ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Weston Ochse is a former intelligence officer and special operations soldier who has engaged enemy combatants, terrorists, narco smugglers, and human traffickers. His personal war stories include performing humanitarian operations over Bangladesh, being deployed to Afghanistan, and a near miss being cannibalized in Papua New Guinea. His fiction and non-fiction has been praised by USA Today, The Atlantic, The New York Post, The Financial Times of London, and Publishers Weekly. The American Library Association labeled him one of the Major Horror Authors of the 21st Century. His work has also won the Bram Stoker Award, been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and won multiple New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. A writer of more than 26 books in multiple genres, his military supernatural series SEAL Team 666 has been optioned to be a movie starring Dwayne Johnson. His military sci fi series, which starts with Grunt Life, has been praised for its PTSD-positive depiction of soldiers at peace and at war. Weston likes to be called a chaotic good paladin and challenges anyone to disagree. After all, no one can really stand a goody two-shoes lawful good character. They can be so annoying. It's so much more fun to be chaotic, even when you're striving to save the world. You can argue with him about this and other things online at Living Dangerously or on Facebook at Badasswriter. All content of this blog is copywrited by Weston Ochse.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Grunt Traitor -- Free First Chapter -- Share Everywhere

Welcome to the first chapter of Grunt Traitor, gifted to you by me, the author, and friend of your friend who reads cool shit.

by Weston Ochse © 2014

To Martin Cochran,
Father-in-Law, Adventurer,
Race Car Driver, Alaska Traveler,
Solice Seeker and Korean War Veteran.

We invaded ourselves first. Make no mistake about it, had the Cray not descended from the clear blue sky, we humans—as our own invasive species—would have killed ourselves off within two hundred years. Un-regulated population, pollution, water overuse, and our utter failure to shepherd intrinsically important flora and fauna would have been our crimes. Our punishment would have been starvation, suffocation, dehydration, and overpopulation. Maybe the invasion of the Cray was the best thing that could have happened to us. Maybe the advent of the Cray was our control-alt-delete. Regardless whether you believe this, we have an undeniable clean slate. What are we going to do with it? Are we going to change, or trot out the same old governments with the same old ideas?
—Excerpt from Conspiracy Theory Talk Radio,
Night Stalker Monologue #1343


A hero can be anyone; even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a young boy’s shoulders to let him know the world hadn’t ended.
—The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan

Chapter One

The battlefield was a disorganized collage of panic and desperation, where screams of human and alien mixed in a savage orchestration of unconstrained murder. We’d run out of ammo an hour ago and were locked in hand-to-hand combat with the multi-winged, jagged-clawed alien Cray. Orders still flew across the net, but I’d long ago ceased to follow them. I had another mission.
The jaw-clenched mantra never leave a man behind fueled my muscles as they powered the leg
servos of my scratched, battered EXO across the dusty African earth. Airplane carcasses littered the landscape. A Cray hive split the sky like the devil’s middle finger. Both man and Cray crunched sickeningly beneath my titanium-coated Kevlar feet. I ignored that and everything else. Let the others fight the Cray. Let them do the impossible. I had to find Michelle. I had to find Thompson. My eyes scoured the horizon, but all I saw were the humans and bug-like Cray locked in battle, the exoskeletal hands and the multi-limbed claws of the creatures who’d ruined Earth, each seeking the fastest way to do the other in.
Never leave a man behind.
Never leave a man behind.
My HUD flashed a warning as my heart rate soared with panic. Where the hell were they? A black hole began to grow in my chest, pulling hope into its abysmal maw.
“Romeo Three, prepare to evac,” came Oliveras’s steady voice.
“Negative, Romeo Proper. We’re missing Thompson and Aquinas.” I spied an EXO trying to move and rushed towards it. The markings had worn away from a thousand Cray scratches.
“Mason, prepare to evac!”
I ignored the command, and reached the struggling figure. I helped it stand, then turned it. A grimy face, strong Irish features, wan smile: McKenzie.
“Thanks, pal. Thought I was done there for a second.”
He pushed away, stumbled a few feet, then was jerked in the air by a pair of Cray. I watched as he was lifted higher and higher, then released. He slammed into the earth, crumpling like a beer can, servo fluid and blood seeping from the shattered mess of metal.
Wait. I’d seen this before.
“Mason, get your ass back here.”
Oliveras’s command wrenched me free of my temporary paralysis. I broke into a run, ranging back across the battlefield. What had I missed? Where could they be? Then I saw it—a black box the size of a tractor trailer, sitting in the middle of an empty part of the battlefield. I headed towards it, but felt my legs slowing.
Checking my HUD, I saw my power was down to five percent.
Never leave a man behind.
I fought to move as fast as I could, but without power the EXOs were concrete suits. I was close enough now that I could see inside the black box. I slowed, then finally stopped a dozen feet away, my power at zero, my hope at zero, any chance of a future with the girl I loved at zero.
Michelle. Or what had once been Michelle.
“What have they done?” I wailed.
She hung from a pod affixed to the ceiling of the box, connected by tubes through which fluids moved in a slow soupy mix, presumably keeping her alive. She faced me, naked, the rivers of pain on her arms where she’d tried to commit suicide so long ago now stark white reminders of who she’d once been. If only that girl was still around. But she’d been turned into a horrific marionette. A hundred multicolored wires and cables ran from her shaved head to a computer terminal. I could only imagine her horror. Was she aware what had happened to her? What was it she’d said? Can you imagine? Being taken over by another entity and not being able to control your own body?
The aliens hadn’t done this to her.
We had.
My rage corrected me.
Mr. Pink had done this to her.
Her body shook and trembled. She took a great breath and raised her head, and her gaze met my own. For one brief moment, we were those same two people, reclining behind the generators, interlocked, the end of the world not even mattering, living only in each other’s eyes as we made each other laugh, cry and sing with pleasure. Then her face changed. She became sad, then angry, then enraged.
The thought slammed into my head, devouring everything else. Kill her? Kill Michelle? I could never kill her. I’d rather die.
My suit powered up and I was once again able to move.
“Then why didn’t you save her, asshole?”
I spun and saw McKenzie. “What’d you say?”
“You never saved her. She’s out there now, and half machine because of you.”
I beheld him as if he were flesh and blood, but I knew it couldn’t be. I’d seen him die. We’d honored his body. I know this because it was the morning after she and I had—
“Mason, get your ass over here.”
“Then why didn’t you save her, asshole?”
My eyes locked on another black box—five hundred meters away, according to my HUD. I pushed past the ghost of McKenzie and ran for it.
As each thought struck me, I stumbled, but I never went down.
The sound of drums began to come to me; a low heartbeat in the earth beneath my feet. At first it was on the very edge of my hearing, but gradually I began to make out the individual strokes. A drum like a drummer boy would play in a parade, like something that had been played for Washington’s Army, or General Lee’s, or General Patton’s, or Mr. Pink’s—the martial rat-a-tat-tat designed to bring everyone into patriotic lockstep.
“Mason, get your ass over here.”
I ignored Olivares and began to sprint. Thompson was in there. He had to be. The drums... they’d saved me... he’d saved me. I owed it to the guy. I owed it to Michelle. Why did I ever leave them? Why did I—
“Mason, get your ass over here.
I snapped my eyes open to a blistering desert sun lancing between breaks in the camouflage fabric above me.
“Mason? You sleeping?”
My mouth felt like cardboard. My lips felt like sandpaper. Fuck. I brought my hand to my face to wipe away the vestiges of the nightmare and sat up, putting my boots on the ground.
You’re not in Africa, I reminded myself, shaking off the remnant of the nightmare. You’re in Death Valley, near Barstow, California. The battle is over and you’re a survivor. You’re also an asshole for leaving Michelle like that. You’re a dick for not finding Thompson. You should fucking die for leaving those two behind, but instead you get three hots and a cot, you get promoted, you get to watch fucking videos of how great life used to be.
Olivares came around the corner, dressed in desert fatigues, a maroon beret on his head, sunglasses covering his eyes. “There you are.” He clapped his hands. “Come on, we got to go. This is last day of Phase I for the new recruits. They’re going to be happy to get to the physical training.”
I shook my head, not at him, but to get Michelle’s image out of my mind.
“Listen, if you’re not up for it—” Olivares began.
I stood. “Fuck that shit. I’m not a profile,” I said. Profiles were soldiers who rode illness or injury to get out of work.
“Maybe you should be.” His face was serious. He pointed to the side of his head. “You’re not handling the mental shit well. I’m no psych, but you need to get over it.”
I grunted. “You’re right, you’re no psych. You’re also not in charge of me anymore.”
We’d both been promoted to master sergeants when we’d arrived at old Fort Irwin in Death Valley. TF OMBRA required experienced non-coms to train new recruits, and had pinned the rose on us and a bunch of others from the other Cray kill sites. Ohirra had been bumped to lieutenant and was now working in intelligence. Of course Michelle was out there somewhere. I knew it because these dreams were her doing. She was making sure I felt like shit for not killing her. I’d aimed my rifle at her...  I’d been ready to kill her for a moment, take her out of her misery... but I’d even failed in that. Then there was Thompson, our little drummer boy.
Never leave a man behind. I’d sure fucked that one up.
Olivares stepped in front of me. “Depression affects us all differently, Mason. Consider going to see the psych. Let them help you. Talk to someone. Just fucking deal with it.”
I went to push past him, but he grabbed me by my collar. “You think you’re so fucking tough.”
I shook him off. “I’m not tough. I’m just unlucky enough to have survived.”
He gave me a disgusted look. “You’re a shit NCO, you know that?”
I nodded. “You always were better than me.”
“It’s not about that. It’s about the recruits. If your shit isn’t together, you’re going to put their lives in danger next time.”
Next time. That’s all Mr. Pink could talk about. Next time. Where were the other aliens? What was going to happen next? Every surviving human on the planet was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Maybe they were here already. Maybe they were on their way. No one seemed to know the answer, but we needed to prepare the task force to combat it. How do you prepare a soldier to fight an enemy you know so little about? The same way TF OMBRA had trained me and all the others. We could only study the hypothetical. Like these recruits, we’d been locked in a cell for six months and forced to read novels and watch movies, then demonstrate our ability to critically think and understand the challenges posed by an alien invasion by completing a series of graded tasks.
We’d been given ninety-six manuscripts, forty-seven movies, and seven biographies.
The biographies included Julius Caesar, Chesty Puller, David Hackworth, and other soldiers.
Of the movies, I’d seen around half. They were the usual suspects: Kelly’s Heroes, A Bridge Too Far, The Guns of Navarone, Hamburger Hill, They Were Expendable, We Were Soldiers, The Dirty Dozen, Where Eagles Dare, Saving Private Ryan, and Platoon. But there were also some foreign films I had never heard of, like Ivan’s Childhood, KanaƂ, and Gallipoli. There were also some science fiction movies, such as Starship Troopers, the 2005 version of War of the Worlds, Battleship, Battle: Los Angeles, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Puppet Masters, They Live, and Independence Day; I’d seen all of them except They Live and The Puppet Masters.
I’d read many of the books already. Or thought I’d read them; it was funny how being forced to answer questions changed the reading experience. They included Armor, Starship Troopers, The Forever War, Old Man’s War, Ender’s Game, A Mote in God’s Eye, Legion of the Damned, Hammer’s Slammers, and Bolo. But there were a lot I had never read, books by C. J. Cherryh, David Gerrold, Jerry Pournelle, and Robert Buettner, to name a few.
“Did you hear me?”
“Yeah, I heard you.”
He turned to leave, then turned back. “Listen, Mason. That was some fucked-up shit that was done to her. But she helped us defeat the Cray. She saved us. Something in our fucked-up PTSD heads, some chemical change, has enabled us to do this. I know she wanted you to kill her, but without her, we’d all be dead.”
“Which is why I owe it to her to do something.”
“Don’t go being a hero, Mason.”
“I know you don’t like heroes, Olivares, but sometimes you just got to be one.”
“Wouldn’t be necessary if everyone would do their fucking job.”
I nodded. “What are the chances of that happening? It’s why we’ve had to find heroes for as long as Christ was a corporal.”
“That’s not our job, now. We’re not training them to be heroes. Our job is to train these recruits to be soldiers.”
I snatched my beret from my pocket and adjusted it on my head. Then I snapped sunglasses out of my shirt pocket and put them on. “Come on, Olivares. Stop lollygagging. We got work to do.”
He frowned, then smiled, and patted me on the back. “There you go. There’s the asshole Mason I know and love.”
“You’ve never loved me.”
“No, I haven’t. I’ve never hated you either.” And with that he left.

I stepped out from beneath the camouflage awning and followed in Olivares’s steps. Staring at his back, I knew I couldn’t say the same myself. I’d once hated him terribly. It had been Michelle who had reminded me how selfish it was to hate another human when there was a whole universe of Cray to hate.

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