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What Humanity Is and Will Always Be

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The soldier felt slightly uncomfortable, sitting here in the therapist's dusty room. What will people think about me? What will the officials think? That I have mental issues? But then, what am I doing here anyway? Am I depressed? Am I angry? I don't know anymore. The therapist suddenly opened the polished wooden door and strolled in a jerky fashion, maroon tie flapping slightly. He had a smooth, beautiful face, perfectly symmetrical, perfect distances between his eyes and nose and his lips and chiseled chin. A work of God. He dropped down onto the chair opposite the shivering man and glanced at him with impossibly pretty, clear eyes.

Something was wrong. The man wiggled down in his seat, crossing his arms. He felt an imaginary breeze raise up goosebumps on his arm. He hastily rubbed his biceps. It was so strange to have exposed arms without the heavy tightness of his battle suit.

“Hello, Soldier 0M4617UU,” the therapist spoke pleasantly, and his words reminded the man suddenly of a wind chime singing during summer, a silvery raindrop sliding along a spider's cobweb. “How may I assist you today?”

The man was suddenly terrified, but he decided to risk the forces beyond his imagination. He opened his mouth hesitantly, and in a burst of motivation, began to chatter rapidly, wringing his hands, “Well, you see, I don't really understand anything anymore. Max was the man I was bunking with, and I know it's against the rules to ask of others' personal lives, but he seemed like a nice man and we talked sometimes late at night, right? But when I woke up in the middle of the night three weeks ago, at 1:28 AM, and underneath my bed was a different man snoring away. Doesn't that seem weird? I mean, why would he be gone? Why?”

“It seems like you're experiencing some strong emotions-” The therapist interrupted.

“Nobody tells me, nobody. Max was a nice man,” he blabbered on uncontrollably, face paling and sweaty. He didn't notice the therapist frowning and glitching erratically, the sides of his mouth twitching every so often. “And the bombs in my dreams! Bombs ripping me apart, but you know what the strange thing is? I don't remember very well, but I've been fighting for so long, and never wounded or hurt. It's strange but I just... can't remember. Gaps in my memory, almost like-”

“You broke the rules, it's understandable that you have no control-” The therapist started again.
“But I'm alive. Everything feels like a dream.”

“OK, calm your breathing. Everything is all right. Calm down. First, let's try some memory exercises. Tell me a little about your background,” The therapist soothingly empathized.

“I was on the third generation ship from Earth. My parents were from Utah. My father's name was John, or was it Joe? I can't remember my mother's name. A sister..? No, a brother. No, a younger sister...” The man clutched his head, as if the answers and memories could be squeezed out.

While the exhilarated man rattled on, miles away in a different military office past the power plant and incinerators, two officials were studying his erratic behavior and confessions on a dim hologram.

“He's snapped. Psychiatric disorder. Log on Soldier 0M4617UU,” one official said to the other. He pressed a blinking light, and miles back in the dinky therapist's office, the therapist suddenly arched his back and his head rolled around and around, artificial eyes swiveling wildly. In a display of small fireworks, the therapist fell onto the ground, revealing a burnt-out mechanical body. The man had jumped up onto his chair in fright, and shivered violently.

“I'm dreaming. There's nothing wrong with me,” the man muttered to himself as he opened the door quickly and sprinted into the hallway. The lights flickered on and off. Everything is all right. He steadied himself against the wall, breathing raggedly.

The officials watched him progress down the hallway quietly, sneaking looks at the security cameras. He put on his oxygen helmet. The man zipped up his war uniform, bright white with a slash of maroon. He couldn't remember what the colors stood for. He opened the airlock and stepped onto the crumbling soil of New Earth. The acidic wind was always there, blowing away, slowly corroding one's soul, and he felt unbearably sad as he watched the two maroon suns intermingle in a complicated dance of magnetic fields and gravity.

That night, the man softly sang a lullaby to himself. It was alien and mysterious; he had no idea where he had heard it before, since personal items like digital music downloaders were prohibited. Maybe it was an echo of a different person, a different life, a different existence. His breathing rate increased. Such things frightened him so. “Tomorrow there will be another great battle, like the one today, and the one yesterday, and the day before that. You must rest,” he murmured to himself. Throughout the night, he dreamt of being part of the white mass with maroon slashes, bombs exploding in every direction. He felt his body dissolve into atoms, hot energy, but no scream echoed through his throat. He woke up, in cold sweat and burning heart, like he did everyday.

For breakfast, tired robots wheeled themselves squeakily down the hundreds and thousands of aisles, dropping three nutrition cubes in everybody's plates. Nobody spoke of course, that was against the rules. The man looked around, unnerved, several times. The silent people next to him shifted, uncomfortable. He reminded himself, It's a rational rule, right? They want to prep the soldiers for the battle. The rule is good. But he couldn't shake the sliver of doubt in his mind. He looked at the individual next to him. A dark visor covered his entire face, protectant against lasers and bullets. The next individual was the same. He shivered. He imagined the thousands of soldiers in this cafeteria alone, all the same.

Miles away, the same two officials were watching his face crease in anxiety underneath the dark visor. They turned off the x-ray vision device. One of the officials reached for the controls of the main interface, but the other brushed her hand away.

“Be patient. He'll come to us.” He said calmly.

The man looked up the icy red sky of the planet. He wanted to breathe in the gold wind, but only felt the mineral-enriched oxygen on his cheeks. On the slope of the gentle hill, he saw the enemy, black as night, thousands and millions of them, waiting for the progression and the great clash, where life or death came as easily as breathing. He saw his tired comrades, in bright, blinding white and maroon slashes, clutching their freeze and laser guns. In a single instant, the guns were fired, and the air was filled with a million sounds of combat and agony.

The first row went down, frozen or dead. Tiny rescue spacecrafts swooped down and picked up millions of motionless bodies, darting like a hummingbird here and there. Occasionally one was shot at and exploded in a magnificent array of fireworks. The man was in the forty-sixth row, sweaty and waiting anxiously for his turn. He stood up suddenly. The acidic wind blew. His comrades fired. The brilliant suns glared. His comrades were hit. The dust boiled angrily. His comrades fell. A monotonous droning came into his head, and he felt compelled to drop his weapons and take a nap among the jagged rocks protruding from New Earth's surface.

In a burst of inspiration, the man decided to be bold and find out what's been secretly bugging him for so long. When his row neared the front of the battle, he pretended he was hit and lied on the ground, stampeded by the forty-seventh, forty-eighth, and forty-ninth rows and watched them get hit by lasers in the chest. Most of them died instantly, while others groaned and collapsed slowly to the dust. The man felt uncomfortable. He felt as if he was cheating death. He didn't remember what exactly the enemy was, but it was so strange, seeing the enemy up close and hearing their breathing as they died also, in some situations only a few feet away. The main battlefield was shifted about hirteen common-units to the man's left. We must be losing! The bright light of a rescue spacecraft flashed above him, unrealistic in this hazy world of dust storms and dim sunlight. A metal claw was extended, roughly scooping his body upwards and left him there dangling, as they flew higher into the atmosphere.

I'm alive and I'm going to have an adventure! The man thought, exhilarated and terrified. He was bruised all over from being stampeded and being crushed by heavy bodies.

Thousands of more spacecrafts joined him in a silent parade, each dangling a body. I am the only one alive in a flying graveyard. The drones flew over dramatic mountains and lava pools, all shades of crimson and scarlet, blurred by the eternal raging wind. The man had never seen anything as beautiful as the land beneath him, maybe except for the pictures of old Earth that he had seen so long ago.

However, at one point, his spacecraft detached itself from the current of others and flew towards headquarters. The man instantly felt fear. The spacecraft landed on a pad on top of a giant white building and his body was gently lowered into the dome, which opened itself slowly.

Two officers walked up to him and released the latch. The claw disappeared back into the spacecraft's hull and he was dropped onto the hard floor.

“Hello, Soldier 0M4617UU,” one of the officers said pleasantly. He reached out a helping hand. “It's okay, we know you're not actually dead.” The man hesitantly sat up and the officer helped pull him upright.

The officers and the man stared at each other, seeing centuries of pain and bitterness engraved in each others' hard-set features. “I am sorry, but it is time. Let us begin. You are guilty of disobeying the rules-” The officer stated, enlarging a hologram screen from his hand-held tablet.

“But wait! I am still so confused! I don't understand, you've got to understand. What happened? Why am I like this? Why do we go to war everyday? What is the enemy? Who is the enemy?” The man stood there shaking, starting to sob and hanging his head.

“...and questioning authority-”

“Is there something wrong with me? Why can't I remember? Why am I so confused?” Eternity passed in a matter of moments. The man howled eerily, pounding his head against the cool metal floor. Foam leaked out from his drooling mouth as he glared at the officers with red-rimmed, bloodshot, haunting eyes.

“-showing defiance-”

“What is happening? Am I alive? Are you alive?” The man now weeped quietly, waiting for his punishment. Time was no merciful judge.

“This was never a real war,” the first officer sneered. “The weapons are harmless, only a few hours of unconsciousness before the brainwashing process. You aren't soldiers, just mindless, useless human drones who believe they are fighting for a cause. And you. You are a genetic defect and will be terminated.” He roughly hauled the man upwards.

“You've disobeyed. You are a traitor. You have committed treason. You no longer have a right to our protection, I'm afraid. Take off your suit.” The second officer said harshly. The man, trembling, took off his battle suit and stood shivering in his thin synthesized-cotton underclothes.

“You may now leave.” The officer opened the hatch, and the cruel alien wind blew in, devoid of oxygen. The man gasped for air, looking at the officers in panic. Rich, perfumed oxygen gushed into the officers' helmets as they watched cruelly and grimly.

“Go on.” The officer raised a laser gun.

He had no choice. He stepped out into the dusty, acidic wind and dissolved into nothingness, flowing with a million other nameless souls under the harsh suns.

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