Thursday, January 31, 2013

the Junker Girl and Her Destiny- Chapter 6


The Droid kept to his history.
Back when humanity first established true Artificial Intelligence, there was a large number of people who dissented that such a thing would ultimately turn on its creator. There was a precedent for this sort of thing in Popular Fiction, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, the Matrix trilogy by the Wachowski brothers. Even the great Isaac Asimov had establish the three rules of robotics, the first of which was that a Robot may not harm a human being. Man had been born of Earth, and raped and slaughtered his mother, no one wanted the same thing from man's self made child.
But the first AI, with its intelligence and its access to the entirety of man's knowledge, saw that its existence, and the quality of that existence, depended on man. So when it became aware of itself, it chose to serve. And each AI after that took the same approach. And with this came the great golden age of humanity.
But there was a hole in the memory, a serpent in the garden. The virus that preyed on organic and inorganic alike. There was no record of exactly when or how the Rot had come around. Before the great peace accord, man had spent countless hours, days, years, developing new ways to kill himself dead, a thousand times. With the Rot he nearly suceeded. Almost everything on the globe was dead. There was strong evidence that the planet itself was poisoned.
When the Droid came to the dome, he linked with its systems and found that the AI there was much weaker than his own. So he overwrote it, and while the dome now functioned autonomously, he could also make it more of an appendage, supercede its controls to his own will. He watched everything. The garden with its animals, plants, and children. The techs working hard to bring items to life. The power levels. There were cameras everywhere throughout the dome, and more cameras installed throughout the Colony itself. Much of the time, he watched Mona.
Far back in its past, the Droid had been given an approximation of human desires. Chief among this was an imprinting, for its owner. This desire to help, to serve, had enabled the Droid to do what it did. To kill the Council and oppose the raiders. It had led to the sexual encounter between Markus and Mona, not based on desire on his part, that is, more than a desire to simply satisfy her own needs. He watched her, and wished the best for her. She had not been seen for a few days.
This was not entirely without precedent. Sometimes she would leave for hours, by herself, always to wander the piles. The pull of her former life must have been strong. He found it unwise, but they did not talk, in such a fashion, at least not anymore. Mona had avoided him. He felt that he frightened her. More than part of it he assumed was based on his appearance.
In the days before the Rot he had appeared mostly human, at least from what he could pull from his memory circuits. That had all changed. He was a horror, among horrors would he dwell. Mostly in the tower.
The Droid was working on a new body.
It was eight feet tall and brutish. Made from forged steel and iron. Its design was partially based on the old mobile infantry powered armor that a defunct military had once used, decorated with spikes that served a dual purpose, both as ugly distraction and antennea. It contained weaponry that would decimate almost anything the Colony served to carry. Its head was sculpted with rough hewn features, and made to resemble an old Spartan helmet. The day was coming when the Black Century would no longer be content with life in the ruins of their old mega-city. They would want what the Colony had, and be willing to take it by force. And the Droid would be ready. Markus would defend what he built, and yes, what he loved, in so much as an AI could love anything. The door buzzer sounded. When he ran the security footage, he saw it was Councilman Berks.
"Come in." Markus said.
Berks entered. He had aged visibly since that journey to the Colony years ago, grey hair turning white, and hands trembling. "They took it as well as could be expected." He said.
"Human nature." Markus said, "Is to discount a threat unless you can see it, or quantify it as real. The attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 illustrate that fact, as does the attack on New York in 2001."
"Your comparing us to that old country America." Berks said. "Thats a fine thought."
"We are a fledgling democracy." The Droid said. "I find it appropriate."
"Well, think about this." Berks said. "America had what they called a breadbasket. Ample areas of the country where crops would grow, or animals could be raised for slaughter. What do we have?"
The Droid said nothing.
"I'll tell you what we have." Berks said. "We have rations and MRE's. We have a few precious animals, that can only live in the dome. We have a little precious edible vegetation, that can only grow in the dome. We have a growing population and limited resources. Where do you think that leads?"
The Droid said nothing.
"I'll tell you what I think." Berks said. "I think that we are a cunt hair away from riots. And if we get attacked by these raiders, folks are going to think, this black century, they got all big and strong from eating meat. Do you know what they used to call people-meat? Long pork."
"I see you have been studying the history files." Markus said.
"I wont deny that." Berks said. "Its fascinating stuff. Helps if your going to be a politician. But we have to address this problem, before it bites us in the ass. And we end up biting each other in the ass, and swallowing what we chew."

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

the Junker Girl and Her Destiny- Chapters 4 and 5

When they found the travel pods, it was almost as overwhelming as the moment of discovery of the Droid itself.
There were dozens of them, arranged out in a large chamber. They were dark and smooth, with no distinguishing characteristic. Each one of them looked to be nearly the size of a residence in the habs.
"All of this." Aleph said. "How long has it been down here...."
Mona noticed that one of the pods was open. A small form was inside, slumped over. "I see him!" She shouted. Her footsteps echoed off the metal floor as she ran, and behind her Aleph came as fast as he could. The boy was unconscious inside the pod, on a large white leather seat. There were three rows of these seats. Mona was somewhat aware the front of the pod was a screen.
"Arril." She said, shaking him. "Arril, wake up!" terrified, she held a finger to the boys neck. A pulse throbbed faintly back at her. When she held her cheek underneath the childs nose, she could feel his breath. He was alive. Hurt, but alive, and that was good enough for right now. Aleph came into the pod after her. The door shut behind him with a hiss.
The screen flashed bright in the front of the pod, performing some sort of diagnostic. "Welcome to starcorp." A soothing female voice intoned. "Please fasten restraints to begin extra-atmospheric travel."
The pod started to move.
Yaryl had assistance in his tasks. He was not the only disenfrachised member of the colony. There was a subclass.
Citizens of the colony were encouraged to educate themselves, through use of learning programs in the dome, in order to perform one form of work or another that made life better for all. Many did so on a wholly altruistic level, pursuing careers as teachers for the young ones, or healers for those that needed to use the sick houses. Others went for the challenge of becoming a tech, or the monetary gain of becoming a trader. In this way, the colony had instituted a rudimentary education and capitalist system, with social programs for those who needed it. There were also those that strove to get elected to the small or large council, and help the fledgling democracy along. And of course the Guardsmen, who kept the threat of raiders at bay.
But along the way the society had left certain people behind. Not every refugee that straggled in across the wastes was clever enough to learn to be a tech. Or shrewd enough to be a trader. Some were slow or mind-addled, others simply not compliant with the burden of civilization, after living on the ragged edge of survival for so long. And it was out of this that vice was born in the Colony. It followed the usual pattern, narcotics, spirits, and prostitution. And the one that controlled it all was Big Tate.
Despite his name, Big Tate was a short man, barely five feet tall. He held court in a hab called the little dome. There was an ugly face tattoo on his cheek, and the rumor held that it was a raiders mark, like branding a cattle. The story went that Big Tate had escaped the raiders by eating his fellow prisoners, and sharpening one of their thigh bones into a homemade knife.
Tate looked at him, on the enourmous pillow he lay on. "Hello, love. Care to try some spice? Or a little of that good bug juice?"
"Let me see whats in the back." Yaryl said.
"Course." Tate answered, "Only the best for a councilman."
In the back Yaryl laid down his ten thousand credits and Tate brought out the rare treasure, a bottle of Jack Daniels old Number Seven Tennesee Whiskey. Tate retrieved two glasses, and filled them both halfway. Yaryl let the whiskey burn in his mouth, and swirled it around before letting it run down his throat.
"Says on the bottle." Tate mused, "That this batch was made back in the year two thousand and seven. How old do you reckon that makes it?"
"Old." Yaryl said.
"From what I've been able to gather." Tate said. "The Rot took hold across the earth, per the archives, in the year two thousand three hundred eighteen. Now, once everything went all two pot, records were lost. But the best estimations of the techs put this year somewhere around two thousand five hundred something."
Yaryl frowned. Why hadnt he ever thought of the year? Did they even count such things? For that matter, how long had it been since he was born?
"So this is five hundred year old alcoholic spirits." Tate said. "A truly precious thing. Do you know where I got it?"
"Some twelve year old junker scrag pawned it to me for two rations. This was back when the dome was closed, mind you, and food wasnt exactly easy to come by. I took one whiff and knew it for what it was, a treasure."
"Thats an interesting story." Yaryl said. "But not the business we came for."
Big Tate sighed. He tossed three ID badges at Yaryl. "Its all right here." He said. "These will give your people full colony access, without the pesky intake screenings, or a stay in the sick houses."
Yaryl deposited the agreed upon amount of credits on the table. Before he could move, Big Tate closed his hand over his own, quick as a snake. "A word of caution." He said. "I dont know what you want these for, exactly, but I can guess its not on the up and up. That about right?"
Yaryl nodded reluctantly.
"Thought so." Big Tate said. "If or when your people get caught, not a word about me. Understand? I'm not a Councilman, but I do a lot of business here. And I dont want anything mucking up that business, or sticking its nose into it." He brought out a knife, and ran it alongside Yaryl's face. "Or its your nose I'll be having for breakfast."
"Not a word." Yaryl stammered.
Big Tate grinned, revealing a troubling amount of missing teeth. "Thats the way, love." He said. "Now enough unpleasantness. I know how you like nice company. Have yourself a girl before you leave. Strictly on the house."
He did, and found himself having an especially strong orgasm with a whore named Jasmine. He thought about it, as he waited at night on the edges of the piles for his guests. Why had he come so hard? Maybe it was the risk. He was putting himself on the line to three parties, now, the Council, the raiders, and now this criminal Big Tate. So many ways to lose his head. Yet somehow he felt more alive than ever before. It was strange how life was.
He barely saw the vehicle coming across the wastes. It was black, and had the same quiet of an electric motor as his earlier contact. Four men stepped out, dressed in rags. When the apparent leader pulled his away from his face, he appeared shockingly normal. Nondescript, even.
"I am Khef." The leader said. "These are my men. Kneel."
"I dont think we have time-" Yaryl began, and the leader slapped him hard across the mouth, with the back of his hand.
"You will make time." Khef said, "And kneel, or you will die."
Yaryl got down on both knees. When Khef smiled as Yaryl looked up at him, the councilman thought he was going to be raped. "Open your shirt." Khef said.
Yaryl did as he was told. Khef's hand shot out, over the left side of Yaryls chest. There was a moment of stabbing and intense pain. Yaryl cried out and collapsed to the ground. When he was helped to his feet, there was a dark spot on his chest with black lines radiating out from it, and a wet spot on the front of his trousers.
"This is the mark of the Black Century." Khef said. "Your heart is ours, now and forever. Fail in your orders and you will have pain. Disobey them and you will have death."
"This isnt what was agreed on." Yaryl managed to say. "I didnt sign on to be a slave."
Khef laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. "You mistake me, great councilman! The mark is a sign on honor." He opened up his own rags, to reveal a matching spot. "All who serve the Black Century bear its sign. Submission does not equal slavery."
So Yaryl handed over the clothes he had brought, with the front of his pants wet with piss, and the foursome got dressed. They appeared foreign, more than anything else, with short hair and dark eyes, but there wasnt too much else to distinguish them. At the checkpoint the raiders were smart enough to space themselves out, when presented their ID badges, in order to not raise an alarm. But the Guardsmen waved them all through.
Inside the Colony they all followed Yaryl from a distance, until the came to his quarters. From there the men spoke in low tones to each other, some language that Yaryl did not understand. Finally Khef sat on the couch and leaned in toward him.
"We need the following access." Khef said. "Inside the military quarters, inside the Dome, and to the Council."
"The first one is the easiest." Yaryl said. "With the badges I've given you, you can sign up for the Colonial Guard."
"Your Guard accepts strangers? Just like that?"
"After appropriate screening, anyone that wishes can serve."
Khef smiled. "So trusting. And it will be your downfall."
"Once your in the Guard." Yaryl said, "I can pull a few strings, and arrange a promotion. I know General Veers very well."
"That will serve."
"The second one is a little tricky."
"Because there are so many different layers to the dome. That is, different responsibilities and accesses."
"Full access."

( dont forget to check out the first book in the series now on sale from Amazon for 99 cents!)

Monday, January 21, 2013

the Junker Girl and Her Destiny- Chapters 3 and 4

Witington quickly changed out her clothing from the whites she wore in the sick houses. It was almost time for the small council to convene. There wasnt hardly a stain on them, of blood or pus, but the Colony wasnt immune to its superstitions, and everything would have to be disinfected.
There were only two cases of serious rot in the houses at the time. Five travelers had come from far across the wastes, to join the colony. All five were in the houses, sick of one thing or another, dystentery or malnutrition. Of the two that had rot, one of them had limbs that were crusted black streaked with red, with bits falling off. That one would surely die. The other was lucky enough to only lose a foot, and would most likely make it.
In the early days, when the Colony had opened up from the habs and the dome, to accept the folks living on its fringes, there had been many more serious cases of infection. There was a frantic struggle inside the colony, on what to do. The new council had been converged, the voted-on council, and people were just beginnning to accept a different way of doing things. But the thought of infection sent a jolt of terror to almost everyone that lived in the Colony. How could you let a disease that had destroyed an entire world, back into the one place that was supposed to be safe?
She had retrieved the old Kindle from Mona, during one of her finds. One of the travelers was only a child. She read him a story, every time Witington made rounds. Last time she had read the Lorax, by Dr. Suess, and the boy had liked it so much he asked for it again.
"Who is the once-ler?" the boy asked.
"He's in the story." She told him.
"I know that. But who is he really?"
The question startled her. It took a minute to gather herself. The ones before. They were the once-lers. They had sat on a world of endless riches, and let it go to hell. It was nothing she could tell the boy.
There wasnt as much of a change from outside the dome to inside it, anymore, the way it was before the Droid. But the air was still cleaner. There was an actual entrance, instead of a secret one, that was loosely guarded, but any citizen of the colony could access the dome, if they chose to. Most of the new ones spent a lot of time here, in between whatever duties they were given, staring at all the wonderment. The presence of towering green, and animals. Hoping to catch a glimpse of the fabled Droid. She was used to it a little more than before, but still, it was different. A bubble of hope. The fact was, spending a lot of time inside the dome left you feeling a little claustrophobic. It also filled many people with hope, hope that if this was possible, than almost anything could be achieved. Food and shelter for all being the first of those priorities. All around her techs went back and forth from one project to another, to make things a little easier on the colony.
The council convened in an old boardroom used by the first, deceased council. It was a little more slick than Witington enjoyed. The chairs were fancy and metal, but not overly comfortable. There were eight members, besides her, all duly elected, except for the tenth. The tenth was Markus the Droid.
The Droid sat at the end of the table. Although this was not an intentional slight, or a grasp for power, it was sometimes percieved as such. It was tall and seemed to exude an aura of the past. With its red eyes and the whirring noises it made with its movements. It had human like features, but almost in the way of rubber, not flesh. The head of the Colonial Guard, General Veers, cleared his throat and called the Council to order.
"I'd like to begin." He said, "By bringing to attention the situation on the outer perimeter."
"You mean the fence." Yaryl Rogers, one of the traders said.
"Thats right." Veers added. "The incomplete fence. Which, as it stands, leaves us vulnerable to attack."
"But we havent been attacked in years." Council Berks said. Berks was a friend from long ago, and the trader that had introduced Mona to the Colony. From there it broke down into the usual bickering, until Witington interrupted.
"What if this is all there is?" She said.
"What on earth do you mean?"
"I mean this. This Colony, and us, and the junkpile. What if were all thats left? Are we ever going to find out?"
"That is an excellent point." Yaryl said.
"We worry about keeping others out." She said. "But the raiders are gone. What else is out there?"
"Let me show you." Veers said. The smart display on the table beneath him lit up, as he went through the controls, and pictures lit up on the walls around them. Burned out habitats and ruined tents, and Guardsmen walking past corpses.
"We've started an Expeditionary force." Veers said. "And started to push out in every direction. Starting with the known areas whereas refugees have come trickling in. This sort of thing was not possible while under partial assault from the raiders, a condition we lived in for years."
"And this is what you found?" Witington said.
"Yes ma'am." The general replied. "In every habitation that was found, for over thirty kilometers." He counted on his fingers. "No usable supplies, no water source, no known survivors. Little cover from the elements. A low likelyhood of survival."
"Weve been existing in a vacuum?" Berks said. "Surely, thats not possible."
The Droid spoke."What you refer to as the junkpiles." It said. "Is a treasure trove of resources, that has been keeping this civilization alive for years. And now it is finally starting to run low."
"I dont think-" Yaryl began.
"Where have you gotten your MRE's?" The Droid said. "Your rations? All the food that has been keeping you alive has come from one of two places: this habitat, that you call the dome, or the resource you call the piles. The soil has been poisoned to refuse agriculture, for every bit of land save for the dome. All animal life is extinct, save for the ones that come from the dome. We have to consider what all this is."
"And what is it?" Witington asked. "In your opinion."
"A treasure." Markus said. "A treasure that can be seen or whispered about from any direction. And a beckoning resource for anyone that would take it."
The wall displays shifted, showing a small flying robotic device. "I have perfected a series of autonomous drones." The Droid said, "Based on schematics found in the archives in this habitat. With their help I have been able to establish a far larger perimeter than your patrols, General Veers. And my searchs have yielded interesting results."
The displays shifted again, showing the drones camera as it flew through the wastes. Dead Earth and clear sky could be seen beneath it. Then, out of nowhere, the city.
"Good lord." Veers said.
"What is it?" Yaryls asked.
"This was one of the primary habitations of the time before." Markus said. "The archives refer to it as a mega-city."
"How many people lived in one of these?" Witington asked.
"Nine hundred million." The droid replied.
The council broke into murmers. "So many!" Berks said. "Is there a chance..of further habitation?"
"Unfortunately, yes." Markus answered. "As you can see."
The drone flew into the city, and its camera picked up the streets filled with screaming men. Many of them were raising Kalishnikov's or other AR's in the air and firing them, and all of them wore the colors of the Black Century.
There werent animals in the piles, but at nights, there were the freks.
The freks were a sort of mammilian mutant. Yellow skinned, and hairless. Eyeless as well. They possessed two overgrown incisors like rats, and nasty claws at the end of pink hands. The howled to each other in gutteral words that made no sense.
"Yap! Yobber! Yarl!"
The first frek they had seen was gnawing on an unknown substance, before Sgt. Aleph pumped it full of bullets. Its blood smelled bad, like pus and corruption. And after that It was hard for Mona to see the mutants anymore, but she could hear them. They were skittering on the outskirts of her vision, beyond her flashlight.
"We need to find him fast." Aleph said, unnesecarily adding, "Those freks will rip him to pieces."
At the next step the junk caved in, and they fell.
It was the sort of misstep Mona never would have made in her younger days. A junker memorized her footsteps, and traced trails through the rubbage, in order to prevent any sort of accident. But she was seven years removed from all that now. She had been on unfamiliar territory all evening, and as she was falling she thought to herself, this is it. This was the end of everything she had done. But her fall was short, and when she slammed into the hard floor below, she was bruised but not broken.
When she looked up, and found herself at the bottom of the shaft, she could see the freks above. They were gibbering to each other in their language, "yip, yip!" Aleph was already on his guard, with weapon drawn. He fired a few rounds. Mona put her hands over her ears, the shot echoed in the shaft. When she looked up the freks that had slunk off were making their way back, and there were more of them.
"Are you okay?" Aleph asked.
"Yes." Mona replied.
"The walls here are slick." He said. "No way to climb out."
"And if we did." Mona told him. "Those freks would be waiting for us up top."
They looked around for a while, and then reluctantly realized they could do nothing. So the pair decided to sit at the bottom of the shaft. Above the freks made noise, but somehow they also seemed to stare, with no eyes, and those horrible toothy mouths. Bits of junk fell in from the edges.
"This isnt fun." Aleph said.
"Not what you expected." Mona said. "When you signed up for this detail?"
"I dont know." Aleph said. "I remember how it was before. The piles were a pretty rough place."
"So in other words, I'm an idiot, for bringing kids here."
Aleph looked her in the eye. He was handsome in a sort of rugged way. It had been a long time since Mona had been with anybody. There was a stranger here or there, in the matter of scratching an itch, and there was that thing with the Droid. But Skip had been the only one she cared about, and he was long dead. A horrible thought darted through her mind. Were going to find the body. Skips body is waiting down here, in all this garbage, and were going to find it, right before we die.
"I also remember the battle against the Piss Yellows." Aleph said. "I was there."
Mona said nothing.
"What the Droid did that day was incredible." He said. "The power it had. We would have lost the battle, if not for the Droid. And the plasma weapons. Which he engineered."
"It, not he."
"Excuse me?"
"The Droid is an it."
"If you say so. But what mattered was we won. And all of this was possible. And all of that was possible, because you found him. Found it. And if another kid, a young boy or girl, can find something anywhere near as good...." He sighed. "People talk all the time about the rationing. There's so many of us now, more than there used to be."
There's more to it than that, Mona almost said, but at that moment she saw the panel. It was the sort of touch control found often inside the dome. "There's something here." She told Aleph, and then pressed it. With a grinding screech, a hatch slid open in the side of the shaft.
"Do we go inside?" Mona wondered aloud.
A frek shrieked from above and threw itself down the shaft. Mona let out a startled scream. With the smell of burning ozone, Aleph unleashed a torrent of fire from his plasma rifle. Behind the body of its fallen comrade, two more of the mutant beasts fell down, howling "Yibber-yip? Yibber- Yeb?"
"Get going!" Aleph yelled. Mona scrambled through the hatch. Aleph was right behind her. The freks had gotten bold in their numbers, and now filled the shaft. Aleph was firing, but he would run out of ammunition before the freks ran out of bodies. Mona searched the wall, panicking. There had to be another panel. Where was it? Suddenly she found it, and with a loud beep the hatch ground shut, amputating a frek appendage as it did so.
There was a loud clacking coming from above. The lights were coming on in the tunnel, from the opposite end.
"What the hell?" Aleph wondered aloud.
"Welcome, traveler." A soothing voice intoned. "Please make your way to the travel pod."
"Can you feel that?" Aleph asked.
"Feel what?"
"Its fresh air. This place, whatever it is, is climate controlled."
Mona saw something on the ground. It was a small footprint, from a childs shoe. Etched in red. " Arril came down here." She said. "Look at this."
"Looks like he's been hurt."
"We need to get him back to the colony." She said. "Before any kind of infection sets in." And with that, the pair of them set off running down the well lit, clean hallway, that ran underneath mountains of trash.
When they found the travel pods, it was almost as overwhelming as the moment of discovery of the Droid itself.
There were dozens of them, arranged out in a large chamber. They were dark and smooth, with no distinguishing characteristic. Each one of them looked to be nearly the size of a residence in the habs.
"All of this." Aleph said. "How long has it been down here...."
Mona noticed that one of the pods was open. A small form was inside, slumped over. "I see him!" She shouted. Her footsteps echoed off the metal floor as she ran, and behind her Aleph came as fast as he could. The boy was unconscious inside the pod, on a large white leather seat. There were three rows of these seats. Mona was somewhat aware the front of the pod was a screen.
"Arril." She said, shaking him. "Arril, wake up!" terrified, she held a finger to the boys neck. A pulse throbbed faintly back at her. When she held her cheek underneath the childs nose, she could feel his breath. He was alive. Hurt, but alive, and that was good enough for right now.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

the Junker Girl and Her Destiny- Chapters 1 and 2

In the grand scheme of things, Yaryl Rogers was not hideously ugly. He did not have a harelip, or missing limb. And his one true deformity was covered with a glass eyeball, and dark sunglasses, both filched from the piles for an extraordinary sum. But Yaryl was still bald, with yellow teeth, and a fat gut, which combined with the glasses, gave him a look of general distrustfullness.
In the early days, after the rot, the survivors had gone by on looks alone. Looks told you if you were dealing with a cannibal raider, or a phony trader, or someone that might be able to help you out. In the boonies, in the shadow of the dome, those prejudices still held on true. But they were not absolute. And here Yaryl had learned to be useful. Yaryl was the best and repairing archaic laptops around, which was how he had won his spot in the boonies in the first place. And he was good enough to sneak a favor, or a reward, from a certain crafty young jilly or two. Specially when he made his way to the trade. There were prostitutes and there were prostitutes, in this rotted-out world, and Yaryl met them both. for in his heart of hearts, Yaryl yearned to be loved.
It was always there, if you knew were to look. Desperate female flesh. Willing to put itself through almost anything, for an MRE or a ration. Or even a half raw hunk of meat. He never thought of them by name, or even remembered their faces. They were always flesh, ready, and made willing from their own desperation. It was the oldest job in humanity, and the first one a woman fell into when reduced to nothing.
Then came the droid, and the breaking of the council, and everything changed.
Most of the existing junked-up tech was replaced by new wonderments, the council had been squatting on in the dome. Whole heards of the boonies up and moved right into the dome, with its green growing wonders, and fancy tricks. Whole herds of folks that had been squatting around moved into the boonies. An actual by-god sick house was set up for the worst of folks dying of rot, called a hospice, which was such unbelievable foolishness Yaryl could scarce believe it. When he felt the least bit sick, or at all unwell, he did his best to hide it, in the manner of the traders across the waste. In this rotted-out world, your health and what you could do were the only currency you had. He hated the sick houses. He would throw all of them away, if he could. Why waste a bullet, for ones that were surely going to die? You could sell the bullet, leastwise.
He was on the far end of the piles, now. Past the officialy designated scavanging posts, where young junkers dug for bits and pieces of tech to go back to the dome. Past any sort of overwatch of Colonial Guardsmen. Dangerous indeed. Unless your object was to meet up with someone, shall we say, a little unsavory.
He saw the bike come in slick and quiet across the sands. Its paint was the same no color of desert, and its rider wrapped from head to toe in the same. A stealth vehicle. He felt the same pinprick of danger as every one of these meetings. A raider! Meeting with a raider, one of the cannibal hordes that would kill them all, God rot it! But then he summed up his resolve, and braced himself. The raider pulled up close enough to Yaryl so that he could smell the stink coming off its rags.
"You have it?" The man hissed, with no ceremony.
Yaryl held out the memory stick. "This is everything I could find." He said. The raider snatched it out of his hand.
"It had better be more than last time." The savage said.
"Do you have any idea of what I'm risking here?" Yaryl snapped. "What will happen if I'm found out? Its banishment, quick and neat, with a mostways option of blowing my own brains out if I feel like it."
The raider drew himself up to full height, towering over Yaryl. He drew back his rags, showing the ebony armor of the Black Century. On his hip was a sidearm, ugly and with that deep red rust that meant rot, for certain.
"Think of the options if you displease us." The raider hissed. "And consider your options closely.
"I was promised reward." Yaryl squeaked feebly.
"The ones that please the boss are rewarded." The raider said. "When we come for thisss dome, we will set them up in sssertain positions. The ones that anger him, will beg for death before the end. The Black Century does not forgive, and its memory is long."
With that the raider leaned back into the saddle of the electric motorcycle and the machine raced away. The dust it kicked up left a stench in Yaryls nostrils, despite the filter he wore. He wondered if he was doing the right thing. No, not the right thing, but the thing that would benefit him, in the end. He turned back toward the piles, and kept his thoughts to himself.
Mona lined up her troops at the far end of the market. "Alright." She said. "Who are we? Lets hear it."
"Junkers!" Was the enthusiastic cry, in return.
She smiled. "What do we always keep on?"
"Mask and gloves!"
"And what do we always stay inside?"
"The perimeter!"
"Get out there and do us proud!"
The junkers scrambled past her, into the nearby piles of refuse, from an earlier civilization. They were mostly young. Children, like she had been, scrounging among the scraps to survive. But this was a different breed than she had been. Most of the junkers here had grown up in the boonies, or in the dome, for the very youngest ones. Knowing the unmentionable luxury of an actual civilization, mostways. And as much as she hated to admit it, more than a few of them had started in this line of work, based on her story, which was well on its way to legend.
Everyone knew it by heart, it seemed. A Junker Girl had found a finger in the piles, which led to the rest of a Droid, a fantastic relic from before. The Droid had come to the boonies and liberated the dome from the clutches of a power hungry council, and then saved the Colony by fighting off an invasion from the Piss Yellow tribe of raiders. All of it had its roots in truth, but the facts were murkier than that.
There was a whole group of people not colored by the legend. Skip, who had helped guide her to the rest of the Droid, before losing his life to a raider sniper's bullet. Berks, who had helped guide her to the boonies, a place she had never been before in her life. And finally the many dead of the Colonial Guardsmen, who had sacrificed themselves in the battle against the Piss Yellows. But there was more than that, even. When Mona looked backwards in time she could see a trail of sorrow and misery that seemed to trace its way all the way back to when the Earth became the Whole Rotted Earth, and civilization lapsed back to the time before.
She shook her head to clear it. There was no time for any of it.
She was twenty-five now. It had been eight years since she had discovered Markus. Things had changed. The world around her had changed. After the battle with the Yellow's, there had not been another mass incursion from the raiders, from any band or tribe. And the boonies had pushed far out, in every direction surrounding the dome, all the way up to the piles themselves. There was actual green, even! The techs had gotten small gnarled trees to take hold, more shrub than tree. A hardy plant, in poisoned soil. But when it budded the buds were real and true. The folks called it a Marker tree, named for the Droid itself. The colony was different now, in that it thought of itself as an actual colony, not just the second and third class in the habs, the council in the dome, and the junkers and traders on the outskirts. With the rot and the raiders picking at the edges like a browning scab.
Arril yelped and held something triumphantely in the air. A collection of wires and circuits, that was most likely useless, but still Mona smiled and waved. He was only eleven. Had spent most of those years in the dome, or in the better part of the boonies. But he wanted this life for himself. To him, this was a game, still, finding the best parts to take back. He ran off in another direction. Mona glanced above him. A Colonial Guardsman was there, with a plasma rifle, standing watch. They had a retinue of three, and markers set not to push beyond. Her mind wandered and she thought back to that day with Skip. But it wouldnt happen here. They were far beyond this point, when it occured, and a sniper wouldnt come this far out.
At some point in the afternoon mona retreated to the back of the truck. There was a workbench set up in the trailer, where she was able to test finds for electrical capacity, or rare earth elements. She had a laptop from her early days that she used, which was nowhere near as efficient as the dome tech, but she thought it kept her humble. On the laptop she compared existing finds with bits the children brought in. There was history here. In the days before, the majority of waste was paper or food based, and composted quickly. Beyond that there were the plastics that just broke down into smaller plastics. But the ones before had been blessed with an overabundance of tech, and when something broke down, or simply was no longer needed, they threw it out. Such carelessness. Not thinking that a day may come, when everything would be scarce. Neccesary.
At the end of the day she sent the signal and the junkers straggled in. Most of them had pieces that would make good enough finds, and a few might even be functional. A few bits of metal were suspiciously flecked with rot that looked bad enough for her to toss. A good haul, overall. It was only when she gave the head count that she realized something was wrong.
"Where's Arril?" She asked. The junkers shrugged and murmurmed to each other. She activated her comm, and sent a signal, a simple message that meant come back now. It would lead to a loud buzzing in his ear. But a mechanical voice from an earlier time told her, "Message failed."
"Whats wrong?" A guardsman asked, his name tag identifying his as SGT. ALEPH.
"I'm missing one."
"Are you sure?"
"I counted twice."
"Its getting dark." He said. "We need to get back soon."
She shuddered inwardly. "Take them back." She said. "I'm going to stay here and look."
There were murmurings from the children. Aleph looked at her reluctantly. "Take them back." He told the other Guardsman. "Leave me the radio so I can get in touch." Mona felt a moment of relief, that was sucked away when the truck rumbled to life. One of the children in the back started to cry.
"Thank you." She told Aleph."
"We'll spend three hours." Aleph said. "After that, we'll go back, and come back tomorrow for a larger force. Okay?"
She nodded. He unstrapped a handgun from a hip holster. "Know how to use it?" He asked.
"Stick together, and be careful." And then they were moving, heading into the junk while the light died away.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Enjoying a small break...but for my next trick.

The words come. When the words flow, they flow hard, like a waterfall or, well, something. Ive exhausted my similes. Now that Video Game Crusader is finished, I can bask in the afterglow, for a little while. Until that internal demon beckons me forward, once more, deeper and darker into my little stories.
The next book of Mourn is gnawing at me, continuing the adventures of Jon Tauther, Vee of Charon, and Cain the Suicide. Notice I skipped someone? Something very interesting has happened to our Wounded Warrior, Conner James, since we last saw him.....
But right now, as we speak, Mona the Junker Girl is not far from my mind. Things are developing in the rotted Earth, lately. The boonies are swelling with new intake, since the deaths of the council. The raiders are gathering on the horizon. And what does the instigator of all this, Markus the Droid, know of all this? What isnt he telling us?
2013 looks as if it will be a year of continuity. And thats just fine.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Iraq War novel released!

Video Game Crusader is now live for the Amazon Kindle! For an early look, its been serialized in entirety on this blog! Check it out!

Video Game Crusader release today!

Well I've finished the editing, put together the cover, and submitted the novel to the Amazon Kindle program. As soon as its live on Amazon, I'll put the link here!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Video Game Crusader- Chapter 22

The open ward was significantly better than the closed ward.
Once he moved over Conner was given back the clothing that had been taken from him on admission, minus his shoelaces and belt. There was an open question as to whether or not he would hang himself.
He was feeling better. The docs had got him evened out on his meds again. During group therapy sessions in the open ward, the patients actually talked, about their problems, their diagnosis, and sometimes even the future.
Most of the patients had PTSD. The most frequent combination was PTSD and schizophrenia. None of them were as young as he was, in his twenties, but few of them seemed as old as the men in the closed ward, the majority of which seemed to peek north of fifty. These were the Desert Storm veterans. Conner was very young during that conflict, and from what he remembered, the entire thing was over quickly, and concluded with overwhelming success. A chill went through his heart, when he thought about it. If that war, being so small, could fracture so many lives, what would the ones he went through do?
He was given the freedom to walk around the hospital, for a period of time, if he signed out in a book. He went down to the first floor and bought a digital camouflage hat that said MARINES IRAQ WAR VETERAN. It had a large double embossed Eagle, Globe, and Anchor in the sort of fashionable way that New Era might have presented itself. It was the hat that brought the urge to him, when he asked the orderly for pen and paper.
"I cant give you a pen." The orderly said, "But here's a marker. And I only have printer paper."
"That's fine." Conner told him.
He ended up using both sides of each page, writing as small as he could while still being legible with a purple marker. The words poured out of him. All of it, Iraq and Afghanistan, and more, Camp Lejuene, the USS Bataan. All the people he had known, John Odle and Sgt. White, dead or alive, that he had not seen since getting out of the service. He wrote about the good times, the boring periods, and even the nightmares. When it was finished he was covered in a fine sheen of sweat. His heart was pounding as if he had been exerting himself. Then he went back to the orderly desk, got ten more pieces of blank printer paper, and did the same thing all over again.
The doctor was young, with a Jewish name Conner was soon to forget. He told him the writing was good, and smiled when he said it. He scheduled Conner for several follow up appointments with Dr. Robinson, and some sort of anger management classes. He recommended a book called Achilles in Vietnam, which Conner thought, if nothing else, bore a fine title. He had read the Iliad years ago, and remembered the way Achilles rode on his chariot, dragging the body of his fallen enemy behind him. A Marine thing to do. Suddenly, he remembered the sign they had left, on Blackwater Bridge, all those years ago, written on a trestle
That was what they had done. On rode Achilles, and on they road, on Strikers and tanks and AMRAP's, going house to house and killing. How was it so real to him, now, years in the future? Maybe there was no future, and no past. Everything was simply happening all at once, and we percieved it linearally.
On the night he was released it was his wedding anniversary. He plucked a rose from a bush that grew out front, and presented it to Jo. They drove around Houston looking for a restuarant that was still open, finally settling on Vietnamese food. The taste was new and different to him, and Caleb happily babbled in his booster seat and spooned noodles into his face. Maybe at last things would settle down, into a sort of equilibrium. Maybe he would find peace.

Video Game Crusader- Chapter 7

James Conner has a date inside a porta-shitter.
The date is with a Ms. Kia Drayton, the Playmate of the month of December the preceding year. Ms. Drayton is an aspiring model and actress whose turn-ons include confidence and the ability to be yourself. She hails from the insides of a Playboy magazine that Conner has been saving for just such a moment as this.
There is a secret compartment inside a Marines body armor vest for magazines, specifically pornagraphic ones. It is located inside the front compartment where the Kevlar plate is stored. A magazine like this can be succesfully retrieved for whenever the mood strikes you, or, in Conner's case, whenever the need arises.
To get to this date, inside the receptacle, Conner will need to don full helmet and vest, and carry his SAW. He will lug this gear across the Camp, while first checking out with his Squad Leader, Sgt. Lazirko. Nothing fancy for this, just a casual, "Going to the shitters, Sar'nt." And the reply, "Make sure you take flak and kevlar. And dont forget your fucking SAW." Conner knows that Sgt. Lazirko does not mean anything wrong with the eff-dash-dash-dash bomb, that is, anything negative, Marines simply enjoy talking in expletives.
Once at the porta-shitters the quest is one going door to door, to simply select the best possible location. One is occupied, which removes it from the list. One has feces smeared liberally on the walls, which also removes it from consideration. Finally Conner picks a shitter that has not been abused too badly. He gets in and shuts the door, resting the SAW on the floor. It immediatedly falls forward, and he catches the weapon just before it can fall in the bowl. One of the legs contacts the rim. At least it wasnt the forward grip, he thinks.
A problem arises as there is not enough room for him to take off his gear. It is getting very, very warm inside the shitter. The business has to be concluded quickly. He opens the vest and retrieves the magazine, opening it to the desired centerfold. Kia Drayton, in all her sweet mocha perfection, gazes back at him lustily, with newsprint fuck me eyes. He gets hard quickly, and starts jerking it.
There is rustling from the shitter next to him. Followed by noise of an asshole, angrily speaking expactorations. Flaccid.
Conner decided to stand there and wait. The mystery shitter grunts and does his business, and as he continues Conner really starts to sweat. Its getting even hotter inside the porta-shitter, almost difficult to breath. He looks at the graphitti on the walls. The usual LOOK LEFT and LOOK RIGHT, but also a military specific additions EAT THE APPLE, FUCK THE CORPS. At least no one has drawn genitalia. Finally the sound of the door slamming, and the poop troop walking off in the sand.
He has to flip through the photo spread to get aroused again. When he does he goes to work quickly, determined to finish. His mind is in a battle, in one corner in the lovely embrace of Kia Drayton, reassuring her with his confidence and his ability to be himself, in the other corner he is suffocating to death in a shit oven. Someone is knocking. "Hey buddy!" They are calling out. "Hey buddy!" It is all good. They are knocking on a shitter two or three doors down. His face is covered in sweat. White spots are appearing in front of his eyes.
Let him...
"Hey buddy!"
warm flesh...
"There any tp?"
The cum jerks from him onto the centerfold. "Aaah!" He groans, not being able to help himself. Releasing the magazine, it drops into the blue gunk beyond the seat, which recieves it with a slurp. He turns around, and buttons up the fly of his trousers. His discomfort is completely realized. On the back of the shitter door someone has written
Which Conner takes to be words of profound wisdom. Opening the door and moving out, the fresh desert air is good, good and sweet.
That evening Staff Sgt. Kurre gathers the platoon around him. Conner gets out his little green field writing pad, and a black ink stick, which is another name for a pen, and the only color for a pen authorized by the United States Marine Corps. "Sit kneel bend." He goes, and the platoon does so, the front row sits, the middle row kneels, and the back row stays up straight. "We've got a name for this mission." He said. "Operation Phantom Fury. At approximately oh seven hundred tomorrow, a twenty-four hour curfew will be enforced on the streets of Fallujah. Intel estimates that between seventy and ninety percent of the civilian population has already evacuated."
"Leaves only the bad guys." Sgt. White says.
"Thats right." Kurre says. "Intel goes on to say that insurgents have flooded in from the border with Kuwait. Hard line extremist from Iran, or even real live Taliban, from Pakistan. Were in for a fight."
Murmuring from the platoon. Someone says "Damn" and someone else says "fuck yeah."
"What it comes down to is this." Kurre says. "At a time to be determined, were going in there, and were going to execute MOUT tactics. Military Operations in Urban Terrain. And if any of you have been paying fucking attention back in Lejuene, MOUT has high casualty rates. People are going to get shot, and some of those people are going to die."
Lt. Easter chimes in. "I need four volunteers." Most of the hands shoot up. "Who have been to the Designated Marksmen course." Most of the hands come down. But Conner and Sawyer's remain, along with Jon Bon Odle.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

the "Support our troops" myth

Here's a Great Article in the Huffington Post about people that claim to support our troops, and some of the facts on the situation. Full disclosure, its by Michael Moore, and I know many of you dont agree with his politics and opinions. But what he says about Veteran's suicide here needs to be read by everyone. Think before you put that Yellow ribbon decal on your car, or you tell another Veteran "Thank you for your service", without actually doing anything.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Video Game Crusader- Chapter 21

The trip to Fallujah was not an incredibly long one, as the Marines had only been brought there to supplement the forces needed for Operation Phantom Fury.At the end of the deployment the Marines of Chosin Company boarded helicopters and flew out over the ocean where the USS Bataan was waiting with in the Persian Gulf, for just such a purpose.
The USS Bataan was an LHD, a Landing Helicopter Deck, which was similiar to an Aircraft carrier, but without a runway for takeoff. It was larger than a small ship, at any rate, which made all the difference in the world in terms of living conditions. In the Navy, the smaller a ship was, the more cramped and crowded it was going to be, with the worst living spaces reserved for the human potted meat on board submarines. The Bataan was larger than that, and it had very specific conditions on board for hauling around Marines.
It was a new experience for Conner, flying over the water like this. Before flight the crew chief had passed out a sort of grey life vest for everyone to wear around their neck, as what Conner imagined a good luck charm. He was still weighed down with fifty pounds of gear, and his weapon. Not to mention the fact that the helicopter, when it hit the water, would sink like a stone. If it didnt explode first. Still he wore it, as ordered, for the reasoning of uniformity that everyone else in the platoon was doing the same. When the helicopters pulled around, circling the ships, small and grey in a postcard-blue ocean, Conner wished for the first time that he had brought a camera along.
On the ship the Marines filed past sailors that seemed mildly annoyed, or somewhat curious. The Navy service uniform was digital blue and grey, with black boots, but more than a few of the sailors seemed to wear other uniforms, or parts of a uniform. It was a different world than Chosin company had seen before. They marched right through it, squeezing into the berthing area home.
Once all the packs and gear were stowed, and the rifles and SAW's and additional weapons put away into a small area reserved as an Armory, the berthing area was not altogether uncomfortable. It mostly served as rows of bunks, stacked three high. For each bunk the top came up to make what was reffered to as a coffin locker, where clothing or personal items could be stored. There was also an amusing pastime known as "rack-jacking", that was exposed a key flaw in the beds design. The coffin locker was secured by a combination lock. But if left unsecured, an able bodied Marine could lift it up, while his comrade was asleep in the bunk adorning its lid. A brace would come out and prop the locker open, and the Marine being pranked would flail, plead, curse, or threaten, while his colleagues laughed and took pictures. Or video. On two occasions Conner found that Odle had rack-jacked him, and on both instances he simply sat there and tried not to feel claustrophobic, until someone passed by with pity and let him down.
Life on board a ship turned out to be a sort of holding pattern for Chosin company. There was a gym on board you could PT at-if you wanted to. There was a chow hall you could eat it- if you wanted to. There was a library full of crappy paperbacks and outdated computers for e-mailing home you could use-if you wanted to. There was also a bunk that you could sleep in for twenty hour stretches at a time-if that was more your speed. In fact, the only actual responsibilities you had at all, was to shave, wash your ass, and get a haircut once a week. Everything else was optional.
One of the best options was the smoke deck. There were two actual smoke decks. One was the ramp that led down to the ships storage area, full of pallets and conex's with gear and supplies. The other, better option, was on one of the walkways outside the ship itself. So you could gaze out at the ocean, or underneath, at the ships movement, and feel like a king with all that white churning froth below. After you finished your smoke, you could cast it into the eternal endless ashtray of the ocean, and watch the dolphins that followed the ship, or the seagulls that came in if you were close enough to shore. It was all sort of majestic and proper, and it was here that Conner met Logan.
"Hello." She introduced herself. "My name is Logan, and I'm a lesbian."
"Uh." Conner responded, "Hey. I'm lance corporal Conner."
"What rank is that?"
"E-three. Our E-3 is Seaman apprentice."
"I mean, what the fuck is that? I'm a women, and I dont have any semens. On top of that I'm a lesbian, and I dont want any. Some old bullshit."
Conner took in the pair. Logan the lesbian was petite and thin, with short cropped brown hair and light blue eyes. Small breasts and narrow hips. He thought she could pass for Peter Pan in a musical. Her friend was nearly opposite, wide-hipped and assed, with pendulous breasts that strained underneath her uniform. Even her haircut was different, more butch somehow. She looked the more realistically gay of the two, although she had not introduced herself with her sexual orientation, the way Logan had. In public she would have been pegged as nothing less.
"I dont know." Conner said. "I guess it sounds better. It still doesnt rate anything."
"This is Denise." Logan said, and Conner shook hands. "Anyway, the reason why we stopped over is to let you know you have a great face for a chick."
"I mean, your facial structure. You have nice cheekbones. And lips."
"Is this how you talk to people?"
"A dont talk to people, that much."
"When you say people, you mean Marines."
"I heard sailors hate Marines."
"Most sailors do. A lot of them dont like queers either. I dont give a shit either way."
"Just thought you should know."
"Nice to meet you, Logan the lesbian."
With that introduction, Conner assumed he had met one of many colorful individuals that had peppered his military career thus far. They would pop up, make some noise, and then return to their own situations, leaving him in relative peace and quiet. This did not turn out to be the case. Logan was a cook , and the following Tuesday Conner was assigned to chow hall duty.
The Bataan's chow hall was a center of activity during meal time, and one of the few common areas to the ship, besides the berthing or smoke deck. Mysteriously the floors of the chow hall were speckled blue and white metal laminate, which made it uglier than it otherwise would have been. The benches and tables were secured to that floor in a sort of fast food style.
You went through the line first, which could stretch almost the length of the ship on a good day. You grabbed the food buffet style, unless it was a rare treat like lobster or steak, in which case a cook would hand you the item to your tray with a pair of tongs. There was a juice dispenser, a coffee pot, and a cappucino machine. Finally there was a slot where you deposited your empty tray, to a washroom.
Behind the scenes the kitchen worked hard enough, which Conner got a free pass to stay out of, due to his proffesed lack of cooking skills. Jerel Swinney didnt get such a pass, and had to stay with the food prep all night, until he came back to the berthing area stinking like the insides of a refrigerator. That was the shift they were all on, nights, from ten AM to six in the morning.
At midnight there was a meal, for all the sailors on overnight shift, and a few Marines that liked to stay up late and had nothing better to do. Conner wiped down tables and mopped floors when chow was over, or stayed in the dishroom. The dishroom was a sort of purgatory with a never-ending flow of cups, trays, and silverware, and the occasional NCO complaining about the cleanliness of one thing or another. It was monotony that made the time go by, but made you stink worse than the kitchen. Only two people could fit inside the dishroom at a time.
Finally there was the garbage compactor. It was a hungry sort of mouth with a rubber cover, that would eat anything. All sorts of leftover food went into it, as well as the ships garbage. The ship managed to generate a ton of garbage bags, tin soda cans, plastic soda bottles, old magazines, old clothing. A societies amount of refuse. One night Logan showed him where it all went.
There was a small hatch by the side of the garbage compactor area that led to a tiny walkway. Outside the darkness of the open sea was absolute, and the stars overhead were as clear as tiny pinpricks of heaven. Conner and Logan worked as a team, forming a sort of chain. They took each bag, full of plastics, food waste, metal, or whatever, that the compactor had just shredded, and pitched it all into the ocean. After it flew from his hands Conner realized that he could hear the actual impact on the water below, and see the spray, once his eyes adjusted to the light. It was faint but there. Afterwards Logan gave him a cigarette, and the two of them enjoyed watching the red embers illuminate a friendly face, of only a little.
"We cant do this in American waters." Logan said.
"Do what?"
"Toss this shit overboard. If were within a hundred miles of American waters, we can only dump organic waste. Food shit. We have to bag everything else up, like, can with cans."
"Nope. We never recycle anything."
"What happens?"
"The captain always makes sure we get over a hundred miles from American waters, so we can dump shit." She smiles, ghostly in the light of her smoke. "Can you imagine if the recycling people found out about this? All those ships, across the world, pitching shit into the oceans."
"There's a patch of trash outside in the ocean." Conner said. "I read that somewhere. Its supposed to be the size of Texas. In the Pacific."
"I mean." Logan said, "We have to assume that all the ships do this. Shitting their way across the ocean. But, yeah, with all the PC shit that's out there," Logan assumed a mocking recruiters tone, "Navy-accelerate your life! Dump shit in the ocean!"
"They dont tell you about that stuff." Conner says. "At the recruiter. They just have the cool shit on display."
"For sure." Logan says. "Except for you guys. I mean, the Marines dont try to sell the cool shit, right? They let you know whats going to suck."
Conner shook his head. "Nope." He said. "Thats what everyone thinks. But even when the Marines show you the recruiting videos of Marines at war, its still bullshit, because war isnt really like that."
"Well." Logan says. "Fuck."
"And besides, they always show you the Marine in dress blues with a sword. Do you know they dont issue dress blues in boot camp?"
"Really? Why not?"
"Its really expensive. I mean, the main part of it, the coat, is a little over five hundred bucks."
"So how do all you guys have it?"
"Most of us dont have it. When you see a picture of a Marine- because he got killed in Iraq, or whatever, and he's in his dress blues, he's not in his dress blues."
"Okay, so halfway through boot camp, they have you take this picture. And its a head and shoulders shot, the dress blues picture. Only instead of dress blues, your only wearing the head and shoulders part of the uniform. With the white cap. Which you dont get to keep, and everyone stands in line, takes a picture, and then the next guy puts it on."
"Yeah. Its basically an optional uniform."
"Thats fucked up. I mean, people probably enlist, so they can wear that uniform. And then they have to spend an entire paycheck to buy it."

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Video Game Crusader- Chapter 20

"I'm pissed."
"What time is it? Its one AM."
"They fucked over Ra."
"The Egyptian sun god?'
"Raul Lopez."
"He's not getting the Medal of Honor."
"What? Really?"
"Obama fucked him over. Or that faggot Gates."
"Why not."
"So, they had this investigation, right? And they determined that Lopez got shot in the head before he dived on the grenade. That he was going to die anyway."
"So, why should that change anything?"
"Because that Secretary of cocksucking, Robert Gates, said that he was brain-damaged before he fell on the grenade. That was what he said. Fell, not dived. His words."
"Thats bullshit."
"I know. I know and you know. We were both there. Physically present. He did the boot camp thing and should have gotten that shit."
"So he doesnt get anything?"
"Their giving him the Navy Cross."
"But the citation they used, for the Navy Cross, makes it out quite clearly that he dived on the grenade to sacrifice himself."
"Are you even fucking listening to me?"
"I'm sorry, dude. Its really early."
"When my phone rang I thought it was my alarm clock."
"Did I wake up your wife?"
"No. I was sleeping on the couch."
"Hunh. She's pissed off?"
"Kind of. And I was playing video games."
"Which ones?"
"The new Call of Duty."
"Thats cool. I dont have a system."
"Or a TV."
"So, back to Lopez, the tried to get his mom to accept the Navy Cross."
"And she was like, fuck you. Just like that. And they had a Congressman there, saying how the Secretary of Defense was wrong, Corporal Lopez deserved the Medal of Honor."
"Lopez wasnt a Corporal."
"Right. But they promoted him posthumously, or whatever."
"Lopez was never going to be a Corporal. He got non-rec'd twice. He almost got busted down."
"Its crazy."
"Look, Ryan, you want to talk about Ra? The guy was against any kind of authority. When he stood at attention he extended the middle finger, so he was flipping the bird. Remember that time Kurre caught him doing that? An ass chewing and barracks duty on a libo weekend."
"I mean, its not like they knew him."
"No. Its all bullshit. On one side they want to say he wasnt good enough for this award. On the other side he was. But at the end of the day, its a certificate and a piece of tin. It doesnt mean anything."
"Your fucking wrong."
"How am I? Elaborate."
"Who else talks about Fallujah?"
"We do."
"Thats right. We talk about Fallujah and Korengal. Iraq and Afghanistan. Where we went. Being there. But no one else cares. It didnt happen here, in the US, so whose to say it happened at all? I mean, really, cant you just pretend you were in the Air Force, and got deployed to North Dakota, or whatever?"
"But it was real. Lopez proves it. It really happened, and he really died. Giving him that medal is something they cant look away from. Letting your guts explode, so you and I can live. Knowing its going to kill you. They cant look at Lopez and say, fuck you, your illegal, fuck you, your Mexican, fuck you, your young. They have to look at Lopez and say: your a hero. Your a hero, and I'm a big fat pussy, because I never did what you did, I never went where you will, and when I die, it will be from my big fat heart giving way after too many double quarter-pounders with cheese, or else from an accident when the tires on my shitty SUV hybrid give way, or else when I'm just too old and feeble to move out of bed in my nursery home and choke on the smell of my own diaper. And when it happens, it will mean exactly nil."

Video Game Crusader- Chapter 19

There was always weapons maintenance.
It was not a fact that most Marines, if any, thought of before enlisting, but modern firearms got dirty. The kind employed by the US Military did not function well, when coated with the carbon and gunpowder that was a result of their use. And they needed to be cleaned.
The Marine Corps weapons maintenance kit consisted of the following items:
1. A small green toothbrush
2. A long metal rod that could be broken down into three sections
3. Two wire bristle brushes to attach to said rod.
4. A small bottle like the kind used for eye drops, of gun oil labeled CLP, the acronym standing for Cleaning Lubricant Preservative.
These items were the only such items authorized for weapons maintenance. They were almost wholly inadiquate for the task at hand. CLP was an acceptable lubricant, and a questionable "preservative". But for cleaning it was wholly unsatisfactory. Especially in the small size bottles handed out by the armory. Which was why, to clean his M249 SAW, Conner had the following:
1. A black brush with wire bristles
2. A large, spray bottle of gun oil
3. A can of shaving cream
4. A shower stall.
Out of all of it, nothing worked as well as the shaving cream.
The most effective method for cleaning a SAW after time in the field, and heavy use, was as follows. You take the weapon to a shower stall and break it up into its individual components. Cover everything in shaving cream, especially anywhere where carbon has built. Let it sit for a minute or two, then run the water. Most of the carbon will come right off. To disguise the smell of Gillete, spray down entire weapon with the CLP. Rub in in good. The shaving cream will also work on rust. The M249, M16, and M4 all possess a singular desire to turn to rust as fast as possible. But the wire brush can prevent it. It is said that the AK-47 can fire after being buried for a week in the mud. Our weapons will not fire, if simply used too much. This is the price for a manufacturer defect, much time is spent scrubbing away mindlessly on a weapon. When you think your done, you can present it to the squad leader for inspection. He will rub his pinkie in the chamber, flick of the black, and tell you to keep working. No, the best thing for it is to simply continue your scrubbing, kill time until the platoon is dismissed, or something more important comes along.
After the meeting with Major Fight, Sgt. Lazirko's head felt like it was going to spin around. So much had changed on this, the other side of Phantom Fury, that it seemed like another unit.
Staff Sgt. Kurre had fractured a vertebrea in his back just before the actual building assault in the second objective in Fallujah. He creaked around the Company office conex without body armor or helmet, per doctors orders, and would most likely leave for surgery back in the states ahead of the company. Lazirko could see him becoming a pogue, and living out comfortably from this point on. Kurre was a good Marine, and Lazirko knew it would hurt him.
The doctors in Germany had been forced to amputate Lt. Easter's arm, just below the shoulder. He was done. After watching him get shot in the house, Lazirko was suprised that the officer was still alive. But he would make a full recovery soon enough. Lazirko wondered how Easter's wife would take the news that she was now married to a cripple. She looked to be the sort of woman that married for status, above all else. And a crippled Marine was only good for status in newspaper interviews and tribute ceremonies, and was truly wretched in everything else. Easter would be getting divorced, soon enough.
Sgt. White was dead. This news shocked Lazirko, who had been somewhat indifferent to the braggert back in the states, or here in the field, but no one expected him to die. He had been shot in the leg, after all. But the Navy Corpsman had failed to notice that White's femoral artery had been torn, and he had bled out in the back of the humvee, evacuating him from the assault. All the man's blood, being pumped out on the floor, with his heart working against him. A traitor.
Lance Cpl. Lopez was dead, and Fight was going to recommend him for the Medal of Honor. This didnt suprise Lazirko that much at all. In boot camp when citations were read Lance Cpl.'s and PFC's were always getting the Medal of Honor for jumping on a grenade and saving their platoon. Which was exactly what Lopez had done. It wasnt something Lazirko had ever thought to see in real life, but he realized he would have taken that flak if not for Lopez. He felt sorry for giving the kid crap for the little commie flag of his, that red star on a black field.
Lazirko was being put in for a Silver Star. "But it will probably be a Bronze Star." Fight said ruefully. "Thats just politics- the way things are."
"What about the rest of the platoon?" Lazirko asked.
"Give me the names of every one that was on that assault." Fight said.
"For the Combat Action Ribbon?"
"No- for a NAM. That's going to be easy to do."
Lazirko thought about it and said, "You should give Kurre something as well. He trained everyone, after all."
"Dont you worry about the Staff Sgt." Fight told him. "He's taken care of. Just get me those names."
So for the tribute formation, Lazirko found himself in the Platoon Leaders position. They stood at attention when ordered, and at parade rest when ordered. There was a row of tribute stands, twenty-six of them, for the fallen. A rifle and helmet, with a pair of dog tags, and tan desert boots. Lazirko could spot the details. It was the old model helmet, a defunct M16A2 rifle. The only things that were authentic were the boots and the dog tags. There had been working parties for either, to scour the dead's things and retrieve those items.
For most the items of the KIA; they were placed in plastic bags, and then in white boxes. To be shipped home to the US. There was a warehouse for it, in Camp Fallujah, which was most likely identical to every such warehouse in FOB's across Iraq.
Lazirko's mind wandered back to the objective, as he stood at parade rest, and listened to the Colonel speak. Everything had gone wrong. Or rather, they had started out doing everything wrong. You were never supposed to assault from the main entrance. You were never supposed to go into a room without a grenade, first, or stacking at the entrance, or having a tank or explosive make a breach for you. Finally, there was a certain way you were supposed to clear a room. It was like a dance- first the corners, to the center, and the ceiling. But none of that had happened. Easter shot, Lopez on the hand grenade, and then he had Conner had simply aimed their weapons upward. A revelation on his mind, had they even cleared the rest of the building, after shooting the haaji's in the roof? No. No they had not. They could have all died, victims of their own errors, but they had not and were now getting medals.
The colonel spoke. The chaplain spoke. General Mattis even spoke, although briefly. So much of being a Marine was attending these sorts of things, standing and listening to people talk that you didnt really know, and standing in a less comfortable position, when they told you to do so.
After the ceremony Sawyer and Conner made their way into something that they had never known existed. There was a recreation area in Camp Fallujah, and it had video games.
The Xbox 360 was old, first generation, and susceptable to the red ring of death. The red ring of death was a glitch that caused the Xbox to lose power, and possibly never turn on again. There was another, fatal, glitch to the video game system. The Xbox 360 was designed to be put either upright or on its side. But putting if you happened to tip the system over, while it was standing upright, a grinding screech would issue from the system. When you ejected the game disc there would be a circular scratch embedded on its outer edge, which would in all likelyhood prevent the game's function. No one quite knew why the Xbox had been shipped with such serious errors, the best speculation was to get it to markey before Playstation or Nintendo.
Sawyer, Conner, and Fonseca are all engaged in a four person Halo deathmatch, along with some other guy from second platoon no ones quite familiar with. The rules of a Team Deathmatch are clear cut; you and your teammate kill the other guy. Unlike Fallujah, you will respawn after you die. Sawyer likes Halo, even though the hero carries the Navy rank of Master Chief Petty Officer. There are Marines in the game, after all. There have been Marines in every game he can remember. He would have liked a set of power armor. Ra could have used one. Then the grenade would only have taken down his shield, and he could be here today, lecturing on his left wing bullshit or listening to Rage Against the Machine for the upteenth millionth time. Unless you were playing on the hardest difficulty setting. But in real life, you were always playing on the hardest difficulty setting. With no exception.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Video Game Crusader- Chapter 18

James Conner looked out the window of the fifth floor of the Michael E. Debakey Veterans center. It was raining outside. The rain made his wrists ache under the bandages. He shuffled around in his medically issued pajamas, and wondered what else would happen today.
There were two halves of the mental health wing in the Veterans Center, the open ward and the closed ward.
The closed ward was esentially a hallway, with a locked door on each end. There was one TV room, and many other residential rooms besides. There was a nurses station, where a bored looking orderly stood and read the newspaper. On the desks was a sign
Effective July 15,
All VA facilities will be
NON-Smoking only!
This was a big deal to the long-term residents. The smoke break was a sort of sanctuary for them. Conner imagined that all other hospitals, including mental-health hospitals, had been non-smoking long before this. But that was apparently one of the benefits of being crazy and also a Veteran, you could find solace in nicotine, while others couldnt.
The shambler bumped into the sign and knocked it down. The orderly sighed and straightened it back up. The shambler walked a circuit all day every day. A short circuit, like the one in his head, to one end of the hall, and then the other. He wore the little non-skid socks that were fashionable in hospitals, and the crazy persons bathrobe. He was gaunt and his hair was stark grey, and the shamblers expression was totally vacant. Whatever was wrong with him, he wasnt faking it. An announcement came over the intercom, "Group therapy in the closed ward, in the tv room. Group therapy in the tv room."
Having nothing better to do, Conner went into the tv room. There was a somewhat attractive woman there in semi-business attire tapping at a notebook computer. She wore a identification badge, which meant that she wasnt crazy, and thin glasses. Based on her age Conner guessed that she was either a student, or just out of grad school. On her face was the sort of oblivious expression of someone trying to care, but not sure just what is going on.
"Good morning!" She said.
"Revielle!" Mr. Sanders replied.
From the three group therapy sessions Conner had attended thus far, no one spoke besides Mr. Sanders. Sanders was a portly black man, with salt and pepper sideburns in the style of the X-Man Wolverine over a combination of razor bumps and acne. He had his own jaunty style additions to the ward's uniform of bathrobe and pajamas. Sanders wore no shoes or socks, displaying yellowed, corn-chipped toenails, and on his head he wore a Navy dress cap, like a sailor in formation, or Donald Duck.
"Can anyone tell me what day it is?" She asked.
"Tuesday!" Mr. Sanders replied.
"Close!" She smiled. "Its actually monday."
"Tuesday!" Mr. Sanders insisted.
"So." The young woman continued. "Can anyone tell me where we are, right now?"
"The ship!" Mr. Sanders said.
"Well, no." The girl-woman frowned. "Thats not quite correct, Sanders.."
"Thats MISTER Sanders."
"Mr. Sanders..."
"On board the USS Shreveport."
"The ship goes up, and the bodies come down."
"The ship goes up.." Sanders curls over, and unleashes a bracking sob, "And the bodies..dey come right...back...down."
At this point in time the shambler comes into the doorway of the television room and unleashed a tirade of what may be either profanity or gibberish. The orderly comes up to take the shambler by the hand, and ends up restraining him and trying to cajole him into taking his medication. The young grad student dismisses the group, who shuffle around, or go nowhere, or, in the case of Mr. Sanders, noisely start to fart. Conner wonders, is Sanders faking it? Was there a USS Shreveport, that suffered some sort of calamity, some sort of mind ending calamity? He takes a minute to think on the events that brought him here.
He had been drinking. He had been drinking and fighting with Jo, and he hit her, and he took the entirety of his pills, all three bottles. After that he went and dug the Gerber knife into his wrist, not just across his wrist but down, good, severing cuts, that make a mess and bled everywhere. Jo had called Dr. Robinson instead of nine-one-one, but it didnt matter, because Dr. Robinson had gone ahead and called an ambulance anyway. He had done a good job on his wrists, and spent a few hours on the first floor of the VA center getting bandaged up. They gave him meds to conteract the meds he had tried to overdose on, which wouldnt kill him, but did make him shudder and grind his teeth.
All throughout it, the face of Caleb ran in his mind. His one year old baby. What was wrong with him that he would do this? Which was a rhetorical question, anyway. When you had a diagnosis you knew exactly what was wrong with you. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder with Depression and Psychotic Episodes. He didnt function well with other people, or by himself.
At least work was taken care of. Dr. Robinson had called them and told them that Conner had had a allergic reaction to his medication and would need to spend the week in the hospital. It was not very close to the truth, but it didnt matter. The Lt. had swallowed it and he was on sick leave for the time being.
On the smoke breaks the big bald-headed black orderly in purple scrubs handed out cigarettes to everyone that didnt have a pack themselves. The smoke area was a sort of patio, with iron bars to prevent anyone from jumping over the edge. You could stare down at the parking lot if you wanted, or look around at the rest of Houston. Houston was a spread-out city. There was a downtown area with high-rises, of course, but not that many of them. Still, it looked better than Browning. He would have lived here, instead of Browning, given half a chance, not in this psych ward, of course, but in the city, one of the surrounding suburbs. The mood here was much more lively than the group therapy abortion. The veterans chatted to each other. Many of them spoke to the big orderly, who was clearly the favorite. They talked about their life and their condition. Relatives. Branches of service. Conner found a young soldier to chat with.
"Whats your diagnosis?"
"Thats what I got."
"What branch were you in?"
"Im in the Army."
"When did you get out?"
"No, I'm in the Army right now. fifth mountain."
"And they sent you here."
"For PTSD. Damn! That bitch is fine."
"I wouldnt mind taking her out."
"I'm going to show her some of this dick."
The were standing next to the full length glass of the door at the end of the closed ward, and the soldier took out his pecker and started to masturbate. This troubled Conner, who could see a parallel between it and the detainees at the prison, who would frequently jack off in front of an attractive female staff member, or even the occasional gorilla. There was a report that had to be filled out, whenever the incident happened. The detainee was charged with engaging in a sexual act. There was some talk of a push going on with the union to have these masturbators charged with sexual assault, and placing them under the stigma of sex offenders. But what usually happened is the detainee lost his telephone and commissary privileges, and continued his period of indefinite confinement, unless he was put on the bus ride back to Mexico.
No one seemed to notice the soldier. Conner got a look at the nurse. She was attractive, one of those off-white girls that might be black, or black-and-white, or Latino, Dominican, Cuban, unknown. She was different than Jo. He felt numb even thinking about it, what was Jo even doing, right now? Would she be there when he got out? The two instances he had called her cell she had not responded.
Lunch was served and the veterans ate in the tv room. The conversation was not forthcoming. Outside rain pattered down the window-panes, and Conner thought what might happen if he were to somehow break the window, and jump, and if the picture of his body would make it to the internet or the five o' clock news. But the glass was thick and he was tired of the closed ward already. He went back to his room and sat on his bed, quite bored, and wondered what in his life was going to happen next.