Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Friday Flash Fiction (Cycle 17) Along the watchtower

(Author's note: Throwing my two-cents in for the Friday Flash Fiction effort. Had to grab the nearest book and go to the 56 page and use the fifth sentence as the starter. My wife's copy of "Wolf Hall" was nearby so I used it. Once again excuse the typos, hey I do this from the seat of my pants when time and family allows.)

"They sent messages ahead, but has anything been done?" Major Curtis Ballantine asked while walking beside the young lieutenant looking around at the mounds of debris and trash piled up in unused sections of the firebase in the middle of occupied Iran. On the landing pad behind Ballantine the spinning rotor blades of the drone helicopter that delivered him to his new command increased their tempo in preparation to return to division headquarters throwing a stinging spray of fine sand in all directions.

"Yes Major," Lieutenant Banner said crisply ignoring the sand hitting his exposed neck even though Ballantine was forced to jump behind a pile of empty ammo containers to escape the painful shower. "It’s just things have not been running as smoothly since the death of Lieutenant Colonel Stevens. Combat operations take priority and with the start of the offensive last month pushing deeper into the Karkas mountains, we had no time. The entire battalion is still preoccupied with either directing the remote combat operations of the hunters and terminators or maintaining them when they come back for resupply and repair. Making matters worse, the Iranian guerillas often get close enough to harass the firebase perimeter forcing personnel out of remote operations and into real time combat."

The cargo helicopter now up in the air and heading westward back into Iraqi territory the artificial sandstorm it caused abated allowing Ballantine to come from behind the empty containers. He absentmindedly dusted off his new uniform only to look up and see the young lieutenant giving him a strange look. It was then that he noticed the young officer’s uniform that while clean was heavily worn to the point it should have been replaced. "What's the supply situation here Banner? Does division and corp headquarters give us what we need or do we have to fight for everything?"

The lieutenant seemed in pain for several seconds trying to say something. His expression was strained but it suddenly lifted and he closed his eyes and raised his right hand to touch the neural interface located on his right temple. Ballantine could see the lieutenant’s rapid eye movements as he apparently received information from the firebase battle computer. "Records suggest that we receive everything we require for maximum efficiency." Banner said rather mechanically after opening his eyes.

Ballantine was strangely unsettled with the look on Banner's face and started walking towards what he thought was the entrance to the underground battalion headquarters without him. For the first time he started to look closely at base personnel as he heard Banner move quickly to catch up.

On the surface everything looked normal, maintenance personnel could be seen repairing the large six-wheeled hunters along with the smaller spider-like drones that were nicknamed terminators. Cooks, medics, and other support personnel could be seen going about obviously normal duties except that none seemed aware of their surroundings, they went on almost as mindless as the support drones that was suppose to make their jobs easier. There was nothing that suggested humans worked on this base, no music, talking, laughing, or anything else soldiers did to relieve the stress of living in a combat environment. Hell, not even minor bitching or bellyaching, which was a soldier’s only real God-given right.

"Lieutenant," Ballantine said, " find the sergeant major and the battalion executive officer, I want them both in my office in one hour. I don't care if they are about to find Khomeini's tomb or the lost treasure of the Persian Empire, something isn't right here." Ballantine didn't want to think about the strange rumors that made the rounds back in the civilized world.

His office was easy enough to find in the warren of underground rooms that served as battalion headquarters. While sitting behind his new desk waiting for both his sergeant major and XO, he reviewed the history of the unit he was about to command on the large office wall screen.

The 666th Infantry Battalion had been one of the first units into Iran fifty years before just months after the Iranian government had launched their nuclear missiles in 2016 destroying six American cities and forcing a fundamental change in the structure of the United States.

The initial campaign had gone well with the Iranian Army, Navy, Air Force, and Revolutionary Guard quickly going down into flames. But the occupation bogged down almost as fast into an horrific quagmire with robotic combat drones coming online just in time to prevent utter defeat. Still after fifty years of pacification and reeducation efforts Iran was a dangerous place with American and allied Iranian government forces never moving much beyond the safety of secured areas.

"Reporting as ordered," the fit but more than middle-aged woman said offering a perfect salute. "Major Catherine Sullivan, I'm your XO, sorry I wasn't there to greet you upon arrival but we just found an active weapons factory in the ruins of Teheran."

Ballantine was speechless at seeing the age of his second-in-command figuring, that even under martial law and wartime conditions, she should have been retired years before. Looking at her Ballantine realized the conspiratorial rumors joked about back in the world were not so slowly unfolding in front of him.

“Well major,” Sullivan began trying to suppress a smile, “before I congratulate on your new command I have to ask, whose corn flakes did you piss in back at New Pentagon?”

Coming suddenly through the office door unannounced was the sergeant major who plopped himself in one of the comfortable office chairs ignoring all military decorum. All hope left Ballantine as the senior noncommissioned officer smiled back at him. Just looking at the sergeant major Ballantine figured he would be stretching plausibility if he guessed the man was a day under seventy years-old.

“There has to be some mistake,” Ballantine exclaimed at both his XO and sergeant major, “neither of you should be wearing the uniform much less be stationed in the middle of a combat zone.”

“Major,” the old man said enjoying Ballantine’s obvious discomfort, “did you ever hear of an old song called Hotel California? That’s why in the early…”

Sullivan stepped up and touched the sergeant major on his shoulder. “Major Ballantine, she said, “I hate to break it to you but this posting is permanent for anyone stationed here. The only way to leave this place is to be killed in action or by old age, like Lieutenant Colonel Stevens."

“How does the troops deal with the separation, the abandonment?” Ballantine asked knowing he had already figured everything out reaching up instinctively to touch his own neural interface mounted on his own right temple.

“The base battle computer,” Sullivan said, “has an override program that takes the pain and memories away. The average troops gets about two hours a day of restored mental function. Hell, some even go for complete wipes with only enough function to eat, shit, and fight. It’s quite the solution the brass and the politicians came up with to solve PTSD and recruitment.”

The sergeant major was now casually stroking Sullivan’s hand suggesting years of intimate familiarity. “Before Cathy interrupted me I started to say that back in the early days of the war when it became apparent that the restructured United States had a need to keep certain elements out of the public spotlight I named this place Firebase California on a whim. We were all insane after the attacks so even as the nation changed beyond recognition when the brass came to us soldiers and said these neural implants would aid in the war effort we all agreed without hesitation. I had no idea that my name for this place would ever come so completely true"

"You actually had some idea about this?" Sullivan said looking at the expression on Ballantine's face. "And you still walked straight into this Hell, now that is funny."

“We are programmed to receive. You can checkout any time you like, But you can never leave!” The old man sang before he started crying with the XO bending down to hold him tightly.

Flashing through Ballantine’s mind were his wife and kids and it was then the base battle computer activated his neural link removing all his cares and memories allowing him to take command.


Windsmoke. said...

That's the future all right Cybory Soldiers, instead of killing the younger generation of human soldiers.

Sue H said...

I bet a few governments would be only to happy to have this facility at their disposal!

A very well-crafted story, that begs expansion. It would make a very good novel - I should go for it!!

Cloudia said...


Aloha from Honolulu
Comfort Spiral



Flannery Alden said...

This is an interesting idea. I think it could use some shaping, though. Maybe because the story is larger than 1500 words. I agree with Sue: Go for the novel!

Beach Bum said...

Windsmoke: As far back as the mid-1980's I would read Jane's Defense Weekly and Aviation Week and Space Technology and see articles about how the US military was looking into robotic systems that independently guide themselves and pick enemy targets and engage them. I don't keep up on military developments like I use to but even with the rapid advance of computers I still see a human element being required.

This story is just my idle and more than likely misguided imagination but including a human element in remote combat operations does eliminate certain issues.

Sue: Thank you so much for your kind words! As for a novel, I have a huge smelly pile of 14,000 words on my hard drive that begs for attention but every time I try and either add to it or craft it better I get depressed. The local community college here has several writing classes and one of them is how to write a novel. I plan on taking it this fall, maybe then I will have the competence to tackle such a large project because right now I am completely lost.

Cloudia: Thanks, send some of your Hawaiian sunshine this way please.

Flannery: Thanks! Almost did not make the deadline. Yeah, this was slap dash and I already see two avenues that could improve it greatly.

Chef Cthulhu said...

Dude, I really liked it. You did a great job of expanding on some real issues of today and making a great story.

Doc said...

Great tale BB! Your war stories are always top notch. At first I couldn't see where you were going with this, but stinger in the end really rounds out the story.


Randal Graves said...

Does this mean we'll all get our very own Firefox?

Beach Bum said...

Chef: Thanks, the idea of neural links is, of course, crazy but I freaked back in the mid-80's when I read about the military looking into autonomous robot combat vehicles. It was not long after the first Terminator movie and it only got worse in the late 90's when I was taking some programming classes and the instructor chimed in saying such "glitch" in an autonomous system wasn't that far out of the realm of possibility.

Doc: Thanks man! If you want good stories those last two of yours were out of the ballpark hits.

Randal: I'd settle for a neural link with a lawnmower. That way I could cut my yard while laying back in my picnic lounger sipping a margarita. Of course the minute my evil neighbor came outside I might try and run the fucker over.

MRMacrum said...

Excellent Beach. Just excellent. This needs to be expanded.

Akelamalu said...

You could easily turn all your Flash Fictions into full blown novels!

Will "take no prisoners" Hart said...

When the Major was asking the Lieutenant how the "supply situation" was, the first thing that came to my mind was that smarmy no-good bastard, Rumsfeld. "We fight the war we have with the supplies we have" or whatever the hell it was that he said so dismissively.............The story was very good, btw, and I agree with mu colleagues, expand it!

Beach Bum said...

Maybe I should post this on Facebook just to blow off steam but I'm about to send my son to the moon. Had to ground him to his room all weekend, of course with bathroom breaks and the chance to eat.

Mike: Thanks, just me wondering out loud.

Akelamalu: Thanks but I'd have to develop some real talent first.

Will: Dammit you are scary good! That is exactly what I had in mind since that bastard is making the book tour rounds.

Will "take no prisoners" Hart said...

Yeah, I've been catching some of those appearances, too, double b. It's all that I can do to keep my munchies down.......Not necessarily that Gates could have prevented the war (had in fact he had gotten there first) but at least he would have executed it better.

Ranch Chimp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ranch Chimp said...

Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh ... Bum ... a Hell of a story, and a refreshing change for me as far as what I do read. Geat piece of work though Guy. BTW ... I happen to like the Eagles too, and "Hotel California", yep ... seen them "live" too! :)

Ingrid Hardy said...

Wow this was interesting! Like the others say, try expanding it!

Joyce said...

This was really something. I got a very creepy feeling at the start, like something wasn't quite right but couldn't really see where this was going. Then when you realize what's been done to these people, it's so beyond cruel, but then again, from the government's point of view, at least they won't experience cabin fever or crack up in combat. I'm not sure if you intended this as horror, but it most certainly is that. Fantastic!

Marja said...

You have to look for words? There are endless great stories appearing on your blog ! Didn't you use the theme of erasing memories before and weren't you going to write a book about that or am I just being mixed up today
cheers marja

Pixel Peeper said...

I agree - you need to write. Aldous Huxley came to mind reading this post.

Beach Bum said...

Will: I wonder about Gates sometimes, I figure he knows where far too many bodies are buried to ever be truly "free" from government service.

Ranch: Eagles are one of my favorites, I like it that conservatives hate Don Henley. It upsets them to listen to Eagles songs because he is the talent of the group.

Ingrid: Looking at some possibilities, I may have some sequels.

Joyce: Yeah, I wanted a Twilight Zone/Lovecraft-lite feeling. Governments worry me, despite all the declarations of freedom and liberty they all like the power they have, crave more, and will do anything to protect it.

Marja: My stillborn "novel" is about crazy characters based here in South Carolina. I'm officially lost and over my head on that project but hope one day to have a miracle brainstorm to get it started again.

Pixel: Huxley's "Brave New World" scares me more that 1984 in some ways.

Oso said...

Beach only you could tie Hotel California into a futuristic military sci-fi tale!