Excerpt from Red Birds by Mohammed Hanif, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Red Birds

by Mohammed Hanif

Red Birds by Mohammed Hanif X
Red Birds by Mohammed Hanif
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    May 2019, 304 pages

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Naomi Benaron
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Print Excerpt

Chapter 1
Ellie

On the third day, I find the plane. I'd been looking for something to eat or drink, anything of nutritional value really. I know that I can't survive for long on the measly rations in my survival kit. A ripped parachute and regulation sunglasses were all I had found on my bruised ass when I came to. Roving Angels would be on their way to rescue me, but sometimes Angels can take their time and in order for this rescue to be successful I need to stay alive.

I unzip my survival kit again to inspect its contents, the things that will keep me alive.

Four energy bars.
Two vitamin smoothies.
A roll of surgical cotton.
A roll of surgical gauze.
Needle and thread.

They give you a 65-million-dollar machine to fly, with the smartest bomb that some beam rider in Salt Lake City took years to design, you burn fuel at the rate of fifteen gallons per second and if you get screwed they expect you to survive on four energy bars and an organic smoothie. And look, a mini pack of After Eight. Somebody's really spent a lot of time trying to provide the comforts of a threestar hotel. Here, have another towel. Now go die.

I look down and notice that my left boot, my flying boot, is smeared with blood. I pat myself on the forehead, move my limbs about: nothing broken. I wriggle my toes in my boots: all fine, nothing bleeding. A perfect landing. Now if I could only find some part of the plane, more like some remains from that 65-million-dollar machine, my chances of survival might increase. Chin up. Check pockets for any clues. Nothing. Standard maps. A ballpoint pen. A couple of rivets. Always carry them, just in case. A bunch of rivets have never harmed anyone lost in a desert.

Sand in my breast pocket. A half-finished, in fact just begun, letter.
Dearest Cath, I write this with the heaviest of hearts...

I am in shock, it will come back to me. Right now, to preserve the clues, to make a positive location ID...

My nametag says Ellie and there's an oxygen mask around my neck. There are no ranks on my flying suits, there never are in combat situations. A captain would be too junior to be flying without a formation, most colonels are too elevated and sensible to end up in a desert without a map. So, yes, say hi to Major Ellie.


It started with a meeting with Colonel Slatter. I remember a cup of black coffee, a glazed doughnut and an informal meeting for my annual appraisal.

I wondered what the fuck they were evaluating me for. Everyone was shedding their load in the designated zone, so was I. Did they think that I worked in the household appliances department at Sears? Have I sold enough bed linen? Am I a team player? Do I respect the sanctity of fire exits?


But there are forms to be filled out, even in the middle of a war. And, for Colonel Slatter, filling out the forms for a three-sixty-degree peer evaluation is the war.


Look around, the horizon is clear, the sky as blue as the colour of Cath's eyes. Perfect day for one last mission. Not too far ahead of me the sky dips and merges into the sand. I can't see a single leaf of grass, not even dried-up bush. Earth is a hotplate that doesn't even allow for reptile tracks, even the scorpions seem to have abandoned this godforsaken desolation. Nothing even pretending to be food. I should have eaten that doughnut.


The appraisal had been going well, I thought, I had earned the respect of my juniors and seniors. I had completed my Advanced Desert Survival course. I had completed my Cultural Sensitivity course with distinction though I'd failed to enrol in the compulsory foreign language course, preferably from a high-intensity conflict area. I had not missed a single PTSD session with the squadron's designated therapist. When we got to next year's objectives, I'd mumbled that I wanted a position on the Staff and Command course. 'Not enough points to make the cut,' the Colonel told me. 'Drone operators are running the show now. Zoomies are going out of fashion. We are just museum pieces they keep for old times' sake.'

Red Birds © 2018 by Mohammed Hanif. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Black Cat, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.

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