Novel: Kratocracy [Book 2]



KRATOCRACY
(the rising deadness in the east)
Archer Garrett
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
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 coincidental.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Copyright © 2012 Archer Garrett. 
All Rights Reserved.
No Part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, copied or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Acknowledgements:
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
2nd Corinthians 3:17
My wife, for her continued support.
Nick Pagano at thinkdesignblog.com for the cover art
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
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
Habakkuk 2:1a
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"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."
 -Joseph Goebbels
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“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 countrymen.”
-Samuel Adams
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“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.”
-G.K. Chesterson
KRATOCRACY
Kratocracy (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.)


One
The 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.
The 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. 
The 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 angry. 
Who 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.
They 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 again.
If 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.
Journal 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 appearance.”
Viejo 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. 
As 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.
The 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.
As 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.
The 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.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Reese, 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.
Barrett leaned over to Reese and whispered, “Sure hope they don’t get spooked and shoot on sight.”
“We’ll probably be fine.”
“Probably?”
Reese 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.”
Reese 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.
The 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. 
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Holt 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 into complacency.
As 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.
Holt 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.
Holt 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.”
As 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 shock.
A 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.
“Let him go,” Holt radioed, “I have plans for him; finish off the others.”
Meanwhile, 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.
Holt radioed again, “Send out the riders.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The 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. 
As 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 blow. 
Clip, clop!  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 dark riders. 
Clip, clop!  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!  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!  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.
The 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. 
The 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. 
He 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.
“Let’s get him back to camp; Agent Byers will surely want a word with our friend, if he ever wakes up.”
“Wait; 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.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
As 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 of Our Lady 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 Mission.
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 volunteers?”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
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 say first.”
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 and spoke.
“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.”
Two
 “Senator Engels’ office, how may I direct your call?”
“Hi Becky it’s Angela, office of the President.  Is Senator Engels available?”
“Angela!  The senator is available; could you hold for one second?”
“Sure.”
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.”
“Great!  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?
“Fred?  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 anything rash.”
“It’s all a bluff sir; can’t you see what they’re doing?”
The President’s tone had changed from cordial to confrontational; the senator cursed to himself, he had pushed too hard and too fast.
“It’s not 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 Fred!”
“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 with it.”
“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.”
“Oh?  What’s our governor’s message?”
“He said, ‘It’s a buyer’s market,’ do you know what that means?”
“It’s a what?”
“Buyer’s market.”
“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.”
“Likewise, sir.”
Click.
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?”
“Get out!”
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 remaining.
He retrieved the phone and dialed Becky.
“Yes sir?”
“Becky, bring me some coffee with three splashes of Irish cream.”
“Yes sir.”
“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.
“Yes?”
“It’s me.”
“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 message?”
“I believe he was trying to say, ‘Byers marked it.’”
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 substantial evidence.”
“It appears that way.”
“Alright, I’ll see what I can do about the President’s trip.”
“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.”
“Alright.”
“Call me in several days.”
Click.
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 call complete?”
“I’m on the phone with you, aren’t I?”
“Oh, right; um, your ten o’clock is here, shall I send her in?”
“You may.  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 this long.”
“It’s alright; now, go.  Check back with me after the news breaks.”
“What news?”
“You’ll know it when you see it.”
Three
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.
“Pagan.”
Yes sir?”
“You and Wash want to scout again tonight?”
“Always do.”
“I 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.”
“Always do, sir.”
As 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.
He 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. 
“Alright 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.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Pagan 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.
Viewing 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.
“Hey, Wash.”
“Go ahead.”
“Ever ate gator?”
“Come back?”
“Gator; swamp lizard.  Ever ate it?”
“Negative.”
“Wow.  So missing out; chicken of the stream.”
Wash ignored Pagan and continued on with the patrol.
“Hey, Wash.”
“Go ahead.”
“Ever ate possum?”
“Negative.”
“Wow; sheltered life Wash.  The other, other white meat.”
“Pagan, 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.”
They 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.
“Hey Wash.”
“Go ahead.”
“Ever ate armadilla?”
“Ah hell Pagan, those things can give you leprosy!”
“What?  All I ever got was heartburn.”
“Pagan, 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 God.”
“Why you gotta bring my kin in on this?
Wash 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 his friend.
“Seriously though, you’ve ate all that?”
“Everything except the turtle-rabbit; I don’t want no leprosy, for the love of God.”
“Wait, look; over there.”
“That doesn’t look good, Wash; better call Reese.”
Wash switched channels on the radio before speaking again.
“Reese.”
“Go ahead Wash.”
“We got a situation up here.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The 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.
“Any word from the rangers?”
“None yet.”
“Hopefully it will be a quiet night.”
“Hopefully.”
The two traveled north in silent contemplation for a while, as they each gazed out across the grainy, green landscape.
“How did it go last night with our narco?”
“Barrett is one of the best interrogators I’ve ever met.”
“What did he do to the poor guy?”
“He 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.”
“Wait, we didn’t leave him there?”
“Of 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.”
“So what did he know?”
“Not 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.”
“A cavalry of gringos can’t just ride into Nuevo Laredo, how are we going to get in?”
“Haven’t got that far yet.”
Reese’s radio crackled to life with the sound of the ranger’s voice, “Reese.”
“Go ahead Wash.”
“We got a situation up here.”
“Tell me about it.”
“We’re at the outskirts of a small villa; maybe two, three dozen huts.  There’s an SUV here, engine is still hot.”
“Narcos?”
“Believe so; we’re watching them drag what looks to be a teenage boy out of the villa, towards their vehicle.”
“Sounds like they’re recruiting; how many hostiles can you identify?”
“Four.”
“Are you able to engage them all?”
“Affirmative.”
“Permission granted to engage, or you can wait for reinforcements; your call, ranger.”
“Engaging now.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Wash 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.
As 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.
She 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.
“You ready?”
“Yep.”
“Now’s our chance.”
“Count it out.”
“Three, two, one-”
Crack-crack!  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 feet. 
The 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.
The 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 villagers.
“Got him?”
“Got him.”
Crack-crack!  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.
Some 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 salvador!”
“Well I reckon I am.”
Mis salvadores! Por favor, mostraos!”
Wash checked the channel on his radio and then spoke into the microphone, “Hostiles neutralized; what’s your position, Reese?”
“I’m guessing about a mile south.”
“Well keep them ponies at a trot; I think we just made us some new friends.”
“Roger, on our way.”
Four
The 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.
Governor 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.
An 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.
“Dylan, 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.”
“Is that my reputation these days?”
“It’s not far from it, my friend; we all empathize with what you have to deal with down there.”
“Sounds like you’ve heard the news.”
“I 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?”
“From everything that’s happened lately, I’d say Washington.”
“That would be a very bold move if that holds true.”
“I 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.
There was silence on the other end of the line for several moments before the governor of Wyoming finally spoke.
“I know.”
“That’s why I need your help, Dylan.”
The voice sighed and simply said, “I know.”
“So do I have it?  Will Wyoming stand with Texas?”
Silence.
“Dylan, don’t make me beg.”
“I can’t; we can’t.  Not yet.”
“If not you, who?  If not now, when?  There ain’t much yet left!”
“We 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.”
“When?”
“Soon, 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.”
“I need it; it’s hard doing this alone.”
“Hang in there Scott, we’ll be in touch.”
Click.
Governor 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.
“Sir, the press conference is about to start.”
“Thank you, turn it on.”
The 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.
“We’ve 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.
If 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.
Kyla, let’s go back to you for a moment – wait, I’m getting word the presser is starting now; let’s go to Washington.”
A 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.
“My 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.”
The 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.
“I 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. 
The 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 midst. 
Since 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.
Our 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.
The 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.
Because 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.
Furthermore, 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.
Lastly, 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.”
As 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 here.”
“Governor Baker, this is the office of the President; can you hold for one moment.”
The 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.
“Scott, President Engels-”
“You’re not the President yet, Frederick.  Are you that anxious for the title?”
“I 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.
“I watched your presser; I have thirty days Mr. President.”
“Don’t keep me waiting.”
“I know.”
“What?”
The 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 with it.”
“You are in so very far over your head, governor; you have absolutely no idea.  Thirty days; don’t keep me waiting.”
Click.
Governor Baker was hot with rage; he shouted to the staff in the control room, “Get me Governor Langston on the phone, now!”
The 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.
After 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.”
“Okay, thank you; I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright sir, we understand.  We feel the same way.”
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 last. 
Maybe you are in over your head, Scott. 
He 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.
“Dylan, I’m sorry to bother you again.”
“It’s alright, Scott; I’m sorry I couldn’t take your call sooner, I was in a meeting regarding our new President’s speech.”
“He’s out of control.”
“Oh, without a doubt; completely out of control.”
“Dylan, more than ever, more than anything, I need your support.  God help me, I need an ally in this.”
“The 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.”
“Thank you Dylan, you’re an answered prayer.”
Five
Reese, 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.
A haggard 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, muchas gracias,” as she backed out of the hut and joined the others outside.
“Comer a mis amigos, por favor.”
Alex 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.
“Quiero darle las gracias por salvar mi nieto.”
“That was his grandson the narcos were going to kidnap; he thanks us for saving the boy.”
Reese replied, “Tell him it was an honor to be of service to him; we despise the cartels as much as he does.”
“Fue un honor para ayudarte, los carteles de la droga son nuestros enemigos también.”
The old man smiled again and nodded in agreement.
“Ask him about Laredo.”
Hemos oído que hay mucha actividad de drogas en Nuevo Laredo. ¿Qué sabe usted de esto?”
The old man took a bite of the warm tortilla and thought for several moments before replying, “Está lleno de ellos, es su base en la región ya que han destruido todos los puentes al sur de allí.”
“He say that Laredo is their new base in this place, since we have destroyed all border crossings between here and the Gulf.”
“Tell him 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.”
Before Alejandro could translate Reese’s request, the girl that was rescued earlier burst into the room and interrupted them, “Voy a ir con ellos, ¿por qué no les dices que yo los llevaré allí?”
"¡No! Usted no puede ir, dejar a nosotros!"
The two 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?”
“She wants to come with us.  He won’t let her.”
“Good,” Reese retorted, “we don’t have any room for childr-”
From seemingly 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 fuera ya."
After 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.
“What is your name?”
“Isabel; it means ‘my God is a vow.’”
“Where did you learn to move like that Isabel?”
“The pretty 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 to fight.”
“Have you ever killed anyone?”
She laughed 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.”
“Do you have a horse?”
“Ciro is mine; he is out back.”
“We ride 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.”
“Are you saying I can come?”
“Reese,” Barrett interrupted, “I don’t know if this is a good idea.”
“She knows 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.”
Isabel cut Barrett a scowl with narrowed eyes and interjected, “I can handle myself just fine.”
Reese motioned to the old man, “Is he your father?”
“Grandfather.”
“Where are your mother and father?”
She looked away and simply said, “They’re not around.”
“You can come with us - if he’ll let you.”
“Thank you; I promise I won’t be a burden.”
“I’m sure you won’t.  Alex, will you tell the old man that we’re leaving them to talk?”
"Su nieta es bienvenido a venir con nosotros si le permita. Este hombre junto a mí y voy a mantenerla lo más seguro posible. Ella nos recuerda a alguien una vez que los dos nos quería 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?”
“We’re fine,” Barrett replied.
“If there’s 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?”
“I said we’re fine.”
“Barrett, 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.”
Alex interrupted Reese and said, “No!  She comes with us.  It’s just, what he means to say.”
“Just tell me Alex.”
“She remind us of someone, someone very special.”
“Barrett, so you’re okay, right?”
Barrett 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.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The riders 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.
Isabel 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.
The two 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 sleepy pace.
Isabel rode 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 category.
Though she 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.
The mere 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.
She greeted Reese with a smile as he trotted up beside here.
“Getting 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 to us.”
“I understand.”
“You speak English so well; where did you learn it?”
“My mother 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.”
“So you’re not from the villa?”
“I moved 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.”
“Isabel, I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to-.”
“It’s okay; you didn’t know.”
They rode 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. 
“You came to ask me about Laredo, am I right?”
“You are.”
“Nuevo 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.”
“What makes you think you’re going with me?”
“I’m the 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?”
“Years ago.”
“Don’t expect to recognize the place; it’s as close as you can get to hell in the borderlands while you’re still breathing.”
“When’s the last time you’ve been to Laredo?”
“Two months ago.”
“Two months ago?”
“While 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 know them?”
“My older brother is one of their leaders; I scout for them and bring them supplies and news from the outside world sometimes.”
“Can you take us to him?”
“That’s my plan.”
Six
The three, 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.
The three 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.
The island 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.
The men 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.
The AAVs 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.
Nearly 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. 
As the 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. 
The 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.
After a 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.
The 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 overhead.
The irony 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.
The 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 world nobility.
Special 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.”
“Go ahead sir.”
“Send the flock of hawks out over the island.  Have them scour every inch for anyone else that might be out there.”
“Roger, sir.”
The larger, 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 returned.
Freeman 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.
“Agent Graham.”
“Go ahead Agent Freeman.”
“First off, call me Freeman.  I wasn’t an agent before my company was nationalized; I was a soldier, I killed people for a living.”
“Roger.”
“Divide into groups of ten and clear the cottage and surrounding buildings.”
“Yes sir.”
“Once the 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.”
“Yes sir.”
“Get moving, I want the place up and running in thirty minutes.”
“Yes sir!”
After 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.
“Longbow One.”
“Go ahead Freeman.”
“Have the hawks found anyone yet?”
“Nothing yet sir.”
“How many did you locate during your patrol?”
“Maybe twenty; neutralized them all.”
“I would have thought there would be more people out here.”
“They would 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 left.”
“There’s more; keep looking.”
“Affirmative.”
“Can you send me the live feed from the hawks?”
“I should be able to.”
“Send it to my tablet.”
“Roger.”
Freeman and 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 update me.”
After several moments Agent Graham replied, “Male and female occupants located in the building just northeast of the Crane Cottage, sir; target neutralized.”
“Good job; continue.”
Freeman and 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 waitress: 
“Two males and a female in the mansion to the north.” 
“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.”
Freeman’s reply was the same nearly every time, “Good job, continue.”
His 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.”
After the 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 exclaimed.
The men 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.”
“No problem; we’ll go.”
“Thanks guys; it’ll only be a few minutes.”
As his associates stepped out of the Blackhawk to commandeer one of the AAVs, Freeman turned on his radio and said, “Agent Graham.”
“Go ahead Freeman.”
“Have your men rally in the Crane Cottage; I want to have a few words with everyone.”
“Roger.”
Freeman 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.
Agent 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.
Despite the 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.
Freeman 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.
“Gentlemen, 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 such. 
Before 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.
Now before 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.”
The crowd’s reactions varied from confused, to irritated, to incensed.  Freeman paused for a moment to let an uncomfortable silence settle on the room before continuing.
“It appears 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.
The 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.
Washington 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.” 

Complete Book Available  Available on Amazon

5 comments:

  1. Hanging on for every word and to read more....so far it's great. Keep it up.....and thank you.
    Papa Mike
    III

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you Pop. I appreciate your thoughts

    ReplyDelete
  3. What song is being referenced when the citizen in Brunswick is watching others get gunned down by federals? "Shots rang out again"?

    ReplyDelete
  4. It wasn't a song. It was repeated several times to show that the operation was widespread and occurring throughout the city. I imagined him sitting in the culvert and hearing the volleys over and over. "and shots rang out through the city" just didn't seem to convey the emotion I had in my mind at the time.

    That was a dark chapter for me to write, and I was pretty depressed after finishing that book.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete