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Read more of this story at Slashdot.
Author : Nils Holst
It had been five years since Theo had seen another human being, much less saluted one.
“Captain Theodore Holmes of Alpha Company, Third Colonial Marine Battalion?” asked the man with the holopad. He didn’t look up as he scrolled through the UNSS Sargazzio’s personnel list.
“Yes sir,” croaked Theo. The Sargazzio’s voice recognition software had failed over a year ago, he hadn’t spoken in months.
“Where’s your commanding officer?”
“I’m the only soldier aboard this ship sir. The rest of my battalion died on Ignis Magna.”
The man frowned and clicked off his holopad. He looked a bit soft around the middle. Too much time behind a desk.
“There were over eight hundred men listed on that manifest. You’re the only one left?”
“Yes sir,” said Theo. “Seven soldiers made it to the dropship, but I was the only one the Sargazzio’s autodocs could save.”
“You, ah… seem to be taking this pretty well captain.”
“It took the Sargazzio five years to get back here sir, I’ve come to terms with a few things. When will I be redeployed?”
The man shook his head and beckoned for Theo to follow him.
“I am Martin Ortega, or Admiral Ortega I suppose, if you insist on titles. I was promoted from postmaster to high admiral this morning for the express purpose of welcoming you back home. We don’t have much of a need for admirals these days, but we figured you’d appreciate the gesture.”
The space station was deserted, silent save for their footfalls echoing through the corridor. The sound had nearly driven Theo mad on his long flight home.
Ortega paused in front of a viewport, looking out at the massive hull of the Sargazzio. The pinnacle of military engineering when she was commissioned over eighty years ago, the ship had sixteen twin-mounted flak cannons, eight large-coil railguns, a suite of countermeasure lasers, four Grindlewald drives capable of sustained .9c, and enough life support for a full mechanized battalion. She had gone out accompanied by much pomp and circumstance, stuffed with soldiers and armed to the airlocks. She had come back a battered hulk, an ancient behemoth limping into dock on quarter power with holes the size of watermelons punched through her hull.
“The war is over,” Ortega said. “The treaty was signed the year before you landed on Ignis Magna, but even at near-light speeds most planets didn’t get stand-down orders for another couple years. The riots started when they declassified the casualty lists. Billions dead for no reason. The Colonial Defense Force was dismantled, the arms cartels overthrown. We’ve been at peace ever since. For decades we’ve kept this station operational, waiting as the warships trickled in. Waiting for you.”
“Your battalion was the last. After we’re done here the station will be demolished and the Sargazzio slagged. The world has moved on, the war is ancient history.”
Ortega turned away from the viewport and walked toward the receiving room.
“What happens now?”
“You’re discharged,” Martin said. “Let me be the first to congratulate you on surviving the Long War, now described as the biggest fuckup in human history. You’ll be in the media spotlight for a while, journalists and network commentators wanting to talk to the last returning soldier. But after a couple weeks you’ll be old news, and everyone will forget. You’ll see – things have changed. You may have only aged ten years, but the world you knew fell by the wayside decades ago.”
Silence filled the room.
“Did we win?”
“Does it matter?”
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
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Author : Bob Newbell
It was five years ago today that I was awakened by my wife’s screaming. I remember leaping out of bed yelling, “What’s wrong?! What is it?!” I also remember seeing a woman I didn’t recognize staring at me in shock and fear.
“Who are you?! What are you doing in my bed?!” she had exclaimed. “Steve, get in here!”
The voice, I’d thought to myself. That was Amy’s voice. And the nightclothes the woman had been wearing were my wife’s. I recall looking at the woman’s hair, her lips, her eyes. The individual components of the face were Amy’s. But somehow they combined to form the face of a stranger. I remember seeing her reaching back toward the drawer in the nightstand. I kept my gun there.
“Amy!” I’d said. “It’s Steve! I know it’s you but for some reason I don’t recognize you either!”
We spent the next few minutes quizzing each other about our past until it became obvious who we were despite appearances. That was when the phone rang.
“Steve, it’s Tim. We need you at the station now. It’s urgent.”
“Tim, can it wait? Something’s happened to me and Amy. I think we need to go to the hospital and get checked out. I know this is gonna sound crazy, but–”
“You don’t recognize each other.”
I was stunned. “Yeah, Tim, how did you–”
“Steve, get down here.”
I remember going to the police station and being greeted by apparent strangers. They inspected my badge, my driver’s license, and my police photo ID. They asked me a few questions that it would have been all but impossible for anyone but me to answer correctly. Convinced it was really me, they sent me over to my boss.
“Yeah, it’s me. We’ve got pandemonium out there. I need you out on patrol. National guard is being mobilized, too. We’ve got a lot of scared people. We’ve had thirty shootings or stabbings of relatives mistaking one another for intruders in the last hour alone. Emergency rooms are being overrun. President’s gonna address the nation in 15 minutes. Just audio, though. They’re just gonna show the presidential seal on TV while he speaks. White House is afraid that a strange man no one’s ever seen before identifying himself as the President would make things worse.”
Things got worse anyway. Much worse. Martial law had to be implemented in most countries. The global economy collapsed. The medical community called it prosopagnosia or “face blindness”. In a single moment, the human race lost the ability to recognize faces. Brain scans showed damage to a structure in the brain called the fusiform gyrus. There are several theories as to how it happened but no one really knows. Some sort of infection couldn’t simultaneously strike every man, woman, and child on Earth. An attack by aliens and divine punishment are two of the more popular explanations.
We tried picture ID badges for a while but those are too easy to fake. We ultimately had to chip the entire human race. Having your wrist scanned has become a ritual observed a dozen or more times a day. Funny how quickly we all got used to it.
No one born after The Masking, as it’s come to be called, appears to have been affected. Their facial recognition ability is intact. Still, newborns are chipped right after the umbilical cord is cut because we don’t know if it will happen again and have no way of reversing it. Anonymous relatives, unfamiliar friends, unidentified celebrities and historical figures. That’s the world we now live in.