The first Chapter of my Serial as seen on E-SciFi. I’ll be posting the chapters here on the blog after they make their run on the E-Zine, but I’ll love you for ever if you support E-Scifi and other short story venues!
Wind and Sky, Part 1 : Disgrace.
The mediator scrawled the final signature on the peace treaty, heralding the end of a five year war. The momentous document sat on a long oak table, overlooked by the most important men of both countries. Everyone looked quite pleased, save for two men. They stood with folded arms and aimed dangerous glares at each other. Generalissimo Helgo’s deep frown peeked out behind his long grayed mustache. A day and a half of uncharacteristic stubble framed Grand War Minister Tolon’s scowl. The two men rarely agreed on anything, but neither found satisfaction in the terms of peace.
The men surround the table stood, offering congratulations and touted possibilities of prosperity. Both nations turned war into a profitable venture. The nations had not only come to peace but managed a business arrangement. Technological advancements would be shared between countries that could hardly maintain trade.
Hadassah watched from her side of the room, surrounded by her personal guard. They aimed wary glanced at her while the councilors and diplomats socialized. Peace was never enough, people craved recompense. She had been deadlocked in strategy since day one of the five year war. The enemy general had earned her respect and she recognized the rivalry between them.
Their combined efforts ended this war, not empty promises. With no communication, Hadassah worked in tandem to limit casualties and forge a strategic stalemate. She only hoped it succeeded in showing the bureaucrats the faults of their greed.
Now she would be rewarded for her actions.
The politicians filed out of the large conference room. They patted each other on the back and hailed the peace. They laughed, passing the bookend soldiers one from each of their nations: one side wearing the jungle green of the Nation of Wind, the other wearing the Royal Blue of the Kingdom of Sky.
This time last week they would have been shooting at each other. Now, they divided protection duties. The Crown Monarch of the Kingdom of Sky and the Presidente of the Nation of Wind remained absent. A later event would formalize the truce in the public eye. The two leaders lingered behind and gave each other a defeated look.
“This is ridiculous,” Helgo said in his thick accent. “I should be covering my man with medals not this. I would be more inclined to break both my legs.”
“I feel your pain, my good man.” Tolon pushed a pair of wire rimmed glasses onto his face. “I am not so inclined to have Milady endure the indignity of classless apes.”
“It’s fine, Minister,” Hadassah said, straightening. “As long as it is for peace, I will endure any sacrifice.”
Helgo stood and smashed his large hands onto the table. The Generalissimo wore black war fatigues that looked freshly used in battle, draped in soot as much as dye. At one point it might have been green. The hairs on the back of his hand prickled. “What is peace if it is delivered to us on the backs of those who broke them for it? I feel sorrier for your little woman than my man. There is nothing your country can do to hurt his iron-clad spirit.”
Tolon glanced to Hadassah, regaining his sparkling composure. He straightened, tugging on his sparkling white suit and adjusted the blue rose at his lapel. “I assure you Generalissimo; the people of the Sky are resourceful and every bit as petty as your men. Neither of them will likely be in great comfort. Is there not anything we can do about this?”
“No.” Helgo waved off the idea. “It is not an option. You want to drum up war again? Worse, one of us would be accused for foul play.”
Hadassah adjusted her blue military cap and fell into consideration. The war is over and this will be the last time I wear this uniform. She had grown fond of her high collared white uniform and remembered the day she received it, alongside the medals and honors decorating her breast. She politely removed her cap and held it over her midsection, wearing a stern expression.
“I wish I had a better gift for you,” Tolon said. “To achieve so much at Thirty-Nine years of age is no small achievement. I will see the name Hadassah Brine honored and remembered, no matter what.”
“Minister.” She raised a hand to her stomach and offered a polite and shallow bow. Without missing a beat she turned her head to the stout man next her superior. “Generalissimo. It is a pleasure to meet you in person.”
Helgo waved it off casually but could not contain a wandering eye. Genuine surprise lurked behind his dull black eyes. “You honor me. But I do not have that right.”
A man walked in, dark skinned and rugged, but not half stout as Helgo. His build was lean and harsh with broad shoulders. He did nothing to hide an easy smile, and his eyes glistened like gold; the same color as the haphazardly applied tie around his neck.
Golden strands linked the left side of his chest to his opposite shoulder. Rows of bullets with carefully drilled holes in them lined them. They were the only adornment he wore. He casually twirled a dusty dark green hat covered with nicks and grazes. It had been patched a dozen times to restore it to functionality. A mat of jet black hair, feathery and freshly tousled, covered his head. He looked as though someone had grabbed him and shook him until it ended up in its current state. His lips were moistened from liquor.
“Tabansi Gemani,” Tolon said with mild surprise. “Are you the genius general that has thwarted us so?”
“Yep,” he said with an accent thicker than Helgo’s. “Pleasure’s all yours.”
Hadassah made a face at his clear disrespect to her superior. She folded her arms and scoffed. “I am not surprised in the slightest. No one ever doubted his brilliance, but his appearance perfectly mirrors his recklessness.”
Tabansi turned and fixed his eyes on Hadassah, letting out a low whistle. He blatantly checked her out from top to bottom, settling his gaze on her long, grey-stocking covered legs. He paced around her like a circling shark. “No one’s telling me the blue devil was being so fine looking.”
“One never asked,” She said, holding her ground.
“Tabansi. Behave.” Helgo snapped his fingers at him. “This is–”
“Hadassah Brine. General of the Sky’s forces. Master Tactician. Graduated top honors in half the time as her classmates. Also, one hot ass bitch.” Tabansi punctuated the last words with a sharp smack on her bottom.
She twitched in surprise, but retained her composure.
Tolos glowered at him. “Sir. I’ll ask you to—”
“To tell the truth, ya?” Tabansi laughed and stiffed, turning his expression serious. He straightened out his voice to do a convincing facsimile of the minister’s accent. “My apologies my good sir: I am afraid my time amongst the lower class mongrels of the Nation of Wind has left me with absolutely hideous manners. I haven’t had time at all to stand around imitating the torment of facilitating a stick up my posterior and sniffing at the air in disdain.”
Even in mockery, the act made him look absolutely regal. No one could imitate the potency of his presence.
He nodded at Helgo, and the two men burst out laughing and the dour mood in the room vanished.
Hadassah shifted in place, the laughter proved infectious. It caught her off guard. Offensive as it was it was true enough; it always irritated her how the brass valued procedure over logic.
“Well I can’t imagine you will be laughing long. I have grave news.” Tolos said.
“I know.” Tabansi waved it off casually. “If you think that’s gonna stop me from laughing you’re dumber than you look.”
“What, how?” Helgo straightened his face.
“We’re not fools,” Hadassah said. “We knew something was wrong as soon as the peace meeting was called.”
Tabansi glanced over at her, smiling. “As expected from my rival; why don’t you explain? I bet you been sick of me always making the first move.”
“Quite.” Hadassah glanced back at the men. “There is a great deal of disdain to be held from the public image of this war. The people have come to resent the Monarch for the conflict and feel as though he does not care for the common man. As Mr. Gemani likely hold in his nation, I have been popularized amongst my nation and demonized in yours. I can assure you the same has happened in my home in reverse.”
Tabansi nodded. “As you say, it is.”
“I– We have surmised that one method of establishing strife of war is by circulating that we are brought to justice.” Hadassah paused to sigh. “I am well aware that your country plans to have me executed Generalissimo.”
Tabansi folded his arms. “Your little monarchy having big plans for me too. A date with a chopping block? Or do you Sky people scold people to death?”
Tolos pulled off his glasses and polished them. “You’re only half right.”
Both the star generals stood surprised by this.
“They don’t plan to execute you. Only imprison you.” The Minister of War pointed with his glasses.
Hadassah raised a brow. “Imprison us?”
“It is as he says. As of today you are no longer the Blue Devil and the Gold Terror. You are less than dogs,” Helgo said, “Tabansi. Your honors.”
“What?” Tabansi’s temper flared at his superior. “Impossible, I will accept death gloriously in the name of peace, but this?”
“I’m afraid this is only the beginning, old friend. But my hands are tied.” The Generalissimo waved his hand a second time. “Please, shed it willingly, I do not want to see it taken from you.”
Tabansi’s hand went to his side, looking for a pistol. He had surrendered his weapon at the entrance of the building. Men of both the Sky and the Wind poured in, removing any chance to wring his general’s traitorous neck.
Rifles and sky-bows cocked around them and there were dozens of armed men pointing at him and Hadassah.
“What is the meaning of this Minister? I would expect this sort of thing from them,” Hadassah said.
“It is out of my control as well. Both countries have spoken. Your King has forsaken you just as his president has. I suggest you take Helgo’s advice.” Tolos extended a hand.
Hadassah glanced around the room with disdain. The very weapons she helped develop now pointed at her. They held all the power of the wind’s rifle with astonishing accuracy. A dull hum of the energy charged arrow tips filled the room. Dozens of pale blue dots covered the front of her uniform.
She nodded quietly, reaching to remove her medals one by one. Tabansi’s roared, halting her.
“This is not how it should end.” Tabansi struck his chest with a balled fist. “I will kill every man in this room if this wrong is not righted. This is not the Way of the Wind. All of you are my brothers, and this is only proof that times must—”
A gunshot silenced Tabansi. A spray of blood erupted from his leg. He faltered to one knee, gritting his teeth. He did not scream. Blood poured out the wound in his leg. His hand tightened into fists and stood.
“The next one will not be so kind, friend.” The Generalissimo aimed his pistol at his crotch. “Your honors, now.”
Tabansi reached up and pulled on the golden strands at his chest. His hand bled before the strand gave out. The cords popped one by one as row after row of bullets spilled to the floor below him.
The loose ammunition clattered around the feet of the men with rifles. Helgo lowered his pistol and holstered it. “Men, each of you take one of his honors. I am afraid you will have to carry them on for him. On this day, Tabani Gemani is a soldier no more.”
The men stooped and carefully plucked bullets from the ground, while maintaining their bead on Tabansi.
Tolos looked at Hadassah expectantly. She had been transfixed on the wound on his leg. She had been shot before, but thanks to the medical technology in the Kingdom of Sky her arm worked as good as new in a matter of days. She knew the poor and primitive nation of the Wind had no such luxuries.
“Of course.” She gestured. “We should treat his wounds. Dog or not, he is a prisoner of the Kingdom of Sky.”
“We will tend to him,” Tolos said.
Hadassah fixed her gaze on Tabansi. His eyes held a low boil of rage. She resumed removing her medals and placed them in a neat pile in Tolos’ outstretched hand.
Tolos cleared his throat. “It is a crime for one not of the military to wear the uniform of an officer.”
“W-what?” Hadassah flushed a hand to the center of her chest.
“You are pigs.” Tabansi spat. “What does that have to do with this?”
“Everything I’m afraid,” Tolos said. “Now if you please. Do not make this difficult.”
Hadassah set her jaw and scowled. She unbuttoned her uniform and silently cursed the warm weather of the borderlands. Typically she would wear a turtleneck body suit to find comfort in the bitter cold of the Kingdom of Sky. Underneath she only wore modest undergarments.
She followed protocol. Hadassah folded the jacket calmly and offered it to her Minister with the cap resting on top. She retained her air of dignity despite her state of undress. It hurt Tolos more than it did her.
Tabansi growled and stripped off his jacket leaving him with a black sleeveless shirt underneath. He kicked off the fatigue pants, revealing a pair of black silk boxers.
Hadassah complied calmly removing the skirt in one fluid motion. She stooped over to fold the skirt into a neat pile and felt keenly aware of the leering eyes of the men in the room. The lady soldiers averted their gaze. Her men did not share the courtesy.
Tabansi peeled off his black shirt, offering it to her. She accepted it gracefully. He impressed her. It must have been extremely painful to remove his fatigues with the bullet wound in his leg and he wasn’t doing it under order. The uniform of a soldier in the Nation of Wind did not house his pride and soul, it was the trophies they gathered in their conflicts.
That last bullet is for you, shall you fail.
Hadassah slipped the shirt on, thankful to limit the exposure. It fit loose and comfortable, but carried his stench of smoke and booze. She assumed Tabansi was younger than her, but the scars and blemishes across his skin told a different story. She felt like a child compared to him, any wound she had endured in war had been brushed away with medical science. His skin read like a road map of war. The bullet wound he endured looked like a scratch compared to the hideous scars covering his back and chest.
“Thank you.” Tolos said with a defeated sigh. “I do not approve of this treatment, we said what we could but the final word does not fall to the department of war. Your Generalissimo even tried to convince the council that execution would be more prudent.” The Minister set aside the uniform and pushed up his glasses.
“So what exactly do they have planned for us?” Tabansi straightened. Blood from his wound slowed to a trickle against flexed muscles of his leg.
“You will be released to the custody of the Science council,” Tolos said. “Before you ask, I have no idea what their plans are for you.”
Helgo grunted. “However I am fairly well versed in what will become of you Hadassah. Our ‘Science division’ is not so subtle.”
Hadassah stayed resolute. “I’m afraid no matter what you do to me I will not disclose my country’s secrets.”
“We are aware. That is why we will not waste our time.” Helgo folded his arms. “Tolos, let us leave them, as agreed.”
“Of course, Generalissimo.” Tolos bowed.
Approximately half the soldiers filed out of the room with a mere gesture from their commanders. Tolos handed off Hadassah’s uniform to a lady soldier. The Generalissimo himself scooped up Tabansi’s fatigues.
The soldiers filed out with their leaders on their heels. The two men paused, and Tolos turned to them. “This room is your prison for now.”
The door was shut and locked. Hadassah peered over at Tabansi warily. “What is the meaning of this?”
Tabansi said with a scowl. “Isn’t it obvious?”
She stiffened and eyed Tabansi’s state of undress. “I see. This is decidedly well thought out isn’t it? Let me treat your leg. We aren’t enemies now, so I won’t have you bleed to death.”
“I won’t,” he said.
She scowled at him, almost forgetting she was only in her underwear. “Fine then. I’ll assess the situation, and make some clothes.”
“Why?” Tabansi sat in place. “They’ll just take them away, and besides you kings-men have your cooled rooms. It should be comfortable when we are naked.”
“When we are naked? Well. You may be comfortable with the idea of standing around in your knickers or less, but I prefer to be covered.” Hadassah said, sizing up a curtain.
“I told you. They will just take them. You do not listen well.” Tabansi glared back at her. “There is a door there and there. Likely that is a bath and kitchen. We are not without comforts. This conference room proves a glorified apartment.”
Hadassah eyed him. “What do you suggest?”
“We plan an escape, what else?” Tabansi stretched out his leg. “I need to clean the wound, take out the bullet too.”
“What with your tongue? I told you I can do it. I’m the one with a doctorate.” Hadassah halved her eyes.
“And I don’t care about that. I don’t want you near me.” He glared over at her.
“Considering your prior outbursts, I find that hard to believe.” She folded her arms across her breasts.
“That was before this. I don’t like being told what to do.” Tabansi made his way to the wall and clawed at a door royal blue cover.
“I’ll check the other one,” she said.
“No need. I know this is the bathroom. The colored walls tell me.” He grunted as he ripped down the cover.
“How is that?”
“Kingdom of Sky is where they store all the bullshit.” He opened the door to find an elaborate kitchen. “Fuck. They would do that just to mock me.”
Hadassah laughed and checked for audio bugs, then made her way to the other door. Instead of ripping down the green cover she reached up and unbuckled the clasps to the wall and let the cover fall forward intact. She calmly opened the door, revealing the restroom. She stepped in and claimed the first aid kid.
Tabansi clutched the wall and slid to the floor, at his limit. He prodded at the wound with his thumb. “Damn. Generalissimo is soft in his age. He didn’t even hit anything vital.”
“If you could curtail your machismo for a moment I’ll treat your wound.”
“I told you—”
“I know what you told me, twit.” She jabbed a finger at him. “You are bleeding and we need each other’s help if we are going to get out of here.” She knelt next to him and opened the box. “Basic, but it should have you walking comfortably at least.”
Tabansi pressed his lips together, watching her work. She pulled out the medical unit, pressing buttons. She tried four codes, all worked.
“So there are access codes on all of those eh?”
“Yes. And thankfully mine haven’t been revoked, yet. As a precaution though I have at least four dozen codes of active members memorized. It is unlikely they will realize, until it is too late.” A needle erupted from one side of the unit.
“No needles,” Tabansi said.
She laughed. “You’re afraid of this little thing after taking a nine millimeter slug to the leg? Don’t worry I didn’t put any painkillers in here. You don’t need them.”
Tabansi scowled as she approached. She injected him with pale blue liquid. He didn’t flinch. She couldn’t blame his distrust in the Sky’s technology. There had been countless logged attempts on captured devices. Attempts to reverse engineer the devices. It only brought violent deaths. Their passcodes had forty keystrokes, even if he memorized one. He wouldn’t know the purpose of the keys without an explanation, as all the keys were blank. Each unit’s key positions were cyphered.
His expression softened. The bleeding stopped.
“You might have oddly colored urine for a pass or three. That liquid replaces your lost blood and plasma until your body makes more. I have to regulate the amount, an excess of ten milligrams can kill a man.”
“I know. I thought you may try to end this quickly.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You’re the ones with silly suicide pacts. Besides between the two of us, we’ll figure something out.” She put the device back into the box.
“Who knows how much time we have? We would be wise to make out move as soon as possible. Every moment we wait holds a chance they put us in false sense of security.” Tabansi rubbed his chin.
“Agreed.” Hadassah folded her hands in her lap.
“You really are a beautiful woman. I apologize for my rudeness before.
“Yes well. You are a surprisingly fetching gentleman yourself. Try not to stare; our relationship must remain professional if we want to get out of here alive and well.” Hadassah frowned.
“They’re not going to kill us. No matter what we do. That is what we want, yes?” Tabansi smacked his leg. “Shooting me in the groin was a bluff.”
“Yes well. Don’t over think why they put us in here together,” Hadassah said. “You make it seem improper.”
He blinked at her. “I was hoping we could make nice over a pitcher of beer. I wasn’t really expecting you to be half as good looking as you actually are, but I suppose I was lucky in that way.”
“I see.” She halved her eyes at him.
He sat cross-legged, looking her over. “If it makes you feel better we can talk business. There are points I want to ask you.”
“Go on. We’re going to be here for a while anyway,” Hadassah said.
Tabansi tapped his cheek. “In the fields of Gosorad you made a grave tactical error so unlike you. I realized I could dispatch an entire unit to ambush you on the high ground.”
“But you didn’t,” she said.
“Well it might have been a trap,” Tabansi said. “Yet it caused a blockade of supplies to both our countries. It ended the war quickly.”
Hadassah nodded. “It was a worthy gamble then. I’m afraid that there is some truth to me being a traitor. I intentionally made poor judgments in hopes you, the rival tactician, would catch on. I take full responsibility.”
“Don’t. If you hadn’t done it, I would have. The war was pointless.” Tabansi tightened his hand around his knee. “I thank you for that. It is good to know there are people with courage left in the world.”
She smiled softly. “The sentiment is shared General Gemani.”
“I am no general. I am Tabansi. My friends call me Ansi. You may call me Ansi.” He offered a hand in greeting.
“I see your point. Causality would be the best approach now.” She politely offered her hand. “You may call me Hadassah.”
“Too stuffy.” He took her hand and kissed it, a sign of cooperation in the Wind. “I will call you Ha’ah. In my language it means something, suiting you.”
“The context is odd. Which use of it is that?”
“Hot ass bitch.”
She frowned. “Ha’ah means three things, in your language. That isn’t one of them. I’m fluent in your tongue”
“Oh really? You are versed in my tongue? Then you won’t mind me doing this.” Tabansi leaned forward to kiss her.
She deflected him with a hand to his forehead. “There will be none of that. Your definition of fluency is appalling.”
“But I think better with a beautiful woman in my arms.”
Hadassah darkened her expression. “You will have to do without. I find tea has a similar effect if you are interested.”
“There are many other things we can do to pass the time, yes?” He reached out and put his hand on her thigh. She slapped his hand hard in hopes to deter him. It did not.
“Sir, I mean, Ansi.” She moved his hand.
The door clicked behind them. Tabansi pounced atop Hadassah, kissing her. She struggled in vain, realizing his lips were folded inward and pressed against her, a staged kiss.
She met his ruse, and draping her hands over his shoulders.
The door opened and she had a slightly obstructed view of a man. Her eyes darted downward to a wandering hand, posed near her breast. Ansi held up the hand in a signal, field messaging.
Reluctantly, she pushed closer to him and let out a moan. Ansi stunk of sweat and his breath tasted of booze, offsetting any of his genuine attractiveness.
The message was quick and clear. ‘This man is dangerous, but knows value in a child made between us.’
She nodded into the kiss and brought his hand against her body. She was familiar enough to know the signs without seeing them. She ran her hand through his hair and did the field sign to respond. ‘I understand.’
Good. He put his hand against her stomach. ‘We don’t want to talk to him now.’
The door closed. The man said nothing before leaving.
She shoved him away. “Was that completely necessary?”
“Probably not.” He grinned. “Better safe than sorry.”
“You.” Hadassah glared at him. “If you plan on pulling anything like that again I command you to take a bath at least.”
“A Bath?” He sniffed at his arm. “But I just took one two days ago.”
“Ugh.” She scurried away and stood. “I could have been worse. Your deception isn’t entirely false. Someone stripped of everything would do something desperate as to sleep with the first handsome man they see.”
“So I am handsome? You want to pick up where we left off after the bath? Or shall we do so during?”
“No.” She narrowed her eyes. “Next time we will deter them with noise. I’m sure I can be quite convincing without you having your grubby paws on me.”
“I am deeply offended. My paws are not grubby.” He held out his hands in protest. “They are mostly clean.”
Hadassah looked away. “What you said about– Do you think that’s true?”
Tabansi didn’t meet her eyes. “Perhaps. They may be looking ahead to the next inevitable war. But do not worry Ha’ah. I will not let then that happen.”
She sighed. “I’ll have to take your word on it then.”
“Well. That is sort of a lie.” Tabansi grinned, returning his gaze to her. “If it was with your consent, I would be honored to have my way with you.”
“Repulsive.” She gave him a swat. “Don’t hold your breath. You might die.”