Chess hurried outside, past the fences and the coils of wire surrounding the camp, and out into the night. He tried to stay low and keep his breathing quiet, but his breath was coming in gasps, making stealth difficult. He had been outside at night many times, but this was different: not only was he alone, but the camp itself was being attacked. As he moved into the woods, he heard scattered gunfire behind him, and around every tree his imagination saw a person.
After a few minutes in the woods, he found a dry ravine and crouched down to check his compass. He sighed: he had a long way to go, and he was already tired... and painfully bruised. The entire night seemed unreal to him. Even the attack on the camp seemed illusory, more like one of their many training exercises -- which was probably dangerous thinking, he told himself.
But he didn’t want to be out here. He looked around at the night sky, nearly blocked by trees. He wanted to be back in his cot, thinking of Mal. Instead, this night promised to be much like the previous one: a long, exhausting slog toward a far-off goal. He was not sure if he could go through all that again. And yet, people were depending on him, so he had to find the strength somewhere.
With weary determination, he rose and began to move. Chess, the master thief, was taking over this mission. The king’s men, knowing that Chess was the only one who could do this, had taken his beloved indigo priestess hostage until the magical device was safely delivered into the hands of the king. A vision of Mal’s face swam before him, her bright eyes pleading. Yes, he would complete his task, Chess thought grimly. And then he would see what he could do about the king’s men.
He reached the base and was ushered in: they were expecting him, had been watching for him. Within minutes, Chess found himself standing before the officer in charge, Colonel Howard.
“Heard you got some trouble down your way,” the colonel said. “Dissidents.” He snorted contemptuously. “Gotta give those bastards credit, though, they know enough not to attack here.”
“Yes, sir,” Chess answered, marveling that no offer of help was forthcoming from such a large base that was so near to a camp under attack. Surreptitiously, he gazed around the colonel’s office, taking in the rather showy furnishings, the desk of heavy wood, the bookshelves, the plush carpeting.
“Well, our people will have a look at this thing.” The colonel lifted the transmitter and then tossed it back onto the desk with a casual motion. “You want a bite to eat? It’s late for the mess halls, but the snack bar is still open. The L.T. here will take you.”
At that, Chess was dismissed, and he followed the lieutenant to a nearby cafeteria-style room. His mouth watered as he took in the selection of food. Had the drill sergeant forbidden him to stop and eat? That memory was far away now, as was the camp. Chess settled in for a tasty meal.
A short while later, he was headed out again, regretfully. It was not just the food: the entire base seemed a haven to him after spending so much time at the small austere camp. Even at this time of night, the hallways were alive with uniformed soldiers, moving purposefully. He thought he could get used to a place like this. He could… but he was headed overseas. And, as he left through the main gate, Chess realized that he was not at all sure what the purpose of this military base was.
The sky was beginning to get lighter as Chess finally neared his own camp. He had been hearing the gunfire, and now he was fearful. What if he ran into dissidents? Would they shoot him? He was obviously a soldier: their enemy. At the sound of breaking branches nearby, he ducked down.
Crouched low to the ground, Chess tried to think. If they caught him… what could he say? What reason did he have to be out in the woods? Well, he was good at stories… Briefly, he scanned the ground around him, and then he started to gather acorns and stuff them into his pockets.
He was close to the camp when a voice ordered him to stop. Gasping, Chess turned to see two strangers in ragged clothes, pointing old-looking rifles at him. He faked a smile, knowing his own real terror would help him to appear insane. “Hey,” he called, running toward them unsteadily. “Help!”
Continued next page...
Stewart: You, sir, have a bit of a reputation… What is the greatest mischaracterization of you?
Prince: That we were of out-of-control mercenaries. We were very much under control. We were under control of the U. S government, our State Department D.O.D. customers...
Stewart: I think that it’s an easy target…your name is Blackwater, for God’s sake.
Daily Show Interview with Eric Prince, 18 Dec 2013
Oh no: another Daily Show interview! But I read the book, Blackwater, The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, years ago. I won’t review it here because, although informative, it is written in such inflammatory language that I found it hard to draw my own conclusions while deep in the midst of reading. But the single most important point that I take away from what I know about all such military contractors is this: they work for our government. So, if they do something that the American people don’t like, well, essentially, we hired them.
A similar book that I did think was pretty good, though, was Fiasco, The American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003 to 2005, which describes the famous incident in the city of Fallujah, when a convoy was attacked and Blackwater people were killed and mutilated. While reading that book, I was often shocked over the multitude of innocent Iraqi civilians who got caught in crossfire. But here is my most vivid memory from reading that book: I was on break at work, eating some homemade cookies that someone had brought in. I was reading about this one particular incident where American soldiers had over-reacted and killed civilians and, of course, I was picturing myself stuck in my own little car on one of those suddenly deadly streets, getting shot at by people from a foreign land. And I just gasped in horror, put my half-eaten cookie down, and read those paragraphs over again.
And then I thought about how I was sitting there, comfortably eating a snack, and feeling outraged over how some soldier had over-reacted out of fear for his own life. All I can really do is hope that I’ll never be in that situation, myself.
Note to readers: We at SeeDarkly will be among gamers and geeks this weekend at PAX East in Boston, but Monday's installment will be up on time. We're hoping to join in some games, meet some new friends, and let anyone interested know about The Myth Prosaic. Maybe we'll see (or perhaps have seen) some of you there!
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