Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and forty-four.
Tonight we present, The Glorious: Key, Part 1 of 1
This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Ladies Pendragon.
Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.
Tonight we come across an odd conversation at the edge of the Valhalla’s eternal warfare.
Flash Pulp 144 – The Glorious: Key, Part 1 of 1
The stranger hadn’t noticed Leroy “Cutter” Jenkins belly-crawling through the rice paddy, and Cutter was nearly on top of him before the large man started out of the reverie he’d been engaged in while reclining against the dirt that held the shallow water.
Leroy felt some kinship for the man, as he was not unfamiliar with becoming lost in thought while staring into the unchanging blue sky that blanketed the daytime portion of the endless fight and feast cycle that was Valhalla. His opponent’s beard and moustache, made up of stringy patches, also brought old high school chums to mind.
The man fumbled for his weapon – an eighteenth century broadsword – then noted the grin on Jenkins’ face and sat down heavily.
“Hi. Name’s Moe – if you don’t shoot me, I’ll share some of the deer-flank that I saved from last night’s feast.”
“I could shoot you, then take it,” Cutter replied, making it an obvious joke by tucking away his rifle and taking a seat on the mud.
Moe smiled as he responded.
“Do it and I’ll be sure to bleed all over it before I go.”
It was fine meat, as always, and both men were soon speaking over greasy fingers.
“If you’ll excuse my saying so,” said Leroy, “you don’t have the face of someone who lived a life full of combat.”
“Oh – I was in the military, certainly, but I was a computer technician,” replied Moe. “I wasn’t bright enough to design systems or engineer missiles, but I could jockey a keyboard like no one else – but it is a lengthy story.”
Cutter waved towards the sounds of gunfire drifting to them from the east.
“I certainly don’t have anything better to do.”
Moe nodded, coughed, then began:
“The trouble in my country had begun when I was very young, and for much of my childhood I lived with my mother, overseas. When she came to a point where she could no longer stand to be away from the rest of her family, we moved back. Qalat was a poor area, but the things I’d learned brought attention, and I was soon ushered into our ragged army.”
He plucked at the hilt of his weapon, never lifting the blade from the muck.
“Much like this, our weapons were largely cast-offs, and acquired cheaply. Still, the world is eager to supply an angry hand, and our little tinpot eventually found his fist filled with missiles which could strike his enemies down from many miles away.
“Qalat was not a particularly nice place, as I mentioned, and there was a boy, whom we called Bulldog, who made my transition back a misery. His youth was spent punching anyone smaller than himself, and I was regularly the outlet for his frustrations. Oddly, however, once I’d been torn away from the familiar to conduct my military service, I found him to be one of the few whom I spoke with regularly – he had been assigned to the same command as myself, but, where I was a technician, he was one of what we referred to as “the doormen”, thugs who did not associate with the computer people.
“Although Bulldog and I continued to hate each other, our relationship changed. Often we would exchange quick snatches of gossip as we passed, items from home, or theories regarding future actions that the separate sections were not privy to. He would always end the talk with abuse, as if I needed reminding that I shouldn’t think him a friend. It was not cute in a comedic sort of way, it was simply mean.”
Moe licked his fingers, tossing away a stray bone.
“Before I died, we were on high alert, dealing with what seemed like an endless series of rebellions. It wasn’t the first time I’d been made to key in the commands necessary to prepare the array of missiles which lay at the far end of my computer network, but I had never actually fired one of the expensive death-dealers.
“That night I finally received an order to do just that – to flatten Qalat, no less.
“I couldn’t do it
“We’d always known the doormen weren’t on hand for our protection, but for rough encouragement, and when it was obvious I wasn’t carrying out the extensive typing that I ought to be, Bulldog approached.
“”It’s home,” I said in a whisper, trying not to raise the attention of the others.
“”So?” was his reply, and he followed it with a twisted lip which told me that whatever conversation we had exchanged was certainly not an excuse for friendship. He spoke loudly, and the situation became obvious to everyone seated in front of a glowing display, or standing at the entrance, rifle in hand.
“Bulldog was quickly ordered to inform me of my duty, and I informed him of what I thought of his obligations. He shouldered his rifle, removed a pistol from his belt, and held it against my head, saying it was my last warning.
“My response was not voluntary – it is a hard thing to allow a wasp to land on your forehead without reflexively swatting it away. With that act of defiance, I had no option but to continue on with my small rebellion, and I stood from my chair. Bulldog fired his sidearm once into the floor before I’d gotten hold of his hair, then I thrust his face into the sharp electrical mouth of my computer monitor, just as I was shot in the back. His smoking, jerking, dance, was my last earthly sight.”
There was a rare break in the constant din, as if the distant combatants wished to pay a moment of respect, which Moe punctuated with a throaty burp.
“I do not honestly know if I saved any lives in Qalat, but I do know that I’ve found myself here.”
Cutter nodded, and both men reclined, groaning at the satisfaction of their full bellies.
They were still staring into the cloudless sky as dusk began to fall.
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