Inside of the soldiers was the true strength of the new Unity government, rising out of the chaos of the war. The microscopic nanos created the new master-race, one microscopic modification at a time. It was said that the soldiers could not be killed; that they could dodge lasers with their speed, and crush a normal human’s skull in their hands. It was said that they had no fear, only hatred and obedience. It was said that they were hungry for the blood of innocents. Even if they were, no one would stop them. No one could.
It was quiet in the forest, except for the birds singing in the trees and the occasional gust of wind rippling the leaves. The lone figure of a girl stirred within the darkening underbrush and slowly crept forward through the wild. Her name was Officer 652, she was a special operations officer for the Unity. As she moved forward, a shaft of light passed before her eyes and the tree beside her exploded in splinters and flames. Her lean, tight body uncurled in eruptive
motion, shooting vertically into the branches above. Swiftly, silently, her body danced from branch to branch and tree to tree, disappearing into the shadows of twilight. The wind began to pick up as rain began to fall. The girl crouched on the branch. She was perfectly balanced as she listened for her attacker. No sound of pursuit was heard. She dropped to the ground, and looked around. There was a large boulder with a bit of a hollow out of the rain. She lay in the hollow and fell asleep.
Freedom is the price soldiers have always paid for family, home, country, and more recently, money. Unity paid their soldiers well, and even the non-mercenary idealists had families who appreciated the income. Of course, Unity soldiers were the absolute best. No one was paid their wages without deserving and earning every ounce. Officer 652 always earned her wages, and right now she was earning them as she slept.
As the first light of dawn crept over the horizon, the girl blinked and sat up. Her body was instantly alert, but she calmly made a breakfast of coffee and ration bars. The coffee heated instantly as she opened the vial it was stored in. Her steel grey eyes looked coldly through the greenery, ever watchful for danger. The last week had been filled with several close calls, none close enough to phase her, but enough to add excitement to her trek. As she finished her
meal she once again donned her pack and crept through the never-ending expanse of forest.
She knew it would be another two days before she would reach her goal. The rush of blood through her legs was intoxicating and she moved with a silent speed matching the mountain lions that used to haunt this forest. She was headed towards a rebel city to meet a contact and deliver a message. She didnâ€™t know the message, and didnâ€™t even carry it on her body. Instead, it was in her body, encoded into the nanos that swam through her blood. There it was safe, no enemy had yet been able to decode any of the messages that Unity had carried this way. She ran on, stirring the leaves, and breezing towards her
The trap sprang as soundlessly as her own footfalls. One moment she was speeding along the forest floor, then suddenly her legs were both snatched from under her in opposite directions, clamped fast in bonds tighter than steel. Her gun was in her hand the moment the clamps touched her legs. She spun her upper body to find her assailants within her gunâ€™s sight. Then to find the shackles that bound her ankles. Nothing. Neither captor nor trap was to be seen. Her mind was screaming at her as she twisted and turned, looking and searching. She breathed a few calming breaths and remained alert for signs of her
enemy. She settled in to wait them out. Surely she would not be left, dangling in the splits between the trees, bound by invisible shackles, permanently.
As the minutes melted into hours, she found she had time to test her prison. Firing at the position of the invisible clamp that gripped her leg, she succeeded in causing her leg to explode in pain. Her shot burned down to the bone, the skin around the shot blackened, and the smell of burning flesh surrounded her. Her lips whitened at the pain, but she would utter no sound. Her leg was healed within the minute as the billions of nanos replicated new cells and tissues. Soon, there was no trace of the mutilated leg, only the healthy and whole leg as it was before.
She contemplated the clamps which she could not see. Surely they were attached to cables, but invisible like the clamps. No laser could reveal their location, but it seemed that the laser must be amplified through them, as her beam had been set nowhere near the strength needed to injure her leg that severely. She began a sweeping search of the air surrounding her leg. The laser on her gun she set to a wide low beam and watched for a magnifying or deflecting effect to signal the location of the cable. There was no visible change which she could detect. She reached below her leg and shot again. Above her leg, her beam also shot with, again, no evidence of a cord or anything else holding her bound. The beam aimed at her leg had been narrow, so if her gun was set with a narrow beam, that might trigger the amplification. She started the exercise again with the same results. Not only was she dangling in midair, but apparently she was not being held there by anything.
Her brow creased into a scowl and she aimed again at her ankle. Blast the pain, she thought, Iâ€™ll figure this riddle out. But as began to press the trigger, her gun was yanked from her hand and flew to the feet of man. Her head jerked up and she saw the man had his gun fixed on her.
“Please drop your gun,” the tall, muscular man said. “Thank you. I find that asking when the matter is already settled makes the response more favorable: for me, of course.” He spoke with a carefree tone, but his stance and eyes declared his severity. His mouth curved into a tight grin.
She stared at him, fists clinched, eyes narrow.
“Will you come with me willingly? Or do I have to shoot you?” he asked.
She didn’t move. Her eyes stayed fixed on his face. Her mind raced for a plan to undermine this stranger’s.
“Silent one, eh? I’m sure your Unity commanders must have taught you your manners, they’re simply appalling.” He let a few seconds pass, then shrugged and shot her. Her body pulsed with heat and she let herself go limp. He reached in for something hidden in his jacket. Her legs were released and her body crumpled to the ground.
The man approached casually. She heard the dirt crackle beneath his boots. He was a cocky asshole, and thought he had won. He was in for a surprise, and she would treat him to it.
He was reaching down to swing her unconscious body over his shoulders when she snapped into action. She snapped his head back with a quick elbow to his chin. Spinning her body around, her foot embedded itself into his chest with force. His body flew back into a tree. She was rolling away, reaching for her gun. Her fingers brushed it as her back erupted in fire. He was shooting her, but she could still reach it. She felt the blood trickling from her back, but her fingers
grasped her gun. She spun to face her attacker and fired, but without aiming. It was a slightly wild shot, just grazing his shoulder. He fired again, this time hitting her straight in the head. The beam seared through her cheek, grazed her brain, and darkness collapsed onto her.
Her consciousness returned as she bounced along as a rag-doll over the man’s shoulder. He had bound her arms and legs once more with his cloaked clamps. Now her arms were flattened across her chest, and her legs were clamped from top to bottom. Before long they arrived at his camp and she was dumped unceremoniously into a chair and fastened to it. She struggled against the invisible clamps for a moment, then gave up and let her anger flare towards the man. Her grey eyes burned with an inner fire.
He was seasoned and rough, but no more than thirty. There were several scars on his chest and arms, now visible as he removed the cloaking camouflage jacket that had made him invisible to Officer 652 until too late. He pulled on a more comfortable cotton shirt.
“You put up quite the fight, little girl. Seems you have a will to live that could match even my own.”
The man grinned as he spoke and the girl felt a small thrill of pride mixed with her contempt for this enemy of Unity. Then her hatred flared and her heart became unmoved and cold again.
“Name’s Jack. And you, my little friend, are a highly sought after treasure on the market lately.”
Officer 652 continued to stare in silence. It had been odd that she had been tracked by so many mercenaries this trip. She had assumed it was the danger of the area, not the importance of the mission. As per procedures, little was known by soldiers of what each mission accomplished. All that mattered was following orders and getting the job done.
Jack pulled over a chair and straddled it, staring seriously into the cold eyes of his prize.
“Officer 652…special ops…Unity soldier…” he murmured as he casually played with a strand of her hair between his fingers. “…1.65 meters…brown hair, blue eyes…armed with gun…trained in many forms of combat…” He paused, shifting his eyes over her body and then back into her eyes. Then he asked, “You are Officer 652, correct?”
She continued to stare silently at him. He would receive no answers from her.
He took her silence as affirmation, standing up again. “I’m making some dinner, can I get you anything? No? Alright, goodnight.”
He closed the door and she was alone in the dark silence.
Several days passed as Jack moved Officer 652 through the forest. She could see nothing from within the covered sled she rode in. It hovered half a meter above the ground and Jack moved it along as he hiked. He was always kind to her when he brought her food and water, but he ceased trying to talk to her. She noticed his face was more grave as the days wore on; he seemed distracted and distant.
He must be late delivering me to his boss, she guessed. The choice of enemies was often on her mind, and escape a constant companion in her thoughts. The slow and painful death of the louse who captured her through exploding intestines and congealed lungs and a million other pleasant ideas kept her company through the monotonous journey. She was soon going to miss her mission’s deadline, and she was angry about it.
It was close to dark the evening when he stopped and she heard him whispering with another person. Their voices were too low for her to make out. Then the sled was moving again, now over a smooth surface, then it stopped again.
Jack flung the door of her cage open and pulled her roughly off the sled. He lay her on a metal table. She found herself in a room resembling an operating room, sterile white wall and large lights pointed towards her bed. Jack strapped her down, keeping the ever-present clamps on, but her arms were now uncrossed by her sides.
Another man entered, old and grey, rolling a large machine.
“Is there any way to sedate you?” Jack asked, leaning over her face.
She didn’t answer. She didn’t know. Instead, she spat in his face.
He growled, but didn’t strike her. Wiping it off, he turned back to the other man and resumed his concerned expression. Signaling to the other man, Jack pulled a tube from a large machine that sat close to her bed. She felt a sharp pain in her chest and looked down; the second man was cutting into her with a large surgical knife. Jack was leaning over her as well, pushing the tube into the hole in her chest. Her blood began to pump through the tube, pulsing and swelling into a holding tank in the large machine. The older doctor continued to cut into her chest as the nanos worked hard to close the wound. Jack held
tight to the tube that was sucking the blood directly from her heart.
Some time later, another figure emerged and hooked a tube into her arm. Blood began to pump into her body through this second tube. Strangely, her arm was not closing off to force this unwanted accessory from her arm. She began to feel disoriented. Her chest ached unbearably, and the world was beginning to spin and fade away.
Jack was there as her eyes reopened. She felt weak, for the first time in years. At first she was disoriented and confused, then fear gripped her body. A wave of nausea hit and she began to shake.
“What…?” she moaned. Suddenly her silence didn’t matter anymore.
Jack answered her unfinished question. “We removed the nanos from your body. We had to do a total blood transfusion in order to get them all.”
He leaned over her and smiled. It was a real, genuine smile. Her head was still spinning, she couldn’t make sense of anything. Her anger rose up and gave her strength.
“You bastard. You made me weak so you could kill me!” she spat. Her voice was not as strong as she wished.
“No. I made you clean, so you would live.”
“What the hell are you talking about? You lousy son-of-a-” she raged.
His hand clamped down firmly on her mouth. She tried to fight, but although she now found her arms and legs free, she was too weak to push him away.
“Shh,” he whispered. “I’ll show you.”
Jack brought in a view screen and started playback of her surgery. She saw her body lying on the table, the three operating on her. She was unconscious, the machine draining her blood was almost full. Then it was over and the surgeon sewed her back up and more blood was pumped back into her body.
The view screen shifted to follow Jack as he pushed her blood in the large machine through a maze of passages. What she had assumed was a hospital turned out to be more of a bunker, or even an old remodeled prison. Jack was running down the hallways now, reached the end and practically threw the machine into a large, empty warehouse room. He slammed his hand onto the door seal and a heavy door dropped into the doorway, sealing the chamber.
Seconds later, an explosion rocked out from the sealed room. Jack waited another minute and then opened the sealed door again. She gasped as she saw the blackened shards of metal and remains of her blood splattered and steaming across the entire room.
Jack turned off the view screen. “There was no contact to meet you in the city you were headed for,” he said softly.
Officer 652 frowned at him, puzzled by his statement.
“You were to meet in front of this building, I believe,” he said, holding a datapad in front of her.
“This is a children’s hospital. In that hospital are twenty-five thousand children, aid workers, and families who were displaced during the war.”
She stared at Jack. His eyes were serious and he was stern; he was angry, but it wasn’t directed at her. She was still unsure about what he was trying to make her understand.
“Why are you telling me this? What difference does it make now? I won’t be able to go there, whatever the building was.” Her mission had failed.
“Yes. Your mission has failed,” he echoed her thought. “But do you even understand what that mission was?”
“Yes.” She had been sent with a message to a contact. A contact who, according to Jack, didn’t exist. Bloody hell, he seemed to know a lot about her. Bet he thought he knew her long-dead dog’s name too.
“What happened in the room I showed you?” Jack asked, gesturing to the blackened view screen.
“You blew up my blood and destroyed my nanos.”
“Wrong again, dear. We did not set off that explosion.”
“So what are you saying? My blood blew itself up?”
Her borrowed blood drained from her face. Everything about her life came to a sharp point. She felt like she was drowning.”My nanos caused that explosion…I was a living bomb?” She was shocked by the words coming from her mouth. Yet even as she said them, she knew it was true. There was no mercy found in the army of Unity. Not for women, children, or even soldiers; all were fair game.
“I would have killed them all anyway, if I had been told to.” She wanted Jack to understand her true nature. His eyes, full of compassion, were too much for her to bear.
He didn’t react with surprise or horror. Instead, he touched her hand softly. It was shaking.
“You would have, but not because of any choice of your own. Those nanos they inject into the soldiers are not only to make you the strongest, fastest, fiercest humans alive. It is to make you a weapon that they alone can wield. They control your emotions as easily as programming the chemical responses. When orders are given, nanos are given new orders as well. They always inject you with the new version before each mission, don’t they?”
“Those new nanos reprogram the old ones. New orders for your body. And this time your nanos’ orders were to explode with enough force to kill 25,000 people.”
Her throat was tight, and she felt the tears well up in her eyes and spill over. Shoulders shaking, she sobbed. Her hardness was gone, and she was crying like a child.
“And now… now that I am supposed to be dead…” she cried. “That is all there is left for me to do.” She got a hold of herself with new purpose.
“Stop that!” Jack ordered her. “You are not dead, so use this life that I’ve given back to you.”
She stared at the ceiling, cold and blank. All she knew was death and power. Now she was dead and powerless. What was there left?
Jack said, “I want you to understand, you are free. Free of the army, free of the orders. You can go wherever you want when you are well enough. You are not my prisoner anymore.” He turned and walked to the door.
“Who are you?” she asked him. He turned, facing her with his hand over the door release.
“I am Officer 71.” he answered. Then he was gone.
She slept a lot. In a few days she felt well enough to walk around her room again. Jack visited her for a short amount of time each day. Little was said, but he came and sat with her. She spent a lot of time staring blankly at the wall, trying not to think about what the future meant for her now. It was during one of these long blank days that Jack burst in on her.
“Get up, we’ve got to leave!” he ordered her.
She got out of bed and dressed herself. “What’s going on?” she asked.
“Unity’s found us.”
There were soldiers surrounding the bunker. Officer 652 hesitated at the door as Jack pulled on his cloaking jacket and handed her another. The others in the hideout were on their way already. She didn’t have to follow Jack, she could turn herself in to the Unity soldiers and be taken back to base. They would give her back her speed, her strength.
She pulled on the coat. Jack led the way out through a disguised side entrance into the night. The forest was cool, and a spring rain clung to the branches,
dripping down on their heads as they made their way into the shadows. The soldiers behind were searching the old bunker, scorching the rooms, and would eventually demolish it completely. Officer 652 knew they would. She had done the same many times. The question remained, how long would it be before they found the trail and followed them to the woods?
It was around midnight when they stopped and found a little shelter in some large underbrush. Jack lay back in the decaying leaves and closed his eyes. Officer 652 looked down at him, nearly invisible in the dark and covered in his cloaked jacket. She remembered being able to fall asleep so quickly just weeks before, but now she was filled with dread. Her body was tense, and she couldn’t find it in her to close her eyes and rest. She was weak. She could be injured. She had become mortal and it was not comforting.
“We’ll be alright,” Jack said softly. “You can sleep.”
“They’ll find us.” The fear was easy to hear in her voice.
He opened an eye. “Would it help if I stayed awake?”
Slowly, she nodded.
“Then I will. Lie down and get some sleep.”
She did lie down and soon was asleep. Jack watched over her – he had made her mortal, he should be the one to guard her mortality.
The dawn came and the soldiers had not. As Officer 652 opened her eyes and sat up, she saw Jack still sitting beside her, staring out into the forest. He looked tired.
“Do you want to sleep a little while? I can keep watch,” she offered.
“No. We should move on. We’ve stayed here too long, I think.”
They crawled quietly out of the brush that covered them and began to march on. They had only moved a few dozen feet before the muzzle of a gun pressed into each of their backs.
“Freeze, and produce your identification.” The soldier’s gruff order rang out.
Officer 652 reached into her jacket to find her ID disk. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Jack doing the same. Instead of pulling out his disk though, his hand remained inside his jacket. Holding his gun, she realized. She quickly turned around and pushed her disk into the face of the soldier with his gun trained on her. Her quick motion caught the eye of both soldiers and Jack fired.
The soldier behind Jack doubled over. Officer 652 grabbed the arm of her guard and broke it in the same motion as ramming her knee into his groin. She now had his gun and aimed it at his head.
Jack was grappling with his soldier. He held his own very well against someone who healed so quickly from each blow. It was not a battle that would end in Jack’s favor though. He was too exhausted from the night before.
She pulled the trigger as her soldier rose to his feet again. His head exploded in a burst of light. His body collapsed to the ground, and she turned her attention to Jack’s adversary. As she aimed, a hand clamped down on her arm with superhuman force and shattered the bones in her forearm. She looked around, and they were surrounded.
The skirmish between Jack and his soldier ended in moments and Jack and Officer 652 were both placed under arrest. The soldiers marched them out into a clearing and they were fastened securely in a waiting transport heli.
The light blinded her. She sat in a very hard chair, fastened securely. Her head ached from where they had beaten her.
“State your name.” The voice behind the lights was menacing.
“Officer 652, sir.”
“Officer 652, why were you arrested killing another officer?”
“I was defending myself, sir.”
“You were running from Unity with a known defector. Explain yourself.”
“He captured me, sir. I was his prisoner.”
“You were free of any form of restraint. You could have killed him.”
‘I was not under orders to do so, sir.”
He hit her. She felt her jaw crack. Blood began to trickle from her open lip. “You are always under orders to capture or kill those in opposition to Unity.”
Her cell was cold, and her body ached. A leaking water pipe provided her cell with the moisture it needed to sprout its special variety of mold and fungus. It clung to the walls, and caused her throat to close off. With throat closed, eyes swollen shut most of the time, and ears hearing only the constant drip of the pipe, she felt nearly dead.
Encased in her own living tomb of a body.
During these times her constant companion was her own self accusations. She could have gone back to Unity at the compound. She was miserable in her altered state of being nano-free. Why had she clung to it when offered the choice?
Jack. His eyes which looked so deeply into her soul. All of those afternoons when he had visited her as she recovered, just watching her with those eyes. She was haunted by him.
The strength that had once flowed through her veins had made decisions so automatic and clear. Now she was confused. The voice of Jack echoed in her mind, “They control your emotions as easily as programming the chemical responses.” She knew it was true. It made life easier to deal with though. Her guilt also plagued her. Sometimes in her cell as she tried to sleep she saw the faces of those she had murdered. She had called it execution of the enemy. Now, without her nanos, she saw that those she killed were not enemies. They were poverty stricken women. They were young children. They were hard working farmers and tradesmen. She remembered them all.
As days passed, she found the beatings and interrogations more pleasant than the solitary cell. She felt that the beatings were justified. She knew that she should be killed for stealing the lives of so many. The interrogations were minor mind games, no answers would satisfy, but she knew so little of Jack of the others that her testimony was next to worthless.
“Did you swear allegiance to the rebel leader?”
“How many people were under him?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“Do you remember now?”
“As many as possible, sir.”
One day the inquisitor did not ask his normal questions.
“Officer 652, are you ready to reenter your duties as special operations officer of the Unity army?”
She sat in silence for a moment. Her pulse raced. If she accepted, she could enter into a new life as an officer. She would have an unblemished conscience and her immortal body once more. She would be faster, smarter, stronger than ever before.
“No,” she said softly.
“What did you say, Officer?”
“I said no, sir. You and your army can go to hell.”
“Officer, you misunderstand me. You are able to regain your previous rank, without further reprimand. If you refuse, you will be executed.”
“I understand, sir.”
She was led to the open air at the center of the compound she had been imprisoned in. Stood with her back against the wall, several officers lined up to participate in the execution. Her mind had finally settled. She even felt at peace, for the first time since she was a child. She remembered her childhood, playing in the garden with her mother. Her mother had told her that she was a rose, most beautiful and lovely, but with a few thorns for her enemies.
As the soldiers prepared to shoot, she realized that she was no longer Officer 652. She was Rose, and she was free.
The guns fired, and Rose’s body turned to ashes. The ashes floated on the wind, out of the compound, out into the far lands surrounding.
They fell in the forests and in the meadows. Some ever reached a small garden, where flowers were tended by an elderly woman. A woman who had long ago lost all her children to raiders from a foreign land. She had mourned, and still remembered her children, especially her youngest daughter. She tended her roses in peace.
This story was written for my “Science and the Imagination” class in college. I wrote it in 2006.