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Practice Doll

 The soldiers were led out to a firing range. A pockmarked field drenched in blood and shrapnel. They were raw recruits, none of them older than 19. They took their firing positions behind a wall of sandbags. At the other end of the field was a massive warehouse. 

"As marines, it is very likely you will be called upon to kill a man!" The sergeant explained. "This is easier said than done, but just like anything else, practice makes perfect! I want you to see what happens when a bullet pulverizes flesh. I want to give you that taste for blood!" 

The boy soldiers clenched their weapons and tried to steady their hands as they looked down the sights of their long-barreled weapons. All of them had  heard about the "special fire practice." There were conflicting rumors. Some said they were just machines wearing blood and flesh, while others claimed they were people grown in batches. Made every day out of the pulverized and reconstituted remains of the ones from the day before.  

The boys did their best to control their anxiety. They clenched their trembling hands and wiped the sweat forming on their brows. They didn't want their sergeant or, even worse, their squad mates to see they were nervous.  

"Do not hesitate!" the sergeant instructed. "on the battlefield, hesitation is death!" 

A siren started its rhythmic wail. "Weapons ready!" 

His existence began abruptly. His birth was an instant. His eyes blinked open for the first time in darkness.   The sudden end of nothingness and the instantaneous activation of the senses were overwhelming. There was no development period, no birth. He hadn't been, and suddenly, he was. He had no name nor memories, or thoughts. Everything began at this very moment. 

 He could hear tapping footsteps and the sound of rapid panicked breathing. The first sensation he felt was the chill of the damp air and then the warmth of skin brushing against his. 

There was the screeching of metal cutting into metal, followed by the rhythmic clattering of heavy gears. A ray of light pierced through the room and began expanding. Dread swelled in his stomach and washed through his entire body.  

The wall was opening in front of him. He didn't know what was on the other side, but his brain broadcasted fear like an electric pulse through his nervous system. As the light brightened and spread, he could see the outlines of dozens of bodies just like his forming in the long shadow. 

The light burned when it reached his eyes, but they adjusted. He could see clearly the others around him. They had all the same limbs and appendages as him, and without seeing the reflection of himself in their eyes, he could sense they were also whatever he was.   

He tried to shout a warning, but the words did not exist in his brain and couldn't be formed by his mouth. He could only imagine some whines and squeals. He managed a muffled scream through his gritting teeth. He was trembling with fear. He tried to move away from the light, but there was no room. 

There was a thud, and the wall was gone. He couldn't see what was in the light, but instinct told him to be afraid. He tried telling the others, but he couldn't make them understand. 

A siren blared, and all the others began screaming and running from the noise. He tried standing in front of them and pushing their back, but the herd was too big they pushed past him. 

"Don't go into the light!" He suddenly cried out, only vaguely understanding what those words meant. 

He was standing in the cavern alone, and the siren petered out. He was jolted by a burst of machine gun fire. Then another and another. Followed by the mortal cries of his brethren. These sonic sensations were somehow familiar to him. He had heard them before without ever hearing them. They echoed from somewhere in his non-existent past. The pace of the gunfire crescendo along with their screams, and after a moment, there was only some faint whimpering that was silenced by a gun. 

"I think there's one more!" a voice called in the light. 

There was the heavy thud of footsteps and the jangling of metal. Tears ran down his burning cheeks. He crossed his arms around himself and backed away to the far end of the room. The first silhouette emerged in the light. It was another much like himself but different.  

 More formed behind him. The shadows pointed and started walking toward him. There were five of them. As they came closer, their features came into view. They had the same parts as him, but they were covered by green patterned clothes. He knew he'd seen them before. 

"Whose got him?!" one of them shouted. 

They exchanged glances. 

After a moment, the one on the far right turned to the one standing next to him. "Hey, Alex, why don't you do this one. Getting him up close will give you the balls you'll need for deployment." 

The others concurred. 

"Yeah, just do it between the eyes. It'll be quick." 

"Yeah, don't be a pussy. Pop your cherry!" 

"Yeah, it's not like you're gonna make someone a widow. 

The one they called Alex quietly walked up to the nameless man sobbing against the cold steel wall. Possessing none of the words to even plead for his life. He opened his eyes and looked up into the barrel.  

"I guess I'll probably see you tomorrow." 

There was a bang, and the imperceptible fraction of a second from when the bullet left its chamber dilated into infinity. The world froze into a still image before fading and drifting into darkness.

He blinked, and there he was again. Standing in the dark listening to the panicked heard, watching the growing light. It was him reconstituted into something that was the same but new. His instincts were the product of ancestral dreams from a generation that had existed just a day ago. The light engulfed the room, and the process began again. The violence of the experience was woven directly into the genetic material of the disposable men made to practice killing.


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