1917- a review

1917

BLUF- An accurate, entertaining movie. Fills an important hole; the Great War.

Right up front I’d like to say that I’m not a big war movie guy. But if I do go to one, it needs to be historically and physically accurate. Historical accuracy is obvious- uniforms, gear, and scenery needs to be right. But what do I mean by physical accuracy? Allow me to explain. I don’t want to see people acting like clowns when they are supposed to be shot. By the same token, I do not want to see them take round after round and keep functioning.

It doesn’t work that way.

Also, when I see a movie about war and fatal conflict, I want to see people act like people actually do in those circumstances. Pissed off. Out of control. Shaky. Grim. I don’t want to see people pretending as if it’s all a grand show- soldiers are painfully aware that they could die at any moment. No fancy speeches, no grand aspirations. Just regular guys going about a desperate trade, trying to live to see the next sunset.

This movie mostly succeeds in the above criteria.

We follow the protagonist through a series of horrifying events, you won’t catch me calling them “adventures.” A big reason I wanted to see this movie was to catch a major picture about the Great War; to compare the film against my latest manuscript, an alternate history set in WW1.

I am pleased to report that I don’t think I missed a lot of tricks, and neither did the film’s producers. For example: there was a distinct difference between the British trenches and those of the Germans; this is historically accurate (BTW, the Germans had better trenches). There were many, many details which were excellent, authentic. They vastly outweighed the few nitpicks I had.

One such nitpick was the lack of the sounds of a bullet’s passage. I think this would have drawn in the casual viewer, forced the same to engage in a visceral fashion. There were a couple of other small things, but those really were quibbles compared to the terrible beauty of the whole.

The tension was there. The stakes were high. The viewer rooted for the heroes; curiously I did not find myself hating the villains. This was an excellent job, and I think apace with the film’s historical accuracy. The Germans of WW1 were soldiers caught up in the same catastrophe as the British; they were bitter enemies who used harsh methods. The Allied soldiers of the time hated them, but there was respect as well. The film bears this out.

All in all this was a war film worth watching. The viewer cared as the protagonist fought his fights, as he overcame obstacles. Literal obstacles. Speaking of which, one stands in awe of the barbed wire defenses as depicted. Imagine actually assaulting such a position. If you know what you’re looking at, you get the chills looking at the malevolent tangles and coils.

Much respect for Great-Grandpa. What a nightmare.

So yeah, go see this movie. It’s worth it, and it was cool to see that a lot of what I saw squares with what I recently wrote and researched.

I’ll go with a solid four stars for this film.

 

“Boeing.” American for taxpayer abuse.

SLS

The picture above looks really cool, but it’s actually a big fat joke. Like the F-35, another complete waste of the taxpayer’s money. The “Space Launch System” is an enormous fraud made up of cobbled together outdated, un-reusable parts. For God’s sake, why didn’t they just rebuild a Saturn V and call it quits, we would have been a lot cheaper out.

Read an article today about how Boeing, Grumman, etc. have shot the space program in the foot and bilked the US taxpayer for billions upon billions. And oh yeah, absolutely jack has gotten done by these companies in space.

Thank God for Space X or we would be at the mercy of these fraudsters and losers.

We are so screwed if we get into another shooting war and these people are making our machines. And as for real progress in getting to space, doing real exploration?

Not if Boeing has anything to do with it.

It’s looking like Space X or bust. Maybe Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin.

‘Cause the military-space complex is twiddling their thumbs.

Legacy of Ghosts- a review

legacy

BLUF- A pretty darn good book. Entertaining and engrossing.

In Legacy of Ghosts we meet up with Lidan and Ran again, four years have passed since Blood of Heirs, the debut novel in the series. Once again Alicia Wanstall-Burke shows her skill at world-building, some early passages in Lidan’s story fix the scenery in a cinematic fashion; we can hear the creek, feel fear and excitement, smell the ambushed dead. This is good writing; I keep finding little jewels in her phrasing. An example? “Water ran over her brow and nose in rivulets, the tears of a broken sky on her skin.” Another. “He bit down on his doubt, crushed it and swallowed all the sharp, bitter pieces.” Marvelous.

The action scenes are nicely written, tight and suspenseful. Lidan is put up against an impossible situation, Ran is startled by an unexpected visitor from the past. Both have a series of decisions that have to be made, choices that will affect their loved ones, friends and ghosts. Journeys and battles follow, both with the living and the undead. This was an entertaining, lively read!

Also, I must mention that there is no end to the plot twists in Alicia’s latest, especially the tension revolving around Lidan’s inheritance. This will keep the reader intrigued, moving forward through the passages.

For the fantasy fan, this book seems to check all the boxes. Arcane magic. Bloodthirsty zombies. Ice dragons. Curses and spells. Swords and knives. For the casual reader there’s a lot too. Family and court intrigue, love interests and gripping action. I’ve said it before about Alicia’s writing, and I’ll say it again; she may write in a given genre, but she has the ability to pull in general readers as well. As an example? Me. Not a big fantasy fan. However, it doesn’t matter. She has me hooked on this series, number two disappoints in no fashion.

As always with a good book, I had to force myself to slow down and look at what was happening. This was tough; I wanted to race ahead and see what would happen to characters that I found myself caring about. This is a display of a writer’s real skill- creating a wholly fictional universe and people cut from whole cloth and making them real in the reader’s mind. Nicely done, Alicia. My hat’s off!

The ending raced upon me like a locomotive, I had to read it twice because of the aforementioned stutter reading, where I just had to see what was next. For a bridge novel, the finale worked out great; of course I’m going to buy the follow on.

So should you.

Highly recommend!

The Ammonite

ammonite

I really enjoy John Birmingham’s cheeseburgergothic.com for a number of reasons. First, there is JB’s patented scathing wit. Second, every now and then he gives us readers glimpses of what he’s up to. Finally, on occasion he gives us something to think about as well.

As many of you are aware, Australia is burning up at the moment. It appears they are having an unusually early and active fire season, exacerbated by dry conditions and high ambient temperatures. These temperatures are record highs, and the drought is unusually long. So, many thousands of acres are burning up. The fires destroy everything, of course, and the smoke plume can easily be seen from space.

This is what a one odd degree change in average temperatures looks like.

Today I’m going to speak of the past, not of the future. The image above is an ammonite, a completely extinct species of sea dwelling creatures prevalent worldwide from the Devonian period to the K-T extinction event. In other words, they lived for about 350 million years. A long time; these were not fragile or non-adaptable animals.

The one you see above is known as a heteromorph ammonite, I dug it out of the Pierre shale in South Dakota. Unfortunately, this is the only way we can see ammonites these days, as sad ghosts unearthed from rocks and mud.

The ammonites died because the conditions they needed to survive ceased to be, worldwide. They took the biggest hit at the P-T extinction, but the final species died with the dinosaurs at the K-T event, 66 million years ago.

Our recorded history is a joke compared to the length of time that the ammonites floated in the water columns of Earth’s oceans. A couple of thousand years as compared to hundreds of millions.

These were tough, well established creatures. Now every last one of them is gone. Forever. Why? Mostly through a massive volcanic eruption in the P-T extinction that poisoned the skies and oceans on Earth, but later via a big old asteroid that killed darn nigh everything with a pre-nuclear nuclear winter and layers of ash.

In other words, the ammonite is no longer with us because the Earth’s climate changed. For the worse. Suddenly.

We live and die by our planet’s climate. Our bodies are shaped by the living conditions and ecosystems of our ancestors. Look at the back of your hand and you’ll see the history of your ancestry, the impact of changes in climate. Those that ran from the approaching glaciers and huddled around its edges needed the sun’s rays; their descendants are what we call “white” these days. There are many, many examples of changes in morphology in our species as reactions to Earth’s climate, the planet we were made for.

The planet we are poisoning.

I am as guilty as anyone. I maintain and use three gasoline vehicles. At times I burn wood, and I have burned coal to heat. When temperatures are below freezing, I have little choice but to use a fuel-oil furnace. I use plastic bags at Wal-Mart. The dreary list goes on.

This is why I am so excited by people like Elon Musk, or even Jeff Bezos.

It is easy to sink into despair and inaction when confronted by a massive challenge. But then I look at the news and I see that Musk or Bezos, both multi-billionaires who can really make a difference, have done something new and bold. Something that makes a real difference.

Space exploration, colonization. Just in case. Electric, non-gas burning cars. Tunnels for mass transit. Solar energy advances. These are good things!

Because of incremental improvements in technology, my house uses one hell of a lot less energy than it did when I was a kid. LED bulbs, etc. Also, it’s been 30 years since this old place burned coal; I tore out the massive, blackened furnace some 15 years ago. These days we mostly heat with a heat pump; admittedly this is an older model. When it dies I’ll get a new, far more efficient model that will work to about 10F(!), and I’ll hardly have to use the fuel-oil furnace in the future.

So I’m getting there, and so are a lot of people.

What we need is time. You can’t change the world overnight.

Time.

The ammonites had eons. And then the eons stopped, at least for them. The world they depended upon changed.

Our epoch dawned.

Can we see the echoes of our sunset, way down south in Oz? Will we have the collective wisdom to be better stewards of the land and the beasts, as the Bible commands of the faithful?

Time will tell.

Do we have it?

 

 

The Thin Gold Line

thin gold line

So I spent a little bit of time imagining some of the malign ways that State and non-state actors could misuse genetic data, and I thought to hammer out a quick short story based on one of the ways that this could go wrong. Not based in any existing universes or books, a one-off.

Here goes, The Thin Gold Line.

Janine Saunders slouched at her workstation, her worn mag chair sighed as she shifted position. Her fingers danced across the holoboard, she shifted screens with eye movements and subtle gestures. Her feathery brows came together, she was doing what she loved.

She was hunting.

To be specific, she was tracking down another mongrel from the old databases that fools had enlarged back in the early part of the century; the idiots had given up DNA samples to satisfy their curiosity. Long ago, of course. No one was so stupid as to do that these days. Not voluntarily.

She tapped on her board. No-one with something to hide would give up a sample, she thought. Her own DNA was as purely Northwestern Euro as one of the vanished glaciers, she was white as a sheet; her racial pie-chart said so. Only a touch of suspect Southern genes, and zero Asian, African, or Native.

None at all. If she had that trace, or more than a trace, she wouldn’t be working here, at Government Tracking Services. Privately the employees called it Hygiene, and Janine was a “sniffer,” or a person who teased actionable details out of the abused and long since hacked databases of the old DNA ancestry services.

Oh, they were clever, the mongrels, she thought. Even witnessed samples could be faked, and for every action by the state there would be a counter action by the trash.

She moved around data and hummed a little song. “In the year 2525…”

The obviously undesirable P and G-types had been weeded out long ago, none of them stood a chance. Some had escaped into space, others had shuffled around the dwindling real estate on Old Earth. Many simply no longer existed; the War had been brutal. Final.

Janine was a guardian of the Republic, scarce resources had to be directed to the worthy.

She couldn’t breathe a word about her work outside of the ferrocrete walls of Hygiene, not even to her husband Bill. If she could have told him about what she really did, though, she was sure he would approve. He worked for the State, too. His security clearance wasn’t as high as hers, so she knew what he did fairly well. He was the leader of an enforcement crew, they did the rounds in the habitats tracking down those whose credentials, or their politics, were less than perfect.

A shiver of delight ran through her when she thought of his big, thick hands. She smiled faintly as she thought of his squat brawn. She liked that. As she shifted data, her eyes flicked to the image of her son Jake, a five year old pile of trouble. What better reason to fight for this better, more perfect society than for her children, after all?

She tapped on the end of her stubby nose. No reason that she could see.

Janine studied the pie chart in front of her, it had been emailed to someone fifty years ago. She frowned. The pie chart had been flagged for her attention, someone’s DNA had matched up to this old chart and genotype recently. She stuck out the tip of her tongue; this would be difficult.

Whoever “PS” was had never filled out their whole name, nor had they helped out by filling in their location data. That made it tough. But someone had thrown down bubble gum on 32nd Street that had been picked up by the City cleaners. The bubble gum had been randomly sampled by an undercover representative of Hygiene, and lo-and-behold whoever the gum chewer was, he or she shared 25% of “PS’s” DNA. DNA that sat waiting in the historical databases.

A grandchild thus, living on the lam in the City, a habitat reserved for the worthy.

Janine snorted. Whoever PS was, this XX, or female, was not racially worthy.  The old genealogy service made it all so easy, really. Color-coded and everything. Purple for African. Red for Asian. And, as she could so clearly see for PS, golden yellow for Native American.

Just like the gum-chewer. Betrayed by a thin golden pie-slice, ready to be purged as soon as she found the XY, a male.

She slid the data around. There was no obvious match for a descendent of PS in the city, someone had been using bootleg cheek swabs, perhaps. Maybe good, old-fashioned bribes. Purloined dandruff. The possibilities were endless. But she would find him, she did not doubt.

She made a spreading gesture with her hand and a map of the City zoomed out. She murmured a request and a series of bright blue dots appeared; more random samples of the DNA she was looking for. She had to ask the system; there was too much information otherwise.

Janine sat back in her chair; she had her man. She looked at his Patterns Of Life and placed her interwoven hands behind her head. What did he do, she wondered. Trash collector? Maybe that would explain his evasion of the strict genetic controls…

She sat bolt upright. This man was Law Enforcement. Maybe even known to Bill; no, certainly known to him. She subvocalized a request for an on-the-spot eugenic control; her supervisor would need to be brought in. This was a first-class breach, and it would be a real feather in her cap if the perp was caught. Maybe as soon as the end of shift. She smiled. This guy was going down. Her supervisor agreed to the snap inspection, the units were brought in one by one for supervised, rigorous sampling.

The Sniffer let her thoughts wander, and she started in on a new case. She lost herself in the hunt through the old archives; her duty day flew past. Before she knew it she was fifteen minutes from shift change.

Her supervisor cleared his throat behind her. Janine jumped a little and blushed; the creep had a real knack for catching her off guard.

“May I help you, sir?”

He nodded and smiled a little smile.

“You already have. We caught the perp, most disturbing.”

“A member of Enforcement?”

“Indeed.”

“Has he been rolled up?”

Her supervisor nodded. “Shot while escaping, unfortunately.”

Janine laughed. “A shame.” Her supervisor was looking at her with his head cocked.

“Is there something else I can help you with?” She wanted to go home; what a fantastic way to end the shift. What did he want, she wondered.

“Yes, there is a small matter you can help us with, Inspector Saunders.”

“Ask, sir.”

“We need a release for a genetic sample.”

“Sir?”

Her supervisor rubbed his chin. “A delicate matter. It’s for a minor.”

“I don’t understand. Procedures handles those.” She noticed two Enforcement types had come with him. Her brows came together.

He shook his head.

“The release is for your son, Inspector.”

 

FINIS

Alternative cover

immolation alt cover

Hey everyone; I received a gift from my oldest daughter. It’s an alternative cover for the final book in my first trilogy, Immolation. Personally, I think it’s awesome. Something I struggled with throughout the original military sci-fi trilogy was cover design.

My publisher used to be an affiliate of Amazon, CreateSpace. They sold package deals for newbie and clueless authors like me, the deals included everything, also cover design. It was very, very handy. Write a book, dump it onto CreateSpace, answer a questionnaire about what you wanted from the book and cover, and wait.

A few months later and everything would be done. The cover design, the copyediting and structural critique, the editorial letter, everything. All you had to do was choose a launch date and stand back.

It was perfect.

There were some drawbacks, of course. It was a pay-for-play service, you could spend LOTS of money on your book if you wanted to.

I’d argue they did a really nice job, but a problem was always the covers. I was never totally satisfied with them, but I didn’t have the budget for revisions. The first cover, IN THE VALLEY, was my fault, I didn’t know what to say in the questionnaire. I wanted battlefield wreckage with a lone soldier as the focal point. Well, I had to pay extra for the lone soldier, so it didn’t happen, but the battlefield wreckage was there. However, not a real sci-fi feel. Cover No.1 FAIL.

The second cover, THE CAPTAINS CAULDRON, was kind of OK, and I got my lone soldier. However, the soldier was carrying an M4 rifle and was dressed in a very 21st century uniform. Not good. It would be kind of like an image of US Soldiers in Afghanistan with Brown Bess muskets or something. However, I had spent my budget. It is what it is.

My last cover was pretty good, and the best of the series in my opinion. But IMMOLATION still didn’t have the cover I wanted.

Well, my oldest didn’t like it either, and she knew what I wanted for the cover. Unbeknownst to me she whipped out her markers and went to work. I received the above cover for Christmas.

It is very close to being exactly what I wanted for the covers in my series.

A lone soldier, Paul Thompson, who is the series main protagonist. He is the focus.

Tired, weary eyes.

The Soldier is in a fighting suit, because hey, this is about the Armored Infantry in the 24th century. Why couldn’t the pros at CreateSpace understand this?

Action is implied. Combat. This cover has what I wanted in 2014; it screams military sci-fi.

She needs to do this sort of thing for a living, follow a study one day in graphic arts and design.

If I can’t get a trad publisher for my latest manuscript, efforts are ongoing, then I have to do it the hard, indie way.

If so, I know who is doing my cover.

Christmas 2019

2019 tree

Yeah, you can tell the photo above was taken with my cheap Walmart cell phone. Not the best, but you get the idea.

I’d like to wish my readers, friends, whoever, a fine holiday season. It’s none of my business which deity you worship, if any. But I do wish you all a chance to get together with people you care about. I hope you do something, celebrate anything.

Us? We’ll be fine. On this season it’s easy for me to reflect on how lucky we are. There is no war or fighting in my immediate vicinity. We are well fed. We are relatively healthy. We are not choking on the burning remnants of our forests. Each of our material needs are met, we can travel where we like at will.

In short, we are blessed. Our living standard is much higher than our ancestors, we live charmed lives.

The tragedy is that so many are unhappy. Pissed off.

I can see it, although I try to stay out of the ditch as much as possible.

Here in Greater Appalachia many die of overdoses, or they let their lives swirl down the bottle.

Why.

There’s a real lack of meaning in a lot of people’s lives. Many in the past could say “I’m a miner.” “I’m a steel worker.” Et cetera. There are those who say that everyone should go to college, prepare themselves for the modern, technological age.

Here’s the problem. A lot of people don’t want higher education, they want to work in the sun, build things with their own sweat and effort. They want to punch in, punch out. At the end of the day they want to go home, crack open a beer and watch TV. They don’t want to be plugged in 24/7, they don’t want to be on creative committees or spend 16 years in school.

These people are being left behind, and their livelihoods are being erased by the machines and the pursuit of the almighty dollar.

It’s tough to feel good about yourself when someone asks you “what do you do” and your only response is an uncomfortable silence.

So people retreat into silence and a bottle of pills, or a case of beer. They are the walking wounded of our age, mixed in with another group that is silent, unseen.

I’m speaking of our combat veterans, and here in Appalachia there are many.

Some are quiet. Some are not. They range in era from the Second World War to our most recent conflicts. Men, women. The lucky ones have families, others have driven them away.

It’s impossible to generalize about this group, although there are those who try.

All of us have murder in our hearts, but our combat veterans have seen the real thing up close.

Don’t let the past ruin all of your days. Especially Christmas. So if you fit in this category and happen to be reading this, go to the VA. Sooner, rather than later. It helps. I know.

Me? I count myself as lucky this Christmas of 2019, along with my family.

I wish each of you good fortune and cheer as well.

Wishing ain’t good enough, though.

If your situation is bad, make a plan to change things around in the new year. Even if the plan is poorly executed and half-realized, it’s a start in the right direction.

Like my buddy the Colonel always says, “Just put one foot in front of the other.”

He’s right.

In 2020, just keep putting your feet down. If you don’t quit, you’ll at least get to a different, maybe better, place.

Merry Christmas.

Now go make a plan.

 

 

American Mutt

muttmap

Alright, so all of you know that I’m pretty fascinated by technology. Some of it is for the better, some of it for the worse. For years I’ve been straddling the fence as to which category the now ubiquitous DNA test falls into. I didn’t want to give up a sample, although I’ve been curious for years about my background. It seems that a lot of Yanks have this curiosity, because many of us have <zero> idea where our ancestors come  from, although a family name can be a strong hint.

But still, I didn’t want to give up a sample. It struck me as weird.

Well, a couple of weeks ago I saw a Black Friday ad for a discounted DNA kit. I glanced at it and moved on, but the idea stayed in my head. I was curious, I had an itch. But the sample…

And then I remembered. In 1994 I was ordered to give a genetic sample to Uncle Sam, I was one of the first to do so. How did I forget about that?

The government already had my kit on file! So what if I signed up for a testing service, seriously? The man had me down cold, anyway.

And if one of my family members was a serial killer or something? OK, I thought. They can fry.

I ordered the kit, spat in the bottle and sent it in. Within ten days I had my results.

For decades I’ve listened to my family members talking about certain relatives, and a subject that always entered discussion was my mom’s Grandma, a mixed Native woman. What percentage, the family always wondered, were us great-grandkids? Oral history said 1/16.

Well, as you can see above, the answer probably is 1/16, due to odd percentages from genetic recombination, etc.

The riddle is the Spanish. Where the hell did that come from? Scandinavian? Seriously?

So, I must say that the service did not disappoint. I am as mixed as Dixie the Dog, a purebred, no-bullshit American Mutt.

Technological wonders that can be considered mundane. Not to me, though.

They are still miracles, albeit minor ones.

Wow.

Where to start?

books

As the substandard and somewhat blurry image above reveals, my various bookcases aren’t exactly a model of organization. Well, as they stand depicted and as my thoughts are re: where to start on a mountain of entertainment there is remarkable consistency. In other words, my thoughts are a jumbled mess and I don’t know how to tackle some of the amazing content in front of me.

First there is the written word. The photo above is actually an anachronism; most of my library these days is digital. Actual paper works are growing scarce around here, although I retain my very favorites in dead trees. A project I’m slowly working on is replacing my dog-eared old favs with new copies, and getting actual print for digital books that I really like.

I can’t believe it’s been over ten years since I last avidly bought paper books, but it has. Digital is simply too convenient.

Which leads me to the subject I’m avoiding; the books I must read or listen to. I don’t get it- this is not a chore, it’s pure pleasure and yet I can’t seem to sit still long enough to read a few books for some friends. Oh, don’t worry, I will do it. It’s going to happen. The reading is just taking longer than I would like it to, that’s all.

It’s weird, this hesitation to read. A wholly alien feeling; even in the deadly mountain valleys of the past I’d take time to read. Dead tired, dead stressed, and I’d still re-read Final Impact. So what’s the deal now? I don’t know.

And it’s not just books. There are other entertainments as well. For example, an excellent audio book series about Winston Churchill. And let’s not forget JB’s “Fail State,” the next installment on his end-of-the-world novels. It launches on Monday, the 16th of December, 2019. Under normal circumstances I would fall upon it, listen for hours on end. As it is, who knows?

TV? Forget about it. For one thing, I got out of the habit of watching TV years ago. These days I fidget if I watch for too long. As of right now I can’t watch it at all! This is intolerable. I have Amazon Prime, Hulu and Netflix. Each of these has at least one series I very much want to see- and I can’t sit down and watch.

Horrible. I’m very much spoiled for choice, caught in the headlamps of too much information.

What I need to do is sit the hell down and start, systematically and surely, whittling down the pile.

What kills me is that this is not work, it’s supposed to be fun.

Since when has entertainment become an obstacle? What the hell is this, anyway? What is stopping me from sitting and watching “The Man in the High Castle?” Or swallowing Alicia Wanstall-Burke’s “Legacy of Ghosts” whole?

Weird.

This is surely a phenomena of our times. Never before in human history has so much information and content been available for elites, let alone laymen such as I. It’s a treasure trove of knowledge and entertainment.

At the moment? Mostly inaccessible.

 

 

 

 

 

I want to release this into the wild.

640_brodie-trenches

Readers: Here is a small sample from my upcoming alt history novel, I’ve changed some stuff in here to keep from being hugely spoileriffic. Some names have been scrubbed, some left alone. If you care to, you can wager guesses as to who is who!

Really looking forward to releasing this into the wild; need a publisher first, though.

All of this is subject to change in the final manuscript. So if you all make too many intelligent guesses I may George RR Martin some characters. 

Here Goes (hold onto my beer and watch this!)

Lieutenant Burton ran along the line, he stumbled and bumped along in the flare lit stygian darkness. He had a new pistol; Captain Ferguson had given it to him. It came brand new in a cardboard box that read PISTOL, AUTOMATIC BROWNING CALIBER .45, MK II. He hadn’t fired it; he prayed that the craftsmen in the factory knew their trade. He would need it soon. For good measure he held an Enfield as well. There was no such thing as being over-armed in Thuin.

He stopped at a hunched form. It was Lance Corporal Carothers.

“Are your men ready, Lance Corporal?”

“Yes, sah.”

“Do you need anything?”

“A curvy bint, perhaps.”

Burton laughed. “Steady on, Lance Corporal.”

“Yes, sir.”

Burton continued along the trench. He stepped in something squishy. He caught the form of a grim BAR gunner; it must be Strohmeier. Burton shivered. He wouldn’t want to be on the other side of that gun.

“Are you ready, Strohmeier?”

The soldier nodded, he didn’t take his eyes off the line. Burton noticed the stacks of magazines placed in handy locations, the Mills bombs and a faint cold gleam on his belt. It was a tomahawk.

Burton was at a loss for words. The private clearly meant business. He tapped him on the shoulder and moved onward.

As he passed another private, he heard a murmur in some strange tongue. The broad-faced man had his eyes closed, Burton presumed that he was praying. Burton saw no reason to interrupt him, he’d accept the help of any god at this point, even the heathen. He nodded and continued along his section of trench.

He came across Corporal Crawford, the man was saying something to one of the new replacements.

“Crawford, is your squad ready?”

“Yes, sir.”

“They’re coming soon, Corporal.”

“We know, sir.”

“Let me know if there’s anything I can do.”

“Not at the moment, sir.”

Burton nodded. He didn’t want to pull his leader’s sleeves. He fought hard against the inclination to change things; he knew damn well that 3rd Platoon was as ready as could be. But it was hard, hard, on the eve of battle to control the urge.

The Lieutenant made his way back to the cubby he shared with Sergeant Larson. The best thing he could do was to sit on his hands and wait. He knew that.

It was the hardest thing he had ever done.

***

Elizabeth Moore was bumping along the road to Binche, she had an ambulance full of wounded. One of the men was sobbing, she took deep drags on her harsh cigarette.

The scene back in Thuin was bedlam, there were so damn many hurt and maimed men waiting to be evacuated, and so few ambulances and medical staff. The loading had been done to the soundtrack of heavy artillery fire, she had sat in her seat and watched as a round pulverized one of the few intact brick houses left.

It was damned unhealthy.

As she drove along the pitch-black road with her wholly inadequate blackout lights, she knew that this road was dangerous as hell, too. She had to constantly make her way around craters and other debris, she feared getting stuck as she navigated through cow pastures.

As usual, the lamentations of the men in the back stretched her nerves tight. And they were like piano strings tonight. The word she had received back at the aid station in Thuin was bleak, the Germans were breaking through along the line and they weren’t taking prisoners.

What would they do to her, she wondered, if captured? Probably something very unpleasant. She was in a grey area. Not really Army, not really a civilian, and definitely a woman. She really didn’t want to find out. When she heard about the German no-prisoners threat, she believed it. She didn’t intend to be captured, and she took a few measures to prevent rape followed by death.

She dodged a corpse. Her expert eye judged it fairly fresh one, allied. She drew in hard on her cigarette, she was glad she had spotted the dead man in time. Elizabeth hated the squishy feel beneath her wheels.

Some figures loomed out of the darkness. Maybe the mates of the dead man, she thought. She peered, she squinted. The blackout lights weren’t helping her much, and these buggers weren’t clearing off of the road. Her lips pressed into a thin line. Stupid gits. She flicked her cigarette out of the cab and drew a breath. She was going to give these idiots a real tongue-lashing.

At the precise moment that she was about to yell, her shout died frozen in her throat. Her blood ran cold, a bolt of lightning-like adrenaline shot through her body from head to toe.

Germans.

***

Leutnant XXX of the 73rd Infantry regiment, a crack outfit, waited in the dark. His men had reached their assault rally point in the pitch black, they had stumbled forward over the heaped corpses of the dead, English and German.

XXX was under no illusions about what was coming. There would be a brief artillery preparation, he had heard that the gunners were short on shells; the damned allied scout fighters had scourged the supply trains leading to the front.

As the artillery was pounding the Engländer, he and his men would attack as the shells rained down. XXX did not doubt that some would be killed or wounded by flying shrapnel, but it was part of the price that had to be paid for a successful assault.

XXX meant to live, and to crush the English position in front of him. The signal for the regimental attack was blue star clusters, he could barely wait.

XXX lived for attacks. He never felt so brilliantly alive as when he fell onto the foe with his Männer. The screams, the savage grappling, the feel of bullets skimming along the ground. In his mind’s eye he pulled the porcelain toggle of a stick-grenade and hurled it into the teeth of a French machinegun nest. He cut down a soldier with his Bergmann, he kicked a man in his face and then finished him with a shovel.

The Leutnant had been there. And he knew his men were proven veterans, the finest the German Army had on offer. They had been hand selected to lead this final assault to smash the center of the English line, and they would succeed.

All they needed to do was clear over the railroad embankment, assault into the trees, and close on the holes that the English cowered in. The price would be high, he did not doubt. But it wouldn’t be catastrophic. No, the English would know disaster this night. Their dying mouths would be filled with the bitter taste of ashes.

No quarter, thought XXX. No prisoners.

His regimental commander had been clear.

XXX looked along the lines of his men in the flickering, strobing dark. They laid prone, weapons in hand. He held a Bergmann himself; he gripped it tightly. He smiled tightly, his entire body sang as a feeling of blinding power coursed through him.

Please, God, he thought. Let the signal come soon.

***

YYY had experienced a lot of thrills lately, and that suited him fine. What he hadn’t anticipated was the amount of excitement he had experienced simply traveling to this ruined town, Thuin.

After Mons his little platoon had received a few new tanks and crews. He had been directed to stand by for further assignments when this offensive broke loose. With haste he had been dispatched to this sector and unit, the 12th Division.

The Lieutenant had to make his way with his crews of Caterpillars to wherever it seemed hottest; he had played hell to reach his destination on the confusing Belgian roads. In the process he had lost two tanks to breakdowns, the best he could do was to make it to this flaming wreck of a city with three operational machines.

And then there was the bridge over the Sambre.

Good God, YYY thought. The combat engineers didn’t want to let his tanks over the rickety-looking patched bridge, they were afraid the bridge would collapse under their weight. YYY had roared. He had cursed the engineer captain. The exhausted-looking man had finally let him across with some curses of his own.

YYY had taken his machine across first. He wasn’t a man to admit to fear, but his balls had tightened noticeably when he rode across the patched and straining structure. Halfway across the bridge groaned and shifted, YYY prayed and urged his driver forward. He was never so glad as when his tank reached the far shore and solid earth. Then he had the exquisite torture of watching the remaining two tanks cross. The last machine almost went into the drink when the driver missed a turn. The tank tottered, spun its treads and pulled itself back from the brink. YYY let out the breath he was holding, climbed down from his machine and pissed against the remains of a wall.

So here he was, in Thuin, awaiting the Division Commander’s pleasure.

YYY was satisfied; his time would come soon. Again.

He could hardly wait.

***

The Lieutenant-Colonel walked along the road with his men, the 6th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers. They were making haste in a forced march; they had walked without stopping for well over twelve hours. He had never been so tired, so keyed up in all of his life, although he had fought on many fronts from the time he was a teenager.

In his fevered imagination he could see Destiny in capital letters ahead; he hadn’t taken part in the great offensives earlier this summer. His unit had debarked in Calais but a week ago. They had been placed in a worn freight train with hundreds of forty-and-eight cars, they chugged directly to the Belgian border, or at least as close as possible to it.

Since then it had been nothing but marching. The Lieutenant-Colonel’s patrician feet had been in for a rude awakening, they were covered in bloody blisters despite his excellent field boots. He had been forced to leave his luggage behind, along with cases of rather good quality Hine brandy. He imagined some bugger would make off with his drink while he marched to the front to give Hindenburg a good kick in the family tackle.

He chewed on an unlit cigar, he ignored the bloody squishing in his boots, the fiery pain with each step. Despite his fancy double-name his was a tough bastard, a bare-knuckled brawler by inclination, if not by birth.

The Commander knew that he set an example for his men, that they watched his every move. If he didn’t stop, then neither would they. And he wouldn’t stop, the pulsing glow on the horizon, the sound of the guns were his guide. His heavy Webley pistol banged against his hip, he knew he would draw it soon. Most were armed with the Browning these days, but he trusted the Webley like a best friend.

As he marched, he remembered shooting an Afghan down with a similar pistol. It was during a vicious dust-up in some nameless dusty town, deep in the mountains. He shivered as he recalled the tribesman’s naked steel, how the slashing arc that would have ended his life stopped mid-stroke. It was arrested by a fat .455 slug to the chest.

No, the Webley Mk VI was good enough for him.

He quickened his pace.

***

John Cox knew that they were thoroughly lost. He and his crew took a moment to pop their heads out of their lumbering tank, all of them had splitting headaches from that damn cracked exhaust manifold.

He watched as the Lieutenant and his tank’s sergeant consulted a map by the dim red light of a trench torch. The sergeant was saying something to Wordsworth, the Lieutenant was running a hand through his greasy hair.

The idling engine of the armored brute drowned out their words, of course. It was an open question whether they would reach their destination; half of the tanks had broken down on this trek. These tanks, he thought, would have done better to catch a ride on a train and then move to wherever in short hops.

Apparently that hadn’t been an option. A few days before orders had come down, and now the 4th Horse was moving out on the longest armored operation in the short history of tank warfare. John knew they had never pushed their tanks like this before, it was a matter of time before his tank broke down as well.

This move smelled strongly of desperation to him. He didn’t know a whole lot about what was happening, but he did know the Germans had thrown everything at the 4th Army on the flank and things had gone in the crapper.

He rubbed his face and drank in the fresh air. Events in these parts had a strong smell of shit as well, he reflected. The sergeant was raising his voice; the lieutenant was as well. John wondered if it would come to blows. He hoped not, the two rankers were good sorts.

But one of them needed to learn how to read a map.

***

Paul Hindenburg had selected this shattered, once pleasant forested chalet as his temporary headquarters. He was close enough to the front that the ground shook beneath his heels. The windows of his map room were covered in tarps, lanterns provided a dim light as he pondered his next move. He turned a little to consider an option, shattered glass crunched beneath his steel-studded jackboots.

He stroked his mustache, then put up his index finger. He spoke to a division commander.

“Send in this regiment” he pointed at a marker, “to develop the English positions. Hold this regiment for now.” He pointed at a marker that said “73.”

“When I am convinced the English have cracked, I will dispatch the 73rd to exploit the gap.” He paused. “They are the finest we have available.” Paul looked at his division commander.

“Agreed?”

“Yes, sir. What about the special troops?”

“They proceed the 73rd.” Hindenburg looked around at his assembled staff.

“Gentlemen, the English are finished tonight.”

The guns boomed and roared in the background.

“Send out the signal.”