Cheeseburger Gothic

A Girl in Time. Chapter Two

Posted December 1 into Book Extract by John Birmingham

Georgia had argued that sushi was not a great choice on a cold, wet night in November. She wanted Greek, of course; her last name was Eliadis. But Cady loved sushi. They had hot dishes, too. And BuzzFeed Guy was paying.

“Matt. His name is Matt, not BuzzFeed Guy,” Georgia stage-whispered. He was away from the table when Cady arrived. “And you're going to give him a great interview, because he's going to be my new boyfriend, and he's going to give it to me six ways from Tuesday.”

The restaurant was about ten minutes from being crowded. The seats at the sushi train were all taken, and all but a couple of booths were full. They were in one of the booths, because you never ate from the train unless you wanted to catch an express ride to food poisoning. Four empty beer bottles on their table spoke to how well Georgia and BuzzFeed Guy—Matt—were getting along.

Cady made herself say his name five times so that she wouldn't forget. She would make herself say it at least twice in the first couple of minutes, just to fix it in her memory.

“Stop saying his name,” said Georgia, digging a knuckle into her ribs. “He's mine. You were too late. So don't think you can come in here with your sad little Jessica Jones look and steal my future husband away from me.”

Cady squealed and laughed and tried to slide away from her friend, and completely forgot the name of BuzzFeed Guy when she looked up and found him smiling at the pair of them from the end of the table. He was good-looking. Movie star good-looking. And even though she had promised herself she would remember his name, because that's what grown-ups did, one look at this guy and all rational thought climbed aboard the sushi train and choofed away, possibly never to return.

“Hi, BuzzFeed Guy,” she said.

“Hi, Murder Girl,” he volleyed back, sliding into the booth across from them, carrying three beers.

“Matt,” said Georgia, emphasizing his name, “this is Cadence McCall. Cady, this is Matt Aleveda. He will be your BuzzFeed journalist tonight.”

They shook hands while Cady struggled to think of something to say other than, "Oh my, you're cute." She could see why Georgia wanted to rush him out the door and into bed. All of her strategies for this interview, all of the carefully prepared little pull quotes she had already imagined featuring on the front page of the site between “Tay Tay and Beyonce’s Cage Match” and “37 Pictures of Dogs Who Just Can't Even Anymore” … they all flew right out of her head.

“You want to order?” he asked, saving her from the vast embarrassment of staring at him and saying nothing, just grinning like an idiot.

She nodded and swigged at her beer, mostly to hide behind the bottle for a couple of seconds to regain her balance. She felt Georgia kicking her under the table as if to say, "See, see, I said he was cute."

“I like the hot ones,” she said, before hurrying on. “The hot dishes, I mean.”

A bright hot flush bloomed somewhere beneath her tee shirt and spread to her face. She knew it was coming. Knew it was going to be bad. And that just made it worse.

“That's why we should’ve had Greek,” said Georgia. “Do you like Greek food, Matt?” she asked.

“My grandmother was Greek,” he said, his smile completely authentic. “She was a cook on a big cattle ranch down in Arizona. That's where she met my granddad. He was a vaquero, a cowboy from Mexico. So yes, I do like Greek food.”

“Then next time we go to Lola, and moneybags here pays.”

“Hey, I don't get paid for another month, you know,” said Cady.

“Okay then. Yanni's, and then Lola.”

“So you haven't made any money off the app yet?” Matt asked. “That seems almost weird. It's been number one for weeks now.”

“It takes a while to confirm the sales,” she said. “Sixty days, usually.”

Talking about her game, Cady started to recover her poise. It was as though the earthquake which had threatened to knock her on her ass stopped, leaving her shaken, but suddenly surefooted. The restaurant was getting noisy as more people came in to take the last seats, and the patrons who were already there raised their voices to talk over each other.

“Do you mind if I ask what sort of a payday you're looking at?”

She didn't mind at all.

“Four and a half million dollars initially. It'll fall away after that, after Murder City drops off the front page and then the best seller lists. But I can probably make do.”

She felt Georgia's foot tapping her ankle again.

What? Was she being a jerk? This was why her friend had come along with her. Cady wasn't always the best judge of what to say in these situations.

“Sweet,” said Matt, clearly impressed. “Explains all the clones.”

“They're garbage apps,” said Cady, and Georgia kicked her. Hard. Matt noticed.

“It's true,” Cady insisted. “They are. And I feel really strongly about this. I spent a long time working on that game. I maxed out my credit cards. Ate grungy rice and fish heads. I slept in a cot in front of my computer. I did the work. It paid off. I'm not going to be modest about it.”

“No reason to be,” Matt said as a waitress appeared to take their order. “If you were a guy, it wouldn't be an issue.”

Georgia dug her fingers into Cady's arm.

“Mine,” she whispered.

Matt reminded them he was picking up the tab, and they over-ordered. Cady doubled up on the tempura seafood platter with an extra serve of Dungeness crab.

“Rice and grungy fish heads, remember?” she said when Georgia gave her The Look.
They discussed the games industry: “Nintendo should just give up on hardware.”
Sushi trains: “Most of the time they're like, “This is what comes back on the train line from the toxic waste factory.”

And the latest superhero movie, another failed Green Lantern reboot. A particular hate-favorite of Cady's.

“The love interest dragged. Again. The super villain was more sentient smog bank than relatable nemesis. Again. And while you have to love the idea of the green man's powers—your flight, your mad awesome combat skills, a workable indestructibility, and that whole of energy-into-mass conversion thing—they just didn't sell me on the Lantern having any chance at kicking Superman's ass, which is the gold standard in these matters. One star. Would not even torrent.”
Matt was recording the conversation by then.

“So, you guys. You're besties, right? Where'd you meet?”

“College. At a self-defense workshop,” said Georgia.

“Seriously?”

“Seriously. Have you seen the data on campus rape?” said Cady, using a pair of chopsticks to awkwardly move a large piece of fried crab meat into her bowl.

“So you're like unstoppable killing machines of death?” he asked, with poker-faced sincerity.

“Worse,” Georgia answered. “Female game devs.”

“Our superpower is ruining everything,” said Cady.

“So, Georgia, did you help Cady on Murder City?”

“Nope. It's all her own work. She doesn't play well with others.”

“It's true,” said Cady. “I'm just a girl with mad coding skills, but no people skills.”

“And your diagnosis,” Georgia prodded. “Don't be modest. You're a high functioning sociopath too.”

“According to 4Chan.”

Matt took out a Field Notes reporter’s notebook. It looked to be about half full already.

“According to Reddit,” he said, flipping through the pages, “you're an insufferable lesbian, and every boy you ever dated died mysteriously after placing five-star reviews of Murder City in the gaming press.”

“The technical term is ‘corrupt gaming press’.”

“I stand corrected.”

“You're actually sitting down,” Georgia teased. “This is why nobody trusts the media anymore.”

More food arrived. More food than they needed.

The restaurant was uncomfortably hot and noisy with the crowd by then. A family moved into the booth behind Matt, a single dad and three daughters. They looked young, the oldest possibly not even in school yet, and they were hideously excited. Their father looked pained as the girls launched themselves at the moving buffet.

“Choose careful, girls. I only got thirty bucks to get us through. Maybe some avocado rolls?”

Cady was looking directly at him when he spoke, and his eyes locked on hers, his voice trailing away at the end, the three hungry children ignoring him completely. She felt herself blushing again. Without asking Georgia or Matt, she grabbed the plate of hand rolls which had just arrived at their table, stood up, and walked them back to the next booth.

“We over-ordered,” she said. “You should have these.”

The girls fell on the food.

“Rocket ships!” the oldest one cried out.

Their dad started to say, “That won't be necessary—”

But Cady spoke over him.

“Yeah it will. We ordered too much. Chill. It's all good.”

She spotted their waitress a few tables over, and before anyone could stop her, she marched over, pointed out her booth and the family next to it, and explained she would be paying for the little girls and their dad. Satisfied, she returned to Georgia and Matt. He was smiling crookedly at her. Georgia was not smiling at all.

“What?” she asked, slipping back into her booth.

“Nothing,” said Georgia, in a tone of voice that said everything.

“I'm gonna just … go the bathroom,” said Matt.

“What are you doing?” Georgia whispered fiercely when he had excused himself.

The embarrassment Cady felt when the girl's father had caught her looking at him returned, doubled in strength. She dared not look in his direction.

“Shut up,” she said, in as low a voice as she could and still be heard. “I was just helping.”

“You're not,” said Georgia. She flicked her eyes over the back of Matt's seat. The guy was still sitting in the booth, his daughters oblivious to any disturbance in the Force.

But even Cady could tell now there was a great disturbance in the Force. The man was concentrating fiercely on his food, staring at the hand rolls—“rocket ships!”—as if defusing a time bomb. The three girls feasted merrily, but he did not eat at all.

“We'll talk about this later,” said Georgia, “but promise me you won't do anything stupid to look good for Matt again. Anything else,” she added.

Embarrassment threatened to flare into anger then, but Cady got a hold of her temper before it broke free.

“I don't know what you mean,” she said.

“Yes, you do,” Georgia shot back. “You were being selfish in that very special way you have, Cady. When you don't think about anyone else. Just yourself and what's best for you. But I said we'd talk about it later.”

“No, we'll talk about it now.”

Her anger was returning, like a wrestler who had been pinned suddenly finding a way out of the hold down.

“I wasn't being selfish. I was thinking about—”

Georgia leaned right into her personal space.

“You were thinking about how it would look when Matt wrote you up as the most generous girl in the world. But that's not how it will turn out, trust me, because that's not how it is.”

She almost left then.

Almost stormed out into the cold.

She could even see herself slamming her last sixty-three dollars down on the table of the booth next door. And it was only that image, of a crazy woman throwing money and shade at three little girls and their poor single dad which brought her up short.

Maybe she had been a jerk?

Maybe she was insufferable?

Considering the possibility was enough to drain her foul temper. It was like losing herself in the effort of solving a really complex coding problem.

She took a sip of her beer.

“Okay,” she said, quietly, being even more careful not to catch the eye of anyone in the next booth.

Not the children, and certainly not the father she'd probably embarrassed.

Humiliated, even.

“But now I gotta pay for their dinner, too,” she said quietly, knowing Georgia would understand what she meant. Georgia knew her better than she knew herself. “Can I borrow some money? Or do you think we can hit up BuzzFeed Guy for it?”

11 Responses to ‘A Girl in Time. Chapter Two’

Peter Bradley puts forth...

Posted December 1
Again with the strong female characters! Outstanding work!

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insomniac puts forth...

Posted December 1
What if I spot an error?

John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted December 1
Let me know.

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insomniac would have you know...

Posted December 1
Top of page 9 Matt's line... go to the bathroom

John Birmingham mumbles...

Posted December 1
Ta

John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted December 2
Actually, now I look at it, I did that on purpose. Some people do speak like that. But I might change it, since it obviously brought you up short.

insomniac swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted December 2
I thought it might have been deliberate, but yes it did stand out a bit, but then I'm the type of person who writes out texts in full. You're the master, I'm the slave I mean alpha.

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balri asserts...

Posted December 1
So...ah...chapter 3 tomorrow? I'm hooked

John Birmingham asserts...

Posted December 1
Oh all right then.

GhostSwirv is gonna tell you...

Posted December 2

No keep it as is ... Matt's a reporter, he's picked up on something and he's given Cady and Georgia a moment.

I heard it right in my head - saw it too!

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Therbs ducks in to say...

Posted December 2
I don't now what the hell to expect with this book. I'm now figuring what I need to finish on the Kindle before you get all PETA on this thing and free it from its cage.

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Respond to 'A Girl in Time. Chapter Two'

A Girl in Time. Chapter One

Posted November 30 into Book Extract by John Birmingham

In twenty-nine days, she would be rich.

Cady was almost dizzy with the thought, although it might have been sleep deprivation, too. And maybe a little hunger. That was her own fault, she knew, as she leaned forward into the glow of the iMac.

But it didn't matter.

Because in twenty-nine days, she would be rich.

She shivered in the cold. The tiny studio apartment was unheated except for the valiant efforts of a cheap, Chinese fan heater plugged into one of three power boards under her desk. It was also dark, except for the computer screen and the small constellation of status lights on various pieces of equipment.

Cable modem. Power boards. Macbook Pro. Mister Coffee. A big ass Beoplay A9 kicking out The Funkoars “What's Your Malfunction?” at half volume.

Still loud enough to shake the building.

It was a gift, the A9. Or maybe a bribe, or some sort of enticement. She wasn't quite sure. But she did know she couldn't afford that level of awesome. Some guy from Electronic Arts had sent it over when the game hit number one on the paid App Store.

And stayed there.

And stayed there.

She rubbed at the gooseflesh on her upper arms, warming herself with the friction and the satisfaction of staring at her Sales and Payments pages on iTunes Connect.

Murder City was still number one.

“Suck on that, Pikachu.” She smiled, and her mouth formed an attractive bow, but there was nobody else in the one-room apartment to see it and smile back.

Cady McCall did not much care, because in twenty-nine days, Tim Cook would back a truckload of money up to her front door, and she would be rich.

She checked her watch, her Dad's old Timex, a wind-up piece of analog history. He'd worn it to the factory every day until he retired. Almost time to get going, but she thought she had just a few minutes to check her reviews. Never read the reviews, they said, and they were right. But most of Cady's, like ninety-five percent of them, were four and five stars. Mostly five. And the gimps giving her the one-star write-ups were universally hilarious. Mouth-breathers, all.

She'd made a Tumblr out of them. It was hugely popular, and the affiliate ads linking to her app on iTunes were unexpectedly lucrative.

Suck on that, gimps.

The Funkoars closed out their rap. They gave up the A9 to Tony Bennett getting his groove on with Michael Bublé, a duet of “Don't Get Around Much Anymore”.

That was the good thing about living alone, one of the many excellent things about living alone. She could play whatever the hell music she wanted, as loud as she liked to play it. And she liked it loud. Her studio was on the top floor of a four story warehouse, an old cotton mill.

Solid brick. Bare wooden floors. Big picture windows overlooking Puget Sound.

Cool, right? But apart from a sweatshop on the ground floor, she was the only occupant. The brickwork badly needed repointing with mortar, the wooden floors were scored and dangerously splintered in places, and you couldn't see out of the windows. They'd been painted over sometime in the 90s. The building was marked for demolition, the whole block for redevelopment, which was how she could afford the space. She had no lease, no security of tenure.

Again, didn't matter.

Twenty-nine days.

Her phone chimed. A message from Georgia.

Already here. BuzzFeed guy 2. Where r u?

She quickly sent back a canned response.

On my way!

Cady stood up from the desk, closing the windows on her reviews without bothering to read the new ones, but pausing with her hand hovering over the mouse before logging out of Connect. She couldn't take her eyes off the estimated amount of her first payment.

Georgia responded to her canned reply with an emoji. A skull and a flame.

Die in a fire.

That broke the spell. Cady smiled. She could afford to smile. In twenty-nine days, four and a half million dollars would drop into her bank account. They would probably invite her to WWDC. She might even demo.

The phone rang while she was throwing on a leather jacket and scarf. It was cold outside, and probably wet.

Because Seattle.

The call came in on her landline, giving her the excuse she needed to bust out an epic eye roll. It would be her mom. Only her mom called her on the landline. She only had the landline because of her parents, who were convinced her Uncle Lenny had died of a brain tumor from his cell phone, which he was always yammering on when he was alive, God rest his soul.

Uncle Lenny also smoked two packs of unfiltered cigarettes a day and liked a shot of rum in his coffee.

He drank a lot of coffee.

Cady totally would have answered the call, but she was running late, and Georgia was half way gone to getting pissed at her. And that was why she had an answering machine anyway, because she just didn't have time, and her parents trusted voicemail about as much as they trusted cell phones not to shoot death rays directly into your head.

And the idea that they might just send a text? You know, something efficient?
Forget about it.

“Hi, Cadence, it's your mom.”

The old familiar voice, a little tinny through the cheap speakers. Cady dropped the volume on Tony and the Boob, but did not make the mistake of picking up. That could delay her by up to half an hour, and she had people waiting.

Better to call back in the morning.

“Your dad clipped another couple of stories for you today. He's sending them in the mail tomorrow.”

A pause. Probably waiting to see if Cady picked up. But if she picked up, she'd get in trouble for screening the call, because her mom knew how small the apartment was, and she had no excuse for not answering already. Best to pretend she was already gone.

An almost inaudible sigh.


“You should call your dad, Cadence. He's not been well. I think some days searching the google for stories about you is what gets him out of bed in the mornings. He's very proud of you, darling. You should call.”

She almost picked up then, but Melville started yowling for dinner, and she didn't have time for him either.

“Go catch some rats,” she said, using the toe of her Doc Martens to push the protesting tabby cat out of the front door.

There were always rats. Hence, Melville.

Her mother's voice was lost in the rumble of the heavy steel door sliding in its tracks. The cat looked up at her as if to say, “Well, where's the beef, bitch?”

“Rats,” she said. “I mean it. Earn your keep, pretty boy.”

The landing outside her apartment was dark. The bulb had blown months ago and was too difficult for her to reach. It hung on a wire over the stairwell. She could almost reach it, if she was willing to risk a broken neck. There was no point calling the building owner. They weren't coming out to change a light bulb. She wondered sometimes if they even collected the rent from the account she paid into.

Cady didn't care. She used the flashlight on her iPhone. She juggled the phone and the padlock on her front door with practiced ease.

The cat yowled again, suspecting the worst.

It was even colder in the stairwell. Maybe cold enough to freeze the water in the pipes again.
Twenty-nine days.

Four and a half million.

Her boots sounded louder than usual on the concrete steps and she wondered if something about the temperature of near freezing air amplified sound waves. It made sense, but that didn't mean it was right.

She would've made a note to ask Jeremy the next time she saw him. He was a sound engineer at Square Enix. He'd know, and not knowing was bugging her now that she'd thought about it.
She didn't make a note though.

She had the phone in her hand, but only an idiot would hurry down a darkened staircase in an empty building, thumb typing on her phone. For sure she'd trip and break her neck or something and then who’d spend all her money?

The sweatshop was closed up and quiet as she swung around the landing on the first floor. That was unusual. Russians ran that place, and they normally worked those Asian women until late at night, seven days a week. She checked the time on her phone. It was still early, although she was now more than a few minutes late for dinner.

Maybe the Russians had moved on. Maybe Immigration had caught up with the women.
Unlike the question about whether cold air amplified sound waves, the fate of the sweatshop wasn't something likely to keep her up at night. She'd be gone from this dump soon anyway.
Her phone buzzed with another message from Georgia.

BuzzFeed guy is cute! Don't hurry.

That was good then, she thought, as she hit the street and pulled the main door of the building closed behind her. The deadlock engaged with a loud click. She put the phone away and started walking toward the restaurant. It was a couple of blocks away, not long if she hurried. She was trying to kick the habit of staring at a phone while she walked. She'd seen a guy slam into a telephone pole doing that, and in this part of town you needed your wits about you anyway.

“Cady, I don't like you walking the streets at night the way you do,” her mother said pretty much every time they spoke. Another reason for not picking up that call a few minutes earlier. “You live in such a rough part of town, dear.”

And she did, but Cady McCall was not a victim in waiting. She had a can of mace in one pocket of her leather jacket, and she'd packed a small but sturdy LED flashlight in the other. It threw out a wicked bright beam, enough to blind anyone she light-sabered with it. And held in the fist, it made a great improvised weapon. The sort of thing douchebros called a “tactical” piece.

The rain she had feared was less a drizzle than a really heavy mist. She'd be damp, but not soaked, by the time she walked the few blocks to dinner. Cars drove past every minute or so, going in both directions, their headlights lancing into the darkness like searchlights in old war movies.

Some women, and a lot of men, cannot help but look vulnerable when caught on their own. Moving through an empty landscape, they seem to invite threats. Cadence McCall was not like that. She was not overly tall, but long legs and thick hair that fell halfway down her back made her seem taller. She carried herself through the night with a confident stride, her boot heels clicking on the wet sidewalk. It was real confidence, too, not just a show for anybody who might've been watching.

She was somebody who felt at ease on her own.

And anyway, she wasn't worth mugging.

Until her iTunes money dropped, she had sixty-three bucks to her name.

11 Responses to ‘A Girl in Time. Chapter One’

Dave Barnes mutters...

Posted November 30
Appetite whetted. Deal me in.

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insomniac ducks in to say...

Posted November 30
It looks so different once it's been set out. I wonder if it makes a difference in beta. There is an element of looking easier to read.

John Birmingham swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted November 30
I'm doing the final check on my Kindle. It makes a HUGE difference. You see things that your eyes just slid over in a word processor.

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Ceramic mutters...

Posted November 30
Cor, she seems great. I reread the bit about her walking twice. Love the confidence you've depicted.
Looking forward to the book!

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Dave W has opinions thus...

Posted November 30
Looking forward to it!

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DarrenBloomfield reckons...

Posted November 30
It looks so cool all tarted up out of DB Paper!

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NBlob asserts...

Posted November 30
A free taste, then jack up the price when the mark is hooked.

Nice.<Br>
C'mon man, a taste, a builder, just a smidge.

You know I'm good for it.

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she_jedi has opinions thus...

Posted December 1
WANTWANTWANTWANT!! Can't wait for this, the first hit was great, now I'm jonesing for the rest :D

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Bondiboy66 has opinions thus...

Posted December 1
I await with bated breath

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GhostSwirv reckons...

Posted December 2

I soooooooooooooo want to know what message Mom left on the voicemail - I bet it's important!

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Scott is gonna tell you...

Posted January 3
Hey there, are you going to bring this book to Audible? I think most of your books would be great there.

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Respond to 'A Girl in Time. Chapter One'

Prologue. Stalin's Hammer: Paris

Posted October 6 into Book Extract by John Birmingham

They came like ghosts from the future, but Gracie wasn't scared of them. She was something like a ghost herself, the way she spooked around the prison camp, running errands and messages for the women, avoiding the guards, hiding food and medicine from them, even sneaking into the hut where the Japanese kept their own supplies and stealing away with a tin of beans and a small bag of rice. She only did that once, though. When the Japanese found out somebody had stolen their food, they had been very angry and had done terrible things to the grown-ups. They had beaten the little girls and some of the boys with canes too, but what they did to the grown-ups was worse – so bad that for a long time Gracie was convinced it brought the ghosts.

She was the first to see them.

Some nights, when she could not sleep because she was too hungry or scared, she slipped out of the cot she shared with two other girls, and padded to the far end of the long hut. There was a loose floorboard near the second last bunk. She could easily lift the plank, using a knothole big enough for three of her fingers. It wasn’t even nailed down, and Gracie was so thin she could squeeze through the gap, dropping to the warm, damp soil underneath. There wasn’t enough room to get up on her hands and knees under the floorboards, but that was okay. It reminded her of the house where she’d grown up back home in Kansas, before Daddy had taken them all to Manila to help General MacArthur.

She’d crawled around under that house too, even sleeping under there in summer with her dog, Boo. It made her happy to recall those days. She liked it under the hut in the jungle prison because the Japanese didn’t know she was there. It was almost as though she had escaped them and she could go anywhere and do anything she wanted. But she could only pretend, of course. Gracie knew that if she did escape, the guards would do terrible things again to everyone she left behind. She knew because they said they would and they were bad men. If they said they’d do a bad thing, you could believe them.

The night the ghosts came she crawled right to the edge of the shadows, where the small verandah that surrounded the hut cut off the moving light from the guard tower. She would just watch the guards for a while, she thought. She would watch where they went. Perhaps she would count how long it took them to move from one place to another in the camp. That was a good game and it was useful sometimes to know those things, like when she had to carry a message or some food or medicine past the Japanese. It was always better to simply avoid them than to make up a lie explaining her presence in the wrong hut or some other place.

She lay in the soft soil, ignoring the insects that crawled over her while she watched. When she had first left Kansas, and come here to the far side of the world, the insects had frightened her, but she wasn’t frightened of them anymore. She hardly noticed them and, besides, she had so many other things to be scared about. She was always frightened of getting in trouble with the guards, of being beaten or caned. She was frightened of getting sick, because lots of times when people got sick here they didn’t get better. She was really, really frightened that she would get everyone in trouble again if the grown-ups asked her to get more food or medicine. She wasn’t sure what she would do if they asked. But so far they hadn’t. Not since last time.

These fears gnawed away like the hunger pains in her stomach. They were constant, but mostly dull. The fear that sometimes came upon her like a Kansas storm, boiling up quickly out of clear blue skies, was the fear she had for her parents. They weren’t in Camp 5 with her. Gracie had no idea where they might be and sometimes, if she let herself think about it, she could go all but crazy with worrying that she would never see them again. When she was very sad, which was often, Gracie thought it was best not to think about them at all, because when she did, her thoughts ran away from her, with a wolf on their heels. But if she didn’t think about them, sometimes she found it hard to remember all of the things that made them Mommy and Daddy and that was even worse.

It was best, she had found, to imagine her parents playing a game with her. Watch the guards. Count the steps. Guess where they will turn up next. Daddy would love that game, and Mommy would be so pleased that Gracie was good at it. Her mother always told her to be the best at everything she did.

“Charlotte-Grace,” she would say, “you must always do your best at everything. You do not need to be the best. Just your best.”

So Gracie liked to play the watching game on nights like this, and imagine her parents watching her. That was how she saw the ghost.

At first, of course, she did not actually see the ghost. She could only see what happened when he came. One of the guards was slowly marching up and down outside the wire, the moonlight glinting on the hooked bayonet of the rifle he carried at his shoulder. Gracie was counting his footsteps. Thirteen steps from the corner to the bushes with the bright red flowers. You couldn’t see the flowers in the dark, of course, but she knew they were there. Another ten steps to the big anthill. Fourteen steps beyond that to the little hand-painted sign with the pirate flag on it. The guard would turn at that point, because the skull and crossbones meant there were landmines. He would retrace his steps, while Gracie counted them.

Fourteen to the anthill.

Ten to the red flower bush.

Thirteen ...

But the guard did not return to the corner post. He seemed to disappear into the night, as though the jungle shadows had grown hungry watching him and they had ...

The shadows had snatched him away.

Fast. So very fast. And quiet too. Because shadows don’t make noise.

Gracie blinked and nearly rubbed her eyes, trying to make sense of what she had just seen, or not seen. Then she remembered how dirty her hands got under the hut and she cleaned them on her tattered shirt before blinking again and carefully rubbing just one eye with the palm of one hand. She had learned that trick here under the hut too. Do not blind yourself. If you have to rub your eyes, do it one at a time, carefully. And don’t rub dirt in there. The dirt here had lots of germs.

She expected to see the guard again when she next looked, but he was gone – disappeared as completely as her mother and father. Swallowed by the night.

And then she saw the ghost.

At first it was just a darker patch of night moving at the edge of the jungle. Then it took the shape of a man. The dark figure floated over from the edge of the jungle and kneeled in front of the tall barbed-wire fence, just before the flower bush.

Gracie nodded.

The ghost was smart.

Gracie knew that part of the fence could only be seen from the small exercise yard in front of it. The view from the guard tower was blocked by a water tank on the roof of Hut 23. The guards in the main compound could not see the fence because two other huts blocked their view. That’s why there was always a guard marching up and down that line of fence, night and day.

But now the guard was gone and the shadow kneeled at the fence, doing something to the wire. The cry of night birds, the bark of the fire lizards and the many sounds of the jungle were so loud that she could not hear what happened next, but she did not need to. Gracie knew. The ghost was cutting through the wire.

Her heart swelled like a water balloon filled too quickly, growing so big and full so fast that she thought it might burst. For one mad moment she thought it must be her daddy, come for her, but she was not silly and she put that thought away. Her daddy was not coming, no matter how much she might want him to. More ghosts emerged from the darkness of the jungle and she could see now that they were men. They carried guns. Their heads looked strangely misshapen, as though tiny machines grew from them; binoculars or telescopes, she imagined.

Gracie would have been scared, but she had seen the ghost make the Japanese guard disappear. She knew that the guard would not be coming back, just like her parents, and she wormed herself into the moist, dark soil of the jungle prison camp, letting it enfold her in a hug, clenching her fists and smiling at the ghosts with guns and telescopes for eyes. Her smile grew positively vulpine when the night exploded into fire.

###

Gracie did not emerge from her hiding place until the morning sun was high and hot enough to raise wispy tendrils of mist from the pools of rainwater that lay about the camp. It rained almost every day, always in the afternoon. In the mornings, as the terrible heat built up, most of the puddles evaporated, but they never dried out completely and Gracie always looked as though she was wearing dark socks from the mud which clung to the bottom half of her legs. The sun came up as always that morning too, but not all the pools of monsoon water evaporated in the usual way. Some were stained deep red with blood and these dried into a sticky brown sludge that even she would not like to walk through.

The ghost soldiers, as she thought of them, even though she knew now that they were not ghosts, had killed or captured all of the Japanese very quickly. They were very brave. She had watched as one of them stood perfectly still while an angry Japanese officer charged at him with a sword. Everyone was terrified of the sword. The officer, a Lieutenant Onishi, had used it to chop the heads off some Australian soldiers when Gracie was first in the camp. But the ghost was not scared, possibly because Lieutenant Onishi’s pyjama pants were falling down, somewhat ruining the fearsomeness of his banzai charge. The ghost seemed to regard Onishi with real interest for a moment, and then his strange-looking gun fired and Lieutenant Onishi’s head came right off, just like the Australians’ had.

Gracie had to smile at that. It was funny how things worked out.

The fighting was over long before the sun peeked above the tree line. Gracie had to crawl around under the hut to watch it all. After the ghost soldiers came through the wire, not much happened in that part of the camp. To see the fighting she had to belly crawl all the way to the other end of the hut where she had a much better view of the main compound. She could see the guard tower from there, or most of it anyway. She dared not get too close to the edge of her hiding place. More than once she saw bullets chewing up the earth just in front of where she lay. But she also got to see the hated tower brought down in a roaring explosion, bigger and louder, and much better, than any fireworks she had ever seen. Not too long after that she heard heavy boots on the floorboards above her, and more guns firing, and the women screaming and guards yelling. But that didn’t last very long.

More soldiers came. They arrived in the strangest airplanes, which had no wings and the biggest propellers you could ever imagine right on top of them. They sometimes hovered in the air like hummingbirds but she knew they were warplanes because every now and then they would roar away and shoot machine guns and even rocket bombs into the jungle. Gracie could feel the explosions in her chest, through the ground. The terrible force of them was just like an earthquake, or even a volcano. She had seen a volcano once, when she first flew to Manila with her parents. It had been a long way away, but even seen through the window of their plane it was very scary.

Gracie did not reveal herself when the fighting was over. Not at first. What if the Japanese came back? She knew that the guards in the camp were not the whole of the Emperor’s army. And they weren’t his best soldiers either. Not at all. There were thousands of Japanese army men on this island alone. Maybe millions! The ghost soldiers could not fight them all. And so Gracie remained hidden for many hours until she was certain the Japanese were not coming back.

Once or twice she heard the women and some of the other children calling for her and she almost went, but you did not just drop the habits of survival like an old towel. She even heard some of the ghost soldiers, revealed now to be men and women – women! – calling for her but she stayed curled up in the dirt, content to watch and wait. As amazing as their rescue was, she made other intriguing discoveries as the hours went by. She watched, disbelieving, as a black woman barked orders at two white men and they jumped to her command.

That was partly why she stayed hidden.

It was all too much to take in. There was part of her which simply could not believe it was happening.

It was only when she smelled food, real food, for the first time in months that she was tempted out of hiding. The newcomers had set up a little kitchen and a team of cooks in oddly patterned uniforms heated giant pots of soup and baked fresh loaves of bread.

Well not really fresh, she thought, as saliva squirted into her mouth. They didn’t roll the dough like her mother would.

“Charlotte-Grace, if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing properly.”

She had observed one of the cooks taking the white, doughy, uncooked loaves from a big cardboard box before putting them into an oven. These strange people brought an oven to the jungle? Would their wonders never cease?

“Gracie!”

She flinched from her name, scuttling right back under the hut, into the safety of the shadows. But they had seen her – Mrs Ritherdown specifically – and there was no escaping once you fell under her gaze. She was a nurse and nearly as fearsome and scary as the guards.

“Gracie, you come out here right now. You’ve had us worried sick, young lady. Come on. Out you come.”

And out she came. Out of the darkness and into the day where impossible machines hovered in the sky, and bread rolls baked, and soup bubbled in a pot and Mrs Ritherdown fussed over her and told her off and brushed her down and announced to everyone that she was found and she was safe.

Now that Gracie was revealed and pulled directly into the mad rush and swirl of events, the full scale of what had happened broke over her like a big wave at the beach. The camp was a scorched and half-demolished ruin. Their former guards had been put to work digging a giant hole into which the bodies of more guards would presumably be dropped. They were piled high in an obscene mound near the charred wreckage of the guard tower.

More of the Japanese, including the camp commandant, Colonel Tanaka, stood glumly on the other side of the pit, guarded by giant soldiers in uniforms Gracie had never seen before. She was confused. The soldiers had American flags on their uniforms, but wore German helmets. There was no missing the distinctive coal bucket shape of them. They were Americans though, no doubt of it. She could tell from the voices. Plus, as best she knew, there were no black or Asian soldiers in the German army. She wasn’t sure about the Asian ones, but she knew for sure there were black soldiers who drove trucks and things for America. Apparently they did secret stuff like this, too.

Gracie waited impatiently to eat, standing with the ladies from Hut 23, including Mrs Ritherdown. They didn’t say much, the grown-ups. Now that all the excitement was over, they seemed even quieter than usual, although there wasn’t much point in talking. It was hard to hear over the noise of the strange wingless planes that came and went from Camp 5 with a terrible thudding roar. Gracie tried to ignore the rumbling in her tummy as she watched a lady soldier come stomping out of one of the aircraft. Right out of its belly! The lady soldier was dressed just like the giants guarding Colonel Tanaka and his men, but she had a red cross on her uniform. She was a nurse then and she looked even fiercer than Mrs Ritherdown.

The angry lady stormed right up to their little gathering, ignoring the Japanese at first. She looked at Gracie, noticing her among all of the grown-ups.

“Come here, darlin’,” she said, and even though she looked so fierce and scary her voice was soft. “I’m Doctor François. What’s your name?”

The doctor – a lady doctor, there really was no end to the surprises with the ghost people – kneeled down and gave her a little hug. In a quiet voice, Gracie said that her proper name was Charlotte-Grace, which was what her mommy always called her, but Doctor François may not have heard.

Dr François introduced herself to the grown-up ladies then, and she gave them a little talk about how everything was better, and they would all be going home, and how the men who had done the terrible things to them would be punished. Sanctioned, she called it. They would be sanctioned.

Gracie held on to Dr François’s leg while she spoke, as she had once held onto her mother’s leg during the loudest summer storms back in Kansas. Dr François was wearing army pants. The pockets were full of mysterious objects and she wore a pistol at one hip and a very large knife at the other. It did not look like something a doctor would use. Charlotte-Grace held on, nonetheless, because it made her feel better.

She held on extra tight when Dr François ordered some of the Marines – she called them Marines, so that’s what they were even though they didn’t look like any Marines Charlotte-Grace had ever seen – to bring over the Japanese prisoners. There were lots of prisoners, but she meant Colonel Tanaka and his officers. Charlotte-Grace could see that Colonel Tanaka was very scared. There was no color in his face and he was shaking. It made her feel good to see him like that. She had seen a lot of people look very scared since she had arrived in the Philippines. Many of them had been scared of Colonel Tanaka.

Not all of his officers were scared, however. Two of them swaggered over as though they still ran the camp. She did not know their names, but she recognized one of them from the time they had cut off the Australian soldiers' heads. He had been cheering the loudest. Mrs Ritherdown leaned forward and spat at him, which was far and away the most surprising thing Charlotte-Grace had seen since the ghost soldiers first arrived.

“What’s your name, asshole?” Dr François asked.

She was talking to Colonel Tanaka, and the casual way in which she addressed him with a swear word caused Charlotte-Grace to look up suddenly. She could see muscles bunching in Dr François’s face. It seemed she was very angry. Her whole body felt like it was made out of steel cables.

Colonel Tanaka pretended not to understand, which was a mistake, because everybody knew he could speak English. Charlotte-Grace wanted to see what would happen next, but Dr François gently pushed her face into her leg and held one hand over her ear. She took out her pistol and fired it. The noise was such a surprise that Gracie jumped. One of the ladies screamed and some even started to cry.

Charlotte-Grace recovered from her shock and uncurled herself from Dr François’s leg. She walked over to look at the body of one of the officers. Nobody stopped her. She kicked the twitching man, to make sure he wasn’t getting back up again. Nobody stopped her doing that either.

She heard Dr François saying, in a very calm voice, “I asked you what your name is, you rapist motherfucker.”

She was very rude. Not at all like Mommy. But Charlotte-Grace decided that was okay. This last year she had seen much worse things than people using swear words.

Colonel Tanaka didn’t think it was okay though. He started to babble in Japanese which must have annoyed Dr François because she shot another two of his men. A third man tried to run away, and she shot him too. In the back.

Charlotte-Grace looked at Dr François the way she had once looked at the stained-glass windows in the church at home. She did not understand her feelings, and could not sort them out from each other. Nonetheless, she knew watching Dr François kill one man after another, as calmly as Charlotte-Grace had learned to flick insects off herself, that she was seeing something very powerful. Something hinted at in those stained-glass windows.

When Dr François walked over and held out her hand, Charlotte-Grace took it. The camp commandant had fallen to his knees and he was begging the Marines to do something. Charlotte-Grace did not imagine for a second that the ghost people would lift a pinkie to help him. One of the Marines even said, “You’ll want to keep clear, ladies. Give the doc some room.”

As they moved away from Tanaka, Charlotte-Grace saw her chance. She squirmed free of Dr François’s grip and ran forward to slap the trembling Japanese officer in the face. Some of the women shouted encouragement. She slapped him again, this time for her mommy, and he did nothing about it. It was as though the world had been turned on its head. She could have stood there slapping him all day, one slap for every person he had hurt, and there was nothing he could do about it.

“Honey, stand aside.”

It was Dr François, speaking softly. Charlotte-Grace came back to herself and did as she was told. She was a good girl like that.

“You know what, I don’t really give a fuck what your goddamn name is,” Dr François said then. Charlotte-Grace had never heard a lady swear so much before. It didn’t matter.

Nor did she care when Dr François shot Colonel Tanaka three times, spinning him into the ground where he lay for a little while before she shot him a fourth time, in the head.

Dr François put her gun back in its holster and picked up Charlotte-Grace as though she weighed almost nothing. They walked past a couple of the Marines on the way towards the strange aircraft in which the even stranger doctor had arrived.

“Come on, precious,” she said. “Let’s get you a hot bath and some chocolate.”

Charlotte-Grace nodded, completely satisfied with the way the morning had turned out. “I like chocolate,” she said.

When Dr François replied, her voice was thick and she was crying as she hugged Charlotte-Grace tightly to her chest.

“Of course you do, darlin’. Everyone loves chocolate.”

33 Responses to ‘Prologue. Stalin's Hammer: Paris’

Surtac mutters...

Posted October 6
Dammit.something in my eye again, you bastard.

Why is it that you and Sarah Pinborough can consistently do this to me?

John Birmingham has opinions thus...

Posted October 6
Because we're bad people.

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Dirk swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted October 6
Scratch one Nobel Price then! Fine piece a work Sir!

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NBlob puts forth...

Posted October 6
Nice JB.

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Murphy_of_Missouri ducks in to say...

Posted October 7
Good to be back in this universe.

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BostonJoe has opinions thus...

Posted October 7
Bravo! You magnificent bastard.

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Brother PorkChop is gonna tell you...

Posted October 7
Nice one Mr B.
Any update on the fanfic jobbie?

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Peter Bradley reckons...

Posted October 7
Sir, you bring strong women to life so well.

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted October 7
Cheers guv.

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Danny Nolan would have you know...

Posted October 7
So happy to stumble across this. I forgot how violent and sad you can write at the same time.

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Tony puts forth...

Posted October 7
Where can I buy the "Stalins Hammer" books, not e-books.
I'm old and like turning the pages.
Thanks

John Birmingham asserts...

Posted October 7
I'm going to do a print version of all three for Christmas.

Tony Armstrong is gonna tell you...

Posted October 8
Thank you very much.

bazzaa is gonna tell you...

Posted October 9
Excellent [/Monty Burns Mode]

My eyes and ebooks just don't play well together.

she_jedi reckons...

Posted October 9
If you're doing analogue versions will there be signings? Asking for Christmas presents :)

NBlob is gonna tell you...

Posted October 11
Ditto. Ibid & opcit. Asking for a daughter with very limited I aginatin Vis a Vis paternal presents.

NBlob would have you know...

Posted October 11
*imagination* stupid dumb fondle slab

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Therbs asserts...

Posted October 7
I like the Charlotte pov backgrounding her skill set and attachment to the Marines. I'd buy that for a dollar.

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foreverwar asserts...

Posted October 7
Just rx'd your email with the £0.99 offer for SH:P.

Bought it, downloaded it, and will be reading it on the train home to Leeds tonight.

Good one, JB

John Birmingham mumbles...

Posted October 8
Cheers guvnor

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MuddyRunner is gonna tell you...

Posted October 8
Once again JB has me cheering out loud as I'm reading, and I don't care if people are looking at me funny. Well done!

John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted October 8
Ha. You made me smile.

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Rhino mutters...

Posted October 8
I loved this when I first read it and am loving it more now.

I'm wondering if the up-timer's cynicism and sheer ruthlessness with respect to war-fighting has trickled down into the real-time armed forces? I mean, with history laid out ... war after police action after terrorist attacks, etc., ... how does that affect society's psyche? Does an ennui of sorts set in? Or, does the more pragmatic mindset of that time period allow them to make the jump to, "Fuck this, we just need to nip all this bullshit in the bud by being as brutal as possible so no one dares fuck with us?".

Oh, and dibs on the Dr. Francois soft-core porn fanfic.

Therbs reckons...

Posted October 8
Would a decade of post war analysis and soul searching evolve that psyche or would the 21C detachment still be a fault line? Id think the majority cultural style would temper that. The Uptimers developed it via 9/11, live streamed beheadings and years of dealing with brutality. And that had happened after decades of a Cold War. In this world people might prefer to live in optimism after the war. That's why I think the West would maintain a much higher level of post war military strength, led by the U.S. Governments would want to give an assurance of strength in a world where Stalin had nabbed so much turf. Oh shit, just forgot they'd have access to The Smiths. Ennui it is then.

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Rhino is gonna tell you...

Posted October 8
Even though I get it "free" ... because my slaving away doing beta chores isn't considered labor ... I went ahead and purchased on Amazon today. You can't have too many copies.

And, yes, the review was written.

John Birmingham mumbles...

Posted October 8
This is why you are my favourite.

Rhino asserts...

Posted October 8
Until I'm not. But that is implicit in the social contract.

But my tail is wagging anyway.

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Therbs mumbles...

Posted October 8
Being too lazy to Beta read I had to wait for the early release. Might have to rethink the Beta thing.
One thing that strikes me is the theme of disaster and brutality being a forge, bringing forth an amplification of ninja warrior types, profiteers and high level shapers. Saw that in the Disappearance world and to some extent in The Dave.

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Turlogh Dubh O'Brien puts forth...

Posted October 9
I didn't achieve Beta status and I couldn't wait for the discount code so I went ahead and bought it on Amazon tonight. Starting to read now and hope to finish before the wedding I have to attend tomorrow. So the review will likely get posted Monday morning JB. I know it shan't disappoint :)

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she_jedi swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted October 9
ARGH that was so good! And over far too quickly. I have left the required gushing review at Bezosland for you. Can't wait for more in this universe, I think Gracie needs her own spin off series :)

MuddyRunner has opinions thus...

Posted October 11
Indeed. I have a feeling we may be hearing more of Ms Gracie.

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CaptObvious ducks in to say...

Posted October 10
Beautifully drawn scene.Have you ever considered writing for a living?

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McKinneyTexas reckons...

Posted October 11
Good stuff. Very good.

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Respond to 'Prologue. Stalin's Hammer: Paris'

Twilight. An Axis of Time story by Jason Lambright

Posted October 5 into Book Extract by John Birmingham

This is the first of a couple of treats to celebrate the release of Paris – an original story by Jason set deep in the aftermath of the Transition. It's a very personal piece, with none of the loud noises and splodey excess of the books. Because of this, it is better writing.

If you want to check out Jason's own work, his page at Amazon is a great place to start.

And now, to the story. A warning. It is very dark and may disturb some readers.

_________________

Twilight

Jack Edmonston had been dead for ten years, but his body didn’t know it yet. He fumbled at the pack of Luckies on his workbench and tapped out yet another smoke. The fluorescent light in his garage hummed away as he lit the cancer stick and smoked. A dirty blue cloud began to spread beneath the artificial light. Every time he lifted his left hand to take a drag, he saw the tattoo on his arm and wished for the millionth time that he hadn’t have gotten it in that seedy parlor in London during the war, before Calais.

The blackish-bluish tattoo was a slightly blurred Lady Luck, her naked figure was wrapped around a dagger. Above her head was a scroll, and in the scroll was the motto GARRYOWEN.

Jack stubbed out his butt on the workbench and looked around. His sweat caused his white V-neck undershirt to stick to his body, it was a stifling evening in July. He saw his excuse for being in the garage, the family’s newish ’53 Chevy, lurking in front of him with the hood open. He idly recalled that Brits called the hood a bonnet.

When he thought of England, he looked over at the toolbox. Nestled in the top drawer was an M1911, and it called to him. He took a couple of steps and looked down at the killing machine. The .45 auto was a dull greenish-gray with brown Bakelite grips. He could read the stamping on the side without a problem; there was nothing wrong with his eyes. It said ITHACA GUN CO. INC. He knew the weapon was loaded, the hammer was cocked back and the safety was engaged. The weapon meant death.

Jack remembered.

The kraut was saying something, but Jack didn’t know what. The prostrate soldier was lying in a pool of blood in the corner of the room and his legs were twitching. Jack saw the bold eagle with the swastika in its claws on the German’s left sleeve; he saw his spotted uniform. He looked at the kraut’s rifle with its long curved magazine. The weapon had fallen out of the wounded man’s reach. He was no longer a threat.

Jack wrenched himself back to the present. He was still looking at the .45. If he stuck the weapon in his mouth he knew the gun oil would taste bitter on his tongue, the metal would be cold on his lips. All he had to do was pull the trigger. His delayed death would be complete.

He shook his head and walked away from the toolbox. He leaned against his workbench and grabbed the pack of smokes again. He was almost out. Jack figured he’d remind his wife Alice to pick up another carton when he went inside his modest, post-war, single floored, cookie-cutter house. He lit up and contemplated the car again.

Laughter lilted towards him from his home, it was probably his eight-year-old Louise. Like everyone else in his neighborhood of steelworkers, his family was young and growing. On the surface, things seemed to be going fine- America was charging forward into the future, everything was shiny and new.

But if you scratched the surface, storm clouds were gathering. No-one had been happier than Jack when the war ended, he had been convinced back then that he was going to die. When Berlin was nuked and the Germans folded, Charlie Troop had been retrofitting in England. Floods of replacements had arrived and Jack had felt like an old man at nineteen when he saw the waves of conscripts fresh in from the ‘States. He had known then that when the Seventh Cav was plussed up to strength it would be thrown back into the fray.

In the camp outside of Gislingham, England, he had felt like a dead man walking. And then the bombs had fallen on the krauts and he got his reprieve. The atom bomb had saved his life, but now the Russians had plenty of bombs for America and that rotten bastard Stalin was willing to use them.

Jack took the last drag off his smoke and rubbed it out. He hefted his sixth beer. The can of Blatz had gotten a little bit warm, and the beer tasted flat and tinny. He didn’t care, he chugged it down and pitched the can in the trash.

His hands picked up his excuse for being in the garage, away from his family. Jack regarded the blue box and read it. In the box was a new distributor cap for the Chevy. He knew the car didn’t really need it, but old habits died hard. When he was a kid, cars needed a new cap every couple of thousand miles. So he had gone out and bought a new cap just like his father had before him.

There was a circular logo on the box with the letters AC. That logo meant that he had bought a genuine General Motors part. Beneath the logo in the fine print was a list of patents. He read the top one. It said DAVIDSON AUTOMOTIVE ENTERPRIZES MAY 21, 1946, PATENT NO. 341755.

He opened the box, the part inside was shiny black plastic. It wasn’t one of the cruddy Bakelite caps he had grown up with; this one should be good for a hundred thousand miles or so. It was also bigger than the caps from the past. This was one of the new electronic ignition units Chevy had come out with a couple of years ago.

Jack set down the distributor cap and reached into the wire milk crate for another beer. He worked the new style opener and heard the can fizz. He had been in high school when those people from the 21st appeared, and it seemed to him that they had changed everything, down to the humble beer can. He couldn’t remember the last time he had seen a church-key can, the new lift-tab just worked better.

Had their arrival blessed him, or cursed him? He didn’t know. Jack swigged from the sweaty beer and remembered.

His AT M-4 leapt to his shoulder. The kraut was gibbering. “Bitte! Bitte nicht schiessen, kamerad!” As soon as his sights lined up, Jack pulled the trigger. As always, he heard the spring in the stock twang, he felt the slight recoil against his shoulder and nose. Funny enough, he didn’t hear the report of his weapon, but he heard the dull clang of the bullet on the back of the kraut’s helmet. Jack had shot the man in the face.

In the present, Jack took another long swig of his beer. Sometimes the alcohol helped dull his thoughts, but this looked like one of those evenings when his ghosts would chase him, the dead to whom he owed a life. His life.

Jack looked back over at the toolbox, where eternity waited. His sweat ran cold.

During the day it wasn’t so bad. He would get up at six, and Alice would be waiting on him with a hot breakfast and coffee. Sometimes there were bags under her pretty, bloodshot eyes. The couple had taken to sleeping in separate beds because of some unfortunate nocturnal incidents with Jack. He would thrash about at times, and once he had woken up with his hand around his wife’s throat. Separate sleeping arrangements were called for after that occasion.

He would eat his meal, drink a few cups and chain-smoke. Jack left before the kids got up. Alice would kiss him when he went out of the door in his mill greens. The smoking, noisy steel mill was his destination. He worked as a millwright in the new continuous caster, another technological leap forward from the future. He kept busy all day long doing his bit in America’s production of steel.

And keeping busy was important. It seemed odd, but his favorite time of the day was going to work and losing himself in the mill, the eight hours of his shift would pass like magic. While he was wrestling with machines in the moly-grease pits at work he didn’t think about the war. Only in the quiet hours would the thoughts surface, especially at night after the kids had been put to sleep.

Sometimes the alcohol helped. He would drink enough to get sleepy, and then he would sleep deep, black sleep. Those nights were the best. On other nights he couldn’t sleep at all, or his sleep would be light and fitful and he would be tormented by dreams, dreams of the man he hadn’t needed to kill.

Jack decided at that moment that he had to work on the car; he needed to stay busy. He had been putting up with the war for ten years; he had come up with strategies to avoid his ghosts. He threw beer number seven away and picked up the distributor cap and made uneven progress towards the car. He looked down at the engine.

The Stovebolt Six’s basic design was almost twenty years old. On casual examination it had changed little since the thirties. However, there were some big differences. On the intake manifold on the left side of the engine was one of Chevy’s new throttle body injectors, it gave the “Thriftmaster” unbelievable fuel mileage. And sticking out of the side of the motor was the object of Jack’s attention, the distributor. He needed a screwdriver to get the old cap off. He fished out yet another smoke, lit it, and turned to go to the toolbox.

He glanced at the pistol, shook his head unconsciously, and opened a drawer and got the tool. He went back to the car and got to work.

Jack was amazed again by the swell stuff the 21st people had brought with them, the new automotive electronics made it so his car started the first time, every time. That hadn’t been the case before the war. He unplugged the module from the top of the distributor cap, laid it to the side, and removed the cap and wires. He reached over to the car’s fender and grabbed the brand-new unit, settled it into place, carefully replaced the wires in firing order and plugged the ignition module back in. He tightened the two screws on the side of the cap, and presto, he was done.

There was nothing else to do. No points to file or adjust, nothing. The car was ready to go. Jack walked around the side, opened the door, and climbed behind the wheel. He regarded the busy chrome and steel interior for a second, and hit the ignition. The motor purred to life.

Jack was feeling his buzz. He decided to listen to something. He turned on the radio and music started to play immediately. There was no slow increase in volume like there had been with the old tube units, in ’49 Chevy had started using transistor models. Listening to Elvis, Jack decided that not everything about the 21st crowd was bad.

He switched off the engine but left the radio on. Jack wanted some music with his beer. He walked back over to the workbench and got number eight. He popped it open and took a long drink. He sat the can down and shook out his last smoke. His hand trembled slightly as he lit the sweet-smelling Lucky.

The cap change had gone too easily. Jack was left alone with his biggest enemy, himself. He took another swig and the garage started to rotate slightly. Maybe tonight he would fall asleep like a stone and dream no dreams. Damn the new technology, it made his busywork too short.

Jack burped, lifted his cigarette and took a drag. He glanced at Lady Luck and thought about all the things that had come into the world with the newcomers and their battle fleet. His M-4 had been one of those things. He remembered the first time he had hefted W484184 in basic, he felt like he was holding a Buck Rogers death-ray gun.

He grew to know that rifle as if it were his own right arm. And he had killed with it.

The German’s body slumped and a new pool of blood started spreading in a pool behind his head. Jack lowered his rifle. He heard a voice behind him. “Friendlies coming in!” Automatically, Jack answered with “Clear!” Bezak, a corporal from his squad, came up behind Jack, glanced at the dead kraut, and spoke. “Hey Jack, hold tight here for a while, we’re getting held up by those fuckers with the gun on the other side of the street.” Jack heard the roar of an MG-42. Bezak turned and left, leaving Jack with the man he had killed.

The man he didn’t have to kill.

Back in the present, Jack remembered every detail of the German’s face. The dead man had sandy brown hair, freckles, fine lips and a black hole above his right eyebrow. Jack had ruined the fellow, a child of God, and he was destined for hell.

He couldn’t stand it any more. With “Suspicious Minds” playing in the background, Jack walked towards his toolbox as if he was in a dream. He reached into the toolbox and lifted out the heavy chunk of steel that waited there like a snake.

There was something Jack could do to atone for his deeds. That German had been the first, but it hadn’t been his last.

Outside of the garage, the sun was setting over the hills, and the evening insects had begun their peaceful chant. Elvis finished his song.

Jack’s right thumb flicked off the safety, the .45 was ready to fire. He reversed his grip on the pistol so that it pointed backwards, with his thumb on the trigger. With a jerk, he brought the pistol up to his face. He looked down the barrel. The bore loomed as large as a sewer pipe in his field of view. He opened his mouth and stuck the barrel of the pistol between his teeth. The weapon’s oil tasted bitter indeed, he could smell the stink of old gunpowder. His thumb tightened on the trigger, he felt the heavy resistance of the spring in the firing mechanism. A single tear rolled down his cheek.

Bitte nicht schiessen.

27 Responses to ‘Twilight. An Axis of Time story by Jason Lambright’

Murphy_of_Missouri has opinions thus...

Posted October 5
Well, we're not pulling any punches with this piece.


Obviously, we have some gritty detail here with our main character. All too easy to see my Dad in this shop working on his car. The smoke, the grease in the shop, music playing in the background. No beer though, Mom requires that Dad go get drunk outside of the house.


We've got our flashes of combat too,


It is a story you want to like, or I want to at any rate. All too often I find myself reading nothing but collections of cliches tossed about by hacks. And yet, well written as it is, I don't for one simple reason.


It is the ending.


This story couldn't end any other way, I might add. I wouldn't change it, can't change it. It resonates with the current rash of veteran suicides in our present day society. But as someone who spent a fair bit of his own post military life traveling through some dark valleys and pondering oblivion, I must admit I wish this guy had found the same truth I have in life.


You might think that it is never going to get better, but if you eat a bullet, you'll never know what the next day will bring.


To be honest, I would have rather have read that story, instead of this one.


This is a great piece of writing. When I'm not neck deep in writing lecture notes for Modern Western Civilization I will have to look up your other works.


Respects,
Murph
On the Outer Marches

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insomniac reckons...

Posted October 5
Agree that it is good writing. I haven't read much of Jason's work as it gets a bit too much for me, and I'm not a soldier or been in combat, so I don't know how the rest of you manage. Throwing in the kid part way through should/could have steered the story another way.

Finally, I don't mean to be picky but your patent number is way off. I understand the Davidson reference but it would be nice if the rest was closer to the truth, apart from the whole "would the intellectual property system be fucked in the alt timeline" argument.

Murphy_of_Missouri is gonna tell you...

Posted October 5
I thought the combat snippets were fairly well restrained and artfully placed. As I said before, it was all too easy to imagine my father puttering in a similar manner in the very basement where I have my workshop. The only three omissions in my father's life would have been the beer, the forty-five, and the finale.


People who chose to be soldiers rarely understand what they are in for, even if they serve during peacetime. You endure it because you have no real choice other than to endure. That part for many is easy.


The hard part for some, it seems, is to endure the victory that follows. Or defeat as the case may be.

insomniac ducks in to say...

Posted October 6
I was talking more about his first book, which it seems you haven't read yet.

Murphy_of_Missouri mutters...

Posted October 6
I read the first Stalin in Beta.

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Bondiboy66 is gonna tell you...

Posted October 5
A well written story can provoke strong emotion in the reader....like what I'm feeling right now...

Murphy_of_Missouri swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted October 5
Agreed.

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George Fripley puts forth...

Posted October 5
I love a good story no matter what the genre, and this held me all the way through. The interspersing of flashbacks with the story starts building the dread early and like a train wreck you just have to keep watching until the final conclusion that you hope is not what you think it may be.

Great bit of writing. Thanks for posting this. I'm going to chase up more from Jason

George

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jl has opinions thus...

Posted October 6
Thanks to everyone for considering my work- it is a tribute to both JB's wonderfully rich universe and the hidden casualties of combat trauma.

Alister Taylor puts forth...

Posted October 6
Man, that was seriously, seriously good.

Very tight, very easy to imagine in the mind's eye both elements of it, and the conflict is just great. Leaves one wanting more of the backstory, and everything about the guy!

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Turlogh Dubh O'Brien would have you know...

Posted October 6
Wow. I read it and I finished it and I spent the next 7 minutes just staring at the screen. That's how gripping it was. Too honest, too brutal and too real. As a grandson of WW II vets, it sometimes saddens me and sometimes amuses me when teenagers (and those who are mentally still teenagers) think war is like some video game where you respawn and pick up weapons and provisions off a dead Stormtrooper-type enemy. The casualties go deeper than the glamor of victory. Well done, sir. Well done.

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Peter Bradley mumbles...

Posted October 6
Interesting the normally verbose Burgers appear to have been struck dumb by the power and outright brutality of the fantastic piece. I have spent the last 24 hours trying to describe it. The only phrase that seems to resonate is "gut wrenching" . Mr Lambright if this is indicative of your work I will be seeking it out.

Dave W puts forth...

Posted October 6
You are correct sir.

DaveC puts forth...

Posted October 6
Yhup. Verbosity diminished. Beautiful, terrible, with insightful imagery. Good writers are shin-kickers, through laughter or tears or excitement. Consider me kicked. Kudos to those who've served, but feeling like a preeeeety lucky mofo that to me, war is just an abstract noun.

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DarrenBloomfield asserts...

Posted October 6
I've found myself mesmerised by Jason's stuff - the micro-fine detail that somehow simultaneously tells us something near-universal.

My 'review' would be almost as all above. But Murph's hits me hard. I wanted him to live too Murph, if for far less personal reasons than you. I wanted it so much, that my mind's eye ended the story the way you wished it would/could - he relaxes the trigger pull, and fights on, for one more day (or at least one more beer).

I think Jason, who writes with such detail, left us enough at the end to hope for that,,,

Murphy_of_Missouri mumbles...

Posted October 6
Yeah . . . pretty sure he shot himself.


sally lambright mutters...

Posted October 7
r u sure? after reading it at least 3 times and finally asking what "Bitte nicht schiessen" meant. (please don't shoot) I am not so sure. It gave this Mom a little hope. That's all. Just a little. Everyone can make up their own mind.

Murphy_of_Missouri is gonna tell you...

Posted October 7
You don't have a gun in a story unless you are going to use it. He shot himself. I'm sure of it.


Then again, only the author knows for sure.

insomniac reckons...

Posted October 7
The German says Please don't shoot and he shot him. He shot himself for sure.
If it was "Bitte nicht schiessen Papi" then perhaps not.

FormerlyKnownAsSimon asserts...

Posted October 7
i also think he went through with it but it does say early on he knew it would taste bitter and be cold on his lips (i take that as meaning he's been through this a number of times before - hence why it is always kept so handy) . . . . maybe, just maybe, he has some more to go through.

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Therbs reckons...

Posted October 7
I thought it was a very good piece of writing. It wasn't neither overblown nor barren. Having read his two "Valley" books ( waiting for the 3rd) this short story shows a writer showing his chops across forms.

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Stephen M. Stirling has opinions thus...

Posted October 9
I grew up around WWII vets -- my Dad, for starters -- and most of them, when they got to talking, didn't have much problem with the killing thing at all.

Eg., one (close relative) had been the BAR man in his squad, so he got to handle prisoners.

(Talking about Germans who surrendered in ones and twos, up at the sharp end; formed units were safe if they gave up formally.)

He explained that his unit, like all the others, had two sets of orders for prisoners: "Take them back to the trucks" when there was time to spare to do that, and "Take them down to the end of the road", when there wasn't, which had an unspoken codicil: "and shoot them".

As Bill Maudlin noted at the time, giving up individually was very dangerous, even when both sides' high commands were making a good-faith effort to abide by the rules. There was about a 50-50 chance of getting shot between the time you put your hands up and getting back to the rear echelon where you were fairly safe. This wasn't admitted publicly but everyone knew it.

My relative did both quite a few times. As he put it, it was nothing personal, just doing the job, and it didn't bother him much. He did say he always tried to shoot them in the back without warning, so they wouldn't know it was coming, because "they were just another bunch of poor bastards like us, doing what they were told and trying to stay alive".

Not that he didn't have nightmares occasionally, but it wasn't about that. It was about his friends getting killed, since by the end of the war (near PIlsen, for him) only seven of his original platoon were left -- he came ashore in Normandy on D+2.

Or the close calls he'd had personally; he was wounded twice. The one that really woke him up sweating was remembering being in his foxhole in the Ardennes and feeling the ground shake as the German armor came down the road.

jl ducks in to say...

Posted October 10
Yeah, combat trauma strikes everyone differently. I agree, some people can handle killing with complete indifference. I've known my share of those guys, both in my childhood and my old line of work.

Others I have known can not. They tend not to live to be old, they get involved with substance abuse and other destructive behaviors. I have known those men as well.

All wars breed both types, and we as a society are indebted to those "who shall have borne the battle".

Murphy_of_Missouri puts forth...

Posted October 10
We drove by no end of dead Iraqis during Desert Storm. Or in the case of 1st Infantry Division, over them, buried by our armored bulldozers.


That certainly explained the early absence of corpses, that they were buried in the trenches because General Rhames decided he wasn't having a replay of trench warfare ala 1916 and good for him. He was damned for that, just as surely as General McCaffrey of the 24th Infantry Division was damned a few days later.


We also drove by more than a few who had surrendered. I felt bad for them.


We also found some wallets from the dead, containing the same things we might have in our wallets.


I didn't have nightmares about the Iraqis. Or the refugees we encountered later at Safwan. If I had nightmares, they tended to revolve around where my weapon had gotten to after sleeping with it by my side for five months. Or other things I won't get into here.


And from 23 to 34, I certainly had a passing thought about flipping the switch and checking out. Or opting out. If I had, I'm sure some idiot would have blamed it on the war. That I haven't, I'm sure, some idiot will credit it to something else.


Anyway, I didn't check out because I always wondered, as bad as things were, what the next day would bring. Besides, if I blew the back of my skull off, I'd prove a lot of people who don't know a thing about the military correct.


The war got him.


One final thing. I've not followed it too closely but my understanding from the current research is that our twenty two a day who are killing themselves are not, I say again, not, generally combat arms types. They tend to be support types, or people who never deployed at all.


I can't quite figure out how to reconcile that in my mind. The stereotype is that the combat veteran is the one who is going to eat their forty-five or their nine, not the guy in charge of toilet paper.


And that doesn't even get into suicides brought on by sexual assault, which is an entirely different ball of wax to ponder.

jl swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted October 11
Hey Murph, thank you for the thoughtful and personal response. It demands a careful and considered reply.

Like you, I am a combat veteran. My most intense experiences came in the mountains of Afghanistan, where I served as an advisor to 2nd Rifle Company, 3/2 BDE, 209th ANA Corps. I was medically retired from the Army as a direct result of my experiences there in dismounted combat.

I am currently (and for the foreseeable future) a patient at the VA, and one of the areas I visit is the combat trauma wing in the hospital. The suffering on display there is visceral, silent, and involves veterans from the Second World War to present.

I wrote this piece with both my own experiences in mind and the men and women I have known who fought and paid a price.

Murphy_of_Missouri swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted October 11
Time spent at the VA for any veteran would be worthy of a forty-five caliber lunch after bourbons to brace one to the task. I've certainly spent my time in waiting areas with them.


I'd say you saw some nasty terrain, as well as a lot of nasty shit. That definitely marks a person, for better, and for worse.


Best of luck struggling with the demons, brother. I think you'll find that for the most part, folks at the Burger, they are here for you.

jl mutters...

Posted October 12
Thanks, Murph. We all do what we can to get by. Me, I write. Currently working on "Immolation", the third book in the Valley trilogy.

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Respond to 'Twilight. An Axis of Time story by Jason Lambright'

The Captain's Cauldron by Jason Lambright

Posted June 29 into Book Extract by John Birmingham

Many of you enjoyed the first book in Jason's military sci-fi series. Now you can grab the second via this affiliate link: The Captain's Cauldron (The Valley Book 2)

Jason has kindly given me an extract so you can have a little taste. If you're in the US or UK it'd make some fine summer reading. And if you're shivering through a cold antipodeon winter, pour yourself a decent drink and curl up next to an open window with a good book. Cos our winters aren't that bad.

Dropping In for a Visit
Operation Cyclone begins

The F-71 combat shuttle Capt. Paul Thompson was riding in jumped and juked like a rodeo bull. His headquarters element was with him, along with Second Squad, First Platoon, Charlie Company. That made for twenty troopers of his command, the max capacity of the shuttle. They rode in rows of ten with each row facing inward, with armored knees and shoulders touching. In a dance as old as time, each trooper wrestled with his or her thoughts on the eve of battle. The shuttle plunged toward the surface of Brasilia on Operation Cyclone, the division-scaled assault to retake this lost outpost of humanity.


Actually, the division as such had been an anachronism for much of the time humanity had spread to the stars. During the colonial expansion, the Forces had used RCTs, regimental combat teams, because units larger than that were real overkill. Not anymore. The Third Division, “Rock of the Marne,” rode again. And Charlie Company, with an apparently calm “old man” at the helm, was part of that host.


Paul went over the plan in his mind repeatedly. Of course, all he had to do was prompt his halo, and the operations order would appear in his visual. He didn’t need it, though. He had memorized it.

His company would land in the vicinity of Hill 453. His regiment, the Fifteenth Infantry, would dominate that terrain feature and hold the northwest quadrant of the cordon that would be air assaulted around the Aerie. His orders said simply that “at all cost” the Fifteenth would hold the knob of dirt and destroy enemy forces as they marshaled to repel the invaders. He knew what that meant. This was a one-way ride for a lot of his people.


Contact—military lingo for when enemy forces would seek to engage and destroy you—was inevitable. As Paul mentally restated the plan, contact happened. The shuttle pitched wildly as a Harpy round just missed. Because Paul was the chalk commander, his halo feed was slaved to the pilot’s. He and the pilot alone knew how close that damn rail gun round had come. There was no point sharing the info with the troops; some of them were already tense to the point of vomiting.
Seven of his troopers had already been administered antinausea drugs. Paul’s halo pinged him every time with info he needed to know. Also, two of his troopers were so afraid, Paul thought they might have to be given combat stims. His halo asked for authorization, and he gave it.


“For God’s sake, we’re not even on the ground yet,” he thought. He couldn’t wait until his green company actually had to face the Harpies. It was going to be a mess.


The only reason they would be able to fight the enemy was because they were Armored Infantry. An unaided human wouldn’t stand a chance. That had been the lesson in twelve different campaigns on seven different worlds. With Operation Cyclone, Brasilia, the aliens’ first conquest, would be retaken, and humanity could finally begin to take the fight into the aliens’ space.

What lay in the path to the Harpies’ worlds was entirely unknown. Brasilia had been the farthest and latest world the Pan-American Federation had explored and settled before the war. Past Brasilia, the map might as well be blank, with the legend “here be monsters.” Humanity had spread far and wide, but they still had covered only a small fraction of the galaxy.
The ship jerked again violently. If Paul and his troopers weren’t in the two-meter- tall suits, the gravitational forces inherent in the maneuvers would have smashed them. Also, for every real F-71 headed toward the ground, Paul knew there were hundreds of decoys, both electronic and physical. The Forces had learned a lot over the past four years of war, and every lesson had been soaked in blood.


He hoped a lot of decoys got killed.


Paul’s visual flashed again, this time in red. Chalk Two, Second Platoon, Third and Fourth squads, had all just died. Paul watched the display with cold calculation. The names and faces of his dead troopers went into another mental box. His mil-grade halo came up with a suggested rearrangement of his TO&E (table of organization and equipment), and he glanced at it and authenticated with a thought. The new arrangement of his company was transmitted to all parties, and he moved on.


Charlie Company wasn’t even on the ground, and he had already taken 16 percent casualties. Damn.


Just then, the “all call” chimed on everyone’s halos. The disembodied voice of the ship spoke to all in Paul’s command. “Can do! Insertion in thirty seconds. Twenty- nine seconds. Twenty-eight...” Large numerals for the countdown appeared in the center of Charlie Company’s visuals. The shuttle flared and “slowed.” This would be a hard drop, as briefed.


At zero, all twenty troopers were shot out in a dispersed pattern from the bottom of the ship. In less than half a second, Paul’s troopers were blasted at the ground like pellets from a shotgun.
Paul had the momentary sensation of falling as his halo-assisted view tried to stabilize while he corkscrewed through the air. He slammed into the red soil of Brasilia in a cloud of dust. His halo activated his rally beacon, and the troopers followed the glowing arrow in their visuals that helped move them into their respective battle positions. Hill 453 loomed to the north; the Aerie was behind them to the south. His company had been inserted on a barren, desert plain and in full
view of the enemy. The orange-and-blue sky was filled with Harpies and burning bits of debris.


Back on the ship, the night before, Paul had experienced an episode of uncontrollable shakes. He hated that shit. The tremors had been his companion from the time he had fought on Juneau Three, and nothing really helped control them. Fortunately, he had been in his quarters, so no one had seen but his halo.


And his halo didn’t give a shit. When he had been recalled from retirement, the Forces had known he was damaged goods. They didn’t care. He was a qualified and combat-experienced Armored Infantryman of the line. Because the casualties rivaled those of the American Civil War or the eastern front of World War II, almost every soldier—no matter how old or crippled—was recalled to duty.


After all, the suit could take up most of the slack. All that was needed was the judgment of the soldier inside, and trained, experienced soldiers were badly needed to leaven the waves of conscripts who formed the wartime army.


But just as on Juneau, when the party started, Paul was steady. His hands didn’t shake at all. He felt as if he were born to do this one thing and do it well.


Charlie Company had come to call.

7 Responses to ‘The Captain's Cauldron by Jason Lambright’

insomniac asserts...

Posted June 29
I'm still struggling with the first one. Although the action might be set in the future, the emotion is squarely rooted in whatever shit Jason had to deal with in Afghanistan (or wherever, I forget exactly where). That's some mighty fine writing to get that across.

jl reckons...

Posted June 29
Thank you. Afghanistan was my last assignment.

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HAVOCK21 asserts...

Posted June 29
I like it, wasn't sure I would to ne honest, but its got great feel, nice pace. Not that I know that shit mind you. I'm gunna get it though.

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Therbs swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted June 29
Glad to see he's got the follow-up out. Keeping us busy with the works of Steve Vincent, Keith McCardle and Jason Lambright.
Having just received my replacement Kindle Fire I've been on a Kindle shop buying spree of the writings of these guys.

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NBlob would have you know...

Posted June 29
Nice.

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jl swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted June 29
My primary goal as an author is to capture the experience of an ordinary soldier in combat. Most people, if they do pull the trigger (and not everyone can), feel the effects for many years.

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jl ducks in to say...

Posted July 4
Thanks again to the crew here at the burger, a fair bit of you have bought the latest installment. If you get a second, please allow me to ask y'all for some reviews at the Beast of Bezos. It's been a pleasure!

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Aftermath, by Keith McArdle

Posted June 18 into Book Extract by John Birmingham

Every time I go to Amazon it bowls up Keith McArdle's books, suggesting very strongly that I would like them. That I should buy them. That I should tell everyone about them.

McArdle's series, which starts with The Reckoning (The Day Australia Fell), continues with Aftermath, and I have the first chapter to share with you.

It seems the sort of yarn that would appeal to Mr Havock.

Chapter 1

“Reports suggest 40 Commando supported by the Royal Navy have driven Indonesian invaders away from the coast in Queensland. The war in Australia is all but won.” – Yorkshire Post (UK)


The half-rotten corpse that had once been an Indonesian soldier lay prone, riddled with maggots. SGT Craig Linacre knelt slowly beside the stinking mess, rifle cradled across his chest. The large exit wound at the back of its skull showed the fatal wound. Craig could see what was left of the decomposing brain beyond. But what interested him more was the soldier’s webbing. The pouches appeared full and might hold valuable information. Wary of booby-traps, Craig tied a rope to its belt buckle and moved back, feeding the rope out as he went.
Taking cover behind a nearby boulder, the special-forces soldier looked across at Matty in the near distance and nodded. CPL Matty Nasution gave thumbs up, before returning his attention down the barrel of his weapon, giving cover. Taking a breath, Craig pulled hard on the rope. He felt the weight at the other end shift and knew the corpse had rolled over. Good, no booby-traps so far. Bringing the rifle into his shoulder, Craig was stepping out from behind the boulder when the corpse exploded. He was thrown to the ground, winded. In a few seconds he climbed back to his feet, dazed, yet instinctively scuttling behind the boulder. The charge had obviously been rigged with some kind of delayed detonator.
Shaking the fogginess from his brain, Craig peered around the boulder and saw a pair of half rotten legs – from the knees down – lying beside a crater. Nothing else remained of the corpse. Gaining Matty’s attention, he signalled they were moving out. The explosion would have been heard from kilometres around, and if there were any Indonesian soldiers still in the area, they would be moving towards the explosion.
As the pair of SAS soldiers slowly made their way through the brown, dry, waist-high grass, several dull thumps could be heard in the distance. The men paused, taking a knee to listen.
Silence.
Soft wind teased the surface of the grass for acres in every direction. Then a high-pitched shriek, growing in volume, shattered the peaceful deathly quiet.
“Cover!” roared Craig, diving to the ground as artillery rounds exploded nearby.
An Indonesian artillery battery had zeroed its guns in on the corpse, waiting for the booby trap to be triggered. If they fired fast enough, they‘d be able to take out an entire platoon. Maybe more.
Pushing himself into a crouch, Craig was deafened by a ringing screech in his ears. He looked across at Matty, who was shouting something. No sound reached Craig.
“Go!” Matty’s lips formed the word. “Go!”
As the ringing in his ears began to dissipate, he heard more thumps in the distance.
“Go!” he heard Matty screaming loud and clear. “Go!”
Sprinting through the grass, the pair heard a familiar high-pitched shriek as artillery rounds streaked down onto their position. The rounds slammed into the ground exploding between the two men with devastating effect.
* * * * *
Pain wracked Craig’s body. It felt like he’d been in a cage fight. Groaning, he pushed himself off the ground, spitting dirt from his mouth as he moved into a crouch. Patting down his arms and legs, he checked for injury, but nothing seemed broken or bleeding. Spotting his M-4 nearby, he reached for it, checked it over before cradling it across his chest.
Matty lay prone nearby, motionless. With a grunt, Craig moved to him, squatted beside him and checked for a carotid pulse. With relief he felt a strong pulse and patted Matty’s cheek.
“Hey mate,” Craig muttered. Patting the skin of Matty’s face Craig spoke again. “Oi! Matty, time to move mate.”
There was no response.
“For fuck sake,” Craig said, knowing time was of the essence. He was strong enough to drag Matty perhaps five hundred metres before being forced to rest and find concealment. That distance was not enough to clear the current area which would more than likely be crawling with Indonesian soldiers within the next hour.
Craig slapped Matty’s face hard. “Oi, dickhead!”
This time there was a groan and slight movement in one leg.
Unceremoniously rolling Matty over, Craig slapped him again. “Wakey wakey,” Craig said, casting a glance over Matty’s body checking for obvious injury or haemorrhage.
More dull thumps reverberated in the distance.
“You’re fuck’n joking!” snarled Craig.
Picking up Matty’s weapon, he tucked the rifle into the unconscious man’s chest webbing. Grabbing Matty under the arms, he dragged him as far as possible before the distant shriek indicated artillery rounds were inbound. Dumping Matty, Craig dived to ground, buried his face into the dirt and hoped for the best. The barrage fell slightly short of their position, exploding on and around where the Indonesian corpse had been.
When the last shell exploded, Craig slowly climbed to his feet, body still aching. Keeping as low a profile as possible, he dragged Matty away from the area. Three more artillery barrages hit, some close, others not so much, showing the enemy gunners were making small elevation changes to ensure maximum coverage. By the time night began to fall, Craig, now exhausted, had dragged Matty close to a kilometre out of the area and had found a small depression in the ground where he had chosen to lay low for the night.
Setting up a Claymore anti-personnel mine facing towards the most likely enemy approach, he kept the clacker, the device used to detonate the explosive, tied to his right hand. Inadvertent detonation was near impossible, as the clacker had a safety catch of sorts. The safety catch was easy enough to disengage with a single hand, meaning the mine could be fired within two seconds. Filled with seven hundred steel ball bearings embedded in composition explosive, the weapon was designed to injure and maim rather than kill. One wounded man required two others to carry him, effectively taking three soldiers out of the fight.
Should enemy stumble upon their position, seven hundred ball bearings would whistle through their ranks at knee height, before Craig opened fire. If the Indonesians did find his position, more than likely, Craig would be overrun and killed along with the unconscious Matty. But at least it would be a bittersweet victory for the Indonesians.
Eventually the artillery fire stopped. Before long, the sun slid below the horizon and dusk arrived, the light beginning to fade. Craig checked Matty every five minutes. He felt for a pulse, listened for breath sounds and while light remained, continued checking for any obvious sign of blood seeping through his clothes. He placed Matty in a lateral position so that if he vomited, at least it wouldn’t compromise his airway.
He slung Matty’s weapon across his back and shoved the unconscious man’s spare ammunition into his own half full pouches, so that if a fire fight started, at least he’d have plenty of ammunition. Craig was conscious of the fact that he and Matty had been inserted on the understanding that they were to patrol out of the area themselves. No friendlies were looking for them. The Australian Blackhawks were no longer operational. They had been decimated within the opening weeks of the invasion. The Royal Marine choppers that had inserted the SASR patrol would be busy on other taskings, infilling, exfilling, resupplying or providing air support for Royal Marine Commandos or Special Boat Service (SBS) soldiers on the ground.
Craig found the first few hours easy to remain alert. The majority of the time, he stared through the night vision goggles, ever watchful for enemy movement. Every fifteen minutes he pushed the goggles up, away from his eyes, allowing a minute or two for his vision to rest, before lowering them back into place. Apart from the chirping crickets, the night was silent. A far cry from what Craig expected. No Indonesian soldiers had arrived to investigate.
Slowly crawling to the opposite side of the small depression, Craig watched. Every hour he changed position, moving between the four compass points around the circular depression in the ground. It was past midnight when he began rubber necking, exhaustion attempting to claim him. He had not experienced a decent night’s sleep in more than three weeks. Craig lost the fight, cheek resting on his weapon, breathing softly as sleep embraced him. He did not hear the vehicles approach. Did not see the headlights in the near distance. It was the slamming of the car doors that broke Craig’s slumber. He was immediately alert, adrenalin responsible for his fast response. He pushed the night vision goggles up and away from his eyes, instead using the night vision capability of his weapon mounted scope. He watched the Indonesian soldiers exiting a number of four wheel drives to swarm the area where the booby trapped corpse had been lying earlier in the day. No problem, he was close to one kilometre away, and at night it would be near impossible for them to track him.
His heart sank a second later when he heard dogs. A series of aggressive barks broke the still night. German Shepherd, he thought. A goddamn military dog.
“Fuck,” he muttered to himself.
He hoped his track had gone cold by now and the dog was incapable of finding his scent, but anything was possible. Flicking the night vision goggles away from his eyes, Craig stared down the infrared scope of his weapon and settled the target reticule over the dog’s body.
For close to ten minutes, he watched the animal seeking his scent without success. Happy that the dog was no longer a threat, Craig slowly swept the weapon’s infrared scope across the gathering of Indonesian soldiers. They were all armed with military grade automatic weapons; most with their native SS1, which was the standard assault rifle of the Indonesian Army. Some, however, held the Steyr, used by the Australian Army. No doubt taken from dead Australian soldiers. A wave of anger warmed Craig. He counted the vehicles, seven in total, all four wheel drives, one of them a Land Rover. Thirty enemy soldiers in total, and one clueless dog. Craig smiled, allowing the target reticule to settle over the animal once more. It was not particularly well-trained. Over such a short distance, and regardless of the hours which had passed, any tracking dog worth its salt would have found his scent, faint as it may have been, and worked towards him .
The scent of a human was given by dead skin cells drifting from the body, and a good scent trail in perfect conditions with little wind, rain or snow, could remain in place for more than a week. If tracked by dogs, the most secure place was on high ground, particularly on the peak of a mountain, where the wind was more likely to change directions easily, move in obscure patterns and scatter a person’s scent in random, un-trackable arrangements.
Craig had no such luxury. If the animal were testament to any true formal training, it would have made a bee-line straight to him. Thankfully, although it had obviously been given some informal instruction, the German Shepherd still had a long way to go before it would join the ranks of the true tracking dogs.
Sweeping the infrared scope across the Indonesians once more, Craig settled the target reticule over the chest of a man wearing a bandana and holding an SS1 across his chest, with a pistol holstered on his hip. He was the only man with a pistol, and was also the only soldier talking and gesticulating angrily at the others gathered around him in a half moon. The leader; the leader of any group of soldiers, whether it be a corporal or a general, was always discouraged from advertising their status, particularly out-bush, as they would always become the first target of a sniper team or a deliberate ambush.
There was a loud groan beside Craig and Matty rolled over.
“Fuck me dead,” Matty said, holding his head.
Craig shot a glance at the soldier, “Welcome back, now shut the fuck up,” he hissed.
Matty crawled up beside Craig. “What’s goin’ on?” he asked, still nursing his head.
Craig did not answer, instead returning his attention to the night vision scope attached to the top of his weapon. Staring down the scope he saw that the Indonesians, to a man, were all staring in his direction. The dog was barking and carrying on like it had rabies. Then a torch was turned on, and several enemy soldiers began walking towards them.
“Shit,” whispered Craig. “It’s on, mate.”
It was at that point he realised Matty had slid down onto his back, holding his head and groaning.
“You right, mate?” Craig whispered, tapping Matty’s shoulder.
“Yeah,” he managed between groans. “Gotta killer headache.”
Returning his attention to the weapon’s night vision scope, Craig saw that the enemy had halted whilst the dog handler took a knee, wrestled with the barking animal for a moment and then released it from the leash.
The German Shepherd now had no need of scent trails. The dog was intelligent enough to marry up the sound of Matty’s voice with the scent trail it was unable to find so recently. It zeroed in on the Australians’ position, sprinting towards them.
Ignoring Matty as he rolled around groaning and muttering meaningless phrases, Craig settled the weapon’s target reticule upon the dog’s chest. The sooner he killed the animal, the greater the area the Indonesians would have to search in order to find the Australians. He knew from previous reconnaissance that none of the enemy were using night vision goggles, and if they had them, were probably now out of usable batteries.
Lying silent, continuing to ignore Matty, Craig waited and watched as the German Shepherd sprinted towards them. He willed the animal to veer away, to become confused and return to its master. He tried to avoid killing dogs where possible. But the animal made a bee-line straight towards him. Tongue lolling from the side of its mouth, the animal began barking in a staccato of noise, which was Craig’s cue to fire the shot. There was no squeal or howl of pain. The dog simply dropped to the ground like a used doll. The dog’s barking had hidden Craig’s silenced weapon, and with the animal now dead, the Indonesians still had no idea exactly where their enemy lay.
Craig had no idea what the Indonesians were shouting, and thought better of asking Matty, who was now lying prone, still holding his head and snoring softly. Something was wrong, Craig knew instinctively. He had worked with Matty through operations in Kosovo, East Timor, The Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan. Never had he seen him act like this.
The Indonesians retreated to the vehicle as more orders were shouted. A mortar tube and base plate were unloaded from the rear tray of the vehicle and setup within a matter of minutes. Then a mortar round was fired with a dull thunk, heading almost vertical. A loud pop was followed by daylight in a square kilometre area as the illumination round activated. Craig pushed his head closer to the ground and clenched his right eye firmly closed. If the night vision from his master eye was destroyed, he would be unable to use the night vision scope attached to his weapon.
“Happy new year!” roared Matty, now lying on his back, arms splayed out beside him. “What a light show! Give me a beer ya jack prick!”
Craig dived on top of him and pushed his hand over Matty’s mouth.
“Shut the fuck up!” snarled Craig. “You wanna get us bloody killed?”
Matty muttered something, but the noise was rendered into a slurred mash of sound beneath the palm of Craig’s hand.
Within minutes, Matty had rolled onto his side and deteriorated back into sleep, snoring softly. Craig knew something was very wrong. Ensuring the Indonesians were still confused as to their exact location, Craig took the time to send a text burst transmission via the PRC-112, a radio slightly larger than the size of a man’s hand, requesting an immediate medical evac and air support. Almost three minutes passed before a secure text appeared on the radio’s LCD display:
“Exfil your loc 5 mikes.”
Five minutes until exfiltration. Craig silently berated himself for not requesting exfil hours before. However, in his defence, he had been told the British choppers were flying to the limit in support of Royal Marines and SBS troops on the ground in the area. Any requests, he had been instructed, would either be refused flatly or could take up to two hours to fulfil.
Five minutes to exfil. It did not sound long, but in current circumstances it would feel like an eternity. Craig still clamped his master eye shut against the bright illumination round fired by the mortar. He remained silent and still, praying that Matty continued to sleep. Now with the dog neutralised, apart from the faint splutter of the flare as it drifted towards earth, there was silence. One sound, one word uttered too loud would alert the Indonesians to their whereabouts.
He could hear them muttering amongst themselves. Peering through the blades of grass into which he had buried his face, Craig saw the Indonesians looking in all directions, still oblivious to his whereabouts. The dog handler was distraught, he noticed, feeling sorry for the soldier. Craig loved dogs, and hated killing them. Tonight had been the second time in his career he was forced to kill a dog in order to protect his patrol. The illumination round slowly faded out, the dark night once again closing in around them.
Matty was now lying supine, breathing loudly. Craig moved to him.
“Wake up, mate.” He patted the man’s face. “Matty, wake the fuck up!”
“You got that beer bro?” asked Matty, his speech slurred.
“No, mate, no beer,” whispered Craig. “We’re in the shit, we’ve been compromised. Air support and exfil are inbound. They’re a few minutes out. How you feeling?”
“Exfil?” Matty roared with laughter.” What the fuck? What, are we playing Call of Duty? Wanker!” He laughed again. “Bring me a bloody beer!” he shouted.
The Indonesians were hissing amongst themselves and looking in Craig’s direction. He left Matty giggling and muttering to himself on the far side of the depression. Lying prone and staring down the night vision scope attached to his weapon, Craig watched the enemy soldiers push out into extended line and advance toward his position. In the background, he saw the mortar team, consisting of two soldiers, preparing another round, more than likely a second illumination round. Now they knew the general direction in which the Australians were hidden, a second illumination round would kill all hope for Craig and Matty. They would be found and overrun in less than a minute.
Two dull thumps from Craig’s silenced weapon and the two man mortar team were no more. The Indonesians, apart from three, went to ground and returned fire. Bullets hissed and cracked less than a metre above Craig’s head. Ignoring the return fire, he settled the target reticule over the chest of the first of the three men still standing, firing un-aimed shots from the hip. Squeezing the trigger, Craig watched the man fall from sight. With the number of organs and vital arteries in the chest and upper abdomen, one bullet in or around the chest area could do so much damage. The second man dropped as fast as the first. The third soldier dived to the ground before Craig took a sight picture, although he released several shots into the long grass where he thought the soldier had landed.
Rounds slashed through thigh-length grass metres from Craig, or snapped above their position. He remained prone, holding his fire, allowing the enemy to deplete their ammunition. One Indonesian stood and ran forward. Reacting in less than a second, Craig took a sight picture and fired, the bullet passing through the man’s intestines and exited his back in a bloody swath. He fell to the ground howling in agony.
Feeling the PRC-112 buzz in his trouser pocket, Craig pulled the device out and read the infrared screen.
“Spectre 3 inbound, 1 mike out, mark friendlies.”
The AC-130, or affectionately known as the Spectre gunship, was a heavily modified C-130 Hercules, a heavy-lift aircraft operated by the United States Air Force. Along the left side of the aircraft were two 20mm cannons, one 40mm cannon and one 105mm Howitzer artillery gun. The pilot wanted Craig’s position marked so that his crew would not inadvertently fire upon him.
Opening a pouch and keeping his head down as enemy fire continued to rip through the air metres above him, Craig pulled out an infrared strobe, activated it and tied it to the back of his webbing. Thus, lying prone, the strobe would be facing skyward, flashing an infrared pulse twice per second.
“Friendlies marked.”
A moment later, the infrared LCD of the PRC-112 displayed the pilot’s response, which consisted of two words. Two words which brought relief to any patrol in the middle of nowhere, outnumbered and in the shit:
“Danger close.”
Although the enemy fire was loud, Craig still heard the soft rumble of the Spectre gunship high above him. The pilot would begin a left pylon turn, bringing all the aircraft’s guns to bear upon the Indonesian position.
Trace seemed to streak out of thin air 5,000ft above him, followed closely by the roar of the 40mm cannon, sounding like the deep howl of some enraged dinosaur. The rounds hammered into the Indonesians. Craig felt the thump of massive bullets smashing into the ground.
“What a bloody light show!” Matty roared with laughter, splayed out on his back again, watching another long stream of trace rounds pouring from the AC-130 towards the enemy position below.
The Indonesian fire had mostly stopped, although some must still have been alive as the Spectre gunship continued its destruction. A bright flash from the sky destroyed Craig’s night vision. The boom of the 105mm gun followed a second later but was quickly overshadowed by the ever increasing screech as the artillery round descended towards earth, on target for the enemy position. Exploding with deadly efficiency, chunks of earth rained down around the Australians.
Apart from the distant hum of the AC-130 high above them, the area was silent. Craig ensured the infrared strobe was still securely fastened to his back before crawling forward. Staring through his weapon’s night vision scope, all he saw was the empty enemy vehicles parked several hundred metres away. Knowing that their engines would now be cool, he was not sure the gun crew of the AC-130 would be able to see the four wheel drives.
Attached to the barrel of Craig’s weapon was a small rectangular infrared laser pointer. The device was used for indicating an enemy position to close air support assets that may have overlooked a particular area.
Lying still, he lased the middle vehicle and waited. Close to ten seconds later, the mighty 40mm gun spoke again, explosive rounds hammering through the vehicle and turning it into a piece of scrap metal. Flicking the laser off, Craig allowed his night vision to recover. Minutes later, he stared down the scope. Two vehicles were destroyed completely; the remaining pair seemed relatively unscathed. Lasing the furthest vehicle, Craig waited half as long before the 40mm opened up again, rounds slamming through the remaining vehicles with violent ferocity, rendering them useless.
Matty was breathing noisily, although not quite snoring. It sounded more like his tongue had relaxed back in his throat. Craig moved to him and rolled him onto his side, which seemed to help. Something was wrong and the more time passed, the greater confidence he felt calling for a medivac was the correct decision. Craig crawled back to the rim of the depression in the ground and stared down the night vision scope towards the former enemy position. Nothing moved. The vehicles were decimated; one of them was alight, the hiss and pop of melting paint, upholstery and rubber echoed gently out over the silent plain.
His concentration was so deep that Craig barely heard the helicopter approach until it was slowing and descending less than twenty metres from his position. Even before the chopper touched the ground, a medic and two soldiers were running towards him carrying a stretcher between them. Noise, time and situation precluded any thorough questioning as to the events which had occurred. Matty was simply lifted onto the stretcher, the medic tapped Craig’s shoulder and then they were running back towards the helicopter.
“Fuck me!” shouted Craig as he climbed aboard, the scream of the chopper’s engine deafening him.
A headset was pushed into his hand. Taking off his combat helmet, he promptly placed the headset over his ears, inhaling a breath of relief as the noise was dampened. With the helicopter on strict blackout, Craig used his weapon’s night vision scope to look for, find and ensure that Matty too was wearing a headset. He was. Unconscious or not, the last thing he needed was permanent hearing damage. The stretcher was strapped to the floor of the helicopter with Matty buckled to the stretcher.
Noticing a cord attached to the headset, Craig followed it with his fingers until he found a communication plug. All he needed to find was the comms jack into which to plug it. A firm hand grasped his shoulder, probably one of the loadmasters, who had night vision goggles attached to their helmets. The load master grabbed the jack out of Craig’s hand and following a half second burst of high pitched sound, he was listening to the crew’s conversation.
“—I hear you, just not sure,” said the American voice. “That dude got comms yet?”
“Roger that,” said another voice. “Hey pal,” said the same voice. A hand tapped Craig’s shoulder. “Pal, you gonna need to fold the boom mic down in front of your mouth. “
Craig found the mic and pulled it down to his lips. Following the comms cord with one hand, he found the small box. Pressing the transmit button, Craig said, “Thanks for the exfil.”
“You’re welcome, guy,” the broad American voice said, which was probably the aircraft captain. “I’m in contact with the Spectre. They’ve spotted an artillery battery off to the west. That one of yours?”
“No, mate, not ours,” replied Craig. “They’re the fuckers responsible for this whole mess!”
“Roger,” said the pilot.
Feeling the seat straps dig into his shoulders and belly, the chopper banked hard away from the exfiltration area. In the far distance, Craig saw the faint, flickering outline of the AC-130 Spectre gunship as every gun on board opened fire upon the Indonesian artillery battery below. The Indonesians had no chance of survival. They had nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. He almost felt sorry for them. Almost.
“How’s Matty doin’?” he asked.
“Is that his name, hun?” it was a woman’s voice.
“Yeah.”
“Matty’s not in a good way,” she sounded distracted or busy and probably was, he realised.
“Okay,” Craig replied, trying to sound calm. “Will he be alright?”
There was no reply. Craig felt anger and fear welling in his chest, although he remained silent. The chopper descended violently and turned hard to the left, before levelling out. Craig brought his weapon to bear and looked through the night vision scope to see treetops whipping by close beneath them.
Christ, don’t hit a power line, he thought.
“Will he be alright or not?” Craig asked.
“Look hun, I don’t know. He’s got a dilated right pupil and weak grips on his left hand. He has diminished consciousness. I’m suspecting he’s haemorrhaging on the right side of his brain. He’ll need a CT scan and possibly burr holes drilled into his skull. I won’t lie to you. He can survive this, but it’s gonna be a close call.”
Craig didn’t say anything. He knew it had the potential of being serious, but he now realised the situation was critical. He might lose a brother tonight. He felt numb, unaware of the seat belts digging into his body as the chopper turned. He was oblivious to the door gunners calling out fast approaching structures, trees or power lines over the intercom and was clueless as those same obstacles whipped by only metres beneath them. Everything seemed to be a blur.
The dull impact as the chopper touched down upon the deck of USS Ronald Reagan brought Craig out of his reverie. To the east, the sky glowed a faint gunmetal grey, silhouetting the mighty aircraft carrier. Before the pilot began the shutdown procedure, the medics had carried Matty’s stretcher clear of the aircraft and were running. Unstrapping, Craig unplugged his headset, pushed himself clear of the chopper and sprinted after them. One of the door gunners tried to stop him, but he broke free of the grip.

28 Responses to ‘Aftermath, by Keith McArdle’

Therbs mutters...

Posted June 20
Havock would like it. In fact he's writing his own over at his blog.

GhostSwirv is gonna tell you...

Posted June 20


Is he gonna share?

HAVOCK21 asserts...

Posted June 22
GS ya gotta clink on my name and FKN BANZA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! you shall be Dorothea and transported there my good man

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sibeen is gonna tell you...

Posted June 20
Thanks for the heads up, JB. I read the first book, and although is did show a small lack of finesse that I'd expect from a first up author, it was an enjoyable read.

For $4 you can't go wrong.

Varangian78 would have you know...

Posted June 20
Hi Sibeen,

Glad to hear you enjoyed the first book and yes, definitely always room for me to improve.

Keith

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HAVOCK21 reckons...

Posted June 20
yeah, on the money Sibeen.

im off ta fkn buy it!

HAVOCK21 has opinions thus...

Posted June 20
got both, now we wait for this evening. Should be good.

Varangian78 is gonna tell you...

Posted June 20
Hope you enjoy it, Havock. By the way, mate, where's your blog?

Keith

HAVOCK21 mumbles...

Posted June 20
keith its havock21.wordpress.com and its amateurville I should point out too!!!!

Varangian78 swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted June 20
Thanks, mate. Followed. Looking forward to reading Intense.

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Surtac has opinions thus...

Posted June 20
I read his Viking time travel one (The Forgotten Land) late last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. I think I'll give this series a go too.

Varangian78 mutters...

Posted June 20
Hi Surtac,

Thanks fort he kind words, happy to hear you enjoyed the adventure. The Forgotten Land has since been revamped (it's about 10,000 words shorter), new cover and it's now called Tour To Midgard.

Mike mumbles...

Posted July 6
Awesome synopsis and exactly the type of book I love to read. Didnt know about this author so i'm gonna scoot on over to amazon and get this book asap.

Therbs puts forth...

Posted July 7
It's a good'un. Start with The Reckoning. Also Tour to Midgard is well worth a read.

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Bondiboy66 reckons...

Posted June 20
Yeah I've been meaning to give his stuff a go - where too much ADF is barely enough!

Varangian78 puts forth...

Posted June 20
Hi Bondi,

Definitely ADF in both books, but not as we know it today. The ADF are overrun as a cohesive fighting force and end up scattered and in disarray. Some die fighting and others band together to cause trouble amongst the invaders. Several team up with civilians and teach them how to become guerrila fighters. Our ADF certainly punch far in excess of their weight and are well trained.

But then the Visigoths overran Rome and destroyed the entire Roman empire in less than three days. In the end, numbers count.

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DaveC mumbles...

Posted June 20
Because I'm working on a near-future novel revolving around an Australasian war, I goggled to see what else was out there. There's slim pickings. But it did come up with The Reckoning. The pacing was fast, and although I favour a bit more background, it really grabbed my attention. Later on I contacted Keith and offered to be a beta reader. I got a personal reply. I received an early copy of Aftermath for an honest review too. Which I was more than happy to do in the spirit of solidarity amongst Australasian 'splodey writing fans.

Varangian78 reckons...

Posted June 20
G'day Dave, thanks for your support, mate, much appreciated. Background is definitely something I do need to work on, but I believe I'm improving bit by bit as I go.

Hey, what's the Australasian war you're writing about? Sounds cool! Keith.

DaveC asserts...

Posted June 20
I think that the beginning of the Reckoning wouldn't have worked with background exposition. It was an Aussie Red Dawn, and you needed to start with Cubans floating into the high school;) The cool thing about reading is being surprised. When the Dave series came out, I wasn't sure I was gonna relate to it, but I fricken loved it. It's good to be confounded.
My projects in its 3rd draft, and I may end up having to lop off the first 30 pages and rewrite it as a single paragraph. (Lol - so, so much for background).
A 3 year climate shift scares the bejesus out of the major Powers and a World War starts brewing. Oz and NZ get entangled in a scrap because of a tragic misunderstanding on the PNG border with Indonesia. This leads to a constitutional crisis in NZ where an opportunistic politician siezes power in Wellington, claiming that he's the only one who can lead the nation through the emergency. Elections get delayed, a resistance forms. And pretty much your small southern neighbour ends up looking like a week bit like Syria.
It's a work in progress. Improving bit by bit, hopefully. Kudos to anyone who's finished a book man. It's hard.

Varangian78 swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted June 20
Yeah, the Dave series is definitely on my to-read list. Your story line sounds great, Dave. Quite realistic in so far as the 'disagreement' happening on the border of PNG and West Papua (or Irian Jaya as the Indonesians like to call it). A lot of attrocities have been committed there in recent years by Indonesia (and continues to happen today, but the media don't seem interested).

Keep cracking on with it mate, I'm looking forward to reading it!

DaveC asserts...

Posted June 20
Bewdy! Cheers Keith. One page at a time. :)

Varangian78 puts forth...

Posted June 21
That's definitely the way to do it, Dave. Focus on one page (or scene) at a time. Breaking it down into tiny, achievable goals is the way to destroy any obstacle. I don't think there is any difference writing a book. Definitely a good mental attitude to have.

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Therbs asserts...

Posted June 20
Gonna snap up the duology. But first need to replace my Kindle.

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GhostSwirv ducks in to say...

Posted June 20

Very much liked the in close and personal touch Keith - felt like I wanted to shake Matty awake, slap a beer in his hand just to shut him up.


Cool tech and tactics - holidays fast approaching - know what I'll be reading over the break!


Oh, as well as the latest TheDave.

Varangian78 mumbles...

Posted June 21
G'day mate,

You lucky bugger, I just finished my holidays and will very soon be back to work. Thanks for the feedback and I hope you enjoy the story. May your holidays pass in slow motion (mine never seem to, unfortunately).

Keith.

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GhostSwirv swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted June 21

As long as its not a splodey slow motion moment I'm with you.

Varangian78 has opinions thus...

Posted June 22
No, the 'splosions will be in real time, but hopefully your holidays go into Matrix slow-mo.

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Peter in the bleachers mutters...

Posted June 23
I've read both The Reckoning and Tour to Midgard (Oz SAS patrol ends up in Viking Denmark). Both were enjoyable, although Tour to Midgard was a tighter book. I'll be off to purchase Aftermath shortly. They popped up in the Amazon recommend after I finished Cairo.

JB any update on Paris ? (Please)

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