I thought that soldiers were meant to protect people. That’s what they told me when I was built, and I was built to be the perfect soldier. A construct, they called me. It was new technology, meant to create mechanical soldiers who could fight for days on end without rest or food like the human soldiers I fought beside. That kind of fighter was desperately needed in these winter months, so far from home. I was built to be the perfect soldier so that’s what I would be.

These were the thoughts that went through my head as I stared down at my hands, ticking with clockwork beneath an armored exterior. While I should have been proud of what I accomplished to get here, I didn’t sign up for what we had been ordered to do.

A metallic clank rang through my head, shaking me out of this pensive state. It was my captain, tapping the back of my head with his rifle. He was a tall, bearded human with thick curled hair and a crooked nose that had been broken too many times.

“Wake up, tin man! Just a few more buildings to check,” Captain Gibs said. He closed the door of the house he had just finished searching for survivors and supplies. Our troop poured over this village in shifts several times over the past few days with no results, not after our raid last week. But Gibs, as usual, had us make sure regardless.

He pulled out a stick of chalk and left a tally by the door of the house. It rested right beside three tallies from days prior. We continued on our way, the snow crunching beneath our heavy boots as we walked. The silent town looked almost serene with the fresh snowfall and early morning sun. Well, it was as serene as it could have looked, considering the snow topped mounds being picked at by ravens in the streets and the brick homes with walls turned to rubble.

Memories flashed through me of our raid as we walked by the houses I remember all too well. I destroyed homes and tore apart families just to remove the enemy’s small military presence here. I never expected war to be like this. I’m not sure what I expected it to be, if I’m being honest with myself.

“This one here,” Gibs said, stopping at a small cabin. “Come on, tin man, let’s get to it.”

I followed the captain through the door, glaring at him as I went, and began to overturn what was left in the house. It was just the same as before but it was an order I had to follow, regardless of how dull the task may have been.

As I walked around the house, a sudden sound beneath the floorboards caught my attention. The sound was so quiet I almost felt I was imagining it. But no, no I did not imagine it. It was a whimper. It sounded like a child.

I paused, considering what to. My mind suddenly raced with conflicted thoughts.

Seeing me stand still, Gibs turned to me and said, “What is it? Did you find something?”

I stood silent. I desperately wanted to say no. I desperately wanted to hide my discovery as I was afraid of what might happen. But I was, after all, the perfect soldier. I pointed to the floor and simply whispered, “A survivor.”

Smiles are supposed to be happy but his face curled in that upturned expression as I said this sickened me. He came closer and began to smash through the floorboards with the butt of his rifle. I gripped my pistol tightly and soon enough, the captain exposed a hidden compartment holding a mother and her two children. They began to cry and the mother pulled them closer, shielding them from the armed invaders and quietly consoling them. I stood in shock as Gibs readied his rifle, though I felt foolish to expect anything else.

“What are you doing?” I said with panic creeping into my voice, “They’re not soldiers.”

He looked at me, disappointed. He said, “They’re still the enemy. This is what we’re here for, isn’t it? We’re here to clear the area.”

“No. No, not like this. They’re unarmed. They’re not a threat.”

He only repeated, “They’re still the enemy,” and raised his rifle.

I raised my pistol.

Only one shot rang through the cabin that morning.

Micah Benson is an author who enjoys creating immersive sci-fi and fantasy worlds in which to create small scale and deeply personal stories.