Rituals by Rick Partlow

RITUALS

Rick Partlow

 

McKay was pushed into his acceleration couch as thelander rocketed away from her monolithic mothership,leaping with a lemming’s enthusiasm toward the sullen planet below.

– It’s just another Balls-In, – he repeated silently, – Just anothersimulation.

That was what he’d told himself on every Ballistic Insertion he’d experienced since he’d enlisted. It had worked, too, back when he’d been a private, green and fresh out of college. But now he was Second Lieutenant Jason McKay, commanding his own reaction squad, and that blue-green hemisphere that filled the forward view screens wasn’t Earth. He was some twenty light-years from home, above the second world out from 82 Eridani, and it was all too real.“Whatever could have possessed me” – he wondered, – “to go to Officer’s Candidate School?”

– Sir? – Sergeant Wolczk turned to him, confusion furling his Cro-Magnonesque brows.
McKay realized with a start that he must have unconsciously vocalized part of that internal question.

– Uh…I was just asking if everything was secure, Gunny. -McKay lied.

– Oh, yes, sir. -the burly Marine sergeant said with a grin,- All the troops’re strapped in and everything’s battened down.

– Good. You okay back there, Constable Mei? – McKay craned his neck around to speak to the man behind him.

Looking lost in the smallest combat armor they’d been able to find, Mei Shin Lao made an unlikely cop; but the spindly, fiftyish Laotian was the chief constable of Inferno, one of the roughest colony worlds of the Republic.

– Yes, I am quite secure, thank you. – Mei replied.

– When the guano hits the turbines, stick close to me. -McKay told him, – Don’t get me wrong, – he hastened to add, – I’m sure you can handle yourself, but Marines train to a certain attack pattern, and if you’re not in a ‘friendly’zone, they’re likely to pump you first and ID the remains later.

– I will do as you suggest, Lieutenant. Thank you for your concern.

– It’d be a good idea for you to watch where you’re moving too, Captain. – McKay told the other occupant of the command compartment who sat beside, and dwarfed by comparison, Constable Mei.

Captain Miguel Hernandez was a fair-haired Titan in the bulky, black armor of the Colonial Guard, a weighty rocket rifle wedged between his knees.

– I will go where I damn well please, McKay! – the Argentinian snapped, – And I still plan to file an official protest with the governor about this unacceptable command structure. I am your superior officer, and I should be leading this attack.

– Regulations, Captain. – McKay reminded him, visibly unimpressed with the man, – Only a Marine officer can lead Marines in a combat situation.

– Then it should be Guard troops leading the assault! -the big man smacked the plastic lining on the bulkhead with his armor-gloved fist.

– Nearest Guard troops are two days out, on Eden. -McKay said, a flush of heat travelling swiftly up the back of his neck.

– It’s only blind luck we were this close to Inferno. I assume you’d like to retake the base while some of your soldiers are still alive? – the Captain’s eyes narrowed in a look meant to seem threatening, but rendered ludicrous by the convergence of the man’s bushy blond eyebrows.- I find your tone offensive, Lieutenant.

– That’s a damn shame. – McKay grunted, feeling the checks slip off his temper.

He was millimeters from a court-martial offense when the lander’s de-orbit burn ended and free-fall rescued him.

– If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to brief my squad. – Un-strapping himself, McKay grabbed a handhold and shoved himself through the hatchway back into the troop compartment. Sergeant Wolczk scrambled to follow, moving in the null gravity with practiced ease.

– Ten-shut! -Wolczk’s voice cut through the squad’s chatter as the pair halted themselves inside the compartment.

The squad fell silent and turned in their acceleration couches to face McKay. He silently scanned the faces of the nine men and three women. Remembering their names wasn’t too difficult: they were emblazoned on the breasts of their fatigues. What was hard was attaching anything meaningful to those names. Out of the twelve,he could only put together as much as a thumbnail sketch of three.Closest to him was Corporal Ari Shamir, the quiet young Israeli who always seemed to be reading something. Next to the corporal was Shawn Dobbs, a giant of a man who McKay knew didn’t give a damn for officers in general and him in particular. Over in the corner was Joanna Corson, the skinny, Canadian private with the squeaky voice that everyone was always mimicking. He’d only been in command for four months, and almost half of that had been spent unconscious in the g-tanks. He wished he knew them better…but it was probably better that he didn’t.

– It’s about a half-hour till we hit atmosphere. – McKay announced in what he hoped was a calm, steady voice, – You know the score. Some local politician name’s Luan Shou Shin has the Asian immigrants in New Saigon stirred up about the local conditions. He’s got about a hundred of them together–mostly Pan-asian Alliance exiles from the Uprising–and they took Inferno’s Colonial Guard armory, got ahold of some heavy weapons. The local cops only have antipersonnel, riot control stuff, so they called on us to pull the CeeGee’s ass out of the fire.

– So what else is new? – somebody muttered, sotto voce.

– What kinds of heavy weapons are we talking about, sir? -Shamir asked.

– Rocket rifles, assault cannons, lots of heavy personal armor. – McKay replied, – Maybe a couple of attack vehicles. Luan and his people have combat experience,but we don’t know if they’re familiar with high-tech targeting systems. Standard tactics, though: hit ‘em hard and fast, and hit ‘em again before they know what’s happening. Take out their vehicles first, then penetrate the building. I wish we could just level the place, but we’ve got to bust out the Guard troops they’re holding.

– How’d they take the armory in the first place? – asked a skinny private with ears two sizes too big for his head.

His name was…Nichols, that was it.

– Inside help: civilians working maintenance. Theysuckered everyone in, gassed them with their ownsecurity system. The good Captain managed to escape to warn the cops and they called us…We were the closest thing available since the Bradley was refueling at the solar antimatter factory. Mei and Hernandez managed to get to the planet’s only shuttle and came up to help us coordinate the attack.

– Damn CeeGee’s were always a bunch of amateurs. -Dobbs muttered.

– At ease with that crap, Dobbs! – Wolczk snapped.

– Just stay tight and listen to Gunny and we’ll all get through this. – McKay finished, hoping he sounded convincing to them… because he sure as hell didn’t believe it himself.

* * *

Wind buffeted the bulbous lander as it descended through the upper layers of Inferno’s atmosphere, the ship’s delta wings grabbing furtively at the gradually thickening air, its heat shielding glowing with ionized fire.This was the part of a Balls-In that always made McKay sweat: the moment between the shutdown of the hydrogen-fluorine rockets and the start-up of the ramjets.“The jets won’t start!” -his mind screamed at him, “We’re all going to die!”.But the crew in the cockpit was expert; the jets sucked in air and ignited, kicking them all soundly in the pants.McKay resumed breathing and hit the intercom switch on the bulkhead beside him.

– All right, boys and girls. – he announced, – We de-ass in twelve minutes. Wait for the smoke and use your thermal sights. Everyone secure helmets and check your seals.Good luck and good hunting.

– Good hunting? – Mei repeated, cocking an eyebrow.

– Just a kind of ritual. – McKay shrugged uncomfortably,not wanting to go into how he had picked up the expression from a previous commander.

He slipped on his armored battle helmet and secured its airtight yoke.

– Oh, yes. – Mei laughed humorlessly, – A ritual. – he pulled on his borrowed helm and continued the conversation through its comlink, – All cultures have their rituals, do
they not, Lieutenant?

– I guess, – McKay muttered, wishing the man would dropit.

– And what we are about to do, – Mei continued, caressing the assault rifle strapped across his chest, – Is surely the oldest ritual of all.

* * *

New Saigon was a city in flames. It hardly seemed possible in an age of plastiform buildings; electric-powered transportation; fusion generators and beamed energy transmission; but Inferno was not Earth. Many buildings were constructed out of native wood, and many vehicles ran on methane or alcohol. Add to that mixture several dozen self-styled revolutionaries liberally tossing around firebombs the night before, stir vigorously, and voila! one family-sized bonfire. People had stampeded through the packed-dirt streets of the low, sprawling town, screaming in uncontrolled panic, leaving their possessions behind, abandoning the city to its fate and heading down the river as the flames burned high into the early hours of the morning. But that had been last night. Now the fires burned in solitude, those not lucky enough to escape the flames left as smoldering corpses in the smoking wreckage.

The living remnant in the city was gathered into two armed camps. The Exiles under Luan Shou-Shin were held up inside the Colonial Guard planetary armory, the largest building in New Saigon. Attack vehicles prowled the street without waiting for the assault they expected from the constabulary unit out of Peiping, the nearest city, whom they assumed Mei’s people had called. Mei’s constables, meanwhile, were barricaded in the local Government Center, waiting for something more potent than a handful of riot police.And on the river that bordered the city on the east, some of the more daring souls watched from the shelter of crudely built wooden rafts to see if or when the two groups would finally decide to shoot it out.

For hours, they had been disappointed: nothing had happened.Until an ear splitting sonic boom shattered every window left intact in the city.The light-grey Fleet Marine lander bled off speed as it curved back around the rain-sodden fields west of the city, then came in low and slow two streets behind the armory, belching thick clouds of dark, electro-statically charged smoke that obscured eye and electronic sensor alike. It hovered for a scant moment less than two meters above the street, vectored-thrust jets swirling the smoke around it as a rear egress hatch flew open and sixteen figures dropped into the darkness below. Its job done,the lander moved on to circle the armory, still trailing smoke, and headed west to the farmlands to touch down lightly on its VTOL jets.

Buried in gouts of impenetrable fog, the two attack vehicles on the street fired blindly and desperately, filling the air with missiles, explosive shells and laser pulses,until first one then the other exploded in an incandescent cloud of molten metal, as missiles tipped with chemical hyper-explosives found their weak spots. The two Marines responsible dropped their shoulder-fired launchers,unslung their auto-rifles, and ran to join the rest of the squad.

– Shamir. – Gunny Wolczk radioed, – Take your group and hit the rear entrance. The rest of you follow the LT and me.

Before he had finished speaking, a half-dozen Pan-Asians in CeeGee armor scrambled out of the front entrance firing rocket rifles at targets whose positions they only half-understood from their helmets’ unfamiliar optics. Dobbs and LeClerc swung around their gimbal mounted, dual-drum-fed autoguns,received the signal tones from their helmet-gun targeting links, and opened up on the revolutionaries. Their nearly-recoilless, polymer autoguns spat out a deadly barrage of alternating tungsten penetrators and hyper-explosive 12mm frag rounds, theone-two punch hammering through the thick armor and butchering the men within, turning the six defenders into scrap metal and scattered bodily parts in less than a second.

– Smoke, Peterson. – Wolczk ordered.

The PFC pulled a pair of canisters out of a belt pouch, jerked out their pins and tossed them through the big, open double doors, filling the entrance corridor with clouds of inky smoke that spread through the building as quickly as the fire had spread through the city. With the entrance cleared, Dobbs ducked inside first, followed by Wolczk, while McKay and his two guests led the remainder of the group in, leaving LeClerc to guard the rear. Confused, unarmored Exiles, running helter-skelter through the hallways, balked at the sight of the invading Marines and tried to bring up appropriated weapons – or tried to turn and run the other way, but were either blown into hamburger by Dobb’s gun or pumped with tantalum core 6mm slugs from the others’ rifles.

– Command station to the left. – Hernandez announced,running up beside McKay, his armored boots ringing on the floor like hammer blows.

– Captain. – McKay instructed, – Go with Peterson and LeClerc and secure the command station. If you can, try to grab someone alive and find out if all of your people are being held in the detention cells downstairs. That’s where we’ll be headed. Call me if you find anything.

– As you say. -the Guard officer agreed, noticeably more cooperative now that the adrenaline had begun to pump, – But I cannot promise I will be able to restrain myself with any of these vermin. – he headed off to the left, followed by the two Marines.

– He’s a wonderful guy. – Wolczk muttered to McKay over their private channel.

– Yeah. C’mon, Gunny, let’s go find those thumb-fingered CeeGees. – he switched over to Mei’s channel, – You doing okay, Constable?

– Fine, thank you. – Mei said calmly, even as he spun on his heel and put a single round into an incoming rifleman.

McKay grinned.

– I can see that you are. All right, Dobbs, take point. Casey, watch our backs.

The six men set off at a brisk trot, disdaining the nearby elevator banks for the emergency stairwell while PFC Casey covered their backs with another smoke grenade. The door to the stairwell was locked… and shortly it was nonexistent, after Dobbs let it have a top-to-bottom burst. He led the way and the others filed through behind him. Glancing at Dobbs, McKay idly entertained the thought that the man must be wearing an industrial exoskeleton under his armor. Even with what had to be forty-five kilos of gun, armor and ammo, the big man took the stairs three at a time.They reached the door to the detention level unopposed, Wolczk trying it and finding it locked. Dobbs was about to do his number on it when McKay got a transmission over his helmet comlink and put a restraining hand on the gunner’s arm.

– Wait a second. – McKay ordered, – What was that?

– This is Captain Hernandez. – the Argentinean repeated, – I have the command station secured, but your trooper Peterson is dead.

– Damn! – McKay hissed, feeling like he’d been kicked in the nuts, – Did… did you capture anyone alive?

– Not yet. But the security scanners are working. I have the detention level on the screen.It appears that all of my men are being held there, and they are heavily guarded: a dozen men, five in armor, one with an assault cannon.

– What’s the layout?

– The ones in armor are patrolling the halls; the one with the heavy gun is on your right.The seven others are in the detention control center at the left end, about fifty meters down the hall.

– Can you gas the ones in the control center? – McKay asked hopefully.

– Negative. The gas cells are dry. If you will wait, we will come down to aid you…

– No. – McKay cut him off, – I need you to coordinate with Corporal Shamir. Get ahold of him, and let him know if there’s any concentrations of enemy and where they are.Try to find Mei’s people…

– I can see them on the outside scanners already, – Hernandez interrupted, – They’re approaching the front entrance, about twenty of them.

– All right. – McKay sighed, – Contact Corporal Shamir and get them working together. We’re going to free your men. I’ll call you when the smoke clears. McKay out.

He turned back to his half-squad.

– All right, let’s do it by the numbers. The second Dobbs takes out that door, I want Casey to toss in a smoke grenade. We got a gunner on the right, four others in armor up and down the hall,plus seven regulars at the end of the corridor.Nichols, you draw the gunner’s fire, give Dobbs enough time to get in and nail him. Gunny, you and me’ll try to take out the guys on the left quick with grenades. Watch your aim though, we got CeeGees on both sides of the hall.Casey, you and Mei wait until the hall is clear, then go take the detention control center. Use gas grenades if possible, but don’t take any chances. Everybody ready?

A chorus of “Aye sir’s” answered him as Casey pulled out his last smoke grenade.McKay fed a rocket-assisted anti armor grenade into the launcher mated to the side of his autorifle, and the others followed his example.

– Okay, Dobbs, do it!

Dobbs squeezed the trigger of his weapon, lifting the muzzle from the base of the door upwards, blowing it into scattered bits of debris with a metallic roar. Casey chucked in his smoke bomb, then Nichols followed it through the doorway, rolling into a crouch in the center of a corridor lined with transparent plastiform cell doors.Clouds of smoke billowing around him, Nichols fired his grenade launcher by reflex at the first target he saw, an armored guard standing just to the right and in front of the assault gunner. The anti-armor grenade took the man at belt level and blew him in half in a deafening explosion that splattered everything within ten meters with blood and metal fragments.The Pan-Asian gunner was momentarily startled, but he was also a combat veteran. He swung around his twenty kilo weapon and fired two rounds at Nichols through the smoke. Even as the gunner was firing, Dobbs was squeezing through the stairwell door behind Nichols and more armored troops were running up from the left,taking wild shots at the incoming Marines.The gunner’s volley missed Nichols by a good meter, the rocket-assisted rounds impacting a cell door with a double-thunderclap,punctuated by the screams of the Guard soldiers within.Dobbs growled deep in his throat and hosed the gunner with a ten-round burst of 12mm that chewed up the firing mechanism of the rebel’s cannon before decapitating him.Behind Dobbs, Wolczk and McKay intercepted the advancing armored troops with a pair of rocket grenades,each of them downing a man with explosions that shook the halls. That left one armored Asian, no time for the two Marines to reload their launchers, Constable Mei not yet through the doorway, and Dobbs facing the other direction.

– Dobbs! – was all McKay had time to say as he andWolczk and the Asian revolutionary opened up with their rifles almost simultaneously.

McKay could see his shots ricocheting off the heavy armor on the man’s chest and tried to adjust upward toward the faceplate, but a stream of smoke-trails was already erupting from the Exile’s rocket rifle. All McKay could do was stare in helpless amazement as two of the 15mm, gyro-stabilized mini-rockets punched through the honeycomb boron-ceramic armor over Wolczk’s chest and blew a fist-sized hole in his back. An eyeblink later, the gunner was dismembered by along burst from Dobb’s autogun, but Jason’s horrified gaze was glued to the Gunny. His body seemed to float to the floor with impossible slowness, and through his faceplate Jason could see a look not of pain or fear but of profound confusion. Those squinting, half-alive eyes locked with McKay’s and for one uncanny moment he felt frozen in time, as if Gunny Wolczk’s death were such an unnatural thing that the universe wouldn’t allow it to occur. But then his shoulders touched the floor, breaking the spell, and Casey and Mei took off at a double-time down the corridor toward the control center, leaving McKay and Dobbs gaping in disbelief at the lifeless body of Gunnery Sergeant Van Wolczk. McKay heard someone moaning softly, like a man slowly dying, and realized that it was coming from him.“Nichols”, his brain whispered like some stranger clearing his throat for attention. “Where’s Nichols?”As if in response to his thoughts, an eddy of smoke rose from the floor to reveal PFC Arturo Nichols sprawled face-down a few meters away.

– Aw Jesus. – McKay knelt beside him and gently turned the eighteen-year-old over, but he was gone, his throat blown out by a mini-rocket, – Dobbs! – McKay ordered through clenched teeth, – Go help Casey–now!

– Yes…aye, sir. – the big man nodded slowly, tearing his gaze away from the Sergeant and turning to run down the corridor as gunshots sounded from the direction ofthe detention control center.

McKay left the two bodies and walked over to the cell door that had been shattered by the assault cannon. There were seven men inside; all dressed in the light-green duty fatigues of the Colonial Guard. Three of them were clearly dead, their uniforms shredded from the fragments both of the door and the Asian’s cannon rounds. The other four were alive, but they had seen better days. One was conscious: a slim, young east African with a broken and swollen nose and blood running from his left ear. He looked up at McKay, blinking his eyes to clear them, and tried to get to his knees, coughing from the smoke drifting down the corridor.

– Who are you? – he asked in accented English.

– Marines. – McKay told him over his helmet’s external speaker.

Offering a hand, he pulled the soldier to his feet.

– Are you okay? -he shook his head.

– I can’t hear you so good, but I want to fight them.

– Come on then. – McKay urged, waving for the man to follow.

The soldier grabbed a rocket rifle from one of the dead rebels and hefted the heavy weapon confidently. McKay glanced around him. There were dozens of other Guard troops in the other cells in the corridor, pounding soundlessly, screaming without being heard behind the soundproof doors. Without a computer key card, McKay realized, there was no way to open the cells except from the control center. Jason signaled for them to wait with an upheld hand, and they seemed to relax.

– Casey, this is McKay. – he radioed, – Sitrep.

– Control center is ours, sir. – Casey reported, – We’ve got a couple live ones. They say Luan Shou Shin’s somewhere on this level.

– Right. Stay there till you hear from Shamir. See if you can get the cell doors unlocked.

– We’ll try, sir. It may take a while… Some of the control boards were hit.

– Do your best.

– Sir. – Casey wondered, – What about Luan?

– Don’t worry. – McKay replied grimly, – I’m going to find him.McKay out.

The Lieutenant turned to his new-found ally,who appeared to be getting impatient.

– C’mon. – he motioned, – We’ve got to find… – he was interrupted by the ringing echo of a gunshot, and a shrill scream somewhere off to his right.

– Dammit! -Jason took off headlong down the corridor with the African at his heels.
Rounding a curve to the left, they saw a tall, rakishly-mustached Chinese male whom Jason recognized from the threat briefings as Luan ShouShin calmly firing a pistol into an open cell of restrainer bound Colonial Guard troops. Two were already dead,and he was lining up on a third…

– Son of a bitch! – Jason opened up with his autorifle, the deep-throated stutter of his weapon in sharp contrast with the muted cough of the young Guardsman’s rocket rifle.

The Exile leader danced backwards under the impact of half a magazine of McKay’s 6mm slugs before a pair of mini-rockets blew his skull apart like a water balloon. The African soldier, his eyes wide and wild, kept pumping round after round into the corpse until his weapon went dry. What was left of Luan by the time the rifle’s ammo drum hit empty bore little resemblance to a human being. By instinct more than anything else, McKay swept the area with his helmet sensors, but saw only more imprisoned Guard troops. Letting out a deep sigh, Jason felt a shudder run through him, all the fear and an gerand hatred welling up inside his gut, rising like gorge in his throat.It shouldn’t have happened like this. They had done everything by the book, no mistakes, but Gunny and the rest were still dead. McKay had to shake his head to dispel the memory of the experienced Gunnery Sergeant greeting his new Lieutenant, merged with the lingering image of the same man’s limp and lifeless body. Eventually, he realized that someone was speaking to him over his helmet comlink.

– …tenant McKay, are you there, sir? – it was Shamir.

– I’m here. Report. – he was surprised at how calm his voice was.

– The base is clean, sir. – Shamir’s voice told of physical and emotional exhaustion, – No resistance left anywhere if Captain Hernandez is reading the sensors correctly. -along pause, and McKay could hear him taking a deep breath, – We lost Corson and Dundee. Richards and Mitchell are wounded, but they should both pull through.

– Call the lander. – McKay ordered, fighting to keep his brain working just a little longer, – Have them contact the Bradley, send out a medical unit.Get Mei’s people to set up a temporary hospital till we can evac the wounded. Get some stretchers down to the detention level, some of the CeeGees’ll need treatment.

– Aye, sir.

– Oh, and Shamir… – McKay trailed off, his voice catching in his throat, – You’re acting Sergeant.

– Uh…yes, sir. I’m sorry, sir.

Jason leaned heavily against the wall and slid slowly down to the floor. He knew he should help the young African untie the CeeGees. He knew he should gather up his men and get them to the command center… but not just now.

* * *

It was about a half an hour later before McKay, Casey and Dobbs made their way back up to the commandcenter, leaving Mei and his cops on the detention level to care for the wounded. Small fires burned in places and the corridors were filled with drifting smoke that coated the walls with soot. Bodies of rebels, and a few of local police littered the hallways, but McKay studiously avoided looking at them.As the three Marines approached the entrance to the command center, they heard the sounds of some kind of disturbance from their destination: shouts, crashing furniture, and the unmistakable sound of flesh striking flesh. McKay was too drained to hurry. He just continued walking at a normal gait toward the wide, open doorway.

– Tell me! – Hernandez’s voice reached them before they came to the entrance. – Tell me where he is! – the smack of a fist into flesh echoed off the walls.

McKay came to the doorway and saw the brawny Guard Captain, sans armor, clutching a bound Vietnamese teenager by the shirtfront with one hand and slapping him with the other. Blood was already flowing from the youth’s nose and mouth, and he looked only half-conscious.

– Captain Hernandez. – McKay pulled off his helmet and tossed it and his rifle to Casey, – Just what are you doing with that Marine prisoner? – hisvoice was soft, but deadly as a loaded gun.

– McKay, you… – Hernandez spun around, but hesitated in mid-bluster.
The grim set of McKay’s jaw was enough to give even the arrogant Guard Captain pause.

– I was attempting to force the whereabouts of Luan Shou Shin from this Exile scum we captured.

– Put him down. – McKay ordered.

– I will have the truth from him. – Hernandez insisted, voice rising like a child denied a toy, – That Goddamned gook is responsible for my personal humiliation! Having to run from the city like a child…

– I said. – McKay repeated, stepping up and punching the Captain full in the face with a straight left, – Put him down!

Hernandez pitched over backward, hands going to his nose, while his prisoner slumped to his knees. The Guard Captain spat out a red blob, swearing through clenched teeth as he struggled to his feet.

– Bastard! – Hernandez started into a lunge for McKay, but Corporal Shamir appeared like a wraith, interposing his autorifle between the two officers.

– Don’t. – was all the Israeli said.

– Luan Shou Shin is dead. – McKay told Hernandez, his voice more tired than angry, – I killed him, with the help of one of your men. Remember your men, Captain? The reason we didn’t just bomb this building to rubble? The reason I just got five good people killed? I’ll tell you one thing Hernandez, it sure as hell wasn’t to save your reputation. Why don’t you go and see to your men, Captain? Why don’t you just get the hell out of my sight.

Hernandez looked as if he were about to say something,but reconsidered after a glance at Shamir’s assault rifle. Wiping a hand across his chin, the Captain turned on his heel and stomped out of the room. McKay stepped over to the other side of the command center, where the two wounded Marines lay. Richards, a hard-muscled woman with hair shorter than McKay’s and skin the color of dark chocolate leaned against the wall with half-closed eyes, her left thigh swathed in a thick field bandage. Mitchell, a wiry, pale teenager who’d joined their squad at the same time as McKay, was stretched out unconscious, an oxygen mask over his face and a soaked-through dressing taped to his right side.Jean LeClerc, bereft of both his helmet and his autogun,was leaning over Mitchell, checking his vital signs with as mall, electronic sensor.

– How is he? – McKay asked the French-Canadian.

LeClerc shrugged.

– Lost a lot of blood. Got maybe three shattered ribs, a punctured right lung. He’ll live, but he could use some attention, and soon.

McKay nodded then went over to squat beside Richards.

– How’re you doing, Private Richards?

– Feeling no pain, sir. – she said, grinning, eyes slightly out of focus, – Jean’s got me pumped with some good shit.

– Her femur’s broken. – Jean told him, – But the artery’s still intact. She’ll be fine. They’ll have it fused and she’ll be walking in a few days.

– Good. – Jason patted her on the shoulder, – You take it easy. The med techs’ll be here soon.

– McKay straightened and moved to where Shamir was leaning on the commo board,talking to the lander.

Jason sat on the edge of the panel and waited for the Corporal to finish.The young Israeli finally signed off and looked over to his Lieutenant.

– Lander says the medevac team’ll be here in five minutes, sir.

– You did a good job taking this place. – McKay told him honestly.

Shamir just nodded. His short, black hair was matted with sweat, and there were lines of exhaustion in his face.

– Sir… – he trailed off helplessly.

– What? – McKay prompted.

– I don’t understand why they did it, sir. – he said, shaking his head, – They had to know they couldn’t hold this place. Why didn’t they just hit it and fade back into the crowd? Why wait here and get slaughtered?

Jason started to answer, but hesitated. In a moment like this, did the young corporal really want to hear his college professor’s theories of terrorist tactics and symbolic martyrdom? Hell, what did that professor know about death?

– It’s just a ritual, Ari. – he sighed, – Just a ritual.

Written by Rick Partlow

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Like it or don’t, I ain’t your mother. Stay cool y’all.

Neznani Vojvoda

Već godinama se kroz ulice Ildoka provlači priča da će izbiti rat sa Zarijom. Niko od Ildočana koje sam poznavao nije brinula ta ulična vreva, koliko je narod Zarije strahovao od užasa koji je trebao da usledi. Gomilali su vojsku iščekujući ildočke katapulte i baliste pred gradska vrata oivičena debelim peščanim zidovima. Panično su pripremali zalihe i skloništa, kovali daske preko prozora i gradili visoke tornjeve s kojih su vešti strelci čuvali pustinju od nas. Vladar Ildoka je veoma pametno dopuštao neprijatelju da se pripremi za rat, a onda bi pustio vojsku da se obruši na zidine i natovari plenom do sledećeg sukoba. Ildok je živeo od toga. „Čemu borba oko šačice žita i gutljaja vina, kada bi mnogo više dobio od pripremljenog grada?“ – bila je rečenica koja bi se iznova provlačila u birtijama i pijaci.

Jedva sam dočekao da sa Gospodarom izjašem van crnih zidova i uputim ka zlatnoj pustinji koja je delila ova dva grada. Mesecima smo patrolirali dinama, obilazili pojilišta kroz koja su prolazili karavani i otimali harač u čast Ildoka. Lagodno smo živeli gosteći se konjolavskim mesom i prevrelim mlekom kozoroga, a kad-kad bi se počastili zarijskom devicom ili ženama vodiča skrivenih svilom. Mačeve smo oštrili o kosti zraijskih vojnika i čuvara koji su nam stajali na putu. Sejali smo strah da bi žnjeli pobedu.

Jahač u lakom oklopu nam je došao jednog jutra noseći poruku uglednog Zarijskog trgovca. Glava mu je završila na koplju, ali je poruka preneta Gospodaru. Spakovali smo se i uputili na kamene lukove Zarijskih vrata. Trebalo nam je dva i po dana u punom kasu da stignemo do našeg odredišta gde smo se ulogorili uz sama vrata i plašili strane trgovce. Vitlali smo sečiva pred bradate beduine kao nevaspitana deca i slali ih nazad u vrelu pustinju. Svileni trgovci i kalfe, bunili su se ovakvoj drskosti, išli Sultanu na noge i zahtevali da nas pokolje, mada je njihov mudri vođa znao da bi tako nešto otpočelo dugo odlagani rat. Nedelju dana kasnije otvorili su izrezbarene kamene ploče ispod kojih smo do tada pišali, gde nas zlatom ukrašena garda sprovede do palate Zarijskog trgovca. Postupali smo uljudno sa Zarijancima, smeškali se i klanjali prosjacima koji nas dočekaše pljuvanjem i prezirom u očima. Pristali smo čak i da predamo oružje na kapiji, mada uvek uz šaketanje.

Dva dana od tada je bila zakazana večernja gozba povodom prošenja trgovčeve najmlađe čerke, a među zvanicama se našlo i moje ime kao pratnja Gospodaru. Moj Gospodar mi je za tu priliku podario svečanu odoru kako bih izgledao dostojanstveno pred ostalim gostima, jer nije hteo da se krećem u dronjcima koje sam do tada nosio.

– Dobro ti stoji. – prokomentarisa saborac čije su oči šetale po mom novom odelu.

– Hvala. – rekoh.

– Šteta što će se ubrzo pojaviti rupa u njemu. Onda će postati bezvredan. – reče skot, – Zašto ga ne daš meni? Tako će ostati ceo. – smeškao se sa ostalima koji su grohotom uživali u tom vojnom humoru.

Zarijska venčanja prati glas da su ogromna i dugotrajna sa dosta hrane i pića, dovoljno da prehrani brigadu vojnika. Konjolave su nam tretirali s najvećom pažnjom kao da su njihovi, a sluškinje su zaključali u pojase nevinosti, kako ih ne bi ojadili dobre udaje. Trgovac se pobrinuo i za te potrebe tako što nam je obezbedio namirisane zarijske kurve koje su nam dolazile noću i odlazile pre svitanja izbegavajući znatiželjne prolaznike.

Zakoračio sam kroz teško platno u prostranu sobu pod kupolom. Sa centra plafona su se spuštale platnene trake i preplitale sakrivajući oslikanu tavanicu. Uvezali su ih oko kamenih lukova uraslih u vinovu lozu koji su držali arhitektosko remek delo. Znam da je jedan od vojnika neukusno prokomentarisao, kako bi bilo lepo da ovde prošara užarena lopta sa katapulta. Svuda po podu su igrale senke oko razbacanih jastuka. Gospodar skrštenim nogama sede na jastuk, dok smo mi staloženo stražarili iza njega. Trbušne igračice, posmatrale su ga ispod velova na licu, krile strah i led u kostima. Nisu skidale oči sa narogušenog vučjeg krzna preko njegoveg plašta koje je simbolizovalo smrt hiljadu glava. Za ovu svečanost, gospodar je obukao pokrpljeni pločasti oklop sa elementima brnje čija se crna boja presijavala na svetlu uljanica. Hladno je posmatrao spektakl koji nam je spuštao vilice i budio seksualne porive dok su ostali vidno uživali u gostoprimstvu trgovca.

Bradati trgovac, suprotno od Gospodara, držao je svog unuka u krilu, klackao dečačića i s poštovanjem klimao glavom ka gostima. Oba njegova sina su sedela sa strane koji su takođe bili iskusni trgovci kao i on. Obrvama uperenim u našeg vođu kao da im je bilo muka od Ildočkog prisustva, blenuli su samo u njega. Nosili su plemićke čalme iako nisu pripadali plemstvu. Odeća im je delovala raskošno i imućno, sa skupim sabljama koje su im visile iznad glava kao krune, dajući im nadmenost u grupi zvanica. Jedna od ovih sablji mogla je kupiti karavan sa sve tvrdokrilnim kamilama i oružanom pratnjom. Odsjaj nejake vatre preko sanduka punih zlatnika kupao je naborana preplanula lica sinova i gubila u mrke brkove pod kojima su škrgutali zubi. Zurlaši su svirali vesele zarijske pesme u pratnji momčića sa tarabukom i fesom na glavi kraj kojih su plesačice mamile ostale zvanice.

Izbrojao sam osam mladića u krugu prostorije, i svi su bili iz stranih gradova. Prepoznao sam nošnje iz Gratnaskih polja, princa Atanava iz Matoka sa gardom, heroja Hanuma Štitoloma koji je jednim udarcem razbio glavu slonozona u jurišu i još par nepoznatih osoba. Svako od njih je nekako dobio ime i slavu, a moj gospodar je jedino bio poznat među krčmarima i kockarima. Tgrovac je načuo da se okolo vrzma nekakav vojvoda, pa je hteo da bude pošten i pruži mu jednake šanse kao i ostalima. Držao je svoju ćerku skrivenu iza velova na balkonu s kog je mogla da vidi svakog udvarača, a ona je sedela nepomično i gledala nas s visine.

Oko nas su pronosili velike poslužavnike sa mesom i voćem u koje smo uronili poput zveri. Par zvanica se veselilo, par njih je milovalo devojke koje su ih hranile, a ostali su takmičarskom mržnjom posmatrali jedan drugoga. Naš vođa je hladnog izraza lica buljio u velove balkona iako je bilo veoma neumesno zuriti u mladevestu. Radio je to mahinalno, jer je bio neuk što se tiče protokola i običaja, mada je znao za neki sram i red. Muzika se utiša, a onda trgovac rastera obnažene devojke i pregovori su mogli da počnu. Hanum je po svojoj herojskoj naravi prvi počeo da urla.

– Dajem sve što posedujem! Tvoja kćer će uživati kao kraljica, daš li je meni! – grmeo je dubokom glasom taj široko izvajani džin.

Trgovac zamišljeno pritvori oči i nakrivi glavu ka udvaraču dok je na kolenu klackao unuka čije su trepavice krišom mahale našem gospodaru.

– Svi znamo da živiš u pećini na kraju sveta. Ako tamo ode, biće jedina žena na hiljadu jutara, ali ako pođe samnom biće prava kraljica. – podizao je prst princ Atanav dok je pompezno jeo grozd.

Hanum se besno pridiže osećajući se uvređenim, a garda isuka sablje. Trgovac mahnu rukom ka obema stranama i oni se polako vratiše na svoje mesto. Njegovi sinovi, vidno uznemireni ovakvim divljaštvom, negodovali su, a naš Gospodar ni da trepne.

– Šta fali pećinama? – uvređeno se oglasi Gratnaski vlasnik najvećeg rudnika srebra dok mu se mast slivala niz prosedu bradu, – Ja Vam blagorodni kalfo nudim tri tovara srebra, najfiniju svilu moje kuće, najbrže konjolave moje ergele, najvredije robove mojih rudnika. Šta vam oko zaište, Vaše je. – duboko se klanjao bucmasti Gratnasijanac.

Starac je klackao svog unuka i namrgođeno klimao glavom razmatrajući njegovu ponudu. Okrenuo se ka sinovima, a oni lagano oboriše čalme odobravajući sve što se skotrljalo niz usta debeljka u haljinama.

– Presvetli kalfo, moje kraljevstvo Vam je na usluzi. Konijanci će dočekati vašu kćer kao rođenu sestru. Moja porodica je jedna od najstarijih među vencima Večnih planina koje nas okružuju. Savez sa nama bi koristio Zariji u odbranu protiv Bezbožnika. – ljutito se ćelavi mladić nakloni ka Gospodaru čije su zenice blještale zlobom.

Starac se trgnu, a onda se nakloni ka Konijcu, a sinovi kalfe prepadnuto se pogledaše očekujući reakciju gospodara. Svi u sobi su znali da je Konija najmnogoljudnije carstvo ovog kontinenta među kojima su živeli žilavi divovi, pa su smatrali da je ovo neka prozivka, čarka koja se ne sme dozvoliti, međutim, Ildok je ćutao. Ubrzo počeše svi da se svađaju između sebe i nude što smeju i nesmeju dok je Gospodar netremice blenuo u devojku. Nije ga pogađala buka niti leteći sudovi kojima su pokušavali da ućutkaju jedni druge dok ih je straža razdvajala. Kalfa je namršteno okretao glavu ka udvaračima dok su njegovi sinovi pomagali gardi da obuzdaju mahnitog Hanuma. Sa balkona zazvuča slatki zov zvona i gomila se stišala.

Svi su bacili pogled ka devici iza lepršavih velova svile. Njeno zvono je prekidalo nagađanje i biralo muža. Ukoliko bi se njen otac pogodio sa novim zetom, ona je morala da zazvoni i složi se sa njegovom odlukom, a ako ne bi, njen otac bi zazvonio umesto nje. To je bio običaj prošenja u Zariji.

– Oprostite mi draga gospodo. Primite moje najiskrenije izvinjenje. Jedan od Vas se nije izjasnio. Želela bih svakog da saslušam. – umilim i nežnim glasom se oglasi devojka našarana ornamentima Zarije preko lica s kog gospodarov pogled nije silazio.

Hanum zadihano stegnu pesnice spreman za boj i životinjski se okrenuo ka Gospodaru u kog svi pogledaše. Devica je pokušavala diplomatski da uveća imetak svog oca. Očekivala je tovare blaga i oružja u zamenu za njenu ruku. Drčno sam grizao poveći batak u medu i zbunjeno zverao naokolo kroz neprijatnu tišinu. Gospodar odlučno raširi ruke, a sa tavanice se obruši vod Užasnika – oružja isukanog na ljude u prostoriji.

– Nudim mir. – sablasnim tonom se oglasi gospodar u čijim očima se razbukta oganj.

Čak je i Hanum bio zatečen ovim potezom Ildoka. Bio je opkoljen najveštijim mačevaocima oko kojih su kružile legende i ubrzo svima postade jasno da dele prostoriju sa Ildočkim elitim odredom. Plemstvo Konije i Matoka kukavički potraži spas iza počasne garde dok je Gratnasijac sleđeno sedeo u bari mokraće koja mu se slivala niz jastuk. Video sam užas u njihovim očima. Strah im je oduzeo zvuk i pretvorio u mermer gde bi se na refleksni drhtaj sečivo našlo u njima. Saborac kraj mene jezivo se kikotao situaciji kojoj smo prisustvovali.

– Kakvo je ovo ponašnje?! – planu debeli trgovac, – Gosti se ovako ne ponašaju! Straža! – besno je vikao.

– Uvaženi kalfo, straža Vam je otrovana i neće doći. Moji ljudi su se postarali za to. Posmatrao sam ove trgovce i junake oko sebe, ali ni jedan nije u stanju da zaustavi rat sa Ildokom. Vojska ne poklanja, ona uzima. Mnogi su došli pomamljeni Vašim bogatstvom u želji za moć koja može da se kupi njime. Ja sam došao po Vašu kćer, bogatstvo me ne interesuje. Ako svoje darove namenjene njoj velikodušno ponude Ildoku, zaustaviće krvoproliće koje Ildok tako dugo priželjkuje. U zamenu ću ih pustiti da se vrate svojim gradovima. – govorio je Gospodar, a kalfa uplašeno potvrdi.

Ujutru smo izjahali napolje sa trgovčevom kćerkom koju smo držali ispod oštog sečiva. Nedelju dana kasnije su karavani prepuni blaga počeli da stižu pred kamena vrata Ildoka. Pojedina kraljevstva htela su da odbiju dogovor, ali su ih Zarijanci ljubazno zamolili paleći Gratnasijska polja trskokreta, harajući Matočke luke, minirajući Konijske padine sve dok se nisu složili da pomognu. Vazduh je smrdeo oporno na rat. Gradovi su pljačkali jedni druge, a Zarijski trgovac je dao dobar deo svog bogatstva da ostavimo njegovu kćer živu. Gospodar je oženio devicu u tajnosti kada se vratio u Ildok, zatim su karavani prestali da stižu na naše kapije. Kraljevstva su isplatila svoj danak i strasti su se smirile međ vladarima i gradovima. Gospodareva žena je već nosila svoje prvo dete, kada su se Ildočka vrata širom otvorila. Kralj je prvi izjahao u pustinju, a iza njega je bila armija koja je ritmično marširala napred. Rat je konačno počeo. Nekoliko dana kasnije, seo sam na obod zidina i srećno doručkovao usoljenu ribu, a ispod mene je marširala vojska, nestajući u oblaku prašine koja se topila sa daljinom.

Warlord

Pisao: Nenad Jevtić

1319 A letter for the King

Beloved Master,

I write to you in this stormy night because of grim event that happened today. I came onto the battlefield too late to save Ildocian army from certain death. Forgive me on my terrible writing, because I do write from the carriage. My departure from the battlefield holds no other meaning, except to warn you that Godless men have fallen. I have no reasons to stay down there, because there is not one Ildocian that draws breath. Snows have already covered their bodies, and Marauders have looted everything that could be lifted. Zarian army celebrates tonight among torches and tents, and tomorrow, the red banners will continue their march towards the black walls of our beloved city. They have cut many heads of Kotadar sons and decorated their spears with it. They place them along the road like poor slaves, while they throw their bodies on piles to burn. This morning I saw two swords stuck into the icy ground with Ildocian skull in helm placed over them. I have come across a few wounded soldiers in camp that talked me through the battle. Fearfully they plead and begged me to run as far as I could, because Zaria is on the move. I have left them to wait for painful death and continued to follow the bloody trails in the snow. Cries came from a far between the trees, while Zarian drums called for charge.  They have left us none of horse-lion to rescue our wounded and transfer the dead. The Devil has waked in them and gave them no sleep until the last… (section needed)… They steeped in blood and illusion that they became unstoppable. Massagers were intercepted by fiery arrows, and reinforcement never came.

A force came down upon us and spilled venomous fear over hart, from the wrath of Zaria, while sky turned black, out of rabid siege contraption fire. Golden banner with green outline in hands of a warlord, which name sounds not familiar, took light hard-shelled camels charge down hill into our flank and broke our army in half. Heavy infantry dripped from the forest side into our left flank, while from the top of the hill, archers rained poisonous arrows towards our charge. They strapped their horse-lions beast in broad shields and steel wire that cut through the Ildocian flesh. They came cutting limbs with sabers to those wounded that laid on the ground, and greeted those that felled back with webs and took them as slaves for gold mines and galleys. Bloodthirsty hunting horned-dog beasts were released in the wood to feast upon drifted deserters while they followed their advance with hasty horse-lions. Our valuable swords are melted into horseshoes they nailed to their horses so they can lose them in disgusting alleys, and from shields they made fences so that camels may scratch on them. In our silver decorated helms, they drop feces and then give them to slaves to eat. Winter doesn’t frighten them nor slowing them in advance, as they made a pact with Gods to defeat us. They stomped the battlefield and accede on our soil so ardently and defiant, like spiting to our face and… (section needed)…, …(section needed)…

Fear drives me to warn you about angry mob of butchers that presses towards our fields, washed with life. They march and sing along the road while war drums eco in the mountain peaks. They will not stop until a red banner doesn’t flutters around the top of your tower, and until our women and daughters end up in adipose boot merchants harems. They will treat our children worse that their horned-dogs and old folks will be tortured for entertainment… (section needed)… They come in vast numbers, and behind them, a great cloud of dust rises, even in this snow. Our villages are set a flame with broken military flags rammed in manure. They even kill fly’s in blood for coming from Ildocian lands, and cattle’s been whipped out with legs tied up, not giving them last freedom as they die. Everything that walks, fly and swim in Ildok is been awaited with a dagger, saber and spear. Only desolation and smoke stacks are left behind them, there, where houses of your loyal subje… (section needed)… dark smokes from the east… (section needed)… searching quarters in mountain caves… (section needed)… Baleful night has fallen tonight and has let me escape falcon-tures that seek sinewy meat and boiling soldier’s blood. They have scouts at every meaningful road and elite guard lurks in every bush.

I beg of you Milord, at these late hours to pray to Kotadar and fortify the city. Prepare men for the force that runs at us and house the beggars. Open your door to poor and open your treasury to merchants, because a long winter under siege awaits us. To every vassal, give a sword in hand to defend the city, and to every woman give a knife to cut hers throat should she save herself from ill destiny of living inside cheap brothel. Children, you send in other cities, forests and mountains, because they will be safer in jaws of the beasts that the hands of Zaria. Save, what can be saved, Zaria is coming.

 

With respect,

 

Your faithful servant, Lancer of First Order

Of Honoree Royal Ildocian Guard          

Ser Potos nok Dus                        

letter-for-a-king

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1278 Sons of Bitches

I was born in a poor Konian family on mountain edges, between sharp cliff and snowy tops, at the age when war raged among Ildok and Gratna. When I was twelve years old, my father sold me to medium Zarian merchant for a bag of Gratian silver. Just when I leaved with a caravan into the desert, father realized that merchant deceived him and instead of silver, he placed polished Ildokian iron. I enchanted gazed at hard-shelled camels and awed at spacious sandy desert through which we rode. When I got in the magnificent Zarian city, music beneath the tents awaited me, where men gathered to speak and smoke, merchants on the street and beautiful colors of silky veils which joyfully played over us on the wind. Never until now have I ever seen so many people at one place with wide smiles over tanned faces. They leaved me a brand over hand and gave me to work house chores. Among the servants were many children and old folk which probable ended up the same way I did.

– From where do you hail? – I asked one old lady which franticly grasped the broom.

– Shut it, girl, and work as commanded. – she spoke in unexplainable fear towards the master.

They rarely fed me, and master came to visit me more frequently in late hours to fornicate with me. He gently spoke all sorts of twisted fantasies into my ear, while forcibly held my face in soft pillow and furiously penetrated in my young womanhood. Son of a bitch wanted to use me until I get my first blood, because he didn’t wanted to risk pregnancy for which the Council of Whispers would make him acknowledge the child. Mistress knew what was he doing, she even saw us once by carved window while she held a little boy face between her legs. I was just another pale, dirty little girl to them, which came down from the mountain into the civilization, to whom they can treat her like a bitch. When the old Master noticed the same, they had a fight, and young merchant had to sell me. I switched masters and lived as his personal slave whom he enjoyed to torture. A month later, some bandits killed the son of a bitch because of debt, and threw his body in manure where it belongs. They threw me out on the street to take care of myself among the other beggars and thief’s where I lived from the little gold coins I could to beg for and find in muddy gutters where Zarians threw filth when sweeping the streets.

Tea maker picked me up and gave me crumbs of bread in hands as a job of waitress. His gorgeous daughter paid me some attention and turned me into a real woman when I was fourteen years of age. I started to live lighter, sweeping tables, learning how to behave in company of men, flirting with customers while dancing on their laps beside which was always my hand gliding for extra coin. One night, a fat Zarian have let him self too freely and leaned towards Masters daughter which stood as remarkable beauty, bound for a good marriage, so I opened him with a meat knife from beard to the waist. A commotion occurred, insufferable noise, because that son of a bitch was commander of cities guard battalion, disguised in a civilian robes. Master thanked me for saving his daughters honor, but I still got thirty whips over my back and eternal residence in most repulsive and horrid brothel which Zaria had.

„Son of a bitch abandoned me as soon as he saw that his job might suffer. “ – were the words running my head as I walked out from huge noble court where Sultan judged me personally.

I hated them all with fire of hundreds of Sundars, because they treated me like some horned dog drifter. They made us drink bitter tea every morning so the seed won’t stick and smoke hookah from which we would lose strength to fend ourselves. Sweaty, fat, stinky stable men and drunkards were my regulars, until a war broke with Ildok, then a young soldiers from surrounding villages which didn’t knew better came to me more and more. Months were passing silently, and a frightening amount of familiar faces had left my arms as a crowd by the tables grew in wounded boys that poured kumis over their sorrow. I sensed the morbid situation, when soldiers came to fuck me weak and don’t stand hard enough for me to please myself. Other girls complained at the same thing, although they generally had a problem with bad stench of blood and death that spread in the object. As war passed through, scared boys picked me at night out of anger they had to relief over the enemy.

– Whore! You Idocian scum! I’ll kill you all, so help me Kotadar! – a drunken soldier hit me, naked and hairy.

Cattle men liked to squeeze me by the neck, slap me around, kick me while making love. My pale face, they confused with Ildokian which decimated their ranks and burned villages in which they were brought up in. “They deserve no thing better, those ugly Zarian bastards. “ It didn’t bothered me, that rude behavior, because I went through a lot for ten years here that twelve among the Konian mountains. For the first time when one of the soldiers beaten me bloodily, I thought I would die, but my scars drew them even more in my bed. „Mistress, that sick bitch, only cared for profit and nothing else. “

I even tried to understand them, in urge of wrath, and even more got interested in commotion outside of the city walls. Ildok was taking everything it could over their trip towards Zaria, and what it couldn’t pick, it have left in flames. Caravans of my people were equally butchered, because Konia cooperated with rich Zaria. People inside the walls came more restless, falling into despair, because the war was coming to knock on their doors like lava, slithering from the cliffs of Ildokian volcano towards azure coast. Zarians snatched food on the streets, ran to shelters to hide from war. Criminal rate spiked and thief’s got their fortune over greedy civilians which fought each other for a place in shelter. A month later, they closed heavy stone gates and mobilized all of the guards in state of readiness. This week brought us scant profit; even the drunkards went home sober where fat wives and noisy children waited for them.

I laughed in full lungs and almost choked with a grape, when one of the inflamed balls fell on a palace of my former Master and blew it in smithereens. At the eleventh night, Ildocians came through the city and started terrorizing the streets. There was no tent, house, villa nor a palace in which the bloody blade didn’t go through, slicing everything that moved inside. They burned the shelters, left wild beasts in them to crawl in tight spaces where knights couldn’t go through. They siege the Sultans palace with great siege towers with rough edges which were possessed with skillful swordsmen. They destroyed the city with passion in anger which I haven’t seen before. I hated sons of bitches, but not as much as Ildocians. They killed men without mercy, and raped their misses and daughters, leaving them on cold floors to bare their bastards in their wombs. Those young beauties, they snatched and took them as slaves to finish up in perfumed brothels and prestige villas of warlords that led the armies. Every whore from these obnoxious houses they treated differently from other Zarians. They paid us deepest respect and gave us valuables they took from civilians. When they stormed the palace and stole everything, they have left the city as fast as they could, like they feared the counter attack. They have left Zaria in black smokes that could be seen from the smallest peaks of Konian Kingdom. All of whores, they took with them into the stone made city of Ildok at the other end of continent and there, they welcomed us as heroes.

– We are so lucky, the war started. – huge smile decorated my friend while flower petals fell over her face, dropped from the highest balconies in tight queried streets.

– By Kotadar, we are… Just not need to see those sons of bitches again. – I commented while observing dreadfully dark city where were less than few colors.

They placed me and my friends in giant tent where we have continued to perform our duties, just strictly among soldiers. Tree nights, one of the same young man have visited me and slept. There were no hookah and anti-pregnancy herb teas which we took regularly, but instead there were big amounts of various food and women that took care of us like we were some Mistresses, shrouded in veils of silk. I felt pleasant and content because I was saved by Ildocians from those sons of bitches. I was noxious of all the suffering I had to grow trough into a woman. I was disgusted by sweaty and fat Zarian, and their twisted sexual fantasies, and the most, that deceiving kindness beneath monsters hide. I can only think of ill about Zaria, and about Zarians, nothing more than shits that are bound to be exterminated. I am glad they left it in flames, may Kotadar take note and leave it like that forever.

Little piece of joy entered my life when my belly started growing. All of the women in the tent rejoiced to the children, and one day I have heard why we are here. Sons of bitches have cunningly hid their true intentions from us. I figured; that from birth, Ildocians train army they used to conquer cities and that there is twenty year rotation between the cities. They needed us to bring them bastards, half-breed, sons of bitches to train and send to war. From our children they made, warriors, murderers, savages alike those that burned Zaria, and smokes, they were warning to Konia, that she is next in next twenty years.

sons-of-bitches

1977 Mrak

Već mesec dana sam čekao novi zadatak u jednom hotelu, izgrađenom u prošlom veku. Većina matočkih hotela je izgledalo ovako sem desetinu onih koji su veoma dobro zarađivali od velikog priliva turista tokom sezone. Grad Matok je bio pogodan za razvoj turizma i imao je najveću trgovačku luku od koje su obilato punili budžet poslujući s ostalim gradovima. Napadali su i branili se ekonomijom i bili su veoma uspešni u tome. Kad bi se Ildok spustio ovde, matočani bi ih dočekali kao oslobodioce i počeli da trguju sa njima. Tek posle nekoliko godina bi dominacija Ildočana opala kad bi se sposobniji matočanin našao da posluje u njihovu korist. Istiskivali su ih postepeno iz svih polja privrede sve dok nebi mirnim putem i poslednjeg Ildočanina prognali odavde. Ildoku bi na kraju postalo veoma skupo i zahtevno da svoje garnizone čuva ovde pa bi i njih vratili među drevne crne zidine grada. Ildočani, Konijci, Zarijci i ostali su ovde bili ravnopravni, svakom su ukazivali poštovanje do god je imao para da plati za usluge. Oko mene su se stalno bunili, jer nisam ličio na nikog od njih. Svojoj crnoj puti sam mogao da zahvalim vojvodama iz dalekih zemlja koji su ovde došli sa tirkiznim barjacima i osvojili Ildok pre nekoliko vekova. Danas sam za njih stranac, izgnanik, neko ko ne pripada nigde i đavolski dobar atentator.

Čistio sam svoj pulsni snajper stare generacije i gledao zastareli holo-emitor koji je jedva jedan kanal projektovao, i to je baš morao da bude onaj politički. Navukao sam žaluzine i pogasio svetla sem tog na stočiću. Nije mi trebalo svetlo, dobro sam znao svoje oružje da sam i u snu mogao da ga čistim. Emisija je počela tonom koji nikako nisam mogao da kontrolišem daljinskim ma šta god pritisnuo na njemu. Pojavio se jedan vojni komentator za kog su svi znali na kontinentu. Provokativno obučena voditeljka je stalno pridržavala slušalicu u kojoj su joj pričali šta da kaže, valjda nisu mogli da dopuste da ona vodi interviju, strahujući da će samo lupati gluposti. Na drugoj strani je sedeo taj bucmasti bledi, narogušeni čovečuljak odveć pijan jedva držao oči otvorene i slušao njena besmislena pitanja.

– Gospodine Kerion. Za Vas važi da ste veliki pobornik mira. Konstantno govorite kako je rat sa Zarijom i Ildokom bio greška stoleća. U Vašoj knjizi takođe citirate velike vođe Ildoka i stalno ih blatite gde ste ih jednom prilikom nazvali „Gomilom zaostale naduvane nedonoščadi“, a pri tom je i Vaše poreklo iz Ildoka. Možete li da nam pojasnite taj Vaš stav? – seckala je voditeljka u pocepanom signalu holograma.

– Naravno, lutko. Vidi, ja… nikad pulsnu pušku nisam u ruke uzeo, a govorim stvari protiv nje. Ha, ha, ha, znam zvuči smešno, je l’ da, ali moj stav se zasniva, ne iz gluposti kako je jedan general rekao, da ga ne spominjemo ovom prilikom, nego na osnovu iskustava i istorije koja je zapisana. Čovek nikad ne mora da bude bolestan, a jednim pogledom na nekog zaraženim kugom će znati da treba da ga se kloni, je l’ da? E, to je moj stav. – odgovori čovek navaljen u stolicu dok je gestikulirao šakom.

– Da, u redu. Niste mi odgovorili po čemu mislite da su ti međusobni sukobi loša stvar? Setimo se da je većina njih inspirisana osvetom koja datira iz davnih vremena. Ildok je nekoliko puta opustošio Zariju i Zarija je u nekoliko navrata činila genocide nad Ildočanima. Vi stojite iza toga da su to sve greške i uzaludna dela? – nastavi istim tonom voditeljka kojoj je malo falilo da ispadnu sise i vidi međunožje.

– Kako da ne, kako da ne. To je uvek loše, ali i dobra stvar. Svako ko reši da digne pušku na nekog drugog, zaslužuje da se protiv njega digne ta ista. Ja verujem da samo čovek koji je neuk, glup i totalni idiot, može da bude sposoban za tako nešto. Pametan čovek, dušo, stane i razmisli pre nego što krene sa agresijom na nedužni narod. Svim tim vojnicima su pune glave: Kako je čast dati život za Domovinu, kako, Kako je vojnik hrabar i gleda smrt u oči svaki dan kad se probudi. Dajte molim Vas. To su čiste budalaštine. Današnji ratovi su postali biznis da se pripitomi konkurencija ili stvore uslovi za novu generaciju naoružanja. Ne bi me čudilo da se u današnje vreme gradovi dogovaraju kad je dobro vreme da izbije rat. Ako jedna od tih strana ne vidi očiglednu korist od sukoba, oni neće pristati na provokacije. Sve je postalo transparantno, šteta što to obični civili ne vide kako treba, jer ih drže u mraku. – objasnio je gost uplićući jezikom zbog čeka mi je delovao po malo smešno.

– Da, verujem da se dosta naših gledalaca ne bi složilo sa Vama, jer je narod dosta propatio u svim tim ratovima i okupacijama. Ko je po Vama najviše kriv za takvo generalno mišljenje u narodu? Koga bi ste Vi držali odgovornim za ove ratove? – nastavi voditeljka ženstvenim glasom dok se nameštala u stolici krsteći noge.

– Pa… mnogo je njih. Evo, na primer, Zarijske trgovce. Zašto? Pa, kad god im se nakupe sirovine ili im zatrebaju sirovine, a one su skupe, oni u taj rejon zarate da obore ekonomiju i stvore crno tržište, a Ildočani žive iznajmljujući svoju vojsku gde god ima novca. Političari su samo glasnici, obični čobani koji kontrolišu ovce dok im gazda sedi u hladovini i zarađuje prodajući: vunu, mleko, sir, meso, kožu, kobasice, odeću od vune. To je sve postalo veoma jasno onome ko zna gde da gleda i šta da pita. Ildočani su na celom kontinentu najgluplju, jer je kod njih najviše oružja, to pametan čovek ne može da drži toliko dugo, a za njima je Zarija, jer oni nasedaju na svaku provokaciju koju im Ildok uputi. Matočani su najveća govna, jer od svakog sukoba oni najveću zaradu vide poslujući sa obe zaraćene strane. Sve se to obavlja u mraku, verujte mi. Jednima daju rude gvožđa iz Konije po jeftinoj ceni da prave tenkotopove i blastere, dok drugima prodaju medicinski materijal i ispomoć u hrani. A ovi Konijci i Gratnajci, oni su Vam, lepotice, maloumni pilići koji se uvek nađu između dve vatre i spuštaju standarde, a setite se da su se često ta dva grada pripajala ratovima iz sopstvene koristi. Prateći sve što sam do sada rekao, složićete se, Ildok je rak ovog kontinenta, jer odatle sve polazi, pa i sam grad im je skoro potpuno crn kao mrak, molim Vas. Kakav god rat bio, Ildočana čete naći na obe strane. To je teška gamad i treba ih pobiti sve do jednog bez milosti. – već je ljutitim tonom počeo da objašnjava čovek.

– Znači, Vi mrzite Ildok? Ceo Vaš stav je skoncentrisan na Ildok? – glupavo upita voditeljka.

– I Zarija. Nemojte zaboraviti na nju. Svakog zarijskog trgovca i Matočkog treba postrojiti i ubiti. Neko ko bar malo razume moj stav, videće o čemu pričam. Svi viđeniji ljudi u Zariji moraju biti mrtvi. Ali apsolutno svi. Njih će brzo zameniti neki drugi ljudi, i njih treba ubiti takođe. Mi se jednostavno nećemo otarasiti rata. Rat je naš neprijatelj i protiv njega se treba boriti, protiv uzročnika i huškaša, a ne da narod bije u narod. To je moj stav i o tome ja pripovedam, lepotice. Nemam ja ništa protiv normalnih Zarijanca i Ildočana, ali one sa vlašću i parama treba ubiti. – pojašnjavao je čovek dok je voditeljka pozirala pred kamerama.

– Imate zanimljiv pogled na svet. Hvala Vam što ste gostovali u našoj emisiji i želim Vam puno uspeha u daljem radu… – govorila je devojka.

– Nema na čemu, srce. Za tebe sam uvek tu. – odmahnuo je bucko raskalašno rukom.

– I za kraj. Imate li šta da poručite našim vernim gledaocima? – dodade voditeljka sa širokim usiljenim osmehom, kad se čovek uozbilji i navali na kolena gde je direktno pogledao u kameru.

– Pišem novu knjigu u kojoj ću pojasniti ko je odgovoran za sve ove ratove, znate, da se čuje u kog narod treba da upire prste na sledećim izborima. Predviđeni rok za izdavanje je godinu dana, a može se naći i na I-linku gde možete preuzeti svoj primerak. Držite se ljudi, narod će pobediti.

Ovim završnim rečima je holo-emitor utihnuo u šuštavom statusu ispresecanih linija. Nedelju dana kasnije sam u baru dobio dva pisma sa sledećim metama za odstrel. Povukao sam se natrag u sobu i otvorio ih pošto sam prethodno proverio da nisu minirana nekim smrtonosnim mehanizmom. Počeo sam naglas da se smejem ironiji. U oba pisma je bila slika čuvenog vojnog komentatora Keriona, čak je to bila ista slika samo u dva različita pisma. Obe koverte su stigle u isto vreme, ali sa različitih stana. Jedna je bila od Ildočana, a druga od Zarijanaca. Kerion je bio u pravu. Neko je rukovodio obema stranama i koristio ih kao ovce za sopstvenu dobit. Jebeno genijalno.

Dve nedelje kasnije sam se ukrcao na poslednji brod za Petros, jer je ceo kontinent bio u zatvaranju. Keriona je progutao mrak kad sam mu napravio krater u grudima i nestao kao duh ostavivši Ildok i Zariju da se prepiru ko ga je ubio. Ildok je kao i uvek napadao Zarijance da su uklonili Ildočanina, jer su ga mrzeli, dok su Zarijanci osuđivali Ildok da je saseko jednog od svojih kako se istina nebi pročula u njegovoj knjizi. Jedno je ostalo sigurno, Matočani će se u okrilju mraka obogatiti prodajući sirovine obema stranama.

Mrak

For more fresh topics, search Dronstad on your Facebook. Pisao: Nenad Jevtić

1977 Darkness

For over a month I have waited for the new assignment in one of the hotels, built in the last century. Most of Matoks hotels looked like this, except a dozen of those that made a good profit from the overflow of tourists during the season. City of Matok was perfect for developing truism and it had the biggest trading port which was used to fill out the budget with dealing with other cities. They were attacked and defended by a strong economy, and they were very good at it. Whenever the Ildok would descend here, Matocians would welcome them as liberators and start trading with them. Just few years later, Ildocian domination would decrease when more capable Matocian came along to make deals in their behalf. They slowly pushed them out from all of the branches of the ongoing busyness, to the point where Ildocians are peacefully banished away. To Ildok, it will become too expensive and too demanding to keep garrisons in Matok, so they would leave in calm. Ildocians, Konians and Zarians were equal here; they all got their respect as much they had money to pay for it. Matocians made noise about my kind, because I didn’t look like any of them. To my black skin, I can thank the warlords from the lands away that came here with turquoise banners and conquered Ildok centuries ago. I am a stranger today, outcast, someone who doesn’t belong anywhere and a damn good assassin.

I was cleaning my old generation pulse modular sniper and watched holo-emitor which barely projected one channel, and it had to be the political one. I put on the blinds and turned off the lights, except that one on the table. I didn’t need light; I knew my gun very well so I was able to clean it in darkness. Show started with a tune I couldn’t control via remote whatever I pressed. A military commentator appeared, for whom everybody on the continent knew about. Provocatively dressed hostess was constantly holding the earpiece in which they were telling her questions. I guess they couldn’t allow her to lead the interview, fearing she would drop down some nonsense. On the other side was that chubby, pale, bristling little man, drunk for a quite the time, incapable to keep his eyes open and listen to the pointless questions.

– Mister Kerion. You are known for passionate talk about peace. You constantly speak of war with Zaria and Ildok, as ‘the mistake’ of the century. In your book, you also quote big leaders of Ildok and drag them through the mud all of the time, where you have even called them once, quote: „Bunch of retarded, drugged premature infants“, and by that, your origin is from Ildok. Can you further explain your point? – host shivered in broken hologram signal.

– Of course, doll. Look, I… have never taken a rifle in my hands, and yet, I speak against it. Ha, ha, ha, I know it sounds ridicules, doesn’t it, but my standing is based, not on stupidity as one general have said, let’s not speak of his name, but on the experience and history which is written. A man doesn’t need to be ill to know, by a glimpse on a sick person, that he should stay away from somebody who has been plagued, isn’t it so? You see, that is my point. – man replied, leaned in chair, while waving his hand in gesture.

– Yes, all right. You haven’t answered me why do you think that these international conflicts are a bad thing? Let’s not forget that the most of the conflicts are inspired with vengeance, dating from the ancient times. Ildok has annihilated Zaria several times, and Zaria has, in few attempts, made atrocities like genocide over Ildocians. You stand behind the opinion that all of it was a mistake and the lost cause deeds? – she added with the same tone, trying to keep her breasts inside the dress and not show too much of her private parts.

– Sure I do, sure. That is always bad, but a good thing in some cases. Everybody who picks up a rifle at somebody, deserves the same gun to be picked against him. I believe that, only uneducated man, dumb and total idiot could’ve be able to do such thing. A smart man, my dear, stops and thinks before he advances with aggression on innocent people. They fill the heads to these soldiers like: It is an honor to lay your life for the Country, like; Soldier is brave and looks at death every day he wakes up. Please, those are complete bull-crap. Today’s wars have become busyness to tame the competition or create new conditions for weapon development. If one of those sides doesn’t see the obvious use from the conflict, it will not buy into the provocations. Everything became transparent, too bad the regular civilians don’t see it as they should, because they are being kept in darkness. – the guest spoke mumbling, trying to control his tongue which made him appear hilarious at times.

– Yes, I believe that the most of our public would not agree with you on that, because the people have suffered enough in those wars and occupations. By your humble opinion, whose fault is for that general impression in the country? Whom would you hold responsible for the wars? – hostess continued in feminine voice while adjusting her perfectly nurtured legs.

– Well… a lot of them. In fact, let’s take on Zarian merchants. Why? Well, when raw materials pile up, or if they are in need for new materials, and they are expensive, they make war in certain region to knock down the economy and form black market, and Ildocian live by renting out their army to whoever has enough money to pay them. Politicians are nearly the messengers, plain Sheppard’s that control sheep’s while their masters sit in shade and make profit by selling: wool, milk, cheese, meat, sausages, and woolen clothes. All of it became clear to those that know what to look for and what to ask. Over the continent, Ildocians are the dumbest of all, because they mass the most of the weapons. A smart man, can’t hold on to it for long, and behind them, there is Zaria, because they take on every provocation that Ildok addresses to them. Matocians are biggest shits, because they, from every conflict, make the most of the profit, dealing with both sides. Everything is being done in darkness, trust me. They sell iron from Konia by cheap prices to make tank-cannons and blasters, while to the other side, they sell medical supplies and food aid. And these Konian and Gratnians, they are, my gorgeous, half-witted chicken which can be found in-between two fires as they pull down the living standards, and have in mind that those two cities often took sides in war for their own gain. Following all that I’ve said, you’ll agree, Ildok is the cancer of the continent, because everything spawns from there, even their own city is black as the night, please. Whatever the war is, you’ll find Ildocians at both sides of the trench. They are the menace that should be killed to the last one of them without mercy. – Kerion came to explaining with ever more raging spirit.

– So it appears, you hate Ildok? Your complete point is concentrated on Ildok? – hostess questioned somewhat dumber.

– And Zaria too. Let’s not forget about that bitch. Every Zarian merchant and Matok tradesman should be lined up and shot dead. Anybody who understands my reasoning will see what am I talking about. All notable people in Zaria must end up dead. Absolutely all. They will be soon replaced by other men, and they must be removed too. We are not simply going to get rid of the war. War is our enemy and against it, we must fight, against the causes and the warmongers, not let civilians clash civilians. That is where I stand, what I preach, gorgeous. I have nothing on the normal Zarians and Ildocians, but those with power and money, should be whipped out. – a man explained further while hostess posed before the cameras.

– You have very interesting insight on the world. Thank you for coming to our show and I wish you a lot of success in future works… – girl spoke.

– You are welcome, darling. I am always here for you. – chubby sighed and freely waved.

– And, for the end of our program. Do you have something you would like to say to our spectators? – hostess added with a forced smile, when man turned serious and leaned on his knee to look straight at the camera.

– I am writing a new book where I will clarify who is responsible for all of the wars, you know, so it would be heard at whom the people should point their fingers at, in the next elections. Estimated deadline for publishing is in a year from now, and it can be found on I-link where you can download your copy. Hang in there people, the country will prevail.

With these final words holo-emitor went silent in rustling status. A week later, I got two letters in the bar, holding new targets for elimination. I redrew to my room and have opened them after checking for lethal mechanism. I started to laugh at the irony. In both of the letters was a picture of the renowned military commentator Kerion, it even was the same picture, only in two different envelops. Both of the envelopes came in the same time, from opposite sides. One was Ildocian, and the other Zarian. Kerion was right. Someone handled the sides and used them as sheep’s for gain. Fucking genius.

Two weeks later, I boarded the last boat for Petros, because the whole continent was in a lock down. Kerion got himself eaten by the darkness when I made a crater in his chest and have disappeared like a ghost in the night, leaving Ildok and Zaria to fight over who wanted him dead. Ildok, as always, attacked Zarian, accusing Zaria killing the Ildocian, based on the hate speech, while Zaria condemned Ildok for cutting down one of their own, so the truth would not be heard in his book. One was for sure; Matocian will, in  the shade of darkness, make a lot of wealth, selling raw materials to the both sides.

Mrak

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8. 06. 12 560 Prigušeni krik

Borbena Krstarica je lebdela u stratosferi čekajući sve kohorte da se ukrcaju i krenu na daleki put ka osvajanju teritorija. Skoro je osamsto godina od kako naše snage ratuju udaljenim sistemima, a mi im dopremamo svežu krv. Samnom u bataljonu zaduženom za granatiranje plazma topovima bili su momci iz Zarije i Konije. To su rmpalije, jako motivisane da stupe u krvoproliće sa vanzemaljcima u beskrajnoj tami univerzuma. Ima nas na hiljade i hiljade, skoro dvanaest kohorti, što je deset puta više od prve Krstarice koja je poletela u prazninu.

Učili su nas osnovama astronomije i astrofizike kako nam sve tamo gore ne bi delovalo suviše apstraktno, dalja obuka je u hibernaciji. Svakodnevno smo trenirali motoriku, automatiku pokreta, rukovanje opremom. Biologija nije mogla da se hakuje u potpunosti. Krv nam vri od uzbuđenja dok čekamo poslednje minute do odbrojavanja. Juče sam prošao zadnje provere pred put i završio tretman koji nas je spremao za život u tišini svemira. Stigao sam da ostatak dana provedem s porodicom. Ćerkica me obožava u uniformi svemirskog putnika, zato me je i grlila toliko pred polazak. Žena je te noći pristala i na seksualne fantazije. Idem na put mirne glave, jer znam da će biti zbrinute do kraja života kada budem otišao, to je bilo u ugovoru, komandir mi je sve natenane objasnio.

Gore na svemirskom brodu su već članovi posade sa majstorima i inženjerima, pripremaju brod za naš dolazak, a kada se ukrcamo, platforme će se odvojiti i onda će put početi. Moje mesto na krstarici će biti omanji borbeni lovac presretač i bočni top na zadnjoj levoj gasnici, tačno na oplati koja gleda u zvezdanu izmaglicu. Radovao sam se poziciji nišandžije na najvećoj i najboljoj borbenoj Krstarici koja je ikad napravljena. Imam i njen hologramski poster sa regrutacije iznad kreveta spavaone, tačno pored slike žene s detetom. Plavim slovima piše „I.B.K. Kotadar XXI“, a na sredini papira, moj brod pluta oko planete, hrli ka novim pobedama. Kada sam dobio obaveštenje da se javim u 42. Paramilitarnu artiljerijsku legiju, izveo sam ženu na večeru i nazdravio boljoj budućnosti. Čudo kako godine brzo prođu.

Hodam svečanom paradom i posmatram svetinu koja se skupila kraj puta. Sa balkona nam bacaju sveće heroja i slave naš polazak. Mašem šapkom prolaznicima koji se osmehuju kada ih dokači tirkizni odsjaj zvezde na mom ramenu. Nepoznati ljudi me srećno dozivaju „Neumirući“ i nude me voćem, a ja se s velikim zadovoljstvom krećem ka terminalu za prebacivanje u Krstaricu. Mladi regruti me čvrsto pozdravljaju iscrtavajući kružnicu oko prsa ukrašenim krznom dok odsečno žurim u hangar s kog se uzdizao transparentan plavi antigravitacioni zrak. Uleteo sam unutra i sa svojim saborcima, kraj kapsula za transport, zauzeo položaj da mi dronovi sastave odelo za let. Oseća se onaj miris junačkog žara kako tinja u mladim vojnicima žednih slave i pobede. Strpljivo čekaju svoj red da se popnu gore i rasture nešto u paramparčad. Robot mi je dao injekciju za dug san, jer je putovanje u svesnom stanju opasno. Po poslednjim informacijama koje sam čuo, let do portala će nam oduzeti do sedamstodvadeset godina, a na drugoj strani se nezna tačno koju daljinu moramo da prevalimo do prvih borbenih linija, samo znam da našim momcima treba pomoć i to brzo. Probudiće me pred samu bitku, gde moram odmah da se pokrenem na borbenu poziciju.

Hiberšot injekcija je već počela da deluje. Smestio sam se u korito kada se pred mojim zamagljenim očima kapsula zatvorila elektronskim uvijanjem. Kurs je bio podešen i letelica se otisnula uz pratnju fanfara i Zarijskih ratnih bubnjeva. Dok smo mi zarobljeni u podsvesnom stanju sa ostalim vojnicima i oficirima, kompijuteri i operateri sa matične planete upravljaju IBK Kotadar-om, a na drugoj strani preuzima auto pilot i odabrani operater za krizne situacije. Poslali su devedeset operatera da upravljaju letelicom, to je devedeset puta više od prve Krstarice. Naša spremnost je trenirana svakodnevno preko programa za kontrolu vitalnih funkcija i mozga. Na drugoj strani ću biti iskusan kao da sam vojevao sve bitke u istoriji. Slike taktika ratovanja, vatrenih sukoba, rodoljubivih i patriotskih pesama mi lete pred očima u dubokom snu. Svaki vojni poduhvat mi je predstavljen i svaki osećaj znatno pojačan kako bih postao ubilačka mašina. Sve više se razumem u nebeska tela i svemirske pojave, ali me hvata strah da se ne probudim. Moja ćerka se do sada udala i ima svoje unučiće. Možda jednog od njih dočekam s one strane da jurišamo zajedno u boj rame uz rame. Oh, to bi bilo tako lepo. Za nama možda plovi nova Krstarica sa duplo više vojnika, do sada su već stigli da je naprave. Kako li izgleda i kakvu li su novu tehnologiju i oružja napakovali u nju, pitam li se? Da li ćemo biti u mogućnosti da komuniciramo sa njima? Mora da su mnogo napredni.

Crveni alarm se oglasio. Svetlo je treperilo ispred mojih sanjivih očiju dok čujem tropote vojnika kako se raspoređuju i zauzimaju svoje borbene stanice. Kapsula se otvorila, gledam na plutajući kalendar, piše 4. 11. 13 286-a godina putovanja. Alarm trešti, pod napadom smo, vrti mi se u glavi, dezorijentisan sam. „Šta se dešava?“ pitam ljude oko sebe, ali mi niko ne odgovara. Nezgrapno sam se teturao ka zadnjem delu sa mučninom u stomaku. Godine iskustva u borbi su me nagonile da se dočepam topa i pokažem im kako se na Ildoku ratuje. Tako mi Kotadara, oni neznaju s kim imaju posla.

Prišao sam metalnim vratima i ukucao šifru, a ona se širom otvoriše otkrivajući sedište sa sigurnosnim trakama. Opasao sam se što sam brže mogao i lupio o taster kada se vrata hermetički zatvoriše i vakum me odbaci na predviđeno mesto nišandžije. U sekundi sam se našao u kupoli gde se samo crnilo videlo oko mene. Bilo je čudno, jer sam uvek zamišljao da će biti i neka zvezda u praznini, ali je nije bilo. Vatra sa pogonskog gorionika je delimično osvetljavala cev od tri nazubljena pipka koja su se rasklapala kada sam pokrenuo odbrambeni sistem u pozadini Krstarice. Informacije i izveštaji su se nizali na hologramskom viziru kacige, a trougaoni nišan krenu da se ispunjava svetlom spremajući prvi proektil za paljbu. Svi sistemi su na maksimalnom nivou. Moj rat može da počne. Tiho je, u svemiru je uvek tiho, ali ne ovoliko. Teški muk se širio oko mene. Slova se ispisuju na ekranu, Krstarica je prepuna ljudi, ali ja ništa ne čujem. Kod nogu sam ugledao vatru u daljini. To je neprijatelj. Mislio je da ga neću videti, budala. Malim pokretom se top zarotirao prema plavičastom plamenu, a zatim je još jedan uleteo blizu njega. Ovo je invazija. Čekali su nas da dođemo, ali ovakvog neprijatelja nisu imali do sada. Sve ćemo ih pobiti u ime Kotadara i Ildoka.

Drugi brod neprijatelja je znatno veći, ali moj top će ga smanjiti u mikrone ako treba. Cimnuo sam ruku i top se prebaci na veći vasionski brod. Kreću se dalje od nas, beže. Znao sam, kukavice, i ja bih se plašio kada bih video silu kao što smo mi. Treći brod se pojavio iznad mene. Ova klasa je bila naširoko naoružana oborenim cevkama koje su nišanile dole. Zašto ciljaju svoje? Još jedna letelica je narušila naš bezbedonosni prostor. Potražio sam zahtev da pucam, a naređenje je izostalo. Sve komunikacije su prešle u tišinu dok ne ustanovimo s kim se borimo. Hteli su da stupe u kontakt sa našima ako su u blizini. Da nas nije portal prebacio u pozadinu neprijatelja?

Svetla su gorela jarko na četvrtoj letelici otkrivajući prekrasna slova IBK Aramon preko trupa koji se sijao u sivom tonu legure od koje je sastavljen. „To!“ – pomislio sam, – „Stiglo nam je pojačanje. Šta ćete sad, propalice? Snage su nam izjednačene.“ Nemaju gde. Plutaju tromo u svemiru, udaljavaju se. Zašto? Zar imaju tako malo hrabrosti i poštovanja prema sebi i svojima?

– Napadnite, budale! Dajte mi povoda! Šta čekate, kog đavola?! – urlao sam manito.

Još tri krstarice su nam došle u pomoć, a Intergalaktička Borbena Krstarica Kotadar XXI zasvetle od zraka obižnje zvezde. Još stotinu letelica poče da se sjaje u mraku pored nas. Tako su ponosno plovile u beskrajnoj tišini kao veliko krdo kitova ispod pučine okeana. Mogao sam da sagledam oblike neprijateljskih letelica u svetlu i potražim im slabu tačku. Sreća nas prati u pobedi.

Hteo sam da vidim odakle dolazi ta veličanstvena svetlost pa sam okrenuo prednju kameru kada mi se ukaza živa slika komandnog mosta prepunog naučnika i oficira. Ispred nas je pucala Super Nova koja je gutala mrak oko sebe. Delovala je smrznuta u vremenu, a onda sam okrenuo top ka prvom letećem brodu neprijatelja. Slova su bila na njemu, pisalo je IBK Kotadar I ispod tirkizne zvezde kraj kokpita. To je bio prvi brod koji je lansiran pre hiljadu i četristo godina. Vremenska diletacija nas je sve bacila u momenat kada je prvi ildočki brod prošao kroz portal. Ova Super Nova je usporila dešavanje i zaustavila svoju eksplozivnu ekspanziju, što je moglo da se desi samo ako je detonacija bila milion puta veća od stvaranja portalnih crnih rupa. Što je veću silu ulagala u svoju eksploziju, to je većom reaktivnom silom sebe uzdržavala da se ne rasipe unaokolo. Prostor oko nas je sve više bio ispunjeniji vojnim Krstaricama, a pojedine su krenule da se sudaraju uz plamen koji se širio tišinom. Komadi broda su leteli kao komete na sve strane, a mesto ljudskih tela su plutale crvenkaste fleke. Raspukli su se od prevelikog pritiska u vakumu i stvorili ružičastu izmaglicu. Gorionik jedne krstarice se nekontrolisano rotirao veoma blizu svog ležišta kao blinker policijskog auta sa komadima konstrukcije koji su šamarali brod. Komunikator je brujao u vapajima za pomoć, kuknjave i tihih bespomoćnih jecaja sa stotrideset vasionskih brodova čiji se broj rapidno uvećavao.

Milion vojnika je zajedno samnom gledalo u svoje poslednje trenutke. Gravitacija nas je povukla ka užarenom aršinu. Uzalud je bilo pokušati da se izvučemo nazad. Sila Zvezde nas je vukla ka sebi. Moja obuka, ovaj brod, ovo oružje, ovaj let, put, rat… sve je bilo uzalud. Sa duge strane nije bilo neprijatelja. Ovde nema bitke koja donosi slavu. Ovde ničeg nije bilo sem nas koji umiremo u prigušenom kriku za spas kog smo svesni da neće biti. Raskopčao sam pojaseve i sklonio ruku sa obarača i top presta da zuji nabojom energije. Sedeo sam tu i posmatrao u veličanstvenu flotu kako ponosno hrli ka svojoj smrti i pustio suzu niz obraz.

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8. 06. 12 560 Muttered cry

Battle Cruiser floated in stratosphere, awaiting all cohorts to board in and blast off on long voyage to the conquest. Almost eight hundred years passed as our forces wage wars on distant systems, and we supplied them with fresh blood. In battalion, directed for grenadine with plasma cannons are boys from Zaria and Konia. Those are big guys, strongly motivated to step in bloodshed with aliens in the endless dark of universe. We count thousand upon thousand men, nearly twelve cohorts, which is ten times more than first Cruiser that went into the void.

We were thought with basis of astronomy and astrophysics so things wouldn’t seem abstract up there; further training is in the hibernation. Daily we train motoricty, automaticity of movement, handing the equipment. Biology couldn’t be hacked completely. Our blood boils of excitement while we wait last minutes until countdown. Yesterday I came through the last checks before the departure and finished treatment which prepared us for a life in the silence of vacuum. I managed to spend the rest of the day with the family. Wife even allowed me some sexual fantasies. I’m leaving the planet so calmly, knowing they will be taken care off when I go away, it was in the contract; commander explained it to me in detail.

Up there, on space ship, crew members, engineers are setting the ship for our arrival, and when we get settled, platforms will detach and travel will begin. My position on the Cruiser is smaller jet fighter interceptor and flank cannon on left burner, right on the plating that watches on the starry mist. I looked forward the position of spotter on the biggest and the best combat Cruiser ever made. I also have her holographic poster from recruitment above my dormitory bed, just next to the picture of wife and daughter. It said on paper with big blue letters IBC Kotadar XXI, and right in the middle was my ship, floating around planet, ready for blood match. When I got my notification to answer at 42-nd Paramilitary Artillery Legion, I took my wife for a dinner and saluted to better future. It’s a miracle how years fly.

I am walking in glorious parade and watch the crowd along the road. From the balcony are thrown heroes flowers in celebration of our mission. I wave with my hat to the bystanders that smile when turquoise reflection of a star on my shoulder hits them. Unfamiliar people call me happily „Undying“ and offer me fruit, and me, I’m moving pass them with pleasure to reach transferring terminal. Young recruits salute me firmly shaping circle on their heroic chest, while I’m moving with picked steps into the hangar where transparent blue anti-gravitation ray beamed to the sky. I stormed in the facility with my comrades, stopped near capsules and took position so the drones can easily thread the traveler’s suit on me. That battle flame could be smelled among us, burning in harts of these young men, thirsty of glory. They patiently wait in line to get up there and blast something into dust. A robot gave me injection for long sleep, because traveling in conscience is dangerous. According to the last information we got, flight till the portal will take up to 720 years, and on the other side, it’s not known how much we need to leap in the void until we find first battle lines. The only thing we know for sure is that our guys need help out there. They will wake me up just before the battle, where I need to grab my position as fast as I can.

Hiber-shot injection kicked in. I placed myself in the cavity, then before my hazy eyes, capsule closed along with electronic stretch. Course was set and ship pushed away, followed by the sound of fanfare and Zarian war drums. While we are trapped in subconscious state with other soldiers and officers, computers and operators run the IBC Kotadar from the motherland, where on the other side of the portal, auto pilot take over with designated crisis operator on board. They have sent twenty operators to drive the ship, and that is twenty times more than the first Cruiser. Our readiness was trained daily through the program for vital function control. When I reach the other side, I will be experienced like I waged every war in the history book. Pictures of war tactics, fire fights, and country loving and patriotic songs fly in front of my eyes as I dream. Every military achievement is shown to me and every feeling considerably amplified to make me a killing machine. I understand more and more about space objects and phenomenon, but I have a fear of waking. My daughter got married by now, she probably has grandkids. Maybe one day I will greet one of my bloods on the other side so we could charge the enemy shoulder to shoulder. Aw, that would be great. Behind us is new Cruiser traveling, holding twice as more soldiers than us, they must have made her already. How does it looks like and what kind of new technology and weapon did they put in, I wonder? Are we going to be in ability to communicate with them? They must have been too advanced for us.

Red alarm sounded off. The light shivered in front of my sleepy eyes, while soldier’s steps hoofed as they took battle stations. Capsule opened with a hiss, I am watching a calendar, and it said 4. 11. 13 286-th year of traveling. Alarm blares, we are under attack, and I am dizzy, disoriented.

– What is going on? – I ask around, but no one answers.

I walked clumsy to grasp the end part, feeling sick during falls. Years of experience drew me to reach the cannon and show these bustards how we war in Ildok. So help me Kotadar, they don’t know with whom they are messing with. I approached the metal door and typed in the password, door opened wide presenting a seat with safety strips. I belt in as fast as I could, smashed the button when door closed and vacuum pulled me to estimated gunners place. In a second I found myself in a dome where only darkness was visible. It was strange, because I have always imagined seeing a star in the void, but it wasn’t there. Fire of the burner was partially illuminating the tree legged muzzle that unfolded when I started defensive system in the Cruiser back. Information’s and report lined up on hologram helmet visor, and triangle crosshair came to load, readying first projectile. All systems were active. My war can begin. It is quiet, in space was always quiet, but not as much. A heavy silence spread around me. Letter wrote the monitor, Cruiser is stacked with people, but I don’t hear a thing. Near my feet I saw fire in the distance. That is the enemy. The fool thought I wouldn’t see him. With a little tap, the cannon rotated toward blue like flames, and then another ship revealed itself near the first one. This is an invasion. They waited for us to show up, but they haven’t had this kind of enemy. We will kill them all in the name of Kotadar and Ildok.

Second ship was respectably larger, but my cannon will shrink him if needed. I drew my arm and cannon settled on the bigger space ship. They are moving away from us, running. I knew it, cowards, I would be afraid too if I had to face the force like this. Third ship appeared above me. This class was widely weaponized with cannons pointed down. Why are they aiming at their own? One more ship disrupted our safe zone. I demanded a go, but the orders didn’t come through. All communications went in radio silence until we determine with whom we are fighting. They wanted to make a contact with our boys in vicinity. Did the portal throw us behind enemy lines?

Lights flashed strong on the fourth ship, presenting beautiful letters IBC Aramon over the bowl which shined in grey tone alloy he was made from.

– Yes! – I thought, – Our reinforcements have arrived. What you gonna’ do now, bums? Our forces are equal. They don’t have where to go. They only float lazy in space, forcing distance. Why? Do they have so little courage and respect for themselves?
– Attack, you fool! Give me a reason! What are you waiting for?! – I screamed passionately.

Tree more Cruisers came to our aid, and Intergalactic Battle Cruiser Kotadar XXI, outshined in rays from nearby star. More than hundred new ships began shining in dark that consumed us. They glided proudly into the endless silence like a herd of whales beneath the sea surface. I was able to scout for shapes of the enemy ships and search for a weak point. Luck follows us in victory.

I wanted to see from where does this magnificent light comes from, so I moved front camera and saw live feed of command bridge filled with scientist and crew members. Before us was a Super Nova blast that sucked dark out of the vacuum. It seemed frozen in time, and then I moved my cannon at the first enemy craft. Letters on him said IBC Kotadar I under turquoise star near cockpit. That was the first ship we launched for thousand and four hundred years ago. Time dilatation has thrown us ALL in the moment when first Ildocian ship went through portal. This Super Nova slowed the action and stopped its destructive expansion, which could happen, only if the detonation was million time bigger from creation of black hole portal. The more force she deposited in the blast, that more reactive force it held itself not to fall apart. Space around us was filling with ever more Battle Cruisers, when some of them came in collision with fire bursting in silence. Pieces of ships flew like comets in the pink mist made of busted human bodies. They snapped from great pressure of vacuum affected. Burner of long Cruiser broke away and rotating like police car blinker slapped the plating of its ship. Communicator buzzed in shouts, cries for help and teary mumbling from hundred and thirty trapped ships.

Million soldiers with me stared at their last moments. Gravity was dragging us to the glowing center. In vain we tried to pull up. Force of the star wasn’t letting us go. My training, this ship, this flight, war… all of it was for nothing. On the other side was no enemy. There is no battle that gives glory. There is nothing, but us who die in muttered cry for salvation, aware it will not come. I unbuttoned my belts and removed hand from controller, made cannon stop whir with compiled energy. I sat there and watched the magnificent fleet as bravely runs to its demise with a tear slid down my cheek.

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1282 Neznani vojvoda

Već godinama se kroz ulice Ildoka provlači priča da će izbiti rat sa Zarijom. Niko od Ildočana koje znam nije brinuo u toj meri koliko je narod Zarije strahovao od užasa koji je trebao da usledi. Gomilaju svoju vojsku i iščekuju katapulte i baliste pred vratima grada oivičenom debelim peščanim zidovima, panično pripremaju zalihe i skloništa. Vladar Ildoka je veoma pametno dopuštao da se neprijatelj pripremi za rat, a onda bi pustio vojsku da se obruši na grad i natovari se plenom do sledećeg sukoba. Ildok je živeo od toga. „Čemu borba oko šačice žita i gutljaja vina, kada bi mnogo više dobio od pripremljenog grada?“ – je bila rečenica koja bi se iznova ponavljala u krugovima „prepametnih“ pijanaca.

Jedva sam dočekao da izjašem sa gospodarom iz crnih zidova grada i uputim ka pustinji koja je delila dva grada. Mesecima smo patrolirali dinama i obilazili pojilišta kroz koja su često prolazili karavani sa dragocenostima. Lagodno smo živeli gosteći se konjolavskim mesom i prevrelim mlekom kozoroga. Kad – kad bi se počastili Zarijskom devicom i ženama vodiča koje su bile skrivene velovima svile. Mačeve smo oštrili o kosti Zraijskih vojnika i čuvara koji su nam stajali na putu. Sejali smo strah da bi žnjeli pobedu. Jahač u lakom oklopom nam je došao jutrom sa porukom od uglednog Zarijskog trgovca. Glava mu je završila na koplju, ali je poruka preneta gospodaru. Spakovali smo se i uputili na kamene lukove Zarijskih vrata. Trebalo nam je dva i po dana u punom kasu da stignemo do našeg odredišta. Ulogorili smo se uz sama vrata i držali strane trgovce podalje od zidina čime smo dodatno unosili strah među Zarijce. Kao nevaspitana deca smo vitlali sečivom pred bradate beduine i slali ih nazad u vrelu pustinju. Mnogi su se bunili ovakvoj drskosti, ali bi vladar Ildoka pozdravio ovakvo ponašanje. Nedelju dana kasnije su otvorili izrezbarene kamene ploče ispod kojih smo do tada pišali. Počasna garda ukrašena zlatom nas je sprovela do prelepe palate Zarijskog trgovca i tu smo se ponovo ulogorili. Postupali smo uljudno sa Zarijancima koji su nas dočekali očima u kojim je trepereo strah. Pristali smo čak i da predamo oružje na kapiji, mada uvek uz međusobno šaketanje. Dva dana kasnije sam prisustvovao večernjoj gozbi u čast prošenja treće čerke Zarijskog trgovca. Gospodar mi je podario svečanu odoru kako bih izgledao dostojanstvano pred ostalim gostima, jer nije hteo da se krećem u dronjcima koje sam do tada nosio.

– Dobro ti stoji. – prokomentarisa saborac na mojoj strani čije su oči šetale po mom novom odelu.
– Hvala. – rekoh.
– Šteta što će se ubrzo pojaviti rupa u njemu. Onda će postati bezvredan. – pričao je skot kome sam hteo bodež da zarijem u grlo, – Zašto ga ne daš meni? Tako će ostati ceo. – smeškao se sa ostalima koji su očigledno uživali u tom vojnom humoru.

Zarijska venčanja prati glas da su ogromna i dugotrajna. Hrane i pića je bilo dovoljno da prehrani brigadu vojnika. Konjolave su nam negovali sa najvećom pažnjom kao da su njihovi, a sluškinje su nosile pojase nevinosti, za svaki slučaj, da ne bi pokušali kakvu neprijatnost i uskratili im dobru udaju. Trgovac se pobrinuo i za te potrebe koje su imali vojnici. Namirisane Zarijske kurve su nam dolazile noću, a odlazile pre svitanja kada bi neko mogao da ih vidi.

Zakoračio sam kroz teško platno u prostranu sobu pod kupolom. Sa centra plafona su se spuštale trake provezenog platna i preplitale se delimično sakrivajući oslikanu tavanicu. Uvezali su ih oko kamenih lukova uraslih u vinovu lozu koji su držali arhitektosko remek delo. Znam da je jedan od vojnika neukusno prokomentarisao, kako bi bilo lepo da ovde prošara užarena lopta sa katapulta. Svuda po podu su bili razbacani jastuci okupirani senkama ljudi koji su sedeli na njima. Naš gospodar je seo na jedan položen pred njegovim nogama, dok smo mi staloženo stajali iza njega i čuvali stražu. Trbušne igračice su ga bojažljivo posmatrale ispod velova na licu. Nisu skidale oči sa narogušenog vučjeg krzna preko njegoveg plašta. Obukao je za ovu svečanost pokrpljeni pločasti oklop sa elementima brnje čija se crna boja presijavala na svetlu uljanih lampi. Hladno je posmatrao spektakl koji je spuštao vilice i budio seksualne porive dok su ostali vidno uživali u gostoprimstvu trgovca.

Bradati trgovac je u krilu držao svog unuka od svoje prve kćeri, a oba sina su sedela sa strane koji su takođe bili iskusni trgovci kao i on. Nosili su plemićke čalme i ako nisu pripadali plemstvu. Odeća im je delovala raskošno i imućno, sa skupim sabljama koje su im visile iznad glava dajući im nadmenost u grupi zvanica. Jedna od ovih sablji je mogla kupiti karavan sa sve tvrdokrilnim kamilama i oružanom pratnjom. Zlatnici su svetlucali u sanducima oko trgovčevih sinova sa kojih se prelamala svetlost nejake vatre i osvetljavala im lica. Zurlaši sviraju vesele pesme Zarijskog naroda u pratnji momčića sa tarabukom i fesom na glavi kraj kojih su plesačice mamile ostale zvanice. Osam mladića su sedela u krug oko centra prostorije i svi su bili iz stranih gradova. Prepoznao sam nošnje iz Gratnaskih polja, princa Atanava iz Matoka sa gardom, heroja Hanuma Štitoloma koji je jednim udarcem razbio glavu slonozona u jurišu i još par nepoznatih osoba. Svako od njih je nekako dobio ime i slavu, a moj gospodar je jedino bio poznat među krčmarima i kockarima. Tgrovac je načuo da se okolo vrzma nekakav vojskovođa, pa je hteo da ispadne pošten i pruži mu jednake šanse kao i ostalima. Njegova ćerka je bila skrivena iza velova na balkonu sa kog je mogla da vidi svakog udvarača. Oko nas su pronosili velike poslužavnike sa mesom i voćem u koje smo uronili poput zveri. Par zvanica se veselilo, par njih je kratilo vreme uz devojke koje su ih hranile, a ostali su takmičarskom mržnjom posmatrali jedan drugoga. Naš vođa je hladnog pogleda, odsutno, gledao direktno u valove balkona. U Zariji je bilo veoma neumesno zuriti u mladevestu, ali on je to mahinalno radio. Bio je neuk što se tiče protokola i običaja, ali je znao za sram i red. Muzika se utišala, a onda je trgovac rasterao prelepe devojke i pregovori su mogli da počnu. Hanum je po svojoj herojskoj naravi prvi počeo da viče.

– Dajem sve što posedujem! Tvoja kćer će uživati kao kraljica, daš li je meni! – grmeo je dubokom glasom taj široko izvajani džin.

Trgovac je zamišljeno posmatrao udvarača dok je u kolenu klackao svog unuka čije su oči krišom posmatrale našeg gospodara.

– Svi znamo da živiš u pećini na kraju sveta. Ako tamo ode, biće jedina žena na hiljadu jutara, ali ako pođe sa mnom biće prava kraljica. – podizao je prst princ Atanav dok je pompezno jeo grozd.

Hanum se besno pridiže osećajući se uvređenim, a garda isuka sablje. Trgovac mahnu rukom ka obema stranama i oni polako krenuše na svoje mesto. Njegovi sinovi su bili vidno uznemireni ovakvim divljaštvom, a Gospodar nije čak ni trepnuo pri ovom ispadu.

– Šta fali pećinama? – uvređeno se oglasi Gratnaski vlasnik najvećeg rudnika srebra dok mu se mast slivala niz prosedu bradu, – Ja Vam blagorodni kalfo nudim tri tovara srebra, najfiniju svilu moje kuće, najbrže konjolave moje ergele, najvredije robove mojih rudnika. Šta vam oko zaište, Vaše je. – duboko se klanjao bucmasti Gratnasijanac.
Starac je klackao svog unuka i namrgođeno klimao glavom razmatrajući njegovu ponudu. Okrenuo se ka sinovima, a oni lagano oboriše glave odobravajući sve što se skotrljalo niz usta debeljka u haljinama.
– Presvetli kalfo, moje kraljevstvo Vam je na usluzi. Konijanci će dočekati vašu kćer kao rođenu sestru. Moja porodica je jedna od najstarijih među vencima Večnih planina koje nas okružuju. Savez sa nama bi koristio Zariji u odbranu protiv Bezbožnika. – ljutito je obarao glavu ćelavi mladić s narogušenim krznom oko ramena koji je zurio ispod obrva u mog gospodara.

Starac se trgnu, a onda se nakloni ka Konijcu, a sinovi kalfe se pogledaše prepadnuto među sebe očekujući reakciju gospodara. Konija je najmnogoljudnije carstvo ovog kontinenta među kojima su živeli žilavi divovi. Ubrzo počeše svi da se svađaju između sebe i nude što smeju i nesmeju dok je Gospodar netremice gledao ka balkonu iza kog se krila devojka. Nije ga pogađala buka niti leteći sudovi kojima su pokušavali da ućutkaju jedni druge dok ih je straža razdvajala. Kalfa je namršteno okretao glavu ka udvaračima dok su njegovi sinovi pomagali gardi da obuzdaju Hanuma u mahnitom ponašanju. Sa balkona zazvuča slatki zov zvona i gomila se stišala. Svi su bacili pogled ka devici iza lepršavih velova od svile. Njeno zvono je prekidalo nagađanje i biralo muža. Ukoliko bi se njen otac pogodio sa novim zetom, ona je morala da zazvoni i složi sa njegovom odlukom, a ako ne bi, njen otac bi to učinio umesto nje. To su bila pravila kod običaja prošenja u Zariji. Momci su se mirno vratili na svoja mesta i držali oči visoko podignute ka skrivenoj devojci.

– Oprostite mi draga gospodo. Primite moje najiskrenije izvinjenje. Jedan od Vas se nije izjasnio. Želela bih svakog da saslušam. – umilim i nežnim glasom se oglasi mlada devojka našarana ornamentima Zarije preko lica s koje pogled gospodara nije skretao ni trenutka.

Hanum je zadihano stajao spreman za boj. Životinjski se okrenuo ka mom gospodaru prema kom su sada sve oči bile uprte. Devica je pokušavala diplomatski da uveća imetak svog oca. Očekivala je tovare blaga i oružja u zamenu za njenu ruku. Drčno sam grizao poveći batak u medu i zbunjeno zverao naokolo kroz neprijatnu tišinu. Gospodar odlučno raširi ruke, a sa tavanice se obruši vod naših vojnika isukanog oružja na ostale ljude u prostoriji.

– Nudim mir. – sablasnim tonom se oglasi gospodar u čijim očima je buktao oganj.

Čak je i Hanum bio zatečen ovim prepadom. Bio je opkoljen najveštijim mačevaocima Ildoka oko kojih su kružile legende i ubrzo svima postade jasno s kim imaju posla. Plemstvo Konije i Matoka je kukavički tražilo spas iza počasne garde dok je Gratnasijac sleđeno sedeo u bari sopstvene mokraće koja se slivala niz jastuk. Video sam užas u njihovim očima. Strah im je oduzeo zvuk i ukopao u jednom položaju gde bi se na samo drhtaj sečivo našlo u njima. Saborac kraj mene se jezivo kikotao situaciji kojoj smo prisustvovali.

– Kakvo je ovo ponašnje?! – planuo je trgovac, – Gosti se ovako ne ponašaju! Straža! – besno je vikao.
– Uvaženi kalfo, straža Vam je otrovana, neće doći. Moji ljudi su se postarali za to. Posmatrao sam ove trgovce i junake oko sebe, ali ni jedan nije u stanju da zaustavi rat sa Ildokom. Vojska ne poklanja, ona uzima. Mnogi su došli pomamljeni Vašim bogatstvom u želji za moć koja može da se kupi njime. Ja sam došao po Vašu kćer, bogatstvo me ne interesuje. Ako svoje darove namenjene njoj velikodušno ponude Ildoku, zaustaviće krvoproliće koje Ildok tako dugo priželjkuje. U zamenu ću ih pustiti da se vrate svojim gradovima. – govorio je gospodar, a kalfa uplašeno potvrdi.

Ujutru smo izjahali napolje sa trgovčevom kćerkom koju smo držali ispod oštog sečiva. Nedelju dana kasnije su karavani prepuni blaga počeli da stižu pred kamena vrata Ildoka. Pojedina kraljevstva su htela da odbiju dogovor, ali su ih Zarijanci ljubazno zamolili paleći Gratnasijska polja trskokreta, harajući Matočke luke, minirajući Konijske padine sve dok se nisu složili. Vazduh je smrdeo oporno na rat. Gradovi su pljačkali jedni druge, a Zarijski trgovac je dao dobar deo svog bogatstva da ostavimo njegovu kćer živu. Gospodar je oženio devicu u tajnosti kada se vratio u Ildok, kada su karavani prestali da stižu na naše kapije. Kraljevstva su isplatila svoj danak i strasti su se smirile međ vladarima i gradovima. Gospodareva žena je već nosila svoje prvo dete, kada su se Ildočka vrata ponovo širom otvorila. Kralj je prvi izjahao u pustinju, a iza njega je bila armija koja je ritmično marširala napred. Rat je konačno počeo. Nakon dva dana sam srećno sedeo na obodima zidina i doručkovao usoljenu ribu, a ispod mene je i dalje vojska marširala ka daljini.

Warlord

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1282 Unrenowned Master

For some years, the streets of Ildok are filled with a rumor of a war breaking out with Zaria. No Ildocian I knew was worried about it, unlike the people of Zaria that feared the horrors which will ensue. They are pilling their army and await for the catapults and ballista at their city doors, framed in thick sand walls. Panic actions of preparing shelters with supplies are under way. Ruler of Ildok was cunningly allowing the enemy to ready themselves for war, so he would unleash the army to fall over city and take the loot until the next encounter. Ildok was living from this. „Why fighting over a handful of grain and a sip of wine, when we would get much more from the city prepared?“ – was the word which was repeatedly spoken in circles of „wise“ drunkards.

I couldn’t wait to ride out with my master. We ran from the black stone made city walls like ants from pyre and headed towards the desert which divided these two cities. For months we patrolled the dunes and lurked the water places where caravans were passing with goods. We lived easily, feasting on horse-lion meat and fermented milk of horn-goat. Sometimes we would treat ourselves with a Zarian virgin, or guides wife, covered in silky veils. We sharpened our swords from Zarian soldier’s bones that stood in our way. We saw fear to harvest victory.

A rider in light armor came to us by dawn, holding a message from respected Zarian merchant. His head ended upon the spear, but the message was passed to the master. We packed and start riding for the stone arches of Zarian doors.

We needed two and a half days in full gallop to reach our destination. Encampment was raised against the door, close enough to disperse foreign merchants away from the entrance and cause fear among Zarians. We swung our blades like insubordinate children in front the bearded Bedouins, sending them back into the burning desert. Many opposed this savagery, but our ruler would greet this sort of behavior with praise. A week later, they opened carved stone plates on which we used to piss on. Honorary guard decorated with gold led us before the beautiful merchant’s palace where we built a camp. We treated Zarians with respect, but fear danced in their eyes. We even agreed to give them our weapons at the gate, although always in mutual fist fight. Two days after, I attended the feast in honor of the third merchant’s daughter matrimony. Master has given me noble robe so I would look decent before other guests, because he didn’t want me moving in rags that I wore before.

– It looks good on you. – fellow soldier added, whilst scoping my new clothes.
– Gratitude. – I spoke.
– It is a pity for a hole that will appear on it soon. Then it will become worthless. – the bastard I wanted to install my dagger in spoke, – Why don’t you give it to me? That way, it will stay whole. – he had a smirk on lips, laughing with others that enjoyed bad military humor.

Zarian weddings are followed by voice of magnitude and long lasting. Food and drinks were enough to feed a brigade. They treated our horse-lions with outmost care, like they were theirs, while palace maidens wore virginity belts, just in case, we would dare trying some rude deeds and rob them a chance of a good marriage. Merchant took care for that sort of problem that frequently followed soldiers. Perfumed Zarian whores were coming to us by night, and left before dawn, so none could’ve seen them exiting respected house.
I stepped through heavy cloth into wide room with a dome. From the ceiling center, colorful ribbons were falling and hid a fracture of the painted top. They tied them for the stone arches, grown in vines that held architecture master piece. I know one of the soldiers commented distastefully: How it would be wonderful that some fire made orb scribbles through here. All across the floor, pillows were casted, occupied with shadows that sat on them. Our Lord sat on the first beneath his feet, while we stood at his side, holding guard. Belly dancers gazed at him with slight fear behind their veils. They were unable to remove eyes from his gorged wolf fur on shoulders. He wore his stitched lamellar armor with black chain mail elements that glistened when touched by oil lamp light. He monitored coldly, this spectacle that lowered jaws and recall sexual urges, while other invitations had a great time.

Bearded merchant held his grandson on the lap, and both his sons sat on each side, also skilled merchants like him. They had noble turbans even if they were not the noblemen. Clothes seemed luxurious and wealthy with expensive sabers hanging over their heads, providing needed domination over the guests. One of these sabers was able to buy a whole caravan with hard wing-camels and armed guards.

Golden coins sparkled it crates, placed around merchant’s sons. Their faces were partially illuminated by the weak fire in the corners. Merry Zarian folk songs roam the space following a wee lad with drums, dancing round the girls that lured guests. Eight men were sitting in circle at the edge of center of the spacious room, and all of them hailed from foreign cities. I recognized robes from Gratna fields, Prince Atanaw of Matok with royal guards, hero Hanum Shieldbreaker which has bashed in the skull of a charging buffalo-phant in one strike, and few more unfamiliar personas. Each one of them was renown by name and glory, but my master was only recognized among gamblers and tavern keepers. Merchant has caught a word, speaking of some unknown warlord wandering around, so he decided to invite him too and avoid accusations of unfair wedding. His youngest daughter was hidden behind the long veils on the balcony, from where she could see every contestant. Huge silver plates with meat and fruit passed us, where we dived in them like animals. A couple of guests enjoyed the spectacle, few of them got entertained with belly dancers who gently fed them, and the rest of them stared at each other with competitive hate. Our Lord, with cold expression in eyes, absently, held his view at the bride. He was untrained in protocols and customs, but he knew for some shame and order. Music became silent as the merchant scattered scantily dressed girls and gave the signal so the negotiations may start. Hanum, by his heroic nature, begun to yell.

– I am giving all that I have! Your daughter shall live like a Queen, if you give her to me! – that wide sculptured giant thundered with his rough voice.
Merchant looked at him, deeply thinking about it, whilst see-sawing his grandson on his lap. Little boy furtively glowered at wolfs fur on our master.
– We all know you live in a cave at the end of the world. If she would ever go there, she would indeed, be the only woman in thousand mornings, but if she comes with me, she will be the real Queen. – Prince Atanaw was raising his finger along with the grapes he ate so pompously.

Hanum rose in wrath, feeling insulted, when guards draw blades and kept staring to his trembling muscles. Merchant waved his hand at the both sides and they slowly fell back in place. His sons were obviously shaken with such savagery, but our master didn’t even nictitate at it.

– What do you have against caves? – Gratnian owner of the biggest silver mine asked offended, while fat run his cheeks and ended in grayish beard, – I, my lofty journeyman, am offering tree loads of silver, the finest silk of my house, the fastest horse-lion of my paddocks, the most hardworking slaves of my mines. Whatever does your eye spots, it is yours. – chubby Gratnian bowed gracefully to the floor.

Old man seesaw his grandson and nodded frown, considering the proposal. He turned to his sons to see them bowing in consent to whatever rolled out the fat mans mouth.

– Bright journeyman, my Kingdom is at your service. Konia will greet your daughter as their blood born sister. My family stands as the oldest among the garlands of Eternal Mountains that are around us. Alliance with us would serve Zaria in defense against the Godless men. – angrily the bold lad nodded, holding his snake eyes under the thick eyebrows that were pointed at our master.

Old man drew back, and then bowed towards Konian, when merchants sons looked at each other with scare, awaiting reaction of the Ildocian warlord. Konia in most populated Kingdom of the continent, where the most vibrant fighters have lived amidst the rock and frost. Soon after that, all of them begun bickering, shouted and threw offers they can and cannot give, while the Lord gazed at the balcony, trying to see a hidden beautiful girl behind silk veil. Noise and flying dishes bachelors used to silence each other, didn’t bothered the Master, even when guards jumped in to divide angry mob and stop the fight. Merchant was just looking, turned head left and right at the violent guests, while his sons helped the guards to restrain Hanum from manic behavior.

From the balcony, a sweet call of bell spread and the mass came to quiet. All of them started looking at the virgin behind flattering veils. Her bell was deciding on a husband. If so, her father made a deal with his son in law, she had to ring the bell and agree with his decision, or if she would not ring, her father would do it for her. Those were the rules in be wedding custom of Zaria. Men calmly reached their posts and kept their eyes high at the hidden gem.

– Forgive me, my dear gentlemen. Receive my most honest apologies. One among you hasn’t stated his offerings. I would like to hear all of you. – with a gentle and humming voice, lady spoke, covered with Zarian ornaments, at which my master didn’t take his eyes off.

Hanum stood there, taking breath, ready for battle. He rotated like a beast towards my Lord, and now, all eyes were on him. Virgin tried to use diplomacy in order to magnify possession of her father. She expected cargos of gold and weapons in exchange for her hand. I was greedily biting on big chicken leg glazed with honey, and confusedly observed the uncomfortable silence. Master spread his arms, and from the ceiling, a platoon of soldiers fell with blades shown to people in room.

– I offer peace. – a Masters grim voice boomed along with raging fire coming from his seers.

Even Hanum was taken by surprise. He was surrounded by most skillful swordsmen of Ildok, on whom legends traveled, and soon it was clear to everybody with whom they are speaking. Nobility of Konia and Matok was cowardly looking for salvation behind honorary guards, while Gratnian tradesman sat frozen in his own piss that leaked from the cushion. I saw terror on their faces. Fear took their sound and dug them in a pose where a slight move would stuck the blade in skull. My comrade giggled creepily at the situation we were in.

– What is the meaning of such behavior?! – merchant yelled, – Guests don’t act like that! Guards! – he searched for reinforcements, but nobody was running down the hallway.
– Respected journeyman. Your guards are poisoned, they shall not arrive. My people took care of that. I have observed these merchants and heroes around me and not one of them is able to prevent the war with Ildok. Military doesn’t give away, it takes. Many have come here, attracted by your riches and foolish hope of seizing power that can be bought with it. I have come here for your daughter, wealth does not interest me. If they gracefully offer their intended gifts to Ildok, they will stop the bloodshed Ildok so craves. In exchange, they will be allowed to depart for their cities. – master spoke, and merchant confirmed with mortified, long face.

We rode out in the morning, with merchant’s daughter we held close to sharpen blade. A week later, caravans stacked with gold begun coming to our stone made doors of Ildok. Some Kingdoms wanted to decline the agreement, but Zarians kindly beg them not to do it, by torching down Gratnian sunny canes fields, raiding Matok harbors, mining Konian mountains until they all came to same terms. Air had a nasty stale stench of war, spreading with the wind so ominously that birds cried their songs. Cities looted each other, and Zarian merchant paid a good portion of his riches, so we would leave his daughter alive. Master married the virgin in secrecy when we came back to Ildok, and then caravans have stopped coming to our gates. Kingdoms paid their blood tolls and passions calmed among rulers and cities. Our Mistress was already with her first child, when Ildocian doors opened wide again. The King rode out first into the desert, and behind him was the whole army that marched forward in rhythm. War has finally begun. After two days I happily sat on the edge of the wall and had a salted fish for breakfast, and beneath me, army was still marching in the distance.

Warlord

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