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| || Balance of Power || |
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| || by Enak Nomolos || |
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| || Copyright 2022 by Enak Nomolos || |
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| || This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places || |
| || and incidents either are products of the author’s || |
| || imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance || |
| || to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, || |
| || is entirely coincidental. || |
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| || Any reproduction, modification, publication, || |
| || transmission, transfer, sale distribution, || |
| || display or exploitation of this information, || |
| || in any form or by any means, or its storage || |
| || in a retrieval system, whether in whole or in || |
| || part, without the express written permission || |
| || of the copyright holder is prohibited. || |
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| || Copyright 2021 by Enak Nomolos || |
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| || Part 1 || |
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| || ....... ...... ...... || |
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| || You cannot forever escape from the storm; || |
| || you must learn to stand up to it. || |
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| || Mehmet Murat Ildan || |
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| || The world will not be destroyed by those || |
| || who do evil, but by those who watch them || |
| || them without doing anything || |
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| || Albert Einstein || |
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Chapter 1 -- HXGGOULLFQKM
Alex sat in the right side seat of the Typhoon as the driver turned if off
the highway onto a dirt road. The entrance to the road was almost
invisible, difficult to find even if one was aware of its location. All
the vehicles in the operation had been painted to make them difficult to
see from the air, their predominantly medium grey color blended with the
asphalt roads they would be on most of the time. Rolling down a dirt road
with a trailing plume of dust was not optimal, but the target was close
and soon they would be invisible from above as they entered the
Eleven more of the armored fighting vehicles were converging on the area,
having been hidden around the countryside just minutes away. They should
all hit the main entrance and two smaller gates at about the same time.
The entire base was less than half a square mile in area, roughly square,
with a double fence around it. Patrols inside and out, and between the
fences, where the main defense. The fences would not stop anything except
people, but the constant surveillance would immediately alert the defenses
once they arrived.
The inside information they had indicated that there were unlikely to be
much more than five hundred personnel. Six hundred would be the absolute
maximum, a couple of their informants had told them. A considerable
number of them would be support personnel - capable of fighting but
unlikely to have weapons at hand at any given time. Probably a hundred or
more would be in the woods and patrolling the perimeter - secrecy and
vigilance were apparently their primary defense. Neither would avail them
anything, thought Alex as they entered the woods, not moving as fast as
the driver dared along the narrow trail.
Gordon and Tyler were in two of the other Typhoons, and Alex waited for a
call to indicate their position. He didn't have to wait long before
"Just hit the trees." he said.
"We're about a minute in." replied Alex, as Tyler joined them.
"We're in now" he said.
The installation was roughly in the center, so they should all hit it at
about the same time.
"Report by numbers" called Gordon. He was the operational commander, and
they were counting on his years of combat experience.
One by one the remaining units called in. About another minute, thought
Alex, as two men stepped out of the woods into the trail and immediately
raised their rifles and fired a few rounds before wisely returning to the
cover of the trees. The gunner in the turret above them didn't even waste
ammunition on them - the Typhoon was impervious to small arms fire. It
was the larger anti-armor weaponry they had to worry about.
Suddenly they were in open terrain and the high double fence loomed ahead.
More small arms fire was hitting the vehicle now, and the windshield was
acquiring a collection of scars. Trails of flame and smoke indicated
rockets being fired. They were moving too fast for anything except a shot
fired from directly in front of or behind them, and the driver was now
making course changes as quickly as the vehicle was able to, then they
were through the fence and on one of the wide road with large metal
buildings on either side, the turret gunner spraying anything wearing a
uniform. He could see a couple of other Typhoons, one crossing an
intersection just ahead of them, another headed their way.
The drivers of the Typhoons began circling the outer streets, firing at
any uniformed personnel, which was all they were seeing. Alex heard
Gordon's voice in his headset. "Remember 111. Advise when sighted and
avoid firing in the vicinity"
Building 111 was believed to be the prison, and they wanted to avoid
accidental injury to any of the prisoners.
The fleet of smaller vehicles operated by the Reds and Blues, with their
militia units, were pouring in behind them now. The irregulars, as Gordon
called them, had been divided into two units of a hundred men each, with
one under the command of the Red group with the other under the Blues. At
only half the size of the force they were attached to, the militia units
would be easier to control.
Kurt's men were similarly assigned, half to each force. There were now
well over eight hundred men swarming the streets, and if any enemy troops
were alive they were not showing themselves.
"We got 111" shouted someone. "Looks like we're near the southeast
corner, big white building with a green roof."
"Secure the building and wait" replied Gordon. "Alex, get over there and
"Yes sir." replied Alex. "On our way."
Gordon's vehicle, meanwhile, followed by Tyler's, was circling what they
believed was the command center. The large building had no windows, but
there were two large glass doors on one side, large enough to accommodate
a Typhoon. "Hit it" he ordered the driver. "Just be sure you do in dead
center - we don't know how strong the building frames are."
The driver accelerated ahead, crashing through the doors and emerging into
a large area of what looked like rather flimsy walls. They did not even
feel any resistance as the Typhoon crashed through one after another. A
few personnel were sighted, frantically fleeing with varying degrees of
success. Gordon felt an occasional bump that he suspected was one who
didn't make it. The driver slowed slightly to avoid suddenly
encountering the end of the building, turning when he judged it was near,
then went back down the other side of the interior, finally exiting
through the ruined entrance.
"Red and Blue, report" Gordon called on the radio.
Red leader responded first. "We've got it fairly quiet in our sector.
About forty or so prisoners, no more resistance."
"Excellent" aid Gordon. "Keep it that way. Blue leader, what do you
"Same here" replied the Blue leader. "We've got it buttoned down, no more
visible enemies. We're fairly certain there some hiding inside, but
they're not offering any resistance at this point."
"Very good," said Gordon. "We're at headquarters, attempting contact with
command now. Alex, give me a quick update."
"We're inside, Sir. It's the prison all right, and it's pretty bad. We
could use some medical assistance here when there's some to spare."
"After Red and Blue have their casualty situation under control, the
prisoners are the next priority." said Gordon. He didn't bother to state
the obvious - enemy casualties would be the last to be taken care of.
Gordon's command vehicle had been equipped with a powerful loudhailer, and
he now spoke into the microphone, his voice echoing around among the metal
"Whoever is in command in there, show yourself at the door. You have
three minutes to comply. If you do not, we'll be back to finish what we
They did not have to wait long. In less than a minute a man appeared at
the door. By now two more Typhoons had joined them - the remainder were
patrolling the area to discourage any further resistance. A dozen or of
the smaller improvised vehicles operated by the Red and Blue forces had
assembled around them, their machine guns pointed menacingly at the
building, and some of the crew members, armed with rifles, had taken up
positions behind them.
"Walk this way," commanded Gordon. "Keep your hands in sight."
The man, in an Army uniform, walked toward them, eventually stopping in
front of Gordon's vehicle. Leaving his seat, Gordon exited through the
back. The ramp had been lowered and the ten men inside were standing
outside. "A couple of you men go bring him back here" said Gordon. As
he waited, he lit a cigarette. He had been wanting one for what seemed
like hours, although as he checked his watch he realized the operation had
been underway for less than fifteen minutes. They had another fifteen to
be on their way. Fort Hays was only about ten minutes away by air, but
they had no combat aircraft. The nearest ones were over a half hour away,
and ground traffic from Fort Hays would be at least that long.
The man they returned with was disheveled and dirty - and looked quite
dejected. A colonel, Gordon noted. He wondered if the man was one of the
misfits with which the Army staffed units like this one. He wasn't
holding up very well - likely the bureaucratic political operative that
had always plagued the officer corps, though never in such numbers as now.
Gordon looked at him as he finished his cigarette, noting the name.
Petersen. He looked young for a colonel. Dropping his cigarette and
grinding it out on the gravel surface, Gordon looked him in the eyes.
"Colonel Petersen" he said. "You can order your personnel to stand down,
assuming any of them are alive and able to continue, or we will finish
them off, and you and your headquarters with them. Do that and we will be
out of here in a few minutes. I don't want to hear anything from you
except whether you intend to comply."
"All right" said Petersen. "Can I have a man come out to take the order?"
"Go ahead" said Gordon.
Petersen took a small radio from his pocket and pushed a button.
"Yes Sir" said a voice.
"Robert" said Petersen, "Give the order to stand down. All men are to
remain where they are and await further orders."
"Yes sir" replied Robert.
"Wait here" said Gordon, going back into the vehicle.
He called the Red and Blue teams and found the situation calm. We're down
to ten minutes now, he thought. "Make a prudent withdrawal to the egress
assembly point" he ordered. Meaning withdraw but watch your back.
"Alex" he called. "How are you doing?"
"The prisoners are ready to go" Alex said. "Twenty two total, decent
Then after a pause, "Make that twenty three. This one is special, if you
know what I mean."
"What do you need?" asked Gordon.
"I can't put this one in the general transport" said Alex. General
transport was several ambulances and a handful of buses which had entered
the area after the battle was underway. Once the prison was secured and
the fighting around it had stopped, they had begun loading the freed
prisoners onto them.
"I'll have to take her back in my vehicle." he said.
Gordon was somewhat intrigued, but that was what the after-action reviews
were for. Whatever it was, Alex knew what he was doing.
"Go ahead and egress now" he told Alex. "We're about finished here. I'll
catch up with you later."
"Affirmative" said Alex. "See you later."
Gordon remained in the vehicle, coordinating the withdrawal, occasionally
looking over at the hapless Colonel Petersen standing outside. He was
going to be one unhappy man, thought Gordon. He grinned slightly as he
thought of the investigations that would ensue. Petersen wasn't the only
one in trouble - he would be a scapegoat, of course, but there would be a
lot of worried people higher up the food chain.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ * ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Alex was in the back of his Typhoon as the driver negotiated the trail out
of the forest. Once on the highway he accelerated to the maximum safe
speed, moving as fast as possible to the hiding place for the vehicle.
If it was not found, it would be disassembled and shipped back to its
Alex wasn't worried about logistics at this point, or much of anything
else except the young girl clinging to him, as she had been since he
extricated her from the prison. Since he had carried her out of the cell
she had clung to him so tightly he had difficulty moving. He was
beginning to wonder just how he was going to get her to let go.
He had felt it as they entered building 111 - a cold, dark dread that
clutched at his heart. There was a brief exchange of gunfire as several
personnel confronted them. They were shot down in an almost perfunctory
manner, like targets on the practice range. Several more had the good
sense to drop their weapons and assume a non-threatening posture, and then
they were opening the cells.
There were a variety of prisoners, of both sexes, although mostly men.
Among the women, several were in the young adult to middle age range, but
several others were quite young, apparently teenagers. What sort of
crime could children be suspected of, he thought, noting that there were
several boys as well. Of course, he thought. These monsters - he wanted
to kill every one of them. But it was the last cell that destroyed his
self-image as a completely dispassionate, calculating operator.
On the concrete floor was what looked like an exercise mat, dirty and
stained, like everything else in the cell. Including the girl chained to
the wall. Naked and dirty, utterly terrified, she looked too small to be
real. As Alex entered she retreated to the corner of the cell, curling
into a fetal position, hands covering her head. His mind went completely
blank for a few seconds, then he stepped back into the corridor. A couple
of men were just outside - and he stood in the doorway. "Don't look" he
said. "It's bad. I need the key for this one, fast. If you have to
shoot some of the guards to persuade them, do it."
They turned to go, and Alex went back in, kneeling beside her. "You're
going to be all right now" he told her, looking into eyes that suggested
she was beyond comprehension. "We're here to take you away, it won't be
long. Hang on, OK?" If there was a response, it was imperceptible. Alex
took off his flak vest and laid it over her - it wasn't much, but perhaps
it would help to calm her.
The men returned, one of them handing a key to Alex. "Try this one" he
said. "It's a master, worked on most of the others who were chained."
He noticed that it was a simple key, like a handcuff key, and tried it in
on of the locks. It opened and he removed the cuff from her ankle, freeing
her. He handed the key back.
"Can you find a blanket, clothing, anything?" he asked.
"Be right back" replied one of them, leaving at a brisk trot. He was soon
back, with a couple of military-issue blankets.
"Thanks" said Alex. "Let's see if we can get her into a vehicle."
With the blanket around her, she seemed to calm slightly as he carried her
outside. She was definitely a candidate for one of the ambulances, and he
carried her toward one. She would not let go, and he had to climb into
the ambulance. But as he tried to lay her on one of the gurneys, she
clung to him like a spider. An incredibly strong spider, he thought. How
could a young girl, half-starved from the look of her, be so strong. She
never made a sound, but her eyes were wide with terror, and she refused to
let go. He was about to ask one of the medics to give her a shot, but
immediately dismissed the idea. If she woke up in a strange place,
without him, there was no knowing what she might do. He had become her
lifeline, her one hope of survival - not only physically but mentally. He
knew he could not let her go until she ready to let go of him. He turned
to carry her to his Typhoon.
She had relaxed slightly, no longer clutching him quite so tightly, and
eventually she fell asleep. Finally able to examine her in a more calm
situation, he tried to guess her age. He had never been good at guessing
ages, but thought she was probably fourteen or so - older than he had
suspected when he first saw her. She was also, he noticed, quite
beautiful. Cleaned up, she would be not just another pretty girl, but
possessed of an inner beauty that transcended physical appearances. He
wondered what sort of person she had been before her ordeal, and if she
could ever have a normal life. He knew that children who were abused when
they were very young sometimes would have no memory of it when they were
older, but if it happened this late in life it was likely to leave scars
that would never heal, and human lives were destroyed as surely if they
were murdered outright.
The Typhoon left the highway, now travelling down an unpaved road. It was
surprisingly smooth, as the great weight and eight wheels isolated it from
the smaller rough spots. The man who had taken Alex's seat up front
looked back, noticed the girl had fallen asleep.
"We're close to home" he said quietly. "Under ten minutes, looks like."
Alex nodded, and he turned back to look out the front. Alex guessed the
other men were as disturbed as he was. The other prisoners, although
showing signs of abuse, were mostly calm and reacted as one might expect
when being rescued from a bad situation. He wondered what had happened to
this girl - he had an idea but didn't want to think about it.
The sky was darkening, and the already dim interior of the vehicle was
becoming darker as well. Alex prepared for their arrival, and the
probable necessity of waking the girl as they disembarked. Something was
changing within him, he knew. Or perhaps already had, and he was going to
have to figure out how to deal with it.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ * ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Alex knocked on the door of the bedroom, waited a few seconds, and pushed
it open a few inches. There was no immediate objection from the occupant,
so he opened it further. The only light came from a lamp in one corner,
but there was enough for him to see that the girl was sleeping. He
debated briefly whether to wake her, then decided not to. He wasn't
especially busy just now, and he would have to work slowly and carefully
As the Typhoon arrived at its final destination, he had to get out of the
vehicle with the sleeping girl and get her to the safe house where he was
staying. And that was the easy part. She barely awakened as he carried
her out and into the building where the armored fighting vehicle would be
hidden, hopefully successfully, until it could be returned to its owners.
There would be searches over vast areas of the country as the government
tried to find the perpetrators of the deadly raid at their black site,
killing a large number of personnel and worse, freeing more than forty
prisoners who could do a lot of talking now that they were free.
Alex laid her in the back seat of a small, nondescript sedan and began the
drive through miles of back roads, arriving at the safe house well after
midnight. There were a couple of people there, on loan from the freehold,
and as soon as they identified him he was able to park the car inside a
building and carry the girl into the house. The old farmhouse, acquired
by a real estate management company owned by League members, was large
enough for several people to live comfortably, even for a long period of
time. Alex had the use of several rooms on the upper floor, and he had
carried the girl to one that was furnished as a bedroom, laid her gently
on the bed, and covered her with the blanket he had wrapped around her.
He sat down beside the bed and watched as she slept, occasionally dozing
himself. It was a full twelve hours before she finally awakened. In the
dim light he saw her begin to stir, and her eyes opened. Briefly at
first, and she lay quietly for a while, then opened them again. She
looked up at him - whether she recognized him he could not tell, she had
been awake only briefly after he removed her from the prison, and quickly
went to sleep in the dark interior of the armored car.
He had no idea what to say, so he started with "How do you feel?"
She looked at him without speaking. Her eyes indicated she was fully
aware of him, but she did not reply.
"Do you remember anything about what happened yesterday?" he asked.
She may have nodded slightly, but he was not sure.
"My name is Alex" he said. "What's yours?"
Still no reply, just the quiet stare. This isn't going well, he thought.
He wished there as another woman present, but that was not possible at the
"You're kind of grimy from that cell" he said. "There is a bathroom just
over there, everything you need. Give me just a minute, and I'll get you
some clothes. They you can take a shower, brush your teeth, all that.
Her expression was not blank, as if she were unable to understand. He was
certain she could hear him, but wondered if she could speak. He stood.
"I'll be right back."
In his own room he found a couple of robes which he never used, but not
much else. Although he was of average size, with a slim build, one of his
shirts would be like an overcoat on her. He took one of the robes and a
shirt, went back. She hadn't moved. He held up the garments, then laid
them on a table.
"I'll leave you alone now" he said. "When you're finished, if you go out
the door, I'm in the room straight across the hall. I'll leave the door
He went out, closing the door most of the way, and went into his own room.
The plumbing in the house was old, and it was usually apparent when water
was running in another part of the house. Alex sat watching television
with the sound off. Most of the useful information was displayed in text
on various parts of the screen, and there was usually no need to listen to
the robotic performance of the announcers. Perhaps ten minutes or so
after returning to his room he heard a slight rattle in the walls,
indicating water was flowing through the upstairs plumbing. He walked
back to the door of the other bedroom and listened. He could hear the
shower running, and it went on for a while.
He returned to his room, moving his chair so he could see the door easily.
He needed to contact a woman who could help him. He thought of his
contacts in the area - there were several who were involved in resistance
operations, and while he couldn't risk the location of the safe house with
someone who wasn't cleared, he needed some help. Someone with a secure
phone. He took out his own phone, thought for a few moments, and then
called a number.
"Guinevere" he said when she answered.
"Yes, my lord" she replied.
"I need some help" he said.
"Your wish is my command" she replied.
Guinevere was Jessica Thompson, an operative with a small organization in
a nearby town. The small rural community was a perfect cover, as long as
no trails led to it. Just over a thousand people lived there, and most of
them were retired. The few children went to school in a larger city
nearby. A few small businesses were located around the intersection of
the two highways that ran through it. Jessica's business was a small
restaurant located near a small store with gas pumps and a few other
conveniences for travellers. Jessica and her staff were all part of the
operation, which consisted largely of transmitting messages and sometimes
people. Alex had become acquainted with Jessica and she and her people
had helped with several operations, and their personal relationship had
gone somewhat beyond business. They saw each other infrequently, but
enjoyed any time they were able to spend together.
"This is a good one" he said. "I have a girl, about twelve, thirteen.
She was a prisoner in the black site we raided. In very bad shape. I'll
have to fill you in later, but right now I need some clothes. Under, outer,
the works. Enough for several days."
Jessica was silent for a moment.
"OK" she said. "Where do you want to meet?"
Alex was about twenty minutes from her, but he didn't dare leave the girl
alone for that long.
"We'll have to do a quick meet, pass the package, and go. I hate doing
this, but it's a really dicey situation. Can you meet me at the 412 and
"Not a problem" said Jessica. "It'll take me an hour if we're lucky, so I
can probably be there in under two hours."
"Don't take any risks to save time" said Alex. "I believe the situation
is somewhat stable, so don't worry if it takes a little longer."
"Gotcha" replied Jessica. "I'm about ten minutes from the drop."
"Excellent" said Alex. "I'm a few minutes further out, so if you call me
when you leave whoever gets there first can drive down the road a little
and turn around, until we meet. Brown four-door, two lights, one left."
"Left right. See you shortly" said Jessica.
Alex looked up to see the girl standing in the doorway, wearing the shirt
he had left for her. Definitely better than the robe, he thought - it
came down almost to her knees, while she probably couldn't have walked
while wearing the robe. She had rolled up the sleeves, and he was shocked
at how thin her arms and legs were. She looked much better, however, her
long dark hair now clean and free of the dirty tangles. He stood up and
walked slowly toward her. She remained calm, looking up at him with big
"Are you hungry?" he asked. She must be, he thought. It was now more
than twenty-four hours since he had carried her out of the prison, and she
looked as if she hadn't had much to eat lately.
Again there was a barely perceptible nod.
"Let's go down to the kitchen and see what we have" he said. "Follow me."
She obeyed, descending the stairs behind him - it seemed the occasional
squeak of boards under his own tread were silent under hers. In the
kitchen he looked around in the refrigerator and cabinets. Soup was
generally a good choice, he thought. He took down a couple of cans and
held them up.
"This OK?" he asked.
She nodded, this time a real up and down movement of her head. Still
"Would you like some tea?" he asked. Again she nodded and he filled two
glasses with ice and poured tea from a jug in the refrigerator. He set
them on the small table and turned to prepare the soup. While it was
heating he found some rolls and crackers, and put them on the table. As
the soup came to a boil he stirred it, then turned off the stove and
looked for bowls and a ladle. He turned to see the girl eating a roll,
slowly, as doing it for the first time. Finishing it, she drank some tea
as he set the bowls of soup on the table.
He hadn't tried again to find out her name, or even if she could speak.
Might as well try again, he thought. She seems calm and not afraid of me.
"I have someone coming to bring you some clothes" he said. She sat
quietly, looking at him with no perceptible emotion. "It'll be an hour or
two - I'll have to go out for a few minutes to pick them up. Will you be
all right for that long?"
She nodded again.
"What's your name" he asked. "My name is Alex, I think I told you what
when you woke up, but you might not have been awake enough. Can you tell
me your name?"
Still there was no response.
"Can you talk?" he asked.
Something was going on in her head, he thought, but whether she was trying
to speak and unable to do so, or something else, he had no idea. He saw a
slight glistening of tears in her eyes. Too fast, he thought. OK, it can
"More soup?" he asked.
Another nod. He refilled her bowl and glass, checked his watch. She
seemed to have had enough to eat, he thought, as she sat silently toying
with her spoon.
He got up, and she did the same, following him as he went back to his
room. She sat on the couch across from his chair and they watched the
television, the sound still off. He wondered if there was some kind of
entertainment she might respond to, a movie perhaps. But after a few
minutes she lay down, a cushion under her head, and went to sleep.
Alex put a blanket over her, and went over to her room. He needed to
change the bedcovers - he didn't want to put the clean girl back in the
grimy environment she had left. That accomplished, he went back to his
room. She was still sleeping, and he would have to leave to meet Jessica
soon. He found pen and paper on his desk, and wrote a note.
'I had to go outside for a few minutes. Be back soon. Alex.'
He placed it on the couch next to her. Just in time, he thought, as the
phone chime announced a message.
"Leaving now. J"
He quickly made his way to the garage and headed to the rendezvous. Myles
saw Jessica's car approaching as he arrived at the intersection, flashed
his headlights twice and then activated his left turn signal. He saw the
left turn signal, then the right, on the other car. They stopped on a
paved area where the two roads met, their cars facing in opposite
directions with the drivers' doors almost touching. Jessica handed him
two packages and he laid them in the seat, then put her hand out. He took
it, held it as long as he dared. They didn't need to linger here
"You're torturing me" she said, smiling. "I want to get out and and hold
you and kiss you so bad. You owe me a big one, next time. And an
"You'll get it all" he promised. "But right now it's still kind of
touchy. And I owe you more than you can imagine."
As quickly has they had arrived, they were gone back to their own worlds.
He was relieved to find the girl still sleeping as he had left her. He
took the packages over to her room, and then went back to his own. She
was probably going to sleep for a while, he thought, so he turned the
lights down and lay down on his bed. He hadn't realized how tired he was,
and had only minutes to think about it before he too was asleep.
He awoke to see her sitting on the couch, looking at him. He wondered how
long she had been like that. He sat up, then stood up and looked for his
boots, then decided he didn't need them. He had unbuttoned his shirt
before he went to sleep, and now fastened several of the lower buttons.
The sun was well up, and it was time to see about something to eat.
"You want some breakfast?" he asked. She nodded, this time a completely
coherent response, except she still didn't say anything.
"I brought you some clothes that should fit" he said. "They're over in
your room. If you want to change before breakfast, I'll be downstairs."
She stood up and followed him out. He pointed out the packages, and then
went downstairs. He prepared some eggs and sausage, made some toast, and
found some orange juice and tea in the refrigerator. As he was making
coffee, she came in. Without being told she sat down and began eating.
She was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, with a pair of white canvas shoes.
She was also quite beautiful, he realized, and looked much healthier than
she had the night before. Alex joined her, and before long he found
himself wondering what he was going to do now.
"You never did tell me your name" he said. She remained silent. "There
are a lot of names, too many for me to try to guess. Can you write it for
me?" A nod.
He went up to a room he used as an office, found a pad of paper and a pen,
and took them downstairs. He sat down and handed them to her, and she
took the pen in hand, but did nothing else. Alex waited. Finally, she
began, slowly and hesitantly, to write. He saw that she was having
trouble holding the pen, and then noticed that her index finger was
somewhat crooked. As if it had been broken and not set properly, if at
all. But finally she finished, and he looked at the name. Even though
somewhat messily written and upside down, he could read it from across the
Now there's a tragic name, he thought. A wave of sadness, followed by
burning anger, swept over him. He hadn't have much in the way of emotions
these days - he couldn't afford them. But what had been done to this girl
was beyond any human depravity he had witnessed. They had already killed
her, he thought. She just hadn't fallen over and stopped breathing yet,
and that was a torment in itself.
"How old are you?" he asked.
She wrote on the pad, stopping after writing the number 'one'. She seemed
to be trying to remember, then wrote a 'four'. Alex guessed she had lost
track of time in the prison.
"So your name is Cassandra, and you're fourteen." he said. "We're making
progress. Can you speak?"
She looked down at the table, bowing her head slightly. He could see the
dampness of tears on her cheeks.
"It's all right" he said. "We can make do as things are. Do you have any
family, somewhere I can take you, where you'll be safe with friends?"
She shook her head.
"Would you like to go outside for a while?" he asked. He had not spent
much time around children of any age, and didn't know how entertain one.
At least this one was old enough dress herself and eat without making a
The farmhouse, along with a couple of old barns and a large equipment
shed, sat in the corner of an eighty acre field. A quarter mile wide and
half a mile long, it had not been in cultivation for a number of years,
and now had a large number of trees growing on it. There were some clear
paths, and they walked for a while. Cassandra walked quietly beside him,
but occasionally stopped to examine a plant or some other interesting
attraction. She seemed to be as happy as someone in their state could be,
and Alex was hopeful of her eventual recovery, if such a thing was
possible. She might still have some kind of life after all.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ * ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Cassandra had been with him a week, and Alex decided it was time to make
some more moves toward finding her a home. He knew Jessica could help,
and that it was time for them to meet. He was certain Cassandra would
like her - Jessica was not the most motherly type, having never been a
mother, but she had a way with people of all ages, and was the most likely
candidate. He contacted her and asked if she had some time, then got
Cassandra into the car and drove out to her restaurant.
Cassandra indicated she was willing to go, and when they arrived she went
inside with him and sat down at a small table in a corner. Alex had
informed her of the situation, and Alex ordered their food. As usual,
Cassandra was agreeable to whatever he suggested, and they ate quietly.
Cassandra was looking better every day, not nearly so thin as she had
been, and looked quite healthy - physically.
When they finished, they went outside, where Jessica was met them. They
walked over to a small building with offices in the front and storage for
restaurant supplies in the back. Once inside, Alex introduced Jessica to
Cassandra and they sat down, Jessica behind her desk and Alex and
Cassandra in two of the visitor chairs.
"Cassandra" said Alex. "We need to find a place for you to stay
permanently. I'm not very good at this, I can't take care of myself most
of the time. Jessica knows nice people here..."
That was as far as he got. Cassandra was out of her chair, kneeling on
the floor, her arms around his legs - it seemed he could feel her tears
soaking his jeans almost immediately, even if it wasn't possible. Jessica
came around the desk, knelt beside her, but as soon as she touched her
Cassandra jerked away, hiding behind Alex's chair. Jessica quickly
withdrew, and Alex eventually managed to get out of his chair, kneeling
beside Cassandra and holding her, her head against his chest, her
convulsive sobs gradually ebbing, her small body limp against him.
Eventually he dared to speak.
"Cassandra, it's OK. I'll take care of you."
He didn't know how he was going to do it, but perhaps time would provide
some healing. Eventually she allowed him to stand, pulling her up with
him. She leaned against him, clutching him tightly. He looked down into
her dark eyes, her silky black hair wet with tears.
"I won't ever let you go" he said. "Let's go home."
Jessica looked almost as distraught as Cassandra. Alex gave her a quick
kiss before turning to go.
"I keep getting deeper in debt, it seems" he said.
Jessica smiled, but there was not much happiness in it.
"You do get yourself into some jams. But any way I can help, let me
She looked at Cassandra, her own eyes shining with barely restrained
tears. Alex handed her a sheaf of bills.
"We'll need some more clothes" he said. "There's a laundry at the place
we're staying, between us we should manage."
"I don't envy you at all" said Jessica, "but you never know how these
things will work out."
That was true, Alex thought, but was of little comfort - it could as
easily be bad as good. Still, Cassandra was infinitely better off than
she would have been if he hadn't rescued her.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ * ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Gordon Williams was watching television on one of the three large computer
screens mounted on the wall of his study. A couple of smaller screens, no
more than two feet wide, sat on a desk beside his chair. He could do
almost everything necessary with the remote control, and rarely needed the
keyboard and console screens.
In the weeks since the raid on the black site, there had been no
indications of interest by the government, and he wondered what it meant.
There was always some word by now - the League was not the only
organization with agents inside the government. Some of the more
organized militias, because there were so many former military men in
them, had regular contact with the military forces. And none of Gordon's
contacts had anything - not even a rumor that it had happened.
It could be they were too busy, he thought. Since Kansas City had been
isolated weeks earlier, several similar incidents had further taxed the
government's already inadequate resources. The situation in some of the
cities had, it seemed, deteriorated to the point that large areas had
simple been sealed off, and rumors of inhuman conditions inside were
Not that he would see it on the left-hand screen, he thought. The regular
news from the various broadcasting companies was there, presented by
picture-perfect presenters, mostly young women and a few young men with
perfect hair, makeup, and wardrobes. Those types lived in the suburbs or
small towns near the places where they worked, and even in the areas that
had been cut off they probably could escape by taking a small airplane out
of one of the outlying airports. Even when they were watching the cities
burning and people killing one another, they seemed to have no connection
to that part of the world, above it all with nothing to worry about. It
would be a hard fall for those types, he thought, and it was probably
going to come sooner than even he expected.
So perhaps, he thought, there simply were no resources available to pursue
him and his comrades. That was a attractive thought - they might soon be
able to go from active attacks to defending their territories, and the
attackers would most likely would not be government forces but poorly
organized and equipped civilians. He had a meeting with Alex and the
leaders of their allies in the recent operation, mostly for the purpose of
planning their future strategy. He would be driving out to the meeting
location in the morning. He hoped they were entering a phase during which
the defunct republic would be preoccupied with destroying itself. Sir
Walter had hinted that the League had a plan for taking advantage of such
a situation to restore the republic to its original form, and seemed
confident of being able to do so. Gordon hoped he was right.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ * ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Alex locked up the house, as Cassandra sat in the car watching him.
Jessica had purchased her some more clothing and she was now well
supplied. She was indeed capable of doing laundry, and had done her own
clothes and packed for the trip. The house secured, Alex got in the car
and they drove away. There were several such houses in the area, and some
of the personnel using them would watch this one for trespassers,
particularly those of the official kind.
He turned on to the highway, careful to stop at the stop sign even though
there was not another vehicle in sight, and using his turn signal. It was
not possible to be too careful - any excuse would do for a cop who wanted
to check him out. In fact, an excuse was not needed - often they would
simple stop a car out of curiosity or boredom, or hoping for a chance to
make an significant bust. A lot of the new ones were out to move the
ranks as quickly as possible, and that was the best way to do it. He
wondered if he should get another car soon - this one hadn't been out much
but he didn't want to use it long enough to establish any detectable
He wished there was more traffic - the fewer cars there were the more
likely it was one would be a target if a cop happened along. He hoped
current events were keeping them busy and in the cities, rather than
cruising the highways looking for something to do.
Cassandra sat quietly in the front passenger seat, a small duffel bag on
her lap, quietly looking out at the countryside. Alex often wondered what
went on in her head. Her behavior had become quite normal, except for not
talking and her refusal to be separated from him. There had been a couple
of more visits with Jessica, and Cassandra tolerated her presence, and she
had no fear of strangers when they were in public. As long as she's with
me, Alex thought. Perhaps in time, things will improve.
When he was looking straight ahead she occasionally looked over at him -
in his peripheral vision he would catch the movement of her head. They
stopped for gas at a small town and Alex bought them some candy bars and
drinks. Even when eating candy her mood did not change - it was difficult
to know if she enjoyed it. Whatever Alex provided was fine with her.
An hour later they were nearing the meeting location. Alex had been aware
of a car behind him, just far enough back that he couldn't see if it was a
police car, but it had been there for a while now, and that was a sort of
police behavior. He had left his jacket lying across the console - it had
a pair of small .32 caliber revolvers in it, one in each pocket. He had a
pair of double-action derringers in the same caliber inside his boots -
each in a holster crafted into the top of the boot. The slim guns were
difficult to detect in a cursory frisk or pat-down. He had practiced
drawing them quickly, and they were almost as useful there as in any other
position. A standard handcuff key was fastened to the back of his belt,
with another in a back pocket of his jeans - the fabric too heavy for the
tiny key to be detected.
Of course, he thought, as long as he had surprise on his side he could
disable one man, possibly two, without weapons. He had pursued some
traditional martial arts training as a youth, continuing while in the
army, and had done well in some competitions. But Patrick had introduced
him to a man who opened his eyes to the realities of hand-to-hand combat.
An older man, seemingly not so strong or agile as Alex, in their first few
sparring sessions had quickly destroyed any illusions of competence Alex
might have had, and they showed him what must have been every dirty trick
available, coupled with a cool viciousness that could destroy any normal
man in seconds, and possibly two or three at a time.
The car was closing in now, and eventually Alex could see that it had been
joined by a second car. So he was waiting for a backup to join him, he
thought. This might be serious. And indeed, minutes later, the police
cars were just behind him, and their lights came on.
Alex employed the recommended measures to keep them calm. Activating his
turn signal, he tapped the brakes briefly, then found a safe place to
stop. He turned off the ignition, lowered the window, and placed his
hands on the steering wheel and waited. It was another minute or two
before the cop in the lead car approached, leaned over and looked Alex and
"May I see your operator's license please?" he said.
"It's in my right front shirt pocket" said Alex.
"Take it out with your left hand" said the cop.
They always kept their sunglasses on, and the day was cloudy enough that
they weren't needed. Alex wasn't wearing his, but cops always try to
intimidate, no matter how trivial the encounter might be. Alex understood
it, but he sensed something more sinister here. He could see the other
cop standing behind his car on the right side. He extracted the small
case that contained his driver's license and some other cards, took the
license out and handed it to the cop. He took it back to his car, got in,
and sat there for several minutes.
Alex knew he was checking him out, but verifying the validity of the
license and the registration of the car would take only a couple of
minutes. Waiting for instructions, he thought. There should be no
problem with the car or license - if they made a move on him it would mean
they had already been tipped. Cassandra sat quietly, looking in the
mirror - likely at the cop standing not far behind her.
"Don't worry" he said. "It's all right - we'll be going again in a few
He could see the cop coming back now, and saw him unsnap the strap holding
his gun in the holster. He checked the position of the other cop - he
hadn't moved. He suspected they had talked on their radios, and the lead
cop had described Cassandra to the other one, so he knew she was a young
girl. Too bad, he thought. If you try to take me in you're probably
going to be dead in a few seconds. He could probably disable the one
bare-handed and shoot the other one.
The cop stopped, this time standing back from the car slightly, hand on
"Will you step out of the car, please?" he said.
Keeping both hands visible, Alex pushed the door open and stood up. As he
did he heard the other door open.
"Stay in the car" shouted the other cop. He knew without looking that
Cassandra was getting out.
"Stay in the car!" he shouted again.
"She can't hear" said Alex. "She's deaf."
That did it, he thought. Now they're confused. The cop facing him didn't
know what to do, and Cassandra was now walking back toward the cop behind
the car. He had his hand on his gun as well, ready to draw. Now
the cop facing him was distracted, just enough. Alex was far enough to
one side to start his attack unnoticed. Three quick, hard blows to the
side of the head and the cop was falling, probably already unconscious.
As he fell, Alex moved behind him, grabbed him, using him as a shield, and
pulled the gun out of the holster.
The other cop how had his own weapon out, but couldn't shoot at Alex, who
was almost completely shielded by the other cop. Alex was about to
shoot him when he saw Cassandra now running at him, saw the flash of metal
in her hand, and saw her drive a knife into the cop's neck. He dropped
his gun and put his hands up to his neck, too late. She withdrew the knife
and stepped back. He fell, on one side and then rolling over on his
back. It appeared she had driven the blade completely through his neck,
the blood pouring out and forming a rapidly widening pool.
Cassandra knelt and wiped the blade on his shirt, and as she did he
recognized the knife as one of his. There were any number of them lying
about his office and bedroom - apparently she had appropriated one of
them. He thought he was glad she had done so, but would have to consider
"Come on" he said. He found his driver's license where the cop had
dropped it, picked it up and put it in his pocket. Cassandra got in the
car and closed the door, and Alex started the engine and they drove away.
It would be a few minutes before their headquarters became concerned about
the lack of communication from the two cops, but probably the one he had
knocked out would come to soon and report what had happened. If he was
still alive - the blows Alex had administered could easily kill or leave a
man in a coma.
In any case they had to move fast. A description of the car would be
transmitted to every cop within a few hundred miles, so they would have to
take back roads to their destination.
Luckily it wasn't far, and darkness was coming on. The first moon was up
but in a dim phase, the second would be a couple of hours behind. Without
further incident they arrived at their destination, and Alex was able to
park the car inside a garage. It would be disposed of at a convenient
time, and he would have to have another one brought out when it was time
to leave. Along with another identity.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ * ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Alex and Cassandra were the first arrivals at the safe house. Once
inside, he showed Cassandra to a room where she stowed her gear. It was a
large house in which each bedroom had a private bath. Cassandra had some
blood on her clothes, and went to take a shower and change while Alex put
his own gear in the room across the hall. When she emerged, they were
still alone, so Alex took the time to talk to her.
"Are you all right?" he asked. It was never possible to even guess what
she was thinking. She nodded, so he would have to assume she was. She
had just killed a man, a cop no less, and probably close to twice her size
"Did you get the knife completely clean?" he asked next. She retrieved it
from one of her bags and showed it to him. She had indeed cleaned it
thoroughly - it was unlikely she had managed to wipe off the blood at the
scene. It was more a small sword than a knife - about a foot of slim,
double-edged blade with an incredibly sharp point, a cord-wrapped handle
that was easily handled in her small hands. She replaced it in the sheath
and laid it on the bed.
"Is that the only one you took?" he asked.
"Have you ever used weapons before?"
She shook her head.
"Would you like to learn how to use a gun?"
A brief hesitation, then a nod.
He wondered why she had done it. There was likely a fear of uniformed
men, having been imprisoned - and probably worse - by men in uniforms.
But he suspected there was more.
"Did you do it because they were police?" he asked.
A bit of uncertainty this time. It was something else.
"Was it because they were going to take me away?"
This time a nod, no hesitation at at all. He had suspected that she would
defend him with her own life - he had given her life when she thought it
was all over, and he was now her entire world. Looking down at her
small, seemingly frail figure, the big dark eyes with their helpless, lost
look - it was hard to remember the ferocity of her attack, the lethal
precision and complete decisiveness of her action. She had read the
situation correctly, and made her move at just the right time. She would
make an excellent partner, he thought. Especially with her disarming
appearance. And just how, he wondered, was he going to operate without
leaving her somewhere, something he now knew he could not do.
He heard someone downstairs, hoped it was one of his comrades. He had
locked the door, and only one of they would know how to get in. He had
the .40 caliber pistol he had taken from the cop, and checked the chamber,
then the magazine. It was full, fourteen rounds.
"I'll be back in a few minutes" he said. "If anything goes wrong go out
the door just outside - there's a stairway to the ground."
He went to the top of the stairs, heard someone whistling a tune. That
would be Gordon. He looked down, saw him pass the bottom of the stairs,
look up. Shoving the gun into his waistband he went down.
"Gordon, I have a lot to tell you in a short time" he said. He quickly
updated him on the situation.
"I picked up some chatter on the underground channels" said Gordon. "One
cop dead and another critical - so that was you."
"Yeah" said Alex. "They were there to take me in. Somehow they were onto
me, but whether it was just suspicion or something solid I don't know.
I'd give a lot to have those cops alive and able to talk, but there was no
"That would be useful to know" said Gordon. "But I suspect our worries
about surveillance are being mitigated somewhat. They're using every
resource they can muster to combat the big fires - literally. Not only
are the isolated cities burning, but the rioting has spread to just about
all of the major cities. It seems to be organized, much like the riots in
the days before the government went completely bad. They used the
disturbances for their own political agenda, now it looks like it's being
done to them. That may give us more freedom of movement."
"I hope so" said Alex, "although the idea of decent people trapped in
those places isn't pleasant."
"These things rarely are" replied Gordon. "But, harsh as it may seem,
they should have been paying attention and been ready to leave, if they
hadn't already done so. You know as well as I do you can't save people
from themselves. Even on an individual basis, and certainly not entire
"Patrick used to say, self-deception is the most effective kind" said
Alex. "I guess that applies to self-destruction as well. I'd better get
back up to Cassandra - can't leave her alone too long."
Cassandra was entertaining her self with her computer - Alex had gotten
her a phone and a medium-sized tablet of the type favored by most people,
from children to business people - and she was watching a video. She
looked like a completely normal child, he thought as he looked at her. He
hope she might someday achieve some degree of normality.
She put the tablet down as he entered, stood up and walked over to him.
Putting her arms around him, she laid her head against him and held onto
him. Her head just reached his chest, and he put his arms around her
shoulders and held her small, frail form against him. They rarely had any
physical contact beyond an occasional brush when in close quarters, or
their hands touching when passing some object between them. The only
other time she had touched him this way was when he suggested having
Jessica find her a place to stay - on that occasion she had been
hysterical, now she was calm and at peace.
She looked up at him and smiled slightly, her eyes now seeming happy as
well. They let go of each other and she stepped back, sitting down on the
"I have to have some meetings with some men" he said. "The men who were
with me when I took you away from that place. Will you be all right here
while we talk? It won't be long, once the others arrive."
She nodded and picked up her computer, and Alex went over to this room.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ * ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
It was later in the night when the remaining members arrived. Glenn
Miller and Chuck Stanley, the Red and Blue leaders, along with the most
senior leader of the Black Hand militia, a former military officer named
Curtis Holland arrived, and joined Gordon and Alex in drinking whiskey,
smoking cigars and talking, mostly about weapons and the experiences of
their military careers. Near midnight Kurt finally arrived and joined
them in a final drink before they went to bed.
Cassandra was already asleep when Alex checked on her. Having done that,
he suddenly realized he was quite tired. He never had difficulty going to
sleep, and tonight he had even less.
The sun was well up when he awoke, and Cassandra was already up and
dressed. After a quick shower he dressed and went over to her room.
"Would you like to go down and have breakfast with us?" Alex asked.
She seemed uncertain.
"These are the men who were with me when we took you of of the prison" he
said. There are only five of them. I thought you might want to see them."
After a moment she nodded, and then went down. Gordon and Kurt were
preparing breakfast, the others drinking coffee and staying out of the
way. Alex found some orange juice for Cassandra, introduced her to the
men - Gordon and Kurt, now setting food on the table, greeted her when
Alex introduced them. Cassandra sat beside Alex, still shy but seemingly
at ease. After breakfast she went back up to her room.
The strategy meeting was more of an update session than anything else.
The situation was now such that their enemy was being torn apart by
circumstances that were rapidly going beyond anyone's control, if they
were not already there. The six largest cities in the nation were in
flames, much of their supply of food, water, and energy cut off. And with
a large number of bridges destroyed, vehicular traffic in or out of the
affected areas was limited.
While the armed forces were, under the new constitution, permitted to act
against the civilian population, actually doing so had escalated the
situation beyond their ability to control. Rumors of abject desperation
in the nation's capital were common now, many of them fueled by refugees -
lower-level officials and employees who had fled, seeking a safe place
outside the cities. Some governors and mayors had fled their posts as
well - Alex wondered what the police and emergency personnel left to deal
with it were thinking.
"It looks conditions are right" said Gordon, "but we can't be sure about
the timing. My impression is, from talking with Sir Walter, that he - and
the League in general - were hoping it would reach this state later."
"That was mine as well" said Alex. "We were expecting to to continue our
operations, but there seems to be no one to fight. We should probably be
looking to our own defenses - our installations and whatever territory we
can control. There are some people escaping from the cities - at this
point they're small numbers and scattered, but we may at some point have a
horde on our hands."
"I suspect that's a certainty" said Gordon. "It's just a matter of time.
We're supposed to have a conference call with Sir Walter later, and
whatever information he has may give us some guidance.
"Glenn, how are you and Chuck situated, asset and readiness-wise?"
The two men looked at each other, Chuck indicated with a nod to Glenn to
"We've approximately equal strength" Glenn said. We have just over six
hundred men, plenty of small arms and ammunition. Most of have military
experience, and in our own territory we have little to fear. We know the
area, even a well-trained professional force would have serious problems
with us - we could handle an enemy several times our size."
He looked at Chuck.
"We're probably down a little to the Reds" Chuck said. "Probably five
hundred forty, fifty. But same situation - our territories are
contiguous, so between us we probably can probably control four to five
thousand square miles. Our improvised armor - you saw some of it in
action - is useful but has its limits. If we could persuade you to leave
the Typhoons here, they could be useful."
"Given the changing situation, that might be possible" said Gordon.
"We'll bring it up with Sir Walter. Shipping them back in this
environment might not be a good idea anyway - there's much more
surveillance of traffic. As Alex found out."
Alex had informed the group of his experience, but only afterward had
suspected why he was targeted.
"I was wondering how they were onto me" he said. "I thought the car gave
me away, too much exposure and the finally picked up something suspicious.
But it's more likely, somewhere a camera got a good picture of Cassandra
and they made the connection, or at least suspected who she was. They're
getting pretty good at identifying people that way - something we should
"Curtis, what's your view?" asked Gordon.
"Numerically, we're fairly big" he said. "Something over sixteen hundred
men, but that's essentially sixteen hundred men with rifles, handguns, and
not much else. We're all locals, scattered around the area - we know all
the hiding places, landmarks, trails - a capable guerilla outfit. We're
organized into four units, each with at least one retired military officer
and some other experienced veterans. Probably half of us have military
experience. But essentially, it's get your rifle and go, when it's time
"Your men did well in the operation" said Gordon. "And now you have a
couple hundred men who've been through the fire. I know this is not a
pleasant subject - but you and Kurt took some losses. How are your people
doing with that?"
"As well as can be expected" Curtis said. "The families, where the men
have them, are completely committed. We all know what can happen. They
have a lot of support from the group - probably half the men have wives or
girlfriends with them. But as you say, it's not easy."
Gordon looked at Kurt.
"It's the same with use" Kurt said. "Of course, our people have lost
everything they had, and were all supportive of our participation. If we
hadn't been warned in time to evacuate, we would have lost a lot more. We
owe you more than I know how to tell you."
"We need to keep this in mind, not forgetting how serious this," said
Gordon. And how much worse it might become"
One of the dormant screens came to life and a message scrolled across the
"It looks like our conference call is about to begin" he said. He picked
up the remote control and entered some codes, and shortly Sir Walter and
Myles appeared on the screen.
"Welcome, gentlemen" said Sir Walter. "How is everything out there?"
"Quite well," replied Gordon. "How are things there?"
"As you've noticed, things are moving rather fast now." said Sir Walter.
"So we're quite busy. Myles and I will have to leave shortly, probably as
early as tomorrow. I'm not sure how long we'll be gone, but at least a
few days. Tyler is your main contact here, and we can conference if
"At this point, it looks like all of us - your outfits, the League - are
in a holding pattern. Something we didn't anticipate is happening, and we
don't yet know why. The force we see creating these situations in the
large cities, and we are fairly certain it's an organized operation, has
pushed the situation well beyond were we expected to be at this point, so
for the immediate future our plan is to maintain a low profile, while
remaining ready for action."
"Any ideas at all about who's doing it?" asked Gordon.
"Some suspect the Russians may have an interest, but which faction is
anyone's guess. I would suspect it isn't one friendly to us - they would
at least consult us, and in any case they seem to be in agreement with our
schedule. Another faction, possibly, but we would likely know about it by
now. It could be an internal force, but it's strange that we have no
signs of an organization with that ability - large amounts of military
explosives, and the knowledge to use them, have been involved - and that
suggests military involvement."
"That's what I've been thinking" said Gordon. "But until the time I
retired, and in fact when talking with my contacts who are still on active
duty, there's never been any suggestion something like that was going on.
Of course, if it's within the Army, they would have to be extremely
careful and secretive, and keep it small. One leak and they would be done.
"It's possible, of course, they are allowing the materials and information
to be passed to civilian forces. Perhaps one of the more capable militias
- there are a number of them that might have that kind of capability."
"That makes a certain amount of sense" said Curtis. "We talk to some of
them, naturally, but it's not the sort of thing they would share. Still,
we can do some discreet investigative work."
"Whoever it is, they definitely know what they're doing" said Sir Walter.
"And it might not be such a bad thing - they're doing a lot of our work,
and all the resources of the government will soon be engaged in dealing
with this, military forces included. It gives us more freedom to operate.
At this point, though, we need to secure our own territories, work on
recruiting likely allies, building up our forces. Sooner or later, I
suspect, they will be needed.
"Is there anything else we can to to help you?"
"How likely is it that the Typhoons could stay out here for a while?"
asked Gordon. They could prove useful."
"I believe that could be arranged" said Sir Walter. "It would probably be
preferable to trying to ship them back under these conditions. In fact,
there is a river between us now that can only be crossed by a lengthy
detour - the bridge over the Coronado river at Alton is out. I'll find
out, and let you know. Or more likely Tyler will contact you if we have
to leave right away."
After the conference ended, the group discussed further plans, deciding to
concentrate on working together to form a coherent unit of their
organizations, through exchange programs to allow their members to become
acquainted and practice working together. Alex and Gordon, not members of
any group, would spend time with them sharing their knowledge and
experience, and taking some of them on intelligence operations.
It was somewhat late for lunch, so several of them began preparing dinner.
Alex excused himself in order to check on Cassandra. She was sleeping,
but woke as he entered the room.
"We're all done with meetings" he said. "We're fixing dinner now. Do you
want to eat with us?"
She nodded shyly, got up and put her shoes on, and followed him
downstairs. She smiled shyly in response to greetings from the men, and
sat down beside Alex. She was a beautiful girl, becoming more so every
day as her health improved. The combination of youth, beauty, and tragedy
aroused their protective instincts, as it would in any decent man. And
rough and ready to do violence as they were, they were essentially decent
men and would give their own lives to protect her. They were good men
living in bad times, and no matter how calm and professional they might
be, they experienced the doubts and fears of any man in such a situation.
After dinner most of them were sufficiently tired as to go to bed right
away, and Alex certainly was. After seeing Cassandra off to her room, he
went to his own and was soon asleep.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ * ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Alex would need a different car for the return trip. The one he had
arrived in was now too hot to ever emerge from hiding again. It would be
disassembled in one of the large shops on the grounds, some of its pieces
ending up in salvage yards and others dropped into convenient rivers of
sufficient depth. A backup, properly registered and licensed, would make
the trip back. Cassandra would be wearing sunglasses and a hat, her hair
hidden. Between the windshield of the car, the sun visor pulled down, and
the sunglasses the spy cameras should not have much success spotting her.
His current safe house would have to go as well. Again, not a problem as
there were always backups, and backups for those. He was a roaming
operator, not attached to any group, carrying out solo missions or joining
one of the others for joint operations such as the one on the black site.
They were well within enemy territory, but the southeast sector was always
just on the edge of chaos. The cities and towns were under control, but
the open areas were impossible to manage. Having the local law
enforcement after him suggested that they wanted him bad, or Cassandra if
she was the trigger.
It had been the first time he had done battle with the law enforcement
apparatus. There would have been a time when, while avoiding them, he
would have done almost anything to avoid killing one. Not that it was a
cause for guilt - all non-federal law had been warned for the past two
years that they were fair game if they came into conflict with the
resistance. Most of them got the message quickly - he wondered if the two
he had encountered had been under pressure to perform, or if they were
after a bounty.
He knew there was a price on his head, and there probably was by now a
reward for Cassandra and the other prisoners they had freed. In which
case he had no sympathy for them and felt no guilt. When they took the
side of the regime they forfeited the respect normally accorded their
profession and the protection the uniform and badge had once provided.
"You have any immediate plans?" Gordon asked as he and Alex walked to the
building where he had parked his car, and where the replacement awaited.
"I'm considering going back into friendly territory for a while" Alex
replied. "Give Cassandra time to recover, see what the next move is.
When the Council comes to a decision."
"That seems wise" Gordon said. "This operation, with everything else
going on, will probably have things in limbo for a while. It looks like
the I-50 bridge over the Cimmarron is out for the duration, whatever it
happens to be. It would be risky to try driving, as they're probably
hotter on your trail now than before."
"What do you suggest?" Alex asked.
"We've got a decent grass runway here, and we can get a small plane in,
and you and Cassandra out, with almost no risk. Aside from doing it at
night. Think she can handle it?"
"Maybe" Alex said. "I'll talk to her. There are some things I need from
the safe house back near Taylorville. And see Jessica, I don't know when
I'll get back this way."
"Jessica means a lot to you, doesn't she?"
"More than I can tell you. Can you keep an eye on her?"
"You know I will" Gordon said. "And if it looks like she might be
compromised, or anyone in her group, I'll get her out. Tell her to trust
our judgment - she might not want to go."
"I'll tell her. And she knows to trust you as well as me. You think we
can get over there tonight? I'll have to take Cassandra. She can't be
left alone yet."
"It'll be a long trip, time-wise" Gordon said. "Mostly lights off on some
bad roads. Or no roads in places - the searchers are pretty thick out
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ * ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The next morning Alex met with Jessica again. Both knew it might be a
while before they were together again.
"I've got everything I need out of the safe house" he told her. "Use your
own judgment on dealing with it. You probably shouldn't use it, except as
a place for quick meetings. Or maybe leave it sitting there unused, let
them waste time watching it, if they are."
"Will do. Are you leaving now?"
"Soon" Alex said. "Gordon and the guys who escorted me last night will be
with me, and we're waiting for the authorities go get concentrated looking
in the other direction. A couple of your people are planting rumors of
sightings over to in Benton County."
The escorts from the previous night's trip were waiting in two of the 6x6
Troopers, only the driver and Cassandra were in the third one. They had
driven mostly off-road, but with the searchers off on a wild-goose chase
the back roads would be safe enough. Of course the escorts were heavily
armed and weren't likely to encounter anything they couldn't handle.
"Why don't you come over and say good-bye to Cassandra?" Alex asked.
"She's a lot better already, and having some time off in a safe place
They walked over to the vehicle where Cassandra waited, and when Alex
opened the door she got out.
"We may not get to see Jessica for a while" Alex said.
"How are you?" Jessica asked, forgetting that Cassandra did not talk.
Cassandra smiled shyly, then moved closer and put her arms around Jessica,
holding her for a long while.
"You're going to be all right" Jessica said. "You're in good hands. I
hope we'll get to see you again soon."
Alex and Jessica embraced as well, and neither wanted it to end. But
there was no choice. Alex gently touched her damp cheeks.
"None of that" he said. "We'll see you soon."
They turned back to their vehicle and Cassandra climbed aboard, with Alex
beside her in the second row of seats. The lead vehicle moved out and
They were back well before dark, so they had a few hours to wait. As the
sun was setting Gordon showed them to the flat grassy field behind the
house. Several of the others came with small lights on stakes, which they
placed at intervals along the landing area.
The first moon was soon well up and provided considerable light, but not
so much that the improvised landing lights couldn't be seen. Before long
they heard a small aircraft flying low, and soon saw the landing lights at
the far end of the runway.
"He'll stop just about here" Gordon told them. "Run towards it as soon as
it stops. The co-pilot will open the door and help you in. Be safe, and
I'll see you soon."
They each had two bags and held them as the plane rolled to a stop. The
door was open by the time they reached it and the co-pilot took the bags,
then held Cassandra's hands when Alex lifted her to the door and pulled
her in. Seconds later Alex as on board and the door closed.
As soon as the co-pilot was belted in they began to roll, slowing at the
end of the runway to turn. The takeoff roll was short for the little
airplane and they were soon off into the night sky.
Alex turned to look at Cassandra. He guessed that she had never been in
an airplane before, but she seemed at ease.
"You OK?" he asked.
A nod and a smile. For now at least, everything was all right.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ * ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Alex was up early the next morning, not wanting Cassandra to be alone in a
strange place. Her room was across the hall from his, and the door was
slightly ajar. He quietly pushed it open far enough to see her sleeping
peacefully on the big bed. The big ranch house, a few miles outside of
Enid, Oklahoma, had a wing of luxurious guest rooms. At present he and
Cassandra were the only guests.
The small aircraft that carried them out of 'injun country' had a short
range and had to stop to refuel once inside Republic borders. They had
the luxury of a paved runway and Cassandra slept through the stop and all
the remainder of the trip. Alex went into the living area to find their
Edward and Katherine Campbell were in their early forties, retired early
from ranching and now renting the 800 acres to a group of farmers who
helped provided sustenance to the citizens of the Republic. Republic
being an informal term for the alliance of southern states that now
controlled territory from eastern Arizona to the east coast. They had
picked Alex and Cassandra up at the airport and taken them to their home
at the ranch.
With the remainder of the country in chaos, there was a constant stream of
refugees from the outside, and the newcomers were carefully vetted and for
the most part segregated and monitored. Quite a few wealthy incomers,
those whose who had bet wrong and expected the rebellion to be put down
quickly and had stayed in the liberal enclaves for too long, had paid a
hefty price for admittance. More than a few expensive private jets were
parked at the airports in Texas, and as the crisis had worsened the price
for entry had increased, and the bank accounts of the provisional
government (in friendly offshore banks, of course) had grown. As had the
stocks of gold and silver, and whatever other items of value the refugees
could carry with them.
Alex, like many of those involved in creating and protecting the Republic,
had not hesitated to profit as long as it was done honorably and not
hidden from his comrades. In a war there is always wealth becoming
separated from its owners, and it those owners had themselves acquired it
by nefarious means there was no obligation to return it to them. In the
closest thing he had to a permanent home, a small farm in northeast
Arkansas, some considerable amounts of valuables were hidden away,
awaiting the peaceful days he hoped would someday arrive.
Katherine was preparing breakfast, and looked up as he came into the
"Good morning" she said. "Sleep well?"
"Very well" Alex said. "For the first time in quite a while."
"I can imagine" Katherine said. "It has to be stressful. We've heard some
pretty bad things."
"It's bad enough" Alex said. "Apparently nothing like in the cities,
though. It seems the people out in the small towns and countryside are
mostly being left alone, and they're keeping their heads down hoping the
Edward came in, in the khaki shirt and jeans favored by most men
associated with the Republican government, officially or not. The
long-sleeved shirts, with flapped pockets and epaulets, had a military
look sometimes enhanced by patches or badges when involved in official
"How's it going?" he asked. They had talked only briefly upon his
arrival, it being late and everyone was tired. "You seem to have seen
some interesting action. Had any coffee yet? Here.."
He turned toward the counter with a coffee maker.
"Yeah, keep it simple" Alex said. "Actually, my routine is so irregular I
go without for days sometimes."
He accepted the steaming cup.
"Sit down, I'll help Katherine finish up."
"Let me look in on Cassandra" Alex said. "Be right back."
He walked back to the guest wing, saw Cassandra's door was closed.
Evidently she was up. He listened for the sound of a shower running,
didn't hear anything, and knocked softly on the door.
Since she still wasn't talking, and he didn't know if she could, he didn't
expect an answer. But a minute or so later the door opened slightly and
Cassandra looked out. She had a towel around her hair and he could see
she was wearing a robe.
"You're OK" he said. "Take your time. We'll be in the kitchen, breakfast
is about ready."
She smiled, the usual shy barely-a-smile he as accustomed to. He went
back to the kitchen. The table had been set for four and Katherine was
placing dishes on it.
"She'll probably be a few minutes" Alex said. "I told her to come on down
when she was ready."
Alex opted for the sausage and eggs with a couple of slices of toast, and
they ate in relative silence.
Edward did ask about Cassandra's condition.
"Still hasn't spoken?" he asked.
"No" Alex replied. He could see the doorway to the guest wing and would
know when Cassandra was approaching. "I don't know if it's mental, but I
would guess it is. There didn't seem to be any physical injury, other
than some scrapes and bruises. But considering what they must have
"I can imagine" Katherine said. "We've heard about a couple of other places
"There are essentially unsupervised units out there, a lot of them." Alex
said. "They do as they please as long as they carry out their missions -
mostly raiding suspected resistance units - and most of them enjoy the killing
and burning and looting. I suspect the only prisoners they take, unless
they're specifically ordered to go after specific people - are for
entertainment. There were a dozen or so kids like Cassandra, but she was the
only one chained up like that."
"It would have been good to have some prisoners for interrogation." Edward
said. "Too bad time was so limited."
"Yeah" Alex said. "We had a short time to get in and out before they got
so SF types out of Fort Johnson. They still have some bite. I suspect,
though, that the prisoners can tell us a lot."
Cassandra appeared in the doorway. Katherine and Edward got up, and Alex
"Cassandra, this is Katherine and Edward" Alex said. "We'll be staying
here for a while."
"Hi Cassandra" Katherine said, hugging her gently. "Have a seat, and
let's get you something to eat. What do you like to drink? Orange juice
Cassandra nodded and quietly slid into the seat next to Alex. Katherine
looked even younger than her forty-something years, and might have been
close to the age of Cassandra's mother. She seemed comfortable in her new
surroundings - with the exception of Jessica she had seen only older men,
preoccupied with the business of war and not having much contact with
Alex could see that Katherine and Edward were much taken with her, with
her vulnerability and gentle nature. Seeing her new he had some
difficulty remembering her savage attack on the cop, and wondered if she
could ever completely recover her humanity. One thing seemed certain -
she would fight to the bitter end before she would be a victim again.
"We're just getting this year's garden started" Katherine told her. "Have
you ever had a garden, Cassandra?"
She shook her head.
"Did you ever live in the country before?"
"You'll like it here" Katherine said. "The weather's getting nice, we're
just starting to plant. If you like, we can go out work on it later. If
you want to."
Cassandra nodded, Alex noticed just a hint of tears.
"We'll be here for a while" Alex said. "There's a lot to do and see here.
Or just relax and do nothing when you want to."
She certainly couldn't get any worse that she had been, he thought. He
didn't know what her home life had been like before she was imprisoned.
Most likely her family had been dissidents or resistance, or had just
transgressed against the state in some way. Perhaps Katherine could get
her to open up, and if she was capable of regaining her ability to speak
this was as good an environment as could be desired.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ * ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Katherine took Cassandra out to the garden after breakfast, and Edward and
Alex watched for a while as she showed Cassandra how to set the small
tomato plants. They maintained a large flock of chickens as well, and
like most rural residents who had sufficient acreage produced much more
than they could use, selling the surplus in the local farmers markets.
With the war well into its second year life in the more secure areas had
settled into a relative calm routine.
And the Republic was the most secure of any place. Having the population
and resources to effectively seal the borders of the states that were
completely under control, life within its borders was almost tranquil.
The central government had soon abandoned any illusions of being able to
mount an invasion of even one state, and was doing its best to contain its
The Northwest Alliance covered a lot of territory, with Montana, the
Dakotas, Wyoming and Nebraska fully contained, and its incursion into Utah
facilitated a flow of partisans from that state into the less populated
areas, and some from the Republic were also assisting. With Kansas the
only link between east and west the remainder of the country was in rather
dire straits. In many of the states still under its control, free-lance
guerrilla activity was rampant in some areas and ever-present in all.
Edward and Alex helped Katherine and Cassandra take tools and planting
supplies to the garden, then watched them work for a few minutes before
leaving. Cassandra looked as happy as Alex had ever seen her, and was
quite calm when he told her that he and Edward were going into town for a
"Harry and his boys are home all day" Edward told them. "If anything
Not that anything was likely to come up, beyond a common household
accident. Cassandra seemed comfortable with him being away for a while,
but had to give him a quick hug before he departed.
They drove into Enid in one of the four-wheel-drive pickup trucks favored
by rural dwellers, at least as an additional if not primary vehicle. The
patriots had for the most part always preferred older vehicles, as they
were easier and less expensive to maintain. During the war years the
repair and maintenance business had grown considerably, as new automobile
production had almost completely stopped.
The Republic, and the Northwest Alliance, had the advantages of being
populated by many resourceful and independent people but of not being
dependent for everything needed for survival on the manufacturing and
When the large cities in on the coasts were hit with supply disruptions
the inner-city cesspools had within a few weeks become unlivable, yet the
inhabitants had nowhere to go. The already inadequate law enforcement
resources were being used for nothing more than protecting the somewhat
civilized areas and preventing escape from the affected areas. Details
were scarce, but some witnesses described them as being an order or two of
magnitude beyond hellish.
There were fewer refugees coming into the Republic these days, as most of
those able to flee had done so early. It was rumored that the airports
were under tight control to prevent more wealthy residents from leaving,
along with much of their material wealth, on private aircraft. Alex was
surprised that any of them had the foresight to prepare properly, as he
had seen some of the arrivals on a visit to Waco early in the war. A
large enclave of partisans had existed in the area for a number of years,
and had connections with wealthy associates around the country. He had
seen crates of gold and silver, along with other valuable items, being
unloaded and taken to their new homes.
He wondered how many had been so prepared, and how many had all of their
assets in banks or investments which now faced an uncertain future. Or
perhaps not so uncertain, as the pre-war order of things was not likely
under any circumstances to survive in its original form. It would be
interesting to see how things shook out.
The first order of business was a meeting. Edward was part of an early
resistance group which had been instrumental in forming the original Republic
of Texas. They now performed a variety of functions, mostly organizational
and sometimes becoming involved in outside operations, as now. Ales was not
a member of any organized group, moving from one operation to another as his
services were needed. He was officially a citizen of the Republic of Texas,
but also a member of the Army of the Northwest Alliance. Either would give
him some degree of protection if he fell into enemy hands, but how much was
questionable. There was no formal arrangement between the central government
and either the Republic or the Alliance, and thus no assurance of humane
treatment by his captors.
The Republic did have some leverage though, in the form of several hundred
prisoners they had acquired, and some of them were of more than the usual
significance. Since in his line of work not getting caught, at any cost,
was essential, he was unlikely to become a prisoner. Thus the two highway
patrolmen back in Illinois were expendable. Of course, he had hoped to
defuse the situation and escape but had not expected Cassandra to act as
she did. Most likely it was for the best.
The group, or at least its leaders - there were a couple hundred members in
all - met in their headquarters on the outskirts of the city. Since its
founding the group - known officially as the 'First Oklahoma State Militia'
(being the first officially registered unit after the state had declared
autonomy) - had not seen any serious action. Almost the entire unit - minus
a handful remaining in Edmond - had been mustered a couple of times, soon
after the declaration. A couple incursions along the northern border, little
more than probes, had been met a convincing response and since then work
consisted mostly of internal matters. There was sometimes some interesting
news at the meetings, but lately there had not been much, as the central
government seemed to be almost in a holding pattern.
"The bottom line," Henry Douglas said as the meeting began "is that we're
mostly waiting for the feds to do something, and they either have no idea
what to do, or know they have no hope of accomplishing whatever it is they
want. Which it is, we have no way of knowing."
"What's the thinking in Abilene?" Wayne Foster asked. Foster was a former
spook who had gotten out of the business years before the breakup, as most
called it, had started. Seeking a place to lose himself from people who
might be interested in his former activities he had come to Oklahoma and
settled on Edmond. He still had connections around the world, and talked
with people in government controlled regions regularly.
Abilene had become the de facto capital of Texas, and after the provisional
government was formed it became the official capital. Austin, mostly
populated by people in the technology industry, suddenly had a lot of
unemployed people who had difficulty paying the bills. Being by far the
political minority in Texas, they had nothing to say about it.
"Abilene is playing a waiting game as well" Henry said. "But we have the
advantage of not only stability and peace but the ability to strengthen our
position. The oil and gas no longer going into the federal areas is being
exported in large, and very profitable quantities, and even more is being
stockpiled for future use. And of course the loss of supply is severely
impacting the fed-controlled areas.
"As if they needed any more problems. There's some food production in the
plains areas under their control, and from California, but not nearly enough.
The situation in the cities is beyond critical. It was there a year ago.
Meanwhile we're able to continue to strengthen our military forces,
stockpiling weapons and supplies. Wayne, you may have more recent news from
the outside than they have in Abilene."
"Possibly" Wayne said. "Depending on how current they are. I've got contacts
in several of the worst areas - Chicago, New York, all the major ones. They
can't get in to the inner areas - or don't dare. For the most part the few
law enforcement personnel available, backed by National Guard where possible,
are just containing it in areas where access can be controlled.
"As for what's happening in there, it's mostly apocryphal, but it appears that
there are at least some large areas that are completely inaccessible - nothing
in or out - and while the conditions are not completely known, they're in a
state of what can only be described as primal savagery. Constant killings,
some in gang warfare and others simply people trying to survive, at the
expense of their neighbor."
Wayne paused, looking at his tablet, before continuing.
"It seems that in some places" he said "that cannibalism is occurring.
"As bad as that?" Henry asked. "We shouldn't be surprised. The supplies,
food especially, were interrupted over a year ago to the point that starvation
was likely. The cities were never more than a few days from being out of food
if the supply stopped. I imagine what is getting in is going to the elites
first, and there may not be enough for them. Are the authorities doing
anything to get food to them?"
"Little if any" Wayne replied. "Besides availability, there's the problem of
getting close enough to deliver it. Possibly throwing it over the fences, I
"My contact in Chicago is pretty well hooked in, and hears a lot. He says
they've abandoned the entire south side, with streets blocked, armored
vehicles and automatic weapons. He said it's literally like something from
"Any ideas what the leadership is doing?" Henry asked. "There must be some
local news. Or are they sitting there waiting for the feds to do something,
"That's about it in most places" Wayne said. "Whether it's Chicago, New York,
or any of the eastern cities. California has it a little better, but not much,
with cross-country traffic barely moving at all. Plus they're stuck with all
the massive underclass the liberal states have accumulated. In the cities
out east, and even in L.A. they can contain a lot of in no-go zones. But
California is a big place, and there are a lot more of them, roaming the
"I wonder how much the danger is" Gerald Campell said. "Between the militia
of the Republic and the Alliance we easily outnumber the army - what's
left of it - and they haven't a chance against us. But they might well
become desperate enough to start using heavy stuff - using the Air Force to
bomb targets inside our borders. Not that they know where to drop the
bombs - we're distributed and hidden too well. But it could cause a lot of
"I wouldn't put it past them" said Henry. The question is how long are they
likely to wait. I suspect that at some point the current administration will
feel it necessary to do something just to remain in power. We don't really
have a good handle on what they're thinking. And in any case it won't be
"Any back-channel stuff going on?" asked Patrick Lewis. He was a retired
military man, Alex knew, a colonel in the army if he remembered.
"Very little" said Henry. "We have a meeting in Abilene next week, we'll see
what's new. I talk to Sam Macgregor regularly, and President Butler wants to
discuss that, along with some other things. One of which is covert actions."
He looked at Alex.
"Alex, I know you've been behind lines, and we'd like to get some input from
you. You probably have some unique perspective, both on the situation among
the general population and on working in that environment. I hope you can
stick around for a while."
Alex nodded and Henry went on. He and two or three members of the other
militias and the leaders of the Army of the Republic, coinciding with a
meeting of the provisional government.
Efficiency seemed to be a priority, and the meeting lasted just a little over
an hour. Before they left Henry asked when Alex might be able to meet with
them, and they set up a date.
Edward had a few errands to attend to and it was well after lunch time when
they returned home. Katherine was preparing a meal when they arrived, and
Cassandra was assisting. She immediately hugged Alex, as if he had been
gone for days, and then went back to helping Katherine. There was casual
talk while they were eating, and afterwards they went back to gardening.
Cassandra was fascinated by the chickens, Alex guessed she had grown up in
the city. She enjoyed feeding them and knelt down by the fence and petted
one or two of the tamer ones. She was looking healthier and more beautiful
every day, he thought, and happier as well. Her past seemed, for the time
being, to be if not forgotten - as if it ever could be - at least pushed
down somewhere where it did not affect her daily life. What would happen if
she was under stress again he could only guess.
They went for a walk around the farm, at least the part around and near the
house. The entire farm was over a square miles and mostly wheat and soybean
fields. Nearer the house were some hayfields, and small patches of trees and
ponds surrounded the house. Cassandra enjoyed watching fish in the shallow
water, and seeing the turtles and frogs. Alex was at once happy for her
newfound happiness and sad for the lost childhood. And he wondered what would
become of her in time, but for now they were for the bound together.
He didn't see how it could be a permanent arrangement, but he knew there was
no way he could abandon her, and if she was unwilling to be left with anyone
else that was just how it would have to be for the time being. But he also
knew that something would be coming up - he suspected Henry had something up
It was possible Cassandra could eventually become adjusted to being left in
the care of someone he trusted, such as Edward and Katherine. She didn't
mind a few hours, perhaps that could become days if necessary. Eventually.
The more unpleasant thought, of what would happen if he went on an operation
and didn't return, he pushed it aside for the moment.
Having had a late lunch, they had a later dinner as well. A light one,
frozen pizza, chips and dip, and later ice cream as they watched the last
news before bedtime.
News was of course different, as both the Republic and the Alliance had
their own television markets. They could receive the satellite broadcasts
from the companies that had access to the satellites, none of which were
within their territory. Thus they could not use the satellites for their
own services. They had soon enough developed an over-the-air and cable
network for the benefits of their own citizens, and since they were only
available within their borders the central government could not see what
they were doing. Except what they picked up at the fringes or was seen by
Not that it mattered much. The provisional governments had official
programming which was used to inform their citizenry. While other operators
showed entertainment of various sorts, mostly old movies and television
shows, most people were interested in news of the war, as it was generally
called. The Internet was another matter, as ICANN, the organization that
controlled the most essential functions of the Internet, had refused to
take actions demanded by the central government to hamper the rebellious
territories. And in any case the rebels had long since devised ways around
dependence on the Internet.
The news on this night was essentially no news of any consequence. On the
government channels there were coded messages for those who knew to look
for them and could decode them. Edward selected the correct station at
the proper time to see what was new, and gave Alex a meaningful look at
one point during the weather report. Something was up, he guessed, and
after seeing Cassandra off to bed he went back to talk with Edward and
"What's up?" Alex asked.
"We got several messages." Edward said. "One is that the Alliance and the
Republic will be having a joint strategy meeting in the next couple of weeks,
in Abilene. About fifty delegates will be arriving in during that time, in
twos and threes by small aircraft."
Moving between the two territories could be slightly risky, if the government
wanted to make trouble for them. A straight shot across Kansas was less than
400 miles, but the official seat of the provisional government was in the
small town of Central City, Nebraska. As with the government of the Republic
it was decentralized, with all of the members together in one place only
They could probably take jets out of Lincoln, flying higher and faster and
crossing the hostile airspace of Kansas in under an hour, but it would attract
attention even if the central government didn't want to risk the possible
repercussions of shooting one down. And attention was not desired, hence
the small groups travelling separately in small aircraft.
"We'll be meeting for a couple of weeks." Edward said. "After that we may
or may not have a clearer picture of the near future. The government is in
such a state of confusion nothing is predictable."
"I'm guessing there's something in there pertaining to me." Alex said.
"There's an operation been green-lighted." Edward said. "We'd like to have
your expertise, and other abilities, if you're available."
"Injun country?" Alex asked. "I don't know how soon I can leave Cassandra
alone, even with people I really trust. Or if I ever can."
"I was thinking about her going with you."
"Back into enemy territory?" Alex asked. "Even if she would go, knowing if
was away from a safe place, I couldn't expose her again. That's crazy."
"You willing to sit it out, then? I wouldn't blame you if you did, but
somehow I don't think you want that. And, if you do it right, there's no
"Any risk is serious." Alex said. "For me, it's acceptable. But I can't
choose for her."
"See what you think about this." Edward said. "We need you to work with
our operatives in Tennessee. There's a similar operation in Kansas, and if
we take Kansas we've cut the continent in two. There's a lot of critical
traffic crossing Kansas - it's the only route they control. And Tennessee
is ripe for picking. They never had more than a tenuous hold there, and
the same goes for North Carolina. They're back on their heels now, and a
couple more major blows - and taking Kansas will be a major one - could be
what it takes to get some sort of arrangement. They can't take much more."
"What sort of arrangement do we have in mind?" Alex asked. "You don't think
that would put us in a position to form an official state, peace treaty,
international recognition and all that?"
"Not likely." said Edward. "I believe the leaders of both the Republic and
the Alliance would be happy with a treaty that restores autonomy to the
states at the level originally mandated by the constitution. Getting the
feds to agree to that is going to be difficult."
"You mean overturn about ninety percent of laws and supreme court rulings
for about, what, about two hundred years."
"More or less." Edward said. "But it is better than what they're looking
at. They can't win, unless they can somehow assemble an army of about
fifteen to twenty million special forces types, with an emphasis on
counter-insurgency, and then spend about ten years taking back the lost
territory, one bloody square mile at a time."
"Do you think they see that yet?" Alex asked.
"We know the military men do. The question is how long it will take the
politicians to admit it. Their dream of a socialist utopia is gone, I
believe, except in the weakest minds. No, I suspect it will take a
little more to convince some of them. And these next operations could
"What's in Tennessee?" Alex asked.
"Like the operation in Kansas, we'll be taking down railroad and highway
bridges. We've been preparing for months, to make a major impact on both
highway and rail traffic. We'll not just break the interstate, I-70 in
Kansas for example, in several places but move out on both sides and blow
bridges on the secondary roads to a considerable distance, making the
necessary detours more costly in time. Same with the railroads - blowing
a number of bridges on any lines we can get to - railroad traffic could
be stopped for months."
"That would be a serious blow." Alex said. "We must have hundreds of men in
there, if you're talking about a one-day operations. Which it would have to
be, otherwise they'd move a couple of army divisions in there at the first
sign of trouble."
"If they had them" Edward said "they would. As it is they will react as
forcefully as they can. But there's nothing they can do."
"Where do I fit in?" Alex asked. "I can't go dragging Cassandra around
planting explosives under bridges. I don't even like the idea of taking
her back into harm's way."
"What we need is for you to help coordinate the strikes in Tennessee. You'd
be working with an experienced agent. She's a little younger than you, about
the right age to be Cassandra's mother. She's been there from the beginning,
knows everything and everyone, on both sides. You'll be acting like regular
people, coordinating the setup. Afterwards you egress through one of several
available routes. Tennessee's layout makes that easy."
"When does this happen?" Alex asked.
"The work is underway now." Edward said. "The strike date is after the
conference in Abilene is over. We don't want the delegates trying to get
home cross Kansas right after it. Once they're all back we'll set the date."
"Let me talk with Cassandra. When do I leave?"
"Couple of days. I'll get it started."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ * ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The drive to Tennessee was easy enough. Instead of crossing at the
nearest point Alex drove across Arkansas into Missisippi, where the
long border with Tennessee was mostly in sparsely populated areas. The
border was easy to cross in the southern states, mostly by intent on
both sides. A steady flow of black market goods from the southern
states into the government-controlled areas helped relieve some of the
pressure from those in the cities, especially in the northeast. And
it was quite profitable for those in the Republic, as they had abundant
supplies and were well paid.
As for security, both sides assumed agents would cross easily, mixed in
with the commerce. There was no worry in the Republic as almost the entire
population was firmly committed to independence and would not be offering
aid and comfort, while enemy territory was rift with discontented inhabitants.
Most of them were there because they were unable to flee to the Republic,
any many were more than willing to assist agents of the Republic. Alex
and Cassandra would have the assistance of a large network in Tennessee.
He glanced over at Cassandra as they approached the bridge at Helena. It
was an old bridge, from the 1960s. Alex didn't like such bridges - they
were so narrow, just two lanes of traffic, they looked fragile, especially
stretched across the wide Mississippi river. He wondered if Cassandra was
uneasy, but she seemed calm. She turned to look out at the river, as if
crossing a wide river was not something she had often done.
Before leaving he had driven back into Edmond with Edward to pick up the
vehicle he was now driving, and some supplies and equipment. The car was one
of several used for the purpose of travel in and out of enemy territory. It
was registered in Tennessee and had no suspicion attached to it. Of the
Republic agents in enemy territory, many were employed by the state or local
governments and able to monitor, or even in some cases modify, official
records. Any indication one of the vehicles was under scrutiny would result
in it being taken out of service.
This one was an old Ford Explorer from the late 1990s. Rebuilt, with some
modifications, to factory-new condition, but not appearance. Millions of
them had been made - they were one of the most commonly seen vehicles.
There was nothing special about it in performance or function. They would
use another vehicle for the mission, and it would have enhanced functionality.
The people in Edmond had offered some weaponry he thought might be useful.
Alex was comfortable with any firearm that was handy, but generally preferred
his .40 caliber Ruger or one of several similarly-sized compact pistols.
"Not a problem." Edward said. "Depending on what you get into out there, you
may want some heavier stuff. Your contact can get you pretty much anything
you need, but you might want to look at a couple of these."
He handed him a small revolver, not much larger than some derringers. The
hammer had no spur - only a flat serrated projection. Alex released the
cylinder to verify it was unloaded, then used his thumb to pull the hammer
back. Despite the small size of the abbreviated spur it was relatively
"That allows you to shoot single-action if you want to." Edward said. "I
suppose you might need to do it for a long shot, but this is mainly a
hideout gun. Just point and squeeze. Or if you're close enough push it
against a sensitive spot. I know a few guys carry those. But you might
want to look at these."
He handed Alex a slim pistol, thinner than the small revolver but somewhat
longer. Alex found it to be a long-barrelled derringer, and broke it open.
The chambers looked about the same size as the revolver.
"That's a .38 too." Edward said. "Double action, unusual in derringers.
And the pull is lighter than most DA derringers. Give it a try."
Alex closed it and squeezed the trigger a couple of times.
"That is smooth." he said. "I had a little four-barrel derringer once.
Didn't have it long. Trigger was awful."
"Had one of those myself." Edward said. "It was bad. These have the back
half of the trigger guard so they won't snag. That long barrel - there's a
shorter version - is handy if you want to stick in in a boot holster or
something like that. Here you go."
He handed Alex a small holster with a clip on one side. Alex thrust the
little gun inside and fastened the strap.
"Buddy of mine" Edward said "spent some time in injun country. Got shot up
almost a year ago on an operation. He wore one in each boot, with one of
those little Undercovers in a belt holster. Carried big .40s in shoulder
holsters. Said the little ones saved him a time or three."
"If you can spare them, give me a two pairs, and two of the Undercovers.
I'll set Cassandra up the same way. I hope to keep us clear of any action,
but if it comes I want her to be ready. And a pair of knives, the old-school
"We can do it." Edward said. "How is she with weapons?"
"Haven't had a lot of formal practice, but up close she can handle herself.
And there's the element of surprise."
"I can see that." Edward said. "Take care of her. I wouldn't want you going
in, but we need you there. Julie and her team are the best, you'll be all
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ * ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
They stopped in a small town a few miles from the Tennessee state line and
spent the night in a motel. Alex called his contact and after a while a
young couple who looked to be in their twenties came over.
"I'm Darrell." the young man said. "And this is Terri. Y'all had anything
to eat yet?"
"No, I figured to get hold of you first."
"Sounds good. Want to get a pizza or something?"
"Let's do it."
Darrell and Kelli had been briefed to expect Alex accompanied by a juvenile
female who was unable to speak, so no awkwardness occurred. Although not
much older, Kelli immediately liked Cassandra, who in turn was quite
comfortable with her new acquaintances.
They dined at a small pizza restaurant, one with old-fashioned decor and
dimly lit with a constant low level of conversation.
"There's no risk here." said Darrell. "But we'll give you the details out
in the car.
They talked little, mostly small talk about the area and its population, with
coded references to some business matters. Later they went over to the motel
and sat in Darrell's car.
"We'll cross over tomorrow around midday." he told them. "There's rarely much
traffic on 47 any time of day, and we'll have some drone surveillance up to
ensure the area is clear of anything suspicious before we go. Once we're in
we'll escort you to your contact's location and you can peel off and go in,
we'll continue on for a while, up around Willowbrook, then make a loop to the
west and back into Mississippi by another route. Shouldn't be any reason for
anyone to connect us.
"Not that there's much attention on the area anyway. Things are rather quiet
about now, with no indications the feds are up to anything, and as far as they
know neither are we. From what we understand the only thing going on in D.C.
is that there are a bunch of confused and frightened people with no idea what
"Seems that way." Alex said. "I'd guess it will change before long. They'll
have to show some reaction with Kansas is cut off. And with Tennessee going
down at the same time, should be interesting. Kansas will be the bigger blow,
but Tennessee will make their reaction less effective in both cases. They
may ignore Tennessee to attempt to hold Kansas, but it won't work. Once the
roads and rails are useless, they'll have to give it up. No way to even
"Hope it goes so well." Darrell said. "We'll start early tomorrow. Never
know what can happen."
The crossing was uneventful. Four hundred miles of border was not easily
controlled or even monitored. Driving the new vehicle, Alex followed the
Jeep Darrell was driving along a dirt road through fields and a patch of
woods. When they crossed the line wasn't clear, but eventually they reached
a small town. Crawfordsville, population 1,264 according to the sign which
presumably indicated the city limits.
Alex and Cassandra were in an old Chevrolet S-10 from the 1990s. Rebuilt, with
some modifications, to factory-new condition it was optimized for hazardous
work. The driveline was an all-wheel-drive assembly from a newer vehicle, with
the engine power substantially enhanced. Extra fuel capacity provided longer
operation between fuel stops, and bullet-proof windshield and windows and armor
under the skin gave it some protection against being disabled by small-arms fire.
He followed as Darrell turned off the main street, crossing several streets in
a residential area until reaching a dead end. His phone buzzed and vibrated and
"I'll turn right" Darrell said. "You go left, it's the brick house on the
corner of the next intersection. Can't miss it. There'll be a light blue
Chevy pickup. Don't worry if there are several vehicles, there always are.
Alex turned as instructed, watching the Jeep in the rear-view mirror as it
disappeared in the other direction. He drove slowly, saw the house and the
truck, turned into the driveway. There were indeed two vehicles besides the
blue truck, as unremarkable has his own.
The front door of the house opened. A young woman appeared, raised her left
hand and held it up briefly, then lowered it and raised her right hand. All
was well, it seemed. "Looks like we made it." he said. Cassandra smiled
slightly, as she usually did. She seemed all right for the moment. "Let's
go." They got their bags and went up to the covered porch.
"I'm Allison." she said. "I'm alone just now, Savanna should be back shortly.
She's taking care of a few minor items. All right if I hug this beautiful
"Sure she won't mind." Alex said.
Allison was a little taller than average and bent slightly to hug Cassandra,
holding her for a few seconds.
"We're happy to have you here, Cassandra." she said. "Hope you'll enjoy your
She had been briefed on Cassandra's situation, so knew not to expect a reply.
"Let's get inside." she said. "There's no evidence of surveillance here,
but no need to attract attention."
Inside, the house was as ordinary as any. Allison showed them to their rooms
and they put their bags away.
"I'll show you the only hot area" she said. "This way."
The back of the house had a large enclosed patio, with another small building
on the other side. They crossed the patio and she opened the door. Inside
were a couple of desks with computers, and not much else. A shredder
contained just a small amount of paper - not much was ever committed to paper.
"We have a relay network that covers the entire state." she said. "And we're
linked into the Republic system through the neighboring states. Storage is on
those external drives, and nothing ever leaves this room. Over there"
indicating a tall cylindrical container "is an acid bath that will destroy
anything you drop in, in seconds. The place can be sanitized in a few minutes,
long before anyone gets back here."
"It's about lunch time." she said. "Let me see if I can raise Savanna." She
took out a phone and dialed a number. She conversed briefly and ended the call.
"About twenty minutes" she said. "Let's go see what's to eat."
By the time Savanna returned Allison and Cassandra had prepared a light
lunch, over which they discussed the mission.
"It's pretty ambitious." Allison said. "We have forty-two cells, each
of which will hit one or more targets simultaneously. Several of the
will hit targets - those are cases in which they can get set up well
ahead of time, mostly railroad bridges. You'll be contacting about a
dozen of them, making sure all is ready to go. A couple of other teams
are in the state. One is from Alabama and the other from Georgia.
Once it's over you can get back quickly across the line. If any
of them are compromised you many have to intervene."
"What's our target?" Alex asked. "Or is it set?"
"We're shooting for the seventeenth of next month." Allison said. "In
fact, if Kansas is ready we're going whether we're ready or not. Kansas
is the primary objective - Tennessee is a bonus. So if we have to
scratch a target or two it's not a problem."
"That gives us about twenty, twenty-two days. We should be able to get
it done, if the teams have everything they need. What's the plan - make
a visit to each cell, work out any problems they might have? Report
"Pretty much." Allison said. "We've got a couple of phones loaded up
with all the info you need. Contacts, maps, tech info. You need to be
back here a few days before we pull the trigger. If all goes well you
should head back once it's done - it'll be at night, and with all the
confusion getting from here back across the line, at least during the
first few hours, should be easy. The only trick is if any of or people
are at risk, and you - or one of the other teams - have to get them out."
"You're taking Cassandra?" Savanna asked.
"Yeah. We go together."
"If everything goes normally, you'll egress through here." Allison said.
"Same way you came in. There are a couple of alternate routes and safe
houses, in case they're needed."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ * ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Alex followed the route Allison had loaded on the tablet. Occasionally
Cassandra touched a button to keep the screen illuminated, as he looked
for the signs. Before long they were at a crossroads twenty or so miles
from the last town they had passed. He stopped the truck on the gravel
shoulder and got out. He looked around, saw another vehicle approaching.
There was not another one in sight.
Shortly a truck similar to the one he was driving arrived and parked
behind his. Two men got out and approached, one of them making a series
of gestures with his right hand. Alex responded with the appropriate
signal and the two moved close enough to talk.
One appeared to be in his early to mid twenties, the other perhaps twice
his age or more. The older had a modest beard with a little grey. Both
were dressed in jeans and khaki shirts much like the one Alex wore -
long sleeves, two pockets with flaps, and epaulets. Much like military
or law enforcement uniform shirts. They were the predominant style in
the Republic, and Alex guessed if was common among rebels.
"Roger Mitchell" the younger one said, extending a hand. Alex shook it
and the one proffered by the older man. "And this is my uncle, Philip.
Heard a lot about you, Alex. Good to be working with you."
Alex knew a photograph and other relevant information would have been
provided beforehand. He had photos of Roger and Philip, so the introduction
"You were briefed on my associate?" he asked.
"We were." said Roger. "We've heard about that place in Illinois. Seems
the enemy forces are in pretty bad shape, things like that going on. Cigar?"
He extended a package of small cigars, Alex took one and removed the wrapper.
Roger handed him a lighter, unwrapped another one while Alex lit his. Uncle
Philip extracted a pack of his own and lit up. Alex smoked occasionally, but
often too busy to acquire cigars or cigarettes, and had little time to enjoy
them in any case. This was the calm before the storm, and they took the
opportunity to enjoy it.
"Down that way" Roger said "this road begins to run parallel to the Southern
Rail track, for about ten to twelve miles. There are seven bridges in that
distance, some of them no more than a hundred feet, several considerably
longer. One of them crosses Carver's Creek, which doesn't sound like anything
big but the creek runs through a low area that floods regularly, so the bridge
is about a quarter mile long. When it goes down it won't be fixed any time
soon. The way things are going I'd say it won't be fixed before the war is
"Anyway, there's another big one, about two hundred yards, that will also
take a while. The smaller ones are just insurance. We'll take a look at
a couple of them, update you on where we are. You do any demolition?"
"Some" Alex said. "A little of everything. Mostly with military grade
"Yeah, used that some. Helped the boys up in Arizona and California taking
down transmission towers early on."
"We'll be using it on the big bridge." Roger said. "It has steel trusses.
In a way it's easier than setting charges. You about ready?"
"Give me a minute." Alex said. He motioned to Cassandra, who got out and
came around to where they stood.
"Cassandra, this is Roger and Philip." he said. "We'll be spending some
time with them, next few days."
"Hi Cassandra." Roger said. "Nice to meet you."
Philip knelt, looked into her eyes, reached out to take her hands in his.
"You look like my granddaughter." he said. "Her name is Angela, about your
age. You're with good people now, and your life is going to always get better.
Some day this war will end, and people can live regular lives, be happy again."
He released her hands and stood up. Cassandra was smiling, a bit of
wetness around her eyes but Alex knew it was happiness. Or hoped it was.
"Follow us" Roger said. "There's practically nothing out here. Nothing
but farmland, most people stay home these days, so there's hardly anything
on the roads."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ * ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Alex and Cassandra got back in their vehicle and followed them down unpaved
roads, relatively smooth and apparently little traveled. Not surprising
given the conditions. In the Republic, and to a large degree in Alliance
territory life was close to what it had been before the war. In
both cases the population had a great many preppers, as they were called.
Literally millions of them, and the vast majority were in the breakaway states.
And in the remainder of the country the enormous populations of people who
were not only unprepared, but incapable of the foresight or industry to
prepare, had made the cities a nightmare environment. Thus little attention
was given to the rural areas, as the resources were simply unavailable.
Before long they the road they were on was running parallel to a railroad
track, on a high embankment about twenty to thirty feet higher than the
road. Probably because of the flooding Roger had mentioned. Highways
could be underwater occasionally without serious ill effects - perhaps the
railroads couldn't. And of course maintaining a constant gradient was
Roger turned onto a side road that led towards the railroad. A tunnel
through the embankment, divided by the posts supporting the roadbed,
allowed two vehicles to pass through simultaneously. They continued
some distance, finally stopping near a small group of trees a couple of
hundred yards from the railroad. Alex and Cassandra got out and joined
Roger and Philip.
"We don't want to park close" Roger said. "Aerial surveillance would cause
an investigation of we were seen. Out here we could be hunters or just
people fooling around. If we walk back we may or may not be seen, but won't
arouse as much suspicion. Let's go."
From the underside Alex could see that the railroad bed was supported by
large timbers about a foot thick, with vertical supports of a similar
size. The vertical posts were round, four supporting the center with
four more at each end. The end supports were mostly embedded in the earth,
the ones in the center exposed for the entire ten feet or so from the
road to the railroad above. The area smelled of the creosote used to treat
the wood. Roger put a hand on the nearest column.
"We'll bore holes in these posts" he said. "About two inches in diameter,
about ten inches deep. Push a stick of dynamite in. We've tested it already,
it'll easily disintegrate the post. A short overpass like this may not
collapse entirely, but it will certainly be unsafe. The longer ones certainly
will. And with out the creek bridge out, the line will be down for months
anyway. The smaller ones are insurance."
"And you're using thermite on the creek bridge?" Alex asked.
"Right. There's another fairly long bridge, with wooden supports. It's long
enough to collapse when we blow the posts. Then three others. We'll have a
team for each, hit them all at the same time. All the others have a full
complement, five to six men. Since you're here we'd like to have you in."
"Figured on being in somewhere." Alex said. "I've got a few things to do
between now and then. But on the big day I won't have anything scheduled.
Plans are to stay here for a while - I don't want to be crossing the border
anytime soon after. That's when it'll be watched most."
"You probably want to wait several days at least." Roger said. "They don't
have the resources to do any kind of useful operation. They'll investigate
and start repairs, but they're spread too thin to be much of a threat. Our
biggest concern is infiltration. But our cellular structure mitigates that
considerably. They might take out one team, but that's it. The others
would go on."
"Looks good." Alex said. "Guess we should get moving, before we get noticed."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ * ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Looks like we're set."
Alex was sitting between Allison and Savanna at the table in the operations
center behind their house. A very large screen mounted over the table showed
a map of the state of Tennessee, showing the targeted highways and railroads.
"Pretty sophisticated." Alex said.
"Nothing fancy" Allison said "but we do have some pretty good tech people.
The test will be using it to keep track of our progress. As each operation
is completed the team will notify central command, and we'll get updates.
Those green lights will go red or yellow, depending on the confirmation of
success. Or remain green if it fails.
"Most operations will start as soon as it's dark, or sooner if they're in
remote areas like the one you're doing. You can probably be back here within
three or four hours if all goes well. Some may have to wait until later.
We'll cut off at six hours from the start no matter what. Once the first
few go off, the government will scramble what resources they have, and we
don't want anyone caught. If they're not done by then they abort."
"How do we avoid people being endangered by the damaged bridges?" Alex asked.
"Especially the highways."
"We'll do our best. The road teams will have lighted warning barriers to block
the roads just before they blow them. We have the ability to contact the
railroads to stop the trains at the beginning. They won't have time to get
out the remote areas before they can be blown. We also have warning lights
to put on the tracks that can be seen for a considerable distance. If a train
hasn't been warned it will slow when it sees the track blocked."
"Looks good." Alex said. He looked at Cassandra. "Ready for a little night
Cassandra smiled and nodded. She had a good grasp on what was happening, how
the people who made bad things happen to her were being resisted. She was
happy to have a part in it. Alex hoped when it was over she would be able to
have some sort of normal life.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ * ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Roger and Philip were at the crossroads when they arrived. The sun was just
about to disappear behind the forest some miles distant. They lit up cigars
and Alex looked over the equipment they had brought.
"That drill is something we built for the purpose." Roger said. "The battery
pack is on the heavy side. It has to power a two-inch drill a foot into those
posts. In our case just a few - some teams have more and will need multiple
packs. We've got tools go dig some of the rock out from under the ties,
hopefully blow out a few of those, maybe bend the rails. The more damage
"Cassandra, you think you can help put the dynamite in?" Alex asked. He took
a stick out of the case and showed it to her. She nodded.
"Who's going up on top?" Alex asked.
"That'll be me." Gilbert said. "Not sure I can handle that drill as handily as
"Any kind of a time estimate?" Alex asked.
"I've tested the drill." Roger said. "I can drill a hole in about two to
three minutes. So twenty tops. Depends on how much time you and Uncle
Phil want to spend on top."
"I'm guessing in that time we can stuff several sticks under two or three
ties." Philip said. "We'll work until you call up that you're done, and
then we'll get going. Our work is for bonus points."
They set off in the deepening twilight, arriving in near darkness. Parking
under the railroad, Alex and Roger quickly set up work lights and Roger began
to bore holes for the charges. Alex and Gilbert took the tools and climbed
up to the track. They first order of business was to plant a couple of small
strobe lights on stakes about three feet high, one facing in each direction.
If a train approached they would see the lights a good mile away. Then they
began loosening the ballast under the ties. When a small amount of the crushed
rock was removed a pair of sticks of dynamite was pushed under the tie, under
the plate that held the rail in place. They had placed nine of the charges
when Roger called up to them.
"Time to go." he called. They armed the detonators, activated the lights
and scrambled down the embankment, arriving as Roger closed a toolbox in the
back of his truck.
"We set the timers for ten minutes." Gilbert said.
"Same here." Roger said. "Let's get going."
They drove quickly back to the crossroads, not quite a mile away, stopped
and got out to watch. A couple of minutes later they saw a series of small
flashes from the top of the embankment, immediately followed by several
more below. The boom of the explosions reached them a few seconds later.
"That went well." Roger said. "Wish we could take a look, but the sooner
we're away from here the better. We'll see it soon enough, in daylight.
Good work guys. You did good, Cassandra. Be safe and stay well, we may
not get to see each other again. Good working with you."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ * ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Back at the house they joined Allison and Savanna as the status display showed
the progress of the operation.
"We need to clean up." Alex said after a few minutes. "We'll be back as soon
as we get a shower and clean clothes."
They went to their respective rooms, and in a short time returned. Alex
considered himself quick at such tasks, but when he returned to the operation
center Cassandra was already there. She was wearing the usual outfit -
Katherine had taken her shopping while they were in Oklahoma and she was
well supplied with a clothing. Not that she often wore anything than a copy
of Alex's outfit. She was incredibly beautiful, he thought, now that she had
recovered her health. Physically at least. And her mental state seemed to be
at least as good as could be expected. In her khaki military-style shirt and
jeans, a western-style belt and cowboy boots she looked ready to pose for a
"Looking good." Allison said. "Only a couple of aborts so far, and we're up
around fifty percent of targets."
Savanna was watching the constantly changing images on her screen, while
Allison watched the big screen.
"Can I get you something to drink?" she asked. "We've got beer and hard stuff,
and some pretty good wine, considering the situation. Cassandra, would you
like some wine?"
"Ever drink anything alcoholic?"
She shook her head.
"I've got something you'll like." she said. "Alex, we've got bourbon,
Tennessee and Kentucky. And a couple of good brandies. Be right back."
She returned to the house.
Alex and Savanna watched the displays, as more and more green lights turned
red, occasionally one went to yellow.
"We've got a running chat with the other centers." she said. "I reported us
in as successful, and it looks like thirty-two, no thirty-three, are done.
That leaves nine, and so far no aborts."
"Anything on the big bridges?"
"Both down." Savanna said. "They got an early start. If we had only gotten
those two it would be a success. As it is we've broken three lines in
Allison returned with a tray. She handed a glass to Alex and set the tray
"Hennessy." she said. "Figure most people are good with that."
"That's good." he said.
She handed a glass of pink wine to Cassandra.
"It's sweet and mild" she said. "But if you've never drunk wine before if may
have a slightly strange taste, but you eventually develop a taste for it. It
will probably make you feel a little light-headed before long, but that's why
we drink it. You'll sleep well tonight for sure."
Cassandra smiled, took a sip.
"Good?" Allison asked.
A nod, smile. Cassandra looked back to the screen. They watched as more
lights changed color. After a while Alex said "Think I'll go out for a
smoke. Join me?"
"I will" Savanna said.
They went out to the patio. Savanna took out a small cigarette case, offered
it to Alex.
"Don't mind if I do." he said, putting back the cigar he had taken out.
"Probably don't want to spend too much time."
They lit up and smoked silently, the cool October breeze blowing away the
"How are supplies of tobacco and liquor here?" he asked.
"For us rebels, not a problem." She smiled. "In this business we have all
kinds of interesting connections. A lot of people who aren't involved in the
resistance are into the underground economy. How is it in the free world?"
"Better" he said. "As you probably guess. It's pretty normal in the Republic,
as far as living conditions go."
"We hope to be part of the Republic soon." Savanna said. "From what we hear,
it wouldn't take much. There's a powerful force here, just under the surface.
Probably we could break free now, if the Republic helped we could. Take South
"I suspect that's planned." Alex said. "I don't know how close. But what
we've done tonight will make it that much closer. With Tennessee just about
useless for strategic purposes, and Kansas cut off, there's not much they can
to to stop it. We'll redraw the borders and continue closing the net on them."
Finishing their cigarettes they returned to see Allison and Cassandra watching
the screens, as Allison explained the effects of the operation. All
"It's everything we hoped for." she said. "Probably more. Now we have to lie
low for a while, see what the reaction is. It will probably be a few days
before you can get out
For the next several days they watched the news on television - all of it the
government version. In the operation center they got regular updates from
"Here's a picture of your job." Allison said. The picture on the screen was
the bridge he and Cassandra had hit. The bridge had partially collapsed onto
the road beneath it, obviously out of commission for a while.
"We've got drones covering about all of it." she said. "Of course the news
coverage of the two big bridges showed us all we needed. And the highway
damage is worse - they've got backups all over the place, nothing of any
consequence is moving."
"What are they saying about tracking us down?" Alex asked.
"The usual" said Allison. "But with less energy than usual. There seems to
be an air of foreboding, despair even, that leaks through no matter what they
say. But they are investigating, as much as they can. We've got enough
people inside to know what leads they're pursuing, if any. We'll know if we,
or you, have any exposure. If we do, we'll blow this place - literally - and
disperse to safe houses. Otherwise when it settles down some you can head
"So we wait and watch. I might as well do it here as back home. For a while.
I would like to get back and see what's going on."
"You should be able to leave in a week or so. We have a pretty good handle on
the government activity. You're pretty close to the border, and there's not
much surveillance in this area. We'll monitor it, see if it increases. When
it settles down you can make a run for it."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ * ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"This doesn't look good."
The road was blocked, by several vehicles. A couple were off-road trucks, and
at least a half-dozen men were visible. Men with guns. Alex slowed to gain
time to plan. Looking for a side road, or even a dry, reasonably smooth field.
"Hang on." he said. Cassandra tugged at the straps on her seat belts. The
truck had four-point harnesses, like a race car. It was designed for maximum
survivability in unfriendly territory. A road sign ahead suggested a possible
side road. It was, and he braked hard, spun the wheel and hit the gas. As
soon as he was going straight he hit the four-wheel-drive switch. The vehicles
he had seen at the road block looked like full-sized trucks with high clearance
for off-road use. The S-10 was lower and lighter, and the driveline from a
newer SUV let it go fast over moderate off-road terrain.
The road was gravel, like most rural roads, and reasonably smooth. He didn't
look at the mirror for a while. He knew the pursuit would be there. He needed
a place to hide. He glanced over at Cassandra. She had retrieved a bag from
behind the seat, opened it and pulled out a small gun.
It was one of two small weapons they had brought from the safe house in
Crawfordsville. There were also a handful of grenades. You never knew when
those might come in handy.
He took a quick look at the speedometer. Just over 80. A rise in the road
suggested a bridge, or maybe a crossroads. It was a bridge. The S-10 was
airborne for a hundred feet or so before landing on the other side. He kept
it straight. Looked over at Cassandra. She seemed calm.
Nothing in the mirror, but that didn't matter. Alerts would have gone out
as soon as he made the turn. The only question was what resources were
available to hunt them. He needed to get headed back south. An opportunity
soon was presented, this one a paved highway. He turned south and continued,
looking for any signs of trouble.
They were approaching a town. He slowed. No need to alert the local police
if they were not already alerted. The two-lane road became four. Probably
the main drag of a town of some size. A sign announced that it was Cherry
Valley, population 11,897. Large enough to hide in for a while, as long as
their description hadn't already been given to the local police. All seemed
calm, and they traveled about two miles before the buildings began to thin
He stopped at a gas station with a dozen or so gas pumps and a small
convenience store. Being able to top off the fuel would be nice, but not
prudent. There was a car wash with four stalls, all empty. He drove into
one and stopped.
"Can you see where we are?" he asked Cassandra. She activated the small tablet
they were using for navigation. She handed it over with the map of their route
on the screen. "Keep an eye out while I look at this." he said.
"We're closer than I thought." he said. "Cherry Valley is about four or five
miles from the border. This road runs straight there. But it'll be blocked
for sure. We'll need a back road, but by now they're going to have this place
Cassandra touched his arm, pointed back. He looked in the mirror and saw a
police car. Blocking the stall they were parked in. He handed her the tabled
and hit the gas. Circling back to the street, he saw the police car moving,
but no others as yet. He continued south, looking for a side road that would
lead to open country. They might cover the few miles to the border - getting
across might be another matter.
The police car behind them had been joined by another, and another vehicle
with flashing lights was coming towards them. It turned to block the road,
and he drove around it. Just ahead a large lot with farm equipment parked
on it was marked by a large sign. McCulloch Farm Equipment. He turned into
the lot, driving between rows of large tractors and other equipment. One
pursuer was behind him, and he turned at the end of the row, looking for a
viable escape option.
A large chain-link fence about ten feet high loomed ahead, some large metal
buildings behind it. He drove for a pair of gates, hitting them dead center,
breaking the chains that held them closed. He slowed, saw an open door on
one of the buildings and drove inside. The police car was not in sight as
he did so.
Several large tractors were inside. There were no lights on, but the light
from the skylights allowed a reasonable inspection. He parked between two
of them and looked around.
The building was just wide enough for one row of the huge machines. All of
them had eight enormous tires, four at each corner. It was the most common
configuration of the big tractors, but the one they were parked beside also
had a huge blade on the front, like a bulldozer. So did the one on the other
side. He had seen a similar setup before. Some of the farmers where he had
grown up used them as bulldozers. He had used a similar one, and could was
familiar with these, large lime-green machines. They were quite old, as
the color had changed to red long ago when the company changed hands.
Tiger ST450. He knew the 450 indicated the engine horsepower. These things
were incredibly powerful. He wondered if either of them was operational and
fueled. He walked around it, looking for signs of recent use. It looked as
if it had been used, probably in the current farming season.
Cassandra had gotten out and stood beside him.
"Watch the entrance and hit the horn if anyone shows." he said. "I'll just
be a few minutes."
They were almost certainly searching the place by now, unless he had been
extremely lucky. He climbed up to the cab of the one on the left, sat down
in the seat. Turning the ignition to the first click gave him lights.
Good strong lights. Battery probably OK. Check fuel. Almost full - that
would be several hundred gallons, enough to plow for hours. Easily enough
go get to the line. He turned the key to the pre-start position, heard the
fuel pump running. He heard the horn, looked down to see Cassandra pointing
to the door.
Several men stood there, not quite inside, as if waiting for instructions.
He hoped the engine was warm enough, turned the key to the start position.
The big engine started, almost deafening inside the metal building. He
quickly dismounted and stood by Cassandra.
One of the men started through the door, and Alex fired a shot high over his
head. They all scattered to the outside.
"Grab the gear and get up in the cab." he said. "We just need to delay them
for a few minutes."
Cassandra got the bag with their weapons and another small bag, and climbed
up into the cab.
"Put down your weapons and come out." someone called.
They could surely hear the tractor running, and know what he intended.
"I've got a hostage." he called back.
That should hold them a while. He climbed back into the cab.
"Get down so you're not exposed." he said.
If they thought Cassandra was a hostage they probably wouldn't fire at all.
But if they were onto him they might know who they were. He knew he could
drive through the relatively flimsy wall, constructed of sheet metal over
If he could get out of the yard, onto the highway, he might drive the monster
all the way to the border and through whatever sort of roadblock they might
have. Or not. Best to leave the road before, go off-road. Easy enough for
the tractor. They'd be shooting at the tires at least, but they would take
a lot of damage before stopping all progress.
He saw a couple of men step back inside, could see they were saying something,
shouting no doubt, but he couldn't hear them. In any case, they were about to
escape or end up in a bad place. He didn't like to think about that happening
to Cassandra. He raised the blade as high as possible without blocking his
vision. That would provide some protection for the engine.
"Hang on." he said, pushed down the throttle. The wall offered no more
resistance than an aluminum beverage can would to being crushed in the hand,
if as much. They they were in daylight. He turned toward the gates he had
driven the truck through.
It had been years since he had driven one of these beasts, and while they were
easy enough to drive it took some getting used to, but he quickly adjusted.
Men were running around, careful to avoid the machine but not shooting at it.
There were now half a dozen or more cars, twice as many men, but still no
shooting. He entered the highway, not waiting for traffic, hoping the
motorists would see him and avoid being run over. Now he was headed south -
he hoped - in the middle of the road. The traffic was parting before them,
and several police cars were now flanking them on both sides.
"Are we going the right way?" he asked. Cassandra activated the tablet and
looked at the map for a few seconds, then nodded. Just about them he saw a
sign indicating they were indeed headed south. At the tractor's maximum
speed of twenty to thirty miles per hour, they were maybe fifteen minutes
from the border.
A large truck drew alongside, a couple of men standing in the back, holding
on to the roll bar. One of them held a megaphone loudhailer, gesticulating
with the other. This should buy them a couple of minutes at least, and he
pushed open the window of the cab.
"We know who you are." the man shouted. "We know the woman is not a hostage.
Stop now and surrender, no one will get hurt."
Alex held a hand up to his ear, as if not hearing. He looked for signs,
saw the one he was looking for. 'Mississippi 2 miles'. Good. Maybe.
They would know he was heading for the border, and in the next few minutes
would have to take action to stop him.
"If you do not stop immediately we will fire."
They were covering a mile every three minutes. He would have to assess the
terrain quickly as they approached the border. At this point it was cropland
recently left bare by the harvest. He wanted to leave the road in sufficient
time to avoid the roadblock and fire from the front.
Just about now, he thought. Sure enough two more trucks came alongside, two
men in the back of each. All were carrying rifles. Military rifles. If
they were using the old 5.56 AR-15s, they might shoot at the tires for a while
with little effect. The larger 6.8 might not be much better. Still,
"Toss a grenade at that truck." he said.
Cassandra fished one out and pulled the pin, opened the window on her side
and threw it out.
He had no idea where it went, but heard the explosion, somewhat faint from
the distance they had covered and the thick windows of the cab.
"Hand me one."
Cassandra handed him one and he looked over at the truck, slowed slightly as
if about to comply, then pulled the pin and threw. The driver probably didn't
see him do it, but the men in the truck did. Luckily for them it missed.
They had go be inside a mile now. The flat field remained on the left side,
where he planned to go. Then the firing started.
He left the highway, down a slight slope that the big machine easily handled.
Several shots had hit the cab before he left the road, but now they would have
to shoot with a rougher ride.
It didn't stop them. Several more shooters joined in, and they took more
hits. Nothing to do now but go for it. He pressed the throttle all the way
down, and the increase in speed threw the shooters off for a while. Then they
were back on target again. The heavy plexiglass didn't shatter like glass,
so the bullets went through cleanly, some of them near enough to hear.
"Throw the rest of the grenades." he said. Ahead he could see what looked
like some sort of barrier. Can't be much more than a fence, he thought. Even
a ditch probably wouldn't stop them, unless it was very deep.
He heard another grenade go off behind them. The fence was close enough now
to see that it was just that. Another grenade. More bullets. He wanted to
look over at Cassandra, but had to wait. Two hundred yards, now a hundred.
He could see vehicles on the other side. Please be friendlies, he thought.
He hit the fence just to the right of them, ripping down the fence and
trailing a hundred feet or so of it. He kept going, a good quarter mile,
then slowed and turned the tractor to look back.
The vehicles he had seen at the fence were indeed friendlies. Several, at
least, had the Army of the Republic star on the sides. Some remained at the
border, the others were headed his way. He turned to check on Cassandra.
Her khaki shirt was now mostly red. She looked up at him, silently as always,
but with clenched teeth. Her eyes told him she was in considerable pain. He
opened the cab, yelled at the men who approached the steps.
"Need an ambulance, fast!."
One of the men raised a phone, held up an OK sign. Another mounted the steps
"Help is on the way." he said. "Can you move at all?"
She shook her head.
"OK, let's get you out."
The other man had arrived, but the cab was crowded. Alex carefully got his
arms around her, thankful she was so small, and got her onto the seat.
"We're going go get you down now." he said. "Just a little further. Hang in
She nodded, weakly, her face pale.
As quickly as they safely could they carried her down. On the ground Alex
carried her to one of the trucks. One of the men lowered the tailgate and a
couple of them took off their coats and spread them on it. Alex gently laid
her on them. Without looking away he asked "How far away is the ambulance?"
"It's on the way, about ten, twelve minutes." one of them answered. "We called
it before you got here."
"Can you tell how many times you were hit?" he asked.
Cassandra held up two fingers.
They had to get lucky, he thought. Scoring a hit on either of them would have
to be luck. He knew she had lost a lot of blood. He wanted to turn her over
and see where the bullets had hit her - they almost had to be from behind.
"Hold on" he said, gently squeezing her hand. The other men had now gathered
around, keeping a discreet distance. Men, and women, he saw. Two at least.
Both of them moved closer. One was young, probably in her twenties, the other
probably forty at least.
The younger one, her blonde hair in a ponytail, moved a little closer. She
placed a hand on Cassandra's forehead for a moment, then lifted her arm to
check her pulse. Alex looked at her, the question unspoken.
"It's good" she said. "Considering. Probably a lot of blood loss but they can
stop the bleeding, start a drip. She'll be all right. I'm Sarah, by the way."
"We heard about you." she said. "You were part of operation Iron Mole. You
upset some people real good. So much that they brought in a lot of extra
resources to try to track down the perpetrators."
"Evidently they laid down a fine net. Only a handful of people knew I was
here. I should have been able to egress with no problem, but they had me made.
I tried to make them think Cassandra was a hostage, but they knew better."
"She'll be all right." Sarah said. "She's a tough one."
"You know about her?"
"A little. You're pretty well known. Your exploits are somewhat legendary."
"That's exactly the opposite of what I need."
"Yeah." Sarah said. "This is going to end someday. Probably soon, although
the quickest resolution may not be the best."
"Divided? With a truce?"
"That's the way a lot of people are looking at it. The fact is the old
government can't afford to keep fighting much longer. Now that Kansas is
useless to them they'll cut it loose. It becomes part of the Republic or
the Alliance. Probably the Republic."
"I expect it will go that way." Alex said. "The conditions in the cities are
at a point they can't tolerate much longer. They've got, what thirty, forty
million dependent residents in the cities that are starving. And the crime
is out of control, more than it ever was. What's left of the country, will
soon be a place no one wants to live. That's when it gets interesting."
The ambulance rolled across the pasture and stopped, paramedics jumping out
and running to where Alex and Sarah stood. Before moving out of the way
Alex leaned over, placing his hand on Cassandra's cheek.
"You're gonna be all right." he said. "I'll be here, just let these people
get you patched up. OK?"
She smiled, weakly, but he knew she was determined to keep him from worrying.
He was glad to see that one of the paramedics was a woman. Cassandra had
gotten used to being around men she didn't know - if Alex accepted them that
was enough for her. Still, she would be more comfortable being aided by a
woman. Once they had her on the gurney with the IV drip attached and into
the ambulance, he turned to Sarah.
"I have to go with her." he said. "You probably know some of what happened
to her, but nowhere near all. She's not ready to be separated from me."
"It's all right." Sarah said. "There's room for you. Let's go."
She and Alex held Cassandra's hands as the ambulance made its way to the
hospital. She remained conscious for the entire trip, almost twenty minutes.
They walked beside the gurney as the hospital personnel rolled it to the
emergency operating room.
"Just a second" Alex said as they began. "Cassandra, they're going to give
you something to make you sleep for a while, so you won't feel anything. I'll
be here the whole time, OK? And I'll be here when wake up."
She nodded as best she could, and the nurse injected something into the IV
drip. Within a few seconds her eyes closed and her body relaxed.
"You'll have to wait outside." one of the nurses said. "We'll call you before
she wakes up."
Alex and Sarah went outside to wait.
"I have to get back." she said. "Let me give you a number, I'd like you to
call me when you know something. I live here in town, maybe we can get
"I'd like that" Alex said. "I'll call you. It may be late."
"That's OK. I'd like to come back and see her when she's well. Can I get you
something before I go? Coffee, snack?"
"I could use a smoke, but guess that'll have to wait until I can get outdoors.
Coffee would be good."
"Gotcha. Be right back."
She was a very pretty lady, Alex thought. Nice too. He wished there was a
better world in which to get to know some of the women he knew now only from
meetings in the middle of a war. He had come close to buying the farm back
there, and taking Cassandra with him. He wanted it to be over.
Sarah returned a few minutes later, a large cup of coffee and a couple of
"You may be here a while." she said. "Keep your energy up. Hope you call soon."
"Thanks." he said. Then he was alone, waiting.
It was another two hours before a doctor emerged. There was a lot of blood on
his gown, but probably just the process of handling Cassandra and her clothing
was enough for that.
"She's going to be all right." he said. "Two bullets, one in the right shoulder,
missed the bone. It will heal easily. The other was in her left side. It was
apparently tumbling, probably after hitting something else. Made a nasty wound
but didn't hit any vital organs. The only danger will be infection, so we'll
keep her a few days to be sure there are no complications. She's young and in
good shape physically, so should be good as new before long."
If you'd seen what she went through before, Alex thought.
"Thanks, Doc." he said. "Is she awake?"
"No, it'll be another hour or two. We're going to move her to a room before
the anaesthetic wears off."
"I need to be there when she awakens." Alex said. "She's in a very fragile
condition, mentally. If she wakes up and I'm not there, it could set her
recovery back. Maybe.."
"Not a problem. When we move her you can go along."
Alex waited by the bed until Cassandra began to stir slightly. It was some
minutes before she opened her eyes, first for just a few seconds at a time,
then finally keeping them open, looking around until she found him. He
pulled his chair closer, leaned forward.
"I'm right here." he said. "Can you see me? Hear me?"
After a few seconds she nodded.
"Feel all right?"
He pressed the call button and in a few minutes a nurse entered.
"Did she just wake up?" the nurse asked.
"Yeah. Just a couple of minutes."
"I'll call the doctor."
After the doctor had come and gone Alex called Sarah. She said she would be
over when her shift ended. When she arrived she talked to Cassandra for a
couple of minutes. The conversation was necessarily limited to nods and
smiles from Cassandra, but Sarah was happy to see her condition.
"Alex hasn't had anything to eat in a while." she said. "Will you be all
right if I take out for dinner? We'll be gone an hour or so. The people here
will take good care of you. Think you'll be all right?"
Cassandra nodded. Sarah took her hand, leaned over and kissed her forehead.
"I'll be back in a little while." Alex said. "OK?"
"There's a few restaurants around." Sarah said as they elevator descended.
"Since I don't even know where I am" he said, "I'll let you choose."
"We're in Grandview." she said. "It's pretty good sized, about 30,000. We're
pretty well supplied with the essential amenities. There's a good steakhouse
with walking distance. Or we can drive around and see if there's a place you
"Steak sounds good."
The restaurant was just across from and a block down the street from the
Chapter 2 -- XABGWSLBOITSAB
"How did you ever find this place?" asked Special Agent Martha McElroy,
braking as a hump in the road appeared. "What's that?"
"Just a bridge." Sam said. "There are quite a few of them on these
roads. Lots of small creeks, irrigation canals. They're usually
raised like this."
The bridge was smooth, made of heavy planks about a foot wide. She
looked out the window as they passed over, saw a small stream flowing
"When I was a kid we lived on the farm, in a place like this." Sam
said. "We'd drive our trucks on these roads, usually there would be a
long stretch where we could get up some speed, catch a little air as we
crossed. Wouldn't be a good idea to to it if you didn't know the road
- hit that bridge about eighty you wouldn't make that curve."
"You were going eighty on gravel roads?"
"Probably faster sometimes. Especially on paved highways, jumping
railroad tracks like that. I've probably hit one or two at a hundred
She glanced over at him. She wasn't sure how old he was, not having
had time to check his background. All she knew, or had heard about
him, was that he was something of a legend in the department, and that
she probably wasn't the only one who did not know much about him. She
wondered who, if anyone, did. He had to be in his fifties at least,
though he didn't look it. He was tanned as if from frequent outdoor
activity, his hands looked tough and strong, a couple of scars were
visible, and a recent cut that might become another. Arriving at the
office that morning she had been told to accompany him, that he would
brief her on the way. Thus far it had been an hour and a half of
driving through the middle of nowhere and very little briefing. None
at all, in fact.
"How much further is it?" she asked.
"Two or three more bridges." he said. "Let me check."
He looked at a map on his phone, scrolled and tapped a couple of times.
"Turn right at the next crossroads." he said. "There should be a white
post at the intersection."
The crossroads was apparently some distance away, and she was about to
speak when she saw the white post. She turned onto another of stretch
of road that looked much the same as all the others they had traversed.
Sure enough there were two more bridges, another like the small one
before, and later a much longer one. She slowed almost to a stop
before driving onto it.
It was constructed like the others, of wide thick planks. Looking to
her left she saw that they were crossing a wide and deep ditch that
must have been fifty feet deep. She kept her eyes straight ahead after
that. She suspected Sam was smiling but didn't dare look. Safely
across she did look, and he was.
"It's quite safe." he said. "These roads and bridges are well
"I'll take your word for it. Presumably you don't want to get killed.
At least not in an automobile accident."
"Just ahead is another side road." Sam said. "Go on past it, and the
road will go downhill slightly."
It did, running between two wide ditches. Wider than the road, more
like long ponds, with cattails and vegetation over much of the surface.
They crossed three more bridges, over channels connecting the water on
"Folks fish and hunt frogs around here." Sam said. "Lot of wildlife
around. Were just about there."
The road went back uphill ahead she could see several buildings.
"Just stop in front of the house, on the edge of the road." he said.
She parked on the roadside, not having much choice as the road abruptly
ended. To the left was a modest house, a couple of large buildings
behind it. They were the type of metal buildings generally found on
farms. Large trees stood around here and there, a group of them
covering the house in their shade. The garage doors were closed, and
no vehicles were outside.
"What now?" she asked.
Sam put his phone away and opened the door.
"Let's go." he said. "Follow my lead"
She checked the pocket that held her ID card and badge, adjusted the
crossdraw holster holding her gun, zipped her jacket up about a third
of the way. Sam did the same, and they walked toward the house. She
saw that Sam had his binoculars, reached back into the car and got hers.
"Should I lock it?" she asked.
"No, no need. We might have to egress quickly." He grinned, and she
hoped he was joking.
"Whatever you do" he said "don't touch your weapon or reach inside your
jacket. We're being watched, and as long as we don't alarm anyone
we're in no danger."
He rang the doorbell. After a couple of minutes he rang again, waited.
"Either no one's home or they're ignoring us." Sam said. "They've had
plenty of time to size us up, let's take a walk around. Casually."
Martha couldn't quite identify her feeling. Not fear, but certainly
closer than she had ever been. Her time outside the city had been
limited to driving from one city to another, and on a few occasions
when she had stopped in a small town some distance away she felt a
little strange. She followed Sam as he walked around the house, then
behind the two large buildings. There were a couple of pickup trucks,
several tractors. Two of them were the very large ones of a type she
had sometimes seen from the highway while driving through farmland.
Two more were smaller, but still large enough to require climbing a
small stair of several steps to reach the cab.
Behind the buildings the land was mostly open fields, here and there a
patch of trees. Far off, perhaps a mile - she wasn't good at guessing
distances in the open - was what looked like a forest. Sam walked out
into the field, looked around.
"There." he said, pointing. He raised his binoculars, and she used
hers to look in the same direction. Several hundred yards away a man
was walking about the field. Shirtless, but wearing a baseball cap and
sunglasses. He looked fit, stocky but with no fat. His shoulders were
wide and his arms muscular, not like a body-builder. Perhaps a
construction worker. She had always found the shirtless, sunbrowned
men she sometimes saw working outside more attractive than the ones
with unsightly bulges created by obsessive gym workouts probably
augmented with drugs.
"Don't get excited." Sam said. "He'll put his shirt on before he gets
"Is he coming?" she asked.
"Eventually." Sam said. "Patience, young grasshopper."
Sam glanced over at her. Grinned.
"Never mind." he said. "Before your time, I guess. Almost before
"Where'd he go?" she asked. He seemed to have disappeared when she had
lowered her binoculars.
"He walked behind those trees." Sam said.
She looked at a small group of trees near where she had last seen him.
It was one of several groves, perhaps a few hundred feet across,
separated by wide open areas.
Sam took out a small cigar case and extracted a small brown cigar, put
it in the corner of his mouth and lit it.
Martha tried to remember if she had actually ever seen anyone smoke.
She couldn't, and was surprised to see a colleague doing it. She
wondered how old he was.
"If he's not going to be here anytime soon" she said, "could we get to
the briefing they mentioned?"
"Sure. You got his name, Alex Thompson."
"Yeah. Nothing else. Except we want him. To do something,
"Correct. You could say he's a man of rare talents. We need him, you
might say, urgently."
"Anything to do with the Dunham situation?"
"Everything. We wouldn't be out here for anything less serious. I
suppose... looks like he's decided to notice us."
Martha looked back at the field. A small green tractor had emerged
from one of the groves, or perhaps behind it. Seconds later they could
hear its engine as it approached at little more than a walking pace.
She involuntarily reached inside her jacket to adjust her holster.
"No need for that." Sam said. "If we needed weapons they wouldn't do
us any good. Even out here there are several rifles on us."
"He seems to rate rather highly with someone." she said. "Who? Or do
I need to know?"
"Sure. You probably already do. He's the de facto leader of the
Mantis group. He'd probably prefer not to be, but they all look to
him, and will do anything he suggests."
"Mantis? That's pretty heavy."
"Indeed it is."
As the tractor approached the driver turned in a wide circle, going
around behind them and returning to stop a few yards away. Although it
was not large, the engine sounded like a small jet aircraft at idle.
The driver cut the engine and prepared to climb down. The smell of
diesel exhaust drifted over them.
The man who dismounted and approached them was shorter than Sam, she
guessed about five seven. He had put on a sleeveless T-shirt, as pure
white as a new one just removed from its packaging. It contrasted
sharply with his bronzed skin. The wide shoulders and muscular arms,
making her think again of the construction workers. He wore jeans,
moderately faded as if from numerous washings, rather than prefaced.
The knees were stained brown with dirt. They were tucked into unusual
boots. They had a medium heel, squared toes, and two straps around the
top of the shaft, with buckles on the outside. He stopped just outside
the normal distance one normally would for a conversation.
"Long time no see." he said. "Who's your sidekick?"
"This here is Special Agent Martha McElroy." Sam said. "Might want to
ask to see her badge, keep things businesslike."
"Usually we shoot first and check IDs later" Alex said with no trace
of humor, "but might as well. Ma'am, could I see your credentials?"
She extracted the small wallet and handed it over. He studied it
briefly, looked her over and handed it back.
"What brings you out here in Injun country?"
"You're a few miles from friendly territory." Alex said. "We may be
inside the official lines, but the League is in charge. They just
don't bother marking the lines. In any case, once you leave the cities
you're out of your element anyway. Most of you, anyway. You might get
around without getting nailed, but your sidekick there..."
"I don't plan on trying." Sam said. "We knew you'd have us under
surveillance from at least the river."
"We did." Alex said. "So, what's up?"
"This is unofficial. For us at least. What's your situation?"
"I'm autonomous." Alex said. "I'm nominally in command of Mantis, as
you know. And you probably also know we've got no operations in
progress. We're waiting, as you are."
He took a small cigarette case from a pocket in his jeans and extracted
a cigarette. Putting it away, he produced a lighter and lit it.
"Is everyone I meet today going to be a smoker?" Martha asked.
"A lot of us do." Alex said. "Sam's a bit of a misfit among you
people. They put up with him because of his unique talents."
"Where you get cigarettes?" Sam asked.
"That's a dumb question." Alex said.
"I guess you can get just about anything if you want it."
"Not just about. What you doin' on their side anyway?"
Martha noticed both men slipping into what must have been a shared
vernacular. She wanted them to get to the point.
"Someone's gotta do it." Sam said. "Try to keep the destruction to a
minimum. You know me well enough you shouldn't need to ask. Anyway,
I am were I am, so to speak. And a good thing."
"Let me guess" Alex said. "Dunham?"
"Naturally. Figured you were on top of it, if not involved. What you
doin' out here anyway? Farming?"
"You could say that. We're not involved with Dunham, and as far as I
know - and I know anything worth knowing - none of us are."
"As far as you know?" Sam said. "What's the chances anyone on your
side could be as successful as he was at not being found out?"
"Slim" said Alex, "but not necessarily non-existent. Your side is full
of holes as..."
"Seems that way." Sam said. "But I have to..."
"Why don't you give it up? Whether you join us or just retire, you
won't have to be there at the end."
"That's why I don't. I want to try to make it as painless as possible."
"Your colleague there seems perturbed." Alex said.
Sam glanced over at Martha.
"She's kinda new at this." Sam said. "Why I brought her along. See
the real world."
Alex looked at Matha for a moment, then back to Sam. I could as well
have been a tree, she thought. She'd heard stories about him, wondered
if they all true. He seemed to be lacking something, something she
couldn't identify. She wondered of some of his humanity had been lost,
given some of his adventures.
"What's you assessment?" Alex asked. "You're obviously here for
something. You're scared, and you're right to be. But if you're
expecting us to solve the problem, you may be disappointed."
"You won't help?"
"Why would you think we can? Damn it Sam, do you know what you're
"I know I'm looking at the only man on earth who can do it."
Chapter 3 -- JUPBQLBAFLVEUBWKE
It was one of my lazy days. About once a week I go to bed about five or
so in the afternoon and sleep until sunup, and fool around all day doing
mostly nothing. I don't exactly get annoyed when someone interrupts the
routine but prefer that it doesn't happen. I was already on the way to
the kitchen for the first cup of coffee when the phone rang.
It was Roger. He rarely called as we usually ran into each other in town
at least once a week and got all the conversing we needed done at that
time. And he doesn't like talking on the phone any more than I do. We're
both about that same age, in fact he's only a year younger, and grew up
using phones that were designed for the purpose of sending and receiving
spoken words. I could tolerate the flip phones because some of them were
close to accomplishing that, but the slabs still try my patience.
Of course, that's only one of a few dozen things that suck about living so
far into the new age. I go to a car show and see an exquisite restored
'58 Chevy Impala two-door hardtop or a '75 Trans-Am, maybe something
really classic like an Auburn or Packard from the '30s, then walk outside
and look at the melted-down lumps that are not only ugly but have no
character whatsoever. Then I look at Jessica and say "tell me again why
we can't have nice things like this any more".
Jessica is twenty-nine years younger than me. She smiles and doesn't say
anything. People my age probably ask more rhetorical questions than the
younger ones. And no, I'm not a dirty old man and Jessica isn't a trophy
wife, or 'arm candy' as they call it these days (another thing I gripe
about is the mutilation of the language - after years of abuse I still
cringe when I hear someone say 'comprised of' or refer to the 'tarmac' at
the airport) - of course I know it happens but it still sucks to see a
once-great society rotting around you. In fact she isn't a wife at all,
just my best friend.
Yeah, Roger is about as curmudgeonly as I am, so we get along pretty well.
His wife died young, from cancer at 38. One of those things, you hear
about it now and then, and once in a while if happens to someone you know.
He dealt with it mostly by applying himself more assiduously to his work.
He had started a small investigative/security business about the time she
was first diagnosed, and after her death it consumed most of his time. I
had helped him when he was adding a cyber-security department when that
became a necessity, and still pitched in on a project occasionally.
"What's up, Doc?" I greeted him.
"Just the usual" he said. I knew better.
"You can't be ready to go fishing already." I said. It was January, the
twenty-first to be precise, six days after my sixty-fourth birthday. If I
worked for a living I'd have been thinking about how long it was until I
could put in for my social insecurity 'benefits' but luckily I wasn't
worried about that. If I made to sixty-seven and lived another fifty or
sixty years I might get back most of what I had put in, or not. I'm
self-employed like Roger, and each of us has put away a considerable
amount of untraceable assets and had no concerns in that department.
"You have anything urgent the next few days?" he asked.
"Hardly" I replied. "Unless Jessica comes up with something, and that's
unlikely." It would have to be something on the order of a serious family
illness or death to get Jessica to leave our peaceful life behind even for
a few days.
"Well," he said "if you can get loose for a while and drop by, I've got
something you may be interested in. You might say something of
"Not a problem. I can be up tomorrow if that's good."
"That'll work" he said. "See you then."
Since my day of rest was ended early, I called Jessica to see about lunch.
She said it would be ready by noon, so come on over. We usually ate at
her place or mine, usually with her cooking at either place. My culinary
skills never got much beyond shoving a pizza in the oven or simple pasta
It was already almost nine, and Jessica's place was about fifteen minutes
away, so I began dealing with the necessities of the day. I took a cup of
coffee into what I call the 'command post' and sat down at my main
After a quick for emails requiring attention, I turned to the news. That
usually required only a few minutes and today was no exception. I didn't
feel the need to compare the number of homicides in the major urban
cesspools, even though New York was beginning to give Chicago some
competition, the antics of the denizens of those jungles had long ago
ceased to interest me.
The political situation was looking no better, and any serious worsening
would probably await the election, just over a year away. A presidential
year, it could be the nail in the coffin for the Republic. With Congress
firmly in the hands of the Democrats for over twelve years now, and the
presidency about to hit the mark, it looked as we were in for a long dark
Roger and I pretty much agree on that - only the process is in question.
We both agree that that without some sort of major course correction the
Republic is indeed dead, and that the choice then will be between a
continuation of the slide down into the darkness, or things getting broken
in a big way. We agree that the latter will be the case, but for some
reason he is optimistic in spite of everything. Maybe it's some of the
people he associates with.
While my view runs to the semi-apocalyptic, with the country fractured,
balkanized, likely with war, famine, disease and all the other fun things
Roger seems to believe there will, at some point if not immediately, be a
successful insurrection that will at some point, in part, restore the
original roots of the country. I'd like for him to be right.
I finished my work and got ready to leave. Like me, Jessica lives in a
small, not quite secluded but fairly private place a little closer to town
than mine. Town being Adamsville, population 11,436 or so, according to
the sign at the city limits. Which is where I drop to ten below the
posted speed limit and keep a lookout for cops. The small-town speed
traps weren't bad enough, these days you got crazy cops in the most
out-of-the-way places who'll shoot a citizen for any or no reason. And
never be held accountable, although a cop who shoots a perp in the big
cities can find himself in prison real quick if there is a color mismatch
of the wrong sort. I just avoid any contact at all.
But I wasn't going to town today. A couple of miles from the city limits
I turned down a two-lane state road, in decent condition considering the
state of roads in general these days. My daily driver, at least the
most-used one, was a '77 Chevy Scottsale, a basic work truck from those
days used by farmers, tradesmen, and for general transportation for a lot
of rural people. My dad bought a couple of new ones a couple of years
before he retired from farming, for about $7,000 each, and kept both of
them. I'd been driving this one since it was new, other than a couple of
engines and transmissions and transfer case rebuilds not much work had
been done on it. Not bad at close to three quarters of a million miles.
The pavement ran to within a hundred yards of the gate to Jessica's place,
the remainder being a twenty foot wide chat drive laid down over about
eight or nine inches of red clay gravel. Durable as pavement and didn't
need constant repairs. The gate was open and I drove up to the modest
ranch house and dismounted.
I shoved my favorite Springfield Armory .45 into the pancake cross-draw
holster on my left side. I'm big enough to wear it comfortably and easily
hide it under a jacket, but it's not comfortable to drive with it in the
holster. It was in condition 1 as I approached the front door, jacket
unzipped and my right hand ready to draw.
Jessica opened the door and blinked the all clear signal I followed her
inside. If someone had been inside with her and she was in trouble, she
would have indicated it without anyone, even facing her, knowing. She
hugged me as if we hadn't seen each other in weeks, even though she had
spent the last several days before my extended nap at my place. We were
together probably ninety percent of the time, whether at her place or mine.
It was almost noon and lunch was ready as promised. I helped set the
table and we sat down to eat. Someone not knowing us might think it was a
special occasion - Brussels sprouts with bacon, macaroni and cheese the
way my mother made it, a potato salad the same way. The ham was from a
free-range hog from a nearby family farm that at least lived a live in the
open air without being shot full of drugs. Fresh rolls and butter from
the same farm rounded out the offering. Almost anyway. A jug of fresh
tea, extra strong and sweet, took care of that.
"Looks like your nap was refreshing as usual" Jessica said as I poured tea.
"Still does the job" I said. "Ready to do something completely useless
for a few days?"
"Aren't I always?" she smiled. "It's your fault, you taught me how to get
ditch the daily grind and live free. And the investment advice helped."
Jessica was a trust fund baby of sorts. Not on the scale of the Kennedys
or Hearsts, or the current crop of filthy rich families, but well off.
Even more than my father, who left me well fixed. Jessica had grown up
with the silly idea that she must go to college and become a doctor or
lawyer or other respectable profession. A marriage to a college
sweetheart (of the lawyer variety) left her emotionally broken and out
quite a lot of money. The fact that most of her fortune was safe in the
trust fund made it less traumatic. I introduced her to the family friend
who had managed our financial affairs and her fortunes improved
"Roger called me this morning" I said. "I suspect I may be going
"Just that?" she asked. "No more info?"
"You know Roger." I said. "You never can tell."
"I know him well enough to know when he's that vague, it's probably
trouble" she said. "I know you've been friends for a long time, and you
trust him completely, but sometimes I worry. Rebecca is a really sweet
kid, but I wonder how happy she is. Roger seems a little, obsessed,
sometimes. Is he ever going to lighten up? It's been twelve, thirteen
years, since Jillian died. I hoped Rebecca would be good for him."
"She has been, I think" I said. "At least, I don't like to think what he
might be like if he hadn't met her. His work saved him then, gave him
something to keep his mind occupied. If we do have to go away for a
while, I don't know how long but probably not more than a few days, why
don't you and her do something together? You haven't seen her in a while."
"No, it has been a while. I'll go up and visit for a day or two and bring
her back here for a visit. She likes your place, and mine, and I like
"Well, we're meeting tomorrow morning, early." I said. Why don't you go
with me and you and Rebecca can set something up?"
"Seems like a good idea" Jessica said. "If you're leaving for somewhere
tomorrow, you should probably be getting ready."
"We won't be leaving that soon" I said. "He would have told me if it was
urgent. It's most likely something he's investigating, maybe needs some
"I hope so" she said. "You've had enough scrapes for a lifetime already,
most of them in Roger's company. I'll just assume that I don't need to
tell you to be careful."
Jessica smiled, but there was a trace of worry in it. I felt a twinge of
guilt - Jessica was really an innocent, and Rebecca was as well. Each had
gotten mixed up with a guy who lived dangerously, me only occasionally but
Roger regularly, and probably neither of us had been fair by not breaking
the ugly news to them. They were both smart and aware of what was going on
in the world, but neither was quite as conscious as were Roger and me of
the cloud hanging over us. Sometime, soon, we would have to have a talk,
one I was not excited about.
* * * * *
Jessica and I went back to my place to spend the night. Spending as much
time as we did at each others' places we always had a supply of clothes
for any occasion and each had our own bathroom so getting ready to go
somewhere was always painless.
We seldom dressed any way other than casual, and Jessica was wearing her
usual outfit of Wrangler boot cut jeans and the same type of khaki shirt
as I wore. Shirts of that type - long sleeves, two patch pockets with
flaps, and epaulets - were not as common for women as for men,
particularly in an all-cotton fabric so she simply had them made by a
tailor in Kansas City. Our winter outer garment was almost invariably the
classic MA-1 flight jacket.
Jessica says my propensity for doing such things as acquiring literally a
closet full of MA-1s is probably a symptom of my Asperger syndrome. She's
probably right, as I was diagnosed at the beginning of my brief military
career. When I enlisted in the Air Force I was flagged upon entry for
acing all the entrance tests.
When I arrived for basic training I was subjected to a lot of extra tests
designed to identify candidates for certain demanding occupations. A
couple of the guys who interviewed me were obviously spooks - not in
uniform or even seemingly military. But the autism diagnosis probably
saved me from volunteering for some dangerous jobs - it made me ineligible
for most of them. But it made me aware of my condition and I am normally
able to suppress or conceal most of the involuntary behaviors.
Jessica carries a compact version of my 1911. She isn't small - almost as
tall as my five feet nine, and athletically built, but the fact is that
most womens' hands and wrists are not as robust as those of the average
man's. She handles the recoil easily enough though, and shoots as well as
I do. She wears it the same way I do mine, and our jackets are sized to
easily conceal our weapons.
Roger lives about twenty miles from Jessica's place, so it was a bit of a
drive over. He lives on 160-acre spread, formerly mostly in cultivation
but with some interesting features. Probably fifty or so acres is an
artificial lake formed by building a levee around a low-lying area that
gradually transitions to the high ground where the house and other
buildings are located. Upon entering the property the house is accessed
by a road about a quarter of a mile long, descending into the low-lying
area and often flooded during heavy rains, occasionally isolating the
house for some days. Not an inconvenience as Roger, like me, seldom is
required to be anywhere at any given time.
We were in my Scottsdale, its four-wheel-drive and higher ground clearance
handling the back roads easily. His property is about two miles from the
nearest paved road, and any unscheduled visitors are assumed either to be
lost or likely to have bad intentions. We crossed two small bridges on
the long driveway, and I knew that Roger had prepared explosive packages
that could be installed under the bridges on short notice and remotely
detonated if necessary, making the road impassable. Jessica asked me a
time or two if he's paranoid - I don't think so, and in his line of work
he learns a lot of things. And makes enemies. Maybe he has reason to be
paranoid, or at least concerned.
Roger lives in an enormous metal building, two stories high and a hundred
feet long and sixty wide. It's actually a typical building used on farms
and industrial installations, for storage or manufacturing work. A few
other buildings are scattered around, one of them a small house much like
Jessica's, only a little smaller. Roger doesn't live there, but sometimes
uses it to receive guests whom he doesn't want knowing much about him.
He lives in the big metal building.
I parked on a concrete pad large enough to accommodate a dozen or so
vehicles, killed the engine, and we got out. About that time another
truck, a large four-by-four like mine but newer and larger. Roger travels
a lot and the company keeps a fleet of vehicles for that purpose. When
not on the road he prefers older, utilitarian vehicles like mine. And
classic sports cars, usually modified for enhanced performance.
Before we got out we noticed another truck coming in behing us. It
was Roger. He exited his vehicle and came over, giving Jessica a hug
and ignoring me for the moment. We see each other enough when he's home.
"Good to see you" he said. "Wish it was more often. Rebecca will be glad
to see you."
Turning to me he said "I tailed you from Highway 64, you weren't followed.
Just the same you should probably more your truck back under the roofed
area. I'll explain once we get inside."
I moved the truck and followed them inside. Jessica and Rebecca were
already chatting away. Roger and Jessica live on the lower level in an
apartment of three thousand square feet or so, using a few rooms upstairs
for storage. Also upstairs are Roger's offices and access to an outside
escape ladder leading to a door on the lower floor, not visible from the
outside. We left Jessica and Rebecca talking and went up.
"Is it my imagination" I asked "or have I missed something significant in
"Grab a seat" Roger said, pulling one of the high-dollar office chairs
over beside his. He tapped a key on the nearest computer to awaken the
screen and we sat down.
"You remember the Oklahama City affair pretty well?" he asked. "Or did
you dig into it much?"
"That was almost thirty years ago" I said. "I did a fair amount of
analysis, figured out what most likely happened, and sat that it was going
the way of every other event. What can you do? Unless it's time to start
"Funny thing" he said. "That was about the time that Claire Wolf, you've
read her, haven't you? She said that 'we're at that awkward stage where
it's too late to work within the system, but too early to shoot the
bastards.' Coincidentally or not, that was just a year or so after OK
City. In any case, we are well past the point at which anything can be
done politically. Whatever happens next will be determined by whether the
people continue to be sheep, led by the Judas goats to the slaughter, or
"Something else such as, what?" I asked. I knew generally what his belief
was, but wondered if anything had changed lately. Or was he being paid to
reopen the Oklahoma City affair?
"Well, you know what I personally believe" he said. "There are too many
who won't go quietly for it to work. Whether there are a half billion
guns in circulation, as is generally believed, or more it's going to be
ugly. The left is counting on incrementally accomplishing their
objective, as they have for the past fifty, sixty, or more, years. The
problem of armed resistance remains, and it won't go away. If they try to
eliminate the guns it'll happen that much sooner. They don't believe that
will happen, so they'll try."
"And life will suck for a lot of people" I said.
"Pretty much, but we'll make sure it sucks a lot more for them."
I didn't know exactly what that meant, but the 'we' part suggested he was
an insider in whatever he expected to happen. I decided it was time to
"Where does Oklahoma City fit in" I asked.
"Even though the socio-political course is pretty much a lost cause" he
said "we aren't abandoning it. Anything we can do to expose and discomfit
the enemy, we'll do. Election fraud, false flag attacks to stir up the
sheeple against reformers, we investigate. Partly because it helps us
identify enemies who need to be targeted in the future, and because it
opens at least a few eyes, no matter how effectively it's muffled by the
corporate media. This is one of those cases. I'm being compensated, by
the way, at least for expenses, but it's part of the overall mission."
"You're part of the vast right-wing conspiracy?" I asked. "Or whatever
it's called these days."
"To the degree that there is one" he said "I guess so. As far as I know
there isn't a huge organization working to take over the government -
other than the Democrat party and their allies - if there was it would
eventually be penetrated and exposed. As for organizations of various
types and sizes, there are those. I've worked with some of them. There
are occasional rumors of something really big, well hidden, and quite
capable, but I don't know what it is."
"So what's the current project?" I asked.
"More along the lines of vexing the enemy. I'm not sure at this point how
to handle if, or how much choice I'll have. Let's go back to the origin.
What was your impression, upon reflection, of the OK City thing?"
"What do I think happened?" I asked.
"I left it where the trail went cold" I said. "I suspect that McVeigh,
apparently decided that he had to strike a blow, no matter how feeble,
against what he regarded - as we do - a corrupt and evil enemy that was
remorselessly destroying the greatest nation that ever existed. He must
have known it would have no effect in the end, but believed he had to at
least avenge the victims at Waco.
"He set out to do as much damage as he could, maybe hoping to take out as
many as died at Waco, or at least a significant number. I suspect that he
was under surveillance from near the beginning, and the government followed
his progress the entire time. For whatever reason, but most likely that
they saw the opportunity for a spectacular event that would further the
progress of stifling the opposition.
"Once they know what the bomb was, knowing it would do minimal damage and
cause few casualties, they decided to help out. Demo charges could easily
be placed, especially in a building the government owned and operated. The
entire building could have been brought down easily, but that wouldn't fit
the truck bomb explanation. So they arranged it to look plausible.
"Since McVeigh was already planning to do it, they didn't have to arrange
for a fall guy - he was already there."
"That's pretty much it" Roger said. "The fact that McVeigh eventually
admitted it isn't relevant?"
"What else was he going to do? He was toast when they caught him, and knew
it. He may have always expected to be caught, and die. He actually rubbed
in in at the end, with the '160 to 1' comment. But what's new?"
Roger handed me an eight-by-ten color photo. It was apparently a photo of
McVeigh, the infamous perpetrator sitting in a car. It appeared that he
was stopped in traffic, perhaps at a traffic light. The window was down,
his left arm lying on the door. He was looking straight ahead.
"This from the big day" I asked.
Roger had a stack of photos. He selected another one and handed it to me.
"Look at the clock."
The photo showed the same view from a slightly different angle. In the
background, above the front of the truck but with McVeigh still partially
in the picture, was a large sign of a type often found in front of some
business, notably banks, in those days. This one looked fairly new, atop a
tall brick column. Most of the ones I had seen back then were rather crude
compared to the digital signage now in use. Usually it was a matrix of
light bulbs, just enough to show the time and temperature and not much
This one was bigger and fancier, with several rows of text and colored
lights. This one showed the date - APR 19, 1995. The time was 8:58 AM.
I remembered the date well enough. Presumably the time was important. I
remembered it was around that time, 9 A.M. or so. I looked up at Roger.
"9:02" he said. "Officially, anyway. McVeigh is sitting at a traffic
light, about ten, eleven miles or so from the building. In traffic we're
talking about a half hour or more. He may well have been sitting there
when the bomb went off."
"Assuming it could be proven" I said "what would the effect be?"
"Little. Probably none in the long run. But it could get attention, stir
things up again. The people I'm working for at the very least want it
preserved, safely, and used for whatever mileage is in it."
"Doesn't it immediately get dismissed as a Photoshop hoax?"
Roger grinned. "Think about it." he said. "When did you get your first
"Beats me" I said. "Are you gonna tell me someone has the analog negatives
of those pictures?"
"Exactly. Digtal cameras were fairly new in '95. And expensive. Most
people were still using the old 35 millimeter analog cameras. Especially
old-school private eyes."
"Private eyes? OK, so now we have a private eye taking pictures of Tim
"As I said, the government was building its operation around McVeigh from
the beginning. They needed to keep track of him. Sure, they had FBI and
other agents following him, but to cover all their bases they employed at
least one local P.I. to help. There may have been others, but we know
about this one.
"He apparently had a certain reputation in the area. They approached him
and told him what they wanted. Stay on top of McVeigh any time he was in
the area, lots of photos and detailed notes. He followed him around for
the last three weeks or so, burning through rolls of film and dictating
hours of notes. They never asked much about his activities, only a report every
few days. He transcribed his notes and turned them in, but they never
asked for the pictures. In fact he wasn't really sure, afterwards, if they
"In any case, he was shooting pictures of McVeigh when the bomb went off.
He heard it and felt the ground shake but didn't make the connection until
later that night when he saw McVeigh had been arrested. McVeigh took off
when the light changed and got out of there fast, the P.I. lost him.
"Then he got scared. He watched the news for the next couple of days,
and figured out that something was up. He was pretty sure that McVeigh's
arrest wasn't an accident, a mistake. They had set him up. He got out
of town fast, went by his office and took his computer, all the film and
notes - anything connected with the case. Then he went to his office and
cleaned up there as well. Then he left town.
"He was a older guy by then, had some money put away. He went far away
and hid. He had a friend in OK watch his home and office, and it was
visited by some kind of spooks. They even asked his friend a few questions
but he was able to play dumb. After the heat died down he sold his home
and office through agents. And he's been hiding ever since."
"Why the interest now" I asked.
"As I said, he was old then. He's thirty years older now and hasn't much
time left. He's been involved with a group of dissidents of some sort.
Preppers, some off-grid types, some masquerading as regular citizens to
blend in. They're pretty sane, laid-back. Just trying to be prepared for
whatever eventually happens. They want to put his material - the negatives
and notes especially, somewhere safe. But they may want them at some point
to stir up something."
"You really think the government would care, after almost forty years?"
"Not in any significant way" Roger said. "They could convince most of
the pouplation that the photos were fake. And nothing serious would ever
come of it. But the paranoia, deep in the bowels of the beast, never
goes away. They're still as obsessed with the Kennedys and King, as
long ago as that was."
"Don't tell me you volunteered."
"I told them I'd come out and take a look," he said. "See what I could do."
"Where do I come in?" I asked.
"I need someone I can trust as a backup. I know some of these guys pretty
well, and I trust them. But they're uneasy about moving the material.
It's been there all these years, no one else has a clue where it is. I
don't want to go alone, and don't want any of my employees knowing about
it. The other thing is, I'd like to talk over a couple of other things."
"Where are we going?"
"Idaho" he said. "Lots of prepper enclaves, among other things, up there.
They're sending a plane to pick me up at Springfield. I figure the drive
back home from the airport will be as safe as anything."
"You've already decided to bring them back here?"
"Who'd think to look here?"
"But why here anyway" I asked.
"They don't want them there after he's gone. They don't believe anyone
knows, but when word gets out he's no longer living - if anyone does know
they might come looking. If these were exposed publicly, proven genuine,
it could be as big as Kennedy, TWA 800, 9-11, you name it. The difference
is that this is incontrovertible fact. There are people who will stop at
nothing to prevent exposure."
"Where are you planning to hide them?"
"I've got a couple of places in mind" he said. "You might want to help me
scout around and pick the best one."
"You're nuts" I said. "You know that, don't you?"
"You're the one who says knowing you're crazy is half the battle."
I had to admit it. I am, technically, mentally ill. But it's a rather
benign affliction in my case. But if I didn't understand it, my life would
be a lot more difficult. And of course I was going. Curiosity alone would
be enough, but I was interested in seeing what, if anything, would happen.
* * * * *
We went downstairs to see what the ladies were up to. And ladies they are,
in the old-fashioned sense. With the twenty-first century approaching the
one-quarter mark, considering what the latter days of the previous century
had yielded, it would be easy to believe women like that did not exist.
Jessica, a farm girl, had grown up relatively untouched by the corruption
of the latter-day society. She had been fortunate enough to be disabused
of any notion that big-city life was to be desired and left it. She was
as much the demure, reserved country girl as she could be at thirty-one.
But not naive, or a pushover for anyone. I had taught her no only to
shoot handguns and long guns, but armed and unarmed hand-to-hand combat.
She can take care of herself.
Rebecca was a bit different. A small-town girl from a wide spot in the
road on the way to Adamsville, she had like Jessica been shielded from
city life, going to a smaller school with relatively uncomplicated peers.
She had gone to work in a bank in Adamsville, going to school at night
working on a business degree. One of Roger's associates had hired her as
an office manager, and before long she met Roger. Whatever it is that
makes the most unlikely partners find each other was at work, and Roger's
friend lost his office manager and Roger got another shot at life.
Rebecca was younger than Jessica by a few years, a couple of inches shorter
and with a lighter build. They had the same long dark brown that was
almost black hair, long and slightly wavy. When together they were often
assumed to be sisters. Rebecca advised us that lunch would be ready in
about fifteen minutes, so Roger and I decided to take a quick look outside
and sneak a smoke.
Neither of us is much of a smoker, or a drinker either. I had been, years
earlier but lost interest before the insane taxes had a chance to make me
stop. Both Roger and I keep a handful of small cigars and smoke one or
two a day, or some days none at all. He hadn't brought any, so we lit up
a pair of my Swishers and watched as clouds suggesting a snow began to
darken the sunny sky. We smoked our cigars in silence, both most likely
thinking about our conversation and where we were headed. It was already
noticeably cooler by the time we finished and went back inside.
Like Jessica and me, Roger and Rebecca get almost all of their foodstuffs
from local producers, and both were excellent cooks. Roger is about as
good as I am. Or as bad, I suppose. They had roasted a chicken that
looked too big to be a chicken, or at least anything from a grocery
store. Carrots and potatoes had met their fate along with the chicken, and
freshly baked rolls rounded out the feast. Roger waited until the cherry
pie and ice cream were dispensed with before breaking the news.
"Alex and I will be gone for a few days" Roger announced. "We figured to
give you girls a while without us in the way."
"Out of town" asked Rebecca.
"We're going to Boise for a day or two, I'm not sure yet." he said. "It's
a fairly routine courier job, but the client is a little paranoid. So we
may be here a day or two waiting for him to arrive with the goods."
Rebecca looked concerned - she knew the business Roger was in and accepted
the fact that occasionally encountering unpleasantness was part of the job.
My presence and the short notice, however, was a tip that it might not be
all that routine. Jessica changed the course a bit.
"You're not driving to Boise, are you?" she asked.
"The client is sending a plane to pick us up at Springfield" Roger said.
"You can drive us down and we'll call you the day before we come back.
Chrissy can keep things under control at the office - it's pretty much on
autopilot lately - so take a few days off and you and Jessica enjoy the
time to yourselves."
Roger was trying a little too hard to be casual, and the girls picked it
up. But they trusted us, and the worry was simply the normal reaction.
Jessica smoothed things over.
"We shouldn't have any trouble finding something to do." she said. "Just
keeping an eye on the properties is enough to keep us busy."
"Well, take some time to relax" Roger said. "Tomorrow's Friday, so I'm
guessing the middle of next week for departure. I'll give you a call when
we have a date."
Instead of taking Jessica home we went to my place. She didn't ask any
questions on the way, knowing that I would enlighten her when the time was
right. We went into command post and checked mail and took a quick look at
the news and finding nothing demanding immediate attention, we went into
the living room. We sat down on the couch and I used the remote to put
on some background noise. I selected several Tangerine Dream albums, some
of the '90s stuff, and adjusted the volume. Jessica leaned over with her
head on my shoulder and I put my arm around her, and she waited.
"Roger has an interesting project" I said. "It's pretty strange and goes
back a ways, almost before your time." I told her the whole story of the
Oklahoma City affair, and what most likely happened as opposed to the
official story. And what Roger had told me.
"They want him to move the evidence somewhere else, hide it again?" she
"It would seem so" I said. "He wants me to go along as backup - I take it
he's familiar with the people but is playing it safe."
"If something goes wrong, just the two of you a thousand miles away" she
said. "I'm not sure I like it."
"Roger isn't too worried about what happens there. Apparently they think
the material itself is at risk. Using a private plane to move it to who
knows where, for anyone watching, will get it out of their hands and,
hopefully, safely hidden. The biggest risk may be getting it from the
airport to wherever Roger is taking it."
"I hope you're right" she said.
* * * * *
Roger called late on Monday to see if a Wednesday departure would be
satisfactory, and I said it was. So Wednesday morning found the four of
us on the way to the airport. It was an almost two hour drive, and Jessica
rove us in her '95 Ford Taurus. The blue one - she has two, one a vaguely
light medium blue, the other some shade of what I call bronzy-brown.
Except for color they are identical - a restoration shop run by some of
Roger's connections in the prepper community rebuilt them to my specs,
which included a turbocharged engine and heavy-duty transmissions made for
the Ford police cars. They top out around 145 and handle as well as they
Not that they ever did it on a public road - an occasional visit to a
private venue had to suffice for that. We scrupulously observe all laws,
including traffic laws. Encounters with the law over traffic violations
are opportunities for bad things to happen, and the declining quality of
LE personnel has made that bad situation worse. Blue lights in the mirror
when you know you haven't committed a violation is a sign something is
Jessica and Rebecca were both carrying, as always. They would drop us at
the airport without leaving the car so there was no need to disarm. Roger
and I had our weaponry in our bags. We wouldn't be going through screening
for a commercial flight, but Roger's contact had advised that we not be
armed when we boarded. Like Missouri, Idaho is a 'constitutional carry'
state, and both states recognize the others' concealed carry permits, which
we all have, so we would encounter no problems related to being armed.
We went to the desk of a small charter service and located our contact, who
called for someone to conduct us to the boarding area. We were early and
so had a few minutes to watch the air traffic. There wasn't much traffic
at the small airport with just a handful of commercial flights daily. So
when we saw a G-IV rolling to the end of the runway it was probably our
It was, and as they walked out the passenger door opened and two men came
down the stairs. Both were younger than Roger and me, one looked to be in
his forties, the other one perhaps ten years younger. Not that I'm any
good at guessing ages - Jessica swears I look ten years younger than my
age and I'm sure it's more like ten years older. They helped us get
ourselves and our luggage aboard and ourselves seated before bothering to
"I'm Frank Eastwood" the older one told us, "and this is Patrick Norris,"
indicating his companion. "We're part of a group that's been in business
in Idaho for longer than just about any of the people who've moved here in
recent years. Patrick's family and mine go way back, several generations,
so we pre-date the recent influx. We were preppers before there were
"Nice ride you got" Roger said. "We should see if we get invited more
"We're lucky to be in pretty good shape financially" Frank said. "But the
plane is jointly owned by a number of, interests you might say. And
gee-fours can be had for reasonable prices, it's pretty old. A flexible
air fleet comes in handy for our needs."
"I guess being able to bypass commercial air would be handy" Roger said.
"Presumably our cargo is too sensitive for that."
"We think so" Frank said. "You'll get the whole story when we land. But
essentially we need to move someone, or rather some things, quickly and
quietly to a place no one is likely to look."
I was guessing Roger had agreed to take the material we had discussed off
their hands and hide it somewhere, otherwise we wouldn't be on a pricey
jet headed for the wilds of Idaho.
After right at two hours were rolling deplaning, in a light snow and and a
stiff wind. We had worn heavy leather jackets in anticipation, and between
trying to carry my bags without first putting on gloves, I chose the
gloves. A car was waiting - a jeep actually, a tricked-out late model -
and soon we were on our way to somewhere out of the way.
* * * * *
We drove about a half hour from the airport, into a range of low mountains,
large hills really, stopping in a large flat area, a square mile or so in
size. The entrance was through a low area in the hills a few hundred feet
wide. The road ran up over it and down into the flat area. There were
quite a few buildings, but scattered widely, with patches of woods and a
few large ponds. Graveled roads wound among them. Looking up at the
surrounding hillside we saw other buildings, most of them rather ordinary-
looking houses with a few of what looked like barns of storage buildings.
A few were on top of the hills, the highest of which were under a thousand
It was to one of the houses we went, the road winding around the side of
the hill to avoid a steep climb. Probably steep roads weren't practical
with the amount of snow and wet weather they had. Frank parked in the
driveway of a modestly large house, I saw a couple of the large metal barns
common in rural areas behind it. We got out and went in.
Frank introduced us to the homeowners, a nice-looking thirty-ish couple, as
Aaron and Sarah, no last names given. Probably no need, as this was to be
a relatively short affair. They ushered us into what was probably a spare
bedroom, of which the house was large enough to have a surplus of. Unless
they had a lot of children - we didn't see any. We sat down around a
small conference table and Aaron gave us the story.
"Since Roger has already given you the background" Frank said "I'll tell
you the situation. It started before my time - I was a very young child.
My father, who has since passed away, was one of the founders if this
group - he and several friends and family owned about 800 acres of land
around here, and decided it was time to do something about the future.
"They really started getting serious about the time of the Oklahoma City
affair, somewhat ironically we ended up with Jeremy showing up here.
Jeremy, Jeremy Campbell to be exact, arrived while Dad was building this
house. He was looking for a friend who lived in the area, and he turned
out to be one of us. We figured this was about as near the middle of
nowhere as he could go, so we got him a safe place to stay hidden. And
he's been here since."
"He's the P.I. from OK City?" Roger asked.
"Right" Aaron said. "He was scared, really scared. Mom and Dad kept him
for a while, until a safe place could be arranged. I remember it, didn't
know what was happening. I was about, let's see, almost five. Anyway, he's
been here since, in a little place nearby. He's changed his appearance,
and has a new identity that we believe has held up, but he's in pretty bad
health and doesn't have a lot of time left.
"We're not really interested in remaining responsible for the material,
and Roger has some connections that might be useful, if it's ever to be
used for anything, or just kept hidden until they no longer matter.
You're here to get them safely away."
"How dangerous is it, having possession?" I asked.
"Hard to say" Aaron replied. "We've had people snooping around as recently
as a year ago, asking about Jeremy. Charles, the friend he came to here
when he ran from Oklahoma, has had contacts in the past few months - just
people who found his name on the internet and know he was an acquaintance.
Those he just blows off with a `don't know, haven't seen him in years,
not sure he's still alive` sort of answers. Those are easy enough, but
we had a guy here last year, stayed around for a few weeks talking to real
estate people and such, like he was looking to live here.
"He would occasionally bring up the subject, which was suspicious as long
ago as it was, but had enough conversations with enough people that they
would get onto the subject of 'conspiracy theories' and he would bring up
the subject of the photos that Jeremy has. Jeremy never told anyone
outside of my folks and a couple of others. That told us who he was. He
went away with nothing, but obviously there is still some interest."
"Strange that someone, somewhere, is still so worried." Roger said. "As
far as the public is concerned, it was over long ago. If those photos
surfaced now, it would hardly matter, no matter how incontrovertible the
truth. They have almost complete control of the news media - only people
like us would notice and care."
"True" Aaron said. "But they don't want any loose ends, no matter how
inconsequential. I suppose they treat them like police do cold cases,
not really expecting to ever close them but never letting them go. And,
they don't like to be thwarted. The most trivial defeat must be avenged.
A psychosis perhaps. These people are not exactly sane.
"And the various dissident outfits, some of them could get some mileage out
of it, in terms of credibility. As a recruiting tool."
"I can see that" Roger said. "In any case, if it has to go, we can take
care of it. When do we start?"
I didn't like the way he said 'we', but I had signed on.
"We'll go see Jeremy now" Aaron said. "He's nearby. He'd like to get it
over with, and we don't want you hanging around any longer than you have
to - for your own good as well as our own. We're always being watched,
and your visit may well be observed."
He was nearby, all right. Aaron took us to one of the buildings and we
entered. It looked like an ordinary farm shop. There was a pickup truck
and a small tractor, along with some tools and a couple of stacks of
boxes with nothing to indicate their contents. In a small office in one
corner he opened a door, revealing a stairway to an underground level.
At the bottom of the stairs was a large, well-lighted area, about twenty
by twenty feet with three doors indicating the area was larger. It was
behind one of those doors that we met Jeremy, the last loose end to the
Okahoma City conspiracy.
He was old, at least eighty I guessed, and he was not well. He was sitting
at a desk, working at a computer. On the wall behind him was the photo
Roger had shown me, the one showing the clock, blown up to about two by
"How you feeling" Aaron asked.
He didn't answer immediately, and I could see he was having difficulty
"Good as can be" Jeremy replied. "Are these the ones?"
"Yeah." Aaron said. "They'll take it away and hide it safely. Maybe
someday they'll be seen and the truth known, or maybe not. But we'll
He introduced us and we sat down.
"Presumably you've heard the story" Jeremy said. "If so I don't have much
to add. I got into a bad situation because of something that looked like
just another job, and ended up hiding out here for the rest of my life.
Which won't be much longer."
"Do you live here?" I asked.
He started to laugh, then had a brief coughing fit. When he began again,
he said a few words, then struggled to make a sound for thirty seconds or
so, before continuing.
"No" he said. "I work down here, and sometimes if we have someone nosing
around I hide down here until they're gone. Normally I stay in the guest
house. But that's about over. When I go to sleep at night I know it may
be the last time, and soon it will be. And I'm ready, I just hate to
leave all you younger people with what's coming. I've got all the stuff,
the negatives, my notes, ready to go."
Whether he had an official diagnosis or just knew his time was up, I
suspected he was right.
"You guys take care of business" he said as we left.
"We will" Aaron replied. "Wish you could be here to see it. But you've
done enough, you can rest easy. Dinner is at the usual time, Sarah or
will drop in to remind you. Or if you want to come up to the house before,
give one of us a call.
I saw a walker and a cane behind the desk. Apparently his mobility was
impaired. He looked somewhat frail, but I didn't know how he had looked
earlier in life.
* * * * *
The next morning we had a leisurely breakfast, Jeremy joining us. The
flight back would be short, so we were scheduled for a noon departure.
Aaron showed us around the place and told us a little about the group that
occupied the area. It was a big place, and the occupants were spread thin,
the houses were mostly like his, on large estates with numerous buildings
around. It looked like a place that would be difficult to attack, with
the defenders in every place as well as scattered around the hills.
When it was time to go Frank and Patrick drove us to the airport. The jet
had just taxied into position as we arrived, and we were in the air as
quickly as we could get boarded and belted in. I hoped our exposure to
unfriendly eyes had been sufficiently brief. Jessica and Rebecca met us
at the airport and advised us dinner would be at Roger's place. Which
made sense, as he needed to take the materials we had brought back to a
safe place as soon as possible. For the time being he left them in his
upstairs office. He told me we would take them to their hiding place the
Dinner was another chicken, this one dismembered and fried. The potatoes
were fried as well, with potato salad and macaroni and cheese rounding
out the main course. An apple pie and ice cream followed, and Roger
filled the girls in on our adventure. Roger asked how their days had gone.
They had spent some of their time at Jessica's place and most of the
remainder at Roger's, checking on my place a couple of times. They had
noticed something unusual - while returning from Jessica's place the
day before they me vehicle which very obviously had just been at Roger's
place, having just come up from the low road there was nowhere else they
could have been.
As they passed they watched the other vehicle in the mirror and saw that
it had stopped, as of watching them. A visitor looking for Roger would
have either flagged them down and inquired, or followed them back. This
one did neither. They described it as a white four-door sedan, but didn't
know the make or model.
A city car, I thought. Someone who hadn't been here before. I looked at
"How often to people wander up here?" I asked.
"Rarely" he said. "The last one was probably three weeks ago. I don't
like the timing."
"Better get the goods buried quickly" I said.
"We'll slip out about midnight and do it" he said. "If anyone is prowling
around on foot, they'll be watching the house. We'll use the tunnel."
Jessica and Rebecca stayed up and watched while we worked. Roger has a
couple of dozen cameras, mostly around the grounds but with several
monitoring the road and some areas where the area can be approached on
We went into an underground area much like the one where Jeremy had been
working when we retrieved the goods. I suspected Roger was deeper into
the underground that I had figured. Once inside, he opened a door in one
of the rooms - a door even more thoroughly hidden than the one upstairs -
and we entered a small room with several safes. There were several
small modern safes, a couple of big old ones that looked as they might
have served in 19th century banks.
One of them was a huge sphere mounted on a square base.
"This is about as close to indestructible as I've got" he said. "These
old cannonball safes were just about impenetrable without knowing the
combination. The shape, and the manganese steel alloy makes them near
impossible to drill, and you can't blow them up."
He placed the material inside and closed the door.
"We'll just leave it here" he said. "If they're ever needed, they'll be
here." He turned off the lights and we went back upstairs. Jessica and
Rebecca had not noticed anything suspicious, so we said our goodnights and
went off to bed.
The next morning we reviewed the surveillance video for the hours since
midnight and found nothing suspicious. Time would tell if anyone was still
interested in the stuff or suspected its new location, and what they might
do to acquire it.
Chapter 4 -- WGKNYZYMSVZNRDOV
"You've gone through everything?" Gibson asked.
"There wasn't much to go through." Allison replied. "He was wearing jeans,
shirt, underwear and shoes and socks. One sock was some kind of medical
thing, I believe. It was on the left leg only. And a belt, which didn't
take long. Pocketknife, a set of keys. And that card in one of the shirt
"And the medallion. Looks like that and the card ar the only clues we have.
Let's see what his body can tell us."
"He's not dead, is he?" she asked.
"No. Figure of speech. Aside from being unconscious, he seemed quite
healthy. Let's have a look."
The guards inspected their badges and they went into the room. On the table
a rather ordinary body of an adult male was on display. They stood beside
it, looking it over. Allison took the chart down and looked at it.
"Adult male caucasian." she said. "Five eight, hundred sixty six pounds.
Age estimate between fifty-five and sixty-five. Good physical condition,
suggesting an active life-style and good diet. Aside from hair and eye
color, that's about it."
"I told them to just give us the basics." Gibson said. "Get a couple of
nurses in here, we'll want to examine the body thoroughly. And get a good
picture of that medallion and card, get a search going."
He surveyed the body from head to toe while she tapped and swiped her phone a
"Let's have a look." he said as she finished. "You said a medical sock on
his left leg?"
"Yeah, like old people with varicose veins wear, I think."
Gibson leaned over and examined the upper leg for a few moments, then looked
at the chest.
"What is it?"
"Scar on the upper inside thigh." he said. "A faint scar running down the
chest, from throat to navel almost. I'd say he's had open-heart surgery. In
the past couple of years, most likely. Sometimes they take a vein from the
leg, there. Afterwards the impaired circulation causes swelling in the leg.
You can see the left leg is a little larger, the ankle doesn't narrow as
"Fifty-five to sixty-five." Allison said. "Probably on the high side, if he's
old enough to have a heart attack. Statistically anyway."
"I'd guess the higher number." he said. "Maybe even older. He's in good
condition physically, and some people look a lot younger than their age."
"My brother-in-law is about nine, almost ten years older than me." he said.
"Sometimes I think I look older."
The two nurses stood waiting just inside the door. Gibson moved aside and
motioned the move.
"Let's turn him over and and see what the other side looks like. See if he's
had any more adventures. Do you know how much longer he'll be out?"
"Dr. Glover could tell you." one of them said. "Want me to check?"
"Give Allison his number." Gibson said. "We'll need to have him available."
One of the nurses gave her the number and she added it to her phone. Then
they turned the body over and stood back.
"Nothing to see here." Gibson said. "He looks naturally fair-skinned, Irish
maybe. He's apparently spent most of his life in the outdoors, fairly dark
all over except the middle. A lot of it shirtless. He could be a
construction worker for all that tells us. They've completed a thorough
search of the area?"
"Out to a hundred yards, except in the direction of the river. He was near
the bank. Used metal detectors, nothing. Not a lot of traffic in the area."
"All right. Let's make sure the fingerprints and DNA samples are on the way,
along with the photos. Then we'll see what we can dig up on the card and
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ * ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Let's take a look at what we have."
Gibson dropped the keys and knife on the desk, then placed the card and
medallion beside them. The card was a plain white business card with four
lines of text:
HXGLF QKXGL BITSABJ UBQL FLVBKWKG
KNZM SVZDB SBVDOE BQPDFS VWFDAI
RFEWT QEFTGR EWFDEKZ HGOBMTY ZDZG
TUIPDV RGMZNSX FGEIRYUL UJMEHO
He opened the knife and examined it. It was a simple knife with a single
locking blade, a common type. The handle scales appeared to have been made
from a multi-layered material, he layers being burgundy and what was probably
once white. The bolster was something resembling brass, and it didn't look
especially expensive. 'Frost Cutlery' was the name on the blade shoulder.
The keys appeared to be for any number of common locks, either for doors or
padlocks. None appeared to be new.
"Check into Frost Cutlery." he said. "This knife looks like something fairly
common. We'll have our lock people see what they can learn from the keys.
That leaves with the card and this."
He picked up the medallion. It probably wasn't properly called a medallion,
as medallions were normally round. This one was in the shape of a shield,
the shape of the usual depiction of a medieval knight's shield. It was
divided into four sections, with the upper left containing a large letter
"M", and the lower right a "C". The upper right contained an oak tree, and
the lower left a torch. Although small, about the size of a silver dollar,
it was finely detailed.
Allison finished her message to research and looked up.
"What's the card about?" she asked.
"If I had to guess" he said "and at this point about all we can do is guess,
it's a one-time pad message."
"Want me to send it to cryptology?"
"For all the good it will do, yes. Send them a copy, actually. We'll need
to have the card itself analyzed.
"You don't think they can do anything with it?"
"You know what a one-time pad is?"
"It's the only known unbreakable code. As long as you follow a couple of
simple rules, messages can never be broken."
"Yeah. And given the circumstances, I wouldn't be surprised if it's nothing
more than random garbage. Meaningless, to waste our time. Same with running
down the knife and keys."
"So what do we have?"
"Maybe this." he said, holding up the shield. "Check out the initials MC
anyway. You never know. But I suspect someone is playing an elaborate game
here. And if so, something big is riding on it."
"Again, if I had to guess, I'd say the Northern Alliance. There are some
diabolical minds up there. The Republic are a pretty straightforward bunch.
They infiltrate, both spies and saboteurs, and do a lot of damage. But the
Alliance, they have plots within plots. And sometimes when you think you've
peeled away all the layers, all you end up with is an onion. A smaller
onion, for all the work."
"So unless fingerprints or DNA give us something..."
"About it." he said. "And if he has a lot of relatives, and they're all on
the other side, not much help. I have to think that shield is important, but
it may be another red herring."
"So if the whole thing is just an elaborate lure to send us on one or more
wild-goose chases..., well, we do have someone in custody. See what he knows
when he wakes up."
"Yeah, and maybe he's someone who was abducted, drugged an left there for a
"We are spending a lot of time and resources on it."
"That we are. Want to get some lunch?"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ * ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The cafeteria was always full. As were the hotels, the streets, the
parking lots. DC was of course the center of activity. And with nearly
half the country behind enemy lines, much of the military and federal law
enforcement resources from those areas was now concentrated in the
remaining area. Except those that hadn't gotten out. Those that had been
overrun quickly in the early stages had left many personnel in rebel
hands. Codes had to be replaced, resources moved, and personnel
reassigned. Still, it was better being in DC, Allison thought. Safer
anyway, and as yet none of the privations being experienced outside. At
least not as many. Some things were in short supply everywhere, with the
corridor between the coasts blocked with the loss of Kansas. She wondered
what was going to happen. Gibson didn't try to hide his pessimism for
her. She wondered how he was in the meetings she did not accompany him to.
The food situation certainly was getting worse. There were no shortages
here, but there was not much variety. Lunch was usually soup and salad,
and the breadsticks seemed smaller each time. She knew there were food
riots in some of the cities, and wondered how long this could last. In
the Republic and Alliance territory, if the videos they saw were to be
believed, people were living a life unchanged from before. And having
access to other information she believed them.
"How long do you think it will take for an ID?" she asked. "Assuming one
can be made."
"If they make him, it'll be soon." Gibson said. "Either they get a match
on DNA or fingerprints, or they don't. If they do we'll have something to
work with, maybe. If not..."
"The absence of clues, other than what we have, has to be deliberate." she
said. "Without an ID, or possibly even with one, those are all we have."
"During the second World War" he said "the Allies planted a corpse in
military uniform with a briefcase containing misleading information about
a military operation, where it would be found and handed over to the
Germans. They went to great lengths to make it convincing, placing
personal effects and items such as theater ticket stubs and hotel receipts
on the body. It was quite an elaborate plan, and it worked."
"And this is the exact opposite. As if the body was carefully sanitized,
except for the knife, keys, card and medallion. So we've, apparently,
been handed the bait to trap with no way to get to the trap? Unless we
get an ID ties him to something, or one of the pieces of evidence leads
"What?" Gibson asked.
"Why did they leave that compression stocking on? Without it, we might
have noticed the swollen leg, but not thought anything of it. It led you
to look for the surgery scars. I don't know what it might mean, but it
seems to have been deliberate."
"I suppose so. We still don't know how he got here. Apparently by way of
the river, as the area was not accessible by a ground vehicle. And why
dump an unconscious person, unless he is supposed to do something once
"Infiltrator?" Allison asked. "He brought nothing with him, no weapons or
"That would suggest that he is the weapon. The more reason to find out
who he is. If that's of any use."
He looked at his watch.
"Hope you don't mind a late night. Let's get back to the office and see
His phone sounded, an incoming message.
"That's the head shed." he said without looking. "Let's get away from
eyes and ears."
Gibson's office was on the top floor. They were alone in the elevator but
rode in silence. Even in the most secure building in the Capitol every
word was guarded. Once in the office with the door closed he looked at
"Nothing on the fingerprints." he said. "So probably not former military,
government employee, criminal - at least not one that ever got caught.
DNA is still processing. If there are no fingerprints available, it's
unlikely there is DNA. Unless there's a John Doe in the unsolved
category. Which is possible."
"How about photos?"
"That will take a while. Depending on where he's been the past ten,
fifteen years. If he was underground for that long, he might not have
been in public places much, and may have been disguised when he was. That
was probably our best chance, unless he has a close relative we have DNA
"Let's see. The knife is a common brand sold mostly by mail order in the
80s, there is still a Frost Cutlery, in Tennessee. Which fell to the
enemy along with Kansas three months ago. Not that they would have
records on every knife they sold, especially forty years ago. The keys
fit several types of locks typically used in residential and institutional
door locks. I do have to wonder why they were there."
"A signal?" she asked
"Possibly. The whole thing, if it has an actual tactical purpose, is
quite diabolical. And there are some diabolical minds over there. Both
in the Republic and the Alliance."
"I wonder if our man is the owner of one of those minds."
"What do you mean?"
"You mentioned Tennessee and Kansas. There was an operation, Operation
MacGyver. I was in the Chicago office before I came here. There was a
big fiasco in Tennessee."
"MacGyver. Sounds familiar for some reason."
"Apparently named for a TV show. Ran back in the 80s and again about, I
don't know, maybe ten years ago. About a guy who made the impossible
easy, knew everything about just about everything. He was always going on
secret missions and having to get out of impossible situations. Something
"What was the purpose of Operation MacGyver. There's a guy, we don't know
who he is, and even if it's one man. There's a sort of mythos around him,
or them. One of his nicknames is MacGyver.
"In the Republic or the Alliance?"
"Both. He supposedly lives in the south, in Arkansas maybe. One of the
organizers and leaders of the Insurrection."
"What happened in Tennessee?"
"Tennessee, as you know, was not the primary target. The idea was to take
Kansas and cut the country in two, which it did. Tennessee looked like an
attainable target, and would also serve to divide the force available to
"They screwed up pretty good." Gibson said. "Attempting to save Tennessee
made sure we would lose both. Not that we had much of a chance anyway."
"It was pretty much a lose-lose situation. But the Republic was
interested in being sure Tennessee fell, so they put some operatives in to
help the partisans. Operation MacGyver was an attempt to neutralize him,
if capturing him was not possible. They located him, but not in time. It
was only after the attacks went down, they located him as he was
attempting to egress through Mississippi. Apparently the way he came in."
"I remember that part." he said. "They almost got him. He crashed the
roadblock in a big farm tractor or something. Had a woman with him. Word
is they got shot up a little but got away."
"The girl did." Allison said. "We have a couple of ears in there, trying
to stay close to him. But ears is all they are. They blend in and listen
and get discreet messages back to us, but no operational stuff at all.
The information they provide is more useful than any damage they can do."
"As if we can do anything at all. Both the Republic and the Alliance are
almost invulnerable to infiltration. While we're so full of holes they
barely have to try."
Allison was silent.
"I know." he said. "We're not supposed to say what we all know, lest
someone who already knows hears it. They're about ninety-five percent
rebel. The few dissenters fled as their territory fell, and they allowed
it. We'd be better off.. sorry. Back to the matter at hand. So you get
regular updates on this MacGyver character. Anything useful, regarding
the present subject?"
"The last update was that he and the girl - the 'woman' with him was a
teenaged girl - were taken to a hospital in Olive Branch, Mississippi.
Not far from where he crossed the border. Word is he rescued her from
Zulu-6. He was one of the main figures in that operation."
"Just when I was thinking we should find a way to take him out."
"What's that?" she asked.
"If he was involved in taking down Zulu-6 he did the entire world a favor.
That was a rogue operation to start with, and only got worse. If they
massacred the entire garrison I wouldn't care."
"The almost did. There were only a handful of survivors. They're all at
"Good place for them. I saw that report. Over two hundred civilian
prisoners, tortured, starved, no medical treatment. What did he want a
prisoner for? A take-home project?"
"You might say that." Allison smiled. "Strange as it sounds. He's said
to be devoid of emotion. Apparently the prisoners included children, of
both sexes. You can guess what they were doing with the kids."
"So he took one home? What for?"
"Apparently, while freeing the prisoners, he found one in especially bad
shape. For whatever reason, he took her out and evacuated her in his
battle wagon, and they've been inseparable since. Among other things, she
can't speak. Or at least doesn't. Whether from mental trauma or physical
injury isn't known. Perhaps he isn't so emotionless as reported."
"Perhaps not. Too bad he's on the wrong side. We could use men like him."
She didn't reply.
"We are where we are." he said. "And if we're going to do our jobs we
have to get on with it. I'm guessing thes MacGyver guy - does he have a
"One of the names we have, it's only a maybe, is Alex Duncan. We don't
know if either is a given name."
"So this MacGyver guy, sort of a James Bond type with a slice of Rambo,
with some mad scientist and philosopher thrown in, is or may be one or
more of any number of operatives who are giving us fits? And is in some
way connected to this character?"
"He - or someone believed to be him - has infiltrated several times and
done considerable damage, operations big enough they'd send in someone
special. And disappeared without a trace."
"Except in Tennessee. And we're sure of that one?"
"It seems so. I'm wondering if he's doing it again."
Gibson was looking at his phone, but though he did not immediately look up
his expression showed he understood what she meant.
"You think that's him down there?"
"You said they have some diabolical minds. I wonder if our Alex, or
whoever he is, is capable..."
"A more important question is, if it is, why. The objective would have to
be... something I can't envision extemporaneously. Can you?"
"If it is" Gibson said "how would we know? If we can't establish his
identity, if he tells us that's who he is... as you say, it would have to
be something big. I'd rather not think about it, but if you're suspicion
is correct, we've got some work to do, fast."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ * ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Take a look at this." Gibson said.
Allison walked around the desk and stood beside him. The enormous display
of his main computer had a dozen windows open. He clicked the maximize
button on one. It showed what looked like a dossier of some type, not in
a format she recognized. In the upper left corner of the page they were
looking at was a picture of what was almost certainly the man they had
examined the previous day.
He was now in a room on the floor below them, a combination prison and
hospital. The picture was of a younger man, but almost certainly the one
they had. There was a scar above the right eye, now old enough that its
cause was not easy to guess. In the photograph it was larger and looked
as if it had been caused by something not sharp enough to cut cleanly but
rather tore and gouged the skin and flesh away.
"Nasty." Allison said. "Wonder what caused it. Anything in the file?"
"A lot. Including the wound. Fragments from an explosion. He came close
to losing an eye."
"So who is he?"
"If our sources are correct, it is indeed one Alex Duncan. Darling of the
resistance in the Republic breakaway. As to whether that's his real name,
we don't know. Lot of them used aliases still use them. The DNA info
should be along soon, but we don't really need it, unless we're interested
in his relatives. For now, he's our only interest."
"So this legendary freedom fighter, narrowly escaped our clutches a couple
of month ago, has now... " she paused. "I was going to say walked right
back into the lion's den, but we don't know how he got here. Did he come
on his own? Or did someone deliver him, and if so who?"
"He seems to lead a charmed life." Gibson said. "It's doubtful any of his
people delivered him. Our agents are completely passive. The information
they provide is more than any service they can render by any activity,
such as sabotage or assassination. There are some who are prepared to do
it, if and when there is an opportunity with a payoff. So far things
aren't going that way. So I would suggest it was a way for him to get
deep inside, for something, and we got lucky and found him."
"You think he set it up? Had himself dropped off, nothing to identify
him. Where did that dossier come from?"
"Need to know." Gibson said. "But you'd figure out soon enough it came
from our agents in the Republic. I know enough to know it's accurate. Or
as accurate as they can make it."
"We must have... never mind. I don't need to know. So why does he show
up here, nothing to identify him except, apparently, that medallion. I
don't know what a common pocket knife would tell us."
"Strange." he said. "I suspect it's part of the bait. I suspect that we
will shortly find out what it is, what it means. The question, is our
finding out so easily who he is part of the trap?"
"Plans within plans. His reputation seems to be well-earned."
"They do call him MacGyver."
Gibson scrolled through pages, scanning them quickly. Stopped.
"This is interesting." he said. "Early history. Military service."
"Hmmm.., yeah. Maybe."
He read for a while.
"U.S. Air Force. 1988 to 2000. That's over thirty years ago. This is
not official, like someone copied it from the original records. Enlisted
in 1988, trained as a translator, Russian, Arabic, Persian - probably for
his work - French, German, Spanish. From his duty stations I'd say he was
working in listening posts, maybe surveillance flights. They fly around
the edges of unfriendly countries - or for that matter friendly ones -
recording radio traffic for analysis by intelligence services."
"Must have been pretty sharp." Allison said. "They skim off the top
talent for those jobs."
"IQ 226. This is interesting. Diagnosed with Aspergers. Not uncommon in
highly intelligent people, sometimes called the 'genius gene'. Apparently
his other autistic traits weren't such that they didn't use him in
"Very high IQ, autistic. No wonder he's so devious."
"Dangerous as well."
"I suspect he's about to be taken off our hands soon in any case." Allison
said. "Whatever is done with him is a matter for D section. Our job is
to find out who he is. What to do with him out of our hands."
"They'll screw it up, as usual."
"What would you do?"
"Whatever anyone does will probably be wrong." he said. "Unless that
medallion gives us some clue. And even then.."
"There is something."
"If this is the Alex Duncan - and I don't know how to verify he's the one
in Tennessee and Zulu-6 - but if he is, there's the girl."
"According to our sources, they're inseparable. So what's happened to
her? They were together in Tennessee, where we lost track of him. But
unless she didn't survive - and they were pretty sure they did - would he
leave her for whatever he's doing here?"
"It would have to be pretty important."
"From what I understand, he wouldn't leave her."
"You think she came with him? And she's out there. Somewhere."
"Could be. He does sometimes leave her with someone he trusts, and that
she is comfortable with, for short periods of time. She always knows
where he is, and that he'll be back for her. If she's here, I don't know
where he could have stashed her."
"If it could possibly make less sense..." Gibson said. "I don't want to
"They've been operating as a team for a while now. Almost immediately
after he took her out of Zulu-6, as they were egressing in fact, they were
located by a patrol while on their way to a safe house. Two locals,
highway patrol. From what we were able to piece together, they initiated
a traffic stop, intending to take him out in the open, alone. The one who
survived -- the girl distracted them enough for Duncan to take him down
and disarm him, while she knifed the other one while they were fighting.
The report was she put a large knife clean through his neck."
"A teenaged girl?"
"Fourteen, we believe. Named Cassandra. Slight, dark hair. Apparently a
"So if they're inseparable, and that's him down there, where is she? She
must be near."
"I would think so." Allison said. "It seems he has on occasion left her
with people he trusts, for a short time. But he was always close by, and
she had no fear of him not coming back for her."
"There anyone here he would trust?"
"It's certainly possible."
"I suppose there would have to be." Gibson said. "But how likely it's
someone known to us?"
"Not very." Allison admitted. "Anyone deep enough for him to put himself
in their hands..."
"What do you think D section will do?"
"Probably the most wrong thing they can. Try to interrogate him. Or they
might be smart enough to turn him loose. Keep track of him."
"They'd have to make him think he escaped." Allison said. "Otherwise he'd
lead them on a wild-goose chase."
"Or worse, into a trap."
They looked at each other silently for a few moments.
"You thinking of the Blue Springs debacle?" Gibson asked.
"He have anything to do with it?"
"There were rumors." Allison said. "Not him specifically, I don't think
we even had a name at the time. Just some phantom operator that was
credited with all sorts of things, like Zulu-6."
"They captured one of the killers in the Saratoga massacre. One, out of
at least twenty by most accounts. He was shot up pretty good, as I
remember. Was a couple of weeks before they tried to interrogate him."
"Right. He clammed up, demanded a lawyer. We were trying to do
everything by the book then."
"We're not now?" Gibson asked.
"Were we ever?" Allison asked. "After the first year or so. Zulu-6 was
in operation by that time. Anyway, they tried the soft touch. Didn't
even use drugs at first. They thought they had broken through, made him
mistrust his comrades. Since they hadn't made any rescue attempts - their
usual practice - they thought he was convinced he had been abandoned.
Over a period of two or three weeks, I guess, he seemed to have turned.
"He told them the location of a secret base. At Blue Springs. A remote
little place, relatively unpopulated. They confirmed the existence of
what looked like an installation of some sort, kept it under surveillance.
He told them of the safe routes in and out, warned of traps. It all
seemed real. They planned a raid.
"The day before the planned raid, he became violently ill. They thought
he had somehow gotten hold of something to harm himself, perhaps a suicide
attempt. When the task force rolled out he was in an ambulance on the way
to the hospital."
"I seem to have heard something about that." Gibson said. "He wasn't sick
at all. When they got him to the hospital he got loose, grabbed a gun
from a handy security guard. Disappeared into the hospital grounds, never
to be seen again."
"Right. And when the task force rolled into the Blue Springs camp, it was
deserted. Or so it seemed. Once they began searching the place, the
rebels, hiding in the woods, converged on them and slaughtered them in
about ten minutes. And for good measure absconded with the vehicles and
weapons. None of which have been seen since."
"Think it could have been him?"
"Who knows? I wouldn't think so, but it's the kind of thing he would do.
He or someone like him."
"I don't like the idea of being more than one of him out there." Gibson
said. "I don't like there being only one. If we don't get any more info
in twenty-four hours, we'll turn him over to D Section. With a strong
warning about what he may be capable of."
Chapter 5 -- BSBVSEDSOEBQSPIFTVL
Chapter 6 -- SVWFFDKIKPDAWIR
Chapter 7 -- FEQWQTRGQZEFPTGREWFCDMR
Chapter 8 -- XEQKKZWZHGOBYMTTPF
Chapter 9 -- YEZFDZTGTIUIPDDT
Chapter 10 -- VRGXRMZAZXNRSCXF
Chapter 11 -- WGEIRBYOULPUJBMECIHOD
Chapter 12 -- TNBYIJXUEXROTSIMBVG
Chapter 13 -- UGVSYMCBANVOASZFE
Chapter 14 -- ICFRLJNFYIWFDW
Chapter 15 -- FTTVRQHUDHODT
Chapter 16 -- HTMRZDYFSOCXEHFWWI
Chapter 17 -- GNHKDXHJODVNBZPUVRGPV
Chapter 18 -- DHWFPJWHNFXYSJMKM
Chapter 19 -- VGPSVSIBTMMZP
Chapter 20 -- HDISMSUNROABHBIQ
Chapter 21 -- SUTLBIKWAUQBHHYW
Chapter 22 -- NMGLMXMYKMWQOLNVB
Chapter 23 -- ZPNMOYHWYLMUVXMMYQJ
Chapter 24 -- ZVCPTXJUSIVQRHCAKKK
Chapter 25 -- KUOGCZVHCOYWHKS
Chapter 26 -- HUGWOZNSHUEZSS
Chapter 27 -- BVROGHVHSTRZEGBQVFZS
Chapter 28 -- DUXUGJTAUWJM
Chapter 29 -- WPOFNRAXSVGVIMRTOS
Chapter 30 -- ZWRVCRMPMFEEVOQUL
Chapter 31 -- VMFYANDGXMOKKKNT
Chapter 32 -- GBODVGTXFXKQCJL
Chapter 33 -- VJICGUEOUPHKJC
Chapter 34 -- MGIREQMBGJDRSQTIDQBAFD
Chapter 35 -- HZBRGJVEGRARMN
Chapter 36 -- VBYURGSMVLCNVEKOBIYOFW
Chapter 37 -- GJNXPULCRYXYONIHFKF
Chapter 38 -- KYSURVOEHOGYEP
Chapter 39 -- KGAAANTZTUFCOTZMRNV