THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 738, September 22, 2013
Please Return Our Tomorrows
Two Chapters From General Jenny
Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise
The "Field of Valor", as Jenny's father insisted on calling it, consisted of about two acres of steeply-sloped, thickly-wooded, undeveloped land that belonged to the family of Cao Phuong Ahn. Her parents, Vietnamese immigrants in the 1980s, had invested in real estate at the bottom of the market, and by all reports, had done very well.
This particular parcel may have been the exception. One boundary was in dispute, and the zoning board wouldn't act on a request Ahn's family had made until the dispute was resolved. Even so, there didn't seem to be much practical use for the property, except, perhaps, as a battlefield.
Jenny had frankly been surprised when Cao Phuong Ahn's folks had agreed to let them use it for "The Big Game". Then again, they'd lived through a real war, a long, tough, murderous war, and probably didn't see much harm in toy guns and toy bullets—unlike some of her fellow students and their "progressive" parents who were giving her a hard time.
She'd even received half a dozen nasty phone calls.
The day was sunny and warm for this time of year. It would be somewhat cooler in the shade of the trees. Sufficient exercise woulkd keep them arm, Jenny decided. It was also relatively calm, although the air here at the foot of the Rockies was never still. The trees were almost all of the same size, their closely-set trunks four to five inches in diameter, a sign that a fire had cleared this hillside a number of years ago. They were mostly pine trees, with an occasional copse of white aspen, their leaves shimmering like tinfoil in the breeze.
The air smelled intoxicatingly of evergreen and sagebrush, warming in the sun, but you had to keep a lookout for the prickly pear clumps growing in the sandy soil, that sometimes almost seemed to leap out, as a cruel joke, for a victim's unsuspecting heel. Bees and big yellow horseflies buzzed past one's head as grasshoppers snapped from bush to bush.
A meadowlark sang and it was answered by a black-capped chickadee. Overhead, a raptor of some kind scanned the ground for rabbits or prairie dogs, its wings stiffened as it rode the thermals, tilting a little this way and that to adjust for the mild turbulence. Somehow it looked to Jenny like the little planes the Air Academy used to tow gliders.
A surprising number of spectators had shown up, although no effort had been made to publicize the event. Almost every team member's folks were here this morning, including her own, also various boyfriends and girlfriends. Sergeant Hathaway had come in full dress uniform; Craig had long since told Jenny of his conversation with the man about her. And there was also a couple of TV trucks, one from Denver and one from Pueblo, and an oldtime reporter from the Gazette-Telegraph, with a photographer.
And, naturally, there was Ivory, for the school paper, already clicking away, with Jenny's poor brother in tow, lugging her spare equipment.
The property, roughly trapezoidal in shape and somewhat wider at the bottom than the top, had been marked off with cheerful yellow crime scene tape generously donated by the local police department, where Emily Sorenson's mother was the Chief. A couple of her uniformed minions were in attendance with her, mostly to make sure innocent hikers didn't accidentally wander into the free-fire zone and wind up with a faceful of paint. The local firehouse had sent an ambulance and a couple of paramedics, but even they were primarily in a game-day mood.
The basic idea, hammered out days earlier by Jenny and Kip, with Mr. Goldfarb looking on, was that, at the referee's signal, both teams of eight young warriors would enter halfway up the slope, at opposite sides of the property, north and south. With as few rules governing them as possible, they would cross the area, making contact singly or in groups, and exchange "fire" until the last unpainted individual was standing.
At Jenny's suggestion—and with Kip's enthusiastic agreement— the combatants had chosen as the day's referee, Brother Aluminium Foyle, of the Cheyenne Mountain Our Lady of Chaos Shrine and Grill, a popular spot for area high-schoolers, where Brother Foyle held forth in a manner somewhat reminiscent of a combination of George Carlin and Gallagher.
Brother Foyle, who also hosted a Saturday morning show on local cable television, ostensibly intended for small children, but filled with inside jokes, double-entendres, and references to popular culture for his teenage audience, began the festivities—rather ambiguously, under the circumstances—with the benediction, "Confusion to the enemy!"
As longtime, faithful congregation members at his burger palace, malt shop, and Erisian shrine, the combatants knew to answer, "Hail Eris!"
Brother Foyle responded, "Hail, yes!"
Both teams gathered around him. As if seeing them for the first time, Jenny realized that the seven teammates Kip had chosen seemed to be twice the size of her own biggest fighter, Emily Sorenson. Although she realized that this wasn't a game of size or strength, and that victory would belong to the best tacticians and the sharpest shooters, it was still a very daunting sight. She tried hard not to gulp visibly.
All in all, both teams were a formidable-looking lot in their baggy camouflage battledress, safety masks and goggles, and light body armor. A local paintball and archery shop owner who ran an indoor combat facility where they'd practiced, had loaned them weapons and equipment, provided he was listed as the event's sponsor. The boys wore their football jerseys over their armor, adorned with their accustomed numbers. Jenny's mother had helped her make up little tabards, more like bibs, with the girls' initials on them, front and back.
All except Jenny, whose teammates insisted she wear ST, for Sun Tzu.
The boys had equipped themselves with the latest and supposedly best guns the shop rented, with reservoirs for paintballs the size of two-liter Coke bottles, and fancy electronic sighting systems. For her team, Jenny had chosen the simplest, most reliable weapons. They could be reloaded easily in the dense cover of the woodlot, and the trees limited the likely ranges at which they would be shooting, making fancy sights irrelevant. Less is more: a post in front and a notch in back.
Dressed in his Sunday best (even though it was Saturday, Brother Foyle pointed out), he wore a dark, sharply-pressed, pin-striped "zoot suit" with authentically enormous shoulders, a watch chain so long that he tripped over it comically, and a floppy, fuzzy, wide-brimmed fedora.
He flipped a quarter-sized brass coin into the air. It had a Roman likeness of the goddess Discordia (otherwise known as Eris) on one side, and Eris's mythological trademark, a golden apple, on the other. Tokens like it were used in the many game machines at Our Lady of Chaos. Kip called out "Heads!" but the disk landed on the green grass apple-up.
This meant that Jenny's team would walk from where they all were gathered by the roadside on the north end of the property to the south end. The theory was that this "preconnoitering" of the battlefield constituted an advantage, which was why the coin had had to be flipped. The reality was that over the last few days, both teams had explored the ground thoroughly, developing tactics they would use today.
Jenny's team gathered and, at her nod, began sifting into the trees. When they reached the other side, and were ready, she would blow a whistle. When the other team whistled back, they would re-enter the game area and the fight would commence. Brother Foyle planned to head for the center. Penalties had been established for shooting the referee.
Pepper, the squad's captain, would be in tactical command. Her job was to execute the strategy she and Jenny had sat up two nights in a row, working out. As they talked, a mutual respect had begun to grow between them. Pepper was extremely bright and had qualified to start the pre-law program at a famous private college in Michigan. She was tired, she confessed to her new friend, of everyone thinking of her as Kip's "trophy girlfriend", and seriously anxious to reshape her reputation.
Once they were deep among the trees and out of sight of the road, they began swinging diagonally to the right, up the hillside, all except for Margaret Onofrio, who had turned out to be the fastest runner of the team. Jenny had given her the whistle, and she had continued south, toward the middle of the opposite side of the woodlot.
That was the beginning of the strategy. When her team, further up the hill at the top corner of the property, was prepared—they had synchronized their cell phones—Margaret would blow the whistle, giving the other team a false idea of their location, and then run as quickly as she could to join her own team. They would start into the game field, provided with the double advantages of higher ground and surprise.
"Walking across a steep slope," Jenny had explained, first to Pepper earlier in the week, then to the rest of the pep squad team last night, "has its effects. It's surprisingly tiring, having always to lift one leg higher than the other; the footwork can be tricky and dangerous."
Pepper said, "We'll tackle the slope diagonally, a bit easier, and at the beginning, when we're fresh." She had warmed to Jenny's plan immediately and clearly enjoyed sharing it with the other girls. "Then we'll attack the boys going straight downhill, which is also a lot easier."
"Thanks to gravity," said Jenny, "they'll have an unconscious tendency to trend downhill, the same way fleeing animals always run in circles, because one front foot always strides a bit longer than the other."
"No kidding," Shirley Miller mused. "I didn't know that."
Elodia said, "I did. Wolves count on it. They hunt in mated pairs. One pursues a deer or an elk as it runs in a circle, while its mate sits at the center, resting. Then the first wolf will come in for a breather while the other one chases their prey for a while. They keep swapping off, like a pair of tag-team wrestlers until eventually the animal they're chasing tires out and slows down, and it's dinner time!"
Everybody had laughed at the way Elodia's eyes had lit up as she told the tale. She spoke perfect, unaccented English and several other languages.
"So in effect," Jenny had concluded, "The boys will be in retreat before we ever see them—or they see us. They'll hit the south edge of the field without running into us, and be confused—until we attack!"
"If we strike fast, we'll have all the advantages," Pepper told them.
"And we're smaller targets!" said Margaret.
So now here they were, Pepper, or PLD, in the lead, the rest of the squad behind, and Jenny watching everybody's back. As they turned right, Margaret, or MLO, kept heading south. Jenny was aware of the ancient military adage that any battle plan, however well-conceived in theory, begins to fall apart within five seconds of its activation. The trick was for your plan to fall apart more slowly than the other fellow's.
Jenny had thought a lot about what Kip's plan was likely to be. He and his team were football players, She guessed—or hoped—that it would likely be extremely straightforward. Move to the south, slowly spreading out, until he encountered the girls' team. Outshoot them and win.
After all, they were only girls.
On the other hand, Kip would likely have been coached by their history teacher, who theoretically knew all about important battles, from those of Alexander against the Persians, to those of Hannibal against the Romans, to those of Wellington against the French, to those of Nimitz against the Japanese, to those of Giapp against the French.
On the third hand, Mr. Goldfarb, being the good "progressive" that he was, didn't really like teaching about war, famous battles, or the military, even though he was teaching in one of the most thoroughly military towns in the world. Mr. Goldfarb liked to teach about liberal legislation: child labor, minimum wage, the 40-hour week, workman's compensation. Maybe he'd prove more of a liability than an asset to Kip.
They just arrived at the chosen location when they heard Margaret blow her whistle. Whether the team was ready or not, the big game was on.
Not even breathing hard after her uphill dash, Margaret joined the others in only a few seconds. They gathered closely around Jenny and Pepper.
A chill crept up her spine as Jenny realized, if she'd been wildly wrong about Kip's tactical abilities, that they could all be easily "killed" at once, bunched up together like this. Best make the confab fast.
"Okay, then." Pepper whispered, nodding at her tactical advisor's advice. "Once we've spread out, we're not in any big hurry. We'll give them enough time to arrive at the south boundary, not find us where they expect us to be, and mill around in confusion for a while. Kip will have some trouble rounding them up again, and then he'll split his force, sending some of them uphill and some down downhill looking for us. Before he knows it, we'll have taken out at least half of his team."
A good plan, Jenny thought, a brilliantly simple plan, even if I do say so myself. And typical of the kind of plan that starts to fall apart five seconds after it's set in motion. She didn't say that out loud.
Instead, she told them, "We won't split up. We'll spread out a little, in pairs, south to north, and start downhill, on the lookout for stragglers and engaging them two-on-one. The danger will come when we find those that Kip manages to regroup. Everybody have their little whistles, now?" These were not of the athletic variety, like those that had been blown so far, but were so-called "rape whistles", handed out by the authorities at Zimmerman High, who had proclaimed them an adequate defense against assailants they would never have to confront, themselves.
Pepper said, "If you find the main body—and that will call for some judgment—use your little whistles. The rest of us will come running."
"I don't know if I can do this," Serenity whimpered just a little, despite the fact that she'd spent more hours training at the facility in town than any three of the other girls, combined. The facility had loaned them the equipment they were using now. Its name was emblazoned on their armor for any camera to pick up. To hear Serenity, Jenny thought, outfitted as she was in camouflage battledress and fiberglass gear, using that quavering little girl voice, was as ludicrous as it gets.
Again, Pepper looked to Jenny, who replied to Serenity, "You never know until you try, dear. That's the reason it's important. Clearer than anything else you do, conflict will show you what your soul looks like."
Brought up a rational materialist, Jenny didn't really believe in souls, she believed in character. In this case it amounted to the same thing.
"One of you should look back occasionally," Pepper reminded them. "And don't forget to look up. Prey and predator, human or otherwise, always seem to forget to look up. They could be in the trees." She had learned that from Jenny, who had known it almost since babyhood. "You ready?"
That last had been meant for Jenny, who intoned, in the lowest possible voice and most English accent she was capable of mustering, "En-gage".
They started down the hill.
The soil between the trees felt like a sponge, underfoot, made up of decaying pine needles and aspen leaves, with a liberal covering of fresher needles, brown as toast. In places where the fallen needles were dry and shiny, the ground was slippery, and it was easy to lose one's footing and wind up sitting on the forest floor, or even worse, sprawled forward awkwardly, weapon in hand, its big muzzle jammed with dirt.
Jenny would have greatly preferred Pepper as a partner. The head cheerleader had proven to be a prodigy at this sport, fast, agile, and with her kinaesthetic sense, a facility for un-aimed snap shooting Jenny admired. But they had agreed to spread the leadership out a little, with Pepper at the north end of the line and Jenny at the south.
Pepper had wisely chosen Margaret as a partner, Jenny had drawn the tall, slender platinum blonde Shirley Anne Miller, whom Jenny had taken at first sight as an air-head, not somebody who was struggling painfully, as it had turned out, to choose between a New York modeling contract she'd been offered, and a full scholarship at Princeton, in astrophysics. Either way, her life in the future would be full of stars.
Shirley's tabard read "SAM". Although most of the boys and girls at Zimmerman had been classmates since childhood, Shirley always felt a need to warn everyone on the first day of the school year not to call her "Sam". There were already nine of those among them—mostly Samanthas.
Jenny soon rediscovered an important fact about appreciating the Great Outdoors: nothing is ever level. After a while, walking downhill becomes a great deal more uncomfortable than walking up. She was aware that it seemed counter-intuitive, but when you were climbing, your feet tended to settle into the cups of your shoe heels, and, except for the exertion involved, it was pretty much like walking on the level.
Going downhill, your feet crowded themselves into the toes of your shoes, and every step—unless you wore high-tops of some kind, laced tightly—became more painful. Jenny was wearing comfortable old ACE All-Tracks, but as usual, hadn't bothered to tie them tight or lace the top hooks. She felt like a perfect idiot. Shirley, a couple of yards to her left,—her nape-length platinum hair looked like a silver helmet in the shadows—was wearing Reeboks and had laced them correctly.
She should have worn a hat, as well, to cover that hair.
There was certainly nothing to be done about either problem now, except "endeavor to persevere" as The Outlaw Josey Wales had taught her. It would be humiliating to be shot while stooping to tie her shoes.
Both girls kept their pistol-shaped weapons clasped to their chests with two hands, away from branches that might have snagged at them, but ready for instant use. Both had twelve-shot magazines, sticking up oddly from the receiver at a 45 degree angle, and half a dozen spares. Both remembered to watch their footing, and to avoid stepping on twigs or anything else that could give their position away.
Suddenly, Shirley stopped, crouched low, and signalled for Jenny to do the same. Soon enough, puffing and blowing and thumping along without regard to whatever lay underfoot, came one of the football players, dangling his weapon carelessly from one hand like a briefcase.
Vic Lombard. Jenny had always thought him a handsome fellow in a heavyset, florid, curly blond, hazel-eyed sort of way. Other than that, she had hardly noticed him. He had a nice voice, too. Kip had sent him up along the south edge to look for the girls. Jenny held her left hand where Shirley could see it, curling one finger at a time in a countdown, five, four, three, two,—and on "one", they both stood and fired. Bright orange splashes of paint appeared on both sides of his torso. Giving a little grunt of surprise, Vic sat down and stayed put.
"Shit!" he said.
Mindful that he might be followed, both girls had shifted a couple of yards to the left, staying low. Now, as they drifted back toward the property line again, Jenny passed Vic and whispered "May I quote you?"
Being theoretically dead, he didn't answer.
Far to the left, as the cheerleaders advanced, this side of Pepper and Margaret, Jenny saw a pair of football players—Brad Swain and Vin Vernor, she thought it was, but it was hard to tell in this combat get-up—pop up in front of Emily Sorenson and her partner Elodia Martinez y Salazar. Before Elodia could raise her pistol. Emily had shot them both and was stepping between them in search of further prey.
Elodia saw Jenny watching them, grinned, and hurried after Emily. She was immediately struck in the chest with a bright blue paintball, yelped, and flopped on the ground, rubbing the sore spot heedless of the paint. Whatever she was muttering in Spanish could probably have blistered bark off the trees around her, if they hadn't been American trees, Jenny thought, accustomed only to English. Elodia's assailant vanished into the trees in a hailstorm of paintballs, none of which managed to connect. Three down on the boys' side, and one down on the girls'.
Jenny caught Pepper's eye, and lowered a flat hand. Time to get down onto the forest floor. Probably should have done that right from the start. "Die and learn," she mumbled to herself, and got down on her knees, watching the others following suit, just as a pair of paintballs whizzed over her head to burst against a big rock behind her.
Ahead, Shirley fired at a figure who was hiding at the base of a tree. When he ducked to the other side, Jenny shot him and he tilted over, playing dead. Her victim was "Hog" James. That meant there were four boys gone. So was the football players' team half empty or half full?
She and Shirley crept along, now. They heard a yelp—from Pepper—and then a noisy argument between her and a masculine voice, quite possibly Kip's. An air horn sounded—that would be Brother Aluminium Foyle, probably called in to settle the dispute. Everyone was supposed to freeze in place, under the circumstances, but this was her show, so Jenny signaled to Shirley to stay put, arose, and walked some distance downhill, so that when she emerged from the trees at the left end of the girls' line it would be from downhill, deliberately misleading the enemy.
When she got there, she found Pepper and Kip standing nose to nose, both looking furious. Brother Foyle was trying to wedge his own sizeable proboscis between theirs, as Margaret looked on from a distance, her weapon hanging from a lanyard, arms folded across her chest.
To save confusion, the boys' paintballs were all purple, blue, and green. The girls were packing red, orange, and yellow. When Jenny arrived, she saw that the entire right side of Pepper's face, from the crown of her head to the nape of her neck, and from behind her ear to the tip of her up-tilted nose was now densely "freckled" with blue paint.
"But I am not hit," Pepper protested. She pointed to a spot on the tree trunk. "His ball hit the tree beside me. I got splattered, is all."
"You're painted," Kip insisted smugly. "Painted and deceased."
"I'm splattered. The ball never hit me. See, it's stuck to the tree."
Pretending to yawn, Kip said, "She's dead."
"I am not dead." She turned to their zoot-suited referee. "If that had been a real bullet, Mr. Foyle, would it have killed me, you think?"
Before he could answer, Kip asked, "You ever hear about barking squirrels?"
Everybody swivelled to look at him.
"What in the name of Spongebob Squarepants does that have to do with anything?" Pepper was infuriated by now. "Squirrels don't bark, they—"
Kip put up a hand, palm outward. For the first time, Jenny noticed that Brother Foyle was holding both of their weapons. Probably a good idea, she thought. "Listen and learn. When you're out hunting," Kip enunciated with insultingly exaggerated patience, as if speaking with a five-year-old, "and you decide to shoot a squirrel—but all you have with you is a high-powered deer rifle—you wait until the squirrel on a limb gets close to the trunk of the tree. When he does, you shoot at the tree on that side. The exploding bark fragments kill him."
"Why would you shoot a squirrel if you're deer hunting?" Margaret asked.
Somebody said, "For bait?"
"I am not a squirrel," Pepper gritted her teeth. "And this isn't bark."
Brother Foyle put his hands over his ears. "Let me think!" Then: "If that had been a real bullet, Miss Davis, your eye would almost certainly have been hurt. Put a blindfold of some kind over your right eye and we'll call it good. What do you say, Mr. Flanders. Is that fair?"
Under pressure, and a little jeering from the gathering crowd, Kip grudgingly admitted that it was indeed fair. For the moment, at least, Pepper was alive, but they all knew her depth perception would be impaired.
And so would the element of surprise, Jenny realized. The players dispersed, in directions given them by Referee Foyle. Mostly, he sent the boys downhill, and girls back the way they'd come a little way. He then drew his breath, blew his whistle and immediately there came a THWAPP!
Kip re-emerged from inside a clump of aspen trees, with a huge bright orange splash dead center on his chest. "It's not fair!" he complained. From the sound of it, the boy had been hit at point-blank range.
Margaret followed him out from between the trees, her weapon levelled on Kip's back. Apparently she'd slipped downhill while the others were all arguing about her partner's status. Jenny wasn't certain if that was legal. "You're dead, Kip," she observed. "Painted and deceased, as I heard somebody say. Lie down or I'll kill you again!"
The boys were now down to three team members.
Suddenly, those three came rushing out of the trees from downhill, near the south boundary, yelling and screaming like lost souls in torment. Somebody had been reading something about the War Between the States.
Frank Wilson finished all argument about Pepper's viability as a warrior, by approaching her from the right and shooting her in the heart.
Meanwhile, Sol Komanski got a shot off at Jenny that missed her, and successfully shot Emily Sorenson as she was trying to aim at Frank.
Quickly, Joe Schulman shot Ahn.
Jenny shot Frank, but not before he shot Shirley.
Sol and Margaret shot each other simultaneously.
As Jenny watched that, Joe shot her, but he stumbled over a tree root, falling on his back. Serenity was on him in an instant. She put a foot on his chest, and shot him again and again until her hopper was empty.
The last "man" standing, she looked up, beaming at no one in particular.
"That felt good!"
A flash! went off. Everybody turned and looked up to see Ivory, grinning.