Friday, August 27, 2010

week twenty: the ghost of passchendaele (rewrite)

Darkness passes.

All darkness passes, does it not?

Is there not light

that ends all night?

May this darkness fade

Pray this darkness fades

Nearly a century ago, harrowed night filled this field. Luminescence burst from the guessing blasts of four million terrorizing shells. Death rained from the sky; death blasted from the furious guns. Piercing eyes watched from their trenches, gazing to find hope, but meeting only fear. Their enemies watched them; both sides prayed. May God relieve this scathing horror. Desire found them not, for to do this was sin; unforgivable, bloody sin. This night brought the cursed, sleepless nightmare. To wake is to die. For on the morrow, they would either bring death or they would meet her.

Death move onward

Death I am not ready

Death move onward

...

The field is plain now. It is plain, dull, and unspectacular. The ignorant could set foot here and never know the fates that were decided. A lone man stands on the field, searching for something; not an object, but a place. He compares aging landmarks until finally he finds it. With outstretched arms, he closes his eyes and knows where he is. His face bears gain, but not triumph; this isn't a place he wants to be. Not again. He looks back at you, the pain in his eyes obvious. This is the tale that must be told, for we cannot forget.

And so he begins, “This is it. This is where my foxhole was. I remember it was here because of that tree over there. It's so much bigger now. You didn't see many trees. Most of them got hit by artillery or were shot, but this one got through it alright. I mean, it was shot and all, but it stood. And it's green now. Everything was so brown then; so colourless. Nothing grew at all. War isn't a time for growing, it's not a time for life. It's a time for death; a time for killing.”

Swallowing, he continues, “It was October 12th, 1917 when our commanders finally blew the whistle. The war was going slowly. Neither side made much progress because trench warfare is built on waiting. You build all this and dig as deep as you can because sometime or another the other guy has to try to come get you. But there you are with your machine guns and your snipers and your barbed wire and your land mines and your- and your-” he pulls out a flask, probably containing whiskey, and drinks from it, “There's so much. It's hard to keep it all in perspective. Back then, though, we had to know it all because any which part of it could kill you whenever it pleased. Death mocked us by all her means.”

The man puts his whiskey away and with a trembling hand, wipes his mouth. He coughed, “You know, there's a time when you sit down and forget what you are. You know you're scared and you know you want out of there, but then comes the part when you stop questioning why. You stop looking for purpose and soon, even you refer to yourself as private. Sometimes the officers threw in our last names, but that was only if they knew it. When I figured this out, I remember pretty clearly, I had this notebook; very small, I don't remember exactly why I brought it. But I would start writing my name and I would do it every day. I wrote it with everything I could remember:

Private Thomas Shane Holdsworth, 7th Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, from London. Father is William Thomas Holdsworth and mother is Bridgett Shane Holdsworth. His sister is Lillian Holdsworth. Private Thomas Shane Holdsworth; dead man.

“Sometimes I'd put down more than that, like the name of my dog or my address. I held onto something, though. Everybody there had something. Some guys had some stupid good luck charm or a picture of their girlfriends. I just had my goddamn notebook,” he shrugs as he reaches into his jacket for a cigarette. Tom lights it and takes a few uneasy puffs.

His smoke break is over and so is his tangent, “Our trench is over there. I thought they were crazy when they told us to go over in the rain and mud. But we did. Nobody in my company was going to disobey orders. We were good men, all of us. But pushing on was slow and hard work. There was so much mud; so much fucking mud. The shell holes were the worst though. Because of the rain they were more like pools; brown, muddy pools. If you wanted to be in cover, which you would unless you were mad or had a death wish, you would have to be waist deep in murky water to be fully covered. That deep and you've got to make sure your pack and matches stay dry. A lot of gear was wasted because it got wet.

“The krauts were blasting bullets at us as we advanced on them. The further we got, the more scattered we were, and the easier it was to pick us off one by one. One by fucking one,” he pauses to think it over. “I remember, it was Dylan who I saw shot first. It's unforgettable seeing a friend die. Suddenly he's there then he's not. I mean, he's there, but he's empty. He's dead. Shit, I don't know. You don't know either. You don't unless you've been there and even then you still don't really know,” he realizes then that's getting worked up. So Tom stops and he smokes some more. It calms him.

“You can't be in this and not know you're going to die. You also have to know that your friends are going to die too. Think yourself dead so there isn't anything left for Jerry to kill. But there isn't any amount of mental preparation that can get you ready for this. I guess it helps making yourself somewhat prepared; as much as possible, I guess. But even just the noise would have scared me off if I wasn't at least a little ready. A gun is a loud thing. At basic training, it scared the hell out of me when I shot my Lee-Enfield for the first time. It scared me so bad that I dropped it. The instructor had it out for me after that,” Tom laughs a small laugh. “But the battlefield is different. There's our rifles and there's their rifles. And then there are the grenades and the artillery and the machine guns- oh, God, the machine guns. One of my greatest fears was to be on the front end of one of those,” he stops and sips his whiskey some more.

“We charged and I got to my foxhole, already soaked and dirty. There was a man with me, Private Wolsey. I didn't know Wolsey very well, but he got mud in his receiver and his rifle had all sorts of trouble I had to help him with. I remember how he died. He stood up to take a shot, but it misfired. When he started to try to fix it, I guess he forgot to get back in cover or something. His blood fell onto my face like the rain, but I could hardly tell the difference. And then the body fell straight back and went into the water. Lost. I never saw his face again. He was totally under it. It kills me now that I think about it too because what if he was still alive and the poor bastard drowned in there?”

Tom closes his eyes and sits down under the shade of the tree. He starts on a second cigarette, “I killed three men that day. I don't remember their faces, they were just men with helmets. I wish I did though. Some part of me wants to believe that I had killed human beings. It's sad to me that I have to convince myself of that because that other part of me wants me to think I was killing those animals on those bloody posters. The Huns. They aren't mindless Huns though. I think it's just the part of me, or maybe, I don't know. I guess it's just some kind of stupid honor. Don't tell me it's better to think of my enemy as Huns; I know that. I should absolutely want to kill them and never let myself overthink it. I can't just erase them though. Some poor kraut bastard probably has a stupid notebook like I do where he writes his name. This kraut has a family and a sister and they're all going to cry when they hear he's fucking dead.

“Do you see where I'm going with this? I can't help but keep thinking about all of that. What if I didn't have a family back home to cry for me? Who would cry for me then? Nobody!” He sighs and then throws his arms in the air, “I can't explain this well enough. I want to cry for that poor Jerry sod over there because maybe, just maybe, nobody else will. But war is no place for such humanity, it's a place where we take everything inhumane and leave it. We fight for humanity. I guess I just want to remember what I'm fighting for out there, you know?”

Tom sighs again, “The saddest part about all of this is that it doesn't matter. For all the times I wrote down the names in my notebook, or said prayers on my rosary for me, my company, my family, and my enemies, it still doesn't matter. I remember how it happened, but I try to forget. I had just reloaded my Enfield and popped out to take a shot. I could hear the sergeant shouting something or another and men dying and of course screaming shells and guns roaring over it all. I remember seeing down my sights and taking a bit longer than I should have. I remember seeing red splatter everywhere before me and then I couldn't see anymore. I couldn't feel anything. There wasn't pain. I couldn't feel. Everything was fading away. They told me that there's a light, but it's only dark. It's only dark and it's cold; so cold. I fell back into the water with Wolsey.

“I died that day. October 12th, 1917, the First Battle of Passchendaele. It was a gunshot wound straight to the head; went right under my helmet and killed me near-instant.”

Remorse fills the tears he cries, “Now I'm here. I'm forever here on the plains of Passchendaele. We wound up winning that battle but I can't help feeling like I died in vain. You know when you look at it, every last man who has ever died in any war dies in vain. I'm not saying they aren't heroes or whatnot, but I am saying that their lives were wasted. Look at me. I could have lived past nineteen and led some kind of successful life, but instead I died for a war that we still can't understand exactly what it was about. War is obviously an atrocity. It shouldn't happen. It shouldn't happen at all, but it does, and men like me die over it. Some of us die horrible, agonizing deaths with the gas or a bleed, some of us are lucky like me and die fast. But we're dead. We're proud to be dead because we died for our countries.

“The question that keeps me up though, 'did we have to?' Wars happen and none of them are ever for the right reason. The good guys fight to stop the bad guys, but the bad guys always think they're the good guys. I don't know. It's irritating to think about that, but the point is that war is inevitable, but in good theory, we could have prevented it and nobody would have had to die. I could be alive out there and probably have a wife and some kids by now.

“But some politicians out there decided it was time to let young people die. If there was any justice in the world, the politicians would take up rifles and fight with us, but there isn't justice. There are only dead men laying in flooded foxholes.”

Tom puts out his cigarette and stands again. He looks out onto the horizon and takes a deep breath. His time is short, so he finishes, “Don't let people forget what happened here. Don't let the world forget places like Passchendaele. Maybe one day people will learn the hell that happens. I know they won't. It's like this war, 'the war to end all wars,' which is the biggest load of shit I've heard all my life; there will always be another war. It's a battle that's always going to be fought and never won. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try though, because I'd like to believe that my life is worth trying for.”

The ghost of Passchendaele sighs one last breath before fading back into forgotten memory.



Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

Nay, tis sweeter to die not at all.

...

“The Ghost of Passchendaele” is dedicated to the memory Harry Patch, whose life spanned greater than a century before finally telling his story of what happened at Passchendaele. He passed away in July of 2009. True memory of that battle dies with him. Harry Patch was the last survivor of Passchendaele. God rest his soul. God rest all the souls who saw even a glimpse of these horrors.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

week nineteen: judy

Note: The following contains some content which may be difficult to swallow and some language. 

Did you know Judy? You couldn't miss her. She had the biggest smile and these wide, green eyes that made anyone fall in love with her. Judy's the cutest little girl you've ever seen and I am so proud of her. She got the highest marks in school and her teachers couldn't stop bragging on her to me. I love her so much.

She's creative too! She can take finger-paints or markers or even a pen and just start going to town! She makes the loveliest things. I simply adore it when mothers day comes around and Judy makes me something. And she always comes up with something new. Sometimes she'll just draw me a picture and other times she'll come up with an elaborate masterpiece. My favorite was when she made me a pop-up book! You can't say my daughter isn't a genius now, can you?

She's so quiet too. I could be working at my desk and she could be in there playing, but I would never know she's there. She was always thinking. Judy didn't like asking questions, you see, she preferred to try and figure out the world for herself. She only asked the questions she needed to ask; the things she couldn't get on her own. She could get so many things on her own. Because she's so smart!

I remember how much she liked it when I would take her to the lake. She would sit there and just watch. Sometimes she would watch the water, but usually she would find an animal of some kind to ponder about. I remember one time she saw a stork eat a frog and then she asked, “Mommy, why do animals eat each other?”

I'm no biologist, but I think my answer was good, “That's just how it is, sweetheart.”

“But why?”

“I think it's because they have to, darling.”

 “Do you think the frog was scared?”

  “Well, of course he was. He was about to be digested, after all!”

 “I don't think he was scared, mommy.”

 “Why not?”

 “Because he wanted the stork to be fed. I think the frog understands that the stork is only doing what he has to.”

 Oh, she had such a way of seeing things! Those are the terms with which only a child can see the world. It's a strange combination of innocence and na├»vete. Little Judy was just so good at coming up with these deep thoughts, and, curiously, she had no idea she was saying anything worthwhile. I wish I had kept a notebook or something of all the things she said. I bet people would pay good money just to hear what a child had to say about all these things she came up with.

There were a lot of things I wish I still could have done with Judy. But it was just like that she was gone....

 

 

 She was beautiful in more than a few ways. Her hair was an autumn color and her eyes a soul-catching green. The best guess Doctor Paul Abrams had was that she was in her mid-thirties. And she always came to visit her mother, usually about twice a week. Someone had to; that poor woman had no one else. No one but the doctors, the nurses, and the other patients. Her name was Judith Lowell and she was one of the kindest people who came for visits.

Doctor Abrams found her checking in at the front desk, “Mrs. Lowell, how pleasant to see you again. How are you?”        

 She showed her large, inviting smile, “A little rushed this week, but I can't complain. Just thankful I've got someone to watch the kids this time instead of that awful daycare.”

 “Oh, I won't get you started on that,” Abrams returned the smile. “Walk with me, I'll take you to your mother. She's in the cafeteria waiting for you.”

As they walked, Judith asked, “Busy work day, doctor?”

 “Not particularly,” he sighed. “The problem here isn't being overworked or overwhelmed, it's just getting bored. We can go months without anything happening. I can't help but feel like it'll be a while before we get any excitement around here.”

 “A lot of people wish their jobs would be a little less exciting, Paul.”

 “Yeah, the grass is always greener,” he chuckled. They stopped in front of the door. “Hey, if you don't mind, I'd like to watch you and your mother talk today. I want to see if she's making any progress.”

 “Well, feel free,” she smiled at him again, “it's your asylum, after all.”

 “I hate that word,” Abrams said pushing the door to the cafeteria open. The room was empty, save for an old woman sitting at a table alone. There were two meals. One before her and the other for the person sitting across from her. Since Judith visited so often, they gave her lunch for free. “Go ahead, Mrs. Lowell, I'll just stand over here. Pretend I'm not here.”

 Judith nodded as she sat across from her mother. She was only in her mid fifties, but looked as though she could be seventy. Such a sad ordeal. The old woman paid no acknowledgment to Judith. Nonetheless, Judith pushed on, “Hey, Mrs. O'Connell, it's me. It's Judy. Do you remember me?”

 “Why yes, you're that sweet girl who comes and visits me. I do appreciate it darling, but you are wasting your time on a terrible old woman.”

 “Mrs. O'Connell, I'm not wasting my time. You're my mother.”

 The old woman smiled, “I know what you're trying to do and it's sweet. I only had one daughter and she was killed by my husband. You can't be my daughter.”

 “But mother, I'm right here. I'm alive,” Judith placed her hand on her mother's.

 “You do have her eyes,” Mrs. O'Connell studied the younger woman before her. “Those big, green eyes, but I know my daughter is dead.”

 “Mom, I was there. Dad was messed up; he was terrible. He did a lot of things he shouldn't have done, but he never killed me.”

 Doctor Abrams watched the ensuing pause very carefully. Neither broke the silence as they ate the mystery meat before them. He feared that Mrs. O'Connell had shut herself off so soon. Patients often did so when their illusions of reality were shattered. But, his fears were not yet realized.

“They let me watch The Jetsons last night. I like that show.”

“You've been watching The Jetsons for almost thirty years now, mom, don't you get tired of it?”

 “No, I don't.”

 “Why not?”

“Because, dear, that's the future. It's all going to be better in the future.”

 “Mom, The Jestons isn't real. None of that is.”

“Won't you let an old woman believe what she wants to?”

 “No, mom, you believe your daughter is dead. You can't just believe things that aren't true. I'm not dead,” she picked at her mashed potatoes with her fork. “I'm right here.”

 “I saw your body. You were on your bedroom floor, dead; covered in blood.” Was that a glimmer of a tear in her eye? She turned to Doctor Abrams, “Why are you doing this to me, doctor? Why are you doing these wretched experiments?! Just leave us alone!”

“Calm down mother, we're only trying to help you.”

 “There's nothing for you to help.”

  “Yes, there is, mom, because I want my mother to know I exist before it's too late.”

  “So, get on the telephone and call your mother. I can't help you with that, girl.”

   Judith closed her eyes, inhaled, then exhaled very slowly, “Mrs. O'Connell, you are my mother. Don't you remember me? It's me, Judy! Little Judy.”

 “Judy?”

 “Yes, mom, it's me. I'm here!”

The old woman perked up, like something had just clicked, “Judy, I like that name. Just like Judy Jetson!”

Judith laughed to herself as she slumped in her chair, “Is that why you named me Judith?”

 “Well, that is why I named my daughter Judith, one reason anyway, but you can ask your mother why she named you. She probably took it from the Bible.”

 “Do you read the Bible anymore, mom?”

“Why, yes, we should never forsake our duties to the Lord.”

 “Have you read the part about honoring our fathers and mothers?”

  “Why, yes, but I don't see how that applies. My mother and father are dead, dear. Long gone.”

  “The Bible says we should honor our fathers and mothers. That's why I'm here, Mrs. O'Connell. You are my mother.”

 The old woman looked into Judith's eyes very carefully. Judith wondered what she was thinking. She had been coming in for twenty years and nothing like this had ever happened. Perhaps reality would finally break through. Perhaps Judith could be with her mother at last. But it was hopeless, “Dear, I hate telling you this, but I am not your mother. I have only one child and she's been dead for a long time now. I know what you and Doctor Lanning are trying to do, but it's not needed.”

  Judith slammed her silverware on the table, “Mom, we're not trying to do anything. I am your daughter, I am Judy! I've grown now. I'm married and you have grandchildren. They would love to meet you, but they can't. They can't because you're so convinced that they don't exist. How can you do that to children?”

 Old Mrs. O'Connell cocked her head, “Do these children watch The Jetsons?”

 Judith sighed, “No, they don't. I don't like having it on because it reminds me how you care more about that cartoon than your daughter.”

 The old woman snapped, “How dare you! My daughter meant the world to me! She was all I had left to love in the world before- before... oh, God, I've killed my husband. And he's killed my daughter...” She sobbed.

 Judith grasped her mother's hand, “No, mom, I'm right here! Dad didn't kill me. You saved me. You did it.”

 The old woman slumped. Her eyes widened and became vacant. There was nothing there. Her mouth held open as she again lost her grip on the world.

 “Mom? Mrs. O'Connell? Mom, what are you-”

 Doctor Abrams interrupted, “It's alright, Mrs. Lowell, she'll be fine. Sometimes when our patients are overwhelmed, they simply... shut down.”

 Judith stood and approached the doctor, “When will she come around?”

“We don't know, but it's usually just an hour or so. It's good that you've done that though. Keep making her face the truth and perhaps one day, she'll understand it all.”

 As they slowly walked back through the halls, they talked, “Doctor, maybe you can tell me, you said there's a reason that mental cases like my mother do the things that they do. Why does she insist on believing I'm dead?”

 “We will never know for certain, but I have a theory. Would you like to hear it?”

 “Of course.”

 “I suspect that her subconscious convinces her that you are dead because she wants to protect you.”

 “Protect me?”

“Yes, it sounds odd, but she can be pretty adamant that she would have made a terrible mother after-” He searched for words.

 “Right.”

 “So, I think she wants to believe you are dead so that you could find a better life. You certainly came out no worse for wear. You have a husband, children-”

 “Doctor, that's all fine, but all I've wanted since I was just a little girl is a mother.”

 As Judith signed out, Doctor Abrams said to her, “Don't lose hope. You've kept it this long, Judith.”

“Thanks doctor, I'll see you in a couple of days, then.”

 He watched as she walked out the doors. A good part of him felt sorry for her, but he also admired her greatly. She had the courage to show up and face her crazed mother week after week. Most people would simply forget about their loved ones after a while. Mrs. Lowell did not. She kept going. Whether that would pay off or not is another question entirely.

...

           

Her father was a drunk, you see. After he lost his third job, he started coming home more and more drunk. He would be angrier too. It started with just maybe yelling and a bit of that I could tolerate. Zachary had every right to be angry. He was twice fired for the most ridiculous reasons and shouldn't a good wife be understanding? But then he got violent. He would put words I didn't want my daughter hearing into his ramblings and he would break things. I tried so hard to be understanding, but then he broke my grandmother's china. It was the last thing I had of hers and it was a priceless set! And then he started to hit me. Where was that kind, young man who had promised to love me forever?

 He isn't here anymore.

I already had the divorce papers filed when Judy told me. She told me that daddy had... 'touched' her. You know what I mean, right? My husband had- his own daughter! What kind of sick bastard does that?

That's when I did it. When I knew he wasn't around, I took his shotgun from the closet. I kept it hidden where I could get to it easily. I had to wait until the perfect moment. Then I saw him go into our daughter's room. This was it. I took the shotgun and crept in. He didn't see me. I put the barrel to the back of his head and whispered, “Die you sick son of a bitch.”

He did.

 I was too late though. I'll never forget the sight. There she was, the perfect image of innocence. She was lying on the floor, dead. And it's my fault. If I had acted sooner, she would still be alive. I could take her to the lake again or watch her paint. But no, that... bastard had to kill her. Now I'm the only one left. Now I'm stuck here; stuck here in these soft walls of white....

Thursday, August 12, 2010

week 18: 'shatterer of worlds' prologue

If the radiance of a thousand suns
Were to burst at once into the sky
That would be like the splendor of the Mighty one...
I am become Death,
The shatterer of Worlds.”

From the Bhagavad Gita



Prologue: Shatterer of Worlds


“I remember the dead silence on the bridge as we realized we had just ended a decades-long war. Victory was ours. We had fought long and hard. We had fought for so long that we no longer cared what the price would be to win. And when the price was far too high, we didn't even realize it until it was paid in full. I sat comfortably in my command chair with a grin until I looked down at... everything. I looked and saw it all burning. It wasn't what it used to be. Nothing was left but a hell of flame and nuclear dawn. My grin disappeared as I thought to myself... My God, what the hell have we done? What the hell have I done?”

- Fleet Admiral William Murdoch


The vastness of space is one that man will never fully comprehend or even know. A time once passed when this infinite mystery was romanticized and even sought after. This, however, is a different time. Space is nothing more than a cold, black, and unforgiving mass of monotonous everyday. This void is intangible and all who once cared for it are confined to metal birds or drifting masses. Its infinity is alluring only to those who have not been trapped within its imprisonment of expanse and dreary. Humanity is left to roam it not by desire but by necessity.

Earth is a forgotten dream.

Humanity is not what it once was. Exploration was always going out into the depths, but always looking to the point of return. That return was the home one could hold on to; a necessity of true sanity. For every journey there is always an origin. This, however, is no longer the case for humanity. Like a man falling from the edge, humanity searched desperately for something to grasp. Identity, home, and place: all lost. Yet, they held firmly to what they could. Nations, despite having not the land whence they were founded, remained.

Of course, the remaining nations stand divided. These were once allies in the war that wrought the destruction of earth, yet none can decide where to go from there. Uncharted territory, literally and figuratively, was all that lay ahead. None of them are truly right, for none can know. Infinite possibility brought about only infinite disagreement. Hostilities ensued, yet idealists begin to prevail. Humanity readies itself to accept its position as an outcast race since none still live who remember the dream of earth.

The dream is no longer to go out into the stars, but to make the stars a suitable place for dwelling. All of this talk of unifying humanity is fantastic in theory, but humankind shall always be human. Conflict shall always remain and fears of hostility never shudder. The process of unifying humanity is a long ordeal that requires patience. Forward motion, however, occurs and most welcome it.

Commander Dana Morgan Halsey never cared much for the politics, merely the service. She pondered these things, but only in light of how they affected her duties as commanding officer of the USS Iroquois, an American Saratoga-class frigate. The effects, unfortunately, were starting to bleed over. NATO's command was put under restructuring that was said to be transitional so that when the final unified system is implemented, it will be a smoother transition along the way. The result thus far has only been confusion. The French and the Germans are sometimes hostile towards British and American ships, despite at times taking orders from the same set of admirals. Problems between militaries ran scarcer and scarcer, however, as the transition went on.

The Iroquois was a smaller ship with a crew of only twenty-five, including Commander Halsey. There were four decks and only adequate facilities. Since Iroquois was only a short-range vessel, it didn't need much at all. Their task was patrolling the expanse between Raumstation Berlin and Delaware Spaceport, the highest traffic zone for freighters transporting goods between German and American stations. The patrol's task was mostly to see to it that the freighters were behaving and that no pirates or other groups would try anything. This was unlikely as this shipping route was one of the most secure in the galaxy.

This was a dull assignment, but Commander Halsey knew the purpose of her posting. She had been serving admirably as an executive officer aboard larger ships for some time. In fact, her career up until now had been fast-tracked. Halsey was only in her early-thirties and already a commander with a command of her own. It was a small command, but its true purpose was obvious: the Iroquois was a stepping stone. The brass clearly wanted to test Halsey's ability to command. And a test she would get indeed....

“We've reached waypoint delta, commander,” helmsman Ensign Jeff Wilson reported. “Taking us down to cruising speed.” There was a rush and a lurch as the ship slowed from translight velocities.

“Initiating sensor sweeps,” operations officer Ensign Donald Ballard said. “Look, all I'm saying is that Colt's newer models have more efficient cycling.”

“Yeah, but it slows the round down,” Wilson retorted.

“Not by a considerable margin though, especially considering it's still a magnetically-accelerated round.”

“Speed affects everything in gunfire though, I'm betting my Beretta could outrange and outshoot your Colt anyday.”

“Yeah, til it jams.”

“You've both got it wrong,” Commander Halsey interrupted as she pulled her jet black hair behind her ear.

“Oh yeah? What do you use, commander?” Wilson asked.

She opened her holster and drew her pistol. She racked the slide after ejecting the magazine and handed it to Wilson, “It's a Smith & Wesson Model 8908 custom .386 Magnum magnetically-accelerated electronic handgun.”

“Damn,” Wilson coveted. He released the slide and looked down the sights. It was nickel-plated with black rubberized grips tailored exactly to Hasley's hands. This pistol is the subject of obvious envy. “How's the balance?”

“Nothing short of perfect,” Halsey replied as Wilson handed the pistol over to Ballard.

“How much did this cost?” Ballard asked.

“A lot,” Wilson answered the somewhat rude question for Halsey.

Suddenly, Ballard's console beeped wildly. He handed the pistol back to Halsey and reported, “Commander, I'm picking up a general distress signal.”

“Origin?” Halsey asked as she slammed the magazine into the handgun and pulled the slide.

“Looks like a French freighter,” Ballard told her as she finally holstered her gun. “And it looks like it's way off course.”

“Try hailing them.”

“I'm getting no response.”

“Well, looks like something's finally happening,” Halsey joked. “Wilson, lay in an intercept course for that freighter, full afterburner.”

“Aye, aye.”

Ballard reported, “Its registry marks it as the Opulence and the best I can tell, it's gunning straight for the Harris belt.”

“An asteroid belt?” Lieutenant Richard Crichton, the hardassed tactical officer told them. “Can't be coincidence.”

Halsey agreed, “Add to that, they're only sending a general distress. Put the ship on full alert; we aren't going into this thing unprepared.” She walked away from the forward bridge stations and over to the holographic display at the center of the bridge. This is the Combat Information Center, or CIC. “AI, display a three-dimensional map showing our location, the location of the Opulence, and the Harris Belt.” Within a few seconds a blue image showing exactly what Halsey requested appeared. “Now display a trajectory of the point of both ships upon our arrival.” Again, a few seconds passed before her request was displayed. “Shit,” she muttered under her breath.

“Ma'am?” Crichton asked.

“We'll be in the asteroid field before we intercept,” Halsey replied. “Put whatever power you can into the shields, and Wilson, see if you can get us moving any faster.”

“Engines are already being pushed to the safety line, ma'am,” Wilson told her.

Halsey nodded, “Alright, let's not push it too hard then.”

“Commander, as soon as we reach the asteroid field, we'll have to slow down,” Wilson said. “I can't maneuver the ship in asteroids going full speed.”

“Do what you have to, but we need to help that ship,” Halsey turned back to the CIC. “AI, update the display with plausible maneuvering speeds once the asteroid field is reached. Best estimate.”

After about ten seconds of calculation, a synthesized male voice spoke, “Error. No accurate charts of the asteroid field exist, further the chances of the Opulence getting through the asteroid field without damage are minimal at best.”

“Make the best guess you can.”

“'Guessing' is not within my parameters.”

Halsey rolled her eyes, “Make the best estimate you can then.” Under her breath, she sighed, “Damned AI tech.” In an instant, the hologram changed to the commander's specifications. They would be deep within the field by the time they reached the freighter. This was, however, the information she needed. “Now, display the locations in real time.”

As the computer worked to calculate, Crichton exclaimed, “Opulence has entered the outer layer of the field, from what I can tell, their shielding systems are offline and they've taken light damage.” The holographic image confirmed this. “Commander, I don't think it's very likely we'll be able to reach that ship before it's completely destroyed.”

Halsey bit her lip and stared at the holo-image as she planned her next move. She looked down at her uniform and straightened it out: duty. The choice is so obvious. Rather than argue with Crichton, who was second in the chain of command, she gave her orders, “Fire up the point defense cannons and superheat the engines.”

Crichton replied reluctantly, “Aye, aye, bringing defensive guns online.”

“Is the Opulence in missile range?”

“Ma'am?” Crichton's eyes shot open.

“What if we fired a few Longbow missiles set for concussion blast to try and clear the way for them?”

Crichton thought it over, “Original, but without their shields, I can't guarantee we won't do more harm than good.”

Halsey approached him at his station, “Make sure you get solutions for far enough ahead of them then.”

“I'm just not sure I can do it.”

Halsey grabbed his shoulder, “There could be hundreds of people on that ship. We have to do everything we can to save them and right now, those missiles are the only option. Whether they really know it or not, they're depending on you.” After a pause, “I'm depending on you.”

He took a deep breath and replied, “Aye, I'm computing firing solutions now.”

She nodded to him with an admiring smile of approval. Crichton was a good officer, but needed a little more grooming to be a great one. The Iroquois was likely a stepping stone assignment for him as well. Really the only permanent crewmen were pilots or engineers trained specifically for frigates. These officers were rare and none except for the chief engineer were assigned permanently to the Iroquois. The ship was simply on too unimportant an assignment to put specialists aboard.

“Commander,” Wilson said, “we're approaching the outer rim of the asteroid field, I need to slow us down.”

“Do what you have to, but you need to push yourself on this one.”

He grinned, “I always do.”

“Are the point-defense systems online?”

“Yes, ma'am, they're set to automatic and targeting the asteroids,” Crichton replied. “The computer's having trouble computing a firing solution for the missiles in the asteroids.”

“Do your best, Lieutenant.”

“Entering the field now!” Wilson exclaimed. “Brace for maneuvers!” Halsey grabbed a handlebar on the bulkhead just as the ship jerked hard to the left. They could all hear the booming of the point defense cannons roaring to life.

“I've got a firing solution!” Crichton exclaimed. “Firing missiles!” The lieutenant eagerly hit the big red button. The Iroquois, being a Saratoga, had only a pair of missile hardpoints.

“AI, switch the holographic display to real-time,” Halsey said as she returned to the CIC. With minimal waiting period, the readout changed. The Iroquois, in its splendid streamlined design, was in blue with a pair of red streaks shooting before it. These streaks were the missiles. The asteroids were represented by white and the Opulence was yellow.

“Commander!” Crichton exclaimed, “Another starship just dropped out of translight!”

“Identify it!”

“It's a French cruiser, the Jeanne d'Arc,” Crichton told her as his console suddenly started flashing. “They've locked on to us!”

Wilson said, “They must have gotten the wrong idea about the missiles, commander.”

“Send them a transmission telling exactly what's going on here!”

“Too late, they've fired a full salvo! Eight missiles inbound!” Crichton shouted.

Halsey shook her head as she struggled to keep it all together, “Maintain course!”

“They aren't responding to our transmissions,” Crichton said.

“Keep trying, meanwhile we've got to save that freighter!” Halsey said as she saw the Iroquois' missiles detonating just before the Opulence, which pushed a grouping of asteroids away. She saw the eight red streaks representing the Jeanne d'Arc's missiles racing towards them. “Evasive maneuvers, Jeff, see if you can put some asteroids between us and those missiles. Crichton, are the forward batteries in range to fire on the Opulence?”

“Uh, yeah, they are, I don't see-”

“Target their engines and knock them out,” Halsey ordered. “That should slow them down.”

“Preparing firing solution,” Crichton worked his panel, “and firing!”

“Brace for impact!” Wilson cried. With violent force the ship slammed not once but five times as the French missiles struck her hull. Halsey shuddered at the deafening sound and the intense electrical flares. Debris flew to all places as the ship shook violently.

Halsey fell to the ground as electrical panels exploded all around her. She wasn't the only one. Ballard lay on the floor to her side, his face bloodied. As the decks continued to rattle, she checked his pulse, “He's gone!” Without thought, her instinct was to take his post, but when she did, Halsey saw that the panel must have overloaded in his face.

Crichton made the report, “Damage across all decks; blew right through the missile defense systems. The Opulence's engines have been disabled and they're slowing down.”

Halsey nodded as she struggled to catch her breath, “Wilson, get us out of here! We'll let that cruiser figure out what to do with the freighter.” She wiped her face and saw blood. It was only then that she felt the gash on her cheek. It didn't matter.

“The starboard engine is unresponsive and the navigation systems are clunky at best,” Wilson told her.

“Do what you can!”

Wilson's response was instantaneous: the Iroquois jerked hard to the right. “I'm pushing her as hard as I can, commander.” The decks bumped as they collided with an asteroid.

“Superficial damage,” Crichton reported. “Careful, Wilson.”

“I'm doing the best I can!” Wilson looked nowhere but his console. “We've cleared the field!”

Suddenly, Crichton exclaimed, “Oh, shit! Brace for-”

Halsey remembered nothing more than seeing a bright light followed by a brief sensation of flight. After that, however, there was nothing but pure black. Well, except for the flash of excruciating pain.

She awoke in the CIC. Her head throbbed and it took her sometime to realize once again what had just happened. It took her even longer to notice the disarray, debris, and clutter. The only lighting flickered on and off. She heard electrical zapping and jolting. Halsey sat up and clutched her side as she noticed the bleeding. It wasn't bad. She dizzily came to her feet and at first struggled to gain her balance. As she did, she took her first good look around.

She was at the front end of the CIC, where Wilson's station was. A forcefield separated her and the rest of the ship. The reason for this was obvious. Half of the CIC was completely gone. Halsey saw space and the asteroid field they had just narrowly escaped. Everything was completely ravaged. She could see that an entire half of the ship had been blown off. There was nothing left.

“Commander,” a voice moaned very softly. It was Wilson, who sat at his station.

Halsey carried herself over to him and asked, “Wilson, are you alright?”

“Never better,” he moaned clutching his side. It bled; there was blood all over.

“What happened?”

He coughed, “You hit the deck pretty hard when the Mag slug hit. It ripped the ship right in half. I pulled you in over here just before the hull buckled. I had to turn on the forcefield,” Wilson said choking up, “I had to. Crichton was still out there. We're the only ones left,” he coughed again. “I guess the French just assumed we were all dead. I sent out a distress beacon, so help should be on the- on the-”

“You did well, ensign,” Halsey told him as he grew paler and paler. She put her hand on his.

“Commander,” he wheezed, “It's so dark. And so cold.” Wilson looked right into her dark blue eyes, struggling to catch each breath.

“Yeah, it is,” Halsey said softly. “Go ahead and rest, Jeff, you've earned it. Help is on its way and it's all thanks to you.”

“Yeah,” he coughed again, “I'm so tired.”

“Close your eyes, Jeff. It'll be okay.”

He did and soon after, his breathing ceased. Ensign Jeff Wilson faded from existence. Halsey had filed for his promotion. She suspected a bright future in store for this man. This brightness was replaced by a dark and cold death. Halsey looked at him once more and then let go of his hand. She stood and took another look around. There was nothing. She looked out into the vastness of space and felt so alone. Her entire life had just been suddenly destroyed. Space was empty, just the way she felt.

Then it hit her. A good captain goes down with the ship. The crew was dead and the ship was gone. It had to be done. Halsey pulled her Smith & Wesson from its holster and looked it over. She had never needed to kill anyone before with it and that is why she found her present situation almost an irony. With minimal hesitation she raised the pistol to her temple. It was all gone and soon that was to be even truer. Just as she began squeezing the trigger to end it all, a console bleeped.

The Commander put the gun back and pressed the button. A static-filled voice filled the silence, “This is Captain Jonas Rivera of the USS Tallahassee to the USS Iroquois please respond.”

Halsey punched in the appropriate buttons, “This is Commander Dana Halsey of the Iroquois. It's good to hear your voice, captain.”

“I'll just bet. We're sending a rescue shuttle immediately and we'll begin salvage operations shortly. Captain Rivera out.”

When the line cut, Halsey slumped down to the floor. She regretted even contemplating suicide. But still, she felt alone and so hopeless. Her world had just been shattered. Her very first command was an utter and complete failure. Perhaps a second chance was out there. But her only thoughts were to how she didn't deserve it all. She is the sole survivor.

This is the tale of that sole survivor.

Shatterer of Worlds

Writer's Note: This is the prologue chapter for a novel I'm writing at the moment! Hope you enjoyed it!

Other Note: while the novel still exists, this prologue is now irrelevant to it.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

week 17: little jenny (crash pt. 2)

Note: The following is a sequel to this story. It revolves around a different character, so you can read just one, or read them out of order. I do recommend reading both parts, however.

Three months. They gave him three months to live. And that was the generous estimate. Worst-case scenario was just one month. Frank Hanson couldn't even imagine. It just didn't click for him. Three months? That was just too soon. It isn't real; it doesn't make sense. Things had gone bad before, but cancer? No, no way. That sort of thing just didn't happen to Frank Hanson. He couldn't think about it. It didn't matter, not now. The road is ahead. He needs to concentrate on the road.

A green sedan, another mile marker, exit thirteen, roadkill, an orange SUV....

Gah! Frank just couldn't do it. No matter what he did to put his mind off it, his mind just went back to his oncologist's office. Frank remembered being told to sit down before the desk and then listened as the good doctor buttered him up. In the back of his mind, he knew what was coming, but he just didn't want to believe it. And how could he? No one wanted cancer, especially not a cancer that granted him less than three months to live. When the news was finally broken, reality and perception shattered. His first word in receiving the news was simple, “What?”

The oncologist, Dr. Forrest D. Kelley, showed obvious remorse as he expertly broke the news, “Frank, you have cancer. I'm sorry. The most I'd give you is three months with or without treatment. There's really nothing more we can do.”

“No, that can't be.”

“I'm afraid it is, Fra-”

Frank stood and slammed his hand on the desk. He put his finger in Kelley's face and shouted, “Go to hell!” as he slammed the door. His first thought honestly was that the doctor was telling a bad joke. In his mind, he only blamed Dr. Kelley for it all. The pieces simply refused to fall together. And as they did, he broke them up again. It wasn't true, it couldn't be, and he wouldn't let it be.

All at once, he decided he needed something; something to help him forget. So, Frank took the next exit and pulled into the closest gas station. Naturally, his intention was clear. He needed alcohol; strong alcohol. Frank Hanson wasn't a drinker, but he is now. There it was: a big bottle of vodka. Frank hates vodka, but that's the point. That revolting taste may help him forget his larger problems. With money he didn't have, Frank paid for it and immediately downed a mouthful. It was horribly, horribly great. He took another and another. And another. Before long, he was back in his car and back on the freeway.

Finally, everything was bliss because everything was numb. The speed limit? 70. Frank's speed? 100. Did he care? No, so he turned up his music, which was Slayer's War Ensemble. The hammering drums, screaming, and thundering guitar were little more than distractions. It wasn't about the music, it was about the sound drowning out the world. And it did.

SPORT THE WAAARRRRR!!!”

He closed his eyes to absorb it all. And that's why he didn't see it. That's why he didn't see the minivan changing lanes right in front of him. Like a bullet, Frank's car slammed into the minivan's turning rear, sending metal, glass, and the vehicles spinning through the air. The minivan flipped in the air and landed upside-down on the divider, splitting it in two. Frank's car landed back on its wheels, where he was quick enough to press the brakes, sending him in a doughnut spin. A third car battered into the side of the trunk of Frank's car, accelerating an already furious spin. Finally, he collided with the divider, stopping it all.

Remarkably, he was still conscious. Everything was a blur. Whether that was from the crash or being drunk or both was a mystery. And why should he care? Instead of assessing the damage, he opened his door and stepped out. Frank wasn't stupid. He knew this whole thing was his fault and he could wind up doing hard time in jail for it. Screw that. Frank had to get of here. But where? The hospital! Of course. It was down the road, quite a ways, but whatever. It was his only hope. Go to jail or walk about ten miles? Easy answer.

He could smell the burnt rubber and the fires. Everything seemed to be happening slowly. It must have been the adrenaline. A car crash does wonderful things to the mind, doesn't it? Frank looked up at the overcast sky and kind of missed the rain that was pouring earlier. He liked the way that rain could cleanse. It could always relieve some kind of pain.

Speaking of pain, Frank's hip suddenly started a throbbing. It was minor, but slowly got worse and worse. The throbbing turned into stabbing. It went from perfectly bearable to piercing agony. Frank fell to his knees. This won't stop him. No, he wouldn't let it, so he forced himself back to his feet. It took only four steps before he fell down to his face. He saw the pavement of the highway in that he saw the blackened road of life. It all kept going before him, but Frank? No. He stopped right there.

His only thought, which he asked aloud, “Am I going to die now?”

Suddenly, a childish voice answered, “No, of course not silly!” A little girl dressed in pink suddenly hopscotched her way before him. There was a bit of blood on her face and her hair was a frayed mess. Her most disturbing feature, however, was her missing foot.

“What? What's going on?”

“I'm death.”

“You're de- you're what?”

“I'm death.”

“So, I am going to die now?”

“I just said that you aren't going to die, silly.”

“I'm not?”

“Well, of course you are. Everybody dies. Just not right now.”

“When will I die?”

“What did your doctor say?”

“You're very intelligent for a little girl.”
“I'm not a little girl! I'm death!” she heaved a very heavy sigh. “Now, what did your doctor say?”

“He said I've got three months to live, tops!”

“So, that's how long you have to live. Will you play with me?”

“Wha- No! I've got better things to do than play with some stupid little girl!” Frank pulled himself up and rested his back against the highway divider.

“I saaaiiiddd I'm not a little girl!”

“So, if you're death, then why the hell are you doing this to me?! I want answers!”

“Hey, don't use curse words! Those are bad.”

“I'll say whatever I damn well please! Now I want to know!”

“Because it's your time.”

“My time? Well, change it!”

“Why?”

“I don't want to die so soon! I want to start a family, maybe get somewhere in life first,” Frank exhaled. “You couldn't- you couldn't wait just a bit more?”

“You would be mad no matter when you died. Nobody wants to die and some people just have to go early,” she pulled a set of jacks out her pocket and started to play.

“Come on, look, little gir- I mean,” he paused to roll his eyes, “death, we can't work something out?”

“No,” she smiled as she managed to pick up three in one toss.

“Please?”

“I don't decide when you die, I just make it happen.”

“So, it's inevitable?”

“Of course it is, silly, death happens to everyone at some point.”

“It's just happening to me early.”

“Yep!” She threw the jacks again for another game.

“So, why should I even bother? I mean, it's all going to be over soon.”

The little girl image of death stopped her game, dropped everything, and then moved to sit in front of Frank. He, again, noticed her missing foot. She looked into his eyes, tilted her head, and asked, “Why are you so sad when you have something that not many people have?”

“What do you mean?”

“I come for everyone and nobody knows when, but you when I'm coming. That's a gift.”

Frank thought that over, “But that doesn't change that I have so little time!”

“I've seen a lot of people like you, Frank. You aren't unique, not really. But you really have two choices. One, you can just roll over and let me come. Most people do that.”

“And the second?”

“You can make the best of it.”

“How do you make the best out of three months tops?”

“That's for you to decide, not me. You do what you want while you stay. I just take you away.”

“So, that's it? Three months?”

“You know your choices.”

Frank looked up the overcast sky and thought that through. His mind was overloaded with all of this. The car crash, dying of cancer, and death talking to him through a little girl- “Hey, uh, death? Why do you look like that?”
“It's one of the people you killed, Frank. Her name was Jenny. She's dead now.”

“I- I killed?”

“Yes, Frank, it's your fault. Poor Jenny only got five years. Perhaps you should appreciate what you have now.”

He slumped, “I will then. I promise.”

The last thing he saw was little death's innocent smile.


It felt like one of those redundant hospital dramas. Frank lay there and he couldn't move, but he could feel himself on a rolling bed as the doctors yammered on about him. It hurt everywhere. But he could feel the pain going away. They must have given morphine or something. Frank struggled to stay awake, but it was soon he remembered his conversation with death. He remembered how death had showed him the girl he had killed.

Little Jenny must have had a family or something. There must have been someone left alive who knew her! Maybe she was in the minivan... who was driving her? Was that person dead too? Frank realized then and there that he needed to atone for what he had done. He needed to atone and then some. As Frank passed away into a medicated sleep, he vowed that he would make the best of his final months.

One of the EMTs pushing him in heard him whisper, “I'll live the last for you, Jenny.”