SINGLE TREE: Don’t Count On It

Things in the overrun town of Single Tree, California start to look up…Barry Corbett has a plan, and he’s still up for the challenge! (As always, the following text is in first draft condition, unedited, no guarantee of it appearing in the final release, yadda-yadda-yadda…)

So now on the eighth day of being trapped in the hangar, Victoria roused herself and slowly clambered to her feet. She wore new clothes—a more military look than she would have preferred, with baggy utilities hanging off her slender frame. Men and women stirred in the gloom, transitioning from fitful sleep to equally uncomfortable wakefulness. There was little to look forward to during the coming day, except to survive. The usual routines would follow: relieve themselves, eat, conduct maintenance, sanitation, and security checks, inventory supplies, those who were scheduled to bathe would do so at dusk. Victoria had showered the night before.

She helped with the food prep, working alongside Raoul Salcedo and Jason Donner. Raoul had been teaching her the ins and outs of cooking mass meals. While a great deal of the supplies on hand were of the freeze-dried variety, Corbett’s people also had a suitable stock of perishable goods that they were slowly plowing through. They’d even brought in a walk-in cooler, where the fruits and vegetables were stored. The cooler was at best half-full now. In another week, it would be empty. She didn’t contemplate that closely. There was already enough disappointment and despair to go around. Once the freeze-dried supplies ran out, then things would be taking a definite turn for the worse. There was no way to venture outside and search for additional supplies.

Because the zombies weren’t leaving.

She’d caught glimpses of them while checking the solar panels on the roof, keeping as low as she could to remain out of their sight. Even though they only surveyed the panel status at night, the moonlight was enough to reveal the hordes that lingered about. They knew their prey was close by, but even though several of them had watched the humans enter the structures and seal them up, the dead just milled about outside. The general consensus was the horde hunted primarily by sight and sound. As long as the townspeople and their protectors remained out of sight and refrained from making extraneous noise, the buildings would remain unmolested.

But no one forgot the multitudes of dead cresting over the town’s tall walls. None of the townspeople or their surviving Native American neighbors took their safety for granted any longer. Despite the small army of riflemen who supported them, in a full-on fight, the dead would win.

As the food prep got underway, the men with the guns—they were almost all former Marines, she’d learned—conducted their daily communications checks. Every shelter was equipped with radios, and the hangar was the nominal command post. Everyone reported their status to an older man named Rossi. He dutifully collected all the relevant information and would pass that on to the rest of his team during their morning meeting. This morning though, Rossi seemed more upbeat as he mumbled into his headset. From where she stood in the makeshift kitchen area, Victoria saw that he was actually almost smiling.

She nudged Jason in the side as he stirred up a big steel bowl of eggs. “Yeah, what?” he asked. His voice was raspy and his face was taciturn. He had run out of cigarettes some days ago, and he had been a general snap-ass ever since.

“Rossi looks like someone’s asking him out on a date,” Victoria told him.

Jason glanced over. From this distance, it was probably hard for him to tell what was going on, so he just shrugged. “Good for him.”

Victoria shrugged to herself and went back to chopping onions, peppers, and cold bacon as Raoul grated a big chunk of nearly-frozen cheese. She kept glancing over at the senior defender as he worked the radios, receiving and giving information. A few of his men drifted over to him, perhaps sensing his oddly upbeat mood. He waved them off until he was done with his task.

The armed defenders had their usual meeting while Victoria and the others finished up the food. Omelettes, French toast, breakfast burritos with salsa, cold cereal. The hot dishes went fast; everyone knew the fresh goods were disappearing, so they lined up for those and mostly ignored the boxes of cereal. When the defenders’ meeting broke up, most of them had a bounce to their step Victoria had never seen before. Certainly not since the town had fallen victim to the zombie hordes.

What the hell is going on? she asked herself. She asked several of the guards, but they just shook their heads and told her she’d know when Rossi decided.

She didn’t have long to wait. Right after breakfast, Rossi stood on his desk at the far side of the hangar and motioned everyone closer. He was a tall, bony kind of man with short hair the color of steel and blunt features that closely resembled a toad’s—wide-set eyes beneath a heavy brow, flat nose, broad mouth, and sloping chin.

“Okay, folks…we have some news to kick off the day,” he said, raising his hands as he motioned the crowd to silence. “We’ve all been through a lot, and we’ve all lost almost everything we ever had. But today? Today’s the day I can let you in on something. You see, for the past couple of weeks, Mister Corbett and a few of our guys have been getting plan B into shape. A couple of hundred miles offshore, Corbett has several ships at sea…tankers, freighters, what have you. They’ve been moved closer to the vicinity of Santa Rosa Island, off the coast of Los Angeles. Those ships are well-armed, well-stocked, and can survive for at least a year on the water. And I’m told there’s room for a couple of thousand people.”

“Sounds awesome, but what the hell does that have to do with us?” someone asked. “We’re in the Mojave Desert, man.”

Rossi appeared unperturbed by the interruption. “I’m getting to that. Also attached to this fleet are fourteen helicopters. Big helicopters, that can fly long range,” he said. “With those, they’ll be able to haul us out of here, building by building. It’ll be risky, but there’s no way around that. Starting in about four days, weather permitting, they’ll be coming for us. We’re getting out of here, ladies and gentlemen…and that’s the news of the day.”

Victoria’s heart leaped at the news. Jimmy had drifted over to her during Rossi’s rapid-fire delivery, and she grabbed him and held him tight. He didn’t react much, other than to pat her on the back. Ever since they’d made it to the hangar, he’d become a different boy. He was no longer the incubating jock goofball she’d grown up with. Now he was distant, almost aloof.

“We’re getting out,” she told him. “We’re going to make it.”

Jimmy shook his head slowly. His black hair was starting to grow out already, and his unkempt mop of dark tresses made him seem somehow older.

“Don’t count on it,” he said.

THE RETREAT 6: Warthogs

From The Retreat 6: Forlorn Hope, available now!

“Where are you taking me?” Courtney Moreau demanded. She couldn’t see anything, couldn’t hear anything, likely couldn’t smell anything beneath the facial armor she wore. But she was doubtless aware of the troops passing her from one to the other. No one was very gentle about it. They knew who she was, and they knew what she’d done.

“Shut the fuck up, you nasty bitch,” Campbell snarled, launching a swift kick into Moreau’s narrow ass as the FBI agents led her past.

“Dude, she can’t hear you,” Muldoon told her. “Save that shit for the Klowns.”

“That’s enough!” Rawlings was on her in an instant, slamming Campbell’s smaller frame against the bowed, cracked concrete wall that led into the bunker. “Stop that shit, Campbell! Just stop it!”

“What the fuck’s up with you?” Campbell snarled back. She tried to push back against Rawlings, but the taller woman responded immediately, shoving her back against the wall and then slamming her body against hers.

“She is the fucking cure, you dumb bitch,” Rawlings snarled behind her mask. “Messing her up now only screws up everyone else!”

“Get the fuck off me!” Campbell raged.

“Yeah, yeah, get off her, Rawlings.” Muldoon reached out and grabbed a hold of Rawlings’s shoulder. He held her hard as Moreau was passed down the line, and he knew he was putting enough iron into the grip to make it hurt. Like GI Joe’s Kung Fu Grip on Malibu Barbie’s tit.

Rawlings shrugged him off after a moment, eyes glaring at him behind the lenses of her mask. Muldoon spread his hands.

“Can’t have the two of you going at it right now,” he said to her as well as Campbell. “Both of you cool your jets. We gotta protect this bitch until Big Army takes her off our hands, and then we’re done with her.” Muldoon dusted off his hands to make his point. “Any questions on the hows and the whys, ladies?”

Campbell shook her head, still glowering at Rawlings. Rawlings didn’t look at her, just kept her eyes locked on Muldoon. For his part, Muldoon sighed behind his mask and readjusted the lay of his rifle.

“Y’know, I want to ice her too,” he said. “But we can’t. She’s the key to whatever the fuck is going on, so she stays upright and vertical. Even if it means we get sacked, we gotta protect the nut job.”

“It’s a fuckin’ bag of dicks,” Campbell snapped.

“Two of ‘em,” Muldoon said.

“Fucking ton of them,” Rawlings added.

“Yeah. The more, the merrier, right?” Muldoon asked.

“So how long we gotta stay down here?” Campbell looked around the stairwell they were in. Powdered cement covered the floor, and the stairwell walls were cracked. The underground structure had been intentionally targeted; the building overhead was essentially a pile of rubble. That a small passageway had been dug through the debris at all was something of a minor miracle. Apparently, the door to the bunker had been discovered in a void inside the collapsed operations building. It had been half-torn from its hinges from what looked like a couple of two thousand pound bombs. It wasn’t a blast door, but just a metal fire door. Apparently, no one had decided to replace it with something more robust after the Cold War ended. It was a mixed blessing. If it had been replaced, getting into the bunker below might have required demolition work they weren’t really in a position to conduct. But with the original door being at least partially destroyed, it offered very little in the way of security and protection. They would have to live with that, and part of the survival process meant that lightfighters would have to stand guard in the stairway, which offered little in the way of sightlines and nothing by way of sanitary conveniences. Muldoon knew that when it was his turn to stand perimeter security, the Klowns would attack right as he tried to take a dump in a personal waste bag.

The rest of the bunker wasn’t in top shape, either. One of the exploding bombs had generated enough force to partially collapse the subterranean structure. While there was no chance an attacker could enter through the collapse, it had effectively rendered the bunker’s nuclear, biological, and chemical resistance to around zero. If the area was saturated with the new bug variant, it would be able to find its way inside the bunker. Everyone inside would either go full-on Klown, or would be killed by those who did. It was a sucker’s choice to use it, but the truth of the matter was it would keep Moreau out of sight and certainly more protected from combat. And everyone knew combat was on the menu. There was no way the Klowns would let the battalion pass through their lines without a fight, and once they determined they had Moreau? It would become a complete slaughter. Keeping her hidden was the only thing to do for the time being.

“You guys will be here for four hours,” Muldoon answered finally. “Afterwards, you’ll be relieved—probably by me and someone else.” He pointed down the stairway, where another door—this one a standard fire door as well—stood closed. “The FBI folks will stay with Moreau directly. You don’t have to look at her anymore, at least not until it’s time to pull out.”

“Or we get overrun,” Rawlings said.

Muldoon nodded. “Or until we get overrun. Right, keep up the happy thoughts, babe.”

Rawlings clucked her tongue and tossed her head. Muldoon smiled behind his mask. God, how she hated that…and how he loved it. He looked back at Campbell.

“Campbell, you cool?”

“What the fuck you think, man?”

“I think you’re my replacement for Nutter,” Muldoon said. “We need a new mascot, and you’re almost his size.”

“Also twice the man he was,” Campbell replied. “Don’t be saluting me from your crotch, now. Otherwise I’ll rip that little dingus out by the roots.”

Muldoon grabbed his crotch. “Well, that’s true. It’s only two inches…” He paused for dramatic effect. “From the floor.”

Campbell rolled her eyes. “Sure thing, Sergeant. I’ll be sure to pass that on to the next sharpie I see.” SHARP was the acronym for the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program, and those who implemented its mission were known as sharpies. Like most quality-of-life initiatives undertaken by the military, it was more of a joke than anything else.

“Well, then. I’ll be sure to wear a cup,” Muldoon said.

“Maybe a thimble’s enough for you,” Campbell countered. She grabbed at the apex of her own thighs, aping Muldoon’s vulgar motion. “Try not to get all bruised up while banging around in there.”

Muldoon snickered. Despite the fact she was a wild child, Campbell had it all going on. “Fuck, girl. All bullshit aside, I gotta say, I like your style.”

“Only cuz you got no style, white man. Trust me, I can tell a player when I see one.”

Muldoon pointed at her. “You? You and me, we’re gonna run hot shit in Valhalla, sis. Big Army missed out on you, letting you hang with the Guard.” He held out his left fist. “Bump me.”

Campbell looked at Muldoon as if he was an alien life form, then slowly extended her own left hand. One bump, right hand on her rifle. As it should have been.

“You don’t know shit about me,” she said.

Muldoon leaned in. “But I know enough.”

Campbell drew back a bit, but at the last moment, her fingers wrapped around his thick wrist. She didn’t say anything. Neither did Muldoon, though he felt the emotion rising in his chest. Campbell was a hundred and ten percent shit kicker. Didn’t need the National Action Network to campaign for her. She’d stack ’em tall and high, no matter what.

He reached up and pulled off his hood and mask and let them flop down beside him. He reached out and grabbed her shoulders and held her there, looking at her with his pale Anglo-Saxon eyes. “I get where you come from,” he said. “I get what you’ve been through. Sis, you’re one of us. You ride tall in that saddle, and shit’s going to work out for you. You might not be a lightfigher, but you’re a hundred percent warrior class. Hooah?”

Campbell raised her left hand. “Yeah. Whatever the fuck. You going Klown on me?”

Muldoon barked out a laugh and slapped her shoulder as he pulled away and reached for his mask. “You fucking wish, asswipe. I’m the guy who gets to give you orders.” He slipped on his hood and then the full face mask. As he tugged it tight, he looked from Campbell to Rawlings. “You two keep shit tight for the next four hours. And if everything works out…I’ll see you later. If not…” He shrugged. “Get ready to zero anyone who comes down these stairs, you bitches.”

Rawlings made to retort, but a rumble from outside caught Muldoon’s attention. He listened to it for a scant second before turning and charging up the stairs.

“Stay here!” he bellowed.

He emerged into the late afternoon day, rifle tucked in. Scanned left to right. Other lightfighters were suddenly making themselves small, slithering up to anything that could give them at least concealment cover as the rumble became a banshee-like roar. Muldoon recognized the furor immediately. A-10s. Warthogs, on the prowl. The question was, who were they hunting?

Through the clouds overhead he caught the glimpse of a flight of four venerable attack aircraft darting past, their pylon mounted engines literally screaming as the big turbofans sucked in a half ton of air every second, added fuel to the mix, then compressed it hard enough to detonate and power their second stage fans. Muldoon understood the principle behind jet-powered flight—suck, squeeze, bang, blow—and the aircraft that best exhibited this cycle sonically was the A-10 Thunderbolt II…better known as the Warthog, or more simply, the Hog or the Pig. Straight-winged iron crosses. A soldier’s best friend.

The attack jets sped past, and the cloud’s consumed them like some ethereal monster. Muldoon couldn’t see them, but he heard them easily enough. Listened to their engines throttle up as they pulled out of shallow dives, arcing up and away from their targets while transferring energy to the bombs under their wings. That sonic scream, which had been at a rumbling idle only a moment ago, raging into a full-on shriek that he knew so well. Hogs doing what they did best—turn enemy formations into nothing but their most basic components.

Fuck, they’re attacking targets—

A moment later, he felt more than heard the bombs go off. A dull rumble that hit him in the chest as if he was watching a movie in the old Sensurround format, causing him to be momentarily short of breath as the sound waves caressed him for a brief moment. And atop that, the sounds of harpies screaming as the Warthogs climbed out at full military power. He didn’t hear the telltale farting noise of the A-10’s GAU-8 thirty-millimeter cannons; they’d elected to use suppression weapons instead, likely five hundred or seven hundred and fifty pound high explosive bombs. That told him the Hogs had engaged troops in open territory. The thirty-millimeter was primarily for use against armored vehicles, not that it couldn’t turn ten or twenty dismounted foot soldiers into just so much bloody goo. But Muldoon figured the depleted uranium rounds were probably hard to come by, so they wouldn’t be used unless absolutely necessary.

“What the fuck was that?” Campbell asked.

“A-10s, sounds like,” Muldoon said. “Vacation’s over, girls. Time to get back to doing what we need to do.”

“Business as usual,” Rawlings said.

Muldoon nodded. “Yep. Stack ‘em high, stack ‘em deep.”

Join the adventure!

THE RETREAT 6: FORLORN HOPE Released!

Happy to report that, at long…long…long last, The Retreat 6: Forlorn Hope is available for purchase on Amazon. It’s the last hurrah for the 1st Battalion, 55th Infantry (Light) as they valiantly plow on toward Florida while Marian Gray’s Klown forces pursue…and overtake.

Bound forward with Harry Lee, Major Walker, Sergeant Andy “Duke” Muldoon, Rawlings, and all the rest in the frantic, highly kinetic finale!

THE RETREAT 6: Damn Dirty Apes

March 7, 2022 1 comment

Over the racket of evacuating troops, Muldoon heard sounds from the engagement area before him. Shrieks. Guffaws. Cackles. He took a quick moment to look out past his fighting position. Every runway had been decimated, torn to shreds. Beyond that, the landscape had been thoroughly rearranged. Trees had been disintegrated, their shredded leaves still floating in the air, many of them trailing embers. No fewer than eight deep craters dotted the landscape. He’d seen similar impact points before, in Afghanistan. The Taliban had been stupid then, believing that bombs never landed in the same place. They’d used craters as attack points, only to be severely disappointed when more munitions landed right on their positions.

Muldoon let out his breath in a slow rush. He’d had—and somehow managed to survive—ringside streets to multiple attacks from two thousand pound bombs. Given the lack of visibility, they must have been JDAMs…satellite-guided munitions that could strike within three feet of the attack point. They’d landed between six hundred and eight hundred yards away. It was a miracle he was still alive.

Muldoon grunted as he was suddenly slapped across the face. Riggs was before him then, lips curled away from his teeth.

“Get your element back to Alpha! There’s really nothing to see here, Sergeant!” he bellowed, probably because he was half-deaf himself. “Go! Go!”

Muldoon internally disagreed. Seeing the landscape surrounding Moody Air Force Base so significantly remodeled seemed like something he should take a moment to contemplate, but he didn’t have time to debate that with Riggs. Instead, he rounded up the remains of his squad and ushered them out of the engagement area. He heard the approaching rumble of jet engines, and his bowels suddenly felt watery. The zoomies were launching again, and he knew for a fact they didn’t give a fuck that Army pukes were in the zone. The next engagement would be closer to the battalion’s forward line, which meant they needed to get the fuck out of Dodge—and right now.

“Come on, you fucking apes!” Muldoon shouted, perhaps more out of instinct and the emotion of the moment. There was no reason for him to hearken back to World War I, after all—no one knew they were going to live forever. These weren’t the trenchlines in France; this was Georgia, and at this point, all the lightfighters knew they were living on borrowed time.

Now it was time for the battalion to start paying interest on the loan.

THE RETREAT 6: Missed Deadline

August 26, 2021 8 comments

Well, this is monumentally embarrassing. Due to some rather odd circumstances in life, I’ve been stuck at the 80% mark on this book and have not been able to finish it. I did push back the release date and in normal times, would have been able to meet the revised date. Regrettably, that’s not how it’s going to work out this time.

So, at around 8:00PM EST today, the pre-sale for The Retreat 6: Forlorn Hope will be automatically canceled by Amazon.

This is entirely my fault, and has nothing to do with Craig DiLouie. I’m not going to forecast a release date at this time, but here’s hoping it’ll be sooner rather than later.

A thousand apologies, folks.

Categories: Writing

THE RETREAT 6: Those Two Inches

Same as always…no guarantees this makes it into final.

“You guys will be here for four hours,” Muldoon answered finally. “Afterwards, you’ll be relieved—probably by me and someone else.” He pointed down the stairway, where another door—this one a standard fire door as well—stood closed. “The FBI folks will stay with Moreau directly. You don’t have to look at her anymore, at least not until it’s time to pull out.”

“Or we get overrun,” Rawlings said.

Muldoon nodded. “Or until we get overrun. Right, keep up the happy thoughts, babe.”

Rawlings clucked her tongue and tossed her head. Muldoon smiled behind his mask. God, how she hated that…and how he loved it. He looked back at Campbell.

“Campbell, you cool?”

“What the fuck you think, man?”

“What do I think? I think you’re my replacement for Nutter,” Muldoon said. “We need a new mascot, and you’re almost his size.”

“And more than twice the man he was,” Campbell replied. “Don’t be saluting me from your crotch, now. Otherwise I’ll rip that little dingus out by the roots.”

Muldoon grabbed his crotch. “Little? Well, that’s true. It’s only two inches…” He paused for dramatic effect. “…from the floor.”

Campbell rolled her eyes. “Sure thing, Sergeant. I’ll be sure to pass that on to the next sharpie I see.” SHARP was the acronym for the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program, and those who implemented its mission were known as sharpies. Like most quality-of-life initiatives undertaken by the military, it was more of a joke than anything else.

“Well, then. I’ll be sure to wear a cup,” Muldoon said.

“Maybe a thimble’s enough for you,” Campbell countered. She grabbed at the apex of her own thighs, aping Muldoon’s vulgar motion. “Try not to get all bruised up while banging around in there.”

Muldoon snickered. Despite the fact she was a wild child, Campbell had it all going on. “Fuck, girl. All bullshit aside, I gotta say, I like your style.”

“Only cuz you got no style, white man. Trust me, I can tell a player when I see one.”

Muldoon pointed at her. “You? You and me, we’re gonna run hot shit in Valhalla, sis. Big Army missed out on you, letting you hang with the Guard.” He held out his left fist. “Bump me.”

Campbell looked at Muldoon as if he was an alien life form, then slowly extended her own left hand. One bump, right hand on her rifle. As it should have been.

“You don’t know shit about me,” she said.

Muldoon leaned in. “But I know enough.”

Campbell drew back a bit, but at the last moment, her fingers wrapped around his thick wrist. She didn’t say anything. Neither did Muldoon, though he felt the emotion rising in his chest. Campbell was a hundred and ten percent shit kicker. Didn’t need the National Action Network to campaign for her. She’d stack ’em tall and high, no matter what.

He reached up and pulled off his hood and mask and let them flop down beside him. He reached out and grabbed her shoulders and held her there, looking at her with his pale Anglo-Saxon eyes. “I get where you come from,” he said. “I get what you’ve been through. Sis, you’re one of us. You ride tall in that saddle, and shit’s going to work out for you. You might not be a lightfigher, but you’re a hundred percent warrior class. Hooah?”

Campbell raised her left hand. “Yeah. Whatever the fuck. You going klown on me?”

Muldoon barked out a laugh and slapped her shoulder as he pulled away and reached for his mask. “You fucking wish, asswipe. I’m the guy who gets to give you orders.” He slipped on his hood and then the full face mask. As he tugged it tight, he looked from Campbell to Rawlings. “You two keep shit tight for the next four hours. And if everything works out…I’ll see you later. If not…” He shrugged. “Get ready to zero anyone who comes down these stairs, you bitches.”

THE RETREAT 6: Fucking Primate

As always, the attached is offered without proofreading and is not guaranteed to be in the final product.

“So who do you want me to sack this time, sir?” Muldoon asked. He was a skeleton of the soldier Lee had known before. He was no longer the tall, broad-shouldered, hay-fed farm boy he’d been in the years past. Now, even Muldoon had been run ragged. A shadow of his former self. The swagger was still there, but Lee could see the NCO was run out. Just like all the lightfighters. They’d fought a world war right here, inside the United States, and that carried a ton of weight.

“Don’t want you to kill anyone today, Sergeant.” Lee’s voice was a hoarse whisper. Too much stress. Too much weight on his shoulders. Too little hope.

Muldoon looked suitably surprised. “Well. No shit.”

Lee tapped the maps on the table before him. “Right here. Reynolds will open up a corridor to Florida. The battalion can make it.”

Muldoon looked at the maps and the associated graphics for a long moment. “Okay. I’ll cover the retreat.”

Lee shook his head. “Fucker, you’re going to lead it. Walker can’t hold this shit together. It’s on you.”

Muldoon turned away from the map. “Yeah, sir…I don’t get it. You want me to lead…?”

“Get the troops out, Muldoon. Get them away from here. At zero two hundred, you need to have everyone ready to move. First Sergeant Zhu and the remaining Bushmasters will fight rear guard. Cover you from behind. We might even have some Hogs or Apaches overhead for punishment as the klowns roll in. They’ll advance, and you squirt out under covering fires. Hooah?”

Muldoon blinked. He looked over at Rawlings and Campbell, but they were too far away to hear Lee’s voice. He shifted his weight on his feet, and his shoulders swayed.

“Don’t get it,” Muldoon said finally.

“What the hell is there not to get, Muldoon? Take the battalion out of here. Cross the forward line of troops, and reconstitute on the other side. Should be a pretty simple order, even for a fucking primate like yourself.”

Muldoon raised his head and looked right into Lee’s eyes. They both had the thousand mile stare now, but they were able to focus on each other in that moment.

“What about you, sir?” Muldoon asked.

Lee smirked. “I have ten Special Forces soldiers here, Muldoon. What about me?”

“You’ll die here, Lee,” Muldoon said.

Lee looked back at the tall NCO for a long moment, then spread his hands. “Onward Christian soldiers,” he replied. “You have orders. Get that shit done. Now.”

THE RETREAT 6: The Art of the Inveigle

Sorry to be the FedEx guy of bad news, but I’ve missed my editorial date. This title will be released in August, so dry yer tears–it was unavoidable for reasons I shan’t bore you with. However, now I can post more excerpts! Unedited, no guarantee they’ll be in the final product, blah blah blah x 100.

The battalion settled into the remains of the base, using mounds of rubble and the skeletons of shattered buildings for concealment. There were reinforced hangars on the airfield. While these had great holes torn through them, they were still standing and could serve as temporary shelters for the vehicles and the command and control element. Lee thought they had been hit by Reynolds’s command, probably as a tactic to deny them from falling into the hands of the klowns. Any aircraft that might have been inside had been effectively destroyed, as had any that were parked on the tarmac outside. The burned remains of several helicopters and C-130 transport planes were virtually nothing more than twisted, melted metal surrounded by pools of black soot and ash.

Observation posts were established. Like most military bases in the US, the airfield had served as an anchor point for a sizeable civilian community. To the south was the town of Bemiss, and at this range it appeared the settlement hadn’t fared much better than Moody. Whatever had happened there had occurred days if not weeks ago. No fires burned, and everything seemed still, as if frozen in time. Lee told Walker to stand up a detail to go through everything that had been picked up at DZ Nuts, and he instructed First Sergeant Zhu and his senior commanders to establish a tight defensive perimeter. Once the battalion was secure, he would report the unit’s status back to Rock and wait for further orders.

As these actions were underway, Lee tracked down Tackaberry and Linton. He found the old men around one of the trucks, where Tackaberry was briefing his team’s surviving members on what they could potentially expect. The tall former lightfighter watched Lee approach, but he didn’t stop his discussion. Lee stood apart from the group as they knelt in the shadow of a two-story pile of rubble and listened to Tackaberry extol the group to protect their vehicles and keep eyes out. They would have to pull security and Tackaberry said he envisioned them as performing relief duties for the battalion if their stay was to become an extended one.

“But at the end of the day, this is what we need to be worried about.” The retired colonel slapped the drab side of the hulking truck beside him. “We lose these vehicles, we’re on foot. And this is not the place for a country stroll, gentlemen.”

The old men snorted and nodded.

“So take your medications. And Deacon, I want you to double up on that Bean-O. I know what happens to you when you go on a high protein diet,” Tackaberry added with a smile.

“You sure about that?” said a portly man in a dirty white shirt and torn golf pants. “I can play reveille with my ass.”

Tackaberry waved his hand in front of his face, as if attempting to clear an offensive odor. “Please…please don’t do that,” he said.

The men chuckled quietly. Even though they hadn’t been in the thick of it for long, they understood laughter was no longer a comforting sound to overhear. But dark humor was always the last thing to die on the battlefield.

Tackaberry finally turned to Lee as the assemblage broke up. “Yes, Colonel?”

Lee pointed to Linton. “Actually need to speak to your senior NCO, sir,” Lee said.

“Linton? Could you come over?”

The older black man adjusted his big rifle as he stepped away from the truck, looking from Tackaberry to Lee. “Sirs?”

“Colonel Lee would like a sidebar,” Tackaberry said.

Linton nodded. “Yes, sir. What can I do for you?” he asked Lee.

Lee indicated the air base. “You said you spent some time here?”

Linton sighed. “It was a bit cleaner back then, sir.”

“I understand. What can you tell us about Moody?”

“Home to two major units, the 23rd Wing and the 93rd Air Ground Operations Wing. A-10s, C-130s, and Black Hawks for rescue. They were UH-1s back in my day, but the mission remains the same.” Linton pointed to one of the blast-rated hangars that Lee’s headquarters company was setting up inside of. “A-10s were over there. Seeing as how you’re moving vehicles into the hangars, I’d say they were evacuated before the attack. And I see some other aircraft were destroyed. I guess they couldn’t get them all out.”

“What other units were here?” Lee asked.

“Several. But I’m thinking you might be interested in the 820th, sir.”

Lee cocked his head. He’d heard of it. “That’s a base defense group, right?”

Linton nodded. “Run out of here, sir. Not just administrative function, but actual squadrons.”

 “Do you know where they were headquartered, Leon?” Tackaberry asked.

Linton snorted and looked around the remains of the base. He pivoted, and pointed north. “Somewhere around there, sir. The 820 has—or had—four buildings. All with their own armory. 40-millimeter, small arms, even munitions for C-RAMs.” He turned back to Lee. “Want to re-equip, Colonel? Back in the day, they had thirty five-tons, about a hundred and thirty Humvees, and between ten and fifteen deuces. Maybe not as durable as your Army gear…but definitely more plush,” the former Air Force master sergeant said. “Probably not much of them left, but if they’re here, they could come in handy.”

He turned and faced the shattered, crater-dotted runways that paralleled the eastern portion of the base. “Munitions storage for aircraft would be right there…but they’ve been hit. Looks like they suffered damage from secondary explosions, too.” Linton pointed out the string of collapsed buildings, right next the C-130 graveyard.

Tackaberry stepped forward and shielded his eyes from the summer sun. “Going to be tough to find anything useful in there, Harry,” he said.

Lee sighed, deflated. “Yeah. I think you may be right about that, Colonel.”

“There is one thing that might still be of some use to you, sir,” Linton said after a moment.

Lee turned to the older black man. “What might that be?”

Linton turned away from the airfield and pointed toward the post’s south side. “On this side of, uh…” He paused suddenly, thinking. “Yeah, on this side of Vanguard Way. The command post. Lower level was a reinforced bunker, going back to the Cold War. Where the command staff could operate in the event things went nuclear. It might still be there, but even if it is, it might not be usable. Now, I personally never went inside, but I know it was there.”

Lee considered that for a moment. “That could be very useful,  Sergeant. Thanks for that. Would you be willing to accompany a detail there to check it out?”

Linton turned to Tackaberry, who nodded. “We can do it for you if you like, Colonel.”

Lee nodded toward the sky. “Might be safer to wait until nightfall,” he said. “There’s not a lot of cover out here, and we don’t have a handle on the security environment yet.”

Tackaberry chuckled dryly. “Son, there is no security out here. We’re right behind klown lines. They’ll circle back this way, and when they do? By now, they’ll have night vision gear too. We weren’t going to keep that advantage all to ourselves, Colonel Lee.”

“Thanks for the pep talk, Colonel Tackaberry.”

Tackaberry shrugged. “Just telling it like it probably is, Lee. But you’re in charge, so you set the pace.” The taller man turned and looked in the direction Linton had indicated the bunker might lie. “But we should recon sooner rather than later, in my mind.”

“Let’s at least wait to start handing out provisions,” Lee said.

Tackaberry nodded. “Roger that.”

Walker’s voice came over Lee’s headset. “Six, this is Five. We’re set up here. Over.”

Lee hit his push to talk button. “Roger, Five. What’s the word on that supply count?”

“Six…it’s almost entirely ammunition. Small arms, some mortars, some AT-4s and mortar rounds. About a hundred gallons of water, a hundred pounds or so of chow, basic medical supplies. Batteries, spares…nothing unusual.”

Lee frowned and considered that for a long moment as Tackaberry and Linton looked at him. They could only hear his side of the conversation.

“Roger all, Five. I’m coming in.” Lee started to turn away, then thought better of it. He looked at Tackaberry and repeated to him what Walker had relayed. Tackaberry listened then cupped his chin thoughtfully.

“Mostly ammunition, huh?”

“That’s what Walker said.”

Tackaberry nodded slowly and exchanged glances with Linton. “Colonel, I understand your reservations about conducting recon in daylight, but you might want to reconsider. If all we got was an ammo resupply, then that means only one of two things.”

Lee adjusted the set of his rifle. “Yeah. It means Reynolds is prepping us to fight our way through the front line.”

“That’s one,” Tackaberry said. “It also might mean he’s going to use us as bait, and wants the battalion to put up a credible fight when the klowns come rushing in.”

Lee snorted, incredulous. “Why the hell would he do that?” he asked. “We have Moreau. Letting the klowns get to us just ensures they’ll take her. Reynolds knows we couldn’t do much more than manhandle a couple of old grandmothers at this point.”

Tackaberry smiled thinly. “You could be right about that, of course.”

Lee felt something begin to unwind in his mind. “Colonel, what’s on your mind?”

“I’m just wondering why Armand Reynolds pulled us back from the line to a clearly contested Air Force base in Georgia,” Tackaberry said. “There are a dozen better rally points in the area. We have good sightlines, of course. That works for us. But it also makes us vulnerable to indirect fires, not to mention a mass attack we’d be hard pressed to deter.”

“I don’t really follow you, sir.”

“I’m with Colonel Lee on this one, sir,” Linton said. “We have the girl. That makes the battalion an asset higher should want to protect.”

Tackaberry smiled again. There wasn’t an ounce of humor in it; the gesture was merely an automatic response. “You gentlemen don’t know Armand Reynolds like I do,” he intoned. “He has no problem making sacrifices. No problem at all. Expect no hesitation from him. If there’s a strategic value to an action, he’ll take it.” He locked eyes with Lee and jerked his chin toward the younger man. “If he tells you to get Moreau ready for transport … that’ll be your signal, Harry. He’ll spirit her away, and then leak our location to the klowns. They’ll mass, probably with Marion Grey riding a limo at the head of the advance. They’ll think they have a chance at getting Moreau…and then Reynolds will take out everybody. Everyone,” he added for emphasis. “And if he gets spooked? Same thing. Even compared to the rest of the Corps, Armand’s never held back when it comes time to pulling the trigger.”

Tackaberry let that sink in for a bit before continuing. “Don’t think Armand Reynolds is going to let things like we’re the good guys and we’re uninfected Americans come into play. None of that matters to him. Not one fucking bit.”

Lee considered that for a long moment. Like most military officers, he knew Reynolds more by reputation than personal interaction. It seemed as if Tackaberry had him outclassed in that department—the retired colonel appeared to have the inside track to how the general operated. And more importantly…what Tackaberry suggested made sense. There was some value in using the battalion as bait. Lee might have made such a call himself, if he were in Reynolds’s boots.

“I’ll let you know what the orders are as soon as I can,” Lee said. “In the meantime, if you want to check out Sergeant Linton’s bunker…you have my blessing. I’ll ask the first sergeant to detail some lightfighters to you. Hooah?”

“Hooah,” Tackaberry said. He cocked his head to one side. “Disappointed, Harry?”

Lee narrowed his eyes. “In what?”

“That Reynolds only sees you as a tool. Even though you took command of an entire battalion and made it all the way down here…to him, you’re just another widget.”

Lee took a second to consider his response. “Truthfully, sir…it wouldn’t be the first time.”

THE RETREAT 6: The Measure of a Man

June 12, 2021 2 comments

The column approached Moody now, trundling along a concrete drive that had been ripped asunder by what looking like thirty-millimeter rounds. Shattered vehicles and torn bodies lined the roadway. Suitcases lay splayed open, their contents strewn about. Moody had been a recovery center for civilians. Reynolds’s attack had taken them out as well. Lee happened to fix his eyes on a small figure. A boy, a toddler. Legs blown off, streaks the color of rust staining the concrete. He wore a Blue’s Clues t-shirt and nothing else. A blood-splattered sippy cup lay next to him. The flies had already come and gone, and now the corpse was riddle beneath a virtual carpet of crawling insects. Nature doing what it did, reducing the dead to its constituent parts.

We’re killing ourselves to kill the klowns, he thought, and the sight made his brain feel foggy and distant.

“I’m good, Witch,” he said again, even though Harry Lee was far from it. As the column cruised past the remnants of a burned out Dollar General store, he saw the charred fragments of men and women littering the sidewalk. Police officers? Air Force personnel? Civilians, caught up in the foment of cackling violence? He would never know. And he didn’t want to know. The consistent exposure to the bestiality that lay inside a man or a woman had left him feeling as hollow as a jack o’lantern. Before the shit had started to fly, he was a pumpkin. Now, he was a field grade officer. Hollowed out, but still operational. No one cared about the first degree of the man, but the second? That was what was important. To his troops. To his superiors.

To himself.

Lee despaired. He knew he wouldn’t get through this. Even if someone created a cure, something that could wipe out the bug and remand those infected souls back into the warm arms of civilization, Lee knew he wouldn’t survive it. He’d seen too much. Done too much. The actions he’d taken in Iraq had been so bold and brutal that even Muldoon had taken pause…

…but now they seemed quaint.

As he stared out the Humvee’s pockmarked windshield, he felt a true realization rise up inside him. I’m dead. I’m fucking dead.

Beach’s voice crackled over the SINCGARS radio. The scouts had made it into Moody, and the place was a shithole. But there were no klowns. Bodies, yes. Actual, living klowns? No.

Lee reached for the handset and simply rogered his acknowledgement. There was nothing else to be said. Beach and his team would continue on, and the rest of the column would follow until Lee told them to stop.

There was no other way. This is what they’d fought for…a devastated Air Force base in Georgia.

Fucking fantastic.

THE RETREAT 6: A Li’l Nut Punch

 “Hey, what the fuck?” Murphy shouted from the turret behind his mask. “Are you homos talking about me again? You measuring my third three foot leg? You know my battalion nickname’s Tripod!”

“We ain’t talking shit about you, troop! Get on your fucking weapon and do Army shit! Though I heard tell your thongs are a construct of fucking beauty,” Foster hollered back.

“You putting some dollars in that shit?”

“I’ll put my fucking fist in your nuts if you get the colonel killed while you stand up there jizzing off to memories of your fucking klown stripper girlfriend, asshole!” Foster yelled. “Like you can afford an entire dependapotamous on an E-5’s salary, you fucking gay lap dancer!”