From Operation Renfield
by Steven Johnson,
Chapter One: King In the Morning
A different book by Steven G. Johnson here.
“You are Sergeant First Class Murphy?” said a healthy specimen in spatter-camouflaged overalls. He carried a machine rifle and had a bunch of little boxes slung over his back – tin can, leather box, some long skinny cartridge cases, and something that looked like a giant stick grenade. He had a knife in his left hand, which he was using to sharpen a big stick.
“Martin Brenner,” he said. “I am to guide you into Hassberg.”
I pointed to the lightning bolts on his collar.
“You Weather Corps? What are you doing running around in the woods?”
“Nein. The letters are SS.”
I saw it now. Felt kinda stupid. But Martin was explaining:
“It means … protection squadron, you would say. We started as bodyguards for our leader.”
“But you ain’t any more?” David asked.
“Nein. He died.”
“So, uh, what do you do now?” I asked.
He grinned. “We make sure his escort to Hell is as crowded as possible.”
“Hey, watch with the language, buddy! You know what you’re doing, cursing the guy’s name like that?”
“Oh, he knows. We are all going there. But we will have many, many servants when we arrive.”
David couldn’t let it go.
“So when you kill a guy, he has to work for you in the afterlife?” he asked. “You better be right. What if it turns out you owe him, instead of him owing you?”
“Then Hell will be unpleasant,” he said after a moment of thought. “And so?”
“That’s what my uncle used to say.” Dave was off and rolling. “If you’re going to be punished anyway, why not give in to temptation? What can they do, hang you twice? You see where that leads, Marty? Once you slip, just once, you might as well be the worst son of a bulldog anybody ever saw, you follow me? Thinking like that leads to a whole world of psychos.”
“But if you are damned, Corporal, and you know it? What then?”
“Hey, there’s always hope,” David said.
“That is not your people’s view,” Martin said. “Perhaps you do not agree with them?”
“What, like your grave has to be on granite? Like slate is bad luck? Like you gotta braid copper into your beard with your left hand, but if you do it with your right hand, you gotta eat a peck of coal to wash away the taboo? Who can even keep track of what the dirt farmers believe, back in the Old Country? My opa came over to Brooklyn to get away from all that.”
“But you are ‘back in the Old Country’ now,” Martin pointed out. “You do not share your kinsmen’s views?”
“Hey, buddy, look at the patch,” David said, jabbing his shoulder at him. “I’m an American, got that? Everything else is just ancient history.”
“You do not like the old things, then?”
David smiled tightly.
“You could sum it up that way, yeah.”
Martin smiled back and resumed sharpening his stake.
“Good. For I do not like the old things either.”
Originally posted to Welcome to Arhyalon. (link)