I have BA5799 written on my tongue and he walked me across the tarmac towards a city of white tents and cream hangars, floating on that shimmering desert mirror.
I was normally placed on the lime-green tablecloth in the kitchen. That day I was next to the dog lead on the coffee-stained newspaper. The doorbell rang. The dog barked. The dark outline of two figures showed through the glass panels.
He gripped my handle and placed a gloved finger on my metal trigger. He held me like a weapon, and down at the end of the barrel was my flat stainless-steel blade, with its sharp teeth pointing forward in overlapping rows. He pulled my trigger and my motor whirred and my blade-end blurred.
Spare Room Bed
You woke slowly and I was the most comfortable thing you’d experienced for a long time. My white duvet cocooned you; you knew you were at home but didn’t know why. It was familiar and you felt safe.
I sagged over its metal bars that pushed into my plastic skin and he fastened me down with orange twine from the shop.
I waited, holding the body of his son that had stiffened below the watchtower as flies weaved above me and then landed on its face.
He pushed me open and looked at the faint words, TOM BARNES, that he’d drawn on my lining. He had used Tip-Ex to write it after I’d been given to him at the end of training. He pulled me onto his head, smoothed my side down flat and adjusted my cap badge above his left eye.
You walked us up onto the smooth tarmac and started to run, pushing down through us, gaining height, and then you leant forward to turn the height into forward motion. And I compressed under you and sprang you on, clicking with each step, whipping over the tarmac and down, bounce and on.
I fluttered off the stick they had pushed into the ground above the graves of the two young friends. Other flags were planted in the cemetary on the hill that overlooked the shimmering grid of irrigation and the patchwork of green fields, but I was the newest.
Rock, mud and bone thrashed past me as I swung out around your neck on my chain.
I had been on her table for over a week. She’d tried to write on me but never got beyond Dear Tom.
The rollers dragged me in and I was under the printer head as it swept across me. It propelled tiny jets of ink onto my surface, forced out of the cartridge by superheated explosions. It fired millions of these from its microscopic nozzles in spurts of primary colour that grouped to form an image on me.
You could feel me snaking from your groin across your abdomen and you counted the chords and pipes that fed in or out of you, each one invading your sense of self.
I existed for a fraction of a moment. I was created by an explosive reaction from a device that functioned to form me.
I was printed and strapped to ninety-nine identical others in a bundle of a thousand. My bundle was one of four in the brick that was shrinkwrapped with many more onto a wooden pallet. Together we were worth millions.
My first purpose was to hold my head down against the ground as I brushed sand out of a small, dirty room. It was an endless battle against the hot wind that curled around the doorframe.
What I showed was different from how he imagined himself. He saw the freakishly short limbs and the space between them and the floor, where he used to exist. He knew I reflected what others saw, and it shocked him.
I’m a mix of red and white blood cells, clotting factors, plasma and platelets. Gravity fed my contents down a tube. It dripped through the cylinder flow-regulator and cannula, down into you to replace what you lost when they disfigured you.
Ahead, a small hole of light shone at the end of a silver right-hand spiral. The weapon wobbled, then steadied, and my cap was hit by the firing pin. My propellant charge ignited, burnt and split me in two, sending the front half down the barrel.
I was there as BA5799 ran along the wall. My overhanging rim cut his vision as a black horizontal blur and my chinstrap bounced up against his stubble as he pounded onto each stride. I was his window on soldiering: the straps that held me to him framed the action.
UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle)
I cruised at 165 knots and the wind howled around me. A thermal buffeted me, my aileron twitched and I levelled out in a holding pattern above a grid I’d been sent to because the troops below were in contact. I was there to support them.
I glinted at him. I am an operational service medal, a thirty-six-millimetre-wide silver disk with a crowned effigy on my front. I have a clasp with the name of a country embossed on it and a three-coloured ribbon folded into a square that rested in his palm.
My NSN is 7105-99-383. I was one of the first to arrive at the base. They unloaded me from an ISO container and threw me in a pile with all the others. Around us, an excavator was filling protective walls with rubble and helmeted men erected antennas by a command post.
Electronic Prosthetic Knee
My sensors can feel the angle of the floor, the speed you’re walking and the slope we’re on. I can prevent you from stumbling and stabilise you on stairs. I adapt to you.
My warps were strung vertically on a loom. Three women worked on me. They hooked out my upright threads and knotted dyed wool to them, cutting away the loose ends with a flick of a knife. They threaded weft horizontally to hold me together and banged me down with a heavy comb to compact my knots. I slowly grew up from the ground.
He felt my cover. It was still damp from the last time he’d worn me. He sighed, lifted me up, pulled apart my protective plates and dropped me over his head. I passed his face and he smelt the sharp odour he’d layered into me over the last two months. He liked my smell; it was experience and survival.
In the beginning, I was mostly in the Atlantic. I evaporated and travelled as moisture across the ocean towards an island where I formed part of a grey cloud that scudded across winter fields.
He used me to clear tracks in the foam and cut the beard away, curving me carefully around the hollows and contours of his son’s jaw.
I was placed on BA5799. I was turned. I tightened. I closed around his leg until his pulse pushed up against me. And he grimaced and whimpered through gritted teeth. I was wound tighter, gripping his thigh; stopping him bleeding out into the dust.
I was ridden around a city that pulsed with the fumes of stationary traffic and the incessant horns of tuktuks. A man rode me through this to work but one day I was stolen and loaded onto a truck with many others like me.
He checked me one last time, pressing my light button so I glowed 21:47:34 at him.
I am an aerial photograph, taken from a satellite, depicting a network of ditches and walls . Most of me is covered in fields crossed with roads and bridges over blue rivers and paths that ghost into the desert.
I was cotton and laminated plastic, rubber with foam, chunky and gleaming with black ticks on each flank. I was alien among a sea of worn leather sandals that shuffled between the stalls.
We were pressed together in a row and light distorted through us in greys and blues and bright refractions. The room below me bulged around my surface as it was reflected through me.
I spread out into the hypoxic and devitalised tissue of your leg. I made you feverish and feasted unseen on your insides, defeating you. I made you wish you’d never survived.
My aperture was filled with stars. I changed the frequency of the photons that entered my vacuum tube so their signature wa amplified as a noisy green image.
I rotated end over end and plopped into an irrigation ditch. I sank into the silt at the bottom and started to corrode.
You placed your hands on my rings and pushed my wheels around and reversed me away from the bed. Then you pushed down with your left hand, my castors flicked around and I turned to the right and rolled into the centre of the bay.
You improved on me but you became thinner. The pressure I exerted on you, and the weight you lost from the energy I used, made your stump shrink. I could no longer support you properly and the end of your stump jarred painfully into the bottom of my socket.
I was fired at soldiers. I was fired into the air to celebrate weddings. I might or might not have killed anyone. For years I hung off the shoulder of a shepherd in the mountains and I seized up. But I was found and cleaned and given to Aktar.
High Frequency Radio
00000IIII00II0I. Switched on. Initialised.
I was in an olive-green day-sack. BA5799 crouched over me. He looked at my screen and recognised the encryption and my digital display changed to the time and date and showed the downloaded frequency.
IED (Improvised Explosive Device)
A circuit was created that filled my wires instantly.
I was alive.
The metal rod at the heart of me detonated, a controlled high-explosive force that triggered the mix in me to react.
Your mouth had dirt in it and a blade of grass. I slid past the laryngoscope that directed me into you. I scraped down through you, grazing your voice box, past your glottis, down through your trachea, until I reached the top of your lungs.
I was covered in foreign dust and he left me beside a camp bed in the small room dug into a compound wall. A camel spider crawled across the ground and felt with its hairy legs up and over me.
Anatomy of a Soldier is a moving, enlightening and fiercely dramatic novel about one man’s journey of survival and the experiences of those around him. Forty-five objects, one unforgettable story.
Order your copy here.