by Richard Jeffries
After his superior officers are killed in action, Corporal Josiah Key assumes command of the 3rd Battalion, Marine Raiders. In the tiny village of Shabhut, Yemen, while trying to put the blast on ISIS forces, an even deadlier enemy emerges: ancient, unreasoning creatures who tear into both U.S. troops and terrorists without mercy, leaving brutally dismembered corpses in their wake.
They are known as the Idmonarchne Brasieri, giant prehistoric spiders roused from millennia-long slumber by power-mad terrorists. These aptly-named ‘Arachnosaurs’ are hungry. They’re angry. And they have declared war against all of humanity . . . whose days might just be numbered unless Key and his unit can stop them.
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Richard Jeffries holds a degree in Creative Writing, obtained before he went to work for American intelligence. He has seen the world—and things in it—which inspired the writing of these novels. Now retired from covert ops, Jeffries divides his time between rural Connecticut and London. In his spare time he pursues his lifelong interest in Kung Fu and classical piano.
Key tried to focus at the way the front of his boots poked up against the divot’s lip, expecting to see his toes blown off at any second. But it didn’t take more than another second for him to realize what was happening to him. “Shit,” he said over the whomping going on all around them. “I’ve been conked.”
“What?” Daniels complained as a tree limb shattered above them, scratching their faces with jagged bark. “Not again!”
Yeah, that’s right, Key managed to recall. That’s where he had heard the “conked” term before. The base doc had said it when he had diagnosed Key’s previous, original, concussion. And doc had given him the self- diagnostic list then, too.
“Symptoms check.” Key grunted miserably. “I’m nauseous.”
“You’re nauseous!” Daniels snapped. “I’m nauseous! Anybody’d be nauseous in this shit!”
There was a vicious whine just above them, and Key could feel a wave of heat make a line from his forehead to his crotch. The thing causing it just missed them before continuing on to smash through an already crumbling wall fifty feet beyond.
FGM-148 Javelin, Joe automatically assumed. Nice that some hard-won memories defied even concussions. But whether the anti-tank missile was fired by the good or the bad guys was anybody’s guess.
“Headache, dizzy, ringing in my ears,” Key continued, trying to stave off total amnesia.
“Okay, okay!” Daniels grumbled. “You oughta know. What do you want from me?”
“Memory loss growing, need your help.”
“Christ, Joe.” The honest concern in Daniels voice was music above the cacophony. “Do you even know you’re Joe?”
“Yeah,” Key answered, struggling to be present, feeling stronger already.
“We’re 3rd Battalion, Marine Raiders, M Company, eighty-five strong.”
“Not anymore,” Daniels reported with his usual lack of empathy. “Heavy defensive fire. Surprisingly heavy.”
That comment let Key know the attack must’ve been seventh level of hell heavy. Daniels prided himself on taking the worst in stride. “What are we down to?”
“Last time I could check, less than fifty. Sergeant major shot to hell. Lieutenant colonel just blew up in your face.”
Key gritted his teeth, then hazarded a quick look around. He returned to his prone position with his cracked skull thankfully still just cracked. But he could still not distinguish enemy from friendly fire. Worse, he couldn’t find any human source of the shit-storm. “Where is everybody?”
“Damned if I know,” Daniels said. “Where’s comm?”
“No live communication for a coupla minutes now.”
“What? So who’s commander now?
“Near as I can tell, you,” Daniels said. Then he added sarcastically, “God help us.”
Key ignored the comment, but couldn’t disagree. Finally made it to chief with a nice new concussion as a reward. Even so, he still could remember that his rep was “Joe Cool.” According to Daniels, he never lost it. No time to start now.
First things first, he heard the father inside him instruct.
“Where are we?” he yelled at Daniels in a tone that broached no sarcasm.
“Outside of Shabhut,” Daniels spat back, then couldn’t help elaborating. “Well-fucking named. A more miserably shabby mound of huts I’ve never seen.” Then, when Key didn’t answer, he felt compelled to add, “Outside of Aden, inside of Yemen!”
Joe remembered where that was. Good sign. “What are we doing here?”
“Orders. Code C3,” Daniels reported, then added with just a tinge of doubt, “Do you at least know what that is?”
Clean the town.
“Yeah, I know what that is,” Joe answered, struggling to keep misery out of his voice. “But the town seems to be cleaning us.”
Key twisted in place, looking in every direction for a sign of anything or anyone who could help. He saw nothing but smoke, dust, and strafing. But, above the wining, sizzling bullet noises, he heard a growing, grinding, thundering sound just as the ground beneath him began to shake.
The tank? He both wondered and hoped. Had to be a tank. If so, had to be our side. Enemy didn’t have…!
“Fuckaduck!” Daniels bellowed at the same moment the sarge’s huge paw dragged Key up. “ASS!”Within seconds of reaching his feet, Key knew Daniels wasn’t referring to their butts, or even suggesting in his usual subtle way that they move theirs. He was using the age-old term for “asset”—one with a lot of firepower.
Sure enough, rumbling and roaring down the tank track was a Marine HMMWV—High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, or Humvee— that seemed intent on leaving sergeant and corporal jelly beneath their ten-foot-ten-inch wheelbase.
Even though his mental fog, Key could tell that whoever was driving was fully committed to get the hell out of there. The now opaque windshield looked like crimson stained glass, and the doors looked as if they had been pounded by Satan’s fists. The big tan Humvee roared by them as Daniels’ eyes bulged—first at the retreating vehicle, then at his strangely apathetic friend.
“Fuck,” Daniels started as he let his M240 drop, it’s strap making it swing behind him. “A,” he continued as he grabbed the M32 Multi-shot Grenade Launcher that hung from his other shoulder. “Duck!” he boomed as he aimed it at the back of the diminishing lorry.
Key just stood there, feeling strangely calm amidst the storm. Then, as if his eyes were cameras, they suddenly zoomed in for a close-up on the rear of the Humvee. Strapped to the back of the payload bed was a large rectangular box he didn’t recognize.
That’s weird, he thought. We didn’t leave base with that.
“Daniels,” he suddenly yelled. “No!”
But it was too late. The sarge had decided that either the enemy had captured the vehicle or some chicken-shit coward was running. Either way they deserved a forty by fifty-one millimeter extended range low pressure high explosive.
Key was jumping onto Daniels as the shell made a grey line toward the back of the barreling Humvee. It hit its target just as Key hit Daniels. The reaction between the two, however, could not have been more different.
The corporal bounced off the sergeant, who had been described more than once, by more than one person—including soldiers too young to know what the expression even meant—as a brick shithouse. The fact that he could carry both a M240 and a M32 at the same time as if they were a messenger bag and a purse gave testament to his size and strength.
The grenade, however, did not bounce. It detonated with a cracking bang, followed, as Key feared, with a ground-shaking, Humvee-bouncing, air-quaking ba-boom. The back of the HMMWV was filled with boxed enemy ammo.
Key slammed to the ground just as a sizzling shockwave of heat, dust, sand, and shrapnel swept over him like a scythe. The force was so strong, he didn’t even bounce. Instead he was buffeted, shook, and even skidded a little. But this time he was sure he didn’t lose consciousness. Which was strange, because a cloud the color of bones settled over him, along with a perplexing sensation of peace.
That’s it, he managed to think. I’m dead.
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