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￭ The only thing
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A white helmet and a child in the rain
By Sergiu Somesan
We have spent the last few days in the trenches, waiting for the others; the rain falls on us ruthlessly and turns the plain ahead of us into a real swamp. I had just decided to order the departure of a patrol when one of my soldiers has a start and waves to me: a silhouette appeared in his shooting sector. It is faintly visible through the dense squalls of rain. I wave to him to wait a little longer and he acknowledges. He leant upon his armâ€™s butt aiming the uncertain shape of the person in front of him. He got closer meanwhile and now we can tell clearly: he has a white helmet on his head; therefore he is an enemy.
- Fire! I whisper when he gets close enough and, in the same moment the enemy soldier falls down with his face in the mud.
I wave to two soldiers and they rush out of the trenches, grab the arms of the fallen soldier and draw him to my feet. Yes, my soldier aimed well: the enemy has no visible wound. I bend towards him, raise his jacket and with the control key I open his chest. I pull out the program card, I tear it apart and throw it away while my soldiers are grinning with satisfaction, and, then, I replace it with one of our cards. One of my soldiers brings a black helmet, puts it on soldierâ€™s head and wipes his face off mud. Then I activate him. He rises unsteadily, and when he sees me he salutes. I like to have many soldiers at my order. A specialist in psycho robotics from the Maintenance Center told me once, when he was in a good mood and he felt like talking, that this pleasure of mine was a reminiscence of a human trait, carefully bred and cultivated at bosses: The Pride.
Thatâ€™s why we feel so good with more soldiers at our orders. He also told me that this pride usually makes us good officers and determines us not to risk uselessly the soldiersâ€™ life. I realized only then why I let my soldiers fire only when the enemy gets close enough to aim precisely in the armed button from the middle of the chest, the one that cuts off the vital functions.
Unfortunately, not all the soldiers hit the button, and then our bullets tear off big scraps of the enemy soldiers which we donâ€™t know how to put them back, and those spoiled like this remain abandoned in front of the trenches. Once, the damaged robot soldiers were taken to the Maintenance Center where there were people who knew how to make them functional again. After the escalation of the war and the use of nuclear weapons, we found fewer and fewer people at the Center, and those who remained seemed too weak to handle the dismembered robots. The specialist I talked about was saying that probably all mankind will perish because the radiation level has grown much over the value the most pessimistic of them had expected.
- But donâ€™t be upset about it, he tried to joke. Iâ€™m sure you are going to win the war.
- What makes you say that? I asked him puzzled.
He suddenly turned pale, closed his eyes and answered me no more. I thought he died, like all the others but, in the end, he opened his eyes whispering:
- A matter of logic, my dear, a matter of logicâ€¦ In such a gloomy world, so full of smoke and ash, in which it rains all the time, soldiers with white helmets have absolutely no chanceâ€¦ they are too visible. This much you could have thought for yourselfâ€¦
He breathed heavily several times and then he added:
- When you win, youâ€™d better hurry to enjoy your victory because the sun wonâ€™t leave you too much timeâ€¦ and there is hardly anybody to take care of the Recharge Stationsâ€¦
- By the way, what is happening with the sun? Why can nobody see it anymore? I asked him then, but he didnâ€™t answer because he started to vomit and then he lost his conscience. He never came back again.
He was the last man I spoke with. Now Iâ€™m worried about my soldiers and I donâ€™t know what to answer them when they ask me why they cannot see the sun. From the day of the nuclear attack Iâ€™ve never seen it again and a gray twilight enveloped the Earth. We still have supplies of energy for some time but, since all the Recharge Stations are not functional, we will soon have to charge our batteries directly from the Sun, otherwise we are finished. Even when I go patrolling I donâ€™t take with me the soldiers with the best reflexes, as I would like, but those with the most charged batteries.
I am still using that criterion and I choose ten soldiers to go patrolling: there are some rocky hills in the distance and I would like to search them in order not to have an unpleasant surprise. We are meeting more and more black helmets soldiers gone for patrolling like us. We salute each other and mind our missions. It seems that the specialist from the Center was right and we will finally be the winners.
We donâ€™t meet people at all now. At the beginning, when we went patrolling, it happened to meet one or twoâ€¦ They were starved, ragged and we passed by them without noticing them. Sometimes they threw stones at us, but they were too weak to hurt us. The last time I met people it happened to be a family. They were gathered around a tree, the woman and the two children were squatting and squalling from starvation and cold, and the man was trying to get the two scrawny apples down from the tree. He burst out a dry, hollow crying realizing he couldnâ€™t succeed. When he saw us he began to throw stones at us.
- You bloody jerks, he cried in anger. We will die and they will remain to tramp the land forever.
- Shut up; shut up, the woman stood up frightened. Be quiet or theyâ€™ll fly into a passion.
We passed by them indifferently, like we had done before. They could say anything; their words couldnâ€™t touch us. We were programmed to slay the white helmets bearers only.
For some time now, it seemed that these problems were over and we wonâ€™t meet people to disturb us in our patrols.
As we reached the foot of the hills I set, as I did some other times, the alarm signals and I ordered the patrols to spread out. I had just split up with the others when I heard a short blast from a ravine nearby. I ran towards the place where the shootings were heard and I saw a few soldiers gathered around a fallen body. I noticed, as I approached, that it was a human: the blood was flowing from the chest wound mixing with the raindrops.
- You idiot! I said to the soldier who had shot. Why did you shoot him dead? Did you not see he was human? I have no idea what idiot means, but this was the way a General Staff officer called me when I miscarried his orders.
The soldier showed the white helmet near the fallen body.
- He was wearing it. I saw it was a human, but he had the helmet on his head.
- A few carrots rolled out in the mud from the hands of the killed man. I kicked them and then, I heard a squeak from inside the hollow of the rocky wall. Turning my head I saw two frightened eyes: they belonged to a boy only a few years old. He was frightened but he was hungry too because his eyes rolled anxiously from us to the spread carrots. Noticing that we werenâ€™t moving, he plucked up his courage and sneaked out, took a carrot with sneaky movements and began to crunch it avidly while he watched us with suspicious eyes. The rain continued to fall heavily from above hitting ruthlessly the forehead of the boy. Maybe this was disturbing him because he stretched out a skeleton like hand after the white helmet, fallen in the mud.
- Donâ€™t shoot! I cried, seeing how the soldiersâ€™ hands clenched the weapons. Heâ€™s just a child; donâ€™t shoot!
They stopped, because they were programmed to scrupulously listen to their officerâ€™s orders even if they contravene to the basic program. In that moment the child put the white helmet on his head. The blast left automatically my gun and shook his frail body making him crouch. I am a very complex robot officer, I know that he is a child and I shouldnâ€™t have killed him, but in my program is deeply rooted the order to shot everything that moves and wears a white helmet.
We remain motionless near the two bodies under the rain falling harder and harder. Our batteries are almost empty and who knows if the sun will ever come out. If I were a human, I would cry now, but since I am just a very complex robot officer, I order to set forward to look for soldiers with white helmets.
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