This excerpt for Sample Sunday is from our novelette, THE PATH TO DESTRUCTION. General Matthew Smith of the American Freedom Fighters is facing overwhelming odds as he tries to hold out against an unrelenting enemy swarming up from the south. The United States is in danger of being occupied for the first time in its history in this post-apocalyptic tale and General Smith has one last desperate trick up his sleeve.
The sun was barely rising when I heard the noise coming from outside the front of my office. I wondered who or what could be awake this early and got up to take a look. I opened the door and received one of the biggest shocks of my life. There in front of me was Kenzu, kneeling with his entire contingent of samurai warriors arrayed behind him. They were all kneeling in concentric ranks behind their leader, arranged according to their particular standing within the elite fighting force. It was disconcerting to see them like that, well over 250 warriors, all with downcast eyes, motionless and eerily quiet, like a powerful beast, crouched and ready to pounce on its unsuspecting prey. I stood there, mouth hanging open, hoping I wasn’t that prey.
“What’s going on?”
Kenzu slowly sat back on his heels and raised his head until our eyes met. His face looked as if it had been chiseled out of stone, eyes inscrutable as ever. He raised his arms from his lap and held out a magnificent sword for me to take. I was unsettled by this, my mind whirling with the possibilities of what Kenzu offered, none of them any good for my health or well-being. The next shock was what he actually said.
“Gomen nasai, Smith-san.”
I was even more confused than before. What the hell was he apologizing to me for? Was this some strange part of his Bushido code that said he must apologize before killing me? I wasn’t looking toward that prospect.
Kenzu’s mouth tightened slightly, whether to hide a grimace or a smile, at my Japanese. I had told him I didn’t understand what he meant.
“Please, let us speak in your language. Your attempts at my language always hurt my ears. I cannot abide it today.”
His attempt at levity was a good sign. I let out a pent up breath, not realizing that I had been holding myself rigid, poised to act at the slightest provocation. Not that I would have stood much of a chance against Kenzu. He was the greatest warrior still alive in this god-forsaken war at hand-to-hand combat and sword fighting.
I had good reason for concern for my own personal safety because we had not parted on good terms the previous evening. Actually, if I remembered correctly, Kenzu had all but threatened my life before turning and storming out of the meeting hall. It took only a moment to rerun that conversation through my mind. It had been brief and altogether too ugly.
“You ask too much,” Kenzu had said last night.
“How can you say that after everything that has happened?”
“I am aware of our current situation.”
“Good, you’re aware. Then make the damn weapons.”
“It is disrespectful. It is an insult to everything I hold honorable.”
“Honor?” I said incredulously. “Take a look around, Kenzu. What good does your honor do us?”
Kenzu’s face darkened, his hands balled into fists.
“I cannot do as you ask.”
“Then you are no better than the rest of them.”
Kenzu nearly lost his composure with my last remark. His hand flashed to his katana and I thought he would draw it then and there. If that sword left its sheath, there would be blood drawn. He stopped himself, looked down as if ashamed at his loss of self-control, and released the deadly sword.
“Smith-san,’ Kenzu finally said. “It is because of our long-standing friendship that I will not act on your vile insult.”
Then he looked up and locked his piercing dark eyes on me.
“But, if we ever meet again, the outcome will be very different.”
At that, he swirled around and left the hall. The rest of his warriors, all of who had watched the exchange, left silently behind him. No one in the unit had tried to stop them.
So, it was easy to understand my initial confusion, seeing Kenzu kneeling in front of me, holding out that samurai sword. I looked at the rest of the warriors behind Kenzu and began to understand what was happening.
“You changed your mind?” I asked
With no other explanation, Kenzu stood in one easy motion and placed the sword into my hands.
“My sense of honor may have been clouded on this issue, but the fate of our world is a constant reminder of what we face together. The swords we present today are but the first of many to come. It will take time to create the number you seek, but my warriors and I will prevail. We will not fail.”
I looked back and saw that every one of the warriors had a second sword in their possession. I guessed that they had stayed up all night preparing them. Their effort had been monumental and I gratefully accepted the gift Kenzu offered me.
I looked down at the sword and marveled at the wonder of it. Outwardly, it looked no different than the katana that Kenzu wore at his side. It was inside the sword’s handle where the difference lay. A microchip embedded inside the handle was connected to a series of grafted conduits directly beneath the outer skin of the sword handle. When activated, the conduit made a passive connection with the nexus of nerves in the user’s hands, and through them, a pathway to the user’s brain. Once the neural pathway was established, the transference of skills and memories lying recorded in the weapon’s circuit, were passed directly to the user’s brain and temporarily became their own.
“May I be the first to try it?”
“You may be the second. We had to test it first to make sure it worked.”
Finding that stash of microchips may very well turn the tide of the war. If Kenzu could make more of these weapons we may just have a chance. I looked down at the weapon and found the activation stub. Pushing it in, I noticed a slight prickling in my arm and then a flood of memories assaulted my senses. I steadied myself against the wall for the first few moments until I acclimated to the sensation.