by Brian C. Mahon
Suddenly, in the moist, windless cirque basin, the crack of the last rifle sounding off startled Lime. His earpiece chirped to pre-alert an incoming message.
“Sir, Nguyen, grid alpha four check complete, all Zetas cleared.”
“Nguyen, Lime, copy check completed. Report if all skull, collar, and pelvis cortex minors verified destroyed and report status of purple pigmentation, over.”
“Sir, Nguyen, all cortex minors verified destroyed, and all Turned faded. Sergeants Benitez and Roth are supervising second checks. I watched the last one blanch, over.”
“Understand all, over.” Lime sighed in wearied satisfaction. “Connect command.” He waited for the bell, stiffened up, and reported as formally as exhaustion would allow, “Colonel sir, Eighth Company reports all grids checked and deceased verified, over.”
The Colonel, Phillip “Mad” Madrigan, was a man to deliver, and he delivered the day’s victory.
Mad’s 104th Space Expeditionary Regiment was the only tried and true combat unit effective against the Zeta’s Turned. The 104th cut teeth scouring New Babylon of Mars with flame and gamma bombardment and, with exquisite meticulousness, later obliterated every Zeta spore on the Europan and Enceladian forward stations. The Colonel’s thorough nature was his strength. Where Mad left a footprint, resurgence didn’t dare follow. Sometimes, Mad’s nature got the best of him, and tales of 104th’s CO bleaching and scrubbing his office’s tile grout until nightfall was part of his legend.
A response chirp preceded the Colonel’s voice. “Allen, Madrigan, you did well. You did a great thing today.”
“Thank you, sir,” Lime smiled from behind his air-fed copolymer mask. “Eighth Company follows orders, sir. Gunnery Sergeant Nguyen reports second checks in progress.”
“Very well. Allen, you got that nickname ‘Lime’ on lunar liberty two years ago, right?”
Lime chuckled and slung his rifle to check his wrist display: rebreather green, in-line spectrophotometer showing no contaminants. “Yes sir, that was the, um, the margarita incident, with the, er, entertainment. Hoped they would forget, but no one did.”
The Colonel laughed, full and generously. “We all have a story like that. JO’s believe us old men don’t have them, and CO’s like me hope you never hear them!” After a pause, the Colonel’s tone took an abrupt about-face. “Lime, the Zetas know where we live now. It’s a blessing Space Warfare New London’s Atlas Net is sensitive enough to detect spore pods. Earth will always have a chance.”
Lime nodded along.
“I’m proud of you, as I am the rest of the 104th. You, Captain Allen Prairie, and your fellow company commanders Captains Caila Luhr, Jim Cook, and Dejounte Johnston, as well as battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Joshua Atkinson, and our orbital team. We are… well, we’re fortunate phases two and three were not required, and only First Battalion hit the field.” Lime heard a sniffle, and the Colonel’s voice grew quieter. “I’m proud to have been down here with you all. We did a great thing today.”
Lime waited to respond. Words like “tension” and “anxiety” did not capture the eviscerating dread of the previous twenty-one hours since orders came down to deploy to India. No one slept. Everyone was quiet but active, automatons getting battle ready. It was Earth, after all. Lime was certain the Colonel was just letting his emotional stresses go, so he blurted with forced enthusiasm, “Yes, sir! Mad’s 104th always delivers!”
The Colonel did not offer the immediately expected “oorah”. Lime shifted his weight uncomfortably between his feet.
“Lime, we, um, we all understand the significance of a Zeta pod on Earth. You saw Mars. It’s a sinister, a real malevolent, uh, intelligence that creates something like this, and I tell you, I would have thrown every warhead in all of Earth’s inventory at their planet if I could. I absolutely would have.”
“We’re getting there, sir. At least we know their direction of origin now,” Lime awkwardly responded, now less certain of the conversation’s direction.
“You can’t let one spore go,” the Colonel said in a dull monotone that caught Lime’s attention.
“I agree, sir. That’s why we’re here. And we stopped them, sir.”
Lime crouched down. “Yes. Sir.”
“You’ve heard my standards. A leader leads. A leader shares victory and shoulders defeat, and a leader, a good leader, never gives an order they would not execute.”
“Sir, I’m… sorry, sir, I’m not tracking.”
“You understand, we had to strike fast, keep them occupied, keep them from running or firing up triple-A’s, but this isn’t the Europan scenario. Too many variables. Air currents. Microbes, insects, pollen. We can’t afford half-measures.” His voice trembled, but he continued, low, with forced measure, “This is Earth. And we did a damn fine service. Everyone on the field today will have their names emblazoned in Victory Hall. I made sure of it.” The Colonel’s voice changed again, either in anger or exultation Lime could not tell, but he noticed now their discussion was broadcasting on all channels. “The world will know our names, and no one will ever forget what the 104th Space Expeditionary Regiment sacrificed for their home! All of Earth watches and bears witness to our deeds! When we take the oath, we dream of moments of glory. We hope to walk away heroes, legends, but most retire without ever tasting the vindicative sweetness of doing something history remembers. This is our moment. This is ours. It was an honor, everyone.”
Lime crumbled backwards. This should have been a surprise. He knew the Colonel meant to be certain. The man never suffered half-measures. The man was always so very thorough, so obsessively thorough. There could be no half-measures here. It was home, after all.
Discarding his rebreather helmet, Lime drew in the stinging sweet and acrid mixture of spent munitions among the spring blooms and dewy underbrush. It was the scent of fleeting catharsis. He felt a calm pride, a muscular release and serenity in a smile, as a triad of hypersonic bombers zipped overhead to deliver several thousand degrees of irradiated, sanitized certainty.
The below flash fiction was an experiment in a bullet-style format of fiction writing that I’ve seen published in arenas such as Daily Science Fiction. It is my first attempt at discontinuous story-telling that I personally liked doing. Earth-shattering depth? Nah, not so much. A fun little read? I think so. Please enjoy, “Happy Doppelganger Day, Stranger”.
“Happy Doppelganger Day, Stranger”
February 27, 2000:
Happy Doppelganger Day! I can’t believe it’s been eight years since the quantum tunnel between Earth and Aerth was discovered. It was crazy, but with everything happening in 1992 (Bosnia and Herzegovina, ending apartheid, LA riots, Noriega, and NAFTA for a few) it was lost in the mix until the tunnel opened again exactly one year later. That became the first official Doppelganger Day.
Bad thing is it didn’t appear in the same place, which is why Doppelganger Days are terrifyingly fun, or funnily terrifying(?). The first official Doppelganger Day started for us about 8:00 at night when the news reported a bunch of cars driving through a London suburb disappeared. Mom and Dad yelled for me and Will to come downstairs to watch Cambridge physicists probe the tunnel live.
That’s when everyone saw the first Aerther.
Our blonde Dr. Amelia Kurzner met their red-headed Dr. Kamelia Arzner. Arzner stepped out of nowhere into the quarantine area where the cars vanished. She was wearing like a black raincoat or trenchcoat or something socio like that. Anyway, Dr. Arzner, with a lot of body attitude, looked Dr. Kurzner up and down and punched her right in the mouth! Whap!
That’s the way it’s been with Aerthers. Every year it’s something new from them.
Doppelganger Day 1993:
An Aerther Airtrain 4000 suddenly appeared on a Brazilian control tower’s radar. The air crew spoke Spangerman, a Spanished version of German or something. Using three interpreters, the control tower got them to understand they needed to land. The problem was, Aerthers use light signals, and aircraft marshallers (had to look them up) are used only in emergencies. The pilot, a patriotic Brazelander, read the flag signals as saying hijackers were on the gangway waiting to board the plane. So, what did he do? Rammed the extended gangway! Luckily, no one was seriously injured.
As a happy ending, the first Brazelanisch steakhouse opened here in Lubbock last year. Endless spatzel!
Three Aerthers showed up in Des Moines and took a movie theater hostage. We stayed up all night praying the hostages would be okay. After a three-day standoff, SWAT burst into the theater. That’s when America found out Aerthers were really, really good at holograms. No one was actually tied up in the lobby. The Aerthers spent three days eating candy and nachos and watching movies for free, and they racked up like a $10,000 bill. “Final Destination” was apparently their favorite movie by far.
Cruise missile, right through the chute and into Mount Rushmore. It was a blind shot, but the Aemericans (yes, with two “e”s) showed us what it takes to kill a bull moose. Our President vowed we’d retaliate on their Vengeful States of Aemerica. There were more Army and Marines recruiting commercials, but nothing else changed.
The VSA and WMTO (West Mongolia Treaty Organization) sent a fleet of single seater-submersibles through to attack the Florida coast. Turns out, Aerthers don’t do coastal living. They have shallow water marine cities, where submersibles with .50 caliber machine guns are a real threat and, I guess, good strategy. We watched for six hours as NATO planes flew circles over their submersibles, and WMTO submersibles did maneuvers off Miami. No shots were fired in the stalemate, and they surrendered when they realized they forgot to bring a way to refuel.
Mark “Hud” Hudspeth’s Aerther double arrived with his entourage in Hong Kong. Our Hudspeth is CEO of probably the evilest corporation in this hemisphere. Caught and sued five times for illegally dumping pesticides and heavy metals in salmon river runs, Midwest irrigation ditches, Lake Mead, and elementary playgrounds. When Hudspeth’s anti-twin pledged to make good for all the bad things Aerthers did, it made sense. He challenged our Hudspeth for company control based on his status as also a Mark “Hud” Hudspeth and won. We all wanted our Hud gone. Environmental groups everywhere celebrated, and New Hud paraded his super-charming smile over all the morning talk shows.
Did-they-do-it Day? 1998:
Nothing happened (that we know of). Mom bought a home security system just in case, and dad got Will and me helmets, pepper spray, and made what he called “old timey bayonets” out of discarded iron fence posts he found on trash day.
Doppelganger Day 1999:
A nuclear bomb the size of a Boeing appeared at UN headquarters. That was how we found out New Hud wasn’t a good guy. New Hud started a press conference from his mansion (our Hud’s old mansion) to talk terms of surrender. But! Our Hudspeth jumped out of a bush and knocked him cold with a softball bat! Stepping over other Hud to the mic, he yelled something about getting his company back, a $100 million dollar bonus, and his face replacing Roosevelt’s.
Nobody out evil’s the Hud.
The army took custody of the bomb. I hope it’s safe. God knows water out west isn’t anymore.
We survived Y2K two months ago, and now everyone’s trying to guess what Aerth will do this time. How do you upsize from a nuclear bomb?
Besides them, there’s a lot of things to look forward to. New millennium, new friends when I start college this fall, and new technologies everywhere! My parents finally bought a cellular phone for the family, and soon (I think) we’ll all be able to access GPS – just imagine, no more maps! I mean, even the internet was barely useful five years ago, but now, Gugolplex’s search engine can find anything on the World Wide Web! They started like two years ago and went from nobodies to a household name. Internet browsing, web shopping, Gugolplex made everything easier. Maybe I’ll become a software engineer and work for them when I graduate? I’ll be part of a worldwide movement!
Dad’s calling us downstairs. Time to watch the news and see what the Aerthers have planned this year. I’ve got my helmet and bayonet just in case. As the Brazelanders say, buenen Nacht!
Unity is a superficially simple concept, that I would define as something like an agreement among individuals, or individual parties, to maintain alignment on a specific cause, philosophy, or purpose. For example, a group of friends can find unity among their individualities to defend each other against some other group of friends, who have likewise found a unity. Those in group A may practice varying adherence to the same or different religions, come from families of no common lineage, or all be transplants from different states. But in their one purpose, defense, they find a unity.
But unity is also a relative concept which has its magnitude defined by the number of participating individuals and the number of overlapping differences that are smoothed over to accommodate a common front. A recent example I came across was a video celebrating western culture, full of Christian religious symbolism and references to both artwork and figures of the European Renaissance and Enlightenment. I am assuming the motivation behind this video was a longing for the traditional values of a homogenized western culture and sorrow toward its apparent erosion. Now, this is no attempt to opine on the validity of that longing or to imply any form of judgement on that video. Simply, I saw it as a showcase of smoothing over all the historical, cultural, and linguistic differences among the western European nations and peoples, blending together thousands of years of different histories to propel a writ-large statement. I must emphasize the idea of it blending together and effectively glossing over all historical and cultural differences between, say, the Greeks and Austrians, the English and Italians, in order to make an artistic point. But through the shared sense of a perceived loss of identity, some found unity under the perceived collective culture being lost. In other words, unity was found through differences.
Unity is a pillar of American identity erected in the aftermath of the Civil War. After its conclusion, the American mindset shifted from that of being state-centric, i.e. “I am a Virginian,”, to that of nationalistic, i.e. “I am an American”. Unity, from sea to shining sea, across a landmass the extent of Europe, where people living under fifty different sets of laws were still connected by a common sense that they were Americans. This sense of a common identity was strengthened by external, international dangers that threatened all living in the United States, requiring a need for all to act as one. Unity was maintained as long as the common threads of the blanket of freedom were acknowledged, accepted, understood, propagated, and held in reverence. Americans recognized each other as Americans, and so long as all held to a common concept, a common respect for each other as Americans, unity was maintained. With that could come purpose, a driving goal, an answer for every challenge thrown at the American people, where the American spirit and ingenuity thrived.
But if unity is the tamping down of differences to find agreement toward a common cause, philosophy, or purpose, then two complications arise. The first is understanding how wide commonality may be stretched before the magnitude of differences (as a function of the number of differentiating factors and their importance to people) overwhelms it. Consider categories of differences as the conceptual divisions that define individuals from each other. These can be very wide and blatant (ex. Immigrants and non-immigrants) to much more refined (students same town but rival high schools). So the question becomes, how many people or how many categories of difference can be held together by a common purpose? For example, it may be easy for Catholic Christians and Methodist Christians and Seventh Day Adventist Christians to find unity under Christianity to find purpose in, for example, supporting an education bill. But can that unity toward a purpose also be extended to religious non-Christians or non-religious people to align on and make the desired outcome? Likely that would depend on the how well bill itself provides a non-religious common thread to pull the groups together. The other complication stems from the first, which is the presence of separatist agitators who would prefer to see the magnitude of unity collapse to fit smaller categories of differences. There was never a time in American history where it was difficult to find separatist agitators, but in the 21st century, their reach, the number of outlets available to them, and their volume has reached an accumulation not seen previously in our history.
This is a problem, and it is a self-exacerbating problem. With a growing United States, in the number of its citizens, in the ever-increasing complexity of its cultures, which births more categories of differences, the apparent common threads appear to be growing tauter, while the volume of agitators grows. Unity itself is in danger of being drowned by the need of the agitators to embrace the weight of our differences. Without unity, we find ourselves without the willpower or purpose to resolve any of the major issues facing our nation. To be clear, we the people have become focused on the arguments and not the solutions. To listen closely to the major parties, for example, one finds they offer no solutions, spend time casting stones, and play at government standstills while toying with trillions of taxpayer dollars.
Unity of a people, any people, is a mainstay of society, and is an evolution from family to tribe to city to the nation. The growth and majesty of any civilization was never found by euphorically relishing in the differences but in understanding and owning those differences while understanding that the neighbor is not the enemy and working toward a common objective benefiting all. We cannot afford to focus on separatism any further as we proceed through the 21st century. We must regain unity.
So I haven’t really found a good market for short/flash historical fiction, and the publishers that I do know weren’t particularly interested in my story, “The Grand Experiment”. It’s a speculative piece set in the Revolutionary period wherein a subset of the forefathers decide that rudimentary computational science would be best for a fledgling democracy to best compromise free will and freedom with the needs for all to find common grounds for a functioning government. So here it is, “The Grand Experiment”:
Hamilton frothed as the temperamental man-kettle boiled over again. “No, sir! It is inconceivable that you offer such a theory for this purpose! It is moreover incredible that your credibility ever allowed you so deep into the American affair that you should be here speaking this nonsense!”
Madison puffed lightly from the pipe tip and eyed his contemporary. “I think the good sir has let his passions again best him. It is lucky his passions refused to fight for the Red Ensign.”
Hamilton’s eyes flickered hotly in the hearth fire’s light as he stepped toward the relaxed gentleman. “Sir! If you would have nothing but contempt and outrageous theories to offer this council, then do us the courtesy of letting that door bid you good day!”
John Jay slapped his palms against the circular table separating them and launched to his feet. “Gentlemen! Be it as it may that we do not always agree, we are nonetheless the ones best positioned to influence the future! Our good friend Mr. Franklin provided us this theory, and he has always been quite selective in choosing which European ideas and developments to share with us for our own purposes. I do mean with no feigned acquiescence or uncertain spirit that we should take his words earnestly and incorporate them into our designs. No nation or government before our time has attempted such a new beginning as ours.” He paused for a warm sip of rum. “Blood was shed, gentlemen. Our neighbors, our brothers, our sons and fathers lost their lives to ensure this land could birth a new form of government. Men did not die for tepid survivors to foolishly raise an infant nation on the same withered principles that failed their forebears.”
Hamilton locked his hands together as a measure of control, responding with increasing crescendo, “I respect your opinion, as I always have, but this is not a simple academic matter that may be or even should be swayed by the mathematical inklings of English scholars in Cambridge!”
“This is no simple academic matter!” Madison declared, emptying the pipe of ash. “If we truly mean to create a beacon of freedom that draws the spite of monarchists and tyrants and the praise of the thinking free man, then we must pursue a course that engenders self-reflection and growth! And, dear sir, no matter how the Furies coax our spirits, none of the gentlemen in the upcoming conferences have the infinite foresight to ensure the beacon remains lit in perpetuity.”
John nodded toward Madison. “Indeed, and we three are even less prophetic. We should not discount these mathematical theories. Instead, we should embrace them as Heaven-sent pronouncements of Western philosophy. If we insist with all our energies on the sustained empowerment of two political parties, the computational requirements to resolve any issue shall be present and uninterrupted.”
Hamilton buried his chin into his linen kerchief. “I do not wish to use a theory to abuse the people of a representative democracy that cannot think beyond a simple dichotomy of opinion. As the nation grows so shall its people, and while we pretend to know our limitations, we seek to impose restrictions on all future generations based on a Parisian mathematical trinket and the whimsies of English intellectuals! Binary computation! It is an absurdity! I will not be less than blunt about this. You gentlemen fail to see the philosophically treasonous Trojan that the naïve Mr. Franklin imports! You would strangle our future with the philosophies of men of comfort who owe allegiance to the Crown we just shed!”
John looked toward Madison, who was shaking his head while reaching for his pouched tobacco. “James? How will you answer this charge?”
Madison licked his teeth while tapping the tobacco gently into his pipe. “First, I will ask the honorable Mr. Hamilton to recall where most of our philosophies were birthed. Second, I agree that we do not understand the nation’s potential growth, either in land, its philosophies, scientific achievements, or in its peoples. I offer this idea not as a means of restriction but of liberation, freeing future governance from today’s assumptions that Mr. Hamilton correctly implied are likely incomplete and in error. I reviewed Mr. Franklin’s notes. The theories appear sound. A two-party system allows for each educated man to input their answer, or computation if you will, of any given issue into the mass. Then the mass, our body politic, may, per the theory, receive those inputs and output a solution born of thousands to hundreds of thousands of intelligences. Such a solution must necessarily be correct.”
John nodded approvingly, sipping again at his half-glass of rum while Madison paced the room.
“Additionally, so long as a method remains to return such issues for population computation, then we ensure such solutions are continuously revised over the generations. Thus, we will allow for only the most preferred and most correct forms of society to exist, and we prolong the longevity of our nation. This, my good sir, is the grand experiment. We shall allow for this nation not simply to have a system of self-government but also a system of self-computation. No nation or government before us has ever implemented such mathematical theory to create a perfect system. I do agree with your concern of restrictive dichotomous governance. Your concern is sound and valid.” Hamilton snorted, but Madison failed to pause. “This system, however, is not restrictive as it continuously harnesses the energies and education of the many over time. If you can think of an issue that cannot be ultimately resolved by the cumulatively calculated yay or nay of the minds of a whole nation, you are a far more formidable strategist than I have previously given credit.”
John stole their attention by sharply setting his empty glass down. “Alexander. Do you agree to move forward with the intentions for this two-party computational system? As a matter of decency, we will not prohibit creating other parties, but we will ensure their marginalization to prevent calculational interference, as Mr. Franklin refers to it.”
Hamilton fell back into his chair and eyed Madison. “Gentlemen, I hope for the sake of all that you are correct. Mr. Jay, you have my grudging agreement.”
Alternate titles: “A Treatise on the Dissolution of Relation with the Competitive Spirit Demonstrated During Tournament Events”, or “I Should’ve At Least Looked This Up”
In any case, Notre Dame Magazine online published another essay of mine:
Last week, I came across diversity initiatives in the news, at work, and even a cynical jab at it on TV where the protagonists on screen were effectively lamenting their employers’ for-show-only diversity program. I have opinions on it, like many people do, and I am fortunate that Notre Dame Magazine published my thoughts on it on their website. Please find the essay, “Skin Deep”, available at the following website: https://magazine.nd.edu/stories/skin-deep/
It is with more than a little satisfaction that I invite you to take a look at 365tomorrows.com, where my flash-fiction “Message from the Fleet” is published. Since they have a new story every day, you’ll have to search for it by title, or, if you’d like, start with *today* and work your way backwards to August 28, 2020. The folks at 365tomorrows run a great site that has been posting daily stories since 2005. So if you’d like a good read, and not just for my sake, get your beverage of choice and sit a spell. There’s plenty of great flash-fics to enjoy.
But my story “Nimrod” was published in E is for Exorcism, one of the books in the ambitious and spectacular horror anthology that is the creation of Red Cape Publishing. “Nimrod” is fiction, yes, but it’s based on a collection of dreams I had several years ago. Further, it touches on images of real art, real frustrations with the Church, and real fears that still simmer in the fears of humanity. So please, check out Red Cape Publishing, check out E is for Exorcism, available both at Red Cape Publishing and on Amazon!
Anyone living in the Chesapeake area, I’m looking for some opinions and support, if possible.
50+ acres of privately owned land have been ear-marked to be developed into an industrial area adjacent to my neighborhood. It was originally laid out in the 2005 City of Chesapeake strategic plan. In 2010, the Virginia Post wrote an article about the Gilmerton Industrial Park. However, in the last decade, the only visible progress has been the deforestation of perhaps around 15 acres and nothing further. No roads or parking lots paved, no foundations laid, no new employment opportunities being offered.
What is known is that a single LLC holds the property rights to the majority of this land, is still seeking interested parties to sell the land, and is still paying property taxes without what appears to be a strong exit strategy.
What I propose is what may seem like the best solution to meet everyone’s desires, which is to turn that area into a recreational park. The initial, desired outcome was that the Gilmerton Industrial Park would be developed, serve as a source of new employment, and bolster the industrial sector surrounding the Gilmerton Bridge. This has not happened and does not seem likely to happen. Instead, a recreational park, offering nature trails, water access, and the possibility of kayak or canoe rentals, would meet the following objectives:
1) Allow the private owner the ability to sell the land and recover costs.
2) Use the land to provide social and recreational benefits to the surrounding Deep Creek community.
3) Conserve the remaining tens of acres of natural wetland to maintain the existing habitat serving the species that still make this part of Chesapeake its home.
4) Provide neutral to beneficial effects on local housing prices, vice the negative effects typically associated with the introduction of industrial zones.
I already have a commitment from a local group, the Living River Trust, to reach out to the land owner to see if they are interested in the selling the land. I, on the other hand, am seeing if any of my Chesapeake fellows would be in support of such a thing. Because, as it turns out, public support is important.
In the meantime, stay inside.