Poetry-Thing Thursday: Lean Upon the Wicked

Lean upon the wicked.
Trod upon the lame.
Chase them through the thicket.
Hang them without name.
If judgment comes to call,
say it was a game.

This is the creed of a motherless breed.
This is the soul-darkened human seed.
This is the eyrie of an immoral steed,
pregnant upon invirtuous deed.

Death is on your ticket.
Freedom’s in your name.
Never can be resown.
We fight but not in vain.
Eyes and minds alight.
And burning as one flame.

This is the song, of a petulant need.
This is the cry, that we cannot concede.
This is a wound, borne of gluttonous greed,
bending like, unbroken reed.

Cry of the fallen.
Breath of the flame.
Forget the calling.
Strike without shame.
For when at last,
the flotsam’s gone to claim,
and tidal waves roll,
cling to the innocents
and not your goal.

This is the sigh of the chaos gone by,
This is the reel of impossible cry.
This is the sound of the freewheel afly,
remembered long past the day that we die.

Short Story: Sodden Holo

Sopping mud trails formed miniature canyons in the streets. As if some precise giant had dug slender fingers into the Earth between sections and sides of town. Carts, wagons, their beasts of burden, and all other manner of creatures formed them.

Their sopping troughs were scattered about town between what little remained of eroded, patchwork-cobble. What remained of once-prominent holographic projectors and neon signs glowed and flickered dimly advertising everything from taverns to seamstresses, buds to brothels. The opaque movements of a thousand different advertisements and static signs belched Technicolor light onto stone and rotting-wood.

That disease of neglect, civic abandonment, stretched across the almost-forgotten township.

But within Sodden Holo, it was the Empire that was forgotten. Life was squalor, no doubt, but squalor of a kind with charm and routine. The type only available when living in freedom, without a mythical force beyond the realm to oppress. Because it cared not for them nor they for it, they were passive.

Then the caravan came.

They’d holed up outside town two days before anyone attempted contact. Then, sent a trio of armed men to the tavern. They wore black and green and gold, and asked questions. Many questions. Gruffly and rudely: on where to secure supplies, seek shelter, the names of prominent men and women and aldermen.

Already these vectors of disease had begun to infect, spread. Money. The stranglehold. They’d throw it around, hoping to mesmerize or hypnotize. Great mounds of it. Gold, silver, copper– jewels even. They’d trade anything, had everything or access to it. Like any siege engine, if allowed, that money-disease would go to work breaking down walls.

Fact was, people in Sodden Holo didn’t much care for money or the Empires. They gummed up the works, but were not seen as evil. Money in particular was no evil, but rather another tool to barter with. As equal to that of gold or silver in the eyes of the trader and their desire.

This was the Empires’ new kind of war. One of economics. For hearts, minds. Not permanent, but enough to quell the fringes ready to rise in revolt. As in every iteration of civilization, it was yet another overlord’s controls. The Empires, when it mattered most, lavished wealth upon people like confetti, but only for adoration’s sake. Never stability’s.

People furthest from the constant influx of money– Empirical capitals and the like– were beginning to piece that together. Money however, when it could not quell the occasionally rising tempers, gave excuse for lashing-out against one’s own people.

Times were that every Human was an island and ruler unto their self. Between then and now, it had become painfully clear that was no longer the plan for greater Humanity. Some people were allowed that, sure: rulers, mostly. The other 99 times out of 100, they weren’t. About 85 of those 99 meant being smeared in shit and grime the rest of one’s life regardless of those privileged few.

That was Humanity’s choice. Long made in a world far-longer gone. In a time and people that no longer existed. Human-Social had given way, violently, to Human-Servile. Whatever side one chose, the bitter reality was clear: servitude was undeniably its base.

Whether serving the wealthy, their associates, their system of wealth-creation, or anyone else therein, it was impossible not to be beneath someone.

But that was a world and way of thinking long-off for Sodden Holo. Neither glamour nor shine existed there, technicolor belches notwithstanding, save on the local boot-black’s corner. How could it? Half the town was streaked in mud all the warmer months, frozen over the rest. It knew of life in the colors of grit and grime, the scents of grass and cow shit.

In short, through the ways of the land, its inhabitants, their effects on it.

For those passing through, it was obvious this was a land separate, but governed. Whomever did the governing, they knew, did it well enough so the only signs of civic neglect were the roads the Holo could not repair without all-important and scarcematerials traded mostly by Empirical quartermasters or tradesmen. It was a way of strangle-holding the people from establishing Empires without their knowledge.

But progress was inexorable. Its tide could not be diverted forever, nor without constant attention to details, lest the dam crack asunder.

Yet time and people marched on. Roads appeared. Trails. All of them, it seemed, led through Sodden Holo– at some point. Distant or rare as it was for some, it was undeniable.

They were a crossroads hub, but not the kind one thought of lightly. Rather, it was one all travelers ended up in by misfortune. It didn’t judge. Nor did its people. But they, like it, knew it was no-one’s intended stop. Yet that need not mean a traveler feel unduly unwelcome either.

They took no quarter for the worst of atrocities, of course, like most decent folk. Only when bitten did the hand that fed, strike out though. Especially against those most unforgivably biting. What Dante might have termed, “Treason against one’s benefactors.” To that, such punishments never came unduly, nor ever with malice but meant to correct.

That didn’t mean it couldn’t turn bloody.

In hindsight, people came to realize, that was what the Empire had underestimated. That people wouldn’t give it the same disregard it gave them. They’d sent a caravan of Empirical guards to enact a trade-war on a free economy. Rather than send ambassadors to join or appraise it, they sought to take it by force, with nary a thought to those effected.

Hindsight couldn’t change those effects.

Their intent became apparent the second day the envoy visited town– fifth since their appearance overall. It was raining. A typical persistent and swampy mist citizens and drifters had come to expect of Sodden Holo, its surroundings: warm, and smelling of earthen protection rising from the very ground beneath their feet.

Reason had left most of those in the pubs. Meanwhile, the tension of the envoy’s encampment, brewing since its appearance, had soured and afouled a great many moods.

The air was rife with power. As those trembling within the tavern were well-aware, it was a power no mortal dared tempt. All it would take to set the power alight was the wrong actions within it. The wrong minds, the type that cared not for maintaining peace or others’ ways.

Five of them entered the tavern. Two remained near the door, guarding ‘til further orders. Two more escorted a third between them. He was tall, scrawny. Spectacles perched on his face, he looked and moved like an old Eagle– perpetually down-looking, on the hunt.

He approached the bar, calling for the tender to procure the manager.

The tender laughed, “You dunno how things work a-roun’ ‘ere.”

His tone sharpened, “I beg your pardon?”

“No. You don’t. You come in ‘ere with your bloody gold and silver, try to buy the place. Why else would you lot come in, all pompous, clutchin’ that ledger like some kind’a King bout to lay his prick on the bar?

“I ain’ sellin you nor your dogs another drink ‘til I get some answers. I been Alderman of Sodden Holo, twen’y years. Empires never given us the time’a day. Never answered our letters or requests for help.

“All the same, we get by. ‘Cause we hav’ta. You come in here, wanna lay your prick on my bar like I don’t know what’s bout to happen. But I’m tellin you, I’ve seen prick-whippin’ enough times I can sense it a mile off.”

The shrewd man’s face snarled. The bar was deathly silent. The tender eyed the two ruffians beside him; former mercs, paid better as Empirical Guardsmen for their skill in battle. These were not men to be lightly crossed.

The tender’s face hardened at hints of blood-lust on the air. The power had turned. Sodden Holo would soon be bathed in blood.

“You g’wan and put your prick out, mister. ‘N I’ll make sure to cut it to size for you.”

A hiss. “The nerve!

Someone screamed. Metal clashed. The power erupted, releasing ferocity across the tavern. Chaos of bodies and limbs flayed. Blood sprayed. An all-out melee began and ended within seconds. By the end, the bar stank of blood and bowels, beneath echoing screams from dying and injured.

The Alderman-Tender was busy bandaging a gash in a woman’s arm when he called to, “Raze the Envoy’s camp. Leave nothing standing!”

Every man and woman capable would need to be ready. The Empire would be coming.

The tender looked over the ruins of his bar, knowing for the better of all he should have sold out. But if he had, what would be left of him to help his people, his home? The Empire was not the way forward for Sodden Holo, that much had always been obvious.

But would there be any way forward now? He wasn’t sure.

Unable to dwell, he moved on, too swept up in doing what he knew all would soon be doing: preparing for war.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: The Ground Need Not Be Level

I will not go down with the ship,
but I will stand until every last man that can be, is evacuated.
The rest must understand I will send for them.
That my retreat will not be in vain.
That it is but to rally that I rise.

Easy to say,
when you’re not on the ground.
So keep disconnected, never plan to fall back.
Never retreat.
Always hold your ground.
Show them each step is a fight,
and they will not gain.
no matter even, if you lie dead.

Because they too, then,
will see their own wounds.
Forced to contend with them,
or their compounding effects,
will show they are only the more wounded.

Resist corruption.
Carve out its roots.
But accept the fear,
the worry of recursion,
for it is inevitable.

But remain disciplined,
for it tempers the fears,
turns peaks and troughs,
into pebbles beneath your boots.

For the ground need not be level,
if you are.

Short Story: A New Enemy

Admiral Su Kovac was the hardest screw in the Earth Federation Fleet. With upwards of a thousand battles under her belt over the length of a forty year career, she was finest, most experienced officer Earth-Federation had ever seen. In all her years of command, she’d learned to emulate her ancestors by taking the unplanned as it came, or otherwise striking hard with superior force. The mix made her the EFF’s foremost Tactician.

She was deferred to whenever in reach, but no-one dared disturb her otherwise. Once, twenty or so years into her career, then Fleet Admiral Harding had pulled her off maneuvers for an utterly trivial task. She arrived promptly, learned of the task, and before realizing his mistake, was lambasted and humiliated him before his men and half the other Admirals. All of them seemed to recognize Kovac’s authority over his– to say nothing of the defeat of the already-crumbling “old guard.”

Shortly after, High-Command made her Fleet Admiral, consigning Harding to the annals of forgotten history. Kovac celebrated by completing maneuvers then tearing down the command structure to rebuild it. Despite making few friends among the senior officers, the reassignments tightened the Fleet enough to “plant the flotilla up a flea’s ass.”

Kovac was fond of the saying, but too often it came across as ego to those outside her command. The others took it as the ultimate compliment– especially given the inverse; “loose as an old man-whore’s ass.” A saying she was equally, if not more, fond of. Those under her disliked its implications, its terribly vivid imagery, but no-one questioned her judgment.

To say the EFF had never seen a greater Admiral would require the admission of how few there’d been. Kovac was one in a short line thus far, and though the bar was never set before her, it had damn sure been set by her.

One shining example was the battle over Dent Seven, a planet on the edge of Gliese 876. What had once been known by its host star and the appended letter “D,” was colloquially known as Dent. She knew the Eklobian Mauraders had hidden themselves through-out the system, minimizing their heat and power output to effectively mask their fleet. By doing so, they blockaded Dent, on the grounds of embargo, believing themselves to be deserving of a larger portion of the tariffs collected by them on behalf of the Federation, contractors that they were.

Kovac launched only a single, filled shuttle-carrier in response. She helmed it, taking only a skeleton crew of volunteers from her best and brightest. After a week of lying in wait in deep space, using long-range scanners to surveil, map, and observe the system, she and her crew had wired all of the shuttles for remote piloting. Then, placing herself in orbit of Gliese 876’s eponymous star to mask her emissions, she launched the shuttles one-by-one. Each one drew out Marauders moving in attack formation.

At each appearance, a single volley of the carriers cannons fired, eradicating the shuttle and the marauders. It wasn’t long before the Marauders learned of the tactic, and their losses, and withdrew.

In short, all future Admirals would be judged by Su Kovac, and with good reason; she was the best of the best, and it was doubtful anyone living could exceed her prowess.

That all came to a head the day Orion Expedition encountered trouble near Bellatrix. The O-E ships were approximately two-thirds of the way through a research and survey expedition when contact was lost. Admiral Kovac immediately launched a contingent of cruisers and scouts, herself at its head. The F-drives engaged, planting them a few, solar hours out from O-E’s last known position. The contingent’s bulk kept formation to the O-E transponder location. The scouts went ahead, scanners active, and guns at-the-ready.

Dead space greeted them. Dead space. Minor debris. A black-box transponder was the only whole-part of any of the twelve research vessels and four escort cruisers remaing. Kovac kept her guard up. The tension rose aboard each ship, felt by all from officers to ensigns, vets to greenies; something was wrong. Everyone knew it.

As if shouting into the frightening darkness around oneself, Kovac ordered a single, burst transmission to ping for any cloaked or masked vessels hiding from their aggressors.

The ping emitted silently, but every crew-member felt its electrical discharge strike their chests like a thunderbolt. In all of the years the EFF had existed, nothing ever so completely annihilated a contingent of its ships, nor with such stealth. Not a single trace of its presence was left. Even after the interminable wait, silence remained the ping’s only reply.

Kovac ordered scouting parties, sending a battleship, a pair of cruisers, and a handful of corvettes together to stand guard. Others were sent along patrols around any plausible perimeter an escape pod might be in. She kept her Dreadnought, Shepard, and the Carrier, Heinlein, at the center of the contingent’s remnants, surrounded it with EFF Destroyers, Battleships, and Cruisers, then split the remaining Corvettes into two groups. Opposing patrol routes between the rest of the ships would ensure nothing escaped visual inspection.

Shepard’s senors suddenly went out. Alarms screamed through the Dreadnought. The fleet began radioing identical issues. Comms crackled despite short distances. Kovac immediately ordered back her teams. Comms went out altogether a moment later. Screeching static stole the airwaves, most officers’ breaths. Without comms, the fleet had no way to maneuver or relay orders.

Were it not for her subordinates’ respect and her expert instruction, she might have lost complete control. Whatever had caused the issues might have struck, leaving nothing short of total chaos in result. Instead, each man and woman sat at the edge of theirs seats, waiting to enact any orders.

Centered amidShepard’s Bridge, Kovac skimmed the force-field windows and their clear, 360-degree view of open space on all sides. Nothing was amiss, aside from the obvious sensor issues. Space was peaceful, as empty as it had always been.

She squinted at the blackness outside the ships’ collective field of light. Something came at her like a torpedo, rocketed toward the Bridge windows. Shepard’s shields repelled it in a shower of sparking flame.

“Cut all lighting,” Kovac ordered.

Her words echoed between various officers. The lights went out. She fished a blinding hand-lamp from a compartment beside a bulkhead, switched it on. The Bridge lit, a beacon in the night. A series of hand movements signaled in now-ancient Morse-code to a cruiser in range. The code was long out of use, but every person under Kovac’s command had learned it under her orders.

Moments later, the Cruiser’s Bridge went dark. The fleet began to shift. Kovac’s voice was a steady stream of orders. Meanwhile, her hand worked, relaying orders to the cruiser, in turn relayed to other ships in range light signal beacons. Before long the entire fleet reformed. All ships now had views of Shepard’s Bridge.

Fighters were launched, two pilots to a ship; one for flight, one for comms. Orders to sweep in formation were dispatched. Space was suddenly swarmed by the criss-crossing and swirling of a thousand and more fighters.

A Destroyer erupted. The shockwave of blue-plasma rocked the other ship’s shields. A second later, violet plasma manifested from seemingly empty space. Kovac snarled. Firing trajectories were calculated, relayed. Weapons were charged. Before the hidden ship could comprehend it, the fleet’s volley launched. Red-violet. Azure-blue. Electric greens and reds. The small streaks of proton-missiles all aimed for a single point in space. They met the hidden vessel with a mosaic of small explosions that birthed another, larger one.

In the final moments before its reactors went critical, a Dreadnought unlike any she’d ever seen appeared beneath the mosaic shroud. The EFF had not built or envisioned it. Indeed, the design was so alien Kovac doubted a human mind could have concocted it. She had no words to describe it xenoicism. Its various curves, hard angles, and exorbitant plating veined with fire. Then, post-nuclear shock-wave exploded, dissipating eon-blue and red-violet through-out space. Most of the EFF fighters were caught off-guard, lost. A small price, Kovac decided, given the alternative might have been the entire fleet.

Upon returning home, there were no medals. She wouldn’t have accepted them anyway. They were trophies, conversation pieces, thin veneers for people without true accomplishments beneath their belts. Preparation was more important than ceremony anyhow. This new enemy was smart. They’d completely eliminated an entire research party without being spotted; caught the fleet– and Kovac– off-guard, and almost wiped them out in the process. As far as the EFF was concerned, they’d declared war.

For Kovac’s part, they’d exposed critical flaws in the Fleet’s stratagem. Their possession of advanced cloaking and EMP tech meant she needed a defense. Rather than be shaken, she locked herself away to think.

This new enemy was good, but Kovac was better. She knew it. It wasn’t arrogance but discipline. Everyone else agreed. To her diligence and training were everything. She withdrew the fleet to Sol for maneuvers to test against her stratagem, then sent out patrols and scouts. She would be damned certain they were prepared for any future confrontation with this new enemy.