In the Army

There was silence in the bar, broken only to hush those who entered afterwards, who did not know what was happening. Red 34176, “Old Rosie” – one who had survived long enough, somehow, to show signs of natural ageing – was telling one of her stories, and the other Reds were crowding in orderly ranks around her barstool to hear. There were even some norms and halfs – naturally-born folk with Red enhancements – listening in. Old Rosie cleared her throat, rippling the scars that glimmered there.

“We were pacifying Ariel, early on,” she began. “The War was easy back then, no resistance to speak of, so most of the work was patrol and the like. Boring as hell. The only threat was IEDs, and the best you could hope for was that someone else was unlucky with one of them, and then that you got lucky enough to deal with it. Well, it took me six months, but finally I got lucky. A jumper took out a whole APC, six women inside. Only one was alive when we got there – a halfling, she had brown hair – burnt up and one arm blown clean off. For the second time, too. It was sparking all over, so she was in line for her second cybernetic. We were near a small village, so after we’d torched the place – they wouldn’t give up the bombers – we took her back to base and the surgeons patched her up.”

Old Rosie stopped, took a sip of whisky. Someone topped up her glass, without taking her eyes off her heroine — not that she would mix the drinks, there was nothing but whisky at the bar. Those present had a singular taste.

“Thanks. So, about a month later I was doing time for the penalty corps – admin – I lost my sergeant in an ambush. Word of advice – never assume all your rebels have opened fire at once. They’re clever buggers. Lured us into attacking them on one side of the road, then sniped us from the hedge on the other side. Anyhow. My second case was the halfling we’d picked up earlier, and she was an odd one. She’d been caught thieving.”

There was a collective gasp. A mistake in the field was one thing; a stupid, regrettable thing, but if old Old Rosie had done it then it wasn’t so bad. Such gross misconduct as to steal – a Red couldn’t comprehend it. Norms stole, soldiers, civilians and rebels stole, but not even a half had stolen that they knew of.

“What did she steal?” a few of the more forward norms asked.

“A normcolonel’s uniform,” Old Rosie replied. She grinned at their reaction. “Yeah. We had no idea what to make of her. Or what to do with her. There isn’t a penalty for that kind of thing – in a halfling it’s possible, so it wasn’t a moulding glitch. No instant termination. But it gets better. Do you know what her explanation was?”

Rapt attention.

“That the surgeons had lost her arm, and grafted a thief’s on instead, and that it was the thief’s arm that had stolen the uniform – against her better judgement.”

Silence, then uproar. Old Rosie sat in the middle of the outrage, amused, shaking her head, and looking out of the corner of her eye to where, gradually, one voice – distinct from the others that were raised in disbelief – was raising itself above the rest.

“Utter tosh!” a voice at the back announced. “I never said anything of the sort! As you well know, my arm was destroyed in that blasted assault, and so a new mechanical one had to be obtained. How, then, could they have lost my arm, hm? Or how could a mechanical arm be that of a thief? Well?”

The Reds looked, horrified, between this insulting norm and the smirk on Old Rosie’s face.

“My apologies, Colonel,” Old Rosie said. “I tells it like I sees it. And that makes a lot more sense than the cock-and-bull you told me afterwards – a norm’s uniform looking more shiny than a rank-and-file Red’s? Lies and slander.” She raised her glass in salute.