I've fallen,
pick me up,
make me human,
paint this face,
so I look alive.

Standing on the pier in Okinawa I breath in another lung full of the brutal heat gracing this island at the tail end of summer in the western Pacific. I look down and then through the metal grating under my feet, watch another wave roll in beneath the quarter-mile long pier I'm on the end of. Every so often, there are gray stretches in the sun bleached concrete surface representing more grating. Pausing in the middle of yet another drag from an endless procession of cigarettes I notice the large sign next to me. "NO SMOKING ON PIER DURING AMMUNITION HANDLING." Behind me, a crane winds up to tote another of the semi-cylindrical ashen cans onto the ship tied to the pier there. The all too familiar pungent tang of diesel exhaust washes past me, making for a noxious cocktail when combined with the heavy odor of the almost still sea. Mike is standing next to me. We're engaged in a lengthy conversation about current events, after a sort. He's currently making the mental leap as to why I am rotating between staring at the faded red and white sign, the crane, and the metal box dangling from the end of a cable.
"So you heard before the e-mail" Mike says while fumbling in his pocket for a folded square of paper that I know he's going to produce. I've seen it twice already, doesn't matter, I'll see it again.
"Yeah. Commander told us, about four days ago." Deadly meeting that one. Told us we were going to go do the job for real, play for keeps so to speak. "Still not too fuckin' happy 'bout it though."
"Now what?" It's more of a rhetorical question that Mike is asking at the moment, but for our collective welfare, I give it serious consideration.
"I dunno. We're not 'sposed to drink right now, so getting shitty's out of the question." This is digested slowly, much like the humidity in the air at the moment. "Fuck it. Too goddamn hot to stand here though."
"Beer?" Again, Mike with the well-timed rhetorical questions.
"Fuck it. We've got six hours."

Can you help me,
live with you,

Huddled to the deck, once again. One arm is wrapped around the sixty pounds of sonobuoy encased in three beige plastic sleeves, making a valiant attempt at squirming out of my control. The other arm strains as it attempts to maintain purchase on a hand buried in a pad eye half full of water and muck from the flight deck I watch another wave roll over the side. There are five of us out on the flight deck at the moment doing our best not to get washed over the side of the ship and into the black cold water just south of the 38th parallel. I suppose you could say the sun is up, more like the clouds are up at the moment. The airplane is leaving and the special people are coming. Something about the Navy that I have noticed is that airplanes are much like drug smuggling in-laws in an RV, the minute the cops show up they flake out before they wind up losing the house. Leaving you there, in the lurch, with four hundred pounds of cocaine. Not the best analogy in the world, but it works.
Special people.
Which team?
How many?
What're they doing here?
Why are they coming here of all places?
Whose fucking idea was it to have stew while we're in this shit weather? I mean the fucking crap looks like puke.
These are all questions that myself and others are bouncing around the ship at the moment like little verbal bullets. Shot from a larynx and buried in another cerebellum, they detonate with ruthless efficiency and spawn rumors that spread faster than a brushfire fed by liquid oxygen. Meanwhile the three hundred-foot long frigate trolls north at a nauseatingly slow pace. Her engines straining to push the mass of steel and flesh over the rolling sea, water crashing up and then peeling back from several feet of flight deck every few minutes. The flight deck on a fig is fifteen feet out of the water, lowest of any ship in the inventory. When the back end of the ship comes out of the water far enough the prop goes with it, shaking the ship with a series of rhythmic downward lurches. The whine of the turboshaft engines powering the ship provide a sort of audio soundtrack to it's state in the water. I.e. engines slow down while front end goes up and back end goes down, engines go faster while back end goes up and front end goes down. Enough to make you reach for something just thinking about it. Meanwhile the bird is bouncing for gas, another load out of buoys and a fresh crew. Thinking about it as the bird turning on the deck tries to roll out of it's chains again, I watch linked metal twist under pressure.
They leave, bounce to another ship and wait for us to get back.
Back from dropping off our special people.
Up north thirty some odd miles.
I've seen the chart.
The proposed track.
Less than fifteen miles off the fucking coast.
Loiter for an hour, pick up our blind dates.
Haul ass south.
Don't get waxed in the process, Yurei.
The bro wouldn't dig that too much.

Can you make me real,
flesh from air,
bone from wire,
jolting from,
your operator's hand.

North Koreans Conduct Ballistic Missile Test. (Routers, AP.)
...in a show of technical prowess...
...range to reach the whole of South Korea and virtually all of Japan...
...developing nuclear programme...
...promises of possible...
...on exercises...
...area of...
...strong international criticism...

This is such a shame,
you're nice enough,
too bad I have to go,
leave you again,
and forget my life.

"When will we have the wedding?" Sarah wonders suggestively, out loud, as I push the accelerator down a little harder to get in front of Some Ass in a Volvo. Some Ass thinks he's actually Bad Ass with the two kids strapped into the car and is trying to turn himself into Pulped Accident Victim Ass by not yielding to a traffic signal. "For that matter, where? I mean you're from out here."
"I know, and your folks would have to come out. Probably about two months after I get back from this cruise I guess." I mumble in a genuine state of numb bliss, the whole idea novelty of being engaged still hasn't worn off yet. Already I am beginning to plot, have to learn to watch and appreciate football, have to get in on poker night at Rob's when his wife goes out with everyone else's wife, have to buy a quad for the desert. My head yodels a long stream of consciousness that I either need to do or need to buy one of in order to finish being like everyone else I know. This is a benevolent train of thought as it allows me to run yipping into the future and laugh heartily at my middle aged self. My middle aged self, also rather amused by the much younger doppelganger laughing at it, grabs it's slightly bulging sides and chuckles loudly. The 'Kiss the Cook' apron stays on. The kids think it's mighty funny that old daddy and young daddy are chortling at each other to the point that they begin tittering and rolling on the Crayola green grass. A pink plastic dinosaur lawn ornament leers obnoxiously at me from one corner of the yard next to a pair of trees between which a well used hammock is hung in a textbook parabola. A collie at the feet of my middle aged self, barks in approval and pants just like Lassie to finish the scene.
"You still want to play 'Ave Maria' during the procession?"
"Sarah...you know I was thinking 'bout getting a quad." I mutter, changing the subject to something along the lines of what I was actually pondering.
"Yurei, dammit, your Mom and I both talked about this with you. You know how you are about speed. Especially when you're on your own." She's a little mad, irritated that I would bring something like this up right at the moment. It's a good natured irritation though, she's humoring me though and knows that if I mention something now, then I'm probably going to listen to what she has to say versus just haul off and give in to the impetus. Sarah also knows how to fiddle with my head to accomplish what she needs. Not a bad thing though.
"Never gotten a ticket though." I beam my best huge and stupid grin at her. "'Sides, I'm indestructible, ya know."
"Oh, yeah, and your hands, and that scar on your chin, and your ribs two years ago, and how many sets of stitches have you gotten in your head now? No motorcycles, quads or anything."
"But." I begin to protest and think about it, I saw lawn ornament but no bike. Hmm. "Well, yeah. I'm a little accident-prone. But hey, all that shit is nothing but proof that I'm indestructible."
"Yurei, I really wonder about you sometimes."

I can see it,
if I move fast enough.
I can feel it,
if I run hard enough.
It's never going to be there,
just beyond my reach,
out there alone,
I'll meet my end.
Full of rage,
filled to capacity,
brimming over with hate,
contempt for the living,
who cannot fathom,
this ceaseless quest,
for something more pure,
than cold light.

...I'm sorry, I can't wait. There is someone else, a very nice guy that I met at work. I'm sorry things aren't going well out there...
"Son of a bitch." The words draw out like hours, dragging themselves from wherever it is that speech lives. It's the only thing that I can think of to say. The next erudite statement about sums up everything that I am feeling and experiencing at that moment in time. "Motherfucker."
"Yurei?" Mike is sitting on the other side of the cubicle wall from me, playing what sounds to me like Starcraft. Yes sir, tax dollars at work here. He's waiting for me to finish reading my e-mail, then off to smoke before flight quarters. The sounds of destruction abruptly cease, mid-death. "You ready?"
"Yeah." I log off and then stand, stretching while managing to pop several of the vertebrae in my neck loud enough to be heard in the small office area we're in one deck beneath the flight deck. Frigates are very small ships, you practically need earplugs to make yourself heard when the bird is upstairs in here. "You know, these damn racks are killing my fuckin' neck."
"No shit, you tall ass bastard." Mike wanders toward the door, opens the latch and promptly lets go to watch it practically explode open. There is an air pressure differential that, due to an imbalance in the ventilation coming in versus going out, causes the door to blow open like it does. There is a sign, everyone ignores it and from time to time have been known to open the door intentionally on people. At least one person has suffered minor injury, in the form of a wicked bruise on their arm as a result. Following Mike we walk through the dim red light in the halls, water sluicing off of the hull in the background. It's night so all of the white lights are off, the nature of the scene reminds me of Ripley's return to LV-426 in 'Aliens'. The hatches, the silence, the wail of wind and creak of metal in the background, the blood red light filtering down from the ceiling. Muted thunk of heavy boots on tile floor, lonely footsteps a thousand miles from anyone not willing to kill if told in the right way. Brief reflections in brass fittings, my own face, my own eyes trying to hold back the rage and pain roiling it's way through my mind. Mike is still talking, still telling me about some unit in Starcraft that can fly around the board. I can hear myself talking, it doesn't sound like my voice but it is mine nonetheless. We arrive at the hatch in the side of the ship leading outside to the smoking area, step through and sink into blackness. The door is pinned open to prevent people from not being able to find it at night in this weather and then going over the side. The two of us walk forward, guided by the embers of others ingesting vaporous nicotine and a joyous treat of other carcinogenic substances at this hour. More spray comes over the side of the ship from the bow as we plunge again into another wave which are much less severe than two days ago when we were in middle of the storm. It's still bad enough that the occasional new guy loses lunch here and there. Water collects to drip down the back of my neck, hanging in rivulets across my jaw and hiding the tears.

I can see you there,
running from me.
Keeping your cards close,
hoping that I won't know.
Run, run away,
run long and hard,
if I can just reach,
escape velocity,
I can turn away and feel nothing.
Give me up,
give me away,
throw aside the old habits,

"Yurei, that you?" It's the closest thing to god I know at the moment, my Chief. "You need a smoke or something?"
"Yeah, Chief." Padding the pockets of the heavy jacket I am wearing I notice that the excuse I was going to use to mooch is actually legitimate. "I musta left the things in the shop."
"You get that MAD fixed yet?"
"Yeah, damn thing's limit switches froze up. Didn't know when the bird was in the cradle." Back to work Yurei, it's what you do. Deal with this. Deal motherfucker. "I'll be up to support tonight's sched."
"You goona make it through tomorrow too?" Chief knows that I have to, that I have no other choice in the matter. There is only one other person who can do what I do on the ship at the moment. Due to his decision to punch a wall some weeks ago is no longer able to work. Therefore I am carrying both 12-hour shifts, and have been for two and a half weeks. We have one and a half left. Given where we are at the moment I essentially have to be awake, nap occasionally while the aircraft is flying and work on it when it's not. Plagued by bizarre problems, I will be missed if I make the attempt to skate off. For the last four days the Chief has been trying to gauge how much I have left with little sessions like the one we're going through now. If the worst case scenario manifests itself into reality, I am going to have to go indefinitely. "Don't bullshit me either."
"Chief...I told you I'd be fine." I'm not sure if I am or not, strange things have been popping into my head recently such as just not wearing clothing anymore. Ditched that because it's just too damn cold right now.
"You okay?" Chief asks me. He then laughs, chuckling at someone who attempted to spit off of the side of the ship and got a face full of ocean. "Just don't seem like yourself the last couple of days."
"Bad e-mail couple of days ago."
"From home?"
"Bad huh?"
"Don't worry 'bout it Chief. Be fine. Just keep them avionics breaking, point me in the right direction and kick me in the ass and I'll be just fine."
"You get tired or something I told Brian it's okay if you don't work on 111. You know, nap out and shit like that. Just make sure that 112 stays good to go okay?" We have two aircraft here, Red Stinger's 111 and 112. They're my kids at the moment. And they're pissing their father off by routinely throwing temper tantrums and refusing to do what they are supposed to, electronics wise. "Another month or so after we get back to Japan"
"Japan, there for three weeks and then home" I spit cynically.

Still you come back,
swathed in silence,
accusing me of being the watcher.
Hunter or prey,
do you know even who you are?
This haunted vision,
what is this machine supposed to do anyway,
failed in faith,
Maybe no one cares that you're alone now,
maybe I don't give a damn anymore,
you're better off getting out of here,
so you can sever the ends clean,
and take back what you gave me.
These two,
souls at war with desperation,
concessions made by neither side.
killing each other by way of silence,
hoping for a quick death.

...I suppose the things that we search for the hardest are the things we are least likely to find. For me it's peace in my time. Not world peace or even peace in the hood or something similarly trite and easily marketed to people that don't know any better. Just peace. The solace of knowing that I am not going to have to worry anymore for a little while and that I can relax. I think I need a vacation. No, I just need a good stiff drink and a cup of coffee, and I can go back to work. Back again to the machines and to the wiring where I belong. They told me the other day that I am the best they've ever seen...hard to deal with when you feel like you've failed on the inside. Shit. Too personal, anyway you know where you can find me. -Yurei.

back to Phase Maintenance