Grunt of the Psychic War
by Martin Owton

The shelling started just after I came on watch. Nothing serious just HE with a few afterimages thrown in: mutilated corpses, crying children and the like. Nothing I hadn't seen before. The slanted eyes of the children showed the operator was a novice, probably just off the plane from China. I checked the monitors, they were clear so I sat and watched the show. If there is an advantage to a childhood filled with arcade shoot-em-ups and video nasties this was it; there was nothing they could shock or upset me with. The occasional near miss brought a fall of dust from the roof of the bunker but the monitors never even flickered and nothing real moved out there. Quiet night really.

War has got so damn complicated with all the electronics, stealth tech, measures and countermeasures but what it comes down to is you still need a man. One bit of hi-tech can always be fooled by another bit, one logic circuit can always be defeated by another. With all the battlefield information flying around you need a human brain to make sense of it, to produce a synthesis and smell out the danger. So you get me; sitting here in a frontline bunker with banks of monitors and computerised remote weapons systems. You also get the psyweapons; with me as their target. Don't ask me how they work, compared to the people who understand them I'm just a grunt with a gun. There's more to what I do than that of course, but I'm just making the comparison. You don't need many of us and that makes us special. It's difficult to say what makes a good psywarrior. You need a certain detachment from the rest of humanity as well as a lot of nerve and absolutely no illusions about the dark side of human nature. I might have got this from my father but I don't even know his name so I can't say; mostly I got it from my mother's ragbag assortment of boyfriends and the time I spent on the streets when she was entertaining them and 'needed her space.' That's where I got recruited. They've got talent scouts out there on the streets; I tried to rob one and after the surgeons repaired me I was offered a tryout. Best thing that ever happened to me; except for the plate in my head.

There's a lot of front to cover, all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico in sectors up to ten miles wide depending on the geography. I've only got three and a half miles on this one. Twelve hour watches, two weeks on, one week R and R back on the coast. I've been here too long really but the high command resists moving us around, always trying to get another week out of you. I can understand that. It takes a while to get used to the feel of a sector; to get inside it so you can spot the something that is different, the something that is all the warning you get of an attack. But there's a trade-off; once you're in the enemy will be working you out. The psy-operators start digging at you, probing for a weakness, anything they can exploit. They begin with non-specific attacks but when they've had enough time it gets personal and that's real nasty. That's when it's time to get out. I've been here four months; that's a long time in psywar. I've done three tours and they haven't worked me out - yet; it'll happen. I just hope I can handle it when it does.

I logged off at daybreak and handed over to Tony, the new guy. It's only his second week on the sector after he replaced my oppo Johno so he gets the quieter watches while he grows the feel of it. Johno was a sick bastard; he told me once he used to toss himself off watching some of the stuff they lobbed at him, I have no reasons to disbelieve him. We used talk through our favourite gross-outs over a few beers in the mess and he always won. Good bloke, good at the job and a real psycho. Hard to find mates like that, I really miss him. The enemy took three months to work him out. Sent over a tank glammed up as a giant spider. Johno really freaked. Luckily he freaked the right way. Blew the fucker to bits with the main armament then emptied the magazines on thin air. Never figured him for an arachnophobe. It's a bit disturbing that he made it through the screening procedures; it's not as if it's an uncommon phobia. But if you look at it from their point of view he did the job well for three months. I don't think I've got any phobias but I guess I'll find out for certain sometime.

I had a real good one last night. It was pretty quiet, just mortars and smoke when the movement sensors picked up something. I cut to the remotes and there she was, walking out of no-mans land towards our lines. She was a real babe; looked about sixteen with her summer dress floating in the wind as she picked her way through the craters. This bit of my sector was a small town once but there's nothing more than a foot high out there now so I had an uninterrupted view. I switched on the video recorder, sat back and enjoyed her in close-up. Long hair, kind of blonde, I'd bet her eyes were blue, nice little tits and excellent legs. Better than I've ever had, paid or pulled. She had a really trusting and inviting look on her face as if she was saying 'I've chosen you to be my first.' The mouthwatering image filled my screens for nearly two minutes then I opened up with the point fives and watched as a two second burst of hollow point tore her apart. I replayed the video to find out what she really was. A droid of course; no sense in wasting flesh and blood on such a long shot. I admired the operator who'd done the image though, they had real class. I wonder if she was anyone they knew.

Real serious shit last night. They broke through four sectors up and we had to pull back in a big hurry. I don't know the story yet but obviously they worked our man out and creamed him right down to his underwear. No-one's fault, shit happens. Everyone at the front knows the enemy are good and sometimes they score even if the high command deny it. They got about ten miles before our reinforcements held them so I'm in a new bunker with a new territory to learn. It looks the same though; it was probably farmland once, now it's cratered featureless mud strewn with wrecked gear not worth salvaging. The techs had all the hardware set up within an hour but they didn't do anything about the smell. Something died in here, a couple of weeks ago I reckon and it's got me really pissed off. I got a letter from mother too which didn't help. She wants money of course; when doesn't she? But she must be pretty desperate to ask me. I binned it but stayed pissed off. There wasn't even anything to shoot.

Heavy barrage coming over tonight, loads of weird stuff I haven't seen before. Pretty inventive some of it; lots of religious imagery, headless angels, demons and a putrid risen Christ. Bollocks to me though, I'm not religious. They must have some new operators over there. I tried to watch the monitors relaying the remote cameras but there was a load of physical fogging as well as electronic and psy. Something's going down. A movement sensor alarm went off. I zoomed in the remotes and tried to find the black cat in the coal cellar with the light off. A shape loomed out of the fog and firmed up into a humanoid figure. Someone was walking around out there.

I waited as the technology took over and the system locked on to the contact. Didn't take long, a load of green snow then a face leapt out of the screens at me. Mother. I froze. Shit, they've worked me out. The memories tumbled round my brain as my mother's face looked up at me from the monitor. Childhood and adolescence, birthdays and holidays. Then I blew her away.

Luck really plus sloppy work on their part. They've worked me out enough to produce her image but they don't know how much I hate the malicious old drunk. Another day and they could've really fried me but I survived and I'm out of here. A good long holiday then a new sector a long way up the line, maybe somewhere near the lakes. Another bunker with a different stretch of wasteland to fight over. If I survive another couple of tours I could get offered area commander but I don't fancy ir; I wouldn't get to shoot anything. So here I am; a grunt in the psychic war, but don't pity me. I love it.


First appeared in Stgian Articles, reprinted in Roadworks.

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