Strangers in a Strange Land.

I am an Army wife. I live on an Army post with my Army husband.

He is American. I am not. We live in Europe. We are both foreigners here, except when we are on our little “piece of the USA” which is the little post up in the mountains where we live. Then I am the foreigner. It’s a strange concept to me sometimes, but not a terrible thing. I like being different, and I don’t really need social interaction much, as I live with my best friend anyway! 🙂

If we were living in the USA, I think this would be more of an issue than it is here. Here, there are many “foreign” wives – wives who are not American, I mean. I have met many German spouses living here – so they are only foreigners when they are on post, like me – and I have met many Russian, Spanish, French, Italian and other European spouses. We (the “foreign” wives) seem to be drawn to each other in many ways. The language issue – not so much in my case, as I do speak English as a first language – seems to be the biggest barrier for making friends with the American wives. Another major thing is the cultural issue. Americans are very different to the rest of the world – it’s not a bad thing or a good thing, it’s just a fact of life – and this stands out very clearly in a place like this. They stick with each other and tend to gravitate toward each other in the same way us “Ausländers” do. Perfectly natural, anthropologically. Trying to explain these cultural differences is very difficult when you can’t see it in person. It’s little things and big things.

The unfortunate attitude toward family pets is the one that gets to me. It’s not everyone, for sure, but it’s an upsetting amount of the military/American population living here. They don’t seem to understand that dogs need space. Dogs need to interact with other dogs. Dogs need to WALK. Dogs need mental AND physical exercise. Big dogs need physical exercise, small dogs need mental challenges and lots of exercise. A large majority of the people living on this post (and I’m told, generally everywhere) don’t seem to get this idea. They seem to think it’s perfectly acceptable to keep a big dog (there are many Golden Retrievers, Labradors, GSD’s that I have seen/heard) in an apartment and only take them out twice a day to pee and poop. And that’s it.

And then they wonder why their Chihuahua is nasty and nippy and attacking visitors, or their Labrador chews on their furniture and shreds their socks, or their poodle is pooping on their bed, even after going outside. It boggles my mind that, despite so much evidence for exercise and social interaction as a correction for this, they just don’t see this correlation. It actually pisses me off. I offered my services, when I first arrived, to walk dogs for people who were just not getting the time (babies, half day jobs, etc) to do it themselves – but I had no responses. It was quite surprising to me! I wasn’t even charging much!

As I said – it’s not all of them! I know quite a few who walk their dogs regularly and take them to the dog park to play almost every day or on the weekends. But they are, sadly, not as many as you’d hope. But, in comparison, I know FAR more “foreign” pet owners (especially the Germans – they love their dogs) who are truly dedicated to the well-being of their pets. In fact, I don’t think I’ve met ONE foreign spouse here with a dog, who I have not seen out walking with them daily.

Of course the rest could just be inside and I’ve never seen them because they never get out! *shrug* I am open to convincing arguments…

The number of pets (cats, dogs, rabbits, you name it!) that are abandoned on army posts when the family leaves, is disgusting. It’s not surprising that the local rescue centres and adoption agencies generally won’t ALLOW Americans to adopt animals from them. They refuse. If you are in any way affiliated with the US military, they won’t let you even look. They’ve had enough of cleaning up after them. This is sad for the wonderful people who DO care for their animals and DO want to make a difference.

The reason I am ranting away is because recently we have been trying to catch a stray dog running around on post. Initially I thought it was a friend’s dog, but thankfully, he is safe and sound still. So this big, stray dog (and he’s most likely a mountain dog, like mine) has been “loose” for about 2 weeks or more now. Sightings have him looking thin, bedraggled, matted and dirty… and very scared. 2 Weeks and there have been no posters put up (and you CAN get permission for a lost dog poster) nor any postings on the local animal support websites or Facebook pages (and there are quite a few) and the MPs have only now gotten involved because someone actually piped up and said she’d seen him digging in the garbage and was worried for the poor boy and she posted this on our local animal support site. So now that more eyes are involved, the search and rescue operation is now in full effect. But, TWO WEEKS? How can any caring soul have just done NOTHING when their dog went missing? They could have told neighbours to be on the look out, or told the MPs, or asked for an email to be sent to their unit to keep an eye out.

If it was intentionally left out, so they didn’t have to deal with the cost of flying him/her home to the US, what does that say about them? How does a HUMAN BEING make a conscious decision to just abandon a trusting, loyal dog? Or their cats (so many are just left in the buildings, or in the stairwells, or just kicked out into the cold completely) and even rabbits? German animal shelters are no-kill shelters. Surely they could have tried taking the dog to one? The Germans won’t refuse any animals if they have space. If they are full, they suggest somewhere else. They _love_ their animals and they are RESPONSIBLE for them through their whole lives. There’s a sad lacking of that in the military community. Everything seems to be disposable. And that’s very sad, to me.

Once again, it’s not all of them – but it’s a scarily large number and it breaks my heart. It gives the good military people (and that’s 90%, seriously) such a bad reputation and it makes things difficult for them to do any good.

Ok. Rant over.

I just needed to get that off my chest.

My thanks to all my friends (foreign and “domestic”) who love and care for their animals – AND other people’s animals – and are trying to do the right thing, always.

I hope we can catch this poor bedraggled pooch before it’s too late.

snippet 15

Like a knife being slid slowly down her throat, right down her chest. Straight into her heart.
That was the grief she felt.
Like slivers of razors running through her veins. Throbbing with her pulse.

His blue eyes. So pale they looked like clouded sky. No glow now. No sparkle.

His hands, covered in blood and bits of flesh, growing cold in hers.

“Why did you leave my side? Why did you not hold the line?” she rasped. The icy rain began to pummel her helmetless head relentlessly.
“I couldn’t get there in time…”

The bucketing rain began to wash the mess of gore from his hands and body. His sword hand was twisted and broken. The fingers bent at angles and the bones sticking through the skin. These were the minor injuries. The killing blow was evident in his crushed side.
The troll that had caused the damage lay dead behind her, her great axe stuck fast in its skull.

Astur stood panting an arms length from her. His beautiful white face scraped and bloodied, his armour torn from him. His black mane matted with gore. He bled from many wounds, but would not leave her side. A true warhorse. A true friend.

But even that brave horse could not get her to his side fast enough. And here he lay, his head on her knees, his hands in hers.

“Oh my darling, my darling…” she sobbed. Some of her warriors stood and watched in sympathy. These two were the stuff of legend. There would be songs. But songs could not bring him back to her. Songs would not heal the hurt.

There were no words to speak to her, so none were spoken. They waited silently for her command. Their horses regaining their breath. Their wounded being cared for by Halas, as he made his way amongst them. His red robes glistened with rivulets of blood. His blind eyes glowed.

There they all stood. On this battlefield, victorious, but at such a cost it could not be fathomed until the dead had been counted. And there were so many.

“This war was not ours, my beloved, like many other wars. Our luck ran out.” she said softly. She took a shuddering breath and gently laid his arms across his body. She softly closed his eyes with her fingertips. His sword she took, and then she stood, looking down at him one last time.

Astur stepped closer to her and put his nose against her chest. His sister, Melur, had been the mount that carried her beloved into battle. She too was lost.

snippet 14

PFC Jacqui Winston was by no means a _smart_ woman. She followed orders, to the letter, because she trusted that her CO knew what he was talking about. Her loyalty and unquestioning obedience was already legend. Her squad knew it, the platoon knew it. You told “Jumping Jac” to get something done, she did it exactly as she was told to. No questions asked.

What was also quietly becoming legend, was her uncanny ability to smell trouble and her nearly supernatural skill for getting her squad out of it.

Sometimes she reacted so fast her buddies would swear that she could slow time. A common thing heard when asked about a mission would be “one minute she was there next to me, the next she was up the stairs and she’d be giving the all clear…” or “…I swear I was running into the building, but I found myself running back to the humvee and then the whole building went up like the 4th of july!”

PFC Winston talked slow, like a southern girl should, and walked (even in her battle-rattle) like a southern girl should. She was blonde and blue-eyed and tanned and toned. She once had a nickname “The Cheerleader”, but it was smacked out of the mouth of anyone who said it, by her squad. It didn’t last long, and she never found out about it. Nobody made fun of “Jumping Jac”. She’d saved too many of their asses, too many times.

She was oblivious to the awed looks and under-the-breath comments of turtle-heads and lifers alike, around base. She never left base, unless she was deployed. She didn’t seem to have any friends who came to visit. She never made any phonecalls off base. She wore jeans and tshirts when at home and her gear at all other times. Even her squad didn’t know much about her except that she was from a tiny village, not even on the map, in southern Alabama.

snippet 13

She awoke with a jerk of all her muscles. The back of her head banged against metal and her right leg cramped so hard she groaned in pain.

“What the hell?” she whispered. It was so dark that she felt her face to see if she had a blindfold on, because she knew her eyes were definitely open. As she lay on her back in the pitch blackness, she became aware of sounds and smells. The first thing she noticed was the tang of fish in the air, and the cold metal underneath her body. This led to another realisation: She was naked. Her buttocks were numb from the icy metal and her back ached. She could feel little studs in the floor in a line heading off into the distance.
A low thrum could be heard and felt under her hands.
A ship then. Some sort of fishing ship? By the aching cold biting into her body, it was most probably a deep sea vessel.

“Right. So here I am. On a ship. A fishing ship. Buck naked in the dark. Way to go, Libby.” The sound of her voice calmed her slightly, even though the sound was swallowed up by the huge dark room she was in.

snippet 12

It occurred to her suddenly, out of the blue, that she really was in deep trouble.
She hadn’t really worried before. Now, she was feeling something she had been avoiding since she was a youngster.
Oh, and rage of course. But she knew rage very well, as it was a pretty constant emotion when dealing with smugglers.

Kicking at the red sand with her foot, she swore quietly in ‘garsh.
She looked around. Smiling wryly at the desolate desert stretching off in all directions, she swore again loudly. Repeatedly.
She felt better.
A sigh escaped her and she turned to look at the little PlasBeam shack that stood, slightly tilted, in a small flattened area.

One day, she would find Greel and kill him. Then she would get a Voodun to bring him back, so she could kill him again.
She could still taste the drug in her mouth and her eyes were itchy and red. Her body felt like she’d been flung from a hanger – and she probably had been, knowing Greel and his cronies! She shook her head and growled softly.

But first, before thoughts of torture and revenge, she must sort out this shelter and see what she could use to communicate with any Habitats in the area. She at least knew what planet she was on. Knowing Greel, however, she was most certainly in the centre of the largest desert homeland. With any luck, she could find a way of attracting some of the nomadic tribes, and hitch a ride to a village or town or Habitat that was passing by.

With one more look at the suns setting over the far dunes and the red and gold sandstorm heading her way, she shook her head again and went inside.

snippet 11

Her pain sits there on her shoulders. Like a putrescent, bloated thing. Weighing her down, making it difficult to lift her head. I can see it. Her work area is sparse and uncluttered and neat. Her work is frantic and chaotic but it works. It always works.
I can see the top of her brunette head from over here in my cubicle. She is so still. You wouldn’t know that anything was going on in her soul, just by looking at her. Her mind a whirlwind of screaming and despair and thoughts like razors.

How do I know this? She is my twin. But she does not look like me. At all. She is tall and thin and pale and delicate. I am small and muscled and tanned and blonde. She never smiles. I am known for my sunny disposition. Are we related? No. Our ancestors are not even from the same continent. She is my twin because she has the other half of my soul, and I have half of hers. Silly, yes. But I can think of no other explanation. I know her so well, as if I was inside her head. I can hear her thinking sometimes. If she lifted her eyes up at any point in a conversation with me, she would know me as well. But she never does. She looks at your shoulder, your hands, the floor in front of her feet, or, if she is feeling daring, your lips.

Long ago, when she was young, she did something very bad. This guilt covers her like ash. Makes her grey inside. Later she did something so good for someone else, that she is now always in pain. But she doesn’t think that this pain makes up for the bad thing she did. I keep trying to speak to her, to get her to look into my eyes. I want her to know that she’s not a bad person, she is just human. Show me one person who has nothing to regret in their life? Their entire life? Can you be sure?

Sometimes when it’s raining outside, we sit here in our cubicles at lunch time. Sometimes she works. Mostly, she just sits there at her desk, staring at something so far away I can’t even imagine what it is.

Today, she is staring. It is dark and wet and wild outside. A real winters day.
Today I am going to speak with her. The rain makes me brave.
My heart is thumping as I stand up, coffee cup in my hand, and try to stroll over nonchalantly. I get to the opening of her cubicle and pause, pretending to look in my coffeecup at something. Her head lifts slightly and she turns it a little to look at my shoes. She is very pale today.
“Join me for a cuppa, Bailey?” I squeak. Clear my throat.
She winces when I say her name. I can see she is about to shake her head. But today, something is different. She seems to be holding her breath as she nods slowly. Her hand shaking, she grabs her big yellow mug with the rediculous smiley face on it. She pushes back her chair and stands slowly. Like a piece of origami unfolding. She stands straight and towers over me.
I can see Green and Beatman out of the corner of my eye. Their mouths are agape.
Bailey slowly raises her eyes and looks at my lips.
“Shall we?” I ask and turn towards the staff kitchen. She doesn’t look me in the eyes, but that’s alright, because I can see something else.
Bailey is smiling.

snippet 10

“This is Georgina. She will be be joining you on the tactical training today. Make her welcome.”

Sarge stood next to a young woman in civvies. He had an unreadable expression on his face. All business today. He left the room.

Stepman of course leapt up from his chair and shoved his hand out at the woman. She looked at his hand for a beat and then took it and shook it.
She didn’t smile, but you could see the tension go out of her shoulders.

“What you here for, Georgina?” asked Stepman, settling himself on the corner of one of the briefing room desks.
The rest of the squad were watching now, and the woman took a deep breath.

“I am, apparently, your new tactical advantage.” she said quietly. She had a wry smile on her face as she said it, and you could just see she was repeating something she’d been told all too often.

There was a bit of laughter, and Chase was about to ask for clarification (because that’s what he always did) but the door swung open and Sarge stepped in again, this time with two bigshots. One in a suit, the other in DGUs.

“Gentleman,” said the suit, trying to look important,”Georgina is very special and must be treated as such. She will rely on you for protection as she is not a trained soldier. You will rely on her for information. Very special information. You will discover her incredible talents during this next training mission. Your squad was selected, after careful research, because you seem to be an open-minded and intelligent lot. Your sarge is vouching for you here, so don’t let him down.”

Sarge winced a little at the last comment, but didn’t meet any eyes. He was a stoic, steady man who only said what was needed, but he always had your back.
The suit and the uniform left and Sarge stood at the blackboard. You could see him gathering his thoughts before he spoke.
Georgina stood to one side of the room, clearly still very anxious.

“Boys and girls.” said Sarge,”I’ve been briefed on Georgina’s capabilities. I consider myself pretty open-minded and well-read, but even so, it took me a little while to  accept things. You are free to say what you feel, but only _after_ this training exercise. Clear?”
We all yessir’d.
“If even half of these things are true, we’re a lucky squad. If this works out.”

We were pondering this when Beacon raised his hand.

“A question, Beacon?”

“Yes, Sir.”


“What exactly can she do, Sir?” he asked.

“Basically, boys, Georgina can see ’round corners.” said Sarge.

snippet 9

Kerry leant against the wall next to the mirrored glass. His eyes on the man in the room on the other side.
Wick was picking his teeth with a long dirty fingernail.
“We can call in Lear, Mike.” said Muller. In this little dark room, Mullers pale red hair seemed to glow in light from the interrigation room.
Kerry frowned.
“She’s all rested up now. It’s been a month or more since the last time.” said Muller. He watched Kerry carefully. He saw the twitch of his jaw muscle.
‘Last Time’ had not been pretty. Muller still had nightmares.
But Lear was incredible. Before the trouble started, it was amazing to watch her work. Other people called her a freak, but Muller knew that Lear was exceptional and rare. Possibly even unique – although from rumours he’d heard, Muller knew that the People Upstairs had found themselves some interesting people. Nobody was “in use” like Agent Lear, however.
“Alright.” Kerry said.

Muller went to call Lear.

Kerry sighed and stood in front of the glass. Wick was beginning to get restless and was tapping his fingers on the glass of water on the table. But he wouldn’t speak. He just made crass comments and laughed at anything Kerry asked. They couldn’t lay a hand on him. They’d learned from experience that he was quick to call his lawyer and complain about brutality. It was a small miracle that he had not asked for his council yet. He felt safe.
So they were being very careful.

Muller opened the door and nodded at Kerry. Lear was outside. She didn’t like the dark. With what she’d been through, Kerry was not surprised. He’d been given access to her file when she’d joined his team. Some of what he’d read had made him sick to his stomach.

He watched through the glass as Lear and Muller entered the interrigation room. Wick looked up and smirked when he saw Lear. She was tiny, like a young child. Her eyes were huge and violet and her lips were small, pouty, and red. She wore no makeup. She had little blonde curls which exploded everywhere, even though her hair was cut short. She was about 5’2″ and was as delicate looking as a porcelain doll. She never smiled.

Wick had no idea what she could do.

“Mister Wick, meet Agent Lear.” said Muller, trying not smile.
“Lear, like that king, right?” said Wick, leaning back in his chair and the look on his face made Kerry want to walk in there and punch him right in the mouth.

Lear glided in and sat quietly in the chair facing Wick. She put both hands palm down on the metal table and closed her beautiful violet eyes. Wick was amused and sat forward, sliding his elbows onto the table and his hands under his chin in mock interest.

“Don’t cry, Mister Wick, it only hurts at first.” said Lear, in her soft little girl voice.
“I’m not crying! Why the hell would I cry? Nothing hurts!” said Wick. He began to lean back, losing interest.
Lear opened her eyes and looked straight into Wicks.
He jerked up straight and his mouth opened wide in a silent scream. His eyes started to bulge and he began to shake violently.
“Because I know what you’ve done, Mister Wick.” whispered Lear. “Tell them, and I’ll take it all away. I’ll take all your pain away, Mister Wick.”

Wick screamed.

From behind, Kerry saw Lear hunch her shoulders slightly and he swore. That’s what had started the trouble last time. They couldn’t lose this one.
He bashed the intercom button and was greeted with a static squeal. He swore some more.
As he turned to leave the room, he heard the mirrored glass begin to vibrate. He swore again, with far more vigour.
He crashed open the dark room door and ran the few steps down the corridor to the interrigation room and grabbed the handle of the door to open it. A shock from the metal handle made his muscles clench and he flew backwards and slammed into the wall. He was out cold.

Muller, meanwhile, was watching with strange glee as Wick moaned quietly and sobbed like a little boy. He told them everything he’d done. Absolutely everything, in great detail. He offered up sins that the Agency was not even aware of. Muller was writing furiously. Then he started to smell something burning. He looked up from his notes and gaped as he saw Wick’s hair standing on end, smoking slightly as if a great heat was under the surface of his scalp.
He looked at Lear and saw blood running from her nose.
Time to get her out of there. She’d done enough.
He heard a thump from the corridor, like something heavy hitting the door, but he forgot that as he dropped his notebook and reached desperately across to break the link between Lear and Wick, as he’d been trained to do.
The glass of water on the table exploded and tiny flecks of glass blasted into Wicks right side. The glass did not touch Lear. Muller got a face full, but managed to knock into Lear enough to make her turn her head towards him.

Everything went silent.

Wick collapsed in his chair with a little sigh and slid down under the table, unconcious. Muller wiped blood from his face and thanked his lucky stars that the glass missiles had missed his eyes. Lear was still looking at him, but with none of the intensity of her gaze on Wick.

“Are you alright, Bianca?” asked Muller.

Lear blinked her enormous violet eyes at him. A strange look on her face.
She smiled. The tiniest twitch of her lips, but Muller saw it.

snippet 8

He doesn’t talk with his hands. I notice that. His lips hardly move. He stands there with that look on his face with his hands at his sides and tells me that I am no longer needed. It looks like he is mumbling, but his words are crystal clear. His meaning is clear.
I’ve seen that look before, but never aimed my way. I’ve been standing next to him or behind him.

His eyes really are cold. Does he turn it on and off? Can he?

There’s a speck of blood on his cheek. My blood? It could be. I’ve lost enough.
All I can think of doing is trying to wipe it off. But if I make a move he will kill me. I’m drifting though, and I can feel my sanity sliding, like sweaty buttocks off a leather seat.
Why am I thinking about buttocks? At a time like this?

I try to open my mouth to say something witty and brave, but I just cough blood.
Was that a look of pity? From him?
We’ve been partners for so long, could this actually be difficult for him?
I’ve seen him kill children! I’ve seen him kill an elderly blind man! It must be disgust, not pity.
I manage to form words in the mangled mess that is my mouth. I ask him who he will find to watch his back when I am gone.

There! That was witty! That was brave! He looks down at me and I swear his eyes are getting teary.
He says my name. My real name. A tear slides down his cheek and the blood speck follows it down to his jaw. He is so beautiful.
I tell him this.
A sob makes his body shudder. I can’t believe it. He is actually crying. Over me. All these years and I thought it was all business. All the job. Nothing more.
I smile at him. As much as I can.

He sniffs loudly and raises the gun in his left hand. It is now pointing at my forehead.
He crinkles his eyes up and I know what’s coming.

I refuse to beg.

I’ve done some terrible things, but I refuse to beg.

“Forgive me.” he says and pulls the trigger.
“Forgive me.” I say.