“Yet the poor fellows think they are safe! They think that the war is over! Only the dead have seen the end of war.” – Plato
Forgive me if the rest of this account isn’t as eloquent as Plato. I’m not a philosopher. I’m certainly not a hero. Shit, I ain’t even a soldier. Technically, I’m a veteran, but in reality, all I am is a survivor – and a witness. A witness to the weirdest conflict this godforsaken world has ever seen. Historians with better ideas of how to write might refer to this conflict as ‘The Insect War’, or ‘The Infestation’. But to me, and the men I knew who fought in it, it was and always will be known by another name – Operation 8.
Officially, I’m not a witness. Officially, the events I’m about to write about never even occurred and I never even saw them. Officially, my name is Private Finn Thomas, a photographer in ‘Redback Company’, 29th Infantry Battalion, United States Army.
Unofficially, Redback was just an otherwise nameless detachment of degenerates and no-hopers who saw only one way out of the corporate urban slums of America: joining, fighting, and dying in a cleanup operation in the Mojave Desert in the summer of 2021. This operation that “never happened” was known as Operation 8.
It was, militarily speaking, a successful mission. On a personal level, however, it was a crisis of epic proportions, one in which I don’t suspect I’ll ever overcome. Even so, this account is my first step towards doing just that, and while I suspect I will never come to terms with what happened, perhaps I may succeed somewhat in telling people just what took place out in that desert in that summer. The world deserves to know the truth.
I took many pictures during that summer. I can only show you the ones of which I’ve managed to steal the prints. If they ever catch me, the US Government will likely charge me with treason for making these photos public. I will be tried, found guilty, and if not executed, I’ll be imprisoned for the remainder of my life. This is a risk I’m willing to take. It’s the least I can do for my dead friends.
This is the only photo I took of my four buddies. I never thought to take a photo of all five of us together. I guess it simply never crossed my mind. In this picture, from left to right, is Miles Monk, Douglas Iverson, Fred ‘Po-boy’ Green (called Po-boy on account of him coming from New Orleans), and Jack Irish. Jack wasn’t really Irish and that wasn’t really his surname, but he was found outside an Irish pub in Boston when he was two years old so the name kind of just stuck to him. He never did find out what happened to his parents.
On June 8th, 2021, a chemical factory right on the state line between California and Nevada, some miles southwest of Las Vegas, had an explosion in their wastage silos. It was later discovered that they were dabbling with certain materials that they really shouldn’t have been. Now – and this is the crazy part, the part nobody would believe if I didn’t have the pictures to prove it – the upshot of these chemicals exploding was that every insect in a two hundred foot radius was suddenly enlarged by a factor of one to eight hundred, depending on their distance to the fallout epicentre.
You don’t believe me? Sounds ridiculous? That’s what we all thought, too. Until, of course, we came face to face with them.
Ants were a constant threat. They could appear out of the ground basically without warning. The only way to know one was coming was to listen carefully to the rumbling sound they made in the dirt. Often, though, they would burst out of nowhere, their pincers gnashing wildly. Their exoskeletons would eventually give way to machine gun fire, and their heads were big enough targets, but if you failed to put them down in time, their razor-shape pincers could cut you in half. That was the fate for poor old Miles Monk. There was nothing we could do to save him.
Bees and wasps weren’t too common, but they offered the cleanest, noblest, and most favourable of the deaths. They would simply stab you with their stinger, just like being stabbed by a sword or bayonet. The area around the wound would burn, but it would eventually go numb, and if it was seen to by a medic soon enough, you’d live.
Scorpions were bad. There must have been a few on the outskirts of the factory blast zone because they weren’t enlarged to nearly the same extent as the ants. Even so, their stingers and pincers were sharp and they could move fast. I almost fell into this pit. The identities of these soldiers are unknown.
Quick as they were, though, at least the scorpions couldn’t fly. Flies were the worst of the ‘airbornes’. Unlike the bees and wasps, flies would regurgitate the most foul smelling, vilest, most disgusting, shitty, vomit-like acid all over you. It would burn your skin and then they’d eat it. There was nothing glorious about any of this, but flies presented us with the most degrading death of them all.
Poor Douglas Iverson met his end at the filthy handiwork of a fly. It all happened so fast, I had no way to save him. All I could do was take pictures as his outpost was attacked…
…and his body dissolved into the desert sands.
All of these ‘critters’ were our enemies and we killed any damn critter that moved. The laws of nature would suggest we were the predators, entering their environment to commit genocide. But if there was anything we learnt out there in that desert, it was that the laws of nature no longer applied.
At least, that’s what we thought for a long time, that the rules of nature had been broken, but as we began to fight our way towards the chemical factory, towards the epicentre of this nightmare, where an outpost had been established, we soon discovered that the rules of nature were very much still at play. We discovered that we weren’t the only ones out in the desert hunting. There was something else hunting the flies, the bees, the wasps, the scorpions, the ants – and the humans.
Something which made our blood run cold.
The spiders were different to the other critters – they could think. The explosion appeared not to have just made them bigger, it made them smarter. They could form complicated ideas and communicate them to each other. In the ruins of the factory, they’d built a fortress. They used ants to bore tunnels. They could lay traps for us to walk into. They could ambush us.
Remember that photo I showed you of the ant attacking those two men? Well, here is the same incident from another angle a few seconds later.
As well as being intelligent, they were also fast on the ground and much harder to put down. They could keep low and run with agility at terrifying speed and were able to jump as much as one hundred and fifty feet. On top of this, some were poisonous. Others just pulled you apart. I found this soldier en route to the factory, his head had been pulled clean off.
And this fleeing factory worker had survived the explosion, only to have his legs ripped off, from which he bled to death in the desert.
The route to the factory was also lined with more nameless, melted victims of the flies.
A fly had vomited over these two troops, melting them into each other.
And this poor bastard was still standing upright, all his skin melted off.
But not even the flies would dare enter the factory area. They were afraid of the spiders. If it was up to any of us, we wouldn’t have entered the factory zone either. But this was the Operation 8 objective: “Enter the factory blast zone, destroy all hostiles with extreme prejudice.” The only way I was gonna get out of this mess alive was by entering the ruins of the factory. The same was true for Po-boy and Jack Irish.
It was raining the day we arrived at Operation 8 Headquarters (O8HQ), just a mile out from the factory. June 20th, nearly two weeks after the explosion, and the three of us finally made it through the desert full of critters to the nerve centre of Operation 8. That was when we met a man known only as the Colonel. He was the most senior officer on the ground, the only top brass who had any idea what we were really dealing with. He was the meanest son of a bitch I ever met.
It was also the first time we saw the kinds of ‘defences’ the spiders had built; we called them “poles”, they were mediaeval-like, pieces of wood they’d whittled down with their teeth into sharp points and stuck in the ground. We lost a lot of good men clearing them.
But even from the relative security of O8HQ, we weren’t safe from the spiders. They were stealthy and seemingly fearless.
We stationed lookouts, building watchtowers, or “targets”, out of scrap metal and the poles.
But the spiders could almost make themselves invisible. By the time you see the spider in this photograph…
…you’re already dead…
Holding this position was futile; we needed to advance. So, it was from these outskirts of the factory that the Colonel decided we would make our main assault on the ruins. You might ask why we didn’t just get the almighty power of the US Air Force to bomb the place back into the stone age. We did. But the spiders had dug in. No matter how much or what kind of bomb was dropped on these bastards, they were going to have to be flushed out one by one.
Our great fear was that we wouldn’t exterminate them all before their eggs hatched. If that happened, if this war spread outside of the desert, all I can say is I wouldn’t have to share these photos with you. You’d have seen it yourself, eventually.
The day of the assault was June 22nd. It wasn’t until the Colonel ordered us to storm the ruins of the factory that I saw he was missing a hand. It had been pulled off by a spider. He was the only man I’d ever heard of coming that close to a spider and living to tell the tale.
THE BATTLE OF THE FACTORY
The objective was clear: kill everything, burn the place to the ground. In the chaos of the ensuing battle, however, I lost track of Po-boy, Jack Irish, and the Colonel. My efforts on this day remain a frantic, horrified, and confused blur. I didn’t know what was happening, who was winning, or what to do. I simply tried to survive and take the pictures I’d been sent into this mess to take.
By nightfall, once it was clear we’d won, we started the painful process of counting our casualties and retrieving the bodies of the fallen, our friends.
When I think about the most harrowing photos I took during Operation 8, a few final come to mind. The first is the Colonel lying dead in the desert.
The second is the one of Jack Irish, or rather what was left of him, embedded into a wall of rock, still holding his gun.
Then there’s the one of Po-boy, hung up in a web, dangling over the battlefield. He was still alive when the spider that did this to him began to eat him.
But the photograph that haunts my sleep more than any other is the last one I’ll show you. Before I lost Po-boy, only to later see him after the battle hanging up in “spider silk” and half-eaten, I took a picture of him moments before we were separated. I didn’t see it at the time, I only saw the look of terror in his eyes, but I later realised that the spider that would string him up and slowly eat him is in this picture too.
If only I had seen then what I’m risking everything to show you now…
You might ask how the US Government ever hoped to keep this all a secret, but a better question might be: how could they ever hope for me to keep it a secret?