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Place : Wolf Den Military Base
Date : 2073-03-19
Age : 0098728-EEM: 10 y.a.d. - 1643453-BDC Gooseman, Shane: 6 y.a.d.

"An enemy deserves no mercy: Mercy is an illusion.
Care for your condition: Good care must be taken with weapons.
Strength is to be protected: Strength is needed.
Survive: Dead bodies are useless.
Weaknesses are to be erased: Weaknesses are deadly.
Win properly: Make it impossible for your enemy to fight again.

The rules were repeated again and again during the exercises, repeated in the rhythm of heavy breaths and running steps, back and forth. The rules had to be followed as exactly as the physical training that was to be done five times a day. The assault rifle slammed against his back — heavier, now that they'd finally gotten ammunition, and the two magazines and the supply at his belt were another three kilograms — as Shane leaped off the cliff and landed smoothly ten meters below on the gravel field. Fifteen more miles. Then the exams and food and — best of all — water. He wasn't good at dealing with thirst. He always needed too much to drink, always grew thirsty too early on the course. Another one of his differences. Dangerous. He gritted his teeth and increased his speed...

"Win properly: Make it imposs..."

The staccato of an automated gun thundered through the corridors. Cmdr. Joseph Walsh dropped his lightpen, grabbed his service weapon, adjusted it to heavy stun, and left his office at a run. Additional shots and shouts from the guards led him on his way. He found them outside the examination rooms; the MPs reached the place with him and secured the labs at his hand sign.

Another guard lay as a bloody heap on the floor. Unmoving. Two of the troopers fought around and above the battered body. The guard's APG1 was caught in the grips of the battling boys.

"Apart! Drop the weapon!"

The children didn't respond, continued their silent combat, their faces and bodies covered with blood. It was impossible to identify them in the clash. The larger one launched a side kick against the smaller — and likely younger — one's groin. Without success. The smaller boy turned his hip sideways, slammed his fingernails in a stop-blow against the bigger one's throat. Stumbling backwards, the larger strengthened his grip on the weapon, tried to turn the barrel around, to press the trigger, to—

Walsh aimed his LG. "Stop! Now!" he bellowed.

Suddenly, the legs of the smaller one seemed to falter. The child collapsed — and hung his entire weight on the APG. The older boy lost his grip. A shot went off. The bullet hit the older one's shoulder. As the older ST fell, the younger one grabbed the released weapon. Slamming his feet up into the wounded trooper's belly, the smaller combatant came to his feet, the APG in his hands targeted squarely at the bleeding enemy. In icy calm the boy pulled the trigger. The bullet hit the other child in the chest. Blood sprayed out as one of the great cardiac arteries was ruptured and the corpse hit the ground.

Walsh fired. Green-yellow stunning energy encompassed the thin body of the child. He turned round, looked up with wide, surprised eyes... eyes...

...and fell.

Walsh clenched his fist as he checked the wounded guard's condition. "Medics to the examination labs. One MP severely wounded," he ordered sharply, knowing that the shot trooper wouldn't need any help. The second bullet had been aimed precisely. One of the MPs repeated the order into his wristcom. "Get him locked up," the commander snapped roughly, nodding at the shooter, "before he's awake again."

"Yessir." Two of the guards grabbed the boy's arms and legs and heaved him up.

As the child was carried away the commander murmured bitterly: "Murderer."

...the world blurred as the weapon energy enclosed him. His body turned round at the last impulses to which it responded, seeing the one who'd shot him, seeing the disgust in the man's eyes. Disappointment and disgust. Disgust at him.

He hit the ground. Pain rushed through his body as the stun energy erased the pain-killing adrenaline in his veins. His left leg slammed hard on the two gunshot wounds at the inner side of his right thigh, drawing more blood. Commands were shouted, too loud to be understood any longer. He was picked up. The halogenic lights burned through his lids into his eyes. A single word reached the fading mind... an incredibly hurtful one.

The second medic stood up. "Flewelling's going to make it, sir," he informed the commander. "Some weeks in MedoStat but he's going to make it." He helped his colleague to pick up the stretcher carrying the now sedated MP.

The commander nodded at the information, then said to the remaining guards as he took the ID-band off the fallen child, "The surveillance files to my office. Immediately. No one's to go on patrol alone from now on. Clear?"

"Clear, sir."

"I always said something like this was going to happen with that indoctrination," Negata muttered angrily.

"The Board wants soldiers," Walsh said grimly. "Quickly."

Negata snorted. "But soldiers have to be controllable. They censored Tucholsky's quotation2, and now they're proving it in reality!"

Walsh didn't comment on that but activated the surveillance files. Both of them watched the events closely.

The guard — Flewelling, 26, married, two children who are living with his wife in Fairbanks, Walsh recalled — watched the entrance to the main examination room. His order had been not to let any of the troopers in before the lab tech sent the signal that he was finished with the one before. The older trooper appeared.

"What was his number?" Negata asked.

Walsh had a look at the bloody ID band. "0098728."

"Any name?"

"None that I know of."

The MP denied the trooper entry, told him that the exams on the one before him weren't finished and that he had to wait. The trooper seemed angry, said something about food. The guard shrugged and said that wasn't his problem. The boy muttered something and seemed to make an attempt to leave. Then 0098728 attacked the guard from behind, slung his arm around the man's neck, squeezed the air out of him, tore his fingernails across his eyes, and slammed his knee between the guard's legs. As Flewelling doubled over with pain, the boy jerked the service weapon from its holster, aimed it carefully and said that now it would be the guard's problem. Then he fired into the man's right foot, his knees; more bullets hit shoulders and pelvis.

The lab door opened. A tech looked out at the sudden noise. 0098728 whirled round and fired. A small body slammed against the tech, pushed him out of the line of fire.

"1643453, right?"

Walsh simply nodded.

Two bullets hit the boy's right thigh. 1643453 stumbled... and leaped at the attacker, reaching for the APG.

Joseph closed his eyes at the rest, didn't want to see again how Shane aimed carefully and fired after the other one was already hit.

"Where is 1643453 now?" Negata asked.

"Under arrest."

"Hm. The final shot wasn't self defense," Negata thought aloud. "But he rescued the tech."

"'Win properly.'" Walsh quoted cynically. "I bet the senator will be pleased to hear that his dogmas are working."

The professor sighed and laid his hands on the deskplate. "Get the boy's injuries treated and let him go. He did what he is trained to do."

"...what he is trained to be," Walsh whispered, disgusted, reaching for the intercom. He dropped his hand after the professor was gone. He had already taken care that Shane's injuries were treated before he went to his meeting with Negata about the incident.

Shane had regained consciousness in one of the medostat rooms, which was — naturally — locked securely. That had been three days ago. Still, the coverall he was issued every morning carried the green V below his identification number. Good. An A would already have appeared if he was going to be abandoned for this. Shane took a deep breath and stretched. The two gunshot wounds in his leg still hurt, but it wasn't paralyzing any longer. Good.

Two MPs appeared at the door. The forcefield collapsed. One of them waved with his laser rifle. "You. Back to the others!"

He obeyed immediately and left the room without sudden movements, keeping his hands in plain sight. They led him to the common room. Most of the other younger ones were gathered there. Awaiting him. T'is going to be rough. The heavy, bulletproof door slammed shut behind him. I'll have to fight to get my place back. He looked across the room, made out the surroundings, the position of enemies. Killbane and his asses are in combat training. Good. Makes it easier.

One of the others got up. Shane clenched his fists and growled. But the fight didn't start.

Warily he headed for the food handout, awaiting a blow in the back at every step. It didn't happen.

He took his tray, filled up his ration, and headed for a table in the corner, never letting anyone out of his sight. They stayed at their places. No kicks against his legs. Nothing was thrown at him. Even the sneering wasn't present now. What's going on here?

One of the females got up, threw her tray across the room towards the waste container. He whirled round at the sudden noise as the metal plate hit the wall and noticed that some of the troopers around him stared at him with cautious respect. He sat down, his back against the bulletproof glass, the whole room in his viewfield, and took up his fork. Then it struck him:

I killed one of the elders. I'm no longer the toy. I'm one of them now. I'm a— His thoughts burned in pain through his soul. The fork clattered on his tray as his memories repeated it with crystal clarity: Murderer.

That night he lay awake, locked up in the darkness, staring at the room's silhouettes in the dim light of the blurring forcefield that separated this bed from the others. Murderer, whispered his mind, murderer, murderer, it repeated again and again in the commander's voice filled with disgust and disappointment. Murderer. It hurt. It hurt in a way he didn't understand. Murderer. He drove his nails into his palms below the blanket till he felt blood dripping over his skin. "I never want to hear that again," he whispered into the dark. Murderer, his mind told him icily. "I'm going to change that!" he answered.

"An enemy deserves no mercy: Mercy is an illusion.
Care for your condition: Good care is to be taken with weapons.
Strength is to be protected: Strength is needed.
Survive: Dead bodies are useless.
Weaknesses are to be erased: Weaknesses are deadly.
Win properly: Make it impossible for your enemy to fight again.

The rules were repeated again and again during the exercises, repeated in the rhythm of heavy breaths and running steps, back and forth. The rules had to be followed as exactly as the physical training that was to be done five times a day. His lips formed the words in obedience. Never again! whispered his mind in rebellion.


1Automated Projectile Gun, pistol that fires projectiles ("mass shots") instead of the usual blasters or laser guns (LGs). APGs were used as service weapons for guards at the STP before this incident took place, while the officers carried more expensive blasters with multiple available adjustments.

2Tucholsky's quotation:
"All soldiers are murderers."
Kurt Tucholsky (born in Berlin, 1.9.1890, died of suicide in Hindas (Sweden) 21.12.1935). Author. The named quotation is forbidden to be used publicly in Germany because of its "defamatory nature against professional soldiers."
The leftist humanist scene nowadays avoids the ban on the phrase with phrases such as "Kurt's saying," "ASAM," and many more.
The international circle of authors "PEN" protested against the ban, calling it censorship, to no avail.