Old Soldiers (short fiction)

The original models could take a beating, and this one had seen plenty of action. It wasn’t going to last much longer. Had maybe two more tours in it. They didn’t build them like this anymore. The newer bots were disposable. Most of them were lucky to come back from the battlefield at all. But this old fellow was still ticking, though the damage to its right leg put a hitch in his step.

“We should just scrap it,” said the supervisor.

Jerry measured the countless scars on the old model’s chassis. “He can be fixed.”

“Why bother?” The supervisor snorted and walked away.

Jerry worked on the leg. The robot stood silently. These old models were from back when they made them humanoid. Now, the battle robots came in more specialized designs. Machine guns on wheels. Flying rocket launchers. All-terrain scout units. It made sense. Humanoid robots, even clunky old ones like this one, reminded everyone that war was hell. Now it was all a video game played with inhuman machines.

Nobody died now, and it was better that way. When they replaced the flesh-and-blood soldiers with bots, the military and the civilians alike protested. Robots made to kill made everybody nervous. Then everyone realized nobody would have to send another son or daughter to fight in some godforsaken place for reasons people said were important. It was hard to argue against that.

The robots weren’t perfect, and there’d been a few friendly fire incidents when people were still out there on the battlefield. Once the soldiers were withdrawn, everything ran a lot smoother.

People didn’t die now. Wars could go on as long as both sides had enough continues. And both sides had a hell of a lot of continues. The current generation of disposable robots just made it worse as everyone threw endless waves onto the Earth’s surface while humans stayed above it all on the moon.

Up here, the human race got along because they had no choice. Resources were too scarce. Conflict was too dangerous. The old nations existed only as lines on a map on an irradiated, ruined planet no one could even live on anymore. They fought over it anyway for no other reason than they’d been fighting over it for so long, and this old model had probably been there from the beginning, destined to end up on a scrapheap.


Jerry patched up the leg and loaded the robot into the transport personally. He wrote down the robot’s serial number in his notebook, a record of all the machines he’d put back together or sent off for recycling. There would be no monuments to this war that would last until the end of the human race. Maybe longer if rumors of the automated robot factories were true. He’d always kept a record of names he’d seen fallen, and when those names became numbers, he kept on keeping it.

Jerry rubbed his shoulder. It ached still, and there were times he could swear the bullet was still in there. He rapped the robot on its dented head and, one old soldier to another, wished it luck out there.

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