by Martin Maenza
From the private journal of Andrei Szackas:
Just when I thought the winters here could not get any colder, I have been proven wrong.
A front has blown down from the northwest, bringing more snow and bitter cold. The way Modora-Granaco is nestled in the mountains, the cold air masses seem to whip in here and stay for a good long while. That leaves me little to do but keep to the lab and work.
That is all I seem to do now. Work day and night, twenty-four hours, seven days a week, on the nucleo-sonic armor systems. Even when I am trying to sleep, often my mind is racing on areas of improvements or ways to solve problems that are occurring.
I think the pressure is getting to me.
I never dreamed, when His Excellency approached me back in San Francisco last fall with this opportunity, that I would find myself in a situation such as this. I thought it was my duty, out a pride for my home nation, that I should provide my resources to the project.
I never thought that something I desired most would become tedious and tasking.
I don’t know if I can find the strength to go on, but I have little choice in the matter. There is only one way out of this situation. While death might be a welcome change, I do not have it in me to take my own life.
So, like a coward, I must work myself until I can do no more.
Professor Andrei Szackas heard the front door to the laboratory slam. Quickly, the man with the unkempt brown hair saved his journal file that he was typing into, closed the program, and turned off the computer monitor.
He stood up from his work station just as the visitor entered the room. “Your Excellency,” Szackas said with a slight bow.
The man who had just entered the room had black hair parted over to one side. He was a bit stocky and wore a blue military-style top with orange piping across the chest. His pants were red, as was the cape that attached to his top and flowed about him as he walked. His gloves were orange and his boots were blue.
This colorful, old-style uniform was the primary type of outfit worn by Bito Wladon, the leader of the small European country. And it was with this outfit and the name of Sonar that most of the world, or those who even cared, knew him.
“How are we doing today, Szackas?” Sonar asked as he looked about the lab. “Any progress to report?” He stopped his inspection-like pacing at a table where some red and gray armor pieces were sitting.
“Slow but steady,” the Professor in his early thirties replied. “That is, how they say, races are won.”
Sonar picked up a piece of the armor, a gauntlet glove. He shook it about slightly, watching as the finger pieces flipped back and forth in their jointed sections. “Eh?” he asked, barely looking up.
“Slow and steady wins the race,” Szackas said nervously. “That’s a saying.”
Sonar put the piece of armor back on the table and turned to face the man. “Szackas, I do not care what people say!” Sonar snapped. “People tend to talk out of their backsides, and usually they are incorrect. Words are meaningless!”
Sonar began to cross the room in a proud, militaristic style. “No, it is actions that matter! Actions and results!” He stopped at a set of drawn curtains. Grabbing the two pieces of heavy, dark fabric where they met, the man threw them back dramatically and bathed the room in natural light.
“Come, Szackas,” Sonar said. “Come to the window and tell me what you see!”
Andrei Szackas crossed the room and joined Sonar at the window. Peering out, he saw a blanket of fresh, white snow covering the village down the road. Smoke bellowed up from the chimneys; the people inside attempted to stay warm by the fire while they went about their daily tasks. It almost looked like an image out of a holiday card or a snow-globe or a child’s fairy tale book.
“I see the village,” Szackas said plainly.
“Hah!” Sonar said. He clasped the man about the shoulders and forced him to look out the pane of glass once more. “Look again!” Szacka’s face almost touched the surface; he could feel the cold winter chill on the other side.
“Do you know what I see?” Sonar asked.
Szackas kept his tongue. Over these last few months, he had come to recognize when the man was posing a question that he then planned to answer himself.
“I see a nation,” Sonar continued. “A proud nation! A nation on the verge of something great! For when the winter’s snow melts in the not-so-distant future, the time of spring and renewal begins. The trees will bud forth with new life, as they do every year.
“But this year will be different! For this year, the world will see something new. This year, the nation of Modora will rise high, soaring to greater heights! With our roots firmly planted in our native soil, we shall spread forth like vines to take over our neighbors’ lands.”
Sonar released the man and began to pace about the laboratory. “We shall be a power to be reckoned with, a power that will give the rest of the world pause! We shall force them to take notice. And do you know why?”
Szackas waited. He knew the answer; he’d been through this preamble countless times before in the past few months. It was very much like a pep talk of sorts.
“It is because of the nucleo-sonic armor!” Sonar said. “Your creations, matched with my strategic plans, will be the tools that will bring our nation up. We shall become a world power that will not be ignored!”
Szackas nodded. “Yes, your Excellency.”
Sonar frowned slightly. “Boy, where is your enthusiasm? Your sense of pride?”
Szackas felt too exhausted to muster any.
“Bah!” Sonar said. He rushed over to the man and practically began to drag him across the room. “Come! I wish to see the completed units!”
Szackas started to move under his own efforts and sighed quietly. The number hadn’t changed that drastically since the last time Sonar had come to inspect them, three days prior. Still, he knew that was the only way to get the man to leave again.
“Very well,” he said. “This way.” And Szackas led Sonar to the other room.
From the diary of Cassandra De Granaco:
It has been exactly two weeks since that horrible day.
I believe he called it St. Valentine’s Day. Bito insisted, in that whiny way of his, that we must celebrate our ‘love’ in a grand fashion as did the rest of the world.
That man is such a contradiction. He so despises many things about how the rest of the world perceives his homeland, and yet he goes to such great lengths to adopt some of their practices.
So, I was forced to endure this insipid ritual.
First, I had to pretend to enjoy the long-winded, self-absorbing poem he scribed that proclaimed his love for me. I truly believe that man only loves one person — himself. The poem was merely a ruse, an attempt to get me to have intimate relations with him once more.
He said he could not provide me flowers, for there was no way to get them during the dead of winter in our country. For that I was relieved. The oaf no doubt would have chosen some arrangement that I would find offensive or that would have a horrid odor. At least I did not have to fake my way through that.
Instead, Bito felt it necessary to compensate by providing me with an excessive amount of chocolates. Again, the winter and his need to oversee everything Szackas was doing kept Bito from venturing out beyond our borders. So, instead of receiving a divine assortment from Switzerland or some other country noted for their delectable delights, I was forced to endure a sub-par local substitute.
Modora is not known for its confections, I can assure you.
I truly long for the day when I no longer have to continue with this charade. But to achieve greatness for the nation of Granaco, I must continue to play my role.
Sonar burst into the sitting room where Cassandra De Granaco sat at her antique desk. He traipsed across the room, soiling the large carpet that covered the floor with his snow-covered boots. “My pet, there you are!” the man announced. “I have been looking all over for you! Have you been hiding on me, my sweet?”
“Why would I do that?” the dark-haired woman said dryly as she closed the little book in which she had been writing. She flipped over the gold latch, locking the cover into place, and slid the book into the top center drawer. “Why do you seek me with such urgency?”
Sonar took the woman’s hand. “Come, I have something impressive to show you!”
Cassandra failed to rise at his insistence. “Is this important?” she asked with a critical eye.
“Very,” the man replied. He tugged at her hand once more.
“Very well,” the woman said reluctantly. She rose from her chair.
“We must hurry outside!” Sonar said. “The preparations should be complete.”
“Outside?” Cassandra asked. “I am not dressed for outside.” Indeed, she wore a light purple dress and open shoes, perfectly comfortable for indoor activities but totally inappropriate for outdoor winter doings. “I must change first. Then I will join you.”
Sonar frowned slightly at the delay. “All right,” he finally said. “Do not take long.” And he headed back out of the palace.
Cassandra waited for him to leave before she let a smile cross her lips. She refused to be commanded and dictated to. Things would be done on her schedule, not his. The woman retired to her chambers in order to change into more appropriate attire. She took her time.
Eventually, Cassandra emerged from the castle dressed in dark blue pants, boots, and a fur-lined parka with a hood. The clothes protected her delicate skin from the harsh winter elements. She crunched through the fresh snow on the path, heading out to the courtyard.
There she found her husband waiting impatiently, along with a dozen armed soldiers, Andrei Szackas, and two men dressed in gray and red armor. “There you are!” Sonar said, with a slight bit of frustration in his voice.
“What’s all this?” Cassandra asked.
“I have asked Professor Szackas to give us a demonstration,” Sonar announced. “I believe he’s far enough along, and I wanted to share with you his progress.”
Cassandra found a small stone bench near the edge of the path, brushed away the snow with her gloved hand, and sat down. “Fine,” she said. “Let us just be quick about it. It is freezing out here.”
“Of course,” Sonar said. He turned to Szackas. “Are we ready?”
The brown-haired man shivered a bit and nodded. “We are, your Excellency.” He turned to the two armored men and gave them a nod.
A slight hum could be heard from the armor as the two men took flight. They rose into the air and did a few fast loops around the courtyard before taking position down the way about fifty yards.
Cassandra raised one eyebrow slightly. She was actually impressed to see that the armor allowed the men to fly so easily. Perhaps this would not be as much of a waste of her time as she had first thought.
Sonar noticed her interest and smiled slightly. He then turned to the soldiers. “Guards, take aim!” he barked to the men in gray uniforms.
The head of the troop looked to Cassandra. “Your Majesty?” he asked simply.
The dark-haired beauty merely nodded her consent.
The troop leader raised his weapon, and his men quickly followed his lead. Upon Sonar’s command, they then proceeded to open fire with their rifles.