Emera had a sick feeling in her gut from the get-go, from the very first words of the briefing, and from there it only grew in her chest like a rancid vine strangling her heart. She boarded the dropship with the rest of the platoon. They were about to descend onto a remote and undefended outpost and arrest the whole lot. Civilians, to the last. It had been made clear to the platoon that the outpost was to be made an example of. There would be casualties—maybe everyone. It wasn’t right. “Sarge, permission to speak freely?”
Sergeant Charon Isi rolled her eyes. “Here we go. What is it?”
Emera heard a wave of snickering pass through the cabin, but she didn’t know what the joke was. “This feels wrong. I don’t think we’re the right unit for this mission.” The dropship fell away from the carrier and everyone grabbed the hanging straps to avoid falling; their exos were powered down to save energy; made it hard to get up again. “They’re non-violent offenders, and it’s a civil regulation. We’re not supposed to enforce civil regs.”
“No?” asked the sergeant. “Weird, ’cause the major just told us that’s exactly what we’re gonna do. You have a problem with the major?”
“No, but I have a problem killing innocent people. And that’s exactly what’s going to happen. It’s bullshit.” Emera’s ears were burning.
Someone from second squad called out, “Goddamn; how many times you been wiped, Emera?” She didn’t understand, but it elicited a round of hearty laughter from the whole platoon.
The sergeant approached her. “Let me show you something,” she said. “Give me your combat knife.” Emera, puzzled, took the weapon from its sheath and handed it over. Isi looked it over seriously, regarding both sides of the blade carefully, and then abruptly plunged it into Emera’s navel up to the hilt. It was a thin plane of pure fire burning a hole through her organs. She toppled backwards and cupped her hands around the hilt, trying to keep it still. She let out an agonized animal moan.
“Take it down a notch, Emera; it doesn’t even hurt. Stop reacting and think for a second.”
Somehow, she did manage to think. She took a mental inventory of her body and was disturbed to realize it really didn’t hurt. She lifted her chin to her breastbone and saw the knife protruding bloodlessly from her stomach. Carefully, she wriggled around a bit and found that she felt perfectly fine.
“Pull it out,” commanded Isi.
Emera obeyed. A shiny dark syrup bubbled out of the wound, sizzled, and dissipated. She was healed.
“They’re not innocent people,” said Sarge, “because they ain’t people at all. And neither are you. So stop acting like one. This little routine’s getting old.” The dropship lurched as it entered the atmosphere. “Show’s over folks, let’s get it together. Somebody help her up.”