RETREADS – by Barry O’Farrell
2nd Prize – Short Story
(less than 1,000 words)
Arts Alliance (Pine Rivers) 2015
Our Army won the war. Of course there were secrets; secret weapons, secret departments, secret tactics. The thing of it is, eventually secrets fester.
The one thing clear to everyone was we had overcome the enemy’s use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED’s). This proved to be the turning point.
What should have been a three hour journey by truck could take twice or three times as long in areas notorious for IED’s. What no-one understood or believed, is how this was done; the modus operandi on the field of battle which is why it took so long for this particular secret to emerge.
It emerged by rumour. Don’t they all? Some of the military rumours were pretty wild. Some of the rumours caused distress for the families of our fallen. Their distress compounded when they were given unsatisfactory or nonsensical answers or couldn’t get answers.
An internal commission was formed to look into this covert matter and as a retired General, I had the responsibility of heading it. Now follows my account of what we found. Whilst it may read as reasonably straightforward, evidence was extremely difficult to come by and I ask you to understand, key witnesses had to have their testimony almost pried out of them.
Covertly, a “Special Unit” was formed; an ultra-dark unit which didn’t exist officially and was cited as Tier X. It was comprised completely of irregulars.
The secret operatives at its core turned out to be a group of scientists from South Africa. They brought with them a particular technique. I was going to say, perfected a technique but it was far from perfect.
To head Tier X, the military needed one of their own with a point to prove. They chose the recently demoted Colonel Allison Kowalski.
Formerly a General, she had been named in a scandal involving maltreatment, some might say torture, of prisoners. Claiming she was only following orders, she mounted a feisty defence which, whilst it did not help her case, endeared her to the more extreme, right wing members of the military. Who better to oversee something which does not have parameters and which does not officially exist?
So how does it work? What I am about to explain applies only to our own men, not the enemy. Let me be clear on this point; our own soldiers exclusively.
Corpses were brought in from the battlefield, examined and for the more reasonably intact a “blood transfusion” was forcibly pumped into them. This turned out to be a simple mixture of plasma and “secret ingredients”.
What were the secret ingredients?
Nano machines; millions of microscopic nano machines which went about repairing and restoring tissue, nerves etc as best they could, often remarkably well.
72 hours later, our corpses were soldiers again. Well, soldiers with about 60% function restored. Some of them, in time, improved to about 75% function. I should note, none of them ever uttered a word.
Our regular troops on the battlefield referred to them as “Retreads”; the term “Zombie Army” also circulated but was quickly discouraged. Can you imagine a rumour about the “Zombie Army” and the effects this would have should it ever leak back to our own country?
Each Retread was issued with a rifle and two new identities. The first was a registration code (e.g. CZ5019); the second a new name, which they didn’t always answer to. For some unknown reason, George was the name most commonly reassigned. They were addressed as George, generically.
“Have your Georges assemble here in 30 minutes,” for example.
In launching operations into areas where IED’s were prolific, the Retreads were used to lead the way.
They would hobble along in front of our troops and vehicles, blundering into IED’s, triggering same, often being blown up, thus clearing a safe path onto the field of battle for the following troops.
As I said earlier, the science was not perfect. There were tragic incidents which were particularly noticeable at the time of the Full Moon, oddly enough.
Occasionally one of the Retreads would shoot himself in the head. Others would walk away into the desert during the dark of night never to be seen again. God knows what was going on inside what was left of their minds.
As for General Kowalski, she proved to be an excellent choice. She was zealous in her administration of Tier X and took a keen interest in this new technology and its radical application.
She would ask questions such as, “If a Retread gets ‘knocked down’ could he be recycled for a second time and sent onto the battlefield again?”
Or “How many times might a single Retread be recycled?”
Or, “What is the minimum percentage we need for a corpse to be classed as ‘intact’ before we can give him a blood transfusion?”
In drafting our findings, our junior commissioner came up with a recommendation which was given credence by the hierarchy. He argued, as medical science would learn many lessons from this exercise, and in time make further improvements and refinements, we should honour the contribution to science made by each of our soldiers who had taken part, however unwittingly, in the program.
A special medal should be struck, to be awarded posthumously, always posthumously, to the Retreads’ next of kin or families. We need to come up with a name for such decoration and we need to make it a good one.
Word count: 903
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