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Short Story - Oct/Nov 2020

The necessary sacrifice

The necessary sacrifice

James stares at the white light on the ceiling as his muscles stiffen. “James, there is no need to be anxious,” says Dr Ella Brown reassuringly to the UK soldier whose eyes remind her of a tranquil dawn. “Today you will be part of a breakthrough - not only for science, but also for your country.
Now, take two deep breaths and I will inject the drug into your vein. In a few hours we will laugh about the victories obtained.” “Yes, Doctor. You know I will die for my country.” Today marks a quantum leap for science.
Doctor Brown has been developing the new ‘superhuman’ drug for the last twenty years and today is the victory date when it will finally be tested on the United Kingdom’s soldiers. Brown steadily injects the green fluid into James’ vein, pushing the needle deeper while glancing at the monitor to ensure that his condition remains stable. As the soldier doses off, she grips his bed tightly, suddenly not wanting to send this man into the arena.“Such beautiful eyes … this father-soldier offering his life for his country,” she muses.
Reality calls as Sir George Adams, the Secretary of Defence, flings open the door. “Hurry Doctor. The other patients are already waking up – we need to start monitoring them and get James in there now.”

Today is a singular day. One where clinical trials aren’t performed in hospital rooms, but in this arena where soldiers will be fighting artificially intelligent robots. The ultimate test of the superhuman drug is on show.

Golden sunbeams penetrate the clouds as Sir Adams and Dr Brown monitor the behaviour of the patients. Brown’s shoulders relax somewhat. There seem to be no signs of any shortcomings and Sir Adams gives her a thumbs up as they witness the scene of success before them. “The wonders of science are beyond our realm,” says Brown.

“Just look at these super soldiers. Their muscles are like those of a gorilla, their brain power has increased tremendously and…do you see it? Look at their red skin and clenched jaws. That’s extreme aggression pulsing through their veins.”
Inside the arena James is performing extremely well.
His muscles flex like lightning. The anger inside his body boils into loud, sadistic cries. Strategically, James circles his enemies – always attacking from the more favourable position. His bare hands claw and rip apart the electronic arms of a hundred robots. Facing his final enemy, he digs his razor-sharp fingers into the robot’s neck. A rainbow of electric sparks fills the air. The excitement is tangible.
Then, sighing deeply, he sags to his knees as his energy drains away. The project is a total success. A first for science. “We have seen no defects in the patients. None! Sir Adams, that means that we can start with the next phase of testing,” says a smiling Doctor Brown later, back at the hospital. “Congratulations and thank you for everything, Doctor.
We can start once we have…” The door blasts open. “Doctor Brown, you need to come immediately,” screams one of the nurses. As they rush to the emergency room Brown’s stomach cramps terribly. She halts before a scene of dread. “But... he… he was healthy and…” she stutters. It is no longer James Burton lying on the hospital bed, but rather a pale, limp body. Lifeless, as if his soul has left behind the dregs of combat.
“James, it’s Doctor Brown, do you remember me?” No response. She holds James’ icy head, gently moving it left and right. His eyes remain rigid.

Tears stream down her cheeks. James is brain dead. “It is the necessary sacrifice for our country, Doctor. He is a hero,” says Sir Adams. “His daughter, Sir, is only eight years old and his wife died a year ago. She is all alone! The compensation will not counteract the fact that his daughter has no parents. We are not ready for the next phase.” How could she have been so arrogant? She remembers promising victory, negating his anxiety.
The promises she made, the lies she told. “Doctor,” says Adams impatiently. “Enough. We will support James’ family financially, as the contract stated. But more than that we shall not do! James is our only casualty.
Therefore, we will continue with the next phase. Now get back to work!” As Brown leaves the room a young girl wanders inside. “Have you perhaps seen my father?” she asks, smiling. “His name is James Burton. He told me to wait at the reception until they are done with the experiment. But he has not come back yet. I think he is playing hide and seek. Daddy always does that.”

Sareez Basson

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