Vernal Equinox 2003






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Joseph Green

Joe Green worked for 37 years in the American space program, retiring from NASA as Deputy Chief of the Education Office at Kennedy Space Center. His specialty was preparing NASA fact sheets, brochures and other semi-technical publications for the general public, explaining complex scientific and engineering concepts in layman's language. Author of over 20 science papers for NASA and contractor executives. As a part-time free-lancer he published five SF novels (DAW, Doubleday, ACE, Gollancz) and about 70 shorter works (Analog, F&SF, original anthologies). Novels and stories translated into German, Italian, Spanish, French, Polish and Dutch. More recent stories published in on-line magazines "Ideomancer" and "Pedestal Magazine" (in archives) and "Future Shocks" (up now).

Personal Data: BA, University of Alabama. Previously worked as mill hand, construction worker, and shop supervisor for Boeing. Six years building Bomarc and Minuteman missile bases in Florida, New York, Virginia, Montana, and North and South Dakota; 31 years at the Kennedy Space Center.


J ORGIVE ME FATHER, FOR I have sinned. I was part of the invasion force we sent against New Scandia, and it has been three weeks since my last confession."

"The three weeks is understandable, my son. You have been fighting at the front. Before we go on, let me remind you that what would be a grave sin at other times, such as killing another man, is not so for a soldier fighting in a just war. Many of our enemies worship false gods; even worse, most are secularists. Killing such heathen is not a sin, and requires no confession."

"Father Serrano? Is that you? What is a bishop ... "

"What is a bishop doing back in the confessional booth, Adriano? Those of us not trained to fight must still do our part. Most of the priests in border dioceses are across the river with the troops. Myself and all the priests on my staff are back in the parishes, tending to our flock. And I am happy that God, in his illimitable wisdom, has brought you to me this day. It has been more than five years since the Holy Father of Aztecland found me worthy of promotion, and I stopped hearing regular confessions."

Adriano de Rivera felt a gust of relief. This difficult confession would be heard by the priest who had guided his spiritual growth from his twelfth year until he left for military college at eighteen. This was the man to whom he had confessed the boyhood sins of masturbation, lying, improper thoughts of girls, cheating on exams, bad dreams that ended in ejaculations -- a litany of the sins of puberty and adolescence. He gained great comfort from learning that those actions beyond his control were minor infractions, to be expiated by a few Hail Marys and extra Bible study. The more serious ones, such as sleeping instead of attending early mass on Sundays, he worked off in services to the Church.

"My sin was not in killing an enemy, father. I have yet to see ... actual combat. This was a ... a cruel but necessary action against two captured enemy soldiers. And it involved ... torture, Father. Torture and rape."

"My son!" Bishop Serrano's voice, through the dark wire netting that covered the open panel between the two small sound-proofed booths, sounded shocked. "Surely you have not forgotten all you learned at the blessed knee of Mother Church! Rape is an abomination, a -- a sin of terrible consequences! And torture -- only the most compelling of circumstances could justify it! How did you ...?"

"I did not personally do either, Father. But soldiers under my command, acting on my orders, did. It ... was very necessary." In his mind, Adriano saw again the lovely tall blonde woman, her thick, golden pubic patch prominent, lying naked on her own bed. It was an image burned into his memory. Her arms and long legs were stretched wide, and tied to bedposts. There was a strip of surgical tape across her mouth.

"This woman was a soldier and the wife of a soldier, Father. We found both their uniforms in the bedroom closet. He was a major and she a sergeant. He admitted they had returned to their ranch, which was directly in our line of advance, to remove their most valuable personal possessions. They thought it safe to spend the night, and were making love when we assaulted the house. When he begged us to spare his wife, he revealed they had been married only two months before they were called up and separated."

Adriano's cavalry squad had been operating sixty kilometers behind enemy lines, hiding in the rugged low hills by day and traveling the dry, brush-covered countryside by night. With two other widely scattered squads, they were dispatched to contact Aztec sympathizers living in the area. Hard intelligence confirmed the New Scandians were planning a lightning land assault on the vital Rio Dividir bridge, near the bottom of the great bend in the river. They could take either of two equally likely routes, and the rapidly advancing Aztec army could not afford to pull back enough men to interdict both.

It was an important assignment for a young teniente who had not yet seen combat. In forty-eight hours, they had learned nothing of interest, except that New Scandia's Third Armored Cavalry Headquarters at Trockenberg Army Base, eighty kilometers to the northeast, had been very busy. That was the base from which the strike would almost have to come. But it and the nearby small city of the same name were also in the path of the advancing Aztec army. Very likely they were simply trying to get out all the equipment possible before the base was overwhelmed and captured.

"From what was the Scandian major trying to spare his wife, my son? Surely your men were not out of control."

"No, Father. But after I realized he was an officer at the base from which the raid must come, it became clear he would know the route. That was what we had been ordered to learn. I offered to spare his wife any ... unpleasantness ... if he would tell us."

It had been a stroke of luck that Adriano, leading his squad past an isolated ranch house, happened to see the military personal transport vehicle parked in front. Staring at the lighted windows, letting the horses breathe for a moment, he thought he understood. They were almost three-hundred kilometers northeast of the Rio Dividir. The advancing Aztec army would be here in a day or two. He guessed these people, their reserve unit activated when war broke out two weeks ago, had returned home to save their small personal valuables.

A line of utility poles ran down the unpaved road, supplying power to this and other nearby ranches. But there was no telephone line; they could not raise an alarm. Four troopers at different windows battered out the glass and climbed inside the living room, while the remaining four stood waiting in the darkness at each corner of the house.

Adriano followed his men inside, quickly noting the suitcases and several bags scattered around the big room. Twenty seconds after entering, the troopers opened the doors of the three bedrooms. The major, alerted by the noise, managed to get his pants on, and the wife was pulling on her undergarments when the troopers opened the unlocked door.

The major picked up a pistol from the small table by his bed. In the face of three leveled rifles, he laid it down again. The Aztec soldiers, knowing the objective was to take someone alive, did not fire despite the threat.

Adriano ordered the officer taken to the living room, where he was seated in a sturdy straight-backed wooden chair and thoroughly tied. The wife was allowed to finish dressing, then tied hand and foot and laid on the mussed bed. One man was left to guard her. The outside troopers hid the squad's horses in the large barn, then two men came inside and the remaining two concealed themselves where they could watch the road.

Adriano questioned the officer. The major readily gave his name -- Hendrick Sorenson, major, Third Armored Cavalry -- and his wife's, Bergitta Sorenson, sergeant, Headquarters Staff, Trockenberg Army Base. The major appeared about forty, his wife more than a decade younger. He grudgingly admitted they had been married for only two months. Both off duty Saturday, they slipped away from the base for the long drive to their ranch house Friday night. They gathered up the photo albums, family records, jewelry, clothes, and other personal possessions they could cram into a few suitcases. Knowing it would be at least Sunday before the Aztec army could arrive, they thought it safe to spend the night. And though the major did not say so aloud, Adriano understood they had been doing what any newly married couple would, when back in their own bed after being separated for two weeks.

"Adriano, I understand that the necessities of war sometimes compel us to take actions that would otherwise be unthinkable. It seems clear the major had information you urgently needed. But what part did rape play in this? Why was that necessary?"

Adriano was silent for a moment, remembering. Major Sorenson spoke Spanish fairly well, and Adriano had studied New Norse in military school; they'd had no difficulty in communicating. After slowly revealing a few personal details, the major quoted his right under the conventions of war to provide only name and rank, and stopped speaking. But after only five minutes, Adriano was convinced this major not only knew the planned route, but was assigned to the strike force. He and his new wife planned to travel back to base in the morning. Therefore it seemed likely the attack would start early Sunday, when most good Catholics, even those in the military, were in Church. For a nation of atheists and heathens, it was the logical day.

"There were only two possible routes a fast-moving mechanized force from Trockenberg could take to reach the bridge, Father. If we knew the road, we could arrange for our forces at the front to provide only a token resistance, and let them through. Behind our own lines we could prepare an ambuscado, and wipe them out completely."

"I have no military training, my son. Please excuse my ignorance, but why could the New Scandians not simply bomb the bridge into the river?"

"We have plenty of short-range fighter aircraft to protect the bridge from bombers, Father; but aircraft cannot stop an armored attack. The Scandians would have had to fight their way back out after destroying the bridge, and perhaps not made it. But killing them afterwards would do little for us. The bridge is an essential link in our major supply line. The Rio Dividir is swollen with spring rains, plus snow melt from far north in the Dividing Mountains. It is impassable except by bridge, and that is the only one capable of supporting heavy loads for three-hundred kilometers. It must be protected at all costs."

"If the bridge was in danger, perhaps the torture can be justified, my son. But tell me more about the rape, and the reasons for it."

"It was not my intention to harm the woman at all, Father. But Major Sorenson had a ... a peculiarity." When the major had retreated into silence, there had been no choice but compel him to speak. But when they forced out one finger and held a cigarillo lighter flame under it, the tall, strong-looking Norseman screamed in pain ... and fainted. They revived him by throwing water in his face, asked again, met silence again -- and applied the flame to another finger. The man fainted a second time.

After the third faint, Adriano became afraid the major's heart might stop. He had the willpower to resist the awful pain of a burn for a few seconds, and after that he went unconscious. When they revived him a third time, there was an almost triumphant look on Major Sorenson's face. He knew he could not be tortured into speaking.

"When I realized this man could not be broken by pain alone, Father, I had him carried into the bedroom. Two of my troopers untied the woman, stripped off her clothes, and retied her spread on the bed. She was very beautiful in my men's eyes, Father." Adriano did not admit that she was the loveliest woman he had ever seen naked also. There were very few white whores in Aztecland, and all were far too expensive for common soldiers.

Bergitta Sorenson had very long, white arms and legs; only the face, neck and hands were tanned, with a scattering of light freckles. The troopers eyed the helpless woman with open lust. This squad varied from very dark-skinned -- from a higher than average African slave ancestry, Adriano knew -- to light brown to his own swarthy olive. He noticed that most of the staring men had swellings at the groin.

"Since the man could not be compelled to speak to save himself, Father, I had to threaten him with what most men dread more than death -- the violation of his woman. When he still refused ..." Adriano shrugged, a gesture lost in the darkness of the booth. "We had to proceed, Father. But I ordered my men to take her in a manner that would not cause the woman lasting harm."

"If you acted from a sense of duty and not from lust, God will forgive such actions committed to further his holy cause. You must tell me how you did this in some detail. Otherwise I cannot judge whether this was a justified act of war or a sin."

Adriano was silent for a moment, then said, "I will try, Father." But once the words started flowing, he found it quite easy to describe what had happened. The events were vividly impressed on his memory.

"The brigada wanted to be first." Adriano saw again the dark, naked body of Brigada Ortiz kneeling between the woman's feet, smearing some petroleum jelly from her bathroom on the tip of his erect member. He would never forget the surprising gentleness with which Ortiz lowered his hips between her thighs, his right hand out of sight between their bodies, guiding himself. She tried to lift her hips and buck off the brigada, but his weight held her down. After a moment of fumbling, he found the entrance, the penetration hidden from sight of the seven men watching by his own body.

With a feeling of horror he tried to keep off his face -- the rape of captive women was as old as warfare itself, one of the usual rewards for winning soldiers -- Adriano had seen the brigada's buttocks move slowly forward, come to a stop. He heard the man's low sigh of satisfaction, above the frantic sounds of the woman trying to scream through the tape, the cries and grunts of protest from her husband.

Sorenson closed his eyes at the start, but Sargento Alvarez, standing by his side, had growled a command, then drew the blade of a small knife across his upper chest. Blood began trickling down Sorenson's bare torso. It was a shallow cut, just through the skin and only two centimeters long, but the pain was enough to force the captive to watch his wife's rape. It was not enough to make him faint again.

Once Ortiz was fully inside Bergitta Sorenson, she stopped trying to resist. She turned her head as far as she could to her right, saw a soldier standing there, his crotch bulging, and closed her eyes. She was breathing heavily through her nose. The brigada slowly withdrew, and now the soldiers watching with open fascination could see part of his dark member again. Still moving slowly and gently, as if in no hurry at all, Brigada Ortiz again pushed his way deeply inside her, and once more halted there.

Adriano had nodded to Sargento Alvarez when Brigada Ortiz paused inside the woman. Without bothering to maximize the pain by going slowly, Alvarez had cut two five-centimeter lines down the skin on either side of the short horizontal slash. Fresh streams of blood poured from the wounds. The major screamed again with pain, the sound startlingly loud in the ranch house bedroom. But even these longer cuts did not cause pain as severe as the burning, and he remained conscious.

Adriano could not believe, looking back, that it had been himself who stepped forward to look down into the major's twisted face, or what he said. "Sir, if you want to spare your wife more of this, you will tell me what I must know. Which route is your brigade taking toward the Rio Dividir bridge? There are only two choices."

Brigada Ortiz had started to move again. Five more men waited --seven, if the two outside got a turn -- and it was time to finish. He stroked deeply into the woman a few more times, stopped, and his buttocks twitched and jerked a little. He was still for a long moment, then gave a loud sigh of pleasure, pulled out of her, and backed off the bed.

"The grippers, Alvarez," Adriano said to the sargento. He nodded to the two soldiers on either side of the chair, and they grasped the uprights. Alvarez pulled a pair of steel grippers from his back pocket and bent over the major. Sorenson stared up at him with wild eyes, his jaw moving in uncontrollable jerks and spasms. Alvarez placed the narrow inner jaw of the grippers just above the horizontal slash, held them open, and pushed downward. After a moment he managed to slide the jaw under the skin. He closed the jaws and wriggled them, tearing the small strip loose at each side. The major again screamed with pain.

Ortiz had ripped a strip off the cover sheet on the bed and was cleaning his member. He was laughing, talking to some of the other grinning men. The second naked soldier -- and how they determined the priority of who would take the woman next was not something Adriano understood, since rank did not seem to matter -- ripped off a second large strip and used it to clean between the woman's legs. He was a young man, also very dark-skinned, and only a private. He was smiling, staring at the slack body of the woman with anticipation. With her head tilted away and her eyes closed, she might have been asleep, except for the deep breathing.

The younger man showed little of the gentleness of the older brigada. He got into position, easily guided himself inside the woman -- Ortiz had left her well lubricated -- and began thrusting. Major Sorenson again closed his eyes, and Adriano nodded to Alvarez. The sargento began very slowly pulling on the grippers, tearing loose the two-centimeter wide strip of skin.

The man in the chair screamed, tried to bend forward and stand. Muscles stood out on his arms as he strained against the ropes. The two soldiers held the chair firmly to the floor. Flecks of foam appeared at the corners of the major's mouth. The sound of his screams became thin and high.

Adriano waited until the strip of skin had been pulled down for two centimeters, then saw that Sorenson looked faint and gestured for Alvarez to stop. The captive suffered lingering pain from the burns and cuts, but the contrast between those and having the skin slowly pulled off his body made them seem minor. When Sorenson's eyes focused again, what they saw was the second soldier, deep inside his wife's motionless body, becoming still as he reached his climax. The room was almost quiet, the loudest sound the heavy breathing of the two New Scandians.

"Father, it was a priest who taught us interrogation techniques at military school. One thing he always emphasized was that you must provide a brave man with an excuse to give up, a reason beyond his own safety or pain."

In the sudden stillness Adriano grasped the husband's hair, forced his head back, and looked into his eyes. "Major Sorenson, I give you my word, as an officer and a gentleman, that if you will tell us the route your brigade is taking, we will stop all this. And I guarantee your lives. Before we leave, we will find a room in your barn and lock you both inside, with a knife. Over the next day or two you will be able to cut your way out."

The tall Scandian looked up at Adriano, then back to his wife. The private, now on his feet, said something to his comrades while cleaning himself. The woman still lay motionless. Adriano suddenly realized the white, slightly rounded belly had no stretch marks. She had never borne a child. He did not like to see his own wife naked in the light, but it had happened on a few occasions, and he vividly remembered the slight discolorations on Calida's otherwise lovely brown belly. That was the price she paid for their two children.

This was probably a second marriage for the major; perhaps for her as well. These New Scandians, Adriano knew, had a high divorce rate. In the Catholic countries, which was all of Aztecland, Incaland, and the countries of Europe, marriage was for life.

Major Sorenson stared up into Adriano's face, as if wondering if he could believe him. He looked over at his wife, where a third grinning soldier hurriedly shed his clothes at the foot of the bed, and the agony on his face was palpable. Still, he had already watched two men rape his woman, and not broken.

With a sudden flash of insight, Adriano understood that this was his last chance. After the third time, the major would be numb to his wife's further violation. He had to be made to speak now.

The soldier, another young private, crawled on the bed, grasping his member as he lowered his hips into position. Adriano motioned to the sargento.

Alvarez, whose skin was the dark copper color of an almost full-blooded Aztec, gave one more tug on the grippers. The agony as the skin slowly separated from the flesh must have been terrible.

"Stop!" The word was torn from Major Sorenson's lips, after his first gasp of pain. "Stop! I'll tell you. Just -- stop him!"

The major was looking at the third man about to penetrate Bergitta. She had been motionless since the first, as though determined not to acknowledge this violation of her person and her life. Now her head turned toward Sorenson. The lower face was partially hidden by the tape over her mouth, but the large blue eyes were suddenly furious with hate and rage. She made a loud grunting sound.

Alvarez moved to the side and stood holding his grippers. "My word, major," said Adriano, and motioned for the man between the woman's legs not to enter her. The soldier, deep in lust, hesitated. Then discipline, and a cold look from Alvarez, persuaded him. He backed off the bed and stood up, his erection prominent. But he did not reach for his clothes.

"The Southern Motorway or the Desert Express, major. And don't lie. We are going to hold you here until your troops start to move on Sunday morning. I'll know the route they're taking within the hour. If you have told the truth, we will leave you in the barn as I said. If you lie, the rapes will resume until all my men have had their fill, and then you will both be shot -- your wife first, while you watch. Now -- knowing what will happen, speak."

Major Sorenson looked up into Adriano's face, then toward Bergitta. He was trying to control his expression, but Adriano saw the deep and abiding shame he felt, a memory that would scar him for life. He had been unable to save his wife from rape. He would never know if he could have endured the horrible pain of being slowly flayed alive, or if he would have yielded anyway -- or perhaps died under the torture. But this younger officer standing before him cast the choice in a way that let him choose to save his wife.

"It's -- it's the Southern Motorway," said Sorenson, his voice barely above a whisper.

Adriano stared down at the averted face. He believed the man. When he had reached his limit, Major Sorenson had broken completely. He was not going to lie now, and see his wife die as his last sight on Earth. And for the godless New Scandians, there was not even the hope of a life in the hereafter.

Adriano made his decision. "Sargento, take them to the barn. Let them have their clothes. Find a strong room, lock them inside, and set up a guard schedule. Roberto! Bring the radio to the front room."

The trooper in charge of the field radio hurried out to his horse. He brought the two saddlebags inside the living room and swiftly assembled the unit, running the antenna wire out a shattered window and placing the slender metal shaft on the roof. He turned it on and fiddled with the dial, setting the signal to the agreed frequency and sending a recognition signal. Almost immediately there was an answer, a warbling tone without words.

Adriano picked up the small mike and held down the "transmit" button. He hesitated, then committed himself -- and knew he was placing his career on the line as he did. In New Norse, he said, "Roses grow in the winter."

The code for the Desert Express choice was "Lilies grow in the spring." Adriano waited, and after a moment the warbling sound came again, this time in a short burst of different lengths. It was the "reception understood" signal which the Signal Corps had made Adriano memorize. But he waited, and the warbling sounds were repeated twice more, as planned. His mission was accomplished. The rapid march of Aztecland into the Southern underbelly of New Scandia could continue.

There was no need to tell Father Serrano how Adriano's squad had remained hidden in the ranch house and barn until Sunday night, after a radio station across the river reported the success of the ambuscado that afternoon. He had kept his word, leaving the Sorensons food and water and a sturdy hunting knife they found in the bedroom closet. Nor had the woman been touched again. But Adriano's private thought, which he did not share with the bishop, was that their short marriage was over. The New Scandians were notoriously racist, having long ago established an almost complete separation of their society from what remained of the indigenous Skraellings. Most citizens of Aztecland and Incaland were of black African and Skraelling descent, with a thin upper society of Spanish and Portuguese ancestry. After watching those two dark-skinned men violate his wife, Adriano did not think the major would ever again be able to touch her.

The squad rode away shortly after dark, making their way southwest through the thinly settled countryside to reach their own lines in two nights of slow travel. As a reward for their success, the squad had been given a week of leave, though all were needed at the fighting front. And Adriano hurried home to the little river town of New Badajoz, which had faced the unfriendly New Scandians across the great bend in the Rio Dividir for four hundred years. At home he rushed Calida -- willing enough, at first -- to bed, and made love to her until she complained she was exhausted, and probably pregnant with triplets.

And next morning Adriano had gone to confession.

Bishop Serrano was quiet for a moment, though Adriano heard him breathing deeply in the opposite booth. He started to speak, but the priest said, "I am thinking, my son."

Adriano heard the middle-aged bishop shifting restlessly on the padded seat, shaking the connected booths slightly, then a long sigh, and finally quiet and more deep breathing. He waited, and after a moment the priest said, "The rape and torture were regrettable, my son, but forgivable. You were serving God's holy cause, and there is no penance. Return to your wife and children, and enjoy the leave you have so well earned. I will see you in Church on Sunday."

The priest waited, and after a moment Adriano took the hint and opened the little door. He did not want to think of what he suspected Bishop Serrano had been doing in the next booth while he described the rape. He had been mistaken; it was best forgotten.

Adriano hurried home through the dirty, busy streets of an ancient border city supporting a war. The oldest child would be in school, the younger probably outside playing with friends in the pleasant spring weather. It was still two hours before lunch, and if Calida could be persuaded -- and he thought she could -- they would have some more time in the bedroom ...


Blood Rose Home © 2003 Joseph Green, all rights reserved

Vernal Equinox 2003 Issue, Updated April 4, 2003

BLOOD ROSE is Copyright © M. W. Worthen.

"Only in War"
Copyright © 2003 Joseph Green, all rights reserved.