Celebration and Acts of War Snippet

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Acts of War just passed 60 pre-orders.  In celebration, Pandora’s Memories will be free from 7-12 November.

Here’s a quick snippet from Acts of War.  Just a reminder, it goes live on 11 November.  Tell your friends, your friends’ friends, and anyone you just happen to be acquainted with!

Thames River

0900 Local (0400 Eastern)

23 August 1942

London was burning.

Somehow I doubt that this is quite how anyone expected Adolf Hitler’s death to turn out, Adam Haynes thought bitterly as he regarded the burning capital’s skyline.  The wind, thankfully, was blowing away from where he and his girlfriend stood at the bow of the Accalon.  Adam had the awful feeling that if it had been blowing toward the 40-foot pleasure yacht, there would have been many, many smells he would have preferred to forget filtering their way.

Like Guernica, only…he started to think.

With a roar, a Junkers 52 swept low over the Accalon’s deck, its passage so close that the aircraft’s slipstream fluttered the white flag hanging from the yacht’s antennae mast.  An intense, white-hot rage sprung from within him as he watched the canary yellow German transport.

I hope you crash, you bastard, Adam thought, blood rushing into his ears.

“Adam, my hand!” A woman’s voice broke through his fury.

With a start, Adam realized that he was well on the way to breaking his companion’s hand.  Although such an act was always unconscionably bad form, it was doubly so when its possessor was the cousin, albeit distant, of England’s king.

“God, Clarine, I’m…” Adam started, opening his hand as if suddenly realizing it held a hot brick.  His face colored to the roots of his thinning brown hair, making his blue eyes all that more intense.  At a shade under six feet, with shoulders broad enough to fit on a man six inches taller, Adam looked very much like a bear wearing an RAF uniform. Unfortunately, when enraged, he had the strength to match.

“That is quite alright,” Clarine Windsor replied lightly, doing her best to smile as she worked her hand.  A small, wiry woman who stood several inches shorter than Alex in the black flats that came with her Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) uniform, Clarine was far from weak.  Still, her pale face was scrunched up in obvious pain.

Holy shit, I hope I didn’t hurt her, Adam thought guiltily.  Seeing his worry, Clarine brought up her left hand and brushed back a stray blonde hair, her brown eyes meeting Adam’s as she smiled.

“You were just having the same thought I had: wishing you could shoot the bastard,” she said simply.  “It’s understandable, given what has happened these last few days.”

Still no reason to try and convert your hand to paste, Adam thought.  You didn’t drop the bomb that killed Hitler.

“Understandable, but most unfortunate,” her father, Awarnach Windsor, stated as he joined them at the yacht’s bow.  “Especially as his escorts would probably blow the Accalon out of the water.”

Looking up and back toward the vessel’s stern, Adam mentally kicked himself for not noticing the eight Me-410s circling roughly four thousand feet above their heads.  The gray fighters were hard to see in the haze of smoke roiling off London, but that was no excuse.  Smoke had been a fact of life for Fighter Command over the last two weeks, and failing to see an opponent hiding in it was just as fatal as if the assault came from more naturally formed clouds.

“While I am sure you wish you had a Spitfire right now,” Awarnach observed flatly, “I doubt your efforts would be any more successful than they were previously.”

You bastard, Adam thought, fighting to keep his emotions off his face.  The tone of Awarnach’s voice had far too much “told you so” in it.

“Well father, at least someone was attempting to defend our nation,” Clarine observed coolly.  “Since many of those who were born to it could not raise themselves from their slumber.”

Awarnach turned his baleful gaze from Adam to his daughter.

“Those of us who were ‘slumbering’, as you put it, merely believed we should have continued to enjoy the peace we had hammered out rather than meddle in affairs on the continent,” Awarnach replied.  “Instead, that idiot Churchil has now managed to make us forget his idiocy at Gallipoli.”

“This is hardly the same as…”

“No?!” Awarnach snapped.  He turned and pointed off their port bow, to where London’s East End was starting to come into view.  “Tell me that is not more terrible than some idiotic frontal assault on the Ottomans.”

The “that” in question was the furious blaze that roared unchecked almost as far as the eye could see.  The low rumble of the fire was a constant sound beating upon their senses, but Adam had managed to suppress it by concentrating on the river itself.  Now, as if Awarnach had ripped open a shade, the magnitude of Fighter Command’s defeat lay before them.  It was like looking into a corner of Hell, and Adam was once more glad that the wind was blowing so strongly from their back.

Once you’ve smelled burning flesh, you have no desire to enjoy that particular sensation again, Adam thought.

“You can’t negotiate with the Germans,” Adam said lowly, feeling the rage starting to creep back again.

“Oh?  Well then, I am certainly glad that you have pointed this out for me, my American friend.  Unfortunately, it would appear that your President and Congress feel very, very differently.”

“Father…”

“No, please, I would like to hear this fine young man explain to me why we should not negotiate with the Germans when his countrymen cannot be bothered to even help us,” Awarnach raged, his own face starting to color to match Adam’s.

“It wasn’t our President that chose to accept the armistice with Himmler after Bomber Command killed Hitler,” Adam snapped.

“Oh?  And what would you have had us do?  Were we somehow going to invade France by ourselves?  Perhaps build a massive bomber fleet like that idiot Portal wanted to and bomb the Reich’s cities into rubble?  Would that have satisfied your need for bloodlust?  There was nothing more that could be done!”

“Yes, well, perhaps the people in that,” Adam said, gesturing toward the burning city in front of them, “would have preferred you not giving the Germans over a year to perfect their bombing techniques.”

“Perhaps, gentlemen,” Clarine said crisply, her hand pointing, “we should be more concerned about that patrol boat’s intentions.”

Adam followed the point and saw the craft she was speaking of.  One of the Royal Navy’s MTB-class boats, the vessel was moving away from where it had been standing off the docks and turning toward the Accalon.  As they watched, the craft began accelerating, signal light blinking furiously.

“Conroy, come about!” Awarnach shouted back towards the wheel house.  Adam felt the Accalon’s engines stop, the helmsman turning her broadside to the oncoming MTB.

Holy shit, Adam thought, translating the other vessel’s Morse code.  He was about to say something when Awarnach spoke first.

“My God,” Awarnach said, his face paling.  “Gas?!”

“Obviously you’ve never read Douhet,” Adam observed dryly.

“Who?” Clarine asked.

“The Italian Trenchard,” Adam continued smoothly.  “He recommended using gas in addition to incendiaries on enemy population centers.  Explains the no-confidence vote a little better, I think.”

The patrol boat began slowing, its own helmsman swinging the vessel wide so that he could put it alongside the Accalon.  Three men crowded the bow and, with a start, Adam realized they were wearing full hoods and rubber gloves.  Seeing that no one aboard the Accalon was in the bulky protective suits, the man standing in the center reached up and pulled the hooded apparatus off of his head.

Well now, small world, isn’t it? Adam thought, feeling a smile cross his face as he regarded Lieutenant Commander Reginald Slade, Royal Navy.  Tall, almost gaunt, with a face whose left side was thoroughly scarred from the explosion of a German shell, Slade wore his blonde hair closely cropped.

“You seem to be a fair distance from the North Atlantic, Mr. Haynes,” Slade shouted as the patrol boat drew smoothly alongside the Accalon, his face breaking in a wry grin that reached his eyes.  Reaching up, the RN officer scratched the area around his left eyepatch.  The motion drew attention to the damaged side of his face, and Adam heard Awarnach inhale sharply.

“Sorry, I have been wanting to do that for hours,” Slade said, ignoring the man’s gasp.

“Yeah, I can see how that might be the case,” Adam replied with a small smile.

“I do hope you folks aren’t planning on going any further down the Thames,” Slade continued.  “By King’s decrees the East End is off limits to anyone not on official business.”

“I’m trying to find one of my mate’s wife, mother, and child.  He’s in the hospital or else he’d be down here himself,” Adam said.

Slade grimaced at Adam’s words.

“Where did he say they were living?” the naval officer asked, his tone brusque.

“His mum’s apartment is in Poplar,” Adam replied, raising an eyebrow at the other man’s coldness.

Adam had seen the look that briefly crossed Slade’s face enough times to know what was coming next.  The man paused for a moment, obviously choosing his words carefully.

“Unless they were extraordinarily lucky, I wouldn’t hold out much hope, I’m afraid.  The Germans dropped some sort of gas that got all the way through the area, and then followed it up with incendiaries.  Without anyone to put out the fires…”

The officer’s trailing off said all that needed to be said.  In the last couple of days, Adam had heard a word for the phenomenon that some were calling the Second Great London Fire: Firestorm.  The East End had become one huge flame pit, and the Luftwaffe had returned for three solid days to help things spread.

“Thanks Commander Slade,” Adam spoke after a few moments more of quiet.  Sighing at the heavy burden that now lay upon him, he looked up again at the smoke-filled sky, hoping to catch a glimpse of the big Ju-52 again.

“Looking for that arse who came tearing through here about ten minutes ago?” Slade asked.

“Yes, actually,” Adam replied ruefully.

“I think that was Himmler arriving to negotiate terms with Lord Halifax.”

The disgust in Slade’s tone at the latter name almost matched the venom reserved for the first.

“Who knew there was a bigger bastard than Hitler in the Nazi Party?” Adam observed grimly.

“Certainly not that bunch of flyboys who killed him,” Slade shot back.  “Stupid pilots, always mucking things up.”

Clarine chuckled behind Adam.  Looking at Slade, Adam was unable to tell if the man was serious or not.

“Heard the poor bombardier blew his brains out yesterday,” Adam replied.  “Not his fault any of this,” he continued, gesturing towards the burning city, “happened.”

Slade shrugged.

“No, it’s not, but that’s what happens when you drop your bombs over a capital city.  Sometimes you hit things you don’t intend to,” Slade retorted bitterly.

Spoken like someone who’s never had to jettison something in order to make the fuel equation work out, Adam thought.  He’d been a pilot since his seventeenth birthday, and non-flyers’ superiority complexes never ceased to amaze him.

“Still.  Berlin’s a big city,” Adam allowed.  “No way they could’ve known they’d drop a bomb that would kill ol’ Adolf.”

Slade uttered a sound that made his disagreement quite clear on that one.

“Yes, and a 500-lb. bomb makes a big mess.  No matter, that bastard is dead now, Himmler took over, and our betters were dumb enough to believe that tripe the Germans were spouting about the Fuhrer’s loss making them recognize the error of their ways.”

“Excuse me, Lieutenant Commander, but as one of those betters,” Awarnach snapped, “maybe a better explanation was that we did not want to continue losing men such as yourself in a war that we quite clearly were not in position to win.”

Slade turned and looked at Awarnach, the contempt in his gaze almost physically palpable.

“So, in order to save my life, you buggered the French, spat on the rest of the Continent, pissed off the Americans, and gave Himmler breathing room,” Slade retorted, his voice cold as ice.  “During which time he hanged Goering, blew some industrialists’ heads out at a meeting, and thus apparently motivated them to build a bloody great lot of planes, bombs, gas, and submarines.”

Adam watched as Awarnach’s face began to color while Slade continued, obviously taking a great relish in venting his spleen.

“Of course, the bloody Krauts then proceeded to kill a whole lot more of my countrymen.  Capital work, your Lordship, just capital, please do not go into anything of importance.”

Awarnach’s mouth worked in shock.  Before he could reply, one of the sailors stuck his head out of the patrol boat’s bridge.

“Lieutenant Commander, we have been ordered to a new location,” the man called.

Slade continued locking his gaze with Awarnach.  It was the older man whose stare broke.

“Would hate to keep you, Lieutenant Commander,” Awarnach said, his voice strained.  “I’ll go back to the bridge and con us out of your path.”

“Well, guess we will be about it then,” Slade replied, watching the man walk stiffly away.

“So what’s going to happen to you next?” Adam asked.  “If that is Himmler negotiating the peace treaty.”

Slade gave a sideways glance to Clarine.

“I do not share my father’s views,” Clarine muttered quietly.  “Indeed, I think he and the rest of the House of Lords were, and remain, a bunch of fools.”

“In that case, understand that this war will not end here,” Slade said lowly.  “As Churchill said before the no confidence vote, there is an entire Commonwealth that will sustain the candle attempting to hold the darkness at bay.”

“You mean you’re going to flee to Australia or somewhere?” Adam asked, genuinely curious.

Slade snorted.

“You’d best do the same,” he replied.  “Rumor has it that Himmler intends to ask for all foreign fighters to be turned over as part of the peace treaty.”

“What?!”

“Well, can’t have a bunch of Poles, Danes, Norwegians, and Frenchmen hanging around and possibly doing something subversive, can you?  Especially not after they killed Milch while there was allegedly an armistice between Great Britain and Germany,” Sloan replied grimly.

With a cold feeling in his stomach, Adam could see the government being formed by Lord Halifax agreeing to such madness.  Even worse, he knew what the Nazis would likely do with the men.

“I’m flying with a Polish squadron,” Adam said quickly, his tone urgent.  “How do I get them the hell out of here.”

Again Slade gave Clarine a look, then held up his hand before Adam could say something.

“It is not that I mistrust her,” Slade said.  “However, you of all people know the Nazis as well as I do.  Have you heard the stories of how their Gestapo broke several of the Resistance cells in France during the last year?”

Clarine paled, looking almost physically ill.

The thought of being strapped to a metal mattress and electrocuted for hours on end doesn’t appeal to most people, Adam thought.  Especially given where those bastards were placing the electrodes.

“I will go speak with my father,” she said simply.  “Please hurry—I do not think he would be opposed to making you swim for it.”

Taking Adam’s hand and squeezing it, Clarine turned and departed.

“Get the whole bloody lot of your men to Portsmouth,” Slade said as soon as she was out of earshot.  He pulled out a piece of paper and a grease pen from under his rubber top.  Scribbling something quickly, he handed it over to Adam.

“You have less than twenty hours,” Slade said, meeting Adam’s eyes.  “After that, you best leave that pretty lass without any idea how to find you and disappear, as I get the distinct feeling that some of my former countrymen will be quite happy to ‘help’ run down foreign mercenaries.”

“Thanks Slade,” Adam replied, extending his hand.  The Lieutenant Commander took it with both of his.

“No, thank you,” Slade said, his voice raw with emotion.  “You and the others like you tried to save us, even when we have done little to deserve it.  Now only you remain.”

“I’m sorry we couldn’t do more.”

“Well, maybe you’ll have more opportunity one of these days.  Hopefully your President can make people see reason soon, or else it will be too late.”

“I think this,” Adam said, gesturing towards the burning docks behind Slade, “will help.”

“Yes, yes it will.  Now get out of here, and see to your men.”

With that, Slade drew himself up to attention and saluted.  Adam returned the salute, then watched as the man nimbly sprang back to the patrol boat.  The small craft backed away under low power, then ponderously turned its bow around.  Adam sighed as he heard Clarine’s soft footsteps behind him.

“Father is furious,” she said softly.  “Strangely, I don’t give a damn.”

“You know that I have to go almost as soon as we get back,” Adam said.  Turning, he saw Clarine’s eyes were moist already.

“Yes, yes I know,” she said softly.  “And there’s no chance father will let me out of his sight until you do so.”

Adam could hear the deep tone of bitterness in her voice.

“Life becomes very lonely when you hate your parents,” he said chidingly.

“I have half a mind to come with you,” Clarine replied fiercely.  “That would bloody well serve him right.”

“Well, wouldn’t be the first scandal an American has caused in this country,” he said musingly, rubbing his chin theatrically.

“I am serious, Adam,” Clarine retorted.

“I may not even be alive in a fortnight, Clarine,” Adam said somberly.  “Think about that.  Do you really want to throw away your future, inheritance, and family name for some vagabond American mercenary?”

Clarine searched his face.

“Is that really how you think I see you?”

“No, but it’s how your father and the rest of your social circle see me.  Yes, I come from the right circles and know which fork to start with at dinner, but at the end of the day I am like some exotic animal that is best petted and left alone.”

“Adam, I love you.”

“And I you,” Adam said, fighting the urge to sweep Clarine into his arms.  “So much that I will not let you ruin the rest of your life to flee with me.”

“What about what I want?” Clarine asked as the Accalon came around.  “Don’t I get to decide the rest of my life, or is that solely the province of my male betters?”

Adam sighed.

Strong women will be the death of me, he thought with a deep sense of melancholy.

“Why don’t you tell the truth, Adam?” Clarine continued.  “You’re scared of what will happen to me if I try to escape with you.”

“Yes, the thought of you drowning or freezing to death in the Atlantic does strike me with some trepidation.”

Clarine snarled in exasperation.

“Not every event in life ends the worst way possible, Adam!” she breathed lowly through clenched teeth.

Adam turned and looked behind him at the burning London, then back to Clarine.

“Perhaps now is not the time to try and convince me of this.  More importantly, Clarine, I have to look after my men.”

Clarine opened her mouth to argue, then stopped.

“Then when this boat docks will be the last time we see each other,” she replied coolly.

Adam felt as if someone had stomach punched him.  He started to reach for Clarine, but she held up her hand to stop him.

“You seem determined to leave Adam,” she said.  “You are even more determined to make sure I do not leave with you in some misguided attempt to ‘save’ me.  Perhaps it is best then, that I acknowledge you have greater experience in dealing with disastrous circumstances such as these.”

The words were delivered with cold precision, and they found their mark with the same brutal finality of a knife thrust.

“I do not want us to end this way, Clarine,” Adam bit out, feeling his stomach sinking to his feet.

“If you had stopped after the seventh word of that sentence,” Clarine said, her voice quavering, “I might have been inclined to reconsider.  Instead, I believe that I am feeling rather nauseous from the smoke and will go below.  Have a safe journey, Adam.”

With that, Clarine turned and began walking back towards the deckway hatch, moving quickly as she wiped at her face.  Adam watched her go, his stomach in knots.

Well, at least it’s an improvement from last time I went through this, he thought.  Fighting the urge to curse loudly, he slowly rotated back towards the Accalon’s bow, and then walked forward to where only the Thames could see his tears.

Throw some chum

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