No heroes in this game



Thatís what makes us do it.

Me and Kelly canít take the sitting around waiting for the enemy to fire or for our side to fire back.

All war has these moments, I guess, but when youíre sealed up in a suit and locked up in a box, and the only real killing gets done by machines: their box exploding or ours, you start to get bored.

Weíve been here so long doing the same things over and over that we start thinking up things to entertain ourselves.

It starts off with games or old stories, but always gets down to some kind of challenge: can you top this or that?

One thing always leads to another, and so me and Kelly are out here, outside our box, in the middle of a battlefield so littered with rock, we could be on any moon full of craters than a planet two thousand light years from home with craters we made from two years blasting.

My grandfather used to talk of old fashioned wars where men ran at each other with guns blazing.

We still have guns; but men donít run aware, and if we use the guns, itís mostly for target practice on the once in a million chance we might actually get overrun and have to shoot someone we can actually seen.

Iíve never seen my enemy Ė except as blurry shapes on a sensor scope telling me this box is live when another isnít. So I canít imagine for one minute what it might be like to shoot one and see him fall to pieces under my heat ray.

Those kind of heroes donít exist. Soldiers donít run across any field. They drive, floating over the rough surface, where they score hits with weapons too powerful to be wasted on individual men.

We did by the dozens, contained inside things, our blood boiling up in an instant to mingle into a single pool before evaporating.

So me and Kelly look at each other and wonder what on earth we are doing running across a field like this, diving into this ditch or that, worming our way out again to run some more.

How we get so close to the enemy, I still canít figure.

Maybe none of the machines we build can detect things so small and frail as living beings. Maybe with warfare as evolved as it is, living things donít count and the weapons we built only target other weapons, and a heart beat like ours is just an annoyance, or something inside a box to tell them this weapon is functional when all but the drones without a heart beat are not.

Kelly thinks the machines canít afford to turn away from the line Ė so even is the balance between our side and theirs Ė our rays meeting their rays so as to keep each other in check. A victory for either side is when one ray wavers and we or they blast a box out of existence so as to claim that bit of turf for one side or the other where another box might get built.

I think of it all as one big checker board, where the first side to get a king crowned wins the war.

But it takes so long, and costs so much.

We used to talk to people in other boxes, until we found out that their side listens in and blasts us.

Some people stopped talking because their box stopped having heart beats. But I donít like to think about that.

I tell Kelly we ought to turn back.

Even if the rays arenít aimed at us, I feel vulnerable and know that an accidental hit would slice through our suits with no trouble. The box might not be much but its better than what we have now.

But Kelly says we canít go back without proving we actually did what we said we would do, which is go outside.

Without proof, we lose, and in this world of perpetual one-upmanship proof is everything, and we both hate to lose.

But how do you find proof in a war zone?

We could pick up rocks and drag them back all day and none of the others would believe we did anything more than reach out and grab what we could reach from the door.

Kelly suggests we need to show them something on the screen, and points to a circle of enemy boxes, saying if we blow one of them up, the others would have to admit we did what we said we would do.

So like a couple of giddy kids we charge up the hill at the boxes.

Maybe in days like these when war is fought machine to machine, not man to man, they donít care a whole lot about frail creatures like us two charging at them.

Maybe both sides stopped caring a long time ago and stopped guarding against anything so insignificant this.

Maybe they figure we canít do anything to them and that weíll die in the next exchange between us and them.

Anyway, we get to the first box, and we toss our grenades, and we run like hell, hearing and feeling, rather than seeing the explosion that follows as we get pushed over the lip of the land.

Then others come. And still others. And we canít resist peeking over the top to see what the fuss is all about, and we see the one box set off other boxes in a chain reaction going on and one throughout the whole line.

Kelly looks at me. I look at him. We only then realize we changed something very fundamental here.

I suggest we scoot back to our bunker before someone catches on as to what weíve done. Kelly agrees.

But we both know nothing will be the same again.

We both know that when we get back the war will be over Ė and that future wars will mean people killing people again.

And to tell you the truth, Iím not sure itíll be much of an improvement.



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