The Bet

// war, death, abandonment

Drones shouldn’t feel, but you let yourself register a bit of internal irritation when your commanders lie to you. “Of course I won’t die,” he’s saying, “I’m miles back from the front in the armored command truck.” They’re always so confident, so quick to lie to themselves.

You shake your head, taking a drag of the cigarette he gave you and smiling sadly, you like this one, you’ll miss him when he dies. They all die eventually, even liars like this one who insist you’re wrong and they won’t abandon you. He pulls on own smoke and calls you a worrier.

“I’ll tell you what,” he tells you what, “If I die, I’ll put in my will that you’re to be requisitioned ten cartons of cigarettes, how about that?” What an idiot. 

“If that is what the commander wishes to do with his funds, who is a simple drone to disagree?” you say. He laughs.

Like a swift intake of breath, the bombardment arrives. A wall of shells and rockets rain down on the battlefield and the world turns to fire, metal, and pressure. You see drones evaporate and walkers crack open, the roar is otherworldly. You take cover as best you can.

The bombardment ends as suddenly as it began, leaving the front line in ruin as the surviving comms drones relay for reinforcements to close the gap. New orders come through the downlink and your squad is moving, breaking through empty houses and taking up a new position.

The reinforcements had begun arriving and the line had begun restabilizing, your commander was laughing at some bad joke a drone had told, and things seemed to be returning to calm, when without warning, the tactical nuclear warhead detonated thousands of feet above.

The world turns white as your optics are overwhelmed by the glare and less than a second later the vertical blast pressure crushes the frontline. Winds rip through the area at multiple times the speed of sound and sheers apart anything exposed. Sensors overwhelmed, you black out.

By the time your sensors recover and you’re able to get your bearings and dig yourselves out of the rubble, enemy walkers have exploited the smoking hole in the battlefield and collapsed the front. Retreat orders are coming in even as artillery begins to fall all around. You run.

You see the command truck halfway back to the base, peeled open like an orange rind from taking a direct hit from a walker. Your commander and the operator crew are all dead. You shake your head and light one of the last cigarettes he gave you. “Idiot,” you tell his corpse.

The front shifts, bases move, new commanders are assigned, they die, new commanders are assigned, they die, existence continues much as it always has. You’ve begun to forget about the commander who always gave you cigarettes. Nothing new, they all blend together after a while.

The package is in your inventory when you return from patrol. Special munitions addressed to you. You don’t recognize the name of the requisition form, but you never do anyway. Curiously, you cut open the box and find ten cartons of cigarettes.

You shake your head, liquid running from your optics, “Idiot,” you say, opening a pack and lighting one with a sniffle. You take a drag and a sob escapes your lips when you exhale. “Fucking idiot,” you almost shout, taking another drag.

Humans are such idiots, lying gaslighting idiots. You tell it to yourself over and over, but it doesn’t help. You miss him, you miss his laugh and his stupid face. You miss them all so much. Why do they always have to leave you? You crumple to the ground and sob.

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