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The Mind Siren

“The Mind Siren” was my entry to the Black Library’s 40K Deathwatch submissions call.

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The xenos thing that floated before him resembled a mermaid of ancient lore. From the waist up, it was almost human: naked blue-green flesh, a beautiful, feminine face, adorned with locks of yellow-green hair, two arms, and a trunk, surmounted with full, jutting breasts. Beneath, it was a long, winding central tail awash in a shifting sea of tendrils ending in crescent hook-shaped appendages.

The siren hovered by the power of its will alone, silent, reaching out to Marcus with her mind.

Strange vistas, images of creatures and places Marcus had not and could not know, flowed unbidden through his mind, one with sensations and cravings he could not describe, only long for.

The mind-siren opened her mouth to reveal a triad of writhing, sucker-covered tongues reaching out to Marcus like psychic antennae, weaving such a tapestry of bewilderment and alien lust about Marcus’ will that he did the unthinkable, he defied his duty.

Marcus opened the seals on his armour, and reaching out to her, pressed his skin to hers and likewise to those parts of her covered by fins and by scales. He made strange and illicit congress with her, knowing her flesh and allowing his flesh to be known in turn to reach bizarre pinnacles of ecstasy no man was ever meant to know.

Afterwards, lying in her coils sated, looking up at the naked stars, Marcus felt no shame for the deaths of his squadmates only peace and fulfilment. Above, sparks of crimson and orange fell from the sky like dandelion seeds of flame.

“So beautiful…” Marcus said. “What is it?”

“The remains of your strike cruiser, my love,” the creature said. “Be not troubled, such things are not a part of your world any longer. Forget them.”

With the warm embrace of her tail wound around his legs and his face pressed against her breasts, Marcus was tempted to forget his duty forever. But he found he could not.

Glimpses of a life dim yet unforgotten flashed through his mind, images of courage and of comradeship, of standing shoulder to shoulder with his brother marines against the xenos foe. He remembered grinding his chainsword through foul Ork flesh and the feel of Eldar vertebrae snapped in his gauntlets. Scenes of bloodshed and carnage on a hundred worlds played out in his fevered mind; his heart swelled with the righteous fury of expunging alien filth and preserving the purity of Man.

A part of him loved the xeno mind creature for the bliss it had brought him, but, for loving it, the greater part of him began to hate himself all the more. In the end, Marcus knew what he had to do.

Reaching up to caress the mind-siren’s face one last time, he spoke a single word. “Invictus.”

The melta bomb satchel charge on the back of his armour exploded, filling the rocky plateau with searing light.

In death, Marcus had fulfilled his duty and reclaimed his honour.

* * *

Fantasy, science fiction and steampunk author Brandon Black is the editor of New Orleans By Gaslight, a first of its kind anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy poetry and fiction set in Victorian-era New Orleans. Brandon is also the web content manager for the Week in Geek, New Orleans’ favourite fantasy and science fiction themed radio talk show, every Thursday at 6 pm CST on FOX Sports 1280 AM. Click here to check out Brandon’s ever-expanding list of published works.
Warhammer 40K copyright and trademark of Games Workshop.
Text copyright 2014 Brandon Black


The Gift of Villainy, Part IV (Finale)

As the Cold War campaign continued, my propaganda broadcasts consistently incensed the American players. At one point, one of the Bobe’s Hobby House patrons reading our missives asked if the NATO players were even allowed to write a “Hearts and Minds” campaign at all as several of my posts had gone unanswered by the American players. I sent out the following post in an attempt to quietly tell the American players that they needed to use more subtlety in their tactical planning but I don’t think it worked.

SOVIET HIGH COMMAND
MOSCOW, RUSSIA, USSR
SECRET MILITARY BRIEFING
SPEAKER: COLONEL HAN TESARIK,
CO CZECH 2ND ARMY, 1ST ARMOURED DIVISION, 33RD GUARD REGIMENT

Comrade Generals, I have returned from the front in West Germany. I have led my Czech troops in several battles against the NATO forces and as our conflict with the capitalists expands across the globe, I have been asked to brief you as to the nature of our enemy. The Americans are an implacable foe who more often than not would rather die than surrender. I have done my best to encourage them to consider surrender as an acceptable alternative. I have given orders that no prisoner is mistreated nor any part or even the least portion of the Geneva Convention or the Articles of War be violated. It is in our best interests to do so. The more we can convince the soldiers of the West that we are not monsters like the Nazis, the more they will be inclined to lay down their weapons and surrender rather than die in place.

The greater concern I have is that they will continue to demonstrate the desperation I’ve seen in the last few battles. They have continued to fight when any reasonable force would have surrendered or at least retreated. They fight like wild men, brutal savages, lashing out at anything that moves. They fight not for a concern for whom and what they defend but simply to destroy. They have no love for Europe or for Europeans — they simply see the West as part of their empire and like the Hun or the Mongol, it is in their nature to fight for their empire, be their enemy the British, the Native Americans, the Nazis or us. The assumption of victory appears to be ingrained in their nature and when that expectation is violated, their entire world view is destroyed and in their minds all that remains is for them to destroy the world with it.

I have seen the Americans and their allies fire on refugees and smash the trucks of their allies into buildings to get them out of the way. I have witnessed civilian trains carrying no implements of war nor any other property belonging to our Warsaw Pact forces attacked as though they were the Kremlin themselves, with suicide troops flinging Molotov cocktails at the very train they themselves were on. I have seen their collaborators firing wildly into civilian crowds in the vague hope that they might hit one of our security personnel. The very Nazis we and they so recently fought, so recently spilled our dearest blood to defeat, they have embraced to their side as allies against us. The Americans are not merely reckless — they are a savage force of nature, a wildfire burning across the globe.

I tell you now, my comrades, if anyone is to win this war, then we must win it quickly. The Americans are prepared to burn all of Europe to the ground in order to save it. So I pass on to you now the key to victory against this foe. The way to defeat the Americans is always to remember: they always expect to win. The problem with the Americans will not be winning the battles — it will be winning the game before the Americans grow so frustrated as to deploy their atomic weapons to kick over the chess board like a petulant child.

My greatest propaganda triumph came after the GM ruled that the engineer the partisans shot and threw off the train in the last battle had survived. This one, this one I consider my masterpiece:

Safety Broadcast (in German)

Old Willie: Hello friends! Old Willie here again to tell you to always take it safe. On that note, what do we do when we see an American, kids?

Kids: RUN!!!

Old Willie: That’s right! And once you’ve reached safety, then what do we do?

Kids: CALL FOR HELP!!

Old Willie: That’s right kids! Always take it safe. And that applies to you adults out there too. If you see an American, don’t try to apprehend him on your own. Flee the area and once you’ve made it to somewhere safe, contact your local authorities — they and our brave soldiers will do the rest.

Now some of you out there are saying to yourselves, ‘Old Willie says these things but he’s being rewarded for doing so.’ And that’s true. I am being compensated for these broadcasts. But do you know what else is true? It’s true that I’m a sixty-five year old man and that the Americans and their collaborators boarded my train, shot me and threw me from a moving train all without the chance to surrender or even identify myself as a civilian. And it’s also true that I count myself as lucky. Because shortly after they threw me off my train to die, they blew my train to pieces — with themselves still aboard — right in the middle of one of the most heavily populated cities in Germany with no regard whatsoever for the lives of innocent German citizens.

So if you’re a train engineer and you see the Americans, throw the brake, stop the train and run for your life.

If you’re on the road and you see an American column coming towards you, quickly and safely pull off the road, set the parking brake and then run for cover. Once you reach a place of safety, call the authorities.

Young kid: Thanks to you we know!

Old Willie: And knowing is how you’ll win half the battle!

It had been a long road. I had set out to be the villain and had wound up the hero with the Americans who had devoted themselves to freedom and democracy turning to more and more wretched and vile ways to attempt to defeat our Communist forces as time wore on.

The campaign ended when my commander sent a letter to the Swiss ambassador to deliver to the NATO commander offering a cease-fire. We had run nearly all the way across the whole of West Germany. France wasn’t a NATO power because they, historically, had the clarity to see the writing on the wall, that Americans weren’t going to let New York and Washington D.C. be vaporized in a vain attempt to save Paris. If we had continued as things were going, we would have taken all of West Germany and forced France into some sort of Warsaw Pact-favourable relationship. That would have left Britain alone and ripe for invasion and at that point, I have no doubt the Americans would have deployed their atomic weapons.

We negotiated the re-unification of the German state as a neutral power patrolled, lightly, by UN forces under a joint Soviet-NATO command structure and I repeated the actual and historical (!) request by the Soviet Union to join NATO. That actually happened! The idea was that the biggest threat to world peace was the notion of a surprise attack with atomic weapons. If Soviet officers were walking the corridors of the Pentagon, and American officers likewise working in the Kremlin, both sides would have been a lot more confident of their ability to work together and resolve differences peacefully and avoid incinerating the inhabited surface of the planet.

The cease-fire took hold, prisoners were released with the exception of the experimental jet’s pilot who was politically inexpedient to both sides and Franklin Bradley was released and got to see his wife again. I tweaked the nose of my opponent with a Pravda broadcast celebrating the cease-fire but asking why the UN still hadn’t brought the American up on war crimes and my opponent wrote an official US military statement saying they had no intention allowing him to be tried for anything and the campaign ended. I’ll spare you reading those reports as they weren’t that interesting.

Did either set of players actually learn anything? I don’t know. I guess I did. I learned that among my countrymen there was a tendency towards righteous action that could blind them to all rules and principles of ethics and common decency. They genuinely felt that they were on the side of the angels and that gave them license to do literally anything — shoot civilians, put re-armed Nazis back into the field, anything. Even today, I think I was lucky to call it off when I did. These guys would have pushed the button for sure.

* * *

Fantasy, science fiction and steampunk author Brandon Black is the editor of New Orleans By Gaslight, a first of its kind anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy poetry and fiction set in Victorian-era New Orleans. Brandon is also the web content manager for the Week in Geek, New Orleans’ favourite fantasy and science fiction themed radio talk show, every Saturday at 1 pm CST on WGSO 990 AM. Click here to check out Brandon’s ever-expanding list of published works.


The Gift of Villainy, Part III

My next battle saw some of the strangest and most inexplicable behaviour from my NATO opponents yet. I would have asked them why they’d done such things if I couldn’t see and feel the palpable aura of rage they shone forth. In this battle, my Czech forces needed to hold Nuremberg against NATO counter-attack. The details of the battle I’ll keep brief as the earlier pattern was repeated — the Americans lead with their heavy tanks, driving them in column formation straight down the most central road towards the heart of the city. My Czech tanks were hidden in the woods to the east and west ready to close in and annihilate them, which I did.

No — the interesting thing about this battle involved another West German train. Running parallel to the edge of the central business district was a rail track. The NATO commander wisely and correctly assumed that some of my forces were hidden in the centre of town to act as a flying wing ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice to reinforce a weakened flank or launch my own counter-assault to his counter-offensive. First he sent un-uniformed partisans (re-armed liberated Wehrmacht Nazis!) to scout out the perimeter. After we blew up the vehicle they were in — they were just driving down the road out in the open — he sent a team of partisans to seize and stop the train.

This time the attack on the train was planned. His hope was by stopping the train across the central road leading into the CBD, my flying wing would be trapped and pinned down; his heavy tanks could proceed into the general area unmolested and my forces hunted down. Instead, after flanking his tanks, my forces came out of the woods from both sides simultaneously and wiped out every NATO tank, leaving only the masses of American infantry advancing behind them.

But I digress — the train. The train was a West German train, run by a West German engineer. The partisans boarded the train and shot the engineer. They didn’t identify themselves. They didn’t call for the engineer to stop the train. They shot the old man and threw him from the train. However, these geniuses themselves had no idea of how to stop a train.

Armed with Molotov cocktails, they leaned out of the engine’s windows and threw the cocktails onto the front of the engine, which began to burn but did not stop the train. Opening the hatch to shovel more coal into the boilers, they threw their Molotov cocktails directly into the boiler’s flames, which then immediately exploded, killing them instantly and derailing the train.

The train did indeed grind to a halt cutting off access to the main thoroughfare but as I said above, my main forces simply flanked and annihilated the NATO armoured counter-offensive and we spent the rest of the battle hunting down infantry using machine guns and tank cannons. The GM didn’t make the NATO infantry make any morale checks, which I consider a disservice. They had seen their tanks wiped out in a single turn and my unscratched medium tanks were firing tank cannons directly into their infantry formations but they kept coming like crazed samurai and had to be killed in place. They even managed to board and capture one of my tanks. The GM made me make a morale check for the tank crew and they failed. I objected pointing out I’d wiped out hordes of NATO troops in a single turn and they hadn’t been asked to make a single roll. The GM relented and agreed to apply morale checks more evenly from then on.

Meanwhile, another team of partisans had infiltrated the city. A Soviet security man was checking the locals for papers and such. The partisans took to a nearby building and began shooting at him, heedless of the fact that he was surrounded by innocent West German citizens, i.e., their own people. I sent in the only infantry I had in that part of the city and the two forces nearly wiped each other out. My last soldier killed the last partisan in the building. The GM ruled that my sergeant tied a note labelled “Collaborator” to the body of the partisan and hurled it out of the window to the streets below. My eagerness to report THAT in my next broadcast knew no bounds.

My after-action broadcast:

FLASH — THE FIGHTING JAGUARS DEFEATED — FRANK BRADLEY CAPTURED

Pravda now brings you word that the Yankee mercenary leader Major Franklin Bradley has been captured and is now being held safely in Czech custody. The pictures you see now of Major Bradley were taken in Prague as he was brought in for interrogation. Major Bradley, the leader of the so-called Fighting Jaguars, and two of his men were the only survivors of a desperate and ill-conceived counter-attack mounted against elite Czech forces liberating Nuremberg Germany.

Bradley was apprehended by Czech infantry attached to Colonel Tesarik’s elite guard regiment, the Stormwolves, after a gruelling and bloody conflict in which the Americans flung human wave assault after human wave assault at the brave Czech tankers after their initial armoured counter-thrust was neatly decapitated by superior Czech forces. Causing more casualties to Czech forces with these savage and brutal attacks than with their tanks, the American infantry formations had to be annihilated in place in order to stop their insane counter-offensive. But stopped it was. Colonel Tesarik’s troops then proceeded to render assistance to the local civilian population, fighting side by side with German firefighters yet another train fire set by the Americans and their allies in a German town.

The captured Major Bradley is being treated according to his rank and the articles of the Geneva convention, despite his use of un-uniformed spies in an American military vehicle, his recruiting un-uniformed fascist partisans in violation of the convention and his order to those partisans to attack and destroy a civilian train in motion in an inhabited area. Pravda hereby adds its voice to the many cries of civilized protest the world over that this barbarous gangster leader has not been immediately tried for war crimes.

Czech Sergeant Kazimir Svoboda of the Czech infantry won for himself commendation and promotion as he single-handedly slew the leader of the Americans’ fascist collaborators, who were themselves annihilated in this battle with Czech forces. Having entered the building where the fascist gangster was hiding, alone and under fire, Sergeant Svoboda shot the foul traitor, bound a sign to him saying “Collaborator” and then threw his dead body out of a window to the street below — signalling to all the fate of such collaborators and spies and the end of the fascists who dared to call themselves freedom fighters.

Pravda salutes Colonel Tesarik and Sergeant Svoboda for their exceptional actions above and beyond the call of duty in placing their lives on the line in the struggle between our Workers’ Revolution and worldwide capitalist oppression!

The American commander’s letter from captivity:

My beloved Betty,

I hold onto this letter in the hopes that one day I will be able to deliver it myself. I cannot believe how stupid my superiors can be at times. Do they even want us to win this war? Do they even know a war is going on? They send me with kids fresh out of boot and a couple of tanks to retake a town recently overrun by over a dozen Czech and Commie Red tanks.

Needless to say the men under my command fought valiantly. After all our tanks were destroyed my men fought on and believe it or not I saw some infantry grunts take over a commie tank and operate it. They must make theirs easy to operate so that even an infantry grunt can figure it out.

Not sure what happened to the first group, I hear all but me and two others were killed.

I still don’t know what to make of this ‘German Resistance Group’. I don’t know who I trust less, Germans or Commies. I heard that the Germans that were supposed to be helping us, shot at their own people randomly and even shot the train operator. I thought Germany only had one language. No wonder we beat them several years ago.

I hear there is talk of bringing me up on war crimes. I cannot believe the nerve of these idiots. They break into your house, attack you, then want to charge you with a crime for defending yourself. Guess that is how communist law works.

I cannot wait to get out of here. I will be strong, I keep looking for the pilot they took captive in my first battle with these Red Commies.

Be strong my love, I only hope that one day it will be me delivering this letter to you. Until then…

Eternally Yours,

Frank Bradley

ps. If you are some commie scumbag reading this because I have died while a POW under your care, translate this letter and bury me face down so you can kiss my …..

* * *

Fantasy, science fiction and steampunk author Brandon Black is the editor of New Orleans By Gaslight, a first of its kind anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy poetry and fiction set in Victorian-era New Orleans. Brandon is also the web content manager for the Week in Geek, New Orleans’ favourite fantasy and science fiction themed radio talk show, every Saturday at 1 pm CST on WGSO 990 AM. Click here to check out Brandon’s ever-expanding list of published works.


The Gift of Villainy, Part II

The second battle revolved around a Warsaw Pact attempt to continue their offensive towards Nuremberg. Other than taking the city, there was a nearby NATO airbase which held an experimental jet that was a joint effort between the Americans and their European allies. The jet had no aviation fuel, i.e., it couldn’t just fly away, and keeping it out of Soviet hands was essential to the West. A nearby train held the supplies of aviation fuel being routed to the airbase.

Early in the battle, a column of trucks carrying Hungarian refugees drove down a central road towards the city, under the control of the gamemaster. The NATO commander considered this a hindrance as he apparently planned to use this key road to counter-attack my Czechs or at least he wanted the option open. Rather than send out an officer and some men to redirect the refugees or even have someone fire a pistol in the air to turn them off the road in question, he instead had a tank fire a tank round into the road ahead of the refugees. The gamemaster ruled that the drivers of the lead trucks panicked and lost control of their vehicles, crashing them into nearby buildings just off the road.

This was also the battle in which the first West German train got derailed. Derailing trains became something of a thing to my opponents. They rammed a heavy tank into the train’s engine and ignited a fire which reached the tanker cars of aviation fuel it was carrying. I think the gamemaster’s plan was that NATO should try to get the aviation fuel to the airbase in order to fuel the experimental jet and have it fly out but that didn’t happen.

Long story short, they derailed the train and I wiped out most of the Americans tanks, but they had about three heavies left in defence of the airbase. I drove my mediums to set up a line of assault in front of the airbase. As Colonel Han Tesarik (we were encouraged to not only name our officers and units but write letters and reports of the campaign in character), my Czech forces were short on heavy tanks but I didn’t mind that at all, we had a three-to-one numeric superiority over NATO forces tank-wise, that my tanks were lighter in armour and faster was fine with me so long as they had guns that could kill American heavies and they could.

If you’ll permit me a short historical aside — the situation with the tanks was a complete reversal from what I understand to have been the situation during the Second World War. The Germans held the advantage in heavy tanks then, with superior armour and firepower. American tanks, comparatively, were lightly armoured mobile pillboxes with popguns. Often an American tank couldn’t penetrate a panzer’s heavy armour from directly ahead and they had to maneuver for side or rear shots. I attended a historical symposium where a German panzer officer said that he had run out of ammunition before the Americans had run out of tanks. Our light tanks suffered tremendous casualties but defeated an army with much superior equipment. During the Cold War, both sides took this to heart but learned different lessons. The Soviets cranked out tanks like there was no tomorrow, achieving a ten-to-one superiority against NATO forces in parts of the European theatre. The Americans abandoned their own WWII strategy of massive conventional forces and strove to be second-to-none in technical quality. I, for one, think the Warsaw Pact would wiped the floor with us in a conventional fight in Europe back in those days but I guess we’ll never know.

Back to the battle — I had my medium tanks lined up to assault the airbase and the last American tanks were there — behind the aircraft — ready to defend the base. Rather than assault and risk the destruction of the aircraft, I opened negotiations. I offered safe passage to the Americans if they left the field. The NATO commander had seen too many of his men die and knew the remainder had no chance of survival if combat resumed. He agreed. His heavies backed away from the airbase as my mediums moved up to place themselves between the experimental jet and his heavies. The Americans reached the edge of the airbase and kept going and we let them go having captured both the town and the experimental aircraft.

When the Americans retreated, the plane’s test pilot was still seated in the aircraft in case the plane could be fuelled and he could attempt a take-off. Neither the plane nor its test pilot were ever mentioned in the official record by either side. The pilot was never released during the eventual exchange of prisoners after the ceasefire and the jet was quietly shipped off by my Czechs to Moscow for dissection and analysis. Both during the fighting and after the eventual cease-fire, the return of their captured pilot was never specifically requested nor even mentioned by NATO forces.

My after-action broadcast:

FLASH — PRAVDA REPORTS CZECH PENETRATION OF NUREMBERG, GERMANY

Bringing you proud paternal greetings from your comrades in the Soviet Union, Pravda now reports that dawn saw the 2nd Czech Army’s 1st Armoured Division, led by its elite 33rd Guard Tank Battalion, the Stormwolves, entering the city of Nuremberg at high speed just in time to see cowardly Yankee imperialist troops firing on innocent Hungarian refugees seeking only food and medicine. As the Yankee mercenaries opened fire on the Hungarian refugee column, a second force of the American imperialists attacked a local train presumably with the intention of denying its use to Warsaw Pact forces. The American attack on a train loaded with aviation fuel started a forest fire and led to the deaths of several West German nationals. The Czechs, led by Colonel Han Tesarik, quickly drove off the Yankees and seized the nearby American airbase with no friendly casualties.

Colonel Tesarik had this to say about the Americans’ actions: “The Americans seemed less concerned with victory or even with their own safety than with inflicting punishing blows on the civilian populace. While we had orders to seize the junction in any case, it became imperative to do so quickly when it became apparent the Americans had no consideration for the lives or property of their so-called allies. I can only hope this is not the beginning of a scorched earth campaign by the imperialists’ lackeys. We will not be dissuaded by such hateful and cowardly tactics and will do our duty to save these brutalized people from capitalist tyranny.”

Pravda salutes the brave Colonel Tesarik and his elite Stormwolves for having brought tens of thousands of innocent Germans into the loving arms of the People’s Revolution! Carry on the fight, brave Czechs!

The American commander’s report:

CZECH/SOVIET CAPTURE OF NUREMBERG, GERMANY

Jan 1957,

My beloved Betty,

Many years have passed since I first fought the Nazis in the African desert. I know you waited for me to come home and begged me to get out of the Army, but I love my country and felt it needed me still.

I know I keep promising you a return trip to Havana, and with only three months to go on my deployment, I fear my return home is going to be further out than planned.

Things are getting bad over here, you know I cannot say much, but make sure our parents’ bomb shelters are stocked. Be ready yourself, another war is coming, one larger than the last big one I fear. I hate to worry you but you know how much of a realist I am. I tell it to you straight.

Remember my good friend Al, that sergeant who served with me after my battlefield commission in ’44? That crazy sob ran into a train with his tank, he was always a bit paranoid. I figured today was it for both of us when I watched his tank get destroyed today. I am sure I will catch some heat for hitting some refugee truck that was in my way. Cannot understand why people insist on driving crazy around tanks.

I will be getting another commendation for what I did accomplish, but no awards can replace good friends.

I don’t know what has kept you around this long, but I thank you for being the one good thing I can count on in this world gone mad. So until my battlefield days are done…

Yours eternally,

Major Franklin Bradley
Fighting Jaguars Armoured Cav division

* * *

Fantasy, science fiction and steampunk author Brandon Black is the editor of New Orleans By Gaslight, a first of its kind anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy poetry and fiction set in Victorian-era New Orleans. Brandon is also the web content manager for the Week in Geek, New Orleans’ favourite fantasy and science fiction themed radio talk show, every Saturday at 1 pm CST on WGSO 990 AM. Click here to check out Brandon’s ever-expanding list of published works.


The Gift of Villainy, Part I

When I was in high school, my greatest adversary was a fellow student named Scott. I and my friends played a starship combat game called Star Fleet Battles, created by Stephen V. Cole. Star Fleet Battles was set during Star Trek: The Original Series, with some add-ons the creator made up or bolted on, such as the Kzinti. Playing SFB was some of the best times I had back then. Scott played a Klingon and played his role well. He was forever trash talking the Federation about our weakness and incompetence and how the Klingons would enslave Humanity, etc., etc., etc.. Scott taught us tactics the way Napoleon instructed his enemies, by beating our heads in repeatedly. From simple sound tactics and pre-planning to vicious, clever traps, he made us better combatants because we strove to make ourselves better in order to beat him. And eventually, I did. I won’t say I got the win-loss ratio anywhere to even but I did manage some victories. I even won one fight with a trap so clever, they changed the rules of the game.

But that’s all back story.

Years later, after I had evacuated New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and made my way from Hendersonville, North Carolina to Decatur, Georgia to Mobile, Alabama, I discovered a game store in nearby Pensacola called Bobe’s Hobby House. A gentleman at Bobe’s decided to run a Cold War military campaign. This would be a “What if?” scenario involving NATO and Warsaw Pact force fighting in the fifties.

The background given by the gamemaster was as follows:

The time is December 1956 and the Soviets have just put down the uprising in Budapest, Hungary. Massive amounts of Hungarian refugees make their way toward the Austrian border. Border clashes erupt between Austrian border guard units and pro-Communist Hungarian motorized units as refugees attempt to cross over into Austria. As violence escalates, NATO Forces, West Germany are put on alert and are mobilized. In response, Warsaw Pact and Soviet Ground Forces, East Germany are mobilized in response to the NATO mobilization. In response to further border incursions by pro-Communist units, the Austrian government (not a member of NATO) calls on NATO countries to intervene to ‘prevent communist violation of a neutral nation.’ French and American troops are sent into reinforce Austrian border units. In response, Czech and Hungarian units move to confront NATO forces at the Hungarian border where units exchange fire with NATO forces. In response, on December 25th, 1956 Czech armoured units invade the American Occupation Zone and cross their through the Bayerischer forest on the Czech / West German border and make their way to occupy the small city of Spiegelau:

As a result of the Czech Forces committed invasion, a de facto state of war exists between NATO and the WARSAW PACT countries and World War 3 has begun.

I decided to play the Warsaw Pact forces. I wanted to give the players of Pensacola, Florida the wonderful gaming experience that Scott had given me. I wanted to give them an implacable foe that threatened all they held dear, against whom they could strive to battle with all their hearts. I wanted to share the exhilaration of both victory and defeat and provide them an entertainment experience they would remember fondly for the rest of their lives, as Scott had done for me.

I failed.

I failed miserably.

I made one crucial mistake, a critical miscalculation. I underestimated, even after the Cold War was over and the Berlin Wall a memory, just how much conservatives hate even the idea of Communism.

I thought they would just see me as playing the bad guys and if they lost, they’d work harder, read up on their military history, talk tactics over lunch with each other, and eventually, figure out a way to beat me.

They didn’t.

They were so consumed with their hatred of communism, a hatred I’d never seen anyone, right or left politically leaning, ever demonstrate against the Nazis in a World War II game, of which there are many. Prior to the modern age, in which Games Workshop’s Warhammer and Warhammer 40K are the dominant table-top miniatures combat games, World War Two was the strongest era for wargaming. I’d seen players of every stripe cheerfully fight the Nazis in one game and then play them in the next. Guys would put on their best (i.e., cheesiest) German accents and talk about how the Fatherland’s victory was inevitable and how the poor Amerikaners would be ground into the dust.

Nothing had prepared me for the anger I would see in these guys’ eyes at the thought of runaway Communist victories. And a string of runaway Warsaw Pact triumphs is what I gave them.

The rules set the game master chose for the campaign involved a “Fog of War” system: movement of units occurred on paper maps in secret until the GM decided that opposing units could see each other. If you got close enough to hear the enemy, he would say so. If you travelled out in the open where it could be reasonably assumed scouts or civilians could see you, your units were put on the open board. Otherwise, units went on the board when they first saw each other.

The American players didn’t take to the secrecy factor. That’s putting it mildly. They drove their tanks down major thoroughfares, single file, like they were heading for a Sunday picnic or a Christmas parade. My tanks kept to woods, to the outskirts of towns, moving into position unseen until it was time to strike. Time and again, I would flank the Americans before they even knew my forces were there; they would roll out in a long column, allowing me to close the trap as easily as clapping my hands shut.

They expected to win. I didn’t foresee that. I was trampling on this key American conceit, that the good cowboy only needed to stand his ground at high noon and face down the bad guy and he would triumph, that the West would always win against evil Communist aggression because they had John Wayne on their side. And after they lost, they got angry.

I’d been angry in my defeats by the Klingon Menace to be sure. But I focused that anger. I read naval history books. I even started reading Soviet military tactics to learn how they would have faced the US Navy during the Cold War. I learned and became a better combatant.

By comparison, my opponents in the Cold War campaign became more and more desperate and more willing to break the rules of warfare. They began by attacking a civilian train. I should point out that this campaign centred around a Czechoslovakian invasion of West Germany. So almost all the civilians and civilian property in the campaign were West German in origin. It was a West German train that NATO had derailed in the hopes of preventing its escape, I suppose.

The first game ended in a successful Warsaw Pact invasion. My medium tanks were racing across the West German countryside seeking to exploit the breach in NATO’s line.

The GM made the following post regarding the outcome:

The last game saw the invasion of the town of Spiegelau in the American Occupation Zone by the 2nd Czech Army’s 1st Armoured Division, the ‘Czech Legion’ which took the town with light casualties. Several American M-48s were recovered and sent back to the USSR for evaluation.

The advance did not stop there, however. The rest of the Czech Army, using combined operations, continued to advance behind the armoured spearhead of the 2nd Czech Army’s front capturing the cities of Deggendorf and Passau, crucial junctions in the dual spearhead to capture the German cities of Nuremburg and Munich. The NATO forces sent to stem the tide of the Warsaw Pact advance have taken their toll on the invading Communist armies. Despite moderate losses, however, the Warsaw Pact claims tens of kilometres of territory every couple of days as they push into the heart of the West.

While the Warsaw Pact Forces in Central Europe are lead by the Czech Forces, NATO units have reported no attacks by Soviet Forces in the North, Central or Southern Europe. It seems the bulk of the Soviet Forces have remained mobilized and are at Red Alert status. Lack of overt aggressive activity on behalf of the Soviets has led to a perplexing political situation at the United Nations Security Council, which is working around the clock to end the conflict. In the meantime, US NATO Forces have been redirected to Central Germany in an attempt to reinforce Nuremburg and Munich.

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Fantasy, science fiction and steampunk author Brandon Black is the editor of New Orleans By Gaslight, a first of its kind anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy poetry and fiction set in Victorian-era New Orleans. Brandon is also the web content manager for the Week in Geek, New Orleans’ favourite fantasy and science fiction themed radio talk show, every Saturday at 1 pm CST on WGSO 990 AM. Click here to check out Brandon’s ever-expanding list of published works.