Weapon Of Choice short story – excerpt
Thought it might be nice to post a section from WOC, just as a teaser. The following is from the opening couple of pages:
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The covered jeep jolted as it drove along the cracked, holed road. Sitting in the back, Mark Napier felt his filter mask slip and quickly pushed it back into place, keen to avoid the fine dust that swirled around the convoy as it headed north under the relentless Iraqi noonday sun.
Across from him, McPhail leaned on the barrel of his SA-80 and grinned.
“Ah don’t know why you bother,” he said. “This muck gets everywhere and we end up eating and drinking it anyway. Might as well put some in a salt cellar an’ sprinkle it on our shiny meals!”
Napier shrugged. “Aye, but at least it beats having to breath it for an hour or so…”
He paused as he heard a faint sound outside, a far-off buzzing, and frowned at McPhail.
“Chopper?” he said. “Apache?”
“Well, it’ll no’ be a Chinook, will it?”
Napier and McPhail were both squaddies in the 2nd battalion of the North Highland Regiment. Their unit had been assigned to guard detail for a supply convoy heading for a British army outpost north of Basra, and both had seen action throughout southern Iraq since the dictator was deposed.
Peering through the canvas roof’s opaque window, Napier tried to locate the helicopter but without success.
“Their IFF’d better be working,” he muttered.
“Don’t worry,” McPhail said. “All the cowboys want are some mobs of hajjis to play with, preferably a wedding party!”
Napier smiled and gave a throaty laugh but was not really amused. A lot of the guys in the company called the Iraqis ‘hajjis’ or ‘ragheads’, guys like McPhail who enjoyed the power that came with being a Coalition soldier and never missed a chance to put on a swagger. When dealing directly with the Iraqi people, soldiers like McPhail somehow managed to project a certain arrogance even when employing the polite courtesies that were required of the British soldier in Iraq.
He wondered if upbringing had anything to do with it. Napier came from a bleak housing scheme on the outskirts of Dundee, while McPhail’s folks lived in a semi in Inverness. Neither of their families had strong links to the armed forces and although both joined and trained in the same group Napier never felt inclined to become more friendly than necessary with him.
McPhail was talking with the jeep’s co-driver, a Geordie called Harry, about the fight put up by the Iraqis during the liberation.
“Ah mean, their gear was 20 year out of date,” he said. “But they had stacks of it – old BMP’s and they Russky T54’s and 55’s.”
“S’right,” Harry said. “They gave us a lot of stick in the first week or two.”
“Aye, and here’s the funny thing – a Yank engineer told me that Saddam’s boys had 5000 operational armoured vehicles o’ one type or another – 5000. So where are they now, that’s what I want to….”
Which was the last thing Napier heard him say, just before the truck in front exploded in a ball of fire.
The convoy had been passing by a row of burnt-out, half-demolished houses with not a living soul in sight. Later, he realized that it must have been a mine rather than a roadside bomb. As the front of the truck jerked upwards, it went into abrupt reverse; the jeep’s driver yelled an obscenity and swung the wheel hard over to the left. Then something, probably an RPG, struck the right flank of the blazing truck which then flipped over onto the fleeing jeep. The last thing Napier saw was McPhail grabbing the rear of the canvas framework, as if to drag himself out of the back of the jeep, before the truck hit and a crushing, deafening darkness slammed down, burying them all.
* * *
In a grey place of ceaseless snow, the Forge rumbles along. Immense bulls haul on ice-encrusted chains and iron-rimmed wheels the size of houses groan on their axles while gouts of steam provide a writhing hazy shroud. A dirty orange glow escapes from half-open hatches, grilled vents, and small square windows of grimy glass, and the clangour of beaten metal can be heard far out into the endless snowstorm.
And in his ordinance chamber, seated on a throne of shields and axes, the Forgemaster knows of the soldier Napier, feeling the weight of the truck pressing down on him, tasting his agonized desperation, discerning the balance of the man’s beliefs, and he thinks – this one is suitable.
With a curved dagger the colour of dried blood he reaches out to a brass-framed mirror and draws the point down its length. Masks on the walls murmur as the mirror shivers and alters to show several vehicles burning on a sandy road. Then with his other hand he lunges through to grasp what he wants, and a moment later the soldier lies at his feet, torn, bloody and unconscious. The Forgemaster grins as he studies this new acquisition then turns to his overseer who answered his unspoken summons.
Take this one to the bloodsmiths, he says. Fix what needs to be fixed, then have them make me a good bait, one that the Army cannot resist! Then send him back to where they can find him easily….
Again, this story is published in Midnight Street No 11, which is out now from http://www.midnightstreet.co.uk/
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