Sleight of Hand

Colonel Sandusky’s hands shook as the General Kurchmenev turned his back on him. This was his moment, this was his chance. A simple act of sleight of hand, but he could end the war.

The Colonel was fresh out of a bit of an identity crisis. Two years earlier, he had awoken in a hospital bed with wires to his brain and surgery scars on his face. He had been captured and wounded at the battle of Olympus Mons combatting the Martian Colonial Rebellion. Or at least someone had. When he awoke, he was greeted by a Colonial Intelligence officer, which was more or less to be expected, but what was said was not.

“Greetings Agent Levinas. Did the procedure work?”

“Agent, what? What are you talking about?”

“Do you not know who you are?”

“Who I am? What are you talking about?”

“Excellent, the procedure has worked.”

“What do you mean?”

“Six weeks ago, Colonel Sandusky, the most trusted associate of General Kurhmenev…”

“… I’m familiar with him, you rebel pig.” The colonel snapped at his captor.

“Yes, well, he was captured and gravely injured, and we were unable to save him. We were able, however, to download his consciousness and memories.” “You what?”

“And you Agent Levinas, agreed to be surgically altered, have your consciousness in part replaced with his, and take his spot in the POW camp until the inevitable rescue mission arrives, at which time you will retake his post as an Earthican Republican Officer and operate as a spy, with the ultimate goal of assassinating General Kurchmenev.

“Our plastic surgeon has made you his perfect likeness, and you were even given a bone marrow transplant to fool a DNA test.”

The Colonel had laughed at the notion. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”

“We thought you would feel that way, but we feel that as you remember who you really are, you will come to your senses.”

What had followed was a general regiment of forced psychiatric treatments designed to help him remember his original identity. He was given a heavy regimen of Bulbolocapnine, unknowingly in his food. The drug was a medication designed to make an individual more susceptible to suggestion. His days were spent watching videos of his wife, his kids, his parents, his friends, his former pre-surgery self, explain to him who he was, why he was. Most of it was not propagandic nonsense about why he enlisted, but the real soul of the man. There were childhood home videos, there were stories about games on the playground, and exploits on the football field. Summer camp as a boy, family vacations, family deaths, old friends, old girlfriends, good times, bad times, even boring times.

At first, he’d gone along with it to humor them. He figured if they wanted to let him out and give him his old post back, that was their error. He’d even chuckled at their foolishness as the Republican Army rescued his POW camp, however he had not revealed the enemy’s charade to Erthican Intelligence. The colonel feared that they may, as a precautionary measure, execute him as a spy. As he fell into his old post, he couldn’t help but think about all the people he had learned of there, had met there. When the city of New Jedah fell, he couldn’t help but think that Carrie, an alleged old girlfriend, lived there, and about the insufferably spicy lasagna she used to make once a week.

Strolling along battlefield ruins brought back too many old memories that he wasn’t sure were really his. He knew he was starting to lose it when he found himself reading the obituary section of the colonial newspapers he received in intelligence reports, terrified of finding names of his alleged friends and relatives. In time, his feelings of the war shifted from a noble cause to preserve the union of the human race, to a dirty job he had to put up with to ultimately, a terrible travesty being imposed on humanity.

What kept him going was the dream that one day someone would win, and he didn’t care who, as long as the war ended. Then, during the Tharsis Campaign, he’d received the obituary he feared most. His wife and children, or at least Levinas’s wife and children, had been as collateral damage in a strike against a rebel lieutenant. By all calculations and intelligence briefing’s he knew the war was unwinnable, at least for the Erthican’s. The politicians at home simply reused to admit it. They thought the more men and money they threw at the problem that inevitably the spirit of the Martians would break, that they would tire of death.

The thing is, those being bombed never tire of death. They tire of inaction. The more death fell from orbit, the more of their citizens signed up to fight, and with the death of Agent Levinas’s family came only the drive to tip the scale of the war. His other family on earth was safe, at least until his son aged enough to get foolish ideas like enlisting. He’d been away at war so long they felt like strangers. He needed the war to end, and to end it, he had to become a traitor.

Martian intelligence had made it easy for him. They, as a policy, did not strip POWs of any combat metals taken in their possession. One of the colonel’s bronze stars had been modified to include a quantum transmitter. A tiny device which, at the push of a button, would alter the spin of an election. An electron entangled through spooky action with a receiver at Marian Intelligence. He began clicking away at it in morse code, telling of troop strengths, movements, what his intelligence knew of them, targets being considered, anything which he considered distributed broadly enough that he would not be suspected as a leak, all in the hopes of ending the war at last.

The general spoke, snapping the Colonel back to the present. “You know Colonel, when we first found you in that POW camp, our intelligence said you had been executed, but it also said you had died of natural causes, and it said you were captured.”

“Is that so general?” Fearing he was suspected, he made up his mind and silently gripped his pistol.

“I’d had your DNA tested to verify it was you… call it an old man’s paranoia.” The colonel let go of his pistol and drew out the chocolate bar.

It had been left in his bunk. He had no idea how Martian Intelligence had gotten it there, but it had appeared in his sock drawer, with a dove symbol on it. The symbol he had been told during his captivity meant that the enclosed item was poisonous. Beneath it was a printout of an old communication from the general. He knew that indicated its target.

It appeared as a simple chocolate bar, one found in their standard rations. White chocolate with cookie crumbs, the general's favorite. He ate one every day in fact, and one rested on his desk right this very second, inviting the swap.

The Colonel was hesitant, only because this was no silent act of clicking away information in his bunk. This was the assassination of an old friend and mentor. A superior officer, someone he had spent long hours with. They had met each other’s wives, at least their Earthican ones. But deep down, he knew he wasn’t really the Colonel. He was Agent Levinas, and his real family had died in an airstrike during the Tharsis Campaign.

The General fell gravely ill the next morning, and minutes after he clicked out the news on his bronze star, the rebels launched a massive planetwide offensive. One which, with the Colonel now in command of the seventh legion, met a disorganized counterattack which they quickly routed. Earth’s citizens saw the news, and quickly their appetite for opposing Martian Independence faded.

Agent Levinas had succeeded, despite his greatest handicap, that he had never existed. The family members which the Colonel had met during his conditioning were all Rebel Agents, recruited from small unknown acting programs. The entire life story of Agent Levinas had been fabricated by a team of writers, hacks who had simply plagiarized their own lives, and tailored the stories to recall locations where rebel forces were operating, knowing that they would become backdrops of future battles. The obituaries for his family were complete fabrications as well. The family had never existed, either.

A simple parlor trick had turned an enemy colonel into their greatest covert asset.

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