He pictures himself still in his underwear, but now wearing his helmet and breathing apparatus and leading a column of troops down Main Street while standing atop that big-ass pickup truck he was looking at a couple months ago, back in the city, after he’d taken the bus downtown to walk around and check things out on account of those shitheads in headquarters had finally got around to putting some money into his bank account.
“Finances have always been the bane of the military’s mission,” his company commander had proclaimed in the barracks one day after some of the men, having found some old scraps of newspaper in the garbage can and using the columns of numbers therein to deduce their bank accounts, had begun to complain that their pay was late. They’d just come back from a twenty-eight thousand kilometer ruck-march only to find that there weren’t a computer in sight, and that was after that young bitch at the library downtown had very unceremoniously asked the Moonman to close up the browser with the adult website he was looking at with the sound all the way up and to leave the premises, “or I’ll pick up that phone and call the cops right now.” Pointing without looking, her head bobbing in a building rage. “There are children here.”
So he’d done what all good soldiers do, which was to improvise. He’d rejoined his unit after jumping back through the portal in the shed, and along with everyone else had completed the 28K.
Afterwards, casting about for something to do in that boring old barracks in outer space, where all the clocks have stopped and some men take to floating horizontally as though on a rack, their anti-space-sickness medications having kicked in and their eyes rolling back into their skulls as they lulled between here and some other, perhaps better world, he eventually came upon that old trash-can in question.
Some of the men, reading on their bunks, looked over at the grating metal sound of lid leaving lips, their curiosity piqued as the Moonman stood there, considering the contents within: banana peels, bus transfer tickets, hospital bracelets and the soggy remains of a skin magazine furthest up the pile.
And underneath that?
The Moonman, his head hanging down as though only incidentally did the trash can come to fall under his gaze, made a lazy, almost uncoordinated gesture with his arm, his hand coming into contact with the metal cylinder’s side with just enough force to gently, by arresting degrees, push the trash-can onto its side. The crash reverberated through the space-barracks, the stars hanging outside the reinforced windows, the interior bare but for the thin mattresses on the bunks and the layers of industrial-grade paint on the cinder-block walls. A synthetic pine odor, the trace remains of cleaning agents, had long ago receded to the periphery of the troopers’ sensory awareness, to the point that the smell was the barracks, and you couldn’t have a barracks without that smell.
But the crash of metal here was something new, something immediate and jarring. The men gathered around the Moonman as he knelt amidst the detritus. With the same languid and seemingly unpremeditated sweep of his arm he made little flicking motions at the can’s scattered bounty, pushing and divvying up its contents in such a way as to make clear the proffer of goods to individual recruits, who, intuiting at once this meaning, reacted to each new distributive gesture with an almost solemn reception of the goods, taking into their hands their allotted share. Clasping fruit rinds to their chests they’d then proceeded to watch, wide-eyed, as the Moonman came upon the old newspaper at the bottom of the can.
It was an old copy, but it was breaking news just the same: battles up above, politics below; the dollar-weather: a couple million degrees, this weekend being a national holiday, during which you might conceivably find yourself traveling somewhere in the vicinity of the nearest star. Beware lone wolves.
The financial section, which was needed in the absence of measures for gold and silver– for how else to know who gets paid–was open. Spread out on the floor with the Moonman leaning over it on his knees, a hand on either side of that array of coded signals and ancient knowledge, a cipher only to those without eyes to see.
He calls out names, a look upwards in expectation of each response.
“Two hundred bucks. Kisco?”
“You’re up thirteen percent.”
He read and he read and he read, and when he’d finished each man sat back with his arms extended behind him, the floor cool under his palms, turning over in his mind the ends to which he’d put these means. They’d traded ideas amongst themselves, enumerating the pros and cons of different courses of action, some words being exchanged in the more heated of debates but the overall humor a good one, a payday as a trooper being hard to beat.
Then the company commander had come in.
“Bad news,” he said, pointing at the men, who had scrambled to their feet at his entrance, everyone in the room board-stiff at the position of attention. “The government is out of money and you’re fucked.”
So the news was all lies, then, and they chewed on their apple cores and banana peels the rest of the weekend, the private rooms at the strip clubs vacant and the liquor-store shelves full-up for their want of disposable income. Then Monday rolled around and the news was right all along, in fact, it was just that the company commander, under lots of stress due to a number of recent setbacks, had misread the memorandum, and thus twisted its true message: “We want our troopers safe this holiday weekend, so we’re keeping them under lock and key.” Straight from the High Command itself…