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Thursday, September 20, 2007

In Country


Blazing Hyperion struck his palm and enveloped the car as we burned east towards it. The light coming over the horizon and slapped me in the face as it pounded into the windshield. Long lazy miles behind us was the border into Utah from Nevada. Las Vegas, that city of lies, was fading as an object of desire in my mind. There was still a twinge back.

Maybe even now, I need.

That night we had driven out to the Hoover Dam and sat below its mass. There we had had a smoldering conversation. I remember it beginning with my accusation.

"How could you lie to me?"

Merc looked back at me with a bare calm.

"I'm a lot worse at it than you are."

"I don't lie to you."

"Um no, you are just a good deal more able to not talk about the parts of the truth that you find inconvenient to remember at any given moment."

"Oh my god, And I was thinking of spending my life with you. How can you say that?"

"Well maybe," and his voice developed that twirl around it. "Lady Mercy can explain it to me."

I stopped cold.

"How did you hear about that."

"It's not hard. I know enough company people. That's who you really worked for in country isn't it? The company."

"No, I was still just a contractor.."

"And what did you do?"

"Like you , whatever I was told."

The ground hummed with a power, one that only the most sensitive of nerves would feel. Or perhaps the most guilty. That had been my initiation into a strange and dark society. It had begun easily enough. I had seen what contractors were paid for going in country. Hampton was already stationed there, and I was at loose ends here in the United States. The process of getting the job had been strangely easy. My resume wasn't as good as I would have liked it to be, but there seemed to be little and less of the kind of inquiry I expected, and a good deal more waiting around to here back on "references."

It was only on the third hop over that I knew something was very very wrong. No Spartan accommodations. Instead I was ushered into a corporate jet with full swivel chairs and desks. The flight crew could have gotten work at a fashion magazine. The fellow passenger were men who had seen either a great deal of sun, or a great deal of hard decision making. They were smiling happy, upbeat in an off hand kind of way, as the told jokes that involved body parts as the punch lines.

There suits were immaculately pressed, or they were wearing the kind of garb that spoke of hard living in the bush: khaki, desert camo with multiple patches, hands that were roughed from wind and wear. Weapons were visible. M-16's with complex sights, RPG launchers. There seemed to be no interference from the local airport authorities. We were not at a military base.

I was ushered in to a seat by a leggy, and very attractive blond woman who had a strong Slavic accent. Her blond hair was cropped close with just a suggestion of bangs, and here eyes were an ice blue. Her smile however, was not just painted on. She clearly enjoyed whatever it was she was doing. It was the series of scars on her hand and along her neck that told me that she was no strange to harms way. Make up could lighten them to the outline of perception, but not eradicate them. She was lucky to have escaped with the one that had just missed her carotid artery.

I settled into my seat, and began to rifle through the papers in my brown leather briefcase, not the hard masculine kind, but one that resembled an oversize purse. It was merely for a sense of security. I felt out of place, even though men and women of hard extraction were no stranger to my eyes. I merely had been expecting a more utilitarian approach.

A blond haired, strong jawed man sat down across from me. He waved me down and beckoned for a drink. He merely made some gestures with his hand, and the AOK sign. He clearly was known to the crew on this flight.

He looked at me and smiled, is broad face filled with a beaming confidence.

"Mr.s Hampton, we are very glad you can join us. This is special work."

I looked over the rims of my glasses and gave my voice the most professional cast I could. Which was considerable, I was used to getting my way with it form doctors.

"And what work is this?"

"You have to understand that what we do is completely confidential. First I'm here to deliver your credentials to you."

I glanced at them, it was a Top Secret clearance with enough pretty code words on it to fill a small guide book.

"I thought I needed…"

"We didn't think you had a need to know about the clearance until you were on your way. Formalities can also be security risks."

I simply blinked and looked. What ever it was I was basically cleared to listen to anything about anything. No wonder the door had been clear. People who were in the magic circle of trust for the intelligence community were few and far between.

He hesitated. And then the explanations came. I was going to be working for a contracting company, not the government, but in fact my orders, and they would be orders, would come from the national intelligence community, no specific agency. That way it would be harder to trace the results. The official employer was not even an American company, but one from South Africa called "Executive Outcomes."

Mercenaries. I was a soldier of fortune in name and fact. The papers I read on that flight detailed the series of "extreme intelligence" gathering activities. They explained that we had a human intelligence deficit, and that it had to be rectified in order to reduce the fatalities from "AQ-I." Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

At the end of allowing me to peruse the papers and then a short verbal explanation, interrupted by some questions from me, he looked straight at me and asked.

"Do you think you can accept this?"

The plane was well in the air, it wasn't really a question.


At that moment Merc's face in the present overlapped on that face from the past and I was thrown into the dark present, the moon, not the sun, illuminating his features like crags in a stone cliff.

"That wasn't really a question was it?"

"Not really."

"I worked as a contractor, our orders were from all over."

"And so that shoot… you know the one I mean…"

"The woman we found cut in two was a person of interest."

"She was an asset." I winced, having been again caught shaving the truth.

"How do you know?"

"They found the ram disk in her intestines when the autopsy was done. "

"You weren't supposed ot know about that."

"All Doctors Talk." He mimicked one of my favorite warnings about nurses.

"That's true. So I've admitted it, I was Florence Nightengale for the spooks."

"No, that's not all.:

"Do you want the details?"

"Just the Lady Mercy part."

"One of my jobs was reviving people who were under interrogation."

"you brought them back from the dead."

"Yes, several were clinically dead, when I finally was allowed to work on them."

"So that's who were. Lady Mercy." He said it as if there were stories about me. There probably were.

I tried to muster a devil may care smile. It didn't work.

"What does this have to do with your hiding your marriage from me."

"That's why we came out here, isn't it? Truth in a time of secrets?"

"How could you." My mind ran through the five way of saying that with accents falling on every different combination. I don't remember which one finally slipped out.

"How could you." His accent fell deliberately on the last word.

"It was my job."

"It was my life."

I stomped my foot, my voice took on a whiny edge.

"I'm not accepting. That. Or any other dodge."

He stared back at me, and finally dropped his gaze."

"You are right, I've got an excuse for all occasions where Tieisha is concerned."

"Finally, she has a name." I enunciated each syllable.

"She's got a great deal more than that." He was clearly having difficulty. His lips were dry. I realized I was pushing to hard, and being, well, a bitch.

That didn't, in itself, make me want to stop. Instead part of me wanted to keep twisting, to see how much more there was. And then the darkness at the edge of the loud lights got to me. Outside what every light there was for us, there was nothing but darkness in my life. Outside of this one space, this one place, this one time, this one person.

I had been Lady Mercy slamming adrenaline into stopped hearts, and oxygen into collapsing lungs. Blood into bleed white prisoners, who were interrogated even as their wounds were taking them from life.

Why not here. Why not now?

The next morning as I felt the flooding light on my skin. The warmth that washed away the cold. I remember how I had embraced him, and taken him back into that magic circle of my affection. How he cried. How over the course of those dark hours the story had come out. And no, it didn't threaten our present..

He had been married. He had an ex-wife, and two children. She was remarried. It seemed safe.

Or so I thought.


In the Senate today, they voted for war.
For more and more, they voted for war.

In the Senate today, they voted for war.
For more and more, they voted for war.

In the Senate today, they voted for death,
'til none of us are left, they'll keep voting for death.

In the Senate today, they voted for guns,
like exploding suns, they voted for guns.

In the Senate today, they voted for lies,
you should hear their cries, as they voted for lies.

In the Senate today, they voted for kings,
and the destruction he brings, they voted for kings.

In the Senate today, they voted for debt,
as there was not enough yet, they voted for debt.

In the Senate today, they voted for wrongs,
the bards will sing songs, over so many wrongs.

In the Senate today, they voted for fears,
to stretch onward for years, they voted for fears.

My tears they do not reach the ground,
this air is so dry, the sand is so tight,
the decision is nigh.

My tears they do not reach the ground,
falling on the bodies of the fallen.

My tears they do not reach the ground,
so covered with blood, and buried by rocks.

My cries they are not heard,
nor his or hers, nor ours nor yours.
Your child you will not save,
from the fate of an Iraqi grave,
so throw the sand into his face,
the Senate voted him from the human race.

And when his shattered body into my care comes
while bullets fly and machinery hums.

In the Senate today, they voted for wars,
it was just one of their chores:
yes, voting for wars.

In the Senate today they voted for lies,
so each of us dies, supporting their lies.

I scrawled these words in bitter pencil as Merc drove us through the winds of the painted desert in Utah, as the mountain folds were gilded with snow, as the basin grew stiff with salt. As the air grew acrid and bone dry.

It felt like in country.

And thus, like home. We listened to the radio, NPR, at my insistence. The anger hummed between us.

We blazed past the Mormon City, and farther out into the distance. We stopped at the most hellish of motel hovels. Yellow paint and thin wall.

I think someday, I will be able to tell what he did to my body.

And it was exactly what I wanted him to do.

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