The World Today

The World Today
Earth in 2013

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

P-58 Firebat

Type: Pursuit Plane
Crew: 1
Length: 13.6 meters
Wingspan: 11.1 meters
Max speed: 790 kph
Range: 3,000 km
Ceiling: 13.5 km
Armament: 4, 20mm cannon
up to 2,000 kg payload
First flight: 1942
Introduced: 1944
Manufacturer: Convair
Built: 2,500

The Firebat was the United States Army Air Corps’ premier fighter during the later years of World War II. It is one of the few swept-winged piston engine fighters to ever be built. The airplanes saw nearly exclusive combat in the skies over Europe. The aircraft was designed to serve as escorts to the B-23s and B-27s that bombed targets within Fuhrer Germany. Its role as an air superiority fighter was only surpassed with the advent of jet-powered aircraft developed in Fuhrer Germany to shoot down the bombers. Even then, against the primitive jet fighters, the Firebat still held its own. For every 10 P-58s shot down, 7 jets were downed. It is fortunate that the Fuhrer did not order the development of jet fighters in 1942 instead of 1944.

Along with escort duty, the P-58 saw action in close-air support. In the ground attack role, P-58s shot up rail and other infrastructure targets with unguided rockets. It helped smash the Wesser Pocket in early 1946. The aircraft was phased out following the war, and none remained in service by 1950. The P-58 was highly maneuverable and very able fighter; however, with the advent of jet technology, a piston-engine fighter could no longer compete on the world stage.

Air War over Pennsylvania

In the first months of World War II in North America, a fierce battle took place over the skies of Pennsylvania. Both the U.S. and C.S. battle for dominance, though both sides took different approaches. The Confederates, with limited industry of their own, relied upon imported German fighters, and what was built in the south was often licenced from other companies. The Confederate Air Force was predominately a fighter and tactical bomber force. Fast Messerschmidt and Dixie-Martin fighters escorted dive-bombers and twin-engine bombers. Both were used to destroy U.S. Army targets and fortifications. The Confederates put only a token effort into destroying American industry. Those bombers that were not used by Patton on his march north, were often seen terrorizing Philadelphia. A few strategic raids were attempted early in the war; bombing runs on factories in Pittsburgh as well as docks and shipyards in Baltimore and New Amsterdam.

The U.S. Army Air Corp took a different approach. Fighters were used largely as interceptors, shooting down what few bombers the Confederates threw at American cities. Daily, over rural Pennsylvania and Maryland, fighters on both side circled in a deadly serious dance. Hundreds of fighters on both sides were downed in those first three months. The C.S.A.F.’s biggest disadvantage was that of numbers. They simply ran out of skilled pilots before the Army Air Corps. More Confederate bomber pilots were downed by ground fire than American interceptors. The same was said about the American Strategic Air Command. Four-engine bombers produced by Boeing and Convair targeted the industrial heartland of the Confederacy. Though losses were great, the bombers hit cities like Atlanta and Birmingham in daylight hours to great effect. Unlike night-time raids, the daytime bombers could zero in on industrial targets and destroy them, slowly eroding what little industrial capacity the Confederate States possessed.

In the end, the Air War over the Mid-Atlantic States was one of attrition, where the United States had far more pilots and aircraft.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Battle of Gettysburg

At dawn, on April 1, 1940, the Army of Virginia forced a crossing of the Rappahanock river, thus beginning World War II in North America. General George Patton personally lead the Right Hook of his three-pronged war plan, aiming his army at Philadelphia. His original projections was to storm across Lincoln and Maryland, being in the U.S. Capital within a month. His plans relied too much upon the effectiveness of modern armor, most of which he commanded being imported Panzers. What he failed to calculate was the resolve of American militia and the long-term planning of U.S. General Clive Arnold. Patton drove relentlessly north, battling Lincoln and Maryland National Guard units the whole way. It was no straight-up fight, but rather a prolonged guerilla campaign. Arnold used these units to slow down his enemy, whose only real advantages were speed and surprise. Without either, war would bog down like it did during the previous war.

Arnold moved the 1st Army into place in southern Virginia, at a rail and road junction in the little-known town of Gettysburg. To take Philly, Patton would have to pass through this town. Both the railroad and highways passed through the little valley the town rested upon. Arnold fortified the hills and ridges around the town with bunkers and artillery. Tank traps and trenches were dug at the southern entrance to town, between Cemetery and Seminary Ridges, which in turn were dug in with anti-tank gun. Arnold had the traps camouflaged and relied upon Patton’s aggression to have the Confederate General trap himself. He was not disappointed.

On July 1, more than two months behind schedule, the spearhead of the Army of Virginia ran smack into the traps. Stuck tanks were quickly killed by anti-tank guns. The blunted spearhead upon State Route 76, caused a bottleneck of Confederate armor, a perfect target for the M-18 Badgers. Arnold used the tank destroyers to great effect, and Patton would later say it was those very tank destroyers that cost him the battle. Gettysburg was, at the time, surrounded by orchards, making armored movement precarious and unit cohesion difficult. Patton had little choice but to send in infantry, supported afar by tank guns, to storm each of the hills and ridges around Gettysburg.

Some of the bloodiest fighting was seen on July 2, when an entire regiment of Confederate soldiers was chewed to pieces storming the southern most hill, Round Top, where American artillery gnawed away at Patton’s flanks. Patton was a genius on the offense, but his defensive doctrine left much to desire. Confederate soldiers did take Little Round Top, only to be ejected by a costly American counterattack near dusk. At nightfall, both sides remained in stalemate. Night time attacks by Confederate commandos succeeded in capturing land between Cemetery Ridge and the Round Tops, cutting off the defenders there.

At dawn, Patton ordered the Round Tops suppressed by Confederate artillery and dive-bombers, while a full scale charge on Cemetery Ridge commenced. At the time and in his mind, his choices were limited between withdrawing south or charging forward. Never a man to back down, Patton gave the order to charge. For five hours, Confederate and American units slugged it out for Cemetery Ridge, with Confederates achieving limited gains. Had he another day, Patton may have taken the ridge, even after suffering 20% losses in his armor. That was not to be.

Arnold moved the bulk of his own armor, both tanks and tank destroyers, south. The flanking move took most of July 2, moving nearly thirty miles around Gettysburg. While Patton struggled to take Cemetery Ridge, Arnold’s own armor slammed into Confederate supply lines on the highway south. Arnold’s intent was not just to destroy Patton’s supply lines, but to encircle the Army of Virginia and either force it to surrender or to destroy it. With his supplies threatened, and encirclement imminent, Patton reluctantly gave the order to fall back– he never once uttered the word retreat.

The Army of Virginia’s retreat was less than orderly, with damaged vehicles and weapons forming a wake of litter than American fighters followed. It was the high-water mark of the Confederate invasion, and the beginning of the end of the Confederate States as an independent entity. Patton’s own aggression, inability to advance as fast as he planned, and inability to achieve air superiority over the battlefield that cost him the war at Gettysburg. It was Arnold’s own inability to achieve the same air superiority that failed to end the war then and there. Neither side utilized aircraft to their full effectiveness, but both sides did prove the value of armor and anti-armor weapons at Gettysburg.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Confederate War Aims

Upon taking power, the Confederate Bund began planning to take back what it lost. The Confederate States were broken after the Great War, and were far from an industrial giant to begin with. Factories continued to function in the northern halves of Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia, but beyond these regions the country was still largely agrarian. They were heavily dependant upon imported weapons from friendly regimes, especially the fascists in Germany that drove the Kaiser and his government into temporarily exile in Germany’s River Platte colony. With their own delusions of grandeur, the Bund, as well as the Confederate President, plotted their revenge upon the United States.

The Greater Confederate States of America.
1) To regain all lands and states lost to the Untied States in 1916.
2) To bring all the former slave states into the Confederacy, including Missouri, Maryland and Delaware.
3) For good measure, to bring Costa Rica into the Confederacy, along with the Costa Rican canal.
4) To evict enemies and former allies alike from the Caribbean Sea and Central America, turning it into a Confederate Lake.
5) To disarm the United States.

It was all but impossible to defeat an opponent with more than twice the population and as much as ten times the industrial capacity, even with aid from Fuhrer Germany. Most generals told Bedford that it simply could not be done. These senior generals were dismissed from their positions, making way for more ambitious generals. The foremost of the Confederate War Effort being one Brigadier General Patton from Georgia. He could only promise a quick victory; if the war lasted for more than six months, the odds rapidly turned against the C.S.A. His plan was simple.

Right Hook: A swift drive on the U.S. capital in Philadelphia, decapitating the American leadership.

Upper Cut: A drive to take Chicago and the railroad hub there, cutting the U.S. in half.

Left Hook: A drive into California to either capture or destroy the major naval base at San Diego.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Stardust: Towne, Chapter Fin

Last chapter of Towne.

Chapter 11

Andreas cursed from his hidden location. He knew Katrina would get into trouble. He searched the town all day, with no sign of her. Just before sunset, he spotted a patrol of Knight and took cover in a bombed out house. To his dismay, he spotted Katrina, Matilda and a bunch of children being lead away. They must be headed to one of the detention camps, perhaps the one Andreas saw on the outskirts of town.

Those were, of coarse, the infamous processing centers of the Knights. Andreas only knew of rumors, stories told by refugees. They said that those who went in, never came out. They spoke of genetic purges, of the extermination of entire villages and towns. And eventually of colonization by Naveinans. Pi Showna was one such location. The Knights came in, cleared it all out, and The People built their new city on top of it. What would happen to those colonist when the original inhabitants liberated the area? Andreas could only speculate, but they would likely meet the same fate as the originals.

Not that any of that currently did Katrina any good. Her future suddenly got a lot shorter unless Andreas could bail her out. Again. It was starting to develop into a bad habit; she lands in hot water and he has to save her. Just once he would like to meet a woman who was a little more self-sufficient. No matter; he was not about to abandon her, especially to those savages. Something told him, waltzing into the camp with guns blazing was not going to work here. In Shownastadt, he had surprise on his side. Here– the Knights expected attacks, and would crush them swiftly.

Andreas had to think his way around this obstacle. He was up to the challenge, but found life so much simpler when he could shoot his troubles. Andreas made his way through the rubble and ruin of Contra, his mind focused on the devastation. He certainly did not want to have to clean up this mess. Would the town ever be the same again? Might just be easier to plough it under and plant atop it. For the time being, everyone would just have to move to the big city. Tropico City should be in more or less one piece, and with The State’s fleet moored at the bottom of the sea– this invasion will never reach the capital.

If he was lucky, they would not even hold on to what they have taken. The artillery has not moved all day. Andreas made his way out of town, keeping his head low. The best plan he can cook up was to take to the outskirts of town, stalking low through the corn fields. He did not like moving on his own, not when he could end up dead. As a rule, the Golden Hammers did not approve of its employees going solo. Too easy to land in an ambush. The more pairs of eyes, the more likely nobody could get the drop on them.

Andreas had little choice now. His buddies were probably still up in that plantation, sorting through the dead. Dwarves have their own ways of disposing of the dead. Sapiens follow the Ancient tradition of coming from fire and water and returning to it– at least the fire part. Water was not always available, but an industry grew up around that too. Shipping ashes to the seas was a small business, but it got done. Pygmaeus, on the other hand, lived beneath the ground. Naturally, they died below the ground as well. They buried their dead, in single plots. It seemed strange to Andreas, but some Sapiens have adopted the same practice.

For the moment, the dwarves were digging individual holes for each of the Knights’ victims. As far as he knew, they simply left the Knights to rot where they lay. Perhaps the ravens will get some use out of them. Andreas could not care either way. They would get whatever they deserved. As for the others. Andreas still had a hard time believing what he saw. He tried not imagine seeing Katrina’s body slumped over in one of those trailers.

Andreas shook his head. He was not sure when, but sometime along the line, feelings started to develop. He always did his best to keep detached from life. Too much pain and suffering came from attachment; a lesson he learned the hard way. Normally, he would bail anybody out of trouble with the Knights, or any other invaders. But now, his thoughts focused more on Katrina. At first, that was the case with her. He felt– he was responsible for her apprehension, and was compelled to bail her out. Since then, they did little but bicker and argue, and still he could not keep his thoughts from her. If anything were to happen–

Andreas did not want to consider it. He failed one he cared about before, he would not do it again. His own feelings are what shocked him the most. She was difficult, stubborn and plain irritating at times, but they were connected. If his actions were driven by responsibility, would he have put up with her for so long? No, he would have dropped her off in the first safe harbor and been on his way. He certainly would have caught his ship in time.

Andreas scowled at himself. He had a job to do, not a time to get all sentimental. He can sort out his mind after he freed her, and the rest of that camp. Katrina would have to come first, as for the camp– he knew he would need most of the gang for that. After what they saw in that coffee plantation, they will be more than eager to pay back the Knights.

Andreas kept to the shadows of dusk as he approached farmland. He was close enough to safety that he dared not gather attention. Nothing like getting caught right at the end to ruin a man’s day. Not to mention, if he should live, he would never hear the end of it. The nearest corn fields were already partially trampled. Others had the same idea as Andreas, though their tracks led east. He was headed more towards the north. There lay the only detention camp in town, at least he hoped so. Contra was small enough that one should suffice. If he were wrong, and Katrina was elsewhere–

No, Andreas learned long ago not to dwell on ‘ifs’. He kept his mind on the corn field. Aside from the trails already cut through, there was no sign of inhabitants. No farmers, no ground sloths coming down from the hills, not even squawking hobblers. Everyone must have left Contra at the foot of the Naveinan invasion. After all the fighting, the fields were too quiet. He walked gingerly to keep his shoes from crushing stalks beneath them. Tropicans were not use to this level of silence. Even at night, there was an ambient sound of bugs and birds. When the crickets kept quiet, that was a time to worry.

He picked up the Knight’s trail by the very same way. Vehicles and marching boots were the only sound detectable, and easy to track. He already knew the camp’s location, but this told him traffic would be heavy. The nearest corner of the barbed-wire fence orbiting the camp skirted the cornfield. It gave Andreas the perfect vantage point. He could see clearly towards the camp’s center. It was little more than a neighborhood of Contra, relatively undamaged, and encircled with fortification. He spotted no trailers or anything immediately noted as insidious.

Knights roamed the roof tops of a two story building. At one point or another, it must have been a shop, or a Tropican official building, but not now. Now it served as an impromptu lookout tower. The roof was sandbagged and Andreas spotted machine guns at each corner. They pointed down into the detention camp. They could hardly stop an attack, but most certainly would put down any uprising. There was one vehicle inside the camp, though many more on the outside, and that was a mobile surface-to-air missile launcher. Four missiles sat on a rack on the bed of a truck. It was hardly enough to stop an air raid, but it would be enough to shoot down a snooping aircraft.

No doubt that the Knights wanted to keep their practices secret. That made on thing self-evident; whomever went into a camp, they had no intention of releasing them alive. Andreas searched the crowd pressed into the former neighborhood square. Less than fifty gray wearing men walked in the crowd, and all of them were armed. Andreas estimated about two hundred in the crowd, two hundred Tropicans that it. He spotted no pygmaeus, but plenty of sleek and slender forms of elves. The Party had a special hatred towards them.

He also spotted some short folks, a few of those green. Goblins and gremlins were not even Terraforms, much less human, so Andreas was surprised to see them alive. The other shorties were children, both elf and sapien. Only a few redheads were in the mix, and only one had the dark red color of Katrina. His eyes locked on to her. She stood, humbled and nervous, but still protective. Five children surrounded and clung to her. One of those had to be Saul.

“Nice going,” he muttered to himself. “You found him alright, but you forgot the part about escaping.” Katrina sure caused him plenty of trouble. He was unsure what he would do without her. Probably be out with the rest of the Golden Hammers, resisting this invasion. Then again, he would only have himself to worry about; dwarves being more than capable of taking care of themselves.

Andreas’s attention drifted over towards the Knight with the fancy collar. He was no mere officer. He walked like he owned the place. Andreas could not tell his rank, but it was clear this was the man in charge. The only details he could make out were the gray uniform and one mean scowl on his face. He looked like the type who was just plain mad at the world, all the time. He was struggling to impose some sort of order on the camp.

“In line!” Andreas could hear the venom in his voice from his hiding spot. “Goblins over there!”

“What am I suppose to do with more goblins, Colonel Wood?” one Knight shouted over the crowd.

Wood turned to glare at the announcing Knight. “Process them immediately!”

Process– what a holesome word for it. Andreas had a fair idea what sort of process the goblins, three of them, would go through. The Knight commander, Wood, stomped over to an arrangement of Knights herding their latest catch into the camp. “How many times do I have to tell you, no goblins! Don’t bother bringing the vermin here. Deal with them on the spot!”

One of the Knights talked back, but Andreas could not make out the words. He could guess though. Something along the lines of; ‘if we shoot them on the spot, then the humans won’t cooperate because they’ll know what’s in store for them’. Times like this, Andreas wish his imagination was not so active. What sort of twisted person could come up with that, and the fact Andreas applied those words, certainly made him think less of himself.

Still, that must be what the Knight said. “Deal with it!” Wood snapped, before trudging back to inmates. Knights had an appearance as thugs and butchers, and it struck Andreas as ironic. The mafia in general is thought of as a pack of thugs in most countries. Only Tropico treated them anything like legitimate businesses. It appalled Andreas that the underground economy would be lumped into the same category. The Golden Hammers would never exterminate entire populations. They would only go after rival gangs, and only when provoked.

“Why are you here?” Wood asked the first man in the front line. He appeared to be an elf. The elf talked back to Wood, probably proclaiming his innocence. Instead of listening, Wood struck him down with his fist. “Wrong! You’re unnatural! You’re a freak of nature! You are an elf!”

Andreas shook his head. Since when was being born an elf a crime? Not like they had much of a choice in the matter. He watched as Wood moved down the line, asking the same question over and over, and always amending the answer, and always with a slap. He reached the first dwarf in the crowd, whom answered the question by spitting in Wood’s eye. In response, four Knight jumped him, beating him to the ground. The dwarf fought back with all he had, but outnumbered four-to-one.

In the end, he was subdued and dragged off in the same direction as the goblins. He would be dead in minutes. Not many could chose how to die, and dwarf decided to go out like a dwarf; stubbornly. As much respect he had for the dwarf, he had the same amount of loathing for the Knight. His pistol was beneath his jacket, and he could probably cap him now. He would too, if he only knew how the Knights would react. They might very well kill everyone inside the camp in retaliation. Andreas prided himself on never missing a target, but also with never harming a non-professional. He was not about to blotch his record.

He finally reached the children around Katrina. He asked the same question to the first one, and much to his surprise, received no answer. “I said, ‘why are you here’? Answer me!” Andreas squinted, trying to identify the boy. No, it was not Saul. At least he thought it was not. Why did he keep silent? Was he putting on a brave front? No, more likely he was just scared silent.

“Can’t talk?” Wood grabbed him by the head and jaw. He tried to pry his mouth open. “Don’t you have a tongue? Or maybe you’re just too stupid to talk. The world has no need of defects!”

“Leave him alone!” Andreas heard the familiar voice, and rolled his eyes. She just had to open her big mouth. Andreas could pick out her Naveinan accent all the way here. He leaned up against an old tree stump and sighed. He came all this way to rescue her, and Katrina went and shot her mouth off. He just hoped the Knight did not shoot her dead, otherwise this would be one short rescue mission.

“You! Why are you here?” Wood asked, but in a much different tone. He was not asking why she was in the camp, but why she was in Tropico. “You are one of The People! I can hear it in your voice. Why are you here? Are you a Red? A traitor to The State?” Wood was being rather forceful with his questioning. Both hands latched firmly to her shoulders, and the Knight tried to shake an answer out of her.

Katrina said nothing. Oh sure, now she was speechless. Seeing the Knight rough her up was almost enough to make him go charging in now. Only his cool professionalism stopped him from doing anything boneheaded. He will not go rushing in without a couple dozen heavily armed mobsters at his side. No, playing hero was a short career path.

Not everyone felt the same way. One of the boys did break ranks and charge Wood. He slammed into the Knight, and started pounding on him with clenched fists. Andreas shook his head. The poor fool had no idea what he is getting into. Andreas recognized him as Saul. He did not know the children of Contra as well as others, but he did recognize that one from a few days ago.

Wood responded viciously. He back-handed Saul with full force, sending him flying to the ground. Andreas waited for the Knights to come and take him away, but they just stood fast. Instead, Wood reached to his holster, drew his own sidearm and fired at Saul. For the first time in his life, Andreas actually flinched at the sound of gunfire. He heard only one shot, followed by a scream of horror, a scream from Katrina. She howled with shock before going limp, and fainting to the ground.

“That could have been Gus,” Andreas hissed through clenched teeth as his fist slammed into an old tree stump. “That could have been Gus.” He wanted to shout it, but had to keep it at a whisper. He was too close to the camp for that. The thought that those butchers would do anything to Gus, it made his blood boil. Perhaps the kid was lucky to die long before living through this.

Andreas withdrew into the safety of corn stalks. He only stuck around long enough to see what would happen to Katrina. If anything bad, he knew he would have to act fast. But no, she was not taken away by the Knights. Instead, the other inmates took her off to one of the crowded longhouses. They were all native to Contra, and word spread fast. They knew she was a Naveinan, but did not hold it against her. After so casually murdering a child, Andreas was surprised when he did not shoot Katrina. Perhaps he really was interested in knowing why she was in Tropico. When he questioned the others, it sounded more like a power trip on his behalf than an inquisition.

Andreas fumed in his hiding spot for the next few hours. He waited the night through, observing the movements of the guards. Knights on rooftop paid only the minimal of attention to the inmates. None where out and about during the night hours. He expected much more discipline out of the Knights. They were treating the dark hours as a long break. With no superior officers on patrol, perhaps they felt more lax. It would be a great time to attack. If the dwarves could come underneath the officers’ quarters, then taking the camp would be a snap– well, maybe if one discounted mounted machine guns above them.

Andreas waited through sunrise. There was a call for breakfast, but only for the Knights. If the inmates received any food, he did not see it. Perhaps they were fed in their longhouses, or more likely, were not fed at all. Why feed them when they were just going to be shot or gassed anyway? It was a cold, calculating way to run a camp. As far as Andreas, and the hole of the underground were concerned; it might cost quite a bit to take out a hit, but it did not cost a single dinar extra to be civil about it. Which of course meant no capping the target before breakfast or dinner.

Andreas inched his way towards the fencing. The camp was solemn, calm. After seeing dissent brutally crushed, the prisoners were reluctant to cause any fuss. They congregated in small groups, no more than ten each. Little talk filled the air. Andreas could not stand the quiet; it made anything he did all that much easier to detect. He waited until the groups became more vocal before moving towards the fence line.

He breathed easily once he spotted Katrina. She was curled up near the fence, which made it all the more easier for him to contact her. She sat curled up, her face buried against her knees. Andreas could imagine what went through her mind. He experienced the same when Gus died. He crawled his way close enough to touch her before speaking out.

“Katrina,” he whispered. No response. “Katrina!” He raised his volume by a notch.

Katrina slowly rose her head and looked towards him. “Andreas,” she said weakly. Her eyes were red and puffy, from a night’s worth of mourning. She did not sleep a second the night before, instead sobbing into her arms. The shelter around her life was leveled by a devastating attack.

Andreas nodded. “Yes, it’s me.”

“They killed him,” the moment she spoke, more tears ran down her face. “They killed him!”

Andreas cringed at her voice, too loud for his comfort. “Please, Katrina, keep your voice down.”

“They killed him, and I couldn’t do anything,” Katrina’s face lost any emotion. “They killed Saul because of me. I never came back–“

Survivor’s guilt. Before Gus died, Andreas wrote is off as a bunch of nonsense. How could anyone feel guilty about living? Andreas found out, the hard way. He already traversed the path she was now on. He could not think of any words to comfort her. Instead, he reached out and grasped her shoulder. “Just hang on Katrina, I’ll get you out of here.”

Katrina’s hands moved up and grabbed his. He looked into her eyes, and saw not the defiant, stubborn woman he escorted across Marasuania, but rather a vulnerable and hurt girl. “Andreas–“

”Just hang on,” Andreas repeated. “I’m going to gather up the gang, and we’ll be back before nightfall. We’re going to get you out of here.”

“Don’t leave me,” Katrina pleaded.

Her words and expression stung at his heart. “You have to wait, hold out a few hours. I’ll be back– I’ve lost too much in my life, and I don’t want to lose you.” His hand moved from hers and caressed her face. So soft, yet so sad. She was a tough one, and would recover from this loss– but she would never be the same. “I can’t do this alone. I promise I’ll get you out of here, but I have to leave for the moment, ok?”

Katrina nodded slowly. “I trust you.”

Of all the things she could have said, that put the pressure on Andreas. Now he could not fail. If the dwarves could not afford the help, then he would have to return alone. He did not foresee that happening, not when so much blood was between the Golden Hammers and the Knights. Andreas took his attention off Katrina and glanced around the roof tops. No Knights were watching. Why should they be concerned about a lone inmate curled up by a barbed wire fence. Nobody could get past the three meter tall barrier without cutting themselves to pieces and crying out in pain. When that happened, they would just shoot the escapee.

Andreas drew his hand back through the gaps in the fence. “Just hang on, I’ll be back.” He turned around without another look and began to slither his way through the cornfield. He could not look back; the heartbroken face and pain-filled eyes were just too much for him to take. He would be back, that much was sure. He only hoped he was not too late.

Andreas did not know if he should be surprised the tunnels still stood, or surprised that the Naveinans hold non-sapiens in such contempt, as to not bother sealing them. Whatever the case may be, the underground itself was still intact, minus a few collapsed entries. Andreas found his dwarven compatriots enthusiastic about this jail break. It was not so much freeing their fellow Tropicans, as it was to hunt down the Knights. A vendetta has been sworn, and vengeance must be taken. The Knights crossed a line sacred to mafia companies; the line between business and personal.

Andreas squinted in the darkness, trying to keep track of where he step. The war above might not have reached the city below, but its effects had. Pygmaeus received their electricity from the power plants on the hills or in the city, same as everyone else. The State cut it during its invasion. Whether it was intentional, who knew. One thing was known, and that was the invaders were indiscriminate in their destruction.

Word of the Knight’s massacre spread fast among the non-sapien populations. The Golden Hammers sent many of its foot soldiers to clear out these savages. To kill one’s nemesis is one thing; the mob does that all the time. But to target one’s enemy’s neighbors, siblings, parents and worst of all, their children, it went against every fiber in underground honor. It disgusted every dwarf to the core. Some ‘honest’ dwarves tried to sign on for a crack at the Knights. The Golden Hammers, obviously, turned them down.

As for the Naveinan Army– “Don’t worry about them,” Ghulam told Andreas. “The People’s Army’s been massing themselves east of Contra, waiting for the ships and airplanes to do their worst.” As it turned out, allowing The State to land was part of an elaborate trap. By allowing them on shore, then sinking the ships and destroying their supply lines, it was hoped to force them into surrendering. Or at least destroying them.

Andreas’s eyes darted every which way his flash light moved. Dozens of electric torches lit the way. Dwarves and sapiens in the gang were on guard. None expected any resistance on the streets of the underground city, but the streets were uneasily quiet. Most dwarves and gnomes, the non-combatant ones, are steering clear of the fighting. The streets were filled with dust and rocks, both broken off the low hanging roof during bombardment.

Andreas looked up at the smooth ceiling, five meters above him. It was odd to have a roof over a street. Pretty lousy for ventalation, but few autos ever drove here– and those all were electric. “I have to say, I envy you, Ghulam,” Andreas told the older dwarf. All dwarves were older than him.

“Why’s that?” the dwarf asked with a gruff tone.

Andreas shook his head. “Because I have no idea where we are.”

Ghulam’s flashlight shifted to a nearby street sign. “We’re on Granite Street. Happy?”

Andreas sighed. On the surface, he would know his location. He never had to rely on street signs, knowing instantly his location via landmarks. Whether it be a statue, a grove of trees or even an oddly painted house, Andreas always knew where in Contra he stood. Knowing where under Contra he stood– that left him at a literal loss. Though it was surely his job, he let Ghulam lead the way.

“This should be it,” Ghulam looked up at the steel staircase.

“Should?” Andreas replied. “You don’t know?”

Ghulam snarled at him. “Of coarse I know! But you didn’t give us a very good description of the place.”

“I gave you the address and number of Knights, what more do you want?” Andreas asked.

Ghulam shook his head, uttering something far from flattering about youth under his breath. “Suppose you walk up there, open the door, and find yourself in the middle of the Naveinan quarters? We’d get picked off, one by one.”

Andreas did some muttering of his own, but far from beneath his breath. He was in such a hurry to get Katrina out of this nightmare, he had not thought things through. His feelings were interfering with his abilities. In short, he was letting personal get in the way of business. A humiliating mistake that not even an Associate would make. “Tell you what, how about I go up first. If I get shot, take another route,” he tried his best to save some face.

Ghulam nodded. “A fine plan, but I’m sure this leads to the neighborhood store’s basement. From what you said, the guards should be atop its roof. We go up there, take them out and appropriate their machine guns. You all get that?” he called back to the other dwarves, some thirty in all. They cried out their ‘aye’ in unison. Ghulam turned back to the Sapien. “Lead the way.”

Andreas walked quietly up the stairs, not wanting to alarm anyone who might be in the same room as the underground entry. A needless precaution; since the dwarves are seldom quiet in their discussion. Their voice was one of confidence, that resonated deep from within. It was not that they were unconcerned about the dangers. Far from it; if they thought a trap was waiting, they would move as quietly as elephants through the jungle. Andreas knew from experience, that forest elephants could blend in with ease.

Andreas entered the store’s basement with all the stealth he could muster. No Knights were on guard, and the storage was already thoroughly ransacked. Where war went, looting was not far behind. Not that the store had much worth taking to begin with. It was a clothing store, and seeing how The State so loathed anything and everything Tropican, Andreas could not imagine them taking it. Perhaps the average soldier simply did not care about ideology and doctrine.

Andreas gave the go ahead, and dwarves began to file into the basement. “Andreas, take your men out into the streets, once we take the roof,” Ghulam told him. He planned to take the high ground, capturing the machine guns, before they even try to storm the streets.

Andreas agreed. He reckoned that most of the camp’s firepower sat on the roof. Take it, and the dwarves can turn those heavy guns on the oppressor. “Just make sure you fire on sight only. No strafing the houses, Secretary.” The aggressive dwarf glared at Andreas, but did not object. Andreas had no idea which buildings housed soldiers, and which inmates. Presumably, the nicest joints were preserved for the highest ranking Knights, but nothing was absolutely certain.

Kevlar, one of the most senior of Golden Hammers, moved first, knife drawn. He managed to fulfill hits long before Andreas was born, or his parents for that matter. Despite his advance age, the dwarf was skilled at quick, silent kills. He climbed up the stairs and pressed against the door. It swung outwards, quietly. Only one guard was visible on the ground level. Kevlar was quick. He reached up with his free hand, and clasped the Knight’s mouth. With his armed hand, he drove his trusty knife between ribs. The Knight thrashed for only a moment, before going limp.

“Clear,” Kevlar whispered.

“Good start,” Ghulam noted. “Now let’s finish this job and go home.”

Colonel Wood leaned back away from his desk. Purging was a slow, laborious business on this island. Back on the continent, he could muster far more resources and clear out this town in a day. With supply lines so extended, Wood knew he must be patient. With the supply lines cut, and the Tropican’s mutt army pressing against the front, it made his task all the more difficult. Soon, he would have to detach his Knights to aid in stopping the Tropican advance.

The hole situation infuriated him. How could the navy drop the ball like this? It was a major embarrassment that The People should lose to an island infested with defects, deviants and Reds. He had no idea when, or even if, reinforcements would arrive. Bombers could not drop bombs or paratroopers over the isle, thanks to those flying saucers. Tropico’s navy is doing its best to rule the seas around their island.

Wood had virtually no idea as to how many ships were lost. All he knew was that supplies were cut, and communication was tattered at best. The Tropicans were proving capable of jamming signals. Must have bought, or stole, the technology from a more advance island. He would say the same thing about circular winged aircraft, but not even a diehard like Wood could figure out who else came up with that idea. He refused to admit, or even consider it a possibility that Tropico might have developed weapons and tools of war independently. How could a communist nation do anything so enterprising.

The purges must be expedited, but he had more pressing business to attend to. That woman, that lone example of The People in a sea of filth, what was she doing here. He must know. As a Knight of The State, it was his duty. Was she a spy? Perhaps she worked with the pirates and thugs who smuggled illicit goods into The State at every opportunity. One thing was certain, she was working against The State. He could not fathom why, why anyone with sound mind would want to flee The State for this refuge. What was unclear was just how many accomplishes she had. No woman could pull off something so complex, so she must have contacts still in The State. He must learn of these, and try to get word back home. They would not go unpunished.

He would learn the truth in good time, but for the moment, a break was in order. Wood was not the type to idle on a whim. A long, hard task lay ahead of him. Perhaps he and his Knights were doomed, trapped on this island forever, but that changed nothing. If anything, it made completing his task that much more urgent. Wood refused to die leaving a job unfinished. It would make him look bad, and worse yet, brand him a failure. He yawned, fighting fatigue. There would be plenty of time to nap after the job was done.

Just as he closed his eyes, they flew open at the sound of mechanical chattering. Machine gun fire, in his camp. What were those Knights thinking? He heard no artillery in the area, not even as much as a low flying plane. All that action was further ahead, where the Tropicans threw themselves at the hasty constructed defenses. They could not break free this soon, and even if they could, the army would have sent him word.

Wood pushed his chair back and walked towards the window. A short burst might have told of attempted escapes, but not a prolonged one. Where it was just one gun, seconds later, all of the roof-top machine guns were firing away. They better not be killing off the entire camp. Strafing was terribly inefficient, more over, it wastes bullets. Wood marched over towards the window to determine just what was going on.

Much to his dismay, it was not prisoners being cut down, but his own Knights. What was once a minor irritant, quickly grew into full blown rage. He glared up at the roofs, seeing not gray-clad soldiers, but stout fellows wearing sharp suits. Dwarves. Dwarves were gunning down his own men. How did they get up there. Never mind that, he knew exactly how they were coming down.

He ran back to his desk and snatched the phone with enough fury that he thought it might snap in two. That was last thing he wanted, a broken phone. Without it, he could not contact the army. He planned to have an artillery barrage brought down on top of that building. That would silence the tunnel rats. He started to dial, when he noticed a low static hum in the phone’s ear piece. It was a dead. The line was cut. He threw the useless device against the wall.

Wood flung open his desk draw and drew out his sidearm. It was but an eight millimeter pistol, but it would kill just as well as any cannon. He took another look outside. No longer where his men being cut down; now they were fleeing. His own men, running from a bunch of tunnel rats! Wood roared in fury and turned towards the door. No Knight under his command would run, and no dwarf would best him. He would go out there and deal with them personally, or die trying.

“Andreas!” Katrina gasped, seeing him make his way through the panicked crowd. She stood, and threw herself at him.

Andreas caught her in his arms and held her close. “Who were you expecting? The golden jackalope?” Katrina did not reply, instead she sobbed into his shoulder. “It’s alright now. I’m getting you out of here.”

“When I heard the guns on the roof, I thought it was all over. I never imagined you would brave the massacre. I would have thought not even you would be so brazen,” Katrina leaned heavily on him, just barely recognizing her own growing fatigue.

Andreas smiled. “It’s no problem when it’s your own co-workers doing the shooting.” When Katrina gave him a quizzical looked, Andreas told her that he would explain later. “For now, let’s get out of here. The gang’s rounding up everyone, and we’re headed underground.”

The Knights’– in fact that hole State’s contemptuous view of Homo pygmaeus worked to the Golden Hammers’ advantage. By not cleaning out the underground towns, they gave a perfect avenue of rescue. Even the People’s Army is using the underground for their counter-attack, poking up long enough to cut down some Naveinans before taking back to hidden safety.

Andreas lead her through the crowd and back towards the mason building. He could see the muzzle flashes on the roof clearly, and the chattering was louder than any Luneburg Typist could muster. Every now and then, he spotted flashes aimed at the dwarves. A few Knights still put up resistance where most had sense enough to flee. In their flight, they left the gates open and unguarded. Andreas always took the Knights as a hardcore, vicious, yet well disciplined group of butchers. Now, they just seemed like a pack of bullies trying to save their own hide.

The two of them kept their heads low as bullets were traded by both sides over their heads. With each exchange, the Knights responded with fewer and fewer bursts. Slowly, the remaining Knights were cut down or just plain silenced. Some Knights took shelter in longhouses or any handy building. The dwarves responded by peppering the structures with bullet holes. Unwanted destruction was frowned upon, but after the Knights defiled this neighborhood, nobody was likely to move back into the houses. It would all come down once the invaders were dispatched.

Andreas made it back into store and out from the pulsing red sun’s insistent rays. Glass and wood, along with merchandise lay scattered everywhere. A few Knights managed to get close enough to lob grenades at the building. Andreas did not see any make it to the roof, but plenty came through the windows. Andreas was half surprised the defeated Knight did not call down artillery, or what little air power The State had in Tropico, upon them. He could not complain by its absence, but he still worried when things went too perfectly.

All the same, he would prefer to leave this camp as soon as possible, just in case the big guns are only late. He found the decent into the underground far more crowded than his way up. He kept Katrina near him, not wanting to lose her again. He left out a quick breath of relief once they reached the dimness of the pygmaeus streets. He pulled Katrina away from the streams of escapees.

“You’re safe now,” Andreas told her.

Katrina clung to Andreas. “They killed him–“ she spoke softly, barely audible.

“I know,” Andreas solemnly said. Though he still seethed with anger, he was too tired to be mad. All he wanted was a nice quiet place to lay down and not wake up for a couple of days. He filed the idea away in the recesses of his memory. He still had to make it to the Tropican side of the front before taking his vacation time.

Andreas waited a few minutes, with Katrina by his side, until Ghulam came stomping down the stairs and on to the subterranean street. He was the last Golden Hammer to arrive, as was his intent. A good leader always waited until his men were safe before tending himself. “We got most of them,” Ghulam told Andreas.

“What about their leader?” Andreas wanted that Knight dead, and if possible, twice over.

Ghulam shrugged. “You think I’m hanging around to identify them? Like I said, we got most of them. No telling if the rest will get their act together and trail us.”

Andreas nodded. “Right. Let’s get to a better defensive area.” If they tried to defend the door, the first few Knights falling will only convince the others to try a different route. Better to lure them all out, then whack them. With Katrina leaning against him, Andreas followed the senior mobster down the road, and away from that cursed prison.

Colonel Wood treaded through the wreckage of his camp. How many Knights lay dead? Too many, but at least they were Knights to the end. The ones that ran– those would see his wrath. They might be the only Knights left in the area, but Wood will still have them shot. They were all trapped here, and will all die. The Knights than ran, he would not permit them to die as men, to die as Knights of The State. He would hunt them all down.

That would have to wait. For now he must link up with more loyal Knights. Another camp was further west, in the farmland. As much as he loathed retreating, Wood was forced to admit that he would do the cause no good if he were dead. He would have to traverse hostile territory, and quickly. He was already regretting unloading every one of his clips into well fortified dwarves. How did they take the Machine gun nests so easily? Were there traitors within the Knighthood? Was that why so many ran?

What was clear to Wood, was that a Pygmaeus was not capable of pulling off something this clever on their own. This was something that required a sapien, and a well educated one at that. Wood put sorting out this mess at the top of his to-do list, right after returning to safety.

The streets, or what was left of them, were empty and quiet. With so many prisoners on the run, he expected to see a little chaos. The Tropican’s army had yet to arrive, but that was no surprise. They were far inferior to The State’s war machine. Nothing could match the might of The People. Nothing ever would, certainly not a mob of rabble.

Wood walked westward for a good fifteen minutes before seeing any active life. One of those flightless birds of prey, falconeers he believed they were called, stood on the carcass of a burned out auto. The bird’s eyes watched Wood intently, almost like a falcon eyeing a rat. The creature had sharp teeth, and nasty kicking claws, but he was no match for an animal more than ten times his size. Not only that, but Wood was far meaner than any feathered pest.

Wood turned away and continued his march. Three steps later, he heard a sharp caw. He glanced back over his shoulder and saw the falconeer also took a few steps forward. Wood turned to the bird, “Scram!” he shouted loud enough to cause the falconeer to retreat to auto top. Wood cursed the animal before turning to continue his retreat.

Without even a step, he came face-to-face with an emaciated elf only a meter in front of him. Where did he come from? Wood glared at the elf. Where was not an important question; what mattered was how dare a non-sapien stand in the path of a sample of The People. Colonel Wood stepped forward, expecting the elf to move aside. When he did not, Wood grew angered. He snap back-handed the elf, sending him to the ground. Times like this he wished he carried extra ammunition.

He took a few more steps before another elf appeared on the street, stepping out from behind a partially singed hedge row. This one was much older than the previous, perhaps closing to the limit of elf’s lifespan. Wood thought it a shame such a waste of genes was allowed to exist so long. Like with the first, he knocked this one to the ground and continued.

He did not even manage two steps before more elves appeared. Wood tried to take in a quick count. They rose like weeds from inside ruined homes and behind piles of rubble. Elves were not the only ones to appear. Several dingy pygmaeus appeared. Wood could never tell the difference between gnomes and dwarves, but he knew by their beaten appearance that they must be escapees from the processing center. A few more rose to join the crowd, these sapiens. No, not sapiens, but traitors to their own species.

They weakly approached Wood, making to encircle him. Their eyes glowed with hatred, fury for what the Knights have done. Wood sneered. Too bad. The Knights of The State would continue purging this world of genomes unworthy of life. Did they think they could beat him? A pack of half-starved mongrels going up against The State’s best. Not likely. But if they wanted a fight, then Wood would put them swiftly into their place. Even without a loaded sidearm, he could still snuff out their lives.

Wood took a shot at the nearest elf, easily knocking him to the ground. He kicked him in the head for good measure before moving along. An elf woman took a lunge at Wood, but in her emaciated state, Wood easily dodged her and set his own elbow into her back. She crumpled and did not rise again. A third and fourth jumped into to take her place. Wood kicked one away, and knocked the other flat on his back. Each time he downed a target, two more would fill into place.

Soon one even managed to land a hit. It was not a precise hit, but one of fury. Wood launched his elbow backwards and caught the man, rather the dwarf, in the nose. His elbow crushed bone with a satisfying snap. The dwarf fell with an oof, but was quickly replaced. Before Wood fully understood his situation, the rabble and rift-raft escaping the camp enveloped him. Wood continued his struggle, convinced he was stronger, and he would win. Even as he fell to a knee, his conviction did not waver.

Bones crunched again, this time Wood felt a sharp stabbing pain in correlation with the snap. Soon, boots, shoes and even bare feet found their mark. Wood’s head began to spin and his vision lost focus. Pain coursed through his body. With each passing second, he grew weaker in body. Never during his fall did Wood ever consider he might be in the wrong. The last sound his conscious mind heard was the cawing of anticipation by the falconeer standing atop a burned out hulk.

Andreas was one of the lucky ones. His house was still in tact, and Sentry still stood watch. A lone crater tilled the soil of his garden, and the windows were all broken out, but aside from that, it was in good shape. He was glad, because after an astro of fighting for Contra, he was ready for a good night’s rest. A hot bath would be nice too, but he had the feeling that plumbing and electricity might not be fully functional. A crater in the packed dirt road, with a newly dug fountain in the middle, proved that running water was now flying.

Though the garden was stripped bare, likely by occupying Naveinans, the rest of his house was still mostly intact. He spent the better part of an hour going over it. His little library was untouched. Not surprising since he locked the door before leaving. Besides, books are not worth much as booty of war. However, his silverware was missing. Some soldier pilfered his silver, and burned Andreas. Under normal circumstances, he would have to hunt this guy down and whack him, but the past few weeks have been anything but normal.

His furniture was still mostly in one piece. He half expected the enemy, or more likely, the wildlife, to come in and make themselves at home. Looks like old Sentry did his duty and kept other falconeers at bay. Though, there was no telling how much time that bird spent in doors. His couch was still in one piece, and showed not even as much as a claw mark upon it. It would not have surprised him if feathers covered it, but no, just Katrina.

She stirred when she heard the door open. Andreas gazed upon her with deep sympathy. “How are you holding up?”

“I’ll live,” she said sadly. She watched Andreas crossed the room and sat a bag upon the counter. “Any luck?”

“Depends on what you mean by luck,” Andreas replied. A little bit of luck had surfaced a couple of days ago. The Naveinans in Fort Baxter surrendered after it was clear they could not escape. Some of the invaders are still fighting, in an ever shrinking pocked on the northwest coast of the island. “Rations are pretty pitiful. Some fresh-dried fish and canned corn.” The People’s Emergency Relief had only dried and canned foods. It was long ago stockpiled in case of an emergency. From what Andreas heard, they replace the food ever calender year, so this stuff should not be that old.

Katrina sighed. After a week of canned, she longed for some variety. “I guess we can’t complain.”

Andreas only shrugged. “But I do have a bit of good news for you. They found that Knight colonel, or at least what was left of him.”

Katrina’s attention perked. “What happened to him?” What she really meant to ask, was whether he suffered long and painful death.

“Beaten to a pulp,” Andreas told her. “They had trouble identifying what was left, but he had some items that captured Knights confirmed were his.”

“Did the mob get him?” Katrina wondered. She remembered the seen on the coffee plantation, the pain and anger surrounding the dwarves who found relatives among the victims.

Andreas shook his head. “No. This way ain’t our style. We have a problem, we just shoot him. More efficient that way.” Andreas was always callous when he spoke of whacking. To him it was just part of the job. No, he was certain the dwarves did not do this. For when something crossed from business to personal, they would not hesitate to beat him to death. However, dwarves, and even gnomes, would leave the corpse recognizable, as a warning to anyone else who might threaten their families.

“Best anyone could tell is that he ran into an angry mob,” Andreas continued. “He was found not far from that camp.”

Katrina cringed at the thought. “When is the government going to tear that place down.” Another second that place existed was another second to long.

Andreas nodded. “Already started. Rebuilding is just zooming along. Before you know it, Contra will be back to normal.”

Katrina frowned. Normal. Back to the way things use to be. Nothing in her life would ever be ‘normal’ again. Being dragged to Tropico opened up her eyes and gave her a new perspective on life, and tainted her old one. Life would never be the same, but it would go on. Katrina forced herself to sit up. She very well could not spend the rest of her life sleeping. “What do we do now?” she asked, or rather wondered out loud.

Andreas paused from unpacking their rations and took a gander around his house. “Now, Katrina, now we rebuild and get on with our lives.”

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Stardust: Towne, Chapter 10

Chapter 10

Colonel Wood looked on with disgust at the marshy land. Such soft, weak land kept his armor from moving forward. What good were Knights without their mounts? As enforcers of The Party’s will, the Knights were as well armed as the regular army. So well armed, they often received first pick of equipment. “I bet the communists flooded this field,” he muttered.

“Yes sir,” his adjunct, Lieutenant Haze, replied. He had no love for communists, and certainly no use for Tropicans in general, but he doubted they were capable of flooding the field. It was likely naturally wet. Of course, he thought them incapable of building a biplane, much less a jet. Their flying saucers proved everyone wrong.

Wood glared at the field in disgust. No telling what sort of diseases the elves might have introduced. Their kind has long since been known for poisoning wells, so why not an entire field? “They’ll get what’s coming to them soon enough.”

Haze thought it best not to answer. He knew his commanding officer went off on rants ever so often. He had a great deal of angry energy driving him. He was hardcore even by the strict standards of the Knights. Wood’s first solution is ‘kill them all’. Haze’s anti-elven was generic in nature, like most of The People. But Wood’s, his was specific and strong.

“Lieutenant, how many non-sapiens were in that village?” Wood asked.

Which village was not a question Haze needed asking. The State’s invasion has thus far only managed to capture one village, at least the eastern branch. The western branch pushed onward to Corona, its lagoon, harbor and most importantly, its airport. Soon as that was in their hands, Daggers can start manning the skies, and maybe clearing those bloody saucers from it as well. There were no airfields nearby, and the lone carrier constantly pounded Comrade’s Airforce Base in the capital–

“Lieutenant!” Woods snapped. He was not one to be patient when asking or ordering.

“We’re still in the process of rounding them all up,” Haze said, taking a second to think. What did the latest reports says? “The village population is fifty-seven, and thus far only twelve non-sapiens have been found. Most of them goblins.”

Wood’s face crumpled in disgust. “I thought I ordered those green things to be shot on sight.”

“Yes sir,” Haze agreed. “But protocol is quite specific on the matter. We must document the infestation, and keep track of processing. You know how Knight Command is about punctuation.”

Woods snorted at the joke. It has long since been standing that Command wanted every bullet accounted for, serial number and target. It was all ridiculous. Woods was not here to take a census. “Fine. Herd all the villagers into the market square and ring it with razor wire. We’ll process them all later.” Woods shook his head when he thought about that village. Dozens of longhouses, all government housing. It must be a den of communism. Yes, and a total purge would be required.

“Belay that,” Woods amended his command. As the man in charge in Tropico, he could do that at will. “I want them processed before nightfall. I can’t afford to waste any Knights behind lines once we reach Tropico City.” Or better yet, perhaps Woods himself would purge the village. If one wanted something done right– or sometimes at all– then one must do it himself. Unlike other high ranking Knights, he did not fear dirtying his hands.

“Yes sir,” Haze said with little enthusiasm. He enlisted in the Knights because he wanted to serve The People, not because of any twisted sense of joy.

“No more than two bullets a target,” Woods added. He did enjoy his work, more than any normal human should. The pain they caused him, it was nothing compared to what Wood would deal out. The elves laughed at him. Now, the elves of this pitiful village would never laugh again. Wood would have the last laugh.

Andreas glanced off into the distance. Towards the west, not a storm cloud lurked in the sky. He frowned at the realization. The thunderous booms rolling across the island were not bad weather, but the rumble of artillery duels. The People’s Army battle the invaders, giving ground only a few meters at a time, and not before coating it with the blood of the enemy. For the moment, big guns were not his chief concern. The smaller cousins were a more immediate threat.

Andreas ducked back down underground. The streets were not the only way to move about in Contra. The pygmaeus inhabitants were in the habit of living beneath the soil. Many lived in houses, but those were the dwarven equivalent of attics. The dwarves had their own streets, beneath those of surface dwellers. The Naveinans were not ones who caught on very quickly. Andreas would not be surprised if they were still unaware about the underground highways that cross most of the continent. When they collapsed one entrance, the pygmaeus would build two more.

Andreas took advantage of Contra’s underground. He lead three dwarves in a small squadron, trying to flank the latest picket. The State, still locked in a furious siege of Fort Baxter, already sent recon in force to scout ahead in Contra. Many of the locals walled themselves up inside their home, but the few gun totting ones have taken up partisan politicking. At least that was what the Tropican Government called it. It was little more than making a nuisance of ones’ self. The partisans would shoot from two or three story windows, picking off the pickets. As long as the enemy consisted of light infantry, they were safe. Once the tanks rolled into town–

Better to be underground. Andreas reached into his pocket and pulled out his watch. “The Secretary’s late,” he grumbled. It was so unlike that dwarf to be late to a fight. Andreas dropped the watch back into its pocket. “I hope you guys are ready for a hard day’s work.”

“We were born ready!” replied the lead dwarf, a red and gray bearded man. More truth came from his statement than Andreas cared to admit. Homo pygmaeus was quite literally born to work.

Andreas smiled as he poked his head out of the whole again. Still no Secretary. Guess this will have to go off without them. “Let’s go,” Andreas commanded. He picked up his own Luneburg Typist and climbed out of the whole.

The sapien and dwarves quickly took cover in the underbrush flanking Contra’s streets. The State’s scouts did not even notice them. They were too busy eyeing the houses for partisans. Excellent, with their eyes ahead, they will not see the threat from behind. Andreas rose his submachine gun and aimed into the thick of the crowd. He pointed forward, giving the dwarves the go-ahead.

Andreas squeezed off a one second burst, launching a fury of bullet into the mess. Two of the enemy soldiers fell without knowing what hit them. The rest quickly hit the dirt, evading bursts from Andreas’s fellow Golden Hammers. Naveinans began crawling for better cover, in the meanwhile firing back at Andreas’s general direction. Andreas watched as they were nearing shelter, a meter tall brick wall. With a final attempt to eliminate them outright, he held down the trigger and emptied the entire hundred round clip into the enemy formation. It took great strength on his behalf to prevent the Typist from turning into an anti-aircraft gun. He spent so much time focusing on battling recoil, he knew he could not have hit anything..

“Pin them,” Andreas told the dwarves, needlessly. Dwarves did not need telling when it came to their enemies. Andreas dropped the drum and slammed another clip into his weapon. His eyes darted around the wall, waiting for a head to pop up. Typists made for lousy sniping. He laid his heavy arms aside and drew out his Bison pistol. It had not the power of a rifle (though neither did a Typist) but it was something he could aim.

Against his luck, heads did not poke up. Only guns, atop the wall and along its side. They fired a few rounds, emptying clips into the brush. A few rounds whizzed by a hair too close for Andreas’s comfort. He pressed himself flat against the ground and hoped the bullets did not hit him. He cursed the invaders. “Alright, you guys try and cover me. I’m going to go around and hit their flank.”

The dwarves nodded, and fired blindly against the wall. Andreas was about to crawl off into danger when the screeching of wheels caught his attention. He looked up to see a Mark Two, a shoe box of an auto, come flying down the road directly at them, and at the opposite side of The State’s fortification. Not many would be out driving when the front was slithering closer to Contra by the minute.

This was no regular auto. Andreas could spot two barrels sticking out of the right, and a third out the left. On the left, a dwarf hung partway out the window, positioning himself to aim his Typist towards the right. As soon as the auto closed in behind the invaders, the three dwarves unleashed a hail of fury into the enemy. The few Naveinan guns sticking above the wall began to spasm, then fell silently to the ground. The auto came to a quick stop, and the four dwarves involved in the drive-by hopped out and charged the wall. Andreas recognized Secretary and his precious Typist.

He did frown at the dwarf’s enthusiasm. Even though the enemy was most certainly dead, Andreas heard the rapid type-like tapping of submachine guns. Andreas shook his head as he stood. They were already dead, no point in turning them into pulp– or wasting bullets. Of all the products vital to the Golden Hammers, bullets were the hardest to obtain in the People’s Republic of Tropico.

“You’re late,” Andreas said flatly.

Secretary smiled. “We were a bit held up,” he said, tapping the hood of his auto. Sure enough, several holes were once they were not. “You’re lucky they didn’t rupture the radiator.”

Or flatten the tires, or ignite the petro tank. Andreas was about to mention this to him, when the rumble of large engines caught his attention. He frowned as he watched two red armored personnel carriers rumble down the street. Both vehicles were battered and dented from several rounds of combat. From what little Andreas heard off the radio, Fort Baxter was already under siege, and taking a pounding. The State even went as far as to send bombers, as soon as the sun set.

“That’s the third time that’s happened today,” Secretary grumbled. He did not enjoy watching the People’s Army heading east; it meant fewer soldiers in the west.

Andreas approached the armored auto, waving his arms wildly. Only briefly did the idea of The State commandeering a Tropican vehicle cross his mind. The armored personnel carrier came to a slow stop. Its top hatch flew open an a head poked up. “What can we do for you– comrade?” It took him a second to figure out the only sharp dressed humans with guns in Contra must be mobsters, and thus fighting the invader.

“Why are you headed east? The fighting is that way,” Andreas pointed towards Baxter.

The soldier shook his head. “Not any more. The parts not already in Naveinan hands are being demolished.” The soldier’s face showed both fatigue and anger. “Makes me wonder what the navy is doing.”

Andreas stepped aside and waved on the armored autos. The soldier did make a good point. The State’s invasion fleet stood with near impunity off shore. They dared not sail too close to Tropico City, but they were still close enough to fire their high caliber rounds into and behind the front. A few battleship rounds landed near Contra, but as of yet, not inside the town. That could change at any moment.

The idea of indiscriminate bombardment took his mind instantly to Katrina. He brought her to Tropico because he thought she would be safe. If the Naveinans take Contra, how safe would she be then? Especially if– when they learn her true origins. Her accent would give her away, and Katrina was always one to quickly voice her opinion. Her defiance would only end up landing her into a mess of trouble, and when it came to the Knights, there would be no happy ending.

“Think it might be time to fall back,” Andreas suggested to his dwarven comrades. They would not fall back to Tropico City or any of the fortresses between here and there. The dwarves have plenty of safe houses above and below the ground. Beneath, they could use the tunnels to harasses the invaders. Not to mention deposit or withdrawal persons on a fly.

Secretary did not like the sound of those words. “But we are still winning.”

“We’ll be dead if the Naveinans overrun us,” Andreas told him. “Can’t do much typing then.”

Secretary frowned. “Very well.”

“Meet us north of town, in the coffee fields. You know the safe house,” Andreas commanded. “I have something to take care of first.”

The dwarf had a good idea of what, or rather who Andreas referred to. He still had no love for that sapien. “Don’t dwaddle.”

Andreas nodded “Alright, let’s get going,” he told his dwarves, who quickly fell in line.

Finding Katrina was not as difficult as Andreas expected. With Contra suddenly bursting into chaos due to retreating soldiers. Already artillery began to rain down on the country town, shattering the outer most housing. The State focused a lot of its firepower on the rail, and the industry built upon it. Factories stood with many holes in them. Andreas avoided the rails and headed for the first obvious place. Since Katrina was not in her longhouse, she must be at work. Yes, she would be stubborn enough to goto work in the middle of a war.

Sporadic machine gun fire shattered any illusion of silence. What should have been sounds of haggling and chickens, were instead felt with explosions mixed with the occasional cry of the dying. Andreas flinched each time he heard the thunder of exploding shells. That last one was certainly closer. Enemy soldiers or even tanks did not bother him, but how in the word was he suppose to wrestle a hundred millimeter shell?

Andreas kept his typist up to his shoulder, training it in each direction. When his eyes darted, so did the gun’s barrel. He was in a hurry, and as luck usually work, one hit every red light only when one was in a rush. The same could be said about ambushes; they will happen at the most inconvenient time. He kept his eyes on shattered shop fronts. People’s invested their entire lives into those stores, only to have glass broken and goods scattered about.

The looters would come soon, that much was for certain. Most of Contra’s trade was done in open markets, with only the finest of merchandise in permanent structures. One such store was Contra’s own corner drugstore. Since Katrina was not home, she must be in there. Andreas approached the three story brick building. Its windows, too, were missing. Across the street, a freshly dug crater provided the catalyst for the drugstore’s redecoration. Andreas scowled at the crater. Not only that, but that use to be somebody’s house. It was only then did he wonder if Sentry was alright.

Andreas pushed open the already ajar door. It was once a wooden frame with a painted glass body, but not anymore. Now it was nothing more than a wooden frame with a few shards still hanging to it. Andreas’s shoes crushed hundreds of glass fragments as he crossed the store. He only visited the drugstore when he had something to buy. The Golden Hammers left it alone, so he never paid a business call. Besides, if the mafia started leaning on everyone, the People’s Government might stop looking the other way.

“Katrina!” Andreas called out, half expecting her not to answer. She never was one to listen, but the same could be said about the females of most species. Did goblin males have the same trouble?

“Andreas?” a shaken voice replied. “Is that you?”

“No, it’s the Eternal Dragon,” he replied sarcastically without even thinking. “Yes it’s me. Who else am I going to be? Now where are you?”

“In the basement!” she called from below. Yes, the basement would be a safe place, provided a four hundred millimeter battleship round did not land on top of the place. Best of all, the dwarven streets connected to the basement. Dwarves of the honest type did business here, and they were a private bunch. They preferred to get their prescriptions filled without anyone else knowing. With those underground streets, Andreas would have no problem making it to that coffee plantation. It exited to the north as well as the west; the east hooked up with tunnels beneath Tropico City.

Andreas descended the stairs and shoved the basement door open with ease. Surprisingly, the place still had power. He could see Katrina huddled up in a corner, a notepad on her lap. “Doing your taxes?” he asked.

Katrina shook her head. “Just a phrase search. I can’t stand just sitting here waiting. I needed something to take my mind off this madness.” Naturally she would pick a game that required concentration to pass her time while the shells landed above.

Katrina was not alone in the cellar. The owner, and elderly man, along with several tenants from the upper floors, all stayed in the shelter. Andreas wondered why they were all here. The dwarven streets were not exactly a secret, and certainly the old man knew about them. He would not be much of a business man if he did not know how his customers kept getting prescriptions filled down here. Sure enough, the place looked similar to the store above, though in miniature. Dwarves and gnomes did not suffer from the variety of ailments a sapien was naturally cursed with; how could they and still have a natural life span of two hundred fifty years? Andreas noticed a lot of pain killers down here– goes with their choice of lifestyle he supposed.

“Why are you all still here?” Andreas asked the nervous crowd. “There are tunnels on the other side of that wall.”

“Don’t you think I know that?” the owner replied with a sharp tone. “They’ve been there longer than I have, but I have no clue where they go.”

“Why would we leave our homes?” one of the tenants asked. He was about as old as the owner, and his hair far grayer. “The People’s Army is still fighting, how can we run?”

Andreas shook his head and sighed,. “They’re fighting alright, fighting to the east. A bunch of soldiers headed that way tell me Fort Baxter is in Naveinan hands.”

Katrina flinched from the mention of her people. Yes, the suffering and pain brought upon these folk was the complete responsibility of The State. They would catch her. If one thing was certain in life, it was that The State always got what it wanted. As if on cue, several explosions erupted outside of the drug store. Each burst was accompanied by fierce shaking of the ground. Bottles fell from the shelves and dust through the floor boards above.

“And by the sound of things, looks like they’re not satisfied with just having Baxter,” Andreas said in a calm, cool and almost apathetic tone. He might be cold on the outside, but he was sweating bullets on the inside. With his Luneburg Typist in one hand and Bison pistol hidden beneath his jacket, he knew The State would not get him, and quite a few soldiers would not be returning to their families in the process. The dying part did not worry him, it was what would happen to the living.

The dwarves did not feel much like wasting any more time. They moved to kick open the door to their world and move out. After all, there was a schedule to keep, and Secretary was not one to be kept waiting. “Come on, boss,” the youngest of the dwarves called out.

Andreas pointed at the opening, a door just about as tall as the average sapien. The owner was a bit taller, and thus would have to duck. “You heard the man, let’s get going. I can’t just leave you here to fall into their hands.”

Most of the occupants muttered in agreement. Katrina still looked on with worry, and concern. Along with a great deal of confusion. She knew there were wars, and that The State conquered its neighbors, but never had she thought of her own people as invaders. She stood up and headed towards the exit. “Where do we go now?” she asked Andreas.

Andreas moved beside her. “North. The tunnel opens up in some farmland. There’s a safe house in the coffee plantations up there. Not much in the way of roads, and no rail, so I doubt we’d be bothered much. After that– I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going on out there, only that we don’t want to be here any more.”

“Why did it have to come to this,” she softly muttered as she stepped on to the dwarven street.

Andreas knew the answer, and under most circumstances would tell her straight up that it was all because a certain set of somebodies just could not stay on their side of the fence. They just had to try and shove their ideology down the rest of the planet’s throat. Not this time. “It’s just the way the bomb bounces.”

Open skies and fields of green bushes was a welcome relief from the congestion of the underground. Dwarven streets were barely wide enough for four dwarves to walk abreast, and barely high enough to keep Andreas from smacking his head against the ceiling. In contrast with the echoes beneath the ground, the coffee fields were deathly calm. Off in the distance, artillery duels continued, but no shells fell anywhere near the field. And why should they; after all, there was no tactical advantage of blowing up a farm.

As long as The State continued looking down its nose at Tropico, seeing it as inferior as well as being blinded by its own ideology. It would not surprise Andreas if they knew nothing of the underground. Andreas exited that world with his fellow mobsters, and Katrina. The others hiding in the drug store took a different route, deeper into the underground city. They would be safe from the shelling there. Just as safe as if they were surrounded by coffee.

The snorting of several ground sloths caught his attention. Distant shelling left them nervous. Thunderstorms almost never hit Tropico City, and a few years passed since the last hurricane made landfall upon the island. Plenty of rain, yes, but seldom a thunderous storm. The shells were something different, something unknown. Ground sloths tended to ignore or tolerate known quantities, but they did not like the unknowns. The large, brown animals turned their dim-looking eyes off towards the distant booms.

Andreas pitied the soldier who tried to tackle a ground sloth. Even these human-sized ones had claws capable of removing an inconsiderate ape’s head with some effort. Though the noise left them nervous, they paid little attention to the various humans arriving on the surface. They continued browsing on the various trees, mostly ignoring the bushes producing coffee beans. A good thing too, since they could strip an entire plantation of its goods.

Through peaks in the foliage, Andreas could see the ocean and all its beauty. At least it would be, if not for dozens of warships parked off the shore. All of them flew the spear-in-circle banner of The State. Where was the People’s Navy and why was it not doing anything. They could not be defeated, that much was certain. Though the government might not release news of a defeat, they would still inform the families of the casualties, and that would not go unnoticed. They might have a working agreement, but the various mafia companies still kept a wary eye on the People’s Government.

Every few minutes, the guns on board the battleships and cruisers would flash into existence. The sudden burst of deafening noise spooked the sloths, and forced them to waddle away from the ocean. If it was just small guns off in the distance, that was fine, but when naval artillery started up– it was just a good idea to be elsewhere. Andreas covered his ears from the blast, and Katrina nearly jumped out of her pants– well her shoes anyway.

“Bloody cannons!” one of the dwarves roared over the gun fire.

Andreas agreed, but with a little stronger language in mind. He kept his silence in polite company. Still, the shells flew off towards the southwest, presumably where the People’s Army was holed up. Whatever they fired at, did not last very long. As abruptly as the firing started, it ceased, and relative silence fell back on the plantation. Andreas yawned, trying to clear out his ears when he heard a faint humming not too far in the distance.

“What’s that?” Andreas asked, more himself than anyone else.

“What’s what?” a dwarf answered. “I’m amazed you can hear anything after that display. You’d think they were recording sound-effects for the next moving picture.”

Maybe there were, Andreas considered it for a moment. Maybe it was just a show of force for propaganda films. Or maybe not. “It almost sounds like an engine.”

“I hear it too,” Katrina told him. The aftershocks of big guns slowly cleared and her hearing went back to normal. “A generator?”

Andreas shook his head. “Couldn’t be. There’s no petro generators up here.” True enough, none of the hill top plantations used generators. Fifty meter tall wind mills lined the cleared crest of hills all around Tropico City. The small turbines within those mills generated enough power for the scant needs of a plantation and its surrounding longhouses. In the cities, giant coal-fire steam engines churned out all the power needs. Fortunately currents hundreds of meters above the ground blew most of the smoke out to sea, otherwise, Tropico City would be one dirty place.

“Maybe it’s just an auto,” said another dwarf. “Sounds like its backfiring too.”

Andreas began to pick up the popping noises as well. They did not sound like an auto, but more like poppers used on plantations to scare away the wildlife. They sounded a lot like rifle fire, and that alone would make most animals avoid it. There was nothing more dangerous than an ape with a gun– okay, a honked off dragon, but one encountering those did not live long enough to learn avoidance.

Only a moment on the trajectory brought them into contact with a second group of dwarves. “Secretary!” Andreas called out to the mean looking dwarf.

“You’re not late,” Secretary grumbled with a hint of laughter. “Good for you.”

“Headed our way?” Andreas asked, jerking his thumb towards the engine-like sound.

The dwarf nodded curtly. “Ought to not be any engines up here, not this loud anyway. Sounds more like an airplane than an auto.” Dwarves as a rule were suspicious of anything out of place, and most things new– unlike their gnomish brethren, which embraced the new. But even they did not like routines to be muddled.

The two groups became one whole band of mobsters stomping west towards the engine. The pops continued, though more sporadically than before. If it was an engine back-firing, it was now dying down. One of them was an engine, that much was certain. Andreas could already see a large truck, the type used to transport goods on the continent. A large truck, with an even larger trailer, perhaps ten meters in length. They were not that practical on Tropico’s swerving roads.

“That’s no back-firing,” Secretary scowled, clutching his typist. “That’s gun fire.” He charged forth into the nearest clearing, leading his gang into the mess.

Andreas shook his head and cursed the dwarf’s enthusiasm. “Come on, let’s go back them up.” If that was gun fire, then who was firing them? If it were Tropicans, then they were firing at invaders. If it were invaders– then one should not go charging in, weapons blazing. Andreas lowered his head while running, bracing himself against slapping foliage. Lucky for him, rain had not visited this hill in a while, otherwise his suit would be drenched. A few of the red fruits were knocked off and landed in his pocket. He would just save those for later.

When he burst into the clearing right after Secretary, Andreas stopped in his tracks. It was gunfire, but not from a battle. The scene baffled him. A gray trailer and truck sat up against knocked down coffee bushes, its engine roaring. Andreas glanced it over, not seeing any exhaust. An engine of that design should be belching out the most foulest of fumes. There were exhaust pipes, but they were capped with tubes, tubes that lead into the trailer.

Andreas did not have much time to contemplate it. The dwarves opened fire with their submachine guns, cutting down gray clad sapiens. They were Knights of The State, and most were cut down. Any who resisted did not live long enough to explain themselves. Two of them hit the deck, dodging the deadly hail of dwarven fury.

“Cease fire! Cease fire!” Andreas commanded, shouting at the dwarves. “If you kill them all, they can’t talk!”

One by one, the dwarves ceased their fire. Secretary was the last to stop; most likely because he emptied the drum. He ejected the round magazine and loaded in a backup, but did not resume the attack. He stomped over towards the nearest living Knight, and pointed his weapon in the man’s face. “Alright, talk!”

The Knight did not look up in fear of his life, but rather contempt. He was not use to taking orders from any non-sapien. Quite the opposite, he was use to pushing them around. He just glared at Secretary. “What do I have to say to you.”

Wrong answer. The dwarf unleashed a short burst into the man’s face, turning it into pulp. He moved on before the corpse hit the ground. “What about you?” he asked the second Knight, who climbed to his feet.

He looked at the dwarf and spat in his face. Secretary did not even give him a second chance. He cut him down with a sickle of heavy metal. The Knight twitched and spasmed, and the dwarf fired another volley into him. Andreas ran up behind the dwarf and pulled him back. “That’s enough! If you want to shoot something, shoot that generator!” He turned to his own squad. “Go over there and check out what those Knights were doing.” Andreas pointed over to a grouping of dead gray-clothed men.

Andreas walked around the trailer, his own weapon aimed chest high. “Hold!” he commanded a Knight, who simply stood on the other side of the trailer, pistol in hand. “Better drop it.”

The Knight did not drop his weapon, but he did holster it. He glared at Andreas with an aura of arrogance, as if he were somehow above Andreas. “Well, are you going to cut me down?”

“Not yet,” Andreas said. He pointed his Typist at the generator. “Shut it off.”

The Knight complied, reaching up and slapping down a lever. The roaring of the engine quickly died off. “Happy?”

Andreas took another look at the engine and trailer. Yes, the exhaust was being piped into the trailer, but why? Andreas could think of no good reason. It made no sense. Now he heard of and seen houses in Tropico City that had generators hooked up to it. They fumigated those nice houses whenever bugs infested it. HE could think of no reason why a trailer would need it, much less why they would fumigate it way out here. It would make more sense to do maintenance back at their bases. Like all the fortresses ringing Tropico City, Fort Baxter had an excellent maintenance facility.

“We got a few big holes out over here, boss,” one of the dwarves called out.

“Empty?” Andreas asked. He suspected they would be, otherwise the dwarf would say otherwise.

“For now? Looks like a good place to dump these Knights,” the dwarf offered.

Andreas did not reply, leaving the dwarves hanging. Perhaps there was waste in the trailer, and they planned on dumping it. But why pump in fumes? The most lethal of exhausts from auto engines would be carbon monoxide. Andreas was no chemist, so he could not guess what good carbon monoxide would do to toxic waste. He was determined to find out what was in there, but it might be dangerous. Only one dwarf could handle this.

“Secretary! Open the trailer,” he ordered.

The dwarf grumbled, but complied. He shot off a few rounds into door, much to the Knight’s annoyance. “It’s not even locked,” he spoke down through his nose when he talked.

“Just open the bloody thing!” Andreas shouted.

Secretary grumbled as he did. When Andreas heard the door creek open, he also heard Secretary go silent. Andreas glanced over his shoulder, seeing a sight that made his heart skip. Secretary’s eyes were wide with horror and disgust as he stared at the contents. “By all the Gods of the Ancients, what is this?” he voice was weak, not the bombastic tone of a cold-blooded killer.

Other dwarves flocked to the trailer, their faces filled with disgust, then quickly with anger. Andreas dashed backwards, keeping his weapon trained on the Knight. His first glance into the trailer was not much. Fumes quickly escaped the trailer, revealing a crumpled mass of clothing. No, it was more like several masses of different clothing. The realization hit Andreas with simultaneous waves of nauseous and fury. They were people, and dead ones at that. The Knights were not fumigating anything, they were gassing Tropicans.

“We got another whole over here!” a distant dwarf cried out, his voice filled the same conflicting emotions within Andreas. They were all mobsters, most longer than Andreas had been alive. They were the most professional of businessmen, sometimes so cold blooded they might be mistaken to live off liquid oxygen. They have disposed of corpses in gruesome ways, but nothing in their lives ever prepared them for murder on an industrial scale.

Perhaps they should take comfort in the fact these victims suffered little. They were killed in the most efficient means possible. Perhaps they should, but not a single one did. Of the two dwarves scoping out the second hole, Andreas heard a distinct cry of anguish from one of them. Andreas whirled around, totally unaccustomed to dwarven emotions. They kept their feelings on the inside, only revealing bits and pieces to those closest to them, and only in private.

Andreas’s eyes went wider. One of the dwarves was in the pit, cradling a smaller dwarf in his arms. Andreas knew the dwarf, Arberald, had children of his own. He was the most junior of the dwarves, only forty years in age. Pygmaeus always believed children were for the young, so they raised their children before devoting themselves fully to their working natures. His youngest was ten, and still living in home. Andreas knew the bundle of still clothes in the dwarf’s arms was the size of a ten year old dwarf.

Andreas clenched his teeth and fists. His eyes burned with rage as he stared down the Knight. The Knight’s face was blank, stone cold. There was no remorse, no sorrow, not even pity. Nor was their any joy or satisfaction. Andreas used to think dwarves were the coldest of humans, but these Knights could poison so many children without even blanking an eye. It was a testament to absolute professionalism, and the monstrosity of humanity’s darkside.

Andreas knew The State was filled with butchers, but never did he imagine it on this scale. Their army had not even secured the area, and they already started ‘purging’ the area of unwanted genomes. Did this Knight have any children, could he imagine what Arberald was going through? Andreas would never know, but the Knight would not live long enough to have them, if he did not already.

“Have you nothing to say?” Andreas asked the Knight.

“No,” he said calmly. He had to know his fate, but with the same coolness he used on his job, he used to face down death.

“Andreas!” one of the dwarves, one who ventured into the trailer. “We got sapiens in here too!”

“What is this? What did they ever do?” Andreas asked, his voice soft.

“They are defective,” he said, with the same tone as a factory foreman removing a part not up to standards.

“Defective!” Andreas shouted. “Defective!”

“Hey, boss,” the dwarf in the trailer poked his head out. “I recognize one of the sapiens. You know that crazy old man who lives on Second Street North?”

Andreas shook his head, not in rejection but disgust. Yes, he knew the man. He was old, and a bit crazy. He always kept on about being Emperor of Tropico. The people always humored him, and his degrees. He often gave seals of approval to pubs and cafes he found to his liking. Those seals were coveted by the restaurant owners. Now he was dead– and for no good reason.

“What threat could an old man ever pose to your kind!” Andreas hissed.

“He was defective,” the Knight repeated his earlier prognosis. “Any aberrations effects the whole, and must be purged for the greater health of the species.”

Andreas knew what he was getting at. Natural selection, survival of the fittest. It was a fact of life. It was also the central ideology of The Party. But, The Party never believed in letting nature take its choice. “Who are you to decide that! That’s life’s decisions, not yours!”

“And you do not chose? Who is it who gives help to those too sick to live?” The Knight asked with a hint of passion, the first show of any emotion. He was a believe in The Party, all-in-all.

“You bloody fools. You run your mouths about natural selection, but you forget one thing. The most important trait of our species, our genus. Our minds! They might be born sickly, but they live, they survive! They have the will to overcome any obstacle and challenge thrown at them. There’s more to life than genes.”

The Knight snorted, and shook his head. It was the same sort of shake a mighty scholar might give to a confused pupil. The same sort of shake Katrina might have given to a misinformed student. She stood by during the whole exchange, just shocked beyond all belief. She knew The Party wanted to be rid of non-sapiens, but she always assumed they were expelled, sent elsewhere. She never could imagine anyone capable of slaughter on this scale.

Sure, wars produced many dead, but that was all hot-blooded. Spur of the moment. This, this was planned out, organized with calculating efficiency. Nothing in The State happened without layer upon layer of bureaucracy. Worse yet, what they said about that old man. Katrina saw him a couple of times during her short stay in Contra. She just wrote him off as a crazy, a popular, beloved crazy, but one nonetheless. She never had any ill feelings towards him.

Defects– Defects were not suppose to even exist in The State. Was that true? Once upon a time they must have, before The Party came to power. Did they meet the same end? Gassed and dumped in a distant field. That her own people could do this to the elderly and children, it left her appalled. She fought to keep her stomach contents down where they belong.

The dwarf who accompanied Arberald approached Andreas. “Boss, some of the dead have gunshot wounds in them.”

When Andreas turned his gaze back to the Knight, he received a quick explanation. “Not all were dead. You didn’t expect us to bury them alive, did you?”

His calm demeanor burned the dwarves. All seven off them dropped their gawking and searching and closed in on the Knight, surrounding him, pinning his back against the trailer. Each of them might have relations in the pit, or trailer, but they were dead. Dealing with the deceased can wait, the living were another matter.

“You have a lot to answer to,” another dwarf told him, pointing his stubby finger straight at the Knight’s chest.

“Yes, you do,” Andreas agreed.

While the mobsters trapped the Knight, Katrina’s gears began to turn. They kill defects. Would they consider Saul defective? From what the doctors say, there was nothing wrong with him. He just did not talk. ‘Normal’ sapiens talked, period. Those who did not, must be defective. Her blood chilled, and she shivered despite Tropico’s warm clime. She felt panic surge through her. Was Saul in the trailer? Was he safe, or were the Knights on his trail. She climbed up in the trailer and started searching frantically.

Minutes passed, and no sign of him, just dozens of terror-filled death masks. These people knew what was happening, some struggled. Guilt tore into her. She was one of The People, the same People who did this. Where they doing the same thing all over the world? How many, how many innocents died at their hands. The Knights were suppose to protect The People, not exterminate in their name.

“Andreas!” she called out as she left the trailer, her voice filled with panic.

“Coming,” he called back, zeroing in on her panic. He hoped she did not find anyone she knew in that place.

As he turned away and head towards her, the Knight tried to get his attention. “Aren’t you going to kill me?” He asked with a slightly snobbish air. Even in face of imminent death, he still felt himself above the rest.

“No. I am not,” he replied flatly. He leaned towards Secretary as he walked past. “Spot me a nickle will you? I don’t want the little lady to see any more than she already had.” Katrina seen enough for one day, and five minutes should be more than enough to get her out of ear shot. He doubted that even a Knight could hold back the cry of pain after the dwarves finished with him.

Much to his surprise, the dwarf agreed. “Sure thing. We’ll deal with him.”

Andreas did not even give the Knight’s existence a second thought. No doubt, fear began to creep into him. After killing so many of their kind, the death by dwarf would not be pleasant. Andreas spotted them, from the corner of his eye, laying down their ammunition and ejecting clips. They were going to finish him the old fashion pygmaeus way; by bashing him to death. Well, Andreas seen it only once before, during business, and that was enough. He would not wish that fate upon even those who betrayed the Golden Hammers.

“What is it?” Andreas asked, moving towards Katrina.

Her eyes were filled with tears and her face ashen. At first, he feared his own suspicions were true. No doubt Andreas could pick out a couple of more victim he knew. “We have to go back.”

Andreas shook his head. “Are you crazy. The butchers are swarming the place. No telling what they’d do to you.”

Katrina violently shook her head in protest. “We have to find Saul. We have to save him.” She cried. “They’ll kill him. He just like these poor souls. Just like Gustavus.”

Mentioning Gus was like pouring petro on a fire. It burned a new fury within him. Even the thought of these monsters laying a finger on Gus, rest his heart, was enough to make him want to join in on the dwarf’s beatings. Blast them all, it was not Gus’s fault, or anyone else’s that they were born as they are. It was certainly not another human’s right to decide if they live or die.

Andreas fumed, remembering time was short. In a few minutes, the dwarves would dispatch that Knight, and Andreas did not want to be around to hear it. Nor did he want Katrina around. “Alright, let’s go.” He dropped his Atlus Submachine Gun and checked his pistol. Marching into an occupied town heavily armed was a certainty for failure.

The two sapiens ran out of the field, heading straight for town. They made it not a moment before Andreas heard a large explosion out in the harbor. He and Katrina came sliding to a stop, Katrina nearly falling face first. Andreas quickly steadied her and dragged her towards the ocean. They pushed through thick growths of wild plants. Parting them gave both a quick burst of hope. The explosion was powder, but not that in a gun. The State’s battleship was in two, rapidly sinking. Flaming patches of oil spread outwards from the wrecked hull.

At first, he thought it an accident, a fire in the magazine or something. But not when the only carrier in the invasion force erupted like a small volcano as its aviation petro ignited. Flying low against the backdrop of flames were many red aircraft. The twin-boon attack planes flew in from every angle, firing anti-ship missiles into the enemy fleet. Merculite warheads penetrated hulls, and waited. The electrically ignited explosives were set at various times.

On the horizon, Andreas picked out flashes. The flashes were followed seconds later bu fountains of water jetting from the ocean. The People’s Navy and its Rhodesan allies were finally striking back, a couple of weeks after the invasion. What were they doing this whole time? With so much preparation, they better completely destroy the enemy. Watching battleships and cruisers ignite from missiles and shells should have sent him celebrating. In spite of it all, he could not help but think this attack came too late to help those up in the plantation.

Colossal explosions rocked the sea from behind The State’s fleet. The navy ignored the warships and was now destroying The State’s freighters and transports. Andreas saw the implication immediately. “Perhaps it’ll be over soon,” he muttered. When he turned to leave, he found Katrina nowhere to be found. A large weight suddenly dropped to the bottom of his stomach. “Or perhaps not,” he muttered. Great, now he had to find her before she got herself into trouble, again. At least he knew exactly where she was headed. Andreas took off towards Contra at a full sprint.

Katrina lost track of how many times she tripped or stumbled over debris. Chunks of earth and building littered the street. The entire neighborhood was rearranged; where there was once building, there were now holes, and where there was once open space, there was now pieces of buildings. The stench of freshly turned dirt, burning wood, and that of death. The latter was the worse. She had no words to describe it. The scent tripped her fight-or-flight instinct, a force she had to fight with each step.

No, she must find Saul. She can not just run away and hide. She would not be able to live with herself. After so many weeks on the run, she simply could not go any further, not without Saul. At least the other children had their parents to go home to. Saul, who did he have? Only the generosity of the Tropican State. She will never see eye-to-eye with their policies, but helping those down on their luck did not seem so bad. An orphan was out of luck back home, and helping those in need went against everything The Party taught. She always imagined a socialist state to be far more intrusive, but truth was, The Party controlled every aspect of The People’s lives.

She never thought much about freedom; she simply took the way The State runs for granted. After some time in Tropico, she knew what it meant to be free. She also learned that there was a price to being free. She had to accept and face the risks inherent with freedom. With that, she faced the dangers ahead to save Saul. She always loved children and working with them, and she did not want a single more to face the fate of those on the plantation.

Shock still flowed through her system. She still could not believe her own people would commit such a– such a crime. A grievous one at that. She felt her own pangs of guilt, for she was a product of that system. She never knew it was like this. The Party wanted non-sapiens gone, and everyone assumed that meant out the door– not in the ground. Her part in this crime, was that of ignorance. Intellectually, she knew there was little she could do to chance the world, but that did not stave off the guilt.

Katrina found herself lost quickly. She could have sworn her longhouse was in this neighborhood, but she could not find it. Though they all looked alike, finding one’s own place in Contra was a simple task. The place was now unrecognizable. Not a single longhouse stood in tact, or anywhere else for that matter. Artillery bombardment from afar churned up the dirt and turned the city inside-out. Nothing but kindling and glass shards remained.

Thunder continued to roll from behind her. The land forces might not even know about the big battle at sea. She saw the ships filled with her people explode and sink. She knew the invasion force no longer had any outside help. Worst case scenario; their supply lines were cut and the army was doomed to obliteration or surrendering. She could not imagine them surrendering to those The Party considered inferior. She left Andreas standing there, transfixed by the actions, and hurried back to town.

She knew not what The State was wasting its very limited supply of shells on, but she hoped they would soon exhaust their loads. She would never take silence for granted again. The sounds kept the natives in hiding, most of them anyway. A pair of falconeers ignored Katrina, as they feasted on the carcass of a bonehead. The poor animal looked sliced by a million splinters, almost certainly a victim to naval bombardment.

Katrina heard shouts from nearby, and ducked into some rubble for cover. They were not the welcoming calls of neighbors, but harsh, commanding tones. From her temporary hiding spot, on what might have once been her half of a longhouse, she watched several gray-clad Knights leading away slender humans, likely elves, down the street at bayonet point. Were they to be gassed too, or just shot? Katrina did not want to think about, did not want to have any more blood on her hands.

She continued to hide, even after the Knight vanished from view. She knew she should continue her search, but her instincts said stay put. Given the dangers now roaming the town, she agreed with them. Sure enough, voices came from where the falconeers stood. “Would you look at those,” a large, a gruff looking soldier pointed at the flightless birds.

“A couple of real bird-brains,” his companion joked. He was younger, and acted more reserved than the older one. Probably a subordinate. “Don’t they know they could get killed out here, Sarge?”

The Sergeant snorted. “Bah, they’re just birds, they don’t know nothing. Probably forgot about the bombardment the moment it stopped.”

The younger soldiers nodded, but not in agreement. “Too bad the same couldn’t be said about the underground. I’d like some of those battleship shells to collapse it. Speaking of which, why don’t we go in there after the dwarves? I mean, sure demolishing the entry points is all good and well, but wouldn’t a dwarf just dig another one?”

The sergeant eyed his soldier. He agreed in principle, but his duty was to keep his men alive. “A word of warning, soldier. Never question orders. If an officer ever heard you say that, he’d turn you in like that,” he finished with a quick snap of his fingers.

“I know that, Sarge. I was just thinking–“ the soldier went on.

“Don’t!” His commander snapped, this time without fingers. “Thinking will only get you into trouble.”

These were hardly the soldiers Katrina seen in the news reels. Those were always optimistic, enthusiastic and above all, nationalistic. She supposed all the news she watched the past few years was nothing but propaganda, stories made to keep the masses happy. What would the people back home think if they saw tired, cynical soldiers pounding the ground? They would think ‘that must be somebody else’s army’. Katrina might have thought it as well. These soldiers were almost doubtful about the war and the whole system.

She did see the danger in the underground, in ways she never had before. An armed band of dwarves or gnomes, or the People’s Army for that matter, could sneak right underneath the invaders, and pop up anywhere to take a few shots, before vanishing into the darkness. It made her wonder how many pygmaeus, be them dwarves or gnomes, still lived beneath The State.

“How did we get rid of the underground back home then?” the younger soldier asked. The two marched past Katrina without noticing her, much to her relief.

“Beats me,” the sergeant replied. “The Knights would know, but like I said before; don’t go asking questions. It just is not healthy.”

They continued their patrol away from Katrina in silence. Once out of earshot, Katrina slowly drew herself from her hiding spot to continue her own search. It was obvious by now, nothing or noone remained within the neighborhood. They would have been killed during the metallic rain or rounded up by patrols. Either way, their futures looked bleak. She could see no purpose in rounding everybody up. If there was nobody left, who would grow the crops? Then it dawned on her; colonists. The People colonize conquered lands, just as she was sent to Shownastadt. Was Shownastadt once like this? Were its inhabitants rounded up so The People could move in? Where they the ones now in the slums, and not the dredges of society that The State claimed? The thought only added more to her already burdened conscious.

Katrina continued her restless search. She was starting to learn her way around Contra before The State came. Now, it was simpler, for she could walk in a straight line over rubble and debris. No landmarks remained, nothing to let her know which street she was upon. Each of the piled of rubble looked alike, but offered handy hiding spots when a patrol was in sight.

She crossed into what she was sure was once the market place. The street use to be lined with stalls and stands. It was odd, and unsettling, to see the streets so quiet. They were just as cluttered, but without the life. Where there was once a zoo of smells, only that of smoke remained, with a faint whiff of death. A few fires burned, but not very fiercely.

Katrina came upon a part of town that was still standing. The large buildings stood, peppered with holes, all in a straight line. It must be the railroad. She could see beams of steel twisting and poking into the sky, like a skeletal hand rising from the earth. The train station was now a rotting giant, adding to the whole morbid scene. Katrina walked towards the warehouses and factories. They withstood the bombardment, so perhaps the locals have taken shelter within.

She thought it a bit obvious as she entered the dark shelter. Her nose picked up a familiar, savoring scent; that of coffee. She had not had a good cup of latté for a couple of days. The coffee plant reminded her off all the simple joys in life. She looked around the abandoned factory. Monestrous machines stood silent, its workers long since fleeing the city.

Hundreds of empty cans lay scattered carelessly about. A few even had traces of ground up coffee spilt from them. She did notice many, many bags of coffee lining the walls. They were almost sandbags in their appearance. Somebody must have arranged them as such. They would absorb a little bit of impact from falling shells, but not a whole lot. Perhaps enough to keep abject explosions from smacking those behind the bags with shrapnel.

Katrina rounded the wall of coffee bags. She poked her head around the corner and caught sight of many hiding in the shadows. “Hello?” she asked, not even thinking about her accent. The locals knew she was one of The People. Would they assume she would help her own? They already accepted her simply as Katrina, but with any immigrant, loyalty was always in question.

“Ah Katrina!” called an old, and tired voice. “You’re safe.”

Katrina sighed in relief. At least her neighbor made it out alive. “Matilda, I’m glad to see you safe as well. What are you doing in here?”

Matilda scoffed. “What are we doing in here? Doing our best not to get killed, that’s what. We obviously can’t go home, now can we.”

“We? Who else is here?” Katrina asked, coming into full view of the refugees.

“I found some of the neighborhood children and herded them to the safest place I could think of,” Matilda sounded more tired with each word. Her age would not help much in such a stressful predicament. “We had to move from the last warehouse after the Naveinans raided it. They caught a few of us, but most escape.”

The children all looked up at Katrina. One in particular. He jumped forward and threw himself at Katrina, wrapping his arms around her legs. “Saul!” Katrina said with glee. She knelt down and embraced the child. “I’m glad to see you’re safe. I was starting to worry about you.” As she uttered those words, the horrifying images of so many ‘defective’ youths twisted and contorted within the confines of that accursed trailer. How many of those rounded up during the last raid Matilda spoke of, ended up inside one of those trailers? Plenty of dwarven children did, though she seldom saw any in her little section of Contra.

The thought of patrols already out in force, jolted her. “We have to get out of here,” she said to Matilda.

“Obviously,” the elder woman said. “But we are not all in the prime of our lives. We certainly can’t out run them.”

“You don’t have to,” Katrina explained. “Pygmaeus streets are beneath us. We just have to find an entry.”

“Is that all?” Matilda said dryly, then sighed. “We all know about the underground. It’s a mirror of Contra, but like the image in a mirror, it is not so easy to reach. The entrances are well hidden, and any of them found were blown up by now. If we leave and search for one, we’ll be found.”

“And if you stay here, you’ll be found,” Katrina pointed out.

Matilda nodded. “I know. Quite the trap we’re in. You can still get out. Obviously you’ve evaded them,” Matilda’s voice almost had a hint of suspicion. No, Katrina much just be imagining it. She knows, just like the rest of the locals, that she already landed in trouble with the Knights– thanks to Andreas– back home. If they discover her identity, then they would send Katrina back to a short fate. Assuming they simply did not shoot, or gas her, the way they did so many others.

“No. I came looking for you, and I’m not leaving without you,” she said, but not to anyone in particular. She came to make sure Saul was safe and to keep him from the Knight’s clutches. They would kill him when they learned he could not, or would not talk. From her own experience, she knew the Knights were intimidating, so perhaps they may assume he is simply afraid.

Katrina sat down with Matilda and the children. No, she would not leave without them. All of them. It would not be right to just save one and leave the rest to uncertain fates. “Perhaps we can escape at night,” Katrina offered. She came to save Saul, and was not about to stay here until they were discovered. “They is plenty of debris out there to hide, and the patrols won’t be able to see us so well in the dark.”

Several of the children agreed with her. She smiled, knowing they did not fully comprehend the situation. Katrina did not even full comprehend it. She use to think life was so simple, black and white, but now she found countless shades of gray thrown into the mix. Life was so much simpler before that man crossed her path.

“Very well,” Matilda said with resignation. She, too, was ready to leave– to escape anyway. She lived in this area her entire life. After so many years, it was hard for one to just up and leave. Even with their home reduced to splinters and kindling, it was still hard. “We will wait until nightfall.”

Minutes passed like hours, and hours like days. Waiting for night was agonizing. She passed the time by watching the children play. It was hard for them to play while hiding. They had no ball to kick around, so instead, they chased each other and tried to land a tag. Even Saul joined in the games. He was just such a sweat child. It was beyond Katrina why anyone would want to hurt him. Maybe there was something wrong with his genes, and maybe not. His kindness and spirit made up for anything he might have lacked from birth.

Katrina found herself starting to doze off a couple hours before sunset. When she sat back and relaxed, she learned just how exhausted she was. Between a couple of days worth of shelling, and running all over the countryside, her energy reserves were sapped. She knew not exactly when she fell asleep, but she did know the moment she awoke. The sun was finally going to the horizon when the harsh footsteps echoed off the factory floor.

“Come on out!” a voice called.

Katrina jumped from her spot, her eyes wide with fear. She knew that tone. It was the same tone, told in rumor and tale, that came at the door in the middle of night. She was not the only one alarmed. All the children wore masks of fear, and even Matilda was left startled. “It’s them,” she muttered, barely audible.

A full range of emotions ran through Katrina. She rose to her feet and started looking around. Maybe they would not find them. Maybe they would just breeze over the place and move on. She shot down that idea instantly. If the Knights were anything, it was thorough. Perhaps they would move on if they found somebody.

Matilda thought the same thing. She rose from her seat and prepared to leave. “Watch the children.”

Katrina gasped when Matilda started to leave. “You can’t,” she said, grabbing her by the arm. The old lady was much stronger than Katrina, but she did not fight. Not right away. “Those are Knights of The State, there’s no telling what they’ll do. They’ll– they–“ Katrina could not even say it.

Matilda nodded. “My life is behind me, their’s is in front of them. If those monsters are going to catch somebody, it might as well be me. Make sure you get them to safety. As soon as they take me far enough away, I’ll give you a holler.”

Katrina nodded briefly. There was no convincing Matilda of her folly. She chose to give up her own freedom to save the children. As Matilda walked out of cover, Katrina was determined not to let her sacrifice go to waste. She could hear Matilda surrendering to the Knights. Katrina glanced over at the children. They were not sure what was going on, and Katrina envied them for that.

“Where’s Matilda going?” one of them asked.

Katrina did not have the heart to tell them. “Come on. We’re getting out of here. We just have to wait until the coast is clear.” The sooner the better. But something was wrong, the Knights had not left.

“Where are the others?” one of the Knights demanded from Matilda. Matilda insisted she was the only one. For a moment, she thought they might shoot her there and continue the search. No, they did not– not yet anyway. The lead Knight simply ordered some of his subordinates to take her away, and the rest to continue their search.

Katrina knew the hasty plan failed. She looked at all the children. “Get ready to run,” she told them quietly. Perhaps is she ran towards the Knights, that would buy the children time to escape. If not– she did not want to think about the alternatives.

“Surrender!” the Knights were convinced more hid in the building. Perhaps other groups tried the same trick. “If they run, shoot them,” one Knight said to his comrades.

Katrina’s heart sank. There would be no escape. Her eyes darted around their corner, looking for any nook or cranny to stash the children. If they could hide just a little longer– then what? Then they would be all alone in an occupied city. The State was ruthless with its enemies. Katrina pressed her back into the bag wall as she spotted flashlight beams sweeping the area off to her side.

Only one last desperate ploy crossed her mind. “Don’t say anything. No matter what,” she told the children. If none talked, then the Knights might assume they were afraid. It would not be the first time they frightened somebody into silence. Katrina tried to hide her own fear. The children all had brave faces. Katrina smiled weakly at that, with a hint of pity. They have no idea what lay ahead. Katrina wished they would never have to learn.

“Come on out!” the Knights said, their flashlights finally reaching the Tropican’s hiding spot. Katrina did not want to, but a lifetime of conditioning made her comply to the Knight’s commands. She knew now that she failed. She failed herself, she failed Saul, she failed the children, and she even failed Andreas. She ran off without him, and look what happened. It made her feel so worthless. She stepped forward, leading the children into custody. She would not waste her breath pleading for their safety. The Knights were machines, and they did exactly as commanded. “Come on, hurry it up,” one of the Knights commanded, his rifle aimed at Katrina. The only hope she had left was that of exploding ships. Maybe the war here would be over soon. Maybe they could hold out long enough for the People’s Army to free them. Would that not be ironic; the People’s Army saving Katrina from the grip of her own nation’s Knights.