The Spirit – A Dystopian Wars short story

•March 4, 2011 • Leave a Comment

“My name, in the ancient tongue of my people is Bright Eagle Sun.

My grandfather was with the party which led Samuel Hearne to the copper mines and back, he hunted the caribou with bow and arrow, and killed the wicked Inuit with axe, fists and teeth. My father was born at the village near Bloody River. He worked the mine with his brothers and sisters, he met my mother there and I was born there. He was a good man until the wicked gin devoured his good, strong heart.

I still remember how the white men laughed at him, how they would kick him when he sprawled upon the ground, writhing in unearthly agony and pleading with the world-spirit to free him from his prison. They would buy him one cup of gin, then he would beg them for more. They would make him dance for it. Make him sing. Make him deny the spirits of the world and the forests and the plains and make him lick up the spilled liquor from the floors. Then they would buy him another cup.

He killed my mother and my youngest sister in a drunken rage. She implored him to go back to work, to dance and sing to the spirits of our world, not the evil spirit; gin, of the white man. He shouted and my youngest sister cried and clung to my mother. Then he took up my grandfather’s axe and the cruel metal bit into her body again and again and the blood flowed from her wounds. I was not there, for we worked long hours in the mine, but an old mother who lived nearby heard the commotion and went to help. She said that once my father had finished with his wife and daughter, he chanted the ancient song of death and took the axe to his throat.

I blame the white man.
Without his thirst for riches he would never have come to our land. He would never have hunted for precious furs, would never have hungered for the copper in the mountain, would never have come and devoured our land and our people like an ancient and insatiable demon.
I blame the white man.

In the fall following my family’s tragedy, the French began to attack deeper into Britannian territories and the men at the fort near the mine were marched south and east, back to the bay and the company’s army there. They left few white men behind with few guns; trusting that the brothers they had made masters over the rest of us would keep us in check. But one night, I stirred my brothers with a speech in which I called on the ancient spirits of this land, our home, and danced and chanted the ancient warrior song. I called to the land to strengthen my arms and my legs and to guide me in destroying my enemies. I told them that the white men were our enemies; that they had raped the land which we called home, and that they would do the same to us. Though they knew it, I told the story of my father and the demon that infested his heart and soul; a demon put there by the white man. But they needed no excuse from me.
In the night, we crept to the fortress and scaled the wooden Walls and set fires in the buildings and waited til the men and women and children fled from the flames then we set upon them, killing them as surely as they had killed the spirits of our earth.

I expected honour and reward when we returned with news of our victory, but the elders hung their heads and cried the keening wail of those bereft. ‘We have lost more sons today.’ they said, ‘For surely the spirits are with you no longer.’ They pointed at me and the headman said ‘Take yourself from here, you are a murderer and are dead to us.’
I tried to tell them why I had done what I did but they would not listen. They forced me out onto the cold plains alone.

I traveled for many years and found others like myself, people who knew what the white man had done and knew what price he must pay for it. At first I resented my people; hated them for casting me out, but I came to understand that I should not hate, but pity them for they were as much prisoners to the white man as my father once was.
On my travels I met my first love, a beautiful, strong woman named Uhanaka, whose past was formed by pain and hate, just as mine was. The French soldiers had raped her mother before her and killed her father and brother. She killed two of the French men and escaped into the forest where she lived isolated and alone.
We dreamed of a free land where the spirits were our only masters and where we could rebuild our proud families and raise a nation of free men. And we agreed that we must put to death the white men who would stand in our way.

Eventually, the French were beaten back and the Britannian companies took their lands and added them to their own until all of Canada was under Britannian rule. The Hudson Bay company was the largest and the strongest and Uhanaka agreed with me that we must strike at them to show the white man that we would not stand aside as they took our land from us.

She met with a tribe to the south of the bay and spoke to the people there about the white men. They told her that in the fighting the two sides had both killed theirs, that men had taken their daughters and their wives to their tents and fortresses and that the men who could fight were put to death. She asked them to join us, told them that we would ask the spirits to help us avenge their dead and promised that new grass would rise from fields of white blood.
They agreed.

We attacked at dawn. The sun’s first, blood-red rays soaked the grand house that the Hudson company had built at the heart of it’s lands; a great keep of stone with vast towers and encircling walls, like a new mountain had risen on the plain.
We entered through a side gate, I killed the first of the guards and Uhanaka killed the second. We were inside the keep before the alarm was raised and I heard the first gunshot which would have alerted all other soldiers inside to the danger.
‘We must find the gunpowder room’ I told Uhanaka, and she nodded and led the way down into the bowels of the keep.
I had performed the dance of strength of body and the song of strength of mind and had begged the spirits for aid in the hours before dawn so my muscles felt stronger, my heart beat mightily and my every sense was heightened so I smelled the gunpowder long before we reached the end of the corridor and the three heavy, wooden doors that greeted us there.
I paused to try and sense which door the powder lay behind but Uhanaka, urged by bloodlust and the relentless power of the spirits, threw open the first door and plunged in; the point of her spear leading the way. As she entered I had time to see four red-coated white men with their long guns and slender swords and behind them a stack of boxes, the one on top open and full of shining gold. This must have been one of the company’s strongrooms where coin was kept until it was spent buying more native land from other white men. Those guarding it must have that sole duty; even during an attack.
One fired and I saw bright blood spring from my beloved’s side, but she was not deterred and her spear pierced the heart of the one who had fired and drove through until it burst from his back and Uhanaka stood nose to nose with the dead man. The others wasted no time in striking at her and one, seeing me, fired into the corridor. The shot whirred past my ear and I dove backwards, into the room behind me.
This room was much larger than the other and had many shelves and a long walkway between them. Each was laden with goods, some, like the furs, I recognised but others did not. As another shot followed me into the room I backed down the walkway and around a corner and into a small alcove in which several curious boxes were stacked.
They were curious, not because of anything I could see or hear, but because of what they made me feel. As I neared them I felt their warmth and a sense of peace and fulfilment came over me. I got closer still and the feeling grew stronger. I reached out a hand to touch the box-

I stood in a clearing in a forest. A forest I did not know. I wore no clothes and carried no weapons. A wind began to blow, circling in from the tree line, spiralling towards me, but it was warm and gentle. On the wind, following its spiral, a moth fluttered. It flew to my forehead and I felt its limbs push into my skin, felt it bring its head down and touch mine. Suddenly I heard a voice, but this sound was not formed by lips and tongue and teeth, and it came straight into my mind. ‘Bright Eagle Sun,’ it said, ‘I am the spirit of the world and I will help you.’
‘How?’ I asked,
‘Through me you can bend the world to your will. I will see that it does as you ask.’
I felt a stab of pain in my head and saw a bright light which forced my eyes closed. ‘Open your eyes.’ the spirit commanded. I opened them and saw, again, the clearing and the swirling breeze. ‘Open them again.’ the spirit said. I did not see what it meant at first, but then I noticed a flicker on the edge of vision, as though a ripple on a lake had flashed the sunlight into my eyes, and saw the room in which my body stood, hand still on the box.

I forced open my other eyes, my body eyes, and saw the white men enter the room through gaps in the shelves.
I closed my body eyes and opened my spirit eyes, ‘Spirit!’ I called, ‘Hide me!’.
One of the men must have heard for he swung around his gun and made to shoot. But the other put out a hand and hissed a warning; ‘Don’t shoot here! That’s Sturginium there, no telling what’ll happen if you hit it but it won’t be good, I’ll tell you that!’ he said, his quivering hand pointing right at me.
They advanced and I watched them come around the corner. They stopped and the one who had spoken let out a deep breath. The other stepped closer to me and began to peer deeper into the gloom. ‘I could have sworn he came in here Bill.’ he said.
Bill, who looked relieved, shrugged and shook his head. ‘Maybe he snook out before we came in here?’ he said. ‘Either way, he’s not here now. Come on.’ He tugged at the other man’s elbow and they turned and left.

I waited for a few seconds before emerging from the deep shadow and noted faint lines on my skin which were swiftly disappearing, lines which matched the stone behind me. I swiftly walked to the door, being sure that there were no more soldiers, and peered through the gloom into the strongroom. There was a quantity of blood on the floor, but no bodies remained. I would have to find Uhanaka’s body so that it could be properly given back to the land. I would not have her subjected to the same treatment in death as I had seen countless others of my people endure; the burial and internment of the white man in deep graves and with hollow, meaningless words which the spirit would never hear.

My feet felt as though they never touched the ground as I ran through the fortress cellars and up into the main keep. Those of my brothers and sisters who had come with us to avenge our people were all dead. I saw many of their bodies on the stone floors of the keep alongside the torn and bloody bodies of the white men. Oddly, my people’s deaths seemed more peaceful and the small holes which broke the pattern of their flesh had not let much blood. In comparison their crude weapons had gouged great tears in the bodies of our enemies and it was their blood which mainly coloured the stones.
But my love was not amongst the bodies.

A shout from the courtyard made me turn and run. More bodies littered the ground; I could see that for each one of my people that had fallen three or sometimes four white men had had their spirits freed from the mortal world. The shouts came from a group of soldiers who were clustered in a circle and who jeered and whooped and kicked at something in the centre. I heard a yelp of pain and knew that it was Uhanaka’s. My love was yet alive.
Thoughtlessly I ran at them, but for all my stealth one of the men saw me. More turned and caught me up as I crashed into them. They held me tight and told me that they’d make me watch as they brutalised my Uhanaka. I fought against their grip but my body strength was not enough to free me. I closed my eyes and opened them again upon the clearing in the forest. ‘Spirit!’ I cried, ‘Give me the bear’s strength that I might fight for myself and my love!’
As I spoke I felt my body change and twist, the muscles in my arms and legs bulged and grew and thick hair sprang from my skin and my face stretched and an animal roar burst from my lungs, past my elongated teeth and into the face of my captors.
One let go instantly and staggered backwards but the other was slow and felt the savage fury of my claws across his face. I dropped to the ground and ran at the others who turned, too late. My teeth closed on flesh and I felt the liquid warmth as a wash of blood poured onto my face, heard the skin tear away from the bone and watched the man tumble away as I released him, his throat a ruin.
Another soldier with more control drew his sword, realising that guns would be too slow with me already on him. He slashed into my shoulder and the steel sliced through my thick fur and into my skin, drawing blood and a roar of pain from me. I whirled on him and slammed down upon his arm with my heavy paw. I followed my arm and spun into the next man, slapping him away and continuing to the next soldier.
The rage felt began to abate as the men fell one by one and their blood pooled around my feet. Finally, I alone was standing.
On the floor, where the men had gathered around her, Uhanaka cowered and weakly chanted protective songs. I lowered myself nearer to her and tried to speak but she shied from the deep, guttural rumble that the words became in my bear throat. I put out a paw and my love flinched away and a small scream escaped her lips.
In sadness and despair I backed away from her and tried to concentrate on my old body, willed the bear to leave me and let me go to my Uhanaka.
Finally I felt the claws begin to shrink, the hair retreated and my body shrank back to what it had been. I caught Uhanaka’s eye as I changed and saw the terror there.
Human again, I went to her and she accepted my touch, gave way to an embrace, let me lift her and carry her to the tree line where I briefly consulted the spirit and begged the gift of speed.

Our journey through the forest was a blur, I saw no single tree, no single clump of grass or fallen leaf, everything blended together to create a verdant green tunnel through which I ran, my love cradled in my arms.
I felt the presence of the spirit within me weaken as I ran and came to rest before it fled me entirely.
The clearing in which I stopped was very familiar. A warm breeze rippled the long grass and a leaf was blown along on it.
I lowered Uhanaka and took a moment to examine her body. The bullet had left a gouge along her side but that was no worry and would heal with the aid of an elder’s healing touch and a warm poultice. The danger was a thin wound made by the vicious stabbing of a broad dagger in her stomach. I covered the wound with my hand and closed my eyes on the worldly clearing, then opened them to the moth which I could barely see in a darkened and far cooler clearing.
‘Spirit,’ I said, ‘One last gift I ask of you. My heart belongs to this woman and she is gravely ill. Grant me the skills to mend her and I will sing and dance and sacrifice to you for ten days and nights.’
I heard nothing for the longest time, then a voice, like none I had heard before, whispered close by my ear ‘Do not sing or dance or sacrifice. I give gifts freely and require nothing in return. Sleep here with me. When you wake she will be healed.’
I fell asleep before my head touched the long grass.

I woke at dawn. I had never felt so clean and fresh and pure before, nor have I since.
Uhanaka was gone but she had left behind a token; a necklace that she had worn since we met, a necklace that I had woven and decorated for her. It was a clear sign; she had not just left the necklace, she had left me.

Alone I wandered through the wilds of my country. I avoided my own people, I avoided Britannians, mercenary French and Prussians and the Americans who often ventured into Britannian lands, with or without permission.
I ate what the land provided, slept in such shelter as I could find and left no sign than I was ever there.
For years I lived this way and all the time I longed only to see my Uhanaka, even from afar, even for the briefest moment.

I heard not long ago that she had found another to share her life with and that she had had children and that she had died.

Upon hearing this news I was distraught and did not know where I walked and did not care if my sign was seen, if I was sought or followed.
Eventually my feet led me to the mouth of a long abandoned mine, a copper mine far to the north-west of the warehouses and trade buildings and the burgeoning city of the Hudson Bay company. A mine I had not seen since I was young, before my life had even really begun.
No one had been there for some time; such a long time that I could not say how long.
The entrance was half covered by fallen rock and just inside the tunnel the wooden planking which held back the rock had begun to rot and weaken. As I walked I heard the stone move behind the wooden barriers, felt it pushing in, trying to reclaim the mine.
I walked to the end of the mine, pulled by some unseen force and a familiar feeling. As I neared the ragged face at the end of the long tunnel I felt warmth bleeding though the stone and saw a pale half-light illuminating the glinting rock. A feeling of calm and fulfilment came over me and I extended a hand to the rock-

I close my body eyes.
I open my spirit eyes.
I am in a clearing in a forest…”

—–

[From: General Hammond, Head of E270 Research, Hudson Bay, Canada]
[To: [CLASSIFIED]]

Tests into the properties of E270, also known as ‘Sturginium’ are continuing.

We have attempted to react E270 with many other naturally occurring elements here with mixed results.

I have attached a more detailed scientific document with this missive (though I am sure you will be happy just to pass it along to your researchers; certainly I can understand barely one word in five) which lists our current findings and the experiments that we will undertake in the next few months.

I have taken the opportunity to write to you personally on this occasion to report something which may interest you.

I am not tasked with researching the application of Sturginium to humans but I have heard rumours (though ‘rumours’ implies a sense that their verificacity is unsure; I would like to state that this is not the case) of a native Indian who came into contact with unrefined Sturginium during an unprovoked attack on the company’s headquarters.

The account has been confirmed by three surviving combatants and implies that this Indian’s encounter with the element granted him vast power beyond what we can currently imagine.
They agree that, whilst they were attempting to detain one of the assailants, this Indian came from within the keep and attacked them. During this attack he physically transformed his body into that of a great black bear and soundly trounced all of the men present, killing five of them.
One of the survivors also states that the Indian changed back into a man, picked up the Indian girl that the others were trying to detain and then ran faster than any horse into the forest.

You might question the belief that this activity was fuelled by Sturginium but two separate accounts give me utter confidence in my assumption. Those accounts tell of an Indian which accompanied another into the cellar strongroom, we believe that they were trying to steal the gold contained therein, but he fled into a storeroom whilst under fire. The two men followed him into the room and saw no-one leave it. At the back of the room were several crates of unrefined Sturginium and nothing else. No Indian. As the keep was under attack the men thought it best to assume that he had escaped somehow and go back to defending the company’s interests. I have taken no action against them as their testimony has helped us to realise a new development in Sturginium applications with humans.

It is my belief that the reason for the particular manifestation of the Indian’s powers under Sturginium stems from their beliefs in the spirits of their land an the power that they derive from chanting and dancing their strange prayers to their heathen gods. Their presence of mind and unflinching belief in these spirits gives the Sturginium a fixed and unparalleled conduit by which to access those parts of the brain which we have not yet mapped, but which seem most susceptible to alloying, however temporarily, with Sturginium.

With your blessing we would like to expand our remit to research and develop Sturginium applications with native Indians within Canada and, potentially, with our own people who have experience of Indian practice and religion with the hope of producing Sturginium enhanced soldiers for the benefit of her Britannic Majesty.

I anxiously await your reply, my old friend.

Gen. R. T. Hammond
Hudson Bay Company
Canada

Shinobi – A Dystopian Wars Short Story

•February 5, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I hear the wind in the reeds.
I feel the gentle rain on my skin.
I taste the tang of blood from my cheek.
I smell the sweat of the men stumbling from the factory gate.

I have watched and waited for five days and nights. I have only drank the bitter water from the stream to the south. I have remained hidden, lost amongst the shadows in the cleft of this wooded ditch. I have bitten my cheek to remind myself of the taste of blood, of the feel of pain, of the fear of failure.

I came here by a hard road. My Lord found me in his bedchamber, my fingers brushing the top of a chest in which I was sure would be gold. He woke silently and drew his sword but did not strike. He asked me how I came to be there. I replied that I had climbed up and slipped past the guards and into the chamber through a window. He took up his sword and I saw it sparkle in the moonlight. His eyes were dark and there was no humour or admiration, nor fear or anger at my invasion. He told me that he would teach me to use my gifts and that I would not need to steal again. He told me that he would feed and clothe me. I asked what he wanted in return. He told me that I would serve him for as long as he deemed me useful. Also, that I would choose a finger from the hand that had presumed to steal from his chest and that that finger would be struck from my hand.

I chose, he struck.

I look at the missing digit, at the smoothness and roundness of the base which remains, just below the first knuckle of the third finger of my right hand and remember my promise; to serve and to succeed, or to die in dishonour.

My gloves have been made especially, as have my tunic and leggings. Not black, but deep green, loose fitting to disguise my shape, no metal on metal, no wood on wood, but silk and cloth between that I may make no sound as I go about my secret business.
The sword I carry – shorter than those weapons in the battlefield, with no tsuba to guard my hand – has been coated with oil and dusted with fine, dark ash that no reflection of light might betray my position. I carry three poison vials inside the folds of my clothing, a slender stiletto; sharp as a blade of razor grass – the base no thicker than my smallest finger, tapering to a needle point – and a short pipe with a bundle of poison-dipped, viciously barbed darts; each wrapped carefully in a strip of canvas to protect me from their bite.

I watch the last eta stagger away from the gates and sink my teeth into my cheek again as the two guards swing the gate shut and slide the locking bars into place. They will stay behind the gate and chatter until they are relieved when the moon is highest. They are less alert now; their lack of discipline means that they think that more awake means more watchful. They think they will hear intruders. They imagine themselves trapping a thief as they steal into the factory, of the reward their master will bestow upon them. But as they talk and dream I move from my hiding place and slowly circle the base of the towering building. There is a place on the western side where the stone base has been badly repaired, I know that I will not be seen as I climb the stone up to the first level. From there I can cling to the ornamental protrusions and edge around to the north side, hanging from my fingertips whilst I wait for a gust of wind to die down, then pulling myself up so that my toes find purchase on a slim ledge, then back onto the western face where a ragged banner hangs from a stout iron post.

I learned to climb out of necessity. The older boys would chase me and whip my legs and buttocks with reeds and there were too many of them to fight. So I would climb. I would leap into the low boughs of a tree or bound onto the low roof of an outhouse and then up onto the top of a higher building or a taller tree, slip and slide across the top and down the other side then run away whilst my pursuers searched for a way around. When I began stealing this skill aided me in invading houses and I honed it overtime until I could scale a seemingly sheer wall, negotiate a treacherous overhang or bound across the rooftops with no fear of falling. My Lord helped me develop those skills still further. He and his chunin taught me to brew poison, to throw knives or shuriken, to jump farther and land safely, they taught me how to fight with fists, fingers, swords, daggers and staves. They taught me to be invisible. To hide in shadows and in light. They taught me patience and humility. They taught me to kill.

A guard stands on the balcony of the fourth tier. He walks back and forth, the cool air is keeping him alert and awake, he is more disciplined than the others but his footfalls are regular and I can use them to mask my movements. I watch him walk twice around the balcony. He stops five times, never twice in exactly the same place. He looks out and up, but not down. He has not seen me. He walks away from the wall I am clinging to and I quickly leap over, land silently and sprint into the shadows of the building. I follow him around the side. He does not look back. He continues walking forwards. When he stops, I stop. When he goes on, I follow. I slowly draw the slim line of wire from around my waist and curl the end around my hand once, twice. I pull the wire taught and wait. He stops and stares out at the small town sprawling in the low hills south of the tower. He raises his gaze to stare at the moon and I dart forwards, carefully but quickly lowering the wire around his neck I pull sharply backwards, crossing my hands and pushing them into the nape of his neck. Before he can react I snap my foot into the back of his knee and he drops quickly, helping me to strangle him. I hold him there until he shudders violently, until he sags to the floor. I pull tighter. He struggles briefly again. Then his bowels vent and the wind blows the smell of faeces into my face before whipping it away over my shoulder. I lower him to the ground and pull my knife from its sheath under my arm. I slit his throat and watch the blood pool under his head. I turn away, run up the wall, catch the lip of the next tier above me and continue to climb.

I have never met the man I will kill tonight. I have only seen him four times in the days spent watching his factory. But already I know he is a fool.
He lives at the top of this tower, this tower built over the huge factory which is constantly making noise; even in the deepest portions of the night. He has built his factory and house on the hill outside the main village, a village which he owns, thinking that this will better protect all his interests when the better option would be to build his house on the hill on the other side of the village where there is no sound of industry, where he could be awakened by the snapping of a blade of grass or the whispered descent of a single cherry blossom.
But he built here and the noises from below; the belches and bellows of the steel and rubber oni – which will, one day, make all men obsolete – mask those sounds that are often necessary to make.
Ironic, ne? That the machines that helped him live like a lord will help him die like any other man.

I reach the top tier of the tower and vault onto the slim balcony which I have seen my target stand upon to gaze down on his little Empire.
The door slides open silently but catches in the middle. I apply more pressure but still the door holds. Fearing noise I gently squeeze through the opening and into the main chamber. I look around me but see no one. There are no futons here, no sleeping bodies. Just the trappings of a rich and powerful man’s home. I notice an alcove set into one wall. In it is a suit of fine armour and the twin swords, the daisho, of a samurai.

I feel my heart pound in my chest, who is this man I have been sent to free from life? I should not question my master but I understand that our order aids the Empress in things she is unable to do for herself; we do deeds in the darkness that cannot be brought into the light. I think that this man must be a traitor somehow, or opposed to the will of our Lady. But to be samurai is to live and breathe honour, to serve and live and die by the command of your master. If she wanted this man, this samurai dead, she could command him and he would fall instantly upon his sword. But I must not question my master. I, too, must be as samurai.

There is a rustle of movement from another room, I swiftly move towards it and slide the door open a fingers width. I peer through into the deeper gloom and allow my eyes time to adjust. I see several shapes, tangled together in the centre of the mat, only one head rests on a pillow, that of my target. As I see clearer the shapes transform into a woman, a young girl and a little boy. The quilted sheet has been kicked away revealing their nakedness. Dark splotches on the skin of the girls’ and the boy’s legs and arms are old bruises, a long, high weal across the top of the boy’s buttocks can only have been made by a riding crop or rawhide whip. There are more, older, almost healed, further down. An emotion begins to seethe, I feel it in the pit of my stomach, fear and anger like I haven’t felt in years; I’m being chased by those boys, a man has caught me stealing from his house, his wife screams and his son holds me while the man beats me. I grit my teeth.
A quiet intake of breath behind me sends a tiny shiver up the back of my neck and I whirl around, straightening my arm, bringing my stiffened fingers up and around. They connect with a throat and I feel the windpipe collapse, the mucus inside sticking the sides of the tube together. He is a big man, made fat on meat and rice, his arms are as thick as my waist, his hands are bigger than my head and he pushes into me in panic, trying to suck air through the collapsed tube. I stagger, trying still for silence. His bulk weighs down on me and pushes me towards the futon and its occupants. I bite my cheek to focus myself, my feet are sliding backwards, his arms flail as he fights to free his throat and breathe, my foot scrapes across the tatami and I glance at the tangle of bodies as the young girl stirs briefly. I bite harder.
My shoulder drives up into his chest as his hand slaps my back sending pain like fire searing up into the back of my head. I grasp my shoto and feel the slight tug as the neck of the scabbard tightens briefly around the base of the blade. The short sword slithers free and the ash-covered blade is a fine curve of deeper black in the darkness. I shove, hard, with my free hand and the guard reels back just far enough for me to move the sword into position. He falls towards me again, fingers clawing at his ruined throat, and a short-lived moment of pressure on the blade signals contact with the tip of the sword and his groin. The blade, razor sharp, slips easily through the soft skin of his crotch and a wash of blood spills down his leg. I saw gently, quietly, with the blade, pushing outwards then downwards, widening the wound. I let the body sag back onto my chest and I slowly kneel, taking the guards weight and lowering it silently to the floor. I slide out from beneath him and take a second to watch the blossom of deep crimson bloom around the man and into the tightly woven tatami. I sheathe my blade and return my attention to the bodies.

Not one has awoken. The girl has moved slightly, some of the quilt tightening around the bottom of her legs, pulling it further away from my target. I watch his protuberant belly pound up and down, his breathing is loud and shallow, he is old and far closer to the end of his life than the beginning. I wonder again what he could have done as I move as close as I can. I find a fine, brown kimono sash on the floor and pick it up. The silk is soft, expensive. I run it through my fingers as I ponder the best method to employ in fulfilling my contract.
Poison is quiet, there is little danger in its application but there is a chance that it is discovered before the victim is dispatched or that, for some inexplicable reason, the poison fails and the target lives.
Smothering or strangulation takes time, the victim will struggle and his companions may wake and prevent the attempt.
Blood letting is also slow, stabbing is fast but they both have their disadvantage; blood spills and the companions may wake in time to stop me or save him or his fat may subvert the blade or has already caused his organs to shift inside his body.

I could kill them all…

But there is another method. That favoured by my kind for many years, swift and sure to work. Noiseless and almost bloodless. The only issue is that I must be in the right position, that could prove difficult.
I gently move the boys arm, push against the girls leg until she mumbles and moves herself at my quiet suggestion. The older girl has her arm around the target. I lift it slowly, apply pressure to her shoulder and she rolls, taking her arm and slapping it down on the mat. The target smacks his lips and I freeze. I watch his eyeballs roll behind his lids, flicking back and forth and hold my breath. He settles and I lift my leg and place it on the other side of him, straddling his chest. I draw the slender stiletto from the tiny sheath bound to my arm and draw a long breath. I let it out slowly, feeling the tension bleed from my body. I watch him and synchronise my breathing with his. As I relax my mind detaches from my body and I am watching from overhead. I lean closer to watch as my body lines the stiletto up beneath the targets chin. One breath, in and out, two breaths, in, out, three, in, out and as I breath out I shove forwards as hard as I can, driving the stiletto into his head, through the mouth, to the back and into the skull at a slight angle, hitting the pulpy brain mass and piercing it in less than a second. I lean into the stiletto and grit my teeth.
His body breathes by itself for a minute before it realises that it is dead. He makes no sound. A thin trickle of blood runs from the hole in his chin. I bite my cheek and return to my body.

It is tired, I am tired. The exertion of this night and the exhaustion of my extended vigil wash over me and I rock gently. I allow myself a moment to breathe before I continue.
I remove the stiletto and secure it again at my wrist. I take the silken sash, fold it and lay it over the targets neck to soak up the blood that slowly flows from the wound. I stand slowly and move away.
A quick motion makes me freeze. I look down. The boys eyes are open. He stares at me. I know that my face is covered but I feel that he knows me by my eyes alone. I should kill him. Instead I raise my finger to my lips and press it to them. He nods once, briefly, without emotion and closes his eyes.
I go to the balcony and step onto the lip, spread my arms and jump.

The wind whips past me and I watch the ground come up. At the last moment I pull a short cord under my tunic and the wings folded in a pack on my back spring out. There is a loud snap as the canvas catches the wind and I pull my head and body back, forcing air under the wings. I feel the fall slow then stop and a wash of elation overcomes me as I climb and soar over the village and away, north to my master.

*

The chamber is much as I remember it from my youth. A low table, the mural on the wall, the short step, the little cupboard in which the futon and pillow is kept. The bright green and gold armour on its stand, the terrifying mask above it; the face of a hideous demon that my master wore in a darker time. Below it the stand with the daisho; the katana and wakizashi, the long and short swords of the samurai. A gold cord is wound around the sheath of each.

My master sits upon the dais at the top of the step, I sit below him. Before him is another sword, the masamune. It is black on black. There is a hair-thick intaglio wrought in silver through the saya and tsuba, it is beautiful.
The alcove with the armour is to his right, to his left is another alcove containing the chest that I had coveted as a child. I struggle to keep my eyes off the chest and on my master.
“I have received word.” he tells me. His voice is quiet, slow. His words pronounced precisely, his mouth and tongue moving not one bit more than they need to to form the words. His eyes are cold and unreadable. “Haru-San has confirmed your success.”
“Karma’s price is paid.” I tell him.
He takes from the table a piece of paper and a set of brushes. As he rubs the ink he says “You will write your name.”
He hands me the paper and brushes and I dip the tip of a brush into the ink. I apply it to the paper gently and trace the four characters of my name. He nods and takes the paper from me.
He waits as the ink dries then folds the paper tightly four times. He ties a cord of golden thread around it and hands it back to me. “You have not been in here since I found you eight years ago with your hand on that chest. You have always wondered what it contained, ne?” he asks, the smallest hint of a smile briefly tugging at his cheek. I nod. “Now is time to find out.”
He gestures to the chest and I stand, bow and approach it, the paper parcel grasped tightly in my hand.
I kneel before the chest and brush the top with my fingers. I feel him standing behind me. “This chest contains all of my most prized possessions. Open it.”

I gently raise the lid of the chest and peer inside. Gold twinkles at me, hundreds of sparkles run through the chest as the light from the setting sun enters it. I look again and see hundreds of little parcels, just like mine.

“This chest contains the name of every man or woman in our organisation.” he says, “I am the only one who possesses this information. May I add yours to them?”
I turn and hand him my parcel, my name. He holds it in his hand, closes his fingers around it.

“Now you have no name.” he tells me, “Now you are… Shinobi.”

Dogfight – A Dystopian Wars Short Story

•January 11, 2011 • Leave a Comment

This is a story I wrote for the Spartan Games forum based on their epic game, Dystopian Wars!

I remember clearly when aerial combat consisted of nothing more, or less, than slinging a halfbrick (I used to use the old Staffordshire Blue; lovely things as they are, they’re also weighty and carry a rather sharp cut-edge) out of ones cockpit at the head of the enemy. I was always highly accomplished at this having set numerous records bowling at cricket grounds the length and breadth of the kingdom.
So when I embarked upon my virgin flight in one of our first machine-armed fighters I was completely dismissive of the likelihood of ever achieving a hit on anything but a stationary or near-stationary target. The principles of aerial combat, I believed, revolved around the turning capabilities of the craft to sustain, and possibly close, range with the target and the ability to break away and gain altitude to toss ones brick downwards upon the bonce of ones enemy. With the machine guns firmly fixed forwards in this new single-seater craft (the double-manned craft with turreted weapon to the rear having become obsolescent in the wake of faster and more dramatic engagements in which the gunner was oft targeted by more agile planes, the death of whom rendered the pilot and remainder of said craft practically impotent (unless, of course, they’d brought a brick with them)) I imagined that the only outcome of such a duel would be that the plane with the faster rate of turn would prevail (being able to undercut their opponent and turn inside of them to bring their weapons to bear before the other pilot could break off and ‘bug-out’, as the practice of aerial retreat is, rather charmingly, known to our Federated cousins).
Imagine, then, my dismay at being forced into my first combat with a much lighter, faster and more agile opponent in the skies near Rotterdam.
We were escorting a rather unique, new model, bomber on a run into Prussian waters, when my squadron mates and I were set upon by a gaggle of brightly painted (the colour compared favourably to the clouds, if I remember rightly; cloud-moflage you might say) little fighters bearing Prussian colours. Needless to say, our fist priority was to protect the bomber, but our friends at the Intelligence division would tan our backsides nine shades of purple if we failed to gauge the capabilities of these new planes (particularly in combat). My squadron commander, Captain LeBuef – ‘Beefy’ as we called him – ordered two of us, myself and my good chum Lawrence King, to move offensively against the enemy and keep them occupied whilst the bomber was escorted by the rest to it’s objective in Holland. We had already determined rendezvous coordinates before setting off, in the case of us being split up during the mission, so it was decided that we would proceed directly there once our engagement was concluded.
Kingy took the lead; swinging to meet the first Prig head on on a collision course. ‘It’s a bravery test, then’ thought I, and so followed suit; lining up my new, darkly painted crosshairs on the second of the Prussian flyers.
We were well aware of the effective range of our new weapons but I communicated to Kingy that we might make use of them as a sort of motivator; to force the Prigs to evade and, hopefully, betray some of the secrets of their craft. “We’ll not hit them at this range, mate” I recall him saying, “Not shooting to hit” I replied, “just going to put the willies up ‘em; see if they break”. Kingy waggled his wings in agreement and I watched a stream of bright bullets pour from each wing towards the oncoming Prussians. We were close enough that I could hear the purr-like whisper of the guns as they span and reloaded and fired again and again. The lead Prig juked and swerved sharply, unsure as to the specifications of our weaponry, and his mates began to weave as they advanced upon us.
I glanced behind to see the bomber and the rest of my squadron disappear into a wide bank of blue-white cloud, their wingtips brushing coiled contrails behind them as they slipped into the fluffy sheet.
Looking back ahead, I saw one of Kingy’s bullets ping off the nose of the lead Prig. The pilot took it as fair warning and yanked up on the yoke; ascending hard. Two of his fellows followed suit, either trying to lull us into a climbing pursuit to expose our slightly softer bellies to the remaining opposition, or to gain height for a diving attack. We presumed the latter, so up Kingy went; nose thrusting for the brilliant blue of the sky, his guns wound down as he released the trigger. I followed him, slightly behind and to the left.
Surely enough, the Prigs levelled before too long; their bodies, more than their craft, incapable of sustaining further height. Suddenly the lead banked sharply and the other two crossed in front of him and headed back in the other direction, apparently inviting us to give chase, which we did. The lead plane, still curving around to the right, dipped under us as we pursued the others, who ducked and wove furiously. Both Kingy and myself were close enough to fire and I squeezed down on the little trigger, trying to keep my crosshairs on my quarry as we had practiced back in Blighty. I watched the golden tinted rounds sprint away from the barrels of my guns and strafe smartly across the rudder of the Prussian plane, peppering the light paintwork with dark, jagged spots. I noticed that the plane seemed instantly sluggish on the turn and fired again. This time, the bullets struck his wing and I almost chuckled to myself as charred fragments sailed past me, trailing streamers of smoke. The plane began to dip and spin and the pilot lost control. I watched as the craft plummeted into the clouds below and I was beset by a horrible feeling of vertigo and a strong respect and dislike for the weapons which still spat golden flame from each of my wings. I had just realised, you see, quite how devastating these machines could be.
But I didn’t have long to ponder this feeling; I heard the swish and saw the bright flash as Prussian bullets whizzed over my canopy, then felt a slight bump and heard a clipped pattering sound as the bullets ripped into the armoured plating on my tail.
Immediately I signalled to King that I was going to evade and he acknowledged with a sharp word; his mind still on the enemy fighter before him.
This was before the days of assigned wingmen and the practices of assigned attacker/defender roles, indeed, it was before the time when aerial combat manoeuvring was a recognised term, before we had named the Split-S and the Stanley Turn and we were simply trying our damndest to survive whilst making sure that the other bugger didn’t! Any semblance of wingmannery perforce is purely basic formation flying and done with next to no thought of tactical advantage.
That being the case, I found myself acting quite alone as I rolled my little fighter and pulled back, hard on the yoke; my face blotched with bursting blood vessels as I fought against the G-forces and struggled to come back up and around inside the Prig’s turn. He’d seen what I’d done, obviously, an was already dancing his plane up, down, left, right, spinning and waltzing, trying to evade my guns as I flipped back over, the turn complete, my sights on his bobbing and weaving rudder once more.
I glimpsed, momentarily, King’s fire strike the side-wall of his target ahead an off to the right, before the Prussian dove and I thrust the stick forwards to follow.
He pulled up sharply, far sharper than I could, and rolled once, twice, then banked in and down, his guns now high-side and pointing straight at me. I span out to the right and pulled up and over, flying upside down for a brief second before flipping onto my wing and curling back on the reverse of the course I had taken. I spotted him from the corner of my eye as he banked to follow and I began a long, lazy loop around, hoping to trap him into slipping in behind me for a quick shot.
He took the bait and the second he was behind me I lowered my speed and quickly pulled around into a sharper turn, almost three hundred and sixty degrees. He zipped past me but I was already pulling the trigger and his side was riddled with holes before my turn was complete and I was up on the high-right of him, no more than seventy feet behind. I climbed still more and watched him bank to the right and begin diving. I pushed my nose down and dove with him, closing the angle as I did so. As soon as I ha a clear shot I took it and watched as bullets slammed into the top of his plane. One pierced the canopy and I shuddered slightly as a gout of blood sprayed the inside of the glass red.
My enemy defeated I turned back onto the heading for the rendezvous and dipped into the cover of the darkening clouds.

-

No one ever saw King again; we can only assume that he was killed in the engagement.
I reached the rendezvous and was met there not three hours later by Beefy himself who informed me that they had been followed and attacked by the three planes that we had not been able to engage. The others had acquitted themselves handsomely, apparently, destroying all three Prigs with no losses and not even a scratch in the bomber, which had gone on to decimate a munitions factory in coastal Holland.
I was awarded for my actions, but it was the firs of many and King was the first of many friends I would never see again in my life of war.

*From the prologue to ‘My Life Of War’ by Flight Admiral Sir Matthew Stanley*

Heeeeeeeere’s Jamie!

•October 28, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I’ve not done this for a while.

Actually, a while is a fraction of the time that I’ve not done this for, and for that I apologise greatly (though I am in no doubt that my readership is any bigger than… well, no one, not to put too fine a point on it)!

I’m going to try and blog ¬†little more now, and though they might not be the most interesting blogs, I hope that they will be slightly more frequent than one every blue moon like the last few have been.

I’ve tried to do a few things recently, and am now going to try writing again. It’s something I’ve wanted to get back into for ¬†long time, but I think I’ve lost what it takes. We’ll see how that goes.

I hope to stick with it, I hate that I give up on things so easily, that I’m distracted or not motivated enough to see something through. I don’t want to be like that, and I think that the only way I’m not going to be like that is if I try very hard to do things with any regularity.

That said, I’ve not really planned to write about anything today, but maybe tomorrow will give me some focus for a new blog post. Fringe and Stargate Universe spring to mind as instantly write-about-able subjects, so I think they will definitely make an appearance in future blogs.

Tata for now!

NBM / Jamie Bruce

Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder… and Makes Your Blog Very Repetetive…

•April 2, 2009 • Leave a Comment

So, I’ve not posted on here for a while.

There are reasons, but I won’t bore you. Needless to say, I’ve been hilariously busy and have been letting this slip unnoticed through the detritus of my mind until today when I suddenly realised; “S**t! I’ve not done a blog in AGES!”, and thought I’d better say something before the few people who do read my blog think I’ve died.

In my absence things have happened;

Lost has come back online

Dollhouse has gotten good

Heroes has dropped off my personal radar and been brushed under the rug of ‘Meh…’

Fringe has apparently disappeared…

Star Trek looks AMAZING!!!

I’ve been levelling a new character on WoW

I’ve been playing quite a bit of DoW (that’s Dawn of War for the uninitiated) online (Tau and Necrons FTW!)

The cat has been a b**tard (he still has his little feline gonads so we will have to take care of that before Kenny and Kyle’s Dad come round here Cheesing)

People have added some of my DeviantArt-hosted artworks to their ‘favourites’ lists (oh, btw, I’m on deviantart – RykerWulf – check me out)

and BSG has FINISHED!

Typical! I start writing about something and before I even get into doing it regularly, the f**ker is pulled off the air! (Alright, I knew it was ending this season but I deserve to moan about something once in a while, yeah?)

Either way, a lot has happened this past month and before I forget about it entirely (the way I did with Twitter ’til just now…) I’m going to post this as a little amuse-bouche (or amuse-esprit – get on Babelfish and work it out non-Frenchies!) to whet your insatiable appetite for bloggage.

Enjoy!

The Dollhouse Cometh!

•February 28, 2009 • Leave a Comment

So, regardless of their shaky past Joss Whedon and Fox have successfully (too many letters?) aired Dollhouse!

This new Whedon-created, ex-Buffy-actress-starring show is all about a little lady (Buffy alumnus Eliza Dushku), called Echo, who works for an agency which uses its small number of operatives to perform different kinds of missions for different kinds of people, all of whom have FAR too much money. The operatives have had their minds wiped, and then are implanted with an amalgam of memories and personality traits in order to make them as perfect as possible for the job they must do (be it as an escort (both kinds), an assassin, a deal-broker or someones love of a lifetime). Unfortunately, Echo begins experiencing past memories; after so many mind-wipes and uploads it appears as though her own internal wiring is going haywire. Meanwhile, a suited but definately not marine-booted, Tahmoh Penikett (now driving a car around his FBI beat rather than riding shotgun in a Raptor) is an FBI agent trying to uncover the secrets of the Dollhouse – to date he has harassed a senator and a judge and has annoyed enough people that his superiors have pretty much told him to pack it all in.

The Dollhouse Cast: Tahmoh Penikett, Enver Gjokaj, Eliza Dushku, Dichen Lachman, Fran Kranz, Olivia Williams and Harry J. Lennix

The Dollhouse Cast: Tahmoh Penikett, Enver Gjokaj, Eliza Dushku, Dichen Lachman, Fran Kranz, Olivia Williams and Harry J. Lennix

The series has opened to mixed reviews, some people think it’s exciting, others feel it’s a bit dull. Some say that Echo doesn’t work as the protagonist as we have to follow her through multiple personalities and never really get to see her true self, and others have stated that one of the series’ best points is that it makes us (the viewer) feel something for this person and relate to her regardless of the fact that she is a different person each time we see her.

Well, I’ve seen the first episode and I think it’s pretty good.

It is no Firefly. There is very little humour, the characters aren’t as fun to watch, the plot is a little thin and we are asked to take far too much on faith rather than having had proof that the show is telling us the truth. Dushku is pretty good, but, due to the fact that she is playing so many personalities at once (there are four different personalities in the first episode alone (though two of these are technically the same one, if you see the show you’ll know what I mean)) you really don’t get a sense of who we are supposed to be relating to and feeling for. Tahmoh is brilliant, his performance stood out above all of the others in the show, but there was far too little of him. His character’s frustration with and passion for his job really comes out and I certainly felt more than a little compassion for him during his all-too-brief scenes. The support cast are very good also, but they seem quite 2D – they have no backgrounds, no exposition and they all seem only to serve one purpose. Even Echo’s handler – who, we are possibly supposed to believe, feels something more than he should for Echo and goes beyond the norm when it comes to protecting her and looking after her – is alarmingly bland and single-minded. The grey area beyond good and evil which is such a prominent feature in most of Whedon’s other shows, specials, films and comics is distinctly absent and it’s presence is greatly missed. The characters seem to be either good or evil and, even when the baddies seem as though they are going to turn out with a conscience and do the right thing, someone comes along and blows them away before they really get the chance to show their other face.

However, the story is compelling, the concept is very intriguing and, we must remember, this first episode is only a pilot. It’s a tester. And, while some pilots lead the way for the show and are one of the best examples of no-strings TV show making, some show what is bad about an idea, what improvements must be made and what changes are necessary to make the show a success. Dollhouse was the second.

I’m going to go and watch the second episode now, and, hopefully, the makers will have seen the flaws and improved upon them.

I’ll let you know.

Cheers!

NBM

This week in TV: Lost and Heroes

•February 26, 2009 • 1 Comment

I don’t write much about these two particular series’ (plural of series? Serii?) but thought I’d give them a mention today.

Heroes first!

Ross (who, as has been mentioned before, is a friend from work and fellow geek (who probably wouldn’t mind being pidgeon (spelling?!) -holed further as a cyber- or techno-geek)) has informed me this afternoon that Heroes looks like it’s getting back on form after several ‘seasons’ (quotations due to the fact that firstly they call seasons volumes and, while you can argue that a half season could be called a full season because of the way they handled and marketed it, I’d be inclined to disagree) of being decidedly shit. Lets not dance around the issue here; after the phenomenal success of series one the writing became lazy, the character development went from deep and compelling to dreary and soapy, not to mention the phenomenal power of Emo that seems to have seeped inexorably into the darkest corners of all of my favourite shows lately, and the plot seems to have lost the… well, the plot.

However! Having seen the new episode of Kring’s wonderfully flawed and horrifyingly badly treated ugly-duckling of a child, Ross is enthusiastic for the shows immediate future. I haven’t seen this transformation with my own eyes, but I am leaning towards believing him almost without question as he is one of the harshest critics when it comes to… well, just about anything. So when he says something is good, you’ll probably see it in the running for some sort of award in the not too distant future. And, while I’ve successfully boycotted Heroes for the larger part of the third ‘volume’, I might be persuaded to give it another go!

(Just so we’re clear, rather than watch the rest of the third series I’ll either get the low-down off Ross or trust that Wiki won’t lie to me about the events that have unfolded since my absence)

Anyhoo, I said that this blog was about Heroes and Lost, so now comes the Lost portion.

If you haven’t seen 316 or The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham, I’d suggest buggering off and watching them (I’ll let you choose your own viewing method, legal or… otherwise).

Go on.

I’ll wait.

Finished?

Wasn’t that FANTASTIC?! I mean, SERIOUSLY!

Every time I watch a series of Lost to its conclusion I turn around and say, ‘That’s it, I’m done, I’m not watching it again.’ I get so disheartened by the fact that every time we get that double-episode season finale we are told perhaps one thing we might not have known and left with umpteen (it’s a word!) more sodding questions that we didn’t even know needed an answer up until that point!

(Apart, of course, from the age-old “WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?!”, which is, by now, so much a staple of Lost that it ceases to become a question and more a general tag line for the series)

However, I always come back to it and this time I have not been disappointed! This i possibly the best season of Lost yet and, while I’m sure the hardcore Lostophiles (or whatever they call themselves (seriously, I’ll bet there is a group of ultimate saddos out there calling themselves ‘The Sons of Dharma’ or something) will tell me that the shows integrity has been compromised by current events, or that it’s lost some of that hardcore cards-close-to-its-chestedness that it started out with, but to them all I say ‘BALLS’. This season is possibly the most watchable, the most accessible of any season so far and for that the makers need a great big round of applause.

If you aren’t watching Lost, you should be. In response to all the hours fanboys (and girls) have spent debating the motives, reasons, explanations, questions, answers and more questions that dot the show like a fatal case of chickenpox, Cuse, Lindeloff and the gang are finally furnishing us with less questions and more answers and explanations.

Thanks guys! You rock.

Watch Lost. Tell me you didn’t enjoy it. I dare you.

Cheers!

NBM

 
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