Soldier Mine (Chapter One: Petr, page 1 of 5)

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"Any questions?" I ask.

The classroom of high school freshmen students is quiet to the point of enraptured after hearing my tale. Their teacher is at the back of the room, looking as if she can't decide whether to be upset or likewise intrigued by what I've shared today. Almost everyone is staring at the metal leg that replaced my real one over a year and a half ago.

"Can you run on it?" someone pipes up.

"Even better than a real leg," I reply.

"If you lost both legs, do they have a left leg or just right legs?"

Someone tells the boy his question is stupid. It's one I hadn't thought of before now, and I laugh. "Hopefully they have left legs for people who lose their left one."

"Is that … skin? Like an android?" one boy asks finally, studying the rubber components of the prototype prosthetic.

"Come on up and see!" I slap the robotic leg that replaced the one blown off near the hip while on a mission in Iraq. It's sturdy and has the appearance of flesh-toned rubber beside space age technology. Boys find it fascinating while girls tend to focus on whether or not I'm still in pain.

After several dozen school visits, I'm no longer surprised by the reactions or the oddness of their questions. It's an honor to serve my country in this capacity, since I'm no longer able to serve it in the field running operations as a Special Forces soldier.

A line forms instantly, made up of boys. The girls hedge around them and me. I sit on a stool and stretch out the robotic leg. It reflects the latest in experimental technology, capable of responding much like a leg should. The appearance, however, is not yet as refined as the technology.

"It looks like Star Wars stuff," one of the boys says, touching the titanium alloy of the thigh.

"It's close."

"Does it hurt?" one of the girls asks.

"Nope," I reply cheerfully.

My answer emboldens them, and the kids crowd around my extended leg in curiosity.

The teacher is grimacing squeamishly as she nears, the normal reaction from an adult. I see her from the corner of my eye and smile to myself. Kids are a lot more fun than adults when it comes to telling them about my leg. There are no pitying or horrified looks from school-aged children, no uncomfortable reassurances that everything will be all right or worst of all, exclusions because they assume I'm less of a person.

I'm not. My leg is gone, but I'm still me. I don't know how to explain that to people, though.

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