Writing Sample No.3

M109A6_Paladin_night_fire

A query from a reader prompted me to consider putting up another writing sample, it’s been a long while since I have done so. Here goes; you all get to guess its context and series! There’s a lot more where this came from.

Fire Mission

At a little after four in the morning, Gun Number Three’s field telephone buzzed. Geert picked it up. He heard the Fire Direction Officer’s voice on the other end. The man delivered his message flatly.

“Fire Mission, Platoon adjust, Number Three, one round, shell HE, Lot XY, Charge 4, Fuze Quick, Deflection 2573, Quadrant 247, continuous fire.”

For a brief moment, Geert’s eyebrows went up. He knew the command “continuous fire,” which meant that his gun would fire at the maximum rate until “check fire” was given, but he had never heard it. He had expected something like “five rounds in effect.”

Training snapped into place. Geert repeated the message to his crew; they sprang into action. This was the first time the gunners would hurtle high explosives towards their fellow man. But that thought would only come later, if at all. For now, there was a fire mission, a job to be done.

Geert set the announced deflection on the panoramic telescope and traversed the tube until he had the correct sight picture on the proper aiming point. He called out “Deflection 2573.”

The loader used a hydraulic ram to press the appropriately fuzed 41.9kg round into the chamber, this was followed by “green bag” propellant. Once everyone was clear, they closed the breech block and installed the primer.

The assistant gunner elevated the tube to 247, centered the quadrant range bubbles and called out “Quadrant 247, set!” He took the firing lanyard in hand and stood as far away from the breech block as possible.

The enormous howitzer was ready to go, all the platoon’s guns would adjust off of Geert’s gun once the rounds were adjusted down range.

“Fire!” The assistant gunner made a turn like a matador, lanyard in hand. With a heavy thud, the breech block recoiled a few feet into the fighting compartment. As soon as it was forward, the AG levered the block open, blackish powder fumes puffed out. The loader cleaned the breech and face of the breech block with a swab. They repeated their actions; within seconds the weapon was ready to fire again.

Sweat stung Geert’s eyes. One good thing about the reek of propellant is that it blocked out the funk of the crew, he thought. He waited on the fire adjustment, it wasn’t long in coming. The field telephone buzzed again.

“Special correction. Number three, left five mils.” Geert called out the correction, and adjusted his gunner’s aid. With another jerk of the lanyard, another round headed downrange. The crew went back through their carefully choreographed dance, the howitzer was ready once more. The field telephone buzzed. It was the Fire Direction Officer again.

“Platoon, continuous fire.”

Professionally, Geert was pleased. His reserve crew had managed to hit the target (men, his inner voice said to him) with only one correction; that meant good work on his battery’s part, as well as the forward observer, the poor bastard. As his crew labored on their gun and round after round left the tube, Geert imagined what it must be like in the Fire Direction Center, with a hundred cries for help from the heaving front.

How could the FDO stand it, listening to the radio, and triaging life-saving fires?

All Geert could do was what he was doing, managing his boys while cranking out death at four rounds a minute, 41.9 kilos of exploding metal at a time. Geert looked at his watch. Pretty soon he would have to reduce the rate of fire to one round per minute, his gun was heating up, and his loader was flagging.

The fighting compartment really stank of cordite, even with the evacuator fans cranked all the way up. Geert heard the other guns firing, B Battery was going flat-out, and Geert would have to call for a re-supply track, soon.

His gun fired again. Geert’s somewhat rusty but fairly experienced eye started to catch the traces of fatigue in his crew, and the gun was getting hot. After this shot, thought Geert, we are reducing our rate. The loader was fumbling with a fuze wrench when the field telephone buzzed. Geert picked it up.

“Check fire, check fire. End of mission. Be advised, we reposition in five mikes. Counterbattery. All guns respond in sequence.”

He waited his turn, then he spoke up. “Three, roger.” He was looking at his loader, even with the help from the semi-auto rammer, sweat was pouring off of the man.

Geert pitched his voice. “Alright, Check fire. Do not load. We’re leaving in five minutes. Get to work.” The AG and the loader got out of the vehicle and scattered. Field wire had to be rolled up, aiming stakes pulled; it was organized chaos. Geert prepared the vehicle for movement while the driver waited on the command to go.

No one wanted to be around when the Soviet artillery, or worse yet aircraft, figured out where they were. Geert’s armpits oozed as he sat and waited for his guys to get back, time stretched like tar on a hot day.

At last, his loader and AG climbed back aboard and strapped in. The radio, which had been silent until now to prevent triangulation, clicked through his Combat Vehicle Crewman’s headset. Geert recognized the Battery Commander’s voice. He kept it simple.

“All elements, displace, now.”

Geert spoke. “You heard the man, driver. Follow the leader. Let’s get the fuck out of here!” He opened the hatch and stood up. He gave the driver small corrections as they formed up in a convoy and left with haste. B Battery was following a forest trail to their next firing position, Geert smelled diesel, earth and crushed pine. As he understood things, their next position was only a klick away or so.

As Geert stood in his hatch like a tanker, he heard a new sound; a whooshing roar like freight trains, somewhere in the direction from where he had just been minutes earlier.

Unlike Lot’s wife, Geert didn’t look back as yet another chunk of Germany got chewed up.

Dawn was coming on Bravo battery’s first day of war.

 

Books I’m excited about!

Unknown

Alright; there’s two books that I’m about to read. This is good, it brings me up from my previous level, zero. Well, there was a book I half-read, and it was really good. It was simply too awful to finish, “Life and Fate,” by Vasily Grossman. I’ll probably return to it at some point, but it’s too much right now.

I really needed something fun, a good escape.

Well, two of my favorite authors have stepped up. One is Alicia Wanstall-Burke, with the latest installment of her series, “Legacy of Ghosts,” available everywhere on the 30th of November, 2019. That’s right now down in Oz, and a couple of hours from now here in the ‘States. I plan on tearing into this thing as soon as possible. I’ll probably take notes and then post a review here shortly thereafter.

This is going to happen.

Sometimes good news does crop up randomly in the inbox, too. It seems another friend of mine, Jason Cox, has completed the manuscript of his next thriller, it’s called “The Compass,” and there’s no word on when it will release, or by whom. If it’s anything like the other stuff he’s written, though, it should be pretty good; beta-ing quality stuff is a pleasure.

I discovered Jason through the fanfic “The Demons of Butte Crack County,” which has a few of his short stories in it. If you ever read Birmingham‘s Dave Hooper series, you have to check out “Demons” as well.

In any case, this is a short bit today.

There’s too much reading to do.

Do check out Alicia’s LEGACY OF GHOSTS, launching approximately now, and I’ll keep you posted about the progress of Jason Cox’s latest as it moves through the pipeline.

The 401

401

It helps to have a truck. To be specific, a fairly reliable Chevy. In the year that I lost my license (2012-2013), or rather the year that the VA and the DMV conspired to deprive me of driving privileges, I bought a truck. Yeah, pretty counter-intuitive. No license, new truck. I won’t say that it made sense because it didn’t. But hey, here we are six or seven years later and the beast is paid off and still doing the job. So on balance things ended up working out, and there’s a reason I bought the truck.

A close friend calls me up.

“Hey, Jason, can you haul something for me?”

“Sure.”

Turns out he needed a big-block engine hauled from the heart of the Appalachians to the East Coast. OK, I wanted to hang out and catch up, so this seemed like a good opportunity. All that I knew was that we were picking up a motor, throwing it in the truck, and hauling it north.

I linked up with my bud on Saturday morning, we headed south. There was a foldable shop crane in the bed, along with a toolbox and our overnight bags. The crane was for the engine, that chunk of iron weighed about 250kg.

250kg/500lbs? Well, we weren’t going to wish it off the ground. So we needed the crane. Oh yeah, there was a tire with no rim as well, so that the motor didn’t go sliding around in the back in case I had to hit the brakes. I’ve had that happen before; a heavy engine can literally make the rear end hop if it hits hard enough, and there will be damage.

So we linked up with another friend at the rebuild garage. I was unprepared for what it was that we were picking up; a freshly rebuilt and tested, fully functional and lovingly restored monster V8 engine. Its home was destined to be a vintage Jeep Cherokee.

I almost swallowed my teeth. I wasn’t hauling just any large chunk of iron; I was returning an expensively and extensively restored classic motor to its home some six hours away through rugged hills, bad weather and a couple of mountain passes.

My pulse picked up.

My spare tire to keep it from rolling suddenly seemed wholly inadequate; the motor had a snazzy billet distributor just waiting to be snapped off, and all number of protruding things that could easily be trashed with careless driving, sloppy tie-down, or a sudden stop and a weak cargo strap.

As we loaded and braced it, my mouth went dry.

How much had the owner paid for this rebuild?

My shaking hand turned the key in the ignition, the Chevy came to life. With slightly blurred vision, I backed away from the garage and started navigating my way through the windy backroads as my friend’s “bitchin’ betty” called out directions through his phone’s tinny speakers.

Good thing I wore my hearing aids. There were a million turns.

I went slow, slow. At each curve I anticipated the dreaded THUNK-CLUNK of a rolling engine, my eyes darted again and again to the rear-view mirror. Finally, we reached the highway. Now I could go reasonably straight. We merged into traffic, I pressed in the gas. The Chevy acted as if the iron in the back of the truck wasn’t there, it took off. I set the cruise and kept it at five miles/8 kph under the limit. Finally, my pulse slowed, I had saliva again and I settled in for the drive.

My buddy played a pretty funny comedienne through the AUX player.

Long after sunset, we arrived at our destination. It was raining and cold, but the tarp on the engine had held. Most importantly, the motor hadn’t shifted so much as a millimeter.

My friend spoke.

“The hell with it, we can unload this thing in the morning.”

I couldn’t have agreed more.

We went into the charming 19th century brick house, the engine’s owner treated us to the most amazing cup of hot apple cider I’ve ever had. I slept the sleep of the dead.

The 401 had come home.

Making things

800px-Steelmark_logo.svg

The logo above is known as the “Steelmark” logo, it is used by the American Iron and Steel Institute to promote the US Steel industry. Why the heck am I posting it here? Because today I came across a very exciting news article, it seems that Bill Gates is backing a business start-up that has found a way to make steel and cement using solar power/energy alone!

(!) Wow. The next question is how?

sun

A very brief thumbnail sketch.

OK, it’s obvious that in theory we could make steel on the surface of the sun. Just chuck in iron, nickel, and carbon, then fish out the metallic blob, right?

Yeah, not so much.

Let’s face it, we will always need to make stuff, and we will need plants and workers that create the raw materials upon which our civilization depends. Steel and cement are two of the basics, and at the moment their production relies entirely upon fossil fuels. Why? Well, to make either steel or cement you need very high temperatures, and this could only be done in the past by creating high temperatures most efficiently reached using coal, etc.

Bill Gates’ startup has figured out how to create the same high temperatures needed for industry by using mirrors to concentrate solar energy and AI to control the process for maximum efficiency. It looks as if it is possible to have your cake and eat it, too.

The heat and energy needed to make the stuff we need- the code has been cracked.

Apparently the necessary temperatures were reached on the first day the experimental plant went on-line. This speaks to very sound engineering and well-thought out theory.

Maybe you all don’t find this exciting, but I certainly do.

We need steel. We will continue to need steel into the foreseeable future. Therefore we will need plants, steelworkers, and all the associated infrastructure. This technology holds amazing potential world-wide.

I would have expected this type of thing from Elon Musk, but it looks as if Mr. Gates preferred to remain a sleeper and keep this close-hold.

This is the type of stuff I want to see in the news; simply excellent!

Country Fried Steak

country fried steak

Hello, everyone. Today’s subject is Veteran’s Day here in the ‘States. I’m not going to go into detail about the day, its traditions, or everything that went on or events that were planned.

Suffice to say that I was asked to attend an event at my alma mater, and I did. It was nice, appropriate. Also, received a few thoughtful texts from friends and family. Those people know better than anyone what has been done overseas in their name.

This 11th of November was a little different in that my own daughter is now in the process of becoming a veteran herself, and I was talked into attending a complimentary lunch given by Texas Roadhouse. For those of you unfamiliar with the restaurant chain, they serve American Western style food for reasonable prices. A nice establishment to eat at.

A lot of places have give-aways or freebies on Veteran’s Day for those who hold a valid VA or military ID. Usually I don’t go around hunting for this stuff, but hey, Texas Roadhouse. Really hard to refuse. I haven’t been there since I went on a diet, and for good reason.

What I had today was a diet-smashing caloric bomb. But wow, was it good. The waitress even refused a tip; this was crazy as she was really hustling. When she disappeared, I left a ten-spot on the table and left before she could protest. Veteran’s Day or not, she deserved it.

The restaurant didn’t give some token meal or a free coffee. No, as you can see from the picture, it was sizable. My mouth sagged open a little when they brought out the breaded steak, my word, it covered the plate. It would have been easy, and still very much appreciated, had Texas Roadhouse given out a small complimentary lunch.

As you can see from the photo above, the lunch was not small. Also, there were fifteen choices of entrees, all of them gratis to the admittedly older crowd.

Well, Texas Roadhouse, here’s one veteran who appreciated your gesture.

Country fried steak, sweet potato and cheesy fries.

My thoughts? What the hell did I ever do to deserve this? I am fortunate. Thanks again, everyone, for your support. Friends and family, comrades, VA workers.

All veterans have yearned for some version of “home.”

Well, you all make home a “home.”

Bless you.

 

 

Straight Edge

straight razor1

A definition, from Google:
straight·edge
/ˈstrādˌej/
adjective

US
adjective: straight edge
  1. (especially among fans of hardcore punk music) having an ascetic or abstinent lifestyle.
    “he’s so straightedge that he won’t even take Tylenol when he has a headache”

Alright, readers. Where the Sam Hill am I going with this today? Pretty easy, I guess. This will be one of my random writer’s journey bits, and you all know that those can be a bit crooked, distorted.

So right now I’m in a straight edge phase, going with the punk rocker’s definition above. It’s a phrase I heard from that crowd when I was about twelve, and it’s stuck with me. The definition, not the practice, unfortunately.

I’m walking the walk. Literally. Every day a minimum of 4-5 klicks, zero alcohol, sharply reduced comfort foods, quit any nicotine use.

My only remaining crutch is coffee. That’s it.

Straight-fucking-edge.

Why.

Well, I was edging toward the obese, with all of its accompanying health issues. And I really didn’t want to buy new pants. Again. Solved that joke, weighed in this morning at about a hundred kilos. Good. I feel better, the docs at the VA will be pleased.

Also, alcohol was kicking my ass. Again. For reasons I’m not going to get into in a public forum, my stress levels crept up and I figured it wouldn’t hurt to have that one extra drink. And then another. The next day the same, but tack on another beer. Before I knew it things were out of hand, and the kind people at the VA pointed that out. So that came to an immediate halt.

Another annoyance was my continued vaping and nicotine use, a straight-up relic of the war. Actually, almost all of this could be pinned onto my combat experiences, but fake-smoking had the clearest link. If you scroll down through this website, you’ll find plenty of images of me lighting up overseas. I smoked two packs a day. Why would I do something so stupid, unhealthy and destructive?

Because I thought I wasn’t coming home, that’s why. So who gave a shit about a few cigarettes.

When I did come home (a minor miracle), I knew I had to stop, but the nicotine addiction was strong. Vaping, say what you will about it, allowed me to slowly reduce my nicotine dosage and weaned me off of the habit. It took eight years, but it happened.

So now I’m straight edge.

No nicotine, no alcohol, no random fast-food trips.

What does this have to do with writing, you may ask. Well, it’s all tied together. Since I started this kick in August I’ve written a few pieces for a friend, and I can actually write without nicotine.

Perhaps you laugh.

It was actually a serious concern of mine. I’ve never written without nicotine and some form of tobacco surrogate nearby, and I was concerned it would affect my performance. Well, I’m glad to say that it hasn’t been an issue so far; this is good.

As for my writing, there is a fair bit of stuff out there right now, unpublished because the stars have not yet properly aligned. An example is mentioned in “The Cruel Stars, Spoiler Thread” by John Birmingham on cheeseburgergothic.com, it’s one project of a few. This includes the rough draft of an entire alternate-history manuscript.

So there’s some fish frying right now.

A big one is the dead-ass trout of my chemical dependencies, and all the other crap mentioned above.

Now the trick is to maintain. To stay straight-edge.

Easier said than done.

 

 

Genetic hand grenade

_dsc0137

Long time readers will be familiar with this dog. She is Dixie, her breed is purportedly “Stumpy Tailed Australian Cattle dog,” but I have my doubts. She looks as if she has a healthy dose of mutt in there, too. Probably some Australian Shepherd as well. What a coincidence that a large portion of my reader base comes from Down Under, and I have a dog that may have some dingo lurking in there.

So I was reading the news and I came across a lovely article about a dingo that was rescued, it seems it was attacked and separated from its litter by a large bird. The unlucky/lucky puppy was carried away for lunch, and something distracted the hawk or whatever into dropping it onto a family’s lawn, where it was found.

The authors of the article seemed to believe that purebred dingoes are a rarity, and that may be the case. They certainly seem to interbreed with regular dogs without qualm; so I can imagine that finding a purebred would be pretty tough after 200 odd years of interbreeding.

Pretty cool.

Well, we have wild dogs over here, too, although they are rarely seen. The coyote. They are everywhere, and on still nights it isn’t uncommon to hear their eerie calls and yelps as they chase deer through the forests around here. They are smart and wily as hell; there’s a reason that they flourish while other species wane and disappear.

So yeah, I’m tempted from time to time to do a genetic test on Dixie, just to see what’s in there. I’ll bet her genetics look like mine; purebred, complete and total mutt.

That’s a good thing, as far as I’m concerned. Purebreds seem to have no end of trouble and physical maladies, there’s something to be said for genetic diversity. As I watch her antics in the house, I’m thankful for what she is, a playful, healthy and probably happy 18kg ball of wiry energy. A specialty of hers: for no good reason she’ll jump up and run laps around the living room, springing from one piece of furniture to the next. This really cracks me up, it’s so random.

So whoever it was in the distant past who chose to chuck a genetic hand grenade into Dixie’s bloodline, thanks! You really did me a favor.

Maybe Dixie’s not any sort of proper breed, but she’s a fantastic dog.

A reminder

ferry cannon

I’ve posted this picture before. It’s a Civil War graveyard in a village by the Ohio River.

Why am I posting this today.

Well, given the heated political rhetoric being thrown around these days, I have heard a voice or two muttering about civil war, on both sides of this polarized debate.

This is folly. Do these voices think that such a conflict will leave them unscathed?

The US Civil War was our bloodiest conflict by far. An estimated 650,000 Americans died as a direct result of the conflict, a sizable part of the country was razed and ruined, and the bitterness and echoes of the war are felt to this day (see controversy re: Confederate statues, etc.).

Unlike our present wars, which less than 1% of Americans have been involved with, a second US Civil War would lay its dead hand on every soul within this country’s borders.

What, have people been lulled into believing that war is some antiseptic thing fought far away by other people?

I guess the answer is yes; this makes me want to vomit.

Read history, folks. At the first battle of Bull Run, spectators lined up in their finery to view the fighting as if it was some sporting event. This went out of fashion in short order. Why? It really sucks to catch a .58 Minie ball to the face.

Some statistics.

Over fifty thousand casualties at Gettysburg. Twenty-three thousand at Antietam. Eighteen thousand at Cold Harbor. The dreary list stretches on, and no-one really knows for sure how many died. Kind of like Soviet battle statistics, they are loose estimates to the nearest ten-thousand.

This war wouldn’t be carried out by professionals in some far away village. No, it would be fought with a massive conscript force composed of the children of the people who speak with such bland, colorless language of war; it will be fought with the kids and loved ones of those who secretly wish for such a horrid outcome.

It would be fought in their front damn yards, and the kids will die in droves.

Having seen war, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. And I sure as hell don’t want it anywhere near me.

My Grandma used to say “if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say it at all.”

Wise words from a wise lady.

The motto of the US Army; “This we’ll defend.”

Ask yourself what “This” consists of for you. Then ask yourself if you’d really like to see a Second Civil War. Because then you’d have to step up and defend “this.”

And you might not be able to.

Your children- dead. Your house- burned down. Your family- scattered, bitterly and implacably divided.

You do not want this.

 

 

 

 

Something to look forward to!

legacy of ghosts cover

BLUF- Ms. Wanstall-Burke is an amazing author; her world-building is second to none. On November 30th, her second book in her debut series launches. There is no doubt that I will buy a copy and devour it.

OK, now that that’s been said, lemme talk a  bit about how excited I am that Alicia is putting some new stuff out there, which is better than I can manage at the moment. About a year ago I reviewed her first book, Blood of Heirs, and as far as I am concerned, she blew the standard for first books out of the water.

Non-stop good stuff, great characters and tension throughout. If she manages the same with Legacy of Ghosts, this will be a great read and an excellent bridge novel for her series.

Let me say again that I’m not much of a fantasy reader, but it doesn’t matter- it’s not the genre, it’s the storyteller. And Alicia can spin a yarn.

Hell yes I will be one of the first in the US who pulls a trigger on this book upon release. I will read it like a tornado through a tinseltown, have a bit of a think, and then a review will go up here and on the Beast.

Alicia Wanstall-Burke is an author that’s worth a read, all.

If you haven’t read no.1 in her series, do so.

No regrets, and a review before St. Nicolaas.

 

To Hell and Back

afghan boots

The boots pictured above are a pair of Danner Crater Rims, an insanely expensive set of boots that I received gratis via a sightseeing tour in the Hindu Kush. There’s a lot of miles on those clodhoppers.

Why am I talking about boots today.

Well, I guess first off, it’s my site and I can.

Second, everyone needs a good pair of boots. Period.

Finally, boots are really on my mind. It’s a borderline obsession right now.

Why?

OK, many of you readers may know my daughter just graduated from US Army Basic Training. Well, an important element of Basic is moving just about everywhere on foot. So boots take on an outsize importance while going through the Army training process; usually the free boots you get from Uncle Sam aren’t the best. OK, let’s be honest. They are low-bidder, “meets standard” crap.

I had the opportunity to look at my daughter’s feet at her graduation, they were torn up pretty bad. It was time to get new, high quality boots, and then expedite shipping them to my daughter at the site of her technical training. She’s going through 68W, combat medic, school. There WILL be ruck-marching, this is where the Army trains the people who provide immediate battlefield care. Good boots ASAP are a must.

It didn’t take long for me to ship good boots in her direction. I fired off a set of Danner Tanicus boots to her, these should serve her well. And I really trust Danners, I have never had a bad experience with them. But they are spendy, I admit.

In this process of shopping for boots for my oldest, I came across a lot of different options that didn’t exist or were different while I was in. And I came across some excellent deals that I decided to share with all of my readers.

Because you should all have good boots. All of you.

And right now, readers, you are in luck because the USAF is switching from their horrible ABU uniform to the sensible Army OCP, or Multicam, uniform. Why is this relevant to all of you for buying boots?

Easy. The old AF uniform boots are in a weird shade of green that is completely incompatible with any other US Military uniform, so 160 dollar boots are being sold for 60 bucks, a full 100 USD off. This is a deal; world class boots by some kickass manufacturers, including my fave, Danner, are being sold brand new for pennies on the dollar.

With deals like this, who cares about the weird green/gray color? Of course, the USAF close-outs don’t help my daughter (who must buy the Army approved shade of Coyote Brown), but they do help the civilian who is looking for a deal on awesome boots.

OK, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Quality boots are a must if you are going to walk any distance at all, whether it be for recreation, exercise and conditioning, or infiltration/exfil. If you buy junk, you’ll regret it. The links I’ve put up here all lead to good footwear. And for sixty USD… a lousy pair at War-Mart costs at least forty.

Do yourself a favor and spend the extra twenty bucks.

You won’t regret it. Promise.