"A Journey to the Center of the Earth Story"
By John Pirillo
"Yeah. Yeah. I know. The Journey of a Thousand Miles." Miles complained to the President. "But realistically, we've easily gone that far already, Mister President."
"Call me, Jim."
"Mister President. We have very little down here now to remind us of the Upper World, let's keep this little bit, shall we?"
"Very well, but after..."
Miles nodded, but as he looked away from the man who was growing to be a close friend, he didn't want to let him see the skepticism in his eyes and on his face. They were getting too good at reading each other.
"Still." The President persisted.
Miles saluted. "Mister President, I see my attention is needed up front if you don't..."
"At ease, General, go ahead. Do your job. I'll do mine, which is absolutely nothing."
Miles started to reprimand the President, but when several of his men looked over, shocked by the admission, instead he said. "Your job is never just nothing. You are the United States to us, the world. We need that symbol now more than ever."
The President wavered for a moment, and then also becoming aware of the attention on him, he nodded and gave a reluctant smile. "Of course. You're right. Go do your duty, while I stay here..." With a touch of irony. "...And do mine."
Miles saluted again and headed for the front of the marching men.
"Don't blame him."
The President turned around and gave Smirgey a weak smile. "I blame me."
"That'll get you nowhere. I should know. I've practiced that philosophy for years. Look what that got me?" Gestures around him.
The President grins. "You're a real ape shit, you know that?"
"Yeah. It happens."
They dropped back further behind the marching column, both of them noting the haggard look in the Special Forces faces.
"Really eats your heart out, don't it?"
"And everything else as well.
Smirgey puts a hand on the President's shoulder. "Big men are made by God to shoulder larger loads. Don't ever forget that."
Smirgey starts to drop back further.
"So you're abandoning me too?" The President asks.
"Nope. Just got to wee, is all?"
They both laugh and Smirgey falls back further and further.
Dirk steps beside the President. "Got some protein if you're hungry, sir?"
The President eyes him uncertainly. "What...?
"You don't want to know."
The President nods. "I most certainly do not. I'll pass. I need to lose weight anyway."
"Your call, Sir."
The President watches Dirk move up the line, offering the protein to the men as he passes. Miles returns, notes Dirk, gives him a nod, then joins the President. "Men like him make this work."
"Yeah. If we could only figure out what the hell work we're doing?"
Miles laughs. "Sir, you'd make a good grunt, but don't ever let any of the men hear you say that, because that's exactly what they're thinking this very moment."
"I'll remember that."
They both walked along in silence for a time, and then the President spoke. "Do you think any of this makes a difference now? The bomb no longer works. We have very little ammunition left."
"As long as we got brains and will, it's not over."
"But the Dark Matter..."
"I don't know why, Jim, but something tells me all that matters is our attitude, not the cause of the Big One, nor our goal of dismantling it from ever happening again. This whole journey from the beginning feels fixed somehow."
The President stopped and looked into Miles face. "Rigged?"
"Yeah. Rigged. When I was still a private..."
"Hard to imagine you ever being that."
"Now maybe, but I was, just like many of these grunts that are following us now. Back then I used to play a lot of card games."
"You were a gambler?"
"Aren't all soldiers?"
"Yeah. You get it, don't you?"
"And what happened?"
"When I gambled?"
Miles looked away and began walking forward again, nodding to the men he passed as he and the President moved ahead.
"There was this jerk named Mahoney. A real cop out of life and living. He made his money by setting up dumb clucks like me."
"Hard to imagine you ever being dumb."
"Maybe naive better explains it. But no matter, I was stupid to his tricks, until one day after about nine months of losing to him, even when I had mastered every angle of the game. Even after seeing how he was manipulating the others, I still couldn't get it."
"Then how did you...get it?"
"He was drinking a bit more heavily than usual...his gal back south had abandoned him for one of his pals."
"Tough on a guy."
"Yeah. But you won't find me shedding any tears for that jerk."
During one of his hands as he was dealing, he lost consciousness and spilled over onto the card table, spilling everything to the floor. As it tumbled, his coat opened up and I could see this device strapped to his chest, loaded with cards."
"Winning cards I suspect."
"For him that night. Losing. The guys didn't take it as well as me. They beat the crap out of him."
"I grew up"
The President was about to comment, when the sound of weapons came from ahead. In moments the narrow corridor of rock and eerily glowing moss exploded with the movement of gigantic Insectoids. Intelligent beings that had evolved from insects.
Miles and the President prepared for battle. Neither was excited, or frightened anymore. It had become part of the drudgery of the incursion into the planet Earth. Neither one knew how deep they were anymore, only that their lives were inextricably bound with some kind of forces that either wanted to wipe them off the planet, or something else. Something else that none of them could figure out.
"Look out!" Miles cried out and levered a fist over the President's shoulder and smacked an Insectoid in its right mandibled jaw. It cried out horribly and slashed a razor sharp hand at his face. The President ducked under it and heaved a bayonet knife into its abdomen and slashed upwards, spilling yellow and green ichor all over him, as Miles shoved him aside, then decapitated the creature before it could do further damage.
Up and down the line men fought for their lives, not because they had to anymore, but because it broke the monotony. Such had become the fate of their lives that danger was the only thing they could look forward to anymore.
Even Smirgey grinned as he fought off an especially large Insectoid with Cook's frying pan, smacking it across the chops, then over the head, until the Cook could execute a hammer slice with his cleaver, finishing it off.
"Thanks!" Smirgey said.
"No problem." The Cook said with a smile. "Lots of protein tonight."
Smirgey threw up.