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- 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."

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 76, Part 11

Jacques de Ris thrilled with the excitement of battle. It was a hollow thrill, but he loved it no less. The Hussar-class leaper was a wonderful piece of machinery.

"You'd better start working, de Ris. You're not going to make me carry your weight through this."

"My God, Pierre, I can see how difficult your job must be. Jump once. Then jump again. Then cause it to jump repeatedly for a while. I'm so selfish. This whole time I've been doing nothing but fending off the whole Mongol army."

The driver snorted, refusing to admit defeat, but Jacques knew he had won. He returned his attentions to shooting. The Mongol positions were being sliced up, thanks in part to them. Jacques got morbid pleasure out of seeing the little men run around, trying to escape his guns. It was like watching ants scurry about as you crushed their hill.

Of course, ants didn't fight back.

"What was that?" Pierre demanded as the leaper shook.

"That was...another leaper."

"God damn it, de Ris, do something!"

Jacques lined up his sights on the soft underbelly of the enemy leaper. It was tearing forward through the air at full speed. Jacques didn't have enough time to pick out a pattern in it's leaps or anything else like that. He decided he'd have to call in the big guns.

"I'm going to use the targeting computer," he informed Pierre.

"Targeting computer?" the driver asked in derision.

"I helped to design it myself. Prototype."

He banged a box on the side of his console. It flew open to reveal a red button. He pressed it, activating a device which automatically made Jacques' crosshairs fly to the enemy leaper's most vulnerable point. He flicked another nearby lever, loading a seeker missile. With the help of the targeting computer and his own efforts he let fly with the heat seeking missile at what he hoped was the perfect time. It struck dead on.

The Mongol leaper seemed to hover in midair for a moment. Flames began to erupt on it's armor like boils or blemishes on the side of a boy's face. It began slowly to sink to the ground, somehow defying gravity despite it's bulk. It was like the crash of the Hindenburg, or some other terrible, inexorable, slow, devastating event. The leaper touched the ground, teasing it with a kiss, before exploding in a horrifying nuclear detonation.

It had been a small nuclear explosion, because the fusion engine of any machine never had much fusile material, but it was still devastating. The snow on the battlefield flashed instantly to vapor, and many Mongols were consumed in the explosion. It also cleared Jacques' line of sight and showed him an extraordinary thing.

In the middle of the battlefield, surrounded by soldiers killing each other, craters of explosions, and bloddy death, was a tree. It was completely untouched. It was like a shining example of everythign in a tree that could be beautiful, solid, or strong. It either had white leaves or was so covered with snow that it's true color could not be seen. Jacques gaped at this, and ceased firing.

"Jacques," Pierre said.

"What?" the gunner asked absently.

"Start firing again, man. We're approaching an artillery installation."

Jacques nodded, but he was still looking at the beautiful white tree. He began firing again, trepidaciously. He was very careful not to touch that single piece of life on the brutal battlefield.

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