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To The Stars, Alice

May 7, 2018

“I cannot even begin to describe a tenth of it.”

“Whaddya mean?”

The Biergarten was mostly empty apart from a few stragglers in from the rain. There was an older gentleman with umbrella, raincoat, and a newspaper sipping his Hefeweizen while perusing Die Welt.

“First, I absolutely do not want to sound like an advertisement here. Or like I’m recruiting. Hear me out to the end. It’s not pretty.

“It’s one thing to run up a hill with bullets flying at you in order to occupy it. Sure, it’s dangerous as f***. The odds…well, kudos to those who defy them.

“It will take somewhere between let’s say fifteen minutes and a few days. If the longer end, at least you’ve got a foxhole to sleep in. You can pull back and there’s someone else to take over for a while.”

He took a swig of his Shandy, set it down and continued.

“But to walk into the enemy’s maw…completely f***ing alone…to have to keep up appearances for essentially your entire motherf***ing stay at Chez Opposition…to even have to be on guard when you are f***ing sleeping.

“Well, that’s an entirely different kettle of fish. Toughness is needed…tenacity. But also a couple of other things.

“For one, I’m now convinced you have be more than a little bit crazy. Not marine crazy. More like you don’t know who or what the f*** you really are a lot of the time crazy. You have to believe your cover story on some very significant level. And yet you cannot get lost in it because it’s temporary.

“That’s f***ing nuts, man. You have to trick yourself.”

Another swig.

“I don’t think you ever really come back from that. I don’t give a shit how long you’ve been retired. You have essentially donated your sanity–and your ‘self,’ whatever the f*** that means–to King and Country.

“Not f***ing dying on the job almost doesn’t to some extent matter…you’re already f***ing gone. Being sneaky and going bump in the night only begins to describe ‘ghost’ and ‘spook.’ The way of the ninja: Be as one already dead.

“That’s not a sacrifice a lot of people can or should consider, in my opinion. No wonder they’re so goddam scary to so many of the rest of us. They really are f***ing crazy. There’s a good reason Colonel Flagg from M*A*S*H was depicted the way he was. That wasn’t entirely parody or ridicule. That was making a deeper point.”

They drank silently for a moment.

“There’s fun to be had. But there’s something…empty…about it. It’s like adrenaline rush for a while and then it’s over. Back to pretending to be alive while waiting to be summoned at the next seance for the next thing…to matter for a while and then take absolutely no credit except with a very select few who know what you did.

“While I don’t…what?…like where it’s all going, I have to give the old timers their due. They’re one strange Addams Family lot. I think. I don’t know quite where all this is coming from to be honest.

“Suspect that now it’s not quite like that. A lot of tech and backup are available if only info-taps, drones, or spy planes high above, ready to extract or provide a diversion if necessary.

“Like most endeavors, we have gotten lazy and we specialize. We rely on tools that are only as good as the opponent not knowing what they are and being able to exploit the gaps, and when he finds out we make new tools and on and on and on it goes.

“But it’s not all bad, being lazy and specialized, especially considering automation, etcetera. But it’s the question of what happens if and when you’re cut off. Your calculator breaks during an exam, you better be able to do its job if only more slowly.”

He took another drink.

“I dunno, dude. I think astronaut is looking pretty f***ing good right now.”

They laughed and ordered another.


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