The captain lost his mind a little bit when we lost No-go. Cap wasn’t usually the crying type, too busy writing those mother-letters, lost in his own head; We regret to inform you. No-go was a different story though, zip for next of kin, nobody in-country could even deliver the letter. Probably nowhere to deliver it either, unless some kind-hearted spook wanted to run a drone over and airdrop a piece of registered mail into a random collapsed hut somewhere near 15 north, 25 east.
Pulled him out of a burning truck back in Sudan; Maybe fifteen, underfed, feral. I say we, but it was Cap and Doc did the pulling, I probably would have helped, but I was pretty busy trying not to pass the fuck out, Top jamming a tampon in the hole some Acholi nationalist had just blown through my leg with a shitty revolver, yelling at me in that crazy-cheerful cholla spanglish not to be such a pussy. Grunt-funny.
That was day… three, I think, just after we went in with the UN interdiction force. Supposed to be keeping a shitload of hardware from crossing the border, stuff the LRA had been funneling through Kaya, playing tag with the Cranes.
We did our bit, blew up a bunch of Chinese AK knockoffs and gas mines, got most of it on video, as ordered, everybody making polite noises at the brass once we got back on a fairly deniable and totally disreputable bird and got the fuck out of the country; Handshakes and smiles and drinks on the veranda, probably. Standard data. Few weeks later one of No-go’s little brothers drove a Landcruiser full of jiggered artillery rounds up Tank Hill and took out the Kampala water supply, claims and counter-claims, like it really mattered who did it.
No-go should have gone down to rehab in Gulu, really, but Cap wouldn’t have it, and we backed him on it. Child soldiers weren’t the cause du’jour anymore, probably would’ve been dead inside a week.
So we threw a spare uniform on him and had Doc slip him a mickey, carried him up the ramp on a stretcher, played it like a heat casualty. Chaos enough to keep him under the radar; Got him up to speed on basic grunt English in a couple months while my leg was healing, warned him not to talk or bite the brass during barracks inspections, not that there were many. Lots of wiggle room, since almost nobody had the time or the balls to ask what the hell he was doing, wide-eyed in the chow hall with a huge plate of eggs, or stalking back and forth in the arms room, stripping rifles and looking dangerous in all the wrong ways.
“What the fuck do you mean, who is this? This is my motherfucking armorer, Lieutenant, and he’s a god damn good one, now get your checklist and your coffee cup the fuck out of my AO while I’m still willing to salute you.”
Top never did handle inspectors very well, but she made sure we always passed.
Turned out he was a gun nut. When they hadn’t been beating the shit out of him or putting counterfeit Marlboros out on his elbows, Konys’ boys had him doing PMCS on a couple tons worth of de-serialed gunmetal, worn out Daewoo and H&K surplus. First time we took him out to the range and let him fire a real weapon he had that look on his face that usually only shows up in paintings of the Virgin; Ngongo and Child.
It all worked out okay until he started watching CNN a few years later, hitting the bottle and reading the bill of rights. Must’ve been listening to us all bitch and moan and started thinking that politics were serious business. Easy mistake to make, we acted like it mattered. Maybe it did. Vanished one night; made his bunk, logged out a 50 cal and hotwired my pickup.
Came back smiling on election day, sixteen hash marks carved in the stock, full tank of gas, empty ammunition box and a beat up road atlas on the passenger seat. And we knew, really, had already guessed. Somebody had been hitting congressional candidates, long range, high caliber. Lots of hi-def outrage; Concern and Condolences. We’d bitched about that, too, sipping beers and playing spades while the ass-hats trying to buy first class tickets on Air Force One blamed each other for mad-dog snipers and blizzards and the fact that most of humanity was too profoundly fucking ignorant to realize that we were all lying to ourselves about pretty much everything.
Too bad about Ngongo; Survived Sudan, lived through the beatdown Cap laid on him for going Rambo. Didn’t live to see the collapse though. Bad rumors and worse news, and we kept getting weird fucking alert orders for missions that never did get a green light, just days on standby, checking and re-checking, jokers with coffee cups and shipping manifests and Top wanting to break shit. We just didn’t have the time to keep an eye on the kid. Failed him.
One morning he got a finger too deep into a bottle of Everclear and just quit breathing. We were all racked out, nobody even noticed. Good people, even if he was bent all wrong, and he never would put a weapon back on the rack the first time you tried to turn it in. Knew his shit though, loved his fucking guns, took pride in ’em. Loved Cap, too, and his idea of America, I guess, in his own deeply fucked up way.
Cap had us packed to ship out thirty-six hours after we found his body, part of that little breakdown he had, played it like a real deployment, except the gear list was all screwy, too much redundancy, too compartmentalized.
Formed us up at 3am, yawning, lazy hands warm in forbidden pockets. Sat us all down with a shitload of doughnuts and told us we could come up north with him, or not; That all the normal garrison bullshit and secret squirrel deployments were over, the paychecks were gonna stop coming, and we could either bug out now and maybe stick together, or go down the hole with the top brass and the policy wonks, live like a bunch of scared fucking rabbits while everything we were supposed to stand for just collapsed into a big steaming pile.
Hell of a speech, he said it better than I can remember it; Must’ve been reading his Carroll or something. Somehow, he knew about what was coming, because too much of it actually happened. Rumors and superstition, maybe. Or maybe he was just grief-crazy and we were brainwashed suckers. But he called a lot of it.
About half of us went with him, after some pretty surreal Q&A. Everybody else just went back in the barracks and hit the sack. Nobody called the MP’s, far as I know; no panicky tweets about mass desertion and stolen equipment. Nobody even said the magic word, AWOL, just eyes open and deuces and complicated handshakes with sticky fingers. Maybe they just thought he was wrong about the paychecks. Dunno.
He was right though… Normal was definitely over. Haven’t seen a doughnut in years.