Mind Games

It was summer's end when I went to visit Mr. Taylor Johnson. I arrived promptly at noon, and knocked on the door. Mr. Johnson answered immediately smiling and gesturing inside. I looked around and saw the walls were bedecked with newspaper clippings from the war.

He smiled sheepishly and said; "Sorry about this mess. Embarrassing right?" I shook my head and told him that it was lovely. He motioned towards a small coffee table in the center of the room. I took a seat and looked around. The room was small, but well organized. A couch sat on one side facing a television, on the other side was a large window facing out over the city. He brought over a pot of tea and joined me, pouring a glass for each of us.

"Now Corporal Johnson-"

"Please don't use my rank."

"Of course. Mr. Johnson," I began, "Are you sure you are comfortable with this?"

"Absolutely, it's not an issue." He replied smiling.

"And you don't mind if I use a recorder? It will help me keep the article accurate."

"Not at all."

"Okay then, when you're ready." I pressed the record button while he took a sip of his tea and looked out the window.

"Well by 2020 most of the world was engulfed in the war. I myself had seen combat from exotic jungles to barren tundra. I was in the 32nd Mechanized, serving under Captain William Armstrong. We had the best equipment available; the Mobile Artillery Walkers, the Command Skiffs, even the LREMP Cannon."

"Now our job was basically to bring all of this firepower to the frontlines, then use it to blow those hostile pricks away. I myself was trained to use the M.A.W., and she wasn't easy to control. You had to be gentle with the movements, or else she might jerk to the side and you'd careen out of control. Now I didn't care, because the firepower on them was out of this world. Who wouldn't want to drive one? It was ripped right from Star Wars!"

He paused and looked at me. "Sorry if I'm rambling, I know you want to hear about Armstrong."

"That's quite alright Mr. Johnson," I replied, "I have plenty of time." Johnson nodded, and continued his story.

"It was March 10th, the day of his death that is. We were fighting in the Amazon, one of the biggest battles they tell me. Now by that time, most of the forest had been ripped apart from the constant downpour of artillery. We were stationed on top of this cliff, looking out over the eastern jungle. We could hear the constant thundering of weapons fire from the jungle, but couldn't see a damn thing through the canopy. Now Captain Armstrong was getting worried because we hadn't received orders from command in a while, plus we were sitting ducks on the cliff top. For days we had been doing nothing; we would swim in this lake and then sleep in god damn caskets! Needless to say, the men were getting restless."

"Finally we received some information from command. They were sending new equipment and recruits immediately. Now this pissed off Captain Armstrong, he didn't want to have to teach a bunch of kids fresh from high school how to fire a gun, but he didn't have a choice. The recruits arrived quickly, yapping about how they couldn't wait to kick some ass. Captain Armstrong set them straight quickly. He told them that if they didn't fight like hell, they would 'never get to see mommy and daddy' ever again. Now this may sound a little cruel to you, but it shut them up right away."

"We sat around for about three days waiting for word from command. Eventually it came, with a new deadline. By the end of the week we were supposed to be packed up and heading into the jungle to give combat support to the troops already in there. Now the Captain was boiling with rage. 'It's a suicide mission', he screamed back at command, 'The jungle below us is packed with hostiles'. Command didn't give a flying fuck though, if we didn't go, they'd terminate all of us, and I'm not talking about our jobs, I'm talking about our lives."

"So we packed it all up and stared to make our way down the sides. It was a long tedious journey, but Captain Armstrong kept the troops' morale high. I was lucky enough to be piloting a M.A.W. all the way down rather than lugging the other equipment, but that also meant I was the escort. We didn't really have any issues with hostiles on the trip down luckily; it would have been a disaster if we had to use up ammo. Now Ray Armstrong, the Captains younger brother, was a M.A.W. pilot as well, and we became pretty close, we even had codenames for each other. I was 'Big Red Bird' and he was 'Magnificent Purple Panther'. We'd chatter back and forth on the radio, making jokes about the new recruits who would moan about the walk. Now when we were getting close to the jungle, Ray asked me something I'll never forget. It was the middle of the night, and everyone else was asleep. Being M.A.W. pilots, we had to watch the camp. I had been zoning out when he quietly asked me; 'Taylor, are you afraid of death?' Now I sat there a long time looking up at the stars pondering his question. I looked out at the now silent jungle, and replied 'Yes.' He didn't say anything back; he was silent for the rest of the night. I wish he hadn't been; I wish our last serious conversation could have been better."

"The next morning we entered the jungle as swiftly and as silently as possible. We were hoping we could make it to our forces without any confrontations. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough. The enemy had been waiting for us to move out, and had laid a massive ambush. I saw a blip on the radar and the next second our scouting tank had erupted into flames. The enemy came out of the jungle guns blazing. They had their own version of the M.A.W. and we were quickly locked into combat. The Captain was shouting orders over the screaming of our troops, but I was high on adrenaline. I made my way towards the tanks, but an enemy walker charged towards me. I pulled the triggers and the machine guns blazed to life. He fired a missile at me, and I felt my entire M.A.W. shake on the impact. The computer started screaming that the shields were offline and the hull had sustained heavy damage, but in the rush I didn't pay attention. I fired back, and his walker exploded into flames. Triumphant, I screamed into my headset, alerting the battalion to my victory. I turned in my cockpit and looked towards Ray's M.A.W. He looked back and gave me a thumbs up."

"I tried to keep moving forward, but the fire from their tanks and walkers kept pushing me back. One more missile hit and I was as good as gone. Captain Armstrong was still barking orders out to the infantry, and I did my best to cover them. Things weren't looking good for our forces; the enemy just slightly outnumbered us. I quickly realized that unless I attacked now, we were screwed. So I threw my M.A.W. out of cover and trained the machine guns on one of the tanks. It fired back with an artillery shell that nearly took me out. I cursed my luck and hid in the trees, hoping that a repairman would see me. The Captain started yelling retreat orders, but Ray didn't like that. He yelled at Captain Armstrong that they had to continue."

"Then Ray spoke to me. 'Big Red', he said to me, 'I'm really gonna miss you.' I whirled around in my cockpit to look at him. Ray was always a diehard for our nation, so much so, that he was willing to give his life for it. 'Don't do this!' I screamed back, 'Don't you dare!' William must have heard too. Suddenly he was screaming; 'No, no, no!' Ray didn't stop; in fact, I could swear he sped up." Mr. Johnson stopped and I saw tears running down his face.

"We can stop here, Mr. Johnson." He stared back at me, his eyes red and face wet with tears;

"No." He continued, "Ray continued to move forward towards them tanks, dodging the fire. I had jumped out of my M.A.W. and ran towards him, William did the same. I don't know what we thought we were going to do, but it didn't matter. He ejected from his M.A.W. a grenade in hand. He must have flown 40 feet before landing with a crash on top of a tank. I saw him pull the pin and stuff it down the barrel of the cannon. I grabbed William and we both fell to the ground. A second later the tanks exploded, taking out the entire line. William screamed and kicked trying to break free and rush into the fire storm. A couple other soldiers helped me grab him and pull him back. We got the remainder of the battalion together and headed towards the main force."

"They say it was the firepower from our battalion that won the day. I don't know if that's true, but that would mean it was Ray's sacrifice that won the battle. He was the bravest soldier I've ever met, and I truly mean that. I sure as hell wouldn't have done that. I guess he wasn't afraid of death like I was." Johnson stopped, his eyes were glazed over. I stopped recording and stood up.

"It was an honor to meet you Mr. Johnson." As expected, he didn't respond, but continued to stare out the window. I walked out and walked down the hall. As I was leaving, I ran into Doctor Smith, who was on his way up; "Thank you for giving me this opportunity Doctor. It was really something else." The doctor nodded;

"Were you surprised by how detailed he is?" I took a moment to answer this;

"Yes, I was." The doctor and I shook hands, and then parted.

Then as I was walking out the door, the doorman called me over; "Sorry to bother you sir, I just have a quick question." I already knew what it was, but decided to listen anyway;

"I'm all ears."

"Well sir, I've heard rumors that Mr. Taylor Johnson is really war hero Captain William Armstrong, is that true?" For a moment, I thought about answering truthfully, but then responded;

"That's ridiculous."