The United States of America is a crumbling republic. With the value of the dollar imploding, the government floundering, and national outrage and resentment growing by the hour, a rebellion has caught fire. The Revolutionary Front, led by Joseph Graham, has taken control of Salt Lake City.
In a nation where opportunity is sequestered behind the gilded doors of the rich and powerful, joining the Army seemed like James Trent’s best option. He just never thought he’d see combat. Now Trent finds himself on the front lines fighting for something he doesn’t even know if he believes in. Destroying innocent lives wasn’t what he signed on for, and he can feel himself slipping away with every casualty.
Sharpshooter Sam Cross was just fourteen when American soldiers gunned down her parents and forced her brother into conscription. Now, five years later, retribution feels like her only option to stitch the wound of her past. She has accepted Joseph Graham’s offer to be his secret weapon. His Reaper in the Valley. But retribution always comes at a cost.
When forces clash in Salt Lake City, alliances will be shattered, resolve will be tested, and when the dust clears nobody will be able to lie to themselves, or be lied to, again.
Zac Topping’s Wake of War is a timely account of the lengths those with power will go to preserve it, and the determination of those they exploit to destroy everything in the name of freedom anew.
Wake of War will be available on July 19th, 2022. Please enjoy the following excerpt!
Welcome to the War
20 July 2037
The TC-27 Chariot banked hard to port and began spiraling toward the ground, the g-force pinning Specialist James Trent to his seat. The sudden drop caused a terrible weightless feeling to slither up his guts and for some reason made his feet tingle. The others packed in around him were handling the frantic descent in their own ways; eyes squeezed shut, lips quivering in rapid prayer, white-knuckle grips on rifles and seat straps. Like it would do any good. Might as well suck on a lucky rabbit’s foot for all the difference any of that shit would make.
But on the plus side, after hours of being crammed on the aircraft, at least it was finally going down.
The main lights blinked out and LEDs in the floor switched on showing the way to the exits. The indicator over the emergency jump door was still red though, which was good because no one had parachutes equipped.
Compensators hissed and the airframe stabilized. There was a sudden flattening feeling as the craft slowed its drop and Trent’s guts were pressed down into his feet. Much more of this and he’d retch.
Trent tried to play it cool, focusing on anything other than the drop. He looked up at the ceiling, taking note of the interior of the craft which was completely naked, all the exposed wiring and piping and coolant lines running along the skin of the craft. A real genius design that was. Sure, it probably saved production costs, but it wouldn’t be hard for some disgruntled soldier to get up out of his seat and start yanking on shit and destroy vital flight systems.
He’d seen some guys lose it before. One too many deployments to combat cities and they came back all scrambled up. Did all kinds of crazy things. Wouldn’t be much of a stretch to imagine someone like that just up and deciding to go out with a bang.
The TC-27 dropped again. A quick, sickening lurch for two to three seconds and Trent knew they fell another few hundred feet closer to terra firma. He felt his throat tighten, a bead of sweat forming on his brow, and knew his complexion must be somewhere between yellow snow and filthy bath water. He closed his eyes and tried to swallow it down.
Suddenly the ship sagged, slowed, then with surprising ferocity crunched down on solid ground. Shock systems sent power to the landing gear, which shook the craft like it was in a blender. Reverse thrusters roared to slow the heavy piece of machinery until the brakes could take over and bring the entire thing to a stop.
Trent peeled his eyes open in the sudden silence that filled the cargo space as the flight systems powered down. The lights came back on and a pair of flight assistants in dark gray jumpsuits came out of the cabin and began assisting soldiers off of their craft. Trent unclipped his harness, loosened the damned chin strap that was way too tight, and dragged his rucksack out from under the seat. He strapped his rifle onto his chest rig, slipped into the aisle, and walked toward the rear of the craft where the bay doors had folded open. His boots thumped down the grated metal gangway as he disembarked.
The heat was the first thing to hit him. A dry, heavy air that squeezed around him, forcing sweat to immediately soak through his combat uniform. He squinted against the brightness of the early summer sun.
The airfield was huge, but only a handful of aircraft were on it. A few other TC-27s were parked by a maintenance bay nearby, and a pair of AC-65 Wasps sat on the opposite end of the runway staring out like hungry predators basking in the afternoon sun, their sleek armor and inverted grav-engines angling down and back like the wings of their namesake, 30mm cannons poking out the front. With the Federal Reserve collapsing and the government spending freeze in place, Trent hadn’t expected to see them here. He’d heard somewhere that the entire payload of an AC-65 was somewhere near three million dollars, American. Even if they were just intended as a show of force, it was good to know they were there.
Everyone was rounded up and marched across the tarmac into a hangar where they began the in-processing ritual. Trent shuffled along in line, constantly shrugging the weight of his rucksack in search of a more comfortable position, which was apparently impossible. After a while the line stopped moving and someone gave the order to smoke ’em if you got ’em. A moment later a cloud of carcinogenic smog hovered over everyone’s heads. Trent bummed a cigarette from the guy next to him, cupped his hands over it while the guy lit for him, and nodded thanks.
No one spoke. There was a silent sense of dread that lived just under the veil of military enthusiasm. Trent let the smoke out through his nose and gazed at the towering mountains surrounding the valley. The mountains that were home to the enemy, the violent militant faction known as the Revolutionist Front who were stoking the flames of rebellion while the country was imploding.
Trent finished his cigarette and was called forward. The soldier behind the counter was another specialist, tapping away on a touch pad. She looked up at Trent as he approached. “ID and Nat-Reg.”
Trent gave her his ID card and she entered his information into her pad. A printer whirred and spat out a few sheets of paper that she gathered up, stuffed into an envelope and thrust toward Trent. “Specialist Trent, James Oliver. Assigned to the 117th Infantry. Head over to supply for loadout. Enjoy your stay in the valley. Next.”
“Wait, I’m sorry, you said infantry?”
She glared at him. “That’s correct.”
“I’m supposed to go to a supply unit,” Trent stammered, throat going dry.
“The needs of the Army, Specialist. And the Army needs you in the infantry. Now move along.”
Trent took his file, reeling from this unexpected development, and went over to supply where he was issued tactical body armor, a various assortment of interchangeable ballistic plates, a med kit, and 210 rounds of ammunition in seven separate magazines. He signed for everything and moved off to the waiting area where he was assured someone from his unit would retrieve him shortly.
He bummed another cigarette and tried to calm himself. Fucking infantry. No way. He hadn’t practiced basic combat tactics in months, and even then it had only been half-assed attempts to appease qualification paperwork. But here he was in a real combat zone with real fighting and real enemies, not holographic targets with score meters ticking away like a fucking video game.
Gunfire cracked outside the perimeter wall no more than a few hundred meters away. Trent’s head snapped around, heart hammering in his chest, and that awful tingling feeling shot through his feet again.
“You’ll get used to it,” said one of the soldiers sitting nearby in a faded, dirty uniform. “Soon enough you won’t even notice it.”
Trent tried to relax, however the hell he was supposed to do that. The gunfire continued to pop sporadically for another minute before it ceased. No one on the airfield or anywhere on the FOB seemed to care. It was just another summer afternoon in the valley.
Not much later, a GV-6 Prowler—one of the military’s all-purpose utility vehicles—rolled up to the holding area. Trent recognized his new unit numbers stenciled on the grill and waved it down. The truck crawled to a stop as a soldier climbed out of the passenger side door. He had dark skin and dark eyes that stared at Trent without emotion. He wore the rank of specialist and his name tape said SIMARD.
“You the new armorer?” Simard asked.
Trent handed Simard his files. “I’m Trent. You guys are the 117th?”
Simard handed the files back without looking at them. “You got it. I’m Simard, this is Jenson.” He gestured to the private sitting behind the wheel, a young white man, couldn’t be more than eighteen years old. His bottom lip stuck out and a string of brown spit ran down his chin. He waved.
“Come on,” Simard said.
Trent crammed himself into the back seat. For such large vehicles there was surprisingly little room inside. Trent’s knees were jammed in tight and the rigid upright seat back was at such a severe angle it practically had him leaning forward. Comfort was clearly not part of the military design.
Jenson shoved the transmission in drive and hit the gas. They pulled away from the airfield and onto regular blacktop, passing rows of Quonset huts and bunk pods as they crossed the FOB.
Simard twisted in his seat and faced Trent. “You ever been to combat before?”
“No. Not until today.”
A grin spread across Simard’s face. “You ain’t been in combat yet. But it’s cool, I got you. We were all pumped to get here at first. Ain’t that right?” He looked at Jenson.
“That’s fuckin’ right,” the private said. “Gonna serve justice to the rebels an’ all that shit.”
Simard continued. “All that shit. That’s all it is, Specialist Trent. What do you think about that?”
“Just Trent,” he said. “Or James. You don’t really think things are gonna go bad here, right?”
“Why? You scared?”
“No. I mean . . .” Trent swallowed a lump in his throat and recovered. “I’m not here for glory is all.”
“What are you here for, then?”
Truth was Trent had enlisted for the Military Granted University Scholarship, but somehow didn’t think that would sound cool to admit. So far in his three years of service he’d been able to maintain easy gigs on comfortable East Coast stations, far from any combat. Another year and he’d be free of the Army’s bullshit, and free to subject himself to an all new type of bullshit at the University. But the prospect of working in an office with climate control sounded much better than working in the ditches for the rest of his life. Thing was, that sentiment was sometimes hard to get across to other soldiers who would forever be grunts and ditch-diggers and were happy about it. Every time he admitted that he joined the military for anything other than killing he was ridiculed and looked down upon.
Simard broke the silence, sparing Trent the admission. “I’m just fuckin’ with you, man. We ain’t hard-asses here. Shit’s all a joke in my opinion.”
“Wanna know why I joined?” Jenson asked. He continued without waiting for an answer. “To get my plumbing cert.” He laughed at his own joke, belting out a backwoods kind of chortle.
“You ain’t layin’ shit, Jenson,” Simard said, turning back around. He hung his elbow on the open window. Outside, more barracks trailers flashed past. A few units were standing outside in formation. “Anyway, Trent,” Simard continued. “This is Forward Operating Base Spearpoint.” He waved out the window. “Too many dicks, not enough equipment, no end in sight. But hey, at least we got someone to fix our busted-ass weapons now.”
“Yeah man,” Jenson said. “There’s some chicks on base, but every one of ’em’s got at least a hundred dudes houndin’ after ’em.”
“Would you fuckin’ stow it?” Simard cut in.
Jenson shut up and focused on the steering wheel.
“Anyway,” Simard said, “you’re in Alpha Company, Fourth Platoon, Third Squad. Got it? That’s us. And as far as things not getting bad, you’re outta luck. Intel says the RF just put out a new video, only this one wasn’t a PR statement like the usual.” Simard paused. “Joseph Graham just declared war on all government forces in the city. Which means this shit is real as it gets and we’re in it for the long haul, so watch your step cuz this place is a shithole.”
“Yeah man,” Jenson said. “Bet you still notice the smell? Don’t worry, that’ll go away.”
“The smell doesn’t go away,” Simard said. “You just get used to it.”
In the back seat, Trent fought down another bout of sickness. The Revolutionist Front wasn’t playing around. Joseph Graham was the charismatic and completely psychotic leader of the Revolutionist Front who’d already earned himself a top spot on the government’s most wanted list for his role in orchestrating numerous crimes against humanity. Graham, who’d once been a backwater preacher and cult leader, had managed to use his gift of persuasion to lure enough fellow crazies out of the woodworks to put together a substantial following that eventually turned into a legitimate rebel army. A rebel army camped out in the mountains surrounding the valley Trent currently found himself trapped in as a new member of a frontline infantry unit.
From the driver’s seat Private Jenson reached back and offered Trent a cigarette.
“Welcome to Salt Lake City.”
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