David Tallerman has a new gay sci fi/mystery out: “To End All Wars.”
“Thoughtful and atmospheric. A haunting story about loss, empathy and the human soul.”—Adrian Tchaikovsky, Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning author of Children of Time.
The horrors of the trenches unveil an extraordinary mystery…
It’s 1916, in the heart of World War I. The eve of the Battle of the Somme. During a perilous night mission in No Man’s Land, Lieutenant Rafael Forrester witnesses a peculiar light followed by a vast explosion.
Wounded and delirious, Forrester finds himself shipped home to England, to the country house hospital of Sherston, where he learns he may face a court-martial for the deaths of the men under his command. Yet in the strange environs of Sherston, where any act of rebellion seems impossible, Forrester soon comes to fear for more than his freedom: haunted by hallucinatory dreams of his time at the front, he suspects he may be losing his mind.
Little does he realize that Sherston conceals its own incredible secrets. Ones with the potential to change not only the course of the war, but all of human history.
Don’t miss this remarkable story of conflict, military service, discovery, and of a force beyond human comprehension. To End All Wars is an otherworldly thriller set during WWI. A mixture between 1917, Shutter Island, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Arrival.
Someone came up beside him. They weren’t wearing their gas mask; nonetheless, it was difficult in the darkness to make out features. From posture alone, Forrester identified Sergeant Stanley: the broad shoulders, somewhat hunched inside his too-tight jacket, were unmistakeable. Stanley was holding a Mills bomb high in one hand, and as he came alongside Forrester, he threw it with a bullish roar. Then a bullet caved in the whole side of his face. Forrester watched it happen, the bullet entering Stanley’s jaw on the left and exiting through his cheek in a bloody gout. He slipped on the mud of the slight incline, but before he could fall, another shot caught him full in the chest, and he fell backwards at an angle, sprawling near Forrester’s feet.
Other men were joining them, the line that had trailed Forrester into the depths of No Man’s Land swinging as though on a pivot. They were skidding in the filth, diving for any scrap of concealment, hunting the slenderest groove that might camouflage their presence. A couple more Mills bombs went sailing through the air, impacting with dull crumps.
Forrester was sure that the grenades would have fallen short. They were too far from the wire. He should be giving orders, but a tremendous numbness had taken hold of him, something akin to the feeling he’d endured in the dugout earlier but overwhelming now. He couldn’t take his eyes from Stanley’s face, from the piece of his jaw that hung by stringy tendrils of muscle. Did his own leg look like that? He couldn’t bring himself to check. If his leg had been shot half off, he had no desire to know–and he was conscious that the minutest of movements might expose him.
Yet the fighting was absorbing. He hadn’t quite abandoned the notion that he should be involved, or directing somehow. Several of the men were fitting rifles to shoulders, taking clumsy pot-shots. The exercise was useless, and he didn’t blame those others who were simply cowering, pressing low as if they hoped the defiled earth would swallow them. But there was so little cover. The bullets were arriving in hurried succession from the German lines, with deft, rapid cracks like the splintering of ice, and even as he listened, the clatter of a machine gun started up from somewhere to their left.
Left. Middleton’s platoon. Forrester thought vividly of Middleton, and imagination merged his countenance with Stanley’s, messily unhinging the soft, dimpled chin. The vision was horridly convincing. At that same moment, a flare from the German side bathed the scene in scouring alabaster light, casting crouched forms and the lines of the landscape into crisp relief. Nearby, a man raised his gas-masked head to fire and was hit in the face, the rear of his head surging away in the bullet’s wake. More rifle fire hiccoughed in competition with the machine gun’s mirthless laughter. Reality resumed with renewed harshness, like a wave dashing over him.
Forrester stood partway and took three tottering steps, toward where he believed their own lines to be. “Fall back,” he cried. “Fall back!”
A few of the men looked in his direction, one or two making moves to follow, as though on impulse. However, the leg wouldn’t hold him. He tumbled, landing with a hard splash. In any case, there was nowhere to fall back to. There was no safe route to their lines. Forrester managed to haul himself over the rim of a crater, then failed to halt his progress, so that when he came to rest, one arm and his injured leg were sunk in slime. There were two bodies beside him, partially raised from the mud. The nearest was bulging and distorted, close to disintegration. The other was more whole, and he thought that they might be one of his, maybe even alive, before he saw the cavity where their stomach had burst open.
All of his men, his platoon, would end up this way. He could hear them beyond the rim of the shell hole, calling to each other, perhaps to him–receiving no answer besides the retort of German bullets. They were trapped. Machine gun fire would chew them away to nothing, or else mortars, or their own shells. He had no means of leading them to safety, and the possibility was perverse, a responsibility exceeding what anyone could bear. Forrester tried to rise again, but his foot had caught under the water, and the attempt only dragged him farther down. His masked face sloshed into the mire. Even through the coarse and chemical-reeking cloth, the stink of foul water and seeping death invaded his nostrils.
It was too much. Forrester had never considered the war to be anything except a hideous necessity, but nor had he truly hated it, not until that moment. He had no precedent for the bitterness that rose within him. It was inordinate. It outweighed everything. Without warning, every resentment he had felt toward the conflict, toward any conflict, came together, and with it his fear for Middleton and for his men, and at the same time, an unbearable sadness, a sense of loss and of waste, of lives taken and lives broken and–
Light. Blue light.
No, green. Blue. He couldn’t be certain. The radiance above him was ethereal and changing, as though observed through shifting water. Yet it was also bright, dazzlingly so, and despite the intermediacy of the gas mask’s stained lenses, beautiful. Just the sight of it erased all of his sudden grief. It must be a flare, or a shell detonating in midair, but he had never in his life seen a shell or a flare anything like this.
Without warning, the sky exploded.
David Tallerman is the author of numerous novels and novellas, most recently the historical science-fiction drama To End All Wars, thrillers A Savage Generation and The Bad Neighbour and fantasy series The Black River Chronicles.
His comics work includes the graphic novel Endangered Weapon B: Mechanimal Science, with artist Bob Molesworth, and his short fiction has appeared in around a hundred markets, including Clarkesworld, Nightmare, Lightspeed, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies.
A number of his best dark fantasy stories were gathered together in his debut collection The Sign in the Moonlight and Other Stories.