The Steel General

After my review of Creatures of Light and Darkness last week I scuttled out to buy a copy, and re-reading it I came upon the following scene: Wakim, assassin servant of death-god Anubis, is attempting to kill two immortals (Vramin and Madrak) and destroy the world of Blis, so as to begin his hunt for the mysterious Prince Who Was A Thousand.  As Wakim is about to strike, he hears a sonic boom and looks up to see a silver comet descending towards him.


Upward stares Wakim, seeing the Steel General.

“Faintly do I feel that I should have knowledge of him,” says Wakim.

“Come now!” says Vramin, his eyes and cane flashing fire green.  “All know of  the general, who ranges alone.  Out of the pages of history come the thundering hoofbeats of his war horse Bronze.  He flew with the Lafayette Escadrille.  He fought in the delaying action at Jarama Valley.  He helped to hold Stalingrad in the dead of winter.  With a handful of friends, he tried to invade Cuba.  On every battleground, he has left a portion of himself.  He camped out in Washington when times were bad, until a greater General asked him to go away.  He was beaten in Little Rock, had acid thrown in his face in Berkeley.  He was put on the Attorney General’s list, because he had once been a member of the IWW.  All the causes for which he has fought are now dead, but a part of him died also as each was born and carried to its fruition.  He survived, somehow, his century, with artificial limbs and artificial heart and veins, with false teeth and a glass eye, with a plate in his skull and bones out of plastic, with pieces of wire and porcelain inside him – until finally science came to make these things better than those with which man is normally endowed.  He was again re-placed, piece by piece, until, in the following century, he was far superior to any man of flesh and blood.  And so again he fought the rebel battle, being smashed over and over again in the wars the colonies fought against the mother planet, and in the wars the individual worlds fought against the Federation.  He is always on some Attorney General’s list, and he plays his banjo and he does not care, because he has placed himself above the law by always obeying its spirit rather than its letter.  he has had his metal replaced with flesh on many occasions and been a full man once more – but always he hearkens to some distant bugle and plays his banjo and follows – and then he loses his humanity again.  He shot craps with Leon Trotsky, who taught him that writers are underpaid; he shared a boxcar with Woody Guthrie, who taught him that singers are underpaid; he supported Fidel Castro for a time, and learned that lawyers are underpaid.  He is almost invariably beaten and used and taken advantage of, and he does not care, for his ideals mean more to him than his flesh.  Now, of course, the Prince Who Was A Thousand is an unpopular cause.  I take it, from what you say, that those who would oppose the House of Life and the House of the Dead will be deemed supporters of the Prince, who has solicited no support – not that that matters.  And I daresay you oppose the Prince, Wakim.  I should also venture a guess that the General will support him, inasmuch as the Prince is a minority group all by himself.  The General may be beaten, but he can never be destroyed, Wakim.  he is here now.  Ask him yourself, if you’d like.”

The Steel General, who has dismounted, stands now before Wakim and Vramin like an iron statue at ten o’clock on a summer evening with no moon.

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