Friday, May 21, 2010

A War To End All Wars

Three men play a game of Axis & Allies on a dining table. To an observer, it is like any other time they play. Armchair strategies formulating in the minds of those who don't realize just how limited the strategy of such a game is. But the thought process makes them feel smart; superior. As if they control the world. Which, in point of fact, were the world actually relegated to being a playing board roughly 30 inches by 20, they do.

Tojo rolls some dice and laughs. FDR is not happy. Some ribbing is exchanged, but as the players' version of "Pearl Harbor II" wraps up, it is clear that the Axis have won a nice little victory. The Pacific seems lost. First Australia fell to the plastic Japanese, and now Hawaii. Stalin berates his superficial ally and mutters something to the effect that he could've done better.

Then Stalin calls out to Hitler, who is busy grabbing pretzels out of the pantry. The plastic US Army has invaded France (a few turns too early, as most historians would object) and Hitler is needed to conduct combat. He sits down, moves Germany's plastic Heer to the defender's side of the combat board, and grabs the dice. But he does not roll. The other dining-table-world-leaders stare impatiently, though they each know what is going through his mind.

"Maybe we should've went with Robert," Hitler finally says, referring to the former Churchill, who left the game as soon as the phone rang and the news was delivered.

"Why?" asks Tojo, also known as Thomas. "He was kicking our ass." FDR, real name Daniel, had usurped the role of Churchill, much to the chagrin of Stalin (whose name is, in fact, Josef... and spelled that way) and much to the delight of Thomas and the Hitler who is typically called Scott. Daniel sucks at games, particularly this one, and everyone knows it. It's why the rest of them always let Daniel play the United States... it doesn't take a genius to win with the US military, even a plastic one. Robert is their best player, but he left to spend the last few hours of his life with his wife and children.

In typical Daniel fashion, the early invasion of Normandy fails miserably.

Josef starts his turn, paying only marginal attention to the conversation at hand. He has no family to speak of, and his friends are all sitting next to him. Indeed, he doesn't really care for Robert and only plays on Robert's team because he's good at the game. Josef stews over Daniel's decision to move units out of Australia in order to reinforce the Caroline Islands - which are strategically worthless in Axis & Allies - as he mulls his own movement. Reflecting history, he resigns himself to reinforcing the Caucasus and waits for an attack on Stalingrad.

Scott, though, is too worried about the Western Front. Yes, Daniel attacked with far too few forces and, yes, Daniel is also playing the Commonwealth and poses little threat, but the attrition of forces in France is cause enough for alarm. Better safe than sorry.

"I don't know. It just seems like we should spend some time with family," Scott continues as he moves some Luftwaffe units into striking distance of the Commonwealth fleet. "Even if it isn't our own."

"What's the point?" Thomas retorts. "Not like anyone's going to know we were even here."

"It just seems like it, I guess."

Josef laughs a bit. "Very convincing argument you've got there, Scott. What would you do, anyway? Better yet, what would you want to do?" Josef looks at his watch. "You've got another 14 hours or so. What would you do with it?"

"I know what I'd do," Thomas interrupts as he surveys the Pacific Theater, looking for Allied weaknesses. He notices that China's interior is just about defenseless and decides that he's going to make a push once Daniel screws up the Commonwealth. "I'd go out, find some hot chicks, tie them up in my basement, get fucked up and fuck all night."

The others - save Daniel, who forlornly thumbs a photograph - laugh nervously, aware that Thomas is only half-joking. Always the hedonist, the rest learned long ago not to put anything past him.

"You're an idiot." Usually not one for confrontation, Daniel surprises everyone. Perhaps the impending end of the world has finally revealed a courage he has never seemed to have. "The world's going to end and you want to make it even more miserable. No wonder your wife left you."

On any other day, such a statement would have elicited a punch in the mouth from Thomas, but even he is flabbergasted by Daniel's defiance. Josef finally notices the photograph in Daniel's hand and tries to get a better look at it. He sees that it's a woman, brunette, smiling, but can't make out any other details other than a hand-written note on the back: "One day. Love..." Josef can't read the name. Mentally shrugging and saying nothing, he returns his attention to the board.

Scott, by far the most level-headed of the friends, finally breaks the awkward silence. "I wish I could see my sister and her kids. They're a day's drive, though. No chance." Turning to Daniel, he asks, "What would you do?"

Daniel ignores Scott as he, too, surveys the Pacific Theater. He knows he's lost the game for the Allies, but some mysterious romantic notion guides the movement of his pieces. The phones have been down for the last half-hour and none of them hold any hope that service will return.

Josef figures it out. Daniel is in love with some unknown woman who lives in some unknown corner of the world. The last time Daniel told them about some girl he met on the Internet, they ridiculed him for it until Daniel ceased talking to the girl out of embarrassment, so it is no wonder to Josef why Daniel has never said anything about this one.

"I'd tell her I love her," Daniel almost whispers as he lands some Commonwealth forces in an attempt to retake Australia.

"Who?"

"Does it matter? Finish the game."

15 comments:

  1. Hmmmm. .. smacks of truth and gamer geeks. Poor Daniel, I hate relating to him, but I do! Quick making your characters so "real". LOL!

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  2. There may be no tomorrow but there is a now without these boobs.

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  3. They still play Axis & Allies?

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  4. This short story speaks volumes. -J

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  5. I really like this: the seesawing between reality and fantasy, slowly decreasing in distance, until the two merge into "now." Really good writing, Jeff(in my most humble opinion).

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  6. not the way i'd be spending my last hours..but interesting conversationwould love to see some kind of obscure clue as to what's going on outside the walls..

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  7. A romance, huh? Internet? Nah, no chance for poor Daniel! No wonder his friends laughed. Mine would too!

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  8. @ Subby - Yep. Not what I would choose for my last hours, though. :)

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  9. game over - deafening silence

    Jeff you really have the touch

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  10. Love it. I know geeks like that! I so do! Internet romance? Not such an impossible concept is it? Liked this a lot. Besides what else are you gonna do, stand outside and take photos!

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  11. I liked this. Maybe just because I know I can lose playing the United States. I'm hopeless. Do you have any other games we could play?

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  12. Effing BRILLIANT! Yes, with capital letters. :)

    (Oh, sorry to rain on your parade, but you said to tell you about mistakes, so here goes: "Maybe we should've went with Robert" should in correct form read "Maybe we should have gone with Robert", eh? :D)

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  13. This makes me think of a story my ex used to tell about playing RISK when he was in Vietnam. He of course always was a sore loser and a sore winner. ;)

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  14. 2 Worlds Merge. A Never Ending War Me'Thinks?

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