JohnnyGoodyear get your gun.

It's been 5 long years since the last war, but here we are again. The faces have changed, but the fighting... the fighting never goes away. New faces lead by grizzled veterans, chasing the dream. God, it all seems so naive now, down here in the mud. I hear another newbie screaming for his momma down in the No-man's land of Catbox Alley while I search my pockets for my last smoke. IWhoSawTheFace holds the lighter patiently while my hands shake in the cold nodey trench.

"Do you remember what we're fighting for any more?" I ask him as a nodeshell bursts high above us, raining hot letters.

"Not really man, I'm just in it for the chicas."

I shake my head and adjust the helmet straps between puffs. The raygun is still hot in my hands, and the cheap blue plastic is starting to crack. We let the Offendulon loose days ago and you can still hear it, late at night, howling insults at the moon. It's better that way. Like the old days.

They issued us rose-colored glasses back at boot camp, just after the draft. Poll after poll got passed around, trumpeting doom and the end times. Waves of immigrants poured in from foreign shores, shipped in by Google smugglers while we worried about a brain drain to the Commonwealth of Livejournal and the Wikipedia Republic. Writing Quality Inflation ran wild, and people were trying to buy basic votes with wheelbarrows of low-denomination nodes. The golden age of brotherhood between the wars was short lived. Politicians ramped up the rhetoric, electing fiery leaders with strong opinions, flooding the airwaves with utopian visions and screeds against the problem elements in society: The new, the old, the powerful, the powerless. When the Borg deterrent lost its teeth, pent up aggression ran like spring sap.

Democracies rot from the bottom up they say, and when John Q. Noder got wrapped up in the debate over why his vote should or shouldn't be for or against a node, I knew it was only a matter of time. Editors changed to generals, the node-market crashed, and the Gods on high stood back from the fray, just like the old days.

I was reading a daylog when Old Man Halspal came on, decked out in his Sunday best, brandishing the note high for the cameras, promising "Peace in Our Time". I put my Pope Hat in the attic and fished out the old grey crate full of firmlink grenades and short range insulting softlink shells. I'd made my bed, now I would have to kill for it.

It was raining when I met Jet-Poop down at the train station while heading for the front. He stood at the edge of the platform, getting soaked in the spray. When I asked him why he wasn't staying dry, he replied:

"You have to get used to being wet."

Then he smiled a Cheshire Cat smile and hefted his Knapsack lovingly. It was still dirty from the last war. "Do you know who is right?" I asked.

"Does it matter?"

"Probably not."

Jet-Poop whistled the theme from The A-team and wandered off down the platform.

Also, Roninspoon was totally there too. Wearing boots and everything. Seriously. I have pictures.

allseeingeye did what he was best at doing, which was rousting himself from his normal lethargic state, standing up in the trench, holding his grimy raygun over his head, and blasting it over the top of the trench in the general direction of the enemy. He never hit anything, we were quite sure of that, but it wasn't really the point. He had to run ammo count down, and every twenty minutes he'd get all animated, yell and shoot twenty round bursts. We usually took cover. The man was not a good shot.

"Take that, Jerry! Oh, you want to some a that, too? Huh? FUCKING" Burst.

"He almost popped a vein that time," I said.

"Fucking A, guv'nor," Johnny said, "I was ready with the adrenaline."

He had the syringe out, too, squirting yellowy shit out the evil looking needle straight up into the air. Fucker seemed to be looking forward to injecting that deep into somebody's body. I worried about Johnny. He'd been with doyle's unit far too long.

Simulacron3 was on the hand-crank radio, slamming the handset against anything solid in the trench, which was usually depleted powerpak cases. Halspal was on the line. "Could I have a moment of your attention? I'd like to say that mmmmbmbmmbbbbmbbbbbmmbmbmbmbbbbmbbbbb." We looked up. WTF? Sim3 smiled his shy farmboy smile. He'd dropped the receiver into the mud. We were on our own again.

"Dude," I tell him, "you're going to have to get that thing cleaned. We have to call in for supplies. We're gonna need MREs in a few days, and I'm low on Jack. ASE here's going through juice like a mofo, Johnny's not doing too well without his girlie mags, and Jet-Poop needs downers bad. If JG doesn't get his fix of Miss June he's going over the top. And if we don't trank JP I might just have to gut him myself."

"I'll do it," Johnny said, a bit too eagerly.

"No you fucking won't," I said. Jesus. You always had to stay on top of him. He had an unnatural love of things medical.

I flipped the cigarette into the mud. Fuck. Those things'll kill you. I stood up and took a few blasts over the top. My shoes were rotting off my feet and I hadn't changed clothes in a week. But I was fresh as a daisy compared to Jet-Poop. That man loved belly-crawling through the mud. Claims it made him invisible. Jet-Poop had mud all over him: clothes, gun, face, hands, everything. All you could see right now was the whites of his eyes, and when he talked, which was rarely, his mouth. He actually liked this shit: he'd have done this for free. He made most of the men nervous. He was wound up way too tight, and he'd been off his meds for two days now. We could hear the screaming in his brain. It was only a matter of time before he flipped and began attacking us. Nervous energy like his didn't discriminate too effectively between Us and Them.

The rest of us complained about the conditions, but then we always complain. We weren't going anywhere. Where could we go? The pay was good, the food wasn't bad, and we got visits from the USO ladies every month or so. No one got hurt, unless we hurt each other. So long as Halspal stayed at company command he wasn't in any danger of officer-cide, at least not right away; dem bones rarely visited, and when he did visit it was always in a helicopter hovering high enough so we couldn't throw things that could get sucked into the engines.

The truth was, we were born to be here. In this hellhole, everyplace else was a two-week R&R and every girl was Lucky, and the rest of our lives were going to be defined by what we did right here, right now. At some time in the future we'd gather at a decrepit Old Folks Home and tell stories of The Time that AllSeeingEye nearly shot his foot off, or The Time that JohnnyGoodyear injected 10ccs of highly caustic reddish fluid into a hapless new noder.

(Poor blighter never had a chance. The container had biohazard markings and DANGER PURE POETRY prominently stamped all over it. After the injection he twitched violently, but Sim3 put his big muddy boot on the lad's chest and before Johnny had even emptied the syringe the body started disintegrating right in front of us. Johnny's eyes were gleaming; he claimed it was done in the name of science.)

I read Stars and Stripes. I know that if I end my stay with this band of brothers I could head over to Wiki, where there's plenty of action. But I look at their guys: clean, white sleeveless shirts, pocket protectors; and think: I'd rather put a Johnny Special up my ass than fight for Wiki. LiveJournal? Pussies. Slashdot? Pussies.

The action's here, man. This is where I'm staying. Fuckin' A.

chiisuta sez: WRITE ME IN OR DIE.

Back in the war, I did everything I could to get into psi-ops. I never made it. Not smart enough. After failing the test a couple of times, I realised it was never going to happen so I tried another route. I made tea, swept up, cleaned the toilets; anything so that I could meet some of the leaders and ask a few questions. Anything to hear a few tidbits about the war.

Psi-ops was the nerve centre. That's where the power-brokers hung out and where decisions were made. That's where the topic was set. Down in the Psi-ops bunker, we never talked names. Code only. Names were for AOL. We--I sometimes had this fantasy that even as a volunteer toilet-cleaner, I was part of the in-crowd, though in reality, I never was--the psi-ops crew had all sorts of gradations of security and passwords. Paranoid they were, about letting anyone in on their secrets.

The heaviest codewords were for the elite team of monkeys, called webmasters. Those guys knew everything and could tap in to the mainframe whenever they wanted. Man, if you ever wanted to know what the word 'busy' meant, you just had to look at a webmaster. And they did everything in code. Heck, even their faeces were in code. That was my self-appointed job: cleaning the crap. I might have flushed away some of their waste, but I never got to speak to the webmasters--they were locked away in the depths of the bunker. God knows what they did. Something about Apaches and there was this guy called Michael, but they always spoke about him with an extra 'S' --Mice-chael. He musta been some badass, considering how they cursed him! Always threatening him with scalping or some other Apache process. Sometimes as many as three processes at once. Scary. I think they got paid in pearls. All I ever heard about was their reconditioned strings of pearls. Shows what a team we had: their elite were paid in recycled goods.

Thing is, the war came up on psi-ops from nowhere. We--they--never saw it coming. We all knew we were getting hit hard by google, the lag was getting bad, but we never knew when Wiki was stalking one of our best. One day, a bright young noder, churning out the WUs, rescuing content left right and centre. The next: nothing. No screams, no cries; no warning, but sure as hell, the Wiki had won another recruit. We'd trained 'em up, given them the tools, but Wiki took 'em like a thief in the night.

It was hard to say this back in the day, but Wiki treated them well. Took them seriously. gave them control Anyone who was any good--and the E2 recruits were among the best--quickly got on board. Welcomed in; given as much responsibility as they wanted. Wiki even made pages to make the transition from E2 easier. They knew a good thing when they saw it. First it was Wiki, then H2G2 came at us. And Dmoz. LJ came for us too.

We could never compete with that. The strongest attitude down in psi-ops was "If a coupla grunts want to join Wiki, let 'em go. Plenty more where they came from." Not that everyone thought that way. Even back then, some people saw the war coming, but louder voices; stronger egos got in the way.

We even had a couple of Wiki spies coming over here. Of course, being such intelligent intelligence officers, we spotted 'em a mile off and we sent 'em running for cover. They could barely fight, for a start, so we spat on them, cursed them and showed 'em who was boss. Wiki wants a fight? Wiki wants to set up an army? We laughed in Wiki's face!

With google we sent in the webmasters and they pretty much fixed things. But when Wiki came hunting, we didn't know what to do. It was like Korea. We knew how to fight big battles with guns and tanks and missiles: shock and awe. But guerilla warfare was something else. The trickle to WIki and LJ became a torrent. Shock and awe went out with Wharfinger. We had to win hearts and minds.

Now Hearts and Minds is what psi-ops does best. We had their minds. We knew about Evercrack, and we knew how to hook 'em. We gave 'em XP and levels and if you stayed here for ever, you even got to post a (non-copyright) picture of your choice. We knew how to keep a-hold our recruits.

Some of our best were as good as the Navy Seals. We promoted them up and up the ranks, we gave them power and responsibility for the nodeshells so that they stopped fighting. We wanted everyone to join them, up with the elite, but the training budget ran out, and too many people found the first hurdle too high. Oh yes, they were queuing up to join us, with our elite mentality and high external profile.

What did we do with them? What did we say to them? How did we help them? That was the problem. We could take their minds, but gradually, steadily, their hearts slipped away from us.

"The first thing to remember is, always treat your kite like you treat a woman."
"How d'you mean, sir? Do you mean take her home at the weekend to meet your mother?" "No, I mean get inside her five times a day and take her to heaven and back!"

--Lord Flashhart

Things look different from up here. Looking down at the battlefields, the pockmarked terrain slipping away beneath the wings of my luxuriously upholstered stratofortress and drink in hand, I wonder if it's been worth it.

So many casualties. Piper bought it at the Third Ypres, was catapulted out of the trenches by a misdirected whizbang; never saw it coming. Andy's ship was sunk when New Orleans was reduced to a pile of smoking rubble, Mardi Gras misplaced for a year. Supposedly, a lone trumpet was heard resonating amidst the debris, the marching saints sounding more like a funeral dirge. Even the company secretary got hit, lost a leg (and most of his hair) when things took a turn for the worse at the Battle of Turtle Bay.

Never believe it. I am more an antique Roman than a Dane. Here's yet some Liquor Left.


But from up here, it all looks so quiet. The smoke floats like taffeta, the afterglow of the party of the century. I recline in my barcalounger, the ice clinking in my glass, and turn on the TV. Static...static...color bars...Home Shopping Network...I consider purchasing the little ceramic kitten they're hawking, a calico bothering a tiny butterfly hanging from a little gold wire, for the sheer unadulterated hell of it. The navigator pokes his head in, tells me we've arrived and offers to refresh my drink. I haven't touched it, but I down the whiskey in one gulp and hand him the tumbler. I'm surprised by the steadiness of my hands.

The beaded curtain swishes as we bank to the left and circle back. The track lighting flickers as the engines strain to bring us to a higher altitude and the wall panels creak slightly from the change in pressure.

I put on some music and reach for the rhinestone-encrusted lever to the right of my chair. Clenching the release handle tightly in my hand (the hand without the drink in it), I pull it back. Machinery whirrs, doors open. We feel lighter, somehow. Post-natal.

Who would've thought a bombing run could be so stylish?

With apolgies to Felicia Browne Hemans
and intended to be shouted aloud by any sergeant-major with a cockney accent.

The Boy stood on
the burning deck
his Captain was
a fucking wreck
cornered deeply
the borg was out
to break his neck.

The motherfucker
wore perfume
he knew that they'd be
coming soon
the roses were all
redly strewn
pricks around
the fucking room.

Chiisuta took that
first deathwatch
a job we thought
she'd surely botch
but she spat man juice
and scratched her crotch
at the prospect of some
fresh boy notch.

The end game was
upon us all
(Hal was in his
lacey shawl)
it was less of a fight
and more of a brawl;
all gave some
but some gave all.

I saw the Poop's
own arsehole clench
as Hunter flew above
the trench.
He shouted down
"Three cheers you wench!"
as Chii displayed
her tightest clench.

She said "Don't send boys
to do a woman's job.
Don't kiss and tell
don't cum and sob.
If we want to be different
from the usual mob
we must walk the walk
or shut the gob.

We got email
from the man upstairs
I was quite surprised
caught unawares
he said he was devoid
of all worldly cares;
when you're that far gone
you can't count in pairs.

In the end we only
fight for the bloke
who stands beside us
and shares a toke
who knows the army
is a fucking joke
who joined up poor
and's worse than broke.

We've been driven back
and forth and aft
watched better men
all get the shaft
wound up dead
and even laughed
at the crap we write
that shitty draft.

But wars rage bitter
on and on
and still our fire
remains as strong
and each of us
can sing the song
of love betrayed
and led along.

The past is always
clearer, good
and men imagine
that they would
be better soldiers
if they could
return to that they
think they should.

Now let us drink
to our civil wars
and remember that
they still endorse
our love of effect
and not just cause:
The King is dead
let's fuck his whores.

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