Sunday Snippet: Blood Red Steel by Damien Larkin

Posted October 8, 2023 by Jen in Sunday Snippet Tags: ,

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Blood Red Steel

Author: Damien Larkin
Publisher: Lemur Press LLC
Release Date: October 3, 2023
Series: Big Red #3
Genre: Military science fiction/Alternative history




18th MARCH 1956




book cover of Blood Red Steel by Damien LarkinFour hundred and eighty-eight men of the Second Battalion waited beyond the gates of New Berlin, on soil where their brethren had died two years earlier. They each stood at attention, staring at the vast, dented main entrance to the colony. Lieutenant William McCabe lingered in a line at the front, the surviving lieutenants and acting captains to either side. Their commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel ‘Mad Jack’ Wellesley, faced the unopened doors. He slid his sword free and held the blade aloft.

“Strike banners!” 

McCabe, officers, and NCOs repeated the order. A line of men behind Mad Jack reacted. In well-practised motions, they hoisted the colours of their nations high, but without any wind, the flags flopped. After eight months of hunting werewolf units and ambushing Wehrmacht forces across the barren Martian terrain, McCabe had hoped for even a light breeze to see the British flag flutter in all its glory. He gazed across the French, Polish, Soviet, West German, and Irish flags representing the make-up of the battalion and imagined the scene of the banners fluttering at full strength.

“Raise the standard!” Mad Jack said, and again, his order echoed.

One soldier stepped forward from the line and hoisted a pole with a wolfskin dangling from it. Macabre as the spectacle appeared, their wolfskin standard had become a rallying point for the beleaguered battalion after months of death and destruction. They liberated it from an SS bunker out in the Badlands at the start of their mission, and it seemed fitting for their operation. Since tasked with hunting and exterminating the werewolf terrorists fuelling the insurrections across the colonies, they branded themselves wolf hunters.

“Battalion, prepare to march. March!”

As one, four hundred and eighty-eight pairs of feet thudded the blood-red sand. The reinforced doors to New Berlin lumbered open. McCabe took a deep breath, fighting the growing tightness in his chest. The strange, lightheaded dizziness that took him from time to time seeped into his skull. Focusing on his breathing, he maintained his gaze on the opening doors ahead. Jenkins cleared his throat across the open common channel and prepared to sing the battalion anthem.

“Oh, King Ares, wades in blood to his knees, a warrior is he.”

A momentary pause before the battalion repeated his words in a thundering, unified voice.

Oh, King Ares, wades in blood to his knees, a warrior is he.”

“He calls for his knife, he calls for his rifle, he calls for the Second Batt infantry.”

He calls for his knife, he calls for his rifle, he calls for the Second Batt infantry.”

“New Berlin is ours, says the Colonel!”

New Berlin is ours, says the Colonel!”

“It’s raining lead, say the captains.”

It’s raining lead…”

The tightness in McCabe’s chest intensified when they entered the tunnel leading to the airlocks into the colony. His hands shook in the strange involuntary way they did at random intervals. He could hear his heart pounding, but knew if he checked his pulse, everything would be fine. Sounds of gunfire, explosions, and screaming rattled through his skull.

“First o’er the top, say the louies.”

First o’er…”

The main entrance slammed shut behind the battalion, and the first armoured airlock door rose. Two years ago, McCabe had led an assault on the command station above, seizing control of it with the mysterious Black Visors. Three days of brutal fighting in the Battle of New Berlin preceded an unimaginable cycle of violence, costing him the lives of countless good men. Images of butchered Nazis and his own slaughtered soldiers danced across his vision. He tightened his grip on the butt of his Lee-Enfield to ease the trembling in his fingers.

“Don’t get paid to slack, says sar’nt major.”

Don’t get…”

Shame filled McCabe when the dizziness blurred his eyesight. His lads relied on him to be their strength, yet his own body betrayed him. He experienced fear in battle like many men, but it never engulfed him. Why now? Why when no shots erupted, with none of his soldiers dying, could he hear those awful screams?

“Fix bayonets, says the Colour.”

Fix bayonets…”

The airlock door thumped down behind the marching battalion, leaving one more between them and the colony. McCabe fought to reassert control before they entered. Thoughts of losing command of himself, of collapsing in front of his men without any physical wound, mortified him. They’d never look at him the same way again. As one of Her Majesty’s soldiers, he needed to pull himself together and act like it.

“Boots, one size fits all, says the BQ.”

Boots, one size…”

Sharp pain ate into his torso, and everyone carried on marching. McCabe concentrated on the airlock door, knowing the phantom shrapnel pieces paining him weren’t real, and fought the sensations telling him otherwise. If he sustained such an injury again, he knew he wouldn’t be capable of walking, so he kept his gaze fixed and refused to look down at his undamaged EVA suit. Faces of snarling Nazis trying to stab him crossed his thoughts, each one long dead. Sweat dripped across his brow. The dying called his name.

“Kill them all, say the sergeants.”

Kill them all…”

Bodies slumped across the Martian landscape, friend and foe alike. McCabe battered a Nazi soldier’s helmet in with a rock and let the bastard suffocate. Enemy artillery pounded the soil sending columns of copper dirt high into the sky. Pieces of metal burst through EVA suits. Wails rang out as McCabe crawled, no ammo left, with only a knife. A figure emerged from the shadows, gun raised, and he stabbed.

“Should have been a vet, say the corporals.”

Should have…”

The final airlock rose. Scenes of the devastated colony beckoned. When the SS surrendered, many thought the worst of it was over, just a matter of hanging on until reinforcements arrived. The insurgency took its toll. Civilians on both sides armed themselves, spreading strife and disruption across the colonies, and the werewolves launched suicidal attacks on the Mars Expeditionary Force. The Wehrmacht cut supply and communication lines, the perpetual thorn in the side of the victorious Allies.

“Booze, booze, booze, say the privates.”

Booze, booze, booze…”

At knee height, light flooded in from under the airlock, golden and blinding. McCabe blinked from the sudden brightness, fighting the urge to rip his helmet off in the hope the fresh air could steady his nerves. 

“For warriors are we.”

For warriors are we.”

“They stop and stare. Fall dead right there. Facing Second Batt infantry, aha.”

They stop and stare. Fall dead right there. Facing Second Batt infantry, aha.”

About the Book:

Blood alone decides the fate of Mars

For two years, the Mars Expeditionary Force has held the line against the last remnants of the Third Reich. McCabe, Jenkins, and the Second Battalion long for home. Reinforcements have arrived, but the veterans of the MEF have one final mission. Defend Forward Base Zulu at all costs.

While Generalfeldmarschall Brandt plans a decisive showdown at Forward Base Zulu, Reichsführer Wagner celebrates the activation of the first generation of the Hollow Programme. Surrounded and cut off, McCabe and Jenkins once again find themselves in league with the MAJESTIC-12 operatives known as the Black Visors. Now the future hinges on the sacrifices of a few determined soldiers.

About the Author:

Damien Larkin is an Irish science fiction and fantasy author. His military sci-fi novels Big Red and Blood Red Sand were longlisted for BSFA awards. He served for seven years in the Irish Reserve Defence Forces and lives in Dublin, Ireland.

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