In 1952 American cities lie in ruins. President Harry Truman, in office since 1945, presides over a makeshift government in Philadelphia, suffering his own personal loss and fearing for the future of democracy. In the wake of Hitler’s reign, Germany and America have become allies, and Stalin’s vise hold on power in the USSR persists. Unwilling to trust the Soviet tyrant, Truman launches a long-planned nuclear strike on the city of Omsk—killing Stalin and plunging the Red Army into leaderless, destructive anarchy. Meanwhile, the Baltic states careen toward rebellion, and Poland is seized by rebels bred on war. In a world awash with victims turned victors, refugees, and killers, has Truman struck a blow for peace or fueled more chaos?
As these staggering events unfold, the lives of men and women across battle lines, ethnicities, and religions play out around the globe. In Los Angeles, an extended Jewish family builds a future, while the foul smell of a refugee camp in Santa Monica blows in on the ocean breeze. In Korea, a U.S. fighter struggles to bring his Korean interpreter stateside as a full American. In Siberia, two German women fight for their survival in a gulag—and begin a strange, harrowing journey home.
From the terrifying global chess match between superpowers to the strength of individual human conscience, Armistice captures a world that’s been split to its core by the violence only mankind can create. Through the thunder of battle, the clashes of armies, and the whispers of lovers, how humanity will be rebuilt, and who will do it, are the questions that resound in this marvelous work of imagination and history.
Praise for Armistice
“The story’s focus remains on ordinary characters and how they cope with their particular circumstances. . . . Readers who savor the patient accumulation of detail around each scenario will by now be thoroughly addicted.”—Kirkus Reviews
“The series is entertaining and explores life on the razor’s edge.”—SFRevu
Related collections and offers
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Something like glass crunched under the soles of Harry Truman’s shoes as he walked through the ruins of Washington. Two men with Geiger counters walked ahead of him. They both wore gauze surgical masks that covered their faces south of the eyes.
They’d offered him one, too, but he’d turned them down. He’d had all he could do not to laugh at them. He was breathing in radioactive dust? He might die sooner if he didn’t filter it out? To say he didn’t give a good goddamn showed how little language could really do.
Close to half of him already wished he were dead. Then he could have Bess and Margaret for company again. He’d been flying back from a political rally in upstate New York when the Russians hit the center of Washington with one A-bomb and the Pentagon with another. If there’d been any air-raid alarms at all, they hadn’t come soon enough to let his wife and daughter make it to the shelter under the White House.
George Marshall had been positive the Soviet Union didn’t have the air-to-air refueling capability to let its Tu-4s (monkey-copied B-29s with Russian nameplates and hood ornaments) reach the East Coast of the United States. The Secretary of Defense had had the courage of his convictions. He’d been working late at the Pentagon when the second bomb hit. Like most of the enormous building (not like all of it—the Pentagon had been too vast for one atom bomb to destroy it completely, a scary thought if ever there was one), he’d gone up in the fire and smoke and ash and dust.
Turning his head for a moment, Truman looked back toward the Capitol. The blast that leveled the White House had also smashed Congress’ longtime home. It knocked off the Capitol’s dome and left it lying, shattered and broken, on the Mall below. Seeing it there reminded the President of what happened when a tank turret took a direct hit from a large-caliber shell.
“What a mess,” Truman muttered. “What a fucking mess!”
One of the men with the Geiger counters turned his way. The morning sun glinted off the fellow’s steel-rimmed specs, making him look even less human than he would have otherwise. “What did you say, sir?” he asked.
“I said, ‘What a mess,’ ” Truman answered. “And it is.” He’d been an artillery captain during the First World War. He knew how to cuss, all right. But he didn’t swear all the time, and he mostly didn’t do it for show. He wasn’t sorry the Defense Department technician hadn’t heard him this time.
“Oh.” The man gave back a grave nod. Truman still couldn’t see what color his eyes were. He went on, “It sure is. ’Course, we’re still hitting those Red bastards harder than they’re hitting us.”
“Uh-huh.” Truman nodded in return. From everything he knew—and he knew more than anyone except perhaps Joe Stalin—that was true. However true it was, it offered scant consolation to him, or to the hundred thousand or so who’d died here along with his wife and daughter, or to the additional hundreds of thousands who’d perished in New York City and Boston, or to their friends and relations.
Philly would have got it, too, only the Tu-4—the NATO reporting name was Bull—with its bomb had gone down short of the target. For the first time since the turn of the nineteenth century, Philadelphia was the de facto capital of the USA because it hadn’t got hit.
Not that the United States had one hell of a lot of government to put there. Truman was still alive, but he didn’t take up much room. Seven of the nine Supreme Court justices survived; they’d been at a legal convention in St. Louis when the bombs dropped. But Congress was gutted like one of Hemingway’s marlins after he finally dragged it into the boat.
Neither House nor Senate had a living, breathing quorum. Governors could appoint new Senators to complete unfinished terms. But if you listened to the Constitution, Representatives had to be chosen in special elections. That took time, and time was in desperately short supply in the United States right now.
More glass clinked under Truman’s feet. Till the A-bomb fused it, it had been dirt or sand or concrete. It was glass now, almost the color of a Coke bottle but less transparent and full of imperfections. He stooped, picked up a piece, and held it in his palm. “How hot is this thing?” he asked the men from the Department of Defense. He wasn’t talking about the temperature.
They eyed each other. “Well, let’s see,” said the one with the glasses. He aimed the business end of his Geiger counter at the chunk.
Truman heard a click, then another and another. They came faster than they had when the technicians were just sniffing the air, so to speak. “What does that mean?” the President asked.
“About what you’d expect, sir,” the man said. “It’s more radioactive than the air—this has to be somewhere close to ground zero—but it isn’t hot enough to hurt you in a hurry. You can keep it if you want to.”
“No, thanks!” Truman had a hard time imagining anything he wanted less. He threw away the atomic glass as hard as he could. It shattered into half a dozen pieces. Sadly, he shook his head. A tiny bit of destruction on top of the big blast, he thought. Looks like destruction is all people are good for.
But it was an ill wind indeed that blew nobody any good. Among the elected officials the Soviet A-bomb had incinerated was the junior Senator from Wisconsin. Joe McCarthy had been the favorite to grab the Republican Presidential nomination at the upcoming convention. Truman knew too well that, given the Democrats’ popularity on account of the war, whoever the GOP chose was odds-on to breeze to the White House (or wherever he’d stay till there was a White House again) come November.
Well, it wouldn’t be Tail-Gunner Joe. Truman suspected Stalin had saved America from swallowing a good stiff dose of Fascism. Now . . . Robert Taft had also died. That should have left the field wide open for General Eisenhower. Truman didn’t like Ike, but also didn’t think him a bad man.
But McCarthyism seemed to be a vampire that hadn’t yet had a stake pounded through its heart. A young Senator from California had taken up the cudgels for the late, unlamented (at least by Truman) Joseph McCarthy. Dick Nixon’s nose reminded people of Bob Hope’s. Nixon might be a lot of things, but funny he wasn’t.
That, however, was the Republicans’ problem. The Democrats’ problem was that their leading candidate still among the living was Adlai Stevenson. Truman admired his principles and his brains. The combination had taken Stevenson a long way (his being the son of a prominent politico hadn’t hurt, either). But he was not the kind of man to whom the average little guy readily warmed. And, like every other Democrat in the race, he ran with a uranium-weighted anvil on his back.
Quietly—almost whispering, in fact—Truman said, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
“Sir?” asked the technician with the specs. Truman still hadn’t seen what color his eyes were.
“Nothing,” the President said hastily. “Never mind.” If those weren’t the saddest nine words in the English language, what would be?
He hadn’t thought Stalin would retaliate if he used A-bombs in Manchuria to gum up the Red Chinese supply lines and keep Mao Tse-tung from gobbling up all of Korea after his men destroyed the UN force near the Yalu. But Stalin must have decided that letting the United States beat up his biggest ally without hitting back would cost him too much face. And here Truman was, a year and a half later, shuffling through the wreckage of Washington, D.C.
“Ask you something, Mr. President?” that Defense Department man said.
“You can always ask. I don’t promise to answer,” Truman said.
“Sure.” The fellow nodded. His eyes were gray, gray as skies that threatened rain. He went on, “Is it true that the Russians’ satellites are getting frisky? You gotta understand, sir: my last name is Plummer, but my old man changed it from Plazynski.”
Had Truman had a nickel for every time he’d heard a story like that, he would have been too rich to worry about politics. “They’re frisky, all right,” he answered. “We aren’t quite sure how frisky, but enough to make the Russians wish they weren’t.”
Somewhere up ahead of Ihor Shevchenko, a machine gun suddenly started spitting death and mutilation at the Red Army men. “Yob tvoyu mat’!” he shouted at the Poles on the other end of the murder mill. He was of Ukrainian blood himself, but only the pure Russian obscenity let him tell them what he thought of them and their piece.
Without conscious thought, he pulled the entrenching tool from his belt and flipped more dirt onto the heap in front of his foxhole. His shiver had nothing to do with conscious thought, either. That wasn’t just any machine gun. It was a Nazi MG-42. During the last war, the terrified Red Army men who had to go up against them tagged them Hitler’s saws.
Here was another one in the stinking Poles’ hands. How many had they grabbed and hidden as the Russians liberated their country from the Germans for them? (That the USSR had helped the Reich assassinate Poland a few years earlier was something that had never crossed Ihor’s mind.)
Or maybe the bandits Ihor’s section was fighting had got the machine gun from the Polish People’s Army. When it formed, it might well have been happy to latch onto whatever weapons it could grab. For that matter, maybe the bandits the Red Army was fighting had come from the Polish People’s Army themselves. Poles and Russians never had loved one another. As a Ukrainian, Ihor could have been neutral in their squabble. That the Poles were trying to kill him, though, cost him his detachment.
The MG-42 fell silent. Rifles in Polish hands—Russian Mosin-Nagants and German Mausers—opened up from near the tumbledown barn where the monster dwelt. They had less firepower than it did. It stayed quiet longer than a minute: just long enough to get Ihor’s hopes up. Then it roared back to life.
Changing the barrel, Ihor thought. You had to do that every couple of hundred rounds or it would overheat. During the last war, the Fritzes had been far quicker than these clodhoppers were. In the end, it hadn’t saved them. In the end, this MG-42 wouldn’t save these Poles, either.
“Mortar crew!” Ihor shouted. “What’s the matter with you pussies, anyhow? Put some bombs down on that cocksucker!”
He was just a corporal, but he sounded as pissed off as a field marshal. A sergeant had had the company since another MG-42 did for poor, brave Lieutenant Kosior. Nobody was long on manpower these days.
And nobody answered his shout. Had the machine gun taken out the crew? That would be horrible. Mortars were some of a foot slogger’s favorite toys. They were almost like dehydrated artillery.
But then 82mm mortar rounds started dropping close to and on the beat-up barn. Ihor whooped every time smoke and dirt fountained up from a burst. Those Poles over there would be shitting themselves with fear. Between whoops, he grunted. It wasn’t as if he’d never done that himself.
Planks flew as the mortar scored a direct hit on the barn. The wreckage started to burn. The bandits’ MG-42 cut off in the middle of a long, ripping burst.
“Forward!” Ihor called to his men. “But careful, you dumb pricks! They may be conning us.”
He didn’t want to come out of his foxhole, any more than a mouse wanted to come out of its burrow. The mouse was afraid of weasels and foxes and hawks. Ihor had worse things, things that could kill from farther away, to worry about. If you were going to lead, though, you had to lead.
“For Stalin!” he yelled as he scrambled toward the burning barn. He didn’t love the Soviet leader—few Ukrainians who’d lived through the famines could—but he had to sound as if he did. Some of his men also took up the cry. He was no Chekist. He didn’t care whether they meant it or not.
“Fuck Stalin!” a Pole shouted. Russian and Polish weren’t very far apart to begin with. And quite a few Poles had had Russian rammed down their throats lately, so they could understand what their Soviet bosses told them to do.
The machine gun stayed quiet. He breathed a sigh of relief—the mortar really had put it out of action, then. It could have slaughtered his company and him if the crew was lying low, but evidently not. He felt like a cat that had just used up one of its nine lives.
Then he laughed, which wasn’t something he did every day with rifle rounds cracking past him. He’d long since used up a cat’s nine lives. This was probably somewhere close to his nine hundred ninety-ninth.
As if to remind him of that, his leg twinged. A chunk of missing flesh, a nasty scar, and a limp were souvenirs of his nearest brush with death in the Great Patriotic War. They’d even kept him out of the Red Army for a while this time around. Then, as things heated up and more and more sound men went into the sausage grinder, they hadn’t any more.
Maybe his leg was trying to tell him something. He flopped down onto his belly in a wide, shallow hole in the ground—say, the kind of hole a 105 or 155 round might have made in the last year of the last war. It was muddy at the bottom, not that he cared.
Cautiously, he peered out and ahead. Motion focused him as if he were a hunting beast. The man who was moving didn’t wear a uniform just like his. Without any conscious thought, Ihor squeezed off a burst from his AK-47.
A Kalashnikov didn’t have the range of an ordinary rifle. But it was fine out to three hundred meters or so: twice as far as a submachine gun. Only snipers usually needed to hit from farther away than that. And an AK-47 put a lot more rounds in the air than a bolt-action rifle.
One of them hit the Pole, or Ihor thought so. The fellow went down like a man who’d just stopped a bullet, anyhow, not like someone diving for cover.