Manuscripts Burn


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."

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 77, Part 3

Jacques de Ris awoke with a start to find himself being dragged along in a semi upright position by two men.

“Stop. He’s awake. Drop him,” came a voice.

The two men dropped Jacques to the icy ground. He was bruised badly by this, but it was no worse than the bad beating he had taken when his leaper had been shot down. His swelled eyes were only partly open, but he could still see a pair of black boots stomping through the snow towards him. They stopped less than a meter from his face. An arm with a long, flowing tattoo of a lizard reached down and pulled him to his feet.

“De Ris?” asked the man, who had cold yellow eyes and a corpselike face.

“Oui,” Jacques said quietly, nodding his head.

Though the man seemed American he began to speak in satisfactory French.

“I’m called Basilisk,” he said, “I’m Claw, in case you were wondering, and not an ally of yours.”

“Colonel?” asked one of Basilisk’s men.

“Shut up, you idiot! We’ll rejoin the Imps later!” he hissed in English, then turning back to de Ris, “That’s all you need to know about me. I know a lot more about you, though. You’ve a leaper gunner since the start of the war and you were a tank gunner before that. You were at Perpignan amongst others. You’re not married, almost no family...I could go on.”

“No need to,” the French major said.

“The reason I’m interested in you, you see, is that you seem to be quite adept in the use of guns. I have found in my short time on this planet that man is quite obsessed with power. However, the attainment of power is a long and arduous process. In fact, it is a self defeating process. The reason is, you see, that in the attainment of power man learns that it is not so desirable or useful as it had seemed when he first desired it. I came into command of The Claw and realized that it was not the sort of power I wanted. It was just bureaucracy, politics. I traded it off to Metzger.”

Basilisk was now beginning to tread through the snow. He was gesticulating reservedly and smiling slightly, as though this were a speech he had gone through many times in his head.

“I haven’t given up my search for the true nature of power, though, you see. What man really wants is the instant gratification of power, because, as I explained, those who can attain power have the responsibility to use it. When man hasn’t gained that responsibility is when dangerous things begin to happen. This is where guns come in.

“A gun is the chance to kill a man in an instant. It is the power of life and death, and any idiot in an army or with a thousand dollars can have one. It’s instant gratification. A gun is power that can be gained instantly, without responsibility. You, my friend, seem to have grasped this concept.”

“What in the name of God are you talking about? Stop dancing around the topic and say what you want to say!” de Ris spat out, suddenly disgusted.

Basilisk smiled malignantly.

“Fine, forget the rhetoric. What I want from you, Jacques, is a duel.”

“Why?”

“I have my reasons. I want to get a better grasp on the nature of this power. I think you can help me. You,” he pointed at one of his henchmen and yelled in English, “Give him your sidearm.”

“Colonel, are you sure?”

“Do it!”

The man took off his holster and threw it at de Ris’ feet. Basilisk threw back his jacket to reveal his own weapon.

“Let’s see what you really know about shooting.”

Jacques put on the holster belt and fingered the weapon trepidaciously.

"I can tell you what you need to know, my friend. A man with a gun who just wants to abuse power is a childish fool. A man with a gun who has honor and who uses it only when he needs to, in battle, is a warrior. You Claw dogs have no honor. You are a fool."

"Well then I suppose we’ll see whether it is the fool or the warrior who perserveres, then, won’t we? On ten, shoot.”

They both began slowly to circle around each other and back farther and farther off, creating a small sort of arena in the snow with their winding footsteps.

“One. Two."

De Ris clenched his fist...

"Three. Four."

..and fingered the trigger...

"Five. Six."

...felt glory well up within him...

"Seven. Eight. Nine."

...and suddenly he knew what it meant to be a warrior.

"Ten!"

Shots rang from both sides of the small arena. One man fell. It was Basilisk.

He was writhing on the ground in pain, but was still alive. Jacques had managed to shoot his left eye. The major reholstered his pistol.

“Is my driver still alive?” he asked.

Neither of the standing Claw men answered. They both looked mortified.

“Is he?” screamed the Frenchman.

One of them nodded. De Ris spat at them and then trudged off into the infinity of snow back towards his leaper.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 77, Part 2

Richard "The Animal" Arrington lifted a glass into the air.

"To our fallen comrades," he said.

"Here, here," the others said, and drank.

"And to victory!" he said, with a smile.

There were many more lissome cheers of approval to that. Arrington began to lift his glass again, but was interuppted by a mortar.

"Shit!" he yelled, and dove out of the way.

When he looked up again, he was infinitely relieved to see it had not gone off. It was a dud. Was it an isolated incidence?

"Was that a prank?" Arrington demanded, "Who did that?"

But The Animal was perfectly well assured it was not when a moment later flak and shells began falling all around. Leaning close to the ground, he ran along and hopped back into his Montgomery. Jones and Daltrey were sitting and cringing with each explosion.

"What are you two doing? The Monks are attacking us, fellows! We’ve got to fight back!"

"We can’t! There’s an armistice in effect, captain."

"Consider the armistice revoked! They broke it! We have got to fight them back now. Daltrey, start the engine."

"Yes, sir."

The Montgomery III roared forward.

"It appears that we are the only ones attacking, sir," said Jones

"The rest of our boys will come around when they get tired of having shrapnel fall on their heads," The Animal said, climbing up into the cupola, "Eighty degrees to your left, Jones."

"Yes, sir," the gunner said, and the turret bgan to swivel in that direction.

A burst of small arms fire exploded near Arrington's head.

"Jesus Christ, they're getting brave!"

The Animal dove back down into the tank, slamming the lid with him. He caught a final glimpse of Jones successfully destroying a Shepherd IV.

"You should not use the Lord's name in vain, sir," Daltrey said, "We are going to need a lot of help from Him if we are going to fight our way out of this ambush."

Arrington nodded.

"I am afraid you are right, Daltrey. Very afraid."

Friday, December 25, 2009

Just a little commentary...

So, there's this disconnect in my mind.

Basically, every Christmas special goes something like this:

Santa is real! :)

But nobody believes in him. :(

Then Santa shows himself and convinces the most curmudgeonly person in the cast of the true spirit of Christmas. Then he flies off into the night, his job fulfilled for another year.

There are variations, but this is the Christmas special in a nutshell.

Here's my problem: it doesn't make any damn sense. Not the Santa mythology, that's fine. If I can suspend disbelief long enough to care about Ents and Jedi, I can accept Santa and all his reindeer and elves and shit in a movie. My problem is that if Santa is real and he really goes around every year giving out presents, why the hell would anybody not believe in him? What the hell sense does that make?

If he's demonstrably real, and doing what he's supposed to be doing, wouldn't even the most skeptical bastard on the planet evetually realize that the presents under the tree each year weren't just materializing? So why would anyone need to be convinced of that? Why would anyone lack Christmas spirit, or not believe in Santa Claus? It's stupid.

There are only a couple of possibilities (or "epileptic trees" as they're called) that shoehorn this formula into something resembling logic.

a) Santa doesn't do a damn thing. He just sits up there at the North Pole making presents all year and then on Christmas Eve he dumps them all in the North Sea, and the parents still put presents under the tree. In which case, why do we give a shit what he does or whether parents believe in him or not?

b) He runs around and gives presents, but only to kids whose parents believe in him. Which seems kind of arbitrary and wrong-headed. Why punish the kids for what their parents believe in? Because, again, another trope of these movies is that the kids inevitably believe and it's the parents that need to be convinced. But if this were the case, there would be times when your neighbor has presents from Santa but you don't. Wouldn't you occasionally discuss this with the neighbors and realize that, hey, there really is some guy that makes presents appear? And then wouldn't you believe after that?

c) It doesn't make a damn bit of sense and the screenwriter just hopes you're so caught up in the Christmas spirit or whatever that you won't notice. I tend to think the correct answer is "c."

Thoughts?

Back to regular updates on Monday...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Son, it's called a droodel

Eh, consider updates spotty through the holiday period. Probably nothing again until Friday. Unless you count this. Which you should.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 77, Part 1

Beshu marched into Jagatai's tent, forgetting his almost instinctual habit of stealth. He was quite enraged. He had just received the order to halt all offensive actions from Marshal Jagatai himself.

Beshu had come, needless to say, to complain.

"Marshal," he barked, without observing any of the proper protocols, without even so much as reporting, "Why has my commando squad been called back? We've been doing exceptionally well against the Allies, and there is no logical reason for us to stop now."

"Oh, yes, you're the Chigol," said Jagatai, utterly without scorn, in fact he seemed very downtrodden.

"Yes," said Beshu suspiciously, "If my loyalties to the empire are in question because of my descent, let me reassure you. There was once a Chinese man named Wei Sung, but he died and become a pure Mongolian, myself."

"No, I'm certain you are a patriotic and loyal Mongolian. At least, you commandos are harshly trained to be," said Jagatai, bleakly.

"Then why..."

Jagatai gently flung a piece of paper into the air. It settled at Beshu's feet. He picked it up and read it. There were six words written on it in capital letters:

ALL TROOPS: STOP FIGHTING
-BLEDA KHAN

Beshu stood aghast. The Emperor had ordered a cease-fire? Why? They were winning, weren't they? Well, weren't they?

"I can't disobey the emperor," said the marshal wanly, "The emperor is the empire, and the empire is Mongolia."

The commando was suddenly overcome by rage. He crushed the piece of paper in his hand. He pointed with his free hand behind Jagatai, where, on the wall, the flag of the Mongolian Empire was hanging. It was a green circle, meant to represent the Earth, and from the center of the circle came four golden arrows. A fire burned in the background.

"Perhaps it is just my harsh patriotic training, but I honor that flag above all other things. That flag is the symbol of the very essence of the Mongolian people. Look at it, marshal. The very world is in our flag, for that world is our destiny. And yet, we will not stop there. Four golden arrows point in each of the cardinal directions: north, south, east, and west. And yet, they extend beyond the circle of the earth. The Mongolian people will not be confined, not even to this earth.

"Do you remember what the emperor once said? He said that the army would never stop until Mongolia was an island; until there was no other country but Mongolia. Those arrows represent our progress, not just forward, but in all directions, and forever! Look at the colors of the flag! Those arrows are golden! They signify that Mongolia is divine, perfect, and invincible! And look, even outside the planet, there are flames. That is to symbolize that Mongolia has the ability to make worlds burn! It is our destiny to wreak destruction, and to rule over everything! Everything!

"Nothing can stop us, marshal. It doesn't matter what Mongolia is, whether it's an empire, or a democracy, or a bunch of tribes, or an anarchy for that matter! The Emperor is not Mongolia, for Mongolia is far greater than the emperor. I may be only a Chinese migrant to you and everyone else, but I am a Mongolian because I know what it means to be Mongolian in spirit as well as blood!

"Is that flag just a piece of fabric to be flown? Or does it actually mean something? Will we sacrifice the very essence of our natures, because we have given our loyalty to an emperor? The emperor is not a god! He is a man! And he has grown cowardly! It is time for us to take our own initiative! What say you, marshal? I say that we must continue fighting! We must rule this world! It is our destiny!"

By the end, Beshu's eyes were burning with an inner fire and he looked as though he was about to lash out and destroy something. Jagatai had been staring woefully at the Mongolian flag on his wall. He now turned to Beshu. He seemed to be in inner turmoil, and complete confusion. His eyes looked like those of a lost child. Suddenly his face hardened in decision.

"Commander," he said, not certain what the commando's official rank was, only that he was the leader of a special forces squad, "Return to your mission."

Beshu smiled gravely.

"Thank you, marshal. You won't regret this."

"That remains to be seen. In all likelihood, I will. But I can not betray what I am, even if that means defying the emperor. I have no choice."

"None of us do."

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 76, Part 19

SAC Sarah York sighed. She was in the middle of a maelstrom haze. All around her was utter chaos, but she could barely concentrate on anything. A German messenger was asking her questions. She was still too dazed from Dan Hayes' death to concentrate on understanding the German.

"Drei, drei," she said finally, beginning to understand that the messenger was asking for reinforcements and how many brigades he could hope to receive.

The man seemed satisfied and left. Sarah cradled her head for a moment, trying to sort out the random thoughts which were still running through her mind. She felt a tug on her hand. It was Omar.

"I can't walk you now!" she exclaimed.

She started to walk the dog anyway, allowing him to drag her along. Her head cleared instantly, and she found herself able to concentrate again. She found herself wondering if Omar was really smarter than he let on. He had known just what to do to help her out.

"General York?"

"Yes?" she replied, looking up.

"The west column is awaiting your orders."

She looked down at her scanner.

"Tell them to advance one...no, two miles ahead. Convert it to metric for the foreigners. Dismissed."

"Yes, ma'am."

"General York?"

"Yes, what is it?" she asked, feeling a little annoyed now.

It was a messenger. He was holding an envelope and a DNA scanner. It was very odd.

"I have a package for the SAC's eyes only, ma'am. I'm afraid I have to test."

Sarah nodded and held out her hand. The messenger pricked her with the needle of the DNA scanner. A moment later he was satisfied and handed her the package.

"Thank you, sergeant," she said, absently saluting.

When the man had left she tore open the envelope. It contained a parchment which was inscribed with the flowing letters of the Mongol language and was translated into the English alphabet, which looked ugly in comparison. Her eyes scanned lazily to the bottom to see Bleda Khan's signature. She was impressed.

When she had finished reading it, her knees nearly buckled under her. It was a request for a ceasefire and armistice. His troops had already been ordered to stop fighting. The Winter Offensive had been successful

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 76, Part 18

Beshu dove into the leaves and snow of the forest floor. Behind him a tank exploded with a tiny atomic detonation. He had set the charge which had blown the tank. He leapt to his feet and scrambled away as fast as he could. An instant later enemy aircraft combed the area he had been in seconds before with flak.

He leapt into a little ditch and took an instant to catch his breath. He had to keep on hitting the Allies again and again until they were beaten. It was what he knew how to do.

His expression broke when there came a beep at his side. Urgently he tore the radio transmitter out of its holster and put it to his mouth and ear.

"What is it?" he whispered hastily.

"Stop fighting! Repeat, stop fighting, all commandos!"

It was Jagatai. Beshu flung the radio transmitter to the ground and took off again, like a shot. The area was strafed again from above. The Allies were very good at detecting radio transmissions, which was why commandos used radios only in last ditch situations.

This was very disturbing news. Beshu tapped out orders for his men to leave on the tactile transmitter as he began to stalk angrily back to Jagatai's base camp.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Rare Introspective Post

I dislike the usual blog format, which is mostly someone whining about something going on in their life that only makes sense if you go back and read the last 5 post to figure out who, exactly, "Fred" and "Andy" are. That, or it's repeating some political discourse you heard your favorite pundit say and passing it off as your own original thought. Or, in the case of a disturbingly high number of Thai teenagers, posting many, many pictures of yourself around the streets of Bangkok.

So I rarely use my blog as a soapbox, and, anyway, this is a literary blog and the point is the story, right? But, as I'm retooling the blog to a MWF update schedule, I figure I have the space and breathing time to try a variety of format changes now and then. I assure you it will never hurt the new posting schedule. So bear with me as I bitch about something near and dear to my heart:

Brown nosers.

Not just any brown nosers. The brown nosers of the blogosphere. Let's call them...blognosers. (I don't know, I'm not much good at this portmanteau stuff.) I assume this breed of scum surfaces all throughout the blogosphere, but there is a particular species that bothers me over in my corner of the net.

As a writer I follow the blogs of a number of agents, editors, publishers, and other authors. All these lovely folks that keep blogs make it abundantly clear that their purpose is to improve the knowledge base of all the folks out there trying to break into the industry. Following this stuff is how you keep up with the fast-paced and dying world of print publishing. And it's just generally good for professional courtesy and networking, I believe.

There is a sub-genus of blognosers, though, that feel the need to just slather as much sickening praise as possible on the bloggers that are already in the industry. They seem to wait for an agent to say something so they can pop up and say, "Brilliant! Faulkner himself couldn't have worded your argument better!" Often their comments are nothing but fawning praise. I mean, I wouldn't mind if they commented, praised a truly deep post briefly, and then added something to the conversation.

Present company excluded, naturally.

The "not only are you handsome, but powerful as well" crowd sickens me to an extent. The goal of this behavior, I take it, is not to engage in a discourse about the wide world of publishing, but to gain the attention of an agent so that when they do query him, they can say, "It's me SnugglyNiblits17, remember me from the blog? I said you looked like Gary Cooper in your avatar?"

I can sympathize with this behavior, really I can. I'm in the same boat as the rest of you. I wish some agent would find me so charming and witty on the forums that he becomes my pen pal and then I can just casually slip him my manuscript. But I would recommend that instead of working on your skills as a sycophant, you work on your skills as a writer. Then the agent really will notice you. Trite, clearly, but true.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 76, Part 17

Emperor Bleda Khan looked down at the preliminary reports. They were not good. Things had been growing more and more difficult as slowly Mexico, Canada, Spain, and Washington fell. The Africans were still embroiled in their own fight, and could not get troops or supplies to their allies even if they had any to spare.

He now looked down at the report in his hand. The Eastern Bloc had been taken. Igoumensita had been forced into a humiliating surrender. It looked as though The Last War was coming to a close.

He stood up. He slowly rounded his desk and walked up to the great picture window in his office. Throwing open the curtains he looked out and saw Mongolia. The people looked tired. Tired of war.

The civilians were still carrying on decent, regular lives, right in the midst of battle. Mongolian and Allied troops were clashing here, in the middle of Ulan Bator. They were paratroopers and spies already planted here. Here an old Mongolian woman dashed across the street for some milk, there a young man ran through the shrapnel back to his home. They were used to it indeed - five years of it - but they were tired of it.

"The world's a stage," he said to himself, quoting some English author whose name escaped him, "And it looks as though it's final curtain."

He slowly, methodically walked back to his desk.

"All I wanted," he said, "Was to make Mongolia great again, as it once was. To take this world which is our birthright. I tried. I forged an empire out of nothing but raw mud! Now it is crumbling back into dust.

"The end of this war will determine the fate of the world. It looks as though the world's fate is already determined. I've lost. I tried my hardest and I lost. It is the Mongolian people that I love. Look at how they still fight on, against dauntless odds, a whole world against them. It is not because they like war, nor because their government or their superiors order them to fight. It is merely because they are Mongolian. I am proud to be a member of this divine race. I can not allow us to be destroyed, though. A true leader must know when he is beaten, and when to surrender, lest he drag his people into oblivion. I am beaten."

Bleda Khan lay his head down on his desk and wept. It took him several hours before he could compose himself enough to order the surrender.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 76, Part 16

***Sorry about the oddly unannounced non-posting day yesterday. I've come through hell and high water this year to post every day, except for the occasional announced sabbatical. Then yesterday it just plain slipped my mind. Weird. Anyway, I have been considering switching over to a MWF posting schedule, which seems to be the industry standard. I haven't gotten any special kudos from anyone for posting every day, so I have no idea if it's too much content to take in or if people just don't care very much either way. Thoughts?***

The Animal slowly puffed on his last cigarette.

"Disgusting things, those," Jones said, passing by his commander on his way to somewhere else in the tank.

"Yes," said Arrington absently.

The Montgomery III continued to bounce along. Arrington's tank was surrounded by dozens and dozens of other Allied tanks, most of which were British and were spread out over a great area of land. As the Mongol mortars and artillery fell amongst the armored regiment it's loose formation made it less likely for any one tank to be hit.

Squinting, The Animal saw a few specks off in the distance moving towards the force at high speeds. The specks rumbled closer and closer.

"Oh, bloody hell."

The captain flicked his cigarette out of his hand and dove back into the tank, closing the cupola lid behind him. Not a moment later the entire Monty III was rocked by a huge shell.

"Jonesy, there is a huge pack of coalie tanks coming at us. Get ready for some real action."

"Sir," the gunner acknowledged.

Arrington picked up the small radio transmitter which was in every Allied tank, but was rarely used because radio signals were so easy to pick up. He used a very advanced encrypt code and then began speaking.

"This is Green Company leader to all tanks. Join together now. Close up all of those holes. I want clean ranks, like we’re on parade. Over."

"Confirm, Green leader?" asked an uncertain sounding voice.

"Repeat, parade formation. All tanks into ranks and files."

Looking through the periscope he could see the force was trepidaciously doing as he ordered. They had all slowed down to the speed of the slowest tank, so that the formation could move along uniformly.

Picking up the transmitter again, Arrington said, "First rank, point turrets dead ahead. Second rank: 20 degree angles. Third rank: 40 degree angles. Fourth rank: 60 degree angles. Lock all turrets in those positions. You are free to move horizontally, but not vertically. Repeat, do not change your angle of trajectory. Do not use any seekers, only conventional shells"

Eyeing his commander suspiciously, Jones lined his turret up dead forward, since they were in the front row.

"All stop! Fire at will!"

The entire Allied force ground to a halt and began spitting shells at the Mongols. Arrington observed that they had been caught completely by surprise. They were slowing down and milling around confusedly. Arrington chuckled softly as he could almost hear the Mongolian commanders yelling, "Keep formation! Keep formation!".

Slowly the confusion disappeared and the Mongols began to seriously return fire and continue moving forward. Each time an Allied tank was knocked out of commission the ranks completely reformed to fill in the gap.

"We’re about to lock horns with the coalies, captain," said Daltrey warily.

Arrington picked up the radio transmitter again, but continued to look through his periscope.

"Move backwards. Keep it by the numbers – don’t lose parade formation. You have permission to use any seekers you may have."

"Were you saving them so we could manage to fight our way out of this suicide, sir?" demanded Jones, firing off one of his own seekers.

"As a matter of fact, Jonesy, yes. That is exactly why we were saving them. On your left, Jonesy, on your left!"

The company of tanks hastily went in reverse back to where they had come from, but still facing the Mongols, who were charging forward.

"Sir, aren’t we just letting them gain ground?" asked Daltrey.

"Yes, and putting more and more distance between them and any reinforcements they may have."

The Animal turned his periscope around and around once more, surveying the battlefield. They had their backs to a small range of hills.

"And, Daltrey," he added, "Bringing us closer and closer to ours," he then picked up the transmitter and said, "Colonel, any time you please."

A leaper flew out from behind one of the hills and crashed down in the middle of the Mongolian force. Tanks slowly chugged over the hills. Thousands and thousands of Allied troops poured out of their hiding places from behind the hills and in amongst the Mongolian tanks.

"Thank you for baiting them for us, captain," came the voice of a French colonel

"Of course, colonel. Any time you wish," the Animal replied in mediocre French.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 76, Part 15

Many people had had a great impact on Dave Trevor's life. His first female drill sergeant, who he had secretly had a crush on. The captain who had first led him into battle during The Cuban War. His German friends, like Michael Gruber and Marianne Totschl├Ąger. His recently deceased friend Pierce. Even that conniving, but somehow innocent young private Lake. Still, of all those people, the one that would have the most impact on his life he would never even meet or know.

The Mongols had suddenly turned their attentions to the demolitionists whic hhad destroyed their armory earlier. Trevor had run as fast as he could to aid the demolitionists and the two AF officers with them. He arrived just in time to see the Monk leader strike down the younger AF officer. That lieutenant was the man who would have the profound impact on his life. More specifically, his weapon would have a profound impact on Trevor's life.

The sergeant hadn't noticed, but the AF man's gun had clattered to the ground. He leapt up and aimed his flamethrower at the charging Horses.

"Die, you Imp bastards!" he screamed out.

He began flaming down the Monks. He was still screaming and wreaking havoc among the Imps, so he didn't notice one of the wounded ones had fallen right next to the dead AF man's AS gun.

The Horse had lifted the gun, not bothered to aim because of the extreme agony he was in, and let loose with a barrage of shells. A stream of flak came streaking towards Trevor, but he only noticed it out of the corner of his eye. He turned around, but was too late.

The shells had already passed by the ready target of his flesh to strike the tank of fuel on his back. He heard and smelled the leak, and knew instantly he was doomed. Merely by dropping his gun after he died the young AF officer had brought about the biggest change in Trevor's life: his death.

Behind him he heard Lake call out, "Sarge?"

After that he exploded into an intense conflagration. He smiled as the flames licked away at him. He knew his life as a crusty old sergeant could have come to no better end.

His last thoughts were, "At least I went out with a real bang."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Chapter 76, Part 14

Colonel Bura Karakoram spotted a group of Americans who were not in the uniforms of paratroopers. The whole battle was very chaotic, but peculiar things were still peculiar. Most likely those Americans were the saboteurs. She could see no other reason for them to be in other uniforms. Two of them were in Air Force uniforms. Were they downed fighter pilots?

She had been told that it was imperative to kill the saboteurs who had blown up the armory in order for the Mongolian Empire to save face. There was great animosity towards spies and partisans in Mongolia.

“Saboteurs!” she cried out, pointing.

The single word seemed to rile up her troops. Like waves crashing in an ocean of bodies, dozens of the Mongols descended upon the saboteurs. Bura led the incursion herself. There were only a few of them, but they had been holding off the poorly armed Mongols well until now.

She was trying to incite her troops to attack. She was screaming battle cries and waving her sword in the air. The other Mongols were following behind her closely, lusting for revenge for the infringement on Mongolian soil. They were like a pack of wolves charging forward, and Bura was their Alpha.

The colonel charged at the two Air Force men. She yelled out the loudest war cry she had ever uttered, and struck the younger man in the jugular. He fell forward and his AS gun clattered from his hands. The older man fell backwards and dropped his gun, yelling something out in English. Bura ignored them and continued rushing forward.

A flamethrower handler seemed to leap out of nowhere. Bura turned around as he screamed something in English, then opened fire on the Mongols, literally. Karakoram was struck by the flames, and fell to the ground. In her last moments of consciousness she saw one of her injured soldiers pick up the AS gun of the dead saboteur and fire wildly at the flamethrower handler. The shells struck his fuel tank and the man exploded into a fireball.

With that, Bura promptly fell unconscious. She was dragged by her troops to the field hospital. She would not see any more battle.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Saga Begins...

With NaNoWriMo complete, I thought I would show off this magnificent cover design for Braineater Jones, brought to you by http://www.greglynnmurals.com/. And, just to cap it off, a brief little excerpt from my far-from-finished product:

October 31

I woke up dead this morning.

Shit. It’s after midnight. It wasn’t this morning. Better start over.

November 1

I woke up dead this morning. Yesterday morning. Whatever you want to consider it.

Not dead tired.

Not dead drunk.

Dead.

Dead dead.

As in, no pulse, no breathing, dead.

I mean, I’ve woken up a lot (I think) and who really thinks about whether they’re breathing or not? Who notices their heart’s not beating? It’s not something you’re totally aware of. It took me a while to figure it out.

It took me less time to figure out I was stark, bare-ass naked.

I guess they did that to me. Whoever killed me. They must’ve stripped me. I don’t know if they wanted my clothes or my money. Or maybe they just didn’t want me to be identified. But then, why didn’t they smash in my teeth or burn off my fingerprints or something?

Who knows?

I was floating face down in a swimming pool. I lay there for a long time, with my eyes open, starting at the bottom of the pool, before I realized I wasn’t breathing.

Here’s the other thing: I have no idea who I am or how I got in this state.

I’m keeping this journal so I can get my thoughts straight while I try to work this all out.

Here’s what I know so far.

First of all, somebody killed me. Did I mention that already? I think I did. Anyway, after I woke up naked, one of the first things I noticed was the big gaping hole in my chest. I could stick my finger through it. I probably could’ve stuck my fist through it.

I don’t remember much about guns. Of course, that’s assuming I ever knew anything about them. But what kind of gun does something like that? One thinks not a handgun. Maybe some big brutal hand cannon. Or a shotgun. But, then, aren’t shotguns scattered? It was a solid hole.

So. Somebody killed me. Presumably for a reason, unless they really did just flip out and strip me naked and didn’t plan any of it ahead of time. So what was the reason? Well, I aim to find that out. Let me put that in my list of questions.

1. Why did they kill me?

I guess while I’m doing that I’d better figure out who it was.

2. Who killed me?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 76, Part 13

"There, you see, Larry, we're all going to buy it some day, but today's not the day for either of us."

Snaro nodded. He didn't say a word, just stopped firing for long enough to clap Frost on the back.

Frost was feeling ecstatic. Things had been rough between he and Snaro for a while. Ever since their falling out in the Mexican P.O.W. camp, their relationship hadn't been quite the same. They had been on speaking terms again by the time of the Winter Offensive, but they hadn't been close. Now, standing beside each other with the risk of death from all sides, they each felt a strong, unspoken bond.

"You know, I never knew my father," Snaro said, as though for no reason.

Frost nodded. He knew exactly what the other man meant, though it had seemed to come from nowhere. He felt like Snaro was a son at that point, and Snaro must have felt the reciprocal. It was amazing the way battle ruined some lives an cemented others in ways that would take years of work in peacetime.

"Larry, I..." began Frost, turning away from his gun.

He was interrupted by a Mongolian battle cry. A female Imp colonel was rushing at them, brandishing a huge sword. Frost was so stunned he dropped his AS gun and stumbled a few steps away from Snaro.

"No!" he yelled out.

It was too late. They were no longer defending each other back to back. He had lost his nerve for a moment and now the young lieutenant was dead. The Mongol colonel had neatly slit Snaro's throat and continued rushing on. Snaro had collapsed forward, his AS gun clattering a few feet from his hands. Frost just stared dumbfounded.

Forever after that moment he was certain he would have died at the hands of any of hundreds of ambushing Mongols if it had not been for one man. Seemingly out of nowhere a flamethrower handler began shooting sheets of flame at the Horses.

He screamed, "Die you Imp bastards!"

They began falling, many of them dead or wounded. The colonel who had took down Snaro was amongst the wounded. Frost knew the man had saved his life. He had just been staring there looking at his friend's dead body, not willing to defend himself.

One of the Monks picked up Larry Snaro's AS gun and fired at the flamethrower handler, detonating his fuel tank. Frost's savior exploded into an inferno of light and heat. Frost felt certain that a Mongol had caught him, because he could feel a pain like a sword through his heart. A scar on his chest seemed to confirm that he had been wounded. He fell to the ground unconscious.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 76, Part 12

Basilisk lit a cigarette, holding his hand over one end of it to block the wind from blowing it out. He tapped on the end of it to shake off some ash. Pushing his helmet back so that his view of the battlefield would not be obstructed, he looked for the perfect target from the bluff his crew was set up on.

"Fire!" he hissed to his men when he had found it.

With a loud blast one of the huge artillery cannons let loose a shell. The force threw it back a few yards. One of the Claw men who had been manning the cannon was caught by surprise, and the cannon rolled over his leg, snapping it neatly into two parts. He yelled out in pain.

"Shit!" Basilisk said, "Get him to a medic. And watch the recoil on that thing!"

A leaper suddenly began to come towards them, letting fly with shells and missiles and the like. All the guns which went down the line began firing more or less randomly in the direction of the leaper.

"Hussar-class, I'd say," Basilisk said to himself, sketching a few figures in the dirt with a short stick, "Slight change of trajectory for that sort of leaper. All right! Cease fire! Adjust angles for 20┬║ below the leaper. Fire simultaneously on my command."

Basilisk lifted his arm high into the air. The gunners all waited anxiously. He judged the position of the leaper, then he brought his arm down to his side. The batteries all fired simultaneously, and many ballistics struck the leaper. It wasn't enough to bring it down though.

"Again!" he yelled, raising his arm.

He brought it down almost instantly. Another salvo flew at the beastly machine. He let loose two more fusillades before the leaper finally bought it. The Claw men all began cheering. Basilisk smiled as the regular thumping began again. He was pleased with their performance, but he was happy for another reason.

"You two, come with me!" he yelled, pointing at two of the Claw men.

They followed him as he took off running down the ridge toward the downed leaper. He was stumbling, but had excellent footing because of his excitement. He felt as nimble as a mountain goat.

"I wonder if it's really him," he said to himself, "I wonder if it's really de Ris."

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.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 76, Part 10

"No, no!" General Sarah York exclaimed, "Throw the 3rd against Jagatai, and the 18th against Dariganga!"

"Yes, SAC," the commander said, scuttling off.

York was nearly floating with joy. Every moment there was another crisis. Another line had been broken through. Another senseless slaughter had occured. Another devastating air raid. It all felt savory in her mouth. She loved it.

It was her brainchild: The Winter Offensive. She was freezing standing in the snow and ice, commanding the entire operation as it progressed. She would have had it no other way. She'd sat out too many campaigns already.

"Get me AA guns at every thousand yards circling out from this point! Jagatai's going to try to whittle us down with the Golden Sky Force!"

Behind her she heard yelping, a thump, and then a curse. She turned around out of curiosity, but smiled quickly.

"God damn it, Omar, stop running around my legs!"

Dan Hayes and his dog were tangled up by the leash. Hayes was stuck trying to break the bonds on the ground, but Omar seemed unfettered and happy. The dog was stupid in so many ways, but brilliant in entangling his master.

"You need a hand there, major?"

"No, thank you, I'm fine, ma'am," Hayes managed to say while struggling out of the death hold of the leash.

Sarah shook her head. When she had told Hayes that they would be going to Mongolia, he had insisted on bringing his dog. He had a million reasons: no one could take care of him while he was gone, he only felt safe with his master, the army would have to pay for a new dog if he died, etc. Secretly Sarah believed that Hayes thought of Omar as a good luck charm. Why else would he bother with the thing?

“General, the Mongols are sending a bombing force out this way,” Hayes began,

"Damn," said Sarah York, wiping her brow, "This is turning out to be a tough day. I could really go for a cold one right about now."

"You're in luck, general," said Hayes, pointing, "Here comes the vendor."

"Peanuts here, get your peanuts! I got cold beer, I got hot dogs, I got..." the vendor was yelling out as he walked by.

"I'll take a beer!" said York, holding up one finger.

"A beer for the general, there you go, ma'am," said the vendor, handing her a beer from his ice chest, "And anything for you today, major?"

"Yeah, let me have a hot dog," said Hayes, "Dogs are always the best on the battlefield."

"There you go, sir, that'll be seventeen dollars total for the dog and hte beer."

Hayes coughed and gagged and fumed and walked in an impotent little circle.

"They always gouge me out here. Don't you have any respect for the American fighting man, you rat?"

"If you don't like my prices, go to Mongolia."

“We’re in Mongolia, dammit!” Hayes said.

“Then I guess you’re stuck, eh?” the vendor said.

Muttering under his breath, Hayes handed the vendor a twenty.

"And your change, sir," the man said, handing back a three-dollar bill.

Hayes took a bite out of his hot dog. He looked up to see that York had already finished her drink.

"General, you have to get back behind the lines to a bunker. Scanners have been picking up a Golden Sky Force squadron moving this way," Hayes said, explaining why he was there.

"But I just ordered ack-ack gun emplacements up..." York began to protest, but a deafening explosion cut her off.

The sky was darkening as the moon and the stars were blotted out by dozens of planes and helicopters. Flak was ponderously pounding at the enemy air force. Allied fighters began to rise into the air to attempt to beat them back.

Sarah York leapt to the ground as her battle instinct kicked in. The devastating effects of the air battle were racaging the ground all around. Covering her ears she looked up to see a Mongol helicopter diving down at her. It was chruning out bullets in a lethal path along the snowy ground.

Sarah pulled herself into a semi-upright position and ran along the ground in a sort of crouch. The deadly missiles licked the ground behind her, coming threateningly close to the heels of her feet. They were coming closer and closer, and she knew she would soon be dead.

She felt a forceful shove and lost balance, tumbling to the ground. She looked up to see Major Dan Hayes, who had pushed her out of the way just as the Mongol helicopter was about to overtake her in fiery death. His chest seemed to be exploding with hundreds of little blossoms of blood. He collapsed to the ground, and the helicopter began to pull away as it was harried from behind by an Alliance fighter.

Stunned almost too much to move, Sarah York just stared at Haye's prostrate body. She slowly got to her feet and went to kneel by him in the blody snow. Omar was looking mournfully at his master and nudging him.

"Dan?" she asked.

"Ma'am," he whispered through his death rattle, "Take Omar. Win the war."

"Thank you, Dan. Thank you for saving my life."

He didn't hear her. He was already dead. She reverently closed his eyes, and took the handle of Omar's leash from his hand into her own. Standing up, but still in a haze, she began to conduct The Winter Offensive again, not being able to stop thinking about her fallen friend.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 76, Part 9

Basilisk twirled his helmet around in his hands a few times before slamming it onto his head. He was in Mongolia now, fighting Allies again. After Washington D.C. had been retaken, he and his small group had managed to escape to Canada. Though it had given up the war, there were still a few loyal Coalition people who shipped Basilisk and his men to Mongolia to continue the fight. Marshal Kirghiz Jagatai had been interested enough to issue personal orders to give the Claw troops artillery weapons and put Basilisk in charge of them. It was good to have some power again, at least the power to kill people.

Very few Mongols wanted to be in the artillery. It was mostly those who were not physically or mentally sound, but still sound enough to be in the Golden Army, who went into the artillery. All the Mongols wanted to have the honor of fighting hand to hand. Foreigners were just naturally sent to the big guns.

One of his men came running, huffing and puffing, up to him.

“Allies are coming, colonel. The Horses are ordering us to start firing.”

Laughing, one of the Claw troops said, “Do the Imps want us to shoot at the Allies or at them.”

All the Claw men laughed. They all felt slightly bitter toward the Mongols, basically for managing to continue the fight when they had been taken over.
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