Godcountry (Book Review)

Title: Godcountry
Author: Colleen Drippe'
Publisher: Novelbooks
My Rating: 4 stars our of 5
Summary in a Sentence: An original, highly engaging work of science fiction featuring the the adventures of former corporate slave Eduardo Sabat as he infiltrates the forbidden pagan "godcountry" on a remote planet on a rescue mission.

Colleen Drippe' is one of my colleagues at the Catholic writing group I set up. We've exchanged several manuscripts and I've always valued her feedback. Unlike me, she has several published works under her belt. I finally read one of these when she sent me a copy of Godcountry and I was very, very enjoyable. Certainly professional quality work and a lot better than most of what I try from the library in the sci-fi genre. Consider supporting a Catholic author, and you'll get your money's worth with this book.

It is out of print, however used copies are fairly easy to come by. Amazon.com has seven used copies available at the moment, just as one example. Now, to the book itself, here's the summary given on Amazon and the back of the book:

Eduardo Sabat, corporate slave, is accidentally freed when his company's main computer is destroyed. He accepts a search and rescue job in planet Quele's Godcountry Preserve where he once served his company as a professional tomb robber. Before he departs, his estranged artist wife is murdered and he suspects Maureen, his first love and also a former slave. On Quele, he and Maureen stalk one another as she leads a rival expedition into the forbidden preserve. He asks himself -- does he hate, love, or pity her? And is she the murderer or not?

Quele is the planet that hosts "godcountry", which is an area revered by the pagans that live there who revere it as a sort of preserve where their gods dwell. For any unbeliever to enter is death. This was an interesting starting point, and the cultures represented in the work were rich and well-developed. As the summary suggests, the characters were also complex, unique, and interesting. Eduardo's shady background provided extra layers to what otherwise is a relatively straight-forward rescue mission plot.

I really enjoyed the speculative future that Colleen developed for this work. It is a future that recurs in a number of her works. To get around the question I struggle with of how to deal with sentient extra-terrestrial life, she posits a situation where tendrils of a wormhole-like thing called "the net" touch down periodically on planets. Thus, in earth's pre- and early history groups of humans were taken and deposited on far-away planets and have thus developed over millennia totally ignorant of earth. Thus providing some fascinating alien cultures and even people that often look rather alien. I thought this was a rather elegant solution and certainly original.

The story was also very well-paced, with lots of good twists-and-turns. She did not shy away from killing some characters, and presented an appropriately realistic human nature without going overboard à la A Song of Rape and Torture A song of Ice and Fire. So good action, good conflict, but also a very good theme and moral to the work. Two thumbs up!


Bits and Pieces 3

A few random thoughts and mini-rants/musings on a Thursday afternoon ...
  • The opening ceremonies for the Olympics is this weekend, so that means it's time for my quadrennial (or biannual, I suppose) anti-sports rant. I don't have anything against sports, actually, but I do think that the importance placed on them in modern society is grossly disproportionate. The Olympics take this "up a notch" and truly enshrines this worship of man, the human body, and sport. And I think that, especially in the current economic climate, it's especially ridiculous for governments to be further indebting themselves to subsidize games.
  • Interesting to note that Emperor Theodosius the Great, a devout Christian who enthroned Christ the King by making “Catholic Christianity” the official religion of the Roman Empire, banned the Olympic games in 393. His successor, Theodosius II, had the Roman army destroy the stadium of Olympia in 426. It wasn't until the 20th century that they re-emerged. Next Tuesday I'll be getting on my soapbox with Stephen Heiner (who is more favourable to the Olympics) on Restoration Radio.
  • In the same article I read, which was complaining about the debt the British government is accruing for the current Olympiad (http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/07/24/afsun-qureshi-why-ill-be-watching-the-olympics-on-tv-from-canada/) commented on the conditions suffered by subway commuters in London on a good day in the summer. He pointed out that such conditions would be illegal treatment for cattle per E.U. laws for "humane heat conditions for transporting animals". Aside from the fact that it is such laws put my wife's family out of the dairy cattle business when Poland joined the European Union, there's something seriously wrong with a society that puts a higher priority on cattle than on human beings. Treating animals well is important and behooves us as stewards to do, but actual human beings, in a sane society, are deemed more imporant.
  • Seems like there's been a rash of shootings in Canada and the U.S. this summer. Well, the media makes it seem that way, although if you stop to consider how many people there are in these countries and how many of them with guns, it's actually quite a small number. Given how insane modern society is I am surprised there aren't more incidents as people are driven "around the bend" by drugs, broken families, and soul-destroying secularism. Of course that means more calls for gun control. But I still have yet to meet a gangster who used a registered firearm, so I still have not figured out how people think banning guns will do anything other than disarm honest citizens and prevent them from partaking in legitimate past times like hunting, skeet shooting, and pentathlon (even Olympic pentathlon).
  • I thought this was interesting: NASA tested an inflatable heat shield this week -- http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/science/NASA-successfully-tests-hypersonic-inflatable-heat-shield/articleshow/15121453.cms


Geekiness Going Mainstream?

I'm still not buying that this is anywhere near the norm today,
but maybe it is the future thanks to Hollywood's
rehabilitation of comic books? 

I was chatting with my very good friend Stephen Heiner on the phone the other day, as he was on his way into see the new Spider Man film (after watching all three of the Christopher Nolan Batman films in one night) and he commented that there are a goodly number of attractive young women attending the cinema for such films lately. We opined that perhaps the glut of superhero movies at the cinema over the last decade has given comic books, and perhaps geekiness in general, a new veneer of respectability.

As further evidence for this hypothesis, I was reminded of an exchange I had recently on a message board dedicated to discussion of Warhammer 40,000. Specifically, I was sharing my thoughts on the new Warhammer 40,000 rulebook that was released at the end of June. I wrote:

I did think it was a bit cheesy that in the first few pages of the rule book, in the introduction section, they show a young lady and young man playing a game of 40K at a GW store with the caption "Games Workshop Hobby Centres are great places to challenge new opponents". Come on, who are they trying to fool? You don't just walk into a GW and find a pretty young lady like that hanging around waiting for a game ... it seemed a bit like they're trying too hard to make the game look a bit more "respectable". I say, embrace the geekiness!

One of the responses I received was:

There are a few pretty ladies at GW these days... not as rare as you might think Happy
Maybe there is something to it. I take the greater presence of young ladies in such a hobby as an indication of "going mainstream" because, it seems to me, that they (especially the prettier ones) are more susceptible to societal pressures about what's "acceptable" than boys in general. Especially the boys who aren't great at sports and therefore have nothing to lose.

I've always been one who was not as concerned with "fitting in" as some others might be, but I do think it would be a good thing if people interested in things other than professional sports and getting drunk every weekend are treated less like lepers. But on the other hand I hope it doesn't get so respectable that geekiness disappears and you find a bunch of conformists across the table at a Warhammer tournament rather than the colourful, enjoyable, and completely human characters one meets nowadays!

And I have to say also, as great as it would be if my wife were a geek also, there is something to be said for a man having a hobby that is completely "his" and vice-versa. I'm not so sure I'd want my wife "intruding" on my domain, and when my sons come of age it will definitely have more of a "father-son/guy thing" to it when it is just the y-chromo types descending to the basement to paint toy soldiers and drive tanks and ranks of knights across a 4'x6' table at each other.


Your Bi-Weekly Update #9

 I hope readers enjoyed All the Gods of the Gentiles. Thanks especially to the one anonymous reader who took the time to post some feedback. His (her?) encouraging words inspired some brainstorming over the weekend for a possible sequel. Anyway, here's an update on where I've been and what I've been doing after a week of zero posts:

1. Last Monday I started a month+ preliminary inquiry on a murder case from 2007. Definitely very taxing, which is why I was not up to doing much of anything after a long day in court and did not get any writing blog-wise or other all week. Here's a short TV clip on the case: http://www.therecord.com/news/local/article/762306--preliminary-hearing-begins-in-2007-murder-of-waterloo-woman; I'm a little miffed that the press cropped me out of the footage so that you get the impression the accused has only the one lawyer (not me). But they only mentioned one of the two prosecutors also.

2. About the only thing I've had any strength to do in the evenings is paint some of my toy soldiers. Made a bit of progress. I'll try to post some pictures this week of my finished products.

3. At least holidays are coming soon. Once June is over, we're taking a break from the preliminary inquiry for two weeks and I'm using that time for a much-needed vacation. Heading back out west to visit the family, and I'm hoping that grandma and grandpa will be able to buy me some writing time. I intend to devote my time to (a) finishing revisions of Call to Arms and finally get the thing out to the printer, (b) helping with getting the Collegium Scriptorum Catholicae anthology togher, and (c) some drawing. Maybe Razorback, but unfortunately the writer's health problems continue to maybe something of my own.


Short Story: ALL THE GODS OF THE GENTILES (part 3 of 3)

Part 1 HERE
Part 2 HERE

David woke with a start and sat up, his head bursting out of the water. Coughing and spitting out water her looked around in near panic. He was still inside the lander, but it was half-filled with water that continued to rise. He was already up to his chest. Ogumbembi popped out of the water, cursing.
          “What the F---? Where are we?”
          Sarin, Carter and Farro were out as well. Sarin pulled the red lever next to the top hatch and it blasted up and away from the lander in a gust of smoke and steam. “Back on Ladon, somwhere.”
          “Maeng!” David sloshed over to his fireteam partner and pulled the limp form out of the water.
          “Damnit, let’s get out of --” Sarin never finished her sentence as she was pulled up through the hatch, her thrashing boots disappearing into darkness.
          “F---!” Ogumbembi shouted, pulling out his sidearm and emptying the clip through the hatch.
          “Sarin!” Wrapping his left arm around Maeng, David unslung his rifle and fired a burst. He sloshed towards the hatch, firing another short burst as he went. “Damnit, we’ve got to go get her. Farro, take Maeng.”
          “Gimme Maeng’s gun,” Ogumbembi said. “F---ing sniper rifle’s no good out here. Careful, Wakker!”
          David didn’t have to jump as the water level was now only a couple feet below the hatch. Frantically he scrabbled up onto the roof and looked about. Ogumbembi was out right behind him. The clouds had cleared and the reddish glow of the gas giant Typhon gave visibility better than any full moon back on earth. They were submerged in a lake a few dozen metres off the shore. There was no sign of Sarin, but the hull and the water around them were swarming with human shapes.
          “The colonists!” Ogumbembi shouted. “Take this you motha --”
          He opened up with Maeng’s rifle, blasting a half-dozen colonists into flying bits of bone and meat. Then Ogumbembi’s feet suddenly flipped up and his chest slammed into the hull. David fired a burst into a cluster of colonists almost close enough to grab him then spun around. The sniper was gone.
          “Damnit, come on!” He fired again then dropped down to give Farro and Carter a hand out. On his way down, something slammed into the back of his helmet and he flew head first into the water.
          His gear dragged him down fast to the bottom. He slid along the hull of the lander, bashing past colonists on his way down, then he got a mouthful of sand. Frantically he clawed at the clips on his webgear. As he got his vest unfastened, he felt it pulled off of him by someone else. The colonists were on him! His lungs were burning. He flailed about to get them off. He fired his rifle, but more were on him. He desperately needed to breathe.
          Oh God, please help me, he prayed. Ohgodohgodohgodohgod ...
          They weren’t grabbing him anymore. His gear was off. He pushed off for the surface. As he broke the surface he coughed and gasped for air. He couldn’t think. All he could do was repeat the Holy Name of Jesus over and over in his head. The colonists didn’t come near him. He got to shallow water and sat on the bottom, his head the only part of him above the surface and tried to catch his breath.
          He remembered: he was somehow invisible to them when he prayed. It had happened both times with the twins -- what did they say? “We can’t hear you anymore, where did you go?” On the other hand they’d “seen” his squad in their retro-reflective fatigues. He started reciting the Lord’s Prayer and sat up. There was no one around. Where had the colonists gone? None of his team were visible either. The top of the landing craft slipped below the surface and even it disappeared.
          David moved to dry land and hid himself in the undergrowth of the forest that surrounded the lake. He decided that this must be the same forest he and his team had advanced through to do their recon -- otherwise the colonists could have never reached the crash site so fast. He shivered and rubbed his arms to try to keep the circulation going. He took stock of his possessions: he still had his rifle and his sidearm. The training beaten into him in basic had not allowed him to jettison those items as he’d fought his way out of the water. His smartphone was in his pants pocket and … his rosary. His mother had made him promise her to keep it with him at all times when he left for New Parris Island. He’d done so, but not prayed the beads for a long time. Now he pulled them out.
          He continued to work those beads as he set out for the colony. The sun was just cresting the horizon as he came to the edge of the forest and into view of the colony. Before emerging onto the field separating the forest and the outer buildings, David knelt and did a quick visual inspection. There were no colonists in sight, nor any sound carried on the soft breeze. Yet he somehow sensed that they were there. He clicked off the safety on his rifle and started down the hill.
          Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee …
          He made his way slowly down the main street that ran through the centre of the colony, staying close to the domed habitats along the left side. He checked each gap between buildings before dashing across to the next. As he moved nearer the centre he felt a throbbing in the air. When he reached the central plaza he found the colonists. They were all arranged around a wooden platform that had been erected near a black pit that the sun’s light seemed unable to penetrate. Neither of these had been here when they secured the colony days before. On the platform stood Maeng between two burly male colonists who held his arms. Around the platform the rest of the colony had gathered, and now that they were all in one place David saw there were at least two hundred of them. They all knelt,  seize-style in a circle around the platform.
          David found himself silently singing the Kyrie in tone VIII to himself as he cautiously stepped between the colonists. Not one made the slightest motion to indicate they were aware of his presence. Of the rest of his squad, there was no sign. He felt that they were dead, and he had an impression that one had to volunteer to join this company, as he so nearly had.
          “Wakker?” Maeng said weakly from above.
          Out of the corner of his eye, David caught a flutter of movement. She was there, as always with Her brunette friend beside. He started humming the Kyrie to himself. He had to be careful. He stepped carefully forward.
          “Come on, M, I’m going to get you --”
          “W-wakk-k-k-k --” Maeng lurched forward, a terrible fear and confusion on his face. The k-k-k-k continued into a chattering palsy as thick ropes of bloody saliva descended from his mouth down to the ground. He fell to his knees and the tooth-burr became an inhuman cry of pain and his body started contorting and convulsing. His skin rippled, then talons burst from his hands, which reached to his chest ripping his torso apart.
          He could only keep shouting those words inside his head over and over. He felt on the verge of losing his sanity watching that horrible scene unfold, yet somehow he could not take his eyes off it. In the frenzy of carnage the shape of a creature took form; a hideous blasphemy against nature. David’s senses revolted against the sight, scarcely able to define what it saw -- part ape, part lizard, with glowing yellow eyes in a skeletal black face. Finally, the creature sloughed-off the last of what had been Maeng in a single sinuous, body ripple like a reptile moulting on a time-delay camera. As one, the colonists rose and closed in, buffeting David and ascending the platform. They lifted the thing up on their shoulders and carried it down into the pit. David collapsed onto hands-and-knees beside the altar and was violently ill. Even after his stomach was well empty he continued to retch.
          Oh dear lord, what was that? In spite of his horror, he forced himself to get up and stole down the path the colonists had followed. Heat built as he descended as did a terrible stench. He paused and heaved again as his senses were assaulted by the indescribable miasma. It was pitch black down here and his night-vision lay at the bottom of the lake with the lander. He ran back up to the surface, gratefully gulping the fresh air. He had to see what was down there, though. He had to see what was down there so he could kill all those …
          He stopped mid-thought and refocussed himself. He would get himself killed that way -- he had to keep praying. But the movement he’d caught this time was not from the direction of the pit, but one of the tabs at the edge of the square. Slowly, slowly, he ghost walked over, his weapon held at the ready. He darted around the corner, finger on the trigger, then nearly threw his rifle away as he violently moved it aside. A gaggle of seven emaciated children, all between five and perhaps nine years of age were huddled together there, starting at him with saucer sized eyes.
          “Good Lord, there are children here?” he blurted.
          “It’s been so long since anyone spoke,” whispered the oldest among them, a girl with thin, colourless lips and hair as nearly as white as her skin.
          He dropped to a knee and put a hand on her shoulder. “You talk -- you’re not like the others … what happened here?”
          She looked at the ground, seemingly unable to speak further. David wasn’t sure whether any of the others were capable of speech at all, but they looked at him with life in their eyes. Sweet, innocent life, not the vacant stares of the adults. They all wore ratty clothes and their hair was dishevelled, unlike the perfect model-like appearance of the adults. He looked to the oldest girl -- she must have been trying to raise them. Living in one of the tabs, scrounging what food they could.
          “Are you going to take us away from here?” the girl asked.
          “My own ship … I’ll do what I can. You children stay here. I’ll be back.”
          Hesitantly, he gave the girl a hug and she started to sob. He gave each of them a squeeze, and with tears in his own eyes hurried back to the platform. Gritting his teeth and praying all the more fervently, he approached the pile of clothing and shreds of meat that had been Maeng. Forcing his fingers to comb through this, he found a lighter.
          “Grant unto him eternal rest, o Lord,” he mumbled. He would not wonder what chance of that Maeng or his other comrades had. For that matter, he was far from sure himself and he looked up to the sky, knowing that the nearest priest was lightyears away. Have mercy on me, a sinner.
          He ran down the ramp and into the blackness. When there was no longer any light from above, he ignited the lighter and proceeded forward more slowly. The tunnel wound down ever further. He took note of the walls -- they were not rough stone, dirt, or even modern tunnel reinforcements used in such excavations. These were smooth stone, laid without mortar, but with carvings and unlit sconces. After another few paces the dirt floor gave way to smooth steps. The carvings told a tale of men fleeing a great flood aboard winged craft, travelling to a moon orbiting a gas giant, and of women worshipping at altars, with things like the one that had emerged from Maeng crowned and reigning from atop ziggurats. In the flickering flame-light he spotted an arched doorway ahead. To the left of it lay rusted excavation tools. To the right, a huge slab of stone that had been moved by graviton repulsers, still attached but dead. Beyond it was a blackness darker still than that in the corridor, and a new wave of stench. He dropped the lighter and after gagging and retching anew, he had to scrabble about on hands and knees for several minutes to find it again.
          Cautiously, fighting every impulse in his body to flee, he inched towards the door. He felt he was suffocating in the stink, and could barely think, could only repeat the name “Jesus” over and over. It was all that allowed him to keep his sanity in those moments and in what followed, as he enkindled the lighter again. Surely, he had descended into Hell itself -- in the moment before the flame guttered out, he caught a glimpse of a chamber lined with skeletons to which still clung bits of rotting meat, and the colonists kneeling round an altar bearing monstrous creatures that writhed together.
          In blind terror David fled back up the stairs, caroming off the walls, tripping and staggering before slamming face-first into them. He spat blood and rolled over, firing his rifle. Something wet splashed his face. He burned through the magazine, dropped the now useless weapon, and ran again. Gasping and crying he strove for the light. At last he clawed his way out, scampering more like an ape than a man. The sound of feet roiled up behind him. He reached for his sidearm but pulled out, instead, his phone.
          As the colonists were boiling out of the pit, he hit the play button, and Gluck’s “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” stopped them dead in their tracks. As the flute and violin bathed the plaza in gentle tunes, the colonists fell to the ground and thrashed about as if they’d been shot. Once David had caught his breath, he stood on shaky legs.
          “You like that, you’re gonna love this,” he said, setting his playlist to have Mozart’s coronation Mass play next.
          He nearly dropped the phone as a bellow of pain and rage issued from the pit. There were still the monsters to be reckoned with. He turned, and saw that the children had crept out from their hiding place, and were staring at him with wide eyes. Seeing the look on their faces, as if they’d heard beauty for the first time, made him forget the terror he’d seen moments ago and tears stung his eyes. He trotted over to them and handed the phone to the oldest girl, ordering her to hold it but do nothing else. He got his sidearm out and crouched next to the kids, racking his brain for what to do now. He couldn’t just keep playing classical music all the time, and now that they knew he was here -- would prayers keep him invisible? Then there were the children. They’d survived somehow this long, but that may have been because they needed to be adults before they could be infected. He figured that was what was going on here, some sort of infection with the creatures below somehow being the source. But why didn’t all the colonists suffer what Maeng did? No time for that, he had to think … the Shackleton was destroyed. No hope of getting an evac. And his sidearm with all ten rounds it held wouldn’t put much of a dent in their numbers. But what if he could give them a taste of their own medicine? They’d used their landers as missiles, but their own “mothership” that held the interstellar drive that took them here must still be in orbit somewhere.
          “Come on, kids,” he said. “We’re going to the operations centre.”
          It would be easy enough to find -- right below the gigantic communications dish. They hurried along, the orchestra giving way to the Latin choir. Though the colonists kept their distance, David was sure he saw dark shapes dart between buildings as they went, and he shivered. Yet even those abominations that the colonists worshipped, or were controlled by, feared it as well. They made it to the operations centre. As per the standard specs, it was actually the main command module of the ship that had taken the colony here, precisely where it had landed years earlier. From the bridge he could communicate with both UNICA and the orbiter that he would bring down upon this lost colony. It also had escape pods which were designed to blast the crew a safe distance from the engines. Surely enough to launch them well away from ground zero.
          There was no time for anything fancy. He transmitted an S.O.S. to UNICA, then found the orbiter and transmitted commands for it to “link up” with the command module. It wasn’t meant to enter atmosphere, but it had enough bulk to make it … and it would hit like an atom bomb. Now to get out of --
          “Oh, no,” he said. Mozart’s Coronation Mass had played through and the next track the FIDO chose was not classical. He reached to grab the phone from the stunned girl’s hand but was sent flying across the room. He slammed into the consoles and fell to the deck gasping for breath. His sidearm was knocked from his hand and he was lifted off the ground by a taloned hand that burned like ice. He was face-to-face with the abomination that had burst from Maeng. Prayers failed him as its yellow eyes bore into his -- a malicious consciousness forcing its way through the gateway of his soul. Yet somehow his hand found his rosary and he thrust it forward. With a terrible shriek the creature released him and he fell to the floor. He sucked in a lungful of air, and clambered to his feet. The older girl was the only one not in the pod. He grabbed her and dove into the escape pod, slamming the hatch shut behind him. He secured her in her seat, strapped himself in, and with a quick Gloria, hit the launch button.

          He came to still in the seat, but not still in the colony. Through the canopy he saw trees, and in the night sky ahead, a magenta glow told of a great fire burning off behind the horizon. He closed his eyes. Deo gratias. Then a hand grabbed his shoulder and a female voice came to his hear. Her voice.
          “Nowak David?”



Short Story: ALL THE GODS OF THE GENTILES (Part 2 of 3)

For Part 1 click HERE.

          David drew the middle shift for sentry duty that night. Their threat level hadn’t been upgraded by the Shackleton; they were still in ‘admin’ mode -- meaning no sentries were required -- but the colonists unnerved them, and the squad agreed as one that they’d keep regular sentry shifts through the night, rotating at three hour intervals.
          David and Maeng lost the toss for the shift starting at 2 am. It was the worst time; right in the middle of the night so that one had barely gotten to sleep during the first watch before he was being hauled out of his rack, then hardly back again before reveille. Though he doubted any of them would sleep much anyway.
          He and Maeng moved out of the “hooch”. Ogumbembi and Carter were standing outside waiting for them, rifles slung. Carter took a last puff on her stub of cigarette and threw it to the ground, the bright orange embers sparking in the blackness.
          “Bo’, it’s even darker tonight,” Maeng said. “Where are the lights?”
          As the night before not a single street light nor table lamp peeking through a hab window was on to illuminate the silent streets; the sky was overcast so that not even Typhon lit their way, nor the stars. Their own tent was blacked-out, too, since uneasy soldiers are less uneasy when they cannot be seen.
          “Dunno, M,” Carter said.
          “Did you do a patrol into the colony?” David asked.
          “No way,” Ogumbembi spit. David heard the spittle smack into a rock in the direction of the town. “There’s something way way wrong with those boofs, I ain’t spending more time with them ‘n I have to.”
          “Yeah, Farro thought maybe they found some bless drug or something,” Carter said. “But they’re not just kelping; there’s something really, really wrong with them.”
          “Let’s get some rack time.” Ogumbembi said.
          With a muffled swish of the blackout curtained entrance closing behind them, Ogumbembi and Carter were gone and David was alone with Maeng.
          “C’mon, Wakker, Let’s go check it out,” Maeng whispered. “I wanna see what they’re up to.”
          “What’re you afraid of?” David heard his fireteam partner cock his rifle with a loud click. “We’ve got B.F.G.s.”
          “Let’s ask;” he keyed his mike to the Shackleton’s frequency. “Shackleton, this is Nowak, over.” There was only faint static in response.
          “Prolly all asleep, dog---ers,” Maeng said.
          “Alright, let’s just go.” David pulled his night vision goggles down over his eyes.
          By instinct borne of years of training, they moved stealthily, but even ghost-walking seemed painfully loud. David winced when he kicked an unseen can which bounced with a loud bang off the plascrete sidewalk then fell with a swish into the tall grass alongside. He could hear his heart pounding in his ears. He was a child again, hesitating at the top of the stairs leading down into the black crawl-space beneath the family home. His mother had asked him to get something from down there ... why did Mom have to always can all that stuff? There was perfectly good food in the megamarket. Always sending him down there ...
          He shook his head. He wasn’t a child. Mother and Father had complained he was still a child when he left for New Parris Island -- but that seemed a lifetime ago; he was a trained soldier, now. But the silence was driving him loopy. He panned over to his right, and noticed a hundred metres off, in between a group of three habs there was what looked like a copse of short trees -- although in the monocrhomatic world of night vision it was hard to say. He hadn’t seen any trees within the colony during the day, though.
          “M,” he whispered.
          “What’s that over there?”
          They paused for a few moments, David dropping to one knee. There was no movement whatsoever.
          “I dunno man, looks like a bunch of statues or something.” Maeng whispered.
          “There aren’t any statues here, either.” Now that he thought of it, there even any adverts, not even a potted plant.
          He heard Maeng fumbling with his beltgear. “F--- it, let’s use some light. We’re supposedly on level one anyway; why the f--- are we sneaking around like we’re level three?”
          David pulled off his night vision and groped for his own moon beam. They activated them both and waved the almost painfully bright lances of light down the alley.
          “F--- me.” David exhaled slowly.
          They walked closer. About a dozen colonists were standing bunched together, almost touching one another. As David and Maeng got closer, they could see that their eyes were all closed as if asleep. They were completely still.
          “What the ...?” Maeng stepped right up to them while David held back, fixing his light to the upper hand guard of his rifle. Maeng shone his light right into the faces of one of the colonists without the slightest reaction. He swung the beam left and right.
          “Where are the rest of them?”
          “Maybe they’re in their habs.” David pointed down to the left through a gap in the habs. He was feeling suddenly bolder. “You check down that way, I’ll go up the street. Keep in radio contact.”
          He’d moved about a hundred metres down the road when his moon beam picked out another cluster of colonists near the wall of a larger building, possibly a manufactory of some sort. Through the comm bead in his ear, Maeng whispered,
          “Got another group here ... twenty of them this time. This is really weird.”
          “I think I see more, too,” David said. “Let me check it out.”
          When he got within a few dozen paces, he saw Her. She was on the outer edge of the clump of colonists. She was standing just off-centre of face-to-face with the other woman he’d seen with her that morning. They were almost touching, standing so close that each had a foot between the other’s. There was something sensual about their posture and David felt his heart quickening again. He licked suddenly dry lips and moved in closer.
          He detached the light and slung his rifle. Getting as close to the women as they were to each other, he shone the light first in one face, then the other. Were they even breathing? Her eyes were closed and her face and expressionless mask like death. Pulling off a glove, he touched two fingers to her throat. He couldn’t feel a pulse, but the skin was warm and soft. She did not move at all; almost as if she’d braced herself for even that light contact.
          He was trembling now, and leaned in closer to see if he could hear her breathing. She was the same height as he with her heeled boots. The light, though at his waist, still let him make out her perfect features; the high cheek bones, symmetrical jaw line, smooth, pale skin. He could hear no breath. Maybe something that would draw a reaction ... he closed his eyes. He was so close he had to move forward only a fraction of an inch to kiss her cheek. Time seemed to slow as he became intensely aware of the soft smoothness on his lips.
          He quickly stepped back a few paces. That was wrong, he thought. Like taking advantage of a habuji. Why the hell did I do that?
          He swung the light back up to her face. Still and silent as marble. So was her partner. Taking a last look at them almost pressing against each other, he felt an urge to approach again and do more. No one would know. He swatted away the random thoughts. He turned and trotted back down the street, breathing hard.
          Stupid. Crazy. Pervert. He chastised himself inwardly. Maybe they were right. Away from home, the sacraments, alone ... it was changing him.
          He stopped at a crossroads to collect himself. Pulling out his FIDO, he checked his position with the Shackleton’s GPS. He was about to signal Maeng that they should return to the hide when he heard a clicking or a scratching sound behind him. He dropped to a knee and swung the light around, fumbling to get his rifle unslung as he did. He nearly dropped it. She was walking down the road with her brunette friend.
          He stood. “Ah, look I’m sorry about ... are you okay?”
          Whereas the first time he’d encountered them, they’d seemed skittish and fearful, now they approached him boldly, and without a word, one encircled each of his arms with one of her own.
          “We’re not afraid of your thoughts,” She said. “You shouldn’t be either. Come.”
          “Where are we going?”
          “To show you something,” She said.
          Her friend reached down and switched off the light and they walked in darkness for some minutes. David couldn’t see his own feet, but the colonist curves were surefooted in the black and guided him without hesitation. They took him into a building and up a flight of stairs. He had a sense of being on a balcony that overlooked a large open enclosure, like a warehouse. They stopped and released his arms. Hands started moving over his arms and chest.
          “Whoa, wait a minute,” he said. “What are you doing?”
          “We can see in your mind that you want to take us.”
          David’s heart jumped as he could feel they were unfastening his webgear. He had no idea where his rifle was. One of them pulled the comm bead from his ear. His belt crashed a metal floor. He knew he shouldn’t do this, he felt his rational mind and his desires war within him.
          Holy Mary, conceived without original sin ...
          “Don’t do that.”
          “We can’t hear you when you do that.”
          “Don’t leave us,” her voice was almost pleading, the first hint of emotion he’d heard in that bland voice since he first met her. “This is what you want.”
          She kissed him. Somehow, he knew it was her. Her lips moved down onto his neck and then the second pair touched his lips. They were almost frantic, now, as they pulled at his uniform, getting his combat vest off. Damnit, he’d had enough of resisting. He took them both into his arms.
          “Hey, slow down a bit,” he said.
          A strangled scream startled him suddenly back to himself.
          “That was nothing,” She said.
          “Oh, s---, Maeng!” He pushed them back and scrabbled on his hands and knees among his gear. Grabbing the comm, he jammed it back in his ear. “M, where are you?”
          There was only static on the other side. He pulled a glow stick from his pocket and cracked it, casting a pale green light. He gathered up his his gear as quickly as he could, pulling his vest back on and draping the belt over his shoulder. He didn’t dare look at the two women.
          Oh God, what did I do? He wondered. He sensed them back away as he thought that. Their boots must have been off for they made no sound. No, don’t even think that! Holy Mary, conceived without Original Sin ...
          He sprinted down the stairs with the glow rod lighting his path. He nearly fell down them and stumbled out into the street.
          “Maeng!” Somehow he managed to get his FIDO back out and found his fireteam partner’s locator on the GPS. He pounded down the road. It said he was in a hab at the end of it. Dropping his beltgear he kicked the door open and charged in. Maeng was on the floor ...

          “Stand-to!” David shouted as he burst through the blackout blinds of the temp hab. “Stand-to -- Sarin, get over here!”
          As the squad tumbled out of their cots and groped at weapons, David shifted Maeng off his shoulders and down onto his own cot. The glow stick he’d cracked earlier gave the only light, bathing the domed room in a green glow.
          “What the h---’s going on?” Ogumbembi asked, pulling his combat vest over his head.
          “They did something to Maeng.”
          “What happened?” Sarin was now kneeling beside Maeng, her medical bag open on the floor beside her.
          “We got seperated ... I don’t know ...”
          “Damnit, Wakker!” Carter cursed as she dove out of the temp hab clad in only her underwear and combat vest, but with her weapon ready.
          Farro was taking the time to pull her pants and boots on. “Where’s his gear? Why’s he naked?”
          “I don’t know!”
          “And what happened to you?”
          David’s belt and attached gear lay on the floor next his his left knee. His combat vest was hanging open at the sides, he’d lost his boonie hat, and his comm bead was hanging down his back. How in the ‘verse would he explain what he was up to when Maeng went down? He just grit his teeth and watched Sarin run her scanners over Maeng’s limp form.
          “Bio-scanner’s still not working!” she groaned. She threw it down and pulled a stethoscope out of her kit and listened. “I’ve got a weak heartbeat -- he’s alive -- but what the --?”
          Ogumbembi stuck his head back into the tent. “It’s dead out here, what’s going on, Wakker? Did the colonists attack him?”
          “I don’t know ... I mean, there weren’t any around when I found him.”
          “Anyone following you?”
          “We need to get him up to the Shackleton,” Sarin said. “I don’t know what’s wrong with him. But the bio’s not working and I’m hearing some weird-ass stuff ...”
          “Well, we’re not humping him all the way back to the lander,” Ogumbembi said. “Farro, get the comm pack rigged so we can bring it in on remote.”
          In ten minutes, the howl of the assault lander’s V.T.O.L. engines screamed into the night, rising to a deafening pitch as Farro guided it with a laptop down onto the field separating their encampment and the colony. The Shackleton had not responded to any of their transmissions as they dashed aboard, Carter and David bringing up the rear after keeping an overwatch of the surrounding area.
          “All clear!” Carter shouted as the lander’s rear ramp slammed shut. “Do we have clearance?”
          “Screw it,” Ogumbembi said. “Still nothin’ on the radio. We’re leaving.”
          “We’re gonna be in quarantine forever, bo’,” Sarin said, her stethoscope pressed to Maeng’s chest.
          “Yeah, thanks a lot Wakker,” Ogumbembi said. “What to f-- were you and M doing?”
          “I said I don’t know what happened,” David said.
          The engines roared and they rocketed into the sky.
          “F-- that, Wakker,” Carter said. “Look, your gear’s gonna tell the whole story when we get back.” She pointed to the communications pack on his web gear that transmitted everything he saw and heard up to the Shackleton. “You level with us. You are part of this squad aren't you? Semper fi mean anything to you? So what the f-- do you mean when you say you got seperated?”
          It probably means more to me since I actually understand some Latin, David thought. But it was true, he couldn’t hide what he’d done, and this squad, as rough and crass as they would seem to his parents and Fr. Vinogradov, were his comrades. He quickly recounted what they’d seen in the colony.
          “I was on my way back to link with M, when those two curves came at me. They took me to this building, and I was with them …”
          “Huh? I thought you were asexual,” Sarin said, clearly confused.
          “Obviously it was just an act,” Carter said hotly and turned her cheek to him.
          “Awesome timing, bo’,” Ogumbembi said. “You know, you’re a real --”
          “Recon Alpha this is Shackleton,” the radio cut-in. “You have not been recalled. Send SITREP, over.”
          “Ogumbembi here -- we are conducting emergency medevac.”
          “Negative. You will comply with quarantine procedures.”
          “‘Bembi this is Captain Ho,” the voice of their C.O. took over. “You know you need permission for that you dumb-- what the?”
          David could see through the canopy surrounding Farro at the front of the craft, that they had made it out of the atmosphere and were already in visual range of their mothership, a long latticework structure with engines at one end and an armoured crew area at the front. The view suddenly changed as proximity alarms sounded and Farro threw them into a roll. Now Ladon flashed past along with spinning stars. She righted the craft again and he could see a missile of some sort barreling towards the Shackleton. It missed the bigger ship by mere metres, and a second was blasted out of the sky by the Shackleton’s defensive weapons.
          “Those look like colony landers,” Farro said. “Oh --”
          A third rocket slammed into the Shackleton’s engines and a flash of white light blinded David. He was thrown against his harness as the lander bucked and rolled. New klaxons sounded and he knew they were going down.
          “Oh my God! I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” 



A Little Bit About Warhammer 40,000

A couple weekends ago I made my first "impulse" buy in a long, long time and placed an advance order for the "Gamer's Edition" 6th Edition rulebook of Warhammer 40,000 (pictured above). I'm glad I did since they were sold-out only a day or two later (never to be sold again). In making the purchase, I realised that the review of 5th edition I'd planned to do as part of my Saturday review series would be fairly pointless. Once I've read-through the new version and played a few games I'll probably do a review.

In the mean time, I want to point the main reasons that I enjoy both Warhammer Fantasy Battles and Warhammer 40,000 -- reasons that apply to both systems and to every edition of each that I've played thus far. I see no reason to believe this will change with the release of a new edition. So here they are:

  1. Strategy -- They're not perfect, and the harsh critics of Games Workshop's systems are legion, but I personally really enjoy the level of strategy involved. It complex but not too complex and I remember the thing that set it apart for me when I first started playing was the effective use of morale (more of a factor in WFB as it should be). Luck is always involved, but the games succeed very well in creating the sort of "cinematic" experience that the designers say they aim for. It's an accessible strategy game as evinced by the numerous players drawn to it.
  2. Immersion -- I really enjoy the fact that it's not just a strategy game, but one with an immersive back story that plays a big role. Often called "fluff", I find the storyline and world as much fun as the game on the table itself. It really adds to my enjoyment to create an army that's not just designed to win but is in keeping with the "fluff" and playing out a storyline within the battles.
  3. Hobby -- The hobby aspect is great as well. It is very relaxing at the end of a long day to sit down for an hour with my "toy soldiers", not just painting them, but customising them with "bitz" from other kits or even epoxy putty.
  4. Community -- I've found, on the whole, that the gents who play these games are a good group. Decent men, good sports, who share my passion for this game make it that much more enjoyable. I haven't been to a tournament in a while, and while it has been credibly argued that Warhammer is not a good tournament game, I enjoy it for the people I meet and the games that are always good fun.
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