Which Way the Wind Blows

An American Base
In the Middle of the Same Somewhere as the Last Time
1553 Hours

Two GIs, lounging about while drinking a liquid that the Supply Section swore was supposed to resemble coffee, were contemplating the Harriers parked on the pads of the Airforce Command Center. There were not four Harriers, as per the norm, but one whole Harrier and about 32 percent of another, swarmed over by mechanics who were trying to repair it with duct tape and spare sticks of sugar-free chewing gum.

This particular pair of Harriers were survivors; they had just come back from an attack run on the Soviet base in the far northwest corner of the theater. Such an act would not generally garner note, as there was a minor world war occurring, and airstrikes were mildly fashionable during such times. However, what one of the GIs couldn't get his head around was the fact that this was the 50th attack mounted by the Harrier group, and the result had always been the same: two Harriers would come back, or maybe one and one-third Harriers, with one rattled but unharmed pilot, and the other missing an arm, or a leg, or perhaps a head (those mechanics could fix damn near anything, it seemed).

So, this GI, being a pragmatic and learned individual before the Selective Service abducted him from his house at gunpoint to fight for freedom and the American way, asked a simple question of his faux coffee-drinking comrade.

"Don't you think the commander would have gotten the message by now that the Harrier attacks are…less than successful?"

His friend contemplated this for a moment before replying, "Well, the Soviets haven't attacked in an hour, so they must be having some effect."

"Yeah, I don't think that's why. I think they haven't attacked because they're too busy laughing at us."

Two new Harriers appeared on the pad; the original two were now fixed, the most damaged one clad from nose to tail in super glue and silly putty. They were all ordered out again, rocketing off the pad and into the sky, happily rushing towards their imminent doom.

The pragmatic GI had a pair of binoculars, through which he had watched the previous 50 Harrier escapades. He handed these to his friend.

"Here, look through these and watch what happens."

His friend did so, tracking the Harriers as they screamed onwards in proud formation…at least, until they were engulfed by a fierce black cloud. Two of the planes – the only two to survive – turned around and ran back home, one mildly dented, but the other missing both wings and nearly half of one engine.

As they landed – well, as the dented one landed and the other buried itself in the barracks nearby – the GI handed back the binoculars.

"See what I mean? Every time the commander sends them out, they fly that way, and every time they get to that particular spot, they get flak'd into oblivion."

"Yeah, I've noticed."

"So why doesn't he send them some other way?"

"Union rules."

Mr. Pragmatic blinked. "Union? The pilots have a union? Wait …why don't we have a union?"

"We're conscripted. We don't technically count as human beings. The pilots are civilians…I think they're from Halliburton or something."

"Whatever…but what does their union have to do with them flying repeatedly into the Black Cloud of Certain Doom?"

"Well, the commander has to pay them by the mile, so he always sends them on the shortest possible route."

"…good lord, he's a cheapskate. Wait, aren't there any regular military pilots left?"

"Nope, Soviets killed them all."

"All of them? Every single possible one?"

"Yep. It was like a massive pilot death orgy."

"Okay, I didn't need that mental image, but I get your point."

The GIs watched the mechanics pull the Harrier out of the barracks, much to the complaints of the other soldiers, who said the plane was an improvement to their living conditions. As they placed it on a vacant pad, they began repairing it – one mechanic had found a stapler, and was going to town with it – as Mr. Pragmatic and his friend watched.

"So…if the pilots are so expensive, why doesn't the commander just not build the Command Center in the first place?" Mr. Pragmatic asked.

"Then he wouldn't have a radar."

"But he could just build a Spy Satellite Uplink, right?"

"Spy Sat runs Windows. Command Center computer's a Mac."

Mr. Pragmatic blinked, then took a sip of his coffee impostor. "They've got him proper screwed, huh?"

"Yep."

The pair took more sips as they watched the mechanics bring out the heavy artillery – somebody had found a hot glue gun – and laid siege to the broken strike fighter. Mr. Pragmatic looked down at his cup.

"Hey, you know what?"

"What?" his friend looked over at him.

"I wonder if the Soviets get actual coffee."