The night was chilly. It was still the middle of March and that was to be expected. Sergeant Thea Sandoval left the relative warm buzz of the command center behind, pulling her collar up tight around her neck. The flak jacket she wore was a suitable brace against the cold, but she’d been raised in warm climates.
The colder north didn’t always agree with her.
It had been mere minutes since the Major had left and her eyes had followed him out. He was a good man. Strong, resolute, handsome. She sighed, brushing a stray lock of her dark hair away from her face. She intended to get some food. But as always the sight of Major Beck sent her head in a tailspin.
Thea knew that a relationship with him would be out of the question. Since she’d joined his company she’d known about his wife. Had even heard him discuss the situation of his missing family with her direct CO. He was untouchable in that arena.
Even when they’d heard through the grapevine that Major Beck’s wife and daughter were confirmed dead a few days ago, he was still off limits. Because of Heather Lisinsky.
Thea remembered when they’d brought Heather to Camp Hayward. The older woman had been unconscious already, sick with what would be known as the Hudson River Virus. It had sent the meds into a panic, trying to quell any infection from springing up in the personnel that hadn’t been vaccinated.
Those who hadn’t been were pretty limited to civilian contractors that weren’t J and R. A strange sight to see at Hayward, but not unheard of.
The meds contained it, however, and Heather recovered. And had met the Major. Thea wasn’t stupid enough to believe that’s when it had started, but it couldn’t have hurt. Heather was a firebrand when she was riled. The Major liked those types of personalities. He was fond of anyone who had a real spark.
Thea wound her way past the PE field and in to the row of tents reserved for the higher ranking officials. She’d made a friend with Captain Dunne, her direct CO. She wondered if the Captain would be in her tent and willing to talk.
The gun shot shocked her out of her revelry, not so much the noise of it but the suddenness. It was silent in the night and the shot had been muffled, probably with a silencer. She was quick on the reaction, drawing her sidearm and taking cover next to a tent.
She’d picked the right one as words drifted through the canvas. It was Colonel Hoffman! She listened intently, hearing a plan to go out to a trailer, whatever that meant. Another voice responded in the affirmative and there was some shuffling.
The tent flap was pushed aside, only a few feet away from where she hid. She backed up slowly, going around the far side of the tent as the humvee that’d been parked in the road was started up and drove away.
She held her position, waiting for any more movement coming from the inside or from the front. When she was sure that no one else was coming or going, Thea came to the front of the tent and looked around. The humvee had disappeared from sight.
Her location, which she’d managed to ignore, being so deep in thought, gave her a jolt. She was next to the Major’s tent. This was where they’d placed Colonel Hoffman. She cracked the flap and took a quick look. There was no movement coming from inside.
Thea slipped in and almost tripped over a large object on the floor. She managed to keep her balance and knelt down to investigate.
Major Beck lay on his side on the floor. As she pushed him gently to his back the smell of blood assailed her scent and she recoiled. He was bleeding. Thea tore open his jacket, looking for the blood. There was nothing on his shirt but a low groan was forced from his lips at her touch.
She gulped, pushing away the frantic worry piercing her thoughts, and rolled him gently back to his side. There was a hole just below his shoulder on the right side. She stifled a gasp. “Major, can you hear me?”
Thea checked his pulse. It was thready and far too slow. She had to get help immediately.
She grabbed at the com on her belt, switching over to the channel reserved for COs and Emergencies. Her hand hit the send button and a torrent of panicky words flooded from her mouth.
Mac was speeding, a fact that bothered Heather. Her fingers dug in to the faded upholstery of the Jeep, knuckles whiter than before with every sharp turn her friend took too quickly.
Heather understood why Mac wanted her back to base safely and quickly, but she wouldn’t have minded a longer drive.
It would have given her time to work through what had happened.
The Major had kissed her.
Heather raised her hand to her face, her fingers brushing lightly over her lips. She missed the amused glance that Mac sent her way, instead staring out at the trees passing from light to dark.
Edward Beck, she corrected herself. The name felt funny to say mentally; he had always been Major Beck. Edward. It wasn’t a bad name.
And the man with the not bad name had kissed her. Heather’s face colored as she remembered that technically she’d kissed him. She was no virgin. There was a rawness to the exchange however. Desperation, she supposed, mixed with confused lust.
Confusion was the only answer. Edward Beck had just found out he was a widower. And there was no way he’d looked at her in any capacity besides a liaison before he’d found out.
People couldn’t just forget years of marriage in three days.
She didn’t want to think that he was the type of man who’d cheat. As soon as the idea surfaced she pushed it away, angry at herself for suggesting it.
He had shown her strength and trust. Sure, they’d both had their unscrupulous moments but for the most part they’d been good to one another. He still deserved her trust, even if he had locked her up.
An especially large pot hole blew Heather out of her thoughts. She looked around, realizing that they weren’t far from town. The fastest way out to Mac’s brought them only a few blocks away from downtown.
Mac slowed down when they hit the city limits and that’s when the radio first crackled. “ - - help - - - Major shot - - - need a medic - - - “
Both women looked down at the radio, staring at it. “Did you hear that? Did that sound like someone said the Major was shot and needed a medic?”
Heather wouldn’t have been able to keep the panic out of her voice if her life depended on it.
Mac didn’t say anything, instead tightening her grip on the steering wheel and pushing the jeep back up to speed. An SUV cut directly in front of them and she had to slam on the brakes and swerve to avoid hitting the vehicle. The jeep came to a stop.
The SUV’s driver hopped out and ran over. It was Jimmy. Mac rolled down her window as the large deputy approached. He was out of breath.
“Hey, boy am I glad we found you Heather. Eric and Bill have been looking all over for ya.”
“What’s up Jimmy? Why the crazed driving?”
He looked at Mac, a slight smile on his face. “Sorry about that. Needed to stop you quick. Something happened out at the camp. We just got word that Major Beck was shot by an AS soldier. We’re locking the town down. Their strategy guys said that there’s a convoy headed this way about fifty miles out. We’re getting people to the fall out shelters in case they start bombing.”
Both Mac and Heather looked at Jimmy, astonished. He’d said more than three sentences and had managed to keep eye contact with them the whole time. The situation was serious.
“Where’s the Major now Jimmy?”
He shrugged. “Radio call was from the camp, so I figure he’s out there-“
Panic was giving way to frantic terror now. Mac put the car back in gear, but was stopped from driving off when Jimmy grabbed her door frame. “Guys, you should really get to a shelter. There’s almost a thousand troops headed here and it’s going to be less than an hour before the shit hits the fan.”
Heather didn’t even look at him, her eyes gazing ahead. Edward Beck, Major Beck, was in trouble. She’d be damned if she was going to hole up at a time like this, when he needed her.
Mac glanced at Heather and sighed. The younger woman was determined. And so was she. The safest place to be was going to be camp. Turning a brilliant smile to Jimmy she started to roll up the window. “Thanks for the warning. We need to go though.”
He let go of the jeep real quick when Mac squealed away. The two women inside said nothing as they cleared the far edge of town and started down Route Nine, towards the camp.
They made it half way when the sound of helicopters distracted the both of them. Mac glanced at Heather and the younger woman was surprised to find real worry in the look. Mac had always been level headed and calm, even in the worst situations they’d seen since the bombs.
Mac pulled the jeep off the road, parking it in a shade of trees. “Why are we stopping? We’re not that far from the camp.”
Mac held up a hand to silence her before exiting the vehicle. She took a few steps outside, keeping to the tree line. Heather watched her friend a she paused, her eyes skyward. The helicopters were getting closer now.
Mac turned suddenly and darted back to the jeep. “Come on, we gotta go.” She didn’t allow any argument from Heather, instead reaching behind the driver’s seat and pulling out a duffel bag and one of her many rifles.
They cleared the jeep and were fifty yards away, still under the cover of trees, when the military convoy passed their vehicle. Both Mac and Heather turned to watch. With a sigh, Mac pulled a pistol from her back pack. “Take it.”
She handed the weapon to Heather who didn’t really want to hold a gun. Even being raised in a small town in Middle America hadn’t made her terribly excited about firearms. She took it however, the weight of it solid in her hand. “Just remember what I told you about the gun. It’s just a 380, so you shouldn’t have to worry about recoil too much.”
Heather nodded and followed Mac as she turned towards the camp.
They walked for twenty minutes, coming up on the military camp from the north. The sight that greeted them chilled their blood. The AS military convoy had arrived, but had not entered the camp. Instead they were positioned around the outside, at least a hundred vehicles. Helicopters were landing a short distance away, releasing more squads of soldiers.
“Well, no way we’re getting in there.”
Heather chuckled at her own twisted humor before Mac silenced her. The older woman pulled her down, hiding them both in some shrubbery. They weren’t too far from the AS line, only a hundred feet or so back. The fact that they’d managed to sneak this close was alarming. The AS military was definitely focused solely on the camp and it’s inhabitants.
They both watched as one of the Major’s company commanders, Captain Richards it looked like, exited the camp and approached a lead humvee. The familiar form of Colonel Hoffman exited the vehicle and both men stood, watching the other.
Heather gasped loudly as the colonel drew a gun and shot the Captain in the head, execution perfect. Mac slapped a hand over her mouth and pulled her head down.
Gunshots exploded around the camp, both from the inside and outside.
Heather supposed that if there was a beginning to this war, the moment they were stuck in the middle of this would be it. She was watching the first shots of the next American Civil War.
It was too muggy for Jake Green’s liking that night and he pulled off the button up he’d thrown on when he’d figured it’d be 50. Texas was still getting used to the idea of having the Kansas Hero around climate wise, both politically and meteorologically.
Since he’d landed the plane carry evidence of ‘the worst crime in the history of the world’ four days prior he’d had at least a dozen shouting matches with high ranking officials in the Texan Government.
Hawkins would kill him some day soon.
Jake didn’t want to be this much of a problem but dammit, the world was falling down around him and he wanted to get back to his family. He’d had every excuse spewed at him and had given reasonable compromises for the dangers to each and every one of them.
He wanted to get back to his town.
It was a strange feeling; a year ago he thought of Jericho only in passing. Only when he was reminded of someone there. Certainly not the outlook he took with him home now.
It was his only home left and he’d be damned if he didn’t protect it to the best of his ability.
His steps crunched on gravel as he crossed from his hotel to the dive bar across the street. Today had yielded nothing more substantial than seeing US troops bombing caravans leaving Cheyenne and other bases in the Western half of the states. It was confusing; none of the IT guys could explain how it was happening without them being able to see every aspect of the attack, but there’d been no visual air activity east of the Blue Line.
He shook his head and continued.
The sound of Hawkins shouting his name forced him to a halt and he turned, just a few short feet away from the bar’s entrance.
He would have ignored the summons, the vigorous way Hawkins was waving him back. Something about that shout though brought his feet back in motion, the way he’d come. He met the double agent at the door.
Hawkins’s face was drained of blood, his lips compressed in to a fine line. Never one to give up his ways, Hawkins glanced up and down the block. “We need to talk, now.”
He didn’t say another word, just entered the hotel and strode quickly across the lobby. They’d been stuck on the fifth floor of a fifteen floor complex and the elevator took longer than it had any right to.
“What’s going on Hawkins?” There was now a tense note in Jake’s voice as well. Something was obviously up.
The other man shook his head and waited. And waited. The door dinged and opened with a family flooding out. Jake watched them go as they entered and turned. Probably more well off refugees, able to afford hotel accommodations rather than at one of the many FEMA camps that the Texan Government had obtained when they’d kicked everyone out of the state/country.
At their floor, Hawkins gave the hallway a quick glance before stepping out and headed straight to his room. Jake followed, knowing that if Hawkins was being this paranoid, something was really up.
As soon as the door clicked shut behind them, Hawkins turned and pulled the secure cell he had from his pocket. “I got a call from Darcy about fifteen minutes ago.”
Yeah, there was something real bad going down. Hawkins had been very clear that no one in Jericho should call unless it was serious. A death, or . . . invasion.
“The AS army entered Jericho at 6:15 PM looking for a known fugitive. One Madelyn Wood. Suspected of hijacking secure Cheyenne satellites.”
“I don’t know anyone by that name in Jericho. Did she say how many troops there were?”
Hawkins gave him his ‘worried’ look. That one that was half amusement and half pain. “She counted over a hundred trucks. Half stayed to round up the town and the other half went out to the military installment.”
Flashes of the people he loved filtered through Jake’s brain. He knew that Eric would have seen this coming. Their patrols were effective, for the most part. He should have been able to get almost everyone to safety. Wherever that might be.
He thought of Emily next. The thought constricted his heart. They were crazy to each other. Discord and Chaos but also love. She’d be fine, he rationed. She was tough and would be fine.
His mother, the rest of the rangers, Stanley and Mimi. He couldn’t think of a stronger group of people. They would get through this.
He knew it would also be largely in part to on Major Edward Beck. The thought of the man still brought a sour taste to Jake’s mouth, but he’d been assured that he’d turned. That he understood now. And Jake had to believe he had, or else there’d be almost five hundred more people fighting to find a woman Jake didn’t even know.
Heather wouldn’t lie to him though. That name brought a whole fresh pang of worry to him. Heather would be almost useless in a combat situation. But, chances were that she was with Beck. And he would keep her safe. Jake was sure of that.
“She said that right before the troops came Jimmy had been at the door, suggesting she get to a shelter. She reminded him politely that we have a shelter in our basement. Jimmy also mentioned something about Beck being shot. Jimmy wasn’t very clear and neither was Darcy.”
The bleeding was going to kill the Major. Captain Alyson Dunne called for a nurse to wipe off her brow. The bullet had managed to nick of the shoulder blade, catching a bit of the subclavian artery before burying itself in a rib.
It had missed the heart.
But had collapsed a lung.
And if she didn’t get this artery clamped in the next, oh, five seconds, the Major was going to die on her table.
She went for it again with a pair of clamps, swearing viciously as gunfire sounded around the tent.
One of the nurses had already been shot by a stray bullet. They were too far in the camp at the med tent to be directly effected by the throw down at the gates. At least by the smaller ammunition rounds they’d been receiving. Someone inside the compound had squeezed off that round.
Finally, after those five tense seconds passed and she’d managed to grab the second half of the vein she called for help and her cohort in surgery held the clamps together while she quickly repaired the vein.
They both breathed deep as the sutures kept the majority of the blood in the Major’s system where it belonged. Inside his system.
Looking down, Captain Dunne shook her head sadly. He’d had very limited blood flow to his brain for too long. There was every possibility that he would be brain damaged. At the very least he was looking at months of therapy before being fully functional again.
Another round came closer and she swore again. “I swear, if one more person in this camp shoots at this tent, I’m going to return fire. That was the most ridiculous repair I’ve ever had the misfortune of participating in.”
Sergeant Kay, her co-surgeon, laughed at her. His hands were deftly repairing the outer damage done to the Major’s back. Dunne stepped back and allowed a nurse to strip off her bloody gloves then coat.
The Major would live.
That final stray bullet finally found it’s mark and another nurse cried out, clutching her arm. “Oh for fuck’s sake. Now I know they’re trying to kill us. Kay, close that up. I’m gonna go mediate for a bit.”
She stripped off her scrubs in a side room quickly, taking careful seconds only to don her body armor. Grabbing her helmet at the door to the tent, Dunne strapped it on and picked up her rifle. Officers, while usually issued side arms, sometime carried others and Dunne was effective with hers.
She’s come in to the army eleven years earlier, taking a break from pre-med school. That alone had left her to complete a full eight week basic with the rest of the grunts. When the time had come for deployment out of basic, she’d had her choice of joining Marksmen school or going back to college and finishing her degree. There would never be a shortage of guys to squeeze a trigger, the recruiter had said. Adept doctors, though, were another story.
The Army had made her a surgeon then stuck her in to officer training. Her contract would have run out next year. If the world hadn’t gone to shit.
As it was, Alyson Dunne was one of the only doctors in camp that had kept with her shooting training, logging weekly hours practicing and constantly keeping her firearms in order.
As she pushed aside the flap to the tent, she was met by a loud whoosh, the sound of falling mortars. Thankfully the sound was headed away. Towards the front of the camp. Staying low, she crossed the main drag in camp and headed to the motor pool.
“Well damn. That’s ingenious.”
Five teams had set up along the outer edge of the motor pool, mortar tubes aimed to the gates. Every fifteen seconds another team would drop a mortar. Like clockwork. She glanced to the front of camp, but was unable to see where they were landing past the heavy vehicles that’d been pulled to reinforce the gate. The heavy sound of .50 caliber fire reached her ears too, and it sounded like they had positioned a few SAWs in the two towers flanking the entrance.
Dunne was having a hard time hearing anything but a steady drum inside her head. She rolled right, away from the mortars and circled back to the med tent. She was still convinced there were hostiles in camp.
She found them, almost by accident, between Charlie and Delta barracks, three men with almost a full squad pinning them down from the other direction. The three men had found cover behind a few large crates that were full enough to stop any incoming fire. Unlike the canvas walls of her operating room.
The thought made her spitting anger and she came up at the from behind, finding a crate of her own. She ducked down as the squad from the other end started a new round of fire. It wouldn’t be very helpful to get hit in a crossfire. From this angle though, she had a perfect shot on all three guys.
Her rifle rose and she fit it tightly against her shoulder. The safety clicked off and the world around her dimmed to the three men in front of her. If she did this fast enough and accurately enough she’d be able to get all of them without them realizing where the shots had come from.
Her finger slid to the trigger and she took a deep breath, lining up her first target.
As the air left her lungs, she squeezed the trigger. Seven, eight, then nine shots went in to the back of the body before she was satisfied she’d gotten the killing shot and her muzzle shifted to the next soldier. The other two had noticed their comrade fall and were in the process of turning around, still crouched behind the boxes they’d found cover at.
There was no time for working her way through the body armor again so she chose the easiest avenue. Her gun rose fractionally and the second man down took a bullet to the face. The third returned fire and Dunne couldn’t keep the swearing down enough to her liking.
She waited, knowing he’d have to reload that M-16 some time. Silence from last man. She rose fractionally. The squad had fanned out through the path and hit him from at least three sides. Dunne sighed in relief and stood fully, calling out identification to avoid becoming the next casualty.
Two tents over, mortars continued to fly.
Two sets of eyes went wide when the first mortar rounds hit. They were almost too far, hitting the ground closer than either felt comfortable with. Mac pushed Heather’s head down as debris fell around them. They both looked back up in time for the next round, adjusted to hit the back ranks of the AS troops. There was minimal damage, however they’d hit a few humvees that had blown.
Heather wasn’t sure how they’d gotten all the mortars, but she could guess and was happy to see her hometown was good for something at that moment.
The mortars continued. Ten more rounds, five shells each, hit the AS troops. The last few were well placed and effective, taking out a vehicle each time. Heather shuddered at the memory of watching the mortars being built. Of finding them.
She wasn’t being nosey per-say. She was being thorough, looking for a machine part that had gone missing from the assembly line she’d been working on. It was the second half of the factory that was never used and she knew she’d be able to find the part in the old busted section.
She hadn’t thought she’d find a working line, working no doubt in part to that missing piece, turning out munitions after hours.
She was lucky they hadn’t seen her. She was lucky she’d made it back to the small apartment she’d been given and even luckier that they’d stuck the men from Jericho in there as well.
Eric had even been outside, talking with one of the New Burn guys from the factory, when she’d approached. It was a simple matter to pry him away from his conversation and get him alone so she could share what she’d seen.
The plan that they’d hatched that night hadn’t been perfect. But, it was the best they could manage at the time. And it would have worked had it not been for her own foolish and trusting nature.
Mac’s hand jolted her from the memory and Heather looked at the troops, amazed to see what looked like a retreat in process. “What’s going on down there?”
Mac chuckled softly to herself. “Those mortars were brilliant. They hit at least thirty vehicles and I’m willing to bet some higher ups bit the dust tonight. They’re taking their wounded and leaving.”
Both women watched the AS troops stack dead bodies in trucks like Lincoln logs, forcing wounded but walking-able soldiers to hump it out next to the vehicles. The shooting from inside the camp had stopped.
Mac placed a hand on heather’s arm, quieting her again. Though the vehicles were mostly headed away from them, they weren’t out of the woods yet. “For now. The rank structure will go to hell, but not for long if they’ve got a command worth half their salt. They’ll be back.”
Dark promise shone in Mac’s eyes and Heather shuddered. If the AS was leaving, where were they headed? Mac read her thoughts. “They’re probably headed to Jericho. Maybe New Burn or Macon. Somewhere that they can regroup. Wherever they’d headed though, we obviously aren’t able to track them through satellite. They’ve probably been on to me for days, feeding me false images.”
Heather gave her a confused look. “Think about it Heather. We saw a convoy roughly four hours out when we left my place. And, an hour later they’re rolling up to Jericho? They’ve been playing me.”
There was a distant look in Mac’s expression and she watched the last of the trucks rumble away. They’d left a lot of wreckage, and quite a few bodies, but nothing Beck’s men wouldn’t have cleared in hours. She turned her face back and nodded towards the camp. “Are you sure you still want to get in there, even now?”
Heather could only nod. Words seemed a moot point to her, after the massive death that had probably resulted in the loss of hundreds but had taken less than an hour. She needed to see Beck. She could have laughed at herself. Edward, she fixed mentally. She needed to see Edward. He would fix everything.
“Alright then, listen up because I’m only going to say this once. I need to follow them and the most important thing you need to know right now is that camp is an agitated bear. It’s large and ornery and isn’t going to take kindly to small bees buzzing around and irritating it. You’re likely to get attacked and questioned. With the butt of a rifle if they feel it’s necessary. So, walk slow and keep your hands up.”
Mac stood, pushing a branch out of the way. “And take off that jacket. If you look like military they’ll assume you are and shoot you before you even make it to the blockades.”
A shiver ran up Heather’s spine at the older woman’s words. Did she really want to be inside that much? Attacked? How? Shot at, probably. Did she really want, or need, to possibly die just to get inside a military camp?
The still fresh memory of Edward Beck’s lips brought a flush to her face. Yes. She needed to be near him, if for nothing else than to feel his presence.
“Heather, are you listening?”
She glanced at Mac, who stared at her intently. “Yes. Hands up, walk slow.” She shrugged out of the military jacket instantly, cooled by the air as soon as the garment was free of her arms. “Are you going to be okay?”
Mac grinned, a dangerous smile. “Of course. Give me that gun too. Do you have identification on you?”
Heather nodded. She had her civilian liaison card on her always. Her hand pulled out the gun she’d tucked in her belt. Mac grunted and took the pistol. “Good. Put you ID in your front pocket and don’t forget to tell them. There are a lot of soldiers in a brigade and you can’t assume all of them will know your face. Now, I’m going to make sure your ass is safe from back here, but I can’t help you if they open fire.”
Mac gave her a long, appraising glance. Heather was shivering almost violently now, arms wrapped around each other for warmth. She didn’t look terribly disheveled and anyone in the camp that might know her would recognize her fairly quickly.
“Remember what I said. And, once you get in there and get to Beck, let him know where I am and what’s happening with the images I got from the satellite. If he has a way to contact Texas, or the US, he needs to use it quick.”
Heather nodded one last time and steeled herself. She rose carefully and started walking the long hundred yards to the front of the camp.
As she cleared the tree line, she could almost feel sights on her but she kept her hands up like Mac had said and walked as slow as she could justify. The cold was making her shake.
At forty yards from the main blockades, there was a secondary fence, not quite as tall, but just as effective. She could tell the AS had been unable to pass this perimeter. There were still bodies lying everywhere.
Eyes still front she passed the massive metal shells of trucks and humvees and passed between the smaller road blocks.
Her path was stopped immediately by a far too bright flood light, aimed directly at her face. Heather closed her eyes and prayed.
The light was blinding, and Heather was freezing. Her eyes still closed, she felt powerless to avoid the white glare filtering through her eyelids, making her see pink. Her arms, raised high, were shaking uncontrollably now.
She knew somewhere behind her, Mac was watching. Probably had her rifle trained on her, watching through the scope. Heather was helpless though, at the mercy of whoever had been given watch duty in this tense situation.
Heather jumped at the booming voice, coming from someone not far away. They must have sent someone out to her.
“My name is Heather-“ she struggled to form words, fear clogging her throat. She coughed with eyes still closed. “Heather Lisinsky. I’m the civilian liaison for Major Back.”
The light flashed once, as though someone had walking in front of it, before a splitting pain in her head took conscious thought from her.
The shelter below town hall was stifling hot, more than its max capacity filled. The occupants were agitated, pacing nervously.
The few that had seen the AS army move in to town were shaken most of all. Eric had been one of the last ones in, ushering the agitated townsfolk to the basement. He’d gone back to the main doors that last time, just to check and make sure no one had been left behind.
They had forgotten someone. He wasn’t sure from this distance, but it looked like Jimmy Taylor’s brother-in-law, Pete. The man was in a dead run, heading away from town hall on East St. There was a humvee pursuing him. When the vehicle stopped, four men set up against the doors and had opened fire.
Pete hadn’t stood a chance.
The Sergeant standing with him bit off an oath before turning to his men. “They’re out for blood boys. We need to keep these people safe.”
Eric thought he must have meant going out there, but he hadn’t. Instead, the sergeant had given instructions to start fortifying the windows and doors before informing Eric that he should get to his people and make sure they stayed calm.
“They’ll search the whole town. Since Main Street is deserted, I hope they’ll start with the houses and work their way in. That should buy us at least two hours. We’re going to blockade you inside the shelter and post ourselves outside the room.”
It sounded like a death trap to Eric, but he didn’t see how he’d be able to argue with the two privates assigned to him escorting him to the basement.
That had been over an hour ago. Blessedly there’d been no gunfire from outside, no indication that the AS had been to town hall yet. With nothing else to do, Eric had found himself thinking about his brother. Jake had been gone for almost a week now. He’d spoken to the elder Green quickly when Darcy had produced the secure cell phone.
“Everything will be fine. Texas and the US are both going to start pushing soon. Cheyenne isn’t going to stand a chance. Just keep everyone safe for me, all right? Especially Emily.” His brother had paused, probably thinking about the blond who was at that moment consoling a group of frightened children.
“And Mom, of course. And Eric, keep an eye of Beck. I don’t know if we should just roll over and accept that he’s changed.”
Eric had protested, having seen the pain in Beck’s eyes at Bonnie’s gravesite. He believed in the transformation. It probably didn’t even matter now. Beck was most likely dead.
His heart constricted when he thought of Heather, out there with Angela MacDonald. The former café owner and teacher was a mystery to Eric, but during his time in New Bern with Heather she’d spoken fondly of the woman.
Eric could only trust that they were both safe. And that the military hadn’t made contact with the camp outside of town.
A hand slipped in to his and he glanced down at Mary. Her eyes were wide with worry, but she was calm in his presence. “Don’t worry. Everything will be fine.”
Eric dipped his head, brushing his lips against hers. She still tasted fresh to him, like a fine wine. Intoxicating and refreshing all at once. They parted, smiling at one another, just in time to hear the sound of a large caliber gun being fired above them.
Mary’s hand tightened in his.
The world was fuzzy. Warm though, and blessedly silent. A faint beeping threaded it’s way through the fog and reached Heather’s ears. She groaned, blinking.
It was far too light.
Her vision was blurry when she could finally crack her eye lids against the brightness. Slowly the light dimmed, leaving in it’s place dark shadows tinged with green. She remembered this sight.
She was in a military medical facility. She was lying down on a cot that felt like the last ones she’d been a habitant of, her hand heavy with a sensor attached to her finger. Her head rolled to one side, trying to find someone to explain what had happened to her.
The movement sent a splitting pain coursing from the top of her skull down her spinal column, all the way to her mid-back.
She groaned again.
“Easy there Miss Lisinsky.”
The owner of the calming voice approached from the bottom of the bed. Heather willed her eyes to focus long enough to identify the person. She hoped it would be Edward.
It was Tech Sergeant Cuenig, one of the men assigned to help her with the radio, only a few days before hand. His warm smile calmed her slightly.
“Wha happened?” She barely recognized her own voice.
Cuenig put a hand over her’s, cutting off her field of vision to her left. “A couple of the guns up top freaked when you came out of no where. The CO up there, Dunne I think her name is, didn’t know you either. She knocked you out with her gun.”
Well, that explained the headache. She squeezed back lightly, feeling her head clear just a little. “You’re lucky you know. She’s a doc. You shouldn’t have any lasting damage. But, she figured it’d be best to just get you in the camp until someone could verify your story.”
Heather would have nodded. Instead she rolled her head back to its previous position, a tear dripping down her cheek from the pain of it. At least she’d recover.
“Oh gosh! What about the Major!? Is he all right!?” Heather tried to sit up in the bed but Cuenig held her down.
“Relax Miss Lisinsky. He’s going to be okay. He’s been out of surgery for about an hour now. He’s still listed as critical, but Captain Dunne thinks he’ll be fine.”
She sighed with relief, falling back to the mattress.
She took stock of the tent that she could see, her eyes glancing over plain dark green canvas and various medical equipment. The camp had probably taken a lot of casualties; why the hell had they put her in a room alone?
Beside her, Cuenig turned to the door and Heather followed his gaze. A tall woman walked through the door. She had a harried look about her, her black hair pinned fast beneath a surgical hat. The woman glanced at Heather, then up to Cuenig.
“What’s she doing in here Sergeant? I thought I told you to take her to Charlie Barracks with the rest of the wounded.”
Cuenig stood tall and turned to salute the Captain. When she returned his salute, he explained. “I was headed there with her when Captain Garrison had me bring her here. He knows her, ma’am. He said the Major would be happy to have her around when he woke up.”
The Captain, who Heather figured with probably Captain Dunne, sighed and muttered under her breath about nosey CO’s and interfering with medical business. The woman shook her head before crossing to the other half of the room .Heather lost track of her behind Cuenig but could hear her when she spoke.
“Make sure you stay in this room as long as she is. It’s a huge reach of security to keep a civilian in the same room as the Major when he’s in this condition.”
Heather gasped as Dunne’s words sank in. She rolled her head again to her left and strained to see around Cuenig. She caught a glimpse of black hair against sterile white sheets before Cuenig re-adjusted. He took her hand again and leaned down, speaking low to her.
“Trust me Miss Lisinsky. Give yourself some time to get your head on straight before you try and fix the Major. He’s a mess and the only thing that’ll help right now is time. And rest.”
He added his own squeeze to her hand at the end of the statement. As his grasp died away, Heather felt herself getting very sleepy. She looked to her other side, and realized Captain Dunne had just finished pushing something through her IV.
The world got very soft around the edges again. “Don’t worry Miss Lisinsky. Just rest. Everything will be okay.” Cuenig moved away, heading towards the door with the Captain.
Heather tried to seek out a glimpse of Edward once more before she went back to sleep. She got her wish as his pale and gaunt face came in to her vision. He was so motionless. Her lips worked, trying to call out to him, to wake him up so she could see that he would be fine.
She was out a moment later, the plea on the tip of her tongue but getting no further.
Three weeks after the bombs went off, it was now October. The trees were resisting their natural urges and most were still green, their leaves firmly attached.
In the small town of Jaynestown, Nebraska, things were looking okay. Most of the townsfolk were relatively unharmed. They were a small farming community, just shy of one thousand and very tight knit.
They had managed to survive the first rush of refugees from larger towns like Chicago and St. Paul without a worry or care in the world.
That wouldn’t last long, and Captain Beck knew that.
The town was located at the intersection of two very busy highways.
More people would come, and they would kill the townsfolk to get supplies if they needed to.
He was watching Major Umden, his direct CO, talk with the mayor when he’d heard a shout at the other end of Washington Boulevard, the main stretch in town.
When a town is only 800 strong the main stretch will only run a couple of blocks. He could see Sergeant Thames wave his arm high in the air, signaling for help. The Major only glanced up, nodding to Beck when he decided that there was need for his attention.
Beck took a couple of teams and headed for Thames.
A lone rider approached, saddlebags packed heavy and a couple of rifles sticking up from the horse’s flanks. At this distance, the rider’s identity would have been impossible to guess.
Thames had his gun drawn and trained on the rider when Beck arrived. “Sir, I’ve called for them to halt several times with no response. What are your orders?”
An unknown rider with weapons usually meant a road gang. Where there was one, usually more followed. “Can you get a debilitating shot off?”
Thames focused long and hard. “I think so. They’re not going so fast that I couldn’t get a shoulder.”
“Try not to kill them Thames. Otherwise, take your shot.”
The teams stood back, as did Beck, as Thames adjusted his weapon and took aim. A fraction of a second before he pulled the trigger, he gasped. And squeezed.
Beck watched the rider fly backwards off the horse. The horse panicked, rearing, and then bolting. When the body hit the ground, Thames was on his feet, running at a full sprint down the road.
“Get some transport; let’s see what he shot.” Beck wished he could take the cold edge off his voice; that he could feel something about the unknown person who’d just been shot.
Humvees were brought around and the teams loaded up, Beck in the lead humvee. They passed Thames, still in a dead sprint, but Beck directed the driver to continue. They weren’t that far from the body now.
The vehicle squealed to a stop and Beck got out, pistol drawn. The ten other men pulled their rifles to their shoulders and they approached the body in a fan position. The person had landed on their back with their head twisted to the side. A large hat obscured the face. He was shocked to see BDU’s on the person.
Whoever they were, they’d had access to military equipment. The horse had dropped one of the saddlebags and Beck could see a stockpile of MRE’s lying on the ground twenty feet away. Whoever this was, they were packed for a long journey.
A backpack was wedged under the body and Beck knelt, pushing the hat away from the face.
And he gasped because staring back up at him were the cold blue eyes that he had commented on many times before in discussion with Thames. It was the face of the woman Thames carried around in his front pocket; his wife. She was dead, the shot far too accurate for life. A perfect hole was evident in the front of her jacket.
She didn’t have the benefit of a flak jacket, something the military had probably demanded back from Thames when he’d upgraded to his ACU’s.
Beck glanced behind him. “Hold Thames back.” His men didn’t really understand, but when the Sergeant tried to break through their ring, they held him tight.
“Oh God! Molly! NO! MOLLY!” Beck shut out his ears to his man’s frantic screaming. He checked the woman’s pulse, verifying that she was in fact dead. Pulling his hand away from her neck, he closed her eyes. He rose, intent on figuring out what to do with Thames when a faint squeal drifted up from the ground.
From the backpack she’d been wearing. Beck heard Thames erupt in sobs behind him as he knelt back down and gently removed the back pack.
It squirmed in protest of his handling and Beck had to keep every nerve in his body in check to keep from dropping the pack. It wasn’t a backpack at all, but a carrier; for a child, about two by the looks of him.
The child that was in it at the moment was not pleased and looked pretty worse for wear. He gently set the pack down and checked the flailing body. He couldn’t tell if anything was broken, but the child had a fairly large cut on its head. They needed to get him medical attention as soon as possible.
When Beck stood, the bundle in his arms, Thames would not be restrained. He threw a fist down, connecting solidly with one man’s crotch. Once that arm was free, he used it to put his fist in the other man’s face.
The child made another plaintiff whine as his father fell to the ground next to his mother, his sobs louder and more filling.
Beck knew that they had done nothing wrong. Thames had done nothing wrong, except perhaps miss, which was unlike him. Beck wondered as he watched his man if Thames had realized before or after he’d taken the shot. Mentally taken it. If he’d had time to try and pull the shot before pulling the trigger.
Beck supposed he hadn’t. The child squirmed again. He looked at his teams. “Reges, stay here with Thames. As soon as you can, move the both of them back to town. Don’t leave him alone. B Squad, let’s get back. This child needs medical care.”
He turned on his heel and headed back towards the humvee, Thames anguished cries echoing in his head while his son cried himself, in pain and probably terror.
That night, after his medic had called time of death on the mother, due to a gunshot wound to the chest and the child, due to a crushed solar plexus, Thames shot himself in the head. It was a cold October morning when all three were laid to rest and it was the first time during the long winter that Captain Edward Beck had realized that this wasn’t going to be like Afghanistan. Or the Mog. Or even the Czech.
This was going to tear him apart from the inside out unless he was able to put up a wall and keep everyone around him in line.
For their own protection as well as his.
Major Edward Beck came awake with a gasp and groan of anguish. His cheeks were hot from tears and his shoulder hurt like a son of a bitch. He cracked his eyes, only slits against the onslaught of unfamiliar brightness.
He’d been dreaming. And sleeping wrong on his shoulder again. He took a couple of deep breaths to calm his pounding heart. The death of Thames and his family had been a turning point for him during this whole ordeal. It had shown him that humanity was loosing a foothold in the world. And he could sink or swim with it.
He tried to sit up, only to have a hand push on his other shoulder, keeping him prone.
The relieved face of one of his Tech Sergeants, Cuenig he remembered, looked down on him. He had a bandage around his forehead and a few scratches marring that usually goofy and non-plussed face.
“Take it easy Major.”
What the hell was Cuenig doing in his tent? Beck opened his mouth to question the younger man when the beeping that had been in the background of his mind made it to the forefront. He glanced up above his head to find a monitor. With his vital stats it looked like. With a glance down, he verified that his arm was in a sling.
What the hell happened?
”You’re going to be fine.” Cuenig always was a comforter, giving kind words when someone else was having a bad day. It didn’t explain what the hell was going on though. “The bullet collapsed one of your lungs and nicked an artery but Captain Dunne fixed ya up real good. She said you’d be out for a couple more hours or else I’m sure she’d be here checking in on you. I’m going to go get her real quick.”
Beck watched the gangly younger man limp away. Limp? What the hell-
A groan to his right brought his gaze to the far side of the tent and his throat closed in on itself. Heather
The woman was so still in her bed, a bandage on her own forehead and some monitors of her own. With a gasp, his mind screamed for her to run and he remembered. Everything.
He tried to call her name, but found his voice lacking. She groaned again, her head tossing briefly before facing him. He watched, stock still and afraid, as her eyes fluttered open and focused on his face.
His heart leapt as a smile drew itself across her features and he could feel a smile building on his own face.
“There’s no one to help them Hawkins. What are we going to do?”
There was a snap as Hawkins loaded another bullet in to his 9 mm clip. “I’m not leaving my family alone Jake.”
He reached out for another bullet and winced, the bullet wound still far too fresh to be doing anything. Jake laid a hand on his arm, the one holding the clip.
“You can’t go out there Hawkins. Not only are you injured, but you have no transport.”
There was a raw desperation in Hawkins’ eyes and he glanced around the room, looking for an answer.
There was none forth coming. His normally sharp mind was muddled from the pain meds and the worry for his family. “What the hell are we going to do?”
He wasn’t sure who was more surprised by his question, Jake or himself.
Beck’s throat constricted at Heather’s words. ’Hello Stranger’ He wasn’t even sure what she meant by that, but just hearing her voice, knowing that she was safe, for the most part, make him happy in a way he couldn’t comprehend.
He cleared his throat, trying to make it function again. She was smiling at him softly, her head tipped to him on her pillow. Her hair fanned out on the white cotton and he briefly imagined that would be what Heather looked like in the morning, waking up next to him.
If Beck was prone to blushing, he was sure he’d be doing it right now.
“How are you feeling?”
He was glad for the distraction from her. “Sore. And it’s hard to breathe at times.” He noted the tightness in his chest and the pull from his mid back as he tried to draw in a deeper breath. He winced as sharp and stabbing pain radiated from where he’d been shot.
He felt like a moron. In all his years of training, NEVER would he have done something as stupid as not even look around a place before becoming comfortable. And never under any circumstances would he have taken off his body armor.
He’d slept in the stuff when deployed overseas.
But, he’d been distracted. By a brunette with dishonesty issues.
“I’m glad you’re all right. When they opened fire I was really worried.”
Beck frowned. “When who opened fire?”
Understanding bloomed on Heather’s face and she slowly pushed herself up. Her attempt to leave the bed was hampered once she got upright by the handcuff she’d failed to notice firmly attaching her right arm to the bed. She jingled it and sighed, frustrated to be restrained with cuffs of all things.
Beck was still watching her with confusion.
“The AS Army drove through Jericho and clear out to here almost right after you were shot. Mac thinks that they’ve been feeding us bad intel for the last week to confuse us and are here to take over. Makes sense though. Jake and Hawkins are not popular people at the moment in Cheyenne. It would make sense that they’d try to hit the two of them where it ‘hurt’. But, why wait so long?”
She tilted her head to the side, eyes wondering, before shaking off the thought.
“There was what I believe you’d call a skirmish. Mac and I were outside the camp and they mortared the crap out of the AS. Why didn’t you tell me you’d confiscated New Bern’s remaining mortars?”
Beck chuckled at that and Heather was pleased to see it. “What makes you think they’re New Bern’s?”
Heather shook her head again, this time in mock frustration. The comic look on her face actually brought a chuckle out of Beck and he winced as pain radiated from his injury with more vengeance. Heather watched closely, noting the expression.
“He got you good. I heard the doctor talking about all the fixing they had to do. I think we’re both lucky you managed to avoid a worse injury.”
Beck’s eyes found hers and she blushed, realizing that what she’d said could be construed as something entirely different from what she meant. The soft look that covered the pained one on Beck’s face made her wish she hadn’t meant it as she had.
”I mean, if you’d died then where would we be? We’d be lost and alone in enemy waters.”
“You’d survive Heather. You’re a fighter.”
She wanted to open her mouth to protest, but the arrival of Captain Dunne with Guerig hot on her heels prevented a retort.
“Glad to see you’re up.” The Captain walked quickly to Beck’s side, sparing only one glance and a sharp tone for Heather. “If you’re in here, you need to be lying down or we’ll move you.”
Heather drew back at the comment and pulled her legs back up to the bed. Dunne ignored her then, checking Beck’s stats.
Beck saw Heather’s shoulders slump however. “Captain, please refrain from speaking to Miss Lisinsky like that again. I like having her here. Consider her my guest.”
The Captain said nothing, only frowned in disapproval. “Captain Garrison will be in shortly to debrief you Major. He’s taken over in your place and I’m sure he’ll be glad to have your input again.”
With a satisfied nod, the Captain marked a few notations down on Beck’s charts before coming over to Heather.
She looked the younger woman over, checking her pupils and her stats. “We should be able to get you out of here any how. Where would you like me to put her Major?”
Beck watched as Dunne retrieved a set of keys hanging on the door post and returning to unlock Heather’s hand cuff. She motioned for Heather to sit up and carefully removed her IV and the sensors on her body. Once they’d been removed, Captain Dunne helped Heather to the floor.
Beck saw the uncertainty in Heather’s face and sighed. “Leave her in here with me.”
“Sir-“ Dunne’s voice was edged, a tone she reserved exclusively for nurses that were found to be lacking. Beck had never been on the receiving end of that tongue. And he would have none of it now.
“That’s an order Captain. I may be wounded, but I can still give orders.”
Captain Dunne gave him a slow look as though testing his resolve, before finally nodding and moving to the door. She paused at the flap and glanced back at him. He was still looking stern. “You’re lucky to be alive sir.”
“As everyone keeps telling me.”
“An hour ago I was holding one of your arteries in my hands. Please get some rest so I don’t have to do that again.” This tone was final, getting in the last word, before she whisked out the door.
There was a silence when she left, punctuated by orders being shouted outside and plenty of feet running in combat boots. Beck groaned. This was a terrible situation.
He really needed Garrison. He needed a plan.
A soft touch on his arm ripped his attention to the front and present. “Hey, relax. You need to not worry right now.”
Heather. With her kind eyes. And her soft hands. He thought back on taking her hand, less than a week ago. The first time he’d touched anyone just to touch them in a long time.
And the kiss. If Beck was one to blush, he’d be red at the thoughts going through his mind. Heather noticed the look on his face and she smiled down at him.
He hadn’t even noticed her rise. But here she was, standing next to his bed, her hand still resting on bare forearm.
He wanted to say something, anything that would convey how happy he was that she was okay; that she was here with him. But, before he could continue a knock on the door distracted both of them.
The tent opened and Captain Garrison entered. He smiled when he entered, seeing Heather and the Major so close together. He was smart enough to wipe the smile off his face before The Major caught it and he approached the bed.
Heather looked like she wanted to bolt, but didn’t budge.
“I’m glad you’re awake Major. I need to debrief you.” He didn’t wait to continue. As the Major’s second-in-command, he’d been at Major Beck’s side for almost every moment of the last seventeen months, first in Iraq, and now these last six months in the states. He knew what his CO would want to hear, what he needed to hear, and what he shouldn’t share.
‘The AS military engaged the camp in a fire exchange at 20:00 hours primarily with assault rifles and some heavy artillery. Our losses were minimal, only four dead. The warning that you were able to give saved a lot of lives, we were ready enough for them. Unfortunatly Captain Richards was the first loss. He went out to negotiate with Hoffman and was shot in the head. We’ve recovered the body.”
Beck processed the data Garrison was relaying. With Richards gone, that left Delta Company without a commander. “Who’s taking over Delta right now?”
“Geoff sir. He’s the-“
“I know the man. See that he’s sent in as soon as he gets a spare moment.”
“We recorded at least seventy five deaths on the AS side. We hit them with mortars as soon as we realized there were more armored vehicles than we could handle. Most casualties were caused when vehicles were hit. They loaded a majority of their wounded in to trucks but they left twenty two. Of those, only five are fatal. The rest are in C-Barracks with our wounded. They’re heavily guarded. Captain Dunne reports most injuries in camp are minor.”
Nodding, Beck closed his eyes and took a deep breath thinking of the next action. “You said the AS left? Where are they headed.”
“Back to Jericho sir. They only sent half the battalion here; from what we can tell the rest staying in town.”
Suddenly very grateful to have his liaison with him, Beck looked to Heather. “Did the town know they were coming?” She nodded, grimly. “Do they have somewhere to go? I have no idea what Hoffman will do, but I can imagine this is meant to be a demonstration. They’ll probably kill the town.”
Heather gasped, horrified. “There’s fall-out shelters in town that are defendable. They’ve spread between the two of them. We ran out of space when the fall-out from Denver came but with the deaths over the Winter there should be space.” She pushed aside the memory of the salt mine, of the dead look in Gray Anderson’s eyes.
“What do you think Garrison? Offensive?”
The Captain smiled and nodded. “Indeed sir. They outnumber us two to one but we know the area better. And the men aren’t too happy about being fired upon. We’ll give them a run for their money.”
“Good.” With a satisfied groan Beck settled back on the pillows. He’d have to draw up a plan of attack with the Captain and talk to his new commander. He blinked, heavily, and looked over to Heather again. “We’ll protect them. Don’t worry. I'll keep you safe.”
Heather watched Beck's eyes flutter again and close as sleep pulled him under. She smiled at the image, butterflies going crazy in her stomach. He looked more peaceful at that moment than she'd ever seen him before.
“Miss Lisinsky, may I have a word?”
She quickly retracted her hand from Beck's arm and turned to face the Captain. “Of course.”
“If you're feeling up to it, I'd like to ask you some questions about the possible locations of the townsfolk. Major Beck really should be resting for now; we need to start moving before the AS has a chance to regroup.”
Heather nodded; she was satisfied with the state of Edward. Her help was needed elsewhere.
Mac was immensely relieved when she came upon her Jeep. She had worried that the AS would bother it, but it appeared untouched. Nothing was out of place.
She opened the driver's side door and pulled up the false floor in the back. Her sniper rifle was still there.
With a smile and a relief that perhaps things wouldn't turn out so badly, she hopped in the vehicle, turned the engine over but left the lights off, and turned in the direction of the fast disappearing tail lights. The AS would regroup in Jericho.
Hopefully she'd be able to do some legwork for the camp before unleashing some hell. It'd been far too long since she'd taken the .50 cal out for a night on the town.
At the very outskirt, where the trailer park used to stand, Mac ditched the Jeep again. She loaded the .50 cal and grabbed plenty of extra ammo. Also from the back compartment she drew a set of BDU's and slipped in to the quickly. The ample pockets were soon filled with ammo. She wished, in silliness, that she had face paint. There was no need, however.
Once loaded with as much as she could bear, Mac made her way towards the Med Center. That would be the best place to hold up. The street was less open than the one at Town Hall and there was a nice flat roof across the street to post at.
She passed through quiet and dark streets, catching glimpses of broken in doors and busted windows. Standard procedure if the door is locked; just kick it and break it. The AS had searched every house. Mac hoped that had slowed them down. She was going to need more than a little time to spring her trap and do some damage. At she came upon the end of the street, she saw her first AS Humvee in town. Just one, and it was right in front of the Med Center. There were two teams outside the building. One at the front entrance, arguing with a nurse. Mac didn't know her, but the nurse was keeping them busy.
She found the second team around the back, messing with the generator. If they disabled that, those in the shelter would have less time than she was comfortable with before they suffocated.
Mac now had her first targets
The gunshots ended abruptly outside the shelter doors. Most of the occupants backed away, forming a loose half circle and clutching whatever loved one they had handy.
Eric's fingers tightened around Mary's.
The door burst open to a storm of yelling. Soldiers flooded in to the room, commanding everyone to their knees, hands behind their heads. Some people panicked, yelling and struggling. Most however calmly knelt, their mouths shut but their eyes and ears open.
These were not friendly soldiers. The AS flag patches glared back at every Jericho resident.
There was no one soldier in charge. Instead, they moved as though of one mind, working from person to person. Hands were brought down, and wrists were bound with zip ties.
Eric knew better than to struggle. Emily did as well. The other four Rangers in the room made no protest either. They'd trained for situations like this; being hasty would mean dying needlessly.
One by one the townsfolk were bound, then searched, and finally pushed through the door and up the stairs. They all passed by the men who'd protected their hiding spot, their bodies still oozing blood from the bullet holes and most tried to ignore the sight.
A few took the time to say a silent prayer for the lost souls before saying another prayer, this time for themselves.
Once they'd cleared the front doors, there were more soldiers waiting, herding them towards an area of Main Street that'd been blocked off by barricades and guarded heavily by the type of guns most of them had only heard about.
Eric had managed to be one of the last out. Emily, Mary, and Jimmy were all being lead in front of him and he felt less nervous than he should. He wasn't worried about the AS troops killing them. There would be no reason. They were probably being relocated to a more secure location while the military dug in.
He wondered what had happened out at the camp.
Whether Heather and Beck were still alive.
Somehow he didn't doubt they were.
As they got closer to the barricade, he caught sight of a group of people sitting on the ground. It seemed odd to him. The light wasn't very good in that part of the street. He couldn't really see what was going on.
And suddenly he realized.
They weren't sitting any more than they were lying together. The group of people were dead. He could see the bullet holes in their bodies clearly now and Eric lost track of his control.
With a savage cry he hurtled himself at the closest soldier, his sudden movement catching the man off guard. As soon as he moved, the three in front of him sprung in to action too. He didn't know if they'd seen the bodies or if they'd just been waiting for his move.
Regardless between the five of them they managed to disarm two soldiers. Their uprising would have continued if the sound of sniper fire hadn't burst from nowhere, angry beats that sent the soldiers scrambling for cover and the townsfolk cowering in the street.
Eric thanked God for small miracles and motioned the Rangers to get the people to safety.
She’d just sighted the first soldier that would go down, coincidentally standing at such an angle that the two behind him would die as well, when Mac heard the shots coming from the center of town.
Mac frowned, unsure of what a World War two era Russian sniper rifle would be doing in Jericho, let alone being shot.
Her targets heard the shots as well, the first team’s heads rising at the noise. She ducked behind a building and checked on the group at the front of the Med Center. They’d obviously heard the shots as well, their eyes firmly stuck on the area of fire and their weapons raised.
Whatever was happening, she couldn’t possibly wait any longer. She laid the .50 cal on the ground and situated herself behind it. The bi pod she used took away a lot of the recoil as she fired four rounds in to the soldiers at the entrance.
She was careful with her aim, making sure to aim away from the building as much as possible to avoid any civilian casualties on the inside.
When she’d first shot the M107, the boys in training had laughed at her. The gun was as tall as she was and kicked almost as hard. That first shot, that thumping crack, filled her with adrenalin and she’d spent the rest of her afternoon emptying round after round in to whatever they could find to put on the range.
She’d never lost her love for it. It had been the first gun she’d acquired upon her return to the states.
And Vera had never had a chance to be anything more than a fun session of target practice before.
But tonight, her full potential was exploding from her barrel at 2,700 feet per second, slamming in to the first two guys and missing the last two.
They fell to the earth anyway, the shock waves from the bullets scrambling them internally. She waited for the second team to investigate; she wasn’t still for long. They came hustling around the side of the building and she adjusted slightly.
The last five men were down before they knew where she’d been firing from.
She hoped that her shots would be overlooked in exchange for the other shooter in the center of town. She knew without a doubt that the fire was coming from a sniper and not the kind that wears ACU’s and the AS flag. There was no way they would allow such a weapon to see use in their ranks.
The lack of return fire indicated that the military hadn’t found the shooter yet.
She hoped to have enough time to get the people in the Med Center out before going and lending a hand down town.
The entrance was easy enough to clear, most of the people trying to keep the soldiers out had backed away quick when she’d started firing. There was shock on a lot of faces when she entered. She’d packed the gun back in its case and strapped it to her back but she’d pulled out the 9 mm that she’d given to Heather, just in case there were soldiers inside.
The surprised face of a fifth grade science teacher greeted her first and she smiled back at him. She probably looked ruthless. “You need to evacuate, now. The troops are centered on Town Hall. That’s where the other firing is coming from. Birch Street is clear of soldiers. Go now.”
Mac knew she wouldn’t have time to wait for them to get off their asses and move. She turned and booked it out the door.
Chaos reigned on Main Street in Jericho, Kansas.
Systematically, one man, unknown to everyone, was picking off AS troops one by one.
The soldiers were panicked, having been newly trained out of Fort Liberty. They were young people who’d lost their lives in the attacks; kids that should have been in college instead of fighting with their own country men.
At the center of town, in the middle of a circle of convoys, a command vehicle was locked down tight, holding Colonel Hoffman and the remaining CO’s he had after the debacle out at the camp.
He was a patient man right then.
He knew whoever this shooter was, they wouldn’t be getting through the armor plating of his humvee and he could wait for them to finish.
The soldiers were green, but their survival instincts would get them to cover. Or they’d die. He didn’t necessarily dislike the training mechanism that had been presented.
He was patient because he could be.
This town was his; they just needed to realize it.
Major Beck, although apparently not dead, could not save this place. The townsfolk, their pretentious Rangers, would not prevail. Because he had the might of a country behind him. It might have come to power in a strange way, but it was just in its decisions.
Hoffman was not unaware of some great cover up. He was told that his battalion would be returning from the sand pit early. Two days before the attack he was told where his men would be going. Not because of the bombs. He hadn’t known about that. But, he had known that they were to get across the Mississippi and in to Wyoming or Colorado as soon as possible.
He could accept that perhaps someone within his military had perpetrated these horrible attacks, and he could also accept that it was not within his control to change that.
It was, however, plenty doable to make the most of this new military.
And their fine new armored vehicles.
The only thing that could get in was perhaps an RPG. Or maybe a .50 caliber.
The man across from him, a Major something or other, exploded sideways, the contents of his chest no longer on the inside.
“Son of a bitch!”
The Colonel, bless his heart, jumped out of the vehicle just like Mac had hoped he would. She didn’t have a lot of time in this position; her muzzle blast would be visible to most of the troops in the center. Fortunately she was far enough away that she’d be long gone before they’d get to her.
But, she wanted to be able to move freely without fear of getting pinched.
And in order to achieve that, she needed to be quick.
Her plan was simple. Shoot the highest in command, kill the support staff around him. Cut off the head of the beast so to speak.
Mac’s first shot was easy. She lined up her view, took a steady breath, and squeezed the trigger. The Colonel was mid-stride when the bullet hit his leg and it looked like he almost thought he’d make that last step without the lower half to a leg.
He’d fallen, of course, instead. Laid there stupidly for a good couple of seconds before tearing off his belt and making a tourniquet for the missing body part.
She didn’t have a whole lot of time.
With the closest precision she could manage, she aimed for every vehicle around the Colonel, shooting a hole through their gas tanks.
The first four were easy, their driver sides facing her. The last three she had to guess, aiming through the vehicles to hit the tank on the opposite side. Through her scope she saw Hoffman’s panicked glance as he realized he was now in a growing pool of gasoline.
She reached behind her, pulling the tracer round from her back pouch pocket. She loaded it and readied herself. Hoffman was now trying to crawl as quickly as possible.
Her seven shots aimed at vehicles had scared a good chunk of the soldiers in side of them away and they didn’t even realize the underlying danger.
She took a deep breath and aimed directly at Hoffman’s head. He deserved worst than a quick death, but she didn’t have time to watch him burn.
Mac pulled the trigger and the round streaked through the air. To a casual observer if was a strange shooting star, a yellow flash. And then, where there was chaos in downtown, there was now an inferno.
She smiled, satisfied, and picked up the weapon. She needed to move, and quick. Something hit her though, clipping her arm and sending her to the floor. She kept her head down and tried to assess the damage to her arm. The bullet hadn't hit anything and really, it was a scratch on the skin. It had sounded like the other sniper was shooting at her now.
Mac didn't know why and she wasn't about to find the guy and ask him. She needed new cover.
She was off the building in under a minute and sprinting across the street.
She would have continued if she hadn’t caught sight of a soldier approaching her quickly. She raised the gun.
There was no way she’d be able to fire a fifty eight inch long weapon standing up effectively, but it was still a scary thought and one of the rifle’s best attributes was it’s ability to inspire terror.
The soldier held up a hand and she looked past him, noticing more troops. Lots more troops. And not a one that she could see was wearing an AS flag. She held up a friendly signal and, once receiving it in kind, crossed to the relative safety of a hundred guys or so at her back.
It was addicting, watching this man sleep.
Heather decided she could do it frequently.
Her hand, already resting softly on his shoulder, moved up to brush a rebel hair off his smooth forehead. She had no idea exactly how old Edward was, but she’d be willing to bet mid to late thirties. There was a faint gray to his hair, but he looked young, and happy, in his sleep.
Another smile blossomed from his lips and Heather had to try her hardest not to giggle.
She would never share his sleep time emotions with him. This was a moment that she'd keep with her for as long as she was alive.
He stirred and his eyes fluttered.
The gaze, sleepy and a little disoriented, sent a shiver down her spire. Her fingers were still buried in his hair and she didn't think he minded.
Life would never be simple. It never had been, especially not before Edward. But, she could make the most of what she had. And she had to take chances again; emotional chances. After losing Jake, after that kiss which she still didn't regret, she hadn't want to feel that sense of abandonment again.
When she'd been standing in the cold outside the base, she'd been more afraid of losing Edward forever than she was of making a fool of herself. And she rationed that was the moment when she realized that she was attached to him. More than liked him.
He still looked happy, gazing up at her. His mouth curved, a real smile coming forth, one of peace. An emotion she'd never seen on his face before. Her fingertips lowered, brushing over those lips, remembering the feel of them on her own.
She didn't think. If she had, she would have hesitated.
But, Heather didn't. She bent and replaced her fingers with her lips, kissing him fully. This was no awkward kiss from before. It was instead made of acceptance and hope. Forgiveness and a burning desire that she was blind sided from.
Her hand returned to his hair, stoking softly over the strands. She was sure he'd have returned the gesture if he'd been able. His hands had to remain still. Edward's mouth took up the slack, burning her with their fervor. This was not the need for connection that had sprung from their duel confessions at Mac's.
This was the beginning of something amazing.
Needing air, Heather raised her head, chuckling softly when Edward chased after her, kissing her once more before lying back. There was a mystery in his eyes; she could almost feel the pain he still felt for his wife arguing with his want.
Heather understood that she would need to give him time. She knew that it wasn't going to happen overnight. But, she was going to make Edward Beck love her as much as she loved him at that moment.
Eric wiped the dirt from his brow and took a shuddering breath. His back ached and his hands were starting to blister. But, there was terrible work to be done. He eyes scanned the field and a wave of grief washed over him as he picked out his fellow citizens and they dug.
There were so many to bury. There had been no point waiting for the back hoe to dig the holes and really no one could manage to drag the desire to waste the fuel. So they dug; small groups of three or four, almost a square acre of final resting places created in three days.
They didn’t have names for the graves yet, or even bodies.
There would be no funerals. Most people who had died from the firing squads had been with their families. They would be burying entire households later that evening, when all the ‘lots’ were ready.
His hand rose again, wiping at his tears and dragging muddy lines across his cheeks.
This was not how he’d wanted to become mayor.
It certainly had never been his hope that Gray would become just another casualty of a bizarre hostile take over.
Eric shook his head and went back to work. There were still graves to be dug.
Day four. The situation could be better, he supposed, but for the numbers they’d attacked and the total casualties they’d taken they were much better off than the AS military.
From his hospital bed, Major Beck looked over the list of damages done to the town, to the camp, and to all the people in between.
The AS had been routed. 342 dead in total, 51 captured, and roughly 25 unaccounted for. The Captain that had been captured hiding out in Bailey’s had talked as soon as Garrison had held a gun to his head. They had no idea that they had come to Jericho to murder a town.
It had been Hoffman’s brilliant plan to find the most sick and sadistic soldiers and commanders to lead the town invasion while the rest of the military had kept Beck and his men busy.
They had also not counted on Beck’s ability to plan or the mortars that had fallen on their heads. The Captain, Juarez, had spoken of ‘Beck’s Army’ and the horrible things that they had done to fellow AS troops.
Beck wrote a note in the margin of the captured personnel list to have Juarez moved to his own room and treated fairly. If he opened up a little more, it was possible he could be a key in unlocking the eventual defeat of the AS.
His eyes skimmed the list of dead. Bravo Company had been put on that detail; hauling bodies over to the high school, stripping them, and disposing of them in the incinerator. Beck was upset about having to deal with the bodies that way, but there was no where to store them indoors and there was no way in hell he could just send them back to Cheyenne.
The damages were minor, thankfully.
Mac had managed to catch eight vehicles on fire simultaneously, but only one had exploded, sending debris in to the already damaged J and R building. Everything else had burnt off quickly, so he was told, and had already been moved out of town.
The scorch marks would last for a while, but would fade eventually.
He made a mental note to talk to her as soon as possible about all that equipment she kept out at her trailer as well as some answers about her past. There were lines that he had managed to connect in the days since he’d met her that weren’t leading to very happy places. He needed to know if she was really an ally.
There was a knock on the door and he glanced up, smiling softly at Heather. “Busy?”
Her voice was tentative; waiting to be sent away again as he’d had to do more than once since he’d been moved in to town.
If the world was perfect, he wouldn’t be injured and he’d take her somewhere secluded and not see the light of day for at least a week.
There was, however, a war. And that took precedence over anything he might wish to do.
“Come in. I’m going over some figures.”
She smiled back widely and joined him on the bed, sitting lightly towards the end. She’d been doing that since he’d been moved and every time it made him smile how she fretted and worried, making sure that she didn’t jar him.
Beck didn’t think it had ever crossed her mind to use the chair that was easily reached right next to the bed.
He also didn’t think to suggest it to her.
He liked having her close. It reminded him that she was still there with him; it reminded him that he hadn’t lost her but hadn’t been able to save her either. She’d done that all on her own.
Hair in her eyes, Heather leaned forward over the folder and made a face when she saw that it was the damage report.
“Mac sure did a number on down town but I don’t think it’ll be hard to repair. It’s all the doors in town that are a mess! Can you imagine what it’d be like to be a locksmith right now?”
She chattered happily until that last sentence when she realized that one of the two locksmiths in town had been shot. She lowered her head and Beck couldn’t help but grasp her hand.
“It’s all right. My men are working on securing some of the larger houses closer to city hall. We should be able to put everyone close by until we can get their original houses restored.”
She smiled back at him, her hand turning over and her fingers entwining with his. A bolt of electricity shot through his body, starting from those fingertips. She’d been doing this too, since he’d arrived. Holding his hand. Giving him those heart stopping smiles she was so good at.
Beck knew she was just trying to show that she cared. He understood that she probably cared more than what some would call just caring. He was powerless to stop the feelings, but now was not the time to be engaging in that sort of behavior.
He was bed-bound and trying to coordinate clean up and offensive detail. Not to mention contacting two other nations in a war effort.
Her fingers tightened when he tried to pull his hand away and quickly, knowing he was about to fall back in to military mode, broke the silence. “I wanted to talk to you about that. Since you’re here now and you’re pretty much setting up base camp in the sheriff’s office full time, why don’t you move all your men here? We have plenty of room and it’ll be a hell of a lot easier to defend the town again if something should happen.”
Beck was pleased that she was thinking along that line. “I had that same thought this morning. My only fear is that the people won’t take kindly to their homes being invaded.”
Heather leaned forward and placed a hand on his cheek, focusing and surprising him. “This army, your army, saved them. We were lucky. We only lost a few of our friends and family. If it wasn’t for you they would all be dead.”
Her vehemence still had the ability to catch his breath in his throat. He swallowed hard, clearing for speech. “If you think Jericho will be all right with it, you can start with Sergeant Ama as soon as you can. He’s in charge of the in-town clean up and I’m sure he’d be happy to have someone who knows her way around.”
There was that smile again. She dropped her hand and leaned back, leaving his cheek feeling cold and his heart wanting to reach and pull her back.
They hadn’t kissed since she’d curled up in bed with him, very carefully, the night that the militaries collided down town. He should have been surprised that he missed her so much but he wasn’t. Not at all.
Beck needed to get back to work. He straightened his spine, still pained from the gun shot and now sore because he’d been in bed for almost a week with bathroom breaks alone giving him exercise. “Have you seen Mac today?”
“Yeah, she’s down the hall getting her stitches out right now.”
He nodded. “Could you please ask her to talk to me when she’s done?”
Heather withdrew, sitting back on the bed. He could see in her face that she was feeling dismissed. He caught her hand as she rose, the movement bringing a quiet groan of pain to his lips. He held tight to her fingers, squeezing them reassuringly.
“Will you come and see me later?” He felt like his heart was on his sleeve at that moment. He’d never asked her to come back after visiting hours.
“If I can get past the nurses I will.” That smile would see him through the darkest of days, he was sure.
Before she could get away, he tugged on her hand and pulled her down to him. His other arm came up and he cupped her jaw, his fingertips playing in her hair. He drew her face down and kissed her quickly, hoping that she understood. That she wouldn’t be too upset about him being so unavailable at the moment.
When they parted, she was grinning again and she rested her forehead against his briefly. He should have done this so much sooner. She was calm and peace for him and the world never seemed so bleak when she was around. He allowed her to detangle from his grasp before he remembered that he’d still been married until two weeks ago.
As far as he was concerned.
She walked to the door, lightly as though the weight of the world wasn’t resting on their shoulders. Halfway out the door, she stopped and stuck her head back in. “I completely forgot! Darcy got a hold of Hawkins finally.”
Beck put down the folder and straightened, now very interested in something other than watching Heather walk away. “What did he say?”
“Not a whole lot. The Texans are refusing to enter AS territory until they have the full support of the US as well as Iran and North Korea for whatever reason.”
“Why in the hell would they do that?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know but you can ask him yourself. He managed to find a way back to Jericho. Said he’d get in tonight sometime with Jake.”
Her parting smile was almost apologetic as she pulled her head back from around the corner and shut the door gently. Beck rubbed his forehead, feeling as though his head had just received more info than it had space for.
“God dammit! You’re supposed to be helping, not hurting. Why don’t we have any water soluble stitches anyway. This is ridiculous.”
Heather laughed, hearing Mac’s voice from four rooms away. She picked up the pace, feeling lighter and happier than she had for a while. Edward had kissed her again. She couldn’t keep the grin down as she rounded the corner and found Kenshy with a pair of scissors and a very irate Mac.
The poor Indian man was trying to snip the seven stitches across Mac’s upper left arm and Mac couldn’t seem to hold herself still.
There were several places where the scissors had nicked her and drawn thin lines of blood. Finally, Kenshy could take no more and moved back. “You, madam, are crazy.”
He huffed, putting the scissors down on the surgical tray none too carefully, and stalked out, pushing past Heather without a word. Mac’s eyes followed him, and then to Heather, who was still grinning.
She grunted and picked up the scissors. “I see you’re all Cheshire cat on me. Been visiting the Major have you?”
Heather ignored the jab, instead walking over to Mac and taking a look at her arm. The older woman was snipping through her stitches easily. The scratches weren’t all that bad. “What’s gotten in your bonnet about Kenshy?”
Mac gave Heather an impatient look before pulling out the cut stitches. “I could smell the booze on his breath from the door way. Someone needs to kick his ass thoroughly enough so that he doesn’t come at unsuspecting people with sharp objects. It’s just not safe.”
“Safe, yeah. Because he was the most dangerous person in the room.”
Mac gave Heather a long and calculating glance before dressing her scratches with some clean gauze. The look gave Heather a chill. Since she’d heard about Mac’s one woman rampage against the AS she’d wondered a lot.
Mac was a wonderful person, wasn’t she? Heather had come to the conclusion that she didn’t know Mac at all really. Her previous ideas of the book smart computer genius didn’t equate to a big gun carrying female Rambo.
“Earth to Heather! Did you hear me?”
Heather blinked her eyes and refocused on Mac who was done with her arm and now wearing a flannel button up over the wound. She smiled and shook her head. “Sorry. My mind is on vacation today. What did you say?”
The chuckle that came out of Mac’s mouth was more normal and she even put an arm around the younger woman’s shoulder as she maneuvered them both out of the room. “I was commenting that the Major must have said something awfully nice for that smile to still be on your face.”
Heather ducked her head and blushed, moving out from under Mac’s arm. Edward would find out what was going on exactly with Mac and until that point, Heather didn’t think she wanted to be too close to her.
There was a brief but visible pain in Mac’s eyes when Heather stepped back. She recovered quickly, crossing her arms across her chest and cocking her head to the side; typical Mac fashion back to the forefront.
“Speaking of, Major Beck asked if you would go see him before you took off. He didn’t say what for, just that he wanted to talk.” She added that last part quickly, hoping Mac would just accept the info and not grill her on it.
The older woman didn’t question her. She peered at her inquisitively for a moment longer before smiling lightly. “Probably wants to know what’s up with my intel. I wish I knew my own self. Afraid I won’t be too much help to him, but I’ll do what I can.” She sighed and dropped her arms. “I hear the heroes of the free world are due back tonight. If you want to talk later, give me a shout over the radio. I think I’ll be in town for a while.”
Heather knew the smile she received was genuine, that much she knew at least. Once she’d been thoroughly abandoned by Emily, Mac had been a good replacement friend and she knew exactly what Heather had been through with Jake.
“Thanks Mac, I will.”
With another nod, she left Heather wondering who the real Mac was.
Mac’s mind raced as she walked the hall on her way to Major Beck’s room. She’d been stupid with her cover. He would of course know that it was a fake. It was the only file she could find at the moment though.
She had opened the wrong document and now she might be facing a quick death.
Mac understood the risks when she’d come to Jericho.
She’d known that her life would always be at risk. That was what she’d signed up for, along with all the other interesting things that she’d been doing with her life for the last fourteen years.
And now she had to make a very important decision.
She’d have to come up with a very passable cover story in the next, oh, twenty seconds.
Or she could kill him. She’d have to do it quick and get out fast. And she’d have to take out Heather too; they would be the only two that knew that story. The thought of taking her friend’s life was a bitter one, but Mac would do it in a heartbeat if she felt it would save her own.
She was, after all, a fantastic representation of a few million dollars in training in action. A veritable military trained killing machine.
There was still that dull ache in her stomach though, at the thought of taking Heather’s life. At the door to Major Beck’s room, she glanced back at Heather, finding her staring back.
Heather felt that there was something off about her as well.
She took a deep breath and knocked on the door.
Not waiting for a reply, she pushed open the door. She didn’t bother smiling at Beck; the proverbial jig was up anyway.
His eyes watched her as she approached and pulled the chair next to his bed away. She turned it around and straddled it. Their eyes had a showdown at the OK corral for a few moments before they both spoke simultaneously.
“I was never a Ranger.”
“You were never a Ranger.”
She graciously waved a hand, signaling that she was ready for his questioning. And she was ready with her cover.
“Who are you, really?”
“That’s above your pay grade Major. Rest assured though that I’m not here to harm you or anyone you hold dear.” Her voice trailed off at the end of her statement and she could see Heather’s face flash in front of his eyes. He’d gotten the message about that at least.
“Why would you try to claim the Rangers? You have got to know that I wouldn’t be taken in by that for long. I should have seen through it immediately.”
She grinned, a cold look on her face. “Most people are more concerned with my . . . equipment when they first find my hiding spots rather than the fake credentials I feed them. You’re just smarter than the average bear I guess. You were fooled, but not for long. You kept that information stored away and processed it without anyone bringing it up.”
Mac knew she needed to stop talking. She was well trained in persuasion and evasion, but then again so was Beck. She wouldn’t underestimate him, especially not when she was in this sort of position.
“So you’re not going to tell me who you’re really working for?”
She shook her head and rocked back in her chair, ready to bolt if needed.
“Can you at least assure me you’re not working for Cheyenne? That would put me at ease and despite my better judgement and the fact that you just admitted that you’ve already lied to me, I think I can trust you. Especially when I tell you that Heather’s life depends on it as well.”
Mac wanted to laugh, to show that her friend’s life was inconsequential in the long run, but she didn’t. That dull ache was still there and she needed to get out of there as soon as possible. She needed to touch base, now that she knew she wasn’t being watched by Cheyenne due to some fancy machinery she’d found buried in one of her closets.
“I promise my end goal is the same as yours. The defeat of Cheyenne. I promise I have no intentions of doing any harm to the people you are close to. I’m not here for violence.”
“Yet you are beyond capable of doing it. I’m amazed that man was able to clip you. You must not have been paying attention, what with all the vehicles catching on fire.”
Her smile was less heartless this time, more humorous. She’d probably really like the Major outside of this conflict. She’d probably really like spending time with him and Heather.
But she was in a conflict. And she had no space in her life for this sort of relationship.
“That Ranger, a noble effort from the people of Jericho to train a militia, was a better aim than I gave him credit for. Believe me, he’s been rubbing it in my face for three days now, even since we got the world clear again and found our feet.”
“They did a good job with their defenses. It would have never held off Cheyenne if they’d really wanted in, but at least they were able to save most of their citizens.”
Mac stood then and sighed. “Can you at least trust me to know I’m here to help?”
Beck appraised her calmly. “I think so. One day though, I expect an honest answer.”
Mac’s laughed rang through the room and she left the Major alone to deal with his war.