I served two tours of duty during the Martian Automaton Riots of ‘34. My first was spent as a combat medic. After three months of leave, I returned to duty as part of a mobile surgical hospital unit.
The bots may not have been flesh, but their methods of warfare could be every bit as sadistic and cruel as those of any human who ever lived, and the psychological operations in which they engaged were highly effective. It was the standard stuff: mutilated corpses, torture, live burials – that kind of thing. But while the soldiers fought them tooth and nail, the automatons waged a technological war against our systems on Ares and back home on Terra. The souls of the men and women killed were destroyed by the machines, never to be recovered. So people were terrified, even those of us soldiers who knew death and who knew that the machines were just playing at our fears.
When my military career was over, I returned to Terra and used the money I had earned in the service to join the New Boston Medical Academy. My first year with the Academy, I was awarded an internship as a triage nurse at St. Benignus hospital on the south side of town. It was the sort of work that would have placed significant mental, physical, and psychological strain on anyone. Sometimes it really got to me, I admit. But, I had seen the worst of death, and death didn’t bother me much.
Death didn’t bother me until the night they brought you in from the street, unconscious and broken and bleeding. Along with you, they brought dozens of other victims from a mag rail mishap that had already killed two hundred people. It was a Friday, and I was on duty. I had only looked over six or seven wounded when I saw your face, your half-closed eyes, your hair matted to your head with your own blood.
I should have informed the attending nurse of a conflict of interest, but I didn’t. My ocular augments showed me your broken bones, your severed nerves, your internal hemhorraging. My experience told me that you would live.
I should have called a surgeon, but I hesitated. I removed my mask and glanced up and down the triage line. Once satisfied that nobody was watching, I leaned in to kiss your soft lips one last time, to feel the brush of your cheek against mine once more and never again.
Then I marked you as dead.
You had been dead for a long time by then. You had lost yourself, and nobody could help you. You didn’t know how you died, but you knew you had. You told me as much yourself. Your words were all you had left, you said, and even they had grown cold and meaningless.
A priest came to your side. You weren’t Catholic, but I didn’t tell him. I simply stood by and watched you bleed to death while he read your last rites. Then I summoned a mortician to take your body to cold storage until it could be identified and repaired.
Days later, your broken body was revived and your soul was returned to you. It was a soul who didn’t know me. You hadn’t been insured for nearly a year – before you met me and long before we fell in love together.
You were a better person then. Do you know that? Before you met me, you were better.