The Victory Lap
Mark Lax 2011
(Previously published)
Don't the flood waters smell sweet? The sky is a nicer shade of slate. Leaders say that the wisps wafting
up from the craters are the fingers of Providence waving its affirmation of the cause. It is proof: that those
who chose to oppose, choose to lose. To the vanquished it is incumbent upon to recast themselves in the
image of the victor. Which shouldn't be too hard, given how melted everything is, from the glass to the
bricks to the metal. This used to be someone's neighborhood.

This is the way this neighborhood should look. It is the way all neighborhoods of the enemy do look.
Expectations have met the idea; implemented even so remotely as the practice was, from high orbit with
the flick of a switch. The idea, however, did not encompass this stench. Nor did it include the sudden brittle
aspect vegetation assumes after having been exposed to a microburst of near solar quality heat.

What a face Sweet Progress has painted! The expression upon it, other than to convey the shock of
immediate and irrevocable change--the essence of Progress itself--remains unclear. Flailing shadows
once briefly cast in the midst of the flash have etched themselves across the newly slumping structures,
like mascara shot from a firehose. It was a housing complex, a congregation of jutting private units
connected by common walls. All civilized industrial cultures have them. Remaining in a vague sense is the
same shape, yet put in a blender and then frozen and then covered in cheese. The scene might sneer or
smile.

Punctuating this mix-mastered, flash freeze product of the overmind, is the victor. Victory is a result of all
who had hands in it. Each hand is the hand of the victor. This has been said enough to be true.
Separating any aspect from the collection known as 'victor' is asinine. Indulge this imbecile act, since all
that has manifested upon our scene is a singular sole representation of the whole.

Only his shadow moves at will.

He appears here in uniform. Suitably appropriate. His mirrored blast shield reflects all you have seen.
What goes on inside his helmet is his business.

The helmet is gold, as are the long cuffed gloves and cuffed hip boots he wears. The rest of him is blue
shingles, hyphenated with multicolored studs. If you knew what you were looking at, by a look you could tell
what he is. A line of stripes down his left arm denotes the number of arbitrary units of time he has served,
in his case twelve. But he has no rank. Those studs are blank. Instead of rank, upon his right shoulder is
displayed his function: personal pressurized fluid systems engineer. Imagine a plunger in his hands.

We have here an utter conscript. He does his duty, such as it is. His actual contribution to the grand cause
is, by edict, impossible to quantify--Somewhere along the line he may have somehow comforted the butt
which was part of the body whose wrist flicked the switch.

Service is its own reward. And the only reward offered him. He does what he does well, because he's going
to do it anyway.  The overmind has, theoretically at least, replaced everything he once might have loved.
Like many in his cast, he has slouched into the habit of performing a common form of sedition: he is a
master at losing paper work, of not reporting things. Specifically, he has come to excel at removing clusters
of feminine hygiene product applicators from tubing, and then saying nothing about it--Even though female
crew members have been vehemently and repeatedly warned that flushing these things down the toilet is a
big time bozo no no. He is a junkie for their gratitude. And also technically a traitor. The overmind splits no
hairs.

Despite his transgressions, absolute capital sins, which the overmind must know of, because the overmind
knows all,  the overmind used its 'happy/rewarding' inflection when it ordered him here. A man of this ilk is
seldom affirmed with the 'happy/rewarding' inflection. Come to think of it, the overmind did deploy its
'pleased/rewarding' inflection when it ordered this place blasted to cinders. Odd things make the overmind
happy.

The order to come here had a specific inflection, but rather nebulous wording. Specifically, the overmind
ordered: "None of this will be recorded. You are going on The Victory Lap. Select a shuttle and fly it down
to the surface. Land where you choose. Not all of the people were killed in the blast. Their women are
biologically desirable. You will not be tracked in any way. None of this will be recorded."

He is more mystified by the implications of this than you are. There is a chance he could understand the
implications if his conditioning would let him. He is still trying to decipher how this is an order. It is a span
distinct from the usual rote of "Proceed to honeycomb housing (number). Remove (number) section from
(number) pipe, using (number) circumference (tool). Unclog section. Sterilize section. Replace section.
Perform test. Repeat procedure if test should fail. Initiate procedure--NOW!"

All it seems that he has been ordered to do is fly any shuttle down to anywhere on the surface. Which he
has done. His biggest concern is whether or not he has brought enough tools.

He has most of his tools. Since the first step from the shuttle our tool of the overmind  has been seeking
his duty.  Adventures in plumbing, perhaps?  The problem here is in the overwhelming amount of disorder
present. Duty requires purpose, and purpose, meaning. Reflected in his blast shield is pure degenerate
art. The scenery, having shed its shape, has lost its function. Nothing here has any context.

Helping him sort reason from chaos is a phenomena which occurred during the onset of his quest. It
started as a fall of debris, and then rapid footfalls, and then a shriek and then echoes. His shadow stalked
its source. The darkness cast from his form encircles an oval of haphazard stones on the dirt. Inside the
oval are spent smoldering timbers. And just beyond is a gap in the wall of what once was a townhouse unit.
It may have been a doorway or a window or a gouge created by the blast. It is a fanged orifice. What's
inside, there isn't enough shade to hide.

He advances upon the hole in the wall casually straddling the camp fire site. The figure inside the
townhouse room sloshes to recoil. She speaks. "Please..."

He was instructed that 'their women' are desirable. This is not a 'their woman'. This is an 'our woman'.

There is nothing civil about a civil war, especially after it drags on for a while. The distinction--a thing one
should believe in--is in the soul: we have them, they don't. This guy never asked about distinctions.

He was too busy plumbing.

She sees her own reflection in his blast shield and smiles. It's the first friendly thing she's seen.  The
woman bolts forward, cutting a swath through the knee-high pool of liquid black which inflicts what used to
be her living room. And this used to be her home. When she first began to flee him, this was the only place
of safety that leapt to mind. But it's a memory, a hallucination. Ignoring the rest of him, she insanely
addresses her reflection  "You have to help me... My daughter... My daughter! She's behind that wall..."

That 'daughter' has been behind the melted wall for an unreasonable time. And 'that daughter' hasn't
issued a peep in response to all the pounding and pleading that's been done to the wall which Hope says
she is still behind. This isn't about being reasonable. Her focus remains transfixed upon the reflection of
her visage on his helm's face.

He's come thousands of miles, only to be confronted with the same old, same old: It's a woman in a puddle
with a problem. Reflex draws him into the pool with her. He wades past her, approaches the melted interior
wall that she gestured at. Soon he has his back to her. Rationally, this is the place to make a break for it.
Or to launch an attack. Irrationally, once she loses sight of herself in the blast shield, her eyes track to the
image of herself which is riding the wake of his passage through the water; as if her reflection had slid
down his back. She's been talking to herself a lot. Lately, she's been all there was.

He's thinking about what tool to use.  It isn't a question of having the right tool, but rather, which tool is the
most right. She won't look at him. The implications are too wretched to consider.  A dull, shuddering noise
later forces her view to him.

The wall is gone. Cradled in his arms is a pale, rigid, small bundle. He hands 'that daughter' back into her
arms. The child is cold and stiff.  It's obvious what happened. He points at the fanged maw of this watery
crypt and wades out. Is this an order or a suggestion? Nothing matters anymore. She follows him out.

They clear the door. He snatches the tiny cadaver from her arms, lays it out flat on the ground. A needle
which he produces is then plunged into the girl's cheek. He places a humming black box upon 'that
daughter's' chest.

And then... nothing.

"Haven't you people done enough You're mutilating my daughter's corpse!" She drops to the ground and
sweeps the girl into her arms.

She does not notice the body in her arms go limp. When next she looks down, her daughter's eyes are not
merely open, but blinking. From the girl's lips comes "Mommy?"

The overmind has such wonderful tools.

First comes the wonderment, and then the gratitude. He doses on it. We need people like this. We find
them and we make them. The only behavioral control we have been able to consistently implement, is in
how much of a good thing the guy can endure. His window opens and closes, quickly.  Having nearly
immediately had enough,  he turns his back on her and stomps away.  Off to more adventures in plumbing,
perhaps?

With an utterance, she breaks his conditioning, resets the process. "My daughter!" It's a shout of pure joy,
but it is a shout.

"Mommy?"

"Yes?"

"Mommy, I'm hungry..."

"My daughter! My daughter's hungry..."

He's already stopped moving by the time she turns to him. She approaches tentatively. The uniform and
what it means is impossible to ignore. How do you phrase it?--More mercy, please? Again, this isn't about
being reasonable.