Dark Age: Reassignment
rating: +16+x

I got into a rhythm of cognitive dissonance. Get orders, load out, blow out someone’s brains, reload, repeat. Don’t worry about what you’re doing, don’t even think about it.

It got easier and easier to dissociate from what I was doing, and harder and harder to bring myself back down when it was over. Several times, I’d dissociated so much I could barely remember what I was supposed to be doing.

At first, that ended up in “accidentally” letting multiple Ones due for termination get away. But every time I returned with a head count they deemed too low, my handler got angry. Yelling, screaming. Telling me how much of a failure I was, and why couldn’t I just do what I was told? Was I being disrespectful? Because you knew what happened when you were disrespectful. When I didn’t respond, it got physical. It never caused significant damage to my body, but its touch felt like knives being raked across my skin.

At first, I didn’t change how I was acting. I kept forgetting to recharge my power cells, I sneezed right before I pulled the trigger, I missed the kill shot. But then my handler’s responses kept getting worse, and I was terrified. Somewhere along the line, I got jumpy and agitated. Another Two with the same handler, Unit 4B80, sometimes asked me if I was okay. I was getting less and less sleep, and I guess it could tell by the dark circles under my eyes. Once, it put its hand on my shoulder. I flinched, which made me panic, so I whipped around and bared my teeth at it. It drew away, eyes wide.

My teeth weren’t as sharp as a One’s, but they were nothing to laugh at. The Ones made ours, the Twos’, teeth duller; it was supposed to look less savage, less wild – plus, we didn’t need them; we weren’t carnivores, we didn’t even eat. They didn’t really succeed; sure, the teeth are definitely less dangerous, but if I wanted, I could still tear through flesh with the canines and premolars I had. Plus, they were threatening enough to make someone back away, which is all I really cared about.

The jumpiness and agitation from how my handler was acting started to make me trigger-happy in the field. To prove myself, to redeem and prove that I wasn’t a failure, I took on more work, more targets. Then the anti-governmentalist groups kept growing, and it made stress fester like wildfire. Some took it out on others in increasingly violent ways. Once, to get my handler to calm down, I told it I thought we should start terminating the associates of the insurrectionists, to scare people away from the mere thought of aiding rebellious acts. It paused, some of the anger draining out of its face. It said a few more insulting words, but its steam had run out and it left the room.

It hadn’t excused me, but I was too exhausted to keep standing while waiting for it to get back, so I sat the heap of bloody clothes and tactical gear that was me down in a chair. Hours seemed to pass, and I ended up falling asleep due to how tired I was. When I heard the door open, meaning my handler had returned, I forced myself to open my eyes, extremely groggy but not wanting to look like I wasn’t paying attention. Its face and posture initially showed happiness, but its expression turned dark when it saw me sitting down. I stood, wobbling on my tired legs, and clasped my shaking hands behind my back. If it started going off again, I was going to collapse. I couldn’t deal with it. I closed my eyes and took a breath. It told me that it had talked to admin about expanding the considerations of who could be considered an enemy, and that it was proud of me for taking the initiative for such an idea.

I was horrified. Disgusted. And extremely uncomfortable. I thought praise would be nice. Coming from it, it was anything but. It excused me, and I barely managed to get to my room. Once I closed the door, I lay down on my floor and cried.


Back in the field, I was needed more and more frequently. Not only were one or two faces of a movement terminated, but also associates and followers lay dead.

Most of them were adults, or done with Growth 4. Those fell into the routine. Some of them were around my age, in the middle of Growth 3. Those were harder to kill. I wanted to yell at them, ‘why aren’t you running?’ but I could see the fear in their eyes; I knew how it felt. I knew what it was like to be terrified of the government.

I stood in a large building, with a gathering of Ones in front of me. They were talking rapidly, panicked. Then they saw me. One of them screamed, and my hearts ached. It couldn’t be any farther than Growth 2, a mere child; it barely came up to my chest, and I was already painfully short. It grabbed onto what appeared to be its parent organism. Another One turned around, and I could see that it had a fresh daughter bud in its arms. The bud, too, started wailing. The parent organism looked at me mournfully as tears spilled down its face.

“Please, don’t hurt the daughters.” Its voice shook, going high pitched and faint at the end of its sentence. And I froze. I could have blasted it in the forehead, and that’s exactly what my orders were. But I just couldn’t.

Then someone behind me grabbed the back of my uniform and threw me into the ground. It knocked the air out of my lungs, momentarily stunning me (Wow, I have such good combat skills), Someone knelt on my back. The firearm that had been in my hand skidded across the floor, and the ones in my holsters were taken out. The weight came off me and I was rolled over. I sat up and was kicked in the chest. My head slammed into the ground and my ears started ringing. Cold air bit into my face as my face shield was ripped off and tossed aside; I looked at the person responsible with wide eyes as it cocked one of my guns and pointed it at my face.

Well, this is it, I thought. Weird. Its finger squeezed the trigger when someone yelled, “Stop!”

The One that was about to shoot me looked away. Stupid move. I scrambled to my feet and was struck with severe vertigo, the support of a wall barely keeping me from dropping to the ground.

It gestured angrily with the gun, which was another stupid thing to do, and yelled back, “Why should I? That thing was about to kill you and yours!”

“It’s just an adolescent!”

“Does that change anything?”

“Do you really want to be as bad as them?”

“Killing one of those,” it waved a hand at me, “Isn’t like killing one of us. That thing's not a real child. It was grown in a fucking test tube.”

“It’s still alive. It still matters.” It pleaded, clutching its daughter organism close to its chest.

The one with the gun snorted. “You think they give a shit? They're massacring us!”

As they argued, I edged towards the nearest exit. While I didn’t care that much about getting shot, if I died they would make it into a statement. That would make my handler’s job harder, which would make it angrier, and I didn’t want that to hurt 4B80. I barely knew the guy, but I didn’t want anyone to have to go through… the stuff I had.

It looked at where I used to be, then exclaimed and spun around to where I’d moved to.

“Ey! You tryna run?” It pointed the gun at me again. “You won’t get far!”

I brought my hand up to my headset and pushed the ‘transmit’ button. The channel opened, and I heard my handler’s voice come on.

“Unit 5A82, you have just opened a line to-”

“Mission control, Unit 5A82 is requesting urgent backup. Over.”

“Unit 5A82, your request for backup-”

Energy weapon fire hit me in the shoulder and I went down.


I woke up in a regen tank. There were lines connected to my chest and neck, where food went in and waste came from, respectively. An oxygen mask covered my nose and mouth, carbon dioxide bubbling out of the exhale valve. That was when I realised I was breathing.

The skin on my shoulder was itchy but intact, and my head felt like it was back to normal. This was fortunate, because I had been shot with a rifle, and you generally lose limbs to those. Thank you, regen tanks.

I looked up and noticed the top of the tank was open. Also good news; they thought I was healed enough to leave. I swam up and grabbed the available ledge, pulling myself onto it. My shoulder felt a little stiff, but it was okay. I took off the mask, then disconnected the lines and put them all into their respective holders.

I swung myself off the side of the tank, then down. My feet hit the ground and regen fluid dripped to the floor on my walk to the connected bathing facility. In the shower, exactly room-temperature water with a bit of a chemical-y smell flowed over me, and I sighed as I realised that I was going to have to talk to my handler about what happened. I rubbed my eyes and stood under the water for a few more minutes.

After drying off, I got the packet of clean clothes was waiting for me on the counter, opened it, and put them on. They were pretty comfortable; a soft long sleeve shirt and pants. Only problem was, anyone who had been blown up or otherwise maimed knew they were regen clothes, and there’s a way they look at you when you come back to the barracks in them. Pity, maybe? This time, probably disdain. I could already imagine their faces, and what they were thinking about me; I’d fucked up, I’d put the whole mission in danger. Killing a Two would have been the ultimate win for the rebellion as far as I knew. Or maybe it would just make them happy, because they hated us, and rightfully so.

I was in the middle of beating myself up about my actions when my handler walked in, most likely to beat me up about my actions.

“You’re awake.”

I nodded.

“Respond when I talk to you,” it snapped.

“Yes, I am awake.”

"Are you going to tell me what happened out there?”

“I’m sorry, I-I-”

“Did they have weapons? Overwhelm you?” It grabbed my arm and raised it, showing my bicep to me. “Overpower you?”

I swallowed.

“You’re smart. You perform well,” It squinted at me, “at least, when it comes to firearms. So what happened? You’re a quick thinker, eh?” It snapped its fingers in front of my face. “Sure, you can’t brute force it, but you think your way out. That’s why we use you for those kinds of missions. I thought you had it under control, and then you’re asking me for backup, and when the backup gets there, you’re out cold, with absolutely no targets eliminated.”

“I’ll do better next time, I-”

“No, there is no next time. You know why? Because you’re weak.” It pushed me. “You’re weak!”

“I’m weak,” I agreed.

“You’re weak!” It yelled. It echoed throughout the room.

Its face was blue, which meant it was really mad, and I really didn’t want to make it any more angry, so I agreed again. “I’m weak. I’m sorry.”

Sorry doesn’t do any FUCKING good!” It slapped me across the face. “You’ve been reassigned! From now on, you’re on a squad with 7CB7 and 4B80. You report to the latter. And 4B80? It reports to me. So don’t think you’re off the hook!”

I nodded as I tried to keep my eyes from watering. “I understand.”

“You’d better.” With that, it turned to leave, stomping out of the room.

Once I couldn’t hear its footsteps anymore, I brought my hand to the side of my face and rubbed the stinging flesh. It hurt, but not as much as the words my handler had said.

I left through the exit that went to the barracks. I had to walk through the hospital. I stared at the ground, feeling an overwhelming sense of shame as the nurses eyed me, probably thinking about how pathetic I was, and what a waste of resources it was to put me in a regen tank; maybe they should have just… Well. Someone in a physician’s uniform approached me as I was walking, blocking my path.

“Are you feeling well? You were regenerating for quite a while.” That just made me feel worse. They probably rolled their eyes each time they checked on me, wondering how much more precious time I was going to take.

It put its hand on my chin and tilted my head to the side. “What is..?” I realised I probably had a blue mark on my face. I shoved its hand off.

“I’m fine. Everything is fine!” I meant to say it normally, but the shaking in my voice forced me to raise my volume. I pushed past the physician, not wanting to look at them, but moreso not wanting them to look at me. I walked faster and kept my head down, everything around me becoming a blur until I arrived at the barracks. The security scanner cleared me and I went in. I had to walk through the common room to get to my bedroom, and to my dismay, 4B80 was there. I was about to walk past it, but stopped when it acknowledged me.

“Welcome back.”

“Sir.” I really didn’t feel like talking.

“You got the news, I see?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You don’t have to call me ‘sir’. I’m not your handler.”

“Okay.”

It got up and grabbed something off of a table, then tossed it to me. It was a rectangular pack of cold gel.

It pointed to its cheek. “For that.”

I didn’t know how to respond, so I just nodded.

“You can go to your room, if you want. I’ll brief you on your new job once you’re ready.”

“Okay.” I walked past it, down the hall, to my room. I went inside and checked the clock; I had been out for eight sols. Wow. And I was still tired.

I sat down on my bed and held the gel pack to my face. I just wanted the stupid slap mark to go down before I had to be around other people. And most of all, I didn’t want to have to see it in my reflection. It was harder to pretend nothing happened when there was physical evidence. Harder to convince myself that everything was indeed fine. Harder to shove the memories away.

I recognised that I needed to change out of the soft hospital clothes and put on a uniform, but I just wanted to curl into a ball and consume media. I compromised with myself by putting on media while I entered my body specifications into the replicator and waited for it to make me a new uniform – I supposed my old one had been cut apart to do first aid.

While the uniform was being made, I asked the replicator for a stimulant, and was glad when the familiar syringes came through the shute. Pulling up my shirt, I uncapped the one labeled ‘saline’, then attached it to my catheter and pressed down on the plunger. I unattached it and repeated the same with the ‘stimulant’ syringe, then another ‘saline’ syringe. The empty syringes went in the recycler, and I rubbed my temples as I felt the medicine spread through my chest, my hearts, my whole body, until it reached my brain and made me perk up. I had more of a mental tiredness than physical, but the stimulant got my heart going fast enough that it would be uncomfortable to close my eyes and drift off.

After all, I didn’t want to look like a fool in front of 4B80 and… who was it… 7CB7? That was an odd designation. Military, yes, but that didn’t fit the regular conventions for Twos.

My new uniform came out of the replicator in a packet. I changed into it and paused my media, then left my room in search of 4B80. It was still in the common room, but there was someone else, as well. It was slightly shorter, despite having the build of an adult. 4B80 nodded to me, and the person turned around. I was extremely surprised when I saw its face; it had round, droopy eyes, with unusually light irises.

“Unit 5A82, I’m Unit 7CB7. Pleased to be working with you.” It held out its fist and I stared at it. It laughed. “Don’t leave me hanging! It’s a fist bump.” I kept staring.

“I learned it from human media,” It added. “They broadcast the stuff like crazy.”

I gingerly raised my fist and tapped its. It grinned, and I saw that it had rows of long, sharp teeth. It saw me looking, and grinned wider. “Never seen a One you weren’t going to kill?”

This was going to be a unique assignment.

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