Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Poll-driven Crusade CH 17-18

Chapter 17

January 4th, 2559
Firebase Seven Nine Tango,
North of Faisal,
New Palestine:

   Corporal Charles Keller waited for the thrust-blast to cease before he stepped from behind the small concrete barricade. The shuttle’s engines slowly idled down. The rear ramp opened up to show a soldier standing in front of a large number of crates strapped to the deck. The new soldier walked down the ramp, pulling his duffel bags hung from an anti-gravity unit.
   The soldier was a walking arsenal, for he carried a BR75, an M905 pistol, and a spin-knife. Keller walked up to Jon, his boots stirring up small dust clouds. “Corporal Walker?”
   “That’s me,” Jon replied.
   “I’m Corporal Keller. Welcome to Echo, Fifth Highlanders and Firebase Seven Nine Tango,” he said, his accent changing “Keller” to “Kellah” as he held out his hand.
   “Pleasure,” Jon said as he shook Keller’s hand firmly as he studied his guide. Keller had longish brown hair, hazel eyes, and a solid build. On Keller’s chest pocket was the silhouette of Alliance House, indicating Keller had once been a member of the Presidential Life Guards. Above the pocket, next to Keller’s Infantry Designator rested the black shield of an Aggressor.
   “Where were you at?“
   “Sector Fifty, down south. Fissile field on the edge of no-fucking-where. You?”
   “Sector Four, out of Compound One,” Jon replied.
   “Where’s home?” Keller asked.
   “United States, on Earth,” Jon said and shifted his rifle slightly. “You?”
   “Australia,” Keller replied. “Let’s get you checked in. You’re gonna be in Second Squad, First Platoon. Gonna love it here.”
   “I’ll never love it here. No beer,” Jon replied.
   “Trust me, you’ll love it here. The locals dick with us daily out there,” Keller said as he gestured towards the city of Faisal in the distance. “But since their last effort about three weeks ago, they stay the hell away from us.”
   “Gotcha. What’s the game plan?”
   “Annual weapons qual today for the squad. Since I’m still current, I’m here to help you check in while the squad qualifies. We hook up with Top, get you checked in, find you a hole, hook you up with the squad and get ready for tomorrow.”


   An hour later, Jon stood at rigid attention in front of a tall, muscular First Lieutenant.
   “I’m Lieutenant Brux. You spell it B-R-U-X. I’m easy to get along with. Got a problem, use the chain of command. If you are the problem, chain of command will straighten you out.
   “I’m putting you with Second Squad. Staff Sergeant Perrine will hook up with you shortly. He’s a good NCO and you’ll learn a lot from him. He has about seven months left on his tour.
   “Three things that really rub me raw. First is weapons discipline. Your weapon will be within arm’s reach at all times outside of your hooch and shower.
   “Second is weapons maintenance. Dirty weapons are dangerous ones. I’ve been known to do random inspections. Keep your weapons clean.
   “Third is your maintenance. We do PT and all that, but many troops forget that they are weapons. I expect you to maintain proper hygiene and enforce the standards accordingly. Cleanliness is a must, however, we are somewhat lax on haircuts and moustaches for a reason. Since we don’t wear rank insignia here, the terrorists know those intending to go Professional tend to keep their hair shorter than the conscripts.”


   “Perimeter has a two kilometer kill zone, measured from the wire. At the far edge of it, there’s a few small mounds we left up. We could knock them down, but we leave ‘em up for comic relief.”
   “They’re preregistered for mortars,” Keller chuckled. “We have a few sensors planted outside the blast zones to tell us when to fire. Every so often some genius thinks they’re going to mortar us from that area, so we wait until they get set up then hit them.”
   Jon grinned approvingly.
   “Anyway, we have mines out the wazoo for half a kilometer from the wire. Used to be all anti-personnel with a few Topshot anti armor-mines blended in.”
   “All the mines in one belt, half a klick in depth?” Jon asked. Keller nodded. “We’d be better off with several smaller belts further out and a final belt fifty meters in depth from the wire. Confuse them more and slow down the momentum of their attack.”
   “You know it and I know it. But the fucking politicians who write the Rules of Engagement don’t know it. They’re afraid Omar the Oppressed is going to get hurt when he lets his goats stray onto our vegetation-free kill zone to graze.”
   “It wouldn’t surprise me any. Give me Kronskye Rules of Engagement anytime!” Jon said, referring to the no-quarter policy the Aggressors operated under.
   “Agreed. Anyway, we’re going to be planting more anti-armor mines soon. Because of the attack, we’re actually going to get the new Per-D system. Ever see what one can do?”
   “I’ve seen testing tapes of the Perimeter Defense system in action.”
   “Well, last August, thirty raggies got the bright idea to attack Alliance Island. They thought they were being stealthy when they came in. They anchor far enough out so they don’t alert the satellite warning system and swim underwater with air tanks to get to the beach. Dumb shits forgot we have underwater sensors.
   “Anyway, they surfaced in front of two Per-D boxes and a rolling sentry twenty meters away. The boxes launched about twenty thousand rounds each through the lot in a second flat. Instant fish food.”
   “Obviously,” Jon said dryly. “What’s the plan if they try anything with us before we get Per-D?”
   “When the siren goes off, run to your position, lock and load and watch--your lane!” Keller said, mimicking the command used on combat marksmanship ranges.
   “Gotcha. Where’s the plat daddy?”
   “Platoon Sergeant Fowler is on a contraband hunt. He’s gotten a bit strange since Prohibition began.”
   “That’s what we call the ban here.”
   “Oh yeah. So what’s with the plat daddy?”
   “Prohibition was a two phase plan. Minister of War turned off the tap, said no beer was to be shipped after September first. However, beer already here or in Transit would be consumed as normal rather than waste money shipping it offworld or destroying it in place. The Palis went along with that.
   “The Island was already dry when I got here. How much beer is still floating around?” Jon asked.
   “Officially everyone is supposed to be dry. It was announced that after November first, anyone caught with alcoholic beverages would be prosecuted bigtime. Since my old unit was coming to the mainland before I could finish school, they replaced me and I came here. When I got here, Sergeant Perrine--our squad leader--said that when they got word of the upcoming ban, Fowler started hoarding and buying up the non-drinker’s beer rations.
   “Apparently, he just ran out. You can expect a real bitch of an inspection because he’s searching. Naturally, his goal is to ensure no contraband exists,” Keller chuckled.
   “Of course,” Jon said, knowing Platoon Sergeant Fowler would “personally destroy” any beer he found.
   “He’s a good field troop, knows his shit, but he’s a bit nuts in the rear. How he inspects depends on his mood and the reputation of those he’s inspecting. He went into one hooch and tore it apart because one of the troops supposedly didn’t have his bunk made right. Catch is that one of the non-drinkers in the hooch was reported to have saved his beer ration and hidden it for resale at ten creds a bottle.”
   “He would have gotten it too,” Jon said.
   “Anyway, Fowler didn’t find anything and two hooches down, he overlooks something even worse and keeps on going. Just make your bunk right and you’ll get through hooch inspections.”
   “Gotcha,” Jon said.
   “Top Wisner is one hardcore dude who doesn’t fuck around. I’m sure he knows what Fowler is up to and I suspect a Highlander Dry-Pop is in Fowler’s future.”
   “What do they teach now at Alliance Island?” Keller asked incredulously. “A Highlander Dry-Pop is our slang for a boot in the ass.”
   “Gotcha,” Jon replied.
   “Anyway, Top is a good First Sergeant and classy. He has a story about him now that no doubt will be Army-wide within a year,” Keller said enviously.
   “Do tell,” Jon said, for most of the “best” Professional soldiers inevitably had a reputation-enhancing story.
   “Had the raggies breach the perimeter about three weeks ago. Waited until we were out in town doing patrols when they started with fairly heavy mortar fire to keep everyone pinned down. Second group of mortars concentrated on the defenses where they wanted to breach.”
   “Gotcha,” Jon replied, understanding the situation.
   “Anyway, the raggies were really going for it. Couple of trucks were rigged to fire crude Minefield Clearing Charges to clear lanes. They blow the MCCs and get into the perimeter. The fuckers were fast, perhaps two minutes from the first impact to the time they were in the wire.
   “Top was in the showers when the first round hit. Grabs his boots, helmet and his BR, and runs to his fighting position.”
   Jon laughed at the mental image. “Oh, no!”
   “Oh, yes!” Keller laughed as he enthusiastically nodded his head. “Anyway, he had to take cover because the raggies were pounding away at us. So he jumps in an empty hole and starts banging away with his BR75. Stray round takes his rifle out. Breaks the fucker in half! Top is not thrilled about it.
   “Top figures he better move out smartly and does so. The raggies had already gotten through the wire and were trying to fan out. One raggie had jumped in Top’s regular fighting position and was reloading when Top jumped in.
   “The guy sees Top is wearing nothing between helmet and boots except a huge smile. Top winks at the guy. The raggie thinks he’s about to become Top’s personal manyouk--boy for sex--screams, drops his weapon and runs!”
   “No way!” Jon laughed loudly. “What happened?”
   “Top chambered a round, shouted, ‘thank you’ and shot the raggie with his own weapon.”


   A short Staff Sergeant looked at Jon. “I’m Staff Sergeant Perrine. I’m your squad leader,” he said, shaking Jon’s hand. “Let’s take a walk, shall we?”
   “Sure,” Jon replied as he picked up his BR75.
   “I see you took the pistol option,” Perrine said, gesturing to Jon’s M905 pistol. As of January 1st, NCOs were permitted to purchase the standard railgun pistol for duty use.
   “Better to have and not need, than to need and not have,” Jon replied.
   “Right about that,” Perrine said. “Second Squad is not your standard mech squad. “What did they tell you about mech on the Island?”
   “That roughly half the tracks are in for upgrades. We ride on top for safety, and that once all the tracks are back, we can ride inside again.”
   “Right. Part of the fuel tank is unarmored and exposed to the interior of the vehicle. If a Cheapshot anti-armor grenade lands right on top of the fuel tank area, the crew is barbecued before the fire suppression system can do anything. We ride on top, to make extra certain nobody gets a chance to toss one.
   “Tomorrow, we’re going to work on getting you integrated with Alpha Team here, then on the sixth, get you up to speed with the squad with a patrol around the perimeter before we go into town. On the seventh, we go on a power walk.”
   “Power walk?”
   “Show of force. We’ll mate up with other units, form a couple of large convoys and go through town. It’s a PsyOps thing, intended to let the terrs know that we can come and go as we please and offer them the opportunity to prove otherwise.”


January 6th, 2559
Sandy View Apartment 16, Las Vegas:

   Sarah had just completed her exercises with the spin-knife when she heard a knock on the door. She hurriedly hid the spin-knife and looked out the peephole.
   “Hi! Busy?” Leah said when she saw the peephole darken.
   “Oh no,” Sarah replied as she opened the door and motioned Leah to enter. “Have a seat.”
   “Sure I’m not interrupting something?” Leah asked, gesturing to Sarah’s sweat-soaked shirt.
   Sarah closed the door. “No, just finished up my aerobics.” She went to the kitchenette and pulled out a soda. “Want something to drink?”
   “No, thanks,” Leah replied.
   Sarah stepped back into the living room and sat next to Leah. “What brings you by?”
   “You haven’t been to a party in a while and I was worried about you, that’s all.”
   “Thanks,” Sarah said, sincerely touched by Leah’s concern. “I just didn’t feel like celebrating 2558. It was a really bad year for me,” Sarah replied truthfully. “I only wanted it gone.”
   “Anything I can help with?” Leah asked as she put a comforting arm around Sarah. “You can talk to me.”
   “I’ll be fine. I survived it and that’s all that matters,” Sarah said.
   “What are you doing tonight?” Leah asked as she ended her one-armed embrace and looked at Sarah.
   “Go out for dinner, come back, watch holo until dawn and get back on my sleep schedule for the week,” Sarah said.
   “Well, ummm, mind if I join you?” Leah asked shyly.
   “Sounds like fun. Let me get a shower and we’ll be on our way.”
   “Okay,” Leah said brightly as Sarah stood up. Sarah started walking towards the small bathroom, peeling her shirt off as she went down the hallway and into the bathroom, but didn’t bother to close the door.
   Leah leaned against the open door while Sarah undressed, stepped into the shower and drew the curtain.
   “Where do you want to eat?” Leah asked as she looked at the pile of sweaty clothes on the tile floor.
   “I don’t know. Some place that won’t break my budget,” Sarah replied as she turned on the shower. She gasped at the inevitable first blast of cold water. “Pizza good for you?”
   “I’m tired of pizza. How about Thai?” Leah offered as she raised her voice to overcome the rushing water.
   “Eek!” Sarah said as she stuck her head and shoulder from behind the curtain to reach for a bottle of shampoo. She looked at Leah. “Thai is way hot! How about something else?” Sarah said as she withdrew into the shower again and looked at the curtain, trying to think how to handle the situation.
   “Whatever it is, not too formal,” Leah said as she caught an unpleasant whiff. She sniffed suspiciously and found the scent was coming from her arm where she had embraced Sarah. “I stink!”
   “Room for two in here!” Sarah laughed. After a moment of silence, Sarah wondered if she had upset Leah.
   Leah stepped into the shower with a gentle smile on her face. “Pass the soap?”


January 6th, New Palestine:

   As Perrine promised, the perimeter patrol was intended to get Jon “up to speed” with the rest of the squad in a relatively safe environment. The squad’s remaining M333, named Enchanter 2 followed the squad a safe distance behind.
   “All right, things to look for on the roads when you’re walking. Rocks are randomly placed. If you see a bunch of big rocks in a pattern, get away from them. The raggies like making IEDs that look like rocks.
   “When it rains, look for depressions where the ground settles. If it’s dry, look for a dark spot, where the earth is freshly turned and the moisture hasn’t evaporated yet. You can smell the moisture in the dirt sometimes. That’s where the raggies don’t disperse the spoil far enough,” Perrine explained as his helmet chimed. He held up his fist. The squad automatically took up defensive positions as Perrine listened intently.
   “Mount up! We have a priority knock!” Perrine shouted.
   The squad ran quickly to Enchanter 2 and climbed up its sides and front quickly, taking designated places so as not to hinder the crew’s vision or operation of the weapons systems.


   “This is gonna be a fast and dirty Knock. Perrine, I want Olds’ team to make the Knock. Put Walker with Olds,” Brux said crisply on the leader’s frequency.
   “Yes, sir,” Olds and Perrine replied. Perrine changed to a private frequency he shared with Jon.
   “Jon, you’re going with Olds on this Knock.”
   “Right, Sergeant,” Jon replied, knowing he was being sent to gain experience. His helmet chimed, indicating Olds was paging him.
   “Perrine tell you you’re with me?” Olds asked.
   “Yeah. What do I do, where do I go?”
   “I want you stick with Keller and cover his back. He has a knack for Knocks,” Olds replied. “Collating info, we’re six minutes out!”
   The frequency went silent as Olds studied the information on the house, the three occupants, and the surrounding terrain. Olds’ team frequency came alive again.
   “Okay, Bravo team, listen up. Perrine’s team is going to cover the back and sides. No problem on this house. When we get there, Keller takes the door with Walker covering. VanCise, you take the left window. Stapleton covers you. Selkirk take the right window. I’ll cover you. Are we clear?”
   “CLEAR!” the team responded.
   “Two minutes!” Perrine shouted.
   Jon felt a rush of adrenalin like nothing he had experienced before. His first “real” mission as a Highlander. Living the dream. He grinned and saw Keller looking at him. Jon gave him a thumbs up. Keller smiled.
   “Thirty seconds, get ready!” Perrine said as Enchanter 2 slowed.
   The squad jumped off the moving M333 quickly, rolled and jumped up. Perrine’s fireteam ran to the right side of the house and checked it out and worked their way to the back quickly. Olds’ team ran to the front of the house quickly, eyes nervously scanning for signs of trouble.
   “In position,” Perrine reported on the platoon frequency. “Olds, do it.”
   “You heard the man, make the knock,” Olds told Keller.
   Keller tapped on the door loudly from a squatting position with his rifle. “Mister Al-Uteri! Army! Open the door!”
   The door opened wide. Jon studied the fattest man he had ever seen. “Welcome! Please come in!” Al-Uteri said grandly. “We are all ready to go!”
   “Go,” Keller said softly as Al-Uteri stepped back from the door. Keller stepped inside, followed closely by Jon and Stapleton. Two women, wearing baggy dresses and headscarves stood by a pile of luggage on the living room floor. “Cover the door,” Keller texted Jon and Stapleton. They took up positions to prevent a surprise attack from the kitchen and prevent Al-Uteri and his wives from leaving.
   Keller compared the pictures to the women standing before him. He turned to Al-Uteri. “Sir, we cannot take all of these bags!” Keller said as he looked at the small mound of bags. “One bag per person is what you were told.”
   “You have plenty of room in your vehicle,” Al-Uteri declared confidently, starting the inevitable haggling that was nearly an art form on New Palestine. “Or on top of them. There are only three bags per person.”
   “We do not have room or the time to make them secure. One bag per person. You have one minute to decide which bag you take before I make the decision for you,” Keller countered.
   “The Mayor will confiscate anything we leave! We’re going to need help moving!” Al-Uteri opined. “We will not leave our bags behind.”
   “We are leaving,” Keller said as he texted Olds. “Catch.”
   Al-Uteri looked at his wives. “Pick up the bags. We go now,” he ordered.
   Keller knew New Palestinian men treated their wives as property and was disgusted by the practice. The women nodded acceptance and walked towards the bags. They ignored the larger bags and reached for the smaller bags.
   “The big bags,” Al-Uteri said in Pali. Keller’s helmet translator picked up the emphasis immediately.
   “Ell Tee, I have three cars moving in close. Loaded with men. They don’t see me, do I open fire?” Fowler said.
   “Negative. Have a track pull out in front of them. Perhaps facing the thirty millimeter finger of death will convince them to take another route,” Brux said and shifted to Keller’s frequency. “Get them moving.”
   “Roger!” Keller said to Brux. He turned to Al-Uteri. “We’re going now. Everyone out. Jon, keep an eye on the doorway ‘til I tell you.”
   Stapleton stepped between the women and the big bags. “We must go now! Go out the front door,” Stapleton said as she pointed to the front door.
   Al-Uteri sputtered indignantly at having his authority over his wives interfered with--and by a woman at that! “Pick up the bags,” he said as the whine of an M333 grew louder.
   “Let’s go,” Keller urged.
   “With our bags,” Al-Uteri said bluntly to him. “Either they carry them, or you infidels can carry them. It does not matter to me. We will not leave without them.”
   Keller smoothly plucked a grenade off of his fighting vest. “We’re leaving now,” the Australian said, as he spread his fingers slightly to show Al-Uteri the markings on the grenade, then looked at the pile of luggage, back at Al-Uteri and nodded. He brought the grenade to his mouth and bit the pin with a feral grin.
   “No!” Al-Uteri shouted as Keller pulled the grenade away from his mouth, the safety pin clenched between his teeth. Keller looked at the pile of bags again, his eyes widening further, implying a touch of insanity.
   “One,” Keller said through clenched teeth.
   “Run!” Al-Uteri cried.
   The family ran for the door.
   “They’re going outside!” Stapleton shouted.
   Al-Uteri reached the door first. His eldest wife pulled him away from the door and ran outside. As Al-Uteri lunged for the door, he collided with his second wife, who had no intention of finding out what that thing in Keller’s hand was capable of. They fit through the narrow door together and joined the eldest wife outside being shepherded by the rest of the squad to Enchanter 2.
   Keller took the pin from his mouth and replaced it in the grenade with a pouting look.
   “I’ll never get to throw a grenade!”

Chapter 18

January 7th, 2559

   “We’re supposed to randomly stop and search. We’ve been out here for five hours, and nobody seems to be worried about us doing any searching,” Jon said to Perrine.
   “The search is at my discretion.”
   “May I make a suggestion?”
   “Go ahead.”
   “Let’s double back and search that auto shop we passed. The one on the corner.”
   “On what basis? Gotta have a reason for legal purposes.”
   “Two things. It seemed a little too well-equipped for an auto shop. I thought I heard them use a word that translates into Common. Calibre.”
   “Calibre?” Perrine asked. “What’s that?”
   “Arabic for caliber. Not ‘caliper.’ I think we just passed a weapons factory.”
   “That’s an interesting theory. How do you know that?”
   “I used to work for a gunsmith. I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out if I might have heard a different word or I’m being paranoid.”
   “Okay. Hold on while I call it in,” Perrine said.
   “Squad, we’re changing direction. We will turn around at the end of the block and double back. Third squad will do the swoop and snatch.”


   “Perrine, your newbie has a double issue of imagination,” Platoon Sergeant Fowler growled. “We haven’t found shit.”
   “Bring him in here,” Lieutenant Brux said. “Let him see for himself.”
   “Walker! With me!” Perrine shouted. Jon rose from his position and went inside.
   “I don’t see a damned thing that looks like a weapon or a part of a weapon. Nobody else sees it either. Look around and see for yourself,” Fowler said as he studied Jon’s face.
   “Yes, Sergeant,” Jon said, his face reddening at the wasted time and effort.
   Perrine knew Jon was at least paying attention, for a check of the linguistic database indicated the word “calibre” did mean caliber. Even though the platoon didn’t like being out after dark, they knew Jon had to learn sometime.
   Jon walked around the shop. “We went through everything, Corporal. Looks like a garage to me,” a Lance Corporal said, his voice full of sarcasm.
   Jon ignored the sarcasm and looked at the tabletop. A piece of heavy gauge sheet metal had been laid out and several pieces had been cut from it. Silvery metal shavings indicated a saw had been used.
   “They cut it, but where’s the metal?” Jon asked himself as he looked around, expecting to see the pieces on or near a car needing body repair. “Sergeant? Look for a car needing body work. Why would they have sheet metal laid out if they aren’t using it for something? I don’t see a car needing body work or someone making something for themselves. Where are the pieces?”
   “Have everyone look at the cars,” Perrine said.
   “Piece of metal, say about twelve by sixteen centis?” the sarcastic Lance Corporal asked as he looked at the large section of sheet metal.
   “Yes!” Jon said.
   “In the garbage can. I thought it was scrap.”
   “Which can?” Jon asked anxiously.
   “That one,” the Lance Corporal said as he pointed to a can. Jon grinned broadly as he walked to the garbage can and saw two pieces of heavy-gauge sheet metal. Jon remembered receiving a stern reprimand from Julian Riggins for tossing scrap metal into the regular garbage can instead of the scrap can.
   Thank you, Julian! Jon thought while he removed the two pieces. He cautiously moved the garbage around and found five more. He pulled them out and saw dots drawn on two of the metal plates with a black marker pen.
   “Gotcha!” Jon announced confidently as he looked at the dots. He carried the pieces over to the table and laid them roughly in the areas where they were cut from.
   “What?” Perrine asked.
   “Someone cut these pieces and threw them in the garbage can. I can understand measuring and cutting one piece wrong, but not seven pieces. You don’t throw quality steel into the regular garbage, you save it and use it for another project,” Jon announced to Perrine, Fowler, and Brux. He looked at Perrine.
   “Do you have a picture of the AK series of weapons in your helmet?”
   “Call up the left view of the receiver. Then superimpose the pin holes with the dots on this piece.”
   Perrine did so and his eyes widened. The dots were in the same pattern as the pins that held the internal parts on the venerable Kalashnikov rifle.
   “El Tee, I think he’s onto something. Unfinished weapons.”
   “This is a weapon?” Brux said as he looked at the pieces of steel. “How?”
   Jon looked around and picked up a scribe and a metal ruler. “Can you call up the specs for top to bottom measurement on the sides of the receiver?”
   Perrine did so and recited the numbers. Jon measured the distances with the ruler, and then scratched two straight lines down the length of the piece of metal.
   “The AK receiver is stamped from a single piece of metal in the shape of the letter “U” when viewed from an end. Stamp on the lines, and you have the beginnings of a receiver.
   “If I took this to the Island’s metal shop, all I would have to do is drill out the pin holes, cut out the mag well and trigger hole, file off the rough and bend on the lines. One unfinished AK receiver,” Jon said confidently.
   “Then I would heat treat the receiver for strength, finish for rust resistance and appearance, add parts and tomorrow I’d have a relatively high-quality weapon. If I was in a hurry, I could skip the heat treat, paint it black for shits and giggles and be ready for tonight’s festivities. It would work well enough before stresses of firing eventually made the weapon fail. But I could strip out the parts afterwards and build another receiver.”
   “Where’s the rest of the parts?” Fowler asked.
   “Let’s get some fresh eyes in here. Second squad take over for Third. Perrine, when your people get in here, have them tear this place apart!” Brux said with a grin as the five men tried to look nonchalant.


   An hour of careful searching turned up nothing. Brux was starting to wish he hadn’t ordered the search.
   “Give me a hand with this,” Keller said as he gestured to a barrel filled with scrap. “It’s too heavy for me.”
   Fowler walked over to Keller. They started tossing pieces of scrap metal on the floor to lighten the barrel.
   “Watch the short, fat guy. He seems to be slightly worried that we’re here at this barrel. Let’s move the barrel, check the floor by it, and then walk away as if we’re satisfied with this in a second.”
   “I noticed. I’ll clue in Ell Tee,” Fowler said softly as they moved the barrel.
   “Nothing,” Keller said disgustedly and dusted his gloved hands off. He feigned interest in a tool cabinet and started looking around it while Olds and Ellis idly poked around the inside of the barrel. Olds and Ellis moved the barrel further from its resting place and glanced at the previous resting place.
   “Seeing nothing,” Olds texted Keller.
   Keller finished his “search” of the tool cabinet and sauntered to the spot he had a suspicion about. He knelt quickly and saw the dirt was thick and oily as the repair shop’s floor was. Then Keller put his fingers on the sludge and noted that the built up sludge was slightly moist, not hard and dried like elsewhere in the shop.
   Keller smiled. “Walker! Get me a thin piece of steel, I need a scraper!” Jon complied quickly and knelt next to Keller with the long, thin piece of metal in his hand.
   Keller quickly scraped the oil and dirt off the section of floor and saw a fifteen by fifteen centimeter wide square hole, covered with a tight-fitting concrete door painted to blend with the floor. “Ell Tee! I got it!” Keller said triumphantly.
   The proprietor was brought to the hole. “What is this hole for?” Brux asked.
   “I didn't know it was there, sir. Please, I am a businessman only wanting to--” the man said as Keller pulled the door open quickly and handed the slab to Jon, who set it aside. Keller used a corner checker to check for booby-traps.
   “No traps, Ell Tee,” he reported as he reached inside and started pulling out cloth-wrapped bundles that rattled as they moved.
   Fowler opened a the cloth-wrapped bundle and shook out the internal parts and held up a rifle barrel.
   “You were saying?”

The Poll-driven Crusade CH 15-16

Chapter 15

December 20, 2558
Fort Mackenzie:

   “Today, you will do a Knock,” Sergeant Dowell said. “A Knock is simply going to a local’s house and bringing him and his immediate kinfolk to safety.”
   “Why?” Futamura asked.
   “The primary reason is to secure an informant working for the Alliance Intelligence Agency. The AIA lacks the manpower and firepower to extract their agents. We have both, so we get to extract. The AIA will tell us where and when to pick up the informant.
   “Now for the fun part. When informants are convinced they are about to get killed, they barricade themselves in their homes.”
   “This is not going to be fun,” Jon said to Futamura.
   “Got that right,” Futamura replied quietly.
   “There are five types of Knocks you will see: Blind, Cold, Hot, Silent, and Good. A Blind Knock is when we arrive unannounced or have minimum information on our customers, situation, or terrain,” Dowell said as McCullough raised his hand.
   “The people we’re saving.”
   “A Cold Knock means we’re not taking fire. A Hot Knock means we’re taking fire. A Silent Knock means we use stealth for the approach and try to sneak our customers out before anyone realizes what we’re doing. A Good Knock means they know we’re coming, not taking fire, and we know everything about the tactical situation.”
   Dowell drew a square on the chalkboard. “This represents a house,” he said as he drew two X’s. “Front door is the bottom, back door is the top. He drew a pair of parallel lines under the house. “Road.”
   “Family of four is inside. Father Snitch, Missus Bitch, and the conscious brothers, Semi and Un. You usually will have pictures to identify family members. This is important, because sometimes the informants want to take the whole neighborhood with them, right down to the wife’s second cousin’s uncle,” Dowell said.
   “My God, we’re on Tichenor,” Calloway said, referring to the planet where the family trees were more than a little intermingled. The class chuckled at the joke.
   “All right, that’s the situation. Four people inside, needing rescue from the New Palestine Liberation Army who has some rather nasty ways of getting information. They’re barricaded, and we know there’s no visible opposition. What do we do?
   “We establish outer perimeter security first. This usually takes a platoon, depending on the size of the building and the terrain. I’ve seen a company needed to make a knock because the terrain was bad.
   “The tracks will establish mutually supporting positions and protect us from external threats. Once external security is established, you have an unsecured house with who knows what inside. We set up security first and check the exterior of the house. We look for booby traps, signs of breaking and entering, all of which indicates possible trouble. We watch the doors. If they haven’t noticed four tracks and forty grunts running around by then, we announce our presense. Take cover and announce your presence. You use the standard phrase, “Mister/Miss/Whatever Army! Open the door!”
   “Now for the fun part. Until we have positive control on them, the customers are a threat to our safety and security. Hammer that fact into your minds well, people.
   Jon raised his hand. “Sergeant, how could they be a threat if we’re rescuing them?”
   “Good question. Part of it is panic. They may feel good they’re going to Alliance Island. However, until you arrive, it’s been academic. Now they’re about to leave everything they own, love and worked for behind.
   “They’re going to a new place with no friends, no family, no nothing except a guarantee of survival,” Dowell said as his eyes narrowed. He continued to lecture as he walked from behind his desk. Eager eyes followed Dowell as he continued his lecture.
   “Or they use the AIA as a way to get to us. Informant gives them some marginally useful information, then says ‘help me!’ The AIA gives the order, and we go in, and we get ambushed,” Dowell said as he walked up one row. “Or the man has second thoughts and decides to martyr himself. When we come to get him, boom!” Dowell said as he slapped his hand on Vero’s desk. The dozing private jumped in his seat.
  “On your feet!” Dowell said loudly as Vero quickly stood up. “You go into a knock half-stepping, they’re gonna ship your sleepy ass home in a box marked ‘Remains Not Viewable!’ Move out to the back of the room and stand up until you can stay up! Move out!”
   Vero moved to the back of the room, and took up the position of parade rest.
   Satisfied he had the class’ undivided attention, Dowell forgot about Vero and focused on the lesson.
   “As I was saying, a fair number of the family members won’t understand why they’re being pulled from their comfortable lives. As a result, they are absolutely unpredictable. Expect the unexpected!
   “When you show up, family members might run out the back door before you get in position. They may have a family member with serious medical problems and it takes five of you to move that person and their equipment out!
   “They might not want to leave home. Kids will scatter or hide because they’re scared. They might be packed and beat you back to the track!” Dowell lectured as he sat comfortably on his desk, a subtle sign he was about to tell a story to reinforce the lesson.
   “My unit pulled a Knock on newlyweds. We showed up while they were having their first fight,” Dowell reminisced as the platoon listened eagerly. “Guess what they were fighting over?”
   “What?” Fanshaw asked.
   “The Palis practice polygamy and hubby got the bright idea of suggesting they expand their marriage with a bisexual wife,” Dowell said with a grin as the platoon laughed.
   “So here I am, knocking on the door, shaking in my boots because I’m hearing shouting and my translator module wasn’t keeping up. He opens the door and then he turns and starts shouting at her. I start to lead my team inside and bam! She starts throwing the family china at us! I’m talking some serious fire here! Cups and plates coming at us full auto! It was brutal, I tell you!” Dowell said, his eyes wide and his hands waving wildly while the class laughed. Dowell turned serious now that he had their eager attention.
   “Mind you, we had to move fast! So we literally grabbed them and drug them out the door. All the while, they’re still shouting at each other. We got them in the track and we close up the ramp and haul ass.
   “When that ramp closes, they got really quiet. Customers always do that when they realize they cannot ever go back home. This is a defining moment for them, because they just left their old life behind. You have to watch them close. Always watch their hands, because that’s what’s going to do the damage,” Dowell said and looked at the class.
   “She turns and looks at him, says something and they started all over!” Dowell said.
   “What did she say?” McCullough asked.
   “She said they should expand their marriage with a bisexual husband instead!”
   The platoon laughed and hooted uproariously.
   Dowell stood up. The laughter subsided.
   “Always expect the unexpected. Always watch them close outside and watch them closer inside the track! Remember, you have weapons, all within arm’s reach! All it takes is for your customer to pull a grenade pin, grab a blade or hit a trigger and it gets bloody. Watch and maintain control of your weapons at all times! Clear?”
   “CLEAR!” the platoon shouted.
   “Speed is of the essence. Your goal is to get them out of that house quickly and safely and into the track or hauler without getting hurt!
   “Our standard in the Highlanders is twelve minutes from ramp drop to moving out with our customers. In that twelve minutes, you have to deploy, establish security, make the Knock, take control of the situation and your customers any way you can think of, ensure your safety as well as theirs while you do so, and get them out,” Dowell said loudly.
   “Are you ready to learn?”


   After practicing dismounting from M333 Armored Fighting Vehicles, the infantrymen practiced establishing interior and exterior perimeters around a house. When Dowell was satisfied his students understood the basic principles, he gathered them around front door of the training house.
   “All right. For purposes of instruction, the perimeter and back door is secured. Each of you will be in charge for a Knock. You understand how to secure the perimeter around the house itself and the immediate exterior of the house. Make the Knock, secure the customer and his family and haul ass. Corporal Futamura, pick three privates and make your Knock!”


   Futamura led the team to the house. The team took up positions to watch the closed, curtained windows and front door. “Ready?” he asked everyone.
   Futamura stood in front of the door before he remembered “where he was” and knocked on the door.
   Dowell pushed the remote in his pocket. A small paintball shot from its hidden tube in the door and hit squarely on Futamura’s chest, leaving a red splash of paint.
   “You’re dead, Futamura. Mister Snitch got you through the door. Next!”


   “Allah commands the believers to convert the infidel to the Muslim religion. If they can’t convert them, believers are tasked to kill them to purify the worlds. Eighty percent of the people on the mainland will do anything they can to convince you with logic, sincerity, etcetera about the spiritual benefits of being a Muslim.
   “When you’re on patrol, quite a few will try to get you into a religious conversation. Polite, respectful, but they’re trying to get you to take up their religion. It’s annoying, to say the least.
   “Please stop for a moment, so I can talk to you,” Dowell said pleasantly as if he were a local. “He may just want to talk. Or he might be setting you up, getting you to stop long enough for a sniper to have a clear shot. Keep your focus on your surroundings and keep moving!
   “Twenty percent believe all of the edict. The twenty-percenters gladly kill their peaceful co-religionists simply because the peaceful ones don’t want to kill infidels.
   “There are three types of martyrs. They are equally dangerous for different reasons.
   “First is the spontaneous martyr. The spontaneous martyr’s lethality comes from his spontaneity. No warning. It could be anything that sparked his desire for martyrdom. Platoon walks past a shopkeeper they’ve walked past for months. He suddenly decides it’s time for him to meet Allah. No warning, no planning, comparatively inefficient, but yet deadly.
   “The next type of martyr is 'puni-powered.' The guy gets hold of some bad puni and decides to get creative. What makes him dangerous in addition to his desire to achieve martyrdom is the fact that puni is sometimes like alcohol in one regards. Ever see a drunk in a fight that kept getting beat, but wouldn’t stop fighting?” Dowell asked.
   Most of the class nodded affirmatively.
   “His inability to feel pain gives him a lethality and psychological effect the spontaneous martyrs lack. The puni-powered martyr will keep going and going and going until he is dead. If you think that’s bad, wait until you meet the deliberate martyr.
   “Deliberate martyrs plan their missions. They favor car bombs, suicide vests and rampage shoots. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages. Car bombs are bigger and kill more people. They take more preparation and higher chance of being caught because of our random searches and roadblocks.
   “Suicide vests are easy to make, easy to hide and relatively effective. Downside is that they’re not as bloody because they’re smaller.
   “Then there’s the rampage shoot. Just wait until a squad comes by and play sniper or just step out in the street and start throwing down.
   “According to our sources and long historical record, the deliberate martyr decides to meet Allah. He announces his desire to his cell. If recruiting is down, or the local peaceful Muslims are too relaxed, the group will help him meet Allah. They get the martyr’s idea for an attack and see if they can make it work.
   “After hammering out the details, the deliberate martyr conveniently marries a woman willing to play ‘catch the sperm’ and the martyr spends about a week trying to create the next generation martyr.
   “The women are just as fanatical and dangerous as the men! While the deliberate martyr is trying to make his replacement, his ‘wife’ is running a mind game on him, heavy on sex and talk about martyrdom. All intended to keep the deliberate martyr happy and from having second thoughts.
   “One terrorist we interrogated reported his sister married eleven times inside of five years and had three kids by different men in that time frame. He didn’t think of her as a slut. He was proud of her for furthering the cause.
   “When we eventually captured and interrogated her, she laughed and said it was too late. She had already made sure her children knew who their fathers were and had placed the children on the path to martyrdom. That’s how dedicated the terrorist women are here,” Dowell said bluntly to the silent platoon.
   “One day out from his martyrdom, the group will take many pictures of the future martyr in manly poses holding weapons, holding the Koran, and praying for success.
   “All of this theater is intended to encourage more kids to become terrorists and terrorists to become martyrs. A glorious recruiting scam. Ever notice how the leadership never gets the urge to become martyrs? That’s because they want to stay alive to claim a piece of the planet once they have run us off.
   “On his last day, the martyr will rise, bathe thoroughly, have a final meal, and then pray. Then he will finalize his physical preparations and carry out his mission.
   “Never forget the hasty martyrs, the puni-powered martyrs, and the deliberate martyrs have one thing in common. They all intend to use your corpse to get to Paradise.”


December 30th, 2558
Fort Mackenzie:

   All morning long, the graduates had been fitted for the traditional Highlander parade uniform consisting of hobnailed boots, long white socks, a kilt, long-sleeved khaki shirt, white leather webbing and white sun helmet. They waited in the large dressing room for final uniform adjustments before the graduation ceremony. Jon looked at the kilt awkwardly while he waited for Sergeant Dowell to return.
   “They can call it a kilt all they want. It looks like a dress! Why do we have to look like girls?” Bryce said as he held his kilt out at arm’s length.
   “Who the fuck said this was a dress?” Sergeant Major Culhane roared, silencing the graduates.
   “I did, Sergeant Major,” Bryce said.
   “Afraid of being perceived as a less than a real man, are you?” Culhane asked.
   “Yes, Sergeant Major!”
   “Real men wear kilts!” Culhane shouted. “I’m wearing a kilt. Do I look like a girl?”
   “No, Sergeant Major!” Bryce replied.
   “Are you a real man, or do you just fantasize about being one? Get your bloody kilt on and start becoming one!” Culhane said as he looked at the others. He saw Walker wore the upper half of the uniform, his tartan kilt on a hanger. “You! Get your bloody kilt on!”
   “Sergeant Major, Sergeant Dowell instructed me to wait,” Jon replied quickly.
   Dowell entered the room a few seconds later. “Try that,” Dowell said as he handed Jon a flesh-colored elastic knee bandage. Jon removed his pants to reveal the deep purple scar on his right leg running from mid-thigh to ankle.
   Culhane managed not to stare as Jon removed his pants, quickly pulled the flesh-colored knee brace over his scar, put on his calf-high socks and his kilt.
   Culhane spoke while Jon laced up the brown hob-nailed boots. “Final reminder--always wear underwear. Our rules of engagement forbids us from totally demoralizing the enemy by showing them we have better equipment than they do!”


   After the graduation parade, the new Highlanders changed from the ceremonial uniforms to their SBUs. Their duffel bags were packed and laid out on the grass in front of the barracks.
   “When I call your name, come up here and grab your orders. On the upper right hand corner is a number. You will get into the appropriately numbered hauler that will take you to your post.
   “People, it’s been real, and it’s been fun. And on occasion it has been real fun. You were a good platoon, and I hope to see you in the future,” Dowell said as he looked at the orders and started calling out names.


   “Here, Sergeant!” Wade replied loudly as she snapped to attention.
   “Here, Sergeant!”
   “White, Jerome!”
   “Here, Sergeant!”
   “White, Mary!”
   “Here, Sergeant!”
   Jon felt an uneasy feeling growing in his stomach as Dowell completed handing out orders. Dowell looked at Jon. “Hold on, I saw your orders this morning in the Orderly Room. Be right back.”
   Dowell ran to First Sergeant Kincaid. They conferred briefly for a moment. Jon felt a wave of relief as Dowell nodded his head and gave Kincaid a thumbs-up. Dowell signaled to Jon to join them. Jon picked up his duffel bags and ran to the senior NCOs.
   “Relax, Corporal,” Kincaid said. “You had orders that would have put you in Foxtrot First over in Jolada on the mainland. However, when they were putting your records together, they noticed that you can’t go into the Tanks.”
   “Yes, First Sergeant. I’m supposed to have Nelson testing periodically done on my leg to see if all the TCR is out of my system. The doctor on Earth led me to believe that the sample could be taken by a medic,” Jon replied.
   “Okay. You have an appointment for January second, at the base hospital, then they’re going to reassign you to a place where there is a field hospital. I’m going to put you into the Transient NCO Quarters and expect you to show up at the hospital in PT uniform at 0745 on January second. Happy New Year.”

Chapter 16

December 30th, 2558
Las Vegas:

   Sarah walked through the mall quietly, a shopping bag in her hand as she looked from shop to shop. She stopped at a surplus store and wandered up and down the aisles of old uniforms, fighting vests, boots, and camping equipment. She looked at the display counter as she left. Without hesitation, she went to the counter and waited for the clerk. “Can I see the reproduction spin-knife please?”


   Feeling more content than she had been in months, Sarah returned home, shopping bags in hand. She sat the bags on the couch and kicked out of her shoes. She smiled as she went through her purchases, carefully removing tags and clips from them. Satisfied, she threw the bags in the recycler and started to sharpen the spin-knife, a weapon she was more than familiar with.


   It was well after sundown when Sarah put on her sleeping gown. She sat on the couch and took a sip of water, opened the small blue box and looked at the five Blue Lotus leaves she had purchased at the local religious supply store.
   She decided to sit cross-legged and adjusted her long legs accordingly. After she was comfortable, she took a leaf and put it on her tongue, closed her eyes, and thought about Perfection as the mildly hallucinogenic leaf expanded her consciousness.


   Dream-Sarah stood in the familiar dark room, the light of Perfection shining down on her. She looked around to see the light was a little larger, illuminating her and the floor a few centimeters from her. Otherwise, the room was black. She looked down, and saw she wore the tailored pants suit she used to wear when she was head of security for the Alliance Environmental Defense Foundation.
   She idly looked at her left pinkie and saw it was whole again, not the “slightly damaged” look from her cosmetic surgery when her new life began. She waited patiently, secure in her perfect light that protected her from the darkness of Imperfection.
   A single column of light appeared in the distance, then grew closer. “Sarah,” a female voice said from the distance.
   Dream-Sarah peered intently at the column. As it came closer, she was able to see the light-form of the Goddess of Perfection.
   The Goddess was a separate light form under her own spotlight, which was far larger. She wore her flowing robe made of shades of light providing definition. Her oval face was devoid of features, yet the body and voice were feminine.
   Dream-Sarah knelt quickly before the Goddess.
   “Why have you chosen Las Vegas as a place to begin your atonement?”
   “I thought you sent me,” Sarah replied humbly.
   The Goddess’ laugh was gentle. “My child, you were born with many gifts. One of those gifts was free will. Seeking Perfection is the ultimate expression of free will. To freely devote yourself to making yourself Perfect so you can help make a better world for all. Why did you choose Las Vegas?”
   “I felt Las Vegas would be an ideal place to hide, given its reputation for transients. I must firmly establish my new identity further as I continue to be your Instrument.”
   “How do you plan on bringing Justice to the world?”
   “I hesitate to answer, for it deviates from the path you have set before me as your Instrument,” dream-Sarah replied.
   “You were given a brain along with free will. What good is one without the other?”
   “When you charged me to be your Instrument of Justice, you ordered me to avenge the dead and protect the living until the Innocents forgave me. I must protect the living before I can avenge the dead.”
   “Defend your logic.”
   “Justice is part of the path to Perfection. In a Perfect world, there would be no crime. As the world is not yet Perfect, there must Justice to compensate. There is a war that could affect all Seekers of Perfection. The trade of the puni plant must be disrupted or stopped before the Alliance bans possession of Blue Lotus. I intend to strike at the traders of puni.”
   “Have you even thought about avenging the dead?” the Goddess asked pointedly.
   “My Goddess, I have, but I do not know how or where to begin! I am guilty of giving information that led to the deaths of eleven Aggressors and caused untold suffering to others and their loved ones. How can I avenge them if I am the guilty one? You have made me your Instrument,” dream-Sarah said as her eyes watered. “I wish to do Your will, but I do not know how.”
   “Sarah, there are many dead who must be avenged. Your sisters will be amongst those you avenge.”
   “My Goddess, Justice was done for Aerlyn,” dream-Sarah replied.
   “The murderer was killed. Though tragic, Aerlyn’s passing will help hundreds survive. You have seen to that. But the person who started the chain of events leading to Aerlyn’s murder remains at large,” the Goddess said.
   “Juliana Mercado,” dream-Sarah said confidently as a new column of light appeared. Sarah looked at it, expecting a human under the light like she was, or perhaps a light-form in a police uniform like Aerlyn was.
   The column stopped in the distance. There was neither light-form or human underneath the light.
   “The one who murdered me,” Marilyn Lindstrom’s voice said clearly before the column of light moved away.
   Dream-Sarah gasped joyously at her older sister’s voice.
   “Marilyn! I love you!” dream-Sarah shouted after the retreating column.
   “Marilyn was not only motivated by her love, but by her desire for Justice. When you avenge Marilyn, you will begin to avenge all the others who were murdered because they too opposed the trade of puni,” the Goddess said as her column of light moved off, leaving Sarah’s column of light slightly larger as it parted.
   “It shall be done,” Sarah whispered as she opened her eyes and saw she had sat cross-legged in her apartment for two hours. She straightened her cramping legs out and began to contemplate the sad end of Marilyn Lindstrom, a dyslexic woman whose body betrayed the family tradition.

You REALLY want to call Conservatives "racist?"

   For the past few years a "racist" has evolved from one who despised a person or group based upon race to "anyone who disagrees with Barack Obama's policies."
   Racist no longer has the "sting" or "stigma" it once had, thanks to millions of mind-numbed Obama worshippers who have misused and overused the word "racist."

   NOTE: The method of "address" will go from "commentator" to "speaking to a liberal Obama worshipper."
   These words are NOT MEANT for Conservatives.
   But if you worship Obama, they're for you.

   You call the Republican Party, the Tea Party, and Conservative movements "racists."
   I can define the DEMOCRAT party as far worse.
   First off, there is no DEMOCRAT party. You bastards have taken up the rallying cry of COMMUNISM, though they hide behing the equally odious names of "Progressive" "Socialist" and "DEMOCRAT."
   The Democrat platform is Communist, through and through. Obama calls for a "redistribution of wealth." Marx said goods and services will be distributed "each according to their needs and abilities."
   Which party endorsed Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, Al Gore in 2000, John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Hussein Obama in 2008 and 2012? The Communist Party of the USA. Birds of a feather flock together and shit all over everything that is good and decent about America.
   So you choose a foreign ideology that relies upon lies, intimidation and has to be forced upon the people. The ideology DOES NOT WORK and yet you go on believing it is the thing for America. You are a COMMUNIST. That is the "nicest" thing I can say about you. Wear your cutesy Che Guevara shirt with pride when you start your little wet-dream fantasy revolution--the star makes a GREAT aiming point.

   You still want to call us "racists?" Here's something commonly associated with DEMOCRATS.
   The Conservative movement is not associated with child molesters. To be fair, pedophiles abound in just about every walk of life. But there is a difference. When one is discovered in the Republican side of politics, we get rid of them. We despise child molesters and have no "tolerance" for them.
   You DEMOCRATS accept them in the name of "showing tolerance" or some such crap. If you "accept them" soooo much, why not let a pedophile DEMOCRAT take your kids camping for the weekend? Why not let them stay overnight with a pedophile? Or how about a quiet pajama party? Bet your tolerance doesn't go that far, does it? Or if it does, what does this say about your "committment" to "the children" you allegedly love?
   Guess which group of pedophiles endorsed your Savior and Messiah, Barack Hussein Obama?
   NAMBLA, the North American Man-Boy Love Association.
   Your Savior and Messiah has been endorsed by child-molesters. Way to go, Democrats. You got some real winners in your corner! (sarcasm)
   But we're the "racists" for pointing that out, right?

   "Useful Idiots" is a term often attributed to Vladimir Lenin, one of the icons of Communism. Useful Idiots are easily led fools who would NEVER support a goal if they truly knew what it was. (Example, John McCain sometimes supports Obama, possibly in the belief Obama wants to do the right thing for America. But in reality, Obama wants to destroy America and all it stands for.)
   Today, "Useful Idiots" are known as "Low-information voters." The "Low Information Voter" is someone who supports DEMOCRATS, but cannot give a serious intellectual reason behind it, such as "economic policy." Politics has to be kept simple for them. If they aren't attracted to the DEMOCRAT party, they won't vote. If they are given too much information, they might realize DEMOCRAT and COMMUNIST are one and the same and join the GOP, Tea Party or Libertarians. "Hope" and "Change" were the big campaign slogans in 2008. "Foward" was the biggie in 2012.
   What does this say about your intellect? It doesn't say much because if you researched the issues and cast a different vote, America would be a much better place to live.
   I've labeled you "COMMUNIST," "PEDOPHILE LOVERS" and "USEFUL IDIOTS" and proven my points.
   But let's get back to "racism."
  Prove our "racism" if you dare. We have Dr. Benjamin Carson, Herman Cain, Allen West, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Republicans put African-Americans into Congress in the 1870's.
   You DEMOCRATS had to wait until 1935 to do it.
   History proves me right on this one too.
   Must really suck being a communist, pedophile supporting useful idiot that is so racist its about 60 years behind the Republicans.
   Quod erat demonstratum--the facts speak for themselves, and the facts are on my side.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Poll-driven Crusade CH 13-14

Chapter 13

November 18th, 2558
Fort Mackenzie:

   At 0500, the new draft was rudely awakened for a urinalysis. After providing the required sample, the soldiers were rushed to the mess hall for breakfast, then back to their barracks. Whispers went through the formation that six of the new draft were quietly taken away for one reason or another.
   The soldiers were organized into platoons of forty, then into proper squads with a Sergeant as its leader, two Corporals and five Privates by a platoon sergeant.
   “Platoon Sergeants, take charge and carry out your training plan of the day!” First Sergeant Kincaid said.
   The Platoon Sergeants rendered a hand salute and held it until Kincaid returned it. As Kincaid left the formation, the Platoon Sergeants faced their platoons.


   “At ease!” the new platoon sergeant said. The forty soldiers went to a relaxed position of parade rest and assessed their new leader, a tall blonde man whose hair was cut so short it was practically invisible.
   “I am Platoon Sergeant Dowell. For the next six weeks, my mission in life is to train you to survive New Palestine! Starting tomorrow morning, your training will consist of physical training to acclimatize you to New Palestine’s environment.
   “After physical training, you will receive a series of lectures, briefings, tests and hands on training intended to give you a basic clue as to what’s going on in New Palestine. Any questions?”
   “NO, SERGEANT!” the platoon shouted.


   Dowell took the platoon inside a classroom for the first class. Five Military Police officers, all wearing fighting vests and sidearms entered the room. Four of the five wore their helmets. One carried a steel ammunition box in his left hand and placed it on the desk.
   “The next block of instruction will be given by Sergeant Marnitz,” Dowell said and turned to the stocky auburn-haired woman without her helmet. “They’re all yours.”
   Marnitz stepped forward and looked at the platoon. “Good morning. I am Sergeant Marnitz, assigned to Law Enforcement Command. This is your introduction to puni,” she said clearly.
   “Puni is the primary barter item the NPLA uses to acquire weapons and other items they need to fight us. The various crime organizations love trading for puni because the terrorists don’t care about money, they only want weapons to bang away at us with. A quarter kilo of puni resin can bring up to fifteen thousand credits on Earth.”
   Appreciative whistles and whispers came from the surprised class. A Private was paid twelve thousand credits per year before taxes.
   “That’s the produce from one plant for one year,” Marnitz emphasized with an upraised index finger.
   “Where can I get some seeds?” Futamura quipped.
   Marnitz smiled tolerantly while the class laughed. Someone in every class made the same comment.
   “The Koran forbids alcohol, but permits the recreational use of Pu, the local version of hashish. Pu is grown by licensed, regulated growers and sold for religious purposes. Does anyone know what Blue Lotus is?”
   “A mildly hallucinogenic leaf used by the Seekers of Perfection as an aid to meditation,” Hadrian answered.
   “Right. Ni is the local name for Blue Lotus. It grows wild in wet areas. When the terrorists grafted the two plants together, they grafted the name as well and created a cash crop that funds their war against us. Sergeant Dowell, can you dim the lights?”
   Dowell dimmed the lights. A holo of a puni plant was projected from a holoprojector built into the desk. Marnitz stepped to one side and pointed.
   “When fully grown, the puni plant stands one meter tall and can spread to one meter wide. The stalk and stems are light to dark green in color, depending on the age of the plant. The leaves are roughly eight centimeters long, dark green in color, spade-shaped with a brown stripe running from stem to the very tip of the leaf. Depending on age, the leaves are glossy in appearance to dull. The older the plant, the duller the leaves are.
   “Another way to tell age of a plant is to look for little black nubs on the stalk and branches. The black nubs were leaf stems at one time before being cut. The more black nubs on a plant, the older it is. The puni plant does not secrete oils naturally unless the plant is damaged. It truly looks like a well-tended houseplant to the uninitiated. It takes roughly eighteen months for a seed to become a full-grown plant. After reaching maturity, the plant can regrow leaves every year for a total of five years.
   “Next,” Marnitz said. Dowell pushed a remote button to show a spade-shaped leaf with a dark brown stripe down the center from the stem to the tip.
   “This is the leaf. The brown stripe contains the mature sap that is processed into resin. When the sap reaches the tip of the leaf, it means that the leaf has reached saturation and is ready for harvesting. Lights.”
   Dowell turned on the lights.
   “Everyone know what puni plants look like?”
   A resounding “hooah” filled the room.
   “Good. Let’s move onto processing. A puni plant creates two products to sell, resin and leaf. We’ll cover the resin processing first, then the leaf.
   “When the leaves are ready for harvesting, they are cut off and placed in a pot of boiling water to leach the resin from the leaf. The leaves are boiled until the brown is gone. Then the leaves are taken out of the water and new ones put in. It takes about four hours and ten liters of water to boil the sap out due to evaporation.
   “Eventually the puni resin forms a lump about the consistency of pudding and hovers above the bottom of the pot, since it lacks complete negative buoyancy. The water is drained and the resin is poured into a mold to form a brick weighing one quarter of a kilo, which is the uniform standard of sale and shipment. A tiny bit of the resin is taken at this time for testing purposes. Once it cools and hardens, the resin takes on a somewhat glossy, dark brown color. On the street, it is known as a ‘brownie’ or ‘fudge.’
   “When the resin is ignited, the color of the smoke indicates the drug potential. If it leans towards hashish side effects--more mellow and relaxed, the smoke will be light to dark gray and called Gray.
   “If it leans towards the Lotus side, meaning more hallucination, the smoke will be light to dark blue in color, and referred to as Blue. The wrapping will have a blue or gray dot on it to identify the effects of the drug. The shade of blue or gray also identifies strength. Dark blue or gray means it’s a stronger high. Questions?”
   Marnitz pointed to a soldier towards the back.
   “Sergeant, can they control the content? Say you have more hallucinating customers than mellow ones?”
   “Yes, the growers can determine if the plant leans towards Blue or Gray. For more hallucination, they add TCR-14 to the fertilizer. But after they do that, the plant will only produce Blue puni. The chemicals in TCR-14 stimulate the hallucinogenic properties of this plant. I don’t know how, I’m not a botanist or chemist. I just arrest people for a living,” Marnitz said as she saw the black shield and light gray outline on Jon’s uniform identifying him as an Aggressor-Rescuer and very knowledgeable about TCR. “Corporal, what are the effects of TCR exposure?”
   “Inhalation of unused TCR-14 vapors causes nausea, breathlessness and hallucinations if inhaled in sufficient quantity. Long-term exposure causes brain damage and cancer.”
   “Correct,” Marnitz said.
   “After checking, the brick is marked for high and prepared for distribution. If it is for local use, it is wrapped in tin foil or put in a plastic bag and shipped. Going offworld means dealing with pretty intensive Customs measures. The brick is dipped in wax, then put in a plastic bag with an odor neutralizer, dipped in wax again and finally dipped in hard plastic to hide the smell from the sniff-bots. When shipped in small quantities, this method is effective ninety percent of the time because the brick is the size of a human hand. A recent innovation of the smugglers is to take the brick, warm it up, then pour it into a tiny compartment on the ship, then weld the compartment closed. Upon arrival, open the compartment, inject boiling water and draw the resin out with a fish tank pump. That method is detectable only by scanning every part of the ship,” Marnitz said calmly. “That’s why it’s important we catch it here, not elsewhere.”
   “My dad said it can take up to a week to scan a ship properly,” Futamura whispered to Jon.
   “Obviously longer for bigger ships,” Jon replied.
   “After the leaves are cut from the plant, the stalk secretes a white sap. According to the botanists, the sap will eventually form a scab over the cut leaf stem to protect the plant. The sap is gathered and stored while the leaves are being boiled for the high-quality resin.
   “After the leaves have given up their resin, they are dried under a high-intensity light to prepare them for the next step. After the leaves are dried, the processors will put the leaves in the immature sap to juice them up since the ‘good’ resin is gone. After the sap is absorbed into the leaves, the leaves are laid out on a table, and then put under lights to evaporate the water content of the sap. This evaporation causes the sap to turn clear. The leaves will have a slightly waxy feel to them.
   “After the leaves are dry, a sample is tested for high, then the leaves are shredded and compressed into one kilo bricks for shipment, quarter kilo bricks for resale. The leaf form is referred to on the street as a “veggie-bar.”
   “The plant itself can survive four or five harvests before it ceases to produce. After the last harvest, the stalk is finely shredded and added to the puni leaves to increase quantity. This is where the ‘percentage’ designation comes into play. Puni sold in leaf form can contain up to eighty percent stalk!”
   Marnitz opened the ammunition box and extracted four foil-wrapped bricks. The MPs straightened attentively as Marnitz walked in front of the Sergeants who sat in the first seat of the rows of desks. She gave each one a brick.
   “Take a whiff and pass it back. Learn what processed puni leaf smells and feels like,” Marnitz said as she watched the platoon smell the bricks. The waxy feel was on the foil, and several platoon members rubbed their fingers together and sniffed them to commit the properties to mind.
   “Make sure you pass those back!” Dowell joked.
   “If you catch someone with a quarter kilo, you probably have a user,” Marnitz said as the bricks made their way to the back of the room. “When you find someone with several quarter kilos, chances are you have a mule; someone who transports the drugs.” The bricks were passed back. Marnitz took two half-bricks of the olive green leaf out of the steel box, and then put the four foil-wrapped bricks into it.
   “Gray or Blue means what?”
   “What the drug effect is?” Truce replied uncertainly.
   “Right. So you have Blue. Now add a percentage to its designation. The percentage is how much of the stalk gets into the processed puni leaves. Higher the percentage, the lower the price,” Marnitz said. “So, if you have Blue Ten that means what?”
   “Ten percent stalk in the hallucinogenic-oriented puni leaf!” Grendel said.
   “Right!” Marnitz said. “That means what to the consumer?”
   “He’s paying more for quality.”
   “How do we find puni?” Hayes asked.
   “Puni is grown in humid rooms with UV lights. On the mainland and here, we routinely check water consumption, but the growers are smart. They will put bath and dishwater in the humidifiers. They also will drain the water from the toilet tank, replace it with filtered dishwater and use the pure for the humidifiers. That’s one reason why some growers don’t use soap for bathing. They simply pour filtered bathwater into the humidifier.
   “The soap smell gets in the humidifier. Eventually, repeated additions of soapy bathwater makes the smell strong enough for us to smell. Under the Palestinian Justice Code, those who own humidifiers must register them. Failure to register humidifiers is a flogging offense. It’s half of the only anti-puni measure the locals actually take seriously.
   “Ultraviolet lights don’t require that much electricity, so checking power consumption is out. The Pee Jay Cee requires owners of ultraviolet lights to register them also. Mostly doctors and barbers use ultraviolet light as a sterilizing measure. That’s the other half of the anti-puni measure.
   “Outside of smelling soap, noting someone smells like they swam in cologne, and seeing ultraviolet light, you smell burning puni,” Marnitz said as she pulled out a small electric fire-starter and ignited a corner of one of the half-bricks with a gray dot on the foil. A moment later, dark gray tendrils of smoke crept towards the ceiling. Marnitz brought out a small electric hand-fan and fanned the smoke towards the platoon.
   “Take a deep breath and commit that scent to your memory. Don’t worry, your brain cells will not go AWOL,” Marnitz joked and turned serious. “Burnt hair and mildew. Can anyone think of a better way to describe it?”
   After hearing none, Marnitz asked, “How many smokers here?”
   About one third of the platoon raised their hands.
   “I need a volunteer. You,” Marnitz said as she pointed to Jon. “Come up here.” Jon rose from his seat and stood to the side of the table, avoiding the thick gray smoke.
   “What’s the harshest nicstic you ever tried?” Marnitz asked.
   “Clover Generic,” Jon replied, remembering the brand he tried in high school.
   “Ewwww! I remember those lung-rippers. Thought that was as bad as it got?” Dowell said from his seat behind Marnitz.
   “Yes, Sergeant,” Jon said. “They were nasty.”
   Marnitz gestured to the smoldering puni brick. “Take a sniff.”
   Jon took a cautious whiff of the gray smoke. As the acrid smoke made contact with his lungs, he started coughing hard. He stepped back from the table, his eyes watering.
   “Any thoughts you’d care to share with us on the quality of gray eighty percent?” Marnitz asked innocently.
   “I think I’d rather smoke dried manure.”
   The class laughed at Jon’s assessment as Marnitz extinguished the smoldering brick. She ignited the corner of the second brick. Then she gestured to Jon to take another whiff. Cautiously, Jon stepped forward and took a cautious whiff of the smoke. He coughed once as he stepped back.
   “Now what do you think?”
   “The second isn’t as harsh. You could probably get used to it, I’d say.”
   “That’s twenty percent gray. You can get used to it,” Marnitz said as she motioned Jon to take his seat.
   “Since alcohol is being phased out on New Palestine, some morons will turn to puni! If you ever smell that smell coming from within your perimeter, you’re well advised to track the source down and turn their ass in! You’re not being a prick. The puni addict is unfit for combat,” Marnitz said brutally as she extinguished the puni brick and put both bricks into the steel box and locked it. She put her hands on the desk and studied the students.
   “The times, they are a-changing,” Marnitz said as she looked at the platoon. “Up until a year ago, puni use in the Division was rare even though New Palestine accounts for about eighty percent of the puni in the Alliance. If someone was caught with puni, we slapped them on the wrist and sent them to drug rehab.
   “Six months ago, Law Enforcement Command estimated four to seven percent of the Division smoked puni. In discussion with the Allied armies also on the planet, we learned their figures were the same as ours, except for the Umojans. They have the strictest anti-drug policy of any military and they enforce it.”
   “What do they do?”
   “They put drug users and dealers to death. They take a tire, fill with gasoline, put around the neck and add a match,” Marnitz said. “It’s cruel, but remember that the Covenant allows member planets to set their own punishments for their citizens. The Umojans haven’t had to punish a soldier in two years for puni.
   “Six weeks ago, two puni smokers on Blue fifteen attacked a Corporal on CQ, and General Tighe immediately established the new policy. “Zero tolerance,” Marnitz said distinctly.
   “General Ulysses Thompson became our Assistant Division Commander about five weeks ago. He’s made enforcement of the anti-puni policy his mission in life. Every day Law Enforcement Command briefs him on our progress.
   “The puni users think they’re being smart by turning on the ventilators in their rooms. Blowing smoke out of the windows on windy days. Burning incense. Using smokeless ashtrays. Or if they’re on the mainland, they’ll smoke puni when on shit-burning detail. They’ll try hiding the puni in the common areas, so if the puni is found, there’s nothing to link them to it. The users think they can outwit us.
   “Everything we do is legal under the ACMJ. Our resources are endless. The Military Supreme Court recently eased evidentiary standards. That means we need less evidence to get a conviction.
   “In the past three months, I have personally put two Highlanders behind bars for a year before they got their Basic Chicken Dinners,” Marnitz said, using the slang for a Bad Conduct Discharge.
   “When the barracks-lawyers tell you of magical legal ways to avoid prosecution, remember this; we have a ninety-nine point eight percent conviction rate when it comes to puni.
   “Law Enforcement Command doesn’t break procedure, we make sure the paperwork is done right the first time. We bend over backwards to make sure your rights are protected before we nail you to the wall,” Marnitz said as she looked at the platoon.
   “That concludes my lecture on puni. Are there any questions?”
   There were none.
   “Give her a hand,” Dowell said as he stood up. The platoon applauded politely.
   Marnitz smiled and left the room, followed by the MPs.
   “What are the effects of puni?” Dowell asked rhetorically. “It depends on the person and the environment. Before the attacks, the so-called upper class of Alliance society wanted everyone to believe that after smoking some puni, all you want to do is watch the walls turn into flower gardens and talk Chinese philosophy to the cute little fuzzy bunnies running around in your mind.
   “They say that because they’re smoking pure puni. No nasty chemicals to screw with their highs.
   “We’re on the opposite end of the earnings scale. Anywhere else in the Alliance, a private takes home about eight thousand credits. Here, it’s tax free, so he has twelve thousand credits in his pocket. Even with that, he can’t afford the best, so he’ll go with the best he can get.
   “Since there’s no real money to be made by selling puni resin here, the locals smoke and sell the leaf. With that leaf comes a lot of problems.
   “The mature sap is a pure drug. The stalk and leaves retain the TCR fertilizer, insecticides, a little soap residue, everything up to and including animal and human waste.
   “While the processors can test for a Blue or Gray high, they can’t give you details on what that particular batch is going to do. There is absolutely no uniformity in quality from plant to plant or batch to batch.
   “About five months ago, a mullah wanted to mass-produce martyrs. He got them all worked up by reading some of the nastier parts of the Koran to them. Then he fired up some really bad Blue thirty percent, told them they were Allah’s instruments and the seventy-two adoring virgins were lined up for them in Paradise.
   “We smell the puni coming from the mosque. The doors flew open real fast, and then the martyrs moved like koala bears on tranquilizers,” Dowell said as he slowed his speech down.
   “We--want--to--be--martyrs,” he said slowly, his movements exaggeratingly slow as he mimed aiming a BR75 at the class.
   “Forty wannabes step out of the mosque screaming,” Dowell said in normal speed, then slowed his voice down again as he came around his desk as if in slow motion. “Allah--Akbar!”
   Dowell’s speech returned to normal speed. “Needless to say, it was like shooting fish in a barrel. Such things are rare. I say again, such things like that are rare!
   “Your standard puni-powered martyr will get all psyched up, smoke some Blue, and suddenly believe he’s three meters tall, can leap tall buildings with a single bound and has an immunity to small arms fire.
   “If you stay here long enough, you’ll see a puni-powered martyr take multiple hits center mass without any apparent effect. He will keep coming at you until you put one in his brain!” Dowell said loudly.
   “Oh, shit!” Futamura blurted involuntarily.
   “That’s what I said when I met my first puni-powered martyr,” Dowell said. He looked at the platoon.
   “A heart shot is not enough in combat. The marksmanship instructors told you center mass is good enough. And generally it is,” Dowell said as he paused. “For engagements where you have distance,” Dowell said to the quiet platoon.
   “In close quarter battle, that distance is the size of the room. Cops have known since the late twentieth century that a reasonably fit man can move roughly seven meters in one second. One second!
   “A shot in the heart is a twenty second death. When you shoot someone, you want him dead now, not twenty seconds from now. The puni-powered martyr who has taken a heart shot still has enough life left in him to come across the room and stick a knife up your ass! Go for the head shot. Are we clear on this?”
   “CLEAR!” the students shouted.
   “The typical terrorist will shoot at you with anything from a homemade powder gun to the latest BR75 rifle. They will make landmines from improvised explosives when they can’t get proper explosives.
   “Intellectually, we accept the fact because each one of us has constructed improvised explosives and weapons in training. We call it being resourceful. We can accept the fact that after they kill our buddies, they pick up anything useful. We do the same thing.
   “We have the finest weapons because we protect over six hundred billion taxpaying citizens. The terrorists don’t have celebrities openly raising money and spouting righteous platitudes about their cause. Therefore improvised or captured weapons are a big part of their arsenals.
   “We don’t lose too many weapons. Alliance Peacekeeping Forces--that’s us and twelve different armies who have troops here--lose about nine hundred personnel yearly to enemy action. The terrorists manage to get about three hundred weapons from us yearly.
   “On a yearly average, we capture several thousand weapons a year through combat or raids on factories and caches. Less than twenty percent of the weapons we capture were taken from us in the first place. Thirty to forty percent of the weapons we capture are quality weapons, not improvised or homemade copies.
   "How can they afford high-quality weapons such as the BR75, and explosives like Composition Fifteen? They don’t have taxpayers supporting them. They don’t have rich people donating to the cause. 
   “The answer is puni. They sell it to the brain-dead elite of the Alliance, take the money and buy more weapons to shoot at us with. The Hollyweird elite doesn’t give a damn their puni high contributes to a third of our casualties.
   “The Hollyweird elite say the drug is misunderstood and should be legalized. I’ll bet a year’s pay they would change their tune if they had the balls to come here and experience the joys of fighting a bunch of puni-powered martyrs.”

Chapter 14

November 20, 2558
Rodinan Consulate, Washington:

   Kris Jameson took her duty to the citizens of Rodina seriously. Since the Alliance House and Senate buildings were in Washington City, she maintained contact with her homeworld by working out of an office in the Consulate in Washington. After going through the daily stack of Emails her staff felt needed her attention, Kris accessed C-Net news and looked at the marquee at the bottom, waiting for updated election results.
   After five minutes, a smile creased her broad face as C-Net News shown President Jameson currently enjoyed a twenty percent lead over Senator Ortega with just over half the planets counted. It would take another three weeks before the votes from the furthest planets were received, but if the trend held, Jameson would easily win. She put the chip aside, reassured that part of Operation Bosporous would continue as planned.
   She took a blank chip from her desk drawer as the door chime rang. “Yes?”
   “Secretary Ludova has some papers for you, ma’am,” the PSS agent stationed outside said.
   “Please let her in.”
   Ludova walked in quickly and held out a simple manilla folder to Kris. Kris took it, knowing that anything Ludova handed her came from the Cultural Attaché.
   After the door had closed, Kris activated the white-noise generators that would prevent eavesdropping, and then opened the folder.
   A single page story printed from the Alliance Navy Times Netsite reported the battlecruiser Monmouth had destroyed a pirate vessel and retaken the Tradewind. At the bottom of the page was a red-circled paragraph announcing the Boarding Party Combat Badge had been awarded to five Army Corporals for their participation in the action that rescued seventy-one Alliance citizens.
   Corporal Jon Walker was one of the recipients.
   “Son of a bitch!” Kris shrieked as she was reminded the man who knowingly held Rodina’s fate in his hands was still alive. She touched the intercom button to the Cultural Attaché.
   “Would you please come to my office, so we can discuss this?”
   “I will be there shortly,” the Rodinan State Security’s spy master on Earth said.
   Twenty minutes later the spymaster sat in front of her desk, having entered from a secret door to avoid scrutiny by the PSS agent outside Kris’ door.
   “Jon Walker is a loose end we must tie up. If he reveals what he knows, we lose everything.”
   “There is good news in this story,” the man said confidently.
   “Jon Walker being amongst the living is not good news!” Kris snapped.
   “The story is a sign Bosporous is working,” the Cultural Attaché said confidently.
   “Notice how they didn't reveal a location in the story? The Naval Attaché easily learned the Tradewind ran a regular route from Neue Deutschland to the Goddard Wormhole, then to the Foss Wormhole and ultimately stopping at Earth. The initial piracy was committed in Alliance space. Had it not been for the Tradewind’s crew attempting to retake their vessel and the proximity of the Monmouth, the act of piracy would have gone unnoticed for longer.”
   Kris sighed as she accepted the news. “How was Walker able to survive this action?”
   “Walker is Infantry. Part of his basic training included two weeks of zero-gravity combat training. When soldiers are transported on naval vessels, they are temporarily assigned to the ship to keep them under discipline. If they don’t have a useful shipboard skill, soldiers are assigned to the boarding party as a ‘second wave.’ During the voyage, the Boarding Party trains the soldiers so they can perform their duties and survive. Why they gave him the Boarding Party Combat Badge is beyond me. Nobody is saying much about what happened.”
   “Find out.”
   “I have already submitted inquiries. It would have solved a lot of problems if he had died, but luck was on his side this time,” the spymaster said.
   “Luck, Comrade. The Boarding Party School is seven months long with a sixty percent washout rate. Walker had less than two weeks of shipboard training. He survived because he was in the second wave.”
   “Why is that important?”
   “Boarding Party statistics show the greatest risk is to the first wave as they actually board the ship. Once they overcome the initial opposition, the second wave is used to exploit the gains made by the regular boarding parties or as guards for prisoners, stretcher-carriers, that sort of thing. He also had a fair amount of luck.”
   “How much luck will he have on New Palestine?” Kris asked pointedly. “What are his chances of survival?”
   “Unfortunately for us, his chances are better than average. He’s learned caution, teamwork, has a veteran’s mindset and reflexes--”
   “Explain that to me, please,” Kris said.
   “He will kill without hesitation. Many who have never killed before often hesitate. It’s a natural response, because everyone is taught that the taking of human life is illegal and immoral. It takes a mental ‘push’ so to speak, for many to make that first kill, even after months of hard training and careful psychological preparation.”
   “I see.”
   “He has a healthy, controlled dose of aggression, pardon the pun, and can think creatively. If he applies himself to his orientation training, listens to and learns from those who have been there longer, then his chances of survival become excellent. Of course, he may die anyway, but he won’t die because from stupidity.”
   Kris knew her position and the Rodina remained in jeopardy as long as Jon Walker was alive. “If he won’t die from stupidity, we’ll just have to make sure he runs out of luck.”


Village of Fadou,
November 24th:

   Sergeant Dowell led the platoon through the village of Fadou, three clicks from Fort Mackenzie. The denizens of Fadou were paid by the Alliance to live as they did before relocating to Alliance Island. Some villagers were paid extra to do certain things that would seem odd or offensive to Alliance soldiers.


   Lance Corporal Christine Griggs watched a man resolutely beat his camel with a small riding crop. “What are you doing?” the small soldier demanded indignantly as she approached the cursing man. “How can you beat a defenseless animal?”
   Jon started to grab Griggs’ fighting vest when Sergeant Dowell gripped Jon’s shoulder. “Hold,” Dowell said quietly as the group watched Griggs intently. “Learn.” Jon nodded and looked at the windows and rooftops for potential snipers.
   “Stop it!” Griggs demanded.
   The man looked over his shoulder. “Be quiet, woman,” the man replied as he hit the camel across the neck with the riding crop.
   “Stop beating the camel!”
   “Shut up! Woman does not ever challenge a man’s authority!” the man roared as he hit the camel again.
   Griggs stepped between the man and the camel. He raised the riding crop as Griggs reached and grabbed the man’s wrist with a deceptively firm grip. “Let go!”
   “Why are you beating the--” Griggs demanded as she felt something the size of a baby’s hand and slimy hit her at the base of the neck. She felt the camel’s phlegm ooze under her shirt as the camel brayed triumphantly. The man ventured a smile towards Griggs as he saw the disgust on her face.
   “Camels are notorious for spitting and biting,” the man said smugly as he stepped back quickly. Griggs looked behind her to see the camel was about to bite her. Her spin-kick caught the camel precisely on the nose, eliciting an angry shout from the owner who now demanded money for abuse of his property.


   After her conversation with the Cultural Attaché, Kris smugly thought about the anti-puni measure she had “created.” She had waited while her staffers and intermediaries quietly solicited “rider bills” from members of both parties.
   These bills were attached to the “Jameson Anti-Puni/Terrorism Bill,” and not referred to during the legislative process, lest they detract from the main bill being considered.
   Kris introduced it just before the House Judiciary Committee recessed on November 6th. The next morning, the HJC Chairman made it its first item of business and it was voted on before opposition could be mobilized. The bill went to the House of Representatives. The Speaker of the House placed it at the head of the line the instant it reached his desk.
   By lunchtime, the bill was approved mostly along party lines (except for the few Conservative Representatives who had attached the rider bills) and was on its way to the Senate. It went to the Senate, where the Senate Judiciary Committee repeated the ramrod tactics used in the House, and by midnight, the Liberal majority overrode a filibuster and called for a vote. The bill was passed mostly along party lines.
   Traditionally, the President would wait for a week before signing. However, due to the “urgency” of the “war on puni,” President Jameson signed it into law at dawn November 7th, with his proud wife and members from both parties standing behind him.
   After signing the law, Jameson smiled and spun the mostly partisan vote as a sign that the Progressive Party actively sought a solution to terrorism while most Conservatives were merely content to talk about it.
   When the Alliance digested the 12,265 page law, the citizenry belatedly realized that the law wasn’t written after the attacks by Kris Jameson and a hard-working staff.
   It had been written before the attacks and held in abeyance for the right time to be introduced.
   The automatic weapons Desert Wind used was the focus of one rider bill. Never mind the weapons were illegally built and imported by terrorists who weren’t deterred by a mere paper law. “Something” had to be done.
   Before the attacks, a rider bill that mandated gun owners register their weapons within sixty days or face prosecution and ten years prison time per weapon wouldn’t have been introduced, let alone signed into law. But the public outcry motivated the politicians to “do something.”
   Some citizens claimed the restrictions on “search and seizure” helped the terrorists by stopping the police from searching the terrorist’s homes. To help the police, a rider bill was introduced. No longer were proper search warrants required to conduct detailed searches of houses in the event of puni or terrorist-related activities. Only a vague definition of “probable cause” was required to justify a search, for “something” had to be done.
   The 12,265 page bill permitted law enforcement agencies to demand bank records without warrants. Only a vaguely-defined “suspicion of improper financial activity” was required to justify the request.
   The Alliance judicial system saw lawsuits filed against many of the clearly questionable “rider” bills, further tying up the courts.
   Kris smiled at the level of deception required to inspire those politicians to submit their rider bills. Years of planning and millions of untraceable credits had been spent to create an intricate electronic network of “homeworld support” for those bills.
   The “homeworld support” for those questionable bills would disappear gradually, leaving those politicians to explain their “rider bills” to the unhappy constituents who actually voted.
   The anti puni/terrorism law was doing its job.


Fort Mackenzie,
November 27:

   General Ulysses Thompson stared at the ceiling in the darkness. He sighed softly and climbed out of bed. He walked to the window and peered out the curtain. In the distance a pair of MPs walked down the street, their forms briefly illuminated as they passed under a street lamp.
   “Honey?” Amy Thompson asked sleepily as she shifted in bed. “Can’t sleep?”
   “Just this problem going through my head. Can’t get rid of it.”
   “Can you tell me what it is?”
   “Jameson wants us to go after the puni growers. Yet because of the Status of Forces Agreement, we cannot bring in additional Special Purpose Forces. That would take both Congressional approval as well as getting the New Palestinians to sign off on it.
   “We have a warning order to form a new unit to go after the growers. To handle them properly, we must have a highly-trained, uniformly-feared group of soldiers willing to kick in doors, shoot drug dealers and occasionally take prisoners. How do I create such a unit without stripping out units of some of our best people?”
   “Honey, you’re staying awake for nothing. I can give you that answer.”
   Thompson looked at his wife in the darkness. “Really?” he asked without sarcasm.
   “Why not recruit former Aggressors within the Division? They have that reputation, you know,” Amy said as she sat up in bed.
   Thompson’s eyes widened at the unorthodox suggestion. His mind whirled with a dozen random thoughts of turning the elite soldiers loose on the puni trade.
   Formed after the Horror that exterminated all life on Kronskye, the elite Aggressors of the paramilitary Kronskye Security Department guarded the murdered planet and the ongoing environmental restoration. The Aggressors were renowned for their mastery of knife-fighting, unswerving loyalty to their teams and absolute determination to defend the ongoing restoration efforts. They had a reputation for efficient, emotionless killing, yet many used the now-viral phrase, “have a nice day, bitch” as a crude epitaph for dead looters and raiders with bloodthirsty glee before leaving them to rot in Kronskye’s lethal atmosphere. While such attitudes concerning disrespecting the dead were frowned upon by the armed forces, the Kronskye Security Department subtly encouraged the attitude as a means to convince looters and raiders they faced lethal lunatics with no qualms about killing.
   “The growers will wish we had chosen the Special Purpose Forces for this mission,” Thompson whispered grimly as he imagined two hundred pissed-off Aggressors moving through the night with their knives.


Village of Fadou,
November 27th:

   The platoon walked through Fadou in patrol formation with Sergeant Dowell in the lead. The village was decorated with sun-faded ribbons hung between the buildings.
   The villagers continued their normal routine of buying food for the day, haggling in the marketplace, unconcerned about the armed platoon’s presence.
   “Today we’re going to relax and watch a game of banta-ka,” Dowell announced.
   “What is that?” Truce asked idly.
   “It’s the planetary sport. Believe it or not, Highlanders like watching it so much we record matches and broadcast them on Alliance Forces Network and share the broadcasts with the Sports Net so former Highlanders can watch it at home. Ever watch the rich people play polo?”
   “Polo?” Truce asked. “What’s that?”
   “Where are you from, Lance?” Dowell asked.
   “Lentin, Sergeant!” Truce said as he tilted his head to his right and up to display a tattoo of the Lamb, surrounded by sunrays, on the left side of his neck.
   Dowell knew Truce wasn’t playing dumb. On Lentin, worshipping The Lord, doing The Lord’s Work, supporting and raising families took precedence over games. Games on Lentin were for the amusement and intellectual development of children.
   “Okay. Polo is a sport played on horseback. Two teams ride horses around and swat at a ball with long-handled wooden mallets with the intention of driving the ball into a goal.
   “Buzkashi is basically two teams fighting on horseback over possession of a goat’s carcass. I’m told buzkashi came from the concept of stealing goats and stealing them back. Banta-ka blends the sports. Each team is broken down into two halves. One half plays buzkashi, the other half plays polo--on camels.
   “Five credits to enter,” Dowell said as they reached the small stadium. “Don’t wander off.”
   They got into a line and each of the forty soldiers paid five credits. Dowell led them towards the concession stands. “They have a soda here called ‘Dokani’ that is quite good. No hotdogs or hamburgers, but they have a spicy goat shish kabob. Don’t be shy, the food is safe. Get what you want to munch on and we’ll get into our seats.”
   Jon paid five credits for a soda, his eyes wide at the exorbitant price. An imported soda on Kronskye had cost two credits. “Inflation and capitalism, buddy,” Futamura laughed.
   After the platoon had returned, Dowell split the platoon into squads, because even though this was Alliance Island, the locals occasionally attacked soldiers. “Keep your helmets on with visors down.”
   Jon and Futamura followed Dowell to the arena. “Up there, go!” Dowell said as he pointed to a group of empty seats. The squad moved quickly to the space. They surreptitiously checked seats for signs of explosives and other such booby traps to Dowell’s subtle approval. The other squads took seats in other empty spaces.
   “The field is green!” Futamura said.
   “Yes. This is the pride of Fadou. Being able to keep a banta-ka field in good shape indicates wealth of the city or village. The field is one hundred meters long and fifty meters wide. Surrounding the field is a pure dirt track ten meters wide. The crash wall is only one point three meters high. It keeps the buzkashi players on the field, prevents the players from going after the rival’s supporters and might deflect the polo ball if it gets loose.”
   “Gets loose?” Griggs asked suspiciously.
   “On occasion, a polo ball gets launched up into the stands. Sometimes launching the ball at the opposing team’s supporters isn’t that accidental. The fastest ball has been clocked at hundred ninety kilometers an hour. That’s why we’re wearing helmets.”
   “How do you play this game?”
   “The goat’s carcass is placed in a circle at midfield and the buzkashi and polo teams are placed at the end zones. On signal, the teams ride out like mad.
   “Since horses are faster, the buzkashi teams will be fighting for the goat when the camels reach the polo ball. Two games on one field. It gets messy and confusing before the buzkashi teams get off the field.
   “The camel riders carry mallets and are allowed to use them on the other players. If a player deliberately hits an animal, the ‘enforcer team’ will beat on them with their riding crops or mallets until they leave the game. Their team plays one player short as there is no replacement allowed for animal abuse. Being thrown out of the game means you don’t get credit for playing that game.”
   “Why?” Griggs asked.
   “The animals are considered more valuable than the players,” Dowell answered.
   “When a buzkashi player gains possession of the goat, he must ride a complete lap around the field and deposit it on a circle in the end zone. All the while the opposition is trying to take the carcass from them. Remember, this is only half of the game. The polo team rides camels and carries long-handled mallets. The ball is placed at midfield in a different circle. Both teams start from the end zones and go for it.
   “To get a full point, both the ball and goat must be put in the goal by the same team. Team A scores with the goat, but Team B puts the ball down, half point for each or vice versa.”
   “What happens if one half of the team finishes its play?” Griggs asked.
   “Say the polo players score a goal while the buzkashi is still in play. They do not start another polo round or sit around and watch. They play buzkashi because their teammates are still playing,” Dowell said brightly.
   “The camels are too high to allow the rider to grab the goat, so they beat on the horsemen. If the buzkashi finishes first, they go to the polo match and interfere with the opposing team.”
   “They’re crazy,” Marnitz said as eight men wearing black and white striped shirts stepped onto the field at one goal line. They quickly examined the goal, and then formed a line abreast and checked for camouflaged holes on the field. After reaching the far end of the field, the referees examined the goal at the other end of the field, returned to the midfield point and examined two circles painted five meters from the end zones.
   A man walked out, wearing an orange shirt. The referees conferred with the man. As one, they faced the home crowd bleachers and raised their right hands, indicating the field was acceptable. The crowd roared its approval that a game would begin shortly.
   “How did they come up with this sport?” Futamura asked.
   “The short version is that a prophet said Allah decreed men prove their courage before marrying. A way to weed out the cowardly and weak. Proving it in battle is the preferred way. However, proving courage in battle against us is generally suicide. Sergeant Marnitz, tell them about the Love League,” Dowell said.
   “Since we’re a bit much for them, playing banta-ka is an acceptable way to prove courage. Usually the male seeking to marry must play twelve games in what we call the Love League.”
   “Hardcore,” Truce said as he contemplated battling for the right just to find a suitable mate.
   “Large cities can have many teams. Villages usually have enough manpower to field a team. If they don’t, their men join other teams or neighboring villages will form a team for the purpose of letting their men prove courage.
   “There is no formal season, so the season runs year-round. The villages organize the teams and come up with a schedule. After his twelfth game, the would-be suitor receives a testimonial letter from his coach saying he has proven his courage. Many players now play for a whole season, which are about twenty-five games for two reasons.
   “First, playing longer indicates more courage. A suitor with a season-letter rates higher than one with a twelve-game letter. Second, is that the New Palestinians are about to form a professional banta-ka league, which means some of the players are trying to go pro,” Marnitz explained.
   “Being paid to prove your courage in front of the little hotties beats working for a living,” Dowell said.
   The two teams came onto the field amongst cheers and jeers. After the teams had entered the field, the gates enclosing the playing field were closed. The referees rode camels or horses, and inspected each mallet or riding crop.
   “They’re checking to make sure there’s no blades in the riding crops or the mallets aren’t weighted,” Marnitz explained. After completing their inspection, the referees took up positions to monitor the game. Six men wearing black vests, helmets and leg protection led their mounts on the field.
   “Enforcers,” Dowell said as three men on camelback smoothly mounted their camels while the other three mounted their horses and waited for the game to begin. When both teams had lined up in the end zones, the referee with the orange shirt raised his hand.
   An air horn blared.
   The crowd roared ecstatically as the teams charged down the field, hooves thundering as they came closer to the goat’s carcass sitting in the center of the circle. The teams clashed amongst shouts, war cries, and heavy thuds of horseflesh ramming horseflesh.
   “Common injuries include lacerations from whips, blunt force trauma from mallets, and broken legs from the impacts of ramming,” Marnitz commented as several players fought each other with horsewhips.
   “I saw one player get rammed by another horse. He managed to hang onto the goat. He played with a broken leg until the femur cut the femoral artery. Died on the field,” Dowell said.
   A Fadou player leaned precariously over in his saddle, grabbed the goat’s carcass by a hind leg and held onto it tightly. Several Pekaa players responded by beating him with their riding crops.
   The polo players headed towards the polo ball as the buzkashi players fought for the goat. “The mallet’s wrist-strap allows them to switch ends really fast without losing the mallet itself. They use the handle end on the camels to control the camel and against other players. They also use the mallet end on opposing players. But remember, neither side can hit the other side’s animals with a riding crop or mallet,” Marnitz explained as several polo players deftly switched ends of the mallets.
   The buzkashi play put the horses between both polo teams. The camels were driven viciously towards the melee.
   The horseman from Fadou passed the carcass under his horse’s neck to his left hand to prevent a Pekaa player on his right from stealing the goat. The crowd uniformly roared its approval at the demonstration of horsemanship.
   The rider kept going through the visiting Pekaa horsemen, who swatted at him furiously with their riding crops. Several Fadou riders followed the goat-bearer bravely and tried to block the Pekaa team from stealing the goat.
   The camels arrived. The Fadou rider turned his horse away to avoid being run over by a camel. As he turned, he was hit in the back with a mallet. He rose up reflexively in pain despite the heavy vest he wore as another Pekaa rider hit him squarely in the right arm with the mallet. A sickening “snap” was heard across the stands.
   A groan came from the Fadou supporters as the unconscious man hit the ground, the goat carcass flying from his hand.
   “Why don’t they stop?” Truce asked as he saw what was coming. The Fadou horsemen rode over their teammate, one leaning forward to grab the carcass. The unconscious player was stepped on several times by horses and camels alike before a Fadou rider grabbed the goat’s carcass and rode towards the dirt track. As the buzkashi left the field, the polo players continued fighting for the ball, mindless of the unconscious man.
   The polo players started driving the ball towards Fadou’s goal. “Why don’t the referees do something for him?” Griggs asked.
   “They’re only there to count goals, ensure no weapons are brought into the game, only mounted players participate and make sure mallets and riding crops are used in a legal fashion,” Marnitz said.
   Two braver souls wearing Fadou red ran through one of the gates from the sidelines, grabbed the unconscious player without ceremony and drug him to safety. As soon as they had exited the field, a gate opened, and a replacement player ran onto the field to reclaim the riderless horse.
   “Getting close to the goal. It’s going to get really nasty now,” Dowell said as he pointed.
   The leading Fadou rider hung onto the goat as the goal line loomed ahead. The Pekaa man alternately lashed the Fadou rider and tried grabbing for the carcass. Both men fell off their horses. A Pekaa horse fell over the pair, its rider tumbling hard. Several other horses fell, spilling their riders as well. A Pekaa horseman grabbed the carcass of the goat and rode the other way, followed by the others to the delight of the visiting fans.
   Several of the dismounted riders tried to reclaim their horses--or steal their opponent’s horse. Until they were mounted, they could not play and prove their courage.
   Two men fought each other desperately with riding crops as they hung onto a panicked horse’s bridle. The Fadou man hit the Pekaa man across the eyes with his whip. The Pekaa man dropped the bridle and held his hands over his eyes. The Fadou man swung into the saddle and then kicked his opponent in the head as he passed. The man fell backwards, blood over his eyes.
   The hometown crowd roared its approval as the rider raced towards the buzkashi.
   “Do they ever smoke puni before they play?” Jon asked.
   Dowell looked at Jon, a shocked look on his face. “Don’t say that too loud. We would have to case our colors in shame if a game replaced the Highlanders as the leading cause of violent death on New Palestine.”