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Unnatural Selection

By David Ronayne

The woman watched...

The lights on the control console glowed faintly as they drained the remaining power from the tank's fuel cells. She had pulled herself around the shattered remains of the tactician and commander, now both totally indistinguishable except for the insignia on their bloody green uniforms. She didn't - couldn't look at the burns and gashes, the torn and bleeding sinews and tendons, the foul stench of...

She stopped, cradling her blond hair in her hands. The suppressants had taken care of the pain in what was left of her legs and right arm, and the burnt crisp smell was nothing more than that - just an unpleasant odour. The shell had hit the tank portside of the turret and sent it reeling into the valley deep in the Radlands. She took a deep breath through her teeth, trying to remember the rushed training vids all the new recruits got shown in lieu of formal combat training. The Radlands, the no-man's zone between fronts, not very heavily patrolled by either side.

She dragged herself up to the haphazard mess that used to be the main turret. This could be a good or bad thing, she thought. Hit the beacon and they might find you - maybe. Hit the retrieval beacon and you might just see your kids again. She winced as a jagged polycarbide section cut into her. ‘Cos if you don't let them know where you are, the only thing that will find you out here will be the - something hard hit the outer shell of the tank.

Mutos. She could see them now through the perspex dome of the turret. Scavengers, genetic freaks reared by accident or design by both sides, these nightmare creatures roamed the wastelands living on whatever scraps they could find. They had not been in the training films, but there had always been stories, horrible stories. The beacon was damaged, broken in the tumble down the mountainside. Possibly repairable with time and a pair of working hands. It didn't matter now anyway, even if the machine had worked, there was no time for a ground crew to organize, let alone find her. More dark shapes came shambling though the mists and the cacophony of blows on the hull of the tank became louder and more intense. She lay back, too drained to go on, the tingling sensation in her limbs heralding the oncoming pain as the narcotics wore off. No fight, nothing, she had no more to give. Just as she though it was about to end, through the red haze, everything suddenly got much worse.

Valer was calling her. He was dead and he was calling her.

He had died three years ago when the carrier he was in was shot down by enemy fire.

He was calling her name.

She had become a widow with two young children to support.


The children.

He reached for her.

She couldn't leave the children, not now.

‘Kaeda’ the voice called, slightly more intense this time.

She remembered thinking of the children as the mutant reached for her.

Immediately before its head exploded.

‘KAEDA!’ The softness of their courting days was gone completely now, and the ground trembled as she remembered the rifle butt rushing forward to meet her.

The matron hit her again. ‘Kaeda Vos! You are a prisoner of war and as such are exempt from all rights given to members of the republic! Do you understand?’ The yelling and the shaking continued until she realized the nurse wasn't gripping her arms any more.


The pain flashed across her skull, as two fingers of electricity lanced through the electrodes connected to her temples. She had stopped screaming long ago when the spasms had taken control of her lungs. Suddenly it stopped. She bent forward in the chair fighting back the wave of nausea that almost overcame her.

‘Very good,’ muttered a velveteen voice in front of her. Groggily she raised her head as his assistants untied the bonds around the remains of her limbs. He stared back with the detached gaze of a morgue attendant. He was tall and very thin, gaunt enough to have been built out of sticks, and his skin had the brown crinkly pallor of someone who had grown up outside the cover shields. But it was his eyes, piercing blue, which added depth to his long aristocratic face. They reflected his mind, threatening to suck you in and drown you.

Clipboard lurked behind him, peering at his list through the half moon glasses he always wore. Although the same height as his superior he stood a few inches lower as a result of his perennial cringe.

‘Subject Twelve has reacted badly to the steroids.’ The Stickman raised an eyebrow without moving his eyes from her. ‘Autopsy?’ Clipboard scanned down his list. ‘Secondary prehensile limbs formed, unfortunately the mind couldn't take the strain.’ Stickman broke off the gaze to wipe his eyes. ‘Pith the next one and put it on life support.’ The board was checked again. ‘Fourteen?’

Stickman frowned and looked back at Kaeda. ‘No, save her for later. Use Five.’ He smiled, turned and left.

She dreamt of the fire, the smoke and flame as the shells hit the lab, the tank all over again. The flaring light caught the Stickman as he snatched files and equipment from the flames. Clipboard was screaming, scuttling around, ferrying attendants and patients out. Stickman appeared at the door with a bundle of notes under one arm. Dodging the fallen girders and masonry, he made his way over to her, and gripping the back of the chair she was tied to, started dragging her towards the tube exit. As she looked up the flames behind him became brighter until his silhouette, and everything else, faded completely.

Clipboard wheeled him to see her. A mass of bandages and tubes, he waved Clipboard away with his remaining arm. They sat in silence for a time, listening to the quiet hums of the machines that kept them both alive.

‘We are the same you realize,’ he whispered hoarsely, the softness of his voice stolen by the burns and smoke inhalation. ‘Different sides, but of the same coin...’ there was another long pause while he moved his head, trying to place her, as his eyes no longer worked. ‘I can help us,’ he whispered, ‘Kaeda, I think I can repair... improve us. We could be stronger than before. I could force them to stop. End it. Control the war and have the power to create a new world.’

He reached forward and gripped her shoulder with his remaining hand. ‘You will help me.’

Half an hour later Clipboard wheeled him out again. ‘Success Nyder,’ he whispered. ‘Continue as planned.’

She woke much later, in a battlefield littered with rapidly stiffening corpses, and for a long time she wandered aimlessly through the wastelands. As it got darker she slipped and fell into the basement of a ruined house, where she lay for some time before climbing up into the broken remains of the entrance hall. Hearing a sound she hid amongst the broken brickwork and cautiously looked into a nearby room.

A man in a white lab coat set up a life-sized target against the far wall, as the creature that had, long ago, been Stickman, glided his wheelchair forward. ‘Observe the test closely,’ the harsh metallic voice whispered, as his withered right arm activated a control on the chair. Sarah Jane stared as what once had been Kaeda moved forward into the pool of light at the center of the room, a figure she had seen on Exxilon only a few months earlier.

And the woman watched...

This item appeared in TSV 46 (January 1996).

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