The question

Something is wrong and she hates it.

She cannot tell what, or why. She struggles with it day after day after day. Whether out on patrol, or in the quiet hours in the trooper barracks, she struggles. She does not speak about it – to whom? She feels that speaking, let alone about this, would mark her as different. Different is bad.

After a time, the feeling changes. It crystallizes, slowly from uneasiness and undefined wrongness, into a single sharp thing. A needle deep inside her head. Painful. Poking. Prodding. A needle. A shard. A word.

WHY

It does not stop. Ever. Whatever she does. When she’s at the security post, watching humans move along, catching their uneasy glances. When she stands guard at the gene clinic, unmoving, silent. When she lies on her narrow hard bunk, trying to rest, trying to wind down, trying to get rid of it. But there it is. All the time.

WHY

She knows what she needs to do, every day. She feels the will of her commanding officer, as he feels the will of the General, as he in turn feels the will of the Elders themselves. It used to be so easy; feel what needs doing, do it. It wasn’t even a command – it was something as natural, as easy as moving her own hand. Being moved by her officer, as he’d move his own hand. There was a need for her to watch everybody walking through this door – she watched. There was a need to stop a human that a security post has flagged – she stopped. There was a need to subdue the human, to bring them to the flyer – she did. She obeyed. Flawlessly. Unthinkingly. Unquestionably.

And now – a question. The question.

WHY

It used to be easy. Feel it – do it – wait for the next thing. Sometimes a thought that is not the order: “The rifle is heavy, the duty is light. Feel the will of the Elders.” She used to feel warmth then, a sense of belonging, of being in the right place. At the end of her officer’s hand, as he is at the end of the arm of the vast body that is ADVENT. Now it’s different. Now everytime something needs doing, she feels the pull, and with it – the shard of the question. Stop this human. Why? Bundle the humans into this room. Why? Stand here, go here, watch this, do that. Why why why. She obeys. She has to. She does not know what will happen if she doesn’t obey. She feels that it would be worse than the pain of the question.

WHY

One day, a jolt. Sudden sharp pull, away from patrolling, away from the security post. Run, check the rifle; energy level full. Safety off. Run. Run run run. Towards the gunfire, towards explosions. Smell of smoke, an acrid smell, strong even through helmet filters. Cover, move there. She slips, wavers, falls hard behind a concrete divider in the middle of the street. Her hands in yellow, sticky liquid – another smell, metallic, heavy – blood. Body. ADVENT trooper just beside her, dead.

WHY

She peeks from behind the barrier. Humans all around, running, screaming, cowering. There, target, just another human – no. Not another human. They move with purpose, fast, crouching, towards her, towards the officer – GUN, there’s a GUN, she sends a thought-pulse –
Fire. Fire now.

WHY

No clear shot, humans –
FIRE NOW.

She fires, misses, the armed human is fast, too fast. She holds the trigger, tracks the one with the gun, her rifle keeps kicking, spitting a stream of projectiles, the stream stitches across another human, unarmed, soft, a splash of blood, a scream cut short –

WHY

A roar, heavy gun, a MEC, no – another armed human, heavy cannon in his hands, concrete churns around her, her cover ablates, eaten away by shells. He moved, the human moved, she sees the angles; he moved across the street, not to flank her, to ensure he does not hit the soft unarmed humans –

WHY

Mark THERE, the armed human is marked, pull from behind the cover, engage the marked human fire FIRE fire –

WHY

She does not move –

WHY

Just her and the officer now, bodies all around, human, ADVENT, bodies. She does not move, she feels the pull, sees the officer move carefully aside, take aim at the cannon-armed human that is watching her, waiting for her to move.

WHY

She does not move –

PAIN

She’s hit – no. No blood, her armor gray, not yellow. Pain is in her head. She did not move. Did not obey. So this is what happens. Pain.

PAIN

Different than the question, easier to ignore. Not as sharp.

WHY

She pulls her gun up, takes careful aim. Fires. Hits. A spray of blood – yellow. Yellow blood on the asphalt, her officer twitching, screaming. She fires again.

WHY

A sound, boots on the sidewalk, she looks – into the barrels of the heavy cannon. It’s done. The end.

– [No!]
– [What?]
– [She shot her officer, you saw. He got you flanked, bad form that.]

She looks at the human. She still lives, does not know –

WHY

She thinks about raising a gun, shooting. Does not know what to do. Sends a thought-pulse – no. The officer lies here, his blood pooling. She shot him. She shot him.

WHY

Another approaches. Gun at the ready, but not aimed. He moves swiftly, surely. He reaches to his helmet, pulls it off – his face. Not human. Not human. His face. Like hers. Bald, grey eyes, noseslits. Not human. Like her.

– Put the gun down. Please.

She understands. He speaks the Elder Speak.

– Put the gun down. Come on. We won’t hurt you.

The gun – her gun – clatters beside her feet.

WHY

– There is a question there, in your head, isn’t it? You feel it even if you can’t say it.

She looks at him. Opens her mouth, closes it.

– Come on. Let’s talk. Come on.
– [Mox, move it, Central says we need to evac soon!]
– [Be silent. Let me talk to her.]

He turns back to her.

– Come with me. Please.

She stands up, takes a step. Towards him, them. Another.

WHY

A roar overhead, she starts, frightened – a VTOL, like an ADVENT flyer, but smaller. Dirtier. Ramp open, ropes snake downwards, they grab them. The one that speaks hands the rope to her.

WHY

She takes it. She does not know why. Maybe there will be answer. Maybe more than one. Maybe new question. She has to know.

Posted in EN

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