None of the shapeshifters can carry a tune.
Which really doesn’t matter all that much because they’re all singing different songs in different languages as they walk through Camp Cuckoo. It may not be music, but it’s one hell of a noise. The Norwegian bearskin has a deep and growly voices, provides the bass notes while the Navajo skinwalker yips and yelps the high notes and the catwolf Beast of Gevudan, representing the Free French, appears to be singing some sort of cabaret version of La Marseillaise.
The shifters appear to be a good mood. The winter weather suits them much better than the summer heat, especially the Norwegian and the French.
Tipareth feels queasy at the insane dissonance. His artistic nature revolts at experiencing art defiled like this. When a particularly loud blast from the experimental weapons area where the mad scientists are working on energy weapons drowns out the, he doesn’t hesitate to think out it as caterwauling, he smiles in relief and hurries to catch up with the others.
Joe, the Walking Tank, has developed into the unofficial center of the camp, due to his size. Whenever he and his crew are in for repair and rearm, people tend to cluster around, exchanging the latest news and gossip. The golems are heading in that direction, towards the looming metal man.
Hesod is still worried, but about something new this time. “What if he doesn’t die, survives this war? Have any of you thought about what happens next, what we do?”
When a four armed golem gestures when it speaks, all those around it have to pay attention or get slammed up alongside the head. One of Geburah’s hands emphatically chops the air. “No. No, I haven’t, Hesod, and I’ll tell you why.”
“Please go ahead. I’ve been wondering because you’re usually so frugal with your opinions.”
“Because this war is serious business.”
Hesod, being an early model, before Chava got involved, doesn’t have a great range of expression. She puts everything into an expression of polite contemptuous interest. “No? Really? I had no idea. Please tell me more.”
Two of Geburah’s fists clench, showing an acknowledgment of Hesod’s tone, but the golem doesn’t give any other sign. “And if you start thinking about anything else but the next five minutes, or the next objective, you’re dead. This is no place for wondering about some distant future, no place for the imagination.” Geburah puts a particularly dismissive spin on the last word.
Tipareth’s worried about the direction this conversation is taking, he wishes Malkuth was here, he’d know how to calm them down. He opens his mouth to say something but Hesod beats him to it. “No place for imagination? Then why was I created, Geburah? Do you think that the Rabbi made a mistake in creating me?”
Geburah shrugs with all four shoulders. “You know, sometimes I wonder.”
That does it. Tipareth grabs Geburah’s top left shoulder and spins the golem around, gets right into its face. “Fuck you, Geburah! Some things we don’t say to each other! None of us are mistakes! God would not have allowed the Rabbi to create any mistake. Each of us, every. single. one. – ” He punctuates each word with jabbing finger into Geburah’s chest. The golem looks down calmly at the finger and then back up at Tipareth. “- of us is here to fulfill the purpose of the All-Highest. I feel His touch on each one of us.”
“Does He poke you in your chest? Get out of my face, Tipareth. You’re being stupid.”
For the first time in his life, Tipareth contemplates harming another golem. But Binah gets between them before he does anything irreversibly stupid.
She pulls the two golems apart and turns to Hesod. “Your original point, before Geburah starting being a bitch, is a good one, Hesod. What do we do when this war ends? How’s this for an answer: whatever we want.”
That answer sparks something in Tipareth and brings confusion to Hesod’s face. “But aren’t we bound to the Rabbi? Will he let us go, Binah?”
Binah nods emphatically. “Yes. We’re only alive as long as he is, but we’re not his slaves. Never forget that. We can do what we want, when the war’s over.”
And now Geburah’s pissed at all of them. The three golems step back to avoid the wildly waving arms. “But the war’s not over, you schmucks! That’s what I’m tryin’ to get through all your thick rock heads!” Geburah turns and starts walking away. The others follow. Geburah doesn’t look back at them, but continues to rant. “Fine, great, when the war’s over, we’ll live happily ever after. But that won’t happen if you don’t stop thinking about what doesn’t matter.”
Geburah rounds a tent and proceeds straight to the huge metal figure standing in the middle of an open space. The figure is a 20 foot tall bipedal vaguely humanoid shape, made bulky and looming by the oversized pistons and heavy armor and weapons that encrust it. Currently, its chest is open, revealing the space where the driver sits and controls the weapons. Ted Greenway, the machine’s creator, prefers to call himself a pilot. When it’s pointed out to him that the machine doesn’t fly, his response is immediate and invariable: “Yet.”
It stands in a circle of oil stained dirt, surrounded by all the gear that its crew has been able to requisition, scrounge, borrow, or steal. A small block and tackle crane, crates of ammo, several flamethrowers that have been stripped for parts, barrels of fuel, things like that. It’s powered by a diesel engine and has an exhaust pipe sticking out of its back. A welding torch sprays sparks from inside the towering body. Greenway’s two mechanics, Franklin and Lamarr, are working on replacing a piston on the left leg that took some heavy damage in the recent past.
Geburah stops in front of the giant metal man and gestures up at it, a predatory grin on its face. “See this? This matters.” Geburah raise its voice. “That is, if he can ever getting working for longer than 5 minutes at a time.”
Greenway hears the golem, as he was meant to, pulls his head out from the mecha’s innards and slides his welding mask up. “Hey, fuck you. This is serious science.” His accent is pure Chicago, with maybe a hint of the Upper Peninsula. He’s one of those backwoods shack-workshop inventors that America produces not infrequently. Think Philo Farnsworth but with more firepower and a taste for black juke joint girls. When he first heard that he was being shipped to Africa, he was ecstatic, but now that he’s actually here and it’s all desert and Arabs, he buries his disappointments and longings in modifying his fighting machine and killing Nazis. He still dreams of the future, though, some junkyard in a lazy port city down the west African coast, where he can tinker, listen to his records, and introduce the girls, ebony beauties, to Chicago jazz. He finds himself staring at Hesod’s tits, visible through the slashes and tears in her uniform, and looks away. “What would some god powered statue know about modern technology? And I didn’t see you complaining last week when me and Joe took apart that Nazi platoon that had you pinned down.” He pats the machine affectionately.
Tipareth moves to stand next to Geburah and looks up at Greenway. “Did you get the machine gun and flamethrower to work at the same time?”
Greenway sets the welding torch aside and sits at the top of the ladder, legs dangling. “Working on that now. I’m trying to strengthen the linkages between the two systems so they don’t draw as much power from the engine.”
Hesod’s noticed Greenway’s gaze and walks out of sight, around the back of the metal man, pretending to examine it. She pitches her voice loud enough to be heard. “Have you heard if they’re making more of these, like Joe here, back in the States?”
Greenway’s more comfortable with machines than with people, but he knows that he’s stepped in it somehow. He colors and concentrates on wiping his hands on a rag pulled from his overalls. “Maybe, but what I’ve done here is pretty unique. What I have heard is now that Joe’s proven himself in battle, I might be sent back to set up factories, mass produce him like tanks. Rumors are, that’s what the Nazi’s are doing.” He tucks the rag away and lowers his welding mask. “Anyway, good chattin’ with you, but I gotta get back to work, this timing belt ain’t gonna splice itself.” He fires up the welding torch and disappears back into the guts of his creation.
“Catch you later.” Geburah’s talking to empty air. It turns to the other golems. “That was … odd.”
Binah smiles at Hesod who’s coming back into sight around the metal man. “Little Ted is a shy boy. You have to make allowances. Let’s walk on.”
The golems head deeper into Camp Cuckoo. Two Night Witches, identified by their broomstick insignia pinned to their collars, talking animatedly come around a tent. From their hand gestures, the two women are discussing their latest sortie: attack, break formation, the kill. The witches are so intent on their conversation that they don’t notice the golems until they almost walk straight into Binah. They know of the golems, everybody in Camp Cuckoo has at least heard of everybody else, but the two women aren’t prepared to see up close and personal a walking statue of Astarte, tall and majestic, female power made manifest. The witches fall back in confusion and do a combination bow and curtsy. Binah nods in acknowledgment and walks on, sneaks a wink at the rest of the golems.
Tipareth shakes his head in rueful scolding. “You really shouldn’t encourage them, Binah. Aren’t there rules against the worship of false idols somewhere?”
Binah shrugs. “There’s nothing false about me, Tipareth. Nothing.”
Geburah falls back to walk alongside Hesod. “I’m sorry about what I said, Hesod, it was wrong and stupid of me to say it. But just as you were created for your imagination, I was created for war. All of us, we’re weapons. Just like Fightin’ Joe the Metal Man back there.”
“You say tomato… Weapons are just tools that kill. You’re basically agreeing with me. So, I ask again, will we tools, we very skillful tools of war, be allowed to go our own way at the end of this war? That’s the question that all of us, each and every one, need to be thinking about.”
Binah stops and turns around. The rest of the golems also stop, to hear what she has to say. She waits until the explosions and screams from the Experimental Weapons Shed have died down before she speaks. “You know what I think? I think every one of you is right. We’re tools. And we’re weapons. And come the end of the war, there will be questions. And there will be answers. But we’d best be prepared to act on the those answers. We don’t like the answers we get, then maybe we change the questions. Instead of asking if we’re free and being told no, maybe we ask we’re free and what’re you going to do about it?” She pauses to let them think about that. Then she continues in a tone as hard and uncompromising as a tank attack. “But right now? Right now is the war. Right now is killing leeches, killing Nazis, killing all those who want to destroy the Jewish people.”
A shark’s grin splits Geburah’s androgynous features. “Sounds like a good plan. I like it.”
Hesod gestures acceptance. “Not disagreeing but don’t forget that it’s a rare craftsman who puts down useful tools. But I hear you loud and clear. And I’m on board for the Nazi killing.”
“Things are going to work out, Hesod.” Tipareth puts a companionable arm around her shoulders. “I think that you’ll like the answers to your questions. We’re so much more than tools, even more than weapons. You’ll see.”
Hesod smiles back at the golem. “I hope so.”
“You might get your chance for more fightin’ sooner than you think.” A voice behind them, accent thick with the American South, breaks up the mutual comfort session. The golems turn to look at who’s talking to them.
It’s the Obeahman, a muscular Black man, his face wreathed in cigar smoke. His mojo bag hangs right next to his dog tags. His zombies walk in a group behind him. They carry shovels and picks, dressed in raggedy old army uniforms.
“Hey, Marcus.” Geburah nods at the man. “Been a while.”
“Could hear you all talking a mile away.” A draw on the cigar, more smoke. ”On the matter of tools and what rights they got, y’all wanna hear my opinion?”
Hesod shrugs off Tipareth’s arm and walks towards the Obeahman. “Sure, Marcus, go ahead. Tell us what you know.”
“Ain’t no one ever released slaves from chains less they were forced to. Tools is what my people were for generation after generation when we were slaves. That’s all a slave is, a tool for the master to use. So you might want to think on that.” His gaze is fierce and he stares directly in Hesod’s eyes. It’s a rare man who can do that. But Marcus has been the Horse of Ghede many a time and seen a lot of weird shit on the other side of the magic mirror. Then he relaxes and looks at the other golems. “But what the hell do I know? So what you all been up to? Looks like you might have been in a war or somethin’.”
“Just got back from hittin’ a bunch of leeches.” The sight of an androgynous four armed golem puffing out its chest and patting its holstered pistols in self-congratulation is strange even for Camp Cuckoo.
Marcus’ cigar burns down in his fingers, forgotten. “You might want to take some care there, you might break somethin’, pattin’ yourself on the back with those four arms.” He grins, unrepentant and unafraid, as Geburah looks embarrassed and pissed simultaneously like a cat that’s just fallen into a bath. Then his voice grows bitter. “My boys could be just as good as you against them nightcrawlers, ain’t no blood left in ’em but no. Me and mine,” He gestures to the zombies standing behind him. “we gotta stay behind and dig ditches, latrines, all that kinda shit. Fuck, I could of stayed in Louisiana and dug ditches if I wanted! I joined up to fight!”
“Why don’t they let you fight? What you say is right. Not only your walking corpses but you yourself, with those arts that you have, would be very effective against the leeches.”
The question is well meant but Marcus glares at Tipareth. “You already forget what I said about tools? Fuck, those cracker officers only want to see me with a shovel in my hands. A black man with a gun in his hand? Shit! That’s the stuff of their nightmares! And there’s fightin’ comin’! Everybody’s gonna be needed.” His voice turns disgusted, and with a surprising element of self pity. “Everybody but this here hoodoo man.”
Binah makes her voice both comforting and encouraging. “I hope you get your chance to fight. We can use all the help we can get and that’s no lie.”
“How do you know that there’s fighting coming?”
“My boys -” Marcus gestures to his zombies without taking his gaze off of Hesod. Reacting to his gesture, the upright dead begin to mill around and moan. Marcus rolls his eyes in exasperation, goes over to them, shoves and slaps them until they’re all settled down. He brushes his hands off and walks back to the golems. “As I was sayin’ everybody thinks my boys are dead.”
“Hate to break it to you, but they look pretty fuckin’ dead to me, Marcus.” Geburah clearly hasn’t forgotten that crack about patting himself on the back.
“And you look like some real fucked up statue!” Marcus always gets pissed when people insult his zombies. Which frequently happens, so he’s pissed a lot. Most of the time, he hides it better, but he feels safe enough to be himself around this weird Jewish walking statues. He takes a deep puff on his cigar, calms himself down. “OK, so they’re not alive, but they ain’t dead neither. Papa Legba and Ghede keep them on the crossroads between life and death. And since they ain’t dead, they can still hear and whatever they hear, I hear. And I hear plenty cuz no one zips their lip around dead guys, even dead guys who’re diggin’ ditches.”
The golems look at each other. This, they didn’t know. Binah leans forward. “So what’d you hear? C’mon, spill, sweetness.”
Any obeahman worth his mojo bag is a trained showman and Marcus is one of the best. He takes his time, milks the moment, inspects the ash on the end of his cigar, blows on it a bit to get it glowing. He starts talking again when he can actually hear Geburah’s teeth grind together, like someone rubbing two chunks of concrete together. “We’ve been doin’ a lot of unloading trucks, stockpilin’ ammo, that kinda thing. We’re gettin’ in a lot of supplies, a lot of supplies that go bang, if you know what I mean. And the officers? All they can talk about, when they think no one is listening, are sayin’ that Patton is gonna take over cuz Eisenhower is pissed how the war is goin’.” Marcus points his cigar at Geburah. “And we all know that crazy motherfucker Patton is all about the fightin’.”
All is forgiven. Geburah laughs in delight. “That’s great news! I love that crazy fucker! He’s as much about war as I am. Lots of leech killing.”
Binah hides her enthusiasm a little better than Geburah but her smile speaks louder than her words. “Definitely sounds like it’s going to be full speed ahead real soon.”
The golems cluster around the Obeahman and get as much information out of him as they can. They’re excited and their enthusiasm is contagious, even the zombies start to feel it and start to moan and mumble.
Completely wrapped up in what they’re doing, the golems don’t see the two men looking at them from between two tents a ways away. Duvall turns to Mirsky. There you have it, Sergeant. That’s why we need your eyes on this. All of them over there are very useful to the war effort, even the ‘Negro’ and his walking corpses. But can they be trusted? What do they want? These are questions that we need answered.”
“And I guess I’m the guy to get you those answers, Sir. I won’t let you down.” Nothing what Mirsky’s feeling reaches either his eyes or his voice. His voice and expression show that he’s intent, eager, and ready to follow orders. Mirsky’s been lying to goys all his life. But even if Duvall knew how much he was hated, he probably wouldn’t care.
Duvall nods with pleasure of a man who’s enjoying ordering around the lower races. “Good man! That’s what I like to hear.” He pulls several sheets of paper from a side pocket. “Here are your papers, authorizing your transfer. They’ll tell Captain Maccabbee that you’re on the level.”