The days passed as they marched, then the weeks. The next lead from Intelligence turned up fallow. Scott and Tien found signs which they believed showed the Viet Cong to have been there and moved on, and so the unit set off in the direction the enemy was most likely to have taken. There came the day when they were fired on from the jungle, from both sides of the trail at once at ground level, meaning that this time it was not just snipers but a substantial body of VC. They laid down intense blanket fire into the brush, and after awhile the enemy shooting ceased. Three men were wounded seriously enough to be airlifted out, but there were no fatal casualities. A few days farther along, they rendezvoused with a Huey which brought them fresh troops to replace the wounded and the two who had been killed.
The pattern continued of harassing attacks from concealed Viet Cong, to which they could only respond with blind blanket fire. They had no way of knowing if they were inflicting any harm on the enemy, and this the men found frustrating. “The fucking cowards!” said Jason. “I wish to hell they’d show their ugly gook faces so’s I could blow ’em away. Just let me get one in my sights! I’d show ‘im good.”
The next morning Scott told them that he had gotten word from Intelligence of a suspected large concentration of VC in and around a village that was not far away. Their orders were to investigate, and if the report proved true, the U.S. Command would call for a major strike by the Vietnamese Air Force. “Hurray!” said Jason.
“This sounds like a biggy. I’m gonna finally get to total some gooks in plain view.”
Marcus wondered at his friend’s enthusiasm for killing, but didn’t question him about it. He didn’t feel experienced enough yet.
Tien was familiar with the area. He knew of two hills overlooking the village, and suggested to Scott that the company split up and attempt to reach both peaks without being detected by the enemy. If one group was discovered, the other could lend tactical support and covering fire; or if the exposed unit could successfully retreat, the other might still make it to the top of the other hill and accomplish their – mission of determining the position and strength of the enemy. Scott accepted the plan, with one modification: a third group moving toward the village between the two hills.
They reached the vicinity of the village by early afternoon. The company was divided up, and the three detachments moved cautiously in their assigned directions. Marcus and Jason were in the group penetrating between the hills, led by Lieutenant Cooper.
Within a half-hour they came to the edge of a rice paddy, in which Vietnamese were working. This was expected, from Tien’s intelligence. Their orders were to remain concealed, watch for any sign of Viet Cong nearby, and wait for word from Scott that the mission had been accomplished ..
Time went by. There came a moment when Cooper whispered, “Something’s up.” The men peered through the trees and saw that some Vietnamese men with rifles on their shoulders had come into the field and were talking to the peasants. There were a couple of loud, verbose exchanges, as if they were arguing. Then all the peasants picked up their implements and left the field, along with the armed men, who were of course Viet Cong.
Cooper radioed news of what they had seen to Captain Scott. Then Corporal Rawling, Marcus’ platoon leader, said to Cooper, “It doesn’t look good, does it? They must know we‘re here.”
“Either us or the guys on one of the hills.”
“So what’s going to happen next?”
“That’s what we‘re waiting to find out.”
They didn’t have long to wait. The sound of gunfire erupted from the north hill, which was to their left as they faced the rice paddy and the village beyond it. Scott’s voice crackled from the radio: “Cooper, we‘re under attack! They’re coming at us from a path on the east side of the hill. Circle around through the field by the rice paddy and see if you can find the trailhead. Then maybe you can come up on them from the rear.”
“Will do,” said Cooper. He led his men on the double out of the concealment of the bush and onto the field. It looked like a good maneuver, for there was not a Vietnamese in sight. and the Viet Cong were obviously engaged on the north hill.
Then, just as they rounded the hill to the east, they heard a noise that rattled their heads and curdled their blood. It was an Asiatic battle-shriek shouted in unison by a vast number of Viet Cong who had suddenly risen up from the rice paddy and now ran toward them, screaming and firing their weapons. It was a trap, and they had fallen into it.
McDermott, the squad’s machine-gunner, stepped to the front and sprayed the advancing horde with his M-60. This slowed the assault enough for Cooper to quickly organize the men into a defensive formation. They dropped to the ground and commenced firing at the enemy from the prone position. Even thus, however, they were terribly exposed in the short grass of the field.
Cooper radioed their situation to the C.O. “We can see it,” said Scott. “But they didn‘t spot the guys on the south hill, so they‘re on their way to back you up.”
“Thank God!” said Cooper. “But even with that, are we dead here, or what? There’s so fucking many of them!”
“I’ve called in to base. The Major said he’s gonna see if he can arrange that air strike pronto.”
“Good 0l’ Major Harry! If only he can cut through the tape fast enough.”
At that moment McDermott was shot. Another man snatched up the M-60 and commenced firing, but the delay was enough for the front wave of VC to sweep into the enemy hand-to-hand. They slashed them with their bayonets, clubbed them with rifle butts, and fired at them whenever they got a clear shot.
Now Marcus’ martial arts training came to the fore. He was a terror, moving faster than the eye of friend or foe could follow, chopping and kicking enemy soldiers, felling them with deft strokes of both ends of his rifle, picking them up and flipping them into oncoming crowds of their comrades.
“Lookit that guy!” said Rawling to Cooper. “You didn‘t tell me you had a secret weapon, Lieutenant!” But Cooper was as amazed as the corporal.
Marcus was in process of bashing two Viet Cong heads together when he heard a shout: “Watch your back, Christy!” He swiveled around instantly, just in time to see Jason throw himself on a VC who had been about to hack Marcus with a machete. Jason struggled with the man while Marcus kicked the machete out of his hand. Then Jason attempted to lever his bayonet into position, but before he could. his opponent pulled a wicked barbed knife from his black pajamas and slashed out at Jason’s throat. Blood spurted from it crazily, and he fell over with his head half
severed. It was gruesomely evident that he was dead.
The sight impacted Marcus like a bomb. For a split second he stared in shock at his slain friend. Then he looked at the man who had killed him, who was just scrambling to his feet and preparing to lunge with the knife at Marcus. But for Marcus, time now slowed to the point where it seemed to have stopped. He stared at the enemy soldier, who appeared frozen in an off-balance pose. Then all the world went red with rage and hatred. Marcus swept his bladed rifle down and up, moving at hyperspeed in relation to the stop-action world. The VC still hadn’t gotten his footing when Marcus’ bayonet thudded upwards into his neck with such force that it drove right through his brain and struck the underside of his skull, at which point his whole body was lifted from the ground by the force of the thrust. There he dangled like a shafted mannequin, his eyes bulging out in stupefied agony. In another heartbeat he would be dead, but now in this magically frozen moment his slayer stared fire at him. It flashed in Marcus’ mind that there was a good chance he had been raised a Buddhist. And then. in a voice made preternatural with anger, Marcus said: “You fucking gook bastard, go burn in the pit of the deepest vajra hell for a billion years.” Then he pulled the trigger, and blew his enemy’s brains out the top of his head, a sudden traumatic enlargement of the aperture of Brahman.
The entire episode had taken perhaps two seconds. Now time resumed its regular pace, and Marcus turned to see that he was being threatened by an advancing phalanx of enemy. They were shooting at him, and he stood there exposed. The only sensible thing was to drop to the ground or retreat to cover. The rational part of his mind grasped this instantly, but something came over him, something bloody and primal and not rational at all. He opened his mouth and to his own amazement a horrific banshee-wail came out of it. It was as if a vast winged nightmare demon hovered over the battlefield. and now it was channeling down through his body, uttering its attack-scream through his lungs and voicebox.
And in fact he attacked. He grabbed the machete and charged bellowing into the enemy ranks. slashing out in all directions with the weapons in both his hands, cutting down his foes who were thrown into disarray by the mad fury of his actions. They tried to shoot him and club him and cut him, but they succeeded only in doing it to one another, for Marcus was a blur of bloody murder, and was never in the spot where the weapons were aimed. “He’s gone fucking berserk!” said Corporal Rawling.
Shooting had been sporadic during the close-in fighting, but now a resounding volley of gunfire could be heard from the far end of the field. A shout went up from the Marines – it was the contingent arriving from the south hill. The enemy force had already been thrown into confusion by Marcus‘ bizarre and effective tactics, and the surprise of finding themselves under heavy attack on another flank now broke their morale enough to send them fleeing back to their hamlet. Sergeant Parisi, who commanded the squad from the hill, shouted to Cooper: “Should we pursue ‘em, sir?”
“No,” said the Lieutenant. “we don’t know what they’ve got there in the village. Just continue firing to keep ’em running.” Now he spotted a gaggle of Vietnamese emerging from the brush at the bottom of the north hill. He wondered if this was a fresh attack. but in a moment it became clear that these men. too. were retreating to the village. He called Scott, and learned that sure enough. the squad on the hill had also driven off their attackers. and were on their way down to rendezvous.
They appeared a few minutes later. The last of the enemy could barely be seen in the distance, and Scott ordered the men to cease fire. “Damn,” said Cooper. “it looked like taps for awhile. How‘d you turn it around up there?”
“We had the advantage of a good defensive position,” said Scott. “We just hunkered down and picked off enough of ’em till their numerical advantage was gone. Then we took the offensive and drove ’em off. But I sure thought you guys were gonna be massacred. You got ambushed, and had no cover. How the hell did you hold out?”
“Well,” said Cooper, “everybody did their stuff. Nobody panicked, and they fought like real Marines. But even so, I’d have to say that the key factor was that man right there.” He pointed to where Marcus was kneeling over the body of Jason. “When his buddy got killed, he just went nuts. But he fought better that way ~ he laid into ’em like a wildman, and it spooked ’em so bad that it gave the rest of us a chance to do some damage.”
“Ah,” said Scott, “I’ve seen it. It’s rare. It means he’s a good one.”
They gathered up their dead, then withdrew just into the edge of the jungle. They waited, and watched carefully for any sign that the Viet Cong might be leaving the village. After a few hours, they heard the sound of aircraft. The jets swooped down one after another and blasted the village with bombs and napalm. They only stopped when the entire settlement was ablaze, a massive funeral pyre.
The fire didn’t go out until the next day, and then the Marines went in, searching cautiously for survivors. There were only charred huts and corpses. Marcus poked one of them with the point of his bayonet. Phillips, a platoon-mate, commented: “Fucking dead gooks.”
Suddenly Marcus realized that he shared the sentiment. In the whole tour of the charnel-house hamlet, he had not felt a flicker of the empathy or pity that had moved him at the sight of the first Viet Cong bodies by the river. Something had changed inside him. He wondered if he should be disturbed by it. He resolved to meditate on it later. Meanwhile, he said to Phillips: “Yeah ~ fucking dead gooks.” Phillips said, “I can hardly wait till we get to the next place and kill some more.” Marcus looked at him, startled – not just by the statement, but by his own re-
action to it. He had been about to say, “Yeah, me too”, but stopped himself.
Nevertheless, the words had been distinctly there, in his mind.
Phillips saw his hesitation, and grinned. Marcus could not help smiling in reply. He couldn’t deny what was inside of him.
So it was that Marcus came to experience the cameraderie of killers. They were men united by a bond of blood knowledge. .
Marcus got a commendation for his actions in the battie, and was promoted to Lance Corporal. Over the next several months his unit continued moving through the jungle. Most of their encounters with the Viet Cong were incidents of sniping, and of heavier fire from concealed forces to which they could only retaliate by firing blindly into the bush. Occasionally, however, they would become locked in a firefight with a large contingent of Cong, either in the rainforest or in a village, and would call for an air strike to which sometimes the Vietnamese Air Force would respond, or sometimes American helicopters or even jets. Indeed, American air intervention was
becoming more frequent as time went on.
There came a day when Marcus felt he desperately needed to meditate. He talked with Captain Scott. whose respect for Marcus was such that he gave him permission to remain behind for a short time while the company moved on. The current intelligence report was that there were no Cong formations anywhere in the near vicinity. so it seemed a reasonably safe maneuver. Marcus prevailed on some of his buddies to carry portions of his gear in the interval. so that he would be able to move quickly and catch up to the unit when he was through.
Completely alone for the first time in months. Marcus found a spot that he felt would be secure from unexpected intrusions. Then he stripped down and sat in the lotus pose in the sunlight. Before long he got a glimmering of his oneness with the Sun. and a sense of reassurance of his dharmic mission. And finally. difficult as it was in these circumstances, he managed to evoke the placidity and detachment necessary for a truly profound meditational experience. There in the jungle in the middle of the war. he attained a state of ecstasy.
Internally it was timeless. When at last he opened his eyes, he found that about forty-five minutes had elapsed. He got up, pulled on his clothes. and set off after his unit. He felt totally refreshed, filled with invigorating light.
He walked swiftly but stealthily, striving to maintain constant awareness of every sound and movement in a full 360-degree circle around him. This action was assisted by his spiritual abilities, and acquired a psychic dimension thereby. So it was that he spotted two Viet Cong moving along on the ground in his direction before they became aware of him. He hid in the bush and considered his options. Normally it would be foolish to fire on them in this situation, because they might be part of a larger force. However, unless Intelligence had totally botched its job, the odds were that these two men were isolated, perhaps heading toward a rendezvous or a likely sniper location. They had obviously entered onto this trail from a different direction some time after the Marines had passed by.
So it was that when they came within range Marcus opened fire. One went down immediately, but he missed the second, who managed to take cover. There followed a cat-and-mouse game, shifting at times to cat-and-cat and mouse-and-mouse, in which each of the two adversaries tried to move closer to the other and get the drop on him. One man would move and the other would fire; there would be a period of stillness, and then the action would repeat itself with the roles reversed. Usually they could not be sure whether any given shot had felled the enemy; they might be stalking a corpse on their next move, or fatally exposing themselves to live fire.
Then Marcus found himself on a rare patch of bare ground, so that he could move a short distance in complete silence. He peered around a tree trunk to behold a clear view of his enemy’s back, in pointblank range. He brought up his rifle to fire, but had a second thought. Somehow he wanted it to be more. . . sporting. On the other hand, he didn’t want to give his man a deadly advantage.
He resolved the dilemma by shouting, “Hey, gook!” an instant before he fired. It was just enough warning for the Cong to jump aside and evade Marcus’ shot by a sliver of an inch. Marcus still had the advantage and got off a second shot, but the gook was good: he got control of his own rifle while rolling evasively on the ground, and fired at Marcus. The shot was wild, but now Marcus had to take evasive action too. He leapt not away from his opponent but toward him. The upshot was that they engaged in face-to-face combat. using their bayoneted rifles as spears, preventing each other in this way from firing an effective shot. Finally Marcus got ahold of the Cong bodily, and both weapons were dropped as they struggled hand-to-hand. Marcus thought he would have an advantage from his martial arts expertise, but he quickly found that this man was also adept in it. He was also unusually tall for a Vietnamese, and the conflict was a very even match.
They struggled for a long time. It looked like the victor would be the one with the greatest reserve of sheer physical endurance.
There came a point where each was trying to get his hands on the other’s throat. Their muscles bulged in the desperate effort, and so did their eyes. Marcus attempted a metaphysical ploy. Locked in life-and-death conflict. he tried hard to conjure the awareness of spiritual unity. Fresh from the meditation experience, he was able to tap into that mystic center of himself which could achieve detachment from anything, even the prospect of his own imminent death. Once he had attained this state, the intense energy of the fight quickly charged it with great power. He looked into the eyes of the man who was trying to kill him, and realized that they both were One.
It took incredible presence of mind for Marcus not to flinch from the struggle while feeling great waves of compassion for his foe. Even his sense of irony did not desert him, and in a compartment at the back of his mind he relished the prospect of telling Gail the strange circumstances under which he had finally and literally learned to love his enemy.
Now Marcus proceeded to the next stage of his plan: he attempted to mentally project the state of unity at the Cong, so that he would be drawn into it and see it too. They had a long, grueling eye contact while locked together in opposition, and at last it happened: Marcus’ telepathic effort broke through the barrier that separated man from man, and they had the mutual experience of realizing that they were one.
The Viet Cong soldier was so amazed that his defenses loosened up for a moment, and Marcus moved to get a death-grip on his throat. This had been his plan from the beginning. Then, however. something unexpected happened: his opponent realized instantly what he was doing, and projected such a sense of shocked betrayal that Marcus stopped. He became convinced that the man must’ve had some kind of spiritual training too, perhaps in an Indochinese martial order.
The two antagonists kept grappling with each other, but not in a fatal mode. They didn’t trust each other enough to let go, but they were not trying to kill each other any more. And the mutual experience of unity sustained itself. It was truly marvelous: they were one being, and this unified entity went through a whole process of contemplation in which it explored the possibilities of stopping their conflict. It was a real possibility ~ since they knew that they were one, it was no longer necessary to kill each other. They realized that they could work out a private truce and become friends, in spite of the war. They certainly recognized one another as superior individuals.
But at last the collective mind ~ or as Marcus thought of it in this case, the connective mind linking them together, even though they were of two separate and conflicting metazons – made a conscious decision to keep going for the kill. There was a deep, primal awareness of the Way of Life ~ of how it was to the benefit of both their metazons, and to the human species as a whole, for them to act out the process of natural selection like this, for the eternal manly urge in both of them to push itself to the limit, and for only the stronger, smarter, and more skillful of them to survive.
And so they went at it again. In the end Marcus simply outlasted his man. The Cong grew tired before he did, and Marcus killed him.
The sight of the dead body evoked an emotional response different from the changing range of feelings he had experienced before. It was definitely not contempt or hatred – it was not negative at all. It encompassed compassion, but was more than that – it was a profound respect. This man had truly been an enemy worth killing ~ a formidable foe, and a noble one. Marcus felt an urge to bury him. It was the least he could do.
He began digging a hole in a patch of soft, loose soil with what tools he could improvise. Then, looking at the body again in a moment of respite, the feelings it evoked clarified further into still a different urge. An image flashed in Marcus’ mind of something he should do to the body – a strange, primitive thing. He shied from the image in revulsion, but the urge became more imperative. He centered himself, and in a cone of clear light beaming down from the God within the Sun, he knew that he had to do it.
He blanked out all conscious thought as he would for meditation, and his body began to move fluidly under the promptings of instincts which had lain waiting in his blood for countless thousands of years. Marcus took his bayonet and stabbed it into the breast of his conquered foeman, and carved the carcass with it, until the man’s very heart lay exposed before him in the bloody cavity. Then Marcus put his hand into the gore and closed it around the heart. It was uncanny – he thought he could feel it beating, warm little pulses of life inside his fist. This was impossible, and he realized it must be a genetic memory from times in earlier lives when he had actually performed this rite on an enemy who was not yet dead.
Marcus allowed his primal self complete dominion over his body, and now he tensed himself, feeling the resurgence of atavistic strength and desire. He ripped the bloody heart from his victim’s body and held it up to the Sun, silently invoking the blessing of his tribal God on his act of conquest. The blood dripped down onto his face, and he licked it, and relished it. He squeezed the heart like an orange and sucked out the oozing juices. Then he attempted to gobble the flesh of it, but found the membrane very tough. He managed to gnash off a chunk of it, chewed the gristly morsel, and finally swallowed it down.
He sank onto the ground then, as if the primitive spirit that had held him in its grip had suddenly let him go. His mind came back; he beheld what he had done, and considered it. The bloody heart in his hand now sent a chill of horror through him, and he allowed it to fall into the grass by the body. And the body ~ ah!
A spirit was rising from the body, a soul slowly detaching itself through the aperture of Brahman. Now Marcus knew that this man had indeed been an initiate of the mysteries, for only an advanced being knew how to use this passage after death. The entity was almost free of its mortal husk, looking for all the world like an imago emerging from the chrysalis and preparing to take flight. Marcus felt a strange attraction for the astral being, a wish to draw it to him. And that in fact is what he did. The desire, or hunger, began to resonate from the piece of the man’s heart in Marcus’ stomach, and the ghost was pulled toward him. Marcus opened himself psychically and drew it in, triggering in him even more ancient images of ingesting a live animal. And then he had it, the deed was done: he had eaten his enemy’s soul.
The sensation was decidedly weird – he could feel its presence inside him, the essential identity of this brave warrior, struggling to break free. It did not have a voice, yet it spoke to him plainly, projecting the message in a silent psychic shout: “Let me go! I must enter Nirvana!”
A wave of compassion caused Marcus to consider this request; he knew it would be easy for him now to expel the soul, though perhaps more difficult later. But the ancestral memory surged up in him once again, and he knew the path of dharma.
He focused his mind and said to the soul, “You will enter Nirvana at the end of time, along with all sentient beings. Until then you will live in me, and serve me, and serve my God. You are a noble soul with great power, and I salute you on a battle well fought. The victory could easily have been yours, and I know that then I could have expected this same fate at your hands. It is the Way of Life, as you well know, for you are an enlightened being. The victory is mine, and I claim you. You will dwell in me forever, as long as my soul endures. Your strength and valor and nobility will serve my cause, and the glory of my God. More and more you will become a part of me, until your individual identity is lost. Reconcile yourself to it, for this is your inescapable fate.”
“No!” cried the captive soul. “I am not of you nor of your God. I have my own destiny ~ I am separate.”
“Not any more,” said Marcus. “Face it, accept it: we are one.”
Ever since Marcus went through the transformation in the battle after Jason was killed, he always got an erection during combat. The mere sight of one or more Viet Cong in a hostile situation would make him think of Jason, and of other buddies who had been killed since then, and fill him with hatred for the gooks, his enemies. And this enraged hatred gave him an erection, and propelled him to the attack, and made him formidable in combat. He later explained it as a natural part of becoming reattuned to his primal nature. He had discovered the deep connection between combat and male sexuality.
One day his company was attacked by a group of Viet Cong. Fighting was intense; the Marines suffered heavy casualties, but finally wiped out the enemy to a man. They reconnoitered the area to make sure there were no more hostiles around, and in so doing discovered a village. There were only women and children in the village, and a couple of old men; obviously, their attackers had been the men of the village, who were now all dead. The Marines were still in a battle frenzy. Two men whom Marcus thought of as the “most primitive” in their unit stormed into a hut full of women, brandishing their rifles and shouting, “Okay, you fucking gook sluts, lay down and spread ’em!”
They proceeded to fuck the women, and other men quickly began to follow their example. Some, including Marcus, did not, and looked to Captain Scott, expecting him to order the rapists to cease and desist. There was something about the situation, however, that made Scott decide that it would be futile, and possibly a serious tactical error, to try to do that. He said, “We‘re in over our heads, men. Might as well go for it.” Then he went into a hut and took hold of a woman
At this point Marcus decided to let nature take its course. When they had found the village, he, too, had experienced an overwhelming urge to go and lay into the women. He saw that it was the obvious, primal thing to do ~ he still had his battle erection, and what could be more natural after “killing the enemy with it” (as he later expressed it) than to carry it through and fuck the enemy‘s women with it? It– was as if this were necessary to complete the act and make it a full experience, an acceptable offering to the God who watched over this combat. Only his conscious will had held him back, and Scott’s reaction caused him to reverse the decision of his will. He decided to go for it.
Despite the frenetic urges prompting his actions, he was still selective. He searched through a number of huts until he found a woman pretty enough to fuck. Even so, he was still aware that the girl‘s attractiveness was on a relative scale: for a Vietnamese woman, she was pretty. He had never before made love with a woman of a different race, and would never have done so outside of this bizarre context. He was painfully aware that he was penetrating the womb of a woman of another
metazon, and it troubled him greatly. It was a violation, not only of her but of himself, and of something larger than either of them. The sense of it was lucidly clear: he was desecrating his metazon.
He was therefore distracted by doubt and ambivalence, something that had never happened to him before in sex. Nevertheless, the sheer force of the battle-fired energy drove him to complete the act. It was primal, but not metaphysical. It was strictly animal, with no numinosity at all. He closed his eyes and discharged himself.
After he was through he looked at her, and was engulfed by yet another urge, and this one astounded him ~ he could not have imagined it in advance. He wanted to kill her.
He almost did. He had his hand on his knife, with a clear image in his mind’s eye of slitting her throat. His will was still caught up in the primal sequence which had now unveiled itself as: kill the enemy, fuck his woman, and then kill her too.
Or so it seemed. Something in his mind made him stop long enough to reassert conscious control. He still had the urge to kill, but now he resolutely forced it down. He pulled himself together and ran from the hut in a state of great confusion.
Some of his buddies were sitting in a sort of crude public square of wooden benches with a big thatched roof overhead on poles. They had found a stash of rice wine in one of the huts, and were indulging themselves. Uncharacteristically, Marcus joined in the drinking.
Hotchkiss, one of the “primitives” who had led the mass rape, was commenting loudly: “Damn, ain’t nothin’ wrong with skink pussy. It’s all pink on the inside.” The banter went on among the men in this vein. Then the second “primitive”, Reynolds, came out of a hut and walked toward them. “Hey, there’s m’boy,” said Hotchkiss. “You finally get enough 0′ that action, or what?”
Reynolds said nothing, but walked stolidly toward the bottIe, took it from Hotchkiss’ hand, and drank. He handed it back, then unslung his M-16 and fired it into the air. “Who-o-oh, baby!” he said. It was half a shout and half a moan. “Whatsamatter,” said Hotchkiss,”didn’t ya shoot off enough jizm in there?” Reynolds looked at him with a strange leer. He said, “I’m celebratin’. I am now a double veteran.”
Hotchkiss looked startled. This was unusual, for he was a man not easily surprised nor impressed. Now he was both. “No shit?” he asked.
Reynolds nodded. “Take a look in there for yerself if y’don’t believe me.”
“That’s okay, my man, I’ll take your word for it. Welcome to the club! Here, have another drink. Hey, everybody, a toast to Reynolds! He’s a fucking double vet.” They all whooped and drank, and finally Hotchkiss poured the rest of the wine over Reynolds’ head.
Normally Marcus would’ve simply asked the meaning of an unfamiliar term, but he was still not himself. He went off past the edge of the village to be alone, and there he found Captain Scott sitting on a rock.
“How do you feel?” asked Marcus.
“Ambivalent,” said Scott.
“That’s how I feel,” said Marcus.
They sat in silence for awhile. Then Marcus said, “What’s a double veteran?”
Scott grinned ironically. “Yeah, I heard the little celebration. It means that after he fucked the woman in the hut, he finished her off. He killed her.”
Marcus was thunderstruck. He realized he wasn’t alone in having the urge. It must in fact be some deep, dark genetic instinct. “What do you make of it?” he asked Scott.
“Well, it sure is uncivilized.”
“Right. But why do you think we have an urge to do it?” Scott looked at him sharply. “You, too?”
“I didn’t do it, but something in me wanted to. I’m trying to figure out what it is.”
Scott let out a deep sigh. “It‘s in me too. I can’t deny it. I wish I knew myself what it is. It bothers me a lot.”
“It’s primal,” offered Marcus.
“Yes. Yes, you could certainly call it that.”
The changing needs of the American military campaign in Vietnam had dictated that Marcus’ unit continue to patrol the jungles as they had been doing, with only what respite they could get in the field. It was almost a year before they meandered their way back to the base camp. Only a few of the men now in the company had been among those who had trekked out from the camp so long ago.
When they finally tramped into the base, they found that it had changed. It was bigger, and more crowded with people. There were more tents, more thatched-roof buildings, and a second quonset hut. They learned that the field hospital now took up all of the inside of one of them, whereas before the space had been divided between hospital, headquarters, and kitchen.
The atmosphere of the camp was different too – it was more somber and edgy. As they were soon told, a large part of the reason for this was that the camp had been suffering more enemy attacks of late. There was no beer party for the returning troops, though rice wine and rotgut whiskey was sold surreptitiously by the Vietnamese “hooch-keepers.” And a new little complex of huts had sprung up a short distance down a trail from the camp; it seemed to be largely inhabited by young Vietnamese women in conspicuously non-native costumes.
After the Marines had eaten a meal, Marcus and some of his buddies went on sick call for minor wounds that had gotten no attention in the bush. He was shocked when he saw Gail: she looked absolutely haggard. Her sparkling, positive energy was gone; she now seemed to be haunted by an aura of gloomy foreboding. Her hair was disheveled and her uniform unkempt.
When the moment came and she appeared with her clipboard, her face at first glance seemed stolidly expressionless; but Marcus could tell that she was clenching her jaw. “Corporal Christianson,” she announced; Marcus had been promoted again in the field, to Corporal E-4. He followed her back into the ward and saw the dimensions of its change. Whereas before it had been a small room with a handful of beds, occupied mostly by Vietnamese, now it filled most of the long space of the large quonset hut. The row of beds on one side was still filled with Vietnamese, but
the ones across the aisle all had Americans in them. The medical personnel working amongst them seemed harried, hurried, and downright distraught.
Gail had Marcus sit down in the small space reserved for examinations. As she looked over his wounds she whispered to him very covertly, being careful to make no glance nor gesture that might be noticed by an observer. “Thank God you made it back,” she said, looking very professional and detached. “My heart was in my throat when your company came in. I cried when I saw you – I don’t think anyone noticed.
I cried and I thanked God.”
“It’s wonderful to see you again,” said Marcus softly. “But what’s happened? I think you’re wounded worse than me.”
She darted a look at his face; it was almost the expression of a fearful animal. She quickly recovered her poise and, her finger on a long cut on Marcus’ arm, said in a louder voice, “This looks bad.”
“That? Why, that’s just a scratch.”
“I think it may be infected. Pick up your shirt and come with me.”
They walked to a corner on the far side of the ward, where another nurse was just corning out of a doorway with a patient. It was a tiny cubicle with an examining table and a medicine cabinet. Gail closed the door behind them, then turned and said, “Oh, Marcus ~ I. . . I. . .” And now she could no longer constrain herself. Her eyes grew wide and welled with tears; she fell against his naked chest and wept, struggling to soften the sound of the sobs, for the walls and door were very thin. He embraced her, and stroked her head. “It’s been such hell!” she whispered. “People mangled and mutilated, not enough medicine, too few of us to tend to them properly…. And you never know from one minute to the next whether the Viet Cong are going to attack the camp. And. . . and. . . .” He hugged her and kissed her forehead. “You’re doing your God’s honest best,”
he said. “You’re coping with a hellish situation in the best light of God‘s love.”
She pulled away from him, looking even more tortured. “That’s the worst of it: I’m not! I’m betraying everything I’ve ever believed in. I’m not doing God’s work any more ~ I’ve failed him, I wasn’t good enough. I used to not believe in the Devil, but now I’m terrified that I was wrong. Only a Devil could cause the horror I’ve seen in the last year, and I’ve fallen into his hand. Marcus, I’m ruined! Morally, spiritually ruined, and I don’t know what to do.”
He reached out and took her hand. “We have to talk,” he said; “not here.”
“Yes. There are constant sentries now around the camp after dark, but I get them to let me through so I can go to my spot. But how can we do it so they don’t see us together?”
“I’ll go there before nightfall and wait for you.”
“It’ll be a long wait. We’re working twelve-hour shifts.”
“That’s no problem.”
“Okay. See you then.”
He found his way to the clearing and waited, his M-16 near his hand, his senses alert. He enjoyed the shifting play of shadow on the foliage as the sun set, and basked in the light of the crystal stars in the night so black he could taste it. At last there was a rustle in the. brush, and she came.
“Marcus?” she said softly. She, too, was alert for the presence of enemies.
He took her hand, and it felt totally natural to both of them that they should embrace and kiss, passionately, almost desperately. But after awhile Gail pulled away. They sat down. She proffered a flask of fruit juice she had brought, with ice. He drank of it gratefully. Then he said, “You’ve suffered.”
“As if you haven’t! Marcus, is life supposed to be like this?”
He hesitated, then said: “We‘ve survived. That counts for a lot.”
“It‘s not enough! We have to stay human. I haven’t succeeded at that. Have you?”
Their night vision had grown just strong enough for eye contact. He looked at her calmly and said, “Yes. In fact, my humanity has deepened and solidified. There are a couple of things I still need to clarify, but I can honestly say that I’m more of a real human being now than when I walked out of here a year ago.”
“And you … you killed a lot of people.”
“I killed a lot of gooks, yes. I killed the enemy. That‘s what a soldier does.”
“But that’s it ~ ‘gooks’, ‘Gooks‘ are less than human, and to see them that way makes us inhuman too. Terrible things have happened on the ward, and I’ve been seeing them as gooks myself – any Vietnamese, not just the Cong we get as patients sometimes. And it just tears me up inside. I’m not supposed to kill them ~ I’m not a soldier, I’m a nurse. I’m supposed to heal them. But I’ve been killing them instead! So what does that make me? A murderer, that’s what! Marcus, I’m going to hell! And I don’t mean that from any childish religious belief. It’s totally, horribly real. I’m in hell right now!”
“I can see that.” He closed the small distance between their bodies and enfolded her in his arms, and they sat like that. “Tell me what’s been going on.”
She shivered up against him, then began speaking. “The war is getting bigger ~ at least the American involvement in it is. You can see the situation at the hospital. It seems like the increase in casualties just always stays one jump ahead of the increase in supplies and personnel.
“It was insidious ~ we hardly noticed it at first, but when we began to run short of medicine and time, it just seemed natural to give the GIs what they needed, and skimp on the Vietnamese patients. But there have been times when they bring in a mass of casualties from a big battle, and things get desperate. There’s not even enough drugs to properly treat all the GIs, and then the Vietnamese get nothing at all. All of us nurses do it; the doctors just kind of shrug at it. So they condone it, but they‘re glad enough to slough off the actual dirty work onto us.
“It’s the same thing with time and attention. A lot of patients need to be watched continuously. The IV has to keep running, the oxygen tanks have to be replaced, serious wounds have to be monitored – all those things. When it gets too frantic, or when a lot of people are needed to assist in a big emergency operation, nobody watches the Vietnamese. Today on my shift a man died because a plug of mucus got stuck in his trachea. Nobody noticed, because nobody was watching him. When I found him he had a horrible, contorted look on his face because he had strangled to death. I almost keeled over on top of the body.”
“So this is what you meant when you said you’ve been killing people.”
“I’ve killed so many that way! But it gets worse. Something happened a month or so ago … or maybe it was three or four months – time is such a blur! They brought in a GI who was wounded really bad. He had been shot by a machine gun and was full of bullet holes. As fast as we put blood into him, he bled it out. The doctor was working frantically to close all his wounds, and three of us nurses were assisting him. We thought we could save him, and were working so hard at it!
“Now it so happened that a Viet Cong casualty had been brought in at the same time. He was unconscious, and we had him hooked up to an IV. He finally came to, and realized that he was in an American hospital. He ripped the tubes out of his arm, broke the IV bottle against the side of the bed, then staggered over and with the broken bottle he ... he slit the throat of the GI we were working on.”
“The bastard!“said Marcus. “The fucking gook bastard! Pardon my language.”
“I guess the reaction I had was something like that. I was so shocked and astonished ~ it took me a second to grasp that this had actually happened. But then I did, and … I still can’t believe what I did next. It’s like it wasn’t me doing it, like I just stood back and watched as something took over my body and. . . and. . .”
“What did you do?”
“I pulled out my sidearm and stuck it right in the gook’s face. I mean, the m-m-m-man, the Vietnamese.”
“The gook. So then what?”
“I did it so fast and fluidly ~ he wasn’t expecting it. He just went bug–eyed and threw up his hands – he was gesturing “Don’t shoot! Don‘t shoot!”
“And ... ?”
“And I shot him anyway. I drilled him right between the eyes. He died instantly.”
“Good for you!”
“That‘s what the doctor said. He had drawn his pistol too ~ he just hadn’t been as fast as me. He told me that if I hadn’t done it, he would have.”
Marcus hugged her tightly. They let out a long sigh together. He said, “It looks like you were wrong.”
“What do you mean? About what?”
“You are a soldier. And it sounds to me like you’re a damned good one.”
“Marcus, what about the Hippocratic oath? Doctors and nurses aren’t supposed to kill patients ~ under any circumstances, even war. I murdered that man, in cold blood. I’ll never know the presence of God again. I’m damned, literally damned.”
“So,” said Marcus, “you don’t think God loves you any more?”
“I’ve betrayed the love of God, which is his oneness. I’ve committed an act of mortal separation against a fellow human being. How can I ever again experience God’s unity?”
“There‘s an answer to that, but I don’t think it would make sense to you in your present state of mind. So maybe we can try a different approach. When I was with the Hindus, I learned a few things about polytheism.”
“You mean there’s something real to it? It’s not just a bunch of old myths?‘
“I know it’s real, because I‘ve experienced it directly in my spiritual visions.”
“But when we talked before, you seemed to understand so deeply about how everything is one in God. ”
“There’s no contradiction. At one end of the spectrum there‘s the ultimate cosmic unity, at the other end there’s us humans incarnate in the material world, and in between there are the Gods.”
“The Gods, plural?”
“Yes. Our present-day culture treats them only as myths, but it wasn’t always so. Our ancestors knew the Gods, and honored them. They knew that they could be perfectly at one with their own God, and still slay the people of another God. In fact, sometimes it’s required.”
“That sounds so … so primitive!”
“It’s primal. It can be very primitive under certain circumstances, but it can also be very advanced and enlightened. It usually depends on the nobility of soul of the people who are doing it.”
“I don’t know, Marcus. It all seems very strange. Are you telling me that our Christian God, or perhaps our American God, is not the same being as the Buddhist or Vietnamese God?”
“If I recall accurately enough what you said before, I agree with it: the same source operates through all the Gods, as it does through everything in the Universe. The mistake is to conclude that this final unity resolves all conflict and dissolves all individual identity. It doesn‘t. The Gods of the different peoples are separate beings just as much as we humans are, on our level. And none of this would have sounded strange to any of the billions of people who have lived on this Earth for the last ten thousand years. We’re the strange ones, with our warped little modern ways of
“And you’re saying that our God wanted me to kill the Viet Cong … because he had a different God?”
“Not just because he had a different God, but because his God and our God are currently in a state of hostility toward each other. That can change, of course, but until it does our spiritual duty is to act as the instruments of our God and carry on the war against the enemy, who are the instruments of their God. So I think you‘re also mistaken on another point: as far as I can see you’re still very much doing the work of God.”
“Marcus, if this were the Middle Ages, what you‘re saying would sound perfectly plausible.”
“I happen to think that the present culture is a degeneration from that of the Middle Ages. But let’s not get theoretical. The important thing is that your favoring the American patients over the Vietnamese is not wrong. It’s natural, it’s primal, and it‘s the will of God. Your taking vengeance on the enemy who killed your patient was not morally wrong. It wasn’t a sin, it was an act of heroism! You should feel proud, not guilty.”
She was silent for a moment. He could see a faint light enkindle itself in her eyes. He was beginning to reach her, at least a little.
“All right,” she said, “answer me this. Can you actually sit there and tell me that God loves me for killing the gook?”
She could barely discern his smile in the starlit darkness. “I can indeed, but I’m afraid your way of thinking about all this is still too tangled up in Ophidian contradictions.”
“Tangled up in what?”
“I’m sorry there’s not time enough now for me to even begin telling you about the Ophidians. If we ever get out of this crazy war, I’ll explain it all. I think it‘ll clarify a lot of things.”
Marcus was scheduled to get out of the war very soon. His yearlong tour of duty was up; with a few other men in his unit, he was awaiting the arrival of a Caribou to fly them to Saigon. The transport planes were in short supply because of heavy demand elsewhere, but he had been told it would be at most a matter of days.
The day after he talked with Gail, the camp was attacked. It was assaulted by the largest force of Viet Cong that had ever been amassed against it in its short history. “Looks like they really want to run us out this time,” said Major Harrison as he grabbed his ammo and dashed out the door of his office to oversee the defenses.
Marcus had an assigned slot in the formal plan of readiness against an attack, but as the black-clad Cong swarmed across the perimeter despite the heavy fire against them, he ignored his orders and headed toward the quonset hospital. An Army unit encircled it, firing furiously at the enemy who encroached ever closer. Waves of them kept pouring from the jungle, leaping over the bodies of their bleeding comrades.
Marcus joined in the defensive fire of the GIs. When a machine-gunner near him was shot, he grabbed the M-60 and turned it on the gooks with deadly effectiveness. When the last round was spent he had no time to grab a fresh ammo-belt from the body of the dead man, for the VC were on him. He engaged them hand-to-hand, clubbing them with his weapon until he was able to tear from the hands of one of them a rifle with bayonet. Then he slashed and speared and shot, until a blow from a blunt object sent him spinning to the ground. The fire of the GIs prevented his attackers from finishing him off; as he picked himself up he was grabbed by a sergeant saying, “Quick, over here!”
He ran a short distance with a group of scurrying soldiers. They reached a partially sheltered space between some huts. Somebody handed him a rifle, and pointed back in the direction from which they had come. Marcus quickly scanned the situation, and saw that the NCO had organized a strategic retreat to this position, from whence they could hold off the enemy and defend themselves, but little more. And then he saw something that made his blood run cold. “They’re getting into the hospital!” he shouted.
“Be cool, Corp,” yelled the sergeant at him. “If we can save our own skins here, maybe we can get in there and help ‘em later.”
“They’ll all be dead,” said Marcus, but realized the futility of their position. He looked around desperately, and considered the wall of jungle at their backs. There were no actual paths in that part of the brush, but Marcus knew from his private explorations that it was possible to move through it. Maybe some of them could circle around in that way to the other side of the hospital.
With the band of soldiers still under intense fire, Marcus proposed this to the sergeant. He was dubious, but Marcus talked him into it. The sergeant motioned to some soldiers, and told them, “Go with the Marine here.”
“Do we have any heavy weapons?” said Marcus.
“An 84 recoilless,” said the sarge. The bazooka-like weapon was useless for the close-in fighting they were engaged in, but might do some good in a different situation.
Marcus led his men into the bush. He picked his way through vines and nettles, wishing they had a machete. It reached the point where they had to crawl. At last, though, they arrived at a spot where the sloping side wall of the quonset hut was right up against the brush of the jungle.
Marcus clambered through the low branches of a tree and looked through a window. He saw that the Viet Cong had the medical personnel backed into a corner on the far side, where they were still offering resistance with their sidearms and a single rifle. He saw that the area just inside his window was the side of the ward where the beds of the Vietnamese patients were lined. And now he knew what he had to do.
He said to his men: “We‘re going to blow a hole in the side of the wall, right here.” The problem was getting enough distance with the 84 so that they wouldn’t blow themselves away as well, and a clear shot through the foliage. Marcus scrabbled through the vegetation to a distance of 15 yards. It was still too close, but he quickly heaped up a mound of dirt and rocks as cover for himself. Meanwhile, he ordered the men to hack a trajectory with their bayonets as best they could, a narrow tunnel through the brush for the shell to travel from Marcus‘ position to the wall of the hospital.
In about two minutes they were as ready as Marcus felt they could afford to be. The men took cover to the sides. Marcus aimed the weapon. There was still greenery obscuring the path of the projectile; he only hoped there was nothing solid enough to stop or deflect it. He pulled the trigger and instantly dropped behind his tiny barricade.
There was an ear-splitting WHOOMPHI and the corrugated metal splintered inward. Marcus leapt up and shouted to his men, “Aim before you fire! Watch out for our people!” Then he hurled himself through the hole in the wall, followed by his squad.
It was the moment after the explosion, and the Cong were still confused. It took only a second to see that all the Americans were huddled in the one corner ~ including Gail, at the sight of whom Marcus silently thanked God – so the troops were able to spray the enemy with deadly fire. In short order they reached the beleaguered medical people, and pushed back the Viet Cong with their bullets.
It looked like it would be only a temporary respite. They were still desperately outnumbered, and when the effects of the element of surprise were gone, there would be nothing to stop the horde of Cong from swarming over them.
And then matters appeared to grow even grimmer. Rifle butts began to batten on the opposite door of the quonset hut, behind them. Now it seemed clear that in an instant the enemy would burst in through the barricade and crush them from both sides like insects in a pincer.
The door shattered open. It seemed like a dream to Marcus when he heard the voice of Captain Scott holler: “Heads up, gooks!” But it was real, and a heartbeat later his own Marine unit poured into the ward, unleashing a titanic barrage of fire. Many of them were armed with machine guns. The enemy retreated, falling over themselves to get out the opposite door. Most of them didn’t make it.
Marcus looked out the window and saw signs of a rout of the Viet Cong taking place out there as well. It was apparent that the strength of the camp’s defenses had rallied itself, and would hold – they would not be overrun, they would win this battle.
With that settled, he turned to Gail. She looked like she wanted to throw her arms around him but was holding back because of the presence of the other people. Marcus surveyed the situation, and thought quickly. He said, “This way, fast!”, and beckoned her toward the hole in the wall. She followed his gestured directions as he motioned her through and into the brush outside. To the distracted glance of a casual observer, he might simply have been escorting her to a safe place. “C‘mon, follow me,” he said, and commenced to struggle through the jungle in the same direction he had been going with his men on their rescue mission. She obeyed, and he explained: “Unless I‘ve completely lost my bearings, this should intersect with the path to your spot very soon … ah,” At that moment he broke through a final tangle, and they stepped out of the rough onto the relatively clear ground of the trail.
He put his arm around her to hurry her off in the direction of the spot, but suddenly she held back. “Marcus, wait,” she said, “why do you want to go to the spot? We have duties. There‘s going to be so many wounded after the battle. We have to go back.”
He turned to her, looking absolutely puzzled. It was as if such considerations hadn‘t even occurred to him. Why did he want to go to the spot?
He looked at her again. He looked her up and down. And then he knew.
Moving so swiftly that she was taken utterly by surprise, he took hold of her firmly but gently, picked her up, draped her over his left shoulder, and commenced to run through the jungle.
They must‘ve gone a hundred yards before Gail gathered her wits enough to shout at him: “Marcus, stop! Have you gone crazy? What are you doing? Put me down!” He didn’t answer, but only trotted swiftly along until they were at the spot.
He set her down onto the grass, then sat next to her, with his rifle on the ground nearby. She looked very frightened. “Don‘t be afraid,” he said. “I’m still myself. I haven’t flipped out from battle fatigue or anything.”
“Then let‘s go back to the camp right now.” She began to rise, but Marcus instantly clamped a hand onto her wrist. She tested the strength of it, and knew she was at his mercy. “Why are you doing this? I love you. At least I did.”
“That’s why. You still do. And I love you.”
“If you did, you wouldn’t be violating my trust like this.”
“You’ll see,” he said, “everything’s going to turn out all right.” Then he took her by the shoulders and planted his mouth upon hers, and they kissed.
She responded instinctively from the times they had done it before. Now, however, as soon as the implication of the new tableau occurred to her, she resisted, pushing him back … or trying to.
He was physically insistent. Never did he hold her or move her in a way that caused her the least pain, but relentlessly he forced her to do everything he wanted. Every slightest move she made toward escape or evasion was instantly and effectively countered. She was helpless.
He caressed her legs and arms so delicately that she found herself getting aroused in spite of herself. Then he began to take off her clothes. “No!” she said, “no, don‘t! Marcus, for God’s sake, stop! Don’t do this!” But he continued.
Naked now, she lay open to his gaze. “God, but you’re beautiful!’ he whispered. The way his eyes drank her in would‘ve turned her scarlet, had she not already been tanned by the Sun from lying naked and alone on this very spot. The feeling was exquisite, and unendurable. Her arms moved of their own accord to cover what they could, but he took hold of them and pinned them to the ground. He straddled her like this, grinning. Then he let her go for a moment, and began to remove his own clothes.
He left the pants for last. When at length he undid his belt and let them drop to his ankles, she couldn‘t suppress a gasp. His member was erect, as if engorged with the blood of the men he had just killed. Now it moved toward her as he knelt back down, and she cowered away from it. It was the first one she had ever seen in this condition, and it looked frightening and gigantic.
He did not yet seek penetration, but instead with fingers and tongue he deliciously fibrillated all of her private parts until, against her best efforts to resist spiritually if not physically, she was gasping in ecstasy instead of distress. “Aah,” said Marcus to her in a soft croon, “that’s wonderful. Just keep letting go like that. Everything‘s going to be fine, you’ll see.”
Of all the sensations stimulating her, the feel of his hard penis brushing and bobbing against different parts of her body was the most astonishing to her. It was as if a magic plasm was pouring out of it and into her, filling her with needles of intense release wherever it touched. Now like a white raptor it began to circle her pink labia, and finally, as she trembled, it snaked its way inside. It pushed up against a last barrier of defense, stretched it, and finally entered with a sense of tearing. There was pain, but she barely noticed it in the tumult of new feelings that now arose from her loins and her heart and her very soul. God was here, and more glorious than he had ever been in any past appearance, for the bliss he had given her then had never been of the body. N ow her whole being was roused into the passion of gathering oneness. She marveled that though Marcus was inside of her, she for her part was being drawn ineluctably into him. And now, now she saw it: it was impossible, incredible, but absolutely real: she was one with Marcus, and Marcus was God.
Marcus was amazed at the love he felt for Gail. As they approached climax, he realized that the strength of the impending union was greater than with any woman he had ever been with. He sensed that Gail was ready, so he opened the pulsing floodgate of orgasm.
They faced each other in the moment of release. Her mouth dropped open in boggled astonishment as his eyes became perfect mirrors. an infinite crystal pool of union. She cast off the last cloying shred of defense and plunged in, willing to be consumed, surrendering to the spasms that now possessed her body.
The moment was mutual, as Marcus, too, fell into the magic mirror that had irised open. They became one. There was nothing in the world but a scintillating atom of bliss.
But then, instead of reveling in it for an endless orgasmic moment as he had done before, Marcus suddenly found himself sucked up through the bottleneck of it into a strange new place. Here there was no delight, no rapture of elated union. Instead he was confronted with the great grim Godawful fact that he was alone.
Where was his lover now, she in whom he had taken such joy of body and soul? She was gone, and he found no solace, for stretching around him was the stark black blankness of a Void, an emptiness so utter that it struck ice into the fibre of his being.
Where had the Universe gone, and the myriad creatures who lived in it? He knew the answer, though it rattled his sanity to grasp it. They were all inside of him, for he was all that is. He was more than Marcus now, and more than any God he had ever known. Somewhere down below in the realms inside him, there were lovers and mystics and acid-trippers blissing out on unity. They were able to do that, rapt in the last illusion, only because he, the Representative of the Union of Humans, sent down his energy to them through the bottleneck. He was the source of their joy, his was the heart from which flowed all love, but he himself was in agony! His heart beat like a sledgehammer, for it alone sustained the entire cosmos. Was he trapped here forever in this condition? For the first time in his life he was terrified, he who had faced down countless enemies in battle. In his mind he cried out: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
This reminded him that as Christ on the Cross he had found death, and surcease from abandoned anguish, and afterwards resurrection. Was there no way to end his misery now?
He looked around and found that there was. In his right hand he held an instrument of death. It seemed to be a knife, or perhaps a gun, or even a skull. He focused on it more closely and realized that it was Death itself. the very entity, the Platonic Form of it, the ground of its ghastly being. Everything that had ever died, and ever would. did so by a projection of essence from the thing in his right hand.
This was it, this was surely what he needed. To cease. to stop, to escape the crushing loneliness.
But what then? Would he come back? Or, since he was All, would it literally be the end of everything? Forever and ever, the Void. As unbearable as was his pain, he could bear this prospect even less. There had to be a better way.
He looked around again, and was startled by a light. It was coming from his own left hand. It had been a tiny spark, but as he focused the energy of his attention on it, it grew brighter and larger until it became a marvelous star, sparkling forth rays into the Void. He saw that this light was the life of men, and women, and all sentient beings ~ a beacon against nonbeing, shining in the darkness, and the darkness grasped it not. It shone because he willed it, because he was willing to suffer here in the Void as the One Being, and hence to sustain the existence of all the fragmented multitudes inside him, who never suspected that the glorious God they aspired to was this tormented, lonely wretch, bedeviled by the poles of life and death, caught on the prongs of a choice he could never make.
Or could he? The memory of Marcus stirred in the mind of God. He remembered all of the men he had killed on the battlefield. He had certainly inflicted a lot of death on the myrtad beings in that tiny, illusory war going on somewhere down in the bowels of this, his macrocosmic body. Certainly an act of balande was called for now. How could he send forth the Star of Life into the world, to bring a fresh birth among the people?
That thought gave him the answer. He became aware again that this state he was in was sustained by the orgasm still convulsing his physical body. As formidably eternal as it seemed on this end of it, it would be but a brief spasm down there on the Earth. So he grasped the light in his outstretched hand and plunged with it back down through the bottleneck of allness, to the multifarious material world. He didn’t stop till he had driven it through his phallic chakra and deep, deep into the womb of Gail. He saw it there inside her, a glimmering golden fertilized egg, an embryonic soul, awaiting a zygote to grow from its center and fill it with physical being.
The act was over now. They lay together like embryos themselves, fetuses curled up into each other, lost in a soft caress. When they could put it off no longer, they began to stir, to disentangle themselves and remember that they were not one but two individual human beings, each with a soul and dharma.
Gail opened her eyes again, and the first sight of Marcus brought almost everything back. She clutched him and hugged him and finally began to cry. When she could control her voice she said, “I‘m sorry I gave you such a hard time at first. I’m so sorry ~ I didn’t know. You were right. It’s incredible. It’s destiny. It‘s everything. It’s a miracle, and we’re together!”
As they stroked each other and kissed, Marcus wondered if her psychic-intuitive powers were strong enough for her to be able to tell that she was pregnant. His telempathy gave him the sense that the answer was no. He decided to wait until later to tell her.
The camp in the following days set about the work of restoring itself. There were now many more casualties to be tended in the hospital, but the situation was somewhat alleviated by emergency personnel who were flown in on Hueys from the larger field hospital at Carn Ranh Bay; some of the wounded were also taken there on the return flight. Most of the soldiers were set to work on the projects of repair and rebuilding. Everyone was busy, but in a deeper sense they were more relaxed, for Intelligence had informed them that all the Viet Cong forces in the vicinity had spent themselves in this concerted attack on the camp. It was a feeling that they had weathered the worst and could breathe a little easier, at least for awhile.
Marcus may have been the only one who went about his duties in a dark, somber mood. His buddies remarked that he always seemed to be scowling under a cloud, a strange attitude for someone who was about to ship out for home. How could he tell them that he had discovered the ultimate meaning of life, and it had turned out to be a horror worse than hell?
After brooding for what seemed like a long time, Marcus approached the warrant officer in charge of the camp’s communication equipment. and asked, “can you get ahold of the outside world on that rig?”
“It would have to go through the central operator at Headquarters Saigon,” said the WO, “but at the moment it’s pretty iffy even reaching them. We’re still putting it all back together after the attack.”
“How soon do you think it’ll be operational?”
“Could be two hours or two days. But you’d need authorization. Obviously, we can’t just let all the troops phone home whenever they feel like it.” I
“I understand, sir,” said Marcus.
He talked about it to Captain Scott, explaining that he desperately needed to make a personal call. Scott intervened with the Major, noting the commendations and medals Marcus had won on the battlefield. He also recounted how during the recent attack the Marine unit had battled its way to the back door of the beleaguered hospital and finally broken in, only to discover that Marcus was already inside. Scott explained that if it hadn’t been for Marcus‘ daring initiative in leading the squad of GIs in that remarkable maneuver, all the medical personnel would have been killed by the Congo That was enough for Major Harrison, and he authorized Marcus‘ long distance call.
“Okay,” said the communications officer, “I think she’ll fly. Where should I tell Saigon that you want to call?” Marcus handed him a piece of paper with the name and number. The WO looked surprised. “Srinagar, India?”
“It’s my alma mater.”
The man shrugged, gave the information to the operator, and handed Marcus the headset and mouthpiece. “It may take a minute or two to get through. I’m going around back to check the connections. If there are any problems, just holler.”
“I will, sir; thanks.”
Marcus listened. There was a series of whistles and buzzes, followed by a loud click. He thought he had lost the connection, but then a familiar voice came on the line: “Hello, you have reached Asgartha.”
“Teacher! This is Marcus. Are you in the office? How did you happen to pick up the phone?”
“It’s delightful to be in touch with you again, pupil,” said Vasudeva. “I’m glad that I was in the right place at the opportune moment.”
“Teacher, listen. Something very strange has happened. You know I‘m fighting with the American forces in Vietnam. I’ve fallen deeply in love with a wonderful Solarian woman here. We made love, and I passed into nirvikalpa samadhi, as I often do in such moments. But then I entered into a very different state, a terrible one. I… I was all alone. I mean completely. All the worlds were gone ~ the Universe was empty ~ there was only me. It was so awful – I wanted to die, but I was afraid that if I did, all life and light would be gone forever.”
“I see,” said the voice on the phone very evenly. “And was there anything else there in that space or that state which you recall?”
“Yes, a star. I held it in my hand. I felt it was the source of all life.”
“And what did you do when you saw the star?”
“I brought it back down into samsara and implanted it in the womb of my woman.”
There was a moment of breathless silence. Then Vasudeva said: “Well done, pupil! I knew you would not fail the great initiation when the time came for the rite.”
“What? That was the initiation you spoke of?”
“Yes, indeed. It is the last great leap beyond what you had previously attained. It’s called Hqji nirvikalpa samadhi.”
“Yes, I learned the name at Asgartha, but I had no idea of ... of what it would be like.”
“Now that you have seen it, do you think anyone could have conveyed any accurate sense of it in advance of the experience?”
“No. Never. It would be impossible. But, Teacher …. ”
“I am no longer your teacher.”
“What do you mean?”
“Once a soul has traversed the Void and attained Haji, no man can ever again be his teacher. You must now become a teacher of others. You must lead them to the light of what you have rightly called the Star of Life. Our spiritual cousins would call you a Buddha. In the holy Hindu tradition, you are now an Avatar. Or you can be, if you fulfill the dharma. For many are they who come back from Haji and forsake the Way of Life. They use the power of this ultimate knowledge for selfish and ignoble ends, and thus become the servants of darkness and death.”
“Teacher ... I mean, Vasudeva – I’m overwhelmed. Is it really the ultimate experience? Is there in the end no consolation for us from the loneliness?”
“There is in fact another state beyond Haji nirvikalpa samadhi. It is not taught in our doctrine, but is reserved only for the initiate who attains Haji. This is because the information would be meaningless without the knowledge of Haji.”
“That makes sense. So what lies beyond? I realize that words won’t convey the essence of it, but even a mere intellectual inkling would be very important to me at this moment.”
“Yes, and so fallible are words in this matter that the Masters have elected not to give the state a name. We refer to it simply as the Nameless. I can tell you that it is at once as black as the Void you have already seen, and more brilliant than the light of the Star of Life. And yet it is neither light nor dark.”
“And what is it like to be there? Is consciousness still alone?”
“Aloneness is irrelevant to it, for it is no longer consciousness. But neither is it unconsciousness. By means of its ability to be aware and unaware at the same time, the Nameless is master of the whole of creation. It, or he, has all the attributes your Western theologians attribute to God: he is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent. He can be anywhere in the Universe he desires, and at any point in the past or future. And yet he is not a ‘he’, nor even really an ‘it’. The Nameless simply is. And also is not.
“If all this sounds like a riddle, forgive me, Marcus. It is the best that mere words can do.”
“I understand that. And what must I do to attain the Nameless?”
“Alas. that cannot be taught. Your dharma will lead you there. I would advise you to concentrate on fulfilling the demands of Haji.”
“And how may I do that?”
“Reflect on it, and you’ll see. You‘re going to be a father.”
“Ah – of course.”
“It’s very sad in this Kali Yuga. Only rare souls like yourself attain Haji in the natural way, that is, through intercourse. In the Golden Age, the calibre of the population was such that it was the norm. The young man and woman in the prime of their life would sparkle with optimistic idealism, naive but beautiful. Their heads would be filled with what seemed to be wondrous goals ~ there would always be new worlds to conquer. Then they would mate, and in their first love-making they would cross the abyss that separates soul from soul, and find themselves in Haji. They would emerge chastened and disturbed, as you did, and filled with a sense of horror at the actual reality of life. This is why to this day the first sexual experience is referred to as losing one‘s innocence. Even in the Golden Age, many of these young individuals would not have had the fortitude or the spiritual maturity to continue on in life in the shadow of Haji – they would choose death. and be lost. But nature has so arranged it that by the very act in which they lose their illusions. the young couple has now been given a compelling reason to go on: the baby they have conceived. which must be given birth and nurtured. And so life replenishes itself, from one
generation to the next.”
“That’s frightening,” said Marcus. “It’ll take me a while to work this out and deal with it.”
“And while you are working it out, you will take the necessary steps to care for your child?”
“Ah,” said Vasudeva.
There was a pause. Then Vasudeva asked, “Did your woman cross the abyss to Haji with you?’
“No. She saw me as God.”
“Indeed. That is what inevitably happens when one partner gets to the edge of the abyss and does not cross. Her soul cannot yet handle the full weight of the revelation, so you are her guardian from its terrors. You are her protector, and also in a sense her captor. Her soul may not be ready to face Haji at all in the whole length of her present incarnation, and thus she will never be able to see the light of the Star of Life except as it shines through you. Thus the center of her soul will be in you, and she will be bound to you as surely as if she were your sudra on a chain. Thereby you will have the responsibility of her care and development. You must prepare her for the day when at last she, too, can cross the abyss, as she must eventually, since it is inevitable for every sentient being. Only in this way can she – and you – become free.”
“That’s remarkable,” said Marcus.
“Do you doubt it?”
“Not at all. It completely clarifies what I vaguely felt and suspected.”
“Is there anything else you’d like to discuss?”
“Yes. I have now fully reactivated the Kshatriya imprints I acquired as Pravahan, and so, hopefully, I’ll be in a position to correct the dharmic error I committed in that incarnation. But I’m troubled by something that happened after a battle.” Marcus then described how he had had forcible sex with the village woman, felt the urge to kill her, and then encountered the “double veterans“. Finally he asked, “Why do you think I had that urge?”
Vasudeva said, “Was the woman a Solarian?”
“No. She was Vietnamese.”
“Think of it in contrast with your experience of Haji with your lover, and all that we have said of it. That, too, happened after a battle. That, too, was a forcible act. And yet you had no desire to kill your lover afterwards.”
“That’s right.” Marcus thought for several moments. At length he said, “If I conceived a child with a Dasyu: ~ a non-Solarian – it would violate the dharma.”
“So the urge to kill her was a ... a natural instinct, to rectify the situation. To prevent the unholy child from coming into the world.”
“Exactly. It is natural for warriors to take the women of their foes after conquering them in battle. The dharma does not forbid this to Solarians. But if the foe and his woman are Dasyus, then the moment of moral choice is before you ravish her.”
“And the choice is. . . to abstain from the warrior‘s rapine and let her live, or to indulge in it, and then. . . .”
“Yes. One way or the other, there must be no bastard from the act. Solarian seed must not be defiled. You remembered the dharma in your heart, but not in your mind.”
“Do you think I should go back and try to …. ”
“It’s too late. You will have to carry your sin inside yourself until the Gods offer you a way of atonement.”
There was no more to be discussed. Marcus exchanged affectionate farewells with Vasudeva, then pressed the cut-off switch. He sighed deeply.
Just at that moment the officer reappeared. He said, “Well, I’m sorry for the delay, Christianson, but I think we’ve got ‘er patched together now. So go ahead and give it another shot.”
“What do you mean?” said Marcus. “I’m finished. I just hung up.”
“That’s impossible. Right after I walked out of here, I spotted a miswiring in the equipment around back. I had to break the connection. The line was completely dead until about a minute ago.”
Marcus smiled and shook his head. “Amazing,” he said.
The next morning Marcus was told that his plane was on the way. He‘d be leaving in a matter of hours. He immediately went to the hospital and asked to see Gail. The clerk scowled and said, “She’s on duty.”
“Tell her it’s an emergency,” said Marcus. The clerk went into the ward and a minute later reappeared, motioning Marcus inside.
He spotted her amongst the beds. She beckoned to him, and he went over to where she was talking with a young American patient. “Hello, Marcus,” she said with a smile. “This is Ron.” The two men exchanged greetings. “Now what’s the emergency?” she asked.
“Wait here,” she said. “I’ll go arrange for a break.” She strode off toward the office.
Marcus looked at Ron, and saw that he was smiling. “Some guys have all the luck,” he said. “Is she sweet on you?”
“I’ll soon find out how sweet she is.” Ron chuckled. Marcus asked, “Hurt bad?”
“Permanently paralyzed from the waste down.” Marcus winced. “Took some shrapnel in my spine.”
“I have to admit I was feeling pretty sorry for myself after they first told me. But you know, I’ve gone through an amazing change since then. I started thinking about the war, and what we’ve all been doing in it… and suddenly I began to see everything in a different light.”
“For one thing, I started to feel really bad about all the men I killed. I never felt that way out there. You know what it’s like.”
“Yes,” said Marcus.
“Now, I’m not religious in the conventional sense, but finally I just sort of… repented to whatever God there is ~ to the Universe at large, I guess. And I swore that never again would I intentionally inflict harm on another human being. It was miraculous – I felt reborn. I started to feel love for everybody I saw. I felt such love for everyone in this room – including the Vietnamese across the aisle. You may be skeptical, and I don’t blame you, ’cause I know what it was like out there. But a couple of days ago, there was a Viet Cong in that bed right there, who had been
wounded in the attack on the camp. He didn’t act hostile, so they let him walk around. It so happened that he and I both speak French, so we were able to talk.”
“What was that like?”
“When we first faced each other it was pretty tense. Just a couple of weeks before, we would’ve been aiming rifles down each other’s throats. But now I found … we both found., that we didn’t hate each other. I said to him, ‘You’re not my enemy, man. You never really were. It’s all a big mistake – there’s no such thing as enemies.’ And you know what? He agreed with me. We shook hands and forgave each other for having been enemies and fighting against each other. And then something came over the both of us, and we embraced and cried like babies. It was the profoundest experience of my life.” His voice was starting to catch as he said it, and his eyes were tearing up.
“I can see that you’re a changed man,” said Marcus.
“Yes. I had been thinking of myself as ‘half a man’, but now I know that I· can become whole. Not physically, but spiritually. I can do a lot. For one thing, when I get back home I’m going to tell people about all this – all the horrible stuff that went on in the war, and how I finally saw the light. It may be too late for me, but it’s not too late for a lot of other people – and for the world.”
“The world? What do you mean?”
“We have to stop the war. And not only this war, but all war, forever. With all the advances we’ve made, there’s just no excuse for not realizing that the human race is one big family, and to start acting like it. What’s going on here is crazy, and it’s got to stop.”
“It gets pretty crazy sometimes,” said Marcus.
Gail returned. “It‘s okay,” she said; “let’s go outside.” She smiled at the man on the bed and said, “I‘ll talk to you later, Ron.”
“I’ll wait with baited breath, Nurse Flanders.”
“He’s sweet,” she said to Marcus as they stepped into the sunlight. “It’s such a
tragedy, what happened to him.”
“Yes. A lot of people have suffered tragedies here.”
“Some of them deal with it better than others. Did he talk to you about his … his change of heart?”
“Yes, he did.”
“And … what did you think about it?”
Marcus could tell from her inflection that she had been influenced by Ron’s assertions. He said, “He’s gone through a powerful spiritual change. As you noted, it’s an act of adaptation to the extreme physical loss he’s suffered. He had been a . very masculine kind of man, a warrior; and now suddenly, catastrophically, that power and that identity have been torn away from him. There‘s obviously a good deal of spiritual depth there, or he would never have been able to make such a strong transition so quickly. And he’s pretty intelligent, so he‘s able to project his transformation onto the larger world and political situation.
“And that’s the problem. If he were content to accept what’s happened as his personal fate and deal with it on that basis, I’d have nothing to say; I’d just respect him as a human being who’s coping with a large tragedy in a sensible way. But as it is, I have to say that his new-found philosophy is as pathological as his physical condition. And in fact, it springs from it directly.”
Gail looked disturbed. “I don’t understand.”
“Do you remember our conversation last year about loving the enemy?”
“Every word of it.”
“It’s still true for me after the fact. I’ll be out of the war in a couple of days. If I ever meet a Viet Cong veteran who turns out to be an admirable fellow, I‘ll certainly be able to feel for him whatever respect or human empathy the situation merits. In a word, I could love him, to whatever extent he deserved my essential human love. In fact, there uns a man like that, a Cong, who I met on the battlefield. If I could meet such a one under peaceful conditions, I’d be pleased and proud to call him my friend, and to do my duty to him as a friend.”
“It sounds like a remarkable encounter,” said Gail. “Maybe you actually will run into him someday.”
Marcus shook his head. “As I said, I met him on the battlefield. In that situation we were enemies. So I did my duty to him as an enemy: I killed him. The principle is the same and the morality is the same.”
“That’s outrageous! I mean, I can see that it makes sense to you, but I don’t understand it. I don‘t think I ever will.”
“Right. You can’t, not completely, even though you’ve had a taste of combat yourself. It’s sexual, it’s genetic ~ it’s the essence of manhood. The awful reality for Ron is that he‘s lost that essence, for the rest of his life. His whole emotional trip about swearing to never again do harm to anyone is just a psychological embellishment of the fact that he can’t.”
“Marcus! I’m surprised at you.”
“It may sound cruel, but it’s the simple truth. As I said, I would’ve had no quibble with him if he hadn’t made it political. So I have no choice but to point out that his ‘conversion‘ to pacfism is nothing but a reflexive reaction to his having been rendered incapable of being a warrior any more ~ or of being a man.” Gail sucked in her breath, but said nothing. Marcus continued, “It’s always like that, in any culture that ever was or ever can be: pacifism can only be an expression of impotence and demasculinization ~ loss of manly will and power.
“It’s also a significant issue that Ron wants to express his views publicly. A large faction of Ophidians wants to end this war, and people like Ron will be very useful to them. He’ll play right into their hands.”
“You‘ve really got me curious about these Ophidians.”
“I hope I‘ll have the opportunity to tell you about them. When are you getting out of here?”
“Soon. I’ve been here longer than a year.”
“Hey, that’s right. Did you extend?”
“Why did you do that, when it had become such hell for you?”
She blushed, and turned aside. “I wanted to wait until your unit returned. I had to know whether you were still alive.”
They had been strolling along through the camp. Now he stopped, and looked at her. He waited until she looked him in the eyes, then made a circular motion with his head and hand indicating the people around them. The look they exchanged was a psychic caress.
He drew her aside to a place by a shed that was out of earshot but still in view of the others. Then he said, “Gail, would you like to marry me when we get back to the States?”
For a split second she appeared to be flabbergasted. Then she literally leaped into his arms and shouted, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!”
A number of passersby turned and looked at them, but only smiled and continued on. Marcus said, “Ah, Lieutenant, aren’t you concerned about what the other personnel will think?”
“Not any more! To heck with ’em! What does it matter now? We’re leaving, and we‘re going to be married! I want everyone to know.” She initiated a long, deep kiss.
“Listen, Gail,” said Marcus, “seriously, that might have been premature. There are a couple of other things I have to talk to you about.”
Now she looked worried. “Like what?”
“I’ve told you a little bit about my mission in life.”
“Yes. I don’t really understand yet what your revolution is about or who the Ophidians are, but I love you and respect you so much that I have no doubt at all that everything will become perfectly clear, and I’ll be with you all the way.”
“That’s wonderful, Gail. It means a lot to hear you say that. But there‘s a more … personal implication.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
Marcus took a breath. “Even if we were to get married, I might still want to become lovers with other women. And I might have to, to fulfill the needs of my mission.”
She was perplexed, and clearly upset. “Other women .. .! Marcus, this is a strange thing to bring up as part of a proposal.”
“I guess I’m a strange person. See, that‘s what I’m worried about. You and I have been through the kind of primal events that most people today will never experience in their whole lifetimes. This has drawn us into the most intense depths of intimacy, and I love you more than anyone I’ve ever known. But there’s so much that we still don’t know about each other! I do know myself, though, so rather than mislead you about what to expect with me, I’m laying it all out right now.”
“And I can expect that you’ll want to sleep with other women?”
“Not just any other women. Don’t misunderstand ~ I don‘t intend to play around.”
“I see. Any affair you might have will be very serious.”
“I know it makes it sound even worse, but that‘s actually fairly accurate. It may involve long-term relationships.”
‘This is all pretty hard to swallow, Marcus. What if I slept with other men?”
“That might be all right, too ~ it would depend on who the men were.”
She shrugged in exasperation. “I never imagined anything like this. I don’t know how to deal with it, or what to say.” She brooded for a time, then said, “Let me ask you this: would you be planning to take up with other women soon after we got married?“
“No. I‘m not actually planning on it at all. I just know it‘s something that very possibly could come about in the future, so I felt obliged to bring it up in advance.”
“Maybe that‘s it,” she said, skewering a thoughtful look at him. “Maybe you’re just more honest than most men. I mean, I’m pot as innocent as you may think. I know that most men eventually do have affairs after they’re married, or at least would like to; and they probably even think about that possibility when they propose to a girl. But I’ve never met a man like you before. You actually seem more honest and forthright and … and …. ”
“Yes, that’s the word: more honorable than most men. So you’re honorable enough, or foolish enough, to actually tell your intended fiancé that you might just like to
have an affair sometime after we’re married.”
Marcus laughed. “Maybe that’s it ~ I’m just a damn fool.”
They hugged and kissed again. “So,” he said, “you still accept?”
“Yes. Even with this strange proviso.”
“Hurray! I’m sorry I don’t have a ring handy.”
“That’s perfectly all right.”
“But now, the next question .... ”
“Oh, no! There’s another one?”
“Yes. Do you know that you’re going to have a baby?”
“A what? Oh, you mean after we get married …. ”
“I hope so. But I guess you don’t know then. What I mean is: you’re pregnant, right now, from when we made love.”
“What? How could you know that?”
“Um … I’m psychic.”
“You’re joking, right?”
“No. How could I joke about a thing like this?”
She stepped back for a moment, abashed. Finally she said, “Of course I considered thepossibility, but … well, I can find out easily enough. I’m a nurse; I can give myself the test.”
“It‘s going to turn out positive.”
“You sound really certain. All right, let’s assume I’m pregnant. That’s not why you made this proposal, is it?”
“If you mean, am I acting just out of a sense of obligation, no. I love you and want to marry you.” They embraced. Marcus said, “If you like, we could arrange to get married here. That is, in Saigon. The brass would probably okay it if we explained the situation. It might be embarrassing for you, but less so than if we waited till we got home.”
“I’m kind of unconventional myself. I won’t be embarrassed. I think we should wait and do it right, in the States. But listen, Marcus, I’ve fulfilled my term of service. I can resign mycommission anytime I want, and be out. But you’re still going to be in the Marines.”
“No, I’m not. I’ve already decided about that.”
“What exactly did you decide?”
“I enlisted to fight in the war. I‘ve accomplished that, so now I’m getting out.”
“How? The Marine term of enlistment is four years.”
“There are a number of different ways I’ve heard about. If one doesn’t work, I’ll try another. The thing is that I’ve made up my mind.”
“And so that’s the way it’ll be?”
“Marcus, I love you.”
They kissed again. There was the sound of a Caribou landing at the airstrip.