Be Fucked

Be fucked and wander on mate
your future isn’t near
your past is grey and dying
for your present no one cares

They said that you’re important
the focus of the world
but the image that they’re selling
isn’t anyone’s but theirs

So be fucked and wander on mate
though it gets no better there
at least you’ll have the feeling
that at last someone might care

For more from me you can check out my novel Crashed America – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks. 

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Eli of the Woods

Grizzly Bear - Eli of the Woods Short Story

Eli scratched his nose, wincing at the half forgotten pain he awoke. Of course, the bear had broken his nose the night before. The ending highlight of a bad evening, only scattered images of which he could recall.

There had been him, the bear and an otter he didn’t know personally. The otter had been a dick, but the bear had brought him along so that was that, you didn’t have much choice about uninvited guests when they were introduced by a 400lbs apex predator. Although, as memories percolated through the hungover and beaten fug of his brain he did vaguely recall spending most of the evening taking the piss out of otters in general and that one in particular. A childish reaction but he had planned the evening out for two, a quick drink for him, some fishing down by the stream for the bear, and a few hours of talking bollocks with an old friend. Having to put up with the little semi-aquatic prick had ruined all of that as it had gleefully shown off, slipping into the water with barely a ripple and smugly emerging with a newly caught fish gripped in his nasty little claws. It knew Eli couldn’t swim, at least he’d assumed it did, although in hindsight that might have been his own paranoia and, after all, it had offered him up the best part of a salmon.

Still, he reassured himself, he’d been right to say that otters were just lazy beavers and challenge him to a fight. Even if the bear had, apparently, disagreed. These things happened though, in the forest, it was a dangerous place after all and no doubt the bear would forgive him. They went way back, right to the time Eli had rocked up in the middle of the vast expanse of nature and given the last of his ‘human food’ to the little cub, as it had been. The gift of a Kit Kat that had forged a friendship for life. Not to mention the fact that he himself had been forgiving back when his grizzly friend had eaten that rabbit, who had been a genuinely good guy with a suddenly grieving family of fifteen.

Shuddering as the pain in his nose abated Eli stood up and looked around. He was in the forest, which wasn’t much of a surprise really. He’d been in the forest for years now, although he had no idea how many, and waking up in some random part of it with a sore head from his homemade ‘Treesap Brew’ was part of the routine. It only took minutes for the memories of last night and the potential guilt they held to subside though, it was another beautiful day after all. Latticed sunlight was spilling down through the green canopy of trees, the birds were singing, nearby a stream whispered gently to itself and he was glad to be alive whatever social upsets he may have caused the night before.

After a few stretches to get the circulation going Eli chose a direction at random and started walking. He had no plans or obligations for the day, beyond foraging for food at some point of course. Even that was a minor concern though, failing all else he could make an impromptu social call on the squirrels, or maybe the deer, they always had a few nuts or berries going and didn’t object too loudly to one more mouth to feed.

As he walked he caught snippets of conversations from amongst the trees. Only the odd word, he wasn’t planning on eavesdropping and besides it was only the usual chatter of the forest. Grumbles about food, bad jokes about the predators, snide insults directed towards the birds, who were universally held to be bastards of the highest order. In a way it was just like being home in the city, only with less concrete and humans, plus he could walk around it naked of course. That wasn’t the main reason he’d chosen to come out here but on a day like this it was certainly an added bonus.

“Oi, you!”

Eli ignored the gruff voice as his mind drifted away from the background chatter of the woods.

“OI! HUMAN!”

Before he could connect the words to himself he saw who’d spoken them, it was a wolf. A big wolf, with two big wolf friends at either side of him. Bad news, even if your best friend was a bear.

Forcing a smile Eli came to a halt a few metres from them and tried to look defiant and harmless at the same time.

“You’re screwed mate, you know that?”

The two lesser wolves let their tongues loll out, looking effortlessly evil and giving Eli all the reason he needed to believe their leader. He didn’t let the smile slip though, playing dumb was always a safe plan of action.

“Am I? Why’s that then?”

The pack leader padded closer to him, a relaxed strut which all present knew could easily swtich into a tensed pounce.

“Otters mate, otters. Words got out, they’re after you, hear you weren’t very nice to one of their lot.”

“Ah-” Eli hurriedly raked through his mind for more memories of last night. He’d taken the piss a bit, maybe sworn at the party crasher too, but that was harmless enough wan’t it?

“We had a bit of a row, that’s all, no harm done. Sure it’s me you’re looking for?”

The alpha looked over his haunches at his two friends, the glint of disbelief in his predatory eyes.

“Certain, unless you know of any other humans walking around here in the nip who’re in the habit of drinking with otters and bears.”

It was unlikely to say the least.

“I didn’t do anything, honest, we just didn’t get along.”

The wolf cocked its heavy grey head.

“Doesn’t matter mate, they’re otters. Not been around their lot much have you?”

Eli shook his head, which meant nothing to his vulpine opposite, so he said ‘no’.

“They’re nutters, the lot of ‘em. An otter’ll take your eyes out as soon as look at you, sooner in fact if he gets lucky. Haven’t you heard the saying? ‘Never cross an otter, they’re wankers’? Woodland basics there mate. No idea why your bear friend even hangs out with one, mind you he does keep strange company eh?”

They could have been having him on, wolves could be like that, they got bored and spread rumours. That’s why half of the forest was still convinced that he’d been caught being unnatural with an elk, a completely unfair accusation. But then they might be telling the truth, savvy as he liked to think he was Eli knew he was still a novice in the law and lore of the woods.

“Look, I can see you’re not convinced son so I’ll come straight with you. I know we’ve got a bit of a reputation, givin’ it the big one and all, but I’m bein’ honest with you here. Not gonna help you out or nuffin’ but I fuckin’ hate those semi aquatic little wankers so fair warning, stay away from rivers for a bit and watch your tail. That one’s free.”

With a savage nobility that still impressed him even not that he knew what liars they were the wolves turned and trotted off into the trees, their last words drifting back to him.

“And stay away from the elks, you dirty bastard.”

Eli was starting to panic from his twitching feet upwards. The wolf had seemed honest enough, for a wolf anyway and even if otters weren’t exactly what you’d call nature’s fiercist killers they were still capable of doing damage. He needed to find out if the rumour was true though, that was the thing to do, not just go running off in a frenzy. And for truth you couldn’t beat an owl.

It didn’t take Eli much searching to find one, they were surprisingly easy to track once you’d gotten used to them. It was disappointing really, for an animal he’d always assumed to be wise and profound in its way. He’d learnt long ago though that owls were, for want of a better phrase, ‘thick as dirt’. If you needed to find one you pretty much just needed to follow the sound of forest animals sniggering and there you’d have it, an owl in the middle of a circle of mocking fauna doing something stupid. In this case it was waddling as fast as it could head first into a tree, for reasons best known to itself.

The circle of gawpers didn’t break up when he arrived, they were used to him for the most part and those who didn’t know him to look at probably assumed that, in the worst case scenario, they could mob him anyway. He watched over the top of the smaller animals as the owl repeated his thudding excersize, seemingly unphased by the blows to the skull and determined to pursue whatever strange end it thought it was heading towards.

The bird was a Barred Owl and no one Eli knew, not that he hung around with owls or birds in general to start with of course, it wouldn’t have been worth the merciless mocking of the other animals. Familiarity didn’t matter though, the one good thing you could say about the mystic looking flyers was that they were honest to a fault. Mostly because, it was said, they were too stupid to manage lying. He’d asked one for the real reason once, as it sat looking wise on a low level branch, it had just stared at him and, for no good reason, fallen out of the tree and landed on its head. It definitely hadn’t lied as it did it though.

Stepping over a giggling rabbit he broke up the entertainment by planting a foot in the owls path. Scraping to a halt it looked up at him in confusion, wondering where it’s tree had gone.

“Alright owl, quick question for you and then you can get on with your, uh, business here. I hear the otters are after me, true or false?”

The bird thought for a second, or more likely froze while the slow processes of it’s brain kicked into action, before replying.

“Yes, absolutely, definitely. Otters are going to kill you.”

Eli felt his shoulders slump at the same time as his mind sank to his feet. Owls didn’t lie, there was no arguing with it. And he didn’t fight, not if he could help it, besides half a dozen otters on a dark night, even if he struggled it wouldn’t matter.

“Are you absolutely sure? I mean, I know you wouldn’t lie, but could you be mistaken?”

The owl paused to process the question and turn slowly around in a circle a few times.

“No, definitely true, otters are going to kill you, any second now, lots of them, very angry.”

“What? How can you know that? You’re not allowed to exagerrate.”

“I’m not, they’re behind you.”

With a lazy sweep of his wings the owl took off and drifted off above the trees, leaving Eli to turn and face a line of more than two dozen otters with vicious looks on their faces. A rabbit brushed past his ankle as the circle of creatures which had been watching the self-destructive Barred Owl expanded for some new entertainment, otters eating a human.

Putting his hands up placatingly as the snarling critters came closer he took a slow step backwards.

“Now lads, I’m sure we can sort this out. I’m very, very sorry if I caused offence.”

“Lazy beavers are we? Fuckin’ ‘ave it you twat!”

The furry mob surged forward and with in a panicked dash Eli took off in the opposite direction. Long legs versus short legs, he knew that was his advantage but they wouldn’t stop coming and, given how out of shape he was, he was willing to bet that otters would outdo him on stamina.

It made no difference though, forward was the way to go and there were no other choices even as branches snagged him and rocks chipped away at the skin of his usually leather like feet. Go far enough though and something had to change didn’t it? For once he wished he had more of a sense of direction. Strolling around randomly might have been fine for a gentle day around the forest but a destination would really have helped in a life or death dash. He recognised nothing though, the forest was as anonymous as ever, trees were trees, dirt was dirt and trucks were trucks.

Eli skidded to a halt and bowled over the orange jacket and camoflage wearing hunter who been idly taking a leak into the bushes. Ignoring him, the niceties of human society having faded a bit in his mind over the years, he made straight for the unexpected truck and didn’t turn to talk until he was firmly secure inside it.

“OTTERS! LOADS OF THEM! SHOOT ‘EM!”

The hunter didn’t look bemused for long before he saw the tide of semi-aquatic animals swarming towards him and, to his credit, he packed away his manhood in record time. Barely pausing to shake before starting to take pot shots into the crowd with his rifle and making a measured retreat to the truck before jumping in alongside Eli.

“DRIVE! OTTERS! KILLERS!”

Shaking a little the hunter turned the keys and, still too confused to ask any questions, gunned the pick up truck out of the clearing it had been in and off down the track.

For more from me you can check out my novel Crashed America – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks. 

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Technical Error

Donald Trump without his wig and fake tan

Sergei shook his head, trying to rattle out the incessant thud of the Techno soundtrack that was, for no good reason, blasting out to shake the foundations of the warehouse. It didn’t work.

The building was full to capacity now, the stands erected around the walls heaving with stern faced government apparatchiks, some vaguely nodding along to the music, others taking long draws from red-embered cigarettes or swigging from glasses of vodka. He recognised a few of the faces present, Generals, politicians, even a strangely orange toned man who could, perhaps, have passed for that guy off of the TV, the bombastic American with the bad catch phrases. Although all he could see of him was a small strip of gaudy flesh and petulant looking eyes, framed by layers of luxuriant winter furs and an oversized ushanka. No matter, Sergei didn’t keep up with celebrity culture anyway so his interest was limited and his commander had told him not to look too closely into the crowd. He was here to work after all, not gawp.

A few metres from him his opponent for the day was limbering up on the opposite side of the ring, showily flexing his muscles for the audience. A pointless display given the exoskeleton he was wearing, a series of cables, metal plates and pistons that encased half of his body. It was technology that would do the work, not the man inside it, they were just there to make a token gesture towards thought and give a name for the records to list as winner or loser. He’d noticed that the American fighters always enjoyed their showmanship though. This one no less than the others, his back piece even had the stars and stripes emblazoned on it, an American Eagle engraved on his steel shoulder pad, a weak spot perhaps given the circuitry that might lay beneath.

For his part Sergei is more practical, his commander doesn’t appreciate showmanship, he appreciated winners so a small Russian flag decal on his shoulder was the only concession to style he wore. The rest of his suit was just a bulky mix of wiring and armour plating. More than the American had on his, a point to remember when the fight started.

There were a few more minutes of posturing to endure, as the Yankee, a compact man, slight but densely built, played to his small but vocal contingent of compatriots in the audience. Sergei just stared at him, content not to have to feign his already real indifference. The foreigner had a look of All-American healthiness about him, side-parted brown hair and energetic brown eyes drawn straight from a commercial. Still, not someone to underestimate, when these fights took place everyone sent their best. The stranger would, at least, be military but probably special forces too, or Navy Seals, or drawn from one of those unnamed divisions who lived and died without ever passing through the paper trails of military bureaucracy. Looking clean didn’t mean he wouldn’t fight dirty. But then so would Sergei.

Eventually the showboating ended and, as the mumbled conversations of the crowd came to a trickling end, the anthems started playing. The Star-Spangled Banner first, a concession to the visitors and silently endured by the largely Russian audience, although out of the corner of his eye Sergei could still see the orange skinned man nodding his head in a poor attempt to match the tune. Next his own anthem played, voices around the warehouse dutifully belting out or miming their way through in a necessary show of patriotic fervour. He kept his own mouth shut for the duration, he didn’t know the words after all and as long as he looked suitably intense nobody would challenge him for focusing on the fight ahead, not even President Putin, who was bound to be somewhere in the crowd.

Formalities over a bell rings and the crowd stirs itself into a frenzy, ready to see some blood spilt. The American explodes out of his corner, mechanically augmented fists launching straight into a flurry of blows aimed at Sergei’s head. They hurt, they send him reeling, staggering backwards towards a steel ring rope that offers no give. No matter, he expects to take hits and where they bounce off of his body armour the shock absorbers do their job, where they connect with flesh he feels the adrenaline rush warding off the pain. The visitor gets to have his way for a whole minute, long enough for him to show himself and his intentions, long enough for Sergei to read him and know how he’ll behave. Only once satisfied with his gleaned intel does he launch his counter attack, punches and kicks sending his opponent flying as the force of technologically amplified blows take their toll. His fists focus on the gaudy shoulder decorations, the eagle etched out in gold. With the suits they both wear it’s hard to guess if there’s anything important underneath, he knows where his own precious circuitry is concealed but not his opponents. It’s a good focal point though, it’s worth a try and with surprising ease the metal starts to buckle. He can see that his opponent feels it too as a look of shock washes over his face. A soldier shouldn’t be shocked, not in a fight like this, but his suit is letting him down Sergei guesses, showing signs of damage too early, too easily. Hardly cause for sympathy but he notes it nonetheless as he continues his onslaught.

Soon there are sparks, the audible groan of servos seizing up and the soon to be defeated enemy, or at least competitor, starts to collapse in on himself, his suit becoming little more than an encumbrance. It shouldn’t be this easy, it’s never this easy, but it is and there’s no point in second guessing it. Sergei takes a step back, fist raised to deliver a decisive blow to the American’s head, not a killing blow, not intentionally at least, but one to knock him out of the fight and avoid the ignominy of being stuck in an inert and broken suit. There’s laughter from the crowd although looking round with attempted subtlety he can see that the maybe-celebrity has revealed himself and is screaming with rage, hat thrown off, scarf slipped down. He’d heard that the man had gotten into politics, perhaps that explained the invite, another irrelevance though, Sergei didn’t watch the news much.

The final punch knocks the other fighter out, smoke starting to curl from his exosuit where circuits have fried themselves and motors burnt out. He’ll live, which is good, even if the crowd does prefer a more final ending. The American is stuck squatting, his jammed suit fixing him in position and his eyes closed as the dark fug of unconsciousness saves him from embarrassment. Sergei raises a fist in a minor show of celebration, although he doesn’t feel that it was much of a victory. Too easy, too quick, a poor competition and poor entertainment although no one can blame him for that. Casting an eye down he can see, to his amused surprise, a small plate screwed in to the rolled back metal of his fallen opponents shoulder pad – ‘Made in China’. It doesn’t explain much, he’s fought Chinese contestants before, their technology has never failed them but then he doesn’t pay much attention to the machinations of international trade and politics, there may be a game here played well beyond his pay grade.

His commander is in the ring too now, a heavy hand slapping imperceptibally on his plated back.

“Come on, time to shake hands.”

Sergei lets himself be led away to a hastily assembled line of dignitaries. Generals, politicians, well dressed others of undefined importance, and at the end of the line President Putin and the orange man. The latter still whispering with frustration in the ear of a nearby bodyguard whose expression remains a model of professional indifference.

The Russians in the line nod approvingly at him, or even smile. Even if the fight wasn’t the best they seem amused by it, happy to have observed a spectacle even if it wasn’t as impressive as the clashes they’re used to. Even Putin, when his turn comes seems to flash a half smile at him, not something that he’s ever seen before. Only the orange man, who to Sergei’s surprise is announced to him as the President of the USA by his whispering commander, breaks from the formal mood of satisfaction. He’s ranting, even as he shakes the victor’s hand with a limp grip. Sergei doesn’t react, he’s trained not to and by the sound of it the man doesn’t think he speaks English, unaware of his vague grasp of the language gained from a distant childhood spent consuming American films and TV.

“He didn’t really win, this result is all wrong.” Letting his hand go the American goes on, talking over his head to the assembled officials, some of whom seem to be suppressing smirks.

“I know our boys, they’re the best, it’s just that guy – I should have known when they told me his grandma was Canadian, I did know. I told them he wouldn’t fight right, I told them I knew about this fighting stuff, everyone knows that, just ask them, they say I’m the best coach there is. I could have been a fighter too, I was, I just don’t talk about it, I’m too modest, that’s what all of my friends say, but I could have beaten this guy. Look at him, he’s nothing, He’s weak, not like me, everyone knows I’m strong, and I’m an older guy but I could have gone ten rounds with him. And I’ll tell people that, tell them I would have won, and we’ll deal with that loser later. People believe me, they know how good I am, they won’t buy this because it’s just wrong, Vladimir, it’s just wrong wrong wrong.”

Sergei feels a hand pulling him away, his commander. He lets himself be led as the American’s bodyguard tries in vain to guide his ward away too, gently trying to lead him away from Putin and his cohort who seem to be struggling ever harder not to laugh. It doesn’t work, as the President stands his ground, stubbornly continuing his defence as a translator desperately tries to keep up converting it into mostly incomprehensible Russian. He’s glad to be taken away, back to the lockers where engineers start to swarm around him unscrewing his armour and plugging it into various computers for the post fight analysis. It’s only back here that he can relax a little, free of the obligations of being on show.

His commander is leaning against the wall watching the process, a cigarette slowly dying on his lips.

“Sir, permission to speak?”

The officer nods, rheumy eyes inattentive.

“Was that really the President of the USA?”

An engineer stifles a snigger.

“It was. Not impressed?”

“Do you think he noticed that his wig was falling off?”

His commander pauses for a second to stub the tail end of his cigarette out against the wall.

“I doubt it, he didn’t notice when he signed Texas over to us, he just kept telling people about how he could run faster than President Putin, if he wanted to. I don’t think he pays much attention.

Sergei nods and shakes off the last piece of his disassembled exosuit, glad as always that no one expects him to pay attention to politics.

For more from me you can check out my novel Crashed America (free on Kindle until 6/2/2017!) – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks. 

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Crashed America – Free on Kindle from February 2nd – 6th

Crashed America by Dylan Malik Orchard Novel

Nuns With Guns

AVAILABLE HERE ON AMAZON!

To mark the slow collapse of Western civilisation into the orange hued abyss of yuuuge egotism and the possibility nuclear war with the nefarious Chinese, I’ve put my novel Crashed America up for a free giveaway from the 2nd to the 6th of February. After all, there are far worse ways to while away those last ticking seconds on the apocalypse clock than curling up in your bunker with a good book and your emergency rations. Like paying attention to reality for example, or stabbing yourself in the eye with a rusty Stanley knife.

It’s available here on Amazon, but don’t worry if you don’t have one of their readers, there are Kindle apps/plugins for all smartphones, tablets and even one for Google Chrome, so you can always find a way to read it. Unless of course you have none of/hate all of those things (and why wouldn’t you?) in which case go and buy the paperback edition so you can lord it up in front of those backwards technophiles with their glaring screens and soulless circuits.

Feel free to spread the word by sharing the link far and wide, the more the merrier and, as always, reviews and support are very welcome, plus it’s good karma to support your local Indie author. The only way word gets out is if you spread it.

When Joe sets off for those United States of America he has a whole list of plans, dreams, schemes and delusions to be lived out against an idealised Americana backdrop. Killing Jesus isn’t exactly among them but, as ever, life does its own thing.

After crashing in Alabama Joe finds himself caught up in the prelude to the End of Days, with the Devil on one side, a Hillbilly clan on the other and the whole spectrum of crazy in between – from a Satanic Reagan to good old boys Waco and ET. None of which makes any sense to him, or his new found companion the born again atheist Father Fitzpatrick but with enough moonshine, guns, nuns, demons and backwoods mysticism he might just make it through. Although the rest of the world might not.

Crashed America is a darkly comic novel tinged with absurdity, surrealism and the excessive consumption of alcohol, black magic and insanity.

As always you can find more of my writing on this site, including a couple of short stories listed below featuring characters from Crashed America and, if you want to be kept up to date with new stuff, be sure to sign up to my newsletter, follow this blog or follow me on social media.

Make Hetsaw Great Again
McCarrick Christmas Special
The Ballad of Moscow Pete

Cheers,

Dylan

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Platform 323 (Part Five)

Platform 323 - Space Picture - Use and Modification Licensed

This is, possibly, part on of an ongoing serialisation derived from something I’ve already written. The plan is to put a new part up every Tuesday so feel free to like it, or follow the blog, if you want to see more. You can find all parts here.

The crew were gathered in the mess hall. ‘Hall’ was, perhaps, being overly optimistic given that it only held 9, or 11 if a couple were willing to perch precariously on each others laps. Only Schneider wasn’t present as he continued his half hearted vigil in command but the cynical faces of the other 8 crew members was more than enough for Murat to face up to.

Again only Ecce seemed particularly interested in either him or the events unfolding around them, with the rest distracted by their own thoughts. Probably thoughts about desertion, better futures or maybe even mutiny, Murat mused. No matter, for now he still had at least a tenuous grip on them and if they could just somehow pull off this job then all would be forgiven. A rich, drunk pirate was a happy pirate after all – the first thing O’Shaw had taught him.

“Whatever’s on that ship it’s worth a lot. And we’re going to take it.”

Silence kept a grip on the room.

“Their captain, Kochelski, isn’t making things easy. She’s a rookie, trying to stare us down, thinks there’s nothing we can do, that we’ll just disappear if she threatens us enough. I know you and you know me, we’re not the sort to just give up are we?”

What was intended as a rousing tone came across as an earnest question. One quickly answered by an unseen voice who shouted out ‘Yes!’ in what Murat suspected was a poor impression of him.

“… no, we’re not… So we’re going to board them and take what we want, before anyone else shows up”

Again, what had seemed stirring and inspirational in his head came out as a rather limp request but at least no one shouted ‘no’ in reply, which was just about as close to a positive reaction as he’d expected. Although the voice of Murat’s inner survivalist did let out a blood curdling howl to itself, demanding to know what had happened to good old running away before he’d even gotten the vague order out of his mouth.

“so if you know how to fire a gun, get one and if you don’t learn to fast. We’re going in!”

Again silence. Murat nodded awkwardly and made a swift exit pausing briefly at the doorway as he tried to think of something better to say – although not for long as Ecce barged into the back of him and shunted him out into the hallway. Nodding again as she sped past him, her eyes full of crazed enthusiasm, he did his best to retain a look of detached cool, at least until she was out of sight and he could stumble into a cargo hold for a moment’s quiet reflection and dejection.

He’d had to say something, that much was obvious, the crew were barely there and they needed good, old fashioned leadership. Murat just wished he knew a form of leadership which didn’t rely so heavily on suicidal attacks on unknown enemies – but that was a narrow mindedness born of long and harsh experience. Back in his military days generals had routinely sent thousands of men over the top to near certain death for no better reason than the lack of any other ideas. ‘Strategy’ they’d called it and even when everyone died they’d always seemed happy enough with their efforts. Murat had hated them, the out of shape, smugly ponderous commanders who’d issued the orders before returning to HQ for a nice sit down and an evening of boozing and excess. Unfortunately he’d also paid too much attention to them and despite himself he couldn’t help but choose a pointless and ill-planned attack over endless patience or a bit of quiet reflection and a measured retreat. O’Shaw had tried to train him out of it and had gotten half way to getting the job done, if nothing else Murat now at least had the good sense to properly regret his bad decisions rather than fall back into the military mentality of half hearted grumbling and blithely accepting them.

But like those old generals he was trapped by his own need to be seen to be doing something. He could hear the crew shuffling out of the hall and heading off to grab their weapons. Their voices as they went were muffled by the steel door of the hold but it didn’t take much wild speculation to guess that they were complaining about him. Not that it would do them much good, they hadn’t argued the point and that meant they’d obey him and, if things didn’t go right, then they’d be far too dead to argue with him. And he’d be far too dead for them to blame. It wasn’t the most comforting of thoughts but he’d take whatever he could get.

It took Murat another twenty minutes to build up the will to leave the cargo hold. The crew had wandered off to prepare themselves in their own way, be it through illicit drink, checking their firearms or posing in front of mirrors trying to convince themselves that they really were mad, bad and dangerous to know. Or, in the case of the more sensible ones, writing wills and letters to loved ones in the hope that they’d find a way to their recipients if the whole thing went wrong. It was a familiar ritual to the ex-soldiers amongst them and a depressingly necessary one. Stopping at a wall panel Murat opened a channel to the command deck where Schneider was startled out of a hypnotic focus on his origami, his face sinking as he saw his Captain on the screen in front of him.

“Find Ling, get her to line us up with that ship and then get your stuff together for boarding.”

The look on Schneider’s face reinforced Murat’s opinion of the plan and it’s lack of merits but the eccentric American gave a nod of acceptance nonetheless.

“You got it chief, suicide mission it is.”

The screen went black before Murat could argue.

They had perhaps an hour to spare now. Ling, a former engineer from the Chinese power block who’d made good her escape after being sent on a covert transport mission not unlike the one they were about to try and ruin, would have to line them up. Nothing moved fast in space and for all the chaotic action to come the prelude was a painstaking process. Pilots in general were an irrelevance on a ship like this. Much as they tried to cultivate their own mythos and air of buccaneering cool their main job was to point and click, while the auto-pilot did the real work. It was space, after all, you could pretty much just point yourself in whatever direction you wanted to go and hit the accelerator. But when it came to the pirates and raiders the job required a different skill set. Boarding meant finding a section of the enemies hull that you could cut through. More importantly, an area that you could cut through without finding yourself walking into a fuel tank, waste processor or barracks on the other side. Going in at the wrong place could all too easily mean decompression, explosions and instant death not just for your own crew but the oppositions’ too. Salvagers called it a Lovers Death, two crews wiped out because someone had latched on an inch or two in the wrong direction. Murat had seen it, or at least the aftermatch, during his time with O’Shaw. His former captain had said nothing as they’d cut their own hole and looted both ships. Only when they’d been heading away had he aired his opinion – ‘better us than the salvagers’. Nobody liked the salvagers, or scavengers, as they were more usually known.

All of that had led him to find Ling. She was a genius, according to her. A prized asset of the Chinese state and therefore a legend in her own mind – a real pilot who could steer a cargo ship onto a penny without breaking a sweat. Murat suspected she was full of shit but she was good and even if it took a while she’d get them into the right place and then they’d cut. Ecce could do that, it’d keep her busy, plus when the rest of them went into the breech she’d have to be at least a few seconds behind dropping the cutting gear. Sentimentality on Murat’s part but the old soldiers, pirates and detritus that made up the rest of his crew would at least have some idea of what they were walking into, she was all too liable to try and be a hero. Coming last wouldn’t do her much good if things went wrong but a few seconds might save her if they could secure whatever part of the ship they found themselves on.

Another command tapped into the wall panel brought Ecce’s face onto the screen. She was in her quarters and looked at least momentarily embarrassed at the casual backdrop before snapping back into her usual enthusiastic formality. At a guess she’d been posing with her uniform and a pricey pistol she’d somehow found herself. Rookies from the quieter platforms tended to be like that, big on shiny guns, uniforms, gadgets and big on mirrors or any shiny surface they could find. Experience tended to beat that out of them, the rest of the crew by comparison would likely be sporting assault rifles more or less identical to the ones they’d had in the various armies, the de jure weapon of choice for piracy. After all you didn’t need to be flash to shoot someone but if you missed then having a weapon which could double as a hefty club was never a bad idea or, if you were lucky, the club bit could come first and any risk of hitting a bulk head and finding yourself seeing black for the few seconds before you brain shut down would be negated.

“Yes sir?”

“You can quit the posing, Ecce, time to get your hands dirty – you’re on cutting duty.”

“Yes sir! I’ll get to the docking tubes now!”

She fired off a salute and sprinted out of the room before Murat could even close the channel. He let out a weary sigh, there was something continually disconcerting over someone who would get equally enthusiastic whether you told them they’d won the lottery, were going into a situation where they were liable to die or even just spending half an hour with an oxyacetylene cutter. It was youthful naivete, he assumed, but he was damned if he could remember ever being like that and the rest of the crew seemed to view her with the same nervous confusion. If they were, for the most part, jaded and grizzled veterans then she was the over-excited puppy who somehow ended up at the head of the pack. She’d learn, he dimly hoped but it was hard to see excitement like that fading into the apathy of the career pirate. If she ever did end up with her own crew they’d either get very rich very quick or die their first time out. Either way it wasn’t a thought Murat cared to consider given that it’d involve her leaving the crew and there being absolutely no one left who showed him the slightest bit of respect.

For more from me you can check out my novel Crashed America – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks. 

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