17

I'd guess the time frame on this one to be 1960's or 70's. Might be a bit earlier, but I do not think it later than the late 70s.

The story is set on Earth, and centers around a soldier who has been killed several times in a war that has dragged on for years between rival powers. The soldier is American (IIRC), and the enemy is probably one of the communist powers of that era. The war has gone on so long, and been so bloody, that there simply weren't enough fresh recruits to replace losses. As such, medical research developed a way to restore recently killed people to life. They can restore almost anything, except traumatic damage to the brain (i.e. a head shot).

The protagonist reminisces about being brought back and waking up on the operating table after being restored. He notes that the nature of needing to get people back into the fight as quickly as possible has meant certain short cuts in the operating room. One of his arms is a little longer than the other after being re-attached. His ears don't quite line up, etc. He longs to get that final death, as he is very tired of fighting. Unfortunately for him, the military requires you die a certain number of times before you get to RIP. It's similar to the requirement in past wars that you fly a certain number of missions before you can go home, etc.

The soldier is killed at least twice in the story, IIRC. The first time he wakes up, he thought he had met his quota. He then finds out that the demands of the war have led to retroactively increase the number of times you have to fall in battle before being allowed to finally die. At one point, the protagonist contemplates throwing himself on the poisoned barbed wire surrounding the base he's on, but realizes they'll just bring him back again.

The final death comes when the protagonist is shot in the head during a battle. An explosive-tipped bullet, IIRC. His last thought was that he finally gets to die. To his great surprise, he wakes up on the operating table again. The protagonist exclaims something along the lines of "but I took one to the head!" He described the surgeon's faces crinkling up as they smiled, or perhaps smirked, behind their surgical masks. It's explained a new technique has been developed that can "unscramble" traumatic head injuries, and that a head shot is no longer a permanent death.

The story closes with the protagonist going back to his duties, weary and thinking about the time when he'll finally get to die for good.

  • 1
    Are you sure it's a short story? There's probably multiple tales that fit this broad category. but one I recall matches SOME of what you say. It's a novel called "The Eternity Brigade" by Stephen Goldin. – Longspeak Aug 27 '16 at 23:11
  • Eternity Brigade definitely has some similar themes, but the story I'm thinking of is less futuristic. It's a terrestrial war (i.e. man against man) and the technology is advanced but not futuristic (rifles with exploding bullets, but no lasers, etc.) I'm certain it is a short story. Thank you for the response! – Helbent IV Aug 29 '16 at 17:22
6

I'd guess the time frame on this one to be 1960's or 70's.

"If the Red Slayer", a short story by Robert Sheckley, first published in Amazing Science Fiction Stories, July 1959. The title is from the poem "Brahma" by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The story is set on Earth, and centers around a soldier who has been killed several times in a war that has dragged on for years between rival powers. The soldier is American (IIRC), and the enemy is probably one of the communist powers of that era. The war has gone on so long, and been so bloody, that there simply weren't enough fresh recruits to replace losses.

At the beginning of the story, the limit is three resurrections, and the protagonist is complaining because he has accidentally been resurrected for the fourth time

"But our enemies outnumbered us," the kindly old sarge said.

"They still do. All those millions and millions of Russians and Chinese! We had to have more fighting men. We had to at least hold our own. That's why the medics started reviving the dead."

"I know all this. Look, Sarge, I want us to win. I want it bad. I've been a good soldier. But I've been killed three times, and—"

"The trouble is," the sarge said, "the Reds are reviving their dead, too. The struggle for manpower in the front lines is crucial right now. The next few months will tell the tale, one way or the other. So why not forget about all this? The next time you're killed, I can promise you'll be left alone. So let's overlook it this time."

He notes that the nature of needing to get people back into the fight as quickly as possible has meant certain short cuts in the operating room. One of his arms is a little longer than the other after being re-attached. His ears don't quite line up, etc.

The brahmins had done a pretty good job on me. Not as good as they did in the first years of the war, of course. The skin grafts were sloppier now, and I felt a little scrambled inside. Also my right arm was about two inches longer than the left; bad joiner-work. Still, it was a pretty good job.

He then finds out that the demands of the war have led to retroactively increase the number of times you have to fall in battle before being allowed to finally die.

"Private," he said, "I'm sorry about this, but new orders have been issued. The Reds have increased their rebirth rate, and we have to match them. The standing order now is six revivals before retirement."

"But that order hadn't been issued at the time I was killed."

"It's retroactive," he said. "You have two deaths to go. Good-bye and good luck, Private."

The final death comes when the protagonist is shot in the head during a battle. An explosive-tipped bullet, IIRC. His last thought was that he finally gets to die.

I felt the explosive bullet slam into my forehead. There was the tiniest fraction of a second in which I could feel my brains boiling out, and I knew I was safe this time. The brahmins couldn't do anything about serious head injuries, and mine was really serious.

It's explained a new technique has been developed that can "unscramble" traumatic head injuries, and that a head shot is no longer a permanent death.

"At last medical science can treat serious head injuries," the brahmin told me. "Or any other kind of injury. We can bring any man back now, just as long as we can collect seventy percent of his pieces and feed them to the de-scrambler. This is really going to cut down our losses. It may turn the tide of the whole war!"

The story closes with the protagonist going back to his duties, weary and thinking about the time when he'll finally get to die for good.

I nodded, and in a little while I was given my clothes and sent back to the front. Things have quieted down now, and I must admit it's kind of pleasant to be alive. Still, I think I've had all I want of it.

Now I've got just one more death to go before I'll have my six.

If they don't change the orders again.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.