Chasing Alpha: Chapter 10

Chasing Alpha – Chapter TEN

There were many people I give a push in the right direction. Some a much welcomed pushed while a few got a last encouraging shove from me before they ended “shoved” elsewhere and in a much less desired situation. I do my best to get a better idea of who then people are under my command. It’s a trait of mine which helped me do my job much easier and get things much smoother than the average commander. At least on the front of in front and behind one’s back. I say we all know some about all of the men. And a few give all. But there’s the outliers too; those who are few and little to none is known from anyone about those types. One of them I had the pleasure of knowing went eventually by the moniker of Ubu. A friend to all and a lover of dramatics for the sake of comedy, he always had a way to keep mutual friendship at bay.

The most genius are said to teeter on the brink of insanity. This guy seemed to be an expert at appearances, and had most of his superiors to stick him into some sort of fifty one fifty regiment. That’s slang for something involving anything related to suspecting someone is crazy or at least not firing on all cylinders. Time and time again the subject passed any examination. I think the exams were legit in my mind. People just had a hard time pegging what exactly to do with the guy. I felt a bit bad for him at first until I figured out how it seemed to be Ubu liked all the ado about him. Whether anyone knows it or not, it’s my accomplishment or responsibility for how the young man came to serve under me. Seemed I was chilling in the officer club, cliche as it sounded..  And I heard one of the people at the bar grumbling about a guy he would rather not be stuck with under his command. I am joked about as a soft touch anyway, so I happened upon them and asked what there was so much trouble about. They thought they were unloading a ripe one on me and putting one over, but I was the one who  caught enough info to hear I wanted to put my nose into their business.

What they didn’t know is I already got tipped off in the past because of this man later to be known behind the letter of U.  I caught his name a time or two before he was bounced around before. One of the things to have me curious was how I later learned the normalcy of him. It was pleasantly surprising anyway. I’m a small bit of a pop culture person rather than those who try to detach their selves from things like television or radio, even news in large. I’ve done a lot of Howard Stern listening to my credit (or discredit) and also dabbled in comic book reading amongst other trifling pursuits. The former helps me connect more to the men, especially much of the crude humor. The latter helps possibly with me understanding Ubu a tad, and also scores points with the men when I pass around some of my comics such as spent issues.. or graphic novels to brother on the illusion of more sophistication in reading. Whether I look worse amongst my rank due to any of it, I don’t care. For the records, I am past the age of listening to a radio and hearing something to my liking. Maybe it’s my own fault for being set in my ways, or the fault of too much garbage assaulting the ears of our youth. Jury’s out on that one. I did learn about a lot of interesting as well as not so lovable music while spending the last tour out there with all those guys, especially to the fun-lovers in motorpool as rumor goes. But who those real culprits were, you will have to get the straight story from somebody other than me. My knowledge is none officially on that topic.

Back to the often charming, always laughing with and never laughing subject. Heart of the matter, he made me think a lot about the Batman comics. Not a lot of that convoluted latter day stuff but more of an overall feel I got. I know a lot more people with more degrees than me have written many dissertations on that comic and various characters in that world. In a way, the Joker would come to mind. To me, he wasn’t always a crazy guy in the overall scheme of things since he prepared and always had some strategy pining away ready to be released. A lot of secrecy, a lot of mystery and also telling people only what he wanted others to know. The Joker was an evil mastermind and a natural born criminal. I’m not saying our guy had either of those two qualities. But if Batman was just as he was; a heroic person often misunderstood but loved and feared by the right ones, but with the thought process of the Joker instead? Maybe that could be an airbrushed and glossy way to look at this man who was later found to be moved underneath my command.

He went by a few variations just as tenses to a root word of a verb. Ube, Ubes, U (as in the back half of “who”). They were all traced back to his namesake of Ubu. It was almost a reflection of himself in the pond when comparing the nickname to Ubu himself. Most likely it was a handle to come from Overthrill, but it’s tough to say if it was the nickname first or the phrase, both which lead back to the guy of nom de plume himself. Over was a bandwagon kind of guy. I prefer that term than any rabble or sheep vs shepherd idioms. How I saw it usually people either created the bandwagon, or people jumped onto it in support. Overthrill was a person who could get a bandwagon started up with a look of effortless ease. Bandwagons can be good most often, and they offer a theme of support. It’s why I think bandwagons are much more appropriate terms than saying he who rouses rabble. Rabble is mostly a negative thing when used as any connotation. Over was a guy surprisingly positive and supportive. He did exude an intimidating feeling from most who didn’t know him, but he was one of the few I would second guess as far as my feelings of trust went. He followed all I said as implicitly as possible. One who always aspired to become a man of leadership eventually or achieve a higher altitude of hierarchy made Over appreciate everyone that much more. If all the people had more of his good side, things would be much more efficient and enjoyable in life.

It all started one day when we were doing parade duty. Of course that was not something literal. It was usually called convoy duty or security detail. Some of the fellows enjoyed joking about it as being mall duty..  Something which might be essential in the eyes of one but humiliating in the eyes of others. Without getting into much detail for fear of betraying security, a simplified version of it is driving around in a convoy on a path while looking for any traps or items of destructive nature on or around the roads. These were gun trucks, tanks or any similar variation. Anything explosive or bootstrapping we are expected to spot and clear. IDEs mostly (improvised explosive devices). Landmines or junior high versions of grenades or bombs. What else may be. It’s a ninety ten sort of detail I suppose, meaning ninety percent of it is waiting for the ten percent part of excitement. It’s an odd conversation between boredom and tenseness, which many of the guys do out of duty but also have to do a few things to help cope with the stress and monotony all around too.

One of the things was music on these patrols. Not that there were AM FM radios or CD players. This stuff was given to us government issue of course meaning we pay ten times the price for one tenth of any comfort or ease of use. Luxury wasn’t something I exactly want in any transportation to win a war, but the compounding of small stuff can end up being very discomforting also. Somehow these guys could get music running through these machines. The less I knew as the hows or whys meant the less I was able to say I willingly allowed of course. Things were all fair, and nobody dominated the land of music. There were few rules laid down I know of and stuff was smooth ninety nine percent of the time or more. Et worst would be someone saying not to bring a certain song or artist ever again. Not as much as censorship for the sake of taste. Mostly it would be some unagreeable things. Questionable patriotism of the artist from the way of lyrics or way too political on the negative side. Due to circumstances, I totally agreed, not that I let my opinion  inject itself. I think being a good leader is only stepping in when necessary: if a  situation is making remedy of itself in a peaceful way, then no need to kick in two additional cents. Another music denied from a repeat was anything labelled too annoying or distracting. Sometimes one of the boys would sneak in something which was nothing of any use to anyone. Ubu often did this, but he wasn’t the largest culprit I can remember. Perhaps Acey was the worst offender of that and knew it, but to his credit he’d only have one song’s worth. Not that I know who the main offender of THIS gem was, but one was given the kibosh almost faster than the speed of sound itself. For the sake of any implied mixed company I will not even repeat the name which of I cannot forget. Keeping it vague the group was named an artificial derogatorily named private part of which I will not hint towards.

One fine day while patrolling the roads in the Middle East…  Song after song came blaring across. The man singing was a whimsical mixture of satire with exuberance and wannabe conceptual poet mixed in. With just enough noise and sound to not be entirely right but also not horrible as some in the same vehicle were pontificating. I was amused as well by the sonic sounds amongst themes of rivers, forests, houses on hills and parking lots but trying to do my job as the rest, but also while listening in. Eventually someone got around to asking who had the music choice. A person trying not to smirk raised his hand just above his head. Everyone laughed and a few wondered loudly who the heck this band was. Answering back it was a group called ~Pere Ubu who were an underground group with alternative radio at one time when he found out about them, taking a name from some weirdo playwright.

Hearing the name made me laugh to myself since I actually knew a bit of what he meant to say. It was actually a character in a play which was linked with theater of the absurd. Having random insight of the origin since at one point in my life I was doing” time with an amateur poetry and philosopher type. She had a lot going against her and her ego was inflated, but at the time the physical was enough to keep me from thinking of making haste away from the situation. Not that I was a great mind of science or thermodynamics..  But I think the right word people use for types like her who attempted to lead a Bohemian lifestyle but in reality were followers in the worst way became modernly known as posturing or poseurs.

She knew some people into the esoteric and so wanted to become a student in the mind of the absurd. She was trying to be in some sort of an Ubu clan which were supposed to be promoting the Bohemian life and plays of the absurd, and the one I was “dating” was supposed to have been trying to stand up comedy with an absurdist mentor by the name of “Mother Ubu”- which all became absurd all on its own without knowing it. All of them were supposed to be casting off the shackles and all of that  related mumbo jumbo but in reality they all had day jobs and basically played pretend instead. Then I’d have to hear all of the drama later from this girl’s point of view. Having to hear every piece of trivial gossip from that covenant of the ridiculous made me finally beat feet and do what I knew I eventually would. “Head for zee hills” as it’s said.

A girlfriend like that was very uncharacteristic for me, which was the idea in the first place. A wasn’t leading a lifestyle at that time to have a real ladyfriend and I also didn’t want anyone else seeing who I was stepping out with by any coincidence, such as any nearby hangouts. Her being a free love type meant I wasn’t getting saddled wish anyone clingy and I would be low on getting the questions. It also meant I had a place to usually crash (or a friend of her’s place who I’d try to play it platonic with) and wherever she wanted to go was a place I knew I wasn’t seeing anyone I was serving with. When the convenience became a hindrance, that’s when I saw the path light up with brilliant clarity. It was also the last time I tried to work a woman from an esoteric level. There was a lot of sex I don’t regret, but a lot of headaches towards the end which I could. But the so called relationship in the vague sense taught me a few things: I learned to keep a great straight face which helped me stone cold my way through a lot of situations whether not cracking up from antics of people in my command but also came in handy with cards now and again, as well as also giving me some great opportunities when I was not being platonic with a few of her female friends. It also gave me that all too much insight on the world of Ubu in which the band in question was named. I would even use the proper namesake but I don’t know how to make that little accent mark above the letter e.

Not too long after that particular convoy trip, my guy was getting chided in an inquisitive way. “Hey, you going to play us more of your Ubu band soon?” Or “You got any more Ubu for us?” “Show me the Ubu” was one of the worn down its welcome phrases I’d hear a lot when the gent was walking by a bored group hanging together in the DFAC. Later on the shortened form of that band became the person’s handle, garnering the name Ubu eventually. Later on it even became part of the adopted lexicon of my men, largely accredited to some of his personality traits or antics. The most used version of it was a good form of crazy, or something unexplained. “That was Ubu” or “…totally Ubes” depending on the context of the sentence. It was never meant in a derogatory way, but more as something more unexplainable or unexpected. Of all of the team, Overthrill seemed to relish the term most.

Whatever he might think, Over didn’t have much insight on the psyche of the Ubes. If anyone could have understood Ubu I would think it to be myself, not because of my experience in life or seeing men come in and out but just for the sake I had access to all the personnel files. I read all of them more than once. Safe to say I was able to abandon my graphic novels for a while. What I ended up reading wasn’t there. Not the fact that notes on him were written in psychobabble which needed to be deciphered. I noticed the reading literally wasn’t there. Ubu gave just what he wanted others to know. Maybe he would have been an excellent public relations type or copywriter with that persuasive touch, but no job he would be suited for had the perks of firing automatic weapons. Danger and calculated risks seemed to be Ubu’s true calling.

Ubes may have good reason to be the way he was. He was a middle child amongst mostly brothers. Besides what his family knew, most people couldn’t get a full read on this guy. He had school records, transcripts which showed no particular notes favoring or souring on this soldier of mine. The only out of place thing I could see was something, once again, which was not there.

In his file, Ubu seemed do have been a bit above average but still had a way not to attract attention. Being in a large family was most likely the obvious origin of that magic trick. How it got past the headshrinkers I cannot say. He graduated high school neither a Brainiac nor a slouch. The upper side but not enough to grab awards. He went to college and that’s where it got interesting. Still nothing majorly wrong but it was almost too typically normal. Nothing but the straight up curriculum. No more and no less. Often classes go one way or another..  Something showing there’s a major or at least what field is of little interest altogether. This guy was a polesitter with a “just the facts” center line. It looked almost as a freshman in high school rather than a college frosh; since most entering high school have no choice but are lumped the standard fare. Then something happened. He disappeared for two years.

According to the college transcripts, Ubu was back in school, after a couple missing years. Nothing to show a transfer since no additional credits elsewhere. Then after a semester, he went poof all over again, but this time a much shorter gap on the calendar. Easy to see where he went that time since it was to sign up with the red white and blue in dull green. With a walk-in cold situation, that’s how Ubu joined our outfit. I won’t go into the full wording about him but the nuts and bolts for the unexplained absence was a “finding oneself” move according to the U-man.

I wasn’t so curious about it at the time.. but after the fact when a bit of time on my hands, I tried to do a little investigating of my own. Maybe something others could call a one man “dirt search” operation. This guy had a clean as Ivory. He was not doing time. He went into thin air and back again, then later bouncing a path to me. He must have learned something while on his sabbatical. Whether he was on a quest for self enlightenment or slipped into The Multiverse a while is anyone’s guess. Only thing I assumed was the lad did something to become more battle ready by the time he decided to enlist.

Little by little it seemed Ubu went from prankster or The Jokester to a jester type in general. He wasn’t the one to cause actual dismay but strikingly like the knighted name he’d be christened, an absurdist in military clothing. His stuff wasn’t so bad that I ever saw. Seemed the biggest problem would be no way any of his C.O.s could prove it was him who did any of it. Arrows might have pointed in his direction but there was never a bullseye or laser scope to paint him as the one. Even if he was brandished as the culprit dead to rights, it wasn’t anything beyond foolishness.

Most of the time he couldn’t be more than said to be the one who passively incited something. A guy to read a rulebook and then find a harmless loophole to muse about. He’d know people were in earshot, and that was the worst of offense people could ever pin on him. People could say Ubu was saying something to himself or people in general he was reading. Most of the time from what I gathered he’d talk about something inconsequential. Random trivia or facts. But that rare time it was something more major, it was later to be a whopper when things went through the pipeline.

I won’t go into all of the examples but will relate an almost parallel type story in theme. There was a big to do in Japan for a while due to a dress code which wasn’t iron tight. It seemed every item of clothing was mentioned except for the socks. To combat this omission, females in school had a culture all their own for what sort of socks to wear, which practically defeated the dress code’s reason in the first place. It was corrected immediately in some schools but others either left it unchanged or had to let those still in the school be “grandfathered in” who were still attending school there at the time since the rules were a signed contract, one of those few times a contract worked against the party who drafted it. This all proved a couple points. One was Ubu was able to see the things which weren’t there; just as he placed what he wanted other people to read or to know. The other being a product named “sock glue” became a huge boon for a while. Ubu had nothing to do with anyone’s dress code, but the point is clear. I just happened to learn this foreign tidbit with another female I was “dating” for a period of time: and for the record had no links to Bohemian aspirations or plays of absurdity.

He never seemed to be the type to go after a human target. His subjects were more along the lines of objects which represented a figurehead. Statues were seemingly a specialty as I heard it. There were pranks than cycled here and there but were dormant for a long time. Not only did Ubu seem to independently revive it, but added a few of his own twists. Sautes are also ripe for the picking since they are plentiful on a base and won’t sue for defamation if talked about. Also little prank retaliation which cuts down on the mischief factor all around.

One of the oldies but goodies is reverse vandalism. Often it’s done more on college campuses since there are more drunken activities and a penchant for procrastination in a realm of higher learning which doesn’t boast a morning Reveille call. The idea behind the prank being defacing property is illegal, but RE-facing it violates no rules. The key being a supposed absent minded person may only half ass or one tenth the ass of the job which was alleged to be done from the kindness of one’s heart. In reality it ended up a scalawag of a thing, but I never saw harm in something which wasn’t causing permanent harm to anybody or anything.. That being an unofficial opinion of course.

Many statues are about someone famous, most often riding a horse. There is a whole code as to what the stance of the horse meant about the man riding it too, but I won’t wax ad nauseam about such a boring or conjectured topic.

The main idea is pride or testosterone foresight made most of the horses in these statues male. And since groundkeepers don’t usually have time to do more than take care of the obvious such as lawns and hedges. Anything else kind of goes to the wayside and it’s just the way things go. Then the scamps end up just polishing enough of the horse so whatever “hanging down from the undercarriage” becomes glowing with a high polish. The next day people have no choice but draw their eyes to the shiny brass pair as they were. It had been a long time since it was done, and all signs pointed to a collusion with Ubu. Of course nobody could prove it, but that was the suspicion. A good natured group ended up volunteering to restore the statue back to the gleaming thing it was upon the unveiling. It was probably some sort of trade off anyway since the guys were probably getting out of something else to look civic minded, or they had something to do rather than stare at a wall until the next meal or required activity. From what the word had it, Ubu also stepped in, claiming he came to help lighten the load.

Funny as it was, the rest of the horse was just short of the sparkling brilliance the aforementioned area was. The “humanoid” brass called the job satisfactory and those higher ups tried to forget the whole thing. It’s too mad they don’t oft remember back when that sort of thing was funny.

If the first statue idea was all Ubu, then it was merely a bunt. Since there were so many statues, he had his own sandbox as well as a magical polish formula which could never be found. Many more metallic monuments found themselves to be canvases.. something easy for the picking since they were plentiful. One of them ended up with a hose bearing lightning bolts on its face and pinstriping on its body. To top it off, that particular horse also sported flames which are usually found on four wheeled Mustangs. A different horse was doubly shined in a camouflage pattern. That was something in which was never witnessed by my eyes before. It was an Ubu original. Legs and rider untouched, but two distinct polish patters across the body to form the unmistakable camo designs.

Another occasion was a little more subtle as first but also showed a bit more than typical initiative of drunken fratboys. I’m not sure how long it took until the prank was actually discovered, but I know it wasn’t a first thing catch like the polish jobs were. This time something wasn’t quite right for the rider. The unspoken rule was the horse was fair game since it was never a specific horse, and that horse was more akin to military property than it being a soldier. Messing with the person the statue honored was the big no no, and one with a very possible version of hell to pay since here it’s like actually doing something to the man himself. If one does anything towards the subject of that monument, then it can even be seen as treason in some circumstances and conditions. That means no slap on the wrist type of punishment.

It could have been seen as severe this time. It could have been seen as one going too far. But there was not enough evidence to point at any one person. If this was a plan of Ubu, I doubt he would have left any of the heat for another to catch. Plus I didn’t hear of any braggarts. If I was the one who pulled this off according to another, I might have staked claim as all my own so long as I wouldn’t be fastened to a stake and have a blindfold tied onto me. This was something which went beyond the horse and extended to the rider himself. When the top men started gathering around they noticed the heroic man on the steed was wearing boots. Not the ones the artesian sculpted for the man, but actual dress uniform styled boots. To a mirror shine they were polished I mush add..  Or a less ethical humorist might say “to boot.”

To clarify, these were boots which were the same style as military and were fastened around the feet of the man the statue was dedicating. This was not a hatchet job either. Meticulous would be the word to use. Somehow these things were actually stitched onto the person on the statue. This means the culprit had to not only get hold of a pair of boots and split them open on a seam, difficult as to do all in itself. This person also had to sneak out and get them onto the metal feet of the testament, and then but them back again as to make them look as if the boots were never altered. To top it all off, these boots were shined to near perfection. A gleam to rival the brass ones done up before. All of it with no way to be caught.

I did get to make my way in the direction of that statue in question. The men had to cut the boots off since there was no other way to remove them from the man’s metal legs. Underneath that was the second surprise: the statue’s original boots were polished just as well as the real boots which were covering. It was so perfect there was no way to claim the act was of malice or disrespect.

The powers that be questioned many men trying to pin the person who did it dead to rights. It was a stalemate. Far as I heard it, the ranks were as shocked as the superiors. Even Ubu had a good performance of eluding, since I had an inkling he was guilty of being this scalawag of a prank maestro.

The bass men thought at first they would pin the boots on one of the men rather than the prank itself. One of those willful destruction of government property charges or theft of another man’s property. They had nothing. It was so thorough there were price tags inside both boots as well as one boot holding a receipt from a military second hand store, which showed cash being paid for the pair of the boots in question. It wasn’t long until there was a razzmatazz about some other issue which made everyone forget about the booted statue for the short run. A saving face gesture if I ever saw one.

Far as I can tell, that was the last time anything happened with a statue that I could safely say was Ubu’s handiwork, or any major form of pranking. A couple more things did go on until I ended up being the proud commander of Ubu, but none of those things matched the same flair or detail. The closest was something else rider related, and was the last time any such shenanigans crossed or approached near the line on not screwing with the namesake of the monument. It lacked the same finesse as the boot ploy, but was very original. Perhaps it was a telegraphed idea. The man in question wasn’t on a horse but a solo close to human scale. He was from the Civil War and ended up being fully dressed- clad in an entire uniform. This time it wasn’t all reattached with precision, but the sentiment was there. Also nothing was polished in the seemingly Ubu trademark. The nicest touch came with the sword the statue was carrying, which was rather meticulously folded around with aluminum foil. There had been no confirmed way how the clothes found their way on that statue or where the garb came from. Either someone spent a lot of money acquiring pitch perfect gear or there’s a very upset war reenactment aficionado floating around out there with no dress for the prom. After the uniform fiasco, there was an imposed moratorium on pranks on any shape or size. Some said that’s what finally caused stuff to die down. As I recall it wasn’t too long afterwards when I ended up with Ubu under me mysteriously. Whether he knew how he got traded to another team, I’m not certain.

Either Ubu was simply happy once he became one of my guys, or he got what he wanted. I did have a certain reputation. Maybe he wanted to be somewhere that felt as the leader saw things more eye to eye. Or there just wasn’t much time to feel me out since we deployed before he could have gotten confident enough to start testing boundaries again. At the same time I am more about fostering something or redirect a talent than to figure a way to apply a governor to a man’s mind.

As his gameplan always seemed to be, Ubu never was hostile to anyone or made any people the butt of his joke. When a stray dog ended up on our base from God or Allah knew where, Ubu was one of the first to pitch in and helped lead a brigade to give the poor soul a bath. He was there for all and gave of himself while never seeming to give much out about him at the same time.

If an idea originated from himself, Ubu had a way to make it seem like others had the same idea. And when someone had a rough sketch of a plan, Ubu would be able to chime in a way to flesh it out whether the plan utilized his input or not. He could get things organized even if he wasn’t the one who wanted to delegate. If it was a football team, Ubu would be a center who did a longsnap to Overthrill. He could also be the same guy holding the football while allowing someone like Deucey to kick the ball for a field goal.

Often there were people who liked to run with the ball when an idea. Deucey fit the bill on that and would just at some idea of doing something or going along. Overthrill was similar often but also preferred to add his own twist on something that wasn’t a direct order. Edgerider wouldn’t always jump to an idea, but went along if it was something which seemed agreeable. Snipey and Acey were more like Over, though they weren’t trying to lead the charge; instead knew they were good utility men.

I always counted on Ubu since it was a rarity for the name or connotation to catch up to him. People thought he was crazy, but the real crazies can’t take orders or be good members of teams. The Joker was never known for him team building skills. Ha. Ubu would pitch in and beyond. He helped make things comfortable for the men when he could and also helped keep them alive. Nobody denies the part of him keeping backs intact.

He was average in the brains department, but he always kept the wheels of his mind spinning. He would think twice as much as he acted upon, if not more. The real wild ones are more stream of conscious doers, meaning action before thought. A few he pulled off more elaborate non combat things were Maffick, Eula and some of the men in motorpool. Eula and the mechanics helped with music content and delivery, as well as getting some things through the supply side of things.. also discounted gear at the Haji Mart with him giving some favors back to help balance the scales. The collaboration with Maffick was at least a few things, but coordinating some of their double speak with the other guys was one of his major things. Every now and then he and Maffick would go off at times to do something of which I don’t know. It wasn’t to share about Ubu’s past. One of them would have told me by now if it some sort of sharing had happened.

Oftentimes Ubu would try to score some extra things of people, or spend some time with them. Putting in the work do be a friend. The bright fine of it was him not cashing in any of the accrued favors which usually go along with friendships, especially while out on deployment. Maybe what was another crazy thing about him, the kindness aspect. He was loyal to the end.

Many times he had gone in when it could have been a stupid move. Someone would have to take lead, and he would do it. The enemy shot at him many times in circumstances like that, but nothing seemed to be able to do much more than wind him. I would think a few rounds went right through him only to be sorely misinformed by my eyes. He would need the stitching power of Threeage time and time again, but it still seemed no matter how bad things were he didn’t even let full pain sink into his body or mind.

It’s still very tough for me to enumerate or break down all of the situations in which Ubu was the one who drew the fire, or took a cylinder of pain in order to keep the flank off his buddies. As I reemphasize, he wasn’t as crazy as most of the men thought. Ubu wasn’t like the men seen as heroes in the ballyhooed classic war films who ran in the middle of the field without hesitation and more as an act of reckless abandon. Ubu would be suited for the job most every time. The full armor which those “pawns” in the front are strongly encouraged to wear.

The suits aren’t plentiful but they can often be the difference between angels (which is what we often used as a nicer slang regarding a soldier killed in combat) and living to see the sun rise again and tell the tale of yesterday. They don’t have any official name but there are a dozen jokey things the troops like to call them. Making a funny euphemism for gear like that helps them sidestep the thought they could live or die depending on if they are wearing a suit or not- and also the fact the men in front of them could be protecting the lives in the rear because of the very same suit. Some of the less common names are jolly jumpers, mommy jammies, mommy’s comfort, play clothes. But the most common name for it is “battle rattle” as far as most soldiers unofficially adopting a name. Whenever there is news footage showing a group of soldiers, most always they’ll be in full battle rattle.

Battle rattle was a name adopted from a long time ago actually. The name originates from the period of the War of 1812. It was associated at that time to a call to arms of warships during that period. In a way, the name is very fitting since despite all of the science and “boys in the lab” perfecting this gear, it still feels like strapping a battleship on. Just as a conservative estimate the stuff weighs around fifty pounds give or take, and that is the rattle alone- not counting for all of the additional weaponry or tactical supplies in which we might need which depends on the situation at hand. There is a Kevlar helmet and gas mask, flak vest. It also includes a variety of weapons, ammunition and a basic assortment of military supplies. The most important piece is the chest and body protection element. It starts with a vest which takes care of the shoulders  torso and back that’s made of a softer material consisting of a mixture of Kevlar and Twaron; sewn together in a sandwiching technique with layers and inside of a shell with a camouflage pattern. Then there’s a nylon vest with a series of attachments. These points of are for attaching load bearing equipment.. a way to “lighten the load” by piling on more weight. The next system component of the rattle is multiple ceramic plates which were designed for sliding into corresponding pockets already built into the front as well as back of the vest, and are designed for protecting the heart and lungs.

Battle rattle wasn’t a new thing but it had been much more scarce and sort supplied before this time around. This time around with the double F Operations, it’s much more a fight on the ground contrasting with before where the aircraft did most of the heavy lifting and took near all the credit. But as the old song went…  That was then, this is now. As I also said, Ubu made sure to be as prepared as possible every time. People might have used the term of something “being Ubu” instead of nuts or off the hook, but there’s also the fact the craziest thing about him was how calculating he was.

Calculating can often mean a person scheming or trying to get to a specified place and wearing figurative blinders to do it. The difference with Ubu was the way he tried to solve problems before they started, or thinking he could save everyone. By commanding my own group I knew you couldn’t save them all.. neither figuratively or literally. Doctors lose patients in a hospital. I lose men from angels or the waywards; dying in combat or cracking up on base. Or a more self inflicted fate of which I am not comfortable about discussing. A baseball player only needs to get a hit once out of every three times to be a hero or success, but I and others I work with strive for (in reality) an unobtainable achievement of perfection- such as Ubu also.

Those who considered him to live with reckless abandon couldn’t read the fact he was obsessed with protection. He let them say what they saw, and not what was really there. At least he used his abilities for his country and brothers he served with, even if he did get lost in the shuffle with his real family or literal brothers.

Looking back, I do see much more in a clearer way. The puzzles which seemed unimportant and non essential then are now solved and prominent instead. There was a time when he would tell me things confidentially. Not a purposeful intention to be cryptic but still made me very curious in a standardly inquisitive way. I would shrug it off just as those old time movies when a judge would shake his head and exclaim, “Boys will be boys, won’t they.”

Ubu would pull me aside from time to time. Usually at night when there were no others around.. and admittedly I was reading a “graphic novel” as most longer forms of serious style comics prefer to be called. Sometimes we would just chat about whatever I was reading. With the amount of siblings he had, I guess there was an easy way to get hold of comics. Male or female variety, no offense to Ubes. He said he liked to read then as a form of trivial knowledge. He would joke about all the Berry Princess comic stories he couldn’t let escape his head since maybe one day it would be a tie breaking question on a game show. Funny indeed.

Often he’d ask me about some of the comics I had. A lot of the guys would try to buy favor from me or get into good graces for a future episode of discipline. I’m not saying I am the type to accept graft, but things get very boring when sequestered in the desert. My justification was it was a charity: the Uncle Sam Comic Depository. It sounded catchy to me. Borrow or trades were what I dealt in. It would lead to some interesting discussions. At least slightly above the normal grade of “when the cat’s away” type of language. Sometimes whatever my thought or decision was on a particular story dilemma within a comic became the end all to an argument. Whether they knew it or not, it was another way I knew I was respected in the leadership role. Not that I would have all the answers or an infinite knowledge of comics, but I am a decent critical thinker. Especially a question about a comic staring with, “Isn’t it lame that…”

At any rate, Ubu and I would chew the fat time to time again. He never offered up anything more than whatever was on the surface, at least not about himself. Maybe he was trying to tell me something and maybe he just missed having a brother whose room Ubes could “hang out” in. Most of the time he just wondered what a particular story I was reading, or issue in a standard fare comic. If I was purchasing my own, they were usually one offs; stories which are bound as one complete story (hence the “novel” in the title) or a complete story within an episodic comic. He’d chime in here and there, especially if it was a more familiar title. His own thoughts on it. Funny enough, we never did get into  Batman as a comic or the surrounding character. Maybe he already knew those would be very telling waters if he swam in them.

Like I said, sometimes he’d bring up something unrelated and almost always mysterious. Something as if I was ever really down for the count in battle then I can count on him. Or if we were backed into a corner, he’d know the way out. The most telling I suppose was the fact he had a plan if we were ever caught in a hopeless situation. If I asked what it was, he’d merely say it was “Plan Y”. My assumption being Y was just that much better than X.

I never saw any indication he had any actual plan. It’s not like he ever ran some “Statue of Liberty” scenario like a pulp cookie cutter movie with Fred MacMurray as a sports coach. He would spend time here and there with various people in our mechanic corps, the motorpool grease monkeys. Time and again he also spent time with Eula, which was basically our resident twelfth level intellect. But Ubu was often spending one on one time with a number of guys which were mostly under my group naturally. What I do know is on occasion Ubes would ask about spent brass or various ammunition. I never thought anything of it since it didn’t seem to be put to any inappropriate use. Plus I was confidant he wouldn’t do anything to harm another person whether prank or weaponry related. He also wouldn’t have straw manned anything for another soldier because he didn’t want any tomfoolery or shenanigans to case harm. Eventually there was no more of him talking or asking, or no hearing reports so I got it out of my head.

One day something did come up. We ended up in a bad place due to some bad sun positioning and even worse intelligence. It happens sometimes. We act the best we can on what we know, and we’re prepared to handle whatever’s thrown at us besides. I won’t say we were sitting ducks. But it was getting close to a situation resembling such a thing. There was a structure which had something in which we couldn’t anticipate. It was designed to be a house but in reality it was dealing in the illicit. They were running weapons and storing their own troops and possible mucketymucks of battle. We were outnumbered and they had some booming firepower.

First thing was getting SilentSniper to the rear and assigned Edgerider to help spot for Snipey, and another couple men to help handle covering fire duties. I also made Threeage get further back and keep a watchful eye while doing his own covering. Not only can Threeage sweep some fire decently, but keeping him out of the main melee would keep him at bay for the casualties I was anticipating. No sense in getting our medic harmed. It looked they were preparing to wheel some firepower out in hopes to devastate us. They had some sort of perimeter we missed and there was a primitive spotting tower which was seemingly unoccupied and colored a way which made it tough to see from the distance. It seemed either we got lucky while they were garrisoning their men or they were waiting to draw us further into a trap. We had a couple things working for us but were wholly at a disadvantage. Man to man, they could outlast us. One thing on our side was being closer than was maybe anticipated. They had some trenched areas for their own me to be positioned in. We were now using these areas to hide our numbers and for our own protection, turning an element of their defense into our offense.

We saw people scrambling and the tower was top priority. Snipey was trained on the main structure to pick off anyone trying to exit with anything which could be extra destructive. Rocket devices, grenades or the like. Edge was alternating shots with Threeage at the tower. It had high sides and wasn’t practical in many ways. Unlike an omnidirectional eagle’s nest, this was directed in a more limited fashion, and without portholes most better made towers had for potshots.

Overthrill was spotting the tower with binocs and saw no movement. I didn’t trust it since it was something that could easily wipe us all out. I ordered the fire to stay high from Snipey’s area and dot the middle of the tower. Enough to keep a pattern from being established. Once acknowledged and continuing, Overthrill shucked some of his spare gear and pulled something from a pack. He said he had it and hopped around our trenched area, then made a streak towards the tower. I called for SilentSniper’s area to double time the rounds and keep it high while the guys near me were strafing the larger part of the building- basically keeping anyone from entering any of the pathways towards us.

By the time Over made it to the tower, there was more than we anticipated. Two people sprung from the tower and were trying to shoot downwards. It was no use since there was no way they could hit Over without shooting straight through their floor. It seemed unwise to do such a thing, especially since the men were still firing near Snipey’s position. SilentSniper was trained at the few buildings, not deviating from his plan. It was more important he did what he was doing, even though he might have been able to ice those guys in the tower easily. Besides, I had an idea what Over had in mind.

With jackrabbit speed, Overthrill was slinging something around the corner of a support. He tied it fast and ran around each support a few times, darting back and forth, then all the way around again before slicing it with one of the knives he always kept on hand. I called everyone to stop firing while Over grabbed a high powered torch that looked like a lighter and lit up the cutaway line. The stuff he had was called ~det cord, which is the standard slang for detonating. Overthrill often referred to the stuff as clothesline. ~Det cord is a high speed fuse typically used for connecting to high explosives. What makes this clothesline different from the others is the fact it explodes rather than burns. As soon and it sparked, Overthrill booked it between Snipey’s area and mine. There was nothing attached to the cord. No need. Wrapping this version of “clothesline” around a tree a few times is enough to take the whole tree down. It’s a trick Over learned from a Wildlands fireman friend of his; who uses it to create “backbreaks” which as used in forest fires to help slow the acreage of burns.

The combustion from the ~det cord is enough to slice through a typical tree in the forest. Gets the job done faster than an axe or chainsaw for sure. Fast enough so the guys in the tower had no clue. When the end was sparked, only Overthrill was certain what was going to happen. The clothesline sparked a storm and cleanly severed each of the supporting legs of the structure. Overthrill had a knack for setting the direction of something to fall, which he said he learned as a family secret from the technique to chop a tree to let it fall any desired angle. Adapting his secrets had proved successful. Nobody inside could react fast enough. There were sounds neither side expected to hear as the supports failed from the fact they had all melted away. There was delay between two and the other legs which much have helped dictate the angle. With a thunderous sound, the structure tipped and crashed to the ground in what seemed like a slow motion version of merely a few seconds.

Nobody had to fire inside the observation post because we knew their fates were sealed. When the thing hit the ground it rumbled with an easy to feel shockwave surging through the ground. Along with a very helpful plume of scattering sand and dirt which created a thick cloud. It was the cue for my group to move. Using the dustcloud as our cover, my group was able to leap from the trench and head towards the former towering structure which fell parallel between the trench and the buildings which were our original target. In the process Snipey was able to get to a prone (laying) position while Threeage could take cover with us. He also had to do a fast check on any possible damage Overthrill could have suffered. It all checked out just fine. No casualties yet.

The fallen structure was built even better than we could have imagined. It was possibly a water tower originally which was later turned into to some sort of command post. It partially explained what made it a poor eagle nest. The floor was a seeming poured concrete mixture added way after the fact, and there was a slew of communications equipment running from a slew of “haji rigged” car batteries which were the power source. The men were instructed not to touch the metal of the tower for good measure. From looking inside it was pretty safe to say nothing looked hot anymore, whether the batteries or the enemy combatants.

Whoever was inside was already making plans on ramping up the welcome wagon towards us. The mortar kind. At the start, Snipey wasn’t having much trouble with the opposition. They were trying to come out with the usual types of explosives. SilentSniper got them. And then more was being wheeled out, literally. They had some device which I wasn’t sure of due to all of the franskenstein action. It was some rusted monstrosity which could have easily leveled us if it had the ammo I had the inkling it had. We had no rockets to counter with due to some supply side snafu. There was a different kind of explosive we were supposed to be handling instead. Maybe I didn’t mention the part about this being a suicide mission.

At any rate, we knew the more we waited, the easier it was going to be an even worse situation. None of us would survive if I stuck with the plan. We were the ones to get called on stuff nobody was supposed to know about. We weren’t in a position to get any air support sent our direction. We were the desert island that was supposed to solve the problem.

There were some things we could have done to increase the odds towards our favor, but there wasn’t time enough to buy for it. What Overthrill did for us was pretty much all the advantage we had going for us. Then Ubu spoke up again. Men were now wheeling out some sort of thickly welded metal barricades. It seemed this was a barrier to keep the even heavier behemoth safe. Ubu said he had the plan ready and without waiting for a pause he said it’s a possible last chance to get ourselves out of the frying pan. In vain, I asked him what it was. He said the less I knew the better we were all around, and I’d have to just trust him. If this thing got into place it could have anything on it. The weaponry looked to be close to a tank barrel. If it had something hot, it could decimate our cover and take my whole group out. This was pretty much out eight ball, and I said it better be good.

Ubu grabbed my radio and called out to Snipey’s group. He barked out some fast info and they were ready. On the call, my men fired the former struts of the tower. It caused sparking from the impact with the machine and surrounding barriers, striking a few on their side in the process. A scant few more seconds of time, but anything was welcome at this point. He dropped the radio on the ground while saying to get ready for Plan Y.

While my men were firing, Ubu darted from our position towards Snipey. When the men near the machine were struck, more started to shimmy out while trying to avoid the fire by staying behind the barriers facing the tower and myself behind it. The men were so focused on the collapsed structure, they weren’t paying the same attention in Snipey’s direction. And he was thankfully a couple dozen degrees of yaw from us. This meant Snipey’s cover was firing at the men on the ground and having decent enough results. A temporary slowing in their progress. Once behind SilentSniper, Ubu stripped the earpiece setup from Snipey and called back to me about what was happening. I could hear him saying stuff to the other guys, but it 3was tough to make it all out due to his mouthpiece being just enough off to keep fading in and out.

Ubu was yanking on the mic and now asking about our emergency exits so to speak. From how it looked, we could hop straight behind us, sideswipe past the trench and make a streak for the vehicle. Problem also was nothing was between us but that same structure. Ubu knew if the machine got a hot enough round through that tower, the debris would be a good enough chance to immobilize us. He called saying it was in our best interest to retreat, and he’d make sure the others would get out too. I pushed everyone to run in a single file line, using myself to cover them all. I was taking a few strafe style shots intermittently to keep the misdirection up and cover the sounds of my men. All I could do was trust, which I did. Though I wasn’t trusting just because of the situation but because of the person. Ubu was the “calculated” one in the positive spin, so Ubes was the one I trusted best in most all situations.

With a few more shots making robotic sounds off the rusted out barricades I followed the men. We stayed single file to keep from them knowing how many of us there were, and also in case something did fire far enough. The would hopefully be aiming for me and not try to wipe more out than what could have seemed to be a single target, making the chance for survival a marked improvement. Once I was in motion, I heard why there was a delay on more combatants from the other side. I started to catch the sound of heavily groaning engines- either from their sheer disrepair or lack of mechanic ingenuity on their part. They looked to be fortified in their trademarked “haji armor” of slapping scrap to the sides and welding them together in a patchwork quilt of bad craftsmanship.

While this was going on, Ubu already had whatever other instructions relayed to Snipey and Edge. I could hear enough to know a bit of what was happening, and lagged a few steps behind the rest in hopes of hearing their feet too. Or on the off chance I could still swing back around and come to their aid. What I knew was I could hear a grinding of gears which meant something had not gone as planned on the enemy’s side. Then I heard gunfire from our side of things.

The gear grinding was just what was needed for another hint of surprise from Snipey’s side. Ubu had the men shooting and was firing alongside them also. Snipey was holding steady for any bigger fish which needed frying. He had his own senses and instincts about such things, which I knew and saw proven time and again. Between Edge and Ubu, enough brass was being pumped. In fact, it was when Ubes sent the newer guy back our direction, making the newer member hang a J pattern  He ran straight towards the tower and when once behind it, he hooked to make a straight line to follow the rest of the men in the single file column. But meanwhile..

Once the sound of the engine groan kicked in, the two with the semiautos both knew what to do. It seemed the two vehicles were their own versions of a personel character or crossed with some sort of long haul capabilities. So it could be moving men, heavy payload or whatever else our U.S. of A. doesn’t want to see getting from point A to point B. Short repetitive bursts fired at the sound of one of the trucks slipping out of gear, doing an “if you can’t find it then grind it” move, was the prompt.

The vehicles were covered in some material, so the guys weren’t sure exactly what was being carried beneath the canvas tarps of homemade camouflaging. When the gear slippage caused the sound, the guys weren’t sure of which was doing it but ripped rounds. Each of them fired into an engine block. Ubu lagging by half a second to tag the extra man to perform his run to exiting as per the plan. Men piled out of the vehicles with haste, showing one driver per vehicle and no support. It was a safe assumption they were using them for shielding their monster slug thrower device.

Ubu was already out of ammo in his clip, and Edge did a last sweep for good measure across the ground which certainly caught at least one round in one of the guys. They were too dazed or stupid to shimmy out the passenger door and used their own side, which made an easier target since they had to go all the way around. It was enough cover and once again more time. At this point Edge was able to reload as Ubu grabbed something he had squirreled away. He pulled out an additional satchel and slung it around himself sideways. He already shucked off most of when he had earlier and I had it dispersed amongst the men before we made our paced dash out.

Ubu reloaded the weapon he had by the time Edge finished firing, and handed off. Ubu slapped a new clip in while Snipey threw his long range rifle over his back and hopped to a kneeling position, in which Ubes slapped the reloaded weapon into SilentSniper’s hands. Ubu fumbled with something else and pulled out a handful of clips he tossed on the ground just arm reaches away from Edge and Snipey; who were shooting in a criss cross pattern to maximize a minimum of ammo who shooting past the vehicles to keep the drivers on the ground.

Ubu pulled more out of his satchel. There were a couple containers and sealed containers which were almost like round versions of Tupperware, sealed lid style. He pulled the things out and also some hankies. Ubu was basically working fast to make his own Molotov cocktails, or “tiki torches” as a lot in our group had called them in the past. There were two glass containers which looked like the cheap oil candles that can be found in stores. A rope looking wick and a glass container with a shoddy design and roundish, Buddha shaping. There were two of these. Ubu yanked the wicks out and dropped them in the glass containers, then shoved two hankies apiece into the round bellies.

He unlatched the round plastic tubes and poured a bottle each into the glass holders. Then Ubu threw the empty bottles behind them and threaded one of the hankies each halfway the opening, making a better burning wick for each. He must have practiced this many times somewhere due to the speed and ease of it all. He seemed to know just what to do and why. Ubes pulled out a magnesium stick and a pistol with something on the side, which must have been a flint type of material added on by Ubu. A few whittling motions over the new and improved candles, and they each glowed from the wayward sparks. A magnesium block is basically a fast way to make a fire without a book of matches. Rubbing it with a jagged piece of metal or a flint will cause it to glow like a sparkler and with longer lasting embers. They caught all right and maybe more than the others expected, but it seemed just right aside from the small bit that caught Ubu’s hand. He must have been going off adrenaline anyway since he didn’t seem to even feeling the bit burning off on his hand which he patted out. He already had his pistol slapped onto his jacket, seemingly by a Velcro adhesive on the other side of the handgun with an elongated clip- in addition to another one already holstered to the front of his vest. It was all less than a minute, no joke if not less. Almost perfectly timed by the lull and men refraining from firing back.

Ubu instructed the men to fire two o’clock while he ran in at eleven o’clock: basically them shooting right while he ran left but towards the troublemakers. After giving the other two their orders, Ubu pushed something which felt like a book into SilentSniper’s gear. He said something along the lines of, “If anyone wants to know, this was Plan Y.  It’s been a pleasure. Do your job and I’ll do mine.”

There was no time to contradict or question. Suddenly a massive amount were filing out since things didn’t go as easily as they planned or assumed enemy side, but they had enough of our besting them and weren’t screwing around now. They decided just to overwhelm with force. In situations like that it’s no way for us or allies to win since they don’t care how many die so long as there’s a winning outcome for them. The time was right and the next phase was on the cusp of kicking in.

Snipey and Edgerider followed through with the plan and ran basically three o’clock, just as the one in the group did earlier who made the J pattern maneuver; not without firing over the vehicles before starting their run. Ubes knew he had a limited time to use their cover. With both fresh Molotov cocktails, one in each hand, Ubu ran towards the enemy. The rounds were fast and heavy on our side, like an errant electric typewriter. Before Edge and Snipey stopped let off their firing (due to being behind the structure) Ubu got close enough. Before they could get enough men firing at him, Ubu launcher the first “tiki torch” from his right hand. It sailed and men scattered not knowing what it was. It crashed against something sounding like cement and sent them back down the corridor for a few moments. It was enough to shatter the glass item and send a small fire spreading.

While the men started trying to shoot upwards and stomp out the flames, Ubu already had a pistol in hand. He fired through windshields of the vehicles which were attempts to be the rolling barricades.. making it more difficult for the enemy combatants to have any sort of protected line of sight. But of course he was really firing at their torsos and heads as the primaries of his ammunition. Emptying a clip from a pistol is much quicker and less satisfying than rapid fire weaponry, but this was all part of the plan so it seemed thus far.

When the pistol went empty he flipped his bag open and tossed the empty one behind him in a farflung motion, while pulling the Velcroed one with the bigger clip off his chest. The fire from the Molotov still in his left hand still ablaze, and in his right a handgun which blazes in its own way. Pop clack clack types of sounds coming from it- but Ubes knew it wouldn’t last long. This was a point where He knew it would be time to play some mental chess with his enemy combatants.. something in which Ubes was the perfect one for the job.

Ubu had a longer clip which the other side wasn’t aware of. I’m sure a few of them were bullet counters. When the rounds stopped or a certain number, then come in the open and tag the sitting duck with the ammo. It’s one of the reasons our team often liked to stagger the fire. They were a tight enough group to just know what the other was thinking and their individually staccato style of shooting would make what seemed like an endless bed of fire. Many more than I care to say fell for this trap. It’s one of the many ways my guys knew how to survive and persevere.

He let out a loud sound and dropped to his knees. What I at first thought was him dropping. I could tell at second glance he went to a knee and one foot on the ground rather, much like a sprinter type pose. He also set the fiery glass tiki on the ground. A hurt or dead person wouldn’t do such a thing. His sound alone was enough to make those who didn’t know him think something went catastrophic inside of him. It was all he needed.

The men popped up like the gopher game in the pizza joints or arcades. They figures his whole clip was spent though in reality it was just halfway spent: or as the positive folks say, the glass was half full. When the heads and torsos moved over the vehicles and barricades, Ubu struck back towards them. The balms and pops hitting some and causing the rest to duck. All the meanwhile, Ubes was fishing something out of his satchel with his left hand. When it came out- nobody could figure what this thing was. His gun ran empty and he threw it towards the men this time, the sweeping arc making them scatter about thinking he had a grenade. Name of the game was to make the opponent think what was wanted. This version of chess seemed to be what Ubu was made for. His moment. But nobody realized his next move. All part of the plan: some calculated, if not all of it. I was hoping he didn’t calculate it all the way through.

At this very moment Ubu was defenseless. It wouldn’t take long for the enemy to know. Just needed one to yell it out amongst the still numerous brouhaha. He sprung up in their moment of chaos. In the right hand was his Molotov cocktail once again, and his left was pulling an object from the satchel which was looking more and more like Felix the Cat’s bag of tricks. The object looked heavy, maybe the size of a coffee can and gleamed in a very eerie way. It was an eerie mosaic of dull reflected light.

With a fast hop, Ubu was up on his feet and running, just as if a sprinter was rocketing from the starting blocks. His swift though gallumping gait was imposing enough, but not enough to keep the resistance at bay more than a moment. Reaching his arms towards one another in front of him, Ubu brought the handkerchief of a wick to a dangling fuse on the metallic looking object in Ubu’s possession. This wasn’t the same sort of fuse as the ~det style clothesline of Overthrill but more of the good old fashioned sparking TNT variety, or more a weatherproof type as synonymous with the cherry bombs or M-100 style baby dynamite sticks which adolescents and jackasses enjoy fooling with.

The fuse was almost dangling when Ubu hovered the end of it. There was a small allotment of time, but there was a shortage of time in more ways than one. Soon as Ubes knew the wire was hot, he hurled the tiki torch at a cluster of the men. They swung back again to avoid it but by fate or grace it burst.. The shattered glass caused a sweeping of flames across a few of the men, which resulted in shouts of their own to keep the fire from spreading. And then it happened: it seemed the timing was perfect as well as incredibly flawed.

Hideous beauty is the only way to explain such a thing. What happened the next moment rather. Still a shuffling of images which I tried to put in order like prints from a roll of film that were dropped onto a linoleum floor.

With a scant few moments for the fuse to burn, Ubu spun it underhand with a spiral motion. It flew in the air and so did Ubu- not meaning Ubu jumped up but rather flew as in making haste away. Turning one’s back is one of the worst things whenever a situation arises which involves being outmanned and outgunned. For lack of a better term, that’s something which could be described as a man who “went Ubu” pardon the irony.

Just as it seemed, Ubu knew every reason for every move he made. From what I could tell he was booking it back towards the structure we just fell a matter of minutes ago though it all felt as if we were moving in hours. The fuse hit its end and a spectacle of bombastical proportions began to assault our eyes. A hot brightness spewed out of the object, so white hot it could be seen in the Middle East’s daylight. Something caught it, which gave off a distant sound of a fizzling engine. Embers aplenty as Ubu bounded full throttle towards the structure and all of us hit the dirt behind the small patch of cover we were unknowingly hunkered down at, near our vehicle which was stashed near. Couple of us using field binoculars could see more. And Snipey eyeballing through his scope. I told them all to stand down no matter what happened since all of us were in this position in order to make it out in a single piece. We all wanted to help but knew there was a reason we had to backtrack. We were risking it enough just by lallygagging behind a rock cropping and not full out skedaddling, but of course I couldn’t leave Ubu totally against the wind. I held out hope he was calculating enough to have seen a light at the end of this tunnel; one which was obviously brighter than I had foreseen in that situation. And then things literally got brighter from what we could see.

The item in the air dropped a bit but caught a strange momentum. At first it was one item but then.. As far as the glowing booster-like item making the fizzling sound. Then another, and a loud smack noise as if a jar of popcorn exploded all at once inside of a microwave. By this time Ubu was already trying to hightail it back in our direction. Not the way the others were doing it. This was a straight out type of direction.

Pops. Seeming out of place but familiar at the same time. Another brut and then more strange sounds. It was artillery, and not from the enemy combatants. These rounds were ours. Multiple overhead explosions were patriotically “bursting in air” from the strange cylindrical thing. Not only did it catch fire but the thing was also causing the enemy to take fire in the process. Firing everywhere that is, indiscriminate of who. Ubu was doing his damnedest at speed, but nobody but Superman or Neo could outrun or dodge a fired round of ammunition.

The stock sound of a bullet twirling off from a ricochet is what most people think of. I know far to many others. The sound off metal, off rock. Catching a ceramic plate or Kevlar. Through a vest or nylon also. I heard all of them in that incident. Flap fwap, and other muzzled sounds. This time it was the vest of Ubu. Battle rattle isn’t foolproof, but it helps make the inevitable a bit more avoidable. There are gaps in the plates and Kevlar isn’t always much use when moving. And it’s beyond a known fact the chest is more protected than the back, since it’s not much of a practice to have one’s back in battle: or “no retreat, no surrender” if a Bruce Springsteen fan. Ubu went down this time amongst more and more blasts. This time I was very sure he wasn’t intending the drop.

I told my men to pile into the vehicle since those rounds could have reached us too. I wasn’t positive until that time it was actually live ammunition going off. It sounded a bit different than what my ears were used to, but the sounds they made when striking jolted me to reality. By the time Ubu dropped to the dirt, most of the men were already in our vehicle. I ducked and ran into our transport, with Overthrill steering. He was a natural driver anyway since he seemed to have much better experience- maybe from all his beach driving in dune buggies or whatever other toylike vehicles.

There was talk of Ubu but I said I think he was shot and we had to get out. The engine already revved up before I even got to my vehicle. Over was shouting out for an order and I had my back turned. I was planning to leave Ubu be to keep us safer. With that monstrous cannon-like device they had, I thought all the work of Ubu would be for naught if I threw the rest of us into harm’s way. But then again, we already had a moment earlier where we all felt ourself as goners.

When my head was turned, the game changed once more. We all heard and felt it, though we had an obstructed view. An explosion rocked the vehicle slightly and we could hear it. Too far away from any heat but I’m sure a few psychosomatically felt it. After all, they still had a brother in the line. While Over was making sure OUR vehicle was in the proper gear, I told him to make a figure eight once cutting right. That way we can have a relatively safer sweep of the situation. I still knew we weren’t taking a pleasure cruise, despite my orders. I told the men to file port side to line up a barricade of hot lead in case we got closer. Snipey and Threeage pulled more to my side while the men on the left had their weapons ready. This was armored and deceptively fortified. This one was a Frankenstein without the bolts, meaning we had it fitted with extra armor but without the usual markings. The diver side was more protected to ensure our driver and had some other customizations specially made from us.

Overthrill swung around and we saw the source of the explosion. The popcorn sounds of the shelling from Ubu’s airborne mystery object had ceased by now. But surely there was crackle from a fire which I couldn’t hear due to the blaring sound from our carrier tearing up terrain and its raring diesel engine. One of the vehicles was merely a billow of smoke and flame. Apparently an explosive payload was set off on the vehicle, twisting the metal supports into what looked like the bad parts of an erector set. I told the men to duck down, even though we were a tad bit safer from this armored carrier.

From the point we whipped around to the right again, I saw why I wanted my guys more or less duck and covering.. Flames from the first vehicle had spilled over and had the tarp to the second one ablaze also, which was spreading and exposing the metal ribs of the supports. Kablammo! Fire soaked pieces of the canvas dropped onto the inside of their second vehicle, sending their hot payload in every direction. It seemed to be some sort of explosive materials; black powder, dynamite or something stronger like C-4. For all I knew, this could have been materials which were going to a bomb making “factory” such as a sweatshop of people making bomber jackets with all the accouterments: namely the vehicle’s payload. Still no movement from Ubu, however.

The explosion sent the men back a few more steps. I wasn’t close enough to see how much was really done as far as damage. The sand played havoc on the limited viewing area available. Our vehicle is built for function over viewing the vistas. I called for Overthrill to cut more towards the scene, which meant we’d be setting a course for Ubes. We still had a small advantage since they were still a few steps back. The explosion didn’t seem to shoot much in the way of fragmentation, but since the second of their vehicle was right in front of their weird weapon, it must have sustained some sort of damage since nobody was hopping behind it. The thing had noticeably been severely scorched. Thankfully I never had the chance to see what it was capable of.

Our vehicle scrunched against the ground when breaking. Not that sand and dirt offer much more for a tire when the brakes are stomped in that fashion. Our vehicle was right between the enemy and Ubu. Now we became the buffer just as he was not much earlier. The back opened and Threeage piled out with one of our newer but stronger guys. The driver side of the rear opened; for extra shielding, and also to make it an easier load in.

Soon as the door made it’s unlatching sound, things heated up again. The enemy combatants ran full force again. Just as many if not more. Our guys had some portholes which were unseen of course. It got more than loud inside the vehicle, but luckily the door was open to help let sound flow out and we weren’t compressed inside as when doors are all sealed closed. My men shot a few rat a tats their way and they tried to spray back at us with no luck. They heard some pings and pangs but nothing worse. Only other thing were a few more of their men making sounds by being tagged with some old fashioned American steel.

The enemy combatants backed up and kept firing while one or more were calling out to each other. By then Ubu Was yanked inside the transport of ours and the door was being yanked shut while we were already driving off. Not that we had to be TOO safe at that very moment since the gunfire on their end subsided before Over had the vehicle back in gear and in motion again. My guys still fired a few more “told you so” style shots. We got lucky I suppose. Well….

We got maybe a hundred yards or so when we started to hear something odd. I ordered Over to drop us to neutral. Stopping but not losing our engine in the process. The sound wasn’t coming from us. But I couldn’t figure out the noise. It was whining and groaning at the same time. Something caught my eye. It Was moving from behind the structure and parallel to us. I and a couple others caught a glint. I ordered the car to follow and all I thought were accounted for. Then it went past us. I saw a glint of reflection across while it passed by. It was a very unexpected carrier of their own so to speak.

Our vehicle was staying in low gear but came to a rolling sort of stop again. We saw it zooming. It was a plane, something of an ultralight or experimental class. From the direction, it seemed the structure we fell wasn’t intended as a marksman’s delight but as a control tower for aircraft. It also partially explains why it was so dysfunctional against our guys. It was built for spotting in the sky and not for potshotting folks on the ground. For sure it explained all the jumble of communication equipment and hotwired power system.

But now we could all see the plane lifting off. It was tough to use the naked eye to judge the size. A lot of aircraft can be deceiving if not an expert on design or an air enthusiast. As we saw it rising up, doors opened to scramble out but I didn’t let them. Then before I could say more, we heard it. Ca Crack! We heard the familiar sound. Looking outside the vehicle, SilentSniper was behind us. Obviously with the high power and living up to the name, Snipey got a shot off. He got up from a kneeling position and I exited the vehicle with binocs, which weren’t working well against the bright light and distance. It appeared to still be in the air. He hurried up towards me- at least five hundred feet back from the rest of us. Somehow he rolled out when he saw the first glimpse as I did. Part of how he earned that “Silent” part of the nick I suppose.

While walking back..

“I-”

We heard gun fire crackle. A couple shots at first. Snipey didn’t need to be told what to do while he saw me scurrying back inside. I pulled myself into the jump seat (opposite the driver) and Snipey ended up inside from the door behind me I suppose. Honestly, I wasn’t looking but he ended up behind me. Overthrill already had the vehicle ready for motion, and we were off again- juking the vehicle to one side in order to avoid the bullets which already bounced off the back of our transport. The enemy was coming towards us, but only on foot. All they could do was death blossom the area as we were leaving them in our dust.

Still in control of the situation, it was time to shift back to the priorities. I decided to move backwards through my mental checklist. I asked what he was saying before we took that last bout of fire. I was trying to catch his face while looking into a rearview mirror from my angle, between still trying to see anything through the windshield in the direction of the aircraft we saw lifting off moments ago. Sporting a somewhat official sounding voice, I asked SilentSniper to repeat what he was trying to tell me before we got interrupted.

He was distracted but kept trying to look back my way. He seemed to be talking in an ambiguous direction. But the gist of it was Snipey reporting he got a clean shot off. It seemed to have hit the fuselage and he thought he could see a fuel leak, or something spraying out at least. But Snipey was more focused on the man in the back.

Immediately I turned to my left, pivoting in the seat. I had a sense of more urgency in my voice which I forced a bit with hope, when I tried shouting over the ramble of the vehicle trying to talk all the way back to the vehicle.

“How’s the patient?!”

A second of hesitation from Threeage. That said about all of it.

“Not looking too good.”  Straining again. “But. He could turn around..”

I knew giving up couldn’t be an option for my guys. Neither did I, but I could hear it in his voice. Threeage had his whole pack practically splayed out. Fluids, ringer device for breathing. Synthetic blood bags and plenty of bandages for tourniquets or hole pluggers. Anything that could be used was. And more than one man was trying to hold him together, and especially with SilentSniper joining the effort as a fresh man to reinvigorate the efforts. Much of that I couldn’t see until after the fact when we finally stopped. What I do know is we were breaking all records to make it back. Overthrill was making sure of that. Not like we were on a busy highway so as soon as our doors shut, he was cutting a straight path back.

By this point I was done being a leader. Not in the aspect of quitting or getting out, but at this point I was tired from having to be the pedestal which all officers seem to try to stay with stuffed shirts or lack of emotion. I decided to be a human, or rather I decided not to look holier than though. I yanked off my helmet and swung it around by the chin strap. More towards the front and side, it ping ponged and bounced around before I spiked it like a football on the floor between my legs while making a sound like a tin can being split open. I doubt any of them noticed. Part of me knew they were all thinking what I was doing at some point. Same to assume.

I forgot I left all my gear in the back when I first piled in. Snipey was originally jump seat to Overthrill, so we basically switched places. It also explained how the heck he slipped out without our knowing at first. I hollared back for someone to find my comm gear. In a few seconds my radio unit was passed to me. I wasn’t supposed to be “phoning it in” but rather face to face this. I’d be damned if I cared at that moment.

When I finally got through, I said we were cruising and saw the plane leaving and it had bit hit with at least one round. Then telling them a locale from leaving and I thought there was more. They needed to strike from above at a suspected covert airfield. Nobody ended up caring if I was right at that point on the other side of the radio. They heard some choice words from me and I prevailed. As I said, I’d be damned at that point not to get my way.

I slammed down my equip. I got my way and still didn’t feel happy. I’d rather vent my frustrations on something inanimate. I had way too much respect to do otherwise. In all honesty, I can count with no more than two hands when I lost it like that. Giving respect its due, I never had a man do what just happened earlier. I was pissed it was our only option. An option I still didn’t even understand at that point. It was at that point when I caught another perspective that made me feel even worse.

With the seatbelt harness device still off and I twisted again. I was going to say something but stopped myself. I was so busy thinking of myself and the situation, it kept me off the real moment. I finally noticed nobody had said a word from inside the vehicle since I last told Overthrill to swing around when making our approach to Ubu. All of the men were bowed down and praying in the direction of our downed man. Threeage and Snipey were doing their thing, and Over was driving. I said nothing. Jostling in place from the breakneck style of the driving, I bowed my head.. Keeping all my thoughts on the man who needed it most. I could hear a couple of our planes streak past, rattling our transport and sending waves up the spines of us all. None of us even blinked.

However long or short it took, we blared like gangbusters and holy smoke into the FOB. Everyone cleared a path knowing something was up. Most likely someone radioed ahead, or they just knew from how we were tearing in. We all had to hold onto something when Over made his last turn towards our medical facility. They doors burst out and everyone knew what to do. Before I could even get a foot out, the guys already had the back doors swung full out and got Ubu all the way inside. I shirked off anyone trying to get in my face and talk and made my way into the building. By that time I was already shut out with all the rest of the men. We all stood cramped up inside the narrow hall since the door was shut, cutting us off to whatever was happening inside. Some sat and some stood. But we were all right there. Our hands interlocked with each other. We waited.

Some of them thought there was a chance and a couple swore they were getting a reaction. But it was hope getting into their head most likely. I wouldn’t have told any of that to their face. I wanted to believe. I wanted to keep hope alive. Finally someone came out to us. I think it was K. Everyone did all they could but Ubu didn’t make it. He saved all our lives but we couldn’t manage to save his even when we all came together. From what she could tell us, the trajectory of the shots had more to do with it than the force of them. At least two struck him if I remember it right. At least two actually penetrated beyond any of the battle rattle. His gear did have him saved from more than two. I didn’t really ask but I think it was at least three or four.

Later I found out through the pipeline that (of course) there wasn’t a full airfield being operated out of the grouping of buildings but it was some sort of a hub. There was a false front of one of them which seemed to be operating as an airstrip for at least one plane. It’s possible one of the building was a makeshift hanger for experimental classes of planes. From later intel, there were some actual VIPs from their side in the area to discuss something. A meeting or mini summit: between the plane and what was found at the locale of our original target.

Snipey was right about landing his shot. The plane had dropped and crashed according to the report I later caught word of through my channels. One bullet shot. The military has some of the FAA type people also who can see what happened to an aircraft. As for the base type thing, it was bombed back to the dust of which it was built upon. Well “back to the stone age” is what one of the pilots told me. I took a shallow solace in that. I was assured because of everything which transpired, at least two if not three people were captured that were making their rounds on decks of the “most wanted” playing cards which had been circulating. In all fairness, there had been more than fifty two of them so far. But we still did what we set out to do- more or less. The amount who fell to us and the bombs were said to be at least one full branch or cell.

I went around to investigate more to do with the plan in general. Whatever this little stunt was that Ubu engineered I wanted to know about, just for closure alone. It was odd having to explain the situation. Thankfully that particular mission was off the books. So anything that side stepped a little protocol I could have gotten my feet held TOO close to the fire. Especially since that airplane of theirs gave cause for me to clamor for a welcome wagon from above. Seemed for whatever reason Maffick and Eula were the ones who knew the most about what happened, but almost in a roundabout way. Maffick was kind of close to Ubes as it was. He also had some education behind him in things like science so I guess they would get into discussions and theorize on things. More like Ubu pumping him for info in a subversive way I guess. Ubes wasn’t the type to get close to just anyone obviously, but I guess there was still a closeness but Maffick still didn’t get that much insight to Ubu. And Eula was a little less close in general since he wasn’t an official part of the group but more of a “floater” type. He was a tech type who moved between groups depending on the situation. Seems they also got along well and Ubu was very interested in the computer and technology side of things. He was mostly just watching and learning and they’d have conversations over topics but just as the others, nothing too personal would come up from Ubu’s end.

What I didn’t know until later was the device was retrieved by one of the guys. Very possibly from Maffick but I couldn’t get a straight answer. With help from Eula, I figured out a rudimentary design of the contraption. Seems to be it was a crudely but meticulously made item of which I have never seen. It seemed the center of it was a steel kind of ball, like a giant ball bearing the size of a ball bearing which was packed with thermite, a very flammable material made with metal powder and metal oxide. It was basically the nucleus of this science experiment. It had holes sealed shut which were all connected at various points with a network of fuses, seemingly four. They were all strung through the middle and converged at a point. It is a simplistically complicated thing I suppose and it makes me get ahead of myself. The idea was these booster things were on the device, sort of like model rockets have. The idea was the weight of the payload was much bigger than a typical model rocket, meaning these things would provide some lift, but more along the lines of hovering more than anything shattering new heights. There were layers inside of various sizes of ammunition. Rows upon rows. From the scorch marks it seemed about three rows were made. The idea was basically varying ammunition sizes, from pistols and rifles. The hot core was supposed to combust, but not work until the rocket engine things kicked in. The  device was devised to hover in the air and the heat along with fuses and wicks would detonate the ammunition in whatever sort of order any number of factors could have weighed in. And on top of it, the whole thing was mirrored, meaning The layers were double rowed on top of it. So one row of ammunition was pointing up while the other way pointing down.

Ubu’s strange device was very ambitious to say the least. It’s hard to know all of the factors that went into it due to the simple fact I had the spent version. It was also something I didn’t want on the radar in any form. Eula knew, but he was a confidential type. He did not have as close of ties to my guys or any. He was kind of a bebopper I guess due to the situation he was in.

The next night I had a visit from SilentSniper. He gave me a book. The book was kind of nondescript all in itself. One of those Reader’s Digest “three in one” kinds of books which were compressing three novels into one fancy kind of bound book. The cover was off and made it look a bit more like a law book, especially with the bit of wear and tear it was sporting. On top of it, the thing was sealed in a relocking sandwich bag sort of thing. But this one was rather large. Snipey said Ubu shoved it into his gear right before sent off to join the rest of us in their escape route.

I asked Snipey if he looked at it yet. He first apologized that he forgot he had it at first. It wasn’t anything to be sorry about as I let him know. Then SilentSniper said he just realized about it later but wanted to wait until I was alone until I had it. He assured me nobody else knew about it and he hadn’t tried to unseal the bag.

Taking the item from Snipey, I first asked if he didn’t mind watching me open it. He nodded that it seemed fine to do. I pried the plastic zipper apart and slowly opened it, us both as solemn as if unsealing a tomb. I slowly slid the book out and it was in fact from Reader’s Digest. The names on the spine were faded as if someone had tried to erase them. Just a faintness of the faux gold leaf shown through to titles of the stories in the tome. I carefully opened the cover to it. Inside was his name and “serial number” as they say in the old war movies. A page or so further in, and there was an envelope. I thumbed through the pages as Snipey looked on. A few more envelopes and a scrap of paper which may have been his bookmark. There were a few scraps which could have actually been a mark for each of the abridged novels in the book.

Thumbing through the book again in a slow flip of the pages, I had to make sure no other secrets were hiding inside. I gently held the spine with a grip between my thumb and fingers, giving a  few light shakes from side to side. I tried to inject a little humor stating one can’t be too careful when dealing with Ubu’s antics. And with that, another piece of paper slipped out.. as well as the slightest of laughs from Snipey, though melancholy. My grin to him while jesting probably held the same emotion. I asked if he’d like the book. SilentSniper worried if I needed it still, and I said I knew how to find him of course. I also added he didn’t have to tell them about the book. I told Snipey Ubu knew the right thing would be done and it would have come straight to me.

Before he left, I also let Snipey know that plane didn’t get away thanks to a surefire round of ammunition. He laughed a bit but knew he did good. Afterwards, I dismissed SilentSniper and told him maybe one of those stories in the book were halfway decent, or better than my comics at least. I had a feeling he had an inkling to give it a read.

Turning back to the items which piled up from inside the book.. I read the writing on the improvised bookmarks. Just doodles and words in a shorthand which I couldn’t understand. It could have been acquired knowledge or a shopping list. Tough to know. The envelopes were final wishes sort of things, addressed to family members and one written in script with “Last Will & Testament” on it. I knew to make sure those got to the proper person in the morning. And then there was one written out I held back. It was written in capital letters: SPRINGSTEEN.

The name was a fairly obvious code for me. Time and again he’d use it. Often he’d just call me boss when an informal setting- basically as a funny way to get a laugh out of the others. Here and there he’d pipe up “Listen to Springsteen” if things got out of hand or “Springsteen’s got something to say.”  After all, Bruce Springsteen is The Boss.

I won’t get into all of the details of the letter. It was a bit personal and I’d never betray the confidence of a friend or even underling. But here’s a taste.

“So, Boss. You’re reading this so I have no need to get into details. Most likely you found out about Plan Y. The meaning of it is: WHY in hell did he ever decide to make that a plan?”….

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