Thursday, March 25, 2010

Half-Leg's War

So what happens to the walking wounded?  In a peaceful society, they're sent home with a medal.  But after the war gets big enough - and serious enough - they just get shuffled to a different front to recuperate.
Here's the story idea - a soldier in a future galactic war loses part of his leg, so they fix him up with a transthetic neuroadaptive replacement.  Basically, it's wired in to his nerves, it'll take time before his nerves learn how to use and a feel everything from the new robotic leg.

"Can't I get a new leg?" he asks.

"Sure," the meditech replies.  "If you want to sit in a bubble tank for eight months while we grow that for you, no problem."

The soldier looked away.  Eight months?  Yes, it took a long time to grow replacement tissues - and then longer still to retrain the untested limb.  And no, the army wouldn't let him sit out for eight months, not for this war.  Not if they could give him a robotic joint that would work right away.  Or at least mostly work.  Maybe.  Assuming the microchips and his nerves learned to play nice.

And so the soldier is assigned to a kind of "restful" duty - commanding a unit of disabled troops who are tasked with policing a small, out-of-the-way planet.  Or maybe it's just a region of Afghanistan.  Either way, the locals are restless, the troops are either too lazy or too injured to fight, and - guess what - this "isolated" sector "far from the front lines" is suddenly a hotbed of activity.

"What do you think, Joe?  Would they have hit us if we had a real unit?  You know, if half our guys weren't dragging IV bags everywhere they went?"
The soldier considered.  "Hard to say," he said.

And so what does Joe the Soldier do?  He enlists the locals to help out.  And this involves training them.  And it involves having to execute some of his own troops when they go and rape a girl.  And it involves convincing the village elders to police up their own dumb kids who "accidentally" blow up an ammunition dump.  And all the while, they get more and more hints about the terrible things to come.

"We're going to have to block off the pass," he told the chief elder.  "Either we stop their advance here, or they'll hit our main command down it..."
And then he had to stop himself.  He'd been about to say where the main command was.  And that was classified.  That was the kind of information one didn't just blab to the locals.  Never mind that everyone already knew about Fort Minas - it never hurt to be discrete.  But then he realized just how long they had been here - how many days they had depended on this village for food and fuel, and just how many of his own troops had died to keep the crops safe.  A year, he realized, can be a long time indeed.

"If you close the pass," said the elder, "we lose our link to the main road.  We would have no supplies for the winter, and no way to trade in the summer."

The soldier nodded.  "I know," he said.  And it occurred to him, finally, that the reinforcements would not be coming.  That the four months which had turned into a year would soon lengthen into something longer still.

"If we suffer," the elder said, "then you, too, will suffer with us."

Just then, it seemed right to accept the offer of a seat.  But he had to stay on his feet - he was the commander.  But the weight, now, finally began to tell.  He gripped the back of the heavy wooden chair.  For it wasn't a threat or even a promise, but simply a statement of fact - without the people of this village, his unit would have been nothing.

"We've suffered before," the soldier said.

The elder bobbed his head.  He, too, seemed suddenly weary.  "And all of us," he said, "will suffer more."

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