Sounds of Soldiers

Sounds of Soldiers- A chat

Sally is very quiet. Marianne has taken Robert off to meet more expats. As he gave a little wave goodbye Sally had the broody’ “want one” look. But now there’s so much she wants to say but isn’t. Perhaps she doesn’t know where to start. I offer her my hand. After a moment she takes it and I lead her out of the hall.

There are tables and chairs on the pavement, with parasols over them- incongruous under the grey sky. We take a couple of seats and order teas.

“He’s beautiful.” Sally announces quietly.

“Yes.” I think I’m going into some sort of shock, but I can’t withdraw into myself, not whilst Sally’s with me. Especially as she wants to talk. “I never……”

“Were you in love?”

“No. I mean….. We only knew each other for a few days. I haven’t told you about it have I?”

“I didn’t ask, apart from when we were talking numbers.” No-one really wants to hear stories about their partner’s ex- unless it involves schadenfreude or slapstick.

So I tell her about Toulon, and the spy who fucked me. I lay off the more lurid details, though I may talk up the nuke a bit. From that point on Sally stares at me with wide eyes and open mouth. “Do you have more stories like that?” At least I seem to have taken her mind off what was upsetting her.

“Some of them may sound unbelievable.” I stroke the back of her hand with my thumb. “You’re angry?”

“I’m upset. No. No, I am angry. How can she tell you like that? Why did she have to be so dramatic?” For a moment there’s a look on her face- don’t cross her. “If your son wasn’t so fucking charming I’d have left you there.”

“She’s going to be around for a while, and now I’ve found out about junior I want to get to know him. Are you going to be okay with that?”

“Probably not. But there’s a problem.” I get that chill again. I don’t think the dramatic pause is for effect. She looks down at her empty teacup then straight at me. “I love you. So I’m going to trust you.”

I pull her across the table and kiss her. She takes it further, coming round to wrap her arms around me and sit on my lap. When she pulls away it’s to wipe her cheeks. I kiss her again. “I love you.” I think I mean it, but it gets her crying again and I feel guilty.

They’re happy tears, though. “Who’s being the drama queen now?” she asks with a smile. “Let’s go find your babymama and see when we can steal the baby.”

Sounds of Soldiers- Frenchtown

Notes My French in this bit is probably way off. My apologies.

As I’m not sleeping in my room I’ve turned it into an office. The walls are filling up with pictures. I’ve found a source of vegetable based inks and ressurected my old printer. Some of the colours are a little off, but it’s good to have physical versions of images I’ve only ever seen on screen.

They’re all happy pictures, none of the nightmare inducing material. People I met in Europe- Marianne, the band of counter-insurgents who took me down country, Vanderbrook. I’m seeing how many of them I can track down.

In the limbo period between the end of hostilities and being allowed out of France I was at a loose end. Somehow peace meant that my movements should be restricted, so I was confined to the city limits of Apt. I had access to the internet, but it was spotty. I did what I could to get back in touch with my family, and catch up with the rest of the world.

Amongst the sites I discovered was the French government’s war registry, their attempt to catalogue the dead and bring families back together. I registered everyone whose name I knew and forgot about it. Until messages started arriving a few days ago. The list of the dead is longer than I’d like, but I’m finding out all about the families of the survivors.

There were a more emails this morning. Three crosses and two ticks. I’m only two off tracking all my counter-insurgents. Meanwhile, none of the official government representatives I interacted with have shown up in my results. You’d think they’d be the easiest to find, until you consider that they were mostly interacting with me on covert matters. They could check to see if I’m a troll, but they probably don’t want to waste the time and have opted to keep me in the dark.
Sally’s not so sure about what I’m doing to her spare room. “It’s beginning to look like where the murderer lives in a serial killer film.” she says, looking perky and paint spattered in the doorway.

“Except someone else did the killing. I’m thinking of putting something about this in the book. If I can get the permissions sorted out.”

On cue, the laptop beeps. “Is that thing permanently connected?” Sally worries.

“It connects every half hour to check my mail servers for a few seconds. I’ve learnt a lot of tricks for using spotty connections over the years. Let’s see.”

I’m quiet for long enough that Sally comes and stares over my shoulder. “‘Sup?”

“Basically, the French government appreciates my concern for the welfare of its citizens and would like me to meet a representative who is visiting the expatriate community in Manchester.” Why does that send a cold shiver all the way down from my neck to my balls.



“I’d heard there was a Frenchtown. I never knew where. Can I come along?”

The trams still run, though not as often as they used to. You have to make a day of some journeys.

Eccles is still a grim place, grey and dark in the shadow of a chemical plant. I’ll have to see what’s going on with that old industry some time. We’re meeting the French representative in the market hall. Stereotypically, the French have taken over many of the stalls, offering galic takes on local products.

The invasion has been welcomed, judging by the local accents around us as we check out the wares. The core of Manchester’s French population was a group of students over on an exchange programme when everything kicked off. Catering students, by the look of things. Their trapped countrymen gravitated to this little town, moved into the same neighbourhoods and crated a community. When the war ended quite a few of them didn’t want to go home.

“So which one’s the government contact?” Sally asks.

“Don’t know. I guess he’ll show up. Let’s browse.”

Standing by a stall of wooden toys I feel a tug at my trousers. I look down at a cherubic round face topped by black curls. “Bonjour m’sieur.” the little boy says.

I drop down to nearer his level. “Bonjour monsieur. Comment t’appelle tu?”

“Je m’appelle Robert.”

“Oui? Je m’appelle Robert aussi.”

“j’sais. Ma mere est la bas.” He points down the row at a woman who smiles and waves. I guess the child’s age, do the maths and get that chill from neck to balls again.

“I called him my atomic baby, and that I was naming him Robert after Oppenheimer. Some people must think I am such a bitch to make my child’s name a sick joke.” Marianne shrugs and smiles. “But you know he is really named for his father.” I nod. I’ve not been able to say much since I saw her. Sally has put the pieces together and decided she doesn’t want to be part of this conversation. She’s a table over, being charmed by Robert junior. “At first I thought the morning sickness was actually some sort of delayed radiation poisoning. Maybe the mushroom cloud had blown our way. When I found out the truth, well, there was no way I could do anything but keep him.”

“I tried to find you.” I manage at last.

“I know. I could have sent the news to you many times over, but I kept putting it off. I think I was being selfish, keeping the bebe to myself.”

“So why tell me now?”

“I realised how selfish I was being. The war is over. It is a time for rebuilding and looking for good things to celebrate. We made a beautiful child and you deserve to know that.”

“Thank you.”

Marianne lays a hand on mine. “I would like it if you were a part of his life. I am not asking for maintenance or any kind of support, merely that he can know where he came from. And I hope that we can be friends. Nothing more, I would not want to jeopardise your relationship with Sally.”

“Did I introduce you two? No, I don’t think I did did I?” Her expression is readably unreadable. “You’re still keeping up the family tradition then.”

“I have been assigned to the French consulate office covering the north of England, which obviously includes Manchester.”

Sounds of Soldiers- In a Forest

He should have killed me. He was younger, he had the training and he had been in peak physical condition.

I’d followed a three man squad into the trees, chasing rustling and snapping branches. Within minutes we were lost in the forest, now the hunted.

There was a burst of fire. Branches rustled, splinters flew everywhere. I was knocked flat. I didn’t black out, and the pain I felt was more like an elbow in the back than anything else. But I was on the ground and I couldn’t move.

I was pinned by a large Frenchman, I think his name was Claude, and there was movement in the forest. The shooter or shooters were heading toward me. There was a shotgun on the ground, just beyond my reach, and a root that I could get hold of. I pulled myself a little out from under the body and it moved, rolling off me with a groan. I fought the urge to shout and pulled myself a little further, until I could get my hand around the stock of the shotgun.

The shooter, I was sure it was only one now, was nearly upon me. Judging by what I could hear he was behind me and to the right. If I twisted I could get in a shot, and free my feet. So that was what I did.

I shot a tree. I don’t think I did it fatal damage. My target was to the right of it. He recoiled from the haze of splinters and shot fragments and stumbled on a root. I rolled into a sitting position and threw the gun at him. My throw was more accurate than my shot, catching him on the back of his head and sending him to his knees.

Before he could stand I’d covered the distance to him and tackled him to the ground. I had my left arm around his neck, crushing and twisting as best I could, and my right arm and body weight pinning his gun arm. The assault rifle fired a burst then clicked on an empty chamber. I could put all my effort into subduing him now. My right arm gave my left extra leverage.

Too late he started fighting my grip. He was already losing coordination. His movements became less violent until they were little more than twitches. Eventually these stopped as well. I kept the death grip on his throat a while longer, staring into the trees. When I let go I would have to step back and look at what I had done. And accept that it had felt good.

Sounds of Soldiers- Barter

I’d forgotten I owned a GPS receiver. The batteries are dead and the compartment is packed with fuzzy blue-white crystals. I don’t know if it will be any use if I do clean it up and put fresh piles in, I’m not sure the American Navstar GPS system is still operational. Anyway, I’ve got a rugged receiver for the European Galileo satellites that’s got me into and out of its fair share of risky places.

The GPS receiver goes into the box of “maybe later” stuff and I pull more junk from the crate. I used to be such a hoarder. This is what’s left over after I’d had several clearouts. The chunky blue personal stereo plays music cds and can also read mp3s from data disks. To think there was a time when three disks, just over two gigabytes, was enough for my whole music collection and most of my important files. The battery compartment is empty and fuzz free. This piece of outdated technology goes into the box on the back of the bike trailer. The bike trailer has a built in crate with a heavy duty plastic bag as a liner for waterproofing, so I can carry electronic equipment without much worry. Perfect for this typical grey Manchester day with its lurking promise of rain.

I haven’t run out of cash yet, but I might as well clean out and trade the stuff from my storage locker. I’ve put a few books in there, but paper’s dense and I don’t want the bag to be too heavy to carry at the other end. So I’ve found a box of electronics to plunder. There’s a tangled root system of cabling to work through- kettle leads, figure of eight leads, USB, printer cables, two transformers for I don’t remember what. The challenge of unravelling them appeals to my borderline autistic side and within an hour they are each in their own loops tied with string. I have enough now to test my towing ability and try out the waters in the Arndale.

The surprising thing about Market Street is how many of the High Street names of old remain. Their product ranges have all shrunk, some of them merged and the footprints of their shops are smaller, but they’re still there. But I’m not interested in them today.

A lot of the Arndale’s floor space is given over to day lease- table or cubicle sized spaces up for grabs to the first traders there in the morning. The shops quite often spill out onto the walkways, it’s a big covered flea market, craft fair bazaar The former Aldi houses a lot of computer recyclers and repairers. I go there first to see what I can get for my junk.

One stall specialises in cabling. He takes everything I offer him at pennies per metre. Next over is a young girl surrounded by drives and personal entertainment. She looks like she should be in school, probably younger than the diskman I offer her. After turning it over and over and working out how to pop open the lid she gives me a disdainful look- how dare I bring something so low tech to her stall. “Two Levys.” she offers.

“It’s worth more than that. It’s vintage. How about ten?” We both know the economy isn’t strong enough for there to be well off eccentrics willing to waste money on outmoded technologies.



“Four and a half.”

“Okay.” We don’t shake on the deal. She counts out the chits and graces me with a smile as I leave.

Next I want to see what I can get for my books and what publications are available. Paper- along with vinyl, cassettes and video tapes- is traded in the old market section of the shopping centre. I shoulder my bag and head off.

Except I’m being followed.

There’s something about the way the crowd moves a few people behind me. I keep catching glimpses of it in windows. There’s a presence amongst them that makes some of them uncomfortable, it must hint at Police or Revenue. And it’s keeping a set distance from me.

Janes Aircraft of World War Two is a fair size, and hardback as well. I pick it out of the bag, which I then leave just peeking out around a shelf in the nearest book merchant’s. Decoy in place I speed walk down the aisle and pop around the end of the shelf to get a better look at my tail.
He’s very familiar, and he knows where to look for me. I last saw him in a French forest. “Hello mister Jones. It’s good to see you made it back to England in one piece.”

He glances at the book in my hand and raises his eyebrows, obviously amused. I try to hide it. “And you. You just happened to be in Manchester?”

“I thought I’d let you buy me a drink.”

There’s a brewers’ co-op with its own bar in a corner of what used to be Aldi. They have a selection of short run beers. I’ve missed real ale and I have to control myself when presented with so much choice. I pick the leftmost brew. And only a half, I do have to ride home. My SAS contact opts for a pint of porter. He chooses an alcove where he can sit with his back to the wall and keep a lookout on the comings and goings. “Have you fallen on hard times?” he asks, “Having to sell stuff to survive?”

“Hardly. But it would be good to get my hands on my own money.”

“I have heard that you’re being processed as a priority. As the government did appropriate funds from it occasionally.”

“That’s awfully civilised of them.”

“You may be in danger.” There’s something about the almost offhand way he announces it that chills me more than melodrama would.

“Right now?” Sally’s coming to meet me soon. I can’t have her mixed up in anything.

“Not as far as I know. It’s only just been flagged, but there were problems with some passports amongst the recent batches. We think there are a few American agents in the country. Former American agents, I should say. They’re loyal to the old guard. As they can’t go home we presume they will cause havoc over here.”

“And you think I’m a target?”

“Google yourself some time.” Yes, people still use Google, though it’s not quite the same company. By the time the US shut down its main servers everything had been carefully mirrored and cached at multiple sites around the world. When the founders and workers are released they’ll be richer by an amount significant even for them.

“Am I going to get any protection?”

“I’m afraid not. There are more prominent targets, and we’re barely covering the top few. You have an advantage over them. You know some craft and you’ve seen combat.”

“From a distance.”

“We know you’ve killed at least once. And with your bare hands. Some of the brigade were in awe.”

I’ve got a sick, heavy feeling in my stomach. Nightmares.

“At least you’re still human.” he’s seen my expression. I don’t think he’s mocking me. He finishes his pint. “I’ll do what I can. I’ll be around.”

As he walks away half a pint doesn’t seem enough.

Sounds of Soldiers- The Battle of the Mediterranean

I’m not sure my memoirs should say exactly what I was doing when they lit up the Mediterranean. Doing it doggy style with a girl called Marianne will be changed to something a little more romantic. Maybe. There is something darkly poetic and spectacular about reaching orgasm just as a nuclear bomb goes off on the horizon behind you. It took me a moment to realise the white flash wasn’t endorphin rush. As night rushed back in we turned to stare at the yellow, fading to grey, mushroom and swore in French and English.

Marianne was an intelligence officer with the French Navy. My merry little band of partisans left me with the Navy when we reached the coast. I’m not sure where they went after that. They were beginning to factionalise by then, some still had families to go back to whilst others still had them to avenge.

Toulon was on a war footing. There was a US fleet somewhere out at sea and nobody really knew what it was going to do. Some worried that it was there to rescue what was left of American forces in France and that there would be a violent charge for the coast any day. Strangers, particularly foreign ones such as I, were regarded with suspicion.

The city wasn’t exactly closed, but we had to charm our way through several checkpoints to get into the centre. By which time news of the Englishman had reached the authorities. We had checked our weapons at the first set of barricades, so we felt naked when faced by a squad of marines outside the central station.

Marianne stood out in her full naval whites. She stepped forward and addressed our group, “Monsieur Robert Jones?”

Several heads turned to me. I pushed my way forward. “Yes?”

“The French government would appreciate some of your time.”

“And they sent an armed guard to persuade me?”

“Yes, they did.” Something about that answer had my guys in stitches. The marines, ever professional, didn’t even allow a twitch of changed expression.

I turned to my scruffy smelly band of counter insurgents. “Gentlemen…..” They saluted me, which made me well up and forget what I had meant to say next.

“Gentlemen,” Marianne stepped up to announce, “We would also appreciate any information you may be able to give us. Once you have been debriefed you will be free to explore the city and until you leave you shall be staying here at the government’s expense.” She motioned to another officer in white who stood beside a mini bus with his own retinue of marines.

I embraced every one of the group as they headed off to their bus, promising to meet up with them before they left town. Then they drove off in the minibus and I never saw them again.

“I am Commander Marianne Villeroche, French Navy. Please come with me.” The marines broke ranks and sauntered off and Marianne led me to a Smart car. “We have a room for you.”

The room was in a five star hotel. The staff didn’t bat an eye as the smelly, dirty tramp was led across the foyer to the lifts. Perhaps it was professional stoicism, or, more likely, war led to many such vagrants actually being high ranking officers or correspondents. The room had more floor space than most of the houses I’d ever rented.

“Are the rest of my squad being put up in such luxury?”

“They are in a good hotel. But, no, it is not as expensive as this. But then, they do not have the English government paying their bill.”

“You should have put me in a suite then.”

“They say the money is coming from profit on your website.”

“Oh, right. Well that’s what I like to see. The government spending my money wisely.”

“If you would like to bathe and shave I shall return in an hour with food.”

An hour later I was loafing around in a bathrobe, enjoying the feeling of being clean and sniffing for wireless with my laptops. True to her word, Marianne arrived with food. Two trolleys full of it. When the silent staff had left she started lifting lids and examining the repast. She had changed out of uniform into a short sky blue summer dress. It was quite a transformation, even her short boyish haircut no longer looked military issue. “I have been trying to get a debriefing detail for so long. The food is much better than on base.”

Her English was impeccable, without the normal French accent to it. “You almost sound more English than I do.” I’d been speaking Franglais for so long I wasn’t sure what I sounded like any more.

“Thank you. I spent five years in an English public school whilst my father was attached to the embassy in London.”

“A diplomat’s daughter? You didn’t want to carry on the tradition?”

“Oh, we are in the same trade. He is army intelligence, though. I joined the navy because the chance to fly was greater.” she shrugged, “But I am my father’s daughter, and my night vision is for shit, so I find myself studying data. Come and help me serve this up and let’s eat.”

After pouring two large glasses of wine and serving up hors d’oeuvres Marianne produced a digital recorder and sat it in the middle of the table. “We’ll talk about what you have seen, what forces the Americans may still have, that sort of thing. If they are to make a break for the coast we may be able to anticipate their debarcation point based upon how many they expect to take off the beach.”

“Of course. And you’ll feed me useful propaganda because you know I have a large readership.”

“If I’m obvious about that please do tell me. I need to know where my craft is weak.” She smiled It was a very attractive smile. Along with the short dress showing off those shapely legs, and its thin material that occasionally disappeared when the light caught it just right, she was distracting me with the sexy. And I wasn’t going to complain.

So we talked, about anything that seemed appropriate. She fed me personal information that I had no reason to doubt and I told her about dead Americans, abandoned vehicles and roving bands of French men intent on revenge. I didn’t mention SAS men, at least not in so many words and not until she brought the subject up. At some point during the third bottle of wine the discourse made its way around to Vanderbrook and his castle on the hill. Then she showed me how to find the porn on my television, kissed me on both cheeks and left. “I shall see you again tomorrow.”

During the night someone broke in and took all my clothes away to be laundered. This destroyed some of them, so someone else went out and bought me replacements. Now that’s service.
With breakfast I received a note, ‘Meet me downstairs, 11am. Marianne.’

She was back in her whites, standing near the door looking serious. Her smile was a little thin when she saw me, though that didn’t register at first. “Here.” she held out a card, “This pass will give you free movement around the town. Not the port though, of course.”

“Thanks.” I studied the laminated card before pocketing it.

“Please. Come with me.”

She led me down to the waterfront and motioned to a bench. She had a shoulder bag, from which she produced a mini tablet pc. As it powered up she explained, “My staff transcribed the recording from last night and checked details.” She stared at the screen as she tapped at it with a stylus. “They found out something about Vanderbrook and his family. It is not good.”

The silence stretched on too long. “They are dead?” I asked, finally.

“They are. There are pictures, but they are…”

I almost snatched the tablet from her, then took the offered stylus more gently.

“The village at the foot of the valley was raided a few days earlier. There was some suspicion the attack was revenge, but the remaining locals were quick to assert their respect- love, even- for their American neighbour.”

I scrolled forward from images of burnt out buildings to one of a body skewered through the neck by a crossbow bolt. “I didn’t know he was armed.”

“Evidently he acquired weapons some time after you visited him. The soldier he killed has been identified as American. However, there were too many of them for him. And, obviously, they were better trained.” The next image was of a charred body. Unrecognisable, but somehow I knew who it was. I scrolled on. “His wife….” I scrolled on again. “And his baby son.” I dropped the tablet. There are some things you don’t need to know or see, and I’d just made myself look at one of them. Marianne picked the tablet up and put it back in her bag. “I am sorry.”

Marianne slid across the bench and embraced me. We stayed silent for a while. “For the next few days you are my responsibility. I can take you and get you terribly drunk if that would help.”

“I don’t think it would. Did you get everything you wanted from me last night? Perhaps you can feed me some useful propaganda whilst we’re about it.”

Her smile was apologetic, “You do have a very large readership.”

We found a cafe with a view out to sea and watched a flotilla form throughout the day. Marianne named the ships for me and I told her more tales of my journeys around France. By the time the first of the fleet was over the horizon we were ready for our evening meal. Marianne turned her recorder off. “I am now off duty. I wonder if you would be kind enough to let me dine with you again tonight?”

“At the hotel? Or do you know a nice little restaurant?”

“The hotel I think. There are certainly better kitchens in town, but at the moment none of them has the connections the hotel has to get the best ingredients.”

“I’m convinced. What time?”

“Eight, I think.”

Back at the hotel I showered again, if only for the luxury of it. Then I composed a piece about watching the fleet set sail. I had never been subject to restrictions on what I could write, so had developed my own code of limited self censorship. In the narrative that made it online I sat by myself checking silhouettes against Janes Fighting Ships but forgetting to name any. I couldn’t bring myself to write anything about Vanderbrook.

The hotel had an interactive ordering system on the television. At the risk of offending the French woman I chose a meal that looked appetising and asked the sommelier to send up a few bottles of suitable wine that wouldn’t bankrupt me.

Marianne arrived spot on eight o’clock. Mlitary timekeeping I suppose. I was composing emails to family and friends, but had time to save them all as Marianne dealt with the equally prompt arrival of food. She was dressed down compared to the night before, in jeans and a light top, but still sexy. She laid a suit bag on an armchair and set to ordering the porters about.

“A good choice of wine.” Marianne complimented, “But an odd selection of dishes.”

“Good seafood isn’t making it inland at the moment , it’s been a while since I had any. And I figured as you’re in the navy you wouldn’t be allergic to it.”

“Not necessarily, but correct in my case. Good health.”

When we started on the second course Marianne announced, “I would like to take you along the coast tomorrow. My commander thinks you should see the defences being prepared against a possible march to the sea.”

“Sounds interesting.”

“We should start early.”


“So I thought I would stay here tonight.”


She leaned forward, “In your bed.”


She shook her head and tutted, but couldn’t keep from smiling. “Oh the English. So charming yet so shocked when the charm works.”

“Maybe you should have told me this at the dessert course. Now I won’t be able to concentrate on the food.”

“Try not to eat too fast. You’ll get indigestion.”

Much later, lying on the big comfy bed, I had to ask. “Is this good craft, sleeping with your debrief? What would your commander say?”

“My commanding officer is French. What do you think he would say?” Marianne traced the upside down L scar up my rib cage and across my shoulders. “Why did you stay in France? You could have gone home and lived off the royalties on that one picture of Paris or the rest of your life.”

“Maybe not the rest of my life. I haven’t really thought about why I stayed. I was just standing there looking at the queue of Brits waiting to go home and I decided not to be one of them. I wanted to know how things ended.”

“You would know more if you went home and read all the news. On the ground you see so much less of the big picture.”

“You’ve caught me out. I haven’t really analysed it, but I have a horrible feeling I just wanted more of the glory the picture brought me.”

“So you’ll go away in a few days time to see what you can find that will be even bigger and better than Paris.”

“I guess so.”

“Don’t pretend you thought this was anything other than a little bit of pleasure in amongst the chaos Because that is what it is for me. I admire your work and I was so pleased when I met you to find you aren’t obnoxious. So I decided to sleep with you. But in a few days I shall go back to my regular duties and you will start to get the urge to head back inland to where the fighting is. Maybe when this is all over I will be able to tell people I slept with the famous Robert Jones and you can spin tales about the time you bedded a French spy.”

She was right, of course. Before the accident I’d have been mortified with myself for thinking of this as just sex and not a potential relatioship. Now I thought differently. “Well, if we’re going to be telling stories about this we should make them good ones.” I rolled her onto her back and held her hands above her head as I kissed her breasts. The bed head was ornate wrought iron, lots of fake branches to tie things to. “Now, where did I put the belt from the bath robe.”

The suit bag held Marianne’s uniform. With it on she looked so formal. It was hard to imagine all the things we’d done to each other the night before. “We shall get something to eat once we get out of town.” she told me as she ushered me from the room.

The Smart was ideal for getting around a town dealing with a lot of extra, military, traffic. I tried not to look too tense as we dodged through narrow gaps and overtook trucks. “You drive like an Italian.”

“I learnt whilst my father was in Rome.”

We bought breakfast, as promised, when we were out of town. The cafe was close to the beach, doing a brisk trade with the sappers erecting tank traps on the beach. “If they do make a break we don’t expect them to come through this close to Toulon, but the other, more likely beaches have already had traps put on them.”

We continued east, checking occasionally on new and ominous structures. I took pictures, watched by suspicious navy and army engineers, and wrote notes. After a while it became almost monotonous, in a frightening way. Marianne took me away to eat lunch then left me talking to the restaurant’s proprietor whilst she shopped for food.

There was a cool box in the back of the Smart and what turned out to be a bivouac tent and light sleeping bags. “If we go as far east as I plan then we will be unable to get back to Toulon tonight. So we shall camp.”

The camping spot Marianne had picked out was on a cliff top looking out to sea. There was no-one else around, likely because of the imminent threat of conflict. I put up the bivouac whilst Marianne took off her uniform. She didn’t change into anything. “I think I am a secret nudist.” she admitted as she skipped over to me. “Care to join me?”

We laid a blanket on the dusty ground in front of the bivouac and made love as the sun set. Then we ate, rested for a while as I tried to compose a piece on the day’s travels, and started again.
Which is how we came to be in coitus as a nuclear bomb went off over the horizon. I’d come as the sky lit up, but Marianne wasn’t quite there. When she could finally bring herself to say anything it was “Don’t stop.” As a warm wind raised dust that stuck to our sweaty bodies I started thrusting again. Whilst heavy waves crashed against the rocks at the cliff base Marianne came.

Maybe others would have got into the car and headed back to Toulon. But we didn’t. It was unspoken, but we both knew there was nothing we could do but be on the road while horrible things happened. So we fucked like it was the end of the world. The three further explosions out to sea gave us a reason to think it was.

There were only those four explosions, within the range of our vision anyway, and eventually we ran out of energy We curled up in the bivouac, held each other tight and made soothing noises to each other as we waited for the next flash of light.

In the morning the world seemed the same as ever. Marianne put on her uniform and was immediately more composed. She checked her phone and found there was a signal, so she checked in. After several minutes she came over to me. “The official line is that the French navy did not detonate any nuclear devices last night. They believe that the Americans themselves set them off. Possibly one faction within their navy attacked another.”

“That’s the official version? What’s the unofficial version?”

“The unofficial version is that they hope the official version is right. If some Americans would rather kill their former comrades than let them kill us that’s a good sign. Well, better than the alternative. We have to go.”

Marianne dropped me in front of my hotel. “There are rumours of American moves aound Apt. Perhaps you should go there.”


Marianne smiled sadly. “You will always be my atomic lover. Maybe you can look me up when this is all over and we can reminisce.”

I closed the car door and let her drive off. Then I went up to my room to pack.

The Real Great Depression

Historian Scott Reynolds Nelson feels that the current economic crisis is not modelled after the crash of 1929 but rather the Long Depression that began in 1873. More material to mull over for Sounds of Soldiers. The comments about increased protectionism could be a basis for the closed borders I’ve been hinting at in the snippets written so far.

via Open The Future

NaNoWriMo first draft – Breaking cars

Notes Another partial chapter. I’ll have to go away and work out what sorts of things could be made from scavenged car parts.

For all the lack of cars on the move there are still quite a few parked up. They’re rather forlorn, as so many of them haven’t moved since the oil embargo hit. No doubt some owners are waiting for the day when they can drive them again, either through conversion to bio fuel or a miraculous return of the petroleum economy. But most of them just sit there because they couldn’t be sold.

Many have flat tyres from slow punctures and they’re all taking on a patina of dust and mildew. But I haven’t seen any smashed windows. With no market for the easily stealable car accessories there’s no incentive for car crime. No doubt a few will have been burnt out, I just haven’t happened on them yet.

When an owner finally tires of their old conveyance blocking the street and gathering dust they can send it to be recycled. It will probably end up at the Trafford Centre. The big shopping centre is now a recycling centre. The acres of car park are still filled with vehicles, but if you wander the rows you’ll notice that they’re only carcasses. Each one is being stripped of useful parts and workshops in old shop units are using them to produce all manner of useful artifacts.

NaNoWriMo first draft – Nothing but flowers

Notes Another partial episode. Every one of the bits I’ve posted is going to be heavily rewritten, I know, but most of them wrapped up in their first draft.

The Flower Fairies started out as geurilla gardeners, but now they’re mainstream. Their ongoing mission is to turn car parks into meadows.

The Charles Street multi storey car park is wedged between a railway viaduct and student accommodation. It’s an odd location for a farm. Most days there’s a stall by the main entrance selling herbs and eggs and mushrooms. I pick up the basis of an omelette and ask how the farm works.

Compostable material is collected and brought to the farm. Here it is stored in the basement, where there are three sections of compost in various stages of mulching. The oldest is a rich deep brown mix ready to be taken out in the spring and used with next year’s crops. The middle batch was collected last year and has been left alone since the spring. It will get a thick layer of leaves when the trees start shedding and then be left for another year. The newest section holds this year’s ongoing collection of green waste.

Come spring the oldest compost will be shifted up to the roof, or into the mushroom trays on the ground floor, to be used as super soil. The emptied section will start collecting next year’s compost. There’s not a lot of space on the top floor, relative to a proper field, so the crops are high value- herbs and leafy vegetables.

The middle two floors are given over to the chickens. Internal fences keep them off the roof, but little chicken walkways let them come and go so they can scratch for food amongst the local greenery. Nesting boxes are set up on the exit ramps so that eggs can be easily collected. Every few weeks the chicken guano is shovelled out and added to the compost mix for extra nutrition.
The Flower Fairies don’t own the multi storey building. Nor are they leasing it. But the owners haven’t, for whatever reason, tried to wrest back control.

Other Fairy projects aren’t as complicated. They started out seed bombing derelict land then moved on to pulling up cracked tarmac and concrete to see what was underneath. Before long they were ripping up whole car parks and cultivating what was revealed. There’s the occasional abandoned vehicle to be found where they’re working, but they just plant around them.

NaNoWriMo first draft – Nightmares

There’s a warm body on top of me, it’s arms wrapped lazily around me, as I lie on my chest. I can feel the grass tickling my cheek, hear the gunfire and shouting from elsewhere in the forest. The body sighs, and I jump with fear.

My violent twitch before I roll over shoots Sally across the bed. But it doesn’t wake her. By the time I’ve realised my panic was over a dream she’s settled into her new position and has a contented smile. The sheets have flipped back to reveal her breasts. I stroke them for a while to see if that wakes her.

She refuses to stir, but maybe I augmented her dreams. I pull the covers up to her shoulders and kiss her forehead before getting out of bed.

The nightmares aren’t a regular thing thankfully. It’s hard to tell when my subconscious is going to spit out something horrific, but I’ve been having more recently. Thankfully Sally is a heavy sleeper. Eventually she’ll wake enough to realise she has the bed to herself, but for now she’s blissfully unaware.

It’s cold out from under the covers. I pull on a few layers then wrap myself in the spare duvet that’s on the armchair. This has happened often enough that I have a laptop within reaching distance.

I’m going through the disks of photos I posted back from Europe, finding the most interesting ones for possible publication. None of them is going to match up to my Paris photo for dramatic impact, but I’m finding some interesting stuff. I’m paring down the original photos, finding the ones I like the best, and putting them into a ‘Maybe’ folder. At the rate it’s filling up I’ll probably have ten times more images than I could fit in any sensibly sized book.

I open the next folder to be rifled through. Immediately I’m confronted by the image of a dead American soldier face up in a field of oil seed rape. There’s a small ragged hole in his forehead just below the rim of his helmet and a horrible red and pulpy mess all over the bright yellow flowers behind him that had been the contents of his skull. He looks annoyed about the whole situation.

It’s not hard to see where my nightmares are coming from.

The rest of the pictures in the album put the dead soldier into context. Driving along a stereotypically French road a Stryker team had been hit by heavier weapons than they thought the locals possessed. They had been making a charge toward the next town to raid and pillage, based upon reports that it was unprotected, unaware that they had been suckered into a trap. I had been in the town when the ambush occurred, under orders to stay put and not try to head toward the fighting. But they had led me out to what was left the next morning.

There are a lot of pictures of burnt out vehicles and dead soldiers. One in particular stands out. The last vehicle in the convoy, a Stryker armoured car, tipped slightly over and slewed across the road it is framed wonderfully by the receding trees. It’s not a beautiful picture, given the subject, but it is striking. It and the dead soldier in the field go into the maybe folder.

Theres another file amongst the photos. After photographing this particular battle I’d had enough time to take down the names of the dead, at least the ones whose identification was still readable. There were websites that celebrated every American death, glorying and gloating over them, and there were others that tried to pass the information along to relatives as quickly as possible. I always sent casualty lists to the latter. Whenever I had found a victim of the conflict, from whichever side, I had tried to get a name and pass it on, working on the assumption that it was better for people to know the bad news sooner rather than later. The soldier in the oil seed rape field had been Private Leon Erren, aged 22, of Kansas. I don’t know what family he had, or how much he believed in the insane mission he died for, just the location and date of his death.

What had brought young Leon Erren from the state of Dorothy and Toto to die in a surreally yellow field in a country too many of his countrymen couldn’t find on a map? What were the stories of each of the nearly one hundred men and women killed in that ambush? Who would mourn them? At the time I didn’t dwell on those thoughts, but now I have the freedom to contemplate them. I could total up the bodies I photographed and find out how many died in my little part of the war, how many tales could be told. Then I could extrapolate, or investigate, and find out how many died in total, to put my experience in context. One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic. Several million deaths? Maybe in a few years they’ll have a word for it.

There’s movement in the bed. Sally has woken enough to reach across for me and discover a warm but empty spot. She props herself up on her elbows and looks my way. She knows where I’ll be, and if she didn’t I’m lit by the laptops monitor. “Another nightmare?”


“And you’re looking at those pictures again aren’t you. That’s not going to help.”

“I know. But I’ve got to go through them.”

Do I scare her when I get lost in my war memories? It would seem not, because she slides out of bed and moves quickly to stand in front of me. I have just enough time to put aside the laptop before she’s forcing her way into my duvet. I wrap it back around her as she snuggles up to me. “Are you going to publish your pictures?” she asks my chest.

“I hope so. I can write about it all, but that mightn’t be enough. Some of my pictures have already been published, and not everyone’s paid me for them, so I could assert my ownership of them as well.”

“Is it all about money and glory?”

“No. A little bit is, I guess. But it’s also about trying to make sense of what happened.”

“If that’s ever possible.” She’s pulled the duvet over her head and is nuzzling my shoulder. I recognise this as horny Sally. She’s an odd girl, but I love her. “Come back to bed.” she tells my collar bone. “I’ll take your mind off the horrible pictures.”

“You already have.” I reach down between us, find the edge of her knickers and pull them aside. Her head pops out of the duvet, surprised but grinning.

“You naughty boy.” she says, working on my trousers and shifting her position, “On the chair?”

“Absolutely.” We kiss. Sweet dreams.

Worldchanging- a source book for Sounds of Soldiers

Whilst browsing in a bookshop today I happened across Worldchanging: A user’s guide for the 21st century, which looks like a great source book for a lot of the research I’m going to need to do for my bright green Manchester in Sounds of Soldiers.

Other research material, some of which I have still to collect, includes- a book on compost gardening I picked up at the library sale on Saturday; The Ten Thousand by Harold Coyle; Airborne: a Guided Tour of an Airborne Task Force by Tom Clancy, which I hope I have somewhere in my room; Google Earth and, of course, wikipedia. All of which will, no doubt, suggest other research that I need to do. This should be interesting.

NaNoWriMo first draft – Big Night Out

Notes This is actually a partial chapter. The longer version will have reunions with all the other guests.

The best clubs are in the buildings that would otherwise be most carbon negative. They bought back what they fed the grid to power their sound systems. The one we were in was powered by a barrage on the Irwell. And hosted by that demi god Clint Boon.

God, I’ve missed him.

That old staple of fading the music down whilst the crowd sings serves the low energy club night well. A version of I Am The Resurrection that’s practically choral has me in tears. I’m a bit pathetic about that kind of thing, so I try to hide from Sally. That doesn’t work, and she soon has me wrapped in the biggest hug her little frame can manage. “This was a bad idea.”

“No, this was a great idea. I’m just a big softie.” I kiss her, “Let’s go and see who else has turned up.”

Amongst the people who weren’t surprised that I was still alive, though he had not expected me to be back in Manchester, was Mark. He’s one of the organisers of this night. He put us, and a bunch of other people, on the guest list.

The music of the post apocalypse isn’t the grinding techno or overwrought Rock we were threatened with. After all the turmoil people want something familiar. For tonight the Boon army is wishing itself back back to the nineties and early noughties, with tunes from the sixties to the eighties thrown in for good measure. There are nights for other tribes as well, maybe there’s even one for the grinding techno and overwrought Rock fraternity.

The club is packed. It smells of drains and sweat and spilt beer. Weirdly, the smoking ban still holds. The majority don’t want their clothes to stink because of the minority’s disgusting habit and the club has a policy which reflects this.

Mark’s at one end of the bar, pretending not to be keeping an eye on the staff. With the crowd he doesn’t see us until we’re almost on top of him. Before I know it I’m trapped in a bear hug. I don’t remember Mark being so affectionate, but then I used to see him at least once a week, maybe he’s just missed me. “The war hero returns!” he holds me out at arms’ length, “You’ve lost weight. Did they starve you?”

“Lots of marching around the South of France. The food was fine and plentiful.” Most of the time. But I leave that observation out of the conversation.

Good host that he is, Mark turns to Sally. “You must be Sally. I didn’t know Keith that well, but I’m sorry to hear what happened.” They hug, a lot less physical than mine. “Have you been here long?”

“A few songs. I wanted to have a look around.”

“It’s incredible what you can do with an old industrial unit. Come on up to the Very Important Prick room and see who else is already here.”

NaNoWriMo first draft – Balance 1

Several of the figures in my bank statement don’t make sense. I trace them across several pages to confirm that they are recurring regularly.

“What’s this fee about?” I ask my new financial adviser.

He runs a finger down the debits column and nods. “That would be tax.”

“I don’t remember setting up a direct debit to the tax man.”

“You won’t have. It’s just included in your banking fees.”

“How does that work?”

“Do you remember the bail outs? You left the country after those had begun?”

“Yes. So, the government owns the banks?”

“A controlling interest. They decided it would be easier to tax people from their bank accounts than by traditional methods. Especially with all the local currencies that have started up.”

I check the numbers again. “I’ve only just found out about this and I think it can go wrong in so many ways.”

“Tell me about it. It only affects people who keep their money in a bank. So there are a lot of over stuffed mattresses out there. However, most of the local currencies are still given to volatility, and hoarding is a great way to destabilise one. So it’s in your best interests to exchange your scripts and bank them after a while.”

“I guess it’s too hard setting up a foreign bank account at the moment to make that a worthwhile tax dodge.”

“As you are finding out as you jump through the hoops to make a currency transfer from abroad. How is that going, by the way?”

“It’ll happen a lot faster when I have a confirmed British account to pay into. What are they holding it up for now?”

“They want more details of your activities during the, ah, recent unpleasantness. They may yet demand biometric data. If they do, refuse. That system was compromised before it even went live.”

“I don’t think they ever got that information off me anyway. What’s this all in aid of? Are they scared I’ll turn out to be some sort of fifth columnist?”

“They are. Or a war criminal using a stolen identity. Or a common criminal escaping from the continent. You are none of these things, I hope. It would do great harm to my reputation to be caught working for the wrong type of person.”

“I’m one of the good guys, honest.” I fact, I was co-opted as an agent of the British government during the recent unpleasantness. Of course, communication was one way and I have no idea how I could get in touch with my handlers for whatever passes as a reference. So I’m stuck in this protracted legal battle to get my own money back.

“Do they just not want to give me back my money?” I have to ask, “It’s not a huge amount, but each account they can keep frozen is a bit more money for them.”

“That’s a commonly held belief. I doubt it is a conspiracy theory but a true conspiracy. Or as near as the bumblers in the Inland Revenue can get to a conspiracy anyway. I have dealt with a lot of frozen bank accounts in the last few years and they always pay out in the end. Do you think you can stay afloat until this is resolved?”

“I’ll find a way.”

In many ways my stock is quite high around town. I’m known to enough well connected people that I have a line of credit and promises of work. My landlady hasn’t demanded any rent yet, though she is wearing me out with payment in kind. And I still have cash in my money belt and a container full of stuff I can sell.

I can survive for a while without my bank account, but it would be nice to get it back. Amongst other things, I’m starting to get enquiries about my memoirs. Would I like to take all my posts from the war years and expand upon them for a healthy fee? Of course I would, but where would they send my advance?

How much would I put in a book about the secret war? Could I write about Sachs? The SAS men? What really happened in Apt? Or is it still too soon?

Secrets were still being revealed about the Second World War fifty or sixty years after it ended. I could hold on to mine for a while.

Reputations could be damaged because of what I could reveal. International relations could suffer. Britain is key in negotiations with the Divided States to bring America’s new civil war under control and reintroduce the country to the civilised world. Revelation of British Army involvement against American forces in Europe, despite protestations of neutrality, would likely bring the peace process to a halt.

On the other hand, someone’s going to make the revelations sooner or later. If I’m the second person to reveal covert British involvement in Europe then the value of my bombshell is greatly diminished. It’s quite a dilemma- my bank balance against peace in the former United States of America.

NaNoWriMo first draft – Family Planning

Notes Not so happy with this bit. Sally’s progression from recluse to sex bunny will be a more gradual thing in the finished version.

“I want to ask you some awkward questions.” Sally announces.


“About sex.”


“You’re suddenly very eloquent.” she pushes the pot of nettle tea to me, indicating that I should pour.

“Ive spent a little too long in my own head today. It usually reduces me to grunts.”

“It turns you into a man? How wonderful.”

“Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit. But you have a lovely smile so I’ll forgive you this time.”

“Okay. Now I’ve lost my train of thought.”


“Oh yes. How many women did you sleep with in France?”

I actually have to think about that for a while. “Four.”

“And before France?”

“Eight. I think. I’d have to work my way through the names to be sure. What about you? How many men?”

“Eight. Well, eight and a half.”

“A half?”

“A hand job and then I dumped him when I realised he was a prick.” she fiddles with the tea cup, smiles that winning smile, “What I’m trying to ask is- have you ever had anything? Anything sexually transmitted.”

“Nope. They gave me a full check up, nether regions included, before letting me come back to Britain. Full flying colours. You know I have to ask you the same question now.”

“I guess it’s only fair. I thought I had something once, with this one guy. But it turned out I was having a mild allergic reaction to the spermicide on the condoms. I’ve had check ups every so often since, just because I’m paranoid. I’ve not needed treatment yet.”

“This conversation is managing to turn me on and turn me off at the same time. How does that happen?”

“You’re a man. My point is I want us to have lots more sex. But I only have so many condoms, and they’re expensive. So I’ve been thinking about other methods, where we don’t use them. Okay, now you look scared. Am I moving too fast? It’s just, I haven’t done this in so long. And I do tend to over think things. And I’m talking too much aren’t I?”

“I’m waiting for you to take a breath. It’s good that you’re thinking about it, because I haven’t been. What have you come up with?”

“Well, the Pill’s available again, but supplies are limited. I’m going to ask my doctor but I think I’ll be put on a waiting list. Until then we could try the rhythm method and only use condoms on the days when I’m fertile.”

“And how effective is the rhythm method?”

“Not as effective as I’d like, but it only has to work until I’m on the Pill or we buy a bigger batch of condoms.”

“And what if we get the timings wrong?”

“I don’t know. I mean, I’m trying to behave as if there really is a future for us all. But I’m not that sure of it that I’d like to give it to a child.”

“We’ll have to be careful then. How do we use the rhythm method then?”

“Well, I am perfectly regular, so that makes the prediction easier. Based on my last period I’m currently not fertile.”

“There’s only really one way to test your calculations. And we won’t know if you’re right for weeks.”


NaNoWriMo first draft – Christian Soldiers

Notes I know Sachs’ accent is poor. I’ll fix it when I write this stuff up properly.

Sachs was my first deserter.

He’d walked into town the night before and handed himself in at the Mayor’s office. It took a lot of guts to do that. After the actions of the lost army its members were as likely to be killed on the spot as allowed to live.

Few in the town liked to admit to knowing anything but perfunctory English, so they had called on me to debrief Sachs. Officials would be sent to escort him into custody, possibly protective depending upon how cooperative he was, but they could take weeks to arrive. It would look good if the town could send back some intelligence on its own initiative.

There were two cliched farmers at the door, cradling shotguns, sucking on their Gaulloise and scowling at me as I approached. My rough French got me past them and into the quiet building, where there was no-one to meet me. There are offices on the ground floor. I tried a few handles and they were all locked so I went up a flight of stairs to the function room and Mayor’s office. The office door was open, the jolly official sitting at his desk. He smiled and waved me in.

Sachs was sitting in one of the leather chairs across the desk from the mayor, tucking into a breakfast of bread and cheese. I must have done a double take and looked around for more security, because the mayor shook his head and waved me in again. I took the other leather chair and studied Sachs.

He was unshaven, with perhaps a week’s growth of beard, and looked like he’d slept in his clothes for the last few nights. He noticed me and stopped eating. He extended a hand, “Pleased to meet you, sir.”

I shook the grimy hand. He had a firm grip, but didn’t try to test mine. Formality over, he went back to eating.

My French was good enough that I understood enough of the Mayor’s explanation. “Monsieur Sachs, I think, wants to get away from his army and tells us all about it. We thought it better if a native English speaker interrogated him.” I nodded understanding. “You understand you cannot blog this?”

“I understand. I shall save it for my memoirs.”

The Mayor chortled and passed a dictaphone and tapes across the desk. “Would you like some coffee?”

Against my better judgement I said yes. It was nasty and bitter, like too many I’d tasted recently. I pretended to be engrossed in cueing up the recorder so I don’t have to drink any more. “I’m ready to begin when you are.” Sachs says around his breakfast.

“When you sign up to serve you are pledging your life to your country. And you expect your country to not waste your life or risk it for anything trivial. Really, too often, you’re just following those orders without questioning them because you’ve decided that your leaders can’t possibly be wrong.” Sachs had finished the bread and cheese, and two mugs of the awful coffee, and now he had the energy to tell his tale.

“I’ve been unhappy with orders since before the President died. It got worse after the mad woman took over, when she started talking about how we were doing God’s work. That got the Jesus freaks all fired up They’ve been going on about it being a christian army for years. If mostly you’re fighting the ragheads…. er, I mean the muslims, it comes natural to react against them. But it was all other religions that were wrong, and all anyone who wasn’t their type of christian too.

“Now I was raised christian, but I was brought up to let people be. Other folks find God their own way, or don’t even need to. But the fundies in the army can’t live and let live.”

“Let me tell you what happened just before the break out. The orders had come down and we were all thinking about them. Most of the guys, me too, were confused. Some of us were going to follow the orders because they were orders. Some were too scared not too. The true believers were full up for it, and shouted down anyone else’s doubts. And then there were the others. The ones who said no and refused to follow the orders.”

Sachs took a look at his coffee, drank the dregs, grimaced and carried on. “There were them, and there were ten Muslims on the base. Well, some of them were Nation of Islam, I’m not sure how they count, but it didn’t make a difference. And there were thirty or so Jews. They… They disappeared, just before the break out. I heard they were crucified. That was the fundies trying to be ironic, I guess. It was supposed to be an example to the rest of us. Something to scare us into carrying on with the madness. It inspired some guys to cut out before the event, or start planning to escape as soon as possible. I was one of the ones who got out as soon as they could.”

“I dropped to the back of a patrol one day. We were in a forest and our commanders thought there were hostiles close by. I took the risk of that. I had some civvies with me and a few days rations. I dumped all the rest of my kit but my sidearm and ran. I avoided contact with anyone for as long as possible, using the forest tracks to head in the opposite direction to my unit Then I stole a car and drove west. It’s chaos out there. I wasn’t stopped at all on the road. When I got here I figured I was far enough away from the fighting to be safe. That’s why I gave myself up.”

“We’ll need to know everything about your unit. Where they were when you left them. Where they were headed. How many soldiers and what equipment. All of that stuff.” I pointed out.

“I’ll tell you as much as I can.”

NaNoWriMo first draft – The Tank Graveyard

Notes Productivity has suffered in the last few days as I’ve been flu-struck. I’m certainly not going to hit the NaNoWriMo target of 50,000 words, but I’ll keep going until the end of the month then take what I’ve got and use it as notes for the full novel.

We smelt the bodies and the smoke long before we spotted the tanks. It came to us on the wind wafting down the valley. We checked our guns and cut away from the road toward higher ground.
We’d been following the ripped up road and other damage that a column of tanks leaves behind ever since seeing what they had done to a village nearly fifty miles away. They’d skirted the farmhouse near the bottom of the valley. The farmer had heard them go past and, later, the distinctive rocket roar and explosions of a missile attack. We didn’t have a plan for what we would do if we caught up with them, but it sounded like someone had done what we would have wanted to.

As we climbed up the hillside and headed up river the tree line came down to meet us. Up ahead the valley narrowed so that the floor was only the width of the road and river and trees came down to the edge of the tarmac. I lifted my hunting rifle and stared through the scope. A ridge line still obscured some of the valley floor and smoke haze broke up the shapes, but as I scanned left to right I could see the shape of a tank. It was as if the sharp geometric shapes resolved from the soft curving ones of the trees.

The wrecked tank blocked the road at the valley’s narrowest point, its gun drooping and hatches open. The top half of a body was sprawled out of the turret hatch. Another tank had tried going around the destroyed tank, only to slide down the bank into the river and become stranded.

As we climbed the ridge more and more incapacitated vehicles came into view. There were seven tanks, three armoured personnel carriers and a number of soft skinned vehicles. The soft skins had been torn apart with heavy gunfire whilst the tracked vehicles had all been hit by one or more missiles. Bodies fanned out across the valley away from the choke point, cut down as they ran.
We crouched, and eventually crawled, to keep from being too conspicuous atop the ridge. We used sights and binoculars to survey the carnage, looking out for movement. “What do you think?” I asked Jean Luc, leader of our little band.

“I think they met someone with far better weapons than we have. I did not know the army was operating in this area. Start checking in the trees to see if there is movement up there.
I did a sweep of the tree line from the pinch point along the valley towards us. It wasn’t until I swept back that I saw the soldier sat on a tree stump staring through binoculars. He was wearing a French uniform, so I was merely creeped out when he waved at me. I pointed him out to Jean Luc, who studied the apparition through his glassses. “We shall go and talk with him.” Jean Luc announced.

“All of us?”

“You and I, I think.”


“It will give you something to blog about, will it not?”

We slung our guns over our shoulders and climbed to the top of the ridge. This was when our trust would be most tested, when we presented a full target to any lurking snipers.

We weren’t shot when we stood up, which was nice, so we walked along the contours toward the figure at the tree line. “It would not be beyond the Americans to steal a uniform to lure us out.” Jean Luc opined.

“You say the most cheerful things.” I spoke a mish mash of English and French with the rest of the squad, but Jean Luc liked to practice his English with me.

“I am trying to be more like you. Considering all the possibiliies.”

“I think too much?”

“Peut etre. Francais, oui.”

As we neared the French soldier I decided to keep quiet completely rather than try to convince him of my Frenchness through speaking his mother tongue. Jean Luc raised a hand in greeting as we got closer. The soldier nodded and went back to opening the American rations he had requisitioned.

“Hello Captain.”

“Good afternoon. I take it you are local militia.”

“Not so local any more. We were following those murderers. I take it you were as well.”

The French captain nodded, “We had been tracking them by satellite and set up the ambush. We thought we would hang around and see who you were as well.” He eyed me for a while then, pointing with his knife, asked, “So. Who are you?”

“Robert Jones.”



The captain waved and there was movement back amongst the trees. “We have an English man! Robert Jones!”

Jean Luc and I exchanged a look. This was an interesting development. The captain went back to his meal and we waited.

After a couple of minutes another figure emerged from the tree line. He too was wearing the uniform of a French Army captain, though he looked a little out of place, a bit larger than some of the other soldiers, maybe a little tougher. He saluted the captain and looked from Jean Luc to me. “Robert Jones?” The accent was pure Midlands.


“I have some information for you. Come with me.”

We headed into the trees, where the air was cooler and sat on a downed trunk. “Are you SAS?” I asked.

“Yes, I am. I do a very convincing French accent when I’m speaking the language.” he had dropped into French for the answer. I had hardly even noticed, I’d been in the country so long. He returned to English, with accent, to carry on, “I also have a photographic memory, so everything I need to tell you is in my head.”

“I wouldn’t have thought I was important enough to have messages sent to me.”

“You’d be surprised. There are a few dozen Brits at large in Europe that we have messages for as well as our main missions You’re important because a lot of people read what you post. You’ve become a trusted source on whats going on over here. One of the messages I have for you is that the British government supports you. Your site has been subject to dedicated denial of service attacks and other attempts to take it down. The government has, shall we say, taken you under their wing. You now have more bandwidth and upgraded security.”

“I’m not sure I want to be a propaganda tool for the British government.”

“That’s almost exactly what the briefing said you would say. I was told to let you know they’re not censoring or editing you and you keep all rights, if you stay alive long enough for that to matter. What you’re doing is quite useful. The message is- keep it up.”

“Oh. Right Somehow I don’t think they sent an SAS officer to France so they could tell me ‘Jolly good show, keep up the good work.’ You’re working with the French, obviously. I thought Britain was neutral.”

“Of course it is. That keeps the Americans from sending their troops through us to the continent. And it keeps a lot of them in Britain whilst their government decides whether to ship them back to the States or pull the same stunt with us.”

“Is that likely? They must be pretty stretched.”

“If you’re not with us you’re against us. Remember that? And the rest of the world is not with them. Most of their own population isn’t with them. This is the lunatics taking over the asylum in the worst way possible. So the British government is helping ship weapons to the Europeans and helping wipe out the Yanks in any way they can. All the satellite data this lot use came through me.”

“All of this, of course, is not for blog.”

“Absolutely. They told me you’re good at compartmentalising- their word- and said to mention Sachs.”

“They know more than I thought. Is there anything left down there to scavenge?” I nodded in the direction of the valley.

“Let’s go and have a look.”

NaNoWriMo first draft- Scar

I remember looking down at some point and noting that I was doing twent five miles an hour on my bike, on the flat. I only know what happened next because I kept asking until someone would tell me.

The driver pulled out of a side road right in front of me. He probably didn’t look, and he didn’t have anywhere to go. I remember the Rusholme traffic being bumper to bumper, the idiot was just using the cycle lane as a little extra space to nudge out.

I flew. Only ten feet or so, and I was brought to an abrupt halt by a parked car. The collision cracked ribs down my right side and I slid up the windscreen and ended up on the roof.

My helmet saved me from brain damage, but they had to cut open my chest to fix the damage. I was in hospital for six weeks. I read lots of books- and felt very sorry for myself for the first few weeks- until I came up with a plan. I was going to take some time to enjoy the life I’d nearly lost.

Two months after leaving hospital I was off around Europe on an interrail ticket. Three weeks later I was in the middle of a war

NaNoWriMo first draft- Dinner Date

“Please tell me you’re not vegetarian.”

“If you’ve got meat I will eat it.” Sally replies. She’s wearing the paint spattered one piece again, wiping her hands on a rag. She’s had to rush all the way down the stairs from the top room.

I brandish the bag of squirrel and rabbit and she smiles. “Bugs and Nutkin.” I announce, “I thought I might do a stew.” I wheel the bike into the back room and lean it next to hers. She follows me and picks up a bag from the mantelpiece.

“I’ve got something for you as well.” she holds out a pair of keys, “Front door and back door.”

“Cool.” We stand there for a few moments, searching for something to say. Eventually I hold up the bag, “I’ll get on this, then.”

“Cool. I’m going to make the most of the light before it goes completely. I’ll be back down in a while.”

None of Sally’s knives is sharp enough to fillet the carcasses, but a bit of searching finds a sharpening stone. I get distracted from cooking by putting an edge onto all the knives, to the extent that when Sally runs out of light and comes down I still haven’t started making the meal. I look around to see her leaning against the door frame watching me. “I’ve been meaning to do that for ages. Do you need any help?”

“Could you start on the veg.”

Sally eyes the knife I give her with some trepidation, as if the newly sharpened blade might twist around and slice her palm through the handle. She lays it carefully on the chopping board and goes to wash carrots and potatoes. My knife slides through the onion that I’ve picked and then makes filleting the rabbit and squirrel simple. They all go into the pot with a little oil to sizzle.

Sally slices her first potato at arm’s length, but quickly becomes confident with her chopping abilities. Within a few minutes she has a board full of vegetable chunks for the pot. I stir everything up and she goes under the sink to produce a bottle of cloudy cider. “What do you think? Will it work with rabbit?”

“There’s only one way to find out isn’t there.” We pour in equal amounts of water and cider, put the lid on and leave it to simmer. Sally pours the rest of the cider into glasses.

We take our booze through to the living room. There’s only the one seat, a large sofa across from the fireplace. We sit at either end, almost facing each other.

There’s a strange piece of furniture in the corner of the room. “You have a television?”

“Yeah. But there’s never anything on.”

“Literally? Or in the old way?”

By way of answer Sally gets up and tuns the television on. She hands me the remote. “Apart from the news, there’s not a lot of new stuff on. The BBC keeps promising new material, but I haven’t seen any yet. Since the internet’s been back I’ve been getting most of my news from there.”

She’s partly right. A lot of this stuff is old, but not all of it. And I’ve spent most of the last five years with little or no television, let alone English language television. So I could watch this stuff for a day or three. But there is an attractive woman on the sofa with me, and I’m conscious that she’s sitting closer to me since turning the television on.

The scrumpy is very strong and I’m soon feeling light headed. “Where did you get this stuff?”

“It’s from the tree in the garden. There’s a group that brings a press around and sets up in schools or halls and presses any apples or pears you take them. I set up demi johns in the basement and brewed this stuff. This is the last of last years. You don’t drink it often, so it lasts for a while.” She curls her feet under her and leans over to take the remote. “Actually, there should be some news on now. Let’s see what’s going on in the world.”

The first piece is about the first people to make it back from the continent in the last few years. They’ve been doing it for years, of course, people shuttling back and forth across the Channel for various reasons. I was tracked down a couple of times with messages and care packages. Of course, when you’re in a war zone and more involved than you ought to be, care packages don’t tend to contain cake and new socks.

Sally looks askance at me. “So how come you aren’t in this report?” she asks, with a smile.

“I bribed a few people.”


“No. I just managed to avoid the news crews.” And I called in a few favours and somebody else bribed a few people on my behalf. I’m not sure she believes me, but I’m also sure she doesn’t seem to care.

Next up is a piece on speculation over who has control of the former United States’ nuclear arsenal. There are subs still not accounted for, and no-one really knows what happened to the intercontinental ballistic missiles in their various bunkers. Thinking about what that means, my balls crawl up into my body and I’ve got that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

“Are you okay?”

I motion at the television, “All the time I was in Europe. Everything I saw. Everything I did. I never once thought about all the nukes that could have been dropped on us. It’s like it was all for nothing. Some fucking idiot could still wipe out most life on Earth. And we know there are people that stupid and dangerous out there.

“I never thought of it.”

Sally is looking at me, nodding. “I have been thinking about it too much. With everything that went on, and then Keith dying I sort of pulled back from people. It wasn’t Keith’s friends who stopped talking to me, it was me who stopped talking to them. When every day could be your last you don’t want to form any long term relationships.”


“That is so fucking dumb. I have wasted years.”

“You’re thinking you should treat each day as a blessing rather than a potential ending?”

“Something like that. It’s time to start thinking about the long term and start making relationships again. Did Keith ever tell you I wanted to fuck you?”


“That’s probably because I never told him.” With that she leans in and takes my glass. When it’s on the coffee table beside hers she kisses me. Just a gentle peck on the lips at first, but she likes the taste and dives straight back in. She’s keen, and I’m certainly willing, but she’s taken me by surprise and I freeze. She pulls back, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have…”

Now it’s my turn to lean in and kiss her, “I just wasn’t expecting it.”

She has grabbed the front of my T-shirt and bunched it up. “I’ve got so many condoms and I thought I wasn’t going to use them before they went out of date.” She tugs the T-shirt over my head and then stops. “Oh.”

The scar is an upside down L. It runs from my right shoulder most of the way across to my left, and all the way down my ribcage on the right side. Sally runs a finger along the top scar. “I’d forgotten about this. I never saw it before.”

“Five years in a war zone and my only scar is the one I took with me.”

“I don’t have any interesting scars.” She’s fascinated by the scar, tracing it with a finger of each hand.

“I’ll have to check that.”

“Okay.” She stands up, unzips the one piece and shrugs out of it. “How long till the stew is done?”

“A half hour or so.”

“Time enough for a quickie Come on.” She offers me her hand and leads me upstairs.

NaNoWriMo first draft- The beginning of the end

Notes This is very much notes which will be expanded on as I expand the story and work out the full timeline. Writing has slowed over the last of days. I’m looking at around 30,000 words, rather than the desired 50,000, by the end of the month.

Some people like to blame the Germans But they’re wrong.

It was going to go horribly wrong no matter what. The Germans just provided the flashpoint. When it became obvious that the United States President was ordering assassinations within the borders of supposed allies no-one reacted well. Germany still had a large number of American troops stationed within its borders and it immediately demanded their withdrawal.

Within hours of the demands being made a column of three humvees drove through a mostly muslim neighbourhood near one of the American bases and shot it up. There were no identifying marks spotted on the vehicles and the soldiers, likewise, were not wearing insignia of any sort. When German Police arrived at the base to investigate they were denied entry at gunpoint.

An impasse became a stand off as armed Police and then German Army units arrived. Diplomacy went nowhere- the Germans demanded access, the Americans demanded the right to investigate the incident themselves. Angry crowds joined the Police and Army and the German government changed their withdrawal demands- all American personnel had to leave the country immediately, leaving their equipment and vehicles behind.

On the night of the second day of the siege the firing started. No-one knows who pulled the trigger first, but the Americans had been preparing for it. Fully loaded tanks and armoured vehicles broke out of the base and shredded the Police, military and civilians who surrounded it. Within an hour the same had happened on bases all across the country.

The bombing of Paris the next day, and other attacks across the continent, allowed the American forces to form up and prepare to fight anyone who came at them. Beyond bloodshed there didn’t seem to be any coherent plan. Initially they struck south, then west before breaking up into smaller units and raiding in all directions. The tanks didn’t last long- helicopters and small anti tank units whittled them down as they were found. The smaller vehicles proved surprisingly hard to track, there are probably still some out there in hiding.

The American force lost people from even before the break out. Soldiers slipped into civvies and out the back of buildings, or failed to make it to roster points. Afterwards deserters sneaked out of camps in the night or dropped off the backs of columns. They didn’t all make it to safety. Any deserter tracked down by the American forces was killed as a matter of routine. Those who gave themselves up to locals stood a better chance of surviving, but there was still the chance that they’d be killed.

Still, even with the wastage, there were still squads of American soldiers wandering Europe for over four years. And the ones who lasted longest were the hardcore of fundamentalists, stranded far away from their disintegrated country and striking out at people they felt had contributed to its downfall.