by Tony Jones

“Wait for the next transporter to go by, then force the door,” Jenkins said. I liked Jenkins; he looked after me. Others wouldn’t, most wouldn’t even talk to me. I liked his Welsh accent, the way he smiled and treated me like a younger brother. I was nearly a foot taller and 10 kilos heavier but he still looked out for me.

I waited behind the rear door to Med7 and surveyed the camp; dozens of soldiers moving with purpose over the desert sand, shifting crates to piles next to where the planes were loading. Despite the late hour, the base was brightly lit by rows of stark LED lights mounted on twenty-foot high tripods. Jenkins and I stood in shadows wherever we could to avoid drawing attention. He was muttering about who actually won the war, how can an eight-year old camp be dismantled in four weeks, budget cuts and what he would do with his overtime if the taxman left him any. A transporter plane roared into life and I wrenched off the padlocks holding the door closed with my left hand. I made to throw them aside but Jenkins put a restraining hand on my shoulder as he opened the door.

“Watch it,” Jenkins said as he entered the building. “Don’t hit the demolition charges. Put ’em inside. Come on – if they want to blow this place up so much there must be plenty inside worth liberating. We’ll be rich when we get back.”

I placed the padlocks just inside the door as instructed and followed. Inside the air was still and hot from the day. There was no reassuring hum of power, no machines bleeping, no cooling fans to stir the air. The only light was coming in through shallow, high windows a few metres up and allowed me to see the room had been stripped, cupboards stood with doors open and neat piles of boxes were placed in the centre. Jenkins gave them a cursory look.

“Just rubbish,” he said, “old bandages, nothing. No medicines. Nothing worth having. I knew the printers were gone but there should have been something left. Come on, help me check.”

He began with the leftmost cupboard and told me to try a desk on the far wall. All I found was an old newspaper and some Christmas cards., all addressed to someone called Kenny.

I helped him inspect everything – this was how we spotted a door blocked by two battered green cupboards standing together away from the others.

“Maybe no one saw this,” he said. “Come on, let’s look.”

The door wasn’t locked and Jenkins opened it to reveal a ward with no beds. Several dozen naked bodies lay on the floor arranged in neat rows as though collected and filed. Men and women mixed indiscriminately, all with the peace of the grave.

We went in.

“I don’t understand,” Jenkins said. “Why are there bodies here? They should all be flown back.”

I reached out with my right hand to hold his shoulder. I told him they weren’t dead: they were warm and I could hear breathing. Slow but regular.

We moved further in. Jenkins took out a small torch, shining it on the ground. There were no windows in this room but he was still careful where he shone the light. He knelt down and examined a couple of the nearest figures.

“Jesus!” he swore. “They’re just lying there, awake. They’re all from Purple Battalion. Look at the colour of the arms, the legs, the eyes.”

I’d never heard him swear before. He always attended Sunday service and talked of church back home. He stood up and moved his beam to light up more of the patient soldiers. The story was the same; every one of them was one of the elite infantry.

At that moment the main lights went on all through Med7, both the room outside and this strange sepulchre of the living. Jenkins blinked. I just turned to face the doorway. There stood a man in his thirties, a Colonel by his uniform, hair short and blue eyes contrasting with his tanned face.

“Well,” the Colonel said. “What do we have here?”

Jenkins cleared his throat.

“It’s bodies sir, all from Purple.”

“I know that,” the Colonel said. “I meant what are you two doing here? Lost are you, or looking for souvenirs?”

Jenkins opened his mouth to answer then saw the Colonel’s expression. I took the opportunity to ask what was happening, why were there so many soldiers with explosives stacked outside waiting for tomorrow when the whole of Section 7 would be returned to the desert.

“Budget,” the Colonel said. “Simple economics. A soldier gets injured; we print a military grade replacement part better than the original. The soldier goes out a better soldier. More wounds, more new parts get printed. Better eyes, stronger arms, faster legs. Super-soldiers at the press of a button. If it wasn’t for the UN’s purple dye, you’d never know by looking. All chipped to follow orders as well. If there’s too much brain damage then we make use of them round the camp.”

Jenkins moved back from the Colonel’s gaze and stood next to me.

“But,” Jenkins said, “I thought we sent them back, printed normal parts and they paroled out back to Civvy Street. I saw a documentary.”

The Colonel shook his head.

“Some we do, the heroes, just enough to keep the press office happy and keep the public on-side. I’d keep them in the ranks but the UN says battlefield only. What do they know?”

“So what’s happening to these?” Jenkins asked.

“Superfluous to requirements. We don’t have the budget to fly them back and repair them.”

“That’s terrible,” Jenkins said. “Why are they all naked?”

“Money. We can re-use the uniforms. We’re destroying the camp anyhow when we pull out so no one will know. No one was meant to see this.”

Jenkins went quiet so I asked why they weren’t worth saving.

“Worth it to whom?” the Colonel asked. “You ask the money men back in London. I do what I’m told, as do you. Kill your colleague would you?”

Without even considering the words I reached across with my purple left hand and twisted Jenkins’s neck. He fell to the floor dead, his eyes unable to register surprise or disappointment. He didn’t even have the time to struggle before I dealt with him.

“Lie next to him,” The Colonel said. “Oh, strip off both your uniforms first and put them in a neat pile.”

The Colonel spoke no more, just took our belongings then shut the door behind him as he left. I heard him move the cupboards back then saw the lights go out again. I lay next to Jenkins, his vacant expression still visible to my purple eyes. We were both naked and within 24 hours would both be dead. I wondered if I would meet him again in his heaven and was he already with his god. I held his hand and waited. Jenkins looks after me; I like him.

I waited.