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Due for publication in Summer 2023

From the aftermath of the horrifying events of 11/11, a new world order prevails.

For politician, Jack Tirrand, the future holds promise, but echoes from the past start to surface as he is confronted with the terrifying consequences of the project codename - OCTOGEN.

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Thirty-five years and one week ago
November, 2025

Mary Jo Hammond drew long and hard on the cigarette wedged between her chapped lips.

As she looked out from the porch of their single-storey wood cabin, the tall leaves of the filler tobacco grown from Cuban seed swayed gently to and fro in the half light of the fast approaching night. In happier days, before Bobby had taken ill, they had chosen the six-acre field for cultivation with just one aim in mind. When the plants were full grown, the federal correction centre on Highway 72 would be totally hidden from view. Out of sight; out of mind.

The signs on the entry roads into Three Rivers in Live Oak County described the township as the oil capital of Texas. It was a proud boast. The guidebooks made only a passing reference to the penitentiary where many of the most dangerous redneck reactionaries, renegade murderers and rapists in the Union happened to be incarcerated.

On a still night, and if she strained hard, Mary Jo could just make out the sound of the oil rigs humming some five miles away, alongside the refinery. She had been born and bred in Three Rivers and was mighty proud of her birthright.

The rasping, mucus-filled cough started up as she exhaled, forcing her to spit a ball of yellow phlegm onto the parched earth. It was ironic, she thought. That very plant, growing so high and strong just a stone’s throw away would consign her husband’s body to the ground in a week or two and, most likely, see her lying in the soil next to him within the year. The thought caused her to laugh out loud, provoking another bout of coughing and spitting.

‘You see this, Mother?’ Bobby had called her ‘Mother’ ever since their only child had been born some thirty-odd years ago. Millie had survived until she was two, when the consumption had taken her, but Bobby had just gone on calling Mary Jo ‘Mother’ until this very day.

‘What is it, Bobby?’

Her husband was propped up on a make-do sofa bed in the lounge, his watery gaze fixed on the television screen. The sound was turned down because the noise hurt his ears. The body of this former fifteen-stone hard man and federal prison guard had been consumed by the cancer that racked his body. Bones poked through the grey/blue skin of his skeletal frame. Pain and suffering were all he knew. Once, he had inflicted these two ills: now, he had to endure them.

The image on the TV screen was like a scene from a science fiction movie. The sky above some desert location was full of drones, small, black-painted craft swarming incessantly like bees about a larger, torpedo-shaped drone with mechanical arms embracing a package the size of a small suitcase. From time to time, a smaller drone would explode into flames and fall to earth, causing the remainder to realign around their queen in order to protect her.

An industrial complex came into view on the horizon. Within minutes, the drones were hovering over a series of circular metal towers, losing height and numbers as many exploded under intermittent gunfire. The larger unit came to a halt, the sound of its motor whirring as it strained to maintain its position. The mechanical arms opened and the package fell to the ground.

Within seconds, a large red and orange mushroom cloud filled the screen. As the cloud expanded and dispersed, the camera began to tremble. The earth below began to crease into a ripple effect as though some gigantic prehistoric monster was moving at breakneck speed just under the surface. Suddenly, the image disappeared, the TV screen black and lifeless until a visibly shaken announcer appeared framed against a ‘Breaking News’ background in a studio and began to speak.
‘What’s he saying?’ Mary Jo asked.

Bobby half turned his head. ‘I guess it’s just another of those damn Arab killing Arab, terrorist attacks, somewhere in the desert. I don’t know why we don’t drop a bomb on the whole fuckin’ lot of ‘em. He grimaced. The strain of talking sapped his energy. ‘It’s the third one they’ve shown.’

‘More likely the same over and over again,’ she retorted, losing interest and walking back onto the porch.
Thank God she lived in the good old US of A. Land of the free. She laughed to herself again as she reached into her housecoat pocket for another cigarette. Free, that is, if you’re not the other side of the six-acre field, banged up in a prison cell.
It was nearly dark. The only sounds to break this eerie silence were the flapping of the leaves of the tobacco plants, the occasional bark of a dog and the swish of the rigs as they travelled the highway.
Today was Veterans’ Day. She would pick up on the news after Bobby had taken his morphine and was asleep. She enjoyed the late shows.

Somewhere in the distance came a low humming sound. The night sky lit up over Three Rivers as if dawn had broken. A cloud of red and orange smoke, just like the one Bobby had pointed to on TV, rose in the sky, reaching out toward her, turning white as it moved. The sound came seconds later, an ear-shattering noise that pierced and burst her eardrums. She watched in horror as the earth began to vibrate beneath her feet, gradually at first and then, violently as the tremors increased. 
Beyond the highway, a curtain of water erupted from the ground. Her eyes began to cloud and sting. The federal correction centre, enveloped by the cloud a second ago was no longer there.
Mary Jo rushed into the cabin. Bobby dozed in the chair as she dug urgently at his arm. ‘We’re gonna die, baby,’ she cried. ‘We’re gonna see Millie.’ She glanced down at the cigarette in her hand. Her last thought was how she had finally beaten the curse of tobacco.
The six-acre field vaporised a split second before she did.


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