“Will you do it?” asked Marzan.
“Do what? Shoot Americans?” asked Rollins as he screwed his Osiris eye ring down his middle finger.
Their unit had just received the situation report and rules of engagement in the back of their cramped Humvee. Nothing had really changed from how they were instructed back in Shariastan. The platoon was en route to a south Chicago ghetto to quell a developing situation. Rioters had amassed and were turning over cars, smashing out windows, and setting fires. The local police had lost control.
Their orders were that rioters who did not disperse were to be given first a bullhorn warning, then tear gas, then a high-intensity sound blast, and finally warning shots. After that, the appropriate level of response was left to the discretion of the lieutenant, who in this case was a primped man-boy just out of an abbreviated officer candidate school. There was no objective other than to restore order. If they were fired upon, they were permitted to return fire…after headquarters approval, of course.
“Yeah, I mean shoot Americans,” Marzan clarified.
“I guess I’m not really too worried about it,” Rollins answered, nonchalantly. “I’m a soldier. Orders are orders”
Marzan wasn’t at all surprised. He probably shouldn’t have asked Rollins. He had known him for eighteen months. He probably knew more about what Rollins was going to do than Rollins knew, himself.
Rollins never appeared to be concerned about what he was going to be doing. He operated reflexively by muscle memory. His complete moral detachment was well-established. If there was an order, Rollins would execute it without hesitation. Bulldoze somebody’s house? Done. Lob a hand grenade into a courtyard? Done. Fire on a carload of hajis who failed to stop at a checkpoint? Done. No hesitation. No questions. Rollins carried out his orders as if he were playing a video game. There was never any remorse or second-guessing or empathy. He was the perfect soldier.
I don’t think I can do it, Marzan thought to himself, trying not to reveal his doubt. He forced his face into a deadpan expression to hide any hint of his internal turmoil. He chided himself for not being as hard as Rollins. His conscience increasingly haunted him and he hated himself for it. He had to use the “remember your dead buddies” technique in order to clear his doubts.
I am weak and Rollins is strong, he thought. He was never comfortable with intimidating the little brown people like Rollins was. Despite their small stature and annoying, indecipherable babbling they called a language, Marzan could never fully dehumanize them. Their sad brown eyes would knife through his emotional armor. Through their eyes, he experienced their terror, grief, fear, submission, hatred.
He yearned to be Michael Rollins, encased in impervious emotional armor, impenetrable to any blade. He wanted to see only deception in the enemy’s glances. He desperately wanted everything else—all that touchy-feely bullshit—deflected away. If he were only as hard as Michael Rollins he could be cured of the pain of conscience.
All hajis were liars and savages, much like all the gooks in Vietnam were liars and savages, and all the Japs and krauts during World War II were liars and savages. Things never change in war. The soldier is taught that he is the überman. The enemy is unhuman. In Shariastan, it was assumed that just as soon as the GI’s back was turned, haji was sneaking off to his spider hole to finish improvising his explosives. All unhumans are of one savage, evil mind.
“Look,” continued Rollins, “we’re giving them plenty of warning. If they don’t want to get themselves dead then they should do what they’re told. It’s pretty simple: Don’t be a dumbass. Respect my authority. Respect this.” Rollins jammed a magazine into his M4 and yanked the charging handle.
Marzan wondered why Rollins didn’t return the question. Is he really that self-absorbed? he wondered. Or did he sense my uneasiness about the matter and decide to let me off the hook? No way. He would never let me off the hook. He’s definitely that self-absorbed, he concluded.
Their Humvee stopped.
The night was illuminated by rippling gold dancing on the unsmashed window glass of the numerous store fronts down the street. The power was cut off intentionally to give the Domestic Security Force—or DSF, the new name for Marzan and Rollins’s Division—a technological advantage. Cut the power and you greatly reduce enemy coordination and documentation. The U.S. Army loves to fight at night because the lightly armed, third-world insurgents they typically engage can’t see. The Army also had to ensure the battery backups of the nearby cell towers were turned off as well. This was a bit of a pain in the ass, but it got done.
The troops dislodged themselves from their Humvees. They huddled for a moment to receive last-minute instructions and activate their night vision. Then they began their stealthy maneuver into the darkness with the Humvees crawling behind. Their viewfinders pictured green silhouettes scrambling between alleyways, aimlessly hurling bricks and Molotov cocktails.
“Dumbasses,” Rollins whispered into the radio.
Marzan watched them scurry around in the darkness, oblivious to the laser sites that were marking them. They would never expose themselves as stupidly as this in Shariastan, he thought as he moved his laser dot from target to target. The Shariastan insurgents learned quickly that the night provides no cover against U.S. Army night vision. But they learned that being still and covering up in wool blankets does.
The soldiers progressed slowly, deliberately, knees bent, rifles aimed, and targets acquired and reacquired. They proceeded around a corner and a block down the street, past the Carniceria, past the prepaid cell-phone store that served the neighborhood drug dealers, up to the Checks Cashed façade at the corner. The firelight danced in flickering green in their optics. Marzan could hear glass smashing and the primordial, raging laughter of an insanity-fueled mob.
What is their problem? Marzan asked himself.
The proles were angry about prices. They were angry about shortages. They were angry about joblessness. They were angry that their welfare checks were delayed. They were angry about being hungry. They were angry that mass transit had stopped servicing their area. They felt trapped. They had been lied to. They had never known an instant in their life when some government bureaucrat wasn’t telling them what to do, where to go, or giving them the financial means to do it. Now their government benefactors were pulling away, disconnecting from them, cutting them off. Despair and panic had set in.
Terrified and not knowing what to do, they gathered and protested during the daylight hours. The cops rode in—polyester vials of mustachioed nitroglycerine. Their nerves were worn thin by twenty-four-hour shifts. They were being asked to do many exceptionally dangerous things that they did not sign on to do.
Someone hurled a brick that careened off a cruiser windshield, shattering it. The cops drew their pistols. Most of the rioters scattered but the angriest among them, the unattached, the unemployed, the unencumbered young men remained. They hurled rocks and bottles and taunts at the cops. A cop was hit in the chest with half a cinderblock.
No one other than the actual shooter knew who fired first. The cops returned fire with a barrage of 9mm rounds. It sounded like Chinese New Year. Then screams. A wild murmuration of young men ran this way and that. More shots. Someone was firing back with a rifle. More screams.
Outnumbered a hundred to one, the cops retreated back into their cruisers. The mob enveloped them. Fearing a rout, the cops withdrew. A Pyrrhic victory riot ensued.
Marzan was the first to peek around the corner at the rioters. The mob was much bigger than he had anticipated. There were hundreds. The fire teams took their positions. A Humvee pulled into the street and with an enormous bullhorn affixed to its roof it addressed the crowd.
“You are hereby ordered to disperse!”
Rollins laughed as he sighted on one of the “dumbasses,” as he called them. The target was some fifty yards off. “These niggers got no idea what’s coming.” Rollins said. “You better get the hell out of here before the U.S. Army smokes your ass.”
The firelight flickered in the bulletproof windows of the Humvees, casting a surreal omen. Some rioters spotted the soldiers and their M4s and took cover. Others fled, sensing something wicked was about to happen.
The sight of cops might be cause for concern to the rioters, but cops, although locally despised, were local scoundrels who lived locally and had to answer to locals for what they did. This time, the proles were staring into the ranks of heavily-armed soldiers…mercenaries by all accounts. These soldiers were from faraway places like Orange County and Philadelphia and Houston. They might as well have been foreign invaders from China, as far as the rioters were concerned. These mercenaries had no connection or affiliation to that south-Chicago neighborhood. The soldiers, by and large, deemed the neighborhood as just another foreign battlefield—as if it had been chiseled out of a Shariastan desert and plopped right down into Illinois.
The rioters that did not flee held their concept of being an American before them. They cradled that abstract notion, contemplating it, trying to decide if it was real or just some sort of vaporous nonsense drilled into their brains by public school, national holidays, and television.
The tear gas was launched.
Fearlessly, some rioters grabbed the smoking canisters and tossed them back. The big show of authoritarian force is always just that, a show. There would be some back and forth, the mob would blow off a little steam, then the storm troopers would march in and methodically disperse the crowd. That’s the way it had always worked during riots.
The sound-blaster sirens blared.
They wailed so loud that it made teeth chatter. A few brittle windows crumbled under the pulsating noise. The rioters scattered into the alley ways and behind burned out cars to shield their ear drums.
Warning shots were fired.
It was at that moment that the rioter’s remaining notions of being an American dissolved. America had now just become some far-away gang of white politicians sending an army in to occupy their neighborhood. Only their homes and their friends and their families meant anything to them, from that moment on. They knew then that there wasn’t going to be any theatrical, non-lethal dispersal.
Rifle shots came from a window somewhere above.
“Smoke ‘em!” came the order from the lieutenant through the earpiece radios of the soldiers—after headquarters’ approval, of course.
The Domestic Security Force opened fire in three round bursts. Muzzle flash. Ricochet. Beelike-buzzing zips of bullets sliced the air. Dull clangs resonated as automobile hulls were punctured by the rounds.
Rollins gently squeezed his trigger. The victim did a full cartwheel before landing on his face, the American dying in no more special manner than any other of the several dozen little brown people Rollins had already smoked overseas.
After ten more seconds—which seemed like forty-five minutes to the outmatched, outgunned and terrified rioters—the hail of gunfire ended.
The whooshing sound of flames.
Groans from the wounded.
Car alarms wailing.
The platoon advanced to check out their damage, now behind the cover of their lumbering Humvees. Rollins approached his victim with Marzan to his flank. It was a kid, maybe sixteen. He had run right out of one of his sneakers. “Funny how that happens sometimes,” Rollins remarked.