For All Nails 124: The Two-Headed Snake
by Dan McDonald
Terry Henning was chopping up RES and radio listening equipment like it was firewood back at his parents' house. The seemingly-slight Vandalian redhead had to hunch down a bit, even at 5'8", in the fuselage of his Athena, to prevent bumping his head on the ceiling.
Manual labor had a way of making the mind wander. Corporal Terrence Henning, Royal North American Air Force, recalled a "Nature in the Wild" segment from the Dr. Science show he watched as a child. It showed a two-headed snake. It appeared to function like a normal snake, but it definitely had two heads, each neck forming a 90-degree angle whose bisector followed the snake's body. His mind wandered to the Mexican flag, with its snake in the lower right-hand corner. He now pictured that snake having two heads -- both identical, but both representing two disparate sets of memories, thoughts, and emotions.
The one head screamed treachery, lawlessness, brutality, and pain. Every schoolchild in West North City knew about George Irving. Irving, a serjeant with the Vandalia militia, had been out scouting the Big Horn mountains, and was separated from his platoon. Any Rocky Mountain scouting party of that era (1849, to be precise) was in danger, but Serjeant Irving, West North City's first war hero, was not only lost, but was a freed slave as well.
When his platoon found his remains, 10 days after they lost him, the sight was horrifying. He had been scalped, and all of his teeth had been removed. Additionally, and this convinced his platoon that Mexican regulars had also been involved, no less than 50 lash marks adorned Irving's back. George Irving Square in West North City was built as a tribute to a simple man, trying to give back something to the nation that freed him. While only some CNA children were told about Serjeant Irving, West North City children had a whole "George Irving Day" to celebrate the man, and vilify the enemy -- both Mexican and Indian -- that brutally killed him.
More than madman Mercator, and his paranoid quest to rout out Kramer and its supposed Tory allies, did this image of 50 lashes represent the one head. While Terry knew from the Vandalian road music he loved so much that he could never feel the years of repression slavery brought upon the Negroes, he did know that Mexico took over half-a-century longer to free their slaves than did his own country.
But the other head, the one that represented the purest of the ideals of freedom that inspired the Wilderness Walk, looked off into the distance of a brighter future - one worthy of a struggle. The same Vandalian road music that he liked so much also sung of Diffusion, and Mexico finally freeing its own slaves. This Mexico was able to (somewhat) better itself, especially its own poor. Terry, with his eye for detail that made him a good artist, and photo analyst for the RCNAAF, wondered if the new Mexican president was himself descended from a freed slave. And speaking of freedom, the freedom those Mexicans did have...
The love of Terry's 20-year-old life, Sonya, shared Terry's love of road music, but she also liked Juan... and Tania. The last time he met her was in Lincoln, near the field. She had surprised him already by visiting him, but she surprised him doubly by meeting him wearing a Tania-top. Terry had to admit that while grudgingly watching Tania on the Walt show with Sonya, he imaginged, and even once drew, Sonya wearing clothes like Tania's. The jarring effect of remembering his Norwegian blonde in Mexican clothing was enough to physically distract Terry while he was smashing his beloved magnifying lenses. Fortunately, another distraction quickly overrode the others.
"Gentlemen," spoke Lieutenant Bruce, Terry's superior, and intelligence officer for the flight. The crew of enlisted specialists snapped to attention, their axes being held like assault rifles.
"We have been asked to step out of the airmobile. Lieutenant Stapleton," the tone of his Virginian accent quite disdainful of the newly-outed Jeffersonist, "has given us her assurances that we'll be returned home within 48 hours. Whether or not that's true," he paused, "I want you to remember you represent the Confederation, and her ideals. You will hold yourselves with poise, and make your king and country proud." That he mentioned "king" indicated his upbringing.
Terry wondered which head of the snake would he meet today.
- Undisclosed Mexican Base - 36 hours later
"It's nice to meet you, Captain Gilmore," said Terry, snapped at attention with a salute.
His guest quarters were quite luxurious for being a mere corporal, though he had to share it with two of his crewmates -- Lester and Cardiff. They hadn't talked much -- Cardiff had noticed the listening equipment almost immediately. This was alright by Terry, as it gave him time to finish a pencil drawing he had been working on. He was hoping to submit it to Jack-and-Stripes, or perhaps one of the civilian newspapers, to sum up his experience here. Once the guards had made it clear that "El Popo", which was how the Mexicans referred to their President Moctezuma, was going to make sure they got home before 48 hours had elapsed, it amazed Terry at how, well, down home these gringos were.
"Have they been treating you well," she glanced at his arm for insignia, "Corporal?"
"Yes ma'am. And we've been," he looked at where Cardiff thought the microphone was, hoping she'd get the hint, "quiet guests."
Did she smile? "As I'd expect, Corporal. What's that you have down there?"
"Something I'm working on for Jack-and-Stripes, I hope. It sums up, well, it sums up how I feel about this place."
Captain Gilmore picked up the paper, and she examined every detail. The snake, looking identical to the one on the Mexican flag, but with two heads. One head was looking very much like the one on the flag -- it had the words "Freedom, Ideals, Hope" on its neck. The second one looked sinister, with the words "Aggression, Fear, Treachery" on its neck. The sinister head, however, was suffering. It had a hand choking it just below the words. The hand, the left hand, belonged to a shaven-headed figure, with his right hand pointing down the to motto "Don't Tread on Me". The visible right bicep had a tattoo with a simple phrase:
She put down the paper and, in Terry's view, grew colder than any winter night Terry had endured growing up.
"Watch that other head, too, Corporal. Miss Stapleton didn't." The way she said, "Miss Stapleton" reminded him a lot of Lt. Bruce. Maybe they should get together, he briefly thought.
Terry never forgot Capt. Gilmore, but it only took him a few months to forgive her.
Forward to FAN #125: I Mercator (Part 4).
Forward to 13 July 1974: You Can't Always Get What You Want.
Forward to Terry Henning: "Local Hero Comes Home".
Forward to Ev and Alex: Where Are They Right Now?
Return to For All Nails.