ARC – Chapter One
Vegan Fiction – Reading time approximately: 15 minutes
The Color of Mink
12:35 a.m. Oktober 15, 2054
“HellsARC armed, ignition on three.” Arming’s done via Android Rocket App. Detonation, I keep the old fashion way: shock incendiary. Gives me a reason to bring my .338. Command grumbles, but my expertise affords the privilege.
Simplicia’s voice, a gentle feline purr over the com, “Showtime, little fuzzies.”
Little fuzzies, like how she says it. Cute they are.
But HellsARC? Nothing cutesy. Creates a fireball the size of Gawd-fugging-knows-what and shoots straight up two-hundred-yards. Slow, building vengeance. A squatty blunt nose rocket harassed by a twisting, blazing, orange serpent. At its peak, it stalls a mesmerizing moment as if frozen in space, spraying a shower of glowing shrapnel. It falls in an ever-increasing spiral spitting out a corkscrew of flaming multicolor fragments. Makes the state-mandated Politikal Day fireworks look like a spark from a beaten-down Zippo on a windy day.
It buys us time, distracts, and captures the dread of the unsuspecting. With a bang to scare the banshees out of perdition. Scares me and I’m fearless. I am the FireMan. My name’s Moon. My job is the assembly, setup, and detonation of HellsARC. And, I’m the lookout, I don’t assist the release. Command prefers me at a distance, figures I’m too old, too slow, or maybe too unstable in case things go south. They’re wrong; two out of three. Weathered face, gray streaks, and four-inch scar fool them. I think I look tough, experienced, intimidating. The more when I howl.
Belly-down in the grass on a hill, I spy through the night-optic scope of my .338 I named Emma; after Goldman. To the east, HellsARC. To the west, our objective. Nestled among the reaching pines, sixteen white-washed barns staggered like the Quonset huts at boot camp. More in the character of Auschwitz 1. Peaceful, from here. An eerie serenity. Inside tells the tale. Unrelenting wails of misery and fright. Foggy Lake—poisoned to stink by farm runoff—a quarter-mile further with two thirty-man, 1400 kW jet boats at the ready. In the forest, Team Liberation awaits the hell of HellsARC, their go-get-’em sign in the heavens.
We are ARC, Animal Rescue Confederacy. An underground movement polished to military precision empowering animal rights to unprecedented prominence. Ranked as the number one domestic terrorist threat by the Politikal. An Honor. But not surprising when authorities paint with broad sweeping strokes the mask of terrorism over freedom’s canvas.
The breeze brings a rabid sting of ammonia. The fetid heap of little fuzzies’ urine and feces. Burns the eyes. Smells like fear warmed to a char. Northward, upwind, in an open-air barn awaiting detonation is HellsARC XIII with its epithet, ‘Suck This’ in cursive nested in the pinstriping. Thirteen. I’m not superstitious, mind. Still, in anticipation, I need a deep breath and take one.
A twist of the power ring brings the incendiary into focus. Ready to close my eyes on the squeeze of the trigger. You don’t want to watch this whizzbang go boom, or you’ll see spots for a week. And the fur farmers in the three surrounding houses, they’ll stain their wooly pajamas. Although it’s offensive calling mink slavers farmers. Farmers tend the soil, raise fruits, and vegetables, flowers, not sentients. Over the com, I start the count, “One, two… shit, stand down.”
In my earpiece, the purr of Simplicia, “Problem, Moon?”
Simplicia is Major General. Owns a Ph.D. and a black belt in Taekwondo. Lionhearted. Gifted with the magical ingredients of compassion, courage, and intelligence. Strapping and slightly curvy. High cheekbones. Blue orbs. A usurping smile. Makes me wish I was younger, smarter, refined, and good looking. Didn’t have this scar. Incompatible. Still, I’m thinking to ask her out.
“We have a body entering the zone, sweetheart General.” The zone, a three-hundred-yard blast radius of HellsARC. Up to me, I’d blow the furrier to my namesake. A just comeuppance by my reckoning.
But not how ARC operates.
Not how I will behave, they warned me. The decorated conscript of 72 confirmed headshots and countless kills in the Empire’s kill and get killed flush. A hero by patriotic accounting. Got me a lousy pension and my name on a plaque somewhere in the halls of the Capitol. I’ve killed men, women, kids, moms, dads. Purged the remains of cities left beneath bombed-out rubble. Assisted the massacre of civilians in the name and by the blessing of Imperial Conquest. But somehow this is different. ARC and her sponsors dislike killing. I will play by their rules—the sponsors. We need them, their money; explosives and military gear aren’t cheap. Plus, some’s on the payroll, like Simplicia, the River, everyone but me.
I’m here for freedom and revenge. For the hell of HellsARC—the symbolic rage of the voiceless. To piss in the face of thugs who prey and profit on the vulnerable. The innocent. Last month we sank the largest hog farm in the Politikal. Two-hundred-thirty, below-minimum-wage migrants and their ivory tower overlords took a hard lesson in animal rights. Took us two tries in nine months, but we did it. It was fun. A blast. Pigs are the coolest, these enjoy freedom.
River barked, “Human or animal?”
“Neither,” I told him. “Fugging fur farmer on an elecFour-wheeler.”
Look, I’ve developed a measure of misanthropy over the years. Consider it man’s redeeming virtue. And raise by the Empire—and other than the annoying quirks of PTSD, the fugging nightmares—I don’t have a problem shredding dregs. Killing is what humanity does best, and I’m pretty damn good at it. But River, if left to him, would take his deviltry to the level of animal agriculture. He’d torture the pricks for the time it took him to read Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and I’m pretty sure he can’t read. “Fry the fuck,” he says and pops a gum bubble. But I think better, for now. And Simplicia knows I know better. She’s silent over the com, but I’m sure she shook her head.
The farmer dawdles in the barn, scratching his groin, kicking dirt. Nervous. Impatient. Clueless of the hell hidden behind the stacks of hay, or he wouldn’t be there.
I watch, wait. Exploit the opportunity to daydream.
Then, the object of my reverie speaks to me. “Moon?”
“Ah, sweetheart. General.”
“Furrier’s beneath the overhang beside the detonator. Just lit his third smoke. Might save us a bullet.” But I don’t like it. This time of the morning, curfew, he’s waiting for someone, something.
Then, the paradigm shift. Tumbling through a dark tunnel, I’m back on the battlefield. Possessed by dark powers, the soul-fungi of a warrior.
Turning off Highway 41, I see headlights lighting up Minkers Lane. The growl of Army issue all-terrain tires, unmistakable. MPF, Militarized Police Force in their six-wheeled armoredRovers. Our plan leaked, and that’s why only I know where HellsARC’s planted. Smarter than I look. And before MPF reach the mink, they’ll pass by Big Bang. That’s me planning for possibilities. “The Schutzstaffel has joined our little soiree, Schatz General.”
River said, “They get in the zone, send them to hell as well, FryBoy.”
Disturbs me we think alike.
“Stow it, River,” said Simplicia. “That’s an order.”
But he won’t, the young, impetuous, loud-mouth punk. He provokes me. Imagine him calling me FryBoy, the derogative of the FireMan. Any self-respecting arsonist would take offense. I do, and I would kick his ass if I thought I could. Hell, if we pull this off, I’ll celebrate, give it a go. Trouble is, for all his empty assheadedness River’s quick as a rattler and stout as a pair of bolt cutters packing a venomous punch. Well trained. Six inches taller, seventy pounds heavier. Spells challenge. A Titan, my impulsive little brother. Calls for a sucker-punch. Not his first.
“Our guests have debarked in the zone,” I said. “Greeted by the farmer. A last-minute pep talk among the Gestapo.”
River threw in, “Blow it, my bunghole.”
Now I’m his anus.
My ARC issue safety glasses contain an optic transmitter relaying what I see to Simplicia’s optical receiver and to one of many screens at Command Central. I remove them and shatter them beneath my fist. Some things are better not seen. Crosshairs on the primer, I ask, “Sweetheart, General?”
I am a child of the Empire gone rogue, a snake set to strike at the toxic tentacles of its creator. A bead of sweat rolls down my spine. A grin stabs my cheek, bending the scar into a lightning bolt. Senses Heighten. I hear not only the amplified chirp of crickets but the rustling grass as they spring about. I smell them, the mink, the soil; the gamy of MPF, their gun oil, and the sweat beneath their new virgin Kevlar. My eyes adjust like an owl of the night. The portent of death. Steady as steal. I suck breath and hold it. Place my finger on the trigger. Await the command.
But then, Simplicia says, “Abort.”
“Abort?” I asked, in a clear, disbelievingly voice. My mistake. I could have said I misunderstood the order, but not now, not when they review the recording. And maybe I should have aborted. Packed my toys, went home, had a beer, and forgot all about this. Except, I don’t drink. Not anymore. And I never forget the things I regret. None of them. Not fugging ever. And this was the fuzzies last chance. Our chance to take animal rights from wishy-washy semi-unresistive veganism to all-out war. Maybe not the smartest thing I’ve done. But we’ve died for less. A lot less.
Pandemonium rules under the whirling, whistling umbrella of HellsARC’s flaming sputter. A symphony. Poetic. Stunning in appearance and effect. But the MPF are professionals possessed with a pernicious, albeit misguided sense of duty. They will recover—most of them—and regroup quickly then go on a deadly offensive. Although MPF number in the fifties, knowing their tactics and how they use them is my advantage. And, I hold the high ground.
I estimate HellsARC XIII reached a record two-hundred-forty yards, slow and ominous. I’m impressed with this build. Unfortunately, with it, blew up any chance I might have enjoyed with Simplicia over dinner. The incidental body contact. A kiss goodnight.
“Fucking Christ, Moon!”
Holy damnation, sweetheart. I sure did. Never heard her cuss before. Always the collected commander. Impeccable breeding.
Simplicia brought me into ARC. Stood me before her superiors in a penthouse in a dizzying highrise with a commanding view of the Capitol, crazy. We seemed a good fit. I needed redemption; they needed an explosives expert. On intel from River, she found one ravaging the dumpster behind Taco Hell. The drunken sewage spew of an Imperial Army, the smut of a man who lived his life fighting the wrong wars for all the wrong reasons. A vegan picking hamburger and maggots out of half-ate burritos, sucking sugary spit out of a cup through a straw, and shouting obscenities at the world. The Brass stated their objection to more than my stench. They read my service record with pleasurable disdain, loud, in my face, reiterating: A killer. A killer. What the fug did they expect from an explosives expert? They quote, Unpredictable. Disrespectful of authority… But I’ll argue this was entirely predictable of me. Pity though, my disobedience will reflect poorly on Simplicia’s judgment when she’s summoned before their sovereign counsel.
But it won’t go as wrong for her if we succeed; Freedom is more than our motto. I would hope.
“Move!” she ordered. “The Color of Mink, go. Go!”
That’s my girl. “I’ll buy you some time, sweetheart General.”
She was pissed, “Never call me that again.”
“You got it, sweetheart.”
I did the math in my head; not bad for a dropout with a pickled brain, eh? It’s three-quarter a mile from outside the zone to the barns. If the MPF board their armoredRovers, our force will never make it to the boats in time. They will find us in the barns with mink in hand, we’re finished, as are the fuzzies. However. If MPF foots it, figuring a fifteen MPH jaunt, that gives our troops three minutes to clear the barns, set the charges, and make for the lake. One-hundred-eighty seconds, I’ll see they have more.
Time depends on disabling the armoredRovers, the four that aren’t belly-up courtesy of HellsARC. The technological advantage of today’s electric transports is there’s no engine block to punch a hole in and hope it seizes up when you need it to. It never does. Been there, done that, very unreliable. But, put the same .338, 300 gr Lapua Scenar through the armature, and it’s an instant short-circuit. Sparksville. The trick is getting the armoredRovers to show their ass and place the bullet between the half-inch steel louvers and hitting the sweet spot. That’s where a savvy upstream sharpshooter with expert knowledge of projectile dynamics and the mechanics of armoredRovers comes in.
It was our night, all right. We set the little fuzzies free to roam the forest and raise a family. Team Liberation made it to the boats with minutes to spare. The fur farm burned to the ground, and the furriers, if they’re smart—however unlikely, should rethink their livelihood. The MPF took a shot of their own penicillin. Several. And our troops left me behind. On my order. No way I could ignite the HellsARC, keep the MPF hunkered down and scrambling for cover, and make it to the boats in time. I’m fast, not that fast. But it’s okay, I always have a backup plan. This one was a short sprint behind me. A relic, a fossil fuel burning, Yamaha 250 dirt bike. Bought it and a quart of low-grade octane for a song from a local kid. Fun, but a bugger to start and behaved like an ass. Hard to imagine some used these noxious means. Vexing.
Back at the hotel, a squeamish, disinclined valet parks the 250. Later, in my room, still washed in the fumes of internal-combustion, I watch the news. Emergency vehicles flashing blue and red lights in the background. The on-site reporter, a fop with pretty hair, shook his pretty face with feigned rue, and said, “It was over a six-million-dollar loss.” A ridiculous estimate, I consider priceless. The camera pans across the smoldering remains of the mink barns, then to the belly-heavy sheriff, he’s caught taking a bite out of a frosted jelly-filled. Wipes his mouth along his sleeve and says, “According to the farmers, the mink are domesticated and won’t survive the wild.” The overtone’s clear, we’re the evildoers who doomed the minks to a horrible fate. Whatever. Or even if: Suffer terrifying captivity 24/7, filth, hunger, cannibalism, disease, infection, insanity, and bloodcurdling death, or die free, at peace?
A propaganda prop fills the screen: A ditzy dame, long dress, spiked heels, diamonds, and red plumper lips, cuddles in a mink stole—heads intact, marble eyes. A fur farmer in the foreground, wearing a white-tee in bib-overalls and a goofy smile, holds a live mink to his chest like the beloved family pet. These people are sick.
Back to the sheriff with jam in a glob bobbing from his chin, says, “Anyone sees a mink, don’t approach it, you’ll get bit.” Oh? Cuddly domesticated little fuzzies bite? They didn’t even nibble their rescuers, only snuggles of appreciation. Assheads don’t get it, they have such puny perspectives.
Simplicia rings me on the secure channel. Probably calling to apologize for her rude behavior. To tell me I did right. Ask me out to dinner. Spend the night together; I’ll need a shower.
“Hello, Moon, you reckless, insubordinate…” She sounds harsh, but a smile soon blossoms in her tone. She likes me and makes it embarrassingly obvious. Finally, she asks me out for dinner. Knows a vegan spot north of here.
“Love to,” I say. “I’ll drive.”
ARC is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of my imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
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