Thursday, March 31, 2011

week fifty-one: omega

Word of caution: this week's story contains strong language and violence.

Charlie, his son, could not come because he was dead. His wife, Claire, was sick and the journey would tax far too much out of her. That left only person: his college-bound granddaughter, Omega, who had been given her strange name as a result of an overly-artistic mother and father. The trip was to Vietnam to tour some of the battle sights. These sights are places Tim should have been. When drafting began for the war, he answered the call by fleeing to Canada. This is his greatest regret. Decades later, the guilt finally overcame him and Tim at last answered the call to Vietnam.

The first day was nothing but museums and overpriced tourist spots. Where Tim was cathartic and saddened by it all, Omega seemed bored. Was she feigning interest? She asked questions and kept conversation, but Tim knew the truth. Or at he least his supposed truth. He could not know for sure, but this was his impression.

The most memorable museum piece was a dedication to the many prisoners of war. There was a mock-up of a Vietcong prison, the conditions of which appeared absolutely excruciating. When Tim walked inside the small cell, he felt this strange sense of belonging. Tim imagined, in his mind, the poor soldier being stripped naked and shoved into the cell. The cramped conditions were mind-numbing. Tim belonged in there. It should have been him and not the thousands who actually endured these trials. Then again, no one should have to endure such cruelties of the human heart.

Omega was always a smart one. She was given the trip as a graduation present. Tim wished he had just given her money instead. She tried to convince him that she was enjoying spending time with him, but Tim remained unconvinced.

The second day was far more important. After a tiring bus ride, Tim and Omega found themselves in the Vietnamese jungle. They were taken to this spot because it was where a standoff had taken place. Tim pictured it in vivid detail. The Vietcong militia forces holed themselves up in the foliage just before a large, brushy clearing. The United States soldiers crossing the brush suddenly found themselves being gunned down. The Americans had minimal cover and no support. Their lieutenant was first to die. Cut off the head of the snake....

Tim bent over and picked up the shiny thing he saw in the grass. It was a brass shell casing. The markings identified it as 5.56 NATO, meaning that it had come from an American M16 assault rifle. Omega quietly uttered, “You fired that shot.”

After a beat of thought, Tim replied, “I should have fired this shot. It should have been me out here dying.”

“If you had died, where would I be?” Omega asked.

Tim reckoned that her point was valid although flawed. Tim remained convinced that he had done the wrong thing.

His ruminations resumed. The American soldiers reflexively dove to the ground. They shouted, but Tim could not understand them over the gunfire. He could pick out a few expletives, but nothing concrete; no complete sentences or thoughts. Tim knelt in the grass. He wanted to know the experience. And he did... he felt the Vietnamese heat and humidity, smelled the burning of the gunpowder, heard the shouting and booming... his vision was as both a memory and a nightmare.

Suddenly the blasts and screams ceased. One of the dead American soldiers pulled himself up to his feet. He was a young man, no more than twenty. There were two bloody bullet holes on his fatigues and he held an M16 in each hand. The young soldier approached the now-standing Tim and told him, “We could use some supporting fire.”

“I should have been here,” Tim said to the soldier. Omega kept quiet.

“You are here,” the young soldier held out an M16 for Tim to take. “Help us.”

“You're a fiction,” Tim replied. “I can't help you.”

“Why are you here?” Omega asked her grandfather.

“Because this is where I was supposed to be. I ran from here. I ran from duty; from my country. But I'm here. I'm here and I'm sorry. I want to atone.”

“Then atone,” the young soldier insisted. “Atone and take the rifle.”

“I can't,” Tim argued. “If I could back and change things, don't you think I would?”

“The men are dying.”

“The men are dead.”

“Can't you save them?”

“I can't fix the past.”

“So why are you here?” Omega asked.

“Because I have to be,” Tim answered slowly, not quite understanding his own words.

“You're here to do nothing,” the soldier said bluntly. “Some trip.”

“I don't understand it,” Omega added. “Do you, papa?”

“No, I guess I don't.”

“If you can't understand why you're here, then why do you have to understand that you must take this rifle and fight?”

“You- you're right,” Tim stammered as he took the M16. “This is atonement.”

“No, this is duty,” Omega corrected.

Tim nodded as he took aim. It seemed natural to him; as if he had been trained. But he paused; he hesitated.

“Well?” Omega asked impatiently. “Aren't you going to shoot, papa? Aren't you going to kill?”

“It... doesn't feel right.”


“I don't- I don't think I should be doing this.”

The soldier said, “Tim, this is war. You shoot people. Pull the trigger.”

“It's not right.”

“Yes, it is.”

“No, I never shot a gun. I never pulled the trigger. And I never- I never killed.”

“But you regret not doing these things. Do them now; it's your chance.”

Tim lowered his rifle, “No!”

“No? So it's just like before,” Omega scoffed. “Still a coward.”

“I'm no coward!” Anger welled inside. “I don't want to do this. I didn't want to do it then, and I don't want to do it now. So... fuck off!”

“Why the language?” Omega asked innocently. “You told me-”

“Fuck what I said!” Fuck everything I do! It's meaningless! Worthless! I'm a coward; a nothing!”

“Give me back the rifle,” the soldier kept calm. “You don't need it.”

“No,” Tim clenched his teeth.

“If you won't shoot, you don't need a rifle,” the soldier held out his hand. “Give it to me.”

“I said no.”

The bloody soldier reached for the rifle and grabbed the barrel. Tim jerked it away and trained it right at the young man's chest, “You'll shoot me?”

“Stay away!” Tim stepped back.

“Either shoot me or shoot them!”


“Do it, coward!” Omega snarled.


“You're worthless, you-”

Tim opened fire; the soldier's gut burst open in glorious gore. Just as he seemed to want to speak, blood filled his mouth and ran down his chin. The look in his eye was either approval or horrible acceptance. Tim did not know which.

“So that's what you came for?” Omega asked, unfazed by what had just happened.

Tim dropped the rifle, “He's right. I'm worthless. I'm a worthless cowardly traitor. I'm terrible.”

“What happened to atonement?”

“There's no atonement for me-”

“No,” the soldier grunted as he pulled himself back up to his feet. His wounds, and the blood on his mouth, remained, “there's not. There is no atonement. There is no absolution. There is no amnesty. There is no forgiveness The only thing left is punishment; justice.”


“You ran and then shot your own man,” the soldier hammered his words. “This can't be just forgiven. Someone must pay. It's you.”

“No, I- this isn't real.”

“Yes, it is,” Omega argued. “This is reality. Think, papa. Think.”


“What is real?”

Suddenly, images flashed in Tim's mind. He was in the jungle. Night had long fallen, but it was bright. Muzzle flares, explosions, and whizzing bullets illuminated the death-tainted scene. The brave fell, but the cowards remained. The true gave their lives, the false hid away. Tim hid behind a great tree, clutching his rifle. Next to him was Billy Conklin, one of his friends. There was an untold number of Vietcong just a few dozen yards away. Conklin popped in and out of cover, taking shots at his enemies. But Tim hid.

Tim sweat and panicked. He gripped his rifle tightly with wide-open eyes. He shook; mortified of the sudden death all around. He did not shoot or fight. He hid.

“Hey, Tim, the hell are you doing?” Conklin asked. “You gotta shoot, man!”

Tim froze.

“Tim,” Conklin shook him. “Man! We could use some support fire! We're in a war here! Help us out!”

Tim looked square into Billy Conklin's eyes. He swallowed, sweat, and trembled. A blast shook the earth beneath him. That was enough. Tim pushed Billy Conklin away and then bolted into the jungle. He just ran. Where? Fuck where.

Tim ran until he could take no more, until the horror was far away; until the flashing lights faded to the heart of darkness. He panted and struggled to keep his footing. When the fatigue subsided, Tim felt suddenly so alone. But he was safe. He found a large rock and sat down upon it. The blasts and death were both far off; no more than a distant whisper. Tim did not yet feel guilt.

Over him was the starry Vietnamese sky. It had been far too long since he had just... looked to the stars. There is no beauty in war. Tim wanted to believe that he had left the war. War... what war? Nevermind the uniform, nevermind the rifle. Damn the rifle lest it damn you.

Billy Conklin suddenly limped out from the jungle. Tim stood. Conklin was bloody, two bullet holes in his fatigues. Tim dropped his rifle and ran over to his friend, “Oh, God, Billy, what happened?”

“The hell do you mean, 'what happened'? You happened, you bastard! You bastard you pushed me out of cover and right into enemy! You bastard! You fucking bastard!”

“I'm sorry! I don't- I don't know what I was think-”

Conklin picked up Tim's rifle and held it out, “Take your rifle and let's go support our platoon!”

Tim laughed uneasily, “You- you think I'm going back there? Hell no.”

“Tim, you can still atone. If you go back, I won't say nothin' to the sarge. Come on!”


“You ran.”

“I'm not going back there,” Tim took the rifle. “Stay with me, man.”

“No, Tim, I'm gonna do my duty. You should too.”

“No way.”

“If you don't come,” Conklin winced in pain. “I will report you.”

Tim trained his rifle on Conklin, “I can't let you do that! They'll kill me.”

“Come with me.”


“So, what, you're gonna shoot me? No, you won't,” Conklin shook his head. The sun slowly crept over the horizon. “You won't shoot me. I'm going. Come with me or don't. Make up your-”

Tim opened fire. The soldier's gut suddenly burst open in glorious gore. Without saying a word, Conklin dropped to his knees. Just as he seemed to want to speak, blood filled his mouth and ran down his chin. The look in his eye was neither approval nor horrible acceptance, but of betrayal. Tim knew instantly what he had one.

He stumbled back to the rock and sat. He the sun continued its rise, Tim realized his regret; his crime. Omega came from behind him and walked over to where the murder had happened. She scanned the grass and retrieved the shell casing. Tim only watched she approached and said quietly, “You fired this shot.”

“It should have been me. I should be the one dying.”

She sat beside him and put her hand on his, “You will, papa. You will die.”

“It's what I deserve.”

“There's nothing left to be done. Nothing left but to accept. Accept what you deserve, accept what will happen.”

“Yeah,” Tim sighed. “I never grew old, did I?”

“No, papa,” Omega answered remorsefully. “Your life ended early.”

“So, you,” Tim swallowed, “aren't real?”

“What is real?”

“I never had a granddaughter.”

“No, you never had a granddaughter. You never married. You've never even seen Canada,” Omega let go of his hand. “Stand up.”

Tim did as he was told, “What happens now?”

She pulled his hands behind his back and started to bind them together, “Close your eyes.”

“Talk to me! What happens now?” Tim trembled as his eyes watered. He squinted them shut. “Talk to me!”

The knot tightened. Tim suddenly found his arms to be wrapped around a wooden pole. Omega gently touched his arm, “It's time.”

“No, wait,” Tim opened his eyes to find only darkness. Something covered his face. “I'll take the rifle! I'll fight! I'll do my duty!”

“Present... arms!”

Omega whispered into his ear, “Papa, this is nothing for you to do but accept. Don't resist. Accept.”

“I'm sorry- I'll go back! I'll kill!”

“Take aim!”

Omega whispered, “Hush, papa. Make peace. Hush and die quietly. This is the end.”

Tim pleaded, “No! Stop! I'm sorry-”


The rifles raged, spitting deathly lead. Tim felt his chest pierced, his bones shattered. Blood trickled down his chest. He winced in horrific pain and his body fell limp.

The black veil was pulled over his head. He saw Omega once again. She put her hand on his cheek and quietly said, “Rest in peace, papa. It's over. It's all over.”

Time looked into her eyes, “I could have had you. I could have had a son and then a granddaughter- I-...”

“Hush,” she whispered. “Say goodbye. Don't wish for more, don't hope for better. This is the end.”

“You- you're an angel, aren't you?”

“Goodbye, papa,” Omega removed her hand and turned away. Tim watched as she walked away, leaving him behind.

“Please! Don't go!”

She stopped and turned around, “I must leave. It is time.”

“Just-” he coughed. “Just tell me what you are.”

Omega returned and whispered, “I am that which haunts your every nightmare. I am the common thread which binds every man, woman, and child. I am the shadowed specter of every end and the inevitable result of every mean. I am the darkness which ends all tragedy. I am the final act. I am Romeo's poison and Juliet's dagger. I am the setting sun; the darkening of stars. I am the assassin's gift. I am life's antithesis. I am Omega.”

As Omega stood and walked away once again, Tim finally understood. She was death. He watched as she faded away into the distance of eternity. Tim took his last breath. It was not laborious or painful. In fact, there was nothing to it whatsoever. Sensation, particularly pain, had long subsided. Feeling, however, remained, but not in the physical sense. Tim felt two things: peace and acceptance. It was the same as reaching the end of a novel. All of the chapters are over; there is nothing left but to turn the page.

And so he did....

Friday, March 25, 2011

week fifty: the adventures of humphrey holdsworth and richard aldwinkle: dolores

Readers, this week's story takes place within the same universe as "Durchfall" and "Christmas With Mr. Cody." I recommend reading those first, but it's not one-hundred percent necessary. Without further ado, this is the third of The Adventures of Humphrey Holdsworth and Richard Aldwinkle... although, this one is more like The Adventures of Dolores. Let's not get hung up on semantics. Please, enjoy! Make mean, snide remarks in the comments section. Or exalt me with praise. Your choice!

I suppose if there were ever a time for me to tell you about myself, it would be now. Why don't we start with what you do know? My name is Dolores Anne Catherine Travers Holdsworth. I am married to Humphrey Howard Holdsworth and we have one son, Simon Travers Holdsworth. We live together in London, where we are constantly pestered by Humphrey's lifelong best friend, Richard Thompson Aldwinkle. It is a good life. You know this.

But there is much you do not know; an entire lifetime of experiences, passions, haps, mishaps, and happenstances. For instance, do you where I came from? Or on what crossroads I have taken to arrive at this one? There are many. But the most important involves Humphrey, an absent Richard, a sprained ankle, and a departing train.

I was born and raised on the English countryside in Worcestershire near Redditch. We weren't farmers or anything, no, we we lived there because father preferred the solitude or a large country home. He had been raised in London, but hated the city. So after completing his schooling, he sold everything he could and bought a small country cottage. Once he found work, he thought he had it all....

Until he met Miss Stephanie Clark, an American woman from Georgia; the most beautiful he had ever seen. She had always dreamed of going to England and after being fed up with her three years at Princeton she took the semester off and pursued her fantasy. She met my father at the side of the road. That junker car she had purchased finally met its end. Father was bicycling down the road and saw the helpless beauty. He took her home and helped with her car problems. She was all set to leave and resume her tour... but she did not.

And within a few months... they were married. Years later, their only child, Dolores Travers, was born. Shortly after my birth, mother was advised never again to have children. For a very long time, I resented this. I wanted a sister. Living in the country can be terribly lonely. I would have taken a bother, but no quite so happily.

I had a good childhood. My best friends growing up were my pets. When we adopted him, he was a lanky kitten we named Bones. Within a few months, however, we were forced to rename Bones. You see, Bones became a very, very fat cat. We renamed him Tubbs. When Tubs passed, we tried a dog we should not have named Philip. Father ran over poor Philip, which turned out to be fortunate because we are, and forever shall be, cat people. Our next cat was the prissiest creature on God's green earth. We named him Sparkles. Sparkles was, in fact, gay. I do not mean that in ye olde English way, nay, I mean that we had a quite homosexual cat. It was quite ridiculous because he liked all men, not only other male cats. When came winter time, I knitted Sparkles a purple scarf so that he could accessorize and look, dare I say, fabulous. The other curious about Sparkles was that he was magic. He had a strange tendency to appear in the strangest of places, almost as if he had achieved the power of teleportation. Legend spread across England of Sparkles the magic gay cat.

Sparkles lives to this day. He is thirty-two years old. I told you he was magic.

Upon being booted from the nest, I left the countryside. I had been to London a few times before and loved it. I love the closeness of everything. I love the people. I love the variety. I love sitting outside a cafe and watching people. I also love arguing with them.

As a girl, I was a master at arguing. People found difficulty in liking a pretentious little snot such as myself because I question everything. And then I developed my taste for biting sarcasm much sooner than average. Naturally, my purpose in moving to London was to argue with more people and therefore I chose enroll in a law school to learn proper argument. Of course, the thing I needed to leanr was how to argue without scathing sarcasm. It turns out that legitimate arguments require substance. Who knew?

Once every month, I would board a train and head home. It was always a highlight of my month because home was the place where I was truly loved. I had friends, yes, but it was not easy to forgive my Venus Flytrap nature. To put it simply, I was lonely. Beneath my quite fierce being was a very sensitive girl. I had trouble finding love. There was no man in my life.

Buy my parents knew this. They had found a nice man who would be waiting to pick me up at the train station in Redditch. His name was Charles, I believe, but I may be wrong. I never met him.

It was a damp, fall London afternoon and the train station was not crowded. It was 2:26 and my train was to depart at 2:30. Needless to say, I was in a hurry. I rushed through the station and failed to noitce the puddle on the florr of the platform, which proceeded to trip me, snap the high of my shoe, twist my ankle, and knock me flat on arse. It was at 2:29 when I realized that the contents of my bag had spread themselves all which ways. Without getting up, I crawled around on my knees trying desperately to get everything in order.

It was at 2:30 when I grabbed what I had, forced myself to my feet, and collapsed in pain just as my train departed. Everything, all at once, went wrong. As I fell, I could only thinkg about how much of a tosser life was being at the moment. Apparently, I was not destined for that train. Apparently, I was not destined to fall in love with Charles. Apparently, I was destined to suddenly find myself caught in the arms of a strange man.

He was nothing spectacular. His brown hair was in a perfect state of dull and his icicle blue eyes were hidden behind rounded thin-rimmed spectacles. He wore a poor academic suit, but he did wear it well. I looked into his eyes in that moment and saw both bravery and concern. I should have been impressed and thanked him. However, my wonderful nature answered instead, “You just get spat out of Cambridge?”

“Oxford, actually,” he kept a warm smile as he lead me to the nearest bench. “Took a bit of a nasty spill there.”

“I know,” I grumbled flatly. My ankle really hurt like all hell.

The man got down on his knees and took a look at my ankle. “I'm no doctor, but I don't think it's broken.” Still on his knees, he picked up the rest of my things and put them in my bag. “Prop up your leg,” he told me. “I'll go and fetch you some ice.”

As he left, I stopped him, “Wait, what is your name?” I'm not sure why I asked, to be honest. I didn't care about him; not yet. In all of my memory, I should not have asked. It simply does not compute. I was in pain and wanted to take it all out on the man helping me. It doesn't make sense, I know, but this is how it happened.

“Humphrey,” he said turning back as he walked away. As he left, I cam eot realize how shrewd I had been. Sometimes, and I am better at this now than I was, I am able to step back and see how may attitude affects otehrs. Here was this man trying to help me and here I was being a total arse. Did I change? Well....

Humphrey came back carrying a bag of ice and said, “The cafe was too kind.” He handed it to me and I applied to my sprain.

“Thank you,” a good side crept out.

“Where were you off to?” Humphrey asked as he sat down beside me.

“Home, over near Redditch,” I replied without looking at him.

“So, what brings you to London?”

This time I looked him in the eye, “I'm studying law... I have a knack for argument.”

“Is that so,” he smiled.

“What about you? Haven't you got someplace better to be?”

“Better?” He laughed. “Well, no, I've been here for the last four hours awaiting my best friend, Richard, but he's nowhere to be found. We were supposed to meet here and catch a train together, but that's obviously not happening. But none of that could be better than this.”

“How so?” I asked slowly as I cocked an eyebrow.

“A lot of men I know would dream about catching a beautiful damsel in distress-”

“Damsel in distress?”

“Well, yes, you fell and-”

“And then?”

“I helped you.”

“You suppose I needed your help?”

He squirmed, “Well, I don't suppose so, but I don't quite see you getting yourself serviceable in quite such a snappy turnaround.”

He had me there. And then I briefly wondered why I had been opposed to being a damsel in distress. Perhaps it was my argumentative stubbornness, but I had honestly dreamed of being rescued by a knight in shining armor in a situation such as this. The most likely reason for my fighting, however, was because I had not expected my knight to be a dork in a cheap suit. “I suppose you're right,” I admitted after a long pause. “Thank you.”

“Well, what's your name, damsel?”

“Don't push it,” I said, but decided to push back my attitude. “Dolores.”

“Your name is Dolores, you're studying law, and you're off to home in Worcestershire,” Humphrey recalled. “Is it nice there?”

“Beautiful. Rolling hills and greens. It's fall, so it's orange and yellow, of course. I couldn't describe it without doing it injustice.”


I thought over that for a moment and came to the conclusion that it was best put by someone else, “When the voices of children are heard on the green
And laughing is heard on the hill,
My heart is at rest within my breast
And everything else is still.”

“Who wrote that? It sounds familiar....”

“William Blake. My favorite.”

Humphrey chuckled, “He's a class act section eight.”

“Yes, but... I love him.”

“I'm partial to Eliot.”

“That ol' plagiarist?”

Humphrey sighed, “Yes, yes, the ol' plagiarist.”

I laughed, “He made the stuff he stole better.”

“What is it about Blake that appeals to you anyway?”

“Both cruelty and compassion have human hearts. I enjoy his sense of duality, how he reconciles the world in such a ridiculous romantic fashion, yet manages to find beauty in all of it, even the bad parts.”

Cheeks red as plums, he said, “I found beauty in something bad.”

I knew I was beautiful. I had the looks. Men had stared at me and probably even lusted. The problem is my prickly personality. I like to think that I'm better today, but the better part of me insists that I haven't really changed. I'll let you decide. “You're a dork,” I said with my charming smile.

He chuckled, “Well, the next train comes soon... I ought to get you a ticket.”

Humphrey stood and started on his way to the ticket office. As he went, I suddenly shouted to him, “Buy two!”

“Who?” He turned and asked. “For what?”

“You're coming with me.”

Humphrey thought this over and grinned, “Alright, two it is!”

I don't remember exactly what I was thinking when I told Humphrey to get a ticket for himself. I know I wasn't thinking about how awkward it was about to be for me to bring a strange man home to my parents. I know I wasn't thinking about poor Charles. I know I wasn't thinking about Richard. It was spontaneous. I don't think I even expected it. I do know that I have never regretted it.

Humphrey came home with me. It turns out that Charles had chickened out. My parents were ready to console me for the lack of Charles, but instead found themselves shocked. I told them the story and I don't think that helped with the surprise, but they fell in love with Humphrey (even before I did.) He is smart, hard-working, and loving. Yes, he is dork, but he's my dork in shining armor.

It was about a year and a half later that Humphrey and I married. I dropped out of law school and took a job as a legal assistant in order to support Humphrey as he finished his Oxford education. I kept the same job for over twenty years. Humphrey's career began with some struggle as it was my salary that sustained us for the longest time. But we made it. I would not have it any other way.

Of course, I've left out a very important detail and this is Mister Richard Thompson Aldwinkle. Summarizing Richard is difficult, as is Humphrey relationship to him. They met in their very first day of their schooling and rapidly became completely inseparable. Humphrey was a shy, scared, but incredibly intelligent boy with enough brains for the both of them. Richard was a fearless, daring, mule of a boy with the mind of a pigeon. Their relationship was symbiotic. Richard stood up for Humphrey, and Humphrey did all their thinking. Of course, it was Richard who got them in trouble, but Humphrey took the brunt of the punishment because obviously is not smart enough to come up with their antics on his own. Usually it was Humphrey who simply went along for the ride. Now, I say Richard is unintelligent, but I only that in one way. He is not school smart, he is street smart. He is clever and quite the wise-ass.

How clever? Richard Aldwinkle is clever enough that he manged to get himself into Oxford despite having no qualification whatsoever. His only reason for going was, of course, Humphrey. Richard rode of Humphrey's success for his entire life. It really is quite impressive, but it's also quite annoying.

And that is Richard Thompson Aldwinkle to me: annoying. He is the eternal third wheel. Even after marrying that woman of a reptile, Delilah, Richard still leeched off of us. When Humphrey and I were dating, and even engaged, either Humphrey was smart enough to push Richard away or I was too stupid to figure it out; I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Had I known, would things be different? Would I have walked away?

Absolutely not. My life is a great one. Richard is frustrating and obnoxious, but the after-effect of Richard's blunders is always a good laugh or at least a decent story. Add to that, Humphrey would be miserable without Richard. Given the choice, Humphrey would pick me, but I wouldn't want Humphrey without Richard. Let me explain.

I am hard-arsed. I argue and I am demanding and I am sarcastic. I am assertive and I am stubborn. Humphrey is kind, bashful, quiet, and lenient. I lead Humphrey to get the most out of his intellect. I push him. The problem with Dolores Holdsworth is that I can be too structured, too unfun. I get things done, but I can be stressful. Richard is the opposite. He pushes Humphrey to the fun, passionate side of life. Humphrey, I propose, needs both of us. Without me, Humphrey is pure potential, but without Richard, his life would be quite dull.

Without Humphrey, Richard and I would be as far apart as grey from shine. But that's not the case. Instead, the most mysterious, interesting, and baffling dynamic exists. I would study it if I were not in it.

The final piece to this equation is our son, Simon, who manages to embody characteristics of all three of us, namely, and sadly, Richard. For some reason, Simon took a liking to my bafoonish nemesis. These two pull more pranks than a Canterbury to a Keenan (or a Halpert to a Schrute, as ya'll yanks might say.) And they're very good at it. They once released five mice into Humphrey's study and numbered the mice 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6. He nearly went mad trying to find number five. Or there was the time Humphrey was put through a rotten Easter egg hunt. There's no shortage of vile ingenuity in those two. I just wish they could use their powers for good....

This is the life of Dolores Anne Catherine Travers Holdsworth. It is a very good life. It has its ups and it has its downs. There is no other life for Dolores. She is very grateful for what she has been given. I wish that very much for everyone else in the world.

Friday, March 18, 2011

week forty-nine: homeless

The day had started normally enough. People went on with their stuff and didn't pay me any attention whatsoever. And I'm fine with that; in fact, I'm better fine. But sometimes it hurts. Sometimes I have to see things I don't want to see. Like that day. I watched as a young man was pulled into my alleyway by two other, bigger men. The young man must have been about eighteen or nineteen; looked like a college student. They pulled him into my alley and it was the bigger of the two, a bald black man, who slugged his fist into the student's gut. And then they took turns. They took turns beating their prey, one punch after the other. Blood spilled from his mouth and then his nose. I watched as his face tore. They slammed everything into him before the student fell to the ground, clutching himself in pain. The thieves took the kid's wallet, opened it, took the five dollar bill inside, and ran for it.

And that was that.

I didn't do a thing; I just watched. That's what I do. And what would I have done anyway? There was nothing I could have done. I'm just a frail, thin, old man. I have nothing and I could do nothing. Look down into your lap. I'll bet something's covering your legs that's less than a year old. Same thing with your shirt; it's probably good as new. I can't afford that. I've been wearing the same thing for more than twenty years now: the same coat, the same scarf, the same shirt, the same pants.... all of it the same; all of it dirty and scarred.

Or look where you are right now. Look above your head. There's a roof, isn't there? Or look around and there are walls. I don't even have that; I can't afford it. I live in a couple of boxes I duct-taped together. It isn't warm and it isn't comfortable.

And you're in one of two places, I'm betting. You're either full because it wasn't long ago that you've eaten or you're thinking about what you're going to eat next. I can't do that. I can only pray to God that I'll have food. Most days I get something or another, but some days I go without eating.

Get up. That's right, stand up right now. Go take a piss and then wash your hands. Go on, do it. Flush your toilet and hide the smell. You can do that; I can't. I pee on the wall and take my craps in a dumpster. That's just how my life rolls.

Now put yourself in my shoes. You have nothing, so what can you do but sit there and watch? You're probably thinking that since I had nothing to lose; I should have acted. But that's just it: I had everything to lose. All I had was my life. I didn't even have my dignity at that point. Just admit it, there are things you wouldn't risk no matter what. Well, my life is all I've got. So that's my thing. If you were in my spot, you'd understand. I don't think you can now, but just pretend you do.

I wasn't always a bum an an alleyway. In fact, I used to be somebody. I used to sit behind a desk and crunch numbers for a big shot company in Boston. They had me on the career track for maybe one day calling all the shots too. I could have been CEO one day. I could have made the big bucks and provided everything in the world for my family. Yeah, I was a family man too. I had a wife and a daughter. I loved them both so much.

Everything was going great. Everything kept slowly getting bigger and better too. I was getting promotions, buying bigger houses, getting nicer houses.... the works. But life is like a rubber band. If you keep pulling on it, you keep stretching it, then it will eventually snap. Needless to say, my life snapped.

I was an ambitious guy. I worked very hard at my job and I would have done anything to get ahead. So, you know what I did? I curbed my numbers. I would do a little rounding up, you know, to make myself look better. But I would also curb down everyone else's numbers. I looked great and everyone else looked bad. Saddest part is, I didn't even need to bump my numbers; I was doing great. But I did it anyway. Someone on the lower rungs noticed and they started an investigation. Believe it or not, I was looking at jail time.

But my boss was a good man. When he found out about the whole thing, he told me that if I turned in the slip, I could go. I did, of course.

How do you tell your family that just screwed everything up? You can't. I couldn't.

I didn't have to.

My wife was humping our neighbor. I came home a few hours early that day and I found her in my bed. I opened the door and saw it all. She jumped out of the bed and ran at me, trying to explain it or something. I didn't listen and I didn't care. I stormed down the stairs, wife chasing me the whole the way. She was screaming. But I didn't care at all. I jumped into the Buick. She was still trying her best to get me to stop. I didn't say a word.

I pulled out and watched as she cried.

Suddenly, my daughter, Jeannie came out the front door. She was nine when this all happened. I saw the shocked, confused look on her little face. How could I look into her eyes as I left her completely? How could I look at her and at the same time, abandon her to my whore wife? I don't know, but I did it. I never saw my family again after that.

Twenty years later, I'm living in a box in New York City. I sold the Buick and hoped to get my life working somehow, but it just... didn't happen. Everything slid down the slippery slope of hell.

And as I said, that day had started normally enough. I watched that kid get mugged about eight in the morning and fifteen minutes later, the skies burst with rain. It really came down and there was no warning for it. I don't care about being wet, and I didn't then, but my house can't take much. I worked hard to try and save it. Usually, I would pick it up and move it someplace where it won't get wet. I picked up my boxes and tried to move it over behind the dumpster, but I slipped. The boxes flew through the and fell into a puddle. The duct tape lost its stick and my house tore in half.

I sat there on the soaking ground just staring at it. It was just a pair of boxes, but they meant something to me. And just like that, they were gone. I worried because I no longer had a place to live. But it didn't faze me that much. I mean, I've had nothing for too long to let that hit me. And I knew that I'd have to worry about that later when it wasn't raining. So I came out of my alleyway and stood underneath the awning in front of Mr. O'Leary's, an Irish pub. It wasn't much more than dry.

But suddenly, a fat red-head came out the front and stammered, “Hey, you stupid piece of a lunt! You think I want ya standin' there turnin' away my business? Get! Go on, get out of here! No one wants ye!”

I didn't even bother arguing, I just started walking. I didn't go back to my alleyway, I just walked down the street. I passed a whole mess of a people. Most of them had umbrellas and the ones who didn't were trying their best to make it out of the falling rain. Not me though... No umbrella, no care. I just walked. Maybe if I got wet enough, I wouldn't smell as bad. There's always a bright side, isn't there?

I didn't see it. I just saw that I had a broken house and I was soaking wet with nothing I could do about it. The rain, to me, is a terrible thing. It completely ruined my day, more so than watching a guy get mugged even.

But there are some who would tell you how much they love the rain. I saw one such person on the side of the road. It was a kid, probably about five years old. He was dressed in a raincoat and rain boots; perfectly ready to take on the watery world. The kid was by himself; by himself with a puddle. He jumped from the curb and into the water over and over again. I stopped in the swarming drizzle and just watched him having fun. Sometimes he seemed to be trying to jump over the puddle, sometimes he just seemed to want to get wet. It didn't matter though; he was having the time of his life.

I envied him so much. The rain, as I saw it, is a terrible thing. But to this kid? It's bliss; total bliss. Seeing his boot-wrapped feet hit the water and slosh the world around him captivated me somehow. It was almost enough to make not say what I did, but there was something about this kid that made responsibility step in. I said to him, “Hey! Kid! You shouldn't jump in puddles like that!”

He completely ignored me.

“Kid!” I shouted louder.

He stopped, came onto the sidewalk and looked up at me without saying a thing.

“You shouldn't jump around in puddles like that, you're getting yourself all wet. What would your mother say?”

“My momma's gone.”


“I'm lost, mister.”

“You're lost?”

“Yeah, my momma's just gone. So I'm lost.”

“You don't know where she is?”

“Nope,” he turned away from me and went right back to the puddle.

“Don't you want to find her?”


His answer surprised me, but I quickly realized that he just wanted to be in his puddle. I was actually just about to give up, but decided to press on anyway, “I think you should come with me; I'll help you find her.”

“No,” he jumped right into the water. “I want to be here.”

“Hey, kid, come on, fun time's over,” I held his arm. I wasn't going to force him or hurt him or anything. I just wanted to help. “Let's go find your mother.”

“I said I don't want to go,” the kid jerked himself away, but I held on. “Hey! Let me go!”

“Kid, you need to-”

“Hey!” A third voice called. “Get off him!”

I turned around and saw a police officer running my way. I answered without letting go, “I'm trying to-”

“I said let the kid go, you filthy hobo.”

“Officer, hey, look, I-”

The policeman grabbed me and threw me to the ground, “You do what a police officer tells you! Now, get out of here!”

“Jeez, officer, will you please just listen to me?”

And then a woman came running over. There was something about her... “Officer! Officer! That's my son!”

“This your son, ma'am?”

“Yes! Kyle! What are you doing?”

“It's a good thing you got here when you did, this hobo was about to take him off to-”

“I was not!” I snarled as I came back up to my feet.

The policeman drew his nightstick, “Sir, you stay back!”

“Dammit, why won't you listen to me!”

The policeman raised his stick and was about to smack me, but the woman cut in, “Officer, wait! Let's hear what he has to say!”

“Thank you,” I said. And then it hit me. The woman... the kid's mom... she reminded me of my wife. I mean, she was too young to be her, but I could see it. “I saw the kid out here in the rain and I wanted to help him find you. I didn't mean any harm-”

“I don't believe it,” the policeman rolled his eyes.

“Thank you,” the mother said. I wasn't sure if she was talking to me or the policeman.

“I'm just gonna go,” I said as I turned to leave. I know I'm not wanted. I don't think I ever was.

“Good, go on-”

“Wait, sir!” the man rushed up behind me and grabbed my shoulder. She startled me.

“Yeah?” I shook. I wanted out of that rain. I was soaked and started to get real cold. But... I looked into her eyes. There was something there that I hadn't seen in years. I couldn't place it though.

“What's- what's your name, sir?” the woman asked sincerely. I wasn't sure what she wanted then. Maybe she wanted to return the favor. Maybe she thought she could help me. I didn't know.

“Walter,” I replied. “Walter Jackson.”

“Walter Jackson,” she whispered to herself and mulled it over in her mind. And then it was if a little lightbulb lit up above her head, “Dad?”

“Jeannie?” My eyes shot open wide. Dear God, it was her. That's what I saw... my God. “Jeannie!”

“Dad,” she said as she wrapped her arms around me; the filth. I didn't want to embrace her. Not for my own sake, but hers. I didn't want to get her all dirty and grimy. I was horrible... but I did it anyway. I held my daughter again. How many years had it been? I don't know. But she was all grown up. She had a kid... I had a grandson.

“Jeannie I- I'm so sorry,” I started to cry.

“Dad,” Jeannie let go of me. “You don't have to be. It's been too long to stay mad... I barely even remember you.”

“There's not anything worth remembering. I was worse than a bad father. I was a nonexistent one.”

“Is everything okay here?” The policeman asked.

“Yes, it is, officer,” Jeannie told him.

“I'll be over on the corner if you need something,” he said as he left.

“Dad, have you been living on the street the whole time?”

“Yeah, yeah, I have....”

“Oh, daddy, there's so much I need to tell you... some much- Dad... mom... she's gone.”

She was already dead to me, but I said, “That's too bad.”

“Hey, this is a pretty terrible place to catch up,” she said as the rain started to subside. “Why don't you come back with me to my house and we'll get you cleaned up?”

“I haven't been clean since... well, I don't know.”

“Oh! Wait!” She suddenly beamed. “This is Clark! He's your grandson!”

He looked up at me and put his finger in his mouth. I could tell he was too shy to say anything. Maybe he had no idea what was happening. “He's a cute kid. Got an attitude like you used to have.”

She chuckled, “Well, let's get you home. My car's down the block.”

I very briefly considered turning her down. I very briefly considered refusing and heading right back to my alley. It was all I knew. Leaving that was scary to me. It was just like my first few nights on the street: horrifying. But... I knew that wasn't the right call, “Okay. Let's go.”

And that's how my life turned around. That was the most unusual day of my life. It was also the very best one. It was rocky getting started at a new life. I was never able to hold down a job. Keeping myself clean was something I had a hard time adapting to. Just being in a better place meant bigger responsibility and I was used to none. But.... I would have it no other way. Is life perfect now? No. Can life be better? Sure. Do I want it any other way? Nope.

Friday, March 11, 2011

week forty-eight: the montcalm incident (part 3)

Nearly an hour had passed since the Montcalm had entered the asteroid field. Once deep enough to where they were certain that the two remaining French battlecruisers had lost them, they stopped the ship in order to try and get repair operations initiated. Things were not looking up. The hull breaches were simply too large to repair, especially with magnetic asteroids attaching themselves to the ship at random intervals. The point defense cannons had been brought online, the shield systems were working, and other means were being used, but there was simply no 100% efficient way of repelling them. Fortunately, only the smallest made it through. Most of these barely classified as meteors.

Halsey's mind was occupied with watching the viewscreen. They had managed to get a telescopically-zoomed view of the area around Nashville Station. Both French battlecruisers were occupied with destroying Nashville Station. Halsey had expected Lieutenant Commander Evans to try and ward them off, but he seemed bright enough to know when to quit. Still, he proved his courage. She could see the Johnston orbiting the wreckage of the Saratoga. Halsey assumed that they were trying to find survivors. The French seemed to have no problem with this. They were not monsters after all.

“Admiral Halsey?” Commander Leon approached the command chair. This was the first time he had spoken directly to her. “I am sorry to report that the repairs to the hull could take days. We do not have the tools or the manpower necessary for us to finish on time.”

“Then we need a new plan,” Mack said.

“Agreed,” Halsey replied. “It's only a matter of time before-”

“Admiral!” Fierre exclaimed. “Look!”

Halsey looked up the viewscreen to see Nashville Station exploding. There were at least a hundred servicemen aboard that station. At least a hundred good men.... Halsey steeled herself. If not the destruction of the Saratoga, the destruction of Nashville would not have even phased her. Unfortunately, she was partially emotionally compromised and she knew it. She would have to take extra caution not to let it get the better of her. Or, worst of all, let Mack see it.

Of the commando unit, only Mack was left on the bridge. The others had gone below decks to try and help with repairs. Mack grunted, “With Nashville gone, we'll be their next priority.”

“They will find us,” Fierre said. “There is no doubt.”

“There's no way we can get repairs done in time?” Halsey asked.

“I do not think so,” Leon said.

“Admiral, the Bonaparte has stopped outside of the asteroid field, while the Turenne is coming in. They're using sensor pings to try and locate us,” Fierre reported.

“It's inevitable,” Leon told her.

“Fire up the engines,” Halsey ordered. “Let's get moving.”

Fierre started to sweat, “And go where?”

“Away,” Halsey answered bluntly. “We can't risk being captured.”

Fierre had gone over everything in his mind. The worst case scenario to him was giving up to the Americans. He was far too loyal to France to allow that. The best case was that he could somehow recapture his ship and escape, but that seemed impossible. So, what was left? Get captured by his compatriots. “Admiral, perhaps we should consider surrender.”
“That's just like you Frenchies, ain't it?” Hank grunted.

Fierre continued, “I am sure my countrymen would be more than gracious to you-”

“Captain Fierre, I won't hear it,” Halsey insisted. “There is no debate. We will not surrender.”

“Admiral!” Leon suddenly exclaimed. “They've pinged us! The Turenne has us and they're changing course to intercept!”

“You're sure?”

“There is no doubt,” Leon answered. “None whatsoever.”

“Well, we can't outrun them,” Halsey sighed. “We need other options.”

“We can't fight 'em,” Mack said.

“What about these asteroids? Is there some way we could use them against the Turenne?”

Leon thought it over and then answered, “Yes! We could modify one our missiles with some of the magnetic grappling equipment we have in the cargo bay and then launch it at the Turenne! The asteroids will follow the missile at rapid speeds and collide with the Turenne!”

“You would destroy our countrymen, Leon?”

Leon did not answer.

“Do it!” Halsey told the commander. “Get that missile ready and in the meantime, continue evasive maneuvers!”

Leon worked furiously at his console to put in the orders. It probably would not take long to attach industrial-strength magnets to the warhead socket, but then again there was no telling. Had this been before? Who knows. And really, who cares?

Leon said, “With the sensors nonfunctional, there is no telling how long it will take before the Turenne is in firing range. This likely depends on the confidence level of their tactical officer.”

“Let's hope he's a total pussy,” Mack laughed.

As a mother, Halsey wanted to slap him for that joke. As an admiral, however, she had no time to scold him and bluntly stated, “Agreed.”

Fierre stood and walked to the other side of the room.

“They are gaining ground,” Leon said. “Our engines are still in no shape to outrun them.”

“Give it all you got, commander,” Halsey ordered confidently.

“That is not much, admiral,” Leon actually uttered a semblance of a smile.

Suddenly, Fierre barked, “Drop your weapon!” Everyone turned to find him standing behind Mack with a pistol drawn. Mack, without a hint of fear or worry, did as he was told.

“Captain Fierre,” Halsey said, “You don't want to do this.”

“Shutup!” Fierre shouted. “You will all take orders from me now! Leon, take this man's weapon and help me secure them.”

Leon did as he was told. He walked over to where Mack was standing and picked up his S&W MARS.

“Fierre, you're making the wrong call,” Halsey told him again. “Mack's boys will be back up here soon and they'll kick your a-”

“I said shutup!” Fierre cried. “Leon! All stop on the engines! Send out a surrender to-”

“Leon, you need to make a choice right now,” Halsey said firmly. “You know you're captain's making the wrong one. You know how the American government would treat you. Now, think about how the French government will treat a traitor like yourself. What's the punishment for treason? Are you willing to go through with that?”

Leon said nothing.

“So you are?” Halsey kept going.

“Stop talking or I will shoot him!” Fierre cried as he kept his gun trained on Mack.

“What about the hundreds of men below decks? You're willing to throw their lives away?”

“You have three seconds! One!”

Leon pursed his lips. Halsey said, “Decide now, Leon!”


Leon scowled. And then made his choice.



Mack was surprised as anyone when he felt the warmth of blood spatter all over his neck. More surprising to him, however, was that it was not his own blood. He quickly wheeled around to find Fierre with a hole drilled through his head. The French captain fell to his knees and finally the floor. In his last waning seconds, he looked at Leon in disgust.

Leon dropped the rifle. “I- I killed him.”

“You did what you had to,” Halsey assured him.

“Can you still work?”

“Yes, yes, I will do what I can,” Leon shook his head, trying to look away from his dead captain whose eyes were still trained to him. He returned to his console and reported, “Madame, our magnetic missile has been loaded and is ready for launch.”

“Get a nice, clean firing solution and let those bastards have it,” Halsey ordered as she crossed her legs tightly. She regretted calling the French “bastards,” which was especially insensitive towards Leon. Either way, she was sure he understood. He seemed like the reasonable type. And it was in that brief second that Halsey came to wonder how exactly Fierre had gotten himself in command. He seemed horribly incompetent.

“Ready to fire on your mark.”

“Fire!” Halsey ordered as she stood.

Leon hit the magic red button. Since the viewscreen was still out, they all had to watch the visual monitors as their missile flew. The fascinating aspect was that it was working. Asteroids started following it like bees to honey. Even the larger ones changed direction. In the event that the missile somehow missed, there was no way that this flurry of asteroids could somehow all miss. And indeed, they did not. The missile itself stuck to the Turenne and a flurry of asteroids big and small followed.

At first it was mere bumps and shoves knocking the massive starship off course, but explosions followed. The once-lit and once-illustrious battlecruiser darkened and died. The haphazard crew of the Montcalm watched with amazement as their foe was defeated. The glorious subdued.

“No way they're comin' back from that,” Mack chuckled.

“I've seen ships at ninety-two percent hull damage remain combat-capable,” Halsey said. “It's entirely possible that all we did was put a dent in their fender.”

“From my knowledge of French ships, it is beyond doubt that the Turenne is vanquished completely,” Leon told her.

“All that's left is to get the hell out of here,” Halsey said.

“Admiral, if I may, I have an idea,” Leon said brightly.

“Well, let's hear it.”

“Do your ships come equipped with any sort of cutting laser technology? For instance, for asteroids or like?”

“Yes, most American ships have that sort of tech... why?”

“Would the Johnston have one of these lasers?”

“Couldn't say for sure, but I'd say it's likely. What are you getting at, commander?”

“What if the Johnston were to use her laser a sort of welding tool for our hull? She could seal the hull breach and we could make our escape.”

Halsey thought it over only briefly, “Better than sitting here and doing nothing. Let's do it.”

Mack protested, “Yeah, but how are we gonna get past the boney-parts out there?”

Bonaparte,” Leon corrected.


“We shall have to distract them somehow,” Leon thought aloud.

“A probe,” Halsey said. “On my first executive officer, we launched a probe that fooled the enemy sensors into thinking it was us... Their targeting computers aimed for the wrong target and we got the better of them. If we could do the same thing and send them on a while goose hunt...”

“Then we might have a chance at signaling the Johnston and getting those repairs in time,” Mack finished for her.

“That is very, very risky, madame.”

“Well, we don't have a better plan,” Halsey bit her lip. “It will have to work.”

Lieutenant Commander Raymond Evans found himself gazing at his viewscreen as they waited on what to do next. They had been gathering survivors from the wreckage of the Saratoga and found that they were sadly few. There were about five hundred crewmen aboard the Saratoga. Only about forty survived, plus there were about a hundred aboard the Montcalm. It was a sad, staggering number. But there was no reason to linger on it.

“Commander, I'm seeing large explosions in the asteroid field,” Lieutenant Haddock reported.

“Can you identify the cause?”
“No, the asteroids are causing way too much interference,” Haddock scratched his head. “Wish I could say.”

In the back of Evans' mind, he knew it was the Montcalm that had exploded. He knew it was all over. But he refused to accept it, instead he chose to adopt a wait-and-see approach. Maybe the Montcalm actually managed to somehow vanquish her enemy. “Let's hope Admiral Halsey and her crew are alright.”

“They're fine,” a gruff voice suddenly said as the bridge door whooshed open. Evans turned to see Captain Galloway walking into the room. His uniform was stained with ash and blood. But the most remarkable feature was the massive, gaping cut that ran down diagonally from his forehead to his cheek. “Stay here and await orders.”

“Um, how exactly do you know this?” Evans asked.

“I don't,” Galloway clarified. “But we're going to operate on the assumption that they're fine, understood?”

“I'm sorry, how did you get put in charge?”

“The United States Navy put me in charge, Lieutenant Commander,” Galloway put it harshly. “See this? It's rank indicator. Mine says I'm a captain.”

“This is my ship, captain.”

“That it may be, but in the meantime, you're taking orders from me,” Galloway insisted. “It's either that, or you get your ass court martialed faster than you can say 'disobeying a superior officer'.”

Evans sighed, “Fine, you get it your way.”

“Damn straight.”

“Commander!” Haddock exclaimed. “I'm detecting the Montcalm's signal emerging from the asteroid field! It's coming from the far side. The Bonaparte is moving to intercept.”

“Follow them,” Galloway ordered. “But keep a good distance. We won't give them a fight unless we have to.”

There was hesitation to obey, but it was quickly quelled as Evans said, “You do as he says.”

“Captain!” Haddock again exclaimed. “I'm detecting another signal on the other side of the field... it's... the Montcalm again.”

Galloway smirked, “That's more like the Halsey I know. Move us to intercept the second signal. That's her.”

“Second signal is hailing us,” Haddock reported.


“This is Rear Admiral Halsey,” a slightly garbled voice said over the loudspeaker. “We need your immediate assistance, Commander Evans.”

“This is Captain Galloway. What do you need?”

“Jacob! Thank God you're alive. I thought we had lost you.”

“Takes a lot more than that to kill me, admiral.”

“Apparently,” Halsey laughed just a bit. “We have a plan, but we need your help. Our hull breach is still catastrophic and we're incapable of translight until it's repairs. Commander Leon here had the brilliant idea of modifying your cutting laser to simulate a welding gun. I'll send over the necessary specifications, but it's just a matter of increasing the beam size and lowering the temperature.”

“We'll get on that,” Galloway said. “See you on the other side, admiral.”

“Indeed. Halsey out.”

Leon reported, “The Bonaparte has figured out our ruse! They are coming about!”

“Keep moving,” Halsey ordered. She bit her lip. “Slow us down for the Johnston.”

“The Johnston is activating her cutting beam now,” Leon said. Within a few seconds, he reported, “I'm getting reports of massive superheating on the hull. I think it is working!”

“How long?”

“Impossible to say,” Leon scratched his head. “Thirty seconds, perhaps.”

Mack checked the tactical console, “Bonaparte's comin' in hot. They might be in range before then!”

“One shot from their mag guns and we're through,” Halsey said. “Prime the translight drive, we need to punch it ASAP.”

“Twenty seconds!”

“Admiral, I've got red lights flashing on here, but I can't read this damn French bull-”

Leon went over to Mack's station and reported, “The enemy has achieved a computer lock-on with their missile systems!”

“As soon as they fire, I want you to hit the accelerator regardless of whether or not Johnston is finished!” Halsey exclaimed.

“What?” Leon's eyes shot wide. “That might kill us!”

“Waiting around will kill us, commander. Do as I say.”

“Yes, mada- they are firing!”

“Then punch it!” Halsey exclaimed.

After a very brief warm-up, the Montcalm shot forward at speeds beyond that of light....

Months later

Commander Raymond Evans walked the halls of the newly-inaugurated U.S.S Johnathon R. Fulton*, a Presidential-class supercarrier, the largest ship class in the American fleet. He was aboard to accept his new posting as executive officer. On his chest was a Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery at Nashville Station. As he walked the halls, he could not help but notice the crewmen admiring him. He had become something of a legend.

He stepped through the door and onto the bridge, which had a CIC much larger than he was used to. Not only was it used for ship operations, but also for fleet operations, and even fighter control. There were officers of varying ranks and position bustling about trying to get the ship ready for her maiden voyage. The Americans were planning a direct attack against the French and Jonathon Fulton was to be a major player in this.

Evans looked around until he found the person he was looking for. He introduced himself, “Commander Raymond Evans reporting for duty!”

“You know you can knock that off, commander,” Vice Admiral Gillian Halsey smiled. She was glad to see an old friend. “I'm glad you could make it.”

“As am I, admiral,” he relaxed his posture. “Not many people get to be XO's on a carrier, much less a Presidential. Great career move,” Evans joked.

“You stick by me and your career will be just fine,” Halsey kept her warm smile.

“I haven't seen you since the debrief after Nashville, how have you been?”

“Hanging in there,” Evans said rather unconvincingly. “They kept wanting me to do academy lectures and tours and all that, but I turned it all down. Can't say the other admirals were too happy about that.”

“They aren't,” Halsey laughed. “But screw them. I want an officer here I can trust and you're just the man for the job. You've got chops, commander. I like that.”

“Have you heard from Commander Leon?”

“They're putting him through the usual BS,” Halsey rolled her eyes. “I'm convinced that he's fit for defection, but you know the brass.”

“All too well.”

“Not even I have enough tug to slice through that much bureaucracy.”

“Can't imagine anyone does.”

“So, I heard Captain Galloway tried to get you to serve on his ship... what is it, the Amber Sky?”

“Yeah, he requested me... turned him down. Nothing competes with a Presidential. Ever.”

“Damn straight.”

“I had better get to work,” Evans bowed out. “I'm looking forward to serving with you, admiral.”

“Likewise, Commander Evans,” Halsey said. As he started to walk away, Halsey stopped him, “Oh, Commander, one more thing... we won't be doing any Harden maneuvers on this ship, got it?”

That joke never got old.

*Named for President Jonathon R. Fulton, the sixty-fourth president of the United States

Friday, March 4, 2011

week forty-seven: the montcalm incident (part two)

Okay, how about a three-parter? This story is a sequel to the previous week's. The conclusion will arrive next week!

“Commander!” Lieutenant Haddock suddenly exclaimed. “I'm detecting a ship dropping from translight!”

“Identify!” Evans ordered as he turned to face the viewscreen. His confidence was way up from before. They had been sending shuttles back and forth from Nashville Station and had managed to completely resupply their stock of Longbow missiles. The Montcalm still rest right in their sights. Before, Evans was bluffing that he could open fire and destroy the French battlecruiser, but at this point, he was not bluffing. Far from it.

“It's an American battleship, Lexington-class! It's the U.S.S Saratoga.”

“Damn, a whole Lexington,” Evans could not help but be somewhat slack-jawed. The Lexington class battleship was the smallest, most nimble battleship that the Americans produced, but they were also the most modern. They had three forward magnetic-accelerator cannons and Evans was not sure exactly how many Longbown launchers, but the number was substantial. Lexington's were America's direct answer to the Charlemagne-class. Lexington's were superior in almost every way. They were larger, more powerful, and even marginally faster. The only disadvantage was that it was more expensive and time consuming to manufacture a Lexington. Either way, in general, a Lexington was said to have a 1.5:1 kill ratio against Charlemagne's in direct action. At long range, however, there was no telling just how superior a Lexington could be.

“They're signaling,” Haddock reported.

“Put them on screen!”

An image of a bustling, modern bridge appeared. At the center was a graying red-haired woman in an rear admiral's uniform. Evans recognized her as Rear Admiral Gillian Halsey. The admiral stood, straightened her uniform and said, “I heard could you could use some assistance.”

“That's right, Admiral Halsey,” Evans saluted.

“Oh, knock that off, we've got business to take care of. What's your name, son?”

“Lieutenant Commander Raymond Evans, ma'am.”

“Well, from what I'm seeing here, it looks like you'll be dropping that 'lieutenant' soon.”

“Thank you, ma'am.”

“Anyway, give me the breakdown, commander. Get me acquainted with the situation,” Halsey sat back down into her chair.

Evans recalled the event in detail. He retold everything from their arrival at Nashville Station to the sudden appearance of the Montcalm to how he crippled the French battlecruiser using the famed Harden Maneuver.

Halsey stopped him there, “Captain Maxus Harden is a friend of mine. He was my first officer at one point. Anyway, please continue.”

“We have the Montcalm disabled and we've kept them at gunpoint. We've given them orders not to make any communications or attempt any repairs beyond that which is necessary to save lives.”

“Very good,” Halsey smiled warmly. “We'll take it from here, commander. Report to Nashville Station and resume repair operations. You need it.”

“Yes, ma'am,” Evans nodded as the transmission cut. He turned to face his crew, “Thank God this over.”

Rear Admiral Halsey uncrossed her legs and came back to her feet. She approached the Saratoga's commanding officer, the ever gruff Captain Jacob Galloway. Halsey was in charge of the Saratoga, but only temporarily; only for the duration of their mission. Galloway bore an uneasy expression. “Something wrong, Captain?”

“Something's not right, admiral.”


“I can't place it, but my instinct tells me-”

“We'll be careful,” Halsey told him firmly. “Meanwhile, I want you to get the Marines ready for boarding action. And let them know I'll be accompanying them.”

“I'm sorry... what?”

“I've never seen the interior of a French battlecruiser and I'd like to take the opportunity.”

“Ma'am, that's crazy-”

“Our Marines will take care of me. Meanwhile, you do as you're told.”

“Of course, admiral.”

Halsey turned back to the viewscreen and said to her tactical officer, “Lieutenant Chang, signal the Moncalm. Let's get to know this Captain Fierre.”

“They're responding audio only, ma'am,” Chang told her. “Their viewer system may be damaged.”

“I guess we'll find out,” Halsey nodded. “Captain Fierre, this is Rear Admiral Gillian Halsey of the U.S.S Saratoga. We are preparing boarding shuttles and should be boarding within the next half hour. Once we've gotten your vessel secured, we'll start sending over repair teams to help get your ship operational again. I expect your full cooperation.”

“Of course, Admiral Halsey.”

“We'll let you know when the first shuttles start moving. Halsey out,” she turned back to Chang and made a cutting motion across her throat.

“Transmission out,” Chang reported.

“Admiral,” an all too familiar voice said from behind her. Halsey turned around to find Sergeant Major Mackenzie Halsey, her son. No one except the Halseys themselves knew of this relationship. Mackenzie's identity was kept secret. He wore unmarked black fatigues with a combat vest over that with a patch to identify his rank. Unlike the regular Marines, Sergeant Major Halsey, or Mack, and his squad did not wear the traditional American navy blue, but instead wore special forces black. The reason for this being that Mack and his squad were part of elite unit that went without designation. “My team's ready to go on your order.”

This was business. Admiral Halsey knew she had no place talking to him as her son. “Good... it looks like we've got what we came for.”

“Sometimes you get lucky, ma'am,” they were referring to Mack and his team's mission. Their mission was to find and capture a French warship. Upon its capture, the plan was to use it for a Trojan horse operation that Halsey had spent months preparing. Their luck was proving astronomical.

“Go and make sure the Marines are ready. I'll be joining you shortly.”

“You can't come, admiral.”

“Yes, I can, and I shall.”

Mack knew he could not argue. Not only because she was an admiral, but because, well, this was his mother, “Fine, but look you stay right by my side at all times.”

She sighed, “If I don't stay be yours, you'll just follow me and stay by mine. Alright, sergeant major. Now report to the shuttle bays and finish prepping.”

“Yes, ma'am,” he straightened himself, saluted, and then took to the turbolift.

Galloway remarked, “Must be a requirement for special forces members to have poles up their asses.”

Halsey smiled to herself, “I don't think the Marine Corps has anything to do with his pole.”

Captain Fierre wiped his brow. The interior temperature regulation system was going in and out of whack. Fortunately, the internal safeguards prevented the system from either cooking or freezing the crew. The atmosphere, however, was the least of his concerns. After an agonizing silence, it was Commander Leon who broke it, “Captain, what are we to do? What is the plan?”

The captain stood and went over to a small compartment on the wall. “We need only to control the bridge in order to control the entire vessel.” He opened and pulled out a small pistol. “There is no doubt that the Americans will search for and secure every weapon.” After checking its load, he slipped it into his boot. “They will not find this one.”

“Captain, I object! I offer that we surrender and-”

“We will not! Surrender is not an option! You will do as you are told, Commander Leon. Am I clear?”

“Aye, aye, captain.”

Though Admiral Halsey cared little for such things, the Smith & Wesson MARS assault rifle was a beautiful thing. MARS stands Magnetic-accelerator Assault Rifle System. It fired the 5.82x60mm AMS round at extreme speeds. It used technology borrowed from the magnetic-accelerator cannons found on starships, although the rifle could never achieve quite the same insane velocities. They were compact and used an electronic that enabled the rifle to fold into an even smaller state for when not in use. A simple button press and the rifle would instantly convert back into its firing state. Because of the limited space aboard a starship, the MARS did not use an iron sight at all, but rather integrated a computer-corrected holographic sight. All branches of the armed services adopted the MARS because of these impressive capabilities.

In the silence of the shuttle ride, Halsey looked over Mack's MARS, which was securely attached to his tactical vest. It was such an intricate thing. And then she found it strange that such a weapon baffled her. After all, she was in command of three guns hundreds of times the size of the MARS. Such a small thing should be nothing... but alas. And, Mack, she knew, was an expert with it. The Unnamed, as those who actually had heard of Mack's division, were the most selective of all special forces units in the military. It was impossible to have have even heard of the Unnamed without at least some credential. But to be a part of them? Only a demigod.

And this actually baffled Admiral Halsey. She had met her husband, the late Captain William Halsey, while serving in the officer's training corps. They took different posts, but managed to stay in touch. Eventually, William bludgeoned his way to getting posted with Gillian. They married in just a few short months. A few years, and nine months after a rather adventurous shore leave, they gave birth to their first child, a daughter they named Dana. Dana took most of her physical traits from her father: dark hair, deep blue eyes. She took on more of her mother's personality: indomitable spirit, outspokenness, and a fiery loyalty. Dana attended college and the Navy ROTC program, eventually being accepted as an officer. The last Gillian heard from her daughter, Dana had just accepted her first command.

Mack looked more like Gillian. He, like her, was a ginger. He also took after his father. Of the two, Mack was always the quieter, more passive one. It took quite a bit to get Mack angry, but once provoked, there was little that could stop him. He started life as a scrawny kid, but a semester at a boarding where he and his sister were bullied toughened him up to the point where he took martial arts and began working out. Mack joined the Naval ROTC just like his sister, but quite after the first semester and joined the Marine Corps, where he excelled.

Having Mack aboard the Saratoga was difficult for Gillian. Because the identity of his squad was kept a secret, no one could know of their relationship. Gillian wanted desperately to catch up with her son, but such was an impossibility. She suspected that Galloway knew, but he would never admit it and she would never ask.

“We'll be docking in thirty seconds!” The shuttle pilot exclaimed.

Mack looked over to his squad and ordered, “Lock and load, boys. You know what they say about the French, right?”

The four other men said in unison, “Semper cowardice!”

“Oorah,” Mack said as he stood up and hit the button to unfold his rifle. It snapped into firing mode literally in the blink of an eye. He raised it at the door.

“Sergeant Major, I ask that you not keep your rifle down unless the French actually present a plausible threat.”

Mack winced as he obeyed, “Yes, Admiral, of course.”

“Docking in five! Four! Three! Two! One!” The shuttle suddenly shook as it connected with the Montcalm's airlock. A hiss filled the air as the atmospheric pressure equalized. “Airlock is ready. Open the door whenever you're ready.”

Halsey put herself in front of Mack and pushed the button. As soon as it opened, she stepped through and onto the French battlecruiser, Montcalm. The interior was very gray, very functional. It had a much darker tone in comparison with the American ships. Perhaps the damage and clutter was responsible for this. The most gripping feature, however, was the two men in French naval uniform standing before them. One was a lean blond man with captain's indicators, the other a tall and burly man with a large forehead and the rank of commander.

The captain was first to speak, “Beinvenue. I am a Captain Jacques Fierre and this the Montcalm.”

Halsey issued him a courteous professional smile, “Rear Admiral Gillian Halsey. These men will be accompanying us,” she said referring to the Unnamed. “This is Mister Red; he is their leader.”

Mack only nodded. It was only coincidence that the ginger was codenamed Mister Red... or was it?

“Much obliged, admiral,” Fierre said, some of his illegitimacy poking through. “This is executive officer, Commander Leon.”

Leon gave a quick a bow. Not a word was spoken.

“I trust you crew has been advised of our arrival?” Halsey asked.

Oui,” Fierre replied. “They are looking forward to having the repairs move more quickly. They have been ordered to render their full cooperation. There will not be one, eh, what is it you Americans say? 'Kink in the chain'?”

Halsey chuckled, “Yes, captain, that's how the phrase goes.”

“Shall we make for the bridge?”

“Lead the way, captain.”

“This way, please,” Fierre started walking. “Your timely response is impressive.”

“We were in the neighborhood,” Halsey explained as they stepped aboard the turbolift. This was not a lie. She could not help but exchange glances with Mack. “Captain, may I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

“How is it that you French have managed to achieve power equalization across your coaxial pylons with an asymmetric reactor system?”

“Well, admiral, the answer is very complex, but I can explain....”

“Captain,” Lieutenant Chang said as he kept an eye on his console. “The first wave of shuttles has returned and the second wave is loading up as we speak.”

“Excellent,” Captain Galloway replied from the command chair. He much preferred the command chair to the executive officer's chair, which had no headrest and smaller armrests. It was nice when Admiral Halsey was away. Still, Galloway was thankful to have her as his commanding officer. She had taught him more in just two months than he had learned in all of his career. Plus, she was easy-going as hell, but still earned everyone's respect. “Let's try and get the turnaround time cut in half.”

“Aye, sir,” Chang answered with no emotional inflection whatsoever. It was not a feasible order, just one to try and keep everyone's spirits.

Galloway then missed having his first officer, Commander Les Mitchell onboard. While Halsey was present, there was no need for the additional officer and so Mitchell had been assigned on a temporary posting. While Mitchell was around, there was no need to do anything to keep spirits, no, that was the first officer's job. The captain's job was to focus on commanding the ship, regardless of the crew's feelings. Galloway had not been a first officer in a very long time and having to think on those terms was foreign to him. “What is the status of the Johnston.”

“They've docked with Nashville and they've been brought up to ninety-percent system efficiency. Their hull is still compromised,” Chang said. “They've got it stabilized,but Nashville doesn't really have the facilities for major hull repair. They'll be heading over to Chattanooga Shipyard for sure when this all said and done.”

“No doubt,” Galloway sighed.

“Second shuttle group is away, sir.”

“Good,” Galloway stood and walked over to Chang. “Let's get the last wave ready to go.”

“They're already on it, captain.”

“I'll bet,” Galloway smirked. It was another act.

Chang's console suddenly came to life, “Captain, we've got a situation.”

Galloway's false smile vanished and a scowl grew, “What is it, lieutenant?”

“Three ships are dropping out of translight, dead ahead.”

“Identify!” Galloway retreated back to his chair and sat. “Dammit, last thing we need is more problems.”

“Captain, it's the worse kind.”

“Lay it on me.”

“Three Charlemagne-class French battlecruisers, the de Gaulle, the Bonaparte, and the Turenne. They look pissed off, captain.”

“Full alert! Get everyone to battle stations! Get the longbow tubes and mag cannons charged and locked! Helm, maneuver us between them and the Montcalm. They aren't getting anywhere near them.”

“Aye, aye.”

“Hail Admiral Halsey, let's get her read on this.”

Rear Admiral Halsey had taken her seat on the command chair of the Montcalm. Their chairs were actually more comfortable than the American ones. Halsey considered requisitioning something similar for her own assignments, but then realized it was hardly worthwhile. A chair is a chair, but... then again, chairs can make or break a day.

Suddenly, one on the panels started bleeping. Commander Leon instantly sprang into action. He reported, “Captain, three of our ships have just come out of translight. The de Gaulle, Bonaparte, and Turenne.”

“I know the commander of the de Gaulle,” Captain Fierre said. “He is relentless.”

Halsey bit her lip, “This is about to get tricky. Power up the engines and defensive systems. Get whatever you can.”

The French crew exchanged uneasy glances. They were unsure whether or not to take orders from the American. Fierre realized this, “Do as she says. For now, she is your captain.”

They got to work. After a moment, Leon reported, “Engines operating at thirty-percent capacity. We have minimal defensive shielding.”

“It'll have to do,” Halsey said.

“The Saratoga is hailing.”

“Let's hear it,” Halsey remembered that the viewscreen was out.

“Admiral, it's Captain Galloway. I assume you've seen our guests.”

“That we have.”

“What are your orders?”

“Well, Captain Fierre just informed me that translight travel is impossible with the extent of hull breaches Montcalm has suffered. That leaves us two choices, fight back or surrender. I think we'll take the former.”


Fierre suddenly interrupted, “If I may interject, Admiral Halsey, there is another option.”

“Yes, captain?”

“If you would look at your charts, you will see a nearby asteroid field. It is highly magnetic and could shield us from the enemy's sensors. We would only need to adjust the polarity of the shield grid to repel the asteroids themselves.”

“You're suggesting we hide in there?”

“Yes, ma'am, we hide in the asteroid field until we can get the ship in a sufficient state of repair.”

“Better than nothing,” Galloway grunted. “Head on in there and we'll buy you some time.”

“Give 'em hell, captain.”

“You know me, admiral,” Galloway said as the transmission cut.

“Well, you heard him,” Halsey said. “As soon as those shuttles dock, let's get moving!”

Chang reported, “The Montcalm is moving away, captain.”

“Hail the lead French ship, let's meet the opposition.”

“Hailing,” Chang said as he worked his console. “They're responding.”

“On screen,” Galloway stood as an image of a bald French captain appeared. Before the Frenchman could speak, Galloway said, “This is Captain Jacob Galloway is the U.S.S Saratoga. You are in violation of sovereign American territory. I suggest you leave immediately or I swear to God, I will blow more holes in your ship than you can count.”

“You are outnumbered, captain,” the French captain said. “We and should destroy you. However, I am merciful. Hand over the Montcalm peacefully and we will leave without incident.”

“I can't do that and you know it,” Galloway refuse to back down. “Leave. Now.”

“I will give you one more chance-”

“Go to hell,” Galloway snapped. “I'm done threatening you. My mag guns are charged, locked, ready to fire, and looking for an ass to kick. Yours just happens to be in my way. Leave right now and maybe that won't happen.”

“This conversation is ov-” Chang cut the transmission before the French captain could even finish.

“Captain, the Johnston is signaling.”

“Put 'em through,” Galloway sat back down.

“This is Lieutenant Commander Evans. We are ready to engage on your order.”

“Stay put, Evans, you've done enough today.”

“Sorry, sir, won't have it that way. We're ready for action.”

“Have it your way. Coordinate with our tactical officer and we might just have a chance at this.”

“Right, sir, Evans out,” the transmission faded.

Chang reported, “French battlecruisers have entered a diagonal formation and they're gunning right for us.”

“Are they in range?” Galloway asked.

“Negative, sir.”

“We can't possibly take them head on,” Galloway thought out loud. “They know that. And they're being stupid about it. Helm, plot a course right at their lead ship. Break off to the starboard side just before collision. Erratic maneuvers all the way. Engines to full. Chang, as soon as you get a comprehensive firing solution, coordinate with the Johnston for a simultaneous strike. We'll hit them once and we'll hit them hard.”

“Aye, aye, sir,” Chang and the helmsman both replied. The decks jerked slightly as the engines roared to life.

Galloway looked ahead to his prey. He was outmatched and he knew it. But miracles happened and he knew that too. They tended to happen when Captain Galloway was pissed off. In this case, Galloway was pretty angry. Nobody, except for those in authority, can tell Captain Galloway what to do and get away with it. Especially not the goddamned French.

Galloway's plan was ingenious. Since both American ships could out-range the French ships, it was possible that their combined firepower could completely put the de Gaulle out of commission. If this happened, then the other French ships would be forced to break formation and most likely lose their bead on the Americans. Galloway's plan also involved maneuvering in such a way that the empty hulk of the de Gaulle would serve as a makeshift shield, protecting them from fire. From there, they had command of the situation and could decide exactly what happened next. Victory was actually entirely possible, but still relied very heavily on luck.

“Firing Longbows,” Chang said as the swishing sound of missile fire could be heard from below decks. The Johnston did the same thing at the exact same time. “Firing mag guns in three... two... one... Fire!” A loud boom was heard all across the ship.

Galloway stood and watched as the the four white streaks, three from Saratoga and one from Johnston, slammed into the de Gaulle. The once-mighty Charlemagne spun out of control, bleeding fuel, chemicals, and debris. She had been conquered. Galloway probably should have said something to congratulate his crew, but he did not. He was focused.

“Captain, the other two French are breaking formation!” Chang announced.

“Helm, put the de Gaulle between us and them,” Galloway ordered as he stood from his command chair and approached one of the holographic displays in the Combat Information Center section of the bridge. “AI, display a three-dimensional readout of the current engagement.” The computer complied. Galloway took in the location of the enemy ships and decided on his next move. “Break us hard to port forty-five degree and get us a firing solution targeting the Bonaparte.”

“Aye, computing solution-” Chang's eyes suddenly went wide. “CAPTAIN!!!”

Galloway turned back to the viewscreen to see that the de Gaulle was not, in fact, dead. What he saw was just an instant. The flaming wreck rushed and slammed right into the Saratoga.

Admiral Halsey watched her monitor in awe. For one second, she was amazed at Galloway's strategy and in the next, amazed at just how quickly it had been put to rest. She watched in disbelief as the Saratoga was split almost evenly in two. Wreckage and fire abounded. How did this happen?

“Admiral Halsey? This is Lieutenant Commander Evans. We'll do our best to keep Frenchie off your ass, but we're pretty useless against two of those things.”

“You've done enough, Commander, get out of here,” Halsey told him.

“Negative. We aren't leaving until we've seen this whole thing through.”

Evans was stubborn. Halsey liked that, “Alright, but don't get yourself killed, commander. The Navy needs more officers like you.”

“Don't plan on it, ma'am.”

“Good,” Halsey crossed her legs. “Give 'em hell. And no more Harden Maneuvers.”

The transmission died.

“Admiral, we are entering the asteroid field now,” Fierre told her.

“It is more magnetic than I first thought,” Leon reported. “Smaller particles are attaching themselves to the hull, even with the additional shielding.”

“Do what you can, meanwhile, we need to keep moving,” Halsey said. “We get the repairs and then we get out of here. How long until we can be ready for translight?”

“There is no telling,” Fierre told her.

Halsey sighed and buried her face in her hands. Everything was going so right... then suddenly so wrong. The Saratoga was nothing, they were hiding in a dangerous asteroid field onboard a barely-intact French battlecruiser, and there was no help. Halsey prayed that some of their luck was saving itself, but it seemed as though it had all been spent before....