~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Complete Book Available Available on Amazon ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations and
events in this novel are products of the author’s imagination or are used
fictitiously; any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is entirely
No Part of this book may be
reproduced, scanned, copied or distributed in any printed or electronic form
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Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there
2nd Corinthians 3:17
My wife, for her continued support.
Nick Pagano at thinkdesignblog.com for the cover art
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About this Book:
The events in Kratocracy take
place approximately one month after the conclusion of the events in The Western Front. Reading The Western Front is recommended
prior to reading this book.
I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what He will have to say to me
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can
shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of
the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its
powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and
thus by extension, the truth becomes the greatest enemy of the State."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude
better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask
not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May
your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“People talk about the impatience of the populace; but sound historians
know that most tyrannies have been possible because men moved too late. It is often essential to resist a tyranny
before it exists.”
(Kra-toc-ra-cy) [kruh-tok-ruh-see] (Origin: Greek, krateros, strong) (noun, plural –
Kra-toc-ra-cies) (similar: Kratocrat –noun; Kratocratic –adjective): Government
by those who are strong enough to seize power through force or cunning. (Montague.)
four grey SUVs cautiously approached the outskirts of Viejo Guerrero, known to
the gringos as Old Warrior City. The
vehicles were dented and dusted thoroughly, with the occasional rusted bullet
hole in a door or fender; the windshields were cracked and caked with dirt and
grime in the areas beyond the reach of the dry-rotted wiper blades.
cartel soldados in the vehicles were anxious to make the delivery, but were
fearful of what may lie between them and Falcon Lake. They gripped their rifles tightly as they
peered out the windows of the vehicles at the abandoned structures and barren
landscape. Dread was a new emotion for
many of the halcones and sicarios; they were more accustomed to inflicting
terror than being gripped by it.
ones they feared were surrounded by myth and mystique; most reasoned the source
to be gringo irregulars, but some of the more superstitious among them told
stories around campfires about the spirits that roamed the borderlands. These spirits, they would say in hushed
voices, were angered by the choices of those in their ancient bloodline; the
drug trade was destroying the delicate borderland, and the spirits were
could blame these men for their superstitions?
The borderlands were a place steeped in centuries of bloodshed and wars,
and nearly every man had a tale of a strange encounter that either they, or
someone they dearly trusted had experienced.
Now there was incessant talk of the mysterious riders that were haunting
the soldiers of the cartels.
referred to them as the jinetes fantasma, the phantom horsemen. Entire parties of soldados had disappeared
without a trace, never to be heard from again; the few men that had escaped
certain death told fantastical tales of the dark riders. The riders would only materialize between
dusk and dawn because they feared the light; they would appear from seemingly
nowhere, abduct the narco scouts and overwhelm the defenseless encampment. The cartels had sent teams of hardened,
experienced men to the borderlands for the sole purpose of finding and
eliminating the source of the attacks, but to date, none had been heard from
any place invited the talk of spirits and times long forgotten, Viejo Guerrero was
it. Founded in 1750 as a Spanish
colonial town, more than twenty years before the American Revolution, it was the
capital of one of the many republics, including the Republic of Texas, that
rebelled against the subversive centralization of Mexico and the dissolution of
the Mexican constitution by the Santa Anna government.
remnants from an expedition in the nineteenth century observed that, “Guerrero
is a fine looking and well-constructed town.
The houses are built of a kind of marble or stone, with flat roofs,
surrounded by a wall. The streets and public squares (of which there are two)
are well laid off, and the whole place presents an appearance of elegance and
neatness. There is one cathedral in the place and several large public
buildings. The inhabitants have fine gardens and throughout the place there are
numerous groves of orange trees that give it a most luxuriant and smiling
Guerrero, like many other towns and villages in the area, had been abandoned
when the Falcon Dam was constructed on the Rio Grande; a new city was built
nearly twenty miles to the southeast on higher ground, not far from the
dam. Viejo Guerrero was left to its
fate, to be consumed by the rising waters of Falcon Lake. The lake’s waters had advanced into and
receded from the ghost town numerous times since the dam’s construction; the
current water level left a little more than half of the city back on dry land.
twilight yielded to dusk, the sky was painted with oranges and yellows; the
thin, wispy cirrus clouds reflected an array of colors, from bright purple to
dull gray. The cool, inviting
temperature and the gentle breeze made a picturesque sky even more
perfect. The men in the SUVs would have
greatly preferred to be tending a warm fire back at camp and trading tall
stories as the last vestiges of the day disappeared, rather than meeting the
mules in these forgotten ruins, far from any signs of civilization.
road narrowed for a period, as the mesquite, huisache and wild olives crowded
the ruins around them. The hairs on the soldados’
necks stood on end as the shrill screams of a herd of javelinas could be heard
somewhere in the tall shadows of the distance.
After several hundred feet of tense silence, the restrictive thicket
relented to the dusty, open trail that lay beyond.
they made a final turn, they could see the aluminum boats and their operators
at the water’s edge, beyond the open plaza.
The four drug mules wore long serapes and hoods over their heads; they
preferred to remain as anonymous as possible on nights like these; each of the mules
had dim oil lanterns that served as a beacon for the SUVs. The eerie scene made some of the men rather
uneasy. The stone ruins of a centuries-old
village with dark, ghoulish figures on the edge of a black water lake conjured
images of Charon towering over the banks of the River Acheron, as he waited to the
ferry damned souls across to their eternity.
All they needed now was an obolus in their mouth to pay the toll, they
gloomily thought to themselves.
darkness was in full effect as they rounded the plaza, now merely several
hundred feet from the figures and the rendezvous point. One by one, the cloaked mules extinguished
their lanterns and faded into the darkness around them. The vehicles slowed as the men inside were
perplexed by the odd behavior from their contacts; they peered into the
darkness, but the cloaked men were gone.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Barrett and the two rangers from Houston stood waiting by the water, just east
of the plaza; the bodies of the previous owners rested in the bottom of the
boats beside them. Their lanterns were
turned down low so that they would be noticed by the cartel soldados, but little
else could be discerned; the dull glow from the flames danced on the dark
waters behind them as gentle waves lapped the shore.
leaned over to Reese and whispered, “Sure hope they don’t get spooked and shoot
probably be fine.”
smirked and replied, “Sorry, I forget you’ve been out here a while; seriously
though, sometimes a sense of humor is all that gets you through the hard times,
and we are due some hard times. Look, over there, we’ve got company.”
and his three teammates watched as the headlights illuminated the south edge of
the plaza; they could hear the sounds of the distant vehicles’ tires crunching
along the loose cobblestone alley as they slowly approached. A frightened covey of quail could be heard scattering
somewhere across the plaza as the SUVs approached.
vehicles finally appeared from the depths of the alley, at the far corner of
the plaza. The remnants of an old tower
and several stone benches and fountains in the open square were all that
separated Reese and his team from their prey.
An M4 carbine hung from a single point sling underneath each of the
men’s serapes as they held their lanterns.
They watched as the vehicles turned northeast and followed the perimeter
of the plaza; before the SUVs were able to turn south and illuminate the four
men, they quenched the flames and disappeared into the shadows. The men dropped the lanterns and pulled the
night vision goggles that had been hidden under their hoods down over their
eyes; they dashed through the darkness to several piles of stone rubble that
dotted the shoreline just west of the boats.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
and nearly a dozen other men slunk back into the shadows of the roofless stone
ruins, as the headlights shined below them on the road, and illuminated the
fine particulates of dust that hung heavy in the air. Viejo Guerrero was the perfect venue for an ambush; it had the cover, the ambience to
unnerve the superstitious among their quarry, and the bait to lull the others
he focused his attention on the approaching SUVs, the unexpected rushing sounds
from the panicked covey of quails caused Holt’s heart to flutter in his chest,
as quails are quite apt to do.
Adrenaline coursed through his veins for the moment he was uncertain of
the source; his momentary fright had not gone unnoticed by the men around him
as they grinned silently and continued to scan the plaza below. Holt sighed to himself and thought, I will surely hear about this later.
and the other men in the ruins began to ease back into position from the deep
recesses as the SUVs slowly passed them without event. The dozen men under Holt’s command were
divided into three fire teams; in addition to two riflemen, each team had a
grenadier and a man equipped with a squad automatic weapon, or SAW.
and the fire teams watched from the various ruins around the plaza, as the
vehicles advanced along the perimeter road to meet the drug mules by the
shore. As the vehicles prepared to navigate
the final turn around the north corner of the open square, the dim lanterns by
the shore faded away; Holt slowly counted to five in his head and then
whispered into the microphone, “Now.”
the grenadiers fired a volley of 40 mm grenades from their launchers, attached
to the underside of their carbines, the SAW operators unleashed a deafening hailstorm
of lead and fury on the four vehicles. One
of the grenades sailed perfectly into an open rear window and landed in the
passenger’s lap; the soldados tried to dive from the vehicle, but it was too
late. The windows of the vehicle blew
outward simultaneously as the interior of the SUV was decimated; a small fire
began to smolder in the back seat as the men in the rear vehicle stared on in
second grenade landed on another vehicle’s hood as the blast shattered the
front windshield, killing the driver and front passenger; the terrified amigo
in the back seat rolled out onto the ground and plunged headlong into the
darkness. Amazingly, the fleeing man was
able to avoid the wall of lead from the SAWs that was battering the ground and
sending plumes of dust into the air all around him.
him go,” Holt radioed, “I have plans for him; finish off the others.”
the remaining grenades exploded around the other vehicles, wrinkling sheet
metal and sending shards of glass and debris into the faces of the stunned soldados. The SAWs ventilated the SUVs relentlessly as
the soldiers with M4 carbines targeted any amigos that had survived the
onslaught up to that point and tried to return fire. The men whooped like a Comanche war band as
they fired at the narco soldados; their war cries only served to fan the flames
of terror and confusion that consumed the amigos in the plaza below. Within several seconds of the start of the
overwhelmingly violent ambush, it was over; only one soldado remained as he
fled into the night.
radioed again, “Send out the riders.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
terrified amigo tore blindly through the thick brush and shrubs that surrounded
the plaza; he groaned as the thorny mesquite, blackbrush and huisache cut his
arms and pricked his hands. The
poisonous thorns burned and throbbed as they broke off in his skin, but he did
not care; all that mattered was to escape.
he pushed through the edge of the thicket, he stumbled and fell headlong into
the dusty alley beyond. A sharp pain
shot through his body as his head smashed against a large stone block; he
curled his body into a tight ball and cursed the ruins of this place as he
writhed in pain. As he pushed himself up
from the ground he staggered about momentarily, his head still dazed from the
Clip, clop! He lurched
forward and nearly fell again as the sounds of the hooves could be heard
somewhere behind him. He turned and
dashed up the narrow dirt alley, searching in vain for somewhere to hide from the
Clip, clop! As he reached the
intersection, he darted to the left and ran to the southwest, parallel with and
several hundred feet from the shoreline.
The yips and barks of two distant coyotes echoed through the night air
as they exchanged their nocturnal discourse.
He fumbled at his side for his nickel plated revolver, but it was
nowhere to be found.
Clip, clop! The sound of the
horse’s hooves grew louder as the rider bore down on him. He could feel the rider’s presence somewhere
in the shadows; he knew at any moment, the ghoul would gun him down, or worse. The thickets began to crowd the alley on
either side of him once again; he would dive back into the thorny underbrush
and hide like a desert cottontail from his pursuers.
Clip, clop! It felt as if the
rider was on top of him now, this was his last chance. As he passed through the second intersection
and prepared to dive into the dense stand of huisache, his heart sank as he saw
the rider. Everything was moving so
quickly, it was hard for his mind to process; it had to be a second rider, because
he was approaching from the other road.
It mattered not how many there was at this point, they had him; he would
fight them though, he would not go easy.
He unsheathed his long cuchilla and prepared for the encounter.
high pitched squeal of the horse was deafening in his ears and terrifying to
his senses; he could feel its hot breath on his face as its nostrils passed
within inches of him. He slashed wildly
at the beast, but his wrist was denied the motion as it connected painfully
with a quick thrust from a steel-toed, flat-tipped, western boot. He shrieked in agony and gripped the
throbbing hand with the other as the cuchilla clattered to the ground. The horse slung his head in the direction of
the man as it flared its nostrils and snorted menacingly at him.
rider had watched the soldado flee down the alley in shades of dull green, over
the tops of the thickets from his high perch.
He had seen the other rider swiftly approaching the amigo from behind.
He had cut down the perpendicular alley and timed his approach perfectly so
that he would collide with the man in the intersection.
flipped his rifle around so that he was holding it by the barrel, as he met the
terrified soldado in the dusty junction; as he effortlessly deflected the man’s
blind slice, he swung the rifle in a downward arc as a templar knight might
swing a mace. The pointed end of the
triangular collapsible stock connected with the side of the amigo’s head,
snapping it harshly to the side and sending him into a sidelong tumble. The hombre’s head slammed against the ground
with his jaw slack and eyes rolled far back in his head.
get him back to camp; Agent Byers will surely want a word with our friend, if
he ever wakes up.”
do you hear that?” He motioned with his
rifle as he held onto the reins with the other, “Go around the thicket; I’ll
meet you on the other side.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
the riders returned to the plaza with their quarries, several men from the unit
were finishing the task of sinking the SUVs in the lake. They used the two vehicles that were still operable
to tow the others into the lake, and then ferried each out into the dark waters
with the four aluminum boats, until the depth was sufficient to completely
cover the SUVs. Reese preferred to leave
no trace of their assaults; the mysterious disappearances only fueled their
legend, but it also served more practical purposes. If the cartels did not know who their enemy
was, they could not adapt. If they could
not adapt, they would not survive.
It has been said that if you know your
enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles;
Reese had every intention of remaining unknown for as long as possible. He needed time to wound the cartels enough to
convince the locals in the region that they could resist and win.
As the last of the vehicles disappeared
beneath the surface of the lake, the men began to gather inside del Iglesia de
Nuestra Señora del Refugio, the Church ofOurLady of Refuge, on the edge of the plaza. The church’s architecture was distinctly that
of a Spanish Mission; its origins could be traced back to the early years of
the town, sometime in the eighteenth century.
The roof of the church had been restored
years ago in an attempt to preserve the historical structure; aided by the arid
climate, the timber rafters were still in respectable shape. The walls and columns of the iglesia, as well
as the other ruins in the villa, were constructed without the use of any
mortar; the stones were cut and shaped so that they would fit together
perfectly; the fact that many of the structures still stood despite the decades
of neglect was a testament to the artisans that labored here long ago. The men found the sanctuary austere but alluring
as they stepped through the arched entrance; their usually hard demeanors were
reduced to reverence and deference as they entered the anointed templo.
In the center of the open sanctuary, the men of
the unit clustered around the small fire that crackled and popped, as it cast
tall shadows that danced on the sandstone walls and arched columns. The confines of the iglesia would hide the
glow of the fire that would otherwise be visible for miles on the open plains;
poor light discipline in the borderlands was an open invitation for marauders
or cartel scouts. After weeks under the
stars, the church was a welcome enclave for the men; the warmth of a fire
always seemed to improve morale.
Reese surveyed the group of men as they
filtered into the church; they were a mixture of the best that Texas had to
offer him. The men had already fallen
into the practice of assuming call signs to protect their identities; nearly
all of the men had taken their names from the fallen defenders of the Alamo
The group was eclectic and diverse; the three
branches of the Texas military were represented – the State Guardsmen from
South Padre Island, Army National Guard and Air National Guard – the latter two
were jokingly referred to as the TANGs.
There were the six SEALs that opted to stay and defend the island with
the guardsmen, the two Texas Rangers that had followed Reese from Houston, and
Alejandro, their interpreter and the key to gaining local support.
Reese glanced across the fire at Wash and
Pagan, the rangers that never left his side in Houston, and who had insisted on
following him to the border. They were
aloof and cautious, and preferred to scout ahead of the party when they were on
the plains, so that they could enjoy the solitude it offered. Though the others were still rather uncertain
of them, Reese had seen their loyalty in action in the doomed city of Houston;
he trusted them as much as any and was glad they had come. They were tall and sinewy, with long Texas
drawls and quick pistol draws. Reese
surmised that they would have fared just fine had they been born two hundred
years prior; perhaps, he reasoned, they may have preferred it.
Reese glanced behind him as the men in the
room erupted into applause; the two riders dropped the heavy boar in the dirt
just outside the church.
“This is how you do Thanksgiving, boys. We downed several sows as well; they’re back
where we flushed this one out. We need a
couple more to give us a hand getting them back and cleaning them; any
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
A small, windowless, stone structure beside
the church had been selected as the site of the four fires needed to cook the
javelinas. The entire plaza was filled
with the sweet smell of the wild meat; the sentries on the roof of the church
struggled to maintain their post as their mouths watered from the aroma that
wafted up to them. A smiling soldier
peeked in the church and shouted to the group of men inside, “It’s ready; come
and get it.”
Reese replied, “Men, get your share of the
feast and let’s meet back in here before we eat; I have a few words I want to
The aroma of the pig hung heavy in the church
as the eager men filtered back in and found their place around the fire. As the last man took his place, Reese stood
“Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, but we’ve been
granted an opportunity to celebrate a day early. The world seems like it is dying around us,
but we have so much to be thankful for.
We’ve been out here three weeks without so much as a scratch. It’s always harder in the beginning because
you’re still learning your horse and the men around you; trust me I know. For that, I am thankful.
We’re riding some of the best horses I’ve
ever had the pleasure of saddling,” he turned and smiled at Alex, “you did well
Alejandro, better than I ever imagined; we’re only as good as the horses under
us. For that, I am thankful.
Men, we’re in a forgotten church that has
weathered centuries in an abandoned villa that stood in defiance against the
dictator, General Santa Anna himself.
You’ve all taken your names from the rebels at the Alamo who resisted
the same man; isn’t that profound? Look
around you; imagine the others that have sat in this same place just as we are,
and resisted the evil of their day. I
can’t stand here and tell you that I believe it all to be coincidence.”
He flashed a smile as he continued, “I’m not
here to get preachy on you; Lord knows I’m not Reverend Byers.”
The men grinned in response as they listened
contently, their appetites nearly forgotten.
“But the fact is I’m an old soldier, and often
old soldiers find faith, or maybe it’s that faith finds them, I don’t
know. What you believe is your own
business, but if you aren’t a believing man, I ask you to do this; tonight when
you’re alone, it’s dark and there’s not a sound in the air but the wails of the
chicharra grandes, just contemplate it for a moment. We’ve been lucky so far, but we’re going to
ride through the gates of hell before this is over; we’re going to need
something greater than our sum to bring us back.
For now, let’s celebrate another overwhelming
victory, enjoy some good company and be thankful for our good fortunes.”
The men applauded and cheered as they began
their feast. Reese stood up, walked over
to Barrett and whispered to him, “How’s your Español?”
“Good enough, socio.”
“Let’s have a talk with our friend.”
Engels’ office, how may I direct your call?”
“Hi Becky it’s Angela, office of the President. Is Senator Engels available?”
The senator is available; could you hold for one second?”
Senator Engels was not quite the eldest
statesman on The Hill, but he was the most powerful, at least behind closed
doors. His public persona was reserved
and almost timid in nature. He avoided
press conferences and speeches if at all possible; rarely did he ever make
appearances in his district. Despite his
elusiveness and aloofness, his seat in the Senate had never been threatened by
a serious challenger, for long at least.
His challengers always seemed to be plagued
by scandal; exposés about their connections to unsavory individuals,
embarrassing trysts with staff members or unethical campaign practices always
seemed to surface at the most inopportune moments. If all else failed, an old acquaintance from
the past would resurface for an anecdotal character assassination. At the height of the controversy, the
grandfatherly senator would shuffle onto a stage and implore that civility be
exercised during the very private, but now quite public, matter of his
opponent; like an old friend, the tactic came through for the senator every
time it was employed. The challenger
would fade into infamy and Senator Engels would continue to tirelessly toil
away for his beloved constituency, and toil for them he did.
The devoted Senator Engels garnered more than
ten times as much pork as the average member of the Senate. Despite all the funds that he brought home to
his state, his colleagues jealously regarded him for a different feat.
The Lion of K Street, as he was known, was
the darling of every dishonest power broker, corrupt foundation and political
organization with questionable loyalties, and he used his power and influence
with them to destroy anyone that resisted him.
The Lion ensured that his counterparts in the House pushed his allies’
tome sized pieces of legislation and then ensured its passing in the Senate. For his unwavering support, his allies
granted him the power to destroy anyone he desired. In back room meetings, far from the public
eye, the senator shed his façade of the timid patriarch for his true nature, an
abusive and demeaning manipulator that would stop at nothing to have what he
desired – more power and influence.
After several moments on hold, a man’s voice
answered the phone.
“Angela, how are you dear?”
“I’m well sir! How are you?”
“All things considered, I’m alright.”
Hold for one second; I’ll connect you with the President.”
The senator waited impatiently on the
phone. Why am I the one waiting, when he’s the one that called me?
Sorry about the wait.”
“Not a problem Mr. President, for what do I
owe the pleasure?”
“Fred, I have some news I wanted to tell you
myself, before you hear it somewhere else.”
Senator Engels’s face flushed hot with fury;
he already suspected what the President was going to say.
“I’ve accepted Governor Baker’s offer; the Vice
President and I will be leaving for Austin in two days.”
“Mr. President, I can’t tell you how
disappointed I am. This is an egregious error in judgment; you and
your successor would be going into what one could only consider a hostile and
unpredictable rogue state. You do
remember they seceded from the union?”
“Fred, I understand your concerns. I don’t agree with Baker on anything at all, you know that; but he’s not
going to let anything happen to us, and he’s surely not going to try anything
himself. Baker is fiery and radical in
his views, but he isn’t our enemy.”
Senator Engels tried rein in his rage, but it
was becoming apparent.
“Might I ask why you’re doing this?”
“Baker claims he has proof that the terror attacks
and the assassination were perpetrated by people other than who the CIA and FBI
claims are responsible.”
“Mr. President, you almost sound like you
believe this nonsense! I assure you he
has nothing of the sort; the CIA’s investigation is airtight. This is a political ploy of some sort by the
governor to embarrass you!”
“I’m sure you’re right, but Baker truly believes he has proof and he’s on the
verge of causing a full blown regional secession; we’ve got rumors about states
from Louisiana to Utah saying they are going to throw in with Austin if we try
“It’s all a bluff sir; can’t you see what
The President’s tone had changed from cordial
to confrontational; the senator cursed to himself, he had pushed too hard and
a bluff, Fred! I trusted you; I
trusted your counsel! We’ve really
screwed up on the border; you’ve
really screwed up the border, admit it!
I will not be the President that presides over a civil war; I will not
be another Lincoln!”
“Look, Mr. President, you need to remain calm-“
“No; I’m tired of being calm; being calm and
towing your line is what got us here!
Everything that you and your people have told me has blown up in my
face; the border, the economy, the speech – that damned speech was a disaster
“Some very gifted and knowledgeable experts
contributed to that speech sir. Look, I
know things aren’t going as expected, but we have to give these things
time. Until then, I have to advise
against the trip to Texas.”
“Give me one reason why I shouldn’t go; the
notion that this is political wrangling by the governor isn’t good enough.”
The senator struggled to develop a riposte,
but words failed him. Before he could
respond, the President continued.
“That’s exactly what I thought, Fred. I’m going to Texas, the decision has been
made; and when I get there, if that ignorant, cowboy governor has anything
resembling evidence that what we released to the American public was false,”
the President paused for a moment and took a deep breath, “heads will roll
Fred, and yours will be one of them, do you understand me?”
“Mr. President with all due respect, I
believe this trip may be very dangerous for you if you choose to follow through
“Is that a threat, senator?”
“Absolutely not, sir. How could you suggest such a-”
“When I return, some things are going to
change in this town; I want a meeting scheduled with you and your policy makers
when I get back.”
“I’ll have Becky set it up with Angela,
sir. Have a safe trip.”
“Oh Fred, one more thing; the governor told
me something strange in our last conversation.
He said he knew I would get a lot of grief if I made this trip; but he also
said he had a message for anyone in my inner circle whose objections to this
were without reason or justification.”
What’s our governor’s message?”
“He said, ‘It’s a buyer’s market,’ do you know
what that means?”
“It’s a what?”
“Sounds like all the other senseless bilge
that is pumped from his mouth; I have no idea what he’s talking about.”
“Well, never mind then; I look forward to our
meeting when I return, senator.”
The senator slammed the phone against his
desk repeatedly as he roared with acrimony over the conversation. Who
does he think he is! He glanced down
and noticed the President’s biography that lay on his desk; he flung his hand
in a fierce sweeping motion and sent the book sailing across the room. The book collided with an antique lamp atop
an even older end table, and sent it crashing to the floor; the broken lamp
only exacerbated the senator’s rage. His
secretary cautiously cracked the door to check on the senator.
“Is everything alright sir?”
The senator closed his eyes and tried to
regain his composure; this was not the time to lose his senses. He paced the office while he gathered his
thoughts; there was not much to consider, he knew he had only one recourse
He retrieved the phone and dialed Becky.
“Becky, bring me some coffee with three
splashes of Irish cream.”
“And Becky, I’ll be on a conference call for
the next hour; no disruptions, alright?”
“Yes sir; be right there with your coffee.”
He sat on the plush couch and waited
impatiently for Becky to bring his drink.
After several minutes, she arrived with a nervous smile and handed it to
him; he took it without a word and waited until she left before transitioning
back to his desk.
He procrastinated by tidying his desk and
taking several sips of the concoction Becky had brought him. Finally, he picked up the phone and dialed a
number; the phone rang several times before her heard a man’s voice on the
other end of the line.
“I know who it is.”
“The President and Vice President are going
to Texas; I tried to dissuade him but he’s determined to go.”
“That’s no good, senator.”
“That’s not even the worst part; the governor
of Texas sent us a message. I think the President
garbled it, which is understandable; he wouldn’t have known what it meant.”
“Don’t keep me waiting, what was the
“I believe he was trying to say, ‘Byers
The other end of the line was silent for
several moments before responding.
“So Byers is alive?”
“I don’t know; we know he spoke to the
governor before going to Houston, so that may have been when Baker got the
information he has. My men on the ground
haven’t seen any sign of him. If he’s
alive, he’s in deep cover.”
“I would suppose that means Baker has
“It appears that way.”
“Alright, I’ll see what I can do about the
“What about the Speaker?”
“I don’t suppose that coward will be a
problem for us.”
“What about Byers?”
“What can we do? We don’t even know if he is alive; just keep
looking, if he’s still breathing he’ll turn up eventually.”
“Call me in several days.”
The senator reclined in his leather chair as
he reflected on the conversation. This
would be the largest and most dangerous offensive maneuver of his long and
storied career. As he noticed the
blinking light on the phone, he leaned forward and dialed Becky again.
“Sorry to disturb you sir; is your conference
“I’m on the phone with you, aren’t I?”
“Oh, right; um, your ten o’clock is here,
shall I send her in?”
Thank you Becky.”
She walked in without saying a word and took
a seat in the chair across from him. He
had a look of annoyance as he stared at her, so she waited for him to speak.
“Why is William Galleani still alive?”
She shrugged, “I don’t know; no particular
reason, really. I’ve just grown fond of
tormenting him, I suppose.”
“I think a month in that hole is enough; he’s
probably close to insanity.”
She giggled, “Oh, we crossed that bridge a
couple weeks back.”
“Just finish it, okay?”
“Fine; is there anything else you need?”
“The next few days may get precarious; I need
you to lay low. Better yet, just stay
home altogether. I need William
eliminated today though; I don’t need him alive knowing what he knows.”
“Consider it done; I apologize for waiting
“It’s alright; now, go. Check back with me after the news breaks.”
“You’ll know it when you see it.”
The dying sun was beginning to sink behind
the distant, jagged mountains on the horizon; soon enough an ocean of stars
would illuminate both man and beast below.
As night blanketed the plains on the borderlands, it was as if the
riders had entered another realm. The
dark sky was like a black, threadbare sheet that was unable to fully contain
the majesty that was just beyond it; a billion shining stars pierced the thin
black veil overhead.
The borderland stars shared little
resemblance to their brothers over the cities and suburbs; those stars were
dull and bleak, unable to compete with the synthetic sights and sound that man had
garnered in the concrete arena far below.
They were stifled by smoke and pollution and errant neon irradiation,
but not these bold stars.
The borderland stars were innumerable and
full of life; they twinkled and danced and glimmered, and sometimes even streaked
across the sky with unspoken power and urgency, as if they were delivering some
celestial decree to the far side of the vast universe. If the borderland stars were charged with
exalting the ocean of darkness as they charted their course through it, they
succeeded with unrivaled splendor and beauty.
Reese and his modern-day, rough riders anxiously
gathered the last of their gear and made the final preparations for tonight’s
sojourn; they were ready to move on. Their
scouts had located the abandoned farm several miles to the north of Viejo
Guerrero early that morning; they relocated to it for the remainder of the day,
not wanting to overstay their welcome in the ancient city and be discovered by
a party of narcos searching for their missing amigos.
and Wash want to scout again tonight?”
thought so. Go ahead and get out in
front of us, we’ll be leaving before long.
Stay about midway between the highway and the river; there’s nothing to
speak of between here and Laredo except for one tiny villa and we can easily
skirt around it. I expect an uneventful
night, but keep your eyes open.”
Reese watched Wash and Pagan gallop away to the north, the last vestiges of
daylight disappeared and the shadows enveloped them. After he stowed the last of his supplies on
his horse, he gently rubbed her head and whispered reassuringly into her ear. With her lips still closed, Asha nickered
softly in response as her ears pricked up in his direction; her spirits were
high in anticipation of the ride, the day at the farm had left her restless.
pulled the night vision goggles that had been resting snuggly on his helmet, down
over his eyes. The darkness around him
was immediately replaced with a barren gray-green landscape dotted with the
occasional outcropping of rubble or chest-high brush. As he climbed atop Asha, she snorted
excitedly; the loud purring sound began to infect the other Araloosas and they
snorted in response. Within several
moments, the entire herd was aroused and infected with Asha’s energy. The horses paused and the men turned to face
Reese as he whistled for their attention.
gentlemen, we’re about two, maybe three days shy of Nuevo Laredo; we’re in no
hurry, so let’s take it slow. Outside
teams, I want you in echelon formations – maximum firepower on the flanks; Wash
and Pagan are already out front, so I want the inside teams to focus on our
rear. Let’s do some quick com-checks and
then saddle up.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
and Wash scanned the plains with their thermal imaging goggles, or FLIR, for
signs of interlopers. The goggles were
dialed in for the relatively narrow temperature range of the borderlands so
that any anomalies could be easily identified.
The plains were a dull blue for as far as they could see; the occasional
small orange and red blur would scamper about somewhere in the distance, the
likely culprit a hungry armadillo or opossum searching for a late meal. Thermal imaging was vastly superior to night
vision on the open plains because of the contrast of the cool nights and barren
landscape, and the warm heat signatures of the soldados and the engines of
their vehicles, or the occasional opossum.
the borderlands through FLIR was surreal and otherworldly; the rangers were
familiar with and used to the green hues of night vision, but the colorful heat
images were vibrant and impressive. The FLIR
goggles afforded them the ability to scout a large area quickly and with
confidence; no warm-bodied creature on the plains could escape their all-seeing
gaze. The pair trotted slowly across the
psychedelic landscape and occasionally bantered back and forth on their secure,
private radio channel.
swamp lizard. Ever ate it?”
“Wow. So missing out; chicken of the stream.”
ignored Pagan and continued on with the patrol.
sheltered life Wash. The other, other white meat.”
let me tell you this: I knew a possum one time that lived in a dead horse. He
lived there until he flat ate himself out of house and home; there ain’t no way
I’m eating something that’ll live in a dead horse or eat his own house. Just ain’t Christian.”
rode on in silence for a while longer as they listened to several coyotes yip
and howl to each other from opposite side of the Rio Grande. Pagan enjoyed the subtle art of annoying Wash
when no one was around; Wash would never admit it, but he enjoyed it to.
hell Pagan, those things can give you leprosy!”
“What? All I ever got was heartburn.”
I know you’re half Venice Cajun and half East Texas oil trash, but you ain’t
got to live like that anymore brother, you’re a Texas Ranger, for the love of
you gotta bring my kin in on this?
could not contain himself any longer and erupted in laughter; Pagan tried to
maintain his composure but failed miserably as he began to chuckle along with
though, you’ve ate all that?”
except the turtle-rabbit; I don’t want no leprosy, for the love of God.”
switched channels on the radio before speaking again.
got a situation up here.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
gentle side to side motion of Asha’s slow gait was almost enough to put Reese
to sleep. The supple leather was much
more comfortable than the makeshift wooden saddles they had been forced to use
in Afghanistan. He was so engrossed in
his thoughts that he almost did not notice Holt quietly trot up beside him.
word from the rangers?”
it will be a quiet night.”
two traveled north in silent contemplation for a while, as they each gazed out
across the grainy, green landscape.
did it go last night with our narco?”
is one of the best interrogators I’ve ever met.”
did he do to the poor guy?”
just talked; it was pretty impressive to watch.
It took all last night and part of this morning, but he cracked the
guy. By the end of it, he thought we
were going to leave him tied to that tree.”
we didn’t leave him there?”
course not, that’s not how I operate; there’s a chopper en route to extract him
now. They’ll take him back to Austin and
put the screws on him again to see if we can get anything else, but I doubt
there’s much left to tell.”
what did he know?”
much that we didn’t already know, actually; he’s just a foot soldier. All he knows is who’s directly over him, and
that they’re in Nuevo Laredo; our drones had already located what appeared to
be a lot of activity there, so he really just confirmed that for us.”
cavalry of gringos can’t just ride into Nuevo Laredo, how are we going to get
got that far yet.”
radio crackled to life with the sound of the ranger’s voice, “Reese.”
got a situation up here.”
me about it.”
at the outskirts of a small villa; maybe two, three dozen huts. There’s an SUV here, engine is still hot.”
so; we’re watching them drag what looks to be a teenage boy out of the villa,
towards their vehicle.”
like they’re recruiting; how many hostiles can you identify?”
you able to engage them all?”
granted to engage, or you can wait for reinforcements; your call, ranger.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
and Pagan kept their distance and eased along the western edge of the villa. Perched atop their leopard-spotted stallions, they
could gaze over all but the tallest of the mesquite trees around them. Shrouded by darkness, they guided the
Araloosas around the small poblado, until they discovered a pile of rubble that
afforded them cover, and an unobstructed view of their targets.
they dismounted and took up position behind the small outcrop, they watched the
confrontation in the villa unfold less than two hundred yards away. The boy was nowhere to be found, but now they
had another victim.
looked to be young, perhaps in her mid-teens, but she could have been older;
malnutrition in the borderlands was rampant and often stunted the growth of the
impoverished children that lived there.
She pleaded for help between sobs as she was dragged away by her hair,
but the villagers could only stand helplessly by and watch in horror. An old man, unable to contain his anger any
longer, feebly rushed the nearest soldado.
The soldado effortlessly sidestepped the old man and slammed the butt of
his rifle mercilessly against the back of his head; he collapsed in a
motionless heap on the ground.
Crack-crack! Gore exploded
out of the back of the soldado’s head and onto the shocked villagers that were
standing nearby; he toppled lifelessly over the old man that still lay at his
girl shrieked in pain as the soldado that had been dragging her was hit twice
in the center of his chest; he stumbled backwards and fell in the dirt, his
tightly clenched hand taking a wad of her hair with it. The girl crouched low and began to hastily
crawl towards the old man.
two rangers silently panned in opposite directions to the two remaining narco
soldiers; a second volley of well-aimed, suppressed double-taps from their M4
carbines dropped their adversaries where they stood. Suddenly, the driver’s door swung open on the
SUV and a man emerged, cursing violently and brandishing his rifle at the
The final hombre staggered mid-speech in the direction of the villagers
and fell headlong to the ground; a small plume of dust billowed up from around
him as his blood seeped into the thirsty soil.
in the stunned crowd were frozen motionless as they stared at the carnage that
surrounded them, while others sent tearful praises skyward for their unexpected
liberation. A man rushed to the back of
the idling SUV and released the frightened boy; the boy flung his arms tightly
around the man as he pulled him to safety.
Wash and Pagan watched as the girl helped the battered old man to his
feet. With a sweeping motion of his feeble
hand, he silenced the entire gathering of villagers; with help from the girl,
he staggered forward several steps and called out to the men shrouded somewhere
in the darkness.
“Mis salvadores! Por favor,mostraos!”
Wash nudged Pagan and whispered, “Would you listen to that Pagan, you’re a
“Well I reckon I am.”
“Mis salvadores! Por favor,mostraos!”
checked the channel on his radio and then spoke into the microphone, “Hostiles
neutralized; what’s your position, Reese?”
guessing about a mile south.”
keep them ponies at a trot; I think we just made us some new friends.”
on our way.”
entire Free Republic of Texas was on high alert; no one knew what would happen
next. THAAD missile systems from Fort
Bliss and Patriot missile systems from Fort Hood were being scrambled all
across the former state in anticipation of a military strike from Washington.
Baker’s heart pounded in his chest as he sat in the underground media room
beneath the capitol building; he had heard the news shortly after it happened
and had been working furiously ever since.
He had spent most of the morning on the phone with the governors of
Montana and North Dakota; he desperately needed a state with Minuteman missile
silos to formally throw its weight behind Texas, as a deterrent to an all-out
assault from Washington. So far, he had
not found the support he sought; now, he waited impatiently for his final
opportunity to sell Texas to a like-minded friend in the northwest.
assistant in the adjacent control room tapped the thick glass and motioned to
the governor; Governor Baker took a deep breath before picking up the receiver
and greeting his friend.
how are you?”
“Scott Baker,” the voice replied in an
affable tone, “I’m not the governor of Texas, so I suppose I’m doing alright.”
that my reputation these days?”
not far from it, my friend; we all empathize with what you have to deal with
like you’ve heard the news.”
was briefed not long after it happened; I can’t say I’ll mourn his loss, but I hate
that it happened over sovereign Texas soil.
Any idea who’s responsible?”
everything that’s happened lately, I’d say Washington.”
would be a very bold move if that
don’t think it’s any bolder than Houston. I believe it was an easy decision for whoever
made the call; it gets rid of someone who’d quit towing their line, and it
served as one more false flag so they can continue to push forward with their
agenda. They’re coming for Texas, Dylan;
and when they’re through, they’ll come for the rest of the Border States that
have dared to speak out against them.
After that it’s the Dakotas, then Wyoming, Montana, Idaho – and anyone
else who resists.
was silence on the other end of the line for several moments before the
governor of Wyoming finally spoke.
why I need your help, Dylan.”
voice sighed and simply said, “I know.”
do I have it? Will Wyoming stand with
don’t make me beg.”
can’t; we can’t. Not yet.”
not you, who? If not now, when? There ain’t much yet left!”
want to help, all of us up here do. I
just left a meeting with representatives from eight or so states; I can’t tell
you how many times Texas came up. You’ve
made it a lot easier for us; no one wanted to be the first to stick their neck
out. Your hand was forced so you didn’t
have a choice, but we can do it right; we can step out with a group so large
that Washington can’t touch us without serious consequences.”
very soon; but until then, we’ve agreed not to make any moves that would tip
our hand. Afterwards though, you’ll have
our support, I can all but guarantee it.”
need it; it’s hard doing this alone.”
in there Scott, we’ll be in touch.”
Baker reclined in his seat and contemplated the conversation. His friend’s words had calmed his demeanor
somewhat, but ultimately nothing had changed from this morning. An aide poked his head in from the control
room and interrupted the governor’s thoughts.
the press conference is about to start.”
you, turn it on.”
flat screen televisions that hung on the wall across the room flashed to life;
the background was the same as it had been for hours: the reporter was still at the site of the
crash, just a few miles east of Elgin, Texas.
The scene flashed back to a newsroom where several, solemn state
mouthpieces sat around a table surrounded by monitors and a sea of cluttered
desks in the distance, staffed by a small army of frantic, and obviously staged,
junior journalists and marionettes-in-training.
just received word that the press conference will start in just a few minutes;
the President pro tempore of the Senate, Frederick Engels, will be addressing a
grieving nation about this morning’s events and where we go from here.
you’re just joining us, Kyla Matthews is onsite where Air Force One crashed in
the early hours of this morning. The President,
Vice President and at least two dozen aides and security personnel are among
the deceased. No word has been given yet
on the source of the crash; hopefully the senator’s press conference will
provide us with additional information.
let’s go back to you for a moment – wait, I’m getting word the presser is
starting now; let’s go to Washington.”
somber, grandfatherly Senator Engels stood behind the dark, stained podium in
the Brady Press Room in the West Wing of the White House. The elder statesman was flanked by American
flags, still defiantly emblazoned with fifty stars, and a pair of white, mock
columns beyond the flags; a large emblem of the White House hung behind the
senator. Senator Engels waited for the
raucous crowd of reporters to settle before proceeding.
fellow Americans, as I am sure most if not all of you are aware, Air Force One
crashed early this morning in a dusty field just east of Elgin, Texas. Among the dead are President Gramsey and Vice
President Taylor. Please join me in a
moment of silence for the fallen.”
melancholy senator bowed his head and closed his eyes for nearly a full
minute. The silence was powerful, and he
used it to increase the feeling of dread and sorrow in the room. After the moment of silence was over, the
senator looked up and continued.
know this may sound callous after delivering such grievous news to you, but we
must work to ensure the continuity of the government and the stability of the
nation. We will mourn the loss of these
great men, but we will survive; we will survive for ourselves and our children,
and also to honor the memory of those we’ve lost.
Presidential Succession Act states that if the President and Vice President are
unable to serve in the role of commander-in-chief, the Speaker of the House
shall be the next in the line of succession.
Speaker Rivera issued a statement to my office earlier today stating
that he believes he is better able to serve our great nation in his current
role; he has declined to accept the promotion to the office of the
President. It is my understanding that
the Speaker will be holding a press conference later today to further elaborate
on this matter. I respect Speaker
Rivera’s decision and applaud his humility and dedication to his constituents;
we should be grateful to have such men of character and principle in our
the Speaker of the House has declined to accept the office, the burden would
fall to the next in the line of succession, the President pro tempore of the Senate,
which is myself. I will humbly be sworn
into office this evening and will strive, like my predecessor, to right the
course of this great nation. I do not
take this responsibility lightly and understand the risks that are now
associated with positions of leadership in our government all too well.
first task is to bring those who committed this vile act of treason to justice. Independent, preliminary reports confirm that
several fourth generation Stinger missiles were likely used by the terrorists in
Texas. This type of missile can be
launched from the ground by either a vehicle or a person.
likely suspects are members of independent, homegrown terror cells; these
individuals are most likely military veterans, and probably suffer from
posttraumatic stress disorder, commonly referred to as PTSD. They are prone to extreme perceptions of the
history of our nation and its founding documents, as well as delusions of
persecution and paranoia. If you know of
anyone that fits this profile, we ask that you contact your region’s Department
of Domestic Protection field office immediately. Sympathizers found to be harboring, or even simply
aiding individuals that fit the suspected terror profile will treated as
harshly as the terrorists themselves.
the terrorists were aware of the President’s itinerary and had access to
sophisticated military grade equipment, an internal investigation has been
opened by the Secretary of Defense into the source of the leaks from within our
own armed forces. High treason of this
order from within our own military will not be tolerated and will be crushed
completely and expeditiously.
we believe the seditious state of Texas may be harboring some of these
terrorists; Governor Baker, we give your state thirty days to comply with all
demands that will be outlined in a letter sent to your office later today. The time for political wrangling for personal
gain is over; everyone will comply,
or face dire consequences for their selfish and senseless defiance. The fate of the nation is at stake, and I
will not allow this country to crumble any more than it already has.
Spire Dynamics, Global Robotics and The Gladius Group, corporations that were
found to be complicit with other recent terror strikes and were subsequently
nationalized, will be leveraged in the coming days and weeks to focus on the
growing threats that surround us. You
may begin to notice some of these corporations’ products or personnel deployed
to your cities and towns; do not be alarmed, they are acting under the
authority of the United States Federal Government and will be focused on
maintaining your safety and security.
Your respect for their presence and compliance with their requests will
be a necessity, if we are to reclaim our cities.
In closing, I ask for your continued faith and support, for though
we will persevere against those that strive to dismantle us, the days ahead
will be difficult ones. Until we speak
again, stay vigilant my friends.”
the press conference ended, Governor Baker sat in silent astonishment in the
media room. The power grab that was
unfolding in front of his eyes had overwhelmed his senses. His chest felt hollow, and all of his energy
seemed as if it had drained from his body; a dark cloud of dread hung over the
governor. The sudden ringing of the
phone startled him and jerked him out of his trance like state; he raised an
open palm to the control room as he glanced down and recognized the
number. A chilling numbness rushed over
him as he picked up the receiver and spoke.
Baker, this is the office of the President; can you hold for one moment.”
governor did not reply, but there was no need; he had already been placed on hold. After several moments, he heard a voice on
the other end of the line.
not the President yet, Frederick. Are you that anxious for the title?”
don’t have time for your nonsense, governor.
President Gramsey may have treated you with kid gloves, but I will most
certainly not; this rebellion of yours, stops, now.”
watched your presser; I have thirty days Mr.
keep me waiting.”
governor snarled into the phone, “I said, I
know. I know who was really
responsible for the terror strikes, and I have a damn good idea who was
responsible for downing that jet.
Gramsey’s policies were despicable, but at least he was willing to seek
the truth; you sir, are trying to bury the truth, and an entire nation along
are in so very far over your head,
governor; you have absolutely no idea. Thirty
days; don’t keep me waiting.”
Baker was hot with rage; he shouted to the staff in the control room, “Get me
Governor Langston on the phone, now!”
governor lunged from his seat and jerked the door open, before slamming it
behind him. The confines of the media
room had become too constrictive and overbearing; he cursed loudly and
indiscriminately at an imaginary Senator Engels and paced the long hall. Doors along the wide, barren hallway began to
crack open, and eyes peered outward to see the source of the commotion; the doors
quickly shut again, the occupants fearful of eliciting the wrath of the
normally reserved governor.
what seemed like an eternity, an aide peeked out of the media room and shouted
down the hall to the distant governor, “Sir, I’m sorry it took so long;
Governor Langston is on the phone now.”
thank you; I’m sorry.”
alright sir, we understand. We feel the
governor used the long walk back down the hall to regain his composure and
collect his thoughts. Every choice he
made, every action he took seemed to weigh upon him exponentially more than the
Maybe you are in over your head, Scott.
stopped before entering the room again and closed his eyes for several moments,
his lips silently moving as he mouthed a prayer for guidance and
discernment. Upon finishing, he breathed
deeply before entering the room and taking the phone from his aide.
I’m sorry to bother you again.”
alright, Scott; I’m sorry I couldn’t take your call sooner, I was in a meeting
regarding our new President’s speech.”
out of control.”
without a doubt; completely out of control.”
more than ever, more than anything, I need your support. God help me, I need an ally in this.”
Commonwealth of the Free West has just decided, based on the senator’s speech,
to accelerate their timetable for secession.
Representatives from all member states and territories will be meeting
in seven days’ time to ratify our Constitution; upon ratification, we will
formally announce our secession and support for the Free Republic of
Texas. By week’s end, Washington will
think twice about threatening any of us again.”
you Dylan, you’re an answered prayer.”
Barrett and Alex sat across from the old man, in his modest hut. The single-room abode was crafted from a
combination of mud bricks and scavenged materials. The small room was dimly illuminated by
candles and odorous oil lamps. A gentle
breeze blew through the open windows and kissed the men’s faces. The remaining riders sat around several
campfires in the center of the villa, while they feasted on warm tortillas and fresh,
grilled fish from the nearby Rio Grande.
old lady, worn from years of a hard life spent on the border, smiled as she entered
and placed a tray of warm tortillas and fish on the table in between the
men. She repeated, “Gracias, muchasgracias,” as she
backed out of the hut and joined the others outside.
“Comera misamigos, por favor.”
translated for the other two men, “He says for us to eat.” Barrett’s Español was passable, but the old
man’s speed and cadence was hard for him to follow. The men did as was instructed; a warm meal
two nights in a row was a rare pleasure for them, so they indulged themselves.
“Quierodarle las graciaspor salvar minieto.”
his grandson the narcos were going to kidnap; he thanks us for saving the boy.”
replied, “Tell him it was an honor to be of service to him; we despise the
cartels as much as he does.”
“Fueun honor paraayudarte,loscarteles
de la drogason nuestros enemigostambién.”
The old man
smiled again and nodded in agreement.
“Hemosoído que haymuchaactividad de drogasen NuevoLaredo.¿Qué
sabe ustedde esto?”
The old man
took a bite of the warm tortilla and thought for several moments before
lleno deellos, essu base en laregiónya que handestruido
todoslos puentesal surde allí.”
that Laredo is their new base in this place, since we have destroyed all border
crossings between here and the Gulf.”
that we will be leaving here tomorrow for Laredo; any information he can
provide will be used to fight the men that tried to take his grandson.”
Alejandro could translate Reese’s request, the girl that was rescued earlier
burst into the room and interrupted them, “Voy air con ellos,¿por qué noles dicesque yo losllevaré
"¡No!Usted no puede ir, dejar a nosotros!"
continued back and forth with escalating intensity; the girl waved her arms
frantically and pleaded with the old man, but he would not relent. Reese leaned over to Alex and said, “What are
they arguing about?”
to come with us. He won’t let her.”
Reese retorted, “we don’t have any room for childr-”
out of nowhere, the barrel of a large, blued-steel revolver was pointed at
Reese’s forehead, before he could even finish his sentence. Barrett tried to reach for his pistol, but
her lightning fast reflexes produced a second, matching revolver; she thrust it
fiercely at his face as well.
“I am no
child, cowboy; I am old enough to drink in a gringo bar, if I so choose. I have fought these men for years; I was the
reason they were here tonight! You will not go to Laredo without me!”
The old man
stood and placed his hand on her shoulder as he demanded firmly, "Isabel, poner las armas fueraya."
several moments of resistance, she finally obeyed his command and lowered her
revolvers to her side. “I am sorry for
that; I did not mean to threaten the men that saved my life and my brother’s
life.” She slid the revolvers into their
leather holsters and took a seat beside her grandfather. Her beauty was stunning to Reese; he could
not remember a face that was more angelic than hers. Her hair was long, jet-black and fell just past
her shoulders; her skin was light olive and radiant. She was short, but not too short; thin, but
not frail. From a great distance, she
could easily be mistaken for a girl five or six years younger than she actually
was. Reese leaned forward, captivated by
her skills and beauty; he observed her for several moments before
speaking. She blushed at being the focus
of the room and avoided Reese’s gaze. Barrett
and Alex glanced at her momentarily, but refused to look her way again.
means ‘my God is a vow.’”
you learn to move like that Isabel?”
girls on the border learn young to either comply with, or resist the approaches
of the drug men when they come to our villas; I learned young to hide and then later
ever killed anyone?”
smugly, “Probably more than you, gringo; I’ve killed dozens of those cerdos.”
“Why do you
want to come with us?”
“I have my
reasons; all you need to know is this, I hate them as much as you do and want
them all dead.”
have a horse?”
mine; he is out back.”
hard and at night; we enjoy few comforts on the plains. If you choose to come with us, I cannot bring
you back here if you decide you’ve made the wrong choice.”
saying I can come?”
Barrett interrupted, “I don’t know if this is a good idea.”
this land, and besides, Alex is the only one we have who is fluent in the
language. If she can handle herself, we
could definitely use her.”
Barrett a scowl with narrowed eyes and interjected, “I can handle myself just
motioned to the old man, “Is he your father?”
your mother and father?”
away and simply said, “They’re not around.”
come with us - if he’ll let you.”
I promise I won’t be a burden.”
you won’t. Alex, will you tell the old
man that we’re leaving them to talk?”
"Sunietaes bienvenido avenir con nosotrossi lepermita.Este
hombrejunto a míy voy amantenerla lomás seguro posible.Ella nosrecuerda a alguienuna vez quelos dos nosquería mucho."
The old man
sighed and nodded in understanding. Isabel
stared into his eyes and pleaded her case as the three men exited the small cabaña.
As the men
emerged from the villa and made their way to the nearest campfire, Reese turned
to Barrett and Alex and asked, “Is everything alright with you two?”
fine,” Barrett replied.
something I need to know, I need you to tell me now rather than out there on
the plains. We can’t have any
distractions out there; we have to move and strike as if we have but one mind. Are you going to be able to handle the girl
out there with us?”
you’re not fine brother. You’re my right
hand, and I can’t lose you; I’ll just go tell them that she has to stay.”
interrupted Reese and said, “No! She
comes with us. It’s just, what he means
us of someone, someone very special.”
so you’re okay, right?”
stopped and turned to look at Reese. The
campfire reflected a faint gleam in the corner of one of his eyes; his voice
wavered as he replied, “I’ll be fine; she should come. I just need tonight; I’ll be okay tomorrow.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
waited until the next evening to continue their excursion north to Nuevo
Laredo; depending on their progress, the city was still a day’s ride or more
ahead of them. A small crowd congregated
in the center of the dusty villa, near an old but functional stone well, and
watched them as they left. Reese looked
over his shoulder one final time at the impoverished people, and their bleak
surroundings. Several goats could be
heard bleating noisily on the far side of the villa. Two mongrel dogs snarled at each other beside
a nearby mud-brick cabaña in an attempt to establish sovereignty over the
parched, austere landscape.
waved goodbye to her grandfather as she trotted away on Ciro. The Azteca stallion was slightly taller than fifteen
hands, and was broad in his croup and chest; his shoulders were long and
sloping. He moved as if the weight of
the slender frame of Isabel was not even noticeable to him. His muscled body was solid mahogany bay in
color, with a faint white star between his eyes.
rode together as old friends rather than master and beast. Isabel preferred to guide Ciro by gentle
whispers in his perked ears rather than by the reins; the horse would
obediently alter his course upon instruction, as if he understood every tone
that resonated from her lips. The
powerful Ciro easily outpaced the other men with his light load; it took
several corrections from Isabel before he finally relented to the comparatively
with her revolvers resting in custom holsters in front of her on the well-worn
leather saddle, and an M4 carbine, courtesy of Reese, was slung across her
back. The contents of her saddlebags
were spartan and utilitarian; she was used to the harshness of the plains and preferred
to travel light rather than in comfort.
Her night vision goggles were held securely in place by the lightweight,
FAST carbon helmet that had also been given to her by Reese; he had packed
several additional sets of equipment in the event that they happened upon a
worthy irregular during their expedition, or if some of the other riders’ gear
became damaged. The prowess she had
displayed the night before and earlier that day clearly vaulted her into that
had never held an M4 before, the proficiency she displayed with her
grandfather’s ancient lever-action rifle easily translated to the more advanced
platform. Her marksmanship was as good
as, or possibly even better than her fellow riders; she had already won an
unlucky guardsman’s spare aviator sunglasses in a marksmanship contest earlier
that day. The others quickly learned not
to underestimate the apparent hustler.
presence of Isabel seemed to lift the morale of the riders that rode alongside
her. The men already looked to her as a
little sister, a gutsy and fearless little sister that could cut down a man at
full gallop, from over two hundred yards away.
Despite the intensity that smoldered within, her demeanor was friendly
and uplifting, and the men found themselves shedding their weariness in
exchange for her contagious enthusiasm; the
narcos in Laredo had better beware, she was coming and she had plenty of
friends this time.
Reese with a smile as he trotted up beside here.
used to our slower pace yet?”
“Ciro and I
are used to moving much quicker, but he is beginning to adjust.”
“We try to
take it slow when we can, so that our horses are ready for battle when it comes
English so well; where did you learn it?”
was American; I was raised just across the river from my grandfather’s villa in
San Ygnacio. She was a school teacher,
and my father was a maintenance worker there; that’s how they met.”
not from the villa?”
there when I was twelve,” she shifted uncomfortably in the saddle and paused
for a moment before continuing, “when my mother and father were killed.”
I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to-.”
you didn’t know.”
on in silence for what seemed like an eternity as the evening redness in the
west spread across the sky like a gaping wound on the horizon.
to ask me about Laredo, am I right?”
Laredo is crawling with men like the ones your scouts killed. We will never make it into the city on this
side of the border; we will have to cross the river. We can cross the river just north of Rio Bravo
and swing east around the gringo side of the city. Most of your men will stay on the outskirts,
and only a few of us will be able to slip in at first.”
you think you’re going with me?”
only one that knows their way around the city, so don’t even try that with me; we
both know I’m going. When’s the last
time you’ve been to Laredo?”
expect to recognize the place; it’s as close as you can get to hell in the
borderlands while you’re still breathing.”
last time you’ve been to Laredo?”
those culeros were beating you Texans all the way back to Corpus Christi, some gabachos
with guts decided to stay behind and fight back; they’ve been slaughtering
narcos ever since.”
“How do you
brother is one of their leaders; I scout for them and bring them supplies and
news from the outside world sometimes.”
take us to him?”
shallow-draft, Spearhead-class vessels sped towards the beach at a blistering forty
knots. Their catamaran hulls cut like
twin daggers through the choppy waves, off the coast of southeast Georgia. The stormy, starless sky and sideways-blown
rain was the perfect cover for the high speed vessels, but it would soon be a
formidable foe for the men and equipment in their bays.
vessels gradually slowed to a stop over five miles from the distant beach. As the vessels ceased their forward motion
and began to bob in the waves, a pair of Apache Longbows ascended from the
outer two vessels and tilted forward, as they accelerated to the west; the
rhythmic whoof, whoof, whoof of their
blades slowly faded into the distance.
In less than ten minutes they had reached the tiny island. By minute fifteen, they had located and
neutralized multiple belligerents
across the haven, otherwise known to those in the swiftly disappearing free
world as civilians. By minute twenty,
they had encircled the islet and established their beachhead for the remaining
members of their unit.
had been mostly uninhabited due to the limited access from the mainland. The few stalwart individuals that had braved
an existence on the retreat had faired relatively well, compared to the people
that had remained in Brunswick. The
island dwellers had established a series of barriers on the bridge between the
mainland and their enclave that had been impenetrable to any wayfarers, at
least until now.
inside the Amphibious Assault Vehicles, or AAVs, were not marines or sailors;
they were not technically soldiers at all.
Regardless of what they were, they were definitely not trained for
missions that involved such violent weather on the open seas. While the large ramps on the outside two transport
vessels slowly folded down, the last of the men scrambled to the backs of the
few AAVs that still remained open. Once
the ramps opened completely, the ten AAVs plunged into the chilly water and
began the slow trek through the raging tempest, to the distant shore.
rocked violently back and forth, and were haplessly tossed up and down as they
labored through the torturous weather.
Many of the men held their heads in their hands and closed their eyes
tightly, trying in vain to maintain their composure. Several men, unable to fight the sickening
feeling any longer, groaned and retched on the floor at their feet. A few of the men had already decided that
they would surely die in the steel tomb, less than five miles from the safety
of the shore.
twenty minutes after the AAVs had plunged from the bays of the two outside
transports and braved the sea, the final vessel opened its bay door. A prodigious swarm of bird-sized, unmanned
aerial vehicles, also known as UAVs or drones, pressed out into the night, as
they honed in on the beacon that beckoned them to the Apache choppers. Immediately thereafter, a legion of larger,
well-armed drones poured out of the large opening in the vessel in quick
pursuit of their smaller cousins. The
loud buzz of the vast host was like the sound of a thousand hornet’s nests
angrily emptying out into the stormy night; despite the crashing waves and
rumbling thunder, the noise was domineering.
throng of near-sentient thralls of tyranny disappeared into the night, the final
component of the expedition prepared for flight. The four man flight crew lifted the Blackhawk
helicopter off of the center transport’s landing pad, and began to ferry twelve
passengers the short distance to their new base of operations.
Blackhawk’s passengers were not like the men that were tossed amongst the angry
waters in the AAVs; they were not militarized federal agents from the
Department of Domestic Protection, or some other federal agency that were
simply anxious for a fight against the belligerents. The passengers were also not like the
soldiers that piloted the Blackhawk or the Apaches, or the sailors that manned
the transport vessels; they were not military men that had forgotten the second
component, of the first clause, of their oath of enlistment: "I do solemnly swear that I will support
and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”The passengers aboard the Blackhawk
were from the Special Operations Unit of the Gladius Group, an elect group from
within the ranks the global, private military contracting force that had once
fought for dozens of regimes across the globe, now nationalized after its
founder was accused by the Federal government of funding the recent terror
attacks that had shocked the nation. If
they were asked, the dozen men on the chopper would say that they did not care what
agency or regime they were ultimately responsible to, so long as they were paid
handsomely, and in a currency that would not easily be inflated away by an economy
rotting from within.
grueling forty minute voyage through the tempestuous waters, the submerged
tracks of the AAVs caught traction in the shifting sands of the shallow waters
just off the shore, and roared out of the surf and onto the beach. The tracks churned through the thick growths
of sea oats and beach grass that grew all along the wide, sandy waterfront. The beach’s vegetation had spread
surprisingly fast in the last several months due to the absence of the
privileged sun worshippers that once flocked to the pristine and exclusive shores.
Blackhawk and Apache choppers waited patiently overhead for their slower,
earthbound team members to reach the rally point. The legion of drones hovered in perfect
formation several hundred off the coast, waiting for their next command. The choppers watched as the company of agents
plowed through several hundred feet of thick undergrowth, before emerging on
the edge of Beachview Drive. Upon
reaching the highway, the AAVs turned north and dashed up the narrow, two-lane
road until they reached Fortson Parkway.
As they veered west and sped down the parkway, two astonished men
stepped out of the dense forest and onto the shoulder of the road to see what
manner of intruders had invaded their coastal enclave. The front two AAVs spotted the men almost immediately
and simultaneously rotated their Browning .50 caliber machine guns toward them. The men tried in vain to dive back into the
thicket but it was too late; the machine guns erupted with a short burst of
fire and cut the men down where they stood.
The vehicles continued on for a short distance before turning north on Riverview
Drive to the Jekyll Island Club, with their air support following close
was lost on the men that the first undeniably overt blow from the iron fist of
tyranny in the twenty-first century, would occur on the same unassuming island so
full of intrigue, which birthed its corrupt nature into existence in the
century prior. Once reserved for
southern aristocracy, the island would now be used by a new privileged class;
the aristocrats of authoritarianism.
Blackhawk landed in the center of the west lawn of the Crane Cottage, a
sprawling Italian Renaissance inspired palazzo.
The mansion was approximately one hundred thirty feet wide and only slightly
rectangular in shape. The large cottage
was an architectural work of art; the white-washed exterior walls were adorned
with sweeping arches that accented the veranda on either side of the main
entrance. The palace would have fit in
perfectly if it had overlooked a sprawling vineyard from atop some dusty Tuscan
hillside, rather than overlooking a lazy, brackish, salt marsh. The elegant arches afforded a wide balcony
for the second floor on the front of the cottage; the large balcony on the
front was complimented by several smaller outcroppings on the sides and rear as
well. The red tile roof was the
culmination of the functional masterpiece, and when combined with all of the
other features, transformed the island retreat from antebellum charm to old
Agent Freeman stepped out of the chopper and over the three bodies that lay
face down on the nearby pavement, victims of the Apache’s flyover from
earlier. He spoke into the helmet
microphone that protruded in front of his mouth, “Apache One.”
flock of hawks out over the island. Have
them scour every inch for anyone else that might be out there.”
armed drones ascended skyward and then dispersed in every direction on their
search and destroy mission. With a few
swift keystrokes, the pilot had entered the six GPS coordinates of the
boundaries along the irregularly shaped island and had chosen the parameters
for the freestyle patrol. The dozen
hawk-class drones would scatter evenly across the island and patrol their
respective zones; their locations and data collection would be shared in
real-time with each other and the commanding pilot. In this particular freestyle patrol, the
hawks would engage any heat source on the island larger than approximately one
hundred pounds and not tagged as an ally; if a drone discovered multiple
targets and determined that the threat was more than it could safely engage, it
would request support from its nearest companions. At that point, the size of the patrol zones
would enlarge to account for the loss of the nearby drones and the remaining
hawks would in turn patrol the abandoned areas, until the support drones
watched as the drones disappeared into the storm that had beset them, before
turning back and nudging one of the bodies with his boot. The rain was torrential, but he did not seem
to notice. He walked back to the
Blackhawk and climbed in as he continued to issue orders.
call me Freeman. I wasn’t an agent
before my company was nationalized; I was a soldier, I killed people for a
into groups of ten and clear the cottage and surrounding buildings.”
cottage is clear, locate the control room and see if the old, backup generators
are still in place. If they are, try to
get them up and running. If they won’t
work, hook two of our generators into the system.”
moving, I want the place up and running in thirty minutes.”
several moments, Freeman watched as teams of men fanned out from the AAVs to
the nearby buildings. Satisfied with the
men’s quick execution, he turned his attention elsewhere.
hawks found anyone yet?”
did you locate during your patrol?”
twenty; neutralized them all.”
“I would have
thought there would be more people out here.”
need to establish themselves and live primarily off of the land. I imagine the few supplies that were on the
island were consumed quickly. There may
have been more people originally, but they have probably long since died or
more; keep looking.”
send me the live feed from the hawks?”
be able to.”
“Send it to
the other men in the Blackhawk watched the blues, greens and yellows from the dozen
thermal feeds for several minutes, as the rain battered the ground outside of
the chopper. Several shots rang out from
somewhere in the darkness; they were rapid and without reply. Freeman spoke into the microphone again, “Somebody
several moments Agent Graham replied, “Male and female occupants located in the
building just northeast of the Crane Cottage, sir; target neutralized.”
the men from the Gladius Group returned their gazes to the tablet to follow the
progress of the drones, as they dissected the island. Occasionally shots would be heard again from
the nearby buildings, and he would radio once again for an update. After a while, it sounded less like murder
and more like orders being read off to a short order cook by a dispassionate
“Two males and a female in the mansion to
“Old man and woman in the chapel just east
of your location, Freeman.”
“A whole heap of kids in the warehouse on
Old Village Boulevard.”
reply was the same nearly every time, “Good
response deviated only once during the extermination:
“Found a group of half-starved women in the
museum, can we keep a few Freeman?”
“We’re not here for a bachelor party; drop ‘em.”
teams completed their sweeps, they began to radio back that their areas were
deemed clear. Upon the final notice, he
ordered the teams back to the front lawn of the Crane Cottage. As the teams began to filter back in, one of
the twelve tiny thermal video feeds on the tablet’s screen lit up with a large
blob of red and orange activity, far below the drone. “This should get interesting,” Freeman
watched as three other drones left their patrol zones to aid the hawk that
spotted the activity. After a few
moments, the support UAVs became visible on the original drone’s feed as they
hovered below it. Several bright red streaks
shot forth from the drones toward the group on the ground; in the next moment,
the rockets connected with their targets in a vivid and stunning display of
colors. Freeman and the others erupted
into howls of approval as they watched scene unfold on the video, as if they
were cheering on a successful touchdown in the last seconds of a game.
As the last
of the search teams arrived back at their location, the lights in the Crane
Cottage flickered to life and illuminated the front lawn. Freeman turned to his associate in the
chopper and said, “I need four of you to set up a checkpoint on the bridge that
leads onto the island.” He paused as he
motioned to the returning teams and then continued, “I’d send some of the
grunts, but I need to have a word with them first.”
problem; we’ll go.”
guys; it’ll only be a few minutes.”
associates stepped out of the Blackhawk to commandeer one of the AAVs, Freeman
turned on his radio and said, “Agent Graham.”
men rally in the Crane Cottage; I want to have a few words with everyone.”
returned to the live feeds for several more minutes as the agents from the
Department of Domestic Protections, or DDP, and the other agencies filtered
into the building. Finally, he tossed
the small, but powerful, military grade device on the seat beside him. The rain began to drench him as he stepped
out of the chopper and into the storm.
He jogged the short distance to the cottage with his remaining
colleagues from the Gladius Group close behind him.
Graham was waiting with the entrance door open for Freeman and his associates
as they reached it. They dashed out of
the rain, down the hall and into the state room where the nearly one hundred
men waited for his address. Freeman’s
senses were immediately assaulted by the stale air and strong stench of mildew. Several summer months of blistering South
Georgia heat and humidity had caused the walls and floors to sweat relentlessly;
the conditions had apparently been perfect for the culturing of various molds
and other microbes.
unpleasant odor, the interior of the villa remained opulent and visually
stunning, if only slightly dusty. The
hardwood flooring and exposed wooden beams were the perfect complement to the
rustic wrought-iron chandeliers and sconces.
Several of the men in the room had just managed to ignite a fire in the
hearth with the aged logs that were dutifully waiting on the floor beside
it. The flames cast long shadows across
the room as they danced playfully on the meticulously split oak. The ambience from the fire seemed to relax
the men and raise their spirits, as the memories of the tumultuous trip to the
shore was burned from their minds.
strode purposefully through the crowd to the hearth and turned to face the men;
the flames illuminated the silhouette of his powerfully built-frame, magnifying
his already imposing presence. The
murmuring crowd yielded the floor to the colossal figure in front of them, as
he removed his helmet and cleared his throat in preparation of addressing them.
greetings. I understand you were given
very little notice of this operation, and some of you were given none at all;
we received the same treatment as all of you.
Because of that, we’ve had little time for introductions. For those that have not yet met me, I am formally
known as Special Agent Freemen. As I
told Agent Graham earlier, I am not a special agent, so don’t refer to me as
Gladius was acquired by our illustrious government, I was a soldier, or perhaps
warrior is a better term. I killed
people for a living and it didn’t matter who my client was. I’ve fought for our government in more
durka-durkastan hellholes than I can even count, much less remember. I’ve also waged wars of attrition using
brutal, third-world tactics that sought as much collateral damage as physically
possible. I’ve guarded foreign
dignitaries and assassinated foreign dignitaries – sometimes performing both on
the same man within six months’ time.
I’ve done all this and more for various governments and regimes all
across the globe including: Belize, Colombia, Morocco, Algeria, Syria, Laos,
Burma, Cambodia and dozens of others, but I won’t force you to suffer through
them all with me.
you gasp in righteous indignation and call me a traitor to the motherland, let
me tell you this: most of those soirees
were under the auspices of many of the agencies represented in front of me,
including the CIA and NSA. So don’t look
down your supposedly clean noses at me, because you think I’m some soldier of
fortune who’s loyalty is subject to change with the breeze, and you’re better than that because you get a check
every two weeks from the government; oh, and you have – excuse me – had, a tidy little government
pension. Because the truth is, boys, I’m
no different than any of you.”
reactions varied from confused, to irritated, to incensed. Freeman paused for a moment to let an
uncomfortable silence settle on the room before continuing.
I’ve succeeded in offending most everyone here; excellent. That’s something
else you need to know about me; you’re going to hate me. Every day I’m going to make it my goal to
wake up and try my best to effectively piss you off; not you as a group, I mean
you, fat cheeks on the front row and you with the lazy eye beside him. And if you don’t like it, I’ll have you
shipped back to Washington on a court-martial for insubordination.
This hate I’m going to instill in you though,
it’s not without reason; I’m not a sadist.
I don’t derive pleasure from inflicting injury on others, not usually at
least. I’ll be riding you like a donkey
because happy little government workers won’t accomplish what we need here.
mainland of Brunswick and St. Simons Island are a seething axis of
insurrection. They’ve been killing men
like you for fun; they’ve been killing men like you because you’re the enemy. That’s what they tell their kids at night
before they tuck them in at night. That’s
why I want your chests to be on fire with hate when you go in there; I want you
to have a chip on your shoulder that makes you crack heads and throw lead if
someone looks at you the wrong way. I
want a team of jackbooted thugs - if you can pardon my dramatic prose - that
will crush this resistance under their heels.
is preparing an offensive that will take back the Eastern Seaboard and then
move inland. In the next several days,
at least a dozen teams like us will be inserted into areas all along the East
Coast. We are but the tip of the spear
though, the first jackboots on the ground, if you will; I am here because I am
the best at what I do. You are here with
me because someone thought the same of you.
Every move we make here will be scrutinized by teams of so-called,
has-been experts in boardrooms across Washington, Langley and Arlington. Our successes will be analyzed and replicated
by other teams; our failures will be counted against us and will ultimately
result in our removal from the operation.
If you haven’t noticed, our government isn’t very understanding of those
that can’t deliver the results it needs right now. Desperation is a word that comes to
mind. I aim to be simulated, duplicated
and imitated from Jekyll Island, Georgia to Brunswick, Maine. We’re going to crush a revolution, and it’s
going to be so much fun.”