A Soldier’s Life
By Carl Rauscher
Major Stephano loved war. He loved waking to the sound of gunfire, eating cold rations from a can with his regular issue survival knife, spending nights staring out over the perimeter when he wasn’t dreaming of past battles. Most of all, he loved the rush of adrenaline during a heated firefight and the musical whump-whump-whump of his assault rifle keeping rhythm with the turbocharged pulse pounding in his ears. Many people weakened under the onslaught of violence and death, but not Major Stephano. He thrived on it.
When mankind reached the stars, he found them populated with a multitude of habitable worlds, each contained a wide variety of life and pleasant landscapes. Cyberius-4 was an exception. With a climate ranging from freezing to near vacuum coldness and gale force winds that cut deep channels into the rocky, ice-covered terrain, the Protectorate did not expect opposition to their military outpost settlement.
The natives of Cyberius-4 took exception to the outpost, which was why the Major was humming a small tune as he shaved in his thermally sealed tent on the god-forsaken northern range of the planet. The troops were mustering outside per his orders, but he decided to let them wait until he finished. It would harden them up a bit and he couldn’t be seen looking unkempt. It was bad for his image.
Inspection of the troops went without a hitch. He briefed his men on the day’s attack schedule and gave them one hour to prepare to move out. By nightfall, he expected to take the neighboring ridge. Thoughts of countless similar engagements echoed around him along with the faces of those who didn’t make it. Major knew that several of his men would not meet them on the ridge tonight, but that was what war was about, wasn’t it? He shoved the melancholy thoughts aside and continued to pack his belongings.
He was nearly complete when the chime sounded to signal a visitor. He waved the acknowledgment and his guest stepped in. The heavy parka concealed the identity, so the Major poured himself another cup of coffee and waited. After stomping his boots and knocking most of the icicles off his jacket, T.S. Wallace removed the heavy gloves and hood. He paused as if expecting the Major to greet him by name.
“What’s the matter, sergeant? Forget how to salute your superiors?”
“Sorry, sir.” Wallace snapped a quick salute to the Major’s back.
“Something on your mind, sergeant?” The Major turned around to stare at the man who was fidgeting nervously.
“Is all this really necessary? I mean, so many lives just to hold one little outpost?” the man blurted out and then immediately wished he hadn’t.
Major Stephano reflected. He had been watching this new guy for a week now and had expected this. Like a dozen times before, a man would step forward and question why. Why all the death, the violence all around. It was, on the surface, a reasonable request, but one must not divert the men from their jobs. A soldier’s life is not to question why, it is to do or is to die. The little ditty he memorized so long ago in recruit training still held true. And he could understand the man’s fear of death. On this planet’s bleak surface in the arms of an enemy who could suck the life from your body with an icy touch was not how the Major had envisioned his end. Many poor souls had been found frozen where they stood on the battlefield, an icicle whose silent scream echoes for all eternity. But Major Stephano had seen many worse ways to die. He knew that doubt and fear could strike you dead faster than any weapon.
Sergeant Wallace waited, anticipating the worst from the man before him. He was shocked speechless when the Major calmly poured another cup and handed it to him.
“Sergeant, I understand how you feel.” Truthfully, he didn’t, but he sensed that it was what the young man needed to hear. ” What we must remember is not what little part we seem to play, but how important it is to do our part well. More lives are counting on us than you could possibly imagine. Now drink up and let’s show them what kind of men we are.”
Major Stephano drank deeply and watched over the rim of his cup as the young sergeant did the same. Too bad, he thought to himself, He would have made one hell of a soldier.
# # #
The phone rang, but Dr. Wallace was expecting it. He smoothly picked up the receiver without glancing away from his monitor and nestled it in the crook of his shoulder so he could continue typing. “Wallace here.”
“No, Mr. Director, I’m finishing up my report now. Your simulator worked just fine. I was able to patch in to the patient without any problem.”
“Well, I wish you would wait for my report…”
“Okay, Mr. Director. I recommend continued stasis for Patient Stephano. Cerebral isolation has magnified his acceptance of violence to the point of psychosis. He is convinced that direct confrontation to the point of death is normal behavior and I believe he is incapable of future integration with current societal norms.”
“Alternatives? Well that depends – do you know of any wars we can send him to?”
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