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The means and the End

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  • The means and the End

    Arrhus fell on the side of the road, his whole body aching. He crawled under a bush and tore off the last remaining pieces of his uniform. The mob had nearly killed him when they had seen the four stars on his shoulder. He had been a general in the army of the greatest power on earth, Babylon. But there was no more army: there was no more Babylon.
    He could see the fires raging through the city and the surrounding fields. Small groups of people roamed the once fertile valley like packs of wolves, attacking smaller groups and steering away from larger ones. And he knew that the same was happening all over the empire. All over the world in fact, as he had been told just the day before, when Babylon remained the only island of sanity in a world gone mad.
    He remembered that there was a small river at the bottom of the hill, to the east. That’s as far as his weakened body would take him but he needed water.
    He crawled at first, but got on his feet and could almost manage to run when he felt confident that the dense woods and thick underbrush would stealth his approach. Coming up to the riverbank he didn’t see anyone. As he fell to his knees and immersed his head in the water, he did not hear the man sneaking behind him. As soon as he came back up he felt a warm sensation on the front of his neck as the knife sliced his throat. He tried to turn to face his nemesis but fell backward in the river. His body had just given up.
    He never saw the face of his killer; he could only see shapes and shadows. And he felt at peace there, finally, the river taking him downstream, away from Babylon. As he started to drift away, he dreamed of a time filled with happiness. Just a month ago.. a life away.


    It was Arrhus’ first time in the Palace, his first appearance at the Grand Council of Babylon. The room where the Council gathered was relatively small, in the middle of this gigantic palace. He stood at the end of the large white marble slab that formed the top of the table. He had never seen marble so pure, marked only by a few dark green veins. And in the middle of it was the famous “Eye of the Emperor”.
    " A strange rock formation, that's all it is." he thought. But he could clearly see an eye shape, formed by a large vein of dark grey marble against the white of the slab, that seemed to separate in two smaller veins and then came back together to form a single vein about half an arms length further. But what made this so beautiful was the blue sapphire that was embedded between the two veins, a perfect iris to this eye.
    Nabak, the emperor, was standing at his side.
    “I heard a lot of good things about you, general Arrhus” Nabak said, “that tactic that you used against the red team was very innovative I’ve been told”
    “To be honest, Your Majesty, I stole that from Hannibal. I was just lucky the Captain of the reds had not read he same books I have.”
    The Emperor smiled. All around them, the other generals, admirals and various councillors to the throne were talking among themselves, acting as though they weren’t watching their leader and his newest General. Arrhus knew better. Politics was as much a part of the military career as discipline and patience. He would not be there if he did not possess all of those.
    Nabak came closer and spoke in a soft voice.
    “ You had the wit to learn from your lectures and to apply what you had learned to modern combat general, just like you have the good sense not to let yourself be impressed by this rock” he said, pointing to the “Eye”. “Thousands of people still think that I can see the future in it.”
    The emperor started to walk away from him, raising his voice so that every one present in the room would hear him.
    “That’s why you are here. You have proven, you have all proven that you can think on your feet, that you can adapt quickly to new situations. Babylon will need these abilities in the near future” The emperor turned to the crowd.
    “Come forward, let’s begin this Grand Council!”

    Everyone sat at the place that had been assigned to him by the person responsible for the ceremonial. The Grand Council was as much a tradition as the instrument by which the emperor decided the future of the empire. The ceremonial prescribed the order in which the councillors would present their State of the Empire report, and so they began.
    The councillors delivered their reports, all of them stating the wealth and the power of the mighty empire. It simply had no equal on the face of this earth. The trades with the other civilisations, the scientific level that they had attained, their commercial weight and the size of their population and territory was unequalled.
    And all that had been gained without waging a single war in the last 1600 years. Few Babylonians knew or would have believed that their ancestors had crushed the young Roman and French civilisations centuries ago. Most would have doubted even a scholar if he had told such a tale.
    As far as they knew, their grandeur came from their commercial abilities. And they liked it that way.
    And so their army, although it was certainly the best equipped and most powerful ever, was reduced to waging imaginary wars, the Blue team against the Red, constantly training to defend a country that no one would dream of attacking. And that was what they considered their greatest achievement.
    All those present more or less already knew what each councillor would say: they had heard the same reports all their lives. And so had their predecessors for hundreds of years as far as they knew.

    When the last man to speak, the science councillor, had delivered his share of good news, the emperor stood and kissed him on the forehead, as the ceremonial prescribed.
    “Babylon thanks you all”.
    He then made a sign and three clerks that had been standing along the far wall of the room approached, their arms filled with maps that they laid upon the table.
    “ As the science councillor told us, we now have found use for that black material he calls coal and our engineers have already started laying down those “rails”. It will let us increase productivity in our mines and travel faster than we ever have, from one end of the empire to the other.”
    The clerks had laid down the maps, three identical copies, so that everyone could see them.
    “ Now, we all know that our civilisation has no equal on this earth. On our continent remain the Chinese, the English, the Indians and the Aztecs in addition to us” the emperor said while pointing at each of the tiny pockets of non-Babylonian space on the continent. None of these foreign powers had more than three cities.
    “On the other side of the earth, the Iroquois and the Americans are still engaged in a battle to the finish for their small island. They have not known peace in my lifetime and I doubt they will anytime soon.”
    Nabak gestured to his visitors to sit down as he started pacing the room.
    “One day, Babylon will rule this earth. We have already proven that our way of life could bring happiness to all our citizens and every other country on this continent has seen at least one city overthrow their government to join our civilisation.”
    The emperor walked to a large window overlooking the palace’s gardens.
    “I know… I think we all know that it is only a matter of time until we rule the whole continent and, indeed, the earth.”
    Nabak turned back to face the grand Council. And in that instant, Arrhus knew what the emperor was going to say.

    “I have decided not to wait.”

    *****end of part one****
    Last edited by Richelieu; June 23, 2003, 10:16.

  • #2

    Absolutely brilliant writing! Is this a game you actually played? Is this a scheme you actually attempted, and, as the beginning suggests, failed at?

    I love that last line. It comes out of the blue like a nuclear warhead, shattering the peace of mind you put so much effort at inducing into your reader. "I've decided not to wait."

    Richlieu, I am not exaggerating when I say this: there are few passages, published or otherwise, that I have read, that are as moving as this. You should really consider making a career out of writing.

    Well, back to my play-by-play game as the Iroqois. Another hour of civ3 and Microsoft Notepad.
    To those who understand,
    I extend my hand.
    To the doubtful I demand,
    Take me as I am.


    • #3
      Thanks for your very kind comments!

      Now there's no way i can leave this story without an ending... I'll try and post it sometime tomorrow. As for your questions, i'll give you an answer when i post the ending. I think you'll understand why.


      • #4

        Tomorrow, next week : it's all the same right ?


        • #5
          I enjoyed part 1 - get a move on with the sequel, will ya? Just kiddin'

          Anyway, I just wanted to throw a post in there because most people just read it, like it, and never say so.

          grog want tank...Grog Want Tank... GROG WANT TANK!

          The trick isn't to break some eggs to make an omelette, it's convincing the eggs to break themselves in order to aspire to omelettehood.


          • #6
            I am very impressed. Very well written.

            Too bad we don't have the contest anymore.

            Also, I am noticing that the forum is picking up a bit. Things had been quiet here for awhile. I am glad to see people posting stories again.

            Keep it up, and I look forward to the next installment.
            'Ice cream makes computers work better! Just spoon it in..."


            • #7
              Grundel - Doesn't Anatolia's January 17th post ("Rebirth") mean that there is still a contest?

              Oh, and when are you going to write a new story? Yours are usually really good.

              grog want tank...Grog Want Tank... GROG WANT TANK!

              The trick isn't to break some eggs to make an omelette, it's convincing the eggs to break themselves in order to aspire to omelettehood.


              • #8
                Grundel thinks he should read the posts more often.

                YOu are right. My bad

                I am just happy to see that people are writing more stories.

                MY only problem is that I got some ptretty cool games for Christmas...I have not been playing any Civ III Any story I do now would be purely game to base it on.

                Which gives me an idea...

                (Grundel scurries off to post another topic...)
                'Ice cream makes computers work better! Just spoon it in..."


                • #9
                  Grand Council

                  The Grand Council was silent.
                  “I believe that in the long run, the events will show that invading is the right thing to do.”
                  Nabak was pacing the room and talking at the same time, apparently oblivious to the sombre atmosphere that had filled the room. The councillors, generals and admirals either stared at their leader in disbelief or shot wondering glances at their colleagues.
                  War? A Babylonian war? And what for: there were no enemies. There were only clients and suppliers…
                  But Nabak continued.
                  “Why make them wait? I say it is cruelty to deprive them all of the benefits they will get from being subjects of the empire...”
                  A voice interrupted the emperor.
                  “They will get those benefits soon enough Nabak. And they will not have to suffer a war in order to do so.”
                  The man who had spoken got up. Aldar was a thin, white haired man, with a soft voice. He was also the Commander in Chief of the armies.
                  As Nabak, startled by the old man’s interruption, started to reply, a messenger ran up to him with a piece of paper. The emperor took it from his hands and started to read it, while Aldar continued.
                  “We should not go to war to save time,” he said. “ Many lives will be lost over this. Our youth will pay the price for this folly…”
                  “I HAVE SPOKEN!”
                  Aldar was visibly startled by the emperor’s shout and he nearly fell back on his chair.
                  The emperor looked up from the message he had been reading. His face showed determination and even anger at the old man.
                  “ I value your opinion Aldar.” he looked around the room. “Indeed, I value all of your opinions. But the decision is mine to make and I have made it.”
                  The emperor came up to the old man who was still trembling with surprise.
                  “I know that we already have plans laid out for this: use them! I want the attack to start as soon as possible.” he said.
                  Arrhus was amazed at the strength that he saw in the emperor’s eyes. He felt a surge of pride overwhelm him. Looking around, he could see that the mood in the room had shifted: almost everyone looked like they were thinking the same way he did. With their superiority in both numbers and technology the result of this war was certain. The Babylonian empire would rule because it was destined to do so: because it was willing to make the hard choices. He could see it all now: when you can accomplish something with glory, you should not wait for it to come to you without it.
                  As the Grand Council came to an end, he walked up to the emperor, to pledge his support for the decision that had been made. He could see that he was not alone as almost every general was approaching Nabak.
                  As he waited in line to talk to the emperor, he noticed that the messenger that had entered the room earlier was still there, holding a piece of paper and staring wildly at the emperor.
                  Arrhus could tell the young man was in shock.
                  ”You have just witnessed history, young man. People will be talking about this day for centuries to come.” he told him. The messenger looked at him, still dazed, and finally spoke.
                  “I gotta tell this to my brother!”
                  And then he turned to leave the room. But Arrhus grabbed his arm and stopped him
                  “Not so fast my friend”. He started…
                  “It’s O.K. Arrhus: let him go.”
                  Nabak was standing beside him, smiling. The messenger bowed and quickly left the room.
                  “But he will tell…”
                  “He can tell whoever he wants…” the emperor interrupted.
                  He put his arm on Arrhus’ shoulder.
                  “I want him to tell everyone. I want our people to be prepared for this. And I want our enemies to know we’re coming.”

                  As Arrhus walked out the building he saw Aldar, standing alone on the steps in front of the palace. He stopped near his old mentor: a man who was still stuck in the past, Arrhus now thought. He had been a general who had never fought a battle in his life and who was now close to his death. You could not expect him not change his ways.
                  The old man finally noticed him.
                  “ So, Arrhus, you will get to fight after all…” he faced Arrhus.
                  “ You are eager to do it, I can tell. Well you should not be!”
                  As Arrhus started to walk away Aldar grabbed his arm with enough strength to get him to stop.
                  “ Have you seen his eyes? He is mad, I tell you! MAD!”
                  The young general pushed the old man back and walked away. He had orders to give.


                  • #10
                    Does anybody else feel that when it comes down to writing, there's no place


                    • #11
                      I could not agree with you more
                      'Ice cream makes computers work better! Just spoon it in..."


                      • #12
                        Good stuff....I am enjoying reading this
                        I need Scooby Snacks.


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Richelieu
                          Does anybody else feel that when it comes down to writing, there's no place
                          man, your're right!
                          At least we discovered why we are 10 hours in front of a pc!!! (reading and writing)
                          googol... this is a number!
                          "Silence Ming. I will let you know when I feel you are needed." - HappySunShine
                          "Classic Eyes...But in reality, it works the other way around." - Ming


                          • #14

                            If you look at the first post, i said i wasn't sure how to start that one : well i was back to the same point. Just having a hard time determining how to deliver the punchline.
                            I had started at least three endings, only to throw them out, but i now think i'm on the right track.

                            And by the way : i'm not posting any other unfinished stories. Just makes me feel like a tease.


                            • #15
                              Battle Cries

                              The earth trembled under the hooves of the hundreds of horses as they galloped on to the battlefield. This was the third and last assault on this day. Arrhus knew that he had to overrun the Chinese defences this time or he would have to wait until the next morning.
                              This was the third week of the campaign and things were not going as he had planned. He had anticipated some resistance - after all this was a war of invasion - but this…
                              He stood on a hill overlooking the battle, amazed once again at the spectacle being played before his eyes. A Chinese woman, holding a red blanket, threw herself at the first horse to reach the defensive lines, trying to blind him or scare him, Arrhus could not tell which, but the horse just tried to step over her and went down, probably crushing the woman under his weight. And then – although Arrhus had now seen this a hundred times he still could not believe it – at least 15 children came out of one of the trenches, ran to the grenadier and… butchered the man with small knives, rocks and sticks. The man tried to get up and run, he even took out his pistol but these were children: he hesitated. The next second he was lying face down on the grass, a girl that must have been about ten years old had stuck her knife in his back, probably striking his spinal chord. Arrhus had seen that happen at least twice in the first assault of the day and he now knew that his fears were justified: they were training their children.
                              And the same scenario was playing out all over the field. Women and children were throwing themselves at his cavalry, basically committing suicide, and effectively stopping his charges. Children were scavenging the battlefield – while the battle was raging – and bringing back the weapons they found to their fathers, brothers and grandfathers entrenched behind the lines. The few who had them concentrated their fire on his officers, trying to cut off his army’s head. And they had done great damages in the first two days. As for the rest of them, Swordsmen, Pikemen and Spearmen, they fought like he had never seen any men fight. It was like they had reverted back to a stage of savagery that he had never witnessed, or even imagined. The Chinese were taking massive casualties amongst their women and their young now, but still they were coming. And once again he signalled the end of the assault.
                              Another day lost. And he had lost an entire detachment of riflemen on the far end of the field. They had been bombarded by 3 trebuchets throwing huge rocks at them and fell in an ambush when they tried to retreat through the marshes to the east. The Chinese had poured oil into the marshes and set it on fire once the troops had been in the middle of it.
                              He knew he would remember these screams for a long time.
                              He went back under his tent and had a look at the messages he had finally received while waiting for his officers to join him. Even the mail was slow: this was the first news he had gotten in over a week.
                              And there were no good news.
                              The message from the ministry of war stated that General Pacek and Karg were encountering the same type of resistance in their campaigns against the English and the Indians. For the ministry to admit that, it meant that things were probably a lot worse. He was confirmed in his opinion by a personal message from Karg.
                              His old friend from East Isthmus was visibly discouraged. Just as Arrhus himself, he wasn’t making any progress in his campaign after his initial successes.
                              “I covered two hundred miles in the first four days of war and just 15 miles since. I’ve been stuck in front of Cambridge for two weeks now. Y’know what I saw today? A woman threw her baby at one of my brigadiers. HER F…. BABY! WHAT ARE THESE PEOPLE?”
                              He was also experiencing the same supply problems that Arrhus had.
                              “ They burn everything right before we get there. The worst part is: I can see their fields from the top of the hill where we are and you should see their crops. They really know how to farm my friend. But as soon as we get close to overrunning their units, BAM! It all goes up in smoke!”
                              “And I haven’t received grub or ammo’s in three days: I have to tell my riflemen to keep their shooting to a minimum! I’m telling you Big R, if this keeps up, I’m going to have to call for a retreat…”
                              Arrhus managed a smile. He hadn’t been called “Big R” in ages. He picked up another message, this one from his brother who lived in Rome. Arrhus had passed through the city while he was en route to the Chinese front but he was in a hurry and did not have time to stop. Rome was fairly close to the Chinese border so he was pretty much certain that the news was as fresh as any he was going to get.
                              And the news was not good.
                              “Nobody likes this war, Arrhus. Even I don’t know why you would have to risk your life for this. I’ve heard people here talking about “Roman bloodlines” and heritage! I’m not even sure what that means… but there’s something big happening. Marcus, my butcher, says he didn’t receive any meat today, and then he started rambling about how the Central cities were keeping the food for themselves. I just don’t know how it could come to this Arrhus. I feel we’re going to need the troops back home soon: can you imagine that?”

                              As soon as his officers rejoined him, he told them that he had been recalled to the capital. He left his senior officer in command with orders to hold his position and requested the fastest horse. As he was leaving the encampment some of his men flashed him a look that he‘d never seen: they did not believe him. They thought he was fleeing. And he wasn’t certain they were wrong.

                              It was good to ride, to get away from it all. Alone on the road, he had time to think. He tried to analyze every piece of information that he had and things just did not add up. This was an unpopular war: he could understand that. But there were other things that did not fit in: the savagery and despair with which their adversaries were fighting, the very deep resentment of his own people for this war. After all, who had ever heard of a country refusing to support its troops in an all out war that it was certain to win.

                              Coming up to the border he expected to find the sentinels he had left there three weeks earlier and in a way he was not disappointed. The corpses of the 11 men were scattered around the burned remains of the outpost. As far as he could tell, they had been tortured and burned. He did not take the time to make sure. He had to get to Rome. Another half a day and he would be there.
                              He saw the smoke and the reddish colour reflected on the low clouds before he got to the seventh hill. And he knew Rome was burning.

                              The rest of the trip was a nightmare, every new day worse than the one before. He could not enter Rome to see if his brother was all right. The ancient gates had been closed and sealed from the inside. And someone had started to shoot at him from one of the buildings. So he pushed on towards Babylon. He wasn’t even sure why anymore. Everywhere he looked there was chaos, long lines of refugees heading towards the capital with all their belongings in chariots that they pushed themselves. One group even attacked him: they wanted to eat his horse. And even with his rifle and the authority his uniform still carried he barely escaped. Three more days and he reached the city.

                              When he arrived, he thought that Babylon was quiet compared to the rest of the empire. He felt that he could make a new start from there: with the imperial guard under his command, surely he could restore peace to the empire. He got to the He rushed towards the palace, not even noticing the absolute silence in the streets. He needed to see the emperor.
                              Only when he entered the immense gathering place before the imperial palace was the silence broken. Thousands of people were there, talking, very agitated but not yet to the degree he had seen everywhere else in the empire. As he slowly made his way towards the palace people at first only stared at him. But as he got closer to the stairs, the questions and the shouting began.
                              “Hey warrior, kill any children today?
                              “I’ll bet he’s eaten this morning! I’ll bet he’s not starving!”
                              As he got to the first steps he turned to the crowd. They were everywhere, surrounding the palace: there was no place where he could leave his horse and be certain that it would still be there when he returned. He just left it there. He was in such a hurry to get an audience with Nabak that he did not notice that there were no guards at the palace’s doors. As he entered, a crowd of people was running down the large stairs leading to the Grand Council chamber, shouting. Instinctively, he crouched behind a statue and watched them pass before him. The first one seemed strangely familiar and then he realized it was just the expression on the man’s face that he recognized. That Chinese woman. The one that had jumped under the horse: she had that same look in her eyes.
                              Arrhus ran up the stairs and entered the Grand Council chamber. A young man was standing at the far end of the table. He was staring at the large white slab of marble, now covered with streaks of red. Nabak was lying on his back in the middle of the table, a knife sticking out of his chest, his eyes wide open and fixed into nothingness. Embedded in the middle of his forehead was a blue sapphire. The “Eye of the Emperor”.
                              Arrhus could not move, he realized that everything was lost.
                              “We received a message from Washington: the Americans declared war on us. The Iroquois nation also declared war. But that was three weeks ago: our latest reports indicate that both nations are now n the middle of a civil war…”
                              Arrhus was startled by the voice. He now recognized the young man: it was the messenger he had seen at the last Grand Council. The poor kid was holding on to the only thing that still made sense to him: his job.
                              And still the messenger talked, reading message after message.
                              “ The sixth and eleventh armies report that as of four days ago half of their soldiers had deserted. Paris is rioting, as is every other city in the eastern province…”
                              As Arrhus turned away from him and started to walk out of the room, the messenger called:
                              Arrhus turned.
                              “You are Arrhus” the man said “One of the generals…”
                              Arrhus turned away without answering. He was no general. He was only a man now. As he got to the bottom of the stairs and turned to exit the palace by a side door, the messenger appeared at the top of the stairs.
                              “HERE!!! THERE’S ANOTHER ONE HERE!!!”
                              Arrhus turned to look at him. At the same time the crowd that had exited the palace before rushed back in when they heard the messenger’s voice. He was pointing to Arrhus.
                              “LOOK!!! HE’S A GENERAL!!! LOOK AT THE STARS ON HIS UNIFORM!!!
                              The mob turned to him and started to approach slowly. Arrhus turned to run but there was another crowd on this side too.
                              That was all they needed. They ran to him and started beating him with clubs and sticks until he finally managed to take out his Colt 45. Those in front saw it and tried to get out of the way, causing an opening to form in the middle of the crowd. He fired twice towards it and the opening became a hole. Arrhus ran through it as he was getting hit from the sides and jumped through an open window. He fell about fifteen feet in the middle of a small group of people and knew he’d fractured some ribs there. Again he received blows to the head and to the side, which stopped after he pointed his gun towards the group. This was the back of the palace and relatively few people were here. Arrhus knew it wouldn’t last. They would come for him. He ran to the palace’s gardens and hid there for the remainder of the day, in the middle of a bush at the centre of an artificial pound. As the night fell, he sneaked out of the city and started to walk towards the hills to the east of Babylon. As he came on top of the first hill Arrhus fell on the side of the road, his whole body aching. He crawled under a bush and tore off the last remaining pieces of his uniform. The mob had nearly killed him when they had seen the four stars on his shoulder.
                              Last edited by Richelieu; February 26, 2002, 19:34.