Edward Owen – Author

Ray Bradbury Challenge #39 – The Collective

I have a number of projects going on at the moment so many of the stories for the rest of the Challenge will likely be little pieces of those projects as I try to wrap my head around them. Comments, as always, are welcome. Have a great week

#39 The Collective

 soldier 2

“I heard they ain’t got no hangy-downs,” said Thompson. “The Masters cut ‘em off as soon as they crawl out of the vat.”

The fire reflected off his young, stubble covered face. Zealous enthusiasm masked the fear that was always just below the surface. Less than a decade ago, when the bullets started flying, all his fear would likely have manifested itself in the loss of bowel and bladder control. Thompson and his brothers-in-arms no longer suffered such indignities.

“You’re full of crap, Thompson,” said Jenkins. “Just stupid stories the DIs make up to shake the recruits.”

He bit off another helping of rations and chewed them with his mouth open.

The squad consisted of six men, none of whom had yet to see their twenty-fifth birthday. Zanders, Watson, Carmichael and Sellers rounded out the group. Each had been given first names by their parents, but just as they were stitched on their uniforms, only their last names were used.

“My brother’s squad ran into a bunch down in the Flat Lands,” said Watson. “He pumped eight rounds into one and the damn thing wouldn’t go down. Had to hit it with a grenade before it stopped. Fuckin’ genengs don’t feel no pain. Harder to kill than roaches. Three of ‘em wiped out eight of his guys before they took ‘em out.”

Six young faces gathered around the evening fire with bars of enhanced rations and canteens filled with energy water. In the morning, they would face an army of genetically engineered soldiers, or gen-engs (pronounced Jennings) as they called them.

“You ladies best get your asses in your bags,” barked Staff Sergeant Billings, stepping out of the darkness and into the firelight. “Dem Jenny-boys ain’t gonna care if you tired. You drag your ass down there, they just liable to bite it off.”

The squad tossed their containers in the fire and rolled out their sleeping bags amid perfunctory cries of “Yes, Master Sergeant”. Once their trash was incinerated they extinguished the flames with sand and slithered into their bags.

Half a dozen hypodermic injections, administered by the bags’ control systems, had the soldiers in optimum sleep level in thirty seconds. The nano-meds scoured their bodies for any injuries, bacteria or viruses. All such threats to the body were summarily executed with extreme prejudice. Each man received a chemical stimulant into his adrenal gland that would be triggered by the stress of battle.

*****

At oh-four-thirty hours, the soldiers were given a stim-shot by their bags. In less than five minutes the squad was packed and finished with their morning rations.

“Hey Sellers, I dreamed about your mother last night,” said Thompson.

“Fuck you Thompson. My mother’s dead.”

The rest of the squad let out a low “ooohhhhh”.

Thompson feigned a look of remorse and said “That would explain why she was so –”

The round entered his skull just above the left eye. It had a high density core with a break-away titanium jacket which liquified his brain and blew it out the back of his head. His monitor registered the absence of his heartbeat and sent a signal to the rest of the squad. Their stim-packs responded by activating the chemicals in their adrenal glands.

“Sniper!” yelled Carmichael as he strapped on his helmet and dropped to the ground, his optical implants adjusting for the darkness.

“Muzzle flare at two seven oh by twenty two degrees, about twelve hundred meters out” said Zanders as he set up a small missile launcher.

The squad scrambled into the bunker and peered into the night for enemy targets.

“Damn genengs!” said Watson. “Since when do they attack before first light?”

“How the fuck did that asshole get by the patrol?” said Sellers.

“Probably been buried in a hole for a week,” said Zanders. “Fire in the hole!”

He grinned as the rocket shot off into the darkness. A second later a red flash appeared off in the distance.

“Biomass readings indicate a direct hit,” said Watson as he read the display.

A concussion bomb exploded over the bunker killing the five men inside. The EM pulse shorted out their monitors and destroyed all of the nano-meds in their bodies. Every soldier in the platoon shared their fate.

*****

The sun’s rays made a feeble attempt to pierce the smoke and haze hanging over the camp, but the light was dim and gray. It was a perfect match for the skin of the soldiers that marched into the compound. Their eyes were completely white with a small black pupil in the center. They collected the bodies of the men in the camp and loaded them into the back of a large hovercraft.

“Inform Command that we have a total of twenty units,” said the leader.

Inside the ship, the bodies were laid out on steel tables and their uniforms stripped off. Dozens of needles and other instruments probed, injected and operated on the soldiers. Within the hour, their skin had the same gray pallor as did their enemies. The irises faded to white and the pupils contracted to pinpoints.

Jenkins, Zanders, Watson, Carmichael and Sellers became units Alpha Bravo two seventy-five through two seventy-nine respectively. Due to the severe cranial damage, Thompson’s body was fitted with a drone control unit and was used for combat training.

*****

“Recruits, welcome to the Collective,” said training instructor Gamma Three-fifty. “There is no self, there is only your unit and the enemy in front you. You will fight until you die. If there is enough left, you will be re-engineered to fight again. If you cannot be made whole, you will serve as nourishment for the Collective.”

Twenty pairs of white eyes stared straight ahead, unblinking and looking for the enemy.

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