The Smoke: Bordeaux's story

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Civilisation has collapsed due to a period of absolute darkness known as 'The Smoke'. Now the remnants are locked in a ferocious war resembling the religious wars of the 1500s. The British New Roman Empire and EUC of Spain, Italy and Greece are locked in battle with the Sultanate, a gathering of Muslim and Arab forces based around the ruins of Contantinople. In the middle is the free city of Bordeaux, home to French and American refugees. This is a short tale of an attempt to wrest the city from the EUC/New Rome alliance.

Submitted: February 08, 2012

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Submitted: February 08, 2012

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Sergeant Hawthorn, late of the US army, peered pensively over the side of the heavy stone wall. His long spear was propped beside him, the steel head shining dull yellow in the late sunset. The light was also reflected off the party of hurrying scouts coming in on horseback. The various metals winked back at him in sunny disregard for the current threat.

Threats weren’t strange to the city of New Bordeaux. As the only city north of the Pyrenees and South of New Rome, they were the constant target of everything from raiding Sultanate League fleets to barbarian war parties. Not to mention the savages unaffiliated with the barbarian clans, remnants of the survivors of the Smoke. Although most remained in the burnt out husks of Paris and Lyon living off rats and pigeons, they harboured a vicious hatred of the Bordeseans and the refugees from America who had settled there.

For a moment, Hawthorn dwelt on the favour God had shown his people in continuing their survival. America had fared worst of all the old nations after the cloud of black smoke which had covered the planet had lifted. For just over a week, it had lain, black and impenetrable by sunlight and electricity, and cities had crumbled in panic and blindness. But after it had lifted the survivors had been too wedded to their technology to see the changes they needed to endure. What was the point of having F117 stealth fighters if you had no fuel to fly them? Once you fired a bullet, it was gone forever.

So they had fought off the encroaching barbarians from Mexico and pirates from Cuba. It was easy, at first. They had sneered at the men and women over in Europe or the Middle East. “Fallen into barbarism” people had sniffed. It couldn’t happen in America though. Then their fuel ran out, their ammo belts were empty, and hordes of shrieking, feather-clad madmen were crawling over the surviving towns, murdering and raping. It was a scene from an asylum. The army had disintegrated, mauled apart by scalping and forced conversions. The remaining companies had fallen back on Washington, even with the president’s suicide meaning there was no reason to defend it, hordes of refugees streaming back before them and inundating the city.

He shuddered. He had felt God leave America when he saw his lieutenant fall to his knees, sobbing before shoving a bowie knife in his ear. Then, out of all hope, the sea mists had lifted on the Potomac and Roman cohorts had marched up the beach under cover of light glider fighters. His people – some of his people – were saved. For a time. Now they were embroiled in Europe’s wars, as the EU Confederation with its Roman allies in Britain struggled to hold back the Sultanate League.

He watched the small group of horsemen trot under the arch of the huge gate, massive stonework forming a forbidding obstacle to any attack. Several of the party turned to look up with apprehension as they passed through it. The ornamental bronze plates layering the outer gates helped to mask the impassive stonework that formed the outer defences. He turned to follow them in, and caught a breathtaking view of New Bordeaux at sunset. The sun was just setting, and the dull molten gold spread its fingers down every street. The desolate, long-burned left bank was hidden by the high wall that ran along the bank of the river. The few remaining high rise apartments based near this served as warehousing units for the heavy trade that plied the river, mostly from New Rome and Denmark. The rest was a mix of surviving suburban homes and new builds since the Smoke. It was a strange mix of brickwork mingled with wood-and-woad structures. Old glass in some windows warred with the wavy, thick panels blown in the last few years.

The city was built in layers stretching out from the bend in the river. The high-rises and huddles of modern brick buildings clustered in the bend of the river, and petered out around the edge of the bd Joliot-Curie and bd Andre Ricard, on a line with the last bridge. Thereafter was a thin belt of wooden structures that was home to many of the French refugees that had arrived in the city in the chaotic months after the Smoke. Thereafter was a fat line of stone-built homes and workplaces, mostly quarried by the arriving Americans. Wide, modern streets narrowed to twisting narrows amongst the temporary wooden homes, then opened up again, although the central road ran straight through the various sections right from the gate to the port. An aqueduct ran above it, carrying water from the river with branches coming off.

The exceptions lay where the delegation was heading. A huge stone fortress had been constructed with its back to the river, forming part of the eastern defences. It was also home to the Council of the city, representing the three factions, and the Headquarters of the Allied Supreme Chiefs of Staff. The ASCOF met yearly in the free city to co-ordinate their efforts against the League.

Something that could soon be destroyed by that small troop of horsemen now climbing the impassive stone steps to the Council chambers, he thought. Hawthorn shook his head and returned to his guard duty.

Despite the lateness of the hour, traders still hawked their wares from stalls that lined the length of the wide street. A high curb protected horses and waggons from crashing into the shop-fronts and pedestrians still strode amongst the wooden hoardings. In fact, the crowd swiftly got thicker as the small troop walked their horses down the avenue. Sunset detailed the end for most of the working day, and blacksmiths, farriers and other working men were easing away the stresses of the day by browsing for trinkets, or picking up a surprise treat for dinner. Further into the maze of buildings near the front gate, snatches of songs could be heard as the labourers from the closest fields found their favourite taverns. It was the sound of a peaceful city, and the foreigners gazed in wonder at the continuing bustle.

The three senior Council members waited at the top of the steps for the Sultanate League delegates. Two were dressed in the traditional peasant garb of the majority of the city, loose fitting trousers and a combination windbreaker/shirt. However ontheir feet were clogs, boughtfrom thePrincipality of Denmark; they were a signof wealth in an age when most people, even those well off, woreclothmoccasins.The other wore tight green shorts and leather jerkin, a Stetson on his head. Honest-to-God Cowboy boots encased his calves, made of a shiny leather skin that shimmered dully in the last vestiges of sunlight. The steps were high enough the sun stillreached them.

The fortress was a brooding, drooping edifice, carved it seemed from living stone, grown rather than shaped. Agrim, wide gateway beckoned, with torches lit in preparation.The group walked in silence inside, down dark stone steps lit by braziers. Occasionally they passed a paraffin lamp, its steady dim light a contrast to the flickering shadows of the wood-fuelled braziers. A heavy oaken door, rough-made but shot with several leaden bolts, opened onto a low room, filled by a table covered by a white cloth, and glasses of water.

“So, Adal, we have given you temporaryasylum, against our better wishes” one of the French councillors said with a grimace as he waved them to chairs. He spoke in guttural short English, the only common language between the disparate groups. The American winced.

“Yes” one of the Persians replied. He had a short, cropped beard more akin to the League’s Arab contingent, and his deep dark eyes betrayed nothing of what flowed behind them. “For that, we give you thanks, Monsieur Galacios. But let us be quick. We need to avoid any hint of your feelings reaching your allies”. The men opposite him blushed at the unspoken words, but he carried on without hesitation.

“We have come today as part of a delegation from the great Suleiman IX, to entreat with the people of this worthy city. Our position is simple. We have no desire to wage war against this free city. Is not the hint in the headline?” The American hid a smile. “The clue is in the title” he offered disarmingly in a classic Noo York accent.

“Ah! Quite so. We have no wish of this. It was we who were attacked by the Confederation, and then later by their allies”. He grimaced suddenly, anger leaking through his diplomat’s front. “New Rome”. The French shifted uncomfortably again, but the American seemed at ease with their opposite’s bile.

“In our turn, we are fed up with supplying people we can’t spare to die for foolish generals” he replied. “We’re not like New Rome or the EUC; we don’t have a country’s population to call upon when idiots with dreams in their heads – and nothing else – go get killed. Like at Cassino”, referring to the massacre of the largely Bordesean troops left hanging in the ruined Monastery when a Roman commander had pulled his forces back too early.

It was this reason the Sultan had despatched Adal and his small group of expert diplomats to the French city. If it could be prised away from the alliance it would be a grave blow to the Sultanate's enemies. It would mean this stretch of coast was unprotected from raiding ships of the Sultanate navy.It would snap the only link between the struggling EUC territories and their onlyother ally, the bastard emperor of New Rome - him and his visions!They would lose this hulking fortress, where they met as a council to organise the war each year. Instead they would have to settle in one of the two side's cities. Adal was too experienced a negotiator to understand the cracks this could force in any alliance, especially one without most of the old-style communications. But most importantly, it would withdraw Bordeaux's forces from the battle lines, and in this year of 2015, men were more precious than ships, communications and even religion. People had become a precious commodity following the massdeath during the Smoke.

“So! We have converging paths, no”? Adal smiled, showing awesomely white teeth. His tone turned business like. “With no wish to destroy fellow free men, then, we will acknowledge your neutrality and non aggression against the League’s forces. We will guarantee safe passage of all Bordesean merchants into all ports of the League. As long as you allow no armed forces to make use of them”.

“For us, we will announce our neutrality and withdraw all armed forces from the fronts within a month of signing this treaty” the American continued. We will remove all foreign contingents from our city and…stop the ASCOF yearly meetings here. All League ships except warships will be allowed to dock…” there was a screech as the two French stood up abruptly. They gave one hated look at the Persians, an especially revolted one at the American, and strode out the room.

“Trouble in the ranks?” suggested one of the hitherto silent League diplomats, with a hint of a smirk.

“Not at all” the American said, smiling through gritted teeth. What were those fools up to? Didn’t they see this was the only way New Bordeaux – and America – could survive this war? The Mullah overlord of the League – Sultan Suleiman IX – might be a religious fanatic, but the league itself was responsible. More importantly, it was going to win, and George Aladyah needed his people to be on the winning side. The American refugees had settled throughout the remaining countries after their evacuation. Since it had been Emperor Murphy who had forced the EUC and his reluctant military to mount the rescue mission almost on the last minute, many refugees had resettled in Wales, Cornwall and Central England, in the swathes of Roman lands. A few more had moved further north to Newcastle and the rump kingdom of King William, but England couldn't hold so many people at once. So in a pure fit of post-Smoke irony, the majority had chosen the Free City of Bordeaux. Americans had become Frenchmen. They reasoned, if it had free in the title, it must be near enough similar to America.

If Aladyah wanted what was left of America to survive - and not just as some puppet of Rome and her Emperor - he needed to ensure the survival of Bordeaux. And there was no way in Hell the Europeans were going to survive this. He had served on the front lines, had seen the sheer weight of men and materials the Sultan could bring to bear. He knew they had found vast armouries almost intact in Constantinople, and could draw on so much morepre-Smoke weapons than the allies. Moreover, he had seen the sheer fanaticism in the eyes of the Sultan's troops as they strove to kill the hated whites who, so claimed their illustrious leader, prophet and ruler secular and religious Sultan Soleim Suleiman IX. The mad raisin, as the Roman troops irreverently called him;

They left the French alone for several minutes, Aladyah stewing as the League deputation whispered frenetically. Then, with an apology, he left the room in search of his fellow leaders. Emerging from the castle entrance, he stood for a moment on the top of the steps, dumbfounded by the sight before his eyes.

In the wide square before the castle steps were crowded every person in New Bordeaux who could squeeze in. More lined the main road. Every faction was represented; original Bordeseans, French refugees and Americans. Indeed, the Americans populated most of the front rows, and every face showed anger. It was silent, as even the traders had stopped their selling and stood with the others. The passing of the deputation, it seemed, hadn't gone unnoticed. From his vantage point, Aladyah could see more joining the throng at the back, attracted by the mass demonstration. Even the apolitical groups, seasonal labourers, hot-dog stands and night-soil men were amongst the crowds. Right at the front stood the two French council members.

“Citizens of New Bordeaux!” one shouted in French, while the other translated to English. The sun was almost set, and a rich red gloom painted the faces of men and women as they looked up at the speakers. The colour of kings, of blood and of death.

“This man has tried to subvert our city, to sell her into allegiance for a false peace!” the man shouted. “He wanted to leave our friends in Rome, who have saved us so many times from war and attack! He wanted us to abandon Spain, Italy and Greece, who sent us grain when we were hungry, who helped build our aqueduct so we would not die in times of drought!” A growl ran through the crowd, and Aladyah felt movement behind him as the League’s people joined him. A larger growl greeted their arrival.

“He is scared. But does that mean we flinch, that we sit back and tremble like children when someone raises their hand against us? Or does it mean we stand taller, and hit back with all our strength for a peace guaranteed not by a madman sitting on a throne in Bagdad, but by our allies and ourselves!” a roar greeted his words, a savage roar, and Adal winced heavily, not even attempting to argue the point. Even the most ardent league warrior was scared of the increasingly crazy sultan, and he knew it.

“Let these Sultanates leave now, to tell their mad leader this city is not for sale!” the men quickly hustled down the steps to their horses, riding quickly through the crowd.

“And let this man leave too! For he has shown he has no love of the true values of this city, of Americans or Frenchmen!”

Aladyah gaped, and then slowly took in the hard, unforgiving faces flowing back through the square. Many were framed by braided hair or elaborate moustaches, and every one radiated hate at him. Stumbling down the steps, he ran jerkily through the unmoving people until lost from sight.

Galacious whispered to his colleague. "I think the negotiations were a complete success, no?" His fellow council member - there were only two now, for ashort while- smiled wearily, the pressure of the last few hours clearly showing in the marks around her eyes.

"Yeah great. now what?"


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