“Queen Bitch of the Diamond Dogs”: in Her Own Words
by Mike Fitzsimmons, courtesy of Better Know a Ranger print edition
I wasn’t sure who I would find when I finally met the notorious “Haywood”, the de-facto leader of the Ranger combat-engineers known as the “Diamond Dogs”. Before securing an agreement for an interview with her, I had attempted to ask around for information. Intentionally avoiding asking for statements from Ranger leadership to ensure the least amount of PR spin (sorry, Chief Chavez), the ground-floor personnel I managed to get a hold of gave a wide assortment of tales, some more farfetched than others. Nonetheless, there was one fairly common factor: of all the people I talked to, many of them had never actually seen Haywood personally; of those who had, none of them had witnessed her outside of her armor. It wasn’t until our first meeting that I even learned she was a woman.
The first time I met Haywood was in a bar in Market (a paradise for journalists it often seems, these days, at least in comparison to the Outliers, Unity, Gorchakov, etc.), right as she was drinking a local friend under the table. She was, to risk sounding a little clichéd, both underwhelming and a breath of fresh air. Far from the grizzled badass that some descriptions led me to ponder, Haywood (“It was originally Harriet Haywood, but everyone always just uses the last part. I guess I never complained since it’s not my real name.”) was possibly the most cheerful, gregarious even, Ranger that I’ve ever interviewed. Perhaps it is that her veteran experience, though hard-won, is so brief. Perhaps it is simply an optimism (or madness) that shines through what she has faced. Despite her carousing, once we found ourselves a little more privacy in a corner of the bar, I managed to get a detailed account of her life as well as an agreement for a follow-up interview (I’m still unsure, I admit, whether her offer was made as an apology, as she claimed, or that this first interview had been a subtle attempt to suss me out.)
Haywood, like so many of us on Mars these days, was born on Earth. Specifically, under the rule of the People's Revolutionary Government in South America. Her parents met through their shared occupation as fighters for the Bolivarian cause: Her father, a native Venezuelan, was a helicopter pilot while her mother, a Surinamese Creole, was a machine gunner. “She always said I took more after him,” Haywood explains, “I guess even then I came off as a little boyish.” We both laugh it off, though I think it runs deeper than that, as she shows me their pictures: she does indeed strongly resemble her father, with strong mestizo features and her short bob of straight black hair. She has a small but wiry build (I keep in my mind that despite standing almost a foot taller than her, she could probably break my arm with the right leverage) and her skin only approaches her mother’s shade on account of years under bright sun. Nonetheless I suspect she does take strongly after her mother, her sole parent after her father’s death in battle before Haywood was old enough to walk easily. As Haywood put it, “She taught me about God and Jesus and Blessed Maria, and about being kind to others and true to myself. When she died, from the cancer, that was the worst day of my life.”
After her mother’s passing, Haywood was taken in by her maternal uncle: a rural mechanic who, in a twist of fate, had already petitioned for immigration to Mars. And so it was that a small agricultural settlement on our Red Planet became her new home. Though a harsh adjustment for some, she found her new home helpful. “On Earth, before we left, everything seemed to remind me of mother. Here, everything was so different, and I was so busy trying to adjust to it, that there was hardly any time for thinking about how badly I missed her. Our new neighbors were friendly and helpful and Uncle, even though he shared my pain, wouldn’t tolerate moping for a minute. He always said that Mars needs good and kind people, but that this is a tough place and we have to be strong, too.”
Under her uncle’s tutelage Haywood quickly picked up on the ins and outs of repair and fabrication, and soon began work as his apprentice. Despite the limits of higher education in rural Mars, she learned all she could between ordered books and internet courses, and eventually became the closest thing the surrounding area had to a home-grown engineer despite her lack of formal accreditation. It also brought the wider Martian community to her attention, she says, alerting her to just how widespread banditry was near the northwestern colonies, or the plights of Unity City and the Illegals. She eagerly followed the humanitarian efforts of the Nightingales and the exploits of the Rangers, who she had only seen occasionally and briefly in her mostly-peaceful home.
“And I admit, there was a friend of mine who had a big part in it. She was another follower of that kind of thing, even more passionate than me: she lived in Unity so she saw the awful stuff all the time. And we never even managed to meet in person, being so far away, I’m not even sure she knew I wasn’t a guy. But I think we both recognized that the other one really just…understood. She’s the one that inspired me to, you know, put my money where my mouth is and go somewhere to try and help. I haven’t managed to talk to her since I joined up with the Rangers, tried to send her one last message before I left for Clearwater. I’m not sure it went through, but I like to think so; I heard she joined up with the Nightingales even. Maybe once everything there is over, we’ll get to finally meet… hopefully she isn’t too upset if she heard it here first.”
Continued from previous entry:
Our second meeting was in a much more sedate venue: the living space above a small shop on the edge of Market: a small window looking in towards the rest of the city. While I work on some last-minute paperwork for my looming departure for Earth for a piece on the Irish People's Liberation Army (security has been hell since that Phobos incident) and on writing down more of this story so it can be sent to the editors, Haywood is chatting off the ear of my poor assistant Nell with the stories behind her various scars. "Hah, now I've had a lot of folks wonder if my left hand here is like that because a bomb or grenade or something went off in it. Now the eye-that was British flak in Clearwater, sure- that one's a war wound. The hand, though? That was just me being a stupid sixteen year old apprentice in my uncle’s shop and a tractor fell on it. You bet it hurt like hell but I sure do win a lot more bar fights now that my left hook is made of stainless steel. It isn’t pretty, sure, but it gets the job done.” She laughs, “Kind of like me, I guess.”
I find the comparison appropriate, though not out of my Ranger friend’s self-deprecating humor. Haywood is indeed scarred: in the poorly ventilated and warm apartment she has forgone her Ranger’s fatigues for a simple tank top and shorts and one can clearly see more scars than the strong, simple prosthetic reaching halfway up her forearm or the line over her destroyed left eye, only partially concealed by the eyepatch she wears. Her family is prone to hypertrophic scarring, she claims, and dozens of the red markings cover her body in various shapes and sizes. Most are concentrated on her arms and legs from any number of causes: many from childhood tumbles, some from workplace accidents (her hand and forearm only the most extreme example). Only a few like her eye, or the deep red mark rising out of her shirt and ending between her collarbones, were sustained in combat.
The Diamond Dogs, as I learned, are fairly notorious within Ranger ranks for holding idiosyncratic superstitions. In the only statement I petitioned him for on the matter, Chief Roger Chavez summed up the general feeling on this quirk as “it boosts moral, in its own way. If it doesn’t interfere in doing their duty then the Rangers don’t have a problem with it.” Haywood is, it would seem, no exception to the supposed rule: though she didn’t oppose any physical description, she refuses to pose for a photograph.
I personally believe these quirks say a lot about Haywood and the informal unit of combat engineers that many would argue is largely her brainchild. The Diamond Dogs, despite their rapid fitting into the ranks of the Rangers are, by and large, not career soldiers. A few are formally-taught engineers, some are former miners or demolitions experts, most are mechanics, technically-inclined tradesmen (and women), and construction workers. Common people of exceptional spirit. I’ve heard a lot of conflicting stories on the origin of their nickname, and Haywood claims she didn’t come up with it and isn’t sure who did. My thoughts, though? Common folks forged in the pressures of strife into these paragons of the citizen soldier: that sounds like making a diamond to me.
Though I have endeavored to cleave as closely to her sentiment as possible in my reporting, I felt it would be appropriate to end this article in, as promised, Harriet Haywood’s own words. I had asked her, in the course of our second interview, what the most important thing was that her family had taught her in their time together.
“My mother taught me that it helps us to believe in something bigger than ourselves, that it lets people rise above all the bad in the world; the things that scare them because they can’t control it. My father, even though I couldn’t remember him myself, taught me that you have to be willing to die for what you believe in or else it means nothing. My uncle taught me that you can’t just be one thing, can’t believe in only one virtue. That is what they taught me, but it only opened me to what I have learned: We do need a cause bigger than ourselves to believe in, one you are willing to die for. And you can’t just live your life defined by that one thing, but not only because you cannot succeed being only one thing. Sometimes failure isn’t dying without standing for anything, or having that thing taken away from you. Sometimes it is that you lose sight of what that one thing is supposed to mean for you. You can’t just stand for law and order, or money, or your religion, or country, or even liberty. That makes people like the Fumers, men like Alfred Pleath. It makes societies led by men like Michael Bowens and Zakharov. You have to believe in something because it will bring other things: equality, happiness, peace. That’s why I fight.”
You know, I think Mars would be a better place if everyone's family had taught them lessons like those.