The girl, the tiger, and the monkey

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I’m back. It’s been quite the tumultuous past couple of weeks. Fortunately I was able to secure another interview with Pete the Ranger during all the commotion that surrounded the launch of Immolation, the final book in the Paul Thompson trilogy.

Pete has a lot of yarns, and he was glad to share another of them the last time I saw him. We were in his garage, as usual, surrounded by tools and empty beer cans. Pete cracked open another one and began.

“This story is about the girl, the tiger, and the monkey.” My curiosity was peaked, as I had no idea what he was talking about. “The setting is Afghanistan, while living with the locals.” “I found strange things all the time.” I nodded, he was quite right. I thought immediately about some surreal incidents in my past.

Strange things do happen in those dusty villages, half forgotten by time.

“There were rumors of monkeys that ran around in villages, that people were scared to death of. One time on a patrol I thought I saw a tiger chained up to a house, on a second story balcony.” Pete didn’t see it again, but wheels were spinning in his head. “I got this idea that I needed a pet tiger… I already knew the Afghans respected me, but I wanted them to be afraid of me so I wanted a fuckin’ tiger.”

I laughed and thought about the wildly inappropriate Ranger Promo video.

For a couple of months, Pete sought the tiger. No luck. One day he sauntered down to the place where the dust-off helicopters called home. He discussed his idea with the pilots and ground personnel, and they thought it would be a great idea to have a tiger on a chain by their compound to keep the Afghans away at night. Also, the medevac guys wanted a monkey, and their rigger even volunteered to “sew a little flight suit for him”.

Pete added a monkey to his wish list, “because I’ve always wanted a fuckin’ monkey.” He added that monkeys were known to be a “pain in the ass,” but he thought that was appropriate because “I’m a pain in the ass to deal with, too.”

He started to seriously pursue his idea. As he patrolled the villages with his Afghans, he would stop people and question them about any monkeys or tigers that he might be able to claim for his own use. He would ask the people “Kujasti sheedy diawana (Where is the crazy monkey)?”

Pete kept this up for a while, confident that he would eventually get his mascots.

One day it all went south. Pete was at a meeting with provincial leaders, and a mysterious woman walked up to him. Pete thought she worked for the UN. “Her mother was French, and her father was Belgian, and she was smoking hot anywhere in the world, let alone Afghanistan.” He went on to add “women were few and far between.” This mystery woman, Pete referred to her as “Angela,” “would wear white, flowing baby-doll tops with no bra.” Pete was smitten. However, he also knew that she knew that guys on the grubby firebases drooled over her.

“She could sit at a picnic table, and she smoked cigarettes like a chimney…or a steel mill, but she never bought cigarettes. She could get them off of dudes all day long.”

So at the meeting, Pete was relaxing. To his surprise, “Angela” sat down with him. She said “Oh, you’re Pete the Ranger.” Pete confirmed he was that person. Then she unpacked a surprise.

“Do you know you’re going to jail?” Pete was taken aback, and asked her why that was. (As an aside, I can imagine that at this point Pete was going back through a long list of situations and incidents.)

She looked at him, dragged on her ever-present cigarette, and spoke. “Trafficking in endangered species.”

He put on his best choirboy face and said, “What are you talking about?”

“Purchasing a Bengal Tiger in Afghanistan or anywhere else is illegal.”

Pete hadn’t known that, but the conversation enlightened him. “I explained to her it was a funny joke… but she referred again to the letter of the law.”

He decided to put his supposedly good idea on a back burner. “Angela crushed all my dreams… I got no monkey, I got no tiger, but I still think it would be cool to own such pets.”

“Angela got no cigarettes from me.”

Pete took another swig, shrugged and chuckled.

More follows, readers.

Immolation, Excerpt two

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All,

Immolation, the final chapter in the Valley trilogy, is now officially launched. The launch has been a success, and many of you have grabbed a copy. Thanks much, all! Special thanks also goes out to John Birmingham and the crew at cheeseburgergothic.com, who have helped to spread the word far and wide.

If you haven’t signed up for my list it’s not too late to do so- you’ll be the first to know about all things JL. There are future projects in the works. Paul Thompson’s tale has concluded, but the writing will continue.

Below is an excerpt from Immolation. Enjoy!

 

On top of the mountain opposing the 405th Regiment

 Pleasant-Puff-of-Air waited with her sisters. They would attack the Tslek, or bugs, below. Weeks before, she and her sisters had been pulled by their elders from their crèche and sent to the mountains in terror before the killer clouds of ash descended on them.

Many had been too late to flee the cities, and Puff knew that the majority of the Whoueen on her world were dead. She had been raised as an agricultural aide to tend a crig farm on the plains, as had countless numbers of her forebears. She wasn’t a soldier; she never intended to be one.

But for the past couple of weeks, as the ashfall subsided and the Whoueen could fly once more, she had been pressed into service and hastily trained in that role. True soldiers were few, but they had taken over the leadership of the Whoueen, and they had made it clear that there was no choice but to fight or die.

The bugs’ actions reinforced the point. They had dumped their kinetic strikes on her world, Fwerdwhich translated as “delicious”—and they had landed in their horrifying, crawling machines shortly thereafter. With her own eyes, Puff had seen what remained of her peaceful city. She had been filled with towering rage when she gazed on the heap of corpses and ruination that the indescribable bugs had left behind on their slow march toward the refuge of the Whoueen.

Now, she held a rail gun in her claws. She would attack the creatures today. Although she was a farmer at heart, she was also of the Whoueen, and her heart was filled with a terrible longing to close with the foe.

Many revolutions before, the military counsel on Fwerd had been directed to cache large amounts of weaponry in the mountains for precisely this worst-case scenario. The worst had come to pass. The weapons had been passed out. Puff, an aspiring farmer, had received her very own.

Puff’s wing leader was the Whoueen equivalent of a private, but she had been pressed into command of one hundred of Puff’s peers. The young and old civilians-no-more now waited on the signal to attack.

The signal would come soon.

***

Paul had moved his troops around into the stellate formation; it was the best one for anticipated attack from above. His Headquarters Company was in the center, and his five line companies were arrayed in a circular fashion around him. His battalion was the regiment’s closest to the mountain; Paul anticipated that they would take the brunt of the attack. Of course, one never knew with Harpies, he thought.

His people were in place, so now there was nothing to do but wait. Paul checked his engineers’ obstacle overlay and saw that his position was saturated with the little Phalanx flying mines. He looked at the placement of his six AD bots; they were good as well. He scanned the prepositioned ammo stocks and looked at food and rest plans.

Third Battalion was as ready as could be. Paul knew he was fidgeting, and he knew that the last thing he should do was to start calling people and joggling their elbows. With a mighty effort, he restrained himself. He heard nothing but silence on the net. The sunset was approaching, and the rain started coming in sheets.

A river of ash mud was at his feet. Every trooper he saw was caked with the stuff. It was a truly miserable day that promised a miserable end.

Paul’s halo pinged. “Dragon Six, this is Spear Six,” Colonel Dunlevy said.

What did she want? “Send it, Spear Six.”

“Dragon Six, I don’t like how your battalion sticks out. Reposition five hundred meters to the south.”

Paul sighed. “Ma’am, my battalion is in a textbook interlocking-fires position with the regiment. If I move toward the center, our arcs will have a suboptimum density.”

“Just fucking do it, Thompson.”

Paul shook his head. “We are anticipating attack at any moment, ma’am. If I start to move and they hit us, it’s going to be a mess, and you know it. What is your decision, ma’am?”

“Move, Colonel Thompson. You’re wasting time. Spear Six, out.”

Shit, he thought. He had no choice. He prepared a new battle map and then placed a call to his operations section and his company leaders.

“All Dragon elements, this is Dragon Six. We have received orders from higher to reposition five hundred meters south. Included in this message is the updated overlay. In five minutes, we move. Follow your green arrows, and get it done quickly. Respond in sequence.”

“Alpha, roger.”

“Bravo, can do.”

“Charlie, this is stupid.”

Paul interrupted. “Ours is not to reason why, Charlie. Get it done.”

“Delta, wilco.”

“Echo, moving mines now.”

“Hotel, roger.”

Paul watched the seconds tick down toward the move, and he prayed that nothing would happen for ten minutes, the length of time it would take to move shop.

His timer hit zero, and a green arrow appeared on his visual. He placed an all-call. “It’s time, Dragons. Bust ass, motherfuckers.” He started to bound and saw troopers to his left and right moving as well.

He called Colonel Dunlevy. “Spear Six, this is Dragon Six, moving. Estimate in new position five minutes, ready to repel possible attack in ten.”

“Roger, Dragon Six.”

Paul skedaddled as he watched his battalion move in a mostly coherent, AI-guided formation. Please, God, he thought. Let the Harpies hold off for another five minutes.

***

On the mountain above Third Battalion, 405th Infantry

 Puff was as tense as a crig farmer in a drought, her sisters were also restless. She knew that she might die today. She knew for certain that she would face combat. Her commander, the private, was skittering along the crowded passage on her rear claws. She chittered encouragement to her “troops” and passed along what courage she could give with red-flared mental impulses.

Puff went over the plan she had been mentally given. Her wing was to drive at the bugs’ center; their leader, a female called Dunlevy, was located there. She had to die. Puff checked the ammunition in her rail gun and vacated her bowels one last time. She shuddered and stretched her wings as best she could in the crowded flight tunnel.

A sending arrived from the aerie’s ad hoc battle master, a lieutenant equivalent. “People of Fwerd! Today, we fly into battle against the invaders of our world, the destroyers of our nests. I know that the soldiers’ path was not what you wanted to follow, but it is your duty now to fight for the matriarch. Let none of you bring shame to your mothers. May we be victorious in the coming struggle. Leave none alive below. Crush their machines in your claws. The signal starts now. Fly to battle!”

Upon that last thought, Puff felt a jolt of fear and rage course through her system. She screeched in fury with her wing mates, and the flight tunnel roared with the sound. She heard the sizzling zing of the autoguns hidden in the redoubt and then followed the press of bodies toward the entrance. From ahead, she watched the Whoueen take flight, and the line grew shorter. Finally, she reached the flight hole. No one was ahead of her. Below in the valley, she heard the ripping roar of the bugs’ weapons and saw the mass of Whoueen fly arrow-straight toward their machines.

With a physical and mental scream, she took flight.

 

Micro drones in combat

When I wrote the first book in my trilogy, In The ValleyI imagined a future where combat leaders had instant access to tiny drones that provide communications, recon info, and would be controlled via a wireless internet connection to the user.

The future is coming faster than I expected. ISIS is using mini-drones in combat now, they are dropping mortar rounds via drones on friendlies in Syria. They are also using them for recon. The US Army is experimenting (a lot) with small drones, there is a lot of thought and money being directed toward this technology.

So it peaked my interest when I came across an article today where a company is trying to market such drones to the military right now. “Will tiny drones become a must have for soldiers?” LOL, hell yes, was the answer that popped into my head.

Mind you, the “Snipe” is bulkier and clumsier than the drones I imagined for future combatants. However, it is still an application where the infantry soldier can deploy a drone to look around corners, behind buildings, over terrain features, etc. It is only a matter of time before such little drones become weaponized. In the case of ISIS, the bad guys have already done it.

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This is a first-generation view of the future. I don’t know whether to be excited by this, or to be leery.

The old methods of reconnaissance will (possibly) soon be obsolete. No more “recon by fire,” no more stumbling into an ambush. The Snipe has a thermal camera, have fun hiding from that.

And sure as the devil, both sides in future conflicts will have access to this technology. I’m not a big fan of unproven technologies when it comes to combat operations. When the bullets start flying, Murphy’s Law prevails each and every time. However, this technology is so promising, so game changing, that I am convinced it will be widely used far into the future.

Humans are always looking for anything that will give them an edge in both love and war, and this technology will deliver. Clausewitz‘s “fog of war” will be rendered less dense by these little machines.

It’s a matter of time and refinement.

Panzergrenadier

hitler's zippoI came across a most excellent article today, it was about the worth of NATO and standardization. I won’t talk much about it, as you all can click on the link above and read it. It’s pretty good.

When I read it, I remembered a particular operation I was involved in once with a German panzergrenadier unit in Afghanistan.

I’ve had a lot of interactions with Germans over the years, and I speak a little Deutsch. But that operation was really my first chance to work closely with a German unit in combat. Frankly, it was a little jarring to ride to war with armored vehicles marked with the Iron Cross, to see soldiers armed with the MG42 (now known as the MG3) cocked and locked.

I shook my head at the irony, seventy years earlier we would have been at each other’s throats. Now I had a German liaison in my truck and I chatted away with him in German while I sat at my gun in the turret and smoked cheap Afghan cigarettes.

Times do change, and alliances are essential. Does NATO need updating for the 21st century? Absolutely. Right now many of the national militaries within the alliance have gone through tough times, they are underfunded and understrength. That includes the US, by the way.

One of the problems is the cost of procurement for new weapon systems. There is far too much fat and red tape involved in fielding new stuff. Look at the F-35 as a prime example. See my article below about the AT-6 for my two cents on that.

Yeah, I’m prejudiced towards ground forces, it’s true. But darn it, who has to put boots on the ground in bad places? There is little excuse for undermanning and over deploying infantry combat forces when the problem could be remedied at relatively moderate cost. It costs about 17k dollars to kit out a US infantry soldier, about 6 million to fully equip a light infantry brigade. More brigades, less time in the Box, the fresher and better trained the forces involved.

The lowest cost version of the F-35 is 148 million dollars, and the cost goes up from there. Mind, that is the bare price for one bird. It does not include training or maintenance expenses. And a US fighter squadron usually has about 21 aircraft assigned. Do the math.

In the west, we are shooting ourselves in the foot with sky-high procurement expenses. The Chinese and the Russians don’t spend nearly as much on their forces, and they are making vast improvements with their equipment modernization programs. The T-14 Armata looks like a formidable machine, to cite one example. And the Russians have 2,300 of them scheduled for delivery by 2020 at an average cost of 3.7 million dollars apiece. An 8.5 billion dollar total cost for a boatload of cutting edge tanks equals about two lousy squadrons of F-35s.

The entire German Army currently has 244 Leopard 2 tanks available.

Wow.

Freebie!

As all of you know, my third book is coming out soon. Those who are members of my newsletter know some stuff about the launch that I’m not putting out publicly.

Rest assured, however, that the book is coming, and it will happen this month. Then those of you who would like to finish Paul Thompson’s tale will get your opportunity to do so.

I have an idea, however, to reward my readers. I have recently learned, to my distress, that my printed books are not readily available in Australia. Yeah, people can buy them, but they cost a prohibitive amount to ship.

Annoying, and I have to investigate a fix. Well, that problem gave me an idea, as the majority of my fans live down under. On the 1st of June, I will make a random selection from my newsletter email list. I will contact the person whose name comes out of the hat and I will send them signed copies of the entire trilogy, for free, at my expense. No matter where that lucky person may live.

I don’t care if I have to send the books to Antarctica on the back of a penguin, you will get your books.

All you have to do is sign up. Lady Luck takes over from there.

Invasive species

A news article recently caught my eye, it was about various novel methods that are being used to combat invasive species; i.e. animals that have taken up residence in a place where they simply don’t belong.

Here where I live, there are scads of “stink bugs” that apparently came from China in shipping containers, only chickens will eat the stupid things and they are a real pest. But that’s a comparatively minor problem. Australia has an issue with rabbits, the Galapagos islands have goats, numerous species of birds in the Pacific were made extinct by cats, the list goes on into infinity, really.

It’s also not a new problem by any means. Human populations have been dragging around their companions world-wide since the dawn of time. Chickens to England, the horse, the dog… the list goes on. And let’s not forget about our microbes. A certain flea brought the ruinous Plague of 1346 to Europe, the infected beasties probably came into Italy with shipments from the Silk Road.

So if the day comes that we finally leave this planet and go out into interstellar space, I think it’s inevitable that we will bring our companion creatures with us in some form. Whether they sleep off the trip in the cargo holds or are brought into space as frozen embryos, you can bet your bottom dollar that our most useful animals will be brought along for the ride.

If we don’t bring animals, we will certainly bring our microbes.

It’s a subject that has been brought up a lot in science fiction, how we may impact the ecologies of new and presumably pristine worlds. I think that if we scout out other worlds and they are marginally inhabitable, humans will settle and colonize said worlds.

It’ll get interesting when we start getting answers to questions such as whether we can assimilate alien protein, whether “alien” protein can assimilate us, and whether diseases can be spread across non-native populations.

Heck, it could be that humanity spreads across our relatively close by star systems and no-one can really travel because of quarantine concerns.

I think that the definition of “human” would certainly change as hundreds, then thousands of years go by and all the different populations specialize to adapt to their respective worlds.

In such an interstellar civilization, I shudder to think what your immunization record would look like as you flit from star system, to star system.

And there would probably be a race, call it homo sapiens stellae, who would specialize in traveling the stars. They would be interstellar vagabonds, specialists who would travel the vast voids. Think of them as the truck drivers of an interstellar human civilization.

And yes, the invasive species problem will continue to be an issue. Only on a much grander scale.

Had to pass this one along…

A lot of times I get ideas for blog postings by reading the news, or I have something to communicate with my readers. Today is a little of both.

First, “Immolation” is well on track to be on the shelves in May, as opposed to June. I decided I wanted to get in early on the summer reading season (for those of us in the northern hemisphere) so I will launch fairly soon. Those of you who have subscribed to my newsletter list will get some additional classified info in regard to the launch, namely exact times and other goodies. However, I don’t want to put anything out there until results are set in stone. Those chosen few who are on the list will hear from me soon, however.

Can’t wait to put the keystone on the Paul Thompson saga.

The news itself, at least here ‘Stateside, isn’t really worth watching. For a while it was Trump 24/7 with the volume turned all the way up. I could barely stand to turn the TV on. Well, that’s quieted down a bit, but little has caught my eye except some depressing stuff in Afghanistan.

Definitely won’t get into that here.

One news article that did catch my eye, however, was about a Marine who was apparently in the thick of things when his weapon broke. So he called customer service back in the ‘States and they set him straight.

This is a little bit of a head-scratcher for me. Here’s why- I don’t know what the current state of affairs is with internet service in the Box, but how did he get the number? Did he have a smart phone with him, and was he able to Google Barrett’s customer service number? That could take minutes, time you don’t have. It could be, though, that for some odd reason the number was written on the inside of a Technical Manual (TM) that the guy carried with him. Still, though, internet service can be really patchy in some places that firefights occur in.

The next thing that got me was that the Marine bent something when he was maintaining his weapon the previous day. I’m not an expert on the M107 Barrett rifle, but I have handled and fired it. It’s pretty robust. He must have “maintained” the hell out of it to have caused a malfunction of the type listed in the article. Plus, if you suspect you have done something stupid to your weapon, the responsible thing to do is to test-fire it or at least do a thorough functions check.

After all, you only live once.

Finally, assuming he did experience a malfunction and was able to call customer service given a reliable number and cell phone service- how did he get past the gatekeepers on the customer service line? Was it the gunfire in the background? His no-doubt profligate use of profanity? Imagine the Marine’s state of mind if he overcame all obstacles and reached Barrett, only to hear hold music.

Freaky stuff can and does happen. For some reason, this story rings true with me, which is why I’m passing it along.

I can totally see Joe (shorthand for a lower enlisted troop) screwing up his weapon, the weapon goes down when he needs it, and he busts out his unauthorized smart phone bought in a haji-mart and dials up Customer Service in the ‘States. The bored teenager working Customer Service back in America gets the phone call of his or her’s life and he or she punches the panic button and gets a first-rate armorer on the phone at light speed. A little verbal jujitsu and a hasty field repair by the Marine, and life is good.

The Marine hangs up, resumes firing.

I’ll bet when they got back to the “rear,” though, his non-commissioned officers had some things to say to him.

And someone else got to carry the Barrett.

Combat Air Support

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So the USAF has been talking for many years about replacing the A-10 Warthog in the CAS, or Close Air Support role. They haven’t done it yet, for good reason- the A-10 is a killer, and nothing but. The problem with the A-10 is that the airframes are old and there is always more demand for the remaining aircraft than the Air Force can supply.

I was never lucky enough to get an A-10 “on-station,” for some weird reason we had B-1’s a lot, sometimes F-18’s and the occasional F-15E. And of course we had AH-64s as well, along with the odd drone or two. So in my past life I have had some contact with the guys and gals in the air who dropped the random odd bomb or fired the occasional Hellfire missile.

I like the CAS mission, the Air Force hates it. Why? It’s not cool, it’s not glamorous Tom-Cruise-on-a-motorcycle “pushing the edge of the envelope” crap. The job involves endlessly circling around in the air over ground troops who seem to be traveling at the speed of an ant with the prospect of absolutely nothing happening for weeks on end.

However, when the bored pilot in the air gets the call to head earthward, there are lives at stake- including the pilot’s. It’s a gut-wrenching, tough, precision job that has to be done absolutely right.

That’s why I was quite interested when I read on a random news article this week that the DOD is considering a new aircraft for the CAS mission, and I discovered that a really cool little bird already exists, the AT-6 Wolverine.

By all means, click on the link, Textron’s website does a much better job of describing the tough little aircraft than I can, and there are all kinds of pictures.

Here’s my take-away from looking this mean little machine over. No, it can’t dogfight, and you would be a fool to get into one with the AT-6. However, it would be great as a dedicated CAS bird, which is what it was designed for. It would do a far better job than the DOD’s stupid wet dream, the way overpriced and overrated F-35.

The AT-6 has all the stuff that grunts in contact want. It can mount .50 cal machine guns, shoot Hellfire missiles, drop 500 lb bombs and deliver all the right devastation in all the right areas. It has a turboprop engine (tops for reliability and survivability), great maneuverability and excellent loiter-time.

This thing is the field commander’s CAS dream. I wish there would have been one or two of these flying around overhead at some points in my past, and if I was still doing the job now I would definitely have a warm-and-fuzzy when one of them would check in with my forward air controller (known as a JTAC).

The DOD needs to pull their heads out of their posterior, forget about the stupid F-35 in the CAS role, and buy a zillion of these cool little birds for the price of one (!) lousy F-35.

But hey, the cool guys with sunglasses and leather jackets love the F-35, so no AT-6 for the grunts.

What a shame.

Admin note

Hey everybody. I will ruminate soon about some stuff, but today I wanted to tell everyone my broken list button on my contact and Facebook page has been fixed with a new newsletter service. For those of you who tried to sign up earlier, my apologies. Go ahead and resubmit, it should work fine now.

Promise that those who sign up for my newsletter will be the first to know about all things Jason.

 

Immolation, Excerpt One

An excerpt from the concluding novel of the Valley trilogy, Immolation.

Fall 2345, H-476, invasion plus three to four days

Paul slurped at ration paste, which tasted like cherries this morning. He studied the fallen tower before him. His battalion was still holding the northern side of the cordon around City A, and Second Battalion was continuing to “clear” the city. Occasionally, Paul would hear gunfire as soldiers found Harpy civilians. The story never ended happily for those unfortunates.

He had been more or less camped out on this spot for the past forty hours or so. His mission was to stay in place and catch “squirters” as Second Battalion rummaged around in the necropolis before him. This city had not been hit with an orbital strike, obviously, but it had suffered some damage from the very high winds that had circled the globe after the battlewagons had dumped their rocks on the planet.

More damaging still, though, was the ash that had spread like a cancer through the atmosphere. The heaviest particles had fallen out by now, but the days were still dark. Paul would only periodically catch a pale glimpse of this world’s sun. It was dark and dreary, and Paul wondered about the big question: when would the Harpies be able to fly again?

Looking at the sky, he figured it would be any time now. The day was noticeably brighter than when Third Battalion had dropped, and he didn’t have to run his defrost constantly to keep the ash off his helmet’s visor. He flicked it on only from time to time.

He was confident the flyers would come soon. But when? Only God knew, as far as he was concerned. The lack of action was making him nervous. He wasn’t used to sitting and waiting for days.

He heard the distinctive roar of an M-372 from afar. He queried his halo where it was coming from. In an instant, he had the answer: to his south, in the ruined city, over a kilometer away. A private in Second Battalion had fired at a flying Harpy. A search team had flushed it out of a tower.

Paul placed a call to Major Sergeant Woodrow, who was visiting Echo Company. “You hear that, Woody?”

“Yeah. I guess some of them are starting to risk a flight.”

“Yeah, that’s what I figured, too. I’d tell everyone to stay sharp, but they already fuckin’ know that.”

“Uh-huh. No reason to joggle anyone’s elbow; people know what’s up.”

“Sky’s clearer today. I bet we start seeing more of ’em soon.”

Woodrow grunted. “I won’t take that bet.”

“Yeah. Hate this cordon shit.” Paul decided to brave the stink and have his second smoke of the day. He thought his visor up, and the reek of dead Harpy immediately pounded him. With haste, he got a smoke and lit up.

Woodrow answered. “I dunno. Beats watching everyone fuckin’ die around you.”

Paul nodded and drew on his cig. “Damn right. This shit grates on my nerves is all.”

“Yeah. Seriously, though, it gets on the guys’ and gals’ nerves too. This shit needs to wrap up soon. Any word on that?” Woodrow was fishing for info.

“Nope. I can tell you what I see on my regimental schematic, though. Dunlevy’s saying that three-quarters of the city is clear.” Paul checked the schematic again. Sure enough, there was the “pie chart” of the city, with a statistic next to it in bold green: 76.2 percent.

Woodrow laughed. “That city is three-quarters clear like my ass isn’t hairy. Even though these new suits can climb like bats, there is no way seven hundred or so soldiers have checked every nook and cranny of that place.” He paused to laugh again. “I’ll bet most of them go into those buildings and sit around and play vids for a while.”

“No way for them to sham with a halo, Woody. But I get your point. We’re going to declare the city clear, and then the Harpies are going to fly right back in.”

An M-372 went off to Paul’s right. He threw away his butt and slammed down his visor. Another one fired, and then his fired too. It was set on auto, so his systems had seen the Harpies flying way before his weak human eyes could.

He shifted positions immediately, a reflex granted to him by the fighting on Brasilia. A soldier who stood still while fighting Harpies didn’t live to be a veteran. He sprang behind a structure filled with glass-like tubes and waited. While he waited, his M-372 fired again. He pulled up the targeting screen and looked at what he had shot. Dozens of Harpies were pouring out of a tower to his front, flying north toward perceived safety. Unfortunately for them, that was the function of a cordon.

Paul and his troops were part of a noose around the city. There would be no escape.

As he watched, the fleeing Harpies died. And then he heard it: the zing of a rail gun and the crack of an impact. One of those bastards was armed. More Harpies poured from the half-ruined tower; their flight was doomed by Third Battalion’s fire. One Harpy almost made it past them. She was shot in midair as Paul watched. Her body landed a hundred meters away with a wet thud.

Finally, the flight became a trickle, and then it stopped. The Harpies that flew toward Paul’s position were dead to a being. His incoming-rounds counter told him that the rail gun had fired three times, and its wielder was dead. None of his soldiers had been hit, whereas 121 Harpies died.

It was the type of trade that he liked—that is, plenty of them and none of his.