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27 days ago
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The Jungle Book is good.


Most Recent Posts

Okay, here's my assessments an' shit.

Most Interesting Character

@Dinh AaronMk

Hou probably cheats his way into this category by virtue of how long he's been around, but I always liked the psychological image of the character and how he breaks out of conventional dictator norms. He's not power hungry, megalomaniacal, or scheming. Nor is he august or god-like. Hou is a man who's career is driven by something human and sincere, even if it isn't quite in focus. Whereas most of us write our character's value to their society through events and mechanical reaction, Hou seems like the most believable 'Great person', who's greatness lies within himself first and without only second, like a Chinese Marcus Aurelius. He shows the importance on writing personalities over events, and how much can be done when you are subtle with details.

Best Collaborative Post

The Berlin Conference
@Chapatrap, @Shyri, @Wilted Rose, @Mihndar, @Pepperm1nts

Though the technical details of PoW writing has significantly improved since 2012, I feel like the one thing we lost in the transition is the relationship between the nations themselves and how the personalities of each nation can come to life through interaction. The Berlin Conference was a taste of the old PoW, having all the better parts of good ol' international events like the American Wars while leaving out the problems that used to come with those. You can make an interesting post in a conference, but to do it you gotta draw out the personalities involved, and this is a great example of how it can be done. Plus, really, if you wanted to explain to an outsider why PoW Europe seems to be so impotent, this post shows it off.

Best Solo Story Arc

Sara Reicker
@The Wyrm

It's difficult to make comments on arc completion this early on, so quick constructions are going to be the order of things. You introduced this character in, what, three posts? And by the apogee of that introduction you'd already made her out to be the next Gang Gouji. It was a very well done short turn-around.

Best Post

The Most Dangerous Game
@The Wyrm

Spaniards doing evil things in North Africa. This is classic PoW style. I like how you are willing to go a little bit further, not for the sake of your own self gain, but for the sake of hitting that note that is a little too high and creating that dissonant sound that makes PoW what it is. PoW isn't about recreating HOI playthroughs or making realistic facsimiles of world politics, its about taking old genre tropes from so many different genres and sewing them all together. This post is a perfect work-up of that system.

Best Character Development

Aurelia Dizon
@Letter Bee

I feel like Aurelia has been the closest thus far to filling the kind of villain role once held by Sotelo. She is openly aggressive in here style of politics and selfish in her goals, which detaches her from the national-avatar problem so many leaders have in NRPs. I like reading a good hand-ringing villain speech now and then.

Best Nation Development

United States of America
@Byrd Man

The US has probably been the most fleshed out country in the RP since you took it over. The reason is obviously because you focus on civilian and mid-level political leaders over executives and soldiers, allowing for the system and society to shine rather than the decisions and battles. I think everybody should look to your examples when working out how to make their countries into actual countries. I've definitely been trying to.

And I don't say this just because you are the United States. I think what has especially made your US vivid is the fact that you've broke from RP America in some ways and came up to it through a new history. Part of making a faction in PoW is knowing how to verge from the real course of history. Any monkey with a few youtube history videos and a keyboard can mimic the real world history of a country, but it takes true skill to confidently verge from the real-world version without landing in some hollow trope. You've nailed that.

Best Creative Idea


Okay, so it's probably controversial to chose somebody who hasn't posted yet as the most creative idea... but imma do it. I am a sucker for unique shit, and going with an independent Assyria is right down my alley. I really want to see you thrive in this RP. Post, keep on posting. Don't be shy about making what might feel like silly references to the ancient kingdom of the same name BTW. I really really encourage light anachronism.

Best Use of Alt. History


It is easy to fall into certain tropes in 20th century alt-history. I feel like PoW has, even if by accident, avoided a lot of the worst stuff due to the weird distribution of our interests. Armenia as a significant player on the world stage is a great example of this. What alt history digs up a country as random as Armenia and turns it into the military powerhouse? Let the Wehraboo's have their stahlhelms and Prussian drilling, but in PoW, let the taraz and the unibrowed Armenian sergeant be the symbol of potent militarism.

PoW MVP (aka The Prime Preciprick)

@Dinh AaronMk

There isn't a PoW without Aaron running the show, even today. None of the rest of us have the stamina to keep track of the newbies and lapsing oldbies. We lose Aaron, PoW dies. Don't think there is anybody else that could be said for.
June into July: Las Vegas, Nevada

It didn't take them long to reach Nevada. Dawn broke when they arrived at Hoover Dam, red morning light washing over the martian landscape around the Colorado river. They stopped at a small spot overlooking the dam and got out of the car, walking like the undead, stretching their cramped limbs, brushing the dust off their old clothes. Both of them looked scruffy, as they hadn't found time to change or wash up since Sun City. It was chilly. The desert nights vanquished the last day's heat, leaving the sun with catching up to do. Taytu pulled her arms tight against her breast to keep warm. There, overlooking the dam, was a simple monument of red rock.

"The Battle of Hoover Dam, September 3rd - September 15th, 1938."
"Site of the only victory won by Nevada State forces against the United States Army."

It was simple and to the point. Taytu knew nothing more about the event than what the monument said. She suddenly thought of her little brother, and the memory of home warmed her from the inside. Yaqob would know more about what had happened here. He'd probably read a book about this battle. Maybe several.

"Nevada." He said. She nodded. They got back in the car and started on their way.

Noh kept the top down, betting on the cold air to keep him awake. Neither spoke as they crossed the dam. Part of it was they were too scarred from what had happened in Sun City, but mostly they were just tired. One of the rocky ridges overlooking the road was crowned by the roughly hewn statue of a man with a cowboy hat and a rifle. Taytu stared at it as they went by.

The first town they reached was Boulder City, where they were disappointed to find no hotels or motels or anywhere to stay for the night. Boulder City gave the impression of a work village, only houses and basic amenities available. They filled up the tank at a small self-serve gas station and went on past. The red rock gave way to open desert as they went through an even smaller worker's village called Magnesium, and they were disappointed again. Just past Magnesium, the static on their radio came alive. "We must be coming to a bigger town." Noh said as the lyrics became audible.

To the town of Agua Fria
rode a stranger one fine day

Hardly spoke to folks around him,
didn't have too much to say,

No one dared to ask his business,
no one dared to make a slip

The stranger there among them had a big iron on his hip,

Big iron on his hip.

They saw the radio tower before they saw the town. Las Vegas was only somewhat bigger than Boulder City, its tallest structures the radio tower, after that the bell tower of a catholic church. They passed several hotels, but a newly found paranoia kept them going past, hoping to find something less conspicuous. The biggest was a casino made to look like a barn, the words "The Bloody Knoll" glowing in red illuminated letters. They finally stopped at The Sands: a series of rentable bungalows on the edge of town.

Taytu couldn't feel her fingers, and her legs seemed like jelly as she stepped out of the car again. Noh was quiet but determined. They both went into the first bungalow, a sign saying "Management" above the door. A bell ringed when they entered.

"Good morning!" an old man with a broom-like mustache looked up from behind his desk. "You need a room this early?"

"We didn't have the chance to stop." Noh said stonily, "One room."

"A bungalow will run you fifteen dollars a night." Noh produced the money and the man handed him a key. "Third one down to your right." The walk to and into the cabin was a blur. They collapsed almost as soon as they arrived, and slept dreamless until midnight.

When Taytu awoke, it was dark. She felt drowsy, her eyelids heavy and strange. She struggled to sit up and fumbled for the lamp-switch. The room filled with bitter light so suddenly that it hurt her eyes. She squeaked when she saw Noh sitting on the edge of his bed, his body drooped as if he carried a bag of grain on his back.

"What time is it?" she asked.

"After midnight." he said, "You sleep well?"

She nodded.

"Good." he looked at her, and she saw resolve in his eyes. "We need to leave. I do not trust these people. They let wild dogs run loose."

"I was thankful for those men in the suits, back at the casino. We owe them something."

"But what were they?"

"The owners" she said meekly, knowing what he was getting at.

"Gangsters. Criminals! They saved us because 'nigger' corpses are bad for business!"

She was looking down at the floor now. She hadn't realized it before now, perhaps she had just been too tired, but somehow the experience at the Lucky Gent had been worse for him then it had been for her. "I understand where you are coming from, but we are strangers here. We have to accept enough about this place to survive."

A knock came at the door. Taytu and Noh looked at each other with wide eyes. Noh grabbed his gun from the drawer and leaned against the door. "Who is it?" he asked.

"Just wantin' to know if you'd like something to eat?" a familiar old voice replied from the other side, "I don't have much, but there ain't many meals out there at this hour, and I wouldn't mind the company."

There was a silence. Noh looked uncertainly back at Taytu. She nodded toward the door. He opened it a crack, revealing the friendly face of the elderly manager. "That sounds good, if we aren't too much trouble." she told him. All the tension in the air let out right then. Noh opened the door fully and they followed the old man into the starry night.

He led them back to his bungalow, and they sat on stools pulled up against the counter. A radio blared from time to time. The room was very small, but as she looked at the mess on the caretaker's side, it dawned on her that he lived there.

"All I have is grapefruit, and some bacon I cooked up on a hot plate, but a meager meal is better than none. I got coffee too."

"We'll take what you can spare." she said. He served their meals on paper plates, the coffee in old stained mugs, and the three of them started to eat. The radio was playing some sort of cop drama. She looked at it as she tried to figure out what was going on, struggling to make out enough words to form cohesive ideas. The old man caught her gaze and explained. "There was stabbing down at The Bloody Knoll. Some fella and his friend got crazy on dope and the bigger guy slashed the other one wide open."

"That's the news?" she asked.

"Police radio." he said. She looked at him with a question in mind, but he guessed it. "No, I'm not a cop, but I like to know what goes on in this town."

"So that's really happening? Right now?" Noh said, giving Taytu a knowing glance.

"Fraid it is. World's goin' to hell on a fast train."

"Do you know where I might buy a gun?" Noh asked the old man. The question startled Taytu with its frankness.

"Why, what do you need another one for?" the old man said. Taytu and Noh both were startled by that. Taytu felt she'd adopted the qualities of a tennis ball, slapped from one side of the conversation to another.

"How did you know I am armed?"

"I've been around a while, I've picked up a thing or two. Now tell my, why another gun?"

Noh sulked a moment before he spoke. "We ran into trouble in Sun City. I couldn't draw in time..."

"That's you, not the piece." the old man interrupted.

Noh bristled, but responded in the same tone he had been using. "I'd feel safer."

"What kind of trouble did you two get into anyhow?"

There was an awkward pause. Noh looked down at his half-eaten fruit. It was Taytu that spoke up. "Racial trouble."

"Oooooh." the old man understood all at once, "I'm sorry you had to go through that. Well, you might find someone willing to sell, but Pete down at the gun store don't like to sell to out-of-towners. Too many gangsters come through here, we being smack between Reno, Sun City, and Los Angeles. But if you want to practice drawin' behind the cabins, well, I won't mind. Just put a distance between that pea-shooter and the horses."

"Thanks for the offer, but I don't think we'll be here that long." Taytu said, "We're going to get a flight to Los Angeles as soon as possible."

"And leave that car behind?"

"The embassy will take care of that. We just want to get back home."

"Embassy?" the old man's interest was peaked.

"We're Ethiopian." Taytu told half the truth.

"Oh. Well, I'm even more sorry about the trouble you had. Hate that my countrymen have to go make a bad impression."

"Your hospitality makes up for it." Taytu said, "By the way, I don't think I got your name."

"Norbert Noonan." he said, "Call me Bert."


"The next flight to LA takes off in two weeks." the ticket agent said, standing in a glass booth inside the nearly abandoned terminal of Oddie Airport just south of town. Noh despaired, in the Goya sense of the word, his face contorting for a split-moment in agony. The woman behind the glass looked frightened for him.

"One week?" Taytu spoke, "Are we in the middle of nowhere?"

"Yes you are, ma'am." the agent croaked, "This is Las Vegas. Only people come here are people looking for work. Do you want to purchase tickets on the next flight?"

"We'll think about it."

"Don't matter much to me." The agent seemed to have recovered from Noh's unhappiness. "It isn't going to fill up. You can come in the day of the flight and I betcha we'll have tickets."

They stepped away, toward the wooden benches on the other side of the room, sitting beneath a bulletin board advertising job listings, second hand appliances, and the like. "We'll have to drive." Taytu said. "I thought we might need to."

"I have seen the map." Noh replied, "The desert between here and Los Angeles is long and barren. I did not know the desert highways were dangerous, but now I do, and I cannot take the sister of his Imperial majesty through such a place. What bandits may we find out there?"

She bit her lip. She wanted to tell him it was fine, that they should go on. She wanted to be the strong one. But the incident in Sun City stuck in the back of her mind. She'd never been threatened before, not like that, and it instilled a feeling of uncertainty. Vulnerability. In a place like this, they really were weak.

"Is Las Vegas less dangerous? This place is a desert village."

"We have a place to hide." he said stubbornly. "And we know there are authorities here. Plus, did you see Bert's gun?"

"Gun?" she asked.

Noh nodded. "He has a Martini–Henry rifle. I know it, my grandfather had one from his time in the war, and he passed it on to my father. That is a good weapon. Mr Bert makes us safer."

Taytu smiled. "You don't hate all these people anymore?"

"I don't hate anybody." Noh looked forward, frustrated. "I do not know what to think."

They drove on to the bank, where Noh used a payphone to check in with the embassy and have money wired to them. Taytu stayed inside and watched the few trucks and cars ply the sleepy western town. It seemed peaceful, idealistic. Even a small village like this lacked the grime that could be found everywhere in her home country. America seemed perpetually fresh. But now, after Sun City, that image was tarnished by a foreboding. America was not the a perfect fruit she'd always thought of it as. It was the deceptively waxed apple, its outside shiny, its inside as rotten as any broken society in the world. Americans hadn't perfected life, they'd perfected advertisement, and they used that skill to gloss over their societal ills. They'd learned better than any other people in the world to lie to themselves. For an outsider, this was as dangerous as the camouflaged predator.

They returned to the bungalow before noon. Taytu found Bert and told him they'd be staying with him a little longer. The old man's face was sympathetic, but his eyes lit up. She knew that he really did want their company, and for a moment, she felt bad to be working so hard to leave.

"I'll give you a weekly rate then. Last night will be included."

"You don't have to go through the trouble." she said, smiling.

"No trouble at all. You are good people, I don't mind having you around. It gets quiet around her."

"I'm sorry for keeping you up last night." she said, "We don't want to be a bother."

"No bother at all." he waved the apology away, "I don't sleep much at night. Mind keeps me up. It was good to have somebody to talk to for a change. If you two want to come over tonight, I'd be glad to have you."

"We will do that." she smiled. "Maybe not so late..."

"Of course, of course. You'll want your sleep. Hey! It's past noon! It's probably late for you now."

Taytu laughed. "I don't feel tired, but that will probably change when I see a bed. I'll see you later." She left the old man and caught up with Noh in the bungalow.

She hadn't really looked at their room before, having only rushed in and out of it until now. She realized this when she walked in for the third time since they'd rented it and noticed there was a painting of a wagon wheel hanging on the wall. This prompted her to look around, seeing the old desk, the hardwood floor, and the mirror that looked like something from another century. It felt decorated like an old woman's house. It was cozy, a small cave to hide from the world.

Noh left the bathroom. Taytu's mood had improved, she'd even grown calm, until she saw him. He was a broken man. It hurt her, scared her even, reminding her in a gut-punch way the things they had to worry about. But did they? Why did they see bikers around every corner now? How much did they really have to fear, and how much of it was their emotions, overworked since that one incident? She thought of the native woman in the desert, and the warning about the Ranger bar. Hadn't that been a close call? Her heart roiled. She wanted to put it all back out of her mind.

"I need you." she said. It felt like somebody else was talking. She grabbed him, pulling him to her like a safety blanket, the feel of his muscles writhing beneath his skin making her feel small and protected, each point of skin-on-skin contact a promise that everything would be fine, a promise she was insatiably hungry for. She began undressing him, and he slowly started to do the same for her. They fell into bed, their love making dream-like in her mind. When they were finished the darkness inside the cabin swallowed them up. The last thing Taytu was aware of was the chirping of a bird outside.

Suddenly, she was in an empty casino, its walls made of wood, all the empty chairs pointed toward the stage in the middle. She was aware that she was naked, though she did not see herself. She felt small and vulnerable, a hare cornered by a jackal, nothing to do, helpless. A stage light went on, so that nothing else but the stage and a standing microphone could be seen. A man walked into the light. He was a highway ranger by his appearance, a patchy beard on his face, his leather jacket almost rags. A feeling of dread welled up inside her as the man began to sing slow and sad.

"Some prayers never reach the sky"
"Some wounds never heal"
"They still say someday the South will rise"
"Man, I want to see that deal"

A second man joined him in ratty grey fatigues. He was old, his hair greasy and thin. Taytu was the only one in the room, but they didn't look at her, instead acting as if they were performing for a packed audience. The old man sang alone in a voice that was soft and strained while the second man stood by.

"I don't want to grow old gracefully"
"I don't want to go 'til it's too late"
"I'll be some old man in the road somewhere"
"Kneeling down in the dust by the side of the Interstate"

Then suddenly a dozen voices came together, men and women, highway rangers, aging soldiers, impoverished dirt farmers.

I am a renegade
I've been a rebel all my days
I am a renegade
I've been a rebel all my days

We were hopelessly outnumbered
It was a lost cause all along
But when we heard the bugles call
We swore we'd stand or fall together right or wrong

At the last line, all their eyes turned to her, and the music stopped. The sheer horror of that moment woke her up in a cold sweat, and it took her a panicked moment to get her bearings in their dark bungalow. As her eyes adjusted to the room, she saw Noh sitting at the desk, naked, cleaning his gun in silence. When he looked up at her she saw the wet glint in his eyes.


Over the course of the week, their circadian rhythm hammered their days back together, and they bided their time at the Bungalows, eating meals with Mr Bert, Noh practicing by shooting old sarsaparilla bottles behind the last bungalow in the back. Each shot echoed long and heavy across the lonesome desert. Taytu went out from time to time and watched, until the repetition bored her and her eyes started to wander over the desolate Mojave until she found herself watching Bert's horses. One day Bert himself came out and asked to see Noh's gun. Taytu stood there in the summer heat and watched as a reluctant Noh obliged the old man.

"Walther." Bert said, staring interested at the weapon in his palm. "Are these common in Africa?"

"We get them from Ostafrika. They are very common." Hearing the two men talking now, Taytu became conscious of Noh's accent.

Bert nodded, his bald head gleaming in the sun. "Nine millimeter. I can get you something for this when I go into town" Shortly afterward he went away in a beat up truck, and Noh returned to sniping c ans. Bert returned with ammunition, which he gifted to Noh, buying his trust. When they ate together that night, Noh was more animated than usual.

"Where did you learn so much about shooting?"

The old man chewed on a piece of bacon fat and look down at his shoes. "Used to shoot jack-rabbits where I grew up outside of Tonopah. That's up north a ways." he paused for a moment and smiled weakly, "It's good shootin'. That's where I learned the most of it."

"Oh. With that rifle, I thought you'd been in the army."

Bert laughed. "They wouldn't accept me in the army. No, that gun is from a different time. I keep it clean, but it never gets used. Doesn't need to be."

"Giving the jack rabbits a rest?" Taytu said.

"My jack rabbit days are over. So are you kids going tomorrow?"

"Our flight should be here."

Bert leaned back. "It'll take some time getting used to the quiet again."

When they went back to the bungalow later that night, Taytu felt a strange sadness in leaving this place. It'd been a refuge for the last two weeks, and it was starting to feel like a home. It was a kind she'd never had before. This world was closed in, simple, comfortable, lacking any of the complex rules she'd grown up with in the world of royalty. That warm, wishful feeling, nostalgia for something she'd never had, all went away when she heard the strange putter of small engines on the road. Her blood froze in her veins when she looked around and saw three lights, all spaced apart. Motorcycles. She watched them go by, disturbing the supreme desert darkness. She fled inside only when they had passed.


"Delayed!" Noh shouted at the frightened woman in the glass booth, "It is the only one for weeks! How can it be delayed? What can we do!"

"Calm down, mister, or I will have to call the police." the woman on the other side threatened, "It is not my fault. It's going to be another week. The airline made the decision."

"We cannot stay here that long!"

"Drive to LA. It's only a five hour trip. Won't take you that long at all." The agent said. Noh left the booth in frustration and returned to Taytu. That thought about how stupid it was for them to wait for a plane had crossed her mind a few times before, but she'd accepted caution. She might've eschewed that acceptance just now if it wasn't for the motorcycles the night before. They made it easier for her mind to build bandit camps in the Mojave, belching out bands of redneck pirates on the hunt for anybody who wasn't white. "What are we going to do?" Noh asked her, but she just sat there frozen as a statue, unsure of anything. An idea came to her. "We should return to Bert." she said, "He'll know what to do."

The drive through the town was silent. They kept the top down, the breeze reprieving them from the desert heat. Taytu watched as banks, dime-stores, and cafes passed by as pretty as a picture. Her heart felt burdened, ready to drop out of her chest. What could they do? Perhaps they could call the consulate! It seemed foolish they hadn't before. An airplane could be sent for them. Taytu was going to tell Noh to pull over at the next gas station so he could make the call when she saw the three men mounted on their motorcycles. They were grimy, unshaved, and leather-clad. She sat perfectly still, hoping they wouldn't see her. They gave no indication that they had. It wasn't until further down the road, when she saw them trailing far behind them, that she knew for certain they were in trouble.

"Go faster." she said. Noh didn't look back. He'd saw them too.

They reached The Sands and peeled onto the dusty ground. Bert came out and watched bewildered as Noh drove their car behind his bungalow. They waited, hearts in throats, as the sound of small engines came up the road. It needed to pass them, Taytu thought. She began to pray, though she didn't realize that was what she was doing. The world seemed to fall apart when the engines slowed down, and they heard them pull into The Sands. One of the rangers yelled something, but they didn't take the time to hear it. Noh hit the gas. They charged through the rough desert, spinning around Bert's bungalow and back onto the highway. Taytu looked behind. The chase was on. They barrelled through Las Vegas, rangers on their heels, and turned south toward California and freedom.

"You drive" Noh asked. She grabbed the wheel as he maneuvered into her place. Her eyes went wide when he drew his gun. He fired at their pursuers, who weren't ready for it. She saw the rangers try to widen their formation. They couldn't fire back, or didn't try to at first. Taytu felt joy explode in her heart, more than she'd felt before. They were going to win! They were going to win!

A ranger shot at them. The bullet hit a back tire, blowing it out, sending them careening sideways. Noh was thrown from the car. It came to a screeching stop on the shoulder of the road, and the sound of approaching motorcycles spelled their doom. Taytu tried to accept death, but didn't know how to.

An arm reached up and opened her door. She squealed until she saw Noh, his arm bloodied, his face covered in dust. He grabbed her and took her running into a nearby shack. The rangers pulled up and took places hiding behind the rental.

"Give up, Niggers! This ain't your country!"

Noh peaked out the window. There was nothing in the building beside a piece of tumbleweed. They were already caught. "Let us go home and we'll leave your country to you" he offered.

"Too late for that." another man called out. "You done wrong by livin' here, now you gotta take your punishment."

A shot rang out. It peeled straight through the dry wood. They weren't safe. This was a death trap. Noh fired back, the painful sound ringing in her ears. Taytu couldn't look. She curled herself up in a ball and lay prone on the floor, her eyes closed, her mind suffering from the knowledge that this was her last moment on earth. She wept into the dust.

"Boom boom!" one of the rangers taunted. The gunfire went back and forth slowly. She felt like a gazelle being toyed with by a lion. If it had to end, couldn't it just... end? None of this torture?

Wood splinters flew by, old planks cracking every time the Rangers took a shot. It kept going and going, until it suddenly... stopped. Then she heard that same voice. "Boom... BOOM" the last word came as a grunt, as if it had been said with great effort. Something landed softly near the door. Then the sky fell down. A great big explosion lifted up the ground, sending splinters everywhere. Noh was knocked on his back. She was showered in dust and wood. She peaked up, and to her horror, the entire front of the building had disappeared. They were outside again, shielded only by a fading cloud of debris.

Noh stood up, his gun in his bleeding hand. "Show your faces, cowards!" he said, his voice almost a squeal. The gunfire started up again. She saw Noh grab his shooting arm in pain, his gun falling to a floor. Then a bullet struck her. She didn't completely understand it at first. It felt like she'd been punched in the side. She looked down and saw that she was bleeding, then unreality seemed to take her. Noh was on the ground, but the gunfight was still going on somewhere, heavy and hard.


Taytu woke up on a table. It wasn't in a hospital, but rather seemed to be in a bar. Music played from a nearby radio.

It was over in a moment
and the crowd all gathered 'round

There before them lay the body
of the outlaw on the ground

Oh, he might have went on livin'
but he made one fatal slip

When he tried to match the ranger
with the big iron on his hip,

Big iron on his hip

She was in pain. She felt it all over, but it stabbed worse at her side. "What happened?" she begged, "Where's Noh?"

To her surprise, the face came into view wasn't some hairy ranger, but rather the kindly expression of Mr Bert. "Noh is fine. He was only scratched." Bert Noonan wore a cowboy hat and had a rifle strapped to his back. Another man she didn't know stood next to him, but he didn't speak. "We went through your stuff, to see who we should contact. I... I didn't know. Your highness." Bert said.

"Am I going to live?" she asked.

"Yes. It just bit you in the skin. Your highness, if you please..."

"Don't talk like that" she struggled.

"This is Tom Bedford. He's the bartender here in Goodsprings, but I used to know him in a different time. He knows a thing or two about how to mend a bullet wound." The bartender said nothing. He only looked at her strangely, like a curiosity in a museum that'd just appeared from thin air onto his table.

"The Feds have arranged an escort. You'll be safe now."

"Thanks" she sighed. "But the pain... do you have something?"

"Here" Tom said, handing her a bottle of whiskey.
July 4th: Addis Ababa

Gebi Iyasu was spilling over with guests, the overflow pouring into the courtyard where Sahle sat on a velvet throne that'd been moved out into the grass for this occasion. His lions sat attentively at his side as well wishers approached one by one.

"Your Imperial Majesty, I bring a gift for your birthday, wishing you many many many more!" Fantaye Joas, the fat Mesfin of Hararghe, bowed after he spoke. His jowls gathering beneath his mouth like a hound's. He was an Amharic, and a professed Christian, but he dressed in the soft long robes of a Muslim sheikh. With two claps of his meaty hands, he summoned four men with a litter carrying some strange piece of technology; a bulky wooden box with a small pane of glass just north of its center, looking like a foggy mirror. "Americans call this the television" the fat Mesfin said in a mystic tone, "It delivers images from far away and shows them right in this window."

"Images?" Sahle was intrigued. So far his birthday had been dull. "From anywhere We might like? Could you summon an image from, say..." he thought of naughty things and struggled to say something correct, "Jerusalem?" The Emperor commended himself mentally for such a good choice. Mesfin Fantaye looked panicked, though Sahle hardly noticed until he began to talk. "The images must be sent by radio waves to this box. I am afraid we don't have the technology to do that yet. But one day." the fat man perked up, "One day we will build the towers that send images to this television!"

"Ah." Sahle was disappointed. He knew he showed it on his face, so he tried to save the situation. "We look forward to that day. What amazing things the modern world can make for us."

The Mesfin seemed content and stepped aside. The next comer was the pomegranate face of Jefferson Davis Bacon, America's Ambassador.

"Well slather me in butter and call me corn pone!" Bacon greeted the Emperor so ecstatically that Sahle felt the sudden fight or flight alarm of a person under attack. His lions lifted their heads lazily and watched the newcomer with dull interest. "You didn't tell me your majesty had the same birthday as the U S of A! Oh." he bowed real slowly, his forehead turning purple in the effort. When he came up he was out of breath, giving Sahle time to think of a response.

"We are happy to share our day with America. Your people celebrate with, ah, fireworks? We have decided to celebrate this day with fireworks too."

"That puts the home fire in this ol' southerners heart." Bacon said. "I also gotta thank you for the birthday present you gave America."

"Oh?" Sahle was taken aback. What present? he wanted to say, but held his tongue.

"The Carnahans are back from the jungle and safe in civilization. They are here right now thanks to your majesty's good government."

Sahle sat up sharply in his seat. A smile crept over his face. "I will be happy to see them!" he said. Bradford Carnahan marched out in a new suit, a sailor's hat on his head. Livy followed behind him. The second Sahle saw her face, she became the solar center of all his attention. The Sidamo sun had brought out her freckles, making her cuter than before. She wore a sunflower yellow dress of the American style with a matching hat. They both bowed.

"It is good to see you well." Sahle said.

"We had a splendid time, majesty, we really did." Bradford said confidently, "But tomorrow I will take my leave. The homeland beckons." he put a toothy giggle after the last sentence, as if he had said something witty. Sahle became worried. He didn't want Livy to go. "So soon?" he blurted out, looking sincerely concerned. The Emperor's expression seemed to touch something in the two American men, Davis looking warmly satisfied, Bradford looking surprised. Livy stood behind them unchanging.

"I have business in the states. The Carnahan name trades dearly, I'm afraid. Livy will stay behind, before she finishes her world tour." Bradford said.

"Of course." Sahle sunk back in his seat, feeling relieved. "We are sad to see you go, but your sister is welcome as long as she likes. We think she'll find Ethiopia a good land to explore on her tour."

Squeals and cheers of delight came from the direction of the kitchen and where it opened up into the courtyard. Everybody's attention was drawn toward the commotion, hidden in the shadows by the last glow of twilight. When he saw it, he just about burst out laughing, though his mood was clouded when he noticed that Davis and the Carnahans had faded back into the party. His servants wheeled out a great big cake, sculpted meticulously from edible material to look like him. There was something off-putting and slimy about the face, but the likeness was striking, and it delighted everybody as it passed by. Putting himself back into the moment, drinking up the positive mood, he hopped from his throne and faced his cake-self. "It should be the Imperial body double, shouldn't it?" he asked to the gathered dignitaries.

"Yes!" they shouted.

He faced the almond-scented statue. "I name you Liquamaquas!" he said. Laughter rippled through the night. Somewhere from inside, another clamor rose up, but Sahle didn't have time for it. "We should bring everybody out to see." he announced, and went around the cake toward the door. His guards snapped to his side. The moment he stepped onto the colonnade, however, a commotion erupted out from the building. They seemed to come out all at once: Desta, a guard, and a man in the fine robes of nobility.

"Your uncle has made war against me!" the last man accused the Emperor. The courtyard seemed to exhale as people made space for what was going on.

"What?" was all Sahle managed to get out.

"This is the Issayas Seme, the Mesfin of Begmeder..." Desta threw in before the angry Mesfin continued his tirade.

"Armies belonging to your uncle came over the border and attacked a band of citizens in my jurisdiction!" he shouted, "They had help from the air force. Your air force, your majesty! This is an outrage against my privileges!"

"What do you want me to do?" Sahle responded.

"Fire them! Banish them! Whatever you can do. This is an attack..."

"They were bandits." Desta interrupted, "Were they not?"

Issayas turned his raging broadside in new direction. "They were not judged as such."

"The evidence is clear as day. Everbody knew there were bandits in Begmeder, bandits that you haven't made much effort to bring to justice..."

Sahle snuck away, his guards following him. He went to an opening between wings, where a gap in the palace allowed him to go to the outer colonnade without going indoors. From there he could see the eucalyptus grove at the side of Gebi Iyasu, and where the hill sloped away toward the sparkling city. He was pleasantly surprised to see Livy Carnahan leaning against the railing, and he approached her confidently, the ugly incident in the courtyard put out of his mind.

"Where's the world tour taking you next?" he asked.

She looked up at him, blue eyes shining. "Oh, I'm still thinking about that. I suppose I might see other parts of Africa while I'm here. Maybe Rhodesia."

"There is more in Ethiopia to see, if you're interested."


Sahle had to think for a moment. "Lake Tana. It's the source of the Nile River."

"That is interesting." she looked back out, toward the city. "Maybe I will see that before I go. Though I don't know if Mr. Bacon would approve."

"You are a free woman, aren't you? Americans always talk about being free. Can he stop you?"


"You are free in this land so long as we are friends. Maybe we can go together."

She turned and looked at him a long while. "Friends. Of course. Though you are busy here, aren't you? Governing an Empire cannot be easy."

"I get by with a little help from my friends."

"You do have a lovely home." she said, looking back out at the city. "Someday I hope to have a view as gorgeous as this." The puffing sound of rockets being shot into the sky was followed by the explosion of colorful fireworks over the city. They stood together in silence, soaking up the glow, while Sahle's mind went to work.
July 1st: The Semien Mountains, Begmeder Province, Ethiopia

The shifta army marched over the rough and rocky terrain on the northern bluffs of the Tekeze River. It was a sight hardly removed from the Zemene Mesafint: columns of barefooted men in dusty cotton tunics and trousers, shammas wrapped around many necks, hair as wild as the heath that bloomed all around them. Rain made the terrain slippery and slowed their travel, but it also swelled the river. Fitawrari Ergete considered this a blessing. The rushing waters made a wall between him and the mysterious regiment shadowing them from the other side. This new threat had appeared several days before on the open ground west of the Semien mountains. Ergete led his men along the foothills, keeping himself between the enemy and the high ground, preparing for anything the newcomers might do. A rider came up in a cloud of dust. Ergete recognized the man, and in recognition he called out. "Amsale! What news?"

"The river is growing shallow." the scout reported, "Soon they'll be able to cross."

"If they want to cross. Who are they?"

"We haven't been able to find out."

Ergete puffed himself up, made a fist, and shook it at the silhouettes across the water. "If the Mesfin has betrayed me, I will turn out all the Neftanya and Korro of Begmeder and make them into beggars. I swear this to Virgin Mary." he announced dramatically, a curse on the military middle class and the bureaucrats of the province.

They trudged on, the tired soldiers keeping quiet, only the rattle of rifles and squelching of muddy ground to be heard. A fight was brewing, and Ergete's eyes were fixed on the terrain. Too steep an incline made hard work for both sides. The wrong terrain on either flank could open them for attack. He'd put his a army between their enemy and the mountains on purpose, giving him a buffet of higher ground to chose from, anchor his lines to, and to retreat into if it should come to that. But that higher ground represented the unforgiving Semien range at its highest heights, some of the roughest terrain in the entire country, where the mountains appeared like the worn-down canine teeth of a dead giant ripping into the flesh of the clouds.

They were far from civilization out here. The river was the only true path. Eagles circled it far above, their barking occasionally heard as they searched for prey among the blooming scrub-land. The ragged band came around a bend in the river masked by the rising hills. Ergete's mind looked at the piece of ground and saw a battlefield.

The river bend put high ground on his left flank, in the direction his men were climbing from now. Ahead of him, in what would be his right flank should he fight a battle facing the enemy, a wall-like ridge split the river from an incoming meandering stream. The convergence of the courses created a place where the foothills rose more gently, giving the defenders the benefit of the high ground without burdening them with terrain only a goat could stand comfortably on.

"We camp here tonight." Ergete shouted. The officers on horseback repeated the order with whistles and yelps, and the column seemed to breath a collective sigh of relief.

The work wasn't done. Rifle pits had to be dug. Watchmen were sent to scale the two towering plateaus marking the right and left flanks. Ergete himself dismounted and joined the effort, shoveling defenses with gusto, working up a sweat in the humid wet-season air.

Rifles cracked as soldiers fanned out to scavenge the countryside, taking down birds for meager meat. This land was wild and lacked villages to support them, forcing them to subsist on meager rations. Many of the men carried bullock horns filled with honey wine, and they traded sips of it for slices of raw meat from the hunters.

By the time the sun first started to sink below the hills, the shifta forces were finished with their work and staking out their spots in the spread out camp, the hillside coming alive with idle chatter. Their stalkers disappeared over the southern ridge. For a second, Ergete entertained the thought that the other army had been a mirage the entire time, but he put that out of his head and tried to focus on real planning.

Mahetsent rode up from the rear of the army and joined Ergete in a makeshift tent above a rifle pit where the self-proclaimed Fitewrari held court. A shifta had tributed Ergete with a couple of birds, and the commander shared his meager fare with his friend.

"Do we hold this spot in the morning?" Mahetsent asked, chewing on a gamey piece of raw meat.

"We wait to see if they do anything. I doubt if they'll fight us here."

"You chose the ground."

"They'll wait until they get a better field. But I want to draw them out, if they mean to attack."

"Who do you think they are?"

Ergete looked at the hills across the water, the falling sun washing the slope in yellow light, shadowing the tops of the hills and beyond in pitch black. "I think it's Ras Wolde Petros."

"Not the Emperor's military?"

Ergete shook his head certainly. "They have men on horses. If the Emperor came for us, it would be with his machines. This isn't the government, it's something smaller. Wollo is a day's march from us, and the Emperor's uncle has less to fear from breaking the law and entering Begmeder to hunt our people than any other Mesfin."

"Can we fight them?"

Ergete sat real quiet for a second, the cry of insects and uncaring sound of the warriors mixing into a soothing afternoon melody. "I think the great revolutionary armies of the world have done amazing things because their armies were free. The Americans at their Boston Hill, the French in their Revolution, they fought powerful foes and won. We will do the same here I think. If the enemy is foolish enough to attack us, they will run against the power of the people, and they will be broken."

"You words make me feel better about our chances."

Ergete put his hand on Mahetsent's shoulder. "There is nothing to fear. Sleep well tonight, my friend. I will put you on the left flank to protect our high places." Mahetsent nodded, and the two warriors parted ways for the night. Ergete turned his shamma into a pillow and went to sleep.

When he woke up, everything was quiet and wet with dew. The first red rays of sunrise peaked over the eastern cliffs. The men were stirring, making breakfast of what they hadn't ate the night before. Ergete looked down at the first line, where men slept in their rifle pits. They were now staring across the river at a line of enemy warriors on this hill below. When Ergete saw this, he knew in his heart that battle would come today after all. This was good. He had the best ground.

He dug out a pair of binoculars and trained them across the river. Their soldiers looked much like his, including a compliment of men on horseback. Too many of them to be Begmeder's [i]Neftanya[/i, and too haggard for that set. They could only be the militia and retainers of some official or lord. Ergete was certain it was Ras Wolde Petros, more so than he had been the night before.

The wait seemed to go on all morning, the two sides facing against one another, doing nothing. Ergete itched to move out of his trenches and take the enemy where they stood, but that way was foolish, and he fought his urges like a recovering alcoholic, twitching in the saddle. An eagle screeched somewhere above him, but he did not look. Then it began. He couldn't contain his excitement when he saw their horsemen lurch forward and cross the river. He jumped out of his place, drew his sword, and stood above the rifle pits of this first line, uncaring of the danger to himself. Gunfire pattered somewhere far to the west before the horsemen were in range. The enemy horsemen let out a high pitched cry, and ululating like devils they charged Ergete's men. The Battle was opened.

The first volley of rifle fire echoed all around him. Charging enemy riders fell from their horses. Sometimes it was the horses themselves that fell, taking the rider with them. Clods of mud flew all around, painted with the spray of blood, coming together as a cloud of filth. Riders with rifles and carbines shot at the shifta line. Bullets whizzed by.

The cavalry reached the rifle pits and rattled the first line. Hand to hand combat followed. The riders were dressed much like the shiftas, though some wore goatskin capes or lions-mane headdresses. Ergete jumped into the fray, slashing the leg of a rider, bright blood painting the steel and flowing freely, soaking into the man's cotton trousers. All was chaos. A bullet rang past Ergete's ear and lodged in the haunch of a horse, causing the beast to panic. Almost imperceptibly, the fighting pushed back, and they were driven into the shifta army's second line. A new volley rang out, and the horsemen were forced to retreat. They left a row of blood and corpses trampled into the muddy ground. The riders took a place within firing range and threw a few Parthian shots into the shifta line before it was completely reformed. Ergete realized he still heard the gunfire in the west, and knew this time that his right flank was embattled. He rounded up some survivors of the recent attack and took that party in the direction of the gunfire, leaving the rest to defend their well-won rifle pits.

Moving like prowling hunters they crossed the thin stream between his center and right and headed for the imposing ridge where the right flank had been placed. They climbed over stone and bush, sticking to the rocky places, struggling and sliding where there was mud. By the time they reached the crest of the ridge they were exhausted and covered with sticky earth, but they plunged themselves into the fighting all the same, giving out a ululating war cry to let both sides among the embattled rocks know they were there.

Struck men rarely fell where they stood on this incline. They slid down the muddy slope until they caught on a rock or a tree. The blooming heath exploded in the gunfire into clouds of shredded peddles. Ergete grabbed a rifle and trained it on a bobbing head down slope. He let his rifle crack, but did not see if it was a hit or a miss. Soon enough, the reinforcements had done it, and the shiftas were driving their enemy from the ground. They stopped at the edge of the rough ground, where sandy ground opened up along the river. From here they took pot shots and screamed curses at their retreating foe. Some of the shiftas combed the ground for wounded enemies, who they stripped of all their valuables, leaving them naked in their pain, which they made much worse by slicing open their scrotums and removing their testicles as bloody prizes.

The first phase of the battle was won, but most of the enemy army hadn't been thrown into battle yet. Ergete climbed back up the ridge, followed slowly by the others, until they had a good view. He watched the enemy army from the height. They did nothing. He became conscious of an unnatural humming sound coming from far away. It was low, and seemed to come from everywhere. At first, he didn't connect the sound to the fighting, but as it got louder, and the enemy army continued to hold their ground, the atmosphere grew ominous, and Ergete expected something strange and dangerous to happen at any moment. The enemy started to advance. A second later, six fighter planes crested the ridge behind the enemy line, bathed in the glory of the sun, brightly painted scenes of lions, and prowling leopards, and charging warriors shining on their fuselages. The fighter planes dived at the shiftas and sprayed them with rapid death. Chaos ensued.

Ergete fired hopelessly at the incoming planes with a stolen rifle. The shifta lines broke, and were driven back by the charge of enemy infantry. Ergete tried to hold the ridge, jumping in where the fighting was heaviest. Some of the fighters were dropping bombs in the main field, jets of fire visible from the rocky ridge, where the ground shook from the impact. Only the oldest of the shiftas had experienced combat like this, during the Great War. For the rest, this was more than they could handle. They were unmanned. The enemy surged forward, and the shiftas gave up their ground. Ergete's force was in full retreat into the mountains. He found himself practically tumbling down the ridge, stopping behind rocks to take shots at the incoming wave, rejoining the retreat before he got overwhelmed. In the stream below he was given a horse. Mounted, he looked back one last time at the bloody field, saw the fighters diving down on his fleeing warriors like angry dragons. It was that moment that he accepted the battle was lost. There was no rallying on better ground. He joined the torrent of men rushing like an avalanche in reverse into the cloud-ringed Semien mountains.
June 30th: Addis Ababa

The rain came down all morning, rustling trees and pattering against windows and roof tiles. When she woke up, Leyla saw outside and assumed it would last all day. She ate her breakfast with her father. Masri Farid was the grandson of an Egyptian immigrant, but despite this he'd found success in the Ethiopian capital, a situation rare for ferengi. He'd succeeded partially because his father had married an Amharic woman, and so had he, making his foreign nature less conspicuous. They sat across each other, eating bread and fruit at a table imported from Italy, the image of Leyla's deceased mother smiling at them from a black and white photograph on a six-legged corner table.

"Do you think they will hold the contest though it's raining?" She asked her father. Subconsciously she still carried that assumption of childhood in her heart, that her father held some sort of mystical sway over the universe, and what he spoke would become the truth simply for having passed his lips.

"I don't know, child."

"Tekwashi Girima is supposed to be there."

"I don't know who that is."

"Only the best shooter in all Africa."

"Why would he be at try-outs if everyone knows he is the best?"

"He's the judge. He's putting together the team to go to the Olympics with him. I told you all this last night, didn't I?"

Masri smiled warmly, but he looked like care was weighing down his face. "I'm sorry, my child. You know I have difficulties at work."

"I'm sorry, abba. I only want to make you proud."

"You have, Leyla. If your grandfather could see us now, and know that even his female descendants are forging a place here, he would be proud to have made a family here." He finished eating and stood up. "I need to go. Do you need anything?" She shook her head. Masri kissed her on the forehead and went out the door. After a second passed, he leaned back in. "The rain has stopped."

"Thank you!" Leyla replied as if he had stopped the rain for her. He left, and she went to get dressed. She'd put on a white habesha kemis that morning, but now that the rain had moved on, she slipped out of it and replaced it with a brown linen skirt and shirt combo that'd been assigned to her as a uniform by the Shotel. It'd taken a month for her to actually receive it, but now she had it, she wore it proudly. It made her feel like more than just a little girl. It made her feel like a part of her country. Not simply a citizen, but a real active member. Not simply the flesh riding freely on the body, but an arm or a leg. Or at least a finger.

She went outside. The world had a yellow tinge as if reflected through a filter, and the air was misty and cool. Slim streams of rainwater washed through the gutters in the paved road. This block was populated by middle class housing, built in a Mediterranean style, far detached from the trash-built slums that circle Addis Ababa like a ring of dirt around a porcelain sink. Here, in the central neighborhoods of the city, life had an almost western feel to it. There was dependable electricity and running water. The roads were paved, and cars could be seen parked in front of houses. Leyla passed by a wooden police box on the corner. She walked several blocks, houses giving way to shops, until the shops gave way to the roundabout with the statue of Menelik II. The contest was not here, at the Shotel headquarters, but this was the closest place to catch transportation. She hailed a cab and gave directions to the Gebi Entoto.

"What is a little girl doing in the great big mountains?" the cab driver said. He was twice her age and had teeth like a camel that had been in one too many street fights. She felt her usual combination of feelings for situations like this: fear, and resilience. A knowledge that this man could be dangerous, and a determination not to be cowed. "I'm a government agent." She said proudly.

"Government agent?" the man looked over her uniform, redressing her with his eyes. "When did the government start hiring little girls?"

"The Emperor needs all of us." she said.

"So he does." The driver lost interest and looked placidly forward. She felt herself become comfortable again. Most didn't want to get in government affairs in anyway whatsoever, and this driver proved no exception.

The city went by, dwindling into older crumbling buildings, the European fading away and the African qualities of architecture becoming apparent in the heavy use of earthen walls and recycled material. It grew sparse where tree-shaded knolls gave way to ridges, and ridges to the rising Entoto mountains, where evergreen and eucalyptus dripped rainwater onto bright green grass.

She was dropped off in front of Gebi Entoto, on a hill overlooking the city. The palace, once the home of Emperor Menelik II, was now merely a piece of unused government property, trees and weeds creeping into the compound. Its style represented the time it was built, in an era when Ethiopia was finding itself immersed in the global expansion of Western civilization. The plaster walls, thatched roofs, and spindly wooden supports of the humble buildings was as traditionally Ethiopian as armored nobles and shamma-wrapped priests, but there were architectural flourishes that set the compound apart from a highland village. The residence had a veranda wrapping the second story along its oval hut-like walls, while the hall was fronted with a rounded portico. Nothing moved among the buildings of the palace compound. The contest was a short walk away, and Leyla found it by following the sound of practice gunfire.

There were dozens of men from Ethiopia's military. Most came from units stationed in and around Addis, but they came from several branches, here to try their luck in front of Tekwashi Girima. They were all men except for her. She felt out of place, eyes judging her, making her feel like a fraud. She tried to ignore those thoughts, but it was hard. She trudged forward to Tekwashi, feeling like she was swimming against the current of the entire universe.

Tekwashi wasn't hard to spot. He had an infamous visage, that of an African Quasimodo, his back hunched, his limbs mismatched, and his face scrambled underneath a dirty mop of dreadlocks. He leaned his hyena-like body against a rifle and watched her curiously as she walked across the damp field surrounded by hostile eyes.

"There is no well out here, young girl." a man in full uniform said, standing next to Tekwashi. "What are you looking for?"

"I am here to shoot." Leyla said. She felt subconscious that her voice was child-like, and her face heated up.

"The Shotel girl." Tekwashi growled. His malformation made his face hard to read. "You don't have a gun?"

"I haven't been assigned one."

Tekwashi seemed to shrug. He grabbed a handgun from a nearby table and slammed a magazine into it. It was the only thing he looked natural doing. He handed it to her, the weight of it making her feel as if there was no turning back, and that was a soothing feeling. She founded a place under the shade of a Eucalyptus tree where should could prepare her mind, and adjust to the weapon in her hands. She hated looking up, knowing she'd find mean eyes in most corners of the field, so when she did look up she looked straight at the range. It was a simple thing, stringed off with twine, paper targets hung from steel poles on the far end.

Tekwashi started to list names. Each name accompanied a shooter, who walked up to meet the gorilla of a man near the range. Only half of them were called. The other half watched as the contest started.

Each man lined up, armed with a pistol, preparing their stances in the pale rain-season sunlight as Tekwashi grimaced at them with binoculars in hand.

"Aim." Tekwashi shouted. When the shooters steadied their stance, he shouted again. "Fire." A volley shouted out across the hills. Leyla looked down at the city below and was sure they'd all heard it as clear as she did. This was the most guns she'd heard fire at one time, and the sound of it rang in her ears.

"Petros two o'clock bullseye." he yelled out, "Jafar, 1 off. Man Defrot, Bullseye dead center..." and so he rattled off names until nobody but the man jotting scores in his notebook was completely paying attention. As he did this, boys dressed in the ragged robes of hill Sheppard ran barefoot onto the range and changed the target. The first group was given another chance. A volley rang out. The scores were recorded, and the first set of contestants were sent back. Some look defeated, knowing they'd lost their chance. Others went off proudly, having past the first test.

The second group called to the targets included Leyla. She was in the moment now, and paid no attention to the others. Her world was the target straight ahead of her. She took a deep breath, pointed the weapon down range, and took it off safety.


She held her breath.


Gunfire exploded all around, so close it felt like solid sound had smacked her eardrums like a gong. She felt her heart leap when she saw that the bullseye in front of her was disturbed. Tekwashi rambled names, but she didn't pay attention to the others, waiting instead to hear her own.

"Leyla, Bullseye, center."

She felt like jumping, but she held it in, still consciously trying to fit in.

They took a break, but she couldn't think of anything but the contest now. The losers ambled off, leaving a small handful of finalists including herself. Tekwashi stood under the shade of a Eucalyptus tree and eyed them all, looking like a suspicious ghoul. "Line up." he called out several minutes later. It was time for the final contest. She replaced the magazine and walked calmly to her place.

Fresh targets had been put out for them. Tekwashi didn't give them as much time, calling out "Aim" almost as soon as they arrived in their spot, and "Fire" soon afterwards. Leyla sucked in her breath real quick, aimed, and pulled the trigger. The roar of gunfire was uneven this time. When Tekwashi called out scores, he added their status to it. "Man Defrot, Bullseye dead center. You stay. Ruga, Bullseye 6 o'clock. You're out. Markos, Bullseye center. You stay..." each time Tekwashi finished a name, Leyla felt anxiety well up. When it wasn't her name called, that anxiety rolled away for the few seconds it took the master shooter to finish that score, so that she was riding on cresting waves of anxiety. "Leyla, Bullseye 1 o'clock. You're out."

Her heart sunk. That was it. She returned her gun to the table as the next round of finalists were given a break. She went to go, but was startled when Tekwashi stopped her.

"You did better than we expected."

"I lost." she said.

The corner of Tekwashi's mouth curled up in what looked like a grin. "Some of those men you beat are snipers. You have a natural talent. I'm going to recommend the Shotel promote you."

"Really?" She was surprised.

"I don't believe in wasting talent." he said, "Now run off. There is a bus waiting to take the rest of you to town."

June 20th: Fort Portal, Watu wa Uhuru held Swahili People's Republic

The flag of the Watu wa Uhuru was not the red and black of the European anarchists. Marcel Hondo-Demissie rejected those colors, the hues of blood and death. He did not dream of violence. It was true he conducted it, but violence had been forced upon him, and he did not wish to serve under its banner. The flag of the Watu wa Uhuru was pearly white, a dove dominating its the center, an olive branch in its beak. It whipped proudly in the wind above Fort Portal.

(Optional Listening if you can read and listen at the same time)

Marcel was there when the farmers arrived to deposit their harvest in the granaries. He loved this work the best. He helped the common soldiers unload the trucks full of corn and millet into large wooden barrel-like structures held up off the ground by wooden poles. It was hard work, but it made him feel close to the earth, a part of the honest process of feeding the people. The farmers were not paid for their work in money. Instead, he gave them the right to replenish their supplies and equipment as needed whenever they delivered a load. Any man caught abusing this right and reselling the products of the revolutionaries risked losing Marcel's protection, becoming carrion for the warring factions in the so called Swahili People's Republic.

He was shoveling grain into a bin when Captain Ami approached, the tattered blue robes of the Force Socialiste hanging from the man's shoulders. His expression was grave. Marcel stopped working and waited for the hammer to drop.

"The Revolutionary Army is moving from Kisumu. They will be in Revolution-Town soon."

"Lutalo will use them." Marcel replied airily. "Don't worry. We knew this day would come. We must prepare our defenses."

"Can we defend against their entire force?"

"There is something we can do. It will be discussed at the meeting of the people tonight. I have a plan."

Ami smiled. When Marcel said he had a plan, worries went away. Marcel knew half of a good General's ability lay in his reputation. What had Joan of Arc used to retake France but reputation? His men fought hard expecting miracles. The burden on his shoulders was to keep his reputation and use it in service to his people and their cause.

He returned to shoveling corn, his hands tightening around the wooden grip of the shovel. He could feel his muscles tense in his arms. It was true that he had a plan, but he did not like it one bit.

"This is a boon crop." Marcel slapped the shoulder of the old toothless farmer when they were done. "How is your truck?"

"It is holding on to life. God willing it will survive me."

"It could use work." Marcel looked it over. It was a dented old rusting thing. The tires looked were nearly bald, and torn in some places showing the steel belt. "We have a mechanic. Your crop feeds that man, he won't mind helping you in return."

"I try to do my own work. But... I guess it won't hurt."

"Good health." Marcel sent the man off.

Fort Portal was a small colonial town in the green hills of western Uganda. Its centerpiece was the Palace of the Tooro Kingdom. The death of King Karamagi at the hands of the Communist revolution left the seat vacant, and Marcel's Congolese anarchists filled the void. The Palatial hill was now the meeting place of the Anarchist democracy; The Watu wa Uhuru Commune. That hill, peppered with a few scarce trees, watched over the humble streets of Fort Portal like a medieval mote and bailey.

Marcel went to the Maisha-Marefu Hospital, looking for the love of his life, longing for the comfort he derived by simply being in her presence. The mudbrick building held the only window air-conditioners in Anarchist territory, and their growl could be heard from the other side of town when all was quiet enough. He passed through the door. The place smelled like sauce and fresh fruit. The building was mostly open save for the quarantine ward and surgical theater. He saw Grace serving wine to the patients, and the sight of her warmed him down to the soul.

Grace Odinga was a Ugandan, a shapely woman with an infectious smile, who'd won his heart when he came to this land in the heady days of its early revolution, when he naively though of James Lutalo and Thomas Jefferson Murungaru as potential friends and comrades. They had disappointed them, but Grace had not. She held her hair up in a hair scarf now, making her look matronly.

"Where did you get those bottles?" he asked her.

"One of our raiders gave them to us. He said the the sick need comfort more than he does."

"Our people are a good people." Marcel said, his heart fluttering with pride. How much of acts like this could he take credit for? How much was innately human, freed from the gladiatorial nature of most societies?

"I am announcing the plan." he said, feeling guilty for injecting business into the happiness of the moment. "The one we talked about. Lutalo has been reinforced."

"You must do what you must do." she said, kissing him on the cheek. "I will support you. When you say your say, my voice will cry out the loudest in your favor."

"I know." he said, "But I thought you should be warned. A lot of people will disagree."

"I have faith in you, Marcel. All will turn out well." she smiled that wide, toothy smile that always got to him. He wanted her now. Not just her presence, but all of her.

"Do you think you could come home for a moment, or are you needed here?" he asked.

She bit her lip. "Let me tell the girls. I'll meet you there." He smiled, and they parted. He went ahead.

The sound of hammers and chattering of workers came from a nearby build-site as he exited into the open air. He went to their home, a small house under the palatial hill, consisting of a small front room, a kitchen, and a bedroom barely large enough for the bed. The decor was bare. It was not a true home after all, but a war-time hideout. Getting attached to it would not do.

She entered and flung herself into his arms. Their mouths met, and they started undressing each other with excited arms, half-naked by the time they reached the bed. Her breasts fell out when he took off her shirt. She grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him into bed.


The sun was setting when the free people of Fort Portal gathered on the palatial hill to discuss their future. It happened outdoors, when the humid air was starting to cool, and the insects beginning their song in the yellow light. Marcel and Grace sat in the center along with their captains. Those captains were no sign of creeping authority; they were elected by this very council, the soldiers and their families choosing them by popular acclaim. The people surrounded them on all sides, gathered together in a great crowd, the healthy standing, the unhealthy sitting down in chairs that'd been dragged out from nearby homes.

"Is the assembly of the people present in this field?" he shouted, his voice carried, deep and low. Several hundred ululating shouts and cries came in response. He smiled. "Good. Now, what do we have to discuss?"

A sheep-like crowd, untrained in the art of deciding things, like those found everywhere else in the world, would become a hollering mass at this moment. The first few attempts at such a meeting had been just that. Marcel's style of democracy was born in the Askari rebellion, forged between disciplined comrades with a common goal. When he came to Fort Portal and applied that practice here, it'd been a confusing mess. But Marcel was patient with his people, and he trained them how to conduct democracy. Conversations in cafes, in the back of patrol cars, and in the family home oftentimes drifted to public policy. People chose spokesmen. Those speakers brought objects with them to hold up, and waited until they were chosen. When Marcel asked the people what they had to discuss, planks of wood, sticks from trees, cooking pans, and even rifles appeared above the heads of the crowd. Marcel climbed onto his chair and chose a waving rifle first.

"Our patrol spotted an elephant herd twenty klicks to the southwest. It would be no struggle to harvest their ivory and move it to market north or south. Such a thing would be a boon to our cause."

Marcel was impressed. "Good find, comrade. What is the opinion of the people?"

A mighty clamor came from them, a fierce roar and show of hands. There was no question, the motion had passed. Marcel held out his hands. "What else is brought before the people?" A plank went up before anybody else. Marcel motioned for the holder to speak.

"I say we applaud Marcel Hondo-Demissie's victory over the enemy in the battle of the tree men. Without you, we would be lost."

Marcel didn't have time to speak before the crowd shouted agreement again, this time their voices lasting longer, so that he could only smile and wait. When they'd stopped, he spoke. "I share that applause with the men who fought against the enemy that day. It was a victory they won and bled for. And we have all fought and bled for the final victory. So let us remember that. The people are great, and the martyrs for the people are the best of all." Another ululating shout. He held his hands out, and motioned that he was going to speak. They people became quiet.

"We have another issue to speak of, before we can get to the rest. We have won many great victories, but we have not won the war. Our enemy gathers his strength now that Mombasa has fallen, and his strength is great. We cannot fight this war alone. We need allies."

The crowd buzzed. A stick went up. "What allies can we have? There is no one near who shares our values." the speaker shouted when pointed to.

"This is true." Marcel agreed, "It is an unlucky truth that we are surrounded by tyrants, but what can we do? We can lament our fate and die like martyrs, but what do we gain by such a thing? We do not fight for death. We fight for life! The life we have created for ourselves! We live in a world of devils. What do we do? We make deals with those devils, and we survive." The people began to murmur now, but Marcel continued "The Free Army of God, and the King of Buganda, share the same fate with us if Lutalo wins. They are reactionaries, I know this, but they are our only potential allies, so far from everything and inaccessible to the world."

The muttering crowd became loud. Objects were raised above their heads. Marcel knew their objections would be similar enough. He picked a man in the front. "Many of us fled from the King of Buganda. Some of us have family who are suffering in the north. The Free Army of God murders Muslims in cold blood, and so many of our people are of that faith. We cannot sell our own people to these monsters. Better die at the hands of the communists than be murdered by the King of Buganda or crucified by the Free Army."

Marcel responded. "We approach them because we are their only hope. We have leverage over the reactionaries. Who is it who has won victories against the Communists? Only us! When we die, the reactionaries die too. They cannot ask anything more from us than to fight with them so we all might live."

Another response, from a man holding a stick. "When we finish the communists, we will be finished too. The Free Army and the King of Buganda will see us as the biggest threat, and we will be destroyed by them. What is the gain?!"

"More time to live, to grow, and to plan." Marcel said, "I have faith that our revolution is the right one. Why have the Communist revolutions failed to spread like the wildfire they were supposed to be? Because they are not true revolutions at all! Hou is an Emperor! Villeneuve is a King! Priscilla is a President! They are statesmen, not revolutionaries. This is the revolution! And when we make victories, we will spread our revolution, and the people who suffer under the reactionaries will join us. They will be allies at the beginning, but they will be ours in the end!"

The people cried out. He had them. In the declining light, the singing insects were joined by the hymns of revolution.
June 19th: Sheikh, Adal Province, Ethiopian Empire

Hassan sat in the shade of a tamarisk tree, its many branching trunks creating an umbrella protecting half of the garden from the sun. Nearby myrrh trees filled the air with an earthy smell like fresh incense. Over the wall of foliage, a rough stone minaret pointed at the sky, rising beside an unimpressive square mosque. In the garden, two stools sat either side of an octagonal table, borrowed from a nearby cafe and ported over in a Doofarka. Hassan mounted one of those stools, his sheathed scimitar tapping against its legs whenever he moved.

The heat was severe. The air throbbed with it, and in the distance the desert shimmered. With the rainy season over, the scrub-blanketed mountains faded from green to brown, and the desert became a place of death. Hassan sipped at a glass of iced tamarind juice and waited silently, white-wrapped Dervish warriors all around him, no flesh visible but their hands and a strip around their eyes.

He heard the engine before the Landrover came into view. Doors opened, and slammed closed. A man in his thirties with a close-cut black beard, wearing white robes and a keffiyeh, exited the passenger's side. He was accompanied by two guards wearing khaki military uniforms and keffiyehs. Hassan stood up.

"Ali ibn Talal!" he greeted, "How is your grandfather? Is he well?"

"He is fine, by the will of Allah. You are looking well too."

"Yes, yes. I invite you to sit. Would you like something to drink?"

"Yes. Thank you." they both sat down. Hassan snapped his fingers. A Dervish brought the young man a glass of iced tamarind juice. Ali watched the servant with interest. "Aren't these your favored soldiers?"

Hassan smiled. "Yes, but soldier is the operative word. They live to serve at my pleasure, not to grow fat on pride."

"That is a strange philosophy."

"It may be, but I have no problems with discipline."

Ali took a drink. "Well, let's get down to real talk. What is it the Caliphate can do for you?"

"Let me be blunt. I seek independence from the infidel Emperor." The statement hung heavy in the hair for a moment, neither man speaking. Ali broke the silence. "You need help with that? You seem to have your land under control" he said.

"It is better to have more support than you need than to be evenly matched. To lose a war like that would be the end of my legacy. I only intend to win."

"I appreciate your enthusiasm, but I cannot help." Ali held his arms wide open and shrugged, "The Caliphate cannot go to war with their neighbor. It is simply not an option. A war fought over the Red Sea would attract attention from every nation in the world."

"I don't necessarily need soldiers, but support in arms and money would be fine. Both are precious to me."

Ali leaned back. "I would need to talk to my father. You understand this. Though I don't know if a rebellion is even advisable, to be honest with you. Is your arrangement not for protection against the West?"

Hassan licked his lips. "Europe is not coming back. Such worries are the foolishness of our time. I have heard of the dealings the old European powers have among themselves, and it is a joke. They killed their best men in the Great War and those who have come to inherit it are cowards and idiots. The Emperor in Ethiopia uses that excuse because he is weak. He is controlled by his court, uninterested in his country, and confounding to his friends. It is an opportunity for anybody willing to take it, and I plan on taking it for all it is worth. One out of every three Ethiopians are of the true faith. I intend to restore them to their ancient rights. I would leave Ethiopia with the borders of Tewodros II. That is more than a war for independence, it is Jihad."

"It is a fantasy" Ali scolded, "Are you bewitched? I always thought you were a reasonable man. You do not have airplanes. You do not have armored vehicles. Not enough to counter the Ethiopians at least. And though your soldiers are brave, and the fire of the true faith is in their hearts, they are only flesh, and their small-arms are not enough to carry a modern war."

"I have some armor, and some planes."

"As I said, that is not enough."

"I know that loyalty is a rare commodity in Ethiopia. Their highlands are afire with shifta bands. That is not a unified country we should fear." Hassan paused for a moment, the fact he had something else to say clearly present on his face. "I have a thing to show you, if you would be willing to follow."

"I am your servant." Ali conceded. Hassan climbed into the driver's seat of a Doofarka. Ali climbed into its passenger seat. His two guards crowded into the turret. The steel poles that made up the bare-bones vehicle were baking hot to the touch. The frankenstein vehicle purred alive, its engine raspy and kicking. Hassan piloted into the desert.

It skipped across the desert as naturally as if it were a paved road. Sand kicked up in a cloud all around the vehicle. Hassan squinted his eyes and floored it, gripping the steering wheel tightly, enjoying the feeling of power in his hands. They came to a place facing the mountains. The sun pounded unshielded upon their heads. The Sheikh Mountains were true mountains, but not mighty ones. They looked worn down and old, weathered peaks covered with fading green shrubs. Hassan pulled a pair of binoculars from his belt and trained them on a couple of white dots. He handed them to Ali. "Up there, near the peak where I am pointing. You will see two men."

Ali looked. "Those are your men?" He asked.

"Dervishes." Hassan confirmed. "Taking their exercise."

"An interesting track."

"Those men haven't slept for three days. At all."

Ali put his binoculars down. "Are they ill?"

"They are kept awake by modern medicine. Military drugs I have procured. I don't sit on an ancient army like the Emperor of Ethiopia, hoping things may be the same. I seek updates. I seek improvements. Anything that gives even the slightest edge, I employee it."

"And the Emperor allows this?"

"I'm sure the Imperial government is aware, but I am allowed to cultivate my own defenses. That is in the Treaty of our union with Ethiopia. They take solace in those facts you mentioned, that the Ethiopian air force is updated and organized, that they can afford maintaining armored units. But there is more to war than equipment. If one of my Dervishes were to face down ten of the best Ethiopian soldiers, I'd put my money on the Dervish."

"Many a fool has uttered that line, Hassan. I am not convinced."

"If I were to convince you with victories, what would you say?"

"Facts cannot lie. But we are a long way from these things being fact."

well one you motherfuckers gonna hafta post so i can get what i'm sitting on out by saturday

We've opted to call in Hugs, although from what I can tell must of what we need him to review is effectively historical in the first place. I should bitch at Evan to post his opinions outside of the super sekrut club too.

veo's in the super sekrut club too
June 17th: Kisumu, Swahili People's Republic

Thomas Jefferson Murungaru sat on the edge of his bed in his room at the Umoja Hotel. The door to the balcony was open, letting a pleasant breeze blow in from Lake Victoria, the sound of children playing in the street coming from outside. He held a pen in his hand over a piece of parchment on a slim portable desk.

The Kikomunisti do not build nations in the Imperialist sense. We do not look at Europe as a model. To impose the European nation-state on Africa is to initiate one thousand years of fresh chaos. When Europeans came, they drew borders according to their needs, cutting through tribal lands, splitting common peoples from each other, and grouping peoples foreign to each other into colonies. Whereas Europe has been forged by murder into near-identical pockets of sameness, Africa is not yet one hundred years removed from her original freedom, and the rich tapestry of our cultural heritage still exists. One has to squint to see the difference between the Anglo-Saxon, the Norman, and the Briton, and there is no remnant left at all of the Iceni or the Jute. But whereas the people of Britain have been forced into a cultureless conformity, the Swahili Kikomunisti still know themselves as Kikuyu, Oromo, and Maasai. We are the Buganda, the Lango, and the Acholi.

Then how do we function? Without a national identity, what holds the Swahili Republic together? The answer rings out from the mouths, and is written in bold letters by the pens of every knowledgeable Marxist. There is no single British tribe. There is no single Swahili tribe. There is only the exploiter and the exploited. There is only class. I am Kikuyu, yet I can be a brother of the Maasai, he only need have class consciousness. I am brother to the proletarian in China, and in Britain. My nationality is the working brotherhood of man. It is understanding this truth, and implanting it into the heart of every African, that will make Africa free.

Letter from the Umoja hotel,
Thomas Jefferson Murungaru

Li Huan stirred. He put down his pen and turned to look at her. Her almond skin was partially visible beneath the thin linen sheets, teasing him with her nudity, two brown nipples pushing against the fabric. She was still asleep. He thrust his hand under the sheet, running his fingers against the soft skin on her belly, down through the unshaved thicket of hair between her legs, arriving delicately at her sex.

"Good morning" she said, a smile on her face, disheveled hair in front of her half-asleep eyes. When he looked at her she giggled and grabbed onto his arm, pulling him in. Their mouths met. He thought he tasted a slight tang of wine from the night before. Why couldn't it always be like this? Wasn't their revolution over? He wanted to settle down by the sea somewhere and spend the rest of his life happy.

"Are we waiting the day away again?" she asked hopefully. His smile faded. "I have some things to do."

"What things?" she asked. "I'll come with you."

"Have breakfast. I'll be back, and we can spend the rest of the day together doing nothing."

She sat up, her upper half rising above the sheet. She looked worried. "What is it? You can tell me. I am here to help."

"I know." he said while washing up, splashing water in his face and under his arms. He started getting dressed. "You can help me by getting breakfast."

"What are you not telling me?"

"I am meeting somebody today. It's not interesting, and I don't think he wants company. It won't take long."

"You owe me."

"We'll have dinner by the lake. I promise." He was now dressed, wearing his military fatigues, the common sort that most of his men wore.

"I'll hold you to that." She was smiling, uncertainly now. He did his best to look nonchalant as he slipped into the hall.

The Umoja Hotel had been turned into Kisumu's Communist headquarters, but this changed its appearance very little except for the clientele. It was full of rough-looking bush soldiers. Communist flags of various kinds hung above the hand-me-down British furniture. His men saluted him casually, holding up their breakfast to him and smiling. He returned the gesture and walked outside.

The kids in the street paid him no mind, yelling at each other as they kicked a rough leather ball down the rutted dirt road. The smell of fish was prevalent in this city, part from the breeze blowing off the lake, part from the markets selling fishermen's catches in the open air. It wafted through old colonial buildings, cheap imitations of European architecture constructed out of whatever material was easiest to get, built to be airy and open by people unaccustomed to the tropics, characterized by spindly wood and plaster covered in pealing paint. Toward the lake he could hear the crack of guns, careful and even, the sound of target practice.

The veterans of Mombasa lounged about the town, still riding high from the sack of Mombasa, draped with jewelry and trinkets like pirates in a movie. Murungaru had deprived them of their human spoils, releasing the victims of the sack of the city through Djibouti where they could be sent to more familiar countries in a subtle way, avoiding the bad press that would accompany a similar deposit in Dar es Salaam or Beira. He knew the sack of Mombasa still made a bad impression, but this was war. Germany had made a bad impression in the rape of Belgium, and they had recovered their reputation since then. He only felt remorse in one way; the doubt it had planted in Li Huan's idealistic breast, the way she second guessed his intentions now.

He walked toward Mbaya-Hispania Hospital; a colonial hospital built during the War to treat cases of Spanish Flu, afterwards converted into a Bedlam until the Communist movement took control of the city and emptied the asylum to fill their ranks. Now it was an annex to the Communist organization in this part of the country, an unassuming single story colonial building facing the lake, its only suspicious feature being the soldiers standing guard. Franz Agricola met him up front.

"I don't like this character." he said, uncertainty playing across his face. This was the same face that'd beamed so proudly at the trebuchets he built to take Mombasa. The engineer was second guessing him too.

"Why?" Murungaru kept walking.

"I talked to him, about his research. I like a good researcher and wanted to know what this guy was about. What he had to tell me... it's creepy, I think. I don't know any other word for it."

"This man has recommendations you wouldn't believe if I told you. I want to see what he can supply."

"Is the revolution not inevitable? You don't need a man like that."

"I don't have patience for the inevitable. Wait outside please. You know I can't let you in."

"What do... who do you have in there, General Secretary?"

"Work." Murungaru passed inside.

The building was dusty and partially decayed. Inside there were only guards, the rotting furniture unused and ignored since the revolution, and the man he'd came to see. He was dressed like an English butler from another century, held a gold-tipped cane in his gloved hands, and stood so properly as to be almost feminine. His hair bushed out from his head like a halo-disk. He smiled and tapped his cane twice against the ground. "You are the General Secretary, I presume? I must extol the virtue of your facial hair, it is remarkably Communist. You have the appearance of Chairman Hou Sai Tang's negroid cousin, if such a man were to exist."

"Dr Sisi. Your name proceeds you."

"Excellent. I appreciate that you are interested in narcotics? Because I must say, my cup overfloweth, videlicet clientele, and to take on more is... well, it is onerous work, General Secretary."

"I was told you prefer a different sort of payment. Something other than money?"

"And possess have such an article?"

"That's why we are here." Murungaru smiled insincerely, "Follow me. Though I warn you, I don't know what we'll see."

They walked along a rounded portion of the building until they came to a door. The guard there saw Murungaru walking toward him and opened it. They walked into what had once been a surgical facility, but was now mostly empty, except for the activity in the center of the room. The moment they entered, one naked man, his muscle-knotted back and ass glistening with sweat, climbed off a battered looking white man, a man Murungaru recognized as Commander Trevor from Mombasa, slumped against the wall like a tossed pillow.

"I told you to be ready for our guest!" Murungaru filled with pounding rage. He attacked the black man, slapping him several times in the face, wanting beat him but restraining himself in front of the Doctor. The white man at the wall groaned, his body a bruised and bleeding disaster, fresh red blood trickling down his leg. Dr Sisi ran to the victim, his face contorted in worry, and grabbed the damaged man by the head. Murungaru slapped the black man again and turned toward Sisi. "I apologize, Doctor. This is what comes from trusting faggots."

"What have they done to you!" Sisi had the dazed white man by the chin, maneuvering his head, inspecting it.

"I will have this faggot punished. This perversion..."

"Irrelevant." Sisi cut him off, "His nose is fractured, but his skull is intact. That is
marvelous. Though a concussion could come of the trauma apparent by the wounds on his skin. Have you been hurling this man's skull about?"

"I suppose." the torturer, still naked, shrugged.

"This is a valid peace offering, but in the future I will expect more, and in better condition. Science fears no evil, but it fears confounding factors. The head is delicate, and should be treated carefully" He looked up, and then around the room. "There is some equipment in here, but not much. I need to retrieve some tools. You mind?"

"Get what you need. Ask any of the guards and they'll help you."

"Good" Dr Sisi beamed, "And get your man servant dressed. His genitals are dripping this man's claret." Murungaru didn't look to see, but instead motioned to the torturer to do as told. Sisi grabbed a dusty stretcher cart and wheeled it outside. Murungaru stared at the ceiling, wishing he was still with Li Huan, and that this wasn't the work he was fated to do.

When Sisi came back, the cart was brimming with bags and strange supplies. He went to lift the half-dazed victim. The torturer helped him. They propped him into a chair, and Sisi poured a bucket of water onto him. It partially woke him, and the process of washing him down with a rag did the rest. While Commander Trevor came to his senses, Sisi grabbed a straight-razor.

"Kill me. Finish it." Trevor asked.

Sisi smiled. "No, sir. I am only amputating your mane." And so he did. He cut the man bald, worrying over every freshly discovered cut or bruise, until the entirety of his sickly white scalp was naked to the world.

"Do you know your benzodiazepines?" the Doctor asked the two standing men. Both shook their heads. "Well, look in the bag brimming with bottles and recover the one that reads chlordiazepoxide."

"What are you doing?" Murungaru asked.

"I can't travel with him like this, hogtied and gagged so he can't make an incriminating sound. Ah, very good." the latter response was to how the torturer handled the syringe and prepared the bottle even though he hadn't been asked, handing the filled syringe to Sisi. Without saying a word, Sisi injected it. Tom Trevor's eyes went wide for a moment as if he expected death, but he didn't protest. The man was spent.

"Now this alone could make the man transportable. Customarily I would do it in this fashion. But I know a method to make him more agreeable than chlordiazepoxide could ever do, and I postulate you need a demonstration, to understand why I expect quality specimens in immaculate condition. Now, aid me with this please." Murungaru didn't say a word. He watched as the Doctor and the torturer grabbed a big steel brace and fitted it over Trevor's head. The Doctor dug into his bag of drugs and injected several other liquids into the victim's scalp. When it was all done, he admired his work like an artist.

What he did next was sickening. He began to screw the brace-like contraption into the head of Commander Trevor. Blood trickled from the wounds. Trevor winced, but did not panic. Murungaru thought it hurt him to watch more than it hurt the victim.

"What you are about to witness is neurological science of the persuasion rarely observed by laymen. Regard yourselves as lucky, my friends. There are sons of the prosperous of Europe who spend many annorum anticipating such a demonstration." He began to cut away Trevor's scalp.

It was disgusting and bloody work. He then applied a small steel hammer to the victim's skull, and opened it like a melon. Murungaru had seen battlefield gore of the worst kind, wounds no man should ever have to consider, and it didn't effect him like this did. He felt nauseous.

"What are you doing?" Trevor asked, eerily calm.

"Can you save your disturbing ejaculations for another point in time?" Sisi asked.

"What are you doing?" the dazed man said.

"If you must speak, then sing something."

Trevor began to sing Rule, Britannia. Sisi spoke. "People ascribe too much being to their bodies. The heart, the stomach, perhaps even the soul, that's just hydraulics. We are the brain. Right here, this is us. Sever a quarter of a teaspoon worth of grey matter, and a man never speaks again. It's that delicate." With his scalpel, he dug at a spot on the left side of Trevor's brain. Rule Britannia became a garble of nonsense. Trevor was babbling like a brain-damaged infant. His eyes lit up in distress as he realized what had been done to him.

"He will most likely never utter an intelligible word again. He can still think in words, but he can no longer produce them sensibly. The mind is impressions. Speech is more structural, and requires something I just pilfered. To everybody we run across in our travels, he is just another madman, and I am his doctor. Now, I need him clothed. A few more like this and I'll show you how I can serve you." It was done. The babbling patient was covered in a black cloth and wheeled out to Sisi's Helicopter. The rest of their interactions were terse as the Doctor prepared to leave.

Murungaru watched the helicopter take off, sending Dr Sisi away with his madman. Agricola met with him, and saw the concern in his eyes.

"That bad?" he asked.

Murungaru waited until the chopper became a single dot in the sky. "I need a cigarette." he said.
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