By Francis Marion – First Published February 16th, 2017
I rode a tank
Held a general’s rank
When the blitzkrieg raged
And the bodies stank
UN Permanent Executive Authority, California Territory September 17th, 2074
Desolation Wilderness World Heritage Forest & Ecosystem Preserve
The general climbed the last thirty feet to the top of the rock outcropping, crested the ridge and paused to take in the view. He took a deep breath in then exhaled and stretched his upper body. He could see his breath hang heavy in the twilight and early autumn air in front of him. This particular spot never got old for the general. Every year for the past forty or more years since he had landed on the west coast under the UN flag he had come to this spot in the Sierra mountains of eastern California. But this time was different. This trip into the mountains would be his last.
So he pulled his old solid fuel stove from his pack and began the same ritual he had repeated so many times in the years past. With the stove lit and the stainless steel pot on top of it filled with water he pulled his cup from his pack and set it on the stone next to him. Then he reached into his pack and pulled out a second cup and placed it next to the first.
He leaned back against the same rock he always sat against and turned his face towards the rising sun. Chen loved this time of day. The temperature always dropped right before the sun came over the ridge. He could feel the difference in the temperature change on the surface of his skin and if he watched and paid attention closely enough he could see the dew form at the same moment on the long blades of grass and the leaves of low lying brush all over the alpine. It was a time, albeit a brief one, of rapid change and it always reminded Chen of how the natural world moved, ebbed and flowed. For some reason, until today, he could not understand why it always brought him so much comfort.
The pot came to a boil in front of him and the general pulled two tea bags from his pack and placed one in each cup. He slowly poured the boiling water into each vessel and waited while the steam from both mugs rose and caught the strands of light peeking through the rocks and trees above and in front of him.
As the sun crested the mountaintop to the east the general closed his eyes and let the growing light warm his face. He could feel its heat on his cheeks, just like he had so many times before and he thought, of all the things he would miss it would be this he would miss the most.
He sat with his eyes closed, breathing slowly and deeply and meditated for a minute or two then said, “Good morning colonel. I’ve made you a cup of tea. Please help yourself.”
As he slowly opened his eyes he could see colonel Stevens through the spots of light and shadow alternating from the cells of his retina. He was standing ten yards off amongst a bit of scrub pine near where the trail came to an end on Chen’s plateau.
“I don’t drink tea,” replied Stevens matter o factly. He circled slowly around behind Chen who continued to peer into the sunrise.
“Of course you don’t. But I made you some anyways. It would have been rude if I’d done otherwise. Please sit and have a drink. It was a long hike in and you must be tired and thirsty,” Chen lifted his own cup to his face and let the steam hit his nostrils. He inhaled deeply and took his first sip.
“I said I don’t drink tea,” replied Stevens from behind.
The general chuckled, “I think you must be the only Englishman I’ve met who doesn’t.”
Stevens stopped behind the general, “There is something missing from the lab General. Care to tell me where it is?”
Chen grinned and took another drink of his tea, “It is where you believe it to be.”
Stevens stood quietly for a moment, his face flushed red with anger, “It was not yours to take General.”
“It was. The fruit of the vine chooses who it will reveal itself to. It chose me so I took it,” Chen took another drink of his tea and closed his eyes to the sun again.
Stevens shook with rage.
“YOU HAD NO RIGHT!!”
“I HAD EVERY RIGHT,” screamed Chen as he threw his cup and stood to face the colonel!!
Stevens took a step backward and eyed the general from top to bottom then sneered, “You’re pathetic. This continent should have fallen half a century ago. But it was your cowardice and your mentor’s cowardice that have kept men, men like me, from fulfilling their destiny. By taking this so-called ‘fruit of the vine’ for yourself you have denied us, you have denied ME, my rightful place in history! You have no idea what you’ve done you old fool! I could have taken it. I could have lead our armies against the Dakotans. It should have been MINE to take!”
Chen shook his head, “You do not take the vine, colonel. The vine chooses you. It chose the Jivaroan people as its caretakers and it chose to reveal its true nature to Dr. Little and Arthur Roman. It has now chosen its new architects and its seed has been planted. Be warned colonel, winter is coming and it cannot be stopped. The source has been fragmented and will be made whole once more. The slate will be wiped clean in the process. As such you would be well advised that the vine cannot be forced to give up its fruit against its will. Those who take the fruit of the vine against its wishes are corrupted and destroyed.”
“Bullshit! WE. ARE. MEN,” the colonel yelled as he pulled a Dakotan blade from his belt and waved it in the face of General Chen, “WE make our OWN destinies you fucking coward!”
Chen ignored the knife and stared into Steven’s eyes, “Oh, indeed we do colonel. We chose EVERYTHING and all of it has lead us to where we are right now, right here. I must tell you, it’s such a strange sensation colonel, to feel shame for what you have done and yet to know that you played your part, that you have arrived exactly at the place and moment in time you were meant to be.”
“What do you know of ‘fate’ old man? You who hid his whole life from his own and who has constantly denied me mine? Whatever that shit has done to you it is nothing in your hands. You were weak when you took it and you are weak now! I should have been the one. ME! Not YOU!”
“So you say, Colonel. But fate? Of ‘fate’ I know very little but I do know this; your path has lead you to yours. As such, YOUR fate is sealed. As. Is. Mine!”
Stevens laughed, “You’re all talk general. That’s all you have ever been. My destiny is MINE to write! And you? You are NOTHING! Look at you. This ‘fruit of the vine’ courses through your veins and what do you have to show for it? I see NOTHING but an old man at the end of his life who has accomplished NOTHING, who sees NOTHING, who is NOTHING and who is and always has been afraid of creating and seizing his own destiny!”
“You are deluded, colonel. Like me, you chose your own path and in turn, the vine has chosen your fate. For today our paths merge and become one. That is my fate, it is my end and in time it will be yours.”
“Enough of your talk general. You have what I want and if what you say is true then you will give it to me! THAT IS MY RIGHT,” screamed Stevens as he pointed at his chest with his fist and at the general with his blade!
“Indeed it is,” replied the general.
Chen loosened the collar of his shirt, pulled it down to his shoulders and turned his back to Stevens and kneeled. With his chin up and his face to the sky, he felt the sun’s heat and energy on his skin for the last time. He sighed, took a final, deep breath of cool mountain air and said, “Well, then Colonel. Do what you were born to do. AND TAKE IT!!!”
And the fruit of the vine was taken in anger and its vessel struck dead by greed and malice. And so he entered the world. Corrupted, twisted, evil and rotten.
And his name was death.
Paul the Chronicler, The Scrolls of Rebirth in the 7th Saeculum of The Great Year