Well, hello there…
It has been a while since my last Flash Fiction submission, so why not celebrate reaching halfway through May 2017 by doing another Chuck Wendig challenge.
This week’s topic: a super dooper “sub-genre smash and grab”-athon. The rules are simple: have a random number generator or other preferred selector of numbers choose two genres as listed on Chuck’s recent flash fiction prompt.
Through means of good old fashioned tea leaf reading and staring at the sun through a telescope, I was designated the following two areas:
- Weird West
- Heist / Caper
I must admit, of the 20 on the list, these were my least favourite. Weird West conjured memories of Wild Wild West (the movie, not the theme park), and the other one just reminded me of capers, as in those fleshy little disgusting things in vinegar.
However, who am I to argue with tea leaves and damaged eye sight?
Hope you enjoy.
ESPIRIT DE CORPS
“The year… is… two thousand… and… seventeen…
“World… War… Five… is over…
“Peace… has… returned…”
The ticker tape continued to roll from the printer, with every passing word making my heart skip and my chest limp. It then made us wait for a solid minute before the next message from New Dodge City was received. Nobody spoke.
Telecoms didn’t talk.
Not a sound from the Engineers from Missile Command.
Even the Captains and Lieutenants were speechless, and that was rare for those “cowboy” riflemen.
“Let… the… children… sing
Let… the dead… stay dead…
Await… further… instructions…”
I turned and left the Situation Room, knowing all too well nobody else would. I simply nodded to the others and left, slipping a cigarette between my puckered lips and hoping one day I can get my hands on anything but ration grade tobacco; this stuff tasted like shit, and is mostly sawdust and dead insects.
The updates over the recent days of cease fires across the planet certainly softened today’s news. The Kingdom of America had raised their flag over twelve European capitals about three weeks ago, and everyone else knew we’d be next. I inhaled a sharp clog of smoke. Whatever would happen to our New Frontier, they would all wonder.
I never saw much point in wondering.
Us Frontiersmen just know.
The printer began to whir something of quite a significant length. I peeked around the doorframe to see the same frozen faces as before, dumbstruck by whatever news was unravelling before them.
“Read it” I mumbled through to them.
The engineer at the front collected the ribbon of paper, and did with a worried voice.
“At twelve minutes past eleven, on the thirty second day of March… the year 2017… General Werner of the New Frontier government… surrendered our domain to the Kingdom of America…” he swallowed and paused. “Surrender now… and long live our Righteous King… and God save the Kingdom of America”.
The engineer lowered the ribbon, and looked towards me, staring, and wondering. His face was white, and as the rest of them turned to me, gawking. Their faces bore a crushing pale gaze.
I was dumbstruck.
I was dumbstruck that they were dumbstruck.
I took a longer, sharper, dirtier drag of the cigarette before tossing it aside to the bunker floor. I lowered my head and gently ticked the Colt revolver from within its holster beside my leg.
“Hear me when I say this” I started, sharpening every word so it would stick deep in their minds. “I respect every one o y’all for yo’ service, patience and abilities over that last five years, what being all the way down here for so long”.
I paused as I checked every pair of eyes, all praying to my lowly self probably. They wanted to hear it; to leave the bunker and taste air again. To see the sun rise and set. To smoke real un-saw dusted tobacco, and drink neat bourbon fresh from the jug.
“To those who wish to stay with me, straighten those papers, dot those “i”s before we begin life in a godforsaken Kingdom… I’d be ever so grateful” I paused again, and waved my hand towards the corridor back to their rightful stations. To hell with them in my personal space, so I scanned their weak, time-addled faces. I prayed I only had the courage to continue, for God knows I’m about to embark into the unknown here, and so I did with a quiver in my voice.
“To those wishing to depart now, and for heaven’s sake I know y’all do… please… make yourself comfy, and I’ll sign you out for the last time…”
I then gave my boys a smile, something they’d rarely seen. This was indeed new territory for me. It must have taken them by surprise, the poor bastards. Not a single flinch or batter of eyelids. One moment, you’re at war. The next, you lose. Then, out of nowhere, your commander goes all pussy willow and gives you the key to the door.
“Commander, I’ll stand by you no matter” one piped, saluting before proudly marching out and back to their station. He’s a good boy, whoever that was, and eventually a few more followed suit. I think anyone who has chewed on bullets or has arms wider than my legs went back to their desks and resumed their daily tasks.
Good boys, indeed.
We were left with six; however, I was equal parts grateful and hurt. We’re all humans down here, I know, but there’s no such thing as a pussy willow Commander, not a cat in Hells chance. I’d always known those nuts in missile command and the radio freaks would stick together, and there I saw them, salivating.
“Commander, we are ever grateful for your leadership”
“Five years is a long time, Commander, yet you have guided us through hell and high water”
“We will never forget the Frontier, Commander”
“To the Frontier!”
I chortled at them, embracing the silence that followed until my legs stopped shaking and my smile had receded. My fingers were still stroking on my Colt, and as I heard the last door from beyond the corridor slide shut, they started to dance.
“Hear me when I say this!” I resumed, swinging the Colt from its holster and charging it with quivering hands towards those unlucky six souls. I pointed it at their stupid heads, now faces of fright and fear. Those smiles, so rare to find down here, were now a faded grimace on their still pale faces.
“I like this, you know.
You can’t fake fear!”
My arms stopped shaking, for now. All eyes were on the Colt, even mine. I keep it loaded, all day and every day, without question; yet I have never found reason to use it.
I paused for a breath. I holstered it slowly, and started to fall slowly backward onto the desk behind me. I tucked another greasy cigarette between my lips and lit knowing all too well the room still stank of shit from the last one. I puffed, and from behind the cloud of smoke, I saw those six faces, still white with fear.
“You cannot fake hope. You cannot fake fear” I leaned over and snatched the ticker tape, still in one of the engineer’s hands. It was warm.
“And you cannot fake an emergency broadcast like this, unless you have Commander privileges…”
There’s nothing quite like the pain and suffering that comes with a broken spirit, and I certainly enjoyed watching them squirm in their boots. They were unsure what to do, whether to cry, laugh, kill me.
“You feel that? Hmm? That rush you feel, of wanting to hurt me?” I leaned in. “Because I hurt you?”
I tapped my cigarette ash onto the desk.
“Use that pain and frustration, when I order you to launch a direct bombardment towards coordinates you’ll find on your station”. I stubbed the cigarette out on the desk and jumped to my feet. Adrenaline spiked though my extremities as if there was something more than saw dust and dead insects in that last smoke. I saluted the gormless freaks before me.
“Long live the Frontier!”
I avoided their gaze as they left the room. Whether any were butt hurt, violated by their honourable Commander, was none of my concern. The day I see engineers lead a coup or revolt down here, I’ll kiss a mule on the ass.
I sighed, and closed the Situation Room door.
The ticker tape whirred again.
I cradled the freshly printed tape in my hand. It was warm, and with each churning zap, words appeared.
“The Kingdom… of… America… demands all… missile… bases… and bunkers… shut down and.. surrender your… arms.
Surrender now… and long live our Righteous King… and God save the Kingdom of America”.
We knew we were next. We’d known that for weeks.
At least we won’t be the last.
To the Frontier!