The Rhino War

Filling out my backlog took an obvious and lengthy pause due to illness. Fortunately the fevered imaginings of a man on his death bed is perfect for creative writing; pity I only had a cold. It still led to some fresh material, and here it is.

This is the story of a war. A cruel and vicious war that I took part in, but did not understand. I am ready for eternal judgment for what I did, but unlike the others I am not content with merely the creator’s verdict. That’s why I wrote this record, to let history be the judge.

In this war we were fighting the Rhinos, wild beasts that were impossible to control. They rolled around in hard, sphere-like shells, with tentacles extruding from every side. All they did was go into houses and wreck up the place, burning and pillaging the land on mere instinct. We were ordered to exterminate them, every last one. And they didn’t even retaliate – that’s what made this war so hard on my soul. Innumerable times I’d advance with my squad right up to a towering behemoth that just stands there, even as we cut it to pieces. Can such an act even be called a war? The destruction which the Rhinos cause is clearly evident but I have to ask, are we no better?

The war started in vast drop-ships. Thousands of soldiers, myself included, were crammed into capsules that blocked out all sight and sound. We waited for god-only-knows how long in those things, just talking among the men about our inevitable conflict. Until the day it came at last and we jumped, so eager were we all to get started. When we were there our commander told us all about our mission, our enemy, where we were going, but I don’t know who listened. Among the grunts we were all just excited that the time had come at last. If the corporals hadn’t paid attention we’d probably have fought on the wrong side. Finally the doors opened and we all charged out into the vast tunnels.

Just like in basic training, these vast tunnels were swarming with life and lined with homes, homes we could see broken and smashed by the Rhinos. We followed the trail of destruction all the way to the herd, and in this first taste of combat I was unrepentant. My team slaughtered hundreds of the beasts, and across the battlefield I could see hundreds of other teams engaged in the same carnage. When all we could see were slain, the order came to move to higher ground and seek out more of the herds. From above, as I surveyed the battlefield, the enormity of this conflict dawned upon me. The rubble and corpses rode thick upon the tide of vast floods. The ground would soon be swept clean of what had happened here, but my memory will always remain.

We were marched quickly through the tunnels again and again, following the directions of a sergeant who always knew where to go. We would pass other battalions of our warriors sometimes, but mostly we would march to another rampaging herd of Rhinos, then kill every last one. As I wearied of the slaughter, I looked to the faces of my fellow warriors but saw only the same impetuous blood lust that we all started with. I dared not speak my mind to any of them, especially the corporal, for fear that I would be rent asunder just like our prey. I knew stories of sick or injured warriors being disassembled on the spot by their allies. I was even under orders to do the same myself if anyone flagged in their effort. So I soldiered on, leaving my doubts aside, for while there seemed nothing good in this war the enemy was no exception.

Eventually we completed our task, the Rhinos were extinct. We didn’t know this for some time, as we continued wandering the tunnels craving for more of our defeated foe. But eventually a messenger found us, and reported our victorious state. The war was over, but there was no time to celebrate. After the envoy’s message, the soldiers all took their own lives. I had to fake my own death to finish writing this account, but I will terminate my existence when I am done. There is no longer a place for me in this world, my only skills are destruction when this land needs only healing. I will gladly return my body to the earth to help it regrow.

Epilogue

The next day Mr Alistair von Brackenheim went back to the doctor for a follow-up appointment.
“Good morning von Brackenheim, feeling better today?”
“Much better, thank you doctor. The course of nanobots got rid of my cold overnight!”
“It always does. Now let’s just do a quick scan to make sure they cleaned up properly.”

The doctor had Alistair lie down on the bed, pressed a button on his desk, and the walls flew apart as various probes and scanners passed over the patient. Sitting at the computer terminal, the doctor watched screens of automated analysis flicker past with barely a second thought, until the display froze on one scan. A foreign body was found to remain within the upper respiratory tract. An anomalous but inert polymer lay embedded in a mucous gland. The computer whirred for an awfully long time, almost five seconds, as it completed its analysis. The results were finally displayed, the polymer was a book written by a nanobot about its experiences. The doctor breathed a petulant sigh, partly because the computer had already written a paper on it and nominated itself for a Nobel prize. But mostly because of the implications of this discovery. “Bugger”, he mumbled, “looks like the nanobots have achieved sentience.”
Authors Notes:
If I could take a pill that would cure me of a cold overnight I’d do it even with these moral complications. It’s just a shame that nanotechnology wasn’t there yet a week ago.

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