Part 2Chess tried. He really did try, even though he was so certain that he would not succeed. The next few days were a blur of activity and loud voices. The only talk among the new recruits seemed to fall into one of two categories: either centering around the status of professional sports teams or discussions of which one of them was going to end up being platoon leader. Since neither subject held any interest for Chess, he didn’t socialize much. He was too exhausted most of the time, anyway.
But he got through the days because, frankly, he was not bad at some crucial stuff, like getting himself organized in the morning, following orders… and running, of course. He managed mostly to keep his head down and avoid getting noticed too much. It was kind of a strategy game, he decided, and Chess the master thief was especially good at being unnoticed.
The war that he was about to be thrown into had started right around the beginning of the century and simply never ended. In fact, it had only expanded over time, and the drill instructors, with their wall-size maps of light and color, seemed to get lost while explaining exactly where the fighting was, even as their faces were overlaid with shades of terrain and bright border-lines. In discussions among the recruits after such sessions, Chess started to realize that not many people actually knew how many fronts the military was fighting on, these days.
They needed many, many soldiers out there now. And so, the initial training had become more abbreviated than it had been in the past: after the first three months of the standard stuff for everyone, new graduates were shipped directly out to the field for real-life training in their occupational specialty.
Chess thought about his family every once in a while, but there was not that much time to dwell on anything. His mind tended to wander back toward the city, especially while he was shaving, because, really, he didn’t have to put much effort into that activity. Actually, he hardly even needed to bother.
“You come into my line with your shirt unfastened and your face half shaved?” the drill sergeant bellowed.
Chess sucked in his breath as quietly as possible and kept his eyes straight ahead, his face expressionless. The drill sergeant was yelling at the recruit next to him, and Chess could feel hot breath against the side of his own face.
The early-morning line-up seemed to last forever, and Chess was always somewhat glad to get on to the day’s training, whatever it was. Running and obstacle courses were his least-hated activities. The day that hand-to-hand combat was introduced, however, was probably the most stomach-cramp inducing time for him. Having to work together with others, though, was not so bad, since he had done that at the game, and also, certainly, in school -- even if it had all been done through avatars there.
“I am so sick of people breathing on me,” the recruit in the cot next to Chess confided, once they were back in the barracks for the night. “Not just the drill sergeants,” he groaned. “Everybody’s so… close.”
Chess grunted in agreement, without adding anything that might invite a discussion. In surprise, he realized how lucky he had been to have the experience of many long nights of sitting at the game’s crowded table: lots of people breathing on him and bumping shoulders there. It was the kind of experience most people, just walking down a street in the city, didn’t get anymore. Yeah, he was even used to having people spit food on him. The thought made him smile ruefully. “You’ll get used to it,” he muttered, and then added encouragingly, “You can probably get used to just about anything.”
Suddenly, the door to the barracks slammed open and footsteps crashed down the hall, the sound getting progressively closer to them. Chess looked up with dread, expecting to see one of the drill sergeants, but instead found himself blinking up at one of the larger and louder of the new recruits.
“You get it together in the mornings, Dallow,” the big guy shouted at the kid next to Chess, “or you get out of my platoon! You got me?”
Continued next page...
And so our nation went to war. We have now been at war for well over a decade… So America is at a crossroads. We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us, mindful of James Madison’s warning that “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”
President Obama at the National Defense University 23 May 2013
Back in the early days of my story, it had a different focus. I was working on the second incarnation of it sometime after the Gulf War. Chess was only a supporting character. The novel that I was trying to write began with a few sentences that went something like:
They never called it a war. They never had the chance. The entire country was in such a frenzy, gearing up to respond to the attacks, that the public had little interest in the official classification of the conflict. And then, before too long, not enough people were left to sit at home and watch television and ponder the details of what was happening, anyway.
Yeah, I was very glad that my “prediction” did not come true after the September 11 attacks! I was nervous, at least somewhere in the back of my mind, that something big was threatening. I even knew the name Osama bin Laden from reports of the attack on the S.S. Cole. (You know: I read about him in Time Magazine...)
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