[Postwar Detroit's story could be that of almost any major city in America. Its skyline is a tangle of ruined and toppled office buildings, but its suburbs and industry hum with renewed life. If you squint you can even make out tiny dots moving over the fallen carcasses of the skyscrapers; thousands of scavengers picking the buildings clean. When C came to town and the city fell to the Blue Wave, it grew again from the rubble as one of Cobra's fascist engines of production. Enslaved workers toiled mindlessly in the new factories and HISS tanks rolled off assembly lines, their black and red paint still wet to the touch by the time their twin laser cannons began firing.
Dashiell Faireborn has made this city his home and spends most of his time in Victory Park. He greets me from the dappled shade of a Poplar tree. He grips a paper bag in his crude prosthetic hand and uses the real flesh and blood to pick out handfuls of popcorn. The pigeons gather around. His wheelchair creaks as he shifts his weight. This famous hero has been brought low and he is almost unrecognizable. His eyes are hollow and his cheeks are sunken. He smells of cheap gin, poor hygiene and cigarette smoke. His voice is the same as I remember, but his words are interrupted by coughing fits.]
It wasn't like we'd never fought 'em before. I…
[He trails off and smiles sadly.]
You've got to understand, that damn brushfire war took a lot out of us. We were driving around in up-armored VAMPs for years mopping up IEDs left for the Army pukes. GI Joe isn't a goddamn police force. Morale was shit, our budget was shot…we were obsolete. And Cobra, I mean they tried some things here and there during that time period, but they seemed like no big deal. You remember Malta?
The sleeping gas incident?
There was more to it than that, but yeah. They tried to win an election in Malta by making everyone fall asleep. That disguise woman of theirs was dolled up as one of the candidates. Come election day, everyone is unconscious because of this sleeping gas and they've got like fifty naturalized agents who vote her into office as a Trojan Horse. Then she tears off the rubber mask, hails Cobra, and Rattlers start flying out of that Cobra-headed Roman ruin that appeared overnight.
It took us six hours to wipe out their military and reinstall the government. They must have lost fifty aircraft and twice as many tanks. We lost a few planes and had no KIA. I mean, how can something like that really grab headlines when you've got 20 guys buying it every day in the desert? No one cared about us anymore. The guys holding our purse strings got complacent about Cobra and we let our guard down.
The first case I heard about, I think it was Miami. Weird cylinders falling out of the sky beneath parachutes. People turning on each other. It happened so suddenly and there was so little information. They had those damn trucks they were building in China, just drove right off of freighters from the ports and fanned out. By the time we knew what they were doing they had spread all along the Eastern Seaboard.
Jaye always used to say that we could go in after them naked and they'd start bailing out of planes and flying away in those escape bubble things of theirs. She was…I lost her in…that first big fight.
The Real American Hero City?
Yeah. The Great Panic had hit and no amount of Half the Battles on the Emergency Broadcast System was going to turn things around. The brass wanted a big battle to calm fears and show America that we were just starting to fight back. They wanted a stand up fight. These were guys who spent their nard-drop years behind the stick of a Skystriker dropping Sidewinders into FANG copters that just sat there and took it. These guys were used to a Cobra that ran at the first sign of trouble.
They picked Yonkers, sent us in force to dig in and wait for their attack. Didn't have to wait long. They sent those fucking Mindbender trucks out first with their sound waves. Most of us had listened at the briefing and were buttoned up in tanks or wearing our ear protection, but every few guys you'd get one, he'd just lose it. Start walking out towards the trucks. What can you do? The orders were clear about that. One in the head before he gets the uniform and becomes one of them. I had to…Gung Ho…
[He stares up at the clouds and blinks back the tears glistening in his eyes.]
I don't know what he was thinking. He knew better. I was sitting in the turret of my Mauler and he pops out of the driver's hatch, climbs down the front of the tank and starts walking. I yelled his name twice, I think. Maybe three times. Then…what can you do? 50 cal will do a terrible thing to a man.
Didn't have much time to dwell on it, the shooting started right after that. All of Manhattan. Those they hadn't killed or turned into slave labor were coming for us, just those cheap blue uniforms and their laser rifles. No fear, no pain. Cobra never trained brilliant marksmen and these folks had no training at all. They just fired wildly on full auto. You don't need to aim when you've got more than a million guns. Skystrikers were dropping JDAMS, cluster bombs, even napalm. Everything we had. I ran us out of HE in the first twenty minutes. The 40 mike-mikes were hitting harder and the Super Cobras - no, the helicopters - did a good job with their chain guns.
It wasn't enough. Not even close. The interstate was carpeted with blue and the drainage ditches were overflowing with blood and still they were coming. I had about enough time to wonder how much ammo we had left and then they were on top of us. Some of them had bayonets, some used their rifle butts, most of them just dropped their guns and went at us with bare hands.
They were animals. You would see the face of a housewife, maybe a little kid, and for a second you'd hesitate and in that second they'd drag you down and tear you apart. I saw that happen a lot. Guys with a heart thinking…I don't know…not thinking, I guess. Pause and you were dead. That was how they got to Jaye. Little black girl, maybe eleven, hair in cornrows underneath that blue helmet. Jaye just saw her and made this little yelping sound, let the girl drag her down. She was screaming so I put a grenade into them. I hope it killed Jaye flat out. She deserved better.
I wasn't fallin' for it though, man. Not me. Not me. They came at me and I put rounds into them until they were right in my face. Then it was knives and guts and screaming. They were biting, clawing, stabbing, hitting me with everything they had. I was unstoppable. Finally, the weight of them was going to get me. Just pure…just pressing down until I couldn't breathe. Hands grabbed me and pulled me over and I knew I was done.
[He prolongs the moment, enjoying the suspense despite the emotional trauma he suffered.]
It was Snake Eyes. Blowtorch had cleared a way in for him and he was dragging everyone he could find out of there. I was only halfway conscious, but the way he just casually took the heads off those people…I'm glad he was on our side. If he wasn't that day might have been the end of everything. It nearly was, but I knew I'd be back to the Real American Hero City.
Are you concerned that you may be a character trapped in a Tom Waits song? Be smart and learn the warning signs before it's too late. Also, it's too late. It has always been too late.
I'm haunted by a recurring vision of a skeleton flipping me off. To avoid seeing this terrifying image in bumper sticker form, I pay someone with a blank bumper to drive in front of me at all times.
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