SLIP

In its basic definition, "Freedom" means the right to choose one's own way to die. The servants of the dictators left that choice to their masters and fought and died for causes that even they themselves often found odious. The men and women of the free nations who fought World War II chose their own doom. If they could not destroy every evil, they destroyed the most vicious of their day. If it is part of the sadness of the human condition that they could not solve the problems of their children's generation, it is part of the glory of it that they so resolutely faced their own.

--James L. Stokesbury A SHORT HISTORY OF WORLD WAR II.

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I

slip

back

into Smallville Police station. I must be aware of the now and adapt to it. Now is Sheriff Ethan and an interrogation room . It is 2003 and I have just been arrested for murder. I was found covered in the victims blood, standing over them with a knife in my hand. I have motive, I have opportunity. I will be convicted beyond a reasonable doubt.

"Listen," Ethan says, "I have sympathy for you, a jury will have sympathy for you but not if you keep lying, Whitney."

"I'm not lying." I say. "Lex Luthor murdered Clark Kent and Lana Lang and framed me. I know now how he did it and I know why he did it."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Ethan says.

"I'll tell you," I say, "But you won't believe me." I sit and wonder how I should begin.

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I am in Basic training. I have been wearing Lana's damn necklace all throughout zero Week, the week of Basic Training devoted to processing and vaccinations. I did not know that the stone was made of kryptonite. I didn't even know what kryptonite was at the time. We were all calling it meteor rock then. I didn't know that the stone was altering me, changing me.

No, that's not true.

I was changing me. The stone was doing what it does. What it always does. Tuning into my desires and making the impossible possible. But they were MY desires. Kryptonite is a tool. Like fire, like atomic energy. Nothing more then a tool. The most powerful tool ever conceived of, but a tool nonetheless. It can be lethal or beneficent depending upon who wields it.

I don't know why the stone has the particular effect it has on me. If this were a comic book I would be able to give you a nice cozy corny "origin story". I would be able to explain, in some hackneyed way, how the combination of inoculates, with the kryptonite, somehow enabled me to slip. Perhaps I could tell you the story of how during a rifle drill, the necklace cut my skin and that is what did it. Believe me I've thought back and back and back on it. Trying to figure out the how and the why. The truth is, I don't know what makes me slip.

I am on the bus heading from the barracks where Zero week is held to the barracks where Basic Training is.

I am lulled by zero week.

The sergeants in charge of processing us are cozy teddy bears, with no harsh words or even mean looks. We are told how to line up in formation, how to march etc. in a respectful courteous way

We are also given equipment and clothes. LOTS of equipment and clothes. In my duffle bag, I have my sleeping bag, my entrenching tool, a pair of boots. 6 pair of Battle Dress Uniform pants, six pair of BDU shirts, four pair of BDU pants, six pair of BDU socks, 6 pair of dress socks, my dress uniform, shirt and tie and dress shoes. In my back pack, I have two canteens, my tent cover, my tent, my tent pegs, and my sleeping mat. I also have my personal bag which, like a fucking idiot, I have placed on top of my duffel bag.

The bus stops at what is to be our home for the next 12 weeks. Before the bus even comes to a full stop I hear yelling from outside "OH MY GOD, I'VE NEVER SEEN SUCH AN UGLY BUNCH OF PRIVATES IN MY LIFE" The bus starts shaking, I see that the drill sergeants are shaking it. The door opens, and I hear what will be the first words a drill sergeant will ever say to me.

It will not be the only time I will hear them though.

"YOU HAVE FIFTEEN SECONDS TO GET OFF THIS BUS AND TEN OF THEM ARE GONE!" I hear the voice bellow. I am in the back of the bus and I see privates trying to carry their belongings and dropping them, the Sergeants violating their space getting two inches from their noses and screaming at them to drop for committing the crime of letting some piece of baggage hit the ground. The privates looking at them dumbly not knowing what the fuck "drop" means. The sergeants finally clarifying and telling them to give them 20 push ups. The privates clumsily dropping their belongings to give them the requisite push ups, doing the push ups quickly, dropping something else while clamoring to pick up their belongings again and then having to do twenty more. I am watching this while holding my duffle bag and trying to shuffle myself off the bus as quickly as I can looking at the bag balancing on top of my duffle bag and praying for a miracle. Praying that somehow the laws of physics will be violated and that the bag will somehow remain pristinely on top of the duffle bag, all through the bus shaking and the running and the scrambling. The bag does its best to accommodate my wishes, but it does finally fall, the moment I get off the bus. A Sergeant is in my face immediately. "DROP YOU MAGGOT! DROP! DROP! DROP!"

"I'M SORRY, SIR" I cry, dropping my stuff and doing the required number of push ups.

"WHAT THE HELL DID YOU JUST CALL ME?!?!" He says bending over to get in my face.

Did he read my mind, or did I call him an asshole out loud? "NOTHING SIR!" I cry.

"You see this Private," the Sergeant says grabbing his lapel and finally approaching something resembling a normal tone of voice. "These stripes mean I WORK for a living. I'm a sergeant, not a God damned officer. You address officers as sir, you address me as SERGEANT."

"Yes sir SERGEANT!" I cried.

I do my twenty push ups go to pick up my bags, drop my bags again and am made to do twenty push ups more. It is upon getting to the ground to do the second set of twenty that it happens. I call it slipping because that's what it feels like. It's a fall in a parking lot on a winter's day. One second you're on your feet and the next you're on the ground and it happens so fast your heart barely has a chance to skip.

I go down to do my push ups and my hands never touch the ground as I fall forward. I feel the momentary fall, the panic, the exhilaration, as I

slip

back

onto the bus. I feel the weight of the duffle bag on my lap. I look up and see the offensive personal bag resting on top of my duffle bag. I grab at it quickly as if it were a bundle of cash mistakenly left on the counter by a merchant for anyone to grab and put the strap quickly around my neck. The bus comes to a stop. Shaking, disbelief expressed as to our horrible looks. The door opening and for the second time " YOU HAVE FIFTEEN SECONDS TO GET OFF THIS BUS AND TEN OF THEM ARE GONE!" Only this time I have all my bags secured.

I get off the bus, "YOU BETTER MOVE LIKE YOU HAVE A PURPOSE IN LIFE, MAGGOT!"

"Yes, Sergeant," I yell and run into the building.

I was The Man in basic training. I was The Man in Special Forces training and when the time comes and I am sent to Indochina to take care of some dirtball war lord that is starving his people, I am The Man there too.

I save my squad, I earn a Congressional Medal of honor, the first bestowed on anyone since the Vietnam War and I owe it all to Kryptonite. I did nothing. Kryptonite did it. Kryptonite made it never was.

My squad is separated from the rest of our company. We are somewhere in the Aceh Province of Indonesia. It is wet and miserable and hot. What else is new.

After days of miserable marching, Brooks tries to lighten the mood. "Man, when I get home, I'm just going to lie in bed and sleep for five days straight."

Stafford adds, "I'm gonna be lying in bed too, but I ain't going to be sleeping."

Taylor is complaining. Again, what else is new. "This is pointless, Fordman." He says, "They think we're dead. " Taylor: Mr. Happy Fun Guy. For six days I've heard him moan and I so wish for the days of Basic training and Special Ops training where I could simply tell a guy to shut the fuck up and be done with it. But now I must be an example, I can't afford to lose my temper or be anything less then positive. Even though I'm only a corporal, I'm still the ranking member of the squad.

"We're gonna make it back home, you hear me?" I say, as positively as I can. " I'm gonna get back and see...

Taylor interrupts me "Lana. I know. If I have to hear about Lana or Smallville or horseback riding in the freaking meadow one more time--" He never finishes the sentence.

A mortar comes screaming down. Mortars are savage brutal things. When real soldiers see Rambo dodging them we always have to suppress a laugh in the movie theaters. They do not need to hit you to kill you. In fact they don't have to land anywhere near you. The mortars fired at us are designed to kill people. This is what they do: upon landing on the ground mortars bounce up and blow metal fragments in every direction. If you're within fifty yards, those metal fragments will go through you. You're told this, in basic training, in the same morbidly fascinated way they always talk about weapons in basic. I remember my instructor saying with a touch of glee how when the shrapnel hits you it would "Ruin your whole day." I remember all the Privates chuckling at this. One of the first things you learn in Basic is to chuckle at instructors asinine comments.

Of course the instructor never saw it, or he wouldn't of used a phrase like that. I'm ashamed that I laughed with the rest of them now. The mortar comes down and I see it tear Stafford, a vibrant eighteen year old man, to shreds. He doesn't have time to scream as the mortar hit and the metal flew forth, flying through him, not being slowed by the soft bits of flesh that used to be his organs and bones.

Taylor was still with me. "Move it! Move it!" I cry as we start to run along the edge of a lake, another blast hits and annihilates Brooks. Me and Taylor start to cross the lake. "Keep moving.," I shout and I hear machine gun fire. Lovely.

"We're not going to make it," Taylor says, for once echoing my thoughts.

I'm still in leader mode: "I got one flare left. We just gotta make it to that ridge. The scouts will see us from there." Yes, yes, that's all we have to do. But that ridge might as well be 500 miles away rather then the 500 feet it actually is.

Another mortar, a piece of shrapnel tears into my jacket just above my shoulder, miraculously missing my skin, I feel another piece of shrapnel fly past my ear. I turn back to see Taylor and I see that he's injured. For one moment, God help me, I consider not going to get him. Leaving him there and running for the ridge then I think better of it and I go back into the lake for him.

I ask the idiot question, "Are you all right?"

"Oh my God" He cries, grabbing his gut where a piece of shrapnel hit him. Gut injury, if the mortars or the machine guns don't kill him first, he can look forward to a long, agonizing death.

I lie: "You're OK, you're ok, " I say and help him to his feet. I start to drag him through the water. "Come on, get up," I say. Put your arm around me. Come on, keep moving. You're okay, buddy. "

"No," he yells, "No, I'm gonna die! I'm gonna die!" I notice the blood bleeding from his mouth, the goddamned shrapnel must of ricocheted off bone and nicked his lung. Can't think about that, have to get to the ridge.

"No one's gonna die! I promise!" I say and make it to land and for a fleeting glorious moment I feel safe, and then a mortar hits not more then a 100 feet from us and I feel the shrapnel ripping through my neck, my chest, my stomach, my left leg and arm. I start to fall to the ground, dying for no good reason, and glance over at Taylor who is now grisly road kill as I

slip

back

to

the field. Brooks is starting to speak, "Man, when--"

I dive into the grass, "Everybody down," I hiss and I see the others quickly follow suit. I have time, hopefully the forward observer hasn't spotted us, or if he has he hasn't had the time to radio in our coordinates, I have time, I have time, but not much. What our are options? We can try and crawl our way out of here, try and find another route. But if the guy spots us or if he already spotted us we're dead. We can start running now, see if we can clear the ridge before we gets a lock on us. No, the river will slow us down too much. No, we must attack.

I scan the area quickly, spot a nearby hill. They must be over there. Usually a fire support team consists of three to four men, they have the advantage of higher ground, but in the weeds, with our camouflage it will be hard for them to put that advantage to good use. The machine gun they fired at us sounded like an AK-47, it has half the range of our M60. We have a chance. A small chance, if I can just keep the bastards from radioing our coordinates to the mortars. Brooks and Stafford already have the M-60 set up, they're well trained, but have no idea why they dived down or where they should direct their fire.

"What are you doing Fordman?" Taylor asks.

"Shhh!" I say, "There's a fire support team on that hill over there, we're about 30 seconds from having mortars raining down on us.

"How'd you know--" I cut Taylor off. "Brooks, Stafford, Lay down fire on that hill," I say and they start firing immediately. Without knowing their location, I'm wasting ammo, but I have to keep the forward observer from calling in our location. Hopefully the M60 fire will scare him enough to keep him off the radio. I take my rifle out and look in the scope, "where the hell are you bastards?" I think

Breath, Fordman, breath, the guy's gotta have an antennae concentrate on finding the guy with the radio. Take him out and then it's an Ak-47 against an M60 and three M16s. I see a flash from the Ak-47 I look through the scope and I see two of the bastards. I was right about it being an Ak-47 wrong about there only being one of them. Still we have range and, without the mortars, a firepower advantage. I allow myself to breathe out hold my breath for half a second and fire. I see his jaw and face seared away. I aim for the other one but he's behind cover now. I look for an antennae, he's not the one. Great, I got one of them but we're still dead if I don't get the radio man. "Stafford, direct your fire at three o clock" I say, "we've got to draw the radio man out." I start to look through the scope.

A mortar fires far to our right. I take satisfaction in having scared the guy. His coordinates were deadly accurate before, now they're off by a click. I intend to keep him scared.

"Taylor," I say, "We have to get the radio man before he calls in our location right, do you have your gas grenades?"

Taylor nods, "Fire them at three o' clock" I say and Taylor does so immediately. I'm in charge, I'm a leader, oh dad, I wish I could tell you. I hear the familiar pop as the M203 launches one of its cylindrical grenades. The gas grenade goes out. If nothing else, it's hard to call in coordinates when breathing in CS gas. Another mortar goes off, this time closer. I have 30 seconds, tops before he has a read on us. The gas hit's the hill. I see what looks to be a long twig moving. It's the antennae, I trace the twig down and see a man attached to it, he's trying to talk He's breathing in the CS gas, there are tears in his eyes and mucus is falling from his nose. "I'll put you out of your misery, fucker," I think as I allow myself to exhale hold my breath and carefully squeeze off a round and almost immediately have the satisfaction of seeing the top half of his head fly off. The head is gone but the radio is still intact. There's one guy left, he's gotta be scared now, the odds are in our favor. Decision time, do I make for the ridge or do I try and stop the guy remaining? If the guy has the presence of mind to get to the radio and if he has the ability to call in the coordinates, we're dead again.

"Guys, get ready to charge that hill, there's one fucker left there and he's too entrenched for us to get with our fire and we can't let him get to that radio.

"I'm not going to charge up that hill" Taylor says.

"Then stay here and let the bastard call in your coordinates." I say and pick up my rifle and run for the ridge. I'm still firing laying down suppression fire as I run. The guy sees what we're doing and rather then firing at us makes a run for it. Stafford and Brooks are still firing. I don't care about him anymore, I'm overwhelmed with joy. We made it, we're going to live. He didn't run for the radio, he ran away, he's not going to be calling in our coordinates. One of the men hit's the poor bastard in the arm. He falls. I get to the top of the hill, and grab for the radio, almost as if I thought that the radio could somehow call in our coordinates without a man attached to it.

I pick up the radio and hit it on a rock. I smash the radio, and smash it and smash it and step on the pieces in my mania. My eyes are teary and mucus is beginning to run from my nose from the remaining CS gas but I don't care. We're going to live, we're going to live. Stafford and Brooks are standing over the last man about to do to him what I was doing to the radio. Brooks rifle buts the guy and Stafford is about to join in. "Stop, stop," I say, "We're about a quarter of a click from safety, let's tie up the bastard and get the hell out of here," I say.

"Yes sir," One of them says and I come close to saying that I work for a living, but decide that we're too far from safety to start joking.

Two minutes, two fucking minutes. That's the difference. I knew that they were there two minutes earlier and we all lived and two of them died. Two minutes is the difference between all of us living unharmed and all of us dying. Two minutes between our victory or their defeat. War. God.