Most of them had never eaten any form of hard food in their entire lives and became sick after we fed and washed them all. The smell was indescribable; a combination of bodily fluids, sweat and open wounds that blended together to form a toxic environment forcing me to head topside for relief. The majority of them were too old to perform service of any kind and the rest were so weakened it would take years of physical training to prepare them to fight a war of this magnitude. I began weeding them out immediately. There were thousands of them. I would chisel out 330 of the strongest, battle-ready soldiers on the planet; and of them, I would make ten my personal guard awarding them a small star-shaped metal badge. We would perform missions designed to weaken enemy resolve. The battles would be fought and won by men and women like these, only those who were strong enough, only those who were brave enough, only those who were willing to wear the metal star.
They were like props. Boards I stood up and carved out the images of soldiers. They had to be beaten into shape. I could show no restraint. I would have little time to shape them into perfect weapons, but it would be done, it had to be done.
I had taken one of the larger dorms and established it as my ready room. From our scouting missions we would make charts and maps of the terrain and the slave gardens. Often, I would retell stories from the past. Stories designed to teach them to think in different ways. My favorite is about the time when I was 19 years old and driving a semi truck on a one way bridge. I came upon another truck coming from the opposite side, having started first I felt I had the right of way, but the driver wouldn’t back down. So I stopped the truck and got out and stood across from him. He barked at me to move my truck and give him right of way. I shook my head and tossed the keys in the river and told him to go get them. The man got back in his truck and reversed off the bridge. I quietly got in the cab, took the spare keys out of my pocket, started the truck up and drove across the bridge. This is an example of cunning and quick thinking.
“You will all learn to be cunning, for it will help you survive.”
In unison the words “Sir, Yes Sir!” reverberated across the entire main hall.
But, words are nothing without action. We began by breaking them off into pairs and watched as they thrust awkwardly into one another, clunky and mechanical, lacking purpose or direction. Po and the others helped in training, sparring and weapons. We walked through the pairs of them lined up and corrected what we saw, offering guidance and points on perfecting their technique. They would learn very quickly the techniques of close combat fighting – how to break bones, shatter rib cages, fracture clavicles.
“It is important to remember that training to kill an opponent traditionally involves firearms however, you will not have any. Because of this you will be trained to subdue and overcome your opponent with ‘weapons of opportunity’ training and unarmed combatives.” I explained.
As they continued sparring I got a better understanding of these men and women. I sympathized with them. They were not soldiers, they were not expendable, I would have to train them for survival and with that my job became much more difficult.
After two weeks they were still behaving like a pack of wild animals. In this time they had learned the five basic priorities of survival – water purification, shelter construction, fire building, emergency signaling, and food procurement. This foundation would help them in the event they were separated from the group, but they would still need to learn much more in order to defend themselves against substantially larger opponents; like the creatures.
“The Mogglogian physiology is completely different than the human body. Most of the techniques I could teach you will be useless against them…”
The men groaned at this.
“Let’s make no bones about it, we are up against impossible odds and the chance of survival will take all of your cunning and wits – sheer strength will not overcome these creatures. But, rather than teaching you thousands of techniques that may prove to be of little use, you will learn eight basic maneuvers that will increase your odds of winning dramatically.” The men perked up and began paying close attention to what I said next. “From what we have gathered, the Mogg’s lower legs are made of dense heavy bones covered with thick connective tissues. The columnar shape of the legs suggest that they are similar to those of elephants, meaning that instead of being a weak spot, like that of a human, they are stronger and less vulnerable. It is also understood that the ribs are covered with a mass of compact fibrous muscular tissue, making them almost impervious to fractures. The neck and reproductive organs are virtually absent in the Mogg anatomy as well. The typical vulnerabilities of a human are not found in these animals, because of this it will be required that you use different methods of attack in order to render them incapacitated.”
Choosing one of the larger men in the battalion; I asked him to attack me.
He started by lunging with a punch. I parried his attack and disrupted the flow of his energy, allowing me the few seconds I needed to use the energy of his next attack against him. With his next punch I grappled his wrist and flung him to the ground, then jumped on his back and pretended to stab him in his head. I helped him to his feet and thanked him for his aide in my demonstration.
“You must use whatever weapons you have at your disposal. Disorienting your opponent is key, after that using whatever weapons you have available to you – axes, bats, sticks, bricks, knives, pipes, even sand is essential. Weak spots for these creatures will be the eyes, nose, and wrists. Knocking them off balance will be the best mode of attack, once unbalanced your enemy will be confused allowing you the time to strike; keep in mind your weapons of opportunity training.”
Those who were unable or unwilling to fight helped in the preparation and procurement of food and water; at times I felt this task to be more daunting than that of training for battle.
“Ahhh-ten-SHUN! Form a line.”
The men had learned this meant to form a straight line of ten rows with thirty-three men each.
On these words the men would count, starting with the first rows at one and continue back to the last man.
“Stand at ease.”
They would stand with their hands brought together in the front, keeping their shoulders back and square. These motions, although seemingly useless, provided some amount of discipline and orderliness.
The mess hall was located a few corridors down from the training room; the men would file down the halls in pairs marching side by side. The close quarters would be cramped, but they were acceptable – the showers were even worse. After chow the men would be allowed an hour of rest while the squad leaders, Po, Rensa, Dade, Ideo and myself, would go over the training exercises for the day, how we felt the men were accelerating, and which ones we felt would be perfect candidates for my personal guard. When I was finished with them, they would be chiseled out of stone.
Walking out of the ready room I was stopped by a young man who was proving to be a rather disciplined soldier,
“Sir,” he started, then stopped and saluted.
“At ease soldier.” as I returned salute, he continued,
“Sir, I’m having a bit of trouble with this weapon, sir.” He held out the weapon to me as if presenting to me a gift, I carefully accepted it.
“Soldier, what you have here is called an Atlatl, it’s used to hurl projectiles, like a spear or steel ball. The reason you can’t figure the contraption out is because you don’t have a missile.” The notion that he had been attempting to use it as a hammer crept into my mind.
“Let’s try to find one for you.” The weapon was undoubtedly crude, but in it’s time it had served its purpose, and would likely do so again. “We may not have gunpowder or bullets, but we can use this device to fling a shaft several miles per hour to the target with considerable force.” We walked the halls together in search of a missile and while we did I thought to myself that one cannot make men go to war, that is improper, but one can lead a man to war with the right tools.
We found a long thin tube of metal that came to a point, and attached it to the notched base of the device.
“The proper stance is to hold the left arm out using it as a guide. Take the right arm back and hold the Atlatl with the forefinger and thumb, when you are ready extend the right arm with a quick fluid motion and release the missile from your grip to send it flying forcefully to the target.” We found an old movie poster that was most likely hundreds of years old featuring the image of a bearded man. We chose a spot between the eyes of the man and he began. He did as I instructed and on his first attempt hit the target dead on.
“Very good, soldier.” I said, and he grinned proudly. We exchanged salutes and he continued practicing. I headed back toward my ready room and found Po in the hallway.
“Sir, do you think the men are ready to go topside?” he asked.
“Not all of them. But there are a few that I think will do fine. Assemble a patrol to begin scouting and mapping the region and the gardens.”
“Yes sir. There are a few I have in mind as well that should be perfect for the duty.” He saluted and continued down the hall as I made my way to the ready room.
“Until now, you have been allowed to dress in whatever fashion suited you, due in no small part to a lack of proper gear.” I paced back and forth as I spoke to the men while Po and Rensa stood attention, “We are about to embark on the most important task required of us.” The men kept there eyes forward, and if they were nervous they didn’t show it. “You have been hand picked for this duty because of your strength and ability as soldiers. We are going to be drawing field maps of the creature camps and gardens, as well as acquiring gear — clothing and various essentials that will be used for our training and survival. There are many things you will need to know before we begin. This will be a perilous journey, some of you may not make it back.” I continued as I watched the faces of the soldiers – they showed no emotion, this was good. “I will train you to become weapons. I will make you a weapon. You will use basic survival procedures as well as some advanced special forces techniques, which I will teach you. You will learn the essentials of Army field survival, which can be recalled through the use of a simple acronym: S-U-R-V-I-V-A-L.”
As I described each letter I attributed to them the elements of survival as they pertained to the letters in the acronym.
“Knowledge of survival skills is only one ingredient to the psychology of survival, it is vital that you put these skills to good use. Many people having no survival skills whatsoever have been able to live through circumstances where the odds were not in their favor, while others trained in survival who did not apply these methods have died. There is a basic instinct in all of us to survive, this is the psychology of survival, use your instincts and remember your training when faced with a life threatening situation. Having the skills to survive is important, having the will to survive is essential.”
After explaining the keywords from the acronym and how they related to their particular situation, I began going over the basic examples of the gear we would be looking for and easy ways to spot them in this environment.
“The greatest advantage we have at our disposal is the fact that most of these items may be relatively easy to come by. By that I mean we can simply procure them rather then having to manufacture them. Other items will need to be engineered from parts found in the wastes”
The men stood attention while I spoke. Their unwavering devotion to the common cause we all faced was both exhilarating and frightening.
“We are embarking on a great adventure and one that will be spoken of for generations to come. Our actions today and in the coming months will be written about, studied, examined and argued over by our children’s children. Let us make them proud.”
Suddenly and without cue the men released an exclamation that reverberated through the compound.
I approached one of the soldiers and asked, “Where did you learn that, soldier?” he looked into my eyes, then frontward,
“Sir, it was found in an early text, sir.”
I pondered that for a brief moment and returned, “If this is the sound of acceptance, cry out once more.”
In an utterly astonishing chord, the men sounded off again,
I closed my eyes as I felt the sound penetrate me, overcome with emotion. I then turned to Po and exclaimed for all to hear,
“The men are ready, we will continue our training in the morning.” With that I walked away to the salute of every soldier. I had won their confidence, and their admiration, and in no small way they had earned mine. The next day would be the proving grounds for what they had learned.
I sat on my bunk looking around at the spartan furnishings. A toilet, a broken mirror, a fluorescent bulb that seemed to flicker just a bit – the patchwork blankets and stone-like pillow. I fingered the cold steel of the underside of the rack and stared at my pant legs and tried to justify my memories. Far too much time had passed it seems, since I was a soldier. Was I the same person? Somehow I didn’t feel the same, and yet I did. I had to be. I lifted my shirt and looked again at the gunshot wound I had suffered several years ago…abruptly I was shocked by a memory that I had almost forgotten.
“Sergeant D’Arby, I’m glad you chose to volunteer for this program. It will help future generations. You will be remembered as a hero.” Diodes connected to my head and body ran the length of the room to a machine. It must have been some sort of computer. I looked like a deranged marionette, laying there as I was on the operating table. My body began to seize up, a dull whistling sent shocks of electricity through my skull. All of my memories were being siphoned from my head, playing in no particular order and without any help from me; as if I was being forced to remember them.
They were being sucked out of me.
The images continued flashing in my mind without my control. All of the wonderful memories from my childhood – things I had forgotten, things I didn’t want to remember…all funneling out of me. It went on for several minutes. There were five screens, each one monitoring bodily functions – heart rate, blood pressure, lungs, and such. A three-dimensional image displaying the different regions of my brain was on one screen. As the machine whirred, the shadows filled with color. I assumed they were mapping my brain for future generations to study. Nearing completion, I began to spasm involuntarily. My face contorted in grizzly caricatures and my arms and legs seized and released. A friendly voice comforted me and told me that everything was going fine and that I shouldn’t panic…this was normal and nothing to be afraid of. The voice said that they were regular occurrences as the machine performed it’s scan, that I was doing very well and that only a few minutes remained. My eyes darted and my my mouth swallowed gulps of air that pushed on my diaphragm. It was extremely uncomfortable, I began to fight it for fear that I would stop breathing. This raised my blood pressure and heart rate. I heard myself cry out in a voice that seemed alien to me. Another voice in the room whispered something, but I couldn’t quite make it out. Tears rolled down my cheeks; a great agony consumed me. I thought I was going to die. Instead I began to giggle, then a great roar of laughter – joy filled my thoughts. Every little measly thing that was me was ripped out of my body, every facet of my being stripped away. As quickly as it began it was over. And that is all that I remember. I shook my head while the memories rolled around bouncing in and out of my consciousness.
I gripped the underside of the bunk tightly and attempted to stand up.
What had happened to me? Why am I only now remembering this? Why was I in that place, and who had taken me there? Most importantly, what had happened to me after that? They say that people who have experienced mild trauma, may lose their memory of the events just before the accident took place, it could be seconds or even minutes depending on the level of trauma. Had I lost that much time? I had to find the answers, and the only thing I knew that might have the answers was that cyborg, the doctor. A machine masquerading as a human. He was there, I remembered his voice. He was there then, and he is with us now.