By 2010, at latest, official life in the United States of America, as in the rest of the privileged world, had devolved into a circus freak show. The only officials and educated people in the world who did not know the great corruption of ruling circles did not wish to know. One had to commit to being a freak of negligence and delusion to rule under such conditions. Unfortunately, the sane were not strong enough to stop the insane. And so the ever so polite and decorous but brutal and murderous official freak show rolled on, infecting and obliterating the bodies and minds of people far and near.
Even among the insane, they said it could not be done.
When the great President Doller FirstStrike announced a few generations ago that the mightiest of all nation states The Incorporated Estates of Wartagon (IEW) would one day extend its military headquarters (formerly known as the Pentagon) to the entire world, literally and physically, no one believed him. Well who is laughing now?
Stiel Drumhead lived all his life in the Wartagon and wished never to leave. Born in the Wartagon he believed he would die in the Wartagon because it was in the Wartagon where he thrived. Stiel was the new man, a Wartagon Man. Stiel modeled himself after the IEW’s great General become President, Doller FirstStrike, who signed the legislation officially changing the name of the Pentagon to the Wartagon.
Stiel Drumhead married happily though for many years remained without child. He felt he hardly need reproduce as there were so many of his type on Wartagon grounds. Wartagon lifers seemed to sprout spontaneously from the handy prefab walls now produced on Wartagon bases throughout the world. Stiel’s wife, Turret, was the sensible sort who did not see children as a necessity. Not that there was anything wrong with children. She was sure she could happily produce six or seven if she felt the need, and she would happily lay her body down to any pressing IEW call for extra soldiers. In the meantime she served the main body of the IEW, the Wartagon, in other ways.
Exactly per the vision of the great President Doller FirstStrike, the Wartagon at long last existed by block tunnel and cavity into and through, beneath and above not only every continent, ocean, country, state, province and county but within every city of any size, and into many towns. The Wartagon extended from its original nexus, the old Pentagon, in the form of long tunnels of endless block walls made from an off-white cement mixed with coal ash for extra strength and sporting the occasional small window not big enough to squeeze a body through.
These Wartagon tunnels, or tentacles as they came to be known, ran along every interstate and international roadway, along every rail line and transport artery into all major settlements known to, of, and by humankind. Necessarily, much of the tunnels consisted of nothing more than empty hallway, especially across the vast expanses of mountains, plains, and deserts, but the building dollars meant something to the regional economies and even more to the contractors, and in any case the Wartagon occasionally opened the vast empty tunnels to incredible long distance feats of indoor running, biking, walking, and related adventures. Much of the civilian housing that these tunnels ran past was not in great shape, which made the Wartagon works appear even more reassuring to passersby no matter how much of the sturdy structure sat entirely empty over a great expanse. Fortunately the tunnels scarcely needed repair as they were built to be all but indestructible against any civilian uprising.
The power and supremacy of the Wartagon infrastruture physically and psychically stretched over Earth like a celestial octopus with a main body the size of Mars and tunnel-like tentacles long enough to reach to the Moon and back. The octopus exercised by tossing objects whether explosive or not all about Earth and out to and around the Moon and on into the universe depths beyond imagination. The Wartagon octopus performed all these feats while clasping the planet tight to its bulk as if never to be released.
As a patriotic boy, Stiel Drumhead doodled a grand cartoon of the Wartagon as just such an Earth-hugging octopus. He pressed the image onto T-shirts and sold the banner-like gear at Wartagon ballgames. He did so under the censorious and enduring eyes of the Wartagon adults, which may have poked at bit at their seen-it-all-if-not-quite-yet energy and fatigue. A few of the kindlier moms bought the shirts. The Wartagon was always keen to cultivate patriotic entrepreneurs, the younger the better, so he sold the shirts with tacit Wartagon approval, just as he and his fellow Future Warriors of IEW had been selling flag buttons since age three. They performed skits on and about IEW holidays and invasions in military fatigues throughout kindergarten, pre-school and grade school. Nothing remarkable in that. It was the sort of thing that had been produced and celebrated even in civilian schools long before the Pentagon name change to Wartagon. A proud people in a proud land with big guns.
Meanwhile the Wartagon brick-and-mortar missile-throwing octopus suctioned and swarmed increasingly everywhere that dared to be anywhere-but-there in the command and control of the Wartagon. Stiel Drumhead desired nothing but Wartagon life for his own personal well-being and satisfaction. Stiel’s loving wife Turret Gunnar felt the same. Or, almost.
Stiel had heard of the outside world of course, the civilian world, don’t get him wrong. He perused the pictures of chaos in The Wartagon Times. He watched blockbuster films produced off Wartagon base. These civilian films struck him as a lark on the one rifle, and on the other rifle as signs of a universe rarely well-ordered, prone to riot, and, let’s face it, deeply ungodly. Stiel wasn’t going anywhere. He could tell you that.
When on rare strangely impulsive occasion Stiel’s wife Turret Gunnar wished to leave Wartagon it was never on a lark. Not that she ever did. Occasionally she dreamed. But why should she? The world outside produced danger as a rule. Everyone knew. Danger for everyone at all times everywhere. Except for the lucky few off base born to great privilege. Or just lucky. Neither of which applied to Turret.
Turret Gunnar felt herself to be the furthest thing from lucky. Blessed, deeply blessed, but not lucky. She did not care to be, did not wish to be lucky. She wished to be blessed and she was, she knew she was, and that was all that mattered in this world, and in any other, The Other, World. Turret Gunnar had faith like most everyone she knew. She wore her faith like a necklace on the inside. Modestly but proudly. And with faith, anything was possible. Anything. Even luck, which nevertheless she looked right straight down her humble but proud little nose upon.
Sure it made Turret sad that Wartagon saw its fair share of bumps and bruises. Turret believed the violence on Wartagon to be maybe not that bad, war by passing war and that it became maybe easier to bear each and every training crash by accidental explosion by friendly fire. Wartagon violence was predicable, after all, almost controlled. Civilian violence was chaotic, scary, wild. Wartagon violence was spectacular, familiar, righteous. Civilian violence was strange and barbaric. Violence on planet Wartagon was for the ultimate cause, one could always comfort oneself. It was worth it. Besides, what choice did a poor trooper have in this world?
The ultimate cause of causes in all the Wartagon world, it went without saying, was the defense and the infinite growth of the Wartagon.
What else? The Wartagon was all.
Certainly plenty of Wartagon jobs required regular patrols off base. However, Stiel and Turrets’s Wartagon jobs were more pure than that. They never once had need to leave the compound. Wartagon’s tunnels and Wartagon planes took them to any and every Wartagon locale where their presence was required.
Did Turret Gunnar and Stiel Drumhead never go outside?
Don’t be ridiculous! They played and lived and worked and loved out and about the grass and trees, the woods and waters as often as not but they never went off base.
They did not need to. The Wartagon holdings were immense the world over. They did not feel they ought to. The loyalty of Turret and Stiel was even more immense. Proud base babies through and through they were. They would be the first to tell you. At least, they used to be. As they aged, they no longer were so quick to jump to the exaltation of themselves in relation to the Wartagon. They were more quick to consider that other lives might be equally worthy to theirs. In theory at least. In the meantime, in reality, they had their own high priority jobs to do and gave serious consideration to little else. So they remained Proud Base Babies, oddly secure and privileged IEW workers as they hopped around the world from job to job occasionally coming under attack
There was another T-shirt of, by, and for the young Stiels and Drumheads and Gunnars everywhere:
One word stenciled directly over the other in solid formation. Stiel had worn the shirt proudly as a child and planned to buy his own children the same should he and Turret at some point embark upon a family.
No one was more proud of her Wartagon life than Turret Gunnar even if she sometimes wondered what the outside world might be like for real. She scarcely dared think of venturing into the surprisingly vast reaches off base. What could it mean to a base baby to go off base? Nothing good, surely. In any case the Wartagon offered the ultimate in freedom and the next-to-latest in shopping. Free health care too but one did not speak too loudly about free anything other than free-dom.
What an entity was Wartagon! an honest-to-goodness living outgrowth of the inanimate, tentacular endless limbs pods attached, detached, covalent to the main octopus, accessible by Wartagon Airlines (WA). Massive firing grounds, highly structured campuses, tropical beaches, and hundreds of golf courses were found on Wartagon holdings and could be enjoyed the world over. Any Wartagon base of any size basically mimicked a midwestern suburb. If you got good at wrangling your duties just so, you could spend winter in the tropics, summer in the arctic. Or what need was there to ever leave a base that held both beach and golf? Every schoolboy and schoolgirl in the Incorporated Estates of Wartagon could recite by heart the major territorial acquisitions of the IEW, whether by conquest, purchase, or fiat, year by region, nation by installation. Stiel Drumhead could go further and name the commanding officer of the governing sectors of the military at each point and time of acquisition.
Born a “base baby” like her loving husband Stiel Drumhead, Turret Gunnar knew herself to be if anything more inescapably married to the Wartagon than to Stiel. She had lived and loved both the place and the man all her life, or may as well have. Together they attended Wartagon Corrections Institute, main campus, pre-kindergarten through college where Corrector Stiel Drumhead now held the prestigious chair of Corrector of Freedom for the Program of Vassal Relations (formerly PR) in the Department of Economic and Historical Necessity.
Who would want to live in the outside world as mere vassal when one could work in the belly of the Wartagon as an agent for security and order, as a militant entrepreneur for the power and the glory of all that is good in the world, as determined disciple of the late great President FirstStrike, as an unapologetic apostle of peace? The Drumhead choice was stark indeed.
Turret felt the same, almost like Stiel.
She labored as medic in the infirmary where she tempered and treated an unending flux of melted faces, incinerated limbs, and crushed skeletons.
More spiritual work was hard to find.
Or even to imagine.
Turret Gunnar felt truly she was doing the work of the great Warrior in the sky. And no one could argue otherwise.
What Stiel Drumhead understood, as esteemed Corrector of Freedom for the Program of Vassal Relations in the Department of Economic and Historical Necessity, was power. He knew that the walls of the Wartagon were moving ever outward to encompass the planet and universe. What Stiel struggled to understand was people’s inherent stubbornness in accepting reality. Why did they not all rush the walls to get inside, not in conquest but in acceptance, to live the live of the secure and the ordered and the strong? Granted, not everyone could be blessed with the privileged sight and knowledge of the Wartagon that came with being born inside it, at least not yet. But people should know. By now, long since they should know and embrace history. By even as far back as the turn of the millenium the military budget of the Wartagon had accounted for essentially more than half the budget of the state that would be the IEW. Morever, even at that pregnant time the military spending controlled by the Wartagon’s predecessor the Pentagon had amounted to more than was spent by the entire rest of the world combined on military endeavors. Even then at the second millenium, the military owned more than 200 golf courses around the world, a ski resort, and some of the most spectacular beaches in the tropics, many dozen jets for the Generals. Munitions manufacturing account for the vast, vast majority of all the manufacturing in the country, which also no coincidence was the lead arms seller on the planet.
Just so today did the Wartagon control the vast majority of land across Earth, along with its oceans, skies, and outer space not least. Young teenage warriors with joysticks sitting in plush air conditioned comfort at Fort Anywhere deeply safe in the Homeland piloted flying tank-like drones against desperate rag-clad insurgents crouching pathetically behind crumbling stone walls in some forsaken desert half the globe away. One hardly need to paint this picture that everyone knows: the Wartagon’s unmatched military prowess. Yet somehow this incredible power fails to sufficiently impress the vast majority of vassals around the world who continue with their lives as if they should not be scrambling to the nearest Wartagon base for cover, the ultimate protection and security that only the Wartagon can provide.
Stiel Drumhead tried not to judge too harshly. After all, he had never faced the Wartagon test: Do I or don’t I sign over my life to the Wartagon? He was a proud base baby who tried not to let it make him conceited.
His father had been crushed to death by a 2000 pound bomb that slipped its leash, and not long after that his mother bag-and-pilled herself to death either over the weight of the disaster or some other terror. But this sort of thing happened everywhere not just on base. And while it was true that Turret’s uncle had shot and killed his wife in front of the judge on the day of their divorce and that Turret’s mother had been killed in a raid against her supply convoy in Iraq and that Turret’s father died in a freak training incident with dummy fire (one little spark, one big gas tank explosion), these sorts of things happened in the natural world too. Nature was red in tooth and claw, and the Wartagon was red in steel and powder. That said, the more Stiel thought about it the more he figured choosing life in the Wartagon over life on the outside might not be the no brainer he had first thought.
The young warrior in back of the class wearing sunglasses seemed somehow familiar to Corrector Stiel. No matter that he could not place him and did not know why he had shown up today and slipped into the back row. The young warrior was neither enrolled in the course nor as young as the warriors who were. Corrector Stiel assumed a former student had dropped in to bend his ear after class about an old idea or two. Maybe some new field application relevant to past theory. So when class ended and the young warriors filed out, Corrector Stiel was not surprised to find the young man staying on, though it seemed odd that he remained seated in back.
“Can I help you?” Stiel called out.
The young warrior laughed in a way that Stiel had not quite heard before. Stiel examined the man more closely as he uncoiled himself from the back seat and came forth. The man seemed only a few years older than his students physically but psychially, well, he had that battle wizened air of bloody, hard, and heavy duty. Plus…there was something…else.
“Correct Drumhead, I’m Sergeant T. J. Slew.”
“Yes, Sergeant Slew, it was some years ago.”
“Counterinsurgency Theory and Vassal Relations. You were the most capable Corrector I ever had.”
“I’m surprised to hear you say that, Sergeant Slew. As I recall, at the end of the course you came up to me very much like today and told me you did not believe a word I had said the whole while, and by consequence you did not believe a word you had written to ace the course.”
“Is that what I told you? Not quite.”
“‘Well something like it.”
“I told you the theory was fine but none of it applied. I told you that our job in the field was to kill people faster and quicker than ever before, and to find more ways to kill people faster and quicker. I told you our job was to kill and not to politick. I told you our job was to gut the enemy not rinse his mind. Corrector, I sensed even then what I later confirmed that you cannot travel half way around the globe to Afghanistan or anywhere else and convince anyone of anything that they do not already believe. And you can especially not do that at the point of a gun. No matter the COIN theory. No matter the vassal relations techniques. What on Earth would make you think it could be done?”
“The Wartagon training manuals. They all show the effective use of counterinsurgency theory and vassal relations technique. Look at the case studies!”
“The case studies are cherry picked. Some are distorted. Others may be faked. It makes for good politics, provides politicians cover, gives everyone lofty things to say to everyone else in case there is anyone around silly enough to believe it.”
“Sit down, Sergeant Slew.
“Why don’t we.”
“Mine is the last class of the day. We have the room. And that’s what I mean, you did not believe a word I said or a word you wrote to earn the best marks in the class.”
“School is all about lying, is it not, Corrector?”
“On the contrary. You are suffering from cynicism of the battlefield, Sergeant. It’s not uncommon.”
“It’s more common that not, you mean.”
“You may be right.”
“I believed in your professionalism, Corrector. Your course was nonsense, but I respected the professional way in which you conducted it, and I consoled myself that there was nothing anyone could teach me on base that I would not have to learn for real on the field of battle. But you at least passed on a sense of your great professionalism.”
“I don’t know whether to thank you or send you cursing out of here.”
Sergeant Slew shifted his hips and pulled a gun out of a thigh holster. He held it on his lap, barrel pointing forward.
“Do you recognize this?” asked Sergeant Slew
What Stiel Drumhead recognized was that he suddenly felt in no position to send Sergeant Slew anywhere, a thought that struck him simultaneously as unusually disturbed and disturbing. Guns on military bases were no big deal. Stiel Drumhead was an esteemed Corrector at the Wartagon, mightest of all military bulwarks. This was his classroom not the young warrior’s. What I say goes, he thought, but realized Sergeant Slew had pointed out out how he could not care less what the Corrector thought, said, or wished.
“Recognize it? Who would not? It’s a real old timer. Colt .45. Back in the days of the Wild West.”
“Who slaughtered who then, do you remember?”
“That’s a bleak view of the age.”
“No, it was wild. Pioneers, settlers, Indians, and the Army. Plenty of slaughter to go around. In the end the Army always wins. It only seems to go away and that everyone else wins. But the Army does not go anywhere. You’ve got Wartagon bases all across the West and the country and the world. The Wartagon grows bigger by the year. The whole planet is becoming one complete base. Have you traveled to Afghanistan, Corrector? And to the massive bases even in Kansas. Dorothy’s old home. Dorothy of Oz. Dorothy is dead.”
“You spend too much time in the field, Sergeant,” Stiel Drumhead said gently. “I guess it can’t be helped. But you need to rest up.”
” Don’t worry about me.” With that Sergeant Slew aimed the Colt .45. He fired a shot through the center of the dry erase board behind the Corrector’s lectern. “Teach those warriors well, Drumhead.”
Sergeant Slew restored his sunglasses to his face and left the room in no apparent hurry.
By the time Corrector Drumhead was able to move he could not decide if he wanted to.
Seargeant Slew was gone. The shot had been heard outside though it took awhile before anyone figured out which room it had occurred in. A young officer found Corrector Drumhead sitting as if paralyzed.
“A former student of mine came into my classroom and fired a hole through my dry erase board.”
“Are you hit?”
“Do I look hit? He was sitting right here, right beside me. We were sitting side by side. He showed me his Colt .45 – “
“The Wild West gun.”
“– then he wasted my dry erase board.”
“A former student? Do you know his name?”
“I know exactly who he was. He wanted me to know. He introduced himself to jog my memory. Yes of course I know who he was. But I hate to tell you.”
“Because he’s sick. Sick on war, sick of war, sick by war, I don’t know. He’s ill. Goddamn! Who shoots a goddamned dry erase board!?”
The young officer about fell over. To no one’s knowledge had Corrector Stiel Drumhead ever cursed before.
The room began to fill with officers. A few remembered to have the base shutdown: no one in, no one out. Corrector Drumhead was asked to repeat what he knew by a growing group of warriors. When he finally mentioned Sergeant Slew’s name, “Sergeant Slew is dead,” a senior officer announced. “He was killed a months ago in Afghanistan. I knew him. And I know how he was killed. Sergeant Slew did not shoot that dry erase board.”
Corrector Stiel Drumhead blinked. He stared at the bullet hole in the dry erase board.
“Of course it is.”
“I’m sorry. It just is.”
“That makes perfect sense.” Corrector Stiel Drumhead stood up at last. He walked to the dry erase board continuing to study the bullet hole. Then he ran his finger around the tiny edge. “How many died with him?” he asked the officer.
“How many died with him?”
“Uhhh, well, Sir, I didn’t say that – “
“It’s classified, correct?”
Corrector Stiel Drumhead turned on the officer. “How many? A dozen?”
The officer reeled back. “Come with me, Sir.” He clasped the Corrector on the arm.
They went straight to the base commander’s office and were received alone almost at once, where the situation was explained. At which point, the base commander ordered the senior officer to pat down Corrector Drumhead. “I apologize for this, Corrector.”
“Oh course. I’m glad to be cleared this way.” No Colt .45 or any other gun was found on the Corrector.
“Now I think we can safely say that you did not shoot your own dry erase board, Corrector. So tell me: what do you know about Sergeant Slew’s death?” The man asking the question was Base Commander General Brill Flashpointe.
Stiel Drumhead shook his head with regret. “Slightly more than you, General, Sir. I did not ask for such information. I can only tell you that Sergeant Slew faked his own death and that he killed those other soldiers.”
The three men had been standing in a rough triangle. Two of them, after a moment spent staring at Corrector Drumhead, slowly sat down. Stiel Drumhead stood alone, awaiting orders.
“Please, sit,” said General Flashpointe. Stiel did. “Let me ask you something, Corrector Drumhead. Have you left base recently? Let me be clear. Have you ever left any Wartagon base for the field ever?”
“So the rumors are true.”
The General waved it off. “The problem is this, Corrector Drumhead. And this you will not repeat in any portion to anyone ever. We have it on the best of Army intelligence that one entire remote base in Afghanistan was overrun in the middle of the night. There were 100 percent casualties. Do you understand what I’m saying? All fatalities. Then the bodies were gathered in a mass and blown up with high ordinance explosive. And then what was left was burned with enough gasoline to torch a city. This was Sergeant Slew’s base, his unit. His personal effects along with those of everyone else on base who was not Afghani were found among the char. So it was clearly an inside Afghan job. With plenty of help from the outside no doubt. But let me make this perfectly clear: the Afghan personnel all survived. The Wartagon warriors all perished. And now you tell us Sergeant Slew is alive. What are we to make of that?”
“General, Sir, I don’t know. I do know that Sergeant Slew just shot a hole through my dry erase board. He is my former student. I know nothing of the great tragedy of which you speak. Yes, I am changing my story. I never lied to as Wartagon professional before I lied to you a moment ago. I don’t know who Sergeant Slew may have killed, if anyone. As soon as I was told with great authority that the Sergeant Slew with whom I had just chatted and shared gunfire was killed three months ago, the cogs in my mind turned. I put 2 and 3 and 4 together and got: soldier snapped; soldier too clever to catch; soldier capable of anything; soldier has great blood in his past; Wartagon misinformed. I guessed that something terrible had happened that the Wartagon was anxious to keep quiet, General. I guessed because I knew that guessing and hitting in the vicinity of reality was the only way you or anyone was going to sit down with me and tell me what really happened to or around Sergeant Slew. Or what you think really happened. Clearly, it did not. You can know that now. Of course those men are dead if you say they are but Sergeant Slew was not one among them even though you say he was. Ergo. He snapped. He killed them. Why he came to see me and shoot my dry erase board I have no idea. Though I’m sure the investigation team will wish to take down our brief conversation before the shooting as best as I can recall it.”
“That’s just brilliant,” muttered General Flashpointe. He plucked the big shiny plastic EASY BUTTON off his desk and with a fierce snap of shoulder and elbow and wrist and no small force of back he flung it across the room. It bounced off a side wall and careened across the floor.
Corrector Stiel Drumhead’s life would never be the same. Wartagon command sent him off base into the field for the first time ever. He half suspected the Wartagon of trying to kill him. Possibly the high brass would not mind if he were disappeared, beheaded, exploded knowing what he knew. Or what he and they thought he knew. He could not blame them and was sure he would feel the same in their position.
Just so, Stiel Drumhead found himself where he found himself: rifling through the mountains of Afghanistan in search of the Afghanis who had long since fled the incinerated base. He hauled gear from village to village without much hope far out on the fringe of the heart of Wartagon holdings, Greater Oila. What was he doing here? What was the Wartagon doing here? What was anyone doing here? Invade and hold Iraq to control huge oil wells. Invade and control Afghanistan to manage strategic pipelines. Figure out what really happened at the pyroed base so that it could be prevented from happening again. Stiel was under strict orders: Learn the real facts of the night of the great massacre. Only then return to base. Stiel understood the orders to be a kind of death sentence, whether professional or mortal it hardly mattered. And he agreed with the logic. A Wartagonian’s role depended upon his capabilities. Stiel had a new Wartagon job to do and he was going to try to do it to the best of his abilities. The assignment happened to be his first off base. What remained of absolutely no surprise to Corrector Stiel Drumhead was that this first venture off Wartagon base might also be his last. An inglorious end, no doubt, but then he had never signed up for a hero’s role. He was a steadfast Wartagon lifer, nothing more, nothing less. He thought of Turret warm and safe on the main Wartagon campus. He thought of the family they had never had. He searched for the truth of catastrophe by fire in the icy mountains of Afghanistan, Greater Oila, as the Wartagon knew it.
Stiel thought incessantly of the mystery of Sergeant Slew. He repeated his name to everyone, everywhere he went. Usually cold silence followed but then finally came total revelation. “I know what happened.” An Afghani named Dahr told Stiel and his interpreter. “Step outside.” From the back of the local eatery the man soon emerged with a box of pictures.
“These are pictures of my sister and cousin.”
The sister and cousin lay in dirt, dead, ripped apart by gunfire.
“They were working in the field when Sergeant Slew and his men killed them for fun. You see what trophies they took.” The pictures showed Dahr’s sister with three of her fingers missing, a toe, and half of her teeth smashed out. Dahr’s cousin had lost both ears and thumbs.
Dahr had worked on Sergeant Slew’s Wartagon base. His family had remained in this distant valley and were killed with no realization of their relation to Dahr.
The slaughter did not stop there. The next day the Wartagon warriors killed one of their fellow soldiers who was outraged by the cold-blooded slaughter and threatened to not keep quiet, Joe Campbell. Sergeant Slew set him up on the next patrol and friendly-fired him to death. Slew wrote the battle report too: death by enemy fire.
Dahr heard the news in the gossip of the soldiers. When he learned of his family’s own fate he fled the base for home.
And then the incredible happened. Months later, the younger sister of Joe Campbell appeared in his village, asking questions. Dahr told Cassie Campbell everything, the fate of her brother, his family, himself. He showed Cassie the pictures of his slaughtered kin, blasted like vermin, butchered like meat.
Cassie ventured a crazy plan. If she could get the men on base to trust her, she was sure she could kill them all.
Dahr never thought she could do it. He thought she would be found out and sent home.
He helped smuggle her onto base, where she surprised Sergeant Slew by who she was. She romanced him. It was easy as could be in a desperate and isolated war zone. She became the great base secret, Sergeant Slew’s covert pet and lover. She conned him out of much physical violation of herself. Even so it was like rape every time. Even Sergeant Slew was put off by it. She explained and apologized. She said she was basically incapable of intimacy due to some nonexistent abuse she had suffered in the past. Of course Sergeant Slew took advantage of her nevertheless.
Dahr could not admit to Stiel Drumhead the help he gave Cassie, though it was clear enough that Dahr and other locals provided Cassie all the explosives and the detonator, the knowledge of blast angles.
Cassie promised the men under the command of Sergeant Slew a special film of herself, a striptease to reward them for hiding her and, also, it was understood, for not raping her, for letting her be only the Sergeant’s girl.
At midnight, all the men gathered to watch. All the Afghanis had been warned off by Cassie and Dahr from a distance and had left base never to return.
Sergeant Slew boasted all week of the skin tape he was helping Cassie edit for the men. He had even forced her to tone it down, to cut out entirely the part she wanted to open the film with: a close-up shot of her asshole filling most of the screen staring straight into the lens. She put it back in, behind his back. Some of the rest of the tape too he thought seemed a little grim, the sucking of the rifle barrel as she brought it down into her throat and the way she put the rifle deep inside herself between her legs and pretended to shoot it.
Watching the Cassie make the film it seemed to make sense to Sergeant Slew why she was so cold with him. Because she was so cold in general. He thought he should feel excited by this and wondered why instead he began to feel uneasy.
As the start of the midnight film drew near, Sergeant Slew began to feel unexpectedly nervous. He no longer wished to share his Cassie with the men, not even on film. He felt for her. He had not expected to. He had not expected to feel human again after his time trying to survive on the Wartagon killing grounds. He had killed this young woman’s brother. He had killed young Afghani women like her. He had killed and killed and dodged death himself. And now Sergeant Slew perversely, it was so perverse even he could see it, had fallen for the sister of the soldier under his own command that he had purposefully slain. Nervously he left the room immediately before the start of the film. He slipped out the back. He had not seen Cassie slip out before him.
A moment later, the world exploded. Knocked face first into sand and gravel, he woke up stunned to see Cassie tossing cans of gasoline and oil onto the raging fire. None of his men had staggered up out of the blast. None could, none would. The cans of gas and oil began to heat and explode. Cassie screamed and cursed.
She never saw him.
He killed her with his knife through her throat.
The only witness was the fire.
He began to cut off her fingers and had to yank her body away from the fire as it grew more intense. He cut of three fingers and sealed them in a baggie. He knew with brilliant clarity exactly whom to return them too.
Then he threw his identifying effects into the blaze.
Sergeant Slew dressed and traveled like an Afghani. He returned the fingers to Dahr. They circled one another like wild beasts. Slew heavily armed. Dahr lightly, taken by surprise. They both managed to survive the encounter. Sergeant Slew escaped the country with a simple idea of what he might do, who he might see, how he might find a way not to be killed by the Wartagon. He would have to kill the Wartagon before it killed him. He thought strategically. How would he do it? Where would he start? How would he make himself superior to the Wartagon? He had carried the Wartagon’s unhinged logic in a distant land to its murderous end. He could carry it no farther. Now he must avenge himself. Now he must strike back at the Wartagon. But how to do so and survive?
He needed to strike the Wartagon in its heart but in a way that it would not strike back. Sergeant Slew returned to the Wartagon and the classroom of Corrector Stiel Drumhead.
In the Afghan town, Dahr gave the withered fingers to Stiel, who sent them off to be DNAed. Their identity verified, the Wartagon resorted to a standard cover-up that mainly consisted of silence and censorship on grounds of Wartagon Security.
Corrector Stiel Drumhead’s assignment was unexpectedly complete.
He returned home to Turret.
He killed himself the next day.
He had gone off base. And it had killed him. Turret was as certain of the cause as she was of the effect. Poor Stiel.
She took a few days off from work. She remained on base. Then she got on with it. Turret needed the Wartagon and the Wartagon needed her. Stiel, she believed, the old Stiel, the Stiel she knew and loved, would be proud.