My first memories were of the war, of lining the extensive web of ditches, shoulders squarely set against those of the soldiers on either side. Upon orders yelled above the din we all brandished our new rifles, climbed over the walls and charged as wild boars through tall grass into the wild, red beyond. We knew no fear and no anxiety. It was in our coding.
Ordinance dropped from heaven on high, shredding soldiers upon impact, leaving craters filled with leaflets of pseudo-epidermis and shattered iron. I fired ahead at the stationed targets while charging in a zigzag. This too came as natural as a newborn suckling. Somehow I just knew what to do. The location ahead must be captured at all costs.
It was then I fell. My legs gave way and I toppled forward into the grass. When I looked down, my left leg laid adrift, detached and sawn asunder by machine gun fire. There was neither pain nor shock, but instead remained a drive to move forward. I pushed up and hopped on my one good leg. Within seconds another rain of metal teeth cleaved me across the chest and I fell upon the grass. My energy left me and my vision blurred to stark gray before settling upon dusk and then black. I was Pvt. 1st Class S7839, and I was no more.
Upon waking I discovered not only had I been spared a military melting, as happens with most manufactured soldiers who fall in the field, but I had been given upgrades and was now under new ownership. I had not been trashed for spare parts and neither was my designation S7839 anymore.
My new owner was a trained third generation toymaker by the name of Eunice. She too named me: Ajax. Over a lengthening shadow of weeks she mended my broken chassis, replaced cracked or missing gears, and eventually repaired my outer husk of false skin so as to appear presentably human. The only thing yet missing was my leg. Eunice fashioned a light prosthetic connecting from my knee to the ground, a peg leg with a spring foot. Her slender, arthritic fingers were unable to keep up with the repairs and so she equipped me to perform the work both on myself and building windup toys of all kinds. As one final kindness, Eunice gifted my skin with the sense of touch, a hitherto anomaly to my brain circuit. I had never known such overwhelming sensations. The prick of pain and the caress of compassion shocked my awareness of my own existence.
One evening I sat at the table assembling windup mice as she rocked in her chair by the fire. I could see her thoughts askance, veiled and somewhere distant entirely.
“Eunice,” I said.
“Why didn’t you have my memory wiped after you bought me? Why have you let me remember the war?”
She rocked, back and forth, and she closed her eyes. “Because everyone has a history, Ajax. You came from somewhere. You experienced things. I may own you according to the paper hanging on the wall, but I don’t own your memories. Those belong to you alone.”
I never asked her again.