Chapter One: Begin the Beguine
By David bar Elias
Manhattan, New York, British Empire
Having served in Her Majesty's armed forces honourably as a Second Lieutenant for many years, your skills are now required once again. You are to report to the King George Military Academy and Training Centre no later than the 20th of February for re-commissioning as a Second Lieutenant in Her Majesty's armed forces. Failure to acknowledge this new order of events shall be regarded as desertion and gross High Treason, and punishable by the Defence of the Realms Act.........God Save the Queen
Unusually blunt for a call-up letter of any kind. Despite the fact that he was balding, and that his sight wasn't nearly what it used to be (even as a new recruit in 1973, he had required rather thick spectacles), Liam Nuttall wasn't going to shirk in his duty.
Not again, at least (as he put it using hind-sight).
And so, striding along Platform 11 to Troop Train 11-B, with another card marked with the term 'RS' on it (of which the meaning was a mystery) in his pocket, Liam Nuttall moved to restore honour to his name and heal the hole that his previous resignation had left him in his heart.
The compartment was already half-full by the time Nuttall found a window seat.
It was only then that he noticed that there were many other men in the crowd of milling would-be soldiers that were just as old as he was.
What the hell? Are we trying to annex China or something? He laughed softly at that last thought; the idea of any nation subjugating that empire of one billion industrious and tough-minded folk struck him as surreal, to say the least.
His thoughts were interrupted by a thud to his right. He saw that he had company. A snot-faced, pock-marked, and greasy haired form of company; Liam Nuttall disliked him on sight.
"'allo, 'allow!" boomed the scrawny man, who looked as though he were auditioning for the role of a Dickensonian villain in a play in Baltimore's theatre district. He extended his hand. Nuttall shook it firmly...after all, a Nuttall always had the strongest handshake...as great-granddad had drilled into him. "Name's Campbell. Adam Campbell! Fresh outa the city o' Brooklyn!" His accent sounded like the bastard son of a Cockney and a long-time resident of Manhattan's sister city. "What are ya doin' heah, gramps?"
"As a matter of fact-" began Nuttall, only to be cut off by the slovenly Campbell. The greasy man pointed suddenly at another recruit sitting two rows in front of them; he had a plain skullcap. Liam couldn't tell if he was Muslim or Jewish, although he would have assumed that latter.
Campbell took something out of his breast pocket. "Watch me pop one ovah the sheeny," he hissed, flecking the object, whatever it was, at the Jewish recruit.
Unfortunately for Campbell, the object narrowly missed the Jew and hit the man sitting in the next row-a big beefy man with very little neck. He turned around sharply. Adam Campbell ducked beneath the embroidered seat. The beefy soldier, his hair splattered with what looked like egg yoke, looked behind him. The Jewish would-be victim pointed him to Nuttall's row.
You're mine mouthed the bullish recruit at Nuttall. In the shock at being accused of such a dastardly prank, Liam Nuttall was only snapped out of that stupor by the stupid sniggering of recruit Campbell.
Then the train, groaning with the weight of the new (and returning, in many cases) recruits, began its journey to the illustrious King George Military Academy and Training Centre.
Of course, none of the men on board the train, least of all the greatly affronted Liam Nuttall or the wretched Adam Campbell, knew of the maelstrom that they were about to be sucked in. The fair majority would never grow old enough to engage in the contented sort of retirement that Nuttall himself had oh so suddenly been jerked out of.
The train moved north.