The United States has seen its share of tragedy in the 21st century...
J. L. Bourne’s writing career began back in 2004. He had a few months of downtime while waiting to begin training in one of the U.S. Navy’s career field schools. Typically, service members in this kind of holding pattern are assigned menial duties; painting rocks, sorting mail, mopping floors.
Instead of using his free time for marathon arm and leg sessions in the gym, Bourne began writing what would become his first novel. He wrote and posted his work, chapter by chapter, for free on his own website, raptorman.us. The site is long gone. But, the following it generated attracted a publisher, and the chapters coalesced into Day by Day Armageddon, a zombie horror novel. It sold through 15 printings, and he’s since written four more books — including his latest, Tomorrow War — all while on active duty in the Navy. His fifth work of fiction departs from the popular undead genre, instead showing us what America’s future might look like absent the moral fabric that binds each member of a nation together.
We had the opportunity to catch up with Bourne while he was on leave from the Navy and ask him about his life, his military background, and his thoughts on how Americans can prevent the kind of a dystopian future he writes about in Tomorrow War.
Offgrid: Your bio says you’re a military officer with a background in intelligence service. Can you give us an idea what that means? Are you a spy?
J. L. Bourne: First, thank you for the opportunity to answer some your questions. I am an active-duty military officer with 20 years of service. For most of my military career, I’ve either been an all-source intelligence analyst or an overt signals intelligence (SIGINT) collector with a few odd jobs sprinkled in. I’m definitely not a spy.
Do your protagonists reflect your personality and experiences? How, or how don’t they?
JLB: I believe that every writer puts a piece of themselves into their characters. The protagonist in Day by Day Armageddon has some of my personality and experiences. The protagonist’s training background in Day by Day is a loose adaptation of my experiences after earning a commission in the military.
Why do you hate society? Did you have a rough childhood?
JLB: [Smiles.] It’s not fair to say I hate society; I admit that I do dislike certain aspects of it. I just feel that if you want something, you need to go out an earn it. My dad was born in a dirt floor cabin in Arkansas, and I came from practically nothing. I’d say I had a rough childhood by First World standards, but it didn’t stop me from rubbing some of that cabin floor dirt on my childhood wounds and joining the military to serve and to better myself. There is no such thing as a free lunch.
If you could erase one thing from the universe, what would it be and why?
JLB: I’d erase nothing. Famine, war, and pestilence have their place.
What was the impetus for Tomorrow War’s storyline?
JLB: The future Super State might say that Tomorrow War is thought crime. I wrote it based on my concerns on the state’s overreach of power. I’m not a conspiracy theorist; I see current events for what they are, not for what I want them to be. Current and future trends on subjects like gun control and dependency on the state are all specters in the novel. If we don’t change our course soon, we all could be fighting a tomorrow war.
So, you’re done with zombies?
JLB: [Smiles.] No, I don’t think so.
It seems like you thought a lot about the events depicted in your book. What can people do to prepare for something like this?
JLB: Don’t trust a single source of news. Read multiple sources so you can make an informed decision on where your tripwire might be. Besides the obvious stacking of bullets, beans, and Band-Aids, you’ll need intel and associations with like-minded individuals.
What do you hope people take away after reading the book?
JLB: I really hope they consider what I wrote in the first pages of Tomorrow War: “The thought crime ahead goes beyond the paradigm of right, left, Democrat, or Republican, the outdated behavioral placement control mechanisms, forcing us to choose between two heads of the same serpent. Slay the beast, turn the page, and choose liberty.”
Is there anything controversial in Tomorrow War?
JLB: My book shows what could happen in the future, how we might get there, and how we deal with it. There’s one part of the book where I talk about making IEDs [improvised explosive devices], and I guess that’s my response to people being concerned about police using MRAPs [mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles]. I’m just saying that if people are worried the police are going to turn tyrannical and start rolling tanks down the street, which is far-fetched, nothing is impenetrable. David can kill Goliath. History has taught us that there’s always a way to bring down a greater force and Tomorrow War goes into that a little bit.
What’s your everyday-carry loadout?
JLB: Sebenza folding knife, Glock 19, steel watch, and iPhone.
Do you prefer a 1911 or a striker-fired pistol? Why?
JLB: Striker-fired. In my direct interest to start another online 1911-versus-striker war, they’re generally more reliable and don’t require maintenance to keep them running properly.
Anything else you want to mention?
JLB: I’d like to thank our readers for the opportunity to be candid about myself, my work, and the current geopolitical situation we’re facing in America.
J. L. Bourne might be a popular novelist, but he’s no stranger to harsh conditions and potential life-and-death situations. As a U.S. Navy officer with extensive experience in firearms and survival training as well as intelligence gathering, he shared the top five things in his road warrior bag.
Editor’s Note: Our wheelhouse tends to focus on practical tutorials and hands-on gear reviews, but in an OFFGRID first, we present you with an industry exclusive: an excerpt of J. L. Bourne’s Tomorrow War. This realistic novel is about one man’s struggle to survive after the economy collapses and martial law overtakes the USA. May it serve as a cautionary tale about the perils of domestic tyranny and mass apathy. The book is set to go on sale June 30.
This definitely wasn’t like the movies. I’ve been here for two weeks, failed the polygraph on the first try, and have had the pleasure of visiting the company shrink twice. I passed the poly on my second attempt, and was told that most candidates take it three times on average. What I didn’t tell them was that I lied my ass off on both tests. I didn’t fall for the poly administrator wearing a fucking suit, or sitting higher up in his chair. I wasn’t intimidated, either. I toyed with the control questions, screwing up his baseline. On the first test, I was looking for weaknesses; on the second, I exploited them. The administrator bragged that he was a graduate of Fort McClellan, but I really didn’t care.
Beating a polygraph really isn’t difficult as long as you’re not an idiot and attempt to trick the box by putting a thumb tack in your shoe, or clenching your ass cheeks. Both of those urban myths only work in mid-list spy novels. The administrator is trained to catch bullshit tactics, and modern polygraph seats have pressure sensors built in, revealing any slight tenseness of the body during questioning.
The real secret in beating the lie detector? Don’t believe in it. The test only works if you have faith in the technology — something the administrator is trained to instill in you. If you know the test is bullshit, and you stick to your guns, you’ll pass. Eventually.
We PT every morning as a group, and some of us are fast. I’m not the hare of the group, but I’m not in the goon squad, either. I’m told we’ll be moving training sites to somewhere called the Point in a few days. There are case officers training with us, but I know that’s not why I’m here. The case officers seem to be taking different instructions. They are learning to establish rapport, and to develop agents. They seem to be spending a lot of time in conversation labs, learning the gift of gab . . . if you believe that sort of thing can be taught in a school. There are no laser watches or Walther PPKs here. Most of the case officers will graduate and do some time in Northern Virginia to meet and greet the analysts, before getting posted at some boring shithole in the desert. I’m only basing my predictions on the Arabic and Farsi I’ve heard them practice among themselves. I guess it turned out to be pretty handy for me growing up having Syrian grandparents.
Although the candidates with me now are all SERE trained and beyond, this place still had a few more things to teach us. We learned advanced resistance techniques that made the torture in Maine and Washington state look like preschool naptime. I don’t think I’ll have any permanent marks on the outside, but I can’t forget some of the things I had to watch. Two candidates have already dropped the program on request, signed their non-disclosure agreements, and headed back to their old lives.
I’m an only child; my parents are dead, and the rest of my family asks questions, but I’ve been assigned a passable cover. I’m not allowed to tell anyone who I really work for. Ever since Spokane, I’ve been instructed to say that I’m working for the State Department via the National Geospacial Agency as a government cartographer. To add authenticity, I was even sent to a monthlong ArcGIS school so that I could speak intelligently about digital mapmaking. The work numbers I’ve given out to family for emergencies get routed to a legit switchboard, where a message is taken by a NGA representative. I have been religiously playing down my cover employment, under-dramatizing my life. I hate lying to my aunt, as I’ve always seen her as a mother figure, especially since Mom died. The old house that Mom left me in the will doesn’t feel like home anymore without her there. If I want to drift back in time and feel nostalgia, I stay at my aunt’s house at least one night when I visit. I was practically raised thinking of my cousins as siblings. When things get intense during training, I try to dial it back by thinking of them all.
The most interesting thing I’ve learned in my two weeks here is when to kill. This skill was something I seriously lacked. I mean, what normal person thinks like this? In the beginning, I took quite a few simunition rounds to the chest before I started paying attention to the visual cues—facial expressions that would tell me that the contact wasn’t in the room to have a conversation. After four times in the training room, I started to notice them. Nervous tics and tells during negotiations that revealed the person across the table was about to kill me, via simulated ammunition. On the fifth session, I didn’t take the blue paint to the chest; my instructor finally got his own dose via my Glock 19. As sessions continued, different and more experienced instructors began to participate. They could be either hostile or only innocent assets. Sometimes I took the paint, and sometimes they did. After thirty sessions spread out over two days, I was told that I was finished with this particular block of training.
On the way out of the training area, I passed by Instructor Five in the hallway. He transmitted a subtle tell, and I quickly blasted him in the chest three times without even thinking.
In that moment, I thought I was finished, booted from the schoolhouse.
Instructor Five caught his breath and approached, extending his hand, his torso covered in paint. “Great work. That was your final test. Hesitation has killed more than a few of my friends. Trust your instincts and just shoot when you see the signs. Let us send the flowers after you exfil the country.”
After I converted my Glock back to its lethal 9mm hollow-point configuration, I left the chamber empty for a week until I was sure I could control the reflex to neutralize my instructors.
It seems like a stretch since I left the Farm for the Point, but it hasn’t really been that long—maybe six days or so. We’ve been doing a lot of training on expedient homemade explosives and detonators. We’ve also sat through instruction ranging from government destabilization operations to clandestine entry—I’ve broken lots of padlock shims and pick sets. We even learned how to make a pretty damn good pick with a battery-powered toothbrush and a hacksaw blade shaped with a file. Even with all the modern gadgets, a tension bar and a rake, and maybe a bump key, are good enough for most things.
Back to the explosives—who knew? Most explosive material issued to agencies by the government is chemically marked so that it can be traced back to whom it was issued if it ever turned up in a pile of rubble where a building used to be. This meant that all the dirty tricks that happen overseas needed to be from disavowable explosives. A good thing to remember. We’ve learned to make ricin (nasty stuff) from castor seeds, and the best way to employ it. Homemade plastic explosives. Coincidentally, most of the jerry-rigged stuff came via an instructor from Arkansas, whose father wrote a book on the subject years ago.
We’ve even done some agent development role-training. In one scenario, I was given fifty thousand U.S. dollars in a brown paper bag, and told to buy three agents through negotiations. I was told that buying agents was the most used tactic in the field to develop contacts. We practice this at odd times, with zero notice.
Twice since I’ve been here, a C-130 landed at our small airstrip; men would spill out and head over to the kill house. They seem to be unsure of exactly where they are. That makes both of us. I’m pretty sure they’re Delta or SEALs, but I didn’t risk asking. I hate taking the chance that I’ll be the one that the instructors remember. After the C-130 lands, the pilots don’t shut down. My small group boards with parachutes and other kit, and we do a jump. The plane lands, we get new chutes, and we jump again. Two jumps per C-130 a day seems to be the norm. Never more than three.
An NSA guy showed up yesterday, introducing himself as Mark [REDACTED]. He brought some pretty interesting software that my small cadre of specialized students needed to be familiar with so we can communicate securely from inside target countries. Mark, a pretty huge nerd from Fort Meade with likely a 170 IQ wore an “I Speak Qwghlmian” T-shirt to brief us on a bootable Linux USB distribution he designed just for us. He told us that the software was so encrypted that when examined forensically, it would look like blank, unused memory.
Mark demonstrated this to the small group by restarting the computer in the conference room with the tiny USB drive inserted. “I was hoping that when they pulled the hood off my head after I landed here, that I’d be at Area 51. No such luck.”
Most of us laughed at that.
“Anyway, when you restart the target computer, pinch the top and bottom of the USB stick to actuate a hidden pressure switch. This will, on most computers, change your boot options so you don’t have to fumble for a function key. The initial password for your custom distros is your mother’s maiden name, followed by your grandfather’s street address, all lowercase, no spaces. You’ll all be issued your own proprietary distro based on your mission set. You’ll also have a duress password.”
Mark demonstrated the boot process; it was fast, maybe five seconds to splash screen. On the plain desktop was an e-mail icon, accompanied by a skull and crossbones on the opposite side of the screen.
“You’ll recognize the e-mail icon; it’s secure—256-bit AES, encased in a separate 256-bit AES operating system with deniability native. Just type text and hit Send, no need to fill in addresses or subjects. This mode is meant to be a simple, secure, and expedient means of communications, nothing more.”
Mark hovered over the crossbones for a moment, seemingly choosing his words. “And this? You don’t want to fuck with the skull. Only click the skull if you think you’re about to be tied to an electrified mattress spring, à la Rambo. Clicking the skull will release a gnarly worm to the target system and network…