The Sixth Level of Hell part Six
Night descended on Fulong beach, the darkness lit by the fire of burning tanks and equipment. The US led reclamation mission of Taiwan had been a complete and utter failure. 80% of the US led forces were dead and the rest scattered, soon to be captured or killed. The Marines had been the only outfit that had achieved their objective but were soon swept away as their needed support was not in place. The 7th US fleet had also met defeat in the straits of Formosa. It had been the last gasp of a desperately declining empire throwing its dwindling sons and now its more numerous daughters away for less than nothing. The Taiwanese civilians had refused to help the Americans. Not out of fear but out of ethnic patriotism. The neoconservative advisors to the president had promised the cooperation of the civilians living under the People's Republic's yoke but this had been a gross overestimation. An election was coming and many of these advisors began to secretly make overtures to the opposition candidates.
The 24 hour news programs and talking head shows were filled with almost violent exchanges and loud protests packed the capitals of the world. The many dead soldiers on the beach in contrast were silent, the gentle waves crashing against the surf as it had for millions of years before. The sleepers lying forevermore, the shadows of a dead dream.
One young man staggered along the shore line, half dazed.
He was covered in blood and oil, his uniform's left sleeve ripped off. His forehead covered in a bandage, applied by a medic who had been killed three hours earlier. The trigger of his M4 still gripped tightly, despite the magazine being empty. The ringing in his ears become more faint, his sanity slowly coming back.
Cpl Daniel Warren was the only living soul left on the beach. The bodies of american, japanese and chinese soldiers scattered about, in pieces or burning. The reclamation of Taiwan had failed before it begun, but his marine unit had struck deep into the chinese defenses and had even repulsed the first counterattack before being ground up. The chinese had fought skillfully and outfought the rest of the american forces in the attack. Only the marines could hold their head up high on this day, but they were now down to only one man.
Daniel fell to his knees. He used the butt stock of his M4 to stabilize himself, digging it deep into the wet
sandy shoreline. Soon he was laying on his back, not caring if he was spotted and shot or captured. The last ten hours had literally been hell on earth and all Daniel wanted was some water and a place to lay down. He did not expect to survive the next few hours and felt a degree of peace. It was a beautiful starry night and he looked upwards at the milky way. It reminded him of when he would travel outside
his home town of Nefcon City, laying under the stars with the coyotes, transients and mountain lions. Now he had burning armored vehicles and dead soldiers to keep him company. The salty smell of the sea burned his bloody nostrils.
He expected a bullet to the back of his head at any moment. Daniel knew he should get to the forest
interior and hide but he didn't feel like it. This was not good, he could not give up. Not after all this.
"You have to get up. Get into the woods and assess the situation."
Daniel laughed at this marine protocol which had been burned into his head. The situation was pretty clear. He was fucked.
"What the hell were they thinking?" Was all Daniel could say. This attempt to liberate Taiwan had to be the stupidest thing his country had attempted. Daniel had signed up thinking he would be doing humanitarian work, all the fighting and killing and invading was a thing of the past. Forget what the hell they were thinking, what the hell was HE thinking. His iraq vet uncle had warned him, but Daniel didn't listen. What did that old sexist, homophobic pig know?
A whole bunch it had turned out..
"I care less that your a fag than you being a sap for uncle sam."
Uncle Dennis had pissed off a young, rebellious Daniel time after time with his blunt talking but he was the only person that had given Daniel a place to stay after getting kicked out by his mother's new husband. When he told him that he was joining the marines, Dennis could not believe it. They had a huge argument and Daniel had stormed out after smashing the mirror in the bathroom. The next day he bought a new one at the home depot and replaced it as well as he could. Dennis gave him 200$ bucks that he had been saving in a loose space in the floor of his trailer.
"Get yourself a good meal before the bus trip to the base. Be careful Daniel. Try to keep in touch. No matter what, we are family. You have our mother's face."
Dennis walked off without answering at first. By the time that he got to the mailbox, his emotions got
to him. He turned and said goodbye to his uncle, thanking him for everything.
Daniel wished he was back at Dennis's trailer, sleeping on that old mattress, listening to Dennis and his girlfriend talking and drinking into the night. Listening to the coyotes howling in the mountains behind them.
As the daze he was in began to dissipate, Daniel's survival instincts returned and he took cover by the treads of a knocked out US Bobcat armored recon vehicle. Checking his ammo, he had enough rounds for an extended firefight. But what was the purpose? Was Cpl Daniel Warren going to take on the entire People's Republic army singlehandedly?
"Damn, looks like there are two of us left. I guess we technically won this battle, huh?"
Daniel turned with his M4 raised to the voice to his left. He saw another american in a marine uniform crawling around from the side of the Bobcat. He also look wounded but he was smiling despite the blood and dirt covering his face.
"You in the second or third wave?" His fellow american asked.
"The second. How bout' yourself?"
"The first. We got so far ahead we were literally drowning in chinese. Man they kicked our asses today."
"Yeah, they did." Daniel responded.
His fellow marine leaned next to him and started to look at a bloody bandage on his own shoulder.
"You hurt bad?" Daniel asked.
"Not too bad. I was lucky, a mortar round knocked me silly. I was on the ground when the rest of my buddies got cut down because they were standing."
Daniel now recognized this guy. Cpl Kurt Deibert. The guy he challenged to a fight off base a year ago and instead got laughter as a response. The crazy right wing guy, one of the jesus freaks trying to get training to overthrow the government later.
"You remember me?" Daniel asked. Of all the other guys to survive, it had to be this guy?
Kurt looked at him and then recognition began to dawn on his face.
"Daniel. The guy who wanted to kick my ass last year. Heh. Boy that was like another life time
Daniel had apologized to him to be fair, it all didn't matter now did it?
"Looks like all that praying stuff paid off for you then. You gonna thank jesus for the outcome of our glorious crusade?" He sneered.
Kurt rubbed the blood and sand off his face with a ripped piece of cloth.
"This outcome was from the stupidity of our leaders. Underestimating the enemy. We basically did the same thing we did years ago in Taiwan and had the same result. Right around the time of the comet. You remember?"
Daniel remembered the comet better than the first US defeat in Taiwan. A little boy looking out the backyard into the sky and seeing the light. It had filled him with awe and wonder and a feeling of peace. A sharp contrast to the nervous, screaming and drunk adults around him. He remembered his mother crying and then scooping him in a tight hug. Why had she been so afraid?
How afraid was she now, knowing her son had been in this debacle?
"I thought the resistance was going to help us." Daniel changed the subject.
"Why would they? That old nationalist/communist division is gone. They see themselves in terms of a common ethnicity, like most people do. I wouldn't be surprised if there was no 'resistance'. Getting this attack done was the end goal." Kurt sighed.
"For what purpose?" Daniel asked.
"To divert domestic attention away from our fucked up country? To make money for the military industrial
complex? To fulfill some egghead's war game theories? I have a bunch of possible ideas. None of them good."
"Oh I have to hear all this shit again? I though you right wing dudes were all patriots? You sound like a traitor now. Are you mad that america is not kissing your privileged straight white male asses anymore?"
Kurt lowered his head. This was not the time for a political debate. Still he reacted angrily.
"Kissing our asses? You mean throwing our asses into a meat grinder. I dunno' about you Daniel, but the chinese are going to look at you and me and see the same pale faced big nose barbarian who has invaded their sovereign country. They won't give a shit about who we are sleeping with."
The two men realized at the same instant that they were both being idiots and that they needed to shut up and get the hell off the beach. Chinese units had to be close by, mopping up any survivors of the failed assault.
As they entered the forest, they heard chattering in mandarin and the sound of treads filling the beach.
"I know we should probably give up, but call me crazy. I don't feel like it. Maybe we could turn this into a sort of impromptu vacation, what you say?" Kurt joked.
"You seem to be quite upbeat, about our situation. Were probably not going to see the dawn." Daniel
"I thought you gay guys were supposed to be all about the satire and black humor and stuff. Your like an uptight square or something." Kurt shot back.
"Oh are we all supposed to be a stereotype?" Daniel answered sweeping the dark with his M4.
"You a stereotype? Heh. We all saw the parking lot video of you and the two rednecks and their ghetto
friend. I don't think I could have done that well."
Daniel's altercation had made the local news last year. The guys had jumped him in the parking lot of a local
gay bar thinking they had an easy beatdown. Instead they ended up in the hospital and Daniel handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser. He was exonerated due to the video evidence. Everyone joked about it but Daniel wanted to forget it. In truth he had also contributed to the altercation and had been looking for a fight beforehand. He was not the hero everyone thought he was.
"I'm just a soldier, just like you. Thats all that matters." Daniel tried to return to some professionalism.
"You have a lot of anger in you. I was the same way, still am. I guess I just focus it in other areas. If we had met two years earlier we would have gone at it. Humor helps me I guess. If I didn't make light of things I would go nuts." Kurt continued.
"Humor. Lightness. Heh. I wonder if I could ever be like that." Daniel smiled for the first time since the beginning of the operation.
"If we somehow get out of this, I would advice that for you. Our world is dying Danny boy, we have to enjoy the ride." Kurt chuckled.
"Is it the apocalypse? The end of days like you guys always talk about?" Danny joked.
"We won't even get off that easy." Kurt smiled. Daniel noticed he looked exhausted and realized that he may have been hurt worse than he let on.
"Lets rest. we gotta find some cover." Daniel looked around and noticed a small stone structure by the side of a winding dirt road. Next to it was some overgrown vegetation, a good cover.
"Yeah, I was thinking the same thing." Kurt nodded sounding a bit weaker. "We gotta move up the coast before dawn, we might be able to find one of the meet up points. Maybe our guys had better luck elsewhere. Even if its just to evacuate."
"You think thats a possibility?"
"Maybe, its the only chance we have of getting out of this." Kurt then stumbled and sucked air
between his teeth.
"How bad are you really hurt?" Daniel turned to Kurt.
"I'm fine. I think I need to lay down for a while though."
They heard a lot of commotion from aircraft overhead and distant explosions. The air force was maybe trying to even up the odds a bit. It would make no difference for the situation of the two men.
"Boy I hope they don't kill too many civilians. We run into some villagers and we might get chopped to bits with farming tools." Kurt noted.
While Kurt rested, Daniel kept watch. From time to time he looked up to the clearing in the pine trees and gazed at the stars. His mother, uncle Dennis, his boyfriend and other friends might as well be as far away from him as those stars. A dark despair began to fill him and he lowered his head in his hands down to his bent knees. Why had he ever signed up for all this?
Man, was that weak. He could hear his uncle Dennis berating him.
"You made your decision, now live with it. No matter how shitty it is, you make the best of it. Now I ain't
saying its easy, boy."
He raised his head and looked over at the stone structure. There was something strange within it, a figure in white of some sort. After another twenty minutes his curiosity got the best of him and walked over to see whatever it was.
It looked almost like the virgin mary. It was some sort of woman deity. Daniel wish he had more knowledge of chinese culture than he did so he could know exactly what it was. She was sitting on a flower, a lotus of some sort. A peaceful feeling came over him for some unknown reason.
"Thats Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy." Daniel was startled by Kurt who was now up and awake.
"Oh? She's beautiful."
"I believe she was originally a male bodhisattva in India, but in chinese buddhism she is definitely female, an immortal deity. Thats kind of funny don't you think? I figure you would like that." Kurt winced as he chuckled. He was hurt alright.
Daniel turned and looked daggers at Kurt.
"Oh and why would I like that? I'm as much a man as you, Kurt! You stupid neanderthals think we all dress in drag and act like women? That we are clowns here to entertain you?"
Kurt looked downward. "Sorry man, I misspoke. I tend to joke around a lot when things get serious."
Daniel regretted his outburst. What the hell was he so insecure about? This guy was the only friend he had on this whole blasted island.
"Its alright. Kurt. Maybe when you get back stateside you can become a political radio guy or something. Those guys are all jokers like you."
Daniel walked back over to their cover. He didn't notice the strange look now on Kurt's face. Daniel's offhand suggestion had the gears in Kurt's head turning..
Ten minutes later Kurt was asleep again and would be till Daniel's turn came up for some rest. Looking back at Guan Yin one more time, Daniel smiled. She almost seemed to be looking at him.
"I do like your outfit, I admit..but..after all this insanity..death, whatever happens..I..I..thank you, madam.
The goddess of compassion and the stars above did not reply, that was fine. The silence was a gift in and of itself. A moment beyond time and space that Daniel would never forget. No matter what happened afterwards..
"So your going to do it, huh? You're becoming a political radio guy?" Daniel had another shot of jack daniels apple.
"Yeah and I guess I have you to thank. I mean anyone can be a radio guy now with podcasts and stuff but I am going to try to get into broadcast. Even if its underground." Kurt nursed his beer. "More people agree with me than ever, but they are not allowed to have a voice at all in their own country. I'm going to try to be that voice."
"Your still fighting the good fight. I always like that about you, you never give up." Daniel had a sad smile
on his face. His right hand in ice water to keep the swelling of his bruised knuckles down.
"So this is Eva Patron, huh? I heard you had a new line of work after getting discharged." Kurt chuckled.
"I apologize if I look a little less than ladylike right now, heh." Daniel sighed. "You have no idea how much work this takes and this is just showing up."
Kurt still marveled that this was Daniel, the two fisted marine with a chip on his shoulder. He looked enough like a real woman, although too many real women were looking more masculine these days. Still as long as he was happy and at peace, thats all that mattered. But Kurt knew that was unfortunately not the case.
"You look fine to me. Just don't tell the waitress huh?" Kurt winked. "I think she's worried you might get between the two of us."
The two men laughed. After all they had been through, they were closer in many ways than most married couples. Not that there were many married people left in 21st century America.
"So all the pleasantries are done. Why did you want to meet me after all this time?" Daniel cut to the chase.
"Two things, but they are related." That bitch Rice is running for state senator. The one that led the Progs in the camp. I'm pretty sure you know that."
"Yes I saw that, even though I'm not into politics much. How could I forget her face?" Daniels voice went ice cold. "She is on the TV quite a bit."
"I want to take her down. The thing is that she has her two 'friends' with her also."
Daniel's eyes seemed to dim.
"Yes, I know that as well." He responded in Eva's voice.
Kurt felt a chill from that response. Feminine, yet filled with menace.
"That leads into the next issue. I overheard things at the VA."
"Oh? Now is that any business of yours?" Daniel's voice was back.
"It's not. I don't go to that damn place and I think they suck and don't help us one bit. However some of our mutual buddies who swear by the VA say you stopped showing up for sessions and seem troubled lately like when we got home the first time."
"Well if the place is useless, what do you care if I go or not?" Daniel folded his arms.
"I'm concerned about you, Daniel. I wished I could have been with you when you went through that shit with the police. I feel guilty about not staying in touch in that crucial time."
"Kurt, you were in physical therapy. They fucked you up real bad in that camp. The scars we carry are different but we all carry them. I'm an adult and I don't need a babysitter or a big brother for that matter. Don't worry sweetheart, I'm taking my meds like a good girl." Eva sounded like she was right out of some old 40's noir flick.
"Those two, I've seen them in Nefcon along with that bitch. Promise me you won't do anything, Daniel. I don't want to see you ruin your life. We are going to get those bastards I swear. In a way that will truly hurt them without you throwing your life away."
"Oh, so our mutual 'friends' overheard me huh?" Daniel's temper flared and stood up slamming his palm in the table. Someone had snitched on him about what he wanted to do to Gary and Reginald.
The rest of the bar felt his energy and everyone, even Tyrese the bouncer went silent.
Daniel then looked around and realized the commotion he had made. Back to sultry, soft spoken Eva.
"I have to go Kurt. Stop by the club I work at if your in the area. Heres my card. You can see Eva Patron in her element. Be careful getting home, the youths are always out on the hunt it seems."
A man had entered the bar, but it was a lady who had left.
Kurt put his head in his hands. Not all his scars and injuries were physical either.
Kathy, the female bartender from Baltimore look slightly disappointed.
"Had a fight with your boyfriend, hon?"
Kurt didn't even bother to explain.
"Let me get one more bourbon."
Just at that moment a political commercial for Samantha Rice came on the television.
Kurt looked up at his sworn political enemy. Speak of the devil, in a blue dress suit.
"Make that a double please."
Outside a white Mercedes waited on the corner. A man at the drivers seat with shades and a woman were its occupants.
"This is where the one is, I have not seen him come out yet. You said there were two but no man matching the other photo you gave me has walked in or out of the place.
"It's okay, I want to wait a bit longer. What I want to discuss with them is important but not so urgent. The woman replied, her eyes like a hawk on the entrance of the bar.
"You sure about this Colonel Lian?" The man with shades asked.
"Oh yes. I could never forget those two. I just hope they take what is offered them. This could all fall apart so easily."
"For all our sakes lets hope not."
A small studio apartment on the West side of Nefcon City
Daniel stared at the mirror in his bathroom. He had his chance in Manchuria and had failed. When the moment of truth came he was found wanting. If he wanted revenge now, it would destroy him.
Those bastards would never let him get near them now.
Daniel couldn't but someone else could.
"No, I won't involve her in this. She is the light and my peace. I won't desecrate her like this."
Daniel looked in the mirror again. He had no choice.
Eva was the only way.
"I'm sorry, Kurt."
Daniel took off his necklace, the jade pendant of guan yin and placed it on the night table next to his mattress on the floor of his small apartment. He dreaded what sleep would bring tonight.