I sat with my friends
in the drab gray room, waiting to die
. Corwin was openly crying, McKinley had disconnected his mind from his body, and Dutch stared through the centerfold
of a Playboy
, knowing he may never see the fairer sex
again. Only yesterday, we had blown up several oil rigs in the Persian Gulf
, leaving them blazing like the funeral pyres
of great kings. Now we were on the other side of the weapon, thirty seconds from becoming savagely ripped apart and vaporized
. As I waited to be released from my corporal self, I wondered who was on the lucky end of the weapon - was it us or them?
Operation Praying Mantis had been ordered by the faceless higher-ups in a dusty office at the Pentagon. In retaliation for Iran's part in blowing up the USS Samual B. Roberts with a mine, we were to take out several oil platforms to show them that the United States does not back down from bullies. Proceeding north, we pushed through the oil-choked seawater, over the writhing seasnakes basking in the warmth of a sun drenched cloudless blue sky, past the rotting sheep who died on their transport, to be food for fish rather than man. We were there to back up Uncle Sam's word.
Arriving at the first rusting derrick, protruding grotesquely from the calm water, we began to warn the occupants of the impending destruction of their manmade island. Theoretically we were on the side of the right, of the just, yet we would not wantonly kill for the sake of killing. That would be evil, against our code of the humanitarian. We were to allow the weary rig dwellers the opportunity to flee for their lives.
When an ant's home is threatened, they respond with waves of raging, writhing bodies to fight off the intruder. The weariness disappeared from the rigmen, and some jumped for the relative safety of the open sea, while others groped for weapons, ran to and fro, shouted unintelligible orders to deserters, and prepared to throw themselves at the trespassers. Two young men barricaded themselves behind mildewed, leaking sandbags with a 50 caliber automatic machine gun. I readied my own matching 50cal, and Dutch spread the linked shiny bullets out on the drab gray decking. When the two young Iranian men began to spray the sea with lead, we received the order to return fire. We had been practicing with the 50cal all week, and I knew I could fire with much greater accuracy. Like a life-sized arcade game, we took turns firing at each other, trying to hit the target and win a prize. I hit the sandbags of the video game enemy over and over, and in return he helped chip the paint from the side of the ship. This
exchange of metallic conversation continued until I won my prize.
I knew I had hit them both with one spray of bullets. The words "Game Over" did not appear, but the body of one of the men did. He struggled to stand up, and fell halfway over the shredded half-emptied sandbags. I knew then what I had done, that the enemy was just a man, like myself, like Dutch, who was whooping and hollering and congratulating me. It could have easily been reversed. I could have ended up sprawled out like red-stained laundry drying in the sun, never having to live with the thought of someone's mother getting the news that the evil enemy had torn her son away. I didn't eat that night. I didn't do much of anything at all. I just hoped that the other man, the dead Iranians Dutch, had lived through the experience of being aerated by hot spinning metal, and the subsequent bombardment of the oil platform by the ships main battery of heavy guns.
I awoke the next morning to the sounds of the general quarters alarm. We had moved the ship closer to the north of the gulf, within striking distance of the Iranian missile systems. We were to literally be sitting ducks, to sit and quack at the enemy to see if it was duck season, to see if they still wanted to fight. They did, and sent two Silkworm missiles to greet us.
I ran and dressed myself, bumping into sweaty sailors rushing madly to get to their assigned posts. Being part of the air crew, I headed towards the back of the ship to the helicopter hangars. I arrived to hear the Combat technicians over the loudspeaker, called the 1MC, counting down to missile impact. The ship turned away from the incoming cylinder of destruction, pointing its flight deck, helicopter hanger, and the air detachment at it in an attempt to survive the hellish explosion to come.
I sat down with my back to the hanger doors. Dutch, who had been so jubilant only hours before, sat stone-faced. I thought of the man who pushed the launch button, and wondered if he would be thinking of me as I had been thinking of his fallen comrade. "Thirty seconds to impact," shouts the 1MC, with the voice behind the mike young and wavering. We all start thinking our last complete thoughts. I wonder what is to become of my wife and daughter, what their reaction will be like when the men come to tell them that their husband and father had been torn away from them by the evil enemy.
'Twenty seconds to impact, brace for impact," stutters the voice on the 1MC. I now know how the dead Iranians friend felt as I looked around at my pals, my buddies, and saw them about to die. Rage and fear, remorse and finality danced one by one across their shocked faces, dripping with sweat. I knew I was about to die for something I believed in, just like the man I had shot the day before. There was no comfort in that cold fact.
"Fifteen, fourteen, thirteen.. .lost contact. Contact lost. Splash one missile." The news did not penetrate our thick clouds of doom and despair for some time, as we each had blanketed ourselves with misery to vainly ward off foul Death and his sister, Fate. We sat still, waiting for a fiery hell to envelope us despite the reassurances of the younger-sounding voice behind the 1MC.
It turned out that the man who had pushed the button had not properly prepared the missile. The Silkworm ran out of fuel prematurely. I guess, for that time and place, my tearful and smelly comrades-in-arms, huddled in the drab gray steel and aluminum room, were on the lucky end of that weapon.
An original short story based partially on some experiences I had ages ago.