The Sarnisian Captain Delve checked the ammo stock. Four microwave pulse rounds. It was fitting, he had four remaining squad members. They all wore the red and black uniforms of their clan. Just a day earlier, their clothes were pristine, pressed and starched. Now they were covered in purple stains of drying blood.
Delve ordered his people to move crates and boxes to create some cover in the narrow corridor. The bulkhead behind them was sealed, an indicator light claimed the other side was filled with toxic fumes. This was as far back as they could go.
The captain decided that he and Shr should take position at the front of the barricade, since they were the best shots. Bel and Euler would stay behind.
Shr opened up her rifle and blew into the action. She squinted in the low and flickering light. “How many Moranians do you think are left?”
Delve shook his head. “I don't know. Six at least.”
“What was with them?” asked Euler. He ran his sleeve across his brow. “They twice the size of normal Mories. The fuck was with their eyes?”
“I don't know,” said Delve.
Bel spoke up. It put a small grin on his face to see Euler in such discomfort. The little man was always complaining and afraid of his own shadow. “I hear the Moranians bombard their own people with radiation and pump them full of chemicals to make them into monsters. That's what we fightin'.”
“You think so?” asked Euler. Even while crouching, he began to shift his weight from foot to foot.
Shr looked over her shoulder. “Someplace you'd rather be?”
“Yeah, plowing my fields and pounding some steel.”
“Those euphemisms for your wife?” she asked.
Euler glared at her. He pulled a blacksmith's hammer from his belt and shook it at her. “I'm not so crude.”
“Shut it,” said Delve.
A howl echoed off the walls. The sound of gun fire followed. Delve tried to determine its distance.
“Power Source or no, this rock isn't worth dying for,” said Euler through clenched teeth. “Let's just get out of here.”
“Let's stay,” said Bel.
“Don't you have anything worth disobeying orders for?” asked Euler.
Bel took out an image encased in crystal. “Of course. But I won't return to them dishonored.
“We will hold this position as order until we are relieved,” said Delve, settling the matter.
“And if we don't get relieved? If everyone is already dead?” asked Euler.
“Then we will join them in the after life,” said Delve. A part of him screamed, citing how foolish he was. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small vial. He offered it to Shr.
She shook her head. “There's no honor in it.”
Delve shrugged. “More for me then.” He unscrewed the cap and inhaled. A wave of warm calm washed over him.
“Captain,” said Bel. He pointed out into the dancing shadows. Two figures appeared. Their heads nearly touched the ceiling. Draped over their bodies were cloaks that appeared to flow like liquid. Over their faces they wore oval mask etched with glowing geometric patterns.
“They're fucking giants,” said Euler.
“Steady,” said Delve. “Wait until they come in close.”
One of the Moranians reached out with elongated fingers. It raked the wall, sending sparks flying. The two approached at a snail's pace. Delve could almost hear laughter coming from under their masks. They were toying with his squad.
“Shr, take the right one,” he said.
“With pleasure.” She held her breath. She could feel her heart beating in her ears. In between beats she squeezed the trigger. A bead of light escaped the muzzle. She tracked it and saw it hit center mass.
The Moranian's clock billowed outward. The creature staggered but did not fall. Now Delve actually heard laughter. He took aim himself and shoot. This time there was a splatter of orange matter on the wall. With a cracked mask, the Moranian fell.
His partner let out a howl. He leaped over the barricade. Bel discharged his weapon but it sailed under his target. The Moranian took one swipe at him, ripping out his throat in one go. Euler raised his weapon but the creature reached out and tried to grab the rifle. Euler pulled the trigger. The shot the Moranian in the leg. It sank to its knees. Using his free hand, Euler pulled out his hammer and slammed it into the forehead of the mask. It shattered under the force.
Delve got to his feet and pummeled the assailant with the butt of his rifle. Shr joined in. They kept at it until there was just a pool of unrecognizable orange goo on the floor.
Euler shouted in victory. “Not so big now are you? Not so big.” He kicked the corpse.
Delve looked to see Shr slumped over the body of Bel. His friend was still clutching the image of his family. “They were big enough.”
There was more gunfire far off. Delve looked at Shr and Euler. “Forget our orders.” He nodded towards the sound of battle.
“For Bel,” said Shr.
Euler nodded. “For Bel.”
The three headed off towards the gunfire.
Herro: I don't think that war is so unnatural. Rather an expression of the will to live. In the aggregate it takes the form of natural selection, species flourishing or going extinct. It keeps going down to the individual. Every single person has the will to live. Our ancestors struggled, we struggle as will our children. War is the struggle of the nation-state. The question is: When the struggle is over how do we proceed. Victory is achieved when the opponent is no longer a threat to the nation's survival, our will to live has bested theirs. What do you do then? That is the question
Consider this story:
At age twenty-five the shadow of Queen Catamalina's throne stretched a thousand kilometers in every direction. In the Ruling House, the meeting with the counsel had adjourned and everyone had cleared out save for her servant Lela. The queen clutched at her head. She looked up to see Lela eying a bejeweled chalice on the counsel's table.
“Do you like, Lela?”
Lela's eyes flicked down towards the ground. “Yes, your grace.” She blushed.
“What's on your mind? Speak plain.”
Lela turned towards her monarch but she tried to avoid eye contact. “It's just that...it must be nice getting such gifts. Bet you're used to such fine things from such handsome princes. You won't be sharing a husband like I do. It must be good to be the queen.”
Catamalina's tone softened. “It's nice. But if I could kneel before the Creator as an unborn soul, I would not wish this fate on myself.”
Lela tried to think of something to say. Maybe a few comforting words but the opening of doors and the sound of trumpets broke her train of through.
“Her lordship, the High General Zal,” said the chamberlain.
A tall woman strode through. She had auburn hair. Ribbons of brightly colored silk were clipped to her gill slits as was fashionable. Apart from that, everything else that adorned her was functional. She wore a breast plate that was polished until it hurt the eyes. At her hip was slung a long sword with a large diamond beset in the hilt, not for decoration but for smashing skulls. Zal came within ten paces of the throne and bowed.
“Lela, you are dismissed,” said Catamalina. Her servant bowed and left the room.
“General, I hear that you bring bad news from the Mining Region.”
“I do, my queen. Six of the eight mines have risen up in rebellion against your majesty. They've already killed two of your ministers, burned a tax office and are marching towards the capital as we speak.”
Catamalina pressed her lips together in an effort not to betray any emotions. She took a deep breath. “What are their demands?”
“My scouts tell me that they claim your majesty most momentous plan of free trade will put them out of work. They say the kingdom of Enak has cheaper labor and no tariffs will place them at a disadvantage. They demand that you call a meeting of the Senate to reinstate their traditional rights and privileges. They also demand that you remove Secretary Melva as head of the Economic Branch for conceiving such an idea.”
Catamalina's throat went dry. Now she wished that Lela was here, there was no cups. The queen rose from her seat. She picked up the gifted chalice and poured her self a drink.
“General Zal, I command you to go before these rebels and deliver the following proclamation.” She slide the old soldier a piece of parchment and a quill. “My subjects, you're rebellion is an egregious sin. To rise up against me, your chief and sovereign denies your morality, our law and nature. Return to your homes at once. These are the words of your queen.”
Catamalina waited until Zal finished writing. The general rolled up the parchment. “Your grace, what are your orders should the rebels not heed your proclamation?”
Promise a pardon to sweeten the deal? Go to the negotiating table? Both those options weakened her reformation. Both set an example for other malcontents to follow. Catamalina swallowed hard.
“Use force. They are my subjects and they will obey me.”
Zal nodded deeply. “I understand.”
“Go to Queen's Corps headquarters. There you will find all the arms and warriors you will need. Dismissed.”
When the door closed, Catamalina released all her pent up rage. She threw her chalice against the ground and stomped on it with the heel of her boot. Lifting her foot, she saw sparkling sand. The jewels of the gift were fake; they were made of glass.
Catamalina called a meeting of all the branches of government. The Ruling House was divided into three sections. Judges sat to the queen's right, economic ministers sat to her left and the senators sat facing her. Overhead there were balconies. They were crammed with the leaders from every major guild in the kingdom. The main door opened and everyone rose in applause.
Just as General Zal walked through the threshold, confetti fluttered down from the ceiling. She came within ten paces of the Ruling House chair and knelt.
“High General Zal,” said the queen. “A temple has been erected in your honor– Zal Victor and Peace Bringer.”
More applause rung through the chamber.
“You will also be gifted the Umberian lands as well as be made Lady of Cesha.”
“Your majesty is most generous. Allow me to give you a humble gift in return.” She snapped her fingers and two guards escorted a man in chains. They forced him into kneeling position before the monarch.
“Luko Tam, I presume,” said Catamalina. “Leader of the mining rebellion. Enemy of the realm.” She smirked. “You're skinnier than I thought you'd be. Have you anything to say for yourself?”
“Only that nothing is free and we the people have paid the price for your arrogance.” Tam lowered his head as if it weighed a great deal.
“In light of this insurrection against the crown I have created a new oath that all citizens must take. All citizens must acknowledge and support the validity of Free Trade. It is only this method that we can foster peace with our neighbors. It is only through this that we can become strong.” She leaned forward and spoke barely above a whisper. “It's your only chance to repent.”
An old woman stood up and raised her hand. “I am Senator Lilatan of the Mining Region and with all due respect your majesty, you do not have the power to make us take this oath.”
A murmur of agreement rippled through the chamber.
Catamalina arched an eyebrow. “I do not have the power? Senator, I am the power...”
Tam interjected. “I shit on your oath. I piss on your oath.”
The queen rose from her chair. She strode forward. Without a word, she pulled a dagger from her belt and stabbed Tam through the eye. The man slumped over in a fury of spasms.
“Would anyone else like to speak against the motion?” Silence answered her. “No one? Good. General Zal.”
“Are the mining prisoners still in the oak cages at Pella?”
“Yes, my lady.”
“Burn the cages.”
At this even Zal was stunned. “All of them?”
“When the vines of insurrection begin to grow you scorch the earth. Go now.”
“Yes, my queen.” Zal stood up, took three steps backwards, turned and left.
“Take that thing out of here,” said Catamalina, gesturing at the corpse. “Where is Economic Secretary Melva?”
“Here, your majesty.”
“We are in need of new miners. I hear that Enak's are cheap.”
Kevin: An interesting story. I'm not sure what we're supposed to learn from that. That Queen Catamalina killed lots of people in exchange for political unity? A unity that we all enjoy. I think the real question is what. As in what are we going to get for lunch. And where are we getting from and when will it be in my stomach. Those all real questions. But in terms of this debate, who is the best. There's an old Earth saying, qui bonno? Who benefits? Wars are fought by governments and whenever something doesn't make sense in government, the only question you have to ask is who benefits. That is the question. I have no examples or stories because you already know them all. Every empire is built on a foundation of bones.