Chasing Alpha: Chapter Eleven

There is no way to devote space to every person. Every person contributed in their own way or put their own effort: all of it shaping our division into what it became. The group was a legend of its own kind, and no contribution was ever seen as minor. Every single man and woman who served in the division we have shaped it bit by little bit. All who served through this period of war, will shape our group to come. Someone is usually there to pass down the tales: just as a senior class or professor passes down tales of the previous year to the freshmen. It is how new heroes are formed and others fade away gently into the night- or at least have the roughened edges smoothed out to perfection depending on who tells the tale next.

For each who survived the incident in the group, at least one other is part of the group’s history. Funny as it seemed, some of the most integral to the post-incident group who were discharged was never a part of their secondary lifestyle. But as ripples from a stone make vast ripples in a lake, so was one of those men.

Some said his name was Gavin. It is best to keep it as a moment of question. He wasn’t even from our country originally but his contributions to the team in the East and stateside were beyond question; even though he never attempted to do so. The best kind of genius is by accident, a man had once anonymously said. In more ways than one, this man did want to stay anonymous; this ‘man of the hour’ to tell the story of.

As it may be apparent, Christian names had little use in this group of people fighting the good one with that air of trepidation towards the possible conspiring from outsiders. This coupled with camaraderie and a slight bit of hazing is where the nicknames came from most oftentimes. It is also the case how most of these are self-inflicted also, but unknowable to the person at the time. A snapshot of humility in most cases. A mistake which is captured for posterity and xeroxed infinitely so others may feast upon this person’s shame or humility. Eventually those initial feelings are shucked away such as a chrysalis: emerging better than before and proud of the process. An exercise in growth. This particular man was no exception to this rite of passage within the group, even though he had already been taught by tragedy.

He suffered his fair share. Pieces of his actual service record are not entirely known. What was a fact for certain was how this group he ended in was not his first. The abridged (albeit untrue) version was he was from across the pond by birth. One of the parents were American which made him an American. He proved it time and time again to us, even though his accent didn’t seem as patriotic as his actions. It would be the version usually passed around to put a fast end to questions. If only it was really so simple.

He was a self-admitted limey through and through. Proud to be under the waving of the Union Jack but also a volunteer for the cause. Even though the forces seemed to be predominately American, there would still be people from other nations either mixed in the ranks or small groups of all one country. This guy was the latter and then the former, whether fortunate or unlucky is in the eyes of beholders. The team he fell in with considered him a cornerstone as to a catalyst of what they later became in military grouping as well as the side of gaming.

The chap had been in an all British squad who mostly patrolled or teamed up with American divisions to give a boost of support to various missions. It was more akin to riding shotgun rather than holding the driver’s seat but none of them seemed to mind all the much. Anything subsequent as to this one was mostly cobbled together from scraps of truth and tangible documentation, not to say what had been overheard by the man himself- who spoke any of it with the most sparse of words.

He was in a group on a mission which bordered on routine. Or so it was thought at the time. Some sort of an ambush happened and for lack of a better word, all of them but one were slaughtered. Their division dissolved and word had it this guy had the option of going home. Thankfully, he chose to returned and was lumped in with a group of Yanks. Little did he know this fortuitous inclusion would become very pivotal and also become a stroke of serendipity when all was later said and done. But before anything genius, there was its antonym: how most people ended up with their nicknames.

Always an interesting one, he could effortlessly get a grin just in the way he talked. Somehow where he hailed gave the perfect spin of inflection when he would boast on behalf of the team or try to stir up morale. His voice was very identifiable for that very reason. He never expected any better treatment or anyone to take it easier on him because of his circumstances of coming to this group. He would try to settle into he background and not draw attention. It would most times work as planned so long as he kept quiet. Not that people liked him quiet, but the voice and accent turned heads. Especially when it came to the variances of words or colloquialisms.

This schism between lexicons was the seedling of his namesake. One of the easiest examples is English “chips” not being as in potato chip but rather what Americans would call a side of fries with a burger. The longer people spent time with him, the more blossoming of words would make the Americans collectively scratch their heads.

On this occasion the group had the odds against them, at least for a brief part of the skirmish. There had been darker moments, but this one was certainly not a “clear skies” situation. It explains why so many felt triumphant once they ended the situation with a refrain of any serious casualties. So once things got boisterous, the non-American chimed in happily with his own two pence.

“Looks like everyone are sure to be mafficking tonight when we get back to base.”

Everyone within earshot halted and did a double take with their ears. The right people heard it and questioned him on the peculiar phrasing. A new name was soon to be born.

There was in fact an allotment for partying, which wasn’t anything past the confines of sobriety. Mostly retelling of various points or moments of adrenaline amongst the group, and whoever else from other divisions who cared to listen in or join the gathering. And one particular person having to explain the foreign phrasings of earlier: which did seem to be an epic tale all of its own.

The story goes back a couple centuries to 1899 and a period of time known as the Boer War. A man by the name of ColonelRobertBadenPowell(a member oftheBritisharmy) was faced with a tough assignment of holding the line in a South African city by whatever means necessary. An invasion from Dutch colonists was more than just a threat. His five hundred were supposed to be all there were to defend versus eight thousand. Sixteen to one are not odds to work with. Nevertheless, Baden-Powell was able to quadruple the manpower without any additional soldiers. Eight versus one were nearer odds by way of the calculator, but many tactics and downright tricks were employed to help level out the playing field. After two hundred seventeen days of holding the line, the town was victorious of thwarting the Dutch invaders. History was made, thanks to Colonel Robert BadenPowell and his wise methods.

The path to victory was made from keeping all five hundred of his soldiers doing just that; being the soldiers and doing nothing else. All of the rest of the duties such as message-passing and other various or rudimentary tasks were delegated to the boys of the city; or the “Cadet Corps.” As they were known, who ranged mostly between twelve and fifteen years of age.

Throughout all the time of the siege, Baden-Powell did things far beyond the duties of his military status. Exploring enemy territory solo and undetected, drawing maps of the area for his men to follow, passing knowledge to the cadets from his personal experience of wilderness survival and woodworking, and even took time to teach cricket to the boys; organizing Sunday matches.

On top of all the accomplishments, Colonel Robert BadenPowell found the time to work on a book which later became titled Aids to Scouting, which detailed many of the methods he developed and used to hold off the Boer invasion. This guide later became the first manual for the Boy Scouts. The town in question was named Mafeking. The feat pulled off was so monumental, BadenPowell was proclaimed a hero and made the youngest major-general in the army. Victory celebrations were so large, the term “mafficking” was coined to describe the celebrations and to honor its town in siege. A term still used in England even today.

Once he told us this entire story backing up the earlier comment on the battlefield, the group knew at that moment there was a name for this man: Maffick. Nobody had anything against his origin, but welcomed a touchstone of comedy which Maffick turned out to inadvertently be. He knew the men would laugh with him rather than at him in a figurative sense; even though they were laughing at things coming from his mouth. He wasn’t known for being a large talker, but his accent had people listening. They listened more than the man ever intended, which would be assets as well as liabilities depending on the point of view of the person. Influence was not from a name alone.

Maffick had a unique personality and was a walking embodiment of the “soldering on” mentality. He did what he did, and kept the bragging to a minimum despite how key he was in any victory. To the contrary, when anything went less than desirable it was usually Maffick in the forefront of taking things too hard upon oneself. Less vocal or visual about it than the leader or Overthrill, but a toll self inflicted was seen when peering past sheer surface.

Despite being more of an addition than a fellow from the start, Maffick made one of the largest revolutions so far as the legacy and post-desert influence of the group. Strangely enough, he was not present when things were in the fullest of bloom. A mark of true legacy.

His nickname came by a misunderstanding and the same pattern happened again. He was talking and the rest were listening. They didn’t know it at the time, but a glimmer of fortune shined upon them all. Despite the variances of what the “official” story, might be, the essence remained the same.

The most conventional version appeared to have been a location which was a target of a makeshift base with questionable intents. A place seeming to look more of a dilapidated pyramid or Aztec type of temple than the village setup most out of the way settlements or farmhouses appeared. It was a mishmash of rectangular structures which bore a three dimensional conglomeration. Something of rectangular building stacked upon each other in a rough triangular shape. This structure would be if SPECTER had a base in the third world. From the air or satellite, the place was seeming an almost innocuous “house on the hill” which later lead to a few other structures built in a most unsafe way. The birds from space saw bigger fish to fry and moved on to more threatening things. Knowing nothing else, they unexpectedly let a weed grow and flourish over time.

One random day, a land bird was given a test flight by a new pilot. This was intended to check a few technical issues as well as get a new pilot accustomed to something in a real hostile war situation versus practicing in a controlled environment. The person was a drone pilot: a remote controlled model airplane is they best layman’s description of it. He was putting one of the higher end versions through the paces and getting a feel for the controls. In a stretch of land largely comprised of sand and rock, any sort of structure seems much more interesting. The same sentiments were felt by the enthusiastic pilot who wanted to get some video spotting practice with the return feed. The appearance of a dirty hill with a couple houses seemed to be a prime spot to practice surveillance. Soon as he got into a medium range he had the instincts to call over the supervisor who in turn went to his supervisor. Whether a stroke of instinct or serendipity, a discovery was made. This development lead to a secret reconnaissance mission. If something was missed from directly above by a satellite, a high possibility said the structure was intended to be overlooked with a purpose all its own.

Under the radar was the goal of the mission. A team was sent by land since it would be much more expensive to send in an air crew for the sake of scouting. It had already been overlooked from above before. Another point of view could gain much more insight, and anything else arousing suspicion could mean losing whatever was being hidden once the cover of the target was known to be blown.

A group known for their smaller numbers and higher success rate was dispatched as well. The group was an assortment of men under the leadership of the one later known as Prev when abbreviated. They were dispatched to relay back what they saw, and avoid confrontation. If this tale ended as it started, it wouldn’t be much of a tale at all.

When closing in, the team saw things were much more than a hill with a few dilapidated houses. What they saw was a ruse built on top of another ruse; literal and in the figurative stance. Things can look as other things depending on point of view, in which this was a prime example. This hill went from dirt and mud mixed with rock from above, but now it was seen through the lenses of field binoculars to be a landmark of pure fabrication. Pigment mixed with an adobe and concrete combination. It gave off a somewhat natural look. Unimposing and civilian was the aim. That arrow hit the target; at least up until this group of men scouted it. Knowing this was built to look like something different, the men knew to expect anything to happen.

If it wasn’t the work of a group who wanted death to Americans, words such as impressive or admiration could be used for what laid before their eyes. Rather than a mountain or hill with precariously-built houses, a keen eye saw thin suspension line running from at least one of them. The distance caused a great amount of glare and haze but the diagonal razor thin wire could be made out. It was small, but a glaringly telling detail to prove what we were seeing had to be much more.

At the ready, the men knew there was nothing to do but plow ahead and hope for the best. There couldn’t be a call for air support no matter how certain; since it had to be a defensive maneuver rather than offensive. The negative meaning there had to be a dire need or a moment of peril before the go-ahead.

Plunging out of the vantage point, the group circled around. Seeing what looked like umbrella stands in a few of the balconies was a good indications this wasn’t a random grouping of farmers or villagers, which the fully automatic rifles in those umbrella stands showed. They raced in as cautiously as possible and were met with ground fire from those on the bottom lackadaisically left the keys to the castle. They fired and announced it to the rest inside, who seemed to be far less numerous than estimated. The echoing rounds sent the rest running. The balconies filled with defenders, and bullets clicked and clacked past the men in the pixel gear; while cascading and impacting with the sand and terrain.

A call went out and the jets came over with almost perfect timing. Dropping payload and carpeting the front. There was enough smoke to cover and the people guarding fell one by one- no choice but defend until death. It was thankfully a skeleton crew by comparison of a typical guard detail. Being a secret type of structure hinders how much true defense can be there; knowing birds in the sky would be suspicious of such large amounts of people traveling in the nowhere part of desert off the typical nomadic routes.

Maffick and SilentSniper hung behind with a few others in case some additional eyes were on the squad attacking. After a last sweep, they were called up to in order to help investigate and set up post in case a group was dispatched to neutralize the invaders…or if another guarding detail was on the way.

Another group was to meet up and investigate what was found. Seems the assumption was right, and the structure was more faux than fact. The mountain basically extended with a poorly constructed version; making it hollowed out basically and blend into the surroundings for the most part; so long as not examined up close. These troops were never to come so far, and now the jig was up.

The mountain project was a work in progress and must have been standing at least a decade. A ring of rubble around it was not so much an environmental occurrence but from chipping away from within. Scanners later showed traces of some sort or chemicals which meant biological weapons could have been transported or held in this remote area. It was as big as a medium-sized house inside with nearly adequate ventilation and ladders leading up to the small rooms which were meant to look as hovels from the outside.

While waiting for the rest to show up, the last group from the outside had to make their way in. They had to circle to the back where they found a carved set of steps which were almost impossible to see even when close up due to the roughness. But it was within this trek in which Maffick ended up earning his fame.

“Bet you never thought at the start of the day we’d be going up the apples, right?” While bounding past a few of the slower soldiers.

While finally settled in back at the ranch as affectionately said, people were spreading the odd phrase like wildfire until Maffick was asked what the comment was supposed to have meant.

Half shocked, he realized the men were of a different land than him. To him, the accents dissipated; meaning he forgot colloquialisms, let alone so many words in general, were all their own “across the pond” so Maffick usually brushed it off with a phrase such as that.

Maffick best explained the phrasing of apples was a derivative of a language almost all its own. A little bit less effort to put forth than Pig Latin, but every bit as confusing for those who were on the outside looking in. Speaking Cockney or London Slang said to be a couple of the most widely known labels it has. Most often it was a way to be witty or to speak behind a tourist’s back. The one he used was the most commonly known, so he said.

Another name for it is simply Rhyming Slang. Using that name gives a good indication of what this dialect hinged on; but the twist was on how it would be shortened. Steps, or stairs would be known as the “apples and pears” in its long form. Shortening it would be “apples,” which he used for us. Talking about “taking the apples to holy” would confound anyone who wasn’t in the loop. Huddled around a flaming barrel (as many an evening when bored or restless), Maffick went on and on to the captive audience, who kept urging him to continue on. Originally when this language variation started, it was more self contained and its own guarded secret. But as time and travel expanded, more and more areas started to learn the secrets; ever so broadening the clique.

Sometimes it it tough to see where luck ends and coincidence begins. Learning this story wasn’t so much of a novelty or something to chide the self-referred limey. Figment of imagination or truth, the slang came at an almost perfect time.

Being in the thick of the sweeping sand can take its toll. Not as obvious as so many movies where people in the desert spot an oasis…  These men were stranded in their own way. A collective island where sanity isn’t always a twenty-four hour privilege. This isn’t saying people go crazy, but things happen when out in a less than friendly environment. The longer one spends embedded in an unknown land or culture, the less of the novelty remains. Instead, suspicion and even paranoia set in. People dying at a practically daily rate can do a thing to a person. Especially when people only knows their native language.

With a supply demand has eclipsed, the government had to resort on locals for a variety of reasons. Knowing the land better, having a better report, or even being able to fall in line with the nuances of the cultures who inhabited these many villages and areas seeming inhospitable, almost unreachable, or the badlands. Sometimes being a small group with a native of this land which holds the enemy, there is uncertainty of who to trust. Betrayal can be sprung by anyone, but those who are a part of the same unit and already saw it all had no reason to  commit such treachery.

The men knew all about counter intelligence. They knew not everything was encrypted and much man to man communication was close to being an open channel so long as someone had a tinfoil roll and wire clothes hanger with enough rudimentary equipment and knowhow. Call the men suspicious or overly concerned, but Maffick seemed to be their best option for the need of a baffler versus the enemy. Any sort of padding which was a lifeline or insurance policy.

One of the first things taught was the numbering system. The military letter system stayed in place, but there wasn’t much to know besides “~niner” to keep the number nine from confusion with five as far as when reading off numbers. Maffick changed that within the group. The numbers went one through nine for the group, since most all times numbers are red off by the single digit. The idea is each number was “rhymed” by two words; the latter being the actual rhyme. The trademark wit being to drop the rhyme and leaving the preceding word. As an example; “half” was represented by the word lamb, short for the phrase “lamb and calf.”  It can be easy to see why this group of soldiers enjoyed the confusing process. What seemed like gibberish to anyone listening in would surely throw them off their game. By the by, explaining the word half when the system in the military was solely dealing in whole numbers is a crumble of snark from across the pond.

The straight up use was this numbering system. From one to nine:  lost and won, bottle of glue, holy see, stand in awe, scuba dive, fiddle sticks, exeter in devon, fartoo late, coal mine, foxes den. Much of it makes more sense in rhyming when applying the affectation of the region also. The group made up their own for the number zero. Originally it was “foxes” as in “foxes den” which was a substitute for ten…but the team didn’t like it. They instead came up with yes; as in “yes and no” for zero (keeping a truer rhyming spirit).

With so much opportunity for boredom to set in, many of the men in the same division enjoyed learning more and more from Maffick about the slang. It got to the point where it was used in passing to one another while eking out the hours free of boredom. Things evolved, or “took it to the next episode” as Overthrill’s colloquialism was. The team created their own internal offshoot based off the rhyming slang which became such a hit by way of Maffick. Just as saying “yes” (or “yeah” even) was coined for zero, the group eventually formulated their own version of the dialect in small increments. Instead of true Cockney, much of theirs were cobbled words.

Most of the phrases were kept secret, but a few which seemed safer to give out. Some of the phrases or words still carry over or stayed in rotation. Not all are used the same way; keeping an air of subterfuge still about them.

“How many rocks wired?” As in rocks for shots. What kind of rice and flowers would sift out for the word firepower. Broken (hip) as in clip; and “fox hips” alludes to a case of ammunition or large quantity: “Enough fox hips to go around.”  “Any jeans with pockets” would be asking if any grenades or rockets pertaining to either side.

The rest was sworn to remaining secret for now.

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