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    WARNING: Stories on this site may contain mature language and situations, and may be inappropriate for readers under the age of 18.

    COLLATERAL DAMAGE By Craig Young
    September 2, 2013  Short stories   Tags:   

    Lieutenant  Penny  Warren,  former  SAS  now Republican New Zealand Army, slouched  in her chair, wearily  glowering  at  her  Deep  Reconnaisance  Activities  Patrol  Echelon  attaché in the  confines  of the debriefing  and  interrogation  room.   She  despised  the  younger  woman  on the other side of the desk,  given  their comparative  age and combat experience gap.  Warren had served in Afghanistan,  Iraq,  Iran,  Pakistan  and  Greece.   She  doubted  whether  Lieutenant  Anika  Causton, who faced  her, had  anywhere  near  that  duration of service.   Scowling in  annoyance, she snapped:

    “Can’t  I even have a cigarette?”

    Returning her gaze, Anika  shook her head: “Nope.  One question, Lieutenant  Warren.  There  are few  enough  of  us in this world  as it is now.  Why the hell do you have to be so  damned reckless?”

    Warren  had  known  that it would come to this and decided to  parry with  a simple statement  of military  existence.  She  sneered:   “Yeah? I’d  put  it differently.  I  am a combat  veteran  of  many years  duration.  We  are facing  total  war,  against  a  literally  inhuman  enemy.  Therefore,  it is reasonable  to  use  overwhelming and deadly  force in that conflict  situation.”

    Anika shook her head, persisting in her questioning of the older woman:

    “Uh, no, that’s  not  the problem.  Hell,  you  would’ve  made senior  rank  if that was all that you’d  done.   You forgot  to add  ‘indiscriminate’ to that operational  list.  Indiscriminate,  overwhelming and deadly  to the civilians caught  in the  crossfire.”

    Warren  shrugged.  In  a  deadpan,  level   voice, she retorted:

    “So?  If  they’re  in  a  combat  zone,  they  have  to take  the risks of  that situation.  It’s  not an ideal situation,  but then we’re  fighting against  a zombie  apocalypse.  They should  have known better than to be there in the first place, these days. “

    Anika wouldn’t  let  go  of her  counterpart:

    “Try  telling  that to the parents  of  the three  five year  old  children  and their  grandparents  who got caught  in the crossfire  of your  last  display  of  ‘overwhelming  and deadly  force.’  Or the pregnant woman back  in Otaki.   Or  the  disabled  guy  in Whanganui.  Or those  doctors  in Taupo.  Or  any  of  the  twenty  five other civilians  who  are supposedly   ‘collateral  damage’ in  your  self-written   rule  book.  Who  the  hell do  you think  you are,  lady? Some  sort  of  elite Praetorian Guard  with the power  of life and death  over others?!”

    (Watching  from  behind  a nonreflective  two-way  mirror,  Lieutenant  Whetu  Simmons  bit  her  lip as she  commented into  her disc recorder:

    “Subject  shows  flat, monotone  delivery.  Her  eyes  seem  glazed  and  there is  absence of any increased  cardio stimulation  during the course  of this  interrogation.  Any moment now,  I think we’ll  hear  some  attempt  to plead  self-justification…”)

    As if she’d heard the  unseen  army  psychologist,  Warren  levelly replied:

    “Hey, sorry, love.  But hell,  this is war.  In  the field,  in concrete  operational circumstances,  sometimes  collateral damage  and  friendly  fire  happen. What you’re  proposing  is  some  sort of military  academy  dummy run,  an  abstract  training  situation.  I’m talking  real-time battlefield.”

    (Whetu  shook  her head:

    “Right. And  I suppose  that  taking  reasonable  steps  to  insure  public  safety  is completely  out of the question?”)

    Warren  shrugged and  continued  her  defence  of  her  actions:

    “Come  on  now.  We’ve  both  been  in  firefights.  With  an  enemy  like  the  zeds,  there  isn’t  always  time  to check.”

    (Behind the partition,  Whetu  rolled her  eyes  and gritted  her   teeth:

    “Yeah,  except  your  track  record  seems  to state  that you consider  that  there’s  never  any  time  to check, mate.  Go on, Ani.  Tell  her  that.”)

    Anika  shook  her  head  in disgust:

    “Sorry,  that’s  just so  much  bullshit.  Look,  I’m  from a military  family,  yeah?  Granddad  served  in  Vietnam,   Mum  participated  in the  Afghan  occupation  of the noughties  and  I’m  stuck  with  this gig.  Granddad  always  told me that  your  sort  of  attitude  turned  the Vietnamese  against  us  and cost  the Yanks and their allies  that war,  and  Mum  felt  the same  way  about  Afghanistan.  And  this  time,   it’s  for  much  higher  stakes.  We have a  duty  to  protect  other  humans  from  the  stench.”

    Already,  Warren  was  shaking  her  head:

    “Sometimes  the  needs  of  the  many   outweigh   the  needs  of  the  few.”

    Anika   wasn’t   buying:

    “Excuse  me, who  the  hell  do you  think  you  are  to  make  those  sorts of  life and death  decisions  about  the  value  or  otherwise  of  other  human  lives?”

    Warren’s   derisive  smile  irritated   Anika  (and  Whetu)  still further:

    “And  New  Zealand’s  triage  policy  is…?”

    Anika  snapped   back  at  her:

    “Is  a  denial  of  your  personal  operational  responsibility  as  senior  officer   onsite  for  events  that  occurred  under   your  immediate  command.”

    Warren  grinned back at her,  but  without  any  real  warmth  or  acknowledgement:

    “Yeah,  but  it  is  my  personal  operational  responsibility  as  unit  leader  that  we’re  talking  about  here.  And  why  are you  implicitly  defending  the  brass  down  in  Wellington?  They’re  usually  safely   out  of  the  way  down  there.   We  aren’t.   What  about  my  responsibility  to the men  and women  under  my  command?”

    “And  to  no-one  else?” demanded  Anika  hotly.

    Warren  shook  her  head  and sighed:

    “Hey,  Kiwi  girl,  it’s  all right  for  you  people.  So  okay,  you  lost one  point  five million  in Auckland  in the opening  skirmishes,  but  at  least  that  was  the  only  major  city  that  you  had  to yield.   Me,  I’m  an  experienced  Brit  SAS para.  Look  at  the  States.   Their  whole  country  fell  to  pieces  because  they  made  judgements  based  on  some  high-and-mighty  ideals  about military  ethics.  Washington  thought  they could  save  everyone  too.   Look  where  it  got  them.  Millions dead.”

    Anika   stood,   fists  balled,  provoked  past  measure:

    “Fuck  you!  I  lost  whanau  in  Otara,  and mates  at  One Tree Hill.  They  gave  their  lives  to insure that  other   survivors  were  able  to get  out  of  there  in  the end.”

    Warren  laughed:

    “Hey,  nothin’  personal, love.  Only,  I’ve  got  several  tours  of  duty  out  there  under  my  belt.  Under  the  current  overall  operational  circumstances,  the  brass  will   throw  me  in  the brig  for  a  year  or  so,   then  let  me  back  out  in  the  field,  time  served,  retribution  served.   Facts  of  life.  Shit.  Hot  in  here,   isn’t  it?”

    At  that  cue,   Anika  nodded  slightly  to  Whetu,  still  out  of  sight  behind  the  two-way  glass  partition.  She  stood,  turned  on  her  heel  and stalked  out  of  the  interrogation  room,  slamming the  door  behind  her.

    Warren  shook   her  head  in  derision  and  sneered  at  the naivete  of  the  younger  woman,  before  taking   a  large  bite  out   of  her  hamburger.

    Three minutes later,  she  was  vomiting  profusely  into  a  rubbish  can.

    Five  minutes  later,  she was  having  problems  standing.  It  may  have  been  at  that  stage  that  she began  to  realise  that  she  wasn’t  going  to  leave  this  room.

    Six  minutes  later,  she  lay  on the floor,  while  she  lost consciousness  seven and a  half minutes later.  Eight and three quarter  minutes  later,  she  stopped  breathing.   Twelve minutes  later,  Lieutenant  Penny  Warren  SAS, Republican  New  Zealand  Army,  died.

    Behind  the  partition,  Anika  and  Whetu  observed  the  other  woman’s  death  throes:  “Damn it.  I wish  there’d  been  some  other  way.”

    “There  wasn’t.  You  were  right, Ani.  She  thought  she  was  some  sort  of  latter-day  Roman  Imperial  Praetorian  Guard,  the  ones  who  deposed  weak  Roman  Emperors  at  will, and ran  things  during  some  periods  of  Roman history.  Wrong.  She’d  been  through  three  other  evaluative   sessions   before  this  and  she  gave  no  indication  that  she’d  be  willing  to  acknowledge  her  responsibility  for  those  fifty  civilian  deaths.   The  higher  stakes  argument   was  spot  on.  We  are  here  to  protect  and serve.   That  woman  was  a   Lieutenant  Calley  in  the making.   This  had  to  be   done.  Justice  had  to  be  done.  The zeds  may  be  indiscriminate  and  senseless  in  the lives  that  they  take,   but  we  cannot  afford  to  be.  So,  she  gets  a bodybag  and cremation.   And  at  least  justice  is  done  to  her  human  victims.  Rationalisations  like  collateral  damage  and  friendly  fire  should  never  be  excuses  for  what  she  tolerated  under   her  command. “

    In  the  Officers  Mess  that  evening,   Captain  Whetu  Simmons  downed  several  large  whiskeys  and  told  herself  that  what  she’d   just  done  was  fulfil  her  professional  responsibilities.  She  almost  believed  it  toward  the  end  of  the  evening.  Because,  unlike  the  late   Lieutenant   Penny   Warren,   Whetu  Simmons  was  no  monster.

    9 Comments

    1. Nicely done.

      Comment by Terry on September 2, 2013 @ 9:36 pm

    2. Good story but I would have liked to see more details of the operation.

      Comment by zombob on September 3, 2013 @ 11:33 am

    3. Granted, and good point, Zombob, although I wanted to concentrate on what problems a Rambo or Ripley would cause for ‘real world’ (ish) practical military operations in this context and the moral implications of failing to heed public safety issues.

      Thanks for your comment.

      Comment by Craig Y on September 3, 2013 @ 9:16 pm

    4. Craig, are all your shorts intertwined and based in one zombie apocalypsed world? (Apocalypsed, is a word right?)

      Some of these characters seem familar, the setting and the story are always different, even the characters motives and issues you raise. But I always feel after each story that is is part of a bigger story.

      Do you have a plan for them? You must be up to quite a few words by now…

      Comment by Justin Dunne on September 4, 2013 @ 2:08 am

    5. So far this is my favorite of yours.

      Comment by Gunldesnapper on September 4, 2013 @ 6:30 am

    6. This is my favorite too of all you have written.
      It may be short but it’s concise, got my interest right from the start and held it to the end.
      Covered a lot of ground for it’s brevity and very interesting.
      Got to disagree with the comparisons with Rambo and Ripley. Both Rambo and Ripley were still idealistic even at their very worst.

      Comment by bong on September 4, 2013 @ 12:25 pm

    7. Well spotted, Justin! Yep, there are overlapping characters in most of my TWWZ stories, as I’m trying to get the feel of a consistent universe insofar as the New Zealand-set stories go. And you may recognise Whetu from her cameo appearance in “Icewoman and the Sisters of Lazarus.”

      Bong, granted, Rambo and Ripley were idealistic, and perhaps that was a bad metaphor in their case. On the other hand, Penny Warren is a lot like the Vietnam War’s Lt. Calley, who massacred an entire Vietnamese village of innocents during that conflict.

      As ever, thanks for the words of encouragement, everyone.

      Comment by Craig Y on September 4, 2013 @ 2:46 pm

    8. The monster within – nicely written.

      Comment by Jasmine DiAngelo on September 15, 2013 @ 9:47 am

    9. I really enjoy stories that are set in New Zealand and Australia, so bonus points for that. I also like your delivery. Brief, and just the right amount of colloquialisms without dropping into a stereotype.
      Even the slight chill I got from seeing someone who is firmly set in her view, being executed by others equally firmly set in theirs; well, that was good too…..nice writing.

      Comment by AKM. on October 19, 2013 @ 4:10 pm

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