by Michael E. Johnson

Uncertainty is the only principle.

The history books would say there wasn't a decisive victory. Quebec held the falls to the finger lakes, but only about 50km south. But the Handymen, supported by the Janitors, cleaned out every useful bit of scrap from the Falls to Buffalo. In the end, it's all about resources.

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Chapter 1. [UNEDITED]

Then there is the whine, and the world is without form. There is pain, but it is disconnected and distant. And blurry things. Finally, halfheartedly, the blurry world swims into focus. Tony manages to slump against some... bricks? Yes, bricks. That's what they are, like the universe being reassembled just for him, as uncomfortably as possible. Tony slumps down against some bricks. The small ruined brick wall is very real. It smells like broken bricks, a rocky hot smell. The whine continues, but now - intermittently - is a warbling that annoys the hell out of him. Like the grating sound your car makes when it is time for maintenance. His headache presses on, encouraged by the sound. Itchy. Something thumps.

In the pre-dawn light a wound on his leg glistens, dappled with dirt, ash, and powder burns. Kinda pretty, every now and again it throbs out a little more blood, the shiny new CubaMed NoBleedz™ bandage now positively vibrant red with his blood, the little indicator patch shows “Change Me!”, its friendly smiling face just dripping with anticipation, or something. Itchy. Something is out of place.

No, not out of place. Different word. The warbling is really beginning to make his headache much worse. Thump. Thump.

The thumps feel nice. Tony leans back against the bricks, and lets the sound of a heartbeat wrap around him like a warm summer night. Thump. No, a summer afternoon, doing something simple. Something nice and repetitive, so you know how little progress you're making. Warm and slow, barely getting much of anything accomplished. Thump. Thump. Thump.

Closing his eyes, he reached up with his left hand and scratched his chest through his body armor. The little shards of ceramic plate tinkle like wind-chimes. Stopping, he pulls out one of the little pieces and tries to examine it. Tossing it aside, he pushes his index finger through the hole, all the way down to the shirt, a piece of twisted metal sits flush against his skin. It's flattened out enough so he can't pull it though the hole.. he'll have to take a look at that later. Still Itchy.

The sun crests the far hill. Tony looks right at the dawn, his eyes attempt to throw another headache his way, but his head already has a few, and passes it off to annoyance, one more thing for a busy emotion to deal with. After all, that damn warbling keeps coming and going.

The whine sings the sun up into a few passing clouds. Tony smiles.

Popcorn, who's making popcorn? Pop, pop, pop. Something like popcorn anyway, smells like gunpowder, sounds like popcorn. The warbling is much louder now, almost loud enough to put the whine to shame.

Tony exhales, and watches the the little cloud of condensation drift away. Huh, must be cold.

“Maybe a nap or something, that's be nice.” He tries to snuggle the brick wall without success.

He leans over to adjust his pack, and notices he hasn't got one. Looking around, and shifting his weight, he faces the sun again. Disappointed, he slumps back against the wall again.

“Now where the hell did my other arm get to?”

Upstate New York, on the field of battle, the scenic green hills blasted and charred. Here runs a thick little man, pellmell – here and there, scrambling over the fallen bricks of some small little village of, hamlet of, or town of something or other that doesn't even matter anymore. The place looks like a fairly standard definition of hell for the better part of the last three or four centuries. Thump. He stops to straighten his footing at the top of a rise and scans the valley before him. A few kilometers across the way, little clouds of dust rise lazily up past the far side of the far rise, backlit by the clouds over the Quebecois side of the front.. their huge blinding lights still visible all the way from here. Right where he knows he needs to go. Jesse stops and unbuckles the chinstrap, showing a clean line across his dirty face. He pants. “Come on, little Jess... lets just find Tony and get the hell out of here”, He takes a deep breath, holds it a second to catch up with all this sudden exercise and yells,


There is a small cluster of broken buildings, like shattered beasts or whales, strewn about the valley. Jesse starts down the rubble, slipping, losing his helmet... sliding a good 20 yards down the hillside, he shakes loose a small landslide of pebbles in his wake, but manages to keep upright well enough to stop on his knees.

“Tony!” he pauses for a second to listen, and cups his hand to his mouth. “Tooooonnnnyyyy!”

Running out into the valley, he sticks to clumps of burned trees and the remnants of homes. Not exactly cautious, but keeping moving as fast as he can. “Tony!”

When he reaches the streambed, clogged and mushy with ash, he stops for a second and looks up and down for some way to cross. A half broken building on the far side seems like likely enough cover for a while. He picks up a good size rock and pitches across what must be the center of the grey stretch. The dust parts with a “Bloop”, and ripples cascade out. About 20 meters wide at least, Jesse pauses and rubs his chin, unslings his pack , drops his rifle, his sidearm, and medkit. Turning back to the water, he pauses, and reattaches the medkit to his belt next to his knife and all-driver, and sticks the tip of his boot in the water.

Lights blaze up to his left. A Quebequios cruiser sits on the bank not five meters from him. Four soldiers smile, one even laughs a little while pulling back the armature on the One Twenty Seven mounted on top. “Où allez-vous?”

Jesse turns to face them and holds up his hands. “uhh..”, looking up to the sky and waving his hand a little... Jay may ronds.” The gunman purses his lips and takes a drag on his cigarette, pointing the gun skyward and leaning on it, the others look at each other. Pointing his hand at Jesse, he looks relieved.. “Ahh. 'Je me rends'”

Jesse puts his hands down. “Wow! That was easy, I accept. Lay down your arms” putting one hand on on his hips and pointing to the ground in front of the vehicle.

“Non! Idiot!”, and swings the gun back to Jesse's direction.

Jesse thinks better of his luck, and quickly jumps to the right, “Ha.. ha?” landing nearly ankle deep in the water with a small splash. One of the soldiers picks up the microphone for the jeep and says over the loudspeaker. “Le doown on ze grownd so we may kill you quiet-lee”. Jesse starts crouching, and then runs hell-bent for leather for the middle of the shallow stream and the crumbled building on the other side. The gunner starts firing while the driver brings the vehicle around, but isn't able to track quick enough to keep up with Jesse's flight. The larger rocks in the shallow water throw the vehicle around quite a lot, and the bullet spray is next to random, pinging off rocks, wood, buildings and the water all around the figure making his way into the morass of bricks and char. Not stopping for a full twenty minutes, Jesse pauses near a wall closer to the top of the ridge to catch his breath, take a leak, and listen for his pursuers. “I...” he feels around for his water bottle, now obviously laying back on the bank behind him, and sags. “Jesse, you gunge, I am not nearly drunk enough for this.”

Thump. Thump. Thump-thump. More little clouds rising up in the western sky.

Just over the rise and into the next flattened valley, Jesse spots Speed-Crete enemy emplacement sillouetted against the raging lights of Niagara, and starts using a little more stealth heading along the valley floor. As he nears it, he notices the entire front has been blown out, like some kind of party favor. On the ground, nearby, he sees a United Services helmet. Picking it up, and rolling it over in his hands, he pulls back the tab inside and sees a name. “Anthony C. McGarney”

“Holy hell!”, Jesse slips the helmet on, adjusts the strap, and turns on the L.E.D to light the ground. He can smell Tony's sweat now. “Where are ya buddy!?!” looking in and around the turret, Jesse finds a slight trail of blood leading off along the ridge. Slowly picking through the rubble, he makes his way back down into the valley and far off the north.

As Jesse's feet tire, and starts having a hard time focusing his eyes anymore, a cold cowardly sun decides to finally peek out between the slim clear sky between the horizon and the low hanging clouds. The harsh angled light immediately brightens the ground, and Jesse starts making better progress following the splatters of blood. “Holy, crap Tony, how much are you bleeding.?”, as he begins to see the scuffling trail in the dust leading to a low wall up ahead. “TONY!” Thump-tha-thump.

Jesse runs past the ripped-open bandage wrapper (eco friendly!), “Tony!”, past the belt gear, past the leg armor, past the spool of duct-wire. “Tony!”, around the corner, and runs flat out at the body leaning stretched out from the short, blasted, brick wall. “Tony!!”. Jesse slides in kneeling next to him. Thump.

“Hey, buddy,” grabbing his head and lightly smacking him, “Hey, talk to me buddy. Tony, it's me. Jesse.”

“Oh,” opening his eyes a little, “Hey, man. How's it goin?”

Jesse's face breaks out in a big grin. “Oh, you little bastard, you had me worried there for a minnit!” Thump, the ground rumbles. Jesse pulls open Tony's medkit, and finds most of the contents melted together in a lump.

“Jesse, I don't want to do this any more. And my head hurts, really bad. ”

“You and me both, brother... hey, hey, hey.. keep those eyes open.” Jesse gives Tony a few light smacks till he opens his eyes, and then pulls his own kit off to see what he might have. See? You see that smiling face? Jesse holds up Mr. Smiles™ and pulls off the needle, “Mr. Smiles is gonna make you feel like a million bucks, ok? We're just gonna go right in neck here, cause that's the only one I never screw up”. Jesse sticks Tony in the carotid, Tony smiles, and his rigid features relax.

“Yah? You like that one don't ya. Lets see what else I remember”. Tony starts looking over Tony's body, the leg wound, no longer bleeding, and finds a water bottle clipped to his side. Taking a sip, he then holds it up for Tony to take a long drink while checking him with his other hand. Squish.

“Hey Tony”

“hmm?”, looking over.

“Where's your arm?”

“Hmm umm,” Tony shrugs blissfully.

Jesse pulls out a blood-stop pad, tears it with his teeth, and puts the pad over the stump. Tony takes the bottle, and Jesse finishes bandaging his shoulder. Thump. Little fragments on the wall dance.

“You'll be just fine.”

Tony puts the bottle down, and sighs contentedly. “You know what I want?”

“Besides another Smiles?”

“Heh. Yeah. No, I want to be a janitor.”

“They'd never take you”

“Not Janitorial Corps, I mean a … “ pausing for effect “janitor.”

“What, you mean mops and bucket and light maintenance?”

“Exactly my fine friend.”

Double checking behind Tony's head, Jesse is visibly relieved that he's got Tony at least mostly patched up. He pulls open Tony's armor and pulls out the heavy metal slug. He runs his hand over the ribcage, and abdomen checking for open wounds. Thump-thump... some light pitterpatter of small debris came raining over the ridge.

“You sir, are one lucky bastard.” Turning to the side, he holds the slug up to the light. “Something this big should have punch right on through. I think I believe you next time you tell me to wear the Protexum™ shirts under all that armor.”

He tosses the slug aside and faces his wounded, yet living, buddy and pulls his registrant tags through the vest and snaps the red one marked “Evax™”.

“Well, if this doesn't get you put on that kind of light duty, I don't know what will.”

Standing, hands on his hips Jesse admires his patch job. Stable buddy, awaiting evac, and at least Tony will get to go home for a while. Or somewhere. And Jesse might at least get a little bonus pay from the “Dash and Patch” 'cheivement. Maybe “Grace under fire?”

“Hey, Tony.”

“whu?” sipping his water and smiling up at Tony.

“Is 'Grace under fire' the combat medic 'chievement'?”

“No, thaz for, um, whatchama... holding your ground under overwhelming odds or somesuch.”

“Combat Medic is 'Rescue 911.'”

“Isn't that for evac?”

“You snapped my tags”

“No, THEY get the 'cheivement for evacs, not me”


They stared at each other.

“What were we talking about?”, Tony grinned. “Man, whatz in that shtuff?”

“Nice things.” He smiled.

“Whatever, I should get a couple hundred for the patch job.”


“What are you gonna do with the money?”

“Get the hell out of the Servi...”


He didn't really hear it. Poetically, the world should have swam to blackness, but instead it was like the ground just coming up to meet you from behind, a thousand degrees of flaming angry wall. His brain, given the circumstances, just turned off like a switch. He was still out cold when the Handymen picked him up. He would have laughed had he seen a couple-hundred year old antique Huey belching soybean oil smoke come up over the hill. The welded-on 200s nearly sawing the Quebecois cruiser in half, picked up the boys, and flying off as quick as they came.


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