Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Sketch in My Notebook: Nathan Bedford Stuart, USMC

My buddy and I started working on a new story last week.  We started from a mutual friend's Facebook post about how there aren't a lot of dystopian fantasies involving a world in true chaos.  Instead, said our friend, it's much more common to see dystopian worlds where Big Government rules, quashing all independent thought and liberty.  We see a lot more stories in the vein of Fahrenheit 451 or 1984 than we do Mad Max.

This led to last week's post, 24 Causes of the End of the World, which was the result of a day's brainstorming on potential high concepts for this new would-be story about a world in chaos.

My first cut at the story was a sort of world-gone-mad with super-science and sorcery.  I'd thought of it as Ralph Peters's The War in 2020 meets Thundarr the Barbarian.  Peters is a retired Military Intelligence officer whose work used to appear in the Cadet Bookstore back when I was at the Academy, and The War in 2020 remains one of my favorite military fiction stories.  It blends the tropes of military life with some very interesting science fiction elements and the politics of failed state interventions in ways that really appealed to me back in day.

In proposing the new story, I said to my friend, "Imagine a world where you can fly an Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, but it requires a magic spell to protect the electronics from whatever latent radiation is hanging around in the atmosphere.  That's the idea."  

My buddy thought that was okay, but he wasn't thrilled with it.  He was looking for a slightly more realistic concept, and I think he was concerned that the protagonist would come across as a guy whose outlook on life was totally foreign to most readers.  And after a bit of back and forth, we decided to go another way with it.  
I confess that I am a little disappointed.  The concept we decided to use is both stronger and more relatable all the way around, but the original idea was utterly mad, and that appealed to me all on its own.  It would have been fun to write.

Anyway, this bit is the unused intro/character sketch I wrote for "Nathan Bedford Stuart, USMC."

Major Nathan Bedford Stuart, Osprey pilot, USMC.  VMI class of 2015.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking.  USMC?  Like, United States Marine Corps?  As in, America and all that?  The Land of the Free?  The Lost Cause?  You’re thinking, “Good lord, grandpa, you gonna start tearing up on me here?  Talkin’ about how we used to have somethin’, and we could’a had it still if a few more of you assholes had bothered to give a shit?”
No, I’m not.  I promise.  
But, you know, we did have something.  And we probably could still have it if more of you fuckers had given two shits about your country and society and every other goddamned thing besides your own fucking basic needs and your desire to sit around smoking freakin’ pot every goddamned day.  I don’t know what it is about all you lousy kids, anyway, or what the fuck people were thinking way back when, that they didn’t have to serve, that it didn’t have to be them, that somebody else would fucking do it if they just sat back on their fucking asses long enough to force the issue.  The Man would fix it.  The government.  Everybody wanted money, but nobody wanted to work for it.  Everybody wanted security, but nobody wanted to put on a uniform.  Like all of you fuckers had something better to do with your time, I’m sure.  Playing Xbox or some shit.  Because that’s what matters.  And I’m not even talking about when things got bad.  I’m talking about before.  Back when there was a country.  Back when America used to mean…
Shit.  There I go again.
Eh.  What can you do?
I should’ve got out way back when.  I know it.  There were signs, you know?  My wife and I talked about it back then.  Back when I had a wife.  I could’ve DX’ed[1] the uniform and taken her and the kids up to Maine or maybe Canada or something.  It was pretty obvious, even back then, that things were about to get bad.  That nobody gave a shit, and we might do better in a climate where there were a few less people, and we could maybe grab some space of our own and hope to grow potatoes and some winter wheat and whatever folks are raising in greenhouses these days.  They got a lot hydroelectric power up in that part of the world.  Worst comes to worst, it seemed like a decent place to be.
But like I said, what can you do?  America was still a thing, you know?  It was still a going concern.  And… well, dammit, it’s more than just that.  
I remember the first time I ever saw an Osprey.  I was with my dad.  I was five years old.  He had this old poster in his office with a Marine on it, naturally.  Guy was wearing white camouflage, climbing up the side of a mountain—I would learn later that it was supposed to be Norway—and there were a bunch of weird looking helicopter planes flying above him in the background.  Coolest thing I’d ever seen.  I asked my dad what they were, and he told me Ospreys.  
“Why do we need Ospreys?” I asked.
Dad gave me this look like I was stupidest motherfucker he’d ever met.  “So we can execute Vertical Envelopment Doctrine, obviously.  Why do you think, son?”
Even at five, I was smart enough to know better than to ask what Vertical Envelopment Doctrine was.  Do you know, it was another fifteen fucking years before I learned what the Hell my father was talking about that day.  But being a future Marine, and the son of a Marine, and the son of a Marine’s son, I was expected to know that shit from the cradle.  That’s just how it was.
That kind of education sticks, you know?  It comes with expectations.  In my experience, it’s hard to walk away from expectations like that.
So Susy and I never gave it up.  We stuck around, even as the seas rose, and the budgets got smaller, and slowly but surely, America started pulling in on itself.  We kept hoping and kept believing and kept trying to make the world a better place.  How the Hell were we supposed to know what was coming?  That the things we ate were about to start eating us instead?

[1] Direct exchange, meaning to turn one thing in to the quartermaster and draw a replacement item in its place.

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