The Red Paw Camp
rating: +4+x

A moment after closing his eyes, Job woke up in his room with the dark of the Vietnamese sky still lying unchristened by the dawn outside his window. The night had been empty of time and fantasies and the day was beginning. The work lay ahead.

He drowsily updated the database with his genetic material for the day and laid out a gown beside his reconstitution chamber. He wasn't planning on drowning the Russians in corpses, but SIGINT had noted that there would be quite a few of them, and each well-armed. It had never hurt him to prepare for failure.

After he finished, he began to reacquire his working condition with a number of calisthenics to press the air out of his limbs. Though he knew resting vertically was simply not good for him and Basic had often attempted to impress that fact upon him, the pretense of keeping his habits in line with those who hadn't heard the music he had heard seemed silly. He knew it wasn't, and yet he continued in the fashion that suited him. Maybe it was something to report.

He retrieved two sets of clothing from his drawer: his operational wraps, and a military uniform given to the Foundation as a gift by General Westmoreland. It was a rich green and ornamented with memories of many joint-fights that the two had shared. It symbolized the modicum of unity that, evidently, the Americans had come to believe existed between them. Though wearing it put them at ease, it made him feel dirty - like a kind of bloody fantasy.

He first applied his operational wraps, and then buttoned the fantasy over them. The wraps on his face still made him look like a burn victim, or a mummy who had a predilection for the gothic. He didn't particularly mind this, as it was sure to put off some of his companions from the West in spite of the olive branch that he wore.

Finally, he placed a small pin onto his lapel. Armed with secret words, so that any who looked upon would be made to have not have, it bore a symbol, and a final identifier:

ETHICS - JUDICATOR


___

Job knocked on the high oak door of General Roland’s office. Inside, he could hear heated argument, which promptly abated at the noise. He expected the general’s thick, phlegmatic voice to permit his entrance; instead, he heard the tone of a different man. He cracked open the door, and sitting on the General’s desk was an old face.

“Mr. Well,” He opened the door fully and saluted. “I wasn’t expecting you.” General Roland sat in one of his own visitor chairs, a grim look on his face. “Close the door, soldier.” Job ended the salute and did as he was ordered.

“Have a seat, son.” Well's G-man suit, bearing the same secret words as Job's, with his own title of CHAIRMAN, contrasted sharply with Roland’s decorated uniform, and as Job went to sit opposite the latter, he felt as though he were completing some necessary triple with his operational outfit. Outside, business in Saigon hummed along as usual, with the light shining in through the blinds only occasionally disrupted by a passing car. “You’re well-dressed for the weekend, my friend.” Well smiled. “What’s the occasion?”

Job’s eyes flicked to Roland. “Am I free to speak, sir?”

Roland grunted. “He’s told me everything, Lieutenant. If you weren’t free to speak, I think we’d be in for a heap of shit.”

“There’s been confirmed reports of the GRU running an arson campaign within the city. I was on my way to retrieve the twins when I received – I suppose it was your call.”
“It was mine,” Roland said. He nodded at Well, “I believe your man has a finer understanding of the details.”

Job looked to the Chairman. “Sir?”

“Agent – how familiar are you with resident one-four-zero?”

He racked his brains for an assessment. “Not, I’m afraid. I haven’t reviewed the lists since basic. Has it been stolen?”

“Less so. There was an incident last month; it received several updates as a result of containment breach, the contents of which concern us here. General?”

Roland held up a file, and placed it on the coffee table. “I’ve already made you aware of the operations in Cambodia.”

“I was there last month.”

“The CIA’s and I have had a special relationship in surrounding Indochina for some time now. First special armored division. An experiment by our mutual friend Roland here as an adjacent to the green berets.” He waited for the general to continue.

Roland shifted in his chair. The eyes that had once bored into Job made their way into the American in turn; he expected it had something to do with the screaming his arrival had temporarily put to rest.

In spite of himself, Roland finished the Chairman's thoughts: “Without getting into the details – Staff Sergeant Holtz, our temporary custodian of the project had been declared AWOL. We know where he is, but we don’t know what he’s doing.” He gestured to the map Well was sitting on, who moved so as to allow Job a look. Beside the map was a photograph of the man who he presumed to be the Sergeant. Job hadn’t seen a more empty set of eyes since the trainers at basic. They frightened him.

“He’s made the exodus. Taken the entire unit, cut a swath through everything his path north towards Luang Prabang. Fires on our reconnaissance planes; never gets any, but it’s like he’s got some eye of god shining down on him.”

Job studied the chart. “He’s not following any roads. What’s he doing to the jungle?”

Well smiled. “Silencing it. He’s met a lot of stiff resistance, too, but they just keep on hacking. That’s how their guns were built – wasn’t it?” He directed the question at Roland with unconcealed contempt. Roland smoldered. Well paid his anger no mind, and said airily, “It’s a shame there was no one to ward you off the course. Of course, going forward, I’m sure you’ll understand the gravity with which to treat items such as this.”

“Of course.” Roland gritted his yellow teeth.

Job broke the pair’s competing death-glares with a question. “And what is to be my role?”

Roland chewed on his lip for a moment before giving up his furrowed brow and shrugging. “You’ve met the depth of my understanding. And if it’s not too much to ask-” He stood up and took up his coat over his arm. “I’ll leave the two of you alone.” He threw a key onto his desk. “Lock up when you leave, won’t you? Wouldn’t want anyone making off with state secrets.”

“No. We wouldn’t.” Well smiled again as he watched the general retreat.

Without protest, barring what Job could’ve swore was a growl, Roland left the office dejected. Well pocketed the key as the door banged shut.

“Quite a man, your man,” He said to Job. “You know, keeping in perspective most of the other people I’ve talked to about this, I’d say he took it like a champ.”

“Am I leaving?” Job asked him, with a hint in disappointment in his voice as he already drew the answer. He liked the sun in this part of the world.

“Naturally,” Well said, “You’ll manage this and we’ll be back on a plane East in time.”

“What are my orders?”

“Kill the thief. And them all.”

Job nodded. “What is he after?”

“Something irreplaceable. What else?”

“And what has The Wind told you?”

“That we don’t stop him. This is absolution, Agent, plain and simple. Not for us, of course, and perhaps they don’t deserve it, but it’s part of the bargain. Regrettable we couldn’t catch it in time, but it happens. And it’s better than the alternative.”

Job nodded again. “Where are the details?”

“In your file. You go collect your twin Endowments, remove that rag and let the Americans work out their problems here. You and I need to clean up their mess – and you’ll be having the manageable part.”

_

A burly form wrapped in layers of thick, sandy cloth lay against the winding jungle branch with a practiced, aware calm. Beneath the miraculous material that fed his skin a life-giving cool and kept microscopic calamities from his bloodstream, the sweat on his back felt routine mushed against the hard wood.

Somewhere out in the blackness, an animal sang in a tongue once alien to him, and it made him smile.

It was perfectly dark, and as the good meat from hours before finally began to settle into his stomach, Job found himself drifting off for the first time since his meeting with Well. The hard wood of the tree behind him was solid and reminded him to stay out of his head. It had been a hard way up from the lines down south - but not a boring one. As time went on, and he spent so much time dodging the watchful eyes of guerrilla scouts, the jungle began to take on a certain society of its own. It was not one which permitted him easy rest, but he could respect the pains to which the rain and the birdsong went to keep him alert and accompanied.

Just as quickly as his eyes took the lull in activity to creep off into their sockets, their lids locking into place as his body ordered all of its honed functions to begin shuttering their various systems, they all snapped to attention at the shuffling of a number of humanoid minds coming into contact with the Inner-eye - his Primary Endowment - several meters away. Its talent was relatively minute, but even it could taste the three heavily armed strongmen cutting their way through the bush.

Without a peep, he took hold of the branch, and as he weaved his way down its expanse, he felt a warm, affectionate push against his body and mind, as he drew a small portion of strength from his robes. The Inner Eye recoiled in jealousy.

He took up a position behind his tree, the slick material sliding into the brush without a sound and removed the hood covering his mild features. He spoke into the night using their own native language. Speaking with his mouth, he would be lucky to malign it - in his mind, however, he did not trust himself to be halfway coherent. "Dragon."

Their minds instantly took on a quality, not of terror, but of unnerved superstition. They began to chatter among themselves before the loudest – he presumed the leader, responded elegantly with his tongue: "Eagle."

Lights shined around the tree. He came around it with his hands up. After his eyes had acclimated to their light, he began to appreciate the weapons pointed at him.

The leader came forward, and ran up and down his strange appearance with an inquisitive gaze, giving particular note to his odd form of dress, the weapons he didn’t carry, and the stark grey tint of his visible eyes. Satisfied with the results of his appraisal, he signaled in Vietnamese for them to lower their guns. "Welcome to Laos."

_

An hour later, the group sat around a burning fire, drinking clean water. As it had turned out, their leader - whose name still eluded the Inner Eye's grasp - had preselected a secluded clearing a mile North for them to break bread, and discuss objectives, and it was here that once again they listened to the big society of trees and air and those who leaped between the two, in greater unified company.

The idea of the feeling was familiar to him.

The other men in the group finished feeding the pitiful blaze and settled in around it; it was enough to illuminate their exchange but not quite enough to make it hotter than it already was. The leader sat back smoking a cigarette from the pack he had initially proffered at their associate, who had politely declined. The shadows from the fire played on his eyes in an effect not dissimilar to the way his own now swirled in their sockets, even given a fuller supply of light.

The leader introduced himself. "I am Nguyen, who my men call the rain for the dragon. I have served in this fight for ten years, and now that it is ending I am feeling happier about the way my people are beginning to look at our future. The load to be carried is heavy and the road ahead steep, but we will walk it, as we have walked the one before. How do your bosses see the way ahead?"

Job said, "They're glad it's over. Less bullets flying means less chance of any hitting something."

"Good," Nguyen breathed. "That is good - knowing where it is that the wind blows."

One of Nguyen's men began to pass around a cigarette. After Nguyen had partaken, he proffered it to Job, who waved it away. Nguyen shrugged and took Job's drag for himself, as he began to tell the story: "'Twas an order by the president - uncle Ho himself, demanding we cease our attempts to broach the river. That place is littered with death now; I can only hope that one man will succeed where a thousand fell."

"They let you watch it?"

"We have sent scouts past the threshold; all have returned in a new and special way."

"Could they talk?"

"The ones that could would only scream.”

Job leaned back against the dirt, thoughtfully. His opposite number tossed another branch into the fire. One of the soldiers stood sentry; the tip of his rifle gleamed against the lapping firelight.

Nguyen said, "Once, I was a young boy, far from here. My home was surrounded by life - it was very beautiful."

"No more?" Job asked.

"The bombs turned my home to ash, and the fields too. A man's body," he drew his hand across his face, "All gone. And he sits there, alive, and has nothing to say."

"He's checked out."

Nguyen shrugged. Job cleared his throat.

"You know, I didn't live as a kid. None of us do, but - the top figures for that and figures the kind of people we'll be talking to. You guys. So they give us some stuff to think about, just so that we can share the pain. Before we get to making sure it doesn't hurt anyone else, right? We get a little of what it's all about. Something they gave me was a night, and I guess what I might've been like if I was ever that small. I hear some noise coming out from the fields, some howling. This is supposed to be in America, you know. My 'father' takes me out there and grabs this gun, bigger than I've ever seen since. And we go out back, and we see-" The image gave him pause. "They'd put up crosses in the fields. My father was a good man, so they'd put up crosses, and made them really, really bright. With fire. And then they'd put people on them, some friends of the family."

Nguyen nodded, eyes wide but otherwise undisturbed. "What did you do?"

"Well, I don't know exactly. That's the bulk of it. I guess - what I did, is what I do, now." He shrugged.

"They gave you control. As I took it."

He shook his head. "Nobody's got control. Not when something's been lost. You and I - we're just looking to solve that."

Nguyen turned back to the fire. The living jungle reminded them of its presence, and the sounds of the animals crept up and over the crackling of the wood.

Nguyen said, “If I might be foolish enough to say that here, in this hell, hope is alive for us, you would be reasonable to tell me that I am dreaming. But I can see a people from here, sir. This war of ours burned through my old home, but my men are of good form and well. If I am bold enough to say that hope is alive for us, you will know that I am their commander. I am their commander, and I know only their feeling. It is my duty to do so.. Hope is alive for us."

Job nodded.

"Your war has not the cadence of mine. Your war is sad and dead. You are not new, and if you finish it, I think it would be better for you to be finished also. The place and the heart of its heart swallow men like the fighting itself. You will kill it, or die. But, to be honest, I think your way is already travelled. I think it makes to swallow itself."

Nguyen shrugged. "But I cannot say. And there is only one who can, sir. There is only one heart for that place. He will tell you, if you ask."

Job said, "I would prefer not to know. It'll make my job easier, when the time comes."

After the fire burned out, their leader set to work guiding them through the bush. It was very thick, and it took hours for the men to slice their way through the leaves and the branches that obstructed their path. Job swam through it as the ocean of home.

The way was not lit, but they could feel one another by breath. Each body's heat was unique and the noise that they made was only second to the sweat on their opposing stances. High up above them, blocked out by a million interlocking organisms, the moon made their foreheads glisten.

They marched in silence, until the brush opened up, and they had come to the barrier. Across the river, crosses were hoisted all along the shore – unshapen, only with the appearance of wood grown. The water itself appeared stagnant and sickly.

The light of the Inner Eye flickered and briefly went out, sending out low drones across his mind informing him of his vulnerability, and he gave it a light nudge. It snapped to attention, and immediately set to wearily scanning the horizon; he gently directed it towards their goal, and for the first time, they both witnessed the void.

The silence of the land beyond the water ate into his soul, as he grasped the enormity of the death that lay beyond them. Life had abandoned the place. The Inner Eye recoiled from it, wriggling its way into the darkest, safest corner of his psyche. Job forced it out. He would require it for the struggle that awaited them.

"You will cross it well enough," Nguyen said. "There are no currents to lead you astray."

"I don't know about that."

"You can worry about death once you make it there alive."

The Inner Eye was enraptured by something horrible beneath the water, and he was afraid. "I can do both."

Nguyen said, "My friend saw their land before he died. There is a hoisted banner there, from the place they called home. When he showed them his souvenir - a copy of their stars and their stripes - they only deprived him of his manhood."

"That's not very encouraging."

"It wasn't meant to be. You will reach the dead alive. Once you are there, I cannot tell you what you will become."

Job held his hand out, and Nguyen took hold of it.

"We will be waiting to see you return. But we cannot promise we will not finish off whatever is left."

"Thank you."

They shook hands, and broke apart. The team wordlessly retreated into the brush, and in half a moment it was so that the only evidence of their existence were their tell-tale heartbeats slipping away.

He waded in.

The water was uncharacteristically cold. Even his relatively unendowed companion felt the faint echoes of the fire that had shattered the place, and he could feel their cold fright against the oppressively hot morning. As he reached the center of the stream, despite his drills before the war, a terrifying feeling crept up within him, that he too would be swallowed up by the water and added to its gruesome collection. Just before it overtook his will, he steeled himself, and remembered his other drills.

He recited his antimeme. The Inner Eye sang it in a voice colder than the water and whatever creatures lay below it.

Sometimes I feel
like a motherless child.
A long way from
home.
Sometimes I feel like I'm almost done
And a long, long way from home.
A long way from home.

Before he knew it, his mind was quiet again, and he realized his other friend, a Bodily Force, protected deep within the folds of his cloak, had taken over during his preoccupation - frantically treading water. The Secondary Endowment.

He could clearly see his friend's sheepish form within his own clothing, and reached out with the Eye.

“This is not why your life was made, little one. But you remain steadfast. Please do not forget that this is beautiful to me.”

His friend responded with a warm, affirmative feeling in his belly, and he knew that he was not alone.

And for that he was glad. The Inner-Eye rubbed up against his mind, demanding attention, and he gave it the psychic equivalent of a pat on the head. It vibrated pleasantly, its nerves not entirely at ease, but comforted. He returned his gaze to the child.

'If I truly need you, you will feel the glory and power of your more accomplished brethren, and I will feel it with you, and we will christen your service with a thousand wicked skulls. But, for now, do not fret how I go about these waters. They are below our worry.'

Once more, he felt its touch - stronger, this time. Determined, and rigid.

He made his way to the other end of the shore. The wet dirt retreated from his feet, too fearful to impede his progress. With the gray mulch of the barrier cleared, he bore witness to the land beyond.

It was many miles in scope that he saw, emptied of all foliage. It occurred to him at that moment he walked not upon dirt, but dirt mixed with agents - burned skin and flesh covered the land around him.

The crosses that lined the river bank extended on either side for miles into the darkness, such that he could not see. They were charred white; recently planted, yet spoiled all the same. They stood watch, awaiting occupants that would never live long enough to be hoisted upon them.

The friend nudged at his feet. The Inner Eye could sense deep anticipation within the small body, and within itself he saw seething anger. This land had been deprived of many colors.

As he took the first step into the broken land, he felt a weight fall upon his shoulders. His boots dragged in the mud, but his friends picked them up. And he was once again glad.

_

He walked for many hours. The sun's rising had taken on a different color. The entire palette of existence had been stained red by the armies fallen. Scarlet rays shot across the sky heralding a storm, and he could see it coming. A monstrous column of smoke was pinned above the world two dozen miles away, and through the rain sheets he could just begin to make out large, quiet shapes, and the thunder that he heard could’ve been the lightning, or their footsteps as they lumbered about the discordant interior. He took the hint that it was where he needed to go.

The ground he trod upon was bone-white and despoiled. The lush jungle was a country away, and so in each direction sat only the material which crunched and crumbled under his boot. It could've been bone, or skin, but he suspected some other malady. Months of hurt had marked the place a cancer.

Suddenly, a shriek rang at all angles throughout his mind - an urgent cacophony of noise. He had heard it many times before. He checked all around, and in the distance, many meters from his position in the sand, standing upon two wiry components, was a flesh-tan creature, set against the rising sky.

He squinted his eyes at it, attempting to blot out his first companion's jittery assault against the outside world. He could feel its tendrils snap to and fro among the landscape, and with a flourish, wrap around the form that observed them. They fell away from it, lifeless ash, and with the small flashes of thought he received, he could understand how so many had failed to acquire this place.

Unbidden, the form began to approach him at length. Looking up at it, it stood as tall as a skyscraper, and he decided that, given the choice, he would prefer not to subject his friends to the weathering of its presence.

The choice, of course, was not his. Its folds opened outward, and tendrils wrapped around him, bringing his association into its cramped, invasive depths. As he began to lose consciousness, he stayed the ready hands and feet of the Bodily Force, electing not to let them fight as they could. He did not see any of their deaths in the creature's mind, and would not have braved the storm wall to risk his younger companions.

_

Job woke to the smell of meat, blood, and smoke.

The room was small and full of curved and bloodied utensils. It was a cage that kept him. He had been pitched to the floor of a dank shack, and at once could perceive a ray of light disclosing a wooded exterior, totally opposed to the harsh landscape they had previously been exposed to.

The Inner Eye was still closed, and when he felt it, it was deathly cold. He struggled to see more than the light outside; he still had all four limbs, and from what he could tell his eyes were still open. He was missing part of his liver, but he could already feel a dull pulse in his abdomen as his Bodily Force struggled to piece it back together. As his hearing returned, a low buzz greeted him, and as that faded out, he winced at the sound of steel on stone.

With it, he heard a voice. "Does it come to us with the promise of a new day?"

Job asked it, "Who are you?"

In the corner of the room, outside the bars, a previously still disfigured hulk of veiny muscle, bone, and fat rose up from a chair, and took up a monstrous, soiled knife from a table alongside it. "It asks me. It does." The hulk, who Job’s wounded mind had determined to be human, took his tool to a stone, and drew it across the length to produce a harsh, grinding wail. “A blind man with three eyes.”

The hulk had reminded him. He struck the Primary Endowment. He could feel it throb and pulsate - it persisted, but it would be some time before it returned to the fray. His new friend filled the air, in the meanwhile, with words.

"I am one among them, the people you seek. Raised up on the field of fire-"

"You killed here?" Job interrupted.

The lumbering shadow hefted its blade, and turned to him. The look on its face, if it could be noted as such, was that of a child insulted. It turned back to his work, and swung against something dead.

"Would you believe me if I told you that I have never once killed any man? Let alone, any of the soldiers who fought here."

"No."

"When he first brought us to the top of the mountain - Holtz, our man - he gave us orders for the good of our people, and prophecies for the good of our orders. This prophecy Holtz told to me was that in my life, I would take no others. The blood on my hands would be soaked up from those of my friends: I would be charged with taking and processing the kills that they honored me with.” He swung again into the corpse, with particular vigor, finally managing to cleave it in two. “I was angry, and shouted at him for a long time. But as the land around us took to our fires, and we took to the land itself, I began to see the prophecy in my own eyes.”

“What did you see?”

“He will tell you. He will come, when he comes.” The hulk took the meal it had been preparing over the course of their discussion and carried it over to Job’s cell. “First, we will wait. First, you will eat."

The figure stomped over to his cell, where it dropped to its knees, and carefully laid down a platter of food. It consisted of a thick, blood-soaked cutlet - Job could not make out the victim’s species - and a vessel of water.

"What do I call you?" The figure had returned to sharpening its weapon.

"I am the Corporal Louis David Patric. I am the keeper of the dead in this place, and I am the keeper of you."

_

In the time that they were together, Patric kept hacking at various pieces of meat he seemed to have an unlimited supply of, leaving for various and often excessively long intervals, after which he would return bloodied and heaving, and collapse asleep in his chair, viscera clinging to his body like a parasite. All the while Job sat in his cage feeling for his friends and awaiting the hour they would return to him and their gifts would serve to complete their mission.

The light of the window never failed. Job had spent enough days and enough nights to keep count without the help of the fall and rise of the sun but he suspected that it lacked authority within the bounds of the storm wall. He had seen it before and it gave him hope; it was pettiness and arrogance what blocked out the star that he knew, not an unlimited strength.

This Inner Eye had been bested once; it would arise better than its oppressor. It made Job happy to retreat into himself, and watch the child grow. The Bodily Force spent every moment addressing Job's wound. It made Job hope that it would never need to suffer as he and the Eye had suffered.

Job examined the construction of his cell, and noted that by and large it appeared to be a result of the same natural phenomena that had given rise to the crosses along the river. Patric served what owned the land. That did not give him hope.

Patric continued to give him food that he continued to refuse. He could not move and the wraps that bound him exploited this in an effective fashion. He dared not take the water, either - the wraps helped less with that.

Patric would be visited by terrors in his sleep, and Patric's terrors were Job's terrors. He thrashed about the cabin with his blade, wailing, sobbing, and begging for mercy from phantom killers. Job heard his own name, once. He kept silent, because it gave him hope, and he was glad to be feared by the cannibal.

_

The day came and a knock came at the door; Patric opened it, and stood aside.

The light seemed to shine through the man entered, unapart of himself, but filtered into a way that was uniquely putrid. The second Patric noticed the man's entrance, he became stock-still, his face frozen into the look of frustration he had been displaying just prior to the disturbance. The man walked inside and spoke some unintelligible words to Patric; his face consistent in its selected expression, the cannibal glided past the man and shut the door behind him. The light of the cabin window shined on his face in such a way that it created the same effect the light of the door had had. Job could see that he was blindfolded, and that the rest of his features had been scratched and burned and scarred in many more ways than one. Nevertheless, he recognized the broken man as the one who was once called Sergeant Holtz.

He came over to Job's cell, and sat beside him.

“Are you the son I was promised?” Holtz asked him.

Job said, “No.”

“He’ll be beautiful, when they bring him to me. You’ve known beauty, and how beauty makes more of itself. It’s malignant, like wildfire. Maybe that's the key to this heat that surrounds us. This heat, and these ashes.”

"You and your men brought your war to this place. You atone for this sin today."

Holtz frowned. "Our guns are American. If it is sin you seek, go to their fathers."

He stood and moved over to the window. He said, "You don’t share a flag with us. Were you wearing the colors of the East, or of the West, or of Kalashnikov, or even of those within the Library, I’d have had your throat cut the moment you were brought here; were you a fellow from our old home, I’d welcome you as a brother. But your flag has no color - this is what I have taken from you. You haven't our loss. You're not beautiful. You're a chosen purity. You lack our looks, and our sins in equal measure. This makes you necessary to me.”

Job did not say anything.

Holtz regardless continued as though he had. “I want to show you something. I want to give your people something more."

"Speeches will do no more. Pictures, only less. You must die for the peace of this place."

"I have no words to speak, nor any pictures to paint." He looked at Job. He approached his cage again, and the wooden bars of the structure itself folded and receded into the Earth. He outstretched his hand and Job, despite the limp nature of his first companion and the afeared constitution of his second, at the moment of liberation, attempted for the first time to kill Holtz.

His assault fell through the man's mirage, and he fell to one knee, clutching his side as it exploded in pain. The toll extracted by his escort had been heavy, and he was not yet prepared to weather it without further rest.

"I am the elected leader of this place. The people who were here once, and remain here still, protect me," Holtz said, walking through his suffered captive to face him once again. "With their powers invested, I am the servant of my new home."

Job felt the urge to vomit, which was quickly suppressed by the wraps that bound him. "How is it that I can be made to touch you?" He asked him. "If you tell me, the judgement defined will be unsevere. Silence on your part will nevertheless keep it so."

"That's not much of a bargain."

"That's because it was a demand."

They held a mutual gaze for a moment, Holtz’s eyeless sight appraising the content of Job's soul and Job awaiting defiance. Holtz laughed, and extended his hand again. "I will show you where I live," he said, "If you consent to it."

Job took his hand, which was solid. Holtz shook it, though it was a one-sided gesture. He smiled.
"I will show you my new home," he said.

_

They left the cabin in its half-darkness. Job's true eyes had become so accustomed to it that he was momentarily blinded by the radiance of the light shining down upon them. In the sky was a star, one he hadn't seen before; from it soared a fresh gold that bathed creation around them.

The cabin had been erected on the edge of a steep cliff, and on the edge of a dozen crop fields that stretched for miles. A musical keening filled the air, and a party of obelisks rose up and out of the dirt at the center of each plain, and streams of water flew up and out of their capstones and split off into a thousand different strings, each feeding the individual plant dug into the rich Earth. He could see no sign of the storm wall; instead, all around their perimeter grasped a totally unbound reach of city, stretching to their horizon and from what Job could tell, a thousand beyond it. Buildings born out of the ground as the crosses and his cage and the crops stretched into the heavens, red iron scraping the sky. It teemed with men women, and children.

Patric's hut had been perched on the top of a hill, and a hill's hill. Job turned around and looked up the further escalation of ground to see a great arrangement of stone atop a shapen platform of Earth.

It was a fortress, walled, and the wall which stood strong and which Job could easily be convinced was unbreakable - unassailable, in any instance, bore in the richest paints a symbol that began to shine deeper light on Job's understanding of Holtz.

Red white and blue, thirteen stripes and fifty stars, it looked out across Holtz's city and declared itself. He looked over at Holtz, who was still smiling.

"I will show them my new home."

They ascended the hill, and the hill beyond the hill, via great staircases formed out of self-burned clay. A guard of American soldiers, their faces murky and shifting, lined every step of the way, and saluted Holtz as he passed. When they reached the wall, it opened for them - the stone itself parting ways, into a courtyard. At the center stood a statue of a man Job did not know.
As they walked further inside, Holtz once again answered a question he hadn't asked. "I have dreams of a people beyond me. I have dreams of great men after my time. I have dreams of a place where people put up statues in a time of peace after this war of mine. The statue in the courtyard is my dream."

The halls of the place were gilded, brightly lit by no discernible means, and labyrinthine. The stains Job left on the carpet cleaned themselves, and around every corner was the painted image of a new face that Job had not seen before. Before they had breached the deeper regions of the monstrous palace he had recognized some - Frenchmen and Popes, in variously unfamiliar positions. But soon the faces were alien and though their colors known, their placements and effects less.

The light of this place, Job understood, had been filtered through Holtz, but remained itself. And its histories were its own.

They reached a large oaken door, which Holtz opened. It was a bedroom in the style of a ruler, and above its impressive namesake, engraved with various dates was a portrait of Holtz himself, in conquering style.

They stepped forward. Job felt the Inner Eye open and the Bodily Force fill in the last piece of his missing liver. The image of the room faded away once again, and instead of being in the Continental mansion Job suddenly found himself within the depths of a suicide crypt. Preserved, millenia-old corpses lay strewn around the room in various stages of egregious self-harm and instead of the bed, in place of the monument to Holtz's vision of the future, stood a small place which held up a black book.

Job began to hear the voices of Holtz' own mind, and the Sergeant began to look about, bewildered.
"The world is unstained in your eyes, as it is not in this unfortunate son. This pleases us. Finish his suffering, and greet us at the threshold."

Holtz looked in his direction, and suddenly, in the utter darkness of the crypt, he realized that he could no longer see. Holtz was blind, and lacked visual appreciation of the crypt.
And he was afraid.
The Inner Eye did not rely on the light of any place, and the Sergeant's whole form could be seen by the three of him. And it was for the second time that Job made to complete his mission.

In a moment, it was over. The man's blood poured out slowly, and wrapped around Job's feet.

"Good. He is at peace; his is a pleasure we have not known. Let us show you what you have lost, and what you might want to be."

Job responded, "You thought this man the cup for your poison. I guess you didn’t see the venom he carried on his own. My family led me astray – I can thank you, at the least, for opening my eyes, that they're not perfect in their judgement.”

He knelt to Holtz and withdrew the blindfold. The Sergeant's eyes were not his own, and surrounding them were the deep wounds of a man who had torn out them out, to await replacements. He ripped out the imposters and they withered in his hands. The eyeless body was more appropriate to him; instead of feeling fear, he only felt sad that Holtz could’ve been born with a pair worth seeing through.

“If he bore half the blame, you bear the rest. I will finish what I started."

Job walked toward the book, and the voices in his mind grew louder. He began to hear screams, of pain and of ecstasy. He began to hear the crackle of fire.

He took the book in hand and made his way out of the castle. Once he reached daylight again, he could see that all had been naught. The storm wall had returned, and from its inside it struck him as even less charitable than it had been. The skyscrapers were vast stalks of meat and wiry muscle that pounded about the horizon, and the soldiers in torn and tattered uniforms, with full, starved faces and broken guns. The fields were barren and the sky was black.

He started a fire in the courtyard, and after disposing of the rest of the sinners he pitched their remains to the flames. Patric took many hours, and screamed the entire time.

As he walked down and away from the hill and the wall and the castle, each of which crumbled and returned to where they had been prior to Holtz's invasion, the vast stalks on the horizon crumbled and returned down just the same, collapsing and turning to meat, to mould and to dust. He marched back across the waste, and he felt a tug within his mind - one last remaining scream to be heard. Even in the midst of his duties absolving Holtz’s band, the Inner Eye had begun to bay for his blood, and he and the Bodily Force grappled with the spirits that had latched into it as they made their way towards the river. The crosses there had broken themselves, and the water flowed free and healthy.

His muscles were beginning to fail as he reached it. At the other bank was a series of pitched tents, and a sentry, who ran off to collect his master.

Nguyen exited his tent, carrying a Kalashnikov. His men carried more.

He shouted over the water at Job, “Are we at peace?”

Job clutched the book to his chest and said, "I am ready to complete the task we discussed."

The leader nodded and ordered in Vietnamese at his men.

They set themselves up into a firing line, and shot him. He fell to the ground, grabbing at his perforated lungs. The pages of the book had been shredded and it splayed out over the dirt.

As Job choked on his own blood, it flowed from his body into the water and intertwined with his dying friends, and from where the soldiers could see, the colors that had entered the water began to fight among themselves.

The water began to thrash and roar and nip at the men with itself. The leader urged them back as each party began to draw more and more of the deep to its disposal.

A twisting whirlwind swept up Job’s body and the remains of the book into itself as the Bodily Force and the Inner Eye, no longer at its own disposal, hashed at one another for control of their abandoned partner’s remains.

The banks of the river began to lose ground. The Inner Eye and Bodily Force continued to muster control of the body of water and the leader, slowly realizing the severity of his situation, slapped the back of his captain and shouted for his men to retreat into the brush. Job’s guides dispersed as the water whipped itself up into such a fury it began to exude steam, and then fire. The growing pillar of violence began to spread a thick fog past the treeline.

Until the sun, shining once more on the place temporarily bereft of its warmth, had fallen twice in the sky, the pillar did not stop. Finally, the river lay empty, and the water, the book, and Job’s body seeped into the earth of jungle, and returned to the sky.

___

Job woke up in his room, in the nude, sopping wet.

He started his day by putting on the gown he had laid out and moving to the telephone. He pressed a button to isolate the call and his room from prying eyes and ears, and phoned the Committee.

Job reported, "Assets liquidated. Absolution complete."

He put down the phone and went to sleep.

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