–Marvin the Martian.
All Marvin was trying to do was blow up the Earth, which is starting to look like an easy task compared to getting Princess of Shadows completed. For two days external events have pulled me away from putting in the red-pen changes, including a job interview that I don’t think went very well. I’ll have to wait and see on that one.
Meanwhile, I am going to indulge myself in something I have been thinking about for a while. I have more than my fair share of trunk novels, partial short-stories and abandoned tales, the inevitable consequence of taking more than the usual amount of time to achieve a minimum competence at writing. As a whole, none of these abandoned writings are worthy of publication, but some bits and fragments out of this great morass are not utterly without merit (I think). Therefore, when I am not bemoaning my lack of progress on my current work, or posting another episode of Dinosaur Planet, I intend to occasionally post a fragment from one of these abandoned tales that I don’t want to lose completely to the dust and spider-webs of my garage.
This first fragment is from an alternate-history storyline involving an America ruled in the early 21st Century by a refugee Tudor dynasty (in the alternate history Elizabeth I married Robert Dudley and had a daughter, Elizabeth II, who fled to America when the Spanish conquered England) at war with a Europe dominated by Spain. I wrote three complete novels in this storyline, but none of them ever saw the light of day, and now I’ve moved on to other stories. I couldn’t make these tales publishable without a Herculean rewrite, and in fact I’ve strip-mined elements from these novels for the Divine Lotus series. But I like this sequence, so I’ve posted it here. Warning– this fragment contains strong language and depictions of military violence.
The discovery of a dire danger in Holland prompts the Americans to launch a long-range raid on a secret Imperial base.
Copyright 2013 Douglas Daniel
The transport climbed higher into the night sky. Nathan held on to one of the treads of the cockpit stairs, the weight of his gear pulling him backward. Ahead, through the cockpit canopy, he could see Libra and a bright spread of other constellations. It was as if they were flying straight to it.
The captured transport had flown nape of the earth for three hours since leaving Iceland, cutting straight across Britain to stay clear of the air battle over the North Sea. Whether by the pilot’s skill, the good planning of Supreme Headquarters, or the hand of God, they had not been challenged once. Now it appeared they were on time and on target. Nathan determined he would buy every Air Force type onboard a drink, once they were all done with this job. He hoped they would all have a chance to share it.
“Five minutes,” the pilot said. He glanced over his shoulder at Nathan. “Your men ready, Captain?”
It was the third time in the last hour the man had asked the question, but Nathan didn’t feel like begrudging him the answer. “Yes, sir.”
The pilot’s look lingered on Nathan’s face for a moment. “By God, captain, I don’t know if that paint’s going to scare the Spanish, but it sure as hell intimidates me.”
Despite the shaking in his gut Nathan had to smile. The woading on his face wasn’t very historically authentic, but he felt very close to his Celtic ancestors at the moment. “Thank you, sir.”
“Leveling out—we’re at two thousand feet,” the copilot said. “They should have us on widef now.”
“Spanish IFF is running,” the flight engineer announced.
The pilot visibly stiffened his spine. “Here goes,” he muttered. He keyed his throat microphone. “Nunspeet, Nunspeet, this is Flight 3405Delta out of Glasgow, we are declaring an emergency, requesting immediate clearance to land, over,” the pilot called in impeccable Spanish. Nathan bit his lip, just to make sure he said nothing. It wasn’t likely the Spanish on the other end would pick his voice over any of the open mikes in the cockpit, but he wanted to take no chances—his own Spanish accent was reliably reported to be monumentally bad.
The wireless receiver crackled. “Flight 3405Delta, this is Nunspeet Air Control, state the nature of your emergency,” a voice said.
The pilot began to list a long litany of problems—attacked by Confederation aircraft, one engine dead, an on-board fire, fuel dribbling away. All the while the co-pilot and the flight engineer cut into the conversation with their own panicked-sounding reports of the supposed perilous state of the aircraft. Nathan thought it sounded very realistic; more than that, feeding all that half-garbled information to the Spanish controllers ate time, and with every second they closed in on the enemy base.
The pilot ended his spiel with a breathless exclamation of not being sure how much longer they could stay in the air, and that they needed clearance to land at once.
“Standby, 3405,” was all the controller said.
The co-pilot killed his mike. “I’m not sure they’re buying it.”
The pilot killed his microphone as well. “They don’t have to; they just have to haggle over the price long enough for us to pick their pocket.” Despite his glib words Nathan noticed a fine sheen of sweat on the man’s forehead. It looked to be a fair match for the one on Nathan’s face. The pilot glanced at the mission chronometer. “Two minutes. Coming down to nine hundred feet.”
The wireless came alive again. “Flight 3405, repeat your originating station.”
“Yes, confusion, excellent.” The pilot keyed his mike again. “Glasgow Transport Command.”
“Flight 3405, Nunspeet is restricted airspace– can you reach Arnhem Field?”
“Negative, negative, Nunspeet, Mother of God, we’re barely hanging on to the sky as it is.” Nathan was watching the mission chronometer—in countdown mode, it was just now creeping down to one minute. The altimeter read less than seven hundred feet. Even if the Spanish started shooting at them now, they were committed anyway. “It’s imperative we land immediately.”
Another voice came on the wireless. “Flight 3405, maintain course for Arnhem Field. You do not have permission to land at Nunspeet. Repeat, you do not have permission to land at Nunspeet.”
The pilot grimaced. “Nunspeet, this is a Class One emergency, we might not even make your field. Please have crash and rescue standing by.”
“Flight 3405, this is General Tanner, supreme air controller, Nunspeet. You are not to land at Nunspeet. You do not have authorization to touch down here. If you attempt to do so you will be fired upon.”
The pilot deadened his mike. “Friendly bunch of bastards, ain’t they? Jake,” this to the flight engineer, “kill the IFF.”
The pilot shoved the transport over hard. Nathan’s feet left the stairs for a moment. It was not a happy moment—the sweat stood out heavier on his forehead and he gripped the rails of the stairs hard.
The pilot pulled the plane back up into a shallow dive. The altimeter read one hundred feet. “We should have just dropped off their widef like a gut-shot crow. Between that and the IFF cutting off it might look like we just augered in.” He looked around at Nathan. “Captain, you better get down to your men. Looks like we’ll be going in hot.”
“Yes, sir.” Nathan charged down the stairs.
In the hold everyone was already strapped in. “This is it,” Nathan announced as he found his seat. “Less than a minute to the airfield.” Some of the Catholic boys crossed themselves. Others, Denton among them, looked to be praying. A few men checked their weapons one last time; more tightened their seat straps.
Thor was seated beside Nathan, looking positively green. “How you doing, Thor?”
Thor shook his head and gripped the H-12 in his lap tighter. “I’m just glad we’re gonna find solid ground, sir—-I’m getting sick of this bumping-around-at the-mercy-of-the-Air Force shit.”
Nathan tried to laugh, but nothing came out. He fished out a magazine to load into his rifle. His hand was shaking so hard that he had to catch the edge of the magazine against the receiver well to line it up properly.
He had previously exercised a privilege of rank, and claimed a seat by the starboard observation blister. He glanced out it now, and was shocked to see by the starlight mud flats and swampland below the plane. Ahead were lights, a vast field of them, and an illuminated strip of concrete.
“Airfield in sight!” he yelled. “Hang on!” The men braced themselves, linking arms and jamming boots against floor plating. Nathan sent up a quick, silent prayer of his own, chiefly that the cable tie-downs on the cars would hold; but somehow the prayer covered a lot of other ground in those two or three seconds– Celia and Anna and Timothy, Thomas and Perlman, William and Isabel. Elizabeth and Christina were both in there, as well, in some confused fashion Nathan had no time to untangle. So was every man on the team, in a very different way he had no trouble deciphering.
The transport hit the runway. The jolt knocked Nathan’s teeth together. Somebody cursed. The plane, still going almost full speed, slewed hard to the left. Nathan saw, out the window, that the pilot had turned off the runway on to a taxiway. A huge building with a control tower on top lay directly ahead.
“Get ready!” Nathan yelled.
The pilot slammed on the brakes and dropped the ramp at the same moment. The ramp hit the tarmac with a shower of sparks and the sound of rending metal. The braking slammed Nathan sideways in his straps. The plane screamed, between the sound of the ramp scraping along the concrete, the howl of the machine’s brakes, and the screeching of its tires. Out the porthole Nathan saw the transport’s right wing clip the tail of a smaller airplane parked in front of the terminal. It knocked the Spanish aircraft’s tail clean off, as if it had been guillotined.
The plane stopped. There was a smell of burnt rubber and heated metal. The open cargo ramp showed smoke and dust and the corner of the terminal building.
“Go!” Nathan shouted.
The company poured out of the plane, in a cursing, shoving scrum. The men leapt off the ramp and surged across the open concrete between the aircraft and the terminal in a mass. The greater number charged the terminal; others broke left and right. Somebody fired a burst from the building’s roof; Nathan didn’t see if the fire brought anyone down, but some of the men stopped to return fire.
“Follow me!” Nathan shouted. He veered to the right; the tower assault team followed. The control tower was on the south side of the terminal, a structure taller than the one in Reykjavik. The windows were lit and figures moved on a gallery that ran around the top floor. Someone shouted down at them– Nathan caught part of it, a question about what was happening, and then they were at the base of the tower.
Two steel doors at the base were locked. “Blow them!” Nathan said. Denton slid forward as the team got out of his way, sheltering against the concrete of the tower. The firefight in the terminal was growing, small-arms and grenades going off; windows shattered and smoke began to pour out a side door. There looked to be a fight on the roof of the building itself. More firing to the north, where Stamford was supposed to be racing to the field’s widef platform, and to the east, where Greenspan’s men were to cover the main gate of the field. Nathan grudged the delay; he wanted to know what was happening, but they had to take the tower first. In five minutes the rest of the brigade would be parachuting in, and they had to have control of the field when that happened.
Denton slapped plastic explosive on the doors, stuck in an igniter, and pulled the ring. The fuse lit with a puff of white smoke. “Fire in the hole!” He sprinted out of the way, scrunching against the wall next to Nathan.
The doors blew in with a sharp crack; the shattered metal crashed inward. “Go, go!” Nathan said. The team stood and rushed into the tower through the smoke.
Inside utility lights gave a bare illumination. The ground floor of the tower was filled with power conduits and a backup generator. The remains of the doors were scattered over the lower steps of a central stairs that circled upward in the center of the space.
Fire erupted from above, from somewhere on the stairs. One of the scouts next to Nathan, Forrest, went down. Nathan lifted his rifle and fired back, blind. So did Kalanu and the others; the ground floor rang with the fire. Ricochets sparked off the metal stairs and the concrete.
“Keep going,” Nathan said.
They went up the stairs. Nathan and Kalanu were in the lead, and they laid down a steady wall of fire as they climbed. A shadow moved across one of the lights. Nathan hosed a burst across it. A Spaniard in an Air Arm uniform fell down the stairs past him.
They went up, through a level with desks and typescribers up into the control room itself. Someone fired a shot past Nathan’s ear as he emerged from the stairs. He vaulted the railing and took cover behind a widef console. Tom fired a burst as he came up. A Spaniard fell backwards through a shattered window on to the catwalk outside.
“We surrender, for the love of God!” someone shouted in Spanish, as the rest of the team poured into the room. Nathan stood. The stench of cordite was strong in his nostrils. Three or four Spaniards had their hands up, Air Arm techs behind their consoles. Half the room’s windows were broken, letting in the sounds of the firefight outside. But the consoles and the other electronics in the tower were intact, a side benefit that McLaw would surely appreciate. One dead Spaniard lay sprawled on the floor, half his head shot away, a victim of Nathan and Tom’s walking fire.
“Clear them out,” Nathan told the scouts. “Search them, get them out of here. Gilley!”
The color sergeant came over as the others rounded up the techs. “Sir?”
“Stay here with a couple of your people– the Brigadier’s going to want this place kept secure.” The tower would be a perfect vantage point from which to conduct the airfield side of the operation.
“Yes, sir,” Gilley said.
“Tom, Roberts, with me.” Nathan hurried back down the stairs.
Outside they ran for the administration building. Its internal lights were all out, now. Rounds cracked overhead, but they were wide. They reached the building and scooted along its west wall to the front doors.
The glass doors had been shattered; the pieces lay scattered about and crunched under their boots. Beyond was an open space, very nearly like any other terminal building Nathan ever seen– chairs, counters, doors leading to other rooms or out the back. Many of the chairs were overturned and shoved aside, piled up out of the way; the counters along the back wall were bullet-chewed. There were no living Spaniards in sight, only a few dead lying here and there on the tiled floor. Along the north wall of the room were glass-windowed offices; almost all the glass there had already been shot out. A couple of American medics were tending wounded propped against the far wall by the light of battle lanterns. Two doors led out of the boarding area to the back offices of the building.
“Lieutenant Stamford, sir,” Roberts said, holding out the handset.
Nathan took it. “This is Velvet Green Six, go ahead.”
“Velvet Green three, sir,” Stamford’s voice said. “We have reached the widef tower. Demolitions are going in as we speak.”
“Excellent, Velvet Three– any sign of Spanish opposition?”
“Negative– you’re getting all the traffic.”
“Understood– advise when you’re ready to blow it.”
“Copy that.” Stamford clicked off.
Nathan clicked the mike twice. “Break, break– Velvet Four, what is your status?”
All Nathan got out of the wireless speaker was the sound of gunfire and garbled shouting. “What the hell?” Velvet Four was Lieutenant Greenspan’s team; they were to secure the field’s main gate, to the east of the terminal. “Velvet Four, somebody report.”
“Lake here, sir,” a voice said. “The lieutenant’s dead– we’re pinned down, we’re taking fire from outside the field perimeter.”
“What kind of….” Nathan started to say.
At that moment something went whizz-voom! and the whole building shook. More glass shattered along the north wall of the boarding area. Nathan dropped to one knee and hunched over as bits of concrete pelted him. An acrid coil of smoke drifted through the room. Nathan spat out dust, levered himself up. Kalanu and Roberts struggled to their feet as well; at least they didn’t seem hurt. The medics squatted hunched over their patients. A six-foot wide hole had appeared in the north wall of the terminal; Nathan could see right out into the night.
He shook his head to clear the ringing in his ears, lifted the hand-mike again. “Say again, Velvet Four.”
“Armored car,” Lake said. “With infantry support.”
“Shit,” Nathan said. “Tom, Roberts, come on.”
They went outside and clambered up to the roof by an external stairs. Another round– 1.2 inch, Nathan reckoned, typical armament for a grayback Lynx scout car– shot past them overhead, missing the building entirely. There was an antiaircraft gun emplacement up there, ringed by sandbags. The Spanish crew lay dead around it. Along the eastern edge of the roof six or seven scouts formed a firing line of sorts and were pouring fire toward the gate. Nathan recognized Thor, firing controlled bursts at something Nathan could not see.
As Nathan and the others came up on the roof a burst of tracers ripped the air around them. Roberts dived behind the sandbags of the emplacement; Nathan and Tom tumbled into the emplacement, taking cover within. “What the hell have they got out there?” Tom demanded.
Nathan looked up at the AA gun. “Tom, give me a hand.” He forced himself out of the safety of cover and climbed into the weapon’s gunner’s seat. Tom seemed to understand at once; he grabbed a six-round clip from the ready ammo close by and slapped it into the gun’s breach. Nathan blessed the cross-training they’d receive in Spanish weapons as he charged the gun.
“Somebody pop a flare!” Nathan shouted over the din.
“Sir!” It was Mason; Nathan hadn’t seen him, but there the sniper was, close by Thor. A pause, and then a red star shot upward. It burst at three hundred feet altitude into an orange flare, drifting down on its parachute, dripping sparks.
And there it was– three hundred yards away, beyond cyclone fencing that marked the field’s perimeter– a Lynx armored car. It was trundling toward the field’s main gate. He glimpsed a scattering of graybacks moving forward in its wake. He could not see Greenspan’s team, but tracers were bouncing off the Lynx from positions on the tarmac and from a drainage ditch close by the wire. None of the fire was making any impression on the car; it moved forward cautiously, but steadily.
No need for anything fancy– Nathan traversed the gun, laid the sight on the car’s body, and pulled the trigger. The gun fired, rattling Nathan’s teeth, arcing startling green tracers across the roof and into the car. The first two missed, tearing up concrete, but the next three scored sustained hits on the machine’s chassis, sparking as they penetrated.
It kept rolling forward. The clip ran out. Tom fed the gun another one. “Come on, die, you bastard,” Nathan shouted. He poured all six rounds from the second clip into the car. Nathan wondered if he were getting penetrations at all– and then the car suddenly slewed off the road and slammed into a guard-shack, splintering it and coming to a stop. Smoke began to pour out of the car’s engine space and from around the hatch-seals.
Tom loaded another clip, and Nathan fired that one for good measure at the grayback infantry. The other scouts poured their fire into them as well. Nathan glimpsed Spaniards scrambling backward under a hail of tracers, and then there was nothing left to shoot at. When the third clip ejected, Nathan stopped firing. There was a sudden silence, at least in the vicinity of the gate; elsewhere the night was filled with the crackle of small-arms, the occasional bang of a grenade, shouts, and the smell of something nearby burning. But the car was dead. Red flames were licking out of the vehicle’s apertures now. Somewhere on the tarmac men began to cheer.
“You sure you didn’t miss your calling, sir?” Kalanu asked. “You’re a pretty good artillerist for an infantryman.”
Nathan shook his head. “Artillery is too loud.”
“And what we do for a living is peaceful?” Kalanu said, raising an eyebrow.
There was a flash of light from behind Nathan. He turned in time to see another, and a third, all followed by ear-rattling booms. The widef towers shook, teetered, and then toppled sideways with loud crash.
“Three minutes,” Kalanu said. For a moment Nathan did not understand what the sergeant was talking about. Then he checked his own wristwatch. The glowing dial showed that three minutes had passed since the transport had set down. Nathan blinked in disbelief. Is that all?
Postscript a day later– posting this and reading it, I can see now weaknesses I never dealt with– pacing issues and problems with logic. This is essentially a second draft that was never completely edited for publication (I realized after finishing this novel, the third in the series, that it was unmarketable without the first two novels, which had been rejected into oblivion). Now I have to resist the tempation to work on it; it makes me a little sad that this storyline and universe has gone on the trash heap.
Future fragments will probably be un-re-edited, as well– while I want to pull some of these bits out of the shadows, I don’t want to add to my distractions, which are legion already, from current projects. Hopefully folks won’t hold it too much against me.