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excerpt from Chapter 33 of the novel Public

Chapter 33 Excerpt

Chapter 33 (Excerpt)

The Battle of Phoenix


This wasn't quite what he'd imagined they'd end up doing, back when he and Brig joined the KOJ, Josh decided. Somehow he never expected soldiering, like being in the army. Yet here they both were, hup-two-threeing their way through Phoenix on a hot spring day as part of a KOJ battalion.

Chasing down heretics was okay with him, and for sure somebody needed to be doing it, but this whole bit about being a grunt in the Federation army wasn't exactly what he joined the Order for. Joshua had imagined something more along the lines of being a spy or a secret agent, than an ordinary trooper. He knew that his friend Brigham, marching right next to him carrying a machine gun, felt pretty much the same about it.

A lot of things hadn't turned out the way they'd thought. Back in early March, it was supposed to be all over. Yet today was April 15th and here they were in hot pursuit of enemies they didn't even have a month ago. Reverend Cleary and the other Order leaders were careful to keep their own people in special regiments separate from the Federation's men, but since they functioned in the field under joint command, on a practical level there was little difference. They got issued with the same weapons and equipment, received the same training, pulled the same duties. All that onward Christian soldiers stuff wasn't just metaphor anymore. Still, what could you do? It wasn't like a guy could desert. You could get away from the army, maybe, but how could you run away from God? And who would kill these effing Sing heretics if they didn't do it?

Shooting heretics, sending them on to their rewards (which he trusted would be hot), now that was something they could get into. The trouble was, these bastards kept disappearing on them for a while, then opening up on them from long range, then running away again like cowards. Lather, rinse, and repeat.

Brig was scanning the sides of the street ahead for any telltale shimmers or suddenly firing snipers. He was totally keyed up. They'd already lost two men, but that was earlier on when the exchange of gunfire had been at closer range. A part of Josh which he didn't want to examine too closely was relieved that the enemy were cowards who were too scared to get in range to penetrate their body armor with a direct shot. These weird vibrations that he could feel through the soles of his boots every few seconds, and that seemed to hum in his skull behind his eyes, were also rather unnerving. But that had been going on for a while now, and they'd all begun to tune it out.

The lieutenant was shouting orders. They were to move out onto this golf course and hit a main body of enemy troops. Enemy troops? What the hell, these Sing guys had an army? Suddenly, Josh realized that a lot of separate Federation contingents were meeting up at this one end of the golf course, coming together like a confluence of rivers. Shit, they must have better than ten thousand guys here now. Brig grinned at him, and Josh gave him a thumbs-up sign back. They were gonna kick some ass now! Then maybe all this would be over for a spell.

There were these floating platform doohickeys over there, that looked like those old pontoon barges people used to put out on lakes that you could swim out to, except these were way up in the air. He figured they must be for some kind of protection, and the enemy must be hiding beneath them. Sure enough, as soon as all their guys arrived and formed up, they started heading that way. Josh checked his weapon and adjusted his belt as they jogged along, swiping a swallow out of his canteen too. Damn but it was hot out here, and this was April? He would never understand why people wanted to live in a freaking desert.

What was left of greens and fairways, that the desert had not taken back, was soon destroyed by thousands of marching booted feet. They could see the enemy now, it looked like a couple thousand of them, just standing there waiting, all in their white. On an almost subconscious level, it bothered Josh that the enemy always dressed in white. White was supposed to be for the good guys.

A kind of breathless enthusiasm spread invisibly from man to man as the enemy continued to just stand there passively as they approached. Without the need for further orders, they began to charge, picking up the pace and shouting, bellowing, then screaming wordlessly at the mustered vigilantes. The men fanned out, with a yard or two spread around each man, so that they wouldn't be so much in one another's line of fire.


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