On These Streets In These Skies

Non essays; fiction.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Still Here

I keep finding pieces of broken glass you left behind

digging into my war calloused feet; they itch.

In my sleep they open up the softer skin

when I am the least prepared for it,

I wake up bleeding knowing this isn't what you intended

but I still have to start my day cleaning all the new cuts.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Refuge

1. Care

"Okay, what the fuck are you doing?!" I sneered at the new care taker. She was coming from either
medical or weapons, but I didn't care. She froze and looked at the soldier she was gripping by the bicep with disgust like that soldier had done something wrong.

Definitely new.

"We do not put our hands on the soldiers here, understand?"

She looked at me like I had a octopus on my face. This made me angrier and I tapped the rank sewn on my shirt and squinted at her. She straightened up and let the solider's arm go.

"Go play, now. We'll talk later." I told the troop.

I turned my attention to the care taker. "They didn't tell you what this is, did they?"

She shook her heard stiffly. She was terrified, and rightfully so. Not a whole of men living had my rank.

"At ease, at ease, at ease. Not your fault. You can call me Senior. You are?"

"Chernov" she said.

"All right, Chernov, all these soldiers are elite, understand? Our mission success rate is 98%, and our causality count since we began this program? It was mother fucking zero until...."

I dropped my voice. Did she need to know this? Yeah, yeah she did

"..until yesterday. So we don't put our hands on them here, unless it's for comfort. Tough as they are, they are still children and they still need to be kids when they aren't in the field, understand?"

Chernov nodded.

"That soldier you were man handling? Her names Maria, she's 10 and just back from sabotage mission, and thanks to her and her squad? The enemy won't be able to make drones for six months. But she lost one of her troops, his face got taken off by shrapnel. So she's going to be acting out. We don't punish that, because it doesn't work. You ain't seen anything like they've seen, and you never will."

Chernov nodded. She had the pallor of an undergrounder and her nod told me I was right.

So many of them, the undergrounders, had these insane ideas about how important they were. Which was fine, whatever they had to do to stay in a good headspace. But the kids would move like cats through the remnants of our above ground to find where the enemy was trying to get a foot hold and make them pay dearly.

I did my duty from five to fifteen years old. Going to the surface, causing havoc and killing the enemy, coming back and having some undergrounder street step me like I was a child when I had made their lives possible, day after day.

The Nursery existed to ease the burden of the few children who could fight.

Boys almost never made it past seven; the enemy viewed them as high value targets and could smell them from miles away. But girls were invisible to them for some reason. Girls could tear down their operations with skill, while smaller squads of heavily armed boys distracted the enemy vanguard.

I exhaled and let my mind get back to where I was. Calm music was playing and simulated bird songs and the lighting suggested morning. Maria was still in shock, because ordinarily she would have smashed anyone's nose out of their head. Hopefully the calm would help. Maria went to one of the clay table and opened a fresh canister of red, started kneading it and hunched over it.

She was scrutinizing it for imperfections, but she was making into something.

It was becoming clear to Chernov, too.

She was a in pastel pocket of weirdness, light years distant from the drab, endless hallways of City 23. Toys and games filled cubbie holes on the far left wall, higher than the children could reach and the ceilings curved up higher than any others, light in soft colors that simulated the day night cycle on the surface.

"You get one question about me, Chernov." She blushed and laughed nervously.

Yeah. I'm a rare type.

"Shouldn't you be studding?" She asked. "Men shouldn't be involved in this...sort of thing, ; there are so few of you and...

"I do stud about once a month, but the work we do here is equally important, because...." as if on cue, a little girl with corn rows started bashing a doll against a table and then hurdled it into a corner. She set upon it, kicking and stomping its head into the ground.

Chernov started toward her. "Wait." I said. The little girl wore herself out and she bent at the waste and then vomited and started to cry. "Now, you watch."

You have to approach someone in these kinds of states carefully. Like an animal caught in a trap. It could be the snuggliest puppy in the world, but when their foot is caught in something ugly? They'll fight. And when they're caught in something ugly that they know they had to do, they'll fight everyone and everything.

"Lequisha? It's Dan. You okay?"

"My brother." She sobbed. "my brother. Maria. Maria got him killed-ed." I placed my hand on Lequisha's shoulder and she folded into me, her arms shaking, pressing her corn-rowed head into my knee. Her whole body sobbed and I knelt down to embrace her and keep her from falling. She wrapped herself around me and wailed like wounded bird.

The whole nursery was silent. I'd like to think it was as much out of respect as curiosity, but I might have been kidding myself.

"Mr. Dan?" It was Maria. "Mr. Dan? Can I talk to Lequisha?"

"Okay, I..." Lequisha went from sobbing mess to lioness in a breath, setting upon Maria like she had the doll, but Maria was a squad leader for a reason and subdued the smaller girl with little effort. Maria held Lequisha in a sleeper hold, just enough force to calm her down. Then she spoke.

"Lequisha? Listen. Lequisha. I'm sorry about your brother. He was my friend, too. I miss him, too." Maria started to sob as well and her hold loosened. They both started to sob uncontrollably and hug on the ground.

They exhausted themselves right there, and I went to get a blanket. At ten, Maria was easily worn out and at just five, Lequisha, though big for her age, was no match for a born leader like Maria plus she lacked the emotional stamina to sustain so much anger.

"How did you know it wouldn't get deadly?" Chernov asked.

I beckoned her over the to table where the dough Maria was playing with. It was a child's recreation of a mangled face, Lequisha's brother in his final moments.

"They know what they did. They know what they are." I said. "But it's against human nature to like either."

2. Long enough to become.

The main door slid open and rough looking sergeant major stepped through.

"Attention on.."

I held up my hand. "Sergeant major, we don't do that here."

"What?"

"It's in the regs, no calls attention in the refuge rooms."

"Oh."

Colonel Andrea Shane entered the room. She was legendary warrior, with commendations and medals and a nasty burn scar down one side of her head. It framed her features on the right side and she was missing her ear. She had very pale blue eyes, a long, angular face and the grey in her dark hair lent her a wolf-like appearance that fit her reputation.

"How are you Senior Sergeant?"

"I am well, Ma'am. How are you?" I said, coming to attention.

"At ease, Dan, seriously." She was amused at my following the protocol as I did.

"Gotta set the example for these soldiers, Ma'am."

"That you do. Can we talk in your office?"

"Of course. Sergeant Major, will you join us? I'll need to grab another chair." I said.

"She is a part of this, yes." the Colonel said.

We walked to my office in the back of the nursery and I nabbed an adult size chair on the way. I did consider getting a smaller one just to mess with the Sergeant Major, but the Colonel was very careful about her personnel and I decided to go with the benefit of the doubt.

"We had an incident." The Colonel said in a tone I knew from when we were working the surface together. Years ago, that tone would tell me it was going to be bad. That was the tone she used the day she lost her right leg.

"One of the trainees, we think..." the Sergeant Major interjected. She was young. Younger than me, but three ranks higher than I was. You don't make sergeant major by being soft; but she was halting in her speech.

"...we think. She was abused."

I felt a rush of anger, it flowed down the top of my head, down my ears, my throat and my chest. The anger swirled around my heart.

"What do you need from me?" I asked. I knew this anger. I knew how to use it. And if either of them had asked me to kill someone I would done it without asking for a weapon.

"We would like you evaluate her...she has. She's already seen a doctor. She'll...never have children." the Sergeant Major said.

"What?" I said. The anger became like a ringing in my ears. Sometimes trainers were rough with the new recruits and yeah, that would happen. The training sergeant would be suspended for a while, get some kind of remedial training, recycle the solider into a new training iteration and call it a day.

But...this?

"Someone raped a trainee?!" I said. They both stiffened at the word. It's an ugly word, and old word that sometimes, with our united sense of purpose, seems like it should be outdated. Should be.

"Yes." said the colonel. Her voice caught in her throat. All the awful shit she'd seen, but this was too much to handle.

"We have evidence," the Sergeant Major said.  "Semen and blood samples.

"Then why come to me?" I said. This was not even remotely approaching my jurisdiction.

"It was Senior Sergeant Harris."

The ringing in my ears got louder.

"What?" I asked. "How could...what? That..."

Harris was there the day the Colonel lost her leg. He provided covering fire while I carried her out. Against all odds he made back to the compound three days later. He was starved, exhausted and bleeding from two wounds that should have been fatal. He was given a hero's welcome. He was a hero. His trainees were incredible; they were ones with the lowest casualty ratings, the highest kill numbers, the most successful missions.

"Kill him." I said, flatly. "In public."

"It's more complicated than that." the Colonel said.

"No, it isn't!" I snapped, and slammed my hand on my desk. They both were taken aback.

"I'm sorry," I exhaled. "You remember Master Sergeant Dice?"

The both looked down at the ground.

"Yeah." I said. "We didn't have the evidence for Dice that you have for Harris. We had to have all twenty two his victims testify before the council! That's 22 soldiers, all under the age of 10! C'mon, ma'am! We are going to go through again?!"

"Twenty three." said the colonel.

"Well, I didn't get it as bad as some of them did, ma'am. Let's keep that in perspective. Dice put his dick in most of those boys, the only reason he didn't with me is because..."

"You fought." the Sergeant Major said.

That was...one word for it. What I actually did was castrate Dice with my teeth. He knocked me unconscious and ran, screaming down the hall bleeding from his ruined scrotum. I woke up with...a unique taste in my mouth and three missing teeth.

"Dice was a bad man." said the colonel.

"No shit, ma'am! And that's why we executed him! And even after I emasculated him with own fucking teeth we STILL had to put those boys through hell. I would have liked him to live a long life where I got to smile at him every morning, but here we are! We followed the protocol then, and we should do it now. The fucking council needed more proof! So I guess if a nine year old bites off you balls you were just what? Making a fucking honest mistake?! Huh?"

I stood up at my desk. They knew this was an ugly thing for me. It was part of the reason I was assigned here. "I'm sorry. Look, you know me, ma'am. Eighty successful missions, fifty two of which you led. Fuck Harris. Get rid of him now. He's committed treason. Straight up treason, ma'am."

"No, Dan. We think Harris was compromised." the Colonel said. "The three days he was MIA? We think they did something to him. Made him into a sleeper agent of some kind. He doesn't remember anything, so he claims. We found foreign structures in his skull."

"Why would..." I started.

"They are loosing." the Colonel cut me off.  "Every day they are loosing more and more ground to us. This is....is a new tactic. They may have figured out they can't take the Earth by attrition. They need to create threats from within..."

I didn't say anything for a long time.

"So... again, what do you need from me?"

"Talk to Harris. Talk to Private Jones. You're probably the only one who can be sure."

"How's that?"

"Rape is very rare now. So rare we don't really have anyone with any experience anymore, investigating or understanding." The Colonel said.

"There were twenty two other boys. They're all dead?"

"Yes. You know males don't last very long when they work the surface." said the Sergeant Major.

"Of course, but...Walter? Jimmy? There were five others..."

"They all committed suicide. None of them made it to 25." The colonel said. "After they were transferred to other Haven cities, they eventually killed themselves. We found that out when we tried get at least one of them transferred back."

"Fuck." I said finally. "Alright."

3. Barely Contained

City 23 is probably the largest of the Haven cities. There are about ten that still function, and while they are over crowded, crime is nearly unheard of in all of them. Japan is nearly free of enemy threats, but they have so few real estate it isn't surprising.

Every city has an something like a mythical hero. Helena DeBeu of City 20. Ryoko Takahasi of City 12. Maya Ibna Muhammed of City 7.

Master Sergeant George J. Harris was the only man to achieve such fame. His image was everywhere in City 23, on motivational posters and fliers. All over the place, his rugged good looks, square jaw and dark eyes insisted he was everything everyone wanted.

He was gorgeous looking, truly. I didn't think of myself as ugly, but I had more scarring and maybe I didn't hit the gym as often as I could. Harris, despite being well past his prime like I was, was youthful, with a full head of rich, dark hair and almost always a five o'clock shadow to match.

He... really didn't need to rape anyone.

I mean, the few men that were still viable producing gametes had sex at least three times a week under City Protocol 5. We were allowed to have more of course, provided we didn't catch anything. But I couldn't imagine Harris wanting for affection.

Walking down the main hall to infirmary to speak with Greta James, the victim, I realized the scope of the thing. Harris face was everywhere. He was on video screens and posters. He was everywhere.

Turning him into a rapist? If the enemy did that on purpose, they had figured out more about us than anyone considered. Which would have been difficult because they would obliterate the bodies of the boys they killed. There usually wouldn't be anything left.

The girls were literally invisible. When Col. Shane was a lieutenant, I once saw one of the enemy drones blow right past her and take a male soldier. It tore him limb from limb. We knew next to nothing about their drones; their computer coding how they "see," we're not even sure how the function. Our scientists have been working for almost two decades, with next to nothing.

But it appears they have hacked us.




Friday, August 22, 2014

A Legend

Before they knew the gender of the attacker, they called them "The Deadly Moth."

They would strike around campfires, killing efficiently in the circle and disappearing.

In an attempt to catch the Deadly Moth, the imperials raised an entire village they believed the Moth was in.

There were six children left alive. They would become her cubs. They dubbed her the Bitch when they realized it was woman of considerable fighting ability. When she left chief military warden's head on a spike as a warning, the dubbed her the Lioness.

One day, so they say, she took a husband.

Mother taught them to hate. Father taught them to fight.

Her fighting was too brutal, too ugly. She would move through legions like deadly wind; her fearsome reputation only augmenting her already considerable fighting prowess. Father taught them more restrained methods, but they certainly learned speed and precision from their mother. And anger. They learned to harvest a bounty of anger, reaped from field sown with hate.

Emperor Yargarik the Elder wisely declared the land a "No Man's Land," and turned his attention to conquering other countries.

His successor, Yargarik The Younger, foolishly believed he could tame the land of the Lioness and regain the honor she had cost his family.

Seemingly he forgot about the Sons of the Lioness.

And so the second war began.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Maximum G

I opted to get rid of my legs first, at mid thigh. Others would go all the way up to their ass.

Space was a crazy place to fly. Well, okay, it wasn't even "flying" like we understood it. Sharp turns just happened; no banking. Instead we just fired our manu-jets and go.

I got rid of my arms next.

There was something very freeing about it. The new limbs I got were independently powered; nothing chic or flashy like I see civilians with, flat black finish. A lot of those other models were blood cooled; making them pointless for pilots. These had twenty hours of power: which I ended up testing more than a few times.

When you're piloting the fighter; it's basically a gun and missile platform with a life support pod and maneuvering jets. You get rid of your organic limbs, and you're ten times more effective. You can tear around out there at nearly 10 g's and it won't matter. You can feel your blood slosh around in your torso, like wine in a glass, but it never goes far.

A lot the pilots would at least get rid of their organic legs. But a lot them weren't fighter pilots. Fighter pilots were serious. Some of them would replace organs, too. Their whole digestive system, maybe the liver. Anything to conserve blood. Some of us were nearly 80 percent cybernetic, and could resist nearly 15 gs. They were the front liners. A lot of them were widows and widowers from the first attack. Nothing to loose personally, and will to loose a great deal of their humanity in the process.

But not their genitals. Those were sacred; you kept them intact. There was a rumor that you would be more sensitive, with out all that extra stuff, it had to go somewhere. Food tasted better, they said. What you didn't have didn't distract.

It became a theory; blood was bandwidth and if you didn't waste your bandwidth on motor function, you become mentally sharper. Later it was the convectional wisdom.

Fuck it I say, I did it because I wanted to survive every sortie.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Newest Sunlight

Return one day, to the places of your subjugation, free of your chains. 

Look at the ruined faces of hate and smile even while the scars they gave you itch. 



Monday, December 30, 2013

The Debt

“Who likes Change? We all like Change! Ya’ll elected him again! Anybody got some more change?” The old homeless man sang tunelessly as he got on the redline.

Raymond Hamlin went to the sandwich of dollars he kept in his inside coat pocket. They were crisp, fresh from a newly minted stack of 50, soaked in rose water and dusted with saffron. A kind of blessing on them. He counted three without being able to see them and pressed them into the guy’s cupped hands.

“Thank you, sir!” He said. He quickly moved on to ask more people for money, probably unaware of the how good Hamlin’s money smelled.

You had to pay your debts in Washington, D.C. If you had no debts to anyone, as Hamlin did not through dogged pursuit of being in no one’s debt, you still had to pay someone. It wasn’t just not being in debt, it was keeping people in your debt. And sometimes, it wasn’t people. Sometimes it was those strange old things. . .

Hamlin got off the train the stop after the homeless man left, and walked up into the thick August on Constitution Ave. The sun was just peaking over the horizon and it was already ninety degrees. August was a quiet time in the District. Most of the government workers were gone on their two week vacations. There were no students at the colleges of Southern Maryland, DC or Northern Virginia to crowd the streets of Georgetown. Congress was a ghost town.

Now was the planning season for men like him.

He came up to his office to find Charlie, his former Marine assistant, already on the phone, half dressed in a white sleavless t-shirt. On Charlie’s shoulder there was a picture of a duck flapping it’s feathers off with circle slash over it.

“Morning, Charlie.” said Hamlin.

Charlie waved, then pointed to the phone, then rubbed his index finger and thumb together in small circles then gave a thumbs up.

The every day sign language told Hamlin “Morning, client on the phone, big contract and he’s ready to talk.”

Hamlin admired Charlie on a number of levels. The former Marine, true to his tattoo, was “Unflappable. Can NOT be flapped.” as a retired General had once said of him. Hamlin signed “Cool. Put him on my phone, five minutes?” with his fingers.

“No need, sending intern soon.” Charlie signed.

Hamlin blinked, gave the thumbs up and disappeared into his office. He wasn’t sure how 8 combat tours in a decade turned Charlie into such a salesmen, but it surely had.



“What’s with the flute?” asked the intern who had arrived about an hour after Charlie hung up the phone.

“Family tradition.” said Hamlin. “That one’s been in the family since 1200 or so.”

“Wow,” said the intern in genuine wonder. Then again, a car from the 70’s would probably seem impossibly ancient to her.

“Thing of beauty, really.” said Hamlin as looked at the polls the intern had brought him. Democrats were always most concerned with “minorities” and women and the Senator from Florida was no different. The thing that Charlie told him about “minorities” is that all knew they weren’t white, but generally voted as one. Thinking otherwise had lost Romney the election, among other things.
Still, who runs under Democrat from Florida? Hamlin thought. He shook his head. It didn’t matter, as long as they paid, right? Make some calls, set up some grip and grins, meetings, townhalls. And in Florida in November he'd get to hide from the bitter DC cold to boot. What’s not to love? Maybe get the democractic senator to read a children’s book at one of those “troubled child” schools in Tampa. Everyone had forgot how bad that went for Quayle and Bush, Jr. by now.

Hamlin clicked a document to the printer, “Go ahead and grab that document. . . um.
your name?”

“Denise!” the intern said, startled after being so enthralled by the flute. She must have been quite young to be so entranced by it.

“Well, Denise!, go grab that document from my assistant. It’s a basic initial plan for Senator Santiago to get him on the media radars. Be sure to grab a water on your way out, it’s hot out there.”

“Thank you and thanks!” Denise said. She turned on her heel and exited Hamlin’s office. She seemed surprised Hamlin had been kind to her. These poor kids.

Hamlin relaxed. That was the easy one. The hard sell, the one Charlie had masterfully reeled in, was a Republican from New York. While is was a little shady to run both sides trying to get to the primaries, he did contract non-payment if they didn’t make it. It was a risky way to do business in such a fickle town, but it also commanded the highest fees that Hamlin would split fifty fifty with Charlie.

And this was DC! There was no rule that said you had to pick a party, but there were all kinds of rules about paying debts. The national debt you just dodge, but you paid everyone who got you in a position to ignore that debt. And after having a very real but invisible hand in the last two men to ignore that debt, Hamlin was keen to collect again, and this time? Retire.

Now for the gentlemen from New York. Who runs as a Republican out of New York? Hamlin thought.
. .

Six months of working both sides paid off absurdly well because Democratic Sen. Thomas Santiago of Florida and Republican Sen. Walter Chambers both made their primaries. Hamline nearly fell out of his chair when Charlie told him.

He shot back up to his feet and pulled a bottle of whiskey from his desk with two glasses, pouring a substantial amount for Charlie who, being a former grunt, made most liquor run away in terror.

“What happens when Chambers wants us to drop Santiago?” Charlie asked as a downed two of the four fingers.

“You don’t think he would, do you?” Hamlin asked.

“Sir, Chambers money may be green, but he is a complete asshole who can’t stand brown people. I think he’d do it just out of spite.” One of Charlie’s many skills was assessing if someone was truly an asshole. In D.C., so many people acted like assholes to blend in it was hard to tell who was following a trend and who, upon taking office, say, would cut food stamps to blind orphaned refugees from WarTorn-istan and call it “compassionate conservatism.”

“Yeah, but what are his chances without my magic and your Oo-Rah?” Hamlin quipped, pantomiming “magic” by waving his fingers and “Oo-rah.” by making a fist.

“Not great, but we’re going to feel pretty shitty if he gets elected and goes to war with the Phillipines because he heard there were ‘mooz-lems’ there.”

“Jesus,” said Hamlin. “That’s right. I forgot about that. We’ve been so busy on the ‘boost the economy’ angle I forgot he said that. Tell you what, if he asks us to do that, I’ll just double it and he’ll say no.”

“I hope so,” said Charlie. “I’ll see you Monday, boss.”

...

Hamlin didn’t stay in the office much longer, but decided to walk down Constitution Ave and cut over to his house on H street, forgoing the red line entirely. It was sixty degrees in January and good walking weather. Usually this time of year the cold would be murdering the homeless people faster than people like Chambers secretly wished they could.

Mustn’t think like that, Hamlin chided himself. The whole idea of making enough money off these fools so that the laws they made didn’t affect him was the point. Hell, thought Hamlin, if this goes right, a veteran won’t be subject to bullshit laws either.

“‘Scuse me, sir, got any change?” asked a homeless woman, holding out cupped hands with bedraggled dignity. The unspoken motto of the homeless was “Yeah, I may be a bum, but I’m a bum in Washington, D.C.”

Hamlin, barely breaking stride, pulled from the special money, in winter it was scented and pressed with bees wax and daffodil, a blessing of spring in the lacerating cold. He pressed a ten dollar bill into her hands. The genuine and profuse thanks faded behind as he pressed on. He wanted to get home.
His phone buzzed.

Hamlin kept walking without answering. He had a bad feeling that if he didn’t get home that his phone would. . . ring with the emergency chime. Dammit.

“Hamlin.” he answered.

“Sir, Chambers is blowing up my phone, he wants you to meet him at the Thunder Grill.” said Charlie in his "this mother fucker here" tone.

Goddammit. It was bad enough Hamlin was caught before he could beg off with “I just got in the door.” but the Thunder Grill was the ugliest combination of tourist trap, bourgeois fusion cuisine and DC resident who should goddamned well know better.
Fine. Hamlin sighed and turned towards Union Station.

....

Union Station is often crowded and at 5 pm on a Thursday it’s a zoo of suits, students, early weekend tourists and people who are going to take Friday off because they’d had too much at one of the four overpriced bars.

Hamlin slid through the crowd expertly. Crowded as it was, it was nothing compared to the primaries. He found Chambers, all gelled grey hair and standard issue navy blue suit, white shirt and read tie in the booth in the back. The senator was tucking into a steak you could tell was rare at 100-yards.
Hamlin slid into the booth and Chambers nodded at him, then continued to eat for what felt like ten minutes. Charlie was right. Asshole.

“Mr. Hamlin,” Chambers said, mouth mostly full, glaring at his steak like it asked for more funding for schools. “My people tell me you got Santiago on the Dem’s ticket.”
Hamlin nodded. Chambers was so focusing on punishing his Pittsburgh rare New York strip, he didn’t notice and asked “Is that true?”

“Yes, sir, it actually is.” Hamlin said flatly.

“He’s the only one that can oppose me.” Chambers jammed more flesh into his face. “You worked for my opponent when you worked for me.” He said with his mouth full of bloody meat. He said it with a disdain usually reserved for royalty chiding their court. Hamlin had not seen this side of Chambers until now, though it had been hinted at. He didn’t care for it.

“There was nothing in the contract that you signed that said I couldn’t do that.” Hamlin said cooly. That was how you dealt with these wanna-be kings. Play it cool.

“I didn’t pay you so my opponent could make his primary.” Chambers sneered, bloody spit dripping out of the corner of his mouth.

“No, sir, you paid me to get you onto the GOP ticket, which I clearly did, so. . .”

“I haven’t paid you yet.” Chambers said with a “fuck you, though” smile. “And I’m not going to now.”

“You sure about that?” Hamlin asked, with eyebrow raised.

“What? What are you going to do? You are not shit to me, Hamlin. You and your nigger Marine are not shit to me. I’m New York politics. I’m the real deal. We didn’t need you and I should have told my people to not even bother.”

“Well, they did bother and the work is done, so if you want to reneg on the contract, that’s up to you, but I promise no one in this town will touch your campaign. You’ll have to contact outsiders, amateurs.” Hamlin said smoothly. He said “amateurs” the way most people would say “second hand,” like he would be getting help from a Goodwill in a Maryland suburb.

“I said you are not shit. I have lawyers. I’m not paying you.” Chambers said.

“Then we’re done here.” Hamlin said and he began to leave.

“And Hamlin, no more political tricks. My people will destroy you.” Chambers said with a confidence that was the last straw.

Everything else up until this point, well, Hamlin could have dealt with. Somebody doesn’t want to pay? Whatever. The contract was the contract. Hamlin kept enough pitbull lawyers in his corner to wrench the money form Chambers. But the arrogant trash talk that Chambers probably learned from TV? That was the the last straw.

“Oh, don’t worry. No more political tricks.” Hamlin said and excused himself.

No. Not political tricks. There were older tricks and politics. And the things that made those tricks happen? Hamlin had dutifully kept them in his debt. But, why be rash? Run it past Charlie first before tapping into the old stuff.

....

“Well, he’s not even going to pay us now.” Hamlin told Charlie.

“So? He can’t just decide to not do that. Work is done, sir.” Charlie shrugged.

“He also called you the n-word.” Hamlin said.

“So?” Charlie said.

“Well, isn’t that. . . bad?” Hamlin asked, bewildered.

“Oh, my heavens,” Charlie said, with a thick southern accent, “a white man done called me a nigra?! What shall I do? My poor wife, she’ll faint! Faint I say, Mista Hamlin!” Charlie dropped back into his normal, Bronx accent, “I’ve been black my whole life, Ray, a white man calling me a nigger isn’t news. A white politician using the word nigger, while galvanizing to a voter base, would probably back-fire if we try to fourth-estate him.”

“How do you figure?” Hamlin asked.

“Well, think about it. We got a bunch of people who LOVE saying that word anonymously online or making up a code for it. White dude from New York uses it? Everyone who never considered voting is probably going to show up to high five his closet Klan-ass.” Charlie said. “And it’s not like you recorded it, which means it would be your word against his and. . .”

“And no one knows who I am by design.” Hamlin said.

“Yeah, so quietly settle out of court, call it day, sir.” Charlie said.

“Quietly is key.” Hamlin said.

The night of the election, the streets were deserted. Everyone was glued to televisions across the nation as the tally counted up. Red state and blue states all vying for their respective heroes.
Charlie was home with his wife and sons, pointedly not watching the elections and playing the Wii.
Santiago and Chambers were in their respective election headquarters. Chambers children were not with him.

Hamlin would have let nearly anything slide, if not for the debt. Still not settled, lawyers fighting tooth and nail over a not insubstantial sum. While Santiago’s campaign paid handsomely and would have to pay again if the numbers continued the way they went, the debt was still there.

Every so often, somebody doesn’t take someone from the Hamlin family seriously. The first time, they took the town’s name after taking much more. The second time, a whole American colony vanished.
This time? The music Hamlin played on that ancient fife wafted into the windows of DC’s elite private schools, stirring certain children, getting them out of bed and onto the street. The followed Hamlin somewhere. Some place. A secret. A place good parents have nightmares about and band parents make threats about. A place they won’t come back from.



The Metro police were baffled by the case. Nearly four hundred children just vanished from four schools. Curiously, the sweet smell of rose water and saffron filled the dorms. More curiously? All of the children’s parents were on the campaign to elect Walter Chambers, the defeated New York senator.
CNN would call it terrorism. Fox would call it a liberal conspiracy. But one man, tanned and supple and living in Belize? He would call it “paid in full.”

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Precious Cargo

Master Sergeant Less Lewis didn't want to do the mission. He was going to, of course, but still.

There were a lot of issues, as there always would be.

Since winning the war against the Hiraska empire, humanity had slowly got back to it's old bad habits.

There were three factions that wanted what they were transporting to the launch site. The first were extremist members of New Solar Islam, who believed the artifacts would provided insight into the origin of human language. Galactic Reform Christianity believed roughly the same thing, and were perhaps more keen to get their fundamentalist hands on the ancient documents. Since they incorporated all of the gospels, they believed that humanity could actually reach Barbelo from the Gospel of Judas.

But Lewis had NSI and GRC members in his platoon and knew that the people of the old religions could be reasoned with if you spoke their dialect of thought. They didn't worry him.

What worried him was the Unitarian Universalist Church and their doctrine of never returning to Earth, never thinking of Earth and certainly not sending potentially ancient texts back to Earth for study.

The most they knew at this point was the UUC had paid several mercenary groups to do something to the convoy. Lewis didn't give a shit, all the guys who picked up mercenary work couldn't hack it against the Hiraska so they took to killing people. Greedy ass cowards, he would call them.

Lewis was among the last of real dog faces. He had fought in Syria before the Galactic War started, and while his subjective age was about 50, he was nearly 210 objectively. His current platoon was salty as hell, with veterans of Tau Ceti and Gliese and even the initial Martian Defense War. Some of them were almost objectively 180 years old, though not quite. However, none of them had ever fought other humans or killed other humans, or even dreaded Hiraska puppets.

"Hey MastSerrent?" said one of the buck sergeants, "We got the route brief ready."

Lewis stubbed out his cigarette and went into the briefing room. Like most grunts, they didn't take long. They were going to down the Damascus highway through the ruins of Yamamoto City. Apparently the other two highways were unsecure, having both been hit by UUC forces trying to prevent other people from reaching the launch site. One hundred and twelve were dead, all of the Muslim of various styles, on their way to the Hajj.

"That's fucked up," said Lt. Muhammed as they left the brief.

"Right, sir? That religion isn't even fifty years old and their pissing people off." said Lewis. Muhammed was a good guy. Kinda young at sub 25, but ob 150. He earned his silver bar when a Hiraska drone blew up the officers mess on a ship orbiting Liara IV and left him de-facto commander of a battalion.

"Oh, hey did you talk to Doc Rasheed?" Muhammed asked.

"Not today," Lewis said. Dr. William Rasheed, who often said "call me Bill," was a nervous sort, and after radio carbon dating the documents, he wanted to get them back to Earth for real tests as soon as possible.

"He wanted to ride with the artifact." Muhammed said.

Lewis sighed. An unarmed civilian with what would be the target vehicle if the UUC found out. Great. "Yeah, I guess that'll be fine." Lewis said.

Under armed guard, they transported the ancient diagrams of heaven across the Martian desert.

...

 At Sunset on the first day they could see Yamamoto City on the horizon. At that distance, it almost didn't look ruined. They switched out lead vehicles to the guys who knew Yamamoto from the war and Muhammed declared a two hour rest period, telling the gunners to put their night vision plates on before the racked out, so when they woke their eyes would adjust quickly. Light discipline all around, people. Get some rest.

Lewis didn't sleep. Usually he didn't sleep much, instead he lit a cigarette and ate some Combat Clay. The clay was a compressed, dehydrated protein, fiber and vitamin paste that was a beige color. Didn't taste like anything, but could sustain even the biggest of guys for months on end. If you ate with cheese sauce, you also had to poop a little less, which was an advantage.

Four fighter drones circled overhead at about five thousand meters, barely audible except for a whine and the pebbles their air jets kicked around.

"Hey, Lewis." said Rasheed.

"Hey Billy, how's the convoy treating you?" Lewis always loved asking non-military that. At first civilians were a novelty, but the war was over and now they turning back into the majority.

"It's alright. Your troops asked a lot of questions."

"About the operation?" Lewis said, damned ready to stomp someone in the ass for being nosy.

"Oh, no, about the artifacts." Rasheed said.

"Oh. What are they asking?" Lewis asked.

"Same stuff everyone else is asking. Is it real? Is it a map to Heaven? That kind of thing."

"What do you think?" Lewis asked.

"I think it's fake. I think someone found some five thousand year old paper and made up a language. The diagrams are entirely too accurate to be real, if you ask me."

"Is that why you want to get it back to Harvard?"

"Just to prove that it's false, yes."

"Kinda like Houdini. . ." Lewis mused.

"Who?" Rasheed asked.

"He was an escape artist from a couple hundred years ago. He used to spend his spare time debunking psychics, you know, people sayin' they talked with the dead."

"That certainly feels like what I'm doing." Rasheed admitted.

"You don't sound happy about it." Lewis observed.

"Oh, I know it's not real. There's no way. But even as a scientist, I kind of want it to be real, I suppose. To imagine that anything of the old religions is true these days seems foolish, but would be oddly comforting."

"Yeah, but that ain't what faith is, Doc."

"No, I suppose it's not."

Rasheed walked back to his transport, presumably to get some sleep.

Lewis waited until the wake up and stubbed out his cigarette.

....


"We have heat signatures!" said one of the gunners over the comms.

"Copy. Putting drones in Overwatch mode. Rules of Engagement are set to 'fire at small arms fire.'"

Sure enough, some dumbass fired at the convoy and the Vulcan 50 cannons on the drones obliterated them, whoever they were.

"Sir, these heat signatures are weird." came over the comms.

"Weird how?" asked Muhammed.

"Like, puppet-weird." said the comms.

"FLOOR IT!" Muhammed shouted into the comms.

"Puppets" were what the Hiraska did to their POW's. They would scoop out the brains and implant a sort "driver" device in the skull that would execute a simple program: kill anything that moves. More advanced puppets could use firearms, and sometimes a mercenary would get his hands on the illegal tech and use it make a killing and a fortune. Charge for a whole fire team but only have one guy taking the money.

"Greedy ass cowards." Lewis growled. The transport gunners were firing all around, and there was some return fire.

"I hear rail!" came over the comm. "Rail" meant "Rail gun." It was a weapon to advanced for a puppet. That was the human pulling the strings.

"Drones to capture that rail gunner!" Lewis said into the comm. This mother fucker is going to fucking pay, Lewis thought. Operating Hiraska puppets for money? That was pretty low, ever for a merc.

A rail round screeched down fifty meters away from the speeding convoy, sending a shock wave that blasted the vehicle with the artifact in it 12 blocks west down a ruined street.

"Get to the artifact! Get there! Get there! Get there!" Muhammed said. The transports turned all at the same time and sped through the streets.

"Drones have capture! I say again, drone has capture!" the comm barked.

Good. Lewis thought with angry thoughts of ramming that goddamned rail gun right up their ass. Some amateur, probably. How do you miss with a rail run? Unless. . .

When they convoy regrouped on the artifact transport, it was covered in puppets, some of them uselessly firing weapons point blank into the armored skin and wheels.

"Second squad, you a cleared to engage riot control system at will." said Muhammed.

Lewis felt a pang of irritation. They should have just done that. There was a high pitched whine and all the puppets jerked and shuddered and then fell over, now dead again.

Lewis got out of the transport and listened. Silence. No rail charging noises, no uneven puppet footsteps, just the drone whisper

"Well, that was dumb." Lewis griped, "Third squad, you up?"

"We're up." came over the comm. "Doc's a little shaken up, but he's fine."

"You want to talk to the prisoner?" Muhammed asked over the comm.

"No, fuck him." Lewis said, "the drone net can carry him all the way to Leo City." Lewis said. Lewis secretly hoped who ever it was would die of exposure.

The convoy continued mission without incident.

...

At the space port, there was a huge vehicle line waiting to load on the ship to earth. Lots of civilian vehicles that would be ferried across the stars, but also some science and military transports.

They unloaded the huge blast-proof case that carried the millennia-old papers and Lewis decided it was time to turn the prisoner over to the police.

The rail gunner was a slight man with a patchy beard and beady eyes. He had a robotic hand that must have been a decade old judging by the wear on the paint job.

"So, what was the plan, exactly?" Lewis asked as some soldiers surrounded the descending net. "Blow up the artifacts? Blow up the convoy and take the artifact? Lay it out for me."

The man was shaking from the cold of the altitude and couldn't really stand. The net retracted and he looked around. He threw out his robot hand and there was explosion as it fired out of the circle, past Lewis.

A woman screamed. Doc Rasheed fell to his knees. One of the soldiers shot the rail gunner in the head.

Lewis ran over to Rasheed where the medic was already working to stabilize him, blood pooling beneath him.

"Billy," said Lewis as he knelt down.

"Less," he said. "Less, you have to get it there. You have to get it to lab on Earth."

The medic sedated Rasheed as the local space port medics showed up to continue. Rasheed would very likely be fine; but now Lewis had a new mission. . .

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