Manuscripts Burn


"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov

Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Monroeville Mall Commercial

I'm going to go on record here saying that Dawn of the Dead isn't just the greatest movie ever, it's the greatest ANYTHING ever.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 11

Sergeant Trevor's men were staring at the Germans again. A bunch of them had landed a little while ago, and Trevor had received orders not to bother them. They were allies. Apparently a German criminal had been the one who had taken Washington, but it was all very shady.

Trevor grabbed one of his privates.

"Dammit, Lake, stop looking at them. They're helpin' us out. How would you feel if they were staring at you?"

Lake scratched his head.

"They are staring at us, sarge."

The private pointed. Some of the Germans were indeed looking back at the Americans.

"Leave 'em alone," said Trevor, in a Biblical tone.

Private Lake nodded and ran off.

Trevor thought this could only lead to trouble. First it would start with staring, just out of curiosity. Then one side or another would start poking around at the other side, and before long it would come to blows. And when there were weapons laying around, no good could come of it.

"Well, that's it then," said Trevor, "Better break the ice before there's an avalanche."

David Trevor knew about these kinds of things. He'd been in the United States army for sixteen years, and planned to be in it until he died. He was a born non-com; he had never had any ambitions to be an officer. Trevor knew the best way he could serve the army was as a sergeant, and that he would do.

He was a simple, one-dimensional man. His dimension was this: soldier. His resume included such things as pulling triggers, wearing uniforms, and holding a flamethrower. More importantly, though, he led a squad. He had bounced up and down the ranks a few times, mostly due to his temper, but he preferred being a squad leader anyway. And the sergeant would be damned if each and every man and woman in his squad didn't turn out exactly like him.

Trevor marched stalwartly towards his own troops. He gave a shrill whistle. All of the soldiers looked up.

"Come on, we're goin'."

Trevor started off in the direction of the German camp. Reluctantly the group got to their feet and followed him.

"Where are we going, sarge?" asked one of the corporals.

"Goin' to go talk to the Germans."

There came some chattering and moaning in apprehension. Trevor swiveled around and looked at them fiercely.

"Now I don't want to hear it! You were all interested enough to look at them all like you never learned any decent manners. How would your ma feel, any of you? Well, in this army, I'm your ma, with one little difference, and that's that I kick your ass if you make a mistake. Now I am going to end this before there's a problem, and you are all going to be proper human beings, and not a bunch of slimy shits!"

The troops straightened up their ranks and followed behind him, growing cautious and perfectionist out of fear. The Germans were all eating when they entered the camp. Many of them looked up in wonder. Trevor stopped and looked around. The soldiers scratched themselves and shifted from foot to foot.

"Anybody speak German?" asked Trevor.

None of the soldiers said anything. A German sergeant stood up. He looked rather sly. He had a hatchet face and beady eyes and shadowy dark hair. He did not, however, look malevolent, in fact rather amiable. He was wearing a strange leather uniform which Trevor had never seen anything like before.

"I am Feldwebel Michael Gruber. I have a little English," he said.

His accent was perfect, though. He was probably better than fluent in English. Trevor nodded. The Germans all suddenly leapt to attention. A captain in the same peculiar leather uniform as Gruber was walking down the rows of tents. She was not tall, had blue eyes and short black hair. Her bearing was that of an officer, aloof and thoughtful, but she looked as though she had the potential to be as pleasant as Gruber. The captain stopped in front of Trevor. She said something in German.

"The Hauptmann is introducing herself," said Sergeant Gruber, "She says she is Hauptmann Marianne Totschläger, Motorradkorps. And she asks who you are and what you want."

"Sergeant Dave Trevor," he said, shaking Totschläger's hand violently, "We've come over to, ah, better acquaint ourselves. We'll be working together in the future."

Gruber said some things to his captain. She seemed a bit puzzled.

Trevor looked around for something. He saw a giant asphalt structure. It was an inclined plane, and it stretched very high. It was hooked to a sort of jack so that the level of the street could be changed. It stood up on wheels, and two handles were on it's side. It was like a huge, mobile, adjustable, diagonal street.

"What's that thing?" asked Trevor, pointing at the huge device.

Totschläger seemed suddenly happy.

"Gruber, go introduce Feldwebel Trevor's men around," she said in English.

"Jawohl, Frau Hauptmann," the sergeant replied, and then he took Trevor's troops away.

"I'm glad you asked about this," she said, with a much more pronounced accent than Gruber, "This is a siege device for the Motorradkorps. We think it may be the key to taking Washington D.C. My orders are to stand by on using it, though."

"What is the, ah, Motor..."

Trevor shrugged and gave up.

"Motorradkorps. I'm not sure how it goes in English. Motorized bicycle, maybe?"

Comprehension dawned on Trevor's face.

"Oh, a motorcycle squad. I see. This would be to get your bikes over the walls."


Trevor looked at his troops. They seemed to be integrating with the German troops nicely. A lot of them were trading things. Lake had procured a deck of cards. Trevor knew that Lake probably had a whole other deck planted on his person.

"There doesn't seem to be much of a language problem," said Trevor.

"Most of my troops speak English. It's common enough."

"You for instance. I noticed you were speaking German and having your man translate earlier."

"Oh, well," she seemed a bit embarrassed, "I don't mind pretending about things, especially when they give me an advantage. I wanted to be sure you Americans weren't here to start trouble. I could tell you were just trying to..."

She couldn't seem to find the expression.

"Break the ice," said Trevor.

Totschläger nodded.

By the end of the night the Germans and the Americans were talking and drinking together like old friends.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 10

Vice Admiral Gus Waber adjusted his Stetson so that the hot Australian sun would not be pouring full into his face. He grunted. He already had an uneven tan (not that he wanted a tan at all) and he'd be damned if he was going to get all sunburned on his face.

It wasn't that he couldn't take it. He'd been redder than a tomato when he'd fought in the revolution. That little insurgence had been hell on Waber. He found himself in a hospital for close to a year after that, with everything from heatstroke to influenza, plus a few broken limbs. He had been promoted from captain to admiral after the revolution, though, so he couldn't complain too much.

The man was a real beast. He was huge, but somehow not obese. He was old, but had a fiery youth most children would never have. He was dashing, striking, a prima donna. He was like an ox, with a grip that could crush rocks. His hair was cropped short and he had no beard, but sideburns. He always insisted on being the center of attention, and when he wasn't, he'd damn well see that attention was shifted to him.

Off in the distance, he heard the whine of a small motorboat. He leapt to his feet. That was surely the politician. He'd forgotten who he was, some member of parliament or something, come to wail on the military for some reason or other. Probably because of all the money that seemed to disappear into the abyss.

Waber laughed. If only the politico knew. Well, pretty soon he would know. As the motorboat docked, Waber swaggered unhurriedly to the docks.

He was a rattish little man, who definitely seemed more at home yelling at bureaucrats than in a military base. He clutched a briefcase tightly in his arms. He looked green from the ride over. Still, Waber thought, men like that were strong. Waber knew he could never face the heat of a whole parliament. In some ways, politicians had to be a lot more dangerous than soldiers.

"Welcome to Project Leviathan, sir! Vice Admiral Gus Waber, it's a pleasure."

Waber shook the man's hand forcefully, and got nothing but a limp fish in return. The politician said his name, but Waber forgot it instantly. This could be a prickly situation. Waber had been in unpleasant situations before where he had forgotten people's names. Oh well.

"The committee’s sent me here to see just what the hell you people are doing with our money, admiral. I must say the government is very displeased. The Commonwealth can't afford to be wasting money, not right now."

Waber nodded knowingly.

"Well, sir, you know we have to keep a standing Navy and all, especially with the Horse banging at our door..."

"You've barely got enough ships to call it a flotilla! Maybe a fishing fleet!" exclaimed the politician derisively, "The Australian government's funneled billions of dollars into the Navy, and we've seen nothing. In fact, we've seen a dramatic reduction in production of vessels and sailors."

"That, sir, is because of this project, I'm afraid. If you'll follow me, please."

Waber strode briskly and purposefully toward his destination. The little politician scrambled after him, practically running just to keep up with the admiral.

"What is this project anyway, admiral? The government has no records of a Leviathan Project anywhere. I should know. I've spent the last week combing every inch of our top secret projects. Nothing."

"That's because this is beyond top secret. No one is allowed on or off of this island, nor is anyone allowed communication with the mainland, or any of the outside world for that matter. Nothing but diversion of funds. Well, that was until you came here today."

"You mean this is a completely isolated project?"

"Mm hmm. No one knows about it except the people on this island. And most of them don't even know about what it really is. None of our men here have families, sir."

The politician nodded. He looked around and saw that the whole island was surrounded by barbed wire and guards. He swallowed nervously.

"So, ah..."

"What is it? Well, Leviathan was begun shortly after the Aborigine Revolution."

"Ah, yes, I fought in that."

Waber looked at the politician suddenly with awe.


"Third Armored Division. I was at Canberra."

"No shit!" exclaimed Waber, "I was off the coast of Canberra! Well, shit!"

Waber wrung the man's hand, now full of respect.

"Well, I suppose you know better than most, but after Canberra the Navy realized that sea-to-land combat would be pivotal in future wars. If it hadn't been for the Russian Navy coming to help us out, our land war would have been lost."

The politician nodded.

"I knew a lot of good Russian sailors."

"Well, anyway, the Navy decided to create a project that would give Australia total sea supremacy. A project that would create a single ship. A single ship that could stand toe-to-toe with whole fleets. It was originally called the Supership Project, but over the years the name was changed to Leviathan."

"A single ship that could fight whole fleets? No ship could do that unless it was...enormous."

"And expensive."

"I see. So the Navy's been diverting almost all of their funds to your Supership?"

"Mm hmm. 8 kilometers long, weighing 548,000 tons. 90 457-mm. guns, 120 155-mm guns..."

"All right, all right, admiral. I don't need a whole speech. It's a strong ship, I get it. This had better be one hell of a ship, though. So, where is it?"

"You're standing on it, sir."

The politician looked around. There was nothing but dirt and grass all around.

"The island?"

"Yup. The island is completely manmade. This is the ship, covered by a couple of tons of dirt and grass. Not a bad size for a couple years and a couple billion, huh?"

Waber reached down and rubbed away some dirt to reveal a metal trap door. He lifted the trap door, and gestured for the politician to enter. Waber followed the man.

"This is fantastic!"

The politician looked around with awe.

"She's fully complete, too. Just finished her in the last month. Not a moment too soon, either."

The politician turned to Waber suddenly.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I mean that there's a war starting. Mongolia is invading Russia. I truly believe it won't be too long before this turns into World War III. But, more importantly, our friends are already under attack. You know we never could have solved the Aborigine Revolution without the help of the Russians."

"Well, if we hadn't treated the natives like 2nd-rate slaves in the first place..."

"Yeah, I know. It's a sentiment all of us soldiers who lost friends have. It's over now, and the Aborigines were victorious in getting the treatment they wanted, but we won the war. And we never would have won the war if it hadn't been for the Russians' help. And the Russians were at a hard time then."

"Russia's had a hell of a time for the past, I don't know, couple of centuries. I can't even remember how many revolutions and wars they've had."

"But I can remember one - one where they helped out Australia. I want permission from the government to make war on Mongolia. And I want the Leviathan to do it."

The politician was suddenly lost in thought. Australia was a rich country, so it could financially afford a war - but could the Australian people afford a war of nerves? If the Supership went out and succeeded, the politician figured he could allow it to continue fighting, but if it failed... And how could a ship the size of a small country float?

"I'll go back to parliament," he said finally, "And propose that the Leviathan go into battle against Mongolia. But that's it - I don't want a full-fledged war on my hands. I think I have enough sway to pull it off, but, dammit Waber, you and your Supership had better really be worth it. I mean really. Or there's a good chance you'll be court-martialled for misappropriation of funds - that's embezzlement to you. Win, Waber, win."

"I will, sir. Thank you."

The politician nodded and left. Gus Waber prepared his ship for battle.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 9

Most Venerable Parents,

Greetings. You have my apologies for not having written in such a long period of time. I've had little time of late when I was not in battle or preparations for battle.

All goes well on the front. We are pushing the Ivans back quickly. It's an easy war, though I fear my comrades are growing over-confident. The Golden Army is great, but not invincible. I suppose it's unpatriotic to say such things, but I must. I have a fear in the pit of my stomach that victory will not last for long.

I'm surrounded by all these "Chinese-turned-Mongols" as the Emperor calls them. The Chigols are weak and scared subhumans. I must say it, I don't trust them. And yet how much of our army do they make up?

I apologize. I don't want to burden you. Actually, all things go well, I am merely anxious. I've been in a real battle! We've crossed the border to Mongolia and our scouting forces have slaughtered bands of Ivans. All of our skirmishes have been successes thus far. But, as the lieutenant tells me, the Ivans are on to us. They had massed a large force at a town called Ulan-Ude, just across the border. Apparently, they meant to beat us back right there. It's laughable! A band of Russian sub-soldiers beat the Golden Army in one battle? Ha!

The commanders sent out a battle group of Chigols to test the Russian forces at Ulan-Ude. The whimpering dogs were routed, but still they gained important information on the Ivans. They were mostly hungry peasants, in worn out clothes, and though the force was large, they were weak.

So, we slowly advanced, in case the Ivans had scanners. Ah, I apologize, you may not know of this latest mechanical breakthrough. Some of our commanders have small computers called "scanners". Once a "scanning station", which is a large radar and sonar observation base, is built, it can transmit data on troop movements to each scanner. The scanner can be held in the hand, and yet it shows the movements of troops, enemy and own, to an accuracy of meters. In this manner, a commander can keep track of literally everything that is going on in a battle at one moment, and issue orders based on up-to-the-minute intelligence.

So, in case the Ivans had scanners, we advanced slowly. As it turns out, they did now, so we were able to hide in the brush. Had they had scanners, they would have been able to detect us. But they did not. The snipers inched forward and killed their important leaders. This, however, alerted them to our presence. Company after company emerged from Ulan-Ude, and we fell into personal combat.

At one point, I was standing behind a tree, firing at Popovs. One of the came running at me, but he did not know I was there. He ran right past my tree! I shot him, but he survived, and turned on me. I realized then that I had no more ammunition in my gun! I was unable to reload before he was at my throat. We fell to the ground fighting each other tooth and claw.

He bit me! Would you believe I received a wound medal because a Russian dog bit me? But, finally, I took the advantage. I flung him onto his back and pulled out my knife. I realized now why they issued daggers to us. I drove it into the Russian's neck.

It was only then that I looked at his badge of rank. It seems he was a captain. I turned to see his unit. Leaderless, they were like a snake without a head. So, I grabbed some of my troops and we charged forward at them, firing and yelling wildly. They turned tail and ran. Many of them fell dead.

Things went well infantry against infantry, but soon our tanks entered the battle. I don't think I've ever cheered so hard as when our armored units came into the Battle of Ulan-Ude. So many of the Popovs were crushed under the treads of our tanks, that we barely needed to fire the turrets!

No Russian escaped the Battle of Ulan-Ude, or the victorious forces of the Golden Horde! Those who were not dead were captured. I think we caught the Ivans to the man. That is what the lieutenant told us. It was then that I was promoted from corporal to sergeant. I hope you are proud of me, mother and father.

I will continue to fight for the glory of Mongolia. Until Mongolia sees oceans on all sides, I will continue fighting. After we are a true empire, I will return to you. May the imperial and the divine keep you.

Your son,

Sergeant Darbet Kazakh, 76th Mongolian Heavy Infantry

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 8

It was a strikingly beautiful night out on the sea. The darkness crept in like a blanket, covering everything like a black snowfall. Wafting across the sea came clouds of misty fog, adding a crispness to the air. Far above, twinkling like glimmering golden pinpricks in a black canvass, the stars twinkled and spun.

Carl Leonard stared up at them in awe, an awe he had not lost since childhood. He was a large man. He was black, with brown eyes and hair that was showing the first hints of turning gray. He was not, however, decrepit at all. He boxed and rode horses when he could, and did calisthenics in the ship gym when he could not to stay in shape. He was a naval captain, and his sailors looked up to him, so he had to be in peak physical condition.

For now he was relaxing. It had been a hard day. He breathed deeply of the cool, refreshing air. It almost made you forget the sad, sorry condition of the nation he was sworn to defend. Reluctantly, he turned from his contemplations of the night sky.

Most of the crew aboard his destroyer was asleep. Even the sailor who was supposed to be manning the helm was asleep in a chair. Carl imagined the skeleton crew of people manning the ship were all asleep. It was all right, though, they'd been through a hell of a lot over the past couple of days.

They were off the coast of San Diego. The whole megalopolis was a powder keg with feet sliced off it's fuse. God, Carl thought, the whole damn country was a powder keg. The Army, the Navy, the police, the national guard, the Coast Guard, hell, even the Air Force were all stretched to the breaking point trying to take care of the populace. They'd even grounded all the men in the Air Force to act like police. That, Carl thought, was the greatest sign that America was going down the tubes.

The Navy and Coast Guard had to patrol all the port cities. Their job was to attack the ground from the sea, if it became necessary, but mostly they were just an imposing presence that prevented people from committing crimes. Thousands of troops patrolled every city in the U.S. The army had barely had enough troops to mount a siege on Washington. It was just a token force, anyway.

A shrill whistle pierced Carl's thoughts. He looked around. They weren't far from shore.

"Captain!" came a distant cry, "Captain Leonard!"


"Yeah! Can you dock? I need to board and talk to you!"

Carl gave the helmsman a swift kick in the leg. He jerked awake.

"Captain!" he yawned.

"Stop sleeping at your post, you piece of shit," Carl said entirely more harshly than he had too, "Steer us toward shore. We're docking."

"Yes, sir."

A moment later, when Major Frost was onboard, Leonard motioned for the sailor to take them back out to sea. He was asleep again by the time they were a few hundred yards out.

"Something wrong, major?" asked Carl.

"Yeah, captain, something is wrong. This city's wrong. This whole country's wrong."

Carl grunted in agreement.

"I meant more like as in you coming aboard."

Major Frost really was old. He reminded Leonard of a grizzled old bull dog. He was probably in his early fifties, with a chiseled jaw, broad shoulders, and muscles like bricks. His face was pitted and scored with age and combat. His hair was a uniform iron gray all around, not white, but a dark gray. There was, however, a small stripe of hair which was still pitch black, as though his scalp, like his whole body, had somehow been unwilling to completely let go of his youthful vigor. Carl imagined Frost looked like the old warhorse Patton had back in his heyday.

"Oh, yeah. I just need a break is all," said Frost, "I've never been grounded for so long in my life, not even when I was a kid. I never realized what a time cops and the army have. You don't mind if I take a breather for a minute on your ship, do you?"

"Not at all. I was just looking at the stars myself."

Major Frost looked up.

"Hell, they're beautiful, aren't they?"

The captain nodded.

“‘With memory of the old revolt from Awe,
He reached a middle height, and at the stars,
Which are the brains of heaven, he looked, and sank.
Around the ancient track marched, rank on rank,
The army of unalterable law.’”

Leonard boggled at the other man for a moment.

“George Meredith,” Frost explained.

Nodding, Carl said, "How's your girlfriend?"

"Amy? Oh, she's fine."

"You two ever going to tie the knot?"

Frost smiled wearily.

"Someday, when I have the money," he said.

"Yeah, I've been sorely disappointed in my paychecks recently, too."

"Well, you can't blame the Navy, you"

Frost slowed down as he finished the sentence, realizing that he had dragged them back to that subject again.

"I've got a new lieutenant, a real greenhorn," he began quickly, trying to change the subject.

But Carl was already thinking about it again.

"You know, I've thought so much about these things lately."

"Any conclusions?"

"Well," began the captain, "I wonder sometimes how Americans could be reduced to animals sometimes. But then I realize they're not acting like animals, more like...rebels. See, the thing about a rebel is, he's always fighting for some kind of freedom."

"I don't know what kind of freedom they could want that they don't already have," said Frost.

"Well, that's not the point. See, people don't go loco because the IRS isn't working or the schools aren't open, or whatever else got ruined when the government fell. It's that they think their freedoms are in jeopardy. However much I may complain about taxes and the government, I know deep down that they stand for and protect all those freedoms in the constitution. And, even if it's just subconscious, the civilians know it too. Without a president and government as at least a symbol of their rights, they're going to go psycho and start turning on one another.

"Even if we just had a figurehead government, I think it would solve a hell of a lot of problems. But the states are just dragging their feet about setting up the feds again."

Frost nodded.

"The problem with being an officer," said the Air Force major, "Is that you're always thinking. I wish I could just be relaxing, or sleeping like that fellow in there."

Frost pointed at the helmsman. Carl laughed.

"Burden of command," he said.

Frost grunted in response.

"Well, speaking of burdens, back into the fray for me. More arsonists and rapists and murderers to deal with."

Up in space the stars boiled and exploded with the devastating force of a billion nuclear bombs, bubbling, churning, and burning.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 7

Bleda Khan stepped out onto the platform to massive cheering and applause from the minority of native Mongolians, and the majority of Chinese-turned-Mongolians. Bleda had ordered the museums searched for the ancestral robes and crown of the old Khans. He was now wearing royal clothes that Genghis Khan himself had once worn. They may not have been Bleda's birthright, but he had claimed the right.

The people demanded an Empire. They demanded an Emperor. They demanded power and glory for Mongolia. And Bleda offered it to them. "Jobs for Everyone" was one of Bleda's slogans. And it was true. There was no longer a bum on the street. Not a single Chinese immigrant was without work. He had closed the country's gates, but soon, when many had died in the war, he would open them again for an infinitely replenishing supply of reinforcements.

It had been three years since Mabus Bleda had ousted President Toghril. Surprisingly, there had been no civil war to speak of. The Chinese-turned-Mongolians had rallied to Bleda's call so fast the few advocates of democracy had been crushed under the sea of support for the Empire. So, for three years Bleda had been creating a war machine in preparation for his eventual imperialistic attacks. The military was busting at the seams with new volunteers, and so many others had gone to work building tanks and planes and ships and the most modern of war technology.

Bleda Khan waved the cheering down. Bleda could hardly see the throngs of people without his glasses, but his advisors had insisted. They said the people could not stand weakness in any form in their leader, even eyesight.

Luckily he did not need to read his speech. He knew it by heart, because it came from the heart. He truly believed the words that soon flew from his lips.

"The time has come," he said, "For Mongolia to take her rightful place as an Empire and as a super-power."

The crowd seemed ready to give birth to a great cheer, but Bleda aborted it with a wave of his hand.

"I am certain that this can be accomplished. Mongolia is the greatest country in the world, and we are the greatest people in the world. If we rally together, we could become the greatest Empire that ever was!"

Bleda allowed the people to cheer. Many of them held signs with pro-imperial and pro-Bleda slogans. Bleda found one of them very amusing, a pun which only made sense in Mongolian.

"The time has come for many things. The time has come to begin turning the gears which will put into motion the destiny of Mongolia. The time has come to set Mongolia on the path to imperial domination.

"No longer will Mongolia be a small, poorly populated, landlocked country. I swear to you this: when we are through, Mongolia will touch ocean on all sides! Millions, no, billions shall pay homage to us.

"The time has come for war. War is costly, but it is the only way. If we wish to drag ourselves out of this rut, we must make war. We must go north, to Russia. We must take that country first.

"We must go east to China. We have many thousands of us here now who are already Chinese. China was once a great and noble country. But the fools who ruled it - through no fault of it's people - ruined it. I feel very, very sad to say that China has fallen, but there is no use denying that it has. I know, however, that the Chinese people are not ruined, just relocated. What you lost because of fools, my friends, you will now regain. While you walked under the flag of your own country, your leaders raped you and took all you had. But under the flag of your adopted country, you shall take more than you ever dreamed! And I hope, that someday, you shall not think of this as a temporary place to live, but as your own home."

The native Mongolians showed their respect in silence. Every Chinese-turned-Mongolian in the crowd saluted Bleda. He could see many of them crying, tears of both sorrow from nostalgia and joy from looking forward.

"I salute you, my brothers and sisters."

And Bleda really meant it. He felt a sorrow down in his gut for these poor people. He genuinely wanted to help them.

"The time has come for Russia to fall first, then all of Asia. Then, my brethren, you shall retake your homeland. Yes, the time has come. Our time has come."

The Mongolian people cheered and cheered until their throats were dry. Bleda Khan had cemented his role of Emperor and supreme leader. His people would follow him anywhere. He wanted to lead them to glory.

Monday, May 25, 2009

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields
by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Let’s Go To…Ulaan-bataar!

Ulaan-baatar. Asia’s White Fairy. Crown jewel of the Mongolian Empire. Unofficial capitol of the Coalition. The world’s most populous city.

Hard to believe that a scant few years ago Ulaan-baatar was home to only about a million people, most of them nomadic locals. How did a city of only six universities become the sprawling cosmopolitan heart of the world’s largest empire in just a few years time?

The answer is all over the place. In every park there is a statue, on every wall there is a poster, in every home there is a shrine to the father of the Golden Age of Mongolia: Bleda Khan.

You wouldn’t know it today, but Mabus Bleda was not born of noble blood, was not a mighty warrior, and was not the lovechild of a peasant woman and a mythical garuda. (Yes, that is a real legend the nomads tell.) In spite of what the propaganda will tell you today (and there is a lot of it, so get used to ignoring it or get used to being brainwashed) Mabus Bleda was a fairly ordinary, even nondescript government functionary in the old regime.

Bleda became disillusioned with the Mongolian version of democracy when the People’s Republic of China collapsed and Mongolia was faced with an ever-mounting refugee crisis. The democratic leaders did nothing, and Bleda feared that the influx of Chinese culture would swamp the native Mongols. He led a coup, declared himself emperor or “khan” and the rest is…well, the rest is written in the bricks and streets of Ulaan-bataar.

The city itself is an industrial boomtown. Thousands of factories and trillions of dollars worth of armament output are centered in the industrial district of Baganuur. Baganuur was once separated from the rest of the city proper, but after massive expansion Baganuur is now connected directly to the old city by an endless steppe of streets, suburbs, and smokestacks.

The district of Bagakhangai was also an exclave in the old days. Today, it is the center of the Golden Sky Force, the largest and most powerful air force in the world. Like Baganuur, Bagakhangai is connected to the old city with rows and rows of homes and shops that service the air commanders and their families.

The place to go, though, for a tourist, is Sükhbaatar. Sükhbaatar is the district that houses Mongolia’s government. The center of the district is the sprawling and magnificent Imperial Palace (although many residents claim that the emperor himself always lives in a yurt at the foot of the palace – and who can blame them if they want to believe it?) Surrounding the palace is a circle of gorgeous mansions, the legations of the Mongolian Empire. Each legation is an embassy of sorts from the conquered countries of the Mongolian Empire. There is one for Japan, China, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, and so on, each appointed in the native style of the conquered country. Even smaller countries like Bhutan are afforded the same rights as their larger delegations. All are equally subservient to Bleda Khan.

To the west of the palace is embassy row. These are the embassies proper, with ambassadors from independent nations like The Eastern Bloc, the Mexican Empire, and so on. Coalition Headquarters is located here, too, a jaw-dropping skyscraper with a floor for each nation in the coalition and a massive, underground assembly area.

As you can guess there are millions of foreign nationals and immigrants living in Ulaan-bataar today, making it a truly metropolitan city. It’s said by the locals that you could walk for an hour through Sükhbaatar and never hear Mongolian uttered once. Still, Mongolian is the lingua franca here in Ulaan-bataar, and is a language and a culture jealously guarded by the Imperial administration. A foreigner had better get used to the beautiful, top-down flowing script of Mongolian before they visit Ulaan-bataar. The administration does not look kindly on ignorant foreigners. (For more on the Mongolian language and dialects, see Appendix C.)

The city is packed to the gills with foreigners from all over the world, but by far the most populous demographic of Ulaan-bataar is the Han Chinese refugees. Millions have been granted full or provisional Mongolian citizenship upon passing a battery of tests and a series of loyalty oaths. These are the so-called “Chigols” – Han Chinese who have fully adopted Mongolian culture. And there are few more rabid supporters of Bleda Khan than the Chigols. Outside the city proper are thousands of shanty towns made up of refugees primarily from China, but increasingly from all over the Empire, who are studying to become Mongolian citizens, too. Crime is rampant in these shantytowns, so stay away if you can, but if you must go through them, keep your tögrögs in your shoe or around your neck.

There’s so much to see and do in Ulaan-bataar, so let’s not waste any more time on history lessons or demographic breakdowns. In the next few chapters of Let’s Go To…Ulaan-bataar! We will discuss the following:

1. Tourist traps and must-see sites
2. What to do if the Golden Police Force arrest you
3. Drink Your Qymyz: What to eat and what not to eat
4. Ulaan-bataar in wartime
5. Finding your way around
6. Nightlcubs and hot spots
7. Yurt or hotel: you decide

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 6

"I am not certain this is legal, Senor Presidente."

President Francisco Almacen looked up at his subordinate, General Chavo Oso. The dictator's fists slowly clenched as he worked to subdue his rage.

"I am not concerned with legality, Oso! It is my will, and it shall be done as I have commanded!"

"Yes, Presidente," the general bowed in supplication to his commander in chief.

Francisco Almacen had been born in Cuba just before the outbreak of the Cuban-American War, which had been called the American War in Cuba and the Cuban War in America. It was all a matter of perspective, as both sides believed the other to have started the conflict. Cuba had lost and so Almacen had grown up in an environment of bitter hatred towards America.

Moving to Mexico in his later years, Almacen began to gather followers who believed that Fascism was the only way Mexico could become as strong as it's northern neighbor, and no longer be dependent on the Americans. When he believed the time was ripe, Almacen led a bloody revolution and struck towards Mexico City with his small but fanatic legion of followers. He was defeated at first, but made the Mexicans pay dearly.

Brooding and biding his time to lick his wounds Almacen slowly gathered more forces, not just from Mexico, but from Central America and the surrounding Gulf islands. With promises of land, money, and power to all of his followers, his fascist regime slowly grew. Learning from his previous mistakes he attacked the legal government again, this time ready. The legal Mexican government had been strengthening it's own forces, and a long, drawn-out revolution began.

The morale of the fascist rebels never flagged, and when it began to droop even slightly Almacen reminded them of the bountiful rewards that they would earn when it was over. The Mexicans, however, were growing tired of war, and soon regiments and regiments of legal Mexicans crossed over to the rebel side. The few remaining defenders surrendered after the brutal siege of Mexico City.

Almacen had declared himself president (though in fact he was little better than a dictator supported by his goons and thugs) and began to try to negotiate with his northen neighbors. America refused to recognize Almacen's regime, but the Canadians began to speak quite a lot with his ambassadors. Canada began to take a few lessons in semi-fascism from Mexico, and began strengthening it's army, as it was already having some troubles with a restless Quebec. The two weak nations were now becoming stronger and more militant, and growing very close together.

Almacen had already sucked his homeland Cuba into the Mexican Empire. With Cuba as a staging ground he had begun sending troops to some of the Greater and Lesser Antilles islands. His troops had begun to enter Guatemala and Belize. So far it had all been controversial, but not illegal. Now Almacen had ordered Oso to commit his forces to an overt attack on Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Neither one would stand up to Mexican attacks for very long, but it was very possible that the two small nations would receive aid from other countries, including America.

The dictator did not care. He would take what he deserved, and let anyone try to stop him. He, too, would soon have allies.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 5, Part 2

Winston Edify sat in his armchair perusing the newest edition of the Wall Street Journal. For a while his stocks had been going up. Now they were going down, way down. Ever since the Rape of Washington, the stock market had damn near collapsed. He checked the newspaper hopefully, but to no avail.

“Damn!” he exclaimed, “I’m losing money every second.”

“What did you say, dear?” asked Edify’s wife, walking into the room.

“My stocks are depreciating, dear.”

“Oh, that’s a shame,” she said, not really paying attention.

Edify’s wife sat down on her plush couch. She was wearing an evening dress that had cost him several thousand dollars. She obviously had no regard for it in the way she flung herself onto the couch, also stiffly expensive.

“What ever shall you do?” she asked.

“I’ll go downtown tonight.”

“You’d better get dressed in that case, Winston,” she said.

Edify nodded. He placed his pipe down on the plate which held his snifter of brandy. He went to his room and took off his silk robe. He put on a three-piece suit which had once belonged to Eisenhower. It had cost him quite a lot.

“It’s dangerous out!” called his wife, “You’d better bring your firearm!”

“I am!” he called, annoyed at his nagging bride.

He pulled out his .44, loaded it with six bullets, and placed it into his holster by his heart. (He also kept a holster on his side and in his boot, but those were generally for emergencies, such as jewelry stores.)

On his way to Wall Street, Winston robbed two convenience stores. They had both had very little money. He reached Wall Street and walked into the door of his building (he had forgotten it’s name by now) and shot the security guard. He went to the 16th floor, killed his stock broker, took all the money in his safe, then returned to his penthouse.

“Is everything taken care of, Winston?” asked his nagging wife.

“Not quite,” he said, then shot her.

“A very profitable night,” he said, under his breath.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 5, Part 1

Jeb grumbled lazily in his chair. Why'd he have to have watch now? Why couldn't Will or Zeke take it now?

"It ain't no use growlin' like a dog, Will took last watch and you oughta know Zeke's been a-shot," yelled Ma out the window.

"I weren't growlin', Ma!" he yelled testily, then, under his breath, "Dumb ol' woman."

"I heared you say that! I heared it! Don' you call me dumb!"

"I ain't! I ain't called you dumb!"

Jeb shut up then. He checked his Pop's shotgun to see if it was loaded and cleaned properly. It wasn't, of course, but Jeb wasn't very sly around guns.

"It's clean as a whistle!" he declared, and shot at nothing in particular.

"What was that?" yelled Ma, "Did someone come?"

"No, Ma! Stop 'nnoyyin' me, now, I got's work ta do."

Jeb went to sleep for a little while, then woke up with a start. Some guy was on his lawn. Jeb jumped to his feet and pointed the gun.

"Who's 'at!"

"I's me, Jeb, you neighbor, Mr. Parker!"

"You don' look nothin' like Parkah!"

"I's me, Jeb, I swear i's me!"

"You a liar!"

"Look Jeb," yelled Parker, "I know things are a bit tense now, we're all feelin' it, but there ain't no call to go pointin' guns at you neighbor."


Jeb squeezed the trigger. Parker fell dead on the ground with a large hole in his chest. Jeb sat back down and reloaded his gun.

"What was that? Was 'at somepin?"

"No, Ma, it weren't nothin'. Just killed some trespassah claimin' ta be Parkah."

"Parker? Well, 'at's low down, pretendin' ta be someun."

"Yeah, ah'll say."

Will came out of the house at that moment.

"Hey-a, Will."

"Hey, Jeb. I heard you two sayin' somepin 'bout Parker?"

"Nah. Some feller said 'e was Mistah Parkah, but he weren't. Look-a over there."

Jeb pointed to the place where he had felled the imitation Mr. Parker. Will stepped over the bodies in the yard and came upon the freshest one, the false Parker.

"'At is Parker, Jeb, you jackass!"

"Ah, well, he weren't up to no good, anyway."

"Yeah, can't trust nobody nowadays."

"Where you goin, Will?"

"Goin' ta town ta get a DVD playah and maybe some food."

"A DVD?"

"Yeah. All kinds a people takin' DVDs and TVs and computers and such. Showed it on TV."

"Well, ain't no cops around no more. Ain't you heard about the Rape of Washington?"

"Rape," Jeb laughed, "That's what I oughta do, go out and rape me a girl."

"On'y way you'd ever hit the sack with a girl, anyhow. Nah, not that kinda rape though. Killin' and stuff. Govament's down an' out. An' with the govament out, whole country's gone haywire."

"Yeah, things ain't been the same lately. How come people're stealin' DVDs an' such?"

“Mob mentality.”


“I’s called ‘mob mentality’. Ever’un’s doin’ it, so ever’un else is doin’ it.”

“Ever’un in America is stealin’ VCRs an’ such?”

“Yup. An’ I don’ wanna miss out.”

“Awright. See ya fer supper.”

“See ya.”

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 4, Part 4

Chancellor Katarina von Baden took the phone from her aide.

"This is Metzger," said the man on the other line.

"Metzger, this is Chancellor von Baden."

She waited for him to be duly impressed.

"Madame Chancellor," he said simply.

"Metzger," she said, "The German people simply will not stand for this. You have committed unspeakable crimes, escaped your punishment and now, now...!"


"You have kidnapped one of our generals. I'm telling you right now, Metzger, we will not stand for this. The people have taken it as a personal insult. If you don't release Otto Krauss this instant, we will send troops to Washington!"

"I don't particularly want to fight my own country," he said coldly, "But I am not going to release my protégé."

"You're only making matters worse, Metzger. I take it you're not afraid of our forces, from your insolence."

"Oh, yes, I am. What first began to make me anxious is the fact that you have been able to contact me. That is no small feat, Madame Chancellor. But I am not going to bend to your every whim. I am very well fortified here. My men have been able to fight off American forces. We're not particularly afraid of your forces. Troops, I might add, which I once commanded. I know your strategies."

"The Americans have only been putting up token resistance and you know it! Every standing man in the American army is in the streets of the cities, trying to stop looting and rioting and crime. The Americans probably haven't spared a full two companies since you've taken Washington, because once you took Washington the country fell apart."

"You're right," said Metzger finally, "There've been very few shots fired. But I'm also getting reinforcements every day. Every day my planes are airlifting new people who want to join The Claw into Washington. I've got a full-fledged, self-sustaining country here, Madame Chancellor. We may be a tiny city-state, but we're here to stay."

Von Baden pictured for a moment American Neo-Nazis plowing fields and harvesting crops and livestock. She almost laughed out loud. Then she grew very angry and her German began to slip into almost indecipherable Swabian dialect.

"The bottom line is, return Krauss. Ideally we'd want you deported back here and back in jail, but we both know that's not going to happen, and so do the German people. So return Krauss."

Metzger hung up the phone.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 4, Part 3

"Do you know what the ultimate driving force behind mankind is, Krauss?"

"No, sir," replied Krauss.

"Fear!" Metzger replied with a conviction, "Fear is the only force that can drive and bind the human race. How does a dictator maintain rule? Fear of force. How does a democracy maintain rule? Fear of tyranny. How does a church maintain rule? Fear of eternal consequences. How does any government maintain rule? Fear of anarchy.

"Fear is the only force that can cause a man to act. Fear is the only force that can cause a woman to act. Fear is the only force that can cause an animal to act. Why does an antelope run from a cheetah? Fear! Name an event in history, Krauss. Any event."

"Uh, the founding of the Roman Empire."

"The Roman Empire was a direct result of fear. Fear of the Gauls invading caused Caesar to begin the Gallic Wars. Fear of a king caused the death of Caesar. Fear of anarchy caused the crowning of Octavian emperor. Fear of the Praetorian Guard kept the Emperor in command. Fear of the Roman Army kept conquered lands in line.

"Do you know what mankind is most deathly afraid of? Change. Change is the only thing which we are truly afraid of. We like the comfort of now, the predictability of the present. If humans all had their way, nothing would ever change. But then there is the fear of stagnation, paranoia (that is, rather, the fear of others), and pain (the fear of being injured) that causes us to not maintain the present. And so we go forward, ever fearful of what lies ahead."

The marshal had been giving speeches to Krauss for several days now. He was trying to make Krauss understand how he felt. Krauss saw the passion in Metzger's eyes, and knew he felt strongly about things. It was amazing to Krauss the kind of things that the marshal was talking about, though.

"Fear is the only way to consolidate power. Fear is the only power," Metzger's eyes burned like hot coals in a funeral pyre.

Suddenly in a flash of motion Metzger had drawn his sidearm. He touched the gun to Krauss's forehead and fingered the trigger. Krauss felt the cold steel against his forehead and felt a fear like nothing he'd ever imagined. Pure terror welled up within him.

"You seem scared, Krauss. Why? What are you scared of?"

"Your gun," squeaked Krauss like a little field mouse.

"Why? What about it scares you?"

"That it's going to kill me!" howled Krauss.

Metzger squeezed the trigger. Nothing happened. Krauss's body suddenly relaxed and the fear disappeared. His legs felt like Jell-O and he dropped to the floor.

"You said you were afraid of the gun. You're not afraid of the gun anymore?"

"Well, I know now it can't hurt me."

"Precisely, general. You see, you were scared of the gun only because of what it represented. It represented death for you. I knew it was unloaded, so it couldn't hurt you. But you were still scared of it because it symbolized what you were afraid of.

"If we want to invoke fear in enough people to rule we need symbols, general."

Suddenly the telephone rang.

"Whose telephone is that?" Metzger asked incredulously.

"Does anyone have your number here?" asked Krauss.

"They shouldn't."

Krauss shrugged. He picked up the phone.

"Hello? This is Krauss. Yes, the marshal is here. Who's this? All right, here he is."

Krauss handed the phone to Metzger. Metzger cupped his hand over the speaker.

"Who is it?" he whispered.

"The chancellor."

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 4, Part 2

Poland was a country that had been invaded by foreign forces for thousands of years. Many times it had been wiped entirely off the map of Europe. Poles were traditionally fierce warriors, but a peace loving people, and so often their armies were so small that invaders could take them over. And after every attempt to destroy Poland, the spry little country bounced back into a prosperous existence. The Mongols, the Swedes, the Russians, the Germans, The Nazis, the Soviets, and a dozen others had claimed Poland as their own. Now the Eastern Bloc had claimed Poland as part of it’s empire.

Josef Lewandowski’s hard, strong, very Polish face hardened as the Easterners marched by. They were in the center of Warsaw, the capital of Poland. The garrison of Easterners in Warsaw was particularly large, because occupants of the capital had a particular hatred for the foreigners. Out in the countryside the occupying force was less, but still very impressive.

Lewandowski had to admit that the Easterners were an impressive military force. The multitude of people in the Bloc had melded into an excellent military force, almost unrivalled on the planet. Each member of the Warsaw garrison had impeccable uniforms. They goose stepped along with a precision that Lewandowski envied.

He sighed. In his youth Lewandowski had been in the Polish army. He had been a young and idealistic lieutenant. After completing officer’s training he had been almost immediately thrust into bloody battle. That had hardened him quickly to life’s harsh realities. He had been in the force that had tried to battle back the Easterners. While most of the Eastern European countries had willingly joined the Bloc, Poland had wanted no part of it. And when Igoumensita had declared Poland a Bloc country, whether it liked it or not, the West had not stepped in. So Poland was left on it’s own to defend against an occupying force.

It was very similar, Lewandowski reflected, to the Anschluss of World War II. Austria had been considered rightfully Germany’s, and so the West had not interfered with it’s occupation. Except in the case of Poland and the Bloc, Poland bitterly opposed Eastern occupation, whereas Austria had welcomed the Germans with open arms.

After the years of fighting, Poland’s brave but small force was finally forced to surrender. The Easterners came marching in with smiles on their faces. Lewandowski had spent a few years in a P.O.W. camp, until he was finally allowed to return to Warsaw as a bum. Crime had taken a nose dive. The economy had grown strong. And freedom now no longer had any meaning in Poland.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Q & A with...Lars Metzger

As I walk into the only entrance to Washington, D.C. I am flanked by dozens of armed guards. They are a motley crew: a bitter melange of middle-aged old school right wingers, tattooed inner city gang members, camouflague-bedecked Midwest farm boys, and the occasional out-and-out lunatic. This is the cream of the crop of the terrorist organization called The Claw.

Their motives are confused. Ask any one of them why they're here and each will give you a different story. Sometimes it seems like the only thing uniting them is their love of their leader: a mysterious near-mythic figure they reverently call "The Master."

The Master is Lars Metzger, a German expatriate whose records are sealed by the Bundesrepublik. Trust me, I tried, but the Germans are as tight-lipped about the self-proclaimed marshal as he himself. No one knows who he is, where he came from, or what prompted him to topple the American government in the single most successful terrorist attack on American soil in history.

As his gang of loyalists, bristling with Kalashnikovs, hunting rifles, and the occasional military-grade AS gun take me to their leader, I shiver a little bit. Metzger has never granted an audience to a journalist before. To hear him tell it, he never will again. I'm it. The end. Finito. What I don't find out about The Master of the Claw today will remain a mystery forever (or until the Claw establishes a legitimate new regime, which even the die-hards seem skeptical about.)

He cuts a dashing figure. He lets me take one photograph in his fanciful, self-designed uniform. He might as well be a vampire, a mystique he cultivates. He doesn't waste small talk on me. We are both here with a purpose: he wants to get his word out, I want the biggest scoop of the war. We get down to brass tacks.

MB: Thank you for meeting me.

LM: No danger to me. You're the one who passed through Germano-American lines.

MB: That's...not what I meant.

LM: You meant why, of all the journalists in all the gin joints in all the world did I pick you.

MB: Yeah, I guess.

LM: No reason.

MB: Interesting that you put it that way...uh...marshal. "No reason" has become something of a catchword for your actions recently, at least among the American public. Would you care to expand on your reason for...what shall we call it?

LM: In polite company, you mean? Don't worry, I'm fully aware that the media refers to the neutron bomb attack as "The Rape of Washington." Fair enough. I'm not sweating what you people call it, only how you react to it.

MB: And your reason for it?

LM: I am trying to bring you to water and watching you stubbornly refuse to drink.

MB: Are you implying that you set off the bomb for the sole purpose of watching how people react?

LM: That is a simplistic explanation, but it makes sense, doesn't it? Your country is supposed to be all about freedom, but then you set up a government that over the course of the centuries has passed law after law to sap that freedom. It was a process so gradual that no one seemed to notice it. Politicians get elected by promising to pass laws, and then, surprise, surprise, more and more laws are passed until true freedom is all but curbed by meaningless regulations. So what happens when you free the people from their own strictures? Give them what they claim they prize most?

MB: Civil war? Murder and rioting in the streets? Foreign invasions and the goose-stepping of Mexican troops all over the Southwest? Is freedom worth the price?

LM: There was a breed of American a generation or two ago who would have said freedom was worth any price.

MB: There are many who still do.

LM: Then what are they complaining about?

MB: I'd like to ask you a little bit about your past.

LM: I'm afraid that's outside the bounds of our agreement.

MB: Are you saying you're limiting my freedom of the press?

LM: (laughs) Touche. Very well, you may ask.

MB: Could you tell me about your childhood?

LM: No.

MB: (laughs) Fair enough. You know, you are not what I expected.

LM: Not the brutish serial killer your media has made me out to be?

MB: Well, that's an interesting point. Erudite or not, how do you justify mass murder?

LM: I don't. Why bother? Why obsess over it?

MB: Are you saying the ends justifies the means?

LM: I didn't say that. I simply refuse to acknowledge it as a concern worth addressing. Well, i'm afraid that's about all I've got time for. I have arranged for my second-in-command to give you a tour of some of our facilities. You understand why you'll be blindfolded, correct?

MB: Yes...of course. Thank you.

LM: My pleasure.

As the tattooed "colonel" nicknamed Basilisk shows me around the compound it's clear that neither of us are interested. After the hydroponic gardens and the armory, I am bored and he is obviously sick of me. We take our leave. I am disappointed that I couldn't get any more about Metzger. It felt more like meeting with my old journalism professor during office hours, where he would lay the Socratic method on with a trowel, rather than meeting with an enemy head of state. Head of state, is that even the right word? He's certainly running something, within our own borders, and it's independent and it doesn't seem like it will fall anytime soon, despite the earnest work of our besieging army and our German allies. The compound remains mysterious and aloof, and I fear that my mission to deliver an important report from within remains woefully unfulfilled.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 4, Part 1

The Claw had totally seized the city. Of the sprawling Metropolis that had been Washington D.C., only a few thousand disheveled survivors wandered the streets. The tightly disciplined Claw cells herded the survivors together and put them to work on the city’s defenses.

Metzger had outlined a few square blocks of the city that would be fortified and held at all costs. The plan now was to hold the city, hoping that the military would be too bogged down dealing with civil unrest to retake the city. Then they would wait for allies to emerge in whatever new world order cropped up in America. And if nothing cropped up, well, Metzger would be in a position to establish a new government himself as long as he could hold on to his safe haven.

The survivors built a fence that was electrified and a huge, stalwart wall with guard towers and defenses inside the fence. Dozens of anti-aircraft guns were constructed. The Claw had been smuggling materiel into the city for weeks. That was the beauty of the neutron bomb: everything was left intact but the people.

When all the defenses were completed, the single gate to the city was opened and those survivors who wanted to were allowed to leave. Metzger had no means to feed them and no interest in keeping them captive. Rationing would be tight as it was for the Claw loyalists, at least until they got their hydroponics up and running. Surprisingly, many of the survivors wanted to stay and join The Claw. Metzger made them all provisional members, and they were placed under the close scrutiny of his most loyal followers to weed out any Trojan horses.

Krauss had not had any ambitions of joining The Claw, but he was still stopped and pulled out of the great mob making the exodus from Washington. The Claw man who had stopped him, whose name was Basilisk, brought him to Metzger.

With Washington solidly in Claw hands, Metzger had changed into a bizarre uniform, brazenly showing off his status as leader of the rebel group. It was clearly a uniform of the failed Nazi Third Reich, except for two differences. The first difference was that the uniform was free of swastikas or any other symbols or paraphernalia of Nazism. In lieu of the Nazi symbols were peculiar badges which seemed to portray three slashing claw marks. The other difference was the color of the uniform. It was neither Luftwaffe blue, nor SA brown, nor SS black. It was a pure blood red, a disturbing and terrifying crimson. Topping off his vampiric appearance, Metzger had a black cape attached to his uniform by two golden clasps.

Metzger looked overjoyed to see Krauss. He immediately waved off his entourage of men. He uncorked a bottle of fine champagne and spoke to Krauss in German.

"It is such a welcome surprise to see another German. The men at the gates told me about you, general, and at first I didn't believe them. But just seeing you, I knew immediately. You remind me of myself when I was younger."

The man slapped Krauss fraternally on the back. He proffered a glass of champagne, and led him into a large, plush chair.

"Try some. An excellent vintage, I must say, but not nearly as good as what's you'd get back in Saarland."

Metzger sat down across from Krauss and placed the tips of all his fingers together. He looked at Krauss briefly with a smile. Suddenly he leapt to his feet, looking embarrassed.

"I'm terribly sorry! How uncivil of me. Marshal Lars Metzger, acting Master of the Claw."

"Um," Krauss shuffled uncomfortably a little bit, "General Otto Krauss, Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte."

"Luftstreitkräfte? Welche Rank? Nur Brigadegeneral? Well, rank doesn't matter. All air force men have the same guts. I was an Armee man myself, general, never could keep my lunch down in an airplane. You're going to be grounded for a while, though, Krauss, so you'd better get used to footslogging. You know, it's interesting that you happen along at this time. An unexpected twist of fortune in my favor, I think.

"You see, I've been looking for a competent leader. None of these American racists I'm surrounded by will do. I need a real man, a German! You see, I'm starting to take up more dictatorial responsibilities, and it's difficult to juggle military command and governmental command. Which is why, my dear Krauss, I am making you my protégé."

"Uh, well," Krauss fidgeted nervously, "It's a very generous offer and all, but..."

"Yes, thank you, it is generous, but I'm a giving man. I want to promote you to commander-in-chief of Claw military operations some day, Krauss. I can see the spark of potential in you, Krauss, and I also see a great hunk of granite which I can carve and fashion in my own manner. Someday, Krauss, someday. To the future!"

Metzger raised his glass to clink with Krauss'. Krauss smiled naively, realizing he was stuck in a big pile of shit with no way to dig himself out.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 3

“What do they want, lieutenant?” the young, terrified sailor asked.

Yost Lauritz wished he had an answer that wasn’t the obvious one. They were aboard the Norwegian ship Hakon. Officially, they were aboard the fishing ship Hakon, returning from Atlantic fishing grounds with a cargo hold full of food. In reality, though, the Hakon was a military ship with a hold full of Norwegian gold. No one outside of their government was supposed to know the truth, but apparently the commander of the submarine which had just surfaced did.

“How could they know?”

Lauritz shook his head. The transport of all this gold was supposed to be completely secret. As far as anyone outside the crew and the Norwegian government knew, they were just a fishing boat heading for shore with a full hold.

“I don't know how, but they do."

The words seemed to be an omen, or a signal, for at that moment the hatchway of the submarine opened a number of men poured out onto the top of the sub. One raised a megaphone.

"This is Captain Johann Joniec," yelled the man in the worst Norwegian Yost had ever heard.

"Easterners," the Norwegian sailor whispered in horror.

"Don't worry," Lauritz replied, "They've got no jurisdiction."

"We know you are holding Eastern Bloc prisoners aboard your ship. Turn them over immediately, or we will board your ship and take them by force."

The captain of the Hakon had, by this time, joined Yost and the younger sailor on the deck of the ship.

"Get me my megaphone," the Norwegian captain said.

The young sailor scrambled off and returned a few moments later with the captain’s amplifier. He raised it to his lips and yelled back at the submarine crew.

"This is the captain of the Norwegian fishing vessel Hakon. We are not holding any Easterners. You are mistaken. We are a civilian ship. Any attempt to board our ship or any other aggression will be unwarranted and will be taken as an act of war."

Joniec replied, "We know you are a disguised military ship. We are within our legal bounds. I am giving you ten seconds, which is far more than you deserve, to turn over our men. Ten."

"What do you think, lieutenant? I’m sorry, I mean coxswain. Will he really do it?" the captain asked.

He had to keep up the pretense of being a non-military ship. According to the charter, Yost was a coxswain, not an officer.

"Nine, eight...."

"He's not stupid enough to attack us," Lauritz replied.

"Seven, six..."

"What if he just wants the gold and is making up this story to make it all seem legal?"

"Five, four..."

"The government will know."

"Three, two..."

"But they can't let anyone know they transport their gold on disguised navy ships. It'd be too dangerous."


"They'd let the bastard Easterners get away with it?"


"What's one ship and one load of gold compared to your whole national treasury's safety?"

"Your time is up, Norwegians! What is your decision?"

"You know we can't return your prisoners because we haven't got any god damned prisoners! Leave now, and you might avoid war," the captain screamed.

“Does he know you’re bluffing?” Yost whispered.

“Apparently. It’s odd but I’ve never seen a submarine that could fire up before.”

Lauritz had calmly gotten down on his belly on the deck of the ship. Shells and explosives were raining down on them from the submarine. The underwater cannons were firing into the air and sending their payloads in deadly arcs towards the small Norwegian ship.

“Bastards,” the captain whispered in the seconds before he was blown to chunks of meat by an Eastern missile.

Carefully making a mental note and storing it away to have a dirge sung for his captain, Yost crawled through the blood to the crew quarters. The men and women were beginning to scramble around, but they had no real direction.

“Abandon ship!” Yost yelled, “You have to get out of here before the Easterners board!”

Satisfied that they were beginning to evacuate, Yost made his way back above deck. The Eastern Bloc submarine had stopped firing at them, because they had now come within spitting distance of the Hakon. He saw grappling hooks and other boarding equipment fly over the side of his boat. He stood up and raised his hands into the air in preparation.

A painful punch in the gut heralded the boarding of his ship. The Easterners were swift, he had to admit that. The man who had slugged him held him at gunpoint as the rest of his comrades swarmed over the side of the ship onto the deck. The last to come was the Ukrainian captain Johann Joniec, who had spared no expense in arraying his uniform. Lauritz carefully memorized all of the man’s features.

“We don’t have your prisoners, Jashu,” coughed Yost.

Joniec gave him a hard stare. Yost was playing games. Trying to call Joniec's attention by calling him a boy's nickname. He intended to be be the focus of Joniec's wrath instead of the crew. The ruse would not work.

“I don’t care,” Joniec said simply.

Then the Ukrainian slammed the man in the forehead with the butt of his gun. Yost stumbled, lost his balance, and fell into the water. One of the other Easterners went to the side and pointed a gun down. Joniec stopped him from firing by grabbing his arm.

“Don’t waste the bullets. If he’s not already dead he will be in a few minutes when he drowns.”

The other Easterner nodded.

“Search this ship. Tear it apart. There’s gold on here somewhere, and I intend to find it,” Joniec said to his crew, "Igoumensita will reward the men who bring him this prize richly."

Boards and planks began to fall around Yost’s prostrate body. He was lying unconscious and face down. The occasional board struck him and drew blood, the pain making him dimly aware that the Easterners were tearing up his boat.

With an effort he awoke and righted himself so he could breathe freely again. He fell unconscious almost immediately afterward. He began to slowly drift away from the sinking hulk of the Hakon.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 2

"The exodus continues, Mr. President," said Bleda.

"Very good, Mabus, very good. Mongolia is profiting greatly from the downfall of China. Our fields that once lay fallow are being farmed again. Few are hungry now," replied the president

Oosan Toghril nodded. He was a handsome, clean-shaven man who had been very popular in the polls. Though he had won by a landslide it had all been through blowing hot air. He had no real positions on anything, he just sat on the fence and always allowed things to happen. By never making a stand he never annoyed anybody. He was not a smart man.

Mabus Bleda, on the other hand, was a small, almost weaselly, and very cunning man. He was average-looking but had such a prominent personality people seemed to automatically trust him (or distrust him, but that was rarer and only in the very intelligent). Bleda was almost blind, in fact he had to wear a pair of thick spectacles just to see a few feet in front of him. He was a very brilliant man, and he knew the ins and outs of politics, though he had never run for office himself.

They were discussing, as they periodically did, the effects that China’s collapse was having on Mongolia. China had leapt into the abyss of ruined empires, as all the major communist countries had done. Bleda had been slowly developing a theory that communism would lead to good things on a tiny scale, but on a large scale only democracy or monarchy could survive.

But China had fallen. The Chinese people no longer wanted to be Chinese. On a grand scale they had decided to become Mongolian. And so literally millions of Chinese farmers and workers had packed up their families and headed west over the Mongolian border, where everything was bright and sunny. The communists were too weak to stop them. Toghril had allowed them to come and greeted them with open arms and a warm smile.

Bleda knew that there were ways of using such large numbers of people. But Bleda was only President Toghril's aide. He had no real political power but he did have the president's ear. And the president's ears were currently closed.

The Chinese Exodus had begun quite a while ago. Already so many hundreds of thousands of Chinese were Mongolian citizens and had adopted Mongolian ways. If the Chinese Exodus were allowed to continue unabated, Mongolia would go under the same way China had, in economic ruin. So many people required work on a grand scale, and Mongolia was running out of jobs fast.

Unless, of course, if the army was brought to attack standards. The Mongolian army hadn't been a strong force in literally hundreds of years. Now they stood with the chance to galvanize their army into a force to be reckoned with. Toghril sat on his hands like a little child.

Bleda felt a genuine woe for the dislocated Chinese. They had been wronged, and they had come to Mongolia for help. If too many of them came, though, conditions would be worse in Mongolia than they had been in China. Bleda wanted to help those he could. Jobs could be found in the military, military support, and logistics.

"You won't have the borders closed, then, Mr. President?"

"Certainly not. Mongolia's population had been waning before and now we're growing strong again. We need to institute programs to teach these immigrants to speak Mongolian and to practice Mongolian customs. If we don't, the Mongolian native population will be overwhelmed."

"Certainly, sir."

Bleda honestly agreed with Toghril on that point. But so many of the Chinese had already turned Mongolian.

"Incidentally sir, have you heard about the Americans?"

"What about them, Mabus?"

"The Rape of Washington?"


Bleda sighed. Toghril was was so poorly informed about everything.

"Seems that the American government has been wiped out."

"Ah, you mean the president was assassinated?"

"As well as congress and the rest of it. The whole government."

"Ah. I wonder how this will affect us."

Toghril sat pondering the problem for a moment.

"I believe I can offer an answer, sir."


Bleda whistled and several armed guards entered the room. They were actually mercenaries working for Bleda, but Toghril considered them loyal.

"This will affect Mongolia," said Bleda, carefully savoring each word, "In that the republic will be replaced with an empire."


Bleda motioned to the mercenaries. They pointed guns at the president.

"What is this?" Toghril cried out.

Bleda shook his head.

"A fool even to the end, Mr. President. You've been ousted. Lock him away."

"What is this, Mabus?" demanded Toghril again, as they led him out of the room.

"Don't you call me Mabus any more, Oosan. It's Bleda Khan now," he said quietly as the former president was dragged away.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 1, Part 3

***Author's Note: This was written in 1996. If it seems prescient, well, maybe truth is stranger than fiction after all.***

Neither of them were wearing anything that would identify them. No one knew who they were. No one could know who they were.

There were two of them. Hunched over the open foot locker was the younger of the two men. His face was scarred, his body was toughly muscled. He rolled up his sleeves to continue his work on the object concealed in the foot locker. His arm was tattooed with a lizard which looped around his bicep several times. The younger man was tough, a streetfighter. He had worked as an electrician for sixteen years to fuel his drinking habit. Nights he went out to bars, got drunk, and got into fights.

"Are you sure it's all connected properly?" the older man asked.

The younger man pulled his face out of his work, and took the opportunity to light a cigarette.

"If you want to come down here and do it yourself, you're welcome to," he said, his cigarette waggling in his mouth with every syllable.

"I had enough trouble getting ahold of it," the older man said.

The older man didn't smoke, or he might have lit up at that moment. Truth be told, the richly scented, slightly suffocating aroma of the younger man's cigarette was making the older man long for the lost days of his youth when smoke-filled discos gave way to open air beer gardens. He had smoked in those days, but not anymore, not in years. Now he drank, almost non-stop, trying to numb his brain.

The older man looked like, if nothing else, a vampire. His jet black hair formed a V-shaped crest on his forehead. He had a single eyebrow running across his face. He had eyes that were very deep, and the reddest crimson, like blood. Those eyes seemed to pierce through a man's soul, leaving him feeling naked and powerless. His face was free of any hair, scars, or other blemishes, just a perfect face. The man’s lips were blood-red, and his nose was smashed and apish.

"Finished," said the younger man, stepping back from his work, and wiping his greasy hands on his pants, "The remote control, sir."

The younger man pressed a small remote device into the older man's palm. The older man gripped it tightly.

"History will mark this moment," the older man said.

He was Lars Metzger, the supreme marshal of The Claw rebels. He had thousands of people camping in the outskirts of the city. Others were waiting in a flotilla of watercraft all up and down the Potomac. Taken in dribs and drabs they were innocuous and wouldn’t draw any untoward notice. They would wait for Metzger’s signal and then all converge on the city at once to occupy what remained.

The group was known as The Claw. It was a melting pot of various militia groups, neo-Nazis, anarchists, and rebels from all over America that had united under a common goal: the downfall of the American government.

Basilisk, the electrician, had been the leader of the Claw before Metzger. But while Basilisk had been an efficient and brutish gang leader, Metzger had brought real vision to the group. Basilisk had a tattoo of a lizard which stretched over the entirety of his arm, and he had cold, yellow eyes, which had earned him his name. Metzger had made him a colonel and his most trusted deputy.

Metzger and Basilisk left the foot locker behind, unguarded, and beat feet as far out of the city as they could. Even so, they were the two closest members of the Claw to the city. They couldn’t leave the precious box unguarded for long or it would be discovered, but they certainly couldn’t stay behind waiting for it to go off. It was a delicate balancing act. As soon as Basilisk nodded to his new boss that they were safely out of range, Metzger took the remote control detonator out of his pocket.

“The revolution has come,” Metzger said breathlessly, and pressed the button.

There was no conventional mushroom cloud. A pillar of fire leapt into the sky, like a finger trying to pierce the clouds. Beyond the site of the detonation the neutron bomb did no damage, except to wipe out every living thing down to the last microbe. Except for a few square blocks, Washington D.C. remained structurally intact. And the government had effectively disappeared in one fell stroke.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 1, Part 2

Brigadier General Otto Krauss was a general in the German Air Force. At first, he had entertained plans of going to medical school and becoming a doctor. After he left the Gymnasium and served his mandatory year in the service, he changed his plans. He found that he had developed a taste for air force life. He worked his way up the ranks, went to officer’s school, worked very hard, and soon realized his dream of becoming a general.

He still had lazy daydreams about being under Bismarck, or fighting with The Red Baron or in the Luftwaffe. He dreamt sometimes of the glory days of Germany, when men were men and battles were battles. He ached to have been able to have fought in those days. He doubted there would be another war, and if there was it would be fast and easy. Not a world war, and probably not a war concerning Germany.

He was a meek man. He was the sort of person who wouldn't stand out, not if you painted him pink and stuck him in the middle of a business meeting. Krauss had a small but thick mustache, but other than that he tried very carefully to stay clean shaven. There was nothing about him particularly striking. He had military bearing, but it wasn't overly stiff, nor overly relaxed. His eyes were like that of a fawns, perhaps a bit naive, perhaps more knowing than you'd suspect. Krauss had a bit of a paunch, but it was hardly large enough to draw attention to itself.

He had never married. He was, in a way, married to his rank. He’d been a one-star general for much longer than he had hoped. He worked his damnedest to be promoted, but not much ever really came of it. He had worked for several months straight, trying to impress his superiors. Now he had a lot of leave coming.

He had decided to go to America. He’d always wanted to see America. He had packed his things and, using his general’s salary which he had very little use for, flew to Washington D.C.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 1, Part 1

"War has existed since man has existed. It is the only thing that drives us, it is the catalyst for all future technologies, it is the only way to forge a state."

Lt. Colonel Paul King took a deep breath. He saw more stars on lapels in the room than in the night sky outside the window. But it wasn't the generals that daunted him. He hadn't been starstruck by a general since he was an enlisted man. What intimidated him was the presence of a brooding, silent, gray-haired civilian in a blue suit in the very front of the room. He had never given a briefing before the president of the United States before.

"You'll forgive me for waxing poetic, gentlemen, but I feel at the crux of history. Technology has redirected the course of wars like nothing else. Gentlemen, the objective for this briefing is to give a practical demonstration of the military's latest technological achievement. Lieutenant?"

King paused momentarily waiting for the appearance of the junior officer. His wide baby blue eyes darted back and forth for a moment towards the door where Daniel Hayes was supposed to enter for his part of the demonstration. Didn't Hayes understand that this was a presidential briefing? What was keeping him? King slicked his bright red hair back, and tried to maintain his composure.

"Lieutenant Hayes...?" King repeated.

A string of whispered profanity wafted into the room and sent a ripple of murmured laughter through all the generals. The president retained his glacial calm, but the sides of his mouth tugged up ever so slightly.

"Down! Down, boy! Down, damn it!"

Hayes finally made his belated entrance, kicking something behind him. There came a yelp and a prolonged whimper from the anteroom.

"Trouble with Omar again, lieutenant?"

"Yes, sir," Hayes said lamely, turning red from embarassment.

Hayes' bull terrier had gotten in the way more than once, but the dog had become the unofficial battalion mascot. Getting rid of Omar would've been high treason to the men of King's battalion. King himself was not as vital to the morale of his battalion as that dog was.

King gestured with mock impatience for Hayes to take his place next to the podium.

"You will notice, gentlemen, that Lieutenant Hayes is out of uniform."

Hayes looked ridiculous but not uncomfortable in a smock made of what appeared to be a lightweight plastic.

"This is something we’ve all been looking forward to for a long time,” King said, “Harder than steel, light as fabric. Take your position, LT.”

Hayes took a few steps away from the podium. Without warning, King produced a .44 magnum revolver and shot Hayes. Even amongst the seasoned military men there was a collective gasp. Hayes was unfazed.

“The only standard projectile that can damage this new armor,” King continued, “Is a direct shotgun blast. Of course, we’re not the only ones developing this right now, China was halfway there before the government collapsed, and the Mexican Empire is actively pursuing it. If this armor is going to come into common use in the next few years, the United States military would do well to begin investing in developing tactical shotguns for our troops. Of course, the use of shotguns in combat is strictly against the Geneva Convention.”

The room was silent. All eyes turned towards the blue suited man in the front of the room.

“I think it’s time to rethink the Geneva Convention,” said the president.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

World Map

Well, I've made a decision. The next manuscript we'll be burning here will be a full length novel, so strap in for about the next year as Manuscripts Burns presents: THE LAST WAR.

This was a difficult decision to come to because I spent a LONG time writing "The Last War." Re-reading it, though, I see that it had a pretty warped idea of the world's sociopolitical environment. Even at the time I wrote it I knew it was a little outlandish, but now with a little bit of distance I see that it is absolutely farcical. For evidence, take a look at today's multimedia event, a map of the world situation during the Last War. That's right, the Mongols came back in a BIG way.

As I said, we're talking full length novel here (about 111,000 words) so this could take a while. I think it's sompletely entertaining and as I mentioned earlier the only reason we're burning it is because it's exceedingly naive and outlandish in terms of what the next world war will look like. But take some time to familiarize yourself with the map because tomorrow we take the plunge.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


***This is sort of an experiment in second person form. Not sure why I did it that way. Maybe it was a school assignment? Anyway, decisions, decision. I'll decide something by Monday.***


You’re expecting a nation of idiots with sloping brows. Or, if your prejudices are of a more European bent, you might be expecting a country full of thieves. What you find, though, confounds all of your pre-conceived notions. You are traveling through Poland by rail, and it is nothing like you expected.

You’ll probably board your train in Germany. It’s difficult for you to get flights into Poland proper, because of the expense, so it’s easier to fly to Poland’s wealthier neighbor and take a train. The weather doesn’t turn from warm to cold as soon as you cross the border, but you’ll soon become aware of the climate you have entered.

The climate is different here. The people are different. The people are warmer in some ways, just as the air is colder. You ride trains that are a little haggard, a little rusty, but still functional. Each time you board a train you share your cabin with a different person or people. You never know who your cabin-mates will be. Sometimes they are elegant Polish ladies wearing the latest fashions that are (to your tastes) straight out of two decades ago, sometimes they are young English teachers who are overjoyed to practice their craft with you, and sometimes they are old men who know as much about your culture as you do about theirs, but they still strike up a conversation with you.

You are amazed by the friendliness and generosity of these people who you have been taught since an early age to treat as mental patients. They talk to you where your fellow Americans would turn and walk away. They welcome you into their homes. They are overjoyed to meet you, and welcome you to their country. They are Poles, full of good cheer and good manners.
There are dishonest Poles, too, of course. You meet them sometimes in the subway stations and the back alleyways of Warsaw and the small towns. They recognize you as a foreigner and ask you for money. Sometimes they try to sell you drugs. You hadn’t known that there were drug dealers in Poland, but there are, and they surprise you with their friendliness and openness. The dregs of society exist here, as they do back home and everywhere, but here they have a surprisingly Polish attitude.

What surprises you most is that, contrary to all of your prejudices, the Poles are a hardworking and decent people who want to make their country a fine place. You can see it everywhere. Even the criminals seem to want to bring the questionable benefits of Western-style crime into their country. You see the effort that has been put into transforming Poland from a backwards Soviet satellite into an affluent Western-style nation. The job is nowhere near complete, but you can see that they're hungry for it, like an underdog athlete struggling to triumph. You can see the people clamoring for work, not seeking handouts, proud of their country and its traditions. They gorged themselves to death on handouts under the Soviet system. Now they want to get back to the Polish system: working their fingers to the bone until something good happens.

You travel to Warsaw. You’re not quite sure why you go there, except that it’s the capitol, and capitols deserve to be observed. As you look at Warsaw, though, you get a bad feeling. You get the feeling that this city has been Sovietized beyond hope of redemption. You can see how capitalism is trying to break through, trying to change the dull landscape into something scenic and commercial, but it just doesn’t quite work. There are short, stocky gray buildings which can only be told apart by neon signs and colorful balconies. You wonder what it must have been like here before the capitalistic fungus began to eat away at the Communist edifice. It must have been Hell. Warsaw is a relic.

You board the train for Krakow in an underground station after passing by the dozens of subterranean kiosks where Poles seem to obtain all their goods. The conductor, who is garbed in a uniform that seems to be a throwback to fascism, asks for your passport and train ticket. These conductors, full of themselves, are on every train from Szecezin to Terespol. They don’t understand your language and they disrespect you, but you have to feel a grudging respect for them. They are working Poles. They could be on the street, trying to ask you for handouts or trying to press a joint into your hands. Instead, they are goose-stepping through a not-quite-modern train, checking boarding passes and earning their zlotys for the week.

Krakow. As the train pulls into the station, you are amazed by the city spread out before you. Up on the hills you see towering mounds dedicated to the grand Polish heroes of old. You walk through the old city and see the cathedral where the Pope once presided as a priest. For lunch you sit at one of the open-air cafes on the streets where you drink alongside of pigeons. Krakow's history is as much a part of the city as its future. This is the consummate Polish city.
The heart of Krakow is the great castle of Wawel on the banks of the Vistula. Wawel is both a fortress and a tomb. You can delve into the catacombs beneath the fort and see the tombs of Polish kings and heroes. Here lies Jan III Sobieski, who defended all Europe from the Turkish scourge. Here lies Pilsudski, the half-dictator, half pillar of the Polish nation who ruled between the world wars. Here lies Kosciusko, the Pole who every American school child should know, the Pole who fought in the American Revolution and then returned to his homeland to try to defend it against the Russians.

If you don’t burrow into the bowels of Wawel, you can climb upward. You can climb its lofty towers and look upon a bell that only rang of old when the Polish kings were coronated, and today only rings on occasions of triumph for the Polish nation, like the return of the Pope to his homeland. The Poles are a religious people, if not necessarily a spiritual people, and they have the utmost respect for the vagaries and ceremonies of Roman Catholicism, the faith which some 90% of them subscribe to. Someday soon, the Poles hope, the great bell in Wawel will ring to welcome their nation into the EU, and Poland will finally be accepted as a nation among nations, and no longer considered the former whipping boy of Europe. But that day has not yet come.

And then there’s the dragon. Beneath Wawel is a cave which was supposedly once the lair of Smok Wawelski, the Wawel dragon, whose slayer Krak was a tailor and the namesake for the town of Krakow. The Wawel dragon probably never existed, but the Poles are just superstitious enough of a people to erect a monument in his honor anyway. The statue ought to breathe fire, but it doesn’t, because the propane pump is broken. You find it to be a strangely fitting metaphor for the whole of Poland: it ought to breathe fire, but it doesn’t.

You shiver as you walk through the gloomy gas chambers of Oswieciem, better known to the West as Auschwitz. You gape in awe and kneel to the holy shrine of Czestechowa, where the Black Madonna was cut by the Ottomans. You might even seek out your hometown if you are Polish by extraction, and be amazed by its banality, and feel strangely at home.

Can you feel it? Can you feel the winds of Poland as they permeate your soul, like no other country has ever done? Do you feel like you, too, once suffered under the yoke of Russian imperialism, grew grain and brewed vodka, sailed in Gdansk and danced a polonaise to Chopin’s haunting music?

There are no flags in Poland except outside the presidential palace. The people are prideful and patriotic, but their patriotism is expressed by more than just waving a simple banner. For them, Poland lives, or as they would say, “Polska żyje.” The flag doesn’t matter because they can not help but be patriotic, they are patriotic by nature, the flag is in their blood. The “flag patriotism” of the U.S. is impossible here. Still, you look up at the symbol of all that is Poland, the royal Polish flag.

You see a white stripe that represents the sky of Poland, bled white from years of suffering. Underneath the white stripe is a red stripe that represents the blood of the Poles, who toiled, suffered, and died for their country. In between the two stripes is a majestic eagle wearing a crown to symbolize its royal permanence and strength. That eagle represents Poland itself, forever and eternal, sometimes bent but never broken, strong, soaring into the sky.
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