Still on the border
so you know, my hand is shakingI could so use a beer right
now. A beer would taste really, really good in this harsh land
of a constant sun.
this, this journal, this pen in my hand, calms me in a different
sort of way.
can't believe I'm still on the Iraqi side of the border. When
we first convoyed here back in the first week of March, I was
sure we'd keep moving; our tanks would roll past the ancient
bunkers and trenches left over from the Iran-Iraq War. But we
stopped in one of the most godforsaken places on the planet
and have played mindless war games ever since.
tedium is torture.
of course, the interludes of time and conversation I got to
spend with Tanya. The other soldiers in my squad aren't nearly
as entertaining, but that's now over. I won't talk to Tanya
early, and I'm due to go out again soon, but I'm not sure what
they're going to do with me after last night. The seriousness
of it hasn't hit me yet, even though I can't stop shaking.
had guard duty again last night. I was surprised to be paired
up with Tanya; they usually move us around, you know, pair us
up with different soldiers like they did on our patrols in Baghdad
or Basra or wherever we happened to be, and some of the other
members of our squad were partnered with different soldiers.
In fact, everyone switched except Tanya and me. I found this
had the 1800 to 2400 shift. I watched the sunset over my shoulder,
and it was a beautiful sight. The world will never really cease
as long as there are such beautiful sunsets. The dying sun cast
a red glow across this persistent landscape of rock and sand,
as if God (or some god, at least) had poured a bottle of red
wine across the earth.
tried to engage Tanya in conversation, but while the sun was
up, she wouldn't talk. It wasn't until well after dark that
her mouth even deigned to move.
wanted to make sure the brass was asleep before she talked.
I assured her that they were either asleep or in some colonel's
tent drinking whiskey, smoking cigars and playing cards, as
I've glimpsed them doing in the past while we enlisted types
sweat and freeze in this harsh, harsh desert.
I started our conversation where we had left off, as soon as
Tanya relaxed enough to smoke a cigarette. "To answer your
question, there's no point in fighting this war, if there's
nothing at home left to fight for, unless you're going to fight
to bring back our way of life again, a way of life most of us
have never had a chance to miss." Most of our division
had spent the last couple of years scattered across the globe,
forced to forsake leave and R and R.
continued, "The only purpose I saw in passing out the letters
when they did was to guilt some of us into submission. You know
as well as I do that some soldiers need no reason to fightthey'd
attack a nursery school if it meant they could fire their weapons."
readied her mouth to speak but forced it shut with a gasp. Our
company commander (a captain, another one of those West Point
types) and a Perfect Soldier came up on us from behind, their
footsteps falling silent on the loose rock and sand.
cigarette was still smoldering in her hand. She took one quick
drag; she knew she was busted.
Captain Flanigan didn't seem to care about the cigarette. I
could see his face in the brutal moonlight, stern and serious
and agitated. I swear I could hear his teeth grinding.
Benson and Specialist Jankowski, good evening." His words
were pleasant, but his voice was not. "Come with me."
there a problem, sir?" I asked. I knew this was going to
be bad, and I tensed up.
Perfect Soldier gripped me by the arm and hauled me into an
upright position. Tanya quickly stood as she saw me pulled to
robot's grip was tight and strong. I knew I couldn't pull myself
robot's willingness to resort to physical force was disturbing
in so many waysI mean, who could stop one if a robot got
out of control?
enough, Soldier," the captain said to the robot. I could
tell he was uncomfortable, as if someone else had sent him out
there into the night to perform some task that he really didn't
want to do.
unfortunate thing is that that task included me. The robot let
me go, and I was surprised that it took an order from the captain.
Who's in charge of these things? The one told me that it answered
to General Prescott, but he's thousands of miles away. How can
he possibly direct the Perfect Soldiers that are here?
pulled us off our post, and the captain led us towards the makeshift
brig. I was surprised that no one else assumed our post, since
we seemed to be ready to commence an imminent war.
we walked the quarter mile from our post to the edge of the
camp, I wanted to ask what I had done wrong. And what the hell
had Tanya done wrong besides smoking a cigarette?
I knew the answer.
known the answer when I'd first come into contact with one of
the Perfect Soldiers. I'd known then that the world as I knew
it had changed.
robots are not only brutal and fierce and intelligent, they
are also telepathic. I knew the way you can feel someone staring
at you from across the room; you can feel the eyes staring at
your profile or boring into your head. That's how it is with
the Perfect Soldiers. I can feel their eyes travel the hemispheres
of my brain.
always tried to read the science journals in the base libraries
or even at Wayne State; I've always wanted to be intellectually
I can never get past the first couple of paragraphs of any given
article. I always gravitate to the more politically aware articles,
you know, the ones about environmental damage caused by greenhouse
gases and melting polar ice caps. I'm a good liberal, even if
Army life has no need for political distinctions.
were led into a large tent, and the smell of sweat and shit
and urine greeted me as soon as I stepped inside. It was the
tent where the journalists were kept. I was shocked at the conditions.
I assumed the journalists were kept in moderate comfort, just
under guard so they couldn't report the news back home.
no, the journalists were kept as if they were prisoners of war.
counted ten men and two women. All of them were stripped down
to their underwear, and the women were topless. I could see
grubby handprints on their breasts. They were handcuffed and
shackled, and they were forced to sit in pairs with their backs
to each other. Their faces were agonized and fearful.
Perfect Soldiers were in the tent with them, walking around
them in a slow, methodical circle.
knew this wasn't going to be good, and I longed for the politically
correct army that had existed when I'd enlisted, the army that
had treated journalists like royalty, the mouthpieces and advocates
for the military agenda. But that has all changed in a very
Benson and Specialist Jankowski, you are suspected of sedition
and disloyalty," said the robot that escorted us, and I
noticed for the first time that each of the
Perfect Soldiers had a slightly different face. They looked
similar, as siblings would, but not identical.
you have been given an opportunity to prove us wrong and to
ensure your freedom."
fear had started to slip away, only to be replaced by anger.
brazen self, the Ben Benson that arrives when cornered and irritated,
reared his insolent head.
huh? Have I ever disobeyed an order?"
Flanigan quickly shook his head, as if that alone could save
me from this robotic or electronic judgment that was being guided
by god only knows who.
doesn't matter, Sergeant Benson. If someone accused of murder
pleads their innocence because they've never robbed anyone,
does that make them innocent?" a Perfect Soldier asked
as he stood in front of me.
got me there.
we have proof, by the way. Listen to this."
repeated, word for word, in my voice and in Tanya's, every political
conversation that Tanya and I had ever had.
you are, Sergeant Benson, in your own words. You don't believe
in this operation or anything the Army has you doing. That is,
by some definitions, sedition and punishable under the revised
UCMJ, hanging on every wall in every military office across
the globe. I wish I'd taken the time to read the damn thing.
But I hadn't.
Specialist Jankowski, you are guilty of moral crimes."
looked at the Perfect Soldier with eyes that seemed to say "Fuck
you and die".
crimes, yes. Sodomy, to be precise. Need proof?"
your proof," Tanya said, her strong words the opposite
of the sureness of her voice.
had to stop writing for a while. My body was starting to collapse
and I had to get some shuteye before it was time for duty again.
But I was excused from duty, meritoriously, the new company
commander told my squad leader; I can spend the next 48 hours
in any fashion I please. Let's see
A movie would be good,
maybe grab a bite to eat, or maybe just sit on my ass and stare
at this lunar landscape that is starting to close in on me like
an all-encompassing straightjacket.
one of the robots had proof of sodomy.
Perfect Soldier removed the top of its fatigues and exposed
its body. The torso was shaped like a man's, but it was featureless;
there were no nipples, no belly button, just a smooth, featureless
terrain of its chameleon-like skin.
a monitor appeared where its stomach should be, like on some
childhood television show that I vaguely remember.
there was Tanya, highly detailed in that robot's screen. I could
tell it wasn't a recent video; her hair was longer.
been wrong about Tanyaand glad of it, even though what
I saw on the robot's monitor was uncomfortable.
definitely wasn't gay.
monitor showed Tanya with another man, and to put it bluntly,
she was blowing him. You know, sucking his cock. Hence, sodomy.
screen went blank and the robot donned his uniform.
Flanigan asked, "Proof enough?" in a quavering voice.
hadn't been disarmed yet; Tanya and I still had our weapons.
I wish we'd been disarmed.
really wish we'd been disarmed.
screamed and fired at the robots, but of course her bullets
were impotent. The bullets just bounced off the Perfect Soldiers,
sounding like raindrops falling on a tin roof.
she turned her weapon on Captain Flanigan, who had taken cover
behind me, his head peering over my shoulder.
shot him right between the eyes, and I could hear and feel the
wind and heat of the bullet as it almost singed my left ear.
Flanigan fell backwards immediately, and blood poured out of
his forehead in a furious gush. I could hear it gurgle.
robots all pointed their hollow index fingers at Tanya and fired
silent bullets, bullets that tore her body to shreds, making
it an unrecognizable montage of flesh and bone and hair and
the journalists, their already anguished faces spattered with
Tanya's blood, closed their eyes as they screamed, terrified.
They looked so pathetic and helpless. I lost it.
always wondered what a nervous breakdown looks likeI mean,
do you just collapse in a heap, or do you just start freaking
out and blabbering incoherently?
think I have an idea now.
many emotions came rushing at me in the tent. You'd think fear
and anger would be at the forefront of those emotions, but I
know now that my soul is a twisted one.
was jealous of the man Tanya had been with, some other soldier
that I didn't know. He got with her, so to speak, and I didn't.
Now I never would.
that in turn made me furious, and the whole insanity of the
situation erupted in me.
started firing my weapon randomly and rapidly across the tent.
deliberately killed all the journalists.
I keep reassuring myself that I put them out of their miseryand
they were indeed miserableand I keep telling myself that
they would never be released, and what would have happened to
them once we crossed into Iran? We wouldn't have taken them
with us. I suspect a robot would have left them to die or perhaps
would have killed them all, as I had just conveniently done.
Perfect Soldiers were pleased.
done, Sergeant Benson," said the one who had escorted me.
"You have passed the test. Your loyalty will never be questioned.
You performed the task we were going to command you to do. You
are free to go."
I walked out of that tent and across the camp to my berthing
tent, where I sit now, shakily writing away.
was played, as they say. Played for and like a fool. But what
can I do?