Survival Friday: Excerpt from The Green Beret Survival Guide
Most people spend a considerable amount of time in their car. Whether it’s a road trip or a daily commute. Yet, I’ve rarely seen information about the car included in survival books.
Here are some sobering numbers:
In 2005 there were 6,420,000 auto accidents. When you consider most are multi-car and multi-people, that means there is a very good chance of it happening. To you. Remember, you might be the greatest driver in the world, but that guy over there, yeah, him, might be drunk. Or high. Or texting.
2.9 million people were injured in those accidents.
42,636 people were killed. In essence over a hundred people die every day in car accidents. About one every fifteen minutes.
Car crashes are the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 3 and 34.
So what do you need to do and what do you need to know?
The first thing is preparation and that starts with getting the right car. A safe car. While we might fret over gas mileage or looks or sound system, the priority, given the odds of accidents, is to buy a car that has an excellent crash rating. The government has a web site where you can find car safety ratings at http://www.safercar.gov/Safety+Ratings
Every year, cars gain more and more safety features. We started with seatbelts. By the way, seat belts don’t work if you don’t use them.
There are also blind spot warning systems, lane departure warnings, collision warning/avoidance, etc. Research a car before buying it and see what its safety rating is.
If your car doesn’t have automatic running lights, turn on parking lights and leave them on while driving. Do it automatically. I turn on my Jeep fog and parking lights as soon as I turn on the ignition.
Top rules for safe driving:
- · Don’t speed.
- · Don’t drive drunk or high or on medication that says not to operate heavy machinery.
- · Avoid distractions. That means no texting. No talking on the cell phone. And by the way, just because you have a headset or speaker, you’re still distracted because you’re engaging your brain in two active tasks at the same time. And even consider not having that in depth conversation with the person in the passenger seat. I’ve seen drivers gesturing with both hands at the passenger. Hmm.
- · Wear your seatbelt. It keeps you in the car. The car is your best protection in an accident.
- · Don’t drive sleepy. Our body operates in rhythms. When taking long trips, there are going to be times of day when you are less alert than others. Pull off in a safe place and close your eyes for 30 minutes. It can save your life.
- · Weather rules.
- · Drive within your vision. If fog or darkness or rain reduces visibility don’t go faster than your cone of stopping. If you are in bad visibility and pull off to the side of the road to wait it out, either turn on your flashers or turn off your lights. But if you sit there with your lights on, other drivers will think you are in a lane and will smash into you from behind.
- · Keep a safe distance. Can’t you just feel it when someone in a rush pulls up right behind, anxious to gain those extra seconds, even it means killing you and them? You’ve got your whole life ahead of you, a few seconds aren’t going to change that. Follow the three second rule. That means when the car in front of you passes something, count to three, and you should not pass the same object before you get to three.
- · Assume everyone else is a bad driver. And if they’re going to do something stupid, they will. Just because he has his right turn signal on, don’t assume that car is turning and pull out. Check your rear view mirrors. I always want to know who is behind and alongside me. I always want to know if I can swerve if I have to switch lanes in a hurry. I watch other drivers to see what they’re watching. It amazes me the number of people who never look in the rearview mirrors.
- · Avoid road rage. Yes, they are idiots. Yes, they can kill you. But you can get so caught up in your reaction, you end up being more dangerous to yourself and others.
- · Buy good tires. Replace them before they reach safety limits. Replace all of them at the same time. Don’t rotate in tires as needed. Make sure your tire pressure is correct. Tires keep you on the road.
- · Don’t let your gas level fall below half a tank. Yes, I know some of you are daredevils. You want to see how far you can go with the needle at empty, like Kramer in Seinfeld. Don’t. In the Army, when I was in mechanized Infantry, it was a court martial offense if one of your armored vehicles ran out of fuel. Just get in the habit of every time your gauge hits half, to top off. Do it for a month and it will be instinctual. And your significant other will never yell at you again for running out of gas. And you’ll be damn happy to have that fuel as others wait in line after the hurricane. Because after Sandy, even though some people didn’t really need the gas, there was a rush to get some, because in civilization we have these strange fears. Don’t get caught up in that.
- · I was thinking about where to get gas during an extreme emergency. It occurred to me there would be a large amount for the siphoning at the long term parking lot at the nearby airport. This is the way you’re going to have to think in an extreme emergency.
- · Keep your brakes maintained and check your brake and power steering fluid. If you don’t know how to do this, take your car in to a mechanic every so often.
- · If there is water on the road ahead and you don’t know how deep it is, don’t attempt to drive through. At Fort Hood, Texas, the road would dip down into a dry gulch and there would be markers on the side of the culvert indicating the high point during flash flooding. It was often well over the roof of the car.
- · Hydroplaning: Did it, done it, won’t ever drive fast on wet roads again. Roads are most dangerous just as it starts to rain as oil and other liquids already deposited on it rise. But in heavy rain, the road could be covered by more water than can be drained away. Hydroplaning occurs when there is more water on the road than your tires can push away. The tires are then literally lifted on a sheet of water, losing your traction. Ways to avoid it:
- o slow down
- o avoid standing water as much as possible
- o slow down
- o turn off cruise control
- o slow down
- o avoid hard and sudden braking
- o slow down
- o avoid sharp turns
- o did I mention SLOW DOWN?
- · Tornados. Should you stay in the car? Stop the car and get under a bridge? What’s your answer? Probably wrong. The best is to not be driving in bad weather. If you can see it, drive away from it as quickly and safely as possible. Move at right angles to the tornado. If you can, seek shelter in a building or underground, such as a culvert. If you get caught, do NOT get out of the car. It’s not entirely safe, but it’s better than the options. Pull off the road, out of traffic, because that other idiot is still going to be barreling down the road at 70 miles an hour even though he can’t see. Make sure you have your set belt on. Put your head down to avoid broken glass and hurled objects. Cover your head with a blanket or jacket. Do NOT seek shelter under overpasses. Tornados can move at sixty miles an hour, so think hard before trying to out-run one. To get an idea of the path of the storm, pick a stationery object near you and watch how the tornado moves in relation to that object. If it is moving to your left, drive to the right and vice versa. If it doesn’t seem to be moving left or right, then it’s either coming right at you or away from you. If it’s getting bigger, guess which of the two? Get out of the car and seek safety in a building or culvert if you have the time.
- · If your car catches on fire: 33 cars catch on fire every hour and 18% of all fires occur on roads. So it’s not as rare as you think. On average, one person a day dies in a car fire. Here are some keys:
- o keep your car maintained. Many fires occur because of leaking seals where oil or gas come in contact with hot metal.
- o if you smell burning rubber or plastic or any smoke, immediately pull over to a safe place and check it out.
- o if a fuse continues to go out, that’s a sign of a short. Don’t ignore it. Get the car checked out.
- o while I highly recommend carrying a fire extinguisher in your vehicle, if the fire is fueled by your gas line, forget about it and get a safe distance away. At least 150 feet. Warn others in the area and keep them away while calling 911.
- · if you are locked in your trunk, either through a car jacking or your friends played a really mean joke on you, do you know how to get out? And get new friends?
- o if the trunk has a release lever, use it. Do you know if yours has one? All cars since 2002 should have one.
- o be calm. Trunks are not airtight. Don’t hyper-ventilate. The greater danger is heat or cold, depending on your environment.
- o see what tools you have handy. Trunks are, well, trunks. People put a lot of stuff in them. If the spare is in there, it’s likely the tire iron is too. That’s an excellent tool and weapon.
- o escape through the back seat. Some are fold down, which makes it easy. Others don’t, but it’s easier to tear through material than metal. Use the tire iron to punch through.
- o if none of that works, and you’ve been car-napped, disconnect the brake and tail lights. You might even be able to reach through and break out the lights. The lack of these lights might lead to someone calling the car in and/or the police pulling you over.
- o use the tire iron to pry open the trunk itself or at least make an opening to signal for help.
- o if the car is speeding down the highway at 70 miles an hour, that is not the moment to jump from the trunk. Every vehicle must eventually stop for re-fueling.
- · Keep at least a half-gallon of water and power bars within reach of the drivers seat. Most cars have storage behind the passenger seat. That’s a good place to put that.
- · Even though you have four-wheel drive, that doesn’t mean the vehicle stops any faster. Physics rules. Mass times velocity. In Colorado, I was always amazed to see people flying by in their four-wheel drive vehicles, apparently thinking the traction would remain the same if they had to swerve or suddenly brake.
- · When you start seeing cars that have slid off the road, that’s a sign. Black ice is a great danger. You can’t see it. The largest warning sign you will get of it is other cars off the road. Slow down.
- · If you skid, turn into the skid to straighten out.
Equipment That You Should Carry
You should have a G&G bag always in your car, which takes care of most of the basic survival equipment. Some gear is specific to a vehicle though.
Here is a generic road safety kit, which will take of most of these items:
http://goo.gl/Dbvok Bridgestone and Travel Road Safety Kit with Carry Case
- · two water bottles within arm’s reach
- · road safety reflective triangle
- · jumper cables. Make sure you and everyone who will be in the vehicle learn how to use them correctly.
- · tire gauge
- · a blanket
- · flares
- · flat tire fixer. These are cans you can buy to use as a temporary fix for minor leaks, but for a blow out, they won’t work.
- · heavy gloves. These come in handy when changing tires or working near hot parts.
- · duct tape. We called it hundred mile an hour tape in the Army because that’s how fast it got used up.
- · a first aid kit.
- · a basic toolkit.
- · A tow rope or strap. I have a winch on the front of my jeep. I still need a tow strap to attach to the end of the cable.
- · A jack. I know, you assume you have one. Have you looked? I carry a Hi-Lift jack on the rear bumper of my Jeep. The key to a high lift jack is that it supplements my winch. Using a long tow cable, a Hi-Lift jack can be used to pull out stuck vehicles, and move trees and other obstacles.
- · If your spare is locked onto your car, do you know where the unlock device is?
- · Does everyone know how to change a tire? You’d be surprised.
- · When we lived on Whidbey Island, WA, we took the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry whenever we wanted to leave the island. We immediately outfitted all our vehicles with a little hammer/cutter device that allowed you to smash open a window and cut loose from your seat belt in case the car went into the water. Place this device within easy arms reach of your seat. There are also spring loaded car window breakers. I carried one on my key chain. Here is the LifeHammer:
http://goo.gl/O5hSr LifeHammer The Original Emergency Hammer
In my Jeep, I have a Smittybilt GEAR seat cover on the passenger seat. On the back of it I have all the various packs attached. I carry a lot of gear in that.
http://goo.gl/7IAtF Smittybilt 5661001 GEAR Black Front Seat Cover
So says Kahlil Gibran Kahlil. I made the error during Beast Barracks of buying off on the pitch from the brand new Arabic instructor at West Point—it was the first year they were offering the language and they needed enough bodies to fill a section. So I signed up.
I had not yet learned the military maxim: never volunteer for nothing.
Lots of numbers being bandied about in publishing now. Lines are drawn. Bayonets are being sharpened along with pencils and you know what? Readers don’t give a crap.
Indie authors apparently make. Whatever. In all these surveys, I doubt my numbers are getting counted. 60 titles spread over a bunch of genres, most indie, some with 47North, some with the Martians. I also have a nice revenue stream from Audible ACX. Why does everyone suddenly care what I make? They never did in traditional publishing.
One truth is that all the numbers are completely skewed in traditional publishing by a handful of mega-bestselling authors. Take them out and the whole thing changes drastically.
Maybe that’s the key to all of this. We need to clean up our own house. Because that’s what we control.
Hugh Howey tweeted something interesting, something I’ve been harping on for a couple of years. It’s not about who makes more money or how or whether they’re hybrid, inbred, or have two heads. It’s about RIGHTS.
When music imploded digitally, the musicians who not only survived, but prospered, did it one of two ways. On tour. (Which aint likely for authors). And/or controlling the rights to their music.
In case no one has noticed, author rights are being sold. E-reads was just sold. Along with all those contracts. I was with E-reads so long I got my rights back after seven years. This selling of rights is going to happen more and more. Sort of like your mortgage during the bubble. Remember that? Authors could end up with the Russian mob owning their rights. I watched a special where David Geffen talked about trading Poco’s contract to another agent for Neil Young’s. Really.
And if I see one more indie author taking a trad deal and bubbling about how much is being offered them, how wonderful it’s going to be, I would make a gentle suggestion. Let’s hear from them in a couple of years. If you haven’t been trad published, you are likely in for a very rude awakening. I cringe sometimes when I see someone who has been successful self-publishing, who signs away their rights for not just the up front money but what they think is going to be all the great distribution, marketing, yada yada yada. I recommend any author who is thinking of going indie to trad, research back a couple of years and study the first authors to do that. Where are they now? How glad are they now they sold away those rights? I might be wrong, but I haven’t heard much about some of them. I can, however, check their rankings on Amazon. I’m reminded of when a Roman consul/emperor returned to the city and they held a Triumph and there was a slave in the chariot whispering “Respice post te, hominem memento te.”
The flip side is that indie publishing is getting tougher and tougher. Take out the top 5% of indie authors and the numbers are also skewed. The market is saturated. Bestseller lists have very few consistent titles, even day to day. What many indies aren’t saying is that the increasing competition is making it tough. I know Hugh Howey thinks the pie can grow bigger, but Joe Konrath speculated that a couple of years ago, and it’s simply not reality.
For trad authors thinking of going indie, here is some food for thought.
- Where will you be in five years when print is mostly via POD? I’m seeing Createspace (Amazon) Kiosks in airports printing books soon.
- Where will you be in five years if you don’t own any of your rights and you are no longer frontlist with the publisher that does own those rights? Think they’ll be pushing you? Hahahahahaha. Sorry. Had to do that after looking at royalties for my three co-written NY Times bestsellers that are backlist with St. Martins. I made more yesterday indie than I do in six months on those books.
- Percentage wise, the revenue you would receive from indie publishing will likely more than make up for the loss of what your traditional publisher is doing for you. Seriously. I can do the math of your royalty statement.
- Control. How much do you have? Date of release? Cover? Editing? Pricing? Library distribution? Cover copy? Marketing? Running specials? Most importantly creatively? Can you write what you want to write? What your fans want?
- You can’t really self-publish. Not if you have multiple titles. It’s so much more than just cover, formatting, etc. The digital dance (trademarking that now, like I should have done hybrid author) is complex. But I don’t think you need to give up 50% of the royalties for those services. You need a partner who will do that for you, giving you more than they get. A concierge service for authors where the creator of the content is valued more than the mode of delivery.
There’s another saying which is considered also a curse: May you live in interesting times.
Ah yes– FREE for the next 2 days: West Point to Mexico, the first part of my Duty, Honor, Country trilogy. From West Point in 1842 into the Mexican War. My West Point-Civl War version of HBO’s Rome. Did you know the Mexican War was the bloodiest in our history percentage wise?
*****Admin Note From Jen*****
Blog Contest for this Week: Sign up for Bob’s Newsletter and get your name put in for a drawing to win all three Duty, Honor, Country books in AUDIO. The complete trilogy! Bob sends out a newsletter no more than 4-6 times per year. Besides interesting information about Cool Gus, Sassy Becca and The Big Orange (Bob’s new Jeep), Bob also gives his newsletter subscribers exclusive content. You can sign up here.
Survival Friday: Excerpt from The Green Beret Survival Guide
This is where you have to start making some tough decisions.
First, do you even want a team? There are advantages and disadvantages to a team, which also change depending on whether you have a mild, moderate or extreme emergency. Here are some for you to consider:
- The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. You can’t be an expert on everything. Having an array of people who bring different, needed skills, is important.
- Some people just can’t handle being alone. Can you?
- A sense of purpose. In combat, soldiers fight for each other, not for a cause. Being a member of a team can increase your motivation to get out of yourself and fight for the survival of those who you care about and are with you.
- In an extreme emergency, long term survival will eventually depend on team building. In this scenario you often won’t have much of a choice who you will ally with. Groups will form with different agendas. You have to evaluate your goals, and also whether you will be an asset to the team and whether the team will view you as an asset. What do you bring to the table?
- You make a larger target. It is indeed better to run away rather than fight. Your running away is limited by your slowest member. The only soldier I had to remove my A-Team couldn’t keep up with us in the field, carrying our typically extremely heavy combat load. You are also more likely to be discovered in an extreme survival situation as part of a team.
- You are letting others in on your survival plan. Remember when I mentioned earlier that the lazy survivalist simply lets others prepare, then comes in and plunders?
- Will the members of the team actually pull their weight? Below I will discuss team building. To wait until a survival situation to evaluate team-members is foolhardy.
- Security gets looser, the more people on the team. I call it the trust ripple effect. How many people do you trust? Trust with your life? How many people do they trust? In the move Contagion, as soon as the CDC character tells his wife about the outbreak and to get out of town, warning her to TELL NO ONE, what does she immediately do? Tell someone. As Ben Franklin said: “Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” In covert operations we tended to be very paranoid, but you’re not paranoid if they are out to get you.
Where to find survival team members?
Most likely it will be your family.
Think about last Thanksgiving. Do you really want to huddle in a hide site with those people?
In mild to moderate emergencies, you will want to gather your family and friends as quickly as possible. Much of what I discuss about teams applies to this situation.
Other places to find potential survival buddies:
- Your church. Ask the Mormons. They have this down to a science. Actually, a religion.
- Hunting and garden clubs. Two extremes here, but each brings something to the table.
- Those attending self-defense classes or survival workshops.
Honestly, though, much like I am not a fan of writers groups, since they are often the blind leading the blind, I’m not a fan of picking strangers to be on your survival team. The level of trust needed, especially in an extreme emergency, is very, every high. Ask yourself: do I trust this person, these people, with my life?
The whole can be greater than the sum of the parts. Think what this means for survival. Honesty is the cornerstone of strong teamwork because it builds trust and respect. How many strangers would you trust? How many people that you know would you trust with your life? And remember, the worse the emergency, the more people will lie, cheat and steal, and eventually, kill, placing their survival ahead of yours. There will also be those who won’t. Remember in the movie Contagion when the scientist, with her dying gesture, tries to give the man on the next cot, her blanket?
There are those who would give you the shirt off their back and those who would steal the shirt off your back.
Yes, my 60th book is published today. So I’m interupting previously scheduled programming to bring you the opening of my latest opus: Nightstalkers: The Rift
On 21 August, 1945, Harry K. Daghlian was stacking blocks just fifteen days after the bomb they’d put together at Los Alamos blew the dragon’s breath onto Hiroshima and twelve days after Nagasaki received the same fate.
Enrico Fermi called what Daghlian was doing “tickling the dragon’s tail.”
He had no idea how right he was.
On this day, Daghlian dropped a block.
Everyone has dropped something. Sometimes one hits the big toe and hops about and curses. Sometimes the thing dropped breaks. Unfortunately, the blocks Daghlian was stacking and what he was stacking them around, were both rather unusual.
Rarely does the thing dropped kill, but when connected to the dragon, nothing good can happen. Daghlian was part of the Critical Assembly Group and was attempting to build a neutron reflector by arranging bricks of tungsten carbide around a plutonium core, trying to achieve criticality.
He was moving the last brick into place, sort of like never do the last run on the ski slope, except a lot more dangerous, when the neutron counters in the room went off, alerting him that the last brick would be a mistake. What physicists call going supercritical and layman call a “big oops”.
As Daghlian withdrew his hand, he dropped the brick.
This caused the core to go into what’s technically called “prompt critical region of supercritical behavior resulting in a power excursion” and what a layman would call “oh shit.”
Give him credit. Daghlian didn’t run away. He didn’t spin in circles and scream and shout. He attempted to knock the dropped brick off the pile.
He then stuck to the job and began disassembling the pile to halt the reaction. He managed to do so and in the process received an estimated dosage of 510 REM.
He was dead twenty-five days later.
Exactly nine months later to the day, as if Daghlian’s death had conceived and was giving birth, another scientist working on the exact same core, in the exact same room, poked the dragon’s tail with a screwdriver.
He’d been warned. After they buried Daghlian, everyone muttering proud words at the funeral service and remembering the good times building the atomic bombs, Fermi looked Louis Slotin in the eye and told him: “Keep doing that experiment, tickling the dragon’s tail that way, and you’ll be dead within a year.”
For a betting person, anyone who took the under of three months, made a lot.
In front of seven of his fellow scientists, Slotin was maneuvering two half-spheres of beryllium around the same plutonium core. He had his left hand on one of the half-spheres, with his thumb in a hole drilled into the top and a screwdriver in his right, which he was using to keep the two half-spheres apart.
He’d removed the safety shims that usually did that.
They’re called safety shims for a reason.
He didn’t drop the half-sphere in his left hand. He missed with the screwdriver in his right, the blade slipping and allowing the two halves to touch, ever so briefly. Slotin flung the half in his left hand to the ground, but the damage had been done.
Everyone in the room saw a blue glow, the air in the room being ionized. They were all washed by the dragon’s breath, a blast of warm air, also known as radioactivity. Slotin’s hand was burned and he had a strange taste in his mouth, as if he’d swallowed something sour. In fact, his entire body had absorbed something deadly. As his colleagues hustled him from the lab, he began vomiting.
That was just the beginning of the bad. While Daghlian had died in a coma, Slotin wasn’t so fortunate. Over the next nine days his body disintegrated until death brought a merciful end.
Two days after Slotin died, a convoy of heavily armed army vehicles pulled up to the front gate of Los Alamos. Given that the base had the highest security clearance possible given it headquartered the Manhattan Project, it was rather amazing that the leader of the convoy could produce paperwork that cleared that high hurdle and the convoy was allowed access.
The men inside the vehicles were dressed in army fatigues but had no rank, no names stenciled on above their breast pockets, no unit insignias. They just carried weapons in a way that indicated every one was a hardened combat veteran looking for an excuse to use those weapons. They seemed to have a particular dislike for scientists.
The convoy drove straight to the lab.
Fermi was waiting outside, having been alerted by the gate guards.
“Might I help you?” he inquired of the hard-looking, gray haired man who led the phalanx of soldiers to the door of the lab. A scar cross the man’s face from above his left eye to his right chin. It made his smile look terrible, but since he didn’t smile, it didn’t matter. He wore aviator sunglasses, hiding his eyes from not only the sun but everyone else. A set of pilot’s wings adorned his chest.
“My name is Thorn. Colonel Thorn.”
“And what can I do for you, Colonel Thorn?” Fermi asked. “The guards said you had authorization directly from the White House to access the base. I called Washington and that order was verified.”
“I want the plutonium core that killed Daghlian and Slotin.”
Fermi didn’t budge. “Why?”
“Because you idiots play with things you don’t understand.”
Fermi raised an eyebrow. “And you do?”
Thorn removed his sunglasses, revealing dead eyes. “We like to keep people alive.”
“We understand what we’re doing here,” Fermi said. “We developed the bombs that ended the war. You do remember that they worked.” It was not a question. The entire world knew that Little Boy and Fat Man worked.
“And two of your people killed themselves playing around with that core.” Thorn reached into his breast pocket and pulled out the same sheet of paper he’d shown the gate guards. “I have the authorization to take the core.”
Fermi reached out to take the paper and for a moment Thorn didn’t let go. Then he released and Fermi put on a pair of reading glasses and scanned the document.
“What is this Majestic-12 organization?” Fermi asked.
“You don’t need to know.”
“Where is Area 51?”
“You don’t need to know.”
“Who exactly are you and your men?”
“You don’t need to know.”
Fermi took off the reading glasses and handed the paper back. “Do you have the proper facilities to store the core?”
“Do you have scientists who understand what they’re dealing with?”
A grimace flickered for the slightest of moments on Thorn’s rough visage. “We do.”
Fermi frowned. “We have the best physicists in the country here. Who do you have?”
“You ask too many questions,” Thorn said. “I’m taking that core. We can do it easy or we can do it hard, Professor. My men would prefer hard. Personally, I like it easy.” That was such a blatant lie even Fermi, a scientist and not skilled in the subject of psychology could read it. Thorn was itching for the hard way.
Fermi stepped aside. “It is all yours then, Colonel.”
Thorn waved and his men went into the lab, rolling a large lead box they’d taken off a specially built truck. A cluster of guards, weapons at the ready, surrounded them.
“A bit overally dramatic, don’t you think?” Fermi observed.
“The guards, not the box,” Fermi said.
“Protocol is important,” Thorn said. “Didn’t Slotin violate protocol by removing the shims?”
Fermi had no response to that.
Several minutes the men re-appeared, rolling the box down the short ramp to the truck, muscles straining to control the weight.
“By the way, Colonel Thorn. Do you know what we call what you’ve just taken?” He indicated the large lead-box the men were now maneuvering onto the truck.
Thorn had put his sunglasses back on, hiding his eyes. “I figure you’re going to tell me, so go ahead.”
“The demon core.”
Roland stood on the open back ramp of the Snake, fifteen thousand feet above St. Louis, as calm as if he were waiting in line at Pottery Barn. Of course, Roland had no clue what a pottery barn was, but if one mentioned the term to him, he would deduce something to do with a recurring fantasy about fine china and a bull, which was pretty much the definition of Roland—the bull part. Roland was six-four, two hundred and forty pounds of muscle, bone and pure killer. He had a scar running along the right side of his head from temple to curling behind his ear. On his last trip to Vegas, he’d had it tattooed with barbed wire, which earned him a big-time ass chewing from Moms, because Nightstalkers weren’t supposed to have tattoos (the body could be identified), but in this case Ms. Jones intervened because the tattoo actually sort of hid the scar, which had been more noticeable than the black ink covering it and raised more questions.
And Roland was noticeable no matter what was on his skin.
The Snake was at fifteen thousand AGL because any higher and everyone inside would have to be on oxygen. As it was, the breathing was hard for normal people, but the people inside were anything but normal.
They were the Nightstalkers.
The best of the best, the cream of the crop, the tip of the spear, etcetera, etcetera, so secret they even wondered if they existed in their more existential moments, of which there weren’t many, except when Eagle, the pilot, got to thinking.
“There’s a lot of lights,” Roland observed, looking down.
“It’s a city,” Mac said, as if talking to a three year old, which is the way Mac talked to Roland pretty much all the time, except in combat, when Roland was everyone’s best friend. “A big city.”
“I know it’s a city,” Roland muttered. “But it’s three in the fraking morning.”
The team had recently done a Battlestar Gallactica marathon in the Den, buried underneath the Ranch, outside of Area 51, and frak was now the buzzword as Moms frowned on cussing. They had adopted it as adjective, adverb, verb and noun and simple exclamation. It had caught on with some, but not all.
“Two minutes,” Eagle announced from the cockpit.
Roland took a short step closer to the ramp. Moms came up and ran her hands lightly over his rig, doing a last minute jump master parachute inspection (JMPI), redundant, not needed and not Protocol, but Moms always checked Roland before a jump. Tradition trumped Protocol sometimes. She slapped him lightly on the shoulder and gave him thumbs up.
Roland blushed, because he always blushed when Moms paid him special attention. It wasn’t a sexual thing but a deep and abiding affection, much like a Doberman for its owner, because Moms had once saved his life in combat and for Roland there was no deeper love than that of combat.
Roland had concocted a unique rig for this jump and he was overly excited about trying it out, even though there was a good chance he was jumping into a real world equivalent of the Hell Mouth (they’d tried a Buffy marathon, but only Roland had wanted to see it through; that was cause he had immediately identified Buffy with Moms. The Nightstalkers dealt with things that made vampires look tame so the rest of them felt it was kind of lame). Roland had thousands and thousands of jumps in many different configurations and situations, but this one was unique even for him. The combination of aircraft freefall jump, directly to a landing and then a base jump, tickled his tiny, tiny imagination; or so Mac had said as Roland had prepped.
Roland, as usual, had ignored his poking.
“It is a city,” Nada said, his voice, more a growl, coming into each team members’ earpiece. “Even at three in the morning there’s likely to be civilians. We’ve got Support en route, but as always, we’re on our own for a bit. Remember. Containment, concealment and control. And the local law is as dangerous as anyone else because they give those people guns, even though they really shouldn’t to most of them.”
A couple of the Nightstalkers exchanged glances, because those three C words were their mantra and deeply imprinted in each of their brains. For Nada to see he needed to repeat them reminded them not only of the mantra, but that things had been a bit frayed in the past year on various missions.
Eagle: “One minute.”
“Doc?” Moms asked.
Doc was staring at his laptop screen, his forehead furrowed above his thick glasses. “A Rift is indeed forming. But different.”
“Not much help,” Nada said. “Different how?”
“Bigger.” Doc looked up. “Someone’s using the Gateway Arch to make a Rift.”
“Frak,” Mac said, vocalizing what every Nightstalker thought at the moment.
“You know,” Eagle said over the net, “the guy who designed the Arch said it symbolized, and I quote: ‘the gateway to the west, the national expansion, and whatnot’.”
“Looks like we’re heading for the whatnot,” Kirk, the team’s commo man, observed.
“Ten seconds,” Eagle announced.
“Roland was a warrior,” Moms began and the team picked it up. “From the land of the midnight sun.”
Roland stepped off into the glowing darkness above St. Louis. In his earpiece he could hear the team finish the second line of the song. “With a Thompson gun for hire, fighting to be done.”
He wished he had a Thompson gun, with its big 45. caliber slugs. He spread his arms and legs, got stable, then pulled the ripcord. The opening shock jerked him upright, and he looked up to make sure he had good canopy while he grabbed the control toggles for the chute.
Then he looked down.
“Oh, yes, yes, yes!” It could have been the soundtrack for a porn movie, except the young woman exclaiming the words was fully clothed, sitting cross-legged in the grass, had a laptop on her knees and was watching six different data boxes on it.
We all get our kicks different ways.
She was so focused on the data, she was missing the real show. The Gateway Arch towered fifty feet in front of her, 630 feet high and 630 feet wide, making it the tallest memorial in the United States and the tallest stainless steel structure in the world. It had been dedicated in ’65 and opened to the public in ’67, not the greatest decade to celebrate the westward expansion of the United States as the country was embroiled in an unpopular war abroad and unrest at home.
At 3 in the morning, the woman had the park to herself, which is why she’d picked 3 in the morning to run her test. The numbers and indicators on her laptop screen showed that the program she’d started two hours ago was reaching culmination. She was completely unaware that the initiation had also set off flashing lights and a loud clicking alert deep underneath Area 51 in the Can and that was why the Nightstalkers were descending from above like avenging angels or, as Mac said in his grumpier moments, flying turds, especially with regard to Roland, the largest turd of them all according to Mac.
He never said it within earshot of Roland, though, because Mac had an innate survival instinct.
A single thin cable ran from the USB port of her laptop across the grass and was attached to the left leg of the Arch with a magnet.
As with most of the scientists the Nightstalkers ended up dealing with, she thought she knew what she was doing.
As with most of the scientists the Nightstalkers ended up putting in body bags or more likely listing as MIA, she really didn’t.
A crackling noise caused her to finally look up. Her mouth dropped open and she couldn’t even moan her excitement any more. The entire interior of the Arch was flickering, a slightly golden sheen illuminating the space framed by what Eagle could have told her was a weighted catenary form of stainless steel. Eagle could have even gone into the math involved, something to do with x and y and cosines and fractions and whatnot, but that wasn’t what Melissa Eden was interested in, even though she was very good at math, having earned a PhD in physics from Stanford, which required more than a few math courses along the way.
Just as quickly as she’d seen it, the gold coalesced inward from the metal arch to a single tiny, golden, glowing arch, about ten feet wide and high, in the exact center on the ground.
It wasn’t a sign for McDonalds.
Eden felt the hairs on her arm tingle and there was a crackling sound. She had a sour taste in her mouth. She squinted, because through that small arch, there was something, like there was another side, which was the whole point of this experiment except even in her most excited dream, she’d never really imagined it would work. Because no one had ever published on it, saying they had succeeded.
That should have been a hint.
She didn’t realize she’d gotten to her feet, the laptop forgotten on the grass. Because through the golden arch, she saw rows of—something. Even though she couldn’t make out what the somethings were, she had the distinct sense the somethings were facing this arch and if it stayed open much longer, they were coming through.
In the way ancient man used to stare out the mouth of the cave into the darkness, knowing danger lurked out there, Eden felt a primeval fear of those somethings.
Here there be monsters, ancient maps used to write to fill in the blank spaces. In this case, it should be written in capital letters. With one or two exclamation points.
As quickly as she felt that, though, instead of a bunch of somethings, a single someone stepped through and the golden rift snapped out of existence.
Roland was focused on the Arch and the area around it. There was a golden glow underneath the stainless steel structure, which was never a good sign.
As he passed through eight thousand feet he checked in, because it was Protocol that he check in at eight thousand feet.
“Eagle, thermals,” Roland asked as he adjusted his descent.
“I’ve got one hot spot near the Arch. On the landward side. Probably our genius scientist.”
“That’s the side on the other side from the river,” Mac added, in this case probably a smart add, because Roland had been a bit puzzled by the landward part although Mac’s explanation didn’t help much with its own redundancy.
Roland was using a clockwise spiral to descend, checking all directions.
“Beyond that, looks like a couple of homeless on the riverfront,” Eagle continued. “And then there’s the city. You’ve got I-70 cutting the park off from it.”
Doc’s voice cut in. “The Rift is closed. I’m getting nothing. That was different. Like it snapped shut.”
“Roland, see any Fireflies?” Moms asked.
“Too high up,” Roland replied.
Roland started to dump air, increasing his downward speed.
The someone was a man. He was walking straight toward Eden. He wore a long tan bush coat, inappropriate for the warm night, and a fedora, pulled low over his eyes.
“What—“ Eden began, but then she saw his face under the fedora and the next words were clenched in her throat. His skin looked like he’d been through a shredder. He paused about five feet from and cocked his head, revealing more of his disfigurement.
“Does my face disturb you?” he asked. As he spoke, the skin rippled, and smoothed out. “Better?”
Eden still couldn’t find words.
“I guess not.” He looked down at the laptop and tsk-tsked. “One should not interfere with things beyond one’s comprehension. My associates on the other side are getting rather irritated with the whole thing and believe it’s getting near to time that this be brought to a conclusion.”
He leaned over to pick up the laptop and that move finally stirred Eden to action. “That’s mine!” She stepped toward him and grabbed his arm, her other hand going for the computer.
Her second mistake of the evening.
With his free hand, the man grabbed the top of her head, seizing it in a grip that froze her muscles, and he lifted her off the ground. She dangled from his hand as he peered into her eyes. They remained like that for several seconds, then Ivar dropped her.
Eden lay stunned for a second, then her spirit came back and she jumped to her feet. “That’s—“
She never finished as the man drew a suppressed pistol from inside his coat, pressed it against the side of her head and pulled the trigger. The round went into her skull with a soft chugging sound, then fragmented, shredding her brain. She was dead before she hit the ground, but the man fired again, this round into her forehead.
“Nada Yada,” the man said with a grin, the scars returning to his face. “Always double-tap and make sure they’re dead.” He stared down at her. “I saved you considerable pain.”
He holstered the pistol, snatched up the laptop, and tucked it under his arm. He began walking toward the nearest road.
As he was about to pass through four thousand feet, Roland took a moment to get oriented. It was easy, given the size of the Arch. The M-240 machine gun was rigged tight against his body on one side, a flamer on the other, the fuel for it underneath the parachute case on his back. Protocol said he was to reverse directions after passing through four thousand feet, so Roland regained the toggles and reversed. Roland was a big believer in Protocol.
“Wind?” Roland asked.
“Negligible,” Eagle reported. “You’re still clear. We’re holding at three thousand to the west.” There was a pause. “We’ve got a second person with the first.”
“Where did that one come from?” Roland asked, peering down.
“I think out of the Arch,” Doc said. “No indication of Fireflies though.”
Roland couldn’t make out the people on the grass, but he did see a church across the road from the Arch. It stirred memories of a wedding, a buddy in the Army, and holding a sword forming an arc, but not much more of the wedding itself since he’d been drunk and there’s been a bunch of singing and girls crying and crap. The reception, on the other hand, he could remember clearly. He’d gotten into a fight with the best man, and the bride had been pissed, but his army buddy, the groom, had laughed, because what was an army wedding without some blood being spilled?
It had been a great reception, but as Roland went through three thousand feet, he had a feeling this reception wasn’t going to be as good.
Keith was drunk, it was three am, and he could have sworn the Arch had been shimmering just a minute ago. Maybe some special promo, like when they’d shone pink lights on it in support of breast cancer research. He was stopped at a red light, left turn signal on, nervously drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, constantly glancing in his rear view mirror, dreading that a cop car would pull up behind him.
He couldn’t afford another DUI. He’d not only lose his job, but also his license. And how could he get another job if—
Just as the light turned green, the engine stalled out, which was almost impossible to tell since he was driving a Prius and the battery had been powering the car, but a warning light flashed on the dash and nothing happened when he pressed the accelerator. Keith cursed and punched the start button to no avail.
The rap on his window startled him. A man wearing a raincoat and a fedora stood there. The man signaled for Keith to roll down his window. Keith panicked, thinking the man was a cop, and knowing he couldn’t roll the power window down without power and that the cop would think—
The man placed his hand on the window and slid it down, the glass going with the hand. Which was weird.
“What? Who the—“ Keith began, but the man reached in and grabbed him by the throat. With a distant part of his mind, Keith heard and felt his seatbelt unbuckle, but that was impossible because the man was holding him by the throat. As he was lifted out of the open window, gasping for breath, Keith saw the terrible scars on the man’s face. The man held him in the air, peering into his eyes as if evaluating him like a side of beef he was deciding whether to devour.
“Don’t drink and drive,” the man said and then Keith was flying through the air, landing in a drunken tumble.
Being drunk actually saved him from serious injury as his body simply absorbed the contact without the resistance sobriety brings to impacts. He lifted his head, watching the man get in his Prius. The turn signal changed from left to right and then the car drove off, heading for the bridge over the Mississippi.
Roland landed on the very top of the Gateway Arch. Eagle had told him on the flight from the Ranch to St. Louis, that someone had tried doing a double jump in 1980: landing on the Arch using a main, and then jumping again and deploying his reserve. That person had died, because he’d gotten no purchase on the slick stainless steel. Instead of being able to launch again off the top, he’d slid along the north leg to his death, the reserve never deploying.
Roland had solved that problem by duct taping large magnets to the outside of both his boots. When he clanged down on the top and his main deflated, his feet were locked in place. Roland cut away the main, letting the wind blow it toward the Mississippi.
The riverward side, Roland thought, but that hurt his head so he focused on mission.
He leaned over and looked below. There was a body on the grass.
Roland sighed, a true believer in Heinlen’s principle that the only capital crime is stupidity, a Nada Yada before Nada even thought of his Yada’s. M-240 now readied in one hand, he reached for his knife to cut the magnets loose from his boots.
“Sitrep?” Moms voice echoed out of the earplug.
“We’ve got a body,” Roland said.
“Eagle?” Moms asked.
“The body is going cold. Someone walked out of the Arch, to the body, grabbed the laptop, went to a car, tossed the driver, and is now driving away. The driver is still alive.”
“Roland, secure the Arch. I’m sending Nada and Mac down to assist. We’re going after the car.”
Moms finished giving orders as Nada and Mac jumped off the ramp in tandem. The second they were clear, Eagle banked the Snake and took chase after the car. The Snake was a prototype of cutting edge flight technology: similar in design to the tilt wing Osprey, except instead of rotors, the Snake had powerful jet engines, whose noise was muted by running them through baffles. Also, the outside of the aircraft was coated with radar reducing material. It was all angles and flat surfaces, everything designed to lower the radar signature of the entire craft to that of a duck in flight, a comparison that Mac constantly goaded Eagle, the pilot, about.
Not a Snake but a flying duck.
Moms moved forward in the cargo bay, until she could lean into the cockpit, looking over Eagle’s shoulder. Moms was a tall woman, almost six feet. She had broad shoulders, over narrow hips, making her appear a bit awkward, although she was anything but. Her hair was growing grayer by the year and by the mission. She had a vague mid-western accent which indicated a childhood anywhere from eastern Kansas to western Kansas, which is actually a long spread but for a kid, not much different.
“Where’s the target?”
Eagle nodded to the right front. “Going onto the bridge. Red Prius. Someone’s driving it.”
“We’ve got to get containment,” Moms said.
Eagle flipped a switch. “Chain gun deployed.” Underneath the nose of the Snake, a door slid open and a thirty-millimeter chain gun poked its ugly snout out. It was a gun designed to kill tanks, so the Prius shouldn’t be a problem. Whoever, and whatever, was in it, might be more of an issue.
“If it’s not a firefly, who’s the person?” Moms wondered. “Kirk, get me Ms. Jones.”
“You’re live with the Ranch,” Kirk announced.
“Ms. Jones, we’re losing containment,” Moms said. “At least one human in a car, escaping on the I-70 bridge over the Mississippi. I need to go wet.”
“Authorized,” a voice with a Russian accent replied. “I am mobilizing more support for containment and concealment.”
Eagle hit the throttle and they raced over the dark Mississippi to the Illinois side, beating the Prius across the river. Eagle spun the Snake to face west and descended until they were less than twenty feet above the roadway, 30mm pointing directly ahead.
“Pretty desolate here for about two klicks,” Eagle said. “If we want to fire, this is the place.”
There were several sets of headlights on the bridge, but containment took priority. The Nightstalkers and their support had binders full of covers stories for civilians who might get caught up in the action.
“Acquiring target,” Eagle said as he centered the sight for the chain gun right between the headlights of the oncoming car.
Moms was just about to order him to fire when there was a flash of gold. It leapt from the car and hit the Snake at light speed, faster than they could dream to react.
Everything electric on the aircraft shut down.
Eagle jerked the controls with all his strength, using what little altitude he had to manually force the hydraulics to move the Snake to the side of the freeway where it crashed, then rolled.
Nada and Mac hit hard, their bodies instinctively doing what had been drilled into them years ago at Fort Benning in jump school, using the five points of contact: balls of feet, calf, thigh, buttocks and the pull up muscle. Then they were on their feet, cutting away their chutes, readying their weapons.
Nada was the longest serving member of the Nightstalkers, which meant he was both good and lucky. His parents were Colombian and his face was pockmarked and scarred and during the Battlestar Gallactica marathon, Mac had started calling him Adama, but he’d only done it twice before Nada cut that crap off at the mouth. He had short gray hair, racing Moms to see who could go totally gray first.
“Status, Roland,” Nada demanded over the net.
“One KIA, one wounded,” Roland reported.
They could see Roland standing near a body, his machinegun tight to his shoulder, scanning the area through the scope on top. They could also hear sirens approaching. Sometimes the locals were almost as dangerous as the threats the Nightstalkers had to contain.
“Fireflies?” Nada asked, leading Mac over to Roland.
“I didn’t see any,” Roland said. “But someone shot this woman. Double-tap.”
Nada stared down at the body. One round on the side of the head (some blood so the first one), one in the forehead (no blood so she’d already been dead). His skin went cold, because that meant a well-trained professional. The first bullet had done the job, but the second was insurance.
Nada shook the premonition off. “If she’s the scientist who opened the Rift, where’s her computer?”
“Shooter must have taken it,” Roland said. He pointed. “Got a wire running to the Arch.”
“Moms will get ‘em,” Nada said with more confidence than he felt. “Let’s—“ he began, but an urgent transmission cut him off.
“Snake down, Snake down.” Eagle’s voice was faint, but the words were clear.
“Moms?” Nada asked.
“I’m trapped in the cockpit,” Eagle said. “I can’t see the cargo bay. Transponder is on. We’re on the other side of the river. We’ve lost containment.”
The first police car roared up, cops leaping out, screaming for the three Nightstalkers to drop their weapons.
“Fuck me to tears,” Nada muttered as he lowered his automatic rifle.
*****Admin Note from Jen*****
Bob will be giving away a set of autographed Nightstalker books to one lucky winner who signs up for our mailing list for our infrequent newsletter (sent out 6 times a year). All you have to do is sign up! You can do that by following this link. Those already there and those who sign up by the end of the week are eligible for the random drawing done by Cool Gus. As the year goes on there will be more giveaways and also exclusive material and first reads done through the newsletter.