Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Rants, Raves and just a pinch of 'GO FUCK YOURSELF!!'

I'm gonna start with one I've been formulating for a few days- hardly comprehensive research, but, hey- that's ok for gov't agencies, so it's ok for me.

Just why the hell are we so concerned about Global Warming when we can't even settle on a weather forecast for tomorrow? Seriously- on Sunday, I checked the forecast 3 times. In the morning, 100 degrees was predicted for the day, 101 on Monday, 95 on Tues.. Later in the day, Monday had changed to 85 with thunderstorms in the PM, Tuesday was Tstorms throughout, high of 80. By Sunday evening, weather.com (The Weather Channel) was offering yet another forecast.
Yesterday's oscillations were not so wild, but the forecast did change, and then change back an hour later.
Why the hell are we so worried about Global Warming? While I don't dispute it's existence, it's emminence seems doubtful, given that we can rarely make a weather forecast last more than a few hours at a time.

On to the Surgeon Gerneral's report on smoking...
Yes, secondhand smoke is a motherfucker. I agree with the fairly recent ban on smoking in resteraunts, and the longer-standing ban on smoking in the workplace. Bars, I don't quite get- after all, if you're already engaged in an activity that's proven to be harmful, what's a little smoke?
There seems to be some rather... unambiguous language about secondhand smoke that seems to have quirky logic, though. Some of the report sort of implies that being anywhere near a smoker under any circumstances guarentees harm to a bystander.
What if the nonsmoker is upwind? Nah- that just sounds argumentative.
How about this, then? How many parts-per-million/billion/trillion are we talking in the smoke-to-air ratio? See, there are levels of ICE exhaust, arsenic, asbestos, argon & morons that the gov't says is 'safe enough' for us- certainly safe enough not to go to the expense of fixing- or that are naturally ocurring. Granted- it's not like we can monitor or control secondhand smoke. It is a very real concern.
Bah- every alternative I can come up with to comprehensive public smoking bans rely too much on the manners and goodwill of my fellow humans. Fucking courtesy, people! I'm a raging asshole, but I still show some fucking courtesy.

I hate this fucking planet, man. Ever since Homo Sapiens moved in, it's just gone to shit.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

An Entirely Personal War (pt. 4)

My dream.

Katherine and I, on a stage of blood-soaked sand baked hard by the heat of our battle. Muzzle-flash-lit smoke and fire and thunder. Hearing and scent long since shut down from overload. But my eyes still worked. Gods help me, for my soul is blinded by what I saw.
It was just as well that I was out of ammunition- I couldn't have shot her. Not after meeting eyes. To my immense joy, and my eternal regret, she blinked and lowered her weapon.
Her.. aura.. flickered as confusion and uncertainty undermined her will.
Then, defying likelihood, my stricken steed exploded, the shockwave knocking the two of us down and out. I regained conciousness quickly enough to observe a time-honored law of narrative- a burning road wheel bounced and rolled away from the wreckage.

The next couple of days are perhaps even more hazy and fragmented than the orchestrated chaos of the preceding battle.
Katherine spent much of the time unconcious- something had struck her when my tank exploded, and she was badly concussed, from my best guess. So I carried her when I could, dragged her when I had to and kept her as comfortable as I could when we had to hide. I had to ensure that we were found by not just the good guys, but the right good guys. I knew that if troops from my own, personal command found us, they'd at least give me the benefit of the doubt.

And, in the end, a squad of my cavalry scouts did rescue us. Apparently, I was listed as missing in action, having decisively engaged the enemy command element. Enough fast-talking and string-pulling later, and Katherine was officially listed as a 'female Protectorate noncombatant' who had aided me at the end of the battle.
I'm not sure that I ever conciously decided to hide her from my own side. She needed help, and I knew she would not find it from my countrymen. She would have been faced with interrogation, observation, hell- more '-ations' than I care to imagine. But I could help her. I could help her find her humanity, help her to be free.
There certainly wasn't a plan. I made it up as we went along. I wondered quite a bit at the time- wondered how this could possibly play out. Wondered how Katherine felt about this. She was.. compliant. Not meek, but willing to go with the flow.
There's so much information to convey here that dreams always take for granted. The rotation of my unit into garrison for reequipping and integrating new personnel. Me being put on convalescent leave for a few weeks. Getting to know Katherine. Baby Buddha- all this, and I've not even described her, let alone recounted any of our conversations. Such is the way of dreams, gods help me.

I'll begin with the obvious. Katherine was not tall- barely topping five feet, the top of her head came level with my collarbone. Her short, rather roughly cut hair was somewhere beyond blonde and brown, like sunlight through a karafe of coffee- too rich a color to be either. Her jagged bangs framed a high forehead and too-large, liquid brown eyes. The kind of eyes poets moan about drowning in, but in this case, that fate might have been literal. Those eyes were deep, and murky in those depths. They were eyes that had seen.. alot like mine, I suppose. Christ, I'm no poet. She had a nose, she had a mouth, and the face ended, predictably, with a chin. She was beautiful, no matter how you care to couch it.

Most striking, and perhaps most sadly, was the incongruity between her smooth, unmarred skin, and the depth and darkness her eyes betrayed. At least with old grunts like me, with years on the line, we wear some of that darkness on our faces and in our skin. Even if you don't know us, you can usually tell we've been there, done that. But with Katherine, she was as fair as when she had been decanted. She had scars, but they were hidden behind her eyes.. but the worst scars always are, I suppose.
Katherine had scars because she didn't believe. She knew it was all bullshit, but she had been smart enough to play along. Apparently, there had been other subjects, other angels, who were not so devious. Those were subject to post-vitro abortion. The fanatic can justify any act, while the rest of us have to pay up, sooner or later. So Katherine paid- the deaths she took responsibility for branded into her soul. Even I didn't have it so bad- I did believe in what I was doing, and so did the men I had lost. That eases the burden, a little.

The Protectorate had designated her "Tceralj" (pronounced chur-ALL-yuh), but she spat the name out disdainfully. She was delighted with "Katherine". You see, it wasn't the designation of a tool, or a name bestowed upon a prized pit-fighting dog. It was a name for a human being. She adopted our name for her with joy. 'Converting' her was not going to be a problem- teaching her to be... well, human, was the task I faced.
Music, literature- culture beyond militant faith and fanatacism.
She wasn't ignorant- she was very well educated in many fields. In all the fiddly little things that make up being human, she was... innocent.

After a few days, I enlisted the help of an old friend. Master Sergeant Amanda Byrnes had led me into battle earlier in my carreer, and had followed me in more recently. Those days, she was in semi-retirement. She had lost both of her legs from the knee down a couple of years before, and while she got around on her prosthetics quite well, she knew that she'd never meet her own standards as infantrywoman. Somehow, Amanda had always seemed the most... well, female of all the female soldiers I knew. How she managed this while still being the most hard-assed NCO I'd ever known is a complete mystery to me.
I sought out Amanda's help because.. well, what the hell do I know about being a woman? If Ol' Sarge couldn't show her how to be a strong woman, well, no one could.

Duty pulled me away for brief periods, but Katherine and Amanda enjoyed one and other's company, and I had no need to worry about her well-being.
What can I say? I skirted around my feelings, trying to be near Katherine and avoid her at the same time. Trying to avoid the guilt of my desire- guilt because despite being my equal, she was.. so very innocent. So I danced, and I tried clumsily to ensure that she- and, ha, probably moreso, Amanda- knew that I didn't feel... entitled.. to anything from her. I probably looked like an idiot.. like a man in love, I suppose. Trying not to crowd Katherine, trying not to be overprotective, while still.. hovering, I guess.

Ultimately, Katherine's nature settled matters. She watched me dodge and weave, waited for the opening, and promptly attacked.
Clumsy as it was, it was a hell of a kiss.

Broken Minds Spawn Broken Hearts (pt.3)

It's after the revelation of the Battle Saints that I enter picture in a concrete way.
My neighborhood of the war was jokingly referred to as the 'Diocese of St. Katherine'. We were certain that there was a Saint in the vicinity, intel suggested a high probability that it was a female, but she'd never openly taken the field against us. My people were there because of our special operations and counterinsurgency experience- we had no intel of any other female Battle Saints.
The theories of what to expect from 'Katherine' ran the gammut from timid to some PMS-powered psychotic savage. She proved most of them dead wrong.

She may not have taken the field openly, but, oh, how we sparred, Katherine and I. From the information I was privvy to- and that was quite a bit- the other Saints; or, perhaps more appropriately, the other Saints' handlers; were fairly straight-forward in their approach to the war. Not incompetent, by any means, but not much better commanders than their.. purely mortal.. counterparts in our ranks.

Katherine, though... Katherine was brilliant- subtle, patient and viciously cunning. Command had begun to doubt the presence of a Saint in my AO, and frankly, I was close to concurring when she showed her hand the first time. In one night, I lost three long range patrols, seven manned observation posts and nineteen passive-sensors-only cybernetic OPs- more than I had lost since being posted to the area.

She wasn't infallible, though. My counter, four nights later, cost her far more lives but much less hard currency. And so we danced- back and forth for nearly six months. I must admit, I was getting frazzled- desperate, maybe a little reckless. During eight terrifying, frenetic hours of fighting, I led an armor raid over Protectorate lines by skulking in under cover of a sandstorm. To be honest, I had only the vaguest idea that we were over enemy lines until one of my flank elements actually rammed into an enemy vehicle. What the troops refer to as 'Blind Man's Brawl' took all of my attention for the rest of the day. As the storm blew itself out, and the sun finally dipped below the horizon, I finally dragged my surviving units out of engagement range, and the Fox's batteries discouraged any pursuit.

Unfortunately, things only got worse from there. The intensity of the war in other areas and attrition on both sides left me more or less commanding Battlegroup Rommel, and Katherine and I were both reduced to the equivalent of brawling gangs. With winter closing in fast on the nothern deserts and mountains that were simultaneously home and hell for her forces and mine, some small respite was certain soon. But not soon enough, I suppose.

Certainly not soon enough, so far as the dream, and it's impact on me, is concerned...
Sweet Vishnu, how to tell the story without.. the truth?
How to tell the story of that last, desperate attempt to break her before winter?

That last battle, that first time we truly engaged one and other instead of dancing, instead of jabbing and flitting away.. Each of us throwing punches in the form of tank platoons, trying to sweep the other's feet with a crack team of heavy infantry sneaking on an apparently blind flank... Handfuls of sand flung out to blind, shredding the electromagnetic spectrum, spitting, biting, and then.. then it was down to she and I. The whole world closed down. My tank had finally foundered, and as my crew unassed it- there she was, in all her radiant psychic glory. Well, her handlers and bodyguard were there, but they were simply obstacles to be bypassed. The blazing firefight on foot, then sidearms and hand to hand... my crew dead, firing my last round through the head of her surviving bodyguard... turning to face Katherine, truly seeing her face for the first time- meeting her eyes, and.. and falling in love. ...Or something. I recognized her- I knew her. If I didn't love her then, well, that would come soon enough, anyway.

I know- trite and contrived, right? Yeah. Yeah, that's what my head says, too. But.. why do I have butterflies in my stomach? Why do I feel like my heart's been torn out when I think about this nonsense? Why do I remember that frigging dream and feel like I've lost everything that made life worthwhile? Why do I not fear forgetting the dream before I have time to write it all out? That one I can answer- because I know I'll never forget it. I'll never forget her.

A day and a troubled night later, and it still hurts. I still feel hollow. This is frigging ridiculous. Is this what comes of education? Self-inflicted madness? Is this some shade of the madness I was born with- the curse of being an empath with no control over the oscillations of his emotions and imagination? Suceptible to phantom emotion, victimized by my own dreams?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Revelation of St. Peter (pt. 2)

When the Protectorate first fielded a Battle Saint- The Angel Diamocet, or Saint Peter, by our lights- he.. well, he cleared most of the battlefield personally.
St. Peter knew everything that was going on in the battle, and could process the information. He could bolster his forces where they flagged or weakened, he sent vicious thrusts into our weak spots. TAU Blackjack was supporting this battle, and analyzed what was going on. His cybertronic brain couldn't understand it, but he knew for sure that the enemy's forces seem to pivot and flow around one central point- St. Peter. Blackjack alerted the command element of his analysis, and command launched his entire reserve as an assault on the Protectorate's 'command anomoly'. The assault ripped through the enemy's line, shedding the dead and dying like steel rose petals in a blast furnace. Like an enormous hypervelocity penetrator, the outer units of the spearhead sloughed off, burning themselves out so that the hardened inner core could strike home.
As the survivors broke through, with victory in sight, St. Peter cut loose. The intensity of the attack, the very sacrifice made by our crews to make it possible, and their crews' desperation to stop it, had turned St. Peter into a human fusion bomb. Blackjack's last drone imagery showed Peter's form apparently floating several feet off the ground, and only multiple filters allowed the drone to gain any sort of image through his blinding incandescence.
We broke through, and he detonated, like a charged capacitor knocked of a workbench. We're still not sure whether he did it deliberately, or was overloaded. It hasn't happened since- maybe Peter was a prototype. Anyway, the Blackjack was crippled. Everything within a three mile radius was levelled and fused into a rough glass disk.

A lot of this information was more inferred in the dream than actually experienced. It's a given- something I understood, because as far as the dream was concerned, I had already lived it. This is sort of groundwork I have to lay, or the dream proper won't make any sense.

Honoring the victims of my dreams, lest the fallen be forgotten (pt. 1)

I dreamt of war last night. Well.. war, and love and pain- but war was the over-arching theme.

I started dreaming of pain.. or maybe my pain was dreaming of me... I went to bed hurting, and was woke by a.. well, a siezure, for lack of a better word. It felt like a terrier the size of an SUV had grabbed me by the left shoulder and was shaking me like a rat.
Between falling asleep and being spasmed awake, though... I wandered hopelessly through a space of some sort. A space that throbbed like a whole-head toothache, while veins of liquid lightning left trembling, twitching wakes in the ether. White-hot strobes of pain flashed at me from all directions, radiating out but never cooling or dimming, before collapsing back into themselves and exploding once again.
At the crescendo of this psychadelic opera of pain, the siezure, or spasm or whatever shook me awake. Good times.

Anyway. My war.

It was an old war- sometimes hot, sometimes cold; always old. But not too old- not old enough to consume the culture; so old that the end is indistinguishable from the means.
The enemy was a.. religious protectorate. Sometime, maybe generations before, a hard-line fundamentalist monotheistic religion (probably Mormons, but the dream wasn't specific), had decided that it was time to bring the rest of the world's population into the fold. A pretty damn spectacular war sprung up over night.
Eventually, the holy rollers' fighting forces were defeated in detail- but, as usual (and probably to our credit), the rest of humanity could not bring itself to fully excise the malignacy in it's midst. So a Protectorate was created. The better part of a continent was given to this religion, a place in which they were welcome to live under there own laws and doctrines, and leave the rest of humanity in peace.
Of course, nothing ever seems to work out that neatly. Gods, but I hate my species sometimes.
Once the Protectorate had had enough time to rebuild it's population, and to establish a covert armaments industry, we were fighting once again. Instead of wielding us like a hammer, the politicos chose to prod us at the aggressors like a housewife using a stick to investigate something revolting. As always.

Anyway. I was a leader in what I can only describe as a special operations armor unit. More or less after the Israeli model- one part: "Why send in a few commandos when a few tanks could do it in such a spectacular fashion", and one part: "If you deliver and extract commandos with tanks, who's likely to notice a few inconspicuous guys slinking around under all that sound and fury?"
Not a commander- just a leader. Best place to be, really. Enough authority to make a difference, not so much responsibility as to be hobbled by it.
I'm not sure how, but I was also involved in changing the face of armored warfare- I had helped create the Theatre Assault Unit. I thought of it as my baby, at any rate, even though I didn't crew one. The TAU was nine-hundred-plus tons of weapons delivery, swaddled in so much armor that only direct fission or fusion bombardment had a hope of stopping it.
The TAU could deliver fire to any target within a five hundred mile radius, line of sight or otherwise- hence the 'Theatre' designation. While a single TAU could not truly dominate an entire theatre of war; it could, and did, act as the anchor for entire armies.
Needless to say, TAUs were enormously expensive, and we only had a few of them.
My armor detatchment operated from under the protective battlesteel wing of TAU Erwin Rommel- more commonly known as "The Fox".
Many of a TAU's functions were automated- on a good day, their millimeter-wave doppler radar could see inbound artillery shells, fire interceptors- proximity-fused minimissles that blasted their victims with tungsten shrapnel- calculate the reverse tragectory, and fire a countervolley before the human crew could be roused from their card games.

But I digress. Well, not really- it was an amazingly vivid dream. All the more unsettling for that, richer in detail- much of it subconcious, I suppose- than real life usually is.

But the enemy had made advances, as well. More momentous, and far more frightening than the TAU. The Protectorate had gengineered superhuman life. The Battle Saints (as we dubbed them) looked human; but were so, so much more. And, as I lament learning, so much less.
They had engineered superhuman quasi-generals for their forces, calling these figures angels and presenting them as sacred beings- a manifestation divine intervention.

The Saints were not exactly psychic, nor quite telepathic, but they could... pull a gestalt, a sort of psychic mosaic from the minds of the faithful, getting a rough idea of everything that was happening around them. A commander with even a rough situational awareness on that scale is a very dangerous thing. They also were like... capacitors of emotional energy. They could store it up, concentrate it, and then be triggered to release it. And they were more besides. I learned only a fraction, and that was more than any other person outside the Protectorate knew. I was staggered by what little I learned of what they were, but is was learning what they were not that broke my heart. But I haven't quite come to that part of the dream, yet.

When the Protectorate first fielded a Battle Saint- they called him The Angel Diamocet, we later dubbed him Saint Peter- our war changed dramatically. Our armor and mobile infantry had rolled against his advance in strength more than sufficient to break his advance- or so we had thought.