The Desert Moon

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Well, hello again.

This week’s bit of drivel is taken from a novella that I’m working on.  I was surprised that this section of the piece  stands on its own (at least in my opinion) and that it was under a thousand words.  I think I’m on the home stretch as far as finishing the first draft.  With any luck and an intricate web of blackmail and bribes, I may get the whole thing published one day.

This week’s #FridayFlash, “The Desert Moon”

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Powered By: J.M. STROTHER!

Powered by J.M. Stother!

THE DESERT MOON

Sergeant Burton made some hand signals in the darkness that were unintelligible to the untrained eye.  His soldiers saw and nodded.  He gave the signal to go and two soldiers went past him around the corner.  He came next, followed by the rest of his squad.  They shuffled silently down the street, keeping close to the building on their right.  They reached a wooden door and the two in front of Burton posted up on either side of it.  A soldier behind Burton squared himself up with the door and kicked it in where the knob met the jamb.  Burton shuffled into the darkness.

Burton went through and felt his feet give way to sand.  His rifle came in contact with some kind of sheet and he pushed through it.  On the other side, he met a massive expanse of desert.  It didn’t immediately register in his mind that there was no massive expanse of desert in a Baghdad slum, but he pushed forward anyway.  He looked frantically to his left and right for his target.  Seeing nothing but desert, he turned back to where he came from and saw nothing but sand and the night sky.  He was alone in the middle of a desert with nothing but dunes for company.

“What the—”

Burton pointed his weapon around him, kicking up small clouds of fine powdery sand as he went.  He slowly lowered his weapon but continued twirling.

“What the fuck, over?”

He pulled the chinstrap of his Kevlar off and let the helmet hit the desert floor.  He spun a few more times, slowing eventually before looking up at the moon, which gave everything a light blue glow.  Meaningless time passed in which all that seemed to matter was the moon.  He stood transfixed, basking in its light, distantly aware of the M-16 that he still held by its pistol grip.

“Hell of a moon,” a voice said from behind him.

Williams turned, bringing his weapon up to the place where muscle memory told him it should be.  He fired four shots at the voice in rapid succession.  Four small spouts of sand kicked up behind the man sitting on the dune.  The man seemed unmoved by the shots as he sat placidly gazing up at the moon.  He was wearing flip-flops, khaki cargo shorts and a white button-up shirt that was three buttons short of being buttoned.  He sat with his forearms holding his knees and what little hair he had was spiked.  He looked like a college kid on his way to a beach party.

“Identify yourself,” Burton said and slowly approached.

The man on the dune broke his gaze and looked at Burton, laughing a little.  “You know, I always imagined you saying something like that to me, Sergeant, but I never thought I’d hear it.”

“Identify yourself!”

“No need, sarge.  You know who I am.”

After a moment, Burton lowered his weapon slowly and stared.  “Brown?”

“Well, that’s half right, but I’ll give you points for trying.”

“It’s…Sam, isn’t it?  Sam Brown?”

“DING DING DING!” Sam said, ringing an imaginary bell.  “You have answered this question correctly, Staff Sergeant Burton.  Now, do you want to keep the money or risk it all for our grand prize?”  Sam began laughing a careless laugh that only the young and obscenely rich can pull off.

“What do you…what are you doing here?  What do you want?” Burton said getting closer and having serious problems comprehending things.

“Wait!” Sam said, holding up his hand.  “Wait right there.  Don’t move.”  Sam reached behind him and brought forth a professional looking camera.  Sam held it up to his face for a moment and Burton heard the shutter of a lens.  “Ahh, that’ll be a good one.  Got you and the moon in the same shot.  Thanks for that, big saw!”

Sam put the camera down on the sand and stood up.  He walked to Burton and said, “What I want, Sergeant Burton, is very simple.”  Sam put both hands on Burton’s shoulders.

“I just want you to make it count.”

Sam pushed Burton backwards, catching him off guard.  He fell and did not hit the sand.  The blue aura of the moon was extinguished and he tumbled into pitch blackness.

“Sam!  Your name’s Sam!” Burton said, sitting up on his cot.

His tent was lightless, save a few LED’s indicating that an electronic gizmo of some kind was charging in the night.

“Sergeant,” said the voice of Specialist Garcia.  “It’s alright.  We’ve all been having dreams about Sam.”

“You have?” Burton said in the general direction of Garcia’s voice.

“Yeah.  I was in the humvee with him when it happened,” the voice of Garcia said again.  “It’s best not to think about, I guess.”

This advice helped Burton sleep no better.

when the magic fades

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I work on electronics for a living, but, trust me, that’s not as exciting as it may sound.

Wait, who am I kidding?  That’s not exciting at all!

Well, that’s not exciting unless, say, your computer breaks down and you live within driving distance of me and decide to invite me over for a few “beers” (which are promptly followed with the obligatory “Oh, while you’re here…”).  My expertise in electronics probably isn’t of much interest to you unless, for instance, your TV stops working one day and you  decide to invite me over for a steak dinner and, “Shucks, I’d put a DVD on but the damn TV stopped working the other day.  I just don’t know what to do with it.  I don’t suppose you could, I don’t know, maybe…”

Maybe it’s your cell phone, maybe it’s your iPod, maybe it’s your remote control.  For whichever malfunctioning appliance it may be, my skills have been tapped by family members, friends and strangers alike.  But the one thing people have never asked me to take a look at is the one thing that I actually received training on: the inner works of an AM/FM radio.

For those of you that don’t know, electricity is a strange, strange thing.  In some ways, electricity in a circuit acts like water flowing through pipes; in other ways though, it absolutely doesn’t.  Learning electric theory was one of the more interesting things I’ve come across.  The downside, of course, is that it is incredibly flavorless and cut-and-dry.

At first I totally didn’t understand any of it and the books might as well have been in Sanskrit.  One day, I just kind of “got it” and it was like opening flood gates in my mind.  I thoroughly understood it all.  I could tell you the ins and outs of Ohm’s Law.  I could understand the difference between logarithmic power measurement and linear power measurement and why they were important.  I could eventually look at the arcane symbols and drawings on schematics and know pretty much know where a signal went.  It all suddenly became so simple.

We did some fairly interesting things in the school house, which is how training centers are lovingly referred to in the military.  In our Basic Microwave Theory class, we transmitted a signal through the air from one side of the classroom to the other.  The transmitter was connected to a VCR and the receiver was connected to a projector.  If we set everything up just right, applying what we knew about electronics up to this point, our reward was watching the movie The Godfather through the equipment we had just tinkered with.  In our Multi-Level Soldering class, we learned about the process of gold-plating and how that increases conductivity in certain types of connectors.  In that class we got to bring in a personal item and gold-plate it.  But before any of this though, we troubleshot an AM radio.

This wasn’t store-bought radio mind you, it was one that was designed for training purposes.  It was divided into three separate circuit boards that were plugged into a training module (more or less the dimensions of a desktop computer laying on its side).  The instructor would program a code into the module and the module would then simulate a fault in the radio at some point.  Our job was to find the fault.  If we managed to find the problem and adjust the radio accordingly, we’d hear “California Dreamin'” or whatever happened to be playing on the AM radio station it was set to at the time.  I passed the exam (which admittedly wasn’t that hard, not too many folks failed) and realised that I was on my way to having an intimate and applicable knowledge of electronics.

I was always one to take things apart when I was a kid, things that were usually electronic in nature and very, very expensive.  I mean really, how does a Nintendo do what it does?  How is it that I can take a game cartridge, stick it in the game slot, turn it on and have this little plastic box interpret my button pushing into something as cool as a little guy jumping around, flinging fireballs at hapless but somehow lethal turtles?  Out comes the screwdriver, lets see what’s REALLY going on in there.

I didn’t know what I expected to find inside, certainly not actual little men mimicking my every move (I was 10, not retarded).  My nose was overpowered with the burnt silicon smell of electronics emanating from a green circuit board packed with all sorts of strange and totally unfamiliar components.  Tiny hot-dog shaped resistors fed into something resembling a miniature grain silo, which fed into a silver line that managed to completely avoid everything along its path except for its destination component.  These silver lines covered the board and all seemed to be interested in a large black processor chip that, I supposed, was like the capitol city of this tiny electric territory.  “Wow.  Cool…”  The underside of the board was fairly mundane. It was covered in a multitude of perfect tear drop shaped metal splatters, anchoring the components to the board.  After I’d had enough investigation, I put it all back together, somewhat unsuccessfully.  My parents, understandably, were not fans of my curiosity in this regard.

Armed with my new knowledge of radios and a deep understanding of how they work, I tackled my own alarm clock radio.  I remember taking on the same sort of careful and calculating movements that brain surgeons adopt when practicing their craft.  I carefully examined each screw hole and placed the screws deliberately and carefully to the side.  I felt the case start to give and I peered into the radio the same way that I did that Nintendo nearly a decade prior.  I saw it all and could identify every section and what each part did.  This was different than the game system that I had hacked into before, this was something that I firmly and totally understood.  Something unexpected happened after that.  I felt, for lack of a better way to put it, sad.  It was like realizing for the first time that that man that supposedly flies through the air in a sleigh, donning a bright red suit and a weight problem, might not be as real as you once suspected.  I put the radio back together and decided to let some things remain a little mysterious.  Understanding isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

This day I learned an important lesson.

Things that people experience every day that they don’t fully understand are essentially magic.  Once people understand these things, the ignorance leaves them, as well as the magic.