Sway the Vote - Invite Your Friends!

Share__ __ Delicious Delicious__

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Chapter 2 - Rolling into Town

Here it is, Chapter 2.   The boredom of memory, the excitement of - WTF??  (Let's just say the survey gave a tie vote...there was the option for the dragon swooping down and eating people, and then the option for an earlier convoy having already been eaten...)
 Chapter 2 - Rolling into Town

            Naturally, the radio didn’t work.  The lieutenant muttered something about satcomms being down again, and Jonathan could only think of the x-wing antenna stuck on the back of the humvee.  The four little magnets at the bottom were good, but the antenna itself had a habit of popping off whenever they hit a good bump in the road.  He tried to remember if he had tied it down this time.  A few loops of parachute cord would at least keep it from falling off the truck.  He’d really hear it from Torres if the thing disappeared down the road somewhere.
            But then Torres took the hand mic from the lieutenant and did a radio check.  Drivers weren’t supposed to do that, but this was Sergeant Torres – she did whatever she needed to do.  And Jonathan knew she’d be looking his way if the radio didn’t work this time.  She always did.  And he knew all the questions by heart: Did you fill the right encryption?  Is it on the right frequency?  Why didn’t you do a radio check before we left?
            “All stations, all stations, this is Alpha-Three-Six-Romeo,” Torres said.  She held the hand mic to her lips like a walkie-talkie, not even bothering with the earphone.  “Radio check, over.”
            Jonathan could make out the faint static from the speaker as they rumbled forward.  He waited for the inevitable glance back and that glare – why isn’t the radio working, Private Mitchell? – but then a voice broke through the static.  It was the FOB.
            “Alpha Three-Six, this is Devil Base.  Read you loud and clear, over.”
            He didn’t realize he was holding his breath until he let it out.  Okay, so it wasn’t their radio.  The x-wing was still snapped down.  So it was their sister convoy that wasn’t calling in – he could live with that.  He could even think of a dozen reasons why they weren’t.  Maybe someone wasn’t listening, or maybe they’d lost their own x-wing.  The antennas were sturdy, sure, but the connectors were constantly breaking.  The BNC connectors sometimes broke, and then there was the fact that humvees had never been designed for satellite communications – they had to run the BNC cables through gaps in the truck door in order to reach the radio box up on the dash mount.  Sometimes a cable slipped or someone slammed one of the armor-plate doors just a little too hard.  One good slam, and the cable would get sliced right in half.  Or, worse still, sometimes the metal wire inside would break, but the rubber coating would still be in one piece, so you wouldn’t even know there was anything wrong with the cable.  You’d just go on driving and driving and driving and wondering why no one called back for a radio check.
            Torres kept on with FOB Devil for a while, and Jonathan guessed the lieutenant was napping again.  He glanced past Grime’s shins to get a look at the interpreter.  The terp was quietly staring out the window, hands folded over canteen pouches looped onto the front of his body armor.  He didn’t carry a weapon or ammunition of course, but the old Iraqi seemed alert.  Jonathan was tempted to ask him a question – what’s on your mind? – but didn’t.  He should have taken every minute he had to talk with the terp and practice his Arabic, but he didn’t like the looks he would get from Torres and Higgins.  Worse, though, was the way Hakim would sometimes switch over to English, as if the old terp knew that Jonathan’s Arabic would never reach the point of actually being able to hold a conversation.  “You speak very well,” Hakim would say sometimes, over breakfast, when Jonathan would find him eating powdered eggs and toast in the chow hall.  He always spoke with a faint, unmistakable accent, and yet his English was always so clear.  It was as if he gave every word special care before allowing it to leave his lips.  “You should practice with the newspaper.  I have some for you, if you would like to borrow one.”
            But Jonathan didn’t want that conversation now.  Especially not with Grimes just up in the turret, ready to turn and shout down some comment about how they should be talking about something important.  Like the way a bikini clings to a girl’s body – something like that.  So instead of saying a word, he stared back out the window again.
            There were days he thought about all the other things he could have been doing.  Most of his friends were now almost done with college.  He’d seen them all just before deployment, when everyone used up their leave days to head home and forget the army.  Or try to forget.  He never could anymore.  Sometimes he blamed the haircut – skin the sides, a short Q-Tip patch of hair on top, and that rough, scratchy feeling he’d get just running the palm of his hand along the wide patch of buzz-shaved scalp.  Usually, though, it was memory.  It was his mom at Thanksgiving, who didn’t hear him ask for more potatoes because she was so busy asking him about why he’d throw his life away.  “You have all this potential,” she said, as if potential was some gift handed out to precious few and then squandered by idiots like him.
            Then there’d been Dee.  Most of his friends from high school he could deal with.  He could pretend that he might follow them, or that he army would give him some intellectual advantage that would serve him later in life.  But Dee was different.  She was special.  And all he had of her – the memory that haunted him pretty much since his first day in Iraq, was that night he took her out for Chinese.  The Asian food back home in Illinois was nothing to the bulgogi just down the road from Fort Bragg, but it was as romantic as he dared go with Dee.  It had been so hard keeping still, sitting across from her, thinking about all the things he’d always wanted to say but never had.  But then he asked her about school and her research, and all the regrets came flooding back.  Yes, she was working with rats, but it was research.  She was helping find a cure for diabetic neuropathy.  She was auditing classes at the medical school with people who would grow up to be brain surgeons.  And all he could tell her, as the two of them sat separated by no more than a vinyl tablecloth and plates puddled with soy sauce, was that he had flunked out of Arabic school.  “I’m gonna be an MP,” he remembered saying.  And he had said it with such pride.  As if it really mattered.  “You know, military police,” he said, trying to make her smile.  “Why fight the law when you can be the law?”
            He’d meant it as a joke.  But Dee didn’t laugh.  She hadn’t said “that’s nice” or “I hope you do well” or anything like that.  Instead she turned back to mashing her potsticker in half with her chopsticks.  Later she talked a bit about her boyfriend.  And at some point in the night, they each went back home to their parents.  The hug was nice, but what more could be said?  That he wished he could stay with her?  That he would have, if not for that five year contract with Uncle Sam?  He already knew what her answer would have been.  And it wouldn’t have been “I’m glad” or “you should” or a kiss on the cheek.  She would have smiled, maybe – that nervous, “I don’t know what to say because I don’t want to hurt your feelings” kind of smile.  The one she always wore.  The one he was so accustomed to that the memory of her expression sometimes made him queasy.
            He was supposed to be watching the road for IED’s.  He was, as Torres put it, “supposed to make up for shitbag lieutenant” and catch anything on the passenger side that the lieutenant wouldn’t notice.  Instead he closed his eyes.  Would Torres notice?  Not if she was watching the road.  Or Grimes?  Yeah, he might notice.  “Hey, wake the fuck up, New Guy!” he’d call down.  “Al Qaeda ain’t some fucking Santa Claus – they ain’t gonna care if you’re asleep with your little toesies in bed.”
            But no one noticed that his eyes were closed.  He tried to imagine what Dee might be doing now, and he tried to see himself saying something to her.  He didn’t know what the words would be, but he kept imaging that there was something special he could say to those eyes, something that would bring more than a nervous smile to her face.  Something that would bring her face closer to his own.  And there lips –
            But then the humvee swerved hard, slamming his head against the window.  The weight of the helmet strained yanked on his neck before the plastic thunk of Kevlar on polycarbonate stopped everything.
            From above, Grimes was shouting down the hatch.  “Left, left, left!  Pull fucking left!!”
            Jonathan jerked his head around in all directions, trying to see what was going on.  All he could see, though, were people and buildings.  And then there was another thunk, this time from the front bumper.  Someone – a little boy? – was spinning to the ground as they raced past.
            “You just hit someone –” the lieutenant started, but Torres was yelling too loud to listen.  “What the fuck are they doing?  Grimes!  Damnit, Grimes, do you hear me up there?!”
            Up ahead, the other humvees were swerving to avoid the sudden rush of people.  They were all running, but it was like they didn’t even see the humvees.  Jonathan caught a few wild-eyed looks before being shoved forward as Torres hit the brakes.  But there was another thunk against the front bumper, and Jonathan felt the tension.  Shit, shit, shit, he was thinking, expecting rocks and rockets to come hurtling at them any second.  But then a head and torso emerged from in front of the truck – it was an Iraqi man wearing a blue shirt.  And Grimes was yelling at him to “get the fuck out the way!”
            Then the radio crackled to life.  “All units, all units – casualties!  Dismount, dismount!”
            Dismount?  But the truck was moving again.  And the trucks up ahead were still moving.  A woman with a small child in her arms flashed by his window.  The humvee missed her by inches.  She didn’t seem to notice.  He had this sickening feeling that she would get clipped by the humvee behind them.  And then Grimes was cranking the turret swivel as Torres swerved again – right, this time.  Then the truck came to a squealing halt.  The lieutenant had his door open before Jonathan even knew what was going on.  Torres flashed her gaze back his way.
            “Get out!” she shrieked.  She yanked open her own door and yanked out her carbine from under the pile of empty MRE packets.  “Pull some fucking security!”
            Security – right!  He pulled the lever to pop open his door.  The strap to the machine gun was caught under Grimes’s feet, and there was a lot of yanking and “What the fuck are you doing down there, Mitchell?” before he finally got his weapon free.  And then he was standing alone on the street, nothing but a few yards of pavement between him and a crowd of fleeing Iraqis.
            Except the Iraqis weren’t fleeing the convoy.  They were pushing and shoving their way into the building storefronts on the other side of the road.  And so he brought his weapon to the low ready, stock-to-shoulder.  A two-four-nine wasn’t meant to be fired from the shoulder, but what the fuck was he supposed to do?  Get down on the ground?  And then it occurred to him that maybe he was.
            Then someone grabbed him from behind.  “Back behind the fucking truck!” the lieutenant spat in his ear, dragging him around the humvee’s rear bumper.  An instant later, the ground shook as a corner shop burst into flames.
            By then Jonathan was on the ground behind the humvee, his back planted against the rear wheel, while the lieutenant had him practically pinned down under his weight.
            “Where’s your ammo, kid?”
            Ammo?  Right!  The SAW drums.  In his assault pack, middle of the truck.  Right in front of where Grimes was standing.  And Jonathan tried yelling this back, but the lieutenant was already shouting something back to Torres, and she was swearing back in turn.
            The lieutenant grabbed Jonathan by the chinstrap of his helmet.  He pulled his face so close that Jonathan could feel the man’s spittle on his nose.  “Get those ammo drums!” he shouted.  Then he shoved off and sprinted over to another humvee.
            It was after the lieutenant let him go that Jonathan could see the full scope of the mess.  Their convoy – all five trucks – had whipped around into a half-circle, forming a barrier between the fleeing Iraqis and the now flaming building.  And on the other side of the barrier – at the center of the wide half-circle – was their sister convoy.  Or some of it.  A couple humvees had plowed into the back of an LMTV.  The bigger truck had been burned down to a smoldering skeleton of charred steel and melted rubber.  The humvees weren’t much better off – one had t-boned the other, and then the heat from the fire had blistered away most of the paint.  The polycarbonate windows had visibly sagged.
            At first, he just assumed the trucks were empty.  They were so still and lifeless.  Aside from a few licks of flame and the bits of tire still dripping from the axles, the trucks were completely immobile.  As if someone had planted them there as a kind of modern art – a sculpture of war, perhaps, or a memorial of some kind.  It wasn’t until the lieutenant and one of the medics sprinted in from the defensive perimeter and began kicking at the sealed humvee doors that Jonathan’s attention shifted to the motionless turret above.  There was the long barrel of the fifty-cal pointing skyward, like some thick black hair on the back of a beetle carcass.  It was then he realized that the round dome counterweight - the heavy things that was holding down the breech of the gun, keeping the barrel skyward – was a helmet.  It was a long moment before he realized that the shadow beneath the helmet hid a blackened face, and that the slender twigs hanging off the guns handle came from no tree.  They were arms.  Arm bones.  Plain white arm bones.  Like the plastic pieces from some doctor’s office skeleton.  Except marred by the few clinging gobs of blackened flesh.
            That was when Torres screamed at him to get off his fucking butt and pull some fucking security.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Share With Your Friends!

Share__ __ Delicious Delicious__

What's the air power in a magical war?

Who wields the magic on a battlefield?

From where do wizards draw their magic?

The Most Evil Form of Government Is: