Sins of Our Fathers: The Fight [sci-fi; mature content]


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  1. #1

    Sins of Our Fathers: The Fight [sci-fi; mature content]

    People say that kids grow up fast in the Baltic Union, or they don't grow up at all. I couldn't agree more. Your training for the tough life of a citizen-soldier begins literally on the day you are born, when you are brought for examination before a commission of doctors, who will decide whether you are fit enough to merit further investment of resources and effort by the state and society into your upbringing. The babies who get their go-ahead are returned to their parents who no doubt beam with relief and pride. The failures... Well, their story ends in the procedure room behind the commission chamber. Back in the old days, they would have just carried the rejected babes outside the fallout shelters and left them in the wild to their fate. Nowadays, it's more civilized - a quick injection, a swift, painless release, and the grieving parents even get to bury their child that was not meant to be. One would think many would go to great lengths to bribe the doctors into approving their newborn, but few if any do - every Balt alive these days knows better, having survived the same selection and brought up with knowledge of its importance. A society that has made survival and martial preparedness its religion and way of life by necessity cannot afford to squander its limited resources on weaklings who will never be able to make the cut and return the investment.

    For those who make through the selection, life doesn't get any easier from there on. From that point on until the age of seven, their lives will be a gradual preparation for the Education and Training Camp, 12 years of rough conditioning in one of the boarding-school-slash-military-boot-camps that comprises the Union's compulsory education system. Your parents will be expected to have instilled you with basic discipline and obedience and instructed you in basic literacy by the time you are seven. Simple food, plenty of exercise, and regular chores from the moment you learn to walk will be your routine, every sweet a luxury, every hour of play a privilege. The state authorities will follow closely that your parents meet their obligations and don't spoil you too much, and if the authorities feel your parents aren't doing a proper job, they will quickly find someone who will. This isn't the old world where procreation was a right afforded even to the basest and unworthiest - here, children and family are a privilege and an honour.

    The vast majority of parents, however, do their duty well and are able to see you off to the E&T Camp personally on September 1 of the year you turn seven. From here on, until the day you graduate at the age of 18 - if you survive that long - your home district's E&T Camp will be your home. A bunk bed and a small locker to house your possessions, to be always kept in perfect order, will constitute the sum of your possessions. The concept of privacy will at best be a foreign loanword in your vocabulary as something that the weak and decadent outsiders abroad have as you spend your days in the company of your training platoon. You will eat, sleep, exercise and study together, every individual fuck-up being punished collectively. They will let you see your family on weekends, but don't ever take that for granted - home leave is a privilege that can be rescinded for misbehaviour or failure to meet the expected academic and training standards.

    Needless to say, E&T is tough for the younger kids especially. But children are great at adjusting, and will learn to find time for play, mischief and commotion even here when their stern drill instructors aren't looking.

    ---

    On this bleak autumn day, a whole training platoon of young boys have assembled behind the boiler station of Aizkraukle District E&T Camp. As they stand in a circle, shouting and chanting vividly, two of the boys struggle fiercely in the middle. It is here, away from the prying eyes of the instructors, that lads with a grudge come to settle their scores on breaks between classes. Any black eyes and bloodied noses from such incidents are explained to instructors as the result of accidental falls, an explanation most often accepted without further inquiry. Reporting an ordinary fight that occasionally breaks out between boys to the instructors would only earn one punishment for partaking in an unauthorized fight, further punishment for snitching on one's comrades, and worst of all, the reputation of a snitch in one's training platoon and a miserable life for many months or years to come.

    As is evident from the swollen bruises, cuts and blood covering their faces, these two lads have been at each other for some time already, and neither shows any intent of yielding. Such are the rules - one must fight until victory or knockout. Kids who yield in the CQB class are punished for it with hard exercise, a stern reminder that the enemies they will face as adults will show them no mercy. Same rule applies here - only one boy may leave the circle on his own feet.

    After circling each other briefly, looking for an opening, the two fighting boys dash at each other with an enraged scream and lock into a clinch. After furiously wrestling for a moment, the slightly-bigger boy, a brawny lad with Slavic features, throws his opponent down and starts to pummel his face. Punch after punch breaks the boy's nose, splits his lower lip and busts open his already-swollen eyebrow. But despite the punishment, the boy on the ground refuses to yield. His hand grasps along the ground frantically while the bigger boy focuses on destroying his face, finally grasping what it sought for - a sturdy piece of coal, one of many scattered on the ground behind the boiler house. An instant later, the boy on top whimpers as that coal piece lands hard on his temple with a loud thwack, splitting open his left cheek as well. As he is knocked off-balance, the boy underneath slips out from his grasp, wrapping his legs around the opponent and using his whole body to throw him aside and get on top of him. With the roles suddenly reversed, the smaller lad, a wiry chap with cold ice-blue eyes now proceeds to return the earlier favour by beating the opponent's face into pulp.

    That boy is me at the age of ten, about as tough and ferocious little shit as Baltic E&T camps ever turn out. To my opponent's credit, he's been more than an even match. Because of him, I feel like run over by a freight train right now, and am determined to pay back in kind now.

    "Hendrik! Hendrik! Hendrik!" the lads around chant, even the ones who just moments before cheered it on for the other guy. Everybody likes a winner, apparently. Igor, my opponent, tries in vain to shake me off, attempting to throw a few easily-avoided punches at my face. With adrenaline of rage coursing through my veins, I redouble my efforts, heedless of the world around. Then, suddenly, a thundering gunshot and a wrathfully-roared "BELAY!" brings me back to my senses. The two of us are in big trouble now.

    "You two - name and platoon number!" Staff Sergeant Deksnis, the chief of today's watch, demands as he holsters his still-smoldering sidearm. No doubt he came to hear our shouting while patrolling the camp premises.

    "Recruit Hendriks Vanags, Platoon 4C, sir!" I spring to my feet at attention lightning-quick and render a crisp salute.

    "Recruit... uhhh.... Recruit Igor Danilenko, Platoon 4C, sir!" my roughed-up opponent has a harder time getting up and doing the same.

    "Explain the meaning of this outburst!" the Staff Sergeant demands.

    "Sir, Recruit Danilenko shoved me in the mess hall, leading to the loss of a part of my lunch ration, and failed to apologize! Because of this failure, I concluded that his actions were deliberate, and invited him to settle the grievance in a fistfight!" I report prim-and-properly. By their fourth year in E&T, every kid knows proper armyspeak that the instructors are so fond of.

    "Sir, I did not notice I had shoved Recruit Vanags and accepted his challenge because he referred to my mother with profane language among other things!" Igor explains his take on the incident.

    "Report first to the infirmary, and then to the Commandant's office!" Staff Sergeant Deksnis barks his verdict, "The rest of you, form up! Right-TURN! To your barracks - MARCH!"

    ---

    "It's your fault, you big oaf!" I snarl at Igor at a hushed voice as we make our way to Commandant's after the nurses in infirmary have patched us up. "Now the whole platoon will get their asses served because of us! If you had watched where you're going, we wouldn't have had this fight in the first place!"

    "Like hell it is!" Igor snarls back, "If you hadn't called my mom a whore, we might've worked something out about your chow!"

    "I didn't call your mother a whore!" I protest, "I did call you a clumsy whoreson, after which you shoved me again!"

    "You did too! If you call me a whoreson, that means you're calling my mom a whore!" Igor objects.

    "Whatever," I grumble, "Now the Commandant's gonna tear us both a new one anyway!"

    We both walk down the hallway of the second story of the camp's administrative building. The occasional passing staff member looks at our battered faces and dirty, torn uniforms with a grin. Clearly it is obvious what these two are here for and where they're headed, they probably must be thinking. Portraits of stern uniformed faces look down at us condemningly from the hallway walls. Former commandants and senior instructors, prominent graduates of Aizkraukle E&T camp, and the occasional hero-martyr who once studied here before falling heroically in defense of the Union. I'm especially fond of the occasional paintings of martyrs, all of them done by senior students in the arts class. The usual martyrs of choice are teenagers and children, better relatable to by the intended audience of school-age youths, each shown at the dramatized moment of their torturous demise.

    Foreigners probably wouldn't think such images "age-appropriate" for school students, but Balts care little about their notions of shielding their children from the harsh realities of the world. In our part of the world that is a rare oasis of liberty and order amidst lawless wastelands and oppressive tyrannies and coveted by many, death can come for anyone in any number of gruesome and terrifying ways. So it is only fitting and proper that children are reminded constantly of the selfless sacrifice of others that enables them to be alive and live in a free nation, and of their duty to follow their example if need be, so that others may live free in turn.

    A blue-eyed blonde teenage girl about to be raped by a congregation of hideous wasteland mutants looks defiantly at her tormentors as they stare in shock and horror at the armed grenade in her hand an instant before detonation. A young boy in E&T uniform dashing over the dead bodies of his fallen parents, about to dive under an approaching Mecharussian tank while clutching an AT mine, his eyes likewise expressing only fearlesness and determination. These are the examples that our instructors want us children to follow, and which most of us dutifully wish to follow ourselves. The painting that inspires me the most is of a lone boy amidst his dead platoon-mates, firing the rifle of his dying drill instructor next to the wreck of their armored school bus about to be overwhelmed by a gang of wasteland raiders. Ever since I first saw that picture, I've often fantasized about being in his shoes, a young lone hero making a glorious last stand.

    My reflections on the propaganda art displayed in the school's hallways are interrupted by our arrival at the Commandant's office. This is the place that every student from first to last year fears the most.

    "You go first!" Igor pushes me to the door.

    "No, you go!" I find myself just as hesitant as him.

    "You started it!"

    "No, you shoved me first!"

    "Pipe down before the Commandant hears us!"

    "Alright, fine, I'll go..." I finally agree. This is probably what going to one's own execution must feel like. Mustering all my courage, I finally knock on the dreaded door.

    "Yes?" a gruff voice barks sternly from inside.

    "Sir, Recruit Hendriks Vanags and Recruit Igor Danilenko from Platoon 4C reporting in for disciplinary action! Permission to enter?" I announce ourselves. No doubt the chief of watch has already notified the Commandant of the incident.

    "Come in!" the voice sternly commands.

    The two of us enter the dreaded office. The stern faces of the Founding Colonels gaze down upon us from the frames lining the walls, the largest portrait being that of the incumbent High Marshal. Literally everything in the room seems designed to make one feel puny and insignificant before the might of the Commandant and the state authority of the Education and Training Department represented in his person. The Commandant is a large and imposing man, his broad shoulders and hammer-like fists alone being sufficient to instill fear and respect in the most hardened of miscreants, the piercing gaze of his steel-grey eyes and his gruff voice sending further chills of terror down the spines of those unfortunate or careless enough to have earned themselves a summon to his abode.

    "Explain yourselves!" he commands curtly after returning our salute and sitting down at his massive redwood desk.

    "Sir, Recruit Danilenko shoved me in the mess hall during lunch, leading to partial loss of my lunch ration!" I give him roughly the same line as I did to the chief of watch, "When he failed to apologize, I concluded that he acted on malicious purpose and demanded satisfaction in a fistfight!"

    "Sir, I did not notice I had shoved Recruit Vanags until after he challenged me! Since he had used profanities to refer to my mother, I accepted his challenge!" Igor does the same.

    "I can see that," the Commandant frowns, looking over our battered faces and grimy ragged uniforms, "If only all of you boys put the same energy and effort into studying as you put into fighting each other, no power in the world would dare to peril our God-blessed country. Four weeks of latrine duty and no home leave should be enough to remind you of that. Now report to your platoon sergeant! Dismissed!"

    As the two of us render a crisp salute and snap about on the heel to leave, I wish that the Commandant had rather given us three months of scrubbing toilets and not seeing our families on weekends, but spared us the platoon sergeant part. Sergeant Kalvāns treats his platoon of 32 ten-year-old boys in an almost fatherly manner when they behave, but God have mercy on all of them if someone gets on his bad side. Now he's no doubt going to make the rest of the week a living hell for the platoon collectively and for us personally, more if he deems necessary, and I know for a fact that the punishments handed out by the Commandant are pure leisure compared to what the drill instructors can come up with.

    ---

    "I'm sorry I called you a whoreson, for all it's worth now," I reluctantly grunt as the two of us crawl through the mud with mock-up rifles on our hands.

    "And I'm sorry I shoved you," Igor grumbles back before wincing as the merciless jet of icy water sprays mud in his face, "Honestly, I didn't even notice I had bumped into you until you dropped your platter and started shouting!"

    "Who's that I hear yakking again?!" Sergeant Kalvāns interrupts our conversation with another blast of chilling water from the fire hose, "You still have 10 laps to go here, and another 10 at the stadium, and the last to finish doesn't eat dinner! If you have enough energy to spend on fighting each other, that means I haven't been doing my job right, and that mistake will now be rectified! The Commandant was kind enough to give the two assholes who are your reason of being here four weeks of scrubbing toilets with no home leave. I spoke to him about the wisdom of such penalty, and he kindly agreed to extend it to all of you, so now you're stuck here with them, and I will PT you until you shit buttermilk for every single day of it! You can thank Vanags and Danilenko for that, as well as yourselves for failing to talk some sense into them!"

    We keep on crawling through the mud of the obstacle course as Sergeant Kalvāns showers us from his hose in this already chilly autumn day. When this is all over eventually, Sergeant Kalvāns will call us together and ask what we learned from this ordeal, and "that fighting in school is bad" will no doubt be the last answer he'll want to hear. He'll want to hear things like "failure to post lookouts" and "taking no precautions against detection" amidst our named mistakes. He doesn't want us to be the obedient little recruits who do everything as they are told, when they are told - he wants us to be the mischievous boys who know how to break the rules and get away with it. As I crawl through the mud, the realization strikes me that this is the real reason we are being punished for - not because two of us got in a fight against the E&T camp rules, and not because the others failed to break us up, but because we failed and they failed to keep our quarrel from instructors' notice.

    Let's hope the other 30 lads of our platoon come to the same realization, and the sooner the better. Me and Igor still have 4 grueling weeks ahead to survive.
    Last edited by CyberWar; January 12th, 2020 at 08:58 PM.

  2. #2
    As usual, pure awesomeness, I really enjoyed this chapter!
    I think it's much better balanced than the intro, and is 100% believable.

    And as usual with me, some nitpicking follows, to be dutifully ignored.

    "For those who make it through the selection"

    "The state authorities will follow closely that your parents..." - somehow, this construct feels odd to me. Maybe "...will keep a very close eye on your parents to ensure..."? You also use "authorities" twice in the same sentence. Is that intentional?

    The math seems to be off: you say the E&T lasts 12 years, but between ages 7 and 18 there are 11. Am I missing something?

    "...a small locker to house your possessions..." - "possessions" used twice in the same sentence.

    "Needless to say, E&T is tough for the younger kids especially." - I see to alternatives to arranging this sentence (depending on the implied meaning) that IMO will work better: 1) Needless to say, E&T is especially tough for the younger kids. 2) Needless to say, E&T is tough, especially for the younger kids.

    Having read the "...would only earn one punishment..." section of the sentence, I did not expect the list of punishments to be extended (i.e. I thought this means there's only one punishment). Maybe rephrase to "would only earn multiple punishments: one for..., another for..." etc.

    "After circling each other..." - "each other" is used twice in the sentence.

    "...I feel like run over by a freight train..." - do they have freight trains in this PA world? If no, how would a kid know to use it as a reference?

    ""Hendrik! Hendrik! Hendrik!" - there's a similar chant in the previous chapter you've published. Is this going to be a recurring theme throughout the whole book, every chapter? If not (or maybe even if yes), how about the MC-narrator commenting on this chant following him through his entire life, or something like that? Otherwise, it just feels like a weird coincidence, no?

    "BELAY!"? Not "cease!" or just "stop!"? Not sure, but the choice of word seems a little strange.

    "...holsters his still-smoldering sidearm..." - what kind of sidearm does he have??? Is it a black-powder gun? Modern handguns don't really smolder, especially not after a single shot.

    "Clearly it is obvious what these two are here for and where they're headed, they probably must be thinking." - I think the last part is redundant. And if you remove it, change the third person to "we", or "the two of us", because the way it is (the sudden change of the POV) breaks the cadence and confuses the reader.
    Also, "probably must be" sounds redundant. Either "probably are" or "must be" would suffice.

    "Portraits of stern uniformed faces..." - Um, "uniformed faces"??? I know what you mean, but this doesn't read right.

    "In our part of the world that is a rare oasis of liberty and order amidst lawless wastelands and oppressive tyrannies and coveted by many, death can come for anyone in any number of gruesome and terrifying ways." That is one very long and winding sentence Also, there are several different lists conjoined by these multiple "and"s but not separated by commas, which makes it even more difficult to make sense of.

    "...student from first to last year..." -> "...student from the first year to the last..."?

    I think you may be overusing the word "stern/sternly" a little. Consider replacing it with a synonym here and there?
    The same with "dreaded".

    "...a summon to his abode..." - I think "abode" usually means a place of dwelling, not the office. Surely the Commandant doesn't also live in his office, does he?

    "Me and Igor still have 4 grueling weeks..." -> "Igor and I"?
    Last edited by KHK; January 13th, 2020 at 11:36 AM.

  3. #3
    I'm not sure if the previous chapter would even qualify as an intro, seeing how I don't really follow chronological order with these stories, writing them down as they come to mind. The original few (found on this same forum section a few pages back) actually featured Hendrik as an adult, an elite soldier and a family man with a son of his own.

    Hendrik apparently means school years rather than astronomical years when he references 12 years of E&T. Since a school year is shorter than a proper astronomical year (somewhere around 8 months or so), it's entirely possible for a youngster to go through 12 "years" in the span of 11.

    The story is set some 80 years after a nuclear war. While severely affected, technological civilization did not collapse entirely, but rather lapsed back into a much more decentralized, local form. In Hendrik's day, the world is making a gradual recovery, as is evidenced by the presence of advanced technological civilizations like the Mekhrus, the main enemies of Hendrik's nation. Consequently, technology like trains exists and is common enough for him to include in a metaphor, albeit in a much-reduced scale compare to our time. I'll be sure to give more elaboration to that in my future stories in this setting.

    "Belay" is a common military command requiring the recipients to cease their current action, i.e., "belay" whatever it is they are doing. The E&T instructors likely prefer this "armyspeak" form over more common ways to demand cessation of undesired activity.

    Modern guns do sometimes smolder (albeit not conspicuously) if the weather is damp, the gun has too much oil applied, or the powder is crappy, all of which is possible in the given case. It's obviously not going to be thick puffs of smoke like from black powder, more of just a thin strand of smoke/vapor rising from a freshly-fired gun.

  4. #4
    I get the "armyspeak", just haven't ever heard "belay" used in this context. But then again, my military service was not in English, so all I know is what I've seen in the movies and read in the books - which, apparently, is not enough

    As for smoldering guns - well, yeah, the first shot fired through an excessively oiled barrel would produce some smoking effect. I just don't think it would be prominently visible to everyone in that courtyard, and in any case I doubt this detail adds something substantial to the scene (but it made me "stutter", which is not good for the flow). Up to you.

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