Under The Dog-Star ©
The Army picked the youth from the video arcade.
“You can play virtual reality with the best shots in the country,” the major general with the glass eye said kindly. With his one good eye he had settled on him from the first day. He glanced past the unwashed and besotted set with which the youth hung out almost every night and he had learnt enough. It was time to get him on the side of the good.
Joachem Vanderbilt believed in certain things as gospel truth. He didn’t mind getting his hand dirty if he could pluck gold out of dirt. The boy’s reflexes were of first order. His tastes for art and culture faultless. His eye for art was excellent. He had in a month long operation found he even subscribed to world heritage foundation with his winnings at the pinball machine. ‘So he was good’. The major general was collecting his weapons to fight an Armageddon. Major General Joachem had a mission. He was to recruit for the Allies a special platoon. In high secrecy the Op HQ put the last touches to save the world from a Caliphate of Evil as the three star General, his boss had hinted in one of the top-level meetings.
Hendryk young as he was, only wanted to pass the time. But the Army had to give him an alternative.
Major-General Vanderbilt casually connected one evening and invited him over to the bar where it was cozy. The boy looked at the square chin and his battle scarred hands. It reminded in some curious way his father who was a farmer, an asparagus grower in Limburg. His hands also reminded vaguely of power and world- weariness. The general over a glass of Pils spoke short sentences just as his father. In his father it was to the point of tongue-tiedness. Drink or not.
“I have nothing to loose,” said the boy to himself. He drank a can and showed the older he was street smart when it suited him but could speak of Ming Art as fluently as Hellenic art if he wanted to. There was a rather studied nonchalance in the way he rolled a weed. The major general stopped him and the boy could not figure it out. He let himself leave it unlit. Did he want to please the elder? He didn’t know. He went home that late evening just as he told in an authoritarian way. ‘It is late, son.’he said and the boy didn’t ask why. He was on the side of good, the elder decided.
Next time they met the old soldier was just as kindly. With one look showed he was a surrogate father. Just with the same breath he made the army as an extended family. He was a father to every soldier. Hendryk could see that himself in the days to come. The father with one good eye saw the same idea was instilled in his children too. ‘So this army of young men become fighting fit.” Hendryk did not let the grass grow under his feet. He joined the army before the trial period was over.
He was sent to the boot camp to the south.
The new recruit did not let down the top brass. They found him most sharp. He had a promising career, said they all; so said the raw youths who were impressed and accepted him as one of them. At the end of the training his instructor wrote highly of his qualities in his confidential report.
The boy found the oath of secrecy and carefully orchestrated rites of male bonding with which the Army cements their ranks a somewhat mystifying experience. In the real computer space the boy zipped past all other recruits. Insulated in a dust-free, temperature controlled cubicle, he could zap all the alien dots that flickered into his console. Thus he came out to face the reality of the cruel world, gone out of joint.
Their engagements followed none of the script that set Darius against Alexander or Rommel against Monty of Al Amein. The rag tag bands of muleteers and the riff raff who idled around the hamams were all toting rifles and quoting the prophet. Those who lived for pleasure and lived for the moment now were talking of their Christian faith and mission. Who was good or bad somewhere lost its shape. The Jihadists were in the city and morphed to merge with the cityscapes while Hendryk and his band became equally adept to make deserts their cover.
The long drawn out war kept them, both good and bad, shuffling like a deck of cards: Hendryk didn’t miss a thing and he never let his cool even in the thick of hand to hand combats. He was a battle-hardened vet not yet past thirty.
It was during an undeclared war against Iran that Hendryk was sent with a special mission. He and his unit were airdropped in a fiery furnace that made even the sand sound more like glass than gravel. The trigger-happy soldier was like a salamander and he scurried about the jagged cliffs and stretches of sand on a mission. The terrible arsenal that Technology could gather for him, lay hooked to his trigger finger! “Where is my enemy?’ he drawled lying in his lair cocooned by all that hardware. The stinger he hoisted on his shoulder strap was a lethal piece.
“A Deadly Toy”, he blanched as he stared at it. “I could blow a whole civilization and yet not be seen in the enemy screen!” he murmured feeling the gorge rising within. He was drunk by his awesome invincibility. In a trice he stood up under the brazen sky, his gossamer thin army uniform shimmering like many waves of light. Sweat broke out within and he could feel it coursing like a snake, slithering down his spine. It was a danger signal. The heat was killing as those scorpions that suddenly lurked in the wave of sand. Crunch, crunch, his boots gave his feet all the protection. He inched forward and scorpions lifted their tail loaded with venom. They knew defeat when he came closer.
”Where is my enemy!” he asked even as his fingers involuntarily caressed the gleaming profile of his stinger. ‘A Click’ was all that he needed to hear before melting the blurred landscape before him. Somewhere in his backpack he could hear the crackling sounds. “Perhaps the system is righting itself to the heat outside” he thought. He could hear his heart beat but it came as if it were continents away. He was like a man…. drunk. In that stupor of invincibility he felt divided into bits and pieces many times over, scattered all over the continents yet all wired by some tenuous filament to the Mission H.Q.
Beads of perspiration plumped on to the scorching sand while he moved under the weight of backpack, some 110 pounds heavy. His regulation out-fit somehow didn’t reckon for the task he was sent.
“Where is my enemy?” he didn’t see a thing. The enemy was out there. All around him. The pestilential air crackled about him. Isfahan was fated to melt before him. The livid scorcher of a sun was above him. He thought it didn’t blind him because he wore protection glasses that no needle prick of the blind sun could get at. “Where is my enemy?” he would have cried out, but his throat was now shut like a vice!
Before he could even think ‘ Oranje Boven,’ he fell forward, a victim of sunstroke.