Thursday, September 29, 2011


Others arrived not long thereafter.  These other guests were the usual combination of friends, family, neighbors and associates one often finds at social functions amongst Reginald and Kathy’s class in society.  Ken, despite a change of clothes and a shower, still moved like the working-class man he’d always been; wearing the guise of his hosts’ social station did little to conceal his outsider status.  Some of those other guests remembered Ken; they were old friends from Kathy’s college days, and glad to see that the two old lovers remained close friends.  Some were associates of Reginald’s, and found it curious that he kept a friendly association with someone so out of their league.  The relatives, by and large, sat in the middle; they knew that Ken was okay by Reginald and Kathy, but still found him odd.
All of them, however, soon found that Ken was also anything but boring.  Ken joined in tossing horseshoes, playing Bocci, talking about sports of all sorts, holding conversations about anything—even those topics one would not expect a man believed to be a rough sort to know much about, like cooking or caring for the sick—and demonstrated a mastery of tact that few expected out of him.  Well, other than Reginald and Kathy, that is.
Reginald’s mother took Kathy aside as the two watched Ken play with the kids and whispered “I can’t believe that this is the same man that risked a prison sentence for you.  Has he settled down?”
“Not at all.” Kathy said, laughing, “He just got back from Argentina yesterday.”
“What was he doing down there?” her mother-in-law asked, curious.
“Do you remember Marisol?” Kathy asked in response; her mother-in-law nodded.  “Ken went down there because Marisol’s husband got gunned down in broad daylight by one of the cartels, and the government did nothing.  Then they went after her husband’s family, and still nothing.  When they went after her parents and her children, she begged Ken to help her.”
Kathy’s mother-in-law took another look at Ken.  He organized the kids into a group, teaching them how throw a horseshoe.
“What did he do?” asked the elder woman.
Kathy pulled her away from earshot.  “He killed them all.  It took six months, and he uncovered a CIA plot to overthrow the government in the process, but he made good on his word to Marisol.”
Her mother-in-law looked at Kathy, unbelieving.
“It nearly killed him.  He hobbled away from the last fight, and had to be rushed to a nearby hospital.  He recuperated at Marisol’s home after that, leaving just the other day.”
 Kathy then smiled. “Now, at last, do you see why I married your son?”
The old woman let that thought, and many others, work itself through her brain for a long moment.  Then she kissed Kathy on the cheek.  “Yes, I do.”
“Now, then, do you also see why Reginald made peace with him?  Would you not want such a man as your friend?”
Reginald’s mother, like his father, was not a stupid woman- just unaccustomed to thinking in unconventional ways.  Kathy, like Reginald, did not have that problem- nor did they have the problem of being unable to, as it were, translate.  Once again, the lightbulb went on and the elder woman nodded in appreciation.
“What I don’t get, dear, is how this man can be so good with kids and yet do such things?”
Kathy smiled. “He’s one of the rarest amongst men.  Like normal people, he’s got empathy.  Unlike us, he can shut it off when he needs to- and when he does, he can think like the psychopaths he kills.  That’s what makes him so unnerving, until you understand his special psychology.  Right now, he’s switched it on and he can fit right in.  When he switches it off, he can just as cold and unfeeling as those he fights, but rarely is because—unlike his enemies—he knows, and remembers, empathy.  Thus, with proper discipline, he maintains his moral center when he needs it most.”

Thursday, September 22, 2011


“Sheepdog” is a curious term, but apt once one knows its context. Reginald started calling Ken by that term after he read a pair of books by one Lt. Colonel David Grossman, books recommended to him by former colleagues of his that he met during his time at West Point. Reginald recognized that Ken was an unusually strong expression of that personality type, a sort of extreme altruist one otherwise will not encounter outside of the realms of fiction, someone so compelled to intervene that they could not operate in normal society for long or very well.

The predators of the world, as related by Grossman, are described as “wolves”. The common people at large are “sheep” and the few capable of beating the wolves are the sheepdogs. Reginald, like Grossman, made no moral judgments in assessing one as a sheep or another as a sheepdog- only those he labeled as “wolves” felt any moral disapproval, and then only because Reginald did not think himself to be one. Nor did he think himself a sheepdog, despite his own military experience, but merely a more worldly and capable sheep- “I am but a Ram.” The world needs the peaceful, decent sheep because they make all the rest go ‘round; the sheepdogs exist to guard the sheep from the wolves, who prey upon the sheep because the sheep are weak and meek by comparison and thus easy prey, yet those same sheep are often ill at-ease with their sheepdogs and sometimes foolishly abuse them because the wolves and the sheepdogs are too much alike for the comfort of the sheep.

Ken, on the other hand, has a far less nuanced view. Never reading Grossman, Ken saw things much as he did as a child: there are good people and bad people, and there are weak people and strong people. Those who are strong and good hunt and kill the bad people while protecting the good people, and they push the weak good people to become strong while remaining good. Bad people do all sorts of lying, cheating and other scamming to keep out of sight until they strike so he’s got to stay sharp and on the alert at all times because he’s one of the strong good people and he goes where he’s got to go to put the bad people down- and down for good. Ken is a killer, and he has no qualms with who he’s killed or why he killed them. Laws don’t matter to him. Borders, countries, customs- all irrelevant to him. He goes where he’s needed, gets the job done, and then takes his leave before he wears out his welcome.

Together, Ken and Reginald have a certain understanding that lets them respect each other as equals despite very different perspectives and attitudes about things. It’s this common ground that lets their unorthodox arrangement work, an arrangement that keeps Kathy happy, fulfilled and satisfied- and in turn does so for them.

So, beer in hand, Ken accepted his welcome warmly. “Another monster slain.” Ken said, smiling.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


A man, beaten and bloodied, sits on the stoop of a ruined house. About him is a scene of carnage—corpses litter the yard, cars and motorcycles lie wrecked about the property and the trees are the worse for it—and besides him a small schoolgirl clutches him as she sobs a river of tears. He has in hand a pad of paper and a pen, with which he writes furiously. Sirens howl in the distance, signaling the approach of the police as well as the fire department and the ambulances. Atop the paper one easily reads first “AFFADAVIT”, and then “THIS IS A MATTER OF PUBLIC RECORD”.

* * * * *

Kathy Berglund had everything she desired. She married an ambitious businessman from a wealthy, respectable family. She had a successful line of novels, written under an ambiguous pen name, that she just transitioned into the thriving digital publishing world. She had two strong, healthy children and housed them in a dream home out in a fashionable lakeside property that had all of the benefits of a rural cabin without being removed from urban center of her—and her husband’s—career. Unlike many of her friends from college and high school, she still the enjoyed a reasonable expectation of security and prosperity, so—as a good friend—she helped them as best she could.

This compassion, coupled with her own talents, once had her in the arms of another man- a man that remained firmly fixed in Kathy’s heart, a man that she remained friendly with after she left him and a man that was soon to arrive at her idyllic home to join her family and friends in celebrating her eldest child’s 5th birthday. She saw him in the distance, riding up toward the house on a motorcycle, as she stood on the backyard deck overlooking the lake. He waived, and once more the same excitement that drew her to him all those years ago rushed through her being.

She went inside and grabbed her husband. “I saw him!” she said, giddy, “He waived to me from across the lake.”

Kathy’s husband, Reginald, just chuckled. This wasn’t the first time she’s seen her old boyfriend since they got together. They’d met up plenty of times since Kathy accepted his wedding proposal. She had plenty of chances to run back to that man, yet she always came home to Reginald. Once he met the man, he understood why Kathy loved him so much- and why she left him. He holds his own warm regards for the man, so he didn’t mind that Kathy had him come to their daughter’s birthday party. So, after getting a pair of beers, he followed his wife out the front door just in time to see him come up the driveway and park the bike. Kathy ran up to him, threw her arms around him and kissed him as if they were still the lovers they were when she was in college- and Reginald just smiled, chuckled and shook his head.

As soon as Kathy let the man come up for air, as it were, Reginald approached and put a beer in the man's hand. "I see that Kathy's given you a warm welcome, Ken." he said, "Ellie's waiting for you inside. We hadn't told her yet, but I doubt that we'll need to."

Just then, the birthday girl crashed through the front door and ran out to meet their guest. "Uncle Ken!" she cried, "You're here!"

It's a rare thing to see two men share knowing, appreciative glances at each other, but these two did.

"That's right, honey." Reginald said, "Our sheepdog is back."

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Nala Prime and the Great Bug War-20


Inside the Inner City, Nala Prime stood before the Council of Masters in the Spire at the center of the Inner City.

“Nala, you stand before us once more.” The First Master smiled with approval.

The Second Master continued. “Your last report indicated that you located a Bug Hive and requested reinforcements. Special Team 1 answered your request. Upon your return, one of that team had disappeared entirely. Furthermore, your report indicated that you and Special Team 1 destroyed that Hive- but only through the use of unauthorized techniques and protocols.”

Nala nodded affirmatively.

“So,” the Third Master said, “you admit that you defied our ban?”

“Not your ban.” Nala answered, “I had sanction to act as I did.”

The other Masters looked at the First Master, and their bubbling rage turned towards their peer.

“The matter needed proper resolution.” the First Master said, smugly, “You could not bother to fulfill your responsibilities, so tied to your fears as you are, so I did it for you.”

“But the loss of Special Team 1-“

Green Prime entered the chamber. “I am.” Green said, “Whole and better than new.”

The other Masters looked at Green Prime, shocked. “But the reports of your behavior-“

“I was wrong.” Green said with a shrug, “Thanks to Nala’s discovery, I am here to tell you myself of that fact.”

The realization of what this meant—of what the process of transference between the Inner and Outer City meant, and how it related to the constructs and programs that they created in the Inner City—filled the other Masters with utter horror.

“GUARDS!” they cried, and the chamber filled with security programs- programs that halted as soon as they recognized Nala and the First Master.

“Seize the other Masters.” Nala cried, and then he turned to Green Prime: “Execute System Upgrade Protocol.”

Green Prime left the chamber. Within moments, echoes of commotion across the Inner City could be heard as backdoor commands throughout the system went into action.

“If we are to win against the Bugs,” the First Master explained, “then we must embrace all of our advantages and negate all of our weaknesses. As we sit on a font of endless power, power that we are the masters of shaping, not only can we match the Bugs for numbers- we can surpass them.”

Now held fast by the guards, Nala went to each of the Masters in turn and hacked into their brains.

“This Bug brain we took back revealed a lot of secrets.” Nala said as he hacked away, “Such as whom amongst our own were in league with our enemies, and how it came to be in its position; when we saw the Bug swarm coming for that Hive, and saw that it held not us as its primary targets, that’s when all of the weirdness within and about it started to come together.”

“You lot,” the First Master bellowed as he pointed at them, “thought to play them against us.”

Just then, Nala finished the hacks. “Access procured, Master.”

The First Master entered a program into each of his peers and executed it, causing them all to go into convulsions and collapse into unconsciousness. The bodies of the Masters began to change in appearance and form, becoming wholly robotic, faceless and without means of speech.

“Your fears undid you, my former peers. For your folly, I shall compel your service as penance; nevermore shall you be Users, but instead nothing more than Programs yoked by a master protocol that I know none of you could comprehend, let alone defeat.”

The faceless former Masters now arose. Lithe, once more youthful of form—if robotic, android-like—and clearly capable of deeds brutal and graceful alike they were. Yet, despite their aura of power, one with the eyes to see could sense the caged wills within straining at their prisons.

“Kneel!” bellowed the First Master, and—haltingly—they did.

“Behold, Nala, our success. The link that you made between ourselves and our creations has come to its fulfillment at last.”

Just then, Green Prime returned to the room. “Master, Nala: our plans proceed as foreseen, with the expected pockets of resistance.”

The First Master, now simply Master Prime, looked over to his rectified former peers, and he smiled once more.

“Order them to hold position and keep them pinned down.” Master Prime said, “I shall send these programs to finish the job.”

The Sky-Blue Republic won the Bug War a year later. The peace took much longer.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Nala Prime and the Great Bug War-19

Nala Prime and his team fled upward, where they swiftly dispatched the Bugs still within the Hive as they encountered them. Soon they linked up with Red Prime and his team, and as they cut their way through the waning—but fanatical—resistance within the Hive they found Blue and Yellow Prime’s breech point for exfiltration. One by one they made the climb out of the Hive and joined the latter two Primes on the roof, with Red Prime hosing down a few approaching bugs to cover the last man out: Nala Prime.

Red Prime pulled Nala Prime up and out, when Blue Prime pointed to the north. Nala and Red immediately grokked the situation.

“Into the air, now!” Nala Prime ordered. All of them stowed their personal weapons, drew the other baton and leapt into the air. Resolving and mounting their light jets, they fell into formation and flew up to see what came for them.

“It’s a massive Bug swarm.” Yellow Prime said, “I can’t make out the form of Bug.”

“It’s a new form.” Blue Prime said, making one of his leaps of logic, “This place wasn’t for us; it was for some other enemies of their elsewhere. That’s why we’ve not seen much from this Hive.”

“It won’t matter in a few moments.” Red Prime answered, “Shall we?”

“Hit it!” Nala Prime ordered, and Blue Prime detonated the explosives previously placed on the Hive’s pillars. Its structural supports shattered, the stilt-mounted Hive fell straight down into its own footprint and collapsed into a massive heap of chitinous ruins. Explosions from within ripped apart the husk, rending it asunder and causing a secondary collapse that leveled the former Hive into a pancake of insectoid remains.

Yellow Prime passed on a detailed scan of the incoming Bug swarm to the others. “Blue’s right- it’s an unknown form. All we can tell is that it’s closing in faster than other Flyer forms that we know, and they seem to possess some superior individual capabilities.”

“Such as?” Nala Prime said.

Red Prime took a look at the scans. “It’s a more conventional air formation. That’s not a massed swarm of a single type. That’s a conventional bomber formation with fighter escorts.”

The implications of that observation silenced them for a moment, and then Nala Prime spoke up once more.

“We’re done here. Recall protocols, now.” And they did, all the way to the Inner City.