Poetry-Thing Thursday: Bloodied Hands

Mama,
There’s blood on my hands.
The sky is gray,
and static fills my ears.

Machine-gun fire,
chatters in the distance,
and I feel as if floating,
in dark,
cold seas.

Air between fires is,
tainted by putrid stink:
Bowels, entrails,
and fresh blood.

Reality,
begins to fade around me.
Blackness,
edges its way over my eyes.
Red crosses and faces,
scream silence,
taking residence,
in my mangled mind.
And when I look down,
I see only red through black.

Tunneled suns are useless,
but so too are soldiers,
whom caught off-guard,
die to stray bullets,
no-one is sure to have fired.

No purpose,
no restitution,
flits by with solace,
for there is only silence.
And blackness.
For me.
For Mama.
And my bloody,
dead hands.

Short Story: Ar-Mur of Ganymede

Arthur “Ar-Mur” Martin was the angriest-looking Chimpanzee the Evolved had yet to produce. Like most species, Contact had forever altered Ar-Mur’s people. Mostly for the primates, it just pissed them off– after mutating them into super agile, ultra-intelligent murder-machine adrenaline junkies.

They weren’t all that way, of course. Ever were the outliers– though even they were afflicted, however carefully restrained or reserved in their demeanors otherwise. The plight of the Evolved was really that most were still coming to grips with their own existences. To say nothing of the chaos of finding places in Solsian society.

Still, few were forced to come to terms with what their own cousins had done to them.

Humans had exacted the most terrible, irreconcilable and awful horrors imaginable on every species in their environment– and the environment itself at times. Everything from cannibalism to enslavement, with no modicum of depravity missed en-route. Their only saving grace was that they’d done all these same horrible things to themselves.

There was comfort in that for some, if not all. None would have entertained it in Ar-Mur’s presence. Even the most blithe, belligerent idiot would’ve gone silent with respect.

Ar-Mur was a chimp not to be fucked with.

Like similar-minded Evolved, Ar-Mur dwelt with a subset of dregs in one of Sol’s least orderly communities; Ganymede. His hard-won respect, wealth, and power there, stemmed from extensive mercenary and smuggler work. Highly skilled in martial combat, he’d procured every luxury one could desire– to say nothing of the vast necessities stockpiled for health and occupational-hazards.

Ar-Mur’s little corner of the Ganymeden skid-row was a compound disguised by foggy, sweat-lined streets and the general obscurity of poor infrastructure. It was anything but, and prepared for war by any whom might try take it. Whether the Cougar-fuck Saffron’s anti-wank goons or Emperor-Asshole himself, Lord Snow; he’d fight for what was wrongfully his.

Yet presently, a punk-kid stood before him. And wasn’t going away. Worse, a Human.

His tattered leathers said he knew all about the darker-side of Sol’s social necessities. And, Ar-Mur postulated correctly, knew all of the rumors about himself and likely many truths, too. The smug fuck was just standing there, grinning smugly.

A scarlet and teal mohawk stabbed the air with short, lethal-looking spikes. Ar-Mur’d hated the disproportionate state of the human-head already, never knew he could hate it more. Plus, the punk’s black-mirrored lenses hid his eyes, meaning– Ar-Mur guessed, he was technically blind.

The elective kind.

He’d have had his optic nerves re-geared for neo-vision. For punks and hackers, it was like seeing the world through a 3D matrix-space. The punk would see as a bot-might; digitally. Ar-Mur didn’t like it, but cared only that the punk had breached security. He’d made it in undetected.

That was bad. Catastrophically so.

Ar-Mur refocused; the punk’s hands were bound pointlessly behind his back. Ar-Mur’d already caught the gleaming chrome beneath the leather overcoat. More electives. The scent of new, illegitimate money was the only reason Ar-Mur hadn’t immediately killed him. He was up for hire.

Hiring was always better than murder, if only because it decreased turn-over.

“You gonna’ say sumfing?” The punk asked.

Ar-Mur’s head tilted sardonically, a corner of his mouth rose to bared a few disgruntled teeth. Enough to shut the kid up again.

He waited a few more minutes to say anything, allowing himself to indulge in a drink in the meeting room. It was a throne room, really; though Ar-Mur never called it that. Everyone else did. Probably, because it contained a single chair embedded with countless screen projectors, function switches, and plain ‘ol comfort.

It wasn’t a throne, Ar-Mur knew. Nor was Snow or his rivals’. They were simply the command-chairs for their armies’ compounds. From there a Commander was scanned, their genetic markers verified, and access granted or authorized. The actual workings were technical, and unimportant to the Chimp or Wolf commanding them.

The less he knew needlessly, the more he could devote to important matters. Chief among them, how the fuck this pip-squeak pissant creature’d found his way in completely undetected. He knew he had, too; that he’d only been caught from dumb-luck. Shianni would still be howling if a medic, hadn’t drugged her to sleep.

Lucky bitch.

Simple curiosity might have been enough to indulge in an interrogation– advanced or not. Curiosity came second to security though. He found his in. He’d get the truth out of the kid one way or the other.

“Perimeter sensors encircle our entire block, from sewer-to-sky. If an ant sneezes a thousand feet above me I know it.”

He rose from the throne on lean-muscled limbs, their speed and agility obvious even through the layered clothing, armor, and cloak he wore.

He stopped just before the punk, “I will ask only once or I will kill you; how the fuck did you get in here?”

He grinned from ear-to-ear, “Li’ kis.”

In a blink he was gone. Ar-Mur stiffened up, listening. No sounds. Only a vague, mammalian scent. Foreign. Nearby. Ar-Mur closed his eyes. A not-quite light enough step. Ar-Mur spun, grabbed the punk by his throat and threw him against the floor. Still invisible, the kid’s astonishment was mired beneath a choking fit and groaning pain.

Ar-Mur drew his plaz-pistol, leveled it on center-mass, “Shut it down.”

The phantom coughed and choked, but reappeared in a blink– as he’d left.

Ar-Mur began to circle, examining the kid as if seeing him in a new-light. He knew the kid was a hacker, had gotten past security by hacking it digitally or physically. All of it, and there was a lot, layered like clothing one atop the other, atop more, and so on. Each layer scanned for specific parameters; body heat, odor analysis, power, motion– so many in fact, Ar-Mur had lost track.

That had been his mistake. He knew it now.

“You’ve come all this way and survived. So, speak.”

“E’re comin’. Alluv’em. The Zelphod, the Anti-Humanists. Lackeys.”

“To Ganymede,” he surmised, circling back to his throne to stop before it.

The punk nodded, “Comin’ to take it. Know it’s a clutch. That Sol relies on its mines. That it may not soon, but this’ the best time to weaken it.”

“So these… intruders,” Ar-Mur crossed his arms. “Want it for themselves. They’ll have to go through me first.”

“They will,” the kid said, recollecting himself and rising once more. “Already got agents on-site. Been workin’ for months.”

Ar-Mur’s brow lifted, “On?”

“Puttin’ ‘emselves next to power-centers– you, Snow, gangers, HAA and ISC. Everyone.”

“And this intel, it is credible?”

At that he produced a small disk from beneath a sleeve, offered it to Ar-Mur. He took it, slotted it in his chair, and an encrypted communique opened to play to the almost-empty room. The holo-image immediately strained the Chimp’s self-control. His fury visible enough that even the punk cringed, stepping backward.

“Snow, Emperor-Asshole in the fur.”

“Ar-Mur, as my emissary has informed you, we have a problem.”

“I’m talking to it.”

Snow sneered, “We’ve never seen eye-to-eye on anything, save that maintaining Ganymede’s sovereign anarchy is best for us–”

“You’re about to propose an alliance,” he anticipated.

“I am,” Snow replied without missing a beat. Ar-Mur laughed aloud. “No matter what trickery you may think I’m playing at, bear in mind I am known as brutally and bluntly honest, even in murder.”

Ar-Mur said nothing, his silence agreeing and allowing Snow to continue.

“Ganymede is being infiltrated. Contact may have ended, but the war wages on where we cannot see it. Until recently, it was a pot warming over fire. Now, its contents are rising to a violent boil. If we’re to have any hope for Ganymede or Sol, Evolved or not, we must join together and prepare ourselves for what is to come. Only afterward can we return to civil matters, else there’ll be no home to fight over.”

Ar-Mur bared his teeth again, but remained silent.

“I bear no ill-will for your presence on Ganymede. Else we would war. Thus, this presents us an option; the enemy of my enemy is my ally, if not friend.”

“Or the one to put the knife in second,” he remarked.

Snow tacitly agreed, “Consider my offer, if only for your people’s sake. The Zelphod would see us all exterminated to take what is rightful ours. The same is true for all of Sol. I ask you humbly, consider my offer. I will return to Ganymede within the day to begin preparations. I hope you can put differences aside and aid me. If not, we may never survive what’s to come. Any of us.

Snow winked from existence. The Human watched Ar-Mur carefully, expecting an outburst. Instead he found a tired, Evolved Chimp running on less steam than even it realized. He needed a top-up.

“Why send you?” Ar-Mur asked finally.

“Knew a ‘uman would stay your hand long ‘nuff to lis’en. You torture, not murder ‘em.”

His upper lip curled satisfaction, “Very well. But I require your assistance and name.”

“Suus,” he replied.

“First, Suus, reply affirmative to Emperor-Asshole.” Suus nodded. “Then, show me everything you did to bypass my protocols.”

The hacker’s jaw clenched, “I can’–”

“Your only choice in this matter is whether you wish to be hired as a consultant, or murdered and burned to dust like a lame horse’s carcass.”

Suus swallowed hard, but he liked the sound of payment. Especially against death.

Ar-Mur closed his eyes, resigned to cleaning yet another bullshit-pile dumped on Evolved by Humanity. If it came to it though, Ar-Mur of Ganymede would die defending his home, his people. Obligated or not, his duty to his world and people was too central to his being to walk away.

So, they started off to retrace Suus’ actions… at least they wouldn’t be bored.

Short Story: The Babel Problem

Some things, you can never really expect; car accidents, terminal disease, mental collapse. Usually, too, the most innocuous offenses have the greatest effect; Little Timmy Traydor’s flu, disguised as seasonal allergies, spreads. A week later, coroners are rolling Grannie Hestor down the driveway in a vinyl bag, dead at 83 from pneumococcal complications.

Again, some things, you can’t expect. You can, however, anticipate others. Sometimes. If you’re careful. Most aren’t. Not enough time, really.

However, no-one ever expects or anticipates a radically-public return from the dead.

Even the corps knew that feat was unattainable, reserved for Heroes of myth, religious icons, soaps with revolving writers and no budget.

But she came back. And it changed everything.

Few wars had the effect of this one. The 20th century had shown Humanity war could be profitable. Only decades later did they learn the terrible truth; only true war could be profitable. And true war couldn’t be manufactured.

World War II had spurred Humanity toward a global golden-age for nearly a half-century before its momentum thoroughly exhausted. Therein were born profiteers of every booming sect of society and economics. Some unions, their politics. Some military arms.Others, medicines or technology.Most saw no connection between any of the afore- or un-mentioned.

Then again, how could they? History’d proven itself repetitious, why would that change? History, after all, was a force. As unstopped and inviolable as Nature. Right?

Wrong. She came back and it rallied a part of every. Living. Human. Not just Corp or Reb, or Aug. And not just a few, but every. one; Corp-execs, loyalist jack-boots, the lowest boot-licks— and obviously everyone else. They all had some stake in her side’s fairing, because she’d done the impossible and come back.

Admissible or not, every Human knew it; through those first hints of collective-conscience forming. Like any social group in need of leadership, its source required rigid morality, lest group survival fail. But what could be that source? Politics were a joke.Peace-keepers corruptible. Courts slap-dash, ancient systems from more-ancient eras. Its descended system and components, too,were relics; museum pieces long before even the pre-digital world existed.

Humanity was now living post-digital though. Everything a 0 or 1 within layered levels of parameters and reference. The only differences were subject, context. Even if mostly-blind to it, Humans recognized their need for decentralized guidance.

Like everything of that time, it formed of collective will and need, through sentinels. Guardians physical and digital.Neither doers nor teachers, players nor coaches, but referees and watchers. The same side-liners never bothering to de-bench but still wishing to contribute.

So, they became the ones drawing and tracking lines and rules. Rather than consciously though, it occurred randomly via the same happenstance as all life’s attributes; Black. White. Gay. Straight. Old. Young. All parameters and references, layered or not. In the end, their system was what mattered; systems were malleable. Allowing the watchers to be fed simply ensured the systems continued functioning and improving.

It just so happened, most of those watchers– the Guardians, also happened to be Au-teurs. Creative-visionary, post-humans specializing in thoughts, ideas, and treading the footsteps of Verne, Da Vinci, Tchaikovsky; their descendants Asimov, Van Gogh, and Zappa; so-on, until webs of influence formed from their own immersion and intimacy withing their worlds.

They were stop-bits. All of them, each a facet of Human culture or the apex of a generation’s feelings on a matter. Bird was the word and it stopped with them;filtered from the insanity of the postdigital age into footnotes, referential layers,choices; 0s and 1s.

When she came back though, every watcher– every stop-bit flipped to 1. Together.

Every Human to ever live was with them.

That moment was immortality; fleeting as it seemed, it was. A moment outside time so powerful it would reverberate forever. It was a moment of adaptation that made for Humanity’s first, true evolution since its origination; its first and last. From Human to post-Human. A shift that would remain ’til the end of existence, because the species in question had beaten back something always existing before.

Her return broke new ground in reality,existence. Without so deep and primal a fearas death,even the most meager existence could become enlightenment. Her return, that moment, made it possible. Immortality,resurrection, radically shifted human existence.

Even if more tech and chrome than not, she remained Human. Especially after the Incident, that was important. While no-one saw it that way then, as they too busy fleeing for cover, it was no less accurate. The war that came with her was Brutal. Atavistic. Devastating. Though Few died relatively speaking, each was felt intimately; the resulting turmoil, total.

Every Human alive felt each death stronger simply for being alive. The truth appeared then:

Humanity was experiencing a total mental-awakening amid a self-inflicted violence so shameful and harmful, a counter-balance was not only impossible to avoid, but inevitable and necessary. What that came to be was an idea, simple yet immeasurable in its effect; competition for resources was no longer necessary for survival.

Resources were finite, certainly, but properly divided were more than enough. It was time to stop, think, then act; all the while recognizing that what set us apart from animals wasn’t clothing, organization, or even intelligence. Rather, it was the grasping and manifestation of concepts so abstract they could only arise from one source; imagination.

An animal knew only it’s immediate point in space-time. It could be conditioned through binary emotion– warm or cold feelings– to react as per instinct and reflex. Ultimately though, it could not think long-term, nor plan its future beyond a few, select moments.

But Humans were different now.

For the first time, they were forced to pause and engage what they’d created via collective will. In that came the obviousness that the struggles underlining society were pointless, because they were solvable. Certain parties simply weren’t doing there part to solve them.Her return, the war that came with it, made one thing clear: it was time for that to end.

Far bigger concerns existed. Thus, so could things to fulfill even the wildest dreams of the most wild dreamers. Humanity simply required a slight extension of patience, one considered unobtainable from life’s demands.

But that belief was dictated by elderly ideas and systems of even older ideas. Ones formed with hope of a so-called “perfect” world.However, the world needn’t be perfect, only that Humans have a goal to keep them striving, reaching, and staving off stagnation.

Pre-digital gave way to postdigital, the actual digital age merely the transition between; a Human process of realization, that of not only their place, but perfection’s. The latter as an abstract construct meant as a guide-wire to be always expanding, growing. In effect, an info-virus seeking to rectify a Babel problem that wasn’t a problem, but a consequence of nature and human existence.

If allowed and harnessed, that same consequence was its own force to be reckoned with.

She returned, and everything changed. The stop-bits flipped. Alarms went up. And all hell broke loose. The rest is history. The resurrection. The second coming. It was there, but only because Humanity willed it. It– she was salvation, because Humanity needed one, willed it possible. She just happened to be convenient.

On one level or another, people suddenly agreed with her revolution; all people.Immortality was a living being’s concern, and she’d defied it. In doing so, she sealed the Corporations’ fall.

No-one wanted ’em anymore. They weren’t good enough, purpose aside. They were the first, rough-draft systems of a newly foresighted species; learning-software output of child-students of the universe learning to multitask any goal, aligned or otherwise.

It was only after things truly began for Humanity, its progeny, their affected. Now that they knew how to do it right, it could be magnificent. And it was.

Short Story: Mistakes Unchanged

Emile Manning had been in the motor-pool roughly four years now. He’d signed up as a heart-sick teen intent on a two-year deployment. He’d always preferred motor-pool maintenance, had done everything to ensure he ended up there. He took the tests, aced them, met the veterans, got in good with the job placement guys. When he finished boot, he got to where he wanted, spent a few months as a greenie gopher, passed muster, inspection, and P-T every day with flying colors, and when it finally came time to apply that discipline to his “dream job,”he did.

Maybe that was his mistake; dreaming of an average job in a sup-par part of the world. Who knows, maybe it was just being born.

In any case, he landed the job and shipped-out to Mid-East for a front-line motor-pool. His first few months established his routine of rising for chow, then watching the other guys head off for patrol, before he headed off to repair the HMMVs they ended up trashing.

Humvees weren’t his specialty, though he could breakdown and rebuild one with his eyes closed. He was to machines what foot-soldiers were to rifles. He knew every piece of the motor-pool, could hear when one was about to trash the others and require a rebuild. The EOD guys kept the roads safe, but Emile kept the people traveling them safer. Patriotism may’ve fueled the Army but sweat kept running, and Emile could sweat like no other.

So when General Hardin came through the motor-pool, he found Emile ass-deep in an Abrams tank– his actual specialty– and its jet-engine motor. The tank’s rearwas disassembled and scattered around the repair garage. Some jokerthought it a genius idea to ramp the thing off a ditch and onto a massive boulder. Sure, the tank had made it, even caught some air, but at the cost of a compressor and a few air and fuel lines.

The idiot brought it down too hard, forced the compressor to re-seat in its casing. When the pressure sky-rocketed in the lines, they burst and sprayed fuel, oil, and air everywhere. The resulting mess required an entire tear-down, cleaning, and rebuild. If Emile had been the unmotivated type, he’d have had the whole turbine scrapped but he liked the challenge.

He’d already torn down most of the saturated parts, replaced the lines and repaired the compressor, but still had over half the engine to clean and check before reassembly. His mind was empty, like a Buddha in meditation. The only thing he knew was the autonomous way he worked.

And, occasionally, the question of how the hell the thing hadn’t caught fire, exploded, and killed every one aboard. Jet fuel was highly volatile, after all.

General Hardin approached and called for attention. Emile dropped his tools, banged his knee, and stood board stiff with a grimace and a salute.

“General sir, Master Sergeant Emile Manning, awaiting orders, sir.”

“As you were, Sergeant,” the General instructed.

Light hit the four, silver stars on Hardin’s shoulders and Emile’s military instincts kicked in. He fell back into his routine immediately, ignoring Hardin’s continued presence. He’d been taught to power through anything to do his job, had even replaced an alternator on a stranded Humvee in pitch-dark night during a fire-fight.

Normally, they’d have just called out a tower, brought the old rig in and exchanged it for another. The fire-fight meant possibly never returning; someone else could get it. They couldn’t allow that. Short of scuttling the damned thing, they’d lose it unless Emile went out; the best, fastest mechanic in the whole damned army. He took it as a personal challenge to get the thing running again or die trying.

Maybe that was why Hardin was there now. He didn’t know. It’d been a while since that stunt, but there was a definite hint of evaluation to the air. Emile ignored it, but the little pill of curiosity was there, in the back of his head.

He emerged from the rebuild, expecting Hardin to question his break. Any normal human would’ve collapsed hours ago from heat. Between sweat, grease, jet-fuel and oil, even Emile was pushing it.

But that was the US Army; best of the best from the cream of the crop. Or in other words, damned if you did, damned if you didn’t.

Emile grabbed for a canteen at the edge of the torn-down tank-ass and threw back a few gulps. It wasn’t until he capped off the canteen again that he saw the General sitting a few paces away, studying him pensively. An awkward moment later, Emile spoke up, damned either way, but damned curious at that.

“General, sir, permission to speak, sir?”

“Granted, Sergeant,” Hardin said, rising to bridge the gap between them.

“Is there something you need, sir?” Emile noticed even the hardened, old man was red, sweating. “I only ask, sir, because I imagine you’d want to be as far from this heat as anyone.”

The General chuckled. He actually chuckled. And smiled. Emile’s surprise was obvious, less due to the fact that the often-enigmatic creature-type before him laughed than that he could laugh. He figured there was some regulation against it; an unspoken, secret code upper-echelon officers adhered to with subordinates.

“Son, I don’t know whether to commend your honesty or take offense to your implication.”

Emile stammered out a reply, “S-sir, I-I meant no–”

“I know you didn’t, son,” he said with a dismissive wave. “Point is, I am out here for a reason.”

Emile’s ears perked up. He couldn’t help it. His curiosity piqued, and if the General was truly speaking freely, and to Emile of all people, there was cause for interest.

“Sir?”

The General eyed him, then the engine, “I want to see you finish this thing, son. How much longer d’you estimate it’ll take? A straight answer. No bullshit bravado, understand?”

Emile gave a nod, and a “Yes, sir.”

He thought the question over in earnest; he could probably finish in a few hours, but that meant skimping some of the cleaning. He didn’t like the idea, but it was more a point of personal pride than necessity.

“Four or Five hours, ‘pending on if I take my time cleaning the parts, sir.”

The General retook his seat, “Do the job right, Sergeant.”

“Yes, sir.”He threw back another gulp of water and set to work.

The next five hours he did his job and did it well. He was zen; in a state of mind where repairing the turbine engine and cleaning each piece became more autonomous than anything he’d ever done before. Had he been a machine, they’d have modeled a production line after him. After all “do the job right”to a General meant time was the price paid for immaculate work.

Enlisted guys like Emile had learned to tell good officers from bad ones that way. Good officers knew to let their subordinates get the job done right, pushing however they wanted or needed, but not so much they forced their guys to fuck up. Bad officers thought perfection was a possibility, thus always demanded more, then bitched when things did fuckup. Thankfully, General Hardinseemed the former.

Emile finished near dusk. The heat had retreated, but the General remained in his seat, as passive and observing as he’d been all day. The other mechanics would fit the engine tomorrow morning, run the Abrams through her paces. Even so, there was no doubt in any mind the thing would run better than new.

Emile threw back the last of his now-warm water and the General stood from his seat. “I’ll be damned if I haven’t seen a better mechanic than you, son.”

“Thank you, sir,”he said, again in earnest.

“The reason I’m here’s classified, but if you agree, I’ll brief you on the way to your new deployment.”

“Sir?”

“I’m not gonna’ lie to you son, it’s work. There’s no pay raise, and no promotion, but you serve your country and put for your god-given gifts to the test everyday. You agree, and you’ll be rewarded, no doubt about that.”

Emile wasn’t one to deny officers their requests. That was suicide, physically and occupationally. More than that it meant ignoring his curiosity.

“I don’t expect you’d have stuck around this long unless you needed me, sir, and I wouldn’t want to disrespect you by declining. So… yes, sir, whatever you have for me, I’ll do.”

In retrospect, that was his mistake. It wasn’t dreaming of a certain job, or being disciplined enough to be damned good at it, or even just being born. Rather, it was the blind acceptance and plunging curiosity’s dick-first into something new.

It took a couple days, but when he saw the General again, he was dressed in his finest dress-greens, pins and all, and looking respectable. He and the General boarded a plane and twenty disorienting hours later, landed in the states. Emile could’ve kissed the ground, or indeed the General, on seeing America again and prematurely at that. It had been four years. Four too-damned long years.

His great mistake? He learned it all too soon. He and the General were escorted to an awaiting helicopter, to a nearby training academy, then to a nondescript building. They rode an elevator more floors down than he thought possible and emerged into something even more impossible.

The doors opened onto a skunkworks like a massive production-floor with obvious prototype fighting machines. Emile salivated; jet-turbines, combustion engines, sleek and boxy angles, armored plated tanks, APCS, next-gen HMMVs.

General Hardin escorted him through the building toward a back-office, took a seat at a desk, and offering one to Emile.

“You agreed, son, so this is the deal; you work here, under cover of still being on deployment. Nothing externally changes. Your family still believes you’re deployed. Everyone does. Everyday you wake up, come down here, and build the shit outta’ whatever the Engineers request. Test it. Beat the hell out of it. Whatever it takes to make the world a little safer in the process. In exchange, you stay safe, and out of that festering pisshole you came from. Sound good?”

What else could Emile say but yes? He knew even then he was making a mistake; slaking his curiosity with unimaginable change, prospects and projects he’d never dreamed of, all while never being able to tell anyone.

Still, he couldn’t deny the allure as he glanced out the General’s office window at the vehicles in their varying states of assembly. He was almost giddy.

“When do I start?”

The General chuckled and smiled again; some mistakes were best left unchanged.