Tom Clancy’s War Thing
by Tom Clancy
Published by Archie Campbell

[Editor’s note: This story was recently discovered in the remains of a double-wide trailer where Tom Clancy used to live. It is believed to be his first short story. This story demonstrates that while his talent for storytelling was raw, it was also powerful. It also shows that his vaunted eye for technological and historical detail was a cultivated and learned effort, not a natural talent. Still, this isn’t at all bad for the work of a mere 42 year-old. Enjoy.]

Staff Sergeant Ulysses Sierra “Armando” Fortran of the U.S. Navy was having a difficult day. It began after a nighttime full of nightmares about his service as an infantryman in Vietnam. In particular, he kept having the dream that he always thought of as “some dream I have, sometimes”, in which he relived killing an enemy soldier on a reconnaissance mission just south of Poontang. He’d never forget the hardware he’d used. It was a sort of bomb thing, maybe a grenade. He thought it might’ve been some shade of blue, perhaps bright red. And probably round. At any rate, it made short work of the Viet Kong soldier, ripping him apart with shrapnel, or maybe those little ball bearings, or maybe not slicing him up, but perhaps the concussion killed him. One thing he was sure of was that the soldier was killed to the point of being dead, and maybe a little past it.

He thought this as he went on his customary 8,000,000 millimeter run, the sound of House Of Pain’s “Jump Around” bashing about in his brain. How apt it is, he thought, as an encapsulation of the 167-year conflict between America and The Soviet Union Of Russians.

“I came to get down,
I came to get down.
So get out your seat and
jump around.
Jump around.”

In so few words, the conflict was painted large and detailed, perfectly capturing all of the moral ambiguity of the conflict between the forces of freedom and those of Moorish anti-sovereignty. And still it raged. Not in the obvious and blatant rage of active raging, but in the subtle, low-intensity rage that was more of a persistent anger, or of attentive irritation. It was an anger (or irritation) that was important to motivate vigilance in watching the enemy. That 2000 mile shared border with the Russkies was not going to police itself. That’s what Sergeant Fortran was for, if monitoring the border could be defined as sitting in a comm center intercepting message traffic from another hemisphere.

As he rounded the last turn toward his barracks at Fort Mangle, his thoughts again turned to her. She was a woman, and a female one at that. This girl was a lady like no other, the fairer sex represented by her in a way that was positively that of one with the sexual characteristics opposite those of a man. He’d loved her. He would have loved her more if she hadn’t been so girly. But Ulysses wasn’t gay-far from it. He was All Man, a quality those around him had assured him that he embodied, in spades. Even his best buddies confided to him that he was so macho, it almost seemed odd that he would have sex with them.

“Get your mind in the game”, he thought as his jog wound down, and he trotted toward his barracks, known in the service as an “enlisted hole”. It was hard trying to push aside his hobby to think about the real problems his country faced. He had work to do. Work that would take all of his attention. After he took a languid shower with Cpl. Morty Goldflinder, he had to get to work on those intercepts. The new ones wouldn’t be easy, because those wily English once again had changed their tongue. He thought that when he got to Fort Mangle he had turned a corner. He had just gotten out of the three year Defense Foreigner Language School, and done well. Not only was he totally solid on the more prosaic translations, like that “lift” translated to “elevator” in American, but he even knew the advanced stuff, about “spanner” meaning “wrench”, and that anything said in Cockney meant “I’m really trying to confuse the fuck out of you”. He thought he had it made. He was wrong. They had a new word, and that word was “mobile”. Now, “mobile” was also a word in American, a verbjective or something, he thought. But when the English used it, they used it as a pronoungerund or something. And that wasn’t right. Even so, what did it mean? How do you “call [someone] up on a mobile”? It must be a new word, and also be code for something. His current theory was that it meant “mountaintop”.

As he entered the Comm Center, he surveyed the room. The room was lined along all seven walls by banks of red lights, which were prehaps blue. The important thing was that the room was full of desks with those T.V. things that aren’t really T.V.s, but that display the green text on a black background. These were used by the encryptotographers to try and see what the funny characters (ciphers) the Russkies used looked like when they were green.

“Sarge!”, Corporal Airman Grunwald Lopez shouted as he ran across the Comm Room, “We think that this new intercept might be encoded with the thirteenth iteration of the Reykjavik Operant Translation. We might be able to crack this one, too. That’s exciting”. “Roger that, corpy”, Armando said as he began his 163 yard walk to the vending machine. His excitement at the discovery was tempered, though, with the knowledge that even with computer assistance, it might still take the machines the DoD bought them up to 8 million years to crack the code. That might eat into the afternoon. He hoped the taxpayers thought that the 500 trillion dollar expenditure for the three top-of-the-line 286 machines was worth it. He sure did. And now it was time to go to work. The mobile problem would have to wait.