Old Ventures 2, One

Note: I’ve had a rough few weeks. I feel like I’m still in the middle of them. And Old Ventures 2 has been my white whale. I started it fairly early into the Trump Presidency, and the weight of it crushed me. Jack’s struggles, with depression, with dealing with a world even more heartless than you thought… even now, just thinking about that hopelessness weighs on my heart. Maybe that’s because we’re not past it yet. We’re in a fragile moment, with fascist barbarians still at the gate, and Democrats as an imperfect group of champions. But to get through this, we have to move forward- I have to move forward. It’s going to get bumpy, that much I can guarantee- but with even a little luck we’ll all get to the other side (to be clear, the operative this is just the story- I don’t pretend to know where this republic of ours is headed). Updates should be coming Mondays, unless I change my mind about that.

Chapter One, Rowher, Arkansas, 9/28/42

Jack was full of nervous energy. His boot camp had lasted only a week. His instructors had to take him in shifts, because even shouting commands from the back of a Jeep they couldn’t keep up with him for long. But he knew he wasn’t a soldier. The discipline, the camaraderie, all of the things that the U.S. Army did to break a man down and remake him as a G.I. Joe they skirted. He was a show soldier, only, good enough to keep the real soldiers from smelling the fakeness and nothing more.

Jack didn’t feel good about it; these other boys were risking life and limb for the good of the world, and it seemed the least they could have done to be honest with them. He could still hear Colonel Millen barking his mantra in reply, “An Army lives and dies on morale.” Jack had heard it differently, that an Army survived on its stomach, and said so. “Oh, an Army won’t even show up to the fight if you don’t feed them. But they won’t even make it to the mess tent if they lose hope. That’s why we aren’t letting you anywhere near the front line, son. You’re hope, made flesh, with ‘Made with pride in the U.S.A.’ stamped on you like a rack of Grade A beef. But unlike beef, you become useless if somebody puts a bullet through your skull.”

Today was supposed to be a dry run, boys who hadn’t even left the continent, yet, let alone seen any combat. But Jack had seen enough of them around the base to know that they were boys, skinny, naïve kids who didn’t know the dangers they were rushing towards- and had never been given a choice in the matter. Not that Jack was much older, or wiser, but he also wasn’t rushing into a hail of Nazi bullets.

Idly, Jack’s hand dragged at the chain link fence to his left as he walked. When his fingers grazed flesh, he recoiled; he’d learned that much in training, that what the vaccine did to him made him a bull loosed in the China shop that was the rest of humanity. If he wasn’t careful, he could break people without trying.

The finger he brushed against belonged to a little boy on the other side of the chain link. Jack frowned, not realizing what the fence was, or who the boy, or his family, were. A sign bolted to the fence declared it a Japanese camp, meant to concentrate citizens descended from that island nation. The U.S. was petrified at the idea that Japanese Americans might divide their loyalties, acting as sappers and saboteurs.

The boy’s parents looked just as scared, huddled together behind their son, and Jack was taken aback when he realized they were scared of him. He was, after all, dressed as an American Captain, even if he didn’t feel he had properly earned the rank.

He knelt down, and touched the boy’s hands again, through the fence, this time on purpose. The boy was scared, too, but within that fear were questions, as well. Why us? What have we done? How could we scare you so much that you could do this to us?

The boy tilted his head, uncertain how to react to the gentility of a soldier. “What’s your name?” Jack asked. They boy’s eyebrows shot up, and he pursed his lips.

“George,” his mother said, taking a step towards them.

“George,” Jack said, and beamed at him. “That’s a good name. I had an uncle named George, who fought in the Great War. A Japanese soldier named Shiro saved his life; if he hadn’t been there, my uncle would have died in a trench in France.”

Jack could feel the other eyes on him, even before he knew they were no longer alone and took in a breath, and held it. A handful of new recruits, on their way to the show, had stopped, and were watching. He kept his eyes on the Japanese family, who he had known for less than a minute. He knew these people were not his enemy. But his first day on the job, he couldn’t go against the President- an Army, after all, succeeded on its morale- no matter how much it rankled him.

“We’re going to wrap up this war as quick as we can,” Jack said, “get you out from behind this fence.”

One of the soldiers behind him snickered. “Nip-lover,” he mumbled. Jack turned on his heels with a speed that surprised even him. The soldier spit out a mouthful of chew. “They belong in cages,” he snarled defiantly. Jack grabbed him by the ear and twisted him around, until he was kneeling, with his head at an awkward angle, so low to the ground he was looking up at the boy. “That’s an American family, private,” Jack said, anger rumbling in his chest, “and you will show them their due respect.”

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