Wednesday, April 06, 2022

... a handful of buckshot (10 Lines)


There is an old military axiom : ‘You can’t stiffen a bucket of spit with a hand full of buckshot’.

It had been a long war, so when technologies required young plastic brains, or the few remaining older soldiers just got too slow to keep up, they retired the veterans out to some backwater, pensioning them off with a plot of land.

Most of them never quite fit back into civilian life, the habits they had required out of necessity to simply stay alive in the hellish crucible of war marking them as different, untrustworthy, and potentially dangerous, among their new peaceful neighbours.

In a time of universal war, the young, able, and fit were all drawn away and into the conflict, leaving behind too many of the swaggering wannabes, boasting how much better they could do ‘If only They would let me into it!’.

These ‘worthies’ too often heaped scorn on the increasingly old men and women, so often huddled in darkened corners, seeking out the company of their own kind, as they sought numbness from their shared past with too much drink.  

As years slipped by, long hoarded equipment became homes for mice, while the skills faded and abilities eroded, even as the memories distilled into bright sharpness.

And eventually, to the blind shock of the civilians and the feared expectation of the veterans, war swept even into the backwaters, and it was those local populations who were all that was available to defend hearth and home. 

As expected, the alien enemy flooded like a tide, destroying all and any who stood before it, and as should have also been expected, the ‘bucket of spit’ ran before it, leaving only that ‘handful of shot’.

Maybe it was because they had been pushed just once too often, or had just become too tired to run any more, or because they knew death was close coming anyway and figured this ground was as good as any.

So the old, faded veterans stood, and fought, and died, in the end often making little difference on the cosmic scale, save where it really counted - within themselves.

Image : Snow Soldier Clandestino
by AlexanderBrox Published: Nov 14, 2011
(inserted here without permission)


I had more than the usual amount of trouble framing this one. The spark was the initial quote, which my memory (??) places from a US Civil War general. 

At first I was going to set up a scenario with a bright shiny officer school graduate, surveying a combat field with an old grizzled general. An alien hoard that normally ate all the dead, but for some reason had left these old soldiers bodies on that field as a kind of tribute. 

Maybe not so curiously, I had a lot of trouble finding a suitable illustration. Seems modern illustrators just don't deal with the concept of *old* soldiers inside a science fiction framework. The idea of veteran vs newbie, soldier vs civilian, is represented in science fiction - and has been for a long time. Heinlein's Starship Troopers / Haldeman's Forever War / Ringo's Posleen War 

and of course one of my other favourites (and influences) is John Scalzi's Old Man's War series. 

But in almost all of these, the 'old soldier' is seen inside the existing framework of a standing military. Both Ringo and Scalzi present a system where old minds are given rejuvenated bodies. Ringo actually uses the same 'handful of buckshot' quote to shape a main plot sequence in the second book in his series 'Gust Front'. 

Now, there are a number of reasons I have never attempted to go beyond a couple of 'prototype' short stories. One of the main reasons is 'new idea vs re-tread'. This is part of the reason I have latched on to this '10 line' framework (which believe me, has it's own special challenges). 

With thanks to the named authors, who have shaped by character (Heinlein), helped solidify ideas, or just plain provided an 'old friend' refuge in their tales.

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February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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