Is there a problem, sir?

The first skirmishes of the war didn't go well for Blue Army, but fortunately division six was far in the rear lines. Cath confided that she hadn't been able to decode a single message, and neither had any of her colleagues at the other camps. Meanwhile Blue couriers were regularly ambushed and it seemed as if the enemy could read Blue codes as if they were in plaintext. Nobody could figure it out.

Upon each delivery the Commander gave me a receipt which Blue farms would honor for more grain. Business was good and I was seeing Cath regularly so I was in good spirits, but the Commander seemed dejected.

"Is there a problem, sir?"

"Oh no Walt, nothing with you. We're glad to have your trade at times like this."

"Things aren't going well?"

"Cath is not supposed to tell you things like that."

"She didn't, sir." (Benny had taugt me to lie very smoothly.)

"I hope it's not that obvious."

"Well I see a lot. I was wondering, though, why exactly do you fight? What is this whole war all about?"

He actually stood up a little straighter.

"That's a good question, Walt. Let me show you."

Commander Scott led me past multiple sentry points into the heart of the camp. In a small stone building he showed me a glass disc about the size of a dinner plate. It was obviously filled with electronics and its outer perimeter glowed blue.

"This is one of six Blue Flags. Orange Army has six of their own. As you can see it's made of glass; I'm told it smashes as easily. The object of the war is to find and destroy all six Orange Flags before they find and destroy ours. When the last flag for either side is destroyed, all the guns stop working and Bringer returns to take away the surviving losers and set things up as the winners desire."

"Is that it?"

"What more does there need to be?"

"It seems kind of ... arbitrary."

"Walt, I've studied the history of the ancients. In our time there are no villages of murdered men and raped women to avenge, it is true, but at the time Bringer's kind were invented there were humans avenging things that ultimately happened three thousand years before.

"Far back in the mists of time there was a village, and the survivors regrouped and took their vengeance on two villages. And those survivors came back and wiped out six. And so it went, back and forth, until neither side even remembered what had started it. And they went into battle with machines that could sterilize the entire Zone in a matter of minutes. How is that any less arbitrary than this?"

"I guess it isn't," I said.

"We fight because it's something humans do. Bringer recognizes that. So we fight for these symbols, and if we win we get the land to use as we wish, and there's nothing abstract about that at all. And if we die, well, there's nothing abstract about that either, Walt. There is a difference between us. You ply your trade, and take your precautions, and when things get tough you can run away. But a soldier does not run away. A soldier stands with his flag and if death is his reward, then at least it is an honorable death."

"I see why Cath holds you in such high regard, sir," I said.

"I know how Cath feels, and I know how you feel about her. She's a nice girl and she works hard at her job, but her regard is misplaced and she lacks fire. If I was winning the war, better yet if I was standing over the smashed remnants of the last Orange Flag, then I'd be honored by her crush on me, and I might even celebrate by taking her to my bed. But she's premature. And I'm not sure how much of a soldier she is at heart. She works hard, as I said, but I think she's watched too many romantic adventures set in ancient times."

That made me feel a little better, but not much. Cath, after all, had not had her problem injected into her finger by the Bringer.