Sunday, September 12, 2010


This is my short story so far that will win me £15,000 from the National Short Story Award (well...probably not but it's worth a shot). Forgive the poor spelling if there is any, I'm sure there is. Anyway, I give you.....

I never know how to start. So I'll finish. I'm dead...well, nearly. I never wanted to be in the Corps but they make you. I was a convict and a basket case, to you and me that means I'm a physco killer. If there's only two things us physco killers are good for; killing or getting killed. So they give you the suit, which I have to admit is pretty cool, they give you a bigass gun which again is pretty cool, then they say go out there and kill the bad guys, because if you don't we're comming to kill you. Then they inject you with stims, narcotics, who knows what, until you're practically frothing at the mouth.
I remember being taught a bit of history, somebody seemed to think it would be useful. Soldiers centuries ago would suffer from something they called 'Post Traumatic Stress'. You wanna know the beauty of sending a convict to fight? He ain't human. We don't got rights. We don't get sick or depressed because if we do we're defective. One thing hasn't changed. The Brass up top still don't give a shit about the grunts at the bottom. We don't get medical or physciatric aid, why? Because we're already crazy, we're already stuffed to the brim with drugs, anti-depressants, sleeping pills, heroine, steroids; anything that'll make us invincible or more to the point feel invincible. Not like we got a choice though. Not like they care that we're addicts. Addicts to drugs, addicts to killing. From their point of view that's a good thing. Way they see it? We'll be dead before we earn our freedom anyway so who cares.
Normally I guess I'd tell my name. I don't have one. Convicts are numbers, soldiers are numbers. I am a number. That's what the little chip in my brain tells me. I a Trooper of the Corps! I will fight to the last bullet or the last breath and I will not falter. I am private 220117. Yadda...yadda...yadda...
People call me Big. You can call me whatever you want as long as you don't piss me off, remember I'm the physco with the big gun. So what makes me different? I have something they can't take from me. I have a name. So on second thoughts yeah, call me Big.

I guess I'll start at the beginning. I made a mistake. We all make mistakes. Difference is mine was pretty big and these days you don't get second chances. I was DUI and I killed a girl. She was about 20 I think. Yeah I'd had a few and I thought sod it I'm only going back round the corner and there's nobody about. Turns out there was, I didn't have my lights on.
Now maybe a hundred years ago I'd only get 10 years. Problem is these days everybody is sitting in a circle telling them that their name is Alan and they like to drink. So the law clamped down. Darned near passed prohibition. But they did get to make the punishment harsher. A lot harsher. Didn't help that I was a cop neither. Should'a known better they said, disgrace to the thin blue line. Life in an orange jumpsuit or deathrow. I got sentenced and put on deathrow because I killed the girl. Trouble is it's so back logged I'm basically serving a life sentance anyway until they kill enough people to get to me. Turns out people are willing to die for a beer and a joyride. 5 years in they give me a choice. You can either stay where you are; boxed and waiting to die, or you can volunteer to the corps, serve for 10 years and earn your freedom. See they know the choice is death or death. Nobody makes it past 10 months let alone 10 years. But I says yeah go on then, at least I can prove myself again, I've got something to fight for. I never did get to talk to that girls parents. I never said I was sorry, I need to survive to tell them my remorse and my regret. But at the least I can get out, I can go down fighting. I mean really, what choice do I have?
So one day soon after I'm taken from my cell. You wear these boots, they clamp onto a conveyor belt so they can move you wherever they want. I'm taken to a room I've never seen before or knew existed. When I say a room, It's more like a whole secret factory. I'm taken there and suspended in the middle of it. Hanging like a side of pork. Then these great big robotic arms come from the walls and they start stitching me into this space suit. Literally stitching. They don't give you no morphine either so I'm trying not to cry like a schoolgirl. When it's finally over I feel like keeling over. But I can't. The suit keeps me up. It's power assisted or something. I feel a needle in my arm. It's from inside the armour, but it feels good, it gives me strength. I feel myself swung, into this doorway that opens up. I got no idea what's going on and I'm standing in front of this massive guy. I mean the guy's got arms like trees. I'm betting even if I punch him with this powered metal fist his jaw would win and I'd be the one with a broken hand. He looks me up and down and grunts. Right he says, I'm gonna read you your rights. He smiles sadistically at me. You ain't got none he says. This thing here is gonna feed you everything you need to know. He holds up this little chip thing. And that's it he says. You're in the Corps now and your ass is mine until you die.
I look him in the eye right and I say; "I'm not gonna die."
He laughs at me as he walks behind me and puts this chip in the back of my armour behind my neck. I feel pain like nothing I've ever known. It makes me scream in agony which only fuels his demeaning laugh. I feel the wash of the drug again.
He sees my expression change.
"Yeah feels good don't it? Yeah we got some nice things for you. Now get out there. You're on AC Kelly, that's drop ship 4 to you. Move like you got a purpose"
So I go out into the light. It's blinding, I forget I haven't been outside in nearly 5 years. Kept in the dark like a packrat. The suit helps me though, it's like have a whole other subconscious, a sun visor lowers and I can see again. I jump in the drop ship. There's 4 other guys there, like me, in suits.
"Hey, so I guess you guys are my squad?"
"You're squad?"
One guy turns on me. For this guy the suit is a snug fit.
"Why don't you sit down, shut up, and I won't rip your tongue out your fucking ass?"
I take this as a cue to sit down and shut up. One of the other guys leans over to me and says; "Hey man, don't mind The Fridge he just don't like rookies now he's on a homerun. I'm Law Firm"
For a scum he seems pretty decent I'm thinking.
"It's cool, it's okay, I'm good. What do you mean he's on a homerun?"
"I mean he's on his 9 years. 1 more year to big blue, baby!"
"No way?"
"Yeah man, he's legend. Pure friggin' legend. Just try not to fuck it up for him."

See, I'm the rookie. This is the days before now, before I was a proper hardass. Within a week I'm a veteran, and I'm the one telling people to sit down and shut up. You gotta earn your place. It's hard to get your head around sometimes. We're all scum. I can't believe I used to send people to prisons like that. But now I'm one of them, one of the scum. And in someway I'm fighting for them. I'm fighting for my freedom, my right to get back, but I don't wanna be responsible for anyone else's death. Everyone seems to be like this. Everybody is fighting for himself, they know they can't do it alone all the time. It's a forced comradeship. Almost unwilling, but it's necessary.
But like I says, after a week I'm the veteran. They say don't bother learning names 'til after 3 weeks 'cause before then they're probably dead or missing. That guy, Law Firm, when I met him he'd been fighting 5 days, a week later he's dead. Decapitated. I come back with his blood on my hands. The stink of it stays with me for nearly a week afterwards. I don't talk to nobody. 6 months later the Fridge gets it. He's two months from freedom. Some rookie fumbles his grenade and the Fidge falls on it. He saves at least 5 lives but they don't care. You don't get medals, just a black bag. A year and I'm accustomed to the drugs. You can see it on the faces of other vet.'s who've survived this long. It's starts to show, in the eyes always the eyes. We've all got such sad eyes. They stare at nothing, bleak and blank. Bloodshot with the death of a thousand souls. And we stink of it.
I'm quiet now and it's been 5 years. I don't think I've spoken words in 2. I only grunt and moan in agony when the drugs and the chip forces me to fight. I'm fueled by the death of the others.
I guess you'll wanna know who we're fighting? What kills us so quick? Partly it's the adrenaline drugs they give us, everyone charges off like mad dogs. I stay back, cover, all I think of is the girls face. Her innocent face as my drunk stupid car smashes her shining light to pieces. I compose and face the enemy. Nobody in my squad is more than a day old so I fight alone until one of them makes it.
The enemy. Aliens. We don't know what they are, they don't tell us. All I know is they're quick. Damned quick. Shoot fast think fast move fast. That's where the drugs help. We're a match for them but only in force. Our armour can take a few hits and our guns are powerful. So far the only thing that works for me is patience. Let them come to you. They're terrifying. They screech and howl like the sound of tortured banshees and your first sight of them is usually some poor rookie exploding in a cloud of his own guts.
I'm sure the brains at the top know what they want, know how they fight and know how to beat them. But they don't tell us. They just point us forward. Kill them or we'll kill you.
They save the information for the real troopers, the citizens who volunteer; we're just the cons with guns. Cannon fodder. But you know what? I ain't. And if I was then I'm fucking good cannon fodder.
I've survived 9 years 5 months and 12 days. I'm a legend. Nobody knows who the Fridge was, he's a distant shadow. I can barely remember his face but his hope means everything to me. By that I mean he showed us it was nearly possible. So now I'm going to show you it is possible. But it takes it's toll. 9 and half years of seeing men butchered, vanish in a mirage of their own guts. Sometimes they go so fast you wonder if they were there at all. It means you can't make friends. I'm surrounded by men, people, hundreds of people but I've never known such a lonely place. We are a flock of walking lost, herded into the valley of death.
2 years ago I started talking again and it feels strange at first I almost forgot how to move my mouth at all. But it feels good, almost a relief or proof that I'm still human, I'm still here. The guy's name is Caul, he called himself Zulu said they were fearce anicent warriors or something but I'm not sure he's telling the truth. He's made it a year and just started talking to me, couldn't get him to shut up. It doesn't matter turns out he's actually a nice guy, never said what he went down for. He fights like a bull with rage though so I expect it's something that they don't show on daytime TV.
We fight well together, not that they encourage us to but I like to think we watch out for each other. I think the others look up to us, but between the mad drug induced rampage and the slow slide into melancholy we can never really tell. We have a strange relationship. I can't tell if I really care about Zulu or that I just can't face seeing someone else die. But does that matter? Either way I'm trying to keep him alive. I expect it's the same for him. Trying to keep me alive, help me survive for survival's sake. Or maybe he believes in this legend. Somehow I can make it. Somehow I can earn my freedom again. Maybe that's what we're both doing. Fighting for the idea that the promise they made to us is possible. That it's better than rotting in a cell. That we're better than nothing.
But this is where it all ends. We're being dropped on some rock. I'm sure it's a pretty planet but we never see it, they put us in stasis and then shoot these drop pods down onto the surface and leave us to it. Like an indifferent mother on a school run. Yeah, pick you up at 4.
Difference is this time they fuck up. Well I asume they fuck up, I can't, I'm asleep. I wake up and nobody's here. I don't know what's happened. Did they all die or did my pod miss the drop zone, am I even on the right planet? This is were a little bit of intel would help. No don't be stupid, you fight enemy's that way what more do you need to know? But there's no time to think about it just yet. I gotta survive. I find myself wishing Zulu was here, I probably wouldn't be panicking then. I check my suit's computer, there's no oxygen in the air. This planet is a fucking hole. It's ice. Everywhere. The wind skates across the surface kicking up snowflakes. It's almost pretty but the wind makes a noise that's near unbareable. At least I don't have to worry about the cold as the suit compensates, keeps you warm and regulates your core temperature, on the soles of the boots little spikes come out to give grip. It's all great but it doesn't help me breathe. But I gotta solution, something they mentioned once. There's oxygen in the ground, in the water, the frozen water. I gotta drill out cylinders of ice and through some, witchcraft or something I don't know, there's this air converter on the pod that can extract oxygen from pretty much anything. Well, anything that's got oxygen in it. You want me to explain it? Do I look like a scientist to you? They make this thing for idiots like me so I don't have to work out with 'H' goes where and which 'O' does what. All I know is I push these two buttons and I can breathe.
But I gotta drill this goddamn ice. It's hard work. I use my trench tool, it's this mutlipurpose thing that's pretty much a giant swiss army knife except instead of a knife it's a shovel. My heavy breathing uses what air I have and uses it fast. When I finally get this ice up the pod tells me it'll take a while. I'm there gasping for air like a fish outta water. But hey, okay, at least I'm still alive and I ain't shot. Could be worse....this planet could be inhabited. The oxygen I get is enough to last an hour. Great so I gotta stop and drill every hour. But I don't complain. Well who can I complain to?
Right now I have to figure out what to do. I'm stuck on an icy planet, lost. Nobody is coming to look for me and nobody cares that I'm gone. I'm on my own. So now what?
I try my radio. Every frequency and wave length I can think of but I don't hold up much hope. All the time I've been fighting I've never met anybody who's been sent to answer an SOS call. At least not for one us.
I don't have a survival kit, I don't have food and I don't have water. They build us to fight not to survive. At least I can melt some ice and drink something. But I'm starting to panic now.
The wind picks up and it's torture. This suit can survive anything up to a small nuclear detonation and it's designed to be lived in 24/7 so at least I have shelter and warmth. But I'm hungry. The constant howling of the wind gives me a headache. I just want it to stop. Give me some peace. My drugs have run out and I'm suffering from withdrawel. I'm shaking. I imagine my face is cold white and ghostly. There is nothing on this rock. I've walked for miles in each direction but it is flat, featureless and barren. The wind kicks up snow and ice and it gets in the joints of my suit.
I haven't eaten. I don't even know how long I've been here. I think I'm hallucinating. The drilling is so much harder now. I can't sleep for the noise nor for the fact that I have to drill fo oxygen every hour. I can't work fast enough to build a stock of ice cylinders, the faster I work the harder I breathe. The short and long of it is that I've only got one option. I didn't want to consider it because I figured there may be an outpost here, an abandoned ship, something, anything however unlikely. But I'm left with a choice that doesn't offer much else.
I can re-launch the pod. It's supposed to be re-usable in case your drop ship can't reach the rendezvous point. It's happened a few times before. But there's always been the garentee that the drop ship will pick up the pod. The only problem is I go into stasis, and I'm left at the mercy of deep space. The pod shuts down to save energy but at least it broadcasts a homing beacon. Fundamentally I'm a very small needle infinate haystack, and nobody is looking for their lost needle. It's just another way of accepting the end.
I'm so close to starvation though that I don't see much of a choice. I mean what would you do? It's a shitty situation. I decided to launch the pod and hope a passing ship picks me up. I can't stay here any longer. The endless screaming wind.
So I do it. What do they say? Set controls for the heart of the sun? Yeah well nearly. I resign my fate. I'm sorry to the young girl. The girl I killed and never knew. Not even her name. I failed, twice. I might have cried if my gaunt face wasn't so frozen. My eyes sting and I blink so fast I can barely see. I make my peace, I'm sorry, I'm sorry girl, I wish of nothing but to take back my stupidy and my igonrance. I launch the pod and know of nothing.

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