© Copyright 1995 by the author
Marcus knew that the United States was turning into an evil empire ruled by the Ophidians. But as he came of age he also knew that he needed to experience mortal combat in order to become a man. So on his 17th birthday he enlisted in the Marines, specifically to fight in the war in Vietnam.
BLOOD AND VISION
Marcus returned from Srinagar to the United States in the early Spring of 1961. He was fifteen and a half years old.
He spent some time getting re-acclimated to the American “consensus reality”, as he half-jokingly referred to it in conversation with Eric and Mariel. “It really is a different world,” he said. These and other friends were spellbound by his tales of the strange life in a Hindu ashram, and many of them were very skeptical of the spiritual miracles he had experienced. Only Eric and Mariel understood the depth of his transformation ~ and, of course, his parents.
Magnus and Anastasia marveled at Marcus’ growth in mind, soul, and body. Their boy had come back to them a man, and a man with the fire of enlightenment in his eyes. “Now I know that there is hope for our kind,” said Magnus, “in spite of the terrible defeats we have suffered in this century, and the ongoing efforts of the Ophidians to destroy the last vestige of the folk-soul of our people.”
“Oh!” said Marcus, “I saw that in a vision. It’s very scary ~ in fact, the situation may well be desperate. It’s why I came back ~ I want to see if I can do something about it.”
“This is commendable, Marcus, and heartening ~ for only if there are leaders can the vision become real. Only a leader can reach into the good heart of the people and call it forth from the filth and titillation that is distracting it from its destiny and bringing it to ruin. Often I wondered if yours was the destiny to be such a leader, and now I can doubt it no longer, for your whole soul is alight with it.”
“I know it, Dad. I I have to fulfill my dharma.”
“I have heard this word from Eric. It’s a good word, better than ‘destiny‘, for it implies a spiritual rightness as well as the philosophic aspect. And though it makes my heart beat with hope to see you take on such a task, I also fear for you because the Ophidians seek to destroy all such leaders. 1 can barely keep from weeping when I think of the nobility and greatness of the leaders they have killed already.”
“You are still young to begin a career as a leader,” said Anastasia, perhaps masking a fearful look of her own. “I can see that you have benefited much from Srinagar, but 1 wonder if American universities now hold anything of interest for you?”
“That’s a good question,” said Marcus. “Why don’t I find out?”
So it was that once again Marcus acquired catalogs from literally hundreds of institutions of higher learning. He approached them with the open-ended expectations of an explorer, but soon found himself cast into the attitude of a gold miner. At the end he reported to his parents: “Well, it’s different for me from when I looked into it after high school. The things I was most interested in then, I’ve now learned at Srinagar … but I also learned a lot more there. They’ve incorporated many of the Western arts and sciences into the traditional disciplines. I can see from the catalogs that there’s still plenty of knowledge here that 1 need, but there are still problems as well. The main one is that going into any type of degree program, at any school, would mean wasting up to ninety percent of my time on material that 1 either already know or am totally uninterested in.”
Anastasia said, “Some schools may be willing to give you equivalency tests, and award you credits with a minimum of classroom work in those areas. If these are really enlightened institutions, they should be willing to make exceptions for exceptional individuals.”
Marcus smiled. “That’s the second problem, Mom. My impression from Mariel and Eric, and from other friends who have gone to college recently in this country, is that the schools are becoming less enlightened all the time.”
“I affirm this,” said Magnus, “from talks with my own colleagues. It’s a corruption caused by the Ophidian leveling influence. Given the state of the world, it’s inevitable. And we can only expect it to get worse.”
Marcus continued: “I’ve managed to put together a sort of syllabus of courses I’d like to take. Some of them are fairly specialized and have prerequisites involving things I already know inside out, but of course don’t have the formal credential. They are also very far between, in the sense that they’re at different schools, some of them at the far ends of the country.
“Those are the logistical problems. And then there is the related problem of the quality of the instruction. I’ve been told that some professors are quite talented, while others do what they do so poorly that the students who actually learn anything in their classes do it pretty much on their own. And presumably there’s a whole range between these two extremes. So even if 1 went to a certain school because it featured a course of study I was interested in, 1 might end up wasting my time if the instructors were not sufficiently competent.”
Magnus said, “It should be possible to find out in advance the competencies of the professors, at least at the positive end of the scale, for they would have reputations of excellence. If you will give me a list of which courses at what colleges you especially relish, I‘ll look into it for you and see what 1 can learn.”
“Wow, Dad, that would be wonderful!”
“This will help,” said Anastasia; “but what of the other problems, Marcus? Have you any ideas yet for how you might deal with them?”
“I don’t know … I’ll have to think about it some more. But wait – this offer from Dad to reconnoiter the best professors – that does give me an idea.
“Let me ask you this, Dad. We’re going to find out who the highest-calibre teachers are in all these areas I want to study. Okay, now do you suppose that they would be willing to talk with me personally, just for a little while ~ say, a half-hour to an hour of their time?”
“Why, I’m not sure. Maybe some of them would. But why? What do you want to talk to them about?”
“I‘d want to ask them about the courses they teach, or rather the essential subject- matter. I’d want to find out if it were feasible for me to learn it, and master it, by studying it on my own. And if the professor thought it was, then I’d ask him for some tips on the best way to do it – the best texts and references to read, other experts I might talk to, and so forth.”
Magnus whistled. “Never will I cease to be amazed at you, Son. But do you mean that you intend to get your entire education this way?”
“Yes. The more I think about it, the more I like it. When I get what I need at one college, I’ll just travel to the next one. I’ll start in New England and work my way to California. This way I’ll get the best of Harvard, Stanford, and a couple of dozen other schools in between.”
“And you‘ll get degrees from none of them!” wailed Anastasia. “Won‘t you need the formal credentials to accomplish your mission of leadership?”
“Probably not,” said Marcus. “Do any of these universities offer degrees in overthrowing the Ophidians?”
It took two months for the family to do the necessary research and strategic work, but at last all the information was gathered and a sufficient number of connections were made. Interviews were set up for Marcus with a number of teachers at Harvard and other Ivy League schools, and some smaller and specialty colleges. In each case, the professor was known as a leading light in his field. Fortuitously, most of them would be available during the summer session, so Marcus would not have to wait until September to begin his educational odyssey.
When Mr. Dietrich was told of Marcus’ plan, he was so charmed by the audacity of it that he offered to give Marcus a car to speed his travels. It so happened that his younger son, Eric’s brother, was ready to trade in his two-year-old Buick for the latest model; Mr. Dietrich made up the difference to him, and he turned it over to Marcus instead. In June Marcus became eligible for a learner’s permit, and he mastered the knack of driving in practically no time at all.
The first educator Marcus interviewed was an aged and learned man at the Harvard Divinity School. Marcus told him that he was interested in the origins of Christi ani ty, and at first the old gentleman recommended a number of courses he might take, audit, or, if he really insisted, obtain the textbooks for and study on his own. But this seemed insufficient for Marcus, and there came a point when his persistent, probing questions caused the professor to sit back and stare at him, rubbing his bearded chin. At length he said: “I see. You want to know what really happened.
You will be satisfied with nothing less than the whole truth. In this you are one of the few – the Elect.” He verbally capitalized the word with a subtle emphasis.
He leaned forward now, and spoke to Marcus in a fatherly, confidential tone. “You come of age at a good time. Only now are we beginning to learn what really happened, because of the scrolls that were found shortly after your birth. Enough have been translated and decodified for us to piece together a very accurate picture of the essential events that created the religion which still serves this civilization as its foundation. It’s unfortunate but necessary that this information must never be given out to the public.”
“What?! But why not?”
“There are several ironies involved. A young man of your perspicacity may be able to appreciate them. Both the detractors and the upholders of Christianity are in full agreement that the basic revelation of the scrolls must be suppressed. The details of the story we’ve learned from them are most fascinating, and have caused much hairsplitting, and hair-tearing, among the investitured and the tenured. But in general, those who would like to see Jesus Christ exposed as an unmitigated myth are unhappy because the scrolls contain the first unambiguous historical evidence that such a man actually lived, taught a doctrine. and was crucified. One might expect
that the stewards of the church established in his name would rejoice at this good news; but alas, many elements of the evidence depart in drastic ways from the story that has come down to us in scripture and tradition. The consensus is that such a mitigation of the myth cannot be allowed, for it would shake the foundations more than it would strengthen them, and might even bring down the entire structure.”
“I see,” said Marcus. He was stunned by this display of hypocritical duplicity on the part of powerful and respected people, but determined not to compromise his chances for more inside information. By means of techniques learned at Srinagar, he controlled the angry tumult rising inside him, and placidly asked the professor: “Does this mean, sir, that I will never be able to learn the details of the story myself?”
“Not at all. I have broached this much to you because I recognize you as of the Elect ~ though I construe this term quite differently than do my more naively- believing colleagues. Privately, I feel you are a bright young man of high character, and will not tell the tale out of school. But even if you did, then you must realize that publicly you are nobody. I would deny this conversation, and your word could never stand against that of the credentialed experts.” Marcus allowed himself an ironic grin. The professor continued: “One of the marks of the truly Christlike spirit is that it must know the truth, and will not be denied. You may think me a Pharisee for concealing the truth from the people, and to be completely honest, I sometimes have such thoughts about myself. So I keep peace with myself by being true to the Elect. Like the Inquisitor in Dostoyevsky, I recognize Christ when he appears before me in the guise of a fellow mortal; but unlike the Inquisitor, I do not persecute him but serve him, even if it involves certain risks.”
The old man scribbled on a piece of paper, then handed it to Marcus. “This is a note from me to the only member of the team translating the scrolls who broke silence. He insisted on writing a book. Pressure was applied, and a compromise reached whereby he agreed that the most damning ~ pardon the expression – details should remain veiled. Show him this, and I think he will be happy to tell you all.”
“Thank you, sir!” said Marcus with genuine gratitude. They stood, shook hands, and looked long into each other’s eyes.
Not all of Marcus’ encounters with teachers were as instructive as this one, but by the time he had finished his interviews at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Penn, it was clear that his scheme was succeeding. He was acquiring a high-calibre self-education with expert assistance. At each school he would get the information he needed from the professors on his list. then knuckle down to study, spending long hours in the university libraries and other facilities. He taught himself the art of speed-reading, long before the term ever entered the popular lexicon. He ingested vast tracts of knowledge voraciously, guided by his own will, driven ineluctably by his need to know certain things for a very large and remarkable purpose.
Just as he had planned, he made his way across the country from east to west, visiting his itinerary of colleges. working at odd jobs to supplement the money his parents allowed him, and, inevitably, meeting women.
He was now six feet four, and had the mature good looks of a twenty-year-old. Few of the coeds he met realized that he was neither a fellow registered student nor
their own age. When on occasion he talked about what he was studying, some of
them assumed he was a graduate student, and hence even older.
In spite of myself, I couldn’t help asking Marcus: “So you, ah, made friends with a lot of college women. Were any of them really special?”
“None of them as much as Katyayani,” he said, driving the car through Sonoma County. “Of course, none of them knew tantra. Some of them had an aptitude, and I tried to teach them, but I always had to move on too soon for anything really special to develop. But I reconnected with some of them after I got back from the war. In fact, you’ll meet a couple of them when we get to the Valley of the Moon.”
“I’m looking forward to that,” I said sincerely. I was looking forward to meeting a lot of women at the Valley of the Moon … and a lot of people in general, of course. Then I asked him, “So how the heck did you end up in Vietnam, anyway?”
“It was my choice,” he said. “It was what I wanted to do.”
“Oh.” I wasn’t sure how to reply to that. Finally I just blurted out: “But why?”
He laughed. “Sounds crazy, does it? There were all those people trying so hard all that time to not go to Vietnam, and I busted a gut and pulled strings and worked some minor miracles to make sure that I did. So I must’ve been just totally loony, right?”
“No, really, I’d honestly like to know why you did it.”
Now he smiled with approval and said, “Well, in that case, I guess I’ll just have to be honest.”
By the time Marcus was finishing up his self-created curriculum at Stanford and UCLA in the Spring of 1962, it was clear to him that something significant was going on in Vietnam, and that the government was downplaying the scale of it. The allegiance he felt to his people overlapped only in a minor way with the American nation-state, but even so, he felt something stirring in him at the realization that his country was at war at this moment when he was rapidly approaching military age. The urge to participate was primal; he sensed that it was connected with his previous incarnation as the Kshatriya Pravahan. Intellectually, he knew that he didn‘t have enough information to understand what the hidden agenda might be in Vietnam, or which power-blocs were pushing which objectives; it was entirely possible that he could put his life on the line for what would turn out to be a purely Ophidian cause. Nevertheless, the urge was imperative, and he decided to act on it.
He sold his car and flew home from Los Angeles in June of that year. Magnus wasnot surprised to hear of his son’s desire. “You are of good stock,” he said. “The mass of the people are becoming like sheep, and are no longer moved from wi thin by the prornptings of blood and honor. In you the blood is still strong, and so is the spirit which arises from the blood, and guides it to do what is right. Even if this war is being fought for ignoble ends, you will gain from it the spiritual knowledge that comes only from combat, just as you have already gained the spiritual knowledge that comes only from sexual love. How best do you think you might serve in the conflict?”
“I’d like to join the Marines,” said Marcus. “They’re clearly the most superior branch of the American military. But from what I‘ve seen in the news, it looks as if the Marines have only a small involvement in the war, at least so far. Maybe that‘ll change if the war gets bigger. Do you think I should wait? Or join the Army?”
“Let me look into it,” said Magnus. “There is an officer I met not long after our arrival in this country, and have maintained an acqaintance with. He’s now a colonel stationed in the Pentagon. Perhaps he can tell me something.”
Not long afterwards, Magnus reported that the Colonel was very impressed by Marcus‘ attitude. The recruiters were finding a distinct lack of enthusiasm among their prospective clients for the war in Vietnam, as small as it then was, and as unlikely as it seemed that they might have to fight in it. So glad was he to hear of a young man who had actually taken the initiative to go there and fight, that he promised to personally fulfill the wish of Magnus’ son. The Colonel said that if Marcus enlisted in the Marines, he would personally see to it that he. got assigned to one of the select units scheduled for duty in Vietnam.
Marcus was thrilled – though the feeling was not unmixed with a certain primal trepidation. He had to admit to himself that he was afraid – and the knowledge that he was going to willfully march straight into the face of what he feared, and deal with it. turned the fear into an intense excitement.
Marcus enlisted in the Marines on his seventeenth birthday. Anastasia wanted him to wait at least until the following day, but Marcus was adamant. “It’s dharma,” he said; “after all, don’t forget what else August 6th is the anniversary of.”
He went through boot camp at Parris Island, and excelled in all aspects of the regimen. The Colonel made good on his promise, for afterwards Marcus was assigned to a unit undergoing special combat training along with the Army’s Green Berets at a base in the Darien Province of Panama, selected because of the Similarity of its jungle terrain to that of Vietnam. Marcus was impressed by the remoteness of it. and the sheer inaccessibility of vast tracts of the rainforest. He met some of the Indians who lived in it, and was interested to learn that some U.S. military personnel settled there upon retirement, because of the cheapness of the land and the ability to live like a feudal lord among the natives. Marcus said that this was the spark that first got him thinking about the feasibility of an isolated, self-sufficient community.
Marcus’ company finished its training in December. Everyone was given two weeks’ leave for Christmas, and then reassembled in San Francisco on January 2. 1963, and flown to Saigon. “It was an interesting trip,” said Marcus. “Not a single person said ‘Happy New Year’.”
Looking at the bustling crush of Orientals in the city, Marcus could not help but reflect on the different circumstances of this, his second venture into Asia. Far was he now from the arms of his mother, and the spiritual quest had taken a further turn.
The men underwent a week of briefing by intelligence and other specialists, and were then turned loose for a last weekend in civilization. “At the crack of dawn on Monday, we leave for the Interior,” said their commanding officer. charging the last two words with a very ominous overtone.
Marcus was with some of his buddies in a bar. He was the only one among them whose intake of alcohol was modest and exquisitely controlled. since the substance was essentially incompatible with his ongoing spiritual disciplines. After awhile he grew bored of their drunken banter, and looked around the room to see what he might see. His eyes stopped on a tall man standing with a drink in his hand just a couple of yards away. He had evidently been looking at Marcus, and so their eyes met.
The man stepped forward and said, “Good evening. I was hoping I might make your acquaintance, but I didn’t want to intrude as you spoke with your friends.”
Marcus said, “Oh, that’s quite all right.” He glanced back at the men at the bar, and saw that at the moment none were paying attention to him. He stepped away from them, and simultaneously the man beckoned him to a table by the wall.
Marcus sized him up as they sat down. He was middle-aged with salt-and-pepper hair and mustache, well-groomed, bore himself well, and overall presented somewhat of a distinguished image. He spoke with a very slight accent, which Marcus identified as French.
“My name is Jacques,” he said. Marcus introduced himself, and they shook hands. He had a strong grip.
“I take it you are an American soldier,” said Jacques.
“That’s right,” said Marcus. “I‘m going into the Interior with my unit on Monday.”
“Ah ~ I had a feeling. The Interior is a terrible place to fight a war.”
“Are you familiar with the Interior?”
“I have spent much time there.”
“And what, if I may ask, were you doing there?”
“Fighting a war against the Vietnamese Communists.”
“So you were in the French Army.”
“No. I was in the Foreign Legion. They are two distinct entities.”
“I see. Just as the U.S. Army and Marines are separate forces.”
“It is more than that. You know that the French Army lost the conflict, which is why you are now here. But perhaps you do not know why this happened, nor that earlier the Foreign Legion had all but won the war, and could have easily secured a total victory and peace, had it been left in our hands.”
“No! I know nothing of this. What happened?”
It seemed difficult for Jacques to speak through the bitter smile on his face. At length he said, “It is hard to explain. Or rather, it is hard for some people to understand. They do not know of the great secret lords who wish to rule this little planet, and so they are innocent of the covert patterns and schemes behind political events.”
Marcus said, “Are you talking about the Ophidians?”
Jacques’ face lit up. “Sacre bleu! Forgive me, but I am astounded. You are the first American I have ever met who knew of the Ophidians – except, of course, for Americans who were Ophidians themelves. How have you come to this knowledge?”
“I could ask you the same thing, but I also wonder if you recognize yourself as a Solarian?”
“Of course. I would be a fool if I knew the enemy and not myself.”
“We are well met,” said Marcus.
“Indeed. And now it will be easy to explain the story of how France lost the war here in Vietnam … and also how I came to the hidden knowledge of Solarians and Ophidians, for it is the same story.
“In 1953 the French Army was on the brink of defeat by the forces of Ho Chi Minh. They had been thoroughly routed on every front, and the situation appeared hopeless. It was as a last act of desperation that Paris sent in the Foreign Legion, merely to save some face and perhaps get better terms for the inevitable surrender. There was only a comparative handful of us, but 1 am not bragging when I say that we dumbfounded everyone by turning the war around. Before the year was out, Vietnam had been virtually pacified.”
“That’s remarkable. And may I ask what made the Foreign Legion so much more formidable than the French Army?”
“You may indeed, for the answer involves another well-kept secret. Or at least it has become secret in the years since then; the Ophidians have suppressed it, along with all other inconvenientfacts of history. But what made the difference was that
most of our soldiers were veterans of the Solar Service, the elite combat corps of Thule 3.”
“And what is Thule 3?”
“It is the secret name of a nation everyone knows, the vanished land that took up arms against the Ophidians.”
“Oh!” said Marcus. “Of course.”
“Of course. It is to my enduring shame that I, too, was duped by the Ophidians and fought against Thule 3. Only when I later found its refugee warriors fighting under my own command – I was a Major – did I learn from them the hidden meaning of history, and witness with my own eyes the superhuman valor with which they battled the Ophidians. For you see, that is what they considered the Viet Cong to be: they identified Communists as Ophidians, of the same ilk and misbegotten brotherhood as those who had destroyed their country.
“And so it was that by the beginning of 1954, the Viet Cong were not just being defeated ~ they were being exterminated, by the Solar Servicemen of the Foreign Legion.”
“What an amazing story!” said Marcus. “And what caused it to turn around again?”
“As you might well imagine, the Ophidians of France were furious that surviving Thuleans were openly fighting in the French military. They tried to drum up outrage against it in the media, but to their chagrin the majority of the people supported the right of the Solar Service to fight in the Legion, because they recognized that this was the only way that France could save her colony in Indochina.
“But alas, the Ophidians in that year managed to take over the premiership of France. They immediately recalled the Legion from Vietnam, and summarily dismissed all the Solar Servicemen from its ranks. Thrown back on its own resources, the French Army quickly lost everything the Legion had gained. Their standard tactics and less than fanatical will had no chance against this unconventional enemy, the ‘Red termite mound’, as their commander called it. On May 7th came Dien Bien Phu, and it was over.”
With a great sigh, Jacques sat back in his chair. Marcus was also moved, and after a thoughtful silence he said, “And what of you? How is it that you are still in Vietnam?”
“After witnessing the treachery and the debacle, I resigned my commission in disgust. Some of my superiors were sympathetic, but they could do nothing in face of the power of the Ophidians. Certain connections and friendships drew me back here, but also a terrible sense of despair at the fate of European civilization. And I must confess that I am curious enough about the ongoing progress of the war that I wish to keep an eye on it at close range.
“But now it is your turn, Marcus. Can you tell me how you came to know of Solarians and Ophidians?” Marcus responded with a brief account of his parents during World War II. and of what they taught him afterwards. “So,” said Jacques, “you had the advantage of knowing yourself from childhood. This is very rare these days, especially in America. The enculturation process is now controlled by the mass media, and the Ophidians control the media.”
“Yes,” said Marcus, “I’m very painfully aware of that. But I’m delighted to encounter someone who shares so much of the forbidden knowledge.”
“It is remarkable, non? We meet here as strangers, and discover we are brothers. I do not believe in the God of the priests, for he is the God of the Ophidians as well; but there must be a God who is of the Solarians alone, and works miracles for us like this.”
“There is!” said Marcus. “There is such a God, and I have seen him!”
Jacques looked startled. He leaned forward and said very intently, “You have? Can you tell me what you have seen?”
Marcus had to think before he could answer. How would the worldly-wise intellect of Jacques be able to comprehend the vision he had had while performing tantric sex in a Hindu ashram? Would it make any sense to him at all? Or would it seem like an overstrung conceit, a phantasm of a mind diving too far inward?
He said, “It might seem like a very strange vision, unless I tell you a little more about myself first.”
“Yes, I believe I understand,” said Jacques. “Religious experiences are always very personal.”
Marcus laid out a brief autobiographical account, highlighting his LSD experience, and leading up to his journey to India.
Jacques was indeed skeptical of drug “fantasies”, as he called them, but was impressed that Marcus had travelled so far at such a young age for purely visionary objectives. He said, “I have met Oriental ascetics who seem to have preternatural abilities, so I know that there is a very tangible power in the practices of these Hindu and Buddhist holymen, and that our science and medicine know little or nothing about it. But I have never been moved to look into it myself.”
Marcus described some aspects of his life at Srinagar, those which he felt would be most likely to strike a chord in the mind of Jacques. The Frenchman was intrigued when he talked about tantra, for there had been times when, as he said, the ecstacy of making love had transcended the merely physical and become “numinous”. But these moments were always very brief. This enabled Marcus to explain that the whole object of tantra was to intensify and extend the numinous experience. And so it was that Jacques could accept the essential reality of Marcus’ vision of the metazons.
In fact, he was amazed by it. “Yes, yes!” he said, half-rising in his chair. “That is what the gods are! I always felt inside of me that the gods are real, and are connected with the soul and the blood of the people, and even the soil, as you describe. But the God of the priests is not like this, and he always seemed a fairy-tale to me. And now you come and explain it to me, revealing what has always been in my own soul, but which I could never have seen with my mind if you had not told it.”
He sank back down into his seat and leaned back, staring at Marcus now with a very puzzled expression. Marcus looked a question at him, and he said: “Who are you, Marcus? Yes, you have told me of your background, but this is not what I ask. You mysterious boy who know the secrets it took me years of my life to find, and now unveil the deities that lie behind my deepest inklings of the hidden world – who are you really? Who can you be to do this? Can you answer? Do you even know yet yourself? Here we are, both Solarians, but I see that you have a larger identity still, one that perhaps overshadows even mine. I have never met a man like this before – to my own eyes, before this night, I have overshadowed every person I met.
“So I ask again: who are you?”
At first Marcus had not been sure that the question made sense ~ indeed, Jacques seemed to be almost raving. But now as he looked into his friend’s clear eyes, he felt something stir in his own viscera. Specifically, it was in the navel chakra. Using the techniques he had mastered at Srinagar, he caused the burgeon of energy to move up his spine until it got to the top of his head. He focused his whole being upon it there until it blazed with white light. It reached a critical mass but did not explode; instead, it drew down a flash of similar energy from above – that is, from the metazon. Instantly he was filled with the awareness of the Solari an metazon – its vastness expanding over all the Earth, and under the Earth, and extending out into infinite space – its memory going back long ages, to the caves and the glaciers, and beyond. And in that moment of enlightenment, this god-mind became one with the mind of Marcus. The great deific entity looked out of his eyes and beheld the face of Jacques.
When Marcus spoke, his voice was resonant with a peculiar ring – it seemed to echo off the walls and reverberate. He said to Jacques, “Give me your hand.” He held up his own hand before him, resting his elbow on the table. Jacques imitated the gesture, and Marcus firmly grasped his hand. They sat there thus in the posture of arm-wrestlers, but they did not contend. Instead, they looked unblinking into each other’s eyes; those of Jacques were alight with an expectant intensity, and Marcus’ with flecks of supernal fire.
Marcus said: “I am he who loves our people enough to lead them into war. In other eons I have shown them the ways of peace, and given them life and fire. I am Allfather Odin who sowed the first seed in primordial times, and nurtured it till it was ripe. I am Prometheus who came when the race was young and lifted it to human stature, and suffered for thousands of years to atone the loss of our animal nature. I am Zeus and Zarathustra, Brahma and Vishnu ~ I am the awakener, the enlightener, the creator, the preserver. In every age I come in the guise that suits
the needs of my people, yet I am all of these at once, and do it all, constantly.”
Jacques had on his face a look of astounded enrapturement. With difficulty, he found his voice and said: “And … and today? As whom do you come today, in these strange and terrible times?”
Marcus was silent. Jacques stared even more intently into his eyes … and saw a cloud. The eyes were still clear, but somehow there was a cloud in them, the image of a cloud – a mushroom-shaped cloud.
Now Marcus spoke, in a different voice; it was deep, and loud, and underscored by a raspy rattling sound that was so ominous it scared the daylights out of Jacques, the soldier who had gazed fearlessly into the face of death countless times on the battlefield.
The voice said: “I am Shiva, the Destroyer. I will smite the foes of my people, and bring a close to the Kali Yuga. The corrupt necropolis that girdles the world will fall, and the cities will crumble. I will pull the plug on the technological marvels, and thus the masses whose lives are entwined with them will be thrown into chaos and savagery. The Earth will be fertilized by rivers of blood, but thereafter the race will arise anew, purified, strengthened, and improved, and will establish a new Golden Age for the human species.”
Jacques was agape. “My Lord and my God!” he exclaimed, “there must be a better way!”
“Every age has its Way,” said Marcus in the deep, dark voice. “You see the shame and the misery of this age, which is ruled by the lowest vermin in human form. The only blessing is to end it, as swiftly as it can be done. The Ophidians must fall; nobility must return. The corpus is too rotted for a healing; only a death and a resurrection will do.
“But shrink not from the task, a warrior! You know what death is, and can honor it; you are strong, and can bear the vision of much more of it. There will be death, and devastation ~ but afterwards joy and light, and new life.”
Jacques pulled back slightly, but did not relinquish Marcus’ hand. “A task, you say? What would you have me do, my young liege ~ if such you be?”
The voice was now less deep, but only slightly; it was much less dark, however, and Marcus smiled. “I cannot say just yet. My present self is young, as you note, and must still be seasoned by certain changes, the next of which is war. The fates weave patterns which even the gods cannot see nor alter. Though my faith is strong in my destiny, there must be a real chance that I’ll not survive this conflict here in Vietnam. If it were foreordained otherwise, I would not have the real experience of facing death.
“So I must preface my request by saying, ‘If I live‘. And if I do survive my tour, I will be one step nearer to knowing exactly what I will require of my allies. For now, all I can say with certainty is that if all goes well, I will have a job of work for you in the future. The large objective I have already stated; the strategy and tactics must await a later reckoning. I admit the terms are vague, but will you still make league with me?”
“I will!” said Jacques, “I swear!” The grip of their hands tightened, and it seemed to Jacques that a subtle white radiance bathed them from above. He continued, his own voice deepening and resonating: “I swear by the god I see in your eyes that I will do everything within the limits of my ability – and beyond, if I can ~ to help you destroy the power of the Ophidians and bring a new day for our people.”
“I accept your oath,” said Marcus, “and will hold you to it, in the name of the Sun ~ for we are Solarians.”
“For the Solarians,” said Jacques, “to the death.”
“And beyond,” said Marcus.
Marcus watched the Sun rise over the rainforest on Monday morning from the window of a Caribou transport plane, one of three in which his unit and other personnel were being ferried to the Interior. They flew high, out of the range of antiaircraft fire, and were escorted by a small flock of Huey helicopters equipped with guns and rockets. Marcus carried an M-16 rifle and all the equipment and possessions he would need – hopefully – to survive in the jungle.
The aircraft landed at a little dirt airstrip surrounded on all sides by what looked to his novice vision to be an impenetrable and trackless stretch of vegetation. There were some tents and huts and a long quonset building, and a number of rugged vehicles, painted in the standard camouflage design. There were some helicopters and other Caribous. He saw Americans in fatigues, and a few in civvies. There were likewise Vietnamese with and without military uniforms.
The men disembarked and were gathered in formation on the airstrip. Shortly an Army Special Forces Major in a green beret came out of the quonset hut and addressed them. He introduced himself as Major Harrison, the commanding officer of the camp, welcomed them, and delivered a short, no-nonsense oration about the dangers and hardships they would face on “the trail“, whence they would soon set out. He commended them for their guts and loyalty, because every one of them had volunteered for this assignment. He wished them good fortune and Godspeed, then turned them over to their Marine commandant.
They set up three large tents to be their billets, for they would stay here at the base camp for at least one night; meanwhile, they rolled up the canvas sides and used them as canopies for shade from the sweltering Sun. They were informed that they were awaiting the return of the current reconnaisance unit, some of whose members they would be replacing. Their commander, Second Lieutenant Cooper, explained the layout of the camp, what each building was, and which areas were off limits; then, within those constraints, he gave them permission to move about freely and relax, pending further orders.
A hut on the perimeter of the camp was an unofficial PX, consisting of an old Vietnamese couple selling food, drink, and trinkets. Most of the men gravitated over to it, and lounged about drinking warm and strange-tasting fruit juices and eating salted plantain chips.
For his part, Marcus ventured into the door of the quonset hut that had been designated admissible. He found himself in an office, and could see through a partition that there was a hospital beyond. The only person who didn’t look busy was a Specialist Four seated on a bench by the door, drinking a coke with ice in it. He glanced up at Marcus and said, “Hi. Just off the plane, I take it?”
“Yes. Mind if I sit down?”
“Be my guest. Exploring a little, eh?”
“Yep. I’m Recon, after all.”
“Ha, ha. I hope you’ll still have your sense of humor when you get back from the bush.”
“Do you know anything about that?” said Marcus. He tried to keep any trace of irony out of his voice; Specialists were non-combatants.
The man responded affably to the veiled insinuation, saying, “This far in, there’s no such thing as a non-combatant. The camp has been attacked twice by VC just in the three months that I’ve been here. Sometimes even the nurses carry sidearms.”
“Sorry,” said Marcus; “I didn’t mean anything.”
“That’s okay. You’re new. You’ll know soon enough.”
Marcus’ new acquaintance was named Reilly, as he could see by his nametag. “Glad to meet you, Reilly,” said Marcus, and they shook hands.
At that moment a striking blonde nurse came through the partition from the hospital ward and moved among the desks. Marcus noticed a Lieutenant’s bar on her collar, and was about to rise as military protocol required; but Reilly put a quiet hand on his arm.
The nurse spoke to a Spec 5 at one of the desks, then walked over to a cabinet at the far end of the room and began going through its shelves, selecting small bottles, boxes, and implements.
Marcus tried to be cool, but could not help looking at her very intensely. Reilly chuckled and said soto voce, “A real knockout. huh? That’s Nurse Flanders – Gail Flanders. She can act as sweet as she looks, but naturally she keeps up the barriers with us GIs.”
“Naturally,” said Marcus; “but wow!” He was very impressed by the lady.
Reilly laughed. “That says it all! Hey, you’re okay, Christianson. Can y’keep a secret?”
“I’m on sick call today just so’s I can get her to, y’know, look me over and talk to me in that bee-yoo-ti-ful soft voice of hers.”
“Well, I sure don’t blame you,” said Marcus. “And I’ll never tell a soul.”
Nurse Flanders gathered up her items and went back into the other room. She returned a few minutes later with a clipboard and said, “Specialist Reilly.”
“Here, ma’am,” said Reilly, standing up. Just before she turned to escort him into the ward, her eyes happened to fall on Marcus. For a split-second she looked startled, as if she had seen something she hadn’t expected, or perhaps had an inexplicable flash of recognition. This is what Marcus felt, and he could almost hear her compose the thought, don’t I know you from somewhere? Then her reserve went up, but before she could turn away Marcus rose. brought up his hand in a proper military salute, and said with a smile, “Good morning, ma’am.”
She returned the salute and said, “Good morning” in a voice that tried just a little too hard to be cool. Marcus noticed this. and such was the calibre of her apperception that she noticed him noticing it; and in the instant before she turned decisively away, the two of them shared a silent telempathic chuckle at the mutual nuances of it, and perhaps at the absurdity of ranked convention.
In the afternoon. the Recon unit that was making its way back to the camp radioed in that it had encountered enemy fire. and would be delayed while it took appropriate action. There was some concern about the Viet Cong appearing so close to the base camp. and everyone was put on alert until Recon could determine the size and nature of what was out there. A pair of helicopters were sent to look over the situation from the air.
The Hueys returned in the evening with good news: there had been no organized formation of enemy troops. but only isolated snipers. Recon had made one confirmed kill, and it was relatively certain that the rest had been driven off. The camp personnel breathed a collective sigh of relief, and weapons were returned to the armory.
Because of the encounter the returning unit would not arrive until tomorrow. Marcus and his buddies settled in to spend their first night in the jungle. still
Marcus asked a sergeant if it was safe to walk around the perimeter at night. The sarge guffawed and said, “If y’wanted to be safe, y’shoulda stayed at home. But just watch out for snakes, and if there’s no gooks out there, y’ll prob’ly be all right.”
With a flashlight Marcus explored into the fringe of the rainforest. The chatter of the animals was eerie, and occasionally he caught glimpses of chimpanzees swinging in the trees. After acquainting himself with all the features of a small area, he switched off his light and allowed his night vision to build up. There was enough of a glow from the lights in the camp to allow him to move about cautiously in this way.
He heard a sound he couldn’t identify, and instantly froze, becoming totally alert. Scanning around 360 degrees, he saw another person walking slowly in his general direction. The figure had apparently come from the camp, so there was evidently no danger; he relaxed, but remained quiet.
The person walked past him at a distance of only a few yards, and did not become aware of his presence. Now the dim light reflected from behind off long blonde hair. It was Nurse Flanders.
Marcus wondered how he might reveal himself without making her angry at the unexpected intrusion; she obviously came here to be alone. When she had gotten a little farther away, he acted on a sudden impulse and made a monkey sound. She swiveled around in his direction and then went into the defensive freeze. He knew she was staring intently, trying to see what was what. Her night vision probably wasn’t as sharp as his yet… but he had to come up with a next move, fast. Damn, he thought, why can’t I think of anything cool?
Finally he shrugged to himself and said. “Nobody here but us monkeys.”
“What?” she said; “who are you?”
A moment later Marcus was blinded by a light – her flashlight, obviously. His night vision was gone now.
Recovering his aplomb, he smiled ingenuously into the light, gave another salute, and said, “Evening, ma’am.”
She walked toward him saying, “Don’t give me that garbage! I don‘t know what they teach you in the Marines, trooper, but you’re in big trouble. Were you following me?”
“Begging the Lieutenant’s pardon,” said Marcus, “but I was in here first. I didn‘t know who you were either. so I froze and you just walked right past me. I swear, I just didn’t move a muscle. I mean, if I had been sneaking along behind you in my best stealth walk, you still would’ve heard me in all this brush.”
“That’s true,” she said. Her voice was softer now, and she lowered the beam of the light so he could see. “But what are you doing here?”
“Same thing as you, I guess. I just wanted to get away from the camp for a bit and look around.” He could begin to see the outlines of her features again. She was so beautiful….
“You’ve got to watch out for the snakes,” she said. All hostility was gone from her voice now.
“So I was told.”
She raised the light to his name tag. “Christianson,” she said.
“Oh, I didn’t mean…. I‘m just trying to figure out why you seem familiar. Your name doesn’t ring a bell, but your face does. What’s your first name?”
“Still nothing. Do you know where we might’ve met before?”
“Yes. In a past life.”
She laughed. “Of course – I should’ve guessed instantly. Well, you probably just remind me of someone I once knew and can’t quite remember.”
“That’s possible, but I’m serious about the past life.”
“You actually believe in reincarnation?”
“I don’t just believe it, I‘ve experienced it. I had the experience of remembering my last life.”
“Really? Like Bridey Murphy?”
“Not exactly. I wasn’t hypnotized – I was fully conscious at the time. In fact, I was super-conscious.”
“Was it like … a spiritual experience?”
“Yes, that’s exactly what it was.”
Nurse Flanders paused for a moment in thought, then looked around them, scanning the camp and the perimeter. She said, “There’s a clearing nearby where I like to sit. Would you like to come along and tell me about your experience?”
“Why, yes I would … ma’am.”
“Okay. Follow me.”
The stars were visible from the clearing through the gap in the rainforest canopy. They were the only source of light, and after awhile the night vision of Marcus and the nurse became acute enough to see each other dimly by it.
Marcus told her about his search for a school in Asia, how he finally found Srinagar, and some of the things that had happened to him there. At length she said. “I’m just astonished, Marcus! I mean, this is not the kind of background story you get from your typical PFC.”
“I guess I’m a little atypical. But can I ask now why it struck a chord with you when I mentioned spiritual experience?”
“Because I’ve had some of my own. It’s why I’m here, in fact.”
“That’s interesting. Is it the kind of thing you can talk about?”
“Not with everybody … but you seem to be one of the few. So maybe you won‘t laugh when I say that I used to talk to God as a child – and get replies!”
“How did God talk to you?”
“In a million ways! In the rustle of the wind in brush. he was there. In the glint of sunlight on the surface of a pond. In the echo of something holy in the voices of my parents and closest friends. It probably just sounds like poetic fancy, and I do love poetry – but it was more. Sometimes it would all come together. I would sit by the side of a brook in the Sun, and all creation would merge into one current that was flowing down from the endless centuries and the infinite stretches of outer space, right into the center of my heart. where I could feel it all as the presence of God.”
“That‘s beautiful,” said Marcus; “you’re a poet yourself – a poetess. And does it
still happen sometimes?” “Only rarely now, at very special moments. I come out here looking for it, and get glimpses. I worry that I may be growing out of it. But really I feel that I may be getting less of the childish gratification from God’s presence because now I’m engaged as an adult in doing the work of God.”
“Indeed! And what is the work of God?”
“Helping and caring for all the myriad creatures, who are one in God. Because I’ve been blessed with knowledge of the unity of all in him, my lot is to serve him by serving all who cross my path, and in fact to direct my path to where I encounter those who are most in need. I seem to have a special gift for healing the sick, so that’s what I do the most. And I came here because I felt it would be a place of greatest need.”
Marcus allowed a starlit silence. Then he said, “I’m in service also to something great and holy ~ I‘ve told you only a little of it, but perhaps you can get a sense of my quest.”
“Oh , yes!” she said, and took his hands in hers. There was light enough now for eye contact, and her whole soul was in her eyes as she told him: “Now I know why you seemed familiar: you’re a kindred soul on the path. Perhaps there are past lives, or perhaps not. That‘s not important for me, no more than the name you choose to give to the experience of God. The real God is the knowledge of allness. It‘s the same source operating through the Christian God and the Hindu gods, and through every being who knows that we all are one.”
The force of her visionary enthusiasm bubbled into him through her hands, a bright, sparkling froth of energy stimulating many of his chakras at once. By means of the methods he knew, he circulated it all inside of him in certain ways, and sent it back to her redoubled and charged with his own fierce light. He saw by a sudden spark in her eyes that she felt it, and that she was surprised. “Why, Marcus,” she said, “you’re glowing!”
“So are you. It’s the two of us.”
“What’s happening? It’s like … oh! It’s God! This is amazing. I never experienced it so clearly with another person before.” She stared at him, bewildered. “But I don’t understand. Why you? And why here?”
“Where else is there?” he said. She looked astounded, as if this question had cut to the quick of her experience, and deepened it. “And as for me,” he continued, “don’t you finally remember who I am?”
She looked deep, deep into his eyes now, illuminated as they were by the astral light. And suddenly she was pulverized by the most incredible thing she had ever seen: herself, looking back at her from the eyes of another. Her voice was the merest whisper as she said: “Oh, my God . ..!”
Gently, gently, Marcus tugged her hands so that she didn’t notice she was being drawn into an embrace until it actually happened. All she knew was that suddenly she was hugging him desperately, passionately, trying to squeeze him into herself past the stubborn barrier of skin. When he initiated a kiss, so rapt was she in the numinous lust for oneness that her only thought was of how wonderful it was that they could get inside of each other this way, at least a little, with their tongues. Inevitably, however, her discerning mind reasserted itself, and she reasoned out
what the next logical step would be in this direction. And so she stopped, pushing him away ~ but gently, very gently.
Her hand lingered in his, and her eyes were still inside of him. He said, “We are one.” ..
She nodded. “We were, in the infinite past, in the mind of God. And we will be again, righthere in these bodies, in the near future. I promise, Marcus! But not now. He nodded in turn, and kissed her hand.
Their eyes were still embracing. and kept doing it for a long time. Then Marcus said. “We were one forever. Why did we become two?”
“I don’t know,” she said; “do you?”
“Please tell me.”
“We were divided for love’s sake, for the chance of union.”
She gasped at the godly pathos of it, and fell into his arms again.
Now that she knew that they loved each other, Marcus was content to postpone any further denouement for a more propitious time. He could tell that she was a virgin, which meant that there could be no tantric fudging on the first experience, only an all-out total orgasm would do. and he knew it could well be fatal to indulge in such a large expenditure of vital energy on the eve of combat. And anyway, there were other matters between them.
He said, “Tell me. Gail… er, ma’am …. ”
“Don’t be silly! Gail is fine. Just don’t slip and call me that at camp.”
“Don’t worry, I’m very good at that. But I wanted to ask you, Gail: since everybody’s one. do you love everyone equally?”
She appeared to be somewhat puzzled by the question, but answered thoughtfully: “Well, I don’t love strangers or acquaintances in the same way that I love my mother and father, or my dearest friends, or the way I love …. ” She looked at him, then blushed and said, ….. you. Is that what you were fishing for?”
He kept a straight face and said, “No, the question was not self-serving. You’ll see. Go on.”
“All right. So we’re human beings and can’t love everyone equally, but it’s still possible to feel the love that is God’s unity with everyone you meet, at least to some extent. And if you can’t feel it, then you can at least recognize intellectually that it’s there, and it changes the way you act toward them.”
“I see. And how do you act toward them, then?”
“With compassion and beneficence. With the love of God.”
“And there are no exceptions?”
“The Viet Cong.”
Her voice hardened. “If a Viet Cong attacked me. I’d shoot him. I’d try not to kill him, but I know that that might happen in the tumult of the attack. And I accept it. It’s reality.”
“And you’d still have the love of God for him?”
“I’d try my best, yes. But as I said, I’m human.”
Marcus uttered a soft chuckle. “Well, it certainly puts a different twist on ‘Love thine enemy.’ After all. when Jesus said that. he didn’t specify that you shouldn’t kill him as well as love him.”
“Are you making fun of me, Marcus?”
He gave her a soft hug. “Not really. I guess. In fact, now that I think about it, my perspective on it isn’t really that much different from yours, at least in an abstract way. But in practical ways. there’s a big difference.”
“What is your perspective?”
“I’ll Iove my enemy when I’ve totally defeated him and destroyed his power to do me harm.”
“Yes.” she said, “I can see how that would make perfect sense to you. I think it’s just the difference between a man’s and a woman’s perspective.”
“Maybe, but there’s more. I think if we’re too busy loving our enemies we might not recognize them as enemies, and it’ll allow them to trick us and defeat us,” “Now that sounds as if you’re looking for enemies. I can’t agree with that.”
At that moment they heard the sound of the loudspeaker from the camp. “What’s it saying?” asked Marcus. “can you make it out?”
“No, but we’d better get back. They usually only use that thing at night when something’s up.”
Marcus and Gail returned to the camp and resumed their formal personae. In the darkness no one noticed them return together.
The loudspeaker announcement had been a minor alert based on unconfirmed sightings by a helicopter night patrol. An “all clear” was sounded shortly afterwards.
In the morning Marcus’ company pulled detail while awaiting the arrival of the unit from the jungle, which was expected before noon. They did minor maintenance jobs on the buildings, grounds, and vehicles. Marcus was glad of the exertion, even in the humid heat, for it broke the tension of suspended imminence.
Late in the morning there came a shout from one of the Vietnamese. Marcus looked up from the truck he was working on and saw a gaggle of unkempt men strolling in from the trailhead. It was several moments before he made the connection that these were Marines, so casual and scraggly did they appear; some of them even had long hair, something which until that moment Marcus had never seen on a live white man. They were in various states of dress and undress, and not a single one was completely in uniform. Thus the outward signs of rank were invisible or obscured, and it wasn‘t until one of the men stepped away from his comrades and reported to Major Harrison, who had appeared from the quonset hut, that Marcus realized this must be the commanding officer of the Recon unit. He and the major exchanged salutes; then, casting aside even this formality, they shook hands warmly and finally embraced.
The camp’s mess hall was a large tent, and a special meal had been prepared for the returning soldiers. Combat duty apparently had other privileges too, for after the meal the trail veterans queued up at a window of the quonset hut, from which they were served cans of cold beer. They spent the rest of the afternoon drinking, talking, and engaging in horseplay which gradually grew more raucous.
An attempt was made to keep the new men busy on details after lunch, but the undisciplined example of the returnees had an insidious effect on the morale of the workers. At last Lieutenant Cooper bowed to the realities of the situation and dismissed his men, allowing them to interrelate freely with the revelers.
One grizzled beer drinker said loudly to his companion, “Lookit all the FNGs, Mack! How many body bags y’think we should order?”
“One apiece,” said Mack. “Unless any of ’em’s queer – then they kin put two in the same one an’ save the taxpayers money!” Both of them rollicked with hard laughter.
The collective banter continued in a similar vein, the men who had seen combat doing their best to scare and intimidate the fresh troops. The term “FNGs” was used a lot, and after awhile Marcus learned that it stood for “fuckin’ new guys”.
Marcus got to talking with a man named Jason, whose gruff innuendoes were belied by a sly smile. When he felt that they had attained a reasonable rapport, Marcus risked the standard question of the FNGs: “So what’s it really like out there?”
The stubble and encrusted dirt on Jason’s face made him look ancient, but now the twinkle in his eye unmasked him as very young. He said, “Have you seen many war movies?”
“Enough,” said Marcus.
“Read books about war?”
“Heard veterans tell war stories?”
Jason nodded sagely. “Well, it‘s not like any of that.”
Marcus grinned. “I see.”
“You will, soon enough. And then you‘ll know. Nobody can tell you what it‘s like, not really. Nothing can prepare you for it. I mean, you’ve had the training and everything, and so you’ve been prepared in that sense, the practical sense. But nobody can get across the feeling of it; nobody can know anything about that except by experiencing it. You know what I mean?”
“How can I? You say I have to experience it.”
Jason laughed, then offered to give Marcus his beer. Marcus deferred, saying, “You’re the one who’s earned it.”
“But I can just get more, and you can’t. So you take mine, and I’ll just go an’ get another. Here, I’ve hardly touched it ~ it‘s still cold.”
Now Marcus accepted. As they drank their beer, Marcus asked Jason; “Are you going home?”
“Hell, no! I’m not even a short-timer yet. I‘m just gonna get me whatever quick little R&R I can here the next couple days, then it’s back to the bush for me, right along with you guys.”
“Well then,” said Marcus, “I guess we’ll be buddies.”
After the first disorganized impact of the field unit’s return, the transition at the camp took place in a fairly orderly fashion. The men who had finished their tour and would be leaving Vietnam were allowed to continue to slack off. They drank beer, and could occasionally be seen taking furtive sips from small bottles; and Marcus noticed the presence in the camp of some young Vietnamese women whom he hadn’t seen before. Meanwhile, the men from the old unit who would be returning to the jungle indulged themselves almost as much, but there were certain things they had to do to prepare themselves and their equipment.
At last there came the evening before the departure. All the troops, new and old, who would constitute the new unit were gathered into a large tent and given a final briefing. The Major conducted the meeting. For the benefit of the new men, he formally introduced Captain Scott, who would return to the trail and continue to be the commanding officer of Recon. Lieutenant Cooper would now be second in command. Sergeant Parisi, a burly, hardboiled man in his late thirties, would be First Sergeant. Then he introduced a Vietnamese as Lieutenant Nguyen Tranh Bo of the
ARVN, or Army of the Republic of Vietnam, and another as Mister Tien, an expert on the local terrain and dialects of the natives. These were the only Vietnamese personnel who would accompany them into the jungle.
Captain Scott took the floor and reiterated the details of what all of them already knew, namely that all U.S. Army operations conducted to date in Vietnam were strictly in an advisory and support capacity to the ARVN, and no Army units had engaged in combat independently of the ARVN. The mission of the Marine Corps was different: they were to reconnoiter the countryside and locate pockets of Viet Cong activity, and take whatever military action was necessary to defend and protect themselves while doing it, with the ARVN only in a supportive and advisory capacity, instead of the reverse.
At the end the men were dismissed to their billet. All their equipment was already prepared. Reveille would be at 5 AM, and they would set out shortly after dawn.
As they walked the short distance from one tent to the other, the men were pleasantly surprised to see Nurse Flanders standing by. She nodded and smiled at the farewells they offered as they filed past, and exchanged a cordial word or two with a few. This she did with Marcus, and no one noticed the depth and sweetness of the look they shared, nor the affectionate squeeze of the hand disguised as a mere comradely shake.
It did not take the new men long to discover the basic daily hardship of their mission: walking in the tropical Sun carrying half their weight in equipment on their backs was very fatiguing. During the short breaks most of them found it easier to simply recline with the rigged packs still strapped to them, rather than waste half their respite undoing and redoing them. Sometimes an exhausted trooper would just slump to the ground on his pack, then find himself unable to arise with the cumbersome bulk on his back, and would have to be helped up by his buddies.
The first afternoon they came to a village where the unit was evidently well known, since they passed by it on most forays from the base camp. Marcus asked Jason why most of the villagers seemed to be women, children, and old men. Were the young men off working somewhere? “Sort of.” said Jason ~ “they‘re off with the Viet Cong,” Marcus questioned him further and was surprised to learn that most of the villages in the Interior were friendly with the Viet Congo The South Vietnamese government effectively controlled only the areas around the cities and largest towns, though they were trying to change that situation with a new program whereby some villages were designated as “strategic hamlets”, and reorganized to make them easier to defend by the ARVN.
“Is the program working?” asked Marcus.
“Nope. The people don’t like it because it’s forced on them. And besides that, the college-educated bureaucrats from Saigon don’t know a thing about peasant life, so the changes they make just disrupt everything and make the people hate ‘em. So they end up going over to the Viet Cong anyway.”
“Then why does the government keep going with the program if it‘s such a failure?”
“Near as I can figure, it’s mainly to impress McNamara and the other American brass, so’s they keep sending money – and us, to fight their war for them.”
“That’s crazy!” said Marcus.
“Yep,” said Jason. “I think the only thing to do would be to bomb the hell out of the whole Interior, then come in and start over from scratch with new people. And I‘ll bet that’s what they‘ll do, sooner or later r- good or American firepower, and lots of it. Maybe even a few tactical nukes.”
“You really think so?”
“They’re gonna have to, man, if they want to win this thing. There’s no other way. As it is now, this country belongs to the Viet Cong. Wait and see.”
At a designated spot near the village the men unburdened themselves and ate lunch. Captain Scott bargained with some old men for supplies. The troops bought native refreshments from the women, and gave some candy to the children. Then they reshouldered their packs and moved on.
By five o’clock all of them were bone-weary and drenched in their own sweat. They pushed on nevertheless, because they had to reach a certain spot which was an easily-defensible place to sleep. They finally arrived, and gratefully settled down to rest and eat the evening meal. Night fell soon, and they crawled into their small, mosquito-netted tents and slept, except for the sentries.
This was the routine, and they followed it without significant change for several days, moving steadily through the rainforest. They came to a place by a river, which the oldtimers called “the Riviera”. Jason said to Marcus, “This is our jumping-off spot.” Captain Scott confirmed that this was the point where they would leave familiar territory and break new ground in places where Aerial Intelligence saw signs of the Viet Cong.
The next morning the c.o. told them that he had gotten the word on the radio from Intelligence: they were to move directly to the Northwest, which meant that they had to cross the river. “Well, it’s a great day for a swim,” said Sergeant Parisi.
Of course they couldn’t swim with all their equipment, so they marched upriver to a spot known to be shallow enough to ford. An advance squad of five men went across first and made a search of the other side for any signs of the enemy. “That‘s pretty much a formality,” said Jason to Marcus. “With all that canopy up there, the place could be crawling with snipers and there’s no way to find ’em till they start shooting.”
“Aren’t there any alternatives, then?” asked Marcus.
“Nope. It’d be the same all up and down the river. We just have to say our prayers and go for it.”
Captain Scott ordered that one platoon at a time should cross the river, thus minimizing vulnerability. The first platoon crossed, carrying their rifles over their heads, struggling through the mud on the bottom. They knew that any man who slipped was in danger of drowning in the shallow water from the weight of his own pack.
The second platoon crossed. Marcus and Jason were in the third, with one more still to follow. “Heigh-ho,” said Jason, and the two of them clambered into the muck along with their buddies.
When they were about halfway across, Marcus heard a loud crackling sound from somewhere ahead of them. The water began to splash around them. He didn’t realize what was happening until a man a short distance ahead of him uttered a deep, throaty scream and began to flail in the water, dropping his rifle. Jason and several other men in unison shouted, “Snipers!”
Events became speeded up and confused. The voice of Captain Scott from the far bank could be heard shouting: “Blanket fire to the trees! Men in the water double- time!” The air exploded with the sound of gunfire. There were grunts and curses as the men floundered desperately through the water. It was a terrifying irony that to reach the far shore they had to run toward their unseen attackers, for the enemy fire was clearly coming from that direction.
The man who had been shot was grabbed by two of his buddies, and they struggled to keep his head above water and drag him to shore. For Marcus, the first rush of surreality faded, and he felt the keen realization that his life could be snuffed at any second. The sniper fire had stopped momentarily when the barrage from the troops on both shores had opened up at the trees, but now it resumed. The deadly little squirts on the surface of the water mushroomed all around them, as they struggled to run in the mud on the bottom of the river.
Marcus forced down the panic clutching at his gut, and invoked the calm center of himself that he had spent years developing in meditation. Once he had touched it, he found that the surrounding danger actually seemed to sharpen it. Everything became lucid; the action seemed to decelerate and move in slow motion. Now he could act deliberately, and he found that moving his feet in certain ways enabled him to get better footing and move faster. He imagined that he could see the bullets coming at him slowly enough to duck or dance aside.
He began to make better progress than his buddies in moving through the water. He came abreast of Jason, who had been directly in front of him. He saw that his friend was having a different reaction to the situation. He was frustrated by the muck impeding his movements, and rattled by being fired upon in such a vulnerable position. When a fresh barrage of shots spurted near them, his head jerked compulsively toward the trees and he yelled, “Aw, cut it the fuck out, you bastards!”
The next moment Jason flapped his arms and fell over backwards into the water, dropping his rifle. Instantly Marcus shouldered his own rifle and grabbed him. It was hard and awkward to lift him up with the weight of the pack, but Marcus managed to get his head above water. “Jason!” he shouted, “are you hit?”
Jason coughed and spat water. “Naw, I’m okay, I just slipped in this fucking mud. If those goddamn gooks would just stop shootin’ at us .. .! Shit, where‘s my weapon? I wanna get over there and blow their fucking brains out.” He set his feet, then dipped down into the water and came up with his M-16. He and Marcus continued on, and finally reached the other side, alive.
Not all of the men had been so lucky, or so it appeared. Marcus saw two lying on the shore where their buddies had dropped them after pulling them out of the river. There was no time to find out whether or not they were alive until after the snipers had been dealt with.
With bullets still filling the air around them, Marcus helped the rest of his platoon clamber onto the shore. Then they all joined the blanket fire, shooting blindly into the trees and brush. Another one of his comrades yelled and fell to the ground, clutching his shoulder. Marcus glanced at him and saw that his hand was covered with blood. He looked back at the trees and thought he saw something move, something more specific than the leaves and bark being ripped apart by their own fire. He aimed at the spot and quickly got off a number of rounds. There was a loud gutteral sound and then objects falling: a rifle and a body. “Hot damn!” said a Marine, “we got one!”
The men had all stopped shooting as the body dropped. Now they listened, and heard a rustling in the treetops. Sergeant Parisi shouted: “There’s more, and they’re takin’ off! Commence firing!”
They resumed their shooting. The sharper-eyed among them saw a figure leap, not fall, from a tree and disappear into the brush. Some thought they spotted a second one. “Cease fire!” commanded the Sergeant.
There was silence. Now Parisi said, “First platoon, go after ’em!” Several men plunged into the underbrush. Then he ordered two others to search for the body that had fallen from the tree.
Some of the men were already tending those who had fallen. “How are they?” asked Parisi.
“Eckles is dead,” said a man kneeling near the forms on the ground. “Salisbury’s still alive, but he’s bleedin’ bad in the chest.” Another man was winding bandages from a first aid kit around Salisbury‘s torso. Someone else was tending to the man who had been shot in the shoulder. There were a couple of others with minor wounds. Captain Scott and the fourth platoon were wading ashore from the river.
The two men emerged from the brush dragging a bloody body in tattered black clothes. They lifted it over the last bush, then flung it down contemptuously onto the ground. “Here’s the fucking gook,” said one of them. He spat into the face of the dead man.
A man named Jerry said, “That bastard killed Eckles! I wish he was still alive, the rat. I’d cut off his dick an’ make him eat it.”
“That’s enough!” said Scott. “Have some respect for yourself. We’re Americans. The gooks actually do atrocities like that, but we don’t. We’re civilized men, and don’t you forget it. If you let them pull you down to their level, they’ve won the war already.”
“Sorry, sir,” said Jerry. “It‘s just that… well shoot, Eckles was my friend!”
“I know, and he’s been avenged. The gook is dead. That should be enough.”
At that moment there was the sound of gunfire in the jungle. “Damn,” said Jerry, I hope they nailed the other ones!”
“Me too,” said Captain Scott.
Shortly the men of the first platoon reappeared. hauling another body. “We got one,” said Corporal Davis, the platoon leader. “We don’t know for sure if there were any more. We shot hell out of the bushes and couldn‘t hear a thing, so we came back.”
“That‘s okay,” said Sergeant Parisi. “Good work.”
A few minutes later the company medic reported to the C.O.: “Salisbury’s gone, sir. He was shot too close to the heart.”
“Damn!” was all that Scott could say.
Jason said to Marcus, “Two of them an’ two of us. Guess it’s a draw.“
“Is that how it works?” said Marcus. “We keep score?”
“It doesn’t hurt,” said Jason. “What hurts is losin’ your buddies. If you give as good as you get, it makes you feel better.”
Marcus wasn’t sure what he felt. He had hardly known Eckles, and hadn’t been particularly fond of Salisbury. Even so, there was a pang at seeing them stretched dead on the ground beside the river. Then he looked at the bodies of the two Viet Cong, and could not suppress a sense of human empathy and pity for them as well, even though they had tried to kill him, and even though there was a high likelihood that he personally had been the slayer of one of them.
The C.O. radioed a report of the incident to base, and shortly a helicopter appeared and landed amongst them, there by the river. All four bodies were gathered up into the Huey, joined by the man who was seriously wounded. Scott had a brief conversation with the pilot, and then the chopper departed. The Marines resumed their trek through the jungle.