the look of a fresh faced kid. Regardless of the fact that Night doesn’t really give a shit any more, his Uniform makes him a symbol of authority. The survivors insist he takes down the story: A teenage boy entered and detonated before anyone could stop him.
As the kid’s hand moved to trigger the bomb, he called out in a sweet voice “I can already see the houris? young virgins surround me, not you?”. He was blown backward through a solid concrete and stone wall, while bits of his victims splattered to the 3 story high ceiling. Night’s cell begins to ring and he sees the number. It is his wife, finally! But before he can flip the phone open an old man in a grey suite demands his attention. Night is guided up the stairs and the man points to “More blood!”
They arrive at a pile of shoes removed by the worshipers who will not wear them again in this life. Night kneels down – something odd is happening – shapes hover above the shoes like ghosts unwilling to leave. This is something so impossible to believe Night suspects his eyes of playing tricks and takes his cell and films. If the camera can record it, he is not hallucinating. Tears are run- ning down the old man’s face – he has found a “Baby’s shoe!”– his grandchild‘s. Night fumbles the phone back into his pocket, ac- cidentally touching a key – the ghostly images go to his wife. The sun rises on the day of the big procession of ancient mourning to the Sacred Mosque. Night has seen it before – Shia men flogging themselves until their backs are dripping blood or gashing their heads with swords and knives. Every year bombs have killed mourners, it is hard to understand why they keep doing it. Night reads their orders from Command: “Follow the marchers and identify insurgents – neutralize!”
Night feels his cell vibrate in his pocket –his wife! But a soldiers instinct makes him disregard it and he turns back to see one of his men bending to pick up a thick bunch of cut flowers. Night opens his mouth to scream a warning but the word “booby trap” never leaves it.
His brains slide out the back of his head where a chunk of skull is missing. He thinks: It is not really that bad being blown apart – freed from all worries.The bomb has taken out his whole squad along with dozens of civilians. Night sees his intestines – heart, lungs and liver – curling out into space. Thinks: Tentacles of an octopus in a blood aquarium. They are slowly, quietly drifting in a weightless ballet, then there is another huge explosion – a car or truck bomb – thrusts his squad and all their bits and pieces in multiple directions.
Night is thrust back to the Mosque where the suicide kid started things in the early hours of this morning. Whatever has happened to his body parts, they are gone. He has shrunken into something small and spherical. A woman like thing, but definitely not a real woman, is entering the mosque holding a straw basket. Night follows her. She is shifting through the rubble……. searching …….. She finds a fuzzy little ball and scoops it up like a bear snatching salmon from a stream. There is another one near the baby’s shoe, the old man had been holding. She examines it carefully and puts it in the basket. Night follows her as she collects three more of these little balls of light. Under her close inspection most seem to have shown some imperfection and are rejected.
There is nothing Night wants more than to be in her basket. If he can join the others there he knows he will be safe and go to a good place. He has lost his ability to move and is paralyzed near a pile of debris that obstructs his view of the lady. With an effort of will he manages to move a few inches and realizes it is not rubble but the prayer rug over the naked girl.
He remembers picking it up to cover her, but now it is like a mountain, he has become so small. A huge hand brushes past him and collects the ball that is the girl. Up close he sees the basket woman has a single horn protruding from her forehead like a unicorn. As she swings to place the girl, now the size of a pingpong ball, in the basket, Night sees the woman’s body has no substance be- neath the pleated fabrics.
He feels a breeze touch him. The breeze pushes the woman further away. Night musters everything he has to scream a plea for her to stop and notice him. He remembers his mother holding him as a child and the security that came from being near her breast. A fear passes through him. The basket lady turns and he has her full attention. She is scrutinizing him from a distance. He can only meet her eyes for a moment and has to turn away – when he looks back the basket is beyond reach. As she departs all warmth leaves with her.
Night is cold. He just wants to find his way back home to where he is a child again.
Jamil could only describe his present state as being lowered up. His movement is controlled by two thick arteries threaded through the larger parts of his body. They trail below him like giant cables and are alive with the thump of a pulse at- tached to some mighty heart. The monster heart’s hydraulic pressure pushes him higher and higher but his instincts tell him he is actually descending, head first.
He remembers zipping up his jacket over the explosive vest with everyone in the madrassa patting him on the back and kissing his cheek … telling him this would be his wedding day. He has only ever known the caresses of other men and never been with a woman. He was certain he would taste the delicacies of Paradise before the earthly sun rises again.
The device blew him backwards through the wall of the mosque. Bits of him ex- ploded outward in every direction. Big chunks of his body had been pulverized. What remains is held together by thick pulsing tubes?
At first he thought the Americans had done this to him as a way of punishment. Reassembled in one of their infernal military hospitals. As the time passes and his ascension continues he realizes this void is as infinite as space and more horrible to the soul than anything mankind could fabricate.
He begins bumping into other tubes similar to his own. They become thicker and soon he is pushing up through them like through reeds in a lake. He sees light above and is filled with hope.
Others appear out of the darkness. He is worried by the sight of Americans but soon recognises fellow martyrs whose missions had preceded his. None will turn to speak to him. They are all focused on what is above. He continues to rise towards the light. Hope returns. He is close to the Promise and he begins to think of Paradise. Allah is the one Merciful God and soon he will be in oneness with Him. He jerks to a standstill. All his body parts feel pain like a fish with mul- tiple hooks in its guts. He turns his head from side to side. All those suspended around him look up to the splendor above, their faces illuminated by the light of Paradise.
Jamil remembers entering the mosque. It was a target because its worship- pers were Shia. At first he allowed himself to see their faces. There was a little girl who reminded him of his youngest sister, she smiled at him and he felt his resolve weakening. But he had been taught when this happened to see only Paradise and what would come next, not what was now. Two men were advanc- ing towards him. He cried out “I don’t see you – I am already with the Houris in Paradise – I see their beautiful …..”
Jamil bends his head back and feels the light of Paradise fall on his face. The arteries that sustain him are now stretched to their full length. He tries to will them to reach higher, they just become tighter and more rigid and he realizes he is fixed there – possibly forever. Night has been searching for this kid, still angry with him and those others who set the IED’s that killed his squad. He can not use his wings as he pushes through the tangle of tubes but hell space is like being underwater, there is negligible gravity.
Night recognizes the kid from the bloody head in the courtyard of the Mosque. He is suspended with thousands of others. A mixture from all races and religions – Christians, Moslems, Hindu; they are all looking upwards as if they can see something he can’t. Above them is the deepest darkness he has experienced in Hell. He doesn’t need to talk to the kid, the whole purpose of finding him was just to know his fate. He is breathing and his eyes are moving and a quiet, whiney, moan is coming from his mouth, resembling something like a prayer but it is inarticulate. Night is satisfied and moves away from this place to where he can stretch his wings.
A dry looking shell has formed around Night as he burrows up through the earth, like a chrysalis stage cicada. He comes to a hard surface and has to use his sharp claws to burrow through it but he senses there is something like freedom on the other side. On the last meter he snaps fragments from the nails of his claws – becomes frantic, suffocating, he can no longer breathe and bites into a thick ropey membrane, he tastes his blood mixing with the grit in his mouth.
His head butts into something hard and brittle. He butts it again and again until it crumbles and he emerges through the pavement of a city sidewalk next to a skyscraper. There is a crackling sensation and his outer skin, in contact with the oxygen in the air, begins to itch and burn. The skyscraper rises vertically hundreds of meters. He thinks that perhaps higher up there could be some relief from the heat. Cool moist breezes to sooth his burning skin. With an insects disregard of gravity he crawls up its granite facade.
He is free in a huge New York style city. His progress is slow –the walls are polished – slippery from constant rain, but it is soothing. Steam rises from his body, still crackling from the fires below. The shell splits under his belly ending suspended above his new form like a mirror image.
Unlike a butterfly the creature he has now become does not have wings. It has an antlike abdomen, a square box for a chest and a humanoid head. He breaks bits of his shell off and eats them as he surveys the city around him. Looking into an adjacent building Night sees himself at the age of 21 sitting at a chair in a psychiatrist’s office. The therapist has cultivated a beard to look like the photo of Freud on his wall.
Night discovers as an insect he has acute hearing and holographic sight. His new perceptions allow him to enter the room while still clinging to the opposite building. The patient’s mother sits close to the therapist and whispers into his ear “Ask about his nightmare!”
Night now sees himself, as he recounts a dream and can remember being in that chair: ”As long as I can remember my worst night- mare has been about a murder investigation. Detectives connect me to a series of unsolved killings. The evidence builds until I am accused and hunted by the police who are convinced of my guilt. I never stop running from them. Those chasing me keep changing into various frightening entities but their final transformation is always into a pack of wolf dogs. When they track me down I have returned to the crime scene. It is a Hansel and Gretel witch’s house of horrors.Then it is midnight in the family home of my child- hood – I run to the room where my parents are sleeping – the long dark hallway to their room has a paralyzing effect on my muscles –constrained in my child’s body I fight against these invisible forces, slowing my progress as the walls come alive with demons groping and clawing out toward me.
I find my sleeping parents but they vanish as soon as I approach. Instead of a safe place I have stumbled into the half remembered, terrible place where the victims met their deaths. I know the way they were killed was sick and evil. The air smells of rotting flesh. This place is in my head but I refuse to accept the accusers are correct and I am the monster who committed these crimes. An accuser appears with evidence, blood stained cloths. I remember them fresh and clean smelling of soap. I plead for them to be taken from my sight. Instead the accusers are wearing them. The dogs stop barking and tear at my legs. For a moment I black out. I return to three new accusers – they no longer bear any resemblance to dogs or human. They are demons grotesquely assembled from the decomposing bodies. One holds a crescent shaped hook.
It is silvery and glistens. I am reflected in it. The hook pokes at my chest trying to gather my soul. My fear is always so extreme at this point I force myself to wake up. I sit upright for hours unable to close my eyes knowing if I do it will all repeat. The fear is more than physical Doctor, this life is all that stands between Hell and me. As Night remembers this in his insect form he remembers, “This is the nightmare I always had as a kid but when I joined the army it stopped.” He balances like a tightrope walker and crosses some high-tension wires to another building wanting to make distance between him and the nightmare. He looks in through another window and sees himself closer to his present age of 45.
His former Corporal Night self is in a bathroom standing near a mirror. He is examining himself critically in the way of soldiers accus- tomed to snap dress code inspections. He adds an array of weapons to his military uniform. It is very early morning, before sunrise and he is getting ready to leave on a patrol. In another room he sees his son repairing a ding in his surfboard and on the other side of a folding screen his daughter is grooming the mane of her horse. Night’s wife is lost in thought while she practices juggling. She is an accomplished juggler and contortionist.
Night goes to the cluttered kitchenette and drinks half a liter of milk from a carton. He pops some pills. His wife keeps juggling without taking notice as Night comes behind her and runs his hand up the inside of her thigh, connecting with her pussy. His hand slides over her soft cunt – he feels the warmth but there is no reaction from her. Something resembling a length of rubber hose pipe has extended itself out of his lower insect body and hangs, semi erect, oozing. Night wants another chance with his family and hopes they still need him. He knows there was once something that gave him a reason for living. There must be some way out of Hell and back into life. Night finds the section of pavement he had risen through and reenters the Underworld. His mission will be to find his old squad members.Virus squad have fought their way out of a lot of bad places, Why should Hell be any different?
Corporal Night never liked horror movies with vampires, zombies, ghosts and all that. The other soldiers in his squad teased him about this weakness. Even though he is a veteran of many ghastly war scenes – scary movies and books give him the creeps, causing the kind of nightmares he has to wake himself up from and go for a walk or make a coffee to escape. They open some deep fear hard to understand in a man admired for his fearless calm during the worst battle situations. If he catches a few minutes of some horror movie the others are watching he will cringe inwardly and for days the film images will linger in a way war casualties never have. He is the sec- tion leader of Virus Squad and they are on their third tour of duty in Afghanistan- before that it was Iraq.
They have all seen their personal relationships with wives and girl- friends disintegrate through absence and on their short visits home civilian life has seemed more unreal than war – they are sick of it and sick from it but do not know how to get out. The army is happy to use them up. When they see the coffins being loaded onto the transports for back home they envy the dead. The dead can rest.
Night’s allergy to horror movies makes him dread the compulsory visits to the bunker where the techno nerds collected Intel and brief Virus Squad on what their drones and surveillance satellites feed them. The nerds watch horror 24 Seven. There was one day when the forward vehicle went over an IED and then a well-aimed RPG was fired through a breach in its armor. They had to scrape what gore was left off the metal, with a shovel. After that none of them were in the mood to be debriefed by the nerds. Night was already composing a letter to the dead soldiers family, in his head.
In their safe cyber world the nerds had no idea of the real horror outside. The movie ‘Return of the Living dead’ was playing on wide screens with surround sound. Night snapped. Taking his hand gun out, night snapped. He was ready to put a bullet in the screen but eased his finger of the trigger when his men slipped into a zombie shuffle-dance. The rap lyrics they freestyled pissed-off the nerds more than if Virus had taken their dicks out and saturated their lap- tops. Night holstered his gun and turned to the frightened nerds: “We are the living Dead!”.
Virus was on the 11th day of a 12-day mission in a dusty arid stretch of country no one could think worth dying for. The new strat- egy was to meet the enemy on their own terms and limit their own superior firepower. It was rumored the coffins were stuffed with high-grade heroin for US addicts. Night realized: “without bodies there is more room for the smack.” Darkness came and Night felt hyperconscious. Even though his face was pressed in the ground he could see all around. He identified the bodies of the rest of virus squad and wondered if they were hovering near their corpses. The sun came up and with it his body, which had been numb and devoid of all feeling, began to have sensation at the joints. He moved his arm at the elbow and then flexed the fingers of his right hand.
Slowly and stiffly he rose to his feet. None of his movements were fluid .His limbs moved with stiff lunges. He jerked his head to the side to face Lance Corporal Day who had risen next to him. Further away the others were pushing themselves up from the sand in a zombie shuffle. The army had been using them as guinea pigs to test all kind of broad based antibiotics and regenerative drugs to make wounds heal fast.“Was this an unwanted side affect or the Day of Resurrection?” Speech was impossible but Night still had the will to lead. He lifted one heavy foot in front of the other and started their march through the sand.
It is not easy being a zombie – the atmosphere feels a lot thicker, like being a hundred meters underwater – every limb is weighed down by pressure from above. Moving forward is half like swimming. Night found he had to paddle the air to drag himself forward, making his hands work like flippers.No rest, no R & R and no forgiveness.The plain stretched beyond the horizon.Others joined them, including those they had fought, forming a vast army of the exhausted moving on forever, unstoppable…..
THE LOST PATROL
Extreme trauma can cause short-term memory loss. Night knew it had to be something like that. He knew who he was and could recall slabs of his past but had no idea of where he was or how he got there. He had no weapons and was separated from his unit in alien and probably hostile country. Since regaining consciousness the rain hasn’t stopped and is turning this vast plain into a vast bog. No sun gets through the clouds so there is perpetual twilight that darkens a bit in the evening.
Storm activity makes strobing flashes across the void. What was firm soil has softened and his boots make sucking noises as he pulls one foot out and then struggles to release the other. Crows fly overhead making wretched squawks like they are the only ones that get the joke. Gradually the red clayey soil becomes darker and starts to give off a stink. Corpses break the surface of the water in patches and he starts to see in their faces, the faces of those he has seen die in war and later they become the faces of friends and lovers. This is good reason not to fall into the black ooze which is becoming thicker and harder to push through.
The glow of fires light up the far horizon – perhaps that is where he will find his unit, a burning city usually means soldiers. One thing Night has always had is stamina and he is determined to keep going. In the dim light he begins to make out an island, or rather a hill that has not been submerged. The structure on it is typical of many Afghan family clan compounds. It has high walls and no vegetation on the outside but he can see the tips of trees rising above the walls. The buildings are staggered up a rocky crag. This could, as easily be a ruin from Ancient Rome or a decaying castle in England. His memory switches to one spanning many lives. This building has always been there, in all the wars.
He remembers it from the Somme in WW1 and in flashback sees it on the left flank as he lifts his crusader shield against charging bowmen on horseback. He shakes these images away as scenes from old movies doing things with his tired brain. Night reaffirms to himself: “I am from the 21st century!”
He pushes delusions aside. The water gets shallower and finally he is resting on a rock outside the high walls. He needs to see himself as a soldier with the training to survive this but insecurities are eating away at his confidence. He wonders if this is actually his life or something imagined. Perhaps he is an invention of a much weaker individual who lives in a fantasy world and has lost their grip on reality. He fights these doubts by evoking memories of his wife and children. Those happy days of surfing with his son. He hears the howl and then the aggressive barks of a dog. At least this means he shares the island with another living being. He is hungry enough to try and kill and eat it. But this dog is huge and vicious looking. Night decides to give it a wide birth-it is chained near a gate – a gate he has no desire to enter.
Walking to the other side of the Island he can see the distant fires more clearly. They are too far away to pick up any detail but it is obvious from the flashes and bursts that some grand battle is going on – something to be fleeing from. He drops his gaze to a figure in the water. A giant of a man making strokes with a giant paddle, which seems to help him to move more easily across the waters.
The black ooze only covers the big mans ankles but when Night tries to walk out to meet him he finds himself up to his neck in the slush and has to struggle to make it back to the rocks. The man is dragging others behind him who are attached in some way to a harness by ropes or hoses. These passengers are completely submerged up to their necks in the grim fluid. The stench has gradu- ally gotten stronger and Night envies the big man for the filter mask he is wearing. The giant has gossamer like wings and Night supposes this is what is keeping him above the mud.
Again Night wishes he had some kind of weapon .The stranger is only 50 feet away and he has a handgun strapped to his left thigh. His hopes rise when he recognizes some of the men from his unit, just heads with dirty faces but their eyes are unmistakable. The Giant detaches some of the tubes from the back of its harness and passes them to Night who strains to pull each of his men in, one at a time, hand over hand until the core group of seven are on the rocks with him. The giant has dragged his other passengers up to a pathway and delivers them to the gate where they pass the dog into a shady darkness.Night remembers translating a poem from Latin at school, and he ‘gets it’: The dog is Cerberus and the big guy is Charon, and they have made it across the river Styx. Virus squad is in Hades. Which means they are probably dead. Night calls his men to attention: “We have fought our way out of bad places before, why should Hell be any different.”
Restart has been pressed, and Night jerks back into life with a ringing in his skull and harsh voltage spiking every joint of his badly abused body. He cannot remember how many times he has died and been brought back. There is scar tissue on his scar tissue and the wounds never stop hurting. The trip from death into the afterlife and back, is torture. Night always let his wife do the tax and other paper work. He hated forms, scanning them just quickly enough to get them out of the way.
He remembered saying to himself “When you’re dead you’re dead so if someone can make use of what’s left behind that sounds OK”. No one else in the unit had any problems with it so he signed his body parts away without further thought. Big mistake! He never expected his brain to be locked into a titanium skull and wired to computers with a crash dummy for a body. Night suffered from terrible nightmares as a kid and his mother took him to a shrink but when he joined the army they stopped. Now he knows the nightmares were real.
The computers are programmed to make the dummies have the symptoms of hundreds of different types of potentially fatal battle injuries. The soldiers doing their first aid training have a few minutes to diagnose and contain the slide into death before the wounds become fatal.
While they are racing against time fake blood seeps out, if two liters are lost the body goes stiff and the trainee is failed. Lots of combat first aid can kill if mishandled, for example someone with a head wound can drown in their own blood so a tube has to be in- serted through the nose to the throat, if pushed in the wrong way it can stab the brain. The titanium shell protects Night’s brain. The designers don’t seem to know or care that the brains they have extracted from fatally wounded soldiers are still aware and self conscious and this sense of identity travels in and out of an afterlife.
Virus squad were on their way home for well earned leave when their chopper was hit by a rocket. They were kept breathing by para- medics flying in a chopper in the same formation. Their bodies were beyond repair but the Kevlar helmets protected their skulls well enough for doctors to remove their brains.
The use of Night’s brain and those of the rest of his Virus Troop is classified. Technology still has not developed anything as sophis- ticated to register pain and trauma as the human brain. Night believes they are the first stage in an experiment to produce cyber soldiers. The dummies are completely robotic and could stand up and walk around if allowed to. The trainee soldiers who come to learn from them all comment on how eerily alive they seem.
The pupils of the dummies eyes can contract and expand and they groan with pain and make sub vocal noises close to language. In the last few months Night has been working with these noises trying to communicate. The sentences he needs to tell people what he is going through never come. Improvement is constant and the day might still arrive when Night can explain it is not just a matter of switching a brain on and off, that there is an afterlife he goes to and is pulled back out of every time.
Recent optical refitting has enabled him to see his fellow dummies as well as the trainees who cause him so much pain. He has nothing against the program, it is better they make mistakes on dummies to develope the skills to save the lives of seriously wounded buddies. They torture him daily but they can be forgiven because they don’t know he is there. But the scientists and higher officers do know about the brains. If he ever gets mobility they are the ones he will make accountable.
The afterlife is familiar territory to him now. Every time a soldier fails his test and his robotic body flat lines, Night is back explor- ing the underworld. He has all the answers to the big questions and could write a book about it but there is no coordination in his fingers. All he can do is clench and unclench his fists. Night calculates he has died a thousand times. He knows the other members of his squad are contained in the dummies beside him because he meets up with them on the other side. They have teamed to survive against all the soul sucking monsters. Death is not permanent, the soul can be killed. Night with his rank of corporal is the leader of the underworld crew. Their battles against the forces of the darkness are endless.
Members of his squad have been lost to the denizens that feed on souls. Just the thought of the way they were consumed makes him recoil. When a soul is eaten, technicians at topside wheel the lifeless dummy away for a refit. Within hours a fresh war casualty joins the team. Night has a strong will to survive and tells the others: They are improving our bodies all the time, there will be a day when they put us back into service as active soldiers. We have to live through this hell. The moment for our revenge will come.
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