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Fiction Contemporary Science Fiction

My body was protected, but my soul absorbed the destruction of a poor Syrian town that served as a stratagem. The nuke we dropped on them was metaphorical, but it was as if I absorbed the radiation of the strike. As if I were struck mad, I couldn’t help but laugh as the world burned around me, as my weapon of destruction was set loose on the unwary. If I still had my mind about me, I’d have dropped to my knees, weeped over the humanity of the carnage carved through the Middle East like I set the fire that set the Hindenburg alight.

But I didn’t cry. I didn’t get mad. I laughed like I couldn’t recognize the destruction I birthed, like I didn’t play God with the human body, like I didn’t spend long nights experimenting, playing the part of Michelangelo with a chisel, chipping at my humanity like Renaissance artists chipped at their stone canvas. Bit by bit, I embraced the role, the caricature of the mad scientist while General Holt, the warmongering capitalist he is, looked at the world play his instrument of destruction with a sickening satisfaction. Circumstances sullied our senses of compassion, and I’d like to think we were once different men than the ones we became. Perhaps he had this luxury, but no matter how I tried, I couldn’t remember who I was before my labcoat was smattered with the red of America’s control-hungry stripes.

The war machine’s greatest asset is its capacity for seducing its participants with patriotic panderings. Two people who bought it hook line and sinker were yours truly, Dr. Wilson Vasques, and the guinea pig himself, Special Task Force Arvid Colartes. Sure, having a hulk-like creature to let loose on an unsuspecting country is a powerful weapon, but something that authoritarian countries understand is that the real war is won within. Leaders pull the young and naive in by selling them on a vision and propping them up as the solution. What’s the problem if it isn’t true? The important part is they’ll be dead before they know the difference.

It’s funny that in all the years of research, I never let considerations of right and wrong get in the way of my work. That was, until the Faustian bargain I made was fulfilled, and Beelzebub came to collect his debt. I could make a case that the wrong soul was being painted red, that the one who shook hands with Satan, the beloved general that signed off on the bioweapon’s development, was the one who should be the one dragged under instead. I had a choice to make, though, just like he did. Until the proverbial day of reckoning, my only concern was serving my country, so when Head of R+D Marcos Servos told me I had a chance to “help speed up the war efforts in favor the country of God,” I didn’t waste a moment pondering ifs and maybes, only whens.

If I didn’t feel this way already, Head Servos was going to make sure I felt so. Architects of war weren’t often the type to compromise.

“Professor Vasques, I believe we’d both benefit if I didn’t have to repeat myself. That mutated protein you discovered, we’ve been given authorization to further research and militarize it. You have three months to come up with something. Get it done.”

“Sir, it sounds like you a super soldier.”

“I want a serum that will allow our brave men and women to survive a bullet to the chest. I know you aren’t a fan of violence, but you can’t make an omelet without cracking a couple eggs. Think of it like this, if you succeed, you can prevent millions from dying over the course of the next few years, citizens and soldiers on both sides. By using force just this once, you can reintroduce stability into Middle-Eastern nations. Isn’t that the legacy you always wanted?” Servos asked. 

I hate to admit it, but he had me. He sold me on a vision of a better world, just like my God-given country did before him. Worse yet, I think I was taken out of my senses by my attempts at altruism. I suffered the orders of others for as long as I needed so that I could one day make amends, healing what I had broken in the past. Now, I was at what I felt was a crossroads, deciding whether I would be an instrument of war or the guardian angel I always wanted.

Mindlessly fiddling with my nerdy test tubes and zygotes, I continued my research while thinking of what Servos told me: Is the engineer right? Did I misunderstand my position? Is there a price for peace? Do I actually hurt people through my lack of willingness to make sacrifices? I bit the tip of my finger to the point where blood was drawn from the tip. I did not notice, however, as I had been lost deep in thought until that point. I finally noticed when I had seen a soldier had sent for gauze from the infirmary. For better or worse, I was mostly indifferent, only letting out a small “thank you.’

I was satisfied with what little time I had to myself. As someone who sometimes had trouble deciding, I appreciated it whenever the universe sent me a sign to punish me for my analysis paralysis. The pain that came from my absentmindedness was a message I read loud and clear: just do what I do, don’t get bogged down in thought.

“There’s a time for planning and a time for action.” I remember Arvid saying. I was always the one obsessed with thinking through everything. It was my gift and my curse. When me and A were still kids, I’d plot on how to deal with the bigger kids whenever they were giving him trouble, just how he’d help me if I had troubles. Since we were young, we’d find a way to help each other. It took us forty years, but we found that there were some kids that we couldn’t help each other with. 

“Good afternoon, Doctor. We need you to come to the medical bay as soon as possible.” I didn’t know what this was about at first, and after I found out, I felt ashamed that I didn’t know something was wrong sooner. 

With three knocks on the door, I saw the face I most feared. My brother, stronger than me in all possible regards, laid prostrated, motionless, wrapped as though the gauze could drive the burns from his body.

“Hey, A. It’s been too long, hasn’t it?” I said. Arvin tried to smile, but he was met with multiple complications. The pain in his face from the wounds, from trying to be strong when he couldn’t, from looking at the worried look on the face of his friend. 

“Wilson. Syria, they ambushed us. I’m not sure how many people made it out. I… I passed out after the first explosion. Woke up here. Gonna have to ask my CO how many made it.” With his one good arm, he covered his head, and buried the thought of the unnecessary death that might’ve happened. 

“A, you don’t have to say anything else. You might not know it, but you did everything you could. You remember Colin, right? That asshole back in sixth grade?”

“The kid you put in the hospital after beating him over the head with a goddamn rock?”

“Yeah, I couldn’t come to school for a week or so afterwards. That’s basically a year for us nerds, by the way. When I got back, I was dapping up people in the robotics club like I just got back from up north.’

“I remember that. You started watching talking like you were in a gangster movie. Like 85% of the school couldn’t help making fun of you, but that 15% you were close with thought you were the coolest person on campus.”

“Yeah! You had to act like you didn’t know me until I stopped!”

“People still think we met that winter break.”

“Wait, we didn’t?!” I asked jokingly. A and I exchanged a healthy laugh that took his mind off his injuries, but there was something serious we needed to discuss.

“Hey, I’m gonna make sure whoever did this to you pays. In a couple years, your boys won’t have to worry about bullets anymore.”

So you’ve decided to put your everything into that protein, eh? I asked myself. To tell the truth, I didn’t have much of a choice. To loosen my verbosity for a moment, they came for my boy, so I wanted blood. Leaving my notes and my work unattended, I pushed my obligations off for the next thirty minutes to an hour, pushing through the thanks of the doctors and interns that felt they owed me thanks for something I hadn’t even done yet. I hadn’t given much thought to the honors I was owed, I was more focused on dealing with the aftermath.

I had no complaints. I didn’t doubt I knew people that had wounds worth speaking about. Nevertheless, it seemed like many cuts, past and future, found their ways to sink deeper than my skin and pierce my soul. My friend Arvid was just another way the world got to me. To most, he was just another body only good for cranking the dial of universal conquest, but even since we were kids, we had each other’s back. When I got bullied in middle school, he made the bigger kids eat dirt; and when the even bigger kids threw him to the ground, I made sure they had a couple wounds they couldn’t brush off. My wounds were minor, but as it had many times, past and future, deep cuts found their ways to sear me beneath the flesh, throwing me around emotionally like I were trapped in the first layer of Dante’s Inferno. 

For three years, I worked tirelessly, forgetting the person I once was, relentlessly laboring, refining the formula, experimenting which chemical compounds could regulate the rapid growth of the protein. I spent many days developing an allergy to sleep, and when I did find an hour to rest, I was shaken awake by the face of my dear friend who was now surrounded by his family back in the States. Madness in awakeness, scars in slumber. As the madness grew on me, as I blamed our supposed opponents for everything that had happened, for my shift in demeanor, for carving a scar into the hearts of our greatest warriors, I developed an unforeseen hatred for the Syrian people. Xenophobia is fear of the unknown, but I feared that I had come to know them too well, and I wanted nothing more than to make them pay with their blood. {author’s note: I do not condone this way of thinking. This fictional story is detached from my view of the Middle East and should be treated only as a story of a doctor driven mad by a traumatic experience}.

August 24, 2030, the day the sacrifice of my sanity became worth it. As Syria had done to my friend, I threw myself on the altar of progress. While their intent was to drive a haram scourge from their borders, mine was scientific advancement, moving men to the realm of gods, allowing them to exact their will as they pleased. I was tasked with finding a human volunteer, and I think I knew someone who would raise little protest.

With only two hums of the telephone, Arvid answered his destiny’s call. 

“Arvid! The day of reckoning has finally come!” I greeted. I expected his excitement to match my own, but I was met with silence.

“A?”

“Yeah, I’m here. It’s just unbelievable that it’s finally time. I- we’ve been waiting for this to come. I’m sure you feel the same, but I wanna be the one to bring our boys back!”

“Today the war ends, Arvid, and once you inject this serum, you will be the first of many super soldiers at America’s disposal! We’ll be heroes, A! The pioneers of a new age of science and the first brave enough to venture where mankind has never gone!” I fantasized. 

“Well, when you put it like that, who am I to refuse?!”

As if the U.S. military was as impatient as I was, Arvid was on a plane the next morning. He was offered room and board, touring for the next week as an example of the horrors of war and the Syrian conflict, and finally a coronation ceremony on Sunday. Monday at 0600 hours was dropoff in a heavily contested hot zone. 0830 hours, A had to entertain reporters and their insufferable tail-wagging. 1200 hours, A deployed to a hot zone with a patrol squad, injecting the special liquid and letting himself loose on radical Islamists. If this were a videogame, he’d be a tank drawing aggro. Well, it’d be Call of Duty, but it’d also have elements of a MOBA. 

Either way, the point remained consistent: he was a man among boys. The vial worked as intended, his proteins made his flesh fluffier but also hard. As Arvin ran and gunned down the resistance, those tasked with tracking his heart rate found something… unexpected. His mind destabilized, but I didn’t think it was much at first. I didn’t want to watch I was losing my best friend live.

As he went longer, however, it became harder to deny. Arvin started to refuse to answer to make callbacks with his squad, and as his stamp became that of a destroyer, he stopped discriminating what he tore apart. He obliterated everything: U.S. troops, innocent civilians. I was forced to watch as a man I called a friend destroyed everything we worked to preserve. Not Syria, per se, but peace; ethical conduct; preservation of life; delicateness of nature. I must have been out of my mind to give into the calling to make that weapon, and I knew it. My response? I laughed. As I watched the world burn to the ground by my hand, I assumed blame for the role I played and laughed, because nobody would forgive me if I said I was sorry, nobody would wipe my tears if I cried, so I embraced my newfound position as an actor of the apocalypse, and laughed until I could breathe no more. Metaphorically, and perhaps in the near future, literally.

December 03, 2022 04:30

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