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."
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 know...how...things...are."
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."
"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."
"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.
"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."
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