07:55:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 819 words  
Categories: Announcements, Old Ventures: Refuge

ANNOUNCEMENT: NaNoWriMo 2018, Old Venture: Refuge

I'm sorry. I know, no man is an island, but I've had trouble even being one drop of rain in a river. It's difficult, these days, not to feel like the very foundations of sanity are shaking loose. And I have struggled under my burdens, as I know many of you do. I only yesterday finished last year's NaNo (which I'll be uploading soon to the blog) and I'm going to try and publish one chapter a day this NaNo. It's going to be a rough election cycle this year, and I'm hoping we can get through it together. But if you retain none of the words before or after this, remember these: you are not alone. Amidst all the chaos, and pain, and dehumanizing horror, you are known, you are cared about, you are loved. And so long as we continue to have each other, and to hold one another in our hearts, we have hope. Below is an excerpt, a preview of a chapter I realized was important enough to write and publish out of order, where it might still have some impact. As always, check back daily for updates, on this as well as on older projects that I got behind in posting publicly. And in the meantime, may you and yours stay safe and close in these trying times.

* * *

Jack stepped out onto the stage, and for a moment was blinded by the house lights, and then the chorus of flashbulbs from the media. "I'm happier than I can say to welcome a true American hero onto this stage," the man said, flashing a wide smile.

Jack shook his hand stiffly, then waited for him to clear the stage before speaking. "I'm not comfortable being here," Jack said, "and I'm sure that shows."

The audience chuckled nervously. "That's okay. You're laughing with me," he paused, "I think."

"But I've never been comfortable using my... celebrity, I guess, like this. I've marched, with John Lewis, Martin Luther King, for many varied human rights on many different occasions. You could say I've never been apolitical... but I've always attempted to keep who I am as a man separate from who I was as a symbol. I never wanted to trade on the good I've done, and even today, that's not my goal.

"But I can no longer abide my prior silence. This is not the usual push and pull of politics. This is the rise of something far more sinister, an enemy we fought a world war against, an enemy I hoped we vanquished for good. Maybe that was nave of me. Maybe my generation failed to keep the flames of vigilance lit.

"I didn't decide to speak until last week. I waited, hoping that sanity would return, that someone, anyone, would be able to show the Republican candidate that he's not just trying to be the leader of conservative America, or scared America, that he'll need to lead all of us. He'll need to represent the will of all of us. He'll need to represent the hopes, as well as the fears, of all of us. And their convention convinced me that realization will forever evade him. At his core, he is a divisive and spiteful man. He doesn't like the idea of an America united, unless he can force us to unite behind him, not as a good and changed man, but as he is, angry, scared and lashing out.

"And with each passing day, the parallels with the fascist rise- a rise that cost our world millions of lives- become stronger, and harder to ignore. Every day, more language about how everyone but America is the problem is used, while more narrowly defining what counts as America. I have seen this ugliness before, I have seen what it does to good men and women caught up in its throes, and I have seen what they in turn do to those they deem unworthy of sharing soil with. I wish I could be here for any other reason, truly. But we do not get to choose our burdens, only how we rise to meet them.

"So please, vote. Not just for Democrats, but for democracy itself, for a return to normalcy, to respecting our differences, and the rights of others. For returning this country to an ideal for the rest of the world to envy. For a world where our most vulnerable are cared for, protected, and safe. For America as we want her to be, and need her to be, not what she was. Because viewing who she was through rose-tinted glasses can't erase those who were left behind or excluded in that past, and we know better, now, and we have to do better. The only hope I have to leave you with is this: we can do better. I've seen it. And I pray I'll live to see it again. Thank you."

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  11:44:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1170 words  
Categories: Announcements

OLD VENTURES: REFUGE, Fourteen, Basrah

"You ready, Jack?" Ian asked, his voice staticky over the earpiece.
"Intel's solid?" Jack asked, leaning out of the alley to see if there was a guard posted outside.
"Apartment rented to a known insurgent under the name 'Mohammad Attah,' so one, these guys aren't playing at subtle, and they're not rocket scientists."
"Good," Jack said, "I could really use punching someone who deserves it."
"Rules of engagement?"
"Shoot to wound where possible, and only then when you have to. I can pull a punch, you can't pull a bullet."
"Works for me," Ian said. "This rifle kicks like a mule, even firing prone, and my shoulder isn't what it once was."
"How's your visibility?"
"Awful. Curtains all drawn. I can see silhouettes of movement, but once you're in you'll only be a slightly bigger blob than the rest."
"You sure you don't want to come in with me?"
"Yes, because I remember why we're here- because I went in with you last time- and I'm only still here because the man in that building stopped me from bleeding out on a filthy street in Najaf."
"Then I'll get the curtains down, first thing."
"It's either that or I start blind-firing into the building."
"Funny," Jack said, and slid along the wall, halving the distance between minimizing his exposure and being inconspicuous, until he reached the door. "Ready?"
"My grand-nieces are ready, you're moving so slowly."
Jack leaned across the door and knocked, before shrinking back, careful to avoid either the door or the window. He heard the muffled sounds of conversation form within, then several shots shattered through the door and frame.
"They don't seem to be playing nicely, do they?" Ian asked.
"I was hoping for an excuse to take off the gloves tonight," Jack said, and kicked the door in. He unclipped a grenade from his belt and tossed it inside, before rolling away as another volley of fire pierced the open doorway. "Watch the door."
Smoke billowed from the grenade, filling the room. An insurgent emerged from it, filling the doorway, raising a .357 revolver. A shot rang out, knocking the gun from his fingers with a loud crack. "Smith & Wesson," Ian said. "Shame to ruin such a beautiful piece of kit- for an American weapon."
"You prefer a Walther?"
"I prefer something less ostentatious and more practical... but I suppose we Brits don't have nearly as much to overcompensate for. And Walther's a German firearm. "
"Bit below the belt."
"That is where you Americans tend to keep your insecurities," Ian said, his smile apparent from his voice.
"You're in a mood tonight," Jack said, rolling a flashbang inside. "Everything okay?"
"Never," he replied, the response mostly lost in the sound of the grenade.
"Anything you want to talk about?"
"You can ply me with liquor, later, to see."
"I'm not sure I can afford your bar tab."
"Hugh showed me the balance sheet for the investments he made on your behalf. You can afford me and then some."
"Can your liver?"
"Means you'll have to leave one of these alive enough for a transplant."
"I'll do what I can," Jack said. He thumbed the button off his holster, then switched off the safety. He was hoping he wouldn't need to kill anyone, but he'd never been skittish about taking lives to save them.
Jack rolled inside, snatching the curtain nearest to the door and tearing the rod from the wall, sending it flying in the direction of two standing, coughing men. He landed in a crouch, pausing to listen for signs of others.
There was a dense hole in the wall of sound around him, about the size of a man in a chair. Jack bolted for the next window pulling the curtains down. This time he caught the rod, a heavy, hollow metal rod six feet long. Movement, stumbling, behind him, about 7 o'clock. Jack spun, swinging the rod around him, catching a man in the face, and through the smoke Jack saw flecks of blood and spittle fly from him.
Jack could hear movement towards the dead sound; the insurgents he hit with the first rod were still moving.
"How's your visibility?" Jack asked.
"Smoke's just thin enough to catch glimpses. The one you just hit's getting up."
"Would you mind suppressing him?"
A bullet smashed through the window, raining shards of glass down on the man behind Jack.
"He's staying down," Ian said.
"Perfect." Jack advanced towards the dead spot in the room, swinging the curtain rod high. He hit one man, and his arm brushed a second. Jack delivered a short, sharp strike from his elbow, and felt both men hitting the floor in quick succession.
The dead spot at the center of the room was still there, but closer now. Jack could hear breathing, and the slight shift of clothes beneath rope. Jack reached out, and found a head of curly hair, which he traced to the back of a head, where he found a knot holding a gag in place. He untied the knot. "How many here?"
"Four, here," the man said.
Adil added, "A fifth went for food."
"Got movement, at the door," Ian said over the radio.
Jack spun, and flung the curtain rod like a spear at the door, hitting him square in the chest and knocking him onto the ground. "Gun?" Jack asked.
"Doesn't look like it. Though I think he has burgers."
"Fries?" Jack asked.
"It's a brown paper sack with a cartoon burger on it. And you're the one who could have been holding the bag by now, instead of asking me questions about it."
"You wouldn't mind freeing me first, before you stop for a bite..." Adil said.
"Of course not," Jack said, and pulled a knife out of its scabbard. He slipped the blade between Adil's wrists, and carefully sawed away until the rope broke.
"Yes," Adil said.
"They took your family?"
"Yes. They were afraid the army might try something, or that I might. Keeping us apart meant I couldn't do anything to tell the police, or leave you clues."
"But of course, they still had to demand a ransom," Ian said from the doorway. "That was how I found out. "He was digging through the brown paper bag. "No fries," he said. "And apparently I was wrong, these are 'lamburgers.'"
"I could eat," Jack said, and Ian tossed him a paper-wrapped burger.
Adil cursed loudly, kicking one of the insurgents on the floor. "Damnable idiots," he said. "They expected the Army to pay a million dollars each for me and my family. The US government abandoned me to this. Why would they pay a ransom?"
"Hamburger?" Ian asked, holding one out.
"I don't want food, I want my family."
"Ugh," Jack said through a bite, "think he made the right choice. The lamb may have turned."
"You ever had a lamburger before?" Ian asked. Jack shook his head. "I don't know if you'd be able to tell the difference."


  08:30:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 497 words  
Categories: Old Ventures: Refuge

OLD VENTURES: REFUGE, Thirteen, nearing Weimar, Germany, 04/11/18

The sun was coming up as the train crested the hill. Jack was one of the few GIs not wearing prison uniforms, but was instead dressed as the fireman.
Jack couldn't help but think to Flossy. She and the rest of the prisoners were marching for Weimar, holding their former captors captive with their own arms, all save for Hauptmann Sommer, who was tied to a chair at the back of the compartment, himself wearing a prisoner's uniform. Fleming had directed the liberated prisoners to a Resistance holdout in Weimar, where they could wait out the advance of the Third Army.
Fleming was dressed as a prisoner with a Star of David sewn into his uniform. He was hunched over the radio, jotting dots and dashes onto a wedge of paper in time with Morse code coming over it. "This is dire," Fleming said, reading over the paper. "This message is an SOS from the Goethe concentration camp captives. The SS want to evacuate them. They fear extermination."
"How far out are we?" Jack asked.
Colonel Mike Edwards looked up from the map on the table next to the radio. "According to this, we'll be there in less than an hour." He heard beeping coming from Fleming. "What're you saying?"
"Telling them to hold out, the cavalry are on our way." He finished, and turned to Edwards. "What's our plan?"
Edwards unfurled a second map, drawn by hand by Hauptmann Sommer. "Between the maps on the train and everything Sommer's told us, we know that the train yard is here, on the far side of the camp, just inside the walls. There are guard towers every thirty degrees on this side of the wall, every other housing a machine gun nest, four total.
"Our greatest weapon is going to be surprise. If we can get our men into place near those towers and we can take them quickly, we'll control a third of the yard almost instantly. I've got the best shooters in our detachment prepared to post up in those towers, to give us fire superiority even deeper into the camp. The remaining side has another three towers, at sixty degrees instead of thirty, which makes sense, since there are mostly other camps and Nazi territory to that side.
"Those other towers are going to be a bear, like storming Normandy, but until we take them, it only takes a handful of Nazis to threaten a third of the camp. But there's plenty of Nazis down on the ground, too. We don't know how well the prisoners are going to be able to hold out, so we need to push through the center, too. Jack's going to lead that force, and I'll be taking the towers, moving south to east to north. Things go smoothly, we'll effectively pincer the remaining Germans just north of the center."
"And if they don't go smoothly?" Fleming asked.
"Then we're going to kill a heap of Nazis when we die."

  08:27:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 381 words  
Categories: Old Ventures: Refuge


"Rise and shine, sleeping beauty," Ian said, his voice nearly drowned out by the whirring props of the plane. The inside was massive, and through a haze of sleep, Jack could barely remember Ian putting him on a plane in Washington. "How much of last night do you remember?"
"I got most of the way to the White House with the intention of putting my boot up Drump's butt. And I cleaned Hugh's clock."
"He says he let you."
"He would," Jack said with a grin.
"He would," Ian agreed. "But we both thought it made more sense to get you out of town while his PR team planted the story of you assisting with a Secret Service incursion drill. And I needed your help in Iraq."
"Are we invading again?" Jack asked.
"You say that like we ever left," Hugh said, sipping some tea from a cup, before setting it back on its saucer. "The travel ban has had some... unforeseen knock-on effects. Iraqis who aided the American forces, who were supposed to be granted asylum as part of their assistance, have been frozen out, mostly interpreters. And the insurgents have taken it as a green light to enact vengeance on Iraqis they see as traitors."
"Seems like we should turn this plane back towards Washington," Jack said, the muscles in his neck tense.
"I don't think it's a problem you can murder your way through," Ian said. "And I'm not tasking you with solving the problem en total- international aid agencies are already doing a lot of the heavy lifting there. We're on a more specific mission. Remember Adil?"
"Well, unfortunately for him, he got some press attention for helping us. Which came back on him now. Insurgents took him and his family. I gave him a cell phone for such an occasion, and he kept it on him and charged, so we've got a location, according to pings off the cell towers. He stayed there for at least eight hours before the battery died, so if we're lucky, they're still there."
"How long before we land?"
"We'll be descending any moment now. I have a jalopy waiting on the tarmac."
"We aren't officially here, are we?"
"I'm never officially anywhere, if I can help it," Ian said.


  06:10:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 648 words  
Categories: Old Ventures: Refuge

OLD VENTURES: REFUGE, Eleven, Germany, 4/11/45

Jack's Hebrew was shaky, but he listened intently as the old woman, whose name was Flossy, spoke. "I was sick," she said, "violently, violently ill. They had no facilities on the train, so the soldiers left me behind. 'There will always be another train,' they said. But they took the rest of my family, my Heinrich, our daughter Ruth and her husband, with their children, two girls and a boy. I must find them," she said, and took hold of Jack's face, and pulled it down to her, nearly a foot lower than his usual height. "Promise me, you will find them."
She released him, "I'll find them," Jack said, and took out a folded sheaf of paper, and a little charcoal pencil. "Describe them for me."
Flossy blinked at him twice before registering the paper, and her expression changed. "My Heinrich, he is three inches taller than me, thin, frail, white hair, only on the sides of his head. Spectacles, if he's managed not to lose them.
"Ruth is thirty-nine, plump, but beautiful, and not just in her mother's eye. Long, curly black hair, to her backside," she traced her hand down her own back to illustrate.
Jack put up his hand to slow her. "Sometimes, they shave people's heads, to prevent lice. Identifying marks, jewelry?"
"She has the ring I was married with," she touched her left ring finger, twisting the ring that had been gone long enough there was no longer a tan line where it once was. "Gold, with a Star of David, with a sapphire hexagon in the center, my birth stone. My father bought it when he proposed to my mother, and when I met Heinrich, she gave it to me, and I gave it to Ruth when she married.
"Her husband Charles is a gentile, French, with straw hair, in color and texture, usually kept under a small cap. His left leg is shorter than his right, which makes him walk with a limp. And he has a crooked smile, that matches.
"The children all have their father's color of hair, all to their shoulders, even the boy. He refused to have his hair cut any shorter than his sisters'. They go everywhere hand in hand, the boy, the youngest, between them; I suspect not even the Nazis could separate them."
"Their names?" he asked.
She beckoned for him to give her his pencil and paper, and he did. She scrawled across three consecutive lines, names, with ages between five and nine, then wrote out the names of her husband, their daughter and her husband, too. Then she handed him back both.
"Thanks," Jack said, "this should really help." He slid both back into his pocket, before seeing that she was staring at a young woman, flirting with one of the soldiers. The young woman kissed one of the American, and he said, "Shucks," loudly enough they heard it. The mood of the train had lightened considerably, except among the captured Germans.
And Flossy. Staring at the revelry, tears streamed down her cheeks. "This wasn't necessary," she said, her voice breaking. "We escaped. From Germany. From the Nazis. From Europe. My family, we traveled, by boat. We made it to America, to Ellis Island, in sight of the Statue of Liberty. We were safe," she sobbed, "we were safe.
"They sent us away, told us there was no room. Like the country was an inn, with no vacancies, and sent us back. No one would take us," she said, trembling. "The entire world turned its back on us..."
Jack's jaw set; it had been a awhile since he'd been so furious, and a good long time since that anger was turned towards his own country and government. "I'll find them," he said, squeezing her shoulder. "They haven't invented a Nazi yet who can slow me down."
She collapsed against him, wailing.

  07:58:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 954 words  
Categories: Old Ventures: Refuge

OLD VENTURES: REFUGE, Ten, Washington D.C.

Hugh hoped Jack wasn't this stupid, but that was wishful thinking. He'd known Jack for sixty years, and he'd always been a stubborn jackass- especially when he thought he was right. And he always thought he was right.
He hoped he would be able to head Jack off at his cache here in D.C., a little storage shed where he kept guns, black clothes, everything you could need to break and enter. Or clandestinely kill someone.
Hugh watched through telescopic lenses in his suit as Jack vaulted the fence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and sighed. He set off his counter-protocols, taking temporary control of the White House's myriad security systems. This was going to cost him a dozen favors and likely millions of dollars, and that was if he and Jack managed to avoid jail time.
He opened up a call that immediately rang through to the Secret Service. "That preparedness drill we talked about, it's happening. Now," he said. He didn't wait for a confirmation, and disconnected the call.
He cut his suits engines, and turned so his body was a missile aimed at the White House lawn. The suit calculated the last possible moment to stop, and he pushed that by a third of a second, the g-forces nearly knocking him unconscious as he fired his engines in the direction of his fall, hovering above the White House lawn mere feet from Jack.
"Lovely night for a stroll," Hugh said, his voice distorted somewhat by the suit.
"It's winter in Washington," Jack replied. "Witch teats are warmer."
"Which teats?" Hugh asked jocularly, but Jack didn't smile.
"You here to help me, Hugh, or stop me?"
"That depends on what you're here to do."
"Same thing I always do: what's right," Jack said, and dropped his bag, and rolled a rope off his shoulder. He stretched his back, then twisted his neck from side to side.
"This is silly," Hugh said. "Even in your prime, before your knees went out and when my suits were practically using steam power and analog controls, you couldn't take me."
"That's silly," Jack said, "because before this second, you were never defending tyranny." Jack reeled, throwing a punch that was faster than Hugh expected- but not so fast the suit couldn't dodge. But it was a feint, and Jack seized the back of his head, and rolled Hugh over his shoulder. Hugh was powerless to do anything but wait for gravity to bring him crashing back into the dirt.
"That was humbling," Hugh said, pulling a clod of dirt off his face.
"Then this is going to be downright embarrassing," Jack said, dropping flat onto the grass. Hugh had time enough to look down and see several explosives at his feet.
"Oh, mother-" The explosion threw him again into the air, only this time he landed on his head. Jack took a crowbar to one of the panels on Hugh's back. Hugh could hear metal warping even as he tried to push himself up. But he was struggling, as the suit's operating power dwindled. "Damnit, Jack," Hugh said, his knees knocking as he fought to keep the suit standing, "listen to me."
"Okay," Jack said, "I'll give you a moment. But if you're just stalling me so you can reroute power, I'll peel you out of that tin can and box your ears."
"Noted," Hugh said. "Rose know you're here?"
"Low blow," Jack said.
"That's a 'No,'" Hugh said. "Ask yourself how I knew you'd be here?"
"Your spying makes the NSA's tech look like a baby monitor?"
"Ian told me. He was worried what you were going to do."
"I wouldn't expect him to understand. He was three when I liberated my first concentration camp."
"And I was, what, fifteen? Sixteen? I missed most of what fascism was really about- some of that certainly because the parallels between fascism and corporatism certainly muddied the waters for me at that age. But I knew we were fighting evil, Jack. I was helping design better bombers, more robust planes."
"You leave the States during the war?"
"No," Hugh admitted.
"You've seen that evil in what, books? Documentaries."
"Jack... I've known you long enough to know that I can't think my way around you- and if I can't, probably no one can. So I just want to ask you a question. What's this about?"
"Evil, Hugh. This is... it's fascism, taking its first steps in our country. This is every half-drunk conversation about killing Hitler before he could start his pogroms; we can smother this evil in its crib."
"Okay, Jack," Hugh said. "I've also known you long enough to trust your moral compass. So if you're telling me that the right thing to do, right now, is to break into the White House and murder an elected President... I'm with you. We'll fight our way in, and I'll hold the old bigot down while you run him through with an American flag."
Hugh waited. "I've covered Joey's medical expenses, and will, of course. So, if this is about Joey, about protecting him and loving him- not the way he wants but the way you always knee-jerked- with violence... then you know this isn't right. Not here, not now, not like this. So what's it going to be, Jack?"
"You're a real prick," Jack said, and picked up his bag from the floor.
"So I've been told," Hugh said, moving his arms.
"Playing opossum?"
"Only the last sixteen seconds or so. Not sure what you did back there but I'm going to have to engineer a counter-measure."
"You're welcome to try. And you're buying."
"I don't drink anymore."
"S'okay," Jack said, "just means I have to drink twice as much."


  06:02:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1321 words  
Categories: Old Ventures: Refuge

OLD VENTURES: REFUGE, Eight, Akron-Canton Airport

"I don't know," Jack said, shifting uncomfortably in his seat.
"I know," Rose replied, patting his leg. "But Joey's fine at home, for the moment. And I know it would do you good to get out of the house, to have an impact on the world, however small."
"But protesting, at an airport?" Jack asked.
"You go where the injustice is," she said, "and banning Muslims on the basis of their religion is wrong. This country was founded to be a safe haven, where people could have whatever religion they chose. Not merely as a Christian sanctuary."
"I guess," Jack said, slumping.
"Hey," Rose kissed his cheek. "Trust me. Sometimes what you need is just to see the good you're doing, know that you can make positive change happen, even if it's small."
"Okay," Jack said. He still felt limp, like the best he could hope to accomplish was going through the motions enough to stay alive, but no more. But he'd trusted Rose, with his life, with his happiness, for nearly 70 years, and if she thought this might help, he wanted to try.
She opened her door first, since she was near the sidewalk, and he followed her out. She tipped their driver and waved goodbye.
Rose led him through the airport to a security checkpoint. It was the deepest you could go in the airport before needing to buy a ticket. A temporary chain link fence had been erected to house detainees from 7 Muslim countries.
A small boy had his fingers through the links in the fence, and it brought him back to Rowher, Arkansas. Jack knelt down, smiling at the shy boy.
"They have to be detained," a gruff voice said from behind them, "until we can send them back. So please step," Jack rose to his full height, puffing out his chest. He didn't take up as much space as he did in his youth, but he still dwarfed the TSA agent. "Just, uh, make it quick."
On any other day, Jack might have felt bad about intimidating a federal agent, but one look in that kid's eyes told him it was just karma coming back around. "Thank you," the boy's father said.
"All I did was stand up," Jack said, his voice hollow.
"Sometimes, that's all that's necessary."
Jack's jaw tightened. He could see in the boy's mother's eyes that she doubted it, the same as him. "Why would your country do this?" she asked, slapping the fence between them. "Aren't you the land of the free? Don't you pride yourselves on taking in the world's wretched?"
"We do," Jack said. "And my heart breaks for you. But this," he slapped the fence, "is not America. This policy is being driven by one man, a bigot who never should have been even a stone's throw away from that kind of power. I'm sorry, that we aren't living up to our ideals. You've been brave, to make it this far. If there's any justice at all you'll find someplace to really be safe."
"And maybe we can help you find that place," Rose said. She handed the woman a business card. "One of our friends works with a refugee resettlement agency. Call that number, and tell Laney that Rose sent you. With everything going on, in Syria, sometimes waits can be long. But they'll take care of you."
"Thank you," the woman said. "Come along, Ali." The boy ran after her.
"Didn't that feel good?" Rose asked.
"It felt awful," Jack said. "It's everything our country shouldn't be."
"Not that part... being able to tell her, honestly and truly, that our country is better than this, and that we're going to fix it. Commiserating with someone else just as hurt by what's happening."
Jack sighed. "You helped her. I... just told her I didn't want to be held responsible for what our country was doing to her."
"That's not..."
"How she took it? No," Jack said, "but it was in there, anyway. And I am responsible. And you are, too. We all are."
"We didn't vote for this."
"But we didn't stop it, either."
"Jack," she soothed, "you couldn't have. You tried, but... no man is an island. Not even you."
"There were things I could have done."
"You stubborn jackass," she said, yelling despite the fact she was whispering, "lord knows you were capable of ending things with your hands- but you're also too good a man to think what a man can do with his hands means it's what a man ought to."
"So?" Jack asked. "Maybe this time I ought to have done something. Maybe..." Jack clenched his fist, "maybe I shouldn't have let my pride get in the way of doing what I know in my soul is right."
"You shouldn't say things like that within earshot of a listening device," Ian said, putting an arm around each of them. "Like that phone in your pocket- or are you just happy to see me?"
"Ian!" Rose said, and bear hugged him. "How are you?"
He stroked his chin thoughtfully. "Still handsome, virile and charming, of course," he said, "and I'd ask the same of you, but I'd expect the same in reply."
"You're the devil in the flesh," she said, and kissed his cheek, "but you also may be just what the doctor prescribed. Your oldest friend is in some need."
"Ah, well, I happen to have come with something for our needy friend. Come," Ian beckoned with his hand. "Leave your wife to do good works. You and I have skullduggery to pursue."
"You boys be good," Rose said, squinting at them.
"Very rarely, but at least it's a feast for the eyes to watch us depart."
"You," she said, and laughed, as Ian led Jack down a hall.
"I ever tell you you've got your father's smile?" Jack asked, "even when you look like a cat with a mouthful of canaries."
"You usually only mention it when you've been drinking. Though the way you often tell me I have my mother's eyes makes me wonder if you ever had a thing or her, or a thing for me."
"Don't flatter yourself."
"You certainly wouldn't be the first 'straight' man to come onto me, Jack, and, outside your rigid little personal bubble, I think you'd find more people's sexuality to be more... fluid than your own. I have it on some authority Rosie riveted more than her share of fillies."
"I never know when you're teasing me."
"Hallmark of a good spy. As is teasing out information from informants."
"Informants? Why does that word sound like a euphemism when you use it?"
"Because most words are," he smiled. "Though in this particular case you might be correct, as these particular agents moonlight as escorts, or vice versa."
"So you're a pimp?"
"Only in the latter-day sense of the word. I don't perform any services for escorts, neither protection nor muscle. But I do have friendships with women of all walks of life- some of those walks indeed happening upon the street. And I would, of course, be lying if I didn't recognize the parallels between my own profession and theirs; many in my line seduce secrets from their marks, myself included. The main difference is of course the prize we seek. And I've always found myself more comfortable around those of ill repute- even when those of better welcome me with open arms. But... I fear this not a matter for jocularity."
"You found something? About Joey's insurance?"
"I did. A memo. Scrawled in the buffoon's own ridiculous hand, personally cutting Joey's benefits. As you feared. Remarkable, that we're already to the knifing of one's political enemies. Took Hitler much longer."
"Yeah," Jack said, his fists balling again.
"I don't think I like that look," Ian said.
"I don't either," Jack said, "but I can only think of one remedy for that."


  03:31:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 803 words  
Categories: Old Ventures: Refuge

OLD VENTURES: REFUGE, Seven, Philadelphia, 7/28/16

"I hate this," Jack said sullenly, as Rose straightened his necktie.
"Think the last time you wore a tie might have been our wedding,"she said, blushing.
"Okay, gross," Joey said, "because I'm pretty sure she was thinking it was your wedding night."He turned so his back was towards her. "I never pegged you as afraid of a little public speaking,"he teased.
"It's not that," Jack muttered.
"It's a little that, too, hon," Rose said, pecking him on the cheek. "Or your stomach wouldn't be complaining quite so loudly."
"It's politics," Jack said. "I've been used by politics most of my adult life, but I-"he furrowed his brows, and couldn't force the rest of the thought out.
"That's what gives this weight,"Joey said, his expression turning serious. "You aren't some failed soldier trying to turn their retirement into a career. You're here because this circumstance is different, more important than any before. I respect that, and I think the American people will, too. Now get out there, before your introduction drags any more than it already has."
Jack stepped out onto the stage, and for a moment was blinded by the house lights, and then the chorus of flashbulbs from the waiting cameras. "I'm happier than I can say to welcome a true American hero onto this stage,"the man said, flashing a wide smile.
Jack shook his hand stiffly, then waited for him to clear the stage before speaking. "I'm not comfortable being here," Jack said, "and I'm sure that shows."
The audience chuckled nervously. "That's okay. You're laughing with me,"he paused, "I think."
"But I've never been comfortable using my... celebrity, I guess, like this. I've marched, with John Lewis, Martin Luther King, for many varied human rights on many different occasions. You could say I've never been apolitical... but I've always attempted to keep who I am as a man separate from who I was as a symbol. I never wanted to trade on the good I've done, and even today, that's not my goal.
"But I can no longer abide my prior silence. This is not the usual push and pull of politics. This is the rise of something far more sinister, an enemy we fought a world war against, an enemy I hoped we vanquished for good. Maybe that was nave of me. Maybe my generation failed to keep the flames of vigilance lit.
"I didn't decide to speak until last week. I waited, hoping that sanity would return, that someone, anyone, would be able to show the Republican candidate that he's not just trying to be the leader of conservative America, or scared America, that he'll need to lead all of us. He'll need to represent the will of all of us. He'll need to represent the hopes, as well as the fears, of all of us. And their convention convinced me that realization will forever evade him. At his core, he is a divisive and spiteful man. He doesn't like the idea of an America united, unless he can force us to unite behind him, not as a good and changed man, but as he is, angry, scared and lashing out.
"And with each passing day, the parallels with the fascist rise- a rise that cost our world millions of lives- become stronger, and harder to ignore. Every day, more language about how everyone but America is the problem is used, while more narrowly defining what counts as America. I have seen this ugliness before, I have seen what it does to good men and women caught up in its throes, and I have seen what they in turn do to those they deem unworthy of sharing soil with. I wish I could be here for any other reason, truly. But we do not get to choose our burdens, only how we rise to meet them.
"So please, vote. Not just for Democrats, but for democracy itself, for a return to normalcy, to respecting our differences, and the rights of others. For returning this country to an ideal for the rest of the world to envy. For a world where our most vulnerable are cared for, protected, and safe. For America as we want her to be, and need her to be, not what she was. Because viewing who she was through rose-tinted glasses can't erase those who were left behind or excluded in that past, and we know better, now, and we have to do better. The only hope I have to leave you with is this: we can do better. I've seen it. And I pray I'll live to see it again. Thank you."
Jack was numb, and barely heard the roaring crowd, or their applause. He put up his hand, to wave as he left, but couldn't help to feel that it was too late.


  04:57:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1057 words  
Categories: Announcements, Old Ventures: Refuge

OLD VENTURES 2: REFUGE, Six, Joe, Canton, Ohio

"I can't," Jack said. "Believe me, I've tried. But every time I thought of coming here, I... I couldn't. Because I'd think about every time I wasn't there, every time you needed me that..."
"Jack," Joey said. "You're here now. I don't blame you, not for any part of it, not getting molested, not getting kicked out of the Army, not for getting sick. I lived my life as I chose to. Sure, there might have been times when I could have used your help, or different help than what you tried to give. But you're a person, just like me, bouncing around and off of a tumult of events neither of us could hope to control. All we can do is cope. Sometimes, that means taking you as you are at that time, accepting you for how you can support me, not the ways you couldn't."
"I know," Jack said, his voice frail. "And maybe if I'd only failed you..."
"What, mom? Or is this about the election? Because I got strong words for you if it's that. You didn't fail America, dad. America failed you. And not even the people, really. They rejected fascism. But a party hell-bent on control and not too fond of actual democracy enabled fascists to seize power, anyway. I mean, I take your point, in that way too many people gave a thumbs up to fascism, way too many eagerly greeted all of the nastiness. But you? This isn't on you. Great a man as you can be, you can't save people from themselves.
"But let me remind you how fucking good of a man you can be. Do you remember what you told me, when you saved me in Germany?" A wistful, almost impish smile crossed Jack's lips, before fading just as quickly. "I know, that doesn't narrow it down, smart ass, because you saved me at least a dozen times in Germany. But you know the time I mean.
"I was a dumb kid, and ran off to help you fight Nazis, not realizing... I actually believed your kid sidekick could actually fight Nazis." He laughed, and there was bitterness in it, but also real amusement. "And when one caught me... that rat bastard raped me. And that might have been my whole fate, just being abused, humiliated and tortured by the Nazis. But you stormed that camp, alone and broke me out. But I was still a kid, what was I? Twelve?"
"You just turned thirteen," Jack said.
"Right. But I was still waiting for my growth spurt. Anyway, it was all basically cops and robbers to me, to that point. I didn't, I mean, I couldn't fathom that kind of evil, the kind of monsters who would do that to a child, and then laugh about it. Something inside me had broken, and I was catatonic. Even after you rescued me... I felt like we'd never get way, that the Nazis would capture us both and then they'd do to both of us what they did to me and... that would have been worse. And I couldn't move on my own, but there you were, risking life and limb, getting me food, medicine, a blanket. I couldn't understand it, other than that it made me feel even worse for being unable to help myself.
"You told me that 'Defying tyranny isn't about punching Nazis. It's about vigilance. It's easy, to lace up your boots on the days when your buddies are all alive, when your people aren't being rounded up. But those days when you've taken that punch, not the one that simply makes your head spin, but that makes your whole world feel like it's teetering off its axis, when you're bleeding and broken, those are the days when you need to get those boots on tight, figure out what the good fight is, and fight it. Sometimes you're tired. Sometimes you're hurt. Sometimes you're so scared you can't think straight. And there are days when the weight of even one more step feels like it could shatter you. So you take two. Because evil doesn't take a day off. And neither can you.'"
"I said that?" Jack asked.
"Was I always full of so much hot air?"
"Since before I met you, yeah," Joe said with a laugh.
"How-" The thought caught in his throat, "how'm I going to do this without you?"
"You'll have to take three steps, instead, for the one I won't be there to take."
"And when I can't go on?"
"That's why you've got me, handsome," Rose said, opening the door. "To pick up the slack. Though God knows you haven't left me much over the years to pick up."
"No man can do it all alone," Joe started again. "And it's a fool who thinks otherwise."
"And we've always loved you, foolish though you can often be," Rose teased him. "But it wouldn't matter. Even if this were the 40s, and you were indefatigable, even in the face of nearly a century's worth of horror. This is different. You're up against an idea; a man- there's no man alive and likely none who ever did you couldn't take. But an idea... tearing down an idea is the work of years. Maybe generations. Maybe we're still fighting the ideas behind Nazism today- maybe this really is the same fight you've been engaged in since you were a kid."
"What can I do?"
"You can't, Jack. We've been telling you that your whole damned life. But we can. All of us. Together. We can turn back this tide like you helped turn back the Nazis. Like you helped fight off the Reds. You were big in those fights, disproportionately so. But you weren't alone then, either. And you aren't alone now. We can get through this. We won't all live to see it through to the end. And for those of us who fall, you'll pick up the standard and keep moving. Because I know you. And on days when I'm weak, honey," Rose paused, softly touching his shoulder, "I know you'll be there for me. So let us be here for you. So we can all be there for the people who need us now. And there's going to be a lot of people who need us, now."


  04:39:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 357 words  
Categories: Announcements

Old Ventures 2: Refuge Epilogue

This may or may not make it into the ending, but America... you deserve something nice today. You made a very old-feeling man have hope, if only a little.
* * *
"Honey," Rose said, tracing her hand along the back of his lounger, before tussling his hair, "you can come to bed. The country will still be here in the morning."
Jack hit refresh on his phone again, while turning up the volume on the news on his TV. "I'm not so sure," he said, his voice trembling. His eyes were painfully red, his back hunched.
Rose knelt beside his chair, and kissed his hand. "The speed they tally results isn't impacted by the number of devices you're checking them on," she said, taking hold of his remote hand, and preventing him from picking up his tablet with it. "Drump lost the House. Even if they keep the Senate, that provides a check on his fascism spreading, a bulwark against his hate and aggression. And what about this?"
She took his phone and scrolled through several screens. "Michigan voted to expand voting rights," she added. "Florida voted to return the franchise to former felons. I know a not-mixed result would have been cleaner, and anything other than a full repudiation of this administration and its cruelty and bigotry is a lingering stain on our country... but the one place Americans have surprised me, they're overwhelmingly for voting rights. Despite the shenanigans of elected Republicans, the rank and file don't believe it's worth destroying this country, so long as they get to rule over its ashes. And that's something special."
"You're right," Jack said, and picked up his remote control and turned off the TV, "that is something. And the country will still be here come the morning. And there's more fighting to do. This is a war of inches, and tonight, we nearly took a foot. Tomorrow the real work begins. But tonight," he leaned over and kissed her lips, "tonight the country didn't end. It's important to take some time, and appreciate that, and the effort it took to get here. I'm fucking proud of us all."

  04:29:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 2593 words  
Categories: Old Ventures: Refuge

OLD VENTURES: REFUGE, Five: North of Paris, 4/10/45

"How's your German?" Fleming asked in German, as they walked towards the security gate.
"I get by," Jack replied in kind. He retrieved the counterfeit papers Fleming provided from his pocket, and handed it to the guard who approached him.
"What is your business?" the guard asked.
"Do you need me to read the instructions to you?" Jack asked, pushing his chest into the guard.
The guard sighed, and stared at the typed note. "Prisoner? For interrogation?"
"Will we have a problem? Because I can speak with your Leutnant. He sounds like the kind of man who appreciates his subordinates wasting his time on nonsense."
The guard handed the papers back. "I must have him processed. Then you can interrogate him."
"Nein. I do not have time for processing. The Resistance will notice soon that he is missing. If we do not find them and arrest them, these rats will scurry back into the shadows. You may send your Leutnant to me, if you believe he will need to hear it from directly."
"No," he said. He waved for an NCO to come to him. "Take this man to the interrogation cell. Give him whatever he needs."
Jack and Fleming followed him through the gate, past a flagpole in the central courtyard flying the Nazi flag, and towards the nearest building. He led them down several hallways, and finally unlocked a room. The table was covered in dust. "Will you need anything else?" he asked.
"Assistance with the interrogation," he replied, "if you wouldn't mind."
"No, sir," the NCO said. "I am eager to assist a-" Jack seized him by the collar and pushed him against the wall, holding him there with his forearm across the NCO's throat. He kicked and flailed, before going limp. Fleming took the Mauser out of the NCO's holster as Jack let him slide to the floor.
"That's the first part out of the way," Fleming said, and slipped a ring of keys off the guard's belt. Jack dragged him across the floor, to the table, and used the guard's own shackles to secure him against it. "If our intelligence is correct, then the barracks opposite this one is where most of the prisoners are housed. I'm likely to be a liability, out in the open; aren't many dark-skinned Nazis roaming about. So I'd propose I stay here, and rouse some trouble. I've had more than my share of experience working as a saboteur. Unless you think you'll need me to take the barracks..."
"No," Jack said. "But you should bide your time." Jack checked his watch. "Start your distraction at 2:37. I'll be ready for it, then."
"And how distracting would you prefer for me to be?"
"The flagpole is in the middle of the damned courtyard. I'm going to need the biggest distraction you can think of."
Fleming smiled to himself. "I'll see what I can accomplish."
Jack locked the door to the interrogation room, then grabbed Fleming by the arm. "I'll escort you through the building, so you can get the lay of it, first. Probably best if I don't stroll right across the courtyard without you, after making so much noise about needing to debrief you myself."
"I'm not going to turn down the cover," Fleming said. "Though I'm keeping the sidearm."
"Fair enough. Just keep it out of sight, or it'll blow our cover no matter how roughly I treat you." Fleming stashed it inside his jacket.
They walked together past a stairwell, then some administrative offices, and an officers' lounge. "This is where we part ways," Fleming said.
"Godspeed," Jack said, and let go of his arm. "It's been a pleasure."
"Maybe that would sound more convincing if you hadn't said it in German," Fleming said, smiled, and walked back the way they came.
Jack looked through the windowed door, to be sure the lounge was clear, then walked past it to a door into the courtyard. The barracks formed an L shape, surrounding the administrative buildings on two sides. That put Jack close to the main rear entrance to those barracks. The door was locked, but the lock was distinctive enough it only took Jack two keys to find its mate on the guard's ring. He locked the door behind himself, and nearly knocked over an old man inside.
"They don't usually come in through the rear," he said in French, eyeing Jack suspiciously.
"Pardon my French, but I'm not one of them. I'm no Nazi."
"Then you have a very strange fashion sense, my friend," he replied.
"I'm here, with the Resistance. We plan to take the camp."
"There are only a few hundred here," the old man snapped. "Most have already gone, by train, from here."
"That's the next step," Jack said. "But to get there, we need to take this camp quietly. That means, most importantly, preventing reinforcements and keeping prisoners safe. Do you know where their radio room is?"
"Across the way," an older woman said in somewhat broken English. "I heard distorted screaming, orders, in German."
Jack wondered if Fleming knew already, if that was where he headed when they parted. Either way, he wasn't going to be able to safeguard the prisoners, and raise the flag, and blockade the radio room. He was going to have to trust that Fleming would find the radio room and deal with it. "What about guards?" Jack asked.
"Most rooms have one armed guard," the old man started again. "There is one rover, who-" They all froze, at the sound of keys in the interior door. "Hide," he told Jack, and dove into his bunk.
"Nobody scream," Jack said as he ran at top speed towards the door, at the last second flattening himself quietly against the wall as the door creaked open.
"How are you, mein little sheep?" the roving guard asked, jangling his keys as he closed the door. "Docile and fluffy?" he said, the hint of a laugh in his voice. Jack wrapped his big arms around the guard's head, with one hand covering his mouth and nose, with the other gaining enough purchase on the back of his head. At the last moment, the guard realized what was about to happen, and he screamed through his eyes and mouth, but the latter couldn't break through Jack's grip. He twisted, fast and hard, so when the guard fell onto his chest he was still looking up at the ceiling.
One of the women gasped, loud enough that it set off noise in the next room.
That room's guard came to the door and yelled, "What's the noise for?"
"Nothing," Jack called back. "Stubbed my schnitzel."
"You know I can't ignore that much noise," the other guard said, then, "Why is this door unlocked?"
Jack hit him with a bladed hand in the throat, then covered the guard's hand at his holster with his own. Gasping for air, the guard attempted to stumble backward, but Jack used his holster to pull the man towards him. When he stumbled forward, Jack rammed his bicep into the man's throat. He fell to the ground, gasped, his breaths wet and broken.
"What is wrong with him?" a small boy asked.
"Crushed throat," Jack said.
"May I attend him?" the older woman from before asked.
"If you like. He'll die without it. But take his weapons, first, and someone watches him."
The old man who first spoke to Jack extended a shaking hand. "I'm Schlomo, and I'm sorry I did not believe you before. The Nazis play games with us sometimes, pretend to let us escape. And when we get into the courtyard, they beat us, they shoot us. To them it is a sport."
"They keep score," a younger woman added.
"Everyone stay here," Jack said. "Barricade the back door, be prepared to fight at this one. Anybody comes through other than me, you attack them, en masse. Fists and knives, if you can accomplish it. Guns only as a last resort."
Jack worked his way through the rest of the rooms, fifteen in total, in each dispatching the guards quietly, then giving their weapons to the prisoners. When he was done, he checked his watch. He had seven minutes before Fleming's distraction.
The front entrance into the barracks faced the courtyard, the guard at the gate and the guard tower in the corner. It was too exposed as an exit, so he instructed the prisoners to pile up their bunks in front of the door, then started back towards the rear. The armed prisoners he divided in half, half he sent to the front, half to the back. The rest he told to move their bunks to block the windows, and be prepared for Nazis to try to break in that way.
At the back, he disassembled their barrier, then gave Schlomo his gun. "I have to raise this," he said, removing his American flag from his bag. "That's how reinforcements will know they can take the camp. This will likely make them realize that the prisoners are free. You have to hold them off until the American troops can arrive."
"Raise a flag?" Schlomo asked. "I'm more use out there, with the flag, than in here with a gun. Somebody help me get into one of those uniforms," he said.
Jack nervously eyed his watch. Any second now, Fleming's diversion was going to hit. Only nothing happened.
Had Fleming been caught? That didn't seem likely, because if he had, they would have scoured the rest of the base for him. But if he was stuck someplace, waiting for a patrol to pass, that could account for the timing.
"I look like a kilo of potatoes in a 2 kilo sack," Schlomo said, sauntering up wearing a Nazi uniform several sizes too big, holding it up at the crotch so it didn't drag on the ground.
"You're sure about this?" Jack.
"You give me cover from that cannon, and I'll get the flag up," he said.
"Fire!" they heard the Nazis scream from the courtyard. "The administrative buildings are on fire!"
"That's our distraction," Jack said, and opened the door. He turned as he shut it. "Barricade this behind us."
"It's a beautiful day for a walk," Schlomo said.
Jack had noticed the two guard towers on his way in. They were each near the corners of the front gate, spread enough apart to make it all but impossible to approach both stealthily. "Wait until I've taken the first tower to lower the flag," Jack said. "That you can probably get away with. But once you pull out the Stars and Stripes, the game'll be up. That you'll need to do fast, and dirty."
"My specialty," Schlomo said with a mischievous grin. "Just as my wife." His smile suddenly faded.
"You'll see her again," Jack said, and slapped him on the back, before walking away from him. Jack worked his way to the ladder leading up to the guard tower. Most of the Nazis were consumed with the burning buildings, to the point where no one noticed Jack until he reached the top of the ladder.
"Who are you?" the first guard asked.
"Out of breath," Jack said, elongating the words as he wheezed, punctuating it with a cough. "I was in the building when it caught. The Leutnant ordered you two to help with the fire, while I recover here."
"No," the second said, looking up from his rifle scope. "You are that intelligence officer. You shouldn't be-"
Jack grabbed the first guard by the shoulder and threw him off the tower. He screamed as he fell, before abruptly stopping when he hit the ground. The remaining guard tried to bring around his rifle, but Jack was too fast, and smashing him in the nose with his pistol. Jack pulled off his helmet, and hit him several more times with the pistol's grip, before the man slumped against the guard tower wall.
The guard at the gate was screaming, roused by the falling guard. Jack thought he could make out them calling for a medic. Jack watched him stride off through the rifle's scope, past Schlomo. Schlomo panicked, and started pulling down the Nazi flag. That got the gate guard's attention anew, and he reached for his pistol. Jack exhaled, curled his finger around the rifle's trigger, and squeezed.
The guard's shoulder exploded in a mist of blood, and Schlomo covered the flag with his body. Jack trained the rifle on the opposite guard tower, but there were no openings facing him. They had been deliberately designed to protect even from each other. Jack slung the rifle from its shoulder strap, and slid down the ladder. With each step he cursed himself a little more for not realizing how exposed Schlomo was. Finally, about a third of the way towards the flagpole, Jack got an angle into the further tower, and dropped to one knee.
The guard was prone, rifle trained. It was a race, and the guard had a head start. Jack forced the rifle steady, settled the crosshairs over him-
The guard fired first, and Jack squeezed his trigger.
An instant later he was running towards Schlomo, teetering, blood flowing from a wound in his chest onto the flag in his hand.
Gunfire stopped Jack in his tracks. The second guard in the tower was firing at him. Jack raised his rifle, sighted him in, and fired. The guard toppled out of the tower silently, before smashing on the cobbles below like a dropped pumpkin.
Jack glanced around, to be sure there were no more gunners head towards them, then started back towards Schlomo. He had the flag attached to the rope, and was pulling it up. His hands were slicked with blood, and he was waving in the wind nearly as much as the flag.
Jack put his hands over Schlomo's, and they continued to raise it together. When the flag reached the top of the pole, Jack tied it off.
Schlomo collapsed, onto the ground. Jack tore the Nazi flag into strips, and used them for a makeshift bandage. "How bad?" Schlomo asked.
"If you were a younger man, and I were a skilled surgeon, and you were already on my operating table..."
"That good?"
"I'm sorry."
"Feh. I get to see my wife again, like you said. She died here, standing up to those bullies. I couldn't save her... but at least I finally get to make her proud."
"Is there, anything you want me to do?" Jack asked.
"Punch Hitler's goddamned head off," he said, "and tell him it was from Esther." Jack heard the sound of armor moving down the road, and had been at this long enough to know it was Allied armor, not Nazis.
The speakers at the camp whined, before a voice came over them. "This is Resistance radio," Ian said. "If you're a Nazi, know that your defenses are compromised, American armor is knocking on your front door, and your only shot at surviving the day is to surrender yourselves to that strapping chap in your courtyard. And do be polite about it, because he may well be looking for any excuse to tear your limbs off. This is Resistance radio, signing off. And Jack, I'm afraid our schedule is more rigorous than originally assumed. A train departed here not an hour before our arrival. If my figures are correct, you may be able to catch them by plane, depending on your skill at hitting something with a parachute."


  09:16:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 710 words  
Categories: Old Ventures: Refuge

OLD VENTURES: REFUGE, Four: Jack, Canton, Ohio, Present

Jack was driving too fast, too recklessly. He could feel the wind in his hair, which meant he hadn't grabbed his helmet, either, but he couldn't force himself to care. His son was dying, but not today, not if he could help it. He weaved between two cars, coming so close to smacking into the nose of one then rebounding into the tail of the other he held his breath. When he exhaled, he could feel his breath's heat, his anger warming it like a dragon's fire.
Joey had been on government benefits basically his whole life. He earned those benefits, from a lifetime of service- something the government hadn't always agreed on. They tried to take them away when he was drummed out of the army for being gay, tried to take them again when his utility as a spy went when they decided who he was was more of a liability than the skills he had honed under Jack over damn near twenty years.
Jack went to bat for his son to get those benefits restored; it was the absolute least Uncle Sam could do for a boy who had been serving his country longer than most men who retired with full Army benefits and pay. But there was a new Commander in Chief, a petty man who always remembered every sleight. Jack's anger was the one at the wheel, and even he was surprised when he arrived at the hospital in one piece.
Joey had been in the long-term care wing for months, so Jack knew the way. He was lucky, to catch up with another family visiting, so he didn't have to wait to be buzzed in. Hot as he was, he may well have just broken the door from its hinges.
He didn't smile at the doctors or nurses on his way, tried not to even recognize they were there, because he was angry, at them, at the entire system. He was looking for an excuse, and he knew it. He heard one through his the cracked door to his son's room. "...we can do, but we'll get someone up here with a wheelchair, to take you out to the pick-up area. Unfortunately, I'm going to need to start unhooking you from the monitors, and since we can leave you on your meds without them, I'll have to disconnect those, as well."
Jack slammed the door inward, "You're not going to do a goddamned thing," he bellowed, before realizing it that he was reeling back to throw a punch at the doctor.
Joey was there in an instant, catching Jack's fist in his palm. "Can, we, uh, have a few minutes."
The doctor, visibly shaken, looked at his watch. "It's probably my lunchtime," he said. "This'll keep, until then," he said.
"Thanks," Joe said, as the doctor left the room. The moment he was clear, Joey stopped forcing himself to stand up straight, and his spine curved, his face contorting in pain. "You know you'd have taken his damn head off," he said, as Jack helped him hobble back to bed. "He was just doing what he was told."
"Following orders has never held much water for an excuse with me," Jack replied.
"Dad," Joe said, "there is a whole world of difference between a doctor caught in a bureaucratic bind and a Nazi. You know that."
Jack sighed, and his voice broke as he let all of the air from his chest, deflating like a balloon as he collapsed into his chair. "Yeah," he said, the word coming out almost a sob.
"Hey," Joe said. "It's going to be okay. Doctor's say my numbers have actually improved, even."
"You, you shouldn't have to cheer me up."
"Why not? I'm just happy you're here. So happy," he said, tears welling up in his eyes. "Just because I'm sick, doesn't mean the world suddenly has to revolve around me," he said, wiping a tear from his cheek. "We're all grieving. You're losing a son, and... I'm losing you, too." Joey took up his hand, and squeezed it.
"I'm sorry," Jack said, "that I haven't been here more."
"Shush," Joe said. "You're here now. Let's not waste the time we've got worrying about the times we didn't."

  09:10:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 585 words  
Categories: Old Ventures: Refuge

OLD VENTURES: REFUGE, Three, Outside Paris, France, 4/10/45

Jack was tense. His contact in the resistance was late, and he'd never known her to be anything but punctual. From the roof he could see past the outskirts of the Parisian suburb into the forests beyond.
"Sorry, chap," a man's deep voice said from behind him, closing the only door up onto the roof quietly behind himself. By his accent he was British. "Unforeseen setbecks."
"Where's Marion?" Jack asked, turning to see a well-dressed black man. He had a pistol, inside his jacket, where his hand was, but was trying not to be conspicuous about it.
"We were detained at a Nazi checkpoint. Ian and I managed to sneak away from the car, but... she'll be late, and we're on a tight schedule." For the first time, Jack noticed a small boy hiding behind the other man. "Captain Simon, Fleming," he said, and held out his hand. "And this is our son, Ian."
"Didn't realize Marion had one."
"Yes, knowing her these four years, I can agree that's a shock. But, war makes for strange bedfellows, resistance fighting still moreso."
"He's got her eyes," Jack said. "But I don't think this raid is any place for a child."
Fleming smiled. "He's been with resistance from the day he was born, while a Nazi search party ransacked the building looking for us. Silent as a church mouse, even from a babe; he would have killed us several times over, otherwise."
"He's shy," Jack said, as the boy clung to his father's pant leg.
"He's not certain he likes Americans. You did, after all, take your sweet time riding to the rescue. He has... reservations about trusting you now."
"Smart kid," Jack said. "I can't speak for my country," he said, and knelt down in front of Ian, "but I'm here now, and I'm not leaving until we set things right. My friends call me Jack," he said, and held out his hand.
The boy took it, and his hand disappeared when Jack closed his hand to shake.
"Now what can you tell me?" Jack asked, rising to his feet.
"The camp is to the north of here. Originally, the plan was for Marion to be your prisoner, but desperate times, and all that. So Ian's going to wait here, this rooftop, for her, and you're going to take me. Resistance member, suspected Jewish heritage, that ought to be enough. We have a nearly pristine Nazi uniform for you, and your cover is Nazi intelligence, if you'll indulge me the oxymoron, with orders to interrogate me within the prison's walls."
"That'll work?" Jack asked.
"I have no reason to believe it won't," Fleming said with a grin. "Everything prepared on your end?"
"The Colonel's sending men. How many make it through is an open question, but the plan is for us to secure the prisoners as best we can, to keep them safe while American troops liberate the camp." Jack took his pack off his back and unzipped it. "The signal is the flag- we take down the German colors and raise Old Glory." Jack pulled an American flag from the pack, folded into a triangle. "That'll tell our back-up that they're clear to take the camp. And your intel is solid?"
"Well, you must always consider the source, but insofar as you can trust the word of a Nazi, this concentration camp functions largely as a transit station, for moving prisoners deeper into Nazi territory. If the rumors are true, you'll find your answers there."

  08:42:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 649 words  
Categories: Old Ventures: Refuge

OLD VENTURES: REFUGE, Two, Jack, Canton, Ohio, Present

Jack's entire body felt heavy, and heavier every day. It wasn't the weight gain, though he hadn't been able to make himself go to the gym or even run laps around the property. It was the force of a world he wasn't sure he was a part of anymore, slowly grinding him into a boneless paste. Joey had barely left the hospital since they got back from Israel, but Jack could hardly summon the energy to even be sad. He had fought fascists before, even lost to them, on occasion, but it was the first time when he felt alone with that loss, alone with his grief, with his pain.
He was thankful Rose wasn't home. It was worse, when she was here, because then he had to hide it. It wasn't right, to pawn his suffering off on her- a suffering, he knew, she couldn't help him out from under, a burden she couldn't help shoulder. It would just make her miserable, too, and she was already dealing with losing Joey.
Joey and Jack didn't always see eye to eye. There were times Jack couldn't help but feel his son was embarrassing him, not with who he was, but the way he lived his life. Jack knew, now, that he was wrong, that Joey's wild years had all been a pursuit of something stolen from him in his youth, or perhaps even trying to fill a hole he was born with. But he loved his son, and if he was honest with himself, which, he wasn't, always, watching him waste away was weighing on him, too.
He couldn't burden, Joey, either. The boy had been through enough; he'd seen enough before the end of WWII for a lifetime.
The sounds of the news only occasionally broke into Jack's reverie; he kept the sound low, absorbing the carousel of horrorshow images mostly through osmosis. He was an old, old man, and sometimes... sometimes he wondered if he was just waiting to die, waiting for this world or God or at least his old bones to finally release him. But the experiment that gave him his strength, his durability, and yes, his longevity, he wasn't sure if it ever would.
Through exposure to him, his wife and Joey had both lived longer, healthier lives than most could hope for; Joey's HIV lingered decades longer than his counterparts, before finally overtaking his immune system- long enough that anti-retrovirals gave him still more time. Just, not much more.
Jack sighed. He wanted to cry. If he were crying, grieving, anything better than just sitting in his recliner, waiting either for the world to end or for him to, would have felt like something. Like he was doing something with his life.
His phone rang, and his heart skipped a beat. Maybe this was something he could do, some problem he could solve, or even some sick kid he could hug and tell her he hoped she got better. He unlocked it, and saw it was his wife, and tried not to be disappointed. "Jack," she said, her voice fluttery, "they're taking Joe off the machines."
"God," Jack said. He wasn't ready for this. No parent should have to bury their children, but... Joey still should have had so much more time. "I'll be right there," he said, uncertain he could move himself from his chair with anything approaching the urgency in his voice.
"No, Jack, he isn't dying. They say his insurance has been cancelled. They're forcing us to leave the hospital."
Jack's phone splintered into dozens of tiny shards, as his grip tightened into a fist. He didn't remember even standing, but he was already moving towards the door. Finally, he had a mission, a distraction, a wrong to right, a place to put his anger, his frustration and his woe- and God help the bastards who got in his way.

  08:32:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 804 words  
Categories: Old Ventures: Refuge

OLD VENTURES: REFUGE, One, Rowher, Arkansas, 9/28/42

Jack was full of nervous energy. His boot camp had lasted only a week. His instructors had to take him in shifts, because even shouting commands from the back of a Jeep they couldn't keep up with him for long. But he knew he wasn't a soldier. The discipline, the camaraderie, all of the things that the U.S. Army did to break a man down and remake him as a G.I. Joe they skirted. He was a show soldier, only, good enough to keep the real soldiers from smelling the fakeness and nothing more.
Jack didn't feel good about it; these other boys were risking life and limb for the good of the world, and it seemed the least they could have done to be honest with them. He could still hear Colonel Millen barking his mantra, "An Army lives and dies on morale." Jack had heard it differently, that an Army survived on its stomach, and said so. "Oh, an Army won't even show up to the fight if you don't feed them. But they won't even make it to the mess tent if they lose hope. That's why we aren't letting you anywhere near the front line, son. You're hope, made flesh, with 'Made with pride in the U.S.A.' stamped on you like a rack of Grade A beef. But unlike beef, you become useless if somebody puts a bullet through your skull."
This was supposed to be a dry run, boys who hadn't even left the continent, yet, let alone seen any combat. But they were boys, skinny, nave kids who didn't know the dangers they were rushing towards- and had never been given a choice in the matter. Not that Jack was much older, or wiser, but h also wasn't rushing into a hail of Nazi bullets.
Idly, Jack's hand dragged at the chain link fence to his left as he walked. When his fingers grazed flesh, he recoiled; he'd learned that much in training, that what the vaccine did to him made him a bull loosed in the China shop that was the rest of humanity. If he wasn't careful, he could break people without trying.
The finger he brushed against belonged to a little boy on the other side of the chain link. Jack frowned, not realizing what the fence was, or who the boy, or his family, were. A sign declared it a Japanese camp, meant to concentrate citizens descended from that island nation. The U.S. was petrified at the idea that Japanese Americans might divide their loyalties, acting as sappers and saboteurs.
The boy's parents were frightened, huddled together just behind their son, and Jack was taken aback when he realized they were scared of him. He was, after all, dressed as an American Captain, even if he didn't feel he had properly earned that rank.
He knelt down, and touched the boy's hands again, through the fence, this time on purpose. The boy was scared, too, but within that fear was a question, as well. Why us? What have we done? How could we scare you so much that you could do this to us?
The boy tilted his head, uncertain how to react to the gentility of this soldier. "What's your name?" Jack asked. His eyebrows shot up, and he pursed his lips.
"George," his mother said, stepping forward.
"George," Jack said, and beamed at him. "That's a good name. I had an uncle named George, who fought in the Great War. A Japanese soldier named Shiro saved his life; if he hadn't been there, my uncle would have died in a trench in France."
Jack took in a breath, and held it. He could feel the other eyes on him, even before he knew they were no longer alone. A handful of new recruits, on their way to the show, had stopped, and were watching. He kept his eyes on the Japanese family, who he had known for less than a minute. He knew these people were not his enemy. But his first day on the job, he couldn't go against the President- an Army, after all, succeeded on its morale- no matter how much it rankled him.
"We're going to wrap up this war as quick as we can," Jack said, "get you out from behind this fence."
One of the soldiers behind him snickered. "Nip-lover," he mumbled. Jack turned on his heels with a speed that surprised even him. The soldier spit out a mouthful of chew. "They belong in cages," he said.
Jack grabbed him by the ear and twisted him around, until he was kneeling, with his head at an awkward angle, but was still looking at the boy. "That's an American family, private," Jack said, anger rumbling in his chest, "and you will show them their due respect."

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