From Short Stories to Duology
I am so happy to announce that the Markram Battles stories will be growing from flash fiction to full length novels. Yippee! The decision wasn’t easy, but the more I worked on them, the more I realized the full potential of the characters and plot. I outlined the entire series last October in preparation for NaNoWriMo, spent months writing the first draft, and last week I started working on the second draft (for book 1). I am so excited to keep you posted on my progress as I work on it.
Because of the change in format, some of the stories already published as part of the first two anthologies (Genesis of an Uprising and Omens of Doom) won’t be available anymore. But don’t fret! I will revamp a kick-butt third volume with new short stories (including the Writer’s Digest Honorable Mention story I submitted in 2019) and a couple of keepers from Volume I and II. It will be epic! And absolutely free to my newsletter subscribers.
In the meantime, I invite you to read the story that began it all, originally published in Genesis of an Uprising, and which will survive the upcoming changes unscathed, given that it is told from a completely different POV than the main characters of the book. Hope you enjoy it!
Courage in Battle. Honor in Death.
The unit leaders, or what is left of them, stand motionless, perfectly poised, and unresponsive. They resemble black armored trees rooted to the glass floor in the midst of a stark white room. I inhale deeply as the Major General walks in and pours the full intensity of her expression over my squadron. Her white leather uniform wraps tightly around her body and emphasizes her curvaceous form, while her glossy white hair, fastened into a ponytail, exposes her slender neck and soft features. She blends in perfectly with her surroundings, like a white flake amidst a snowstorm.
“Unit Leaders,” I command. “Salute.”
Their deep voices resonate through the room in monotone harmony. “We who are trained to die, salute you, and pledge our service with honor. We vow to suffer pain, torture, and death if we disobey.”
Expressionless, the Major General asks, “Are you sure they are ready, Commander?”
I clear my throat methodically. “Yes, Major General.”
She turns toward me, distracting me with the attractive sway of her curvy figure. The Major General lets out a laugh that echoes through the room with boisterous intensity, and my body stiffens in response. “What I mean to ask, Commander, is have they been broken?”
I am suddenly reminded of the first time I heard her characteristic expression. That day will be embedded in my brain forever, like the genetic code of my DNA. I had just been assigned to oversee the training of this squadron and I had no clue what I was doing. The Major General, on the other hand, wasn’t only experienced, but shockingly brutal, both in her remarks and measures. Back then, all unit leaders in this squadron were merely boys, and there were more of them.
I remember them standing in front of me, frightened, confused, and some even teary-eyed. I recall walking between the crooked rows, making changes to their posture before the Major General arrived. She stomped into the room and nodded dismissively. I still remember the way her loose hair shifted around her shoulders with every movement. She was strikingly beautiful.
That morning I stepped aside as she made her way to one of the boys in the front row and wiped the tears away from his shimmering blue eyes. “Tears are a sign of weakness,” she hissed. Without warning she wrapped her hand around his face and released her extrasensory shock, allowing electrical waves of physical pain to flow out of her. The surge of power blazed out of her hand in flames of white fire, wrapping across the boy’s entire body. He convulsed from the shock and fell to the ground with a loud thud.
“They will start training immediately,” I said, attempting to clear the contemptuous atmosphere the Major General had brought with her.
“They started training the minute they entered our program, Commander,” she corrected. After a quizzical look in my direction, she continued, “The invasion of the new planet is already under way. By the time this squadron is ready for their first conscripting exercise they will have an established sector in which to practice.”
“Will all conscripting fields be ready in time?” I asked. “Sector 32 hasn’t surrendered yet.”
The Major General laughed mockingly. “Their conscripting exercises won’t take place in the fields, Commander. Conscripting fields are for recognized unit leaders to personally select fighters that meet certain criteria. These leaders must prove themselves first. After their training they must capture rebel survivors in hostile territories to use in their first battles. It will provide an added degree of difficulty.”
“But invasion protocol states that all hostile survivors are to be processed into conscripting fields for assessment before they can be allowed to fight in the Battles.”
“Tell me something, Commander,” The Major General said with a puckered brow. “How is it that a recessive Markram makes his way into supervising the training of a new squadron?”
“Are you implying that recessive Markrams are inferior to dominant Markrams?”
“Not in so many words,” she answered flatly.
I remember turning toward her and fixing my attention on her hands. “The extrasensory abilities of recessive Markrams may not be used on other people. But I wouldn’t refer to them as inferior.”
“Your extrasensory ability is memory retention, is it not?” she asked.
“Yes, perfect retention and recall of information. While my ability may not inflict physical pain or have the capacity to control a subject, I am sure even you, Major General, can appreciate the advantages of such an ability in furthering our Empire’s goals,” I replied. “So, when will the new languages be introduced?” I asked, effectively redirecting the subject.
The Major General gazed over me from head to toe and back again, with an obviously distasteful expression. “Your main focus will be their physical and mental training. They will be introduced to the human languages after their competitive status is verified.”
I frowned at the use of the term human, as if they belonged to a completely different race. Our first studies of the new planet, discovered among a new cluster of galaxies, yielded unprecedented results. Humans, as they referred to each other, were simply at an earlier stage in the evolutionary process. Their genetic development was noticeably slower due to evolutionary changes driven by population growth and cultural shifts, but their trajectory of biological evolution continued to show genetic modifications.
The only physical disparities between our races could be found in hair and eye pigmentation. Genetic mutations among Markrams evolved into the complete loss of melanin in hair follicles and multilayered microstructures in the irises. The effects of these mutations resulted in the absence of hair coloration and the appearance of iridescent colors in our eyes. However, in spite of our physical differences, we were able to infiltrate their governments and social organizations without suspicion.
The Major General walked toward me and contemplated me thoughtfully. “Have you ever supervised a training before, Commander?” she asked.
“Not exactly, Major General. My work has been limited to theoretical development and training enhancement research. The training of this squadron will be my first.”
She let out a mocking laugh so vicious it raised the hairs on my body. She began to pace in front of the squadron again, looking at the boys like inferior beings, ghastly scoundrels that should be crushed. “Squadron Twenty-Eight,” she said. “As unit leaders your first priority is to strip yourselves of fear. You will refer to me as Major General. You shall not speak, unless spoken to. You shall not look directly into a superior’s eyes. You will move on command, eat on command, sleep on command, and train on command. Noncompliance to any of the rules will result in the punishment of the entire unit. Combat is your life now. Courage in battle and honor in death.”
The Major General walked among the boys and electrically shocked all of them as she passed them by. “They are strong boys, Major General,” I said. “They will make great unit leaders.”
I recall how quickly she stiffened, almost as if a lightning bolt had stricken her. “Commander?” she asked.
“Yes, Major General?”
“Let me make myself very, very clear. Unit leaders, the kind of unit leaders we need, the ones that not only win tournaments, but also immortalize them, are not born, nor taught, nor threatened; they are not even trained into becoming who they need to be. They are broken. Broken until there is nothing left in them but hatred and blood thirst.”
The vacancy I saw in her expression that day gave me a small glimpse of the darkness within her. She was an empty vessel, a Markram carcass devoid of soul, numbed and lifeless. Even today, as she stands before me to supervise the final assessment of the same squadron of unit leaders, though many years have passed, I cannot help my aversion to her desensitized demeanor.
I bring my mind back to the evaluation at hand, inhaling deeply and grinding my teeth together before answering, “Yes, Major General, they have been broken.”
She smiles, but it is unbecoming. The hideous grin contorts her face in a way I cannot find words to describe. She paces in front of the unit leaders, slowly and meticulously, looking into their expressionless eyes as if waiting for something, but they all just gaze into the distance like unresponsive machines.
Only one of the unit leaders seems to study her whenever she isn’t watching. He has always been the strongest one, not necessarily in the way the Major General expects, but she doesn’t need to know that. I don’t know his real name. In my squadron he is simply known as Seven. His long white hair, as opposed to the short haircut every other leader uses, and iridescent blue eyes, the likes of which I had never seen before, make him stand out. But, if I have to be completely honest, it is much more than that.
All of the unit leaders in my squadron, underneath their hard, unforgiving façades, are ready to collapse. They have no sense of pride, no sense of belonging, no sense of self-respect. Their training successfully stripped the life out of them. They are owned by the battles and they don’t resist that. They live only to serve. Perhaps that explains their efficacy in mock battles; their lives aren’t theirs, and they know it.
Seven has always carried himself differently. His personal pride and self-assurance radiate out of him like a flowing river; his life is his own and no one will convince him otherwise. His training had to be severely modified, but no matter how much he was punished, nor how harsh his physical and mental exercises were, he never relented. He fights the battles, but the battles don’t own him.
Seven has the highest scores in the squadron. He has won every mock battle, making him the Chief Leader. But in reality, I had always expected it to be so. Not only because he moves differently than the other leaders, but also, because he thinks differently. He uses his unit as a team, a combined effort of survival. No unit leader, from my squadron or otherwise, can match his skill.
The Major General stands in front of him, blocking his view, but his eyes are set off in the distance. She looks content, and probably reads his unresponsive behavior as an expression of undying submission to the system, though it has more to do with his defiant character.
“His human language results are the best I’ve seen so far,” the Major General says, using one of the human languages taught to the squadron.
Seven blinks directly into her eyes. The Major General steps back, and gasps in response.
“Seven,” I say sternly.
He seems pleased by my objection, but before I can utter another word he blinks back into the distance. The Major General’s expression grows even more unpleasant, as if that is even possible. She takes another step back and after moving her eyes up and down his body, places her hand over his face. I chuckle at the sight. The same frightened boy who collapsed in front of her many years ago, now stands firm, barely shaking in spite of her electric outpour.
The Major General’s nostrils flare angrily, like a wounded animal ready to strike. “You will resume training immediately and shall be held unfit for battle until I deem it so,” she says.
“Seven is fit for battle now,” I say.
“I asked you if the unit leaders in your squadron had been broken, Commander, and you assured me that it had been the case. I seriously doubt that is so with Seven.”
“Are you willing to present your allegation in front of the Board, Major General?” I ask.
She looks shocked. “Excuse me?”
“I said, are you willing to present your allegation in front of the Board? Seven is the Chief Leader of my squadron. His scores surpass those of any unit leader in any squadron of the entire force. If you do present your allegation in front of the Board, I will have no other choice but to present my own arguments. I sincerely doubt the Board will take your refusal seriously, merely on the basis of a wounded ego.”
The Major General freezes in place; anxious and taken aback like a helpless rabbit. Her eyes move up and down, scornfully judging me, until I think they will burst out of their sockets from the pressure. Sweat outlines her brow; timid drops of anger against her pale skin. After a long pause, she walks toward Seven, dragging her feet like a discontented child, and pins a badge over his shoulder. I smile openly, pleased as she validates my argument in this simple action.
She moves onto the next unit leader, pinning a badge on his shoulder and repeats this process until every unit leader has been recognized. “Congratulations Squadron Twenty-Eight,” she says. “You are ready for your first conscripting exercise. As protocol dictates, each of you will be granted permission to recruit thirteen fighters. They are to be conscripted into your battle divisions and assessed at your training facility before your first battle.”
She stands next to me, ready to dismiss them, and I turn to address them. “Courage in battle and honor in death,” I say.
“Courage in battle and honor in death,” they reply in perfect harmony.
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