Thursday, June 30, 2016

Fictional AltHistory #6: Fallout, Part Four

... Why haven't I done something with New Vegas yet?

Fallout New Vegas is still my favorite Fallout game, with a myriad of reasons: great story, interesting characters, a believable, lived in world, a clash of ideology and civilization...

What? There isn't even a Blue Moon here. 1/10 IGN.

Maybe that's part of the reason I haven't done New Vegas yet, because there were so many options and possible outcomes in game that I, as a person who likes to throw out random ideas and make hypotheticals for video games and history, was undercut. When you have at least four major endings (12 if you factor in Karma, and then dozens of variables based on every single thing you did in game, then, yeah...)

But then I thought: who's the most important character in the game?

He did save your life, but no.
Dawwwnope, snarky no, snarky no, super mutant no, snarky no, beep beep (translation: no), snarky no, and snarky no. 

No. Watch out for knives.
Uh-uh. But thank you, thank you very much.
Yes Man! No, wait... no. Not him.
*Sighs* YES. HIM. GOD.
Almost the entire plot revolves around Mr. Robert House, the pre-war billionaire who was founder and owner of RobCo, the company that made robots, Pipboys and a lot of the other bits of tech in the Fallout universe. After building and putting himself in cryostasis before the bombs dropped, with a massive army of securitrons and lasers to shoot down the nukes targets on his hometown of Las Vegas, he was prepared to ride out the nuclear storm to follow. While he was able to stop most of the destruction of Vegas, the software wasn't quite up to the task (that's where the Platinum Chip the Courier is shot in the head over at the start of the game comes in), and he went into a coma. After a hundred some years, he finally comes to, gets three tribes nearby to clean up their act, take over old casinos and modernize them, activates securitrons, builds a wall around New Vegas, then waits for the NCR to come from the West. The NCR begins to fight with Caesar's Legion over Hoover Dam, which NCR controls and has to give power to Vegas in return, while Mr. House continues to plot to keep the Legion on the other side of the Colorado, kick NCR out of the Mojave, and turn New Vegas into a major power.

So, what happens if Mr. House somehow did not survive the Great War?

Point of Divergence

On October 23, 2077, as the bombs fall around the world, Mr. House activates his laser defense on top of the Lucky 38 casino to try to shoot down the 87 missiles targeted on Vegas. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to stop all the bombs, and one of them lands right on top of the Lucky 38 as his lasers where destroying the other bombs. The blast destroyed the hotel, collapsed the building on the bunker Mr. House had built, severely compromising the longevity device he built. The EMP blast from the explosion also destroyed huge parts of the computer mainframe, wiping the digital storage on the miles of magnetic tapes he had. The shock from the system overload, collapsing building and failure of the software network resulted in a massive stroke and heart attack, and Mr. House died a couple of hours after the last bombs fell. Only a few securitrons survived, but without orders and degrading circuitry, they eventually became just like any other robot in the wasteland: directionless, dangerous and unstable.

Uhhh, you okay there buddy?

The few bombs that did go off in the Vegas and Mojave area was enough to result in massive depopulation, and the few survivors fled the arid desert to find safer locations to get food. Water, thanks to the intact Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, wasn't the issue, but without much arable land, all the water in the world would be little use. It would be decades after the nuclear winter and early years of death and destruction before people would return, forming tribes on the outskirts of the city that over the years would try to get in closer to the center of the city, to the ruins of the casinos on Freemont Street and the Strip despite the lingering radiation from the bomb that destroyed the Lucky 38.

Those tribes, ranging from opportunistic raiders to cannibals to small farming groups would fight amongst each other for decades, with none able to get a leg up on the other. Small trading towns would be created though as settlers trying to flee the oppressive burden of taxes and civilization out west tried to find more open spaces to settle. When the survivors of Vault 34 took over Nellis Air Force Base, very little changed as their xenophobic Vault Dwellers had little incentive to ally with any of the tribes around Vegas, and jealously guarded their independence. Another group that would make their way to the Mojave was the Great Khans, broken by the New California Republic after Bitter Springs and other battles. Reduced in numbers, they left California to Nevada, hoping to find a new place to live. They began to make ties with the other tribes in the region, fighting wars, signing peace, trading and scavenging like any other tribe in the area. When the Brotherhood-NCR war ended in the later's favour, the Brotherhood also encamped to the Mojave, forming another isolated, but powerful, group that became more closed minded and brutal in their goal of tech hoarding.

The Brotherhood of Steel: Keeping advanced tech out of dirty wastelander hands and sometimes helping the good guys since 2077.

However, to the East and West, new threats to the quiet Mojave were encroaching: the NCR to the west, and the Casear's Legion from the East. The NCR first moved into the area with their army and hundreds of settlers around 2265 or so. The first group in the Mojave to realize the threat the NCR posed was the Great Khans. They arranged a ceasefire with the other tribes, trying to convince them that the NCR meant nothing but death and slaughter. But if they were to work together, they might not only be able to blunt the NCR, but force them out. While some tribes were hesitant to work with the Great Khans, the stories of NCR atrocities, and then as the Casear's Legion showed the horrors what Caesar and his Legions in Arizona had done (some embellished by the Great Khans) gradually convinced them that maybe the Khans were the lesser of three evils. The New Vegas Alliance, formed in 2270, became a major power in the region, one that could, theoretically at least, resist the NCR and stand up to the Legion. Caesar, however, tried to win the tribes to his side, and he believed the best way to do that was a dual pronged campaign of force and diplomacy: try to convince them to break apart and join his Legions, and attacking NCR outposts to show that they could drive back the Californians.

The NCR, having colonized different towns along the southern end of the NCR like Goodsprings, Nipton and Searchlight Airport, realized that Caesar's Legion was the bigger threat, especially as the Legion kept attacking them. Furious at the high death tolls, and wanting both the area of New Vegas and the Hoover Dam, the NCR began to mobilize, while also trying to bring the New Vegas Alliance to at least support them for now. But the NVA would not be swayed, and instead sat on the sidelines. It was more to ensure the unity of the alliance, where different people and different tribes were thinking of joining one side or the other. The best thing to do was to do nothing, so the thought was.

So... basically like the US Congress?

In 2276, after years of low-level warfare, Caesar's Legion at last attacked the NCR at Nipton. The NCR, using their tech advantage, was able to hold the line and even push north toward Hoover Dam. The cost, however, was high: hundreds of NCR soldiers died in the brutal fighting, Legion assaults and commando-style attacks. The NCR Rangers and Desert Rangers of Nevada unified around the same time, seeing the Legion as the biggest threat as well, not to mention the Ranger's mutual hatred of slavery, which was about the only thing the Legion ran on.

The 2278 Battle of Hoover Dam saw the Legion, suffering from shortage of manpower as brutal mass wave attacks that worked so well against smaller tribes in Arizona and New Mexico failed against the superior firepower of the NCR soldiers with assault rifles, machine guns, artillery, Mini Nukes and men wearing scavenged suits of power armour that they got from the Brotherhood and Enclave. The Legate Malpais was punished for his failures: covered in pitch, set on fire, and thrown down the Grand Canyon. But the rumors of the Burned Man continued to filter out...

But the Legion was desperate. To prevent the NCR from crossing the Colorado River, Caesar gave the order to demolish Hoover Dam. Explosives placed throughout the dam were set off when a large portion of the NCR Army was on the structure, resulting in thousands of casualties as the concrete crumbled, the water flooded turbine rooms and offices, and made the entire structure collapse. Lake Mead was no more, a tidal wave destroyed dozens of communities and homesteads down the river, and thousands more died.

Still wouldn't be as bad as Hurricane Katrina...

But the NCR had been stopped. President Aaron Kimball, the biggest promoter of the Mojave expedition, is impeached from office. The NCR retreated back West. But the Legion was battered after two long years of war, bloodied, but triumphant. The death of Caesar from a brain tumour in 2281 as he was trying to rebuild the Legion was the death kneel of the Army of the East. Within ten years, Caesar's Legion collapsed, with Legate Lanius, only know brutality and violence to solve any issue, was unable to hold the Legion together, and soon it splinted back into the ancient tribes that the Legion had been formed from. The only winners of the NCR-Legion war was those that didn't fight, the New Vegas Alliance. Although they no longer had access to the clean water of Lake Mead or the power from Hoover Dam, the New Vegas Alliance no longer had to deal with either the NCR or the Legion. While fighting with words between the members of the alliance would continue, they continued to remain allies, welcoming the NCR settlers that didn't return back to California and the runaway slaves from the Legion. The New Vegas Alliance, while not a unified government or even all that peaceful, still provide some protection and safety to those that live and travel in the Mojave.

Oh, and Mojave Express is eventually taken over by a man that most people only knew as the Courier, who eventually would become a major leader in the New Vegas Alliance as well.


So this is perhaps the least depressing Fallout alternate history I've written! 

Mr. House, if you agree with him or not, was one of the most important parts of the mythos and in-game story of New Vegas, so removing him from the equation is tantamount to completely rewriting the entire game. The NCR and the Legion would still be threats, and they both would clash in the Mojave. In the long run, the NCR would win, with or without Mr. House in charge of Vegas. The resources, the manpower, the technology and the strategic situation favours them. However, it's a democracy, and as democratic societies have shown: when the bodies pile up and the war is on the verge of being lost, either perceived or for real, then the people will demand an end to it. That's what would happen in the Mojave to the NCR. The locals, allied together to at least keep outsiders out if not to work together within, would be enough of a hassle and trouble for the NCR or Legion, if they regroup, to knock them out.

But what do you think? What would would have happened had Mr. House had a very rough Kick In The Head? Or if you have a topic or idea you would like me to talk about, please leave comments below, email me at, or tell me on Twitter @tbguy1992.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

AltHistory Scenario #22: What if Julius Caesar Wasn't Assassinated?

On March 15, 44 BC, Dictator for Life Julius Caesar would face immediate death, but also immortality when he was stabbed 23 times by a conspiracy of oligarchic senators afraid that Caesar was trying to become the King of Rome. The assassination of Caesar lead, not to the rebirth of the Roman Republic, but brutal civil wars, first between Caesar's supporters and those that lead the conspiracy to kill him, and later between Caesar's lieutenant Mark Antony and his adopted son, Octavian, who went on to become the first Emperor of the Roman Empire.

But what if Caesar wasn't killed on the Ides of March? What if Mark Antony, who heard of the plot the night before, was able to warn Caesar? (In our history, Antony was intercepted and prevented from warning Caesar.)
Hey Caesar! I brought you that salad... oh, uh... you're busy. I'll come back.
Antony, sending a servant to Caesar's house early that morning, is able to warn him of the plot on his life. Learning that his friend Marcus Brutus was part of the plot from the servant, Caesar, in grief, was reported to have said "Et tu, Brute?" He then summoned Brutus to his home, to ask of this. Brutus, realizing the plot had been foiled, but resigned to become a martyr to the cause of freedom, goes to Casear's home, and explains why he joined the plot (to rid Rome of a tyrant, to restore the Republic, and due to the historical background of his family who had disposed the last King of Rome), and that he was prepared to accept the punishment Caesar was to give.

But Caesar, stunned into silence of the huge plot against him at first, eventually embraced Brutus, praising him for his courage to do what he believed right, even going so far as to kill him. "No matter the gifts and honors I have bestowed on you," Caesar was reported to have said, "you still are your own man, one that believes in all else freedom for all." They then talked into the early morning hours of philosophy, war, and the Republic.

On the Ides of March, despite the knowledge of the plot against him, traveled to the Senate, with Mark Antony, Marcus Brutus, and other supporters. But instead of proceeding to business as was originally planned, Caesar gave a short, impromptu speech. Announcing that he had learned of a plot on his life, in part raised due to the vast powers he had acquired and the hostility it had generated, Caesar announced that he would be stepping down from his position of Dictator for Life, renouncing the titles that the Senate had given him, and would subject himself to the will of the Senate to try him for whatever crimes he may have committed, and that he would respect whatever decision they made. He was also prepared to allow free elections of any eligible citizen to the posts, even those that he had already determined.

The senators sat stunned at the speech. Some of the conspirators, namely Gaius Cassius Longinus, wanted Caesar to be killed or at least exiled, but many of the senators, appointed by Caesar, instead praised him for his humility, and after a series of votes, pronounced him innocent of any crimes that he may have committed, agreed to allow Caesar the chance to continue his military operations against the Parthian Empire, and to allow the next year's offices to be taken by those Caesar had appointed, but then allowing free votes for 42 BC. These actions were announced to the people of Rome, who overwhelmingly approved. However, despite the renunciation of his offices, Caesar was still massively wealthy and influentially powerful, and he still held great sway among the crowds.

The 43 BC Consular elections had Brutus and Mark Antony elected, and, while they continued to clash (as Antony saw Brutus as a threat to both Caesar and himself, as the now aborted conspiracy had shown), Caesar did his best to soothe tensions on both sides, and they worked fairly well together. And while Cassius continued to speak and rail against Caesar, he was soon driven into obscurity.

It also did nothing for the reviled senator Septus Marcus Flatuls.
Caesar left at the end of March 44 BC for his campaign against the Parthian Empire. While Parthia was strong, Caesar's command abilities were superior, and he defeated the Parthians in battle time and again. King Pacorus I of Parthia, however, continued to pester and annoy the Romans, withdrawing his troops and not engaging in battles with the Romans. After three years of war in the Mesopotamian region, and with little to show for it, Caesar eventually decided to end the war. He negotiated a peace where some land was traded and Armenia was made a neutral buffer state between the two nations. The Roman troops under Caesar then marched north, through Anatolia and into Eastern Europe, over the Danube River, to tackle the tribes of Germania.

Unlike in Parthia, Caesar was more successful in Germania, defeating tribe after tribe. While the land wasn't as rich or developed as in Gaul that Caesar earlier conquered, Caesar believed that the land, with Roman citizens settling in colonies through the area, could make it "richer than Italy, Egypt and Hispania combined." Every tribe between the Rhine and the Elbe River's were conquered and made subservient, and Caesar began the process of reorganizing them into new provinces of Rome.

Julius Caesar, basking in the glory of this conquest, began to march south back to Rome. However, before he reached the frontier of Gaul, Caesar had a massive heart attack while riding his horse, and died before he fell to the ground. It was 39 BC, and Caesar was 61.

His troops brought Caesar's body back to Rome, which was in a period of mourning. Mark Antony, Brutus and Octavian, all of whom were publicly arguing and trying out maneuver the other, all united in sadness of Caesar's death. Octavian, who was named Casear's adopted son in his will and given a large percentage of Caesar's fortune, made public orations of the man called "The Greatest of the Great." His reforms, including a police and fire fighting service for Rome, the unification of the provinces to an equal status, and his generosity and charisma all endured him to the people of Rome for a long time to come, with statues, poems, plays, and even a religious cult all based on Caesar springing up all over.

Birds all over Europe liked Caesar as well: they got a thousand new resting places.
After the funeral, what to do with Germania, Parthia, and the ever persistent Sextus Pompey, the son of Caesar's old foe Pompey the Great, became the major political issue of the time, not to mention the simmering feud between Brutus, who had allies in the Senate and the higher classes, Mark Antony with his support in the East (and with Queen Cleopatra of Egypt) and Octavian who assumed the fortune and name of his Great Uncle Julius Caesar and the adoration of the masses in Rome, were on the verge of a massive civil war within months of Caesar's death. However, an illness (some say poison or an assassination as well, but no evidence was found) that took Octavian in 38 BC, at the young age of 25, finally brought the Civil War that had been long brewing to a roaring inferno. As Octavian had died without a will, what to do with the enormous fortune left behind, and the name of Caesar, became a brutal, bitter battle between Brutus and Mark Antony. Brutus, in control of the West, and Antony with his support in the East, engaged in a long series of battles between 37 BC and 29 BC, destroying huge stretches of Italy, Greece, Sicily, Egypt and Gaul. Father turned against son, and entire towns were leveled by troops.

By 29 BC, with the people rioting for peace as war, inflation and poverty spread and both Antony and Brutus having exhausted their supplies of men and money, eventually the Peace of Rome was signed. In this, the Republic was to be divided in two: Brutus claimed the West, Antony retained the East, while Italy would remain a buffer state between the two. The Peace was marked with great celebrations, but little did people know that this was the end of the Roman Republic as people knew. The Senate in Rome was left in charge of Italia, but without a strong leader like Brutus or Mark Antony, they were unable to raise large numbers of legions or try to unify the republic, so both sides began to drift apart. By 24 BC, with the death of Cleopatra in childbirth (another son to Mark Antony), Mark Antony was crowned Pharaoh of Egypt, and he claimed the title of Consul of the East, and the new Eastern Roman Republic based in Alexandria.

"Remind me again why I have to wear this blue and gold thing?"
"I thought it was black and white!"
From his new capital in Massilia, Brutus, the Consul of the West, began to reform his territory which was increasingly called the Western Republic, which included Germania, Hispania, and a large portion of Africa, into a new oligarchic Republic with the basis on the older Roman body. But Brutus would not allow power to be as consolidated under one person, as it was under Caesar or increasingly under Mark Antony, so he and the Senate he established formed a delicate series of checks and balances that served the new Republic well long after Brutus died in 16 BC at age 69. Antony himself would continue to rule the East until 4 BC, at the old age of 79.

The two nations, increasingly distant but calling themselves Rome, would fight for the decades and centuries to come. The East would grow more Greek and Persian as Parthia was finally defeated time and again, while the West more Gaulish and German, until by 200 AD, few could tell that they had even been one single nation. Christianity, which started in Palestine, found a more welcoming home in the West than the East, where it was brutally repressed for threatening the stability of the Empire. Both halves had to deal with Barbarians, which the west handled with diplomacy and wealth, the East through brutal repression, until 259, when the last "Caesar of Rome," Marcus VII, was assassinated and his empire fell apart into several competing kingdoms, and the next several centuries featured wannabe dictators and kings trying to rebuild the Eastern Empire while facing each other, Persia and various barbarian assaults.

Italy, long a declining has-been center of the world, was easily reclaimed The Western Republic in 186 AD, and the Republic also claimed Britannia, Caledonia and Hibernia and began to travel across of the Atlantic Ocean. However, the problems of the old Roman Republic: the concentration of wealth in too few hands, the political machinations, the unchecked destruction of multiple families competing for power and prestige, lead to a declining and moribund state by 300 AD. The barbarians, pushed west by the Huns, took over the vast provinces of Germania, while northern seafarers raided Britannia and northern Gaul. Desert tribes in Africa also began to push north. While several great politicians and generals held the line and even managed temporary restorations and growth, more ineffectual and self-aggrandizing leaders continued to let the Western Republic crumble, until the occupation of Massilia in 404 AD lead to the final break of the Republic. While some of the nations that were born of the Western Republic, like the Republic of Britannia and the Kingdom of Hispania all claimed to be Roman afterwards, the true end of Rome came when the long depopulated and crumbling great city was destroyed by Barbarians in 439, and the city was never rebuilt to it's former glory and stature.

And not a single mad Emperor with a fiddle nearby.
But what do you think? What would have happened had Caesar not met the blades of his assassians? Or if you have a topic or idea you would like me to talk about, please leave comments below, email me at, or tell me on Twitter @tbguy1992.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Guest Post: Jeff Provine and Hellfire

Today's Guest Post is by Jeff Provine, who will be talking about his new book, Hellfire and the setting for it and the POD's invovled. So enjoy!

Hellfire is my latest alternate history ebook, releasing June 8 from Tirgearr Publishing. Its setting is Gloriana, the state founded by Aaron Burr after he colonized west of the Mississippi with the purchase of the Bastrop Tract in 1806. In our own timeline, Burr was arrested for treason for conspiring to spark a war with Spain, and the colony fell apart. In Hellfire, Burr successfully planted his colony, which grew into an economic powerhouse by 1856 through importing the miraculous Newton’s Catalyst.

One of the issues that plagues steampunk, and science fiction overall, is generating energy. Mechs and hovercars create gripping images in our mind’s eye, but when we actually look at the energy required to move such a thing, we run into the problem of having to carry fuel to make it work. This is especially problematic in steampunk with steam engines getting 5-8% fuel efficiency, a far cry from even the internal combustion engine’s 25-28% efficiency.

For Hellfire, I wanted to explore a world with much more efficient steam engines, extra heat supplied by a “thermal catalyst” discovered by Isaac Newton. Newton is certainly famous today for his work with calculus and physics, but those are just the tip of the iceberg of his life’s work. It’s said that Newton wrote more than 1.3 million words on theology, in addition to serving as Warden of the Royal Mint and teaching at Cambridge. For the background point of departure in Hellfire, I dove into his work in chemistry, work which John Maynard Keyes called Newton “last of the magicians.” According to legend, much of Newton’s writing on chemistry was accidentally burned, but for Hellfire he reveals a yellow-colored crystal that causes fire to burn hotter than it should with the fuel present.

Such a discovery might be big little more than a parlor trick circa 1700. The immediate application for it would be saving on fuel, heating drafty stone houses with less wood thanks to a sprinkling of the catalyst. After the fire goes out, penny-pinchers could sift through the ashes, pull the catalyst free, and start the process over again.

As the industrial revolution began to rev up in the latter eighteenth century, things certainly become more interesting. Metallurgy skyrockets in important, and hotter, more efficient fires would revolutionize smelting just as replacing charcoal with coke did. Even more important, the catalyst would be a boon to the invention of the modern steam engine in 1781 by James Watt. Real mechanical work becomes possible with much less fuel fed into the endless maw of the fire. With less fuel necessary to be on hand, transport becomes much more feasible, causing locomotives and steamships to begin their explosive growth even earlier in the timeline.

The airship is another aspect of travel that would be impacted by Newton’s Catalyst and is featured in Hellfire. Principles of buoyancy go all the way back to Archimedes, and Jesuits like Francesco Lana De Terzi proposed lift via copper vacuum spheres and Bartolomeu de Gusmão using a candle to drive a paper balloon both within Newton’s lifetime. With a more efficient fire, lighter-than-air craft could easily heat up enough ambient air to lift not just a basket but a whole vessel. With a hot enough burn, one could even imagine a turbine lifting itself and a passenger strictly on the power of the engine.

Of course, with every great discovery, there are likely to be some drawbacks. For Newton’s Catalyst, there is certainly the issue of the Law of Conservation of Energy. Newton himself discussed it as part of momentum in his laws written in the Principia (1687). He certainly would have been suspicious about his own discovery of the catalyst: the extra heat has to come from somewhere. With alchemy under legal suspicion (turning lead to gold would devastate the economy, after all), the catalyst would be manufactured under a royal charter and its industrial secrets guarded with cult-like tightness.

In addition to its physical mystery, the catalyst makes fires notoriously stinky, reeking of rot and sulfur. Some who come close to it say that they can hear voices whispering from the roar of the flames, saying awful things and truths no one dares mention. Those who spend a good deal of time near fires using catalyst go mad, often violently. Over the course of generations, this “Stoker’s Madness” is accepted as a part of life, a trade for having trains, factories, and airships. New mental institutions are put up near industrial centers like the North of England, Pennsylvania, and Gloriana. Superstitious folk say that the catalyst is a gateway to hell, leaching its fire and letting slip words of the damned.

With these technological marvels and the sinister side of Newton’s Catalyst, there would certainly be impacts on the timeline. In Hellfire, the changes are largely magnifiers of the principle events, keeping our timeline and theirs nearly the same. The American Revolution happens on schedule, perhaps with the tea party in Boston driven on by fervent voices from the Pit. The Mexican-American War occurs in 1846, but in horrifically even bloodier, with steam-driven bullwagons (today’s tanks, but without artillery) pounding across the border and leveling whole villages while airships rain down kerosene firebombs. The most visible change would be Gloriana and is sprawling capital Lake Providence, an industrial center on the western banks of the Mississippi.

Hellfire opens in 1856, as something more than whispers begins to break through:

Even with the gushing hot wind from the furnace, Nate shivered. He lifted his boot from the pedal and let the doors swing shut again.
“Everything all right?” Jones called.
Nate shook his head slowly. “No. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not right. There’s something in the fire.”
“Can you dump it with the ashpan?”
Nate kept shaking his head. “I don’t think so.”
A jarring bang rang from the firebox doors. Nate jumped back and held up his shovel like a weapon.
The doors rattled again, and then the one on the right shifted open just a crack. A fresh sound of wailing poured into the cab. Something not quite black and not quite gray slithered out like a headless snake.
“What is that?” Jones screamed.
Nate swung at it with the shovel, whacking it with the dull side. A roar like the wind out of a cave came from the firebox.
Jones screamed louder, “What was that?”
The tendril grew longer and pushed back the firebox door. Steadily, fighting the weight of the heavy door, the thing climbed out of the firebox. The tendril was like a tail reaching from a shoulder. Its five other legs were segmented like a spider’s, but its body was fat and grotesque like nothing Nate had ever seen. It had eyes, shining, black eyes that blinked all over its bulbous body.
It cleared the door and fell to the metal plate floor of the cab. Sounds came off it: gurgling, whining, and guttural spitting. Nate stood frozen, watching the horror as it squirmed.
Jones jumped forward and stomped it with his boot.
The thing squealed and wrapped its legs around Jones’s boot, somehow bending them backward by twisting its own knees out of socket. Jones gave a horrified shriek. He stomped again and again, but the thing didn’t seem to get hurt.
Nate shot forward with his shovel. “Hold still!”
Jones froze with his leg in midair. The thing held tight around his boot.
Nate whacked it with his shovel again. It gave another unholy rumbling scream. Several of its legs came loose and wagged in the air.
Nate lifted his shovel and stabbed downward with the blade, running it just underneath Jones’s sole. It caught the thing on its belly or back, Nate didn’t know if he could call it either of those, and the force was enough to shove it off.
The thing fell to the floor again and writhed.
“Throw it back in!” Jones shouted. He had pushed himself against the side of the cab as far as he could.
Nate whacked it again with his shovel and then scooped it up. Its legs wriggled, but they didn’t seem able to grab hold of the blade. He stomped on the pedal to open the firebox.
The heat and wailing of the flames leaped out at him. Nate fought past and shoved the thing back inside. He stomped the release and sealed the doors again with a clang.

Hellfire is available on Kindle US, Kindle UK, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, and Nook. Check out more times from Jeff at his blog, This Day in Alternate History.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Short Story: Ropes

I originally wrote this story in November 2014 for a Creative Writing Class - and the same one that I wrote Eleven Forty for. There were some revisions over the school year, including a version where it was actually a movie pitch to a Hollywood producer, but that idea went out the window. I wanted to write an alternate history story without actually mentioning the exact point of divergence, though there are some hints throughout as to what happened, and also to focus on someone caught up in the mess, but without the ability to change anything. 


There was a time when the lights burned all night, but that was just a hazy memory now to Greg as he looked out the frost-etched window at the setting sun. Even in the evening, under the glow of artificial light, it used to be so warm and friendly, so inviting to be in New York City, the center of everything. Now, with only a few lights acting as beacons on a sea of dark blue sky and grey-brown slush on the streets twenty stories below, it seemed colder, unforgiving and dreary.

Greg turned back and looked up at the clock on his desk, the long hand making its methodical, uncompromising march to the 12 on top, while the smaller hand struggled to keep up as it neared the six directly below it. Greg sighed in relief that his work day was almost over, looking through the papers on his desk beside the old, trusty Underwood typewriter to figure out which to file, which to revise, which to put in the bag that would be taken to the furnace downstairs and destroyed. That one small piece of paper with the address scrawled on it in blue ink needed to disappear somehow before anyone saw it.

“Done for the day, Herr Collins?” a stiff German accent asked, startling Greg. His mind screamed at him, trying to activate a fight or flight response, but outwardly Greg simply shuffled that folded piece of paper into reports and files. Greg looked up to see the grey-clad, blond-haired, blue-eyed six foot tall Captain Hans Kreuger, the German officer in charge of the New York branch of the Militärverwaltung in Amerika, The Military Administration in America. He looked like he just goose-stepped right off a recruiting poster.

Ja, it’s six o’clock, and I have to go somewhere tonight,” Greg replied.

“I see,” the captain said. “I did not think you were one to go out for social events, Herr Collins.”

“It’s my grandmother, she is ill and not expected to live much longer,” Greg replied to his foreign superior.

Captain Kreuger was shocked at learning that. “Oh! I’m sorry to hear that. If that’s the case, take the rest of the week off.”

Greg just nodded solemnly. “Yes sir, thank you.”

Captain Kreuger nodded, then clicked his jackboot heels together and shot his arm out. “Heil Himmler!”

Greg snapped his arm out and repeated the call to the Nazi. After he was satisfied that his employee had done the salute properly, the officer mechanically nodded and stiffly turned on his heal to march along to the next booth. He was efficient, meticulous, and a die hard Nazi, with just enough of a soft side to give his underlings time off if they needed it.

Greg sighed in relief as he heard the German voice berating a man for a minor mistake on some paperwork, and pulled on his old, yet comfortable black jacket, picked up his battered suitcase and the nice fedora he had bought with his Christmas bonus, and walked down the hall to the elevator.
The elevator was crowded, and from the roof speakers quiet music played. While before it would have been soothing jazz music, the Nazi Regime’s hatred of jazz and other “decadent” music meant that now only martial music would play in the elevators. The two Nazi’s in the elevator hummed along, closing their eyes and smiling, as if they were either back home or on parade in front of the Führer, marching down Broadway after the conquest of the US.

The bell dinged and the door opened on the ground floor, and the soldiers who were in the elevator exited first. Common courtesy, Greg thought: after all, they have the guns. As Greg stepped out of the elevator, he noticed his childhood friend Will leaning up against the wall in the spacious lobby, reading a newspaper. Will looked up and waved.

“Greg! Haven’t seen you in a long time!” Will said, matching footsteps with Greg as he pushed the rotating door to leave the office building. Once outside in the cool late winter air, Greg placed the fedora on his head, and pulled it down as if to hide from the world.

“How have you been?” Will asked, wrapping an arm around Greg, just as he used to do.

“Busy,” Greg replied. “Work has been hell, with the uprising in the Midwest and Canada. At least New York is quiet for once.”

Will chuckled. “You worry too much, you know? You really need to loosen up.”

“Well my boss gave me a couple days off because of my Grandma, so I might take a day and go to a play or something,” Greg replied.

“I thought your granny passed away three years ago?” Will asked.

“My other grandma, on my father’s side.”

Will hmm’ed, but he didn’t say anything else.

They walked a few steps down the street. “Have you ever seen so many stars at night?” Will asked, looking up.

“No.” Greg had no interest in the stars, but that didn’t stop him from taking a peak upwards.

“Never seen so many stars before. Light pollution was always a problem. But not anymore.” Will continued to look around. “Silver lining, eh?”


Only a few cars were on the streets: a few old big hulking American cars with massive fins like some spaceship, with American names like Chevrolet and Ford on them, made of good quality American steel from a foundry in Pittsburg or Detroit. Then there were the more numerous, but still rather small in number German cars: small efficient creatures, made of aluminum or alloys that could be spared from the production of tanks, airplanes, battleships and grandiose structures in Berlin. Volkswagen, Opel, Daimler, and half dozen names were on them, though it was hard to tell if there were differences, as they all looked the same, with only slightly different paint jobs. An automotive aficionado would have pointed out each difference, but it was of no interest to Greg.

One thing all the cars had in common was the regulatory sticker on the windshield, a ring of 13 stars around an outstretched eagle clutching a swastika, the symbol of the Third Reich’s occupation of America. Greg knew that symbol too well, as he worked for it every day, doing the paperwork that the conqueror’s demanded, and didn’t want to do them selves, all with that eagle and swastika glaring down at those that had been take over.

Greg and Will passed some marching soldiers, both the steel-faced Nazi veterans and inexperienced American volunteers from the west, patrolling up and down the streets day and night, looking out for any suspicious activity they could find: a car with a fake sticker; a package too big to be a present for a child; too many people gathered together and talking quietly amongst themselves; or, their favourite pass time, seeking out someone’s papers which were not in order when demanded. That was all that life was now: equal mixtures of stickers, stamps and emotionless faces of both the winners and losers, with a sprinkling of paranoia and a pinch of depression and fear.

 “Papers, please!” a Texan solider barked as if on cue as Greg walked to one of the checkpoints that split up New York. It was a sad, small wooden booth, leaning up against a non-functioning streetlight, manned by a trio of American Nazi soldiers with a tank and a machine gun nest to force the people to funnel through the checkpoint. They all sprung up almost overnight after marital law had been declared, like toadstools after a rain in a forest. Greg handed the papers over, and they were snatched from his hand, and looked over. Boredom was on both sides of the exchange, a boredom of duty, repetition and submission, with a simmering layer of tension and fear that was never acknowledged but was known to both parties.

“Your address is not from around here,” the soldier, a lieutenant said. “Why are you down here at this time of night?"

Greg’s heart skipped a beat, but he was able to keep his face impassive. “I am visiting my grandmother. She is ill, and not expected to last much longer. I just wish to make sure she is comfortable.”

The officer grunted, and continued looking over the papers. Greg could feel something sliding around his body, slowly tightening up as it made its way around him. He could feel his arm twitch, trying to break those ropes. But they were the kind that held down boxes on trains and boats. The kind used by the hangman. They would never break, unless someone took an axe or a flame to them, and even then it wouldn’t let go easily. But if they did break, chaos and destruction would burst forth, sweeping everyone around him into a tsunami of hatred and anger.

 The soldier at last nodded. “Very well, you may go.” He handed back the papers, and Greg passed by, a single cold drop of sweat working its way down his face. Will breezed through the checkpoint as he usually did, and caught up to Greg and carried on like a shadow to the momentarily relieved Greg. But those ties were still there, but had slackened off.

“Nazi efficiency,” Will commented.

“Those were Americans,” Greg replied. “Not even German.”

“They still looked, acted and behaved like Nazis,” Will shot back, though not too loudly. Those men were still in earshot, and didn’t like being talked back to. It really wasn’t paranoia if they were out to get you, was it? Those thick strings, hemp grown for durability and strength, closed tighter around Greg’s body as he thought of what they would do if they found any excuse to beat up a few civilians because they were having a bad day.

“So where are you actually going?” Will asked. “Your Grandma lives in the Bronx, no?”

“Going the long way around,” Greg hurriedly replied. “I need the exercise.”

Will didn’t say anything, but his eyebrow twitched upwards.

“Didn’t know you were so worried about your body,” he said, as Greg dug through his pockets to search for a pack of cigarettes, before finding it in his left pocket. He fumbled for his fancy, gold Zippo lighter, a gift from his boss for ten years of loyal service for the Occupation, his finger rubbing over the etched swastika on the outside. Fishing out a cigarette and sticking it in his mouth, he cupped hands in front of his face, to give the flame a fighting chance to catch the tobacco and paper on fire. He inhaled, feeling the smoke enter his throat and lungs, before exhaling a cloud of pungent air in a white cloud that could have been confused with both cold air or a miniature steam train set, similar to the one he had when he was a boy in Ohio before the Swastika swept in, lighting a flame like his lighter.

Turning down one street, then another, then another, going in a circular route for what looked like no reason that anyone following him would think Greg was either crazy or a spy. But he was neither, at least he told himself, and his SS security check confirmed it. Greg had smoked two more cigarettes in this time, tossing the butts away into the slushy piles of grey snow with other finished tobacco products, broken glass beer bottles and the unbreakable Coke bottles.

“Still haven’t cross the river,” Will commented. “Are you sure we are going to your grandmother’s?”

“You know better,” Greg muttered.

Will chuckled. “Ah, you must feel like a regular Sir Francis Walsignham then.” He thought for a moment. “No, Admiral Canaris. Being German and all. The Nazi’s like using German guys to compare to.”

Greg grunted, but otherwise didn’t say anything. After all, Canaris committed suicide during the war. Well, the Nazi’s claimed he committed suicide. Everyone knew otherwise, but wouldn’t say that.
“Have you ever thought how suspicious this all is?” Will asked.

Greg didn’t say anything. Of course he knew how suspicious it was. But if you don’t talk about things like that out loud, then you don’t have to consider it too deeply.

“All they would need is to know of that box of books in your attic,” Will said, one lips parting to show a smirk.

 Greg flinched as if a bullet had just flew over his head, barely noticeable to anyone walking by, and clenched his hands into a tight fist so his fingernails dug into his hand. Those bindings made themselves known once again, digging into his flesh. “They will never know. Plus, not like I ever read them.”

“But possession of forbidden works is a crime. You should know that.”

“I do.”

“Then why do you still have them? Just trying to taunt the SS, are you?”


“Then why not get rid of them?”


“Makes you feel brave and heroic, standing in front of some books, doesn’t it? Sticking it to the man, the occupiers.” Will struck a heroic pose. “Defender of the Novel, Crusader of the Poem, Paladin of the 72! Years from now, rumours will spread of the Hero who protected five boxes of books and a suitcase full of records!”

Greg did his best not to chew on the nearly burnt out cigarette, so instead he pulled it out of his mouth and flicked off the ashes before putting back in his mouth. But he was still silent as he finally turned down a residential street, full of mid-rise apartments buildings, three story townhouses and people; so many people. Those older ones that were born before the invasion were stooped, shuffling along, in clothes that years before would have been boxed away or given to someone else less fortunate, and new jackets or hats or shirts or skirts bought to replace them. Some people even had patches on their clothes, which would have been a sign of low class before, but now was the average.

They kept their heads down, which they would have said was out of respect, but was really out of fear. The fear that one wrong glance would summon the police to their home one night, to cart them away. It happened; not as often as it used too, but often enough for the terror to be there: a midnight knock on the door, followed by loud shouts in both German and English, then a family - husband, wife, children, grandparents, aunts and uncles - all carted off and never heard from again, as if the tumor of dissent was so large that the only way to take care of it was the cut it out from the root.
But then there were the children. It was always the children who would, no matter what happened, play with each other on the streets, laugh and cheer as they kicked a soccer ball or played tag and made friends. Not even a dictatorship could rule out such fun.

The little kids, of course, would be brought up not only to tolerate the Nazis, but also to support them wholeheartedly. It was already being drilled into them, with their mandatory requirements to join the Hitler Youth and the propaganda they received in school. Greg remembered giving his six-year old nephew one of those new toys for Christmas, just a few short weeks ago, with the bright red plastic case and the two white knobs on the side. The first thing his sister’s son did was to do his best to draw a Swastika like he had been taught to do in class. And everyone there remarked and praised the lopsided yet straight lines and imperfect connections nevertheless. All Jimmy had to do when he went back to class was talk to his teacher about how his uncle or parent’s didn’t like the awkward swastika he drew on his toy for them all to disappear.

That fear of strangers seeing something suspicious was doubly reinforced because it was the ones you loved: your young child not knowing better; a cousin that was so engrossed in the Party he would denounce anything; an uncle working for the occupation…

But for now, the meagerly dressed kids with mud and grime over their pants and faces could live and play, as all children should. Greg allowed a smile to cross his lips as a red faced, brown haired boy let loose a snowball that sailed through the air and landed with a wet splat on the chest of another young boy, who fell into a snow pile with a laugh.

“Makes you almost wish you were a young, carefree kid again, huh?” Will asked, but Greg didn’t answer. Will knew Greg’s answer to that question already: it was the same one he would have given.

Down the slushy street, past the hunched adults and the frolicking children, was an old brick apartment building, four stories high. Half the windows were still intact, and about half of them had light streaming out. Greg turned up the walkway, and pressed the buzzer for an apartment on the third floor.

“Who is it?” a static filled voice asked.

“Delivery for Mr. Wirasaki,” Greg replied in the code he memorized.

“Mrs. Jackson will meet you,” came the static reply. The door of the apartment buzzed open, and Greg slipped inside.

“Well aren’t you being all sneaky and devious,” Will said, following behind Greg as he started climbing up the steps.

“One day, I wish you would just shut up and go away,” Greg stopped and growled, glad that there was no one around to hear the argument.

“What? For saying things that are true?” Will replied, turning around and facing Greg with only a couple feet between them. “Well, they are true, even if you don’t want to agree.”

There was a silence, the two men staring at each other; Will watched Greg with eagle eyes, holding his hands together behind him, leaving himself open on the front; Greg glaring at Greg under the rim of his fedora, his fists still tightly clinched and as white and bloodless as the snow in Norman Rockwell painting of pure American homeliness on the Christmas edition of a pre-Occupation magazine who’s name had been forgotten for not being appropriate in the New Order. Rockwell was one of those names that everyone knew but wish they didn’t know, mostly because he was an American, but one that supported the old ways. Some Resistance propaganda was just an old picture that Rockwell had done for the magazine, stuck to a wall somewhere. Rockwell may be gone, one of the innumerable victims of the invasion and occupation, but he was still alive. Just on life support.

“And still, here I am. Do you not have the backbone to make me go away?” Will taunted Greg. “Go on. Do it.”

Greg snarled and swung at Will, but Will was too fast and ducked as Greg’s fist swiped the air where Will’s face had been and it smacked the peeling wall, impacting the old wood with surprising force. The noise was loud, and had more people been in the building, they would have heard it. The few who lived around here in this rundown neighborhood would have assumed it’s somebody dropping something, or a fight going on, and just push it to the back of their minds, and carried on with life. The fewer questions that came up, the fewer answers that needed to be found.

If only Greg could do that. Those ropes were getting tighter, now constricting his neck, a snake hungry for a meal, a yawning drop demanding a sacrifice to Justice. One wrong move, and it was over.

Greg took a deep breath and let his fist unfurl. A few streaks of blood dripped from his knuckles and began forming shapes and images on the back of his hand and fingers: his mind tried to draw out the bright red tentacles reaching out for skulls and bones, crisscrossing each other in what he would describe as constellations of skin and blood materializing on the back of his hand. After a moment of staring at the design on his hand in morbid fascination, Greg stuck his hand into his pocket. It wasn’t that bad. It would go away, hopefully. He walked to the end of the hall, to the room he had called up to earlier. He knocked on the door, and waited for a moment as whoever was on the other side to look through the little peephole to make sure it was the person they were expecting, before unlocking the door, sliding the rusty bolt out of its latch and opening it for Greg.

“Ah, Greg, great to see you tonight,” a young man by the name of Jake said. He was tall and handsome, with a fire in his eyes that demanded action and excitement, most likely the reason for his being here and having joined this group.

“Been busy at the office, wasn’t able to get away too much,” Greg explained as he slipped off his jacket and kicked off his slush covered shoes, though he still wore a heavy sweater to fight the cold. He continued to clutch his battered suitcase as tightly as he could. That was the only thing he would never let go. “Anyone else here?”

“About half the usual people. Tom, Jerry, and Michal thought the Blackies were onto them, so they’re out hiding somewhere. Jen and Marty had to go out of town to see a relative in Pennsylvania. Don’t know when they will be back.”

Greg nodded, and was lead into the homely, if ill kept apartment. Coffee and beer stains were all over the floor and counter, while the dust liberally coated large areas of the apartment. Old cardboard and wood boxes full of clothes and old magazines and books piled up against the wall in a scarily haphazard way which made Greg nervous to walk near. In the center of the main room, around a small table, were four men and three women, all with some kind of drink in front of them. He could see a couple bottles of beer, a half empty bottle of vodka, a half full bottle of wine, a nearly depleted bottle of whisky and a tipped over bottle of rye which no one had yet set upright again.

Greg nodded to the folks around the table, and they nodded back to him. He took an empty seat, and tried to relax in the warm and stuffy apartment. Beside him, Harry slipped a cigarette from the package in his shirt pocket and stuck it in his mouth, then started searching for something to light it. After a moment of searching, Harry realized that he didn’t have any matches with him. But Greg quickly reached into his pant’s pocket, and after a moment of fumbling, pulled out his swastika etched Zippo lighter, and struck it. Harry leaned forward and puffed, getting the coffin nail lit up, before a cloud of smoke was blown from his nose and mouth. He nodded, a silent thanks to Greg.

“So, anything new at the Occupation HQ?” Jim, in hushed tones, asked Greg. His rough and calloused hands, from years of working hard and playing just as hard, grabbed hold of his beer bottle and upended it, his Adam’s Apple bobbing up and down on his throat as he drank it down. The beer, especially the cheap German imports, was much better than before. Will would have quipped, “Another silver lining?”

“Not much, rumors that they might ask for American Volunteers for the Russian Front. It sounds worse over there than anybody is saying,” Greg replied. That was an understatement: the censored Times and Herald, along with the Nazi Party rags, radio stations and TV channels all told the same story: the Commies were being slaughtered in the thousands, any and all uprisings are crushed, and the Reich continues to advance East. But the casualties were never mentioned, but even here in America, the soldiers from Germany were nervous that eventually they would be sent to fight the Russians. No one there wanted to do that.

“That would be good for us, you know,” Kelly said, running her precisely manicured finger around the edge of her wine glass. “The fewer fanatics on the streets, the better chance we have.”

“Do we have a date yet?” Greg asked.

“Three months,” Kelly replied. “Say around the middle of May.”

Greg bit his lips, but forced himself to nod. That would be around Hitler’s Birthday. Although the Fuhrer was now dead sixteen years, having died as his tanks finally rolled through Moscow in ‘45, his birthdate was a holiday throughout the German Reich. It was Himmler who led the invasion of Britain, the subjugation of the Middle East, the annexation of America.

Greg knew what he was getting himself into. It was dangerous for everyone involved, but here he was. Was it right? Maybe. Was it worth doing? Again, maybe. He didn’t want to think about that. Those questions were what made these things so hard to do. Those ropes were getting tighter, tightening around his neck now.

 Just a match, or a knife; let me cut the ropes…

Jake came around and offered a bottle of beer to Greg, but he declined, much to everyone’s surprise.

“Why not stay and have a drink with us?” Jim asked, taking the opened bottle from Jake and upending it, downing half of it at once. Five empty bottles already filled the table in front of him. Liquid courage was just as good as the normal kind, and easier to come by.

“I’m sorry I cannot stay longer. My home is on the other side of the city, and I do not want to be out after curfew.”

The assorted group shrugged. “Well, whatever you want. But what is the point of living if you don’t live every so often?” Jim asked again.

Greg stood up. “Maybe next time,” he said, and walked around the table, saying good-bye and putting on his jacket again in a rush, before leaving the apartment only minutes after he had arrived.
“That wasn’t suspicious at all,” Will said, following behind like the little puppy dog he was.

Greg didn’t say anything, but walked quickly down the hall to the stairs. He walked down the first flight and was turning the corner to the second, when a black arm grabbed hold of his shoulder from the shadows and spun him around.

The grip was tight, even through the black gloves, making Greg’s shoulder nearly pop out of its socket. Greg’s eyes went wide as he stared face to face with the Gestapo officer that stopped him. His cold blue eyes and long, lean face stared deep into Greg, and a small smile crossed his lips.

“Very good, Herr Greg,” the SS officer said in quiet English, with barely a German accent. “We got the information we need. You may take the wires off now.”

Greg nodded weakly, and opened his jacket and pulled up his sweater and pulled off the small recording device, along with the wires to a battery pack and the switch in his pants that turned the contraption on. His lighter nearly fell out of his pocket, but Greg caught it before it fell to the floor.

“The Third Reich and the Occupation is very pleased with your services so far,” the Gestapo officer continued, taking the device in his hands, and then slipping them into his own pocket and producing a piece of paper. “Especially in turning in the wanted criminal William Novak. We may need use of your services again. Until then, a bonus has been wired to your account, and this form will allow you to get home past curfew. I’m sure the money will be more than enough for compensation. Heil Himmler!” He barked, snapping his arm into a salute.

Greg snapped his arm up as straight as he could. “Heil!”

The officer turned around and walked into the closest room uttering some German that Greg didn’t quite catch, and a moment later three other SS officers followed him out, the black and silver ghosts silently tramping upstairs to where Greg had just been. It was going to be quiet in that room from now on, if the building itself wasn’t going to mysteriously go up in flames in the next half hour.

As soon as they passed, Greg allowed himself to weakly walk down the stairs, out the door, and down the street. The children were gone now, and only a couple of men were still out, hurrying home as the curfew drew near. A light snow with an equally light breeze began, sprinkling white powder over the city, covering the brown slush with a layer of white. Muffled by wood and brick, shouts of German and a woman screaming could be heard. Greg turned away, willing his senses to ignore it.

Will stood there, looking down on Greg as he leaned up against a short brick wall, crumbling from years without proper maintenance.

“Why did you do it?” He asked, his voice calm and collected, which would be much to Greg’s surprise.

“I… I…”

“It was the books. You just wanted to keep your precious books?”


“The money?”


“Your job?”


“Your house?”

Greg said nothing.

“Your job? Your life?”

Greg was still silent.

“Or was it that you would rather kiss a jackboot instead of fighting for what was right?”

“We fucking lost!” Greg shouted at last, silencing Will. “It’s over! The Nazis won! There is no point to any of this, is there?”

Will just stared at Greg, his eyes unblinking. “We lost because of people like you.” Will came closer. 
“And there is no point anymore because the people like you are all that is left.”

Will turned around and walked away, as the swirling snow of the evening swallowed him up. Greg wanted to chase after, to apologize, to say sorry, but it was too late: years too late. The tightness around him went away, slowly, except around his heart. Maybe later he would return, but for now…

The rope jerked as a trapdoor was sprung, his heart caught in the tight grip. Greg grabbed his chest, slowly sliding down the crumbling brick half wall, and took a deep breath, a tear streaming down his face before it froze in the cold. Relief, exhaustion, sadness, anger, despair, joy, depression and a dozen other things all came and went in rapid succession, leaving only a shell behind as all the emotions burnt themselves out.

It was over.

Greg looked up. There were so many stars up there. More than he had ever seen before.