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Old Guy

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  1. Old Guy


    "The storm of a lifetime," one media moron called it. This "storm of a lifetime" became a Cat 1 hurricane last night and is now a tropical storm. I don't know why the media types all have to enlarge every act of nature into a disaster. Nevertheless, all that wind and rain will cause damage. Be glad it wasn't the ravening monster described by CNN and their ilk. Of course, the fact Florence was a hurricane at all is all Trump's fault. OG
  2. Old Guy

    CH-47 upgrades

    https://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/defense/2018-08-23/boeing-assembling-first-block-ii-chinook Looks like the Chinook will serve until the 2060s. I can just see a young Army pilot in 2065: "Yeah, I found out my great-great-great grandpa flew one of these in some Asian war way back when . . ." OG
  3. I figure Byron could use a good laugh, if not today then in a week or so. This one should bring back memories. The Peach Popskull Caper Once upon a time a retired sailor named Boats lived in an old Airstream trailer with a rat named Ferox, a cat named Thurgood -- but referred to as TCat -- and a camel named Camel. There was also a strange character who didn't exactly have a name. The other Airstream residents called him Dark Helmet, for the huge helmet he wore whenever he made an appearance and uttered one of his incomprehensible phrases. Note: Dark Helmet's sex is unknown. In fact, his exact species is the subject of much debate. DH is designated herein as "he" merely for convenience -- I mean, no one wants to look under the helmet -- not even Camel. DH was tolerated around the old Airstream because once a month a UPS truck would pull up and deliver several cases of C-rations along with a couple bales of hay for the camel. All addressed to one Dark Helmet, Esq. Since none of the other residents had an income it behooved them to tolerate a fair amount of strangeness on behalf of DH. It must be said that Boats had a Navy retirement, but it was split five ways -- one part to him and four parts to as many ex-wives. One part of very little will not go far in supporting a sailor, a rat, a cat and a camel. DH required no food, as near as anyone could tell. He never ate, nor did he excrete anything other than daft phrases. Exactly why parties unknown were sending food each month was not something to be investigated. Looking too closely at a goose laying golden eggs -- or even a C-ration producing one -- is an exercise fraught with danger. Thus the Boats household. One dreary weekend Boats decided it was time to brew up some popskull, a novel yet descriptive name for a type of homebrew intoxicant popular with sailors everywhere -- when actual, bottled-in-bond booze isn't available for geographic or economic reasons. "We have lots of C-ration peaches saved up," he explained. "Also sugar and a couple other secret ingredients. We need a large, clean barrel, preferably food grade plastic or something of that nature so the peach popskull isn't rife with leached poisons." He was proud of the word "rife" and for the next few days he repeated the phrase "rife with leached poisons" until the others were darn sick of hearing it. He had to stop there and explain to the rat and the cat and the camel exactly what "leaching" and "poison" meant. Ferox also had to be convinced that the words "food grade" weren't meaningless bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo. "If it don't eat me first, it's food," he stated in positive terms. Coming from the only animal in the Airstream who would eat C-ration ham and beans with evident delight, his words carried the weight of truth -- at least for rats. "So," said Boats, "who will help me find a food grade container?" "Not I," said the rat. "Not I," said the cat. "Not me," said Camel. Dark Helmet entered the tiny kitchen from -- another dimension? There was no door in that wall. He stood quiet for a moment, dripping water on the floor. "I find your lack of faith disturbing." No one said anything. DH turned and walked? wobbled? rolled? toward the back of the trailer. "Well," said Boats, "then I shall go and get the food grade container myself." And he did. "Next up," he said, upon returning with a clean food grade container, "is to open all these cans of peaches and dump them into the clean food grade container. Who will help me with all that opening and emptying?" "I won't," said Ferox. "I have a hot date waiting down under the dock." "I won't," said TCat. "I can't work an opener with paws." "I'd help," said Camel, "except" -- he brandished an oversize hoof -- "you know. Cloven hooves." "Then I guess I'll have to do it myself," said Boats. So he did. Some hours later, he called the residents together. Ferox was not present. "Now we must open all these little packages of sugar and dump them into the clean food grade container along with the C-ration peaches. Who will help me with all that tearing and dumping?" "Not I," said TCat. "It's time for my nap." "Not me," said Camel. "Cloven hooves. Remember?" "Okay," replied Boats. "I'll do it. I'll do it. Where is Ferox?" "Making meals for me," said the cat. "Humping his brains out," added the camel. "I wish I was." Dark Helmet swooped in from Orion or wherever. "Perhaps I can find new ways to motivate them." "Motivate a rat?" cried TCat, forgetting for a moment that DH never listened to argument or advice. "What would motivate a rat more than a female in heat?" "Or me," sniffed Camel. Dark Helmet faded away. "What now?" asked Boats. It was a rhetorical question. He knew what to do next. "It's time for the secret ingredients. I'll take care of that." And he did. A month later, right after the next C-ration and hay bale delivery, Boats called the Airstream residents together again. "The popskull is ready. Who will help me strain the good booze from the bits and pieces and moldy things floating in the not so clean food grade container?" "Not me," said Ferox. "I might fall in." "Not I," said the cat. "I'll help with the tasting though." "Not me," said Camel. "I have an appointment with a bale of hay." "Then I shall do it myself," said Boats, who was beginning to get damned tired of all the do-it-myself crap. Dark Helmet came in via the front (and only) door for a change. "You don't know the power of the Dark Side!" He vanished with a wet pop. Boats went ahead and strained the good booze from the bits and pieces and moldy things floating in the not so clean food grade container. Then he washed the food grade container until it was clean again and poured the finished popskull back into it. Now it was ready for taste testing. TCat was standing ready, cup in hand -- er -- cup in paw. Boats eyed the cat and the cup. "How'd you do that?" "Practice." "How come you couldn't open cans of peaches or rip sugar packets open?" "I didn't practice with openers or sugar packets." Who can argue with logic like that? Boats poured a liberal dose of popskull in TCat's cup. "Have at it. You want something to mix with it? Coke? Lemonade?" TCat paused. "Do we have any coke or lemonade?" "No. All we have is this half-empty bottle of furniture polish." "Thanks, no. I'll just take it straight up." "Okay. It's your funeral." Now, Boats was no prophet, but they did hold a short funeral for TCat on the following morning. Boats recited the Lord's Prayer, that being the only prayer he knew. After the weighted bag holding TCat's mortal remains sank from sight, the survivors returned to the Airstream. "I shoulda cut it with something," mourned Boats. "Maybe some fruit juice or -- I don't know -- something." "Soak my drink in straw," said Camel. "That might make it less lethal." But it didn't. Camel was too large for any bag they had, so his rigid body went into the bay on the outgoing tide. Boats wanted to dump the peach popskull at the same time. "No way!" cried Ferox. "I'll take it down to the dock tonight. Us rats will figure out a way to drink your popskull. It smells so peachy and alcoholic. There must be a safe way to get hammered on the stuff without becoming dead. Leave it to me." "Okay," said Boats. "Have at it." He even helped Ferox roll the food grade container down to the rat conclave that evening. Dark Helmet met them at the end of the dock. "Don't fail me again, Admiral." He rose straight up into the dark sky. "He couldn't have been talking to me," said Boats. "I was never an Admiral." "Me neither," said Ferox. "See you in the morning." Alas, he did not see Boats or anyone else the next day. Ferox the rat and ten thousand of his relatives clogged the inner harbor until the next tide. The dead rodents were observed to have broad smiles frozen on their little faces. And the whole harbor smelled of peaches. Boats walked to the end of Lighthouse Point and watched the dead rats washing out to sea. Dark Helmet wandered out of the water and stopped in front of the old sailor. "Obi-wan has taught you well." Startled, afraid he'd been caught out, Boats stammered, "Obi-who?" Dark Helmet didn't vanish straight away, but hesitated for several seconds. Finally, and with a sad note in his voice, said, "Obi-who? Obi-when? Now I've forgotten my . . ." He sagged to the sand and disappeared, helmet and all. For half a heartbeat, Boats heard soft, tittering laughter. Then it was gone. End
  4. Old Guy

    A tale from the Csim vault for Byron

    And there's a lot of that. Slack, I mean. Who's this Dark Helmet guy? Who are you? What were we talking about? Um . . . never mind.
  5. Old Guy

    Prayers for Byron (JClark) Audler

    Get better, Boats! That's an order. Well, not an order really. A hopeful suggestion? Anyway, we're thinking of you. OG
  6. Old Guy


    Same here, man. Haze obscuring the mountains. Lightning caused fires all around. OG
  7. Old Guy


    Hey! What's up? Every time I log in I get a message saying the connection isn't secure. That only started a few days ago. OG
  8. Old Guy

    I see we got a new paint job and all new emojis

    Us old 🦕 are left even further behind. I hardly ever got beyond the 😀. OG
  9. Back in my youth . . . yes, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth . . . I studied Military history with an eye on the exciting stuff. Advances, withdrawals, mistakes, accidents of fate, all the eye candy of war fighting. Only later did I begin to appreciate the importance of logistics. On some levels, logistics aren't particularly important. Custer's problem at the Little Big Horn had mostly to do with a failure of leadership and poor tactical decisions. Logistics didn't count for much unless you factor in long-term errors such as the Cavalry Board mandating rolling block single-shot carbines instead of some kind of reliable repeater. The Winchester '66 Yellowboy or the '73 Winchester carbine spring to mind. Any number of other, generally small battles would have similar characteristics. The campaigning in Italy during Punic Wars would have required a good deal of logistical support for both sides. Over the years both the local population and locally available forage would have been severely drawn down. As Mike points out the overall effect would have depended on population levels at the start. One would have to evaluate probable levels of surplus supplies as well, though both armies probably took what they needed and to hell with the local population. That also would have degraded available assets over the years. I strongly suspect that non-military population would have suffered far more casualties than the armies did in all their battles combined. Later history bears that out. A year or so ago I read Erikson's Malazan fantasy series and enjoyed it. Later, on second reading, I realized the author had severely underestimated the damage done to local towns and cities during the military campaigning. Several large island locations were depicted as enduring the depredations of not one but two or three ravaging armies. The time span was too short for more than partial recovery of the areas concerned. While some attempt was made to depict fairly reasonable methods of bringing in outside supplies, the events occurring on the very dangerous oceans and along the sort-of-magical pathways made it difficult to account for all the goods needed even by relatively primitive armies. Probably no one else would be bothered by such a situation. Otherwise the books were damn good. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. He's bored. Jim
  10. When dealing with ancient battles (and some more recent examples) I usually reduce the reported casualties by at least half. The Carthaginians claimed to have killed 55,000 Romans. The Greeks put the number at 70,000. Roman accounts usually refer to about 40,000 killed and around 5,000 captured. In the course of reading military history I've learned a great deal about logistics, that important element that gets overlooked by historians, especially ancient chroniclers. For instance, Lee at Gettysburg could not adequately supply 75,000 men in a fixed position for more than 3 or 4 days. Wagons sent on scavenging missions could only go out for about a 1-1/2 to 2 days before they had to turn around and return. Otherwise, the amount of food and fodder they could carry over primitive roads would largely be consumed by the foraging troops. Whether Lee actually had 75,000 men "present for duty, equipped" is another issue. In the years leading up to Cannae, Fabius had, as is pointed out above, developed a strategy of denying the Carthaginians necessary supplies, making him dependent on supplies from Africa and Spain. While he undoubtedly managed to obtain food and feed for animals at sword point, his ability to supply his army was seriously constrained. The Romans, too, had supply difficulties. The presence of major armies in the peninsula had a damaging effect on crops and the number of food animals. Moving supplies in carts was also an inefficient way to keep an army supplied. To the extent possible, I suspect both armies used coastal cities and rivers to move goods. Taken together, these difficulties had to have an effect on the size of both forces. Given that ancient writers always had in mind the attitudes of their audience, it is obvious that each had reason to inflate the numbers. Modern historians generally put the number of Roman dead at Cannae at around 20,000. Personally, I think that's still too high, but because we have no reliable writings from the time, I have to say that's just a kind of educated guess. Anyone interested in the logistics of ancient armies should read a supremely dull book called: Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army, by Donald Engels. It has excellent information about the carrying capacity of various draft animals (the most efficient beast of burden is . . . drumroll, please . . . a man). There is also good deal of information relating to supply problems faced by armies in the era before mechanization. Some of that info is useful right up to the present day. Analyzing Wehrmacht supply problems during WW2 is clarified once you understand that this force that more or less invented mobile, mechanized warfare, continued to carry large portions of their supplies using horses and wagons. Sorry for the long-winded post. It's snowing here and I didn't have anything else to do. Jim
  11. Old Guy

    Ahab in the Afterlife

    The muse appeared after a long absence, somewhat disheveled and reeking of bad whisky. Anyhow, she carried a page torn from a book. Scrawled on the page was the basic idea for this tale. Having writ, I decided to inflict it on you lot. Ahab in the Afterlife Fifth Under Clerk Boswell watched as the last occupant of Purgatory made his way up to the reception desk. The man stumped his way slowly up the last steps and looked around. “A sailor, sir,” whispered Bartleby, Second Scrivener. He stood behind and slightly to one side of the Under Clerk. “Obviously,” sneered Boswell. “What gave you the first clue? The wooden leg? Tattered pea coat?” Bartleby shot a quick, graphic gesture toward Boswell's back. “Skin that remains sun-darkened even after years in the Purg, sir. What is that great spear he's dragging along?” “Search me. You're the keeper of odd information. Fifth Under Clerks can't be bothered with such trivia.” Boswell sniffed. “Whatever it is, he'll have to leave it outside.” “I'm sure you're right, sir.” Privately Bartleby wondered if he shouldn't call Security. The approaching man's face had a hard, vicious cast to it. “Good day,” called Boswell as the hulking figure halted a few steps from the desk. “Your name, please, so we may decide your future status.” “Have ye seen him?” cried the man. “Moby Dick. Have ye seen the creature?” “Ah . . .” Boswell glanced around, startled. “We – we have no – have welcomed no one by that name.” He dove to the white marble floor, dodging the mad motion of the wooden handled implement gripped in the man's right fist. “Moby Dick. That be his name. The White Whale!” Boswell huddled behind his desk. “We – that is – Bartleby! Call Security before this madman takes my head off!” Bartleby had already moved well beyond reach of the spear. “I believe it to be a harpoon, sir. Not a spear. Our mariner was evidently a whaler in life.” Calming somewhat, the man turned his ferocious glare on the Second Scrivener. “A whaler I am. Ahab, by name.” “Ahab. Ahab.” Bartleby ignored his whining Under Clerk and made his way to a bank of files. “The name is familiar.” He pawed through a pile of scrolls and selected one. “Here it is. The Final Sinner in Purgatory to be Granted Early Entrance to the Celestial Realm On Account of Closure of That Same Venue; to wit: Purgatory. Your name is therein inscribed, Mr. Ahab.” “Captain Ahab, to you, sonny.” Bartleby bowed. “Of course, Captain. A thousand pardons.” Ahab banged the marble floor with his harpoon. “Moby Dick! The White Whale! For nigh on two hundred years I searched Purgatory for the beast. Not a trace. Where lies the Celestial Ocean? There he will be, there I will hunt and kill him again. He will not escape me.” Fifth Under Clerk Boswell climbed back into his chair and made an attempt to regain control. “Sir. Mister . . . ah . . . Captain. Please put down your weapon. You can't take that thing into Heaven.” In answer, Ahab snapped the harpoon down, bringing it to a rock steady position a hairbreadth from Boswell's left eye. “Can't what? See that iron? Forged in blood it was. With it I took Moby Dick's life and with this same iron I will rid Heaven of the beast.” Boswell fainted. His slack body slid to the floor. Ahab glared at Bartleby. “Who is he? Has he no taste for sharp iron?” “His name is Boswell, Captain. He has no taste for melodrama, especially in the form of dangerous equipage and weaponry.” “Well . . . I'll not have him sailing with me on the hunt for the White Whale.” “A prospect that is unlikely to dismay him, Captain.” Bartleby hesitated. “I may have information that will be of value to you – in your hunt.” Ahab clumped around Boswell's desk and sat in the Under Clerk's chair. “Don't try to hinder my quest. I would smite the Creator himself were he to stand in my way.” “Exactly, Captain. That sort of language, by the way, is the main reason for your extended stay in Purgatory.” “So. I may have to moderate my speech, if not my intents. I had thought the long sentence had to do with the so-called “madness” of my quest.” “Oh, no. We get those all the time. You can't imagine how many take up the quest to find the Holy Grail.” “Hunting the White Whale is no paltry quest.” The Captain massaged the flesh just above his wooden leg. “Moby Dick took my leg, then my life – but not before I killed him.” “Actually, Captain. Moby Dick didn't die.” “Didn't die? Moby Dick not dead? How can it be?” “Our records indicate that Moby Dick swam away from your place of death, wounded but not unto death. Your . . . ah . . . your remains were attached to the whale by a tangle of ropes.” “The creature bore me away? And him still living. When did he die?” “We don't record such deaths, Captain. It might have been noted in your record if he had died as a result of your . . . harpooning.” The old Captain sat silent for a long time. Boswell began to stir. Finally, Ahab stood up, leaning heavily on his harpoon. For the first time he had the look of a tired old man. “Send me back.” “Pardon? Back where?” “Purgatory or Hell. It matters not to me. I am no fit occupant for Heaven.” “You'd be surprised, Captain.” Bartleby smiled. “Besides, Hell won't have you. Never would. It's in your record. I think they believe you'd soon be in charge. You're not a man to tolerate slackness.” “The road to Hell is crowded with idlers and slackers,” muttered Ahab. “Purgatory, then.” “Out of the question. The place is closed. Orders of the Church.” Ahab sagged even further. “Back to Earth?” “Impossible. But whales aren't hunted there anymore.” Bartleby thought of what Ahab would make of the current inhabitants of Earth. “You wouldn't like it, Captain.” “What then? I am no psalm singer.” “Actually, we don't do much of that here.” The Second Scrivener consulted a card file. “Here's a possibility. The Forces of Good are heavily engaged with things from outside the Galaxy, out on one of the spiral arms . . .” Bartleby's voice trailed off as he saw blank incomprehension on Ahab's face. “Ah . . . just think of it as a distant part of Creation.” “Aye. Outsiders? Some of Moby's kind, I'll warrant.” “Well . . . Moby Dick wasn't really an outsider, but if the analogy works, hang on to it. These Outsiders need hunting and killing . . . or at least to be driven away.” Ahab straightened up. “Sounds fine to me.” He glanced up at the Pearly Gates. “Where can I . . ?” “Go? A guide will be along in a moment.” “No.” The Captain shuffled his foot. “I need to go . . . you know? It's been a long time.” “Oh, sure. Through the gate, first building on the right.” “Thank you.” Again Ahab hesitated. “Can I take my harpoon?” “Take it with you. I have no idea how Outsiders are fought. A harpoon might be just the thing.” End
  12. Old Guy

    Ahab in the Afterlife

    Apparently a number of folks still like reading stuff like this. For some reason most don't comment like people did in the past. I wonder why. Beats me, Lieutenant. Ahab. A strange character. Be glad I didn't include one of his many soliloquies. OG
  13. Old Guy


    Cloudy and gray with a light wind blowing. Snow cover is reduced to "patchy". Looks like a 35-40 degree day with rain at times. My cold is better and the antibiotics seem to be handling the sinus infection. Life looks a lot better. Jim
  14. Old Guy


    High of about 40F today. Partly cloudy. The snow is melting slowly - which is how we want it to melt. Too much rain on top of the snow pack makes for flooding. Struggling with a bad cold. Is it my imagination or do colds seem to hit harder as we get older? Sniffling in Montana, OG
  15. Old Guy

    Saturday (St. Patrick's Day)

    Ah, the Irish. Some of my forum tale characters have been of Irish extraction. Here's a paragraph from one such tale. People were of two minds about Dub's silence. Some figured he just didn't have anything to say. Others were certain he had taken a vow of silence in some strange Irish cult. Everyone knew the natives of Ireland were prone to doing odd things. They knew that for the simple reason that a sizable portion of the town population was of Irish descent. Dub's habit of taking his pay each month and drinking himself into a stupor wasn't seen as unusual. Half the town did the same thing, including many of those who weren't, as far as they knew, Irish. The person who can identify the story it's from wins the kewpie doll (simulated, of course). OG
  16. Old Guy

    This Month in the Vietnam War: March 1962-1975

    I saw a Bob Hope show at Cu Chi in about November of '67. Raquel was featured in that show. As you can see from the pic, I was not very close to the stage. OG
  17. Old Guy


    Good for Lottie! Serves her old employer right. Payback is a bitch. Jim Oh, yeah. Bright sunshine, light breeze, but cold here. About 15F.
  18. Old Guy

    Our Schnauzer, Tehya

    Thanks, Whiz. I went and picked up her ashes today. It's pretty sad around here right now. Poor Rascal is trying to comfort us. He already seems to be adapting to being the only dog. Jim
  19. Old Guy

    Our Schnauzer, Tehya

    I know I've talked about our two Schnauzers, Tehya and Rascal, on the forum. Probably even posted pics. Unless a miracle happens, we will have to put Tehya to sleep in a few hours. She has developed a condition that causes fluid to build up in her chest cavity. We've had it drained twice, but that only addresses the problem, not the cause, which is probably low protein. That can't be fixed, especially in a 12-year old Schnauzer. I know many of you have pet companions and have suffered through their loss. So, you know what we're going through right now. I've attached a pic of Tehya in happier times and one of her best pal, Rascal. Tehya is the silver and gray princess. I don't know how Rascal is going to react to the loss of his buddy. He has never been away from her for even a whole day since we got him, five years ago. It helps to share, I guess. Take care, all. Jim
  20. Old Guy


    Donnie, forget NASCAR. The local dirt track or paved oval is the place to be. They run real races and the air stinks of gasoline and burned rubber. Sometimes they even have demolition derbies and school bus races. And everybody stands for the national anthem. Jim
  21. Old Guy


    Blizzard conditions here in NW Montana. Temp around 11degF. Wind 20-30 mph. I have drifts blocking the front door and driveway. Won't be able to play with, I mean WORK with my snow blower until tomorrow. Jim
  22. Old Guy

    Our Schnauzer, Tehya

    Thanks again, guys. Tehya was a very special little dog. Like Doug, I can't remember feeling this bad after the death of a close relative, except my brother who died at 37 from cancer. Of course, none of those folks lived with us every single day for 12 years like she did. They weren't part of the daily fabric of our lives. She was. I'm glad I was able to share my grief with the Csim community, as reduced in numbers as it is. This place has been a refuge of a kind for a long time for me. Too bad we don't have something like EAW to draw us back together. Regardless, thanks for your condolences and thanks for the memories. Jim
  23. Old Guy

    Our Schnauzer, Tehya

    Thanks for the kind words, guys. There were no miracles yesterday. The fluid had filled her chest cavity again. Eventually it would have smothered her and especially at her age there was nothing to be done about her kidneys or other organs damaged by an attack of pancreatitis about four years ago. She passed peacefully and painlessly from this life. Rascal is grieving as much as we are. He senses our sadness and can't find his sister anywhere, so his own little world has been turned upside down. She was always in charge; now he has to figure out how to be an only dog. We may get another Schnauzer in a few months, though I'm not sure about that. The pain of losing one as special as Tehya is awful. If the little guys didn't bring so much joy into our lives, I wouldn't consider getting another one. We'll see. I can't say enough about our vets. When Dr. Mark examined her on Monday he got down on the floor with her, calming her as he talked to us. After a long ultra sound session and draining the fluid our bill was $263, which is reasonable. But the clinic gave us a 50% discount for no other reason than our being regular clients and because the results were "no good news." Yesterday, Dr. Mark and Dr. Lucy, Tehya and Rascals regular vet, spent at least an hour with us, first doing a quick ultrasound to verify that the fluid was back, then discussing our options -- which were essentially one -- putting her to sleep. This was done with professional skill and gentleness, both for Tehya and us. At the end, they charged us nothing. They charge to care for animals, not to put them down. It's gray and snowing here in Columbia Falls. The day matches my mood. Thanks again. Jim
  24. Old Guy


    I started this story in a post some time ago, then never went beyond that first short blurb. I can't recall why. Maybe I forgot about it. Anyway, I've been working on it and here are the first two parts. The initial section has been somewhat rewritten. Volunteers Gunnyduce, once a lochias (sergeant) in the army of Leonidas, stooped to enter the Simian Spartan barracks. The word "hovel" came to mind as he stood inside the entrance. The interior looked to have been systematically ransacked. Blankets lay helter-skelter. Bits of hardtack and half-eaten onions were strewn across the floor. A goat stood on a cot placidly munching a sandal. Two scruffy sheep were tethered at the back. Simians lay on and under the wreckage, some partly clothed, most not. Gunnyduce picked up a small brown jug and sniffed the contents. "Thrice refined wine. No wonder the lads are under the weather." He uttered a cruel laugh and kicked the nearest body. "Rise and shine! Alert! Fire! Flood! Enemy invasion! Get your asses up and outside! On the double!" For a long moment nothing happened. Then the Simians began to twitch and moan as long disused reflexes took charge. The goat snorted with displeasure and bolted out the door. The sheep began bleating in alarm. Gunnyduce walked outside and took up a position a few paces from the entryway. Eventually Simians began dribbling outside. One or two saw Gunnyduce and began to weep. The others simply collapsed, too far under the influence of vile booze to relate to any form of reality. **** To say Gunnyduce was a hard taskmaster was to minimize the elements of cruelty and sadism hiding under a thin veneer of nastiness. Being a Spartan hoplite in his day meant something a very long way from tender mercy or even stern discipline. Trifling as his connection was with humanitarian ideals, his outlook became permanently warped because he survived the glorious battle at the Hot Gates. Wait, you say. The Three Hundred all died. Well, in round numbers, they did. Three did not die. One, a veteran named Delos, fell from the cliffs during the last stand and found himself clinging to a broken mast, remnant of a Great King's ship smashed in an earlier naval battle. He washed ashore two days later. Another, whose name is not recorded, received a hard blow to the head and fell behind a heap of stones, to remain undiscovered in the later cleanup. Wandering witless, he fell afoul of an Athenian scoundrel and vanished from history. Likely he wound up pulling an oar in an Egyptian barge. The third was Gunnyduce. Sent by his lochargos (commander) to find a new source of water, he was set upon by brigands, knocked senseless, stripped of his armor and weapons, and left for dead. Delos became a silent specter, haunting Sparta. People tried to befriend him but he would have none of it, shunning all human contact. His only companion was a mongrel mutt with no name. After a year of this, he and the dog disappeared. Later a traveler reported seeing such a pair in the wilds of Macedonia. They were probably eaten by the savages of that land. Gunnyduce hunted down his attackers and reclaimed his equipment, save for his sword, which the brigands had sold to a passing Persian trader Surviving the battle the way he did and losing his sword was not as bad as, for instance, having been bested in combat by an Amazon, but though he found grudging acceptance in Sparta, no Hundred would have him, not as a lochias, not as a mere hoplite in the ranks. Embittered, he roamed the country, selling his sword to whoever had silver enough. And, later, during his bout with triple-refined wine, whoever had a copper or two. His new sword he found in the ruins of a seaside villa ransacked by pirates. Known as the "old hoplite" in several city-states, he had not, in fact, passed his fortieth year when he took up the task of training Simian Spartans in the hard tasks of combat. Together he and they stormed Castle Grob in Hell and recovered the key to Hell's Back Gate. But that is a different story. **** Gunnyduce enlisted two Simians, Archeron and Jokertayus, to haul buckets of water from a nearby well. Those buckets were upended over the semi-conscious forms of their brethren. Eventually, he managed to form the lads into a rough approximation of a military formation. Just as the last victim struggled up from his knees a pair of hard-bitten women stepped from the barrack hovel and took themselves off, snarling insults at their former Simian partners. Each led a female sheep. The sheep appeared anxious to put a lot of distance between themselves and the wretched refuse lined up in front of Gunnyduce. "I have news," he said, in a low voice. Speaking in low tones makes people listen, even those who know they won't want to hear what is being said. He paused a moment, then continued. "The priests have declared you outlaws. Apparently your priest-like behaviors have alienated the few people who might have spoken in your defense." The Simians stood mute. Gunnyduce stalked around the quivering Simians. “Some are missing. Where is Raptorius?” Archeron coughed. “Ah -- killed, your honor. Amazons.” “Amazons? This far south?” “They were – uh – on a pilgrimage. He was drunk. Wandering in the woods. The Amazons were sacrificing a goat at an altar to the Huntress. The goat escaped and they needed – some kind of animal to replace . . .” Gunnyduce held up a hand. “I get the picture. What about Cowboyithius? Baltaro? The Amazons get them too?” Archeron massaged his bald head with a grimy paw. “I dunno.” “They went into the music business,” said Jokertayus. “Beatin' the drum on one a them bireme thingmies.” “A nautical career. What a coincidence.” Gunnyduce produced a feral smile. "As outlaws you lot face execution. But the priests have offered one boon." A couple listeners perked up. Everyone else remembered what a "boon" might mean to the old hoplite. "Oldguytukus -- you remember him from our adventure in Hell? He has a task for us. Guard duty on his trading vessel. I promised the priests that I would lead you out of Sparta, take up Oldguytukus on his offer, and see to it that you never, ever return." He smiled. "Now isn't that nice?" "Um." Stanitos, the ugliest Simian, raised one hand. "What if we don't wanna go, your honor?" Gunnyduce's grin expanded. "No problem. I'll turn you over to the priests. Stoning, I think, is contemplated, along with additional cutting and impaling." Again, the Simians stood mute. "All volunteers, I see." Gunnyduce's voice and demeanor changed. "All right! Get yourself inside that sad excuse for a barracks and grab whatever you want to take with you. You have exactly 100 heartbeats to do that." The Simians twitched. He held up a hand. "Our old pal, Donius Minimus, is sentenced to accompany you lot. Apparently his sins are equal to your own. He'll be along shortly." "Donius?" muttered Dudeius. His eyes glowed red for an instant, then faded. "He'd sell his mother for a copper." Gunnyduce nodded. "I believe it was half a copper. But he also fathered the lot of you. Surely you have some feeling for him." A chorus of growls assured him that the Simians did, indeed, have feelings for dear old dad. "Inside!" He touched his wrist. "One hundred heartbeats. Starting now!" Two hours later the Spartan Simians marched out – or more correctly, limped out, since none still had the special boots made for them during the Castle Grob affair. They were trailed by a single cart pulled by Donius Minimus, once a 4th level initiate in the the pantheon of Spartan gods. The cart carried bags of hardtack and onions, along with a bale of clothing and two boxes. One box contained Gunnyduce' possessions. The other was for camp supplies. Gunnyduce walked behind the cart. He wore chest armor, a plain helmet, and had his shield strapped to his back, though he didn't plan on turning his back on any Simian in the foreseeable future. A spear served both as a walking stick and a goad for Simian slackers. Raw Recruits Sparta to the seaport of Gythium is roughly 700 stadia, which a raven might fly in a couple days, were the bird so inclined. Simians, lacking wings, had to travel nearly twice as far on a primitive track jokingly referred to on contemporary maps as a “road”. At the end of the first day of marching the Simians made camp on a rocky promontory above the Eurotas River, which the road followed for some distance before branching off more directly toward Gythium. Once tents were erected Gunnyduce drew his sword and pointed toward the river. “Into the water! All of you. Strip off those rags. We'll burn them and hope any vermin die in the fire. What are you waiting for? Move it!” The Simians scrambled down the rocky embankment and shucked their filthy togs. Unmanly squeaks accompanied their descent into the frigid water. He nudged Donius with the point of his sword. “You too.” “I can't. It's against my priestly vows.” “You've been kicked out of the priesthood. Not that you ever really belonged anyway. Get going!” This time the sword point drew blood. “I'm going! I'm going. Take it easy with that pig sticker.” “The only pig it's been sticking is you.” Gunnyduce followed Donius down the bank. “Shuck that greasy robe.” A swift kick sent the ex-priest plunging into the stream. Gunnyduce used his sword to pick up and fling all the Simian clothing into a heap. He then spent an hour walking the bank, enforcing a draconian cleansing. “Scoop up sand and rub it into your hair! Scrub your crusty butts with it!” “But there's no sand,” wailed a quavering Simian. “Only gravel.” “Then use gravel!” It was a scraped and bleeding group that reassembled beside the road. Gunnyduce motioned toward a bale of clothing lying on the cart. “Get dressed! You'll find chitons of linen and undyed wool cloaks.” Dudeius held up a faded gray chiton. “But these aren't suitable for Spartan warriors.” “They're all thin and patched,” whined Stanitos. “When you lot deserve better you'll get it. Meanwhile, get dressed! I'm ashamed to see Spartans in such a flabby state. We'll have to remedy that, starting tomorrow. Donius! Break out the cook pot. Archeron! Jokertayus! Start two fires. Burn your old rags in one. Cook on the other.” “Can't we just toss the old clothes on the cook fire?” asked Dudeius. “Of course you can,” replied Gunnyduce. He brandished an onion. “I'll just eat this with a bit of hardtack. You lot can eat stew flavored with your vomit and crap stained clothes.” “Um. Right.” Dudeius followed Jokertayus toward a tangle of downed trees. “I'll help gather some wood for the fires.” Donius stood by the cart looking lost. “What kind of – ah – what kind of stew shall I make?” “Grab a couple onions,” suggested Gunnyduce. “There's a slab of meat and a sack of beans in that box. Use that for now. Down the road we can pick up some root vegetables and such for the pot.” “I ain't much of a cook,” warned Donius. “Well. You better figure out how to make a decent stew. If the lads don't like it they'll kick the crap out of you.” “But that's not fair!” “Fair? Fair is for philosophers. I'm working up a military unit. Ask some of the others for help if you need it, but get busy!” The old hoplite sheathed his sword and stretched. “Damn. I'd kill you all for a good cigar.” He grinned at the confusion evident on their faces. “Never mind. They ain't been invented yet.” TBC
  25. Old Guy


    Down to the Sea Whizikos, no longer pursued by his enemies, elected to accompany the Simians on their journey to Sardis. “A change of location will be healthful,” he told Gunnyduce. “I am also curious as to the fate of your golem.” Thus, he did not tell his story that night, nor the next. Worn by his long journey, the seer rolled into his cloak and fell asleep after supper. The little group marched into the night the next day, reaching the outskirts of Gythium before Gunnyduce called a halt. They camped that night in an olive grove. In the morning, the ex-hoplite and Archeron went down to the harbor. Whizikos strolled up to where the golem maintained his tireless watch. “Good morning, Fick. I take it the night was quiet?” “We watch. We listen. Fox kill stoat. Cats kill mice.” The golem lifted a massive arm and pointed seaward. “Eagle hunt.” “Slaughter and feasting.” The wizard walked to a crude stone bench and sat down. “A good spot, this, for spying out the land. Someone liked the view enough to make this seat.” “We watch. We listen.” Fick produced his stone duckie. “Duckie watch night sky. Count stars. Always count stars.” This was Whizikos' introduction to the stone duckie. “I – ah – I carry an amulet. For luck. Does the duckie bring good luck?” “No.” Fick put the stone image away. “No luck. No luck for spirits inside head.” He smote the side of his head, leaving it slightly askew. Whizikos edged to the far end of the bench. “So – has duckie told you how many stars are in the sky?” “Duckie counts. Night sky changes. Stars change. Duckie go crazy. Sleep in clay pocket. I take out when sun up. Duckie count. One. Know number stars in sky. One. Not crazy.” “Er – yes. I can – ah – see that. One. Well.” Whizikos slid off the bench. “I'm just going to – um – to see about breakfast.” He hurried away. “Wizard go crazy,” murmured Fick. Duckie said nothing. Gunnyduce returned to camp and set the Simians to packing up. “OldGuytukus is ready to take us on board.” He turned toward Whizikos. “You haven't changed your mind?” “No. The gods know how far my enemies can reach. I may go on east, into Persia.” “Okay. Be ready to leave. I'm going to talk to Fick.” “That's one strange creature.” “Not his fault. I'll be back shortly.” Fick watched Gunnyduce approach. “We watch. We listen. Wizard come. Talk.” “He tell you about his narrow escape?” “No. She marks him.” “She?” Gunnyduce's heart filled with dread. “You mean Diana?” “Same. Wrist amulet. Like man Donius kill. Invisible.” The golem repeated the word 'invisible' as if hearing it for the first time. “Invisible,” murmured the old Spartan. “A word from your philosopher?” “Yes. Invisible to you. Invisible to wizard.” Fick thumped his chest. “I see.” “Okay. So Diana has her claws into Whizikos. Interesting.” “We go in ship?” “Yes. I'll come back for you tonight. Lead you to the ship.” “No. Golem too big for town.” Fick pointed toward a headland marking the entrance to the harbor. “Pick up Fick there. Close to shore.” “Fick, I don't think we can pick you up in a boat. You're too big. Probably too heavy.” “I meet ship there.” Though still not convinced, Gunnyduce eventually agreed to Fick's plan. He hadn't been looking forward to guiding the creature through the town anyway. All it would take would be a couple of drunks to catch sight of the thing and raise an alarm. A mob equipped with torches and farm implements could probably finish off the golem – and any with him. Back on board, he hustled OldGuytukus out to an empty dock and told him what the golem had planned. “Well,” the old fart shrugged. “It's his funeral if that clay body falls apart in the water.” “I don't think it will. I also think Diana didn't really understand everything about old Fick.” “She is a tad impetuous. The gods know how all this will turn out.” “Have you talked to the wizard? Heard his story?” “I have. Damn lucky for him that a boatload of pirates beached their ship and made camp right where his pursuers would stumble into them. They're probably pulling an oar on that same ship.” Gunnyduce frowned. “I wonder. Whizikos saw them grabbed and taken aboard. He believes they were killed or taken as slaves.” “You know any different?” “Fick says the wizard wears a bracelet like this one.” Gunnyduce handed over the wrist protector taken from the dead warrior. “He doesn't wear anything on his wrist.” “Not that we can see. Fick says he can see it. I've heard of such, but never believed the stories. An invisible bracelet.” “One that even Whizikos isn't aware of? That's hard to swallow.” “Hard to swallow? You manage to drink that horse piss you call beer. You know Diana. You're passingly familiar with the capabilities of her like. I'd say Fick has it right.” “Miletus and Sons Genuine Draft has no piss in it, horse or otherwise.” OldGuytukus handed the bracelet back to the ex-hoplite. “But your argument makes sense. Diana, clay men, visible and invisible bracelets. It all fits, in a mysterious sort of way.” “The only mystery is: what the hell has she got in mind?” “True. Everything else relates back to her plan, if she has one.” “So what do we do?” OldGuytukus sighed and headed back toward the ship. “We cast off and head for Sardis, by way of Pirate Isle. On the way we pick up your clay pal.” “He ain't a pal of mine,” muttered Gunnyduce. He wondered if that was really true. Picking up the golem proved to be a simple task. Light morning airs carried Sea Mist out of Gythium harbor. As they approached the rocky prominence on the western side of the harbor entrance, OldGuytukus ordered the sail dropped. He motioned to Kratos, the mate. “Oars out. Keep her off the rocks.” Before the oars could be extended, Gunnyduce spotted the golem wading into the water. He pointed. “There. He's coming to us.” The sailors broke out in an excited hubbub. Kratos shouted for quiet. He stepped up on the side planking and stood there, one arm wrapped around the rigging. “Your beast walks on the bottom. Now he has gone under.” “Drop some rope over the side,” suggested Gunnyduce. “He may need . . .” He fell silent as a pair of mitten-like hands clutched the side. “Or maybe not.” Fick pulled himself from the water and rolled over the side, landing on his knees. Water streamed from his clay body. He stood up. The sailors scrambled back even as the Simians came forward to welcome their companion aboard. “I guess you're not at risk in the water,” said OldGuytukus. The golem made a stiff shrug. “Walk on bottom. Stretch arms to ship. No problem. Long time in water. Problem.” “Get under way,” ordered OldGuytukus. “The wind is fair for Malea Point.” Not only was the wind fair, it was also steady, and the weather remained excellent. After spending the night ashore on the lee side of the point, Kratos and OldGuytukus had Sea Mist afloat and headed for the island of Melos by dawn. The wind had shifted to slightly abeam the ship's stern. The sky was sunny and clear. “I don't like this,” muttered OldGuytukus when Gunnyduce made his way aft. “The wind and weather are too good for this time of year.” “I noticed you weren't steering north along the coast.” “The wind is almost dead foul for that. We'd be six days going up the coast and then across to Mykonos or Naxos. Maybe longer. Maybe a lot longer if the gods will it.” Gunnyduce nodded his understanding. “So someone is smoothing our way? Diana?” “Who else? And why?” “We've already decided we can't do anything but go along until we know more. I'm glad of the opportunity to continue training my lot. How are your sailors when it comes to a fight?” “The sailors are mostly bowmen. They have shields and short swords. All have experience in combat against pirates. A couple may have been pirates. Most sailors in this part of the world are – when the opportunity presents itself.” “Donius is good with a bow,” said Gunnyduce. “The others can hold their own. Fick will probably be good up close and personal. The sight of him alone is frightening. You don't have any hoplites on board?” “Kratos and one of the steersmen, Milo, can fight in line with spear and sword. They have armor, shields, full equipment. I haven't asked where they got the gear or the experience.” “Okay. I guess we have a functional assortment of killers. How long to Melos?” “With this wind – we should make it just before dusk.” “Good. The lads need a bit of stirring up.” Gunnyduce headed forward. “Kratos,” called OldGuytukus. “I'll relieve Milo. I want the two of you to put the crew through their paces. We may have to do some fighting before long.” The mate rubbed his hands together. “Excellent. I'll get with Gunnyduce and we'll work out a coordinated defense plan. Then we can put the lot of them through their paces.” A sudden outburst of shouted orders and strident yelps of alarm announced the start of a day of terror for the Simians. Kratos laughed and punched Milo's shoulder. “Roust our bunch. No sense letting the old Spartan have all the fun.” “Gods,” sighed Nestor, the other steersman and oldest man on the ship. “I hope you don't plan on takin' me into a fight.” “I hadn't intended to,” replied OldGuytukus. “Do you even have a sword?” “Oh, aye.” The man chuckled. “It it ain't rusted away. I has some armor and a helmet. I wears 'em when pirates attack. Someone has to steer.” “Glad to hear it. The only weapon I'd ever seen you with was a knife.” “Aye. Gotta gut fish. And pry stoppers outta wine jugs.” “I'll drink to that.” Some hours later, OldGuytukus called Gunnyduce aft. “You noticed that dark smudge ahead of us?” The old Spartan wheeled around and stared forward. “No. I been busy. Bad weather?” He shaded his eyes. “No. An island?” “Looks like.” “But it's only midday. We can't have reached Melos yet?” “Nestor and I figure the same thing.” OldGuytukus shoved the tiller to one side. Both steering oars rotated, leather harness creaking. Sea Mist did not respond. Her wake stretched behind, straight as a ruler. “Ah. That's not good.” “An understatement.” OldGuytukus pulled the tiller back to center. “Knock off the war games and let the lads rest. Send Kratos to me.” Kratos appeared and in a few moments the crew was lowering the sail and mast. That done, he had rations issued. Sea Mist ghosted on, creaking as she breasted the waves. The dark island grew larger. The golem came back to stand by OldGuytukus. “We watch. We listen. We do not like this land. Do you know it?” “We have left the land of the living,” said OldGuytukus. “This is part of the Underworld.” “Philosopher agrees. Dancer fades.” “Good. There won't be any dancing.” The surface became as glass, Sea Mist making scarcely a ripple as she slid forward. Gray gravel banks appeared on both sides, forming a canal no more than fifty paces wide. The sky faded to black. No stars appeared. Simians and sailors alike stood armed and ready, frightened into silence. Sea Mist slowed further, then stopped alongside a weathered gray dock. The ship sides and dock were at the same level. On the dock stood a creature which, at a glance, seemed to be a man wearing a horned helmet. As OldGuytukus stepped to the dock he saw that he faced no man, but a beast of the Underworld. The thing was bulky and ugly, with cloven hooves. It wore black trousers and vest. Short arms bulged with muscles. Black, ridged horns grew from the creature's head, which was man-like even to the facial features. And such features! The beast had the saddest face he had ever seen. “Finally,” said the horned being. “You're here.” TBC