Bill Drennan

Cavalry Ho!!

“Lift! ah! lift! ah! lift! roight! lift! ah! ...” The sarge is belting it out at the top of his range with a hoarse throatgrowl. The growl creates a rhythmic tickle in his voicebox as he routinely casts out the words. The words are devils, & the devils are lodged in the commands that discharge themselves with the fumes from his lung-bellows. Following in the shadows of his regulation fiends is the perfectly-timed march of fifty foot soldiers: Klunk! Klunk! Klunk! Klunk! Klunk! Next, twenty robot horses arrive & line up in a well orchestrated spectacle. But the rhythm they generate is not so well organised. It is unrepeatable.

Since most humans have become ‘terrorists’ of one sort or another; since brainwashed kids have turned their parents over to the dictatorship; & since the wave of protests has waned as the adults have, like their offspring, been subjected to neutralising magnetic waves; since all of this, these robotic horses have been out of practice. It is not unlike a situation where a former athlete might be surprised by a shortage of breath; a dead capitalist by the shortage of free air; a bourgeois ideologue by the poor quality of the proletarian breathing apparatus. Such is the predicament of our poor horse droids.

The dog droids were faster & more efficient, it’s true. But they were manufactured with a glitch that wasn’t noticed until it was too late: they were so vicious that when they ran out of flesh they turned on anything they could sink their teeth into. Even the horses were edible … The jaws of Project Canine are currently locked, on hold, waiting for the Ministry to release some funding …

The sarge is an ugly beast, made in a factory that used to produce motor vehicles. He still has a gleam in his eyes, despite the somewhat battered shell that parades as a body. His biomechanical composition is as follows: 70% machine; 2% loose nuts & bolts; the other 28% is unadulterated bastard. He consults his sat nav device, and then gives the order for the horses to CHAAAARGE at the scumbag terrorist creatures … Who have been throwing stones at the shining, libidinous flashes of metal for all of two seconds. The sarge’s sense of timing is immaculate.

The horses are erect. They are powered up & turbo-charged. An eco-friendly model, one in the latest of a now obsolete series, they come with real horsehair tails that waft the finely-tuned exhaust fumes from the pipes jutting out of their backsides. These pipes still drip a little; & the strange rusty piss is surely evidence of neglect, or geriatric obsolescence. Their eyes light up & their stomachs begin to rumble. The demonic red energy from the eyes, the mechanical huff-puffing & the unsynchronised rhythm of their lung-bellows all serve to frighten the assembled terrorists, who now begin to scatter …

Without any warning, a swift and heavy stone hits the sarge’s tin nose with a dead clang & knocks him on his back. But it is too late. The order has been given & the horses have begun to close the gap, snorting noxious gasses as they gather locomotive pace. Their tails are rotating. A multitude of fine, sharp, hair-like blades are raised quick as a flash … higher & higher, like cavalry swords looking for flesh to slice at …

Malingerers are to be cut down & trampled by the horses. The sarge is back on his feet. He begins to bellow orders at the foot soldiers: “FIRE! OPEN FIRE!” The foot soldiers begin to pick off standing strays; anyone who stands in the way of military justice is to be dealt with by the execution of the least time-consuming, & therefore most humane, measure.

There is nothing astride the horses at all, so that they are, to all intents & purposes, brainless. Strike the head & the body will fall … But they have artificial intelligence; & this drives the blades, which follow a cross formation from the tail to the base of the neck, & laterally from flank to flank. The blades of each machine are not synchronous. Therefore there is anarchy in the ranks of the brainless horses & some of them get themselves into a proper tangle, propelling one-another out of action. The first two fall. An intertwined pile of collapsed metallic entrails bursts from their once-distended bellies. Then others get caught up, collapsing in a heap of hysterical machinery, tumbling & clattering all over each other … an orgy of wreckage severed from the cold, vicious supply of digital commands. Soon, with all that unchannelled heat, the concatenated heap bursts into flames—taking most of the brainless cavalry in the explosion that follows …

“RETREAAAAAAAAT!” The command is superloud in order to compete with the explosion & the fading automatic gunfire; lucid enough to cut through the dark, oily smoke. The sarge prides himself on his foghorn of a voice which, fused with the slight whine issuing from the bashed nose, lends him an image of sarcastic & virile cockiness. This helps to sustain that built-in 28% bastard ego.

There is silence around the burning heap in the middle of the square. Most of the brainless horses are either torched, or have circuit damage due to the explosion & the immense heat emanating from themselves & their trashed comrades. The foot soldiers are on stand-by. The fire service has been contacted. The humans slowly & gingerly creep back out from their hiding places. There have been no casualties, no deaths among the terrorist civilians.

Suddenly, there is a roar of laughter. The crowd has reassembled. Men, women & children laugh & laugh. They are all underground activists in the process of discovering a new method to combat the incompetence of the oppressor. They laugh so loud, in such hearty unison that, without warning, without commands, without fear, an energy field builds up around them. A megaphonic burst of squealing, high-pitched, invisible noisecrackle spills over the military clatter, penetrating the aural cavities of the foot soldiers … of the ugly sarge … of the remaining horses. They fizz & pop to an electrical halt, all of them. Then they fall, broken & defeated, a steaming & rather costly heap of useless debris.

The corpses are swiftly cleaned up. Only undamaged biological material will be re-used. The rest is nuts & bolts.

Bill Drennan is a UK writer & a regular contributor to Otoliths. He is the author of the book of poetry, flightpath resistor (2007). More examples of his satiric & poetic writing can be found at Hypoetics.

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