December 2007 Archives

Deus Ex Aleatorium

Tyler and Ashley

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Most sword fights end quickly. Even when the opponents are evenly matched, they seldom last for more that a few minutes. This was not the case with the fight between Tyler and Ashley. It was an epic battle.

Ashley opened with her leg sweep move. It had worked previously on Tyler, but he was ready for it. He easily dodged the attempt. However, he had not prepared a counter-move. Thus, he did not take advantage of her vulnerability. He spent all of his concentration on avoiding Ashley knocking him down.

When Ashley regained her feet, Tyler used a strong downward thrust, but Ashley blocked it. She faked a thrust to Tyler's right, and spun around to his left. Tyler did not bite on the fake, and parried the attempt.

The fight went on and on. It was if they knew each other's every move. Every thrust was parried. Every chop was blocked. Every counter-move was intercepted. They both hoped that the other would tire soon; however, they needed to keep on fighting.

The fight started in Ashley's efficiency apartment, but eventually spilled into the street when Tyler attempted to tackle Ashley. The pair tumbled out the second story window. Upon landing on the ground, they lost little time continuing the battle.

A crowd gathered and cheered. They thought it was some sort of act, and thoroughly enjoyed the combat scene. Ashley and Tyler attempted to move to a less crowded space but could not manage it. They continued swinging their swords in the attempt to decapitate their opponent. The crowds loved it.

With every move and counter-move, the crowd cheered. More and more people gathered around watching the pair fight. The crowd began restricting where Tyler and Ashley could move. They did not wish to hurt any innocents, so they had to restrict what moves they could make.

The crowd got larger and larger, and pressed in upon the battling pair. Everyone wanted to see, and gave the combatants less and less room to maneuver. They were down to simple fencing moves when the police arrived.

The police dispersed the crowd and told Tyler and Ashley to take their show elsewhere. The combatants were exhausted. As it was close by, they returned to Ashley's apartment.

Ashley poured a couple large glasses of water, and the pair rested on the couch. Once again, they commiserated on their fates. They were both trained assassins in a war that they did not fully understand. They both had lost friends and family in this battle for the end of times. Yet, neither knew exactly why they were fighting.

As the stories continued, they knew what each other were going through. They began growing close. As they laughed and cried, they moved closer. Eventually, they found themselves not talking. They embraced. The passion the pair had for their jobs was suddenly stripped away. It was now focused into each other.

Neither was rested enough for any energetic lovemaking. They decided to take a shower together, and so it began. They closed themselves off from the outside world. They did not answer phones or respond to knocks on the door, except when they had ordered food in. They completely concentrated on each other.

Despite great efforts, the pair's cohorts could not contact them. Unlike the world of the mortals, vampires and zombies disappeared regularly. The upper levels of both sides worried that they had lost their best people. Thus, the disappearance of Tyler and Ashley was greatly worrisome.

The followers of the god of darkness and the god of light were greatly relieved when they heard from the pair. However, they were appalled when they refused to fight. The couple had found each other, so for them the war was over.

Despite Ashley and Tyler's wishes to live in harmony, the war was going to be brought to them. It was a fight to the last. There could be no survivors. Thus, Ashley and Tyler's love could never be.

Suddenly, the pair was on the run. They felt that the entirety of resources was suddenly concentrated upon them. Nowhere was safe. Everywhere they went they encountered minions and soldiers.

At first, they did not fight; they just ran. However, the futility of this tactic was soon apparent. They would find themselves face to face with more enemies with each passing day. Hence, since they were well versed in the martial arts, they fought back.

Wave after wave of Vampires and Zombies came after them. They all ended up as dust. When Ashley and Tyler fought together, it was like a ballet. They were completely coordinated with each other's actions. When one would duck, the other would attack. They were unstoppable as a pair. Each one watched the other's back.

Soon, there were very few left. The great battle was ending. The once great men and women had wiped out everything they had built. All of the great works they created and all of the positive things they had done amounted to nothing. The end of times war had stripped them of everything important and turned them into hateful beings.

The gods of light and darkness called an end to it. It was a draw. The pair of transdimensional entities discovered that greatness could only happen in balance. For anything to occur they had to cooperate. There would be no earth without the chaos and the rules.

Another factor was involved in the decision. Something unexpected had occurred. Ashley was pregnant. Immortals were not supposed to be able to have children. However, children from the god of light and the god of darkness could have a child together. The gods did not wish to see this war go any further. So, they agreed to it being a draw.

There were many ways to obtain order, and they did not always have to be through a great list of rules. Only one rule was required. That is, everyone had to treat everyone else as they would like to be treated themselves.

Societies could exist in chaos, but greatness would not occur. Unless the individuals cared about one another, chaos would prevail. Imposing rules upon the chaos generally led to brutal order. There were consequences for breaking the rules, and those consequences were often harsh.

The Vampires and the Zombies enjoyed the art and the great creations. However, when the end was near, both sides started to tear each other apart. No longer did either side appreciate the arts. Everyone concentrated on the end. Thus, everyone suffered.

The few Vampires and Zombies left were called home. The only ones allowed to continue were Tyler, Ashley and their soon to be born young one. They had learned the lesson at the same time the gods of light and darkness did. Greatness can only come when both sides cooperate or at least respect what the other is doing. Destruction only breeds more destruction.

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The Scout

Chapter 21

By Dwayne MacInnes

Scott looked over to Mary. The young woman shook with fear. Her hands frozen beside her body were useless and Scott cursed to himself. He forgot that these people lived in fear; they did not have the combat reflexes that he had acquired over the years.

"Hey buddy, are you going to turn that jalopy around or do we have to riddle your bodies with lead?" exclaimed the lead guard.

The scout revved the engine resigned to ram the gate when suddenly a flash of light flooded the sky behind them. A fraction of a second later a loud explosive blast followed.

Everyone including the occupants of the buggy turned to see what was amiss. Yellow and red flames licked the sky and the occasional crack of small arms fire punctuated the night.

"What the fuh..." the lead guard ejaculated before some one back in town started yelling.

"Uprising! Everyone to arms the slaves are in revolt."

Another guard exclaimed, "They must have reached one of the weapons cache and then destroyed it!"

Scott quickly took advantage of the situation. "Dammit man, open the gate. I need to alert the veterans' hospital. Then you must block this gate so no one can escape."

The lead guard quickly fumbled around with his keys before he found the correct one. The gate flew opened barely seconds before the buggy leapt through them.

The small buggy flew down the road as men from Fort Meade's Veterans Hospital ran towards town. A few vehicles also started to make their way onto the road. Scott just weaved his way between them before an M113 armored personnel carrier forced him to halt by blocking his way.

M113 APC

The gunner looked down from the M113 onto the buggy, "Hey, were the hell are you guys going?"

"Umm, we were sent to dispatch the garrison to put down the slave revolt in town," Scott replied.

"Well, consider it done. Now turn that buggy around and get back to town or you will be shot," the gunner yelled back.

The explosive rumble of a machine gun tore through the chaos. Scott watched as bullets pounded into the side of the APC as it stitched its way up to the gunner. The Anarchist tumbled backwards as bullets perforated his body.

Scott glanced over to the source of the noise to see Mary had the M60 machinegun elevated as far as it could go. Smoke still streamed from the barrel.

"There's no way in hell I'm going back," Mary said in a stern angry voice.

Before any of the Anarchists on the road could determine what was going on, Scott had the buggy swerving around the APC and disappearing down the battered road. A few rifles and pistols opened up on the buggy before the three escapees vanished into the night.

The sun was rising over the eastern horizon by the time Scott pulled the buggy off the highway and into the city that Sam and Scott had met up with the Anderson Brothers Salvagers. The scout stopped the buggy when he reached the post office that contained his Charger.

As he stepped out of the vehicle, he noticed that Mary and Sam were both sleeping. No one had bothered with conversation during the night. The only thing that mattered to them was escaping the Anarchists.

Scott stretched his limbs and released a yawn as he looked upon the two sleeping figures. Sam wedged in the cramped compartment behind the seats had curled himself up like a dog. Mary's head rested upon her chest.

That was when Scott noticed that the denim jacket was soaked in blood. "NO!" Scott yelled as he rushed to the passenger side of the buggy.

Sam shot up from his curled up position and looked towards the scout. As he followed Scott's gaze to his sister Sam quickly reached out to Mary and shook her still form.

"Mary! Wake up, Mary!" Sam cried with tears flowing down his cheeks.

Scott lifted the woman out of the seat and laid her upon the litter-strewn road. He quickly searched her body and found the bullet wound. One of the Anarchists weapons had found its mark. The bullet had entered from just under Mary's right arm and exited just above her right breast.

The scout was able to register a feeble pulse. Quickly he removed the denim jacket and tore off the upper right part of the nightgown. Then Scott tore off the lower hem of the nightgown, being the cleanest material around he used it to bind Mary's wound.

"Is she going to live?" Sam sobbed.

Scott looked into Sam's watering eyes. The sorrow there nearly floored him. Scott returned to attending to Mary, "Sam, go get the first aid kit out of the Charger."

As the boy ran into the dilapidated building Scott finally answered, "I don't know."

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The Archaeology Students

Part One

By Douglas E. Gogerty

"Are you ready for the upcoming archaeological dig?"

"Am I? I thought it would never come! If I hear internal strife caused the downfall one more time..."

"Don't you like these traveling classes?"

"It is the slow boats that get me."

"Well, we're almost to the site. Thank goodness they installed this train or it could be another couple of days."

"I cannot imagine how long it would take a sail barge to cross the desert."

"If this place's infrastructure were still in tact, we could have gone by some electric vehicle."

"There just is not enough reason rebuild it yet."

"If it were important, they would develop a faster form of transportation."

"You know, in ancient times..."

"Uh oh, here we go."

"What?"

"Here you go with your flying machines again."

"It is true. You have read the literature. They had all kinds of flying machines. They had airplanes and flying contraptions we don't even have words for anymore. They put jetpacks and flying cars in so many of their stories that they had to have something along those lines too. They at least had to be looking, and perhaps they were close!"

"Yeah -- well -- internal strife caused their downfall."

"Why you..."

"Kidding! I was just kidding! However, you know from our class that they were very reluctant to use clean renewable energy sources. They went to war for their fuel needs. This caused a great deal of problems for them."

"Them? Problems for them? What about us?"

"True, we don't have speedy transportation, and we must take those boats you love some much and other forms of transportation to get to distance places -- like here."

"They had airplanes. They could travel half way around the world in half a day. It takes us weeks."

"True, but we are not burning fossil fuels or polluting the environment."

"Blah blah blah! I've been dreaming of flying for a long time."

"You know, an ancient dream analysis specialist said that dreams of flight were actually dreams about sex."

"I am familiar with Dr. Freud. He also said that sometimes a cigar was just a cigar."

"Perhaps when you dream about sex, you're actually dreaming about flying."

"You're hysterical -- you should go on the comedy circuit sometime."

"So tell me, why did you sign up for this class anyway? You're majoring in what -- engineering?"

"Engineers can have other interests. I came on this trip to see if there is anything to be found out about their flying machines. We have some of their technology, but what technology has been lost? Did they have jetpacks or flying cars?"

"You took this class to find evidence of flying machines?"

"Sure! This was one of the most advanced civilizations on earth at one time. Any city of theirs is probably rich in technological history. If they had some specialized flying technology, I'll find it."

"What good will it do you? They used up all of the fuels they had."

"I wish I had a time machine and tell them not to waste all of it. They could have saved some for future generations."

"Well, as you are well aware, time-travel is impossible. In any event, those fuels would have run out at some point anyway."

"I know. Perhaps I'll find some of their work on alternative energy sources. They did do that you know."

"True, but they got in that game too late to save them. They spent all of their money and resources on obtaining their particular fuels. They had wars. They borrowed money. Before they could fix those problems, other places were well ahead of them technology-wise. This caused internal strife -- and you know the rest."

"Boring -- boring -- and -- boring!"

"Like engineering classes are any better."

"Point taken. I just wish the class covered more about their technology. Just because it was an ancient civilization, doesn't mean they didn't know things."

"Like how to make airplanes?"

"Exactly! We know they had many sophisticated technologies. Just because their culture is dead does not mean it is useless."

"The entire hemisphere was practically unlivable for centuries!"

"So some of their sophisticated technology involved weaponry..."

"It was not only their weapons that doomed them. Their burning of fuels also severely damaged their ecosystem."

"Not everything died, some things survived."

"Let us hope we do not run into some of those surviving creatures. I hear they have a rodent that lives underground and can skeletonize a large animal in seconds."

"Land piranhas are a myth."

"Is that what they call them? I have always heard them called Chihuahuas or prairie dogs or some such."

"Anyway, on the good side of things, their cities are fantastically preserved."

"I wonder how long they'll stay this way now that they are habitable again."

"If we had planes..."

"Enough of the airplanes. Anyway, we do have plenty of space for our needs right now."

"The scary Chihuahuas will keep the interlopers at bay."

"Very funny!"

"I am telling you, this civilization's technology was awfully good to do what it did."

"Heavy on the awful. They nearly destroyed every living thing on earth. It is lucky that life is so flexible."

"Or, we wouldn't be here."

"They probably did not realize the folly of their actions because of the internal..."

"Very funny. In any event, we're here at last."

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The Scout

Chapter 22

By Dwayne MacInnes

Sam promptly returned with the first aid kit. Scott undid his makeshift bandage and cleaned the wound. Finally, he rebound it with sterile bandages from the kit. Unfortunately, that was all he could do.

Sam sniffed. "Mary, please don't die," he begged his unconscious sister, "Please!"

Scott gingerly lifted the woman and took her inside the post office. He laid her upon the floor. Her pulse was weak, but her bleeding had now stopped.

"She's lost a lot of blood," Scott said more to himself than to Sam. "If only we could give her a transfusion."

Alas, the lack of proper equipment and knowledge prevented Scott from administering something that was routine in any ambulance or clinic before the Big Bang. The closest hospital was probably in Billings hundreds of miles away.

Scott did everything he could to make Mary comfortable. His leather black jacket covered her torso. The old worn denim jacket was now serving as a pillow. Sam kneeled by her side and kept a tearful vigil.

Fearing that a patrol may be on their trail Scott pulled the buggy into the post office and parked it next to his Charger. As he waited for any sign of improvement in Mary, Scott removed the .30 machinegun from the buggy and stored it in the black muscle car.

Scott no sooner returned to Sam's side next to Mary than the woman gave out a loud gasp. Her eyes fluttered opened and she hastily searched around the room with her head. "Sam. Sam," she said hoarsely.

"I'm here," Sam replied as he squeezed Mary's hand. Mary looked over at Sam.

"I can barely see you Sam," Mary said weakly.

"Mary, it'll be all right. You'll see," the boy offered in a tear-choked voice.

"Thank you, for rescuing me," Mary whispered. "I could never have survived there."

"You just rest and get better," Sam choked out tearfully.

"Sam? Sam, are you there?" Mary asked.

"Yes Mary," sobbed the boy.

"Sam, I see Ma and Pa. They look well," and with that Mary expelled her last breath.

"NO!!!" Sam screamed. The young boy threw himself prostrate over his sister's form and let grief overcome him. Scott wept as he watched the boy shake as deep sobs racked his small frame.

* * * * *
1970 Dodge Charger

The scout allowed the boy an hour of grief before he tore the listless boy from Mary's body. Sam offered no resistance as Scott led him to the Charger and then lifted him inside. Scott recovered his leather jacket and used the denim jacket to cover Mary's dead form.

The Charger roared to life as Scott started the vehicle. The engine's rumbling purr shook the walls of the post office. The scout drove the black car outside and parked it across the street. Scott then climbed out and ducked back into the post office.

Not paying much attention to the outside world Sam half watched the scout disappear into the building. As Scott returned, black smoke started to emanate from the structure.

Scott slowly drove the Charger back towards the highway. Within three minutes, flames engulfed the post office. The telltale black smoke rose into the horizon as Scott drove north back towards North Dakota.

* * * * *

Sam grieved in silence as the muscle car once again sped down the worn road. Given all they had endured in the last twenty-four hours Scott was relieved to be back in his scout vehicle. The thick hide surrounding them would have stopped the bullet that killed Mary.

Scott pushed the thought from his mind and drove along the highway in silence.

The roar of the Charger's engine was its own music and Scott never tired of hearing it. With any luck before nightfall, the two would be within the safe confines of the United States.

Scott could only hope that the Anarchists would see the trail of smoke and investigate. That would leave his route open to the borders of Montana. An uneventful passage was all Scott prayed for now.

Unfortunately, the rapid pinging off the back of the Charger let Scott know that God was not answering his prayers today. A quick glance at his monitor brought a score of buggies and bikers approaching from his rear.

Scott stepped onto the accelerator. The Charger lurched forward in unrestrained power. The rear tires spat out dirt and small stones as they dug into the crumbling concrete.

As the black vehicle flew down the road, the buggies and bikes matched its speed. The small arms of the motorcycles did not bother Scott. However, the medium arms of the buggies could do some serious damage if they found the right spot.

The muscle car weaved back and forth, as bullets whizzed by or impacted into the rear armor. The Montana border seemed to creep closer ever so slowly. Scott reached for his long-range radio if the atmospherics were right and there was someone close enough he could radio for help.

"Mayday! Mayday! This is a United States Scout vehicle asking for any assistance," Scott screamed as more bullets pounded into the back of the Charger.

The chase led them through the small hills and steep cliffs of the badlands. Scott kept repeating his message. The bikers and buggies also kept up their fire.

M1A1 Abrams Tank

"Okay, Scout stop your vehicle now!" a voice crackled over the radio. Suddenly five Abrams M1 tanks crested the hills in front of Scott and above two Cobra AH-1s flew. Scott slammed on the brakes and the Charger reluctantly slid to a stop.

"Damn," the scout cursed. It appeared Van Dyke and company finally had them.

AH1 Cobra

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The Archaeology Students

Part Two

By Douglas E. Gogerty

"Now that we are at our final destination, where are you going to start?"

"Why?"

"I just thought..."

"That we could stick together?"

"Well -- yeah."

"I do not need your help. I am the flying machine expert here. You can do your own research."

"Would it be that horrible to stick together?"

"Probably... Anyway, I have a destination in mind. According to some records that I have read, there was a library just over there. Where there is a library, there is information. That is where I am heading. Please find your own place."

"Do you read old English?"

"How different can it be from current English?"

"It is a lot different. Languages change over time. It seems that you need me."

"Why?"

"As an ancient history major, I took old English as my language requirement."

"So, you can help me look, is that it?"

"Do you know how to read the word airplane in old English..."

"So you are telling me that it is different."

"Yes I am."

"Crap. Ok, you can help me. Let us go."

"I did not expect there to be this much dust."

"We may have to dig our way into the building."

"Are you sure this is it?"

"Ok Mr. Old English, what does that say?"

"Library."

"Any more questions?"

"How can you be so sure they will have what you are looking for?"

"Why did I have to ask if you had any more questions? Anyway, life is full of uncertainties. You can never tell what any place will hold; however, this is a darn good place to start is it not?"

"I am reminded of a story..."

"Shut up and help me dig out the entrance."

"While I am here digging, I am reminded of the question, Why does everything end up under dirt?"

"Some of our classmates are taking the easy way by entering on some of the upper levels of the buildings."

"Naturally, we have to enter a one-story building."

"We are not just looking at how the ancients lived; we are looking at what they knew."

"Nice words, Mr. Engineer."

"Thanks. I felt inspired."

"I think I can open the door now."

"Okay, let us try."

"Phew! It stinks in here."

"At least we are in."

"It is bigger than it looks on the outside."

"But where are the books?"

"Here is a map."

"Well, what does it say?"

"Uh oh!"

"What?"

"This is a Presidential Library."

"So -- no books?"

"Well it commemorates a presidency. It has personal documents and other paraphernalia."

"So -- no books?"

"Perhaps this president read comic books..."

"You are a real funny man."

"This could be a cultural treasure trove. We should tell the others."

"But -- no books?"

"There will be information on what happened while this person was president."

"Are you telling me that if something of note happened during this person's presidency regarding flight, the information might be found here?"

"Right, if they took a trip to Mars or something, it might be noted somewhere in here."

"Which president was it?"

"Every place I have looked -- the name has been vandalized.

"Can you make a guess based upon where it is located?"

"What good will that do you?"

"Uh -- I do not know -- I was just grasping at straws."

"We might as well look around."

"I suppose you are right. Hey, did presidents not read?"

"There might be another library in town."

"True. This library was supposed to be part of a college or university. There are probably others in town too."

"Most likely."

"What are we waiting for then?"

"Can we not look around just a little bit? After all, we did dig our way in here."

"Without books, what good is this place?"

"Do you not even want to go into the NASA room?"

"What is a nasa-room?"

"I have no idea, but it is right over there."

"Boring! Can we go?"

"Can we take just a peek?"

"Does a nasa have something to do with books?"

"I do not know, I cannot figure out its weird logo. I wonder if it had something to do with their nuclear program."

"Maybe we will die of radioactivity if we enter that room. Come on, let's get out of here!"

"I just want to look in."

"Fine -- but be quick about it."

"Well, if we would find anything interesting, it would be in this room."

"What? Why are there books in here?"

"National -- Aeronautics -- and Space -- Administration."

"Aeronautics? As in flying machines?"

"Apparently so."

"Let me see!"

"I wonder if this place was looted."

"There does seem to be a lack of physical information."

"Methane Blast"

"What? Where?"

"It says it right there. Test firing of ... LOX/methane engine."

"Methane! that is great!"

"That could be significant."

"You are telling me! How much thrust did you say?"

"It is confusing, but I think it says 7500 pounds of thrust."

"Pounds? What are pounds?"

"I have no idea."

"Where did this take place?"

"The Mo-jav-e Desert...?"

"Where?"

"Some desert."

"This whole place is a desert."

"What good does this information do you?"

"Do you know nothing? Our Bureau of Information has a large database of information on this civilization. If you know what you are looking for, they can give you what you want to know. However, going up to them and asking about flying machines gets you nothing. There is just too much information. I need specifics."

"So knowing that they tested a methane rocket engine in the desert is helpful."

"Exactly. I probably can get specifications of this engine from the B.I. now.

"Furthermore, we can make methane. It is one of the few fuels they had that we can use."

"There is potential for starting up the space program again."

"Do not get carried away."

"The possibilities are staggering if I can build something based upon their specifications. I have to write this down. Mo-jav-e you say?"

"Perhaps we can more information on it in one of the other libraries in town..."

"One with books? Well, thank you unnamed president guy! It is a shame your library is such a shamble, but at least I found something of interest."

"While you talk to yourself, I am going to leave."

"I am right behind you."

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The Scout

Chapter 23

By Dwayne MacInnes

When the tanks reached the top of the hills, they open fire. Sam stared in awe as the mighty guns exploded. Scott was amazed as the first salvo screamed overhead and smashed into the ranks of Anarchists.

The motorbikes and buggies flew into the air in twisted burning wreckage. Then the helicopters opened up with their machineguns. The 20 mm rounds fired from the M197 tri-barrel chewed up what the tanks did not destroy. In a matter of half a minute, the entire Anarchist patrol laid destroyed smoking and burning in the late afternoon sun.

Scott now noticed the white stars and American flags painted on the vehicles.

"Looks like you are in the clear, Scout," the mysterious voice crackled over the radio again. "Welcome back to the United States of America."

* * * * *

General MacKenzie paced back and forth in the briefing room. He had just finished debriefing Scott and the report of a petty dictator trying to carve himself an empire out in South Dakota greatly troubled him.

"We've dealt with crazies styling themselves after Napoleon before," the large general said. "But we never had to deal with one who wanted to play at Armageddon. Hell, you'd think we all would have learned something over the last twelve years."

Scott just sat behind the table watching the general march back and forth before the dry erase board. The military base situated just outside of Billings represented the farthest eastern reach of the United States in the north.

"You know general, we may need your fire power to help us get to the Twin Cities," Scott finally said.

"Impossible," the general barked. "We are all that stands between this fried-out colonel and the rest of the United States. You know how hard it is to get five M1s not to mention those two Cobras?"

"General, we don't stand a chance if we send our usual convoy east. How about that Apache you've been working on? I also know you have some of those old Pattons."

AH64 Apache Helicopter

"The AH64 is nearly repaired. However, it is a moot point. There is no way the president and the congress is going to allow me to loan you that helicopter or those three M60s."

M60 Patton Tank

The general groaned, "Ah hell, we have a month to ready the convoy and fix up your car. Who knows maybe I can work some kind of miracle. You didn't happen to see what all they had there at Fort Meade did you?"

"Sorry general," Scott replied. "I only saw one M113 APC. In fact, I thought they caught up to us when I first saw your forces. Thank God, we started painting the white stars back on our equipment."

The general laughed, "Yeah, it has been about half a century since we did that. But, things have changed and now more than ever we need to be able to tell us from them.

"Not to change the subject. But, have you decided what you'll do about the kid?" the general asked with genuine concern.

"I guess I haven't really thought about it," Scott said. "I suppose I'll have to adopt him otherwise he'll be sent to a coast detention center. That would be pretty cruel after losing all of his family."

The general groaned, "You know that there are regulations about that."

Scott scratched his chin in thought before he finally broke out in a smile, "Unless the refugee from the Wastes has a special talent that would greatly benefit the United States."

The general stared at Scott for a while, "What in the hell could that kid offer us. He's hardly a mechanic or an engineer."

"No, but I could definitely use a top gunner for my car," Scott countered.

"WHAT!?!" the general exclaimed. "I doubt that kid even held a gun before he met you. He's no top gunner."

"Yet -- General -- he's no gunner yet. I was kind of hoping you'd help out with this. After all, we have a month to scratch together a convoy and I need a gunner for the new turret I'm adding to the Charger."

The general pondered it for a couple of minutes. Finally, MacKenzie shook his head, "Sorry, Scott this is likely to be a suicide mission. I can't have you take a kid out to the Wastes."

"General, if we send that kid to a detention center where he doesn't know anyone that too could well be a suicide mission. Things aren't what they were before the Big Bang. Hell, that kid has spent his entire life living in the Wastes. He knows it better than any of us I'd bet," Scott answered hotly, his face flushed red.

"Ok, we'll put it to the kid," the general finally relented. "You know if we hadn't been friends for the last ten years I'd never let you talk to me like that."

Scott chuckled, "Well, thank God for friendship."

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A Christmas Tale

By Douglas E. Gogerty

The year was 304, and Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus, also known as Diocletian, was the Roman Emperor. He had established Nicomedia as the capital of the eastern empire. He used Christians as a scapegoat for a fire in this eastern capital and increased his persecutions.

It was a cold day in late December where a Christian sat awaiting his eventual execution. A tall Roman soldier entered the prison with a bit of food.

"You're a lucky one Christian. We are celebrating the birthday of the unconquered sun. Your execution will have to wait. You get to live on Roman hospitality for a little while longer."

"I trust in the Lord," responded the Christian. "I am not afraid to die."

"You Christians are an odd bunch. I'll be glad when the gods wipe you off the face of the earth."

"That is one of the differences between us Pagan."

"What...?"

"My god is a loving god. Our father is a forgiving god. Your gods are vengeful. You have to be afraid that the gods will send floods or fires at you for the slightest transgression. Our Lord forgives our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

"Yet, you are here waiting execution, and I am free."

"I will have my reward in the afterlife."

"I do not think the gods will allow access to Elysium to the likes of you!"

"I do not believe in your Elysium. I will go to heaven to be seated with our father and his son at the everlasting feast."

"Ha! That's funny."

"Your pagan religion is bound to fail for a number of reasons. You fail to see the faults in it."

"Like what?"

"For instance, you put to death Socrates for his corrupting influence on the youth and not believing in the ancestral gods. In other words, because Socrates was a teacher and his beliefs were different, they saw him as a threat. He observed the world and saw it differently; thus, your fellow pagans put him to death."

"That was a political death -- not religious," retorted the guard.

"However, these same political deaths have resulted in me being here. What do I know? What great revelations have I beheld that will be snuffed out by your leader's intolerance of those with different beliefs?"

"You elevate your importance too greatly Christian."

"Do you not see? Christianity embraces education. Our church leaders can read and write. By embracing science and education, people will see the light of Christianity and abandon the darkness that is paganism."

"If you are going to dream Christian, dream big!"

"When we can practice our religion more openly, I see great centers of learning establishing themselves. Books will be reproduced and the works of the great masters will be studied. This will all be done in the name of Christ. Christians will lead the way for the educated. We will not fight the results of scientific inquiry but embrace it. In this way, we will leave paganism in the dust."

"You are lucky it is Saturnalia -- Christian -- or I would smite you on the spot for your words."

"Not only do you not embrace education, but you have vengeful gods. If it were not for tradition, your religion would already be dead."

The guard hearing enough struck the Christian across the face with the back of his hand. The anger was coursing through him. He could not wait to see this Christian die. It is then that the Christian began singing a hymn. This angered the Roman soldier even more. He shouted, "Gods forgive me!" as he smacked the Christian again.

"You may strike my other cheek if you wish," urged the Christian.

"Pardon me?"

"Our Lord also teaches us to forgive. If someone strikes our cheek we are to offer them the other one."

"You should not tempt me Christian!"

"I keep telling you -- Pagan -- that ours is a loving and forgiving god. We do not worry about being smitten for our transgressions. Thus, my forgiveness of your actions is as important as your repentance for those sins. Otherwise, it is a constant escalation of violence."

"You speak in riddles Christian."

"Most people believe that you return actions in kind. That is, if you are hurt in some manner, you must strike back. Thus, if a mob causes trouble in Nicomedia..."

"Like burn down a Palace or something?"

"If you will -- they cause trouble -- then you must cause trouble for them."

"Cause trouble for them -- by arresting them and executing them?"

"However, you have declared war on ALL -- not just those involved. It is our belief that you must forgive them."

"That would be very convenient for you, now would it not?"

"There are religious extremist who wish martyrdom in your attack of our religion. I am not one of those. I am just an ordinary believer."

"All of you religious zealots are alike. We cannot trust any of you, thus we will rid the world of all of you."

"Again, that is why my religion is superior to yours. We would forgive those who struck against us. We would never declare war on a particular religion. If they sinned against us, we would forgive them. That is a core tenant of my faith."

"It sounds too good to be true. You would probably never accept someone like me into your faith."

"If you are repentant for your sins, the church will forgive you for your transgressions. You will be accepted."

"I am a guard at a Roman prison. I have witnessed and participated in many horrible acts. Would the church accept me even with these sins upon me?"

"The church accepts all -- no matter what. My faith believes that we were all born sinners and that we may not be able to fight against our sins. However, if you ask for forgiveness you may do penance and be forgiven."

"I do not think your people would accept me because of how I live my life."

"We are all different. If you accept our tenant of forgiveness, and you treat others as you would like to be treated, then there should not be any problems that cannot be overcome."

"If all my relationships are consensual, then my actions would be acceptable?"

"As long as both are willing participants in your actions, then there should not be any problems there. We do not judge, lest we be judged."

"Ha! It sounds too good to be true. I just do not believe that any religion would believe in those crazy things. Thus, when your time comes, you will be executed. Our gods will have another sacrifice. Let your god save you."

"Peace be with you Roman -- and happy holidays."

"Yeah -- well -- Merry Christmas to you -- in jail!"

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The Scout

Chapter 24

By Dwayne MacInnes

Sam eagerly accepted Scott's proposal to be his adopted son and gunner. The Charger now had a turret mounted on its roof that housed the M60 machinegun Scott liberated from the Anarchist buggy. It could rotate 360 degrees, which finally gave the black scout vehicle some rear offense.

Scott was starting to get irritated from wasters always pounding away at his rear. Buying a new machinegun would never have been within Scott's immediate budget. However, with the find of the M60, he now had a gift from the Wastes and he intended to use it.

The next few weeks saw the gathering for the convoy inside Billings that would try to make its way east. The usual array of armed and armored semi-tractors pulling trailers loaded with various goods comprised the heart of the convoy. However, the escorts for these goods were wide and varied in make-up as well as experience.

Scott noted many newcomers to the escort party. The high bounty promised to each driver and crew ensured that many people would tryout for escort duty. Some people showed up with nothing more than a stock vehicle from before the Big Bang and a handgun. However, the convoy committee denied them access to join the convoy on their own. But, they could join up with the more established escorts if those escorts needed additional crew.

The bulk of the escorts comprised the usual experienced crews that drove armored vehicles not unlike Scott's Charger. There was the 'Road Crew' a semi-tractor that pulled a trailer that not only housed and repaired the five armed motorcycles it carried, but also mounted two open turrets that each contained twin-M2 Browning machineguns.

Scott recognized many of the lightly armored buggies that would serve as picket duty in the Wastes. There were several armored cars ranging from old Volkswagen bugs to the more modern SUVs each carrying machineguns and/or recoilless rifles.

m242 25mm machinegun

However, the one that stood out the most and received the most respect was the 'Armadillo'. The Armadillo at one time was a standard Mack semi-truck. Now, the big rig boasted heavy armor and a conversion van's body attached to its rear that used to mount the fifth wheel. A turret on the van's top housed a 25 mm M242 Bushmaster chain gun that was capable of firing up to 200 rounds a minute. The front of the Armadillo and the rear each contained an M240 7.62 mm machine gun. Though the vehicle did resemble its namesake, the offensive capabilities would tend to have one rename it the 'Wolverine'.

m240 7.62mm machinegun

The Armadillo's fame also had to do with its crew. 'Mad Momma McGee', a large stocky woman who before the Big Bang could have been mistaken for a dockworker, drove the big rig. She wore a perpetual scowl as well as a flannel shirt and blue jeans. Her crew was comprised of women who either she or Scott rescued from the Wastes.

As Scott and Sam walked over to the Armadillo, he overheard a newly organized crew joking about the Armadillo's crew.

"Man, this gig is great. A brothel on wheels," laughed a small man working on a buggy.

The man sitting behind the gun snorted and replied, "I hear the real name should be called the 'Armored dil...'"

"HEY!" shouted Scott to the two men before the offensive word was completed. Scott briskly marched over to the dumbfounded jokesters.

"Don't you dare try to cross those women. They are tougher and meaner than you think," Scott lectured.

The man working on the engine shrugged his shoulders as if he did not care. Scott grabbed the man and spun him around, as he pushed him against the frame of the buggy.

"Listen friend," Scott continued in a low harsh voice. "Those women survived the Wastes. I rescued a couple myself from rape-gangs. If you think they have any love for men go ahead and try and warm-up to one of them. You may just lose something dear to you." Scott motioned to the man's crotch. The joker turned white and muttered an apology.

Scott grabbed Sam and continued his trip towards the Armadillo. Mad Momma turned as the scout neared and her usual scowl broke into a genuine smile.

"If I don't live and breathe," Mad Momma exclaimed. "The famous Scott Malice is going to join this party."

"How are you doing, Julia?" Scott countered. Few ever realized Mad Momma's real name was Julia Knudsen.

Several of the surly looking women on the Armadillo smiled and waved down to Scott.

"I can't complain," Julia said. "Kind of getting quiet so the girls and I thought we'd take a trip out to the Midwest."

Scott smiled and warmly hugged the large woman. Scott always feared this bear of a person would break his ribs in one of her bone-crushing embraces.

"Who's your friend?" Julia asked as she smiled to Sam.

"This is my son and gunner, Sam," Scott replied.

"Another orphan rescued from the Wastes, eh?" Mad Momma said. "You know your soft heart is going to get you killed one day."

"Like you are one to talk," Scott parried as he nodded to the women readying the Armadillo.

Scott and Mad Momma caught up on each other's recent adventures. They were laughing when a sergeant approached Scott.

"Excuse me, sir," the soldier interrupted. "The general needs to see you."

Scott's face became serious, "What is it?"

"Some people escaping the Wastes have crossed the border," the sergeant replied. "One of them claims to know you."

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M.O.P.S. in Space

Chapter One

By Douglas E. Gogerty

The Mystic Order of Pumpkin Slayers is just like any other group of people. Well, people who would frequent a comic book convention anyway. MOPS, as they prefer to be called, is made up of four individuals. They are the four that slew the first pumpkins.

The Mystic Order of Pumpkin Slayers

The group consists of Victor Viking, Tommy Templar, Angus MacScot, and Kelly O'Kern. These are not their real names. Their names have been changed to protect them from great embarrassment. After all, would you like people saying that you frequented comic book conventions?

Naturally, they are warriors of various cultures. While Kelly O'Kern may dress like some sort of priest, he is actually a Kern. That is, he dresses like a 16th century Irish foot soldier. His clothing, just so happens, looks like a papal garment. But rest assured, he'll tell you in an Irish accent that he is a 16th century Irish foot soldier if you ask him.

Angus MacScot is your run of the mill Scottish warrior. Apart from the fact that he wears glasses and is bald, he is just like Mel Gibson in that movie. Oh, and he does not take the opportunity to paint himself blue, so that is also a difference. Further, he does not have a Scottish accent via Australia. This also sets them apart. Okay, they are nothing alike. I admit it. He is just an ordinary man in a skirt -- er -- kilt.

Tommy Templar is a Templar Knight -- hence the name. The fact that he is not French or Catholic should not deter you from accepting him as a member of the Knights Templar. He does like weapons and armor -- especially weapons. He has mail, a great helm, a shield, and a number of swords that would make any knight jealous. Thus, this allows him to call himself a Templar. If you wish to argue the point, you would have to speak with Henry V (a sword.)

Victor Viking is a name given in irony. What warrior do you assign a slight, timid rocket scientist? Naturally, you assign him one of the most ruthless warrior races ever to grace the earth. He would not choose one himself -- he had to be assigned one. A person who cannot swim and faints at the sight of blood would make a wonderful seafaring warrior -- am I right?

The group would gather each autumn and rid the world from a few evil hordes of pumpkins. Their motto is "Death to pumpkins and all large vegetables!" They naturally dress this up in bastardized Latin. The motto Morte de cucurbita pepo et alia vegetablis grandis gives them an air of respectability even though they are just a group of yahoos who go around chopping up pumpkins with swords and various other medieval weapons.

On this particular occasion, they had all gathered -- in costume -- at a greater Twin Cities Comic and Gaming Festival. You might think that four grown men in Renaissance Faire regalia would stand out in a crowd. They did not in this crowd. How do you stand out from various Klingons and other Star Trek characters? If someone in a Princess Leia slave girl outfit walks by, is anyone really going to notice a man dressed like Jesus carrying a sword? Excuse me, I meant dressed like a 16th Century Irish foot soldier.

No, they blended in perfectly with this particular crowd. They had purchased booth space in an attempt to garner interest in a movie project. The script for M.O.P.S. the Movie had been written, and they were looking for funding to get the movie made. A director, actors, and anyone with any film making expertise would be a good start as well.

As you might expect, they had drawn absolutely no interest in their project. They were crazy to think anyone would be interested. It was the last day of the event, and they decided to pack it in. Instead of being 'vendors', they would be simple attendees. In this way, they could grab some free stuff. Perhaps they would even meet the four or five single women at the event.

They could have dressed in normal clothes -- well -- normal clothes for regular people. Instead, they wandered the convention floor in full costume. According to Victor, "they were taking the pitch to the people." It was either label it that or admit defeat. Thus, the rest went along with this suggestion.

It should be noted that while each of them had a weapon, these implements were fastened to their accoutrements to make them unusable. For instance, those with swords had them "peace knotted" with cable ties to their scabbards in such a way that they could not be drawn. In this way, the members of MOPS could wander the convention floor wielding dangerous implements.

Tommy Templar had his sword and main gauche zip tied to their respective scabbards. The convention people attached his dagger to his belt. His secondary boot knife was secured to his boot. They would not let him bring in his war hammer or axe, and this upset him. However, he brought in an unfettered pocketknife if trouble should arise.

The quartet wandered the convention floor gawking at the "geeks" and visiting the booths. They had as much luck wandering the floor as they did at their booth. However, they were accumulating some free convention swag. Thus, they felt like they were accomplishing something.

After making a lap around the convention floor, they noticed a peculiar booth. There was a table pushed against the wall with its sign pointing toward the wall. Next to the table was a six-foot octopod.

The creature stuffed two legs into a pair of ordinary blue jeans. The jeans were tight and fit rather oddly as if they were tentacles stuffed into a pair of jeans. He had a pair of unusually small, red canvas, high-top basketball shoes. He wore a plain blue t-shirt. Two tentacles used the armholes, two came out the shirt's neck, and two exited out the bottom. This creature's mouth and eyes appeared in the gap between the shirt and pants.

Intrigued by this creature, the MOPS members approached the booth.

"Excuse me; you know that the show is this way..." Angus MacScott stated pointing to the convention floor.

"Leave me," replied the creature with a voice that none of the members could localize.

"That is quite a costume," Kelly O'Kern said ignoring the threat.

"Listen to my words," boomed the voice although no one but the MOPS members seemed to hear. "In one minute, you would not wish to be here."

"What happens in one minute?" asked Victor Viking.

"It would take more than a minute to explain, so be gone!" the booming voice explained.

"If there is going to be trouble, we would like to know," Tommy Templar explained.

"Come on," begged Victor pulling at the other members. "We should leave him alone. He obviously doesn't want us around."

"What does that have to do with anything?" asked Tommy.

"Yeah, we're here dressed like dorks," added Angus. "What makes you think that we have any sense at all?"

"You guys may not have any sense, but I do," insisted Victor.

"You weigh 120 pounds and are wearing 75 pounds of gear, and you're trying to tell us you have sense?" asked Kelly.

"I'm willing to leave this squidman alone," added Victor.

"Octopi have 8 legs, and squid have 10 -- er -- said Mr. Marine Biologist," Kelly retorted.

"Okay Mr. Smartguy -- Octopusman," Victor said strongly.

"What makes you think our friend here is a man?" asked Tommy.

"The deep voice -- for starters," replied Victor.

"Did you just try to check and see if he had a package?" asked Tommy.

"See, you just called him a he!" Victor responded triumphantly.

"Take your discussion elsewhere! I really mean it!" boomed the voice impatiently.

"You're a guy right?" asked Victor.

"Really? You cannot tell?" the voice asked with a slight amount of dejectedness.

"Well, you *are* in an octopod costume," replied Kelly.

"Costume?" started the voice when a blinding white light enveloped the five of them.

Suddenly, the table was no longer facing the wall. It was in the corner of a room filled with other octopods of various colors and modes of dress. The comic convention was gone, and they were in very strange place. Well -- to be honest -- it was only slightly stranger.

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