Out Now – Bookworm IV – Full Circle!

3 Oct

A new Emperor has arisen … and the Empire is collapsing into chaos.

Having escaped from the Golden City, Elaine, Johan and their friends – including some strange allies with goals of their own – race desperately towards Ida, hiding place of the ancient Witch-King. Behind them, the armies of the new Emperor – a man permanently poised on the verge of madness – give chase, unleashing monsters and spells from the long-buried past on everyone who stands in their way. Ahead of them, the Witch-King waits, biding his time as he prepares for his ascension.

As they endure terrible dangers – and figures from the past – Elaine and Johan come to realise that Elaine’s knowledge of magic and the bond between them may be the only thing standing between the Witch-King and godhood. But if they cannot prepare a defence in time, the entire world will die when the Witch-King rises from his tomb …

The fourth and final instalment in the Bookworm series, Full Circle follows on immediately from the events in The Best Laid Plans, with Elaine and her friends heading for Ida to confront the Witch-King.  Download a FREE SAMPLE, then purchase the complete book from the links on this page!

Out Now – Team Omega!

24 Sep

The next war will be a superhuman war.

Superhumans! They fly through the skies like gods; superhumans, men and women who have gained extraordinary powers. Some are celebrities, some rule entire countries, some just try to lead normal lives … and some are criminals.

Jackson McDonald, USMC, fought and killed a superhuman who threatened to tear Camp Pendleton apart. His reward is to be invited to join Team Omega, an elite black-ops military unit tasked with dealing with rogue superhumans.

But one superhuman has plans. He will save the world, even if it doesn’t want to be saved…

And no matter who tries to stop him.

Download a FREE SAMPLE, then purchase the whole book from Amazon HERE!  And read the semi-prequel for FREE HERE!

Updates and NEW Snippet!

19 Sep

Hi, everyone

I meant to write this earlier, but unfortunately the dreaded real life got in the way <grin>

First, Wedding Hells is on its way to the editors. My beta readers were kind enough to identify areas that need some work, so the book will be given a pretty through hammering by the editors, then heavily edited by me. I’m not looking forward to this, of course, but it has to be done.

Second, I’m currently doing the final edits on Team Omega, which is a story that combines military heroics with superhumans. I’ll upload a snippet below this message for your pleasure. Once I’ve done the edits, written an afterword and finalised the cover, the book will be on sale at Amazon. I think Team Omega is pretty much the last of the books I’ve held back for editing – for the moment, you can download the semi-prequel for free once I have it uploaded to my site. (They’re migrating the servers or something and I don’t have it set up properly yet.) You don’t need to read the prequel to understand what’s happening in Team Omega, but you might like it.

Third, I’ve written a short story for Elsewhen Press’s planned anthology of writers – The Girl In Black, featuring the Royal Sorceress herself, Lady Gwen. I don’t have any news on the planned publication date, but I’ll update you when it comes out. I’m still mulling over plot concepts for the fourth Royal Sorceress book, currently entitled The Sons of Liberty.

Fourth, I have some updates on audio books. A Small Colonial War (now available in paperback from CreateSpace) should be coming out in November. The next book in The Empire’s Corps has been delayed, but should hopefully be coming out at around the same time.

Fifth, I have started writing Storm Front, the first book in the planned Twilight Of The Gods trilogy, featuring a civil war in 1985 Nazi Germany. (In hindsight, perhaps I should have set the book in 1984, but it’s only a year.) You can read a snippet on my blog.

And, in other news, Eric is now learning to stand up. <grin>.

Thank you for your kind attention. Here is your snippet.

Team Omega Cover Blurb

The next war will be a superhuman war.

Superhumans! They fly through the skies like gods; superhumans, men and women who have gained extraordinary powers. Some are celebrities, some rule entire countries, some just try to lead normal lives … and some are criminals.

Jackson McDonald, USMC, fought and killed a superhuman who threatened to tear Camp Pendleton apart. His reward is to be invited to join Team Omega, an elite black-ops military unit tasked with dealing with rogue superhumans.

But one superhuman has plans. He will save the world, even if it doesn’t want to be saved…

And no matter who tries to stop him.

Author’s Introduction

There is something of a funny story behind how this book came to be written.

When I was at university, I discovered Stormwatch – a comic that had been newly taken over by Warren Ellis – and fell in love. Stormwatch was a far darker take on both superhumans and the effect they would have on the world. Their replacement by The Authority only cemented the concept for me. As Mark Miller’s opening lines, when he took over the comic, stated, what happens when superheroes go after the real bastards?

Think about it. Superman and Batman fight supervillains and costumed kooks – this was before Injustice: Gods Amongst Us. (I actually wrote the first draft of this before Injustice came out.) They don’t, as a general rule, go after dictators, real-life criminals and suchlike. The Authority’s take was largely revolutionary at the time, at least to me. Unfortunately, it didn’t last.

And then a new Stormwatch series came out. This one, entitled Stormwatch: Team Achilles, was an even better concept. A team of elite soldiers, without any effective superpowers, would tackle superhumans who were genuine threats, rather than leave them to other superhumans. I loved the series, particularly when they took on and bested the Authority; I won’t say it didn’t have its flaws, but I enjoyed it. The news that the Authority was actually going to be taking over the United States – Coup D’état – struck me as an excellent storyline. There could not fail, I thought, to be a genuine test of both teams …

Naturally, it fell flat. The almighty reset button was hit and nothing actually changed.

But what would happen, I asked myself, if real superhumans took on real bastards? What would this do to them? And who would oppose them?

This book was the result. Enjoy!
Chapter One

“At ease, Marine.”

Chester Harrison looked up at the young man in front of him and raised his eyebrows. “Is that as relaxed as you get, young man?”

“Yes, sir,” Lance Corporal Jackson McDonald said.

He was young and fit, with his hair shaved close to his scalp. Chester knew that the USMC had considered him one of their most promising enlisted men, with a promotion to Sergeant delayed only by his habit of picking fights and insubordination when not on active duty. Looking at him, Chester felt unfit, almost overweight. The life of a desk jockey, even a desk in the Pentagon, wasn’t the same as a person on active duty.

“I need to know what happened at Camp Pendleton,” Chester said. He’d read the reports, including the one McDonald had written himself, but he needed to hear it from the man’s own lips. “What happened on that day?”

“It’s in my report, sir,” McDonald said, stiffly. He hadn’t enjoyed writing the report, any more than his superiors had enjoyed reading it. Nineteen Marines dead and five more on the critical list…and no one even knew why. “You can read it all there.”

“I need to hear it from you,” Chester said, softly. “What happened that day?”

“What happened?” For the first time, McDonald showed a trace of emotion. Horror…and remembered fear. “What happened was a goddamned nightmare.”


Sergeant Bass considered himself to be the very model of a Marine Corps Sergeant—and that included disciplining the young men in his platoon. Jackson was rowdy, all day every day, and Bass took it as a personal challenge. After an argument in the barracks that went straight to a fight, Bass had sent Jackson out on a punishment detail- they needed sandbags. Two thousand of them, to be precise. Jackson could secure them on his own, but if there weren’t two thousand sandbags filled to standard, stacked nice and neat, he’d be back at it tomorrow. And the day after. Probably the day after that, too.

All day long, Jackson had cursed his luck, hating how he’d been seconded over to the Recruit Training Battalion at Pendleton. What he would give to be back in the field. In six years, he’d done four deployments there, and thoroughly enjoyed it every time. Why couldn’t he just be sent out to a Marine unit on actual operations? Being in the field was what he lived for, not coaching recruits on how to shoot the M-16A2.

He heard the explosion just as he came over the hill towards the parade deck, headed back to the barracks. It looked as if someone had smuggled a bomb into the Camp, perhaps one of the Mexican terrorist groups that kept threatening the integrity of the US border. He ran towards the sound of the blast, forgetting his anger at the Sergeant in the fear that one of his brothers might be injured. Alarms were going off everywhere as he ran into one of the PT compounds used for recruits—and saw a man tearing through Marines as if they were made of paper.

Two Marines, armed with M-16s, were trying to gun the intruder down, but the bullets were merely bouncing off his skin. Jackson realised, with a thrill of horror, that he was looking at his first superhuman. He’d heard about them, of course, yet he’d never seen one before. But any fascination was washed away by the grim awareness that the intruder had already killed a dozen Marines and seemed intent on murdering dozens more.

The superhuman roared as bullets hit his eye—it was clear that he could feel pain, even if the bullets couldn’t penetrate his skin—and lunged at the two guards. He caught one of them, picked him up and threw him through the air towards a helicopter that was flying over the camp. The hapless Marine missed the helicopter and fell somewhere towards LA. His buddy backed off hastily, only to be caught and physically ripped apart. Jackson saw blood splashing on the ground and realised, in horror, that he would be the next victim…


“I put it all together without realising it,” he admitted. Chester listened carefully as he outlined the story. “Maybe he was strong enough to pick up a tank and maybe he was tough enough to survive a bullet striking his body, but he still needed to breathe.”


Yelling wouldn’t get the bastard’s attention, but a mattock to the dome piece? That would work just fine. Jackson threw it overhand, watching it sail through the air end over end till it slammed point first directly into the back of the asshole’s head. Slowly, he turned until he saw a Marine in dirt-and-sweat stained utilities, shovel by his side.

Seeing that he had the super’s attention, Jackson raised the middle finger on either hand. Then he ran, trusting that the superhuman wouldn’t hesitate to give chase. The man didn’t seem to have any form of super-speed, thankfully; he just lunged after Jackson with a loping stride that suggested that he knew that he was invincible. No one would be able to stop him even if they caught him.

Gritting his teeth, Jackson looked back and saw that he’d put some distance between himself and his pursuer. Thank you, Staff Sergeant Fischer, for making us run up and down all these damned hills with those damned mortars. We might not be the smartest Marines, but we’ll damned well outmaneuver anybody.

Up ahead, the low, squat building was awaiting Jackson. He ran through the open door, then slammed it closed behind him, as if he were trying to hide inside.

A few minutes later, the superhuman burst into the chamber, lungs sucking down air in great noisy drafts. Three miles across broken road was never easy on the untrained. The superhuman looked around, puzzled: where had his quarry disappeared to?

The door behind him slammed shut. He whirled around, finding a quartet of grenades lying on the ground. The superhuman smiled, waiting for the inevitable blast.

Jackson stood outside the door, holding a gas mask in one hand while he kept a sharp eye on his watch. Part of his training during the thirteen weeks of boot camp had involved the vaunted Gas Chamber. The recruits would enter, suited up in MOPP gear, do several minutes of calisthenics and then break the seal while Drill Instructors demanded their name, platoon and all manner of Marine Corps knowledge. All in all, a miserable, god-awful experience.

He smiled, darkly. He hoped the superhuman was enjoying it as much as the recruits.

Thirty-seven seconds, he thought. Plenty of time to suck down a shitload of pain.

Picking up a fire extinguisher, he stepped into the chamber. It felt like combat all over again, a chemical cocktail of dopamine and adrenaline pumping through his body. The superhuman had fallen to the ground, twitching and coughing as if he were still trying to throw up everything in his stomach. His hands were tearing at his face, trying to claw the irritants away. It was pointless.

Quite calmly, Jackson pushed the extinguisher into the man’s mouth and pulled the trigger.

Two minutes later, it was all over.


“Your report stated that you made the decision to kill him without consulting anyone,” Chester said, when McDonald reached the end of his story. “Do you think that that was a wise decision?”

“I think that there was no way he could be secured and taken away before he recovered from the gas,” McDonald said, flatly. “And he had killed a number of Marines. The only thing I could do was kill him before he recovered and ripped my head off, sir.”

Chester could almost read the Marine’s mind. He had been the person on the spot, the sole person to figure out a way to end the crisis before it claimed more innocent lives…and yet he was being second-guessed by some Washington deskbound bureaucrat who wouldn’t know an M-16 from a broomstick.

But there would be repercussions from this incident, even though no one had—as yet—figured out who the superhuman had been, or why he had had a grudge against the United States Marine Corps. The CIA, FBI, SDI and Interpol had all drawn a blank. It was quite possible that the superhuman had been nothing more than an unregistered superhuman, but it was equally possible that the attack on Camp Pendleton could be the first shot in the long-feared superhuman war. Superhumans had upset the balance of power between the world’s nations ever since they had first appeared.

“You’re not in trouble, Marine,” he said, as reassuringly as he could. But he wasn’t really there to be reassuring. “You kept your head when others panicked and you took down a superhuman opponent. Not everyone can make the same claim.”

He smiled at McDonald’s reaction. Superhumans weren’t invincible, but they did tend to intimidate the hell out of people. The police preferred to back off and call for the military if there was even a hint that a superhuman was involved, while calls for mass registrations of superhumans had failed because there were fears that superhumans would turn on the government. Some could live normal lives, passing for mundane humans. Others were physical freaks, marked as superhuman whatever they did. Far too many of them had been driven into the underworld by suspicion and bigotry. Chester regretted that, as much as he regretted anything, but it didn’t keep him from having to deal with the consequences.

“Your platoon has been scattered by the attack,” he continued. “I would like to offer you a transfer to my unit…”

McDonald gaped at him. “Your unit, sir?”

“My unit,” Chester confirmed. He looked like a Washington paper-pusher; hell, he was a Washington paper-pusher. But he served as the director of a unit that was probably more important than any other in the era of the superhuman. “Your superiors have consented to your immediate transfer, assuming you want to take up the position.”

“I see,” McDonald said. He was too young to hide his scepticism. “And what exactly does this unit do?”

Chester smiled. “We kill superhumans,” he said. “Interested?”

"You’ve got my attention, sir," McDonald replied.

Chester explained, as best as he could. “Superhumans show an alarming series of personality traits—almost disorders—after they become superhuman. These tend to fall into several different categories. Some believe that they are heroes and have a right to save people, some become instant assholes and decide that they have the right to take what they want, some just want to hide from their powers…and some want revenge on people who tormented them before they became superhuman. It is comparatively rare to find a superhuman who can be considered suitable for the military—and most of those who are tend to be among the lesser powers.

“This gives us a major problem. We have had superhumans turn divorce courts into murder chambers, superhuman heroes who injure or kill criminals they catch while on patrol and plenty of villains whose only concern is getting all the money and women they want in the world. And then there are the superhumans serving in foreign countries as part of their defence forces. I assume you’ve heard some of the rumours about Iraq.”

McDonald nodded. The Protector of Iraq, himself a superhuman, had created a superhuman force to defend the country’s borders. They were allowed to indulge themselves in almost any way they wanted, provided they served the Protector’s country. Some of the rumours flooding out of Iraq were downright terrifying.

And Iraq wasn’t even the worst problem in the world.

“Fighting a superhuman opponent doesn’t have to be a death sentence—but you know that already,” Chester concluded. “Team Omega’s task is to monitor the world’s superhumans and, should it be necessary, take them down one by one. Should you agree to join, you’ll serve as part of a small force of elite soldiers and intelligence operatives, working from the shadows to keep the world safe for humanity. You won’t get credit for your work, but you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you’re doing something that no one else can do.”

He smiled at McDonald’s stunned expression. “Your superiors have already approved a week’s leave for you,” he added. “You have that long to decide what you want to do.”

“I have questions,” McDonald said, slowly.

“I can’t answer them, not until you’re all the way in,” Chester said. “Team Omega does not—officially—exist. The government fears what will happen when the superhuman community becomes aware of its existence. It is possible they will react against the government as a whole.”

He shrugged and stood up, holding out a hand. “Thank you for coming to see me,” he said, as if McDonald hadn’t been ordered to attend. “Should you decide to join us, your superiors will give you your final set of orders.”


One week after that first fateful meeting, Jackson found himself reporting to a small military base located within Andrews Air Force Base. It looked rather more like one of the makeshift FOBs he’d staged patrols out of in Latin America instead of a proper office space, complete with bunkers sporting auto-cannons behind layers of concrete, earth barriers and sand bags. Security was tight, he noted with approval; the guards checked his ID at two separate checkpoints before they allowed him to drive into the parking lot. The interior of the base was fenced, too, making it difficult for a body to move from section to section without the right ID.

Someone was being careful. Very careful.

He pushed through the door to the admin building and stepped inside. The secretary behind the desk smiled as she looked him over. “ID and retina scan, please.”

The machine chirped as Jackson looked into it, and then she stood.

"Please follow me." She led him down the hall to an open hatch and called to someone inside. "Sir, that Marine’s here."

"Have him report in," came a clipped voice.

Jackson pounded on the pine board nailed up beside the hatch frame.


Jackson stepped in, rapidly appraising the office’s inhabitants. Eight men in black coveralls with the insignia of their service branch were seated on a long bench. He marched to the center of the room, heels coming together swiftly, right hand rising to the corner of his eyebrow in a salute.

"Good afternoon, gentlemen!"

"Good afternoon," the uniformed man replied. "Stand at ease."

Jackson spread his feet, hands dropping into the small of his back. He was on unfamiliar ground here, and it was best to stay stiff until he knew the terrain.

"Lance Corporal, you know why you’re here," one of the men said in a colorless voice. "What you don’t know is these gentlemen, and what their purpose is."

"Most units conduct initiation via a purpose-driven schoolhouse and training that forces people to fail. We don’t need to test physical acumen. Every man in Omega is a graduate of those schools. Rather, we need to know your mental capacity and discipline. Between the eight of us here there’s a combined 117 years military service. Delta, Seals, Recon, even Air Force PJs. Gentlemen, you may begin."

"Lance Corporal, it says here…"

Four hours after he entered the office, Jackson was dismissed. He’d passed, though it had not been without some reservation on the part of one or two officers. But he could live with that. He sat down in the anteroom, waiting. Presently a door opened, admitting a dark-skinned man who had been one of his questioners, wearing a pair of plain black coveralls.

“I’m Lane,” the man said, holding out a hand. “Just Lane. Any jokes about my daughter marrying Clark Kent will not be appreciated.”

Jackson had to smile. “Jackson McDonald, Marine Corps.”

“Not any longer,” Lane said. “You’re Team Omega now, and don’t you forget it. We’re a little bit more relaxed than most military organisations, but if I catch you giving me less than your all, you’ll regret it. I’m Field Team Leader for Team One. Any questions?”

“Yes, sir,” Jackson said, carefully. “How many teams are there?”

“Four,” Lane said. He turned and headed towards a door, leading Jackson into a long corridor decorated with photographs of famous superhumans. “Four teams, plus the researchers who dig up most of the shit we use against the capes, the intelligence group who spy on the capes and the admin workers who do the paperwork. All four teams are expected to be combat ready at all times; Team One and Two are based here, Team Three and Four over on the west coast somewhere. Right now, Two is on QRA and One is standing down.”

He snorted. “In the event of Two being scrambled, One will come to full alert and you—until you are cleared to work with us—will go to your room and stay there until we let you out. Once you’ve been checked out on the equipment, you will be training with us until we decide that you’re fit to join officially. We’ll probably still be a little leery of you until you actually see action, but don’t take it personally.”

“I’ve been a Nugget before sir,” Jackson said. It happened in all military units; the new guy was regarded with some suspicion until he proved himself. Smart commanders kept it firmly under control. Less capable commanders sometimes let it get out of hand. “I know the score.”

“Glad to hear it,” Lane said. He pushed through a swing door and into a briefing room. “As Chester probably explained to you, our mission is to identify, monitor and eliminate dangerous superhumans. Principally, we deal with the psychopaths, the rogues and the dangerous criminals. Some of the bastards are pretty much celebrities and we have to be careful about how we deal with them. If you have any belief in the value of a fair fight, I suggest that you get it out of your system right now.”

“Yes, sir,” Jackson said.

“That’s Lane to you,” Lane said, firmly. “We don’t stand on ceremony here—besides, I work for a living. Luckily, I only have to use PowerPoint when a new guy comes along.”

He picked up a remote control and waved Jackson to a chair. “Team One consists of nine active members, three support staff. You’ll be pleased to know that we insist that our field support staff are riflemen first, a concept we shamelessly stole from the Marines. There’s no such thing as a standard weapons’ load for us, so you’ll be trained and checked out on everything. We’ll also expect you to spend some of your spare time studying for additional MOS certificates, as we want as many disciplines as possible on the field teams.”

Jackson nodded. It sounded as though he would be busy. Good.

“You’ll get a proper briefing on the Rules of Engagement later, but suffice it to say that we exist somewhere in the grey area between police SWAT teams and the Delta Force guys who would back them up if they ran into trouble they couldn’t handle. Those who know a little about us think we’re a federal SWAT team linked to the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team, so we attempt to abide by the same rules they do. However, when dealing with a superhuman opponent, it is generally wiser to apply maximum force and worry about the legalities later. We would prefer to avoid an incident that would cause embarrassing questions to be raised.

However, I expect total professionalism from my people at all times,” he added. “Use the vague ROE as an excuse to fuck up and you’ll wish the superhuman had killed you by the time I’m through with you. Understand?”

“Yes, Lane,” Jackson said. It felt strange referring to a superior officer by his first name. “Don’t fuck up.”

Lane snorted. “Team Omega’s overall director is Chester Harrison, the man who first interviewed you. We have an agreement: I run Team One to suit myself in exchange for making sure that we win all of our encounters with capes, while he covers our political ass and reports directly to the President. It was I who approved your provisional transfer to Team Omega. Do you have a problem with that?”

“No,” Jackson said. It seemed to make sense—and it was more rational than some of the other arrangements for military-civil relationships. “We report directly to the President?”

“You report to me, I report to Chester, Chester reports to the President,” Lane said. He looked down at the floor and then back up at Jackson. “I won’t lie to you, son. There’s a good chance that you will end up dead or crippled within five years. And you will be held to a very high standard. We fuck up—hundreds of lives can be lost. If you want to back out…”

“Fuck that,” Jackson said. “It sounds like a challenge.”

“You have no idea,” Lane said. “If you’ll come along…it’s time to start putting you through your paces.”

Chapter Two

Team One’s barracks were strikingly large for such a small group of soldiers, although half of the space had been converted into a storage locker for weapons, first aid and a handful of devices that Jackson didn’t recognise. The centre of the barracks consisted of a handful of chairs, a computer projector and a stack of drink cans—all non-alcoholic, Jackson was pleased to note. He’d been on overseas bases where the locals had been drunk or drugged up and felt safer out in bandit country.

“This is Sergeant Johannes von Shrakenberg,” Lane said, nodding to the largest man in the room. “The Sergeant is second-in-command of Team One; he’d be a Chief like me by now if he hadn’t refused to quit being an enlisted schmuck.”

Jackson felt his eyes widen as he looked at the Sergeant. Von Shrakenberg’s physical appearance was freakish, almost inhuman. Everything below his chest was normal, but his shoulders were massive, with muscles on top of muscles. It took Jackson a moment to realise that he was looking at a Boerbel, one of the humans who had been modified by Dr. Death before the South African regime had collapsed into civil war. He couldn’t understand how the Sergeant’s legs could support his massive chest, or why his skin seemed to vary from white to black.

“You’re a Boerbel,” he said, shocked. “I thought you were all gone.”

“Dr. Death never managed to get his experiments quite right,” the Sergeant explained as he shook Jackson’s hand. His handshake was tightly controlled, suggesting an inhuman strength that was more than just the result of Special Forces exercises. “I was nine when the bastard put me under the knife and spliced organs from some dead black superhuman into my chest. As you can see”—he waved a hand at his face—“the experiments didn’t work properly. My skin changed colour and my shoulders just kept growing.”

He grinned, nastily. “It wasn’t until I was rescued by Delta that I came to the United States, and then they weren’t sure what to do with me. So I went into the Army, and eventually ended up riding herd on freaks like me.”

Jackson found himself unable to say anything. He’d heard about the experiments, but he’d never seen any of the results, not in person.

Von Shrakenberg ignored his hesitation and bellowed for the remainder of Team One to stop slacking and come meet the fucking new guy. Several ambled over from the direction of the firing range, carrying all sorts of weapons. They all looked quietly competent.

Jackson couldn’t help feeling quietly relieved. Some of the allied SF units he’d dealt with in the past had thought themselves kings of the world.

“Welcome to the first day of hell,” von Shrakenberg informed him, as Team One studied him. “We are going to test you right up to your limits—and if you pass, you will be welcomed into Team One. If you fail, the rats will have your body. The lads will be helping to test you, so don’t show them any weakness.”

He grinned. Jackson winced. SF training was deliberately made as hard as possible to sort out the operators from the wannabes.

Team One looked at him, while Jackson fought to keep his face expressionless. SF units rarely welcomed newcomers until they had proven themselves. Jackson knew that Team One would put him through his paces until they were sure that they could depend upon him. It wasn’t exactly hazing, not like some recruits were hazed in boot camp, but something they needed to do in order to make sure Jackson was right for them.

“Isn’t it lucky that we have some downtime?” von Shrakenberg said to his men. His expression changed from pleasant to furious with alarming speed. “Why are you lollygagging around here? Get in the Shooting House!”

He beckoned Jackson to follow him and marched down to the firing range. It was larger than the one Jackson had used at Camp Pendleton, with a handful of holographic simulators to generate moving targets for the soldiers. Military operations in urban terrain—street-fighting, in other words—had become more common even before the first superhumans had appeared to muddy the waters and make the global situation even more complicated than it had been before. He shuddered as he remembered the superhuman who had struck Camp Pendleton, and realised, once again, just how capable Team Omega had to be. They monitored and—if necessary—killed superhumans.

“This is the M-22,” von Shrakenberg said as he pulled a gun off the rack. He held it up in one hand, locking the bolt to the rear as he did so, running a finger into the feed chamber to ensure that it was empty before he handed it to Jackson. “This is our primary weapon for use against caped freaks. It’s chambered in .375 Remington Ultra Magnum.”

Jackson looked up the spout before tapping the release and sending the bolt home. The M-22 was heavier than its predecessor, he noted as he studied the weapon with professional interest. It was larger than an M-16, with a complex-looking scope mounted on the top rail. The weapon looked too complicated for the field—military tech was never as reliable as the manufacturers claimed—almost like it had come out of a science-fiction movie.

The Sergeant tapped a recessed switch on the side and the gun’s magazine dropped out.

“You will notice that the weapon’s great failing is that it cannot fire standard ammo from an M-16 or another assault rifle,” he informed Jackson. “Instead, we fire a variety of different projectiles that are produced for our specific needs.”

He reached behind the counter and produced a briefcase, which, when opened, revealed a number of colour-coded magazines. “Green shells are basically comparable to normal ammunition, except they carry a heavier punch when they hit a body; try not to use them if you have to snipe someone standing in the middle of a crowd of human shields. We modified the rounds developed by Delta if we do have to snipe at someone like that, but with superhumans you cannot assume that standard ammunition will do the trick.”

Jackson nodded. The intruder at Camp Pendleton had shrugged off bullets. If he hadn’t needed to breathe, Jackson would have ended up dead.

“Yellow shells are…well, we call them rocket shells, but you’ll get a briefing on the science later,” the Sergeant continued. “Suffice it to say that they move at terrifying speed and over an astonishing distance. We’ve sometimes had to use them to take down speedsters and believe me, they work.

“Red shells are penetrator rounds, intended to blast through the toughest of skin. I’ve seen them punch through the armour on a tank, so don’t take these babies lightly. Some Level 4 freaks have been taken down with penetrator rounds.” He grinned. “I don’t think I need to warn you that using them in a crowded room can be disastrous. Much of what we do requires careful planning beforehand.” He looked up at Jackson, as if he was inviting comment.

“Yes, Sergeant,” Jackson said, feeling a little overwhelmed and trying not to show it. “What happens if the plans go wrong?”

“Then we have to improvise,” von Shrakenberg said. “You should be good at that, after what you did at Camp Pendleton.”

Jackson cursed himself mentally. Of course von Shrakenberg would know what he’d done at Camp Pendleton; he would have been fully briefed long before Jackson ever made it to Team One’s barracks. A SF unit’s internal structure was flatter than the regular army’s hierarchy and von Shrakenberg had probably played a role in the discussions that had resulted in Jackson being invited to try out for Team One.

“I see,” he said. “How often do we have to improvise?”

“As often as necessary,” von Shrakenberg said. “I’m afraid we get very little actual downtime in this organisation. None of the lads are married or have social attachments outside the group. You can probably imagine why we stick to that policy, even if the headshrinkers do claim that married men are more grounded in reality.”

Jackson nodded. They dealt with superhumans, who could be dangerously unpredictable and immune to conventional weapons. Each mission could leave one—or all—of the team crippled, or dead. A single mischance could doom the entire operation. It was better that Team One’s members left no one behind when they died, even if it did isolate them from the world.

The Sergeant pulled a fourth and fifth magazine out of the case. “Black rounds are designed to explode within the target’s body,” he told Jackson. “They are technically illegal across the world, but with superhumans you need to inflict a shitload of trauma very quickly and most SF units have quietly agreed to let that rule fall by the wayside. Try not to use them too close to the media as the President would have to answer questions if anyone figured out what we were doing. Luckily, the media’s collective ignorance is so great that they think a person’s head exploding is natural when they get shot.”

He chuckled. “White rounds…they’re chancy, so the lads prefer not to use them if possible. They’re designed to inject a powerful sedative into a target’s body, knocking him out very quickly. Do not rely on them. Superhumans can have quick-healing as well as other powers, particularly the Level 4 and 5 freaks. We only really use them if we need the target alive and we always have other snipers standing by with black or red rounds, just in case the sedative fails.”

Carefully, he pulled another M-22 off the rack and slotted one of the magazines into the gun, which came to life in his hands. “You have one of the finest sniper scopes developed by Uncle Sam in your hands,” he said, as he activated the firing range and pointed the rifle towards the targets in the distance. Most of them, Jackson noted, were human figures wearing capes. “In theory”—he grinned; practice rarely worked out as well as theory said it should—“you can hit a flying target in absolute darkness. Switching to auto will have the gun firing the moment it sees a target—again, don’t use it without direct orders from the boss. It’s not totally reliable.”

Jackson winced. The thought of a gun that picked its own targets and fired without any input from its wielder was chilling. “Now,” von Shrakenberg said, as he took aim. “Let’s see how good you are with a rifle.”


Jackson was exhausted when the Sergeant brought him to a small room and motioned for him to go inside, on his own. Apart from the shooting exercises, where the Sergeant had taken a sinister delight in pointing out all of his failings while trying to shoot an unfamiliar weapon, they’d gone for a run and a scramble through an assault course that had clearly been designed by a sadist. Jackson was no stranger to danger—he’d seen combat, after all—but the assault course had been completely unsafe. A fall would probably have broken bones as well as disqualifying him for inclusion in Team Omega.

“Go,” the Sergeant said. He hadn’t dropped any hints about this part of the qualification process. “I’ll wait outside.”

Don’t you have something better to do? Jackson thought. He wasn’t stupid enough to ask out loud. Drill Instructors were a fact of life in boot camp, but he couldn’t ever remember a sergeant who also served as second-in-command being an instructor. But then, von Shrakenberg probably had absolute confidence in his men not to goof off while they were practicing in the Shooting House. Soldiers didn’t make the transition to SF unless they were dedicated and disciplined. That and the average rank in the squad was E-6, which meant most of the stupidity had already been knocked out of them.

He pushed at the door and it swung open, revealing a lighted room. There was a desk, two chairs and little else, apart from a water dispenser on one side of the room. Behind the desk, a man sat with his fingertips pressed together, watching Jackson with an expression of cool disapproval. He didn’t look military, but looks could be deceiving.

“Be seated,” he said, shortly. He had a fussy voice that reminded Jackson of the counsellor he’d had to see in High School. The bastard had been totally unable to realise that the only way to deal with bullies was to turn on them and break their noses. “My name is Grimes. You may call me sir.”

Jackson swallowed the response that came to mind. “Yes, sir,” he said, and waited.

Grimes made a show of shuffling a sheaf of papers he produced from his briefcase. “You are tasked to take out”—he made a face at the words—“a Level X superhuman who resides in the Beverly Hills Apartment Complex, San Francisco. The man generally lives alone, but is known to have enthralled women and brought them to his apartment from time to time. For various reasons, notably his connection to other superhumans, you must leave no trail—assume that the FBI will be hunting you and act accordingly.

“It is imperative,” Grimes added, “that he be taken out before he realises what is happening to him. How would you carry out the operation?”

Jackson needed time to think, but he had a feeling that time was critical. Level X superhumans weren’t super-strong, nor could they fly; they possessed abilities that meddled with reality itself. As such, they were incredibly dangerous, even to their fellow superhumans. He’d never heard of a Level X superhuman choosing to live away from the rest of the superhuman community, but there were superhumans who preferred not to enter the world of caped superheroes and masked villains. Or fight for their country as part of the Superhuman Defence Initiative.

“Level X,” he repeated. “Just what powers does he possess?”

Grimes looked at him, dispassionately. “I have given you everything you need,” he said, impassively. Jackson could sense the disdain behind his words. “How do you intend to take out the superhuman?”

“Assuming that he leaves his apartment, snipe him down from a distance using explosive rounds,” Jackson said, finally. Level X superhumans were rarely invulnerable, thankfully. There was a story about a town that had been warped into a nightmare by a Level X superhuman some years ago. The townsfolk had never really recovered from the event, even after their town had been liberated. “If not…quietly evacuate the entire apartment and then destroy it.”

Grimes slapped the table, his expression shifting from disdain to anger in a split-second. “You stupid son-of-a-bitch,” he bellowed. “The man you just killed was the lover of your commanding officer’s wife! Don’t you think before you jump into action?”

Jackson fought down the urge to land a punch between the bastard’s eyes. The hell of it was that Grimes was right, at least to some extent. He should have asked more questions; he’d just assumed that it was a test to see how he would carry out the assassination. Assassinating a Level X superhuman was a more plausible operation than assassinating any other superhuman, with the added bonus that no one would be able to prove any differently once the superhuman was dead. Level X superhumans had no enhanced muscles or other detectable traits. And yet he resented how the test had been carried out. Perhaps it was also an exercise in self-control.

“I take your point,” he said, finally. “Look before I leap.”

“And before you carry out an unauthorised operation within the United States,” Grimes added, unpleasantly. “Don’t you know that the military can only be deployed here for a series of specific contingencies?”

Which did, Jackson knew, include dealing with a rogue superhuman. But Grimes probably wouldn’t be impressed by that point. The test, if it was a test, was rigged to see how he would react to each question. Grimes, he suspected, wasn’t the real judge. That would be the operatives of Team Omega.

“So,” Grimes said, “after a moment. You have a sister?”

“Yes, sir,” Jackson said.

There was a long pause as Grimes waited for him to say something else, before looking down at the papers on the desk. “Quite a pretty girl, your sister,” Grimes observed. “Just about to enter college on a scholarship from Harvard. Not too bad for a girl from a lower middle-class family.”

He looked at Jackson. “What would you do for your sister?”

Jackson looked back at him, evenly. Gayle had been a pain in the ass when she’d been young, but they’d come to a truce as they both grew older and matured. He’d once had to convince a prospective boyfriend to look elsewhere, only to discover that Gayle was quite prepared to do the same to his girlfriends. She wasn’t the sort of person to take such an insult lying down.

“Whatever I had to,” he said, evenly.

Grimes shrugged. “There’s a Level 5 superhuman who has taken over a building on campus and is holding several students as hostages,” he said. Jackson remembered some of the students who had demonstrated against the Marines at Camp Pendleton and wondered if that would be a small loss. “Those hostages include your sister, but your CO doesn’t know it. Would you tell him that you have a personal stake in the operation?”

Jackson fought down his anger, once again. A Level 5 superhuman was powerful enough to knock down the entire university. Taking one out required advanced weapons and a great deal of luck. The crossfire might kill all of the hostages and destroy Harvard before the superhuman either escaped— as most Level 5 superhumans could fly—or was brought down by Team Omega. It would only become more complicated if other superhumans showed up to help…

“I would have to,” he admitted. Rescuing hostages was a tricky business, even at the best of times. “And I’d be withdrawn from the team until the mission was completed.”

Grimes nodded. “You may return to the Sergeant,” he said. There was no clue in his face about just how well Jackson had done on the test. “Thank you for your time.”

His head spinning, Jackson left the office.

“Welcome back,” von Shrakenberg said. He grinned, evilly. “You’re just in time for another run around the track.”

Snippet: Storm Front (Twilight Of The Gods I)

18 Sep


India, 1949

“It’s time, Your Excellency.”

Winston Churchill, 44th and last Viceroy and Governor-General of India, sighed as the functionary entered the office. It was a magnificent office and Winston knew he would be sorry to leave it, but it wasn’t important. The important matter had been decided long ago, in London and Delhi, and Winston’s opinions had been dismissed as unimportant. India would be granted her independence, the government in London having decided that a peaceful separation was better than a brutal civil war that would destroy everything Britain had worked so hard to build. The Raj was dead. It had died when Hong Kong and Singapore fell to the Japanese, when Japanese troops had reached the borders of India itself. And Winston Churchill, who had fought so hard to save it, was charged with its funeral.

He rose slowly, feeling his old bones creaking under the weight. It had been years since he’d been a reporter, years since he’d served as a soldier, years since he’d been able to keep up with the younger men. The boundless determination that had driven him onwards, through years in the political wilderness and three years as Prime Minister, as Hitler’s armies scored victory after victory, was fading. He had hoped – prayed – to go to his rest after the Nazi beast was slain in its lair, but he knew he wouldn’t live to see it. Hitler’s enemies had fallen before him, one by one; Stalin assassinated during the retreat from Moscow, De Gaulle killed by a sniper’s bullet in Indochina, Roosevelt felled by his own heart. Winston was the last to survive and he knew it wouldn’t be long before he too was lowered into the grave. And the hopes and fears of the free peoples of the world would die with him.

Perhaps not, he thought, as he looked up at the map. Hitler may yet overreach himself.

He had never admitted, not even to his wife, just how much he’d hoped Hitler would declare war on the United States. Roosevelt had done all he could, but America couldn’t – wouldn’t – enter the war against Germany without good cause. Winston had no illusions about what would have happened to the British Empire, overshadowed by its mightier cousin across the ocean, yet Nazi Germany would have been crushed. Instead, Hitler had declared war on Japan, a stunt that had fooled no one but had been treacherously difficult to overcome. He’d even withdrawn the u-boats from the Atlantic, gambling that it would avoid an incident that would bring America into the war. And he’d been right.

Winston shook his head, silently tracing the lines on the map. Hitler’s armies had fallen back from Moscow, true, only to resume the offensive in the following spring. The Russians, their armies faltering as their industry staggered under the weight of the war, couldn’t keep Hitler from seizing Stalingrad, then resuming the drive on Moscow. And, if that hadn’t been bad enough, Hitler’s forces had thrust into Egypt and then Palestine. If the Americans hadn’t moved troops into Iran, as part of an agreement to withdraw the Anglo-French occupation force, Winston knew they might have stabbed into India itself. The weakness of the British Empire had been exposed for all to see.

And now he sits, consolidating his gains, while we have to struggle to survive, he thought, as he followed the functionary down the stairs. He doubted Hitler could hold Russia indefinitely – although the horror stories from refugees had made it clear that the Nazis were far more brutal than the communists – but there was no one left on the continent who could challenge him. He may even start preparing to launch an invasion of Britain.

Outside, the hot air slapped him in the face as he made his way towards the podium. Hundreds of thousands of people were gathered, watching and waiting for the moment when Britain finally granted India her independence, when they could set foot on the world stage as an independent country. Winston couldn’t really blame the Indians for wanting independence – thankfully, the looming threat of the Germans had forced the INC to come up with a reasonable plan for governing the country – but, at the same time, he couldn’t help feeling a pang for everything that would be lost. The Raj had been a proud achievement, bringing government and civilisation to India.

Winston stopped in front of the podium and looked down. The Indians were waiting, dark men in sober white suits; beside them, diplomats from the rest of the world watched with great interest, flanked by reporters ready to jot down whatever he said and misquote it to the world. Winston had been a reporter himself, once upon a time, but his time in the political wilderness had left him with little love for the breed. The age of the daring reporter, along with the brave explorer who brought civilisation to the natives, was over. Instead, there were hacks, liars and bureaucratic beancounters. The glories of the past were long gone.

He cleared his throat and stumbled through the speech Prime Minister Atlee had had written for him. It was a cumbersome thing, clearly written and approved by committee; it was hard, so hard, to put any of his passion into his words. But it was what the Indians wanted to hear and they cheered loudly as he told them that India was, from this moment forward, an independent dominion of the British Commonwealth. Thankfully, they’d agreed to stay in the Commonwealth for at least five years. The British Government had that long to convince them to stay permanently.

“But there is another matter I must discuss,” he said, putting the paper notes aside. He hadn’t told Atlee he intended to add his own words to the speech before the world’s reporters – and the assembled world leaders and diplomats. It would only have upset him. “The world is not what it used to be.”

He took a breath. “When I was a young man, a quarter of the world was red and the sun never set on the British Empire. I remember campaigning along the North-West Frontier and fighting a war in South Africa, never dreaming that the glories before me would come to an end. It never crossed my mind that Europe would destroy itself in war. Nor did it occur to me that a great beast would rise from the ashes to enslave the entire continent. I would have thought it impossible, if someone had told me, and laughed in his face.

“But I would have been wrong.

“An iron curtain has descended across Europe, yet we may still see glimmers of the horrors unleashed by Adolf Hitler. A dozen nations have simply ceased to exist. Countless populations have been enslaved or exterminated by the black-clad SS. Those who dare resist are subjected to torture before they are killed. A horror has descended that holds all of Europe, even Germany itself in the grip of fear.

“I remember when the cabinet debated what to do, the day that Hitler’s troops marched into the Rhineland and dared us to evict them. If we had known then what we know now, we would have gone to war and forced the Germans to retreat. But we did nothing. I remember when Hitler demanded the most valuable regions of Czechoslovakia and Chamberlain, a weak man, chose to appease the fascist beast rather than make a stand. We allowed Czechoslovakia to be dismembered and, in doing so, sacrificed our best chance to stop Hitler without major bloodshed. But we lacked the nerve to make a stand.

“We had our excuses, of course. Britain lost nearly a million lives in the first great war against Germany. The French lost nearly twice that and had their country devastated by the war. Our economies were weak, our forces ill-prepared and Hitler seemed to hold the moral high ground. Anything seemed better than war.

“But all that matters, in the end, was that when we determined to take a stand, we had already surrendered far too much to the Germans. When the Phony War ended, Hitler’s forces smashed France and pushed Britain to the wall. Had Hitler focused more on naval matters, Britain too might have been invaded and occupied. Instead, we were forced to watch as Hitler overwhelmed Russia and the Middle East.

“There is a temptation, on this day of all days, for us to forget the threat posed by the Germans. There is a temptation to believe that Hitler is satisfied, that he will be happy with what he has taken by force. There is even a temptation to be pleased that the communist regime that dominated Russia has been destroyed …”

He paused, silently cursing the American industrialists under his breath. They’d hated communism – and, after Finland, they hadn’t been alone. Sending supplies to Britain was one thing, yet sending supplies to Russia was quite another. They had hoped the communists would be destroyed, but what they’d got in exchange might destroy them.

“We can never relax,” Winston said. “Right now, Herr Hitler is experimenting with jet aircraft, with atomic weapons, with rockets that will allow him to target New York or land a man on the moon. It would be dangerously reckless of us to assume that the threat will go away, even if we do nothing to provoke it. We must stake out our perimeter, establish our defences and never, ever, drop our guard until the day the fascist beast is slain in its lair.

“There can be no compromise with evil,” he concluded. “The Nazis will never be satisfied until they have overrun the entire world. And so we must remember, at all costs, that freedom is something that must be defended. Europe forgot that and now Europe is lost. I charge you all to remember that, when they start trying to soothe us. We must hold the line or we will all be lost.”

He stepped back from the podium as the crowd burst into cheers, wondering just how many of them would understand what he’d said. Far too many Indians considered democracy a joke – and who was to say they weren’t wrong? India had seen very little democracy under the Raj. But they’d see less of it under Hitler. The Nazis wouldn’t hesitate to do whatever it took to crush resistance.

Atlee wouldn’t be happy, Winston knew. It was unlikely he’d be offered another government post in the future, but he’d assumed the Labour Government wouldn’t have a use for him in any case. He was, after all, an embarrassing old lion, a relic of the past …

… But as long as he lived, he would do what he could to alert the world to the dangers of Nazism. He could do naught else.

Chapter One


17 July 1985 (Victory Day)

It was, Finance Minister Hans Krueger concluded darkly, a very impressive parade.

He stood with the other ministers, one arm raised in salute, as endless rows of tanks, armoured personnel carriers and mobile missile launchers drove down the parade and past the stand, before being carefully directed to staging areas on the outskirts of Berlin. The crowd roared its approval as the vehicles passed, followed by thousands upon thousands of soldiers wearing their fanciest uniforms. They’d have no trouble finding companionship tonight, Hans thought wryly, as the soldiers vanished into the distance. All the nice German girls loved a man in uniform, particularly if he were unmarried …

Not now, he told himself firmly, as the crowd roared again. Not on Victory Day.

He twisted his head, slightly, as a dull roar echoed over the city. A trio of heavy bombers, capable of flying from Berlin to Washington without refuelling, flew overhead, so low he almost felt as if he could reach up and touch them. They were followed by a force of fighter jets, antiaircraft missiles slung under their wings; they in turn were followed by a small flock of assault helicopters, freshly painted after their return from the front. The crowd went wild with delight; he smiled to himself as he saw a line of uniformed schoolboys breaking ranks to wave at the aircraft as they passed overhead. Their teachers wouldn’t be happy – discipline was everything in a parade – but hopefully they’d let it pass.

“Little brats,” Foreign Minister Engelhard Rubarth muttered. “Can’t they stand in line like everyone else?”

“They’re eight,” Hans told him, dryly. The boys would have gotten out of bed at six in the morning, forced to don their dress uniforms and marched to their spot in the square, where they’d then had to wait standing in line for hours. He still had nightmares about his time at school, even though he’d been lucky enough to avoid a Victory Day parade. “Let them be children, just for a while.”

“They’re disrupting the parade,” Rubarth said. “The teachers will be furious.”

“I don’t envy them tomorrow,” Hans agreed. “They’ll be spending half the day running laps around the school.”

He made a mental note to have a word with the parade organiser about the children, although he knew it might be nothing more than tilting at windmills. Everything must be in order, they’d say; it had been a principle of the state since Adolf Hitler had become Chancellor of Germany and set out to reshape the world in his image. Clearly, they’d never seen the confused mishmash of ministries that made up the government. When he’d been younger and more idealistic, Hans had planned a cull of government officers; older and wiser, he knew there was no way to streamline the system. Too many people had a vested interest in keeping the system as it was.

Another pair of aircraft flew overhead, disgorging a line of black-suited figures that fell towards the ground. Hans knew the whole routine had been carefully rehearsed, but he couldn’t help feeling a flicker of doubt as the figures kept falling, without even trying to open the chutes. And then, in perfect unison, the chutes popped; the parachutists slowed their fall and landed neatly in front of the Fuhrer’s box.

Heil Bormann,” they snapped. The crowd picked up the salute and repeated it. “Heil Bormann!

“The Fuhrer seems pleased,” Rubarth said.

“Good,” Hans muttered. Adolf Bormann might be the son of Martin Bormann, but he lacked his father’s political skills. Fuhrer wasn’t precisely a meaningless title these days, not when an entire continent saluted him every day, yet Adolf Bormann had little real power of his own. And he didn’t even have the sense to know it. “That will keep him pleased.”

He turned his attention back to the parachutists, just in time to see them turn, fold up their chutes and march off, still in perfect unison. Moments later, a long line of soldiers marched into the square, turning to salute the Fuhrer as they passed. The schoolboys seemed to have lost all sense of discipline; they were waving and shouting at the soldiers, some even dropping into line beside them. Hans winced inwardly as a stern-faced teacher came forward, his face darkening with fury. He’d be blamed for their poor conduct by his own superiors and probably wind up being dispatched to Germany East. It was rare for a teacher to volunteer to serve in Germany East.

Hans sighed, then waved to one of his aides. “Yes, Mein Herr?”

“Go tell that teacher he is not to punish the children too severely,” Hans said. He was one of the three most powerful men in the Reich. What was the point of having power if it couldn’t be used? “And then see to it that he doesn’t suffer too badly himself.”

“Yes, Mein Herr,” the aide said.

“You always were sentimental,” Rubarth commented, as the aide scurried away. “That’s how it begins, you know. The problems the Americans had in the sixties started with a lack of discipline.”

“And yet the Americans are richer than us,” Hans pointed out. It was an old argument, one he’d found himself repeating to both the military and the SS. If the Americans were so weak and feeble why were they the ones who had established the first true settlement on the moon or developed the first anti-ballistic missile shield? “How does that square with a lack of discipline?”

“The Americans are protected by their ocean,” Rubarth countered. That too was part of the argument. “They wouldn’t stand a chance if we could cross the waters.”

Hans shrugged. Very few in the Reich would admit it, but the Americans were more advanced than the Reich. Maybe they did pour fewer resources into their militaries than the Reich, yet their advanced weapons more than evened the balance. What was the point of investing in thousands of ICBMs if the Americans could stop more than half of the missiles before they reached their targets? The cost of trying to keep up with the United States was draining the Reich dry.

And their educational system is better than ours too, he thought, as he watched his aide quietly explaining the facts of life to the teacher. They actually teach their children to think.

He pushed the thought aside as another flight of aircraft roared over the city. There would be time enough for the endless argument tomorrow. Today … was a special day.


Weakling, Reichsführer-SS Karl Holliston thought, as he watched the interplay between Hans Krueger’s aide and the teacher. In Germany East, such behaviour would never be tolerated for a moment.

He sighed, briefly considering sending an aide of his own to the school. A formal complaint from the SS would be enough to get the teacher sacked and the children severely punished, but it would be nothing more than spite. The Berliners hadn’t faced war for forty years, since the last time the British had bombed the city before coming to an uneasy peace with the Reich. Even a handful of bombs planted by particularly foolish Gastarbeiters hadn’t disturbed the peace of the city. The Berliners simply didn’t know the true danger of living on a frontier.

The little brats should all be sent to spend a year in Germany East, he thought, darkly. It would seem an adventure, at first, until they realised that a terrorist sniper could strike at any moment. They don’t have the mindset to survive.

He gritted his teeth in outrage. He’d grown up in Germany East; his father an SS trooper who’d been granted a farm in the settlements at the conclusion of his service, his mother a stout German woman who’d already buried a husband who’d been killed by the insurgents and brought two children to her second marriage. Not that Karl’s father had cared; he’d been happy to bring up an additional son and daughter. Repopulating the steppes with good Germans was more important than his personal feelings, after all. Karl had grown up knowing he might have to fight for his life at any moment, learning to shoot almost as soon as he could walk. And, by the time he’d left school and volunteered for the SS, he’d been shot at several times by the insurgents. How many of the bratty schoolchildren below could say the same?

None of them, Karl told himself. They grew up in safety.

He pushed the thought aside as the first row of SS troopers marched into the square. They were a magnificent sight; hundreds of black-clad men, their insignia glittering under the light, walking in perfect unison. It was men like them, Karl told himself, who were the true defenders of the Reich. The army, as powerful as it was, didn’t have the same determination to do whatever it took to protect the country. Hadn’t Rommel proved that when he’d captured Jerusalem? The treacherous Field Marshal had even allowed the Jewish defenders to withdraw, with their weapons, and escape to Iraq! Rommel simply hadn’t the stomach to do what needed to be done.

Heil Bormann,” the troopers bellowed, saluting. “Heil Bormann!”

Karl kept his face expressionless with an effort. Adolf Bormann was an idiot, plain and simple, and the Deputy Fuhrer was even worse; they should both have been put out to pasture long ago. Giving the title of Fuhrer, the title that had been practically defined by Adolf Hitler himself, to an idiot was an insult. But it couldn’t be helped. No one really wanted a true Fuhrer, one with the power of life and death over the entire Reich, save perhaps for Karl. And he only wanted to be the Fuhrer himself.

If they let me claim that power, he thought, his eyes seeking Krueger. The fat man was watching the SS troopers with wary eyes. I will be opposed by the rest of the trio.

Karl ground his teeth in silent frustration. The Finance Minister fought tooth and nail over every funding request, doling out money as carefully as a farmwife who distrusted the local tradesmen. Krueger wouldn’t let Karl become a real Fuhrer without a fight – and he’d be supported by the military, who wouldn’t be pleased at the thought of an SS Fuhrer. The Heer, Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe only agreed on a handful of things, but disapproval of the SS was one of them. Karl knew, without false modesty, that he could split the different military commanders on smaller issues – the Heer, Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe heads fought each other with more determination than they fought the rebels in South Africa – yet they’d unite against the SS. Krueger, damn him, wouldn’t need to call in any favours or strike bargains to block Karl from claiming the topmost position in the Reich.

He leaned forward as the row upon row of SS stormtroopers passed through the square, silently gauging the crowd’s reactions. The younger children were still cheering loudly, but there was something forced about the cheers from the older civilians. Karl had no illusions about the popularity of the SS, yet it still bothered him. The vast majority of recruits came from Germany East, where the SS was genuinely popular, but it wasn’t enough. He simply didn’t have enough recruits to meet the state’s manpower needs in peacetime, let alone with a war on in South Africa.

And the war has to be won, he told himself, grimly. The Dark Continent was an untapped treasure trove of raw materials and he had no intention of leaving it to black communists and American capitalists. No matter the cost, the war has to be won.

But it was a problem. There had always been questions raised about the racial purity of Germany South. The settlers there didn’t give a damn about someone’s ancestry, as long as he looked white, and they resisted any attempt by the SS to hunt down rogue Jews, let alone someone who might be French or Italian pretending to be of good German stock. And South Africa wasn’t much better. They’d been happy to accept the Reich’s offer of military assistance, but they’d flatly refused to hand over their Jews to the SS. Indeed, Karl was sure that senior figures in the South African government had been encouraging the Jews to flee before it was too late.

Maybe we should just decapitate the local government and take over, he thought. There was a contingency plan to do just that, one he’d been putting together as a last resort. That, at least, would make it easier for us to fight the war.


“The Nasties do put on a good show, don’t they?”

Andrew Barton, Office of Strategic Services, nodded in agreement. It was an impressive parade, all the more so for being something he would never have seen in America. The Nazis wanted to show their might off to the world, displaying their power for all to see. It just didn’t happen in Washington.

“Take careful note of the number of aircraft you see at any one time,” he said, dryly. A decade ago, a team of American observers had been fooled into believing that the Reich had over a hundred intercontinental bombers when the Germans had flown the aircraft over Berlin and then circled around, out of sight, to fly over the city for a second time. “We don’t want to be fooled again.”

He looked down at the crowds from the balcony, wondering absently just how many of them truly wanted to be there. The kids in the front rows might have thought it was going to be fun, but he doubted they were enjoying themselves after waiting in line for hours; behind them, the lines of watching civilians seemed slightly disorderly, as if the crowd was already bored and resentful. That too wasn’t something he’d have seen in Washington. If there had been a parade, attendance sure as hell wouldn’t be compulsory. The crowd would have been composed of men and women who wanted to be there, waving flags and cheering loudly.

“Ah,” Robert Hamilton said. The CIA operative leaned forward. “The meat of the matter.”

Andrew leaned forward too as the first of the heavy mobile missile launchers made its way onto the square. It was a truly impressive sight, he had to admit; the giant vehicle, the missile mounted on its back, inching forward as the crowd went wild. The Nazis had claimed, in their boastful speeches, that the mobile missile could be fired from anywhere within the Reich and hit the United States, although Andrew was fairly sure that was nothing more than empty bragging. Unless the Germans had made a radical breakthrough, the rocket simply didn’t have the fuel to fly further than 1500km. Not that that kept it from being a major headache, he had to admit. England was easily within range and the Germans had enough nukes to turn the United Kingdom into a radioactive slagheap. The ABM shield simply couldn’t guarantee to block even half of the salvo from reaching its target.

“I was thinking,” Hamilton said. “Do you think they’ve left the nuke in the rocket?”

Andrew shrugged. The Germans would have to be insane to take the risk, no matter how many safeguards they’d worked into the warhead, but the Germans were the only people to ever use a nuke in combat. On the other hand, nukes didn’t go off if you hit them with a hammer. It was quite possible that the warhead was completely safe, no matter what happened. But they’d still have to be insane to mess around with a nuke.

He turned his attention towards the podium at the other side of the square. The Fuhrer was there, exchanging salutes with the missile crew; the Reichsführer-SS, one of the most evil men Andrew had ever met, was sitting just two seats down from him. If something happened in the parade, the Reich would be deprived of both its titular head and one of its most powerful men. It was hard to be sure just how powerful the other casualties were – in the Reich, power and title didn’t always go together – but a disaster would throw the entire state into confusion.

If nothing else, the SS will be holding competitions to see who’s evil enough to become the next Reichsführer-SS, Andrew thought, darkly. Winner must be a treacherous unprincipled bastard, with a goatee he can stroke at particularly evil moments …

He shook his head, annoyed at himself. He could make fun of the Reichsführer-SS – God knew there were hundreds of old WW2 cartoons still running around the internet that made fun of Hitler, Himmler and Fatso Goring – but none of the people below dared say a word against the Fuhrer and his cronies. The military might marching through the square was one thing, yet the true horror lay in the hundreds of thousands of listening ears, ready to report a single word against the state. Wives could turn on husbands, children on parents … Nazi Germany was a nightmare few ever escaped.

And I will go back to America, when my stint is up, and wash the stench of Nazi Germany from my clothes, he added, silently. The people before are trapped.

“They’ll be running more soldiers and machines through the square tomorrow,” Hamilton observed, as the final set of tanks rumbled past. “Hopefully, they’ll get themselves some more watchers too.”

“We have to be back,” Andrew said, feeling another stab of pity for the children. He checked his notebook, where he’d scribbled down a brief report of what he’d seen. He’d write out a full report once they returned to the embassy. “You want to go get a beer?”

“I’d sooner go find out what’s under those uniforms,” Hamilton said. Andrew followed his gaze and saw a handful of blonde-haired women wearing strikingly ugly and shapeless clothes. They were army nurses, he thought. “German girls are hotter than hell.”

“And you’ll be in hell if the ambassador catches you in one of them,” Andrew pointed out. It wouldn’t be the first honey trap the Nazis had tried, either. “Let’s go get a beer instead.”


16 Sep

I wrote this now, between books, so it may be a little outdated. The basic principle still stands, though.

Let me start with an observation and move on from there.

If Joe visits Peggy’s house and lights a cigarette without asking permission, he’s a jerk.

If Peggy visit’s Joe’s house and starts complaining about the stench of cigarettes, she’s a jerk.

The issue with both examples is that neither one is showing any consideration for the other. Joe is stinking up Peggy’s house; Peggy is complaining about what Joe does in the privacy of his own home. There’s nothing stopping Joe from lighting up outside the house and Peggy doesn’t have to visit Joe’s house.

In short, what we have is a failure to show consideration.

Now, consideration is one of those words that has been hijacked by the liberals and twisted into something very different to its original meaning. They tend to take consideration to mean that one must not only consider someone else’s point of view, but automatically accept it as valid. The endless debate over trigger warnings is fuelled by the belief that consideration for the student’s feelings must automatically lead to a revision of course material so that the student’s delicate little feelings aren’t hurt.

But the triggered student is himself not showing consideration. If someone happens to be scared of … well, dogs, they don’t really have a right to complain if they sign up for a course on the care and feeding of British Bulldogs. Demanding that all dogs be removed from the classroom is the behaviour of a jerk.

This leads to the latest battleground in the Culture Wars – Hillsboro High School, Missouri.

To summarise the story, a 17-year-old pre-op transgender teen (male to female) has demanded the right to change in the girls’ bathroom and locker room – with the girls. It didn’t seem to occur to him/her that the girls (let alone their parents) would object to sharing a changing room with someone who was biologically a male. And, when the inevitable protests rolled in, he/she went on the offensive and said:

“I am a girl. I am not going to be pushed away to another bathroom.”

The problem with this is that she failed to show consideration to the girls – the girls she considers to be her fellows. It was predicable that the girls would be uneasy changing in front of a male – or, at least, someone with male parts – and it was equally predicable that their parents would be outraged.

And yet he/she had no problem in insisting on something she knew would meet opposition.

The school offered her a unisex changing room. He/she insisted on being allowed to use the girls’ changing room. This put the school administrators in a horrible position. If they were seen as discriminating against transgender pupils, they’d be in trouble; lawsuits would be filed, their reputations would be destroyed and people would lose their jobs. But, at the same time, if they agreed to allow her to use the girls’ changing room, they would outrage both the girls and their parents and probably wind up in trouble anyway.

In short, he/she showed no consideration to the school administrators either.

I’m not going to get into an argument about the precise gender of this individual. I, quite simply, don’t care what someone does, as long as they avoid hurting non-consenting others. The point here is that being different sometimes carries a price and that there are limits to how far others can go to accommodate you. Do the rights of one person actually supersede the rights of another? Does a person who fails to show any consideration deserve any consideration himself?

This is not, of course, a comfortable question.

What I think is happening here, at least to some extent, is a desire for acceptance and approval – and a complete lack of concern over how this acceptance and approval comes to pass. Those who are, for whatever reason, excluded from the community want to be accepted, even if it means forcing themselves on the community. A schoolboy who is bullied and excluded by his peers, for whatever reason, might find a teacher who insists that he be allowed to take part in the games. The pain of being rejected constantly, for whatever reason, makes it hard to care about the pain felt by others. Why should they, they ask themselves, when no one ever gave a damn about their feelings?

That is, in some ways, a slanted example. It’s hard not to look at it and feel sorry for the schoolboy, even though he might have been excluded for a very good reason. (When I was at school, there was a younger boy who just ruined every game he played until no one would play with him willingly.) A handful of other examples are far more dangerous. Gay rights advocates wanted gay scoutmasters – and refused to grant any consideration to the feelings of the parents, who viewed this with very little enthusiasm.

In the end, those who fail to show consideration have no consideration shown to them.

A Piece of Bad Advice

16 Sep

The problem with starting out as a writer is that you will get a great deal of advice – and you won’t have the experience to separate the good from the bad. As a general rule, good advice tends to come from experienced authors; bad advice tends to come from everyone else. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. Some authors have immensely lucky breaks that cannot (often) be duplicated by everyone else.

One such piece of advice comes from Lorraine Devon Wilke, writing in the Huffington Post. You can read the full article, if you like, but the basic thrust of her argument is that writers should only write one or two books a year.

Now, Larry Correia and Amanda Green have already said most of what I wanted to say about it, so I’m going to restrict myself to the basics.

One – writing is a learned skill and the only way to learn is through doing. I mean it. The average writer needs to write at least one million words before he or she winds up with something readable, let alone publishable. My first few completed manuscripts were, to put it kindly, awful. Yes, there are a handful of writers who produce something publishable on their first try, but that’s very rare. I know I certainly didn’t.

So yes, you need to write and write and write. You have to develop a mindset that keeps in mind that you’re doing a job. That this is your career. That you have to keep writing. You cannot afford to develop an attitude about your work.

Two – if you want to be a fiction writer, you have to write to entertain and then educate, not the other way around. I’ve long lost track of the number of unreadable pieces of ‘message fiction’ I’ve seen in my career. Many pieces of ‘great literature’ that I have read were profoundly un-entertaining.

This is not only true of writing, of course. The movie Thor is a good example of a melding between entertainment and serious thought.

Three – there are limits to how far any given manuscript can be fixed. I’d freely admit, if pressed, that my first book could not, reasonably, be reshaped into something publishable. If I wanted to return to the plot, I’d be better off restarting from scratch.

What that means is that you shouldn’t spend years crafting the perfect manuscript. There’s no such thing! You should write to the best of your ability, then use what you’ve learned to write the next one. Authors have been bogged down for years just trying to weed out the bugs in their first manuscript when, frankly, it was a pointless endeavour.

Four – You have to eat too.

Chuck Gannon, on my Facebook, pointed out that writers have to eat, pay their bills and meet their other expenses. Ok, many authors are supported by their partners; an understanding partner is an important part of being a writer. But if you’re writing for profit, you have to write what sells. Very few writers can afford to think of themselves as great artists and, at the same time, put food on the table.

Five – You need to be noticed.

It’s a simple fact that, the more books you put out, the easier it is to be noticed. People will see your name cropping up a lot more on Amazon, for example. And if you cross the different genres, you will lure more readers into your web. I’m a science-fiction writer, but I’m also a fantasy writer, an alternate history writer, a near-future thriller writer and a young adult writer. (Did I miss any?) I have readers who started in one genre and moved on to my other works. (And I’ve also had readers who say I should stick to one genre because they didn’t like my work in other genres.)

I’m not the only one, of course. How many authors can you name who work in more than one genre?

Larry makes a good point that needs to be repeated. There are authors who come up with a great idea, write out the first manuscript and then spend years shining it up. It does happen; they send it to an agent, who loves it and does an excellent job of convincing a publisher to buy it. It sells like hot cakes. Everyone’s happy … but then the author finds out that the publisher wants a second book, perhaps a third. If the author hasn’t developed good working practices by then, they’re going to be in deep trouble.

The blunt truth is that writing is hard. If you want to make a living off it, you need to take it seriously and learn how to do it properly. You will always be learning. Trust me on this. The last thing you need to do is to limit your output or spend years polishing a manuscript.

OUT NOW – The Oncoming Storm (Angel In The Whirlwind I)

15 Sep


In the year 2420, war looms between the galaxy’s two most powerful empires: the tyrannical Theocracy and the protectionist Commonwealth. Caught in the middle sits the occupied outpost system Cadiz, where young officer and aristocrat Katherine “Kat” Falcone finds herself prematurely promoted at the behest of her powerful father. Against her own wishes—Kat is sent to command the Commonwealth navy’s newest warship, Lightning.

Determined to prove she has value beyond her family name, Kat struggles to earn her crew’s respect and find her footing as the youngest captain in naval history. She soon discovers the situation on Cadiz is even worse than anyone in power anticipated. War isn’t just a possibility—it is imminent. Yet the admiral in position to bolster defenses refuses to prepare for a fight. Can Kat find a way to investigate the enemy, alert the Commonwealth, and whip an entire fleet into fighting shape before the Theocracy’s war machine destroys everything she holds dear?

Download a FREE SAMPLE, then purchase it in ebook, paperback, MP3 or Audio CD HERE!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 226 other followers