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The War Was Over--

Geoffrey A. Landis has written his share of science fiction, winning both the Hugo and Nebula awards. These days he tends to spend more time designing real spaceships for NASA. His most recent projects have been working on a conceptual design for a radioisotope-powered rocket-propelled hopper to explore Triton, the large retrograde moon of Neptune, and analyzing power systems for a possible interstellar probe.
The war was over, at least for the afternoon, and the streets were jammed with rowdy undergraduates, doing their best to get as drunk as possible as fast as possible, and doing a good job at it, staggering from bar to bar in the rain, singing and fighting and feeling each other up, splashing through puddles and feeding crackers to the wet pigeons.
The war would start up again in the morning, of course, and probably half of them would need a shot of focus from the combat nurse unit to get unbent enough to put on their force-feedback gloves and their helmets and start the serious business of blowing shit up in some godforsaken place ten thousand miles away. A shot in the arm wouldn't cure the hangover, of course--the army didn't care whether a soldier's head hurt. But a shot of focus would make sure that the undergraduates could steer the robot fighters in a straight line and designate targets for the pop-up drones to take out, without seeing double or vomiting inside the teleoperation headsets.
The soldiers were, of course, all undergraduates, eighteen- and nineteen-year-olds: of an age when reflexes were at a peak, but yet still young enough that they could be encouraged to not think too hard about what they were doing. And the GI Bill tuition payments helped a lot in that task--who could afford college without it? It didn't pay to think too critically about where your tuition was coming from when that GI-bill tuition meant the difference between a job, and a life living in factory-issue urban housing and eating minimum-standards government food and accepting assembly-line medical service. There was never any shortage of volunteers to run the robots, not with government-paid college the bait on the hook.
So, I could hardly blame them for accepting the bait, although I did. Still, from the desperation with which they got drunk after their shifts running the killing machines, some of them did think about it. Apparently, they didn't much like what they thought.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, October 22nd, 2020


This story partly came from my thinking about war--the Army wants draftees to be 18 for a good reason--but it was partly a result of a Clarion write-a-thon writing challenge. This challenge was "writing blender," in which we were given half a dozen different, completely unrelated elements, with the challenge to incorporate them all into a story. And parts of it I just made up.

- Geoffrey A. Landis
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