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In fact, just last night, we were recognized during a late night mission to recover documents from the local library and had to retreat from the premises at full sprint. We all made it back to base, the barracks that had been commissioned for us far from the normal living quarters of the main corps, and word was passed to meet at the training field at 0200 hours.
I'd had my suspicions for a few days that some of the regular guard had caught wind of our presence and were antsy to know more. We had no friends; there was only one way to know if their espionage was innocent curiosity or directed for intelligence. I enlisted a few of others to set up watch outside the rendezvous point and, sure enough, three female Marines sauntered down the hill toward the field in an attempt to spy on our meeting. We walked right up to them to question their presence and they, like true Marines, opted to fight.
"Come on! I can take you!" one of the females shouted at me, while raising her fists.
She danced around, light on her feet for the extra pounds that she carried on her frame. There was a fire in her eyes; a fire that saw more than her stomach could handle, this I knew as soon as I focused on her and crossed into my fighting mentality. I waited, just waited, hands at my side, until she charged. Then, quick as a cat, I put one arm in her crotch, one on her throat, and used her momentum, with one heavy grunt, to souflex her feet into the air, over my head, and slammed her down on her back. The crowd, my guys anyway, moaned with delight, while her crowd cowered in fear of what might be next, too green to be true Marines, yet. Though I had the skill to kill, I also had compassion that I had to keep hidden, lest my team pounce on me. I’d already seen it happen once.
My team leader walked up to the remaining uninvited guests, nose to nose, walking between the two that were still standing. “You don’t know him,” he coldly said, pointing at one of our team. “Or him. Or even him. You don’t know me or any of us standing here tonight.” His breath visible in the cold air was representative of his long-frozen heart. “You decide that you do, and you’re dead. Do you understand me?”
The privates shook their heads in fear.
“Do you understand me?” he said more directly.
A weak, but perceptible, “Yes, Sir,” escaped both of their lips.
"I’m not your fucking superior," he said. A glare, like a laser sight, placed two tiny red dots on their foreheads. Targets lighted. "Go home."
The privates ran off into the night, one of them a bit hobbled and breathless from our contact. When he turned back toward us, the tempered instinct was still on him. “This shit is going to get worse before it gets better,” he said while walking through us. “Rally on me.”
We had an objective, but we were never told of the overall mission. Sometimes I wondered if we even had one; maybe we just operated at the whim of our stripe-less superiors. The day’s task was to be a reconnaissance mission at the beach. We were expected to arrive, in groups of three or four, at 1100, disperse along the boardwalk, and keep our eyes open for two individuals. If sighted, we weren’t to contact, only maintain a visual on the targets, and report the sighting through our cell phones.
I knew my team; we did everything together. We showed up early and walked the beach, tossing the football around. It was early, so the normal crowded hadn’t yet arrived, but we wanted to find a perch in our sector where it would be easier to view the crowds, instead of walking amongst them, which could easily raise the hackles on our targets.
A beachside mall provided just the outlook we needed. Its flight of steps sat just beyond the boardwalk, giving us a grand view in both directions. If the targets entered our zone, we’d know it. As we sat there, the sun beating down on us, we didn’t talk much, only a random joke here and there, or a silent signal to look in a particular direction to evaluate a potential target.
Pebbles, not pebbles, more like grains of coarse sand landed on my back and neck. An Asian man walked between us spreading birdseed on the steps like salt on an icy sidewalk. We looked at him, aware, but unconcerned, for his actions seemed oblivious to our presence. Another Asian woman, whose seed was guilty of accosting me, walked down the steps on the other side of our camp. She stopped to look at us, then unzipped her waist-bound pack, and pulled out a hot dog bun. She offered it to one of my team, who looked at me; I nodded for him to accept it. Meanwhile, I elbowed another team member next to me and with two fingers pointed to my eyes, ordered him to keep his eyes on the field. The Asian woman squeezed a line of ketchup on the open bun, and then held up her palm, as if to sign the word “stop.” In a few seconds, a hot dog appeared on the bun. It surprised us, but it wasn’t the freakiest shit we’d seen together. She walked over to the next guy, gave him a bun that already had a hot dog in it, signed for him to wait, and another dog grew from the one that was in his hand. She turned to my third team member, but with a brief glanced she passed him and turned to me. Did she know that he was supposed to be watching the beach? Another empty hot dog bun emerged from her pack. I allowed her to place it on my hand. Instead of ketchup, she ran a squiggly line of mustard across my bun. I didn’t tell her that I don’t like mustard, I was too curious as to what might come of it. After a hot dog emerged from my bun, she grabbed it and tore apart one end, about an inch from the rounded tip, leaving nothing but the skin attached. She then repeated her gesture of stop as she’d already done twice before. From out of my dog came hair like that of a newborn chick. It was the soft, new-to-the-world, fuzz that prompted most women, and a few men, of the world to let out, “Awwww.” It wasn’t in our nature to do such a thing, we’d had it trained out of us, if it was ever even in us. The brown fuzz turned into a newborn bird, an eagle to be exact. I could see the eyes of an adult, much like a puppy whose paws are often much more developed than the rest of his frame.
The eaglet was silent, perhaps even vigilant, as it evaluated its surroundings. I would have figured that most newborn birds would be crying for something: fear, food, a feeling like, what the fuck just happened. I know I’d been there before.
I held out my right hand, then ordered one of my guys to scoop up some of the birdseed and place it in the cup of my palm. When the bird refused, I ripped off the end of a hot dog and held it in my hand to see if that was the appropriate meal. Though the bird nibbled, it didn’t actually take a bite.
Another Asian woman, a younger one, sat down beside me and said, “You have to give him a name,” she said.
“Claw,” said one of my guys.
“Raptor,” said another.
I didn’t have a name in mind, but their suggestions didn’t fit.
“You have to give him a name or he won’t eat,” she added. “Without a name, he has no business being here. He has no place in the world.”
“But, I don’t have a name for him,” I admitted. On her hands I saw letters tattooed, one on each finger. Even though they were upside down and backwards to me, I could see that they spelled P-A-I-N. Suddenly, words began to form in my head. Faux. Fake. No, those words weren’t quite right, but I knew exactly what I was looking for.
Was this bird real? Were we even real? We always had a plan, but we’d no idea where it originated from or its true purpose. We just followed orders.
“Ruse,” I said. “That’s his name.” All at once, the bird looked at me, measured me up, and accepted his name. With his eyes, he told me that we’d not live together like family, but that we’d see each other over time, when circumstances demanded such encounters, and that we’d been born into a togetherness that equated to nothing less than loyalty or life.
The young woman smiled and said, “I think that’s a good name.” She pinched a piece of hot dog using her thumb and index finger and offered it to Ruse. “Like this,” she said, and the bird grabbed the meat with its beak.
And then, I woke up.