The Veteran had spent most of his life protecting the planet from the Nigh-Impervious World-Ending Threat. At the height of crisis, the Base needed the support of everyone living on the surface. Many brave Soldiers came up to offer their services however needed. They all willingly gave part of their life energy to fuel the death ray that would stop the Nigh-Impervious World-Ending Threat from destroying everything they loved.
The Battle tactic seemed desperate, as it amounted to little more than throwing these lives in the path of the Nigh-Impervious World-Ending Threat. It seemed to be working at first, but the Nigh-Impervious World-Ending Threat seemed to be putting up more resistance than expected, so more energy was needed, which the populace was expected to give.
At their moment of greatest peril, the Veteran who’d gained immense popularity through his daring deeds pleaded with the populace in helping him by giving a portion of their life energy in order to drive the Nigh-Impervious World-Ending Threat back.
The populace was only all too happy to help out, wanting to feel part of something greater than themselves. In this way, they would be able to contribute to this, without having to actually encounter combat themselves.
The energy gathered, the Veteran fueled it with his weapon, and combined the two into a singular blast directly aimed at the Nigh-Impervious World-Ending Threat.
But this final blow seemed to be taking much longer than usual, and the Veteran once again asked for more help, which the populace seemed more reluctant to provide. Wasn’t what they already gave enough? Concessions were made, and the populace once again gave the energy that they’d grown resigned to accept at this point.
After years of using all the energies, the Veteran was feeling his fuel reserves running low, and even with the force-fed application of energy to his rapidly draining batteries, he couldn’t keep his long-sustained energy attack up much longer, and started converting his own life into the mix. But even his meagre life energy wasn’t enough, and he was finally overwhelmed.
As he plummeted towards the planet below, his only thought was how he failed to hold up his side of the bargain. He’d done everything he possibly could, and it still wasn’t enough.
But as he fell, he saw his replacement take his place in an updated more fuel-conscious design of the battle armour he’d been wearing.
When he recovered from his stay in the medical tent, he found out that this new guy was more popular than he ever was, and was easily gathering more life energy from the populace, all in an effort to fight against an Outside-Implacable Galaxy-Destructive Threat that threatened everything everyone loved.
The Veteran wondered what happened to his mission against the Nigh-Impervious World-Ending Threat, and then he realized – it was the same Threat as before, only under a different name.
There were rumours that long ago, the planet was outfitted with naturally-occurring defenses that kept the Nigh-Impervious World-Ending Threatening forces at bay before it all dried up. That was fortunate, as it gave the opportunity for people like him to step in and fill the vacant position, making themselves useful.
But now discharged, drained of all usefulness and left with nothing left to do, living on a lackluster pension that barely covered his living needs, the Veteran moped about in a daze, his head filled with thoughts of what could have been. If he’d actually accomplished his goal, he would’ve gotten a yearly bonus to his pay. Everywhere he went, he couldn’t stand the continuous din of everyday life compared to the silentness of space.
All his career, the Veteran had been warned over and over – ‘Your hole-puncher is the only thing keeping you safe.’ It was drilled in his head to the point where it became his security blanket, and soon, he became anxious if separated for more than five seconds. He ate with it. He played with it. He ran around and bathed with it. And now that he was no longer in active service, no longer had a hole-puncher on him.
It was a good thing he’d been disassembled from the armoured suit he’d worn for years. More than once, he reacted to harmless scenarios by reflexly pressing his fingers towards his target of derision. The amount of damage he could’ve accumulated if armed would be worse than anything the Nigh-Impervious World-Ending Threat could do.
The citizens didn’t react favorably upon seeing him, which had nothing to do with his jitters. He was now associated with failure. None of them wanted to be reminded of a war they lost. And their constant rejection of his presence only weighed further upon him. How could they be so complacent in the face of obvious threats lurking around every corner?
Because of his nervous reactions, he was detained multiple times for creating a ruckus and destroying property that wasn’t his own. His only excuse was that he was back from the front lines, and even his good favor was beginning to run out. They’d already forgotten who he was.
There wasn’t much to do while in the holding chambers but wait. The Veteran hated these silent interludes. He didn’t want to reflect on his actions, he wanted to be part of the action. And the inactivity was driving him to distraction.
Other surviving Soldiers had managed to get professions suitable to themselves in their fields, going into lines of work such as advisers and security detail, but sometimes their influence could reach much higher. The most well-known prolific retired Soldier was the Silver-Haired Reporter, making daily announcements for all to see. His calm demeanor, outstanding track record and good looks made him a natural celebrity. But for the Veteran, such doors of opportunity were constantly denied to him.
Then one day, he got a personally delivered letter in the mail with a baffling pitch:
HAVE YOU BEEN CAST OUT WITH NOT MUCH TO DO?
HAVE YOU BEEN NEGLECTED FROM A SOCIETY THAT NO LONGER RESPECTS YOU?
DO YOU ENJOY DESTROYING THINGS?
DON’T DELAY – ACT NOW! FIND YOUR PURPOSE ONCE AGAIN!
REACH THIS ADDRESS FOR FURTHER DETAILS.
It was sparse with plenty of blank space in large font for easy reading, and not much else. Apart from the address, there was a disturbing lack of information. He ignored it at first, but then he kept getting the same messages over and over. They never made any overt statement to join, but their insistence was beginning to win him over. Since no one else contacted him, it piqued his curiosity. With not much else to do, he decided to check it out. If he didn’t like what he saw, he’d just back out.
When he arrived at the destination, he was placed in a waiting room with other potential clients who looked just as confused as he. They all seemed to be waiting for some unverifiable signal that would alert them to their designated roles, uncertain what their purpose would be. Soon enough, he was called and sent to another room. The Veteran wasn’t expecting much, but his suspicions was instantly allayed upon meeting the man who warmly greeted him.
“Ah! I can see you’re a fine strapping specimen, cast by and forgotten by a society that’s thrown away its best and brightest in favor of the latest shiny toy.”
There wasn’t much to fear from the competition – if anything was apparent, he was far healthier than any of them, having kept up his daily exercises with nothing else to fill the widening gaps of inactivity with.
The Confident Man examined the Veteran and looked him in the face. “I’ve been looking for people like you, capable of doing destructive work.” He motioned towards two standing boards in the room. “I’d like to get an idea of your arm strength. Go ahead, hit ‘em as hard as you can.”
The Veteran assumed a battle stance, then delivered a direct blow that broke the board in half.
“Very impressive! Now the other hand.”
The Veteran’s next blow from his less dominant fist didn’t wind up dealing as much damage, but still broke the board some.
“Not too shabby. You’ve got the exact qualities I’m looking for!”
This was unlike any other job interview the Veteran had gone to. All the interviewers wanted to know was his references and qualifications. This Confident Man was just awed by his presence alone. He was certainly different from how the populace normally approached his ilk. Their impetus towards dead soldiers was, ‘If they were really smart, they wouldn’t have gotten themselves killed dying for their planet!’
“I still don’t know what you want me for.”
“I might as well tell you.” The Confident Man’s tone suddenly took an air of solemness. “There’s a danger lurking just outside this City. Everybody is so focused on the Ominous-Imperious Universe-Shattering Threat above that they’re utterly unaware of the Unknown Threat lurking here at home.”
“I always thought there was something wrong!”
“I’ve tracked down a dangerous ONE hiding just outside this City. I’ve been assembling capable people like you to face off against this unseen menace. Are you willing to protect everyone from this danger?”
“You know I am! Will I have access to hole-punchers?” He hoped that whatever this was, he’d have access to a weapon.
“You don’t need hole-punchers when you’ve got these.” The Confident Man stroked the Veteran’s arm up and down. Normally, he would’ve bristled against being touched without permission, but the Confident Man’s reassuring demeanor set him at ease. “They removed most of your exterior armour, but couldn’t remove your interior skeleton, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to move.”
“But I will have protection?”
“This ONE would possess whatever weapon or suit you have. If you’re only armed with your fists, the ONE won’t stand a chance.”
The Veteran’s confidence faltered. This was the first time in ages he’d been complimented, but his value was tied in with the armoury surrounding him, and didn’t fully trust his inherent abilities. “I dunno… I’m not so sure about this…”
“Hmm. Tell you what, I’ll sweeten the pot. I’m not allowed to do this, but I’m willing to give you an advance.”
The Confident Man handed over an envelope. The Veteran looked inside and tried to keep his composure, even as his eyes bugged out. There was more than enough here to live comfortably over the course of a year if he spent it responsibly.
“That’s just for one week’s work.”
“What do you need me to do?”
“It’s really very simple. I need seekers. Seekers who will track down and destroy anything still standing, so the ONE can’t come back and threaten our way of life.”
The Veteran’s hopeful features fell. “That sounds like Demolition Duty.”
“If you’re not feeling up to it, there are plenty of applicants out there I’d like to see.” The Confident Man held his hand out, expecting the envelope back.
“Can I think about it?”
“Take your time. The offer won’t be around forever. I have a hundred more applicants to see.”
The Veteran tried to think rationally, but torn between feeling useful once again and the looming deadline, it was just a matter of waffling before settling upon the decision he’d already decided to take.
“Just so you should know, there are plenty of abandoned hole-punchers in the area you’d be travelling to.”
“I’LL DO IT.” That was all the incentive he needed to push him.
“Now, it’s only fair to warn you that the risks are high, but the rewards are lucrative. There’s little chance of returning if you’re not prepared.”
“What do I need to do?”
“Take off everything you’re wearing.”
The Veteran stared at the Confident Man’s request.
“Don’t wear or carry anything shiny. I can’t allow the chance of the ONE jumping to anything else. The risk is simply too great.”
The Veteran stripped down, used to having to deal with regular checkups. It was so freeing to have someone tell him what to do.
The Confident Man examined the Veteran all around. “No skin plating, no artificial limbs. Good. Au naturale is the way to go. However, before I send you off on your merry way, we need to prepare you first. Go to this room where you’ll be decked out in proper camouflage.”
The Veteran sat in the chair with numerous inked needles surrounding him. “What’s this for?”
“While outside, chances are you’re going to forget your mission. Since we can’t communicate via normal means once you’re out on the field, these indelible marks will give you constant clear reminders. Notes written all over your body to remind you of what you’re supposed to do.”
“Why do I need these?”
“For your safety, you’ll be mind-wiped, just in case the ONE latches upon you and tries to force you back the way you came.”
“Will I have… to think hard on the job?”
“I don’t need good intellectual skills, I need muscle! And besides, memory wouldn’t be of much use where you’d be going.”
“I feel a little insulted.”
“Oh, don’t worry. There’ll be plenty of chances for you to use your smarts out there. You won’t remember everything, but you’ll still remember enough to get the job done.”
“Muscle memory. You know how to breathe when you’re not thinking about it. You’ll execute your martial skills when you’re feeling threatened. If anything looks dangerous, you’ll take care of it. I’m also going to need some money for registration, testing, imprinting and anaesthesia. Those boards don’t come cheap.”
The Veteran winced at the price. This would take a hefty chunk out of his advance. “I… don’t have enough.”
“No worries. You can make up the remainder out of your savings. I’d need your bank account number anyways to direct deposit your pay. Did you bring your identification papers? It’s important that we don’t get you mixed up with someone else.”
“Yes I did.”
“Sign here, here, here, and here,” the Confident Man said, pointing at various spots on multiple pages. Copies were made of everything to make sure that nothing was neglected. “Okay, I think we’re all set.”
As soon as the last signature was signed, the needles started doing their work. The Veteran was confused by the messages on his person. There weren’t any instructions to destroy objects on any of them. And there was a hidden backwards message that seemed woefully out of place.
“I don’t have a wife.”
“That’s just to motivate you. You’ll know what you’re looking for when you see it.”
The Veteran looked at the numerous reminders etched upon his person, and something occurred to him.
“Say, once the job’s done, how do I get back?”
“Don’t worry. We’ll figure something out.”
“For that matter, what do I do if I’m irreparably harmed?”
“Not my problem. You’re on a one-way trip.”
The Veteran started to panic, and tried to move, desperate to do something, anything as the anaesthesia started to take hold as numerous needles did their work imprinting hundreds of tightly ingrained messages all over his body. He moved his hand towards the Confident Man’s weirdly-shaped square head and clenched his fingers, but since there were only flat surfaces to grab onto, his actions were impotent. As he went under, he desperately tried to keep in mind something he could cling to in these last moments of coherence.
When the Tattooed Man woke up, he tried to remember something important. There was something he was supposed to do – what was it? He ventured closer to the shiniest object in the vicinity. Upon seeing his reflection, he was filled with unbridled rage, and started raining multiple shattering blows on it.
And with that, the Tattooed Man’s fate was sealed. It was true that society turned their back on those who gave their lives for it, and the Thief sought to take advantage of that. Now that the Veteran was entombed within the confines of Memory Bane, he could safely use his identity to continue receiving pension funds without getting caught. And if there was any suspicion of forgery, there were multiple signatures to allay those fears. It also gave him another account to stash his ill-gotten gains, even though he couldn’t spend it.
The Thief let his latest mark off, smashing all the mirrors in Memory Bane. If he was lucky, he might be able to stop the Worker from ever coming back. This was the best opportunity to get rid of that troublesome pest once and for all.
Death and Violence: the cause and solution to all of life’s problems.
– Old paraphrased saying