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The N00b Warriors _Book One_

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					                The N00b Warriors (Book One)
                              Scott Douglas




Published: 2010
Categorie(s): Fiction, War & Military, Thrillers, Sagas
Tag(s): "ya fiction" "teen books" "video games" "war fiction" "young
adult" "n00b series" n00bs war teen fighting


                                                                       1
Chapter    1
About This Book

   For the past year, my agent sent the pages that follow to dozens of ed-
itors. Many of them offered kind words, but there was one general com-
plaint: It is too violent.
   It is true that what you will read is, at times, violent, and, if that's not
for you, then stop! When I started working on the book, I wanted to cre-
ate something that spoke to readers who loved playing video games; I
hope that this book does that.
   This book was originally drafted as a series. I hope to one day continue
with the saga. It would be much easier to do so with your support! If you
like the book, express so by rating this book, telling a friend, and telling
me! I love hearing from readers. So if you'd like to drop me a line, you
can do so by sending an email to: scottdouglas@scottdouglas.org. You
can also keep update on the website www.then00bwarriors.com or by
joining the Facebook fan page.
   If you really want to show your support, download it on Kindle,
Nook, or iBooks—and if you feel extra kind, then write a review. Every
one helps.




                                                                             2
Chapter   2
Start
n00b – From the Gamer Community, a neophyte in playing a particular
game; used as a disparaging term. (from Oxford English Dictionary)




                                                                 3
Chapter    3
Level One: Rebel Frosted Flakes
 A blog entry started the Forever War.
   Dylan Austen’s father James was trying to tell him about the blog, but
Dylan stopped him, “I don’t care about the blog or this war. This is your
war, not mine.”
   “That kind of attitude will get you in trouble one day, boy. Show your
rebel pride!”
   From the porch, Dylan looked at the smoke in the distance, and ima-
gined the fighting that was ensuing beneath it.
   The California borders had been secure for most of the sixteen years
that Dylan had been alive; the fighting on the western front had been
mostly along the Washington / Canada border—hundreds of miles from
Dylan’s home in Carlsbad.
   The smoke in the distance and the booming sounds that came with it
had been familiar to Dylan for the past several weeks—ever since his
father had returned from war missing one of his legs. Every time he saw
the smoke or heard the sounds of war, he knew that the war of his father
would soon come for him, and he would have to fight in a war he did
not understand.
   Dylan watched a fighter jet making its way in uneven distress across
the horizon with flames coming from its wings. As it got closer, it made a
hollow, long, screeching sound. He kept watching it until he could see it
no more, and then waited for the explosion. It came fifteen seconds later,
and it shook the ground.
   Dylan’s father came hopping out the front door so anxious that he for-
got his crutches. He supported himself on the door frame and scanned
the horizon until he saw the smoke that indicated where the plane had
crashed. He brushed back his long bangs from his eyes and squinted.
“Was it American?”
   “I couldn’t see. It was too high up.” Dylan replied staring at the stain
on his father’s collar; like Dylan, and everyone else in Carlsbad, their



                                                                         4
clothes were all used. It was rare to find someone wearing a shirt or a
pair of pants that didn’t have a tear, stain, or hole somewhere on it. Most
of his father’s shirts were novelty t-shirts, which were given away free to
veterans. His shirt today was a small dog that said in a caption, “¡Yo
quiero Taco Bell!”; his father had told him it used to be the advertising
slogan for a fast-food chain.
   His father looked disappointed. “I once shot down one of those coco
puffs with a single bullet from my pistol.”
   “It looked like it was heading for the Mexican border.”
   “It was a coco puff, then—had to be.” He hopped satisfied towards
Dylan, patted him on the shoulder, and then said, “Small victory for
America, son—every one counts.”
   Dylan nodded, then helped his father back inside to the couch where
he was watching a recording of the continuing, non-stop coverage of the
Forever War; the reception on the TV had gone out the year before, and
recorded footage was all they had. The war department had sent the re-
cording home with his father along with a medal. His father took the
medal from his pocket and rubbed it as he continued to watch the news.
   “A recruiting truck is coming!” Jacob, Dylan’s ten year old brother,
said running into the house, “I just saw it down the street!”
   His father clapped his hands, “It’s about time! You’re going to war,
Dylan! You’re going to war!”
   Dylan walked to the door and saw the truck making its way slowly
down the street. It was old and rusty; its army-green paint was fading
and chipping away. A kid Dylan’s age drove the truck, while an older
man sat in the truck’s bed with a megaphone.
   The older man’s face was badly burned, and a scar covered the left
side of his neck; his father had a similar scar on his neck. His arm shook
as he lifted the megaphone to his mouth, and said, “By order of the Pres-
ident of the United States, all able men and women 13 to 30 are to report
by six o’clock to the main entrance of Legoland for immediate deploy-
ment. Cowards will be shot.”
   Dylan’s father stood up quickly, balancing himself on his one leg un-
stably, and fell to the ground. “Amy! Amy, did you hear? They’re finally
shipping out our boys!”
   “Not the couch, boy!” His father said as Dylan began to help him back
up, “Take me to the bathroom. All this excitement makes me have to
pee!”
   Dylan’s mother, Amy, entered the living room with a steaming frying
pan; her eyes were watery. “He’s only 16.”



                                                                         5
   “That’s fight age!” His father proudly said.
   “Don’t cry, mom,” Dylan said, “it’s not good for the baby.”
   Amy had gotten pregnant just after his father’s return. He said he was
under orders from the President to make new soldiers to continue the
fight, and replenish what was lost.
   “Dinner will be in ten minutes,” Amy said trying to hold back tears,
and then she walked away.
   “Do you think they’ll take me?!” Jacob asked.
   “You still got three years ‘til you reach recruiting age—but if you bulk
up a bit, I bet when you’re twelve you’ll be able to lie your way in.” He
turned to Dylan, “I can hardly hold it in—come on and help me before I
wet myself!”
   Dylan took his father’s arm and put it over his shoulder, then helped
him to the bathroom.
   “Pride of Country is not something learned,” he said as he dropped
his trousers and Dylan sat him on the toilet, “It is something ac-
quired—you’ll know this real soon. Go get packing and I’ll call your
brother when I’m done—it’s going to take me awhile to finish up.”
   As Dylan walked away, his father hollered, “Take plenty of
socks—when you’re walking all day a good pair of socks is what’s going
to separate you from the rest. You can take some of mine—I only need
half as many now that I only have one foot!”
   Dylan surveyed his room quickly; he spotted his backpack under a
pile of dirty clothes and he emptied the contents of it onto his bed. All of
his clothes were too old, too small, or too big; his mom got them at the
Army trading post. After all the retail stores closed down in Carlsbad,
the Army trading post came in and offered secondhand goods and cloth-
ing. Usually his mother traded aluminum cans, which the Army would
then recycle into ammunition.
   He thought back to when his sister, Chelsea, left for war; he was only
ten. The recruiting trucks didn’t parade through the streets like they did
earlier; the recruiters went right to the high school and asked for volun-
teers. Chelsea was the first one to raise her hand. She was brave—much
braver than Dylan. He walked with her the day she left to the Army
buses that would take her away, and said, “I’ll join you one day.”
   Chelsea hugged him tightly and then said, “You’re too fragile for war,
little brother—stay home and take care of mom.” Dylan didn’t believe
her then, but he did now. He would never be ready for war, but that
didn’t matter because he’d have to go anyway.




                                                                          6
   He stood in front of the mirror on his closet. He had his father’s brown
wavy hair, but that was it. He flexed his arms and looked at his lack of
muscles, and then acknowledged to himself, “I won’t last a week.”
   “What are you looking at?” Jacob said, entering his room.
   Dylan jumped back, embarrassed. “Nothing.”
   “What are you going to take?”
   “I don’t know? What are you supposed to take?”
   Jacob began going through Dylan’s drawers and tossing boxers and
socks onto the bed. “I bet they give you a uniform, but Dad says it’s al-
ways good to have extras of these.” He paused and then added, “I read
about a guy in Soldier Magazine that lived in the woods for three years
and all he had was one pair of clothes. He killed like two hundred cocos
too, I think.”
   Dylan went to his desk and pulled out his iPod; last week his teacher
told his class for homework they were to make a playlist of battle mu-
sic—something that would inspire them to fight harder. He tossed his
iPod onto his bed, and continued going through the desk tossing any-
thing that seemed useful onto the bed: PSP, small flashlight, pen, paper,
seven dollars in paper money, one dollar in coins, and the Swiss Army
knife his father gave him when he returned from war all made their way
onto the bed.
   Jacob got on the floor and began doing pushups. “How many can you
do?”
   Dylan watched his brother for a moment, and then admitted, “Never
really counted.”
   “I can do a hundred.” He counted off to ten, and then stood, and
asked, “Do you think they’ll give you one of those big guns like the char-
acters always have in video games?”
   “War isn’t like video games.”
   “It’s pretty close. Why do you think the schools make us to play them
all the time?”
   “Because they ran out of things to teach?”
   Dylan looked at a stuffed animal on his bed; he had several others next
to it. He picked up the one closest to his pillow and looked at its eyes.
   “You’re not going to take that are you?”
   Dylan tossed it down. “No!”
   “Why do you even have those? Soldiers don’t have stuffed animals!”
   “I like them.” He turned around, and added, “And I’m not a soldier.”




                                                                         7
   “Whatever—so where do you think they’ll send you?” Before Dylan
answered, Jacob said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if they sent you to Seattle?
Dad says that’s where the heaviest fighting is.”
   “Maybe the Navy.” Dylan said hopefully, as he browsed his video
game collection and decided which ones he’d take.
   “The Navy?! There’s hardly any fighting on boats!”
   “Exactly.”
   “Don’t you want to kill the cocos? For Chelsea?”
   “Chelsea’s dead. Do you think killing some coco who wasn’t even
there—who doesn’t even know why they’re fighting in the first place—is
going to bring her back?”
   “Yes.” Jacob paused, and then added, “Corey Handler’s brother just
came home from war, and he says every time you kill a coco the govern-
ment gives you points, and once you kill like fifteen you can start buying
things with the points—like games and guns.”
   The toilet flushed, and their father called, “Jacob, get in here and help
me clean up.”
   Jacob left, and Dylan shoved everything that had been tossed onto his
bed into his backpack. When he finished he stood back and looked at it;
for the first time he became nervous. “I hate this country,” he said toss-
ing the bag over his shoulder and leaving his room.
   Everyone was waiting for Dylan in the dining room. “All packed?”
His father asked.
   Dylan nodded, set his backpack next to the table, and took a seat.
   “Enjoy your meal, son. When you’re in combat, sometimes you don’t
get to eat for days and the only thing that’s going to satisfy you is think-
ing back on the last meal you ate with your family.”
   “He’ll have plenty of other meals with his family when he comes
home,” Amy quickly said putting dinner on the table. Tonight Amy had
made rice with canned vegetables; every other night they had rice with a
canned vegetable. The nights they didn’t have it they had canned beans.
   “But he’ll be different then—he’ll be a soldier. You never can eat a
meal like this the same way when you’re a soldier.”
   Dylan looked to the seat at the left of him; it was empty, but there was
a plate of food in front of it. His mom always put an extra plate on the
table just in case his sister Chelsea came home. She had been officially
listed as missing in action two years ago, but everyone knew she was
dead.
   “We should pray over the food,” Amy suggested.
   “Pray?” Dylan said, “We never pray!”



                                                                          8
   “It just seems like a good thing to do today.”
   As Amy prayed, Dylan began to eat, while Jacob made his fingers like
a gun and took target practice at Dylan’s forehead.
   “You can’t pray?” Amy asked offended when she finished.
   “I was listening,” Dylan said.
   “Let the boy eat in peace,” his father said.
   “I just wanted this to be a nice normal family meal before he left.”
   “It is nice, Mom.”
   “You’ll be a brand new man after your first kill.”
   “Let the boy eat in peace, James.”
   “You’ll bulk up a lot once you start killing—you’ll be as big as your
sister was.”
   “That’s enough, James.” His mother said.
   When Dylan was almost finished, Jacob pulled a game cartridge from
his shirt pocket and handed it across the table. “I want you to have it.”
   Dylan read the title, and then looked at Jacob, “This is your favorite
game.”
   Jacob shrugged, “It’s about war and it’s supposed to teach you battle
tactics. I figured you need it more than me.”
   “Is that the game the government endorses?” His father asked looking
curiously at the cartridge curiously.
   Jacob nodded excited.
   “Thanks.”
   The mantle clock in the next room chimed, and his father said, “You
better start heading out, or you’re going to be late.”
   Dylan nodded.
   His father took his crutches and stood. He grabbed Dylan’s backpack
at the end of the table, and said “I’ll wait for you outside.”
   Dylan went to his mother, who was pretending to eat while she
quietly cried. He kissed her on the cheek.
   “Did you pack any of your stuffed animals?”
   “No, Mom!” Dylan said rolling his eyes, “I can’t take something like
that.”
   “Why not? It will let everyone know you have a soft heart—the ones
with soft hearts stay behind and make everyone dinner. They don’t fight
battles.”
   “I’ll be fine, Mom.”
   “Promise me you won’t be brave like your father.”
   Dylan nodded.
   “Say it—say you promise.”



                                                                       9
   “I promise I won’t be brave.” Dylan said sarcastically.
   “I don’t want you come home missing any body parts. You just let the
bigger kids do all the brave stuff.” She rubbed her hand on his arm,
“You’re not strong—you’ll die if you try to be a hero—do you under-
stand me?”
   Dylan nodded again, “I need to go, Mom, or I’ll be late.”
   “Write every time those coco puffs don’t have you cornered.” Amy ad-
ded as he left the room.
   “I will.”
   His dad was leaning against the front door. He handed Dylan the
backpack as he passed, and then saluted him, “Make me proud,
son—make me proud.”
   Dylan nodded, but did not salute back.
   “And if you ever see a three-fingered coco puff general, you put a bul-
let right between his eyes and tell him as he lays dying that your daddy
says hi.”
   Jacob ran to Dylan and gave him a hug. “I’ll see you in three years
when I join up. Save a few cocos for me!”
   “Just take care of Mom, yeah?”
   Jacob saluted and joined his dad on the porch to watch him walk off.
At the end of the street, Dylan turned and waved one last time.
   Legoland was two miles away. He had walked there before. The last
time was a summer ago. He took Jacob there. It had been closed for
years, and the rides were all covered with weeds and bushes. Jacob said
they buried cocos there and the park was haunted. They spent the day
hunting for bodies. The only thing they found was a few dead fish and
ducks.
   “Hey, Dylan! Wait up! You’re going to walk there without me?” Trin-
ity, one of Dylan’s neighbors, said. She was dragging a large roller suit-
case. She was wearing a homemade summer dress with flower imprints,
and Dylan wonder for a moment if she was going to the Legoland en-
trance or running off to live with some distant relative.
   “You’re bringing a pretty full load?” Dylan and Trinity were in the
same grade and had walked to school together every day for the past
five years. She had moved to Carlsbad with her mother after her dad
died of cancer. She was the only person he knew that had a father who
had died in something besides the war. They lived with her grandma.
Dylan’s father had always suspected her grandma was a spy because she
only spoke Spanish. She was one of his best friends, and, though he re-
fused to admit, he had always had a crush on her.



                                                                       10
   Trinity nodded. “My mom said it was better to bring a lot and throw it
away than not enough.” She paused. “You nervous?”
   “Nervous about dying? Who’d be nervous about that?”
   “We aren’t going to die.”
   “Not now, but how many people do you know that have made it out
of this war alive?”
   “What about your dad?”
   “My dad is missing a leg, and half his brains. He’d be better off dead.”
   Trinity stopped. “You know what Dylan? Walk by yourself. I’m afraid
and you’re not doing anything to help.”
   Dylan rolled his eyes, and said, “Come on, Trinity! I’m sorry. I just
don’t know what to say.”
   “Then don’t say anything.”
   Dylan grabbed her suitcase, and began pulling it for her. They walked
silently for several minutes. Finally Dylan acknowledged, “Your hair al-
ways smells good.”
   Trinity laughed and shyly brushed back her curly black hair, “You’re
flirting with me now?!”
   “Shut up! I’m not flirting. I’m just saying even when we’re going off to
fight some war you still smell good.”
   “You’re flirting, Dylan!”
   “Fine, then I take it back. I was just making talk.”
   “The smell of hair and dying! You find funny things to talk about.”
   Dylan looked at the other kids who were also walking towards Lego-
land and said, “It kind of looks like everyone is just walking to school
doesn’t it?”
   She looked down sadly and shrugged.
   “What’s wrong?”
   “Do you really think it will happen? Do you really think we’ll die?”
   “Don’t think about that. I’m sorry I said it.”
   A transport truck drove across the intersection ahead of them. It was
carrying wounded soldiers. The trucks with wounded soldiers had be-
come a more frequent site in recent months; the ones who had a chance
of living were all taken to the naval base in San Diego.
   Trinity started to cry after the truck passed by.
   “You won’t last like that. They stick the weak ones on the front
lines—they’re not going to waste someone strong when they got
someone like you.”
   Trinity looked up hopefully. “Let’s run, Dylan! They can’t take us if
we run!”



                                                                        11
  “Where do you want to go? The armies are everywhere—the war’s
everywhere! They’ll recruit us on the spot the moment they see us, and
use us as guinea pigs. At least this way we have a chance.” Dylan looked
over and saw that Trinity was crying; he took her hand, and said, “I’ll
take care of you.”
  Trinity tearfully said, “I don’t need you. I can take care of myself.”
  “It will be easier if we take care of each other.”
  Trinity looked at him and smiled, “Your hands are sweaty.”
  “So?”
  “So you’re nervous—guess you’re human after all.”
                                 #      #      #

  (Rebel Frosted Flake, Blog entry: one year before the start of the Forever War)
  PLAYSTATION U.S.A.
  Posted: Tuesday, September 9, 2014 | 09:51 PM (PST)

   In recent weeks, there has been much said across the blogosphere
about President Winfrey’s “PlayStation Policy.” I was the first blogger to
interview the President, and attack the policy’s proposed use of federal
money to bail out Sony’s near-bankrupt PlayStation division. I never
imagined at the time that Congress would agree to the plan to use feder-
al money on a foreign corporation in exchange for sharing profits.
   In the President’s address to Congress, he said “the current structure
of the world and its powers can no longer function without a country
running like a business.” Congress apparently agrees, because not even
one member voted down the President’s plan.
   And did you hear Senator Robins’ comments? “The President’s plan
represents the first real policy that can put the country back on the right
course.” Senator Robins used to be the voice of reason for this country.
How much money did it take to convince him that this “policy” was
right?
   I have to wonder now…while the government’s off making money
with its so-called “business,” who governs the country? And I for one am
just a little frightened that the future of our country depends on the gam-
ing habits of our children. Will the President propose tomorrow that I let
my son or daughter play video games because it supports the country?
Will video games replace textbooks in school?!
   I lost a lot of readers when I called for the removal of the President;
today I do something even more radical—I call for the removal of the en-
tire government. It is no longer for the people.



                                                                               12
  Are there any leaders left to steer this country back into the right
direction?
  It appears we all have become pawns to corporate greed. Perhaps it’s
time for me too to sell my soul to the corporate structure that has appar-
ently corrupted the country’s brightest minds.
  I no longer write this blog for myself; from here on out, I don’t write
for myself. Who wants to hear the thoughts of a real person?! Today I
write with a corporate logo that has fed our children breakfast for years.
  Signed,
  Frosted Flakes!

  TAGS: President, United States, lost causes, PlayStation, Senator
Robins




                                                                       13
Chapter    4
Level 2: The D Bus
 A grenade blast shook the ground.
   Trinity jumped while Dylan stood unfazed. He pointed at what was
left of the Legoland entrance sign; only the “E-G-O” from the word was
left. “I guess we’re here.”
   “What are they blowing up?” Trinity nervously asked, looking ahead
several feet where a group of teenage boys in army uniforms were run-
ning towards the explosion.
   Dylan shrugged as he studied the ride carriage that had been over-
turned and caught on fire when the grenade hit it.
   Near the blast a teen sat in another carriage cradling his rifle; his hair
was covered in ash. “Did you get him?”
   One of the uniformed teens pointed at a chicken running across the
parking lot. “There it is!” He took out his sidearm and fired a single shot.
   Trinity flinched and turned away when the chicken collapsed to the
ground. Dylan watched as the teen that had shot it picked its lifeless
body up from the legs and held it up proudly for all his friends to see.
“One shot! Did you see! Those cocos better watch out.”
   An older man pulled up in a jeep driven by a boy who looked younger
than Dylan’s brother. He looked at the chicken, then at the teens, and
yelled “Stop messing around! Recruits are starting to arrive.”
   The teen tossed aside the chicken and saluted, and the jeep disap-
peared into the amusement park.
   As Dylan and Trinity walked past the chicken’s carcass, Dylan said,
“The old guy had three stars on his uniform! I’ve never seen a three star
soldier!”
   Trinity looked back at the chicken, “Why’d they have to kill it? They’re
not even going to eat it.”
   “It’s just a chicken.”




                                                                          14
   Trinity started to say something, but stopped as they passed the tall
tree hedges and saw the inside of the parking lot for the first time. “Look
at that.” She said amazed at the sight.
   The parking lot was lined with yellow Carlsbad Unified School Dis-
trict buses—more than Dylan knew the district even owned. Many had
faded paint jobs, and appeared to have been brought out of retirement
for the occasion. Beyond them were tanks, and rows of Army trucks.
Near the park’s main gates, a medical tent had been built; a truck was
next to the tent, and men kept pulling soldiers on gurneys from it.
   One of the parents who still had a car was parked in the first parking
lot, near the entrance. In the backseat a child was crying that he didn’t
want to fight while his mother tearfully pleaded with him to get out of
the car. An army patrolman was looking over the car with another officer
trying to decide if they should confiscate the car for Army use.
   “Where do we go?” Trinity asked.
   Before Dylan answered, a truck came up behind them and honked.
Dylan and Trinity both jumped as the truck passed and a group of sol-
diers with wet hair yelled, “Look alive!” In the bed of the truck were surf
boards.
   A long rectangle table had been set up not far from the buses. Hun-
dreds of kids were crowded around the tables in several different lines.
“I guess we go there?” Dylan said pointing at the table. As they got
closer, they saw that it was a signup table. Placards on tall poles had let-
ters, and teens lined up behind them according to their last name.
   “I’ll meet you on the other side?”
   Trinity, whose last name was ‘Marquez,’ made her way to the ‘M’ line,
while Dylan lined up in the ‘A’s.’
   Behind the table were teachers and parent volunteers; Principal Park-
er, the principal of Dylan’s high school, was in charge of the ‘A’ line. He
was wearing flip flops and a Hawaiian t-shirt, and was teasing and jok-
ing with each of the students who signed their name; he was the only
one at the table who appeared to be in good spirits.
   Dylan looked around for more familiar faces. Two lines over he saw
Jeremy Cannon, a kid from the next block over that he and his brother
occasionally played ball with. Jimmy caught Dylan’s stare, and mo-
tioned for Dylan to meet him on the other side of the table when he had
signed in.
   At the front of the line, Principal Parker joyfully asked, “And what’s
your name young man?”




                                                                         15
   “Dylan Austen.” The principal’s chubby appearance and the cheerful
tone of his voice reminded Dylan of the Santa his mother had taken his
brother and him to see several years ago at a mall in San Diego; when the
Santa asked Dylan what he wanted for Christmas, Dylan said his father,
and Santa cheerfully laughed and said, “Santa doesn’t make
daddy’s—only toys.” He then suggested Dylan ask for a gun, so he could
protect the family’s home from cocos.
   Principal Parker thought about the name and then asked curiously,
“You’re not Chelsea Austen’s brother are you?”
   Dylan nodded.
   Suddenly the principal was not as jolly. He looked down and said
sadly, “She was the first one from our high school to die.”
   Dylan nodded. “So where should I sign?”
   The principal ignored the question and added, “That was one heck of
a battle that she died in. I remember reading about it in the paper. She
was a good student, too.” He paused, “She was built like a sol-
dier—guess you’re not like her?”
   Principal Parker had been the one who told Dylan about Chelsea.
When he came home that day, the principal was in the living room with
his mother who was crying. Dylan knew when he saw him that it was
either his sister or his father. He hoped that it was his father; he had nev-
er known his father, but had managed to survive okay; Chelsea,
however, had helped raise him. Principal Parker put his hand on his
shoulder and said, “Son, your sister is missing and probably dead.”
Dylan looked at his mother confused, and she began to cry harder. Prin-
cipal Parker stood and said, “I’m sorry for your loss. She served the
cause well.”
   Principal Parker reclined in the plastic chair he was sitting in, and then
laughed. As he laughed his Hawaiian shirt rose up to reveal his large
hairy stomach. “No worries—war needs all kinds of people. You’ll be
good at something.” He pulled his shirt back down, and pointed at a
piece of paper. “Just sign your name here—it basically says your life be-
longs to the government.”
   Dylan signed his name, and tossed the pen at the principal’s stomach.
   “Good boy. Now wipe away the frown and go join the rest of your
friends near the buses.”
   “Thank you!” Dylan said and then did his best to mockingly imitate
the principal’s laugh.
   “Mister, that kind of behavior will get you killed in war—you better
shape up if you want to live.”



                                                                          16
   On the other side of the table, as Dylan waited for Trinity and Jeremy
to join him, he looked at the soldiers near the buses. They all looked re-
laxed. A row of them were sunbathing in nothing but their boxer shorts.
   Not far from the soldiers the new recruits nervously stood and waited,
far less relaxed. Some played their PSPs; others listened to their iPods;
most stared, unintentionally, at the buses, knowing that they would take
them to their destiny.
   “It’s funny.” Dylan said when Trinity joined him, “The same bus that
takes us to war may be the same one that took us to kindergarten.”
   “That’s not funny.”
   “Lighten up, Trinity.”
   “You’re the one with sweaty palms.”
   When Jeremy joined him, they made their way to the rest of the new
recruits and quietly waited to see what would happen next. Moments
later a tall uniformed soldier looked at his watch and then walked in
front of the group of gathering teens. He had a scar across his forehead,
and his uniform was too big for him.
   “Listen up!” He commanded with a soft voice that didn’t match his
bulky body, “My name is Simpson but you can call me God—when you
signed your name back there, you signed your life away to me. The way
this works is we’ll divide you up based on strength. We’ll give you a let-
ter and that letter will decide who you are in this war.”
   “The guy’s kind of a jerk.” Dylan said quietly looking at Simpsons’
badge; it said “Lee” not “Simpson.”
   “None of the soldiers are even over seventeen.” Trinity pointed out.
   Jeremy pointed at the tent hospital. “The ones in there are.”
   A group of two dozen younger soldiers joined Simpson up front, and
he hollered, “Divide ‘em up!”
   Dylan turned around and saw kids were still piling into the parking
lot, “This is going to take all night.”
   The younger men began making their way unorganized through the
group of recruits. As they did so they said little. Occasionally they
would ask the recruit to turn around as they looked them over. When
they had finished looking at the recruit, they would pull out a black
marker pen and write a letter on the recruits forehead. Dylan tried to
make out the letters but could not.
   A red-haired soldier came to Dylan, Trinity and Jeremy. His eyes went
immediately to Trinity’s roller bag, and then they went to Trinity, “What
is that?”




                                                                       17
   “It’s my stuff.” She paused and nervously explained, “I didn’t know
how much I could take.”
   He smiled, and said curtly, “Of course—let me help you.” He turned
and yelled, “Sack! I need a sack.” A younger kid without a uniform ran
to him carrying a small cotton bag with a drawstring; the bag was a little
smaller then a backpack. He unzipped her roller bag and tossed the con-
tents on the asphalt, and then tossed the bag several feet behind him. He
handed her the cotton bag and said, “You can take whatever fits.”
   “You didn’t have to toss it on the ground!” Dylan complained as Trin-
ity began stuffing things in her bag.
   “Who are you? Her boyfriend?”
   “No. Her friend.”
   “Well don’t worry about it—I’ll be with you in a second.”
   He kicked some of her underwear with his boot. “Nice undies!”
   Trinity blushed, grabbed them off his boot, and quickly shoved them
into her bag.
   “What’s your problem?” Dylan asked. Dylan turned around to glance
at Jeremy, but he had turned around and was pretending to ignore what
was going on.
   “I said I would deal with you in a second.”
   Dylan took a step forward. “How about you deal with me now?”
   He started to laugh, and called to his left, “Hey Simpson! Come over
here, yeah.”
   Simpson, who was flirting with a girl recruit, rolled his eyes and
walked over.
   Trinity looked up, “Dylan, it’s fine—I can take care of myself.”
   “What’s up?” Simpson said.
   The officer grabbed Dylan’s arm and tugged harshly at it. He held the
arm in front of Simpson, and said, “I think this piece of bony-armed
whimp wants to fight me!” He dropped Dylan arm and pushed him
aside.
   “That true?” Simpson asked, “You want to fight him?”
   “I just want him to leave my friend alone.”
   “Her?” He pointed at Trinity.
   Dylan nodded.
   “You bugging her?”
   “No, sir.”
   “Guess that means you’re lying, eh kid?”
   “Look at her bag! He threw everything on the ground.”




                                                                       18
   “He’s not allowed to do that?” He laughed and slapped Dylan across
the back, “You’re in the Army now—superior officers own you.
Understood?”
   Dylan rolled his eyes.
   “How old are you, kid?”
   “Sixteen.”
   He looked at him surprised, “You serious?”
   Dylan nodded.
   “Well, let me let you in on a recruiting secret.” He pointed at the
buses, “There are four groups of buses—A, B, C, and D. A buses are for
the strongest, D are for the weakest—we call the D bus the Guinea Pigs
or, AKA, the first to die. People on the D bus don’t go through train-
ing—they go straight to a risky mission and they never come back.” He
felt the muscle on Dylan’s arm and said, “You’re a puny little
punk—you’ll either go on the C or D bus—it’s all determined by how
you treat us.”
   Dylan was quiet.
   “Just apologize Dylan.” Trinity said, and then looked at both the of-
ficers and pleaded, “He didn’t mean anything by it.”
   “I was just sticking up for you.”
   “Stick up for me by apologizing.”
   He looked at the officers, “I’m sorry.”
   “That’s a pretty sincere sorry,” Simpson smirked, “But you did lie
about a superior officer picking on the girl—does Company C need a
man like that?” He asked the other officer.
   Trinity finished packing, stood, and explained, “All of us are just
scared and edgy, and he didn’t mean it.”
   “You sure you’re not his girlfriend?” Simpson laughed and then said
to the officer, “Show him the liar’s handshake.”
   The officer socked him hard in the stomach, and Dylan bent over in
pain.
   “Welcome to the club!” Simpson said, “Mark him D.” As the officer
pulled out a black marker pen and wrote ‘D’ on his forehead, he turned
to Trinity, “Mark his ladyfriend ‘D’ too—it’s good to be with a friend
when you die.” He looked at the kids in line behind them, “Let him be a
lesson to all of you—we’re your mamas and daddies from here on
out—we own you. You want to live, then worship us.”
   “Hightail it to the ‘D’ bus,” the soldier who marked Dylan’s head
hollered, pointing at the buses in the furthest parking lot.




                                                                     19
   Trinity helped Dylan stand up straight and walked him to the ‘D’ Bus.
As she left, Simpson said, “Look through all that garbage she left—see if
there’s anything I can send home to my little sister.” His pants started
falling down, and he pulled them back up, “And someone find me a uni-
form that fits me! There has to be someone closer to my size at the
morgue!”
   “Thanks for sticking up for her!” Dylan said looking back at Jeremy,
who was still looking away.
   “He did what you should have done—nothing.” Trinity said, “It was
really stupid.”
   “I just took a punch in the stomach for you—be nice.”
   “It was really stupid.”
   There were rows of B and C buses. A dozen that said A. And only four
that were marked as D. They were parked away from the other buses.
   As they got onto the bus, they were surrounded by kids. The youngest
recruits were all sent to the D bus.
   “I guess we’re the underdogs.” Dylan teased Trinity as they sat down.
   “It’s not some joke Dylan! Don’t you get that?”
   “Come on, Trinity—look around you! This bus is full of little kids.
We’ll be babysitters—we got it made!”
   “You heard what he said.”
   “It was just a scare tactic.”
   “Well it worked!” She crossed her arms and turned in her seat to face
the window.
   “So now you’re not going to talk to me?”
   Trinity didn’t answer.
   “Fine.”
   Dylan looked out the window hoping other kids his age would join
him on the bus. None did. Most of the kids were getting on the B and C
bus; Dylan saw Jeremy go onto a B bus. The longer they waited on the
bus, the more the kids on the bus began to cry.
   There bus was full within the hour, but they didn’t leave.
   “Why don’t you think we’re going?” Trinity asked.
   “They’re waiting for night so we’re harder to see—in case there’s any
cocos.” He paused, and then asked, “So are you talking to me now?”
   “No.” Trinity put her head down and closed her eyes.
   “You’re going to sleep?”
   “I’m going to pray—do you mind?”
   Dylan watched her pray and he thought back to the first day they met.
She moved onto his street while Dylan was on Winter break; it was a



                                                                      20
week before Christmas. His mom offered Dylan’s help, because she
didn’t want him sitting at home all day playing war video games. He
was in sixth grade and didn’t have any close friends. Trinity quickly be-
came his best friend.
   Dylan was not good at war games, and this made him unpopular; un-
like most kids, Trinity never seemed to mind. She was against the war
for moral reasons, but still was good with a rifle when she was forced to
shoot during practice at school.
   When she opened her eyes again, Dylan asked, “What did you pray
for?”
   “Protection.”
   “I hope it worked.”
                                #      #       #
   After nine, a soldier Dylan’s age got on the bus. Without saying any-
thing he got in the driver’s seat, started the bus, and, after warming up
the engine, began to move out. Near the main gates, the officer with
three stars was sitting in a low chair smoking a pipe. He waved and
smiled as they passed.
   For a while the bus followed in a line of other buses but slowly the line
started breaking up and the buses started going different ways.
   At Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base, twenty minutes away, the bus
stopped and a man only a few years older than Dylan got on smoking a
cigar. He was Asian and had long black hair that was tightly slicked back
into a ponytail.
   The man took a long drag on his cigar, and then started to cough as he
tried to swallow the smoke. “That thing taste like garbage,” he said,
looking at it in disgust and then tossing it out the door.
   In the hall of the bus he announced, “My name is Lyle Ridgemont. I’m
your new team leader.” He turned to the bus driver, “Let’s move out.”
   He was about to sit, but then paused and said suddenly, “Who has a
PSP?”
   A couple kids raised their hands. He went to the closest, “Hand it
over. This is going to be a long bus ride.”
   Lyle sat in the empty seat in front of Dylan. After less than five
minutes he seemed frustrated with the game. He turned around to
Dylan, “What’s your name, soldier?”
   “Dylan Austen.”
   He grabbed at Dylan’s neck and shouted, “That’s Dylan Austen, sir.”
   “Sir! Dylan Austen, sir!” Dylan said frightened.
   “I’m just kidding you—had you scared though, right?”



                                                                         21
   Dylan nodded.
   “Kind of old to be on this bus aren’t you?” Before Dylan spoke, he
said, “I guess you would be—you’re pretty puny.”
   “So what’s her problem?” He looked at Trinity who hadn’t said any-
thing. Before Dylan answered he said, “She ain’t a mute is she?”
   “Maybe I’m just being quiet!” Trinity said.
   “Calm down, girl!” He paused and added, “I had a cousin who was
mute—she made a fine soldier. Never made a peep.”
   “Where are we going?” Trinity asked.
   “We’re going to war! Where you’ve been?”
   “I meant…”
   “I know what you meant! Ease up soldier!” He paused, and said
quietly, “Can you keep a secret?”
   Dylan and Trinity both nodded.
   “We’re going to Disneyland.”
   “Disneyland?” Dylan said.
   “Ssh! Keep it down—I told you it’s a secret.”
   “Why?”
   “I’ve told you too much.” Lyle stood and walked to the front of the
bus to talk to the driver.
   The boy behind Dylan tapped him on his shoulder and said, “Hey, can
you get my PSP back? He’s not even playing it.”
   Dylan looked at Lyle. He was holding the game standing in the front
of the bus. He was trading war stories with the driver. Then he looked
back at the boy; he didn’t look much older than his younger broth-
er—probably 13—the same age as everyone else on the bus except Trin-
ity and Dylan; he had thick coke bottle glasses that were scratched in
several places, and blonde hair that was parted neatly on the side. “I’m
sure we’re almost there.”
   “But I’m bored,” he whined, “all the other kids get to play it. It’s not
fair.”
   Dylan pulled out his PSP from his bag and handed to him. “Play
mine.”
   “Really?”
   Dylan nodded.
   From behind he heard a whisper, “I’m Hunter.”
   Dylan, without turning, put his hand behind him for Hunter to shake.
“I’m Dylan.” He felt Hunter’s small hands shake his and he wondered
how he would fire a weapon.




                                                                        22
   Trinity smiled at Dylan’s gesture. He caught her smile and said,
“That’s the first smile I’ve seen on your face all day—does that mean you
forgive me?”
   “I forgive you, but I’m still mad.”
   “That’s progress.” He paused, “Wherever we’re going it’s not going to
be that bad.”
                                 #     #       #
   Almost an hour into the trip, city lights finally started to appear. Most
of the power was cut at dusk, but there were scattered lights, and Dylan
could tell it was Orange County. His mom was from Orange County,
and he had been there several times before.
   They got off the freeway at the exit for Edison Field, former home of
the California Angels. The ballpark’s lights were off, but spotlights were
on in the parking lot where several helicopters were starting to take off.
Much like Legoland, the parking lot was being used as a makeshift Army
base, but on a much larger scale.
   The bus finally stopped just outside of Disney’s California Adventure
Theme Park. Lyle looked the bus up and down and then said, “Welcome
to Disney’s California Adventure. We go after guerilla soldiers tomor-
row—get some rest. Company D’s HQ is at the main entrance gift store.”
Lyle pulled out his sidearm, and fired a shot into the bus’s ceiling, then
hollered, “Fall out.”
   Several months ago, coco puffs had tried to take control of the Los
Angeles area. It had been a long-fought campaign, but rebel frosted flake
troops had pushed them into Ventura. There were still, however, small
guerilla forces that were doing damage in southern California. One such
force, Dylan now knew, was inside of Disneyland.
   They were led quickly to the Grand California Hotel inside the park.
Dylan tried to look around, but it was too dark to see anything.
   They were led to rooms, and then divided into groups of four boys or
four girls to a room.
   “I’ll meet you here in the morning.” Dylan said writing down Trinity’s
room number on his hand.
   Dylan checked the door handle once they had been shut in the room,
and discovered they were locked in from the outside. He turned and
looked at the two beds, and then at the three other boys, who were all
thirteen, and said, “I’m the oldest so I get one of the beds—you guys can
fight for the other.”
   The other kids began to immediately survey the room, looking
through all the drawers, and trying to get the TV, which had no picture



                                                                         23
but was softly playing music from popular video games, to turn to actual
video. Two minutes later, while they were still looking through the
room, the power was cut off and everything but the music coming from
the TV turned off.
   Hunter, who was one of the boys assigned to the room, yelped, as an-
other kid said, “What do we do?”
   “I guess we go to bed,” Dylan replied.
   “I’m not tired—we should order room service!”
   Dylan ignored the idea and got into bed. He turned on his side and
tried not to pay attention to the other kids who were humming to the
music that was being played through the television.
   Moments later he felt a tap on his shoulder. “Yeah?”
   “It’s Hunter.” he said, and then climbed in bed next to him.
   “What the heck are you doing?”
   “I don’t like the dark.”
   Dylan sighed, and moved over so he could fit. “Just stay on top of the
covers.” He put a pillow between the two of them, and added, “The pil-
low is the boundary—pass it and you’re sleeping on the floor.”
   Ten minutes later there was an explosion outside and another kid
named Timmy joined them in the bed.
   While the other kids fell asleep quickly, Dylan stared at the ceiling
hopelessly. He wondered what his parents were doing, and if Trinity
was as worried as he was. He wondered if the rebel forces knew we
were planning an attack, or if they were planning one of their own. And
he wondered if he’d know how to fight—if he would have to fight—if he
could fight. He had been in a fight once at school; they both fought like
girls pulling at each other’s hair and scratching. The teacher thought it
was funny and didn’t even send them to the principal; he wished the
war could be settled by men fighting like he had that day.
   Two hours into his unrest, he stood and went to the window. The
lights were out everywhere but he could make out the cigarette butts of
two guards smoking below. His grandma had told him that this place
was the happiest on Earth, but there was nothing happy about it now.
                                #      #     #

  (Coco Puff, Blog Entry)
  CALL ME COCO PUFF
  Posted: Tuesday, September 10, 2014 | 08:51 AM (GMT)




                                                                      24
   The blogger who now goes by the self-proclaimed title “Frosted Flake”
makes some bold statements. I’m not speaking of the disbandment of our
government. I’ll let other bloggers question his patriotism to America.
Unlike what the Frosted Flake believes, this is NOT a bad thing for the
United States. Ever since the French market attacks, the stability of the
country has been on edge. The country needs this deal.
   Countries used to occupy other countries as a way of showing power;
empires were built by his simple technique. I believe this move by Amer-
ica is the next way countries will flex their muscles. A country’s size is no
longer important! Power, in this modern world, will be determined by
such investments as the one America is making.
   The fact that all of Congress has approved this measure should be
enough to convince you that the President only means well. Look at the
plan. What flaw do you see? It goes against traditions. Desperate times
call for more progressive measures.
   Companies have teamed with others for years to share their brand.
Why not a country? When its intent is only to add strength and virtue to
the country, then where is the wrong?
   Your name change is only a cheap gimmick and an example of your
arrogance. If playing cheap tricks with words is all it takes to get readers,
then you can call me Coco Puff!

  TAGS: United States, great ideas, PlayStation, Frosted Flake




                                                                          25
Chapter   5
Level 3: The Battle of Disneyland
An officer pounded on the door at four in the morning, two hours after
Dylan had finally fallen asleep. In a sleep haze, Dylan watched light
creep into the room from the hall as the door opened; a man in the door-
way shouted, “Be ready in ten.”
   Dylan stared blankly at the TV, still playing music from video games
faintly, yawned and then realized he was covered in piss.
   “You pissed on me?!” He said looking at Hunter.
   Hunter looked blankly at Dylan and then sat up alarmed when he fi-
nally comprehended what he had said to Dylan, “I didn’t mean to.”
   Dylan stood and began taking off his jeans. “These are my favorite
pants.”
   Timmy, the other boy who shared a bed with Dylan the night before,
began to cry.
   “What’s your problem?” Dylan studied him and saw he was wet.
“You too?”
   Timmy nodded.
   Dylan turned to the second bed and asked, “Is anyone here not
covered in piss?!” Before anyone spoke, Dylan saw a large wet stain in
the middle of the bed and knew the answer.
   “I don’t believe this.”
   “I was to scarred to go to the bathroom,” Hunter explained, “I heard
noises outside. I’m sorry.”
   “Me too.” The other boy explained.
   “Are we going to get in trouble?” Hunter asked putting on his glasses.
   “No. You’re just going to stink.”
   “What should we do?” Timmy asked.
   “Get changed. We only have a few minutes.”
   “I only brought games and chargers,” Hunter replied, “My mom said
I’d get a uniform once I was here.”




                                                                      26
   “You got to be kidding me.” He looked at the others, “And the rest of
you? One of you has to have a change of clothes?”
   Each one nodded that they had only brought games.
   Dylan thought and then said, “Everyone get to the bathroom.” There
was a hair dryer attached to the bathroom wall and one by one he began
drying them as best he could; they took turns rubbing the bar of soap on
their arms.
   Timmy continued to quietly cry as Dylan dried him. “That’s enough,”
Dylan said.
   “I can’t help it,” he whined, “I don’t want to be here.”
   Dylan took a step back and looked Timmy in the eye, “You think
they’ll let you go?”
   Timmy shrugged.
   Dylan rolled his eyes and explained, “You’re stuck here—like it or not.
You stop crying, though, and stay close to me, and I’ll watch out for
you.”
   Timmy didn’t reply.
    “Good as new.” Dylan said when he finished. They were still damp,
but not as noticeable; it was the best they were going to be since they
didn’t have any more time. He went to the door and tried to open it; it
was no longer locked. “Come on, let’s go.”
   “I’m sorry I peed on you.” Hunter said.
   Dylan smiled. “Piss happens.”
   Dylan walked to Trinity’s room; his three younger roommates shame-
fully followed behind. She was waiting outside the room with Sarah, one
of her roommates.
   “How’d you sleep?”
   “Ugh! That stupid game music played all night long!” She paused,
“Did you take a shower? You smell like soap.”
   “Just a bit of bar soap.”
   She looked at him oddly.
   “It’s to cover up the piss smell.” He paused and then added, “We had
a few accidents last night—actually two and possibly three, but no one is
owning up to the third one.”
   Trinity smiled, “Little old for that, no?”
   Dylan rolled his eyes.
   “Save the talking for the mess hall,” an officer said, walking down the
hall.
                                 #       #    #




                                                                       27
   The mess hall was not far from the main lobby downstairs, inside what
had at one time held large business seminars. Several hundred kids were
already inside. They were larger and belonged to other companies.
   A line had formed in the back of the room; there, a skinny old man in a
Hawaiian t-shirt with a large mole on the tip of his nose was serving
each soldier oatmeal with prunes.
   “Bowl of oatmeal,” Dylan said when they reached the front of the line,
sarcastically adding, “but hold the prunes.”
   The man ignored Dylan’s request.
   “Why do you have to add your stupid little comments,” Trinity said,
sitting at a fold up table.
   “It wasn’t a stupid comment—I didn’t want prunes.”
   “There’re my Company D men,” Lyle said, coming up to their table
carrying a large plate of eggs and potatoes, and then awkwardly added,
“And women.”
   “They had eggs?” Dylan asked.
   Lyle laughed. “This is officer food. You really think the government is
going to waste that kind of money on recruits?” He paused and looked
at Hunter. “You’re PSP boy, right?”
   Hunter nodded.
   “Hand it over—I want to practice my killing after breakfast.”
   Hunter reluctantly pulled it from his bag and handed it to Lyle.
Timmy started laughing, and pulled out his own PSP, which he sat in
front of him, but didn’t play.
   “Eat quickly—we start training in ten minutes.”
   “I wanted to play it,” Hunter mumbled sadly.
   “See Trinity, you believed that guy at Legoland when he said Com-
pany D were the guinea pigs! How bad is this? Food tastes like garbage,
but we get basic training at Disneyland.”
   “He’s probably not even going to play it.” Hunter continued to com-
plain. “Can I play yours, Dylan?”
   “I left it in the room.”
   “The Army sucks.” Hunter pouted.
   Sarah, Trinity’s roommate, pulled her PSP from her pocket and
handed it to Hunter. “Here—play mine. I don’t want to play it right
now.”
   Hunter grabbed it without saying thank you, and began to immedi-
ately play.
                                #      #     #




                                                                       28
   Lyle led Company D to the California Screamin’ after breakfast, just as
the sun began to rise. It was a few hundred feet in front of their hotel in
the California Adventure Amusement Park. Aside from the occasional
trash can with bullet holes, and the lake in front of the California Scream-
in’ being completely drained, the park looked the same as it had before
the war. Unlike Legoland, which was covered in weeds and rust, it ap-
peared there had been an effort to maintain the look of Disneyland.
   Company D stood unorganized in front of the ride. There were thirty
others in the company. In front of them there were several large wooden
crates. Lyle pushed his way to the front, stood on top of one of the crates,
and folded his arms. He pulled a pair of sunglasses from his pocket, spit
on them and quickly gave them a cleaning, and then asked excitedly as
he put the glasses on, “Who’s ready for some training?”
   No one spoke. “You wanna see something cool? Check this out!” He
turned and gave a nod to an officer inside the California Screamin’ who
released the coaster from loading area.
   As it coasted past them with no passengers, one of the boys asked ex-
cited, “Do we get to ride it?”
   “Not now.” Lyle laughed, “But if you’re successful with your mission,
then you will—this and many other rides.” He paused and pointed at
crates surrounding him. “Inside the boxes are guns and helmets. Let’s
line up and get started—gotta long day ahead of us.”
   Dylan was not eager to get a gun, and was the last to line up. He was
never good with shooting in school. He took his gun and helmet reluct-
antly from Lyle, and then told Trinity quietly, “I sucked at shooting.” He
thought back to his very first war game in school. He fell to the ground
by the force of the gun and landed in a puddle of mud. By the time he
got up, he had been shot three times—once by his own teammate. He
was always picked last in forthcoming games.
   Trinity smiled, “I know. These guns are different—maybe they’ll be
easier?”
   Lyle bent down and pulled his socks over his pants, and turned his
army cap sideways; he fired his gun in the air to get everyone’s attention,
and then said, “You boys and girls ready to have some fun?” He pulled a
helmet from the crate and explained, “Your helmet has built-in stereo
headphones and a mic for communications—but here’s the best part,” he
tapped a small blue button under the tip of his helmet and explained, “It
also has Bluetooth so you can sync up your iPod. Try ‘em on!” After they
did he smiled and said spinning the helmet on his index finger, “Now




                                                                         29
the really best part! This is a M9 semiautomatic—it’s been refitted for
smaller fingers.” He paused, “So how many here can use a gun?”
    Two boys raised their hands—Dylan was not one of them. At Dylan’s
high school they began teaching students how to fire a weapon in sixth
grade. Everyone knew how to fire a gun, but no one was eager to admit
it.
    Lyle shrugged, “Well then, prepare to learn.” He aimed his gun above
their heads at the Ferris Wheel behind them. “Aim your guns there.”
    The kids turned, and one asked confused, “What are we aiming at?”
    “Doesn’t matter—just don’t hit anyone.”
    When the kids had found things to point at, Lyle commanded, “Now
pull the trigger.” He smiled as he watched; several of the kids fell over
from the force of the weapon.
    Dylan pointed at a light pole and fired. The bullet dinged the light’s
metal pole. “It’s easier than the ones in school.”
    He showed them quickly how to put in a new magazine, and then ex-
plained proudly, “You guys and dolls seem to have the hang of it. You’ll
get uniforms later at the morgue—we’re just waiting for them to come
in.” He laughed, “If you see any coco puffs, just pretend like it’s a video-
game and blow their heads off.”
    He passed out maps of Disneyland, and then smiled, “I have one last
surprise before we go into the main park hunting for cocos.” He looked
at the Sun Wheel behind them, and then nodded for it to be turned on.
As it started to move, he explained, “This Ferris Wheel has the best view
of the park—take a good look, and holler if you spot a coco. We head to
the other park next.”
    Dylan, Trinity, Sarah and Hunter took a ride carriage together; Sarah
sat next to Trinity, and immediately leaned towards the caged bars and
looked at the park next door with intensity; Hunter, who was next to
Dylan, was immersed in Sarah’s PSP.
    They could see more companies lining up in other areas of the Califor-
nia Adventure, and they began hearing scattered sounds of gunfire. Two
soldiers in the dried up pond below the Ferris Wheel had begun to
skateboard.
    “This probably would be romantic under different circumstances.”
Dylan said nudging Trinity’s foot.
    Trinity ignored Dylan’s comment, closed her eyes and reclined in her
seat. “Ferris Wheels always make me dizzy and sick.”
    “You’re not going to vomit are you?”




                                                                         30
   “No.” She opened her eyes and looked in the distance at the baseball
stadium where the Angels used to play, and then asked, “Did you ever
like baseball?”
   Dylan shrugged, “Never really saw it played.”
   “My mom says my dad used to play. She said he was a pitcher. I heard
on the east coast they still play it.”
   “So it’s a coco game?” Dylan asked confused.
   “No—they just play it.”
   “How do you even know what goes on in the east coast? You a spy?”
   “No!” Trinity said rolling her eyes, “My brother told me in one of the
letters he sent home. He fought a few campaigns there.”
   “My dad says your grandma’s a spy—did I ever tell you that?”
   “Well someone should tell your dad that Mexico’s on our side now.”
   “I did! He doesn’t believe it. He says it’s all part of their strategy to re-
take California. He says all Mexicans are spies—he didn’t even like me
walking to school with you.”
   Trinity looked at her gun, and then asked, “Where are we even sup-
posed to put these things? I can just see some kid putting it in his pocket
and accidentally blowing his foot off.”
   Dylan shrugged. “Just make sure the safety is on.”
   Trinity nodded. “They could have at least put shoulder straps on
them.” She continued to look at the gun, and then asked suddenly sad,
“Will you really shoot someone?”
   Dylan replied without thinking, “If I have to, yes.”
   “What am I supposed to do? You know how I feel about killing.”
   Dylan knew that Trinity was suffering more than anyone else with
what happened. No one wanted to kill, but for Trinity it was spiritual.
   Trinity once claimed that she had got into an argument with her minis-
ter over whether or not God condemned war. The minister had said in a
sermon that God understood and even would encourage people to fight
for what was right at all cost. Trinity said she went into his office follow-
ing the service and yelled at him for encouraging people to fight. He al-
ways admired her for being so vocal about opposing war.
   Dylan reached over and touched Trinity’s hand; he held it several
seconds and then said, “I don’t like any of this either. I don’t want to kill
someone. It’s war.”
   Trinity looked up at him and said, “I asked a teacher that once—why
people have to kill. I must have been eight or nine. Do you know what
she said?”




                                                                             31
   Dylan nodded and Trinity explained, “She pulled out a video game
controller and said, ‘war, my dear, is just a real-life video game—all the
principles are the same. Each level in the game you kill people because if
you don’t they kill you, and if you kill enough of them, then you win the
game.” She paused and then said softer, “But this isn’t a video
game—when you kill they don’t come back—ever. I don’t know if I can
live with that guilt.”
   Dylan squeezed her hand tightly and said, “Just don’t think about it
until you have to.”
   Lyle was studying the Matterhorn Mountain, the fake white mountain
in the middle of Disneyland, when they exited the Ferris Wheel carriage.
He stopped Dylan and pointed at the mountain. “Once we retake the
park, I’m going to climb to the top of that thing and smoke the fattest ci-
gar I can find.”
   Dylan awkwardly smiled, but said nothing.
    “That’s enough fun and games—let’s move out.” Lyle commanded
once everyone was off the Ferris Wheel.
   At the main gate of Disneyland, Lyle told them to squat down and be
quiet. He went ahead past the entrance, and talked for a few minutes to
an officer at the gate. He pointed several times at the company and
laughed, but Dylan could not hear what they were saying.
   Lyle came back looking calmer. “It’s all clear on Main Street. Let’s
move out—stay close to the stores.”
   They grouped up at City Hall. Lyle looked around at the kids and then
focused his eyes on Dylan. “You—up front.”
   Dylan quickly ran to the front where Lyle handed him a single hand
grenade. “Don’t worry—you won’t need it.” He slapped him hard on the
rear and said, “You’re in charge until I get back.” Then he started to jog
off.
   “Where are you going?”
   “Scouting.”
   “What are we supposed to do?”
   He laughed, “You’re at the happiest place on Earth—have a little fun!”
   As Lyle jogged off, Dylan turned around and stared at the rest of the
kids. The kids looked at him, waiting for him to speak. Finally he said,
“Stay close and keep your voices down.”
   “He still has my PSP,” Hunter whined as he watched Lyle run off.
                                #      #      #
   The streets of Main Street felt haunted; the sounds of laugher and chat-
ter that had once filled the street when it was open had now vanished,



                                                                        32
and in their place was an eerie silence that seemed unorthodox in the
park.
  Most of the windows were boarded up; the few windows that weren’t
were dirty. Dylan looked in one of the windows and pressed his face
against the glass to see inside.
  “Do you really think you should do that?” Trinity questioned.
  Dylan ignored her, and continued to squint to make out what was
inside.
  “Well what do you see?” Trinity finally asked.
  Dylan turned and shrugged. “Nothing, really. There’s a few things
thrown on the ground, but it’s pretty empty.”
  “Gross!” one of the kids shouted looking at the ground.
  “Keep it down!” He went to the kid, and asked, “What is it?”
  “Horse crap.” He said pointing at a small pile on the asphalt.
  Dylan squatted down and studied it a little closer, and then stood and
announced, “It’s fresh.”
  “What does that mean?”
  “It means someone has recently been down this street.”
  “Coco puffs?”
  Dylan shrugged. “Let’s just keep walking—and no talking.”
  As they walked further down the street, faintly in the background they
began hearing music from the nineteen twenties coming from a single
speaker somewhere at the end of the street.
  They walked slowly, expecting something to jump out at any moment.
The further down the street they were, the more confident the kids got.
At the end of the street, Timmy spotted the abandoned head from the
Mickey Mouse costume on the ground near the bronze statue of Walt
Disney, which had been knocked over. He ran to it, and put it over his
head. The weight of the head made him walk unbalanced.
  “Let’s kill the mouse,” another kid shouted with a laugh.
  “Keep it down!” Dylan hollered.
  “Let’s kill the mouse!” The kid repeated, this time more quiet. He
found a small rock on the ground, and threw it at Timmy’s mouse head;
the other boys followed, and it quickly became a game. The girls (there
were only a dozen) were quiet; they giggled every now and then at the
boys throwing the rocks. Many of the kids had put down their guns to be
able to hold more rocks.
  Dylan walked to the café just in front of Tomorrow Land, and sat with
his arms crossed at one of the outside tables. Hunter took a seat close to
him.



                                                                       33
   “We really should stop them,” Trinity said standing in front of Dylan,
“it’s not safe. There’s cocos out there somewhere.” Trinity said.
   “They’re not listening to me.” Dylan said, picking at the white paint
that was chipping from the metal chair.
   “Well, then make them.”
   “They’re just playing.”
   “What if coco puffs hear them?” Trinity nervously asked.
   “The park is empty. Lyle wouldn’t have left us if they suspected
trouble.”
   “Lyle is barely older than you and has probably never been in
battle—you really trust him?”
   “And he took my PSP.” Hunter added as he cleaned his glasses.
   “He seems alright.” He looked at Hunter, and said, “You don’t want to
play with them?”
   “It looks stupid.” He pulled out Sarah’s PSP and then asked as he
played, “Aren’t there supposed to be tanks and stuff in war?”
   “I don’t think we’re in war yet.” Dylan replied trying to get his iPod to
sync to his helmet.
   Trinity looked at Dylan oddly. Dylan caught her stare and she asked,
“You hear that?”
   “I think I hear it!” Hunter said excited.
   “What?” Dylan listened but heard nothing.
   Before Trinity answered, a boy playing at the fountain near the café
shouted, “It’s the merry-go-round!”
   Timmy tossed off the character head and pointed at Sleeping Beauty’s
castle. “It’s on the other side of the castle. Let’s go ride it!” Timmy began
to run towards the castle, and all the others followed quickly behind.
Many of them left their weapons behind, including Timmy, who was
running ahead of everyone else.
   “Wait!” Dylan yelled, quickly standing. It was too late.
                                 #       #      #
    “Stay here!” Dylan commanded Hunter and Trinity as he sprinted off
to chase the rest of the company.
   They didn’t listen to him, and as he ran he began to feel like a horrible
leader—nobody listened to a single word he said. As he ran to round
them up, he thought about how disappointed his dad would be if he
could see him giving orders that no one would follow. “Men who don’t
take orders are men who have not been given orders by one meant to
lead,” he would have said.




                                                                          34
   On the other side of the castle, the courtyard was quiet. Timmy and
the others began to climb over the short gate over the merry-go-round,
which was spinning around and playing the music.
   “Maybe it’s ok” Hunter said
   Dylan shook his head. “We need to get them out of here—quickly.”
   A coco puff on top of the roof of Mister Toad’s Wild Ride shot and
killed Timmy, the only kid who had successfully climbed on the merry-
go-round. As his limp body fell from the horse he had climbed on, over
two dozen other cocos on the rooftops surrounded them on all sides and
proceeded to fire.
   “Take no prisoners!” one of the cocos yelled with a French accent. He
had long, greasy hair and appeared to be the same age as Dylan; there
was a yellow stripe on his shoulder, which meant that he was in charge
of the company.
   The cocos began firing at the command. Dylan saw a girl, one of the
ones that had slept in Trinity’s room, fall dead as a bullet hit her once in
the back and once in the head. He felt a bullet whiz just by his own head
and knew then that war was real, but he didn’t have time to think about
what that meant.
   “What do we do?” Hunter cried as himself and several others took
cover near the merry-go-round. Dylan didn’t answer. He looked around
and saw only chaos; Samuel, the boy who had slept next to Timmy, was
frozen and helpless—several others had a similar stance.
   “What do we do?” Hunter cried again, this time more panicked.
   Dylan looked around and pointed at the Pinocchio ride; the inside of
the ride was boarded up but the queue was not, and there was a cement
wall in front of it. “Take cover there.” He tried to get as many kids pos-
sible to the Pinocchio queue. As he ran he felt a bullet knick his helmet.
When they were there, he hollered, “Return fire.”
   “Shoot them?” Trinity questioned over the firing bullets.
   “What else can we do?” Dylan looked several in the eyes; they were
full of fury—all young and fighting in a war that started before they
were born. “Kill the cocos!” Dylan shot first and the kids who still had
weapons quickly followed. He watched his target fall dead. It didn’t feel
like he thought it would. It was quick. It felt like he was standing in front
of a bear that was about to attack him, and it was either the bear or him.
He was just an animal hunting his prey. He was just trying to live. His
second kill didn’t come as easy. He fired several times, but none of the
bullets came close to hitting anything.




                                                                          35
   Dylan grabbed Trinity’s elbow before he reloaded his gun and shook
it. “Listen Trinity—I know you don’t want to live with the guilt, but
killing them is the only way to protect your friends. If they die you have
to live with a different kind of guilt.”
   Trinity closed her eyes and began to cry. When she opened them, she
aimed it at the first person she saw and fired. She cried each time she
fired and quietly said “Forgive me” every time she hit one. She was a
good shot; much better then Dylan—or anyone else. She hit almost
everything she fired at.
   Dylan ducked under the cement wall, and reloading his gun. He no-
ticed for the first time about six of the kids were not shooting. “Return
fire!” Dylan demanded.
   “We don’t have guns!” One of the kids replied fearfully.
   Dylan rolled his eyes and sighed, and then peeked his head back over
the cement wall. The cocos appeared to have grown in number, and
were now off the roof coming in large numbers from inside the Peter Pan
ride across the courtyard.
   “We should surrender.” Trinity said over the bullets. “We can never
win”
   “They will kill us.” Dylan hollered as he continued to return fire.
   “Maybe not.”
   “They shot first.”
   “So?”
   “They don’t take prisoners—they’re monsters. You heard what the
coco said—‘take no prisoners!’”
   “We can’t win, Dylan.”
   Dylan looked around thinking, and then finally said, “We have to
run.”
   “Run! To where? They have us surrounded.”
   “If we charged them they wouldn’t be able to get us all.”
   Trinity looked at Dylan hopelessly.
   “It’s our only hope.”
   Trinity sadly nodded.
   Dylan took her free hand, and squeezed, “We can do this!”
   She nodded again.
   The least amount of soldiers were towards the whale of the Storybook
Land boat ride. There were nineteen of Company D left and about fifteen
cocos in the direction they’d be charging.
   As Trinity and Hunter continued to fire, Dylan said, “Does everyone
know where ‘Toon Town is?”



                                                                       36
  They all nodded.
  “When I say run, we run—just keep running until you get to ‘Toon
Town. Understood?”
  They nodded again.
  Dylan took out the one and only grenade. He took a deep breath as he
held it in his hand, and studied it. He looked at Trinity and smiled, and
then removed the pin and threw the grenade towards the cocos. When it
exploded, he yelled, “Run!”
  Dylan led the charge, firing as he ran. Trinity was right next to him
with Hunter and the remaining kids. The grenade exploding had caused
enough confusion and disruption for some of the way to be cleared for
them to run through.
  It didn’t take long for the firing to continue again. Above the bullets he
could hear the kids crying in pain as their bodies fell to the ground.
Dylan nearly tripped on one body as he ran; it was a Sarah, and she was
bloody, but still alive. “I’m sorry.” Dylan said and he jumped over her
and kept running.
  Trinity, who was running alongside him, started to turn, but Dylan
took her arm and pulled at it, yelling above the bullets and cries, “No
stopping!”
  They broke through the lines, but only twelve of them were still alive.
The cocos chased closely behind them firing at their backs.
  “They’re going to kills us,” Hunter cried.
  “Just keeping running.”
  They were just past the Tea Cups ride when frosted flake soldiers,
adult ones in camouflage, began jumping out of trees and boarded-up
booths. They fired back at the coco puffs and gave Company D he cover
that they needed to escape.
  It was quiet near the ‘Toon Town entrance. Two young, unsuspecting
coco puffs were making out on a park bench to the sound of gunfire in
the background. Dylan looked at them, and they looked back—stunned.
  “What are you waiting for?!” Lyle said coming from behind, “Shoot
them!
  “No!” The coco said, jumping in front of the girl. “Please, take us pris-
oners! We surrender! We surrender!” His accent was French.
  Lyle laughed, “Sorry, I don’t believe we had orders to take prisoners.”
He aimed his gun at the woman’s head and fired. The man began to run,
but Lyle shot him in the back, and then the head.
  “They were defenseless.” Trinity said tearfully.
  “So were you.” Lyle replied. “Who wants coffee?”



                                                                         37
   Dylan looked at their blood flowing like a puddle on the concrete. He
realized how quickly he had adjusted to war.
   Trinity ran to a tree and began vomiting.
   “What’s her problem?” Lyle said amused.
   “Where were you—they slaughtered us.”
   “Scouting—I told you.” He smiled and slapped Dylan on the back,
“You did good soldier—you did real good.” He paused and looked at
the ‘Toon Town entrance, “We’re barbequing inside ‘Toon Town for
lunch—I’d say all of you have earned the right to have some chicken.
What do you say?”
   Dylan didn’t say anything.
   Lyle pulled a small canteen from his side pouch and poured water
over his head, “It’s been some day—see you all in ‘Toon Town.” Then he
jogged off.
   Dylan watched him run off; he wanted to turn, but he couldn’t—he
was numb. He felt a tap on his side and jumped, and then turned to see
it was Hunter. He was talking, but Dylan didn’t comprehend it at first
and just stared.
   “Is it over, Dylan?” Hunter tearfully asked again.
   Dylan turned around and studied the smoke stream coming from
Fantasyland, and then turned back to Hunter, “For now.”
                                #      #     #

  (Rebel Frosted Flake, Blog Entry)
  AMERICA’S ARMY
  Posted: Thursday, September 11, 2014 | 8:47 AM (PST)

  Several years ago, while I was still a graduate student, I read an article
about America's Army. This was 2002, when the game was just being re-
leased for the first time and not that many people knew about it. At the
time I was an avid gamer, and I downloaded the game out of curiosity. I
was struck by the realism; I was naive so of course I thought this was a
good idea.
  The government was quick to point out that there was really nothing
they could have done to prevent the attacks in that Paris market; maybe
they shouldn’t be blamed—but the game was on the group’s computer
and they used it for training. So maybe the government isn’t to blame;
maybe they would have found another game to use as training. Maybe.
That's the problem with “maybe” though—you just never know.




                                                                         38
   I accused the government then of not taking preventive measures; I
said in my blog, “Maybe there’s nothing the government could have
done then, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing they can do now.”
   They did nothing after the attacks except sympathize with the families
of the victims. In times of trial, we don’t need the sympathy of the gov-
ernment—we need its leadership.
   Looking at the line-up of new PlayStation games, a line-up that the
President himself endorsed in his address to the nation yesterday, it is
clear that the government is not interested in taking preventive measures
to make sure another market attack doesn't happen.
   And I am simply outraged by the government’s new game rating sys-
tem, which adds “EP” to games that the government approves for educa-
tional play within the classroom. “Educational Play”?! What does that
mean?
   This Frosted Flake has many things to be confused about these days…

  Tags: PlayStation, video games, America’s Army, Paris Market At-
tacks, game rating system, Educational Play




                                                                      39
Chapter   6
Level 4: War is Hell
An empty soda can hit Dylan’s shoulder as he walked into ‘Toon Town
with Trinity and Hunter; he quickly dropped to the ground covering his
head, instinctively thinking they were under fire.
   “Looks like someone has shell shock!” Lyle, who had thrown the can,
said laughing. He was standing in front of a barbeque with a spatula. He
turned and looked to the man next to him, who was wearing nothing but
boxers, flip flops, and Goofy’s oversized character head. With a hard
nudge, Lyle explained, “This is the kid I was telling you about—the
hero.”
   “Come get a burger, kid.” The Goofy said; his voice was muffled with
the mask.
   “I’m not really hungry.”
   “Come on! The patties are shaped like Mickey’s head.”
   Dylan nodded. Lyle explained, “Leave ‘em be. You remember how it
was when you had your first kill—probably didn’t eat for a week.”
   The Goofy nodded, “But not by choice. We were surrounded by cocos
for two days and didn’t have food.”
   The three of them left Lyle and his friend and found a small table in
front of Mickey Mouse’s ‘Toon Town residence, still too overwhelmed to
speak. In silence, they watched soldiers celebrating the slaughter of the
final coco puff hold outs.
   Loud music crackled through small speakers and all of the rides had
been turned on. Huge soldiers crammed into small ride carriages; several
girls were using the top of Donald Duck’s house boat as a dance floor;
and the “Toon” portion of the sign that said “Toon Town” had been re-
placed with a banner that said “Rebel.”
   It reminded Dylan of the block parties that used to happen near his
house; not long after the war there was one every month—to celebrate
new men, and later women, going off to fight. As he got older, and fewer
people returned home from fighting, the parties got less frequent until



                                                                      40
they finally stopped altogether. At one time the neighborhood had been
banded closely together but in the past five years the friendliness
stopped. The food supplies had lessoned and it was hard to be friendly
to the person you were competing with for food.
   After finishing his burger, Lyle came over to them holding a large cup.
“Try it,” he offered, “It helps you forget—we call it Mickey Juice.”
   Dylan shook his head.
   Lyle shrugged, “Suit yourself. I’m off to the officer’s quarter—if you
change your mind there’s plenty of juice in Mickey’s house.”
   Thirty minutes later, a small go-cart loudly made its way into ‘Toon
Town driven by a young Mexican soldier with a patch over his right eye.
He drove recklessly fast, narrowly missing hitting several people.
   He stopped at the barbeques and appeared to be asking questions. Fin-
ally, someone pointed at Dylan, and he approached where Dylan was
sitting with Hunter and Trinity. He studied each of them carefully with
his one eye, then asked, “You’re Dylan from Company D, right?”
   Dylan nodded.
   “Come with me.”
   “Where to?”
   “You’ll see.”
   Dylan turned to Trinity and helplessly explained, “Just wait for me,
okay?”
   He followed the man to the go-cart and the soldier quickly man-
euvered the small car out of the land.
   “Some fight your men put up.” The man hollered over the loud gas
engine.
   Dylan nodded and flinched as the man swerved to avoid hitting a
small girl who was carrying several drinks.
   He pulled out beef jerky from a pack hanging on the back of his seat,
and said, “I’ve fought a few battles, but never actually been pinned
down—it must have been quite a rush.” He paused and chewed the
jerky as he reflected, and then added, “I was in a simulator once in train-
ing that had us pinned down—ran the same module twenty times, and I
died every single time. I imagine it would be different results in real life
though.”
   Dylan was not listening to the man. They were not far from where the
battle had been, and he couldn’t help but stare at the scene with both ter-
ror and curiosity; bodies still lay on the cement waiting to be carried
away and ammunition shells were scattered everywhere. Heavily armed
men stood on the merry-go-round as it went in a circle playing its



                                                                         41
carnival music—each of them was drinking, laughing, and seemed to be
enjoying the morbid scene. The man driving saluted them, but they did
not salute back.
   The man pointed at his eye patch and announced, “Didn’t get this
from battle though—in case you’re wondering. Got bored one night and
had a pencil fight with a buddy of mine—called me a Mexican spy.” He
smiled and added, “Guess things got carried away, right?!”
   “Must have been some fight.” Dylan mumbled.
   The man stopped the go-cart at the entrance of the Monorail. “Let’s
go” he said, getting out of the car and leading Dylan up the entrance’s
escalator and to the Monorail’s loading platform.
   “Wait here.” he instructed at the top of the platform; he turned and
started to walk away but stopped before reaching the escalator. “I hope I
get the chance to fight with you sometime.” He saluted, but Dylan did
not salute back.
   Dylan walked to the edge of the platform and look at what remained
of Autopia; it had been used for training purposes and much of the small
highway that miniature cars used to travel on had been blasted away. A
scarecrow-like doll sat on a post at the entrance and its head was full of
bullets; the word “coco” was written in red pen all over the hands and
legs.
   Dylan saw the Monorail enter the park and turned to face it. As it
slowly pulled into the station he looked curiously into each car. Seats
had been torn out of all of them. The first car had a long dining table and
officers were laughing and eating. The next car was full of TVs and
videogames. And the final cars were lounges.
   Lyle stuck his head out of the last and hollered, “Over here, Dylan!”
He had taken off his uniform and was now wearing jeans, a tank top,
and a hat that had the “Halo Universe” logo.
   Inside the Monorail, Lyle sat behind a large oak desk and he motioned
for Dylan to sit in the chair in front of the desk. As he did so, Dylan no-
ticed Hunter’s PSP on top of the desk next to a signed photograph of the
President.
   “Cigar?” Lyle said, pulling a box from the drawer and lighting a cigar.
   “No, thanks.”
   “They taste terrible, but they’ll make you look older, and help you
earn respect.”
   Lyle looked at the photo of the president and explained, “Last year,
when the President lived briefly in the park, they had this car converted
into the Oval Office. They said he would ride around the park with his



                                                                        42
head hanging out the window like some kind of dog or something. One
of the generals said he was completely insane—I don’t believe him
though—strong leadership is the only reason we’re winning this war.”
   Dylan looked at the photo of the President and asked, “Did he have
that signed photo of himself when he lived here?” There was a picture of
the President in the halls of his school, but Dylan knew little about him;
last year a coco airplane dropped propaganda leaflets from the air; the
mayor forbid anyone from reading them, but Dylan found one in his
backyard and it said the rebel President had been dead for years and the
entire government was controlled by his cabinet, and on the verge of
collapse.
   Lyle stood, irritated. “How should I know that?”
   “Are we really winning the war?”
   Lyle nodded wildly, “Whole thing will be over by Christmas.” He
walked to the miniature pool table at the front of the car and set up the
balls. “You play?”
   Dylan shook his head.
   “Me neither, but how hard can it be, right?”
   “I guess.”
   He opened a bottle of wine and said after drinking half the bottle,
“Don’t just stand around looking like a fool. Get over here and play with
me. This is what adults do when they have serious conversations. They
shoot pool, so the serious stuff doesn’t sound as serious.”
   Dylan walked to the table, and asked, “Is this what this is then? A seri-
ous conversation?”
   Lyle looked at him intensely, and then laughed and slapped him on
the shoulder, “Relax! Just wanted to talk to you is all.” Lyle picked up a
shot gun that was leaning against the table to break the rack. He handed
the gun to Dylan and said, “I guess it’s your turn, right?”
   Before Dylan made any reply, Lyle asked, “What was it like?”
   “What?”
   “To kill.”
   “It was.” Dylan paused, “I don’t know—numbing, I guess. I didn’t
have time to dwell on it—I was just trying to live.”
   “I figured as much.” He was quiet. He looked at a Donald Duck head
in the corner of the room and admitted, “Don’t spread this around, but
I’ve never done it, myself.”
   “Killed?”
   Lyle nodded. He went to the Donald head and put it on then sat on a
giant bean bag near the pool table.



                                                                         43
   “What about today? The teens that you shot?”
   “I mean in a battle. Those teens were defenseless! I’ve never been in
battle.”
   Dylan looked at him oddly.
   Lyle took the mask long enough to take another sip from the wine
bottle, then put it back on.
   “That’s the advantage of my position—I send the company out, but I
don’t fight. I just have to figure out the best place to send you. I’ve
played it plenty of times in the video games, so I know I’ll be ready if I
have to—I’d just prefer to avoid it for now.”
   “How did you know we’d go to the merry-go-round?”
   “Where else would you go? You’re kids—who doesn’t like a ride?”
   “Did you turn it on?”
   “Not me personally. It was all done remotely. We had intel that there
was movement in that region and we suspected they were staked out in
the Peter Pan ride, so we sent you in. we had to do something to lure
them out—you were bait.”
   “Some of the kids that died weren’t even armed.”
   “That’s war, my lad.” He tossed the bottle to Dylan, “Take some.”
   Dylan nodded irritated.
   “Relax, it’s apple cider—I’m not the drunk that you think I am. It’s all
an act—that’s all anything is in this war—all an act. Play the right role
and you just may live.
   “You’re a hero, Dylan! The hero of Disneyland! Sometimes you got to
let a few people die to succeed—war’s a real bitch that way.” Lyle took
the Donald head off and tossed it to Dylan with a laugh, “It’s easier
when you’re hiding behind a mask. Try it on.” He smacked several of the
pool balls with his hand, and then said, “I can’t concentrate on playing
games right now—guess I’m just not ready for these adult conversations,
right?” He walked back to the desk, pulled a remote from the desk and
pointed it behind Dylan at a painting of George Washington crossing the
Delaware. The painting turned to an animated Asian cartoon. “The prob-
lem with war is after a bloody day it’s hard to concentrate on what’s on
TV, and it’s only after a big fight that you get to watch TV.”
   Dylan didn’t respond and Lyle continued, “I haven’t been able to en-
joy anything on the tube for weeks—months. Just once I’d like to come in
one of these rooms after a long day of killing and spread out on the bed
and enjoy what I’m watching. I don’t even laugh at the funny commer-
cials, soldier—that’s how bad it is.”




                                                                        44
  He looked Dylan over again and asked, “You just came to the
front—you must have had TV were you came from. Tell me about
it—what do you enjoy on TV?”
  Dylan shrugged, “The coco puffs knocked satellite and antenna signals
almost two years ago.”
  “That’s a shame—a damn shame, soldier.”
  Dylan nodded. “The last thing I watched was a rerun of The Cosby
Show.”
  Lyle nodded. “Cosby—now there’s a funny man.” He stood and
walked clumsily to where Dylan was standing and rested his arm on his
shoulder. “You fought well today, soldier.”
  Dylan didn’t speak.
  “There’s a promotion coming your way for the wisdom you showed
today—comes at my personal recommendation—get some rest. They’ll
be war orders tomorrow.”
  “Already?”
  “You ain’t seen nothing yet, kid—nothing.”
  Lyle pushed a button on the desk, and the Monorail door opened. He
pointed at it, and Dylan walked away. As the doors started to shut, he
heard Lyle say, “I’m gonna puke.”
  The entrance of ‘Toon Town was blocked by two soldiers playing
hacky-sack when Dylan returned; he tried to go around them, but one of
the soldiers said, “’Toon Town’s closed—they’re getting ready for a fire-
work show.”
  “My friends are in there.”
  “Not anymore—it’s been cleared out.” The soldier looked past Dylan
and said, “Probably find ‘em up at Main Street. That’s where the party
went.”
  Dylan left the men and found a bench near the Matterhorn Mountain,
hoping eventually Trinity and Hunter would return looking for him.
  The Matterhorn ride was running, and several boys were trying to ride
the ride standing up; none of them stood long, and one was knocked off
the ride and looked hurt until he stood up laughing.
  Dylan rested his eyes and before long he had fallen asleep.
                               #      #      #
   “Dylan?” Trinity’s voice said.
  Dylan sheepishly looked up and saw Hunter coming to him quickly
with Trinity not far behind. He was unsure how long he had been asleep.
  “We’ve been walking all over the park looking for you.”
  “I went back to ‘Toon Town, but it was all closed up.”



                                                                      45
   Trinity nodded. “They sent us to get uniforms—where were you?”
   “Lyle wanted to see me—I don’t even know why. He says I’m being
promoted.”
   Trinity went to Dylan and unexpectedly hugged him. “I was afraid we
wouldn’t find you—there’s so many people here now. They’re busing
them in from other places.”
   “I promised you I’d find you.” He looked at Hunter. “He still has your
PSP, Hunter.”
   Hunter nodded and walked toward the Matterhorn quietly watching
the ride.
   “He hasn’t really said anything since this morning.” Trinity said, con-
cerned. “I’m worried about him.”
   Dylan looked at him and said, confidently, “He’ll be fine. He’s just in
shock.” He paused and looked at Trinity; she was surprisingly well com-
posed as Dylan asked, “What about you? Are you okay?”
   Trinity looked down and quietly said, “We’ll all have to deal with it
one day, but today we just needed to survive.”
   Dylan took her hand and squeezed it.
   Trinity sighed and looked up changing the subject, “They said they’re
leaving the roller coasters on all night and then tomorrow everyone is
leaving to fight somewhere else.” She paused, “All the older kids say
they only treat you this good when something bad is going to happen.”
   “They’re just trying to scare you.” He looked at Hunter again, then ad-
ded, “Let’s get our uniforms and go back to the hotel and rest.”
   Trinity nodded. “They said to go to Space Mountain for them.”
   A long line stretched in front outside of the Space Mountain entrance;
at the end, an older man stood in front of a small booth that said
“Information.”
   “Where do we get uniforms?” Dylan asked the man.
   The man nodded to the entrance, “Uniforms are right after you exit the
ride.”
   “We have to ride the ride to get our uniforms?”
   “That’s right.”
   “Can we just go straight there?”
   “Don’t you want to have fun?”
   Trinity spoke up, “We just want to get our uniforms and get back to
the hotel—it’s been a long day.”
   He saw a small blood stain on Trinity’s top and acknowledged, “I can
see that—but the ride’s not even five minutes—surely you can spare five
minutes for a little fun?”



                                                                       46
   “I don’t like fast rides.” Hunter said quietly.
   The man slapped Hunter’s back. “Well that’s too bad—only way to get
uniforms is through that entrance.”
   “I don’t like fast rides either,” Dylan mumbled as they got into the
line.
   Trinity laughed. “I’m stuck with the two biggest sissies on Earth to
protect me.”
   “I just don’t like roller coasters.” Dylan said, offended.
   “I’ll protect you.” Trinity smiled.
                                  #      #      #
   As the coaster came to a stop, Hunter slowly climbed out of it and fell
onto the ground. Dylan and Trinity ran to him as the ride’s operators,
two boys the same age as Hunter, laughed while eating fried chicken
and pushing a new bunch of kids onto the ride.
   “Are you okay, Hunter?” Trinity said rubbing his back.
   “This has been the worst day of my life,” he quietly sobbed.
   She helped him up and hugged him, “For all of us, Hunter—but it’s
over now.”
   “For how long?” He nervously said.
   “Come on,” Dylan said, “Let’s get those uniforms and get out of this
park—I’m tired of doing what the army considers fun.”
   The uniforms, as promised, where at the exit of Space Mountain. Rows
of fold-up tables had been set up and were full of used uniforms. “Look
at that,” Dylan said pointing at the front of the uniform depository
where people were coming and going, “You didn’t have to ride that stu-
pid ride to get in here.”
   Before anyone responded an older man came up behind Dylan and
wrapped his arms around his waist. Dylan jumped and demanded,
“What gives?”
   “Relax! And hold still so I know what size pants to bring you.”
   Dylan stood uncomfortable as the man continued to take measure-
ments, then said, “Hold on.”
   The man left and returned moments later with a pair of camouflage
pants and a shirt, and tossed them at Dylan, “Try these on.”
   “Where’s the fitting room?”
   The man laughed, “Where do you think you are? Drop your trousers
and try them on.”
   Trinity looked at him and blushed.
   “What are you staring at? Turn around!”




                                                                       47
   “They’re great,” Dylan replied after he had changed, “But do you
have some without the bullet hole?”
  “That’s not a bullet hole,” the man smirked, “It’s a patriot mark—and
that’s the best I got in your size.”
  Dylan nodded and turned to Hunter and Trinity, “What about them?”
  The man looked at them quickly and then said, “Nope. We won’t have
anything that fits them down here. You’ll want to go to the infirm-
ary—that’s where all the extra clothes are before they send them over
here. They have all the smaller sizes.”
                                  #      #     #
  Dylan could see Trinity’s ankles and feet as her pants fell onto the
ground. He followed her bare ankles hypnotically, until they reached the
curtain of the fitting room, and then sighed disappointed.
  “I can’t believe the girls get a fitting room.” Dylan said turning away.
  Hunter held up a pair of pants with blood stained on the right leg, and
said, “How about these?”
  Dylan shrugged, “Try them on.” He turned back to the fitting room
just in time to see Trinity pull the pants up.
  “What are you staring at?” Hunter quizzed.
  “Nothing.”
  “Are you starring at Trinity?” He laughed.
  Dylan rolled his eyes, “No.”
  “You were starring!” Hunter teased.
  “Be quiet and get dressed.”
  “How do I look?” Trinity asked moments later as she left the fitting
room.
  Before either of the boys answered, Trinity said, looking past them,
“Look!”
  “What?” Dylan asked as Trinity walked past them.
  “It’s Sarah! She’s alive!” She replied walking towards a hospital bed in
the back of the room.
  “Who’s Sarah?” Dylan asked.
  Trinity stopped and turned. She looked Dylan in the eyes and scolded,
“My roommate—the one you left for dead.”
  Sarah’s face was badly bruised, but she was awake when the three of
them came to her. There were blood stains in her blonde hair. Trinity
took her hand immediately, “I’m so happy you’re here, Sarah—I thought
you were dead.”
  Sarah smiled and asked, “Do you think they’ll send me home now?”
  “Sure, Sarah,” Trinity said compassionately.



                                                                       48
   “Do you want your PSP back?” Hunter asked stepping forward
   She thought for a moment, “I don’t really play it anyhow—if you
promise to write me about the war, then you can keep it.” She paused,
“I’ve never known a boy on the front.”
   Hunter blushed, but nodded.
   She took off her small medal bracelet and handed to him. “My address
is on the back of it.”
   Dylan stood behind Hunter at a distant. He looked at the blood
stained patch on her left shoulder; a bullet had hit her there. He softly
said, not making eye contact, “I would have gone back for you if I
could.”
   She nodded and forced a smile.
   “I’m glad you’re alive.”
   A doctor came up to the bed and said, “Say your goodbyes. We have
to get her off to surgery—get that bullet out of her.”
                                #      #      #
   They passed Matterhorn Mountain one last time as they made their
way to the park’s exit. As they did so, Dylan looked and surveyed the
top of the mountain; near the top of the mountain he saw a figure and
the butt of a burning cigar; he remembered Lyle’s words to him about
smoking at the top of the mountain when it was all over.
   “What an idiot.” He said pointing, then added, “Let’s get out of this
park.”
   Main Street was not quiet, as it had been hours ago. It looked like
‘Toon Town had; barbeque pits were in the middle and a band was play-
ing rock music in front of Sleeping Beauty’s castle.
   The windows of the candy store had been shattered, and soldiers
freely climbed into the store, taking what was left inside.
   “Want some candy?” Dylan asked.
   “Do you think we can?”
   “Everyone else is.
   As Dylan and Hunter stuffed their pockets with the little candy that
was left, Trinity browsed a postcard rack near the cash register. She held
up several and said, “I’m going to send some home—want some?”
   Dylan nodded and went to the rack.
   “What are you going to say on yours?” Trinity asked.
   “I don’t know—that I’m having fun or something.”
   “You won’t say the truth?”
   Dylan thought of his mom and the baby. “Not the bad stuff.” Not
long before his sister went missing, she sent Dylan a postcard; it was the



                                                                       49
Army issued postcard with the flag on the front with the slogan “Fight
Hard, Fight Proud” in bold letters. It was the only one that Dylan ever
got from her. She told him that Army life was good and not to worry but
to take extra special care of their mom and Jacob. Dylan had suspect for a
long time that she knew she would die soon, and sent the letter so he’d
have something remember him by.
   “Do you think we’ll ever be able to forget what we saw?”
   Dylan turned away and closed his eyes. “Sure, Trinity—one day.”
   A mirror caught Trinity’s eyes and she went to it. She stared at herself
for several seconds before admitting, “Uniforms are not made for
girls—I look so ugly.”
   Dylan walked up behind her and nodded, “No you don’t.” His eyes
wandered curiously at her body; he followed the curls in her hair; she
had taken the ponytail out and let her hair fall naturally. Dylan’s eyes
said that he wanted to say more, but didn’t—he couldn’t.
                                 #     #      #

  (Coco Puff, Blog Entry)
  THE FUTURE IS HERE
  Posted: Wednesday, October 11, 2014 | 11:17 AM (GMT)

   I’m back from the Euro Gaming Convention, and, of course, got a first
look at the upcoming EP game series that the United States will be re-
leasing for the holiday season.
   I found it appropriate that the United States used foreign soil to unveil
such an ambitious project—it shows the President’s commitment to glob-
al peace.
   As for the games themselves, it’s hard not to be impressed at games
that seek to educate kids so interactively. The highlight of their Press
Conference was a title called “America.” True, it’s not the most original
name, but no one seemed to care once they saw the game’s content.
   The game pits young gamers on the front of the American Revolution;
here they learn about the battlefield tactics of the country’s first Presid-
ent, General George Washington. Gone is the fluffy narrative of some
textbooks, which portray the man as a gentleman who would “never
lie.” In its place is the ruthless revolutionary figure who sometimes was
forced to make harsh choices for the nation to prevail.
   The game, the game’s spokesman promises, will be followed by a long
line of games that educate about all of America’s great, and not so great,
moments in war.



                                                                         50
  Tags: PlayStation, video games, EP, America, game rating system,
Educational Play, Euro Gaming Convention




                                                               51
Chapter    7
Level 5: Moving Out
Goofy was staring at Dylan with a gun pointed at his forehead when he
opened his eyes. “If you want to live to see tomorrow put your hands on
your head.”
  Dylan sat up startled, and put his hands on his head.
  Hunter, who was next to Dylan in bed, screamed when he realized
what was going on.
  “Quiet.” the Goofy figure said, shaking his gun in the air.
  “What do you want,” Dylan fearfully asked.
  “Do you know—the hooky poky?”
  “The hooky poky?” Dylan asked confused.
  Goofy nodded, and then started to laugh. “It’s just me, Lyle,” The fig-
ure said removing the head and tossing it on the ground laughing, “I
really got you!”
  Dylan stood and sighed. “Really funny.”
  “Maybe this will make you smile.” He pulled out a chrome button
with two stripes and handed it to Dylan, “You’ve just been promoted to
Team Leader of Company D.”
  “Team Leader?” Dylan said confused.
  Lyle nodded excited, “I’ve been moved to Company C, and I gave
your name as my personal recommendation.” He paused and then ad-
ded, “Congratulations.”
  “What does that mean?”
  “It means you eat at the big boy’s table—come on, grab your things
and let’s get some breakfast.”
  “What about Hunter?”
  Lyle looked at Hunter, irritated, and then said, “What about him? You
can meet him after breakfast.”
  Dylan turned to Hunter and said, “Get dressed and go to Trinity’s
room. I’ll find you downstairs.” He looked at Samuel in the other bed; he
was sitting in the fetal position at the edge of the bed staring blankly at



                                                                        52
the TV—the same place Hunter and Dylan found him when they came
back the night before. They tried to talk to him, but he refused to speak.
“And get Samuel downstairs.”
   “What if he won’t get out of bed?”
   “Then find Trinity and have her help you.”
                                 #      #     #
   “The great thing about your new position,” one of Lyle’s friends ex-
plained as Dylan ate breakfast, “Is you get to send the other kids out to
die—I lost my entire company last week, and you know what happened
to me?”
   Dylan nodded.
   “Army gave me a week off while they put together a new squad for
me! I’ve been riding rides all week.”
   “So my job is just to assign kids to die?”
   “Basically,” his friend laughed. “It sounds bad when you put it that
way—you get used to losing men. I’ve been assigned to new men twenty
times, and I’ve only been in the Army less than a year.”
   “I’ve been assigned new men 22 times.” Lyle proudly said.
   “26 here.” Another man explained.
   “I heard about a woman in Oregon that has been assigned new com-
panies over 100 times, and has lost over 1,000 soldiers!”
   “Gun Shy Molly?!” Lyle said excited.
   “That’s her.”
   “She’s a legend.” Lyle reflected. “But it’s like I always say,
Dylan—exaggeration is just another form of survival in the Army.
Maybe 22 people have served under me, and maybe there’s only been
one. Maybe we’re all lying. Doesn’t matter. No one cares as long as you
act like you are the right man for the job.”
   Dylan was staring at the entrance waiting for Trinity and Hunter to
come in. A piece of corn hit him between the eyes, and Dylan looked
across the table at Lyle’s friend. “Are you?” He said throwing another
piece of corn.
   “Am I what?”
   “The right man for the job.”
   Dylan shrugged, “Sure—whatever.”
   Lyle laughed and slapped Dylan on the back, “What’d I say! Do I pick
them good or what?” He was about to say more, but stopped when he
saw Trinity and Hunter approaching, “What are they doing here? This
area is reserved for Team Leaders only.”
   “They’re with me.” Dylan explained.



                                                                       53
   “I don’t care who they’re with—this is the only time we have to bond
as leaders.” He stood and held out his hand towards them, “Just turn
back around. You’re not welcome here.”
   “I’ll meet you in a second,” Dylan explained.
   “We need you now.” Trinity said, “It’s Samuel—he’s refusing to come
out of the room, and there’s guards up there threatening to force him
out.”
   Dylan quickly stood.
   “You’re going?” Lyle asked.
   “He’s in my company now.”
   “Don’t waste your time.”
   Dylan ignored him and quickly left the dining hall.
   Samuel was being dragged from the room by two guards when they
got there. He wasn’t fighting being taken away; his body was limp. For a
moment Dylan thought he was dead, but as he was dragged passed
them his eyes blinked. “That man is in my company.” Dylan explained
to the two guards.
   “Not anymore—he violated a direct order from superior officer by not
vacating this room.” The guard looked down at him and added, “He’s
no good to you anyway.”
   “Do something, Dylan.” Trinity said.
   “What do you want me to do?”
   “Lead!” Trinity said, and then pushed him out of the way and asked
the guard, “If I can get him to stand on his own will you let him go?”
   The guard rolled his eyes, “We don’t have time for this—I haven’t
even gotten my breakfast.”
   She ignored the guard and bent down towards Samuel. She put both
of her hands on his shoulders and shook him. “Snap out of it, Samuel,
and stand!” She turned to Dylan and said, “Help me! Help me stand him
up.”
   “He’s just in shock, Trinity. Let them take him.”
   Hunter went next to Trinity and did his best to hold Samuel up. The
guards seemed amused at first at their effort, but quickly got bored; one
of the guards slapped Trinity’s hand from Samuel and pushed her away.
“Enough.”
   Trinity went past Dylan and said, “Is this how you lead? Just stand
back and do nothing? What happened to looking out for us?”
   Dylan sighed, and continued to watch as the two guards dragged
Samuel down the hall. He started to go back to finish breakfast but no-
ticed Hunter was still standing, refusing to move. “What?”



                                                                      54
   “His things are still in the room,” Hunter quietly pointed out “Should
I go get them or something?”
   Dylan looked at their hotel room, and then back at Hunter and nod-
ded. “Sure. Go through his stuff and find anything we might need.”
   Hunter stared at him, confused. “I meant to take it him. I’m not going
to steal his stuff.”
   Dylan rolled his eyes, “It’s a war, Hunter—that’s what people do.” He
saw that he was upset, and changed his tone, “Just go eat, yeah?”
   “Are you going to take it?”
   Dylan thought for a moment, and then sighed, “No.”
                                 #     #     #
   After breakfast, Lyle took Dylan upstairs to a suite that had been con-
verted into Company D’s headquarters. The company headquarters were
all found on the upper floors of the hotel. Company A and B each had
entire floors; Company C had most of a floor; and Company D had a
room.
   “The guy’s very traditional so make sure and salute him and call him
sir—he demands respect. Old school, you know?”
   Dylan nodded and stood back as Lyle walked to the guard in front of
the headquarters door. He was playing a PSP and hadn’t noticed Lyle
and Dylan approaching; he was alarmed when he noticed Lyle standing
in front of him and almost dropped his game.
    “We’re here to see Commander Puss Face—he’s expecting us.”
   The guard nodded and stood aside so they could enter.
   “Puss Face?” Dylan whispered as they entered, “How’s that treating
him with respect.”
   Lyle ignored him and walked immediately to the front of the room
where a man was seated at a large desk. The room was dimly lit and a
mattress stood upright in front of the window, blocking any natural light
from coming into the room.
   The commander was not much older than Lyle and had a bad case of
acne. Lyle saluted him quickly, and then said, “Missed a heck of a party
last night, Puss Face.”
   He nodded, “Glad you had fun—some of us have to work.”
   Lyle smiled and turned to Dylan, “Truth is, Dylan, he doesn’t like go-
ing outside on account of his acne problem.”
   The commander looked down awkwardly at a stack of papers, and
then looked beyond Lyle to Dylan, “Heard you fought an incredible fight
last night.”
   Dylan nodded. He was tired of hearing about the fight.



                                                                       55
   The commander reclined in his chair and said, “Young man, where I
come from you answer your superior offer, ‘Yes, Sir.’”
   “Sorry, sir—yes, sir, it was an incredible fight.”
   The commander stood and walked, irritated, to a pinball machine.
“Did you tell him I was old school?”
   “I told him, Puss Face.” He paused and looked at Dylan with a ‘what
gives’ look, “You know how these new Team Leaders are—barely
trained and don’t know the rules.”
   The commander finished playing a game and then went a mirror on
the wall and started poking at a zit. “What do you think happened yes-
terday?” he asked, looking at Dylan through the mirror.
   “What do you mean, sir?”
   “I mean, did you get lucky or did you really know what you were
doing?”
   “I was just trying to live, sir.”
   “So, survival?” he quizzed.
   Dylan shrugged, “I guess.”
   “We need more men like that—men trying to survive.” He paused,
popping a zit and then wiping the puss from the mirror with his sleeve,
“Get what’s left of your company, and head to the bus loading area.
You’re heading out in one hour—you’ll be assigned more soldiers once
you reach your destination.”
   “Where are we going, sir?”
   “You’ll see.” He laughed and sat back at his desk.
   As the two of them left the headquarters, Dylan asked, “Why do you
get to call him Puss Face and I have to call him sir?”
   “I’m with Company C now—he’s not my commander.” He went to the
window in the hall and looked down at the pool. It was full of kids. He
turned, saluted Dylan, and said, “It’s been a pleasure leading you, but
this is where I leave you.” Before Dylan replied, Lyle was running away,
taking off his shirt as he ran. Halfway down the hall he stopped, turned
and yelled with a laugh, “Good luck in Seattle! You’ll need it!”
   “Seattle?”
   Lyle nodded excited, “Maybe you’ll find the Golden Wii.”
   “What’s the Golden Wii?” Dylan asked as Lyle ran away.
                                   #    #       #
   The Battle of Seattle began five years before. Coco forces had attacked
through Canadian borders and now controlled all areas north of Seattle.
The generals claimed the battle was over Seattle’s ports, which they
deemed necessary to supply their troops, but, to keep the spirits of the



                                                                       56
younger soldiers alive, they said the secondary target was the headquar-
ters of Nintendo of America. Located just east of Seattle in Redmond,
they claimed the headquarters had stockpiled thousands of systems and
millions of games.
   News of the intensity of the battle spread quickly throughout the
country, and no one wanted to have their children sent to Seattle. There
was a song when Dylan was in school that kids used to sing to irritate
the teachers or tease the kids who had family fighting in the war; it was
called the Ballad of Poor John Lee, who was sent to Seattle to fight; in
Seattle he was shot, tortured, and, the song goes, sings every night about
how badly he wants to die.
   A bus drove Dylan and his company onto the tarmac of Orange
County airport two hours later. He had not told anyone where Lyle said
they were going because he hoped it was a lie, but as he saw the large
cargo play waiting to fly them away he knew that Seattle was likely their
destination.
   “We’ll need you to have your company surrender their belongings.” A
soldier told Dylan as he exited the bus, “There won’t be enough room on
the plane.”
   Dylan looked at the empty plane and asked, “Can’t we just hold them
in our laps? They aren’t big.”
   “No, sir.” He pointed at the ramp next the plane and said, “Just put
them there.”
   Hunter started going through his bag and pulled out his PSP. The sol-
dier looked at him and nodded, “Everything stays.”
   Hunter looked at Dylan confused.
   “I’m sorry Hunter—I’ll find you another one wherever we end up.”
   “It’s Sarah’s.”
   “I’m sorry, Hunter.”
   Trinity came close to Dylan and whispered, pointing to a wooden
crate being loaded onto the plane, “Dylan, that crate says “Seattle”—are
we going to Seattle?”
   Dylan didn’t answer.
   “Dylan?”
   “The commander didn’t say, but Lyle mentioned it.”
   “You didn’t tell me?” She said hurt.
   “I tell you what you need to know.”
   “You’ve been a jerk all day!” she said, pushing him out of the way.
   As they loaded onto the plane, he watched a group of soldiers going
through their bags and dividing all of their belongings.



                                                                       57
   He had to give up his brother Jacob’s game; he had to give up
everything he owned. He realized for the first time that everything he
had was 100% Army owned. He no longer had any possessions from
home.
   Dylan took a seat next to Trinity on the plane. She stood and took the
seat one over. Dylan rolled his eyes and followed her to the next seat,
“Maybe I was lucky getting this position. But luck or no luck I have to
start acting like a leader, and you need to treat me like one.”
   Suddenly the ramp on the back of the plane started to close and the
windowless fuselage that they sat in began to get dark.
   “Maybe you can find us some light, mighty Team Leader?” Trinity
said.
   Dylan closed his eyes and listened to the roar of the engines, and tried
to pretend for just a moment that none of it was real.
   As his eyes were closed, he thought back to the first time he had ever
seen a plane. Every Friday in school, students were led into the gymnasi-
um for an assembly; the principal would update students on the war’s
progress and then a veteran would recount heroic stories of battle. Before
it was over, they would play a video called The Sounds of War, which
showed fighting set to the sound of popular video game music and had a
different soldier each episode talking about how proud he was to serve
his country while fighting the enemy. Dylan was most interested in the
planes in each episode; they always looked so free in the air.
   When he was eight, he saw a real plane for the first time in his life; he
was taking a test in school; the plane was low and everyone thought it
was a bomb, but there were no sirens. In unisons, the entire class ran to
the windows in time to see it; it was large—a cargo plane like the one
that they now were in—and it had engines so loud they shook the win-
dows even after it passed. They knew they were safe when they saw the
ten star flag, but they continued to watch—entranced by the sheer
beauty of its power. It was like a flying fortress.
   Dylan had never wanted to fight, but in that moment he wished he
could join just for the chance of riding in something so mighty and free
to go anywhere. He knew he wasn’t strong enough to fight, but he ima-
gined that perhaps he might be make a good pilot where skill was more
important.
   But now he was inside it, and all its beauty and might was gone—it
was just a large, dark, hollow shell. All the glamour was gone.
                                 #      #      #




                                                                         58
   “Prepare for impact.” A voice crackled over the intercom nearly three
hours into their flight. An explosion rocked the plane before anyone
moved and the plane dived several feet downward and then evened out.
   The plane continued to descend moments later as Dylan and his com-
pany listened in darkness to the echoing of mortar rounds firing and ex-
ploding somewhere in the near distance. They were on the ground in
minutes.
   A figure emerged as the ramp began to open. “Who’s in charge of this
group?” he said, boarding the plane.
   Dylan stood and approached him. As his eyes adjusted to the sun he
noticed the three stripes on the person’s uniform. As his eyes adjusted
more, he saw that the person appeared to be younger than Hunter. He
wore camouflage shorts, hat, and tank top with no shoes. He was over-
weight, and his belly stuck out of his tank top and hung over his shorts.
   The three stripe boy saluted Dylan quickly and said, “Welcome to
Washington. I’m Tommy Bazooka.” He had a high pitched voice that
cracked as he spoke.
   Dylan exited the plane and saw for the first time Seattle. They had
landed on what at one time had been a freeway but had been turned into
a small landing strip. The day was still early, but the sky was dark. In the
distance he saw smoke and the air smelt of ash. Occasional sounds of
cannons and mortars could be heard in the distance.
   Dylan followed the runway to the end of the strip and saw where the
freeway began again. Tommy caught his stare and said, “You’re stand-
ing on the path to hell, my friend. That road leads to Seattle.”
   “We aren’t in Seattle?”
   Tommy laughed, “You’d know by the dying of the guy next to you if
you were in Seattle. This is Redmond.” He paused and looked several
feet to the side of him at a building covered in black soot. “Home of Nin-
tendo of America—company headquarters.”
   Dylan looked excited at the building and then back at Tommy, where
he looked him in the eyes and asked, “Is it true that they still make
games?”
   “No eye contact with me, soldier.”
   Dylan nodded and stared at his muddy bare feet and long toenails
while he waited for him to continue.
   “It’s true they make games—but not there. They left that building two
years before the war in Seattle broke out. I heard they set up shop near
San Francisco, but truth is no one knows for sure.”




                                                                         59
   “What about the Golden Wii?” Dylan quietly said, remembering what
Lyle had said to him.
   “The Golden Wii?” Tommy asked curiously, “Who told you about
that?”
   “What is it, sir?”
   Tommy looked at him, confused for several moments, and then finally
said, “It’s—a story for another day.” He turned to face everyone. “Listen
up soldiers. I’ve killed thirty-seven coco puffs this month alone. I used to
go out to the field and fight believing that there was a point to it all—that
I could advance to the next level and one day win the game. Now it’s just
about survival. Some of you maybe think your life has a purpose—let me
make it perfectly clear: from here on out your only purpose is to sur-
vive.” He turned back to Dylan and pointed towards Nintendo’s
headquarters. “Just over those buildings is Bellevue golf course. That’s
your new home for the next few days. Take your troops there and get
them set up and rested. I’ll meet you tomorrow morning to introduce
you to your new men.”
   “One day I want to meet just one person in this war who’s sane.” Trin-
ity said as Tommy walked off.
   “You’re talking to me again?”
   “For now.”
   Dylan nodded and said, watching Tommy walk away. “He seems
alright.”
   Before Trinity replied, Tommy turned around and pointed his fingers,
like imaginary guns, at Dylan and then pretended to shoot him, laughing
wildly with each fake shot.
   “That’s the guy who’s giving us orders?” Hunter quietly said.
   Dylan nodded, and then hollered, “Let’s move out.”
   Schools passed out government-issued PSPs when children entered
their first year of primary education. It was the only gaming system their
youth had known. Everyone paused when they passed by the sign that
said Nintendo. None of them had ever played anything the company
made; it was an elitist system that none of them had the luxury of seeing
up close.
   “Maybe there’s some hidden inside?” Hunter said, staring at the sign.
   “Maybe” Dylan said, looking down the street, trying to make out
where the entrance of the golf course was.
   A bullet whizzed by Dylan’s head as he continued to stare and nicked
the “N” of Nintendo. For a moment everyone was frozen, but once




                                                                          60
Dylan realized what had happened he ordered loudly, “Everyone hit the
ground,” just as a second bullet went by them.
   “What’s going on?” Trinity cried.
   Dylan ignored her, studying their surroundings. “Did anyone see
where it came from?”
   No one answered and a third bullet passed over their head. Dylan
spotted a ditch twenty feet away. “Next bullet,” he explained, “We make
a run for that ditch while they reload—we’re sitting ducks out here.”
   Before anyone replied a fourth bullet passed over them, and Dylan
hollered, “Now,” Leading the way to the ditch.
   “Now what?” Trinity asked once they had made it safely to the ditch.
   Dylan didn’t answer. He waited a couple seconds and then said, “I
think whoever is shooting has stopped.” He slowly started to climb the
incline of the ditch.
   “Dylan, stop!” Trinity said. “He could be nearby waiting for us to
come back up.”
   Dylan sighed. “Only one way to find out.”
   His head peeked up and he scanned the remains of the Nintendo park-
ing lot trying to spot who had just opened fired on them. The lot was
empty. Finally he concluded, “No one’s out here and we need to get
somewhere safer—let’s go.”
   As he stood to get out of the ditch he heard a loud screeching sound in
the sky, and he looked up just as a large mortar round came crashing
down, and knocked him unconscious on impact.
                                #      #      #

  (Rebel Frosted Flake, Blog Entry)
  THE FUTURE IS NOW
  Posted: Friday, October 31, 2014 | 7:17 AM (GMT)

  Take up arms.
  The time for revolt has come and gone long ago. Now is the time to
protect yourself against the foe that is government.
  Yesterday’s militia attack on the capital is just the beginning of what is
to come. The militia was stopped before serious damage was inflicted,
but it was just the beginning of what will surely be many more.
  The government of our fathers no longer exists. Today’s government is
nothing more than a corporation built on greed and corruption. It was
only a matter of time before a group stepped up to try and take back the




                                                                         61
government, and it’s only a matter of time before more and more arise
just like it.
  I do not support these groups. Though their ideals may represent my
own, their means to get them are neither just nor American. But they are
not going away—they will play a role in America’s future until the gov-
ernment backs away from the corruption that they have recently em-
braced or are defeated by the militia groups that grow more powerful
with each arrogant decision that the government makes

  Tags: American Values Militia Group, corruption, militia attacks




                                                                     62
Chapter    8
Level 6: Becoming Official
Dylan felt water being squirted on his face and tried to use his hands to
wipe the water away, but they were tied down. He struggled to free
them for a second, and then heard giggling followed by Tommy’s high
pitch voice, “Relax! It’s just water.”
   He felt a rag wipe away the water on his face and he opened his eyes
and saw Tommy standing over him holding a larger water gun. “Good
morning, sleeping beauty!”
   Dylan slowly looked around the room; he could see rows of beds and
nurses in white outfits. The ceiling was fabric, and he realized he was in
a tent. He felt a warm hand rub his hand, and he looked to his right and
saw Trinity standing next to a bed. “Where am I?” he asked, confused.
   “Hospital.” Tommy said.
   “The mortar knocked you backwards and you hit the back of your
head pretty hard.” Trinity explained. She paused, giving Tommy a dirty
look. “He let two guards cut out early so they could play video games
with him, and two cocos got into the area—that’s who fired the mortar.”
   “Happens all the time,” Tommy explained, “And it’s just a small
bruise—no big deal. Nurse gave you something to sleep—you’ve been
out since yesterday.” He paused and looked towards the exit, “Which
means you’ve had all the rest you need, so come on and get up.”
   “He’s still weak.” Trinity said concerned.
   “He’s fine—I’ve seen guys missing limbs running—or actually hop-
ping—marathons out here. I’m getting chow. I’ll meet you out front in
twenty minutes.”
    “I told you to stay down,” Trinity scolded Dylan after Tommy left.
   “Did anyone else get hurt?”
   Trinity nodded.
   “Where’s Hunter?”
   Before Trinity answered, he saw Hunter walking up behind her with a
plate of food, “I got you something to eat.”



                                                                       63
   Dylan started to sit up, but was dizzy and quickly fell back down.
   “You have no business getting up yet—you’re too weak.”
   “I don’t exactly have a choice, do I?”
   “We have to get out of here, Dylan—Tommy is insane. Do you know
what we spent the past day doing? Video game tag—it’s Tommy’s own
invention. The way it works is you run and hide and when Tommy finds
you, you’re supposed to shout out a video game and then that keeps you
safe from being it—only Tommy still tackles you to the ground.”
   “He made us play it literally all day long!” Hunter added, “And he
wouldn’t give us water—I threw up twice.”
   “Everyone says he’s insane, and that he always sends people to the
most dangerous places—one person told us that more people have died
under him than anyone else.” Trinity continued, “But they’re too busy in
Seattle to do anything about it.” She paused and added quietly, “If
Seattle doesn’t kill us, then Tommy will—some of the new recruits were
talking and they think there’s a way to escape.”
                                #       #    #
   Dylan supported himself against a tree and watched Tommy march
back and forth in front of his new company explaining his theories on
life and war. Trinity and Hunter had both helped him outside the hospit-
al to the golf course where Tommy was already waiting.
   The golf course’s once green lawn was dark brown and full of weeds.
Sleeping bags were scattered throughout the course, and placards on
sticks identified the name of the company that currently resided in the
course.
   The placard next to Tommy said “Company 103227D”—the name of
Dylan’s company; the company was located on the putting surface of the
ninth hole. Most of the people standing on the putting green were unfa-
miliar to Dylan; they were the new recruits that he had been promised
before coming to Seattle. They had come to Washington with six other
kids; their company now had fifteen. Tommy promised it would be up to
twenty before they saw any action.
   Dylan’s head began to throb, and he did his best to listen as Tommy
continued to give a biography of his short life.
   He had been in the war since he was born. His parents were both
Company B soldiers, and he had been born on the front lines. His mom
was given two weeks leave to be with him, but she only took three days.
On the third day she sent him to Los Angeles to live with his aunt.
   A group of coco puffs had raided his aunt’s home when he was 12. As
large coco puffs with large guns forced his aunt, his nine cousins, and



                                                                     64
even his little black dog (peanut was his name) out of the house and into
yellow slave relocation buses, Tommy hid in the entry coat closet with a
sheet over his head.
    On the third day, a coco puff family and their infant daughter moved
into Tommy’s home. During the night, while coco puffs slept in his
aunts’ bed, Tommy went in the kitchen and ate a banana and three slices
of baloney lunchmeat, then he took his little league bat and went up-
stairs. First he took two swings at the father’s head. When he didn’t
move anymore, he took a swing at the mother’s head (she had been
screaming since the first swing he had taken at the father)—“it only took
one swing at her head to shut her up, so he said,” he explained with a
smile.
   He left the baby sleeping in the corner because it reminded him of his
baby cousin, and then went to the room that used to be his own. He took
his PSP and several games, and then he fled the home.
   Tommy found a group of escaped frosted flake POW’s who were plan-
ning an attack on the coco puffs. Tommy lied about his age, joined up
with them, and fought and survived in one of the greatest frosted flake
battles.
   He ended the biographical speech with, “I, ladies and gentlemen, am a
legend,” which Dylan smirked at.
   Tommy stood straighter and pointed at the three stripes on his
shoulder, “These three stripes I received because I have no compassion
for coco puffs. They indicate that I am not afraid to kill, and in fact I
have come to enjoy it. If you don’t learn take pleasure in your kill, then
you will die. You’re in the bloodiest battlefield in America. I expect that
I will die here, and all of you should make peace of your own at the
thought of never coming out of this hellish front alive.” Tommy looked
at Trinity and winked, and then continued, “Now—let’s get down to
business. If everyone would direct their attention to the guy leaning up
against the tree like he’s about to pass out—that’s…” He paused and
pulled out a small piece of paper from his back pocket and read out,
“Dylan, your new Team Leader. He may not look like much, but he’s
willing to take a mortar for his company, which counts for something.
   “Tomorrow, five of you will get to try out for the role of legend.”
Tommy pointed at the mountains in the distance, “Just east of here, a
group of cocos are rumored to be held up in a cabin, and they have been
hitting our supply trucks—intel suggest that they have an original Nin-
tendo game console. Find the cabin, take out the cocos, and the five of




                                                                        65
you will get to play for the entire day.” Tommy looked at Hunter, who
quickly looked down to avoid eye contact, “What’s your name?”
   “Hunter, sir.”
   “I got a mission to discuss with Dylan—take the company and run
laps. To and from the company headquarters ten times.”
   Hunter reluctantly nodded, and led the rest of the company in a slow
jog.
   Dylan quickly looked down as Tommy approach, and Tommy gave
him a slap on the back that nearly knocked him over, as he joyfully ex-
plained, “I like you—I think you’ll do just fine out here.” He looked to a
small pond behind Dylan and added, “Walk with me.”
   Tommy walked at a quick pace, and Dylan slowly followed behind
him. He was still nauseous from whatever the nurse had given him. He
was finding it easier to stand, but the throbbing of his head made every
step hurt.
    “It’s simple really.” Tommy said. “Our intel suggest a cabin twenty
miles east of here. I’ll have a supply truck get you within five miles and
you’ll have to hike in the rest.”
   “What kind of resistance can we expect.”
   “Limited. The men are armed, but only with their rifles. We believe
there are only three, or possibly five at the most.”
   Dylan nodded.
   “And you’ll be armed with superior firepower.” He paused at a shal-
low creek and watched the current. “You ever used an RPG?”
   “No, sir.” All of Dylan’s game featured characters with rocket pro-
pelled grenades (RPG) but he had never been good at firing them even in
the games.
   “I’ll have someone show you and your men when you get back. It’s a
simple little device.” Tommy sat on a rock and removed his shoes and
socks. He dangled his feet in the pond and asked, “You ever been
fishing?”
   “No, sir.”
   “We’ll have to do that sometime. It’s a relaxing sport.” He turned and
looked up at Dylan, “Don’t just stand there. Put your feet in. It’s not
every day you get to do something so childlike as dangling your toes in
the water—take advantage of it.”
   Dylan did as he was ordered, but jumped back at the water’s icy
temperature.
   Tommy laughed. “It is a little cold, huh?”
   Dylan nodded.



                                                                       66
   “You get used to that sort of stuff the more you fight. Cold, rain,
snow—none of it will faze you. Not when you’re a true soldier.” Tommy
sighed and asked, “What are you like outside of war?”
   “What do you mean, sir?”
   “What do you do?”
   “I don’t know. Play games, watch movies—that kind of stuff.”
   Tommy nodded. “That’s what I like about you. You’re not one of these
big kids who come in all cocky like. You play games.” He splashed
Dylan in the face with the icy water and reflected, “We’re kids in a man’s
war—you’re going to die here like everyone else one day, but if you
want to live as long as possible just fight like everyone else.”
   “How’s that, sir?”
   “Don’t think.” Tommy paused and lay on his back looking into the
sky. “How would you like to go home and live? If I told you how, would
you want to know?”
   Dylan nodded.
   “Three years ago a group of cocos managed to get into the general’s
office and steal his Wii. Supposedly it was the last Wii left in all Seattle
and it was colored gold. About a week went by and, as you can imagine,
the general was angry—he kept sending men on these insanely danger-
ous missions hoping that they’d come back with his beloved Wii.
   “None of the men would ever come back from these missions. Then
one day five of them did—and every soldier had a photograph of the
Golden Wii glued to their forehead; the cocos had glued the picture of
the Wii to their forehead and then sent them back to tell the rebels that it
would never again be theirs. Legend has it the general cried so loudly
that you could hear it for miles away. The next morning he sent out a
memo saying that any soldier who successfully captured his Golden Wii
would be immediately sent home and never have to fight again.”
   “Is it true?”
   Tommy shrugged, “Happened long before me. I guess it could be. It’s
the stuff of legends now. If that general is still around, I don’t know who
he is. But I’ll tell you what, Dylan—you find that Golden Wii, I guaran-
tee that you’ll be sent home.”
   Tommy stood and put back on his shoes, and then explained, “Just
something to think about.”
   “But if the generals not around, then why would we be sent home?”
   “Because a generals word lasts forever.”
   As Tommy started to leave, Dylan said, “What if I don’t want to do
it?”



                                                                         67
   “What?”
   “Be the team leader?”
   Tommy laughed. “Deal with it.”
   Dylan had had very little time to consider what it meant to be a leader
since Lyle had pinned the responsibility onto him. He considered it as he
waited for his company to return.
   In school, leaders were glorified. During war games and drills, the
leaders were always the same—large, intelligent, and athletic. Dylan was
not any of these things. He was the one that the leaders put behind
everyone else to fetch water. And here he was—the leader of a company
of rejects.
   He was a leader by chance and not by skill; he knew this, and yet he
still had to put on a mask. If he didn’t make people believe that he could
do what he had been assigned to do, then they would have no hope.
   The more he considered what it meant to lead, the more he wished he
was back at school simply fetching water for the real leaders.
                                  #       #     #
   Dylan was resting under the shade of a tree when his company re-
turned. Johnny Devolver, one of the new recruits, had his arm around
Trinity and was helping her walk.
   “What happened?” Dylan asked concerned.
   “I just got a little dizzy,” she said, embarrassed, “Just a bit of dehydra-
tion—but Johnny rescued me. Have you met him?”
   Johnny smiled at him, and Dylan took his hand and shook it with a
strong grip. “Nice to meet you—and thanks for helping Trinity.” Dylan
looked him over quickly, and found it odd that he was in their company;
he was stronger than anyone else in the group—at the very least, strong
enough to be in Company C. He reminded Dylan of one of the surf
boarders that used to hang out near his house; he had sandy blond hair
that was messy, and dark sunglasses that covered his eyes. When he
smiled, it seemed like there was something he was hiding—that the
smile was only meant to cover some lie.
   “I find it hard to resist helping a damsel in distress.”
   “You should hear his stories, Dylan,” Trinity explained excited, “He’s
probably more trained than all of us combined! He’s the one who thinks
he can help us escape.”
   Dylan looked at her oddly, “Since when do you like hearing stories
about fighting?” Trinity got red, and before she replied, Dylan said, “So
where have you fought, Johnny?”




                                                                           68
   Johnny flashed a smile, and said, “Just at home—before I signed up.
Cocos came into my town and me and a bunch of my friends helped
them leave—if you know what I mean.”
   Dylan didn’t know what he meant, and he didn’t want to question him
to find out; he seemed cocky. He turned to the rest of the company who
were now gathering around him waiting for orders, and explained,
“Listen up—I need four volunteers to hike into the mountains to the co-
cos that are held up in the cabin. It’s an easy assignment, and you get to
play videogames when it’s over. Who wants to go?”
   Hunter and Trinity were the first to volunteer for the assignment; she
told Dylan after that it was only to protect Hunter. They were followed
by a sixty year old man, whose name was Milton Montana. He was a
former high school history teacher from Fresno who served in Operation
Desert Storm. He was the first person Dylan had ever met who had
fought in a previous war.
   Johnny Devolver was the last to volunteer, “I had a coco steal my PSP
a few months back,” he explained, flashing a smile to Trinity. “’Caused
great emotional distress—this will be my payback.”
   Dylan dismissed the company for lunch and was about to leave with
Trinity when he felt someone pulling at his elbow; he turned and saw
Milton Montana standing at attention. “Sir,” Montana began, “I just
wanted to let you know that I am not afraid of those no good coco puffs,
and I won’t let you down.”
   “Good to know.” Dylan awkwardly said starting to walk away.
   “Those piss poor, whore children coco puffs took my globe, and I’ll
kill every one of them.”
   “Your globe?”
   “Right in front of my eyes. They had taken our town hostage—took
our homes—even our pets. I looked the other way. What can you do,
right? I just kept on teaching like I always had, but then one day a group
of cocos came in my room and said on top of everything else they had
already taken, they were going to take my globe too. That’s where I drew
the line. I ran off that night—left my wife all by herself—so I could join
up with the rebels. I hiked for two days before I found them, and I’ve
been after the cocos ever since.”
   Dylan looked at the sun shining off of Milton’s balding head, and said,
“Glad you’re on our side.” He noticed that his uniform was buttoned up
wrong, and began to have doubts about allowing him on the mission.




                                                                       69
   Tommy returned, carrying an RPG just before Milton and Dylan were
about to leave together for lunch. He looked at Dylan, confused. “Where
is everyone?”
   “Lunch.”
   He sighed. “I was hoping to play a bit of video game tag with them be-
fore lunch.” He turned and looked at Milton. “He one of your
volunteers?”
   “Yes, sir.” Milton said loudly saluting.
   “Then you’re the RPG guy. Let’s make this quick.”
   “Sir, I don’t need no training! There’s no weapon I don’t know how to
use—guarantee it.”
   “I got a good feeling about this one here, Thomas.” Tommy said to
Dylan, “Same good feeling I got about you.”
   As Tommy walked away, Milton turned to Dylan, confused. “Why’d
he call you Thomas?”
   Dylan shrugged, “I don’t think he takes the time to get to know
peoples name—I get the feeling that people don’t last long around him.”
He looked at the RPG. “Sure you can use it?”
   Milton looked at it, confused, and admitted, “This one here looks a lot
trickier than the ones I’ve used before.”
   “So you don’t know how to use it?” Dylan nervously replied.
   “I didn’t say that!” Milton said, offended. “I’m sure I’ll get it all
worked out by the time I have to actually fire it.”
                                #       #     #

  (Coco Puff, Blog Entry)
  REVOLUTION
  Posted: Saturday, November 15, 2014 | 12:49 PM (GMT)

  Today the United States capital was attacked for the third time. The
fourth will happen if you don’t do something about it. This is your re-
volution. Your time to rise up against those who stand in the way of free-
dom of democracy.
  There are two types of American people today. Those who are pro-
gressively changing the government to ensure the freedom of future gen-
erations. And those who are holding it back from achieving its destined
greatness.
  Open your ears. Listen for those who choose to stand in the way of
your government. These are your enemies. They will hunt for you and
prey on everything that belongs to you.



                                                                       70
  Those responsible for the attacks on Washington are not a small group.
They are your neighbors, your family, and your friends. It’s time to let
them know that if they don’t stand with you then they stand against you.
  There are none of you out there that want to believe that this is what
we have come to—that we are now in a time when we must treat those
close to us as enemies. Who wants to believe that? But if you don’t open
your eyes it will be too late. Take a stand now—for the sake of your
country.

  Tags: revolution, attacks on America




                                                                     71
Chapter    9
Level 7: Selling Our Souls for a Video Games, Part
One
Dylan felt a flick on his ear and looked up, startled. Tommy stood over
him with a proud smirk. “Time to get hunting!” From behind him, Dylan
could see the sun peeking through the tall trees. He had been offered a
tent because of his rank as Team Leader, but decided to stay with the rest
of his company in sleeping bags on the golf course.
  Tommy unzipped his pants, turned, and began to pee in front of
Dylan’s sleeping bag. “Truck will pick you and your men up in an
hour,” he explained as he continued to pee. “It will take you a few miles
out—close as we can get you without being detected. You’ll have to hike
the rest of the way in. I imagine it will take ‘bout a half day. Just follow
the map.”
  Before Dylan responded, Tommy threw a map on the ground and
began to skip off.
  He turned to his side and saw Hunter still sleeping. He was moaning
and fidgeting in his sleeping bag. On the other side of Hunter he saw
where Trinity had gone to sleep, but her bag was empty.
  “Hunter, get up,” he said nudging him. “Time to go.”
  Hunter looked at him and sighed. “I had a really bad dream, Dylan.”
  “What was it?”
  Hunter looked at Dylan, confused for several seconds, and then finally
said, “It doesn’t matter—just a dream, right?”
  “Yeah.” Dylan yawned, stepping out of his sleeping bag. He walked
towards his boots at the end of his sleeping bag, and stepped barefoot in-
to the puddle of pee that Tommy had made. “Great!” he mumbled, pick-
ing up his boots and walking towards the chow tent.
  Trinity was sitting at a table in the chow tent drinking coffee with
Milton Montana. Dylan grabbed a cup of coffee and then joined them at
the table. “You’re up early.”




                                                                         72
   “I wanted to take a shower. Figured it might be my last one in a few
days.”
   Dylan nodded and looked at Milton whose shirt, he noticed, was still
buttoned up wrong. “What’s your excuse?”
   “I don’t sleep.”
   “At all?”
   Milton nodded. “Got knocked in the head a few months back, and
haven’t slept since. Not even tired.”
   Dylan noticed Trinity was wearing a hat, which she never did,
“What’s with the hat?”
   “My hair never looks pretty anymore. This was just easy.”
   Dylan smiled. “Are you trying to impress someone?”
   Trinity blushed and nodded. “So what’s the plan?”
   “Truck’s going to take us out to the woods and we hike the rest of the
way in.”
   “And then?”
   “What do you mean?”
   “You don’t even have a clue of how to get there do you?”
   “I have a map.”
   “You know how to read it?”
   “It’s a map—how hard can it be?”
   “I was a scout in Iraq.” Milton said. “I’ll get us there.”
   “There you go, Trinity—Milton has us covered.” He stood and started
walking out of the tent with his coffee; he passed Hunter, who was get-
ting a cup of coffee, as he left. “You’re drinking coffee too?”
   Hunter nodded, “Tastes like dirt, but Tommy told me that I’ll have
better aim with my gun if I drink two cups a day.” Hunter paused and
said softly, “Nervous?”
   “No.” Dylan said confidently.
   It wasn’t true. He had been awake most the night. It wasn’t the cocos
that worried him or even the sounds of fighting in the distance—he had
gotten used to all of that. It was the unexpected—nothing can prepare
you for that.
                                  #     #       #
   One hour later, a transport truck was on the same highway that they
had landed taking them to an uncertain destiny. Dylan sat in the front
with a twelve year old driver who could barely see over the wheel;
Hunter, Trinity, Johnny and Milton all sat in the bed of the truck. He
tried to give the seat to Trinity, but Johnny insisted that she sit in the
back with him because he had some things he wanted to discuss.



                                                                       73
   Dylan looked over at the dashboard; the speedometer said 20. He
looked ahead at the empty road. “Why are we going so slow?”
   “What’s the hurry?” The driver replied adjusting himself so he could
see over the dashboard better.
   “No hurry,” Dylan replied blankly, looking out the window as they
passed boarded-up homes. He wondered how long ago everyone had
left the city.
   “Maybe you’ll get lucky,” the said to Dylan with a smirk, “And won’t
make it back.”
   “Why’s everyone here so anxious to die?”
   “Once you get your rotation at the front lines, you’ll know why.
There’s only two ways out of this place—death and reassignment.
Nobody ever gets reassigned. So everyone hopes for a quick death.”
   “Is that what you’re hoping for?”
   He shrugged, “I’m a driver—one of the lucky ones. I know guys who
live months as drivers—we got the longest lives out here.” He drove in
silence for a moment, looking to the west at the building black smoke
over Seattle. “Few months back,” he suddenly explained, “I was driving
one of them bloggers out to the front lines. He was doing a story on mor-
ale of troops out here, and he says to me, ‘you got some of the most cour-
ageous, country loving, bastards I’ve ever seen. Every one of them goes
out of his way to be a hero.’ And I laughed and shook my head no.
‘They’re not courageous,’ I says to him, ‘they’re just trying to die. And
they have no respect for their country—they’d be fighting on the side of
the coco puffs if it meant they’d die quicker.’ He sat there real
smug—thought I was kidding. Then we get closer to the front lines and
the bombing got closer and closer to the car. Finally, we’re almost there
and we’re literally dodging bombs and bullets as I drive, and I look over
and he’s wet himself! Took a few near-death experiences to see I wasn’t
kidding.”
   The driver was quiet for a moment. He took his sunglasses of and set
them in the glove box next to a bottle of caffeine pills. He turned and
looked at Dylan intensely, and Dylan saw for the first time how blood-
shot his eyes were, “Course there is a third way out—find the Golden
Wii.”
                                #      #     #
   The truck left them at Langlois Lake—about an hour east of where
they left. They ate a quick lunch, then Dylan gave Milton Montana the
map and they left into the woods.




                                                                       74
   It was the first time Dylan had been somewhere so lush with vegeta-
tion. The trees at home were planted by men. He inhaled the pine smell.
He closed his eyes and took a second deep breath, this time pretending
he wasn’t in a war.
   When he opened his eyes, everyone was staring at him and his fantasy
was no more. He looked across the lake one last time, and then into the
forest. “Let’s move out—Milton lead the way.”
   The trail was muddy. Their shoes slugged into the mud and got inside,
making their socks wet. Dylan thought back to what his father told him
about socks before he left. All of them longed for the boots that some
companies had.
   It was a sunny day, but it was hard to see; they were surrounded by
trees, and, at times, the forest was so tall and thick that it was hard to tell
that there was any sun at all.
   Milton walked ahead of everyone else. He seemed to know what he
was doing, and even claimed to he could use the sun as a second com-
pass for accuracy. Every so often he’d mumble to himself, randomly
point at something, and say “just like the map.”
   When it appeared safe to talk, Trinity said softly, “I really think you
should listen to Johnny’s escape plan.”
   Dylan rolled his eyes. “No one ever escapes.”
   “Just listen—tell him, Johnny.”
   Johnny sighed. “He doesn’t want to hear.”
   “Stop being so immature—he’ll listen. Just tell him.”
   “It’s simple, really. We fake our own death. Everyone knows that co-
cos collect bodies as rewards. If we can make it look like the company
was ambushed by cocos then we can escape and find somewhere where
we won’t have to fight.”
   “The war’s global—there’s nowhere to go.”
   “That’s not true.” Johnny explained, “Even where I’m from there’re
places outside of the city where no one would ever look. There’s about
twenty of us in the company. We could move somewhere together. If we
work together, we could farm the land and hunt for food. You can sur-
vive your whole life like that, but we only have to survive until this
war’s over.”
   “And how do you plan on getting 20 people out of Seattle without be-
ing spotted? There’re checkpoints everywhere.”
   “I’m still working that out.”




                                                                            75
   Dylan laughed, “Well when you have it all worked out, then come see
me.” He looked at Trinity, who seemed disappointed, and then to
Milton. “Where are we?”
   “That’s the path right up there.” Milton said looking forward several
hundred yards. “Just beyond the trees.”
   Dylan sighed. “You’ve been saying that for the past thirty minutes!
Can you find the house or not?”
   Milton paused, frustrated, and squinted his eyes, looking carefully at
the trees ahead. He mumbled several things to himself before turning to
Dylan and saying, “This has to be right—sure of it.”
    “We’re lost, right?” Dylan said, doubting him.
   “I told you, Dylan—I’m a scout. I know where we’re going. This ter-
rain is nothing compared to Iraq.”
   Dylan nodded. “Let me see the map.” He handed it over and Dylan
looked at it carefully. Several seconds later he looked up at Milton, dis-
gusted. “Remember the fork in the road we hit a few miles back? Why
didn’t you take the other trail?”
   “I’m following what the map says.”
   “What color’s that line, Montana?” Dylan said, pointing at a red line
on the map.
   He squinted and then the replied confidently, “Blue.”
   Dylan sighed and said, “It’s red—we’re on the wrong trail.”
   “It’s not my fault, sir. ‘Bout five years ago I got stabbed in the eye with
a pencil—colors have been all mixed up ever since. It’s fine. We just turn
around, go back to the fork, and take the other trail.”
   “Wouldn’t have happened if I were in charge,” Johnny mumbled to
Trinity loud enough for everyone else to hear.
   Dylan gave Johnny a dirty look, but said nothing.
   As they walked back to the fork, Trinity said, “Maybe if we keep walk-
ing we’ll hit a town. We can hide out a few days until everyone thinks
we’re dead, then we can escape to freedom—some of the people in our
company wouldn’t want to escape anyway. Let’s just do it now!”
   “You just don’t walk off, Trinity! It’s not that simple. They’d come
looking for us. Tommy would do it just because he’s insane and has
nothing better to do with his time.”
   Trinity looked away hurt. Dylan took her hand and explained, “It’s
not that it’s a bad plan—it just needs to be thought out more if it’s going
to work.”
   Trinity nodded and quickly changed the subject. “My mom used to al-
ways tell me we’d go camping after the war.”



                                                                           76
   “You will one day.” Dylan lied.
   “I don’t believe I will.” Trinity sadly said. “She told me that was her
favorite thing to do with her dad. Camp next to a lake and spend the en-
tire weekend eating any fish they got, and telling stories to each other.”
    “One day I want to go sailing.”
    “Sailing?”
   “I always watched the boats sailing in the water, and they seemed so
peaceful. I always imagined that the people on them could watch the
waves and for those moments on the sea not have to think about war.”
   “It’s settled then.” Trinity said, “When it’s all over, we’ll go camping
somewhere with a big lake and we’ll go sailing in the afternoon.”
                                 #      #     #
   They did not reach the fork in the trail again. After walking for two
hours everyone was restless and knew they were lost.
   “I think we should split up.” Jonny Devolver said removing the
sunglasses that had covered his eyes all day and blankly looking at the
horizon.
   Dylan shook his head no, “We stick together—we’re stronger that
way.”
   “Maybe we should, Dylan?” Trinity suggested.
   “So you’re taking his side.”
   “Grow up, Dylan.”
   Johnny went in front of Dylan and stopped. “Just because someone de-
cided you were our leader doesn’t mean we have to accept it—anyone of
us could lead just as good as you. I say we take a vote.”
   “So it’s a mutiny, then?”
   “You’re so confident that you can lead?” Johnny asked, “Then I’m sure
everyone will vote in your favor.”
   Dylan was losing them and he knew it. He thought about Lyle and
wondered what he would do, then it hit him—he would lie. With that
thought Dylan looked curiously to his left and said softly, “Everyone
quiet.”
   “What is it?” Hunter asked.
   “I said quiet—and get down.”
   After a few moments, Johnny said, “I don’t hear nothing.” He stood
and said, “This is silly.”
   “No,” Milton said suddenly, “I hear it too.”
   “Everyone wait here—stay low and keep quiet.” Dylan said, “I’m go-
ing to go ahead and see if I see something.”




                                                                        77
   Trinity pulled on his arm. “No, Dylan. The last time you went ahead
you nearly got killed.”
   “I’ll be careful.”
   He went ahead several hundred feet and took a seat on a rock. His
plan had momentarily worked, and he took a moment to enjoy it. Five
minutes later he turned to the rest of the group and said confidently,
“Let’s move out.”
   “What’d you see?” Trinity asked.
   “I think we’re close. Someone or something is out there—I heard them
walking. Let’s look alive—you hear anything we stop and take cover.”
   For the next thirty minutes, nobody spoke. Eyes wandered cautiously,
nervously scanning the forest for movement. Dylan walked ahead of
everyone else and occasionally would stop, motion for them to get low,
and then continue when nothing happened.
   “You don’t really hear anything do you?” Milton said low enough that
no one else could hear.
   “Course I heard something.”
   Milton laughed, “You didn’t hear nothing. I know what you’re doing
and it’s smart—you’re a better leader than they think you are. It was a
smart move.”
   “It was a desperate move.” he quietly admitted.
   “Smart, nonetheless. You’re a good leader. I’ve served with enough to
know what it takes, and you got it, kid. The soldiers are lucky to have
you—that’s why I didn’t say anything. You may not know what you’re
doing, but I believe you can make this turn out okay. You have a leader’s
intuition.”
   Dylan walked quietly for a moment. He wondered how Milton figured
out his plan, and how long it would take the others to figure it out.
    “What was the other war like?” Dylan asked after a few minutes of
silence.
   “It was like a giant picking on a little baby. Most days we’d stand
around and put on our fancy gas suits and parade around for drills, and
then in the afternoon and night we’d sit around and play games or read
or write letters. It was a lot of waiting, and a lot of politics. And then we
finally moved out, and I never once shot my gun. They sent my platoon
home and back three times. Finally one day they sent me home for good
and told me I served my country proud.”
   “Were you scared?”
   “At first. Then I just realized that if you don’t overlook fear then it will
just get the best of you.”



                                                                            78
   “And now? Are you scared now?”
   Milton shook his head nodded no. “I’ve lived my life, and now I’m
ready to die. All I ask is for an opportunity to kill a handful of coco puffs
before I die, and then I’ll be happy.” He looked at Dylan—studied him
with his good eye, then said, “Fear is not a bad thing, soldier. We all
have fears. Fear only becomes bad when you become so afraid of that
fear that you freeze, and you let that fear take control of you so much
that you cannot fight.” He paused. “I’ve heard the stories of
Disneyland.”
   Dylan sighed. He figured it was Hunter that had told everyone. He
had overheard Hunter telling some of the other kids about Disneyland at
dinner the previous night; it surprised him how excited he seemed as he
talked about how many people he killed—numbers greatly exaggerated.
   “You fought well that day, and when the time comes you’ll fight well
again. I believe in you.”
                                 #     #      #
   There was nothing else to do but admit defeat when night came and
the cabin was nowhere in sight. Their canteens were almost out of water
and they had no extra food.
   “Everyone hold up,” Dylan said, “Let’s dig in for the night. We’ll take
turns taking watch. First light tomorrow we’ll see if we can find our way
out.”
   “I thought we were closing in on them?” Johnny said sarcastically.
   Dylan looked at his dark sunglasses, and thought about how ridicu-
lous he looked wearing them even though it was nearly dark. He wanted
to say something, but he held back. He turned and said, “Hunter and I
will take first watch.”
   Dylan went off in the distance with his backpack, and leaned against a
tree. He looked at Johnny, Milton and Trinity; he knew they were talking
about him and that at least one of them did not believe he was fit as a
leader—they were right.
   “You hear that?” Hunter asked, taking a seat next to Dylan against the
tree.
   Dylan said releasing the safety from his gun, “No—what do you hear?
Someone coming?”
   “I think it’s water.”
   Dylan listened and heard it too. It was faint, but it was definitely wa-
ter—a stream or river. He thought back to the little geography he had in
school, trying to think of any rivers that might be in the area. He wasn’t
good at geography.



                                                                          79
   It was getting too dark to see anything and using their flashlight
would be too risky. “We’ll look for it tomorrow.”
   “There was a creek by my house.” Hunter said. “I know the sound.”
   “We’ll look in the morning.”
   He nodded. “I used to play at it every day in the summer. I’d catch
toads and flies and every other bug and animal I could find. Once I even
caught a water snake. I put them in my room in these cages I made. I
didn’t have a lot of friends, so they would be my friends. Whenever my
foster mom would come into my room to clean or do the laundry, she’d
throw them all out and I’d have to find them again.”
   Dylan looked up but didn’t reply, and Hunter added softly, “She used
to hit me when she found them.”
   “Sorry.” He sadly replied. He realized that they had been together for
several days and he didn’t know anything about him. This was the first
time he had ever even mentioned having a family.
   Hunter nodded and continued, “She’d tell me I was a stupid little boy
and smack me in the face with the heel of her shoe. I didn’t care, I’d go
out and find more—it was worth the beatings.”
   Dylan didn’t know what to say. “No one deserves that.”
   He shrugged his shoulders. “It wasn’t so bad. I think this is better
though. Being out here on my own, there’s no one to yell at me as long as
I do what I’m told to do. And when I killed those kids, I really felt like I
did something worthy. I felt bad and all, but I felt like I was a part of
something.”
   Dylan nodded. He would have rather been at home, but he didn’t
want to argue with him.
   “I don’t regret what I did. I did what had to be done. Do you think it’s
wrong not to regret it?”
   “It’s war, Hunter. You can’t regret the things you did in war. One day
you’ll have to live with what you did, but you can’t regret it.”
   Hunter didn’t reply. Dylan heard him sniffle, and he put his arm
around his shoulder, “Go to sleep. I’ll finish the watch.”
   It was quiet for several minutes, and then Hunter said softly, “I
wouldn’t have voted against you, Dylan.”
   “Thanks, Hunter—now go get rested up. Full day tomorrow.”
   Hunter nodded. “I don’t want to go to sleep, Dylan. The dreams will
come back—they keep coming.”
   “What are they?”
   Hunter looked nervously into the darkness and asked quietly, “Just let
me stay with you?”



                                                                         80
  “Sure.”
                                #      #      #

  (Rebel Frosted Flake, Blog Entry)
  THANKSGIVING?
  Posted: Thursday, November 27, 2014 | 1:07 PM (GMT)

   On Thanksgiving Day, five years ago, my brother was shot and killed
while fighting in Afghanistan.
   Two months before this, just before he was deployed to that country, I
asked him, “Why do you fight?” He told me he fights because killing a
few people stops the killing of too many people.
   At the time I didn’t believe what he said. Even after he himself had
died, I refused to believe it. But as I think about that day five years ago, I
wonder. I wonder if it’s better to shed some blood now and save millions
later.
   I’m thankful today for my country, for my family, and for the things
that my brother did to serve this country. And today, for the first time
ever, I believe that it is better to shed some blood and save millions later
than to sit back and let our own government destroy this country.
   I do not believe I am alone with these beliefs. A revolt is coming.
There’s no stopping it now.

  Tags: revolution, thanksgiving




                                                                           81
Chapter    10
Level 8: Selling Our Souls for a Video Games, Part
Two
A piece of dew hit Dylan’s forehead, and he opened his eyes to see the
rising sun going through the branches of the tree. He yawned and
looked to his right where Hunter still slept. On his left he saw Trinity
asleep close to Johnny. He wore his sunglasses even while he slept. He
gave Johnny an evil eye but refused to admit, even to himself, that he
was just a little bit jealous.
   He had fallen asleep four hours ago; Milton said he’d take the rest of
the watch because he never slept.
   The back of a head peeked out from behind a tree, and Dylan stretched
and started walking towards it. On the other side of the tree he found
Milton; the barrel of his rifle rested against his cheek, drool was dripping
from the side of his mouth. A long, loud snore came from him and Dylan
sighed, disappointed.
   Dylan kicked Milton in the shin, and when he opened his eyes he scol-
ded, “What gives?”
   Milton looked up started and said, “I was just resting a bit.”
   “You were sleeping.”
   “I don’t sleep—just like I told you.”
   “You were snoring.”
   Milton nodded. “I snore sometimes when I’m awake. Trick I learned in
Iraq. Make them think that you’re asleep and then kill ‘em.”
   “You didn’t hear me!”
   Milton nodded, “Well you came up on my bad ear. Another war injury
I go a few months back—hear nothin’ but ringing.”
   Dylan rolled his eyes and walked away. “Everyone up—we move out
in ten.” He returned to his backpack, picked up his gun and left without
another word to scout the area and search for the stream Hunter had
heard the night before.




                                                                         82
   He found it five hundred yards away; it was small and partially
covered with bush.
   “Are you ready to split up and see if we can make it out of here alive,”
Trinity said walking up from behind him.
   “That what your boyfriend says? Split up or die?”
   “Grow up, Dylan—he’s not my boyfriend and I can think on my own.
I’m smart enough to know this is our best option.”
   “You two seemed pretty cozy last night.”
   “I did not,” Trinity said, upset, and then added, “So is that what this is
about? You’re jealous.”
   “Quiet,” Dylan said suddenly.
   “Don’t tell me to be quiet—I really don’t like your attitude…”
   Dylan quickly put his hand over Trinity’s mouth and pointed ahead. A
cabin was just barely visible behind trees several feet away. After Trinity
had seen the cabin he released his hand from her mouth.
   “Is that it?” she quietly asked.
   “Only one way to find out.”
   They returned to the other three, who were waiting to leave. “I think I
found the cabin,” Dylan proudly said. He looked at Hunter who looked
excited and said, “Hunter, you come with me. The rest of you stay here
and stay quiet—be on guard.”
   “What will you do?” Johnny asked.
   “Get close and make sure we found the right cabin.”
   They moved closer to the cabin and took cover behind the trees;
Hunter stayed close to Dylan, bumping against him several times as they
walked. They were careful and slow, staying low and making sure not to
step on anything that would make too much noise.
   When they had a unobstructed view of the cabin, they both instinct-
ively took out binoculars.
   The cabin’s windows were boarded up and it was bigger than they
had thought. There were at least three rooms and a possibly a basement.
It was made of logs and showed no signs of decay. Smoke started to
come from its chimney, and Dylan knew in that moment that somebody
was inside.
    “Maybe it’s not the right cabin?” Hunter suggested.
   Dylan pulled a photograph that he had been given from his back pock-
et and held it up, comparing the cabin. The photo had been printed on a
printer that was almost out of ink, which made the comparison more dif-
ficult, but after studying the two, Dylan admitted, “This is it—it has to
be.”



                                                                          83
   “Maybe they’re not there anymore—they might have found out they
were being scouted and found a new home.”
   “They’re there.” Dylan said, “I can smell their coco puff crap and
cheap wine.”
   Trinity came up from behind, followed by Johnny and Milton. “Well?”
she asked softly.
   “I told you to stay back.”
   “We were curious.” She grabbed his binoculars and studied the cabin
while the binoculars strap was still around his neck, then asked, “Is it
them?”
   “It’s them—has to be.”
   “So what’s the plan?”
   Dylan looked blankly at the house and finally admitted, “I’m open to
suggestions.”
   “It’s about time,” Johnny said, removing his sunglasses and pulling
the binoculars from Hunter to have a look at the house.
   “Let’s knock on the door and say we’re selling cookies.” Trinity teased.
    “Would never work.” Hunter concluded, after appearing to give it
serious consideration.
   “Hunter, go take an inventory of what kind of weapons we have,”
Dylan said, and then looked at the house and admitted, “They didn’t tell
me the windows would be boarded.”
   “So?” Milton said.
   “So, it makes it harder.”
   “What if they weren’t?” Milton questioned with a smirk, “You’d put
the sniper team on them and shoot them from the windows?”
   Dylan scratched his head and tried to think of something to do—some
strategy—but he could think of nothing. They thought him how to shoot
in war—not how to plan attacks on the enemy.
   “It doesn’t change anything. Windows or no windows, this is still a
risky operation.”
   Hunter came back and quietly reported, “We got five grenades, an
RPG, and an air horn.”
   Milton stood forward and announced confidently, “I’ll RPG the
house—blow it to pieces. And whatever is left we’ll burn.”
   “No way!” Johnny yelped.
   Trinity smacked his arm. “Not so loud—they’ll hear us.”
   “We can’t RPG it!” Johnny continued more quietly. “We’ve worked
too hard for that Nintendo to give it all up.”
   “I guess it would be nice to watch ‘em die,” Milton dryly pointed out.



                                                                        84
   Trinity rolled her eyes. “I’d rather be a living coward than a dead sol-
dier. Who cares about the Nintendo?”
   “You’ve never seen me fire. We can do it—I know we can,” Johnny
proudly boasted, then added looking at his gun, “With me and Sally pro-
tecting you death isn’t even an option.”
   “You named your gun?” Hunter laughed.
   Johnny looked down, embarrassed.
   Dylan continued to stare blankly at the house. Finally he announced,
“Here’s how it’s going to work. We’ll take out the door with a grenade.
Milton and Hunter,” he pointed at an area directly in front of the house,
“You’ll stay there and provide cover fire. Johnny, Trinity and myself will
charge the house and clear it. Understood?”
   Everyone nodded except Trinity. Dylan looked at her and asked,
“Does that work for you?”
   “Do I have a choice?”
   “We’re a team—if we don’t go in together we don’t stand a chance.”
   Trinity looked at the sky for several seconds.
   “What are you thinking?” Dylan asked.
   “I just don’t like killing,” she said still looking up. Finally, she looked
back at Dylan and reluctantly said, “But I guess it’s the only plan we
have, so I guess I’m in.”
   Dylan, Trinity and Johnny headed for the door. They took cover be-
hind a tree a few feet in front of the door. Dylan first, then Trinity, and
behind her was Johnny. Dylan looked at him questioningly.
   “What?” Johnny lipped.
   “Get in front of her!” He softly said.
   “I can fend for myself,” Trinity said defensively holding out her hand
to keep Johnny from stepping in front of her. “Let’s just get this over
with.”
   Dylan pulled out the grenade and tossed it in front of the door.
   The grenade exploded and the door went down. “Move, move, move!”
Dylan commanded. He entered the room first and immediately noticed a
fallen figure by the door.
   There was a couch in front of the living room and Dylan saw three
heads who had not bothered to turn at the explosion. Dylan aimed his
gun and yelled, “Freeze, you coco puff bastards!”
   “Told you my boys would make it.” One of the men said with a high
pitched voice and turned. It was Tommy. “Welcome to the Nintendo
paradise in the woods! Get your boys in here and get some food. And




                                                                           85
clean up that mess at the door.” He laughed, “How’s it feel to kill your
first friendly?”
   Dylan looked blankly at Tommy and asked, confused, “It’s the wrong
house?”
   Tommy laughed and smacked Dylan on the back, “You found it al-
right—little late though. What happened?”
   “We just killed one of our own?” Dylan said, looking at the figure by
the door.
   Tommy looked at the fallen soldier, “He’ll live.” He looked towards
the kitchen and nodded, “Food in the fridge if you’re hungry.”
   “I don’t understand? Why did you make us come here? We could have
killed you all.”
   “Yeah, but you should have seen your faces—totally worth the risk!”
   Tommy saw he was tense and rested his hand on his shoulder. “Relax,
Dylan! It was just a drill. It was the least threatening way to get you
some experience before sending you out to the front. You did well. I’m
proud of you. Now let’s play some games!”
   Milton and Hunter enter the room. Milton looked around confused.
“Did you get the cocos?” Milton asked.
   “It was a drill.” Dylan bitterly replied.
   “What does that mean?” Hunter asked.
   “It means there never were any cocos.”
   “So no games?” Hunter asked disappointed.
   Tommy laughed, “Plenty of games! Come on, let’s get our game on.”
                                 #       #   #
   Dylan ate a sandwich on stale bread on the porch by himself. From the
porch he tossed bread at a squirrel and watch him carry it up a tree. He
looked towards where they had come from—there were no signs of war.
He found it odd to be in a place so far removed from the battle that was
raging and he wished he could stay there forever.
   He turned towards the door and looked into the house; Trinity and
Johnny were sitting on the couch playing a game. Trinity laughed and
punched Johnny in the shoulder when he beat her at the boxing game
that they were playing. The graphics were worse than he expected. It
was the older Nintendo console—the one his dad used to play.
   Next to Johnny on the couch was the kid that they had shot. His arm
was in a sling, but he was happy. He told Dylan after he got his arm
fixed up that he’d take a bullet in the arm any day if it meant spending
the afternoon playing video games.
   Dylan moved towards the porch steps and took a seat.



                                                                     86
   Milton walked on the porch and reclined against the wall. “Not going
to play any games?”
   “I’ve never been too into them,” Dylan replied without turning, “I’d
rather everyone else play.”
   “Johnny and your friend look like they’re having a fun time.”
   “I noticed,” Dylan bitterly replied.
   Milton smiled, “Do I detect jealousy?”
   “No!” Dylan replied offended, “She can do whatever she wants.”
   Milton shrugged. “She’s a pretty girl—I’d be jealous.”
   “Well I’m not,” Dylan quickly replied then changed the subject. “What
about you? You still married or something to that woman you left?”
   Milton took a long sigh. “Or something.”
   Dylan nodded. “It’s okay. You don’t have to tell me.”
   “It’s alright. Before the war, I guess you could say I had everything. A
wife. Two kids. Even a white picket fence.
   “After I reenlisted last year, my wife refused to talk to me. Both my
kids are serving, but I’m sure they’re both dead or good as dead. I write
her every day, but I never mail the letters—I wouldn’t want her to
worry.”
   Dylan looked at him oddly.
   “Everything is different now, Dylan. You should fight for a girl like
her—kids are dying too early, and you don’t want to die without having
ever loved.”
   Dylan turned and looked through the window. “I think she’s made her
choice.”
   “Maybe she wants you to be jealous.”
   “What do you mean?”
   “Girls like guys to be jealous—they like to be chased.”
                                 #      #      #
   After dinner, Dylan challenged Johnny to Mario Kart. He had never
used a controller like it, and felt himself disadvantaged to Johnny who
had been playing all day.
   “He really sucks, eh Trinity?” he said, lapping Dylan’s character for
the first time.
   Trinity smiled but said nothing.
   Dylan tossed the controller on the ground when the game was over.
He was about to use the restroom, when he heard a car coming close to
the house.




                                                                        87
  Tommy ran to the front door, and watched a jeep make its way to the
front steps. He saluted the jeep’s driver, and then turned and said,
“Alright everyone. Pack it up. We leave in fifteen.”
  “Already?” Johnny complained.
  “Could have stayed overnight if you got here a little earlier.”
  “So that’s it?” Dylan replied.
  “That’s it.” He paused and looked at the rest of Dylan’s company,
“You men have one fine leader.”
  The statement did little to improve Dylan’s confidence.
                                #    #       #

  (Coco Puff, Blog Entry)
  PEARL HARBOR DAY
  Posted: Sunday, December 7, 2014 | 5:34 AM (GMT)

   Today is the anniversary of Pearl Harbor day—a day that has since
lived in infamy. It is the day that started the Second World War.
   It was a day that would have never happened had America been better
prepared. Hundreds died because of a flaw in the system. There is a flaw
now and it’s a flaw that will lead us once again into a war that never
needed to happen.
   There is only one thing left to do. Be on guard.
   The next war will be with your friends—with your family. Your gov-
ernment needs you. They need you to spy on your neighbors. To ques-
tion your family. To turn in people that you suspect might be involved in
an uprising.
   It is the government’s right to interrogate anyone believed to be con-
spiring, but they need you to give the names of who you suspect.

  Tag: rights of America




                                                                      88
Chapter    11
Level 9: Rotations
An air raid siren woke Dylan up. From his sleeping bag, he opened his
eyes in time to see a large bomber with a tail of black smoke coming
from its wing flying over his head at a low altitude. It was heading
downward towards the mountains in a last ditch effort not to crash.
   He continued to watch as the bomb bay doors opened and released
several bombs.
   The bombs hit several hundred feet away and shook the ground.
Dylan looked at the rest of his company; most of them were still sleeping
or doing their best to ignore the sirens that were blaring.
   They had been back to camp for two days; the sirens had become a
common occurrence, and everyone knew the best thing to do was ignore
them since there was nothing they could do to avoid them. They would
either die or not die—their fate was determined by chance.
   Dylan got dressed after the sirens had stopped and found a medic to
give him a ride into Seattle; the night before he had received a note from
Tommy telling him to meet him there for a conference at the company’s
Seattle headquarters.
   The medic’s name was Pollack. He had long black hair that he parted
down the middle and bottle glasses that were too big for him and were
constantly sliding down his nose. He was one of the few qualified med-
ics the Army had in Washington. He was 25 and had been in his first
year at Georgetown Medical School when he was forcefully recruited
three years ago. He had been in Washington for almost a year now,
which meant he had lived longer than 80% of everyone else stationed in
the area.
   Like everyone else in Washington, he had a secret to living. “Beans,”
he explained as they sped down the empty highway. “Eat plenty of
beans. Best advice I can give you.”
   “Beans?”




                                                                       89
   “Beans.” He said matter-of-factly, rolling down his window. “They’re
full of fiber—they’re all you need for a properly nourished meal.”
   “I didn’t know about that.”
   “There’s all kinds of beans you can have. Cold beans, warm beans,
beans with meat, spicy beans, beans with bacon—endless possibilities.”
   “I’m sure there are.” he replied, nervously watching the road; he felt
more uneasy the closer they got. It was the closest Dylan had gotten to
the main fighting. The heaviest was on the northern borders of Seattle;
the company headquarters were in South Seattle.
   “When your men head out for your first rotation, you make sure and
get as much as will fit in your bags. And stuff them in your pockets
while you’re at it.”
   Dylan nodded.
   They crossed the Lake Washington Bridge and entered into a new
world. In Redmond there was plenty of devastation but it was mostly
still intact; it was more abandoned than destroyed. Seattle was a pile of
ruins. Few buildings had been left standing. Most had been bombed and
then partially rebuilt for shelter.
   They passed a wounded man on the road’s shoulder. He yelled for
them to stop, but Pollack just kept driving.
   “Shouldn’t we stop?”
   “Can’t help every wounded man I see, now can I?” he said, adjusting
his glasses.
   Dylan shrugged.
   Pollack laughed. “When you start fighting, don’t you get shot unless it
goes somewhere that will kill you quick. Anytime you get shot, any-
where it goes—that bullet’s going to kill you. There’s not enough docs
up here to treat you and you’ll end up dying a slow death in the trench.”
   Dylan looked at him in disbelief.
   “You’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it.” he continued
as he turned down a street with dozens of bombed buildings. “This one
guy—he got shot in the foot—but he was stuck on the lines with no re-
lief. He kept on fighting and of course it got infected. One of his buddies
told him he’d put a tourniquet on him, but he refused because he didn’t
want to lose his foot. The fighting was too intense for anyone to get out
there. He eventually died from that bullet.”
   Dylan looked nervous. He avoided eye contact with Pollack and
looked out the window instead; he didn’t want him to know he was
afraid.




                                                                        90
   “Don’t worry though. You’re an officer now. They take a little better
care of their officers.”
   Dylan continued to look around at the ruins, amazed. “You know
those old war movies they used to show us in school? That’s what this
feels like—it doesn’t feel real. Seem like one big movie set.”
   A bomb came soaring over the car and exploded so close that Pollack
had to swerve. “Now does it feel real?” he asked with a laugh. Before
Dylan answered, he pulled into a large building that’s wall said in black
marker “Beacon Hill Reservoir.” He pulled near the front entrance and
said, “Here’s your stop.”
                                 #      #     #
   Dylan handed his papers to an elderly woman sitting behind two
stacked crates that had a radio and a picture frame with no picture. The
room was large, but barren. A single dead plant near the doors was the
only decoration. She adjusted her glasses and studied the note, then
looked up at Dylan and said, “You’re the one who almost killed Tommy
for a chance to play a Nintendo?”
   Dylan nodded.
   “Shame you didn’t kill him. They probably would have made you a
general.” She continued to stare at Dylan before finally announcing,
“Take the stairs to the second floor. Tommy’s through the second door
on your left.”
   Dylan found the room with no problem. It was a large room full of
bean bags and stacks of soda cans; the room smelled like old garbage. It
reminded Dylan of what a room would look like if you were a child and
your mother never yelled at you to clean things up—which, he figured,
was exactly what the room was.
   A picture of the Rebel President hung on the wall next to Dylan; it was
old and tearing in several places; next to it was a burnt rebel flag.
Framed above both things was a letter that was in Spanish; it appeared
to Dylan to be the treaty that the rebels signed with Mexico. It was odd
to Dylan how rare it was to see any of these symbols elsewhere; they
fought for rebels, and yet there were few references to the rebel cause
anywhere except the offices that most people would never see. Even
their uniforms did not bear the rebel flag; it had the original flag—the
American one.
   Tommy was in the back corner of the room studying a large area map
that hung on the wall. It was marked in several places with the names of
various companies. Without turning, he motioned Dylan to join him




                                                                       91
when he entered the room. He was puffing a fake pipe that blew out
bubbles; he blew several bubbles when Dylan joined him at the map.
   “Last night we came under some surprise heavy firing. We have holes
all over our lines.” He pointed at the map and told him the red circles in-
dicated holes, “Those bastards really hit us hard. They achieved total
surprise.”
   He rested his small hand on Dylan’s shoulder and continued, “I’m
putting Company D in to fill in the holes.” He paused and added with
sincere regret, “I’m sorry.”
   “We aren’t ready. I don’t even know my men yet, and we haven’t
trained at all as a company.” Dylan added, “Give us a couple more
days.”
   Tommy sympathetically nodded and folded his arms. “Let me tell you
something about war, Dylan. You’re never ready for it. You can go out
and practice firing your weapon every day. You can run your men until
they can feel no pain. You can give them drills, and you can give them
exercises. But the simple fact is nothing prepares you for war. When the
firing starts—when you start feeling the bullets barely miss your
head—when you hear the cries of your dying buddy next to you—when
that starts to happen and you don’t freeze and piss your pants, then
you’re not human. Nothing can prepare your men for what they’re about
to experience, and when they experience it and live then they’ll be ready
to fight again.”
   Dylan was quiet. It was the first time he saw a side of Tommy that ap-
peared to have knowledge of what combat was.
   “Get your men ready. You move out at midnight tonight.” He walked
to one of the boarded up windows, and stared at it like he could see out-
side; he reflected several seconds before finally saying, “Good luck.”
   Dylan started to leave but then paused at the door and turned to tell
Tommy thanks; as he turned he saw Tommy on all fours digging
through a box, mumbling to himself, “Where the heck did I leave my
PSP?!”
                                #      #      #
   Dylan was met by Hunter when he returned to the rest of his com-
pany; Hunter asked him what happened, but he ignored him. He went
straight to the rest of the company, most of whom were playing touch
football on the golf course.
   He watched the company with remorse at what he’d have to tell them.
Trinity saw him staring and knew something was wrong by his expres-
sion. Before she could ask him what, he said, with an authoritative tone



                                                                        92
that made Hunter glance twice to see what had changed about him,
“Company meeting in five minutes.”
   When everyone had gathered, he stared at each of them; Dylan was
their leader, their friend, their comrade. They looked back—most with
fearful eyes. He had yet to prove himself to most of them, and he knew
that many of them had doubts that he’d be able to lead them at
all—thanks, in part, to Johnny spreading rumors.
   “Alright, listen up.” Dylan began. “Last night the front line took some
heavy shelling. Company D has been called in early for its rotation to the
front. We leave at midnight tonight.” He paused and did his best to be
strong. He wanted to cry and his voice shook as he added, “If you have
parents, wives, loved ones, then it’s time to write letters. Make amends
in your lives.” He paused again and said, confident and proud like the
leader he was trying so hard to be, “Dismissed.”
   He found a quiet place and studied the map of the front lines that
Tommy had given him. They would be positioned just over Union Bay,
near what had at one time been the University of Washington. He mem-
orized landmarks, positions of other companies. He memorized where
there was infantry, where there were snipers, where there were medic
stations. He memorized places they could retreat to safety and the
straightest paths to charge the enemies. The front line stretched across
Seattle; their only job was to hold the position and make sure the lines
didn’t get pushed back any further.
   He thought about writing to his father and telling him what he had be-
come, and then to his mother to tell her not to worry. But he didn’t. In-
stead, he pulled out the notes he had made on each of his men the day
before.
   There was Jesse from San Francisco. He just turned fourteen. He had a
twin brother who was fighting east somewhere. They were the youngest
in the family. They had two older sisters who had gone off and fought
and hadn’t written home in a year. His mom thought they might be
alive, but everyone else knew otherwise. Jesse had been sent with a
bunch of other men from the bay area right to Washington, and had yet
to see action.
   There was Graham from Fresno. He was thirteen and boasted to
everyone that he knew how to shoot a gun and had killed a coco puff
spy. He was an only child and was living with his grandparents. His par-
ents had died, but not in war. He coped with war by pretending he was
not afraid. He had never seen action.




                                                                       93
   There was Conner from Reno. He had just turned thirteen when he
was recruited. He was the oldest of five other brothers. Both his parents
were still alive and neither had seen action. His dad had a medical condi-
tion that got him out of service.
   “I’ve looked all over for you.” Trinity said walking up behind him as
he continued to read through his notes.
   “Yeah? I’m just reviewing everyone’s name.” She sat down next to him
and looked at them curiously.
   “The great wondrous notes that will save us from our ultimate
doom?” There was excitement in her tone.
   “No. Just some notes I’ve made on everyone—if I’m responsible for
them, I want to at least know who they are. Did you write your mom?”
   She nodded. “I told them that things were going well and my Team
Leader said we’d all be home in a month, and they’d have a parade in
our honor.”
   “Know something I don’t?”
   “I know that my mom wants to know her daughter isn’t in danger.”
   He nodded. “How come you aren’t hanging around with Johnny?”
   She shrugged, “You make it sound like we’re together all the time.”
   “Seems like it.” Ever since they got back from the exercise in the
woods, Dylan had avoided almost everyone. He felt like the company
was growing closer together and he was growing further apart. Hunter
was the only who talked to him.
   “He’s just fun—what do you care anyway?”
   Dylan nodded and looked down, but didn’t say anything.
   “Things have just been weird, Dylan. I’m not avoiding you—Johnny
just doesn’t make me think about war. When I’m with you that’s all that
I see—and I don’t want to see it.”
   “Then you guys should be together—I’m happy for you.”
   “It’s not even like that. War’s changing you—you’re not even fun any-
more. You’re just intense. Even when you were playing video games at
the cabin—it was like you were on a mission or something.” She paused
and ran her finger playfully through her hair, “I just want to be a girl for
just a bit longer, and you keep reminding me that I stopped being a girl
the moment I got on the bus.
   Dylan stood abruptly and turned his back away from Trinity. He
looked at the mountains in the distance before finally admitting emotion-
ally with his back still turned, “I didn’t want to be a leader, you know.
I’m scared and I want to protect us—I want to be a good leader, and
right now that means that I can’t have fun.”



                                                                         94
   Trinity put her hand on his shoulder. She stood with him in silence
and enjoyed the moment of peace, then said, “Come on—word is they’re
serving us real food for dinner tonight. I guess it’s our last supper!”
   “I’ll meet you there.” He promised.
   She smiled and ran off.
   He didn’t eat dinner that night. The rumor was right, they brought out
the best food—steak, potatoes and cheesecake for desert. It was the best
meal the men had had as recruits—for some it would be there last. He
wanted no part of the dinner. He went to the kitchen and got a can of
beans. He ate the entire can as he wrote out a speech he would tell his
company later that night.
   In school it was taught that every great leader gave a great speech be-
fore battle. In high school literature classes that’s all that they read—the
speeches and letters of great leaders. They had to study their syntax, ex-
amine their themes, and write essays on why they were affective.
   One of the cooks asked him why he wasn’t eating the other food, and
he said proudly, “I’d rather have fiber—I’ll need it when I fight.”
   He laughed and said, “That sounds like something from the lips of
Doc Pollack!”
   He nodded. “He’s a wise man.”
   The cook rolled his eyes and walked away.
   Dylan looked down at his speech and reread parts of it. All of it was a
lie and he sighed as he thought about it. He had memorized a few fam-
ous lines from speeches in school, and he did his best to write them
verbatim.
   His speech made him think about how little he actually knew about
why they fought; they fought for survival—they fought because of
something their fathers had created years ago. They didn’t fight because
they believed in a cause; they believed in the idea of a cause, but to be-
lieve in an actual cause would require them to know what the cause was,
and none of them really knew.
   Dylan told himself that the lie was okay; he had to make them believe
that there was something real they were fighting for. He had to give
them hope even though there was no truth to it. It was his only way to
protect them.
                                 #     #       #
   Dylan carefully studied the faces of his company. They watched him
and patiently waited for his words. Finally he said, “I can’t offer you any
hope.” his hand shaking as he read from the tattered piece of paper he
had used to prepare the speech. “I’ve seen a man die—I’ve killed him



                                                                         95
with my own hands, and there’s nothing pretty about it. But I’d do it
again, and I will do it again. I don’t do it because I hope that I will live or
the buddy next to me will live or that any man with a gun will live. I kill
because I believe in the country that I only know about from the stories
my parents have told me about. A country with no wars, and with pride
and dreams that is like no other nation.”
   His hand continued to shake as he took a sip of water from his canteen
and then continued. “I fight for this soil, for this land, for this people. I
fight to preserve to its honor. I fight to restore the hope.
   “We’re kids fighting a grownup’s war. If you wish to cry like ba-
bies—if you wish to piss your little pants—if you wish to share your
emotions with anyone about how scared you are—then do it. There’s no
disrespect—no dishonor in being a kid. But know that around you are
people like you and that will fight for you. Know that while you might
not make it out alive, we all fight on the same team and we all have the
same fears. You do whatever it takes to keep that gun in the armed posi-
tions, continuously blasting the tiny nuts of those coward coco puffs.
   “You’ll remember this day—this war—all of your life. However long
your life is, you’ll know that you fought in Company D—with the
bravest men around. Fight hard. Fight proud.”
   He paused and looked around. All of their eyes were glued to his.
Tommy had come just in time to hear his speech and he was proudly
nodding. “Lead them home.” he lipped to Dylan.
   “Let’s move out.”
   It was silent when he finished. Dylan wondered if they had heard any-
thing he had said. The back cargo door of a transport truck loudly
dropped, and everyone jumped, and then slowly started making their
way onto the vehicle.
   Tommy stopped Dylan as he headed towards the truck. “Good
speech.” He said saluting.
   “Thank you, sir.”
   “It’s going to be intense tonight. You’ll be holding a large area and we
suspect it will get hit hard again, but we’ll get you reinforcements. Hold
it down and I’ll get you backup ASAP.”
   Dylan nodded. He watched his company piling onto the transport
truck; they still looked nervous and he wondered if his speech did any-
thing to help take away at least some of their nerves.
   “I’m going to make it out to the lines to see you in a few days. I’m
eager to kill and bag a few coco puffs myself—it’s been a few days.”




                                                                            96
  Dylan nodded again. He noticed Hunter standing next to the truck; he
looked proud as he waited for Dylan, and he knew that his speech had
an effect on at least one person.
  “I’ll see you again.” Tommy said, and then saluted.
  “Yes, sir.” Dylan replied and saluted back. It was the first time he had
ever saluted anyone since joining.
  Once more, he was going to war.
                                #    #     #

  (Rebel Frosted Flake, Blog Entry)
  WE MUST FIGHT?
  Posted: Tuesday, December 16, 2014 | 10:34 AM (GMT)

  I drank my coffee this morning while watching live footage of Americ-
an soldiers being led in long convoys around Seattle positioning them-
selves around the city to be on guard for what the President calls an
“Imminent Threat.”
  What is the threat? Of course, no one knows for sure, but plenty have
speculated. Several reporters call it a potential biological attack. I even
heard one relating the possibility of terrorists scientifically erupting a
volcano and burning down the city.
  The only thing I saw for sure is fear. Fear has long been the govern-
ment’s best tactic for getting civilians to sacrifice their American rights. It
always starts like this. You rally people up, get them believe that they are
in danger, and then ask them to give up just a few rights so you can pro-
tect them. It always starts with a few rights that no one will miss and
then it builds to something far greater.
  Only last week, I was watching radical leaders talk about how the gov-
ernment was taking away rights and there would be consequences for
sure—but this week there are no radicals. All of the people that are the
voice of opposition—people who had did nothing wrong except had a
difference of opinion—they are silent. As I sat at the TV watching the
scene play out, I kept thinking over and over again: what happened to
those people?
  What is becoming of this nation?

  Tag: Seattle




                                                                            97
Chapter    12
Level 10: Gehenna
Connor, one of the youngest kids in Dylan’s company, started singing a
camp song on the ride to front lines; before long he had the whole trans-
port truck swinging and swaying and singing a folk song that they had
all known since third grade. As they got closer, the sounds of war be-
came a more forceful presence, but everyone kept on singing.
   Dylan sat alone at the front of the truck, and did not sing. He watched
Connor singing; there was a smile on his face, and he wondered how he
could ignore what they were heading into.
   Singing through blasts, singing when it became so loud that they
could barely hear what they were singing, they kept singing until a
bomb exploded and shrapnel went into Connor’s head. His blonde mul-
let instantly became stained with blood, and he fell face-forward into the
bed of the truck.
   Blood drained from Connor’s lifeless body along the bed of the truck
and touch several of the kid’s boots. War had just become real and the
singing stopped.
   Hunter, who was just across from Connor’s body, started to move to-
wards him, but Dylan pulled him back and shook his head no. He was
already going. The truck kept moving, though now it had more speed as
the sounds of war grew louder and more frequent.
   Trinity tapped on Dylan’s shoulders. He couldn’t hear her over the
noise, but she was pointing at a building. He turned and saw a church
tower. The church was gone, but the tower still stood. Just barely, he
could hear the chiming of its bells. They still rang—even in war. Dylan
watched the towers until he saw them no more. It seemed unreal that the
city was gone, but the church bells still rang—nothing could stop them.
   There were three zones in Seattle: the Forward Zone, where the
trenches were and where they were heading; the Rear Zone, where the
headquarters and hospital were; and Battle Zone, the area they were




                                                                       98
currently traveling through. The Battle Zone was full of artillery and
tanks; some were being used as they passed, but most were out of
service.
   The Battle Zone was full of rubble and crumbling buildings; there was
little hint that the road they were on was at one time paved. He watched
men and women quickly loading mortar into one of the artillery canons
as they passed. A part of him wanted to be them; they didn’t have to see
who they killed and hurt; they were radioed-in locations and they fired
at them, never knowing if they even hit anything.
   A hundred feet away there was a medical truck turned over and on
fire. They were trying to pull bodies from it, but as they did the entire
truck exploded and made a huge fireball that went up nearly one hun-
dred feet; the force of the explosion rocked the truck that Dylan’s com-
pany was in. Dylan remembered a teacher who had once said the Rules
of Engagement said you never fired on the injured or doctors; he didn’t
know if that was true, but he knew that the Rules of Engagement
wouldn’t apply in Seattle—there was only one Rule in Seattle: Survive.
   They passed a sign that said “Washington Park Arboretum.” The sign
was odd to Dylan; there was no such thing as a park in a warzone.
Whatever beauty and nature there had once been, it was now long gone.
   More bombs came. There was more than one close call. Not even one
hundred feet away, bombs exploded. The truck dodged left and right
avoiding them. Dylan listened to the sounds and thought back to Dis-
neyland—the only battlefield that he knew. Already he knew that this
was a different warfront; this was the real warfront. He still wasn’t sure
what exactly that meant, but he knew that the war here was con-
stant—the fighting never seemed to stop.
   The truck stopped without warning and the driver turned and nodded
at Dylan. Dylan quickly hopped from his seat in the truck’s bed and off
the back. “Alright everyone, move out.” he commanded as he jumped
from the truck to the surface.
   No one could hear what he said over the blasts and gunfire and bombs
flying above and occasional fighter jets firing at their objectives. No one
could hear him, but they knew what he meant, and no one stalled at
moving quickly.
   They followed Dylan, clinging shoulder to shoulder, as they ran. Two
of the kids froze. Dylan didn’t realize it until they were several feet away
from the rest of the group. He turned and saw them standing. He yelled,
but they couldn’t hear him. He motioned, but they didn’t follow. They
just stood hopelessly—clinging to each other—too fearful to even shake.



                                                                         99
He signaled to Hunter to move everyone forward, while he went back to
push them along. Just as he started to go back, a bomb exploded and
they both were gone.
   Dylan was now the frozen one. He stared at the small crater that it had
made; he stared at their charred and lifeless bodies as they smoked on
the ground; he was not even aware of the noise anymore. Then he felt a
tug on his shoulders. He turned. Milton was pulling at his shirt and
yelling that he had to move on. He still didn’t move; he tried to think
what their names were, but he couldn’t remember. Milton pushed him
again, and this time shouted closely into Dylan’s ear, “There’s nothing
you can do. The others need you!”
   Dylan nodded his head, and then ran with Milton to catch up with
Hunter and lead the troops forward.
   A bomb exploded so close to Hunter that the impact made him lose his
balance as he ran. When he got back up he was crying, and grabbed on
to Dylan’s hand. They ran several hundred feet before Dylan even no-
ticed that they were holding hands.
   Dylan didn’t know where he was going, but he knew if they kept on
running they’d reach their trench. It was dark, with a thick cloud of
smoke, but frequent explosions helped keep it bright enough to see.
   Subconsciously he hoped that this was another test; that any minute
Tommy would jump out from nowhere, laughing and saying it was just
a silly game he made up to amuse the men. But this was no joke.
   Every building in sight was crushed; bodies were scattered dead on
the ground. Dylan watched several different people trip and fall over
dead bodies; vehicles were turned over; women were left naked; the dust
was thick, the smell of death was thicker. But they kept running, too
afraid to realize they were tired and scared.
   Fifty feet away, they saw a helicopter shot from the sky; they watched
in horror as the bright light on the bottom of it got closer and closer until
it finally crashed not far from them in a burning blaze.
   Men were running towards them telling them to turn around. “Run
for your lives,” they shouted, “they’re trying to kill us!” One of Dylan’s
men started to follow the men going the other way. Dylan grabbed him
by his shoulder as he ran past and shook his head no, forcing him to stay
with the company.
   A bomb blasted not far away; when several more blasts came, Dylan
led everyone to a collapsed multistory business complex where they
waited several minutes. When the nearby bombing had stopped, they
ran again. The deeper they got in the war zone, the softer the sounds got.



                                                                         100
Most the bombs were now flying over them instead of crashing right
next to them.
   They came to the remains of a drawbridge and Dylan knew they
would have to cross it. The middle of the bridge had been blown away
and no car could cross it, but there was a beam just wide enough for
them to run over single file. If the map was correct, Dylan knew that the
University of Washington was just on the other side, and that was where
they were supposed to be.
   About a mile after crossing the bridge, Dylan nearly tripped and fell
into a trench, and was met by the high-strung Company B team leader.
   “Glad to see you.” he said to Dylan. “I lost 90% of my men in the at-
tacks yesterday. Welcome to the 45th Street Parallel Trench.”
   Dylan nodded and looked around as the rest of his company jumped
into the trench. It was the first time he had ever seen a real trench. In
high school, they had practiced building trenches, but it was nothing like
this. The ones in high school were solid and perfect. The 45th Street
trench was muddy and partially falling apart.
   “Name’s Faulkner, by the way.” He grabbed Dylan’s hand and began
to forcefully shake it, and then he looked at the rest of the company that
was piling into the trench and said, “Got a young bunch of kids on your
hand. What company did you say you were with?”
   “D.”
   “D?”
   Dylan nodded.
   “They must be desperate or stupid if they’re sending D men out here.
This is A-B turf.”
   Dylan nodded again, still too shocked to speak.
   “Well get your men settled in. There should be fighting all night.”
   Faulkner was 25 and a graduate of Stanford University. He was re-
cruited three years ago and had been all over the world. This was his
third rotation to the front lines in the four months he had been in Wash-
ington. “I should have been dead three times over, but I keep lucking
out.” He told Dylan all he knew about battlefront war with one sentence
as he set down his pack, “Fire first, question later.” And he told him
about the nickname of the front. “Gehenna” which in ancient times was
where children were sacrificed to the gods.
   “Where’d you start out, anyway?” Faulkner asked, pouring him a cup
of coffee.
   “Saw my first battle at Disneyland.”




                                                                      101
   “Disneyland? I’ve heard stories. Did you ride Space Mountain when it
was over?”
   Dylan nodded.
   “That’s what I would have done. I’ve always wanted to go there.”
   “Is it always like this here?”
   “Like what?”
   “So intense.”
   Faulkner smiled wickedly. “You ain’t seen nothing yet. Some days it
will be like this. Real quiet like. Then out of nowhere there’s fire and am-
bushes and bombings. Sometimes those last less than a minute, and oth-
er days they go on for two days straight. We call it Gehenna for a
reason.”
   “How much longer do you have?”
   “My time’s up.” Faulkner said, “I’m hitching a ride out tonight. You’ll
be in charge of my boys now.”
   “They don’t get to leave?”
   “They can if they want. They’re just going to die eventually any-
way—might as well stay out here and make it soon than later. To tell you
the truth, there’s not much accountability out here—people die so fre-
quently that if you run away they just assume you’re dead.”
   He took a long drag on his cigarette, then slapped Dylan on the back,
wished him luck, and said he was leaving.
   Faulkner’s luck ran out as he left the trench, when guerillas came from
nowhere and started firing on him. He took seventeen shots to the upper
body before falling to the ground and dying.
   When Company B located the three guerillas, they returned with their
own bullets, but it was too late, and Faulkner was dead. Dylan was now
in charge of the four men that he had left behind.
   Dylan collapsed against the wall as soon as the guerillas were dead
and loudly sighed.
   “You okay?” Hunter said, sitting next to him.
   Dylan nodded. “So our mission, as at this point, is to fire at anything
that moves.”
   “I guess,” Hunter softly replied. “But the thing was nothing really
moves that we can take out. How do you fire at bomb coming straight at
us?”
   Dylan didn’t say anything, but he knew Hunter was right; they were
human shields, and they watched in horror the beautifully tragic effects
of war. If there were other companies around, they were not able to es-
tablish communications.



                                                                        102
   The trench was long and uneven; it stretched several hundred feet.
Dylan was now in charge of an area longer than a football field.
   There were many layers to the trench, Dylan quickly learned. Every
fifty feet there was a listening post that raised a few feet out of the trench
and was bordered with several sandbags; two people at a time could be
stationed at the post where they would listen for the lightest noises.
   The trench itself had a two foot step that was called the firestep. The
firestep was a step up and gave soldiers the ability to be high enough out
of the trench to fire on any incoming enemy troops. There were ladders
every twenty feet for soldiers to climb quickly out. Periscopes also lined
the walls of the trench, which allowed soldiers to see out of the trench
without putting their head in firing range.
   The soldiers ate, slept and lived wherever they could find room in the
middle of the trench, but there were more fortified areas every several
feet called dugouts. This extra sheltered area was used for ammo, food,
and as sickbays to anyone shot.
   Sandbags lined the entire trench, which allowed extra protection, as
well as helped keep the trench from flooding; the sandbags frequently,
however, did little for flooding, despite much effort. The trench was
muddy and in need of constant repair to keep it from caving in.
   In front of the trench was a rifle pit where soldiers could lay flat with
their rifles, but be down in the ground just enough to have cover. In front
of the pit, past a series of wires, was no man’s land—the vacant, bomb-
filled area of land that separated rebel trenches from cocos. It was unpro-
tected, unsheltered, and the area no one would ever want to be.
                                 #      #       #
   Dylan put the four B men on watch throughout the trenches lookouts,
and he stationed two D men with each, hoping they’d learn something.
There was nothing they could do except fire whenever they were being
fired upon. They were surrounded by trees and seemed well enough
protected.
   While he sat back and drank coffee, Trinity came and sat next to him.
“Welcome to hell,” he said to her.
   She didn’t smile.
   “It’s not so bad, really—now that we’re here anyway.”
   “So now we wait.”
   Dylan nodded. “It’s the worst part.”
   She looked down at the mud that collected on her skin and admitted
disappointed, “I miss being a girl. I feel like the Army tries to make
everything unisex—there’s no opportunity to be pretty.”



                                                                          103
   Dylan was about to say something about Trinity’s looks, but got em-
barrassed and stopped.
   Trinity left him and went to Johnny, who was looking intensely ahead.
She put her arms around him and kissed him on the cheeks and then
whispered into his ear. Dylan should have turned away, but he
couldn’t—he wanted to be the one being kissed on the cheek and being
comforted by her.
                                  #     #      #
   Later that night, Dylan made his way to one of the B soldiers, Aimee,
who was alone in one of the lookouts. She was in her early twenties and
the only woman left in Company B. She was Asian and had a black
buzzed head.
   “How’s it looking out there?” he asked her.
   “All quiet, sir.”
   “Let’s hope it stays that way for a while—the men could use some
rest.”
   “Yes, sir.”
   “How long have you been on the lines?”
   “One month, sir.”
   “And you’ve never been shot?”
   “I’ve gotten lucky.”
   “I want you and the other B men to teach the boys in D everything you
know.”
   “Yes, sir.”
   “Then I want you to retreat out of here.”
   “Sir?”
   “You’ve been at the lines long enough—it’s time to give let someone
else a try at it.”
   “I think I stand for all the B boys when I say, permission to stay.”
   “Denied.”
   “Sir, this is more our home than anywhere else. I can think of no better
place to die. If you send us back, it will be R&R for a couple days, and
then they’ll send us back to some terrain we don’t know. At least now
our minds stay fresh and focused and we know our turf.”
   He looked out at the darkening horizon. “You really want to stay?”
   “You need all the help you can get, sir.”
   “Okay—permission to stay. You’re free to leave whenever you want.”
   “Thank you, sir.”
   “Where you from?”
   “Florida, sir.”



                                                                       104
   “And your story?”
   “I was playing tennis for the University of Florida when I got the word
that I had been drafted. They sent me to Georgia to be trained with Com-
pany B, and then I was sent here. I’ve been to the lines twice now, and I
don’t want to go off until this war’s over or until I’m dead.”
   “You have family?”
   “Two younger brothers, and a mom and dad.”
   “And you don’t want to make it back alive for them?”
   “They’d be proud to know I died for the cause.”
   “The cause?” He looked at her curiously, “And what exactly is the
cause?”
   “It’s what we fight for, sir.”
   Dylan nodded. “But do you know it—do you know what you fight
for?”
   She shrugged. “I just want it to be over—that’s the cause that I fight
for.”
    He nodded. “Go get some rest—I’ll take your post for a few hours.”
   “Thank you, sir.” She climbed down from the post, but turned and
looked up before leaving, “Sir?”
   “Yeah?”
   “Your company should shave their heads—I have a razor and can do
it.”
   “Why?”
   “Lice, sir—it’s pretty common in the trench.”
   “Our hair is about the only thing this Army hasn’t taken yet—strip us
of it, and we’ll have nothing left that’s ours.”
   She shrugged. “Just a suggestion, sir.”
   “Hey, Aimee?” Dylan called as she started to leave again.
   “Yes, sir?”
   “Enough with the ‘sirs’—if there’s any cocos listening, the first person
they’ll try and kill is the person in charge.”
   “Yes, sir—I mean okay.”
   Dylan watched the darkness, fighting to keep his eyes awake. Some-
times he’d think he would see movements, or hear the sound of ruffling
dirt. But it always turned out to be the tricks the mind plays in presences
of war. To fight off sleep he cleaned his gun, and counted the number of
explosions he heard in a minute. He kept the post all night, and finally
gave it to someone else at dawn. He didn’t sleep all that day.
                                  #     #      #




                                                                       105
  (Coco Puff, Blog Entry)
  BLOODY CHRISTMAS
  Posted: Thursday, December 25, 2014 | 11:02 AM (GMT)

   Christmas. I’ve never seen the fuss in the holiday that Americans do,
but I do regret that the events that happened late last night and early this
morning had to come on a day that is supposed to be joyful.
   Obviously by now you have heard of the events, and probably like me
have some sort of news playing in the background as you read this.
   They say the fire that is burning through Los Angeles will last for
days. Every few minutes I see new images of something destroyed in one
of the numerous bombs—the Hollywood sign, the Staples Center, Grif-
fith observatory, Disney Hall—once landmarks, now gone.
   They are saying the attacks were strategic. What strategy calls for the
complete destruction of every single building with any cultural or histor-
ic importance?
   This is the worse attack by the rebels and, I hope, the final straw.
Surely now the government will take action and do everything to stop
them at any cost.
   I am continually hearing reporters talk about who is to blame. About
what could have or should have been done. I believe there will come a
time for all of that, but today it is best just to mourn—to put aside our
differences for just a few days and reach out to those who died in the at-
tack or lost their families.

  Tag: annihilation of Los Angeles




                                                                        106
Chapter    13
Level 11: What Do We Do?
A loud bell chiming woke Dylan from his sleep. As he woke, he realized
he was soaking wet and his first thought was that someone had peed on
him again; as he woke up he found that he was wet from rain. He was
sleeping in a puddle of rain water.
   He slowly stood and looked out into the horizon. A thick layer of fog
made it impossible to see more than a few feet.
   Slowly, he began making his way down the drench; almost everyone
was asleep and he almost fell several times as he made his way over
them. As he did so, the bells still rang in the distance. It seemed so un-
natural to hear a chime so beautiful while there was so much death and
fighting happening. Finally they stopped and there was an eerie silence.
   Dylan heard whispers as he walked, but the fog was too heavy to see
the figures. Finally they appeared—Johnny and Trinity. They were sit-
ting close together with their backs leaning against the trench. Johnny
was picking at a zit on his cheek while Trinity sipped some coffee.
   Dylan stood unnoticed, listening to them, jealously wishing he was the
one sitting close to Trinity; he tried to hear what they were talking about,
but their voices were too soft. Trinity seemed startled when she finally
realized Dylan was standing near them.
    “Don’t do that, Dylan!”
   “What?”
   “Sneak up on us!”
   “What gives anyway?” Johnny asked, “You spying on us?”
   “What if I am, Johnny? You going to do something about it? I don’t
think it’s possible to get anymore demoted then this.”
   “What’s that supposed to mean?”
   “You know exactly what it means,” Dylan said, finally saying what he
had been thinking ever since Johnny had been assigned to his company.
“You should be in Company C or B. Only way you managed to get in
this company was by making the wrong person mad.”



                                                                        107
   Johnny looked down, “Well maybe you don’t know the whole story.”
   “Enlighten me.”
   “Leave him be, Dylan,” Trinity spoke up. “If I remember right you
were demoted to D when we first signed up.”
   “I was defending you.”
   Johnny stood and said angrily, “Maybe there was a reason for what I
did too.” And then he walked away.
   “Nice , Dylan.”
   Dylan leaned against the trench wall opposite Trinity, and explained
quietly, “I don’t trust him.”
   Trinity stood and explained, “I do.” She paused and said, “You’re not
there, Dylan—while you go off into your world and plan how you are
going to protect us, I’m stuck here and there’s no one I can talk to. You
may not think much of Johnny, but he means a lot to me, and if you’re
my friend you’d at least try to like him for me.”
   Dylan sighed, “So he’s your boyfriend?”
   “He’s my friend—just like you. He makes me feel safe.” She took
Dylan’s hand and softly asked, “Did you hear the bells?”
   Dylan nodded.
   “It’s Easter today—did you know that?”
   There was a peacefulness to the word that made the sounds of war
seem softer. Dylan’s family did not celebrate Easter; Trinity was the only
person he knew who celebrated any religious holiday.
   One of Dylan’s earliest memories as a child was an Easter egg hunt
with his brother; his mom hid several dozen in the backyard, and when
it was over Dylan asked why. She said “Because you need to know what
it’s like to be a kid.” It was easy to forget that he still was young when he
was doing something so mature, but the bells reminded him of his
youth.
   “Jesus died for our sins today.”
   Trinity had invited Dylan to church several times, but he never saw
the point of it. He knew the lesson that the church thought, but it seemed
a contradiction to what the government would make him do. Usually he
ignored her, but today he considered it for just a moment, and then he
shrugged and said smugly, “And yet we keep on sinning.”
   The smile that was on Trinity’s face quickly went away.
   “It’s war.” Dylan assured her as if this somehow made all of it right.
   “It’s war.” She agreed. “My family used to get up early every Easter
and watch the sun come up. Then my mom would pray.”




                                                                         108
   “My family would sleep in,” Dylan smiled, “and then cuss at each
other.”
   Trinity ignored him and continued, “She’d pray for so long for this
war to go away. I bet she’s praying for us right now.” She paused and
said tearfully, “I miss them so much.”
   “You’ll see them one day.”
   She nodded. “Johnny told me if a girl gets pregnant, she gets to go
home and raise the child.”
   Dylan nodded. He knew about this already.
   “There’s a minister back at the headquarters. Johnny says he’d marry
me and I could have his baby. I’d get to go home.”
   Dylan looked at her oddly. “And you’re considering it?”
   Trinity looked down, afraid. “I just want to go, Dylan.”
   “Don’t you want to know love before you die?”
   “I never pictured you to be the romantic.”
   “Do you love him?”
   “There are more reasons than love to get married.”
   He nodded. “It’s not right, Trinity—you don’t even know each other.”
   She leaned closer and looked at Dylan’s eyes. “He’s the best person
who’s made an offer.”
   Dylan met her stare. A range of emotions went through him, and he
wanted to shout out the way he felt, but he couldn’t. Instead of speaking
his mind, he said cowardly, “It’s not right.”
   Trinity was quiet, and Dylan asked, “So is that it? You’ll just run off
and get married and pregnant.”
   Trinity sat back down and quietly said, “I haven’t decided—but I
knew you wouldn’t understand.”
   Dylan left Trinity and found Johnny with Aimee on the far side of the
trench; she was shaving Johnny’s head. Without saying anything he
shoved Johnny against the dirt wall. Aimee dropped the razor, and held
him back and said, “Hold off—we’re all on the same side!”
   “Why would you tell Trinity something like that?”
   “What?”
   “To have your baby?! What are you thinking?!”
   “I should go check on the supplies,” Aimee awkwardly said.
   “I’m doing something you can’t—protecting her.”
   Dylan looked at him intensely and then grabbed his shirt and pulled
him close. “You’re a fake.” And then he released him, and started walk-
ing away.




                                                                      109
  “And what are you? You march around pretending to be something
you’re not—you’re not a leader. You haven’t done anything to prove
yourself. I’m a fake? I’m not the one pretending to have some special
skills that make me more qualified to lead than others. You’re going to
get us all killed.”
  Dylan stopped and turned. “Just stay away from Trinity.”
  “Or what?”
  Dylan didn’t answer. He walked away in a fury of rage.
  He stopped at the supply closet where Aimee was taking a mental in-
ventory. “How are we?” Dylan asked awkwardly.
  “Low as always—how are you?”
  “I kind of lost it.”
  “I’ve seen a lot of leaders out here—good and bad. I know a thing or
two about what it takes to lead, and I know you don’t get respect by
pulling off stunts like that.”
  Dylan nodded and then asked, “Have you ever thought about it? Hav-
ing a baby so you could leave?”
  “Never had someone make an offer,” Aimee said with a smile, “But if I
did, I’d never consider it. So you leave for a few months, but they even-
tually come back for you, and if you don’t have a family then your baby
just ends up with the government. Who wants to bring a baby into a
world like this?”
  Dylan looked down at the weapons.
  “You like her don’t you?”
  “Trinity?”
  “Yeah.”
  Dylan shrugged, “Who has time for that out here?”
  Aimee laughed. “You’re still a kid—stop trying to act grown up.”
                                #     #      #
  Just in time for lunch, reinforcements came in. They were a bunch of
older kids from Company A, who had just come in from training in Ore-
gon. They had all the modern weapons of real war; RPG, mortar fire,
sniper weapons, land minds. They also had communications and were
able to quickly establish contact with HQ and, more importantly, air
support.
  But most importantly, according to the Company A Team Leader, they
“had beer.” They wheeled in two kegs of it for almost two miles.
  The Team Leader’s name was Mac. He was one of the few people that
were on the front line who could legally drink, though most the kids




                                                                     110
ignored the laws and still got drunk daily. One of the Company A men
had gotten four of Dylan’s men drunk by nightfall.
   There was little to do at night except stare at the stars and pray that the
cocos didn’t decide to stage a surprise attack.
                                 #     #       #
   The second night at the front lines, Milton taught Hunter and Dylan
how to play poker. They sat tightly where the ammo was kept and used
a small crate as a table.
   In between the infrequent battles, there was little to do with their free
time; they repaired the constant damages to the trench to keep it from
caving in and practiced loading their guns—but mostly they just hung
out and did their best to relax.
   “First opportunity you have to get me killed, I want you to take it,”
Milton explained as he shuffled cards.
   “I’m not going to get you killed.”
   “Ha! Who are you kidding, Dylan? The odds are against all of us.” He
paused and then explained, “But this is what I’ve wanted—to be fighting
here in Seattle. I want to die a hero. When you see the opportunity for
me to do so, then you call me out and send me in.”
   “You’re a crazy old man, Milton,” Dylan replied.
   “So you won’t do it?”
   “Who’s going to teach us how to player poker if he sends you off to
die?” Hunter asked adding, “And all that other stuff you promised to
teach us? You’re the only person here that can teach us all the stuff you
promised to teach us.”
   Milton thought a moment, and then explained, “Well I didn’t mean I
wanted to die a hero tonight.”
   Dylan nodded, “Well when you have taught us everything you know
about everything, then we’ll consider it—but not until then.”
   Milton nodded and pulled his feet in so a Company A man could pass
over him; as he passed he kicked mud onto Milton’s camouflage shirt.
“But soon, Dylan. I’m too old to be sleeping in the mud.”
   “Hey, Milton?” Hunter said quietly, “What was it like—before the
war?”
   Milton reclined his head and thought for a moment. “Simple, I guess. I
mean I had seen my share of bad things in Iraq, and when I came home
all I wanted to do was move somewhere quiet and stay unnoticed, so
that’s what I did—became a teacher in a small town and kept to myself.
Stayed like that until the rebellion.”




                                                                          111
   Dylan’s father had told him about the rebellion not long before he left,
but he had ignored most of what he said. His dad was an early supporter
of it, and he asked Milton curiously, “Did you support it right away?”
   “Of course not.” Milton replied. “It’s like I said, I tried to keep it
simple. I wasn’t about to join some cause and get thrown back into con-
flict. Besides, it was a small town. The rebellion didn’t exactly reach our
doors until later—by that time you didn’t have any choice—once the big
towns decided the side they were on you pretty much had to follow
suit.”
   “But you support it?” Hunter asked.
   Milton nodded. “Not at first. Not until the cocos came into our city
and I saw what kind of people they were.” He paused and added,
“There’s nothing glamorous about fighting. It’s just what you have to do
sometimes.”
   Hunter nodded satisfy.
   “But when does the fighting stop?”
   Milton smiled. “When we win.”
                                 #     #     #
   Dylan and Hunter lay flat in the trench staring upward at the sky, si-
lently watching bombs burst above them; it was like a firework show.
   They spent most of the day just getting acquainted with their new
home and repairing parts of the trench that needed repair. Dylan and
Mac had agreed that tomorrow they would send Company A men to re-
pair any damage to the wire in front of the trench, and Dylan’s men to
connect a bomb-made crater to their trench. The crater was about five
feet in front of the trench, but would provide good fire ground once they
connected it. The wire mission was far more dangerous, and Dylan’s
men didn’t have the skill for it.
   Hunter started to fall asleep, and Dylan turned on his side and
watched, amused, as two Company A men peed on one of Dylan’s men,
who had passed out after having too much to drink.
   His smirk was quickly wiped away when he heard Mac scream,
“Incoming! Take cover!” Dylan threw himself over Hunter just as the
blast hit.
   It was one of those moments in a war movie that happened in slow
motion. Dylan turned right and he saw everyone panicking and scream-
ing and crying and wetting their pants; he turned to his left and he saw a
blaze of fire coming towards him. He saw Mac, the Company A leader
on fire—screaming—dying.




                                                                       112
   Dylan’s eyes widened as Mac got closer. He could feel Hunter pushing
at him, and trying to get up.
   Another blast came. This one just missed the trench.
   Dylan sat up and went quickly to one of the periscopes to see what
was going on. He looked towards the enemy lines. “What do we do?” he
heard a Company A man screaming at him, just as confused as everyone
else. Dylan didn’t answer. He kept scanning. He could see the coco puff
launching a grenade from an RPG. “What do we do?”
   Dylan pointed ahead and yelled, “Disable those men.” He ran low in
the trench to a Company A sniper and told him to take out the RPG man,
then he told the rest of the company to return fire.
   He saw an A man—an eighteen year old who had boasted during a
poker game earlier that he graduated from an Army academy—in the
fetal position crying. Dylan ran to him pushed his head up towards his
own. “Do you want to die?”
   “No,” he sobbed.
   “Then get up and fire that weapon.”
   “I can’t.”
   “Then they’re going to kill you. Those no good coco puffs will kill you
and eat your nuts for dinner.”
   He didn’t move.
   Dylan held his limp hand up and helped him to the fire step. Together
they fired a single shot. “That’s the way it’s done—now do it!”
   “They’ll kill me.”
   “They’ll kill you either way—at least this way you stand a fighting
chance.”
   He nodded and slowly peeked his head out of the trench and began to
fire. It was slow at first and then adrenaline pushed him to fight hard.
Dylan fought next to him and together they killed coco puffs. Hunter
quickly joined them, but Dylan pushed him back. “Go find Trinity and
protect her.”
   He had been under fire for so long and that he didn’t know where the
fire was coming from. From all corners and from the air. For three hours
they fought back and forth. Then it just stopped. There was no reason for
the sudden stop. It just passed that way.
   When it was finally over, he went to the radio and had the only person
alive that knew how to use it call in the Company D HQ. It took nearly
an hour to find Tommy, but finally his crackling voice appeared.
   “Better be good—I had to leave a game tournament.”




                                                                      113
  “There was another surprise attack.” Dylan explained, “We held them
off, but half our men—I don’t even know! Maybe more than half—are
gone. It’s chaos down here.”
  There was a pause, and then Tommy said, “I expected it to be worse
than that.” Then he laughed. “You haven’t seen anything yet!”
  Dylan didn’t speak.
  “How bad of a hit did Company A take?”
  “Same—maybe worse.”
  “Who’s in charge of the company?”
  “He’s dead.”
  “Very well—congratulations. For now it looks like you’ve been pro-
moted to Company A leader.”
  Dylan put down the radio and walked away. There was only one thing
on his mind: were Trinity and Hunter safe?
                               #      #    #

  (Rebel Frosted Flake, Blog Entry)
  THINGS ARE DIFFERENT NOW
  Posted: Thursday, January 1, 2015 | 12:33 AM (GMT)

   I never thought it would come to this.
   Writing my thoughts, I sometimes disagree; people know there are
certain people I disagree sharply with. But I would have never wished
any of this—on them or anyone.
   Last night a truck came down our street calling for volunteers to fight
against the one they call “Coco Puff.” And that’s what we’ve resorted
to—fighting an enemy who’s referred to with such a ridiculous name.
Not even a real name! It’s a cartoonish name, which, in that respect is ap-
propriate because society no longer seems human. Everything about
what we are becoming is not based on the ethical laws that have sufficed
for so long—we are animals.
   I didn’t ring in the New Year loudly and joyfully as I usually do. My
wife is gone—dead in the Christmas blasts. I rang in the New Year star-
ing out my window at the darkness wondering how it came to this. I
didn’t agree with the President’s policy—I said so in my blog—but I nev-
er expected it to come to this.
   I never expected my country to drop its guard and not protect me and
my family.




                                                                       114
  People tell me that it’s okay to be angry—that this will ultimately help
me cope. Who should I be angry with? The men who rallied against their
country or the country that provoked them?

  Tags: coco puff, Christmas blasts, new year




                                                                      115
Chapter    14
Level 12: Scouts
“Sir!” a voice said, franticly shaking Dylan awake.
   Dylan looked up at Aimee. “Ugh, Aimee! Stop calling me sir.” Before
she apologized he asked, “Time?”
   “Six—Tommy’s on the radio. He says it’s urgent.”
   Dylan sat up and looked over at Hunter. He was asleep next to him.
He hadn’t slept so close since the Disneyland. Still in a haze, he followed
Aimee to the radio.
   Johnny and Trinity were both sleeping next to the radio, and Dylan
kicked Johnny’s shin as he passed him, pretending that he had merely
tripped over him.
   “Dylan here.” he said into the radio, then looked over at Aimee and
commanded, “Go find me some coffee.”
   “Ha! ‘Bout time!” Tommy excitedly replied at the other end. “I got
some news that’s going to make your entire morning—heck, it might just
make your entire life!”
   “The war’s over?” Dylan asked confused.
   “Better! You remember the Golden Wii?”
   “What about it?”
   “I think I found it.”
   Dylan sighed and explained, “I don’t care about the Wii! Call me when
you have news that really will make my morning.”
   “Don’t you get it, Dylan? This is the kind of thing that could send you
home. If you find it, the legend says you go home.”
   “It’s a legend, Tommy!” Dylan said, remembering he was talking to a
little kid and not a person with grown-up rationale.
   “That legend will send you home. Grab a pen. I’m going to give you
coordinates, and you’re going to send three men out to scout it.”
   “I don’t have the kind of support out here to run that kind of mis-
sion—get me more reinforcements, and we’ll talk about your suicide
mission.”



                                                                       116
   “Looks like someone’s growing up! Taking charge! I like that.” The ra-
dio went silent briefly and then Tommy came back on. “Three men,
write the coordinates, or you’ll never get replacements again—I’ll just let
you all die off. Do this for me and I’ll see that you’re taken care of.”
   Dylan sighed, and reluctantly said, “Give me the coordinates.”
   “That’s the boy I’ve come to love—I’d hug you and slap you on the
rear if I was there right now. You’re going to make this whole company
famous!”
   Dylan wrote the coordinates and then looked at Aimee, who had his
coffee. “You’re going to be in charge while I go.”
   “You? You can’t go!”
   “Who says I can’t?”
   “These kind of missions are too dangerous—you get killed and then
what?”
   Dylan looked at Trinity, who was now awake and cuddling against
Johnny. He turned away and said to Aimee, “Then I guess I’ll just not
have to die. You know how to hold these lines better than anyone else
out here—you’ve done it the longest. If I die, then you’re in charge.”
   “I want to go.” Johnny said moving Trinity aside and standing.
   “Johnny, no!” Trinity protested.
   “He needs the best—he needs me.”
   “You both are acting so immature.”
   Dylan nodded. “You’re not coming. You nearly formed a mutiny the
last time we went out. I’m taking two men from Company A—they need
the practice.”
   Dylan turned and started to walk away, but Johnny’s hand stopped
him. “I need to do this.”
   “Why? What are you trying to prove?”
   “That I’m making an effort for Trinity.”
   Trinity blushed and said, “What does that mean?”
   “It means you’ve asked us both to get along, and I’m reaching out to
make an effort—that is, if Dylan will have me.” He extended his hand.
“Truce, Dylan—let me go with you.”
   Dylan rolled his eyes, but finally nodded in agreement. He went to
find Sanchez, one of the new Company A men. He was the strongest and
quickest of the group, and the one who would be most valuable to the
company with the right training.
   He found him with his head peeked over the trench, scanning the area
for cocos.
   “Sanchez.” Dylan said.



                                                                       117
   “Yes, sir.”
   “Pack up. You’re coming with me and Johnny on scouting exercise.”
   He seemed excited and began packing his pack immediately.
   When he got back to Johnny, Hunter was standing next to him packed.
“What’s this?” He asked Hunter.
   “Ready to go.”
   “Hunter, you’re not going on this one.”
   He looked down hurt and confused. “I don’t understand.”
   “I want you to stay behind and look after Trinity.”
   “But aren’t we a team? I’ve always gone—don’t you need me?”
   Dylan sighed and said bluntly, “Not this time.”
   Dylan left Hunter, too hurt to have to face him. It was still dark out
and he went to the radio, and waited for Johnny and Sanchez. As he
waited, he looked to the sky and had early morning moment—war, he
would come to learn, brought many moonlight moments. There were
moments when you stared at the sky and for that moment forgot about
all the sounds of fury that surround you, and softly inhaled life; in those
moments he would look at the heavens and be engulfed in another
world. It was his escape whenever he was going to face a danger that he
knew would make him wet his pants at one point or another.
   And then the moment was broken with, “Sir, some of the other com-
panies write their tag numbers on their socks so their mamas will get the
proper letter informing them that they died serving their coun-
try—should we do that?”
   Dylan refocused on the world and saw Sanchez staring at him, waiting
for his answer. “If they kill you out there, you’ll be so brutally
slaughtered that nobody will ever be able to make out what those num-
bers are. So if you want your mama to receive the proper kind of letter
than you better not die out there.”
   “Oh—okay.”
   He was scared, which made Dylan feel good. He liked knowing that
their lives were entrusted to him. It made him realize that they’d do any-
thing if he told them it meant not dying. The truth was most scouts came
back alive. The only ones who didn’t were the ones that ventured too far
off or spoke loudly as they walked.
   And so after all the goodbyes and stares that read ‘thank you for not
picking me for this task—hope you don’t get your nuts hacked off’ they
left. And they left in a bit of a hurry—heavy shelling could be heard not
far from them.
                                 #     #     #



                                                                       118
   They army-crawled several feet until they reached the barb wires that
separated their side from the no man’s land. The fog was low, which was
good for them; they were impossible to see from the coco side.
   The coco side wasn’t that different from the rebels’; they were lacking
men and support, and there were holes in their line everywhere. They
didn’t have to go very far to be safe from enemy fire.
   They marched first slouched over—close to the ground—and quickly.
The further from the trenches and deeper into the combat zone they got,
the straighter and slower they became. At one point, Sanchez even began
humming softly: a classic Disney song. “Tell us about the battle of Dis-
neyland.” He said to him when he finished.
   “Not now—keep quiet.”
   “Was it as bad as they say?”
   He looked around to make sure no coco puffs were around, and then
said, “It was worse.” He had gotten to the point where he exaggerated
many facts of this story for the purposes of better storytelling. “From
Main Street to ‘Toon Town, we were surrounded by coco puffs. They
came from every way. Some we fought off with bullets, and others we
fought off with the mere butts of our guns. We were greatly out-
numbered and greatly unskilled. But we kept on fighting and one by one
those coco puffs began to die. We killed them all, and when it was over
we rode the rides. All night we rode them. It was the most intense and
fun night of my life.”
   “Were you scared?” Sanchez asked.
   “Nah. Coco puffs are a bunch of wussies that couldn’t fire their
weapons straight if they had it on a tripod.”
   He laughed quietly and continued marching, cockier with each step.
At some point they stopped looking around and started treating the
scouting trip as nothing more than a hike through the woods earning
some kind of Boy Scout merit badge; the only difference was this was not
the woods. This was a combat zone and there were no trees—just rubble.
Occasionally, they could hear laugher from the lines of other companies,
which was usually followed by Coco Puff gunfire, but for the most part
it was a peaceful walk.
   About forty minutes into their scout, Sanchez asked if Dylan knew
where they were going. His whisper was just loud enough for a coco
puff to hear, and before he answered a coco puff laughed as he asked in
broken English, “Yes, pretty boy. Tell us where you go.” He shined his
flashlight in Sanchez’s eyes.




                                                                      119
   There was not a doubt in Dylan’s mind that he would kill all of them,
and then cut off their hands as souvenirs; the presence of death,
however, was not what he expected. He wasn’t surprised. In fact, he was
actually a little excited.
   There were five coco puffs; each of the coco’s towered over the three of
them, and had a playful look in their eyes. Dylan wondered if they were
scouts too—on a mission to find out why the rebel lines were being so
quiet. They watched them carefully as they talked in a foreign tongue.
They looked Middle Eastern, but their language sounded French. Dylan
could never tell where the enemy was from. He thought about taking a
cheap shot at them. He knew he couldn’t get all five, but maybe just one.
   They laughed loudly and continued talking in their language. Then
the laughing stopped. They stared Sanchez right in the eye. Then one of
them, the one who had spoken in English, aimed his gun and fired.
   Before the gun went off, a blast hit nearby and his hand jerked, send-
ing the bullet whizzing by Sanchez’s head just missing it.
   Dylan quickly pulled his gun from his belt and fired a shot at the
English-speaking man, hitting him in the head. Sanchez followed his
lead and shot the man next to him. The three that remained fumbled for
their weapons. They shot two of them before they could pull the trigger.
The last had time to fire one shot, but it was a bad aim and missed both
of them. Sanchez put one in his head.
   Johnny had not fired a single shot. When it was over Dylan turned
him. “Thanks for helping out, Johnny.”
   “I…” He started to say, but didn’t finish—he was in shock.
   “And you think you can protect Trinity?”
   Johnny didn’t answer.
   Sanchez and Dylan rummaged through their bags looking for souven-
irs and important documents to take back. One of the men carried a
sniper rifle and Sanchez threw it around his shoulder, “I’ve wanted one
of these for so long.” he told him.
   Dylan found some maps that were in another language, but he
thought might have the positions of key locations of coco puff armies.
There’d be some men at HQ eager to get their hands on them, he knew.
They also had some chocolate bars, and he took all of these.
   Sanchez went to the man who spoke English—the one that almost shot
him. He turned him over to check his back pockets. As he did so, his hel-
met came off revealing a picture he had stashed on the inside. Sanchez
pulled it out and handed it to Dylan. “Hey, check this out—it’s a Golden
Wii.”



                                                                       120
   Dylan grabbed the photo quickly from Sanchez’s hand and looked at
it. It was the man they had killed standing with two others holding what
looked like a golden Wii controller. “Tommy’s going to love this—good
job, Sanchez.”
   The two of them ate candy bars in the mud. Johnny went a few feet
away and studied the area with binoculars.
   It started to rain as they finished the candy. Sanchez leaned on his
back and opened his mouth, swallowing the rain.
   Johnny returned concerned, and said, “I know you don’t think a lot of
me, but I think we should go—I don’t think they’re the only ones out
here. They’re friends might start looking for them soon. Someone had to
have heard the gunfire and put two and two together.”
   Dylan nodded, “’bout the only smart thing you’ve ever said—we got
what we needed. Let’s get back to the trench and send our intel to HQ.”
   Sanchez moaned. “Let’s stay here longer. It’s peaceful.”
   He listened to the shelling in the distance. He believed it was hitting
his men as they sat and waited. It could have been farther off, but he
liked to believe the worse over the better. “We need to get back.” Dylan
finally said.
   Sanchez stretched and sat back up. “So who gets to take those maps to
HQ?”
   Dylan shrugged.
   “Can I?”
   He nodded no. “You just got out here.” He explained. He figured if
anyone took it back it should be someone who had been fighting a few
days. “I’ll probably let a D man take it.”
   “I’m the one who risked my life to get it.”
   Dylan shrugged. “Every day we all risk our lives—you just got lucky
today. We’re a team. If one guy’s risking his life, then we’re all risking
our lives.”
   “That’s bull—Johnny didn’t exactly play it like a team.”
   Dylan shrugged. “When you get your own company, then you can
lead it how you want.”
   “The only reason you got to be Team Leader was out of luck.”
   “I made Team Leader because of leadership. When I fought at Disney-
land, I was the one who told those kids what to do—it wasn’t luck, it
was skill. And it’s a skill I don’t see in you.”
   Sanchez stood up and acted like he was going to speak, and then
began to walk off without him. “Don’t you turn your back on me.”




                                                                      121
   Sanchez turned. “You may think you have leadership skills, and
maybe you do—but that’s with D men. You haven’t done anything to
prove yourself to A men and you lost my respect today.”
   “I don’t need your respect, but if you want to live you better listen to
what I say.”
   “You think you know something? You don’t know nothing. You’re
with a different company now, and we’ve been trained. You’ve fought
wars, but we’ve been taught the art of it. We’re a whole different breed
and you don’t know nothing about us, and you never will because
you’re not one of us. The only reason you’ve been assigned to us is out of
default. Someone better will come along in a day or two and you’ll see
real leadership then.” Sanchez saluted and then walked away.
   Dylan watched him walk, and realized that he probably had a point.
They were a different company and he had done nothing to understand
them.
   The shelling got more intense as they got closer the trench. Sanchez
and Dylan walked together, although they didn’t talk. His face was in-
tense and cautious. He scanned the area, expecting something but not
knowing what. Johnny followed behind them. He had been too embar-
rassed to speak.
   “War.” Dylan said breaking the silence.
   Sanchez stopped and stared at him questionably. “War?”
   “That’s what you’re looking for.” He pointed out. “Your eyes show it.
You’ve never been in war, and you don’t know what it looks like.”
   “I’ve fought.”
   “Not yet.”
   “Piss off.” He continued to walk, doing his best to ignore him.
   Dylan watched him walk off, and then he watched the horizon. He
saw a bright light heading their way and knew immediately what it
was—he’d seen the same like yesterday. He quickly ran and pulled
Sanchez to the ground yelling, “Down.” Sanchez was heavy and Dylan
was weak, but the moment and what he knew would follow made him
stronger.
   Sanchez pulled away from him. “You want to fight is that it?” He star-
ted to sit up, but a mortar exploded fifteen feet away, and the explosion
forced him to the ground. Still on the ground, he stared fearfully at the
hole it had made in the surface.
   Dylan stood and began walking away leaving Sanchez behind. This
time Sanchez ran and caught up to him. He walked by Dylan’s side for




                                                                       122
several seconds, and finally said, out of breath and scared, “Thanks for
that.”
   Dylan nodded. “It gets worse.”
   They walked the rest of the time without saying anything.
   Near the trench, he saw lots of smoke coming, and he knew it was bad.
He ran, staying low to the ground, nearly losing his balance several
times as explosions rocked the ground.
   Above him, Dylan could feel the heat of heavy fire. He did not know if
Sanchez was alive behind me, and there was no point looking. He used
to hear talk of how you looked out for your fellow troops, but on these
lines you only looked out for the ones you were sure were alive, and you
didn’t go back for anyone.
   Twenty feet from the trench Dylan started to crawl. He knew how it
was bad when he found an entire ear lying bloody on the ground. He
could hear screams, horrid screaming, even above the rapid gunfire and
booming RPG.
   Dylan jump into the trench and landed on top of a dead body. It was
too disfigured to recognize.
   He looked around and tried to make sense of it. The heaviest shelling
had stopped. The rebels finally sent intensive covering to counter but
those still entrenched were burning and reeking of death.
   “Thank God you’re not dead.” Trinity said. Hunter was close to her
side.
   Dylan didn’t speak.
   “It’s horrible. We couldn’t do anything. I felt so helpless. I would’ve
fought back, but I couldn’t. There were just fire bombs—nothing even to
shoot out. They seemed to come from every direction.” She paused and
asked, concerned, “Where’s Johnny?”
   Before Dylan answered, Johnny jumped into the trench. “You okay?”
he asked Trinity.
   Trinity nodded, “So the two of you didn’t kill each other?” Dylan
looked at her awkwardly and Trinity asked, “What? What happened?”
   Dylan looked at Johnny, who looked down, ashamed. Finally Dylan
said, “Nothing—we’re just still in shock from everything. Glad to be
back.”
   “What should we do?” Aimee asked from behind.
   He looked around. He saw a kid shivering holding his detached arm.
He wasn’t prepared for anything that had come so far. He didn’t know
what tactics he was suppose to use. “Just—just take cover or something.”
   “We’ve been taking cover.”



                                                                      123
   He nodded and looked around. “We just have to hold the lines as best
we can until we have orders to do otherwise.”
   He surveyed the damage, the dead, the injured, and finally started to
think. “Hunter—no one’s manning half the RPG’s and mortar cannons.”
   He nodded.
   “Get on it.”
   “Yes, sir.”
   He looked at Trinity. “Where’s the medic?”
   She pointed at a limp body with dried blood around the head.
   He stared at him for several seconds.
   “He’s dead.”
   Dylan nodded. “Get all the injured and start putting them in one
place.”
   She nodded.
   “And by injured, I mean only those who absolutely cannot fight—if
they can hold a gun and fire, then they stay.”
   She nodded again and went off.
   Dylan went to their radio. The operator was dead. He dialed in to
headquarters and got an out-of-breath woman. “We need medics and
men.” he told her.
   “Half the lines need the same, sir.” she explained. “We don’t have any-
one to send out there right now.”
   “What am I supposed to do?”
   “Hang tight.”
   Dylan hung up and began pacing up and down the trench. His men
screamed what they needed as he went, “Need more ammo, sir,” “Can’t
stop the fire, sir,” “Got a man down, sir.” And as they said it, he would
reply, “Do the best you can with what you got,” sometimes without even
paying attention to what had been said.
   He got to Milton, and he was resting on his back. “Why aren’t you
fighting?”
   “No more ammo, sir.”
   He looked around at all the bodies, and then back at Milton. “Gather
up the guns and ammo from every dead or injured man you see and dis-
tribute them to anyone who needs more.”
   “Yes, sir.”
   Trinity had laid every injured man to the far right of the trench. There
were over two-dozen in all. She was crying and praying over each one.
   “First aid will do them a lot more good than prayer right now,
Trinity.”



                                                                       124
   She nodded and sobbed, “I’m not a doctor.”
   Dylan nodded and looked at each of the injured men and women.
They cried in pain and begged him to do something. Some who were in-
jured had already died. “Have you given them morphine?”
   She shook her head. “I don’t know how.”
   “Let’s see if we can figure it out.” he replied.
   He went to the first soldier, a woman from Company A who had
shrapnel the thigh. He got her first aid pack from her bag and pulled out
a syringe. He stabbed it just below her knee and she whimpered a little.
He threw Trinity the bandage that was in the pack. “Wrap it around the
wound.”
   Her hand shook. “I’m no good at this stuff.”
   “You’re all they got right now.”
   She cried even more as she forced herself to treat the wound.
   He went to the next man whose left leg was barely attached below the
knee. He gave him the morphine. “I don’t want to lose the leg, sir.” He
cried.
   Dylan knew there was no way he could keep it, but he tried to remain
hopeful. “I’ll see what I can do.” He thought of his dad’s missing leg as
he looked at him, then pulled a tourniquet from the first aide bag and
applied it just above the knee. If he lived, he would lose his leg.
   The next two were dead, and the next to them was a man who was dy-
ing. He was from Dylan’s company. His name was Jefferson. He was a
quiet kid who did what he was told and stayed out of the way. “Sir, am I
going to die?”
   He nodded no. “You’ll be fine.”
   “I’m not afraid.” He said. His voice was weak. “It was for my coun-
try—mom and dad would be proud.”
   “Yes they would, but you’ll be fine.” He was hit in the chest and his
breathing was wheezy. Dylan pulled the morphine from the kit.
   Jefferson’s hand stopped Dylan from injecting the morphine. “It’s not
so bad.” He weakly said, “Save it for someone who needs it.”
   Dylan nodded and put it in his pocket. “You’re a brave kid, Jefferson.”
   His eyes stared hopelessly into Dylan’s, and he died.
   Dylan looked at the long row of those still waiting for morphine. He
looked back at the intense fighting still going on in the background.
More had been injured. More had been killed. It did not end.
   He learned that day that in this war there frequently were no tactics.
They were sitting ducks. They weren’t there to fight. They were there to
slow things down, and if they lived by chance then they’d get to go



                                                                      125
home and die another day. And they did their best to fight the battle that
could not be won.
   As he did his best to help the injured, he got a call from Tommy.
   “It’s bad out here, Tommy.” Dylan hollered over screams, “You got to
get us help.”
   “We’re short everywhere, Dylan, but I’ll get you what I can.” He
paused and asked excited, “How about the Golden Wii—did you find
out anything?”
   “We got a bunch of maps in another language and we shot a guy who
had a picture of himself and a bunch of buddies holding a Golden Wii
controller.”
   “Yes!” Tommy yelled, “I knew the legend was true.”
   “Get me everything pronto.”
   “Sir, we’re pretty short out here—lot of injured men. I can’t spare
anyone.”
   “That wasn’t an option, Dylan—that Wii is more important than any
of you. Sorry for that, but it’s true. I want everything you found come
nightfall. Understood?”
   “Yes, sir.”
   “Good work.”
   Dylan put the radio down and yelled, “Sanchez!”
   Sanchez came running, and Dylan handed him the maps and photo. “I
need you to get this to Tommy Bazooka at Company D HQ right now.”
   “For real?” Sanchez asked confused.
   Dylan nodded, “It’s heavy shelling out there, and I need someone fear-
less to take it. You got to get it to Tommy at all cost as quickly as pos-
sible.” Dylan added more seriously, “It’s a matter of life or death.” He
knew that the only way they’d ever get the reinforcements was to get
Tommy what he wanted.
   Sanchez grabbed it excited and ran off.
                                #       #      #

  (Coco Puff, Blog Entry)
  WELCOME TO AMERICA
  Posted: Thursday, January 19, 2015 | 7:59 AM (GMT)

  I just landed in America an hour ago. It’s my first trip to the country in
sometime. Things have certainly changed. Everyone is watchful of each
other and military personnel are everywhere.




                                                                        126
  The man the embassy sent to pick me up tells me it’s Martin Luther
King Day. I arrive in the country on the verge of civil war on the day that
celebrates a leader of non-violence. I find that fact strange.
  I was sent by my country to assist the IT department with strengthen-
ing the network’s infrastructure. After last week’s cyber attack at the
Pentagon, no one wants to chances.
  The man from the embassy says that I am a celebrity because of the
Coco Puff reference that the rebels have picked up on. It still amuses me
that the rebels would pick a name used by a foreign blogger.
  One can only hope that all of this resolves itself quickly, but from the
people I’ve talked to already I fear that it won’t. If a terrorist group at-
tacked my country, it would unite them together to stop that group, but
here it seems to have done the opposite.
  Times have changed indeed.

  Tags: America, Martin Luther King, cyber attack




                                                                        127
Chapter    15
Level 13: Trench Talk
“DIVE!” Dylan heard as he played cards with Milton the next day.
Hunter, who usually played, wasn’t talking to Dylan. He was still mad
about not being picked.
    A body landed on top of Dylan and knocked all three of them to the
ground. As Dylan considered what happened, the body that knocked
him over started laughing hysterically, and Dylan realized it was
Tommy. “What are you kids just lying around for—there’s a war going
on!”
    Dylan stared at Tommy blankly.
    He continued to laugh, “So how you boys holdin’ up?”
    Dylan told him again about the casualties from the night before, and
how half the company was gone.
    Tommy nodded sympathetically. “Most have been some fight.”
    “What do you know about fighting?” Hunter quietly said.
    Tommy looked down at Hunter, offended, and then started laughing
as he explained. “You should have seen it from where I was. I was in HQ
eating some chow when it began. I went up on the balcony—beautiful
sight. Bombs exploding left and right. Truly awesome.” Tommy laughed
quietly as he thought further back on it. “When the injuries started com-
ing in—man oh man—gruesome sons of bitches, I tell you. Saw this one
guy—piece of shrapnel went right up his crack and ended up halfway
out of his stomach. Make matters worse, he thought he could cut the
shrapnel out and stop the pain. So he pulls out his knife and misses—he
cut off, I kid you not, a part of his dick! Hilarious! I went to bring the guy
a stack of porno mags this morning to cheer him up, but he had died in
the night.”
    “That’s a horrible story.” Dylan said.
    Tommy nodded laughing. “Yeah, but kind of funny if you think about
it, huh?”




                                                                          128
   “What’s wrong with you, boy?” Milton asked. “Laughing at a story
like that.”
   Tommy shrugged, and then got serious. “I took a look at that map you
sent over. One you got off that no good bastard coco puff. Pretty useful
intel. We’re going to do some shelling tonight based on it.”
   Dylan nodded.
   “More importantly—I think I know where to find the Golden Wii!” He
sat down next to Dylan and explained, “I don’t think it’s too far from
where you and Sanchez almost got your heads blow off. I’m going with
you tomorrow and we’re going to see about taking it! It’s our ticket out,
Dylan!” He paused. “For as long as I can remember, I figured I’d die in
Seattle—no one comes out of this place. But for the first time, I have a
feeling that I might just live. It’s liberating.”
   “Where’s Sanchez?”
   “Break. I told him he could stay at the HQ until you come for him later
today.”
   “Later today?”
   Tommy nodded. “Got some new recruits that just came
in—replacements straight out of basic. I’m a man of my word, am I not? I
promised you replacements and that’s what I get you.”
   “So more casualties?”
   Tommy laughed. “War has made you a bitter old man!”
   Dylan didn’t reply.
   “You’ll need to head into camp this afternoon to meet them. They’ll
come in at 1400, eat chow and ship out by 1500. We’re planning an air
campaign on some of their lines and are expecting some heavy fighting
tonight, so be on time—you wouldn’t want to miss it.”
   Dylan nodded.
   “I’m happy with your success, so I’m giving you first pick at the new
men. You get ten.”
   Tommy left without any warning. Dylan watched him hurry off and
wondered how much action he really did see. He seemed so fearless at
first, but as he thought about it he never did see him actually fighting.
He wondered if the stories about all the coco puffs he’d bagged were
true or if they were just typical urban legends that kids make up. The
longer he stayed on the front lines, the more Tommy seemed like no sol-
dier at all.
   Dylan turned to Milton and asked, “So you still think cocos are the
monsters, right?”
   “How do you mean?”



                                                                      129
   “Sometimes I just wonder who the monsters are in this fight. Seems
like everyone on the battlefield is just following the orders of someone
who never fights—they’re just trying to survive like the rest of us.”
   “Yeah, but they took my globe.”
                                #      #      #
   Before leaving to get new recruits, Dylan found Hunter; he was eating
chow with Trinity and Johnny.
   “A word.” Dylan said to Hunter.
   “Eating.”
   “You can finish later—let’s go.”
   Hunter rolled his eyes and reluctantly followed Dylan a few feet away.
   “Let’s be real for a moment.” Dylan began, “Fact is we can’t go on
every mission together.”
   “I thought we were a team.” Hunter mumbled.
   Dylan nodded, “But as a team that means sometimes you must stay
behind. I needed people to protect the rest of the team, Hunter—did you
consider that?”
   Hunter nodded.
   “You’ve seen action, and you’re a heck of a shot—better than me. I’m
the leader of this company, and I have to decide what people’s strengths
are and where to put them. If I put all my best men on an exercise—and
a dumb one at that—then who protects the lines? What happened yester-
day could have been ten times worse if you weren’t there.”
   Hunter looked down unresponsive.
   “Right now you’re my best friend out here—my only friend now that
Trinity is always mad at me for something. I’m not going to ever inten-
tionally hurt you. You got it?”
   Hunter nodded and said, “What happened with you and Johnny? He’s
hardly talking and Trinity is worried.”
   Dylan sighed and said, “Don’t tell Trinity this—don’t tell anyone—but
Johnny is all talk. He froze up when it came time to fight.”
   “I’m not surprised.”
   “Yeah—so are we good?”
   Hunter sighed, but finally admitted, “Yeah, we’re good.”
   Dylan slapped him on the back and then walked back to Trinity and
Johnny. “Johnny, let’s go.”
   “Where?” He replied a bit nervous.
   “Got replacements coming in. You’re coming with me to help pick
them out.”




                                                                     130
   As they walked towards HQ where the replacements were waiting
about five miles back, Johnny said, “Thanks for not telling Trinity what
happened.”
   “What did happen?”
   Johnny shrugged. “I’ve always pumped myself and told myself I was
ready to fight—ready to die even. I guess I’m not.”
   Dylan pulled out his gun and aimed it at Johnny’s head. “Then I guess
you die now.”
   “Stop messing around,” Johnny nervously said.
   Dylan looked around. It was surprisingly quiet, and no one was
around; he imagined they were all getting ready for the big show in the
sky that Tommy promised. A jeep with a Team Leader passed by them
quickly, but then it was empty again. Dylan reflected, “It’s perfect really.
I just tell people you died when a bomb hit you. Do you really think any-
one would doubt it?”
   “This isn’t funny.”
   Dylan nodded, “Neither is how you acted with Sanchez and I—we
could have died because you were a coward. The way I see it, you’re just
getting in the way and if I kill you then you can’t exactly do that.”
   Dylan pushed the gun’s barrel against Johnny’s temple, and he began
to cry, “Come on Dylan, don’t do it.”
   Dylan laughed and released the gun, “You don’t even try to say you’ll
do better—that you’ll fight?”
   Johnny cried, “I don’t know if I can—you’re right, I am a coward! I’m
all talk. Is that what you want to hear?”
   Dylan nodded, “I want to hear that you’ll fight—that you’ll protect
Trinity. There’s not a lot that matters to me.”
   “You think I’d let anything happen to her if I could prevent it?”
   “I don’t know—like you said, you’re a coward. You’d rather get her
pregnant than defend her.”
   “What do you want me to do?”
   “Fight.”
   Johnny closed his eyes and ran his fingers through his hair, and then
loudly sighed.
   “Because next time we’re in battle and you don’t, I will put a bullet
through your head. Got it?”
   Johnny nodded.
   Dylan started to walk off without him, but Johnny ran to catch up. “I
know you don’t think anything of me, but for what it’s worth, you’ve




                                                                        131
earned my respect—I owe you my life. I should have died when those
cocos ambushed us.”
   Dylan didn’t reply.
   “I still think we can escape.” Johnny added after walking in silence.
   Dylan sighed and said, “Johnny if you want to escape, then now’s
your chance. Just leave—right now. I’ll tell everyone that you died. No
one will question it. No one will miss you.”
   Johnny looked around and appeared to be considering it, but finally
replied, “It’s not the right time.”
   Dylan laughed, “It’s the perfect time! I guarantee you that if you leave
right now not a single person will come looking for you.”
   “What do you have against escaping?”
   “Am I not being clear right now?” Dylan asked, irritated. “I’m giving
you permission! What more do you want?”
   “You could go to. We could get Trinity and Hunter and anyone else
that wants to go.”
   “I’m protecting my company the only way I know how—by fighting.”
   “You’re just what the army wants you to be—a robot soldier.”
   Dylan shrugged, “And what are you? I gave you the chance to escape
being a robot soldier, and you’re too afraid to take it.”
                                 #     #      #
   Dylan stared down at the ten new recruits from Company A. They
were young and anxious—excited to be in such a place as Seattle. Johnny
and Dylan both looked them over with pity. Sanchez had joined them
for the walk back, and stood, bored waiting for Dylan to finish up.
   Dylan lined them up and said, “War is hell. If you remember how to
hold your gun and shoot, you stand a good chance of not dying too
quick. Let’s move out.”
   “Not quite as passionate as your first speech,” Johnny said as they
started walking back.
   “Can’t believe you’re even letting this guy talk after what happened.”
Sanchez said. His eyes were red, and Dylan could tell that he had spent
some of his time off drinking.
   “I’m forgetting about that, and you are too.” He paused and added,
“But if it happens again then I’m giving you permission to shoot him
between the eyes and put him out of his misery.”
   “Yes, sir!” Sanchez pulled off Johnny’s sunglasses, and put them over
his own eyes. “I’m claiming these—consider it the cost of me not putting
a bullet through your head.”




                                                                       132
   He looked back at the new recruits who were following at a distance.
The closer they got to the trenches the slower they walked. They
nervously looked at the black smoke in the distance—smoke Dylan,
Sanchez and Johnny had not even noticed. He looked back at Sanchez
and explained, “I want all of these men ready to fight come night-
fall—you got rested up last night, so I expect you to work extra hard to-
night.” He noticed Johnny was stopped and starring into the distance,
and he asked, “What’s up? Why are you stopping?”
   Johnny squinted and replied, “I think that may be Trinity.”
   “Trinity? She wouldn’t have left the trench,” he said, squinting his
eyes to try and see if Johnny was right.
   Dylan continued to stare until the figure cried out, “Dylan!” And
began to run towards them.
   “What are you doing? It’s not safe out here!” He said when she
reached them. She was crying, and there was blood stains in her hair, “Is
the blood yours?”
   She nodded and tearfully explained, “It was awful. A medic came
from the company next to us. We were completely out of supplies so I
went with him a few hundred feet over—he said they always had extra.”
She began to cry harder as she explained, “Cocos were waiting for us
when we got there. They killed him! I just barely got away.”
   Dylan hugged her and said, “You’re safe now.”
   She shook her head. “What about the supplies?”
   “We’ll get them another time—we need to get back.”
   “But then he dies in vain—I can’t return without medicine. There are
too many people waiting for me to bring it back.”
   Dylan sighed and nodded. He looked at Sanchez, “You and Johnny get
the men back to the trenches and get them trained—I suspect there will
be fighting tonight.”
   Sanchez nodded, “And you?”
   “There was medicine stockpiled at the HQ. They can spare it and
we’re going to get it.”
   Dylan and Trinity walked quietly back to the HQ. Trinity paused
when they passed a sign that said “Interlaken Park.” She looked at the
burned pieces of trees; it still smelled of ash, and much of the park was
completely burned away. She walked to the remains of a tree that had
fallen over and sat on the truck. “Sit with me.” she said, looking at
Dylan. He followed her and asked quietly, “Are we officially real sol-
diers now?”
   “I guess.”



                                                                     133
   “Doesn’t feel any different.” A bomb exploded not far from them.
Neither of them fletched. Dylan shrugged, “I guess that’s the differ-
ence—none of this shocks us anymore.”
   She turned to Dylan and said seriously, “I know something happened
with you and Johnny out there.”
   Dylan looked down and shrugged. “It doesn’t matter, Trinity.”
   “He’s different—distant. He’s like you.”
   Dylan looked ahead. The steeple of a church they past coming into the
city was not far in front of them. Dylan looked at it curiously and asked,
“How can you still believe—after all of this?”
   Trinity smiled. “God never said it would be easy.”
   “Did he say anything about how it was okay to slaughter the
innocent?”
   “It’s war.” she replied.
   “That just doesn’t always do it for me anymore.” He paused and ad-
ded, “Sometimes I feel like I know that’s it wrong—I know it—and I
think the right thing to do would just be to accept death and not fight
anymore.”
   “A soldier came to our church once and told us about how he killed all
these little kids—kids—and he had to do it because they were shooting
at him. But when he went to sleep that night, he just couldn’t rest. He
pulled a pocket Bible his grandma had given him before he left and read
the verse, ‘we have all sinned and fallen short of the grace of God.’ I just
keep thinking to myself that God’s going to forgive me.”
   Dylan kicked a rock. “It has to be hard for you—I hate what I do, but I
don’t have to answer to anyone.”
   Trinity looked at him sadly, but didn’t answer.
   He took her hand and squeezed it. Softly he said, “I don’t know how,
Trinity—but I swear to you somehow I will get you out of all this and
you’ll have your entire life to make amends for everything.”
   A tear came from Trinity’s eye but she quickly wiped it away and held
back any more. She stood and said, “Come on—let’s go get that
medicine.”
   They walked a little further and found a jeep next to a building. The
driver was hutched dead over the steering wheel of the jeep. Dylan
walked up to it and turned the ignition. It still started. Trinity helped
Dylan put the man into the back seat, and they drove his jeep back to the
HQ.
   As they drove and passed more dead bodies, he told Trinity he
wanted her to be the medic until they could get a real one. She had



                                                                        134
gotten used to the dead and injured bodies, and knew how to treat most
of the injuries now—at least, well enough for them to be sent back off the
lines to a real doctor. She was too good to have to kill more people. She
was better at helping than killing.
                                #     #     #

  (Rebel Frosted Flake, Blog Entry)
  THE NEW AMERICA
  Posted: Monday, February 2, 2015 | 6:13 PM (GMT)

   Today armed soldiers brought me to my new home. They said they
were members of the National Guard, but I think they were part of the
volunteer militia. I asked them why I had to leave, and they told me be-
cause it wasn’t safe. Safe for whom? was all I could wonder.
   The opposition is getting strong. That’s why I had to leave. The gov-
ernment decided it was best to put people in a controlled environment.
   They told me when it was safe again, I’d be able to return, but I have
doubts that I’ll have anything to return to; and even if I do return, none
of it will matter. My house is empty now. All I have is memories.
   Camp Pendleton is now my home until the government tells me other-
wise. I live in a tent. I share a bunk with Sam, a neighbor who also lost
his wife in the attacks. I have a trunk that locks, but I have no posses-
sions to put in it. There are 30 other men who share our tent.
   At the end of the tent is a TV with a PlayStation. There’s only one per-
son who plays it. The rest of us try and avoid it—it reminds us of what
started everything.

  Tags: camp Pendleton, new home




                                                                       135
Chapter    16
Level 14: The Longest Morning
“Today we make history!” Tommy screamed, shooting bullets into the
air, standing outside of the trench boldly. The sun hit his back and he
towered above everyone. He looked like a god.
   A mortar came soaring from the air and it hit just to the right of
Tommy, but he didn’t flinch. He began to laugh. “I’m going to be a
hero!” He jumped into the trench and headed towards Dylan, who was
drinking coffee and watching Tommy, unimpressed. “We go after the
Golden Wii today!”
   Dylan nodded. “How many men will you need?”
   Tommy smiled, “All of them.”
   Dylan looked at him, confused.
   “We’re going to charge their trench.”
   “But we don’t have enough men—there’s no way we’ll win.”
   Tommy shrugged, “I didn’t say anything about winning. I just need
the Golden Wii.”
   Suddenly several cocos began attacking the trench. Dylan fired at one
and yelled, “Take cover and return fire!”
   Tommy shook his head, “Don’t take cover! Attack! Get your men out
of these trenches—we’re engaging!”
   “It’s suicide!” Dylan shouted above gunfire.
   “It’s the only way to get the Wii.” Tommy said as he started pushing
kids out of the trench and commanding that they fight.
   Before Dylan knew it he was fighting someplace in Seattle he had not
yet fought. On the battlefield, out of the trenches, in what was known as
no man’s land.
   Dylan was almost behind Hunter, whose eyes seemed blank and dis-
tant as he fired, and saw him get shot. He fell backwards and Dylan ran
to him. Blood came from his left shoulder.
   “It’s just my arm and it just nicked it.” he said. Trinity ran from behind
and began to quickly attach a bandage



                                                                         136
   “I can still shoot.”
   “Stay down.” Dylan ordered.
   “You need all the men you can get.” Hunter said pushing Dylan and
started firing again.
   He had never seen so many of people fall so quickly. Everywhere he
looked another person dropped. There were few places to take cover,
and they were nothing more than sitting ducks.
   Dylan found a crater that a bomb had created to use as shelter as two
Company A men went to work on cutting the wires so the rest of the
companies could cross and continue the attack on coco lines. He mo-
tioned for Trinity and Hunter to join him in the crater.
   A bullet whizzed by Trinity’s head, and Dylan said, “Someone needs
to watch you.”
   “I can take care of myself.”
   Dylan shook his head, “You’re the only medic out here right
now—you can’t watch yourself when you’re bandaging up someone.”
   “I’ll watch her.” Johnny said jumping into the crater.
   Dylan rolled his eyes and nodded.
   Johnny was about to say something, but then shot a coco that was run-
ning towards the crater. “I can do this—lemme.” he said. “You need to
be giving orders, not watching over Trinity.”
   Dylan nodded and ran off with Hunter following closely behind.
   He joined Aimee, Tommy, and Sanchez several feet away; they had
taken cover behind a jeep that had been blown up long before. Tommy
was looking through his binoculars staring ahead at the coco trenches.
“It’s in there—I know that it is.”
   “It’s not worth it.” Dylan said. “We’re losing too many! We have to fall
back—it’s the only way we stand any chance of holding them off.”
   The ground started rumbling and a massive tank came roaring across
no man’s land. Dylan had never seen a tank in action. Most had been
destroyed on both sides during the first ten years of war.
   Tommy nodded. “I’m going in.” He looked to Sanchez and Aimee and
said, “You two are coming with me—Dylan, take out that tank and cover
me.”
   “You don’t have to go,” Dylan said to Aimee and Sanchez.
   Sanchez laughed, “This is what Company A lives for!”
   “We’ll be okay,” Aimee promised, “Just cover us.”
   Dylan watched them leave and then turned towards the tank.
“Hunter, I don’t think we’re going to make it out of this one alive.”




                                                                       137
   Hunter looked around. Dylan could tell that he agreed. Then he began
to run, shouting as he ran, “Let’s go down as heroes!”
   As he ran, a bullet came at him and from nowhere, Milton jumped in
front of Dylan and took the bullet in the chest. Hunter shot the man who
had fired the bullet, and then ran to Dylan who was hunched over
Milton.
   “I get my hero’s death!” Milton softly mumbled; there was joy in his
eyes.
   Dylan looked down at the bleeding; he knew it was coming from him
too quickly for him to survive. He took Milton’s hand and squeezed it
tightly, “Thank you.”
   Milton smiled. “This is the way I’ve always dreamed of going.” He let
out a sigh and then his head fell backwards. Dylan knew that he was
gone.
   He turned to Hunter, who was firing at anything that came near them
and said, “Let’s take out that tank.”
   Dylan ran to keep up and shot at all the cocos that stood in their way.
Hunter killed the man at the top on the tank’s machine gun.
   When they got to the man at the tank, Dylan tossed him over. He
looked inside and saw the driver staring at him helplessly. He fired a
single shot and killed him, and then jumped into the tank. “Take the ma-
chine gun, Hunter! Let’s see if I can figure out how to drive this thing.”
   Hunter obeyed. Dozens of cocos were already approaching them, and
Hunter took then out easily with the gun as Dylan struggled to figure
out the controls. He couldn’t understand the language. “Keep firing!” he
told Hunter.
   “Maybe we might make it out after all!” he called down, excited.
   He expected the controls to be digital and computerized, but it looked
like something from World War II. It might have been. It smelled like an
antique and it was full of spiderwebs. A picture of a soldier with the
Golden Wii was taped next to the controls and Dylan crumpled it and
tossed it on the ground.
   Dylan pushed a stick and the tank began to slowly move, “I figured
something out!”
   The tank continued moving forward and Hunter called down,
“They’re running from us, Dylan! They’re afraid!”
   Dylan looked behind him trying to see where the button might be to
fire off the larger cannon, but he couldn’t find it.
   Several minutes later, Hunter stopped firing and Dylan looked up,
fearing he was dead. He wasn’t. “Why’d you stop?”



                                                                      138
    “I don’t think there’s anyone left.”
   Dylan climbed up and peeked out. The battlefield was quiet. Bodies
were everywhere. He searched the coco trench. There was no movement.
It had been a long time since either of them had seen it so calm.
   He saw Aimee and Tommy running out and pointed. Tommy had the
Golden Wii, and Aimee was covering him. Dylan moved the tank to-
wards them.
   “I did it!” Tommy said excited, “I’m going home!”
   Dylan exited the tank and looked at the Wii. He wanted to see what
they had fought for. It was nothing. Everything felt like a waste.
“Where’s Sanchez?”
   “Took one in the head.” Tommy explained, excited. “Brave soldier that
one.”
   The four of them started walking cautiously towards the trench.
Everywhere they looked were dead and injured soldiers from both the
coco and rebel side. Johnny was one of them. He was shot in several
places, and they heard him moaning as they got closer. “Where’s Trin-
ity?” Dylan asked.
   “Dead.” He softly said.
   The words took a few moments to hit Dylan. “I don’t understand?”
   “I got hit. She went off on her own, and I saw her Dylan—they shot
her and she fell.”
   “Where? She might be alive!”
   Johnny nodded, and tearfully explained, “I could see her—she wasn’t
moving, and then a coco took her. They took a bunch of the women.”
   “I have to find her.”
   Tommy shook his head, “We got to get out of here—get the Wii some-
where safe. They’re going to be coming for us, and they’re going to be
coming strong.”
   Dylan began to cry. It was the first time since fighting that he had.
“I’m staying until I find her.” He left before he could argue. Hunter and
Aimee followed, but Tommy left. “I promised her I would take care of
her.”
   Aimee put her hand on his shoulder and said, “Trinity hated it out
here—she was more spiritual than all of us combined. If anyone would
find peace in death it would be her.”
   “Did you hold the Golden Wii?”
   Aimee nodded. “I got it, and then Tommy took it from me.”
   “Was it worth it?”




                                                                     139
   “It’s a symbol, Dylan—it represents something greater. Symbols are all
we have.” She paused and said sincerely, “But no—it wasn’t worth it.”
   Dylan went to every body; the ones that were face down he turned
over. He studied each of them. He tried to remember the names of the
ones in his company. He apologized to each of them. The ones that were
still alive he had Aimee and Hunter drag them back to the trench to wait
for help.
   Aimee pointed out that there was movement on the Coco side. Rein-
forcements had started to replace the lines, and they would start firing
once they were settled- in enough to realize that there was movement in
no man’s land.
   Dylan ignored Aimee. He went up and down their line two times, but
there was no sign of Trinity.
   He was fearless. A part of him wanted to cross over to the enemy side
and find wherever it was they had taken her body. He wanted to see her
even if she was dead, so he could have closure, and he could tell her that
he was sorry.
                                #      #      #
   Dylan sat down as the sun set. Hunter sat next to him. They watched
the sun setting in silence. A new group of soldiers had come to take over.
They were pulling the weapons from the dead bodies, and carrying
away the wounded. Dylan felt sorry for them. They all looked new—too
new to know what they were in store for.
   “I never thought it would happen like this—if it ever happened, I
wanted it to be together.”
   “Maybe she made it out somehow?” Hunter said hopefully.
   Dylan nodded. “There’s no way, Hunter. She’s gone—it’s just you and
me now.” He looked at his arm; in the chaos he had forgotten about
Hunter getting shot. “How’s your arm?”
   Hunter shrugged, “I told you, it just nicked it—the bullet didn’t even
stay inside. I always thought getting shot would be more glamorous.”
Dylan was silent and Hunter added, “We still have each other.”
   As they continued to sit, a jeep and two trucks made their way to-
wards them. Tommy jumped out of the jeep and ran to Dylan, excited.
“We’re getting out of here, Dylan!”
   A man in a suit got out of the jeep as well. He had greasy, slicked-back
brown hair and dark sunglasses. He reminded Dylan of Johnny, who
also wore his sunglasses at night.
   “This is the company leader, sir.” Tommy said to the man in the suit.
“We would have never found the Golden Wii if not for him.”



                                                                       140
   He nodded and extended his hand, “My name is McCormick James. I
work for the President. How would you like to be a hero?”
   “My entire company is either injured or killed off. You call me a hero?
Look around!” He looked down and saw that McCormick was wearing a
pair of muddy sneakers with his suit.
   “The way I see it, you helped hold off a company of cocos twice your
size! This is the first time we’ve pushed back an enemy line in months!”
   “My friends are dead—I failed them.”
   McCormick slapped him on the back and said, “You’ll be pulled off
the front lines and given medals for this. We have a new company that’s
going to take over.”
   “Aimee’s going to take my spot!” Tommy said excitedly, “You, Hunter
and I are going to be paraded around the country to boost morale.”
   “What’d I do?” Hunter asked.
   “We’ll call you the great machine gunner or something!” McCormick
laughed.
   “My place is here. I’m going to die like Trinity—like I should have
today.”
   “Trinity’s his girlfriend that died,” Tommy explained.
   “She wasn’t my girlfriend.”
   McCormick laughed, “Well whatever she was, you’re not staying—not
on my watch, anyway. This isn’t an option. We’re pulling you off the
lines right now. You’ll meet the President, shake people’s hands, tell
them how great it was fighting and how we will win—your new job is to
encourage others to join. But the best part is you get to live!”
   “So you want me to lie?” Dylan asked confused.
   McCormick flashed a smile. “Not lie. Just be a hero.”
   A coco plane flew over low and its bomb doors opened. Dylan
watched them fall and hit. McCormick seemed nervous and said, “Come
on. Let’s get out of here before any of you die!
   Dylan looked down at the trench. None of it seemed real. They were
supposed to die in the trench like everyone else. He could only think one
thing: why do I get to live?
                                  #      #    #

  (Coco Puff, Blog Entry)
  UNEASY TIMES
  Posted: Saturday, February 28, 2015 | 11:55 PM (GMT)




                                                                      141
   I was supposed to return home three weeks ago now. At least once a
week they tell me to be prepared to leave, but then nothing happens. It’s
the fourth week that air traffic has been suspended, and I can’t shake the
eerie feeling I have.
   A part of me sides with the military, and agrees with them for shutting
it down after the continual attacks—but the other part just wants to go
home.
   There’s nothing more for me to do here, so most days I just wander the
streets and visit libraries. Today I was in a library reading a magazine
and FBI agents entered the building and removed several books from the
collection. They must have taken over a thousand. They loaded them in
two vans. What I found most odd is the way everyone pretended they
didn’t see anything. No one wants to stand out—not since they started
taking people.
   Yesterday I passed a dispute on a street corner where two men were
arguing—I’m not even sure what it was about. Suddenly, one of the men
said that he should call the 1800 number and make up some story about
how he was conspiring. The man stopped arguing after that.
   I want to get out of this country more every day!

  Tags: civil war




                                                                      142
Chapter    17
Level 15: The Cost of Heroism
A mile back there were transport trucks, hundreds of them. They had
come to relieve the lines. Dozens of them scattered as far as the eye could
see. All the lines were being replenished with new men and women who
would die serving their country.
   Dylan, Hunter and Aimee stood silently watching the scene. A bomb
flew overhead and hit not far from them. Many of the men getting off the
trucks flinched—some cried—most just stood watching. More bombs
came—so many that it began to sound as it had when Dylan first got to
the lines. Nothing had changed, but their friends were almost completely
dead.
   Tommy had left earlier and would meet them at HQ. He said he had
goodbyes to make, but Dylan figured he probably just wanted to go play
video games, because he had yet to hear of anyone who actually liked
him.
   “So you’re going to be a four star?” Dylan said, looking at Aimee.
   Aimee shrugged. “Of Company D, but I guess I can’t complain. It will
be nice being away from action for awhile.”
   “What happened to the Aimee who only wanted to be on the front
lines?”
   “That Aimee’s tired.” She smirked.
   “Why did we live through that?” Dylan said to no one in particular,
looking at the destruction around them.
   “Only time will tell, sir?” Aimee replied.
   “How so?”
   “My mom used to tell me all things happened for a reason, so I guess
we have to live a little bit longer to find out why we didn’t die.”
   Dylan nodded. “Let’s go live, then.”
   They both nodded. A jeep had pulled up not far away and let off a
four star. “Can we hitch a ride to the HQ?” Dylan asked the driver.




                                                                       143
   The driver nodded. “Boys are lucky sons of bitches!” The driver said
as he began to drive away from the lines. “Heard nearly all our boys
died. Must have been some fight.”
   No one said anything.
   “There’s a story back at camp ‘bout four kids who killed 2,000 coco
puffs, then carried away all their dead and wounded, and returned to
keep watch on their lines. Top it off, they found the Golden Wii! You be-
lieve that?! It really exists.”
   Hunter looked at Dylan and Amy who both shrugged.
   “Those must be some of the bravest damn men who ever lived.” The
driver said, shaking his head as he thought of them, “It’s a wonder why
they didn’t die if you ask me.”
                                  #     #     #
   Tommy ran to them when he saw us approach the HQ building. He
had changed out of his army uniform and was wearing a vest, button up
shirt with a tie, and slacks; he looked preppy except for his sneakers.
    “There’s my boys and their balls of steel! And Aimee—whatever you
have of steel.” He laughed.
    They all stared blankly.
   “Heroes! That’s what everyone is calling us!”
   “The ones that died are the heroes.” Dylan said.
   Tommy shook his head. “Those men are dead. The rebels need living
heroes to boost morale. You’re the heroes who lived to tell your stories.”
He looked down at his clothes and asked excitedly, “What do you think
of my new uniform?!”
   No one answered. Hunter quietly asked Dylan, “Do we have to wear
that too?”
   “It makes me feel like a celebrity. This is our new uniform. Mr.
McCormick says it makes us look like wholesome good boys—that’s
what image we’re going for when they take our picture. Says they want
all the moms to think the army will make their kids like us.”
   “So orchestrated.” Aimee sarcastically said.
   Tommy nodded. “And we are leaving for New Mexico to see the Pres-
ident! You believe that? Nobody leaves this hell hole alive—nobody until
us! Word came through this morning that the President himself wants to
have tea with us.”
   “Tea?” Dylan said in disbelief.
   “Yeah. Apparently he’s a big tea drinker. Earl Grey tea or some crap
like that. And you won’t be coming back here. Start the tour right after
that.”



                                                                      144
   “What’s the tour?” Hunter asked.
   “Boast America’s morale type tour!”
   “I’d rather fight and die.” Dylan said.
   “Heroes don’t fight!” Tommy exclaimed, laughing.
   “Well, what if we don’t want to be heroes?” Dylan asked.
   “This is war and you’re America’s property now—it doesn’t much
matter what you want or think. You do what America says, and America
wants you to be heroes.”
   “I’m sure you’ll look swell in a vest.” Aimee smiled.
   Tommy nodded. “I’m afraid this is where we have to part with
Aimee—they’re waiting to brief her inside and give her the stripes.”
   “So we’re not going to see you again?” Hunter softly said.
   Aimee smiled, “You’re a hero now! You’ll forget all about me come
tomorrow.”
   “Stay safe, and get transferred out as soon as you can.” Dylan said
reaching in to hug her.
   “Don’t trust Tommy.” Aimee whispered as they hugged.
                                 #     #       #
   A jeep took Dylan, Hunter and Tommy back to Redmond to wait to be
taken to see the President. Dylan visited the wounded tents with Hunter
later in the day before they had to leave to make sure Trinity hadn’t been
taken there.
   The tents were located outside of Seattle in Redmond at the former
corporate location of Microsoft.
   “They used to make a video game console.” Dylan said, looking at the
buildings, which had become the Company A headquarters.
   “Was it any good?” Hunter asked.
   Dylan shrugged. “My sister told me about it once. She saw it at school,
but she never played it.” He looked towards the tents and said, “Come
on, let’s see if we can find her.”
   The tents were full of wounded soldiers on gurneys; hundreds of
them. Some of them cried, but most just stared at the ceiling where
cheap, flickering light bulbs dimly lit the grounded hospital.
   They slowly walked down the rows of gurneys studying each face. Al-
most all the people at the tents would live or they would not have
wasted the time to bring them all they out.
   They found Johnny in a gurney with his side bandaged and his arm in
a sling. He saw Dylan and Hunter walking towards him, but he quickly
turned away from them; he refused to make eye contact when Dylan
came to him. “Did you find her?” He weakly asked.



                                                                      145
   Dylan shook his head.
   “I’m sorry, Dylan—I did everything. There were just too many.”
   “Tell me what happened,” Dylan asked crouching down. “How’d you
get shot?”
   “After you ran off, Trinity was helping a kid with bandages and three
cocos swarmed us. I got all of them, but they also got me. Side and in the
arm. I told Trinity to stay, but you know how she is.”
   Dylan nodded.
   “I let her down, and she’s dead because of it.”
   Dylan sighed and rested his hand on Johnny’s shoulders. “It’s not
your fault.”
   “You don’t have to say that.”
   “Tommy put us out where we shouldn’t have been—you want to
blame someone, then blame him. But you can’t! They’re marking him a
hero for his actions.”
   “Tommy?”
   Dylan nodded. “Almost fifty people dead or injured and they’re call-
ing it one of the greatest battles. All because of Tommy’s stupid Golden
Wii. You believe that?”
   “So the Wii isn’t just a legend?” Johnny asked suddenly intrigued.
   Dylan nodded. “It’s more like a death wish.”
   “What happens to you?”
   “Hunter and I are shipping out with Tommy. They’re going to send us
to see the President and use us to boost morale.”
   “They say I get to go home to recover, but I think they’re just saying
that.” Johnny said.
   “I never thought I would leave this place and look at me. All I have to
do is lie about everything.”
   “At least you live.”
   “You too.” Dylan paused and reflected, “We didn’t get off on the right
foot, but you proved me wrong in the end.”
   It was silent for a moment. Hunter, who had been quiet, said out of the
blue, “They’re giving Aimee Tommy’s old spot.”
   Johnny nodded.
   “You should find her,” Hunter continued, “Maybe she can help you
when you’re better—put you somewhere where you’re safer.”
   Dylan started to say more, but a nurse came up and told them that
they had to let him rest. It took them thirty minutes to walk down all the
rows, and when they were finished there was no sign of Trinity.
                                 #      #     #



                                                                      146
    The former Nintendo of America building was just down the street
from Microsoft. Tommy was waiting for them their when they arrived,
and he brought with him dozens of Company D kids who wanted to
hero their story.
    Some of the kids wanted autographs, but most just wanted to hear
their tale. Neither of them said anything; they let Tommy do the talking.
They had pity for them. Tommy made it seem like war was a glamorous
thing.
    At dinner McCormick took them in the mess hall and let them eat by
themselves. No one bothered them. Not even the cooks. They gave them
steak and mashed potatoes and lots of greens, then a huge brownie for
dessert.
    Dylan and Hunter picked around the edges and took nibbles of the
food, but they had little appetite. Tommy was the only one able to eat
everything on his plate.
    “At least it’s better than that canned soup we used to eat on the lines.”
Tommy said.
    Dylan looked at him curiously, “I didn’t know you were on the lines?”
    Tommy looked away awkwardly.
    After dinner McCormick took them to their barracks. They had an en-
tire cabin to share. It had enough beds for twelve. On three of the beds
were brand new PSP’s, a stack of video games, and their new uniforms,
which looked identical to what Tommy had been wearing.
    “I didn’t think I’d ever see another bed in my life.” Dylan said. He
went to the bed, held up the new uniform and said, “I’ve never seen any
kid in something like this. Why does it make us look wholesome?”
    Dylan took a shower shortly after. It was the first one he had had since
he went to the trench. In the trench they were given a non-wet shampoo
and used sponges to wipe themselves. When he came out, Tommy was
already sleeping. Hunter was staring at the video game, but not playing
it.
    Dylan got into bed and did his best to fall asleep, but he couldn’t rest.
After an hour, he stood up and started to leave the room with the blanket
and pillow.
    “Where you going?” Hunter asked.
    “Sleep outside.”
    “Can I come?”
    “Bring a blanket.”
    “You guys are nuts!” Tommy said, then went back to sleep.




                                                                         147
   Dylan found a place under a tree not far from the cabin. Hunter laid
down close to him, and shared his pillow.
   “We’ve lived through a lot.” Dylan said as he stared at the stars.
   “And now we’re heroes.”
   “We’re not heroes—don’t believe them when they tell you we are.
We’re lucky.”
   Hunter nodded. “Do you think this war will ever end, Dylan?”
   “All wars end. Maybe after we’re dead, but all wars end.”
   “I used to hate school—all the homework and teachers picking on me.
It doesn’t seem so bad any more. Sometimes I wish I could just be in
school and not have to worry about dying. It’s a rotten thing for a kid my
age to worry about.”
   “My mom used to tell me when my dad was fighting in the war that
every star was a soldier who died. ‘You get your own star when you die
in a war,’ she would say, pointing at all of them.”
   “That’s a lot of dead soldiers.” Hunter said.
   “Yeah but there’s not nearly enough stars. There must be twice that
many dead soldiers.”
   “I think I’m kind of going to miss it.”
   Dylan turned and looked at him confused, “What?”
   “The fighting. I didn’t like it, but I was good at it. I felt like I was a part
of something.”
   Dylan looked at the sky thinking, then turned on his side and said,
“We’re a team. You still are a part of something—a part of this team.” He
extended his hand for Hunter to shake.
   “Okay.” Hunter smiled shaking his hand.
                                  #       #     #

  (Rebel Frosted Flake, Blog Entry)
  TAKING SIDES
  Posted: Wednesday, March 18, 2015| 11:59 AM (GMT)

   They came into the tent recruiting today. They told us they needed us
to fight the civil war. Only one person went. I don’t know why. There are
no incentives to fight other than to get even. Revenge is not what we’re
looking for now.
   After they left, I met a man (I can’t say who because they are monitor-
ing everything we write now). He told me that they needed me to too.
But they wanted me to fight against the cocos. They told me it was time
to take sides.



                                                                             148
  I’m not taking sides. I just want to go home. I have no views because I
know if I wrote any views I would be censored and taken away with the
other objectors.
  I love America! I said it! Can I go home now?

  Tags: civil war, censored, taking sides




                                                                     149
Chapter    18
Level 16: I Don’t Like Kids
The sun woke Dylan and Hunter up early, and they went to the mess
hall before Tommy had woken or McCormick had a chance to get them.
  It was empty when they arrived. Breakfast would not be served for an-
other hour, but one of the cooks recognized them and let them in. He
brewed them coffee and told them to wait while he made them bacon
and eggs.
   “It’s so quiet.” Hunter commented, sipping a coffee at a table near the
back of the room.
  “You kind of get used to all the noises—I sort of forgot what quiet
sounds like.”
  “How do you feel?” Hunter asked.
  Dylan shrugged, “What do you mean?”
  “We lived!”
  “Not all of us,” Dylan replied sadly looking down.
  Hunter didn’t answer.
  Tommy came into the mess hall beaming twenty minutes later, just as
they were finishing breakfast. “How’d the nature boys sleep?”
  “Just like home.” Hunter replied.
   “There’s a home I never want to return to.” He looked at Dylan, who
was looking down. “Why the gloom face? You still in mourning or
something?”
  Dylan said nothing. He grabbed the apple that was next to his plate
and began to squeeze it.
   “Leave him be.” Hunter said.
  Tommy shrugged, “Well he should wear a black veil or
something—how am I supposed to know when we can joke around
about it?”
  Dylan looked up. “You want to joke about her dying?”
  Tommy slapped him on the back. “Come on, Dylan! You’re going to
have learn eventually that this is all a game! You’ve advanced to the next



                                                                      150
level. Can’t feel bad because a few people died—that’s what happens in
games!”
   Dylan stood and threw the apple at Tommy’s chest, “She was a real
person! Not some character in a game!” Then he walked away.
   “You’re going to be a real killjoy to have around on this tour!” Tommy
laughed.
                                  #     #     #
   At noon, after breakfast, a man called Boner picked them up in a jeep.
He drove them to Portland a three hour drive away.
   Boner was Mexican but talked with a Texan accent; he wore a straw
hat with his uniform and sunglasses with no lenses. “I hear you boys
killed 1,000 coco puffs in one day.” he said as he sped down the empty
freeway.
   “Heard right!” Tommy bragged.
   “I’ve never been to the lines. I’m been chauffeuring people around this
state for two years, and never once had to go to the front—not even to
pick someone up. Thank God every day, too.” He looked at Dylan.
“Must be hell down there.”
   “Worse than hell.” Dylan replied
   “He doesn’t speak for all of us, of course.” Tommy said. “Nothing bad
about it for real soldiers.”
   “I picked a man up yesterday who’d been at the lines for two weeks.
Said he’d seen more bad things in one hour then he had seen his entire
life. He talked to a soldier, as he died, who was missing his entire bottom
half. He himself had lost part of his arm. You got any stories like that.”
Boners eyes seemed excited, anxious at what they might say.
    “Saw a coco puff eat a man while he was still alive.” Tommy said. It
was a lie, but everyone liked brutal coco puff stories. They were easier to
kill when they were heartless. “He ate his entire hand, and then he killed
him. You should have seen the blood dripping out of his mouth. They
like the taste of blood—that’s what I hear anyway.”
   The driver laughed wildly. “They’re wild untamed beasts, those coco
puffs!”
   Dylan sat silently with Hunter, looking out the window, as Tommy
proceeded to tell more stories of the front to the driver.
   The further away from Seattle they got, the more normal it started to
look. Occasionally convoys would pass on the other side, but mostly it
was empty and peaceful. Every so often they’d be able to see homes
where people still appeared to live undisturbed by war. Dylan looked at
those longingly.



                                                                       151
                                 #      #      #
   Portland was a training town. Schools had been taken over by the mil-
itary five years ago. The city was largely intact, but abandoned. Business
had moved out long ago and taken with them most the residents. Some
citizens still wandered the streets, and they waved at them as they past.
   They were taken by Boner to a large hanger at the Portland Interna-
tional airport. A large transport plane, just like the one that had taken
them to Washington was waiting. Boner stopped the jeep and a man in a
suit approached.
   “My name is Mister Niles Coupland.” he said, shaking each of their
hands. “You may refer to me as ‘sir’ or ‘Mister Niles Coupland.’”
   They nodded.
   He extended his hand towards the plane. “Shall we?”
   “Where will we go, sir?” Dylan asked.
   “You will be flown to Utah where the President is waiting to greet
you.”
   “Utah? I thought the President is in New Mexico.”
   “He has to stay on the move—for security reasons.”
   “What happened to McCormick, sir?” Tommy asked as they walked
anxiously to the plane.
   “He was crossing a bridge last night and the driver didn’t know it had
been partially blown out two days prior. Their car went right off into the
water. So it looks like McCormick is dead. Found the driver, but they
still have found McCormick’s body.”
   The inside of the plane was different from the one they had been on
before. It wasn’t used for cargo. It was only for transport. The plane was
empty except for them. It had enough seats for over one hundred. All of
the seats were large and reclined. They had video screens that pulled out
of the armrest.
   “I was against picking you up from the very start.” Niles explained as
they fastened their seatbelts.
   “I'm sorry for the trouble, sir.” Tommy said.
   He laughed to himself. “It's nothing personal, understand.”
   Tommy nodded.
   “Thing is I just don't like kids. Never have. And when they called me
up to babysit you three, I was none too happy.” He pulled a cigar from
his jacket pocket and lit it up as the engines began to roar outside.
   “Well you can tell them we really don't need any babysitter.” Tommy
said.




                                                                      152
   He laughed, “You think we should let a bunch of kids be unsuper-
vised on this nation’s capital?”
   “We aren’t kids,” Hunter argued, “We’ve killed people.”
   “And,” Tommy explained, “We've been unsupervised in war for quite
some time, sir.”
   “The battlefield is different. Battlefield’s just a playground. Kids don't
need supervision when they're playing.” He took long drags on his cigar
and cursed for no reason in quiet mumbles every so often.
   “We’re adult enough to kill a man.” Hunter said.
   “You don’t have to be an adult to kill.” He laughed.
   “Have you ever killed a man?”
   “No of course not—that’s child’s play.”
   “Child’s play!” Dylan said, speaking up for the first time. “Giving a
child a gun is child’s play?”
   He nodded. “Besides, our studies show that when a child is released
from war back into his normal environment, they go back to being a
child again.”
   “What study was this?” Dylan asked.
   “A study we did on rats four years ago.”
   “On rats?” Dylan yelled. “We’re not rats—we’re human.”
   “Temper.” He said, “See what I mean? You’re acting just like a kid
would again.”
   “This is ridiculous.” Tommy said.
   “You’re the ridiculous one, and you’re behaving like a child.” Niles
sighed and said, “This is exactly why I hate working with children.
They’re impossible.”
   No one talked the rest of the flight. As soon as the flight was in the air
their TVs turned on, and they were given headphones. Cartoons were
played for the duration of the flight. Every time one of them started to
speak Niles would yell at them to be quiet.
   They found out later that Niles was the father of fourteen kids, but he
was always traveling and only saw them a half dozen times a year.
                                 #       #       #
   In Utah, Secret Service agents quickly took them from the plane and
put them into black SUVs with tinted windows. The windows were also
darkened on the inside and they couldn’t see where they were going.
   After twenty minutes the cars stopped. They thought they were there
but then they started going downward, like the car was on an elevator.
They continued going down for several minutes, and then abruptly




                                                                         153
stopped. The men in black opened their car doors and two women in
flowered print dresses were behind them to welcome them.
   “Welcome to the White House.” The women cheerfully said in unison.
They reminded Dylan of his sister and were probably about the same
age. They had blonde hair and were both a little overweight; they were
in fact the first overweight person Dylan had seen in a long time. Most
people didn’t eat enough food to ever gain weight since everything was
rationed.
   Dylan looked around. Wherever they were, it didn’t look like the
White House that he expected. They were in a large room that looked
more like a hanger than any house he had ever seen.
   “What’re your names?” Tommy asked flirtatiously.
   They ignored him and said, “Follow us this way.” Everything they
said was in unison. They were led down a series of long, dark halls that
were dimly lit by flickering lights. Several spots had water dripping
down from the ceilings. It was obvious to Dylan that they were under-
ground. Occasionally they would pass someone in the hall, but no one
ever spoke. The two women didn’t shush them when they spoke, but
they also didn’t reply when Tommy continually tried to speak with them
and ask questions.
   They led them to a large conference room where our “hero” tour was
explained by equally overweight men with beards. They told them
where they would go and what they would tell people. Their story
would be exaggerated and glamorized.
   “What we want,” one of the men, who carried a clipboard, said, “is for
you to make the war seem not so bad—parents are at these things and
we need them to know that their kids are safe and happy. We need you
to boost morale.”
   “You want us to lie, in other words, right?” Dylan dryly clarified.
   “We just want you to go out there and give parents hope—make them
feel like one day their sons and daughters will be heroes. That’s not ly-
ing. It’s never a lie when you give hope.”
   Tommy made his way to the food table, which was behind them. It
was loaded with more sweets than any of them had ever seen before. He
began to stuff his face with cookies as he explained, “I’m happy to lie for
all of you!”
   “So what if we don’t want to tell your story?” Hunter asked. “What if
we tell what really happened?”




                                                                       154
   The man with the clipboard shrugged, “Then we’ll send you some-
where worst than Seattle and make sure you don’t have the chance to be
heroes again.”
   “Sign me up for that.” Dylan bitterly replied.
   “Lost a friend in Seattle.” Tommy explained.
   The man became sympathetic. He looked at the clipboard, “It’s Dylan,
right?”
   Dylan nodded.
   “What was your friend’s name?”
   “Trinity.”
   “You seem like a good guy—this is what Trinity would have wanted.
She would have wanted it that way. You go out and get people excited to
fight and maybe we might just end this war. Don’t you want to end it,
Dylan?”
   “Nothing will end it—we’ll just keep fighting.”
   The man smiled and said, “Well how about this—how about if you
don’t say what we want, then all of you go fight again? Sound fair? That
way you keep each other accountable.”
   Dylan was quiet and Tommy grabbed him. “I don’t want to go back,
Dylan—I’ll kill you myself if you screw this up.”
   “Maybe we should just try it, Dylan.” Hunter said.
   Dylan looked at him curiously, “What happened to you missing the
fighting?”
   Hunter looked at the food. “I do but it’s still nice to do something dif-
ferent for a change.”
   Dylan nodded. “I’ll do it for Hunter, but not for you, Tommy.”
   “Works for me,” Tommy laughed.
   They made all three of them sign their names on long contracts that
they were not allowed to read. Tour the country. Plus one stop would be
in Carlsbad, and he would get to see his parents.
   Tomorrow they explained, they'd meet the president who would an-
nounce the plans of the tour to the country.
   “Will Niles stay with us?” Hunter asked.
   “No—there’ll be someone else. He has fourteen kids of his own to
worry about.”
   “Do we get paid?” Tommy asked.
   “You’ll get spending money. We’ll go over details more in the next
couple days. And we’ll be giving you acting lesson to make sure you
don’t screw up—you’re heroes now.”
                                 #    #       #



                                                                        155
  (Coco Puff, Blog Entry)
  CENSOR THIS
  Posted: Wednesday, April 1 2015| 10:02 AM (GMT)

   Today I received a memo from the director telling me not to write any-
thing offensive to the government on my blog because I was being
watched. I am a supporter of the cause—why they watch me, I don’t
know!
   The President’s official blog today gave hope that it would be over
soon. The enemy cells, he says, are 80% contained.
   Citizens seem to be working together to stop the rebel cells. Every day
the White House’s page is updated with cells that have been contained.
It’s all encouraging.

  Tags: censorship, presidents blog




                                                                      156
Chapter    19
Level 17: The President of the United States
Dylan remembered his mom telling him once, before he left to fight, that
the President was the leader of the country, but no one had seen him
since the old President was assassinated, and he went into hiding two
years ago. He still acted out his role as President and gave orders, but
they moved him around a lot. Dylan didn’t know it then, but most
people were under the impression that the President was dead, because
he never appeared—except on television, which many people said
wasn’t even him. The Coco President had made this claim several times
in propaganda.
   An aide told the three of them that meeting him was important and
even an honor as they went up a large elevator
   “I don’t feel very honored.” Dylan softly said. The President was the
one person who could use his power to end the war, but it seemed to
Dylan that he didn’t even make an effort.
   “Then fake it.” The aide explained.
   Her statement surprised Dylan; the way she said it, made Dylan feel
like he wasn’t the only person who had to fake a smile in the presence of
the President.
   They were taken to a desert garden and told to wait next to a cactus; as
they waited several Secret Service agents wandered around, surveying
the empty desert nervously.
   The President drove up in a golf cart. He was polished and well
dressed above the waist, but below the waist were shorts and bony
shaved legs that were covered with scabs and discoloration. He looked
frail and occasionally limped. He smelled like sweat and mold.
   “Let's get this over with.” he said to his aide, and then he smiled at all
three of them. “Hello there, brave young men!”
   They each flashed a fake smile and said hello.
   “I heard you have done some mighty brave things.”




                                                                         157
   They stared. The aide, who was behind them, nudged them and they
each smiled again and nodded.
   Two photographers began taken pictures non-stop of the President
shaking each of their hands.
   “You're a charming bunch of boys. I bet you like John Deere trackers.
Do you like trackers?”
   Tommy nodded excited.
   “I liked trackers when I was a boy. I use to have these toy trackers that
I would play with for hours. And you know what else I liked?”
   “What?” Tommy asked.
   “Marbles.”
   “Marbles?” Dylan replied, confused.
   “Sure. I still play it every day. Usually about this time. I’d be playing it
right now if it weren’t for you kids.”
   “Sorry.” Tommy said.
   “That’s alright. Timmy can wait.”
    “Who’s Timmy?” Dylan asked.
   An aide stepped forward before the President answered and said,
“The President’s a very busy man.” She looked to the President and ad-
ded, “Sir, I think we have all the pictures that we need.”
   “Nonsense,” the President replied, “I can take a break from all that
boring stuff to speak with a group of charming young men.” He looked
at Dylan and explained, “Timmy’s my son.” The President pointed to a
possum a Secret Service agent was holding on a leash. “There he is right
there. Wave to the nice boys, Timmy.” The agent made the possum’s
hands wave. “That a boy, Timmy.” He turned back at us. “Timmy can be
a little shy.”
   “You play marbles with him?” Tommy asked.
   “We’re in a tournament together. I'm winning.” He whispered,
“Timmy isn't very good.”
   “Oh.”
   “Where’s my marbles?” He turned to his aide, “Have you seen my
marbles? I want to show them to the boys.”
   The aide shrugged and said, “Perhaps they’re in your office, sir. You
should go look for them right now.”
   He stared at the aide blankly for several seconds and then admitted,
“I’m always losing my marbles.”
   They smiled.
   “I’ll show them to you later.” He sighed. “Well, what else do you en-
joy doing? Do you like horses?”



                                                                           158
   Dylan yawned and apologized. A journalist took pictures and didn’t
appear to hear or care what was being said. Dylan wondered how every-
one could see a President so crazy and not tell the public about it.
   “Or maybe ponies—I bet you like ponies.”
   “Ponies are very nice, sir.” Tommy said.
   An aide came to the President’s side and explained, “The boys single-
handedly won an important battle in the war. Perhaps you’d like to hear
about that?”
   The President slyly smiled as he looked at her. “No kidding?”
   She nodded.
   “Boy oh boy I used to love playing war when I was a kid. Were you
the cowboys or the Indians?”
   “I don’t understand, sir?” Dylan said, confused.
   “Isn’t that how you play it? Maybe it has a different name with you
boys? Were you the good guys or the bad guys?” He looked at Hunter
carefully and then turned to the aide, “This one was a bad guy I bet—the
quiet ones are always bad.”
    “I think we were all good guys, sir,” Hunter explained.
   The President laughed, “Hot dog—I used to love that side.” He looked
at the three of them. “You know, there’s four of us altogether. How
would you like to play a little Cowboys and Indians right now? Two on
two.”
   “Sir.” His aide said, “You have another meeting in ten minutes.”
   “Oh, this won’t take but a few minutes—what do you say boys?”
   “Okay?” Tommy nervously replied.
   “Hot dog!” The President shouted, and then he ran full speed straight
into a tree and knocked himself unconscious. Two Secret Service agents
ran to him and helped him up. They quickly put him on the golf cart and
drove him off.
   “That wasn’t your fault.” the aide said. “He’s done it before—he has a
bad eye.” She explained. “He doesn’t see right.
   They were led back to the elevator. When they were away from the
photographers, Dylan admitted to the aide, “the President’s kind of
strange.”
   Hunter and Tommy nodded in agreement.
   “You have to understand, he’s under a lot of stress with the war. He
gets confused about things.”
   Dylan nodded but didn’t reply.
   “You can tell people you’ve met with the President, but you cannot tell
people how he behaved. Is that clear?”



                                                                      159
   They nodded.
   “It’s for the good of the country—and it’s also in your contract.”
   They nodded again.
   “People have to believe everything is okay. They have to have that
hope. If anyone asks you what it was like, say ‘It was a great honor and
his wisdom really showed.’’
   They nodded.
   “Say it.”
   “It was a great honor and his wisdom really showed.” Dylan sarcastic-
ally said.
   “Good. And what did you talk about?”
   Dylan shrugged.
   “Strategy.” the aide explained. “Say it.”
   “We talked about strategy.” Dylan said.
    “Perfect.” The aide turned to Tommy and said, “I want you to do the
talking.”
   Tommy nodded as the aide opened the door to a large room full of
couches and a kitchen. At the center of the room was a large TV with a
PS3 sitting on top. The aided turned to them and explained, “You get
five hours in here. Then you’ll be eating at an important dinner tonight
with the President.”
   The aide left before anyone replied. Tommy went straight for the kit-
chen and Hunter went straight for the games. Dylan stood near the door,
confused. He watched Tommy making a sandwich and said, “Don’t
either of you find this strange?”
   “What?” Tommy asked stuffing his face.
   “We are on a tour to lie for a President who’s crazy? Don’t you think
people have a right to know that all of this is just one giant joke?”
   Tommy shrugged, “No one would believe us—and it’s like they said,
people need hope.”
   Dylan didn’t answer. He went to the couch where Hunter was shuff-
ling through the movies and games. “Do you guys want to play games
or watch a movie? They have everything here!”
   Tommy wandered behind the couch with his sandwich; strawberry
jam came from the sandwich and hit the floor as he walked. He went to
the cabinet and opened it up. Hundreds of movies were inside. “Look at
this!”
   Hunter turned and then ran to the cabinet, excited. “They must have
every single movie ever made!”




                                                                    160
   Dylan rolled his eyes. “Is that all you guys care about? Our friends die
and you act like nothing happened!” He paused and added, “I expect
that from you, Tommy—but Hunter?”
   Hunter looked down, hurt. Tommy put his arm around Hunter’s
shoulder and laughed, “Chill out, Dylan! You’re a kid again! Start acting
like it!” He looked through the cabinet, carefully scanning each title.
“You know what we all need? A war movie! It will help us unwind.” He
held up Full Metal Jacket. “I’ve heard of this one! It’s supposed to be su-
per bloody!”
   Dylan watched the movie with his arms crossed, not wanting to enjoy
any form of entertainment. The first half of the movie was easy not to en-
joy. It was about basic training—something he knew little about. Once
the fighting began in the second half, he couldn’t help but cry; Tommy
and Hunter cried too. Everything in the movie had happened to him. It
was like spending two hours reliving bad memories.
   Tommy’s tears seemed joyful. “It’s beautiful!” he said as a man was
killed on the screen.
                                #       #     #
   Dinner was larger than Dylan thought it would be. In a large under-
ground bunker, hundreds of men and women sat. Most were senators
and governors and foreign friends to the country.
   The tables were lavishly decorated; there were plates with the rebels’
logo hand-painted and crystal vases in the center with fresh flowers.
Everything they touched on the table felt expensive.
   The President looked dignified and dressed as a President should be in
a suit and tie. He gave a speech about the cost of freedom, and made
everyone, including the boys, believe that there was a reason that they
fought.
   They sat at a table with a high-ranking general who asked, after the
speech, “I bet you’re really looking forward to the dessert?”
   “We’re not really hungry.” Tommy, who had been eating for the past
five hours, said.
   “Not really hungry?” His voice got louder and even angry. “How can
you not be hungry? You’re boys! All boys like dessert.”
   Tommy shrugged.
   “Well it takes one of every kind.” He said and got calmer. It was quiet
for a moment, and then he asked, “So what grade are you boys in?”
   Tommy shrugged. “We got pulled out of school, sir—for the war.”
   “The war?” He seemed confused. “War’s for men—they should keep
you boys in school is what they should do.”



                                                                       161
   They couldn’t argue with the general, because they agreed. They
would have loved to stay in school. They we remained quiet.
   “Have you seen a lot of battles?” Dylan asked the general.
   He shrugged. “I’ve seen enough.”
   “Where have you fought?”
   He thought about his answer. “Son,” he said slowly, “War is not
something to brag about to boys—you just wouldn’t be able to under-
stand the things I’ve seen. It would be too much.”
   “We’ve seen an awful lot of bad things.” Tommy admitted.
   The general smiled and patted Tommy’s hand. “I’m sure you have,
son—I’m sure you have. But you’ll understand one day what I’m talking
about.”
   The President was making his way from table to table working the
ground. He paused at the general and said while starring at us, “These
boys are experts at the game of Cowboys and Indians.”
   “Really?” the general said, excited. “I used to be pretty good when I
was a boy your age.”
   Dylan smiled at their foolishness.
   At the end of the evening, as everyone left the dinner, they spotted the
President in the corner talking to his possum. “He wanted ‘special’ time
with his son,” a Secret Service agent told them as they left.
   “This is really whose running our country?” Dylan asked Hunter
when they were back in the room.
   Hunter nodded.
   “I never liked fight—I never believed in it—but seeing this,” Dylan
paused as he thought of the right words, “It’s just not right.”
   “At least we don’t have to fight anymore.”
   “But what about everyone else? It’s such a waste. Do you think this is
how the coco government is too?”
   Tommy, who had started playing the PS3, tossed a controller at
Dylan’s arm and said, “You think too much Dylan—get over here and
play some games with me! We get to be kids again—how many others
get to have that back?”
                                #      #      #

  (Rebel Frosted Flake, Blog Entry)
  ESCAPE
  Posted: Thursday, May 7, 2015 | 4:00 PM




                                                                       162
   Late last night my bunkmate and five others attempted to escape. They
were captured and shot this morning.
   Six new people were brought to the tent in their place. My new bunk-
mate is a teenager named Freddy. He told me that he heard it was all
ending soon. That’s what they tell us, but I don’t believe anyone. We
don’t get any real news anymore.
   Every day I come to this library for my one hour of monitored and
filtered Internet use, and am told by the official blog of the President
about the progress this country is making. Every day I read his messages
about rebuilding, which makes me even more worried because there al-
ways seems more to rebuild than when I came here.
   I’ve wondered a lot lately about how bad it is on the other side. I look
at the soldiers growing in numbers every day, and I wonder if they
know.
   Today I watched the man play the PlayStation. It was the first day
since I’ve been here that I didn’t ignore it. I sat with him and watched.
He tells me it helps pass the time and helps him forget.
   Perhaps it’s time for me to forget…

  Tags: escape, presidents blog, forgetting




                                                                       163
Chapter   20
Level 18: Touring
Two Weeks Later (Two Hours Outside Nevada)
   Dylan was staring blankly at the ceiling of the tour bus. It was four
am.. He hadn’t been to sleep yet. This was how many of his days had
been. He’d be up for days before finally he’d be so exhausted that he’d
sleep, and even then it was only for two or three hours. His dreams were
haunted with memories of war and death, and a part of him feared sleep.
   In war everything happened slowly. For days they’d be on the lines
waiting for battle, and sometimes it would come and go in a matter of
seconds, and then they’d wait for days for more. There was constant
waiting.
   When they started the newly titled “Victory, America” tour, there was
a sudden change in the way Dylan was living his life. There were sched-
ules and dates far in advance. Even in the rare moments of waiting, he
knew exactly what he was waiting for and when it would happen.
   The tour itself had all the glamour and jazz of what was once America.
Bright colors and sparkling lights decorated their tour bus, and the aud-
itoriums that they spoke in had all the markings of patriotism. Bands
played American ballads. Pictures of Americans in uniforms posing
proudly with their hands around their buddies decorated the walls. Red,
white, and blue hung high and hung low.
   After a patriotic speech about why they must support the troops and
their country by an old retired general, they would be introduced as the
main attraction. There were four of them now. A nineteen-year-old girl
who had been the lone survivor of a battle in the South Pacific also
joined their tour. Her name was Trista Greene. She had a similar tale of
heroism, tragedy and survival. It was touching and made everyone
cry—including Trista, every single time—sometimes she cried real tears,
but mostly they were fake.
   They would march to the center of the auditorium single file to the
tune of God Bless America, and would sit patiently behind the podium



                                                                     164
listening to each other tell their stories of bravery. Trista was always first.
Then Hunter. Then Dylan. And last was Tommy. They had rehearsed
stories, which blended humor and emotion—stories that were written by
the President’s own speechwriters. Dylan and Tommy’s speeches were
meant to make the audience feel like there were great leaders in the
Army; and Trista and Hunter’s speech was meant to make people feel
that their children would be safe if they followed the orders of the brave
leaders. After they finished talking, they’d take questions and finally
sign autographs.
   During the autograph time, there were always girls. Every girl in at-
tendance had a favorite hero, and as she asked for an autograph there’d
come the flirtatious smile. First she would say, “I just think you’re so
brave.” This was followed by an embarrassed pause and a giggle. Finally
she’d ask, “Is it true you don’t have a girlfriend?” They were instructed
how to answer all questions that might come up, including this. Hunter
and Dylan would do as they were told. They’d nod and say, “Actually, I
have a girl back at home. I promised her I’d stay faithful. But if I didn’t
you’d be the kind of girl I’d like to get to know.” Tommy would take
their numbers and promise he would call them. He had a box that he put
them in that he proudly carried around and opened when he was feeling
lonely. He claimed he had talked to all of them at least once, but Dylan
had doubts he had in fact talked to even one. Trista had the flirting fans
too, but not as many. Most the men her age were off fighting, although
there were some territories left that had not been forced to send their
kids off to fight. Mostly she had older men who begged her for a kiss on
the cheek, which she always obliged to give. She had a beautiful charm
about her, and Dylan always said when it was all over that she should be
an actress.
   Dylan finally decided he would not be able to sleep and went from his
bed in the back of the bus; as he stretched he looked to the bunk on top
of his, where Hunter slept. He had adjusted well to his new life, and
rarely thought of war. Dylan wished he could do the same.
   The back of the bus was where all of them slept. There were enough
for six people—three sets of bunk beds. The outside of the bus was
newly painted and a graphic artist painted each of their faces and the
tour’s logo; the outside was not a fair representation of the bus’ inside.
The bus was refurbished to look like new. The inside had couches with
holes, a toilet that frequently backed up, and cabinets that would give
them splinters if they opened it wrong.




                                                                           165
   Dylan walked to the front of the bus where the eating area was. Elisa,
who was their official chaperone, or babysitter, was reading a paperback
novel. They couldn’t go anywhere without Elisa’s permission. She was
only two years older than Dylan, and it was odd to him that she had be-
come his guardian in a sense.
   “Can’t sleep again?” Elisa asked, removing her glasses and brushing
back her brown hair that had fallen in front of her eyes as she read.
   Dylan nodded. “Why are you up?” Normally when he got up in the
middle of the night everyone but the driver was sleeping, and he’d sit
next to him for a few hours until everyone woke up. The driver’s name
was Kyle; he was an energetic kid from Phoenix. Like Elisa, his dad was
a Senator and had got him out of fighting. He drank a lot of coffee while
he drove to stay awake, and reminded Dylan of his brother, because he
was addicted to videogames. Whenever they were speaking, he’d usu-
ally hang out on the bus while he was waiting and play Dylan’s PSP.
   “We’ll be in Vegas soon. I have to meet with the mayor as soon as we
get there to go over last minute details.” She set her book down and said,
“Vegas is a pretty big city and we’ll have some extra time—maybe you
should go see a doctor while you’re there? He can prescribe you
something to help you sleep.”
   “I don’t want to sleep. That’s my problem—I get nightmares—start
thinking about war. Are there any doctors who can give me something
to keep me up more?”
   Elisa smiled, “They can give you sleeping pills that knock you out so
much that you won’t even have dreams.”
   Dylan picked up an apple from the center of the table and rolled it
back and forth on the table’s surface. “How many days will we be in Ve-
gas lying?”
   “Two.”
   “And how many until we can leave this tour?”
   “Is that what you want? To get back to fighting?”
   “That’s what I’m good at.” The bus hit a pothole, and made a loud
noise followed by a bump. Dylan screamed.
   Elisa reached out her hand to his shoulder. “Relax, dear. It’s just a
bump.” Dylan was quiet and she asked, “You’ll be back home soon for a
few days. Are you excited to see your parents?”
   Dylan reluctantly nodded. “Sure.”
                               #      #       #
   Tommy had been speaking for over ten minutes. He was laughing and
shouting as he explained how he almost single-handedly won one of the



                                                                      166
greatest battles of all time. There were always girls watching him ador-
ingly in the front row and he’d make sure to wink at as many possible
while he spoke.
   Dylan looked down as Tommy spoke. He had heard it too many times.
He always got uncomfortable when he heard Tommy’s excitement as he
spoke. Almost everything he said was a lie.
   They were speaking at the Mirage Hotel; they told them before speak-
ing that at one time the arena had been the venue for a circus-like show
with the music of a band named The Beatles. None of them had ever
heard of the group.
   There were hundreds of people in the crowd.
   Dylan looked up at a spotlight in the back of the arena and squinted;
the lighting always made it hard to see how the audience was reacting.
He imagined that they were enjoying it.
   After Tommy finished speaking, the mayor of Las Vegas got up and
asked for donations to support the rebel cause. This was the part that
Dylan always felt worst about. No one could afford to give money;
they’d have to do without to make it happen. Just once he wanted to
stand and say it was all a lie—that the President was crazy and the cause
that they were supposedly fighting for didn’t even exist anymore.
   When it was over and everyone started applauding, Dylan left the
stage and started heading for the exit.
   “Dylan, wait!” Elisa called after him.
   Dylan stopped and looked at her blankly. “I need some rest.” He fi-
nally explained.
   Elisa nodded. “Sign some autographs, meet some people, and then
you’ll get your rest.”
   “Not tonight, Elisa.”
   “Yes tonight—and every night after. You’re under contract. You want
to leave the tour, then go to your room.” She paused and added, “But
don’t forget if you leave then Tommy and Hunter go with you.”
   Dylan thought for a moment and then reluctantly said, “Fine.”
   “I don’t think you understand how easily all of you can be replaced.”
She said sympathetically, “I like you guys and I don’t any of you to go,
but I’ve been around politics long enough to know how these things
work—just because you mean something to me doesn’t mean you mean
anything to any of them.
   Dylan walked alone to where they would sign autographs. A small
group of protestors were waiting near the door and started yelling at
Dylan when they saw him. He looked at them curiously for several



                                                                     167
seconds before several Army MP’s quickly pushed them back and arres-
ted them.
   There were protestors at nearly every stop on the tour, but Dylan only
heard about them; he never saw them. It was encouraging to him to hear
someone that was against what he was doing.
                                 #      #      #
   The Las Vegas strip was relatively unchanged by war; it was a refugee
city now, which meant the outskirts of the city were full of temporary
tent shelter. Nine million people lived in the city, which made it the most
populated city in the country—on the rebel or coco side.
   Tommy had looked forward to visiting the city since he first found out
it was on the tour. It was the only city in the country that had no age lim-
it on drinking or gambling. The entire day he begged Elisa to let them go
out for drinks after speaking. She finally agreed after their speaking
engagement.
   The drinking age in battle was 21, but everyone looked the other way.
Dylan and Hunter both tried it once, but didn’t like it. They went to the
bar because Elisa made them—they had to go everywhere in a group;
that was her first rule.
   They went to a small bar off the strip that Elisa reasoned would be the
least populated and picked a table near the back. Only Tommy and
Trista drank. He was on his second beer when three disabled veterans in
their twenties entered the bar. One was missing an arm, one a leg, and
one was in a wheelchair. They sat near the front of the bar, and kept to
themselves. At one point, however, the man with no arm made eye con-
tact with Dylan, and nudged his friends and said something. They all got
up and made their way to Dylan’s table.
   “Look what we got here, boys!” the man missing his arm said to his
friends. “Couple of army pussies and their army bitch.”
   “We don’t want any trouble,” Elisa politely said.
   They looked at their outfits and laughed. They had come straight from
the speaking engagement and had not changed. “Where’d you get the
suits?”
   “Army issued, sir.” Dylan said
   “Army issued my balls!” He turned to his friends and laughed.
   Elisa smiled and said, “Look, we don’t want any trouble—just came
for a few drinks.”
   “You don’t want trouble?” This statement amused him and all his
friends. “Me and my buddies served three years in the war. We’d still be
fighting if it weren’t for those coco puffs.”



                                                                        168
    Dylan smiled, “It’s an honor to meet men of such devotion.”
    The man missing an arm laughed to himself and said to his friends,
“Would you listen to this guy!” Then he asked, “Where have you
served?”
    Dylan pointed to Tommy and Hunter, “The three of us served on the
front lines in Washington. Trista fought in the South Pacific.”
    This amused the man more. “Wait a minute—you’re those pussies that
are being paraded around the country as heroes.”
    They reluctantly nodded.
    “And you think you’re a hero?”
    “No, sir. I think we got lucky.”
     “You’re no hero. You’re just a bunch of pussies. If they want heroes,
they should parade around all the disabled vets like me and my
buddies.”
    “I agree.”
    “Oh you think you’re being funny?”
    “No, sir—I’m being serious.”
    “Prick.” He spit at Dylan, then spit in Tommy’s pitcher of beer, and fi-
nally turned, “Come on—let’s get out of this place. I don’t feel like drink-
ing anymore.”
    “Bunch of jerks,” Tommy said after they left.
    Hunter looked up and said, “He’s right though—we aren’t heroes.”
    Tommy laughed. “Maybe not you, but I got the Wii—I deserve every
honor I get.” He slid his glass towards Dylan, “Drink-up, Dylan! It will
ease your mind about things.”
    Dylan stood and Elisa grabbed his wrist, “Where are you going?”
    “Going to get some air. Is that okay?”
     “Just stay away from the veterans.”
    Dylan ignored her and went outside. He went to the curb, sat down,
and stared at the Vegas skyline. Hunter followed behind him and sat
down with him without saying anything.
    “I want off this tour.”
    “It’s not so bad is it?” Hunter had responded to not fighting mostly as
the Army had hoped—he had gone back to being a kid. He had mo-
ments where he’d cry at night, but mostly he was finding it easier to for-
get what he had been through. Trista was the only one who seemed to be
struggling with things almost as much as Dylan, but she was quiet about
it.




                                                                        169
   “Not for you. I don’t even sleep anymore—I can’t sleep. They trained
me to be some kind of monster and now they just want me to be a kid
again. I can’t do that.”
   “Is it because of those guys?”
   Dylan didn’t answer.
   “Because you are hero—to me and a lot of people. You risked your life
and you led us well. I’d be dead if not for you.”
   Dylan looked down and softly said, “Heroes don’t go on tours to
glamorize themselves.”
   “It’s like they’ve been telling us all along—we give people hope.”
   Dylan laughed. “Hope, Hunter! Hope in what. You saw the Presid-
ent—he was crazy. What exactly is this war about? No one even knows
anymore.”
   ”So what do you want to do?” Hunter asked, “Do you want to leave
and go fight again? You know now more than ever that there’s no point
to this war—how do you fight knowing that?
   Dylan sighed, “That’s it Hunter—I’m stuck. I can either go fight again
in a war that more meaningless than ever, or encourage others to fight in
it. I just want to run, but where am I supposed to go? The wars every-
where. I just feel trapped and alone with this secret of how are leaders
really are.”
                                  #       #    #

  (Coco Puff, Blog Entry)
  RUMORS ARE NEVER FUN
  Posted: Sunday, June 21, 2015 | 3:15 PM

  There are certain things I am not allowed to say over this blog, and
any attempt to say them will no doubt be censored. The CENSORED
TEXT. One that we need. I wish I could say more.
  I am under orders not to leave the embassy.
  Yesterday, a CENSORED TEXT. All of us just sit around watching old
movies until six when the power cuts out.

  Tags: rumors, alliance




                                                                     170
Chapter    21
Level 19: Homecoming
Dylan stood in front of his parent’s house in Carlsbad. Little had
changed. A rebel flag now hung above the front door—a reminder to any
that passed that someone in the house proudly served. Little had
changed on their block; aside from the flags it seemed uninterrupted by
war.
   He looked at Trinity’s house down the street; a flag hung above their
door too. He wondered if anyone had told them.
   “So you going to go in or what?” Tommy said, slapping him on the
back, “You got games inside?”
   Dylan ignored him. He looked at Hunter, who was to the right of him,
and nodded at the house. “That’s Trinity’s place—the one with the picket
fence.”
   Hunter looked and asked, “Are you going to see them?”
   Dylan nodded, “Will you come with me later?”
   “Sure.”
   The front door opened and Dylan’s father stood balancing himself on
the frame of the door. “Hot damn!” he hollered. “My hero boy’s come
home! Mother you better get out here!”
   His mother came to the door holding Dylan’s new little brother. She
looked at him in disbelief, and then tearfully said, “Dylan?!”
   Dylan ran to her and embraced her tightly. He didn’t think he’d cry,
but he couldn’t hold it back.
   “They told us you were coming,” she tearfully explained, “But I didn’t
believe it.” The baby started to cry and Amy looked down at it. “This is
your new brother, Jason.”
   Dylan grabbed his little hand and shook it.
   “He’s going to be a hero just like you!” His father said, grabbing Dylan
and hugging him. He lost his balance as he hugged him, and Dylan had
to hold him up.




                                                                       171
   His mother grabbed his arm and shook it, “Are you well? They’ve fed
you good?”
   Dylan nodded.
   “Come on! Get inside! You have so much to tell us.” She looked at
everyone else and added, “All of you—I have a stew cooking in the kit-
chen.” As he entered she added, “Your brother will be home soon—he’s
sure going to be happy to see you!”
                                 #    #       #
   The video game system in the living room was blaring. Everyone was
playing games except for Dylan, who stood on the porch looking blankly
at the empty street. There was a time when he was little when kids
would play kickball and street hockey in the street, but that time had
long since passed. Most of the kids were off fighting.
    “Where’s there a grocery store around here?” Trista asked joining him
on the porch.
   Dylan nodded down the road, “It’s not too far. You want me to walk
you?”
   She nodded, “I need some…” She paused and blushed, “stuff.”
   “Whatever.”
   They weren’t supposed to go anywhere without telling Elisa, but she
was asleep and they didn’t want to wake her.
   They walked by Trinity’s old house and Dylan stopped. He looked at
it and could see her grandmother inside rocking on her rocker. For that
moment he had forgotten what happened to Trinity.
   “Who lives there?”
   “A friend’s mom.” he said. “Her daughter died in war—I was with
her.”
   “Does she know?”
   Dylan shrugged.
   “You should tell her—she has a right to know.”
   “Hunter’s going to come with me later. We’re going to tell her
together.”
    “How long did you live here?”
   “All my life.”
   “All your life? Most I lived anywhere is five years.”
   “Five years?”
   “We moved around a lot. Dad didn’t want to serve in the war.”
   “So he sent you instead?”




                                                                     172
   “I got drafted after I moved out. I was living in Florida with a friend,
and the army came by and pulled us right off the street—they said we
had been drafted.”
   Dylan nodded but said nothing.
   “You carry a lot of guilt, don’t you?” Trista observed.
   “Sometimes.”
   “Sometimes,” Trista explained, “I feel like the people we left behind
were the lucky ones—you know?”
   Dylan nodded. “Tommy’s the only person I know who doesn’t feel
that way.”
   “Tommy’s selfish.”
   “Did you lose a lot of friends?”
   Trista looked down sadly. “Who didn’t?”
   Dylan nodded in front of them at the trading post. “You should be
able to get anything you want there.” The trading post had opened about
five years ago after all the markets went out of business; it was run by a
former math teacher who quit when the government offered him the job
running the post.
   There was only one other person inside the store, and they were talk-
ing to the clerk, not shopping. Trista walk around the store quickly in
search of what she had come for.
   “This is kind of embarrassing.” Trista said as she went down one aisle.
   “What?” Before she answered, Dylan saw her reach for a package of
tampons. “Oh.” He mumbled and added, “It would only be embarrass-
ing if I was the one who had to buy them.”
   She smiled and said, “Well you’re going to have to be embarrassed—I
forgot my purse.”
   “Okay.” Dylan said awkwardly.
   Trista laughed. “I’m kidding, Dylan—relax!”
   Dylan sighed. “I would have done it.”
   Trista smiled. “You’re cute.”
                                 #     #       #
   Dylan rang the doorbell and then stood back. A part of him, a big part,
hoped that nobody would answer.
   The door opened moments later and Trinity’s mother stood in the
frame. “Dylan?” she asked, confused.
   He nodded.
   “Come in.”
   Dylan and Hunter followed her into the house and into the living
room where Trinity’s grandmother still sat rocking.



                                                                       173
   “Can I get you two something to drink?”
   They each nodded.
   She sat on the couch and said bluntly, “Do you know about Trinity?
That she’s dead?”
   “That’s why we came.” Dylan looked over at Hunter and explained,
“This is Hunter. We both were in Trinity’s company when she died.”
   She seemed happy at the news. “Maybe you can tell me what
happened? I’ve wanted to know ever since the letter.” She looked down
and sadly explained, “The letters never explain anything. They just tell
me how happy I should be about her dying for such a worthy cause.”
She paused and mumbled as she reflected out loud, “Worthy cause?
What is that?”
   “I was the leader of the company. I let her down. We were in a
battle—a bad one. I told Trinity to stay back while Hunter and I went to
take out a tank. When we came back she was gone. She’d been shot by a
group of cocos.”
   She nodded and began to cry. “Did she suffer?”
   Dylan nodded. “Not even for a second. She was working as a medic
helping other people. She saved a lot of lives before she lost her own. It
all happened so quickly. In an instant she was gone.”
   “Was it the Battle that made you a hero?”
   Dylan nodded.
   “When I heard you were coming to Carlsbad as a hero, I had a feeling
you were with her—you two were always together.”
   Dylan looked down. “I wish I would have been there then.”
   “You can’t say that. This is the government’s fault.”
   Dylan was surprised by her statement. He knew a lot of people who
felt like she did, but few people would actually admit it. People who
spoke out against the government had a tendency to disappear.
   “We should go, Dylan.” Hunter said, “Elisa will be looking for us.”
   He nodded, “I’m sorry to bug you—I just wanted you to know.”
   She stood and smiled. “You’re a good person—I’m glad she was with
you.”
   Jacob was standing on the porch when Dylan returned. He was watch-
ing for Dylan, and when he saw him and Hunter coming up the street,
he ran for him. “Dylan!” he yelled, excited.
   Dylan hugged him tightly for several seconds, before finally letting
him go. He turned to Hunter, and said, “This is my brother, Jacob.”
   Jacob shook his hand and looked at Dylan with admiration. “My
brother the hero! I can’t wait to hear all of your stories!”



                                                                      174
   “Dylan, Hunter,” Elisa called coming out of the house, “come get
ready. We leave in for the gym in twenty.” The speaking engagement
would be in the gym of Dylan’s old school.
                                 #      #      #
   Dylan looked at the audience as they gave the final standing ovation
after everyone spoke. Usually the lights were too bright to see anything,
but tonight the setup was different.
   He saw the principal and his old teachers in the front row clapping
and nodding in approval. He imagined they felt partly responsible for
Dylan’s new role. None of them were. In school they had approved of
the way the stronger kids treated him, and they didn’t expect anything
of him. For the first time ever he felt proud standing on the stage—proud
that he proved all of them wrong.
   Dylan enjoyed the applause and was the last one to leave the stage. As
he made his way out of the gym and through the long hallway that led to
the lobby, a door opened and a hand grabbed his arm.
   “What gives!” Dylan said as he was pulled in.
   The door shut as soon as Dylan was pulled into the room, and he
stood in front of two men in dark clothing. “Who are you?” Dylan asked
fearfully.
   “Doesn’t matter.”
   Dylan looked around the room as the other man assured him, “We just
want to talk and then we’ll let you go.”
   Dylan nodded and realized for the first time that he was in the girls’
locker room.
   The man who first spoke pulled a photo from his back pocket and
handed it to Dylan. “That’s a torture camp—one of hundreds that the co-
cos have set up for prisoners of war.”
   Dylan looked at the photo and asked confused, “How’d you get this?”
   “We used to work for the government—we snuck it out. They have
thousands of photos just like it. They know what’s going on—what the
cocos do—but they aren’t doing anything to stop it. Probably because
they do a lot of the same things.”
   “Why are you telling me?” Dylan asked confused.
   “We’ve heard you speak—you’re the only one up there who seems
like they aren’t afraid of the government. We can trust you, right?”
   Dylan nodded.
   The other man explained, “We want you to know what lies you’re
helping contribute to.”
   “Lies?”



                                                                     175
  The man nodded, “You’re giving people false hope—you’re making
them believe that there’s something worth fighting for. There’s not!”
  The other man pulled out several more photos. Some were candid
photos of the President playing marbles; others were generals standing
over a nude female child laughing.
  “Play the tape.”
  The man nodded and pulled a recorder from his pocket. He hit play
and Dylan immediately recognized one of the voices as the President.
“Marbles,” the President said, “That’s how this war should be
fought—with marbles. We need to obtain all the marbles from those co-
cos so we can become the greatest country again. And then we need to
conquer the marbles of the entire world.”
  “That’s our leader,” the man said.
  Dylan nodded. “I’ve met him.”
  “So you know how he is?” The man asked surprised.
  Dylan nodded and looked down. Finally he admitted, “This is just an
act—they said if I don’t do it we get sent back to the front. Personally, I
don’t mind—maybe I’ll get killed and finally have some peace—but if I
go they send all of us.”
  “Run.” the man said confidently.
  “Run?” Dylan asked confused.
  He nodded. “Tomorrow night.”
  Dylan was quiet. The man put his hand on Dylan’s shoulder and said,
“Just think about it. You’re a hero—we’re just two guys. You could help
make a difference. You could help end this war.”
  The other man added, “We’re starting a new militia. We’re going to
overthrow the government.”
  “Two guys are going to do that?”
  The man laughed. “Not two—there’s thousands of us now. All on the
run. This isn’t going to happen overnight, but it’s going to happen—you
can be a part of that! You can be a real hero.”
  It surprised Dylan that there were so many more like him—against
what the government was doing. “There’s thousands?”
  The man nodded. “Thousands. We’ve been building intelligence
against both governments for over a year. It’s a gorilla movement, and
we’re growing larger in numbers by the month. The wars been going on
for too long—don’t you think it’s time some people rose up and helped
end it?”
  “What would I do?”




                                                                       176
   “First get out of here! Then we’d take you somewhere safe—after that
it’s up to the leaders what role you would play.”
   Dylan was confused and quiet.
   “Just think about it, okay.”
   Dylan looked down at several of the pictures he was holding and he
nodded.
   “You’re familiar with the area, right?”
   He nodded. “Lived here all my life.”
   “If you’re in go to where Cannon Road meets Legoland Drive tomor-
row at midnight. You know where it’s at?”
   Dylan nodded.
   The man smiled, “Now go sign some autographs—your fans await!
Anyone asks, just say you had to run to the bathroom.”
   Dylan started to leave and the other man said, “Hope to see you
there—we could use a man like you.”
                                 #      #      #
   Dylan slept in his own bed for the first time in some time; he was too
excited to sleep. He kept staring at the photographs under the covers
with his flashlight. Hunter was already asleep in a sleeping bag on the
floor.
   He hadn’t made up his mind if he would go, but the possibility of get-
ting out of where he was thrilled him. As he looked again at the torture
photo, his eyes stopped on the backside of one person, “Couldn’t be” he
quietly said out loud.
   He could barely make out the person; her back was towards him and
she was partially cut off; there was just the hint of black curly hair—it
was a weak hint, but just enough to make him conclude to himself that
the small figure in the back was Trinity. She was alive.
   There were millions of people who could have had that same shape
and set of hair, but he wanted to have hope. He had been depressed for
days, and it was the first time anything had given him real joy.
   “Hunter!” he said, jumping out of bed and shining a flashlight into
Hunter’s eyes.
   “What’s wrong?” he said, squinting and looking confused at Dylan.
   “Look at this!” Dylan replied putting the photo into Hunter’s face and
pointing his finger on the girl in the top corner, “Who does it look like?”
   Hunter shrugged, “What time is it?”
   “Who cares! Look at it close—who is it?”
   Hunter grabbed Dylan’s flashlight and studied the picture for several
seconds before admitting, confused, “I don’t know—could be anyone.”



                                                                       177
   “Doesn’t it look like Trinity?”
   Hunter shook his head, “It’s just a back.” He paused and added, “I
miss her too, but you have to let go. Johnny saw her die. She’s dead,
Dylan.”
   “What if she’s not? That could be her, Hunter—it’s a picture of a coco
torture camp.”
   Hunter yawned. “You’re delirious, Dylan. You need to sleep. Did you
take the pills?”
   Sleeping pills were considered contraband, but Elisa had managed to
smuggle some for Dylan in Las Vegas.
   Dylan nodded. “You don’t think there’s the slightest possibility?”
   Hunter looked at Dylan seriously, and then said bluntly, “No.”
                                 #    #      #
   Dylan slept for a few hours, and then woke up just after the sun star-
ted rising. He went to the kitchen where his dad was cradling his new
brother at the table and Tommy was digging through the refrigerator.
   “He’s sleeping,” his dad said looking down at him.
   Dylan nodded and grabbed coffee from the counter. “Maybe he’ll get
to grow up in a world without war.”
   His dad nodded, “I’ve waited long enough—sit down and tell me
some stories.” He had been bugging Dylan and everyone else to hear
them all night. Tommy told him exaggerated tales, which he enjoyed, but
Dylan, Hunter and Trista were quiet.
   “I don’t like talking about it, Dad—I’m at home right now, and I just
want to pretend everything is normal.”
   His dad smirked and explained, “Things will never be normal for you
again—that’s what being a soldier does.” He paused and added, “Was it
what I told you it would be?”
   Dylan nodded. “I hated it—every second.”
   He nodded sympathetically. “When I fought, I would sit in my hole
and watch the bombs fly above, and I think of your mother and you kids
back at home. All of you got me through it.” He paused and then asked
with a sly smile, “So how many coco puffs did you kill?”
   Dylan shook his head. “Lots.”
   His smile grew wider on his face as he thought about it.
   Tommy continued to dig through the refrigerator recklessly and his
dad finally asked, “What’s that you’re looking for, soldier?”
   “Something to drink.”
   “There’s milk on the top shelf.”
   “You don’t have anything—harder?”



                                                                     178
   “You mean beer?”
   “Or whiskey.”
   “Damn son, it’s just barely six in the morning—what kind of person
drinks at six in the morning?”
   “A person who’s killed too many people and told too many lies.”
Tommy laughed.
   “Well you won’t find any liquor in this house.” Dylan’s dad explained,
“Gave it up when I came back home. Haven’t touched the bottle since.
Dylan’s mother made me do it.”
   Tommy slammed the refrigerator door shut and went outside to
smoke.
   “That’s one uptight kid.” Dad said.
   Dylan nodded. “He just likes to drink it while he can—they don’t give
us many bar breaks on the road. They usually feel us with sugar loaded
fruit drinks. I’ll take him out for lunch to get him drunk later.”
   His dad nodded. “I heard on the radio today that they were predicting
victory in Seattle real soon.”
   “They’ve been saying that for over two years.”
   He nodded. “Our time’s coming though. There’s no stopping the
rebels. It may take twenty more years, but we won’t give up.”
   Dylan shrugged. His dad left to put his brother back to bed. Dylan
went outside and joined Tommy on the porch. Tommy took a long drag
on his cigarette, and then threw it on the front lawn. “Your hometown
isn’t very active, is it?”
   “Most the kids were sent off to fight.”
   “I don’t like it—it’s too quiet.”
                                  #      #      #
   There was a small airport down the street from Dylan’s house. Dylan
took Hunter there after he woke up.
   There were no longer planes at the airport. It was being used by the
military as a heliport; dozens of military helicopters lined the runway.
Occasionally, one would take off and head north.
   It was peaceful and neither of them spoke for several minutes. Finally
Dylan said, “I’m leaving, Hunter.”
   “Leaving? Where?”
   “To look for her. Maybe she’s dead. Maybe she’s not. But I can’t do
this anymore. Lie like this—you’ve seen the parents. We’re giving them
false hope.”
   “If there’s no real hope, the false hope has to do.” Hunter laughed.




                                                                     179
  “I’m serious, Hunter. And I can’t give that kind of hope anymore. I’m
too young to have a life that I hate. You’re right—people need that false
hope. I need it. That’s why I’m leaving. I’m probably never going to find
Trinity, but at least it will give me something to hope for—to live for.”
He paused and looked around. “I don’t expect you to understand. And I
don’t expect you to follow. I just want you to know. I’ve been looking for
a way out, and I’ve found it.”
  Hunter looked at him, confused. “You’re serious?”
  Dylan sighed. “Yes. I’m serious—I had the best sleep in several weeks
last night, and you know why? Because I finally had hope.”
  Hunter thought for a moment and then smile, “So you just leave me
here with Tommy?”
  “He’s not so bad. And you get to live.”
  “They’ll send me back—I don’t want to go back.”
  Dylan nodded. “They won’t send you back—you’re too important. It’s
just a scare tactic. You’ll be fine.”
  “So are you just going to spend the rest of your life looking under
rocks and running?”
  Dylan nodded. “I’m leaving with the guys who gave me the pic-
ture—tonight at midnight. There’s a new militia that’s trying to stop this
war—I’m going to join it. They’re going to take over the government one
day.”
  Hunter smiled. “We’re a team, Dylan—I go where you go.”
  “If we get caught,” Dylan said seriously, “They aren’t sending you
back on a tour—they probably will just shoot us dead on the spot.”
  Hunter smiled, “Then let’s not get caught.”
                                  #    #      #
  When Dylan said goodnight to his parents, he knew it would be the
last time they would see them for a long time—perhaps forever. He
hugged his mom extra tight and said that he loved her, which made her
look at him concerned and ask, “Is something wrong?”
  “I can’t say I love you without something being wrong?” He smiled.
  “Okay, sweetie—I love you too.”
  At eleven thirty they snuck out of the house. Dylan held Hunter’s
hand because it was hard to see. There were few lights in Carlsbad, and
they tried to avoid using their flashlights because they didn’t want to be
seen.
  They made it to the street at a quarter until twelve and waited silently
for several minutes. Finally they heard movement and a figure emerged
from the dark. “I knew you’d make it.”



                                                                      180
   Dylan recognized the man from the night before and smiled. “So if we
are going to be partners in crime do we get to know your name?”
   The man extended his hand. “David—and the other guy is Junior. He’s
waiting for us.”
   “What’s going on?” Trista whispered, emerging from the dark.
   “Crap.” Dylan replied. “What are you doing here?”
   “I saw you guys sneaking out.”
   “You should have stayed put.”
   “And miss the excitement—so what’s going on?”
   Dylan looked at David who shrugged, “Might as well tell her.”
   “We’re getting out of here—ditching the tour and joining a new mili-
tia. We’re going to stop the war!”
   “And you’re going to leave me with Tommy?”
   Dylan smiled. “Wanna come? Do something that helps give us re-
demption from all the guilt?”
   “Why didn’t you tell me before?” she asked, hurt. “You were just go-
ing to abandon me.”
   Dylan shrugged. “I didn’t think you’d come.”
   “You should have asked.”
   “We don’t have time to argue. You know this whole tour is a
joke—eventually they’re going to send us back to die. This is our chance
to leave it all behind and try and make a difference—stop giving false
hope and start giving something real.”
   “Okay.”
   “Okay?” Dylan repeated confused.
   “Okay—let’s do it.”
   David smiled. “The boat’s waiting. Let’s get out of here.”
   The four ran down a deserted patch of land that led to the Blue La-
goon. Junior was waiting in a rubber raft. “Quite a crowd.” He noted
quietly as they climbed into the small raft.
   As they rowed out of the small lagoon and into the Pacific Ocean,
Dylan turned towards Carlsbad. It was almost completely black. He in-
haled the night air and then turned the other direction.
   He looked into the darkness and couldn’t see anything. And yet the
darkness ahead was the brightest thing he had seen in months. There
was nothing certain about his future, but for the first time in his life he
was about to do something that he actually believed was worth fighting
for.
   He grabbed Hunter’s and Trista’s hands and said excitedly, “Let’s go
live.”



                                                                       181
                               #       #      #

  (Rebel Frosted Flake, Blog Entry)
  THE BLOG THAT STARTED THE WAR
  Posted: Tuesday, June 23, 2015 | 12:49 PM

   I just finished reading the President’s blog. Truly, a new age we are in
when wars are declared by way of blogs.
   Everything about it was so confusing. The alliances, the continual at-
tacks, and foreign aid. I feel like I’m in another world here, and I can’t
help but wonder if anyone really knows what’s going on. I feel like I’m
sitting in the dark here.
   Every day I comb the Internet for clues that have not been filtered or
censored. I find none.
   Earlier I saw tanks CENSORED TEXT. I suspect they are moving me
soon, but where or why I cannot say.
   There is no such thing as giving up some rights—one right surrenders
all rights. But I still have hope that it will be restored. I suppose that is
what makes me American—when things seem most impossible, that’s
when Americans rise up and overcome.

  Tags: president’s blog, alliance, censorship, rights




                                                                         182
Chapter    22
Book Two
If you would like to be notified when book #2 is complete, please email
me at scottdouglas@scottdouglas.org, and just say, I'd like to be notified.




                                                                       183
            From the same author on Feedbooks

The Gospel According to Mark (The 140 Bible Translation) (2010)
This project began as a way to communicate the message of the
Bible in a language that spoke to a generation obsessed with text
messaging. Does it replace the Bible? No. If anything, I hope it en-
courages people to actually crack open a Bible and read it. If you
have never read the Bible or it's been a while, then I hope this
gives you a refresher.
For the next year, I will be tweeting the New Testament. The plan
is then to move on to the Old.
You can follow this project live by visiting www.twitter.com/
The140Bible (@The140Bible), or by visiting
www.The140Bible.com.

Dispatches from a Public Librarian (2010)
Contains 34 dispatches of "Dispatches from a Public Librarian"
from McSweeney's contributer, Scott Douglas. The book also in-
cludes several other library themed essays.

Interviews with Famous People I Never Meant (2010)
A humorous collection of eight faux interviews. Interviews
include:
Rick Warren
eHarmony founder Neil Clark Warren
Michael Moore
Dan Brown
Mark Twain
Mickey Mouse
Pat Robertson
The Christian Porn star

The First Cyber Death Extravaganza! A Mock Passion Play (2010)
Tobit Fortran wants to be the first person to die live on the Inter-
net. He’s marketed his story, got sponsors, arranged for his body
parts to be sold upon his death. It’s all set and it should be easy for
Tobit. All he has to do is die. But, Tobit learns, things don’t always
go as they’re planned.
With less than two weeks before his scheduled Internet death,
Tobit still has not found a new husband for his wife, several



                                                                   184
sponsors have backed out of their contracts (including a beer com-
pany, who feels Tobit’s death will associate their beer with death),
and he’s come to the realization that death is final. And this is just
for starters!
Soon Tobit is visited by his fairy muse, who tells Tobit that he is a
god. With only days until his death, Tobit begins an epic journey
to discover why his death is so important. Along his journey of
discovery, Tobit travels through hell and finds the wonderful af-
terlife that awaits him.
The First Cyber Death Extravaganza! is an Internet mythology that
is filled with a rush of pop culture illusions, and ultimately the
kind of social satire that’s howl of rage effectively moralizes in its
ironic tone what the world is becoming.
The book was finished ten years ago by Scott Douglas
(McSweeney's Internet Tendencies contributor, and the author of
"Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian"); though the
characters are sometimes dated, the idea is as relevant today as it
ever was. It's guaranteed to be one of the weirdest things you ever
read!

Christian Obscenity: Essays, Stories, and Other Potentially
Damning Ramblings (2010)
Self proclaimed "Christian Humorist," Scott Douglas, compiles up
the best of several years of original humor into one hilarious col-
lection. Included in this collection are classic faux interviews with
a Christian porn star, Rick Warren, and Dan Brown, among others.




                                                                  185
www.feedbooks.com
 Food for the mind




                     186

				
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