Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Island 115 -008

I'm participating in a story-a-day challenge from a Reddit writing group. My story is based on this prompt.

P.S.: I'm a bit behind because I've been writing these by hand and typing them out at work.


"Is anyone out there? I've become separated, over." Sandor picked up the radio from the dead soldier's hip.

"Who is this?" he asked. "This is supposed to be a secure channel. Over." He frowned, peering into the dark jungle around him. It was a moonless night, and up above, in the breaks in the thick canopy, the stars were radiant and glowing in the midnight sky.

"Lieutenant Milner, sir. 3rd Platoon, 22nd Company. We were ambushed on the ridge, I need immediate evacuation, over." Sandor nodded slowly. He'd heard the massive fire fight from down in the valley, seen the brilliant flashes of machine guns and mortar explosions.

"Listen, Lieutenant," Sandor replied, "the valley is secure, and the attack has been repelled. You may be the only one of your troops still alive." He stepped toward the sound of engines. In the distance, miles away and through the spaces in the overgrown jungle, he could barely make out the landing boats on the shore as they beat a hasty retreat. "If you come down to where I am, I'll accept your surrender. Over."

There was a long pause, almost too long, then, "Alright. Where are you, over?" Sandor considered the question. If this Lt. Milner was caught by others, he'd probably be shot; even if they accepted his surrender, it meant Sandor wasn't going to earn a bounty. A Lieutenant these days was worth a small fortune.

"Fire a shot into the air. Over," Sandor suggested.

"No way! They'll find me before I get off this hill, over."

"Just one shot, then move downhill toward the valley. It's harder to find someone if they just shoot once. Over." Sandor was lying, of course, but it was the best option he had at this point.


The shot had clearly come from the west, on Bygrum's Hill, but it wasn't sharp enough to fix on. The jungle had deadened the report of the rifle. But Sandor had an idea. The radio was a squad-issued set, meaning that only a handful of soldiers had units and access to this particular channel. He turned back to the trench of soldiers, all killed by Chlorine gas instantly, delivered by the naval bombardment. The soldier who he'd taken the radio from was a Sergeant in A Squadron, Tiger Brigade. From his rough estimate, most, if not all, of Tiger Brigade was lying dead here at his feet. There was probably a dead scout up in the hills, then, missing the other radio.

"Okay," Sandor replied, "start walking down the east face of the hill, you'll see a spring and a waterfall on your way down; follow the river until you get to a certain rock that you can't miss. Radio when you arrive there. Out." That would be about twenty minutes. He was reluctant to give specific directions, not wanting to deliver Lt. Milner up on a silver platter. Sandor had no idea how many radios A Squadron had, nor if someone else was listening.

The battle had been brutal since the first ships appeared on the horizon a week ago. Six days of continuous shelling had taken a toll on the defenders, then the sudden gas attack that morning. It was a new, unexpected turn in the war, a horror both sides had promised to forego. But the war dragged on, and horrors became daily routine. This island wasn't thought of as being very strategically-located, but apparently the enemy had drawn up new plans.

Sandor found the Commanding Officer's personal tent and decided to take a rest. It'd been a long time since he could sit and do nothing. He put his feet up on the desk and started flipping through the papers: Troop Deployments for Island 115, Nutritional Survey of Tiger Division, Enemy Strategies, Units Identified by Naval Spotters, Development Plans for Island 115. Etcetera.

"I'm here, over."

"What does the rock look like? Over." Sandor asked.

"It's... it looks like it was painted pink, over." That was the one. Sandor-- and anyone else listening-- knew it by heart. It was the impromptu mascot of the Division, painted after a particularly rowdy night of drinking and celebrating. Sandor couldn't even remember what the celebration was for, now.

"Turn south, stick to the river, and watch out. There's infantry in that part of the jungle looking for enemy troops. Over."

"No, I don't think there is, over." Sandor looked at the radio, bemused, as if it could explain itself.

"Say again. Over."

"I think that this area is clear. I didn't hear a single person on the way here. Lots of dead soldiers, though, over." Sandor set the radio down, picturing the last few days in his head. The island was small and insignificant; the only strategic resource here was a refuelling depot at South Shore Station, perhaps 10 million barrels of gasoline reserves. The depot wasn't even intended for large ships, only medium-range patrol ships who stopped here to top off as they patrolled the straits.

The disturbing thing, thought Sandor, was that the shelling had been... unusual. It had started at each end of the island, east and west, and gradually moved to the centre. Clearly the enemy had been herding the defenders toward the valley in the middle of the island; but why? There was a fortified shelter here, and--

The gas. It had to be the Chlorine gas. Get everyone concentrated in one spot, then kill them in one shot. Sandor had been lucky, he recalled, having hidden out and waited for the shelling to pass him by. He hadn't been in the valley until just about two hours ago. If the whole brigade had been here, there couldn't have been more than two, maybe three dozen survivors on the island at most.

"You know," Lt. Milner interrupted Sandor's thoughts, "I picked up this radio thinking it was my own. I guess our radios look very similar, over." Sandor brushed aside his thoughts, clearing his mind.

"I suppose. Where are you now? Over."

"I'm at the foot of the hill, at the tree line. The river is 50 meters to my right, over."

"Okay, after about a mile, you're going to come up to the trench line on the perimeter. On the other side of the trench line is a minefield. Look for a trench that has coconuts in it; those mark the safe paths through the mines. When you're standing by the trench, you'll see a tree about 150 yards away that's painted with phosphorescent-blue striping. You can't miss it. Walk a straight line; you'll have about 20 yards on each side that are safe. Over." There was a long pause.

"Alright. I'm just going to have to trust you, I guess. Out."

Sandor picked up a file that had caught his eye: the one marked "Units Identified by Naval Spotters". Sandor had respect for these cowboys. Their job was to pilot an inflatable boat as close to the enemy ships as they dared, and for no reason other than to spot identifying markers, patches, flags, emblems; whatever the enemy was flying. Curious, he began flipping through. The cowboys had identified naval units almost exclusively; the only exception was Lt. Milner's unit: 3rd Platoon, 22nd Company - ABCD Rangefinder. He didn't know what ABCD meant, but he knew that a Rangefinder was a soldier who observed enemy movements and sent in coordinates to maximize artillery fire. Normally, Sandor had respect for these guys as well: the ones who hid out behind enemy lines for weeks at a time. Lt. Milner must have been calling in fire the whole week. But the ABCD part bothered him; usually he could rattle off the enemy's acronyms instantly.

He set the file aside and booted up the CO's laptop. Using his own passcode, Sandor accessed the intelligence files, hoping that his low clearance level would prove helpful. And sure enough, he found the list he needed. He scrolled through quickly, finding ABCD in the Clearance Level 2 sections.

Artillery-Based Chemical Dispersal.

Chemical. Lt. Milner had been calling in the gas attacks, not the artillery fire. There was honor in artillery, but none in the cowardly gas. Sandor threw the laptop against the desk and walked back out to the trenches. There before him laid hundreds of his fellow rebels. They had fought and died for their freedom. Sandor picked up his rifle and walked toward the safe lane in the minefield. Too bad, he thought. The bounty for a Lieutenant would have been a stroke of luck.

Friday, January 10, 2014

National Treasure 3: The Postmaster General -007

I'm participating in a story-a-day challenge from a Reddit writing group. My story is based on this prompt.


Benjamin Franklin Gates stepped into the chamber and looked around. Where most people saw various symbols of American might and historical jurisprudence, he saw a multitude of hidden codes, messages to future generations, and the occasional Masonic bit of advice. Almost instinctively, he scanned every inch of the room, ignoring for the moment the nine Justices of the Supreme Court as they stared at him. He wondered what the grand connection was, why the Bald Eagle on the west-facing frieze was--

"Mr. Gates," Justice Kennedy interrupted. "Are you prepared to explain your findings?"

"Oh, yes indeed, your honor, sir," he replied nervously. "And may I say what a great privilege it is to finally be able to--"

"Will the witness please just get on with it?" Justice Scalia was in one of his infamous bad moods. Gates wandered silently for a moment, wondering where exactly he was supposed to stand as he addressed the court. He settled for just in front of the defense's table; after all, he was their star witness.

"If it pleases the court, the code I discovered... well, it starts out with a simple mathematical trick: the Magic Square. You're probably familiar with it, even if you didn't know its name: a three-by-three square with the numbers one through nine placed inside. Now, the numbers have to be arranged so that all three rows, all three columns, and the two diagonals, they all add up to fifteen." Gates ran his fingers through his thinning hair. He was starting to pick up steam, and he didn't want to start rambling, not at the Supreme Court of the United States. He focused himself.

"Now, when Ben Franklin was consulted during the writing of the Constitution, he pointed out a number of Federalist arguments for a number of clauses that hadn't yet been approved. Eventually these became the Bill of Rights, which you of all people are quite familiar with." A tittering of laughter from the audience. Even Justice Thomas, the famed stoic, chuckled a bit.

"Ben Franklin, as we all know, wasn't permitted to write any part of the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, because the Founding Fathers were afraid that he'd do... something funny with it. But they still consulted him when it came to the Bill of Rights, and here's where his genius came into play: he chose the order of the Amendments which became the Bill of Rights-- the first nine, anyway. Have you ever wondered why the right to bear arms is the Second Amendment, and not the Seventh? Or why the Fifth Amendment is the Fifth? Ben Franklin secretly advised Madison on which order to put them in. The Tenth Amendment, by the way, was added long after Franklin's input was solicited.

"So, back to the Magic Square. There's only one combination of numbers that solves the magic square, if you discount mirror images and ninety-degree turns:

8 + 1 + 6
+ * + * +
3 + 5 + 7
+ * + * +
4 + 9 + 2

Gates paused and took a sip of water. Pace yourself, he thought to himself, don't look like a raving lunatic. His parents were sitting in the upper balcony, beaming. Even his father had never testified in front of the Supreme Court. Gates watched as Chief Justice Roberts scratched something on a notepad in front of him. Writing the numbers down, perhaps, making sure everything added up.

"Having... examined an original copy of the Constitution myself," he continued, reminiscing about the time long ago when he'd stolen it from the National Archives, "I noticed something odd about it: there are seven articles of the Constitution, and in each of them-- discounting years mentioned or amounts of money-- there are nine numbers mentioned in the Constitution: Ten, four, thirty-five, two, twenty-five, six, thirty, twenty-one, thirteen. Many of these are obvious: how many states ratified, ages to hold office.

"But!" Gates exclaimed, his mind beginning to race, "each Amendment, respective of its position in the Magic Square, also happens to be long enough to accommodate its respective number in word counts!" Justice Alito frowned, his brow furrowed. "Let me be specific: the Eighth Amendment, first in the Magic Square, has at least ten words. The First Amendment has at least four, et-cet-er-ah, et-cet-er-ah," he said, sharply enunciating those words.

"So what's the answer, Mr. Gates?" Justice Kagan asked.

"I'm glad you asked: sure, you could say that those word counts are coincidence, but! here's the giveaway that it's a code: take the Eighth Amendment. First on the Magic Square, its tenth word the critical one. The tenth word of the Eighth Amendment is eight. letters. long. The First Amendment, second on the Magic Square, it's fourth word is a single letter: "a". If you keep going, you find that each specific word is the same length as the Amendment number it is contained in."

"And what do you get when you find all those letters?" Justice Breyer asked impatiently.

"You get a code: H-A-I-L-K-I-N-G-G, 'Hail King George'." Gates paused to catch his breath. "The American Revolution was a fake. We've been secretly subjects of the United Kingdom all along. History," he said pointedly, "has been a lie. And that woman--" he pointed at Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, who was sitting at the defendant's table-- "she is our actual ruler and sovereign." He turned to her, bowing deeply. "Isn't that right, Your Majesty?"

"Indeed," she replied.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Devil's in Ye, Walter White! -006

I'm participating in a story-a-day challenge from a Reddit writing group. My story is based on this prompt.

Walter found himself in the Rose & Thistle Saloon in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In the distance he faintly heard the blast of a horn as the factory belched black smoke into the air. He had come here to hide from the New Mexico Territorial authorities who had discovered his terrible secret. He paused, then took a seat at the dusty bar. Running a finger through his handlebar mustache, he summoned the barkeep.

"Sarsparilla," he croaked, barely suppressing a cough. The Consumption was catching up to him now. No more bottles of Dr. McCrory's Home-Brew'd Elixir of Health & Vitality remained to keep him alive. He would die soon, far, far away from his family in the territories. This was especially ironic, given that he himself was the fabled "Dr. McCrory" now wanted by the federal marshals.

He took out the last piece of paper, a fountain pen, a vial of ink, and began writing his confession.

He started with the story of how it was he, not Thomas Edison, who had crafted the lightbulb. It was he who had suggested Tungsten as a filament. It was he who said a vacuum must exist inside the bulb. Everything about the light bulb was Walter's idea except the shape itself; but in the end, that was enough for Edison to take credit. The shape's the thing, Edison had retorted just before firing Walter.
Walter went on to describe his situation: a half-breed Indian wife, a son lamed by Rickets growing up in the Lower East Side, a newborn daughter who would never remember him now. How the family had sold everything to live on the Ute Reservation to the northwest of a dinky town named Albuquerque. How he taught sciences on the reservation and repaired wagons for travellers just to be able to feed his family. 
And then he came to Jessie. A former student who'd narrowly avoided arrest for selling snake oil. It was the opportunity Walter needed. He purified the formula: a combination of olive oil, exotic herbs from Italy, but mostly bathtub gin. It was one of a million false cures for every condition under the sun, but Walter made it work. He'd discovered a mould in one sample, but rather than dispose of it, he tested the mould to identify it. And what he'd found astonished him: the mould produced a chemical that killed bacteria. Walter and Jesse had stumbled upon an actual cure to thousands of diseases from Syphillis to infection. 
Production had begun slowly, but soon they'd found themselves in the employ of a dry goods proprietor from South America who secretly controlled much of the snake oil cartel in the Territories. Gustav had given them everything they needed, but Walter couldn't stand for working for another man; he wanted to be the best, and to be the best, he had to eliminate everyone and everything standing in his way. 
First was the vaqueros, all poisoned by Gustav, then Gustav himself, killed by dynamite. Another brilliant chemist, Gale, had to be eliminated as well; Walter had manipulated Jessie into shooting him in a gunfight. Then it was the local Klansmen: they had helped Walter tie up some loose ends, but they'd also killed Walter's brother-in-law, a federal marshal named Henry. Walter dreamed of exacting revenge on them, but now he was stuck here in New Hampshire....
Walter paused. He'd been writing for three hours, and his hand was beginning to cramp. But his confession was complete. He folded the sheet in thirds, then walked back to the bar.

"Another sarsparilla, stranger?" the barkeep asked.
"Please. And could you see that the local police captain receives this letter? Tell him it's from Walter White." The barkeep froze. Everyone knew of the outlaw Walter White, and now here he was. Walter smiled. "I'll wait," he said coolly. The barkeep turned and left the shop, probably in hot pursuit of the nearest patrolman. It would be a while, still, so Walter picked up a newspaper from behind the bar and began to read.

What he saw on the front page chilled him to the bone, then filled him with rage: EDISON PLEDGES $400,000 TO FUND ANTI-SNAKE OIL TREATMENTS. Walter couldn't see beyond the headline, his mind was clouded with rage. Then he had an idea. A wonderful, terrible idea....

Pepperoni Pete -005

I'm participating in a story-a-day challenge from a Reddit writing group. My story is based on this prompt.


The strange thing about him was that he always seemed to be snacking on a pepperoni stick. And, since his name was Pete, it was an instant nickname. So Pepperoni Pete... where do I begin? This kid was covered in a constant sheen of grease, from top to bottom. Besides the pepperoni, he also carried a pocket full of napkins, which he used to wipe his greasy hands and face all the time.

He was otherwise an attractive kid; he smelled like spices and exotic herbs. His grandfather was an import food wholesaler, and Pepperoni Pete worked after school feeding things none of us had heard of into a gigantic mill. So he always smelled... delicious.

We'd have him over for parties quite often; he was really popular, and everyone wanted a piece of him the moment he came through the door. I think he was so popular because he was so versatile: he could be cheesy with the girls, a little bit spicy with the guys, and he even managed to please the vegetarian weirdos. Sometimes he could be a bit thick, but a lot of people liked him like that. A lot of people thought that he had to be complex, a mix of exotic and earthiness all wrapped up in one dish. But to me, though, he was at his best when he was simply Pepperoni Pete.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Flash Fiction: The Moment -004

I'm participating in a story-a-day challenge from a Reddit writing group. My story is based on this prompt.


Although there was nothing, there was a lot of it. Then some god or another popped in accidentally after drinking far too much on another plane of existence. Deciding that He had a throbbing headache and enjoyed the quiet, he went right to sleep, dreaming of whatever gods dream of.

What gods dream of, of course, is creation, and while he slept, he dreamt of a universe so vast that even He, a god, could find a quiet place to take a nap if He so chose, and gods, to be frank, quite often choose to take a nap. He dreamt of a funny little thing called a Human, and He found the Human so hilarious that he made other silly creatures to go with it: Dogs, Cats, Rhinoceri, and the like.

Unfortunately for the Humans, etc., what the god had drunk was a Hel-brew, a foul-smelling intoxicant brewed in the very pits of a dark, evil plane. The first and only ingredient was a large helping of the souls of the damned, tormented until they drowned in their own burning tears. It was quite delicious, very hearty, and had no side effects whatsoever except inebriation and the tremendous guilt one feels in drinking such a potable.

But our sleepy god also suffered from acid reflux, and His full belly began spurting stomach acid into His esophageal tract, causing an unpleasant burning sensation, which in turn caused Him to have bad dreams. And as I mentioned before, than meant that the entire Human experience of existence soon became a nightmare for the duration of His dreaming. The good news is that He is a light sleeper, and is expected to awaken in about 755 trillion years or so.

World of Pawncraft -003

I'm participating in a story-a-day challenge from a Reddit writing group. My story is based on this prompt.


RICK HARRISON: Sometimes we get strange stuff that comes into the store; it's just one of those things that happens when you work on the Vegas strip [laughs]. But even I'd never seen anything quite like this guy.

[INTERIOR: Gold & Silver Pawn Shop]

RICK: Hey, what can I help you with today?

MAURG THE DESTROYER: I have many goods that I wish to sell. I need gold pieces to purchase a weapon that will destroy the dark lich Chellios!

RICK: Okay... ummm, let's see what you've got.

MAURG: This is a double-headed +5 flaming vorpal axe of justice, crafted in the heart of a Dwarven mountain and weaved with Elvish spells. It has seen more war and blood than any creature living, and it is said that the possessor of this weapon will never fall in battle.

RICK: Okay... well... you were right about it having seen a lot of battles: it's in terrible shape. If you look here, you can see where the axehandle leather is starting to fray and come unwound. I don't know about any Elvish spells... and it looks like the steel is starting to rust and pit at the edges.

MAURG: Because I have slain many demons and hewn many heads with it!

RICK: But did you clean the weapon after you did that?

MAURG: ...

RICK: And... I mean, to be honest, it really doesn't matter how many demons or Dwarves you've slain with it--

MAURG: I have slain not one of the Dwarven race! They are my allies in my quest to rid Darkmount of evil!

RICK: Okay, but no one on this plane of existence knows who you are, so... I mean, it really doesn't make a difference in the price.

MAURG: But it is a flaming axe! Observe the magic within! [IGNITES AXE]

RICK: You know every time you do that it knocks about $50 off the price, right?


RICK: [NARRATING] I don't know that many people who would be interested in a flaming vorpal axe, but if it looks like I can get a good price for it, I may even be able to attract a new market to the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop. That's always good for the bottom line.

RICK: I tell you what, how much are you looking to get?

MAURG: I paid 5,000,000 Gold Pieces for this from an ancient Dwarven Temple. Give me 2,500,000.

RICK: [SIGHS] I really don't know what something like this is worth; two-and-a-half million sounds a bit high. Listen, I got a buddy who knows everything about extraplanar weapons, let me give him a call, and we'll see what he says, okay?


SKAGGOR GIMBLEGLOVES OF WESTFORDSHIRE: My name is Skaggor Gimblegloves, I own and operate the Magick Shoppe on the interplanar vortex in Westfordshire, and whenever Rick gets something that originated on another plane, I'm the one he calls.


RICK: Hey, Skaggor, how's it been?

SKAGGOR: Good, good. So, what do you have for me today?

RICK: Well, the customer says that it's a flaming axe of justice--

MAURG:  a double-headed +5 flaming vorpal axe of justice!

RICK: Right, and I was hoping that you could kind of give it a look, tell me what it's worth.

SKAGGOR: Sure. [EXAMINES AXE] Well, I do have some bad news: it seems that there were definitely a number of Elvish spells wound into this axe, but I'm afraid only a few are left. The spells of protection and blessing have definitely expired.

MAURG: I was not aware of that when I last used it to slice a Goblin in half.

SKAGGOR: It's definitely Dwarven craft, and good work at that. Probably made in Darkmount according to the maker's mark here.

RICK: So... it's legit?

SKAGGOR: [PAUSE FOR COMMERCIAL] Yeah, totally legit. Even in the shape it's in, it's a good piece.

MAURG: As I've been telling you all along.

RICK: So, what do you think it's worth?

SKAGGOR: I'd say... 3 million gold.

RICK: [NARRATING] Wow, this piece must really be something special. I'm really interested in it now, but I gotta play it cool, and hope that it doesn't walk out the door.

RICK: Alright, you heard what the Gnome said. How much do you want for it?

MAURG: He said 3 million...

RICK: Yeah, but look: I'll be lucky if I get 2 million out of it, and I have to pay to list it at auction, it's going to sit and take up space for a long time.... I think 1.75 million is a good price.

MAURG: I understand that you have costs, but there is truly no weapon like this in the world. It is designed to remove any enemy's head from his shoulders with the flick of a wrist.

RICK: Really?! Hey Chumlee, come here for a second!

CHUMLEE: Hey, what's up, Rick?

RICK: Stand right there for a second [DECAPITATES CHUMLEE WITH THE AXE]. Okay, I'm convinced.  How's 2.2 million sound?

MAURG: I will accept that offer.

RICK: Great, we have a deal [SHAKES MAURG'S HAND]. Let me get this mess cleaned up, and we'll go do some paperwork.

A Snowflake in Norway... -002

I'm participating in a story-a-day challenge from a Reddit writing group. My story is based on this prompt.


Allison didn't know it, but the most fateful event that day in Oslo wasn't the sightseeing, nor was it the time spent with her new husband on her honeymoon. She was sitting on the veranda of a coffee shop, browsing through pictures she had taken the day before. John was inside, attempting to order in the broken Norwegian his grandfather had tried teaching him years ago. As she waited, she noticed that the temperature had fallen significantly in the last half hour.

On his way home from a long day of delivering produce, Emil received a phone call from his very pregnant sister, Fatima. She'd begun having contractions, and although she stressed that there was no need to hurry, Emil gunned the engine of his Volkswagen Jetta and began speeding through the rural farmlands of Central Turkey.

Jin-Ho Park watched the sun setting over the Demilitarized Zone along the 38th Parallel between North and South Korea. He was chosen to be a guard at the Joint Security Area-- a compound straddling the DMZ which was built to allow North Korean and South Korean diplomats to meet on (technically) neutral ground-- because he was six feet tall. His superiors wanted him to tower over his South Korean counterparts; due to years of widespread famine and malnutrition, North Koreans on average were four inches shorter than South Koreans, and it was something that the diminutive Kim Jong-Il had been sensitive about. For years, Jin-Ho had stood opposite a number of young South Korean soldiers, studying them intently. But something was different today, and he wasn't sure what it was; everything just seemed... off.

Bao Li was trying to stay awake as he watched the Chinese Military satellite feed. Right about now, Harmony One would be somewhere over the Middle East, programmed to detect heat signatures from known NATO and American missile sites.

Finally, John set Allison's espresso in front of her. As the two of them discussed the places they'd go and the distant relatives they'd visit, a single snowflake drifted down from the overcast skies over Oslo, landing in Allison's drink. She furrowed her brow upon seeing this interloping precipitation, then pulled her coat tightly around her shoulders.

"Are there any seats inside?" she asked. John craned his neck for a moment, then stood up.

"There's a table in the corner; let's grab it." They stood up, grabbing their drinks and their other belongings. Unbeknownst to Allison, as she scooped up her purse, he iPhone tumbled to the ground, landing just under the table.

Francois hated his job. He was a French soldier, stationed with NATO troops in Turkey, babysitting air-to-air missiles which kept a close watch on the southern skies. Originally, the fears had been of an Iranian attack on NATO troops, which had precipitated the placement of these missiles in the first place.  But then some intrepid journalist had noticed that the Iranian state-run media had photoshopped those "leaked" photos of Iran's suprise long-range missile test; now the missiles were pointed at nothing more specific than "south".

Cenk had just spotted an empty table in the corner of the cafe when a young African couple sat down. No, probably black Americans, he thought. He scanned the cafe for another table, but the only open one was outside. Making his way out there, he was just about to take a seat when he saw something white and squarish on the ground. Bending over, he picked it up and held it for a moment, not believing his luck.

The last of his counterparts had only arrived a week or so prior, Jin-Ho realized, and as they stared at each other across 75 meters of open courtyard, he suddenly saw what it was that had been bothering him: this soldier-- no, all the South Koreans-- were more muscular, more fluid in their motions. Jin-Ho's father had been a Taekwando olympian for North Korea in the 1980's; these soldiers weren't draftees like the others, they were built like his father was at his prime.

Cenk walked as quickly as he could through the narrow alleyways toward his cousin's house, the iPhone planted firmly in his pocket. His sister, Fatima, was due to give birth any day now back in Turkey, and he had promised to send money to her for the baby. Until now, he had worked a few odd jobs here and there, but an illegal Turk in Norway was unlikely to find something permanent, and everything he'd earned had gone just to housing and feeding himself. But now.... He knew a man, another Turk, who would buy this from him, and would offer a fair price at that. First, though, he would call Fatima to see if she'd had the child yet. He hoped that if it were a son, perhaps she and Emil might name it after him.  He dialed her number from memory, hoping that she'd understand why he hadn't sent any money yet.

"Have you seen my phone?" Allison asked John as they left the cafe.

Francois was patrolling the perimeter fence that ran alongside the highway, watching the traffic as it raced past. Turkish drivers, he reflected, were just as crazy here as they were in Lyons.

Jin-Ho heard the commotion before he saw the general. A high-ranking official and Party Vice-Chair, Jin-Ho recognized him from previous inspections of the facility. Jin-Ho was too disciplined to turn and watch him as he lorded about; instead, his focus was still on the South Koreans across the yard. They seem awfully tense, he thought. The general stopped about 10 yards to Jin-Ho's right, just in his peripheral vision. The general chased his entourage away with a wave of his hand and walked up to Jin-Ho. Nervous, Jin-Ho snapped to attention as the general asked him a few rudimentary questions; he was so short that Jin-Ho towered over him. And as he looked down at the general, he saw something odd: the general was wearing running shoes, painted to look like dress shoes.

Emil was already passing the other cars on the highway at a furious speed when the phone rang again. Without looking, he reached over, but the damned thing fell into the gap between the passenger seat and the door. Emil wrenched himself over to retrieve it, and as he sat back up, he suddenly found that he was headed right towards the fence of the military base.

Francois was watching a pair of NATO soldiers attempting to change a tire on a jet fuel truck when he heard a number of cars honking and swerving. He saw the grocery truck driving the wrong way, straight toward the 

Bao sat up straight suddenly. It looked too cold to be a missile launch, but he wasn't certain. Rocket fuel burned at a certain temperature when it mixed, but then, a lot of other substances burned in that temperature range as well. Still, it was his duty to log the incident for the Chinese intelligence agencies to investigate. He did that quickly, then he turned on his stashed cell phone and dialed, informing his handler in Pyongyang, North Korea, about the suspected launch.

Jin-Ho watched as the general slowly meandered about the courtyard, almost imperceptibly drifting closer and closer toward the other side. The South Koreans didn't seem nervous about such a high-ranking official getting too close; Jin-Ho thought that they seemed too uninterested, actually. And that was when he realized what was happening: the general was defecting. It must have been planned out: the South Koreans were anticipating this, and had probably planned it out. Jin-Ho didn't have a rifle-- firearms were outlawed at the DMZ-- but there was a secret stash, of course, and the South Koreans were known to keep one as well (both stashes being as close as allowed by the armistice without technically violating it).

Cenk stared at the phone for a moment. It had rung four or five times, then cut off.  Oh well, he thought as he stepped into the trader's shop.

Jin-Ho instinctively bolted as soon as the general began making a run for it. He was fifteen or twenty yards behind, but he was taller and younger, and he tackled the general just before he could cross the painted line that divided the nations. The two men struggled, and in the melee, the general managed to wiggle to the point that he reached a hand across the line. That was all the South Koreans needed; a dozen of the Special Forces soldiers joined the fight, followed by the North Koreans. Batons were pulled, and Jin-Ho found himself engaged with three South Koreans. And that's when someone pulled a handgun. Jin-Ho felt a bullet rip through his chest. Just before he blacked out, he saw the general's head explode in a shower of blood and brains.

Kim Jong-Un was woken from a very good dream in which he was playing golf with his father again. He liked golf; he didn't really like being Supreme Leader. He angrily picked up the offending phone, a hotline from the intelligence services. He listened impatiently as they wove a story about missile launches in Turkey and a firefight on the DMZ. Irritated, he simply barked, "well launch something!" and rolled over to go back to sleep.

And that's how a snowflake led to the nuclear holocaust that killed 5.2 billion people.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Village Called Defiance -001

I'm participating in a story-a-day challenge from a Reddit writing group. My first story is based on this prompt.


We called ourselves Defiance because we were so certain that we could hold out until God's Kingdom arrived. We'd heard the trumpet call of the Devil-- the roar of artillery, the constant clatter of machine guns, the dying cries of thousands of men-- but we still hadn't convinced the Elders that what we young men had seen and heard was indeed the work of the Devil himself. It wasn't until Josef came back, every breath sounding like a wet gasp, that we learned of the very smokes of Hell. You call it mustard gas or chlorine gas; we know it to be an evil unleashed upon the Earth.

Josef spoke of thousands of soldiers choking to death in seconds because he turned a knob on a steel canister. He told us that they literally drowned in the liquified remains of their lungs, gasping for air, burning on the insides. He told us how the winds changed one morning, how he barely crawled out of the trench where that toxic green cloud settled. About the months in the infirmary.

It was because of Josef's story that we took the name Defiance, and thanked God for seeing fit to give us the perfect place to hide. Defiance, a walled village on a small island in a tiny lake in the inhospitable heights of the Carpathian Mountains; what better place, save perhaps the deepest jungles of Belgian Afrika or Borneo, could He have made to seal ourselves off from the dying Human race?

It was easier than even we had suspected. The Elders went out into the world and hid us from prying eyes. Corrupt government lackeys, easily bribed, erased us from the official maps. Census workers spread the news that Defiance was no more, abandoned. The lone mountain road that led to Defiance was torn up, soon covered in thick-growing mosses and grass. The ferry was sunk after one last trip, returning the Elders to us; with no other villages for miles, we were finally alone. We thought we had beaten the Devil.

It was on Century Day that we learned how foolish we had been. 1 January 2017 by your calendars. One-hundred years to the day that we'd locked ourselves away from the world. It was a celebration of our prosperity and good fortune. You say that we are anachronisms, forever trapped in a world without modern medicines and technology, without money, even. But we are happy and fulfilled. Our lives may be short, but we are all the more joyful for it. But we became prideful.

Young Nicholai, a newborn babe when the gates were closed, turned 100 on Century Day, and the entire village (many of whom were now related to him in some distant way) came out to celebrate his life. He told us stories of the first years, of how Defiance had learned from Joseph's interpretation of Pharaoh's dream and stored away food during the fat years so that no one starved during the lean. How the land was divided and given to the people of the village to do with what they chose. How labour-hours replaced money as the means of payment. It was only fitting, then, that he proved to be our downfall.

It was during the Century Feast that the man was first spotted. He was coming up the old road, now so overgrown as to be nearly indistinguishable from the sparse forests on the mountainside. He wasn't the first, of course; others had dared the mountains and had even spotted our settlements. But none had been curious enough to come across the narrow strip of lake that separated us from the world. This man, however, was not to be dissuaded. He carried with him the instrument of our downfall, a small black device the size of a sheet of paper. He touched it constantly, which we found curious, but never wrote on it with pen or quill. Instead, he simply headed back down the path. Many of us ignored the man, but I felt uneasy.

He returned the next day, followed by two other men carrying a light boat (a canoe, you call it). The men rowed toward us, and stepped out onto the shore. He had that black device in his hand, and on the front of it, shining in the sun like a mirror, was a map of the lake and the surrounding forests. Strangely, whenever he touched it, it appeared to shift, growing larger and smaller or moving under his fingers. I was enchanted with this device already, as were many of the villagers. He touched the screen with his fingers and made boxes of words appear, even a typewriter's keys with which he wrote!

"Is there a Nicholai Romanescu here?" he asked, finally speaking. He touched the device again. "I'm here as an agent of the Government of Romania." His words were strange to us; we understood them, but it was as if he was speaking a strange dialect. It was then that I realised how much we had grown apart from the world in a century; our language had evolved in different directions, it seemed. That's when the revelation struck me: the world hadn't ended, we had sealed ourselves away for nothing.

"I am Nicholai," the old man said, tenatively raising his hand.

"Good," the man said as he withdrew a piece of paper bearing a wax seal I didn't recognise. "On behalf of President Crin Antonescu and the proud people of Romania, congratulations on reaching the hale age of One Hundred." He handed over the paper then wiped his brow. "You know, I had a hell of a time finding this place; it wasn't on any of the post-war maps, the Communists hadn't marked it, either, and even before then, there was nothing. Hell, I had to go back to the archives of the Principalities to find a map that had this village on it." As he said that, he touched his device a few times, and it transformed into an ancient map. "We probably never would have found it if you hadn't turned 100; we'd just digitised our archives, and you're one of the first that popped up automatically upon reaching that age. Here," he said, handing the device to one of the children to hold for him. He shook Nicholai's hand, took back his device (with some resistance), and left us.

More men came, more than we'd ever seen in generations. Some came with wires to connect telephones for us, others came to photograph us with strange cameras that bore no film. Great machines like the tanks of the war dug out a new road, carved so smoothly that we thought nothing would grow there again. Strange cars came to the other side of the lake, and people in bizarre fashions would come just to look at us. A historian rented a house so that she could teach us of the history we had slept through.

But most importantly, the Devil came to Defiance. I had thought that he would return to Earth dragging pestilence, death, famine, suffering, greed, wrath, and hatred behind him. And from what I've learned, that still exists in this world today. No, he came to us as temptation, as a device which pulled information from the very air we breathe, which promised us instant connections all around the globe. Such a temptation was too much for the people of Defiance. Most have moved on to the world outside, and only a handful of us remain. There are no more children; Defiance is a dead village.