Benster Aconoyde's Last Guard Duty
[This is an excerpt from my novel, They Who Are Having A Bad Day. This passage is abridged from the opening of Chapter 3.]
While we’re at it, let’s think about that word: unbeknownst. It’s such an awful word. We always hear about things happening unbeknownst to someone or other, but we never hear about anything that happens beknownst to anybody. For that matter, how often do we read about anyone knownsting anything? Unbeknownst. It is such an odd word.
Take, by way of illustration, a look at Private Benster Aconoyde, who is an infantrybeing in the Unterstandard Schlechttag (a phrase which means, literally, “Sub-standard Bad Day”), which is one of the three major branches of infantry within the Bad Day Army. In order to understand Private Aconoyde we must understand the Unterstandard Schlechttag, and in order to understand the Unterstandard Schlechttag we must understand the Bad Day military. Unfortunately for us, no one understands the Bad Day military, so we are basically out of luck here.
So let’s try looking at things a different way. The race known as They Who Are Having A Bad Day is not so much a species as a collection. Many of them are humanoid, or at least vaguely human-shaped, or at least have two or three things in common with humans, but the Bad Days include many other types of beings as well. Regardless of shape, size, or hairstyle, two things unite them: they all live in a dark place, and they all consider themselves to be evil.
The Bad Days have a highly structured society, rigidly defined and strictly enforced. A person’s place in Bad Day society is determined by the darkness of the place in which they live. In. At. The place what where they done live. In. How depressed they is. Are. Whatever.
This hierarchical societal model is evident throughout the Bad Day civilization, in every institution and organization. This is especially so in the military and in the government, for the two common threads throughout every Bad Day’s life are conflict and authority.
Like the militaries of most modern peoples, the Bad Day military is divided into branches based on function: the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Gangsters, Choreographers, Border Patrol, Merchant Marine, Secret Police, Social Security, Military Intelligence, Air-Assault Tax Collectors, and so forth. The Army is divided into branches of its own: the Infantry, Armor, Artillery, and Engineers. The Infantry branch is further divided into three types of foot soldiers: the elite Gummibärenjäger Abteilungen, the not-at-all-elite Grösste Umweltgestört, and the bottom-of-the-barrel Unterstandard Schlechttag.
While the Gummibärenjäger (literally, “Rubber Bear Hunters,” although it is not clear whether the term refers to hunters who hunt rubber bears, or rubber bears who also happen to be hunters, or hunters made of rubber who hunt bears, none of which seem to have anything to do with the Bad Day military) are easily identifiable as special troops, an outside observer may be hard pressed to tell the difference between the regular Grösste Umweltgestört (literally, “Really driven insane by their environment”) troops and the sub-par Unterstandard Schlechttag. Both are given pretty much the same training, which is to say, not much at all. Both are issued pretty much the same equipment, which is to say, defective. Their uniforms are all of the same drab khaki sort, and not the fashionable kind. The primary distinction is the hopelessness of the missions to which the soldiers will be assigned.
Upon entering the Bad Day Infantry, each new soldier is assigned to his, her, or its new unit. Recruits are put through extensive testing to determine intelligence, resourcefulness, determination, delusionality, mental stability, strength of character, and physical condition. Those recruits who score in the lowest fifty percent are dragged off to the Unterstandard Schlechttag. Those who score between 51% and 95% are sent to the Grösste Umweltgestört. Those who don’t fit in are selected to become officers. Those who can manage to keep their uniforms clean are selected to become senior officers. Anyone left over at the end of the selection process ends up in the Gummibärenjäger Abteilungen.
But what of this evil business? What is this unifying concept of evil that is so central to Bad Day society? I’m afraid that’s a subject we will have to approach at a different time, for now we must look in on our Private Benster Aconoyde, who at this moment is alone, patrolling a small airfield in the middle of the night somewhere on the planet of Berrrck, while the narrative prepares to switch back to past tense.
Date: Tuesday morning, March 28th
Private Aconoyde hated guard duty. She disliked all the other duties she was called upon to perform as an infantrybeing in the Unterstandard Schlechttag, but she specifically hated guard duty. She thoroughly despised the fact that she had been assigned to night watch, but she merely disdained being stationed to watch over an airfield. She couldn’t decide if she felt intense anguish or just mild irritation at being assigned to guard the entire airfield alone, but she was convinced it was at least one of the two.
The lights of the flightline were all turned off but Private Aconoyde could see to the end of the nearest row of parked aircraft. The sky was filled with bright stars in what the guard felt was a loathsome and gaudy display of redundant illumination. The silhouettes of the irritatingly sleek aircraft hulked at her in the dim light, and she took it personally. Row after row of planes sat there, over a hundred of them in total, all of them mocking her in their smug parkedness. She alone was responsible for their security on this night, and she alone knew the horrible burden of that responsibility.
Her orders for this evening’s watch had been simple. “Do not, under any circumstances, allow anyone to let the air out of the airplanes’ tires,” her squad leader had told her, prior to leaving for the bowling alley. What a stupid, nonsensical, unpleasant, demeaning order that was. She felt as if she had been asked to do the impossible. The stars above twinkled. She seethed.
Private Aconoyde detested the neatly parked rows of fighter aircraft. She despised her rifle, loathed her helmet, and resented her boots, which were ill fitting and not particularly stylish. Like most members of her race, she hated life itself, and like many other Bad Days she spent a great deal of time dwelling over the different ways in which she disliked all the details of her life.
The high point of her day had been reading the morning mail. She had received a computer-generated “Dear John” letter, a memo from the tax bureau telling her that she was about to be audited, a foreclosure notice on a mortgage she didn’t have, letters saying that she was about to be fired from three jobs she’d never heard of, and several rejection notes from publishers she hadn’t sent anything to.
Private Aconoyde set her rifle down next to the nose wheel of a fighter jet and pulled out the “Dear John” letter. She read it again and again. Tears of disbelief mingled with tears of sorrow as they fell from her cheek onto the smudged computer printout.
DEAR YOUR NAME,
I HATE YOU. I NEVER LOVED YOU. I’M GOING BACK TO MOTHER AND I’M TAKING THE CHILDREN WITH ME. I’M STARTING A NEW LIFE WITH FRED.
YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER, SPOUSE, AND/OR ACCOUNTANT
Benster Aconoyde was not married, nor had she recently been involved with anyone. Like the rest of her mail, the letter was computer-generated by the Bad Day government and sent out every morning to every member of the military as part of a morale-building initiative. This was the same letter she received, read, re-read, and cried over every day. She reflected on how badly the soldiers must feel who really did have husbands or wives, and she hated them for it. She took an angst pill.
It was roughly at this point that Aconoyde began to suspect that something was happening unbeknownst to her. She heard a faint hissing sound. She noticed the faint but unpleasant smell of stale rubber in the air. She thought she saw a shadow moving near the ground several aircraft down the row. She looked again and saw shadows moving and shifting between the parked jets, doing things that were likely to be unbeknownst in nature.
Private Aconoyde picked up her rifle with a long sigh. She thought about how heavy the rifle was and the many times she’d complained about that to her squad leader. She listened to the loathsome squeal coming from the rifle's breech as she pulled the bolt back, looked with disgust at the filth that had built up in the chamber. She hated herself for never cleaning her rifle, although she was convinced that she was completely justified in taking umbrage with the weapon cleaning kit the Army had issued to her. She caught a glimpse of something moving off to her left.
Aconoyde pulled a box of ammunition from her coat pocket and stared long and hard at the label. The box was marked AMMUNITION, 7.62MM, FAULTY, 40 ROUNDS. She ruminated how the military of the empire of They Who Are Having A Bad Day randomly issued its troops with faulty ammunition on the theory that it would keep everyone on their toes. She further contemplated the possibility of putting some of the bullets into her rifle, then wondered what the point of it all really was, cosmically speaking, then considered that what she really hated was indecision. She wondered if she could blame this on her parents, or possibly on her schooling, or possibly both, and how she should explain these feelings to her therapist. She disliked her therapist as well.
The small cardboard carton did not hold the ammunition well, she thought. The bullets rolled around loosely in an irritating manner, and the end flaps looked like they’d break off too easily if the box was opened and closed too many times. Poor manufacturing was one thing, but poor packaging was something that Aconoyde just couldn’t deal with. She whirled her finger around in the box slowly, rolling the bullets back and forth, visualizing how much better the rounds would stack if only the box had been of a better design.
As her head hit the ground Aconoyde thought about her aversion to being struck across the back of the head, and how bad the paved surface of the flightline tasted. She made a mental note to complain to her squad leader about that. She didn’t care for the taste of her own blood either and was rather embarrassed at its color and consistency as it pooled around her cheek. Her final thought was to wonder if there was an afterlife, and whether it would be any more unpleasant than what she’d had to put up with so far.
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