The Army of the Damned

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
The story of a man forced into a war and changed by it. It is based off my short "War"

Submitted: July 05, 2017

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Submitted: July 05, 2017

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As a bard, I spend a lot of time wandering the multi-verse looking for stories and recently I came across a very good one.  I stepped through a portal to find myself on the edge of a ruined city.  The amount of decay alone told me this city was extremely old and that piqued my interest.  So, I went exploring, besides the last jump had drained my portal key and without a charging station it would take 3 days for it to charge on its own.  Never buy a used portal key for a Shadorina merchant.

The architectural design wasn’t anything I had seen before, but this is a big multi-verse and even somebody as well traveled as me can’t have seen everything.  The fine details had crumbled to dust long ago, but even without them I could see that every building was a work of art.  I saw no signs of life, even animal life which was strange.  There were large plazas with huge elaborate fountains in the center.  The fountains were dry and a thick layer of dust laid in the bottom of their basins.  I couldn’t help wondering what this city was like when it was alive and flourishing and more importantly what had happened to it.

I wandered towards the center of the city avoiding entering the building even though they looked amazing sound for their age.  I had just stepped out of a side street onto the largest plaza yet when I saw it before me.  It was the tallest of the towers in a city of towers.  It far surpassed the beauty of the surrounding buildings even in its state of disrepair.  I surmised that this was probably a government building, maybe even the seat of power for whoever had ran this city.

The doors swung open easily on thier hinges and I entered the building.  Any who know me will attest to the fact that I’m a devoted coward except where a story is concerned and I smelled a story here.  That was all I smelled, this place was devoid of all smells and the only sound I heard was my own shuffling feet as I raised small clouds of dust in this empty city.

Large windows allowed light to pour into the building allowing me to easily search the first floor.  The first floor held little of interest, most of the furniture having rotted and crumble away long ago.  After a quick search of my pack for a light I made my way into the basement.  It was dark and cool down here and my imagination began to play tricks on me, but I continue my search and it payed off with a cache of data cubes.  It isn’t really that amazing to find data cubes in an ancient ruin since they are probably the most efficient way to story huge amounts of data.  I scooped them into my pack to sort through later and hurried back upstairs.

I emerged from the basement to the sound of fighting nearby.  The coward in me wanted to descend back into that dark basement where the only thing to worry about was the horrors my mind created, but the bard in me wanted to see who was fighting.  I crept upstairs hoping to get a better view from the second or third floor while staying safe.

I was nearing the outer wall when some kind of explosion shook the whole building and the front wall came crashing down.  My foot was trapped, but thankfully not broken, so I tried to move the block of stone.  It was too heavy and I couldn’t get leverage on it.  I almost laughed at the irony of it, me a coward at heart trapped and probably going to die because I had to see a battle in the hopes of finding a new story.  As I laid there listening to the battle outside I wondered if someday somebody would find my remains and tell my story.

The battle raged for hours and I must have fallen asleep at some point, goes to show you that once you accept your fate relaxing and letting it happen is easy.  I awoke to the sound of whine servos and the screech of metal on metal as 17 large armored figures entered.  They were bloody and armed with dangerous looking weapons.  I figured I was dead either way things played out so I spoke up.  “Hi.  I’m kind of stuck here so could one of you …”

I shut my mouth and quickly raised my hands when I found myself staring down the barrels of 17 combat class pulse rifles.  They must have been using radio to communicate because 3 moved off to search the rest of the floor.  Keeping out of the aim of the others one lifted the piece of rubble off my foot and I quickly pulled it out.

“Who are you?”

“Me I’m a simple entertainer, storyteller, bard if you will.  I do a little juggling, tell jokes and even dance, but my main talent is telling stories.”

“I didn’t ask you what you do, I want a name.”

“Ok I’m ….”

 

The interrogation was less painful then I thought it would be and in the end, they didn’t kill me, which is a good thing for me.  After they made sure I was wasn’t a threat they set up some barricades and defenses then removed their combat armor.  They were all scared veterans of some war.  Most seemed a little twitchy and I was considering finding someplace else to spend the night, but the leader had this look in his eyes.  I had seen that look before, he had a story and it haunted him.

“We are going to hold up here tonight, if you don’t cause any problems, we won’t have to kill you.”  He said it without of emotion, like killing somebody wasn’t anything to him, but I saw the sadness in his eyes.

“I’m not looking to cause problems, I just want to wait until my portal key recharges then I’m out of here.”

“You can share our meal, it ain’t much, but you are welcome to share it.”

“I don’t promise a miracle, but I have some skill cooking so I could take what you have and see what I can do.”

A quick nod from him and one of the others handed me what they had for supplies.  It was mainly prepossessed food packs, not the best thing to cook with, but I have used worse.  I had picked up a thing or two on my travels, you never know when I meal is all that it takes to open somebody up.  I had some stuff of my own, and combining it all, I have to say I did a fairly good job making a meal.

After the meal everybody relaxed, everybody except the leader, he still seems tense, but I don’t think it had anything to do with the battle they had been through.  Simmons who was the leader arranged for guard rotation.  A few of them went to work trying to repair the combat armor as best that can be done in the field, another I assume she was the medic of this group checked the few injuries they had sustained.  These were professionals and everybody kept busy, that is everybody except the leader.  I don’t know if the others noticed him slip off by himself.

I figured this was my chance to see if I can draw his story out of him so I went looking for the leader.  I found him in the room that had its front wall blown out.  He was kneeling there and I thought he was praying until I got closer and heard him puking.  I tried to back away, but I guess this wasn’t my day to hang out in ruins because I tripped over a piece of rubble.

He spun around and I saw he had been crying and puking as he looked out on the dead in the plaza below.  I long string of puke hung from his lower lip and his eyes were red.  His hand dropped to the pistol on his side and I nearly pissed myself.  “Hey, hold on, you don’t want to do that.”

He seems to be looking through me as his hand rested on the butt of the pistol, then he just reached up and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.  “What do you want?”

“To hear your story.  My nose tells me that it will be a good one, and it rarely fails me.”

“Why do you think my story is any better than those soldiers back there,” He pointed in the general direction of where his men were, “Or those out there on the plaza?”  He waved his arm towards the plaza.

“I don’t know, but like I said my nose rarely fails me and it is saying you have a story.  Maybe it has failed me this time, but I don’t think so.”  I slowly got up, not sure if this man was completely sane.  “Maybe in telling it you will find some peace.”

He pulled a smoke from his uniform and pulling the tab on the end he took a deep drag.  “This war, this bloody fucking war isn’t my war.  It isn’t their war or their war.”  He indicated the living and dead soldiers with quick hand gestures.  “I have never meet anybody from either of the empires that were fighting this war, but they aren’t fighting it any longer.  All the soldiers on both sides, have been forced into service for empires they never wanted to be part of.”

 

As the story goes, my ancestors came from a society that had advanced so much that machines did everything for them.  The people faced no challenges or hardship.  They had become completely dependent on machines.  It was to the point that machines built new machines.  Most of the humans didn’t even leave their houses.My ancestors felt that they were missing something, the challenges their ancestors had faced and that was making them less than they could be.

In time, these people formed a small group and unable to change their society, decided to go find a world on which they could build a society without machines, where anything a human could do was not done by a machine.  The search for a world to settle and start their society was hard, but in the end, they found a paradise.  It had mild weather and plenty of game.  No other intelligent life or large predators.  The land was fertile and the waters teamed with fish.  Even with all the benefits this would had to offer the first few years were hard.

They had never actually worked and their bodies weren’t used to it.  A few wanted to quit and go back, but the others talking them into staying.  After a few years their bodies got stronger and the work became easier.  Using only what came from this world they build a small village and began to work the land.  They were happy and in time they had children and grandchildren.  That one small village expanded and finally a second then a third village was built.  They didn’t want to overburden one piece of land supporting a large community so they spread out forming small communities, but they kept in touch and help each other out.

They instilled in their children a deep desire for a simple life without the complications of machines.  They had brought a few with them, but let most decay away only keeping a few med units and their data readers operational, but in time even these wore out.  By the time I was born there were no data readers and the data cubes were a keepsake passed down in families.

 

He dug in his pack and pulled out a hand full.  “I saved these, but I never had the heart to read them.  Take them so you can learn more about my people and possible keep them alive in your stories.”

I couldn’t believe my luck.  This soldier’s story was what I really wanted, but maybe, possible I could have a treasure trove of stories in these data cubes.  “Thank you, I treasure them.  Now please continue.”

He took a hit on his smoke and leaned back against a wall slowly letting the smoke out.

 

Two main ideals were taught to the children of the original settlers that continue to be held scared to my day.  First was that man being part of nature and shouldn’t destroy it, but try to live in harmony with it.  Second was that machines should never do a job a person can do, even if the machine could do it better.  My ancestors flourished following these simple ideals, they didn’t build huge cities, but the land scape was dotted with thousands of small villages.  It was a happy productive society, thou primitive looking from the outside.

That was what the soldiers found when they came to our world.  They had not come to conquer, but to protect their empire.  Our world was on a direct path from the territories of another empire and so they had decided to set up a base on our world to protect their empire.  The leader of the soldiers met with the elders of our society and assured them that they would not interfere with us.  They kept their word for the most part, but some trade did go on, my people supplying them with fresh food and the soldiers giving them little things that were hard for us to make, or metal implements that were of better quality then we had.

A second army came with the same promises and set up a camp.  The war had come to my ancestors’ paradise, but it wasn’t the war of today, this was fought by a strict set of rules.  It was more formal, like a dance then the chaos and confusion of today.  One the field of battle the two sides tried to kill the other, but off it they acted friendly and even meet socially.  But as things have a tendency to do, the rules changed.  As I learned these changes happen gradually as the older soldiers died and younger soldiers took over.  One side then the other would change the rules, and so after hundreds of years, they had gone from a dance to the chaotic combat that is truly war.  If soldiers from the opposing sides came across each other off the battle field they began to shoot first.  Patrols wandered the wood lands looking for the enemy scaring the game away.  Life for my people became hard, but we had no place to go and so they did what they could to continue their way of life.

As a young boy, I would sneak off to watch the fighting on what was by then called the battle field.  I dreamed of joining one of the armies and fighting in the battle, maybe even finally winning it.  I wasn’t the first to have these day dreams and some of the others through the years had even run off to join, never to be seen again.  My daydreams of being a soldier ended the moment I saw Shanra.  My father took me with him to a nearby village to trade and that is when we meet.  I was in love, we were in love and spent every chance we could with each other.  Tradition held that we had to be 18 to marry and so we waited.

The war got worse during this time as the two sides began to raid each other’s camps.  One day a village was blown up and when the elders demanded to know which side had done it, they pointed their finger at the other.  After that the elders ordered both sides off our world, but their commanders laughed at them.  We were told to avoid the soldiers from then on, no trading or even talking with them.  I was not old enough to attend the council meetings, but my father would talk about what happen at them, and it wasn’t good.

The council was divided on what to do, half wanted to resist, attack the soldiers and drive them off our world, the other half wanted to just avoid the soldiers, to try to continue to live our lives.  Among the adults a third group arose that wanted to try and leave the world, to find another and settle there, but the elders won’t hear of that saying this was our world and we shouldn’t have to leave.  We later heard that a group had tried to attack several soldiers and that is what caused what happen next, but I don’t know.  Even I could see we had no chance against them with their combat armor and pulse rifles, while we only had bows and arrows to attack with.  If it was the truth or just an excuse to do what they did I don’t know.

They came in the night and rounded us up, marching us all to a central location to be held.  Everybody from the nearby villages were there so I found Shanra and we huddled together in a large cage as these soldiers guarded us.  We overheard things from the soldiers and it seems the other side was doing the same thing.  The fighting had stopped for now as each side took the time to decided what to do with us.

Finally, the commander of the army came before us.  He stood on a platform they had constructed and looked down on us.  He was a hard man, so unlike the stories said the first commander had been.  “You all have a choice to make, it isn’t an easy choice and neither choice is good, but you will make it or I will for you.  You can join our army and fight for us or we will shoot you.  Don’t worry I know some of you are too old or too young to fight, we will find jobs for all of you.”  I remember the smile he gave us at this point.  It was sadistic like he was enjoying forcing us to sign up.  “Just so you know once you join, it is until you are dead or the war is won.  There is no getting out once you join except in death so either choice is a death sentence, only join will let you continue to live a little longer.”

As he walked off the platform a large group of my people rushed the gate bursting it open.  I don’t know if they planned to attack the guards and try to hold the commander prisoner or just escape, but the soldiers had planned for this.  They open fire, not only on those rushing out of the cage, but those of us that had not moved, too stunned to do anything.

I don’t know for sure what had happened or if any of my people escaped, but I awoke in a hospital on another world.  There was 243 people from my world there.  We were allowed to heal and we did quickly thanks to their medicine, then we were shipped off for training.  Shanra was with me, but she seemed different and wouldn’t hardly speak or eat.  Training was hard almost brutal and we lost several recruits during the 3 months we spent in it.  After training all that was left of my people were the young.  I heard from some of the others that children had survived, but we never saw them.  Those elders that had survived the massacre died in training and so only those young and fit enough to actually fight became soldiers in an army we hated.

One hundred and ninety-two were shipped off to join a unit on the front line.  Shanra had changed during the training, gone was the sweet kind girl I knew before.  She was now hard and mean, not showing any kindness to even me.  I still loved her and tried to reach her, and I finally found out what was wrong during our last week at the training camp.  I came upon her crying and I held her trying to comfort her.  That is when it spilled out.  She had been pregnant with our child and when she had awoken in the hospital the doctors told her the baby was gone and she could never have another.  It was like being punched in the gut, my child was gone and I could never have another with the woman I loved.  I wanted to kill somebody, anybody.  I promised her that I would always be there for her, swearing I still loved her.

A few of us planned to desert as soon as we saw a chance.  This wasn’t our war so we wouldn’t fight it was our thought.  At the unit, we were assigned to the scared veterans treated us like dirt if they took the time to acknowledge us at all.  This was a strike force, sent through portals to either support a unit already on site or to hold a position long enough for another unit to dig in.  We were cannon fodder basically, sent where the fighting was the heaviest.  The commander of this unit welcomed us by tell us that 80% of us would be dead by the third engagement with the enemy.

On the third day, we were sent to reinforce a unit.  Transports took us from the camp right to the fighting and we left the ship all my fear and doubt disappeared into a red haze of hate and rage.  I still didn’t want to be here or fighting for this army, but suddenly I wanted to kill something so I rushed the line and began to fire.  I fired wildly at the enemy at first, but soon I calmed down long enough to take aim and fire.  I have no idea how long we were on that line, parts of the battle just a blur.  We had arrived in the morning, but it was well after dark when we were finally called off the line.  On the trip, back to our camp I calmed down and as I sat there I felt myself getting sick.  I fought down the bile down, others weren’t as strong, some broke down crying, others started screaming and a few had to be restrained.

Those who hadn’t calmed down when we got back to the camp were taken away.  The veterans showed those of us that had survived a little bit of respect.  They explained that our combat armor was designed to inject us with drugs and as newbies we had been pump full of drugs to bring out our aggression.  We settled in a little more now that the older soldiers didn’t completely ignore us.  By the fifth mission those who survived were now being showed tricks and secrets they veterans knew.  Me and Shanra spent as much time as we could together, but we barely spoke just sitting together.  We were both haunted by all the death we had witnessed and caused.

The fifth mission was to open a foot hold on a world held by the enemy so the transport didn’t take us through a portal but put us out and we charged through the portal on foot.  Shanra was beside me as we rushed forward when she took a blast to the head.  Her headless body continue to run for a few steps before dropping.  I knew I should fight, but I dropped to my knees by her body cradling it.

I awoke in the hospital with my right arm gone from the shoulder down.  I didn’t care anymore; my love was gone and know I was a cripple.  But the doctors regrew my arm, and sent me to get physical therapy.  I didn’t care anymore so I didn’t try to learn to use my new arm.  Part of me thought that if I was unable to fight I would no longer be forced to serve.  Months past then finally I was told I was to be sent back to my unit.  I argued that I was useless now, unable to do the simplest things with my new arm, but they said that I would learn or die.

I probably died on the next mission except one of the veterans took me aside and talked to me.  He explained that they had all lost people they loved and suffered injuries.  Those in charge didn’t care about us, there was always a recruit to replace those of us that died.  Then he told me that I needed to go on hoping to survive until the war was over, then I could move on with my life.  He said more and used a lot more words, but in the end his talk had the desired effect.  I learned to use my new arm and on the next mission I fought like I had never fought before.  It was for Shanra that I fought, to make the enemy pay for her death.  I didn’t forget that we had been forced into this war and both side were equal responsible for her death, but the enemy was the ones I could kill.

After that time seem to blur as I one battle bleed over into the next.  At first, I used drugs to numb myself between the fights.  I slowly lost all feeling and just sought another way to numb the pain.  I would take the young female recruits to my bed until I became bored with them and move on.  They meant nothing to me and so I didn’t even notice when they would die.  Time passed and soon was one of the scared veterans barely looking at those fresh-faced recruits stand there unsure of what to do on their first day.

I was promoted and reassigned to another unit.  This one was sent to secure a world before the enemy took it.  When we arrived, the natives didn’t know what to make of us.  Our commander ordered them all rounded up.  I remember my world and what had happened when we were gathered, but I was so numb I didn’t care.  The commander didn’t give a speech or offered these people a choice, he had us drag those too old to serve dragged out and killed.  I felt something at this point, but it was brief and I obeyed.

The remaining natives were shipped off to be train and we began preparing for the enemy.  Days bleed into weeks and weeks into months as we fought the enemy on that world.  Back and forth the battle would go, I was now a front-line soldier and to survive this I had to stop taking the drugs that had kept me numb for so long.  As my head cleared I began to remember all the horror I had seen, all the evil things I had done simple because I was told to.  I relieved that I was no long that naive boy that had been forced into this war.  I moved up the ranks taking the position of those above me that had fallen in battle.  Through it all I survived.  When we lost the world, I was one of a handful that escaped back through the portal.

Amazingly several of those that had made it were recruits and one of them quickly suggested we desert.  Without a thought, I shoot him and his two friends.  That ended all talk of deserting.  I could still remember me and my friends planning to desert, but now I knew that if they were with me and tried I would shoot them down also.

 

He stopped talking and just hung his head as tears fell from his eyes.  I wasn’t sure it I should speak and possible break the spell he was under spill all this to me or not.  Minutes ticked by and I finally had to say something.  “So why do you stay?  You said this isn’t your war.”

“This war has taken everything from me.  All my friends, family, and the woman I loved and even my unborn child have died due to it.  I have seen and done horrible things in the name of victory.  I have ripped families apart forcing the young into service and killing the old.  I have slaughtered whole cities just to keep the enemy from taking its people.  I am haunted by all those I have killed or sent to their deaths.  Moments like this I feel the weight of what I have done and feel the despair of what it all truly means, but tomorrow or the next day I’ll be back on the front line because that is all I know now.  I will continue to fight this insane war until all other life is dead or I lay dead on some forgotten battle field.”

He paused and then laughed a laugh laced with insanity and despair.  “The advancements that war brings are so amazing.  They have drugs which extend the lives of soldiers, they regrow limbs and the combat armor itself can keep a person alive from almost anything barring a system failure in it.  I have had most of my body regrown at one time or another and have survived this war for over a thousand years now only to find out that the empire we fight for died out millions if not billions of years ago.  Rumor among us officers is that it is the same for the other side.  These two powerful armies are unstoppable and yet they fight for nothing.  We have destroyed whole worlds and killed so many and those we fight for are dead.  I have nothing left to live for having lost it all, but hope to one day see an end to this war, not in peace but with the death of all life.”

I left him alone in his despair and as I made my way back to the others I had this feeling that unless I got away I would soon be joining this army of the damned.  I waited and studied the data cubes I had gotten.  Late that night as those on guard began to drift off I slipped out and was making my way across the plaza when I looked back.  I saw him standing there in the hole in the all and I swear that he waved to me.


© Copyright 2017 The Bard. All rights reserved.

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