October 2010 Archives

Texas Wildfire

Chapter 26

By Dwayne MacInnes

T.J. Murdock's head was pounding when he awoke inside his Corvette the next day. T.J. sat up and blinked his eyes as the bright afternoon sun shone through his windshield. He did not know how he wound up at the Texicorp headquarters building in Houston. In fact, he vaguely remembered something about an Easter egg while in Austin.

T.J. groaned as his scrambled brain started to reassemble the previous day. Then as the memory of his meeting with Vargas materialized, T.J. jumped up. He needed money and he needed it fast.

Cursing himself T.J. stepped out of the car. Why did he return to Houston? The U.S. government would surely be looking for him. Vargas's men would be looking for him. In fact, in all of Texas, Houston was the worse place for him to be. T.J. remembered that it all made sense when he was drunk. Now, in the light of day, with a raging hangover, things appeared the complete opposite.

For the first time, T.J. realized that the parking lot was empty. Only his blue Corvette occupied the huge lot. Slowly T.J. realized that he was alone at the building and that he still had an access key. If his father had not changed the security code, there was still a chance T.J. could get inside. Moreover, maybe he could find something of value to exchange to Vargas for his life.

Hope started to rekindle itself in his heart as T.J. started to walk briskly across the asphalt to the building's entrance. He was only a hundred yards away from the building when he heard the sound of an airplane's engine. It was growing louder. T.J's curiosity got the better of him. He stopped and looked in the sky behind him.

Shielding his eyes with a hand, T.J. watched as a civilian propeller driven private plane grew larger.

"Damn, fool!" T.J. grumbled, "he's flying too low."

The airplane continued to grow in size as it approached closer to where T.J. stood. The plane did not relent in its descent. Cursing loudly, T.J. dove to the ground as the plane flew over him. As quickly as that it collided with the building. A great fireball mushroomed into the air as the Texicorp building began to burn.

Showered in debris T.J. stood up and brushed off his clothes. The explosion did not help his splitting headache. Perhaps that was the reason why he at first did not hear the jubilant cries of the crowd marching down the street.

A large group of people holding signs (and guns) marched down the street towards the building. T.J. realized that the pilot was not aiming for him but instead the Texicorp building. Panic seized his heart. If the angry mob recognized him as a Texicorp executive, albeit a former one, he could be in serious danger. Without a second thought, T.J. sprinted in the opposite direction.

Running down the street, T.J. found that a few other people were running away as other mobs converged on the burning building. Chaos was now the rule in Houston. Fear compelled T.J. to run even faster.

Ducking down a side street, T.J. noticed police in riot gear approaching him. T.J. stepped into a doorway of a shop to let the police pass. A couple of officers stopped momentarily to look at him. They obviously did not see him as a threat, so they continued on their way.

T.J. moved more cautiously through the downtown area of Houston. More rioters were torching buildings and more police and soldiers marched to meet the new threat. Tear gas permeated the air. Furthermore, the smell of burning alcohol and gasoline from homemade Molotov Cocktails came to T.J's nose. The bottles were shattered against walls and spread their fiery fuel all over.

Soon gunfire could be heard in the distance. T.J's panic renewed itself and he desperately looked for some place to hide. Buildings were being torched, cars were being overturned, and even dumpsters were set ablaze. None of these could offer any security so T.J. just kept running.

* * * * *

Tucker looked out the window of his office. The protesting mob was now a chaotic mix of rioters and looters. Law enforcement personnel and soldiers fought desperately to restore order. The fact that all communication systems were down hindered the efforts of the various parties to coordinate their efforts.

President Tucker sighed as he noticed more flames and smoke lick the horizon. More sounds of gunfire and sirens filled the air. It had been a long day. It started with the U.S. bombers flying over nearly every city in Texas and delivering an ominous message. That, in turn, led to the antigovernment protests that now were a full riot. In addition, the breakaway nation lost some of the northern counties. These counties became the new state of North Texas. In addition, the United States Congress officially declared war on the New Republic of Texas. Finally, in between these events, the vice president had an unfortunate accident. She was fatally stung by a bumblebee.

"Tell me again why we lost communication?" Tucker said as he turned towards his staff.

"Sir, in an effort to hack into the U.S. military's computers, we stumbled upon some dummy accounts," began an aide. "We thought they were legit, but it was a ruse so that the U.S. hackers could backtrack to us. They managed to infest our network with every type of malware you can think of. The various viruses have shutdown all our computers, including compu-phones."

"How long before we can fix it?" the president pressed.

"We don't know."

"How about the old phone lines? Surely we can use those."

"Sir, the computers that operate the phone lines are also out of service. We are down to sending messages through radio or good old-fashioned couriers."

"Radio?" snorted the president. "You gotta be kidding me."

"No, we have some old radios, walkie talkies, CBs and the like that we are distributing to our government and military forces."

"Radios," President Tucker said derisively under his breath as he returned to his vigil at the window.

He flicked at a fly with a finger and watched it buzz away.

"Might as well send smoke signals. We seemed to have plenty of that on hand."

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Reunited...

Chapter Forty-One

By Douglas E. Gogerty

King Thorbjorn sat in his cell. He had not wanted to spend any more time in the jail, but the officials would not let him leave. His son posted his bail, but there was danger outside. The city officials did not want an all out riot. Hence, the King had to stay in his jail cell.

He was sleeping uneasily when someone entered his cell. He awoke with a start.

"Who is it? Who is there?" the King asked.

"I just came in to let you go," the stranger stated.

"What?"

"The crowd has dispersed for the evening, and if you would like to leave..."

"If? I will gather my men and go!"

"We cannot let you all go at once. We will need to release you and your entourage one at time."

"What? Why?"

"We do not wish to raise suspicion. Letting you go all at once would be very noticeable."

"You are probably right about that."

"We will let you go, and then a few minutes later another member of your group...."

"I would rather go second or third."

"There is no time to argue! Are you going or not?"

"I am going! I am going!"

The King exited the jail warily. He felt something was wrong, but he had desperately wanted to leave his cell. Thus, he carefully walked out into the darkness. Every moving shadow made him jump. He saw his enemies behind every tree and bush.

However, he knew he had to find a place to meet with his entourage as they left the jail. Therefore, he had to stay close to the exit. At the very least, he needed to be able to see the door. He needed to find some place he could watch his group exit.

He slowly and carefully searched for a spot to sit. He snuck from tree to tree and bush to bush until he found a spot he liked. It had a good view of the door and it held plenty of cover. The King sat and began watching to door.

He watched for a number of minutes. However, his eyes were getting heavy. After all, it was in the middle of the night. He had not slept well for days. Thus, watching the door became a great chore. He kept nodding off, and yet no one else came out. Eventually, he fell asleep.

The King awoke with a start. A crowd had started to gather in the predawn hours. He wondered where his entourage had gone. Certainly, they would have looked around for him. While his spot concealed him well, his group should have found him. Nonetheless, they should be around somewhere.

He thought about staying in his hiding spot. It concealed him well. However, the idea of spending the entire day there did not appeal to him. He guessed that the protesters would not recognize him, so he could at least blend in with them.

He went into the group that was milling around. They offered him some coffee, which the King welcomed. No one paid any special attention to him. He was just another protester in their eyes. Thus, he milled around as well, looking for hidden members of his party. He found none. His anxiousness to leave made him a susceptible to the trap he walked into.

Without his guard, the King was vulnerable to any of his many enemies. Further, he was unarmed. The government had confiscated his weapons. Therefore, he was unarmed and unprotected. Any of his enemies could walk up to him and kill him. That is, except for the crowd. He felt somewhat safe in the gathering crowd. Not to mention, it was a good hiding place.

The King had people camouflage. He was just another face in the crowd. Further, who would look for him in a group protesting him? In addition, he thought he would be able to spot people who did not belong with the protesting group. If someone were looking in the bushes around the courthouse, they would be people to watch. Hence, the King could avoid them.

Nonetheless, he was in a difficult spot. Chances are that someone was watching the roads. A solitary man wandering around would bring unwanted attention to him. That would bring certain death. Thus, he would have to stick with the crowd for now. At the very least, he would have to wait for the government to release his group. However, when would that happen? It could be weeks. He did not believe that he could not hold out that long.

Further, he had no money or food. Could he survive on free coffee? Perhaps he would also get a sandwich or some other kind of food. All of this depended upon the gathering crowd -- furthering his instinct to stick with them. Nonetheless, he knew he was in deep trouble. If only he was not in such a hurry to exit the jail.

Day had broken and there was a large crowd gathered. They chanted slogans, and the King joined them. He was just another anti-monarchy protester. He even carried a sign protesting tyranny. He blended in with the crowd well. He even got some food for his efforts. His plan was working.

Further, he did not see anyone suspicious poking around the grounds. Thus, he concluded that they were waiting for him along the road. He was safe as long as he blended in with the crowd.

The day wore on, and he kept up his facade. He became hoarse from all of the shouting that he did. He bonded with a group that had been there since the predawn hours. They took good care of him. He ate well. The group accepted him as one of their number. Furthermore, they stayed in the middle of the pack. Thus, he did not have to sit on the fringes.

The King felt confident that his plan worked. He was thinking that he would make it until nightfall. That would present new challenges but nothing insurmountable. For the first time in a long time, he felt slightly at ease. It was the first plan to have worked in quite a while.

The evening was drawing close, and the protesters began to thin out. He may have let his guard down as someone walked up to him and whispered in his ear. Further, the voiced called the King sire. He had been found out. Now there was trouble.

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Reunited...

Chapter Forty-Two

By Douglas E. Gogerty

"Sire," Prince William whispered into King Thorbjorn's ear. "I am glad I found you."

The King responded violently to the Prince's actions. The Prince quickly defended himself from the swinging fists of the King. The crowd sided with the King, and began closing in on the fighting pair. The Prince took a couple of shots from people in the crowd.

"Hey! It is me!" shouted the Prince. "Your son -- William!"

The King realized that it was indeed his son, and stopped his punches. It took a few moments, but the crowd also halted their assault.

"Thank you for coming to my aid," stated the King to the people of the crowd.

"What are you doing out?" the Prince asked the King quietly.

"That is a long story," replied the King. "Let us go somewhere quiet to discuss it."

"I have a room," responded the Prince. "We can go there."

"I would like that."

The Prince led King Thorbjorn to his hotel room. Few words passed during the journey from the jail to the room. The two men simply walked quietly. When they arrived at the room, the King explained how he ended up in the crowd of protesters. When his story was over, the Prince explained how he ended up there.

"A news report stated that you had escaped," began the Prince. "I knew you would not have gone far, so I was looking for you around the jail."

"Escaped? They let me go!"

"Did you fill out any paperwork? Did you get your belongings?"

"Well -- no."

"Then you were not officially released."

"You mean..."

"Someone let you out for some purpose -- perhaps nefarious."

"My guess is someone wants me to see me in trouble. There are plenty of people from some rival kingdoms that would love to see me dead."

"Or one of your own family members..."

"Would one of my own kids want the -- I guess you are right."

"I am just glad I found you before it was too late."

"So, what do we do now?"

"We need to get you to Lakeland."

"That is going to take some doing."

"That it will, but first, let us get something to eat."

The Prince made arrangements for some food to be brought to the room. It was an interesting choice by the Prince. The King had never tasted anything like it. The Prince had made a point to try the local cuisine, and he particularly liked this food.

"They call it pizza," noted the Prince.

"It is very unusual," replied the King.

"I am surprised it has never made it to Lakeland. It is very common and popular here."

"I will note it, and bring it there. It is very tasty."

"Let us hope you are able," answered the Prince.

The Prince and King continued their conversation over the meal. They did not discuss their plans; they just spoke of little things -- unimportant matters. However, as the meal neared the end, the conversation began to drift to matters that were more serious. They had to decide what they would do to get the king home.

"Certainly someone is watching the roads," stated the King.

"They cannot watch all of the roads," replied the Prince.

"However, we do not know which ones are being watched."

"That is true, but they might not expect two people."

"There is no reason to think that they would not consider you. In fact, they may be looking for us as a pair."

"I find that highly unlikely. Why would they?"

"I do not know. I am just playing devil's advocate."

"So what do you think?" asked the Prince.

"I think you are right. We should travel by the main road. They would not expect it, and they would not expect both of us."

Prince William and King Thorbjorn discussed their plans into the evening. They wanted to be ready for anything that they might face. Thus, they discussed what they would do in various scenarios.

While they would have liked to get an early start, they felt it better to wait. Hence, after the late evening, they left in the middle of the morning. The Prince's suncar was ready for the trip. They were quite glad that they would not have to walk to Lakeland. The car would afford them a little bit of protection.

The road out of town that they took skirted the jail. Like previous days, there was a large crowd. As they drove by, the Prince and King scanned the crowd for signs of trouble, but found none. At least, they did not notice anyone out of place.

The pair planned to go through Princess Angelina's Kingdom. While they did not think they could rely on her giving them aid, they thought they could depend on her for not hindering the journey. At the very least, the Prince was on good terms with her.

It was a bright sunny day. Therefore, the beginning of the journey went smoothly. The suncar had plenty energy to travel most of the day. However, because they did not start at first light, they would not make it to the Princess's kingdom before nightfall. Thus, they would have to camp somewhere. This is where the most danger lurked.

There were plenty of people watching the road; however, there was no way to tell who might pose a threat. Thus, the King mostly slouched down as the Prince drove. If anyone was suspicious or noted the Prince, they would likely make their presents known at the camp. If there was going to be any trouble, it would occur either during the night or before they left in the morning.

Thus, they conserved some suncar battery just in case they wanted to move during the night. This also prevented them from getting to the Princess's kingdom. They found a good defensible spot to camp. The Prince and King took turns keeping watch. They hoped that anyone coming after them would need lights. Thus, they would be able to see them.

It was very late when the Prince saw a large retinue of lights heading their way. He woke the King and prepared for the worst.

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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 27

By Dwayne MacInnes

Flash Limbeck was surprised when a small squad of soldiers arrived at his apartment. Flash decided it was best to stay indoors on a day such as this. The streets were dangerous and unless his building ended up torched, there was little reason to go out.

However, according to the soldiers, the government still had uses for him. Limbeck puzzled over how they could use him. He could not make his usual webcasts because all the computers and communications devices were inoperable. Naturally, they did not work because of the viruses implanted by the United States. However, the armed men convinced him it was in his best interest to follow them. They promised him a safe and secure journey. Flash worried about how much he could trust them.

As the men left the building, Flash witnessed firsthand the chaos overrunning Austin. Smoke and flames filled the horizon. The smell of teargas and smoke permeated the air and the sound of gunfire, sirens and voices echoed off the buildings. As the soldiers escorted Limbeck to an armored vehicle, something caught Flash's eye. The pundit halted and focused on the object, or rather objects.

The squad stopped a few seconds and looked to see what it was that had brought Limbeck up short. A slight breeze had cleared the air enough that the men could see the bodies of four people swinging from a lamppost. Flash dropped to his knees when he noticed that it was a Hispanic man, woman, and two girls hanging by their necks. Pinned to the dead man's chest was a note that read simply, "Spics".

Flash vomited into the street as tears ran down his cheeks. Even though he had railed against minorities and illegals in the past, he never wanted any to come to harm. He could not help that maybe his own broadcasts may have influenced the maniacs responsible for this atrocity.

"Come on," a major said softly to Flash. "We have work to do."

Flash regained his feet and entered the vehicle. The soldiers started to pile in next to Limbeck. However, before the last men could climb in, the major stopped them.

"For God's sake. Cut them down," the major ordered.

The soldiers spent less than five minutes in lowering the murdered family. They laid them on the sidewalk, removed the rope from their necks and the sign from the father's chest. When that was done, they reverently covered their bodies with a blanket from the back of the armored vehicle.

No one said a word as the vehicle wound its way away from the building and through the debris-laden streets. It was a good twenty minutes later that the vehicle pulled up to a building with a large red and white tower on its roof.

The soldiers silently escorted Limbeck into the building. A man obviously waiting for them hurriedly approached.

"Damn, you guys are late," he cursed.

"Sorry, we had some important business to attend to first," the major replied tersely. "We have delivered Limbeck as ordered."

The man looked at Flash and extended a hand. Flash returned the handshake although the image of the hanging family still played through his mind and robbed his grip of any strength.

"My name is Brian Wilson," the man stated. "I will be your production manager."

Flash looked at Brian dumbly. "I assume you expect me to broadcast. But how? There probably isn't a working computer in all of Texas."

Wilson smiled, "We still have radio. The citizens of Texas are rummaging through their attics as we speak and are finding those long forgotten appliances from decades past. They are waiting to hear word of how we are fairing."

"Not very well," Flash said flatly.

"Wrong!" Brian smiled. "We are coming together as a nation to oppose our aggressors the United States of America and we will stand strong."

"Are you crazy?" Flash yelled. "We are falling apart. Have you looked outside lately? Have you seen the flames? Have you seen the bodies?" Flash choked as he spat out the last word.

"We must not let people smell fear or panic or all is lost," Brian said in a firm voice. "Your job is to say what the government tells you to say. After all, facts have never concerned you before."

The barb from Wilson's last remark caused Flash to flinch. "I will not do it," Flash said stubbornly.

"I'm afraid you will do it," Brian stated as he nodded towards the major. The major pulled an automatic pistol out of his holster and chambered a round. Then he pointed the gun towards Limbeck.

Flash, already pale from his experience with the lynched family turned even whiter. He merely nodded his head and followed Brian into the recording studio. The pundit sat in a chair and put on an old headset as Wilson worked on an archaic broadcasting board.

"We are on the air in three…two…" Brian pointed towards Flash.

"Hello loyal listeners," Flash began. "The U.S. has tried to silence our voice but they have failed."

* * * * *

Cobb surveyed the men he had gathered for his next raid. There were over one hundred of them and all were armed and mounted on horses. They had discussed using vehicles but given the terrain, the raiders wanted horses.

Cobb checked his compu-phone again. The damn thing still did not work. He had heard a rumor that a few minutes after the vice president ordered Plan Stampede she had died. Even worse was the fact that none of the raiders' compu-phones worked.

The cowboy swung into the saddle of his horse and looked back towards the men all mounted. "Okay boys," Cobb shouted. "Today's the day you have been waiting for."

The men screamed in excitement as Cobb continued to speak. "We do not go against military convoys; we are not rescuing fat web-jockies. Today we will strike terror into the heart of the citizens of New Mexico and the United States. There are no rules today. We have been working hard for the New Republic of Texas and today we have been given a furlough. You will find the women across the border there very…ah, accommodating."

Rough and coarse laughter broke through the ranks of the raiders. Some passed a few crude jokes amongst each other.

"When we are done," Cobb continued. "We will burn those towns to the ground. Those citizens will come to know true fear."

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Reunited...

Chapter Forty-Three

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Princess Angelina spent some extra time wandering around the Pirate Peninsula before heading back to her kingdom. She took her appeal to the people of the region. While the government was reluctant to sign a non-aggression pact, she attempted to get the people on her side. For the most part, that worked.

The crowds that turned out to see her were warm and welcoming. She could not understand how they could simultaneously protest kingdoms and praise her. However, she was getting used to the conflicting ideas that were present in the area. In any case, the crowds seem to love her. That was really the most important thing to her. As long as the people were on her side, she would be safe from aggression from this state.

When she was satisfied that she had nothing to fear from her neighbors, she headed home. It had not been a long trip, but she still had things she wished to finish. After all, her kingdom still did not have a name. She had very little in the form of a governing body. In fact, she had no ministers. She was taking care of everything herself. She needed to get these things organized. She could not do that from the road. Thus, she had reasons to return home.

Nonetheless, the retinue moved slowly. The people, with whom she met, showered her with gifts. Thus, she was returning with a great many gifts. This slowed her progress down considerably. It took a lot to haul all of the many fine things she collected on that trip.

While they had quite a load, they did not wish to stop moving. The entrouage wished to continue moving no matter the condition. This was not only a safety precaution, it was also a desire to finish what had been started. Hence, they wished to travel during the day and during the night.

During the day, the suncars pulled a heavy load. There was no charging them up. Thus, as it got dark, the suncars slowed to a stop. They would eat their evening meal as they switch systems. During the night, the animals towed the load. Thus, while they were going slow, they could travel both day and night. It would take a few days to get back to the kingdom, but they were always on the move.

They happened upon a campsite along the main road. However, when they got there it was deserted. There was only a single suncar, but the fire was still smoldering. Thus, the occupants of the camp could not be far. However, the Princess ordered the caravan to continue. The campers were around, but they appeared not to want company. The Princess would oblige them.

After she had passed the camp, one of her guards climbed aboard her wagon. She was not asleep, but reading a book. She looked at him in anticipation.

"Princess," he began. "There are some strangers who would like an audience."

"An audience -- out here?" replied the Princess.

"Yes mistress!"

The Princess glared at the guard for his use of that honorific and replied, "Show them to me."

The guard bowed and left. A short time later, he brought two men to her trailer. The Princess smiled and offered them a seat.

"Thank you for seeing us," began Prince William.

"Do not mention it," replied the Princess with grace.

"Thank you," mumbled King Thorbjorn.

"What do you want?" asked the Princess in a harsh tone as she glared at the King.

"We need..." groveled the King.

"Please," interrupted Prince William waving off the King. "We are looking to get back to Lakeland. We fear for our lives, and we hoped you would provide sanctuary."

"You mean you fear for his life," corrected the Princess.

"Yes," replied the King.

"Please Angelina -- er -- your highness," added Prince William. "We would not ask if it were not in such dire straights."

"Those dire straights do not have anything to do with what happened in the peninsula -- would it?" asked the Princess.

"Why -- I ," began King Thorbjorn.

"Yes," interupted Prince William. "In fact, the trouble we are in was a direct result of the King's stupidity."

"Which was an attempt to undermine my kingdom."

"Yes! That is right," replied the Prince preventing the King from saying anything. "Now we are asking for your help."

"Okay, I am willing to forgive, but what is in it for me?" responded the Princess.

"How is that..." began the King in an irritated voice.

"What are you asking?" the Prince asked interrupting his father.

"First off, I want guarantees against any undermining my rule," insisted the Princess.

"Done!" replied the Prince before his father could say anything.

"Also," added the Princess. "I want some more land concessions.'

"What!?!!" responded the King.

"You are asking quite a bit there," added the Prince. "We are just looking for help to get us back to Lakeland."

"That is still asking a lot from me. After all, I know that the King is a fugative." replied the Princess.

"While that may be true ... our situation is not dire enough to warrant a land deal," explained the Prince.

"What does your situation warrant?" asked the Princess.

"We can offer advisors. We can offer cash," replied the Prince.

"Let's go!" insisted the King.

"I could never trust any advisor from you, and what could I use with more cash?" answered the Princess.

"I think we are at an impasse," insisted the King.

"What do you want -- besides land," asked Prince William.

"Technology," replied the Princess.

"Technology? What kind?" asked the Prince.

"The stuff you keep from your people. There are all kinds of things that I have discovered that could be useful to me," the Princess answered.

"Like what?" asked the King.

"Very good!" replied the Princess with a wry smile. "Guard! Get them out of here!"

Before the King and Prince could react, they found themselves on the road as the caravan made its way out of sight.

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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 28

By Dwayne MacInnes

Colt 45 Peacemaker

The sun was nearly behind the western horizon when Cobb lowered his binoculars. The small town was quiet. His men spread out several yards behind him in the rocky hills. They sat waiting for him to give them the go signal.

Cobb made his way back towards where his men hid. The horses stamped and neighed in anticipation as the raiders comforted their mounts. Cobb swung up into his saddle.

"It looks like they won't be expecting a thing," Cobb stated as he checked his .45 Peacemaker. "We'll wait until sundown and then we'll give them hell."

The men started to prepare themselves for the raid. They checked their rifles, pistols, grenades, and bombs. They would raze this town. They felt that this action would force the United States to spend some precious resources. Resources in trying to pin them down. If they were lucky, they could keep the U.S. off balance long enough for the New Republic of Texas to defeat the U.S. armed forces now gathering in North Texas.

"Remember we ride in, raise hell and ride out the other side," Cobb reminded his raiders. "We'll try to hit another town across country. That should keep the New Mexican law enforcement and the military scrambling."

"Did you see anything that should give us concern?" asked one of the raiders.

"Nothing," Cobb replied. "It looks like everyone went to bed early tonight. Well, we'll give them a wake up call soon enough."

"What about loot and women?" another raider asked.

"Not in this town," Cobb cautioned. "We want to draw whatever cops and soldiers in the area here -- to this town. In that way, the next town should be that more vulnerable. We can take some time there, but not too long."

"Shouldn't take Charlie long," one man joked.

Everyone started to laugh except Charlie.

"Okay, one last weapons check," Cobb said. "I want you to use those Molotov cocktails to lighten up the town. Throw a couple of hand grenades in a house and shoot anybody who gets in our way. We stay off the roads and head out overland. That should hinder pursuit.

"Remember to keep an eye out for barbed wire and fences. This is mostly open land but there is always the danger. I believe everyone has a buddy so keep tight."

The sun's final dim rays vanished over the horizon. Cobb stood up in his saddle and raised his pistol in the air. "Okay boys, let's go!"

The men behind him screamed like a horde of wild banshees released from Hell. They rode their horses hard as they neared the sleepy town. There was not a car even on the road as the men rode into the outskirts. The raiders started to shoot their weapons in the air.

However, the air above them soon took on a whoop-whoop sound. Cobb wheeled his horse around and glared into the night sky. It was still dimly blue with the vanishing light of the sun. The waning light still allowed him to see the forms of several Blackfoot attack helicopters bearing down on him.

Cobb cursed aloud and shouted towards his men, "It's a trap! Scatter!"

Several men broke off in different directions. Their elation had quickly evaporated and now fear took hold. Some of the raiders tried to fire their guns at the hovering helicopters. However, their bullets merely ricocheted off the armored hide.

Soon, the helicopters aided with infrared optics opened up on the scattering raiders. Machineguns spat steel bullets and chewed man and beast alike into a bloody pulp. Cobb's horse reared up dumping the cowboy onto the ground. Normally Cobb would not have lost his balance, but with all the chaos breaking out around him, he ended up on the concrete road.

It turned out to be a mixed blessing. As Cobb's mount tore off for the surrounding hills, a rocket exploded and scattered the poor beast's carcass across the New Mexican landscape. Cobb wasted no time in seeking cover behind a building.

The firefight between the raiders and the helicopters was one sided and short. The helicopters broke out of formation to attack the fleeing raiders. Cobb realized he only had a few moments before one of them found him. He frantically searched for a place to hide.

Cobb noticed that there was a nearby manhole cover in the road. As the helicopters finished their grim business of gunning down every last raider, Cobb ran to the steel cover and was able to get his fingers under it. The pure adrenaline racing through his veins granted him the strength he needed to lift the cover and jump down the hole. The steel disc slid back into position the same time Cobb's feet landed into the wet muck in the storm sewer.

He could still hear the occasional scream of a dying man or horse above him. The constant staccato of machinegun fire and the explosions of missiles rocked the subterranean tunnel. Chunks of concrete fell around Cobb's head and dust infiltrated his eyes. The cowboy in the dark tunnel started to run as fast as he safely could. He managed to find his small keychain flashlight to help aid him in his escape.

Map of Texas

General Davis looked over a map inside his base in North Texas. Several officers joined the general and were in the midst of discussing their attack into the New Republic of Texas when an aide walked in and handed a sheet of paper to the general.

"Sir, you said you wanted to sign this personally," the aide stated.

Davis looked at the paper; it was the military tribunal's verdict against Lieutenant White, court-martial and a death sentence. "Well," Powell Davis said to those within earshot as he signed the paper, "he should have stayed at the Army Reserve Center when the bombs fell. At least then, he would have died with his rank and honor."

Davis looked up at the gathered officers, "I don't enjoy signing the death sentence for a soldier. However, this White really put us on to him when first, he miraculously survived a raid on his convoy and then he happens not to attend an officers gathering at the Reserve Center. I lost a lot of good men in that bombing run and his hands are red with theirs and every citizen who died in that raid."

General Davis handed the paper back to the aide and returned to the map. He looked it over and finally asked one of his officers, "Major Owens, how is Operation Whiteout working?"

"Very well, sir," the major replied. "The Texans have been reduced to using radio. We can easily listen to their transmission. I don't think there is a working computer in their country."

"Great," Davis said. "Okay, I want every occupied town -- like Houston -- closed off. I don't know why we did not impose a curfew or why people were allowed to leave and enter it so freely. I'll find out later. But now all occupied areas will be closed off. Is that clear?"

The officers nodded their understanding. General Davis looked again down at the map. "I don't want the enemy getting wind of Operation Back Burn."

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Rebellion and Cognac

A Halloween Tale

By Dwayne MacInnes

Robert Blythe walked along the meticulously manicured lawn on his uncle's estate. The neatly trimmed hedges stood at attention like the soldiers the Colonel led during the Crimean War -- or as his uncle, Colonel Belmount, called it -- The Russian War. Robert chafed under his uncle's domineering guardianship. The old man never let Robert enjoy any of the money that came with his uncle's estate.

If his parents had not died in a tragic shipwreck three years previous, it was a good chance that they would be running the estate instead of his uncle. However, his parent's will firmly established Colonel Belmount as Robert's legal guardian until his eighteenth birthday, which was still two long years away. Robert would not see his inheritance until then.

The Colonel ran a tight ship. He was very frugal with his funds and the allowance he gave Robert was barely enough for Robert to survive in a manner befit his tastes. It did not comfort Robert much when the Colonel reminded him that his monthly stipend was more than most Britons made in a year. The Colonel also did not approve of Robert's pastimes. Hanging out with Lord Westbrooke and partaking in games of chance. The Colonel felt these activities were a waste of time and were not becoming of a gentlemen.

Robert tried to argue that the Lord Westbrooke was a cousin to the queen. However, Robert was unable to persuade the Colonel to the contrary.

"The doings of Lords are above our station," the Colonel replied. "You should join a regiment, become an officer, and distinguish yourself in battle as I and our forefathers before us had done."

So far, the only battle Robert was waging was against the throbbing pain in his head. The night before Robert joined Lord Westbrooke in a game of cards. The only thing Robert won was a raging hangover. The lecture from the Colonel when Robert awakened that morning did not help things out. Therefore, Robert decided to take a walk around the grounds in hope that some fresh air would alleviate some of his discomfort.

Robert had no longer established himself under the shade of a venerable oak tree when a lone rider came galloping down the lane. With a groan, Robert stood back up and squinted to make out the man riding towards the estate.

The rider noticed Robert and steered his mount towards the young man.

Still suffering the after-effects of last night," laughed the voice of Lord Westbrooke.

Robert more grimaced than smiled when he saw the man sitting upon the horse. After all, the young Lord was not much older than he himself.

"You took my last penny and left me with a painful reminder," Robert replied rubbing his head.

"You need to learn to hold your liquor," Lord Westbrooke continued. "I suppose Sir Belmount was not pleased."

Queen Victoria for his gallantry during the Crimean War had knighted the Colonel. However, the old soldier still preferred to go by the title Colonel. The Colonel lived in semi-retirement on the estate recovering from a terrible wound he suffered in battle. It was his superiors' idea that he recuperates at home; however, the Colonel felt fit again and constantly petitioned his superiors to allow him back into active service.

"Yes, Once more into the breach my friends," Robert stated with a pained smile. "It normally would be bearable if I was not suffering the after-effects of that pub-swill you call liquor."

"I am sorry you do not like a good port. I suppose you have sampled some of your uncle's rumored fine cognac. Therefore, any other type of refreshment would pale in comparison."

"Alas, I have not. I know he keeps the barrel well hidden -- for I have looked. But, it is supposed to be one of the treasures he secured from his campaigns."

"Well fear not my friend, Sir Belmount will not live forever, and you will then have this estate and all that comes with it -- including your uncle's prized cognac," Lord Westbrooke replied.

"He'll probably outlive us all, the old bird. He is quite the specimen of physical fitness. If only the military would accept him back and send him off on some campaign. Then perhaps, I will indeed come into my inheritance."

"Ah yes!" exclaimed Lord Westbrooke. "I almost forgot why I came here. There appears to be a revolt in India. I rode here knowing Sir Belmount would appreciate such news."

"Yes he would, and he would chafe at not being able to partake in putting down the revolt," Robert replied dryly.

Military and politically matters did not interest Robert at all.

"You know," Lord Westbrooke said thinking aloud. "I have some pull with court. I may be able to make you and Sir Belmount happy by having him reinstated. They could very well send him over to India to put down the Muhammadans."

"Oh that would be grand," Robert smiled his headache now forgotten.

* * * * *

It had been months since the Colonel went off to India to put down the rebellion. Robert had the estate to himself; however, he still only received his monthly allowance that the solicitors allowed him. This would have been bearable if it was not for the fact that his uncle took with him his prized cognac. The Colonel evidently did not trust his nephew with his spoils from the Crimean.

Robert reclined in a chair upon the lawn trying to enjoy a glass of sherry. He had sent the servants away, because Robert was in no mood to have anyone bother him. To make matters worse, Robert had already lost his allowance to Lord Westbrooke, so there was little chance his friend would show up to entertain him.

No sooner had Robert finished this thought than the sound of hooves clacked down the wooded lane leading to the estate. At first, Robert thought Lord Westbrooke might have been responding to some subconscious summons. However, Robert soon distinguished the sound of a pair of horses pulling a cart. The horses turned onto the road of the estate.

Curiosity compelled Robert to leave his wooden chair and meet the cart on the road. The driver pulled on the reigns bringing the horses to a halt.

"Ye be Robert Blythe?" the teamster asked in a thick Scottish accent.

"Yes, I am he," Robert replied.

"This came for ye by ship from India, laddy," the Scotsman replied pointing back to a barrel in the back of the cart. "It is said a relative of yours died in the campaign and this was to be sent to ye."

Robert's eyes lit up in excitement. Uncle Belmount was dead! The barrel of cognac was his!

* * * * *

Lord Westbrooke wasted no time when he received the summons to come over to Robert Blythe's estate. A servant opened the door for the lord when he approached the manor.

"I'm sorry your lordship," the servant began as Lord Westbrooke entered the manor, "Master Blythe has taken ill. However, he has asked that you visit him in the study."

Lord Westbrooke entered the study where Robert sat upon a couch wrapped in a blanket. The young man obviously was in the grip of a fever. He rose upon shaky legs as Lord Westbrooke entered the room.

"Robert!" exclaimed Lord Westbrooke, "you do not look well. What has befallen you?"

"Never mind that," Robert said with a weak smile on his pale face. "It had happened as you predicted. My uncle died in India and he left me his treasure."

Robert pointed to a corner of the room where a barrel rested upon two chairs. A spigot already placed in the bunghole.

"I could not wait so I sampled some last night. It is divine."

Robert staggered over to the barrel and filled a glass offering it to Lord Westbrooke. The lord took the proffered glass looking at the brandy.

"What has happened to you?" the lord continued.

"I was in a mood yesterday, and I probably sat too long in the outdoors. I caught some damned cold. However, this will restore my strength." Robert stated as he grabbed his glass and consumed the cognac.

The Lord Westbrooke lifted his glass towards Robert, "To your health," before drinking his glass.

The brandy was indeed of exquisite quality, he could understand why Sir Belmount went to great lengths to protect it.

"Would you care for another glass?" Robert asked.

"I do not mind if I do," smiled Lord Westbrooke giving Robert his glass. "So how did your uncle meet his demise?"

"There's a letter there on the desk that came with the cognac if you care to read it. I do not really care, all I know is it is finally all mine."

Lord Westbrooke took the now refilled glass and sipping it went over to the desk. There a letter lay still unopened and addressed to Robert Blythe.

"You sure you do not mind if I read this?" Lord Westbrooke asked Robert who was now on his third glass of cognac.

"No not at all. I think I will sit down for a bit," Robert said as shivers ran through his body. He returned to the couch and looked over towards Lord Westbrooke.

Lord Westbrooke opened the letter and began to read. "It appears your uncle and his regiment were ambushed by some sepoys. Rather ghastly business." The lord continued to read, "Dear God! It appears it was a week before a relief column was able to retrieve the bodies of the fallen. They had been out in the hot sun the whole time." The lord took a sip of cognac before he continued to read. However, soon Lord Westbrooke exclaimed, "DEAR GOD!" and he dropped his glass spilling the precious liquid on the ground.

"Hey, careful with that!" shouted Robert on seeing the cognac spill onto the carpet.

Lord Westbrooke did not hear him. He looked over towards Robert and slowly stated, "They put the body of your uncle in the only preservative they had on hand, his barrel of cognac."

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