Monday, December 31, 2012

Marine at War is free

Here's how you can kick off the new year: From January 1st to January 3rd, Marine at War is free. I've got a goal in mind this time- cracking the top 100 free kindle books, for all three days.
Marine at War is a novel based on my own experiences, in the early days after 9/11, in Afghanistan and the United States. If you've been following this blog, I've been serializing the sequel-in-spirit, Video Game Crusader, if not, then I encourage you to start reading, so you know what the fuss is all about when I win that there Pulitzer.

Video Game Crusader- Chapter 17

Lt. Easter walked on patrol in a half daze. Things had changed in the daylight. There were bodies in the streets.
It wasnt as if a crowd had been shot and killed, or laid down in a mass grave. It was more like a single man had laid down and died, or, more likely, been shot to pieces. In so many cases the haajis had been torn apart by the gunfire. He wondered, had he ordered this? More likely, whenever a target was available, they had focused fire on it, until the thing simply burst to pieces.
There seemed to be a great moral quandary among the Marines. To look, or not. To stare, or not, and make a comment. A few men were taking pictures. He thought about that notion. If you had a picture to prove you were in Iraq, and had been in combat. But wasnt your mind taking a picture, right now? There was a line being drawn in the sand. On the one side were the Marines who took pictures of the corpses. These were the people who believed life was generally the way it was in the States, safe and secure at home, with death being something that one did in hospitals. To them the deployment was still an adventure, and the picture would be a momento of the adventure, like the last screenshot of the final kill in a Call of Duty deathmatch. On the other side were the Marines that chose not to take pictures, and look away. To them Fallujah was the greater reality. Man was meat and bone, nothing more, and when the flesh was dismantled, man was gone. The illusion of safety in first world countries was a lie. In time, although they could not know it then, on patrol, almost every member of Chosin company would come to find the realization of the second group, in barfights, mental wards, or jail cells. But for the moment Lt. Easter had no pictures of any of this. He thought if he could have one, it would be of him hiding under a table, while Lt. Slayton charged off into mortar fire with his flask and no rifle. He had lost many of his illusions since then.
The beginning of the battle of Fallujah, the opening night, had not been a grand battle with his men sweeping house to house, as he had thought. They had cleared exactly one house. The M1 abrams tank had done most of the clearing for them, reducing the lone haaji to pulp. Then they had sat there and exchanged fire all night. They had suffered two wounded. Sgt. White had to be evacuated for a wound to the leg, and Lance Corporal Lopez had suffered a stray bullet to his shoulder, that had ripped out a chunk of meat. Lopez had refused to leave the platoon, and merely accepted a bandage. Easter wondered about the purple heart citation. Would he write it up, himself, or would Major Fight want to do it?
There had been some chatter on the radio earlier about the Company. Third Platoon had come across an IED in an alley and a PFC had lost both his legs. Weapons Platoon had a machine gunner on a humvee turret shot clear through the skull, just under the helmet. Thinking about it put a chill in his heart. What were the odds. Just above the rim of the helmet, and you probably could get away with a concussion. Just below, and you were dead. Who decided those things? God or fate, whose responsibility was it, to say which person got to live? The haajis in the street, dead, they believed in a God that wrote everything down at the start, and knew in advance who would and wouldnt make it. Who would become a picture for a momento somewhere on the internet, for one Marine to pass on to another.
The town looked vague in front of him. Buildings seemed to possess the no-color of sand, even when they were white or tan. As if the desert could rise up and claim everything around, altogether. Odle was on the radio. "There's a new objective, sir." He said. "Two clicks east."
"Another building?"
"It sounds like it."
The two clicks were spent patrolling the city. rifle Muzzles raised down different streets, half- expecting contact at any minute. At one point, a stray shot rang out, and contact was called. But it was never determined where it came from, or what direction. It was entirely possible the round was spent hundreds of yards away, by a Marine or Soldier in another part of the city, and had simply continued to travel. It was also possible a sniper was watching the patrol the entire time, and had let loose a stray, while aiming in at the Lt.'s head. There was no way of knowing. All they could do was continue the patrol, until the objective was reached.
There was a ring of humvee's, on the far street. Most of the Marines were hunkered down taking cover behind them. "Hurry up!" Came across the radio, and Kurre gave the signal to double-time. The Marines were running now, hurridly sprinting down the street. A shot came down from the end, where the obective was. The gunner behind the fifty cal turret let out a blaat in response. If this were a movie it would be all shaky-cam view, with mud and dirt flying up to hit the lense. As it is not, each Marine feels his heart pound, with the weight, the sheer weight of fifty pounds of gear, dragging your shoulders and compressing your vertebrea, destroying the cartilage in your knees. For everything a price is paid. Somehow Conner is smiling, underneath his Oakley's and thinking how cool, how cool, how cool is this.
The fire dies down. One of the haajis is screaming something inside the building. The fifty gunner on the humvee calls back, "Fuck your mother!"
"We got a CO?" One of the guys Easter recognizes from earlier, on the rooftop. "An LT."
"Here." Easter says, careful not to raise his head too high. "I'm here."
"We need that building cleared out." He said. "Its high-priority."
"How many are inside?" Easter asks. Noticing Kurre isnt here. Where is Kurre?
"At least four tangoes." The guy says. "One with an MG."
Lazirko is here. "What about a tank?" He asks. "Or some kind of support."
The psyops guy shakes his head. "Its HVT." He says. "There's intel in there we need. We cant level the joint first." Another burst of fire comes out, splitting everyones concentration.
"Is there another entrance?" Lazirko asked. "Or a way up on the roof?"
"Its just the front."
Easter mind snapped clear, all at once, to what was being said. Just the front. Just the front door, where the ragheads would be waiting. Just the front entrance, where AK's were already being aimed. A name came back, from the pre-deployment training. The fatal funnel of fire. That was it, really and truly it. He imagined a cone where bullets were being poured in, fresh from Wal-Mart factory packages, and emerged from the other side at the speed of sound, with the funnel end aimed at his forehead, turning what was in it into something resembling pulped watermelon.
****
The mission of the Marine Corps rifle company is to locate, close with, and destroy the enemy with firing manuever, or to repel the enemies assault by firing close combat. In the end, what simply happened happened, regardless of what was best, or optimal, or what would have worked or saved lives. The Marines did what they had to do.
The designated Marksmen and the heavy gun on the humvee repositioned slightly, just enough to give them a direct view of the buildings front. They elements started suppressive fire. The purpose of suppresive fire is too lay down continuous fire on the enemy, in order to prevent his own fire, or to make him to take cover. The purpose of putting your finger on the trigger of any firearm, at any time, is to kill. The Marines were trying very hard to do that. To kill. The fifty cal gunner was unleashing poom poom poom and the Designated Marksmen were letting go a snap-crack, snap-crack, aiming at doors, through windows, at any object that showed itself throughout or looked like it would show itself. At the same moment of time, the Marines in first platoon were running. Double-time, it was called it the Corps, a heavy, stomping run. A run while you held on to your M16 rifle or M249 SAW with both hands, and listened to the bullets crack. As you ran toward them. Toward the edge of the building. As he ran, Easter grew flustered. He fumbled in his pack for the sign. The red smoke grenade. Gone. It wasnt in his pack, it was strapped to a pouch on his chest. He let go of his M4 carbine, panicked again, thinking the object would clatter to the ground. Instead the sling caught it like a yo-yo, and slapped it against his body armor. He threw the silver canister underhand, it bounced once, in the street, and spewed forth red smoke like colorful flatulance. The fire ceased from across the way, and for reasons Easter did not fully understand, not would ever figure out, he was the first one in the stack, through the door. After that it becomes a matter of which events would become seared in his mind, for eternity, and which ones would be forgotten.
Seared: The room was empty. A spiral staircase barks and flashes light, and bites him in the side.
Unrealized: The insurgents had retreated to the second floor. They had captured a SAW from a fallen soldier, earlier in the conflict. when Easter showed up in the doorway, at that fatal fire, the insurgent had held down the trigger. It should have killed his enemy, the foe, the Marine, but the haaji had only been trained once, in Pakistan, and then poorly. He had never bothered to look down the sights of his weapon before, or establish a proper trigger pull. Instead he simply squeezed, aiming in a general, pointed direction, and the bullets tore through the meat of Easter's bicep, into the stock of his M4 carbine, and amputating two fingers from his left hand. But as too his enemies continued life, the haaji was unaware as well, because Easter simply slipped to the side, spurting blood. The next man came through the door, and as he fired, the gentle hand of his colluague, a man called Omar, rolled a grenade down the staircase.
This, too, was seared in Easters brain, before he lost consciousness. Before he woke up in a hospital in Germany, thinking, where's my rifle, where's my rifle, and found out that his right arm was gone, up to the shoulder. The hand grenades lazy bounce. The staircase was disturbingly ornate, done in black metal with gilded leaves. And every third or fourth step, the grenade clattered, rolling down like a baseball. Every precious second wasted. Easter thought, in that time, this is my last thought, these are my mens last thoughts. We are going to die together. And then the way Lopez dives on the grenade, covering it up with the meat of his stomach, and both hands. A muffled explosion, that spews out a rorshach blend of red from underneath the stomach-down Marine.
The final bit belongs to the haajis in the second floor, and the quick trained mind of Sgt. Lazirko. A wooden flooring may conceal your body, but it will not stop a bullet. And Lazirko simply fires upwards, when he enters the room correctly, after seeing first his Lt. fall, and then Lopez, and sees the SAW, and fires through the ceiling. The next man is Fonseca, who does the same. They do not aim, but in a direction of ceiling drywall, and upstairs, all that it seems is that the floor is deciding to explode and bite them from underneath, the first man is shot in the gut, he starts to scream. Omar gets up to run, and falls down. His foot is bleeding, not from crucifixion, but where a bullet has pierced it. The Fallujah floors are shoddy, and when he falls there is a distinct thud, that cannot be anything but what it truly is, a man falling down. And this one belongs to Conner, the next man in the stack, who hears the thud, and aims his own weapon with as little care as the haaji before him, holding the trigger down. And the effect is horrible, upstairs, the man called Omar, a real human being with thoughts and dreams, and a family, and a wife that would have loved him. Becomes hamburger. Burnt hamburger, because Conner does whats known as going cyclic with the SAW, holding down the trigger until all two hundred rounds are exhausted from the drum and the barrel glows red hot, causing each round to come through hotter and hotter until Omar's body becomes a parody of the fate that awaits his soul later, burning, in hell.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Free book for New Years!

Amped Up, one of the books I released this year, is completely free from December 31 to January 2nd. Thank you to all my fans and readers, to anyone out there who has bought one of my books or read this blog. The world didnt end with the Mayan calendar after all, so lets celebrate!

Video Game Crusader- Chapter 16

16
"Haakumph. Your name?"
"Raul Lopez. My friends call me Ra."
"Are you with this unit."
"Yeah. I'm a Lance Corporal in second squad."
"Whats that flak on your-your vest?"
"This is the flag of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation."
"Is that a- some sort of group."
"Its a group at war with the government in Chiapas."
"What country?"
"Chiapas is in Mexico."
"Its like the poorest part of mexico. Its the state where my parents were from."
"Huh."
"My mom crossed the border to have me and my sister. That makes us anchor babies, if your one of those right wing mother fuckers."
"..."
"What the Zapatistas believe, is that basically, people should have their own control of where they live. The area, I mean. The rich shouldnt be able to exploit the poor. Women should have the same rights as men. Its the sort of basic Anarchistic Socialism that goes back to Mayan times.
"Sounds like Karl Marx."
"Its not fascist communism. Its almost the opposite of communism, where you have the government, one leader, telling everyone in a country what the fuck to do. Here you have the people deciding what to do, for each other."
"..."
"So, my dad and my mom, were undocumented, right? 'illegal' or whatever, like being a person can make you illegal. And my dad was the one that had the idea that we should go to the US. He believed in the land of the free, opprotunity, all that shit. So he busts his ass on the lowest of the low, construction, landscaping. All the shit that white people dont want to do, but they bitch about one of us doing it. And thats the freedom America gave him, the freedom to work at the bottom forever. It was either that, or the freedom to starve."
"But you could say that he worked for a better life, for you and your sister."
"What better life? We went to a shitty school. My sister got caught up with these idiots, and had this fucking drug dealers baby. He's in jail and out of the picture. She's on the county and just has a GED."
"hakuumph! On the county?"
"Its an expression. It means on welfare."
"Ah."
"My dad gets lung cancer from smoking all his goddamn life. My mom has to watch these white peoples kids, these rich white people, while they treat her like shit."
"So you think this- this Zapata stuff- Hakuumph!"
"Look, man. I'm a realist. I know the people with the power and the money, arent going to give that shit up. Its not like their going to admit one day, 'okay, yeah, were fucktards.' They get points for calling me an anchor baby and my mom and dad parasites, while making them wage slaves. Its the way of the world. But if you call things what they are, I mean, call a spade a spade, you can make that much right."
"Haakumph!"
"I mean, look at the Marines. I run fast and do a lot of pull ups. I shoot a rifle pretty well and do what I'm told. The military likes that and says I'm doing a good job. It doesnt take anything else into account. Thats how things should be! Thats how the world should work. We recognize people for their ability, and what they contribute. Not for where their from. But it wont happen."
"How do you feel about Iraq?"
"Hey, man...their just the ones getting fucked, right now. After this, like, for five or ten years, America's going to take a break, and make movies, and build statues. Then after its all forgotten, were going to strap on that big green dildo, and fuck another country in the ass."
"Why is the dildo green?"
"Sorry. Its a Marine expression, the green dildo, or green weenie."
"Huh."
"But anyway, Iraq is totally arbitrary. It could be anywhere in the world."

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Video Game Crusader- Chapter 15

15
He looked at the pills in the palm of his hand. There were three of them, unique as snowflakes.
The first was Prazosin. Prazosin came in a capsule like certain kinds of Tylenol. It was grey. Prazosin helped with the nightmares, supposedly, but when he took it he didnt have any sort of dreams at all. He had been proud of his dreams, once. He was a lucid dreamer, with the freedom to do and create in the dream world. But now it was all about Iraq and twisted. So he needed the Prazosin.
The second was Citalopram. Citalopram was the generic version of Cylexia. It was a white round pill, and could have been anything. Citalopram was an anti-depressent. He didnt feel depressed, but this one Dr. Robinson said he prescribed to most his patients with PTSD. Citalopram had knocked him on his ass, at first, sending him into ten-hour-long naps, but lately it didnt seem to do too much at all.
The third was Risperidone. Risperidone as an anti-psychotic. It was a small pink tab with a bend in the middle, a unique looking substance. This one zonked him out good. He felt numb while taking it, like he was underneath a warm bath. The effect lasted all day, and this one also sent him into a ten hour rest period. There was an additional side effect, he had put on a hefty amount of weight since taking it. Dr. Robinson told him only a small percentage of his patients were on this one, which made Conner feel even worse, but he took it anyway. He took them all because, despite everything, the pills worked, the evened him out. There were prices to be paid for everything. He put the pills back in their containers, resolving to take them later.
Joanna was on the hospital bed. She was moaning and quietly calling him over. He went and asked what she wanted.
"Ice." She said. "Give me the ice chips."
"The nurse said your not supposed to eat or drink anything."
"JAMES!"
"Yes?"
"Bring me ice chips."
He picked up the small plastic container from its place beside the bed. It was bone dry and empty. He walked out the room, telling her he was going to be right back. The dispenser was easy to find. The hospital in Browning wasnt very large. He filled it with ice chips, and brought it back to her, picking up one of them, and placing it in her mouth. She crunched through it like a child with a sucker.
"Keep em' coming." She said.
After he fed her half the bucket, the nurse barged in. "You no eat!" She proclaimed. "Docler says you no eat." She was philipino, and squat in a way that made her essentially formless. Her mouth was drawn down in a tight frown, to which it looked like she had added lipstick to the top and bottom corner, where there still remained a vestigial amount of lips. Conner retreated to his chair, in the corner of the room. "I didnt eat." Joanna protested. "It was only ice."
"You no eat and no dlink." The nurse said. "I check dilation."
The nurse whisked the blanket away, revealing the horror underneath, where the doctor had stuffed a bag into his wifes holiest of holies, and where tubing now dangled. She put on a pair of surgical gloves, and Conner couldnt help but notice her fingers, short and squat, each and everyone one of them the sort of digit usually found as a big toe. With no fanfare the nurse jammed the hand into Joanna's twat, and his wife groaned in displeasure.
"You no dilated." The nurse said, in disgust. "We wait more hour."
"How long?" Conner asked.
"More hour!" The nurse replied.
He sat in the chair and waited. His mind raced back over the previous months. Today was September 21st. Ten days after his birthday. Jo had baked him a birthday cake, pregnant as she was. His son would turn out to be a Virgo, like him. Most of the bad vibes of September would be gone by then, or at least by the time he was an adult. Did anyone care about December Seven, anymore? It was one more date. A single date, possibly mentioned on the twenty-four hour news cycles. But it was a big world, and there was most likely some major calamity for someone on every number.
More hour turned out to be overnight. He took the pills and slept as well as he could in the big chair in the delivery room. His wife was moaning in fits. The drugs they were giving here produced contractions, but no results. She had had no labor pains before. The baby did not want to leave. It had been nine months, but the wombs was comfortable enough. Joanna felt terrible. She woke her husband up regularly to demand ice chips. Let that philipino bitch try to stop her. She would shoot out this parasite in the woman's face, and be done with it.
In the morning Dr. Oliver stopped by. "Good morning!" She called out. "How were we last night, mom? and dad?"
Conner said nothing. Joanna was biting her tongue with rage. Dr. Oliver was immaculate, dressed in a designer number with a pair of cute shoes, and a wonderful hairstyle that may or may not have been a weave. She saw the hostility in the room, and dodged it expertly.
"So, I can see that the dilation isnt getting any better." She said. "We may want to talk about C-section."
"Yes!" Jo said. "Get this sucker out!"
"Oh?" Oliver frowned, flipping through her chart. "I thought you wanted a natural birth?"
"Nope." Jo said. "That wasnt me."
"That wasnt her." Conner said, helpfully.
"Drugs." Jo added. "Epedural, right now, and cut this sucker out."
"All right!" The doctor added, still cheerful. "Lets do that. Lets have a baby."
****
After the epidural Jo started to snore, a kind of deep full body rasp that would normally be found among lumberjack's warming up their chainsaws. The nurse gave Conner a set of blue scrubs. He took a picture of himself for facebook before going into the surgery room. He looked at his phone curiously, somehow he had managed to avoid using the thing for the entire twenty-four hours they had been in the hospital. It seemed to be a record for him, at least, in his civilian life.
Inside the surgery room the doctors had arranged a sort of tent around where they were working, and told Conner to "Stay by the head." That was all that was visible. His wifes drooling, snoring, head. He remembered something she had said months ago, about getting her hair done before having the baby. That hadnt happened. It was nap-tastic, pulled out in every direction. A sudden queasiness came over him, would she want a picture, with the baby? Should he crop out her hair in it?
The doctors mumbled to each other. One of them said, "You got him?" And the other answered, "I've got him. Big pull." Conner's curiousity overwhelmed him. He peeked over the sheet. The doctors hands were in a hole in his wifes stomach, pulling something lumpy out. Jo's eyes flew open. "Ouch!" She said.
"Ouch!"
"Ouch!"
"Ouch!"
When they baby was held to the light, it was far less messy than all the horrible medical shows had conditioned Conner to believe. There wasnt even a lot of blood. It was just a small baby, not even that small, face squinched up like a bulldog, eyes firmly shut. The baby opened his mouth and went
"Yawp!"
A little cry, and the doctor laughed, "Okay dad, here you go!" And, wrapped in a blanket, Conner held his
Son
Who was small and perfect. Who resembled neither him or his wife, nothing but a baby, but his baby. A piece of him. Something he had cast off. He could see the future, now. Something that would survive him. He held the baby next to his wifes head, and told her, "Look honey."
And showed her what had happened. His wife said, "Awww." and
"My baby."
And gave the newborn a kiss, a moment that Conner captured in a picture. After that she closed her eyes back to sleep. They put his new baby in a clear plastic bed, and wheeled him out of there. "Come on dad." One of the nurses said, almost bubbly with cheer. Everyones happy, Conner thought. It must be a good job to have. At least when everything turns out well.
This nurse cleaned off the baby with a towel and looked him over. Conner had the same chance, to look at his son deeply. His heart skipped a beat, when he realized that the nurse was looking for defects. "Okay." The nurse said. "There's a little tiny birthmark here." She pointed to the baby's back. "Not large enough to really be seen, and its not red." Where she pointed, Conner couldnt see anything.
"Thats all right." Conner said. "As long as he's healthy." He felt stupid after saying it. It was the sort of generic observation every parent to be makes. As long as its healthy. As long as it possesses all its eyes and ears, fingers and toes, all in the right amount and in good order. But somehow he never doubted it, or questioned it. Joe did. She had her moments. But not him.
"You know." Whispered the nurse, conspiritorally, "I cant find a trace of color anywhere on him."
"What color are his eyes?" Conner asked.
"Blue." Said the nurse. "They might change, later."
So this was it, Conner thought. A blue-eyed, light skinned child, with a black woman. If the roles where reversed- that is, if he was the black one, with a white wife, he would have cause for concern. Possibly hauling his wife off to one of those reality shows she enjoyed, where the entire purpose was to announce "In the case of..." And announce the childs name, followed by an overly dramatic reading of parentage. Evidence of fatherhood. The woman would crow, and he would hang his head in his hands, or the woman would scream, and run backstage, and he would celebrate with an impromptu dance, with all the joy overflowing in his soul of being able to once again escape the consequences of unprotected intercourse. But the child favored him, so everything was fine.
He gave the name for the birth certificate. Caleb Arthur Conners. Caleb because it was from the Bible, which meant his mother would accept it, and it was also the only name they had both agreed on. He had originally wanted Dylan for a boy or a girl, Jo had wanted Savannah for a girl, Demetrius for a boy. He had made the mistake of saying Demetrius was to ethnic. This led to a fight, because, according to Jo, ethnic was code for ghetto which was code for black, which meant that you thought black was bad, and Joanna's uncle was named Demetrius, a kind, sweet man, who had made his living as a cook, which was more than Conner was able to do, seeing as how he was somehow incapable of feeding himself, etc. etc. The matter was tearfully resolved later.
Here, now, a trio of family. Conner resolved to capture everything. He wanted to hold this moment deep within himself, and make it the new fucrum of his existence. But the war was still there. The war was in him, in the flesh and under his skin, and even when he was here, at the hospital, he was still Over There in Iraq, or Afghanistan, where nothing ever ended. But while he was Over There he was only Over There, so he wasnt in two places at once, not really. He was one-quarter in one place and three-quarters in the past, at war, and in danger of being sucked in completely.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Video Game Crusader-Chapter 14

14
Conner had the shits.
He had been very careful not to eat anything all day. The virus, whatever it was, was working its way out of his system. It had made rounds throughout every member of the platoon, and finally landed on him, one day before the Operation was going to kick off in earnest. Sgt. Lazirko had called him over to talk to him about it.
"Are you going to be able to handle this?" He asked.
"Yes, Sgt." He replied.
"If you cant do it, let me know now. You can stay behind with Harshbarger and guard the gear."
Conner's mind recoiled. Stay with Harshbarger? Harshbarger, who had decided that he was a consciountous objector? Harshbarger, who most of the platoon called 'faggbagger' behind his back? Harshbarger, who even managed to smoke a cigarette like a woman, with a bent wrist? "I'm good to go." He insisted, again. "I'll be ready for it."
But now the waiting was weighing him down. They had staged at zero five hundred near the front gate, waiting for the word to go in. The AMRAPS didnt arrive until zero eight. An AMRAP was a sort of armored personnel carrier, that was supposedly amphibious. It resembled nothing more than a metal box with wheels. After the AMRAP's arrived, instead of an attack happening, the Marines were handed MRE's for lunch chow. Conner packed his away in his daypack, and only went to the port-a-shitters when a group was ready, to not make a big deal. But when he did the act of crapping was so big a relief he nearly cried, even though there was nothing left in his intestines but water and bile, by this time. When he got back everyone was sitting down, or leaning against the AMRAP for support. He didnt need to ask for the word, the word was wait.
At twelve hundred, they handed out ammunition. Enough to top off anyone that needed it, and grenades. After that some excited chatter moved back and forth through the waiting Marines, but soon died down. Nothing was happening, again. By sixteen hundred almost all the Marines had taken a seat on their helmets or daypacks, and nothing had happened some more. Another MRE was handed out to each man.
At seventeen hundred Staff Sgt. Kurre had drawn up the outlines of a basic room with his foot in the sand and was conducting room clearing exercises with the platoon. It was a simple enough manuever to go over. How to stack on a door, clear a room, check the corners and the ceiling, announce 'clear' to the next Marine. all of this Conner had been over many times, as had everyone else, but still the fuckups managed to fuckup, namely Dula, who never seemed to get anything just right, and Fonseca. Devening would have fucked up as well, but he was in Germany with a missing eye.
At nineteen hundred the AMRAP drivers let down the back of the ramps into their vehicles and the Marines piled in. Many of them started to sleep immediatedly. Conner couldnt sleep, still. He was overhyped with what was going on. Sawyer and Jerel Swinney were having a heated debate next to him about the existence of God, or politics or something. The squad leaders were looking around to see what was happening. It was getting hard to see, until Conner realized that the sun was going down, and he was still wearing his Oakley sunglasses. He was suddenly fautigued. The entire day he had been fighting his asshole, fighting its urge to open wide and let loose whatever was left in his colon. He could imagine his sphincter as an actual muscle now, rebellious, and angry. Occasionally Conner would let out a fart, a great big hrumphing flatulence that somehow no one would notice, or comment on. Afterwards he would feel dizzy, and the only sustenance he would allow himself was a sip from his Camelbak hose. Sgt. Lazirko thumped him on his knee.
"An NVG check." He said. "Get em on your helmet mount."
Conner fumbled among his many pouches for his night vision goggles. He fumbled some more getting the helmet mount secured, where the NVG's would flip down so he could use them. Not that he would use them. Looking through NVG's at night was a way to completely kill your depth perception, with its single camera lense. The world appeared green and hazy. Worse, any source of light became a brilliant blinding torch with the night vision. It was an idea that appeared good on paper, or to on officer, but was totally useless in the practice. The older PVS-14 model had a single eye lense, so that when they were flipped down you could still retain your normal vision. But the company had decreed that all SAW gunners would have the newer model with dual eye lenses, and Conner was a SAW gunner, which meant that he was screwed for as long as someone would be watching to make sure he used them.
"Mine dont work, Sar'nt." Sawyer told Sgt. White, and Conner tried not to grin. Sawyer had clearly worked some sort of sabotage earlier, possibly beating the lense against a cement barrier, or stepping on it with his boots until in snapped.
"Use your extra batteries."
Sawyer fumbled with these a minute, and then said, triumphantely, "Those dont work either."
"Just put it on your helmet mount." White said, "For uniformity."
"I dont have a helmet mount."
"Why dont you have a helmet mount?" Kurre snapped, now involved in the conversation.
"They ran out when I went to supply, Staff Sergeant." Sawyer said, lifting up a mass of straps and plastic. "I've got this thing."
"Thats a head mount." Kurre said. "Put it on under your helmet, and get yourself unfucked."
And thusly Sawyer was punished doubly for his transgression. The Marines had decreed that not only would he wear the non-functional goggles, but also that he would wear a sort of vise on his head, underneath his helmet, that would strive to render him totally useless in combat. This was done in the name of uniformity. If one member of the platoon was wearing NVG's, then the entire platoon needed to do the same.
Wearing night vision rendered the sights on your weapon mostly useless, as well. Some members of the platoon had a sort of infrared laser mounted to their rifles or SAW's, to compensate for this condition. The problem with that was that the laser beam was notoriously unreliable, for anything but the most point blank shooting. Conner was going to do without any of it. He had a surefire flashlight strapped to a pouch on his body armor. If the situation came up, he would flick it on. Other than that, he would use whatever lighting was available.
Conner fell asleep.
****
When he woke up someone was shaking his body armor back and forth and passing back a command with two upraised fingers. Two minutes. He had a blinding headache. The AMRAP was moving. In was not dignified in this effect. There were no windows in the vehicle, to see outside. The air was choked with the smell of diesel fumes. A single raised finger, this time, from Staff Sgt. Kurre.
One minute!
Things were revving inside Conner, as if an engine was being started. He listened hard, and over the sound of the AMRAP's diesel he could hear the braap braap of gunfire. One minute! he checked his SAW, racking the bolt to the rear. It was hungry now, ready to spit out two hundred rounds from the plastic drum. One minute! He tried to check everything from his gloves, with its plastic knuckles built for thumping. Were his boots tied? His boots were tied. His kneepads were fixed assuredly to his knees, the ballistic plates were in his vest. A new signal passed to the back benches.
Thirty seconds!
The AMRAP was lurching to a halt. He could feel the change. It was time to stand up. The engine gargled down, Conner swayed back and forth while standing, clutching slightly to Sawyers daypack. Thirty seconds! There was no time to think about his needs. There was no time to think about whether he was tired or not, whether he had to shit again. If he was ready to go to war. How he felt about killing. War was here, immenent, on the other side of the ramp. Now he could very much hear the exchange of fire, the way the enemy fired its AK's, and the slower semi-automatic burst fire of M16's and M4's. Then the ramp was down, Staff Sgt. Kurre was screaming go, go, go, or maybe move, move, move, it was impossible to say, and maybe not very important. When Conner stood, he suddenly felt entangled. Struggling, he realized that his helmet mounted NVG's had become entangled with the straps on Sawyers goggles. he bent back with a tug, and there was a loud tearing sound, and something fell to the ground, either Conner's NVG's or Sawyers helmet goggles. But there was no time to determine what it was. He was running, pounding the ground with his feet, Kurre was directing traffic, pointing in a direction "That way!" The night was hot and bright, overhead flares illuminating the world with the bloom of an artificial sun, sputtering for moments until rapid death. Then another.
He was stacked on a building. Someone was shouting at them, in arabic, inside. Lazirko was the first man, he gave it a hard mule kick. The door splintered, and fell of its hinges. Underneath was a wall of cinderblocks. With a pop pop pop, and a crack crack crack, Conner realized what was happening. They were taking fire from above, from the second floor. Kurre had his 16 up, and was firing through a window. "Get a SAW on that!" He screamed. "Cover that fucking thing!" And Conner realized
He was a
SAW
And raised the weapon deftly. It weighed less than it ever had before, somehow, and he slowly squeezed off a burst, then another, a braaap and a braaaaap, four or five rounds each, through the window, meanwhile the stack had peeled off the door, because there was no real way inside now, and others were firing. It was good to do this, to fire weapons at a something, a something that was trying to kill you. Everything was amplified more than usual, colors were brighter, he felt more alive than was previously reckoned possible.
"Get back!" Kurre said on the radio. "They bringing in a tank!"
A tank? Conner thought, feeling another thrill. And it was. An M1 Abrams wheeled up, the Marines scuttered to get to the minimum safe distance. The gun spoke, a clap of thunder that sent Conner's ears ringing. There was dust and debris from where the walled-up doorway had been, now stood a gaping hole. The Marines started to charge, discipline somewhat forgotten, not keeping proper dispersion, maybe, but trying to get in the hole, like sperm to a crevice, trying to get inside the objective, the building that needs to be cleared. Inside was the very strong smell of copper. The floor was slick with an unknown substance, and Sawyer skidded and fell, his feet sliding out from under him. Conner pulled him up from behind. They climbed the stairs to the second floor.
The platoon arranged themselves on the second floor of the building. The walls had been knocked down to make one large open room, and besides the obvious windows, slits had been hacked in the exterior walls to fire out of. Inside was half a heavy machine gun, on a tripod, and crates and crates of ammunition. Easter looked at it and whistled. "Is that what hit us?" He said. "Shit."
"Probably one guy with an AK, sir." Odle answered. "This thing looks like its mounted to the floor."
"Corpsman up!" Fonseca started screaming. "Look at Sawyer! Look at Sawyer!"
Staff Sergeant Kurre and the Corpsman went over to do just that. When Conner looked his heart skipped a beat. Under the light of the sure-fire flashlight, he could see that half the Marine's uniform was covered in blood. Kurre grabbed him and dragged him over. "Are you alright son?" He said, gently. "Where are you hit?"
"I feel okay." Sawyer said, his own heart in his throat. When they took of his vest and helmet, and looked under his shirt and trousers, there was no wound obvious.
"Hey Staff Sgt." Odle called out. "Look at the bottom of your boots."
Kurre looked and saw the whole thing thick with red gore. When he shined the light down on the floor there were red footprints criss crossing the cement. With his sure fire light, he went downstairs, and there he saw what the whole platoon had crossed, to get to their position. The insurgent was near liquified from the tank round. His blood and insides made a messy soup on the floor. There was a single bit of head and upper torse, which had landed somewhat intact, and Kurre could see the ugly details, how the glossy eye stared at him, behind the dead white skin, and behind it brains were visible, an entire section of brain, used to form whatever last thought the haaji had said before he stood behind a homemade wall that was no match for a tank. Kurre retched quickly. The vomit came up neat and bothered him little, and when it hit the floor it was not very distinct from the rest of the mess.
****
After the prolonged period of inactivity, and the sudden, violent movement that followed, there was another period of inactivity, that was shorter than the first one, but seemed longer thanks to the anticipation. During this time, Lt. Easter recieved new orders over the radio that his platoon was to stay inside the house for the rest of the night. The house was a major objective. The recon elements had seen the insurgents piecing together the machine gun inside, in the days leading up to the attack, and there was still a fear of the enemy retaking it and cutting off a choke point into the city. What was not known was that the gun had proven to be defective, and the insurgents had abandoned it, leaving behind only the token fighter who had been nearly disintigrated by the tank.
Conner had his SAW aimed down a field of fire that encompassed most of the intersection in front of the building. With the bipod legs extended, the weapon was resting comfortable in a firing position, with him prone on the floor. But everything hurt now. A low ache permeated his body, from every position it could. He was tired. He would wake suddenly only to wonder how long he had been out, and check the fields of fire, to see if anything had changed. He would check his watch, and it always showed the same time, near enough to one in the morning. He no longer felt like he had to shit, and that in itself was a blessing.
Next to him Ryan Sawyer was trying very hard not to thing about the very literal bloodbath he had taken, up the steps. He was covering near the same fields of fire as Conner, with his M203 grenade launcher. His night vision was gone, and he had torn off the head mount and put it in his daypack. In some part of his mind he was wondering how much trouble he would get into for missing the useless NVG's. Maybe his pay would be docked, the thousands of dollars they cost. When he looked around he could see that no one else in the platoon was using them, except for the Lt., who stared out of it while raising the single monocle to his eye, as if he were some sort of sea explorer for queen Elizabeth, and testing a spyglass for pirates.
His mind wandered. What had really happened, this night, anyway? He had gotten into an ill-smelling vehicle with no windows. He had ran outside and shot his weapon into a window, after someone had shot at him, which he felt but did not witness. A tank had fired through a door and he had climbed up a flight of stairs, through the tank-hole, and laid on the floor, where he had proceeded to fight sleep while staring out a window at an intersection.
What was the bigger story? Behind all this mess, what was the 'task force' doing? Why was this building important? Why was this street important? Why did this sad little town, this ingrateful little city of Fallujah, matter at all? Two Blackwater employees had been dismembered, torched, and hung from a bridge. Who were they?
Who was he?
A screaming comes across the street. The RPG goes fweeeeeeoooooohhWHYPGH and detonates on the first floor of the building across the way. Someone yells "Contact!" Unnecesarily, Conner is already firing. He can see right to the building where the RPG came from, and lines up his sights right on it through the scope, giving disciplined bursts. More fire is coming back, from the other side of the street, sounds of RPK's and AKs Another fweeee of an RPG, this one caterwailing off harmlessly above. "Talking guns!" Kurre snaps.
The Marine Corps fire discipline, as evidenced by the concept of talking guns. A fire team, or squad, or platoon, is firing on the same objective. One SAW lets out a rrrrrrrt burst, and when its finished, another SAW lets out a rrrrrrrt in response. The devestation that follows, a target, decimated by continous machine gun fire. The platoon is doing its job.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Video Game Crusader- Chapter 12 and 13

"We have to get out!" Said yelled, and the panic seized the rest of the passengers. They were all running for the exit. The flight attendant was the first one to go, screaming ulations that made J'mal's blood run cold. There were no policement on the ground, to meet them, and the four made their way to the lobby, trying not to become overrun by the crowd.
****
It was in the lobby that they discovered all their luggage, and documentation was missing, to include Passports and identification papers.
****
The official from Dubai air listened very calmly to their story, before telling them there was nothing he could do for them.
"What do you mean?" J'mal said. "You've heard our story. We work for the government, for Gods sake."
"I cant book you a flight without your Visa and Passport." He said. "And there is the problem of you arriving on the flight you did."
"Whats wrong with the flight?"
"It was booked from Oman." He said. "And according to your story, you flew from America. How is that possible?"
"We flew from London." Said told him. "Our flight here was from London."
The offical took off his glasses. "Listen to me carefully." He said. "I understand that you want to get out of here. That sort of thing takes connections and money. A good amount of one or the other, or a general helping of both. This story you are telling me- its far fetched enough to be recognized as a bald faced lie. But lets assume that I believe you. What then? Am I to pay for your tickets out of my own pocket?"
The gravity of things was falling on J'mals shoulders. Hussein belched loudly.
"I'm hungry." Hussein said. "Lets go get something to eat."
****
It was at the cafe that Omar suffered what might have been considered a nervous breakdown.
"You did this to us." He spit at J'mal, with venom.
"Me? How?"
"You won the Americans award. Adam Cartwright, and he sent us here."
J'mal laughed, and Omar suddenly slapped him.
"You laugh at me?" He screamed. "At this? I am getting married back home. Now I will die in this shithole."
"Dont put your hands on me." J'mal said.
"Then listen." Omar said.
"Maybe we have learned too many of the Americans secrets." Said spoke. "Perhaps they wished to send us away, before we could teach our Countrymen what we know, of the great F-16."
"Listen to you two." J'mal scoffed. "A couple of superstitious women."
"Oh?" Omar sneered. "Then tell me, great leader, why are we here?"
J'mal did not have an answer. He hated Omar, suddenly and ferociously. He hated the three of them, who were really nothing like him, despite coming from the same country. His anger spread, he hated Layla for teasing him, and not going to bed with him, he hated Sgt. Cartwright, for his jealousy, he hated his father for his dissapointment. And with a single, bitter resignation J'mal realized that his guitar was gone along with all the rest of his luggage, and most likely gone forever.
He stood up. "I'm leaving." He said.
"Leaving?" Said asked. "Leaving where?"
"im going on a walk." And before any of them could say one thing more, he strode up and walked away forcefully, by the end of next street he was running
****
He was tackled
And a bag was placed on his head.
****
The lights were very bright. There were three American soldiers in the room with J'mal, and an arabic man with his face covered in a mask. J'mals hands were flex-cuffed behind his back.
"Ask him why he was running." One of the soldiers said.
"I can speak english." J'mal said, in arabic.
"Better not to do that." the translator said, in the same.
"Why not?"
"If you speak english, they will only think you have something to hide."
"Whats he saying?"
"He's saying he was scared."
"Ask him what his name is."
"What are you doing?"
"I'm trying to get you out of here."
"Then let me tell them myself, in english."
"He says his name is Abdul."
"Thats not my name."
"Ask him why he was scared."
"How well do you speak english?"
"Better than you."
"You should work for me."
"I have a job."
"He says he saw the explosion, and he was afraid there was going to be another one."
"Ask him if he was on the plane."
"Why do they want to know if I was on the plane?"
"You need to work for me."
"Why?"
"Because if you dont, I'm going to tell them you were on the plane. Their going to put you away in prison, and probably not let you out. You will be tortured. Either you work for me, or I'm going to tell them that you are the one they are looking for."
"..."
"Whats he saying?"
"What should I tell them."
"...Yes."
"He says his name is Abdul. He is a poor farmer from the country that herds goats. He has never been on an airplane before. He loves America and wishes to become a translator. Also, he speaks good english but has been scared to admit it before now."
"My name is J'mal." J'mal said. And in this way he became an Iraqi translator.
12
"How should I start this. Do I need to speak into the doo-hickey?"
"No, your fine. Just say your name."
"My name is Timothy Post. Im the Company First Sergeant for Chosin Company. How have you been getting along with the interviews?"
"Just fine."
"Let me tell you, just about anything a Marine is going to tell you is a crock of shit."
"Why do you say that?"
"If you talk to a Marine, and he's miserable, and cold, or wet, or cold and wet, or cold and wet and hungry, he's going to have nothing good to say about his job. He's going to talk about how much he hates the Corps, how he cant wait to get out. He's going to say all his NCO's are a bunch of idiots. Probably going to add a few f-bombs in there as well. But the minute he gets out of the Marine Corps he's going to look back on it, and say, those were the defining moments of my life. The ones that made me who I am today."
"You think so?"
"I know so. I enlisted in eighty-six and got out in eighty-nine. After nine months I found that I couldnt stand it and signed up again just in time for the first Gulf War."
"Really."
"There is nothing like the experience of being a Marine. It gets in your blood. Deeper down than your blood, into your bones. Even when your not thinking about it, it becomes who you are. Probably not unlike becoming a vampire or zombie."
"A zombie?"
"I apologize. My wife...she's really into those, what do you call them, paranormal romances. True Blood and Twilight and all that. When we talk on the phone, we end up talking about that sort of thing."
"I see."
"Its always best, when talking with your spouse, when deployed, to bring up what they are doing. Things they enjoy. Helps keep the relationship alive. That, and a reliance on the Lord. Are you saved, Mr. Sack?"
"Me? I'm not religious."
"Then I sincerely hope you come around, before the time of judgement. When I was in the first Gulf War, we were patrolling past the border near the oil fields. And when Saddam set them alight, that fire, it burned so bright and so far, you could see it for miles. And then the oil came raining down."
"..."
"We were wearing these darker versions of the chocolate chip Desert camies. For night purposes, I was a boot Corporal at the time, and when we ended up slick with oil, I remember thinking, now no one can see us. And when we saw the flames all I could think of was how flammable I was, how it would feel to burn alive before I died. I did not come to the Lord at that point in time."
"You thought you were in Hell?"
"Dont be silly. The eternal hellfire of perdition cannot be matched on earth. I was merely walking through an oil field that the rag heads had set on fire."
"I see."
"It was pretty rough, though, for a boot corporal."
13
Lt. William Easter opened up the small green journal he kept. In neat capital letters, he stared at where he had written,
I WISH I HAD FLOWN
I WISH I HAD FLOWN
I WISH I HAD FLOWN
Then he opened up his computer, and sat staring at the e-mail on his screen and tried to make sense of it.
From: Major Fight
Subject: Proffesionalism
Effective immediatedly, all powerpoint presentations made by Chosin Company platoon leaders will have no more than one (1) "motivational" graphic. This graphic will not include profanity or questionable material.
He closed the laptop and thought about it some more. The laptop was one of those hardened models used by police officers and paramedics. It had cost the battalion a fortune. There was really no reason for it, given that the only place with internet connectivety was inside Camp Fallujah. Outside the wire all he could do with the thing was play Solitaire, which wouldnt be worth the additional weight in his daypack. Even inside the wire, the only thing the laptop was used for was e-mailing home, recieving e-mail from Major Fight, and putting together a power point presentation for the Company Commander.
The company's reliance on powerpoint stunned him. Nothing in Quantico had prepared him for it. Whenever a field exercise was scheduled, the Platoon Leaders, meaning the Lieutenants, had to put together a Powerpoint. Before deploying, the Platoon Leaders had to put together a powerpoint of the packing list, and seating order in the airplane. In Iraq, outside the wire, the Platoon Leaders had to find some way to build a graphic and diagram in powerpoint for "go down this street" or "Sit on this rooftop."
The larger problem with this concept, Easter thought, was that very little was used from these presentations, or mattered. The platoon members, NCO's and non-rates, did not see these powerpoints. They did what they were told, or acted on training, which was muscle memory from what had been told previous. The Platoon Sergeant, Staff Sgt. Kurre, knew what had to be actually done, and gave the orders for them to do that. Half the time he would look at Easter and grunt, "If that's all right with you, sir", but half the time he wouldnt, and Easter would be left entirely out of the loop completely, moving with the platoon, keeping both hands on his M4 rifle and wondering how things would turn out. He would talk on the radio that Jon Odle kept strapped to his body, and make up powerpoints for the after action to show Major Fight. But what happened in between wasnt his call. His head ached dully, and his eyelids felt heavy, Easter grabbed a fresh Rip It energy drink, and slammed it down, willing the caffeine to work.
His roommate in the connex trailer, Lt. Slayton, came in and frowned. "Got the shits?" He asked. Easter flipped the laptop around, and Slayton leaned in close so he could read the e-mail. "Thats my fault." He said. "Let me show you." Slayton brought his own laptop out, and played a video clip of Gunnery Sgt. R. Lee Ermey from the movie Full Metal Jacket, unleashing a foul mouth tirade at recruits. "I put that in a power point." He said. "That and another one like it."
"When did this happen."
"While you were out on that rooftop getting some. I was pretty tired when I put that one together." Slayton looked thoughtful. "No one chewed my ass or anything. The first sergeant was laughing his ass off. I guess the Major didnt think it was as funny."
"I hate powerpoint." Easter said.
"I hate everything." Slayton told him, and offered a silver flask. Easter waved it away. Slayton had started drinking lately, not from a bottle or anything, but from a flask that mysteriously stayed full. When he drank he talked about his troubles, usually starting with his wife.
Lt. Slaytons wife had left him just before deployment. He had met her in college, and married soon after, which was close enough to Easter's own story to get him worried. Beyond that, Slayton had suffered further humiliation, on getting his things out of their shared apartment, Slayton had seen Lance Corporal Creel, from his very own platoon. She had either recently started fucking the Lance Corporal, or had been fucking him the whole time. In Slaytons mind, it was the latter, along with a whole host of other injustices. All women had been branded lying, deceitful whores, in Slaytons mind.
The way Easter could see it the problem was at least a little more complicated than that. Slayton could be hard to get along with, for one thing. He was dominant and pushy, and maybe a little bit of a bully. The ex-wife in question had been nineteen years old, for another. That sort of thing didnt work anymore. Women went through stages, in these days, and when they were young they had wild oats to sow the same as men. It had been different years before, maybe as early as the nineteen seventies, but times had changed. Easters own wife was thirty, which happened to be eight years older than him but worked out well enough. Which wasnt to say that she was blameless in things, the ex-Mrs. Slayton. But perspective had to be kept.
"I dont think anything I do has a point here."
"What do you mean?" Slayton said. "Your a goddamn platoon leader."
"Kurre leads the platoon." Easter said. "I just make the powerpoint."
"Kurre's the best platoon sgt. in the company." Slayton said. "I wish I had him." He got up in a hurry. "That little fucker McKinney makes me sick."
Easter could see that. Staff Sgt. McKinney was short and slight, and had a stoop, unusual for a Marine, that meant he never stood up quite right. His wife was large and fat, and worse still, plain, far too average a woman to be married to an infantry Marine, by Easter's estimation. But that was the impression that McKinney gave off, averageness, as if instead of the Corps he had been destined for a career in human resources in some vast, nameless, multinational conglomerate. He had been a recruiter, supposedly, but Easter could not see for the life of him how he convinced one single person to sign up.
Easter himself had been convinced by his father. His father had been a full bird Colonel, who served in Vietnam, and went on to run one of the most successful life insurance firms in Pennsylvania. "When your commisioned." His father used to tell him, not if you join the military, or if you join the Marines, or if you enlist, but when, "when your commisioned." His father would say, and then pass him some phrase or lesson that Easter would take on like a timeless pearl of wisdom, even if it was something that he didnt completely understand. His father had one of those personal appearances, lantern jaw, nose like the beak of an eagle, hair like a grey bristle brush, cropped short. When Easter saw himself in the mirror it was not as a pale reflection, it was no reflection, except for caucasian skin the men seemed to share nothing at all.
And then there was the business of flying.
His test scores were excellent. He had the neccesary math. His vision was fine. They even told him, dropped him hints about Pensacola, a future in flight. And at the last minute, when he had made his selection, on his dream sheet, there was the iron clad face of his father in his mind, passing judgement over him. His father, the platoon commander. And now the son. On his dream sheet he put nothing down other than infantry, and he put that down three times, and underlined it.
"Its like this." Slayton said. "They figured I was prior enlisted, and could handle a weaker Staff Sgt. They saw you werent, and they put you with Kurre."
"I guess so."
"And I dont have any problem with that. But the thing is, the men found out that I was in motor transport."
"Hmm."
"And these damn grunts, pogue pogue pogue, have you heard the cadence?" Slayton took a deep breath and intoned, "Cocksucker, motherfucker, suck my dick! If you aint oh-three, you aint shit!"
'I've heard it." Easter had led more than one cadence run, where the jingle had come up.
"Mckinney loves that one. And its aimed at me. I can tell its aimed at me. He's a spiteful little shit. He's spiteful to the men. When were in the barracks he keeps them around after liberty has already been called, for an extra inspection. And I dont contradict him. I never have the chance, I only see him in public." Slayton fell silent, and glowered for a minute longer.
Easter started thinking about his own wife. He had met her while he was in the naval academy. There were warnings from his instructors about any-sailor girls, women that had watched Top Gun and lusted after Tom Cruise for horny years, and were about to snag one of their own. He didnt think Jillian was like that. She seemed confident in herself. She could have had anyone of the guys at that bar, instead she chose him. A woman like that, an actual woman, not a girl that still remembered being a teenager, she was someone you could depend on. Maybe that was something Mckinney knew, with his fat heap of a wife, dependability trumped all else, when marrying into the military. But still this; he could have flown.
The walls shook momentarily. Easter looked up and saw that he had fallen backwards over his chair with the mortar attack. Slayton was hunkered under the table. He laughed.
"Long at us, huh?" He said. "Bunch of Marines. Bunch of fucking sissies."
Easter nodded, and said nothing. There was the noise of someone shouting for a Corpsman, coming from somewhere.
"Should we go out there?" Slayton said. "And check on the platoon."
"They told us not to." Easter said.
"They." Slayton mocked. "Who are they? Who are they to tell us what we can or cannot do, are capable of doing?"
"Major Fight." Easter said. "Orders from the Camp Commander, shelter in place when mortars hit, if not on duty."
"Well." Slayton slurred, "They, whoever 'they' are, can bust me down if they want." He strapped on his helmet. "I'm going out to see the platoon. I know Mckinney wont do it." He flung open the door. Easter could see that he was swaying slightly as he walked, and that he had left his M4 rifle back in the connex trailer.
He stayed on the floor. He had felt safe playing under the table, as a child. He used to imagine he owned a cave, an underground place of his own, that was huge and private and special all at once. The batcave, maybe, or something like the batcave but grander. He would have adventures in this place, but mostly he would be somewhere where no one could get him. Iraq was like that. Or it was like the opposite of that, a huge flat above ground place where everyone could see you, where you were safe from nothing. America was the cave, then, from coast to coast. A safe harbor from a world of lunatics. A thought crossed his mind, why, in twenty-two years, had he never asked his father what he thought about the Marines? If he enjoyed his time spent in Vietnam? Surely that would have been the sane way to make a career choice. He sat up and looked at the laptop, which, true to manufacturer specifications, had survived the drop from table to floor with zero damage. There was a new message from Major Fight: OPERATION PHANTOM FURY- MIDNIGHT STAGING.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Video Game Crusader- Chapter 10 and 11

"..."
"We were on this rooftop and it was at night. Most of the time in Iraq nothing happens, like I said. I was on the rooftop behind a Designated Marksmen Rifle, which is kind of like a sniper rifle but not really. A kid ran out in the street, and I shot him center mass."
"What happened after that?"
"He fell down. Sawyer- the guy that was spotting me, said it was a good shot. I could see him through the night vision. I could tell it was just a kid, I mean, someone pretty young. And he didnt have a weapon."
"Were you not supposed to shoot him?"
"No, I mean, I was inside the rules of engagement. What they said was, at that time in Fallujah, there was a twenty-four hour curfew in effect. All the civilians had been supposedly evacuated, and we had free fire rules for anyone running around in the street. Especially if they were a insurgent age male. The idea being, anyone left over in the city was a bad guy."
"..."
"And, I mean, there was the chance that the kid was a bad guy. An insurgent. Maybe he was a dumbass and left his AK propped up against the wall while he ran across the street. Or maybe he was a runner and relaying a message to his terrorist buddies. Or maybe he was a straight up decoy, and his friends sent him on a suicide run just to see what would happen. I've thought about all of this. But it doesnt justify what happened next."
"..."
"Our Staff Sgt. came over the radio and asked, 'is he still moving?' and I said, 'affirmitive.' and he said, 'hit him again.'"
"..."
"Which was totally outside our rules of engagement. I mean, if the guy was wounded, we were supposed to take a corpsman down there and see if we could help him. Detain the fucker and send him packing to Gitmo, maybe get some intel off him. But instead, Staff Sgt. said, hit him again, and I did. I shot him in the head."
"..."
"And that round pretty much exploded the guys skull. I couldnt see it all the way with the night vision, but in the morning there was blood and brain matter everywhere."
"..."
"So what do you think about that?"
"it sounds like you were only following orders."
"But what kind of cop out is that? And lets say we just go ahead and say; yeah, it was Iraq. Everything was fucked up in Iraq. Whipe the slate clean. I'm the one that has to think about it. I'm the one that cant stop thinking about the fact that I gutshot a kid and blew his brains out. I have to live with this. And what I'm asking for, is some way to forget, forget the whole thing ever happened. Because I'm pretty sick of living on that goddamn rooftop, in between one of the worst thirty seconds of my life."
11

There were a few things in life J'mal Al-Rhawari loved more than his guitar. It was a Fender Stratocastor, American made, based on Eric Claptons specifications and bearing his signature on the back of the headstock. Together with his Marshall tube amp he could bend the notes
juuust right
And come up with a fine impersonation of Slowhand himself. After that he would play with the dials, and cook up a little Stevie Ray Vaughn, or Jeff Beck. Some newer stuff by John Mayer, maybe. If he tried really hard he would go for Zeppelin, but the Strat didnt have the heavy Les Paul pickups, and couldnt really approximate. When he really started to feel it, he would stand next to the window in his bedroom, and imagine the music floating over Dubai.
His family apartment, his father's apartment was on the seventy-first floor of the Burj Dubai. The city glistened like a jewel at night, except when the sand blew in. Things were changing all the time below. He imagined what he would call his band. He wanted it based on his name and showmanship, like Jimi Hendrix. The Al-Rhawari experience, maybe. When music was allowed to be openly played in Dubai, which couldnt be too far off in coming. Not that it would ever happen in Saudi, but Dubai was different. Just straight blues-based rock and roll, with possibly a little native influence, but no more than the Beatles had already added with the Sitar. His sister barged in and interrupted the session.
"Are you dont with that nonsense?" She asked.
"Its music." He retorted.
"Father is talking." She left. He sighed and put the guitar up in its tweed case.
In the main room of the apartment J'mal's father was intoning with regularity over a cup of hot chai. He was wearing the fine english suit he always wore from work, that J'mal never saw him do without. His mother and his sister was sitting on the sofa listening to him intone. "And so you see, " He said, "That we say In'shallah, God wills it, when something happens that we dont understand. A common practice."
His mother nodded wearily. J'mal noticed that she had been letting a single streak of grey come through her raven black hair. It fit her, somehow, with her cream colored suit that her mother wore to work, although the hijab would cover all that hair, mostly. Her mother worked hard running the family charities. Widows and orphans and that sort of thing. Palestinian refugees. His father worked hard to keep up the family name, and a philanthropical front.
"In some of our neighboring countries." J'mal's father went on, "Arabic countries, they have men who cross traffic without looking. They go through these intersections, head straight ahead, eyes forward, regardless which direction the traffic is coming from. They refer to themselves as In'shallah walkers, and believe that God and the prophet will keep them safe, or take their life if it is their time. Now tell me, my family, is this the correct meaning of In'shallah?"
"Of course not." J'mals sister said.
"And why is that, lovely daughter?"
"God gave them a brain."
J'mal's father clapped slightly. "And there you have it. God gave these men the ability to delineate which direction the cars are coming from, and where safe crossing can be had, or not. Man has more thinking ability than any computer, did you know that? We are capable of such profound revelation. To turn our minds off and leave everything to chance, God does not, most emphatically not will that. Nor does he endorse it. What is willed, in submission to God, is the most ardent application of our abilities."
"What if you are robbed of that chance?" J'mal's mother said. J'mals father smiled and acknowledged her. "Lets say that you have something. A home, a family, a career. And the west comes and takes it all away. Or Isreal. You are robbed of your home. Your son is killed and your husband is beaten. You have nothing left and nowhere to turn. Can you be blamed for simply throwing up your hands, and giving your meager remains to God?" J'mal was annoyed by his mother, and not for the first time. She was always going on about something or other.
J'mal's father smiled and wagged a finger.
"And now we come to it." He said. "The reason behind the phrase, In'shallah. Not to give up your reasoning for things you can change, but to accept God's reasoning for things you cannot. In the case you were reffering to, dearest, of the person who has lost everything, that individual holds responsibility to use what he possesses and make due what he can."
They talked some more, and J'mal left and went back upstairs to his room. A few minutes later, he heard his father's footsteps. The older man smiled, and invited himself into his sons room.
"You were talking about me." J'mal said.
His father raised his eyebrows. "Why would you believe that?"
"You saw my test scores." J'mal said. "You know I didnt make it as a pilot."
His father sighed. "If I was talking about you." He said. "Wouldnt it be more because you refused to go to University, and joined our meager armed services? I wasnt aware that I showed a preference, in whether or not that army let you fly a silly airplane."
"Air Force." J'mal said. "And if I passed the test, they would have let me fly F-16s."
"An American plane."
"Their letting me be a Crew Chief."
"What is that?"
"Aircraft maintenance. A sort of mechanic." He could feel his fathers displeasure. "I'm going to a school in America, to train."
"Just now, you are going to America?"
"Yes."
"Do you think that's wise?"
"I have orders. And why wouldnt it be?"
His father sat on the bed, next to him. "When I look at you, I see bits of myself, and your mother." He said. "When others here look at you they see a fine, handsome young man, from a good family. But when an American looks at you, and hears you speak, they see an arabic man. An Islamic man. And many of them will be quick to judge accordingly."
"Its not like that."
"Its not? Why, have you been there?"
"No, but all Americans arent that stupid."
"Thats probably true." His father said. "But people everywhere are mostly the same, quick to fear or hate, if you give them a reason."
They sat there for a minute, not talking. Finally J'mal asked, "Have you been to America?"
His father nodded. "Many years ago." He said. "For school, and then several times for business."
****
Several days later J'mal found himself and three of his fellow Airmen who had been chosen for the program in a holding area at the George Bush intercontinental airport in Houston, Texas. He looked them all over, sizing them up.
Omar was from a small village. He was short and dark skinned. Said was from a family somewhere in the mountains of Pakistan, and he spoke arabic with a thin, nasal accent. He was also the oldest, almost forty, and spoke five languages. Hussein, on the other hand, barely spoke any english at all. Hussein was from the city like him, and also a drunk.
"What is taking them so long?" Omar said, nervous.
"They found out my first name." Hussein said, but no one laughed.
"Its just a check. Nothing to worry about." J'mal said.
"What sort of check?" Said asked.
"Our papers were right!" Omar said. "Do you think they sent the wrong papers?"
J'mal grew worried himself. "Speak in english." He said.
"Why?" Hussein asked.
"That way they can hear you, and know that we have nothing to hide."
The door opened up, and a red faced US airman came in. "Sorry folks!" He said. "Sorry about the wait! They didnt know you were with us. Uh, asalam alakuhm." He said, in a country accent. "I'm Sgt. Cartwright."
Sgt. Adam Cartwright drove the rest of the way from Houston to the Browning Air Force base, chatting happily the whole time. "There isnt really that much to do here." He said. "Just the Air Force base and the Homeland Security complex. Things would be pretty depressed, otherwise."
"Are you from Texas?" J'mal asked.
"Gosh no!" Cartwright said. "From Utah. My dad was in the Air Force. But I got out of Utah as soom as I could, it wasnt for me. I'm going to tech school with you fellows."
"Have you just joined?"
"No. I'm changing jobs. I was a Crew Chief for heavies, and now I'm going to be a Crew Chief for fighters. Its just going to work out different. Tell me something, have you guys seen Bonanza?"
"No."
"Good. Thats good."
They were put up in a hotel on base, and J'mal managed to tune his guitar while Hussein downed the last of his liqour stash. They were set up in joining rooms, Hussein and J'mal were roommates, and Said and Omar in the other. The setting was J'mals idea. He was finding out that, horribly, the group deffered to him. They were all the same rank, but somehow he was the de facto leader.
****
The first day of class went about as dully as could be expected.
There were four other airmen taking the class besides the four from Dubai and Sgt. Cartwright. All of them looked almost impossibly young. They managed to sit on the far end of the classroom, and sometimes stare over at the four. Everyone was nervous and not wanting to say the wrong thing. The instructor was a fat man, which made J'mal wonder about american air force weight standards, but he gave the lesson in a cheery tone. The first month went by in much this manner, and they did not see or touch an F-16, or any other aircraft, during that time.
It was cold in this part of Texas, in spring. Not all day, and not everyday, but sometimes there was frost on the ground. There were no jackets issued with the Dubai uniform, and they huddled together, arms in armpits, teeth chattering.
The four had discovered, that while they were not completely confined to the base, their lack of an automobile was a crushing setback. There was a bus that took them out to town, and what town consisted of was a mall, that seemed to be known for only its movie theater, and a strange sort of nightclub that tried to combine hip-hop, country, and eighties music for older people all at the same time. The foursome went and Hussein and J'mal drank (Said was religious and Omar was from a small village, and distrustful of alcohol) Sometimes J'mal would smile, and introduce himself to a girl, but inevitably she would look over and ask, "Who's your friends?" And he would feel himself being sunk with that noose. Back at the hotel he would wait until Hussien went to sleep and masturbate furiously. These American women, with the way they dressed and the way they smelled and the colors of their hair!
He called his parents, and dutifully reported in to them, leaving out certain details.
Everything came to a head at the end of the first month.
He was playing the guitar outside his door. He couldnt remember why he hadnt thought of that earlier- most likely the cold, and the notes seemed to catch in the air, and blow past the rooms. He started with a standard blues riff, and then launched into Layla, from the Derek and the Dominoes album. When he looked up two women were smiling at him. The prettier, blond one, asked him, "How long have you been playing?"
"Since I was twelve." He said.
"Your very good."
"It is hard sometimes." He said. "In my country its not allowed."
"Where are you from?"
"Dubai."
"Is that...where..."
"An arabic country. Where are you from?"
"Ohio."
He gave her his most winning smile. "Are they all as lovely as you, in Ohio?"
The womans friend laughed, and so did the woman, but to her credit she also started to blush. "That was my, song, you were playing." She said.
"Your favorite song?"
"No, my names Layla."
"Ah. A beautiful name."
"Do you know the story? Behind the song."
"Please, tell me."
She sat down next to him. "So, Eric Clapton was in love with George Harrisons wife."
"Ah."
"The Beatle. I think her name was Patti. But she didnt love him back. And so the entire album is about her."
"Thats very sad."
"But there's more. The story of Layla, is actually an old Persian love story about the same thing. Majnun, this guy named Majnun, he was in love with this girl Layla. And she didnt care about him."
"Like Clapton and George Harrisons wife."
"Exactly. So he ends up going mad with grief, and dying out in the middle of the desert."
It sounded like one of his father's stories, J'mal thought. And it made him feel funny to have that mixed up in music, in his good thing.
"I've got the album." Layla said. "We can listen to it, if you want."
So J'mal listened to Layla and other Love Songs for the first time in his life, having only heard the title track from a bootleg compilation of Eric Clapton hits. And it turned into sort of a party. The other three saw that he was talking to a woman and shied away, possibly from past experiences in the nightclubs. Hussein barbequed some kabobs, out in the patio, and drank beer. At the end of the night he slow danced to Bell Bottom Blues with Layla, and he thought it was the best day he had spent in America so far.
****
The group graduated from the first month of instruction and tests and went over to a large hanger on the far end of the flightline. The flightline at Browning was entirely non-functional, J'mal had learned, and the planes there were for training purposes only. But here at last, they were allowed to check out tools and work on actual F-16's. It was a beautiful piece of equipment, an American machine, with sleek curves and a powerful engine. There were more written exams, but they were all multiple choice, and easy. J'mal aced his way through, and in the exam room the four of them spoke arabic to each other to find out the answers. Of the three F-16's in the hanger, one of them was a Thunderbirds model, painted red, white, and blue, highly polished.
During this time the group met their pilots. They were older, of course, and bearded, and had been taking exams of their own. "Have you been to Houston yet?" One of the pilots asked J'mal.
"We dont have a car."
"So have one of the Americans drive you. Its more to do there than in this little town. They have arabic clubs."
And so J'mal managed to convince Sgt. Cartwright to drive them to Houston, to the address the pilot had provided, which had halaal food that was somehow not as good as home, and only made them think of home some more. Cartwright had grown stubborn. J'mal could tell that the airman thought he was being upstaged, in the class. So he spent a little extra time getting the American drunk, happier, and the five of them ended up in a dance with traditional music, but by the end of it Hussein had gotten too drunk and was vomiting in the parking lot. "He really has a problem." Omar commented.
****
They graduated the entire program in July, newly fledged F-16 Crew Chiefs. The four had the highest scores in the class, and J'mal recieved a certificate for being the Honor Graduate. His commanding officer called him on the phone. "Were very proud of you." He said. "You'll be recieving a promotion, when you return." At the ceremony Sgt. Cartwright was tight-lipped and glowering.
****
There was nothing to make them think that anything had gone wrong on the flight home, or that anything was out of the ordinary.
****
When J'mal awoke from his nap on the plane he had a splitting headache. There was a funny smell in the airplane. Things were different somehow. He was sitting next to Omar, when he had been sitting next to Hussein. There was a peculiar smell somewhere on the aircraft. When he looked around, all the women were dressed in Hijab, except for a few in burqas. That floored him, he had never seen a woman in a burqa before, not once in Dubai. Many of the men wore traditional garb as well, and as far as he could tell, every single person on the plane was arabic.
"When did we change planes?" J'mal asked.
"At Heathrow." Said told him.
"I dont remember."
"You were drinking with Hussein." Omar said, without taking his eyes from the window.
"What are you staring at?"
"Something is wrong outside."
"Let me see."
A car was on fire at the street next to the airport. The flames were bright orange and yellow, and seemed to reach upwards into the nearby palm tree.
"Someone will call the fire department." J'mal said. "What airport are we in? I dont recognize this."
"Its been burning for twenty minutes." Omar said.
"Thats not possible."
"I have my watch. We landed twenty minutes ago, and it has been burning this entire time."
"You are mistaken." J'mal turned toward the flight attendant, who he saw to his displeasure was also wearing a hijab. "Miss? Can you tell me what airport this is?"
"Baghdad international." She said curtly."
"Are those americans?" Omar said. "Near the car, over there. They look like Americans."
At that moment there was a tremendoes explosion. J'mal felt the pressure wave shove him over in his, seat, and he fell into the aisle. When he got up he could see the aircraft window Omar had been looking through was cracked. What was once one burning vehicle was now four or five, and the palm trees next to it had turned into fierce torches.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Video Game Crusader- Chapter 9 and 10

Sawyer was different from White in almost every possible way. He was shorter, possibly only five-six or so. Despite his anglo-surname he appeared to have latino heritage, with olive skin and short curly hair. He had a quite smile on his face,without showing his teeth, that appeared both smug and nonthreatening, as if he had invited Sack into a great joke that the two of them could share together.
"Do you know anyone?" Sawyer asked. "Other writers, I mean."
"A few. Norman Mailer. Hunter Thompson."
"You knew Hunter S. Thompson?"
"Course I knew Hunter. His drinking was horrendous- huuaakumph! Not to mention his drug use."
"I've seen Fear and Loathing about a hundred times."
"The Las Vegas movie?"
"That one, with Johnny Depp. If your drinking, it makes a lot more sense. I think that movie says a lot about how I feel, most of the time."
"Where are you from?" Sack asked.
"Ocala, Florida. Its near Tampa. What did you think about what White had to say?"
"I thought it was a good show."
"Thats what it was."
"So he was putting me on?"
"White has an idea of what all this means. I have another idea."
"What is yours?"
"Do you know about mass shootings?"
"In a general way."
"There are twenty in the United States every year. There was one right before we deployed, in an elementary school. Little children were killed."
"How awful."
"That's the pattern of those events, little children, women, helpless people. The killer goes out and sprays down an area like that with bullets. Usually he kills himself before he gets caught."
"A cowardly act."
"All shooters are cowardly. The act of getting behind a gun really isnt a brave one. The entire methodology of infantry combat is about exploiting the enemies weakness, and then crushing him with overwhelming firepower."
"I see."
"But I dont want to compare mass shooters to Marines, anyway, although there have been a few times where the two parties have overlapped. That one guy in a clock tower."
"You could also say Lee Harvey Oswald."
"Thats right. But the point I'm trying to make, is that after one of these mass shootings, if the body count is high enough, and if it includes children, it makes the national news. People talk about it for weeks. What we can do to prevent it. The anti-gun people talk about gun control, and the anti-video game people talk about video games, and the anti-music people talk about music. But what I'm saying is that, all around, there is the recognition that there is a core problem, an intolerable problem that must be fixed."
"All right."
"Now, when you have a country like Iraq. Many times that amount of women and children die. Men as well. Sometimes we kill them, sometimes the insurgents kill them. Suicide bombers, our bombs, our guns, their guns. But no one cares, at least in America. No one holds a vigil. The president doesnt say anything. There isnt any national discussion about what we have to do, to prevent THESE women and children dying, or these men. Overall, the hidden idea is that all is as it should be."
"Go on."
"And the idea- and this is Sergeant White's idea, not mine, is that this is because the citizens of Iraq are outside the barriers of society, while the victims of a mass shooting in the United States are firmly inside it. Like the same way the founding fathers could write a Constitution garuanteeing Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, while at the same time enslaving thousands of people. Its a sort of institutional dichotomy."
"Hmmm."
"And what White basically sees this as an excuse to let loose his darker nature. Killing, violence, etc. But he is missing another vital point."
"Which is?"
"If an event happens in Iraq, and a large amount of Marines die....well, theres no national attention to that, either."
"But there is a, ah, certain amount of media attention to that sort of event."
"Correct. Do you know the name of the Presidents dog?"
"He has one?"
"Every President has a dog. Its one of the hidden requirements of the office, like having to believe in God, and go to church."
"I cant remember...the only one I can think of, Richard Nixon had a dog named Checkers."
"So, lets say Bush's dog gets hit by a car. And it dies."
"A tragedy."
"Right, and it makes the news. Not much of the news, but a little spot. They show a picture of the dog, probably a publicity still, and a TV personality says something like 'how sad'. Its on the news for one day exactly."
"Hmm."
"Which is exactly the kind and scale given to coverage of Marines getting killed in Iraq."
"..."
"But its not a perfect metaphor. Because if you start killing, five, ten, fifteen of these dogs at a time, its a major problem. Or if you start blowing these dogs up, or shooting them. And if, the whole time, you train these dogs to kill, the humane society is going to have your ass. Its unfair to these dogs, to make them live that way. Its inhumane to kill them like that. Or put them in situations where they can be killed. People are protesting in front of the White House at this point. People are asking questions, like, if we love the Presidents dogs so much, how can we let this happen? It becomes a major scandal."
"..."
"What follows is this; every single member of the military in Iraq, is worth the exact same amount as one politicians dog. When they die, all their collective deaths are worth the grief of one car accident, and nothing more."
"..."
"And thats what White doesnt understand."
Soon afterwards Sawyer was called up to do more watch duty. An explosion rang out from an ajoining street, somewhere in the distance, and Sack watched to see if anything would happen, but nothing did. The pain was starting to hurt his insides again. He had Swinney escort him from the rooftop back into the wire, where he rested in the sort of foldout chair used for camping, in the connex boxes that made up the Chosin company office. There he found his bag where he had left it, and fumbled for the pain medication the doctors had given him.
He took his pills and counted backwards from ten. When he thought of the word Cancer he imagined a large red crab, scuttling back and forth, on the shore of a white sandy beach. The waves in front of the crab were very blue, and when they broke it was with great contrast to the white froth.
He was thinking about his books. The books would be all that survived him, with no children. It was more than his father had. That ceremony had been ugly, just Sack and his sister with the urn. He had lied to the Marines about who he worked for. He had worked for Esquire one time, in the sixties. He interviewed the American war criminal William Calley from the My Lai massacre. The lieutenant had been unrelenting in his convictions, to the bloody end. There was none of that in either of these new breed, White or Sawyer. They believed in nothing. They could see what things were for the reality of it. The ugliness of Vietnam had become something ironic now, or worse, part of the general experience of going to combat.
He thought about his other book, and Eye For an Eye. It was about the experiences of German prisoners of World War Two, and the revenge a few jews had took upon them. He had fabricated the whole thing, based on only a few sketchy testimonials from supposed witnesses. It was his best seller. When he died, if anyone managed to write anything, it would be as John Sack, writer of Eye for an Eye, a foolish bit of sop written late in life for money. He thought about Hunter Thompson, who Sack had once seen drink a bottle of embalming fluid at a party on a bet, straight and with no chacer. Hunter Thompson was going to outlive him, once the Cancer did its work. Once the crab finished scuttling. That Sawyer kid had felt personally touched by the movie based on his book. A book that seemed to Sack to be no more than the random gibberings of an alcoholic junkie, but the movie had starred an a-list celebrity. There was no movie for William Calley: in his own words, or An Eye for an Eye. Sack still wanted the big price, the big, recognized novel, and he was running out of time.
Two Marines came in and sat at chairs near a television, taking off their helmets and talking too each other in a happy tone. One of them opened up the DVD player, and inserted a disc with no description on its cover. It was aerial footage from some sort of reconnaisance plane, in black and white night vision. Sack moved closer so he could see. There was footage of tiny men, standing around and talking to each other. There were cars nearby. An unsees gun started, and clouds of dirt flew up in the ground. One of the little white men flew into pieces, and as the camera was capturing the essence of his heat, white splatters of blood and insides flew out as well. The Marines cheered, watching it, and Sack noticed from the patches on their body armor that they were officers. From the DVD he could make out the remains of the first man fading in color to black as the life-heat left him. Then another little white man ran for the truck, and the trail of dirt followed him, until the rounds walked up to the vehicle and there was the dramatic burst of an explosion. The officers paused this scene, and pointed out details in the carnage.
10
Dr. Robbie Robertsons office was covered in stuffed animals, or more precisely, teddy bears. Conner had had one himself as a child. It was brown but might possibly have been some other color at an earlier time. He called it bear bear. There was a mantra he repeated right before bedtime-
"I wont
go to sleep
without
my bear, bear, bear!"
The toy had gotten a hole worn in its neck from all the vigorous hugging, like the sort a tracheotomy patient would recieve. But all the teddy bears in Dr. Robinsons office seemed healthy and intact. Moreover, most of them were dressed in colorful costumes, there was doctor bear, of course, and fireman bear, policeman bear. This being inside the Veterans Administration there was army bear, in old style camouflage fautigues, and sailor bear in his white suit and cap. A few bears in suits, and a few in dresses. And Conner felt most at ease by Marine bear, in dress blues, of course, minus the white gloves on his furry little paws.
The bears did not look out of place by the presence of Dr. Robinson. He was corpulent and round, with the kind of face that could only be described as jolly. Big fat cheeks that glistened when he smiled, most assuredly from high blood pressure, but maybe just a little from happiness. He was balding up top, and the rest of the hair he had was stark white and pulled back into an absurd little ponytail. He wore gold wire rim glasses that looked to be expensive.
"Hel-lo!" He beamed, at Conner. "Hel-lo, James. Are you James."
"Yes, sir." James answered.
"Call me Dr. Robinson." He said. "Or better yet, Robbie. I know how you military guys like to stand on that formal stuff."
"Yes sir."
"So- ah!" Robinson exhaled as he sat down. "What can I do for you?"
Conner considered how he should start. "I guess I've been having problems." He admitted. "My wife thinks I need some help."
"Your wife thinks that, or you do?"
"I dont know. I have trouble sleeping."
"What sort?"
"I dont sleep very much."
"How long?"
"Only for two or three hours. And when I wake up, its like, bam. I just sit bolt upright in my bed. I get nightmares."
"What kind of nightmares?"
"I dont remember them."
"Were you in the war?"
"Iraq, yeah."
"Did you see any combat?"
"Yeah. And it didnt really bother me."
"So it wasnt that bad."
"No. I mean, parts of it were pretty bad. I had to shoot at people. Guys died. I mean, it was war, I knew what I was getting into."
"How old were you?"
"I was seventeen when I enlisted. Twenty-one when I got out."
"Ah."
"I mean, I was young, but we were all young. It evened out. But when a guy died, and he was young, that fucked you up. I mean, if you thought about it. We had a squad leader that died, and honestly? The guy was a dickhead. No one really liked him. But when he died, he was twenty-two. I was nineteen, so that was older than me, or whatever. And I didnt think about that until when I turned twenty-three, and then I thought: I'm one year older than Sergeant White. I'm one year older than he will ever get. And then I turned twenty-four, last year, and I thought, now I'm two years older than Sergeant White. And so I think about that all the time."
"Were you there when he died?"
"I was there. A lot of us were there. It was during a firefight, and he got shot in the leg. You dont think something like that can kill you. And we didnt think about that either. He was laughing about it, I think he said something like, fuck it, now I can get those Purple Heart liscence plates. I remember that specifically. Not that he would get a purple heart, but that he would get the liscence plates, so he could park in the handicap section and not get a ticket.
"..."
"And so he's laughing and joking or whatever, and gets put on the humvee back to Camp Fallujah, and we dont find out until we get back that he's fucking dead. That big artery, the one you have in your leg-"
"The femoral artery."
"Right, that one, the bullet punctured it and he bled out in the back of the humvee. He was laughing and joking with us and the whole time he was fucking dead. And I think about that a lot, and the fact that I didnt like the guy, and the fact that now I'm twenty-five and three years older than him."
"..."
"But at the same time, I miss it. I miss the Marines. Everything made sense in the Marines. You knew what your place was, how you fit into the big picture. Civilians dont have that. No one tells you when to get a haircut, or pay your bills, or eat. You either do it or you dont. People treat you like shit if your young. They do and dont notice it. Most guys my age, their complete fucking morons. Their right out of college or whatever, or maybe they didnt even go to college, they work, or they live at home. And what they think about is, I dont know, getting a job or getting a better job or getting drunk or high and getting some pussy. The thoughts of some kid. So when people look at me, they look at me like I'm this sort of punk kid, because that's what guys are in their twenties now. That's the bar my generation has raised. And all I'm thinking about is Iraq."
"Are you nervous a lot?"
"I'm wired. My wife says I'm edgy. I feel like I have an edge, like I've been sharpened over the years by the Marines and by Iraq so that I'm always alert and I notice everything. It helps where I work."
"Where do you work?"
"For Homeland Security, at the dentention center."
"Are you a guard?"
"I'm a Detentions Officer. I think it comes out to pretty much the same think."
"Sounds like a high stress occupation."
"Sometimes it is. Mostly nothing happens. But I'm always ready for something to happen, that's the point."
"I can tell you are."
"?"
"Your shaking in that seat. Twitching back and forth. Its a condition known as hyper-vigilance."
"I guess. In Iraq, mostly nothing happens. I mean, you spend days where you literally do nothing other than fight boredom. You stare down a street, or into a building, or over some razor wire, or out a humvee turret. You do nothing until, all at once, something happens. And it scares the shit out of you. And you react to your training, and do what your supposed to do, or you fuck up and do something stupid. And either way, its over in a few minutes. And nothing happens again. Except now you know something CAN happen, something fucking nasty can happen at any minute, in the middle of the night, or while your eating or taking a shit, and you are never, ever, safe. So you stay ready."
"I see."
"I shot someone."
"..."
"It doesnt happen as often as you think. I mean, you shoot AT people all the time, but very infrequently do you actually get the chance to so for certainty; I shot someone. I killed someone. And that's the question you get all the time, from fucking moron civilians; did you kill anyone? You were in Iraq, did you kill anyone? Because all the see is the supposed free pass, you have, as a Marine, to fire your weapon and end someones life. And they secretly think, fuck it, a raghead doesnt matter anyway. By that I mean an arabic person, or someone thats non-american. And their an idiot, these civilians, they think that if you shoot a terrorist your a hero. Like thats what makes people heroes."