B-Sides and Outtakes– “Armageddon Dawn”–Part III

Part III continues.  If you’ve just started following this blog, Part I can be found here.

Weather Mountain, VA

0800 Local (0700 Central)

“Sir, they’re all here,” Star-Colonel Sir Conrad Bradstock, Knight of the Bath to Queen Elizabeth I, said quietly.  The Englishman was massive, especially when one considered the average height of men in the 16th Century, his original time.  His beard, a flaming red, was trimmed in a sharp-pointed goatee, while his head was shaven completely bald.  Cool, blue eyes stared out from a narrow face, eyes that had obviously seen far too much even before his vessel had been sunk while raiding the Spanish Main.  Bradstock and the ten surviving members of his crew had been plucked from the Caribbean for “research purposes” by the Confederation Science Directorate in 1585.  Like many of Earth’s expatriates, the overwhelming majority of whom had gotten in position to be abducted/saved due to their adventurous nature, his mind had been open enough to accept the existence of aliens and their technological marvels.

“Who was the last to arrive?” CINC-TEC and Hero of the Confederation, Star General Adam Baines Connelly, asked.  A tall, broad-shouldered man, Adam looked like someone who had definitely lived a long and eventful life.  Like many men who assumed flag rank in the United States Army, he had been a combat veteran, in his case four times over, getting to see Panama, Desert Storm, Afghanistan, and Iraqi Freedom.  Unlike the vast majority of his peers, Adam had never forgotten what it meant to be a young junior officer, and he had always been a champion for soldier’s rights.

The latter was a large part of the reason why he had had only had two stars despite his stirling record—Adam had never been one to go along just to get along, not when it meant young men and women might die.  With all three of his sons joining the military shortly after he had made flag rank, Adam had had first-hand knowledge of the anguished worrying parents faced.  The past six years had made him even more aware of those horrors.

“President Nazarofa just arrived from Moscow five minutes ago,” Conrad replied.  “Seems that he wanted to give Spetznaz time to get a special reaction force in place.”

“Did they link up with the Special Forces and Rangers that are already outside?”

“Yes, and it brings the forces outside to a grand total of five hundred and seventy-five special ops folks waiting for the signal to attack this facility and seize or kill all twenty of us.”

Adam shook his head.  Even after seeing first hand that TEC’s personal battle suits were immune to normal small arms fire, President John Rutledge was trying to double cross him.  Fortunately for the soldiers outside, Adam had no intentions of wasting a resource so precious as highly-trained and motivated elite troops, especially when the universe’s largest supply of humanity was about to take a huge hit.

That old saying about people being the most precious resource was never so true, Adam thought.

“Have any of our people been sighted yet?”

Conrad snorted.

“Sir, if the Orionans cannot spot the bloody Tectals ninety percent of the time, why would this batch of idiots have a chance?”

Looking at Conrad’s lips, Adam once more marveled at the translator chip’s ability to adapt to dialects, local accents, and quaint phrases.  He had once heard Conrad speak without the translator chip in, back in the early days when its constant low vibration against his inner ear had occasionally bothered him.  The Queen’s English had certainly changed over the years, and that old saying about American versus English only made things worse.  While his Chief of Staff could, with great effort, speak discernible American, he was far more comfortable speaking in his native, anachronistic English.

“I was hoping that they were at least in rudimentary battle suits by now.  We had started experimenting with that technology when I left!”

“Well, apparently that program got cut, according to the records you had me review.  Seems like your fair leaders didn’t quite take the threat seriously enough, they were more concerned with lining their own pockets.”

“Bastards,” General Connelly said fiercely.  He fought the desire to go two levels up and start blazing away with the plasma pistol that resided in his battlesuit’s internal hip holster.  My son and over a million other humans are dead, and for what? he asked himself.  So the idiots in the next room can have gotten themselves fat off of cheap power and miracle cure patents?

            “Sir, it won’t do any good to go up there and kill every single one of them,” Star Colonel Jack Halwac, “Black Knight Six”, muttered lowly.  Halwac was a former member of the Special Air Service hostage rescue team and Adam’s chief of Special Operations.  “It won’t bring any of our dead back, and it certainly won’t give the spooks time to finish hacking all of the military and civilian communications networks.”

Adam took a deep breath and got control of his emotions.

“We need to do something about him,” he said, gesturing towards the far corner where the unconscious Presidential Chief of Staff lay, “before we open the door,” Adam said.  He was glad that they had disabled the four hidden cameras located inside the small office they had commandeered for the conference with Kwirh and Eric.

President John Rutledge, the 44th or 45th man to hold the office, depending on how one counted, had demanded that at least one representative from his government be present during his communication with Kwirh.  Laughing at how the presence of American soldiers outside the command post made the man far braver than he had been three days before in the Lincoln bedroom, Adam had agreed.  Emad Mahoney, Ph.D., had not been aware of First Contact, having been selected by Rutledge as an attempt to create diversity in his cabinet.  In their limited interaction, Adam had actually found the former Yale professor to be very competent and professional—which was the only reason he was still breathing.

“I’ll stay with him,” Halwac said.  “That’ll keep me out of the room and able to coordinate things without distractions.”

“Good enough.  Keep feeding Conrad with the status—the minute we’ve got control of those command and civilian nets, we’re ending this circus.  Time’s awastin’.”

“Wilco,” Halwac replied, turning away from the door.  His suit’s holocamera began projecting a high-detail map of the area within six kilometers of Weather Mountain on the far wall, with TEC and Earth troop positions marked.  As Conrad and Adam turned towards the door, they could hear him starting to give commands and ask for updates from the TEC Special Ops forces grouped around the facility.

The two men opened the door and quickly slipped through it, their bulk preventing the two Secret Service men outside from getting a clear look in before they closed the door.

“Where’s Dr. Mahoney?” the younger of the two men asked, his hand subconsciously drifting towards the pistol at his waist.  Adam and Conrad both moved to clear each other’s arcs of fire, the movement smooth and unhurried.

“He is still inside monitoring our communication as President Rutledge asked,” Conrad snapped.  “Is there a problem?” he asked, his Enlish accent thickening with the rise of his anger.

“Yeah, we were told that he was to accompany you back to the main briefing room,” the younger agent said.  His hand was clearly on his weapon now, eyes defiantly meeting Conrad’s as he started stepping forward.

“I think the orders on how many men were allowed into that room were quite clear, Agent Dawson,” Adam said sharply to the older agent.  Thank God we’ve already hacked the Secret Service agent database, he thought to himself, his suit having presented the requisite image onto his retina.  While some officers, specifically Eric Walthers, had refused the insertion of the nanites that allowed him to seamlessly join with his suit, Adam had found the ability to have information overlain directly onto his eyeball quite helpful on numerous occasions.

Taken aback that Adam knew his name, Agent Dawson put a hand on his younger companion’s arms.

“Dan, ‘Silverfish’ was quite clear that we were not to interfere with these men in any way,” Dawson said, using the codename for Secret Service Director Donald Townshend.

‘Dan’ was clearly not happy about his partner’s decision, unaware just how close to a violent and sudden death he was.  Conrad had come from an era where killing men up close and personal with one’s bare hands was often a necessity.  Given the power that his battle suit gave him, and the generally foul mood he was in, he would have probably made Dan swallow the pistol if he had drawn it.  Proving his relative inexperience with dangerous men, the young agent gave Conrad a final glare before letting his hand drop off of his weapon.

“Follow us,” the young man snapped.

“Or?” Conrad asked, his blood definitely up.

“Colonel Bradstock,” Adam barked in reproach, then turned to Dawson.  “Lead on, gentlemen.”

It was a short trip to Weather Mountain’s main briefing room, an indoor ampitheatre that allowed the briefing of up to one hundred individuals in four separate blocks, with each block consisting of  plush seats arranged in five rows of five seats with a small table in front of them.  The doorway to the room opened just to the right of the main podium, with a second exit between the tops of the middle two rows.  As Adam and Conrad walked into the room, they could see that the room was packed with the core G-8 nations’ heads of state and their primary military staff.  The two Secret Service agents peeled off, making a beeline for Director Townshend.  Conrad split off from Adam, heading for the far corner of the room.

Taking a look around, Adam mentally counted security personnel, coming up with a count of twenty leaning in various states of readiness against the walls.  The largest contingent were the six Secret Service agents that stood alert and ready, their hands resting not-so-casually on their sidearms, their eyes locked on Adam as he walked up to the podium, followed by the four Russian Spetznaz members that stood with suspiciously bulky attaché cases at their feet.  After those men the honors were about even, the remaining six countries having one or two men apiece.

“General, we are all here,” President John Rutledge stated, his tone imperious.  Adam could see the man was trying to convey the impression that he was in charge of the situation, and not someone who owed his existence to the simple fact that he was momentarily more useful alive than dead.

I can just imagine the panic if the news had hit that some ‘alien’ had shown up in the White House and ripped the President limb from limb after subduing his Secret Service guards.  Adam had been inches away from crushing the man’s windpipe from sheer fury less than twenty-four hours before, and it was only how much harder it would have made his life that stopped him.  Now, as Rutledge spoke to him like he was some junior private, he felt his pulse quickening the color starting to rise to his face.

“Sir, the codes,” he heard Conrad murmur, the sound completely inaudible to everyone else in the room.  Looking across at the Englishman, he nodded, then turned to face the gathered group.  Purposefully delaying, he scanned the room, then focused back on Rutledge.  Utilizing his retina, he brought up an overlay that allowed him to scan the man’s pulse and brain activity, ensuring that he would be able to tell when POTUS was telling the truth.

We humans really missed the boat on nano-technology.

The Confederation, as per most governments that had been around forever, had done research on its various member races, as well as the lesser developed races that inhabited its sector of space.  There were several trends that it had found in the more advanced races, namely that most of them had avoided having a great worldwide war—it tended to kill off many great minds.  That Humanity had had two, and been on the brink of a third, was actually quite sad—apparently mankind had missed out on its great chance to cure many of its diseases when the European powers had lost their collective minds in 1914, then all but ended that chance when accounts were settled twenty years later.  When the smartest minds of a generation died screaming in some muddy field or blown to pieces in mid-air, it severely diluted the available talent pool.  Looking at the gathered group of men and a pair of women in front of him, Connelly could suddenly understand how these great disasters had happened.

Now because of these idiots a disaster of epic proportions is upon us.  Where did we go so  wrong?

Rutledge cleared his throat, causing Adam to turn and regard him with dead eyes.  As he watched, the man’s pulse began to increase, fear and anger both fighting to be released.  As far as Adam was concerned, the fact that Rutledge was now President of the United States (POTUS) had changed since he had left made no difference—he had renounced his old long before when he became a member of the Confederation Fleet.  The fact that Rutledge had basically lucked into the office didn’t help matters any.

A relatively unknown diplomat who had risen to Assistant Secretary of State, Rutledge had become acting Secretary of State in late 2005 after the sudden death of his predecessor in a helicopter crash.  After a bruising confirmation hearing, he had finally been confirmed as Secretary of State on September 5, 2006.  Six days later, with the deaths of the President and Vice President in New York, Senate and House majority leaders at the Flight 93 crash site, and President Pro Tem of the Senate at his home residence had placed him in the Oval Office through sheer good fortune.  If Rutledge had not come down with the measles two days after his confirmation hearing, he would have been with the President and Vice President in New York for the five-year anniversary ceremonies.  As it was, the Islamic Revolutionary Brigade had attacked Rutledge’s home in the mistaken belief that he was home instead of at the local hospital.

Thrust into the breach, President Rutledge had been firm and resolute in the days following the shattering attack on America.  Even as the fallout from New York’s warhead was still contaminating the Atlantic, he had mobilized all of America’s armed forces in invoked the NATO charter, demanding that the Alliance’s allies fulfill their agreements and mobilize themselves.  When the money trail led back to the Saudi Royal House, the retribution had been swift and terrible.  Like many wars, it had quickly spread, with most of the Middle East becoming embroiled on one side or the other.  In the end, both Holy Cities of Islam had been turned into rubble, Tel Aviv and Tehran had both been destroyed on the nuclear pyre, and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan had been absorbed by India.  The worldwide death toll had approached that of World War II, and a U.N.-overseen government oversaw the administration of a region that had formerly included the countries of Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia.

Unfortunately, all of this had made it nearly impossible to release the information about what Rutledge had perceived as the far more distant threat of the Orionan Empire.  Or at least that was Rutledge’s justification according to the interrogation Adam had subjected him to the night before.  Of course, according to Rutledge, the fact that all the leaders in the room had become insanely rich off patents was sheer coincidence.  While his predecessor owned a portion of the blame for Earth’s current state, having had the First Contact information over a year, it was Rutledge who had made the bulk of the decisions of what information was released and when.  Adam fully intended to see him pay for that.

They will never know what opportunity they squandered, Adam thought, the time stretching out as he continued to stare harshly into Rutledge’s eyes.  Grudgingly, he began.

“I will assume that you have all read the provided briefing packets, so I will not pause to explain anything,” Adam said, his tone making it perfectly clear that he did not intend to answer questions.  “At this time, the CCDF Third Fleet is in Lunar orbit with six hundred and fifty-five combat vessels.  Of these, only sixty, twenty-five battleships, a single battlecruiser, and thirty-four carriers are considered capital vessels.”

“Excuse me, what is the difference between these ships?” Prime Minister Tonya Yeldham asked. A stunningly beautiful woman, Yeldham was the youngest Prime Minister in British history, her brains and ruthlessness matching her beauty.  She had only been in office for two years, and there had been some discussion on whether or not she should face the same fate as the remainder of the individuals in the room.  Star Colonel Halwac, who had known the woman through mutual friends, had argued most strenuously in her defense.

In the end, it had been Conrad who had made the most damning discovery. Having examined the world’s financial records, he had pointed out that Yeldham had made plenty of money by investing in the “breakthrough technologies” market.  While Conrad believed it was probably a case of realizing that her life was in real danger if she spoke up or spilled the beans, the fact remained that Yeldham had not taken a stand for the good of humanity.  That meant she shared the guilt of all those present.

“That is also in your information packet, as well as the packets of your staff,” Adam snapped.  “If your military leadership has failed to keep you informed, that is not my issue.”

Before Prime Minister Yeldham or anyone else could reply, Adam touched the wrist of his suit.  A hologram of the Sol system appeared in mid-air approximately five feet in front of him, from the sun itself to Pluto manifesting itself just a few inches in front of President Rutledge.  POTUS jumped backwards as a comet headed towards his eye, the tail turning to brush towards his nose as the holograms went into motion.  The gathered ships of the Third Fleet burst into life as brilliant blue dots, looking like a swarm of locusts near Luna and Earth.

“Arriving in system are the advanced waves of the Orionan Fleet, here at Pluto’s orbit.”  As Adam continued, several bright red dots appeared just a few feet in front of the President to the right of Pluto.  The dots continued to grow, as his suit fed in the live feed from the battlecruiser Huntress, flagship of the Third Fleet.  As they watched the red dots continued to grow, already clearly outnumbering the blue, with more appearing slowly but steadily as they spoke.

“At present the Orionan Fleet consists of twenty-nine battleships, to include six of their massive Emperor-class battleships.  For Prime Minister Yeldham and the rest of you who seem to think that this is just a bad B movie, I will show you the difference between those vessels and the Huntress, flagship of the Third Fleet.”

First appeared a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, still the largest warships on Earth by a large margin.  The vessel’s dimensions were flashed on the screen, along with its complement and aircraft capacity.  Adam gave a moment for the familiar ship to sink in, then with another touch of a button displayed the Huntress.  The Earth carrier was dwarfed, the Huntress more than six times her length, three times her width at the beam.  The battlecruiser’s weapon armaments scrolled by, with the yield of her numerous weapons being presented in terms, such as kiloton and Megaton, that each and every man and woman in the room could understand.

“With one salvo of her energy main battery, the Huntress expends more energy than the combined nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia combined,” Adam intoned flatly.  “With her advanced shielding, shooting the world’s current weapons at her would be like throwing spitballs at the side of a brick wall.”  He looked directly at General Joseph Reilly, the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“That includes the prototype weapons being developed in Nevada or those issued in small numbers to America’s Armed Forces.”

There were several gasps of consternation at that revelation, as only Great Britain had been aware of the United States’ attempts to develop next generation weapons.  A few years before, Adam would have taken pleasure in dropping that particular turd in the punch bowl.  Now, however, as he watched looks of shock and anger cross everyone’s face except for Prime Minister Yeldham and Chairman Xian Qing Hsiao.  Looking at the Chinese Chairman, Adam realized that the man had known about the U.S. Deep Black projects.

Always knew the Chinese had us more penetrated than a two-dollar whore when a carrier comes to town.  No matter, makes this end game a whole lot easier.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, please, let us be calm and set our differences aside in the face of this greater threat,” Rutledge said, staring daggers at Adam the whole time.

“While all of this is well and good, Connelly,” General Reilly snapped, “I don’t see how it affects us one bit.  That’s a friendly vessel, is it not?”

“Yes, it is, or at least it will remain so unless someone gets a brilliant idea like trying to appeal for mercy from the Orionans,” Adam said, once again looking directly at President Rutledge.  Unknown to POTUS, Adam had bugged the White House five ways to Sunday on his way to the Lincoln Bedroom.  One of the options that had been placed forward, especially in light of Adam’s obvious hostility, had been an attempt to kill Adam and then launch a salvo of the world’s nuclear missiles at the Third Fleet in an attempt to gain good faith with the Orionans.  Reilly had been the primary advocate of this plan, further demonstrating the lack of mental capacity and imagination in most modern flag officers.

You would think a major theater war would have leavened out some of the idiots, Adam thought.  But apparently they’re all still stuck at Corps and below while these idiots finish out their time.  No matter.

“But you are correct, General Reilly.  Here is the enemy’s flagship, the Emperor-class battleship, the Heart of Orion.”

Cued by his voice, Adam’s suit displayed a representation of an Emperor-class battleship compared to the Huntress.  There were several sharp intakes of breath and a couple of whimpers, as the Orionan flagship was clearly two times the size of the CCDF battlecruiser.  The statistics began scrolling in mid-air, starting with lesser weapons and their locations.  Adam continued talking.

“The presence of the Orion indicates Emperor Krognan himself has come to oversee the destruction of this planet.  You should all be familiar with Emperor Krognan from your packets.”

Provided you read them, which many of you obviously didn’t or you wouldn’t be so shocked by the information being presented.  If I had known that we needed to evacuate the planet, much less how little time we had to do it, I probably wouldn’t have bothered with you idiots.  

“General Connelly according to your reports this Emperor-class battleship is armed with what you termed an ‘extinction level event’-generating laser in the bow of the vessel,”  General Reilly stated, his tone clearly indicating that he had had a seemingly brilliant epiphany.

“Yes, it does,” Adam replied evenly.

“Okay, then pardon my asking, but why aren’t we all dead already?” Reilly asked.  “It would seem that it makes little sense to invade a planet when you can just blow it up with damn Death Star lasers from these ten battleships, once they all arrive?”

Adam looked at Reilly.  The man’s haughty voice and posture had finally broken through is last reserve of patience.

“Because, you fucking idiot, as I pointed out in that same report, there are only two battleships armed with the laser, one of which had its laser disabled at the Battle of Taurus IV.  Now, if you wish to continue asking stupid questions and wasting precious time, please, go ahead.”

Reilly stared daggers at Adam, getting ready to make a retort when the President waved him silent.  Reilly was a political animal, and Connelly had always hated men who used the uniform as a way to gain power and prestige.  While the man had ostensibly demonstrated great bravery in Desert Storm, Connelly knew that his Distinguished Flying Cross had more to do with his four-star father’s friends looking out for him than any particularly brave thing Reilly had done.

That’s all right, because we’ll be getting ready to see how brave you are in a little while, Adam thought.

“Five minutes,” Conrad muttered into his ear, nearly making him jump.  “They’ve used some of the technology Lihr gave them for encryption, it’s costing us a bit of time.  By the way, a live audio feed has been established to the commandos outside.  When the President says Rubicon, it’s a code word for them to start this dance.”

Adam waggled his fingers to let Conrad know he had heard him as he looked at Rutledge.

“What is their plan, General?” the President asked, his voice clearly indicating he didn’t care about Connelly and Reilly’s personal disdain for one another.  Adam changed the scale of the hologram, zooming in to Neptune’s orbit.  Earth appeared just in front of the podium, the Third Fleet arranged in its probably formation.  The Orionan Fleet in all of its glory advanced into view just in front of the President’s face, the vessels’ drives glowing like small dots of light.

“Once the Orionan Fleet is completely deployed, the assault will begin.  The bad news is, the Orionan Fleet won’t stand off at several thousand kilometers and attempt to pound the planet into slag.”

“How is that bad news?” POTUS asked, his eyes wide and nostrils flaring.

“Because it means every man, woman, and child still on this planet when the Orionans make planetfall, which they will do because we’re not sacrificing the Confederation’s best vessels for an indefensible ball of dust,” Adam sneered, “will serve as food for a blood feast the likes the Orionan Emperor has probably never seen.”

There were several sharp intakes of breaths and one half scream as the import of what Adam was saying sunk in.  He watched as Rutledge’s face went white with shock, and he suddenly realized just what the price of his duplicity was.

Yes you dumb bastard, come to grips with what I’ve known for the past three hours, Adam thought with white hot fury.  This is what your greed, ignorance, and incompetence hath wrought.

“Given the slow transition to the evacuation and the utter lack of available shipping, we estimate the final death toll will be in excess of five billion,” Adam continued, the tempo of his voice hammering the point home.  “Getting the billion people off the planet is going to take a Herculanean effort, as Admiral Tobarakh’s fleet is not equipped for planetary defense and the only way we are able to evacuate what we can is by relay trips to the nearest systems.”

There was stunned silence in the room as everyone realized that one in six people had been handed a death sentence.  Everything that they had ever known in their lives, the great cities of makind, all of its treasures, everything was about to be erased by a horde of aliens most of them had only become aware of in the last couple of years.  The Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids, their own residences and loved ones—all gone.  Adam watched as all the emotions played across everyone’s faces and was surprised that none of them dropped dead of a sudden heart attack.  Turning back to Rutledge, he locked eyes with POTUS, making no effort to hide the emotions going through his mind.

Yes, you stupid bastard, you are most responsible for this, you and that idiot still probably circling the upper atmosphere.

“So this race of super aliens was unable to realize they just might need more shipping to evacuate six billion people?” Reilly asked.  “Maybe we are helping the wrong side.”

Adam looked at the man, utterly disgusted.

“They weren’t expecting a bunch of ignorant sons-a-bitches like you to sit on over two thousand years worth of advancement for the last five years, or turn it for your own personal profits,” Adam seethed.  He was about to say more when Rutledge interrupted him.

“Why…why aren’t the Orionans attempting to surround the entire planet and bag your fleet also?” POTUS finished, gesturing at the hologram in front of him.

“Sir, space ships are vulnerable for about two minutes when coming out of hyperspace,” Adam said, reigning in his tone in response to the actually semi-intelligent question.  “Also, coming out into the middle of a Solar System is a capability that’s still beyond the Orionans—they tend to get smacked by planets when they try it.  Finally, if the Orionan Fleet attempted to come out behind the fleet Admiral Tobarakh would probably clean their clocks for them, defeating them in detail.”

“So why doesn’t he do that now?” Reilly broke in.  Everyone in the room could hear the silent question on Tobarakh’s bravery in his voice.

“Because we can evacuate the planet or fight a fleet action, not both,” General Connelly replied as if explaining things to a child.  “If the Third Fleet moves out to start engaging, that leaves Earth undefended.  Unless there’s something I’ve missed, we don’t have enough forces to defend this planet should the Orionans get any elements past the Third Fleet and onto planet—hence the evacuation.”

“Why aren’t you people doing more to get other ships here?” POTUS asked, his voice starting to indicate his panic.

Just like a politician—looking for blame rather than realizing it’s his own damn fault, Adam thought.  His disgust at the state of the planet, i.e. only slightly from whence he had left, was overwhelming.  Adam had realized immediately that everyone responsible for what had happened had had to be removed.  Given the disaster that was about to befall his species, the solution that was starting to come into his mind was going to be poetic justice.

This is the longest five minutes in the world.

“Because there are is a large segment of the Confederation that has been against the inclusion of any Humans at all, much less with weapons, since Admiral Lihr exchanged his life to give us a fighting chance.  Those same species are not going to disrupt their own defensive efforts, economies, or lives to save a bunch of ignorant savages who were given what they worked thousands of years for on a platter.”

“Why not?” POTUS asked angrily.  “Six years was far too short a time to prepare the country, much less the world for interstellar warfare.”

Adam looked at POTUS in stunned amazement.  The man actually believes that, he thought.  Nevermind the fact that an entire corps of men and women from our planet were trained and combat capable within six months.  The performance of the Terran Expeditionary Corps had been a stunning surprise for the Confederation, even more so for the Orionans.  The Dominionite Battle Computers had predicted that the Corps would fail in its first three missions, with around twenty-five percent losses despite facing the second-tier units of the Orion Empire.  It had been half right, as the initial losses had been prohibitive.  But once Adam, Eric, and other members of the Corps had been given a say in the design process for their equipment, things had improved remarkably.

“Because idiotic statements like that seemingly validate that we are closer to our own evolution forebearers swinging in trees than those races that have been around since dinosaurs roamed this planet.”  Adam shut off the hologram and began looking around the room, meeting the eyes of every leader present.  His voice began to rise, aided by the suit’s electronics to become ever louder.

“Because in half a year roughly two million men and women learned to do what you have said was impossible in six.  Some of those men and women haven’t even seen inventions as rudimentary as indoor plumbing in their lives, but yet were able to grasp concepts that apparently were beyond the best and brightest men in this room.”

Adam’s voice was approaching the level of some construction tools, causing some people to begin reaching to cover their ears, his words piercing into their skulls.  He deliberately cut his volume, making everyone concentrate on his next statement.

“Finally, because most of the rest of the Confederation figures it will take the Orionan Horde six months to finish gnawing the last bit of sinew from the last human left alive on this world, and the war effort could really use that six months.”

There was a stunned silence as everyone contemplated exactly what Adam was saying.

“When will our evacuation ship be arriving?” Prime Minister Yeldham asked, her voice trembling.

It’s done.”

Sweet Jesus, could it have taken any longer?! Adam thought, allowing the tension to ratchet up in the room.  He looked up in Yolanda’s big blue eyes, and realized the woman knew.  While many of the men in the room were used to being powerful, and were arrogant enough to believe that nothing untoward could happen tot hem, Yolanda had first came to fame through the entertainment industry.  In pulling her file, Adam had seen just some of the bad things that had happened to her, both as a child and an adult.  For a brief moment he felt a pang of sympathy, right up until the point he remembered the violent deaths of some of the TEC’s first members.  His heart hardened, and his smile grew broader.

“There will be no evacuation ships for anyone in this room,” Adam said with barely contained relish.  “You have been weighed, measured, and found wanting.”

The room erupted into chaos, as the most powerful leaders in the world suddenly found themselves instantly converted into another category—victim.

Adam never heard the code word, and was never even sure it was given after his statement.  What he did see was Director Townshend starting to go for his service piece and the Russians’ attaché cases flying open, submachine guns and short-barreled automatic rifles in hand.  All of the action appeared to be in slow motion as his suit automatically injected him with pseudo-adrenaline and simultaneously raised his personal shield and armored helmet, the latter irising out and around his head.

“Black Knight Six, execute,” Adam barked, just as the Russians opened fire.

In the end, it was a very short fight.  General Connelly’s men had all been fighting literally larger and better enemies for the past six years, and they were interlinked with his combat suit’s sensors.  Even as the first rounds were spouting from the submachine guns, the dozen soldiers of the Rakkasans, his own personal guard contingent, were taking down the six men guarding the entrance to the room.  The men were vaporized where they stood, not even aware they were about to die as the Rakkasans seemingly appeared right in front of them.

Conrad put on a first hand demonstration on the overwhelming technology disadvantage Earth was now at.  The target of three of the Russians, their bullets crossing the intervening space in seconds, Conrad received twelve hits of various calibers, six of them instantly fatal if they had pierced his armor.  Of course, that would have required them achieving a speed ten times that of sound, the maximum kinetic rating on his personal shield, and then having sufficient energy to penetrate the suit itself.  When compared to rail guns, laser weapons, and anti-matter warheads, gunpowder proplled bullets were about as dangerous as a feather pillow.  The suit’s shield functioned exactly as advertised, absorbing the bullets’ energies and stopping them completely cold ten inches from Conrad’s face.  Conrad watched them stop and deform right in front of his eyes, the slugs dropping to the floor.

“Holy shit,” Townshend said, his expletive answered by the Russians just before the distinctive buzzzzzsnap! of a plasma bolts from the doorway turned the upper half their torsos into crimson steam with the dinstinctive.  Then suddenly the room was silent, as  fired a high-pitched sonic blaster wave into the room.  Specially modulated for the human brain, the sound wave knocked everyone in the room not encased in shielding as unconscious as if they had been hit with a giant tire iron.  In a pair of cases, the Prime Minister of Canada and a Secret Service agent blissfully passing instantaneously beyond the veil.  But for every other man and woman in the room, the device worked as Adam had planned it, knocking them into a deep and senseless slumber.

After making one last check to ensure the room was clear of opposition, Adam dropped his shield and helmet.  Turning, he looked at Halwac, who’s helmet remained upright, his eyes seemingly intently focused on the faceshield of his helmet.  Somewhere far off in the shelter, Adam heard the thud of several explosions, and knew that someone had found some heavy weaponry amongst the to use against the TEC forces.

“Jack, anyone who’s still resisting can have their spaces filled by other people,” Adam said, intending to make Halwac’s job easier.  “We don’t have time to be nice about this, we’ve got the codes, let’s get the Hell out of here.”

Halwac nodded, issuing commands into his facemike.  There were several louder explosions, the entire Weather Mountain Complex shaking with them and dust falling from the ceiling.

“Of course, that doesn’t mean bring this whole place down on us, either,” Adam said drily.

“Wasn’t us,” Halwac replied, his face suddenly relaxing.  With a whir, his helmet irised back into the shoulders of his suit.  “People should really be careful about playing with rocket launchers around ammunition—backblast is a killer.”

Adam winced.  Since one of the first places Halwac had intended to seize was the armory, he could see what had happened in his mind’s eye.  Someone had probably attempted to use a rocket launcher from within the confines of the armory, either not realizing or recalling that a jet of superheated gas exited out the rear of most anti-tank weapons.  The resultant fire had ignited ammunition, and blown the person, the armory, and several other people to kingdom come.

“Losses?” Adam asked, sighing heavily.

“None,” Halwac replied.  “First Battalion is still battling the Rangers and Spetznaz outside, but they should be able to secure the facility momentarily.”

“Commo?”

“There was one short signal that we couldn’t jam, but after we put a rail gun through the commo room, that solved that problem.”

“Grand.  Any idea what it said?”

“No Sir, none.  But we have the codes, just waiting on your go signal.”

Adam looked at his watch.  Time was precious, but he wanted to make sure he struck the right tone with the broadcast he was about to make.  ‘Sorry folks, you’re all going to be lunch meat’, probably won’t do much good.

            “How long until the first batch of ships are loaded?”

“The latest will be Russia, and that should be complete in one hour and forty-five minutes.”

“Two hours, we go live and in color world.  Meeting with all brigade and above commanders in one hour and forty-five via holo-network.”

“Understood, Sir,” Conrad said, nodding to Halwac.

“Inform Admiral Tobarakh and request that he listen in,” Adam said wearily, running a hand over his close cropped hair.  “Until the meeting, tell all commanders they may interact with local officialdom at their own discretion.”

“Already done, Sir,” Conrad replied.

“Is that why you let those jokers get their shots off?” Adam asked.

“Actually, yes,” Conrad replied.  “Figured about the point you called General Reilly an idiot it was time to issue orders.  Speaking of which?”  Conrad gave a meaningful glance towards the slumped bodies littering the room.

“I thought of that while I was speaking.  Let me tell you my plan.”

Metal Monday–Game of Thrones Edition

I love YouTube.  You can find all sorts of great stuff there.  Like, say, metal covers of songs you can identify with…like The Rains of Castamere.  (“Wait…wait…why do you identify with the Rains of Castamere?”  “Because when someone sends you to crush a rebellion, you crush the rebellion.”)  Sometimes one just has to be in the mood for a genocidal return to or…anyway, White Noise Labs’ version of The Rains of Castamere:

 

 

I’m a huge fans of covers.  Sometimes it’s nice to get another person’s take on a song.  Much to some people’s chagrin, I’m still waiting to find someone to do a metal cover of some Hamilton song.  C’mon, the thought of Lzzy Hale, Amy Lee, and Cristina Scabbia doing the Schuyler sisters should be a thing of joy, right?

B-Sides and Outtakes– “Armageddon Dawn”–Part II

Continuing on with Chapter 1…

 

Fort Riley, Kansas

0625 Local (0725 Eastern)

“Jack, what the fuck is going on?” Captain Jason Mitchell, CO of A/2-70th Armored Battalion (FCS), West Point Class of ’03, asked worriedly.  The two of them had been in the middle of a conversation when Jack had suddenly stopped and focused on the far corner of the room.  Over the next fifteen minutes, his oldest and best friend, recently back from the “dead”, had gone as pale as a sheet.

The two of them had come a long way from Mrs. Phipp’s Pre-School class, held at this very post.  A short, squat fireplug with dusty brown hair and soft brown eyes, Jason had been the Jeff to Jack’s Mutt for over a quarter of a century.  In all of those years, through High School jitters, pregnancy scares, and even a pair of operational deployments, Jason had never seen his friend look so simultaneously frightened and despondent as he did when he turned to meet his eyes.

Star Major Jackson ‘Jack’ Aaron Phelps, commander of the 6th Shock Battalion “Golden Lions”, was a tall, skinny man that had been described as a walking red-headed pipe cleaner on more than one occasion.  Just a tad over 6’ 6”, technically Jack should never have been an Armor officer, but he had slouched on the day that he was being measured for his commissioning physical at West Point.  It had helped his cause that he had been flirting with the nurse when she was writing down his measurements, continuing his reputation as a goofy ladies’ man with his friends.  That he and that same nurse, fortunately a civilian, had carried on a torrid love affair most of his Firstie year at the Point had cemented his status as a “male slut” in Jason’s eyes.  Of course, that relationship had come to an end when Jack had started dating Jason’s wife, a topic that the

That Jack’s inherent goofiness was seemingly nowhere to be found was  just one of the many changes Jason had realized in his friend.  The two of them had not really had a chance to talk in the past thirty minutes since Jason had arrived early at his office.  Amazingly, he had not turned into a gibbering idiot when he had realized who was sitting in all black armor shooting the shit with the charge of quarters.  Before Jason’s stunned look had really registered with the young sergeant, Jack had told him they should probably talk in Jason’s office about the upcoming alert.

Now, after getting less than specific answers to many pointed questions, he had just watched his friend conduct a conversation with an empty corner.  Jack looked at him like he had just asked the stupidest question in the world, like why air existed or something.  I’ll be goddamned if you get to come back from the dead and look at me like I’m an idiot, Jason thought, standing up from behind his desk, his face starting to turn a deep red.  His subordinates called the expression ‘nuclear release’, as it usually meant the verbal equivalent of an atomic bomb was about to spew from the commander’s mouth.

Realizing that Jason was about to go beserk, Jack held up his hand to stop his friend and started to “speak”.  The sounds that came from his mouth were utterly alien, a somber stream of unintelligible vowels, consonants, and humming sounds that seemed almost impossible for a normal human being.  Tears forming in Jack’s eyes, the expression on his face one of utter pain.  Frenziedely, he began gesturing with his hands, the sounds coming even faster, as if his mental control was starting to slip.  Jason ran around the table and grabbed his friend, his battle armor feeling cool and rough to the touch.

What the Hell is the matter with you?!” Jason shouted, shaking his friend.  Jack stopped, his face looking like someone who had just come out of a hypnotic trance.

Jason’s office door opened, causing him to turn as his executive officer, First Lieutenant Eugene Hitchcock poking his head around the corner.

“You okay Sir?” Hitchcock asked, his face in its usual scowl.  His eyes switched from his commander to Jack’s, clearly indicating that he still wasn’t buying that the man was absolutely trustworthy.  He had heard about the strange Major who had shown up in an armored suit that looked like a cross from Herbert and anime.  Hitchcock made no bones about not being an intellectual, having been a jock his entire life.  In High School had been one of the guys who always tripped the nerds in the hallway, barely passed his classes, and had sex with the captain of the cheerleading squad while she had been dating the town’s all conference quarterback.  Hitchcock’s head was perpetually shaved, his green eyes hard and squinty in his somewhat fleshy face.  His penchant for cruelty and exacting attention to detail made him easily the meanest son-of-a-bitch in the battalion, a man even the sergeant major did not cross.

Unfortunately, Hitchcock’s ignorance meant when confronted with something he didn’t understand, he had one setting—animosity.  The fact that this stranger in front of him was wearing something that appeared a whole level of technology more advanced than his M-9 Powell did not make him happy.  That the bastard apparently outranked him and had the identity to prove it had him positively upset.  That the CO, an officer that he did not particularly like but had come to respect over the past fourteen months had basically told him to go make himself busy while the adults talked had caused his office wall to spontaneously sprout some holes.  Nothing would have made him happier than storming into the room to find the CO being assaulted, giving him clear license to the crap out of this Phelps guy.  That this was his personal fantasy was clearly communicated in the glance he leveled Jack’s way, a look that any superior officer would have found highly belligerent.  Fortunately for Hitchcock, he did have control of his temper and made no attempt to attack Jack—even without the armor, he would have never known what hit him.  Six years of combat, Dominionite hand-to-hand training, and Jack’s knowledge that his world had hours, not days, to live would have made the fight short and pitiless.

“I’m good XO,” Jason said sharply, feeling the power in the suit as his friend tensed.  It was a subliminal feeling, but Jason suddenly realized that there was nothing in the office, if not the unit’s arms room, that could stop his friend when he was in the suit he wore.  “Major Phelps was apparently having a…uh…”

“Jason, you might as well tell him,” Jack said, this time in perfect English.  Looking at his friend, Jason could see that whatever psychotic episode had possessed him had quickly passed.  Indeed, Jack looked positively resolute, like the time he had been fought old Tom McClary, the school bully that had outweighed him by forty pounds.  Not surprisingly to those who knew him, Jack had won—insanity trumped mean-spiritedness nine out of ten times.

“I think it’s better if you do it,” Jason replied after a moment.  Although I’m not sure if he’s going to listen.

“Actually, you probably want to get all of your officers and NCOs, for I have even worse news,” Jack replied, his voice barely a whisper.  “Life as you know it is probably coming to an end in the next twenty-four to thirty hours.”

There was dead silence as Jason looked at his friend’s face.  One of the great advantages of having known someone their entire adult life was that you realized really quickly when they were completely and utterly serious.  More so than any time that morning, Jason realized his friend had changed.  As a man who had recently seen the elephant himself, he recognized a fellow veteran, and apparently one that was not exaggerating the danger they were all in.

“XO, go get the platoon leaders and platoon sergeants.”

“Sir?” Hitchcock asked, incredulous.

“I don’t think I fucking stuttered, XO!” Jason barked, his voice utter iron that drove Hitchcock out of the room murmuring apologies.

“What the hell happened to you just now?” Jason asked, looking at his friend with real concern.

“I slipped into Dominion and forgot you didn’t have a translator chip inserted behind your ear,” Jack replied simply.  Jason looked at him blankly, causing Jack to grown even more pale.

“My God, what have you people been doing the last six years?” he asked in utter despair.  General Connelly was right—this situation is very, very bad.

“Living our lives, wondering why my best friend sent an e-mail instead of calling to say that he had been asked to do something special, and that he’d be in touch in a few months,” Jason snapped.  “Getting told that same friend had died at an ‘undisclosed location’ forty-eight hours later, burying a casket full of sand, and comforting his ex-girlfriend, who just happens to be my wife now.  Fielding new tanks, then taking them to the desert to fight freakin’ World War III.  You?”

Jack seemed utterly unimpressed by Jason’s litany, the look on his face one of utter contempt.  ‘Pardon me why I shed a tear, you stupid bastard’, his face seemed to say.

Jason felt the color rising back up into his face, shocked at the utter lack of reaction his friend showed to the fact that three to four million Americans had been killed in broad daylight by a terrorist bomb.  The nuke, an old Russian one, had been placed aboard a container ship in a thoroughly shielded container.  It was still unknown how the weapon had made it through several checks, orbiting satellites that scanned for the distinctive radiation plume that all warheads gave off, and just plain old dumb luck for discovery.

However it had happened, at precisely 9:23 A.M., 11 September, 2006, the residents of New York City had joined the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as people who had first hand knowledge of what the center of star looked like.  Estimates of the bomb or bombs’ yield had ranged from three to five hundred kilotons.  The total of the dead would never be known, but they included several well-known celebrities, both of New York’s Senators, and most importantly the 44th President of the United States and his Vice President.  The most violent of the several attacks that would occur that day, the New York bombing had galvanized the nation in a matter that its predecessor hadn’t even come close to.  The ensuing war, while not eradicating Islam as some had advocated, had definitely eliminated its more radical elements.  That Jack was unimpressed at the horrors Jason and his fellow Americans had suffered was too much to take.

“What the hell is the matter with you?  I just told you that five million people were killed and you have no response?!” Jason asked, balling his fists.

Jack snorted, shaking his head at his friend.  In that instant, Jason felt the bottom drop out of his stomach.  His friends’ eyes were dead, a stunning example of a thousand yard stare if there ever were one.

“I have seen entire worlds die, Jason.  Been part of battles without name, on planets your great, great, great-grandchild’s grandchildren would not have ever reached if we had been left to our own devices,” Jack said flatly.  “Held the hand of aliens while they bled all over me, telling them the entire time that it would be okay, that my planet was preparing itself for war, and that no species carries out war like humanity.”

Jack turned away from his friend, looking out the window.  I have to get control of myself.  Jason didn’t know, no one did, he thought.  But most of them are going to die all the same.

“But yet I return home, to find out that my best friend and my girlfriend, the one woman whose face sustained me through so much, are married.  My life, everything I owned, gone—sold off through a lie.  Oh, and most importantly, my vaunted species so utterly unprepared for war it seems like I never left.”

Jason glared at his friend, bristling at his emphasis on the word girlfriend, like Amy and Jason had cheated on him or something.  Maybe if you had actually married her rather than just dated her for two years, I’d feel a bit more guilty.  While it now appeared quite fortunate that Jack’s notorious commitment phobia had kept Amy and him from going up the aisle, Jason had always thought it was an awfully crappy way to treat a wonderful woman.

“I’m sorry that we seem so unprepared, Jack,” Jason said with a sneer, his anger starting to bubble over.  “Glad to know we might as well basically lie down and wait for the anal probes.”

“A freakin’ anal probe would seem like heaven compared to what the Orions will do once they reach this planet,” Jack said, his voice matter-of-fact.

“Whoa!” First Sergeant Adam Panke said.  “I feel like I just walked in on the end of a very twisted conversation.  You want to start from the beginning?”  Like most tankers, Panke was a very large man.  While he still was within the Army body fat standards, it was often a close run thing.  Of course, Panke just happened to be one of the best NCOs, if not the best First Sergeant, in the 2/70th Armored Battalion, something that probably bought him a little bit of slack with the Command Sergeant Major.

“Delilah, estimate on how much longer until the Orion Fleet attacks?” Jason asked the computer within his suit.

“Thirty-one hours, twenty-two minutes, and thirty seconds using standard attack algorithms,” the speaker on Jack’s suit intoned in a sulty feminine voice.

“Dammit,” Jack breathed slightly.  “That means the entire freakin’ battlefleet is deploying.”

“Confirmed, all analysis indicates over ninety-eight percent of of the Orionan battlefleet will deploy, to include four, no five Emperor-class battleships,” Delilah replied.  “Over ninety-eight percent of the Orionan battlefleet is projected to be present.”

“Uh, is your suit seeing anyone?” the 1st Platoon Leader, 2nd Lieutenant Jim Mulryan, suddenly asked.  “Because if not, I’d like to take her out.”

“Prepare a mind flash, setting Humans,” Jack said, ignoring the comment.

“Wait a second,” Panke started.  “What in the Hell is a mind flash?  That ain’t like that flashy thing Will Smith uses in that movie…damn, what’s the name?”

“No,” Jack said sharply.  “As a matter of fact, it is the complete and total opposite.  When this is complete, you will know just about everything I know.”

“I’m not so sure about this,” Hitchcock said.  “I don’t want some damn alien playing around in my brain.”

Jack pinned him with a glare, the look so intense that Hitchcock actually felt a momentary pang of fear.  The wild intensity in the man’s gaze told him that he had just used up his one free opportunity to be stupid.

“You don’t have to be sure,” Jack snapped, his eyes never wavering.  “You can walk right out that door right now, Lieutenant, and the only thing you’ll be sure of is that you will definitely be dead in thirty-one hours.”

There was a stunned silence in the room, every man present sure that Jack was not bluffing.

“Well, with a ringing endorsement like that,” Panke said, “let’s go ahead and do this mind flash thing.”

“Mind flash, prepared,” Delilah said.

“Have you even seen the woman who made that recording?  Is she available?” Mulryan replied.

“Ever seen a Gorgon?  You know, Medusa?”

“They’re myths,” Mulryan said, his voice showing his doubt.

“They’re not a myth, and she’s one,” Jack replied, completely deadpan.

“You’re shitting me,” Mulryan said.

“No, but you’re about to find that out anyway,” Jack said.  “Gentlemen, as I said before, once this is complete you will know just about everything I know in about five minutes.  This means you are about to absorb about six years worth of information all at once.  Your emotions will be heightened, as will your reaction to certain stimuli.”

“How many people have these suits?” Mulryan asked, his face skeptical.

“All members of the TEC have these suits, and they record our experiences every time they are put on until the owners are killed or the suits upgraded.”

“So we will know everything you have known, everything you have done for the last six years?” Jason asked, the interest in his voice clear.

“Yes, to include the sensory input, i.e. all my pain, all my nausea, everything,” Jack replied solemnly.  “First Sergeant, you might want to send someone for a mop now.”

“Why is that?” Panke asked.

“We’ll likely need one by the time we’re done.”

“How long is this going to take?” Panke asked.

“We’ll be done by the time the mop and bucket get back here.”

Panke leaned out the door.

“Specialist Peters, go get a mop and bucket and bring it back here,” Panke said.  “Wait for me to open this door.”

“Roger Top!” Peters replied, after which Panke closed the door.

“All on you, Sir,” Panke replied.

“Delilah, start flash.”

The experience was roughly the same, but different for each of the officers.

 

Jason found himself sitting out in space, looking back at Earth through a transparent window.  Suddenly he saw a hand extending a picture and recognized it as Jack’s.  Looking closer, he saw it was a picture of Amy, six years earlier.  Surprised, Jason felt his heart catch as he looked at his wife’s bright green eyes and red hair.

“Yeah, she’s beautiful,” he heard Jack say, causing him to jump.  He started to try and turn his head to the right, where he heard his friend’s voice, and had an intense moment of discomfort as his view started to rotate to the left.  Feeling his mind slide into madness, he mentally closed his eyes and found that stopped the nausea while still playing the images in his mind.

“Sorry about that,” Jack said.  “Best if you just listen and let the images flow—about the third time you do a mind flash, you start being able to change your field of view independent of the memories being viewed.”

Jason started to reply, then found that speaking started to make him ill.

“I really wouldn’t try to talk right now—like I said, flashing’s a bit intense.  Just listen.”

The next few moments were a fast forward of the journey to the ice planet of Barren.  There were periods of weightlessness, Jason feeling Jack’s initial joy followed by a gradual tiring of the sensation.  Finally, gravity returned, albeit at a stronger rate than what he was used to.  He found himself wanting to ask for an explanation, but remembered his friend’s advice and kept his mouth shut.  That decision had just been made when he was confronted by a Dominionite explaining that in an attempt to replicate Earth’s gravity, the (unpronounceable name)’s artificial gravity and inertial dampeners had both failed, something that could have been quite bad at FTL speeds.  Then just as he had time to process that information, the ship was orbiting Barren with its four moons, one quite close, and its bright red star.

“Planet’s a little too far away from the star for the surface to be very habitable,” Jack said.  “Should’ve heard the Russian contingent…those jokers were going off!  You’d think the aliens had said Beria was actually alive and in charge of the place.”

Jason fought the urge to shake his head at his friend, not sure if the movement would make him violently ill.  Lavrenty Beria had been Stalin’s KGB head, a fact that only Jack and other history freaks would remember. 

However, once they realized that everyone lived underneath the ice crust in advanced cities, they calmed down.”  The view cut to the interior of one of the cities, the technology far in advance of anything seen on Earth.  Jason watched as the person’s eyes scanned over a wide city panaroma, the expanse bustling with people.  Or not, he realized with a start and a closer look.  Many of the “people” were bipedal aliens, everything from lizardlike humanoids to multi-legged insectoid aliens.  As he looked at each different type, he felt his mind categorizing each of them, many of them too numerous to name.

“This city is New Avalon, the largest on Barren, population five hundred million sentient beings, two hundred million of them human.”

“Two hundred million?!”

“Oh yeah, guess I should cover that.  Basically, the Confederation has cured just about every disease known to Man.  We’re relatively lucky, actually—there are diseases that evade even the most advanced medicines among many of these races.”

“Still, two hundred million humans in one city?  What the hell?!”

“Well, Barren is sorta like Switzerland in the Confederation.  Neutral terrain, neutral native populace that can’t go off planet.”

“Wait a second…”

“Yeah, let me go ahead and get to that part,” Jack said.  There was a sensation of displaced time, then suddenly Jason found himself in a large hall that was full of a great number of aliens.  A tall, distinguished alien in what was obviously a full dress uniform stood at the center of the hall, his back ramrod straight.  Dominionite, his mind echoed.  Star Admiral Lihr Tobarakh, to be exact.

Across the room, a solitary alien stood up.  A bright light fell upon the alien, and Jason got his first good look.  The alien’s skin was a light red, the color of a tropical sunset.  This color was offset by bright, almost glowing, yellow eyes, four of them set in a broad, protruding face.  The creature’s mouth opened, and Jason saw several rows of sharp teeth as it began to speak.  Its voice was a deep, ominous rumbling.  It’s two arms were quite animated, indicating the depth of its emotion. 

Lepscallions, the most hated bastards in the ConfederationDespite their fierce appearance, the fuckers can’t fight their way out of a wet paper sack,” Jack spat.  “This idiot is known as Rax.”

Star Admiral Tobarakh, you stand accused of violating the laws of this august body.  Specifically, you have communicated with a less advanced species for purposes of exploitation, introduced non-quarantined specimens into a controlled population, and violated the Charter of the Confederation.  How do you plead?”

            The Dominionite ignored the Lepscallion, turning away from the alien and looking into the darkened chamber.  The look on the Dominionite’s face was one of utter contempt, the alien’s blue eyes glaring like baleful embers.  As he finished rotating around the room, his lips parted in a snarl.

            “So it has come to this, that those races which run, skitter, and hide in the face of the Orionans deign to prosecute one of those who guarantee their safety?  That a Lepscallion, a member of a race so pitiful at warfare fully half of its systems have been conquered, its members filling the Orionan larders, stands as my accuser is a symbol of all that is wrong with your ‘enlightenment’.”

            The hall erupted with noise, cries of shock and anger in thousands of tongues rising in a babble that threatened chaos, enlightened species or no.  Suddenly there was a high, keening noise, the piercing sound causing Jason to whince in a pain comparable to a swift kick in the groin.

            “Oops, sorry, forgot to tell you that these folks don’t use gavels,” Jack said with a sheepish grin.  “It’s even worse when you’re present.”

            That much was obvious from the utter silence that followed the instrument and Lihr visibly staggering before regaining his composure.

            “Your insults are an indication of your guilt and lack of development, Lihr Tobarakh.  No matter, this body finds you guilty and sentences you to banishment on the planet of Barren.  Per banishment rules, you are to be stripped of all titles and allowed to live whatever days remain to you without the intervention of nanotechnology or advanced medicines.  These proceedings are closed,” Rax snapped.

            There was a chiming sound, causing Jack to look around at his surroundings.

            “Well, your men will be coming out of their own flashes in about five minutes, so I’d better speed this up.  Unfortunately for Rax, that was most definitely not the end of the proceedings.  The Dominionites have a Constitutional Monarchy, and the Tobarakh’s are royalty—let’s just say by the time all was said and done, the Lepscallions were lucky that they didn’t wake up to the Second Fleet bombarding their planet.  Basically the Dominionites told them if Lihr was stripped of all titles, the Dominion would leave the war and take the chance that the Orionans would take so much time to digest the rest of the Confederation, specifically the Lepscallions, that the Dominionites would be able to defeat them with Human help.”

            Jason took stock of his nausea and decided to risk speaking.

            “Would they have been right?”

            “Maybe, but given that the Second Fleet was the cutting edge of technology at that point, probably not.”

            “Second Fleet?” Jason choked out, then immediately resolved to quit talking.

            “Rough translation that I’ll cover very quick. Basically, the First Fleet was the scratch group of vessels that fought over the first ten years of the Second Orion War—mainly some smaller warships and armed merchant cruisers. It’s now an honorary thing, as the learning curve was a bit steep at the start of the war and not many of those guys are around.” 

Jason marveled at how matter of fact his friend was about death and dying, talking about the destruction of an entire fighting force like he was discussing the weather.

“The Second Fleet was the first one to actually be constructed around purpose built warships—most of those vessels now patrol quieter sectors against Orionan raiders and pirates, although after the general amnesty offered for all pirates there aren’t so many of the latter.  The Third Fleet was specially constructed and saved for a vital occasion, that being the Battle of Taurus IV, the Lepscallion Homeworld.  That was the first use of the full Terran Expeditionary Corps, as we Humans had chosen to be called.  Some of us had already fought, especially Star Colonel Walthers and his merry band.  The TEC would’ve held the planet if the Lepscallions could fight worth a damn.”

Suddenly Jason found himself plopped down on a fertile plain, in the middle of a terrible combat.  His first sensation was of terrible scream over the comlink, followed by a blurred object hurtling across  his field of view from right to left, and he felt palpable shock.  The field of view whipped to the right, a targeting reticle swimming into the center of his field of view.  The sight in front of him made his blood run cold, or at least whomever’s field of view he was looking through’s blood run cold.

Advancing at a rapid clip just over the horizon, approximately twenty-five miles away, was a line of dark dots that stretched across the entire field of view.  While too far away to clearly see their shapes, a helpful image was suddenly projected just below the targeting reticle, with PRAETORIAN BATTLE ARMOR scrolling underneath it.  The “Praetorian” was humanoid in shape, with two thick legs and two bulbous arms extending from its broad shoulders.  Facts and figures rapidly scrolled by, Jason catching that its armor was approximately ten meters in height, five meters across.  As the dots continued to close, the animated Praetorian’s right arm suddenly split down the middle, the hand flipping back along the upper half, then both halves sliding back above the elbow to reveal a long, glistening blade.  The field of view looked up just in time for the entire advancing line to sparkle, then suddenly all was blackness.

 

Jason frantically came to, his eyes wide with terror and his arms swinging wildly.  Jack grabbed him, grabbing his friend close.

“Shh, shh, the rest of them aren’t woke up yet,” Jack murmured, comforting his friend.  “Sorry, but I wanted you to understand what we’re up against.”

“What the hell happened?” Jason gasped, his face suddenly breaking out in a cold sweat.

“You died,” Jack replied, letting his friend go.  “That was the feed from my 1st Platoon Leader, Chester McPherson.”

“What were those things?!”

“What the readout said, Praetorian battle armor led into battle by the Crown Prince himself.”

“Sweet Jesus, what was the range?”

“Twenty-three point six miles, to be exact.”

“Oh God.”  Suddenly Jason understood how much things had gone to Hell.

“If it makes you feel any better, that was a lucky shot, fired by the Crown Prince himself.  About a five percent hit chance, and Chester hadn’t raised his shields yet or the rail gun wouldn’t’ have killed him.  Taurus IV was a rude shock for all of us.”

“Sweet Jesus.”  The Powell’s max effective range was eight kilometers, and that was with a HEAT round.  That video had given Jason the impression chemical energy rounds wouldn’t be much use against those monsters.

“How many aliens are in each of those…things?” Jason asked.

“Aliens?” Jack asked with a near maniacal titter.  “Jason, there’s only one alien.”

Jason’s response was interrupted by Delilah signaling the end of the remaining men’s mind flash.

“Your men are getting ready to wake up,” Jack said grimly.  “I wasn’t present in their mind flashes, so they saw some things you didn’t and vice versa.”

“Things like what?”

“Things like what the aliens look like in the armor.  I’ll get to that later for you.”

In the end, only two people were sick, Mulryan just making it to the window before he hurled, Hitchcock spewing all over his own front before his eyes fully focused.  The remainder of the men were clearly shaken, the hardest veterans among them sitting with eyes wide and mouths agape.  Jack showed his first signs of sympathy, remembering back to his first introduction to the harsh realities of interstellar warfare.

Nothing like realizing you really are on an insignificant ball of dust in the grand scheme of things to make you question everything you’ve known.

“I apologize gentlemen.  Usually mind flashes are done in smaller increments, but as you can see, there is little time.”

“My God, we are all dead,” Panke said, his voice hollow.

“Well, glad to know there is some truth to the Trojan War,” someone else muttered, following the comment with a short bark of laughter.  “Although I’m not so sure about being a Christian and the Bible now that I know Goliath was an alien.”

“There still remains no good reason why David’s stone should have pierced Goliath’s helmet, if that makes you feel any better,” Jack replied drily.

“Oh, yeah, makes me feel just great to know that there is a God when Satan himself is coming to kill us all,” Hitchcock replied softly, his face still white as a sheet.

“You and your families will be safe,” Jack replied.  “We are shifting first priority to the military posts and any veterans we can find.  As you can see, death from disease should be a thing of the past.”

“So you mean all these cures for diseases, like cancer and Alzheimers that the Center For Disease Control just ‘figured out’—they’ve all been a freakin’ plot?” Panke said, his voice low and menacing.  “My mother died of breast cancer three years ago, just a couple years before the ‘cure’ officially came out.  Our freakin’ leaders have had it the whole time?!”

“Before you go getting upset, General Connelly is Weather Mountain talking to the G-8 leaders as we speak.”

“Talking?  Fuck that, I hope the bastard is killing them all,” Jason said with vehemence, his eyes brimming over with tears.  “Janet’s in Baltimore.  There’s not a chance, is there?”

Jack thought quickly, then shook his head.  Janet was Jason’s younger sister, and suddenly he found himself having to shut thoughts of her out of his mind.  Constantly underfoot as a child, Janet had grown to a quite attractive and smart woman.  If not for Amy, and the fact she knew just how much of a dog I was…Jack forced himself to stop thinking about her.

“Given current evacuation loads and available vessels, Delilah estimates there will be over five billion dead,” Jack said simply, his eyes hard.  “Right now we’re just trying to save whomever we can.”

“So in other words, no,” Jason snapped.  “Bastard!”

“Jason, five billion people are going to die.  Five billion.  One in roughly six people will be alive in forty-eight hours.”

“My God,” someone sobbed, his sentiment echoed by several oaths as everyone else in the room did the math.  Suddenly the magnitude of their fate started to hit home.

“So who is the chooser of the slain?” Hitchcock asked mirthlessly.  “What’s the criteria for these Noah’s Arks?”

“Priority will be given to trained active military and their immediate families that share the same domicile,” Jack said heavily.  “Followed by women and children evaluated by DNA coding.”

“So only the best and the brightest, huh?” Hitchcock asked, his face a mask of anger.  “Guess that means everyone in my family but me is pretty much screwed.”

“I didn’t make this…”

“I know,” Hitchcock said wearily.  “What’s the plan?”

Mecha are already being dispatched to find men and women who have been identified through various DNA repositories throughout the world,” Jack replied.  “Unfortunately, that means things are going to rather heavily weighted towards the developed world.”

“Guess we’ve been screwing the Third World for the last two or three hundred years, why stop in the last few hours?” Jason asked bitterly.

Jack gave his friend a look, sighing.  Jason had been that rarest of individuals at West Point—an honest to God Liberal.  While not as rare as an African-American Klu Klux Klan member, it was in the same ballpark—with about the same social stigma among one’s peers.  While Jack had been judicious enough to realize his friend’s views had some merit, he still felt that many of them didn’t.  One of latter was the fact that the Third World’s plight was some great plot of the developed world.

Although after this colossal goat fuck, I’m not so sure.

“I’m fairly sure that the people responsible are going to be hating life soon,” Jack observed grimly.

“So who else knows everything besides us?” Jason asked.

“The entire military senior leadership of the state is on the way to Topeka as we speak.  For now, you need to activate your battalion’s alert tree, the brigade if you can trust them to keep things under their hat,” Jack replied.  “I don’t know who your senior officer back here is, but we need to start getting transportation set up to get everyone here on post.  Make sure the fucker understands that we don’t have enough time to draw up a damn PowerPoint decision brief, wargame this out, and everything else.  We need to get the ball rolling now.”

“What are you going to go do?” Jason asked.

“Figure out how we’re going to set up the damn evacuation from the airfield.  Go home and get your wife, Jason.  Amy’s a great woman, and she’s not going to take it very well that she’s going to have to leave her family.”

Once more the enormity of what was happening hit every man in the room.

“I hope it’s slow and painful,” Hitchcock seethed.  No man in the room needed to wonder what he was talking about.

“If you knew General Connelly, you’d understand that’s not going to be a problem.”

I Can’t Believe I Wrote That–“Final Fight, Part II”

The title pretty much says it all.  I’ll do a little more commentary at the end.  Let the dogfighting begin…

Chapter 2

James saw two MiG-25 Foxbat fighters descend on a damaged B-52 like hyenas on a carcass and cursed, unable to do anything at the moment.  One of the fighters pressed its firing run too close, and ate a storm of 20mm gatling fire from the B-52s tail gun.  But the other closed to the minimum range for its monstrous AA-6 missiles and fired two heat-seekers.  The big missiles lanced into the B-52 and exploded its bomb bays, debris scattering for a quarter mile radius, some of it slamming into a neighboring Stratofortress.

Everywhere in the sky it seemed B-52s were dying.  Russian fighters ran through the bomber stream with suicidal courage, some even colliding with their targets.  The bomber tail gunners were doing all that they could, but their weapons were too short-ranged to be of much good.  It was the friendly fighters, and only the friendly fighters, that would be able to defend the bombers.

At the moment, the friendly fighters had problems of their own.  James realized that this was the Soviet Air Force’s make or break effort.  Every qualified pilot still in PVO Strany, the Russian home-defence force, had to be up in the air.  His fighters were grossly outnumbered, two to one odds not good when you were dueling with MiG-29s and Su-27s for the most part.  These fighters were only slightly less advanced than his own Tomcat, and arguably just as maneuverable.  There were going to be a bunch of empty bunks back at the N.A.T.O. bases tonight.

James wrenched the stick over, rolling through the final maneuver of his Immelmann and turning viciously after the Su-27 that had dropped onto his tail.  For a brief moment, his wings lost lift and his fighter was simply a guided rocket.  Then once more they bit air, and he finished the maneuver.

The Su-27 pilot suddenly saw that he was a dead man and dived.  James followed vengefully, knowing this would be one less man they had to shoot down later.  He was out of Sidewinders, and flicked on the radar.

“Boresight!” Amazon cried out.  He squeezed off a Sparrow.  The medium range missile streaked off the rail, going towards its target.  The Russian pilot dumped chaff and wracked his aircraft to the left, but the missile was not fooled.  Its warhead expanded into the enemy fighter, blowing off a wing.  The Flanker went into a flat spin, trapping the pilot.

James felt the sweat running off his body, knowing he had just put in a virtuoso performance and shot down his fifth kill.  Only three pilots in the whole of N.A.T.O. had done this, and only one Russian that he knew of.  But now he was almost out of missiles and fuel, and the fight had just begun.

“SAM!  SAM!  SAM!” Amazon screamed, as the sound of the radar-warning receiver came on.  Amazon switched the frequency of the jammers and banged down the chaff button of her HOTAS, a cloud of the metallic debris spilling out behind them to create a false radar image.

The missile saved their life.  A stream of tracers streaked by their joint canopy, close enough to touch.  James looked in his rearview mirror and felt his stomach drop, and his blood turn to ice.

A yellow-painted MiG-29K Fulcrum hung there.  It was Ilvanyich.

 

Ivan felt the dark rage well up in him.  He was going to kill some feces eating, rat screwing, half-aborted SAM battery commander!  The all black F-14 had been right in his sights, hanging there ready for the kill.  Now he was going to have to take some time to kill the American.

The F-14’s nose flew up into the 90-degree angle, then its canards flipped back and it came over onto its back.  Ilvanyich saw this maneuver as he hurtled past, his body already reacting into a tight turn without having to think about it.  It was Loftman.  He was sure of it.  Today would be the day the American died.

 

The stage was set.  Both the leading aces of the primary warring nations had met each other, high in the Soviet sky that had been witness to so much killing already.  Neither had the advantage or a wingman to interfere.  Both had an axe to grind.

As the two fighters orbited around, circling warily, Ilvanyich thought of his dead wife, blown apart by a VF-41 Tomcat over Argentina.  He thought about her as he had last seen her, in her radar controller uniform, tear in her eye, at Moscow’s airport.  She had been lost instantly in a rush of people, the war being only hours away.  The thought about her terrible and sudden death still haunted him.

James Loftman thought of his younger brother, the happily playing ten-year old that had vowed to go to the Naval Academy, just like “bub”.  And he had become a fighter pilot, just like all three of his older brothers.  His mind wandered briefly to Max and Sheen, both in the skies with him.  If Ilvanyich should kill him this day, he hoped it was one of them or one of his squadronmates that avenged him.

The two pilots, both sick of the circling, simply turned towards each other and charged, neither one having any missiles.  At the extreme limit of his monstrous 30mm cannon, James opened fire, the vibration of the gun coming through his feet and shaking his whole body.  Ilvanyich pitched his nose up to fly over the stream, then rolled to his right and pitched down to come at the F-14 from an angle, firing his own 30mm cannon.  The weapon sprayed its shells over a wide area.

 

James felt the F-14 shudder and cursed, rolling away.  A hole the size of his fist had appeared in the fuselage of the F-14, and he had just lost contact with the fire control computer.  So now it was about to become dead reckoning fire.

The two pilots shoved their throttles forward.  Amazon grabbed her armrests and held on for the ride, her only job as an RIO to look out for other enemy fighters trying to crash the party.  She had utter faith in her husband and pilot.  He had steered them through sixty-one kills up to this point, and she had only had to go into the drink twice.

James turned to go after the hard turning and climbing Fulcrum.  His heavier fighter would never have been able to hang with the lighter, nimbler Fulcrum under normal circumstances, but the thrust vectoring engines and canards that had been added to the F-14D before the war had turned it into the nimblest, most powerful fighter in the world.  James felt the advantage was his as he turned after the Russian.

 

Ilvanyich completed the Immelmann, but not in time to come back down on Loftman’s tail.  The American had climbed into a yo-yo after him, and was now sliding into the kill position a mile back.  It was time for desperate measures, as his Fulcrum was losing energy and getting hard to control.  He pulled up into a stall attitude, pulling the throttle back and letting the plane’s drag almost stop it in mid-air.

The manuever worked.  Loftman had unconsciously made the mistake most pilots flying powerful fighters did–He had added too much speed.  Ilvanyich slapped the nose back down, going into a slight dive to gain airspeed as he shoved his throttle forwards.

 

“DAMMIT!” James cursed, knowing he was in trouble now. He hadn’t even bothered trying to slow down, but was instead trying to gain separation, or distance between the enemy fighter and himself so he could pull a maneuver.

It wasn’t working.  Ilvanyich had been given a brand new MiG-29 as a gift.  This now showed, the fighter responding like a thoroughbred and leaping after the Tomcat like a barracuda after a fat, juicy fish.

James broke just as Ilvanyich opened fire.  The Tomcat groaned dangerously, as he felt the G-forces kick him in the gut.  Sweat was running in rivers down his body.  He felt a slight twinge of doubt on whether he was going to make it, the tracers coming closer and closer to his fighter.

Then they stopped.  Ilvanyich had lessened his turn, unable to hold it with the Tomcat.  James reversed the turn, expecting Ilvanyich to try and go the other way and snap onto his tail.

He brought his fighter around to empty sky and cursed.

“He’s above us!” Amazon said, her tone rising.

 

Ivan was proud of himself.  He had fired the last burst then snapped his MiG into a vertical turn.  He was now coming at the Tomcat from and angle Loftman could do nothing about.  He depressed the cannon tit.

“Die Loftman!” he shouted over the com net.

 

Someone always has to lose in war.  If it was not for the fact that thousands of people die in war, man would probably have one every day.  A certain competitive spirit, a total channeling of the being seldom achieved except by Zen masters, overtakes the normal civilized psyche of everyday man during the war.  Man craves the adrenaline rush.

James Loftman’s number, by all intents and purposes, should’ve come up.  Despite the fact that all vital spots of the Tomcat had been hardened against cannon fire up to 30mm in caliber, and that the fuel tanks had internal fire extinguishers, enough explosive power should’ve impacted the Tomcat to simply swat it out of the sky.

Twenty-five of the big 30mm shells hit the Tomcat, shaking it like a rag doll and snapping the stick from James’s hands.  The electronic fly by wire system that gave the fighter part of its amazing agility, was knocked out temporarily.  And, most horrible of all, a shell entered the rear cockpit of the F-14.  The shell hit Amazon dead center, right in her chest.  She never even realized she was dead.  Ilvanyich had exchanged life for life, wife for wife.

James heard the bang behind him and the sudden silence over the intercom as his F-14 went into a spin.  His will to live left his body.  Amazon had been his rock, his salvation.  It had been her shoulder he had cried on when he found out his brothers Andy and Luke were dead.  She had been the one that forced him to keep his honor and his humanity intact by not killing Ilvanyich in his chute.  She had kept him sane after having to tell his parents they had lost another son.  He remembered once again the happiness that had coursed through his soul when they had been married on that small hill just outside the town of Derwin, Texas, where he had been raised.  And the caring way she had broke the news to Shorty Joghnson’s wife that her warrior would not be coming home to see his newborn son, despite all James Loftman could’ve done to save him.  No, life was not worth living without her.  So he did not try to eject.

 

Ilvanyich followed the blazing Tomcat down, ready to add his last twenty shells to the damage if necessary.  This was the trump to what he was sure had been a great victory.  Two B-52s had fallen to him personally.  If the other pilots had done as well as he had, there probably would be no more B-52 raids.  They probably had not stopped the bombers from getting through, but they had probably made sure they would not be back.

Loftman had not even made an attempt to bail out.  Ivan could see the hole in the canopy.  Perhaps he had got lucky and gotten both Loftman and his hussy with one shot.  He would circle closer.

 

James saw the yellow MiG coming in almost contemptously towards him, the Russian bastard probably trying to make sure he had killed him.

This thought suddenly galvanized him.  A dark, evil, rage seized him.  Ilvanyich was responsible for Amazon’s loss.  If he only lived for the next few seconds, he would know he had died trying to avenge her.

He waited until he could clearly see the Russian, and brought his right hand up in a gesture of defiance, one finger extended.  He then slammed down his flaps and hauled hard on the stick, putting extra effort into the move.

The F-14 responded as if it also wanted revenge on the man that had defiled its beautiful lines and ended the life of one crewmember before ruining the heart of the other.  The nose snapped sharply around, drawing towards the MiG.  The stall warnings were screaming in his ear, but he coaxed what little airspeed he had left into maneuvering energy.

The MiG hung in his sight.  James felt his rage released in an explosion of unearthyly force as he pressed the trigger.  He held the button down, the 30mm cannon emptying the remaining 200 rounds in its drum.  Every single round hit home.

 

Ilvanyich knew he was dead, even as he tried desperately to get up some speed after the slow pass.  His life passed before his eyes as he saw the twinkle of the 30mm gatling.  Then the slugs smashed through the canopy and killed the favorite son of the Soviet Air Force, turning him, his seat, and his cockpit console into inseperable junk.

 

James felt very much like an old time Western gunslinger as he turned away with grim satisfaction.  He checked all around him for any threats.  The sky was clear, except for a rising smoke pall to the east.  He turned the battered old Tomcat for home, and let the tears and grief come out, sobbing as he piloted the F-14.


            Chapter 3

Upper Heyford was a beehive as activity as James started to come in for a landing.  He had been forced to wait while bombers with injured crewmen had landed.  After all, he only had cold meat in his rear cockpit.

This thought was a symbol of what Amazon’s death had done to him.  He did not feel human anymore, his emotions simply gone.  He felt perhaps it might be shock.  But he could still function, and any instructor would’ve said he was flying the damaged Tomcat as well as could possibly be expected.

Inside he was wondering if he was not at fault for Amazon’s death.  Both VF-41 and VF-84 had been offered, after the Flying Dutchman-like cruise of the Enterprise a job of training new pilots in Russian air-combat tactics at Top Gun.  To a man, they had decided to re-enter combat.  Most of them had not lived to regret it.  James wondered if he should’ve put his foot down and ordered them to stay out of it.  But no, that had been everyone’s decision–and it had probably saved more lives than it had lost.  He hated to think of some squadron such as VF-1, the Wolfpack, that had not been in combat the entire war, going up against Ilvanyich and his veterans.  No, the thirty-six men and women that had made that decision had made the right choice, even if there were now only five of them still living.

“Samurai One One, you are cleared for landing,” the radar controller’s tired voice said in his ear.  James brought the F-14 in slowly, feeling it want to get away from him.  Wouldn’t that be ironic, for him to have come all this way just to crack up and die.

He had come all this way to ensure Amazon got buried in her home state of Missouri.  A trip to the town of St. Joseph would be in order.

James felt another tear start its track down his face as he touched down and began his taxi roll.  Certainly the F-14 looked like a plane from Hell, but that was too bad.  At the moment, he didn’t care whether they scrapped it or made it a war momento.  He just didn’t care anymore about anything.  After he buried his wife, he would try to sort out his life and feelings.

A group of crash crewmen rushed towards his fighter.  James saw the look of worry on all their faces as he raised the canopy.  He simply sat in the front seat, drained.

The first fireman up the ladder to the rear cockpit lost his lunch, adding this to the fluid already swilling in the bottom of the cockpit.  His partner, a much more experienced hand, called for a bodybag.

A ground crewman new to the unit cursed.

“Why didn’t you just eject instead of bringing that back!  You could’ve just let the fish have your damn RIO, because the plane’s…”

The man never got to finish.  James vaulted out of the front cockpit, a killing rage about him, lending him energy.  His right arm smashed into the man’s face, the horrible blow nearly ripping his head from his shoulders.  The man’s neck snapped, he was hit so incredibly hard.

James was far from done.  Only his Crew Chief, Jeff Jones, stepping in front of him and grabbing him stopped him from killing the man.

“It won’t help her none, sir.  Don’t get yourself thrown in the brig over this stupid asshole!” he drawed, restraining Loftman, which was quite a job even for the 7′ 8″ former wrestler.

James got a hold of himself.  Jeff was right.  One more death would not bring Amazon or anyone else who had died in this war back.  Getting himself sent to Leavenworth for life wouldn’t either.  Loftman turned and started to head for the ready room.  A newshawk, eager for a story, started to run after him.  Jeff grabbed him.

“Leave him be, pard.  That man’s bearing a load,” Jeff said.

“Hey, you can’t hold me.  I’ve got the right to free speech!” the newshawk said, struggling.

“You’ve got the right to get seriously hurt if you bother that man.  And don’t even threaten to sue, because it’d cost you more than you’d get, my friend.”

The menace was clear in Jeff’s voice.  The man had been with Commander Loftman for the duration.  He didn’t intend for some dumb newsman to bother his commander while the man was struggling to stabilize himself.  Jeff just hoped he did it quick, because he had more bad news coming.

A MiG-29 Fulcrum had been chasing the bomber carrying General George Wilkes, commander of the 8th Bombardment Wing.  Sheen Loftman, out of missiles and ammo, had used the only weapon he had left: his plane.  Sheen would be getting a second Medal of Honor to go with his other medals  But that would be little solace to James Loftman.

Jeff hoped the government somehow recognized the sacrifice that the Loftman family had given for their country.


            Chapter 4

The bombing strike had indeed served its purpose.  Moscow had been gutted almost in its entirety.  Every major monument, artifact, and government building had burnt to the ground.  More than a million people had died in the horrible firestorm.  The provisional government had sued for peace.

It was a good thing.  Cassin Downes had been left with a mere 265 B-52s and 75 fighters to continue his campaign.  Of course, the 135 Soviet aircraft they had downed had pretty much broken the back of PVO Strany.  Frontal Aviation, the aircraft that fought over the front lines, had lost a further thirty-six aircraft trying to prevent aid from getting to the bomber fight, an effort that had ultimately failed.

James Loftman had accompanied his brother’s and wife’s body back to a tall hill just outside of St. Joseph, Missouri.  There, in a quiet ceremony that was not disturbed by any newsman upon penalty of death. (An order that raised much hue and cry, but was not challenged because troops of the 101st Airborne had personally entrusted themselves to enforce this to the letter.  They had let the newspeople know that they could sue them later if they stayed away, but it would be kind of hard to sue if you were dead.  Even the most idiotic newshawks knew better than to test the airborne.)

James Loftman was awarded his second Congressional Medal of Honor and his wife’s also, then disappeared from the world view, resigning his commission and heading north.  It has been said that he left a way to contact him with his brother Max and his wife Amee in case his country should want his services in time of peril again.  Rumor has it that he went to the Arctic to simply live out an existence.

Twenty years after the end of the war, the United States Navy, which was now a space going organization, was ready to launch its newest cruiser.  On hand for the christening of the vessel was Max Loftman.  James Loftman put in a surprise appearance, as the battlecruiser U.S.S. Loftmans exited its space dock.

An older, wiser newsman came up to apologize for being such an idiot on a cold day back in December.  James accepted his apology, and introduced the man to his new wife, Sarah.  The newsman got the interview that he had wanted twenty years before, and since that he was the new owner of the New York Times syndicate, the interview was beamed to houses galaxywide as front page news.

“Was it worth it?” the newsman asked as his final question.

Loftman, his red hair greying at the temples, sat in thought for a moment.  He thought of friends and loves lost, of the pain and exhilarations of combat, and the ideal that he had helped defend, that had grown into a true democracy where all decisions were made by popular vote and law was in common language.  He thought of the tyranny that the Soviets could’ve enforced on most of the world.  And he thought of a certain redhead that had died in his backseat.  As his wife squeezed his hand to bring him out of his reverie, he answered.

“Yes, in the fact that we were sent out to defend America and we did this.  Yes, in the fact that I ensured my little nephews and nieces, and the two children Sarah and I have, are living free.

“But no in the fact that I lost friends.  No, in the fact that I lost a woman that I loved and still do in a small part of me.  No, in the fact that all I have to remember of five brothers is simply memories and old photographs.  No, in the fact that mankind should’ve been able to find another way to settle their differences or help their fellow man.  And no, in the fact that I am not the same man that I once was.

I still wake up in the night seeing the men I killed, and the friends that I led to their deaths.  Vietnam vets, those few still alive, know what I am talking about.  But it is not just a symptom of lost wars.  Its a symptom of all wars.  And this is something we need to remember as we explore the stars.  Or else my children will be forced to fight and die, much like their forefathers have.”

The wise old reporter nodded his head, and recorded it all.  This would not be edited.

James Loftman died on July 4th, 2054.  He was eighty-eight years old.

****

What I Would Do Differently

1.) All in all, this one was not that bad.  I mean, other than the wholly fictionalized, super souped up F-14D+, the fact that a conventional bombing strike of this magnitude on Moscow would likely lead to nuclear release, a HUGE data dump at the beginning, and basically throwing the reader into the middle of…okay, yeah, this will not be on my lifetime highlight reel.  I mean, I’m glad I wrote it (obviously–it made me money).  But it is definitely something I would seriously modify if I did it all over again.

2.) I’d do the last part via dialogue, not a straight narrative.  I do blame this one on my Martin Caidin, et. al. addiction as a child.  Very 1950s-1960s history account in its style, but not so much suited to fiction.

3.) I still do modern military fiction.  There’s a few things sitting on the hard drive that may be excavated and dusted off, plus rumor has it the United States Naval Institute is going to throw a fiction contest here shortly.  If that happens, I’m all in–I’ve been needing motivation to finish a modern naval short story, and that would certainly provide it.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed the read.  Or, at the very least, aren’t now reaching for the “unfollow” button.  🙂

Writing Tips–Some Research

As I mentioned in my writing tips, sometimes research can be a substitute for experience.  Going even further, the best research in the world is that done by someone else.  One quick way to save oneself a lot of diving and sorting of what sources work the best for you is to find a historiographical essay.  This is basically where a historian (either amateur or professional) looks at the sources available for a given field and gives a run down on what works and what doesn’t. An example of what one looks like (albeit dated from 2010) is attached below, with a Pacific War bibliography pasted behind it.  While Combined Fleet remains my suggested go to for most things IJN-oriented, I stand by most of my assessments made below for the USN side.

Note: This one is really on the long side.  Just so everyone knows in advance.  (Yes, I’m looking at you, Ashley.)

 

 

 

 

 

From the Harbor to the Bay:

A Historiographical Examination of the United States Navy’s War in the Pacific, 1941-1945

 

 

 

 

 

By

 

 

 

 James Young

(c) 2010

 

 

 

 

Historical Background

            The American-Japanese Pacific War began shortly after 0630 on 7 December 1941 as the destroyer U.S.S. Ward engaged and sank a Japanese midget submarine outside of Pearl Harbor.  Nearly four years later, on 2 September 1945, it concluded with the Japanese delegation signing surrender documentation on the deck of the U.S.S. Missouri, a battleship not even launched on that fateful December morning.  In the intervening forty-five months, the United States Navy (USN) had grown in size until its strength was greater than that of the next ten navies combined.  Moreover, this great strength had come about despite heavy initial losses incurred as the USN transitioned from an ill-equipped and improperly trained peacetime force to a lethal juggernaut that had all but annihilated the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN), strangled the Japanese economy and set the conditions for a possible invasion of the Home Islands.

State of the Historiography: Foundational Works and General Histories

            How this state of affairs came about has fascinated historians since the Second World War ended.  As with many modern conflicts, the combatants’ derived their methodology from their prewar strategy and design philosophies.  There is very little historiography that focuses solely on the IJN’s evolution, with David C. Evans and Mark R. Peattie’s Kaigun and Peattie’s companion book, Sunburst, serving as the seminal works on this topic.  For the evolution of the USN’s grand strategy, Frank Miller’s War Plan Orange outlines how America’s admirals planned to defeat Japan and is complemented by Thomas C. and Trent Hone’s Battleline and John T. Kuehn’s Agents of Innovation.

For those requiring a general understanding of the Pacific War’s course, Ronald Spector’s Eagle Against the Sun (1985) remains one of the best single-volume treatments of the U.S.-Japanese Pacific Conflict.  First published in 1985, Spector’s treatment of the Pacific War is balanced and relies upon both Japanese and American sources.  For those unable to obtain Spector’s book, Harry A. Gailey’s The War in the Pacific is a slightly more modern (1995) work whose treatment of the pre-war strategic factors is not quite as extensive as Spector’s.

Of histories whose sole subject is the USN’s Pacific War, the field remains dominated by the long shadow of one historian: Samuel Eliot Morison (1887-1976).  A Massachusetts native who received his Doctorate in Philosophy from Harvard University, Morison became the USN’s World War II historian due to his relationship with President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Many historians consider his final product, entitled History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, to be the definitive history of the United States Navy during the Second World War.  Nine of the 15-volume set deals with American naval operations in the Pacific and, while a daunting read, more than adequately serves the purpose of providing a USN-oriented general history.  Unfortunately, the works were published from 1947 to 1962 and, due to their age and the declassification of several USN documents, are starting to have their accuracy called into question by more recent works.  In addition, Morison made very little use of Japanese sources and, in many places, directly contradicts the autobiographies of Japanese survivors (e.g., Commander Mitsuo Fuchida and famous ace Saburo Sakai).  Therefore, Morison should not be relied upon for anything other than general knowledge and should be read in conjunction with a work such as Paul Dull’s A Battle History of the Imperial Japanese Navy (1941-1945).

State of the Historiography: The Carrier / Air War

            After reading one or more general histories of the Pacific War, it quickly becomes apparent that carrier and land-based aircraft dominated the conflict.  If one accepts the typical narrative, i.e. that the Kido Butai’s strike on Pearl Harbor initiated the conflict and its outcome was decided once the USN crushed that same force at Midway, it is unsurprising that a large segment of the historiography focuses on aircraft carriers and land-based airpower.  What is surprising, however, is the extent to which the aforementioned segment in turn focuses on these two engagements.  Indeed, there are very few single-volume texts that engage the USN’s carrier war in its entirety.  Of these, only Douglas V. Smith’s Carrier Battles: Command Decision in Harm’s Way has been published in the last five years.  Unfortunately, Smith’s book does not adequately fill this historiographical gap because, as its title suggests, it focuses more on the influence of commanders’ interwar education on their actions than a narrative discussing World War II’s five carrier battles.

Pearl Harbor, by virtue of being the catalyst for America’s entry into World War II, has a very large historiographical footprint.  Of the numerous books and articles on the Japanese attack, Gordon W. Prange’s trilogy is the most influential.  Prange, a World War II veteran and history professor at the University of Maryland, did much of the research for his books while serving as a civilian historian on General Douglas MacArthur’s staff (1946-1951).  In addition to having access to the Imperial Japanese Navy’s surviving records, Prange established a number of contacts with IJN veterans.  Thus the first book in his Pearl Harbor trilogy, At Dawn We Slept (1982), was one of the first books on the attack to incorporate Japanese-language research.  Like the subsequent works, Pearl Harbor: The Verdict of History (1986) and Dec. 7, 1941: The Day the Japanese Attacked Pearl Harbor (1988), At Dawn We Slept was published posthumously with the aid of Prange’s coworkers and widow.  Therefore, there was little opportunity for Prange to explain points where his work contradicts Morison or other American sources.  However, combined these three texts continue to dominate the discussion of Pearl Harbor, with most subsequent books on the subject citing them as a major source.  In general, Prange’s narrative has stood up to time and further examination by international historians.  While more recent works such as H. P. Wilmott’s Pearl Harbor have generally better presentation, they only finesse some details (e.g., the third wave controversy, midget submarines effectiveness) while not changing much of Prange’s narrative.

It is in recounting what followed in this first year, specifically the Battles of Coral Sea, Midway, and the Guadalcanal Campaign, that the historiography begins to show major gaps.  First, there are less than five books that focus exclusively on the Battle of the Coral Sea, and of these none provide any insights that are not available elsewhere.  By far the best treatment of the battle in a wider source is John Lundstrom’s discussion of the engagement in The First Team: Pacific Naval Air Combat from Pearl Harbor to Midway.  Lundstrom, a professional historian who is widely acknowledged as the foremost expert on Pacific air combat through 1943, not only deconstructs the decisions involved by both sides but also disects the actual engagement down to the individual airframe level.  Other than Lundstrom and Sherman’s discussion, however, the Battle of the Coral Sea is usually treated in the same manner as an undercard bout before a heavyweight championship fight.

To carry on this analogy, the main event in question would be The Battle of Midway.  Of all five carrier engagements in World War II, Midway by far has had the most works dedicated to it.  Due to Morison, historian Walter Lord’s Incredible Victory, and Prange’s Miracle at Midway, a conventional narrative of the battle was rapidly established by the 1960s.  The general course of this story was that the outnumbered USN, through code-breaking success and Japanese mistakes, was able to score a stunning victory by catching the Kido Butai as that force was prepared to launch a devastating strike.  In turn, the casualties among Japanese aircrews at Midway crippled the Imperial Japanese Naval Air Force (IJNAF) for the remainder of the war.  Therefore, as of 5 June 1942, the Pacific War’s outcome was inevitable, as the Japanese were forever unable to recover the strategic initative.

This narrative went generally unchallenged until the publication of Lundstrom’s First Team and its sequel, The First Team: Pacific Naval Air Combat from Pearl Harbor to Midway.  Lundstrom, through extensive research, demonstrated that a majority of the four Japanese carriers’ aircrews not only survived but went on to participate in the subsequent Guadalcanal and Solomons campaigns.  According to both First Team works, it was only through the attrition of the battles subsequent to Midway rather than that singular calamity that the USN blunted the IJNAF’s edge.  Similarly, Parshall and Tully’s Shattered Sword not only questioned whether Midway truly eviscerated the IJNAF’s aircrew but also began to question whether the conventional narrative got the timing of the USN’s attacks correct.  Using Japanese language sources in addition to pointing out Morison’s undue influence on subsequent historians, Parshall and Tully provide an argument that illustrates how Japanese doctrine would have precluded the Japanese carriers’ decks from being full of aircraft when Yorktown and Enterprise’s dive bomber squadrons arrived overhead.  In turn, Dallas Isom’s Midway Inquest takes Parshall and Tully to task while acknowledging that the Morison/Prange/Lord narrative is generally incorrect.

It is subsequent to Midway that the number of works regarding carrier warfare sharply drops off to be replaced by books that focus on the Guadalcanal campaign as a whole.  First, other than popular historian Eric Hammel, no other other author has written a work of note regarding the Battle of the Eastern Solomons or the Battle of Santa Cruz.  Although not nearly as decisive as Midway, as noted by Lundstrom it was these two battles that largely broke the IJNAF’s carrier arm’s collective back and heralded the slaughter that would occur at the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944.  Much like that last engagement (whose sole modern treatment is Barrett Tillman’s Clash of the Carriers), the historiographical gap around both of these battles is somewhat astonishing.

Likewise, despite books dedicated to individual participants or units, the contribution of ground-based USN air elements after Guadalcanal has received little attention.  With the exception of a couple of units (e.g., VMF-214 “Black Sheep” and VF-17 “Jolly Rogers”) or personalities (e.g., Gregory Boyington and Tom Blackburn), there remains numerous opportunities for scholarly research on the Solomons Campaign’s aerial facets.  Finally, there is also no single-volume treatment of USN land-based aircraft’s contributions in the last year of the war.  Whether in the Philippines or at Okinawa, USN and United States Marine Corps (USMC) fighters played a crucial role in counter-Kamikaze operations, yet their efforts have not been addressed except in popular histories such as Gerald Astor’s Wings of Gold or Semper Fi in the Sky.  This historiographical gap remains to be closed.

State of the Historiography: The Surface War

            Like land-based aircraft, the USN’s surface fleet made several crucial contributions to the service’s ultimate victory in World War II.  Like their land-based counterparts however, the officers manning the USN’s battleships, cruisers, destroyers and PT boats have had few scholarly works devoted to their efforts, with most of these concentrating on actions around Guadalcanal.  In some respects this is understandable, as many historians consider these engagements to be the last time surface vessels made a decisive, rather than supporting, contribution to the USN’s larger victory.  However, as with the destruction of the IJNAF’s pilot cadre, the attrition visited upon the IJN’s surface fleet in the Solomons contributed a great deal to subsequent American victories.

In one of history’s ironies, the Guadalcanal Campaign began with what remains the USN’s greatest defeat, the Battle of Savo Island.  This engagement, due to its traumatic (for the USN and Royal Australian Navy (RAN)) outcome, has received much more attention from American, Australian, and Japanese scholars than any other surface engagement in the war. Disaster in the Pacific: New Light on the Battle of Savo Island, written by Denis Waner, Peggy Warner, and Sadao Seno, is a book representative of the genre.  Like most of the other works, Disaster highlights the Japanese Navy’s preparedness, the Allies’ numerous mistakes (e.g., poor preparedness, failure to pass information between commands, poor C2) that made the IJN’s victory possible.  Like much of the recent carrier historiography, Waner et al. take Morison to task on several of the battle’s details, but do not argue with the general narrative.

Outside of Savo Island, USN surface battles are fortunate to have one work published about them.  Balikpapan, Java Sea, Sunda Strait, Cape Esperance, First and Second Guadalcanal, Tassafronga, Komandorski Islands, Vila-Stanmore, Kula Gulf, Kolombangara, Vella Gulf, Vella Lavella, Empress Augusta Bay, Cape St. George, Surigao Strait, and Samar have had less than a dozen books published about them in total.  Of these, only four have been published in the last twenty years, with Tully’s Surigao Strait being the most recent.  Furthermore, there is only one single-volume work (Vincent P. O’Hara’s The U.S. Navy Against the Axis) published in the last decade that addresses USN surface combat as a whole.  Whereas many World War II historians are familiar with names such as Spruance, Mitscher, and Halsey, very few can tell you the role of Ainsworth or Merrill or their importance to the USN’s Pacific campaign.  This is an area in which historians could do a great deal more work.

            State of the Historiography: The Submarine War

            Ironically, given their nickname as the “Silent Service,” USN submariners do not share their surface brethren’s lack of historical representation.  There are several reasons for this.  First, due to submarine’s impact on the larger war effort it would be hard to ignore submariners’ contributions to America’s victory.  Second, many submarine commanders survived to write accounts of their actions for popular works after the war.  Finally, as with carrier operations, the glamor and danger of USN submarine operations lent itself well to dramatic, tense movies by Hollywood.  This meant that cinema introduced the American populace to submarine exploits through several wartime and postwar movies.

Given this popularity, the USN submarine war has received a great deal of scholarly attention.  The first example of this was the USN’s own official history, written by Theodore Roscoe.  With the workmanlike title United States Submarine Operations in World War II (later called Pigboats), Roscoe’s book used the postwar Strategic Bombing Survey as well as Japanese records to establish a narrative of submarine operations from Pearl Harbor to the end of the war.  Written in dramatic prose, Roscoe’s work served as both a historical narrative and popular text for the American populace.

Despite the popularity of Roscoe’s work, Morison’s discussion of submarine operations overshadowed it.  It would be another twenty-six years before the publication of what would become the definitive work on the USN’s World War II operations, Clay Blair’s Silent Victory.  Oddly published in both single and dual-volume form, Silent Victory brought together Japanese records, recently declassified information, and Blair’s personal submarine experience to put together a rich historical narrative.  Although Blair does not claim that the Silent Service won the war single-handedly, he does make a case that the USN’s submarines’ campaign did more to cripple the Japanese war effort than the rest of the Navy combined.  Blair’s evidence is conclusive, and while further works focus on particular aspects of the fleet boats’ campaign, Silent Victory’s narrative is still the generally accepted one.

            Historiographical Gaps

            While Blair’s account fills in most of the submariner’s narrative, as noted above there are many gaps remaining with regards to surface and carrier/air operations.  In addition to these, however, there are at least two areas of USN Pacific operations that historians have almost completely overlooked.  First, there are no works on USN anti-submarine warfare (ASW) efforts in the Pacific.  While many sources have pilloried the Japanese submarine fleet for not conducting an extensive campaign against extended American supply lines, this ignores the I-boats’ stellar performance through the first year of the war.  In the first twenty-four months of the war, submarines sank or damaged several major USN combatants (with critical effects on several carrier and surface battles); yet after that point only managed one more major success (CA Indianapolis) while suffering extensive losses.  No widely available text or dissertation focuses on this change or how it came about.  While some historians have made allusions to this being a result of the Japanese Navy’s decision to use submarines to resupply cut off garrisons, this does not explain events such as the USS England destroying six Japanese submarines in rapid succession in 1944.

Similarly ignored are the USN’s logistical advances that allowed the Pacific Fleet to range the length of the Pacific.  Whereas initially the USN had difficulty in supplying much more than fuel oil to individual task forces, by the end of the war the Third/Fifth Fleet was often away from its advanced bases for months on end.  Furthermore, while at these advanced bases the USN was able to rearm and provision with such speed that their subsequent operations regularly caught the Japanese unprepared.  Therefore the development of underway and in port replenishment operations were critical to the USN’s ultimate success and, by virtue of never giving the IJN time to recoup its aircrew losses, reduced the number of American casualties.  Despite this, the only major work on Pacific logistics is Worral Carter’s Beans, Bullets, and Black Oil.

            State of the Field

            Overall, given these gaps and those outlined above, it would be fair to say that notwithstanding the many works published on the USN’s Pacific Campaign, much work remains to be done.  For aviators, a single-volume work that provides a narrative for all five carrier battles is a priority, while research on the efforts of the land-based aircraft is similarly pressing.  With regards to surface warfare, more single battle and vessel histories remain to be written.  Although American submarines have been well-covered, the efforts to stop their Japanese counterparts are deserving of treatment.  Similarly, historians should examine the means by which the USN supplied its widely scattered forces while veterans took part in this effort remain living.  Finally, and most importantly, universities that teach military history must begin to give seapower, its theory, and execution the same pride of place given to that of land campaigns and airpower so that historians are inspired to close these gaps.  Until then, the USN’s Pacific Campaign will remain subject to a hodgepodge of works that focus on several famous engagements at the expense of presenting a larger narrative.

 

United States Navy (USN) in the Pacific Bibliography

Astor, Gerald.  Wings of Gold: The U.S. Naval Air Campaign in World War II, Presidio Trade Paperback Edition.  New York: Random House Publishing Group, 2004; Presidio, 2005.

 

_____.  Semper Fi in the Sky: The Marine Air Battles of World War II.  New York: Presidio Press, 2005.

 

Blair, Clay, Jr.  Silent Victory: The U.S. Submarine War Against Japan, Volume 1.  New York: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1975.

 

_____.  Silent Victory: The U.S. Submarine War Against Japan, Volume 2.  New York: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1975.

 

Brand, Max [Frederick Faust].  Fighter Squadron at Guadalcanal, Pocket Books Paperback Edition.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1996; New York: Pocket Books, 1997.

 

Buell, Harold L., CDR, USN (ret.).  Dauntless Helldivers: A Dive-Bomber Pilot’s Epic Story of the Carrier Battles.  New York: Dell Publishing, 1991.

 

Buell, Thomas.  The Quiet Warrior: A Biography of Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, Paperback Edition.  New York: Little, Brown Publishing, 1974; Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2009.

 

Campbell, John.  Naval Weapons of World War II, Naval Institute Press ed.  London: Conway Maritime Press, 1985; Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2002.

 

Cook, Charles, CPT, USN (ret.).  The Battle of Cape Esperance: Encounter At Guadalcanal.  New York: Cromwell, 1968; Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2008.

 

Cutler, Thomas J., LCDR, USN (ret.).  The Battle of Leyte Gulf, 23-26 October 1944.  New York: Harper Collins, 1994.

 

Dower, John W.  War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War.  New York: Pantheon Books, 1986.

 

Dull, Paul S.  A Battle History of the Imperial Japanese Navy (1941-1945), Paperback Edition.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1978; 2007.

 

Dulin, Robert O. and William H. Garzke, Jr.  Battleships: United States Battleships in World War II.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1976.

 

Evans, David C. and Mark R. Peattie.   Kaigun: Strategy, Tactics, and Technology in the IMPERIAL JAPANESE NAVY, 1887-1941.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1997.

 

Fluckey, Eugene B., ADM, USN (ret.).  Thunder Below!  New York: Berkely Caliber, 1992.

 

Friedman, Norman.  U.S. Aircraft Carriers: An Illustrated Design History.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1983.

 

_____. U.S. Cruisers: An Illustrated Design History.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1985.

 

_____. U.S. Battleships: An Illustrated Design History.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1985.

 

_____.  Naval Firepower: Battleship Guns and Gunnery in the Dreadnought Era.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2008.

 

Fuchida, Mitsuo and Masatake Okumiya.  Midway: The Battle that Doomed Japan, Ballantine War Paperback Edition, 3rd Printing.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1955; New York: Ballantine Books, 1982.

 

Gailey, Harry A.  The War in the Pacific: From Pearl Harbor to Tokyo Bay.  Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1995.

 

Galantin, I.J., ADM, USN (ret.).  Take Her Deep!  A Submarine Against Japan in World War II.  New York: Alonquin Books, 1987; Pocket Books, 1988.

 

Hammel, Eric.  Guadalcanal: The Carrier Battles.  New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1987.

 

_____.  Guadalcanal: Decision At Sea.  New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1988; Pacifica, CA: Pacifica Press, 1988.

 

Holmes, Harry.  The Last Patrol, Airlife Classics Edition.  Shrewsbury, England: Airlife Publishing Ltd., 1994; 2001.

 

Hone, Thomas C. and Trent Hone.  Battleline: The United States Navy, 1919-1939.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2006.

 

Hornfischer, James D.  The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy’s Finest Hour.  New York: Bantam Books, 2004.

 

Isom, Dallas Woodbury.  Midway Inquest: Why the Japanese Lost the Battle of Midway.  Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2007.

 

Kuehn, John T.  Agents of Innovation: The General Board and the Design of the Fleet That Defeated the Japanese Navy.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2008.

 

Lockwood, Charles A., VADM, USN (ret.) and Hans Christian Adamson, COL, USAF (ret.).  Hellcats of the Sea, Bantam War Book Edition.  New York: Greenberg, 1955; Bantam Books, 1988.

 

Lord, Walter.  Incredible Victory, Pocket Books Edition.  New York: Harper & Row, 1967; Pocket Books 4th Printing, 1976.

 

Lundstrom, John B.  The First Team: Pacific Naval Air Combat from Pearl Harbor to Midway, 1990 Reprint Edition.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1984; 1990.

 

_____.  The First and the Guadalcanal Campaign: Naval Fighter Combat from August to November, 1942.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1994.

 

Miller, Edward S.  War Plan Orange: The U.S. Strategy to Defeat Japan, 1897-1945.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1991.

 

Morison, Samuel Eliot.  The Two-Ocean War: The Definitive Short History of the United States Navy in World War II, Ballantine Books Edition.  New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1963; Ballantine Books, 1972.

 

O’Hara, Vincent P. The U.S. Navy Against the Axis: Surface Combat, 1941-1945.  Naval Institute Press, 2007.

 

O’Kane, Richard H., RADM, USN (ret.).  Clear the Bridge!: The War Patrols of the U.S.S. Tang.  New York: Rand McNally & Company, 1977; Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1989.

 

_____.  Wahoo: The Patrols of America’s Most Famous WWII Submarine.  Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1987.

 

Parshall, Jonathan, David Dickson, and Anthony Tully.  “Doctrine Matters: Why the Japanese Lost at Midway.”  Naval War College Review 54, No. 3 (Summer 2001).

 

Parshall, Jonathan and Anthony Tully.  Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway.  Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2005.

 

Peattie, Mark R.  Sunburst: The Rise of Japanese Naval Air Power, 1909-1941.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2001.

 

Polmar, Norman.  Aircraft Carriers: A History of Carrier Aviation and Its Influence on World Events, Volume 1, 1909-1945.  Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2006.

 

Potter, E.B.  Nimitz.  Annapolis, MD: 1976.

 

_____.  Bull Halsey.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1985.

 

Prange, Gordon W., Katherine V. Dillon, and Donald M. Goldstein.  At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor.  New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981; Penguin Books, 1982.

 

_____.  Miracle At Midway.  New York: McGraw-Hill, 1982; Penguin Books, 1983.

 

_____.  Pearl Harbor: The Verdict of History.  New York: McGraw-Hill, 1986.

 

_____.  Dec. 7, 1941: The Day the Japanese Attacked Pearl Harbor.  New York: McGraw-Hill, 1988; Warner Books, 1989.

 

Roscoe, Theodore.  United States Destroyer Operations in World War II, reprint ed.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1953.

 

_____.  Pigboats: The True Story of the Fighting Submariners of World War II (authorized abridgement of United States Submarine Operations in World War II).  Annapolis, Maryland: 1949; New York, Bantam Books, Inc., 1982.

 

Sherman, Frederick C., ADM, USN (ret.).  Combat Command: The American Aircraft Carriers in the Pacific War, Bantam War Book Edition.  New York: E.P. Dutton, Inc., 1950; Bantam Books, 1982.

 

Silverstone, Paul H.  The Navy of World War II, 1922-1947.  New York: Routledge, 2008.

 

Smith, Douglas V.  Carrier Battles: Command Decisions in Harm’s Way.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2006.

 

Spector, Ronald H. Eagle Against the Sun , Paperback Edition.  New York: Vintage Books, 1985.

Stafford, Edward P., CDR, USN (ret.).  Little Ship, Big War: The Saga of DE 343, Jove Edition.  New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1984; Jove, 1985.

Tillman, Barrett.  Clash of the Carriers: The True Story of the Marianas Turkey Shoot of World War II.  New York: NAL Caliber, 2005.

Tully, Anthony P.  Battle of Surigao Strait.  Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2009.

Tuohy, William.  America’s Fighting Admirals: Winning the War At Sea in World War II.  St. Paul, MN: Zenith Press, 2007.

Waner, Denis and Peggy Warner with Sadao Seno.  Disaster in the Pacific: New Light on the Battle of Savo Island.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1992.

Willmott, H.P. with Tohmatsu Haruo and W. Spencer Johnson.  Pearl Harbor.  London: Cassell & Co., 2001.

Whitlock, Flint and Ron Smith.  The Depths of Courage: American Submariners At War With Japan, 1941-1945.  New York: Penguin Group, 2007.

 

Metal Monday–Hear Ye, My Words

So I found this song via an I-tunes recommendation.  The album is pretty solid as well.  I always see a lone rider approaching a temple at the intro, followed by a montage of him killing his way to the central chamber where he confronts an angry god.  Yeah, I’m dark like that.  Anyway, when I ever do a fantasy storyline, you can bet that this will be in the rotation.

 

 

*muttered commentary*  “Yes, I do have a fantasy idea.  It’s in the queue.”

Writing Tips: Lines and Characters

I got asked to do a guest blog by Cedar Sanderson for her website.  After reading it, she decided to promote this to The Mad Genius Club, where it is now crossposted.  So, without further ado:

 

Lines of Departure

This blog post actually got started in a conversation about wasp spray.  Yes, that’s right, my expressing dissatisfaction with the fact that the nerve foam was taking twelve hours to kill some of the wasps somehow led to my friend (and fellow blogger) Lisa (henceforth Prolific Trek) asking on FB “Hey James, weren’t you just talking about torturing characters?”  Cedar, ever the opportunist, immediately asked for more explanation…which led to me revealing the illustrious Holly Messinger (author of The Curse of Jacob Tracy) had been asked the following question in her Writing 101 panel:

“Y’all talk about torturing your characters… are there any lines you won’t cross?”

Well…you’d have thought I’d been handing out briefcases of cash with complimentary free passes to Big Bob’s Gigolo Shack (“Big, Small, Bob Screws Them All”) from the way Cedar lit up.  After a little back and forth, here I am…and I have a confession to make:

I am among the worst people to ask about this subject there is.

I’m not saying I go out of my way to torture my characters.  But ever since Holly told me about that question getting asked, I have been quietly cataloguing things that I have done to main POV characters since I first started writing.  In no particular order:

*A main character received a posthumous note from his fiancée…that he had basically sent to her death.

*In my first post-apocalyptic novel, the protagonist returned from a six month journey to find his hometown burned mostly to the ground and almost all the inhabitants murdered.  The sole “survivors”?  His tortured best friend and brutally raped significant other, both of whom he subsequently shoots in the head as they are beyond medical help.

*Said rather perturbed protagonist goes on what The Bride called “a roaring rampage of revenge.”  First stop?  Executing another POV character’s wife and twin kindergarteners in front of him, then dropping a thermite grenade in the man’s crotch ala The Crow.

*In my alternate history universe,  there is a POV character that readers may get attached to.  He gets shot down over the Pacific, but manages to bail out.  Oh the ocean.  I mean, it’s so full of life, so bright with sunlight, so utterly expansive that a single pilot can get lost in its rea…oh, sorry, I forgot myself there for a second.

The list could go on, but I think you get the point.  Asking me “Is there anything you won’t do to your characters?” is like Simon de Montfort asking Genghis Khan if the sack of Beziers was a bit excessive.  Is there any doubt what that response is going to be?

Dearest Simon,

     I received your letter with great humor and admiration for your pithy guidance.  While a godless barbarian myself, I can acknowledge ‘Kill them all, for the Lord will know his own…’ is a pretty succinct set of instructions.  The chroniclers tell me that you did not have many problems with towns after that.  I’ll have to remember this when I go on my “From the Steppes to the Wall” tour of Jin next year.  Please ask the minstrels accompanying my messenger to play our latest hit, “Your Son Ran Like Your Mother and Screams Like Your Wife”

   I won’t keep you, but to quell any misgivings you might have: Were the townsfolk buried in accordance with your religious rites in consecrated ground?  Putting them to the sword?  Cool.  Having them roam this plain as disembodied spirits wailing in the agony they died?  A little harsh.  I don’t know how this whole Christianity thing works, but I figure as long as your guys didn’t pack the women and children like cordwood, build a dance hall over them, then kill them by moshing the night away their souls still went to haven, hoven, heaven, whatever, right? (BTW, have you heard of this new minstrel, John Davis?)  Ergo, you followed your instructions and it’s all good in the hood my friend.    

Your Obedient Servant,

G. Khan. 

P.S. I’m having a bit of trouble with some guy named Sultan Muhammed.  Do you have any tips?

All that being said, from beta readers and observation of issues other authors wrestle with, I can give ten general tips an author may want to consider with regards to character distress.  Why ten?  Because Clemenceau’s response to Wilson’s Fourteen Points (“The Lord God only expected us to remember ten!”) is a pretty good standard for everything.  These aren’t so much “Don’t venture beyond these lines…” but “Before you cross the streams, erm, lines, have these things in the back of your head.”  So…:

#1—Demand Satisfaction

Whoops!  Wrong list!

#1–No puppies, no kids

In the movie The Professional, Leon the Hitman observes the rule “No Women, No Kids” with regards to people he won’t kill.  Well, given we are in the 21st Century, the first half of that rule is only followed by chauvinists and idiots.  However, I can tell you first hand that people tend to get mad as hell when you kill an animal.  This anger is followed closely by the rage you’ll get to suffer after putting Little Timmy to the sword.  Pull the equivalent of having little Timmy and Lassie walking on the Aioi bridge around 8:13 on August 6, 1945?  (“Look Lassie, a four-engined symbol of America’s massive industrial might!  Oh, hey, a parachute!  Man, I’m so glad that weird wizard neighbor sent us back in time…”)  Well, let’s just say that people are going to have words with you.  Four letter words, many of them involving unnatural acts of copulation and questions about your parentage.

Trust me when I speak of this.  Not even the bonds of matrimony will redeem you if you cross this line.  Indeed, the better half stopped reading my novel An Unproven Concept when I didn’t even downshift driving over it.  She was totally okay with the fact I’d splattered, battered, and stirred a couple thousand innocent passengers.  But the following passage?:

A great hound the size of a small adult whining piteously as it furiously licked its master’s face, the animal’s back as clearly broken as the dead human’s. 

Yep, that was it, I was officially Satan incarnate and out my First Reader for that book.  Similarly, one of my beta readers for the aforementioned post-apocalyptic novel basically bowed out after my protagonist went on his revenge spree.  “I can see no purpose in shooting a 6-year old.  Can’t tell the difference between the good and the bad guys at this point, I’m done.”  Which leads to my next point…

#2—When you leave that way you can never go back

 

Confederate Railroad for the win.  (“Um, James, we don’t talk about Confed…”  “Shut it.”)  Understand that if you want your main character to be sympathetic, you must take care not to have him or her do something that is beyond the pale.  It will not matter if this is a reasonable response to their tribulations, readers will be pissed.  To think of one example, I’m always struck of the people who are sympathetic to Jaime Lannister either as his toned down HBO version or the unrepentant asshat in the Game of Thrones books.  I’m sorry, but even I lack sympathy for a man who shoves a 10-year-old out a window because the child saw him giving the business to his sister.  Add in the fact that this set in motion a chain of events that results in half of a kingdom getting turned to wasteland, and I’m thinking the wrong POV character got his “pillar and stones” turned into a SNL skit.

I’m not being hypocritical on this one.  In response to the negative feedback, I rewrote the post-apocalyptic revenge sequence.  Instead of my MC wiping out the other POV character, he will instead have a serious crisis of conscience but not kill the family. I’ll admit, the adjustment was very grudging, but I stopped to consider that my MC was not a lone wolf.  Indeed, he was surrounded by several other professionals…and it was very unlikely they were going to be down with the sweet genocidal cleansing called for.  Which segues nicely into my next point…

#3—Secondary characters have a breaking point

Even if your MC is stoically taking the kicks to the groin and chairs to the back of the head, other characters won’t. The following is not intended to pick on David Weber, but I got to wonder at what point do people stop being friends with Honor Harrington?  Seriously—ever notice “The Salamander” neglects to sprinkle some of her good luck fairy dust on those around her?   Being one of her guards is deadlier than being Mack Bolan’s girlfriend (RIP April Rose).  Yet, despite this, you never see anyone say “Eff this shit, I’m out…”.  Unfortunately, if your secondary characters have their own desires, goals, plans that require them to still be breathing, they’re not going to keep hanging around a MC whose associates drop like flies.  Or at least, not without very good reason.  Just remember that your hero is called a hero for a reason.  Short of Imperial Japanese Army or Waffen-SS levels of conditioning, secondary characters should start having to make morale checks when the fecal matter starts to hit the air circulator.

#4—Gratuitous evil is gratuitous

“The villain is the protagonist in his own version of the story.”  I have heard various versions of this advice, and I try to take it to heart.  Basically, unless your antagonist is a psychopath (which, there’s a place for that—see Heath Ledger’s Joker or Ramsay Bolton), they should be torturing the main character for a reason, not because they’re evil.  Contrary to his caricature, Darth Vader doesn’t just run around choking people because that’s how Palpatine programmed the suit to stimulate his pleasure centers.  No, generally if Darth Vader is doing the Trachea Tango with an unwitting partner, it’s either because they got mouthy or had it coming.  (“What part of ‘don’t bring the fleet out of hyperspace so close the rebels have time to crap themselves’ was in Swahili?” = dialogue selections that should be available in all Lucasarts games.)  Don’t cheapen your otherwise logical antagonists by having them drop Willie Pete all over that orphanage because they want to make some s’mores.  (“But, but I like the way the singed formula gives a sweet aftertaste to the marshmallows.”ßBad example, as even this is logical. Twisted, but logical.)

Note that this also applies to extraterrestrial antagonists.  While viewers don’t necessarily like the Queen in Aliens, in general Ripley Scott does a good job of explaining she’s in it for the procreation.  Similarly, Timothy Zahn’s Conquerors and Cobra-series also explain why sentient beings might decide to go oops upside Humanity’s head.

(“Hey, wait a second, we’ve read your books!  You’re a jerk who never explains the aliens’ motivations!”  “Yeah, well, wait for the sequel.”  “You mean the damn sequel you’ve been promising us for like 3 years, then told us is going to go backwards?!!”  “Excuse me, writing a blog post here!”)

#5—Psychological trauma needs to be addressed

Ever had someone tie you up and beat the bejeebus out of you?  Been helpless as your family was made to suffer before your very eyes?  I know I haven’t (thank goodness), but I’ve talked to folks who have suffered through both.  Despite what Hollywood would like you to believe, this is not something most people get over.  PTSD is not trivial, and it is the kind of thing that can build with time.  Before you decide to put a character through the wringer, might want to figure out the plan to make them functional on the far side.  People don’t just watch their loved ones’ throats get slit, narrowly escape themselves, then make breakfast the next morning.  No, your character doesn’t need to be a psychological wreck who is crying every other chapter.  However, they should be sort of like Daniel Craig’s James Bond, i.e. you’re starting to see the accumulated toll of losing Vesper, friends, getting shot at M’s orders, etc. by the middle of Skyfall.

#6—Physical trauma also needs to be addressed

Raise your hand if you’ve ever had surgery, broken a bone, or had a concussion.  Have that trick knee that decides to kick out at the most inopportune time.  Can usually tell the weather is going to change thanks to that broken pelvis you got when the mechanical bull malfunctioned at your favorite watering hole.  The point here is simple—if you’re going to have your characters get tortured physically, you better either have a doctor on site (yes, that’s another Hamilton reference), a magical way of healing, or budget recovery time into your larger story arc.  If your environment is in any way austere, i.e. post-apocalyptic, you better not have someone getting willy nilly beat about the head and shoulders yet just shrugging things off.  Lastly, the Joy of Beating is not a bestseller for a reason.  Most people don’t enjoy seeing a major secondary character, nevermind a MC, slowly and laboriously pummeled.  There better be a reason you subject your reader to the crunch, crunch, pop! of a favorite character’s skull getting beat in with a barbwire-wrapped baseball bat (some of you know what I’m talking about and are nodding sagely, some of you will find out soon enough).  Oh, hey, look…speaking of which:

#7—Dead characters = angry fans

Who here remembers Jadzia Dax from Deep Space Nine?  How about Andrea Harrison from The Walking Dead? Arthur Fonzarelli from Happy Days?  *muttered whispering from off stage*  “Well, yeah, but think how much better things would have been if Fonzie had gotten whacked by the shark?”  See, the point of this is, both of the first two characters are usually remembered for their cheap deaths.  Unlike producer actor feuds, the #1 killers of TV stars, often times authors go to whack a significant others to “shake things up” or in a cheap bid to cause emotion.  This is a bad idea.  Consider how mad everyone was after “The Red Wedding.”  Now think about the fact that those deaths served a purpose.  As I can tell you from dealing with Prolific Trek on a regular basis, kill a strong character like Jadzia for no good reason, you will earn your fans’ enmity for all eternity. Similarly, having a character like Andrea go out because you apparently don’t know what to do with her will similarly get your pilloried by reviewers.

“But wait, I totally had a reason for that character death, so my fans will forgive me, right?” Wrong.  To go back to “The Red Wedding,” George R.R. Martin set it up beautifully and whacked Robb Stark for a good reason.  I can tell you that there are people (First Reader included) who basically decided they were done with that franchise after that point.  So, if you’re going to spend two or three books in a series doing character development, especially with major POV characters, understand you’re going to take a hit when said individual catches the Last Train West.

#8—Rape is not a gimmick

One of the standby things that would happen in old ‘70s and ‘80s men’s action adventure novels would be either someone close to the MC or the “damsel of the week” getting viciously violated by the main villain.  Said woman would then be magically healed within the next 100 or so pages, and hop right in bed with the MC prior to said villain getting his just desserts.

The real world does not work this way.  Let me quote from FM 22-102, the “official manual for wall-to-wall counseling”:

Rape 
No offense is as damaging to the victim as rape. Murder does not come close, since the victim is dead and knows nothing. A raped soldier will have psychological scars for the rest of his or her life. A male soldier who is the victim of a homosexual rape is especially damaged, and many commit suicide rather than live with this burden.

Fake manual, real shit.  Reach towards this line with caution, as the reason every freakin’ hair on your body is standing up is this is like playing Russian roulette with five rounds in the chamber and twenty million dollars on the table.  In other words, this better be a “high risk, high reward” situation, not a “Oh, people will think this is edgy!” or “Hmm, I need to do something interesting to the main character’s significant other.”  The character who was raped is going to be messed up, and before you open this can you better figure out how they’re going to react.

Also check out the above with regards to male rape.  In most societies, this is a topic that is not dealt with.  That’s not “dealt with well,” it’s not dealt with.  If your society has high machismo coupled with patriarchy, there will likely be nowhere for a raped male character to turn for help.  So, no, don’t go there unless you’re ready to do it right, lest you end up the “other guy” in a Rihanna song.

Bottom line: If you have someone getting raped, it should be written in a manner that’s going to make your skin crawl, as that’s what will be happening to your readers.  One of the best rape scenes (*record skritches, bystanders gasp*), erm most well-written rape scenes I remember is from Laurell K. Hamilton’s Blue Moon.  Suffice to say, Hamilton was sure to stress that the character who was raped needs, seeks, and gets therapy, along with his mother who was a near witness to the crime.  It’s powerful, and some of the best writing in the series before Anita Blake became a…well, let’s just say the series sometimes ends up in the paranormal erotica section.

#9—The “Grandma Rule” is in effect

Remember that if you’re even semi-successful, you will have no control over who sees your work.  The most chilling words an author can hear from someone important to them are, “So, I read your book.”  I call this “The Grandma Rule,” i.e. always remember that your grandmother just might find your novel no matter how well you try to hide it.  Say you tuckerized a good friend, and she’s the person you had the MC have to mercy kill?  You’ll hear about it for decades.  No really, decades. If you are in a community that frowns upon certain activities like a MC lovingly spending ten hours flaying the villain with a knife? Express ticket to social pariah status.  I mean, sure this well-deserved comeuppance will have your readers needing the rhetorical cigarette and change of clothes, but is that payoff worth having to drive two hours for milk?  Similarly, if your grandmother is going to have a heart attack when she reads what her favorite grandchild has written about a MC trading two innocent bystanders to a pack of cannibals in exchange for a couple crates of ammo, Thanksgiving is going to be a little awkward.  (But hey, you’ll be able to afford one hell of a turkey with your chunk of the inheritance.)  Last but not least, if your employer will look dimly on you raining nuclear hellfire down on certain nations, cities, or regions, don’t do it. Why yes, your helpful narrator can tell you exactly what a JAG looks like as his mental intel processor is trying to process the hypothetical of “So, say I published a story where ______________________ happens.  Would that be a terminating offense?”  While his answer wasn’t “FOR F___K’S SAKE, YES!”, it was close enough that story has only seen limited release to a few friends.  I’m all about pressing the envelope for my art, but I’ve got a mortgage.

#10—Editors are interested in selling, not your “art”

Speaking of people with mortgages, editors are notoriously risk averse.  I know, there’s probably a couple hundred examples of stuff that got greenlit where all manner of bad things happened.  I’d go to Vegas with the odds for every example you can name, if we got an experienced editor drunk enough they could give me another dozen that got stamped “NO! GET THERAPY!”  It is hard enough to break through with a major publishing house.  No need to make things more difficult by opening the book with the main villain saying, “This youngling is dry.  Pass the Worcestshire sauce…”.  Save the crazy stuff for book two if you’re going traditional publishing, as your editor will almost always be thinking “Do I want to explain this on a special news segment?” Think of it like a relationship: If you just met someone off a dating service, you wouldn’t let them know “I crush civilizations beneath my heel and make people scream in anguish…” right off the bat, would you?  No, of course not—that’s for after they’ve already moved in with you and signed a two year lease.  (“Wait…wait…you’re that guy?!”ßFiled under “I’ll take conversations that are about to go horribly right or wrong in the next 30 seconds for $1000, Alex.”)

*takes deep breath*  Okay then, that about covers it.  I think Cedar has now officially taken me off the guest bloggers list, but dammit it was worth it.

I Can’t Believe I Wrote That–“Final Fight Part I”

So after the events of The Vladivostok Thing, World War III basically went poorly for the Soviets in my World War III.  How bad?  Well long story short, the United States and NATO committed to a counteroffensive that speared into East Germany, Poland and Hungary rose up in rebellion, and most of the 1st and 2nd Line Soviet forces got annihilated west of Warsaw.

*pause*  No really, this was almost all written out.  In various electronic files.  There was a whole timeline and everything in addition to a complete novel, about a dozen short stories, and a whole lot of stuff that didn’t get done.  Just about every few weeks when I was in high school and into West Point, there’d be another item I’d start when I was waiting in line or bored.  Most of those notebooks are lost to the sands of time or, if I have found them, they’re still in long hand because I don’t see the point of typing them up.

However, in a few cases, stuff has survived in electronic form.  The following short won me third price in the 1993-1994 West Point Cadet Fiction Open. Looking back at it now, I realize I made a multitude of sins.  But, hey, that was $75 I took home. Of course, I also had to read the whole thing, cursing and all, in front of the Superintendent of cadets.  You know, the three star who could banish one to Siberia…or Fort Drum.  (Not really.  I think.)  Ever dropped an F-bomb in front of a flag officer?  Yeah…

Anyway, this will be two parts.  While better than my last one, it’s still a definite “If you ever need to know how far you’ve come…”-work. Commentary at the end:

Final Fight

By James Young

 

            Introduction

The Third World War had been going on for six months.  The forces of the Commonwealth of Independent Soviet States had been pushed back to the frontiers of the ex-U.S.S.R.  The nations of N.A.T.O. were on the verge of being victorious, their strategic bombing campaign of the past two months starting to have effect of the Soviet forces at the front.

But the war was not over yet.  The dying continued at the front, up to five thousand men dying a day.  The strategic campaign continued, young men and women of all the warring nations continuing to die in the air.  The only solution in sight seemed to fight the way to Moscow and rip the heart out of the Soviet government, no matter what the cost in lives.

Lieutenant General Cassin Downes, hero of Hamburg, Frankfurt, and the defense of Germany, thought there was a better way.  He felt that the strategic air campaing needed to be stepped up another notch.  So far, the allied bombers had stayed away from Moscow.  Cassin felt that the Soviet leaders did not yet see that they would be ultimately defeated.  A massive strike to Moscow would accomplish this purpose, not to mention the fact that it would draw up the remainder of the Soviet Air Force to fight.

Cassin thought long and hard about this decision.  The historical precedent was not good for this sort of action.  In 1940, when Hitler had switched from attacking fighter airfields to attacking London, he had succeeded in drawing up the entire RAF.  He also succeeded in giving the beleagured fighting force a break from constant air attacks and scrambles on their airfields.  The Luftwaffe, in the opinion of many historians, had lost the battle, if not the entire war, right there.

Even worse was the fact that the Russian leaders, after having their capital city turned to rubble, might feel that it was time to go to the nuclear option and end all life on this Earth.

The final decision was on Cassin’s shoulders.  President Clinton had given him the go ahead to do whatever was necessary.  He had a blank check, as long as he ended the dying and the suffering, and let the world try to build a better community from the ashes and rubble of the old.

Cassin was rightly known as a man of decision.  On December 5, 1994, he gave the orders for Operation Sodom, the mass bombing of Moscow.  The B-52s were to be loaded with a mix of high-explosive 1,000lb bombs to smash the buildings into rubble, cluster minelets to deter firemen, and napalm to start fires.  Cassin hoped it would start a firestorm that would send a singular message to the Soviet leaders that the war was over.

Enter the two protagonists of this story.  Commander James Loftman, United States Navy, is currently the leading ace of N.A.T.O. and its allies with 57 kills.  He flies the F-14D+, a massive upgrade of the original F-14 Tomcat of Top Gun fame.  The units commands are VF-41 and VF-84, the Black Aces and Jolly Rogers, the two crack fighter units he has commanded through the entire war.  He is to be commander of the escort fighters for this massive strike.

Colonel Ivan Ilvanyich is commander of the 127th Guards Fighter Regiment, the “Eagle Killers.”  This crack unit flies the MiG-29K Fulcrum, the deadliest fighters in the Soviet inventory.  This regiment is one of the few regiments to have survived the entire war without crippling losses.  The greatest MiG aces still alive are in this unit, no man having less than 5 kills.  Currently, after the bloody battles of December 3rd, the unit is down to 14 aircraft.  The Soviet government has entrusted Ivan Ilvanyich to command the fighters left that will be forced to face the next American attack.  His orders are to forget defending the target, but to rip apart as many B-52s as possible.  Only 325 of the big bombers remain serviceable in the European theater.  If his pilots can destroy sixty-five of them, this may convince Cassin Downes to cease the bombing offensive after losing twenty percent of the force over Murmansk on the 3rd.

The duel between these two men is already legendary.  They have clashed once, after Ilvanyich had shot down and killed James’s younger brother Randall over Vladivostok, the base of the Soviet Pacific Fleet.  The battle had been indecisive–an errant Soviet missile had knocked down Ilvanyich.  Loftman had come close to shooting down the parachuting Soviet pilot, but had broken off at the last moment.

Three weeks after this battle, over Murmansk, the Guards and Jolly Rogers had clashed again.  In this blizzard of air fighting, Ilvanyich had killed the Loftman’s best friend, Shorty Joghnson, after Joghnson had killed Ilvanyich’s nephew, Dimitry.  This combat had lasted six minutes (most dogfights only last thirty seconds), but Joghnson was not a Loftman and had been shot down in flames.  His RIO had ejected, but Joghnson had rode the Tomcat in.

A clash between the two fighter pilots was fully expected on this day.  Loftman had already ordered his pilots to call out if they started to engage Ilvanyich.  He wanted the man for himself.  Ilvanyich had told his pilots to mob Loftman if they found him, waiting until he got there to finish the job.

This short story begins at 1000 hours, when the B-52 stream crosses the Russian frontier and the fight begins.


Chapter 1

Amazon cursed, looking over her radar.  In all the time the woman had been flying as James Loftman’s RIO she had never seen jamming this thick.

“I can’t get a lock on them!  We’re being jammed too heavily!” she said, shaking her red maned head.

James Loftman cursed.  With the enemy fighters closing at M.A.C.H. 1, they wouldn’t have any time for a Phoenix ultra-long range shot.  By the time their radar burned through the Soviet jamming the MiGs and Sukhois would be in their jockstraps.  He shoved the throttle forward against the stops.  The two Pratt & Whitneys screamed their fury and shoved the Tomcat II forward.  If the enemy wanted to get in close, that was fine with him.  He was carrying six Sidewinder short-range missiles and the massive GA\U-8 Avenger cannon on his centerline.  The 30mm cannon was designed for A-10 Warthogs, the tank-killing aircraft of the Air Force.  It worked great against tanks.  It simply disintegrated aircraft.

“Aren’t we going to fire home on jammers?!” Amazon asked, feeling the kick in her back from the 125,000lbs of thrust to her rear.

“Nope!  They want a knife fight, and we’ve got numbers.  Just run the countermeasures!” James shouted, reaching up and dropping his goggles.  He adjusted his 6′ 6″ frame in his seat and gripped the stick, hoping the jammers built into his aircraft and those of the EA-6 Prowlers behind them would keep the Russians from getting off a radar missile shoot of their own.

 

Ivan Ilvanyich allowed himself a small smile.  Loftman and the hot-blooded pilots of the U.S.N. first wave weren’t even trying to fire home on jam missiles, but simply wading in to the attack.  The Americans figured his eighty-nine fighters to be the ill-trained students that had been appearing over the Central Front as of late.  Well, they were in for a nasty shock.  Every instructor, ace, and experienced pilot he could find he had put in this first group of fighters, to open the way for the inexperienced pilots massing in the second wave behind them.  The ninety-six F-14Ds were in for a nasty surprise.  Ivan began chuckling as he imagined the trap drawing closed.

Ivan didn’t even bother glancing at his radar.  He knew it would be covered in white snow from the American’s better jamming.  It was a good thing he had talked the Moscow air-defense commander into letting him use some of the limited electrical power for ground based jammers.  This had kept the damn Tomcats and their Phoenix missiles from decimating his fighters at more than a hundred miles range.  His blue eyes took on a gleeful tint as he thought of what he would do to the enemy fighters with his eight AA-11 Archers.  Ivan Ilvanyich might die on that day, but he would sell his life dearly.  Very dearly.

 

James armed the Sidewinders, the Tomcat’s internal computer checking weapons’ status.  He got five symbols on his HUD, the small screen that was just on the inside edge of his cockpit.  He reached down and flicked a small switch, jettisoning the defective Sidewinder.

The two forces sighted each other at eleven miles.  Pilots quickly locked-on and fired their all-aspect missiles, then turned and began evading the enemy’s.  In the first mass exchange, twelve Tomcats and fifteen MiGs died.

The U.S.N. pilots considered themselves the best in the world.  The one mission they were supposed to have in life was to land on a bouncing postage stamp in the middle of the sea.  They were trained to a high level, even the newer men and women.  Without even having to think about it, they seperated into two-plane groups called sections, mutually supporting each other.  Only after this did they turn to go about their current business, which was hunting everything flying with a red star upon it.

 

Ivan turned after a slow-moving Tomcat.  The inexperienced pilot had climbed to avoid an Archer shot, losing airspeed and thus energy to turn.  It was a simple kill.

His wingman had killed the American’s wingman with a missile shot from the side, the two Tomcats never sighting the incoming Fulcrums.

The Tomcat pilot put his nose down and dived, rolling out of the turn.  Ivan followed, the AA-11 on his wing following wherever he looked with the helmet sight.  The Tomcat was meat on the table.  He fired.

The missile screamed off the rail, accelerating past the speed of sound quickly and arrowing toward the now accelerating Tomcat.  Its seeker head found the paradise of the two hot, afterburning engines.  The missile’s 33lb warhead exploded twenty feet from the Tomcat’s rear, its metal casing expanding in a storm of white-hot fragments.  The Tomcat’s right engine exploded, flashing into the fighter’s fuel tanks.  The Tomcat and its two man crew exploded in a brief fireball.

 

James Loftman rolled in behind the Su-27 Flanker.  The Russian pilot rolled over on his back, pulling back in an outside loop.  James followed, the twin canards (small winglets) and vectored engines of his fighter spinning his nose up through the horizon.  He felt the G-forces tugging at his body, and the edge of his vision starting to go grey.  But he cut inside the Flanker’s turn, cutting the range to a few hundred yards.  He flicked a small switch on his HOTAS, bringing up the cannon sight.  The pipper was a little bit high and to the left of his target, as the Flanker turned hard to try and avoid him.

With a kick of the rudders and a hard push on the stick he rolled inside of the Soviet’s turn, the pipper finding a resting place right between the twin tails of the Soviet fighter.  James pulled back a little bit further, the pipper now resting in the middle of the fuselage.

“Goodbye,” he said softly, firing a long burst of 30mm tungsten-carbide shells.  The solid shot cored the enemy fighter dead center, ripping it apart.  It fell out of the sky, nothing more than junk after the Avenger’s high velocity fire.

“MiG-29 bolting at six o’clock!” Amazon shouted.  James reefed the fighter around, turning towards the enemy fighter.

“He’s headed for the bombers,” James said, his voice cold and expressionless.

“Roger that.  Flanker at ten o’clock high!”

James forgot the MiG-29 that was headed for the bomber and turned towards the enemy Su-27 that was coming in from his left.  The Russian pilot was turning to pursue four Tomcats that had just cancelled the check of two MiG-29 Fulcrums.  He hadn’t checked his tail.  James moved the switch on the stick again, as Amazon checked their rear.  The Flanker was at five miles, well within Sidewinder range.

“Break Sundowner Flight!” he shouted over the radio, seeing he wouldn’t be there in time to keep the Flanker from shooting.  The four F-14C’s broke hard right, as he locked onto the Su-27.  The Flanker pilot, seeing his attack was ruined, reversed and started to come back at James, trying to escape.

An F-14D in front of him would be the last surprise the enemy pilot would ever have.  A left-wing Sidewinder leaped off the rail and slammed into the right intake of the Flanker.  The fighter disinegrated in mid-air.

James turned away from the flaming wreckage and went ahunting.  It was time for someone else to become his next kill.

The tactical net had become a cacophony of fighter calls and cries for help, as Ilvanyich’s second wing of two hundred fighters slammed into the main bomber stream.  James could tell this was going to be a hard fight, and turned back towards the main bomber stream to help out the close escort of F-16s.

 

Ivan kicked the rudder, watching the two F-14s head for the ground in flames.  It had been ridiculously simple for him to come up and surprise the two fighters.  Both had died without a single maneuver.

The furball had calmed down around him, and was not such a mass of whirling aircraft.  The allied fighters were starting to gain the upper hand with their mutually supporting teams and better training, but the issue was not decided yet.  The dying had gone about even for both sides, the deaths of individual crews simply more numbers for the statisticians at the end of the war.  The U.S. Navy pilots, veterans all, would mark this as their toughest fight ever.

An even more intense battle was occurring around the 325 B-52 Stratofortresses.  The N.A.T.O. close escort, numbering around one hundred fighters, had been overwhelmed by the deluge of Soviets, and were having enough trouble defending themselves, much less the bombers.

The bomber commander was screaming for reinforcements from the front lines, which were only three hundred miles behind the bombers’ current positions.  The N.A.T.O. fighters circling in this position had turned and started to rush towards the battle, but Frontal Aviation units had begun slowing them down.  Best estimates were that it’d be at least fifteen minutes before the fighters arrived.

Fifteen minutes is a long time in air warfare.

What I Would Do Differently

1.) The massive data dump at the beginning.  Writing now, I would attack that one of two ways.  The first way would be to have a faux newscast or newspaper article.  This would introduce the reader to most of the secondary characters without having to read through what is basically the Star Wars title scroll on steroids.  The second?  Dialogue between characters as they’re getting the final briefing or prepping for the flight.  The latter is a bit trickier, as it’s touch making sure things don’t sound contrived.

2.) There are a few places where I don’t explain the hardware, yet it’d be fairly easy to.  In other places, I explain too much and it derails the story.  If I were to go full book-sized (not gonna happen, thank you very much), I’d probably add a glossary or some line drawings at the end.

3.) I’d also wargame this out.  Fifteen minutes?  Ha!  That’s not just a long time, that’s an eternity in modern air warfare.  This is where research, research, research comes in.  May 10, 1972 was probably the third or fourth largest furball in modern history.  From the first USAF F-4 merge to sea air rescue was maybe an hour.  Lesson learned.

Warship Wednesday–Stalingrad Class

The Stalingrad-class (3045) are intended to be commerce raiders / protectors mounting 15 Class ‘A’ railguns with a Class C maser secondary.  Projected to be a class of 25 BCs, the recent success of the Constitution-class has caused some analysts to ponder if the Stalingrad order will be curtailed to 15 ships or less.

 

If you’re looking at the date, you’re probably wondering why the Confederation would build two classes of battlecruisers (Constitution and Stalingrad) concurrent with one another?  Simple–the Stalingrads are the hedge against the Constitution-class crapping the bed.  As such, they are built with completely proven, reliable technology.

Keen readers of An Unproven Concept will remember the following scene:

***
“Engineering, I’m going to need all the juice you’ve got once we start this dance,” Bolan stated.  “Helm, I don’t want to make the same mistake we’re pretty sure that carrier’s about to make.  Once we’re clear of the rocks, I don’t want us holding the same course for more than twenty seconds.  It’d be rather embarrassing to have a Stalingrad outshoot us.”

***

So what a technology hedge?  Well, it’s not quite like buying a Lexus sports sedan just in case that Ferrari turns into a metaphorical “hangar queen,” but it’s close.  Which, of course, means that if the Ferrari does turn into an “Italian for Yugo,” odds are you won’t buy another one.  Ergo, during the exercises in An Unproven Concept, it is critical that the Constitution at least avoid getting “killed” by the oncoming Stalingrad lest future units be cancelled.  After all, why pay for a highly expensive “hybrid” if the staid plow horse kicks her ass?  This is an added wrinkle that I did not want to overdo, but added for a bit more tension.

Some names for the Stalingrad-class are as follows:

Stalingrad

73 Easting

Hood

Jutland

Golan

Constellation

Jena

Gettysburg

Karbala

Tsushima

Asculum

Cannae

Fallujah

Arethusa

Guadalcanal

 

Now as was discussed in the entries for battlecruisers and aircraft carriers, there are two classes of capital ships named for famous engagements.  In the Vergassy Universe, the Bureau of Ships (BuShips) tends to assign names based on the primary venue the engagement was fought in, i.e., carriers receive names based on nautical battles whereas battlecruisers receive those for land fights.

 

 

 

B-Sides and Outtakes– “Armageddon Dawn”–Part I

It was 2003.  For two years, I had been working on this great idea for a story where aliens come to Earth, seeking humanity’s help in dealing with a rabid, angry race of cat-lizards that enjoyed eating intelligent species’ flesh and soul.  Having been at peace for thousands of years, the friendly aliens had no idea how to make war, and thus needed Mankind to save their highly advanced asses.  Why, it was going to be an epic blend of battle armor, mecha, desperation, and…

*from the peanut gallery*  “Hey man, this sounds just like John Ringo’s Legacy of the Aldenata series!”

Yeah, thanks for that.  Guess who had never heard of John Ringo before he put the first chapter of this in the Baen Slush Pile?  *points both of his thumbs inward* This guy.

To say I was pissed is an understatement.  I mean, John Ringo’s an awesome guy in person, but at this point all I knew was that not only had he beat me to the punch, he’d KILLED IT.  Seriously, go read the Posleen Series, starting with A Hymn Before Battle.  I have never been simultaneously thrilled and sick at the same time.

At any rate, the story was mostly done, minus some polishing.  So I still tried to truncate it and send it to some markets.  No dice.  Indeed, this is the story that got the famous, “Your character sounds kind of white…” comment.  Yeaaah.

Anyway, seeing as this will likely never be published…you guessed it, I’m sharing it here with you all.  Everything is still copyrighted to me.  I’d also like to think I’ve gotten slightly better at this writing thing since the early 2000s.  However, if you’re looking for a complete arc rather than snippets, l present to you…

Armageddon Dawn

Chapter 1: Arrivals

 

Topeka, Kansas

0400 Local

June 25, 2011

 

“Colonel Walthers, the Orionans are here,” Star Admiral Kwirh Tobarakh’s hologram intoned solemnly.  Projected into an image barely six inches tall, Kwirh looked almost human, specifically like someone who would be easily lost amongst the population of Sub-Saharan Africa.  Of course, given that the image was one fourteenth his normal size, that was understandable.  While humans and Dominionites had 99.2% commonality of DNA, there were some minor yet striking differences, namely that the Dominionites’s eyes were completely irised, giving the impression of jewels emplaced in their dark faces.  In Kwirh’s case, the pale blue organs stared out like a pair of sapphire searchlights in a field of black.

“Dammit, they’re over three days early!  We don’t have enough time to evacuate everyone!” Colonel Eric Walthers replied, his voice almost frantic.  He looked at his watch, the beat-up Timex telling him that he hadn’t somehow fallen asleep for forty-eight hours.

Oh God, there goes our orderly evacuationThe one we haven’t officially begun yet.

He looked down US 75, watching the long line of vehicles stretching towards his Phoenix-class mecha from Topeka and behind it towards the evacuation ships sitting like massive beached whales on the Forbes Field tarmac.  His bipedal war machine, looking all the world like a malevolent linebacker, stood just outside the Gate F entrance, and so far the vehicles had been moving by him at a fairly steady clip since the prepared news announcement that had been made the night before.

That “extras” excuse was a stroke of genius by Karin, Eric thought to himself.  His wife, Major Karin Towalsva, was rather shrewd for a Dominionite.  Realizing that telling the greater Topeka Metro area carnivorous aliens would be arriving within the next ninety-six hours to consume every person they could get their hands on probably wasn’t the best plan, Eric had polled his colleagues for ideas.  Karin had come up with the idea of putting out an open casting call for at least fifty thousand or so “extras” to take part in a global disaster movie.  The fact that his wife had even been watching Earth movies, much less figured out the intricacies of casting, had completely floored Eric.  But hey, she’s a Dominionite—just because they’re the Confederation’s muscle doesn’t mean they’re stupid.

The remainder of Eric’s 1st Shock Brigade, Terran Expeditionary Corps, was scattered in a loose perimeter around Topeka.  Several of his subordinate leaders had not agreed with trying to keep the whole brigade under wraps, thinking that the more people who knew about the aliens the better.  As a member of a minority, Eric was well aware how ignorant some human beings could be.  While the thought of some ignorant rednecks getting in a fight with a Dominionite was enough to bring a smile to his face, Eric had made the call to try and keep humans and aliens as separated as possible until someone of higher rank figured out how they wanted to announce things.

A former United States Air Force officer, Eric had been the first human to encounter the Dominionites, flying a Homeland Security patrol when the aliens had made planetfall a little less than years before.  Eric had played defensive end for the Air Force Academy, being named All-WAC his graduating year in 2004.  Standing three inches over six feet, Eric was often confused for a shorter-than-average Dominionite by other members of the Centauri Confederation, his lighter skin and shorter height distinguishing features of aliens from Dominion’s Southern Hemisphere.

Another individual’s hologram popped up just above his other knee, the projector besides his head whirring softly as it added the second image.  The Phoenix was intended as a command mecha, which meant that the projector could present up to six images into Eric’s cockpit.  While Eric appreciated the efforts of the Dinotilians, a hive mind race that provided most of the Centauri Confederation’s technology, he had found that any more than three images projected in the cockpit at one time made him feel like he was trying to listen to everyone in a crowded elevator.

“Kwirh, how long can you prevent the Orionans from making planetfall?” General Adam Connelly, head of the Terran Expeditionary Corps, asked.  Kwirh’s response was a humorless laugh.

“Human, your race has killed the Crown Prince of the Orion Empire.  Even if I had every warship in the Centauri Confederation here I probably would not abe able to prevent the Orionans from making planetfall,” Kwirh said.  “I would just be able to make it prohibitively costly.”

“Dammit Kwirh, you know what I am asking!” General Connelly replied heatedly.  “Argnor’s dead, and good riddance to the bastard.  Now tell me how many of my people you are willing to save.”

Eric closed his eyes in agony, realizing that the largest the number could be was a little over a billion.  By my hand, I have killed over five billion people, he thought.  But General Connelly is right—Argnor had to die.

“The battle computer states that with a loss of thirty percent of this fleet, the best in the Confederation, I can buy you four hours once the Orionans attack.  For another ten percent, the most I am willing to risk, I can give you five hours,” Kwirh replied.

The Dominion Battle Computer was an innovation that was barely a hundred years old, conceived shortly after the beginning of the Second Orion War.  The Dominionites had always excelled at single combat, dueling being the preferred method of settling disputes in Dominionite society.  Unfortunately, at the beginning of the Orion War, they had been found to be generally inept at large-scale battles.  While individual and even groups of Dominionites had made the fall of each system very costly for the Orionans, in all but a few exceptions they had still lost the systems for the Confederation.

After horrendous losses, the kind that made World War II’s Eastern Front battles look like minor incidents, too minor for even the local news, the Dominionites had devised factors that helped them judge how an engagement would go before it was fought.  After a dozens of battles against the Orionans that had led to a steady retreat through Centauri Confederation space, the Confederation’s finest minds had devised programs that used these factors to present various courses of action and their likely result.  Battle Computers were seldom wrong, and when they were their errors had been on the side of caution, something no commander would really argue with.

The Battle Computers had initially led to several decisive victories, the bloody noses causing the Orionans to pause in their slow but steady gobbling of Centauri Confederation systems.  That respite had allowed the Confederation to begin fielding more advanced systems and gradually regaining a warrior spirit among its races.  It was the length of time this last process was going to take, with the bulk of losses in the meantime falling unevenly upon the Dominionites, that had led to controversial decision to contact Humanity, that race of warlike savages that was still nominally protected by Confederation laws and treaties after many centuries of abuse.  Eric still found it sickening to realize how many great mythological stories had basis in alien visits before the Confederation’s Congress had put a moratorium on such events.

Nothing like finding out werewolves do exist, they just don’t shift shape.  Gotta love holographic projections.  The Lupinians had been publicly censured by the Confederation Congress after their transgressions had come to light, the offending aliens banished to the Confederation prison planet of Hades.  Upon initially hearing the name, Eric had thought his translation chip had malfunctioned.  Then the TEC had been tasked with holding it against the Orionan Fourth Offensive,  the Confederation’s prisoners being formed into an emergency corps in exchange for general amnesty.  One visit to the planet had helped him rediscover Christianity, as he had absolutely no desire to spend eternity in the place.  The Battle Computer’s had factored in the prisoners’ almost suicidal resolve in its calculations and accurately predicted the Confederation victory, futher validating its analysis of “soft” military factors such as morale or leadership.

Unfortunately, it had been a Pyhrric victory, as it was during the climax of the battle for Hades that Eric had killed Argnor, the Crown Prince of the Orion Empire.  While it had given the Confederation a six-month respite, it was also the reason the Orionan Fleet was currently folding out of hyperspace near Pluto with grim resolve and murder on their mind.  This would have been a problem if Earth had been a fully developed Confederation planet, but at least they would have likely caused such bloody losses that they might have stopped the war right there.

So, when Kwirh said he was likely to lose a third of his fleet, that meant over a hundred warships were going to be turned into debris while keeping the Orionans from landing and simultaneously keeping a corridor open for the evacuation ships’ withdrawal.  Looking at the Star Admiral, Eric could see the wheels turning behind his blue eyes.  Kwirh had been one of the exceptions in the early dark days of the Second Orionan War, having a handle on large group tactics before his first engagement with the Orionans, and came from a family of foremost Dominionite strategicians.  ‘Before you duel a Tobarakh, hug a star—it will be less painful’ was an ancient Dominionite proverb, one of many apt ones that came from that particular race.

“Five hours gives us an additional three hundred million people,” Eric said.  “Although it’s going to get ugly once we inform most of this planet they get to be food in the larder.”

“How many ships do you avoid losing if you do not attempt to stop Griffins from making planetfall?” General Connelly asked.

Kwirh started to laugh, the sound extremely strange coming from a Dominion.

“You can’t seriously be expecting to fight the Praetorian Guard!” Kwirh barked, his teeth flashing against his dark face. Narrowing his eyes, he looked into the his holocamera.

“Your species has squandered the six years graced to it by my brother.  You have as much chance versus the Orionans as your historic knights on horseback would against your world’s current weaponry, and I do not wish to sacrifice valuable ships on a forlorn hope.”

General Connelly returned Kwirh’s hard look with interest.

“Even knights get lucky, especially if they can bait the enemy with the most wanted Human in at least half the galaxy,” Connelly replied.  “The Orionans know Eric’s transponder code and mecha.  They will land on this planet to kill him if he is still here in thirty-one hours.”

“No, Emperor Krognan will utilize the Heart of Orion to blast Eric and the continent he’s standing on from beyond your satellite’s orbit once he arrives!  Even if he doesn’t, what do you hope to accomplish?”

“Argnor would do that, Kwirh, which is why Eric killed him when he had the chance.  Krognan is a bereaved parent and an Orionan Emperor with no current heir.  Not only does he want Eric freakin’ alive so he can watch this planet razed to its mantle, blasting him to atoms would likely be perceived as an act of fear.  Nothing is more likely to start a civil war than appearing weak in the face of an inferior race without a current heir to the throne.”

“You argue using your species’ logic, not Orionans’!  What better way to demonstrate his power than to utterly destroy the slug that killed his child?”

“Kwirh, regardless of who is right, we need more time.  You know each ten humans we save will give us at least four good fighters, if not more.”

“Yes, in a few years!  Is this worth risking the life of the greatest fighter in the Confederation and vessels that will take years to replace?!”

“I’m in,” Eric said, cutting off Kwirh before the Admiral could respond.  “Get me the most likely link to that bastard, and let’s get this on.”

There was a moment of silence as Kwirh regarded him.  Finally, with a barely perceptible nod, he signaled his affirmation.

“Just in case Kwirh is right, Eric, where is Jack?” General Connelly asked, referring to the ranking battalion commander in Eric’s 1st Shock Brigade.

“Fort Riley, on personal business,” Eric replied.  “Which is good, because he can start getting folks to move their families onto post.  We’re going to have to shift more evacuation ships there from Kansas City to get all of the troops and their families out of there, and we’re going to need the National Guard to set up a perimeter.”

“What are you planning on telling the governor?” General Connelly asked.

“I’ll tell Governor Ralls it’s time for triage, as we’re probably going to hosting the entire Praetorian Guard right here in Kansas.  Good land for follow the leader, it’ll take them some time to trap me on the plains.  The rest of the Corps should be able to get off planet with the survivors just as Praetorian Guards are catching up with me.  Once the evacuation ships are clear, I’ll make a break for it.”

            I hope I at least sound convincing.

“Eric, I don’t think…” Kwirh started to say, his features softening.

“Admiral, we are spending lives arguing,” Eric barked, cutting his uncle-in-law off.  Most Dominionites appeared so cold and logical they made icebergs look like the center of the sun.  Personally Eric did not think that comparison was severe enough.  His wife was considered a hothead among her people, and Eric thought she was a bonified ice princess even if he loved her.  If Kwirh was showing concern for Eric, it meant that the shit was really about to hit the fan.

“What of your current duties in Topeka?” Kwirh asked.

“Karin can handle overseeing the filling of these ships, I have a message to prepare.  With your permission, gentlemen?” Eric said.

“Good enough, Eric.  Good luck, we’ve got some work to do here at Mount Weather anyway.”

Eric nodded at the last comment,  terminating his transmission.  Looking out his cockpit canopy at the lightening sky, he suddenly realized that this would probably be many people’s last full day of life.  The world’s governments, informed rather bluntly of the evacuation plan by General Connelly, had initiated an immediate news blackout.  The local networks, those that had not been peremptorily cut off, had either put out just enough news to make people believe it was all a big hoax or, like Topeka, made some noise about it all being a Hollywood production.  Many people would be dead within forty-eight hours and never know the real reason why.

Oh my God…Jessica!

Pulling out his wallet, he flipped it open.  It was a picture of a much younger, especially in the eyes, Eric in his dress blues.  Leaning into him was a beautiful woman with a beautiful girl-next-door face, her green eyes bright and lively even in the picture.  Her curly, dirty-blonde hair ran to the middle of her back, held together at her shoulder by an ornate jade brooch that had once belonged to Eric’s great-grandmother.  Standing just a couple of inches beneath him in the flat pumps she was wearing, the woman had a wry smile on her face.  Even six years later Eric got the sense the only reason he had survived through the photos was the presence of the photographer and the irrefutable proof that the pictures would have provided to the police.

Although Jessica Erin Fowler had known Eric for over ten years, he had always had a knack for pulling things over on her.  The pictures had been a complete surprise to her, taking place during her two-week visit to him at McChord Air Force Base just outside of Seattle, Washington.  It had been one of many, the final one coming when Eric proposed to her in the middle of the United Airlines concourse to the applause of the gathered flight crew and passengers.  Stunned, Jessica had broken down into tears as she looked down at him.  Eric had taken the tears to be a bad thing until she had finally choked out a happy yes and embraced him.

Thought that was the end of almost ten years of friendship, Eric thought, feeling the tears welling up again.  Who would’ve thought me getting abducted by aliens would actually take care of that?

The two of them had been best friends throughout High School in the 501 School District right there in good ol’ Topeka.  Jessica had been co-captain of the cheerleading squad their last three years at High School, while Eric had played football, basketball, and baseball all four years.  The two of them had found themselves together on so many long bus trips that it was almost inevitable that they had become fast friends, almost like brother and sister by the time they graduated High School.  For whatever reason, despite the their friends’ advice to the contrary, both of them had made great efforts to keep their relationship platonic.  While there had been a few instances when they had rubbed right up against that fine line of remaining “just friends”, ultimately neither one of them had been willing to risk the friendship.  Their ability to remain just friends had provided a hidden strength to their relationship that neither one of them had realized until both of them had experienced particularly rough relationships their final years in college, he at the Air Force Academy, she at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

For Eric, it had been a fellow cadet who had added so many ripped up hearts to her showcase she was nicknamed the Black Widow.  Veronica Delovega, a.k.a. V.D., had seemed like a perfectly normal woman when they had started dating his Firstie year.  A year behind him, she had ripped his heart out in a particularly brutal and callous manner that had nearly convinced him to swear off women for life.  Sleeping with one of Eric’s best friends at a party less than two days after the couple had broken up hadn’t helped matters any.  Fortunately it had happened during football season, and Eric had been able to excise his anger in the remaining four games of the season, culminating with a devastating game against Notre Dame, a performance so powerful that it had actually led to his being drafted in the sixth round of the NFL Draft.  Aware of the problems in Eric’s personal life, members of the Air Force football team had made Veronica the honorary MVP for the football season that ended with a resounding Aloha Bowl victory.

In Jessica’s case, it had meant an emotionally and, in the end, physically abusive boyfriend named Gareth Osborne.  That relationship had ended when Eric had come by for a surprise visit to find Gareth choking her.  Eric had nearly beaten Gareth to death, Jessica’s desperate pleas the only things that had stopped him from finishing the job.  Fortunately for Eric, the responding officer had been a former victim of domestic abuse herself.  Taking one look at the bruises on Jessica’s neck and the rather large mouse growing over her eye, the cop had given thirty seconds to get out of her sight before she would be forced to arrest him.  In the end, Eric’s beating had been so savage that Gareth’s vision had been permanently impaired in his right eye.

When Gareth had awoken from a week-long coma, he had threatened to press charges against Eric.  Before the cops could be summoned to take his statement Jessica had quietly informed him Colorado’s domestic abuse laws were far worse than the charges for simple battery and assault, and they just loved woman beaters in prison.  Furthermore, since she was the only witness and not inclined to testify on his behalf, it would be his word against Eric’s who threw the first punch.  Finally, he could find what little remained of his stuff down at the local landfill, and if Eric or she ever saw him again, someone would be dead.  Since Gareth was now half-blind and the first fight hadn’t exactly gone well, Jessica doubted it would be Eric.  In her case, should Gareth be foolish enough to violate the restraining order that was in the process of being worked by a local woman’s rights attorney, Jessica would be sure to shoot him in a sensitive area that would likely result in his bleeding to death.  With that last promise, Jessica had left the hospital and never seen Gareth again.  No charges had been filed in the case, a change of heart that had left the police utterly baffled.

Surprisingly, Jessica and Eric had then awkwardly avoided each other for the next six months.  Jessica had seen something horrible in her old friend, his thrashing of Garety so cold-blooded it had been an almost scientific demolition once Eric had established his dominance.  For his part, Eric had been utterly disgusted that a girl as smart and beautiful as Jessica had allowed herself to be treated in such a manner and simultaneously stunned at the depths of his savagery.  While they had exchanged infrequent e-mails, both of them had always been too busy to talk on the phone or meet in person when Eric came home to Topeka for a short leave.  Eric had finally decided to end the sidestepping when Jessica had found herself out in Spokane, Washington for a job interview.

With her Masters Degree in Structural Engineering, Jessica had been interviewed by Prometheus Construction, a newly created construction company.  Its owner a financial contemporary of Bill Gates, Prometheus had won the bidding for a contract to construct additional military housing in Yakima, Washington for units formerly based in Europe that were moving back to the United States  Her mother Cindy, ever the meddler, had given Eric Jessica’s flight information and even sprung for the flowers he had carried with him when he had met her at the Spokane airport.  The only way Jessica had gotten rid of him was to promise to come back out to visit in the next couple of months whether she got the job or not.  When she had come out in July 2004, it had been the best two weeks in both their lives.

Looking back, one would think that I would be used to Fate screwing me by now, he thought sardonically.  But no, every time is just like the freakin’ first time.  Why should the fact that I will be responsible for killing over eighty percent of the world’s population be any different?

Eric had been in the middle of planning their wedding when he had been tapped to fly a Homeland Security mission with Major Abigail Davies, a new section leader.  Taking off from McChord on a routine patrol on August 12, 2004, the two of them had been vectored out over the Pacific to identify an unidentified contact closing rapidly with the Puget sound area.  Twenty minutes later, Davies and Eric were both aboard an alien craft and a member of the Dominionite royalty had been killed in an air-to-air collision with Eric’s aircraft.  A week later, after being trapped in enforced quarantine at Area 51, Eric had found himself an unwilling astronaut and his wedding plans on permanent hold.

Even six years later and in the midst of a marriage  to another…being he deeply, truly loved the what might have been tore him apart.  He loved Karin, his “Little Warrior Princess” as he liked to call her.  Of course, calling a woman that was less than an inch shorter than him and stronger than most NFL lineman little was a bit of a stretch.  Gotta love a woman from a  world that has two and a half times Earth gravity, Eric thought.  The nickname had arisen from the first time the two of them had met, when Karin had attempted to introduce Eric’s face to her fist, and he had introduced her to the wonders of aikido.

Ever since then, Karin and he’s relationship had been as stormy as his with Jessica’s had been stable, and the last thing he wanted was to complicate things.  Dominionites took a very, very dim view of adultery.  If a spouse even suspected an improper relationship, they could challenge the other party to a fight to the death.  The other party got to choose the weapons, and Dominionite custom was to have the duel take place before sunset on the third day.  That didn’t leave a lot of time for training if, for example, the other party happened to be a former cheerleader who had great difficulties with smooshing spiders, much less killing another sentient being.

Which is why I haven’t looked Jessica  upLooks like I’m not going to get the chance.  The thought of Earth’s now rapidly impending doom suddenly had tears running out of his eyes.  Tired of fighting it, Eric gave in to his emotions and wept for a good three minutes.  Unlike most of his gender, he had realized long before that sometimes holding in the pain had a far worse effect on his efficiency than just letting it out.  If my wife was Human, I’d probably be considered “sensitive”.

That sensitivity had come from an early realization that one had to let emotions and hurt out, or go insane.  Getting orphaned on one’s sixteen birthday tended to do that to a person.  In a freak accident, a semi-trailer full of gasoline had suffered a brake failure while trying to make the 21st Street exit off of I-470.  Occurring at five in the morning, the flaming wreck should have only been unfortunate for the driver of the semi.  However, since Assistant District Attorney Donald and Dr. Ophelia Walthers had decided to surprise Eric with a used car for his birthday, they had stopped and picked up some breakfast as well as the car that morning.  As a result, they had the intense misfortune to be consumed in the resultant fireball.  Four million dollars worth of settlement money and life insurance had not even come close to replacing his parents.  Jessica had been there for him during that time period to, making him think of her again.

For some folks the hits just keep on coming, he thought fiercely, taking a deep breath.  Not that money’s going to do anyone much good in about forty-eight hours.  Looks like Bill Gates gets to keep that “Earth’s richest human” title forever.   Shaking his head, Eric decided he had done enough crying, it was a luxury he could no longer afford.  Starting to think of the taunting message he would be beaming up to Emperor Krognar, he utilized the Phoenix’s internal medical functions to remove the evidence that he had been crying from his eyes.

Never let them see you sweat, he thought.

“Opaque mode,” he ordered.  The canopy immediately shaded, turning the cockpit into a dark cocoon.  Taking a deep breath, Eric looked directly into the holocamera and pressed the activation button on his control stick.  He allowed his features to become hard and unforgiving, a look that Gareth and a few select others could have testified was not a good tiding.

“Greetings Emperor Krognan,” Eric intoned.  “I wanted to welcome you to Earth and recognize your intense stupidity for coming to a planet that your own prophets have told you will lead to the fall of your line.  Since it is apparent where your son’s lack of brains was hereditary, let me outline a few of his other faults for you.”