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Ashes of the Moon Chapter One (a)



Chapter One (a)


He moved quickly, because he knew that it was speed or death, and the tangled noise from the streets below sounded all too much like something that would trap him here until they came.


There was money, always; you were a fool if you worked in Kibilisa, Africa, and didn’t have a ready supply of get-me-outta-here-now money. American dollars, because they almost always worked, and little ingots of gold that could be pushed into the specially sown hems of his shirt and pants, and sideways into his boots. The most ignorant bastard child with a Kalashnikov understood the gleam of gold, and he knew all too well how it acted as a universal emollient, unblocking the pipes of industry with a shuffle of palm and nod of head. He shoved wads of tightly coiled cash into his pockets.


He grabbed for the shirt and jacket. Heavy duty, ex-Army, strong enough to keep the thorn bushes and mosquitoes at bay. He strapped his ammunition belt over the shirt, under the jacket. Felt odd, sliding his arms into them in his office, but Jensen Ackles knew about survival, knew all bets and doubts and feelings were out of this particular game. The ranger’s knife was next, slid into the sheath that soaked in his sweat at his side. Lastly, he reached for the old .303 rifle and checked the chamber. His hands were shaking.


Screams outside, breaking of glass and the sudden whump of serious fire. He had to go. The Norton Atlas motorbike he had stashed behind the stairs leading up to his first floor office was fuelled up, packed up, ready to go – but he longed, briefly, for something a little more protected as the sounds from below grew more frenzied. Still, what he lost in protection he gained in mobility, and he knew without looking just how clogged and manic the streets would be.


He slung the rifle across his shoulders. “Thanks, Jim,” he said, to a man one hundred and forty miles north and three weeks ago. He heard the closing of a cabinet in the next room, and glanced around once, in this office, as the only kind of goodbye he could spare. It was only now that he was about to leave that he realized he’d found a crazy kind of sanctuary here.


He grabbed his pack and opened the ratty door between his office and that of his partner. Lonsobwe Mbeka straightened from where he had shredded the most contentious of their files. He was a tall man with cornrow hair and a face like a maze, and Jensen felt a rush of affection and despair that almost undid him.


“I have last year’s pumpkins in my shed.” Lon had always done that, continued conversations from hours or days before without any attempt to re-contextualize. Every conversation was part of the same, long story of his life, and Lon saw no need for anything more than one beginning, one end.


Jensen shook his head. Lon read all that the gesture meant, and shook his head too, grinning.


“They’re good pumpkins. Too good to waste. What would the rebel bastards want with me and mine?” he said.


Jensen gave a vague wave at the office, his throat beginning to close up with emotion he really couldn’t afford. “I’ve got a lot of blood on my hands, Lon,” he said. “I can’t carry any more.”


“It is not your fault.” Lon’s tone was final. “The airport is a death place, now. Even if you had managed to get tickets, we couldn’t get to the planes.”


The pictures from the airfield, of hundreds cramming into the terminal, hundreds running up to and into the planes, had cut out the minute the rebels took the country’s only TV station over on Gamba Hill. The smoke there now was all the picture Jensen and Lon needed. Fighting in the streets, out by the industrial section, almost to the central business district - but they had half an hour, no more, and a week ago they’d been promised two months.


Jensen palmed his forehead.


“You could come with me, now. We’ll pick up Festina and the kids, grab a truck. Lon, I can’t just leave you here.”


“Jensen” – and he pronounced it ‘Jen –Sun’, as he always had – “we are Kiswali. So are the rebels. They are our brothers and sisters, eh? We will have a big barbecue and make friends with them.” He leaned closer, as if imparting a secret. “Jensen, I know how to make things happen. You know this.”


Yes, he did, but his belly was aching with loss and a kind of savage grief. Lon was brilliant, a genius, at getting businessmen to open their wallets or village elders to extend invitations. He could get police and army and bureaucracy to look away when they needed it. Lon could smooth the way through all kinds of briar patches, but that was when he had a chance to sit and smoke and drink kaffe with ‘reasonable’ men. The chances were strong that these children of war would shoot first before he had his gold cigarette case out to offer them the first cigarillo.


“Lon – “


“We are ‘siafu, my friend.” Warrior ants. “We will stay small and strong under their feet, and when the UN comes on its great white horse to rescue my great black arse we will rise up and nip the rebels all the way back to their caves. Jensen,” and he stepped forward, gripped Jensen’s forearm, “Allez et soyez sur.”


Go and be safe.


“Kubanda kyoweka.” Jensen’s voice was soft, as he returned the grip, looked into his old friend’s eyes. It was the Kiswali farewell – ‘to go and come’. To leave was no different to arriving, since it was all one under God.


Another series of shrieks outside, and the wailing of children. Jensen squeezed Lon’s arm once more, and stepped back. “I will look for you, my friend.”


“Eh, eh,” said Lon. “When this is over, you buy me a whisky. None of that American crap. Glenmorangie, yes?”


“Huh. In your dreams.” Jensen paused in the doorway. “Tell you what. We’ll go to Jim’s, have a steak and a scotch and I’ll kick your ass for not coming with me in front of that woman you stole to be your wife.”


“Nah nah nah,” Lon said, grinning widely. “She loves me. You are jealous, whitemeat. Sooo jealous.” The kindest woman in the world and four gorgeous children they’d salvaged from infancy and no, Jensen wasn’t jealous because right now their fragility and looming loss was taking his breath away. He didn’t understand the kind of courage that let Lon smile his farewells.


He waved, once, his own grin fixed, and turned away. The door to the back stairway was little more than a tired old mosquito screen and it really didn’t need the force he applied to bang it open. But chaos and terror were waiting and somehow Jensen felt he couldn’t just creep into it.


The office he and Lon had set up three years ago was in the truly downtown area of downtown. From where he stood he looked out over a sea of flat roofs, all made of the flattened kerosene tins that were the ubiquitous building materials of the developing world. Smoke was billowing from half a dozen places, and he could see that the tiny alleyways were choking with panicked people clutching children and belongings in despair. It had always been a beehive, but now it was ugly, and Africa did ugly in a spectacular way when it was in the mood. Jensen knew the chances of a white man getting out right now were lousy, but staying here like a cornered rat was impossible.


He ran lightly down the stairs to where the Norton was chained and hidden under a blue plastic tarpaulin. The tarpaulin came way easily, then he put the pack on his back, cleared the chains, swung his legs across the bike and put the key in the ignition. A roar, a throb, and the bike was easing forward into the maelstrom.


Jensen was well known in the area, and he had reason to hope he was well enough liked. But this was madness, now, and no-one would look to his name, just his skin and his means of escape. He swallowed, hard, and pushed forward, jostled and shoved as the bike almost tipped. Once he got onto the main road he had a chance of gaining speed but here it was nudge and press and hope to God no resident of the Maboso slums decided that the bike was their salvation and Jensen was the thing that stood between he and it.


He made steady but slow progress to the crossroads where the betel sellers usually sat, their mouths stained red, their calls growing softer and slower through the day. The alleyway opened up into a wider road twenty yards ahead, and for one moment a space seemed to clear for him. He gunned the engine, surged across and reached the last shack before the roadway. He could see the white dust stirred up by a thousand feet, but cars were making their way and so could he. Five blocks east and the main road to Tanzania opened up even further. All the traffic would be going south, away from the rebel advance; but Jensen was heading north.


The engine between his legs picked up a deeper thrum and he leaned into the corner. And suddenly, he was down, his back was burning, and a man with a machete was swinging wildly at him, at the bike.


Jensen had fallen hard, his leg still beneath the bike before it spun off him to crash onto its side ten feet away. The man raised the machete again and Jensen reached to his sheath, wrenched out the knife and plunged it into the man’s calf. It was all so fast he had no time for conscious thought; just an immediate, deep no that filled his senses and forced him to his feet despite the pain that seared him when he moved.


The man was howling, maddened with terror and agony, still waving the machete as if he could subdue the fear by hacking it to death. Jensen staggered sideways, aiming for his bike, but the attacker followed, shrieking curses and stabbing viciously through the air.


“Fuck!” He didn’t know what had happened to his back, but the cold determination that filled him made Jensen swing the rifle off his shoulders and turn to face the madman. “Fuck off, asshole. Nu iimana!”


Suddenly the man slumped to the ground, grabbing at his leg where the blood was pouring from the wound. His shrieks were wails, now, and Jensen stumbled to his bike, one hand keeping the rifle aimed at him, the other reaching to right the Norton. Already there was a small knot of frightened people forming in the larger tangle around him, and Jensen began muttering a mantra of “Back off, fuck off, get away” as more and more pressed closer. He swung the rifle round in a complete arc and as deeply afraid as they were, the people in the dusty street recognized the immediate threat and did as he said.


The moment he tried to right the bike his back flared with pain, and he cursed again. No, dammit, this is bullshit, and although it didn’t make sense it was as much a cry of indignation as anything. He was not going down less than a block from the office. After all he’d done, all he’d survived, there was no way he was going as meekly and stupidly as that.


He got the bike up, mounted, and gave a silent prayer of thanks when it started again without flooding. On this street he could find a little pace, and when he got to the main road it was better again. Going against the traffic and on a bike gave him the chance to weave his way through, drivers too surprised to do anything but veer away from him. It took him less time than he’d feared before he reached the eastern turnoff, and without hesitation, he took it.


His plan was not foolproof. Lon had stared at him quizzically, then shrugged. “Maybe you are right, Jensen. Maybe you’re crazy.” He’d shrugged again, and then snorted out a thick stream of smoke. “Merde.”


Two hundred and twelve miles to the north was the Gamba River. Across that lay Tanzania and sanctuary. One hundred and forty miles north was Jim Beaver’s farm, Anyima. One hundred and eighty miles east lay the rebel stronghold. The rebels had launched themselves with astonishing speed and ferocity in an arc of devastation that cut between where Jensen was in Maboso and where he wanted to go. They’d come before the rains, when every pundit had declared that a major push would wait until after the wet season. They’d come while the UN dickered, while the Government churned money and power between themselves in a kind of incestuous orgy of incompetence and greed, while the army spent their time in the newly built casino in De’shwali or home on their farms. In two weeks they’d crossed terrain the experts had declared would take them two months to conquer, if at all. They’d had Kalashnikovs and trucks and a scorched earth policy that meant they didn’t have to watch their backs as they went. There was no-one left to defend against.


The first reports of the massacres had been dismissed, then the reports had stopped and it was only air surveillance that began incredulously sending photos that showed impossible pictures of impossible disasters. The government forces had been routed in eight days.


Everyone wanted out, and south or west made sense until the rebels swept across the northern routes from east to west and descended upon Maboso from there.  Then south was the only sane option, and Jensen knew that sanity wasn’t always the way to play it in Africa. Especially not when his friend in the Australian embassy had pulled him aside and told him, with a gravity she’d never shown him before and that chilled him to see, that the southern borders would be closed in the next few hours.


Jim Beaver was the smartest guy he knew. His farm was tucked back and away in a small valley, well north of where the rebels were reported as operating. From Jim’s place it was another seventy odd miles to the river, and a crossing that could be made with the right connections.


Jensen swerved and pushed and drove hard, heading up the eastern road that lead straight to the rebel base camp. He’d head east until he hit the village of Kaga’ill, then strike north, right across rebel lines. He planned to go fast, hard, and stupid, and just prayed that if he met up with the rebels they’d be too astonished to do anything before he was nothing more than dust in their faces.

Chapter One (b)


( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 24th, 2009 02:19 am (UTC)
As soon as I saw the names and I realised it was you guys, I KNEW this was going to be an awesome story with great artwork and I wasn't disappointed at all.

The detail in it is fantastic and your characters are beautifully fleshed out. I could see every where the boys went, I could smell the death around them as bodies were discovered. As it got to the end, I thought---no, she WOULDN'T--although... yes, you would if the story called for it.

This is without a doubt the best story to come out in this year's Big Bang.

It's a keeper on my eBook. Very, very well done story.
Jul. 27th, 2009 04:57 am (UTC)
Wow, deej, thank you. I only just discovered this (I'm not too surefooted on LJ yet), so I do apologise for the delay in responding. Thanks so much for taking the time to read it and letting me know you enjoyed it.

And thank you for telling me you're going to keep it - well, a writer couldn't ask for more. I'm thrilled to bits. It's very, very much appreciated.

Sep. 15th, 2009 05:49 pm (UTC)
Okay, you know what, you're effing crazy. You commented on my dystopian/F451 fic that my writing puts you off of your own hackery. But that is nonsense, because this set-up is sooooo creative and beautiful and dark and it most definitely introduces the best imagery for how serious this situation is. I'm anxious and disturbed in the right ways about this world you've created. The language is tight and descriptive. And I so wish I didn't have to get back to work in ten minutes because I want to just keep, keep, keep reading this (but I will later, of course).
Sep. 15th, 2009 09:31 pm (UTC)
Oh! I am so thrilled you're reading this! Thank you very much. And thank you very kindly for the encouraging comments. I hope the rest lives up to this in your judgment.

Sep. 15th, 2009 09:36 pm (UTC)
Based on how BIG of encouragement and approval grace_fully and karabou have given me on this, I'm sure it will be excellent.

I only apologize for not getting to it sooner. For one, it fell off my radar when other stuff popped up, and two, I'm trying to be better about time spent reading too much of this stuff (I become a zomble camped out in my room for hours on end and my parents may start to think I'm going crazy, haha).
Sep. 15th, 2009 10:27 pm (UTC)
Oh, well those two are gorgeous. They're very, very kind (and bloody good writers themselves).

And I had to laugh at your description of the zombie camp-out. I have a lot of work I'm expected to do at home, and do you reckon I got to half of it while BigBang was on? Every day I'd promise myself, right, study; and every damn day another couple of J2s were posted and I'd get sucked right back into reading them. This fandom is so prolific at the best of times - I just can't keep up with all the amazing fic that's out there.
Sep. 16th, 2009 12:51 am (UTC)
Oh man, that happened to me with work for sure, too. And I'd spend so much time on the train - to and from work - reading on my phone. SO addictive.
Sep. 27th, 2009 06:15 pm (UTC)
What a great beginning! You've pulled me right into Jensen's world.
Sep. 27th, 2009 10:03 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad! Thank you for reading. I hope you stick with it and enjoy the rest.

Sep. 28th, 2009 01:58 am (UTC)
I did. =) And I was very impressed. I found it a very powerful story. Though I was half-afraid you were going to leave us with the tragic ending. And I was even going to be okay with that, because Jensen would have died keeping Jared and the kids safe.

There were a lot of wonderful lines, in the story, and I wish I'd noted them down, as I went along. But I didn't. Not until I got to Chapter 13, that is, and just about teared up when I read this:

The salesman vanished, to be replaced by a hawk-eyed man with sadness in every line of his face.
“I do. You knew my Jensen, you see.”

His Jensen. *sniff*

And then when Jared told Lon that Jensen had led him to believe he was a mercenary, and Lon replied, Did you need him to be?

That really got to me, too.

I had had a suspicion, in the beginning that Jensen wasn't a mercenary. The way Jared had been so quick to jump to that conclusion, I thought that might be a clue that that wasn't what Jensen was, at all. But then I kind of forgot about that, as the story went along.

You know, as I was reading, I wondered what your experience with Africa might be, because the landscape you created (the people, the language, and the place) seemed so detailed and authentic. So I was going to ask, but then I saw the Author's Notes, and you answered that question, for me, there.

I can only imagine how much effort you poured into this fic, Corby--both to perfect the prose and to add all that detail to make us feel like we really were plucked down in the middle of an African civil war. Major, major kudos.
Sep. 28th, 2009 10:11 pm (UTC)
Thank you for your lovely feedback, and in particular for highlighting those lines and moments that worked best for you. I think that really helps a writer to get a sense of what is connecting with readers, and I really appreciate the time you've taken to do that.

I didn't go out of my way to obscure Jensen's non-mercenary status, but I didn't highlight it either, so some readers, like you, had a sense that something wasn't right, and others just accepted Jared's suspicions as correct. I've enjoyed it when people got a surprise that Jensen was an engineer, but those who spotted Jensen's reaction to Jared's comments get a big tick for paying attention!

I wish I had gone to Africa! I'd dearly love to visit. My daughter's dad is African, but I've never been closer than the Middle East. I am so glad that it seemed real to you! Thank you for that.

And thank you for reading, and for giving me your time for an hour or so. It means a great deal to me that you've done so and then let me know what you thought. It's incredibly kind and generous of you!

(Deleted comment)
Oct. 26th, 2009 09:20 am (UTC)
Re: amzing first chapter
Because I lack the patience to do the long, slow story development that the really top writers do! I always want to get where I'm going in my writing. I so admire those who take the detailed, leisurely route.
Feb. 2nd, 2010 06:08 am (UTC)
I'm late but I need to say this: this is AWESOME!
Feb. 3rd, 2010 10:16 am (UTC)
Thank you! I hope you enjoy the rest, and thanks so much for reading.

Mar. 23rd, 2010 06:04 pm (UTC)
I just finished reading this and must say, fantastic. One of the greats, for sure. I love how epic the whole thing is, between the romance and tragedy and even the setting. My favorite part has to be when Jensen first sees Jared and thinks "There you are." Like they've known eachother forever. Also, I was wondering if the story about the sun and moon was an actual myth or if you created it. If so, could you point me to a reference? Anyways, thanks so much for sharing.
Mar. 30th, 2010 05:10 am (UTC)
Hello, and I'm sorry it's taken me a few days to get back to you - RL has been flatchat.

Thank you so much for reading and commenting. And I'm delighted you like 'There you are' - it was one of those moments that just arrived in my head, a real gift. I see an awful lot in the story that I got wrong, but that's a bit I genuinely like, so I thank you for noticing it and am really glad it worked for you.

The myth was completely my invention, but I have read a lot of mythology over the years.

Thank you again, for your kindness. I appreciate it very much.
Apr. 21st, 2010 06:11 am (UTC)
Only half of a chapter and I'm already freaking out. And I mean that in a good way
Apr. 21st, 2010 09:57 am (UTC)
*g* I hope you enjoy the story. It gets intense. Thank you for reading.
Apr. 22nd, 2010 06:42 pm (UTC)
I've actually just read all of this in one go. i literally couldn't put my lap-top down. It was totally amazing, wonderfully fleshed-out characters and fascinating background. Hoping for more stories from you in the future!
Apr. 23rd, 2010 09:47 am (UTC)
Wow! That's a pretty fair effort, to read it through. Thank you!

I'm so glad you thought the characters were fleshed out - that's important to me, so it is very rewarding to get that comment.

Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I do appreciate your kindness, very much. As for more - slowly, slowly. Not in time for this year's BB, unfortunately. But maybe down the track.

Apr. 23rd, 2010 06:07 pm (UTC)
I know this is your only venture into J2, but do you have some Spn fic lurking? I can't find a Masterfic link.
Feb. 28th, 2013 10:09 pm (UTC)
Awesome start. Might have to share the 'gushing and gooey' with you. I'll keep reading.
Mar. 1st, 2013 05:09 am (UTC)
Re: yay
Well, thank you! That's really kind, and much appreciated. I hope you end up enjoying however much you read. And I just had a realisation that, despite not being a Supernatural viewer, you'd definitely know Jim Beaver! Again, it's a matter of 'casting' him in the role; it's not Jim Beaver, the actor who wrote a book about his wife, etc; it's Jim cast as this bloke.
( 23 comments — Leave a comment )



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