The Spartan's Last March

Discussion in 'Survival Reading Room' started by sharkman6, Nov 24, 2018.


  1. sharkman6

    sharkman6 Monkey++

    Finished this awhile ago on another forum, but recently rewrote this.
    Hope you enjoy.

    Act I



    And Abimelech fought against the city all that day; and he took the city, and slew the people that was therein, and beat down the city, and sowed it with salt.

    Judges 9:45 (King James Version)



    My Hate is general, I detest all men;

    Some because they are wicked and do evil,

    Others because they tolerate the wicked,

    Refusing them the active vigorous scorn

    Which vice should stimulate in virtuous minds.



    Moliere, Le Misanthrope





    ---Chapter 1---

    The old warrior made his decision. He left his home to go into the world beyond and destroy it. This would be his gift to those left behind. This wasn’t the quest of a madman. It was the rational decision of a man who walked in this world long enough with his eyes open to see things not just as they were, but how they would be. The destruction he caused wouldn’t be acts of anger or revenge or insanity. They would be rational acts, as clinically logical as the mind of the man who performed them.

    He had a name, but for his adult life, he was mostly referred to by his rank, which was Colonel when he retired from the army of New Sparta. He'd spent his entire life in the service of his homeland, defending it against the multitude of threats which lurked outside its walls. New Sparta was one of two centers of power in a land once known as America. The other was referred to as either The Bay or Gomorra. Administered by the High Council of the Nines, The Bay laid claim to everything outside of New Sparta's walls. Behind its defenses and army, New Sparta had advanced. Outside those walls, the world went backwards in ever increasing steps. It sickened and withered. The lands under the leadership of the High Council of Nines regressed into barbarism and insanity. For all his years, the Colonel kept that barbarism and madness at bay. New Sparta and The Bay were locked in an unending state of war. Time after time, The Bay's armies threw themselves on New Sparta's breastworks, and time after time the Colonel and men just like him slaughtered those armies wholesale. This process repeated itself more times than the old warrior could count, further back than he could remember. Even his earliest memories as a youth were of filling sandbags or hauling ammunition in preparation for another attack. Those attacks came time after time, year after year, decade after decade, perhaps going back centuries or even epochs and then even beyond.

    He drove his truck up to one of the sally ports in New Sparta’s defenses, slowed it to a stop near the guardhouse, and lowered his window. The truck was a four-door pickup painted a flat gray. It was night. Like all predators, he preferred to travel and work at night. The sky was clear, each star and the moon vibrant. The light of the night sky glinted off the shiny parts of the truck. The Colonel rolled down his window and the window in the back so the dog there could sniff the air. They were high in the mountains and the air smelled of Aspens. Back to the west was New Sparta. To the east was the world beyond. A pair of guards left the guardhouse and approached the truck. The Colonel glanced at the guards, then looked up at a sign above the gate that led out into the world. The sign read:

    GO FORTH, AND DO WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE

    As was the custom in New Sparta, one guard was an old and experienced veteran. The other was young, with gray eyes that had not yet seen combat. The older guard was missing a few fingers on one hand, but he could still shoot. More importantly, he could still teach lessons to the trainee at his side.

    The two guards and the Colonel were each dressed the same. Their clothes were functional and of neutral tones. They could have been brown or gray or green or even a faded black depending on the light and the angle you looked at them. They were the color of rain against a background of evergreen trees, or mist rising off gray mountains, or perhaps desert dust being tossed by the wind. Each wore armor. Each wore a gun belt loaded down with a pistol, ammunition and the necessities for fighting and staying alive. Each carried a rifle, although right now the Colonel had his resting on the passenger seat, as well as a small backpack he could grab in a flash should some emergency necessitate it.

    The old guard had a beard of black with gray streaks. The Colonel shaved his but had an ever-present thick stubble. The other guard was too young for whiskers.

    "Heading out," the old guard asked. Without a word, The Colonel handed the veteran his writs of passage. The old guard reviewed the paperwork, looking in the right-hand corner for a box marked reentry code. In that box were the letters LM: Last March. His experienced eyes looked from the driver to the paper and back to the driver again.

    "Not coming back, Colonel."

    "No. I’m not."

    The old guard nodded once, curt and efficient. Many of the old warriors left and never came back, and this old guard had seen them go. The hardest of the veterans figured it was better to head back out into the wild world and go down swinging. To many, dying in combat seemed a better alternative than growing old and sick and dying in some hospital, vacuous and ignorant of the many skills they once mastered, a burden on society rather than a defender of it. Those that left on the last march always left well equipped, and very well-armed. The Colonel was no different, as the old guard could see by the heavy load in the bed of the pickup. He handed the paperwork over to this young apprentice.

    In the back seat of the truck, the dog paced back and forth keeping her keen eyes on the guards. She was large, at least a hundred pounds, and a mutt. Her coat was a fusion of black, brown and gray and her loyalty to her master never wavered. She and the Colonel were now each other's only companions.

    The old guard went to perform a cursory inspection of the truck’s bed and its contents. He saw the supplies and gear of a man heading out on campaign. There were ration cartons for both the driver and dog. There were olive drab boxes full of ammunition. Rolls of bedding rested near jugs of water. Green webbing secured spare tires. A tall drum of fuel was roped down onto the bed, held firm by knots that would have impressed even the most demanding sailing age boatswain.

    The Colonel watched the examination through the rear-view mirror. His heartbeat picked up when the old guard lifted the tarp in the back of the truck and peaked under it. But he quickly saw the guard wasn’t looking at the one particular metal box hidden beneath the cartons and crates. From out of a metal rack near the tailgate, the old guard took a piece of metal the size of a two-liter soda bottle. He held it up, turned it once or twice to admire it under the light of the moon and stars. Then he returned the hunk of metal to its rack. The guard then walked back to the driver’s side window. In the back seat, the dog spun around, happily taking it all in.

    "Railgun?"

    "Yes."

    "I’m surprised they let you take it."

    "It is one of the original models. It's outdated now. It was used at New Plataea, in the first battle."

    At this point, the younger guard looked up from his paperwork and said, "The first battle of New Plataea? I heard that one was bad." He said this with profound respect, the way young Marines or Paratroopers would speak to survivors of Iwo Jima or the jump into Norway.

    "It was bad. But the fifth battle of New Plataea was worse. It was like a mass execution," the old guard said.

    "Or a mass suicide," The Colonel said. The veteran nodded again. Behind his experienced grey eyes, he could see the past battles of New Plataea, all of them. Where he and the Colonel and all the other veterans laid waste to the hordes that charged them time and time again.

    "I’m surprised they let you take that one though. They could have scrapped it for the precious metals inside. But," The guard started. He looked from the back of the truck to its driver. "It's not like they'd say no to you."

    The Colonel gave only the slightest smile, just a curl at the corner of one lip.

    "I’ve got fewer friends than you may think," the Colonel said. Now the old guard smiled.

    "Yes. I heard about the waves you made."

    The young guard handed the paperwork back to his mentor and asked. "What’s out there, gentlemen? What’s out there beyond our gates?"

    "Madness," the Colonel answered. "Only madness. Leaving that gate means going back in time thousands of years, and into a world that wants to keep going backward. The High Council of the Nines wanted to build what they thought was a perfect world. They built their world, and it is a horrible place, one I hope you never see unless you're looking at it through the sights of a rifle or down the length of a railgun."

    As if on cue, a deep rumble came from the west. All three turned, and in the clear sky they saw a rocket racing up into the cosmos.

    "You see that? You won't see that outside these walls. In New Sparta, we send men into space to harvest metal from the asteroids. Outside these walls, men hammer spikes into wood to make clubs. They slit their children's throats to satisfy the bloodlust of their earth mother. Outside these walls, math and science are the black arts. History isn't the factual record of mankind's existence; it is whatever story the person with the biggest, sharpest stick wants told. Physics is akin to voodoo and economics is blacker than necromancy. Outside these walls is a world that warrants only humiliation and destruction."

    "Lucky for us, our walls and our armies have kept us safe from that world for a long time," the kid said.

    "They have," the Colonel replied. He didn’t add that it wasn’t the strength of New Sparta’s defenses or the courage of its soldiers concerned him.

    The old guard handed the Colonel back his paperwork.

    "Alright Colonel, you’re free to go," the old guard said. He paused thoughtfully before adding, "Do what needs to be done."

    "I will," the Colonel replied.

    The young guard asked one last question.

    "What are you going to do out there in the world?" The Colonel glared at the young man and answered.

    "I’m going to burn it to cinders."

    He gave the kid a quick, sly wink and then was off. The kid couldn’t tell if The Colonel was kidding. His veteran mentor knew he wasn’t.

    The Colonel waved with his hand, and the guard waved back. Not a true salute, but close enough. In the back, the dog paced the length of the seat, spun twice, then lay down and rested her head on her paws. The truck left the gate and crunched down the gravel road, kicking up light grey dust as it sped away to the east under the gleaming white light of the endless stars.

    The old and young guard watched the truck go. On either side of the gravel road were fields of wildflowers growing up around polished white orbs. Under the glowing white light of the moon and stars, the fields of flowers seemed to stretch out to the edge of infinity. The truck barreled past them all, oblivious to anything but its journey. When it was nothing more than a cloud of gravel dust under the moon and starlight, the old guard turned to his protégé.

    "We've just let the devil loose upon the world. Quick, let's close the gate before he returns."



    --Chapter 2---

    The Colonel drove down off the mountains and onto the hardpan of the high desert. The ground here was dry and littered with legions of stones, each round, and fist-sized. The winds blew powerfully and without reprieve. They whipped through the sage and stole moisture from every living thing on this high alkali plain. The road still existed, but it was in ill repair. It was a thing made ancient from disuse, a major travel route when this land was still called America. There were two lanes of asphalt, a wide median of yellow grass and dusty pale green sage, and then two more lanes of asphalt. In places, the road was swept with sand piles, and in others, it crumbled away at the edges. The old yellow and white lines were nothing but flecks of paint. Time, together with the wind and the sand were slowly stealing them away, same as everything else. The Colonel stayed in the lanes once reserved for eastbound travel, not that there was any other traffic or any authorities left to regulate it. Only the tumbleweeds competed for ownership of the highway.

    Shortly after midnight the Colonel turned off the great road and onto a dirt track. It twisted and turned. The truck bounced and tossed up dust. The motion of the truck woke the dog in the back. She rose and paced across her seat-den a few times before settling back down with her muzzle on her paws. The drive down the dirt road continued for a little less than an hour. When the Colonel arrived at a shallow draw lined with more sage, he stopped his truck and parked.

    The Colonel stepped out of the truck with rifle in hand and scanned the area with a set of night vision. He remembered his grandfather’s night vision device. It was a clunky thing, the size and shape of a squat rifle scope, and it took batteries. The Colonel’s own set looked like a sturdy set of sunglasses. Far superior to what his grandfather had, although they both turned the world into shades of green. The dog put her snout near the open door and sniffed the air a few times. The Colonel opened the rear door to let the dog out. She circled the truck twice, and then squatted and pissed into the dirt. He sniffed himself and smelled sage and the clean air of the high desert. The night was still bright and clear. The Colonel took one more look around the area, searching for dangers and getting a feel for the land.

    Down near the head of the canyon, electric lights glowed, and the faint sounds of music could be heard. It was old music, before-the-wars music, and at least half a dozen instruments seemed to compete against each other in a cacophony that annoyed The Colonel just as certainly as it delighted the listeners down by the light. Also in the canyon, standing alone in a flat spot, was the tree. It was bare of any leaves or needles, short, and hideously twisted. Nothing grew near it. A circular bed of fine sand extended from its truck in a radius of ten feet. He'd studied pictures of the tree many times before leaving on this last journey. Now he looked at it with his own eyes. It angered him even more.

    The dog positioned herself to guard the truck. The Colonel grabbed some more gear out of the cab. A loop of green parachute cord dangled from the rearview mirror. The cord ran through five circular brass disks with square holes in the middle. They looked like coins from ones of history's great Chinese dynasties. The Colonel snatched these and stowed them in his pocket. Then he locked the doors then activated an anti-tamper device hooked up to a few dozen pounds of high explosives mounted on the frame. If anybody messed with the truck, they'd blow themselves, the truck, and all of its contents into the next world. It would most certainly blow the dog up too, but that was a necessary risk. He had something in the truck he couldn’t allow stolen.

    He walked down into the canyon, donning the last of his gear as he went. He was armed and loaded as if he were about to make an assault, and he was, but not on the tree. That was something he needed to look at first. After he'd seen that up close and with his own eyes, then he'd do what needed to be done.

    The twisted bare tree was covered with lumps. The bumps studded the truck and branches. As the Colonel got closer, the night vision glasses brought the lumps into emerald green clarity. Each lump was a tiny shoe; children's shoes. They'd been nailed into the tree's smooth gray bark in scores.

    Up close the tree looked even more wizened and sick. The nature of its sickness was spiritual, not physical, although the multitude of nails pounded into it certainly couldn't have done it good health. Keeping one hand on the firing controls of his rifle, the Colonel ran his free hand over the shoes. Some were of cheap rubberized plastic. Some were of synthetic leather, brittle and crumbling. Some were of fine craftsmanship but nailed to the tree by hammer blows nonetheless. Some shoes had been nailed to the tree only recently. Others looked as if they had been there since the tree first sprouted, longer than man had needed shoes to walk the earth, the heads of their nails pitted with rust. The Colonel ran his hand over the shoes on the west side of the tree. None were larger than his hand. Most could fit into his palm. Each represented a soul. On the sole of a cheap sandal, impressions of tiny toes still lingered in the rubberized plastic. His free hand moved from dirty shoe to dirty shoe. The tree and the shoes gave off energy, and The Colonel became a sponge. He soaked it all in, absorbing it. It was violent energy, angry in a way that was simultaneously calculating and berserk. Inside his heart, waves of aggression and the thirst for violence of action built upon themselves as the tiny shoes screamed to him with the silent voices of the children who once wore them.

    The tree and all the evil it represented was known by all. A trifle of an effort and a pittance of resources could have stopped this. But nobody had done anything. New Sparta remained behind the safety of its walls and its army and let the rest of the world run its course. Those walls and that army were both a curse and a blessing.

    Nobody had done anything to stop this. Not until tonight.

    Down the canyon, the music stopped. The Colonel turned towards the lights. From here he could see the long wooden building from which the music and the lights came. After a pause, the music started again. Guitars and brass instruments and an accordion all jumped in on top of each other, and a voice sang some lament. The Colonel didn’t understand the words, but he knew the singer wasn’t mourning for the children who once wore those shoes.

    The Colonel brushed his hand down the sole of another tiny shoe. His free hand returned to his rifle. He turned from the tree to the lights at the end of the canyon. He checked the chambers on his rifle and pistol one more time. Then he stalked off to the lights.



    ---Chapter 3---

    A hand-painted sign outside the building read: The Coyote Bar. From the shadows the Colonel watched the long low building cobbled together out of wooden planks, each long plank turned gray by the elements. Another sign hung next to the screen door that served as the main entrance. Its hand-painted letters were blocking, like text typed into a phone. It read:

    Passage to New Sparta? Ask inside!

    In front of the bar, a crumbling asphalt road led back to the main highway. Off to the side of the bar sat squat piles of rusting bicycles and handcarts, and personal possessions piled into mounds like coal at a steam plant. Behind the bar, a generator hummed, and a mule snorted every few minutes, but there were no dogs. The Colonel was glad for that. He always liked dogs and would have hated to shoot any. It was hard to tell how many men were inside. From the voices, he guessed about a half dozen, give or take. After he'd dedicated an hour to his reconnaissance, the Colonel stood and walked into the bar through the screen door. It creaked when he opened it and slammed shut behind him with a loud bang.

    The six men in the bar stopped everything they were doing and froze when the Colonel entered. As he stood under the white electric lights, the barflies got a better look at him than the two guards at the gatehouse did. He was a fusion; half Sergio Leon gunslinger, half Special Operation warrior. He was middle-aged, but his age didn't convey wearied exhaustion. It conveyed experience gained out of many battles won and dangers survived. He didn't carry any of the excess weight of middle age. No double chins, no paunch at the waist. His frame was all lean muscle mass, wiry and powerful, like coiled steel. He stood tall. He had a hungry, angry look about him. His arms were long. The one not occupied with the grip on the rifle dangled, the hand hanging comfortably. They were the arms of mythical western gunfighters. His hair was cut short and speckled with gray. His eyes were hazel and predatory.

    He wore a gun belt. Over one hip sat a holster filled with a black pistol. A bowie knife hung off the opposite hip and just slightly back. Green parachute cord twisted around its handle. Pistol magazines, a flashlight, and a small first aid kit rounded out the belt.

    On his chest, he wore body armor, rifle plates in a carrier of the same neutral nothing color as his clothes. A row of pouches held extra magazines for the rifle slung across his chest. Other pouches held an assortment of what could have only been grenades.

    His hiking boots came up just above the ankles and had rounded toes. A thin dusting of fine desert sand covered them. They were not cowboy boots, and he wore no spurs, but you could easily imagine the jangle of rowels with each step as he stalked across the creaking boards of the floor and stopped at the bar. The man behind it said nothing. He only eyed the approaching warrior warily. The bartender's eyes darted once to one of the men seated at a table, then quickly came back to the Colonel. In the bar man’s eyes, the Colonel saw a swirling combination of fear, uncertainty, hatred and most of all, guilt.

    The Colonel looked over the bar. An enamel coffee pot steamed on a woodstove.

    "Is that coffee back there," The Colonel asked.

    The barman nodded once. One of the men at the tables announced, "We got the real stuff. Not chicory or dandelions or any of that crap. It just came in from some traders who came all the way from Gomorrah. And a good trade they gave us. Mossy, be a dear and pour our guest a cup of our finest."

    The barman, whose name must have been Mossy, poured the coffee into an old ceramic cup. The Colonel shifted sideways a bit, so he could watch Mossy work and eye the others in the bar. The man who spoke sat at a table in the middle of the room. He looked cool and entirely in control. His red hair jutted up in a pair of greasy angular spikes like twin Mohawks, and even though a man just entered their bar armed to the teeth, he looked entirely at ease. The Colonel pegged him easily for what he was. This man was a huckster, a deceiver. He made his fortune through fraud and lies. He possessed the sly, easygoing charisma of a prison-yard hustler, with none of the scruples. He used words to probe for weaknesses in his prey, anything from a self-doubt to a delusional hope. The Colonel pegged the greasy redheaded man as the leader, the alpha in this pack of wolves denning in the decrepit bar. That wouldn't be good for the greasy man.

    "Looks to me like you’re a ways from home, yo," The greasy man said with an easy smile. The beginning of the probing, the Colonel thought. Gentle, verbal probes that hustlers like this greasy man always used to find weakness to exploit and angles to play. The Colonel had no such gift for rhetoric, and he knew it. Words and phrases, statements and questions had their own tactics to them. The tactics of the verbal battlefield were something that the Colonel never mastered, and he had only contempt for those who did. He prized deeds. He wasn't a man of rhetoric and eloquence, flourishes of words and grand speeches. He was a man of mud and blood and finalizing violence. He didn't speak eloquently because when push came to shove, and push always came to shove, he could outrun, out hit, out shoot, out fight, outlast and out kill all the silver-tongued orators combined. But for now, he would let this greasy man, Greasy, keep talking.

    The Colonel grabbed the coffee with one hand and sipped. It was good. Real coffee, and strong. The other hand held the pistol grip of the rifle slung across his chest. His extended trigger finger rested straight against the trigger guard, but less than a fraction of a heartbeat from initiating death.

    "I’ve come far enough," said the Colonel. He surveyed the room. Besides Greasy and Mossy behind the bar, there were four other men. Each man was armed, or had a weapon within reach, although the weapons weren't much. An antique shotgun leaned against a wall, two paces away from the closest man. It looked as if it might disintegrate if its trigger were pulled. One man wore a pistol in a flap holster. A second man at Greasy’s table had a club laid in front of him. Another wore a short sword hammered out of an old lawnmower blade. One man in a corner gingerly touched an SKS rifle resting on the table in front of him. A previous owner attempted to turn it into a super weapon through the addition of unnecessary accessories and cheap plastic crap. On a window sill, an old CD player held together by scotch tape aged to the color of jaundice belched out a mariachi tune from a pair of sickly speakers. To the side stood a door held shut by a couple of padlocks. Judging by the layout of the building, the Colonel guessed it led down into a basement.

    With his free hand, the Colonel sipped his coffee and continued his assessment.

    "A man of few words I see. Well, a hard case like you wouldn’t be out here unless you wanted something, right yo?"

    The Colonel nodded once. Greasy was right, but not in the way he thought. Greasy smiled. His smile was like a glue trap. One tooth was capped with gold. A few gaping holes marked the places were other teeth should have been.

    "We specialize in two things here besides the coffee. As advertised, we promise passage into New Sparta. But since you obviously are from New Sparta, and not some miserable refugee toting their whelps along, I can assume you aren’t looking for passage through the walls."

    Greasy paused to smile slyly again. His heartless eyes gleamed.

    "So I’m guessing that means you’re interested in what we really sell here."

    The Colonel nodded once again.

    "See boys, not to worry. They may come strapped. They may look like they’re stepping off to war, but that’s just their way. They’re still human after all and yo here has desires just like any man. And it isn’t like this is the first time a citizen from New Sparta came in here looking to get a taste of our sweet, sweet, candy."

    At that, some of the men in the bar snickered. The words were a push, just a little one, a probing attack to see how the Colonel would react. He didn’t know if what Greasy said was true or not. The hint that some of his fellow countrymen come here to sample what this greasy man and his crew sell certainly wasn’t out of the realm of the possible, as horrible as that might be. And it didn’t matter if it was true, not to the final outcome. The Colonel had set something in motion; something that once set in motion could not be stopped.

    "Yeah. Some of them Spartans got a real taste for the sweetness," the man with the flap holster said. Then everybody laughed except for Mossy. The barman looked uneasy. He wiped the pooling sweat off his brow with a dirty rag. The Colonel tracked him through his peripheral vision.

    "Now, don’t be worried that we traded away our freshest candy for that coffee, yo. We've got plenty of sweet treats. Get them in all the time, and in all flavors."

    One hand tipped the coffee up to his lips. The second stayed on the rifle. The trigger finger hovered ever so lightly.

    "What do you think Mossy," Greasy asked. "Boys or girls for our knight in shining armor here?"

    Mossy didn’t answer. He wiped at his brow again.

    "Boys," the man with the flap holster said. "Hard cases always like the boys."

    "Boys are better anyways," another villain said. "Once you break them in. And you got to break ‘em anyway. Break ‘em in hard, and the sooner the better. If you don't then they get real defiant later on."

    "You’d know. You’ve broken a few, ain’t you Charlie," Flap holster asked. The Colonel understood the question was really an affirmation of Charlie’s skill at breaking in boys." Charlie laughed creepily. The blue ink tattoos on his neck pulsed with each guffaw.

    The man with the cudgel took its rawhide hand loop in his fingers. "A young boy will make you a king," he added to the conversation.

    Greasy took a drink from the dirty glass in front of him. The liquid inside was milky, like a glass of water with a dusting of creamer added. "I'm partial to the girls myself. But a boy will do just as fine as a girl when you got the itch. Everybody knows that. And I know that when a man gets that itch for the sweet young candy, no matter if he's a Spartan in his armor and guns or some big brain on the Council of Nines, he's gonna pay to scratch his itch. That, and make me my ends in the bargain. That’s what I know."

    Greasy paused to smile his rat trap smile again.

    "You come with cash in hand I expect? What flavor of treat are you interested in?"

    The man with the flap holster snickered. The man with the SKS fidgeted. The Colonel ignored Greasy’s question.

    "You know what I know," the Colonel asked. The tone of his voice sent a chill through the room. He was used to commanding men, training them for combat and leading them into combat. He’d mastered the ability to use the tone and inflection of his voice to get the response he needed out of men, whether it was courage, anger, determination, or shame. His tone collected up any false sense of amicability and tossed it out of the bar like an angry bouncer.

    "I'll tell you what I know. I know The Bay is the capital of a bankrupt society. I know that New Sparta offers a future, while everything outside it offers only sickness. I know inside New Sparta kids go to school, and outside New Sparta, they get broken in by halfwits like you to become baubles for pederasts, or to be tossed off of buildings to please the earth mother, or brainwashed into an existence of government-mandated retardation. I know any parent who loves their child will try and get them out of the reach of The Bay and the High Council. I know there is a sign on this piss pot bar advertising passage into Sparta. I know you lure people into your flytrap with the hope of entry into the Promised Land and the dream of something better. Only, New Sparta doesn't just let people in. That is something we both know. So the question is, what do you with those people? What do you do with those hopeful parents? What do you do with those beloved children? What do you do with them, yo?"

    The Colonel just pushed back. Greasy didn’t like it.

    "That it?"

    "I also know what you traded for this coffee I’m drinking."

    Greasy glared. The Colonel could see anger in the slavers eyes. But the slavers hands didn’t drift near any weapons. The Colonel’s was firmly planted on his rifle.

    "Don’t act so high and mighty with us. You Spartans ain’t no saints. The blood we’ve spilled is a few drops compared to the ocean that’s on your hands. You Spartans killed more than your share, especially the old hard-cases like you."

    "You won’t find a tree of kids’ shoes outside the gates of New Sparta."

    Greasy sneered with malevolence. Gone was the deceiving charm.

    "Maybe there ain’t no tree of shoes. But I’ve been close enough to your walls to see the wildflowers, Spartan. And I know what makes them grow."

    The others looked restless now, nervous. Everybody now had their toes on the line where push transitioned to shove. Greasy’s boys eyed their rickety weapons. Mossy shuffled uneasily behind the bar. The Colonel didn’t speak. He didn’t need to. He took another sip of coffee. Greasy spat on the floor angrily and kept talking.

    "You’re no better than us. Those people came to your walls. They came with their kids. There were kids, and the sick and the old. And there were plenty of parents with their pups in that crowd. That wanted something more too. And you and your kind murdered them."

    The Colonel shook his head. "Murder is the wrong word. Slaughter. We slaughtered them. We killed everything that marched on our gates. Men, children, women with babies in their arms, the old and the blind, the sick and the insane. They came as an army, and we slaughtered them like an army. The slaughter was wholesale and absolute. We didn't hesitate before the act, and we didn't agonize about it after the smoke cleared." The Colonel paused to look the greasy man in the eye.

    "And I wouldn't hesitate to do it again."

    The Colonel didn't think that Greasy was often at a loss for words, but he was at a loss now. Push was only a hair's breadth from shove, unbalanced and ready to tumble over to that other side. The air had a thickness to it. Static crackled out of the boombox and filled the air like a bad smell. Finally, the one named Charlie spoke.

    "So how many have you killed, Spartan?"

    The Colonel shrugged nonchalantly. With one hand on his rifle, he raised the coffee cup and paused thoughtfully before sipping.

    "I've killed many in my life. After I finish this coffee, I intend to kill as many men as were in this bar when I walked in."

    There were a few nervous laughs from around the bar. The man with the SKS fingered it uncertainly. Greasy thought it was a joke and snorted out a laugh. But after the cup was emptied and set back on the bar, the Colonel raised his rifle and fired it three times into the nearest man. Two rounds went in the center of his chest, and a third went through the bridge of his nose.

    They didn't know what to do at first. Hesitation and indecision gave the Colonel a powerful advantage. He turned his rifle across the room, snapping off shots in pairs while side-stepping. One drew a pistol from behind his back and got it out and extended in his arm before his chest came apart. Mossy reached for something behind the bar, a weapon. Before he got it, he crumpled to the ground. The man with the flap holster fumbled to release his pistol, and then he tumbled to the floor missing the back of his head.

    Greasy tried to scramble away, forgetting his weapons. He pushed away from the table. But the Colonel shot him through the tabletop. Rifle bullets hit him in the hip and spun him around once before he landed under a table. Maybe the Colonel missed Greasy's vitals. Maybe he intended to shoot to wound. In the last moments of his life, Greasy assumed the latter. Up above him and out of sight because the tabletop blocked his view, the carnage continued. A man closed in on the Colonel with a club. The club man got within striking distance before the rifle barked into his throat. The man dropped. The Colonel tore the magazine out of his rifle while dropping down behind the cover of the bar. A fresh magazine went into the rifle in a motion so well practiced it was a blur.

    Bullets ripped through the bar. The Colonel caught one in his breastplate and ignored it. He went in here expecting to be wounded by either a gunshot or a stab. And if he was going to take a bullet, the breastplate was the best place to take it. He leaned around the bar just enough to get his rifle into action. He hammered off a pair and caught the man with the SKS twice in the sternum. A third shot ripped off the top of his head just before he hit the deck.

    Greasy crawled across the floor. He made one desperate lunge for the crude short sword lying next to a body. The Colonel was up and drove the heel of his boot into Greasy’s hand. Another blur of motion and the short sword clattered across the floor from a swift kick. A final kick went right into the hip were Greasy had been shot.

    The full weight of the Spartan came down on the back of Greasy’s neck, not to kill him, but to immobilize him. His hands were swung behind his back and tied together with plastic cuffs. A free hand searched Greasy, tossing out his old pistol and any other weapons it came across. As the Colonel worked, his eyes worked too. They darted back and forth across the bar, scanning for more targets. He'd slung his rifle behind his back and now held his pistol in one hand.

    "Any more villains in here," the Colonel asked.

    "We've been here for years. You've left us alone for years. You never fucked with us before."

    The pistol came down and cracked Greasy’s head.

    "New Sparta left you alone. I’m not New Sparta. I'm just a man, and you will get no indifference from me. You'll get no mercy either. Now answer my question."

    "Just us," Greasy sniffled.

    The Colonel turned Greasy’s head to the padlocked door.

    "You got any live ones down there."

    "I’m bleeding," Greasy cried pitifully.

    Another pistol whack cracked the back of Greasy’s head. Greasy didn’t answer this time though. He only whimpered like a beaten dog, or a beaten child. Blood pooled under his wounded hip.

    The Colonel eyes the padlocked door angrily. He rose, pistol in hand, and faced down the door as if it too were an armed and dangerous entity.

    "I’m bleeding," Greasy muttered pitifully. "I’m bleeding."

    The Colonel wasn’t about to take any chances. With his pistol he shot Greasy once in each ankle, hobbling him.

    "Don’t bleed out until I get back," The Colonel said. Then he kicked open the door.

    After the pistol went back into its holster, the Colonel took up his rifle and used the blinding light mounted on it to illuminate the stairs down into the basement of the Coyote’s bar. He descended. Each plank he stepped on creaked to protest his weight. His weapon light threw splashes of illumination across the basement. The stairs ended at a concrete slab floor. Its gray surface was cool. It smelled musty down here. It stunk of stale urine and feces. It stunk of blood and semen. It stunk of rape and torture and murder. It stunk of childhood innocence stolen away.

    The Colonel stepped into the darkness, his weapon light showing the way. A booted foot stepped over a pile of torn and soiled clothes. Near the bundle of rags was a red-brown stain set into the concrete’s pores. The Colonel stepped around that too. Ahead, twin rows of something loomed. The rifle’s light splashed on them

    There were about forty kennels, stacked in pairs and running the remaining length of the basement. Most weren’t occupied. They’d been cleaned out after the last exchange with the traders from The Bay. He passed one kennel and a boy of about eight who had both eyes burnt out scrambled to the back of his cage and trembled. The Colonel thought the boy had his tongue cut out too, but he couldn't tell. He kept walking. A few more girls, a few more boys. On top of one of the kennels sat a mason jar full of what looked like severed and dried fingers. A rope ran down from the ceiling. Threaded through it were the polished skulls of four dead parents.

    The Colonel walked to the end of the kennels. On a mattress stained with blood and other fluids, lay a dead woman who stared at the ceiling with lifeless eyes. A chain ran from her neck to an eyebolt set in the wall. He could tell she'd been dead about a week now, but left in the corner on a filthy mattress, like a broken and forgotten toy.

    In the last kennel was a girl. She looked to be about thirteen in age. Black and purple rings of hematoma circled each of her eyes. Those eyes were full of hate, full of defiance. No despair in that girl, just the type of anger that motivates to action. Charlie and Greasy hadn’t broken this one. She had fight left.

    The Colonel smiled.

    Greasy heard footsteps coming up the creaking wooden stairs. Underneath his body, he felt the sticky pool of his own blood.

    Out of the doorway walked the Spartan. He held that damn rifle of his firmly in one hand. The other arm wrapped protectively around the girl. She held something close to her chest like a bible or a baby. The combined effects of the poor lighting and blood loss made it difficult to see what she held until they were almost on top of him.

    Then he saw it was an axe. And he struggled to make words of protest.

    The Colonel, his arm still around the girl, spoke into her ear. His tone soothed and reassured her.

    "He’s a silver-tongued deceiver, and if you listen to him, he'll surely talk his way out of this. So you can’t listen to him. Any mercy you show him, he’ll only see as weakness. So show him none."

    Greasy had talked many people right into the places he needed them. His tongue was slick, and his deceit ran deep. He and his slavers had been able to trick many people over the years with the help of that myth of a better life in New Sparta. He tried to use his charm for one last deceit, but he could see it was not working. The Spartan's words took hold, and the girl was set, ignoring anything he said.

    The Colonel took his arm from around the girl. She hefted the axe with both hands. The Colonel stepped back and spoke. "The two of you cannot coexist in this world. For you to survive, he has to go. It is as simple as that. Embrace that. Accept that. Do what needs to be done."

    He gave the girl one last piece of advice.

    "Don't stop swinging until his head is completely off his body."

    #

    He found eight kids still alive, including the girl. The blinded one was so traumatized, the Colonel debated the merits of just shooting him right then and there. He decided against it. He spent the rest of the morning salvaging anything out of the bar that may have been of use to the survivors. After inspecting the antique shotgun, he smashed it against a rock, for fear it might explode if one of the kids tried to shoot it. Then he smashed the cheap pistols for good measure. The SKS he gave to the girl. He found a total of eight rounds for it. Not much, but better than no rounds. She took the rifle and slung it over a shoulder. He policed up all the spent shell casings and gave those to her as well. She looked at the handful of brass with awe. In this dystopian landscape, a piece of spent brass was like a one-ounce gold coin.

    At the first sign of dawn, they set the bar on fire.

    The dry planks blazed as a ribbon of orange spread along the eastern horizon. Some kids ran around and around in the shimmering firelight, screaming. Greasy’s head was skewered on fence pole. Another enterprising kid tried to take Charlie's head, but did poor work of the job and crushed the skull so badly that when the head went on display, it sagged like a rotten jack-o-lantern. The boys and girls who weren't catatonic danced around the skewered heads and the blazing building. They shouted and screamed at the heads. They were William Golding's British boys on that deserted isle come to life, minus a pig head. The Colonel thought Greasy and Charlie's heads were good enough.

    The Colonel walked back up the canyon alone. He stopped to set the tree on fire with an old can of kerosene he found near the generator. Once fire engulfed that last totem, he continued on his way. He found his truck and dog waiting.

    He drove down to the bar, stopped, went into the bed of the truck and took out almost all the rations and most of the water. He left them for the children. He didn’t plan on needing more than a week’s worth.

    After emptying out the extra sustenance, he set up the railgun. It mounted on a pedestal bolted into the floor of the bed. Heavy canvas covers protected its sites and computer. A cable, thick as a fire hose, ran from the railgun to a battery bank enclosed in a steel box. The Colonel slid another steel box next to the batteries, covered them both with an olive drab tarp, and roped the whole thing down.

    The dog watched her master and the children. Her tail wagged the whole time. She panted in quick breaths. Her lips and teeth formed a happy dog smile. The girl watched the Colonel. Once he secured his load, he let the dog into the backseat then climbed behind the wheel and started the engine.

    The Colonel reached out the window and handed the girl one of the brass disks and a small screwdriver he found whose blade fit perfectly in the square hole.

    "Wait until tomorrow’s sunset, and then activate this like I showed you." She nodded, affirming her understanding. The girl hadn’t spoken at all, but the Colonel knew she wasn't broken. She had her faculties. She adjusted the slung rifle on her shoulder.

    Cinders rose off the fire and drifted into the still new morning sky like hell's own fireflies. The freed catamites ran and danced around the conflagration with the type of savage mannerisms that predated the written word, the cultivation of crops, and all things civilized. The blazing building and the dancing, screaming children, gave portent which the Colonel recognized. He saw his own fate in the flame lit barbarism, perhaps the fate of the earth and mankind's role upon it. He believed in fate. But he believed fate was not something you sat and waited for or accepted with meek fatality. It was to be snatched with anger, audacity, and violence of action, the same way he snatched the life out of Greasy and his band.

    The Colonel took one last look at the girl. "And whatever you do, don't head west to New Sparta. They won't take you in."

    The truck pulled away, kicking up dust and gravel as it went. The Colonel watched the tribalistic burning and dancing in the rearview until it was gone. Somebody could have done something about these coyotes long ago. It would have required minimal effort and almost nothing in resources. It was a mathematical problem whose easiest solution was to simply erase it from the blackboard, a Gordian knot to be severed and forgotten. But nobody had done anything. Not until now. He did what needed to be done. He always did. The bar burned. Greasy and his pals were dead. Erased from the equation. Simple. Effective. Permanent.

    The Colonel thought the stop had been worthwhile, but he knew it was not essential to his mission. This was just a bit of sightseeing, a guilty pleasure, a distraction. The true destination still lingered ahead. He had a place to go.

    "Do what needs to be done," he said gravely to the dog in the backseat.

    She replied to his statement with a few pants and her happy dog smile.

    He drove east into the new day.

    ---Chapter 4---

    The high alkali plain ended at a deep gorge, which the Colonel reached just as the sun descended, painting the western sky with powerful strokes of red and purple. A green-brown river rushed through the gorge. The river could have been named the Rubicon or Styx. Each would have been appropriate concerning the muddy torrent and its role in the Colonel's existence.

    The river’s true name was Columbia. He’d seen this river before, on campaigns past, often accompanied by his grandfather. He remembered a line from a song about that river. Something about turning darkness into dawn, in recognition of the mighty hydroelectric dams that once harnessed the power of the river. Once, but long ago.

    He once asked his grandfather who wrote the song. His grandfather answered that composer’s name was Woodie Guthrie, a troubadour during a period known as The Little Depression. His grandfather always added that the Little Depression was once called the Great Depression, the same way people referred to WWI as the Great War until other wars raged and made the size and scope of the Great War’s devastation and death appear not so great after all.

    The Colonel sat on the edge of an escarpment with his dog at his side. The rifle, as always, occupied its proper place in the Colonel's hand. Upstream lay the remnants of one of the mighty hydroelectric dams of which the song praised. Its ruin stretched across the river like the rotting carcass of a bovine that died while fording a stream. Brown water spilled mightily through the many breaches. Fallen power lines lie in snarls on the banks of the river. Jagged twists of rebar prickled out of shattered concrete like the quills of a porcupine gone mutant. Deep in its bowels, the dam's turbines were blackened from fire. The spillways lay torn open like avulsions. At one time the dam produced enough electricity for the entire region, with plenty of excess to spare. Now it was dead, just like so much of the world outside the walls of New Sparta. Woody Guthrie could sing all he wanted, that dam would never turn darkness into dawn again.

    The dam looked as if it were destroyed in battle, perhaps busted by a plane’s dropped bomb, or perhaps by some cruise missile that was inhumanely brilliant yet not brilliant enough to stop its own destruction as it simultaneously destroyed itself and its target. But the truth was that the dam had fallen to simple mobs; mobs of vandals that poured out of their cities to the south and east and swept across the land destroying any and all trappings of civilization. They swarmed and devoured like Luddite locusts. Anything they considered an insult to their Earth Mother, or a symbol of earthly greed or human consumption was sacked and knocked asunder. Power plants, libraries, hospitals, factories, mines, farms; anything the mobs’ leaders said was bad was attacked and destroyed by their unquestioning followers. They hated the dam. They hated it for the power it generated, conquering nature’s darkness with the power of electric light. They hated it for the imagined anguish it caused their deity the Earth Mother. They hated it because it symbolized man’s desire to consume. They hated it for the men who created it, these men who crafted turbines, and poured concrete; men who twisted copper into power providing cables and strung them so they could power lands and turn desolation into paradise; men who mastered the fields of math, engineering, and architecture; men who didn’t agonize over abstract social constructs or academic definitions of justice and morality with pre-teen angst; men who set to work, and did it. But most of all, they hated it because they were told to hate it.

    On the far end of the dam, a graffiti artist painted the mindless slogan of the movement that spawned the mobs. This was before the High Council of Nines, when the mobs still referred to themselves as the Protest. The graffiti read, "Everything for Everyone." An ambitious goal, but they fell well short of their aspiration, the Colonel thought.

    On the near side of the dam, letters of blue spray paint declared something only partially readable. The ghost letters read either Bingo Stink or Bongo Skunk or something along those lines. Time and the elements had diminished the glory of the masterpiece. The words meant nothing to the Colonel and nothing to his mission, so he filed the blue scribbling away with all other things trivial into a file destined to be forgotten.

    Down the river, a ferry rested on the near bank. A thick steel cable covered in green slime spanned the river. Beyond that, a road that appeared dying but not yet dead led back up the canyon to the plain beyond. In the remote distance, he could make out subsistence farms that scratched life out of the dirt, but barely. The Colonel would have much rather crossed the gorge by a means other than the ferry, but there was none. The sun sank lower. He wanted to be across the river tonight. He got back in his truck and drove down to the ferry.

    Shacks made of clapboards and rusting corrugated metal offered living quarters for the crew. Tarpaulins covered firewood, stacked in cords and running in long rows. The ferry served to provide Spartan expeditions passage to capture the resources of places once called Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas. It likely also served to move immigrants seeking refuge in New Sparta across the river, as well as traders and their slaves who moved back again towards The Bay. If it had existed that long, the ferry probably served to move the mobs and of The Protest and the horde armies of the High Council across the Columbia so they could attack New Sparta.

    A sign of weathered plywood advertised the rates in various forms of currency and commodities; silver, brass, corn, whiskey, the paper script of The Bay, copper Kowloons from the Far East. The written advertisement consisted of a mixture of poor English, with letters, numbers and text symbols thrown in like hieroglyphics. "Pricss 4 Xing. C below." As the truck approached, men came out of the shacks. The dog raised her hackles and let out a low growl of disapproval. The Colonel parked and climbed out to meet them.

    An aged man with the skin of a Moorish sailor and tired eyes came forward from the boat. He wore a patched woolen coat. His shaggy hair had a tint of red. A single look revealed him as the captain of the vessel. A younger version of the captain, not a son but maybe a nephew or a cousin, stacked wood in chords along the ferry’s steel gunwales. One man flanked the captain with a lever-action rifle. A second angled in from the opposite flank with another rifle. The Colonel eyed the approaching threats and saw the second rifle had no bolt. He scanned the other ferrymen, counting them and considering the threat they posed, and how best to eliminate that threat should push lead to shove."

    "I require conveyance across the river," the Colonel said.

    The older man pointed at the sign with a hand worn by decades of toil.

    "You got cash in hand?"

    The Colonel set a green metal box on the ground, flipped open its lid, and stepped back so the ferrymen could see the contents without obstruction.

    Inside, metal gleamed with the greed inducing light of fortune. The metal was neither gold nor silver, but brass. Spent shells, ready for reloading, filled the sheet-metal box to its brim. The can could not have been more valuable if it were filled with gold sovereigns. It amounted to fortune well beyond the asking price. The eyes of each member of the ferry crew gleamed with the delight of a fortune soon to be received. Each immediately wondered what else the traveling knight kept in the back of his truck and whether the Spartan deserved such wealth at all,

    The old sailor jerked a thumb to his craft.

    "Come aboard."

    The Colonel did.

    #

    The boat chugged across the green-brown river. A noisy engine belched black smoke and propelled it with the steady slowness of an enormous turtle. Giant rollers held the steel cable that traversed the river, keeping the boat on course against the power of the current. The Colonel left his truck to enjoy the landscape and the elements. He sat on the lowered tailgate. The dog sat next to him, panting, happy. Her mouth hung agape with canine content. With one hand the Colonel scratched the dog. The second hand never left the firing controls of the rifle slung across his chest. Half the Colonel enjoyed the dog, the clear day and the breeze, the trip across the river. The other half of him remained vigilant, never taking his eyes off the ferry crew, who he was prepared to kill to the last in an instant. The ferry captain stood near the truck, watching his great rollers work the cable and defy the current.

    "Wood gas," the Colonel asked, nodding to the great smoking engine and the cordwood stacked against it.

    The captain grunted in affirmation. The steel rollers squeaked as they pulled in rusted cable and spat it back out again into the river. River water washed the steel deck plates which were brown with age and surface rust. Near the engine, the captain's possible kin shoveled an armload of cordwood into a great steel oven which was connected to the engine by an octopus tangle of pipes and hoses and ductwork. The kid's arms were pencil thin. He was lean and greedy. He slammed shut the steel door on the oven and locked it with the throw of an iron lever wrapped in leather. The kid turned. He looked at the Colonel with eyes full of youthful hate, so sure the world owed him everything, and eager to take it all. The dark eyes dropped their glower and looked at the truck and its contents with covetousness barely contained. He turned away, and his young, thin arms engaged in some other menial task.

    The Colonel spoke to the captain while his eyes tracked the crew.

    "Your young crewman looks at the load in the back of my truck quite hungrily."

    The captain first looked at the Colonel then considered the bed of the truck and the valuable cargo therein.

    "He’s got nothing. You've got plenty of stuff in that truck."

    "I do."

    The conversation paused long enough for the cable to squeak two or three times against the giant rollers.

    "You insulted him," the captain added.

    "Insulted him, how?"

    "You have more than he does. He doesn’t have a truck. He doesn’t have a fine rifle or pistol. He has none of that."

    "And that is an insult?"

    The captain spoke angrily, his bitterness spilled out with each word. "What greater insult could there be? You mock him and throw his poverty in his face traveling like that. You own things you don’t need, things that could make him happy and give him a sense of self-worth."

    "He needs things to give his life value?"

    The ferry captain did not answer. The boat and the river answered for him, splashing and smoking. Squeaks and mechanical sounds.

    "I paid for my passage across the water. And the price I paid was far above your going rate."

    "You paid the rate asked for, but your payment was not fair."

    "What does that mean?"

    The boatman replied, "You could afford to pay more still."

    "And what would that be?"

    "Your fair share."

    "And what would my fair share be, exactly," the Colonel asked with eyes that went from hazel to fire.

    The captain murmured some slur. The Colonel hardened. There was never an answer to that question. In this landscape of insanity, fair share could only be defined in the negative, in that somebody somewhere was not paying their fair share. But it could never be quantified. Any attempts to do so never measured the value of services rendered or the goods purchased. Instead, they considered only the perceived poverty and injustices suffered by the favored party. The Colonel thought about that, and he thought about his son, and he grew angry. He always did when he considered such subjects.

    "I've been generous in your payment. But what's mine is mine. I won't tolerate the theft of my property. I won’t be shamed out of it either. You or somebody else can determine that I have something I don't need, or more than I need, or something somebody else needs more than I do. But I don't care about such determinations."

    "Perhaps. But you've got a truck full of gear, all top-flash too. That kid's got nothing but his clothes and a duffle. What harm could it do if he took some of your gear?"

    "What harm could it do," the Colonel asked. "It could do enough harm to turn civilization into base savagery. That kind of logic is how we all got into this mess in the first place."

    "You'll never convince my crew of that."

    "I carry this rifle so I don’t have to convince anybody of anything."

    The boatman muttered another demur about justice. He could not hear the exact words, but he heard the bitterness dripping off them in thick dollops. The Colonel had enough. No minced words. No negotiations or compromises. No conversation. The Colonel explained how things would be.

    "There is property in my truck which I will not tolerate stolen, your concepts of justice be damned. You are the captain of this vessel and responsible for the conduct of the crew. If you or any of your crew try and force their concept of justice on me, in return, I will deliver my concept of justice unto you."

    "You would kill a man for stuff?"

    "I wouldn't be killing him for the stuff. I'd be killing him for the crime of stealing it."

    He left it at that. He saw no need for further talk. It would have amounted to nothing more than useless words. They were back at the line were push transitioned into shove, and the Colonel always found at such points it was always best to keep quiet and stand ready with iron. The Colonel re-entered the truck, the dog taking her position in the back seat. The ferry captain grimaced. Hatred oozed from every crease on his weathered face.



    The ferry reached the far bank, and the ramp dropped with a thud. The Colonel started his engine. The captain and one of his sailors pulled chocks from under the wheels. As his companions worked, the kid strode boldly from his wood pile to the truck bed. He drew a knife from his belt and holding it like an icepick, slashed open the tarp covering the Colonel's cargo. His act was brash, bold, and impudent. There existed no hint of shame or attempt at stealth. He brazenly sliced through the tarp in full view and went about rummaging through the truck's contents without any concern for their owner. The kid felt no shame, no guilt, and no remorse, only a sense of self-entitlement and materialistic greed that clouded out any good judgment or sense of nobility. His desire to satiate his material cravings was his entire world. He hacked and slashed at the tarp. He dropped the knife and then took each side of the tear in a hand and ripped it open further to stick his head into the tear and survey the truck's contents for pilferage.

    The other crewmen closed in on the truck. The nearest sailor approached the driver's side with a heavy spanner in his hand. With the other hand, he pointed at the Colonel and chanted out, "The Whole World is Watching, the Whole World is Watching," trying to cast the ancient spells of political correctness that once sent men into paralysis. But those incantations had lost all their magic. The Colonel didn't know if this man was trying to menace him with his pitiful weapon or shame him into inaction through his political sorcery. Either idea was ludicrous. Nobody was watching, and even if the world entire were sitting on the edge of their seat ready to pass judgment, the Colonel wouldn't have given a damn. Wasn't that why New Sparta formed in the first place, because they held nothing but open contempt for what the rest of the world thought. Did they think he would be intimidated? Did they think he would be shamed into compliance? Did they think he'd stand idle and be robbed? Did they think if pushed, the Colonel would not shove back? Spanner versus pistol and rifle? Thug tactics versus martial skill honed over a lifetime? But as always it came to that. Long-term consequences were never weighed against immediate gratification. Once again, push became shove. Once again, the Colonel brought havoc.

    The man with the spanner opened his mouth to utter some new mantra, but the words never came out. Likely the words never even formed in his mind. From the sitting position, the Colonel drew his pistol, aimed, and fired all in one fluid blur, the way a samurai warrior could draw a blade and deliver a killing stroke in a single well-practiced motion that was faster than the eye can see or the mind can comprehend. The shouting man died on his feet. The Colonel brought more death.

    The Colonel threw open the truck door so hard and so fast that it hit the tumbling body and pushed it against the gunwale. Another sailor approached with the defunct rifle, reversing it and swinging it above his head with both hands. The kid in the back broke from his pilfering and contemplated his next move. The dog snarled and barked, fangs bared, hackles raised. With one hand the Colonel shot the kid with the knife twice in the head, with the other he flung open the rear door. The dog leaped out of the truck with the force and violence of a running chainsaw launched out of a cannon. A furry of canine muscles, snapping fangs and animal aggression hit the one with the deficient rifle. Jaws locked on the man's scapula and snapped it. The mass of canine and human dropped to the steel plate deck and thrashed.

    The ship’s captain approached with raised hands, perhaps to seize the Colonel, perhaps to call for an end to the melee, perhaps to plead apologies. He’d never know. The Colonel shot him twice on the fly, one round shattering the jaw, the other tearing through the neck and slicing into the spinal cord. He too dropped to the deck of his craft.

    Another shot clanged against the metal gunwale of the boat. The Colonel was down and on the deck of the boat, along the length of his truck. He lay on his side, keeping his breastplate to the enemy, angling for a shot from the undercarriage of his vehicle. Nearby, the dog mauled the sailor. Her vice-like jaws swung the man as if he were no more than a rodent. A blur of movement flashed at the wheelhouse. A rifle cracked, and a bullet clanged off the steel deck of the ferry. The Colonel let his pistol rip, firing into the wheelhouse. The slide moved back and forth like a piston. The man in the wheelhouse cursed angrily, driven back. With his last round, the Colonel fired once into the head of the sailor being mauled by the dog. He hit him in mid-thrash, shooting him right out of his dog's muzzle.

    In a movement precise and effortless, he changed magazines in his pistol. The empty magazine clattered against the metal decking, and before it settled, the Colonel was up and floating towards the wheelhouse like a phantom pistolero. He moved with delicate, determined, gliding, steps, firing the whole way. Glass shattered. The sheet metal cabin perforated from the bullet strikes. The man with the rifle popped up from cover in a panic to get a shot and dropped back down when the Colonel shot him twice in the chest and twice more in the head, all while moving. The wheelman collapsed. A final sailor vaulted over the gunwale onto the river bank where he hit the sand and ran for his life.

    The Colonel walked to the side of the boat, changing magazines again. He moved with the single-mindedness of a machine, which is what the Colonel had become. He stopped at the railing and considered the fleeing sailor. With one hand in his pocket and the elbow cocked out, the other arm stretched out like an Olympic marksman. He aimed his pistol and fired once. The final sailor fell. The outstretched arm aimed again. The pistol cracked thrice more. Each time the bundle of rags on the beach jerked from the impact of bullets and sent up clouds of red mist that wafted briefly against the sand backdrop then dissipated.

    Back on the deck, the wounded captain coughed and gurgled. Bloody froth oozed from his lips and down his cheeks to puddle on the deck of the boat he once lorded over. Gasps bubbled out. The Colonel recognized the wound, as he could recognize all manner of wounds from both his extensive training and vast experience. Spinal injury. Paralysis. The captain made gargling sounds. His eyes darted back and forth, looking for his annihilated crew. His eyes were all he could move. The Colonel walked to him, and knelt, pistol in hand.

    He spoke no words of reproach or disapproval. The Colonel muttered no, ‘I told you so’s.’ He lifted the captain up to a sitting position. The breathing eased. Fluid drained down. With one hand, the Colonel cradled the captain’s head.

    "Look to the west," he told the captain with gentleness. "The sun is going down."



    The boatman looked over the back of his ferry to the west. The sun was low now, its bottom edge beneath the horizon. The sky was all red and purple over the landscape of desert brown and sage green darkened by the long shadows of twilight. It was a classic western frieze. A beautiful display of nature's power. The boatman's eyes took in the visual majesty of nature's beauty. It was not wasted on him.

    A single pistol shot cracked out, and its sound reverberated up the canyon. And the boat ride ended.

    #

    The Colonel set to work, shutting down the boat and driving off. He wiped the blood off the dog and returned her to the back seat, where she stood sentinel. The sun set and the world went dark. The Colonel turned on the truck’s lights to work by.

    He searched the boat. The old guns he tossed into the river. He found a pair of metal cans near the cordwood. They smelled like moonshine. He dumped their pungent and clear contents onto the woodpile, and then he hopped off the boat.

    From the back of his truck, he drew a flare. He lit it, and it hissed and spat out sparkling chemical fire. He tossed the lit flare underhand onto the fuel soaked wood. It took to fire, and soon the whole ferry and the dead crew upon it were all alight. Reflections of the flames danced on the water. Venus blazed white and looked down on the butchery. The truck drove off, heading back up the canyon to the plain above. The headlights blazed white. The taillights glowed red. The ferry burned orange.

    Neither man nor dog looked back.

    The full book can be found here on Amazon:
    https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00G70KEEE/?tag=survivalmonke-20
     
  2. AxesAreBetter

    AxesAreBetter Monkey+++

    Good book, bought it a few years back.
     
  3. oldbee1966

    oldbee1966 Monkey+

    I like it, what book is this?
     
    AxesAreBetter likes this.
  4. AxesAreBetter

    AxesAreBetter Monkey+++

    The Spartan's Last March, you can find it on the Amazon Kindle.
     
  5. Zimmy

    Zimmy Wait, I'm not ready! Site Supporter++

    That was enjoyably grim.
     
  6. Motomom34

    Motomom34 Monkey+++

  7. sharkman6

    sharkman6 Monkey++

    The story only gets more grim from here.
    As linked above, the whole story is on Amazon for Kindle.

    The sequel book I've posted on a few other websites. I'll start posting that up here in a couple weeks.
     
    Motomom34 likes this.
  8. sharkman6

    sharkman6 Monkey++

    It's called, The Spartan's Last March. Motomom34 was kind enough to post the link.
     
    Motomom34 likes this.
  9. Motomom34

    Motomom34 Monkey+++

    Are you the author of the books? I looked for the other story you posted yesterday but it was not on the Amazon author page. Or is that just a short story you wrote?
     
  10. sharkman6

    sharkman6 Monkey++

    What was the title?
     
  11. Motomom34

    Motomom34 Monkey+++

    Flip of the COIN
    Flip of the COIN
     
  12. sharkman6

    sharkman6 Monkey++

    Zimmy and Motomom34 like this.
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