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|This is an episode from another project that got funneled into a short story. This is a response to science fiction's techno-fetish... you know, 'Gee golly whiz, wouldn't it just be neato keeno to have cybernetic implants!' |
Well, not really...
I am writing you today concerning the case of Pvt. Hardy. My report on his fitness for trial is a matter of public record, as are many other related facts in his case. But I believe that they have, even still, been glossed over and not taken fully into account. Certainly they have been by the hawkbloggers who have taken such an interest in his case, and who question his manhood and accuse him of cowardice and treason from the safety and comfort of their homes, light years behind the front. I am writing you today to rectify this.
Many have accused him of a lack of loyalty to Earth and humanity. But anyone with even a passing knowledge of his background will see the absurdity in such an assertion.
He was a member of the Expeditionary Force – “X-Ray Force” – of our armed forces. I need not remind you that this is dangerous duty. X-Ray is the stabbing point of Earth’s sword. He volunteered to sit astride this stabbing point, and he rode it for almost ten years.
His first tour was only supposed to be for 565 days, a standard tour of duty on X-Ray. But then, four days before he was to be rotated out, the tschen struck the Epsilon Indii colonies. He pulled another tour. And then another. And then another. And then another. And then another.
There are other things people that forget about Emil Hardy, such as: he had a mother and a father. He had six older brothers – three of them soldiers, one of whom was killed by the tschen. He came from a military family. His father had worked up from lieutenant 3rd class all the way to major.
And, yes, he enlisted only for the college money that soldiers get, and he joined X-Ray only because of the higher pay that combat and hazardous duty carries. He planned on going to college after he got out, to be an engineer of some kind – probably chemical, but he wasn’t sure. And it didn’t matter, in the end. The college money was canceled during his third tour because of “budget restrictions”.
He had a wife. She left him during his fourth tour, and his sixth year in.
And you might as well have burned down his house and shot his family when he joined X-Ray, because he never went home after that. They never gave him home furlough or pulled him farther than 10 AU from the front.
People have also questioned his courage. These questions are baseless.
During his six tours, and during some of the bloodiest fighting of the Tschen Conflict, he earned two Silver Crosses, six Bronze Shields, fifteen operational commendations, a gaggle of divisional commendations and enough Valor Under Fire ribbons to fill a shoebox.
But the most telling decorations, to me at least, are the 20 Blood Stripes.
Both of us are aware of what the Blood Stripe is, but I feel I must remind you of its nature. You earn a Blood Stripe if you are wounded in combat, and I don’t mean you fall and bump your knee. I mean a weapon, bullet or shrapnel sliced through your skin, entered your body and did its damnedest to kill you.
Imagine, sir, how it would feel to have a bullet, or a blade, or a hot piece of metal rip into your body, to see your own blood flowing away and your own pulsing insides fighting like animals for life not once, not twice, not even three times, but twenty times.
He was wounded badly enough in eleven of those occasions that he had to be evacuated to a hospital. He had, at various points in his military career, been declared clinically dead over forty times. Only the efforts of his doctors – efforts that can only be categorized as “superhuman” – kept him here, and in the war.
He lost his left arm. His right foot and shin. His liver. His intestines. Part of his prefrontal lobes. Half a lung. Gallons, whole carboys of blood. He lost his eyes and skin when a white phosphorus shell burst fifteen feet from him. His brain’s limbic system was severed by a foot-long piece of shrapnel.
But medical technology being what it is today, he was healed and battle-ready within days. We have electronic and plastic prostheses, quick-growing stem cells and gene-engineered bacterial and biofilm replacements for every organ, even for large swaths of the brain, and the physical therapy’s programmed right in. In many cases, his natural organs and limbs were amputated to make room for superior equipment, or so he would have a matching pair. Even in the hospital, he never spent more than two months, total, away from the front.
He became, over the course of ten years, as biologically perfect a soldier as is possible to make.
But his friends tell a different story about him.
They all say he seemed distracted. He cut himself off from others when he was off-duty. He became irritable. His temper worsened. Anything could set him off. He started breaking down and crying for no discernable reason. He started drinking, and heavily. His friends say he got worse after he found out his wife had left him. He had just earned his fifth Blood Stripe the day before.
His friends and his commander, who had worked his way up from a buck private, covered for him as best they could. After all, he never broke down in combat. And when he smiled, those rare occasions, coming farther and farther apart, when he did smile…
Sir, they say it was like the sun coming out after a long, hard rain.
Then one day they found him in the Firebase Zulu barracks on Wolf 359. He had been in for 1,678 days at that point. He had eight Blood Stripes. 46% of his body was silicon and metal, his blood had been replaced by quick-clotting, fatigue-lessening hemocine, his eyes had 10X-zoom magnification and ballistic compensators and his skin was heat-resistant, bulletproof buckytube mesh backed by ceramic trauma plates.
They found him with the barrel of his sidearm in his mouth, hot tears rolling down his cheeks.
That was it. They tried to get him out, or at least get him posted away from the front. You don’t want someone like that watching your back. But it didn’t work. Earth was fighting an enemy that was actually fighting back. It was something hideously new to us. CENTCOM was, quite frankly, panicking. Every soldier was needed at the front lines, no matter his condition.
Which brings me to why he stands in court martial.
On June 29, 2501, Pvt. Hardy and his unit were billeted in a small, walled garrison town called Indigo on 61 Cygni B-IV, attached to the 629th Mechanized Infantry Brigade. At 0523 local time, just after dawn, the guards on the walls reported approximately 20 heavily-armed tschen attacking the town. The guards were taking heavy fire and screaming for help.
Pvt. Hardy and his squad, along with two unattached heavy weapon specialists and the squad’s three AGPs, were detailed to respond to the threat. The wall had been breached by a plasma round. They ran into a choking cloud of cordite smoke and concrete dust.
They emerged into daylight on the other side. They took defensive positions while the heavy weapon specialists scrambled to set up their guns and the AGPs charged the enemy. Pvt. Hardy found cover behind a broken chunk of reinforced concrete as the unit began to return fire.
Pvt. Hardy had been in for nine years, 11 months and 15 days at that point and had twenty Blood Stripes and almost two-thirds of his body replaced by artificial prostheses when he raised his weapon to his shoulder. No one knows what he saw through his gunsights darkly that day, and I fear we never will.
His friends saw him turn paper-white, drop his weapon from his shoulder, then turn and walk back into town. He didn’t run, didn’t even walk, really. He shuffled, his weapon hanging from one limp hand and dragging in the dirt. Then he collapsed against a wall. Someone yelled, “Corpsman!” and ran to help him.
They found cold sweat cutting tracks in the dust on his forehead and face, and him sobbing uncontrollably.
His unit technically didn’t lose anyone that day. Problem was, their old commander – the old warhorse who took care of his men and sacrificed them dearly and as a last resort only – had been killed not three weeks before.
And his replacement chose to tour the battlefield at that moment.
He was Gary Villareal – yes, of those Villareals. He’d been a football hero in college and a member of the Student Officer Reserve. He graduated straight from SOR to lieutenant 3rd class. Now he was a major, and this was his first combat tour.
No one should have gotten that close to Major Villareal’s position, not in that terrain and not without some serious stealth gear. He knew he was going to get reamed a new one by his superiors. He took it out on Pvt. Hardy.
Hence the court martial that you are presiding over, and hence the galaxy of charges against Pvt. Hardy. Among them, as you know, are “cowardice in the face of the enemy” and “desertion”. These are capital charges, as you, I and any other soldier knows.
I am considered something of expert in cases similar to Pvt. Hardy’s, of which I have seen many, and at a steadily increasing rate. Hence my assignment to his court martial. I have given you my evaluation of his condition but, again, I repeat it here for emphasis.
He is unresponsive most of the time. He often requires assistance eating and dressing and frequently soils himself. Chemotherapy does not alleviate this condition. Nor does any other regimen or therapy available to modern psychiatry. Responsiveness is erratic and unpredictable, and when he is responsive, he exhibits every symptom of the deepest depression. My colleagues have diagnosed him as a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder. I am alone in my assessment.
Sir, Pvt. Hardy suffers from despair, and of a depth and magnitude that you and I can barely fathom.
His family and those in the antiwar community have asked me to intervene on his half. They have asked me to tell you that, in my professional opinion, his psychological condition warrants clemency.
I can’t do that, sir. I beg you to execute him.
I plead for his death as I would for any animal in unending and unendurable pain. For that is all that is left of him: a suffering animal. Whatever Emil Hardy was, it took flight during the battle on 61 Cygni B-IV and left forever, and without a backward glance. What it left behind was a despairing shell, alive in every sense but the most important one.
Sir, I have a record of finding cases like Pvt. Hardy mentally unfit for trial. I have saved many lives this way. But I find I can no longer do so.
I beg you to grant him peace. It is the least that we can do for him.
|How the Hell Did I Get Here? - part 1||Chandler's Boy|
|King Joe Eats Breakfast||Brother of Rat|
|Leilani - Part 6||What a Superhero Thinks About at 3 a.m.|