Saturday, 29 September 2012


More flash fiction from Terrible Minds with one from each of 3 lists of required elements. I chose dieselpunk, a lover's quarrel and flying monkeys. Kinda politically incorrect, but this is war.


  “Robotnik, you’re such an ass!”

   Lieutenant Gale slapped the steel of the mech’s turret just above the white star stenciled a little aft of the Whirlwind 44’s starboard coaxial machinegun. Sergeant Robotnik looked up at her furious face; uncomprehendingly as usual.

   “What did I do wrong?” Kodak Golem irises spiraled wide to let the maximum visual information pour into a puzzled positronic brain that could generate no useful Decision Program. Also as usual. She glared down at him for a bitter moment and then disappeared into Auntie Dot to mutter barely within the android’s hearing range but outside the comprehension spectrum of his aural membranes. ‘Toks can’t sigh; not having breathing apparatus, but as he tightened off the starboard hip’s feedback assembly his frame paused as if resetting after combat or maintenance down-time. Or lovemaking.

   He scrambled up onto the mech’s top deck. He recharged a moment, staring out across the countryside. Fertile and formerly prosperous, the last untouched continent showed too many signs of newfound war. Smoke rose in five separate places north of the city where Jap night bombing had been going on for a week. On each side of Route Yoke Baker the scarecrow, skeletal water tower shapes of burned-out mechs loomed over the blood-soaked land of America’s newest ally. A pair of Zeros lay blackened and ripped apart after attracting the attention of a squadron of US Marine Hellcats.

   Robotnik calculated briefly; oblivious to the fuselage decoration of a farm girl wielding an ax hand-painted on Auntie Dot’s hatch. What had he done to offend her so? Why was a human being’s commissioning date such an important datum? What utility could its anniversary have at any time; let alone during a break for frantic repairs in this campaign across a tortured land in the spring of 1947? Was the Lieutenant’s commissioning date an occasion for a regular maintenance procedure that he should have initiated himself?

   His ruminations were interrupted by the approach along the buttery paving stones of a single-seater Chrysler Roadrunner reconnaissance bipod.

   “Ahoy there,” called the Navy Captain to Robotnik. Who are you guys and where are you bound?”

   After checking the beep-beep-jeep’s markings with his Service Identity Registry and confirming the sailor to be of the eggplant hue unavailable to Japanese recruiters, Robotnik’s probability matrix decided that it was 89% likely to be correct action to provide limited truthful data to the human. “Sir, we’re the Second Platoon, B Company of the 1st Battalion, 161st Mechanized Artillery Regiment, Kansas National Guard. We just flew here from Germany via the Philippines and this vehicle is down for repairs. The rest of the guys are heading north to support the Marines at the edge of the desert. You want I should call the Lieutenant to give you any more intel, Navy?” The manufacturers of Service model ‘toks’ had been ordered by the Pentagon to provide human-seeming voices to soften the experience for human soldiers obliged to serve alongside ‘soulless machines’ in the long, grinding war against a resurgent Japan. Robotnik’s programmer was from Kansas City.

   “That’s okay, ‘tok Sergeant. I guess the goddammned yellow monkeys’ airforce snafu’d your radio with jamming like all the others.”

   “We ain’t been able to contact higher command for three hours now, since the Battalion headed out, sir.”
   “Well you just turn it around, soldier boy, an’ hightail it back to the city ‘cause the Japs have just landed airship infantry outside the gates an’ are closin’ in on the jewel mines in the outskirts. It’s gonna be a pick an’ shovel war in the tunnels to get the gems back under Allied control. Shag it, Sergeant. There’s a counter-attack to mount.” The Roadrunner strode off towards the north.

   A meteor shower in 1945 had destroyed the city of Los Alamos, incinerated its environs and spread something like bubonic plague into the atmosphere; killing a third of the US population between Southern California and the Gulf Coast until a vaccine was discovered in 1946. Since then the Allies had been obliged to struggle on against a revitalized Japan in a war that Washington had expected to finish off by Christmas 1945. Means of reducing casualties included constructing mechanical walkers to overleap Japanese armor and using android servicemen as bunker-busters against entrenchments where fanatical Imperial soldiers would fight on until they died of thirst rather than surrender. The electronic brains of the ’toks and the walkers’ complex feedback systems were reliant on gemstones. When the Imperial forces attacked this country, the US was obliged to leave its British allies to fight alongside French  troops in Western Asia and sent the bulk of the fleet southward to defend a country ignorant of mechanized warfare but that was the Free World’s foremost supplier of diamonds, rubies and - most crucially - emeralds. If the mines were not recovered, the Pacific Fleet might have to abandon island hopping and revert to hellish foot-by-foot human-led blockbusting engagements and a butcher’s bill inspiring almost irresistible calls in Congress for peace negotiations amounting to surrender.

   “Dori, I’m sorry I forgot your birthday,” Robotnik called down to the turret’s undercabin, “but we have new orders to relieve the city.”

   The Lieutenant’s beautiful face smiled wryly up at her mechanical lover. “I wish you meant that, ‘Nik, I really do. But the ruby and emerald thing controlling your hydraulics can’t truly be called a heart. Back home, a gentleman would have made it a point of honour to remember his lady’s birthday.”

   “But, said the ‘tok, climbing into Auntie Dot’s control harness and steering it towards the City of Emeralds, “as your Auntie discovered back in that WW1 thing, we ain’t in Kansas no more.”

Picture from here.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch

   “Black bastards!” The shiny new Lieutenant yelled out as our skirmishers took another pounding.

   Rookie officers are often like that: emotional when they need to be cool. They concentrate on the personal and the individual when their concern ought to be the tactical or the strategic. Not that I didn’t sympathize; those were our chaps out there on point taking a hit with nothing to screen them and outgunned by the enemy’s air cavalry as usual. No sign of backup.
  “Where the hell’s our support?” he muttered from his (slightly) safer position in the file behind me. “What on earth is Command doing advancing the left flank anyway?”
   The eternal question for frontline officers, that was: ‘What are the rear echelon, ah, people using for brains these days? Walnut?’ For us dumb grunts at the front we could afford to think - could scarcely avoid thinking - more personal-like. Our very own Great Imponderable is usually ‘Why me?’ The enemy was pouring it on against our weakened vanguard’s left. Nothing much we could do about it right now; the rhythm of modern warfare being what it is so each of us looked to his front and stood his ground like a soldier.
   One of the Royal Chaplains slid in, all sideways-like, to give us some support; offering some stuff about how God was on our side and how it was our sacred, as well as our citizen’s, duty to lay our lives down if necessary to protect our way of life and to preserve the King’s Peace. He wasn’t such a bad chap I suppose, and it’s nice to see a staff officer risking it up there alongside us so far forward, if only briefly. Though I’m damned if I can even remember what our way of life is; let alone what the King’s Peace looks like. Truth be told I’ve been serving in the ranks so long I can’t remember what it’s like back in Civvy Street. What the Yanks call ‘back in the world.’ I can’t remember much about it at all except that it was quiet and peaceful.
   Then he was off; no doubt to report on the morale of the troops and left us alone with our new officer, the oncoming enemy, and God. He never did mention that our side had started the whole thing off: that we were the aggressors. As usual.
   And what a sense of humour God has, O ladies and gentlemen here assembled! Having allowed two otherwise intelligent peoples to get into a war against each other, and then having let that war go on so long by making us almost equally matched, and next having us led (or rather directed from the rear) by the walnut-brains at Command, He then invited us lowly infantry to work out our own salvation or damnation with whatever inexperienced support the rookie standing behind me could provide. But the Lieutenant was my responsibility; I’d been assigned to get him squared away in the first place and to steady him for his duty if the course of battle finally made it necessary for him to be a hero and advance alone towards the foe, and I would bloody well do my duty so that he could do his.
    And so it went during that long afternoon of hell. We maneuvered round their right salient and then their air cavalry hopped over our skirmishers to threaten our lines of supply. Then we regrouped around our HQ and responded to their next genius tactic of full-frontal frontal assault with some bloody huge and hurtful sacrifices in a tit for tat exchange when our front lines finally met. Command send our own air cavalry towards the enemy centre but it was met with and warded off by their heavy stuff. Then their HQ relocated in a single, swift movement of assets and the battlefield dynamic was completely reversed making nonsense of our few advances to date. You can see how it was going: their assaults would almost work and only our desperate defensive tactics would save the situation and our counterattacks were invariably weaker and less effective than theirs. Each exchange cost us more casualties than it did them and with each engagement their front line grew closer to our rear areas and HQ, and our assets were being whittled away by a ratio of 2 to 1 compared to theirs.
   I suppose that breeding will show eventually and the rookie came from a long line of straight-chargers and hard-hitters. He finally did that officer and gentleman thing that they teach us about in school and recount for hours in stories that old soldiers tell about the battles of their youth or that our grandparents sing about. In a single, courageous, reckless, bloody stupid act of daring, when a gap opened up on the enemy’s left (which was our right of course), the rookie just took off on his own towards the enemy’s HQ; outflanking territory bought by the sacrifice of so many of our dead, and by so doing he completely reversing the balance and pattern of the afternoon’s ever-closer to and fro combat. I could hear the Royal Chaplain, who was with us again up from Command, reporting excitedly back to the King in that upper-class, rather poetic way of his; “A novice revenges the rhythm.” It wasn’t written down that way in the history books of course. Books never do convey the pain, tension, confusion and fear of failure that combat consists of. I finally read the formal report many, many battles later. I read it aloud: ‘White. King’s Rook to King’s Rook Eight. Check.’

Saturday, 8 September 2012


Another Flash Fiction Challenge from Chuck Wendig, combining one word each from three lists of elements to produce a cross-genre hybrid, stalking the land, stealing our women and destroying our memes.
I chose ‘Romantic Comedy’, ‘Serial Killer’, and ‘Addiction’. 

“Hi honey, I'm home.”

Darren washed the bloody knife.

Muffins must be baked.