Thursday, May 8, 2014

Flash Fiction - We're all human, even when we're not

Yeah, I remember that smell...

Some people must think that after being part of a covert ops clean-up crew for over 15 years, something like that wouldn't bother us. I take it one step further, and say that it's something that I expect to smell every day on the job. The smell of bleach and burning remains is not a hard smell to recognize, but after a while I started to wake up to that smell as if I were waiting for my morning coffee. That's not the thing that scares us, not by a long shot. The thing that scares me the most is the fact that we can't live without it. An interesting, yet awful, paradox: we hate it, but we can't live without it. I look around at my crew and I know we're all thinking the same thing as we prepare to clean up the mess left behind by the field agents and arms dealers that were here an hour ago.

This is no easy gig, that's for sure. When my crew and I get back to headquarters, we get our commendations and walk away to wait for the next job. Even though the field agents get all the credit for the mission being successfully executed, my crew and I are the people that make sure that fuel isn't added to the fire of an already international incident. Since we use kerosene and gasoline to dispose of what remains of the mission, the irony of which is not lost on me.

Once at home, I try to relax while remembering the "horrific things" I had seen earlier on. I've been in the business for a while, and I'm not surprised by much anymore. The only thing that really gets to me when I'm at home is the fact that I'm home. My apartment doesn't really have much in the way of decoration, no family pictures because I don't have one, a single couch, and my job posting system, also known as my television. As I turn on the news, I can tell which catastrophic event my crew and I will be cleaning up next. Even though I try not to think about it too much, I can't help but relive the day's events when I'm at home. I know it's sick, but even though I've done some really awful things under the guise of "preserving national security," it's hard for me not to take pride in this work. Not something I can casually bring up in conversation... thus, adding to the things about this life that I don't like.

I especially don't like the late hours of this job. One phone call at 2:00am, and an hour later my crew and I are on a plane to God knows where just to make sure that the ramifications of the operation are taken care of. Thank God that the gear is already sent to the location where we will be, otherwise that would look pretty suspicious getting on an airplane. I can just imagine the conversation that I would have with the air marshal: air marshal accuses me of something that I can only assume equates to acts of terrorism in his mind, I lie, he doesn't believe me, I lie again, he gets irritated, cuffs me, drags me to the security office, and I wait patiently until someone who outranks him and has clearance to know of my business releases me. All that time passes, and at that point, an international incident doesn't erupt because another team swoops in and takes the lead on the clean-up. Son of a bitch just keeps me from getting paid. He doesn't actually influence the outcome of the story. It's just the way my profession works. After that, I would just go back home and wait for the next call, and the next time, the plane will take off with me and my crew on it.

After the airport, I go home to splash water on my face and look in the mirror at the man that I've become. After all I've seen, learned, and done I don't remember the man that I was before this life. All of the experience doesn't amount to much other than the fact that I can do my job without flinching or furrowing my brow. The weird thing is, I can't live without this life. I wouldn't have it any other way. There is a part of me that enjoys the clean-up, and it's that part of me that frightens me the most. A part that loves the smell of bleach and burning remains, and takes some kind of sick pleasure at what all of it means. We're made to believe that all of what we do is to keep political fires from burning out of control when the team that is in the middle of the action is holding the match, intending to do just that. I think the only solace that some get is the fact that they get paid at the end of the week, no questions asked.

It's an odd frame of mind to be in; when I know something is wrong, but I'm getting paid to do it in the name of what is defined by the higher-ups as "justice." It makes me think "what would other people do if they've seen the things that I've seen or done the things that I've done?" Those questions bother me because this job can create monsters... or maybe that was the intention all along. Either way, remind me to thank Uncle Sam for everything I've been a part of.

You know, you've been awfully quiet throughout my little ramble, doc. Got something on your mind?

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