Old Ventures 2, Ch. 17

Seventeen, Goethe

Jack was alone inside a warehouse, crates stacked to the ceiling with the personal effects of prisoners. He couldn’t stop staring at the intricately interlaced filigree on the ring, and the way that it raised into prongs holding the single round-edged sapphire in its center.

He heard someone open the door behind him, and slipped the ring into his pocket. “I was hoping I’d find you here,” Fleming said. “This is Heshell. I wanted him to tell you how he ended up here.”

“I hear the Kristallnacht was widely reported,” Heshell said. “Maybe you know more about that night than I do, about what happened all over Europe. I only know what happened to my family, my synagogue, my home, my family’s business.

“I was up late, unable to sleep. My wife, Genana, and I, we were having troubles, though it’s hard to even remember what they were now. I was at the shul, talking to Rabbi Yiftach in his office. I remember it was bad enough that I thought my wife might bed some other man, and thought perhaps I should leave, that we both might be happier that way. But we didn’t finish the conversation.

“Smoke was billowing in from the sanctuary. We thought maybe a candle had fallen, and I went with the Rabbi to help him. The entire shul, the synagogue, was on fire. The Sturmabteilung, Nazi stormtroopers, were smashing everything inside. The Rabbi watched in horror as they tore down the parochet. I had to hold him back when they opened the Aron Kodesh, and took out the Torah scrolls, and put them, too, to the torch. He wept in my arms, as the fight went out of him, and still, we had to wait for them to leave to sneak away. I left him with the family that tended the grounds; I can’t remember their names. 

“The entire city was on fire, being broken or smashed. It was the end, the end many of us knew would come; my wife insisted we keep cash enough to run away with, and I humored her. I always thought, if that day came, that it’d come during the day, when I was at work, so we stashed our money there. My father was a successful stonemason. He worked until he could barely grip a hammer, and then, he hired me. He would tie string, around his hand,” he pantomimed circling his hand with yarn, “so he could still hold a pen, so he could keep the books, or annotate my designs.

“I ran, to our shop, crying, thinking of the Rabbi. I had known him my entire life. I thought of his faith as almost quaint. I was a modern Jew, a business-minded, cosmopolitan man. But he, he loved his shul, the Torah, his study, he loved them the way my father loved stone work. I think, in that moment, I found a faith like the Rabbi’s, or at least an appreciation for someone else loving something so thoroughly, and losing it, and I knew how every second I was closer to losing the things I loved if I couldn’t flee with them.

“Every business on the block had its windows smashed in. Some were on fire, others were being looted. My father’s shop was near the end of the street, an alley closed with a wall. I snuck inside, under cover of the dark.

“The shop had been ransacked. Anything that could be taken had been, including all our tools, and even several slabs of an expensive ornate marble. Many of the tables had been broken or charred. I ran into my office, unable to breathe; my desk looked untouched from the door, but as I rounded I saw that the drawers had been painstakingly smashed one at a time. The secret latch, unlocking my private drawer, had been gouged out, the small metal that secured the latch in place had been nearly torn from the surrounding oak. Our money was gone, and along with it any real hope at escaping.    

“I wasn’t crying any longer when I reached home. I thought if I could move faster, maybe think clearer, maybe we could escape. I burst through the front door panting like a madman. Security forces were a few steps behind, though I couldn’t know if it was just my poor luck, or if they followed from the shop.

“It didn’t matter. They arrested me. When my father protested, they beat him. They didn’t take my wife, or my father, then, just young men, ones who might fight against the Nazis.

“They threatened them, that if they fled, they would kill me. But eventually they knew that whether they killed me or not had little to do with them, and tried to run, but were caught.

“By then I had made myself useful here, as a foreman. Stonework and masonry made me invaluable in building out the camp. I wrestled with that, that I was helping make more space for prisoners, but making space with prisoners as workmen meant I could help save some.” His hand shook. “But never enough,” his voice broke, “never as many as I needed to. Never every man who had been kind to me, or who took ill.

“But the Nazis saw the danger, too. They gave me privileges, but needed to also have a stick. So when they caught my father and wife, they brought them here, for leverage. My father took ill, and medicine was scarce. Rather than risk the spread of disease, they shot him. They did it in front of me, not because I had transgressed, but so I knew that I lived at their pleasure- and how difficult they were to please.

“It had the opposite of the desired effect on me, and even my wife. It made us more angry, more defiant. We sought out ways to undermine; we organized laborers to smuggle out supplies, built holes in the foundations for us to hide valuable materials, and started stashing away guns- the ones we used to take the camp. We were careful, and we were smart. But it didn’t matter.

“The Oberst’s cousin was killed, fighting on the Eastern Front, though I didn’t find that out until later. He called me into his office, and a guard dragged my Genana in. He accused us of undermining morale, of plotting; his ‘proof’ may as well have been a copy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He was drunk, nearly weeping. And then he smiled. Told me how much it all reminded him of killing my father. His guard pushed her down, to her knees, and he shot her in the head. I was numb. I didn’t cry, or scream. I just remember thinking that her name, it meant ‘grandmother,’ or ‘old woman’ and now she would never be either.

“She talked about dying, more sometimes than I could stand. But it meant she had told me that when she died, and it broke my heart because it was always when, that I had to make them pay. But not with vengeance, not with violence, but by living, by standing over the grave of Nazism and pissing on it. Not that that precluded violence, you understand- she was the one who pushed me to stockpile stolen weapons- but she wanted, more than anything, for me to outlive them. All I wanted for myself was not to outlive her,” he said, his voice catching as he latched onto Fleming, as the nearest of them.

Jack hadn’t realized, during Heshell’s story, that his muscles were tense, his fists balled so tightly they hurt. “Bring me the biggest goddamn Nazi you can find,” Jack said, anger flattening his voice.

“Surely you’d prefer to punch a free man rather than a prisoner,” Fleming said, patting the crying man’s back.

“You get on my nerves, but not that much.”

“I wasn’t offering myself. But fighting is still ongoing at a neighboring camp, where they met with extraordinary resistance, perhaps even… transhuman.”

“And you let me sit down for story time?”

“Edwards’ superior didn’t want to ask for help. Thought it would damage morale, and once that decision gets made, it’s difficult to reverse. But if you were to surreptitiously hear about the stalemate, and intervene unilaterally…”

“Edwards asked you to get me…”

“York, actually.”

“And Heshell?”

“Was my idea. I think, sometimes, in modern warfare, because of the way we compartmentalize, we forget what we’re fighting, and what we’re fighting for. In the Resistance, and in intelligence, we baste in the reasons to fight, and who our enemies our. But soldiers, most are just told where to go, and who to hit. It can be numbing, if you don’t remind yourself from time to time the evil we stand against; we can’t resist it properly if we forget the great cruelty it’s capable of.”

“Consider me reminded,” Jack said, and pulled Heshell to his chest. “I’m sorry,” Jack said. “For everything that’s happened to you, for failing to prevent it, for not intervening sooner.”

“My wife,” Heshell said, “was a wiser person than I. No regrets,” he said, and clapped Jack on the cheek, “just live to piss on their graves.”

Jack put his hand on Heshell’s shoulder and squeezed it, and let his forehead touch Heshell’s. “We will.”

Old Ventures 2, Ch. 16

Sixteen, Baghdad

“You’re lucky,” Hugh said, taking in the lights of Baghdad nearly a mile beneath him. 

“That you have the ethics of an NSA agent at the end of a night of binge drinking?” Ian’s voice came over his comms.

“Says the kettle. No, you’re lucky that Iraqi cell phone carriers aren’t terribly particular about how they license user data, so this falls under an agreement my company made studying citizen’s aggregate movement through GPS. Otherwise it would have taken me several more hours to assemble all the data, and possibly breaking several international laws.”

“What were you doing with cell phone data?”

“It started during the occupation, a next level terrorism study, testing whether or not terror attacks during an insurgency were truly stochastic, or whether, given enough data, they were individually and not just statistically predictable.”

“Find anything useful?”

“Nope. Funding for the study cut off abruptly, and since there was a high likelihood of the study being used for the purposes of profiling, we were happy to plow the data into other areas. Like some interesting insights for 21st century city planning, some useful improvements to our GPS tech, even information we’re going to use to give our self-driving cars an edge. And since those carriers weren’t interested in locking down how the data was used or how long we had access, we’re still getting the data for a song. Even if we weren’t using it currently, we’d probably keep paying, just to keep amassing potentially useful data.”

“You sound an awful lot like Big Brother in training. I’ve never felt closer to you,” Ian said.

“Praise from Caesar,” Hugh said, “of the kind that makes me worry we’ve got a similar flaw.”

“Nah,” Ian said, “your flaws are much stranger than mine. But at least you’ve got the excuse of having legitimate mental and physical health challenges. I’m just an emotionally closed off mass-murdering narcissist with no sexual scruples and a damaged moral compass.”

“I take it things haven’t been going well reconnecting with Angela.”

“I don’t know,” Ian admitted. “In a lot of painful ways she’s just like me. Closed off. Insightful. Resourceful. I got a daughter out of it… but I missed a lot, too. And she isn’t wrong about me; there’s nothing she’s said about me I haven’t worried about myself. She might as well be my conscience.”

“I feel like I should get her a Jiminy Cricket costume for next Halloween,” Hugh said.

“She’s angry at me, for not figuring it out sooner; I am, too. I… wouldn’t have been ready to be a father for her when she was young. I’m only just mature enough now to have an adult relationship with her. But I think there’s some small element in either of us that’s… it’s difficult to accept.”

“Give it time,” Hugh said.

“All the time I have remaining, if that’s what it takes.” Ian said. “But what about you and Laney? You told her, right?”

“I’m going to ignore the uncomfortable connotation of you transitioning from your daughter to my love life.”

“They’re both the most significant relationships with women in our lives,” Ian said.

“Only because you continue to sidestep the most significant relationship with a woman in yours.”

“I tried,” Ian said, his voice hollow, “but your mother stopped returning my calls.”

“Could be because she’s dead, though that’s just a theory.”


“She’s been dead almost as long as you’ve been alive. And yes, I told her.”

“You’ll have to tell me how it went.”

“Well and terribly at the same time.”

“Not ‘terribly well?’”

“No, I-” Hugh paused. “You have incoming.”

“I didn’t know you’d take a mother joke so seriously.”

“Not from me,” Hugh said. “Though on the bright side, I can intervene.”

“What happened to your noninterference pact?”

“That’s complicated. I asked the Iraqi government for permission to operate in their borders. Unlike you and Jack, I can’t quietly intervene. They thought having bleeding edge US tech used in an interdiction would undermine the progress their security forces have made. They did, however, give me the go ahead in certain circumstances. Like intercepting rockets.”

Hugh’s vision stopped focusing, instead taking in the entirety of his radar range, his consciousness blending with the computers controlling the suit, until they both selected thirteen projectiles, and selected the best impact angle to stop the missiles. Every ancillary weapon system compartment in Hugh’s suit opened at once, as he unleashed a storm of projectiles.

Twelve exploded on impact, but the thirteenth was sheered in half, the front half falling in a predictable parabola, while the back end arced upwards in lopsided spirals. Hugh turned his body and thrust his engines.

The front of the rocket’s momentum with acceleration due to gravity wasn’t going to be a problem; Hugh and his suit both crunched his own acceleration and saw he’d intercept the front one hundred feet above the city.

The problem was the rear of the rocket. It was continuing to gain distance and momentum, even as it lost altitude. Hugh calculated that he wasn’t going to be able to catch the rear, that he couldn’t change directions fast enough to make up the difference- fifteen Gs of force would be enough to knock him out.

“Suit, autonomous mode. Record instructions.” Hugh thought through the next few steps, catching the front of the rocket while he turned, then pouring on speed to catch up to the rear of the rocket and striking it at the right angle to knock it onto a course to land outside of the city.

He had just finished setting autonomous instructions mentally when the suit began to pitch upwards. He could feel the inertial resistance of his bodily fluids, that strange pull as his body separated based on its density, overcoming regular gravity exponentially, and even the beating of his heart. His vision went black at the corners, before darkening. The suit had landing protocols, that theoretically would set the suit down if he lost consciousness, but he had never successfully tested them, which wasn’t the most pleasant thought to have as he lost consciousness.

He came to to the sound of an engine roar. He was still gripping the front of the rocket, but he couldn’t see the source of the sound. Were his own engines malfunctioning? He checked a sonic map, but the sound was coming from above him, vibrating through the suit. During autonomous mode, the suit had landed the spiraling rocket on his back, and was holding it in place as he guided it outside of the city. Hugh did a quick calculation, and found that the rate of success for the maneuver was a good 50% better than trying to knock it onto a different course; the suit had made a better decision than he had.

The heat sensors on the back of the suit went into alarm. The engine built into one of his legs was overheating- it must have come too close to the rocket. There was a chance it would blow if he didn’t shut it off, and he could land with only one.

His remaining engine burst into flame, before shorting out. The suit played back external video, of fuel leaking from the rocket, pouring all over his leg before the engine ignited it.

Hugh was losing altitude, fast. A quick sim showed he and the rocket would land just outside the city limits, if he could hold on. He forced his fingers to clamp into the rocket’s casing, then zoomed his lenses. He was going to come in hot, and couldn’t afford to be holding the warhead in the tip when he and the rocket landed. He found an empty patch of land, devoid of life or structure, and hurled the warhead away. “This is going to,” he struck the ground, and was torn away from the rocket’s engine. He and it cartwheeled across the sand. The suit compensated, cushioning each roll and absorbing as much impact as possible, but it was still like being in a car accident, his entire body stopping too quick against a seatbelt that covered his entire body.

He was still breathing when he finally came to a stop, even if that breath hurt. He checked the sensor data on his engines. The one looked like it would be good to go once it cooled, the other could likely function, if he could bypass the burnt-out circuits. Failing that, his jet was parked in Baghdad, and he could have the suit towed to it. Either way, he was going to be out of commission for several hours.

Old Ventures 2, Ch. 15

Fifteen, Goethe concentration camp, outside Weimar, Germany, 4/11/45

Something was wrong. There was a strange energy in the air, as Colonel Edwards slowed the train as it slipped inside Goethe’s foreboding walls. And there were more Germans there to meet the train than Sommer had said there would be.

“I’d better go cower,” Fleming said.

Then Jack heard it, gunfire, from the nearest tower. And another. And a third. One of the Nazis nearest the platform fell.

Edwards’ immediate subordinate, Captain York, wearing an SS uniform, walked along the slim platform between the cars and engine. “Hauptman,” Edwards said, midwest bleeding through in his accent.

“The Fuhrer commanded me to oversee operations here,” York said, his accent flawless, “to take down the Schutzstaffel’s pants for a spanking.” He grinned.

“Don’t have too much fun,” Edwards said.

“Sir,” York said, clapping off a half-hearted salute before spinning on his heels.

Edwards eased on the breaks, bringing the train to a slow stop as they reached the platform. They immediately heard gunfire, and Jack reached for his pistol. “Wait,” Edwards said. “No ricochet, no shattered glass. That shot wasn’t aimed at the train. Our cover isn’t blown.”

Excited footsteps clambered up the steps leading to the conductor’s compartment, and an excitable man in an Oberst’s uniform burst through the door. “Thank the Fuhrer,” he said. “The kapos have taken the camp, even the nearby towers. They have us pinned down at the station. You were due any moment, we thought with reinforcements we could break through their line, but you were late. We were nearly overrun.”

“How many men do you have?” York asked.

“Thirty, but half are wounded, maybe a third immobile. Most can still fire, but maybe 60% could advance.”

York pondered a moment, catching Jack with a gleam in his eye. “Place prisoners behind your men, three to a man. They won’t risk firing with their kindred as a backstop. Then we can advance without opposition.”

The colonel stared dumbfounded a moment, before bursting laughing, and clapped York on the shoulder. “Ha ha, yes! The cowards won’t have the stomach to fire on their own.”

“Exactly,” York said. York clapped off a whirlwind of commands, taking no small amount of pleasure in telling Edwards to relay instructions to his subordinates in the cars behind.

“You,” the Oberst said, pointing at Jack. He exchanged a look with Edwards, knowing it was a lousy time to be found out. “Strapping fellow like you, I want with me,” he said, punching the last word into his own chest.

“Ja, Oberst,” Jack muttered, and followed him out of the car.

“The Juden won’t know what hit them, until they’re dead in a hole,” the Oberst said, his mood almost chipper. Jack didn’t react, or make eye contact. Being the face of US Army propaganda didn’t exactly make him the best candidate for subterfuge.

Edwards’ men quickly dispersed, and within five minutes, their forces combined with the Germans advanced. York and Edwards were each placed so one third of the force was to either of their sides. Sixty paces in, well away from cover, they put their hands up, and all of their men stopped, while the Germans didn’t. After another five paces, Edwards and York dropped their arms in unison, and yelled, “Aim!”

The Germans, surprised at the English command so near to their flank, spun about, and the Oberst found himself squaring off with Edwards.

“Either your guns fall to the ground, or you do,” Edwards yelled. 

“You heard the man,” Jack said from behind the Oberst, “and either way, you’ll go first.” He pulled back the hammer on his sidearm, and pressed the barrel behind the Oberst’s ear.

“Schiesse,” the Oberst swore, and threw his pistol into the dirt.

The rest of the Germans followed suit, just as a shot rang out. The yard was wide, and the echo made it hard to know where the shot came from, at least for a moment. The camp. The prisoners were firing on them. “That could be a problem,” Edwards yelled.

“I’ll handle it,” Jack said, turning and marching towards the source of the shot. He tore off his Nazi uniform like it was paper, and tossed his pistol down.

As he reached the buildings, men leaned out of doorways and windows, training rifles on him. He raised his hands, but kept marching, until a frail looking man in his fifties marched out to meet him.

“We’re American,” Jack said. “I think you were expecting us.”

“Jack Simon?” the man said, staring at him through spectacles, “Americans we expected. We didn’t expect them to bring their best.”

“I’m just another GI,” Jack said. “No,” the man said, grinning widely, and slapping Jack on the shoulder, “you’re a Jewish GI. That makes you the best.”

Old Ventures 2, Ch. 14

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. We may need them for questioning.”

“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 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 hit 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,” Jalal said. “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…” Jalaln said.

“Of course not,” Jack said, and pulled a knife out of its scabbard. He slipped the blade between Jalal’s wrists, and carefully sawed away until the rope broke.


“Yes,” Jalal 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.

Jalal 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?”

“Lamburger?” 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.”

Old Ventures 2, Ch. 13

Thirteen, nearing Weimar, Germany, 04/11/45

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 captives with their own captured arms, all save for Hauptman 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 at the radio. “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 Hauptman 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 before we die.”

Old Ventures 2, Ch. 12

Twelve, airspace above the Middle East

“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 Jalal?”


“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.

Old Ventures 2, Ch. 11

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 Americans, 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 reveling, 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.

Old Ventures 2, Ch. 10

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. He missed him there. He would never forgive himself if he missed him here.

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 living out the rest of their lives in a CIA black site.

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 suit’s 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 with a smile on his lips, one Jack didn’t return.

“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 grass and soil 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. With a hiss the suit opened enough for him to look his friend in the face and say, “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 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.”

Jack glared. “I’ve covered Joey’s medical expenses, and will, of course, in perpetuity. 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, and 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 grass.

“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 to make sure you get your money’s worth.”

Old Ventures 2, Ch. 9

Nine, above Germany, 4/10/45

Jack hated Fleming. He didn’t even have time to change out of that Nazi uniform, still stained with Mordecai’s blood. And he was right, the only way to catch the train was by plane, and that the only way to board from the plane was by parachute.

Jack hated parachuting, mostly because you were at best a sitting duck as you fell from the sky. Unless a bullet tore a big enough hole in your chute…

And none of that took into account the fact that the train was traveling faster than he could hope to fall, so they were going to have to make a guess about where the train would be, and he’d have to aim there. Off by a second one direction, and he was going to get hit by a train. A second in the other direction and he would miss entirely.

The plane wasn’t going to be able to follow for much longer, without being met by German planes or anti-air guns, so if he couldn’t land on the train, they were going to lose those prisoners, and it could be weeks or months before they found where they were taken.

“Go!” the pilot yelled, and Jack kicked out of the open door. The train was nearly a mile back, but rushing towards him quickly. Top speed for a train was around 120 miles per hour, roughly the same as a human’s terminal velocity. Jack streamlined his body, so he would drop faster. He needed to close the distance, or the train was going to pass him by.

He and the pilot had gone over the math several times. He needed to cut the distance quick, line himself up before and open chute at the last possible minute. Open too early, and he’d watch the train fly by a few feet below. Too late, and he’d smack into it and bounce off.

Jack used his arms to guide himself into a straight shot along the train’s tracks, then angled his body straight down. The train was behind him, but overtaking- he had to cut into its lead as much as he could. He forced himself to go limp as he pulled the string and the chute dug into his shoulders. He’d opened too soon, he could tell, from how much momentum he lost. It wasn’t even going to be close.

“We improvise, then,” he said, and used his knife to cut the chest strap from his chute. He had to cut one more arm loose before he could wriggle out of the other. He was still thirty feet up as the train started to pass beneath him. He let go, and fell.

The impact hurt his knees; it had been the better part of a decade since they hurt like that, but he couldn’t control his momentum, and rolled back towards the very last car, angling slightly towards the right. Jack rolled over the side of the train car. His fingers caught on the edge as he crested it, hanging almost limply from his arm.

Jack knew the radio would be located at the front of the train, so he couldn’t just make his way from back to front. He climbed back on top and started to run against the blistering winds towards the front of the train. As he leapt from the fourth onto the third car, a Nazi’s head poked up from the ladder. Jack clipped his head, and he fell, onto another Nazi standing below. Both men fell into the gap between cars and rolled beneath the train, the sounds of their deaths mostly muted by the scream of metal and the steam from the engine.

As Jack reached the engine car, he saw the conductor’s compartment. Unfortunately, the conductor saw him, and went right for the radio. Jack ran along the edge of the coal car and leapt at the doorway into the conductor’s compartment, swinging inside. He caught the conductor with a kick that sent the man hurtling through a large glass pane on the opposite side of the room and out of the train. “Come again?” a man asked in German over the radio.

“Nevermind,” Jack said. “There was a cow on the tracks, but it moved.” Jack set the radio down, only to be struck in the back with a shovel. Jack rolled out of the way as that same shovel struck the floor where his head had been. “Forgot about the fireman,” Jack said, and rolled into a crouch. He tackled the fireman before he could bring the shovel around again. Jack delivered several blows to the fireman’s solar plexus, and he collapsed to the floor, wheezing. “Now, how do I slow this thing down?”

The fireman put his thumb between his middle and index fingers and shook it defiantly at Jack. “Auf wiedersehen, then,” Jack said, and threw the fireman out the door, into the field they were passing. “Now, if I were a regulator…” Jack said, staring at the massive machinery of the steam engine. Jack found a valve and twisted it shut. He could feel the engine beginning to slow.

He pulled the pin attaching the engine to the rest of the train, and the engine began to rapidly pull away from the rest of the cars. Jack leapt over the gap, and pulled himself up along the edge of the coal car.

Jack looked overhead, and saw parachutes opening in the sky all around him, as Allied planes turned to return west. Jack sauntered over the top of the coal car, and dropped down.

Through a windowed door, Jack could see a Nazi officer holding a young woman at gunpoint. “Let us go, or we start shooting your beloved Juden,” the Nazi screamed at a sharp pitch. Jack nodded towards the field on either side, where squads of American soldiers were making their way through the tall grass towards the slowing train.

“Got a counter-offer. Surrender, and we won’t tie you down to the tracks before we put this train back in motion,” Jack said. “And that relatively quick, clean death, that’s presuming you don’t harm a hair on that pretty little lady’s head; you do that, and I let this train full of Juden decide what to do with you.”

The NCO beside him put a gun to the officer’s head. “Put it down, Hauptman, or I will shoot you myself.”

Old Ventures 2, Ch. 8

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, or at least, he wanted to want to.

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 Jack back to Rowher, Arkansas. He 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 is 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. No- especially then.”

“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 perhaps 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 it would, of course, be dishonest 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 to get around to that.”

“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.”