Tag Archives: fiction

Friday Fiction

Here is part of a story I’ve been toying around with for awhile.  Enjoy!

1 June 2011 – Twenty thousand feet somewhere above the border between the Northwest Frontier Province, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“Two minutes!”

The Jump Master was attempting to look calm and composed as he walked up and down the center of the aircraft but Fredrick could tell he was nervous. He could almost see the pent up energy trying to burst out of his small frame. It wasn’t clear why he was so jumpy since in the half dozen times Fredrick had leapt out of a aircraft with this particular Jump Master the guy had never left the plane. He was always yelling and pushing everyone out and wouldn’t be seen again until everyone had made it back to base. What the hell did he have to be nervous about?

“You alright, bud?” Dave kneeled down in front of him and began checking his gear and tightening his straps. He didn’t think they could get any tighter but a good yank elicited a muffled ‘woof’ of air escaping his chest. He liked Dave. Training had been brutal and almost constant but whenever they could they’d spend a few minutes relaxing and playing catch behind the barracks. Kicking off your gear and running around without having to worry about orders or plans or timing was like a bit of heaven. He was pretty sure it’d be awhile before he even saw a ball again let alone had a chance to play.

Dave looked him in the eye. “This is the real deal. You’re heading into the shit. Be careful you sonofabitch.” There was the briefest of delays, most people would never have even noticed it, before Dave smiled. It looked more like a grimace, though, and Fredrick could tell it was an attempt, even if an incredibly poor one, to put a good face on. Fredrick moved to shake Dave’s hand which made the smile genuine and brought out a bit of a laugh. “Yeah, nice to meet you too.”

Fredrick looked up and down the aisle. The members of his small team were on either side of him getting their gear checked as well. Argos to his left and Shuck and Garm to his right. And Morris. He didn’t like Morris at all. None of them really did. He was added to the group rather late and just about everyone had tried to take a shot at him at one time or another. Sometimes the cadre had broken them up in time to prevent any serious damage but Garm had a nasty scar from one of their fights. Nobody would shed a tear if his chute didn’t open although the bastard would probably land on his feet and give everyone one of those crazy looks like it had been his plan all along.

Morris turned his head slowly down the aisle and met Fredick’s gaze. The guy looked bored and like he was ready to take a nap. Once their eyes met he broke out into one of those grins and licked his lips. ‘Great.’, thought Fredrick, ‘My first time leading a team and they give me a psycho to deal with. I really don’t need this.’ Unfortunately, command decided that Morris was needed. He was familiar with the country and had two missions under his collar. That alone made him valuable, never mind his other skills. Still, Fredrick wasn’t convinced Morris was on anyone’s side other than his own.

“Thirty seconds!”

The rear door to the aircraft began to open and the last rays of evening light crept through the cabin of the plane. The team began getting to their feet and shuffling into position with the help of their ‘handlers’. Fredrick always thought that was a strange and somewhat condescending term. The team had trained to operate independently and without outside assistance behind enemy lines for weeks or months and they needed ‘handlers’?

A light near the cargo door began flashing and everyone stiffened in anticipation. It wouldn’t be long. Argos took a quick look back at Fredrick and let loose one of his trademark howls. It was corny but effective as the rest of the team joined in, bolstering their courage for the next few seconds.

Almost immediately after they finished, the light went solid red and before the Jump Master even had a chance to say ‘Go!’ Argos ran out the back of the plane. He always did love that part. The rest of the team followed suit, gathering up as much momentum as they could under the weight of their gear and flinging themselves out of the aircraft.

Fredrick took his leap and felt the satisfactory tug of the static line and the opening of his parachute a moment later. He hated hanging from the chute as it was probably the most vulnerable he’d been since he was born. He also didn’t particularly care for the sensory experience either. Sure, the view was amazing but seeing a lot wasn’t as exciting as seeing well and he always preferred viewing things up close so he could scrutinize them. The lack of smells was also disconcerting. He wasn’t sure if it was the excitement of the jump or just that smells didn’t make it up that high but the lack of any scent just made the whole experience seem unnatural. He barked a laugh at that thought. As if hanging from a piece of cloth at 10,000 feet was natural.

To say the world they were jumping into looked uninviting was an understatement. The rocky, mountainous landscape was almost entirely barren and broken with only the occasional instance of pathetic scrub to indicate the countryside was totally devoid of life. A few miles away a ribbon of trees indicated a stream or small river as did the presence of farmland nearby. Fortunately, the evening sun had sunk over the horizon and the scant moonlight meant they were unlikely to be observed with their state of the art ‘stealth parachutes’. They were made from a material that absorbed and reflected light in such a way that people actually saw through them in light conditions like this.

As the ground rushed up to meet them, the team began looking at their landing spot. They had virtually no control over their parachutes or where they would land but it was always helpful to see what sort of trouble one was about to find oneself in. Fredrick saw Argos going down a short distance away from his landing spot but wasn’t able to see him hit ground as he had to focus on his own touchdown. He hit the ground harder than he had practiced and rolled, almost getting caught up in the lines of his chute. Upon contact, the automatic releases freed him from the parachute harness and he got to his feet quickly. He looked to see where the rest of his team was landing, listened for Argos to come towards him and sniffed the air for trouble.

Shuck and Garm came down about a couple of hundred meters to Fredrick’s left but Morris landed directly in front of him. While everyone swore those parachutes were impossible to maneuver, Morris appeared not only to land exactly where he wanted it to but he made it look like he floated to earth like a feather. Morris stared at Fredrick without saying a word but managing to emit both contempt and boredom at the same time.

‘I’m not going to let him bait me…I’m not going to let him bait me.’ Fredrick kept thinking to himself wondering where the rest of the team were. Unable to contain himself, Fredrick met Morris’ gaze.

“Ok…I give up. What?”

“Well,” Morris began “let’s just say I’m not exactly filled with confidence based on what I’ve seen so far.” The team had finally begun to assemble, everyone appearing to have made the jump without sustaining any injuries. “And while I appreciate you all are the ‘rah, rah, do or die’ types make no mistake that I have no intention of turning this into a suicide mission. So, make stupid mistakes at your own risk and don’t expect me to save you.”

“Now, I’m going to check out the area and see if I can find anyone in this country who didn’t hear your crash landings. Try to be useful and find something for us to eat.” Morris said over his shoulder while he padded off into the darkness.

Shuck walked over to a scraggly shrub and sniffed. “I’ve said it a hundred times now. I hate…fucking…cats.” With that he lifted his leg and urinated at the bush.

“Well, then, stop sniffing around the litter box.” Garm replied with a panting laugh as he came over and sniffed the shrub. “Ugh…dude, I thought you stopped drinking out of the toilet bowls at base. What are you, a stray?”

“Enough!” Fredrick snapped. He was always aware that given he was the smallest of the group he had to work hard to maintain his alpha status. “Morris is part of the Pisho Palang unit and the only one of us who’s ever been here in Afghanistan. He might not be as disciplined as us but the bosses decided to transfer him to our unit so let’s just deal with it.” Fredrick jumped up on a nearby rock. As a Jack Russel Terrier the move just brought him to eye level with Argos, a huge Mastiff and Garm, an Akita. “Now, Garm you go and recon the area. Argos, get the food from our jump packs. There’s no need to try to hunt tonight.”

“Got it.” The Akita said as she slid off into the night.

“What about me?” Shuck said. The black labrador looked at Fredrick.

“Why don’t you go with Garm.” Then he thought of Morris again. They said that this mountain lion breed was ‘domesticated and trainable’ but Fredrick couldn’t help feeling like lunch every time the cat looked at him. Even with his Kevlar armor Fredrick wouldn’t last two seconds against the cat. Morris wouldn’t really eat him, would he? He remembered a line from a movie he and Dave would watch after training sometimes. What did that actor say?

‘Do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do ya?’

Fredrick most definitely did not.

“On second thought. What don’t you hang around here with me.” We’ve got to come up with a plan to find our target. Those jihadi monkeys have their base around here somewhere and they aren’t going to find themselves.

“Yeah, monkeys.” Murmured Shuck as he sniffed around at a rock that appeared perfect for marking. “Just so long as we don’t have to deal with any more cats. I hate fucking cats.”

Kvick Tänkare

Mike Bennett has put his vampire audio novel ‘Underwood and Flinch’ up on You Tube.  This is totally worth you time.  Mike does great stuff.

We’re coming up on Halloween so here’s a cool, creepy vid for you (h/t i09)

We’ll stick with the animal world with this brilliant infographic on cheetahs.  I include it here not only for its intrinsic value but as an inspiration into thinking about how other types of data (yes, I’m looking at you intelligence analysts) could be presented in different and (dare I say it) more effective ways.  Click on the image to see the thing in it’s big, animated glory.

huh…seem to be on an anatomy kick today.  Check out these amazing pics of animal skulls from the NYTimes.  Lesson learned today:  Do NOT screw with the Chinese water deer.

Estragon42 has  put up a bit of fiction asking the questions ‘What if Hemingway deployed to Afghanistan?‘ Check it out.

Finally, courtesy of Discover magazine, is this piece summarizing research that seems to indicate that people that sign their documents on the top of documents (before they’ve entered data or made a statement) their information is more accurate than if they sign at the bottom of the document (after they’ve already done the work).

People are often dishonest in little ways on forms, rounding numbers in a beneficial direction or failing to mention a relatively small item as part of a larger list. If they sign a form once they’ve done all that, they don’t go back and correct it; instead, they’ve already woven a story to themselves—consciously or not—about why what they did was perfectly fine.

It’s worth noting that most intelligence products do not have the author(s) names attached.  Now, there’s usually a very good reason for that.  Namely, that the analysis done is supposed to represent the agency’s position and not the individuals.  Additionally, there’s a security issue as well.  Knowing that analyst ‘A’ is the one who writes all the stuff about security issues in Outer Mongolia opens that analyst up to targeting and influence.

That being said, I’ve heard analysts say things like ‘I don’t care, my name’s not on this.’   There’s got to be a way to address both problems.

The Thing tells all

My enduring affection for Jon Carpenter’s The Thing is no secret.  Clarkesworld Magazine has a most excellent story by Peter Watts that is written from the point of view of the creature.

Very interesting and imaginative perspective.  Check it out.

Homeland Disfunction – The true and astounding adventures of Peter Wesley part 2

Part 1 here.

“Ok, everyone.  Gather ’round.” Fred Marko, the Admin officer for the fusion center said aloud, twirling his finger in the air like a cowboy calling for all the chuck wagons to circle.

Peter popped his head over the cubicle wall, saw Fred and quickly looked around at the other cubicles.  He’d learned early to follow the pack before listening to instructions thrown out to the crowd.  The first three times people had called our some variation of “Hey, everyone! Over here!” he’d gone over to the speaker only to find himself alone and selected to attend meetings and given projects whose tediousness was exceeded only by the After Action Reports he was forced to compose for the various supervisors who were supposed to attend in the first place.

His co-workers, meanwhile, kept their heads down and pretended not to hear.  Particularly insistent types would go from cube to cube trying to get the attention of each individual.  Everyone would do some variation of the ‘What? Me?’ look.  Those who were quite adept would always have a pair of headphones on and pretend to have been lost in music.

Mary, his cubicle neighbor, was a master of deception being able to mimic the movements of removing headphones so perfectly that no one had noticed that she never wore them.

“It’s all in how you twist your head.” She explained over coffee.  “Most people over exaggerate their hand movements but leave their heads rigid.  It’s a total giveaway. I spent about four months last year researching how the human brain processes visual information and detecting things that are outside the norm.  Best four months of my professional career.”

“Where’d you do that?” Peter asked.

“Right here.  They assigned my some bullshit project to do that I finished in an afternoon but they forgot about it almost as quickly as they assigned it.  After that, I realized I was in this weird Twilight Zone and unaccountability.  Whenever someone asked what I was working on I told them I was finishing the assignment they gave me.  They were so embarrassed that they forgot what the project was supposed to be that they just smiled and asked how it was going.  Eventually I felt bad for them and handed it in but it happens once or twice a year.  I should finish my Masters Degree next year at this pace.  Next I’m going to learn Italian.”

He practiced the fake headphone trick bu he could never really get it right and resorted to just sticking earbuds in his ears first thing in the morning and taking them out a few minutes before he left for the day.  It almost always worked.

“C’mon, hero.” Mary motioned to him.  “This is one we can’t dodge.”

People began to emerge from their cubicles like survivors coming out of fallout shelters after a nuclear strike.  Looking vaguely disoriented and unsure of what was to come they began to cluster around the large conference table in the center of the office.

“Ok, folks.” Fred began. “I just want to begin by saying you’re all doing a super job.  Really amazing.  I just want to make sure we’re on track to keep up our high standards.

“So, I think there may have been some confusion about our admin reports so I want to take this opportunity to review.”

Peter noticed a collective sagging of everyone’s shoulders.

“I’ve noticed that not everyone is doing their scheduled reports.  Peter, for example.”  All eyes swiveled and locked on Peter.

“Uh, I’ve been doing my Daily Activity Report .  That’s what it says in the handbook.  Right?”

“Well, that’s you D.A.R. and that’s fine but you haven’t been doing your WAR or MAR.”

“My what?”

“You’re Weekly Activity Report and your Monthly Activity Report.  After all, if we don’t have those, how in the world will we be able to put together the Annual Activity Report?”

“Oh” Peter started.  “I wasn’t aware of those.  If you can send me a template I’d be happy to do them.”

“They’re just like the D.A.R. except the columns are shifted around a bit.”  Fred answered.  “After all, we want you to take these reports seriously so we don’t want any ‘cut and paste’ jobs.”

“So,” Peter began slowly, not quite sure he understood. “You want me to fill in the same information just in a different format so that it will take longer?”

“No, not so that it will take longer.  That’s just the way it ends up.  The DAR goes to Human Resources, the WAR goes to management and the MAR goes to the Department of Homeland Security.  Each wanted the information in a specific format.  Then they meet quarterly and annually and check to make sure the reports all match.”

“Yeah, but…” Peter was cut off by a look from Mary.

Don’t bother asking. Her expression said.

“Uh, sure.  No problem.” He finished.

“Great!”  Fred beamed. “Don’t forget now, these reports are forward looking so we want you to describe the activity you’re going to do over the next day, week and month not what you’ve already done or are currently working on.  If you do something that you didn’t anticipate you’ll need to fill out the appropriate correction form, email it to me, the command staff, and Human Resources.  Then, fax a copy the command staff and hand carry a copy to Human Resources, making sure to get a receipt and bringing that back to me.  Once you do that, you should get a confirmation in your email within 96 hours.  If you don’t, you’ll need to send an email to the Command Staff secretary asking to track your request and if they can’t identify where it is in the system you’ll need to repeat the process at the time you file your next report. Got it?  Good!”

Everyone took that as a sign that the meeting was over and began to shuffle back to their cubicles.  Peter looked at his watch as Mary came up alongside him and he stopped in his tracks.

“Two hours?!  That meeting took two hours?  Don’t tell me this watch is busted.  I know it’s a Pakistani knockoff but I still paid a lot for it.”

“It’s not broken.” Mary whispered.  “We were there fore two hours.  Why do you think I gave you the ‘wrap it up’ look.  If you didn’t shut up we would have been there for another two.”

“Wait, what?  How is that possible?  We weren’t there for more than 10 minutes.  It seemed interminable but it wasn’t really that long.”

“Look,” Mary took him by his elbow and pulled him out of the way of the foot traffic. “I guess I’ll have to tell you.”  She sighed.  “This place is kind of funny.  ALL meetings take at least two hours here.  It doesn’t matter how long they really are.”

“Oh,” Peter replied with a smile.  “I get it.  Haze the newbie, right?  Mind games?  What’s the punchline?  You can tell me, I’ll play along.”

“No, you really need to understand me.” Her face became even more serious.  “All meetings here take at least two hours.  You remember a ten minute meeting right?  Well, so do I but I guarantee you we remember different ten minute meetings.  And if you asked everyone else they would all remember different versions of the meeting.”

“I don’t understand.” Peter said.  He was scrambling to try to figure out the angle but Mary didn’t appear to be joking or insane.

“I know.  Nobody is sure why but weird things happen here with time.  Some people think it’s because this place is situated on an old Indian burial ground, others think it’s because of that whole Mayan calendar doomsday stuff.  Me?  My favorite theory is that there’s a microscopic black hole in the center of the earth but not the exact center.  It’s a little closer to this location and the effect of this super massive object being just a few centimeters closer to us results in all sorts of distortions in the space time continuum.  One of the ways that manifests is that all meetings take at least two hours.”

“I don’t understand.”

“The thing about all these theories is that, ultimately, none of them explain the phenomenon here very well and, perhaps more important, believing any one of them really should certify you as bat shit crazy.  Still, once you eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth, right?”

“I don’t understand.”

“Yeah, you’re going to need to stop saying that.  It makes you look stupid.”

“Oh, sorry.  So, I guess I just avoid meetings and I’ll be OK, right?”  Peter attempted to put on his ‘very thoughtful’ face in the hopes of not looking quite so befuddled.

“Well, it’s more than that I think.  It can actually be dangerous.  A little while before you got here there was a guy…Jason, I think his name was.  Maybe Josh.  Something with a J.  Definitely a J.”  She drifted off in thought for a moment.

“Anyway, he booked himself for two meetings 30 minutes apart.  You know, to test this theory.  Now, people remember his being at both meetings in their entirety.  He was at two places at the same time!”

“I don’t…wait, that’s not possible.” Peter was starting to feel like he was in free fall.

“Even weirder, is the fact that he was never seen again.  I can’t find his name on any paperwork or emails.  His desk, the one you sit at now, gradually emptied out but I don’t think anyone actually removed anything from it.  I barely remember him but I’m pretty sure we dated for awhile and I think I may have slept with him.”  Mary put her hand to her chin and looked down, deep in thought.  “Yeah…definitely a name with a J in it.”

Peter really didn’t’ understand what was gong on but clearly repeating that fact out loud wasn’t a winning strategy so he figured he’d try something different.  “So, what are you saying?  Some secret government goons are removing this J guy’s stuff because he uncovered some secret of the universe.?”

“No,” Mary said firmly.  “I don’t think people are doing this.  I think the universe is erasing this guy.  He violated some sort of basic laws of physics and that created an irritant to the underlying structure of reality.  I’m guessing that when that happens things have to resolve in one of two ways.  Either, the irritant has to be erased or the universe does.”

“I knew I should have smoked hash is Afghanistan.  I think this might make more sense if I was high right about now.  So what do the overlords who run this place say about all this?”  Peter needed something stronger than whatever was available at the Keruig machine in the kitchenette.

“Not everyone notices.  You saw Fred.  He thinks these meetings are great.  He describes them as super efficient.  Oh, by the way.  When you fill out your reports, you can’t indicate that these meetings take so long.  It creates all sorts of problems and makes management aggressive.  Make up some bogus project and list that for all the extra meeting time.  Oh, and don’t mention how much time you spend filling our these activity reports.”

The got back to their cubicles and Peter sat down trying to absorb what Mary just told him.  Looking down, he saw a piece of paper peeking out from under the cabinets behind his desk.  He reached over and pulled it out, seeing it was a torn print out of an email.  What was left of the paper read:

This meeting appears to conflict with another appointment you have scheduled.  Would you like to cancel this one?

He looked at the ‘To’ line which is where the tear began on the paper.  The only thing that remained was the beginning of a name.  ‘J’.

Yep, definitely a ‘J’ name.

 

Homeland Disfunction – The true and astounding adventures of Peter Wesley

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed True History – Imperial Farce.  You may remember the character of SSG Wesley (from part 2).  He doesn’t play a major role but I began wondering what happened to him.  So, I figured I’d dive into the deep end of fanboyism and try my hand at a bit of fan fiction.  In what may be a reoccurring series* we’ll follow Mr. Wesley after his return from Afghanistan, demobilization and fortunes as a shiny new analyst in the civilian side of the war on terrorism.

*Depending on my motivation and your proclivity to tolerate my pretentiousness.

Peter Wesley looked out over his new kingdom. The cubicle had been filled with various notices, phone numbers, pictures and tiny mementos to his eventual satisfaction. Even though he’d been home for three months, he still took pleasure at how his things didn’t acquire a coating of dust if left alone for a day or two.

“Hey Pete, you got a minute?” Johnny Donivitz asked, popping his head out of his office. As the director of the Joint Emergency Regional Center (pronounced ‘Jer-See’ by management and ‘Jerk’ by everyone else) he merited four walls that went up all the way to the drop ceiling and his own flat screen TV.

“Sure.” Wesley replied moving to Donivitzs’ office. Virtually every inch of wall or shelf space was taken up with military patches, coins, scale models of tanks and books with titles like ‘Go! Go! Go! Leadership Secrets of the Navy SEALS’. This struck Wesley as a bit odd since as far as he knew, Donivitz had spent his whole career in law enforcement.

“You settling in alright? How’s everything going?” Donivitz was so full of energy he was practically bouncing in his chair. He didn’t even let Wesley answer before continuing. “Good. I’m really glad you’re on board here. It’s going to be nice to get another warrior here. We’ll have to do lunch and talk about Afghanistan. When were you there again?”

“Uh, I just got back a few months ago. Were you there as well?”

“Yeah. Back in ’08. Man, did we get in the shit.”

“I didn’t know you were in the military. What unit were you with?”

“Wasn’t in the military. But after all, we’re a paramilitary outfit so it’s the same thing. I went there for ten days as part of an employer appreciation thing. One of my subordinates was in the National Guard so he got me a trip to Bagram for a couple of days and then to Qatar for some R&R. It’ll be nice to have another Afghan vet here in the unit. We’ll be able to swap war stories. I’ll tell you, all these civilians don’t get what it’s like for guys like us when we come home.” It looked like Donovitzs’ lip began to quiver and his eyes began to unfocus. “That TCBY had the best yogurt I ever tasted.”

Oh god. Wesley thought. Please don’t cry. Please don’t cry. Please don’t cry. Got to get off this subjet.

“So, what can I do for you?” Wesley asked.

“Well,” Donivitz replied composing himself quickly and picking up a small green army man that was part of what could only be described as a diorama that decorated his desk. “Now that you’re all set up I’d like to talk about your assignment. We were really glad to get you on board as an intelligence analyst here since we’ve got some big projects coming up that you’d be perfect for. As you may know, cyber terrorism is the next big thing in homeland security. Al-Qaeda is sucking wind in Yemen or someplace like that and we haven’t really had any good domestic terrorists in almost twenty years so DHS has decided cyber is where it’s at. So, congratulations Mr. Cyber Analyst! Now, what I’d like you to do is start working on a full workup on all the threats that we might face in our region and who might commit them. How long do you think something like that might take?”

“Um, that sounds interesting. I hate to be a drag but I do need to tell you that I really don’t know that much about information technology though. The Taliban didn’t spend a whole lot of time hacking computer systems.” Of course a few did, but mostly it was to try to access porn sites for free. Wesley didn’t share that however, as that remained part of a highly classified project to determine if there was a correlation between terrorists’ porn preferences and attack targets and time. Terrorists viewing porn involving actors portraying pizza delivery men were four times as likely to detonate an IED near a delivery vehicle than those who watched porn without pizza guys. IARPA was still trying to determine how to actually use that information.

“Oh, that’s no big deal. I’m sure it’s won’t be that hard to pick up. Here’s a pamplet I picked up at a briefing I went to last week.” Donovitz handed over a wrinkled piece of paper with a heading that said ‘Mr. McRuff says: Don’t be a cyber bully!’ “So, what do you think? A day or two to familiarize yourself and then we can start expecting some products? I already promised the director we’d be unveiling a new cyber initiative newsletter to all the law enforcement agencies and private companies in the region. I’m thinking we’ll call it ‘JER-C Bits and Bytes’. Pretty good, huh? I’ve found some really cool clip art you can put on the front.”

Wesley began noticing a pronounced throbbing around his temples.

“Also,” Donovitz continued, lowering his voice conspiratorially, “we’re coming up on a new round of federal grant funding. I hear that fusion centers that have a cyber program are automatically going to get 20% more this year. So,” his voice returned to its normal volume. “there’s no time to waste.” He began to get out of his seat, giving the universal sign for ‘this meeting has ended’.

“But, wait.” Wesley said. “Can you give me any specifics? What kind of information are you looking for? Do you want this relevant to technical experts or laypersons? Executives or entry level? Who’s going to use this information and how?”

“Yep.” Donovitz replied. “Sounds great!” He moved around his desk and motioned Wesley up and out of the office. “I’ve got a meeting to go to but you’re asking the right questions. Try to get me a draft tomorrow.”

“But I don’t know what you’re asking for.” The pounding in his temples was spreading. “What format should it be? Can you even tell me what font you want it in?”

“Absolutely. This is going to be great. I knew we made the right decision hiring you. Go get ‘em tiger!” Donovitz had shuffled him out of the office offered him a big smile with two thumbs up as the door shut.

Seconds later, from behind the door he could hear the faint sounds of someone impersonating the sounds of a tank driving, machine guns firing and explosions. “Hotel five, this is Tango two! Enemy at six o’clock! Pow! Boom!”

Wesley stood there with his head pounding and a crumpled fact sheet about cyber bullying designed for 5th grades in his hand.

All of a sudden he began to miss the Afghan dust that would cover everything if left alone for a day or two. He wondered if he still had the phone number for that recruiter.

A break from reality…

I’m also listening to the audiobook of The Greatest Science Fiction Stories of the 20th Century.  I’ve missed all of these stories before but even if you are familiar with them you should consider picking this up if, for no other reason, for the reading of Terry Bisson’s ‘Bears Discover Fire‘.

You can watch the first four minutes of Iron Sky which everyone here at TwShiloh (by which I mean, just me) has been quite excited about ever since the first trailer was released these many years ago.

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If you haven’t seen the BBC remake of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes (names, appropriately ‘Sherlock‘), you’re really missing a treat.  The show brings Holmes and Watson up to the 21st century (with Dr. Watson being a military doctor recently returned from Afghanistan) and updates a lot of Holmes’ quirks in some very clever ways.  Watching the series makes one realize just how disappointing the recent movie reset was which is a huge shame since it had so much raw talent involved.  Anyway, here’s the trailer.
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True History – An Imperial Farce Part 2

Kabul, Afghanistan

Pity the Nisha Khatri’s of a century hence. Even those willing to brave the legacy of colonial bureaucracy will find little to reward their efforts, as those producing the records destroy them almost as quickly as they are produced. Those that remain will likely be hidden away on a SIPR-net hard drive, discarded in a Bagram landfill. The PowerPoint’s and information papers of the action officers squirreling away at their terminals in forty-foot shipping containers, stacked in a Kabul suburb like children’s Lego blocks. If fifty-monkeys with typewriters could produce Hamlet in a century, certainly a hundred field grade officers with Microsoft Office could solve Afghanistan in a decade.

Goddamn it!” Major Chris Lover shouted, barely disturbing the night watch around him (they’re used to this sort of outburst by now). “Did you hear about the guards at the French embassy who grabbed a 12 year old boy off the street to while away their afternoon? If I read one more story about ass-fucking, I am literally going to lose my mind. Afghanistan must be the gayest country on earth.”

The NSA signals specialist seated behind Major Lover made a note – this quote would later spread meme-like as the tag line below multiple e-mail signature blocks. Otherwise, the watch was generally content to listen to the MP3s illegally uploaded to the intelligence network servers, or idly watched the ever-present “Predator Porn,” broadcast on multiple thirty and forty inch screens around the room. Like regular porn, the Predator variety does have its moments, but over- saturation and constant exposure turns the titillating banal.

Peshawar, Pakistan

The penthouse bar at the Pearl Continental was a sub-continental version of the Mos Eisley Cantina (this is before they blew it up), a more wretched hive of scum and villainy than you will ever find. Though not scrupulously applied (maybe this is why they blew it up), a foreign passport here granted you access to one of the very few Johnny Walker outlets west of Rawalpindi. Consequently, the cheap blue plastic high-school cafeteria chairs and press board laminate tables were thronged with aid workers from USAID, DFID, WHO, UNESCO, and GTZ; contractors from Halliburton, KBR and MFCENT; agents of the ISI and other three later intelligence agencies, which would be redacted from this text, even if it weren’t fiction. The jihadis might object to the drinks menu, but they found this forum useful as well, and while they eschewed baseball caps, many of the uniform photographer’s vests belonged to LeT, JI, TTP, QST, HiG, TNSM, LJ, JeM, HuM, SSP, PT, AT, IMU, IJU, and a host of acronyms undreamt of when the U.S. Congress passed the AUMF against the AQN in 2001.

There are official covers, where you pretend to be someone you’re not – or more importantly, pretend not to be who you really are – complete with back-story and forged travel documents. There are postures and personas that run only braggadocio deep, when you just pretend to others that you are who you wish you were – that you were a Rhodes Scholar, that you did two combat tours in the ‘Stan, the real kind where you were getting shot at every day, rather than hanging out at Green Beans coffee on the Kandahar Air Field boardwalk reading Maxim. There are delusions requiring only an act of will, whether conscious or not, where you pretend to yourself that you are who you wish you were – that you didn’t finish grad school because it was all empty talk, not worthy of your attention, and you really could stop drinking whenever you really wanted to. Ideally, these would all layer over one individual, who really isn’t. And then there’s just plain mistaken identity.

“What are you drinking, Jack?”

Hunched over the bar in a wrinkled, Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros t-shirt, the drinker did not reply. Medium height, medium build, brown hair just the shaggy side of conservative. Unremarkable in every way, except to those who know him.

“Jack Tierney, it’s only eleven-thirty, you can’t be blind drunk yet.”

“Excuse me?” The drinker looked up, confused.

“It’s me, The Don. I know it’s been a while, but I can’t believe you don’t recognize me. Is it the mustache? It is the mustache. My girlfriend hates it, too, but when in Rome….”

“I’m sorry, but I think you’ve mistaken me for someone else. My name is Paul Chandler.”

“Huh? Oh, I get it,” the man gave a theatrical wink. “Whatever you say, ‘Paul.’ But it was Jack, last time, wasn’t it, in Karachi? I have a hard time keeping them all straight.”

“Seriously, you’ve got me mixed up with someone else. My name really is Paul, and I’ve never been to Karachi.”

“Fair enough. Mum’s the word then. But regardless of what you’re going by these days, you need to be going out of this bar pretty damn sharpish. Bottoms up and let’s get out of here.”

“Listen, I’m charmed that you seem to think I’m some kind of long lost friend…”

“You’re going to be long lost, period, if you don’t get a move on. This place is going to vaporize into a ball of flame in just under ten minutes, and we’re late.”

The glass of scotch flipped sideways. “Late for what? What are you talking about?”

“Late for getting to a minimum safe distance. And if we don’t get moving, late as in ‘late,’ ‘departed,’ ‘deceased.’ There is a police van in the parking lot packed with ammonium nitrate and timed to detonate at precisely eleven forty-five.”

“It’s eleven forty-five right now.”

“Your watch is wrong.”

“No it’s not.”

“We can continue this conversation in hell, or across the street. I vote for the latter.”

“What about all these other people? Shouldn’t we warn them?”

“They wouldn’t believe us.”

“You mean they wouldn’t believe you. There is no us. Why should I even believe you?”

“I’m only telling you this for old time’s sake.”

“I keep telling you, we don’t have any old times to be saking.”

“And I keep telling you that you’re going to be dead in,” he glanced down at the antique pocket watch in his gnarled hand, “precisely seven minutes. Now let’s go, Jack.”

“My name isn’t Jack.”

Precisely seven minutes later. A screaming came across the street. Don and Jack (we’ll just call him that for now) were jogging down Mall Road and had almost reached the Edwardes College campus when the fireball bloomed across the parking lot, raining shattered glass and shredded concrete and shredded people through the night.

“Come on, hurry!” Don urged, although he was the one panting with exertion, his shirt damp with the sweat of a fat man running in the South Asian heat, while Jack was trotting along comfortably.

“Where are we going?”

“Someplace close, someplace safe. This way.” They left the road and began making their way across the wasted scrubland towards the railway line, tripping and stumbling in the dark over the broken ground. A black wall rose up in front of them, blocking out the dim, undersea glow cast by the stockyard lights, filtered through the haze of pollution. Closer inspection revealed that the wall was composed of stacked forty-foot shipping containers, smelling of diesel and rust and damp. Don fumbled in his pocket to find a key, and with a slithering clank of chain, he pulled the door of the last container open with a grunt. “In here.”

With a clink and a curse and a crank, a small portable generator sputtered to life, sparking the hesitant flicker of a single fluorescent tube strung from the ceiling. The inside of the container looked like a military surplus store had been upended and vigorously shaken – camouflage netting lay in heaps, surrounded by a scatter of tan-packaged MREs, and teetering stacks of black plastic shipping cartons.

“What is this?”

“My rabbit hole. ISAF cargo container. Got ‘misplaced’ on its way to the Khyber. More importantly, it’s sterile.”

Jack looked down at the thin slime of mud and oil which coated the floor, and now his boots. “Huh?”

“No windows, fluorescent lights, no clocks of any kind,” Don waved about, digging into one of the haphazard piles of gear. “It’s like Las Vegas. Time doesn’t operate inside here, at least not in any way that you can measure. It’s the only environment for safe storage.”

“Um, I’ll probably regret asking, but what are you trying to store?”

With a eureka grunt, Don produced a green steel ammunition can (marked for 5.56mm ball), slipped the antique watch from his pocket inside the canister, and snapped it shut. Placing it gently on the floor, he sat back on a mound of webbing and pointed down at the olive box, accusingly, as if it where ominously ticking. “I’m storing that.”

“And what is that?”

“It’s a watch.”

“I gathered as much, but sooo….okay, wait a minute. I admit I’m a little bit drunk – well, maybe a lot drunk, it’s after midnight, and I’m in a box on a railway siding with a complete stranger, having just narrowly avoided being blown to bits by an IED. I need to make a gesture at least towards returning to sanity. Who the hell are you?”

“Don Quigley,” Wiping his hands on his cotton cargo-pocket trousers, he offered a handshake. “Friends call me DQ for short. Good friends call me The Don.”

Jack accepted the handshake gingerly, as if suspecting it might bite him. “Okay, I think I’ll just stick with ‘Don’ for the time being. So why, Don, are you storing a watch inside an ammo can inside a stolen storage container? And what does it have to do with exploding vans? And what does it have to do, for that matter, with me?”

“I told you, brother, I owed you one. Was pretty surprised to see you here in Pesh – I thought you got PNG’d after the Taxila thing, but hey – stranger things have happened. Anyway, couldn’t just leave you there, knowing what was gonna happen.”

“I’m not, I didn’t…” Jack began to protest.

“I never forget a face, brother.”

“I’m sure. Anyway, forget about that for now. How did you know about the bomb? Are you some kind of secret agent or something?”

“Just a public minded citizen.”

“But how did you know? There were dozens of locals in there, not to mention the rest of the hotel. How could they not know and you did? It’s not like you really blend in, or some terrorist might confidentially give you a tip-off by accident.”

“The watch, man.” Quigley pointed again towards the ammo can.

“The watch?”

“It’s set to Pakistan Real Time.” Quigley stared at Jack, as if expecting him to understand the gravity of such a claim.

“What? GMT plus five?”

“No, that’s Pakistan Standard Time. This watch is set to Pakistan Real Time.” Again the air hung heavy as if some statement of momentous import had been made.

“Wow, I’m drunker than I thought, or the blast wave did something to my brain. Still not getting you? Do you mean it’s set 15 minutes slow or something? One of my friends at the embassy does that, keeps her from getting so frustrated when Pakistanis are always late for meetings.”

“Kind of, but different. You remember when we where in Anbar, back when we were both in one service or another? Remember Petreaus talking about the Washington clock running faster than the Baghdad clock?”

“No…I was never in…..wait, never mind. Yes, I remember that line.”

“And when they sent him out to Afghanistan, he was always talking about the Kabul clock versus the DC clock.”

“This is going somewhere?”

“Turns out it wasn’t a figure of speech. Time is an environmental factor, just like light or temperature, and it’s different from place to place. There’s technological fixes to other environmental stuff. You can make day into night time, you can make the tropics arctic. Stands to reason you could do the same with time. The watch does that. Pakistan Real Time is thirty to forty minutes behind the time on our watches. It’s not precise, which can be a problem, but by switching between the two, I could see the explosion in our time half an hour before it happened here. Warn you, and get out. Stands to reason.”

“Uh huh, stands to reason.” Suddenly infinitely tired, Jack slumped against a pile of tentage. Wincing at a sharp pain beneath his seat, he reached down to find a knurled pommel sticking up from the folds of rubberized cloth. He began to pull, before suddenly stopping with a hiss of in taken breath and a flash of Ephesian clarity. “Dude!”

“The Don.”

“Don, seriously…”

The Don.”

“You’re that guy. You’re nuts, like seriously medically nuts. You’re that guy that’s been chasing Osama Bin Laden with a sword.”

“Not any more. Bigger fish to fry these days.”

“Really? I mean, since we’re through the looking glass anyway. What’s bigger than that?”

“I’m hunting the Jabberwocky.”

“Like the ‘eyes of flame…whiffling through the tulgey woods kind? Though by the way, it’s actually called a Jabberwock. Jabberwocky is the poem.”

“Jabberwocky isn’t a poem or a thing. It’s a plan. It’s The Plan. And I’m so close to finding out what it is. Just maybe not close enough to find out in time to stop it.”

“Seriously, you’re crazy.”

“Maybe. I was right about the bar, though. If I wasn’t crazy, you’d be dead. And now you owe me one.”

“And what does that mean, exactly?”

“You’ve got to go to Kathmandu.”

“Really?”

“You’ve really, really, really gotta go.”

“What, did Bob Seger die?”

“Something like that.”

Kabul, Afghanistan

Staff Sergeant Wesley stormed onto the watch floor. “Who took my motherfucking toothbrush?”

Major Lover looked up from his terminal, more bored than interested. “Which one was it?”

The pink one.”

You have a pink toothbrush?”

Had a pink toothbrush. As in don’t have it anymore, ‘cause somebody fucking stole it.”

But it was pink?”

Hey, some bitches around here get to go up to Bagram every week and eat at Dairy Queen and shop at the Wal-Mart, and some bitches never get to go out, and have to make do with what they’ve got at the Kwik-e-Mart.”

Well, I haven’t seen it, and anyway, you’re out of uniform. It is still dark out, you know.”

Huh?”

Where’s your reflective belt?”

I’m wearing fucking camouflage….sir.”

Exactly, so no one can see you.”

That’s the point, isn’t it?”

But it’s dangerous. You could get run over.”

So I’m supposed to wear camouflage so no one can see me, and a reflective belt so they can?”

Exactly. Anyway, if you’re done bitching, I wanted to ask you about this bullshit trend analysis.”

What’s wrong with it?”

Well, your data is showing a sharp increase in violent incidents, but your analysis says this is a sign of progress.”

Yes, sir. That shows we’re taking the fight to the enemy and making them insecure, so they have to lash out.”

But last month, you showed violent incidents going down, and that was a sign of progress, too.”

Absolutely, sir. It shows we’re beating him down, and he can’t muster the combat power to fight.”

So, if violence is going up, we’re winning; and if violence is going down, we’re winning. How would we know if we’re losing?”

You can’t. That’s the beauty and elegance of my system, sir. The general loves it.”

You’re talking about a general that doesn’t know the difference between David Hasselhof and Kevin Bacon.”

Oooooh, you said it first. You’re on, sir. Kevin bacon to Haji Ahmed Mohammad in six degrees or less.”

Come on, that’s not even a real name.”

Sure it is. I’ve got thousands of Ahmed Mohammad’s in the data base.”

Exactly. That’s like saying Kevin Bacon to John Smith. You have to be more specific.”

OK, try Maulvi Akhtar Mulaki.”

One-eyed Mulaki, or two-eyes?”

Which one just got killed?

Two-eyed.”

OK, do the other one.”

Hmmmm. Allright. One-eyed Mulaki’s financial facilitator was Amruhd Haqqani. Haqqani traveled to Kathmandu to launder money through the Arab Hospital in Biratnagar, and he stayed at the Hyatt. Sting went to Kathmandu to study tantric sex, and he stayed at the Hyatt. Sting’s hairdresser briefly dated Kevin Bacon in 2002. Ipso facto sum.

Is that a Star Wars character?”

No, that’s Latin. Grey Xanthos is a Star Wars character.”

Nice try, sir, but I’m calling bullshit. Grey Xanthos is an operations name. Boba Fett is a Star Wars name.”

Midnight Shadow?”

Op name.”

Crimson Manticore?”

Op name.”

Trick question, actually. It’s both.”

What? There’s no Star Wars character named Crimson Manticore.”

He’s a bounty hunter in the Clone Wars animated series.”

Cartoon Clone Wars, or CGI Clone Wars?”

Cartoon.”

That doesn’t count, it’s not canon.”

That’s never been part of the rules – anything filmed or video games counts; novels and comic books on a case by case basis.”

Still….just sayin’.”

Lover turned back to his computer terminal. “Hey, Moreles! Where’s your romance folder?”

Oh my, is our major feeling a little ornery?”

No editorial comment required. Just give me the link.”

It’s in the ‘Systems Applications’ folder on the R drive. Then go to the ‘Data’ sub-folder, then click on the ‘.exedat’ sub-sub-folder.”

Aren’t you worried one day the IT guys will find your little treasure trove?”

Sir, who do think set it up? I’m just jumping on their bandwagon.”

Anything new and good in there?”

Got some screen captures from Times of India’s Bollywood starlets page – I love South Asian media. They’re only thumbnails though, ‘cause when you click on the ‘enlarge’ tab you get the Blue Filter screen of death. Well, at least of naughtiness. But if you’re that hard up, why don’t you just go get a DVD? The bazaar opens in a few hours.”

They don’t sell porn DVDs at the Afghan bazaar.”

Sure they do, sir.”

Where?”

All over.”

I’ve never seen them.”

Ah, there’s the problem, my dear Watson. You see, but you do not observe.”

I’m not following.”

Come on, sir. You’ve seen all the Discovery Channel type stuff. The history of the Roman Empire, and ‘Canines’ the six DVD series, and whatnot?”

Yeah, so?”

Do you imagine there’s a big market for that sort of stuff in a population mostly made up of 18 to 20-something dudes?”

No, not really.”

Soooo….the Afghans are pretty business savvy. So, if they’re not selling something no one wants, maybe they are selling something else. Maybe something like you really want.”

You’re fucking with me.”

No, sir. Serious as a heart attack. A couple of weeks ago, I bought the PBS/NOVA documentary on the Solar System. I had to scan through a couple disks on centrifugal force and Lamphere Points, but then, well….did you even know there was such a thing as Japanese samurai hardcore? I had no idea. I thought they were only into tentacle-rape anime. But that’s what I love about this job, you learn something new everyday.”

Two hours later, Major Lover wandered through the plastic-sheeting shaded stalls, temporarily erected among the HESCO barriers that bounded the Camp Eggers parking lot. As promised, now that he knew what to look for, the choices were indeed legion. But since the methodology was a bit hit and miss, Lover wanted to make sure he bought a boxed set he might actually watch, regardless of what Easter Eggs might be hidden inside. Lover’s hand had just settled on a BBC history of the Templars, when he was interrupted by a voice over his shoulder.

Not that one.”

Excuse me?”

Lover turned to see a Navy Captain standing behind him in an unfamiliar uniform, tailored like his own but with even more Velcro patches, and a strange brown and gray camouflage pattern he had never seen before. The Captain reached over the table and picked up an enormous faux parchment package wrapped in cheap, dusty cellophane.

The National Geographic History of European Art. I think you’ll like it, especially disk three.”

Ummmm…thanks, sir? I imagine you SOF guys have the inside scoop on this sort of thing.”

SOF?”

Well, I figure in an outfit like that you must be a SEAL or some other Special Forces. You guys always have the newest Gucci kit. Which means before long, all your groupies are going to start wearing the same uniform so they look cool, and not long after that Big Army will adopt the same one so everyone feels special. And not long after that, I’ll be buying my fourth set of new uniforms in as many years. It’s the whole olive drab – coyote tan – foliage green drama all over again. I hate fashion. It’s a good thing my J.C. Penny color wheel says I’m an ‘Autumn’.”

Wow. Bitter much? I hope you feel better now.”

Sorry about that, sir. But I really hate foliage green, and I blame you guys.”

Anyway, I’m not ‘special’ forces. I’m ‘different’ forces. And that’s, well, ‘different’.”

And what, exactly, are ‘different’ forces, sir?”

That’s what I came to talk to you about.”

You came to talk to me, sir? Why? I thought you just shared my taste in salacious viewing material.”

Well, that depends. I might. Did you know there’s such a thing as Japanese samurai hardcore? Actually, as luck would have it, you happen to be uniquely positioned to help me with a project I’m working on.” The Navy officer offered a handshake. “Chris Lover, I’m Captain Jim Admiral. If you’re off shift, could you spare me an hour or so? My truck is parked over by the clearing barrel.”

Why do I feel I’m being offered candy by a stranger? I don’t suppose your truck is a white van with tinted windows?”

Admiral chuckled. “It’s a Toyota Hi-Lux, and it’s navy blue. Beyond that, though, no promises for now. Come on, and don’t forget your DVDs – they’re more important than you know.”

Are we going outside the wire? I’ll need to grab my IBA.”

We are, but you won’t. As long as you have your pistol, we’re cool.”

Lover raised an eyebrow in query.

Admiral just smiled. “I told you. I’m ‘different’ forces, and for the time being, you’re with me.”

The two officers dropped into the seats of the Hi-Lux, producing a plume of dust from the faded cushions. With a grind of gears, the pick-up rolled past the blue steel gate and the inspection area, and into Kabul traffic. On the dash, a Hawaiian hula girl bobble-head waggled her hips suggestively.

Lock and load,” Admiral directed as he chambered a round in his M-4 (this is really quite awkward to do in the front seat of a civilian vehicle). Reaching into the glove box, he pulled out a blue cloth sack, which he neatly draped over the hula girl as they passed from ‘U.S.’ space into ‘Afghan’ space. “Cover yourself, you insolent whore!”

Lover rifled through a magazine rack full of cassette tapes. “Sir, seriously….’Amnesia Ibiza’? ‘Cascada’? What’s with all the techno crap? Did you borrow this truck from the Italians over at ISAF?”

No, that’s our ABO officer. He’s a little bit Euro-trashy.”

OK. I’ll bite, since I suck at acronym bingo. What’s ABO?”

Affect Based Operations.”

You mean Effect Based Operations? I thought Mattis banned that term from our vocabulary.”

No. I mean Affect. It’s different – Google it, if you can’t remember 10th Grade English. And nobody else besides us knows what it is, so they can’t ban it.”

And who exactly is this ‘us’? I mean, besides guys that don’t have to wear body armor and listen to music of questionable sexual provenance?”

Listen to you. ‘Provenance.’ And I almost forgot about ‘salacious’ earlier. That’s different. You might fit in very well, indeed. But I can’t tell you, exactly, at least not in the car. It’s kind of a Special Access Program.”

And who controls the read-ins to that SAP?”

That information is also a SAP.”

So how do I find out…”

You don’t find out. They find you. That’s why you’re in this truck. Anyway, to answer your question for the moment, we’re the guys who beat the tiger.”

As in Tony the Tiger? That doesn’t seem so hard.”

As in there’s a now old adage about our strategy in this war. There’s a tiger and a cat in the room, and no one knows what to do about the tiger, so they beat the cat. Well, we’re the guys who beat the tiger. Actually, we have one guy who specializes just in Jihadi zoology, but you’ll see when we get to the house.”

The house?”

Actually, I think it used to be a hotel before the war, and before the Taliban, and before the Mujahideen. Well, it was a hotel a long time ago, and it still has a very nice bar. Much nicer, anyway, than the Green Bean; and the drinks list is a significant improvement from mocha frappuccinos. And here we are.”

True History – An Imperial Farce Part 1

You are in for a real treat, dear readers.  Beginning today I’m going to be presenting a work of fiction from ‘LTC Estragon’ (a pseudonym) who has graciously given me permission to publish his (her?) story here.

While fantastical, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the American military of the early 21st century, there’s more truth here than you’d believe.  For those of you who are familiar with the military…well, there’s probably more truth here than you’d like to admit.

This is a rather long work, so I’m going to break it up and serialize it into weekly bits.  I’ll publish every Friday for the next ten weeks.  If you like it, feel free to pass it around or leave your comments and I’ll pass them to the author.

Prologue

“Well, that was unexpected.” LTC Estragon squeezed through the narrow carpet-walled partitions of the cubicle farm, dropping the slide packet on his desk and slumping into an ergonomic Herman Miller Aeron chair.

“What happened?” MAJ Vladimir asked.

“Well, I just briefed the Boss on the Plan. I mean literally, the Plan for the Apocalypse.”

“What did he say?”

“Nothing, that was the weird part. Well, almost nothing, I guess. He flipped through the packet and stopped at slide six. Made a pen and ink correction, and said, ‘It’s one space after a semi-colon, two spaces after a colon.’ And that was it.”

“Can I see?”

“Sure.” Estragon passed Vladimir the slide packet. The major began to flip through the papers, and suddenly his eyes grew wide.

“Holy shit,” Vladimir gasped. “Tell me you did not just brief this for real.”

“What do you mean?” Estragon sat up, his stomach churning. “Of course, I did.”

“Dude, this was a joke!” Vladimir’s tone sounded like he was torn between panic and hilarity. “You built these slides off the estimate we got from Thompson down in logistics. Well, Thompson downloaded this off the internet and passed it around for laughs, it’s supposed to be like an article from The Onion or something.”

“You mean, like the one I passed to the Chief of Staff last month for inclusion in the daily update? Why didn’t you fucking tell me?”

“I thought you would have figured to be a little more careful after last time. I guess sometimes it’s not enough to lead the horse to water, and you’ve got to water board the horse.”

“That’s not fucking funny. My clearance review board just closed. And now this.”

“Not my fault, man. Did you think it said Reindeer Games when you signed up for Rendition Games? You’ve got to read the fine print, just like this time.”

“Well, now I’m really and truly screwed. What are we gonna do?”

“What do you mean ‘we,’ sir,” Vladimir tossed the slides back onto Estragon’s desk as if they were burning his hands. “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”

Estragon tucked two pieces of 4mg Nicorette in his mouth and began to chew vigorously. “Maybe we could just say it was never serious. It was just Information Operations, or PSYOP or Military Deception.”

“That’s all bullshit. Nobody takes any of that seriously.”

“Exactly. It’s like the formal, technical version of a joke,” Estragon ran his fingers through close cropped hair, tapping his foot nervously. “Ok, here’s what we’ll do. You go and shred these slides, and I’m going to delete every copy of the presentation from the hard drive.”

“What if the boss asks about it again?”

“I’m not worried about that – his ADHD will take care of it. But just in case, I’ll save a copy on my Senate Hearing thumb-drive.”

“Your Senate what?”

“You know, all the e-mails and orders and briefings I’m going to want one day when I’m sitting at that green baize table, answering, ‘Mr. Senator let me explain….’ I’ve kept one ever since Baghdad.”

“Well, good luck with that. Just don’t lose the fucking thumb-drive.”

Introduction (stolen from Lucian’s ‘True History’)

ATHLETES and physical trainers do not focus solely on finding and executing the perfect workout. They say that rest and recovery are just as important as work – and include these in any fully developed exercise regimen. I hold it equally true for soldiers and scholars of strategy that after severe study they should unbend the intellect, in order to apply it fresh to the next task.

The rest they want will best be found in a course of literature which is not purely entertainment, an action-packed screenplay in-waiting, but is also capable of stirring an educated curiosity—a function I hope the following pages will fulfill. They are intended to have an attraction independent of any originality of subject, any happiness of general design, any verisimilitude in the piling up of fictions. This attraction is in the veiled reference underlying all the details of my narrative; they parody the stories of eyewitness accounts, battlefield journalists, and allegedly well-informed insiders; I have only refrained from adding a key because I could rely upon you to recognize as you read.

Tom Clancy is the well-compensated dean of military story-telling, despite never having served a day in uniform. Jan Baz, at Miskatonic University, is famous for his Corollaries of War study, a statistical regression analysis of places he has never been, deeds he has never done, and things he has never seen. COL (Ret.) Terrance McCall’s account of the Siege of Krishnapur is full of marvels – a manifest work of fiction, embellished by the many black-lined redactions of secrets that really aren’t. Sensuous in their veiled obscurity, however pedestrian the matters they purportedly conceal. It is pleasant reading all the same. Many other writers have adopted the same plan, professing to relate their own travels, and describing wild landscapes, terrifying brushes with death, and strange ways of life. The fount and inspiration of this genre is the Homeric Odysseus, entertaining the court with his tales of cannibals, one-eyed men, and enchanting nymphs; the Phaeacians were simple folk, and he fooled them thoroughly.

When I come across a writer of this sort, I do not much mind his lying; the practice is much too well established for that, even with professed philosophers; I am only surprised at his expecting to escape detection. Now I am myself vain enough to cherish the hope of bequeathing something to posterity; I see no reason for resigning my right to that inventive freedom which others enjoy. Indeed, should I even wish to write the truth, I’m not quite sure to which truth I would refer. My topic would presumably be the Global War on Terror, but apparently there is no such thing anymore, and I’m not entirely certain there ever was. The map upon which I would trace the narrative is full of places that aren’t, like the Durand Line, and places that only used to be – the province that used to be the NorthWest Frontier, the city that used to be Bombay, the country that used to be the Kingdom of Nepal. These imaginary places are populated by imaginary creatures which you, dear reader, may well find familiar (over 60% of Americans believe in angels, and over 90% of Pakistanis believe in jinns). As I thus have no truth to record, I fall back on falsehood–but falsehood of a more consistent variety; for I now make the only true statement you are to expect–that I am a liar. This confession is, I consider, a full defense against all imputations. My subject is, then, what I have neither seen, experienced, nor been told, what neither exists nor could conceivably do so. Or perhaps I have, and they do – it is, after all, a pack of lies. I humbly solicit my readers’ incredulity.

Lies

Colorado Springs, Colorado

At the Royal Tavern in Manitou Springs, under the shade of Pikes Peak and next to the anachronistic penny arcade, Don Quigley enjoyed farewell drinks with his friends. Most of these sported sleeve-length tattoos, motorcycle leathers, and an airport scanner overload of piercings. In khaki combat pants, hooded cotton sweatshirt and Colorado Rockies baseball cap, the Don was less exotically costumed; but his Grizzly Adams beard and ratted braids, atop a bulky six foot frame, gently sliding from youthful muscle to middle aged sag, allowed him to fit in. His check baggage – a duffle waiting in the back of his pick-up at the curb – was similarly dissonant. Beside the Holy Bible, the Lonely Planet Guide to Pakistan, a first aid kit and iodine pills, sat binoculars, a sword and a folding crossbow.

New Delhi, India

The first rains of the monsoon roared thick and black through the Embassy skylight, turning the atrium’s duck pond brown and viscous. An old man in kurta pyjama, the trousers rolled into wrinkled sausages around his knees, waded into the water with a skimming net and a wire brush. For the remainder of the day, and well into the next, he would strain and scour the pond until it returned to its native robin’s egg blue – just in time for the next deluge. On the plus side, he could pee down his leg into the water whenever he felt like it. It was warm, and relieving, and it pleased him to think the ghoras regularly had their cocktail functions on the rim of his personal toilet. As the rains subsided, doors around the courtyard tentatively opened with a cold rush of air – offices cooled to near sixty degrees meeting with an outside atmosphere well above one hundred, creating a swirl of tiny micro-climates, and ensuring the staff who darted between one biosphere and another remained reliably ill throughout the hot season.

Captain Jim Admiral, U.S. Navy, was dressed in the military’s unofficial embassy uniform, a polo shirt, khakis and penny loafers scuffed with the slick grime of Delhi’s monsoon streets. Tucking the blue ballistic nylon briefcase, its zippered compartment locked and the key removed, under his arm, he punched in the keypad access for the defense attaché’s office.

**********

Access denied. Password expired. Enter new password.

“Damn.”

**********

Password denied, inadequate password strength. Requires ten characters including numbers, lowercase letters, uppercase letters and special characters.

“Fuck.”

**********

Password denied, inadequate password strength. No two characters of the same class can adjoin each other.

“Motherfucker.”

**********

Finally, the door buzzed open and Admiral passed from the malarial tropics to the frigid northern hemisphere in a matter of inches. As the door closed, he scribbled the new password on a sticky note and shoved it into his briefcase along with a dozen other sticky notes which carried the passwords you were never supposed to write down. The other documents inside the briefcase had begun life as scribbled shorthand in a notebook, jotted down in a restroom stall between rounds of a whiskey soaked evening at the Gorkhana club. Flimsy, common pages suitable for blotting up a spilled drink or marking pages in a novel. But typed, formatted and serialized with a TD number, they had gone through a sort of bureaucratic transubstantiation – now they could only be hand carried under lock and key, read by individuals with specially colored badges, and transmitted on highly controlled computer systems. The kind that required a password with ten or more characters, including numbers, lowercase letters, uppercase letters and special characters, no two of which character classes could adjoin each other. The kind of complicated, strong passwords no one ever wrote down.

Across the capital city, quiet and heavy beneath a solid charcoal blanket of monsoon cloud, Nisha Khatri finished her milky tea and tossed the small plastic cup in the trash, before descending the stairwell to the basement of the National Archives. Here too, the documents were kept locked within a cage, and access was limited to those who provided the triplicate form weeks in advance, with the details of their father’s place of birth and at least three endorsements from academic institutions (though, since no one checked, you could be rather creative with these). Classified once, perhaps, for reasons of national security, they were now protected as artifacts of national memory. Those in Delhi – among the dust and the damp, where “climate control” meant a single, idling fan, and a troop of janitors who painstakingly maintained the archive with handheld hair blow-driers – were perhaps less well-off than their counter-parts in the British Library, where the Raj Era government records were split in two repositories after 1947. Nisha took the cardboard folder from the fat, sweating archive matron and walked down the row of tables, avoiding the leering eyes of a young ghora graduate student – the insufferable Moleskine toting type.

Here, no surgeon’s gloves interfered in the contact between living flesh and the brittle skin of history, and you could literally feel, smell and sometimes almost taste the past. Mimicking the stratigraphic approach of physical archaeology, Nisha peeled back layer after layer of time. An initial, elegantly handwritten note on the side of an envelope by a rural collection officer, protesting interference from officers of another department, gives way to a more carefully hand-printed memorandum, serialized, annotated and in official format from the district resident. In turn, this page gives way to a series of typed inter-departmental memoranda in far-off Calcutta, as the petty bureaucrats of the Raj jealously defend their institutional prerogatives. The Committee for the Destruction of Thuggee and Dacoity, it turns out, is disinclined to abandon its right to render suspected thugs across political boundaries, to stand trial in the Committee’s special courts, prosecuted largely on the strength of plea-bargaining informants. And the threat posed by Thuggee is apparently so great, that the administration is unwilling to press the issue. The rural collector never receives a reply.