Cellular Agriculture

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OK, so long time readers will know that I’m a big fan of steaks. Too much of a fan, really. So an article behind the paywall of the Wall Street Journal caught my eye, it was called “From Grass-fed to Lab-grown: How Meat is Evolving.” I posted the link, but you’ll have to pay to read the full story.

However, I can give a summary.

First, let me say that this is pretty exciting for me for a number of reasons. Number one, it feels so science-fictiony. Instead of slaughtering animals, we harvest a muscle culture and expand it in the lab using petri dishes. No dead animals, same result. You can have your steak and eat it too.

Number Two. Did I mention no dead animals? It bears repeating. I grew up on a farm, slaughter was a part of life. I’m not sure how many chickens, rabbits, cows, pigs, etc. that I have killed or witnessed dying, but it was a lot. Well, I’ve grown sick of killing. If I can source meat without it, I will, even if I have to pay a premium.

Number Three. Lab grown meat conserves land and resources. I believe the old rule of thumb for cattle was one acre of graze per head. Imagine how many acres would be freed up for other agricultural uses if we’re not raising beef. The world has a lot of hungry mouths to feed- an untold number of acres could be freed up for grain production etc. if we convert a fraction of our meat intake to lab-grown sources.

The article has an accompanying video in which a man takes a taste test at both a lab in the US (chicken nuggets), and a credit-card sized piece of steak in Israel. Both passed muster. The amazing part was the steak- apparently its a lot easier to produce a ground-meat style product than one chunk of muscle mass. Has something to do with how stem cells are manipulated during the production process.

It seems that lab-grown meat is still in its infancy, and some of the chief hurdles to introducing it are regulatory. Of course. I can imagine how this will be fought. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see all the competing interests that will come to play in this field, both environmental and agricultural.

Personally, I think that the best approach would be for consumers to have a choice. Meat harvested from traditional sources, and lab-based alternatives. If even a fraction of our meat is sourced from a lab, it will mean enormous resource savings over the long term.

After all, if it looks, smells, tastes and cooks up like meat, then it is meat. Of course, it may be that lab-grown meat is not allowed to be called “meat,” and there’s a law in Missouri to that effect. I can see the day when a fast-food chain has two tiers of hamburgers- a cheap lab-grown burger, and expensive grass-fed beef. There are a lot of possibilities here.

I will be following this closely, and I’m curious if I’ll see these meat products on grocery shelves at some time in the near future.

As long as they don’t call it Soylent Green.

Watching the world die

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Alright, long time readers will know that I’ve spoken before about the really cool project Australian author John Birmingham has. Quick recap- he’s writing a book about the apocalypse one step at a time, in the open and with input from subscribers. Anyone can join the process for a mere two bucks a month, with different levels of participation up to eight bucks a month.

I think the ten dollar stage is sold out. For two bucks- less money than a Starbucks- you get to read the book as its made, one chapter at a time. Also, there are a fair bit of apocalyptic fan-fic shorts on the site, including one by me.

Time has gone by since I last discussed this with you all, and right now Mr. Birmingham is on a tear. There is a lot of material on his site, I think the book is about half-written. I believe that three books are planned in the series. Mind, there are straight chapters plus analysis for those who are keen to look behind the curtain, as it were.

Well, I simply love this stuff. I have thoroughly enjoyed observing the process, as well as participating in a small way. It’s been worth every cent, and I encourage you all to check it out.

One last bit about this opening book in the series, without giving away any spoilers. If you want to see an AWESOME take on the true potential for cyber warfare, pay your two bucks and read what’s been completed to date. This thing has me checking my email with some frequency to see if there’s a new post- it’s very good. And at the moment things are reaching a real head and the downward slide has begun for sure and certain.

Hopefully someone from the DOD reads this and then reads his book- I don’t think the US or our allies are prepared for the oh-so-believable cyber mayhem as described so far.

And that’s just one aspect of the yet-to-be-named book.

Do check it out.

 

 

The Cruel Stars

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So let me drum up a little early excitement for a new book and universe being launched by John Birmingham on the 20th of August, 2019.

As you can see from the above image, the book is called The Cruel Stars. It is the first in a series of books based on humanity’s far future. You can read the premise on the link I included above, Lord knows the professional marketing types do a better job with that stuff than I.

Full disclosure: I was part of the beta process for Cruel Stars. I’ve read the first draft of the book, and it is pretty damn good. Read a lot of sci-fi, and JB nailed it with this space opera.

Of course it bears the hallmarks of Birmingham’s style. Hard hitting action. Realistic good guys and bad guys, with plenty of shades of gray. A living “world,” or worlds, rather.  Excellent scenes, memorable lines and solid interaction. A well planned plot that drives implacably to a can’t-put-me-down ending. What this guy writes is worth reading, there is a reason he is one of my top three authors.

Me, I’m putting my money where my mouth is and I’m pre-ordering two hardcopies. One for me, one for my dad.

Sometimes the wait is worth it, and this is one of those cases.

Go ahead, pre-order a copy. You know you want to.

Some other stuff I’m keeping my eye on.

An article caught my eye the other day, it seems that another object is hurtling toward us from deep space, and if it impacts the planet it will carry quite a punch. A 50 megaton punch. I rather dislike large meteorites, they can cause no end of trouble. However, we’d still be huddling in caves from the dinosaurs if one wouldn’t have really smacked us 66 million odd years ago. If a big enough one hits us again, it’s back to the caves.

Also, read about a Chinese researcher who has done the first gene-editing on a human embryo, the purported purpose of the experiment was to prevent future HIV infections. Hate to say it, but gene editing is the wave of the future. And it’s a wave we may not want to ride. However, the curious tinkerer types simply must keep messing with the latch to Pandora’s box. Read the article and ask yourself if a child is a suitable vehicle for an experiment- the parents opt in, but the kid has to deal with any unforeseen effects. Unethical seems an understatement.

Finally, another probe has landed on Mars. The Insight probe will be drilling down into the surface and relaying data back to scientists here on Earth. My mind boggles at how you can shoot an unmanned spacecraft to a planet hundreds of millions of kilometers away, hit the target, successfully decelerate, land, and deploy a sensitive scientific instrument.

I know I’ve been critical of NASA from time to time on this site, but hats off to the team responsible for the latest of a string of Mars exploration vehicles.

Bravo!

Blood of Heirs, a review

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BLUF- An excellent debut fantasy novel by Alicia Wanstall-Burke. Read it.

Well readers, it’s not every year that I spend the day before Thanksgiving reading like a madman in a fantasy novel, and staying up late into the wee hours penning a review. Blood of Heirs was worth it. What an excellent novel. Really.

Ok, let me throw out a few facts. First, fantasy isn’t really a big thing of mine, but I read the premise to this novel along with a sample and I was hooked. Second, I am very glad I bought this book and read it, and it’s a pleasure to review.

Ms. Wanstall-Burke did an amazing job with her world-building, and there are no flies on her characters, either. Both the world and the people in it were realistic, identifiable, and sympathetic. These were not cardboard-cutouts. No, the world and personalities in it came alive in my mind as I feverishly burned through the pages.

The plot was excellent, the book was a great page turner. I liked how the two chief protagonists, Lidan and Ran, would switch off, this helped expand Alicia’s world, and kept me constantly engaged.

Also, I enjoyed the interplay of the supernatural with the “earthly” action- I thought this was very well crafted, and displayed real storytelling mastery on the part of the author.

For a debut novel, this one smoked it out of the park.

If you are a fantasy fan, this is a must-read. Hell, if you’re a fiction fan of any genre, the same.

Go out and get a copy, I think you’ll be well-satisfied. I know I was.

Name change

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Elon Musk’s BFR project has undergone a name change- it will henceforth be called the Starship. At a mighty hundred odd meters in length with a projected payload of 100 passengers and crew, if successful, it will live up to its name.

You could split hairs and say that a “starship” is an interstellar vessel, but I think it’s a pretty cool name and a vast improvement over other competing designs. Plus, I thought BFR was kind of a funky name.

Production is due to start next year, with initial flight testing to begin in 2020 or so. If all goes well, and its a big if, there’s supposed to be a moon tourist flight by 2023.

Long time readers know that I’m a fan of Mr. Musk’s accomplishments and plans. I’ve really got my fingers crossed that this one will pan out.

Beats the hell out of some billionaire buying yet another yacht.

Extinction

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My eye caught a news article the other day which should have been pretty big news, but wasn’t. It seems that we are losing our global biodiversity at an alarming rate. This phenomenon has a name, it is the Holocene Extinction. Apparently it is the sixth mass extinction event in our planet’s geologic history, and we are behind it. Ever since our distant ancestors discovered that wooly mammoths made for tasty treats, we have left a trail of barbecues behind in our march to global ecological dominance.

Well, we have dominated the planet. With some eight billion members, our species sits firmly entrenched across the food chains of Planet Earth. This has come at a price- nearly all the megafauna are gone, and the other small animals are under pressure from habitat loss.

You can clearly see this where I live. It is routine to see a number of different species dead at the side of the road, their forests are bisected by high speed avenues through the woods. Where car and wildlife meet, roadkill happens. A lot. On a daily basis, one can see dead groundhogs, raccoons, possums, chipmunks, foxes, turtles, chipmunks, and whitetail deer. I’ve never seen a statistic for roadkill, but I’ll bet it easily exceeds the numbers lost to hunting, trapping, disease or natural predation.

A memory that sticks with me is the night I was driving my daughter to a band concert. We were traveling along a steep, curvy road on the side of a hill. It was pitch black. I saw movement in the road ahead, as we drew closer I realized that it was a deer that had been struck by someone, her legs and back had been broken. She was going to die, there was no doubt. Painfully, slowly. I couldn’t stop and finish her off because of how dangerous that section of road was. All we could do was look.

And that’s one instance out of thousands.

Come to think of it, I’ve been to few places on Earth that were truly wild. Out of the 43 countries I’ve visited, the hand of man was omnipresent. Even the national parks weren’t wild. In fact, those were some of the worst places. Yellowstone? Long convoys of tourists forming traffic jams to photograph a few tiny herds of bison, where those herds were once millions strong. The Smoky Mountains? LOL, worse crowds snapping pictures of token elk.

I think of countries I’ve visited. A few examples. Egypt, with its teeming masses concentrated along the Nile. At first I thought the mountains in the Sinai were snow-capped, it turned out to be drifts of plastic trash. Holland and Germany- perfectly manicured pasture and forest. Wild? Not at all. Islands in the Caribbean; beautiful beaches awash in medical waste with desperate poverty hidden outside of gated resorts. Afghanistan- a land as remote as any on the planet. Stripped bare until you get to truly impassible mountain regions. The United States? Nearly all of the Eastern virgin forest gone.

There is a long litany of things we’ve lost. The passenger pigeon. The chestnut tree. The Irish Elk. This list could extend for thousands of pages. I’ll spare you that, you surely get the idea.

What is to be done?

I don’t know. It probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to set aside some more land for habitat. Also, we need to do more with aquaculture as opposed to wild harvests in the sea. And the development of the rain forests is crazy; those last bits of virgin forest are literally the lungs of our planet. Denuding them for short term economic gain makes no sense.

There is a solution which dovetails nicely into the theme of this website. Extrasolar exploration and colonization. Unfortunately, I don’t see us sending waves of colonists into interstellar space within my lifetime, but it would be an elegant solution. All of our eggs would no longer be in one basket, and we’d reduce the population pressure on Earth. And let’s face it, humans will not fail to exploit anything. So we may as well spread out some.

Maybe the next time we land upon virgin ground we’d treat it with more care, having learned the lesson of what happens when you ruthlessly exploit the one planet you are given. I’ve read in places that capitalism is to blame for all of our ecological woes. Surely this is partially true, one need think no further than the near-extinction of Eastern US waterfowl at the turn of the 20th century. It seems that plumes of feathers were the height of fashion, so market hunters went out and shot millions of migratory birds. Strict hunting regulations and a change in fashion saved our geese, but it was a close-run thing.

However, communism bears plenty of ecological fault as well. Simply reference the Chernobyl disaster, massive strip mining in Eastern Europe, and the Aral Sea. These are but a few examples. Look, and you’ll find them everywhere, like termites in a damp basement. Whether socialist or capitalist, people are still people.

I was trained as a geologist at the university. One of the first things I learned is that “if you don’t grow it, you have to mine it.” There is no such thing as a free lunch.

We are running out of wild resources. The sixth extinction is upon us. We have been blessed with intelligence, it’s time to start really applying it toward this problem. Because it is a problem, and it affects us one and all.

Who wants to go for a walk in the woods and see no animals?

Not I, and probably not you, either.

 

 

Progress

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OK, so years ago I was blown up by an RPG, sustained some blunt force trauma injuries and a TBI. As a result, I’ve had a medical issue or two. When I returned to the ‘States, it was nothing but one hospital visit after the next. Eventually I was medically retired, and the Army and I parted ways. A lingering aftereffect of that period was that I had become sedentary, unsure of what I could safely do in the manner of exercise. Also, after so much bad food overseas, delicious ‘Stateside food (Taco Bell, I’m looking at you) became a real crutch. I was eating like a horse with little exercise.

You see where this is going, right?

I packed on the pounds and lost all my conditioning. After a lifetime of heavy physical activity, I turned into a couch potato. It was pretty bad. My doctors at the VA saw what was going on and threatened to put me on statins for high cholesterol.

It was as if someone dragged a needle across a record. No way was I going to take more pills if a change in lifestyle would reduce my pants size and my cholesterol count.

About a year ago, I started running again, then I ran into issues with a trick knee. I had injured it on a winter ruck march in 2006, it plays up from time to time. Well, high impact wasn’t going to work out in the long term; I really don’t want a knee operation or a joint replacement.

So I looked at my options and evaluated my lifestyle.

First, it was time to lay off on the delicious fatty foods. So I did that. Not only better for the waistline, it helps the wallet, too. Second, I grabbed every chance I could get to walk. Set up a new rule. If I have business in my hometown, I walk. Trips to the post office, the bank, the car garage, everywhere. Finally, I experimented with an activity that I enjoyed from the service, ruck marching.

Strangely enough, I always enjoyed walking with a pack. Most people hate it, but I never did. Mile after mile with “the big green tick,” or the ALICE pack. Some of my fondest memories of the service were doing those long walks. I think the furthest I ever walked in one go was some twenty odd miles, I was carrying the 240B that day. I remember when my feet lost their callouses- I had an appointment at the hospital, they were checking me out for something. A nurse glanced at my feet and said “Wow, you’ve done a lot of walking.” It was true, the hard skin was peeling off my feet six months after I left Afghanistan.

So sometimes I put on an ALICE pack and walk a few miles in the park by the house. I’m mindful of the nerve damage to my neck and shoulder, so I don’t load very heavy, maybe 30 pounds. It’s enough to work up a sweat and remind my body that it’s not time to quit.

And it feels good when I’m done. I always had the idea that you need to push yourself to the limit when exercising, and that’s fine for a young soldier. However, I had to adjust my perspective after I was hurt, and that took some time. I think that I’ve got a pretty good plan now, and it seems to be working. Next month I go in for another check-up, and I’ll be curious to see where my cholesterol is at.

Hopefully my numbers are down.

Re: writing. At the moment I’m in a bit of a tactical pause. Catching up with my reading, some of which is in preparation for a pretty cool classified project slated for this winter. Also, there’s a new book out that shows much promise, “Blood of Heirs” by Alicia Wanstall-Burke. I bought a copy and I’ll read it soon. Give it a look, y’all.

JL

Life out there

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One of the great points of speculation in both science and science fiction is the question of “are we alone in the universe.” I’d say not, simply judging by the sheer number of planets and stars in space. It’s a numbers game. Even if life arose in as few as one out of million cases, there would be millions of inhabited star systems.

So it was with great interest that I read an article about the possibility of life on Mars this week. It seems that there may be enough oxygen on the surface of Mars, or in the close subsurface, to support Earth-analogue lifeforms.

Now, we’re not talking about intelligent life, or majestic kingdoms of humanoids. What may be possible in brine pockets would be some type of primitive sponges, or bacteria. If such animals were found, this would be big news.

Finding life on Mars would demonstrate conclusively that life in the universe is a constant, that it can arise in the most unlikely and inhospitable conditions, and such a discovery would say conclusively that we are not alone.

I think there’s a 99.9 percent chance that the universe isn’t sterile. I leave the .1 in there because I can’t prove that I’m right. Not yet, not now.

It would be nice to have this fundamental question answered within my lifespan. I’m optimistic that it will be.

 

And this is a good idea, how?

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We’ve all seen Terminator. You know, rampant murderous robots on a mission to kill us all, blah blah. Well, some genius is trying to bring this rosy vision of the future one step closer. Check out this article and video.

This creeps me out. With the advances being made in AI and robotics, I don’t think we’re too far from producing an autonomous infantry killing machine. Going up against a robot as seen in the video would be fearsome.

Imagine, you shoot at a machine that keeps coming no matter what. You hit it again and again and it sprints forward unless destroyed. When it shoots back, it does so with accuracy and reflexes that are literally inhuman. It would destroy without mercy, it would kill without qualm.

Someone will put these things on the battlefield, I do not doubt. They don’t need to be fed, paid, or trained. All they need is programmed, powered up and reloaded.

There is an answer to the Terminator, though. It’s the powered fighting suit, as featured in Starship Troopers, The Forever War, or my own books. This would pair a controlling human with a complimentary AI and a fighting machine. Humans would regain the ability to fight machines with such a powered armor suit.

Without powered armor and your own personal AI, have fun fighting the Terminator.

I wonder if there’s as much research going into powered suits as there is into humanoid robots. Somewhere on the internet I’ve read that DARPA is messing around with powered exoskeletons- but that’s just the unclassified that’s filtering through to us poor slobs.

This is the next generation of infantry fighting. We have reached the limits of what a human can do with old-school training and modern equipment.

For better or for worse, we’ll see the rise of the machines soon.

The question is, are people already thinking ahead with an effective counter?

Writing sample no. 2

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Hey, Readers. As you all know, I’ve been keeping pretty busy writing. I thought today I’d release another snippet of what we’ve been working on- an alternate history. Here goes…
Brilon-Wald, Germany. End of June, 1955.
 
Jochen supposed he should be happy with what had been accomplished so far, rather than being angry that he and his boys were manifestly failing to keep the Reds from encroaching further into Germany. It was the evening of another lousy day at the front; rain dripped from his peaked cap and ran down his neck.
 
The major action a week earlier by Kassel had started off so well, then things had gone south for the Allies. Their armored thrust had gone into the shoulder of the Red salient ten kilometers along Route Seven, and then very powerful Soviet blocking forces had been encountered, along with belt upon belt of hastily laid anti-tank mines.
 
Before their own penetration was pinched off, Corps had decided to head northwest and hold onto Highway 44. They were partially successful, Jochen’s presence in Brilon-Wald testified to that fact. It could also be, he thought, that the Reds are behind us and no-one has bothered to tell me. In which case they had deep problems.
 
He decided to do the smart thing, which was to focus on what he could control, and not worry about what the higher ups were doing. Today his plan was to ambush the attacking Soviets on road 251 northbound, to sting them and frustrate their advance toward Brilon.
 
The residents of Brilon-Wald, the town along the Korbacher Street, had been less than thrilled when Jochen and his men showed up. In fact, they had run like hell. The sight of his company’s panzers were a sure sign that the front had arrived, and there were plenty of veterans around to spread the word that you really didn’t want to be around when the lead begins to fly.
 
Jochen had at least sent Hänke into the house to check for any stay-behinds when he decided to use a favorite trick. He drove through the back of the residence, and used the façade as cover for his tank. It was pretty decent rough camouflage in an ambush such as this. He had a clear view through a window of the intersection of the 251, the railroad tracks, and the L743 that ran off into the woods on the right.
 
It was as good of a place as any to jump the Reds. His company dominated the approach into Brilon-Wald; they were guaranteed to stack up bad guys when they came around the bend to the front.
 
And that was part of the problem, he reflected. He had come to really love the M-60 over the past week of combat. It didn’t burn when hit, it was powerful, and the gun was unbelievably accurate and hard-hitting. No, the problem was its ammunition consumption. There were so many Red tanks, and so few of his own. Even though the Red fire-control systems must be scheisse, their main guns were powerful. And if they hit… well, it was curtains if they hit square. From his original fifteen Main Battle Tanks, eleven remained. His company’s performance had been phenomenal, but he couldn’t replace those four missing crews.
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The Reds could, and they did. Jochen had no idea how many smoldering wrecks 2ndCompany had left in their wake, but it was a lot. And today there would be even more, he was sure.
 
Jochen heard a familiar shriek; it was inbound artillery. Jochen thought it would fall short, and it did. He didn’t bother to button up. He kept scanning the road ahead with his Steiners. Intel had it that their latest customers were elements of the 25thTank Division, mixed in with Czech motor-rifle units.
 
What will they do this time, he thought. There was only one good way north, and that was the 251 leading into Brilon. Jochen’s company held the road, it was really a question of how badly the Russians wanted it. If they wanted it, Jochen was prepared to give it to them. But they would have to pay a price. He smiled his patented cold smile. 2ndCompany was prepared to do a leapfrogging break-contact drill all the way to the north of town, they would make the Russians bleed rivers. Also, there was a company of Panzergrenadiere just north of his current position, they had made themselves at home in the houses and forests hereabouts.
 
Brilon-Wald was not going to be cheap.
 
Artillery started to fall around him; the Russians were probing. Jochen remained where he was, standing in his turret, binoculars in hand. To catch the prey, he thought, one had to wait like a hunter. Both sides wanted the same thing; for someone’s nerves to break, for the prey to flee and catch the eye. That’s when the real killing began.
 
Boosfeld spotted movement along the road to the south. He lifted his binoculars slowly while shading the lenses. He felt the old surge of the blood, the taste of iron. There they were- BTR scout cars, coming slowly. They would surely sense they were being watched, he thought. They would also pick up on the lack of civilians in the streets if they had any experience at all.
 
He had four tanks in his forward position, counting himself. No one fired. This did not surprise him; he had been very specific that he would initiate the ambush. The BTRs came to a halt; their little turrets swiveled back and forth. Jochen controlled his breathing, he willed the scout cars to go away and call in their big brothers for an“easy”march toward Brilon proper.
 
He heard the stutter of a machine gun from the forest to his west. Jochen saw the rounds hit the dirt all around the BTRs, a tracer bounced harmlessly off of their armored plate. Who was the idiot of an infantryman who pulled the trigger, he thought. If that soldier lived through today, Jochen promised himself he would have his hide. The BTRs returned fire with their 12.7mm DShK machineguns, then they turned around and ran.
 
They had done their jobs, Jochen thought. Now the Reds knew Brilon-Wald was defended, they just didn’t know by what. He thought some more. Perhaps that stupid kid with the machine gun had done him a favor- it could be that the Soviets would assume that the village was held with light infantry forces. He shrugged. Time would tell, and it probably wouldn’t be a lot of time, either.
 
He was right. Fifteen minutes later, he saw soldiers on foot come around the bend along the road, and there were probably others pushed into the forests to his left and right. The soldiers that he could see were coming on in dashes, they would sprint and hit the ground while others ran by. When the others hit the ground, the ones lying down would get up and run. The Reds had learned, he thought. No human wave attacks with the bone-chilling chant of UHRAAH like the last war. This movement technique was far more effective.
 
As he watched, he heard the sound of incoming to his front, a round detonated on the far side of the bend. Must be friendly artillery, he thought. Half a minute later, another round landed between the advancing Red infantry and his position. Jochen recognized a fire bracket when he saw one, and he could tell that a 155 battery must have gotten this call for fire. The next round, he knew, would be right on top of the poor bastards to his front. It was, and it was followed by a series of explosions that rattled Jochen’s teeth.
 
After a few minutes, the explosions stopped. None of the Red footmen had approached Jochen’s position, and he started to wonder if the Soviets would try their luck somewhere else. Then he heard the distant roar of diesels. The Reds were pushing tanks forward at high speed; they must have decided that Brilon-Wald was held by infantry. According to Jochen’s thinking, they would push forward, accept losses and mix in with the Panzergrenadiere position. This would neutralize the friendly artillery.
 
Jochen saw the lead tank. He noted that it was an older design, and not the latest armor. He pressed his lips together. One thing that had not changed from the last war was that the Russians were cold-blooded bastards. That old tank was clearly pushed out there to draw fire, while the Soviet commander kept the good stuff for higher priority tasks. Behind the lead tank was an armored personnel carrier, a BMP. They were moving fast, they would pass Jochen’s trigger point, the intersection, soon.
 
He knew what he would do, it came to him in an instant. More tanks and APCs came around the bend, this could be the spearhead of a battalion-sized push. The more, the merrier, Jochen thought. He allowed the old tank to pass the intersection, and then the BMP. The panzergrenadiere opened fire with their anti-tank weapons, the BMP was hit and started to burn fiercely. The lead tank, the T-55 type, stopped and fired wildly in the direction of the German infantry. At the intersection, the rest of the column had to slam on their brakes. This was the moment Jochen had waited on, there was a brand-new T-72 parked on the southern side. He spoke once, briefly, into the company net, and then to his gunner.
 
“Initiating.” A pause.“Target, tank. Get the T-72 on the other side of the intersection.”
 
“Identified.”
 
Seconds later, Jochen’s gunner turned the T-72 into a flaming wreck; his other tanks opened up and methodically began to dispatch the Soviet armor like so many chickens. The Russians tried to scatter and return fire, Jochen watched as a Soviet tank tried to escape via the railway bed.
 
“Gunner, why don’t you hit our railroader, there.”
 
“Identified.”
 
That Russian died, too. Jochen knew that this fight was his. And then it all went to hell.
 
Jochen heard a screaming noise followed by an explosion and a clang, much like the world’s biggest church bell. He looked over at what he knew was the tank on his right flank, Leutenant Strohmeyer. He saw greasy black smoke, and heard booms as his ammo cooked off.
 
He scanned the remains of the Soviet armor to his front; had one of the tanks gotten off a lucky shot? As he watched, one of his tanks fired and another BMP died. There were no other threats in sight.
 
Then he heard a roar like a buzz saw in the air, followed by a sound much like bullets striking a steel target at the range. To his rear, he heard another explosion and he knew in his gut what was going on. It had been exactly what it sounded like- except the bullets had been monstrous 30mm armor-piercing slugs.
 
There was a Sturmovik out there, or a pair of them. He scanned the sky, but he saw nothing. He placed a call.
 
“All Lehr Two elements. Air attack!” As he placed the call, he felt the old horrified, completely helpless feeling from the last war, when this sort of thing had been far too common. To make matters worse, the incoming artillery started to really pick up, and he spotted more tanks coming around the bend. The lead Soviet tank was a T-72, and it was firing as it moved. So were the tanks behind it.
 
This, thought Jochen, was a losing proposition. He placed a call on the company net.
 
“First platoon, leapfrog per SOP to the rear. Second platoon, support.”
 
If he stayed in place, he knew that he and his company would die. It was risky to move, breaking contact was always difficult, at best. Moving targets would make things hard on the Frogfoot that was out there, however, and it would buy him time. Night was coming, and 2ndCompany might live to fight another day if he did this just right. He started to play his losing hand masterfully, but part of him was boiling.
 
By daylight, Brilon-Wald would be in Soviet hands, and another chunk of Germany would have fallen. He couldn’t stop the Red Army; he could only delay them.
 
The delay was paid in lives.