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Author Topic: Gods of War, Soldiers of Peace Chapter 1  (Read 583 times)
AndyJ
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« on: August 17, 2017, 02:45:37 PM »

As mentioned in my prologue thread, there seems to be some confusion as to the relevance of my prologue in relation to my Chapter 1, where we first start seeing my main characters. As such, I will just leave the chapter here.

Chapter 1

Captain Zach Hansen perked his head up from his desk when he heard the commotion. He opened his door to an unexpected blast of cold winter air. He’d almost forgotten how warm and comfortable his personal living quarters were compared to the bone chilling freeze outside. He stepped down the stairs leading to the main courtyard to see a large squad of Korean Army soldiers dragging a prisoner draped in a ragged North Korean uniform.

“Colonel Kang, Where’d you find him?” Colonel Sung Joon Kang was standing and supervising the proceedings at the front of the courtyard where Zach appeared. The fringes of his hair were greying and a few lines ran across his face as a token of his age, but other then that Kang was as tall, built, and hardened as any other man or woman on base.

“A patrol found him wandering the far side of the DMZ. It’s been over a decade since Korea was officially reunified and we still find these damn Reds crawling around like cockroaches,” he replied in his usual gruff and scratchy voice. His English was mildly accented, yet decades of practice had eliminated almost all stutters and hesitations from his diction.

“Did you already interrogate him at least? This is the first KPA soldier we’ve found this close to the DMZ in years.”

“He wouldn’t talk. We tried bribes, pardons, then when that didn’t work we went to torture. He confessed to murdering his wife, as if any of us were surprised a Red would do that.” Zach raised an eyebrow at Kang. He shrugged and raised his hands to defend his words. “He’s KPA. The monster doesn’t have any rights here. With nuclear winter coming, we don’t have the luxury of pretending he’s our equal.”

“I’m not judging you Colonel. My country isn’t exactly ruled by saints either.” The soldiers tied the KPA prisoner to a wooden pole propped up in the middle of the yard then marched back, assembling themselves into a firing squad. “Wait. Let me see if I can talk to him. You can act as interpreter can’t you?” It was Kang’s turn to raise an eyebrow.

“I can. What do you want to learn? I told you we’ve already done everything we can to question him.”

“I know. Maybe the sight of an American dog will get the man to blurt something useful out.” US Marine Captain Zach Hansen was, in many respects, the model American serviceman. He stood just over six feet tall and had a pale face not unlike ones seen on North Korean propaganda caricatures. His lean, muscular frame further made him out as a monster not unlike what the prisoner might have anticipated from an enemy. With two fellow American Marines flanking him, he received the clear to approach the prisoner with Kang at his side as interpreter.

The prisoner was a pathetic creature. His face was so emaciated Zach could make out the exact width of his cheek and jawbones just by looking. Though the KPA uniform hid the rest of his body, Zach had little doubt it was just as skeletal. When they met eyes, the prisoner bared his teeth and growled like a dying dog but made no other effort to lash out. Even his teeth were uneven, with half of them missing and the other half tinted yellower than urine.
“Ask him what his mission to the south was for,” he said to Kang. Kang repeated the question in Korean to the prisoner. Zach heard an unintelligible response and waited for Kang to make sense of it for him.

“He says he was running.”

“Running from what?” Kang once again turned to translate.

“Monsters. Spirits who assume the form of your loved ones and try to devour you.” Zach quirked an eyebrow at Kang. The man looked back at him with a confused shrug.

“Ask him how many other KPA soldiers he set out with.”

“He says none. He says he was the only soldier in a camp of 25, mostly of women and the elderly. Should I hit him and make him confess his lie?” Kang growled.

“That won’t be necessary.” Zach gazed deeply into the prisoner’s forlorn eyes. “I think he’s telling the truth. Ask him instead why he killed his wife. That seems
like an odd thing to confess when tortured by the enemy.”

“He says a spirit possessed her body and tried to eat him. This man’s just saying nonsense to mock us!” Kang raised a hand to slap the frail man but Zach grabbed his wrist to stop him. He forced Kang to lower his arm and shook his head.

“You said we already tried that. Remember?” At this point, the prisoner looked up and met Zach’s gaze with the intensity of an armed and defiant enemy. He began to rant while keeping his eyes glued solely on Zach. “What’s he saying?”

“He asks if you’re a father. If you’re a husband.” Zach shook his head.

“Well tell him I’m not. And tell him at the end of the day he’s still sentenced to die. Ask him if he has any last words.” Kang nodded and relayed the message in his native tongue.

“He says he knows what he saw. He warns that the monsters will one day come South and devour everyone you love and cherish.” Zach raised an eyebrow at the prisoner. His expression had deflated back into that of a man consigned to die.

“Not bad for last words. The man at least knows how to die in style.” He turned around to leave, beckoning Kang and his guards to come with him. “Kill him whenever you’re ready.” Before Zach had even left the courtyard, he heard the firing squad fire several volleys at their target. When he turned around to venture a gaze, he saw a mashed pile of shredded meat and bones where the KPA prisoner once stood. He retreated back towards his quarters with Kang at his side.

“You should tell your superiors and the Japanese this joint venture is just a waste of time and money. It’s been two years since you came here looking for the terrorists behind the China and Belgium attacks and the most you have to show for it are some delusional KPA scouts who would have died of starvation in another week.”

“Colonel, I didn’t know you hated me that much,” Zach quipped.

“I don’t hate you. In fact, somehow I’ve grown fond of you. For that reason, I don’t want you spending your whole life so far from home looking for ghosts. Yes, terrorists destroyed China and killed thousands in Western Europe but if your story’s true and they really fled into their own irradiated handiwork, they’re all dead. The war’s over.”

“I wouldn’t say the war’s over. The true enemy’s out there somewhere. The reason so many died and the United States had its capital destroyed is because we thought the war was over last time.”

“You make it sound like your country’s in ruins. If I remember right, the only American city these enemies ever got to touch was Washington DC, which was quickly rebuilt in under a year. Everywhere else, your people probably got some very interesting and, dare I say, entertaining news to watch over their morning coffee.”

“And you make it sound like your country was even affected. The southern half of the Korean Peninsula had, last time I checked, a death toll of zero from the attacks. And since the North is a Red infested wasteland, it doesn’t really matter what happens there does it?”

“All the more reason this expedition of yours and the Japanese is just inconveniencing everyone.” Zach chuckled and nodded in assent.

“I’ll be sure to tell anyone who’ll listen when I get to Tokyo..”

The night before his departure, Captain Hansen found himself at a particularly raucous nightclub with his friend Joseph Rodriguez, as he often did. With so much leave time given everyday to Zach and his fellow American servicemen and women in the region, he couldn’t help but agree with Kang’s sentiments. The mission in East Asia was a waste of time and it was a waste of money, but he knew telling anyone wouldn’t do any good. People were scared, and the sight of more soldiers marching around doing nothing somehow gave them comfort.

“You’re really gonna go the entire night at this place not drinking any booze? Man, what do you even live for?” Joseph said, with no small amount of mischief in his buzzed voice.

“Someone has to be the designated driver.”

“You’re a f**king Captain in the Marines. Call one of your men or women to come pick us up if it gets bad.”

“They can pick me up. Not sure about the mercenary I spend way too much time around.”

“Hey, the term’s private contractor. And my team was specifically assigned to assist your company so don’t call this too much time.”

“In any case Joe, I just don’t drink. And just so you know, I’ve tried alcohol. Many times. Not a huge fan of the hangovers.”

“f**king choir boy.” He rolled his eyes at Zach and took another shot. Zach contented himself with a sip from his lemon soda. “You Mormons and all your f**king rules. Speaking of which, when are you ever gonna f**k a girl? I hear you can’t do that either.”

“Until we’re married. In theory anyway. But don’t pity me for that. I’d slept with at least sixteen girls before I turned sixteen. That was ten years ago. I lost count after that. Then I stopped about a year before graduating high school. If my parents ask, make sure to tell them it’s because of my guilt and what my bishop told me to do. But if you really wanna know what got me out of that life, I got bored. That simple. You can only have so much sex and watch so much porn before it all starts feeling boring and repetitive. That, and watching two of my brothers get divorced helped me realize women are overrated anyway.”

“Whatever. Say, you see those two hotties over there?” Joe pointed to a pair of pretty, curvaceous young women casting furtive gazes their way. “Why bother dressing sharp in that military uniform of yours when you know girls here would like nothing more than to climb in bed with a good looking white boy who’s also a US soldier?” Zach turned his eyes to where the two girls were for a moment. When they caught sight of him looking, they blushed and turned away.

“You’re welcome to them. Both of them.”

“They don’t want me, you dumbass. They want the cute young white boy, not the old hispanic guy sitting next to him.”

“Don’t sell yourself so short Joe. You’re only 32 and in this light I wouldn’t be able to tell you apart from a well tanned white man. Let’s make a bet. I bet those two girls will make you a very satisfied man tonight and if I lose I pay you twenty bucks before we board our plane for Tokyo. I win, you owe me twenty dollars and a declaration of your gratitude for me. I’ll teach you the words later.”

“You’re on, you condescending jerk.” Zach chuckled and looked back over to the girls. With nothing more than a suggestive smirk and a nod of the head, he beckoned them over to their table.

“Do either of you ladies speak any English?” he asked. The shorter, thinner girl on the right nodded.

“I do.” It was heavily accented and the hesitation let Zach know she didn’t speak it very well.

“My friend here, who’s very very rich by the way...” he said while holding his hands up with the gesture for money. “... couldn’t help but notice how very beautiful you two were.” He spoke slow enough for the girl to understand. “See, he’s a very brave soldier and he spent today hunting down and killing three North Korean soldiers by himself today. He’s very tired and nothing would help him rest more than a pretty girl to keep him company tonight. Could you help him.” The girls then turned to look at Joe. Joe was a handsome man in his own right. With a rigid, square jaw and a bristly stubble covering the lower half of his face, the older man was the more rugged and hardened looking fighter between the two of them.

“Smooth. Like that’d ever work,” Joe whispered. He turned away from Zach to find himself at eye level with both girls’ breasts. He blushed and looked up at their eyes. They both giggled. He briefly turned back to Zach before his attention was absorbed by the girls. “Ah, f**k it. Remind me to pay you tomorrow morning.” He rose and took one girl under each arm, whispering something Zach couldn’t quite make out. When they had disappeared, he settled into his seat and finished his soda. He left the empty glass on the table, along with a modest tip, and walked out of the club. The streets were packed with night time traffic and the sidewalks offered him little personal space. He shuffled through the crowds of pedestrians, at least half of whom were drunk, and found a quiet alleyway to stand in. He leaned against a wall and pulled out his phone. It was only a small, palm sized picture but he found himself staring for an inordinate amount of time. Everything about the woman, from her perfect black hair to her glimmering green eyes, shone right through the graininess of the screen.

“Alicia,” he mumbled to himself. An instant later, he shook his head and shoved the phone back in his pocket. “I’m freaking pathetic.”
Zach couldn’t help but laugh when he saw Joe, practically skipping, walk up to him as they prepared to board their plane. He held his hand out in front of his friend. The scowl and momentary loss of his satisfied smile made Zach laugh even more. Joe handed him a 20 dollar bill.

“Told ya so. I spent most of high school learning how to talk my way into girls’ beds. The trick isn’t what you say, it’s how you say it.”

“Thank you oh mighty Captain Zach Hansen. Were it not for you I would surely have remained a virgin,” Joe said with a reluctant grumble. Zach patted him on the back.

“Atta boy.”
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samcantcook
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« Reply #1 on: August 17, 2017, 03:10:08 PM »

Andy,

This is much more suitable as an opening than your prologue. My advise is to start here, because your story starts here. Some good writing overall. I don't often do line by line critiques, but might I make one suggestion?

Quote
Captain Zach Hansen perked his head up from his desk when he heard the commotion. He opened his door to an unexpected blast of cold winter air. He’d almost forgotten how warm and comfortable his personal living quarters were compared to the bone chilling freeze outside. He stepped down the stairs leading to the main courtyard to see a large squad of Korean Army soldiers dragging a prisoner draped in a ragged North Korean uniform.

I think this is an awesome opening paragraph. But I think you could refocus this. A character perking up from his desk isn't a very strong first image. If we cut this as demonstrated above, you accomplish a couple of really cool things in a single line.
(1) You introduce the setting: Captain Zach Hansen
(2) You establish the setting: a large squad of Korean Army
(3) You have immediate conflict: a prisoner draped in a ragged North Korean uniform

This will refocus the opening image from something mundane--a man perking up at his desk--to something cinematic--a man witnessing a Korean solider being brought in. Much more exciting. And it grounds us in the setting firmly. Well done.

Just adjust the sentence so it reads less clunky and you've got gold in my opinion.
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AndyJ
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« Reply #2 on: August 17, 2017, 03:21:37 PM »

Thank you! Hmm... I like it. Thank you for the feedback. I agree your modified version reads better so I'll make the changes.
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samcantcook
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« Reply #3 on: August 17, 2017, 04:33:17 PM »

This is works great as first chapter. I think we write prologues as crutches, to wedge a cushion between our ourselves and the reader. But often times our work is strong enough on its own that we don't need a shield. This is an excellent example of that. I think you show how compelling a story this is going to be, here, and I really like the intensity, the humor, the voice.
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