KEEPERS OF THE FLAME is cleared hot!

Merry Christmas!

KEEPERS OF THE FLAME is (finally!) live at every major retail outlet.

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Here’s the blurb:

In the wake of a global collapse, the Republic of Cascadia promises peace, prosperity and security. But these promises ring hollow in the shanties and slums of the Yellow Zone. The Sons of America, once driven underground, have returned to spark a revolution. Master Sergeant Christopher Miller, team leader in Cascadia’s elite Combat Studies Unit, stands at the front line, ready to seek out and destroy the SOA wherever they appear.

But the SOA is not the only threat Cascadia faces. On the other side of the continent, a new American empire marshals its forces and marches west. Its mission: to restore the old United States, by any means necessary. Cascadia has no place in this grand vision, and there is only enough room in North America for one great power.

As the body count grows and strategems unfold, Miller must confront enemies as cunning as they are ruthless, at home and abroad. Yet while mere humans struggle for supremacy, in the unseen spaces of Cascadia’s digital networks, a machine god awakes.

The ebook version can be purchased at Smashwords and Amazon‘s Kindle store. It retails for USD$5.99.

You can also buy it directly from me through Sellfy (PayPal), Gumroad (credit card), and CoinLock (Bitcoin).

The print version can be found on Amazon and the CreateSpace estore for USD$15.99.

And because this is the season for giving, here’re some discounts!

-If you buy the paperback from Amazon, you get 10% off the list price. In addition, if you buy the paperback you can also get the Kindle version for just USD$2.99.

-If you purchase any of my ebooks from Sellfy (Including Keepers of the Flame), you can get a 30% discount if you share it on social media.

-If you choose Gumroad for ebooks instead, you’ll also get a 30% discount if you use these links for At All Costs, American Sons, and Keepers of the Flame.

These discounts expire on 1st January 2015, so get your copy today!

KEEPERS OF THE FLAME is live!

KEEPERS OF THE FLAME is now available! Taken from the blurb:

In the wake of a global collapse, the Republic of Cascadia promises peace, prosperity and security. But these promises ring hollow in the shanties and slums of the Yellow Zone. The Sons of America, once driven underground, have returned to spark a revolution. Master Sergeant Christopher Miller, team leader in Cascadia’s elite Combat Studies Unit, stands at the front line, ready to seek out and destroy the SOA wherever they appear.

But the SOA is not the only threat Cascadia faces. On the other side of the continent, a new American empire marshals its forces and marches west. Its mission: to restore the old United States, by any means necessary. Cascadia has no place in this grand vision, and there is only enough room in North America for one great power.

As the body count grows and strategems unfold, Miller must confront enemies as cunning as they are ruthless, at home and abroad. Yet while mere humans struggle for supremacy, in the unseen spaces of Cascadia’s digital networks, a machine god awakes.

The ebook version can be purchased at Smashwords and Amazon‘s Kindle store.

You can also buy it directly from me through Sellfy (PayPal), Gumroad (credit card), and CoinLock (Bitcoin).

The print version can be found on Amazon and the CreateSpace estore for USD$15.99.

In addition, in celebration of the festive season, here are some discounts for you:

If you buy the paperback from Amazon, you get 10% off the list price. In addition, if you buy the paperback you can also get the Kindle version for just USD$2.99.

If you purchase any of my ebooks from Sellfy (Including Keepers of the Flame), you can get a 30% discount if you share it on social media.

If you choose Gumroad instead, you’ll also get a 30% discount if you use these links for At All CostsAmerican Sons, and Keepers of the Flame.

These discounts expire on 1st January 2015, so get your copy today!

Looking Beyond Terror

If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperilled in a hundred battles

-Sun Tzu, Art of War

This letter on the TODAY newspaper forum reflects an understandable, but naive, sentiment about terrorism. The writer argues that terrorism has no religion, and that all terrorists should simply be called terrorists without ascribing them a religion. To modern sensibilities and paradigms, terrorism must clearly fall outside the peaceful practices of conventional religion. But it is a mistake to say religiously-motivated terrorists are not religious.

If a terrorist keeps a long beard, prays five times a day, demands his friends and family live by the strictures of the Koran, enters battle chanting “Allahu Akhbar!”, fights to establish a Caliphate governed by shariah law as codified in the Koran, judges himself and others by principles laid down in the Koran, beheads innocents in the name of God, and dies believing that he will be served by 72 virgins, what motivates him? If a group of terrorists act in a similar way, what unites them and motivates them, and what do they use to recruit others to their cause?

The answer is religion. In their case, their version of Islam. If one does not, or will not, understand an enemy’s motivation, it is impossible to defeat him. The purpose of war is to break the enemy’s resistance and to force him to submit to your will; if one refuses to attack the source of the enemy’s motivation, the enemy will continue to resist, and there will be no way to end the war without shedding oceans of blood.

The author of the letter claimed that “Like all other extremists, they do not care who they kill as long as they continue to instil fear in people.”

This is a shallow interpretation of extremism. Groups like the Islamic State and Boko Haram do in fact care about whom they kill. They perpetuate genocides, target minorities, and launch attacks on soft targets to instil terror and inspire fellow travellers. They target government forces wherever they can to undermine the state, utilising unconventional warfare strategems to undermine the power of the state to resist them.

Terror is not merely a goal. Terror is a tool, and to understand it you need to look beyond terror, to its effects. Terror frightens enemies into fleeing, intimidates fence-sitters and civilians into submission, and inspires fellow believers to greater violence. By carefully picking soft targets, terrorists ensure maximum shock value for minimum cost in lives and munitions. While it is a blunt instrument, terror is a very effective tool so long as no other party is willing to perpetuate ever-greater terrors on the original actors. Witness IS’ rapid gains, or Boko Haram’s ability to command global media attention through a relatively small cost in time and effort

Terror is a tool, but it is not necessarily a motivation. While I believe there will be no end of wolves in human skin, whose greatest pleasure in life is to prey on others as sadistically as possible, such psychopaths are historically a minority of the human race. Most people require a great deal of motivation before they can inflict violence on others, even more so when talking about lethal violence against non-resisting targets.

As described in On Killing by David Grossman, this usually requires a combination of factors: a higher cause, a respected superior giving the order to kill, peer pressure, and a dehumanisation of the target. Religion offers a quick and easy means to fulfil these requirements: Islam, a mullah, the presence of fellow believers, and by viewing the victim as non-Muslim and therefore a worthy target. Participation in such an atrocity, combined with religious indoctrination, provides a heady psychological cocktail that encourages unit bonding, making it harder to sway terrorists from the cause and encouraging them to fight harder for the organisation. In this case, religion is as much a weapon as it is a motivation.

The author is afraid that ascribing terrorist violence to religion “may create wrong impressions of certain religious groups, which may then lead to rifts in our multicultural, pluralist society.”

This may be so, but the creation of rifts is exactly the kind of strategy needed to defeat religiously-motivated terrorism. The key is to be targeted, separating the terrorists from civilisation while still giving individual members a means and motivation to rejoin society.

The Islamic State calls itself that to appeal to the Muslim diaspora. Especially the disillusioned Muslims living in secular states, seeking a higher calling or spirituality in their life. By portraying themselves as part of a religion, terrorists are preying upon believers to sway them to their cause, arguing that their deeds are in line with religion and that it is the duty of fellow believers to fight for their religion — and what better way than to sign up with the group?

It is easy to say that terrorist groups like these are not religious. But this approach only works if one’s target audience is the rest of civilisation, who are already inclined to believe that or else view terrorism as beyond the pale. If the goal is to end terrorism, to neutralise their propaganda and defang their doctrine, it is nowhere near enough. It will not reach to the people who need this message the most. If anything, this approach is self-defeating.

Should the civilised world claim that groups like the Islamic State are not religious and leave it at that, terrorist propagandists will seize upon it as proof of oppression. They will cherry pick their personal practices and claim that they are in line with religious practice, and use it to circle the wagons and draw their members even tighter. People like these have decades of experience in the dark arts of propaganda, and can justify almost anything they do by referring to the holy book of choice. The rank-and-file, those who feel they are fighting for a religion, would likely feel abandoned by the civilised world, and cling ever tighter to their parent organisation. Or defect to another terrorist group that promises a truer practice of faith. Or self-radicalise and work out their frustrations in a final act of martyrdom.

This is, needless to say, counterproductive.

The better approach is to engage terrorist propaganda head-on. It is no longer enough to say ‘these are not religious people’, not if the goal is to defeat terrorism. What is necessary is to draw a distinction between civilisation and barbarism. To whit, people must be able to say, “this is what a good believer does, and this is why these terrorists are not good believers” — and they have to be convincing. This requires a propaganda campaign for the cause of civilisation, with theologians and academics able to make religious arguments based on actual studies of the holy book(s) terrorists are perverting. Since the majority of high-profile terrorist groups in the world today claim to be Muslims, it is imperative for the Muslim community to step up and police themselves, to drive a schism between civilisation and the barbarians who would pervert their faith. Nobody else has the moral ability to do this.

The ultimate question here is, what makes a religion? It is not merely a holy book or the teachings within it. A religion is not merely the name of a god or gods and their properties. A religion is a human phenomenon, and as such it is defined by how humans interpret and practice religion, not just in worship but in everyday life. There are as many ways to interpret and practice religion as there are people on Earth.

The barbarians wish to use religion to justify wanton cruelty and terror, paving the road to Hell with promises of Heaven. To defeat them, believers of the civilised world must be able to show why the barbarians’ interpretation and practice are not merely mistaken or irreligious, but goes against the spirit of their faith, and to show people a better way to live. This is the harder way, much harder than simply claiming the opposition is not religious and be done with it.

RIDING THE RED HORSE is now available!

Another came forth, a red horse. To him who sat on it was given power to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another. There was given to him a great sword.

-Revelation 6:4, World English Bible

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Riding the Red Horse is online! This ebook, written in the tradition of Jerry Pournelle’s There Will Be War, is a collection of stories and essays concerning the evolution of war. Drawing lessons from history while looking into the future, Riding the Red Horse contains contributions from famous writers like Vox Day, Tom Kratman and Jerry Pournelle, and a smattering of lesser-known ones like Chris Kennedy, Thomas A. May and yours truly.

My contribution to the anthology is a fiction story titled War Crimes. On the joint colony world of Confluence, Lieutenant Desh Horvan stands accused of war crimes in the court of public opinion. Intrepid journalist Josephine Anders interviews him to learn what really happened.

Initial reviews of RIDING THE RED HORSE have been very positive. Quoting from Amazon:

“I am a fan of this type of material and Riding the Red Horse ranks among the best science fiction anthologies of any kind I have read. It is as good as the “There Will Be War” series and is a worthy successor to that series mixing fiction and non-fiction for fans who are looking for a great read. Two stories that standout above the others were Turncoat by Rzasa and War Crimes by Cheah. Excellent stories that illustrate humanity in inhumane and even entirely non-human protagonists and characters. If Castalia House can maintain this level of quality I’ll be reading this series for years to come.” — Michelle

‘“Riding the Red Horse” is a new military science fiction collection from editors Tom Kratman and Vox Day. If the reader is familiar with those two writer/editors than they know what they are going to get with this book; interesting, well-written and thoughtful military sci-fi stories.

‘“Riding the Red Horse” is a well done military sci-fi and military studies anthology, and frankly at $4.99 it is a helluva good value for your entertainment (and education) dollar.’ — Patrick S. Baker

“Easy 5 stars on this one. An impressive collection of fun and well-written military fiction interposed with essays by military thinkers/historians. I was both entertained and informed throughout… The essays are not navel-gazing; when their writers challenge conventional thinking on various topics, they do so with the voice of insight and experience. Their credentials are helpfully explained by an editor’s introduction at the beginning of each entry, for both the essays and the fiction.

“I found a few general “themes” emerging from the interposed essays and military fiction, which are balanced well. One is that the nature of combat is changing. 4th dimensional warfare is upon us. If you don’t know what that means, or if you don’t care but are interested in more exposure to talented military sci-fi authors, this collection would serve as an excellent introduction to both. Highly recommended.” — ‘Sensei’

“[T]his is a first rate collection, but more for the non fiction than the fiction. The non fiction essays by practitioners of various kinds can range from enlightening to quite frightening.

“For the non fiction alone, I would recommend the book as a buy. However little you may agree with them, they will provoke real thought in you… On the fiction side, the stories are consistently serviceable, and occasionally exceptional… I’d rate this a good 4 going on 4.5, and will be looking forward to more along these lines.” — ‘aralman’

Currently in ebook form, Riding the Red Horse can be purchased on Amazon’s Kindle store here. Alternatively, you can also buy it directly from Castalia House here.

I’m honoured to be part of such august company in the anthology. One day, in the not too distant future, I may even be half as good as my fellow contributors.

Keepers of The Flame Excerpt 4

In Keepers of the Flame, the Sons of America rely heavily on the Cascadian information communication networks. The Cascadian Defense Force may be stomping the terrorists on the battlefields of tomorrow — but war is won and lost in the hearts and minds of the people.

The man cleared his throat, drank down a cold glass of ice water, clicked the record button and spoke into the mic. “Test, test, one, two.”

Green bars danced across his laptop screen. He hit the playback button. His voice scrambler app copied his speech into four different tracks, radically modifying octaves and pitch. The overall effect made it sound as if four different people were speaking in an electric monotone.

He adjusted the settings just so, and tried again. Satisfied, he called up his script.

“We are the Sons of America. We are the inheritors of the old United States of America, the keepers of the flame of civilization. For too long, the illegitimate Republic of Cascadia, calling itself the successor state to the North American Union, has oppressed the people, using bread and circuses to distract the masses while the elite live in the lap of luxury.”

He needed an image for this. The SOA insignia, naturally. A coiled rattlesnake against a solid gold background. Above the snake were the words ‘Liberty or Death’; below it, ‘Don’t Tread on Me’. He uploaded it into his composer program and continued with his speech.

“We speak for the disenfranchised. We speak for the forgotten. We speak for the ones forsaken by the uncaring Federal government. We represent the last percent, the people who live in the Yellow Zone. For decades, one administration after another promised to improve the lot of the Yellow Zone, to rebuild from the ashes and fulfil the dream of the Restoration. For decades, they have lied. This is the reality.”

He called up a collage of photographs, cribbed from open source images of CDF operations in the Yellow Zone. Infantrymen rolling out of armored vehicles. Spec Ops personnel blasting down doors and bursting through windows. Bullet-ridden corpses. Women and children cuffed and led away at gunpoint.

“This is reality for the people of the Yellow Zone. They live in the shadow of the guns of Cascadia. The Yellow Zoners merely wish to live in peace. But the one percent can’t abide that. They see it as a threat to their power and their profits. And so they send the Army to crack down on what they call ‘raiders’ and ‘terrorists’.”

The next image was a photo of tall black man, mugging for the camera, surrounded by a bunch of disheveled but smiling kids. Behind them was an omniprinter.

“This is Jason Green. He opened a print shop in the Yellow Zone, helping Yellow Zoners produce the things they need at low prices. He hired Yellow Zoners, giving them work skills and a means of income. But the Green Zoners called him a terrorist. Why? Because his shop wasn’t registered with the Federal government. For that ‘crime’, they sent the Combat Studies Unit to raid his shop, and killed him and two of his employees.”

Another slide show, slower this time. He had to scour the Internet for this segment. First, a shot of the entrance to Camp Archer. He zoomed in on the motto: IN DEFENSE OF FREEDOM. Then a line of men in black hoods and orange jumpsuits, kneeling to face a concrete wall, their hands cuffed behind their back. A woman in a black hood and jumpsuit crammed into a cage half her size. Dogs barking aggressively at detainees strapped to boards. A half-naked man, his face covered with a towel, struggling against anonymous hands while a stream of water splashed against his face.

“And his workers? Here’s where they sent them: Camp Archer in Alaska. There they are beyond the reach of international law. They are given just one hour of exercise a day; the rest of the day they are locked up in tiny cells. The Red Cross cannot contact them, they have no access to legal aid, and they have no contact with the outside world. There, they will be tortured into producing false confessions for kangaroo courts and tried under so-called terrorism laws.

“Jason’s story is just one of many. Too many.”

A line of famous ex-Presidents giving speeches at podia, culminating with the sitting President, Carlos Martinez.

“The Gray House and their cronies have grown drunk with power. Today they target the Yellow Zone. Tomorrow they will come for you, for anyone who dares to question their authority. We will not let this happen. We will be at the frontlines, fighting for you, for your future, for America.

“We are the Sons of America. Expect us.”

The last photo was an obvious choice. An American flag.

He spent the next few hours fine-tuning the video. When it was ready, he uploaded it on Cascadia’s favorite social media websites. He had several dozen dummy accounts, coordinated by a control program he coded himself, and he knew there were others in the SOA with hundreds, even thousands, of sock puppet accounts. The dummies would boost the videos, posting links to them across the Net. Another program would produce automated comments, both positive and negative—more positive than negative, of course, but all publicity is good publicity.

The mainstream media ran the full video after just twenty hours.

The government issued its own press release a day later.

But the Feds were already behind the curve.

 

Keepers of the Flame: Excerpt 3

In Keepers of the Flame, counterterrorism missions in the Yellow Zone fall to the men and women of the Combat Studies Unit. Here’s a taste of how they operate…and of the war to come.

Men would die tonight. Master Sergeant Christopher Miller felt it in his blood. With a little over a decade and a half in the military, half that in the Combat Studies Unit, Miller developed a sense for times like this.

The only question was who was going to do the dying, and it sure as hell wouldn’t be his brothers.

He and his partner, Staff Sergeant Frank Goh, slouched their way to the end of the street, wrapped in ragged gray coats older than themselves, older than the Apocalypse. They plodded with the gait of broken men, marking off time until their battered, abused bodies died with the rest of their souls. Their faces were streaked with dirt and stage makeup, and before the mission they had applied liberal doses of eau de drunk that smelled like a cross of toxic mushroom booze and human waste.

All of which would soon go down the drain.

A flash shower broke the overcast sky. The weather was becoming increasingly unpredictable these days; the Met Service had called clear skies for the whole week. Miller clutched his scavenged coat more tightly around himself. Cold rain splashed through holes in the coat, soaking him through. More importantly, the rain was washing off his makeup and tamping down his smell. And no drunkards would willingly wander through the rain, not in this part of town, not when shelter was plentiful here in the Yellow Zone, in the empty husks once called homes and shops. Not many people willingly lived in this part of Kelowna, not any more.

Nevertheless, the two men meandered their way down the street. At a T-junction, warm yellow light spilled from the windows of a squat two-story building. Electric light, by the Lord, backed by the faint, alien hum of a generator. Atop the front door, a sign read ‘MA RE DY BR W R’, the missing letters long gone. Two hard young men stood at the door, carrying slung rifles and wearing tactical vests. Miller guessed they were sixteen, maybe eighteen, but their deep-lined faces and empty eyes made it hard to tell.

The official census said this part of the Yellow Zone was abandoned. All that meant was that while the area was officially claimed by the Federal government, they hadn’t gotten down to restoring power and essential supplies yet.

Nature abhorred a vacuum. It was the way of things. With the government having all but left the Yellow Zone alone, someone else moved in instead.

They called themselves the Sons of America. The Unit learned of them over a year ago. Almost smashed them, too. But they didn’t get all of them, and intelligence kept pointing to SOA offshoots sprouting in the forgotten nooks of the Yellow Zone.

And wherever the SOA appeared, Miller and his men followed.

The guards keyed in on the approaching operators. The one on the left, the shorter one, nudged his partner and whispered in his ear.

To Miller’s right, Goh slurred something incomprehensible and put a bottle to his lips. Miller laughed too loudly. Wiping off with a shredded sleeve, Goh passed his bottle to Miller. Both men weaved their way onto the road. The commotion caught the guards’ attention.

“Hey you!” Shorter shouted. “You two! Stop!”

They ignored him, crossing the street.

The guards weren’t completely stupid. The shorter one approached them while the taller one stayed put. Miller noticed both men were wearing earpieces with wires that trailed down their necks and the backs of their vests. They had radios.

The Unit had expected radios. Didn’t make things less tricky.

Shorter held up a hand. “That’s far enough.”

Goh staggered forward, spewing liquid all over Shorter’s vest. “What the fuck?” Shorter said, taking a step back.

Goh’s callsign was ‘Sportsman’. Before joining the Unit, he was an official Army athlete. His last post was the karate team.

Sportsman slipped right up and slammed his right palm into the guard’s chin and his knee into his groin, while simultaneously grabbing his shoulder with his left. Latching on to the target’s head, Goh swept out his right leg and spun him counterclockwise, smashing his skull against the road.

Which cleared Miller to act. Tossing the bottle aside, his left hand dove under his coat and to his right shoulder, touching a hard plastic grip. Shuffling to the left, he snapped out his weapon. It was an M92 Personal Defense Weapon, not much bigger than an oversized pistol, fitted with a suppressor. He snicked the safety down a notch and raised the gun one-handed. Through its reflex sight, he saw Taller’s mouth dropping, his arms scrambling to raise his weapon, the red crosshair framed against his chest.

Miller fired twice, so quickly they almost sounded like a single shot, like a prolonged cough. The M92 was loaded with 7.92mm subsonic ammo. Coupled with the suppressor screwed on the muzzle, the rain dampening sound even further, and all Miller heard was the M92’s bolt clacking back and forth.

As Taller slumped against the wall, Miller brought his right hand up, hooking his thumb and index fingers around the foregrip just forward of the trigger guard, and put a third bullet into the target’s brain.

Miller glanced at the other guard. Goh had slapped on two pairs of snap-cuffs on him, one for the wrists and one for the ankles. Maybe he’ll live, maybe he won’t, but no sense leaving things to chance.

“Front entrance clear,” Goh said, activating his in-head communications implant. The report wasn’t just for Miller. It was for the rest of the Unit operators on the scene.

Timing was everything now. Miller extended the PDW’s stock, bringing it to the shoulder, and shucked off his coat. Under it was a low-profile chest rig. Goh did the same, drawing his own M92. Keeping low, both men stacked on the front door. From a pouch on his rig, Goh extracted a door knocker, a small explosive charge designed to blow out locks and doorknobs. He hooked it on the door knob and both men stepped clear.

Two black vans quietly drove up on either end of the street. Behind Goh, Miller saw the doors open, revealing three operators. The rest of Miller’s team, Sergeant First Class Charles Jackson, SFC Bill O’Neil and Staff Sergeant Nick Ng, dressed head to toe in black assault gear and carrying suppressed M146A4 assault rifles. Miller felt distinctly underarmed and underprotected, but only for a moment. The operators stacked up at the window, preparing sledgehammers and nine-bangers. Another four-man team formed up on another window behind Miller.

An operator grabbed Miller’s thigh, deliberately squeezing twice. Miller nodded. O’Neil squeezed Goh’s leg, and Goh nodded too.

“Stand by, stand by,” Goh said, holding up the charge’s clacker in his left hand. Miller and Goh looked away from the door.

“Three, two, one—MARK!

Goh squeezed the clacker. The door blew inwards with a puff of smoke. At the same time, the other operators smashed the windows and tossed in nine-bangers. As one, they poured in through a riot of noise and light.

In another life, the building was a microbrewery. Tonight’s targets had repurposed it to their uses. They had knocked down most of the interior walls on the first floor, leaving a large empty space. A giant omniprinter churned away at the far end of the room, powered by a nearby biofuel generator and controlled by a tablet on a nearby table.

There were six targets. One guy watched the tablet, one kept an eye on the printer, and the other four were packing crates and stacking them along the walls. As the stun grenades erupted, they flinched away.

“CDF! CDF!” Miller yelled. “GET DOWN! GET DOWN! DO IT NOW!”

Two targets were manhandling a large crate before the operators came in. One of them dropped his end, and it smashed into his feet. He yelped, falling on his ass. Two operators raced in, securing the duo.

The rest of the team took up the slack, racing to dominate the room. One guy caught the message and got on his knees. Another, a little slow on the uptake, stood around gaping. An operator spun him around, shoved him against a wall and cuffed him. A third man tried to resist. Jackson punched the muzzle of his weapon into his sternum and butt-stroked him to the ground, leaving him for Ng to search and cuff.

Miller tracked the last one through his sights. The right hand dove for the tablet. The other was hidden by the rest of his body, but reaching for the waistband. Miller raised his sights, took the pressure off the trigger, and with a sharp metallic BHIM the man’s head vanished in a red cloud.

Miller indexed his finger on the frame of the PDW.

“Clear!” Jackson called.

“Clear!” Miller replied.

Moments later, the prisoners were trussed up and consolidated in the middle of the room. While an operator watched them, the others circulated around the building, tearing everything apart and gathering anything that seemed remotely of intelligence value. The term of art was Sensitive Site Exploitation.

Miller examined the corpse. No signs of life, but no sign of a weapon either. Miller patted him down. Nope, no weapon. He was reaching for a plain flash stick.

“Shit,” Miller muttered. After a final, fruitless check, he looked up and yelled, “Hey, who shot this one?”

An operator ambled up to him. It was one of the newbies, a Sergeant Gary Powell. “I did, Pagan. What’s up?”

“He wasn’t armed.”

Powell paled. “No shit?”

Miller held up the stick. “He was going for this.”

“Damn. God damn.”

Miller handed the stick to him. “Write it up. Take photos. You thought he was reaching for a weapon, correct?”

The young operator nodded, speechless.

“Make it clear. You have a shit ton of paperwork to do now.”

“He was an enemy combatant—”

“You and I both know he’s SOA, but his buddies will say we killed unarmed civilians. We have to be able to call bullshit on their propaganda.”

“I, I—”

“You pull the trigger, you carry the weight. Shit, if I’d shot him I’d be doing it right now.” Miller lightly patted his shoulder. “Look, this is not a fuck-up, okay? Shit happens, and we can talk about it later. Right now, I’m saying, we’ve got to dot the i’s and cross the t’s.”

“Yeah, okay. Thanks, Top.”

Miller nodded. “Good man.”

Powell pulled out a small digital camera and started taking photos. Miller got out of his way. At that point, the omniprinter beeped. Miller walked over and popped the lid. Inside was an odd collection of polymer and metal parts. Miller recognized them immediately.

“What’s baking?” Jackson asked.

“Everything you need to assemble an M38A1 assault rifle,” Miller replied. “Just like what the guards outside were carrying.”

“I saw M38s in the crates too. Seems our friends are looking to standardize their weapons.”

“You’d think guerillas like that would be trying to print M146s. They’re the most common rifle in Cascadia.”

“M38s are pretty common too.”

Miller frowned, putting his hands on his hips. “Yeah, but that’s the baseline model. This is the A1 version. See that? Folding trigger guard, redesigned folding telescoping stock, modified bayonet mount, improved trigger and pistol grip design. And the M38A1 was developed by and for the New American Armed Forces, especially their Enhanced Mobility Infantry.”

Jackson gestured at the rifle parts. “Cyberpunks broke into the NAAF databases and open-sourced the M38A1 design specs three years ago. This isn’t proof of American support.”

“Not yet.”