Bag of Soldiers

Eric Fomley

August 15, 2021

The battleships in the clouds above me monitor my every move.

I crunch along the sheets of endless ice to reach my fallen brothers. The icy winds of Ghede Prime howl as they blow through the glaciers and try to hold me back.

I see the soldier before I’m standing on the green waypoint in my frosty visor. His body lays at odd angles, his armor shredded from gunfire, face locked in a permanent scream. Blood oozes from his wounds. His head is still intact.

I kneel alongside him and retrieve my drill and microsaw from one of my suit’s pockets. Particles of bone and bloody flesh fleck my visor as I drill three holes in a triangle on the frontal lobe of the soldier’s skull. I use the microsaw to connect the holes and gently pry the triangle of bone free. Blood and fluid pool and leak from the wound but I can see the silver microchip clamped to the soldier’s brain like a spider. I slide the blade of the microsaw underneath and pull the chip free.

I use my free hand to put my tools away and retrieve the cloth bag tied to my belt. I drop the chip into the bag with the others. Organic bodies are cheap to manufacture. The tiny infrastructures that house a human mind, less so. This soldier, and the others I’ve collected, will live. They’ll be given new bodies and sent to the front lines to fight again. As long as the chip is collected, they’ll never die.

I stand, look down at the soldier, and think of our plight, our seemingly eternal service to the Dominion. What life did this one leave behind before they took him?

I feel the shock at the base of my brain. It’s light, a warning, but it rocks my body with a moment of sharp pain as every nerve in my body prickles simultaneously. The Dominion is waiting. I’m taking too long.

I move toward the last waypoint on my visor. The crystal ice shatters and cracks beneath my boots. The small generator in the back of my environmental suit whines as its power core struggles to keep up with the demanding climate, struggles to keep my organs warm and filter the frigid air through my mask at a breathable temperature. How I wish I could take the suit off and let the elements take me. How long would I enjoy death until I was recovered?

The Dominion fights a war of planets. A tireless fight to own them all. But whatever the strategic or monetary value of this ice rock is, I’ll never know. But for them, it’s enough to lose lives. The crimson pooling out of my brothers paints color on this colorless world.

The soldier at the last waypoint is dead, his head blown apart, and with it the chip that held his mind. Command must see this through my visor cam because the waypoint clears from my heads up display.

Mission complete.

I pick up my pace as I trudge back to my flyer with the bag of soldiers still in my hand. It will be night soon; the sky is the dark grey of Dominion battleships. At night the hellish conditions on Ghede Prime worsen. My suit would never keep up.

Just before I reach my flyer, I query the onboard AI assistant to fire up the engines and begin the prelaunch checklist. I order it to drop the boarding ramp.

My foot catches the lip where the ramp meets the ground. I sprawl forward and catch myself with my free hand, but several of the chips spill out of the bag and bounce off of the ramp onto the ice.

It’s a clumsy move and command rewards my foolishness with a full shock.

I collapse.

I can’t keep my teeth clamped as the pain ignites every nerve. Pinpricks like a million knives stabbing every part of my body all at once and I’m alive to feel it. I convulse on the ramp and scream until I think my heart will stop. My skin twitches and spasms when the shock is gone. I can’t wipe the spittle from my face or visor until I’m back on the ship and can remove my environment suit. I roll onto my stomach and try to rise as quickly as I can before they decide to give me another. I set about recollecting the chips I dropped.

Except for a few I pretend I don’t see.

* * *

It’s not enough chips to justify them sending another collector. That would be too much of a waste of time and fuel.

I’ll be reprimanded, probably shocked again, and maybe more than once. But the unrecovered chips will be shut off. Those soldiers won’t be used again, won’t ever have to march to their deaths again.

They’re free from living like this.

It’s all I can wish, as I board my flyer and launch it to meet the battleship up in the clouds, that one day, someone will do the same for me.

Eric Fomley writes speculative short fiction. His stories have appeared in Galaxy's Edge, Daily Science Fiction, Flame Tree Press, and Inferno! Volume 6: Tales from the Worlds of Warhammer. Follow him at or on Twitter @PrinceGrimdark.