talonkarrde: (Default)
Harvey laid in the darkness and counted the streaks of light overhead, and every once in a while, whispered a word when an especially bright flash passed.

It would almost have been romantic — except that he was counting warplanes, not meteorites, and this was a warzone, not a sandy beach or a forest clearing. Over his body was a thermal blanket, blocking his heat signature from the drones overhead, and his mutterings were counting the troop transports, with their larger engine nacelles.

He thought about what each transport meant, what each fighter would require to down, and what the cost would be on the rebel side. And then he thought beyond that, to the families that would never see their sons and daughters return, to the fields that would be wasted and lay fallow until the radioactivity faded. And then he kept counting, because while he was frequently philosophical, he never forgot his duty.

When all the flashes disappeared beyond the horizon, Harvey set up a small transmit tower, sent out a compressed radio ‘squeal’ of his findings, and then set off to the west, towards Bradbury Park. When the snoopers got there, they found nothing but a melted pile of scrap metal.

Agent Briggs was long gone.


He had joined up early, early enough that there wasn’t much of an organization among the Independent city-states that had been set up, only discontent at the way that the United Nations Command had been expanding their regulation on the red planet. He portrayed himself as an ex-terran adventurer-turned-farmer who had been driven out of business by the rising regulations on the 'native' producers, and was accepted into the ranks of the then still nascent militia-army.

It wasn't long before he stood up in a town hall meeting and told the rag-tag group, in no uncertain terms, how you couldn't beat an enemy you didn't know. How information, not laser-guns, was going to be the most important resource of this conflict. And how without figuring out the UNC's troop movements and tactical plans, they were all going to die to a superior military force.

A week later, he found himself one of the officers in the newly formed Independent Action Council - and started deploying into the territory that was formally claimed by the UNC, on 'fact-finding missions'. In a short time, those fact finding missions become infiltration missions, and then, after the skirmishes began, Harvey Briggs was called to head the spectre division, responsible for strike-and-fade missions on UNC war materiel.


Like his older brother Earl, he was often a man of action. His final stop on the trip was to check Bradbury Park. The Indis knew that there were forces there, but they had never been especially friendly to the Northern forces; he also knew that the Park was going to be the only spot that an entrenched battle could be fought. Because of the tall canyon walls on either side, the air advantage of the UNC would be neutralized by the AA flechettes that the Indis could bring to bear; because of the close quarters, a small force could hold off a much larger one. It was meant to be the Thermopylae of this century.

The only problem, then, were those in the park who had 'not yet figured out their allegiances', as his commander politically commented. Harvey knew that it was false; they had chosen, of course, it just wasn't what his side wanted to see. They had decided to try and stay neutral, to try and weather it without supporting either side, instead choosing to enforce a total DMZ. But when there is independence on the line, when there are lives at stake, there can be no neutrality — at least, none that would be respected by either side, Harvey knew.

It was often something that he thought about; like his younger brother Jonathan, he was also a man of philosophy. He knew that there were lines that were not to be crossed, even in war, even in a war to earn independence. He knew that freedom didn’t exonerate a man of crimes against humanity, and he knew that this mission, a false flag operation, would be one that was perilously close to the line.

But Harvey knew, like both his brothers — whom he had lost contact with shortly after the war began — that in the end, you had to be willing to stand up for your beliefs. Whether they were with the order of a central authority, as Earl had sometimes commented on, or with the right of a man to make and choose his own destiny with no yoke around his neck, as Jonathan used to say, they were willing to stand up and die for what they believed in.

And so was he.

With a final look towards the green park, the paradise on the red planet, he set the UNC hovertruck — loaded with weapons that would hopefully be used against its previous owners — into action, sending it careening towards the verdant park, towards the shimmering biodome. Either it would be brought down by the defenses or it would crash through them, but either way, it would hopefully incite the Park to join the Indis in their battle — according to Harvey’s commander, at least.

If he knew one thing, though, it was that nothing was ever, ever that simple. But it was necessary, and the die was cast, and as he watched the truck start gathering speed, Agent Briggs disappeared into the night, intent not to be where the hunters would surely come searching. He still had work to do.


A/N: With [livejournal.com profile] beldar  and [livejournal.com profile] ravenshrinkery , we are the League of LJ Idol Gentlemen, and we bring you the tale of three brothers on three sides on a war that is a little bit of the past, a little bit of the present, and a little bit of the future. We hope you enjoy.
talonkarrde: (Default)
It was my first time reporting in a wartime environment.

I was staring down at the orderly rows of protesters slowly winding their way up the street, waving signs that said “Let Us Be Free!” and “Our Voices Will Be Heard!”, from a balcony of the hotel, one that I thought would be deserted, given the demonstration going out on the streets. But then, a voice from my left.

“Disgusting, aren’t they?”

“What do you mean?” I asked, turning to face the man. Average height, average build, black, curly hair, dark brown eyes, a red power tie. An unpleasant face is what caught me the most, with a mouth that looked like it hadn’t smiled in the thirty or so years he had been born.

“They are sheep to slaughter,” he answers. “And too stupid to realize it. Do you know what the difference between a riot and a demonstration is?”

I shrugged, not really interested in continuing the conversation; besides, the leaders of the protest were almost in contact with the police line.

“It isn’t, as commonly held, when someone throws a bottle, or a rock, or when the guns start firing. That’s just the illustration of the turning point, the start of the death toll. But it’s a riot before then. You can spot it by the attitudes that the two sides have. The rocks that protesters carry, the guns that the soldiers finger, even when they’re told to stand down. A riot happens the two sides hate each other, intensely, and want the other side to fail and to die.”

“There are plenty of Western sources of history where the people peacefully demonstrate an unpopular government, though,” I countered, watching as the shopkeepers started closing down their shops. It seemed unnecessary to me, as the march was still heading peacefully past these shops.

“And plenty more where a flower planted into the barrel of a gun was shot back, with lead, into the protesters’ faces,” he responds darkly, and I frown. “It’s the truth, and you’d best believe it. There, see — it begins.”

And I see a guy reach out, and throw a rock at a policeman. He is hit, and once the others see blood, they take it as an automatic order to stand ready, their guns — rubber bullets, the government said — pointed at the opposing line.

And for a moment, everyone pauses. The protesters, the soldiers, the bystanders. Everyone freezes, and watches, and waits.

“See? They’ll stand down now,” I say, hesitantly, hopefully.

And then he sneers, and the sound of firing — with live bullets — starts, and the screams of the dying, and I stare, transfixed, as the crowd begins to panic, some fighting back, some running away. I lean over the edge, and only as I feel his hand on my back do I realize that I shouldn’t have trusted him.

“Go, then,” he said, “join your sheep,” and I was falling.

There are only flashes of the riot, short clips I remember intensely, bright splashes of colour in the darkness. There is my landing, when I hit three, four people, and they all go down in a pile, and others start stepping over — stepping on — us, in their haste to get away, to run from the bullets, the advancing figures. I roll; I feel someone kick my back, harshly, and I do not know if it is someone under me or someone running away. I feel scrabbing on my face and I close my eyes to the gouging, feeling the nails, the claw of a hand trying to find something to grab on to, and finding nothing but my mouth. I almost bite down, almost, choking on his, her, someone’s fingers, but I wrench myself away, instead.

I remember being hauled up by two bystanders, a man and a woman, who make sure I’m on my feet before moving away, helping others, helping those fallen, even though they were in danger of being trampled themselves. And as I watch, one of them does go down, bowled over by a man running away, and then they are lost, swept away—

I cling to a pole in the crush and see a soldier firing into a man crawling away, hitting him in the back; I watch as the blood comes out of the neat hole in his back, and then, as he turns over, I see the gaping maw that was his stomach, and I vomit, down, into the crowd, into the street that is becoming slick with sweat and blood and urine and vomit.

And then I look up, and see as the man cries out for mercy, and I see the soldier raise his gun again, pointing at the man’s head, and another soldier knock the gun out of the way, calling for a medic, kneeling beside the man. The first soldier stands there for a second, and then takes off his helmet... and then falls, a bright mist coming out of the side of his head, as a pistol finds him, blowing his brains against the side of the street. And yet, the medic still keeps working, doing the best he can for the protester, even as gunfire continues around them, even as he starts bleeding from the ear, a direct hit from a rock that dazes but does not stop him—

I remember having a rock on my hand, and seeing a soldier on the ground, and seeing it bloody. He is knocked out, and there is a girl standing over him, a girl who has a rock in her hand as well, and she is hitting him with it, hitting him in the helmet. And then she kneels, and takes the helmet off, and raises the rock, and her saying, this is for my brother, you bastards

I remember hauling the soldier upright, and dragging him towards his own lines, my hands empty, my face bloody. I remember snarling, snarling, as if I were an animal, at the protesters that came near. I remember the captain snapping his fingers, his uniform clean and pressed and as if he had just come from a parade, telling me to get out of his sight, that he could have me shot but he wouldn’t, because I had sided with the right people. I remember saying, sir, yes, sir—

And then going back into the fray, because what else could I have done? I had seen enough, perhaps, for a million stories, but there were still children bleeding out, fathers and sons and daughters and sisters that needed help.

The story could wait.


It’s hours later before I stumble back to my hotel, but I do manage to get there, battered, bloody. I stumble into my chair, curl up into a ball, and start shaking, trembling as the sobs come and don’t stop, as the images start replaying themselves across the inside of my eyelids.

And it’s there, an hour after I get back, that I open my laptop, that I start typing, knowing what my job was, knowing that I had to refute him, knowing that I had to tell the world. I remember the bystanders, the medic, the soldiers that would not take innocent lives, the protesters that just wanted to peacefully call for change.

And I write. I write my fucking heart out, take all the pain that I’ve just witnessed and try and put in all the hope that I’ve seen and I write to change the world.

Even in the darkest corners of the world, there is hope...
talonkarrde: (Default)
Dear James...


Private James Carter turned the letter over, expecting to find more. He expected to find something that said, "just kidding, James. Still waiting anxiously for you to come home. Your friend forever, Stephie," or perhaps, "Hah, got you, didn't I — well, here are some cookies to make up for the joke I just pulled on you, and I'll see you soon, okay?" But there was nothing written on the back, no cookies to be found. Just the letter, just his best friend telling him that he was someone else, that he had broken his promise.

But he hadn't changed, he wanted to say! He had promised Steph that nothing would change, and he damn well intended to keep his promise, even if she didn't believe him. He had made it through training just fine, hadn't he, and while he didn't look forward to combat, he would still be the same person he always was. He would show her, he thought — he would get back and they'd go to the East Orange Diner together at one in the morning and everything would be okay.  They would still hike the woods together, talk about their futures, be the best of friends as they always had been.

Everything would be okay. So why did he keep turning the letter over, again and again, trying to find out where it was that "I know I was wrong," left him?


"Huh? What, Iron Man?" James turned to look at his bunkmate,  Anthony Stark, eyeing him from over the railing of the bed above. Naturally, the first time someone put two and two together, the name stuck; it helped that the guy was as rambunctious and cocksure as his nickname.

"She dump you?" Tony looked serious for a second.

"What? No, man, we weren't dating, we're just friends. Anyway, she's just...worried that I'm not really answering, you know? No calls, no emails, no letters and —"

"I'm sure you're not dating, Jimmy-boy. Friends don't write letters that lead to you turning the thing over and over like it was a goddamn prayer bead or somethin'. Anyway, just go call her up on the phone and tell her that the mail hasn't been coming because we have an alert that the mail trucks are being targeted and the comms been down. Blah blah blah, you're sorry, you love her, you want to make her moan in—"

"Aww, go f— wait, the phones are back up now?"

"Actually... no, I just wanted to see how you'd react."

"You son of a bitch."

"You know it. But I'm a son of a bitch that's a damn good shot, thank you very much. Now put down the goddamn letter, Jimmy-boy, and let's go pop some cans from five hundred feet."


The first few weeks that the company went out on patrol, all was quiet. The humvees trundled through their routes in Helmand province and although there were few smiling faces, it didn't seem like anyone was trying to kill them, either. James started paying more attention to the clouds than the people around them, figuring that a few more months of this might not be that bad. And then the honeymoon wore off.

There were skirmishes, from time to time; he became used to going from idyllic daydreams to the heat of battle in a split second, when the inevitable ambushes would happen, and desperately trying to find cover when the bullets started landing all around him. He learned about the IEDs that riddled the roads, that would be placed just after they went out on patrol and be waiting to blow them up when they were on their way back, almost within sight of the base. He learned that promises by the tribal members had about a 50/50 chance of being a trap, and he started to keep his guard up, constantly, after he heard of the suicide bombers that posed as informants to get into the American bases.

But he still joked around, albeit with more gallows humor. He still tried to be kind, giving sweets to the children that he walked past in Nawzad, though he did it less and less when the firefights started to erupt as he was busy with candy in one hand. And he still thought about Steph and home, though he didn't really know what to say to her. Occasionally, he would send out a email to let her know he was alright... but he kept them short, not having that much to say.

The thing about war, though, is that it isn't like the movies, where one event suddenly turns friendly, courageous fathers and sons into those that are broken and can't cope. Instead, it's the accumulation of events, each tolerable by itself, that ends up crushing a person under the combined weight of its insanity.

It was urban conflict, bitter street-to-street fighting in Garmsir where James sighted down his rifle and saw an insurgent go down, AK-47 in his hands, and then a little boy, no more than ten, go to pick it up. James hesitated, saying, no, don't and the boy turned the gun towards the Americans, clearly inexperienced, clearly wanting to kill them anyway. And then he pressed the trigger, watched the bullets hit, saw the boy collapse next to his father? brother? uncle?

It was the time after that, when he saw another kid go for a gun, and he didn't even think, just shot, and moved on to the next target.

It was the teenager that came to them, hysterical, in the middle of the night, begging the guards to talk to someone. She was dressed in the traditional burqa, and the translator said she came to warn them of an impending attack. And then, when Tony — Iron Man — volunteered to see her to some shelter and get her something to drink, she pulled the trigger on the bomb she had hidden, killed him and two others.

It was, overall, being in a hostile environment where the rules of engagement didn't apply, where every friendly gesture could be a setup to kill you, where you don't trust anyone, because that's how you stay alive. And James knew that it was changing him, but he stubbornly held onto the belief that it would be over after his deployment, that he'd go back to Stephie and they'd be fine, pick up right where they left off.


And then his tour was over, just like that. He would be lying if he said he wasn't counting down the days, but he felt that the last few weeks had been calm, calmer than before — or maybe he was just getting better at surviving — at being distrustful of everyone and anyone. But now that he was home, he could let that go and it would all be okay.

Seeing Stephie after getting off the plane gave him hope — the tears in her eyes, the smile on her face, the bear hug he wrapped her up in; it was everything he had hoped their reunion would be. I missed you, he whispered to her, and the kiss she gave back was forgiveness enough. The reunion with his family was equally joyful, and he settled easily into life back at home, reconnecting with all those that he hadn't talked to.

He does take her out to the East Orange Diner and they still go for walks together and trips to the beach. As the days turn into weeks, though, James realizes that Steph's words to him when he left are growing more and more true, as much as he fights against it. He isn't the same person he was anymore, and the time they spend together is more going through the motions than re-establishing what they used to have.

James sees it in the way that she asks him questions that he has no answer for, in the way that the more she wants to know what happened, the less he wants to tell her. He understands that she wants to make up for time lost and share in his experiences, but he would never expose anyone else to that, even if his stories could convey what he had seen. And so he simply denies, dodges, and avoids the questions, despite the awkward silences that come after. It's no better when she talks about her life, he can't force himself to care about juvenile crushes and job changes and friends moving across town. There's a war out there, he wants to say. Why does any of this matter?

He sees it in the way that he prefers to spend time on base with his company members instead of civilians. He has nothing against his old friends, nothing against his family or Steph, but there are comments that they wouldn't catch, moments that mean nothing to them. And conversely, he sees that there are moments they share that he is excluded from because he wasn't there when it happened, in-jokes he isn't a part of, stories where everyone is laughing but him.

And finally, he sees the changes that have happened to him in the way that he's never able to fully let go of that distrust that he built in Afghanistan. A car moves too fast on the street and he drops into a crouch, his heart pounding, his fingers fumbling for the rifle that isn't there. A streetlight flickers, casting shadows, and he's up against the wall, trying to discern where the shooters are, how many of them, and which way he should move.

The home that Private James Carter wanted to come back to no longer exists for him, he realizes.  And so, a few weeks later, he makes a decision, and returns to the only world he knows.

"I have to go, Stephanie. I don't belong here anymore, and when I'm home, I'm simply... waiting, I guess. The world keeps turning, and I'm here, but I'm not really a part of it. I don't know if I'll ever be a part of it anymore."

"I don't want you to go," she says, and then sighs. "But I see why you think you have to. I'll miss you, James."

"I'll be back, Stephanie," he responds, even though he doesn't know if he really wants to be. Because home isn't the place he thought it was anymore.

She steps forward and his arms wrap around her in one last bear hug, but there are no promises this time, no pinky swears that he won't ever change.

Just a fierce hug, an uncertain future.


A/N: This week, I wrote with [livejournal.com profile] thaliontholwen who was a pleasure to work with. I've always been a fan of her style, and I had a lot of fun writing with her. Her entry is linked at the top and is here, and should have been read before mine.

i really enjoyed writing this, as I feel the subject matter is something that I haven't touched on much, or even seen much. At the same time, I hope it comes across as fairly realistic, because I have a limited experience with war (thankfully), so this was mostly based on memoirs that I've read and a few conversations I've had with those who have served.


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