Prompt: A young female forced-to-be-leader of a great army struggles to come to terms with her fear of power and being the greatest leader ever.
The antique computer banks were their greatest possession. They had no water source, no reliable farming, and no livestock. The only thing their mobile town could do was crunch the numbers for everybody else who couldn’t keep their machines dry. They were the town of Flopheart, they were on the giant worn tires of an age gone, and they were led by a girl barely out of her teens: Rusher Larn.
She was the leader because she had inherited the neck-deck from her father. It was a strange machine, the only one they bothered to keep polished, that plugged into the back of your spine and hung around your collar like a crown that was a little too big. There was a second port, for something jewel-like, and those jewels were interchangeable.
Flopheart patrolled along the edges of a thick forest, on its way to a farming settlement that needed their computers to de-bug their rusty old irrigation system. They were forced to slow to a stop when another vehicle, town-sized itself, appeared in their path, turned sideways. The silhouette of their leader could be seen through the viewing glass.
Rusher stepped forward, the blue light on the back of her neck blinking rapidly. This would be her first official diplomatic communication, and likely her first official confrontation. Most things didn’t end in diplomacy anymore. Her officers at the various control panels were all seated, but the leader was expected to stand and grip a metal rail. She closed her eyes before they opened the communication channel, so she could get advice from the neck-deck.
Alright Rusher, the voice of her now-deceased father whispered in her ear, It’s time to show them you’re made of the same slate I was. Who is this punk? I don’t know that shadow… Rusher held her tongue. She had nothing but respect for her late father, and she wasn’t supposed to argue with her crown. Flopheart used its computer banks to make back-up copies only of leader brains, and she was expected to simply use whatever wisdom of the past was most appropriate for the situation.
Besides, she couldn’t be seen talking to herself when the actual confrontation began. Moments later, when she could already feel the sweat on her palms, practically corroding the metal, the communication screens went active. She was face to face with the smug mouth of the blockade. She didn’t know the man on sight, but his intentions were clear from the moment he spoke.
“Hello Barlow… You’re not Barlowe!” The man grimaced at the young girl. This was not a proper opponent. She was a dainty thing, soft in hair and cheek. She looked like she was about to cry. Whatever great leader was shouting at her in her neck-deck, they weren’t doing it loud enough. “How did a creature like you wind up leader?”
Rusher stared back. Her opponent’s face wasn’t exactly a picnic blanket either. His eyes were set deep near his nose, creating boomerang shadows. His lips were dry and cracked. His ship had a rail as well, and his fingers worked it like he choked the entire town he claimed to lead. You have to say something Rusher. Call him scum. Call him roadkill. Better yet, make him roadkill. We can ram him! There’s an idea!
“What do you want… road-scum?” she asked, and then winced when her father sighed in her ear.
“Names first little lady. They call me Face-crusher. What do they call you?” She was about to open her mouth, but Face-crusher had other plans. “Just kidding, don’t care!” He slammed his hand down on a button. The side of his vehicle exploded outward, extending metal ramps with sword-like ends. They punctured Flopheart’s command center. Before her forces could even draw their swords, the ramps became conveyor belts that produced a boarding party.
Various hands grabbed Rusher’s collar and forced her back. They tried to protect her, use themselves as a wall. At first she went along with it, as her father shouted retreat. He advised her to fall back to the computer bank, where they kept all the jewels for her neck-deck. Barlowe Larn knew he was an excellent commander, but not the best in a sword-to-sword brawl. They needed some older expertise for that.
Rusher heard the obnoxious Face-crusher shouting after her. While his men dispatched hers one by one, he knew to go for the throat, the one wearing the neck-deck. His insults revealed his plan; as soon as everyone in their vehicle was dead and tossed off the side, they would take the computers. She had to hurry.
She skidded to a stop in the small circular room outside their server farm. In it was a ring of shrines: columns decorated with painted masks, corn silk hair, bones, and turtle shells. Each held a copy of a past leader. Quick! Her father shouted. Get me out of here and get someone good with a blade. Xukis! Grab Xukis! She was fiercer than a trident-tongued snake! Grab her! Get her!
Rusher unplugged her father from the neck-deck and set him back inside his shrine. The jeweled drive for Xukis was green in color, and it only took a second for the copy of the woman to read Rusher’s mind and catch up.
Raise your blade! The woman screeched. Rusher obeyed. She pointed it at the door just as Face-crusher burst in, licking his lips and laughing. He’d already used some of her people’s blood as war paint. He looked around, obviously aware of the value of the jewels. He’s top heavy. He’ll swing down! Be ready and strike at his stupid bald head! Face-crusher did just as predicted, but Rusher couldn’t take advantage swiftly enough. He blocked her strike and kicked her back.
You have to do it right! Xukis shouted. Your technique is terrible! We’ll lose the whole town and I’ll have to whisper sweet nothings to a dirt-eater like… Rusher unplugged the jewel and tossed it aside. Face-crusher looked at her like she was mad. How dare she disrespect her ancestors? He had been a cannibal on at least three occasions, a particularly humiliating body part on the last occasion, but even he would never stoop so low.
“It’s just me now,” she told him. “Nobody ever knows what I’m thinking,” she practically purred, “which means you don’t know either.” She charged him and struck exactly the way she wanted to. He blocked the first blow, but she responded by dropping her sword, grabbing his ears, jumping, and pulling as hard as she could. It was an utterly ridiculous maneuver, never seen in human history, and that was exactly why it was Face-crusher’s undoing. He pitched forward, his face slamming into a metal grate.
Rusher grabbed her blade and drove it through one of his red ears. He screamed, pulled loose, and ran for his life without a single jewel in hand. “That’s right!” she shouted after him, hands shaking. “Nobody knows what Rusher’s thinking. Nobody gets to know!”
Things changed after that. She had all the jewels and the neck-deck bundled up and buried in a time capsule, in a piece of land far from their normal trails. She wouldn’t kill the past, but she wasn’t going to let it hold the reins either. Let them stay there, until museums existed once more and cared to unearth them, showering them with praise for all they’d missed.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by PirateJaytheRedBloodSmith during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!