Today I’m delighted to be joining the Storytellers on Tour Release Day Blitz for Blood Red Sand by Damien Larkin. Below you’ll find an extract to whet your appetite as well as an opportunity to win a signed copy of the book + swag pack (UK/Ireland Only).
Mars will run red with Nazi blood…
After World War Two, Sergeant McCabe knew the British army could send him anywhere. He never imagined facing down another Nazi threat on Mars.
In New Berlin colony, rivalry between Generalfeldmarschall Seidel’s Wehrmacht and Reichsführer Wagner’s SS threatens bloodshed. The Reichsführer will sacrifice everything to initiate the secretive Hollow Programme and realise his nightmarish future for humanity.
McCabe, Private Jenkins, and the Mars Expeditionary Force must overcome bullet, bomb, and bayonet to destroy the Third Reich. While Jenkins fights to stay alive, McCabe forms an uneasy alliance with MAJESTIC-12 operatives known as the Black Visors. Will this be the final battle of World War Two or the first confrontation in an interstellar war?
THE WHITE HOUSE, WASHINGTON DC
26TH JULY 1952
The blazing streak of light ripped across the Washington sky, coming to a momentary halt over the White House. What could easily have been mistaken as a meteor now looked like a fiery star as a vessel hovered within General Hoyt Vandenberg’s eyeline. Tapping his finger on the window in the Oval Office, he glanced at President Truman and saw his commander-in-chief’s hand curl into a fist. Returning his attention to the spectacle outside, Vandenberg wondered how many eyes glared at them from within that blinding light, mocking everything the American people stood for. As quickly as that thought appeared, the vessel zipped off across the night sky again, turning and twisting in impossible zigzag patterns, showcasing its manoeuvrability.
“Same as last week, Mr. President,” Captain Ruppelt said, while leafing through the dossier in front of him.
“It’s the damned nerve of these Germans, Ed,” Truman snapped as he stepped away from the window. “It’s like slapping a man square in the face and then running away before he can hit you back. Damn cowardly.”
Vandenberg picked up his glass of scotch. “We can hit them anytime you like, Mr. President.”
Taking his seat behind the Resolute Desk, Truman nodded. Reaching for his own glass of bourbon, he turned about and continued to gaze at the streaks of light dancing and weaving across the Washington skyline.
“Don’t tempt me, Hoyt,” he said after an exasperated sigh. “I’d like nothing better than to give the order to shoot those Nazi dogs down, but we can’t show our hand too early, can we? No. We’ll have to let the Nazis have their damned moment. How are we on the development of our fleet?”
Vandenberg loosened the collar of his pristine uniform and paced towards the side of the desk. Searching for the right words, he walked around the Oval Office, and his gaze fell over the numerous pictures and monuments. Now, more than ever, this latest provocation by the exiled Nazi forces over the capital of the United States gave him the opportunity to take decisive action. He just had to sell it to the president.
“Construction is proceeding ahead of schedule, sir.” He moved closer to the window again and peered out. “It was a tough job for Wernher von Braun and the rest of Majestic-12 to reverse engineer the downed Nazi craft we recovered from Roswell, but my MJ-12 boys have created something spectacular. Our ships won’t be as fast as what the Germans have, but they’ll contain a lot more firepower. More importantly, they’ll have the room to ferry ground troops.”
President Truman turned in his seat, grabbed his glass, and took a sip of bourbon as he looked up at Vandenberg. “This again, Hoyt? I thought we’ve been over it. The commies will cry bloody murder if we dispatch American soldiers to Mars, and I’ll be damned if I let the Reds have the glory of fighting Earth’s first interplanetary war. Imagine that, Hoyt. The Reds on the Red Planet. Think of the propaganda victory, even if they did get there using American ships. I won’t sanction it. If it means putting up with Nazi shows of force like this, so be it.”
Vandenberg watched from the corner of his eye as President Truman pulled himself to his feet again and glared out the window. He knew the president well enough to understand that he simmered with anger more than he let on. Only a handful of people on the planet knew the truth about the end of World War Two and the Nazi leadership’s escape to colonies on Mars.
Even fewer knew of the strange, alien technology the Nazis used to make their escape and rebuild their fighting capacity. With all the resources the American government had at their disposal, Majestic-12 still hadn’t cracked the surface of the exiled Germans’ newfound technological prowess. But if there could be one thing Vandenberg remained certain about, it was that they couldn’t learn more until they seized control of Mars.
“We have another option, Mr. President,” Vandenberg said, causing Truman to look over at him. “At your behest, I’ve been continuing negotiations with my Soviet counterpart, and I believe we’ve had a breakthrough.”
He nodded at Captain Ruppelt, who rose to his feet from his seat on the couch in the centre of the room. Ruppelt selected one of the thick paper dossiers laid out in front of them, crossed the floor, and handed the files to Vandenberg.
Vandenberg took the dossier and passed it to the president. “The main argument we’ve been having with the Ruskies is who gets the glory. They don’t want our troops up there in case the rest of the world finds out that capitalists were the first to conquer another planet. Likewise, the last thing we want is a Soviet Republic of Mars. Neither side wants to fight side by side in case we infect each other with our respective ideologies.”
“Leading to what, Hoyt?” Truman asked as he leafed through the dossier.
Vandenberg approached the side of the Resolute Desk. “We use a proxy force, sir. We use a body of soldiers from countries that neither side fears as a real-world opponent to do the actual fighting. To get to the point, Mr. President, the Soviets are happy to proceed with my plan using British and French soldiers to do the dirty work.”
Truman tore away from his reading and looked up at Vandenberg with wide eyes and a gaping mouth. Rubbing his hand across his chin, he shook his head in disbelief. “The British and the French? After everything they’ve been through in the last decade? You must be joking, Hoyt. April Fool’s Day was months ago.”
“If I may, Mr. President, it’s all there in front of you. We utilise experienced, well-trained soldiers from countries that can’t interfere with our overall strategic goals. We use American ships and personnel to ferry them there, with both sides sending along military attaches for operational experience. The Soviets have agreed to the overall mission being under nominal Air Force control, since we own the fleet, but it’ll be MJ-12 and I that call the shots.”
President Truman reached for his glass again and emptied it in a single swallow. He quickly refilled it and took a momentary glimpse at the streaking lights racing across the sky outside, before returning his attention back to Vandenberg. “You’re serious about this?”
“Yes, sir, Mr. President,” Vandenberg said with an affirmative nod. “It’s all there in black and white. We’ll have the fleet constructed by early next year. Factoring in a ten-month travel time, our forces will arrive in early 1954. We need to keep the Germans talking till then, maybe ensure one or two of their ships disappear to keep them on their toes. It’s doable, sir. My contacts within the British and French military have already signed off on it. We just need your signature.”
President Truman returned his focus to the dossier in front of him and continued to leaf through the pages. He scanned the words and studied the various graphs, maps, and bullet points of the plan.
“And your mole within this New Berlin colony, you believe they’re the real deal?” President Truman said.
“Yes, sir,” Vandenberg said, trying to conceal the hope that built in his voice. “We don’t know the mole’s identity, but we believe he’s a member of the Jewish resistance on Mars. Whoever he is, he’s given us full access to enemy troop movements, strength, and capabilities. He’s also committed to leading an uprising as soon as we land to tie the German forces down. Sir, this will be like a walk in the park.”
“All right,” President Truman said and picked up his pen, “if you say it can be done, do it.”
Vandenberg tried to look sombre as the president added his signature to the page and handed the dossier back to him. Biting down on the inside of his cheek to mask a victorious smile, he nodded at President Truman and turned to deliver the news to the rest of Majestic-12.
Soon, the rightful masters of the Red Planet would return to reclaim what had always been theirs.
ABOARD THE USAF NORTH CAROLINA, ORBITING MARS
15TH MARCH 1954
08.23 MST (MARS STANDARD TIME)
The deafening shriek of the siren filled Sergeant William McCabe’s ears and snapped him awake. The sickly-sweet smell that permeated his dreams receded as the fluid leaked from his capsule. Forcing his eyes open, he fought the urge to pry at the capsule door and remembered his training. He waited until his sleeping pod came fully upright and watched the last of the fluid empty through a grate at his feet. After removing the breathing mask covering his face, he paused until the light hanging over the transparent door of his pod turned green, and then he pulled down on the latch. He stumbled out of the capsule and fell onto his knees. The sounds of men shouting, roaring, and vomiting filled his ears.
“Remember your training,” he gasped in between dry retches. “Breathe through it, lads.”
Grunts, groans, and the splash of vomit hitting the grated floor echoed back at him in response. Willing his legs to work, he forced himself to his feet and grabbed at the capsule door for support. Trying to overcome the wave of nausea and disorientation that followed his escape from the sleeper pod, McCabe glanced around at his platoon. A quick headcount showed all looked to be alive, although every one of them were worse for wear. The scientists had warned them of the effects of ten months in suspended animation, but their words did little justice to the horror of those first few moments.
“On your feet,” he ordered, trying to put as much steel in his voice as he could muster. “Mars Expeditionary Force or not, you’re Her Majesty’s soldiers. Start acting like it. Corporals, take charge. I want everyone ready for parade in ten.”
McCabe pulled open his locker beside his sleeper pod, removed his Lee-Enfield rifle, and leaned it up against the open pod door. Using a towel, he wiped his face and hair dry. After unzipping the one-piece body suit that covered him up to his neck, he dried himself and dragged on his battledress. As the seconds passed, his vision focused more, and the fog dispersed from his head.
“Jenkins,” he called out and paused to place a cigarette between his lips. “Stick on a pot of tea like a good lad.”
“Yes, Sergeant,” Private Jenkins called back.
Striking a match, McCabe lit his cigarette and then finished tying his boots. After a few minutes, Jenkins appeared with a plastic cup of scalding hot tea before scuttling back to his pod to finish dressing. Around him, and over the shouts of the corporals, soldiers bustled back and forth, eager to get their equipment ready for inspection.
With his battledress donned and his weapon at hand, he pulled open the drawer at the foot of his locker and studied the white EVA suit that gleamed up at him. He dragged the bottom half of the EVA suit over his legs and up to his waist before connecting the upper half. With everything secured, he slipped on the helmet and took a moment to get used to the bulkiness of it. Once he secured his backpack, he hooked the sling of his Lee-Enfield No. 5 Mk 2 rifle and patted the sleek features of the so-called ‘Jungle Carbine.’
“Sarge,” a voice rang out from across the room. “I think there’s a problem with my EVA suit.”
“What is it, Jenkins?” McCabe said and tapped at the console on his left arm.
“Well,” Jenkins started, “not to be smart or anything, Sergeant—”
“God forbid, Jenkins,” Private Murphy chimed in to muted laughter.
“Nah, I’m being serious,” Jenkins continued, while the platoon jeered him on. “The thing is, Sergeant. This EVA thing doesn’t look like the ones we trained with at the Atacama Desert base.”
“It’s the same,” he replied.
The words only left his mouth when a thought struck him. He turned to face the half-dressed private and then gazed around at the rest of the platoon. Most of his soldiers stood partially kitted out in their EVAs and only Jenkins happened to spot the issue.
“I mean,” Jenkins persisted, “We’re going to Mars, you know, the Red Planet. Won’t wearing white make us stand out to the enemy?”
Everyone stopped what they were doing and stared at the private before checking their own equipment. Back at the Atacama Desert base, the Americans trained and drilled them using red-and-black khaki EVA suits. Here, every one of the suits were gleaming, pristine white. Set against the red and brown backdrop of the planet they were about to invade, that would make them easy targets for Nazi guns.
“Christ, he’s got a point,” Corporal Brown murmured when he approached McCabe. “We’ll stand out like a sore thumb. Fritz will shoot us like fish in a barrel.”
McCabe slid up the visor of his helmet as his mind raced for a solution to the glaring problem. “Send a runner to the CQ. See if he can rustle up any proper suits. Failing that, try to acquire red and black paint and have the lads do the best that they can.”
“On it, Sarge,” the corporal said with a nod and set off to grab the nearest soldier.
“Compliments of the lieutenant,” a voice said.
McCabe turned towards a young soldier standing at attention with a slip of paper in his hands. He took it, read the note in Lieutenant Barnes’ distinctive scrawl, and waved at the soldier to relax.
“Tell the lieutenant I’m on the way.” He turned to seek out Corporal Brown again. “Jim, I’ve been summoned to the bridge. Get everyone ready and make sure the drop ship is loaded with everything we need.”
Watching the flurry of activity continue around him, McCabe made for the exit. As he left, a group of American Air Force engineers entered their compartment, ready to perform final checks on the drop ship. The winding corridors outside looked to be busy, too, with rows of Mars Expeditionary Force soldiers hurrying about while the American crewmen of the USAF North Carolina went about their tasks. He turned the first corner and saluted a Marine lieutenant when he came into view. The officer returned the gesture in the American style.
McCabe worked his way through the packed corridor until he arrived outside the entrance to the bridge. Two heavily armed Air Force Air Police soldiers scrutinised his identity badge before clicking on a comm button to announce his arrival. A few seconds passed until a green light lit up and the doors to the USAF North Carolina’s bridge slid open.
McCabe took a step forward and tried his best not to marvel at the rows of intricate desk stations and strange equipment that lined the bridge. American Air Force personnel bustled in all directions, checking various computer screens or speaking loudly into their headsets, co-ordinating every facet of the Allied fleet’s operations. Scanning the crowded bridge, he spotted Lieutenant Barnes speaking with a small group of MEF officers. He moved to join his superior officer and snapped his hand to his head in salute when the lieutenant turned about.
“Ah, Sergeant.” Lieutenant Barnes smiled as he returned the salute and waved at McCabe to relax. “I’m glad to see you made it through our long sleep. Is the platoon all accounted for? Any fatalities?”
“Fatalities? No, sir. I wasn’t aware there was a risk of fatalities in this portion of the mission.”
The lieutenant gave a sombre nod as he stepped away from the group of officers and beckoned at him to follow.
“Yes, indeed,” Barnes continued. “Unfortunately, we suffered several deaths while in status. System failures and all that. Thankfully, not too many but still a nasty way to go if you ask me, Sergeant. I’m afraid to say that Lieutenant Colonel Fairfax was amongst them. Once the Second Battalion is fully awakened, an announcement will be made.”
“Understood, sir. May I ask who has command of Second Battalion now?”
“Major Wellesley is assuming command until further notice. You’ve heard of him, I trust?
“Only his reputation, sir.”
A knowing smile crossed the lieutenant’s face. Clearing his throat to change the subject, he pointed at something towards the far end of the bridge. “I thought you’d appreciate this before we go ground side, Sergeant.”
Barnes led the way through the crowds of gathering officers and crewmen and pushed his way politely towards the front of the bridge. He paused beside one of the long rectangular reinforced windows and pointed into the bleak darkness outside. A smile crept across his face as he gestured at McCabe to follow his gaze.
“You see, Sergeant? Mars.”
McCabe made a conscious decision to clench his jaws together to stop them from gaping in surprise as he drank in the sight. He had seen pictures of Mars during the mission briefings, but those images failed to do the planet justice. A swirling mass of red and brown dangled in front of him, almost within hand’s reach. Fascination coursed through him at the sight of the alien image. He tried to soak up every detail and commit it to memory.
“Begging your pardon, sir,” he said, while studying the scene in front of him, “but according to mission protocol, we were to be woken a week prior to entering orbit to get battle ready.”
The lieutenant patted him on the shoulder and guided him away from the window, towards the entrance to the bridge.
“Yes,” Barnes said with a sigh of exasperation, “that was the plan until system malfunctions prevented us. Approximately half of the task force were activated on time with the remainder being woken today. A terrible mess if you ask me, but…” He trailed off with a shrug as a crowd of crewmen separated from a small group of officers.
A tall, plain-faced officer spun around and, catching the lieutenant’s eye, gave a friendly nod before his gaze fell to McCabe. As quick as he made eye contact, he turned away and buried himself in a map spread out in front of him.
“Major Wellesley,” Barnes said under his breath.
McCabe observed the officer but said nothing. Tales of Major “Mad Jack” Wellesley were rife amongst the rank-and-file of the Mars Expeditionary Force. The stories ranged from Mad Jack single-handedly taking out a string of bunkers during the D-Day landings to facing a platoon of Nazi soldiers armed only with a Bren light machine gun.
The more colourful recitations varied from Mad Jack murdering captured prisoners to wiping out entire villages in retaliation for the deaths of soldiers under his command. McCabe didn’t believe any of those tales. Yet, something about Major Wellesley’s presence sent a chill up his spine. True or not, the officer didn’t strike McCabe as someone he’d willingly cross in defiance with anything less than an armoured division behind him.
Barnes opened his mouth to speak again when a series of high-pitched wails rang out from every console on the bridge. McCabe, the officers, and soldiers of the MEF froze in position at the sound. The bridge crew of the USAF North Carolina sprang into action, furiously roaring orders into their headsets and punching commands into their workstations.
About the Author:
Damien Larkin is an Irish science fiction author and co-founder of the British and Irish Writing Community. His debut novel Big Red was published by Dancing Lemur Press and went on to be longlisted for the BSFA Award for Best Novel. His next novel in the series Blood Red Sand will be released on 6th July 2021. He currently lives in Dublin, Ireland and is working on his current writing project The Truceless War.
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