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Link Posted: 3/28/2020 1:40:03 PM EDT
Wow. Good chapter. Thank you.
Link Posted: 3/28/2020 3:11:37 PM EDT
Need mooooooore!

Link Posted: 3/29/2020 10:13:33 AM EDT
Thanks for the update. Got anymore of those?
Link Posted: 4/6/2020 12:49:13 PM EDT
Link Posted: 4/8/2020 3:38:18 AM EDT
Chapter 38

Livin on the road my friend, was gonna keep you free and clean
Now you wear your skin like iron
Your breath as hard as kerosene

Pancho and Lefty, written by Townes Van Zandt

Colt stood tall and proud, with his rifle slung across his chest, and all around him, the ruined fortress of the Pale smoldered.  Soot, blood, sweat, and smeared camouflage paint stained his face.  Columns of smoke twisted upward from the destroyed houses and outbuildings.  Here and there, small grass fires still burned.  And all around lay the bodies.  Shot and shattered and blown apart, dead Pale lay everywhere.  The sun had barely risen and already swarms of black flies buzzed about the compound.  Scattered between the bodies was spent brass.  In some places, like around the Quad-Fifty, it stood in mountains.

There were live bodies too.  Colt's team rescued the enslaved women from their subterranean dungeon.  They'd rescued the captive children too.  True to his boast, Doc revived the drowned child through a combination of good CPR and a greater miracle.  Now the rescued women and children huddled together and awaited their uncertain future.  There were captive Pale too. Corralled and under guard, they did not speak.

Beside Colt stood Eldra.  No longer flirtatious and coy, she now burned with anger.

"This wasn't our deal.  This isn't what I asked for," Eldra said.

"You wanted us to free your hostage.  We freed your hostage, and these Pale won't be taking any more of your people hostage ever again."

Eldra surveyed the damage.  She rolled her big, bedroom eyes and shook her head.

"You've saddled me with a humanitarian crisis.  I wanted my hostage freed. Mine.  Not all these others."  She gestured towards the freed captives, each finger tipped with blood-red polish.  "What am I supposed to do with them?  I know you aren't going to take them."

Colt chewed on a blade of grass, spat, and said, "I expect you'll take them in.  That or outfit them and send them on the road again.  Although, I doubt they'll last long on the road.  Not in their current condition."

"No, they won't," Eldra said with a heavy dose of venom.  "They've all been raped to insanity and drugged out of their minds.  The kids too, probably.  What the hell am I going to do with a whole gang of drugged-out basket cases?  The merciful thing would be to shoot them all now and put them out of their misery.

"I wouldn't do that," Colt said.

"Oh no? Is it like that now? You're calling all the shots?"

"I'm calling this one," Colt said.  "I don't like the idea of tolerating evil, and given that I'm a Spartan Knight, with a whole team of Spartan Knights, I don't have to tolerate it.  We sure didn't tolerate it from these Pale."

Eldra looked around the compound at all of this young Spartan's companions.  The old one and the one with one arm lazed beside the machine gun trailer.  They stood there just a touch too lazily.  The medic was on another side of the compound.  He was shaving, but he was keeping one eye on Eldra and her men.  The big one stood beside the rescued women.  He held one of her Lewis Guns at the low ready.  Nicky-Lee guarded the prisoners, and the short and dirty one she couldn't find at all.  All were spread out all over the compound.  All of them eyed Eldra and her guards warily.  Even Cora, her hair mussed and sweaty, eyed Eldra with caution.  Eldra was no dummy.  She saw this wasn't a fight she wanted.

"What the hell am I going to do with these refugees?"

"You're looking at this the wrong way.  The Pale are gone.  You own these mountains now.  And you own a working hydroelectric dam and a machine shop.  And now those machine guns too.  Before the summer is over, you can be running everything from here to Lake Tahoe.  In two years, you can be Queen of the entire Central Valley."

"I don't want to be Queen of the Central Valley.  That's how you get noticed by New Sparta, speaking of which, I want you all out of here.  If they notice you here, then they'll notice me, and I don't need that."

"We're ready to go when you are."

"The trucks are on their way down," Eldra said.  She pointed at the prisoners.  "Does your heart bleed for them too?"

"They're rapists and child murders.  They get what they get."

"Be ready to go in five minutes," Eldra said.  With that, she stalked off towards the prisoners.  Some of her people fell in behind her.  As she left, Lefranc ambled over to Colt.

"She seemed a bit less flirtatious than normal."

"She's miffed because she's getting saddled with all the refugees from the tunnels."

"Boo-hoo," Lefranc said.  He winced, grunted, and sat down on a nearby pile of firewood.  Colt could imagine the sound of the older man's joints creaking.

"You did the right thing, killing all these Pale fucktards.  Now she can do the right thing and help clean up the mess.  Hell, we just gave her the hostage plus the whole damn mountain to boot."

"I'm just glad she didn't try and double-cross us."

"Not yet, anyway.  I've got Robins pulling all the drive springs outta those fifties just to be safe.  We can hand them over when we're safe in this Jefferson place.  Hopefully, he can manage with one hand."

"I'm sure he can manage," Colt replied.  "You should have seen him in the house with that sub-gun of his. He wiped out a whole squad by himself."

"Having one arm doesn't seem to slow him down," Lefranc said.  "You ever wonder why the Crown Prince tagged him along on this lashup?"

"I did,"  Colt said.  "But I don't anymore.  He's here, and he's proven himself, several times over."

Lefranc looked over to where Cora sat, alone with her rifles.  She looked downcast.

"What's with you and Brown-Eyed Girl over there?"

Colt sat down next to Lefranc on the woodpile and said, "She wasn't completely honest with me."

"Some girl you just met out here in the Apocalypse, where it is all murder and rape and every man for themselves, she wasn't honest with you. Huh. You don't say."

Colt pointed up at the Pale's golem.  It was the only thing in the compound that made it through the battle unscathed.  "She knew what they did at their little ceremonies.  She knew they were going to murder all those kids, and she knew when we saw it, we'd tear this place apart."

"Well, good for her," Lefranc said.  Colt shot him a look.  Lefranc went on.

"We're just tourists.  She lives out here.  If anybody had a right to destroy these slavers, she did.  We were the only chance she was going to get for that.  Good for her for getting them all killed off, even if she did use us."

"I got no problem killing who needs to be killed.  I just don't like being duped into it.  I also don't like the fact that she put all you at risk as part of her power play."

Lefranc clapped Colt on the shoulder.  "Stop with the moral outrage.  We're all in this as much as you are."

Colt nodded, then looked up at the face of the Pale's golem.  He thought it looked like the carved faces of Easter Island.  "What do you suppose that was all about."

Lefranc shrugged.  "Who knows.  Something dumb.  It doesn't matter now, I guess."  The old sniper turned, looked over his shoulder, then spun his head back around and said, "It looks like you aren't the only one with girl troubles."

Ajax approached them tentatively, his face flushed bright red.  The source of his embarrassment was clear.  A woman, one that they'd pulled out of the tunnels, followed just one step behind him.  The moment she'd been set free, she latched onto the big machine gunner and followed him like a shadow.  He couldn't shake her or shoo her away, even though he tried.  Whenever Ajax stopped, she reached out and tried to take hold of his free hand, a move the big man clearly was not comfortable with.

What made the scene even more amusing was that this girl was almost as big as Ajax.  She stood well over six feet tall, and even though undernourished, she was still broad at the shoulders and the hips.  Blonde hair, dirty and knotted, hung halfway down her back.

"She picked the biggest one of us and claimed him as her own," Lefranc said in a whisper.

"She must have gone through hell down in those tunnels," Colt whispered. backs.  "It was medieval down there.  Can't say I'd blame her for wanting a protector."

"A girl that big shouldn't need a protector," Lefranc said.  "If we had another machine gun, I'd let her carry it."

Ajax stopped a few feet from Colt and Lefranc.  His face was candy apple red.  When he stopped, the girl stopped too.  She reached out and took hold of Ajax's hand.  The big man jumped at her touch and brushed her hand away.

"You two go together like peas and carrots," Lefranc said with a grin.

"She won't leave me alone," Ajax said.  "She's been following me around like a puppy dog all morning."

"Does she have a name?" Colt asked.

Ajax looked at the girl.  "She doesn't speak," he said apologetically.  "Not so much as a word."

"Probably too traumatized," Colt said.

"Well, what do I do?" Ajax pleaded.  "She won't leave me alone."

Colt and Lefranc looked at each other.  The older man shrugged.

"Well," Colt began.  "I can only imagine what she's been through.  They kept her locked up in a no-shit dungeon for who knows how long.  If you make her feel safe, and if she wants to follow you around, why not.  After all she's been through, maybe she deserves to feel safe, at least for a little while."

"How safe can she be with us?" Ajax asked.

"She'll be safer with us than any other creature on earth," Lefranc offered.

Ajax looked left, then right, then leaned in towards the others conspiratorially.  The big man seemed to try to make himself smaller, as if he was embarrassed to ask the next question.  That, plus the big man's bright red flush, made Ajax look ridiculous.

"But if they find out I'm fraternizing with a Gomorrah woman, I'll be in real trouble."

"What?" Lefranc asked.

"Back in New Sparta.  Fraternizing with Gomorrah women is against regulations.  If they find out about it back in the Emerald City, I could get in real trouble."

Lefranc snorted out a laugh.  Colt smiled.  

"Ajax, don't worry.  I think we're way beyond that now."


"You'll be alright, big man," Lefranc said.  "Why don't you help Robins with the fifties.  Take your friend with you."

As Ajax departed, Christian approached.  He held a dirty pillowcase full of loot, and his uniform was in tatters.  Part of his collar had ripped free and fluttered at his neck.  He'd worn a hole in each trouser knee, and the crotch was ripped out. The seat of his pants hung in a flap.  But as always, he was in good spirits. Beneath the layers of dirt and soot on his face, he had the same foolish grin.

He looked from Ajax and his new companion to his leadership, then to the other freed women, then back to his command again.  He grinned, then jerked his thumb in the direction of the liberated women.

"Hey, so does this mean we can pick out…"

"No, it does not," Lefranc said curtly, cutting him off.  "So, don't even ask."

"Shit, man.  No fair.  Big Boy got to rock the Quad-Fifty, and now he gets the girl too."

"He's not getting anything, so knock it off."

Christian shrugged, grinned, then opened the pillowcase up to reveal a bevy of pistols, knives, jewelry, ammunition, and other loot.

"I figured I'd grab the best stuff before Witchy-Witch and her people got down here and took it all.  I imagine we aren't taking the Quad-Fifty with us?"

"It’s a little big."

"That's a shame," Christian said.  "I never even got to fire it."  He rummaged through his pillowcase, then came up with a few pistol magazines and some thick, squat cartridges.

"Here you go, Master Guns.  Some reloads for your pistol."

"Thanks," Lefranc said, taking the gear.  "Most of the pistols you have look like shit.  But we'll take every round we can get."

"No shit," Christian said.  "Ajax is outta machine gun ammo.  We've got no grenades left and no rockets.  Just a handful of carbine ammo between the lot of us.

"Got something special for you too, boss."  Christian reached into the pillowcase and pulled out a war hammer with a spiked head.  "I found this sticking outta some guy's skull.  I'm guessing that was your handy work."

"Yeah," Colt said, remembering.  "Guy tried to go hand-to-hand on me with it."

Christian offered the hammer to Colt.  Colt looked at the dirty grenadier like he was crazy.

"What am I going to do with this?" Colt asked.  He took the hammer but eyed it skeptically.

"You're gonna bash people with it, of course."

"I can't imagine needing to bash so many people that I'd have to carry a hammer around.  You keep it," Colt said, passing the hammer back.  

Christian held his hands up in refusal.  "I'm not the offspring of The Hammer, you are.  Keep it.  It will enhance your post-apocalypse warlord persona."

"I neither need nor want a persona,"  Colt said.  He took a practice swing with the hammer. It was well balanced, and the heft of it felt good.  Still.  "It feels like I'm holding a swagger stick.  I hate swagger sticks."

"Quit being difficult," Christian said.  "It makes you look like a bad-ass.  Like Alexander walking around with that black arrow.  Plus, you beat somebody with it, you'll feel really good."

"Alright," Colt said grudgingly. "I'll hang onto it for now."

"We'll be heading out soon.  See if you can scrounge up some food," Lefranc said to Christian.  He nodded and took off.  Once the little man was out of earshot, Lefranc turned to Colt.

"You did good, Sir.  You did real good."

Colt smiled.  "Thanks, Master Guns."

Two trucks pulled into the compound through the smashed gate.  They threw up dust when they stopped.  Tailgates dropped, and soon Colt and his companions loaded into the back with all their gear.

Before they left, Robins pointed at the golem with his one hand.  "Check it out," he said.

Two of Eldra's largest guards carried John Pale to the foot of his golem.  His legs, shattered by Christian's grenade, dragged along uselessly along the ground.  They all watched as the guards chained the Pale Chieftain to the base of his monolith.  That done, red fuel cans came out.  John Pale screamed and pleaded for mercy as he and the golem he sacrificed innumerable children to, were doused in fuel.  Then Eldra came out.

Her cape fluttering behind her, Eldra drew out a road flare.  She struck its red end alight, let it burn for a few moments, then she tossed it onto the golem.  John Pale, slaver, rapist, kidnapper, torturer, and the murderer of children, wailed.  He wailed until he stopped, and the flames climbed up and devoured the golem.

Eldra marched back to the truck, her hair and cape tossed by the wind.  Her formerly coquettish demeanor now stern.  She took one look into the back of the truck, locked eyes with Colt, and said, "Time to go."  Cora, rifle in hand, swung into the cab of another truck and slammed its rusty door shut.

The trucks drove back out the gate.  From the beds, Colt as his companions watched the golem burn out of existence.


Inside the command center back in the Emerald City, Lions watched the two trucks leave the compound and head deeper into the mountains.

"Sir," an operations clerk interrupted.  "The drone is bingo for fuel.  If it doesn't head back to refuel now, we're going to lose that one too."

"We have anything else on station?" Lions asked.  His voice was mechanical.  His eyes never left the video display.

"We have more inbound, but there would be a gap in coverage."

"We'll sacrifice this one too," Lions said.  He didn't know whose fortress now burned on the big screen.  What he did know was that with nothing more than a reinforced fireteam, The Colonel's kid flattened the compound and destroyed all resistance in a matter of minutes.

"When will we have that Morning Star available?"  Lions asked.  His eyes didn't waver from the screen.

"A few more hours," the clerk answered.  Lions only nodded in reply.  Greylick was pushing to get a Morning Star on station and operational.  Lions heard that the resupply mission had hit some snags, that they'd lost an astronaut.  He didn't know if that was true, but he didn't need to know.  That was Greylick's business.  Chief Marshal Gorman's agenda was his.  Sacrifices would be required from everybody.

"Stay on them," Lions ordered.  "Let's see where they go."

He had a wild idea of where they were going.  He wanted to be sure.
Link Posted: 4/8/2020 9:39:52 AM EDT
Thanks for another update.
Link Posted: 4/8/2020 8:08:47 PM EDT
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Originally Posted By greyguy:
Thanks for another update.
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Thanks for the update.
Link Posted: 4/8/2020 8:12:39 PM EDT
Link Posted: 4/9/2020 12:06:07 AM EDT
Thanks for the update. I check the thread every day hoping for more.  Much appreciated
Link Posted: 4/9/2020 9:27:53 AM EDT
Thank you. On the one hand, I hope there’s a reckoning soon. On the other hand, maybe that’s in the third book....?
Link Posted: 4/9/2020 4:16:49 PM EDT
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Originally Posted By Vaquero:
Thank you. On the one hand, I hope there's a reckoning soon. On the other hand, maybe that's in the third book....?
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My thoughts exactly!
Link Posted: 4/15/2020 3:56:13 AM EDT
Chapter 38 Part II

The trucks bounced along dirt roads, taking Colt's team deeper into the mountains.  Nobody said anything for the first few miles.  Then, Christian spoke up.

Looking at Robins, Christian said, "I think it's time you got a call sign."

"I do not need a call sign," Robins responded.  "I have a name."

"Yeah, but Robins sounds kinda, meh."  Christian raised one hand up flat, then gently rocked it from side to side.  "Like, you just wiped out a whole squad.  You need a solid handle.  You know, to reinforce your bad-assed-ness.  Robins makes me think of Robin, like Batman's sidekick, wearing tights and opera masks and shit.  That ain't you."

"I don't need a call sign," Robins said.

"He totally needs a call sign," Doc said, his tone flat, his face displaying no amusement.  The truck hit a bump, and they all shot two inches up out of their seats before slamming down again.

"I'm thinking," Christian made a flourish with his hands, "Reno."

"I like Reno," Ajax said.  His mute, hanger-on sat next to him.

"I like Reno.  Reno's good.  One of the Hong Kong Cavaliers was named Reno," Nicky-Lee added.

"Who the hell are they?" Lefranc asked, not actually wanting or expecting an answer.

"Why Reno," Robins asked?

"Simple.  You've got one arm.  Back in the Pre-Protest days, gambling machines were called 'One-Armed Bandits.  Now, in the once was United States, you could only find these One-Armed Bandit gambling machines in one city.  Just one city.  And that city was, Reno.  Therefore, you are Reno."

Robins scrunched up his face and said, "That doesn't make any sense."

"By the laws of call-signs, it makes perfect sense," Doc said.

"Easy for you to say," Robins replied.  "You're a medic.  Your call-sign is Doc.  That makes sense.  Gentle giant over there is ten feet tall and would eat a live horse if he could find one.  Ajax makes sense.  But Reno?  Reno doesn't make sense."

"You don't like Reno?"  Lefranc asked.

"I don't."

Lefranc smiled, the many lines at his eyes showing.  "It's settled then.  You're Reno from now on."

"If you like your call-sign, it isn't a good one," Doc added.  Reno, once Robins, rolled his eyes.

The trucks pulled into an open field.  The ground was flat and level and covered with a stubble of short green grass.  At one end of the field sat an old airplane.  A very old airplane.  It sported a propeller on each wing, and not the tiltrotor types of the Spartan Griffins.  The fuselage also wasn't sleek, but instead dotted with several raised organic-looking bumps.  Some of Eldra's people scrambled around it, prepping it for flight.  The trucks stopped, and everybody clambered out with their gear.

"What the hell is that?" Doc asked.

"That,"  Robins answered.  "Is a Douglas C-47 Dakota transport plane."

"A what?"  Doc asked.

"How old is it?" Lefranc asked.

"Older than you," Robins answered. "Looks like it has been modified too."  He walked over to the aircraft and ran a hand down the fuselage appreciatively.  "I don't recall them being painted flat black, or the fuselage having these, blister looking things."

"That is stealth technology, my dear.  The paint absorbs both radar and lidar, and the bumps are electronic countermeasures pods.  As you are an aficionado, you've no doubt noticed that we've elongated the mufflers and redesigned the tips of the propellers.  Altogether they make this plane both invisible and silent."

All heads turned.  Eldra exited the truck's cab with a flourish.  Her thick red hair and the tails of her long leather duster tossed out behind her.  Her flirtatious manner had returned.  She walked past Ajax and scratched the back of his neck with her long red nails.  The big man flushed beat red at her touch.  In her other hand, Eldra held a pair of elbow-length leather gloves.  When she walked past Reno, she swung the gloves like a whip and struck him on the ass, making him jump a foot and yelp.

"It is also easy to maintain and big enough to get all of you to Jefferson in one trip."

"That's not a plane.  That's an antique."  Doc said.  "Where did you get this thing?"

Eldra's red lips curled into a sly smile.  "It used to belong to a guy named Paul Allen."

"Who's Paul Allen," Christian asked.  A smear of chew spittle hung off his lower lip.

"Somebody with an affection for… "  Eldra stopped in front of Lefranc, looked him up and down, then smoothed out his collar with her manicured hands.  "Somebody with an affection for vintage war horses."  She winked once at the old man, then spin away.

"In any event, it will get you out of here."

"How sure are you of this stealth tech?" Colt asked.

"Dear boy, you are the first Spartans to have ever laid eyes upon this work of art."

"Yeah, but what about the plane?" Nicky-Lee asked.  Eldra gave him a wink.

"Are you the pilot?" Colt asked.

"Of course, silly boy.  Now shut up and get in."

Eldra climbed into the plane without looking back.  Colt looked at Doc, who shrugged and followed Eldra inside.  The others grabbed their gear and climbed up the gangway: Lefranc, Nicky-Lee, Ajax, and his new friend.  Before Colt could take his turn, Cora cut in front of him, rifle slung over her back.

"You're coming too?" Colt asked.

"Of course.  I'm the copilot," Cora said.  She paused, looked at Colt, and gave him a brief but sincere smile.  Then she too disappeared into the aircraft.

Resigned, Colt climbed aboard.

Minutes later, the old C-47 took flight.  Staying low to the ground, it vectored west-northwest towards Jefferson.


"I knew it,"  Lions said to nobody in particular. All around him, operational planners in their distinct black uniforms buzzed and hummed, busy as bees in a hive.

"Colonel," one of the planners began. "We're tracking this aircraft optically, but the drone's sensors are picking it up at all.  We think that paint must be some kind of stealth technology."

Colonel Lions answered the clerk with a noncommittal grunt.  He checked the status board with a glance.  The drone trailing the aircraft would be out of fuel in minutes.  For Lions, that wasn't an issue.  He didn't need to bring in another drone to follow the mystery plane because he knew where it was going.

"Plot the most likely course based on its current vector, then project it onto the big map," Lions ordered.  Then he left the floor of the operations center and headed back into his office.  He had three calls to make, but he wouldn't make the last two until he saw where the plane landed.  His first call went to General Greylick.

"We'll have the first Morning Star ready for you within the hour.  It the latest generation, with directed energy weapon and railgun capabilities."

       Lions did the math in his head; speed, distance, and time.  "Roger, General.  I need it to cover this location," Lions replied, and he read to the general required coordinates. The call ended shortly after.

       Lions went back into the operations center to watch and wait.  He did more math in his head.  If his hunch was right, and he was confident it was, the next twenty-four hours would be busy.

Link Posted: 4/15/2020 2:31:38 PM EDT
Link Posted: 4/15/2020 3:18:05 PM EDT
Link Posted: 4/15/2020 5:28:38 PM EDT
Holy shit.  Nice chapter.
Link Posted: 4/15/2020 8:25:40 PM EDT
WOW nice.

I laughed at this line.

"Me?  She's not my type.  Not dirty enough.  Pointy elbows.  Plus, that girl's an officer type broad if there ever was one.  Besides, I'm saving myself for the queen bee.  That Eldra, with her red hair.  A hot, older, red-headed witch.  Damn."?

typo here

"Colonel," one of the planners began. "We're tracking this aircraft optically, but the drone's sensors are picking it up at all.  We think that paint must be some kind of stealth technology."
Link Posted: 4/16/2020 10:37:45 AM EDT
[Last Edit: greyguy] [#17]
Thanks for the update! It's looking like they had better haul ass if they want to make it to Jefferson in one piece. Hopefully they will be able to notice the Spartan drone before it goes down.

One more typo:

"We'll have the first Morning Star ready for you within the hour.  It's the latest generation, with directed energy weapon and railgun capabilities."
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Link Posted: 4/16/2020 11:38:02 PM EDT
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Originally Posted By greyguy:
Thanks for the update! It's looking like they had better haul ass if they want to make it to Jefferson in one piece. Hopefully they will be able to notice the Spartan drone before it goes down.

One more typo:

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We'll see what happens.  I think I'll have this wrapped up in two more chapters.
Link Posted: 4/17/2020 11:04:05 AM EDT
Sweet more chapters. Thanks for the efforts.
Link Posted: 4/17/2020 11:20:12 AM EDT
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Originally Posted By sharkman6:

We'll see what happens.  I think I'll have this wrapped up in two more chapters.
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This engagement, this book, or as much as you're going to post here before we can buy the rest?
Link Posted: 4/19/2020 4:46:38 AM EDT
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Originally Posted By DFARM:

This engagement, this book, or as much as you're going to post here before we can buy the rest?
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Originally Posted By DFARM:
Originally Posted By sharkman6:

We'll see what happens.  I think I'll have this wrapped up in two more chapters.

This engagement, this book, or as much as you're going to post here before we can buy the rest?

Two more chapters until the end of this book.  I'm posting the whole thing (minus a few chapters I skipped over).  Figured if you guys stuck with it this long, you deserved the whole thing.  Thanks for that.
Outlining it out, around 8 more Character Perspectives.
Link Posted: 4/19/2020 11:12:14 AM EDT
Thank you for the story.

I totally would have bought it though.

Do you have any more plans for this universe? (Or the universe of Sean Bastle?)
Link Posted: 4/19/2020 1:05:31 PM EDT
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Originally Posted By DFARM:
Thank you for the story.

I totally would have bought it though.

Do you have any more plans for this universe? (Or the universe of Sean Bastle?)
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Please say yes.  Please say yes.  Please say yes.
Link Posted: 4/19/2020 7:52:43 PM EDT
I will buy a copy of this one as well. And the Bastile series. I would love a paper copy if you do that.
Link Posted: 4/22/2020 4:19:07 AM EDT
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Originally Posted By DFARM:
Thank you for the story.

I totally would have bought it though.

Do you have any more plans for this universe? (Or the universe of Sean Bastle?)
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Two more books from this universe.  The very end of this "Book" I hope will set things up nicely for the next book.  And some Spin-offs maybe.  I wrote stuff into the Spartan's Ashes to lay the groundwork for expanding the universe.

I need to finish From the Sea from the Sean Bastle universe, and would like to write one more full length book for that, though I'm not ready to do that yet.  I think I'll time that to coincide when I retire from my second job.

I get most of my writing done at work... Its easier to write at work than at home.  This wasn't a good week for writing though.  Hopefully the next installment will be out next Monday/Tuesday.
Link Posted: 4/24/2020 10:24:26 AM EDT
Keep up the good work, I am always happy to see updates.
Link Posted: 4/29/2020 12:21:09 AM EDT

On the plane ride, the others slept or murmured amongst themselves.  Colt sat alone at the window and watched the landscape streak by.  The old warplane flew West-Northwest.  Below, mountains descended and leveled off into the flat plain of the Central Valley, made brown again as the desert reclaimed it.  Then the dusty plains rose again.  Rugged foothills climbed and grew and morphed into a coastal mountain range.  The flat scrubland was replaced by high peaks and deep valleys, all thickly forested with tall green trees.  Water raged down the draws and ravines and emptied into fast-flowing rivers heading west.  Here and there were signs of the old civilization; deserted farms, derelict towns, abandoned cars on the sides of cracked and broken highways.

When the coastal range descended again towards the ocean, fields of windswept yellow-green grass replaced the forest.  The plane banked to starboard.  Out of the port window, Colt saw the Pacific Ocean, a blue-gray sheet of glass that ended in gunmetal haze at the horizon.  The plane continued north along the coast.  Below, Elk herds grazed.  Colonies of Sealions sunning themselves on rocky beaches.  Colt saw a lighthouse and cabling station, both abandoned and forgotten a century before the Protest was even an idea.

"Prep for landing," Eldra said.  Colt shifted in his seat so he could look through the cockpit and out the windscreen.  Ahead a grass slope rose steeply from the beach, then leveled off into a long broad shelf before climbing again.  The plane shuddered as it slowed.   Colt heard the mechanical sounds of landing gear going down and flaps going up.  Then, the old Dakota bounced down another runway of grass and hard-packed dirt.  The plane slowed, stopped, and the twin propellers slowly whirred until they stopped.  When the plane's door opened, Eldra turned to Nicky-Lee.

"Well, Nicky boy, I brought you back.  Let's see what kind of reception they give you and your friends."  She smiled with a smile that was too knowing for Colt's taste.

Christian was the first to file out of the plane.  He held a shotgun in one hand, and his carbine/grenade launcher combo in the other, and his olive drab demolition satchel hung from his neck.  It swung back and forth like a pendulum as he walked down the center aisle.  The others followed suit.  Colt came out last.  As his boots touched the grass runway, a section of the nearby mountain slid away, revealing a massive hidden door.   Beyond that, deep darkness loomed.

"A hidden base," Doc said.  "Hidden inside the mountain ."
"The mountain is hollowed out," Nicky-Lee explained.  "We call it The Hole.  All of Jefferson is under there.  Hidden.  Safe."

"How deep does it go?" Colt asked.

"Deep," Nicky-Lee assured him.  "Very deep."

Then, from out of the darkness, the people of Jefferson came out to meet them.

Colt was a fully trained Spartan Knight, which meant he was trained in the art diplomacy as well as war.   Upon landing, he had prepared himself to play the role of a diplomat, the first Spartan to contact this new and mysterious Jefferson.  He did not know precisely what kind of reception he and his companions might receive, but he expected something formal.  A welcoming committee, an envoy, an ambassador, maybe even an honor guard.  Instead, what came out of the mountain was a throng of individuals.  Each Jeffersonian seemed to be thrown in randomly with the others, with none of the familiar Spartan unity existing between any two.  They came out tentatively at first, exiting in ones and twos.  Soon, a whole mob came out.  Only, it was less than a mob.  Mobs are loosely unified in their purpose.  This seemed a collection of people entirely at odds with each other because rather than address their new arrivals directly, these people of Jefferson turned upon themselves.  The people looked Colt and companions up and down, and Eldra and Cora, and Nicky-Lee.  Then, they turned on themselves.

"Eldra's back."

"Eldra can't be back.  We never voted to let her back."

"We never voted to let her leave either?"

"We never voted to let Nicky-Lee come and go either."

"I get a say in this.  This is a Cosmopolitan Democracy."

"This doesn't affect you."

"It affects me more than you!"

"Yeah?  Let's see what the committee says about that?"

Men and women, young and old, they filed out of the mountain, looked the wild travelers over, then set upon themselves with arguments and counterarguments.  Shouts and shrieks.  Reason rhetoric and angst-ridden wailing.

"Why wasn't I told Eldra would be coming back?  What has your committee been doing?"

"We never voted on any of this!"

"You don't get to vote on this!  This doesn't impact you!"

"These are Spartans.  Nobody ever told me Spartans were coming here!  When was this decided?"

Instead of introducing himself to the Jeffersonian leadership, Colt stood back and carefully observed the crowd.  He watched as fingers wagged in faces.  He watched as arms flailed with oratorical flourishes.  He listened as dozens of voices simultaneously tried to make their arguments and shout all the others down.  Physically, they were an unimpressive bunch to Colt's eyes.  He saw pale skin, probably from living underground.  The Jeffersonians' bodies were skinny where they should have been thick with muscle, and thick where they should have been slim.  They looked well-fed, but perhaps to the point of excess.  They were well clothed, but in an individual and strangely ostentatious way.  A t-shirt caught Colt's attention. It was a newly printed shirt of a rock band long passed before the Protest.  Why make a new version of a shirt like that, Colt asked himself?  He noticed similar new versions of old shirts in the crowd, depicting 1980's toy robots, Pre-Protest television shows, consumer products from companies long gone to dust.  To Colt, it all had an uneasy feeling of immaturity to it, of childlike innocence, of naivete in a life-and-death world of kill or die.

"You need to convene a committee now," a woman with cropped blonde hair shrieked at a balding, middle-aged spindly man wearing a blue sweatshirt depicting humanoid cats armed with swords.

Lefranc walked up to Colt's side and surveyed the crowd.  He looked a wild and dangerous figure, with pistols and knives in his belt, a shotgun on his back, a rifle in his hand, and an unkempt beard sprouting in all directions.  The old man spat into the grass and dust, his disgust evident.  "It is like we ain't even here."

Colt's hazel eyes flashed left and right.  Two people in the shouting mass stood out to him.  The first was an enormous older woman who wore a purple muumuu, a dozen thick, beaded necklaces, and no shoes.  Her dirty feet were hairy, with sickly looking, yellow nails.  Her voice was shrill and unpleasant yet carried influence over the crowd.

"We must immediately convene the necessary committees to address not only this return but also the recent departures.  We are a Cosmopolitan Democracy.  I assure you all there will be accountability."

The second figure Colt marked was a bald, plump, middle-aged man.  He wore a breezy turquoise robe and thong sandals with platform heels.  He had a mincing manner and was physically unimpressive, but Colt detected a cold reptilian cunning in the fat man's eyes.  Those cold reptilian eyes poured over Colt and his companions, undoubtedly making their own assessment.  Colt knew this one was dangerous too.

More shouts rose above the chatter, and again that same statement.  "We're a Cosmopolitan Democracy."

Colt turned his attention from the squabbling crowd to his traveling companions.  Eldra removed her leather flying helmet.  She shook her head, and fiery red locks broke free and cascaded out in all directions.  She caught Colt's eye and gave him a wink and a devilish smile that said, 'Who's laughing now?'  Cora, standing next to Eldra, unslung her rifle and looked over the arguing throng.  She shook her head with disdain.  Colt could tell she'd seen this all before, and it tired her.  Nicky-Lee, the one who brought them here, looked embarrassed more than anything else.

Then there were his Spartans.  One and all, they came from a world of order and discipline, a martial society of centralized planning and authority, of uniformity and conformity, and unity of action. The squabbling, shrieking display of chaotic individuality before them was as scary as any Gomorrah horde.  Doc's eyes panned left and right over the crowd.  He looked like he might go to his carbine and fire into the crowd at any moment.  Robins, now Reno, stared dumbfounded with his mouth agape.  The still-unnamed girl standing next to Ajax reached for his hand.  He took her hand and held it tight.

A man pushed through the crowd, heading right for Nicky-Lee.  He was dressed like a cowboy, or more accurately, what somebody might think a cowboy dressed like if all they knew of cowboys was what they saw in Westerns from the 1960s.  He wore a cowboy hat, a chambray shirt, and a thick belt of hand-tooled leather.  In the crook of his arm, he held a lever-action rifle.  A stubby suppressor caped its octagonal barrel.  He shifted the rifle to his other arm and extended a hand to Nicky-Lee.

"Good to see you back, Nicky.  I confess we'd given you up for dead."

"Almost was, several times over.  These fellas saved me more than once," Nicky replied, and he gestured to his Spartan compatriots.  Colt offered his own hand.

"Colton," he introduced himself.

"Rory," the man answered.  "Rory Calhoun."  Reno's brows knitted in puzzlement, but he said nothing.  Rory turned back to Nicky-Lee.

"Looks like your return caused quite the stir."

"Yeah.  Looks like nothing's changed," Nicky said.

"You still got Jekyll with you?"  Rory asked.

Nicky-Lee frowned with shame and showed Rory the obsidian like fragments of the supercomputer.  "Jekyll took a round, center mass.  Turns out, Jekyll wasn't bulletproof."

Rory shook his head, then glanced at the shrieking woman with the bare feet.  "She ain't gonna like that."

"She doesn't like anything, except maybe the sound of her own voice.  Where's Hyde at?"

"Still locked up downstairs in the dungeon."

An earsplitting shriek stopped the conversation.   The barefoot woman in the print gown screamed at the fat man.

"We never voted on whether or not they could land!  We never voted on it!  Eldra took our plane.  We never said she could leave.  We never said Nicky-Lee could leave, or take Jekyll.  We still have to vote on that!  We have to vote.  People must have their say.  This is a Cosmopolitan Democracy!"  Other Jeffersonians around her joined in, shrieking and chatting and clucking like angry chickens.

"What, exactly," Doc began. "Is a cosmopolitan democracy?"

Nicky-Lee looking at the men and women trying to shout each other down.  Embarrassed, he sighed heavily and answered.  "A Cosmopolitan Democracy is a place where everybody talks, and nothing ever actually gets done."

Christian wiped at his chin.  The move smeared his dribble of chew spit across his patchy beard.  He frowned at Colt.

"What's that saying, boss?  The one about frying pans and fires?"

The screaming continued.  Fat men and old biddies screaming and screeching at each other.

Colt looked up at the sky and said quietly, "We should get inside… now."

High overhead, beyond the Earth's atmosphere, the unblinking electric eyes of Morning Star 2/24 stared back down at Colt and his friends.
Link Posted: 4/29/2020 12:37:37 PM EDT
Link Posted: 4/29/2020 7:28:59 PM EDT
[Last Edit: DFARM] [#29]
Thanks for the update!

I have to say that so far the people of Jefferson aren't what I was expecting.

I guess I had it in my mind from when Nicky- Lee was talking to the colonel in the last book that Jefferson was going to be a society not unlike new Sparta but more focused on tech than combat.

Nicky-Lee was one of my favorite characters from the last book. I'm glad that you have fleshed him and his people out in this book.

Good show, OP. I'm excited to see where this is going.

ETA: any plans for exploring what Nicky-Lee went through before he met the Colonel and between hijacking the morning stars and meeting up with Colt and crew?
Link Posted: 4/29/2020 9:17:54 PM EDT
Thanks for the update
Link Posted: 4/30/2020 8:55:37 AM EDT
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Originally Posted By DFARM:
Thanks for the update!

I have to say that so far the people of Jefferson aren't what I was expecting.

I guess I had it in my mind from when Nicky- Lee was talking to the colonel in the last book that Jefferson was going to be a society not unlike new Sparta but more focused on tech than combat.

Nicky-Lee was one of my favorite characters from the last book. I'm glad that you have fleshed him and his people out in this book.

Good show, OP. I'm excited to see where this is going.

ETA: any plans for exploring what Nicky-Lee went through before he met the Colonel and between hijacking the morning stars and meeting up with Colt and crew?
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It sounds exactly what I'd expect a bunch of techies to sound like.
Link Posted: 4/30/2020 9:52:45 PM EDT
[Last Edit: greyguy] [#32]
Thanks for the update.

Someone in Jefferson likes The Thundercats eh?

"You need to convene a committee now," a woman with cropped blonde hair shrieked at a balding, middle-aged spindly man wearing a blue sweatshirt depicting humanoid cats armed with swords.
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Link Posted: 5/1/2020 12:31:45 AM EDT
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Originally Posted By greyguy:
Thanks for the update. 

Someone in Jefferson likes The Thund­ercats eh?

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Originally Posted By greyguy:
Thanks for the update. 

Someone in Jefferson likes The Thund­ercats eh?

"You need to convene a committee now,­" a woman with cropped blonde hair shrieked a­t a balding, middle-aged spindly man wearing a blue sweatshirt de­picting humanoid cats armed with swords.


“Thunder, Thunder, ThunderCats Ho!”

Colt and his buddies get dumped into a city full of bickering, tech-nerd, Concerned Karens with a thing for the 80's and 90's and a self-aware super computer named Mr. Hyde...

I'm sure they'll fit right in.
Link Posted: 5/1/2020 12:32:45 AM EDT
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Originally Posted By DFARM:
Thanks for the update!

I ha­ve to say that so far the people of Jefferson­ aren't what I was expecting. 

I guess I had it in my mind from whe­n Nicky- Lee was talking to the colonel in the last b­ook that Jefferson was going to be a society ­not unlike new Sparta but more focused on tec­h than combat.

Nicky-Lee was one of my favorite characters from th­e last book. I'm glad that you have fleshed him and his p­eople out in this book.

Good show, OP. I'm excited to see where this is going.

ETA: any plans for exploring what Nicky-Lee went through before he met the Colonel an­d between hijacking the morning stars and mee­ting up with Colt and crew?
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We'll do a deep dive into Jefferson here in book II.

Link Posted: 5/12/2020 4:30:18 AM EDT
Chapter 39


"Sir, should we open fire?"

Colonel Lions did not speak.  He only stared, mesmerized by everything unfolding on the big screens before him.  It was all happening, now, in real-time, just as he had imagined it would.  Just as he hoped it would.  His mind raced at the possibilities.  His heart leapt at bringing this news to the Chief Marshal.

"Sir, should we open fire?"

"That's the last thing I want you to do," Lions finally answered.  He pointed at the screen, where even now, The Colonel's son looked up at the orbiting Morning Star.  The kid, with that old-timer Lefranc standing next to him, and the three other members of his fire team from the Knights Course.  All five of them were there, right there, right where he knew they would be.

Colonel Lions made a career out of his stoic professionalism, out of his military bearing.  He was always poised, always reserved, always in control of himself and his environment.  All that discipline vanished as he watched The Colonel's son and his compatriots head inside the secret based carved into the mountain.  "Print that out.  Print it all out!"  Lions ordered.  He shouted at the clerks, his mouth frothed, his voice quavered.

"Print it!" He ordered again.  His words were not a shouted command, but a shriek fueled by emotion and loss of control.  Clerks and planners scrambled in all directions.  Papers flew.  Hands typed frantically.  The tapping of their keystrokes sounded like a drummer beating, "to arms." The big screens in the command post flicked.  The printer whirred, spitting out paper copies of the satellite's photos, printed copied that could never be traced back to the Chief Marshal.

"Print it!"

Five minutes later,  Colonel Lions was in a staff car speeding through the streets of the Emerald City.  In the back seat, Lions frantically went through the printed photos, sorting, collating, tossing out the redundant, and the unnecessary.  Ahead, the Chief Marshal's tower loomed larger, and larger, and larger.

The Crown Prince

The Crown Prince had searched through his office a hundred times already.  Now he searched it again.  It had been here before, on the corner of his usually cluttered desk.  That was where it always sat, since the first day he took over this office and his duties.  He hadn't taken it anywhere.  Why would he?  Where would he take it?

But it wasn't on his desk.  And it wasn't under any of the clutter scattered about the room either.  He'd searched all that already.  Nor was it stashed in any of the bookcases.  Even so, he searched it all again.  He sifted through the clutter and inspected the bookcases.  He opened drawers and looked under furniture.  He hadn't found it and resigned himself that he wasn't going to find it.  It would turn up, he decided.  It had to be somewhere after all.  It didn't just leave the office of its own accord, and it wasn't as if somebody would take such a trinket.

Checking his watch, the Crown Prince decided he needed to go.  Sentimentality would have to wait.  He considered his shotgun standing in the corner, decided against it, and left his office and then the building.

He spent thirty minutes getting to a place he could have walked to in five.  Most of the trip was taken up with false turns, doubling back, unnecessary stops, every technique he could think of to expose any tails he might have had after leaving his office.  He didn’t see any.  That didn't mean he wasn't being tracked, however.  The Chief Marshal loved his technological solutions.  For all the Crown Prince knew, a team of drones or even one of the newly refitted Morning Stars might be spying on him right now.  The Emerald City felt less like the capital of New Sparta and more like some Eastern European city amid the Cold War, a dark world of shadows and fear, spies and informants on every corner, teams of secret police ready to pounce, the politically unreliable marked for torture and death.

He found the three of them in an old city park.  The baseball diamond and bleachers were replaced long ago with military-style obstacle courses.  She was there, still wearing the black of mourning.  To her right stood Colonel Butler, dressed in civilian clothes.  To her left stood another Spartan officer, also in civilian clothes.  He stood tall and slender.  His blonde hair was just starting to go over to grey.

"Colonel Butler," the Crown Prince began.  "I thought you were back east, looking for our missing Spartans."

"Home on leave," Butler explained.  "And the trail on our missing men went cold long before I took on that mission.  Finding the missing Major Stuber and Sergeant Kimball was never the point, though.  The point was always to remove me from command of the numbered groups."

Elizabeth interrupted.  "Colonel Sparks is with the Corps of Engineers," she said, introducing the Crown Prince to the thin colonel.  The two men shook hands.  "Colonel Sparks will be deploying soon.  As a rising star in our officer corps, I thought it appropriate that the two of you should meet."

"Is that right?"  The Crown Prince asked dubiously.  "I wasn't aware of any deployments, not after all that's happened recently."

"None aside from the Chief Marshal secretly supplying the Gomorrah survivors from my husband's attack," Elizabeth answered.  "A secret that the Emerald City only pretends to keep.  In the light of day, everybody pretends to know nothing about it.  But in the dark and the shadows, whispers swirl."

Colonel Butler added,  "And he sent that idiot Needles down there as a liaison, with a team of capital guardsmen filling the role of advisors.  That's a mission for the Spartan Knights, not military police.  But he's got all the groups locked up in their barracks and me out chasing ghosts.  He's also put his Morning Stars back in action.  And he's done all this in secret."

"I know all of this already," the Crown Prince said impatiently.  His position on launching a coup against the Chief Marshal had not changed.  He would not be the one to launch his country into a civil war, no matter how much The Colonel's widow urged.  That blood would not fall on his hands.

Colonel Sparks stepped into the conversation.  "Perhaps I can explain.  My mission relates to civil engineering.  It is not a military operation.  I will be leading a regimental sized force tasked with investigating the remaining dam infrastructure along the Columbia River and its tributaries.  We'll see if there is anything left there to salvage."

"Okay," the Crown Prince replied slowly, not seeing the point.  Elizabeth jumped back in.

"Colonel Sparks will be out in the field, operating independently, with the equivalent of three combat engineer battalions under his command."

The Crown Prince saw it now.  He looked from face to face.  Their expressions said what they dare not speak, not in this city beneath the Chief Marshal's tower.  Colonel Sparks went on.

"We are also tasked with doing another reconnaissance of the atomic energy infrastructure to the east.  An audit of the old records was conducted.  There's concern that not everything was recovered from the facilities.  Some important things might have been left behind, things like control rods, centrifuge parts, uranium, plutonium."

The Crown Prince kept his face completely impassive, maintaining the military bearing that Colonel Lions so recently could not.  "I see," he said.

Elizabeth smiled.  It was the smile of a woman realizing her righteous vengeance.  "Crown Prince.  Once you spoke of having an insurance policy.  Perhaps its time you took out another."


Colonel Lions stood before the Chief Marshal's desk, barely containing his excitement.  Spread across the polished surface lay the photos and printouts.  The Chief Marshal studied them with a careful eye.  By luck or fate, it all came together now, the hacking of the Morning Stars, the undecipherable computer code, the strange goings-on in Northern California, the rumors of secret societies, and finally, The Colonel's renegade son.  The top of the building once called the Space Needle spun on its axis.  Inside, artifacts from over four millennia of military history hung on the walls, bearing witness to the decision the Chief Marshal was about to make.  

Raven-haired, with distinguished patches of gray at the temples, Chief Marshal studied the product of Colonel Lion's work long and hard.  Finally, he looked up and asked, "You still have operatives in the field?"

"Yes, Chief Marshal."

"Contact them.  Get them on this.  Next, I want you to contact that fool, Needles.  It is time for him to step up and do his job.  Finally, I want you to call Senator Applegate.  Tell him I need him to assemble a quorum for me.  He is not to invite the Crown Prince."

"Yes, Chief Marshal."

"Have them assemble here in my tower this evening.  Late this evening.  I'll need time to craft my narrative."


Dishonored and his crew arrived in Amboy at midday.  They raided the town and raided it mercilessly, and they found Doctor Chosen's secret laboratory underneath a building that had been a roadside diner, once upon a time.  His men searched the lab.  Vlain, however, never left his truck.  Instead of leading his crew, he opened up another of Doctor Chosen’s human-skin bound notebooks, and obsessed over it.  Neither screams nor the explosions of gunfire could draw him away from its mysteries.
Vlain possessed more than a dozen of them now.  Their covers came in shades ranging from milk-white to mahogany, to darkest ebony.  All his waking moments were now spent in the notebooks.  He poured over them, studying their iconography, the doctor’s scribbled and coded observations, their mysterious potential.  The dizzying symbols inside the gruesome books drew Rodrigo Vlain deeper and deeper down into the rabbit hole, revealing nothing but begging more and more questions, louder and with greater urgency.  What was Doctor Chosen pursuing?  How far had that madman traveled down this satanic path?  The notebooks were bound in human skin, to what depths had he descended?  How much farther was he willing to go, and to what end?  If the man could create a Pegasus and giants and other mythical beasts, however clumsy, what else could he have done in his experimentation with the occult?  What else was out there?

The sun lumbered steadily to the West and slid lower and lower on the horizon, and still, Vlain read the journals, oblivious to his men's' looting.  His current book was bound in pale yellow skin, and on every third page was a variation of the same glyph drawn in a dark ink that Dishonored imagined was human blood.  No, not "imagined." "Knew," was the correct word.  Vlain knew that the ink was human blood.  He didn't know how he knew it, he just did.  And the symbology and blood and human skin of the book mesmerized him.

Dishonored was so enchanted by the book that Chamo had to yell his name five times before the spell broke.  When Dishonored finally looked up, he did so impatiently.  Chamo wore his bludgeon and a Smith and Wesson Model 10 revolver in a sash around his waist.  The big man saw plainly that his boss just wanted to get back to reading.  He didn't want to interrupt, but he had to.  Chamo said, “Boss, we got a real problem.”

That’s when Dishonored finally noticed the screams.

Vlain carefully set the book down on the empty seat beside him, marking his page.  He looked at Chamo, looked back at the book, and reluctantly left it behind.

They walked together to the old diner, past his men and the pile of loot they'd accumulated thus far, and past the six captives they taken in the assault.  It was then Vlain noticed for the first time that the prisoners were all chattering, but they weren't chattering with each other, or even to their guards.  All of them chattered away as if they were speaking to an imaginary friend.  Each was lost in their own world.  And what they were speaking wasn't English, but a babbling, rattling stream on nonsense sounds.  The words, if they were words, emanated out of each mouth non-stop.  None of the captives even paused to take a breath.  They just kept at it.  An uninterrupted stream of nonsense sounds flowed out of their mouths.

"They've been at it like that since we first in," Chamo explained.

"Is that the problem?"  Vlain asked.  "If it is, just smash a couple of them in the mouth.  They'll shut up, and I can go back to reading."

"No, boss," Chamo replied.  "What we got is worse.  Its Gear Splitter Joe.  He's inside still, down below.  You better go look at him."

The entrance to the underground lab was camouflaged in the back of the old café’s walk-in freezer.  A trap door in the floor opened to reveal a set of stairs.  Chamo and Dishonored went down the stairs and into the lab.

The lab consisted of a circular main room, with hallways and a couple of ante-chambers branching off.  The main room had more of the same things Vlain had seen before in other labs: metal furniture, white three-ring binders, computers, medical equipment, more of the strange and incomprehensible machines with names like Sombra, LaMerc, and N.C. Positronic.  An emotional demand welled up from the back of Dishonored’s mind nearly compelling him to ask Chamo if they’d found any more of the skin bound notebooks.  It was only through every ounce of his discipline that he was able to stifle the words before they left his lips.  It was an addiction, Vlain realized.  He was addicted to the books.  He wasn't supposed to be sitting in a truck, reading notebooks.  He was supposed to be leading his crew, guiding them through the combined dangers of the Gomorrah badlands and the machinations of Lions and Chief Marshal Gorman.  And if his men found any of the notebooks, they would have already presented them.  They realized his addiction before he did.  But wasn't that always the case?

As his mind muddled through this recognition of his own failings as a leader, Vlain heard the screams.  These were screams he'd heard thousands of times before.  They were the screams of pain and terror.  Only this time, they weren't coming from some ill-fated captive.  This time they were coming from one of his own men.

One of his men had gotten wounded, and he'd been sitting on his ass reading Doctor Chosen's diaries, like some snot-nosed kid, sneaking through his older sister's diary.

The screaming came from one of the anterooms.  This antechamber had been protected by heavy steel doors, which the Dishonored had dynamited off their hinges.  Vlain frowned.  He couldn't remember hearing the explosion.  He'd been too engrossed in his books.

“It’s Gear-Splitter Joe,” Chamo said, his voice tinged with pity.  Gear-Splitter was the youngest member of the Fallen, maybe 16 or 17.  Dishonored nodded.

Inside the antechamber, two more members of the Fallen stood over a teenage kid.  Gear-Splitter Joe was pale-skinned, skinny, and young, and he rolled back and forth on the floor, screaming.  Vlain saw broad smears of blood across the floor.  What happened here was plain as day.  Fresh blood covered the ends of Gear-Splitter's fingers.  More blood stained his face, but the horrible part was the young man's eye sockets.  Where there should have been a pair of eyes, now there was only a dark pair of cavities.

“He clawed his own eyes out,” Rodrigo Vlain said flatly.  He was simply observing a fact, not commenting on the horror, the puzzling insanity of a young man who clawed out his own eyes.

The screaming kid with no more eyes was not even the weirdest thing in the room.  In the center of the room, about four inches off the ground, stood a framed wooden door.  Wire rope guidelines supported the door, running from each of its corners into anchor points on the wall and floor.  Carved into the frame of the door were many of the symbols Dishonored had seen in his notebooks: pentacles and pentagrams, black arrows and black suns, red eyes, Slavic ideographs, and Norse runes.  The door did not lead anywhere.  It stood alone in the center of the room.  One step to the left or right, and one could see the rest of the room behind it.  It didn’t open anywhere.  Of course it didn't open into anywhere, Vlain thought.

Unless it did,

Dishonored looked down at Gear-Splitter, and now he actually heard the man's screams, not the noise of the scream, but the emotion behind it.  There were screams of pain, horror, shock.  The normal cries one would expect somebody to make after clawing their eyes out.  But there were other sounds within the screams of pain.  Strange sounds, the kind of sounds you heard when you played records backwards and heard what might be words.  The sounds of snake-handlers speaking in tongues.  The screams of people whose minds had departed reality to attend some strange and other universe.  The screams of insane people.  Dishonored heard, “Alaba.  Mood Alaba.  Alaba Mood.”  The blinded kid repeated it again and again amidst the screams of pain.  Then Rodrigo Vlain noticed something else.  He was still holding the pale-yellow skinned notebook he’d just been reading.

I can't have it, Vlain thought.  I left it in the truck.  I left it on the seat.   But there it was, in his hand.  As if the book didn't want to be left in the truck.  As if it wanted to come inside the lab, come inside and see the mystery door and the maimed kid.  And the book felt hot, like there was a coal inside it, and somebody was blowing pure oxygen onto the coal.  Making it glow brighter.  Making it burn hotter.

“How long was he in here by himself,” Dishonored asked the others.  Already knowing the kid had been in here all alone, and what he'd done.

"He be in here a minute or two.  We not see no-nothing worth taking in here, so we skip out onto the next room.  He be right behind us.  Then we hear the screaming."

"Get him outside, now," Dishonor ordered.  Chamo and the others moved like lightning, scooping up the kid and rushing him out of the lab.  The whole time the kid flailed and screamed.  He screamed like none of the others were even there.

"Alaba.  Alaba Mood!  Mood.  Mood Alaba."

Now alone in the room, Rodrigo slowly walked around the door and frame, examining the runes, the carvings, the iconography.  The notebook felt hot in his hand.

In his mind, Vlain saw what happened.  The kid had been in the room all by himself.  Not long, but long enough.  Long enough to walk over to the door, open it a crack, and see what was inside.  Or maybe he didn’t even open the door. Perhaps Gear-Splitter just took a quick peek through the keyhole.  Vlain saw it clearly in his mind.  Then, in his mind, the door spoke to him.

“Take a look,” The door seemed to whisper inside his head.  And the notebook under his arm seemed to pulse with heat.  It was all his imagination, Dishonored knew.  His obsession with Doctor Chosen's macabre notebooks had seized hold of his imagination, and now it was getting the better of him.  There was nothing on the other side of the door.  It was just a door.

Just a door somebody took the trouble to mount in the center of the room.  It was just a door, intricately carved with Doctor Chosen's satanic devil shit.

“Take a look,” the voice in the back of his mind said again.  “Just a quick peek.  There’s nothing here.  You know there's nothing there.  So take a peek.  What's the worst that could happen?”  And then another voice, a voice from the reptilian part of his brain, the fight-or-flight, stay alive part of his brain joined in the conversation.

"There is something on the other side of that door.  Gear-Splitter took one look at it, and it drove him to madness.  He saw something on the other side of the door that made him claw out his own eyes.  There is something on the other side of the door.  It is something Doctor Chosen found that should not have been found?  Or something the doctor made that should not have been made?  So get the fuck out of here.  Forget you found this place and make sure nobody else finds this place.  Especially not the Chief Marshal.  He won't be able to leave this door alone.  He'll think he can control what's on the other side of that door, but he can't.  He and Lions will come here and open that door, and when they do, what is on the other side will cross over to here.  Then we'll all be rolling around on the ground like Gear-Splitter.  All of us.  We'll all be tearing out our eyes and screaming gibberish.

And then the door spoke again, only this time the book spoke with it.  “There’s nothing here.  Come and see.  Come and see.  Just a tiny peek.  Come and see.”

Captain Vlain left the anteroom without looking back.  As he climbed the stairs, his mind semi-consciously registered something about Pandora and a box.  Fuck, he cursed.  Fuck Doctor Chosen and Lions and Chief Marshal Gorman.  Fuck them all, and fuck them for making him delve into this weirdo, satanic, mad scientist shit.  Rodrigo Vlain knew he was no saint.  He was a bad man, an evil man.  But his evil was a chaotic evil, not the cold and calculating evil of grand ambitions.

On the way back up there stairs, he paused to look at a poster taped to the wall.  Charcoal colored ink made a declaration on yellow-brown parchment looking paper.  The font was old-timey, like the cliched type-set wanted posters of the Old West.

The Pinnacle in Agricultural Machinery.
The Cross-Jek Thrower.
Powered by the New Hurtly Steam Motor.

A hand-drawn picture on the poster depicted a machine that Vlain could only guess was the Cross-Jek Thrower, whatever the fuck that was.  Vlain looked at the poster disdainfully, then ripped it off the wall and let it fall to the floor.  He made a point of stomping on it as he left the secret lab, never to return.

Outside, the golden California sunlight made Vlain feel 100% better.  He felt more confident, more determined, more certain of what he needed to do.   All the members of the Fallen stood there in the Amboy dust too.  They'd been waiting there for him, and now they looked to him to see what was next.  The prisoners were there too, speaking their gibberish to their imaginary friends, oblivious to everything else around them.  Gear-Splitter was in the dust too, rolling back and forth and screaming the same nonsense.  Vlain felt the weight of his men's stares upon him, the burden of command.  They may have been nothing more than a band of pirates, but he was their captain.  He was expected to lead, and the glamour of Doctor Chosen's grotesque notebooks had held him enthrall when he should have been running this crew.  If he wanted to stay in charge of his band, if he wanted to beat Gorman and his toady Lions, he needed to get back in control.

Dishonored marched towards Chamo.  Quick as a whip, without slowing or pausing, he snatched the revolver out of Chamo's sash.  He moved so fast, Chamo didn't know what was happening until Vlain brought the pistol up one-handed and fired twice into Gear-Splitter's head. The head came apart, and the Mood Alaba stopped.  Still moving, his stride confident and fluid, Vlain turned the pistol onto the other captives.  They kept babbling, not changing their pitch or tone.  They gave no indication they knew what was about to happen next.  But the guards behind them did, and they scattered.

Vlain fired a single shot.  One of the captive's heads whipped back.  Vlain fired again.  Another single shot, another whipping head.  Vlain fired again and again until the revolver went dry.  Then he dropped the Smith and Wesson and brought up the submachine slung across his chest and disengaged the safety.  The remaining captives' faces did not change at all.  Dishonored leveled the submachine and fired.  Chests exploded from left to right.  Vlain walked his fired across the line of captives.  He fired until all the bodies tumbled into the dust, and he kept firing, emptying out the magazine.  When the weapon went dry, he stood over the dead bodies, reloaded, and emptied a second magazine into the corpses.  The twitched and jerked and spent blood with each delivered shot.

The rest of the Dishonored watched.  Nobody said a word.  When it was done, Rodrigo Vlain called out to his lieutenant.

“Chamo!  Gather up everything we took out of that lab and burn it.  The lab notes.  Binders.  Computers.  Everything.”  Then, just to be sure, Vlain drew his pistol, aimed at the first head in the row of dead bodies, and blew it apart a second time.  Dead men told no tales, and Vlain wanted to make sure these people were as dead as dead could be.  Nobody left alive to talk about the strange door with its runes and whatever hellish experiments Doctor Chosen performed here.  He blew the next head apart.  Nobody to talk about whatever might be on the other side of the door.  He blew the next head apart.  Nobody to talk about what drove Gear-Splitter mad.  He blew the next head apart.  Then he shot the next, and the next.  And most of all nobody to tell these tales to Lions or the Chief Marshal.  He blew the last head apart, then re-holstered his pistol.

“Burn these bodies too.  After you burn everything, get the explosives out.  We’re going to blow up the lab and collapse the entrance.”

Chamo’s face lit up.  The big man didn’t need to be told twice.  He made to run for the trucks, but before he could go, Vlain said to Chamo, "One more thing."

Vlain collected up all the skin notebooks.  He counted them just to make sure he had them all.   Then he counted them again.  That done, he counted them one more time to be sure. Then, he handed the stack of human-skin notebooks to Chamo.  Chamo looked surprised to get them at first, but that surprise quickly turned to relief.

"Take these and get rid of them," Vlain said to Chamo.

"I'll burn them with the rest," Chamo replied.

Vlain considered that for a moment, then shook his head no. "Don't burn them.  Take them somewhere and bury them.  Just you and nobody else.  Wait.  No," Vlain reconsidered.  He thought about it, and thought sending Chamo out alone with the books might not be a good idea.  He'd been alone with the books.  Gear-Splitter had been alone with the door.   Not for long, but not for long was long enough.

"Take two of the boys with you.  Take two that are expendable.  Dig that hole  Dig it deep, and I mean deep."

Chamo looked over the books, then looked back at his boss.  “You sure you don’t want me to just burn them with everything else?”
“No.  We may need them later,”  Vlain lied.  He wanted to burn the books, but he had an ominous feeling that those books might not want to be burned.  They might not burn.  And if they didn't burn, then what?  And maybe, just maybe, those books might be able to do something to keep from being burned.  They might be able to do things.  Just like the door was able to… what?  Vlain didn't want to think about it.

"Just get rid of them," Vlain finished.

Chamo nodded and set off to his task.

Chamo buried the books. They dynamited the entrance to the secret lab.  Next, they burned the bodies and the diner.  Then, just to be sure, they burned down the rest of the town and any living thing they found in it.  The sun dropped low on the horizon, and the last of Amboy California, burned.  Screams called out from the pyres.  Vlain watched the lights of the setting sun, and the bonfires twist and dance together, as intertwined like lovers.  Before the sky went dark, the call came in.

"Captain!  Captain man.  Call coming in from upa top," one of the Dishonored called, waving Rodrigo Vlain over to the radio and computer setup that kept them in contact with the Emerald City.  Vlain logged in and quickly decoded the latest message from Colonel Lions.

Chamo ambled up to Valin's side, carrying his massive bulk gracefully.  "What's it say?"

"Seems we're taking a break from this Doctor Chosen stuff," Vlain answered.  "That blonde-haired faggot Lions wants us to head north to someplace called Jefferson.  Ever been there?"

Chamo shook his head.  Vlain smiled and clapped his lieutenant on the shoulder.

"Me neither.  I can't wait to see what the women look like.
Link Posted: 5/12/2020 12:04:44 PM EDT
I'll say it again that I've said it before.  You have some of the best, if not THE best writing I've ever read.  Well done man.
Link Posted: 5/12/2020 4:02:36 PM EDT
Awesome update, thanks. Keep the good work coming, please Sir.
Link Posted: 5/12/2020 6:02:31 PM EDT
I did not see that coming.
Link Posted: 5/12/2020 6:23:43 PM EDT
Thanks for the update!

Link Posted: 5/24/2020 11:50:39 PM EDT
[Last Edit: sharkman6] [#40]
Final Chapters for this book below.

Link Posted: 5/24/2020 11:51:43 PM EDT
Chapter 39 Part II

Robert Murray

Robert Murray stood in the Chief Marshal's reception room, high above the capital, in the tower once called the Space Needle.  Other New Spartan politicians milled about behind him, whispering and chatting, making small talk and political deals.  All of New Sparta's legislative houses were represented tonight, with smatterings of Senators from here and representatives from there.  Enough to call a quorum, but only if one didn’t count too carefully.

Robert ignored all the murmurings behind him.  He stood transfixed before a display case.  Beneath the glass lay two swords.  A brass plaque declared that they were the sabers of Field Marshals Blucher and Gneisenau, recovered from the Musee de L'Armee in Paris, France.  If the display of these twin artifacts of military history were meant to inspire him, to fill Robert Murray with a sense of martial pride, they failed.  Instead, they filled him with a deep sense of melancholy.

Murray's tired, middle-aged eyes trace the curve of the blades.  If each had been "recovered" from Paris, it meant one of the Numbered Groups had gone there to recover them.  Had any Spartan's died in that operation, Murray wondered.  Had any Parisians been killed?  What other artifacts and trinkets had been seized, from Europa?  From the Russian steppes?  From the collapsed and wild places of Asia?   All done in the name of preserving humanity's military history.  And what was the human toll to all this, Murray wondered.  How many Spartans had died?  How many locals?  All so these sabers and pistols and suits of armor could be hauled back to New Sparta and what?  Get hung on a wall in the Chief Marshal's office?  How did you tell a mother, Murray wondered, that her son died collecting office décor most Spartans would never see?  How might some foreign child despair after learning their father was killed by Spartan invaders they never knew existed, searching for baubles?  How far had it gone, and how much further would it go, and what was the point of it all except vain indulgence, striving after wind.

Robert Murray's train of thought broke when he saw the approaching image of Senator Applegate reflected in the glass.  Of course, he was here, Robert thought.  Applegate and the Chief Marshal were as thick as thieves.  The pinky and fleshy senator held a champagne flute in one pudgy hand.  He cupped the other over Murray's shoulder, leaning his bulk against the inconsequential congressman.

"Representative Murray, so good of you to come here tonight, and on such short notice."

"It is my pleasure, senator.  Luckily, I was in the city.  How could I refuse an invitation to the Chief Marshal's tower?"

"Indeed," Applegate said, beaming.  His pink chins wobbled slightly.

"Senator, any idea what this is all about?"

"None,"  Applegate replied.  "All I know is this, the Chief Marshal has something urgent and important to present to us tonight.  Something urgent and important, and of a sensitive nature.  It is because of this sensitivity that only a small and select group of legislators were invited."

"Yes," Murray agreed, looking around the room.  It was a small group.  A select group.  A group comprised of Applegate loyalists and the inconsequential.  Murray knew he was part of the later.  He wondered if he was part of the former as well.  The thought made him uncomfortable.  As he mentally squirmed with self-doubt, Applegate leaned in.

"Now, whatever the Chief Marshal says tonight, let's not say anything we shouldn't.  The Chief Marshal is working hard to protect us, all of us.  Trust that he knows what is best for New Sparta.  The last thing we need are discomforting and embarrassing questions about his commitment to our security."

Applegate smiled.  He smiled like a cat about to savage a mouse.  He smiled like a snake about to swallow its prey whole.  Before Robert Murray could think of a response, Applegate disappeared into the milling crowd of politicians, chatting up a representative of the great and honorable district of… wherever.

Murray slumped.

The doors to the Chief Marshal's inner chambers flew open.  A herald ushered them deeper into the royal sanctum.  In an eye blink, Robert Murray found himself seated at a long conference table with the other legislators.  The Chief Marshal's aide-de-camp/hatchet man, Colonel Lions, stood nearby in the shadows.  At the head of the table stood Chief Marshal William Powell Gorman.  He wore his dress uniform.  He always wore his dress uniform.  A stack of medals gleamed in the conference room's low lights.  A Luger pistol hung from a Sam Brown belt; the leather polished into a black mirror.  When all were seated and settled, and quiet, the Chief Marshal began.

"Gentlemen, I called you here tonight, because our nation is in crisis.  Recently, one of our own, a Spartan Knight who once challenged me for the office of Chief Marshal, walked into Gomorrah with a stolen nuclear weapon on his back.  This, you already know.  Tonight, I will tell you the rest of the story.  Then, I will tell you what I intend to do about it.

"When The Colonel left on his Last March, it was assumed this was the final act of a mad and desperate man, driven by hate into a suicide mission to destroy our neighbor to the South.  It was also assumed that he acted alone.  Neither of these turned out to be true.  The Colonel did not act alone.  He sat at the head of a vast conspiracy.  The objective of this conspiracy was not just to destroy Gomorrah.  Gomorrah was only the first step.   Had The Colonel survived his attack on The Bay, his next move would have been to come here, to unseat me as Chief Marshal, seize control of New Sparta, and then rule over both Gomorrah and Hew Sparta.  The Colonel's driving desire was to lord over all of North America as an emperor.  While The Colonel is dead, his conspiracy lives on.  Even now, his cabal of traitors and saboteurs seek to fulfill his nightmare ambitions.  Many of those co-conspirators are our fellow Spartans.  Others are from a secret society we only just now learned of."

Before each legislator was a manila folder full of briefing materials.  The Chief Marshal made a gesture, and the legislators opened the folders and sifted through the photos inside.  The Chief Marshal continued.

"I always skeptical that The Colonel was able to steal a nuclear weapon and smuggle it out of New Sparta on his own.  What I know now is that he was aided by an extensive network of disloyal New Spartans.  Chief among this cabal of traitors was the former commandant of the Knights Course, Major K.  When authorities tried to bring Major K in for questioning, he resisted arrest and murdered an entire platoon of Capital Guardsmen.  We believe Major K died in the ensuing firefight.  But before this happened, Major K smuggled other members of this cabal out of New Sparta.  He did this with help, of course.  He had help from high places and high-ranking members of this government, and I shall expose them in due time.  What is most important now is who Major K smuggled out:  The Colonel's own son.  The Colonel's own son, and now heir apparent to the father's nefarious aspirations.  That is who Major K secreted out, him, plus a small force of students from the Knights Course.  Major K abused his position as Commandant of the School and manipulated some of the weaker-minded, more impressionable youths, driving them into the treason.  Like his father, the son has fled into the wild and lawless badlands of Gomorrah.  But they are not alone.

"Another uncertainty of these recent events regards our Morning Star constellation.  As The Colonel placed his stolen bomb in The Bay, I was able to target and engage him with the Morning Stars.  While my attack did not kill him outright, I foiled his plan in that The Colonel was not able to escape The Bay before his weapon detonated.  Had he survived, there is no telling how many of his fellow Spartan he would have murdered upon his return.  As it was, when I targeted The Colonel with our Morning Stars, one of our platforms did not appropriately respond.  Initially, we thought this was a simple malfunction.  What we have since learned is this was no malfunction.  It was an act of sabotage, committed not by Spartan traitors, but a new threat, a previously unknown threat living outside our walls but committed to our destruction.

"In his ranging as a Spartan Knight, The Colonel came across this secretive society.  Technologically sophisticated and living in secret in the Pacific Coastal Range, this secret society lived in defiance of the natural authority of both Gomorrah and New Sparta.  When The Colonel discovered these people, they formed an Axis against us and our Gomorrah allies.  The Colonel would deliver the bomb, they would sabotage our most powerful weapons and leave us defenseless.  Now, as you can see from the photos before you, The Colonel's son and his confederates have joined with these saboteurs in their mountain lair.  Now, right now, they are plotting the next phase of the conspiracy.  The Colonel may be dead, but they remain true to his perverted schemes.  Using their advanced technology in conjunction with a fifth column inside our own walls, they seek to overthrow this lawful government of New Sparta and seat The Colonel's son on the throne as a boy emperor.  Make no mistake, gentlemen, each and every one of us in this room has been marked for death by The Colonel's son.  He will not rest until he achieves his father's dreams.  With these defiant saboteurs and traitorous New Spartans, he has the means to do it.  However young and innocent he may look, this boy is the greatest threat to our nation we have ever seen.  This immediately raises the question, what is to be done about it?

"Fortunately, I have been hard at work, and I have positioned New Sparta's forces to counter this threat.  Immediately after The Colonel's terrorist attack, I opened a line of communications to Gomorrah's new leader.  His name is Winston Indigo.  I have found him to be a man of honor and integrity, committed to peace and dedicated to forming an alliance between our two great nations.  In the wake of Gomorrah's humanitarian crisis, a crisis caused by one of our own, I began shipping relief supplies into the afflicted areas.  Initially, these were just humanitarian supplies.  As I uncovered more and more of The Colonel's plot, and the Axis aligned against our two nations, I took the initiative to send Winston Indigo and his forces the equipment they need to defend both our nations.  I even went so far as to do what no other Chief Marshal has done before me.  I sent Spartans into Gomorrah to link with their forces on the ground and, for the first time ever, bond our nations together through the fraternity of arms.  I can say before you all tonight, definitively, that the long war between New Sparta and Gomorrah is finally over.  It went on too long, too many generations.  This senseless war cost too many lives, both ours and theirs.  Finally, after so much loss and bloodshed, I, Chief Marshal Gorman, have ended that war.  Regrettably, I must also tell you that a new war is about to begin.

"But this new war will be a war like no other in human history.  It will be short.  It will be decisive, and it will put only a limited number of our people at risk.  Our Gomorrah allies will carry the heavy burdens in this fight.  They are the ones who will do the fighting, for it was their capital that was destroyed and their high council that was murdered.  This land of saboteurs is within their borders.  So Gomorrah will provide the army.  Gomorrah will do the fighting, and understandably, the bulk of the casualties suffered in this war will be there's.  But they will not fight alone.  New Sparta will provide military assistance to our Gomorrah allies.  We will provide them with logistics and supplies.  We will give them the information they need to sustain this campaign and provide them intelligence assets and communications support.  Already I have Spartan military advisors on the ground and embedded with our Gomorrah allies.  Colonel Needles, who until recently commanded the Capital Guard, is now the personal military advisor to Gomorrah's Winston Indigo, his most trusted lieutenant, and dare I say, virtually the second in command of all of Gomorrah.  Fighting side-by-side, our military advisors working with these indigenous troops on the ground, will swiftly and decisively eliminate this threat to our nation.  And most important of all, our allied army will be supported the entire time by our greatest weapon of all, the Morning Star constellation.

"Gentlemen, our combined forces are arrayed against our common enemy.  They are well equipped and well supplied.  Morale is high, for they are all committed to striking the final blow that will excise all the traitors from the land and bring about a lasting peace.  All that remains is for me to lead them."

The Chief Marshal paused.  Silence dominated the conference room.  It was Robert Murray who broke it with a question.

"Chief Marshal, what would you have us do?"

Chief Marshal William Powel Gorman smiled.  Gorman was a calculating man, who had carefully plotted and planned out each step that led him to the office of Chief Marshal.  His smiles were calculated too.  Calculated and practiced so as to be delivered at just the right time just the right way, to get the right effect from his audience.  Gorman had anticipated Murray's question.  Not only had he anticipated it, but he had also hoped for it.  So, when Robert Murray asked, "what would you have us do," the smile Gorman flashed was actually genuine.

"Nothing.  I would have you do nothing,"  Gorman answered.

"I have been proactive in this crisis, and I have done what needs to be done.  Our advisors are already on the ground and working with their counterparts.  I have already supplied and outfitted the Gomorrah army.  They have my orders.  All that is left to do is march, and so, I shall set them to it.  Once this external threat is destroyed, we can turn our focus inward and deal with the traitors in our midst.  Until then, all I ask of you gentlemen is that you give me latitude.  Give me the latitude I need to provide New Sparta the security it deserves.

"I must also ask of you, silence.  The events that are about to unfold must, out of necessity, be carried out in secret.  Traitors still prowl among us.  If what I am about to embark on became common knowledge, these traitors would be alerted, and thus able to slip through the traps I am about to set.  I must also say that this is all a bit too much for the rank and file members of our society.  Most of our Spartan citizens would not be able to understand the complexities of this campaign.  Transparency, however noble in theory, would all only confuse the common man.   Best that I complete everything I need to do first, then we can bring this information into the light of day.  But only after everything is done.  Only after security can be guaranteed.  Only after everything is safe."  

A pause in the room lingered for a heartbeat.  Senator Applegate exploded to his feet and announced with pink-faced enthusiasm, "Chief Marshal Gorman, lead your armies to victory.  We all stand behind you.  We are your servants."

The room erupted with approval, with applause, with fawning admiration.  Murray studied the faces of his fellow politicos.  Did they believe all this, he wondered.  He was sure that some did.  In other faces, Murray saw reflections of the Chief Marshal's own ambition.  They may not believe the story, but they knew power and opportunity lay in backing the Chief Marshal.  What was a lie if it brought about great power and influence?  What use was the truth if it only weighted a man down like an anchor.  Robert Murray sunk low into a place first of despair, but then of determination.  He was silent and betrayed nothing of what he truly felt, as the other politicians in the room rose to congratulate the Chief Marshal on his new war, and congratulate each other for not questioning it.

The celebration of the Chief Marshal's new campaign was short-lived.  When they all filed out to the elevators, Robert Murray based the display case again.  He didn't spare them a second glance, and he did not look back before leaving the Chief Marshal's tower.

Robert Murray made a political career out of doing nothing, saying nothing, and being nothing.  On the elevator ride down, he did not know what he needed to do, or how, but he knew he had to do something.  For the first time he could remember, Robert Murray promised himself that he would take a stand.

The Chief Marshal

After the last of the politicos left, the Chief Marshal sat down at this desk and returned to his duties, reviewing this, and signing that.  After a bit, he looked up to see Colonel Lions standing before him.

"Will there be anything else, Chief Marshal?"  Lions asked.

Gorman straightened.  One hand made a very slow but very precisive movement with the pen, crisply setting it down on the desktop.  The pen made a sharp click as it touched down atop the surface of the desk, its length perfectly aligned with the desk's edge.  Gorman smiled at Lions.  It was not the genuine smile of before.  It was his rehearsed smile.  The one he'd been putting on for decades.  The smile Gorman had been practicing in the mirror ever since he decided he was going to be the Chief Marshal of New Sparta.

"No.  You may leave,"  Gorman answered.  Lions turned to go.  Before he got two steps, the Chief Marshal called out.


"Yes, Chief Marshal?" Lions asked, turning back towards his patron.

`"Get some rest.  Tomorrow, we start our revolution."

Lions nodded once and disappeared.  Gorman returned to his paperwork.

Gorman waited an hour just to be certain Lions and his household staff were all gone.  Gorman set down his pen again.  Once again, the movement was crisp and deliberate.  Gorman reached into a tunic pocket and produced a small brass key.  With it, he unlocked a desk drawer, pulled out a bundle wrapped in brown paper, and placed it on his desk.  He did this with the same precise movements he used with his pen.

He unwrapped the bundle and revealed two items.  The first was another key.  This was the key Lions gave him, the key to the Crown Prince's office.  Gorman set that aside and lifted up the second item.  It was a framed picture.  This framed picture once occupied the Crown Prince's desk.  Then Gorman stole it.  Now he held it with both hands and studied it.

Together in the picture were The Colonel and the Crown Prince.  It was an old picture.  The Colonel looked younger, though he never really looked young.  Not ever.  The Colonel always looked rough and haggard, with a creased and windburned face. The Crown Prince was still a boy, serving as a squire to the Spartan Knight.  Gorman had beaten that Spartan Knight, outmaneuvered him for the office of Chief Marshal.  Even so, The Colonel still confounded him.  Even from the grave, that barbarian still proved an obstacle to the Chief Marshal's ambitions, wielding far more influence than any dumb grunt deserved.  And if The Colonel's ghost and the Crown Prince were not enough, now this whelp was in the way too.

Gorman studied the picture long through the night and into the wee hours of the morning.  He sat in his chair, both hands on the frame, studying the photographed faces with unblinking eyes.  Gorman did not move.  He did not speak.  He just sat and stared at the photograph of the two men he hated, and the hours ticked by.

When the sun broke the eastern horizon, and the first rays of gold spilled into his office,  the Chief Marshal cocked back and drove his bare fist right through the picture.

Link Posted: 5/24/2020 11:53:37 PM EDT
Chapter 40

The Spartan Navy Frigate Youngblood, off the Central California Coast

The dawning sun cast its rays across the decks of Youngblood, and Captain Visconti stood on the fantail, brooding over the weapons lockers.  Those lockers should have been full of drones, but they were not full of drones.  They were empty.  Over the course of a few days, the Spartan High Command had ordered Youngblood to launch all of her drones inland.  All had left.  None had returned.  Now, still on station off the California Coast, Captain Visconti's cut circles through the Pacific, waiting.

Youngblood pitched.  The winds blew in hard from the West, as they had been for some time.  All around the frigate, waves rose and pitched over, frothing white.  Visconti's dark eyes flashed as Youngblood's communication officer, Ensign Dexter, approached.  The ensign rested one hand on the hilt of his Five-Ball Naval Dirk.  The other hand clutched a yellow communications dispatch.  That hand stretched out to Visconti.  Captain Visconti did not bother to reach out and take the message.

"What does it say?" Visconti asked.

"We are to proceed further up the California Coast and take up station. We're not going home,"  the ensign said, his face trying hard to hide his disappointment.  Now Visconti took the message from the Ensign's hand.  The Captain read it to himself, handed it back to the ensign, and summarized its contents.

"Proceed north, to the old California/Oregon border, take up station, and be prepared to provide military support to indigenous forces, whatever that means."  Visconti sighed, not trying nearly as hard as the ensign to hide his disappointment.  His dark eyes flashed again, this time moving up and down the length of his ship.  Youngblood may not have had any drones, but she did have a cargo hold full of coffee.  Perhaps one of the most valuable commodities in New Sparta, that coffee would soon go to rot within Youngblood's haze gray bulkheads.  The ship itself could use some time in the repair yard.  And the crew who could use a port call.  They'd been underway since…  Visconti tried to calculate just how long they'd been at sea, but he couldn't quite put a number on it.  They'd been on their way back to the Emerald City when The Colonel nuked The Bay, and they had not pulled into a port since. How many months had that been?  Enough to warrant an underway replenishment.  Visconti straightened and looked his ensign in the eye.

"Pass that message to the Executive Office, and let him know I'll be in operations directly."

The ensign saluted and disappeared.  Visconti headed for the operations center by way of the wardroom.  If the Emerald City was going to keep Youngblood at sea with all this coffee, he was damn sure going to drink it.


A storm had blown into the Grant's Pass Expeditionary Airfield.  It came in the form of the transport aircraft, ground crews, and logistics units needed to open the massive air bridge into Gomorrah.  They had all stormed into Sleazy's sleepy little outpost.  Hundreds had filled the small outpost built for a few dozen.  Now, their work done, they had stormed out.  All that remained of their work was the trash and dunnage that littered the airfield.  Strips of clear plastic shrink wrap blew across the tarmac.  Abandoned tents slumped over on snapped poles.  Broken bits of wooden pallets and sheets of cardboard littered the spaces between the airfield's few buildings: the tower and ready room, the barracks and maintenance bays, the weapons, and ammo bunkers.  Sleazy strolled across the empty runway, kicking bits of trash and empty water bottles as he went.

What had all this been about, Sleazy wondered.  What was the purpose?  They'd dumped tons of supplies to those refugees in Gomorrah, but to what end?  Dumping food and medical supplies was one thing, but they hadn't just dropped humanitarian supplies.  They dropped weapons too.  Weapons, ammunition, fuel, military vehicles, and communications equipment were all given to the Gomorrah masses who had until recently been at war with New Sparta.  It was enough gear to launch an invasion.  And Gomorrah might still be at war with New Sparta, Sleazy guessed.  There had been no declaration of peace.  One day the two nations were at war.  The next day they weren't.  It was as if someone in the Emerald City had simply flipped a switch.  We are at war.  Now we are at peace.  You are to kill the enemy.  Now you are to give him food, and medicine, and guns, and surface to air missiles.

Sleazy had never been one to question the system, but he didn't understand this.  How could they have gone from war to peace so quickly, as if it was based only on a whim?  And why outfit their historical enemy with weapons?  How many times had Gomorrah broken their promises in the past?  How many times had the High Council signed a peace treaty only to rip it apart when they felt they had the advantage?  That cycle had repeated for generations now.  What made this time so different, Sleazy wondered, so different that the enemy could be supplied with weapons.  And why parachute Spartan Capital Guardsmen in to join the enemy?  What purpose could that serve?

Sleazy was a pilot.  All he wanted to do was fly.  He didn't want to think about geopolitics.  He certainly didn't want to question the system that trained him to be a pilot, promoted him to major, and elevated him to command two Griffin aircraft and their crews.  He didn't want to question the system he had thrived under.

Sleazy just wanted to fly.  He didn't want to struggle with hard questions.  But questions were all he had on this remote airfield.  The dawning sun shone across the outpost.  It bathed the two Griffins in gold as they sat in their bays.  It washed the nearby weapons and ammo bunkers, with their rockets and railguns, in the golden morning light.

Sleazy headed back inside to get some breakfast.  The questions lingered.  He hoped he might find answers soon.  
­Generals Gather in their masses
Just like witches at Black Masses
Evil Minds that plot destruction
Sorcerers of death’s construction

                     War Pigs, Black Sabbath


Claw knocked on the tent flap, threw it open, and entered.  Winston Indigo, blue and massive, sat writing at his desk.  Winston set his pen down and looked up at Claw with his emotionless pewter eyes.

"We're ready," Claw said.

Winston nodded once and rose. He slung his gold-plated light machinegun over one shoulder, and his grenade launcher over the other.  Without another word they exited the tent.

Outside, the sky was clear, and the sun bright.  Their camp, the sprawling refugee sanctuary they built from nothing stretched out before them in all directions.  It sat still and silent.  There were no more drums, no more dancing, not so much as a whisper.  The only sound was the distinct sound of flags flapping in the wind.

The camp was emptied of every soul save for a few standing here and there with sputtering torches.  The tents were empty.  The hovels were abandoned.  Every lean-to and cobbled together hut stood vacant.  No trads.  No mods.  No Spartan advisors.  They'd all left, and taken everything of value with them to the long column.  Every soul.  Every weapon.  Every vehicle.  Every gifted ration and bit of New Spartan largess, all gone from the camp.  Now it was all packed onto a single lane dirt road running out of the camp, formed into a convoy, the long column that stretched back south into the horizon's haze.

Winston surveyed both the column and the empty camp.  None spoke.  None made a sound.  All was silent as a tomb, save for the snapping of banners in the wind.  Once his eyes had seen enough, Winston turned to Claw and spoke.

"Burn it."

Claw nodded to the torchbearers.  Fire flew, and soon the whole encampment became one great conflagration.  The tents, the hovels and huts, the lean-tos, and shanties all burned.  Flames leapt, and danced.  Above it all stood the giant effigy of Doctor Chosen, and that burned too.  Orange-red flames climbed up its leg then devoured the statue whole.  All that they had struggled to build since The Colonel's attack became fire and ash.  They burned their camp just as Cortez burned his ships, and just like Cortez, Winston's message was clear.  There was no going back.

Winston and Claw turned from the conflagration and walked to the lead vehicle in the convoy.  It was one of the M113 armored personnel carriers.  This one was painted black and red.  The skulls of the slain Spartan guardsmen that once adorned Winston's throne now decorated his command vehicle.  They were threaded onto a rusty bow chain like beads on a string, their bare teeth frozen in rictus.  They mounted Winston's throne on the vehicle's flat roof.  Winston climbed up and took his seat.  Claw took his place beside him.  Colonel Needles was also there, Winston's personal Spartan military advisor.  Colonel Needles had a backpack radio.  Its long antenna swayed with the breeze.

Claw looked south and swung his hand.  Once.  When he did, every engine in the convoy rumbled to life.  All manner of vehicles made up the long column.  There were the rebuilt M113s and Pre-Protest civilian vehicles.  There were buses and wagons, and construction vehicles that belched blue diesel smoke.  There were old military trucks loaded with weapons and dump trucks whose beds were full of people.  There were motorcycles with sidecars in every possible configuration, and passenger buses as vividly painted and brightly decorated as any on the Subcontinent.  There was a flatbed full of stadium speakers and repurposed fire engines whose bright red paint had faded to pink long ago.  There were all the vehicles gifted by the Chief Marshal, old military vehicles whose time had long passed.  Five-ton and deuce-and-a-half trucks, BM-21s, squat T-series tanks, four-wheeled armored cars sporting missiles in roof-racks, humvees whose canvas sides had rotted away to tatters.  There were trucks with names like Zil and Kamaz written on their grilles in Cyrillic letters.

All about the vehicles were Winston's people, and they were legion.  They were crammed into every cab, every seat.  Some rode on roofs.  Others rode on hoods.  Gear was piled high and lashed tight to every available surface. There were Trads and Mods, and Spartan Guardsmen-turned-military advisors in their red and black uniforms.  And they all came armed, with every manner of weapon imaginable rippers and crude revolvers, bludgeons, machetes hammered from spring steel, Pre-Protest firearms of every type and caliber, Spartan carbines with advanced optics, black powder Culverins, spears decorated with streamers of human skin.  They wore knives in boots and slung crude swords over their backs.  They wore crisscrossed bandoliers in the fashion of Hollywood banditos, with braces of mismatched pistols on their hips.  They were a force as wild and polyglot as any barbarian horde that swept across the Ancient world.  And all around, and up and down the column, the was the flap, flap, flapping of the banners.  The banners hung vertically from crossbars.  Black and red, they depicted the new sigil of Gomorrah, Winston's sigil. Claw's sigil.  The Gomorrah Phoenix rising up out of flame and ash.  The new rising up from the old.

Winston’s carrier lurched forward, then steadily advanced on its creaking treads.  The whole column followed suit, long and winding, it advanced, Trads and Mods and Spartans together, all armed to the teeth, all united under the Phoenix banner.

They were going north.

They were going to war.

They were going to Jefferson.

Link Posted: 5/25/2020 12:01:24 AM EDT
When will the rest be available on Amazon?
Link Posted: 5/25/2020 12:30:00 AM EDT
The chief Marshall's speach was a little reminiscent of chosen speaking to the council in "last March".

Spouting off a bunch of bullshit to people who drink it up and ask for seconds.

I hope the trash gets taken out of the emerald city in the next one.

OP, what's next on the schedule?  Book 3 of this or is Sean Bastle going to finish his boat ride?(isn't he fighting on an island right now?)

Thanks again OP. I love these stories.
Link Posted: 5/25/2020 1:35:55 AM EDT
Great work and many thanks
Link Posted: 5/25/2020 8:18:38 AM EDT
Thanks for the update. Looking forward to seeing another.
Link Posted: 5/25/2020 12:38:30 PM EDT
Thank you.

I was just rereading Across the Scimitar yesterday. This is a welcome treat.  

Link Posted: 5/25/2020 1:13:33 PM EDT
[Last Edit: DFARM] [#48]
Discussion ForumsJump to Quoted PostQuote History
Originally Posted By Vaquero:
Thank you.

I was just rereading Across the Scimitar yesterday. This is a welcome treat.  

View Quote

I had forgotten about that one. It'd be awesome if that one took off again, but I believe the OP said that it wouldn't be finished.
Link Posted: 5/25/2020 2:06:17 PM EDT
[Last Edit: camarofrk] [#49]
I seem to remember a certain group of Spartans in a certain part of the world putting together an army of their own.  

I also can't remember where I read it.

ETA:. Ooh, found it.  I hope they come into play.
Link Posted: 5/28/2020 8:56:30 AM EDT
Discussion ForumsJump to Quoted PostQuote History
Originally Posted By sharkman6:

The celebration of the Chief Marshal's new campaign was short-lived.  When they all filed out to the elevators, Robert Murray based (passed?) the display case again.  He didn't spare them a second glance, and he did not look back before leaving the Chief Marshal's tower.

View Quote

I've been busy since we got back to work.  I'm just getting caught up.  Things are in motion now aren't they?  Thanks for the updates!

I think there may be a typo above.

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