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Twilight. An Axis of Time story by Jason Lambright

Posted October 5, 2016 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.



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 puts forth...

Posted October 5, 2016
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.

On the Outer Marches

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insomniac puts forth...

Posted October 5, 2016
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 ducks in to say...

Posted October 5, 2016
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 asserts...

Posted October 6, 2016
I was talking more about his first book, which it seems you haven't read yet.

Murphy_of_Missouri swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted October 6, 2016
I read the first Stalin in Beta.

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Bondiboy66 ducks in to say...

Posted October 5, 2016
A well written story can provoke strong emotion in the what I'm feeling right now...

Murphy_of_Missouri would have you know...

Posted October 5, 2016

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George Fripley reckons...

Posted October 5, 2016
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


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jl asserts...

Posted October 6, 2016
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 swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted October 6, 2016
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 mumbles...

Posted October 6, 2016
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 ducks in to say...

Posted October 6, 2016
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, 2016
You are correct sir.

DaveC puts forth...

Posted October 6, 2016
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 ducks in to say...

Posted October 6, 2016
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 reckons...

Posted October 6, 2016
Yeah . . . pretty sure he shot himself.

sally lambright asserts...

Posted October 7, 2016
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 reckons...

Posted October 7, 2016
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, 2016
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 is gonna tell you...

Posted October 7, 2016
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 mutters...

Posted October 7, 2016
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 puts forth...

Posted October 9, 2016
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 mumbles...

Posted October 10, 2016
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 is gonna tell you...

Posted October 10, 2016
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 puts forth...

Posted October 11, 2016
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 is gonna tell you...

Posted October 11, 2016
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, 2016
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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The Captain's Cauldron by Jason Lambright

Posted June 29, 2016 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 ducks in to say...

Posted June 29, 2016
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 asserts...

Posted June 29, 2016
Thank you. Afghanistan was my last assignment.

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HAVOCK21 puts forth...

Posted June 29, 2016
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 mutters...

Posted June 29, 2016
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 mumbles...

Posted June 29, 2016

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jl is gonna tell you...

Posted June 29, 2016
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 asserts...

Posted July 4, 2016
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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Respond to 'The Captain's Cauldron by Jason Lambright'

Aftermath, by Keith McArdle

Posted June 18, 2016 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.
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.
“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 is gonna tell you...

Posted June 20, 2016
Havock would like it. In fact he's writing his own over at his blog.

GhostSwirv ducks in to say...

Posted June 20, 2016

Is he gonna share?

HAVOCK21 would have you know...

Posted June 22, 2016
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 mumbles...

Posted June 20, 2016
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 is gonna tell you...

Posted June 20, 2016
Hi Sibeen,

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


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HAVOCK21 reckons...

Posted June 20, 2016
yeah, on the money Sibeen.

im off ta fkn buy it!

HAVOCK21 mutters...

Posted June 20, 2016
got both, now we wait for this evening. Should be good.

Varangian78 reckons...

Posted June 20, 2016
Hope you enjoy it, Havock. By the way, mate, where's your blog?


HAVOCK21 is gonna tell you...

Posted June 20, 2016
keith its and its amateurville I should point out too!!!!

Varangian78 ducks in to say...

Posted June 20, 2016
Thanks, mate. Followed. Looking forward to reading Intense.

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Surtac puts forth...

Posted June 20, 2016
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 puts forth...

Posted June 20, 2016
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 ducks in to say...

Posted July 6, 2016
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 mutters...

Posted July 7, 2016
It's a good'un. Start with The Reckoning. Also Tour to Midgard is well worth a read.

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Bondiboy66 puts forth...

Posted June 20, 2016
Yeah I've been meaning to give his stuff a go - where too much ADF is barely enough!

Varangian78 is gonna tell you...

Posted June 20, 2016
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 reckons...

Posted June 20, 2016
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 ducks in to say...

Posted June 20, 2016
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 would have you know...

Posted June 20, 2016
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 mumbles...

Posted June 20, 2016
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 puts forth...

Posted June 20, 2016
Bewdy! Cheers Keith. One page at a time. :)

Varangian78 swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted June 21, 2016
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 reckons...

Posted June 20, 2016
Gonna snap up the duology. But first need to replace my Kindle.

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GhostSwirv ducks in to say...

Posted June 20, 2016

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 ducks in to say...

Posted June 21, 2016
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).


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GhostSwirv swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted June 21, 2016

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

Varangian78 reckons...

Posted June 22, 2016
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 asserts...

Posted June 23, 2016
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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Respond to 'Aftermath, by Keith McArdle'

"The Art of Reading" by Damon Young

Posted June 16, 2016 into Book Extract by John Birmingham

Damon is the most interesting philosopher working in Australia right now because he makes the effort to talk to people who aren't philosophers. I've enjoyed all his books, but this latest, The Art of Reading, is perhaps his best yet. It's difficult to write about an unseen phenomenon, and yet he does so engagingly, compulsively, from the first page; indeed from the epigraph, a Jean-Paul Sartre quote:

"One does not write for slaves."

No, Jean-Paul, one does not.

He's very kindly given me an extract from the intro, for your enjoyment and embiggening. Read it, then go buy the book. I got the paperback because I consider it to be shelfworthy. I will drop an Amazon link in at the bottom, but for those who are not slaves to the Beast of Bezos, I've temporarily listsed The Art of Reading at with links out to the major stores. Grab it there. For a paperback copy, I would totally go with Booktopia.

TO MY RIGHT is a small stained pine bookcase. It contains, among other things, my childhood.

Stacked in muted burgundy and khaki buckram are classics like Aesop’s Fables, full of blunt aphorisms for 4-year-olds: ‘To be well prepared for war is the best guarantee of peace’. Not far away is Richard Burton’s translation of The Book of the Thousand and One Nights, with its formally phrased smut (‘he laid his hand under her left armpit, whereupon his vitals and her vitals yearned for coition’). Still read after seven decades, my mother’s octavo The Magic Faraway Tree—mystery, adventure and casual corporal punishment. I also have her Winnie the Pooh, printed the year she was born. Seventy years on, her grandson now has Eeyore days. (‘Good morning, Pooh Bear ... If it is a good morning ... Which I doubt.’) But most important for me, standing face out in black plastic leather and fake gold leaf, is The Celebrated Cases of Sherlock Holmes.

Holmes was my first literary world. Proudly bigger than anything read by my primary school peers, Conan Doyle’s 800-page tome was a prop in my performance of superiority. This archaic lump of text helped me feel special. I was more clever, said the serious serif font, than the other 11-year-olds; more intellectually brave, said the ornamental binding, than my teachers.

Sherlock Holmes was a kind of existential dress-up—an adult I tried on for size. I made our common traits a uniform: social abruptness, emotional flight, pathological curiosity. In Conan Doyle’s prose, this make-believe was more stylish than my clumsy boyhood persona. Take the first lines from The Sign of the Four: ‘Sherlock Holmes took his bottle from the corner of the mantel-piece and his hypodermic syringe from its neat morocco case.’ My detective was an addict: but with panache. (I kept a dictionary for words like ‘morocco’. And ‘panache’.)

Yet there was more to The Celebrated Cases of Sherlock Holmes than my pretence. What I finally took from Conan Doyle’s mysteries was not savoir faire but freedom: the charisma of an independent mind. This Victorian London, with its shadows and blood, was mine. I winced as Holmes ‘thrust the sharp point home, pressed down the tiny piston’, but the needle and its rush were my own to invent. Watson’s gentlemanly heroism, and Inspector Lestrade’s mediocrity: all belonging to the little boy lying quietly on the flokati rug. So my Holmesian education was only partly about general knowledge—the symbolic pips of the Ku Klux Klan, the atmosphere of moors, the principles of deduction. It was also, more crucially, schooling in the exertion of my own psyche. I willed this strange world into being, with help from Conan Doyle. The author was less like an entertaining uncle, and more like a conspirator. We met in private to secure my liberation from school’s banality and home’s atmosphere of violence.

Holmes was not my first book. I was already in that ‘promised land’, as Vladimir Nabokov put it in Speak, Memory, ‘where ... words are meant to mean what they mean’. I learned to read with the ‘Asterix’ adventures, when my parents refused to voice the speech boxes. If I wanted the puns and fisticuffs, I had to parse the text myself. Beside my bed there was also a lion who swallowed vegetable soup instead of rabbits; dinosaurs against industrial pollution; and Ferdinand the pacifist bull. These were training and, later, distraction. Like Germaine Greer, who ‘read for greed’, I kept myself busy with words on paper—an urge closer to rapacity than curiosity. These desires combined in ‘Garfield’, as I devoured cartoons and lasagne with equal urgency.

But with The Celebrated Cases of Sherlock Holmes, I had a new sense of greater mastery, and pleasure in this discovery. Part of me saw Holmes as a legendary historical hero, and I enjoyed what novelist Michael Chabon called the ‘happy confusion’ of fact and fiction. Another part of me, burgeoning and a little buzzed, was doing away with deference. I realised that these dark marks on paper were mine to ignore or investigate, enrich or evade. It was with the junky detective that I first became aware of myself as something powerful: a reader.

Three decades later, my bookshelves are punctuated by discoveries of this imaginative independence. For these authors, the written word encouraged a new liberty: to think, perceive or feel with greater awareness.

Novelist William Gibson, whom I read as a teenager, is currently shelved in the garage between Ian Fleming’s pubescent thrillers and Harry Harrison’s galactic satire. Also roused by Sherlock Holmes as a boy, Gibson transformed his drab suburban neighbourhood into Victorian England, one brick wall at a time. ‘I could imagine that there was an infinite number of similar buildings in every direction,’ Gibson told The Paris Review, ‘and I was in Sherlock Holmes’s London.’ Conan Doyle’s stories were more than escapism or amusement for Gibson. They beckoned him to invent.

Two shelves under Gibson, Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk recalled reading as relief from tears of boredom, and as a flight from confronting fact. In Other Colours, the novelist congratulated himself, as I did, on ‘possessing greater depth than those who do not read’. This was partly juvenile boastfulness. But it was also an acknowledgement of the work involved: turning black text into an illuminated theatre. Pamuk wrote of the ‘creator’s bliss’ he enjoyed as a child reader, putting his mind to work with words.

Two rooms behind and one century before Pamuk is American novelist Edith Wharton. Invited into her father’s library as a child, she found a private sanctuary: a ‘kingdom’, as she put it. ‘There was in me a secret retreat,’ she wrote in A Backward Glance, ‘where I wished no one to intrude.’ This was more than withdrawal. With the poetry of Alfred Tennyson, Alexander Pope and Algernon Charles Swinburne, the criticism of John Ruskin, the novels of Walter Scott, Wharton played with exciting new themes and rhythms. She wrote about reading as a cultivation and celebration of her growing personality—what she called ‘the complex music of my strange inner world’. The novelist believed that she became more fully herself in those yellowing pages.

Eighteenth century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, stacked two feet to the left of Wharton, read romantic novels late into the night with his widower father. The stories made him aware, for the first time, of his own mind. ‘It is from my earliest reading,’ he wrote in his Confessions, ‘that I date the unbroken consciousness of my own existence.’ The point is not only that Rousseau’s emotions were encouraged by the novels, but also that he recognised them as his. And while the philosopher (characteristically) blamed fiction for his own histrionic bent, the melodrama arose chiefly out of little Jean-Jacques.

The shelf under Rousseau holds the modern philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre. He discovered his literary authority in a sixth-floor apartment, looking down on Paris, his grandfather’s books in his hands. Words gave the boy a certain mastery over himself: he was a demiurge, bestowing the world with life, in language. ‘The Universe lay spread at my feet and each thing was humbly begging for a name,’ he wrote, ‘and giving it one was like both creating it and taking it.’ Sartre also collected American westerns and detective comics, and their heroic caricature—lone brave man against the world—remained in his philosophy, decades later.

Simone de Beauvoir, close to Sartre in my library as in life, remembered the security of books. Not only because of their docile bourgeois morality, but also because they obeyed her. ‘They said what they had to say, and didn’t pretend to say anything else,’ de Beauvoir wrote in Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, ‘when I was not there, they were silent.’ She recognised that they asked for conviction and artistry—from Simone, rather than simply from the authors. De Beauvoir called this ‘the sorcery that transmutes printed symbols into stories’: without a reader, the magic stops.

There is no one-size-fits-all discovery of literary power. Reading is thick with the quirks of era, family and psychology. Some, like Rousseau, find romantic urges. Others, like Sartre, find enlightenment domination. There can be pretence, narcissism and cowardice. (But enough about me.) In many cases, there is a longing for what philosopher Herbert Marcuse labelled ‘holiday reality’: an asylum from ordinariness. Charles Dickens wrote about this as his boyhood ‘hope of something beyond that place and time’. But as Dickens’ later popularity suggests, these moments of youthful bibliophilia also coincide with the discovery of clout. The child is becoming aware, not only of worlds populated with detectives, Gauls or bulls, but also of an ‘I’: the reader, whose consent and creativity brings these worlds into being. Reading is an introduction to a more ambitious mind.

Jean-Paul Sartre, in What is Literature?, wrote: ‘There is no art except for and by others’. The philosopher’s argument was not that authors cannot enjoy writing for themselves; that every word is dashed off, hand aching, for tyrannical editors and audiences—what Henry James described in one letter as ‘the devouring maw into which I ... pour belated copy’. Instead, Sartre’s point was that the text is only ever half finished by the writer. Without a reader, the text is a stream of sensations: dark and light shapes.

This does not mean ordinary life is a play of dumb necessity. Sensation always has some significance for humans— we are creatures of meaning, and the universe is never spied as a naked fact. But the world writ large does not refer to things fluently; the suggestions are often vague. ‘The dim little meaning which dwells within it,’ wrote Sartre of everyday sensation, ‘a light joy, a timid sadness, remains imminent or trembles about it like a heat mist.’ Ordinary life has a hazy atmosphere to it, whereas language illuminates brightly and sharply.

The letters achieve this by pointing beyond themselves— we read through the text, not off it. ‘There is prose when the word passes across our gaze,’ said Sartre, quoting the poet Paul Valéry, ‘as the glass across the sun.’ Words are portals of sorts: they frame reality, and become invisible as we peer.

Not all texts are as transparent as Sartre’s ideal prose. Poetry can be more opaque. Take Seamus Heaney’s ‘The Bookcase’. It refers literally to the poet’s library, but it also makes a spectacle of the English tongue. ‘Ashwood or oak-wood? Planed to silkiness / Mitred, much eyed-along, each vellum-pale / Board in the bookcase held and never sagged.’ Alliteration, rhythm, metaphor: this is about a thing and its resonances, but it is also about language. Poetry puts on a show of words, just as painting displays colour, and music sound. Poetic phrases, wrote German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer, ‘haul back and bring to a standstill the fleeting word that points beyond itself ’.

Language can be translucent like amber or clear like Valéry’s glass, but staring through it always asks for effort. Inscriptions or projections become words, which have meanings alongside their tone and cadence. This is what I first recognised in Sherlock Holmes: reading is always a transformation of sensation into sense. ‘You have to make them all out of squiggles,’ poet D Nurkse wrote, ‘like the feelers of dead ants.’

For the reader, this means rendering a world: the intricate ensemble beyond the page. When Conan Doyle writes that the sun is visible ‘through the dim veil which hangs over the great city’, I recreate London. Not only the sky’s spray of yellow and grey, but also the coal and commerce that make the metropolis ‘great’. The newspaper reporting the death of Sherlock’s client also evokes a community of middle-class readers from Cornwall to Northumberland, all participating in the imagined community of print. Waterloo Station, to which the victim was hurrying, suggests steam trains across England: taking passengers and parcels of The Times for men like Watson to read. All this I project behind the foreground prose. ‘The objects represented by art,’ as Sartre put it, ‘appear against the background of the universe.’ I piece together a cosmos from the author’s fragments.

What this all reinforces is that writing cannot make anything happen. As an infant, earlier editions of The Celebrated Cases of Sherlock Holmes were wholly opaque to me: blocks of chewable stuff. And as an 11-year-old I was not forced to imagine Holmes in his ‘velvet-lined arm-chair’, pushing blow into his blood. I had to commit myself to the text; to consent to a kind of active passivity, in which I accepted Conan Doyle’s words, then took responsibility for giving them some totality.

Reading requires some quantum of autonomy: no-one compels me to envisage their words. They are, at best, an invitation. Sartre phrases this as an ‘appeal’, and the idea makes sense of how little necessity is at play. Reading is always a meeting of two liberties: the artist’s and the audience’s.

Available at Amazon. (If you really must)

10 Responses to ‘"The Art of Reading" by Damon Young’

Surtac mutters...

Posted June 16, 2016
Yes. I recognise myself in there somewhere too, hiding in the school library whenever I could.

Will definitely buy this one in paper form.

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DarrenBloomfield is gonna tell you...

Posted June 16, 2016
Yeah, me to. Like looking into a (smudged) mirror. I wish i could write like this bloke though. Thanks for the pointer JB, I'll read him.

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Barnesm puts forth...

Posted June 16, 2016
sounds very big L literature to me. Will there be explosions?

John Birmingham swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted June 16, 2016

Matthew F. asserts...

Posted June 16, 2016
The best kind of 'splosions!

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Sambit swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted June 16, 2016
I can relate to the reference to Sherlock Holmes. The first book and the character I fell in love with during my school days.

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Bondiboy66 mumbles...

Posted June 17, 2016
I too read the same early books...not Sherlock Holmes though.

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GhostSwirv would have you know...

Posted June 17, 2016
Thanks JB for selflessly pointing us all to another author's tome - your love of literature and writing and the simple joy of reading, immersing oneself in the electric frisson of another's ideas is something I have no doubt that we all share.

Therbs reckons...

Posted June 17, 2016
Share? What, are you crazy?

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GhostSwirv would have you know...

Posted June 17, 2016
You try and be nice but there's always a Therbs to run a diagnosis - Always there with them negative waves!

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Respond to '"The Art of Reading" by Damon Young'

Error Australis, by Ben Pobjie

Posted June 8, 2016 into Book Extract by John Birmingham

I love a good Pobjie, be it a recap, a column or a rant. Now I can enjoy them at length and with appropriate historical context, because Ben has penned a rather spiffing history of Australia which is much much better than all those boring histories I had to read at school.

On 20 January 1788, the Fleet arrived at Botany Bay, where the British immediately came into contact with the Indigenous inhabitants of New South Wales. Many of the Aboriginal community saw their arrival as evidence of their governmentís lax border protection policies. "If had the ticker to introduce off-shore processing, these boats would have stopped coming," they declared, to which their opponents pointed out that the boats had only just started coming, making it difficult to foresee. "Besides," they added, "these poor white idiots need our help, so let us extend the hand of friendship."

But a sentiment grew strongly in the community that the First Fleet had behaved appallingly by attempting to sneak in through the back door rather than going through the proper channels. By coming on unauthorised boats, it was pointed out, the Englishmen had taken places away from those in genuine need. What's more, the journey from England to Australia was long and dangerous, and many Aboriginal people stressed the need to discourage desperate Englishmen from getting on boats and risking their lives. Also, there was a fear that the new arrivals would introduce a criminal element to the continent, which, to be fair, was pretty accurate.

Of the meeting between Europeans and Aboriginal people at Botany Bay, Tench poignantly wrote, "I had at this time a little boy, of not more than seven years of age, in my hand", which is pretty unsettling. He showed the little boy to the natives so they could see his white skin. "Yes, we get it. You're all white," the natives replied. "Leave the little boy alone." But Tench wouldn't listen. "I advanced with him towards them, at the same time baring his bosom and, shewing the whiteness of the skin," he wrote. "It's spelt 'showing', you idiot," the natives replied, and the misunderstandings only got more problematic from there.

The First Fleeters did not have time to ponder the intricacies of modern race relations just at that moment, however: they were too busy noticing that Botany Bay sucked. Captain Cook had reported that the bay was a rich and fertile spot, but when the settlers arrived, they discovered it was actually a scruffy patch of sand and grass with poor soil, little fresh water and a smell that contemporary accounts report as being "like your grandma's wardrobe". Captain Cook had lied to them, and Captain Phillip wondered whether he could ever trust a sailor again. Looking forlornly at the ugly shore, he famously announced, "This is crap", and gave orders to explore other locations to determine their suitability for his hoodlum-zoo.

The answer lay in Port Jackson, to the north of Botany Bay. Cook had discovered this pleasant harbour in 1770 and named it after all the Port Jackson sharks he saw there. In contrast to Botany, Port Jackson had plentiful fresh water in the form of Tank Stream – so named for its ability to manoeuvre over rugged terrain on tracks of fertile soil, and a pleasant lemony fragrance. Phillip, overjoyed with the new site, called it Sydney Cove, in honour of Lord Sydney, with whom Phillip had spent many happy days in England planning voyages and Spaniard-massacres. On 26 January, the First Fleet sailed to Sydney Cove, and Phillip declared that from that day on, this date would be celebrated every year by angry and bitter arguments over whether it should be celebrated or not.

Phillip, now governor of the new colony, set to work with all possible speed, issuing directives to all convicts, marines and officials to immediately begin failing to adapt to the new country, then move on to starving to death as soon as they could. Food was a constant issue in the early days, and many of the colonists suffered from eating disorders, inasmuch as they had nothing to eat, which in the 18th century was often fatal. With The Biggest Loser still more than two centuries away, the colonists had no way of knowing how to make malnutrition work for them, and many of them found their own slow deaths were lowering their morale.

The first problem was that the British had no idea how to farm in Australian conditions. The second problem was that most of them had no idea how to farm in any conditions, a result of their government's farsighted "populate the settlement exclusively with those who have no useful life skills" policy. And so, much of the early activity in the colony consisted of hungry men standing around staring at the corncobs they'd stuck in the ground, waiting for them to flower. Governor Phillip's correspondence during this time indicates the scale of the problem:

From the desk of Governor Arthur Phillip,
Sydney Cove, New South Wales 0001
Dear Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger,
How are you, sir? I am fine. I do not wish to trouble you, as I am sure you are extremely busy being Great Britain's youngest ever prime minister and forming the Triple Alliance with Prussia and Holland in order to restrict French influence in Europe, but right now we're having a bit of trouble 'Down Under', to use a term that I just made up. Basically we're all a tad peckish, and we'd love it if you could send us some food and also, if possible, some sunscreen.
Arthur Phillip (Governor)

Dear Governor Phillip,
The Prime Minister received your letter of August 5th and has authorised me to tell you that he cannot at this moment send you any of the supplies you have requested as he is extremely preoccupied with the preparations for the French Revolution which will break out next year and be very troublesome for us all. He suggests you try going fishing or something.
Elderfield Humberry-Deccleston the Fourth
Private Secretary to the Prime Minister

Dear King George III,
I hope this missive finds you in good health and that you have not yet gone insane. I write to request some assistance with my little colony here in New South Wales, which is a lovely spot ideal for weekends away and longer summer stays, but suffers the drawback of being hell on earth. I was wondering if you could send us some food rather urgently, as we're having a bit of trouble growing our own. So far the best idea any of us have had is burying a cow and hoping it grows into a cow tree, which may give you some idea of our predicament.
Thank you for your time, sir. Give my regards to your son George IV, and my condolences on the extravagant profligacy and dissolute lifestyle which he will demonstrate in a couple of decades' time. I imagine that will be a real nuisance.
Arthur Phillip (Governor)

Dear Mr Phillip,
Thank you for your letter, which was passed on to me by my chief of staff, a small she-oak. I am afraid I must confess that I have never heard of this 'New South Wales' of which you speak, but I take it that it is some kind of marvellous kingdom in the sky, and so I have taken immediate action, ordering my courtiers to stand in the gardens hurling beef and toast skywards until you are fully provisioned.
King George III of Great Britain and Ireland (Mrs)

Dear Lord Sydney,
WTF have you got me into, you bastard?
Arthur Phillip (Depressed)

Or you can get it at iTunes via this text link.

8 Responses to ‘Error Australis, by Ben Pobjie’

WarDog ducks in to say...

Posted June 8, 2016
iTunes?? Hook me like that and leave me wanting - you bastard!

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pedrogb is gonna tell you...

Posted June 8, 2016
I've always enjoyed his recaps of one of those cooking shows, very amusing, so it's in the kindle now.
Thanks for the tip

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Gutz mutters...

Posted June 8, 2016
Hey JB? a bit of warning for us unsuspecting morning types that laughs and etc, shall be contained within. Both nostrils now have caffeine osmosis due to me snorting my coffee out not least more than once!
Far King Fu Nee.

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she_jedi reckons...

Posted June 8, 2016
"Cow trees" Bwahahaha! It's early and I'm uncaffeinated and for some reason that really tickled my funny bone. I must read the rest!

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insomniac has opinions thus...

Posted June 8, 2016
Ben's writing almost always generates a genuine LOL moment. I can handle a column or two but a whole book might just do me in.

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Lulu asserts...

Posted June 8, 2016
Heh, I am reading Leviathan (recently bought) at the moment. This will make an interesting parallel read.

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Don Bagert mumbles...

Posted June 9, 2016
You sure that a character from "Here Be Monsters" didn't wander in to give Governor Phillip some content for his far-seeing letters? lol

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Nancy Lovato swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted June 9, 2016
Many Lols!!
Clever man this Pobje.
His light may not hide under a bushel much longer, methinks!????

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Respond to 'Error Australis, by Ben Pobjie'

Extract. "Nations Divided" by Steven P Vincent

Posted December 16, 2015 into Book Extract by John Birmingham


Rashid Sirhan opened his eyes at the sound of her voice, blinking quickly as he tried to adjust to the harsh overhead lighting. “Sorry, just napping.”

The nurse smiled kindly, the usual twinkle in her eyes. “I’ve got your pills, Mr. Sirhan. I’m glad you finally got some sleep.”

The young nurse filled his palm with a rainbow assortment of drugs, like his father used to with candy when he was a child. He shook his head at the thought, stuffed the pills into his mouth and washed them down with some water. The pills certainly didn’t taste like his childhood, but instead felt like one more insult heaped upon many others as he’d grown old.

“All done?” Her voice had an edge of menace. She’d probably had problems with other patients today.

“Mission accomplished.” Rashid opened his mouth to show her, then closed it. “I’ll look forward to my lollipop.”

She ignored the jibe and he closed his eyes again. As he relaxed and tried to ease back into sleep, Rashid heard the nurse push the drug cart to the next bed. Before he had the chance to drift off, he was gripped by a coughing fit, a dry and raspy reminder that he was down to one lung. The cancer that had plagued his body also destroyed his rest.

Just as his coughing subsided, Rashid heard a loud chattering sound from a few rooms away. The sound was unmistakable, akin to a half-dozen small firecrackers exploding in quick succession. Even before the squeals and shouts had started, he’d figured out what was happening: a standard-issue Israeli assault rifle was firing on full automatic. The IDF was here.

Rashid kicked off the covers and rolled out of bed, bracing as he landed hard on the ground. He’d be damned if he’d make himself an easy target or let the shrapnel from a frag grenade catch him in bed. Coughing again, he ducked low and listened. The gunfire relented for a moment, ripped off again, then stopped once more. The pattern – shoot and pause – hinted at one gunman.

Glancing around for a weapon, any kind, he ignored the noise and chaos around him as others fled the gunfire. He settled on a metal kidney dish and struggled to his feet, knowing this would be his last stand. Refusing to die on his knees, Rashid stood tall as the sound of the gunfire moved closer.

The door to the ward swung open. Rashid squeezed the kidney dish tighter as a male patient and a nurse ran through the door and towards him. The woman fell as gunfire found her, leaving a spray of blood in her wake. A second later, the man dropped as well.

The gunman walked through the door, dressed from head to toe in the uniform of the Israeli army and the triple chevron that revealed him to be a samal – a sergeant. Rashid stood as proud as he could, unwilling to let the Israeli see him take a backward step.

While Rashid had launched rockets into Israel before, likely killing civilians, he figured you had to be a special kind of killer to shoot up a hospital. Or the closest thing Gaza had to a hospital, anyway. He wasn’t sure how many had died, but as he lifted the kidney dish Rashid felt anger course through him.

The Israeli sergeant’s features betrayed no emotion as he brought the assault rifle up. Rashid swallowed hard and threw the kidney dish at the Israeli. The projectile hit the other man on the chest and then clattered to the tiles, the lamest possible resistance. Rashid didn’t care. He hadn’t run away.

It wasn’t

As dignitaries descend on New York City for the signing of the historic peace agreement between Israel and Palestine, many remain skeptical that a deal will be finalized. Though both camps say that all issues are close to being fully resolved and that the massacre at Gaza’s Al Amal Hospital has brought the parties closer to a deal, the world has seen too many false starts on this issue to be certain of an agreement. Until pen touches paper, the stakes will remain high and nobody has more to gain, or lose, from the agreement than President Bill McGhinnist, who has worked tirelessly to resolve this issue before the end of his first term.
--New York Standard

Jack Emery’s eyes darted back and forth across the page, consuming the news for the day. He licked his finger and turned a page with one hand while he fumbled for his coffee with the other. The shock from the story on page five caused him to knock over his coffee cup, drowning the Post’s scoop about a Supreme Court justice being photographed at a titty bar.

“Damn it.” Jack reached for a napkin and mopped at the spill, trying his best to save the rest of the newspaper.

“Nice work.” Celeste Adams’ voice was heavy with sleep. “Good thing you never listen to me about the advantages of reading the news on your iPad.”

Jack looked up. Despite the mess, he couldn’t resist a smile as she leaned against the doorframe, wearing panties and a tank top. “Hey.”

“Hey.” She pushed herself off, walked toward him and reached for his plate. “Why’d you let me sleep so late?”

He swatted at her hand and his smile turned into a frown when she stole the remains of his bagel, biting into the last morsel. A smear of cream cheese remained on her lip. He stood, took her hands in his and kissed her deeply, using his tongue to lick at the cheese. She laughed and pulled away. They looked at each other for a second and then shared another kiss.

“Too cute to wake.” Jack gave her hands a squeeze, pulled away and made a show of eyeing her up and down.

She gave him a gentle slap on the rear, then rounded the table and took a seat. “Any of the papers survive your drenching?”

He considered the mess. “Not sure. They all look a bit moist.”

“Gross. That word should only be used to describe cake.”

Jack laughed as she grabbed the New York Standard and started to flick through it with the practiced eye of someone who’d edited the paper the previous afternoon. She never knew how to disconnect from her work, though it wasn’t like he could talk. He left her with the paper, walked to the kitchen and put a bagel into the toaster for her.

He thought about the strange situation that existed between them. Though Jack felt their relationship was equal to the one he’d had with his ex-wife – loving and supportive and exciting – sometimes it felt neither of them ever switched off from work enough to enjoy it. Celeste was living in a townhouse in New York and working as managing editor at the Standard, while he was living in Washington and working for President Bill McGhinnist. It had been that way for three years. He traveled to New York every second weekend, where they spent their time together feigning normalcy until he caught a late flight out of JFK on Sunday night. It was hard, but worth it.

The bagel popped. He gave it a liberal spread of cream cheese then picked up the plate and walked back into the dining room, stealing a glance over her shoulder at the story she was reading as he placed the plate down. It was yet another story about Israel and Palestine. The papers had been full of them for weeks.

“It’ll work.” Jack placed a hand on her shoulder.

“I’m not sure.” She grabbed his hand and held it to her body as she finished reading the story. Then she reached for the bagel, took a bite and started to talk with her mouth full. “There have been so many letdowns it’s hard to get too excited. Bringing them all into town was a ballsy move.”
He nodded and sat beside her. They’d discussed the Israeli–Palestinian peace agreement deep into the night. Both of them were hopeful – but neither convinced – that the two sides would agree on the final few sticking points and get it done. Things had moved a long way since the massacre at the hospital in Gaza a few months prior, but the deal was a complicated one to negotiate.

“It’d be huge for McGhinnist. It’s been a slog these past few years. He needs a big win leading up to the election.”

“Plenty of presidents have tried, and failed, to crack the Israel–Palestine nut in their time, Jack.” Celeste squeezed his hand gently. “If he’s relying on this to get him over the line then it might be best to start preparing for life after the White House.”

“He’ll win.” Jack’s tone made it clear he didn’t want to discuss the possibility of Bill McGhinnist losing the presidency.

“Just don’t get too invested, okay?”

Jack nodded. It wasn’t the first time she’d told him to be careful since he’d taken the job as special advisor to the President. While McGhinnist had no shortage of big ideas and a decent record of steering them through Congress, his popularity had taken a hit in recent months. Given America was still healing from the near takeover of the country by the Foundation for a New America and the full takeover by FEMA, Jack couldn’t blame the public for some political fatigue. Yet he still felt the situation was unfair. McGhinnist had halted the blanket monitoring of US citizens and limited other impositions in place since 9/11, but those successes were yesterday’s news – McGhinnist needed a new win.

The peace would be that.

Jack had spent nearly a year working with McGhinnist and US negotiator Karl Long to help shepherd the peace agreement between Israel and Palestine through complex negotiations and, at times, fraught decisions. Over countless meetings and phone calls, the sides had worked out problems large and small until, finally, they’d reached agreement on all issues but one: Israeli settlements. Despite this, McGhinnist had made the gutsy decision to schedule a date for the signing, hoping it would help to force a resolution on the last issue. McGhinnist had even authorized Long to throw out a few carrots if it meant getting a deal.

He’d be lying if he pretended not to care about the politics of it, given part of his job was to leverage wins like this into political gain for the President. But Jack’s primary responsibility, and the sole reason he’d agreed to work for McGhinnist in the first place, was achieving good policy outcomes. The peace agreement was one of those. Any political benefits were a bonus.

“McGhinnist needs this to show he can build something positive. He needs to prove he can do more than just remove the excesses of others. This feels different. It feels good. He’s going to get it done.”

“Well, I hope you’re right. He’s proven before that he can take on big policy issues and win.” Celeste pushed her plate aside. “Do you have much work to do today?”

“Not particularly. The President flies in later tonight, but he’s straight into meetings with Karl.” Jack thought hard, to make sure he hadn’t forgotten any appointments. “All clear.”

“Glad to hear it. I get the feeling this might be the last break you get for a while, so I want you to make the most of it.” She stood. “Now, are you coming or not?”

Jack’s eyes widened as she walked slowly out of the kitchen. With each step, she exaggerated the movement of her hips slightly. She raised her tank top over her head and tossed it on the floor, then paused and dropped her panties. As he watched her walk to the bedroom, Jack grabbed the last bite of the bagel left on her plate, stood and followed her.

It was good to be home.


Samih Khaladi waited at the crossing as dozens of cars blitzed through the intersection. He loved New York City, though not for the reasons most people did. It wasn’t about the skyscrapers, the bustle or the attractions. What moved him was that so many people – all kinds of people – could live so closely together in relative harmony and safety. It was chaotic, but it worked.

The lights changed and he crossed the street with his pair of security guards in tow, doing his best to stay a step or two ahead. If he had the choice, he’d go without the security entirely, but President McGhinnist had insisted the negotiators be escorted at all times when they were outside. Given Samih was representing Palestine in the peace negotiations, he had little choice.
He slowed as he caught sight of a Starbucks, then smiled and turned to his security. “I’m just going to get a—”

“Mr. Khaladi?” One of the guards interrupted, as the other looked at his watch. “We need to return to the UN building, sir. The lunch hour ends soon.”

Samih sighed. He hated being on a schedule. It wasn’t the guard’s fault, but it was annoying. “Okay, but first let me grab a coffee.”

“There’s coffee back at the meeting, sir.” The guard was insistent. “I really must insist that we turn back.”

Samih felt his face flush. “The entire world will wait for me today if they have to. I’m one of the people trying to end the most intractable political conflict on the planet. I want a coffee, from here, so please wait outside for me while I go inside to get one.”

Samih exhaled loudly and the door to the Starbucks felt his displeasure, as he pushed it open with some force. His security didn’t seem happy and Samih didn’t like throwing his weight around, but he wanted a few more minutes before returning to the pressure cooker. He waited in line for just a moment and then he reached the front.

“How’re you today, sir?” An attendant struggled to feign interest. “What can I get for you?”
Samih swallowed his irritation and did his best to smile. “I would like a coffee please.”

The man stared at him blankly. “Which kind, sir? You’re supposed to know your order by the time you reach the front.”

Samih’s eyes narrowed as he considered the menu. “An Americano. A large one.”

Samih paid and moved to the end of the counter, struggling not to laugh at the inanity of the exchange. After being involved in negotiations over land borders, migration of peoples and security issues – all incredibly high stakes – he’d had to be stepped through ordering a coffee by a college kid. Thinking about it cheered him up.

As he closed his wallet, he glanced at the photo he kept inside and felt a pang of regret. All he wanted for his people was peace, for them to be able to enjoy fast food, entertainment, shopping malls and sporting games without the threat of extremist violence or Israeli gunships. He wanted a nation for them. All that remained was closing the deal and hoping it was accepted. Only a few short years ago, Samih would have been at the front of the line of Palestinians decrying this agreement. Worse, he’d have advocated and committed violence to stop it from being signed. He’d been caught in a cycle of hate that served nobody and only left people dead. It was why he kept the photo of his brother close.

After his brother had been killed by an Israeli airstrike in retaliation for an attack Samih had ordered, Samih had faced a choice. In his anger, he’d considered further attacks, but he’d mourned and seen another way. Forming a breakaway group of Hamas, he’d banded with the Palestinian Liberation Organization to take the battle to the unreformed extremists. The conflict had been bloody – moderates and hardliners engaged in open warfare on the streets, with Israeli gunships occasionally adding their own fire and noise to the mess. The moderates had won, at huge cost. Samih had been offered leadership of the new, unified Palestinian authority but had declined in order to focus on peace.

“Sir?” A Starbucks staff member touched Samih on the arm. “Sir? Your coffee is ready.”
Samih shook his head. He was always prone to deep reflection on the past, but it seemed to be happening more lately. He took the coffee. “Thank you.”

He walked outside and didn’t wait for his security to fall into line. The walk back to the UN building was uneventful. As he walked, he thought about the draft agreement. Though it didn’t give his people everything they wanted, or deserved, it was by far the best deal that could be achieved. A good deal, peace and a state were better than waiting forever for the perfect deal.
The agreement had to succeed.

Back inside the building, Samih juggled his coffee as he returned to his seat with the other delegates. Everyone had the same goal: resolving the last issue. Samih represented the Palestinians and Ben Ebron represented the Israelis, as they’d done for years, aided in the negotiations by the US Special Envoy for Israeli–Palestinian Relations, Karl Long.
The last person to enter the room was in some ways the most important – Liliana Garza, Secretary-General of the United Nations. She’d obliged US President Bill McGhinnist’s demands for the signing ceremony to be scheduled and for the talks to be finalized. Samih watched Garza as she walked to the head of the table.

“Gentlemen, I trust you enjoyed lunch?” She held her arms wide, a typically welcoming gesture from her during the tough negotiations. “If we’re to sign an agreement tomorrow, we have this session to resolve the final issue. We left off at—”

“Compensation for displaced Israeli settlers.” Ebron cut the pleasantries short, his voice sharp. “Israel is committed to finding a way through this issue and finalizing the agreement, but it mustn’t be at the expense of our own people. There needs to be a strong package that I can take to my government.”

Samih’s lips pressed together but he kept quiet. Though he found it hard to comprehend that the final sticking point after three years of negotiations could be payments to Israelis who’d annexed the lands of his people, he knew that without compensation there would be no peace. He’d learned the hard way that one wrong word could destroy much painstaking work.

Garza took the interruption in her stride. “I’ve had my staff working the phones during the lunch hour. United Nations member states have agreed to contribute forty percent of the compensation amount. The rest of the world has done its part, now it’s the turn of the others in this room.”
Samih was surprised by the news, but smiled sadly. “This is an area where the Palestinian people can make little contribution. We are not a rich people.”

Ebron flared. “Unacceptable. The Palestinians must contribute—”

Samih held up his hand. “However, upon achieving statehood, Palestine will set aside one percent of government revenue until one-tenth of the total is paid.”

Ebron’s mouth fell open slightly, before he seemed to catch himself and right his composure. “That’s a welcome gesture, Mr. Khaladi, and one I didn’t expect.”

Samih smiled. He’d planned on just that and the effect had been powerful. For the diminutive state of Palestine to make a financial contribution to resettling Israelis was a game changer. Samih had long argued the presence of the settlers was illegal, but in the interests of peace this concession had to be made. He hoped it would be enough.

Long tapped his signet ring on the table. It had stopped bothering Samih, because it appeared be a habit. “The President has authorized me to increase the contribution of the United States to twenty-five percent, but that’s as high as we’re going to go.”

“A very generous offer.” Samih nodded.

“Twenty-five percent remains.” Ebron sighed as he looked at each of them, as if the pressure of expectation was too much.

“Mr. Ebron?” Garza’s voice was gentle. “Do you need a recess to consult with your colleagues and consider Israel’s position?”

“No, that won’t be necessary.” Ebron sighed. “It burns me to my core that Israel must contribute financially to the displacement of its own citizens, but the pressure of tomorrow’s deadline and the aftermath of the Al Amal massacre leave me little choice. I agree.”

“Wonderful.” Garza beamed. “Any costs borne out of this agreement will be more than paid for by the peace and prosperity that also flows from it.”

“It’s agreed then?” Long’s eyes widened as they flicked between Samih and Ebron. “We have something to sign?”

“The agreement is suitable for Israel, if a little expensive.” Ebron placed his palms flat on the table. “I hope this can be the end of it.”

Now Samih felt the weight of expectation. He looked down at his notes, trying to think of any negatives for his people that he might have missed. He’d already gained the agreement of his leadership on the draft text, with the exception of the issues worked out during this final day. There was nothing in the last few resolutions that would prevent the deal being agreed. It was good enough.

“Well?” Long’s voice had an edge.

Samih looked up. He rested his elbows on the table with a smile. “My friends, this is an important day. We’ve achieved peace.”

The ever-serious Ebron leaned back and spun around on his chair, while Long slapped the table and sported a wide grin. Samih closed his eyes and allowed himself a moment of reflection. This occasion had been so long in coming, he never thought he’d see it. Thousands dead, generations ruined, years wasted. He hoped his people would welcome the peace on offer.

“Excuse me, Mr. Khaladi?”

Samih opened his eyes. Ebron was standing in front of him. “Yes?”

“I’d like to shake your hand.”

Samih stood, feeling all the weight of his sixty years, then shook the proffered hand. “This is a momentous day, my friend.”

“It is.” Ebron nodded and pulled his hand away, clearly not used to being so personable.

“We will sign the agreement tomorrow.” Garza joined them, the relief in her voice clear. “Twenty-eight days after that, there will be peace.”


“Zed Eshkol is professor of history at Yeshiva University, a position he’s held for nearly forty years. He lectures in Jewish history and his specialty is the politics surrounding the creation of Israel following the Second World War. He’s considered one of the world’s leading thinkers on the causes and consequences of conflict between Israel and its neighbors, including the Palestinian people.”

When the crowd started its applause, Zed planted his cane on the ground, pushed on it heavily and climbed to his feet. Letting the cane support him, he shuffled slowly to the stage. At the bottom of the stairs he paused, making a mental note to talk to the staffer who’d selected the venue. Zed wasn’t as spry as he used to be.

“Thank you, Ariel.” Zed spoke softly, short of breath, once he’d reached the top of the stairs. He patted the man on the shoulder.

Ariel beamed. “No problem, professor. Good luck with your lecture.”

As Zed moved to the lectern, he reflected that, while Ariel had promise, he needed to be molded. He adjusted the microphone, handed his cane to another staffer and gripped the sides of the lectern as if his life depended on it. After checking his notes were in place, he looked up to the packed theatre. That audiences still came to see him speak was a thrill to him.

“Thank you all for coming. My thanks also to Ariel, who’s organized a great program for us.” Zed smiled. “I do wish I wasn’t here tonight, though, or that we at least had a better reason to come together, but here we are. I’ll speak for just a few moments, then we’ll enjoy supper and reconvene for questions and discussion.”

Zed looked down at his notes and used the pause to catch his breath before speaking again. “Quite simply, my friends, the peace agreement that will be signed tomorrow is a betrayal of Israel and the Jewish people, who gained their freedom and a state of their own after one of the darkest episodes in human history.”

Zed looked up at the crowd. He usually didn’t like mentioning the Holocaust, but there was no way to avoid it this evening. “I’ll not speak of the Holocaust again, though many of you know that I survived it, but please be clear that the situation facing us tomorrow is the most desperate since that terrible chapter in our history.

“Israel has existed and grown despite being under the dark cloud of conflict. Every citizen has military training, its armed forces are potent, Mossad is rightly feared and a nuclear stockpile is the ultimate deterrent. Indeed, Israel has defended itself against aggression many times, often in desperate circumstances. It has never been belligerent, but always vigilant.”

Zed paused and looked around the theatre. For a hastily convened event, the turnout was excellent. It gave him hope that, while the vast majority of the world and the American public wanted a deal between Israel and Palestine, there was still a cohort of the faithful. Over nine decades, he’d learned that where there was a glimmer of hope, there was the possibility of deliverance.

He continued. “Through it all, Israel has showed remarkable restraint in dealing with this aggression. Sometimes against better judgment, it has tolerated and negotiated when others would have struck, resorting to retaliation only when it’s absolutely necessary. Israel invested in the Iron Dome, to stop rocket attacks, rather than spending more on jets and rockets to flatten the attackers.”

Zed started to cough. Turning away from the lectern, he raised one hand to cover his mouth, but made sure to keep the other in place. He felt as if knives were stabbing him in the chest as his body clenched with each cough, though he did his best to calm himself and bring it under control. A few members of the crowd shouted out for someone to help him.

Someone gripped his arm and he heard Ariel’s voice. “Professor, are you okay? I’ll ask for an early recess.”

“No!” Zed coughed again and then looked up to Ariel, his voice sharp. “Just give me a moment.”
“Okay, professor. Take your time, at least.”

Zed kept his back to the audience as he brought the coughing under control. Finally, the worst of it subsided and he returned to the lectern. “My apologies for the interruption, ladies and gentlemen. I frequently find that my body is my toughest critic these days.”

The crowd offered sympathetic smiles and small laughs. He continued. “Israel’s restraint hasn’t been enough. For decades the world has judged and threatened Israel, twisting the arm of its leaders to show further restraint, make deals and repudiate its right to exist, peacefully, within its own borders.

“Yet while Israel has attempted to co-exist with its neighbors and the Palestinians in the hope of peace, it’s never enough. Israel’s enemies aim for total annihilation while the world expects capitulation to the demands of cutthroats and criminals.

“Thankfully, strong Israeli leaders long resisted those demands. But now, weak leaders are happily slitting their own throats. A massacre perpetrated by a madman, sad though it was, has pressured Israel’s leaders into signing an agreement that is evil. It will split an Israeli state that should always be strong.”

Zed paused. He’d thought long and hard about the next part of his speech. “The United Nations and the USA are revisionists who helped to grant Israel its freedom only to convince the country’s leaders, now, to abandon much of that freedom – to act, to defend itself, to exist within its own borders.

“This agreement mustn’t be signed. It represents the eradication of an Israeli state at the height of its power, the betrayal of our people and a disgrace before God. Every free-thinking Jew the world over needs to stand against this travesty, or history will judge this generation as the one that killed the dream of Israel!”

Zed felt an enormous wave of pleasure and relief wash over him as applause roared. He smiled slightly and gripped the lectern until the noise receded, then waved a hand lazily in the air and signaled for a staffer to bring his cane. It would take him an eternity to get down the stairs again.
By the time he’d managed the journey and taken a seat, most of the rest of the crowd was busy getting supper in the foyer. Zed wasn’t interested in making small talk. Instead, he wanted time to himself before the questions started and other eminent speakers joined him on stage.

But he never got the chance. A man approached and leaned down to speak to him. “Professor Eshkol? I’m David Kahlon. May I have a moment?”

Zed smiled softly, unable to help himself but careful to hide it. Men like these were as regular as clockwork. “Of course.”

Kahlon nodded and sat. “Professor, I wanted to pay my respects on behalf of the Jewish Home. Many of my colleagues share your views.”

Zed laughed. He’d closely followed the statements of Jewish Home – one of Israel’s major conservative political parties – about the peace agreement. “It’s a shame the government does not. I think it’s important that those with a public voice continue to advocate sanity.”
“Couldn’t agree more, professor. I’ve been asked to sound you out, again, for your interest in becoming a citizen of Israel and running to join the Knesset.”

Zed shook his head softly. This felt like the thousandth time he’d been asked to join the Israeli parliament. But he was old, tired and comfortable. He’d had his chance at the spotlight after surviving the Holocaust and helping to establish Israel, but had chosen instead to make his contribution in academia.

“Professor?” Kahlon pressed.

“Your request just takes me back some years.” Zed smiled. “I think you know my answer. I’m an old man.”


Zed held up his hand. “No. Please respect my decision. I’ll continue doing all I can to speak against this peace process, and to support the right conservatives with my voice during Israeli elections, but that’s the sum of my contribution. I’m not a man for the limelight, Mr. Kahlon. Now, please excuse me.”

There was a tinge of regret in Kahlon’s smile, but they shook hands and he left. Zed forgot about him quickly. He had a lecture to finish.

3 Responses to ‘Extract. "Nations Divided" by Steven P Vincent’

Dave W ducks in to say...

Posted December 16, 2015

Halwes puts forth...

Posted December 17, 2015
Try going to a barbie and putting a the Palestinian point of view. People look at you like you've stuck a turd under their noses.

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Dave W would have you know...

Posted December 21, 2015
Aaaaand...enjoyed. The three books are excellent, cracking reads. Thanks Mr Vincent for the writing and JB for the tip.

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