Stories - General Fiction

The Highest Court

By Dwayne MacInnes

"Mr. Davis?" a soft voice called, "Mr. Davis, are you ready?"

John looked around as he jolted awake. He didn't know when he fell asleep and was greatly disoriented. He found himself sitting on a white bench in a long white hallway that was filled with a pure white light. There were others on the bench with him. An old woman was sleeping to his right and a young soldier sleeping to his left. In fact, everyone sharing the bench was asleep except for him.

"Ah, Mr. Davis welcome," a rather good-looking man dressed in a white business suit with matching tie and leather shoes and holding a folder smiled at him.

"Where...where am I?" John asked as he took in his surroundings again.

"Hmmm, of course. What is the last thing you remember?" asked the man in white.

"I believe I was getting ready for work. Yes, that's it!" John said as the memories flooded back. "I remember my chest was hurting so I was trying to put on my pants before I called 911. Then...well, I guess I blanked out. Is this the hospital?"

"Oh, no," chuckled the man. "You are quite dead. Remember the near death stories you heard about with the light at the end of the tunnel?"

"Yes, so this is the light, huh?"

"Not quite. But we'll try to get you there."

"So you're an angel?"

"Well, sort of. I'm sorry, I've totally forgot to introduce myself. I'm the Advocate. In fact, right now I'm your advocate and we have to prepare your case. But please call me Lou," smiled the advocate as he shook the astonished Davis's hand.

"Now if you will follow me," Lou said as he led the way down the hall towards an office on one side. Their footsteps echoed down the seemingly endless hall.

The two men then entered the white office with the same radiance as found in the hallway. There was a white desk and two white office chairs. A leather executive chair was behind the desk and a plain white chair was in front of it. Lou offered the plain chair to John who sat down before the advocate seated himself on the other side of the desk.

"OK, let's get down to work," smiled the advocate. He then proceeded to open the file and looked over the contents. Lou then took out a form and pen out of the desk drawer and placed it on top of the desk next to the file. He then began to fill in some lines. John tried to see what he was writing but was unable to make out the script.

"It says here you were a politician. That's a tough road."

"Yeah, it was. A lot of hard hours and a big work load everyday," John said as he began to smile.

"Sorry, I meant it must have been hard to be faithful to your job and to Him," Lou replied.

"Oh, yeah," chuckled John. "But you'll notice that my party fought to uphold His word. I'm proud to be a Christian."

The advocate then scribbled something down as he nodded, "Yes, that's very good. But political affiliations aren't worth much up here. Though the being a Christian will definitely help out.

"You went to church every week and you read your Bible and prayed everyday. That's good," Lou commented as he continued to scribble on the form never taking his eyes off his work.

John smiled with pride. It looked like he'd back the right horse after all. Not just in believing but in following his convictions.

"Uh-oh," Lou looked up from the files and glared at John. "It says here you had an affair on your wife."

John turned red, cleared his throat and smiled sheepishly. He never thought about this end of it when he was cheating on his wife, but he did get caught on Earth so it was only bound to be found out up here.

"I...uh, I did repent," John finally said.

"Good, good," Lou smiled and scribbled something on the form.

The advocate then began to rifle through the papers in the file looking for something. It took only a moment for him to locate it then he sat it in front of it.

"Ah, here it is. This is where I meant it was a tough road being a politician. It says here you rallied support for a war."

"Yes, of course. We were trying to free those people that were being oppressed by their leader. It was a hard fought road and many of our troops paid the ultimate sacrifice, but it was worth it. I would like to shake every soldier's hand for their work."

"Quite," smiled Lou as scribbled some more on the form. "It can be arranged, but please there is no need for grand speeches here. We just need to prepare your case."

"Sorry, force of habit," John replied.

"I see you also have some interesting legislation that you proposed and passed."

"Uh-huh, you'll notice that I helped reduce the tax burden and I cut Welfare spending in half. So that the money went back to the people who earned it therefore they could lead a better life."

Lou wrote on the form again and smiled. "I think we have enough here. Let's meet the judge."

Lou gathered the form and files and then shoved them into a white briefcase that he pulled out from under the desk. He snapped the clasps and stood up.

John stood up and followed the advocate out of the office. They went down the hallway again. The footsteps again resonating with the click-clack of four feet walking down the long hall. Lou led them to a set of white double doors on the side of the wall.

The advocate stopped a moment and adjusted his tie. He smiled and winked at John. John now became self conscious of what he was wearing. He had on the pants that he was struggling to put on before he died and a t-shirt. Davis frowned at Lou and motioned towards his clothes.

"Don't worry He doesn't care how you are dressed. Trust me most come in with a lot less on. But please, we have to hurry," Lou soothingly said as he ushered John into the large courtroom.

There weren't any pews, but everything was the same bright white that everything else was up here. Very monochromatic John noticed. There was a large desk at the end of the room. Lou showed John to one of the two chairs behind a smaller table that was situated in front of the judge's desk.

Behind the desk was an olive skinned man. He had short hair with long forelocks, a beard and a large nose. His face showed the years of one who had lived outside and traveled a long road. But his eyes were different. They were a soft brown with a compassionate look. Their penetrating gaze seemed to strip away a person and get at their core.

"Rabbi Immanuel," Lou began. "This is Mr. John Davis recently deceased. We are here to gain admittance."

John was momentarily taken aback that his judge was a Jew, a Rabbi and not to mention a man of Middle Eastern descent.

"Please, Mr. Davis. Your reaction shows your true heart," the judge said with a soft but stern voice. "Yes, I am a Jew and a Rabbi. I was born in the Middle East, but in what is now Israel. Some call me Immanuel, you know me as Jesus."

John looked ashamed. He knew that Jesus was a Rabbi and Jew. It was that he didn't look at all like how the pictures portrayed him. There was no long flowing hair, pale skin, or blue eyes.

"Mr. Advocate you may begin your case," Jesus said.

"Yes, sir. My client is a devout Christian which is what has guided his path in life. Mr. Davis devotedly went to church, prayed, read the Bible and tried to defend the word. He also through the power of his political career tried to help out his fellow man by easing their burden and freeing them from tyranny. These are only some of the great things he did on Earth. The rest you know.

"You will note that my client did have an affair on his wife. But he did repent his actions and asks for forgiveness. In my eyes, this is the only major stain on my client's good record.

"We formally request that Mr. John Richard Davis be allowed to be with the Father. Thank you," with that Lou sat down.

"Mr. Davis, please rise," Jesus motioned toward John.

John stood up behind the table and looked up at his Lord. He was nervous, a feeling he hadn't felt for years on Earth. He'd always been in control down there, here he felt like a third grader being quizzed by his teacher in front of the class.

"Your advocate laid out a pretty convincing case. But there are some discrepancies that we need to address.

"You are a professed Christian and you did read of my works and know of my ways. You did give donations every week and you did send money to charities. But your practice was only superficial.

"You rarely tithed. You had plenty of money, but you even held some of it back from God. Even your work showed that you chose money to be your true master.

"Yes, you gave tax breaks to help others, but those others you were helping were the wealthy. The poor remained poor and their lots were not improved by your legislation. As for the Welfare cuts you hurt more people than you helped.

"No, no, Mr. Davis, please don't interrupt," the Rabbi forestalled John's protest.

"I know you thought that most of the people on welfare, and unemployment for that matter, were lazy or taking advantage of the system. That, my sir, is not for you to judge. They too will be in front of me, but the fact of the matter is that those who desperately needed the help were denied and turned away.

"You also used your elected position to favor war. You know my stance on war. Now, I don't expect people to let genocide wipe out another race. But, I do expect those who take up my name to think three times before going to war. One of the reasons given for this war was to free the people, but that was after other reasons were given and found to be untrue. This was not a just war.

"As for your affair, you said you repented and asked for forgiveness. That is denied."

John gasped and protested, "But, but you said if one asked for forgiveness it would be given."

"That is true, but here is my reason. You repented getting caught, not the fact you cheated on your wife. If your transgression wasn't discovered you would have continued with it. True repentance is from the heart and there in lies my forgiveness. Thus in this case, it is denied.

"Mr. Davis you are not an evil man, but you are unfortunately a hypocrite and as a true follower you are held to a higher degree. You must live and follow my ways. Many people have tried and failed like you have. The road as you know is not easy.

"Yes, the Bible is confusing on some points and contradictory in others, but one thing remains the same throughout, my word. Love thy neighbor. It is easy to remember.

"All I asked was that you follow the commandments and try to help your fellow human beings out. Lessen the misery of the less fortunate and spread your wealth amongst all. This is the love of our Father.

"So it is with much regret Mr. Davis but your petition is denied. Lucifer, you may take this man."

Jesus stood up and exited out of the back of the courtroom.

John stood there with his jaw agape. He slowly turned to his advocate and looked at him hard.

"Yes, yes, I know. Where are the horns and tail? Well, to be honest there aren't any. It was just a little invention by your medieval artists to scare people. The beast and all that ... you know."

Lucifer turned John toward the entrance out of the courtroom.

"Now, hell isn't fire and brimstone you know. But unfortunately it is the absence of Him. To be truly alone with yourself I don't wish on any man."

"I know your next question too. I am just doing a job here. For the Father to find out those who truly love and accept him, he had to introduce free choice and that means 'good and evil'. Now, we angels, yes even a so called 'fallen' one like myself, have no choice in worshipping Him. We know Him and what He has done. Plus, I have read Revelations. No one can beat Him.

"But you humans are his pride and joy; He wants you to turn toward him by choice. That is the test of true love and devotion."

The two continued to walk down the hallway as Lucifer continued to talk to John as he led him towards another door. This one black.

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Ninja in a Wheelchair

by Douglas E Gogerty

Brian O'Reilly was sitting in his wheelchair in his cell on death row. The state would execute him in an hour from now, and he had just finished his last meal. He was sitting quietly when the guard came followed by a priest.

"Brian O'Reilly, this is Father Dwayne McGuinness. He is here to prepare you for your execution."

"Hello Father"

"Greetings my son. That will be all guard. Now Brian is there anything that you want to tell me?"

"Father, I deserve the sentence I am about to receive. I have not been a good person, and I have lived far longer than I should have."

"Tell me about it my son."

* * * * *

I was the oldest of six kids. We were very poor. So, when I was 11 years old, I began my life of crime. It was more important to me to get food to eat than to go to school. I would spend my class time figuring out how to put food on our table, and the teachers let me.

I had been stealing and fighting regularly. While I wasn't making a great deal of money, I was putting food in our mouths. I had a few scrapes, but there wasn't anything I couldn't handle.

One day, I stole from an Asian grocery, and a gang of 10 guys jumped me. They said that this grocery was protected by Hung Lo. They told me that I would have to pay for my theft.

I didn't know Hung Lo from nothing. I was just a kid. They tried all of their chop socki on me, but they didn't know how to fight. I was an everything-goes street fighter. I didn't know any rules. So, I held my own until the cops came and we scrammed.

As has it, they had a spy follow me home. The next day, a note comes addressed to my mom from Hung Lo. He wanted to see me. Ma was getting upset with my behavior and she made me go see him. I thought for sure I was done for.

I was shaking like a leaf when Ma and me went to see him. I was more afraid of the wrath of Ma than some Asian dude. Ma drug me into this guy's office and tossed me into a seat.

"What's this all about?" she asked.

"I would like to give your son a job," he replied.

I was stunned. He was going to make me pay for what I had stole by making me work for it. Ma agreed to the deal, and I began working for Mr. Lo at nights and on weekends.

At first, it was all legit. I hung flyers. I swept floors. I delivered messages. I did the usual young kid jobs. I got paid in cash, and I put some food on the table.

I would occasionally have scrapes with his young muscle. They were all about testing me. The kids my age were all a head shorter than me. I would clean their clocks easy. The kids my size were a few years older, and a little more difficult, but I still held my ground.

After a year or so of these odd jobs, Mr. Lo started to give me free Hopkido lessons. It was some martial arts training, and I really dug it. It started out all joint locks and pressure points. Eventually, we learned about how to use a person's own weight and energy against them.

I took to it quite naturally. I would still get tested now and again, but I was quite a bit more fluid. Someone would rush me and before they knew what was happening they were flying into the ground.

I began walking with a bit of a swagger. I started looking for fights. Whenever I was challenged, it took a couple of seconds and it was over. They would be lying on the ground with this or that bone broken. I was a tough guy now.

Eventually, Mr. Lo called me into his office with a task. Someone was behind in their payments on something or other. I was like 14 or 15. I would walk into some store and ask for the payment. The guy would come back with this or that excuse, and I would insist.

Of course, the storeowner would laugh at me and end up bleeding. They all paid. I got a big raise after a couple of these jobs. Later, all I would have to do was walk in. "The Kid is here for the money," I would proclaim.

I trained and worked. I even managed to graduate from high school. Well, I barely graduated. I had to make a big decision. What was I going to do with my life. I told Mr. Lo that I was moving on.

I joined the military. I am not allowed to tell you what I did, but let us say that I was good at my job. Lots of people felt the sting of 'The Kid'. I really enjoyed the work, but I hated the politics of it all. I would do a job according to plan, and some yahoo somewhere would complain about this or that aspect.

When my tour was up, I left. I was a first class killing machine without a job. I was a fry cook for a while. I stocked the shelves at this and that store. I never could make a job stick. They were all boring. So, after a while, I looked up Hung Lo again.

He didn't have a job for anyone with my talents, but he said he would check around. He sent me to a guy named K.W. Kitterman. Mr. Kitterman could put my skills to work.

I did the same work that I did in the military, but without the politics. It was the perfect job for me. I began taking Ninjitsu lessons because they helped me do my job. 'The Kid' soon became a Ninja.

I disappeared into the world of the Ninja. I only appeared to inflict death. The only ones to see me were soon no longer capable of reporting what they saw. I was a ghost. I was a shadow in the night.

I had many missions and was making a great deal of money fulfilling those missions. However, that was all to end when Mr. Kitterman contracted me to kill Mr. Long Wang. He is why I am here.

Mr. Wang was a very powerful man. In fact, he was acquainted with Hung Lo. If I wanted to do my job without worrying about politics, I didn't question why I was to do this job. It wasn't my place to ask why he was to be killed. It was just a job.

I easily infiltrated Mr. Wang's estate, and I waited for him in his bedroom. I made a minor mistake, and I alerted him to my presence. Those cursed squeaky floors!

Mr. Wang was a very skilled fighter. He had a great deal of training. He took my sword away from me quite easily. It was going to be unarmed combat for a while. I would strike and he would block. He would strike, I would counter, and he would block. It was a back and forth fight for quite a while.

He knew several styles of Kung Fu. He was obviously an accomplished teacher of the martial arts. He knew a vast array of techniques. He knew some techniques that I thought were only legends. Stories they tell others so they fear you and you don't have to fight. He knew of those kinds of techniques.

We had been going back and forth for a while, and he begins telling me the technique he is using. He is yelling "Flying Monkey Fist" and "Striking Snake" and the like. To me it is all gibberish. I just take his move and counter it like I was trained in Hopkido.

I was getting tired. I had never fought anyone for so long before. I decided I was going to end it by going for my sword. We exchange attacks, and in doing so, I work towards my sword. A few more moves, and I will have it. Again, he is yelling "Hammering Jaguar Claw" and "Crane Fish Strike"!

At this point in the fight, I make my first mistake. I take my eyes off him and look at my sword. He yells "Five Point Palm Exploding Heart!" and lands it on my chest. I manage to grab the sword and open him up. He stops and laughs.

I thought how strange it was that a man would get nearly cut in two and laugh. So I asked him what was so funny.

He said, "We are both dead. I landed my last ditch technique. After you take five steps, your heart will explode."

I took a step to lop off his head and finish the job, and I took one step back, but I haven't taken one since. The police found me sitting there with the bloody sword in my hand. I was just sitting on the floor. They asked me to get up, but I said that I couldn't. They dragged me out, and I have been in this wheelchair ever since.

* * * * *

"Father, I don't know if the good Lord will forgive what I have done..."

"My son, if you truly repent your sins, the good Lord will forgive you."

"Thanks Father. I am truly sorry for the pain that I have inflicted."

"It is time to go now."

The guard came and opened the cell. The priest arose and began praying for Brian's soul. The guard worked his way behind the wheelchair and began to push it out of the cell. Brian waved to have him stop, and he got up. He took three steps and fell over dead. The Five Point Palm Exploding Heart technique finally took Brian O'Reilly after a lengthy trial and several years on death row.

* * * * *

Inspired by Kill Bill Vol. 2 by Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman

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Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 1: Radio, Dan, and Mac

By Dwayne MacInnes

Rebecca Strong carried the suitcase that contained her belongings up the dirt road to the whitewashed wooden hangar situated near a yellow grass field that served as an airstrip. A tall wooden tower stood next to the hangar, as to its purpose Rebecca could not guess. The young woman continued to walk toward the opening in the 100-degree New Mexico summer. The heat was dry and stifling. Rebecca was sweating heavily; her damp chestnut hair clung to her head.

Rebecca was here to meet her father Dr. Hugo Strong, who was a rather well known archaeologist from the University of Chicago. He was currently studying some Anasazi ruins in the area. The archaeologist had requested if Rebecca was available, that she could spend some time working in the field with him during the summer. This would be the first time the two spent any time together since Rebecca's mother died nearly three years ago during the Spanish Flu epidemic.

Dr. Strong took the death of Rebecca's mother particularly hard. Fortunately, some of Hugo's close friends saved his career when the archaeologist took to heavy drinking. With the Prohibition Act, drinking was dangerous, just being in possession of liquor landed one in jail. Hardly something the University would look kindly on regardless of his achievements.

Nevertheless, Rebecca was excited to do some fieldwork with her father. She doubted that she herself would ever find anything thrilling again after her mother's death. But, then last year with the passage of the 19th amendment, the world appeared to open up for a young woman. With the right to vote, Rebecca was sure that even new opportunities would soon unfold for her. Being in the field with her prestigious father was an adventure never dreamed of before and it was just one example.

Nervously, Rebecca approached the open hangar doors. She did not know what to expect. She had only seen aircraft from a distance before. This too would prove to be another adventure. She heard a voice talking from inside, but there was only one side to this conversation.

"Must be talking to himself," Rebecca mused.

The young woman poked her head around the doublewide doorway. Inside she saw a yellow 1920 HCS Stutz Roadster II parked on one side of the huge open room. Behind the car there were tools hanging on the wall with various metal drums on the floor next to tall standup locker. On the opposite wall from Rebecca, there was a door. A sign hung from its knob that said "Gone Fishing". Across from the yellow vehicle, was a man in tan coveralls wearing headphones over a ball cap and sitting in front of what looked like the wireless telegraph she had seen once on board a cruise ship. He appeared to be speaking to it instead of tapping at telegraph key, as one would expect.

Stutz Roadster

"I roger that Sparky, over and out," the man replied.

"Uh...excuse me," Rebecca stammered, "I'm here to meet a Mr. James MacKinnon."

The man spun around in his wooden swivel chair and glared at the intruder. Rebecca felt uneasy, as the man looked her over as if she were a piece of merchandise. The man himself was in his early twenties, had short blonde hair, and wore small round glasses. He was obviously of German heritage.

He stood up and placed the headphones on the table containing his electronic device. The stranger could not have stood more than five and half feet tall and could not have weighed more than 120 pounds. If he planned to attack her, she felt she had an even chance of beating off any advances.

"I'm sorry, you must be Miss Strong," the man began. "I am Dan Edwards. I've just been informed," Dan motioned toward the electronic device on the table, "that Mac should be here in about half an hour."

Rebecca stood there for a couple of uncomfortable minutes staring at Dan. The young man just stared back at her.

"Uh...may I come in?" Rebecca finally asked.

"Oh! I'm sorry, please do," Dan rushed over to help Rebecca with her luggage as he ushered her into the hangar. He then pulled her over to a chair next to the table he had been sitting at and then he poured her some warm water from a pitcher.

Rebecca took the chair and swallowed down the water. She never thought that warm water could feel so good running down her parched throat. She then looked over at the device that contained most of the table.

"That is a radio," Dan exclaimed with obvious pride and excitement. "I was just communicating to an airfield over at Tucson which also has one."

The look of surprise on Rebecca's face was obvious. Dan cleared his voice preparing to launch into one of his favorite topics.

"Did you know that on Christmas Eve in 1906 Reginald Fessenden read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke, played ‘Silent Night' on the violin and then wished everyone a merry Christmas in the New England area? Imagine the surprise on the faces of the ships' telegraphers at sea when they heard this over their headphones instead of Morse code." Dan chuckled before continuing.

"After the Great War a lot of us set up our own little broadcast stations to communicate with each other. In fact, just last November 2nd the first commercial broadcast station KDKA in Pittsburgh began broadcasting. Certainly, you must have heard of it?"

KDKA Radio

Rebecca nodded she had heard of it, but hearing of something and actually seeing were two different things. She looked more intently at the radio set on the table.

Dan picked up the headset and set it against her ear. Rebecca gasped in amazement as she heard voices talking to each other. She did not understand everything that was said with all the "Rogers", "Overs", "Copies", and "Outs" she heard.

Dan pointed to the microphone that sat on the table in front of the device. "It is into this that I am able to talk to my fellow ‘Hams' as they call us."

Rebecca was about to ask another question when she heard an airplane approaching from overhead. Dan grabbed Rebecca by the arm and pulled her toward the open doorway.

"That'll be Mac now," Dan said as the sound of the plane's engine increased overhead. "We can meet him out on the field."

As the two ran out to the field, Rebecca looked up to see a biplane banking toward the field. Rebecca just stared in amazement as the plane descended toward the ground. Soon the aircraft bounced as the landing gear touched the ground. The pilot slowed the aircraft as it approached Dan and Rebecca. The roar of the engine was like nothing Rebecca had ever heard before. Soon the engine coughed as the pilot shut it down.

Rebecca noticed that the plane had two seats. She thought it was strange that the pilot would sit in the furthest one back. It was not long before the pilot jumped out of the cockpit and alighted on the ground.

The man stood at about six feet tall wore a brown leather jacket and a matching helmet. He had a white silk scarf around his neck. He wore khaki pants and brown leather boots that reached over his calves. As the man approached the pair, he raised his flight glasses from his eyes revealing the pale blue irises.

Mac MacKinnon was smiling charmingly when he approached Dan and Rebecca. He pulled off his gloves and slapped Dan on the arm in a friendly manner.

"Dan, my boy, looks like our trip to Mexico will pay off handsomely if I get our cargo to Denver."

"Great Mac, what is it this time? Cerveza, Tequilla?"

"Yes, and yes," Mac laughed as he removed his leather helmet revealing his short brown hair.

"I see that our guest has arrived," Mac turned toward Rebecca who was just standing there in awe. "You must be Miss Strong, you can call me Mac. I see you already met the boy genius Dan ‘the Ham'."

"Please, I'm Rebecca."

Mac nodded and led her back towards the hangar. "Let's not bother Dan as he unloads our cargo and tinkers with the plane. I believe we have some business to conduct."

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Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 2: Jenny and the Roadster

By Dwayne MacInnes

Mac removed his leather helmet and jacket and tossed them onto the table next to the radio. He poured himself a cup of water and chugged it down in one go.

"When will you take me to see father?" Rebecca asked as the pilot seated himself down onto a chair near the table.

"We can leave in just a few minutes. All I need is the agreed upon payment," smiled Mac.

"I can't believe that you are charging $10 to take me to my father's camp," Rebecca said with a little disbelief. "I could buy a bus ticket for that amount or pay someone else to take me there for far less."

"Well, that is true," Mac chuckled. "But I am the only one who knows where your father is, and it is my business to transport cargo quickly and safely and that comes with a price."

"Cargo! I am just cargo to be transported quickly!" Rebecca angrily responded. Her sudden outburst caught herself by surprise. Yet she was even more surprised to hear Mac laughing.

"Not just quickly, but also safely," he pointed out. "As far as I am concerned, I've never been asked to deliver better ‘cargo'."

Rebecca blushed even though she still felt a little offended by the concept of being cargo. She was about to say something when Dan came walking into the hangar carrying a wooden crate. The sound of clinking bottles could be heard rattling around inside. Dan sat the crate down against a far wall next to the locker.

"Mac, I'll have the Jenny ready to go for your trip in the morning," Dan called over to the pilot. Mac only smiled and nodded toward Dan.

"Jenny?" Rebecca could not help ask. She knew that Mac's affairs were none of her business.

Mac laughed again, "I'm sorry. The Jenny is my plane. We used them as trainers during the Great War. It had a top speed of 75 miles per hour, but Dan wasn't happy with that." Mac pointed over to the bowing mechanic. "No, he modified her until she can do over 100 miles per hour. In fact, he did the same with my car over there." Mac pointed over to the yellow roadster. Dan just beamed with pride over Mac's praise.

Jenny Bi-Plane

"Speaking of which, I believe I have a delivery to make. But first..." Mac cut himself off and winked at Rebecca.

"Yes of course," Rebecca pulled out ten dollars and handed them over to Mac. Mac handed them over to Dan, who in turn stuffed them into his front coverall pocket.

In less than a minute, the yellow vehicle sped out of the hangar. Mac had the top down so that the air would flow over them. Rebecca felt the wind rush past her skin. It still felt quite hot, but it was not nearly as bad as when she was standing in it a few minutes before.

Stutz Roadster

Mac sped the vehicle down the dirt road at an astounding clip. Rebecca doubted that she had ever traveled this fast before. Not even on the train that brought her to Santa Fe from Chicago. The silence was becoming ominous as Mac drove along the desert road.

"How is father?" Rebecca asked watching the scrub grass and tumbleweeds fly by the side of the road.

"He appeared to be in quite good health the other day," Mac responded as he took a quick glance in his rearview mirror on the driver's side of the windshield.

"I mean has he gone back to drinking?"

"I don't believe he has."

"Mr. McKinnon, I know what your side business is. Please, I will not tell the authorities, but it is important that my father isn't involved in anyway. He almost lost his job because of his drinking after mother died."

Mac chuckled a bit, "You know I did offer him a beer once, but he turned me down. I swear I've never seen him drunk nor have a drink."

Rebecca's sigh of relief was audible over the purr of the Roadster's engine. Mac looked over at her and smiled. As he continued to drive, he looked in his rearview mirror again.

"Say, how would you like to see how fast we can take this car?" Mac asked cheerfully.

Before Rebecca could respond she was not interested in going any faster, Mac stomped on the accelerator. The yellow Roadster shot off like a racehorse leaving the gates at the Kentucky Derby. Rebecca held onto the door with a death grip. The blood completely left her face as Mac took turns at breakneck speed and shot down side roads that were merely trails.

How long they drove like this Rebecca did not know. Eventually Mac slowed the car down and his own sigh of relief became audible over the engine.

"Mr. McKinnon I thought you were to deliver your cargo quickly and safely," Rebecca commented sarcastically.

"Trust me I have your safety on my mind and please call me Mac."

It was not long before they pulled into a cavernous valley. Large pillars of rock, some with boulders on top of them, littered the landscape. The view was quite stunning and Rebecca swore she had never seen anything as breathtaking as this before. Mac pulled the yellow car up to a cliff that contained some pueblo houses inside its huge cavern.

At the base of the cliff was pitched a medium sized tent in front of a fire pit. Boxes of supplies were stacked near the tent. Shovels and pickaxes rested against the boxes. Rebecca's heart raced with excitement. She jumped out of the car before Mac had the Roadster a full stop.

A man with gray hair wearing a beat up brimmed hat stepped out of the tent. His closely trimmed gray beard made him look even more scholarly. Rebecca ran up to him and threw her arms around the old man's neck.

"Father, it's great to see you," she cried as tears ran down her cheeks.

Hugo Strong hugged his daughter tightly with a huge smile on his face.

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Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 3: The Map, The Key, and Sir Francis Drake

By Dwayne MacInnes

After Dr. Strong released his daughter, Mac approached him and shook his hand.

"Good to see you, Doc," Mac smiled as he pumped the archaeologist's hand in a strong grip.

"Did you have any problems delivering Rebecca?" the old man asked.

"Not at all, it was a wonderful drive," replied the pilot.

"I would have enjoyed the scenery more if it wasn't passing by at a hundred miles an hour," Rebecca shot out.

Dr. Strong looked up at Mac in surprise. Mac nodded his head.

"I have some business to conclude with Mac here, dear. But if you go into the tent I'm sure you'll find some of the artifacts on the table of great interest."

Rebecca walked over to the tent. Both men watched her silently not speaking until she closed the flap behind her.

"Were you followed?" Hugo asked.

"I believe someone was trying to follow us. I took a circuitous route to get here and lost them some miles back there. I'll stay until after sunset then I will return to the airfield."

"Be careful. My package should arrive in Denver tomorrow. Bring it as soon as possible."

"I'll have it here the day after next, Doc. You better take extra precautions as well," Mac responded.

"Please follow me to the tent. Let me show you what I've uncovered," the old man motioned for Mac to enter the tent.

The two men stepped into the tent. There were two cots at opposite sides of the room. A blanket screened one of the cots from the rest of the tent. This was obviously going to be Rebecca's "room". In the center of the tent was a large circular stone tablet about two feet in diameter on a wooden table. Strange markings covered the tablets surface. Rebecca stood hunched over the tablet studying its features.

"This is it," beamed the archaeologist. "This is the holy grail of the New World."

"I'm sorry if I don't really understand, Doc," Mac said scratching his head. The stone tablet did not strike him as anything particular.

"It looks like a Mayan calendar," Rebecca added.

"Yes, it does. In reality it is a map," Hugo responded excitedly.

"Map?" Mac took a closer look at the tablet. He just could not see how the strange symbols represented a map.

"Not just a map, but THE map."

Both Mac and Rebecca stared at the archaeologist as if he had been out in the sun too long.

"This is the map to the fabled Lost Cities of Gold."

"You mean El Dorado?" Mac asked.

"Yes, and no," The professor began. "El Dorado really means the 'Gilded One'.

"About thirty miles northeast of Bogota lays Lake Guatavita. The conquistadors used to call it 'Lake El Dorado' because the practice of the local chief who would cover himself in gold dust from head to foot. He then would float out to the middle of the lake on a raft where he would throw in golden objects to appease the spirit of the lake.

"Several accounts of this have been written down by the likes of Oviedo, the soldier-historian Pedro de Cieza de Leon, and Padre Pedro Simon. Over the centuries, several golden objects have been retrieved from the lake and there were even attempts by the Spaniards to drain it.

"Over the course of a few years the name El Dorado became synonymous with the lost cities of gold. Many famous explorers from across Europe searched in vain for the cities of gold such as Hernan Perez de Quesada, Philipp von Hutten, and even Sir Walter Raleigh.

"Over time the search for El Dorado, as you call it, became a thing of folk-lore and legend like Atlantis, the Fountain of Youth, or Camelot. However, I believe that there is some truth to the story. I believe that before the Incas, Aztecs or even the older Mayan, Toltec and Moche there was a great culture in South America. I believe that this civilization lost to history spread its culture of goldsmithing, engineering, and religion across much of South and Central America. I also believe that this civilization was the story that the conquistadors heard from the natives which led them to believe in the Lost Cities of Gold."

"Excuse me, Doc, but how does that bring you to the Anasazi? Were they part of this great lost empire?" Mac interrupted.

"No, not at all. We know very little about the Anasazi it is only by coincidence that I am here."

"I don't follow you father," Rebecca piped up.

Crystal Skull

"In my research in the archives of Madrid I came across a diary from a priest named Rodrigo Martinez de Toledo. He talks about the conquistadors finding a crystal skull in what is now British Honduras in 1578. The skull he claims is the key to the legendary city of El Dorado. This sparked a renewed interest in the Spanish searching for the elusive city. Soon in Mexico a stone tablet," Hugo pointed down at the tablet on the table, "was found in one of the temples. This tablet predated the Aztecs, but the Aztecs held it to be very holy. Rodrigo claims that this tablet was a map that would lead to El Dorado."

"That's interesting, Doc, how did the tablet get up here and what about the key?"

"Yes, two things happened that altered the course of history. The first was that in 1579 the Spaniards put the crystal skull aboard a ship called the Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion out of Peru. She was to sail west and put in at Spain. Unfortunately, the ship met up with that seadog Sir Francis Drake. Because the Spanish ship actually carried cannons, it earned the nickname of the Cacafuego. Drake soon captured the ship and transferred all the treasure aboard his ship the Golden Hind.

"Drake fearing that he wouldn't make it back to England and hoping that if he did he would be able to persuade Queen Elizabeth to colonize what is now the Pacific Northwest, New Albion as Drake named it, buried the skull and some treasure in Washington State. Queen Elizabeth burned the records of Drakes passage and forbade him to speak of it. I found the treasure last year, and fear that if I reveal my find, cutthroat fortune hunters will come after me.

"The map was lost two years later when renegade Spaniards stole the map before it could be sent with the treasure fleet to Spain in 1781. The renegades fled north as far as they could before finally taking shelter in some Anasazi ruins. The Navajo tribe soon killed them off.

"That is exactly where I found the stone map. Soon I shall have the key," the archaeologist concluded.

"You mean you have translated the stone?" Rebecca asked.

"Yes, with the help of Rodrigo's journal. I have the map memorized, but I want you, Mac to have the copy that I made for safe keeping." Hugo handed Mac a journal that the pilot stuffed in his back pocket.

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Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 4: Mac Is Late and The Morion

By Dwayne MacInnes

Rebecca slept soundly inside the tent. She was dreaming of humming birds with propellers on their beak as they buzzed from flower to flower. The buzzing increased in intensity until she woke up. Sitting straight up in bed Rebecca strained her ears to the noise of the buzzing. It sounded much like that of Mac's Jenny except it sounded as if there were a fleet of them.

Rebecca was about to awaken her father when the noise suddenly stopped dead. The buzzing vanished as if it had never been. Rebecca returned to bed shaking her head. Could she have dreamt the noise?

* * * * *

The next morning Rebecca arose, the sun was already up and the air in the tent was starting to become stifling hot. Her father had obviously been up for some time by the smell of breakfast cooking outside. The smell of scrambled eggs, bacon, and coffee wafted into the tent. Rebecca's stomach growled in anticipation. She quickly dressed into some khaki shorts and a light shirt and joined her father outside.

Hugo was sitting on a crate sipping at his coffee in a tin cup. He was looking up at the cave dwelling above him lost in thought. A pan of eggs and bacon sat on another crate next to him and the pot of coffee percolated on the small campfire.

"Good morning, dad," Rebecca greeted as she helped herself to the food.

"Ah, good morning," Hugo quickly turned to meet his daughter's eyes with a smile on his face. "After breakfast I thought today I'd show you around the dwelling up there," the archaeologist motioned towards the Anasazi abode with his cup of coffee.

"That'd be great," Rebecca replied excitedly. The previous day they spent in camp looking at the artifacts that Hugo had retrieved from the ruins. Though they were incredibly intriguing, Rebecca was itching to see the actual site from which they came.

"Do you think Mac will be here today?" Rebecca asked. "He did say he'd have your package here by then."

"Don't worry," Dr. Strong chuckled. "Mac knows his way around this camp. He has actually spent a couple of days up there helping me dig. So I'm sure that if we aren't in camp he'll join us up at the pueblo."

* * * * *

Dan listened to the radio gravely. His contact in Denver said that Mac had left the airfield hours ago. However, Mac should have returned by now. It was way past noon and the delivery went off without a hitch. The Jenny had been in top form when Mac took off yesterday for Denver. What could be keeping him?

Dan had known Mac since they served together in the Great War. Even then, Dan was the crew chief for Mac's Sopwith Camel. Dan took great pride in the fact that Mac's aircraft never left the airfield with a fault; the return however was always a different story.

After the war, the two began their own express courier service with the Jenny and this airfield. Business was very good. Everyone appeared to need something expedited somewhere. Trains sometimes were not fast enough or did not have a route where the delivery needed to be.

Prohibition had become a boon to their trade as well. The smuggling a crate or two of some beer or tequila from Mexico to some resort in the area proved very profitable. However, Mac was always careful to smuggle very little and to pay off the right officials. Being too greedy attracted the wrong attention. That is the attention of either the law or the mafia.

Dan set the headset down on the table. He dreamed of the day when radios became small enough to fit in aircraft. Regardless, the only thing Dan could do now was to wait and worry.

* * * * *

The late afternoon sun filtered into the cave dwelling. The buildings of the Anasazi were remarkable. The pueblos were made of adobe and the cave in which they were nestled tended to offer some relief from the blazing desert sun. Rebecca was having the time of her life.

"Now look here," Dr. Strong pointed to a pit in the floor of one of the pueblos. "This is where I found the map. You can see the Spaniard's artifacts I retrieved." The archaeologist now pointed to a rusted conquistador helmet and a broken matchlock musket sitting next to the lantern that was illuminating the interior.

Morion Helmet

Rebecca picked up the helmet and looked it over. She had seen pictures of them in paintings. She could now see in her mind the conquistadors wearing them on their heads with polished breastplates on their chest while sitting atop a horse. It is no wonder that the Incas and the Aztecs held these men in awe.

"That my dear is a Combed Morion helmet. It is commonly associated with the conquistadores though they by no means were the only ones to adopt that helmet," Hugo lectured.

Rebecca had not seen her father so lively since her mother died. She smiled at her father as he continued to lecture her on the history of the artifact that was now in her hands.

"In fact, the English pikemen commonly used the morion helmet until the mid 1500s. Edward IV ..." Hugo stopped suddenly and looked around.

"What is it, father?" Rebecca asked as her father strained to hear something.

"Quiet, dear, I believe I heard something," he whispered.

Outside the pueblo, the sound of small rocks tumbling off the side of the cliff intruded into the room. Hugo reached into his satchel by his feet and pulled out a Colt .45 Peacemaker. Rebecca gave a small gasp as she saw her father cock the hammer back.

Colt .45 Peacemaker

Hugo put is finger to his lips and sternly looked towards his daughter. "Quiet, it is probably just Mac, but you can't tell nowadays what sort of person you'll come across here in the desert.

"Just stay here and lay low. I'm going to check it out," Dr. Strong said as he left the small room.

Rebecca pulled herself back further into the room listening to her father slowly walk around the cavern. The tension was almost unbearable. She could not remember ever being so frightened in her life. Rebecca had never seen her father use a gun. She did not even think until now that her father had one.

The seconds turned into hours, Rebecca could no longer hear the footsteps of her father or the mysterious interloper outside. The only sounds that reached her ears were the thump-thumps of her own rapidly pounding heart.

Then a muffled thud followed by winded groan escaping from a man's lips reached her ears. She could hear the sound of some feet scrabbling across the cave's floor.

"Father!" Rebecca cried without thinking of the danger she could be in. She started to rush out of the pueblo and ran right into the chest of a large man in the doorway. The brute shoved Rebecca backwards who fell ingloriously on her bottom near the pit.

"Gunter, I believe ve have anozer vun een heah," the large man said in a thick German accent.

A smaller man walked up next to the brute in the doorway. Looked Rebecca over in the light afforded by the small lantern in the room.

"Ja, ja," Gunter replied, "Johann said ve only need zee professor. Kill her."

Rebecca sat there frozen stiff as the two German men stood over her discussing her fate. She could not get her mind to act. Horror had her completely paralyzed.

The larger man pulled a Luger out of his holster on his side. Smiling he pointed the gun at Rebecca.

Luger

"Sorry, Fraulein," was all the smaller man said to Rebecca as she closed her eyes and started sobbing.

Rebecca heard the sound of the large man cocking the pistol over the two Germen thugs' chuckling and her own sobbing. Any second now, she knew that she would hear the sound of the blast followed shortly by her own death. She wondered if she would feel any pain.

Rebecca tensed up in anticipation. She screwed shut her eyes even harder. She clenched her fists into a death grip by her side. She violently flinched when she heard the double pistol report explode into the small room.

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Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 5: The Light and the Stein Ritter

By Dwayne MacInnes

"Rebecca?" a voice called out into the darkness. "Can you see the light?"

Rebecca swam around in the darkness. She tried to find the source of the voice. The voice was familiar. It was not her mother. She thought for sure her mom would have been the one to guide her.

"The light, Rebecca," the voice persisted. It was a man's voice. But, whose was it?

Rebecca searched around more in the darkness. She was surprised that there was no pain. That answered one question, she died before the pain hit, thank God. She kept floating in the darkness.

There it was a light in the distance. She willed herself to enter the light. As she approached the light, she found that there was a buzzing in her ears. She could taste the dust on her in her throat.

"What strange sensations to have when you're dead," Rebecca thought.

"Rebecca?" the voice continued. The voice was more firm and a face finally matched up with it.

"Mac!" Rebecca cried as she sat up throwing her eyes open.

"Welcome to the land of the living," Mac smiled back.

There sitting next to her with the small lantern in his hand was Mac MacKinnon. She was still inside the pueblo's room. Dan Edwards was escorting her father into the room. Dr. Strong was holding the back of his head as he walked weakly leaning heavily on the smaller man as he led the professor.

"What? How?" Rebecca began.

"It's a good thing we got here when we did. These fellows were about to execute you. Dan is as good with his grandfather's Schofield as I am with my old service piece," Mac said as he patted the Colt .45 automatic on his hip.

Schofield Revolver

Dan tipped his ball cap toward Rebecca, "I find using the revolver to be friendlier to us left-handers than the automatics." Dan was sitting Hugo down next to Rebecca.

Rebecca looked at Mac questioningly. "He means the automatics tend to eject the spent cartridges out the right side. If you are left-handed, like my friend there," Mac nodded over at Dan, "that can pump the shells into your face. Hot brass in one's face is not all that fun."

Colt 1911

"Sorry we were late. The Jenny was having some...er, engine problems and I had to set down in a vacant field and hitch hike back to the airfield," Mac apologized.

"So who are our friends there?" Mac asked looking over to the two dead men lying over by the far wall.

"I don't know," Hugo began. "They jumped me before I could see them."

"They're Germans," Rebecca said matter-of-factly.

Mac and Dan looked at each other.

"What would the German's be doing here?" Dan asked.

Mac quickly ran over to the dead men. He began searching there bodies. After awhile he looked over at the three people sitting next to the pit.

"It's worse than we thought," Mac said lifting one of the dead men's arms he pulled up the sleeve to reveal a tattoo of a shield that appeared to be made of stone. "It's the Stein Ritter."

"Ooh, that is not good," Dan replied.

"What's Stein Ritter?" the archaeologist asked.

"The Stein Ritter or Stone Knight is a secret Prussian organization. They may have been the ones responsible for the series of treaties that Europe signed that lead to the Great War. In fact, they may have been the ones responsible for assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand in order to start that war once the treaties were set up," Mac offered.

"Why?" Hugo questioned looking intently at Mac.

"Because they felt that they could come to power and through Germany rule much of the world. It was a near done thing until we Americans entered the war," Mac answered.

"No, I'm sorry, but why are they interested in my archaeological finds? Certainly they are not treasure hunters," the professor pressed.

"After the war, the Allies put terrible reparations on Germany. The Germans will be paying off England and France for decades," Mac continued. "Therefore, if the Stein Ritter can find El Dorado they'll be able to fund there own empire."

"My God!" Hugo cried. "The map and Rodrigo Martinez de Toledo's journal are back at the camp."

Mac jumped up and started running towards the doorway. "It is worse than that. I have the package in my car. I can only presume that it is the key."

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Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 6: The Looters and the Fight

By Dwayne MacInnes

Mac and Dan quickly descended from the cave and ran towards the camp. The sun was starting to sink below the western horizon. In the orange twilight, the two were able to make out the shape of a truck near the camp. There were some men rushing to load it with their spoils taken from the camp.

Mac slowed down to a trot next to Dan. Both men had their weapons drawn and ready for service.

"We haven't been noticed yet. If we hurry, we may be able to catch them by surprise," Mac said in Dan's ear. Dan nodded in agreement. After all these years together and the many adventures they had been through during and after the war, they could practically read each other's mind.

Dan peeled off from Mac at the outskirts of the small camp and headed towards the truck. Mac stealthily moved around the opposite side of the camp to try to catch the intruders by surprise. So far, the looters, who were too engrossed in their work, detected neither man.

Mac could make out snatches of German as the men talked to each other as they lifted the stone map into the back of the pick-up truck. A quick glance toward the front of the truck showed that Dan was nearly in position. Mac started walking up behind the closest intruder. The man was struggling to lift the stone into the back of the truck so he did not notice Mac sneaking up on him until Mac inadvertently stepped onto a twig.

Snapping twig was enough to cause the man to drop the stone and turn around on Mac so quickly that Mac barely had time to react. Mac raised his automatic up in order to aim it at the man. The looter reacted quickly knocking the gun out of Mac's hand before he could fire the pistol. The looter then rapidly slammed his right hand into Mac's stomach.

Mac doubled over and fell backwards landing on his rear trying to gather his breath. The German just laughed and called to his comrades who were working at gathering all the artifacts that Dr. Strong had accumulated. The other two men ran over towards the truck.

"Look vhat I have found," the German laughed pointing towards Mac.

"Hans don't play vith him. Ve haf vork to do," one of his comrades reminded.

"Ja, but ve can have zee little fun, nein?" Hans asked motioning Mac to stand up.

Mac had sufficiently gathered his breath and pulled his legs up under him. The other two Germans pulled back allowing Hans and Mac ample room for fighting. Hans stood a couple inches taller than Mac and easily had fifty pounds on him. However, Mac had plenty of experience brawling and stuck up his fists in a defensive posture.

Hans came at Mac far quicker than anyone could have thought a man his size could move with a roundhouse punch. Mac anticipated the move and blocked it with his left arm while aiming a blow with his own right hand towards Hans' jaw.

The blow landed squarely and Hans took a couple of steps back shaking his head to clear his mind. Mac knew he could not afford Hans to regain the initiative and followed up with two quick body blows to the German's midriff. The man's abs felt as if they were made of steel.

Hans now fairly recovered from the surprise shot to his jaw quickly pulled Mac into a terrible bear hug. Mac felt his back crack as Hans tightened his grip. Breathing was now nearly impossible for Mac. Mac violently clapped his hands over the German's ears causing him to release his captive.

Mac fell to the ground, swung his legs, and swept the German off his feet. Hans, still holding his ringing ears fell like an ox onto the ground. Mac regained his feet and pulled back waiting for Hans to get back up. So far, the other two Germans had contented themselves with watching the fight. They were yelling encouragement to Hans.

The big German regained his feet and warily eyed Mac. The two pugilists circled each other looking for an opening. Hans finally swung with his right arm toward Mac's head. Mac barely ducked the blow and countered by putting all his strength in a shot to Hans's stomach with his left hand. As the German doubled up Mac delivered another shot with his right hand to Hans's jaw. This time Hans fell unconscious to the ground.

Mac took a couple of seconds to catch his breath; he temporarily forgot about the two other Germans. The sound of the Germans priming their pistols behind him brought him back to the graveness of his situation. Mac raised his hands and turned towards his captors.

Dan came running up behind the Germans tackling both men to the ground. Mac wasted no time in joining in the fight. As the men struggled on the ground, the crack of a pistol shot split the air. Everyone gathered himself up and looked at the source of the shot.

Hans by now had regained his consciousness and stood with a Luger pointed at Mac and Dan. The other two Germans backed away from the two men. Hans instructed his comrades to finish loading the stone in the truck. Mac's mind raced for and idea on how to catch Hans by surprise. So far, nothing was coming to mind.

"I am so sorry. But, I will now have to kill you," Hans said coldly as his leveled the pistol on Mac.

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Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 7: The Desert Race

By Dwayne MacInnes

Hans smiled as he started to pull the trigger. The other Germans had the stone map loaded in the back of the truck by now. It was amazing how these last few seconds tended to play out as if in slow motion.

Mac and Dan stood there waiting for the end. Both stared at the Luger waiting for the muzzle to discharge their death. A shot shattered the quiet desert air, a shot that did not come from Hans's gun, but by Dr. Strong's Colt. Hans fell over backwards with a bullet to his head his hand spasmodically firing the Luger harmlessly into the sky.

The remaining two Germans wasted no time in jumping into the truck and taking off into the desert. Mac and Dan stood there transfixed still not believing in their last minute reprieve.

Hugo Strong with his daughter trailing behind ran up to the two men. The Colt still smoking from its discharge.

"Quickly," the professor prompted. "They are getting away."

Roadster

Mac and Dan quickly found their weapons and jumped into the roadster. Mac cursed as the roadster reluctantly turned over. The truck was disappearing into the desert. Nonetheless, it was only a moment before Mac was in pursuit.

The truck had a good lead, but the roadster could quickly catch up with its superior speed. The two parties raced into the night. Dust clouds flying up behind the vehicles.

"What took you so long?" Mac asked Dan as he sped along.

"You had everything well in hand," Dan replied. "Plus, I needed you to distract those other guys so I could sneak up on them."

"Glad I could help," Mac laughed.

The roadster was rapidly closing the distance between the two vehicles. The occasional rock or rut the roadster hit bounced the pair in their seats. But, the two just smiled. This was just another adventure for the two.

It would only be another minute or two and the roadster would be on the truck. Dan quickly checked his Schofield as he readied for the shoot out that would inevitably begin. As if the passenger of the truck had read Dan's mind he leaned out the window and fired off a shot with his Luger.

Dan returned fire at the truck. Mac ducked lower behind the wheel concentrating on catching the truck. The bullets from the German's pistol had so far failed to find their mark. Dan for his part had only succeeded in shooting out the rear window.

Mac pulled the roadster over to the driver's side of the truck. The passenger now had to change his position to fire out the shattered rear window. As the passenger prepared to open fire, Dan took careful aim. The Schofield barked as the last bullet in the cylinder flew from the muzzle and buried itself into the passenger's shoulder. The passenger cursed in German as he dropped the Luger and grabbed his right shoulder.

Mac and Dan exchanged a quick smile as Dan started to climb out of the roadster to jump onto the truck. However, as Dan began to rise from his seat another shot broke over the sound of the racing engines. This report did not come from a gun but instead from the roadsters front passenger's tire.

The roadster pulled violently to the right roughly throwing Dan back into his seat. The yellow roadster barely missed hitting the truck as Mac fought to keep control of the vehicle. The truck sped off into the distance as Mac brought the roadster to a dead stop.

"Damn," cursed Dan. "We nearly had them."

Mac sat there silently for a while and then began to smile.

"What? Am I missing something?" Dan asked.

"If we quickly fix the tire we should be able to catch the truck," Mac replied with a laugh.

"How's that?"

"They just drove into that box canyon. There is only one way out and that is past us."

In less than ten minutes, Dan and Mac replaced the flat from one of the two spare tires the roadster carried. Mac drove the roadster cautiously toward the canyon. As they reached the mouth of the canyon, Mac pulled to a stop.

"This is where we get out and walk," Mac said.

Both men jumped out of the roadster and started walking down the dark canyon. Fortunately, there was a half-moon out to offer them light. Mac knew this desert pretty well and knew that this canyon was not very deep. In a few minutes, they would be upon the truck and with some more luck ambush the driver and recover the stone map.

As Mac and Dan crept further into the canyon the roar of multiple engines revving up to speed split through the still air. It had been a good three years the last time, either man had heard the noise, but they both recognized it at the same time.

"They didn't," Mac exclaimed as he began running towards the sound.

"I believe they did," Dan replied keeping up with Mac.

They both crested a small mound in time to see what they feared. Although the canyon was not terribly deep, it was wide. It was just wide enough to hide a zeppelin and that zeppelin was now rising rapidly into the air over the two men's head.

Dan and Mac just stared as the lighter-than-air craft flew off into the desert air.

Zepplin

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Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 8: Rodrigo's Mistake

By Dwayne MacInnes

Mac took his time returning to the camp. He did not relish the idea of telling Dr. Strong that he and Dan had lost the stone map and the key, that the German's were now flying off to find El Dorado, and that they could not follow.

The roadster slowly pulled up to the crates and the tent silhouetted in the campfire. Dr. Strong and his daughter both waited with anticipation as Mac and Dan stepped out the car.

"Well, did you get them?" Rebecca asked excitedly.

"Not exactly," Mac replied crestfallen. "I'm sorry Doc, but the Germans had a zeppelin and made off with the map and key. We have no idea where they went and we can't follow them."

Much to everyone's surprise the professor started to laugh.

"Are you all right, father?" Rebecca looked at her father with a troubled look on her face.

"Quite, quite," the archaeologist continued to laugh. "You forget Mac that I have the map already memorized. Plus, I know exactly where the German's are headed. In fact, they are traveling in opposite direction of El Dorado."

"I must admit it Doc, but you have lost me again," Mac said sitting down on a crate near the fire.

"Remember I told you about the renegade Spaniards stealing the stone map and heading north?" the professor prompted.

Rebecca and Mac both nodded. Dan just stared at everyone with a puzzled expression.

"I'll explain later," Mac offered to Dan.

Dr. Strong continued, "The reason they headed north was because Rodrigo made a translation error. He translated part of the map to read ‘in the greatest river canyon'. Therefore, Rodrigo believed that El Dorado was in the Grand Canyon, the greatest canyon.

"What he should have translated was ‘in the greatest river valley." The greatest river is the Amazon and that is south instead of north. So, you see they are heading in the wrong direction.

"However, we still need the key. That is the most important artifact that they stole."

Mac felt much better and slapped Dan on the shoulder.

"Dan do you think you can get the Jenny running tomorrow?" Mac asked.

Jenny

"Shouldn't be too hard. I just need to check the prop and clean out the feathers," Dan returned.

"Feathers!?!" Rebecca exclaimed.

Mac turned a little red. Even in the firelight, Rebecca noticed the pilot blushing.

"Yeah, my engine trouble was brought on by me flying into a flock of birds. I had to land before my propeller shattered or the engine died."

"Leave it to Mac to find road kill in the sky," Dan joked.

Dr. Strong and Rebecca started laughing. Mac gave Dan a glare before he too joined in laughing.

It did not take Dan long at all to get the Jenny ready the next day. Both the propeller and the engine were fine. A quick cleaning and routine maintenance had Mac in the air by late afternoon.

Mac made to the Grand Canyon in Arizona by sundown. He stayed at a colleague's airfield while he started his search for the zeppelin. Mac made a few inquiries into whether anyone in the area had seen an airship flying in the sky. However, everyone he asked thought he was joking.

Mac had little choice but to begin to search for the zeppelin by air. The task before him was daunting. The Grand Canyon was long and deep, but the zeppelin may have landed miles away from the canyon further increasing the area where Mac would have to search.

Mac had searched the area for over a week. He had nothing to show for his efforts and everyone decided that he should return home. The Jenny was flying back toward New Mexico when Mac saw a something on the ground that did not quite fit.

At first glance, it looked like a patch of snow high in the mountains. However, the patch of snow was elliptical and rising into the air. Mac banked the Jenny around to take a closer look.

Zepplin

Mac laughed as he spied the zeppelin climbing higher into the sky. By pure chance, he had stumbled upon the airship. The German airship was about 529 feet long and 38 feet in diameter. Three gasoline engines positioned outside the gasbag powered the great craft up to 85 miles an hour. Maybe he would not go home empty handed after all.

The zeppelin began to fly off in an easterly direction. Mac increased the Jenny's speed in order to catch up to the zeppelin. He wanted to get a better look at his adversary.

Mac was almost on top of the zeppelin when he noticed the platforms on the top of the zeppelin. During the Great War, zeppelins had gunners on the top of the airbag to fight off attacking allied aircraft. These platforms were still armed and they began to open fire upon the little Jenny.

Mac pulled back on the stick to gain altitude before the gunners and their Maxim machineguns could get a fix on him. The engine of the biplane roared in protest as bullets ripped past. Mac rolled the biplane as he dove. He could hear the tearing of the fabric skin as some of the bullets found their mark. He pulled back sharply on the stick and the plane climbed rapidly into the sky once more. Mac leveled off before the plane stalled. The Maxims pursued him persistently.

German

The Jenny began to respond sluggishly as he jinked the plane. The two machinegun placements relentlessly fired upon the aircraft. Mac pushed forward upon the stick again and the plane dove. Mac flew the plane past and below the zeppelin, but not before a few rounds found their way into the engine. Although the gun placements could no longer fire upon the plane, the machineguns had done their job as smoke billowed from the Jenny's engine.

The plane did not respond to his control as it spun ever closer to the ground. Mac fought to pull the stick back as the wind screamed in his ears and the engine coughed and smoked as he plummeted towards the earth. The altimeter rapidly counted down. Mac had only a hundred feet in which to gain control of the plane as the ground rushed ever closer.

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Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 9: Johann and Wolfgang

By Dwayne MacInnes

Dr. Hugo Strong and Rebecca moved into the apartment attached to the back of the hangar where Dan and Mac lived. The apartment was small, containing only a kitchen-dining room, two cramped bedrooms, and a living room housing a sofa that Dan now used as a bed. Dan had insisted that Rebecca take Mac's room and Dr. Strong move into his while Mac was searching for the zeppelin.

The three would crowd around Dan's radio in the hangar as he communicated with Mac every evening about his progress on locating the zeppelin at the Grand Canyon. Other than experiencing a wonderful aerial tour of the picturesque landscape, Mac had nothing further to report. Finally, they decided after ten days that Mac return to their airfield in New Mexico.

Dan was at his usual position at the radio when Rebecca walked into the large open room. Dan threw his headset onto the desktop in frustration before he realized that Rebecca was standing behind him.

"Oh...sorry," Dan stammered in surprise noticing Rebecca watching him.

"What's wrong?" Rebecca asked as she took a chair next to the desk.

"Nothing. I'm just experiencing some technical problems with my set here," Dan lied.

Rebecca gave Dan a piercing glare showing that she obviously did not buy his story. "Is there something wrong with Mac?"

Dan sat back in his chair and blew air out of his mouth. "Yeah, Mac should have been here hours ago. I just called McCurdy's airfield and he isn't there. In fact, Mac left in the morning as we planned."

"Maybe, Mac stopped off for dinner or something on the way back," Rebecca tried to comfort Dan.

"That's not like Mac. He is very punctual. Do you remember the last time he was late? He was lucky he was able to land the plane after he ran into that flock of birds."

"Mac is a very accomplished pilot. I'm sure he has a reason for being late. Who knows he may have even found the zeppelin."

"That's exactly what I'm afraid of," Dan replied sourly.

"Any news about Mac's whereabouts?" Dr. Hugo asked surprising both Rebecca and Dan as he walked up behind them. The archaeologist was holding a sandwich that he offered to Dan. "Rebecca and I have already eaten."

"Thanks," Dan replied as he accepted the food. Dan then repeated his fears to the doctor.

Rebecca and Dr. Strong began talking about some of the artifacts that were at the dig while Dan consumed his meal. The three were so busy discussing Dr. Strong's finds that none of them noticed the man walk into the hangar.

"Pardon me," the stranger asked.

The three companions turned around simultaneously to see a man dressed in a gray business suit and holding his hat in one hand and a walking stick in another. The man stood at about six feet tall, had blue eyes and gray hair with a Van Dyke beard and mustache that was also gray. He had to have been in his late forties or early fifties.

"I am sorry to interrupt," the man said in a British accent with a hint of German as he heavily rolled his r's. "I am Johann von Hutten, and I am afraid I need your help Herr Doktor."

Von Hutten revealed the German Luger that he had concealed under his hat. Two other large men now entered the hangar. One was armed with a rifle the other was also holding a Luger.

Dan, Rebecca, and Dr. Strong all raised their hands as the intruders pointed their weapons at them. The two thugs walked over, grabbed the archaeologist roughly, and began to lead him away.

"Wait!" von Hutten ordered. "If I am not mistaken this is Herr Strong's daughter. Bring her along. I'm sure she'll help us persuade the fine doctor to cooperate. As for the mechanic... as these American's say, 'dead men tell no tales.'"

Before long, the thugs tied up and gagged Dan in a corner of the hangar. The Germans had left with their prisoners leaving Dan by himself. Instead of just shooting him there, the Germans had cruelly set up a bomb consisting of several sticks of dynamite and a clock that sat in front of Dan.

The poor mechanic could do nothing but watch and listen as the clock relentlessly ticked off the few remaining minutes before ending his life in a violent blast. His arms tied securely behind his back around a pipe secured him to his corner. The bomb was out of reach of his kicking legs. Dan frantically twisted and struggled to loosen his bonds. However, it was fruitless he was expertly trussed up.

The zeppelin rose slowly up into the night sky. A locked crewmembers' cabin contained the archaeologist and his daughter. Johann von Hutten looked down upon the small airfield from the flight deck of the zeppelin.

The helmsman stood at the wheel listening to the orders of the captain. Johann knew the captain well; he was a very accomplished pilot and a high-ranking member of the Stein Ritter. Wolfgang, none knew his last name, had shot down over hundred allied aviators during the Great War. Now, this strange man commanded the last of the military's zeppelins that he had custom made and had remarkably smuggled out of the Fatherland without anyone knowing.

Wolfgang had come to von Hutten to offer his assistance in locating El Dorado. It was no secret that Johann was the great grand nephew of Philipp von Hutten. Like Philipp, Johann burned with a desire to find the elusive El Dorado. All Wolfgang wanted was a share of the treasure in order to rebuild Germany.

Johann smiled as he watched the airfield shrink below them. It looked like the last obstacle was about to be permanently removed. First, they shot down that pilot earlier today and now the mechanic was about to come to his end.

Johann looked up at the clock on the wall of the bridge. Any second now, the bomb should go off. Von Hutten peered out the window once more in time to see the flash of the explosion. The dampened roar of the blast reached his ears a second later.

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Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 10: Back from the Dead

By Dwayne MacInnes

Dan knew he was a dead man. He had been expertly tied-up with a bomb counting down the last few minutes of his life just out of his reach. His struggling to loosen his bonds had only resulted in rope burns. Regardless of the pain in raw wrists, Dan continued to frantically struggle. He could not scream because of the gag in his mouth. Not like there would have been anyone to hear him in the desert.

The clock's rhythmic ticking pounded into Dan's ears. It was the only sound outside of Dan's violent and futile attempts to free himself. There was only half a minute left before Dan resigned himself to his fate. He closed his eyes and relaxed. At least he would die peacefully.

Dan heard a noise. He opened his eyes to see a man run out of the hangar with the bomb. The man then ran back into the hangar and slid behind the wall just before the dynamite sticks exploded thunderously. The hangar rocked and dust flew in through the open doors.

The mechanic watched as a figure walked towards him through the cloud of dust. Dan recognized the man as he approached closer. It was Mac and as usual, he was there just at the right time.

"Looks like you've gotten yourself tied-up," Mac said dryly.

All Dan could do was groan through the gag in his mouth. Mac removed the gag and began to untie Dan's arms and legs.

"What took you so long?" Dan asked.

"I ran into the zeppelin. They nearly shot me out of the sky. I had to coax the Jenny back home. Even then, I land a couple of miles shy of the hangar and I had to run back here," Mac explained hurriedly. "I'm sorry I didn't get here in time to save the professor and Rebecca."

"Yeah, a man named Johann von Hutten kidnapped them and took off with them after trying to blow me up," Dan replied. "Looks, like they now hold all the cards. We can't even follow them."

Mac finished untying Dan who began to rub his raw and bloody wrists. Mac reached into his back pocket and pulled out a book. "Not exactly... I had some time to read Dr. Strong's journal. He wrote everything down including the exact route to the location of El Dorado."

"But they have the key and we don't," Dan pointed out.

"That's true, but maybe we can head them off," Mac said. "Von Hutten, did you say?"

Dan nodded his head.

"Our friend Johann must be a relative of Philipp von Hutten. I suppose he wants to carry on the family tradition."

* * * * *

"Now you will notice that this zeppelin has certain amenities that our military airships didn't have during the Great War," Johann pointed out as he had breakfast with his guests. Dr. Strong and Rebecca both sat at the table in the cramped dining room eating sausages and eggs alone with their captor. Johann pointed at the room with his fork, "You'll notice that this gondola is completely enclosed and pressurized. This allows us to heat it up and keep it comfortable even though we are now flying over 20,000 of your feet in the air."

Both the professor and his daughter sat their in silence reluctantly eating as Johann continued to lecture on about his airship. The one sided conversation even began to tire the German.

"Please, you both are so glum," Johann began. "You must have some questions about our ship. Or, perhaps we can talk about El Dorado?"

Dr. Strong cleared his throat before he quietly began speaking, "Surely, you don't expect hostages to carry on with their jailers as if they were on a holiday, especially, when you are more than likely going to kill us after you get what you want."

Johann began to laugh, "I'm sorry, but you couldn't be further from the truth. We have no desire to kill you and your charming daughter. We just need you to correct our course. It is obvious that the Grand Canyon is not the correct location."

"Just like you didn't kill Mac and Dan!" yelled Rebecca as she stood up pointing an accusing finger at Johann.

"Yes, unfortunately, they were an impediment to our plans and had to be dealt with in a more permanent fashion. But, I assure you that we have no such plans for you just as long as you cooperate."

Dr. Strong pulled Rebecca back down into her chair. The young woman's eyes blazed with hatred as she stared at Johann.

"To prove my point you are free to walk anywhere you want in this gondola. You may not access the airbag or try to reach the control gondola. Just one word of warning though, you cannot smoke. The hydrogen that fills our airbags is highly flammable. I also warn you against sabotage. For your life depends on our reaching El Dorado alive and well."

"You shall have no problem from us," Hugo promised.

Rebecca turned her glare upon her father. The professor only sternly looked into her eyes as he continued to speak to Johann.

"As long as you treat my daughter well, I shall be fully cooperative."

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Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 11: Escape

By Dwayne MacInnes

Zepplin

Hugo Strong was as good as his word. He soon had the zeppelin on the correct course towards El Dorado. Johann for his part was also as good as his word. Both the professor and Rebecca had full run of the gondola where they were residing. Unfortunately, a jail, no matter its size was still a jail.

Rebecca had fully explored every inch of the gondola. The crew slept in small cabins containing two sets of bunk beds. Dr. Strong and Rebecca had one to themselves, thanks to the recent passing of some of the crew at Mac and Dan's hand. Two tiny restrooms that contained a shower sat at the end of the hall with the crew cabins. The shower had a timer to limit the amount of water used. One restroom had been set aside for Rebecca's personal use. The poor crew now had to crowd into the remaining restroom.

The gondola also contained a small mess hall that adjoined a tiny galley. Nonetheless, the food prepared by the cook was first rate. Johann certainly enjoined the good things in life. Two large storage rooms stored crates and barrels of various supplies. The access panels to the airbag and the flight control gondola were constantly under guard to deter Hugo and Rebecca to leave. Finally, there was a small observation deck.

The view from the observation deck was stunning. As the zeppelin floated above the clouds, Rebecca could not help but feel as if she was an angel looking down upon the Earth. The land and sea that flowed below them looked surreal. Rebecca had never flown in her life and this experience astounded her.

However, after two days of watching the planet pass below her Rebecca began to get bored. There were no books in English for her to read, and she never learned any German. However, if she did, Rebecca doubted that the books available to her were nothing more than technical manuals.

Rebecca wandered the gondola looking for something new to occupy her time. As she walked past one of the storage compartments, Rebecca noticed a crewmember dumping some trash out an access panel to the ground. There was a coil of rope next to panel. The rope must have been for mooring the ship to the ground. An idea passed into Rebecca's mind.

Whenever the airship encountered too much turbulence, it decreased its altitude. If the airship lowered itself close enough to the ground, Rebecca and her father could possibly escape through the access panel. Granted, the plan was fraught with peril, but Rebecca reasoned that it was worth the risk.

That night Rebecca proposed her plan to her father. At first, Dr. Strong was against the idea. However, Rebecca was relentless and her reasoning was flawless. They both knew that there was no guarantee that Johann was not going to kill them after he got what he wanted. Thus, she was able to persuade her father attempt the escape.

The opportunity that Rebecca was hoping for presented itself far sooner than she expected. It was the morning of the morning after she presented her plan to her father that the zeppelin lowered itself down to treetop level. Rebecca quickly grabbed her father out of their cabin and led him to the storage room.

The room was deserted and the two captives quickly rushed into room. Rebecca lifted the door open on the access panel. She watched the trees slowly pass along below the airship. This was even better than she had hoped.

"Come, dad you go first," Rebecca motioned to her father as she began to uncoil the rope. Hugo started to approach Rebecca when suddenly the door opened behind them.

A German crewmember surprised the two prisoners. Both parties stared at each other for a minute. It took only a second for the German to find his voice and he started to yell at Rebecca and the professor in German.

"I'm sorry, this doesn't look..." Hugo began as the German roughly grabbed his arm.

The archaeologist began to struggle with the German. Both men started to toss each other about in the storage room. They would crash each other into boxes and barrels oblivious to Rebecca who just stood there shocked to see her father fighting. The older man was doing remarkable well against his younger opponent.

The German crewmember finally shoved the professor against some sacks of flour breaking their hold on each other. As the German approached to continue the fight against the older man, Hugo kicked out violently with his right leg. The German caught the blow to his stomach, which sent him staggering backwards toward the open access panel.

The German flailed his arms as he stepped onto the empty air. In a final desperate attempt, he grabbed onto Rebecca with his left arm pulling her along with him. Hugo lunged to grab his daughter as she fell through the access panel. Hugo's fingers narrowly missed Rebecca's outstretched hand. The last thing he saw was the look of fear as Rebecca plummeted towards the earth.

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Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 12: Major Roger White

By Dwayne MacInnes

Rebecca felt the hand of the falling German grabbing onto her arm. Rebecca lost her balance and started to fall through the open access panel as well. Desperately, she reached out towards her father who was rushing over to grab her. Their hands barely missed each other.

The German's grasp slipped off Rebecca's arm, and she thought she heard him scream as he fell. She could not be sure for she was screaming as well as she too plummeted towards the ground. The bottom of the zeppelin fell away as she plunged backwards.

Rebecca closed her eyes as she continued her downward descent. She continued to scream as the wind rushed past her ears. Suddenly, something grabbed her left ankle jarringly and painfully halting her fall. Rebecca opened her eyes to see that by some miracle the mooring line entangled her foot.

Rebecca hung upside down, for how long she did not know before someone began to pull her back up to the access panel of the zeppelin. After a few minutes, Rebecca found herself back inside the storage room. Johann von Hutten stood next to her father with his arms crossed. He did not appear pleased at all. The two crewmembers that had retrieved Rebecca stood back as another man approached from the back of the room. This man was obviously the zeppelin's captain. Neither she nor her father had seen the captain before as he was always on the flight deck. He was wearing a navy blue uniform and a matching officer's cap. On his jacket, braiding encircled his cuffs that matched the color of his gold buttons.

The captain walked up to Rebecca and Dr. Strong. The scowl on his face made Rebecca's blood run cold.

"Mr. von Hutten has been entirely too civil with you. I have already lost four men because of you, and I will not lose another. Is that clear?" the captain said in a stern voice with a near perfect North American accent. "If either of you cause me any further problems, I will have you eliminated."

The captain turned on his heels and marched out of the storage room.

"That was Captain Wolfgang. I am sorry, but I am afraid that your movements are now restricted. You shall be locked in your cabin until you are summoned for," Johann added before he motioned to the two crewmembers.

The German crewmembers were now shouldering rifles and led the Strongs back to their cabin. One of the Germans stood guard outside the room after he securely locked in the hostages.

Meanwhile, Mac and Dan managed to make it to British Honduras by fast train. They had also hired bush pilots to help them get through Central America. Mac reckoned that they could not be too far behind the zeppelins trail. He had a contact here and Mac hoped that he would be able to call in some markers to get a floatplane.

The two men walked into the dark cantina. The humid and dimly lit interior reeked of unwashed bodies mingled with the strong smell of alcohol. The smell brought Mac and Dan back to their days on the western front in France during the Great War.

Seeing Major Roger White sitting at a table with another man further reinforced the memory. It felt as if the two men had stepped back in time to four years earlier. Mac nudged Dan and both walked up to the table.

"Why if it isn't Captain MacKinnon and Sergeant Edwards," laughed retired British Major. Roger twisted the end of his mustache as he stood up and offered his right hand in greeting.

Both Mac and Dan accepted the handshake in turn before they sat down at the table next to the stranger who the major had been conversing with moments before.

Roger nodded towards the stranger as he resumed his seat. "Gentlemen, I would like you to meet a fellow countryman Dr. Frederick Mitchell-Hedges. He's an archaeologist here working on...what was it again?"

"I am working on the Mayan ruins in the city of Lubaantum," the archaeologist offered. "I'm spending some time here with my daughter Anna."

"Sounds remarkably familiar," Dan said off-handedly.

"Excuse me," Dr. Mitchell-Hedges replied. "I'm afraid I don't quite follow."

"It's nothing," Mac said. "I've looked up the major here to see if he could help us find some transportation on an expedition we are mounting."

"Well, it looks like you gentlemen have some business to attend to. I have to find a birthday gift for my daughter so I'll be leaving," Frederick said as he stood up and bowed towards the three men. "Cheers."

The major sat back and continued to play with his mustache until the archaeologist left the cantina. "I received your telegram two days ago. I have the plane ready down by the lake. All we need to do now is conclude the rather distasteful task of payment."

"Do you want that in dollars or pounds?" Mac asked.

"Pounds if you would be so kind."

Mac nodded over to Dan who in turn reached into one of his many pockets and produced a roll of British pounds. Dan tossed the wad of cash over to Roger. The major snatched the money out of midair and quickly secreted it away into his own pocket.

"I'll count it later. I'm sure you haven't shorted me. Now if you will follow me I'll show you the floatplane you requested," Roger said as he stood up and ushered the two men out of the cantina. "Do you need any other...um, provisions?"

Mac smiled, the major had not changed much after the war. Even then, Roger White ran a small black market. If you wanted it, he could get it. It was all just a matter of money. "No, we've brought our own," Mac replied.

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Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 13: The Key

By Dwayne MacInnes

Mac flew the floatplane over the Amazon jungle. Dan sat in the front seat of the biplane checking the weapons they had packed. Mac brought along his newly purchased Thompson submachine gun, and Dan brought his old Lee-Enfield rifle. This would augment their sidearms that they always carried.

Thompson Sub-Machine Gun

Mac was half searching for the zeppelin as well as looking for a reasonable landing place near where he believed the entrance to El Dorado lay. The professor’s journal was very explicit as to where he believed El Dorado could be located. So far, all Mac could see was dense jungle below.

Mac dropped the floatplane lower to the jungle canopy. The thick foliage hid everything inside its interior. Mac circled a few times and then started to bring the plane in for a landing on the wide Amazon River.

The plane landed smoothly on the river’s surface. Mac pulled the aircraft up to the riverbank before he cut the engine. Dan did not waste a moment jumping onto the wing and grabbing the mooring line. He walked the wings length and landed on the solid riverbank where he secured the plane to a nearby tree.

Mac was not far behind unloading their equipment. Dan grabbed a backpack and his rifle while he helped Mac to the ground.

Lee-Enfield Rifle

"How far do you think the Temple is?" Dan asked.

"I don’t know, but if Dr. Strong’s journal is correct it can’t be too far," Mac replied. "The temple may easily have become overgrown over the last few hundred years, but according to the journal it is the entrance to El Dorado. If we can locate it before the Germans we may be able to enter after they use the key."

"Which way do we go?" Dan asked as he shouldered his pack and loaded his Lee-Enfield.

Mac put on his own pack and loaded the fifty-round drum. "It should be northwest of here. With a little luck, it should reveal itself once we enter the interior. The foliage is always thickest by the riverbanks. Things will tend to thin out once we get inside."

The temperature was only in the high seventies but the humidity made it seem much worse. The heavy rainfall did little to cool either man down as they marched into the jungle’s interior. To add to their discomfort, swarms of biting insects found their flesh and blood tasty.

The sound of monkeys and birds incessantly echoed throughout the jungle. Once they heard a jaguar cry out. Dan readied his rifle after the jungle cat’s roar subsided. Mac continued to slash his way through the jungle with his machete.

"How much further do you figure?" Dan asked for about the hundredth time.

Mac stopped his march and leaned against a tree. He lifted his canteen to his lips and swallowed heavily. After wiping his mouth Mac turned towards Dan, "I’m afraid I don’t know. I was hoping to see something by now. What I would do for some divine intervention right now."

Dan looked up at Mac and smile weakly. Just then, a rifle shot cracked through the jungle. Both men looked up in surprise. Dan smiled more strongly in mirth, "Ask and ye shall receive."

Crystal Skull Key

The Germans landed the zeppelin on a lake inside the jungle’s interior. A boat transported the Strongs across the lake and to the jungle accompanied by Johann von Hutten, Captain Wolfgang and a dozen crewmembers.

They had many miles to march and only a few hours in which to do it if they wanted to get the key inserted in time. Professor Strong pointed out the route they would need to follow. By a quick glance at the mountains and a map drawn from the ancient stone map, the archaeologist was able to gain his bearings.

The outskirts of the jungle were thick with underbrush and foliage. As the party continued into the interior, the passage became easier. Sunlight filtered through the heavy foliage in the treetops in small patches. Because of the tall trees cutting out much of the sun light, a lot of the plant life grew high above the ground in the trees. Therefore, there were few plants growing on the ground, however the various plants high above left long sinewy vines leading from the treetops back down to earth.

The Germans hacked their way through the tough vines. As one man’s arm grew tired, another would take over. Thusly, with the professor’s guidance and the Germans’ doggedness, the party made good time. They found the temple quicker and easier than any of them anticipated.

Under the green canopy, a step-pyramid much like those constructed by the Mayans sat covered in vines. The grotesque faces of ancient gods glared at the party as they climbed the steps to the top of the pyramid. The top of the pyramid presented a flat platform on which sat a pedestal with a grooved indentation. Sunlight blazed down on the exposed top.

The party stopped to rest and to have a quick lunch. Everyone sat in silence as the awe of the spectacle that they were experiencing consumed them. The jungle sounds were the only noise the party experienced. The calls of monkeys and the chitterings of other animals floated through the air. The sudden cry of jaguar sitting nearby startled the party. A sentry quickly fired his rifle into the jungle. As the report echoed through the jungle, the party could hear the crashing of the jaguar beating a hasty retreat.

Johann looked at his pocket watch and looked up at the sky. "Dr. Strong, I believe the time approaches."

Dr. Strong nodded his head and slowly pulled the crystal skull out of his satchel. The sunlight sparkled of the natural glass surface. The empty eye sockets flared with brilliance. The archaeologist turned the skull in the sun admiring its beauty.

Johann cleared his voice bringing the professor back to his senses. Dr. Strong then gingerly placed the skull onto the pedestal. The crystal skull fit perfectly inside the groove.

The sun appeared high in the sky as it slowly continued on its trek across the globe. When the sun was straight above its rays beat straight down upon the skull. The light flared more brightly inside the skull. A low hum resonated from the skull and began to grow to a higher pitch. The sound grew to a piercing scream causing the party to cover their ears. Far below at the base of the pyramid a grinding noise of stone grating on stone made its way to everyone’s pounding ears.

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Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 14: El Dorado

By Dwayne MacInnes

Mac and Dan could not believe their eyes. There in the middle of the jungle stood a tall stone pyramid. They wasted no time in following the sound of the rifle shot to its source. They arrive in time to see a brilliant light glaring from the top of the pyramid.

The piercing high-pitched screeched originating from the pyramid's top was a minor irritant to Mac and Dan at the foot of the structure. Therefore, they had a front row seat as a concealed door slowly swung inwards. As the stone door opened, it pulled the vines attached to it until they started to snap apart one by one.

Mac nudged Dan with his elbow before he ran into the pyramid's interior. Dan was right behind Mac as they disappeared inside the darkened depths of the ancient temple.

* * * * *

It had happened so fast that Rebecca had no time to scream. She had just clapped her hands over her ears when the piercing whine ended just as suddenly as it began. The skull had now stopped glowing. No one dared touch the crystal skull because of the electrical energy that appeared to radiate from it.

A few of the Germans had fallen to their knees as the noise overcame them. The stony expression on Captain Wolfgang's face belied the fact that he appeared unaffected by the sudden noise. He alone stood erect and looked down the steps of the pyramid.

"I believe we have opened a door," Wolfgang said in a matter-of-factly tone.

Johann shook his head and quickly joined the captain on the pyramid's edge also peering below.

"Men, get ready to move out," the captain ordered.

The men gathered their supplies and began to climb down the stairs. At the pyramid's base stood an open doorway. Johann slowly approached the darkened interior and peered inside.

"Light the torches, we are on the doorsteps of El Dorado!" Johann exclaimed excitedly.

* * * * *

Mac held the flashlight in front of him. The beam of light illuminated their passage down the stone hallway. The roaring sound of a river filled their ears. The engineering of the temple amplified the sound of the rushing water to loud crashing. Mac was sure the design was intentional. It no doubt added to the mysticism of the temple priest.

With it now covered in dirt and roots, the ground in its heyday, would have been bare stone like the walls of the long hallway. The frozen stone faces of ancient gods grimaced as the two walked further down into the bowels of the pyramid. The musty humid heat was nearly unbearable. Sweat soaked through both Mac's and Dan's shirts. The only redeeming feature was the absence of the biting insects that had plagued them in the jungle.

Dan tapped Mac's shoulder. Mac looked back and noticed Dan pointing over his shoulder. In the distance, a flickering light was on their trail. Mac did not need to be psychic to know that the Germans were on their way into the tunnel. As long as Mac kept his flashlight aimed forward, they could remain unnoticed. Just to be safe Mac increased their pace to slow trot.

* * * * *

"Just think," Johann gushed excitedly, "we are the first people to walk these halls in hundreds of years."

Johann's voice echoed down the stone passageway as the party slowly descended further into the pyramid's interior. Occasionally, a German would catch his foot on an exposed root and stumble. The growing roar of the subterranean river forced Johann to speak even louder.

"The temple priest certain knew how to create awe amongst their parishioners," Johann continued.

Throughout, Rebecca and Dr. Strong remained silent. Both of them did not want to draw any attention to themselves. After Rebecca's escape attempt, neither Rebecca nor her father wanted to tempt the stoic Captain into carrying out his threat of killing them. The two armed guards escorting them only encouraged their silence.

"Not even my great uncle made it this far. We have attained the goal of thousands of Europeans over the past four hundred years. We shall all be rich."

Captain Wolfgang suddenly pulled up to a stop and turned on Johann, "Herr von Hutten, please compose yourself."

Von Hutten sheepishly cleared his throat, "Sorry, Captain I was momentarily lost in emotion. Please carry on."

The party continued on its journey in the flickering light of the torch carried by the lead German. Dr. Strong whispered to his daughter that they had long since left the pyramid behind and that they must be on the passage to the legendary city.

It felt like they had been traveling downward for several hours. However, it was only two when they finally came to large opening. This was the doorway to a huge natural cavern. Inside the cavern were the remains of several stone buildings. Most of the structures were single storied, but a few were as tall as three stories. In the center, there was a large pyramid, and in the back of the cavern, a waterfall crashed into a subterranean river. The river flowed out the opposite side of the cavern. An opening in the ceiling let the sunlight enter into the cavern.

"Gentlemen, and lady," Johann's voice boomed with excitement, "I present to you El Dorado."

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Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 15: Treasure of El Dorado

By Dwayne MacInnes

On entering the city, the Germans fanned out. The deafening roar of the river died down to quiet rumble. A few birds flew from the buildings as the Germans approached. Apparently, the fowl must have fallen into the hole and have taken up residence here.

Dr. Strong noticed the dark shapes hanging from inside the opening of the cavern's ceiling. These were bats, which were another of the residents of the subterranean city. They would become livelier as the sun disappeared behind the mountains to the west.

Johann ran from building to building in excitement. The stories where the city had its building's walls encrusted in precious stones were obviously false. So to were the rumors of streets being lined in gold and silver. Nonetheless, the Germans ran from building to building looking for any riches.

All they turned up were some pottery, woven sleeping mats, and a few stone utensils. The closest thing to any precious metal returned to the feet of Captain Wolfgang was some copper rings. The captain coolly looked over at the feverish von Hutten.

"It must be here somewhere," raved the anxious German.

Johann grabbed Dr. Strong by his collars, "Where? Where is the treasure?" Johann screamed in the professor's face splattering it with spittle.

Dr. Strong slowly wiped the spit from his face and composed himself. "This city is itself the treasure. The things we could learn from it are incalculable..."

"Save me your speeches," raved Johann. "Every South American empire was built upon gold. This is no exception and you know it."

"Very well, the gold you seek is more than likely inside that pyramid," Dr. Strong waved his hand over towards the stone structure.

Captain Wolfgang whistled and motioned for his men to search the pyramid. Ten crewmembers and Johann von Hutten ran towards the pyramids carrying their tools. Captain Wolfgang and the two armed guards remained with Rebecca and Dr. Strong.

"If you are correct Herr doktor," Wolfgang said stoically, "you and your daughter will be left at some local village. Provided there are no further escape attempts."

Dr. Strong nodded his head and wrapped his arm around his daughter. Rebecca felt exhaustion overcome her body and sat on the street. She could not believe that one way or another they were at the end of their journey. She just prayed that her father was correct about the treasure being in the temple.

Suddenly, the screams and yells of the German crewmembers escaped from the pyramid's interior. For the first time the Strongs noticed some signs of emotion pass across the face of Captain Wolfgang. He took a few steps toward the pyramid when Johann came running out.

"It's there! It's all there!" yelled Johann as he thrust a golden statue into Wolfgang's hands. The captain studied the scowling expression of the ancient god. The small statue easily had to be twenty-five pounds. A smile spread across Wolfgang's face. The sight of the smile filled the Strongs with dread, for it was cold and lifeless.

"Load the packs and return to the zeppelin," Wolfgang ordered.

Johann smiled broadly and saluted the captain, "Ja wohl, mein herr."

Johann returned to the interior of the pyramid. Wolfgang then motioned for the two guards to join the men already at work within.

"I take it I don't need to waste any men on watching you two. Nonetheless, I'll keep watch over you," Wolfgang said.

* * * * *

Mac and Dan had taken cover inside a two-story building waiting for the Germans to enter the city. The plan was to ambush them as they walked down the main boulevard. However, when Mac noticed Rebecca and Dr. Strong amongst the Germans he held his fire. They needed a new plan.

Mac and Dan held a quiet council as the Germans ran from building to building. They decided to wait until the Germans left the Strongs unguarded. Until then the risk was too great. When Johann violently grabbed Dr. Strong, Mac felt he might have to risk confrontation. He had the Tommy gun to his shoulder aiming at von Hutten when he suddenly let the professor go.

They watched as the Germans ran for the pyramid. Even with only two guards and an officer Mac held his fire.

"Mac," hissed Dan next to his ear. "Look at the officer."

Mac gazed through the dusty air at the officer. At first, he did not see what Dan was getting at. Then he nearly gasped aloud when he realized who he was. Captain Wolfgang, the supposed leader of the Stein Ritter and a German top ace during the Great War. Mac had never confronted the German personally, but all his friends who did never returned alive. He owed Wolfgang a blood debt.

Mac knew Wolfgang by sight because he worked with the British and French secret service trying to hunt the pilot down. He was more dangerous than even the Red Baron. Now after all these years Mac might just have his revenge. Mac put the Tommy gun to his shoulder again and slowly began to pull the trigger.

Dan put his hand on Mac's shoulder forestalling him from firing. "Wait!" Dan whispered loudly.

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Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 16: Ambush

By Dwayne MacInnes

Mac watched as von Hutten ran out of the temple and presented something to Wolfgang. Johann was obviously excited about something. Wolfgang ordered the guards watching over the Strongs to enter the pyramid along with Johann.

Mac and Dan again held another quick planning session. Mac would provide cover while Dan grabbed the professor and his daughter and escorted them to safety. For the third time, Mac raised the Thompson waiting for Dan to signal when he was ready.

The birdcall alerted Mac who sighted low in front of Wolfgang. He could not risk hitting either of the hostages. He had to make the captain seek cover.

The Tommy gun opened up. Shards of stone flew up from the street as the rapid burst of .45 bullets ripped into the blocks. Wolfgang instinctively ducked into the cover of a nearby building.

Dan did not waste any time running out and grabbing the archaeologist and his daughter. He pulled the pair into the building where Mac and he were hiding. After he pulled them to the second story room where Mac was firing burst after burst, Dan began to fire at the Germans running out of the pyramid with his Lee-Enfield.

Thompson Submachinegun

Rebecca sat on the cold stone street with her father holding her in his arms. They had both been through quite a lot in the last few days. They still mourned the deaths of Mac and Dan. They still did not know if they could trust the captain.

Surprise gripped them when the street suddenly appeared to explode in front of Captain Wolfgang. Bits of rock and dust showered the Strongs. They watched as the captain ducked inside a nearby stone structure.

A stranger ran up to them and grabbed them. He led them inside a stone building and up to the second story. There they saw a man firing a gangster's submachine gun into the street below.

Rebecca let out a gasp when she realized that the men were indeed Mac MacKinnon and Dan Edwards. For the first time since her abduction joy returned to her heart. She could see that her father also recognized their saviors.

Bullets began to slam into the walls next to them as the Germans began to return fire. Rebecca and Hugo Strong ducked down onto the floor seeking what little cover they could.

Lee-Enfield Rifle

Wolfgang was only momentarily caught off guard when the submachine gun opened up on him. Without a second thought, he jumped into a nearby doorway. Somehow, someone had followed them into the cavern and was now firing upon him.

He reached for his Luger and cocked it. Wolfgang noticed that the Strongs had disappeared. More than likely, the men in the building across the street had rescued them. Wolfgang could not make out anyone inside the building, but he could make out the muzzle flash of the automatic weapon.

By now, the crewmembers were pouring out of the pyramid carrying their cargo as well as their own weapons with them. These unfortunately, were only two rifles and eleven pistols. Nonetheless, Wolfgang surmised that there could only be two assailants in the building.

Wolfgang started firing at the muzzle flashes in the second story room. He did not know if his bullets had found their marks or not. He did not have time to find out.

"Johann," Wolfgang yelled, "return to the zeppelin with the treasure now!"

"Ja wohl!" Johann replied from near the entrance of the pyramid.

German Luger Pistol

Mac ducked back into the room as a rain of bullets pelted the small room. Mac dug into his backpack and produced another fifty round drum that he fitted into the Tommy gun. Dan continued to work his bolt-action rifle.

Mac returned to the window just in time to see the Germans by the pyramid begin to run for the cavern opening. Only two riflemen remained concealed to pin Mac and Dan down as the rest of the Germans made for the exit.

Dan dropped the two riflemen in a matter of seconds. Mac for his part, fired into the crowd as they ran out of the cavern. Most were loaded down with packs of gold. Ironically, the gold saved many of their lives as the .45 pistol rounds fired by the Thompson bounced off the precious metal in their packs.

However, Mac did manage to drop three men before they left the cavern. The men lay still on the ground as their life's blood pooled beneath them. The rest of the Germans including Johann and Wolfgang had managed to escape the ambush.

Not bad Mac smiled inwardly. They at least had saved the professor and Rebecca.

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Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 17: River

By Dwayne MacInnes

Mac and Dan searched the bodies of the dead crewmembers. Dan stood watch by the cavern entrance in case the Germans decided to return. In the mean time, Mac explained to the Strongs how he and Dan made their daring escapes from the clutches of the Germans.

It was obvious that after two hours the Germans were not returning. To pass the time, Dr. Strong searched the pyramid and collected a few clay tablets and figurines. Mac forbade anyone from taking any gold. The weight could be deadly if they needed to run once they made their way back to the surface.

Mac led the way back up the passageway as they began their return trip. He had the Thompson in one hand and his flashlight in the other. Dan was close behind holding his Schofield; he had surrendered his Lee-Enfield to the professor.

The roar of the river again drowned out but the loudest voice as the party continued on their way to the surface. Mac was becoming more uneasy as they continued on their way to the surface. Certainly, the Germans would not let them get away so easily. They must be laying a trap or waiting in ambush somewhere ahead.

They were only a half a mile from the surface when they heard the explosion. The passageway shook and dust rained down on them. Fortunately, the ancient architects were superb builders and the passageway did not collapse upon them. Mac waited a few minutes for the dust to settle. Then he ran ahead leaving Dan with Rebecca and Dr. Strong.

A few hundred yards ahead confirmed Mac's worst fears. The Germans had sabotaged the passageway. The entire length of the passage from here to the surface had collapsed. The small party had no chance of escape by going this way. So they returned to the cavern.

Mac looked around for a back door. Unfortunately, there was none. Even the ceiling opening was beyond their reach. The sun was rapidly disappearing behind the Andes. Soon darkness would envelope the cavern.

How long could they survive with no food? They had plenty of water…

Suddenly, Mac jumped up.

"I've got it!" Mac exclaimed.

"What is it?" Dan asked excitedly.

"Quickly, before we lose the light. Gather any wood you can find. We'll go out down the river."

"We don't know what is down the river," Dr. Strong pointed out.

"But we know we'll die if we stay here," insisted Mac.

* * * * *

Just before the last rays of sunlight exited the cavern for the night, the small group had manufactured a small raft. It was not large enough for them to all sit on, but they could hold on to it to keep them afloat as they flowed down the river.

Mac and Dan lashed the packs and weapons onto the raft. Once the small party was ready, they grabbed onto the raft. Each had a vine wrapped around a hand. If worse came to worse and they need to escape the raft all they had to do was unwrap their hand.

The four companions then pushed off from the riverbank to the center of the stream. The water was refreshingly cold. Even now in the night, the jungle heat and humidity was stifling. However, Mac knew that any prolong exposure to the subterranean water could lead to hypothermia and then death.

The current was strong and before long, the raft with its four passengers was rushing downstream. There was barely enough headroom as the river exited the cavern out the small tunnel. Mac had his flashlight strapped to the top of the raft to provide any light. How long it would last, he did not know. The batteries could die or the water could short it out. Mac did his best to water proof it by wrapping wet clay around the flashlight.

The tunnel appeared to stretch on endlessly. The twists and turns would occasionally bash the occupants against the wall. Fortunately, the walls were smooth and the channel was deep. They had to avoid the occasional stalactite as a sudden surge upward could leave one impaled upon the sharp protuberances.

Mac figured that they had already covered several miles in the few minutes they were in the river. By good luck, the river never submerged its occupants underwater for any prolonged time. That was another fear Mac had, but he felt best not to mention it.

As the raft continued to flow down the watery course, the flashlight began to dim. When the light went out their chances of survival also lessened. They could no longer see the dangerous stalactites nor prepare for the turns.

They sped along even faster now. The channel was narrowing. Before the flashlight died, Mac notice that there was light coming from up ahead. His spirits raised considerable. Then they dropped just as suddenly when he heard the roaring of a waterfall. There was no escape; the river pulled them at an alarming rate towards the watery cliff.

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Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 18: Journeys End

By Dwayne MacInnes

Mac took a deep breath as they exited the tunnel and began the plummet over the edge of the waterfall. Mac tried to unwind his wrists from the raft but as they tumbled repeatedly, it became impossible. The passengers bashed and banged either into each other or into the raft as they plunged downward.

Then the river drove the raft underwater as they splashed down into the pool at the waterfall's base. Remarkably, the raft had remained together and its passengers, though battered, bruised, and waterlogged were all alive. The moon was high in the night sky.

The four companions had found themselves in a lake. They began to swim to the closest shore and pulled the raft behind them. Soon they beached themselves upon the sandy bank. The jungle foliage reached out to envelope them.

Rebecca coughed and sputtered. Dr. Strong stood up and stretched his bruised limbs. He was looking out onto the lake when a gasp escaped his lips.

"Well, doesn't that beat all," the archaeologist said.

Mac looked out onto the lake to see what Dr. Strong was looking at. There parked in the center of the lake sat the zeppelin. The giant aircraft was beginning to lift itself up from the water. Mac quickly began to untie their possessions from the raft.

The airship was too far out for his Tommy gun to be any use. Therefore, Mac grabbed Dan's Lee-Enfield. He ran a few yards up the lakeside to gain a better perspective on the zeppelin and in the case the Germans returned fire they would not inadvertently hit the professor or his daughter.

The airship was now above the treetops. It was soon pulling away. The moonlight did not make for the best of shooting conditions; however, Mac had to try to stop the Germans from escaping. The zeppelin was almost at the extreme range of the British rifle.

Mac took careful aim. There was very little chance he would be able to ignite the highly combustible hydrogen gas with a simple rifle round. At best, he could only puncture the airbag. Even then, the Germans could repair it before the ship lost much gas. During the Great War, the attack aircraft were loaded with incendiary rounds. Something he did not have for the Lee-Enfield.

However, Mac needed to do something. The zeppelin was rapidly increasing its speed. Mac squeezed the trigger. If he hit, he did not know. He fired repeatedly. Mac fired his last bullet before the zeppelin pulled out of range. Mac could not be sure but he thought he might have seen a flash on the zeppelin.

As the zeppelin pulled beyond their view Mac knew that against all odds he must have hit a girder, causing a spark that ignited the hydrogen gas. For the skyline was beginning to brighten over the horizon.

Lee Enfield Rifle

The next morning Dr. Strong led everyone back to the pyramid temple. Just as Mac had feared, the Germans had permanently sealed off the entrance to El Dorado.

"What a pity," Dr. Strong lamented.

"I can't say it was all a loss," Dan replied.

"How so?" Mac asked arching one of his eyebrows.

"You said not to take any gold but you said nothing of precious stones," Dan said as he began emptying his many pockets filled with emeralds, sapphires and other stones.

"There was more than monetary wealth contained in there," Dr. Strong continued.

"I'm afraid the few artifacts you packed away will have to suffice. But, I believe that the world is not yet ready for El Dorado. Maybe it is all for the best," Mac said.

Dr. Strong nodded his head, "Perhaps you are right. I believe you know the way to your plane from here."

"Just one minute," Mac replied as he ran up the stairs of the temple. In a few minutes, he returned with the crystal skull. He handed it over to Dr. Strong.

Chrystal Skull

As they were flying back to British Honduras, Mac searched the jungle for any signs of the burning zeppelin. After a few minutes, Mac sighted the burned jungle near the river's edge. The burning aircraft must have crashed into the deep river where it sank.

Mac returned the floatplane to Major Roger White who was again sitting with his colleague in the cantina. Mac introduced Rebecca and Hugo Strong to Major White and Dr. Frederick Mitchell-Hedges. The major and the British archaeologist looked over the four adventurers. They all appeared the worse for wear.

"I'd love to know what you've been up to, Captain," the major said.

Dr. Mitchell-Hedges started a conversation with his American counterpart. Dr. Strong only commented that he was on another futile search for the Lost City of Gold.

"Speaking of futile searches. I've been searching for the perfect gift to give my daughter Anna for her birthday. I'm afraid I too have ‘struck out' as you Yanks say," Mitchell-Hedges said a little downtrodden.

"Perhaps, I may help out," Dr. Strong offered. "I did find this on our trek why don't you give it to your daughter." Hugo pulled out the crystal skull and handed it to the British archaeologist.

Mitchell-Hedges smiled and looked at the crystal skull, "Beautiful, just beautiful. She'll love it. How can I repay you?"

Dr. Strong laughed as he pulled Rebecca over, "Let's just say that I too understand how important it is to present the perfect gift to a daughter."

Rebecca blushed, "Oh Dad!" Rebecca then kissed her father on the cheek.

THE END

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Nothing Doing

By Dwayne MacInnes

Dayton, Ohio. October 23, 1954, 2:53 PM. Ranson Research Labs

Dr. Reeve rapped his knuckles lightly on the closed door. The plain white door in the plain white wall was similar to the one belonging to Dr. Reeve's laboratory except this one had "Dr. David Poole" stenciled in black on the opaque window.

"Enter, enter," an excited voice answered from the other side.

Dr. Reeve swung the door open and entered the sterile room. The lab also resembled Reeve's lab. Worktables cluttered with a medley of apparatus pertaining to whatever the researcher was currently working on. On the walls were attached various charts and clipboards holding sheets of data.

Like Reeve, Dr. Poole was wearing the ubiquitous lab coat covering a white dress shirt, black tie and black slacks. The coat's pockets stuffed with pens, markers, slide-rule and a sundry of various small implements made Dr. Poole look like a walking advertisement for an office supply store.

"Dave, I came as soon as I could break away," Dr. Reeve said. "By your message I assume it is something important."

"Yes! Yes, very important, Frank," Dr. Poole replied. "Here take a seat."

Dr. Reeve sat down on the metal folding chair that Dr. Poole offered. The excited Poole then walked to the wall and flipped the light switch. Darkness completely enveloped the room.

"What do you see?" Poole asked his excitement barely contained.

"I can't see anything, Dave" Reeve responded.

"Of course not!" snapped Dr. Poole. "That is what Jenkins is working on next door."

"OH!" exclaimed Reeve. "I see it now. You did it! I see nothing."

Dr. Poole flipped the lights back on. Then he snatched a clipboard off the wall.

"Look at these figures," Poole gave the clipboard to Dr. Reeve.

Dr. Reeve pulled his black framed glasses out of his shirt pocket unfolded them and placed them on his face. He then meticulously flipped through the white sheets one after another. Not a page had anything written on it.

"Nothing. Absolutely nothing," Reeve responded.

"Years of research and thousands in grant moneys well spent," beamed Dr. Poole. "You know it was Arthur Jenkins who put me on the right path."

"What's he working on again?" asked Dr. Reeve.

Poole snorted, "He's working on anything and everything. Of course he hasn't found anything yet."

"Well, I'm afraid I'm still searching for something. Looks like you've got us beat Dave."

Dr. Poole again started to get excited, "Just think of it. The blind can see it. The deaf can hear it and the dumb can speak it! It's truly an amazing breakthrough."

"Are there any negative effects?" probed Dr. Poole.

Dr. Poole took on a downcast look, "Well, Frank. It is stronger than God."

Dr. Reeve sternly looked over at Poole. "We better be careful to whom we give it to."

"Quite, quite," Poole said thoughtfully.

Dr. Reeve stood up and shook Poole's hand. "Congratulations, Dave. I assume you'll be a very wealthy man now."

Poole looked down at the floor, "Yeah, there' been a snag in that."

"Oh, I can't believe that. You know the lab allows you to patent any discoveries from your research as long as it gets exclusive distribution rights," Reeve consoled Poole.

"Yes, I've already looked into that," Poole said somberly. "That's why I've asked you over today."

"I'm afraid I don't quite follow." Reeve said scratching his head, "You've already found nothing. I'm still working on something and Jenkins is still looking for anything and everything."

"Well, I'm afraid I got so wrapped in the research of nothing I neglected to check out certain patent rules," Poole said forlornly. "I went down to the office to patent my discovery and the clerk asked me if I hand anything to patent. I snorted at that because he must have thought I was Jenkins. Anyway, I replied I had nothing. He then said I must at least have something."

"Hmmm...that is a setback," Reeve said.

"Yeah, I have nothing to patent and it cannot be patented. So I was wondering if maybe..." Dr. Reeve looked down at the floor.

"Yes?"

"This is a bit embarrassing, and I rather ask you than Jenkins -- but -- would you -- um -- like some -- er -- help looking for something?"

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Theocratic States of America

Part One

By Dwayne MacInnes

* * * * *
Top Secret
Only the Prophet and his closest advisors may view this document. Anyone found in violation will be prosecuted and executed immediately.

This is an attempt to capture the history of the TSA on paper before it is lost to the annals of time. The author apologizes for any errors and/or poor writing contained within this document. That being said let it be know that all information contain within is for your eyes only and sharing it with those without the proper security clearance will result in immediate capital punishment and eternal damnation.

* * * * *

During the last half of the twenty-first century, the political climate of the country known at the time as the United States of America (USA) had changed radically. For three hundred years, the USA was in a struggle between the believers and the non-believers. One of the founding tenants of the country was the freedom of religion, or the ability for the citizens to practice whatever religion they wanted without persecution from the government. This also included those who chose not to believe in any religion.

Due to this evil practice, the country found itself in a massive economic depression. This depression left one out of four Americans out of work. Food riots were common as a terrible drought followed in the wake of the economic collapse. As whole cities burned under the torches of its disgruntled occupants, anarchy ruled the land. The government was helpless to stem the tide of chaos gripping the country.

When the United States of America faced its greatest internal threat since its civil war in the nineteenth century, it was during this time that a man came forth. This man was a man of God. The true and living God and not the pagan gods worshiped by so many. With the Holy Bible in one hand and rifle in another, the first Prophet rose to power.

The story goes that Prophet Thomas W. Douglas had a vision of Jesus Christ telling him how to reclaim the land in His name. A new promise land of milk and honey, like that in the found in the Old Testament, would arise from the dust of the unrighteous USA.

Prophet Thom, as many affectionately called him, spread his vision amongst the masses. People found what they had been missing in their souls for generations, the word of God. They were feeling the power of His wrath but had little knowledge on how to placate the Lord.

Prophet Thom had the answer. First, he set up networks to help feed those who were hungry. Then he mobilized his own Christian army to protect those communities of believers trying to withstand the storm of chaos and anarchy gripping the nation.

At first, the government was overjoyed to find someone with the ability to calm down the rebelling citizenry. Prophet Thom used his influence to guide the direction the United States government took to restore law and order. New laws arose to help bring peace and prosperity to the land.

Though calm returned to the land, many remained critical of the Prophet. Some cited Prophet Thom's background as a believer in the Prosperity Theology. They claimed he was more for rewarding those with wealth over helping those without it. It is a well-known truth that God wants Christians to be abundantly successful in every way and what better way to prove God's favor than with financial prosperity. Therefore, the obverse must surely be as true.

Others claimed that Prophet Thom's faith in a Christian God and promoting a strict conservative Christian agenda did more to divide America than heal its wounds. However, it was those very same strict conservative Christian views that drew many to the Prophet and helped restore peace and prosperity to the land.

As time passed and Prophet Thom's popularity exploded, many in the United States government began to become concerned. Those who were against the Prophet from the beginning (called "liberals") became frightened at the prospect of losing control. In addition, there were some who welcomed the Prophet's help during the chaotic years before the restoration of peace, but now feared the influence the Prophet had over the populace. These people were agents of Satan and Prophet Thom knew how to deal with them.

With much secrecy and planning, Prophet Thom was able to do something that had never happened in the United States of America before, a bloodless coup. In the years after the chaos that nearly destroyed the nation, the Lord God had placed the faithful in key positions within the government and the military. When the proper time came, the United States of America died one night and the Theocratic States of America came to life the next morning.

The Prophet proved generous to his adversaries after the new nation came to be. They had the choice of reeducation to become valuable members of society or prison for those who stubbornly refused to submit to the will of the Prophet and therefore the Lord. Alternatively, if all else failed they lived out their days in the work camps (the wicked came to call them 'death camps').

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The Theocratic States of America

Part Two

By Dwayne MacInnes

The first years of the Theocratic States of America were fraught with the struggle between good and evil. It was during these years that many threats hidden for centuries came to light. Fortunately, the first Prophet had the Lord on his side to help him weather and defeat these dangers.

The economy nearly collapsed as it had done nearly a decade before. However, with the new work camps in place all over the nation, production of material goods exploded. The financiers of the Prophet's economic plan found God's favor as their own wealth also exploded.

To further help the growth of the new nation's economy the Prophet in his divine wisdom slashed the big burden of the wealthy, namely taxes. The favored, as the wealthy are now called, found more help from the Prophet with his ordaining that the middleclass (the select) become more self-sufficient. Thus, this group would have to pay for their own healthcare and for their own retirement to name two burdens. For those few who were able to transcend the barrier between the select and favored statuses, they were truly on the path of God. There was much rejoicing amongst the Godly people.

However, there were also a lot of lamentations amongst those of the select who now found that they were being punished by the Lord for their sins. These found themselves amongst the poor (called the lost). As the population of the lost grew and many threatened violence, the Prophet again acted in wisdom and speed. He moved the lost into segregated communities away from the favored and select. Many came to be housed in the ruins of the cities they had burned the decade before during the riots of the depression years. These new cities were soon the sites of many work camps and farms. The city security forces were able to monitor the lost with tracking devices implanted deeply inside their skulls.

However, it came to be that not all of the wealthy were the favored. Satan had hidden many of his own servants amongst the righteous. Those who would not come to Christ and follow the path laid down by the Prophet, found themselves stripped of their wealth and given the choice of reeducation, prison, or the work camps. No matter the incentives or proofs given to some of the unenlightened, they refused to acknowledge the living God. The damned is the title that refers to these unfortunate people, for they are beyond the grace of God and must spend the rest of their miserable life in the work camps.

As all this was happening, further seeds planted by Satan throughout the centuries sprouted. Many of the so-called mainstream Christian religions protested and fought for the rights of the select, lost, and even the damned. The Prince of Darkness had surely woven his own designs into these faiths during their foundations.

Once more the Prophet came to the rescue of the faithful. All who called themselves Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopalian, Protestant, etc. were given the choice again of reeducation, prison, or the work camps. It was further proof of God's happiness. After all, as the work camps grew in number and strength, so did the wealth of the nation and the favored.

These events and the first Prophet's responses are all part of the Great Cleansing that swept the TSA in its early years. As the revelations of Satan's servants and his plans came to the first Prophet's knowledge, Prophet Thom had a vision. The vision revealed the true cunning of Satan, for the source of all the corruption laid amongst the very pages of the Holy Bible. With the hand of God as his guide, the Prophet rewrote the Holy Bible into the Prophetic Bible. No longer were there teachings for helping the select, lost, or damned. Nor were there condemnation of the favored. It had taken over two-thousand years after the death of Christ for the first true teachings to reach the printed page.

If the root of Satan's evil could manifest itself in something as sacred as the Holy Bible it certainly resided elsewhere. Great pyres burned across the land to consume any objectionable literary, artistic or other media works. Such heretical documents like ‘The Constitution of the United States' or ‘Magna Carta' burned in the Holy Flames. Anyone found having in his or her possession any forbidden material would face immediate execution.

The first Prophet also saw the restructuring of the sciences. Many heretical scientific theories, like evolution, were obviously the product of Satan and therefore to follow them further would only lead to damnation. In addition, other sciences are the will of God, particularly those that promoted a strong military.

Alas, like Moses before him Prophet Thom did not live to see the fruition of his toils. An assassin hidden deep amongst the ranks of the favored and a close companion of the Prophet gave Prophet Thom a higher rank, that of Martyr Thom. Historians speculate that the assassin, whose name shall never find its way on the printed page, killed Prophet Thom in order to take over the nation. Fortunately, the faithful amongst the favored dashed the assassin of his dreams and sent him back to Satan.

By the blessing of the Most High, did a second Prophet arise from the order of the favored. Even though Prophet Thom had laid the foundation of the Theocratic States of America there was still much work to do.

The same depression that had gripped the United States of America had also spread across the world. There was not a single nation spared from the economic collapse. It was so immense that nearly every bank across the globe failed. Many nations tried to rise up from the ashes of the old world like the United States did but few succeeded.

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Theocratic States of America

Part Three

By Dwayne MacInnes

Only by the will of God did the rise of the Theocratic States of America occur as the rest of the globe's governments failed. The first Prophet in his divine wisdom had sent missionaries across the globe to spread the Word. Many people found encouragement with the teachings of the Prophet. Others martyred the missionaries, raising them onto Sainthood.

So, it fell upon the second and third Prophets to continue Prophet Thom's great work. As the world fell deeper into turmoil and despair, the words of the first Prophet began to take root. The message spread and many nations arose like the mythical Phoenix from the ashes of the old world to a new enlightened world.

However, not every nation wanted to follow the true path. Those nations became increasing fearful and resentful of the TSA. They claimed that the TSA was in the midst of another dark age. However, in truth, the TSA sparked a new age of religious enlightenment. In another desperate attack, Satan spurred these heretical nations to start a great nuclear holocaust and World War III consumed great portions of the globe.

Fortunately, for the Theocratic States, it had inherited the satellite and missile defense grid from the old United States of America. Not a single nuclear missile found its way to the North American continent. Sadly, many of the TSA's new allies were not as fortunate.

However, those nations in Western Europe remained relatively untouched for they were under the TSA's defense umbrella, those outside it paid dearly. The TSA's own nuclear arsenal eradicated many hostile and evil nations. However, for fear of harming its neighbors, the Theocratic States sent its Christian armies on a crusade against those nations too close for the safe use of nuclear arms.

Nations resistant to the true word were conquered and put to the sword. Country's that harbored such heretical beliefs like Italy, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and India all fell to the combined use of modern military tactics and nuclear weapons.

Now, these victories did not come without a price. But, those TSA soldiers who fell in combat will find themselves seated next to Jesus and the Prophet in Heaven. For those who opposed the Holy Army, they will find themselves experiencing eternal torment and damnation.

These wars lasted many generations. As further proofs of the Lords approval, the war increased the wealth of the TSA and the favored. It became law that none of the favored could serve in the military. However, the select could be officers and the mandatory conscription of the lost built a large and formidable army. The fourth Prophet ordained that any of the lost or select who fell in combat would find themselves in elevated status in Heaven.

So, it came to be that nation after nation came to follow the TSA's example and the word of the Prophet took hold among these new nations. Those nations that did not submit to the will of the Lord felt His wrath. Therefore, much of the Middle East, Asia, and parts of Eastern Europe are uninhabitable wastelands to this very day.

It was the fifth Prophet who had the vision that the education of the lost and damned should be limited to the study of the Prophetic Bible. Thusly, through this they may find redemption in Heaven.

Satan in a final act of retaliation, decided to corrupt the Earth. Deserts expanded overtaking once lush and fertile lands. Mass extinction of wildlife abounded as natural habitats dwindled. Icecaps melted threatening the coastal areas of the world.

However, the Lord through the fifth Prophet revealed that a great wealth of natural resources like coal, oil, and uranium lay open on these once enclosed lands. The favored were able to live in lush lifestyle ordained by the Most High in the center of the great domed cities, like the capitol, Holy City. The select were able to live in modest dwellings in the suburbs under the domes.

The lost and the damned continued to work in the exposed world as punishment for their sins. It is obviously God's will for no matter how many of the lost and the damned die there are always a greater number to take their place.

Now, it was during the reign of the sixth Prophet that a revelation...

* * * * *

The woman wearing the camouflage armor of an enlisted personnel tossed the document into the flames of the burning ruins of the Prophet's House. By the flickering light of the fires burning around Holy City the soldier checked the clip of her pulse plasma-rifle. The other soldiers belonging to the order of the lost had risen this night in revolt. Their plasma-rifles flashed in pulses as they fought the few remaining ill-armed security forces of the ruined domed city. The rebellion was well coordinated and the same scene played itself out across the globe.

"Sure," the soldier thought, "They forbade us to learn. But, they did not know we kept a secret trove of books spared from the Great Cleansing. They wouldn't teach us so we taught ourselves and tonight two-hundred years of oppression ends."

The End

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Hobbit I’m Not

Part One

By Michael-John J. Davis

In 2003 the discovery of Homo Floresiensis created a stir in the international academic community. Widely contested, the species was allegedly a sort of dwarf man with a small skeletal structure and brain. It was this small size that led to the species being nicknamed Hobbits. Many supporters believed that they must have had a moderate intelligence because at no time in the probable history of the species was the island connected to any other land mass. This led to the conclusion that they might have built rafts to travel between islands, which meant they must have had technology and more than likely had language.

The most interesting part of the discovery was to me the time frame in which they were believed to have existed: up to 12,000 years ago. If this was correct, it would make them the most recent relative of Homo Sapiens to survive. Thus, surpassing even the Neanderthals by up to 12,000 years.

While all this interested me, the part of the story that truly drew me in was the legend of the Ebu Gogo. Members of the Nage, a tribe local to the island of Flores, claimed that there were a race of little cave dwelling men sharing the island with them up until around 300 years ago. At this time their tribe disposed of the Ebu Gogo by presenting them with palm fibers to make clothes. However, the Nage ignited the fibers. According to the legend, once the Ebu Gogo had taken these palm fibers back to their cave, all of them perished in fire that day. Some say that perhaps one pair, which retreated into the deepest forest, managed to survive.

I was twenty-one years old and a student of Anthropology at Florida State University when the discovery was announced in 2004. I followed the controversy closely. I was enraptured by the thought of finding the cave where the Ebu Gogo had been burnt and proving that H. Floresiensis had existed side by side with modern man. I wanted to prove the H. Sapiens might not be the only man around. In 2012 I graduated from FSU, and with the ink still wet on my PhD, I had no question where I was headed. You can call me a hopeless romantic, but there was no place but Flores for me.

I secured funding and authorization from the Indonesian government to study not H. Floresiensis but the Nage tribe. I was going to study their customs before the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century . Not much was know about the Nage. THey had not been studied except sparsely in the 1940’s by a Portuguese colonial officer. After that by a professor from the University of Alberta in the late twentieth century.

In my time on the island, I labored at my research on the Nage people. However, my personal time was spent hiking in the forests on the island, ducking into every cave I could find, and hoping I would get lucky. I did all this to no avail.

Five years after I had arrived on the island, I began to despair of ever finding anything even related to H. Floresiensis. Oh, I had seen stone tools and even on one occasion the actual skeletal remains of LB1, the first specimen discovered. Alas, I saw them in the museum in Jakarta. I longed to find anything in the field that might be related to H. Floresiensis. I drove deeper and deeper into the forest. It was nothing but sheer desperation that led me to the greatest discovery ever.

On one of my trips into the forest I came upon a large rock and decided to take a break from all the hiking. As usual, I began to day dream about what it would be like to be the one who discovered a living hominid outside of our own species. I realized in my day-dreaming that if H. Floresiensis hadn’t been found yet then they probably didn’t want to be found. How do you find someone who doesn’t want to be found? I realized that if they were still around that the Ebu Gogo would be hunter/gathers and most likely scavengers. On a whim I dug into my backpack and pulled out my extra canteen. I placed it on the rock and left it with the intent to come back and see if it was missing. Now that I had made my shot in the dark, I headed back to civilization.

Two weeks passed before I could make it back to the rock. When I did make it back ,much to my surprise, the canteen was gone. I ran through the possibilities. Someone from the village might have come by and picked it up. However, the villagers tended to stay away from the deep forest. Legend held that the spirits of the slaughtered Ebu Gogo haunted the forest and expressed ill will and bad luck towards any who ventured too deep. An animal might have carried it off but that too was unlikely as Flores is one of the few islands in the south pacific without monkeys. Lastly, the most unlikely scenario and the one that I dared not let get my hopes up -- a member of H. Floresiensis had acquired it.

Really I had only one option: to carry on with the experiment. Thus, out of my pack I pulled the hatchet I had brought with me. I placed it on the rock with the determination that I would return in exactly the same amount of time that it had taken me to return the first time. As I hiked out of the forest, I couldn’t shake the feeling I was being watched. To be honest, it excited me.

When I returned to the village I ordered a motion sensing camera from Jakarta and set about documenting what I had done so far. I was after all, a scientist. Now that the excitement had bled out, I hit the second phase commonly associated with discovery, doubt. I began to wonder why I had just spent much of the meager salary I received on the camera. Even more so, I began to ask myself what if? What if my wildest dreams were true and I had begun to make contact? I had broken a cardinal rule of first contact. I had introduced them to tools and workmanship far beyond their capacity to make. I wondered if I should call it off, but the schoolboy in me refused to do so. I knew I would take flak for the mistake if I had truly made contact. Nonetheless, the damage was done and there was nothing I could do about it.

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Hobbit I’m Not

Part Two (Conclusion)

By Michael-John J. Davis

The next two weeks passed with excruciating slowness, but finally it was time for me to return to the forest. My camera had arrived only the day before. This had caused me no shortage of worry that it wouldn't arrive in time for this trip. Further, I would have wait another two weeks to find out what happened to the item that I left on the rock; if anything had. When I reached the rock my heart skipped a beat; the hatchet was gone! Turning to the first order of business, I installed the camera on a nearby tree with a good vantage of the rock. I then placed the mirror I had brought with me onto the rock. I was trying to stick to items that I knew would keep who or whatever coming back. As I left the forest this time, I again had the gut feeling that I was being watched. It was no wonder the villagers thought the forest was haunted.

I didn't think it was possible but the next two weeks went by even slower than the previous two. As I approached the rock, I noticed that -- as I now expected -- the mirror was gone. I took the straight edged knife I had brought with me and placed it on the rock and turned to retrieve the camera. As I looked at the tree where I had placed it, my heart jumped into my throat. The camera that would have given me an answer. The camera that would have dashed or exceed what I hoped for, was no longer attached to the tree, but instead lay on the ground in pieces. I walked over to the remains of my expensive camera and shook my head. I bent down to examined the remains and promptly began thanking god for the small miracle he had sent me. The film canister was intact! I had pictures!

I rushed back to the dark lab which I had built in my house to develop the pictures. I was too excited to notice whether or not I had the feeling of being watched. Back at home the couple of hours it took to develop the film felt longer than the entire previous month had. When I saw the first picture I started crying. Before me -- the pictures told the story quite clear. An approximately three and a half foot tall naked hairy man with a stance somewhere between us and a chimpanzee picked up the mirror and played with it! He then noticed the camera and started pulling on it. After about ten frames he apparently got frustrated and smashed it with a large stick.

Now I had to decide what my next step would be. The first thought that came to mind was publishing what I had in a journal like Nature. However, I then realized if I did that the first contact would be taken out of my hands and given to others more experienced than I. I decided that I would keep my discovery to myself and make contact on my own. I loaded up on more hatchets, knives and other things I thought might appeal to a primitive culture and prepared to head once again to the rock. My plan was to sit on the rock and surround myself with the "gifts" I brought.

After five painful hours of sitting on the rock, I had to get up and relieve myself. I walked over to the very tree that I had placed the camera on to do so. I finished and turned to return to my place on the rock and found myself face to face with three small but very intimidating stone spearheads.

My reaction was probably not the best.

I threw my hands up and shouted in English "I come in peace!"

There appeared to be some indecision from behind the spears as to what to do now that they had confronted me. The three spear holders chattered between themselves in a clickish language for a few minutes until one of the spears came down and the man holding it began to collect the items I had laid around the rock. I felt my chance to make contact sliding away from me, I decided to put all the chips on the table.

Bringing one of my arms down I pointed to myself and said, "Me Thomas."

This caused another bout of chattering before I again pointed to myself and repeated, "Me Thomas."

It must have sunk in that time because one of the men holding a spear on me then tapped himself and said, "Me Ullu."

He then tapped the other man holding a spear on me and said, "Me Nuah."

I laughed and tapping myself on the chest said, "Me Thomas." I then pointed at Ullu and said, "You Ullu." Finally, I pointed at Nuah and said, "Him Nuah."

Ullu thought for a second and then pointing at each as he said "Me Ullu, you Thomas, him Nuah!"

I smiled, nodded my head and said "Yes!"

The third member of their group came over then and Ullu pointed and said, "Him Ohgo."

He then gestured that we would begin walking. After a good hours hike we stopped at a large rock formation, Ullu and Nuah put their shoulders into it. After a bit of effort they shoved it to the side. Behind the rock lay a huge, naturally lit cave. Insider were about three hundred members of the Ebu Gogo inside working at various tasks. I was led inside, and the rock was once again rolled into place of the mouth of the cave. Once inside Ullu and I set to the task of learning to communicate with each other.

So began the two years I spent in the forest with the Ebu Gogo, learning their language, teaching them English and about the outside world.

It was almost exactly two years later that Ullu and I set out for Jakarta so that the Ebu Gogo could announce their existence to the world. The months following the press conference held by myself and Ullu are a blur in my memory. The United Nations dispatched the premier members of the scientific and medical community to confirm my claim that the Ebu Gogo were in fact H. Floresiensis. After the claim was substantiated the government of Indonesia was, after much financial persuasion by the governments of America and Europe, convinced to relocate the H. Sapiens off of the island of Flores. Thus giving the island to the Ebu Gogo as their homeland. With typical Ebu humor, Ullu and Ohgo convinced every member of the tribe to rename the island. Flores would forever be referred to as The Shire. The population of Ebu Gogo began to increase greatly. Further, Ullu served as their ambassador to the outside world. As a continuation of his joke, he took the last name Baggins.

The discovery of the Ebu Gogo brought new horizons and questions to many members of our own species. The Pope welcomed them as brothers in Christ. They also caused fear and hatred in others. The various Neo-Nazi groups labeled them as even more inferior than Jews. Above all, they caused wonder and excitement as they opened a new chapter in human history.

As for me, I drew the criticism I expected for doing what I did. Nonetheless, with the exception of the few death threats from the crazies, I was widely celebrated for my role in the discovery. The only question that remained was what I was going to do with the rest of my life. After searching for a while, all I could find was one answer. A few islands over in Sumatra there was widely believed to be an undiscovered great ape -- The Orang Pendak.

* * * * *

Author's Note: The discovery of H. Floresiensis, The Nage Tribe and the legends of the Ebu Gogo and Orang Pendak are all factual.

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Texas Wildfire

(Inspired from an idea by Michael-John Davis)

Chapter 1

By Dwayne MacInnes

September 2040


T.J. Murdock sat at the head of a long desk in the conference room on the Lone Star Skyways airship Zephyr. Half a dozen men sat around the table watching the projected presentation on the screen at the other end of the room. Murdock hated traveling on these airships, but his old man the founder and CEO of Texicorp Oil, George Murdock insisted on doing business this way.

When most of the major airlines collapsed twenty years before entrepreneurs again looked towards the airship to transport people across the globe. They were not as fast as a jet; however, the emerging industry billed them as the cruise ships of the skies. With modern lightweight materials, the use of helium, and larger gondolas than those their ancestors used over a hundred years ago, the airships proved to be quite cost effective and popular

Murdock looked out the tinted window of the conference room. Once the presentation was over the windows would lose its tinting to allow the sunlight to flood the room. However, for now T.J. would have to endure another boring meeting that he knew by heart.

The airship gently banked high in the air. The hybrid diesel-electric motors located in six pods situated around the semi-rigid gasbag hummed quietly as they propelled the ship through the bright blue sky. Solar panels located on the top of the gasbag helped keep the batteries charged thus making the operations of the airship more economical. The gasbag was comprised of helium-filled cells that helped contain leaks and therefore reduce the cost of refilling the helium at each stop.

However, if T.J. had his way he would still travel by jet. Of course, the well-to-do could only afford the cost of flying this way, and the Murdock family was very well-to-do. T.J. was happy in the fact that the major oil industries of the world were still considered an "old boy's club". His preferred way of conducting business was to take his clients out to an exclusive Gentlemen's club outside Texicorp's corporate headquarters in Houston called the Texas Hold 'Em.

The club had a private boardroom that could be rented for a premium that ensured plenty of privacy, liquor, and beautiful young hostesses. T.J. found that most of the time the clients were so inebriated with alcohol and distracted by the sight of nude women working the room that he could easily cut deals that heavily favored Texicorp.

Unfortunately, George Murdock did not approve of T.J's business practices. So lately, the old man started to dictate where and how business meetings would be held. This galled the younger Murdock to no end.

Of course, there were many things these days that galled the younger Murdock. The current recession looked to change radically the direction the country ran. After the recession in the first decade of the 21st century, many people felt that plans for recovery allowed too much government intervention. Even though the plans succeeded in pulling the U.S. out of the recession, it was not long before resurgence in the conservative movement took over the country. Their rise to power was fueled by the fears of too much government in business, work, and people's lives.

Over the years, Congress repealed the government regulations over Wall Street, business, and labor practices to the point where there was virtually no oversight. A truly laisez-faire economy came into existence. During the first twenty years, many people made a lot of money. As their successes became public, more people jumped on board hoping for their share of the wealth.

With the collapse of Social Security facing the country, the conservatives were able to privatize the government-run benefit program. Now, the private citizen could invest in one or more of the many booming companies out there. Many people felt that they had secured their future.

However, by 2038 the house of cards began to collapse. First, the stock market crashed as multiple ponzi schemes emerged. Without any regulations, the frauds went unnoticed for decades. The economic bubble burst, retirement plans under the privatization plan instantly dried-up. Businesses started to go under as capital dwindled and banks closed.

With unemployment at 13.5% and rising, the country was nearing another great depression. President Roberts, a man who balked at instituting any government intervention plans, kept cutting taxes on the wealthy in the hopes the well-to-do would help spend their way out of the recession. It failed miserably. The wealthy hoarded their capital. They squirreled it away in overseas accounts.

Now, the country's infrastructure was starting to fail. With the loss of tax dollars, many of the remaining federal and state government programs were bankrupt. Charities too were feeling the pinch as the hard-pressed American worker could no longer afford to give to worthy causes. The situation was spiraling out of control.

2040 brought new hope as the election arrived. The Republican Party's choice was Senator Victor Newland of Louisiana, a man who claimed to be a moderate Republican and claimed to march to his own drummer. The Democrats fielded California Senator Ramón Ramirez, the first Hispanic to make it through the primaries.

Like many white Texans, Murdock feared having a Hispanic in the Whitehouse. Even now, the population of Texas was about half Hispanic. However, the rest of the county looked to electing Ramirez in a landslide election based on the promise of taking the country in a new direction. A direction Ramirez based on new regulations to forestall corporate corruption, raising taxes on the wealthy to cover the expenses of the previous decades, and the creation of multiple government programs to promote job creation and economic growth.

These sounded great to the average American; however, it meant a loss in revenue to large companies like Texicorp through new taxes and regulations. The old man did not seem overly concerned but it bothered T.J. a lot. The younger Murdock feared a slippery slope towards a government takeover of his father’s company before T.J could inherit it.

Murdock returned his attention to the meeting. The presentation was nearly over and that meant Murdock could return to his cabin and relax before the airship docked in Houston.

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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 2

By Dwayne MacInnes

The meeting lasted longer than Murdock expected. Negotiating the rights for joint oil extraction with the various Mexican oil companies in the Gulf of Mexico proved more difficult than expected. Texicorp had the technology and the means the Mexicans only had to agree to an equitable share of the profits and the funds for construction for the oil platforms.

Once the negotiations concluded, T.J. returned to his cabin. He walked over to the small wet bar and prepared himself a drink and then punched a button on his 4 inch by 3 inch computer-phone on a nearby desk. He figured he still had some time left before the airship docked to relax.

T.J. Murdock leaned back in the soft leather chair. He held a Scotch in one hand and stared at the holographic program emanating from his small compu-phone sitting on the small aluminum desk in the small cabin. Murdock lifted the glass with the amber liquid that contained two small ice cubes to his lips. He took a sip, placed the glass of Scotch on the desk next to the computer and closed his eyes. This was how he liked to relax after a long day of negotiations.

T.J. pushed the volume button on the computer to increase the sound in his remote ear buds. This was his favorite webcast, The Flash Limbeck Show. John "Flash" Limbeck was the most popular pundit broadcasting today and everyone had an opinion of him. You either loved or hated him there was no middle ground.

"So now the liberals are saying that our current economic meltdown is because of the last twenty years of conservatism," snorted Flash. "This is their own fault going back to the Obama administration and even the Clinton years last century. If they allowed the market place to perform without Big Brother watching over every Wall Street transaction the economy would be able to perform in a more natural state.

"It has taken the last 20 years just to roll back those artificial constraints...or should I say restraints. If we were allowed to continue the Reagan laisez-faire practices and stopped bailing out every business that failed, we would be a lot stronger now than we currently are.

"I see we have a caller. Hello Jack from Detroit."

"Hello, Flash. Do you really think that by letting companies fail our unemployment figures of 14 percent would be less?" a caller queried Flash.

"In the long term yes. Because a new and stronger company would move into the vacuum and replace these dinosaurs that were only around because Obama bailed them out thirty years ago."

T.J. smiled to himself. These liberals were always thinking that they could pull one over on Limbeck. However, before T.J. could enjoy more of the webcast the steward broke in over the intercom located in each cabin.

"Attention, Zephyr guests. We will be pulling into the Houston Aerodrome in 15 minutes. Please prepare to disembark if this is your stop. The captain and crew of Lone Star Skyways would like to thank you for flying aboard the Zephyr."

T.J. groaned. He turned off the computer and took a big swig of his Scotch.

* * * * *

People were bustling to exit down the gangway into the glass-dome of the Houston Aerodrome from the secured airship. Several other airships with a variety of logos from different airship airlines circled the spacious structure and were either taking on or disgorging passengers.

T.J. glanced at his watch and waited for the crowd to thin so that he could disembark. The oilman looked out a window and observed various crewmembers swarming over a nearby airship preparing it for takeoff.

"Excuse me," familiar voice said in a heavy Mexican accent.

T.J. turned to the familiar sound to see one of the representatives from the Tigre Petro oil company standing in front of him. Murdock put on a friendly smile and held out a hand.

"Señ or Vargas, correct?" T.J. asked shaking the Latino’s hand.

"Sí! sí!" exclaimed the smaller man with dark hair and a matching mustache. "Our company looks forward to working with yours Mr. Murdock."

"T.J., please," laughed Murdock. "Mr. Murdock is my father."

"Sí, T.J.," smiled Mr. Vargas. "However, some of my colleagues are concerned that the recent wave of anti-Latino sentiment in your country could endanger our relationship."

T.J. laughed, "Oh, that! That is nothing to worry about; it is just politics and the concern over illegal immigrants. It is nothing that concerns us."

Vargas's face turned sour shortly and then brightened. "Sí, of course, then the rumors of Texas seceding from the United States if Ramirez becomes president are not true."

It was now T.J’s turn to frown momentarily. He had heard these rumors and many in Texas believed they had the right to leave the union whenever they wanted. The state legislature even voted in certain language in its constitution to give it strength. With the anxiety over illegals and the growing number of Hispanics in the state helped fan the flames of fear amongst the white population. They felt that in a few years they would find themselves as a minority.

"I would not let that concern you," T.J. tried to reassure Vargas. "My father would never let politics overshadow business."

"Claro que Sí!" laughed Vargas unintentionally slipping into Spanish.

The crowd of passengers leaving the airship was now starting to thin. T.J. motioned for Mr. Vargas to follow him towards the gangway.

Vargas shook his head and said, "Sorry, I am continuing on to New Mexico and then south. However, I will be in Houston for some business in a few weeks. Maybe we could continue our conversation then."

T.J. gave the smaller man a wolfish grin, "I know just the place where we can meet. It is not too far from our corporate headquarters here in Houston. Give me a call and we can set up an appointment."

The two men shook hands before departing their separate ways.

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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 3

By Dwayne MacInnes

October 2040

Sheriff Bernie Gracen of Littleton, New Mexico sat in an air-conditioned auditorium. He and around thirty other men and women sat in folding chairs waiting for Fred Wilson, the local leader of the Oath Keepers, to speak. As the presidential race entered its final leg, things were really starting to heat up in the south, especially, in the states that bordered Mexico.

It appeared that Ramirez would easily defeat Newland in the November elections. The prospect of having a Hispanic as their president disturbed many white southerners. Texas was openly threatening to secede if Ramirez won. Although the other Border States were not talking about leaving the United States, they had many citizens who would not mind joining Texas in secession.

Sheriff Gracen removed his cowboy hat and fanned himself as he continued to wait for Wilson to show himself. A quick glance around the room revealed many men and women in camouflage fatigues or western shirts and blue jeans, all were Caucasian. The sheriff knew that most were veterans; there were some members of the National Guard and local law enforcement mixed in to boot. Some of them sat by themselves, like Gracen and others were talking in small groups. There were even a couple of reporters and one local TV news crew with a camera there to report the event.

Finally, a man stepped up to a podium at the end of the auditorium. He held some papers in his hands as he scanned the audience. He blew twice into the tiny microphone positioned in front of him and was greeted with the sound he made that emanated from the speakers on the floor in front of him.

"Gentlemen, will you please take a seat," the man said. "I have a few things to go over tonight."

Gracen replaced his hat upon his head as he sat up straight in his metal chair. This was obviously Fred Wilson at the mike. The assembly quickly came to order before breaking into applause. Wilson smiled and motioned for everyone to quiet down.

"Thank you, please...." Wilson said to the group. "We have a lot to cover tonight."

After a couple of minutes, the sound of clapping hands and whistles finally died down.

"Hello, I am Fred Wilson and I represent the New Mexico branch of the Oath Keepers," Wilson stated only to stop again as the audience again started to applaud him.

"Please, please we have a lot of work tonight," Wilson pleaded with the audience.

"Like stopping a spic from being president!" yelled a voice from the rear of the auditorium.

Wilson took on a stern look before he continued, "I must please ask that everyone be respectful. There are members of the press here."

A few boos broke out before Wilson could regain order. "Now, please let us show our guests some respect."

"That's more than the liberal media will give us," shouted another voice.

"Gentlemen, we will not get far if you keep disrupting my presentation," Wilson smiled.

The audience finally quieted down so that Wilson could give his presentation. In short, he was asking the audience to sign a contract that would state they would not follow orders that they felt violated the Constitution of the United States. They would resist nonviolently and they would consider Ramón Ramirez as a possible enemy of the state.

There were many in the room who believed that Ramirez was born in Mexico and was not eligible to be president. They also believed that if elected president he would return the Border States back to Mexico.

Sometimes the exchanges heated up and Wilson would have to regain control of the situation before he could return to his presentation. However, after two hours the presentation wound itself down. Wilson opened the floor to questions; most of the people gathered just wanted to know when they could sign the documents. However, Wilson took some more serious questions from the news people attending the presentation.

Wilson pointed to a woman in a red blazer with a cameraman accompanying her. "Mr. Wilson," the journalist began. "Is it true that the Oath Keepers organization is nonpartisan?"

Fred Wilson smiled, "Yes, we do not endorse either candidate."

"However, you consider Mr. Ramirez as a possible enemy of the state. Would that not imply you back Mr. Newland?" the woman countered.

"We only follow what is in the Constitution. Ramirez, as a senator, has voted in the past that he will undermine the rights of the people as they are written in the Constitution if he were to win the election.

"To be fair, we would also list Senator Newland as a possible threat if his voting record were the same. But, it is important to remember we are not here to play politics but only to protect and preserve the Constitution of the United States."

"Are you associated with the Sons of the Alamo or the New Texas Tea Party?" the female reporter asked.

"We are not in any way related to SOTA or NTTP. We are our own group here in New Mexico. As for the Texas branch of the Oath Keepers you'll have to ask them."

Wilson pointed to another reporter in the back. A man in a tan suit stood up with a small palm computer with a microphone attached to it in his hand.

"What about the allegations that Ramirez is not a U.S. citizen," the reporter began. "There have been several documents proving that he was born in San Diego to a third generation Latino-American family."

"I am not here to discuss whether the senator from California was born in the U.S. or in Mexico," Wilson answered. "However, I will point out that there are many documents pointing to his birth in Tecate, Mexico or even in Venezuela and that he was brought to a hospital in San Diego later."

"But, those documents have all been proven false," the reporter continued.

"Maybe and maybe not," Wilson replied. "The fact of the matter is that we are not here to stop an election, but to prevent a possible hostile government from treading on the rights of its citizens."

Wilson took a few more questions from the press before he called the meeting adjourned. Sheriff Gracen was impressed with how Wilson was able to maintain his composure and control his audience. The sheriff was standing up to leave when he noticed that Fred Wilson himself was next to him.

"Sheriff Gracen?" Wilson asked with his hand already extended.

"Yes," Gracen said gripping the man's hand. "How can I help you?"

"Well, as you know," Fred Wilson began, "that the local sheriff will be our first line of defense against a hostile government."

Gracen nodded his head in agreement; the sheriff would have to prevent any federal hostility.

"Well, sheriff if you would not mind I would like you to be my second in command," Wilson said with a smile. "That is if your time will permit."

The usually stoic lawman slapped Wilson on the shoulder, "Hell yes! I'd be honored to help you with running things here."

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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 4

By Dwayne MacInnes

"Now look here," a man said to Senator Ramirez as he was preparing for the final debate of the election. "Just stick to you main speaking points as we rehearsed."

"Todd, relax," Ramirez smiled to his campaign director as he sat in his chair. A woman powdered his face so that the studio lights would not glare off his skin while the event was being broadcast over the web.

"You know that Senator Newland may try to derail you by bringing up those false claims running around the internet. You know the ones about you being smuggled into the Untied States," Todd Schneider continued.

"Oh, I don't think he will. The press has been pounding him pretty good for trying to make those claims stick. Not to mention that every time he does so, his credibility drops. Look at his latest poll numbers," Ramirez stated as the woman finished touching up his face.

"How about the claims that you have close ties to Venezuela. You know you did visit it when you were a youth. Tthey have not been exactly cozy with the United States for the last half a century."

"You mean when I was on a youth mission with my church? Only the conservative's fringe element believe I was there learning to be a terrorist. I doubt if Newland would risk losing the majority Republican vote by trying such a tactic."

"He's desperate, Ramón," Todd pressed. "He has nothing to lose...."

"Except the election." Ramirez interrupted with a smirk as he held up a finger.

"Seriously, if he can get you on uncertain ground he could make you look like you don't know what you are talking about. Like the whole Texas issue."

"Five minutes," a man in a ball cap said as he ducked his head into the dressing room. Ramirez nodded towards the man that he was ready. The senator stood up and grabbed his dress coat. "Really, Todd," Ramirez said as he put his arms through his coat, "I did win at least one election."

"But not one this important," Todd shot back before Ramirez winked and exited the dressing room.

Northrup F-20 Tigershark

Buck Dubois watched the live-stream of the internet webcast of the last debate on his compu-phone. The holographic images of the two candidates seemed oddly out of place among the vintage aircraft Buck had restored over the years in his old hangar. There was a World War II B-17 bomber, two B-25s and his prize, a newly restored B-29 Super Fortress.

Buck also restored some fighters that included a few World War II P-51 Mustangs and P-47 Thunderbolts. He also had some jet fighters like his three F-86 Sabers from the Korean War, an F-4 Phantom from the Vietnam War and a long lost prototype F-20 Tigershark that never went into production. His Texas Rangers Air show was the envy of many in the nation.

Like many in the Texas heartland Buck was really hoping that Senator Newland would be able to pull off an upset and put Ramirez in his place. Many people in the west and northern part of the state showed that they favored Ramirez. However, when you got to the center and the east the opinions of the voters were radically different.

Buck watched horror struck as Newland fumbled his rebuttals and failed to land a telling point upon the younger Latino. Newland may not be the best candidate ever to run in the race, but Buck felt that anybody would be a better candidate than Ramirez would. The old airplane restorer was a member of the Sons of the Alamo and he felt that Ramirez was a threat to his state and his nation.

"Gawd dammit!!!" cursed Buck grabbing his greasy ball cap off his head and tossing it upon the concrete floor of the hangar as Ramirez easily countered another assault from Newland.

"I do not believe that the election process should be hijacked by one state or even a part of a state," the voice of Ramirez echoed from the speakers in the compu-phone.

Before Ramirez had even finished his rebuttal, Buck had the small compu-phone in his hand and the number to SOTA headquarters ordered up.

"Yeah, Jerry," Buck said as Jerry Byrd answered and his image displayed on the small LCD screen. "We need to call an emergency meeting."

"It's already in the works," Jerry replied. "I've been getting calls all through the debate. Looks like tomorrow night at my place. I'll see if any of the New Tea Party people are interested."

"We need to do something big," Buck said. "I have an idea, but I need every trustworthy pilot we can get."

Jerry was silent for a while before he replied, "It must be big. I don't suppose you would tell me over the phone."

"Hell no!" Buck exclaimed. "The Feds are probably listening in on this transmission."

"In that case we'll meet at our alternate meeting site," Jerry said flatly. "Phone conversation is to be kept at a minimum. No internet and no talking to anyone outside the group."

"Got it," Buck said as his punched the disconnect button on his compu-phone. An evil grin broke out over the man's face. Ramirez may just find Texas is more than he can handle.

* * * * *

Governor Lester Tucker sat in his office watching the debate on his conference screen dominating the wall behind his desk. He puffed on a cigar in an agitated manner allowing blue smoke to rise slowly into the air. Even though it was illegal to smoke inside any public buildings in the country, the governor liked to stay after everyone went home. He would sit there and relax with a good old fashion cigar like the ones his predecessors smoked in the previous century.

Everyone knew Governor Tucker did this, but everyone ignored it for the main reason that many did not agree with the federal anti-smoking laws and the governor did it after hours. Tucker was always careful to clean up after himself so there were no telltale remains.

However, tonight the governor was not able to relax. The debate was going horribly wrong for Senator Newland. This was his last chance to score some major points against Ramirez, and the senator from Louisiana was blowing it and blowing it in a big way. The governor twirled his chair around towards his large mahogany desk and proceeded to open a lower drawer.

Tucker reached into the drawer and pulled out a half-emptied bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey. As the governor turned back to the conference screen, he took a long pull at the bottle feeling the amber liquid warm his throat and stomach.

He knew that it was a good bet that Ramirez would win the election. However, it now looked like it was going to be a landslide. The governor took another slug from the bottle before he hit the phone button on his desktop. The receiver built in the desk came to life as the automated voice said, "Please, state the name of the person or party you want dialed.

Tucker frowned before saying, "New Texas Tea Party."

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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 5

By Dwayne MacInnes

November 2040

"Mr. President," a voice broke into the oval office. President Roberts sat at his desk watching the election results from the screen on the wall in front of him. Since he took office eight years ago, the president appeared to have aged a good twenty years. His jet-black hair was now gray and his youthful face was haggard, sorrowful, and creased with wrinkles.

"Yes," Roberts replied never taking his eyes off the screen.

"Would you like something to eat?" the voice asked.

"No, Sam," Roberts said in a sad voice to his good friend and top advisor Samuel Dent.

"Doesn't look very good, does it?" Sam said to the president.

"No Sam, it does not," Roberts said finally looking up to his advisor. "Ramirez won with 62% of the vote, a complete landslide. Plus, it looks like the Democrats will have a majority in the House and Senate."

"Well, we could make things a little interesting here for your replacement by the time January 20th arrives," Sam gave an evil smile.

Roberts chuckled, "No, we won't do as some outgoing presidents have done in the past. I may only have an 18% approval rating but I always do things above the table."

"What do you think we should do?"

"I think we should do everything we can to help Ramirez until he takes office," Roberts replied.

"You know the Vice President is not going to like it?"

"Kimberly Watson has an even lower approval rating than I do. Her animosity towards minorities and backroom deals has plagued this administration with scandals," Roberts replied sadly. He never wanted her on his ticket but the party boys insisted and he played along only to have one of the biggest liabilities any president ever had to endure.

"You know she's almost asking the country to revolt against Ramirez," Sam reminded Roberts.

"I have taken measures to have her silenced until she can return to North Dakota. The last thing our party needs is any more embarrassments and scandals," the president said. "I believe that the party has made that abundantly clear to her."

Sam looked around sheepishly for a few minute before he finally cleared his throat. "Ah, sir...." Sam began. Roberts knew that when Sam called him "sir" he was walking into uncomfortable territory.

"Yes, Sam. What is it?"

"It's the whole Texas thing. Governor Tucker has sworn he'll secede before he sees Ramirez as his president."

Roberts looked up at Dent and smiled. "Sam, my boy. I believe I may have taken care of that as well."

* * * * *

George Murdock went to bed early. He did not care to watch the election results like everyone else. He knew what the results were going to be. Furthermore, he knew that the new administration was going to crack down and reinstate some regulations on many corporations. It was just part of business. Sometimes things are easy and sometimes they get hard. The sign of a good strong company was one that could work through the harder times.

Unfortunately, some of the younger business people did not see that. They did not have the experience of years behind them like George did, nor did they see far enough into the future to realize that politics was a big pendulum. Sometimes it swung right and sometimes left. Sometimes it swung way to the right and sometimes way to the left.

So, it was from a sound and restful sleep that George Murdock was awakened. His head swam and his senses reeled before he realized that there was someone else in the darkened bedroom with him. He at first felt the presence, and then he could make out the dark outline of a man in the shadows near his bedroom window.

"Mr. Murdock?" the man said in a low gruff voice.

"Yes, I am George Murdock," the tycoon said as he sat up in bed.

"Do not be alarmed," the man replied as he turned on a lamp on the side table.

George Murdock held up his hand to block the glare of the lamp's light until his eyes could adjust. He blinked rapidly several times, as he said, "Who the hell are you and how did you get in here?"

"Please, keep your voice down," the man said. "I am here to protect your assets"

"What do you mean....?"

The man stepped into the light cutting short any further questions. The intruder was wearing a black uniform with a combat harness. In his hands, he held a small submachine gun and on his head sat a black stocking watch cap.

"I am here to let you know that we are going to make sure that your company and its assets -- including your oil fields, pipelines, and refineries -- will be under our protection. In that way, they will not fall into unfriendly hands in the case Texas decides to leave the union."

"You mean you are here to take over my company? Did the country suddenly decide to nationalize the oil industry?" Murdock asked his mind racing to catch-up.

"No," the man said. "We are here to keep your company running and to ensure that some of your assets do not accidentally fall into unfriendly hands. That includes any funds that may be at your discretion."

The stranger smiled, "We have even provided you with our own accountants on loan from the IRS."

Murdock swung his legs around and stuck his feet into his slippers. As he stood up in his silk pajamas, he walked over to the man in black.

"I believe I should at least know who my business partner is."

"I am Staff Sergeant William Murphy, Delta Force," Murphy saluted. "Oh, and sir, this conversation never happened."

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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 6

By Dwayne MacInnes

T.J. sat in the private boardroom of the Texas Hold 'Em gentlemen's club. He was surprised to get a call from Mr. Vargas the day before asking to meet privately. Mr. Vargas wanted to discuss an important business deal between the two of them. T.J. of course, recommended his favorite establishment.

The room was large with wood paneled walls. One wall had a giant rack of horns from a Texas Longhorn mounted on it. In the center was a long boardroom table and plenty of privacy. The best assets however, were the well stocked bar and the six hostesses wearing nothing save white cowboy hats, matching boots, gloves, and gun belts that doubled as a place to stash any tips.

One of the women stood behind the bar and acted as the bartender. The other five stationed themselves around the room. They would wait as discretely as a naked woman can, waiting for one of the clients to make a demand. The demands could take any shape. However anything that required more than just serving drinks or a simple lap dance, would cost significantly more.

T.J. had already helped himself to a scotch before Mr. Vargas entered the room. The small Hispanic man strolled over to the table without even looking towards the women.

"Damn," thought T.J. "the man must be gay."

Vargas took a chair across from T.J. and placed a briefcase upon the table. Vargas then looked over towards one of the hostesses and ordered a tequila. As the woman walked towards the bar Vargas asked, "Can we trust that nothing that is said here gets out?"

"Absolutely," T.J. smiled. "I practically run the place. Many a business deal has gone down here without any leaks. Hell, it would be bad for business."

"Bueno," Vargas noticeably relaxed. "What I have to talk about is of utmost importance and therefore secrecy."

The hostess soon returned with a shot glass full of tequila for Mr. Vargas. The Latino took the shot glass and downed the drink in one fast go.

"So what business do you wish to talk about?" T.J. asked.

Vargas now relaxed smiled at T.J. "It looks like Texas may secede after all, no?"

T.J. studied the smaller man closely. He did not know how to answer. The governor was talking about secession, and many people were in favor of it. Even T.J. would rather live in the Republic of Texas than a United States of America run by Ramirez.

"Please, Mr. Murdock," Vargas said. "I know more about you than you think. I also know the risks to your company if Texas remains in the United States."

Even though there were a half-dozen beautiful naked women in the room T.J. only noticed Vargas. It was quite evident that Vargas was more than a fellow oilman. However, T.J. still could not guess his game.

"I'm afraid you are losing me Mr. Vargas."

"I hope not. But please hear me out first," Vargas continued. "Texicorp oil is only one of many oil companies in Texas, no?"

T.J. nodded his head in affirmation.

"Now if Texas were to secede from the United States what do you think will happen?"

"Governor Tucker doesn't think that Ramirez has the cojones to attack us if we secede."

Vargas motioned to a hostess for another drink before smiling at T.J. "But what do you think will happen."

"We'll be invaded and will more than likely lose."

"Why do you think that, Mr. Murdock?"

T.J. was so engrossed in Mr. Vargas's conversation that he had not corrected Vargas about calling him Mr. Murdock twice now. "We don't have the weapons the U.S. army has. Even if we call up our National Guard units, they only have some old M-1 Abrams tanks. They would not last long against those new M-3 Schwarzkopfs with the gauss guns."

Vargas smiled to the lovely woman who brought him his tequila. He slipped the woman a fifty-dollar bill. He then turned towards T.J. and opened his briefcase. "What if we could level the playing field?"

T.J. looked at Vargas in disbelief, "Let's say I was interested, how would you do that?"

"Your company deals in billions of dollars every year. So it would not be hard for you to purchase some top-grade weaponry," Vargas said as he slid some papers over to T.J.

T.J. studied the pages in front of him. If Vargas was playing him straight, he could get his hands on some top of the line weapons. Certainly, there were not any Schwarzkoprfs but there were some very nice antitank and infantry weapons laid out before him. Finally, T.J. slid the pages back to Vargas.

"Three questions, Mr. Vargas if you will," T.J. finally said.

Vargas smiled and nodded his head before downing his shot glass.

"First, what makes you think I would be interested in your proposal?"

"As I said before, there are many oil companies out there. If Texas wins its independence and Texicorp was the main backer., who do you think will get those rich oil fields that used to belong to U.S. companies? I think that would be worth the risk, no?"

T.J. nodded his head, "Okay, that one makes sense. Second question: how do I know your claims about getting these weapons are legit?"

"Easy. The first order you place will be on credit. After you receive and test your shipment you can pay us and then proceed to make further orders."

T.J. leaned closer to Vargas across the table and lowered his voice. "Thirdly, why are the Mexicans interested in arming Texas?"

Vargas smiled before he broke into a big laugh; he then motioned for one of the hostesses to prepare him another shot of tequila. "Easy. I do not represent Mexico. I am from Venezuela."

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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 7

By Dwayne MacInnes

Governor Tucker scowled across the room towards his staff. Things were not shaping up as he had hoped. Even though there were many Texans who wanted to secede from the United States, he did not have the sympathy of the majority. The state legislature even refused to debate the issue while President Roberts remained in power.

To make matters worse, there were rumors that President Roberts had snuck some military special forces across the state line to "protect" the oil fields and refineries. Common knowledge had it that all military bases were on lockdown with heightened security. This meant that any Texas surprise move to take over any federal arm depots would prove difficult and deadly.

"Do we have any confirmation of any special forces at any of these oil fields," growled the governor.

One aide looked at the governor sheepishly across his big desk in the office. "Ah…nothing concrete. The rumors are that if any of the oil companies spill the beans, they will have their assets seized and will lose their rights to any and all oil interests across the country."

Tucker did not understand why Roberts was so interested in helping Ramirez come to power. Hell, the man's job approval rating was just a tick higher than the vice president's was and she was quite open about her disapproval when Ramirez won the vote a month ago.

"Damn it!" cursed Tucker. "You know that if Roberts would support us he could bring Alaska into the mix."

"I don't think the president is interested in breaking up the country," offered a young female staffer.

Tucker stared at the young lady until she seemed to melt as she hid behind some of the other advisors.

"I don't give a rat's behind what you think!" Tucker yelled. "If Roberts was a stronger man he would return to his home state and declare independence like we will. The people up there are as upset about Ramirez becoming president as we are."

"What about Watson?" asked another aide.

"Are you freaking kidding me!?!" Tucker exploded. "North Da-freaking-kota? What are they going to do? Throw snowballs? Watson is washed up and she doesn't carry a lot of weight with anyone."

"Sir, couldn't we call up the National Guard?"

"No, I need a state emergency and I don't have one handy right now!"

* * * * *

"So get this, listeners," Flash Limbeck spoke into the microphone in his studio. "It appears that President Roberts is now a closet liberal.

"He's been tightening the security in and around Texas. Even here in New Mexico, he has all military bases on high alert. Why? Are we the enemy?

"If there is a danger in this country, it is not from Texas, but from the man who will take over the oval office in a couple of week's time. A man who will open the borders up to any illegal immigrant, a man who will relax our national security so that terrorists can attack us at will, and now it looks like a man who will be a dictator and will hold the country by martial law.

"Is there any reason why Texas wants to secede from the United States?"

Limbeck looked at the control board in the studio and noticed the light flashing alerting him to a caller. A read out on the screen gave Limbeck the vital information about the caller he needed before he proceeded.

"I have a caller from Washington State, a Mr. Wainright."

"Yes, Flash," the man's voice stated. "I hear that most of the people in Texas are not for secession."

"You mean the liberals in the western part of the state. Yes, for nearly a century illegal immigrants have been settling in the western part of the state and they can stand to lose a lot if Texas declares its independence. They would not be able to give the territory back to Mexico or even sneak some of their compadres over the border anymore."

"Do you know if the rumors are true that the Minutemen movement is now openly carrying firearms?" the man asked Flash.

"It's their God given rights if they are. Hell, I would just to keep those communist loving liberals in Washington in an uproar."

* * * * *

Fred Wilson was pleased at the size of the turnout for the Oath Keepers meetings lately. After the election, the group had swollen in size to the point where larger and larger facilities had to be booked. The number of law enforcement and National Guardsmen now outnumbered the veterans.

Sheriff Gracen now acted as Wilson's lieutenant. The sheriff helped organize the meetings, and he kept everyone on track. With the situation in Texas rapidly coming to a boil, it was important that everyone understood that they would not take up arms against Texas nor would they follow any orders that they felt violated the Constitution.

It would be a tightrope walk, but it was important that everyone understood what his or her roles were. Back at his department, Sheriff Gracen also warned his deputies of the same thing. Especially now that Roberts had mobilized many of the military forces in the surrounding states to be ready for any signs of attack.

"Okay, can I get everyone's attention," Wilson said towards the large assembly in the theater.

Hundreds of people, most in some type of uniform, began to take their seats in the large auditorium. The buzz of a hundred or so conversations slowly trailed off as everyone gave Wilson his or her attention.

"It looks like Roberts is helping Ramirez set up his little dictatorship," Wilson began. "As you may have noticed there is a larger military presence in the area."

There were some loud rumblings from the auditorium as the Oath Keepers commented to each other about the increased presence of the U.S. military in the area and in the town of Littleton.

"I must remind everyone of their oath. We will not violate the U.S. Constitution and if war breaks out we will not fire upon our brothers and sisters in Texas trying to defend their rights against tyranny."

The assembly broke into applause at this and it took a few minutes before Wilson could restore order. "I do not presume to tell you what to do. You will have to search your hearts when the time comes and determine if you will side with liberty or tyranny.

"Things could get ugly. You may have to decide to choose between defending Texas against these Federal forces or joining the dictator that will take office in a couple of weeks."

The crowd instantly exploded into boos and catcalls.

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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 8

By Dwayne MacInnes

"So now our Marxist president has not been in office for more than two months and he already has a spending bill that will explode the deficit to new heights," Flash spat incredulously into his microphone. "His reasoning is that we need to get people back to work and he plans on doing it with our tax dollars! Is there any reason why the New Tea Party movements around the country are holding protests?

"Just look at this 'New Deal' type of program…in the deserts of Arizona and here in New Mexico, Ramirez is paying people to build solar generation plants. Is that where we should be shoveling our tax dollars? The government is paying people to work; this smacks a bit of socialism doesn’t it. Hell, this is full-blown communism. It looks like Hugo Chavez Ramirez is really Che Guevera Ramirez."

Flash Limbeck was now in full rant. His loyal listeners loved it when Flash skewered liberals with his verbal barbs. "Look here folks," Flash continued. "It looks like even former Vice President Watson will be at the Killeen NTTP rally tomorrow as a guest of Governor Tucker. I urge any of my loyal fans, if you can, to head on down to Killeen to witness this event. If you cannot make it at least attend one of the other rallies across the country."

* * * * *

Mayor Warren Locke and Police Chief Gerald Mills surveyed the growing crowd gathering around city hall. Locke frowned as he noticed that there were very few police officers around to help keep the situation under control.

Mayor Locke glanced at Chief Mills with great concern on his face. Antigovernment protesters were currently overrunning the city of Killeen. The police chief was wearing the standard riot gear like the other officers in the street. The law officers stood out in their black armor against the crowd of protesters in their civilian clothes. This fact only highlighted how seriously outnumbered the law enforcement officers were.

"Where are your officers, Chief?" Locke asked.

"Mayor," Mills started to say.

Governor Tucker began speaking to the large crowd of angry people. Some of the protesters were holding signs of Ramirez with a Hitler mustache or wearing a Fidel Castro beard and hat.

"Over 70% of the law enforcement officers of Killeen belong to the Oath Keepers of Texas," he Mills continued. "Most of my men and women called in sick or did not bother to even show up for work today.

"It is worse at the Sheriff's Department. The sheriff did not bother to show up; I have a desk sergeant with a handful of deputies helping us out."

"Everyone got the damn blue flu, eh. Things could get pretty ugly if we don't get adequate crowd control," Locke stated frantically.

"I have every available officer assembled. I've called in the reserves I even have the desk staff getting into riot gear just in case," Chief Mills replied as calmly as he could to the mayor. "I've asked for help from the Texas Rangers and the Highway Patrol. I have even pleaded with the Governor for help from the National Guard."

"I would not expect any help from him!" spat Locke. "He would love to have the crowd break into a riot and bring about a national incident with Fort Hood. Then he would have everyone eating out of his hands when he finally did call out the guard."

"The crowd is still peaceful. Maybe this will be nothing more than another rally," Mills said wishfully. "You know I have only a few officers and some Explorer Scouts who are interested in law enforcement watching the station. If things hit the fan we are in it deep."

Governor Tucker's voice broke over the crowd, "…and it is the right of Texas to secede from the United States anytime it wants. We all know it's a fact."

Mayor Locke sighed before stating, "It is not really true. We have the right to break into five smaller states, not to secede from the country."

"I suppose if it were our right we would still be a confederate country after 180 years," Chief Mills added. "I'm also afraid if Texas does try to secede we will be broken into smaller states. It'll be like when West Virginia broke away from Virginia during the Civil War."

Locke stared at Mills for a second with a mildly surprised look on his face. "Chief," Locke said. "I never took you for a history buff."

* * * * *

Governor Tucker surveyed the ever-growing crowd in front of him. The protestors were eating out of his hands. He knew he would have to weave his words carefully to get the desired effect. He did not want to incite an incident quite yet. Tucker wanted to ratchet up the heat slowly so he could get the majority of the Texans on his side before he committed the state to actual secession.

The governor could not help but notice that there were very few officers hanging on the fringe of the crowd. Their few patrol cars were flashing their lights as a reminder for everyone to keep it civil. If Tucker was not careful, the officers would easily be over run by a rioting crowd and the backlash could be devastating to his plans. Especially, seeing as how there were actually more news crews than police officers.

As Governor Tucker wound down his speech, he noticed that the crowd was shouting for more. The governor smiled. He was getting the desired effect. Just a few more speeches across the state like this one, and everything would be in place.

The governor stepped down from the podium and nodded to his special guest, former Vice President Kimberly Watson, one of Ramirez's most vocal critics. The middle-aged soccer mom smiled and proceeded to take her place on the podium. The crowd instantly started to wildly applaud and shout.

Tucker and Watson made special plans for today's event. They knew the stakes were high and that they had to be careful in their approach. Watson looked down at her hand where she had written some last minute crib notes.

"Hello, Texas!" Watson smiled to the boisterous crowd. Her audience roared back in approval. "Don't ya think its time we showed Washington that enough is enough?"

Governor Tucker smiled more broadly as he sat in the metal folding chair behind the podium. Watson may have single digit approval ratings up north, but here she was a star. She was playing the audience perfectly.

"How do ya think we should do that?" Watson asked rhetorically.

The crowd shook their signs and shouted various answers. They were eating up every word.

"Maybe we should take back our country from that Marxist in Washington!" Watson shouted feeding off the energy the crowd exuded.

Governor Tucker suddenly started to frown. This was beyond what they had planned. The former vice president was going off script and she could instantly ruin their plans.

"Yeah, let's do it!" shouted some. "Kill the spic!" shouted others. However, most people just shouted "Texas, Texas!"

Kimberly jabbed her right arm into the sky and shouted, "Texas forever! Texas the free! Down with Washington, D.C! Let's start the revolution!"

Tucker cursed. It was too late the crowd was now in full riot."

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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 9

By Dwayne MacInnes

Chief Mills grabbed the mayor as the situation quickly started to dissolve into chaos. The police chief shoved Mayor Locke towards one of the squad cars. The chief pointed to a young female police officer in riot gear and shouted, "Get the Mayor to Fort Hood immediately. They have to be warned!"

Locke was shoved into the passenger seat and before he could really understand what was going on, the policewoman had the squad car roaring down the street. Behind them, the crowd burst over the thin police cordon like an ocean wave smashing into a small sand castle. The riot police were instantly overwhelmed.

As the squad car raced towards the military base with its sirens blaring and lights flashing, a police antiriot tank sped towards the crowd of angry protesters. The tank fired off canister after canister of tear gas from its turret into the rushing mass of protesters, yet the angry crowd continued to riot. They only occasionally stopped to cover their faces with pieces of cloth.

"Mayor, sir," the officer said to Locke without taking her eyes off the road. "There is a shotgun in the rack between us. You had better arm yourself. Those people do not look rational right now."

Mayor Locke snatched the shotgun out of the rack and looked it over.

"Sir, do you know how to use a shotgun?" the young woman asked stealing a glance towards the mayor out of the corner of her eye.

Mayor Locke smiled, asking a Texan if he knew how to use a weapon was like asking a fish if it knew how to swim. "Yes, I think I can handle it."

The squad car turned down various streets on its way toward Fort Hood. Fortunately, there were very few vehicles on the road. Everyone was at either the protest rally or hunkering in his or her home. Only the occasional fire truck or ambulance raced passed the police car in the opposite direction.

Suddenly, something slammed into the hood of the police cruiser. Locke noticed a hole in the hood a second before the report of a rifle shot punctuated the air. The policewoman grabbed Locke with her right hand and pulled him down.

"Sir, we are taking fire!" she exclaimed without taking her eyes off the road. "You need to get down!"

Another bullet shattered the safety glass in the rear driver's side door spraying glass around the interior of the cab. Mayor Locke tried to cram himself under the dashboard on the passenger side of the vehicle. He covered his head with his hands.

"Officer…" the mayor began before realizing he did not know her name "ah…officer, are you alright."

"Yes, sir. It's Officer Hughes, Amanda Hughes," the policewoman said in a deadpan voice. Her total concentration was getting the police car through the gauntlet of gunfire safely.

* * * * *

Lieutenant General Albert K. Groves was the commander in charge of Fort Hood. Ever since President Roberts placed all military installations on high alert before he left office, the fort was more or less cut off from the public. The military had escorted off the base all private employees and relieved them of duty until further notice.

The army now had to do its own laundry, cooking, security, and a million other jobs that the military usually outsourced. Moreover, the general did not waste any time in strengthening the perimeter fence's defenses. The fort was huge and there was a great deal of area that needed to be covered. However, Groves made sure to place his tanks and armored vehicles where they would be of the most use.

"Sergeant how is the protest rally going?" the general asked a nearby sergeant who was listening to a newscast on his compu-phone.

"Not good sir," the sergeant shot back. "Those Teabaggers…I mean Tea Partiers are in full riot. It looks like they are headed our way."

"Great," LTG Groves muttered to himself. "Sergeant, sound the alarm. I want every man and woman manning the defenses. Oh, and sergeant make sure you pass the word that everyone is to hold their fire. We have strict orders on that from President Ramirez."

"Yes sir!" the sergeant saluted before relaying the general's orders.

* * * * *

The sentries at the front gate of Fort Hood were surprised to see a wailing police cruiser racing towards the gate. Bullet holes riddled the squad car and one of the lights on the roof was missing. Steam shot in the air in a huge cloud from the perforated radiator.

The police car slid to a stop a few yards from the gate. The soldiers armed with the M-18 assault rifle stared in wonder as a man dressed in a suit and tie, and armed with a shotgun stepped from the passenger side of the car.

Mayor Warren Locke looked over his shoulder as he jogged towards the gate. He was relieved to see Officer Hughes step from the driver's side of the now dead police car. She had her pistol from her holster as she ducked behind the squad car looking down the road in the direction that they just came.

"I need to see the general," Locke shouted to the sentries. "There is a mob on its way and it is armed!"

"I'm sorry you cannot pass," a lieutenant said in a matter-of-fact voice. "This base is closed to all civilians."

"Look, I am not here to visit," Locke shouted back as he stopped in front of the officer. "Alert the general that the NTTP and the SOTA are on the warpath and they are headed here."

"Sir, you will have to stay here," the lieutenant said. The officer then looked back towards one of his men. "Get the general on the line. Let him know we have a situation at the front gate." The soldier saluted and then proceeded to speak into the microphone that was part of his helmet.

Mayor Locke waited impatiently as the soldier spoke to some party on the other end. The only sound that he could hear in the tense air was some soldiers murmuring to each other and the hiss of the bullet-ridden police car's radiator. The lieutenant turned back to Locke.

"Who are you, sir?"

"I'm the goddamn mayor of Killeen and you are about to be…"

Before he could finish his sentence shots rang out into the air. Locke spun around to see Officer Hughes firing her service pistol into a mob that were armed with shotguns, rifles, and handguns that were in turn firing at the police woman. One round managed to clip Hughes on the shoulder grazing her riot armor but spinning her around until her legs collapsed under her.

When Hughes fell, the mob moving at a trot broke into a run and soon overran the police car. Locke wasted no time and raised the shotgun to his shoulder as he pumped a round into the chamber. The mayor in desperation fired shell after shell until the shotgun was empty. The mayor was oblivious to the bullets whizzing past his ears.

The lieutenant tackled Locke to the ground as the soldiers opened fire into the mob. Several people fell to the ground, even more retreated in a dead run. A few continued to fire taking cover behind anything they could. The first battle for Texas Independence had just begun.

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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 10

By Dwayne MacInnes

Governor Tucker wasted no time in assembling the state legislature for an emergency session. The clash between the soldiers of Fort Hood and the protesters the press had dubbed the Killeen Massacre. It was still being webcasted live over the net by various news crews. The governor was able to salvage some of his plans from the fiasco started by former Vice President Watson. The launch of the riot earlier in the day nearly ruined everything. The images of police officers overrun by an angry mob did not look promising.

However, with the soldiers firing into the crowd marching towards Fort Hood, the public sentiment for secession soared. Tucker quickly ordered that the state legislature assemble before the "feds" shut them down. Many calls went out, and Tucker expected to hear from the legislature any time now.

The governor sat behind his desk and ordered the computer to call up the local National Guard commander. The connection was instantly completed.

"Hello," a voice said over the speaker in the desk. The image of a man in military garb came into view on the holographic screen on the desk.

"I need to talk to Lt Peebles," the governor said to the unfamiliar soldier.

"I'm sorry sir, Lt Peebles is unavailable."

Governor Tucker nearly exploded when he heard this, "What do you mean he is not available? I told all commanders in the state to be ready at a moments notice!"

"You must be Governor Tucker," the man said flatly.

"Where the frick have you been?" Tucker screamed. "Of course, I'm the goddamn governor! Who the hell are you?"

The man seemed to grow larger on the screen as he stared into the camera of the compu-phone. His eyes were steely and his gaze stern. "I am Captain Brooks."

"I don't give a frick who you are," Governor Tucker said in a barely controlled voice. "You are in the National Guard and you will follow my orders to call out the guard."

"No sir, you are wrong," Brooks stated.

"Are you violating a direct order from the governor to call out your units?"

"Sir, you do not understand. I am not from the National Guard. I am Captain Brooks of Delta Force. I take my orders from the President of the United States."

Tucker suddenly felt very cold as he hit the disconnect button. It appeared that former President Roberts or President Ramirez had in fact had Special Forces units stationed around the state to take over various strategic buildings. He should have spent more time investigating these rumors.

An aide suddenly ran into Governor Tucker's office. Tucker did not look up at the excited aide. "They did it sir!"

Tucker turned towards the aide with a quizzical look on his face. "What are you talking about?"

"The legislature, sir. The state legislature voted to secede."

Tucker shortly forgot his new worry. "Texas seceded from the Union?"

"Well everyone voted for it except the western districts. But it was overwhelming in favor. We are free!"

The governor smiled weakly. "No, not yet. We still have a war to win."

* * * * *

"Well, things have come to a head," Todd Schneider briefed President Ramirez. The Hispanic president sat at his desk in the Oval Office and listened to his advisors as they briefed him on the situation that was quickly getting out of hand in Texas. "All federal military installations are under siege and most of the National Guard installations remain under our control."

Ramirez shot a troubled look at his friend. The president appeared to have aged a good twenty years in the last few hours. "What do you mean most of the National Guard installations remain under our control?"

Todd looked around uncomfortably. "Well, the special forces Roberts had moved into Texas clandestinely were able to secure most of the Guard bases. However, some were either overrun by the protesters or the Special Forces did not arrive in time."

"So you are saying that some of the rabble in Texas is now armed with military grade weaponry?"

"Yes, a few. Most bases are still under our control," Todd replied defensively.

"Exactly, what are we looking at as far as material that is now in the rioters hands?" Ramirez pressed.

"Well, as far as we can tally about 20 F-16 fighters, 12 M1A1 Abrams tanks, some support vehicles, and an unknown quantity of M-16 assault rifles, machineguns, grenades, LAW rockets and the like."

"This is not good," Ramirez replied in a forlorn voice. "We have a rebellion on our hands and it looks like many of them are armed with some of our own weapons."

"Well, fortunately it is not the top of the line stuff. Just the castoff equipment that the army or air force no longer use and has been handed down to the National Guard."

"That is small comfort to the military forces I am now going to have to order into Texas to put down the rebellion."

General Richard Slater the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff stepped forward. "Sir, we have a very ticklish situation here."

President Ramirez nodded his head, "Yeah, we can't just send our military into Texas and just stamp out the rebellion. We have to be very precise and specific with our targets. Many of those people still consider themselves American or at least do not fully support the rebellion. If we make a mistake we only strengthen our opposition's hand."

"That is correct, sir," General Slater replied. "However, if I may advise the president it would be a good idea to federalize the National Guard in Texas and the surrounding states. Or any state that may be showing significant sympathy towards the rebels."

"What you are proposing is tantamount to martial law," Ramirez stated.

"Yes sir," General Slater answered in a deadpan voice.

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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 11

By Dwayne MacInnes

Ramirez looked over the reports his advisors had seen fit to bring to the staff meeting. It looked like the U.S. military forces were able to retain control of their bases. However, many were now under siege. The rebels overran a few more National Guard bases. In most cases, the various Special Forces that were holding them destroyed the military stores before pulling out.

The borders to New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Mexico were now essentially closed. The president wasted no time in rushing regular troops to closing off those borders. Thousands of refugees flooded the checkpoints and had to wait many hours before the guards allowed them through as they checked the refugee's credentials and meager possessions.

"Mr. President, we can knock out their power grid if you would only authorize it," a pudgy balding aide said.

"No, Andy. As I said before, if it looks like we are harming civilians, we only help the rebel's cause."

"Sir, let me point out that the rebellion has been going on for a week and we have not shown any significant gains. All we are doing is holding on by our fingernails," Andy Pickens shot back.

"General, could you enlighten us to current intelligence in Texas," Ramirez nodded towards General Slater.

"Sir, we are still strengthening our noose around Texas. They are completely hemmed in by land, sea, and air. There was an attempt to force their way through with some boats, but the Coast Guard, with the help from ships belonging to the Fourth Fleet, easily repelled them.

"As to the rebels, well sir, it is complete chaos. The governor and former Vice President Watson are bickering over who is in command. Many members of the New Texas Tea Party and Sons of the Alamo refuse to acknowledge either one. There is an advantage here if can mass our forces for a big push through Texas."

Ramirez nodded in agreement. "Yes General, but we must have a good plan to minimize the damage and civilian deaths. I will not budge on that issue."

"Mr. President," Todd Schneider broke in. "The rebellion is gaining in popularity across the United States. Many militias, freeman, and other super patriot groups have snuck into Texas. Not mention there is a good arms smuggling ring operating out of Mexico."

"How would it look if we bombed a hospital, or if we killed a bunch of nuns at mass? Do you think our cause will become more popular?" Ramirez shot back.

The door to the presidential wardroom suddenly shot open, an aide in a blue suit and red tie burst into the meeting. The man had obviously been running for his flushed face matched the color of his tie. Before anyone could object the aide blurted out, "Sir, check out the news!"

Ramirez nodded his head towards Andy Pickens who was closest to the video display controls. With a touch, a screen mounted on the wall in the back of the room flickered to life. A news channel had already been preset.

A journalist sat behind a desk with a projection of a holographic display of Texas behind him read from his teleprompter. "Again, it looks like the western districts of Texas have left the New Republic and are proclaiming themselves as a new state called West Texas. They swear that they are loyal citizens of the United States and will not aid the rebels."

Ramirez looked over towards General Slater. "General, I want military units into West Texas immediately. I want those people protected from reprisals."

General Slater stood up and saluted the president, "Consider it done."

"Andy, see if you can get Congress to accept West Texas as a new state."

"It'll be close in votes. Many Republicans are not openly pulling for the rebels, but there is a growing sympathy from them. We'll need to get the few remaining moderates onboard."

* * * * *

"It now looks like our dictator and chief has now been able to rally the liberals in the western part of Texas to form their own state," Limbeck said forcefully into the microphone in his studio. "It did not take the liberals in Washington long to acknowledge and form the new state of the Socialist Republic of Texas or as they are calling it, West Texas."

"Come on people. We need to wake up and support our brothers in arms in the New Republic of Texas. If we all can overthrow our communist president in Washington, D.C. we can have our country back."

Limbeck's studio manager rushed into the studio occupied by Limbeck. He made a furious slashing motion across his neck beckoning Limbeck to cut off his rant. Flash looked at his manager and frowned.

"I'm sorry folks. It looks like Gene -- my manager -- believes I have gone too far. I will assert that we haven't gone far enough…" before Limbeck could finish his statement, Gene flipped off the broadcasting switch.

Flash furious threw his headphones onto the broadcast control panel. "Dammit Gene, you have no right to pull the plug!"

"Are you trying to get us thrown into prison for fomenting a rebellion?" Gene yelled back. The slight man rarely disagreed with Flash, but when push came to shove the studio manager could hold his own.

"What are you talking about? The First Amendment protects free speech," Limbeck replied more calmly.

"You are not protected if you ask people to take up arms against the president."

Flash smiled, "I never said for people to take up arms against the president. I am not seditious if I have not advocated any immediate and specific act of violence."

"You are picking nits my friend and the FCC could revoke our license if you do not tone it down. Plus, you did make a threat directly towards the president of the United States. I suspect we will be getting a visit from the Secret Service pretty soon."

"Oh, great. Now the Gestapo is going to come after me," Limbeck said rolling his eyes.

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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 12

By Dwayne MacInnes

The military convoy moved slowly through the back roads of New Mexico, winding its way between desolate rock formations and barren hills. The Army and Army National Guard have been shuttling supplies into the new state of West Texas for days now. The convoys rarely repeated taking the same routes at the same time to make it more difficult for rebels to lay an ambush.

Lt White rode in the front truck hauling crates of the M-18 assault rifle and boxes of assorted ammunition. The five other trucks also were loaded with various cargoes. Some were hauling food, some medical supplies, and others just basic supplies needed to keep an army going. One venerable Ultra AP vehicle rode along to protect the convoy.

Music played from the small MP5-keychain dangling from the truck's ignition. If one wanted, they could even depress a button and a holographic video projected from the MP5-keychain. However, the military frowned on such things while on maneuvers.

"Say Loot, we could sure make better time if we could use the interstate," Corporal Martinez stated as he drove the truck over the rough gravel road.

Every bump caused the driver and the passenger to hop into the air; sometimes leading to an irritating connection between the soldier's head and the cab's roof.

"You know the orders," Lt White stated coldly. "We are to move through this area so that the rebels cannot ambush us and steal the valuable supplies we are carrying."

Martinez snorted, "Are you kidding? The rebels would have to make their way through West Texas and into New Mexico and back with our supplies. That would be highly unlikely."

"I don't think the rebels would be wearing signs that say, Look! I'm a rebel. Remember there is a lot of support for their cause across the country."

Corporal Martinez opened his mouth to reply when an explosion rocked the truck. Martinez slammed on the breaks as the Ultra AP, now a flaming wreck coasted off the dirt road to stop when it collided with a piled of rocks.

"Holy shi…" Martinez started before a bullet exploded his head against the driver's side windshield.

Lt White hit the button activating the mike in his helmet as he exited the cab. "This is convoy Echo Bravo! We are under attack!"

White continued to broadcast his message as he slid underneath the truck. Bullets ricocheted off steel and rocks all around him. He watched as other soldiers jumped from their trucks only to be sawed down by a machine gunner located somewhere in the hills to their right.

"Repeat: this is convoy Echo Bravo! We are under attack!" White continued to broadcast. He noticed that the firing had now slacked off. He halted his transmission as he heard voices and footsteps approach the convoy. Occasionally, a pistol would bark as someone finished off a soldier.

Finally, a pair of black military boots stopped in front of White's face as he pushed himself back further under the truck's frame. A head looked down under the truck and smiled ominously.

"Well, well. What do we have here?" the man with a face full of stubble and wearing a cowboy hat grinned. "It looks like we missed one."

"No, no…" White protested holding his hands out in front of him as he pleaded. "This was not the plan."

The man grinned even harder as he held an old Colt .45 Peacemaker threatening towards White. He pulled the trigger only once. The pistol barked one last time before he pulled himself up straight and looked back towards the men mounted on horses behind him. "Okay, boys we need to get these supplies loaded up and we need to vamoose immediately."

Colt 45 Peacemaker

The growing numbers of people joining the Oath Keepers were almost unmanageable for Fred Wilson to control. He constantly needed to find bigger and bigger areas to host his meetings. Thankfully, Sheriff Gracen was always able to secure a location.

With the military presence in Littleton constantly growing, the people of the small New Mexico town were in near riot. However, it would not help anyone if another massacre happened here. The main reason was that the military was prepared to hold onto all states that even thought of seceding.

Sympathetic states' legislatures and U.S. Congress people all protested the heavy-handed way they felt President Ramirez was dealing with the rebellion. Some people were angry because they felt that the Federal Government had no justification to stop Texas from seceding. Others felt that the president was taking too long to respond.

Wilson could feel that soon there would be enough people and sentiment of support for the New Republic of Texas that the U.S. government would have to bow to the people's will and sue for peace with the new country.

The meeting was another long and vehement affair as people vented their anger and frustration over the whole situation. Many people called for the assassination of Ramirez or another armed rebellion. However, Wilson knew that the time was not ripe for either.

Sheriff Gracen, a man straddled with maintaining the peace of the small town and making sure that the military did nothing to violate the Constitutional Rights of his people, wanted to speak to Wilson after the meeting. His concerns grew nightly about the growing animosity being displayed at the meetings. They needed a better and more productive approach. That is, unless Littleton and his people in New Mexico wanted to leave the Union and therefore, suffer the chaos and carnage that was raging across the New Republic of Texas.

Gracen stepped up to the stage where Wilson had for two hours railed against President Ramirez and the Federal Government. He noticed that Wilson was speaking to a wiry young man in his mid-twenties. The young man was wearing his military fatigues as Gracen approached the two.

"Hey Bernie!" Wilson waved to the sheriff. "Have you met Ted Morrel?"

Sheriff Gracen nodded towards the young man. "Ted was recently discharged from the army for his views on the rebellion," Wilson added.

Sheriff Gracen smiled and looked towards Wilson, "Fred, I have a few things to discuss with you."

"Of course, Ted was just enlightening me on an interesting idea of his that very well could end this whole debacle a lot sooner."

"Really?" Gracen said arching an eyebrow.

Fred Wilson motioned for Ted to step aside, "Ted, I'll be back. We'll discuss your plan further. Now Sheriff what can I do for you?"

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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 13

By Dwayne MacInnes

Governor Tucker reclined in his office chair with smoldering cigar in his hand. Former Vice President Watson also sat in the room, as did several members of the New Texas Tea Party and the Sons of the Alamo. Smoke filled the room and a fly buzzed in a window vainly trying to get out.

"Well, people," Tucker said finally opening the meeting he had called. "We need to hammer out a government.

"This bickering is not helping us out at all. It is only a small miracle that Ramirez lacks the intestinal fortitude to invade us or this whole rebellion would have been put down weeks ago."

Several people nodded their heads in agreement, as Kimberly Watson stared at Governor Tucker with an icy glare. She did not like the fact that Tucker had jumped upon calling this summit before she did. This put him completely in control of the situation and allowed him to direct where the dialogue would go rather than her.

Tucker ignored Watson as he continued with only the constant buzzing of the fly competing with his words.

"We have lost a third of our country already to the Democrats in the west. We lost it without firing a single shot! Yet, to make it worse, because of the lack of leadership, we could not even pose a threat to take it back! Now it is too late.

"We cannot afford to let this happen again. Therefore, I propose that we form a government before we leave this office. We also need to discuss forming a real army instead of the mob we have keeping the Federal forces under siege in their bases. We need to seek allies, form treaties and come up with our own currency -- just to name a few items."

Now the mood in the room started to change to a more positive affair. Former Vice President Watson's face started to brighten. She realized everything Tucker said was true and if she wanted to play any part of it, she would need to contribute.

* * * * *

The young Air Force sergeant sat at his terminal situated deep inside Malmstrom Air Force Base located in Great Falls, Montana. A screen sat before him in the dark room that was his workstation. He listened to a headset positioned on his head as he toyed with various dials, switches and buttons on his terminal. He hit a button and spoke into his mike that radiated off the headset.

"Captain," Sergeant Wilcox said in the mike. "You better get in here."

Captain Richardson wasted no time in responding to the young man's request. She stepped into the dark room making sure to secure the door behind her.

"What is it, sergeant?" she asked.

"I'm getting some very good stuff that I think the brass may be interested in," Wilcox responded as he punched a button that brought the large screen in front of him to life. The image flickered briefly before coming fully into focus. There at an odd angle was an interesting image. A camera caught the images of Governor Tucker, former Vice President Watson, and a various number of other people sitting in the governor's office.

"Can you give me audio?" Captain Richardson asked.

Wilcox flipped a switch and turned a couple of dials before sound began to emit from the speakers in the terminal.

"…so we call up all veterans and have them start training our mob into a real army." Governor Tucker's voice stated.

"I want a sweep of those faces so we can give intel the images so that we can get an idea of who we are dealing with," Richardson ordered Wilcox.

The sergeant grabbed a joystick in one hand and a control panel that resembled and old 'Tracball' mouse in the other. The camera began to bob around the room and the faint sound of a buzz filtered into the background of Tucker's conversation.

The image floated surrealistically as the camera panned the room. The camera captured all the faces and recorded into the central computer banks located in the base's heart. One man swung a hand towards the camera and Sergeant Wilcox scrambled to move his device out the hand's way.

"Damn, fly," the man muttered before Wilcox parked the camera back on the window.

* * * * *

"Okay, loyal listeners," Flash said into his mike. Gene monitored Limbeck closely from the other side of the studio's window. Limbeck's tirade the previous week nearly cost the station its FCC license and even some harsh criticism from their benefactors. "It looks like Comrade Ramirez has appointed General Powell Davis to lead his assault into Texas."

"You all remember Powell Davis from his work with the U.N. inside Chile last decade as the Argentines threatened to invade.

"Well, it looks like the New World Order of the United Nations has gracefully allowed our dictator to borrow Davis to bring the New Republic of Texas to heel.

"Where will this all end my friends?" Flash stated as his voice started to rise to his usual fever pitch. "I'll tell you where. It'll end when every freedom loving person in this country is rounded up and deposited inside one of Ramirez's concentration camps."

Gene frowned. Limbeck had always carefully stayed away from the New Tea Party's ideology of concentration camps inside the United States. However, now in the heat of his tirade, Flash was now reinforcing the idea put forth by the fringe element of the right.

"No my friends, we have waited too long. I have held myself back too much for fear that Washington may take away our broadcast license. If we broadcasters cannot operate freely under this administration, it is a dictatorship. We must send a message to Der Fuhrer Ramirez and his Gestapo and SS cronies in Washington. Even if that message has to come from the end of rifle it needs to be done."

Gene was too slow in shutting down the show. However, the phone started ringing immediately after Gene cutoff Limbeck. Gene swore to himself as Flash angrily left the studio to confront his station manager.

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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 14

By Dwayne MacInnes

Sheriff Gracen drove his patrol car down a back road towards Littleton. The broadcast studio Flash Limbeck operated from was a good 50 miles outside of town. Gracen's prisoner sat in the backseat fuming over his incarceration.

"What exactly have I done wrong?" Flash griped.

"I have told you before," Gracen said in a tired voice. "You threatened the life of the President of the United States."

"How so? I did not give anyone a gun, I did not order people to kill him," Flash stated.

"You have incited a riot," Gracen told his prisoner.

"What? Where?" Flash said in an innocent voice. "You mean everyone who is upset with the president and then decides to riot is my fault?"

"The National Guard and the military across the nation are now being forced to restore calm in several cities because of your broadcast," Gracen said.

Flash Limbeck sat back in the seat. Gracen was kind enough not to use handcuffs and was even kind enough to pick him up instead of the military. Limbeck doubted if the Military Police or the Secret Service would have treated him kindly had they picked him up. It was lucky for him they were not available and Sheriff Gracen was.

"You know," Gracen started to say to his prisoner. "I really don't like this stretch of road."

Limbeck could hardly care what Sheriff Gracen liked or did not like and only listened half-heartily.

"Yep, you know that military convoy had been ambushed on this road not too far from here."

Gracen peered into his rearview mirror to see Limbeck's reaction. The overweight man in his 60s sat in the backseat with his arms folded pouting to himself.

"Well, as I was saying," Gracen continued. "If my car broke down I'd be out here in the middle of nowhere and at the whims of any rebel that may come across me. Hell, they may even kill me just because I'm a law officer."

Suddenly, as if just speaking about it caused it to happen the patrol car started to sputter. Gracen swore under his breath as the car lost speed and coasted to a stop on the side of the barren road.

"Dammit," Gracen said as he opened the door and placed his hat on his head. "You stay put now. I have enough problems."

Limbeck flashed Gracen a dirty look. Where the hell was he going to go? Gracen had him locked in the back of a squad car. As the sheriff exited the car, his arm accidentally hit a button on the front door's control panel. Flash heard an audible click on his door.

Sheriff Gracen popped the hood on the car and started working on something. Flash realized that this may be his best chance to avoid a Federal prison. The Texas/New Mexico border was only a couple of miles to the east. Flash tested the door and it swung open. The sheriff must have unknowingly unlocked it when he exited the car.

Limbeck could hear Gracen swearing to himself as he fiddled with the car's engine. "Damn thing. Is it this?" The sheriff asked himself too engrossed in his work to notice Flash stepping up behind him with a rock. Limbeck slammed the rock into the back of the sheriff's head and a loud clang rang out as Gracen crumpled to the ground.

Limbeck did not take the time to make sure the sheriff was still alive as he ran off towards the border. The road was leading to the Texas panhandle. He had never been a fugitive before. He ran on as the fear of capture and having a murder rap added to his record was enough to propel the large man to new speeds.

Flash did not get too far before a man on a horse rode up to him. Limbeck stopped in his tracks and huffed as he stared up at the man on the horse. He wore a cowboy hat and had a Colt .45 Peacemaker on his hip. Flash also noticed half a dozen men armed with hunting and assault rifles riding with the cowboy.

"You must be Flash Limbeck," the cowboy said his smile breaking across is stubble-ridden face.

Limbeck did not know what to say and only stared at the man dumbfounded. His brain could not fathom how a posse could have been there so quickly. Limbeck could still see the unconscious sheriff and the patrol car over his shoulder on the horizon.

"Zeke," the cowboy said. "Mr. Limbeck is going to need a ride."

A man wearing blue jeans and a military jacket rode up with an extra horse and held it out to Limbeck.

"I don't know how to ride?" Flash stated.

"You better learn fast, because the Feds are going to be on our ass all the way back to the New Republic of Texas," the cowboy said.

* * * * *

Fred Wilson walked into the sheriff's department and entered the sheriff's office. It was no secret that the two men were good friends. Therefore, the rest of the department allowed Wilson free rein. Wilson sat into a chair across from Gracen's desk.

"How's the head?" Wilson asked.

"Sore," Gracen replied holding an icepack on the back of his head. "It was a good thing I wore that steel bowl under my hat or my melon would be gracing some rocky back road."

"You did good work," Wilson said. "Limbeck is important to the Texas cause. His broadcasts are very popular amongst his listeners."

"I thought the Oath Keepers were supposed to be neutral," Sheriff Gracen stated.

"We are," Wilson answered. "We had to protect Limbeck's Constitutional Rights."

"You know he did break the law," Gracen pointed out, "even under the Constitution."

"Now, let's not split hairs," Wilson said with a smile. "The important thing is that everyone is alright."

"Speak for yourself, asshole," Gracen said repositioning the icepack on his head.

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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 15

By Dwayne MacInnes

Buck Dubois sat in the pilot's seat aboard his prized possession the B-29 Superfortress he named the Yellow Rose. The old forgotten runway teamed with other vintage aircraft ranging in service dates from World War II to the Gulf War. Buck had deliberately chosen this field for its remote location and forgotten origins.

Buck waited for over a month and a half as the forces in the New Republic of Texas consolidated. Furthermore, as Ramirez dawdled, Buck, along with the nearly two hundred fellow pilots and crewmembers, awaited word for their service. Today they received the word, Operation Snakehead was to begin.

Fuel, armament, and supplies had been smuggled to their airfield. No one left to go to town lest they raise suspicion. Only a few heavily bribed smugglers brought them their supplies.

Now as the venerable piston engines roared to life along with the heavy whine of the more contemporary jets, the airfield was alive with action. The tall yellow grass swayed and buffeted in the artificial windstorm produced by the aircraft.

Buck, being the flight leader, proceeded to run the Yellow Rose down the old cracked runway. The bomber laden with tons of bombs eventually defied gravity and gracefully climbed in the morning sky. Soon, other bombers and their myriad of fighter escorts joined the B-29 in the air.

Buck smiled to his copilot and gave a thumbs-up. By the end of their mission, they could very well end the war against the New Republic of Texas.

* * * * *

LTG Groves still held Fort Hood. The siege at first was nothing more than a band of rabble encircling the huge military base. The rebels made a few attempts to charge the perimeters with cars, trucks and an old Brinks armor truck. The M-3 Schwarzkopfs easily obliterated any threat that approached the outer defenses.

The remains of those vehicles now littered the fields around the base. Groves prepared his troops to be ready at moments notice to sally forth and push their way through Killeen.

However, the order as of yet still had not been given. Groves also made sure that he had whatever air cover that was available. He needed whatever he could have provided to Fort Hood. This unfortunately entailed a few Blackfoot attack helicopters. The air force bases across Texas, though still valiantly resisted to succumbing to the rebels, were in no position to mount an offensive or lend any air support.

Airdrops and helicopters were resupplying bases like Fort Hood. As of yet, the rebels were not successful in posing any challenge to the United States air superiority. The problem was that Ramirez feared an errant bomb hitting a school or hospital. The political backlash that such and event would bring him and his supporters was not wanted. Therefore, there were no air support strikes.

Groves never liked politics, never liked any of the major parties and did not give a damn about political backlash. Right now, his forces were under siege and they awaited the orders to spring forth to wipe off this stain on the honor of the United States of America.

Before Groves could proceed to make himself any angrier, the air sirens across the base started to scream. Groves ran toward his office window and was surprised to see the entire sky filled with aluminum foil balloons. There had to be thousands, no hundreds of thousands of them. He suspected that the balloons were shadowing the entire perimeter of the base.

Groves raced out of his office and started to organize his people as the sky continued to fill with more and more foil balloons. Officers scrambled to their posts and readied their troopers.

"Sir," a master sergeant ran up to Groves and saluted. Groves returned the salute as the sergeant continued, "The radar has been rendered useless by the balloons. There are even latex balloons with strips of aluminum foil inside them. When they burst they act as chaff."

Groves felt the impending attack. He just did not know where it would come from. It could come from the sky, the land, or even both.

Without further notice, one of the Schwarzkopfs exploded in a bright fireball that washed across the base. Groves looked up in time to see an F-16 loose another missile at his tanks. Soon another M-3 burst into flames and debris.

The F-16 did not get far before a shoulder mounted SAM raced towards the old jet fighter. The burst of white near the jet's tail sent it spiraling out of control. However, there were more jets racing out of the sky to attack the base.

Missiles from ground defenses, helicopters, and soldier shoulder mounted systems raced towards their targets in the sky. In the same minute, missiles launched from F-16s, F-15s and a few relics from previous wars going back nearly a hundred years headed towards the ground.

The sky around Fort Hood blazed into fire, as did the ground. Soon, debris was raining down on the defenders. Great clouds of dirt, metal, and fire covered the horizon. However, through it all a new sound made its way through the cacophony of combat to reach Groves' ears. The sound tank treads bearing down on the defenders.

Groves yelled orders to have the remaining tanks and armored vehicles meet the new threat. Soon from all directions, that Groves could survey every design of tank converged on Fort Hood. From old Soviet T-34s, and M-4 Shermans from World War II, to some M-48s from Veitnam, to M1A1 Abrams that were decommissioned twenty years ago.

Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon

Sheriff Gracen walked into Oath Keepers headquarters, which right now was a hotel room occupied by Wilson. As Gracen entered the room, he saw Wilson talking to a soldier whose arm was in a sling.

"Thank you Lieutenant, I have already passed the information on to the right people," Wilson said shaking the soldier's good hand. "If what you told me last night is true you have done a great service for democracy."

"Sheriff, good to see you," Wilson said joyfully when he noticed Gracen at the door. The soldier nodded towards the lawman as he vacated the hotel room.

"Today could mean certain victory for the New Republic of Texas," Wilson stated proudly. "Ted is waiting for General Davis at the airport. He'll make sure he gets to the Army Reserve Center in time."

Gracen frowned; lately he was starting to become disillusioned in the Oath Keepers by Wilson's lack of neutrality. "You mean Davis is coming here?"

"Yes, and if the reports are correct he is going to set up headquarters in Littleton," Wilson stated sternly. "We must protect the Constitution at all costs."

"What are you talking about?" Gracen asked as worry began to work its way into his stomach.

Wilson looked at his watch, "You will find out in approximately two hours. That should be plenty of time for the new commandant of New Mexico to be at the Army Reserve Center."

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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 16

By Dwayne MacInnes

He was the former governor and now President of the New Republic of Texas. Lester Tucker reclined in a large leather chair of his old office. Until Texas built a proper capital, the old Governor's Office would have to suffice. The assault on Fort Hood was still well on its way. The resistance was better than expected and the losses suffered by the New Republican Army were heavy.

The training was starting to tell. The army was now an organized affair with good officers and a growing number of recruits. Tucker knew that if he could hold off for another week, President Ramirez would have to call back his army. This was because the War Powers Act only allowed him 60 days before he had to seek a declaration of war. A declaration that had to go through Congress and right now Ramirez lacked the votes.

A fly buzzed annoyingly in the window. Insects were thick this time of year and one just learned to live with it. Even with the multiple pest control sprays used around the office the flies kept on reappearing.

A knock on the door brought Tucker back to business. He grumbled an 'enter' and a young female aide walked in.

"Sir," the woman said. "We have received some replies to your recognition of the New Republic of Texas."

Tucker sat up straight. This was important. If enough world powers recognized the New Republic as a country, the international community would force Ramirez to recognize Texas as a new and sovereign country. Tucker rubbed his hands in anticipation, "How many did we get?"

"Just three, sir," the aide replied. "However, it is still too early for most foreign countries to reply."

Tucker waved his hand in annoyance. It was well into the 21st century one could make decisions instantly. "Well, which countries recognize us?"

The aide turned slightly red before she stammered, "Ah -- North Korea, Iran and -- um -- Venezuela."

* * * * *

Ted Morrel had no problem getting into the airport. The military had secured every airport in the south and it would normally be impossible for a civilian to get inside without a thorough search.

Fortunately, Ted still had his army uniform and his military I.D. card. Luck smiled when Ted joined the ranks of some soldiers marching into the facility. The MPs standing guard only looked at everyone's I.D. with a cursory glance.

Once inside Ted worked his way over to the proper gate. There he would receive the military plane that was bringing General Powell Davis to New Mexico. Ted, with clipboard in hand started making an inspection of various things like outlets, light fixtures, chairs. He would then pretend to mark them off a checklist on the clipboard. No one bothered him because a private doing a checklist obviously was under orders.

It was not long before the large cargo plane pulled up to the ramp. A few soldiers marched out of the gate, as did some officers. Last, to depart was General Davis who was talking to some aides.

"Look, I want security tightened around here," Davis spoke to an aide. "Anyone could get in here and sabotage the airport."

"Yes sir," the aide replied.

"Well, right it down!" snapped General Davis.

The aide looked embarrassed as he searched his pockets for a pen. Davis rolled his eyes before letting them fall on Ted.

"Private," Davis said to Ted.

Ted pointed to himself in askance. "Yes you, dammit!" General Davis snapped. "Let the captain borrow your pen."

Ted's mind raced. This opportunity was too great. He could end the whole show right here and now. He would be a hero. Even if he died in the attempt, Texas folklore would immortalize him.

Ted walked over too the captain with his pen held out in his extended left hand as he reached behind his back for the knife he had hidden there. The captain reached for the pen but before he could grab it Ted dropped it. As the aide bent down to get it Ted kicked the officer in the face knocking the man back. He then whipped his combat knife out and slashed at General Davis.

Davis instinctively blocked the slash with his right forearm. He did not immediately feel the blade slice through his shirt and across his arm. With his left hand, he smashed Ted in the nose with the heel of his open hand. The private staggered back as blood gushed from his broken nose and then Ted fell over a trashcan. Before he could recover, various soldiers all with their assault rifles aimed at his chest surrounded him.

"Do I have to do everything myself?" Davis grumbled.

"Sir," a corporal nodded towards the General's arm. "You are wounded."

The blood ran down his sleeve and onto the floor where the unconscious captain lay. "Somebody please help Captain Gregory out," Davis said dryly as he clasped his left hand over the bleeding and burning wound.

* * * * *

Mike Farr was not happy. He was late for work because his son forgot his lunch. They were nearly to the grade school when his son noticed that he had left his lunch at home. Therefore, Mike had to turn the car around grab the lunch box and again start to take his son to school.

"I'm going to be late because of this," Mike lectured his son for the hundredth time. Charlie only hunkered down in the backseat hoping that he could endure his dad's tirade.

"It's bad enough that traffic is a mess with the damn military marching all over the place. But to have to turn back for your lunch really burns me up," Mike continued. "Next time you can starve young man."

A large roar split the sky as Mike turned his car down a street that led to the grade school across the street from the Army Reserve Center. "Damn," Mike cursed as traffic now came to a standstill and people jumped out of their vehicles to look towards the sky.

Mike rolled down his window and looked up to see what all the commotion was. The roaring increased as Mike noticed what must have been a hundred vintage aircraft flying over Littleton.

Then a disturbing whistle broke through the heavy roar of the big engines and bombs began to plummet towards the earth. The ground shook as explosions rocked Littleton.

Mike watched in horror as the school at the end of the street exploded along with the Army Reserve Center. After a few loud and chaotic minutes the bombs stopped falling. With tears in his eyes Mike turned towards his frightened son, "Thank you God," Mike prayed aloud, "and Charlie, you can forget your lunch anytime."

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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 17

By Dwayne MacInnes

Staff Sergeant Murphy walked over to George Murdock. His expression belied that something was troubling him. The elder Murdock was good at reading people's expressions. That was what made him so good at business deals as well as poker.

"William," Murdock said as the soldier walked over to his desk. "You look like the cat ate your canary."

"Sir, in a manner of speaking it was your canary," the Delta Force operative replied.

"I'm sorry you lost me," Murdock shook his head. "I pray none of my oil facilities were attacked by some of the rebels."

"It is nothing like that. However, your accounts are being drawn upon," Murphy replied. "We have frozen your assets until we can figure out what or who is to blame."

George snorted, "How much was being withdrawn?"

"At first, a hundred thousand a week."

George smiled, "That would be my almost useless son. I allow him one hundred thousand a week for 'expenses'."

"Well, he requested a few hundred million just today," stated William flatly. "We declined the request."

Murdock's face went from white to red to a deep purple. "Why that no good son of a bitch. He can't even organize his sock drawer and he wants to run this company! Thank you, sergeant for declining his request," Murdock said finally regaining his composure. "Oh, you can go ahead and decline all of his requests from here on out."

F22 Raptor

The timing of the attack on Fort Hood was no coincidence. They sent every combat plane the New Republic of Texas could spare to assault the military base. In fact, the United States would have to send its own warplanes to meet the threat. That meant every airbase in New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Arkansas had to respond.

So, when the squadron comprising of bombers and fighters from World War II through the Gulf War attacked Littleton there were few jets available to stop them. However, it did not take long to recall some of the jets sent to Killeen to find the squadron led by Buck Dubois.

The United States Air Force was also monitoring the route the squadron was taking with a satellite. This allowed the recalled jets to intercept the squadron before it could sneak back over the border into Mexico.

Buck knew it was a long shot that they would be able to return unscathed. He was happy to know that with the bomb run on the Littleton Army Reserve Center his mission was a success. The United States' great hero sent to suppress Texas was more than likely dead now. Only a divine miracle could have spared General Davis's life after Dubois's squadron leveled the southern half of Littleton.

So, it was with no great surprise when he heard the pilot of the F-20 Tigershark announce enemy bogies approaching. The combat jets in the squadron raced off to meet the threat. There was no illusion that a handful of F-86 Sabers, F-4 Phantoms, F-14 Tomcats and one F-20 could hope to defeat the overwhelming strength of the F-22 Raptors and the F-35 Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter. They only prayed they could take some of them out before they destroyed the ad hoc squadron.

Bombers continued to race for the Mexican border only keeping the piston driven fighters as cover. Buck listened to the fight over his headset. The combat was over before it even began. The F-22s and the F-35s could fire missiles from over the horizon and their missile jamming electronics were light-years ahead of anything the vintage fighters could boast.

As steel and a few lucky ejected pilots descended towards the earth, the might of the U.S. Air Force bore down on the bombers with a vengeance. Any pilot in the U.S. jets who may have felt any regrets for shooting down such rare and beautiful war birds did not have those feelings now. They were after blood, revenge for the lives of the innocent schoolchildren bombed by these heartless demons claiming to be patriots.

Buck caught out of the corner of his eye the explosion of a B-17 Flying Fortress that had been flying off the Yellow Rose's port wing. With the sudden loss of the bomber, the gun crews instantly opened up with the .50 machineguns in the Superfortress. However, Buck knew that the men were shooting at nothing. The fighter jets wisely chose to hang back and let their missiles do their talking.

Cowards! Buck Dubois thought the instant before the B-29 he was piloting completely disintegrated in a fireball.

Several missiles locked onto the big bomber's profile and exploded in almost perfect unison.

F35 Joint Strike Fighter

LTG Groves continued to issue commands as his troops soundly resisted the combined might of the Texas army and air force. Occasionally the general feared the New Republic of Texas forces would overrun the base. However, it appeared that President Ramirez finally allowed the U.S. Air Force to give some air support to the beleaguered base.

The F-22s and F-35s quickly cleared the skies of all opposition aircraft. Once the warplanes removed the threat from the air, Groves was able to direct his remaining tanks to confront the Texas armor. Between the United States Air Force and the soldiers of Fort Hood the army of the New Republic of Texas felt compelled to pull back leaving the bulk of their armor and jets wrecked and burning across the landscape.

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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 18

By Dwayne MacInnes

President Tucker listened to another fly buzzing in the window. He was half-tempted to open the window to let the pest fly off and explore Austin. However, the president was still waiting to hear the news about the raid on Littleton. If they were successful, there was a good chance the U.S. would sue for peace.

Tucker shot up at his desk when he heard the knock on the door. "Enter," said the president with his excitement barely controlled. A young female aide walked in with a handful of papers.

"Any word about the raid yet?" Tucker asked anxiously.

"Not yet, sir," the woman said placing the papers on the desk before the president. "Here is some legislation before the congress you may want to look over."

Tucker looked over the papers. His face exhibiting disappointment that there still was no word about the raid. The look of disappointment turned to downright anger as the president reviewed one of the sheets of papers on the desk. He read and reread it twice before confronting his aide.

"Sue Ellen, what is this bill here?"

The woman walked over behind the desk, looked over Tucker's shoulder, and read Bill 187: Supreme Rights. She pulled herself up straight and answered in a neutral voice. "Sir, that is the bill being pushed by the Klan."

"I know that!" snapped Tucker. "I've told Congress we can't have this type of trash being debated in the congress."

"Sir, the white supremacists have a number of seats in the House and Senate."

Tucker knew that and it angered him. He wanted a new republic that was better than the United States. However, too many whites either feared or thought they were superior to minorities.

Bill 187 wanted to expel all Jews, Blacks, Hispanics, Catholics, and other undesirables from the Republic of New Texas. Tucker had seen several similar bills in the past month and a half. So far, none had passed congress. However, as the economy of the New Republic failed to really take hold, in large part thanks to the embargo and blockade being enforced by the United States, more people were looking for scapegoats to blame their problems on. It was a good chance this bill may pass this time.

"You tell them in Congress that if they pass this bill I will veto it," Tucker grumbled. The last thing he needed was to have the New Republic of Texas equated with Nazi Germany.

"Sir, there was another incident here in Austin," Sue Ellen stated.

Tucker knew what she meant. The attacks had been becoming more frequently across the country as time went on.

"What were they this time?" Tucker asked in a sullen voice.

"Six Hispanics, two Jews, a homosexual and a Catholic."

"No blacks this time?"

"Well, sir the homosexual was an African American."

"Great," grumbled Tucker. "I guess they figured it was two for one."

Before Tucker could say anything more on the topic, another aide walked into the office. "Sir," the excited man said as he placed his compu-phone on the desk atop the papers Sue Ellen brought in earlier. "We have finally received word on the raid."

"Well, it is official my friends," the voice of Flash Limbeck said from the compu-phone. Retrieving Limbeck proved to be a major coup, his broadcasts were still popular amongst his listeners in the States. In addition, it was a great embarrassment to the U.S. to have lost such a high-profile prisoner. Now in Austin, Flash continued to broadcast his show and Tucker made sure he embellished how great things were in the New Republic.

"Yes, it looks like 'Operation Snakehead' undertaken by Buck Dubois against our aggressors has been immensely successful. Although, our raiders were armed with old fighters and bombers, it looks like the United States was unable, with their superior forces, to stop Buck from carrying out his mission.

"What was that mission? You ask. Well, friends it was nothing short of destroying the Army Reserve Center in Littleton, New Mexico that General Powell Davis just recently occupied. It is uncertain if the General had been killed at this time, but at the very least, he would have been severely wounded. Therefore, the snake's head has been removed.

"Now, on a sad note, Buck Dubois and his brave raiders were all shot down. There has been no word if Buck survived. In any event, he will be remembered as a hero to Texas and her people. However, I want you to hear this from me first, the United States is claiming that Buck's raid bombed a school and destroyed several homes and business. I can assure you that this is just propaganda by the Ramirez administration to smear the New Republic of Texas and to make themselves look good.

Tucker looked at the aide who owned the compu-phone. "We bombed a school?"

"Ah, yes sir. In our haste to map out the raid on the Army Reserve Center no one noticed the school on the map across the street from the center."

President Tucker sat back in his chair and put his head in his hands. No matter how Flash spun it, the New Republic of Texas had just bombed a school and killed a number of children. The raiders could have done nothing more to ensure the wrath of the United States against the New Republic of Texas.

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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 19

By Dwayne MacInnes

Even after Texas had seceded from the United States, many areas remained under U.S. control. For example, all U.S. military bases remained under the control of the various U.S. armed forces. It was of utmost importance that none of these fell to rebel forces, especially those bases housing nuclear arms. This did not pose too much of a problem for the United States, for its military was by far better armed than those of the New Republic of Texas.

Other areas that remained under U.S. control were the oilfields and refineries belonging to those companies that were cooperative and remained loyal to the U.S.. Even President Tucker forbade attacks on any of these areas. Mainly because he felt that once the 60 days allowed Ramirez under the War Powers Act were up, the U.S. would finally recognize Texas as a new nation and would have to turn over all her territory. However, there were a few skirmishes between the rebels and the U.S. military.

West Texas quickly removed itself from the New Republic of Texas and became a new state within the United States. The U.S. government was quick to move in large numbers of military forces to help protect the new state's borders. Clashes between the U.S. and New Republican forces were frequent but hardly drawn-out affairs.

Finally, some of the larger coastal cities, especially those with ports like Galveston and Houston remained under U.S. control. Local partisans would attack the occasional occupation force, but these too were infrequent for neither side wanted to harm the local citizenry.

T.J. thought about all this and more as he waited in a dark corner of a local parking garage in Houston. He knew his father would be here for business, and T.J. wanted to speak to him without anyone else present. The younger Murdock had not spoken with his father since the beginning of the secession.

It was common that the two would not see each other for long lengths of times. George Murdock would sometimes use his son to set up and manage business meetings. It was mainly as a test as well as training to prepare T.J. for taking over the company someday. However, since the war broke out, business meetings for the oil companies in Texas were few and George had little time to worry about his son.

After waiting for what felt like an eternity, T.J. heard the footsteps of a man walking down the concrete ramp. T.J. pulled himself back into the shadows lest he reveal his presence to the wrong person. The younger Murdock smiled as he recognized his father walking alone and tapping the keypad on his car to unlock the door.

"Father," T.J. said as he approached behind the older man.

George stood up straight and slowly turned around. "I wondered when I would hear from you," George stated flatly. "You miss your allowance?"

"We need to talk."

"Indeed we do," the elder Murdock replied as he motioned for T.J. to enter the passenger side of the vehicle.

T.J. quickly glanced around the garage before he entered the vehicle. George seated himself in the driver's side and spoke to the car's computer, "Ignition."

The electric motor hummed to life. Almost every car made in the world today was either electric or a hybrid. George Murdock preferred the hybrid models.

"Well, what is it you want?" George asked as he pulled out of the garage and onto the city street.

"Why did you cut off my access to our money?"

"I guess that is just it. It is not 'our' money, but mine."

"Father, be reasonable. It will be mine someday and I was trying to set up a deal that would secure our company's future."

George arched an eyebrow as he stole a glance towards his son's face. "Really? I'm interested in hearing the details. If you can convince me it is a good plan, you will have access to all the funds you need."

"We are in a unique position," T.J. started. "We can use this war to our advantage."

"How so?"

"If we can successfully win our independence from the United States and if we help back the cause, we could end up with a number of new oilfields within the New Republic of Texas." T.J. noticed the scowl on his father's face and quickly started to lay out his case before his father could interrupt him.

"Think about it. The oil companies that stay with the United States are going to lose their lands and facilities once the Republic wins its independence. Those new properties will be redistributed amongst those companies that were loyal to the cause, especially to those that helped win the war."

T.J. noticed that his father's knuckles were white from gripping the steering wheel so hard, as his face turned deep red. T.J. knew he had failed in convincing his father and now he would have to endure the inevitable tirade that was about to ensue.

"You stupid halfwit!" George yelled. "Did you think about what would happen to our assets outside of Texas? If we back Texas and win this little war as you claim and we do pickup some new properties, it would hardly cover those lost to us in California, Alaska, Louisiana and others scattered across the globe! Do you think the United States is going to sit idly by as we pour money into this stupid cause of yours and then let us keep all our fields and refineries within their borders?"

"But father…"

"No, you listen to me," George said forcefully. "You quit yourself of any notion of helping out the rebels in this war. It will bring us all down."

"Father it is too late. I have made a large order with an arms dealer and I need $700 million or else," T.J. blurted out frantically trying to move his father toward compassion.

George pulled the car over to the sidewalk and slammed on the brakes. As the car squealed to a stop, the elder Murdock stared into the eyes of the younger. "You will get nothing," George said in a cold voice. "I am being watched by the U.S. government and I will not have you ruin my company. I do not agree with this independence nonsense and you are a fool to think Texas will win this war."

"All we have to do is wait for Ramirez's 60 days to expire and we will be free. It is just another few days."

George pushed the button to unlock T.J's door. "You obviously did not hear what happened earlier this morning. After what went down in Littleton there will be an official Congressional backed declaration of war and your little political enterprise will be dead. Much like you now are to me. I am going to report you and your actions to the United States. You may get out."

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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 20

By Dwayne MacInnes

T.J. walked up to the entrance of the Texas Hold 'Em. Billy Jones, one of the establishment's largest bouncers stood at the darkened glass doors with his arms folded over his western shirt. Now that the Gentleman's Club was also a brothel, the club tightened security.

"Howdy," Jones said tipping his cowboy hat towards T.J. "What's your order of business?"

"Come on Billy, I set this meeting up with Dave Richter your boss days ago."

"That may be true. But you still need to pay to get inside," Billy replied holding out a beefy hand.

T.J. sighed and reached into his back pocket for his wallet. As he retrieved it, he flipped it open and began to count out some bills.

"Wait, none of those useless 'slickbucks'," Billy cautioned. The New Republic of Texas had issued its own currency called Oil Dollars or OD for short. However, they proved as useless within the country as they did outside of it. Gold, silver, and the good old U.S. dollar were the only forms of currency recognized by anyone in the New Republic.

T.J. scowled and pulled out a couple of hundred U.S. dollars with the face of Benjamin Franklin and shoved them into Billy's greedy hand. Then T.J. shoved the hundred oil dollar bills with Sam Houston's face back into his wallet.

"Welcome to the Texas Hold 'Em," Billy said holding the door open for T.J. to enter.

T.J. entered the dark smoke filled foyer. He noticed many new faces inside the establishment. Some were servers, others were prostitutes, and others were patrons. With the country's economy in shambles the only means of employment for many women was in the sex trade. In fact, the only businesses that were really making any money were the ones in the sex trade, even here in the U.S. controlled Houston.

T.J. noticed many minorities amongst the scantily clad women bustling around the room. It had to be especially hard on them considering the restrictions and threats issued by the white supremacists that were growing in number inside Texas.

"Can I help you relax, sir?" a young Asian woman said rubbing her small body against T.J.

T.J. pulled back and shook his head.

"Lula, you leave T.J. to me," a brunette said as she walked up and took T.J's arm.

"Hello, Sally," T.J. smiled finding someone he recognized. Sally smiled in returned.

"Say, Sugar, we have the boardroom prepared as usual," Sally said leading T.J. to the boardroom.

T.J. took the opportunity to have a few drinks before Mr. Vargas arrived. Murdock could not help staring at the two brief cases before him on the table. He only hoped it would be enough to satisfy Mr. Vargas.

The room was set up the same as their previous meeting. A half dozen nude woman waited in the room patiently for their clients to make demands. So far, the only demands made were for the woman behind the bar to make T.J. another Scotch.

T.J. did not have to wait too long before Mr. Vargas accompanied by two large men stepped into the room. Mr. Vargas smiled when he saw T.J. sitting at the table and pulled up a chair across from the oilman.

The two men stood behind Mr. Vargas their eyes hidden behind their dark sunglasses. Their faces bore no expression and they made no noise.

"Good to see you again, Mr. Murdock," Vargas said smiling when he noticed the briefcases in front of T.J. "I take it you and your government were happy with your shipment."

T.J. smiled, "Yes, they were most pleased."

"Ah, good. It always makes me happy when we can please our customers," Vargas smiled. Mr. Vargas then snapped his fingers and the two men behind him started to move. "Ladies, we won't need you tonight. Thank you."

The women began to leave the room. However, before they reached the door one of the two men would give each hostess a U.S. $500 bill. The women smiled and then left the four men alone in the room.

Once they were alone Vargas spoke again still with a friendly smile on his face. "I think this time we should conduct business alone."

T.J. took another sip of his Scotch. The liquid warmed his insides, but it did not fill him with the strength he needed.

"Now, as agreed you will provide me the money for this shipment and we can discuss another order, no?"

T.J. frowned and Vargas noticed it. "Mr. Murdock what is the problem?"

"I don't have all the money. But I can get it if you give me more time," T.J. babbled quickly.

"How much do you have?"

T.J. pushed the briefcases towards Vargas. Vargas motioned for one of his bodyguards to open the cases. One case held U.S. currency all bound up neatly. The other held Texan oil dollars also neatly bound.

"There is about $40 million U.S. and another 300 in oil dollars. I can get the rest from the government in a few days…"

Vargas frowned deeply and held up a hand to forestall T.J's constant babbling. "Look here Mr. Murdock," Vargas said in a bloodless tone. "I will take the U.S. money and consider it a down payment for services rendered. However, your oil dollars are useless to us.

"I don't care how you get the rest, but it must be in U.S. dollars, gold, diamonds or the like," Mr. Vargas said snapping shut the briefcase with the U.S. currency. "Your government's money is not even worth anything in your country. So ask your father, your politicians for the rest of the money. I will give you twenty-four hours, or…well, you really do not want to find out," Vargas concluded with an evil smile before leaving Murdock alone in the room.

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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 21

By Dwayne MacInnes

Colonel Malloy looked around the cockpit of his B-52 bomber. The huge plane still constituted a significant portion of the U.S. Air Force's bombing force, even though the giant bomber was nearly one hundred years old.

His copilot smiled back and gave him a thumbs-up. The venerable bomber was now only crewed by two, the pilot and copilot. The rest of the crew duties the computer situated behind the two men would run.

Malloy was flying mostly by instruments because of the nature of the night mission over the panhandle of Texas. Their bombing group consisted of twenty B-52s escorted by a variety of fighters. Some were flying on the deck as Wild Weasel, which meant they were flying very low to the ground and jamming all radar and radio signals coming from ground installation.

Colonel Malloy was also flying his bomb group a lot lower than he would have liked. However, the mission called for them to put the fear of God into the people of Texas below them. A score of huge bombers screaming through the night would do that to anyone.

Further south in the interior of Texas other bomber groups were doing the same. However, over Austin a group of B-2 Stealth bombers were carrying-out a similar mission, but without the noise.

"Okay, Mike," Malloy said to his copilot over their headset. "Get the computer set on my mark."

"Roger," Mike replied.

"Three…two…one, mark," Malloy counted down.

"Mark," Mike replied. "Computer bombardier is set. We will release in precisely ten minutes."

Boeing B-52 Stratofortress

T.J. finally exited the Texas Hold 'Em a few hours after Vargas left that afternoon. Murdock was in a serious funk and did not know how he would get out of it. He had scraped together all the money he had access to in order to help pay for the arms Vargas had already delivered. President Tucker was kind enough to grant T.J. a loan of oil dollars. However, he would not relinquish any actual useful funds.

The real kicker and yet the worse blows for T.J. were his father disowning him, removing him from the company, and turning him over to the U.S. authorities. T.J. hoped that his father would regain his senses in the morning and reinstate T.J. into the company -- and family -- as well as forget about turning him into the authorities.

T.J. had spent the remainder of the night getting seriously drunk. He still had a few thousand dollars left and he intended to use a little of it to help forget his troubles. The problem is that it did not work. Even with several women asking if they could help him out of his mood, T.J. had to decline.

T.J. climbed into his Corvette and started the engine. It was an old internal combustion vehicle from the previous century. The engine purred as T.J. pulled the Corvette onto the main street as he headed for Austin. He hoped that maybe he could convince President Tucker to help him secure real funds to pay off Vargas.

It was well past 2 O'clock in the morning when T.J. entered the outskirts of Austin. He noticed some colorful objects slowly descending from the sky. The objects coasted down into the street and would occasionally bounce off his vehicle.

There were few cars on the road at this time so T.J. pulled the Corvette over to the side of the street and stopped. T.J. then opened the door and reached down to retrieve one of the mysterious objects that were still raining down from heaven.

The object was nothing more than a plastic Easter egg with a small parachute attached. The falling objects were mainly in bright primary and pastel colors. With the door still slightly ajar to allow the interior dome light to remain on T.J. cracked the blue egg open. Inside, he found a slip of paper.

T.J. unfolded the paper and squinted to make out the words typed on it. It took several seconds for his inebriated eyes to decipher the message. As the blurry letters finally came into focus, T.J. was able to read, 'Next time it will not be Easter eggs!'

The drunken oilman did not think things could get any worse, but that was until he read that ominous message. T.J. crumpled the paper into a small ball and tossed it out the still open door. He then slammed the car's door shut before he spun the wheels in an effort to return to Houston and get to the Texicorp corporate headquarters. He hoped that maybe he could hide out there until things blew over

T.J. pulled onto the highway just as the emergency sirens started to wail across Austin. A few sporadic shots of antiaircraft fire also climbed into the air. However, it was just for show. The bombers were now long gone and the New Republic had very little ammo for the limited numbers of antiaircraft guns it could boast.

* * * * *

Military officers from all the branches sat in anticipation in the old high school auditorium. There was a low murmur as the crowd conversed with each other. It was in the middle of the night and there were still recovery missions going on around the bombed town of Littleton.

Finally, a sharp voice cried out, "Atten-shun!" All the men and women in the room instantly snapped to attention as General Davis walked on to the stage. His right arm was in a sling and two aides closely followed him.

"You may be seated," Davis instructed the crowd and instantly every officer proceeded to take his or her seat.

"There are not as many of you here as I would like," stated Davis in a grave tone. "Yesterday's bombing mission was meant to take out me and any officers who would have been at the Army Reserve Center. I am sorry that, although I was missed, there have been no survivors found yet at the Reserve Center. Fortunately for you people, you were scheduled for a later briefing." General Davis pushed a button on the metal podium before him and a holographic map of Texas instantly displayed itself behind him.

"As of this minute we are beginning our invasion of Texas. This will be called Operation Texas Wildfire. In three days, we will begin our land advance beginning in the panhandle and swing south toward Austin."

As the general continued to lay out his plans for Operation Texas Wildfire in the last row of the auditorium, an officer in the back of the room was taking extra special notes. He furiously wrote down every word General Davis spoke despite having one arm in a sling. When the briefing was over the officer slipped out of the crowded auditorium and exited the old high school.

General Davis watched the crowded auditorium empty itself after he finished the briefing. He noted many smiles on the faces of the officers as news reached them that they were finally going to move into and retake Texas.

An aide walked over to the general and spoke softly in his ear, "The weasel is away." Davis broke into a rare smile, "Good. Good, give him two hours and then reassemble everyone for another briefing."

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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 22

By Dwayne MacInnes

Fred Wilson was not pleased. General Davis was not at the Army Reserve Center when the bombs fell. In fact, the very person, who Mr. Wilson had instructed to make sure the General arrive on time, foiled the whole plan by trying to kill the General on his own.

Wilson stayed inside his hotel room the entire day. He was so upset he did not want to leave. The news was playing up the destruction of the grade school, and the residential area hit hardest by the bombs. So now, the populace had lost all appetite for the Oath Keepers.

Only a handful of people called up Wilson to gloat about the bombing of the Army Reserve Center. However, far more people called up to say that, they were no longer going to support or be in the organization. A few even cursed the organization and held him personally responsible for the deaths of the children.

How little did any of them really know how involved Wilson really was. Wilson went to the little refrigerator in the hotel room and grabbed a beer. He was about to take a long drink from the bottle when he heard a knock on the door.

Wilson, now displeased that someone had disturbed him while he was trying to drink, marched over to the door and swung it open without even looking out the little peephole.

"Yeah," he grumbled as the doorway revealed a man in a uniform with arm in a sling.

Wilson broke into an instant smile, "Sorry about that Lieutenant. My nerves are a little raw right now."

The soldier stepped into the room and shut the door.

"I have some very important news that we need to get to the rebels."

Fred Wilson offered the lieutenant a chair and a beer. The soldier gratefully accepted both.

"Okay, this must be big. What is it?"

"This could easily make up for the bombing disaster," the lieutenant stated.

Wilson sat down on a couch and drank his beer as the officer related everything he knew of Operation Texas Wildfire.

"This is big. Very big," Wilson said after the Lieutenant finished his story. "I'll need to get this off ASAP."

The officer stood up and put the empty beer bottle on the coffee table.

"I have to be getting back before I am missed," the lieutenant stated as he headed towards the door.

Wilson stood up and smiled genuinely towards the lieutenant.

"You know you will be remembered as quite the hero after all of this is over. First, the successful ambush you miraculously survived. Second, the information on General Davis. Finally, the data about Operation Wildfire. Yes sir, when Texas is finally free from the United States tyranny, everyone will remember the great service provided by Lt. White."

White smiled in return before he exited the room. After the officer left, Wilson wasted no time contacting the rebels and relaying all that White had told him about Operation Wildfire. The rebels were excited to receive the news.

Feeling much better, Wilson grabbed another beer and was prepared to drink it when another knock on the door interrupted him. Wilson still smiling opened the door to see Sheriff Gracen standing in the hall.

"Come in," Wilson said excitedly. "I am glad you are here."

However, Wilson's smile disappeared when Gracen did not return his affection. Before he could ask what was wrong Gracen reached out with a pair of handcuffs.

"Fred Wilson, you are under arrest for the bombing and the murders of many of the citizens of Littleton," Gracen said as he spun the stunned man around.

The cuffs were on before Wilson could inquire what was happening.

"Are you crazy?" Wilson finally blurted out. "You are part of the Oath Keepers."

"Yes, I was," the sheriff replied. "However, I never planned to partake in any terrorist or treasonable acts. You can count on this as my resignation."

"You'll never get away with this!" screamed Wilson as Gracen handed him off to two deputies waiting in the hallway.

"You may be right. I may even end up in a cell with you. However, I will have you arrested first and I have already been talking to a lawyer about what I should do next."

Gracen knew that there would be an investigation. He prayed that the fact he thought he was joining a neutral organization, whose only purpose was to protect the Constitution, would come to light. He also knew that there were many other law enforcement officers in Littleton and across the United States in a similar situation.

* * * * *

As Lieutenant White left the hotel, he planned on heading back towards the officer's quarters located in a motel further down the road. However, White did not even get the keys in his car when he noticed two Sheriff patrol cars with their emergency lights flashing. They pulled up in the parking lot next to him.

All the blood ran from White's face as he stood there watching as deputies stepped out of the car. White recognized Sheriff Gracen as he walked past the soldier. The deputies were close behind the sheriff and none of them seemed to take much notice of White.

White wiped his brow and was about to unlock his car again when a man walked up behind him.

"Lieutenant White?" the man said.

White spun around to notice four Military Policemen behind him.

"Yes," White said sheepishly as he knew what was coming next.

"You are under arrest for treason and the attempted assassination of General Davis."

Lieutenant White dropped his keys and put his one good arm on his head. The MPs roughly cuffed him and White yelped in pain. His shoulder protested as it was still sore from the old bullet wound he took when the rebels ambushed his convoy.

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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 23

By Dwayne MacInnes

President Tucker stormed around his office. He glared at his cabinet who had assembled in the room. Even the fly that was a constant irritant, with its buzzing around the room, seemed to fall silent.

"We could do nothing about last night?" Tucker spat out towards the men and women in the room. "Almost every city was hit with those damned Easter eggs and we could not even scramble one jet to stop them."

"Sir, practically every plane we had we used in the assault on the U.S. military bases yesterday and they were almost completely lost," said one aide.

"Do you think I want excuses?" Tucker yelled.

He stomped over to his desk and pulled a pile of papers off its top.

"Do you know what this is?" he asked.

No one ventured to speak up.

"I'll tell you. These are the reports from the northern counties. They are returning to the United States and our military is so shaken that we can do nothing to stop it."

"Sir, what about Operation Texas Wildfire?" a woman asked.

"Oh great! We know when and how General Davis is going to hit us. We could have really done some damage on their advance if we now didn't have to worry about reclaiming the north!"

"Sir," a man wearing the uniform of the New Republic of Texas army said. "I have a plan."

Tucker sat down at his desk and nodded towards the soldier.

"General West if you can salvage our plans from this fiasco I will grant you everything you need."

"Good sir, we will need it," the general stated. "Losing the northern territories may not be so bad. Our army is stretched thin as it is. If we can recall all available units from the north, we can prepare for the United States assault. Plus, it may buy us some time if the U.S. army is tied up trying to restore order to the north."

President Tucker nodded his head as General West returned to his seat. His anger had lessened with the hope that West could work some kind of miracle. Tucker then looked around the room and his eyes locked with Vice President Watson. The two could barely stand each other and it was quite obvious to all in the room that there was no love lost between them.

"Why don't we hit the United States hard," Watson chimed in.

Tucker heard it all before and he did not really want to hear it again.

"We can assemble a dirty bomb or launch a chemical attack on the states bordering us."

"We wouldn't stand a chance," Tucker said in an exhausted voice. "The U.S. could retaliate and wipe us off the map. We have to be careful in our response. Our best bet is to win international recognition or wait until Ramirez exhausts the terms of the War Powers Act."

As Tucker was speaking, a soldier quietly entered the room and he went over to General West and spoke softly in his ear. The general then left the room with the soldier. It was a few minutes later when an obviously agitated West returned to the room.

"Sir," General West interrupted. "I have some very grave news to share."

Tucker could not begin to think what could be even graver than their situation now. However, he nodded for the general to continue.

"Sir, there is chaos breaking out across the country. It appears that the midnight bombing has shaken up the populace. Some are rioting, some are planning anti-government protests and some are just trying to flee."

Tucker sighed deeply. How ironic that nearly two months before these same people were holding anti-government protests against the United States. Now, they were protesting against their new government.

"How are the police and the military handling it?" Tucker asked.

"It is almost beyond our control," West replied. "This will greatly hinder our plans against the U.S. advance from the north."

Tucker wiped his brow, "Okay, this should have been expected. Try to retrieve as many troops as possible from the northern counties and have them begin setting up defenses."

"I'm afraid that there is more news, sir," General West continued. "The panhandle and the northern counties next to the southern border of Oklahoma to the eastern border of New Mexico have proclaimed themselves the new state of North Texas and they have been readmitted into the Union."

Everyone in the room shared the surprised look on Tucker's face. Normally it would take longer for the Congress to admit a new state. Even West Texas had to wait a couple of weeks. This was unheard of, yet it was not a complete surprise.

"Okay, we expected to lose 'North Texas' as they are calling themselves. General West we must get those troops moved ASAP before any other territories decide to break off. If only they could have waited a little longer before voting in a new state," Tucker mused aloud.

"Ah, sir," General West began in a solemn voice. Tucker's eyes widened, he could not believe there was more yet to come. "The United States Congress has declared war on the New Republic of Texas half an hour ago."

Everyone broke into shouts of disbelief and panic as chaos spread across the room. Tucker slammed his fist upon his desk in renewed anger; his last major hope for independence had just vanished up in smoke. They should have never tried to bomb the Army Reserve Center in Littleton, New Mexico. With the deaths of the schoolchildren, the wrath of a nation had instantly turned against Texas. Even those people in the United States sympathetic to the New Republic's cause were now demanding blood.

President Tucker knew that Texas's only hope of independence would be to defeat the United States military in battle. It would have to be a complete and crushing defeat. The only problem was that the army of the New Republic stood a very slim chance of success.

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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 24

By Dwayne MacInnes

President Ramirez stood in the dark room deep inside Malmstrom's Air Force Base. Officers surrounded him as he watched the sergeant at the terminal deftly move some controls. The image on the screen in front of the audience showed the interior of the old state governor's office in Austin.

"Amazing," Ramirez said fascinated by the image playing out before him. "You can pick up audio as well?"

"Yes sir," Captain Richardson answered.

"Don't they sweep the room for bugs?"

"Three to four times a day," Richardson replied. "However, our device, which resembles and acts like a fly has a very low electronic signature that can switch frequencies randomly. This makes counter-surveillance very difficult. In fact, only the very best sweeping devices have a slight chance of detecting it.

"The main source of power is in the internal battery. It is charged from the wings , which happen to be solar panels. The eyes are micro-cameras and the body acts like a microphone picking up any surrounding sounds."

"Impressive, very impressive," Ramirez repeated. "How many of these do we have in operation?"

The captain looked towards General Lowell who was in charge of the project. He nodded his head allowing the captain to answer the president's question. "Well, sir we only have the one."

"One, really?" Ramirez asked incredulously.

"Yes sir, this was only a prototype for testing before the whole war broke out. So, we received authorization to 'test' it out over in the governor's office."

Ramirez turned towards the general and asked him straight out, "What other little devices do you have like this?"

"I'm afraid at this time all other research is still highly classified, sir. I do not even rank high enough to know," he replied.

Ramirez arched an eyebrow as he studied the general. The man remained stone-faced so Ramirez dropped the line of questioning.

"Does this thing have any internal recording devices?"

"Yes, sir," Captain Richardson continued. "The fly can store up to 72 hours worth of images and sounds that we can dump later into the mainframe via the satellite in geosynchronous orbit above Texas. Once there, we can set teams working on the recordings and in a matter of hours have it broken down and readied for further intelligence work."

The president nodded his head in acknowledgement. "Have there been many cyber attacks on this installation?"

General Lowell smiled, "No sir. Very few people know of this. There have been some attacks on other military computers. However, we have been leading the hackers into false files allowing us to back track to their base of attack."

"You make it sound easy," Ramirez said with a smile.

"It is actually very complicated and involved, sir," Lowell continued. "However, this has allowed us to place some viruses into their network. When the word is given, we'll activate the viruses which will essentially shut down all communication in Texas. It is called Operation Whiteout."

"That is getting above my head, general," the president laughed.

President Ramirez continued his tour of the top-secret installation. As far as the world knew, Malmstrom's Air Force Base was the main hub for the nuclear missiles dotting across the plains of eastern Montana. As far as the world knew, President Ramirez was still in Washington, D.C.

With the recent bombing of Littleton, Ramirez's popularity soared to a 95% approval rating. Most people wanted Texas to pay for the deaths of the schoolchildren whose bodies the rescue workers were still pulling out of the rubble. The fringe elements of the right and left were the only ones who did not approve of the President. The right felt that Ramirez had orchestrated the bombing in order to gain approval for the war and the left thought the war with Texas was a waste of resources and lives.

After another half hour of touring the base, Ramirez felt it was time to leave. The president and his retinue left for the trip back to D.C. General Lowell, Captain Richardson and Sergeant Wilcox had the dark room to themselves. They continued to monitor the governor's office even though Tucker and his staff had long ago left.

* * * * *

Vice President Watson entered the president's office. She knew everyone was now gone and she and one aide had the room to themselves. She went over to Tucker's desk and activated the computer built into the desk.

"Ma'am, should we be doing this?" the young aide said with a slight quiver in his voice.

"Yes," she replied. "I need to find those raiders near the New Mexico border. I have a very important mission for them to perform." Watson continued to search through the president's files on the computer until she found what she needed. She then gave the command to the computer that in turn put her through to the raiders.

The holographic image of the cowboy with the .45 Colt Peacemaker came into view. "Yeah?" the man said in a slow drawl.

"Is this Cobb?" Watson asked.

"What if it is? Who are you?"

"I'm your vice president and I have an important mission for you," snapped Watson.

"Yes'm!" Cobb said forcefully as he regained his composure.

"You are to follow Plan Stampede," Watson said. "Repeat, Plan Stampede."

"Immediately," Cobb said.

"That is all!" Watson said in conclusion before shutting down the computer.

"Ma'am, what is Plan Stampede?" the aide asked.

"They are to cross the border into New Mexico and terrorize the populace."

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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 25

By Dwayne MacInnes

General Lowell watched between Captain Richardson and Sergeant Wilcox's shoulders at the conversation between Watson and Cobb. He had Wilcox replay it again so that he could make sure he heard everything correctly. The room was deathly silent for a few minutes before General Lowell finally cleared his throat.

"Sergeant," Lowell said in a firm voice. "This may take us some time. Please, go get us some coffee."

The sergeant knew that the general wanted to speak to Richardson alone so he stood up and left the room to get three coffees. After the noncommissioned officer left the room, the general walked over towards the terminal. He looked toward the captain and motioned for her to take the chair recently vacated by Wilcox.

As the captain took the chair, General Lowell typed a code into the terminal. Displayed on the screen was "RK-1: Activate (Y) (N)". Captain Richardson looked at the general with surprise on her face. She had heard of RK-1 but did not know that it actually existed. The official title was for 'Remote Killer'; however, the true name was for Rimsky-Korsakov, a little black humor from the engineers.

General Lowell reached over and punched the 'Y' key. A new image came to replace the one transmitted by the fly on the screen. The images of a mob of people protesting and being contained by police. Also in the image were New Republican soldiers which keyed Richardson in to the fact that the RK-1 was located outdoors.

"I assume you know how to handle the controls," General Lowell stated.

"Yes sir," Captain Richardson replied. She wiped the sweat gathering on her palms onto her uniform before gripping the controls.

"The RK-1 is located outside the governor's office. You will wait until Watson leaves the capital building before you commence your attack," the general ordered.

The captain swallowed hard before issuing a, "yes sir."

Richardson sent the RK-1 into flight and had it maneuver around so that she could watch the front door to the governor's office. People were jostling and chanting while waving protest signs as police and soldiers kept the entryway to the governor's office clear. In all the chaos, Richardson thought she would miss catching Watson exiting the building.

However, Captain Richardson did not have to wait long before the vice president of the New Republic of Texas walked out with the aide still in tow. A police officer escorted the pair down the steps. Richardson flipped a switch and then activated the automatic targeting system. With the crosshairs locked in place, the captain only had to make minute adjustments as the RK-1 moved in.

* * * * *

The aide listened to Watson, as she again expounded on how weak President Tucker was. Further, she stated that if she were president, the United States would have already been negotiating a peace treaty. The aide only listened with half an ear for he had heard it all before. He knew that Watson tended to be egotistical and often over inflated her accomplishments.

As they exited the building and started to walk down the steps towards the sidewalk the aide noticed a large bumblebee float through the crowd of protesters. Suddenly it buzzed by him. As Watson made her way through the escorting soldiers, she absentmindedly brushed at the flying insect that headed towards her. She was in midsentence when the large bee landed on her neck and instantly stung her in the jugular. Before Watson could swat the bee, it was already flying away.

"Ouch!" Kimberly Watson exclaimed as she collapsed onto the sidewalk.

The aide and several soldiers quickly knelt down next to the vice president and noticed the large welt where the bee had stung her. The aide realized that Watson had stopped breathing.

"Get help!" the aide yelled towards the crowd gathering around the vice president. He immediately began to administer CPR. However, Kimberly Watson was already dead. The RK-1 contained a super-concentrated venom that it had injected into the vice president. She was dead before she hit the ground.

* * * * *

Captain Richardson's hands shook uncontrollably. She had never killed anyone in her life. She trained for it, but now that she did it, she felt cold and numb.

General Lowell then proceeded to shut down the RK-1. Immediately the screen and controls returned to the fly in the governor's office.

"Well, done soldier," the general said in a flat voice. "You did your country a service."

A few minutes later Sergeant Wilcox returned to the room with three hot cups of coffee. The general took one and sipped at it. However, Captain Richardson only stared at her cup. Wilcox noticed even in the dim light that she had lost her color and was slightly shaking.

"Captain, are you okay?" Wilcox asked.

"Captain you look ill," General Lowell stated noticing for the first time how faint she appear. "Return to you room and take the rest of the day off."

Without saying a word, Richardson left the room. As she slowly made her way to her quarters, she played and replayed the assassination she had committed only moments before through her mind.

Once she was in her room, Captain Richardson found a bottle of wine and proceeded to drink two glasses before she made her way into the bathroom. She turned on the shower and let the hot water steam up the small room.

Richardson looked down at her hands and noticed how they shook uncontrollably. She made them into fists and tried to will them to stop. However, they continued to shake.

As if in a trance, Richardson left the bathroom with the shower still running and proceeded to gather up her pajamas, a robe, towel and a few other things. She then returned to the bathroom.

She surveyed herself in the fog free mirror and barely recognized the wraithlike visage that returned her gaze. The captain then undressed. She neatly folded her uniform and placed it on the counter next to the sink alongside her large fluffy bath towel.

As if for the first time, Richardson noticed her small travel bag also on the countertop. She always took it with her and she kept all the necessities she needed because the military could send her on a trip in a moments notice.

The captain unzipped the bag and pulled out the .45 automatic Colt pistol. It used to belong to her grandfather and she always traveled with it. Like a salve it had always soothed away her fears and worries in the past.

Richardson looked at the black pistol and then looked at her naked form in the mirror once again. Then in one smooth motion, she pulled back the slide and placed the gun under her chin.

* * * * *

An alarm sounded in the barracks shortly after the pistol shot echoed down the hall. It took the security detail less than two minutes to have the door kicked in. The airmen found Captain Richardson's twitching body on the moist bathroom floor. The condensation in the room mingled with the blood pouring out the back of Richardson's head.

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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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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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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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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 29

By Dwayne MacInnes

F-105 Thunderchief

The U.S. army pushed its way south through the panhandle region now known as the state of North Texas. Many bridges were sabotaged and demolition teams had to work constantly to disarm the IEDs. The New Republic of Texas soldiers had left these as they retreated back across their new border.

This caused the U.S. military to move at a snail's pace. There were some opportunities for the U.S. forces to rush forward, but General Davis always ordered the military to continue its slower rate. Many officers doubted if Davis really wanted to win this war because the slower advance was allowing the Texans to reform and gain more reinforcements.

The combat tended to be one sided with the better-trained and equipped U.S. forces easily pushing aside the Texans. Davis also warned against the harsh treatment of civilians. Only if there was solid proof that a civilian was aiding and abetting the enemy could the military make an arrest

There were a few partisan forces; however, most of the citizens of North Texas looked upon the U.S. as liberators. It meant a return to stability, something that Texas lacked every since it seceded.

At night when most of the combatants on both side opted to rest, many U.S. G.I.s would listen to some old radios that they found along their trek south. The music was a mixture of rock and country, the popular hits from the last half a century. It originated from Austin.

The voice of Flash Limbeck played on the radios as he introduced the music. Limbeck knew that the U.S. forces listened to his broadcasts so he always tried to make it something personal for them.

"Hello there, to our aggressors from the north," Limbeck broadcast. "It appears that your government is forcing you to fight in a futile war against the peace-loving people of Texas. We are not your foes but your friends. I have a special song here for you. It's that old classic tune from last decade called, 'A Soldier's Dear John' performed by Billy Jackson. As you enjoy the music, please listen to the lyrics and remember that your sweetheart could right now be in the arms of another man."

No one really paid much heed to Limbeck's propaganda. In fact, the music selection was so good that many soldiers looked forward to the nightly broadcast. The officers allowed the men and women to listen to it because it actually raised morale instead of lowering it.

F-104 Starfighter

The old governor's office again was crowded with aides, top military advisors, and fellow politicians. President Tucker looked at an old highway map laid out on his desk. It was irritating that they had to resort to using old style maps because there was not a single computer available in Texas that could project the usual 3D holographic ones everyone knew.

"General," Tucker asked as he pointed to the new border of the New Republic and North Texas with an unlit cigar. "How are the reinforcements coming along?"

"As best as could be expected, sir," General West replied. "We are still forced to use old radios for communication. Plus, there are still some pockets of rioters and protesters that we are dealing with.

"We are damn lucky that General Davis appears to be in no great hurry to head into Texas. That may be our one advantage. It is allowing us to mass our forces for one climatic battle."

"General, I want all the stops out," Tucker said in a stern voice. "I want every available piece of military hardware that can be spare thrown into the fray. I want anything that may offer us an advantage available. This will be the last showdown and we have to win." Tucker emphasized his last point by slamming a fist onto the map.

"Do we have any aircraft left at all?" Tucker asked.

"Yes sir," an aide replied. "We have a handful of F-105 Thunderchiefs and F-104 Starfighters. They weren't ready for combat when we assaulted the military bases. However, they are ready now and hidden away for the moment we need them."

"Good," Tucker said. "I want any volunteers to fly anything that can get airborne across the country. Be it a civilian plane, a blimp, a flipping kite -- I don't care. I just want the U.S. Air Force distracted so that those fighters have a chance to aid in the final assault."

General West nodded his head, "We will start recruiting immediately."

"General, I will leave the timetable to the assault in your hands," Tucker gravely stated. "However, General, do not wait too long or all is lost. Is that understood?"

"Yes sir," West replied.

"Do we have any intelligence on what the U.S. is planning?" Tucker turned to an aide who was holding a briefcase.

"I'm sorry sir. But, the U.S. military has closed down all borders and with the loss of the computers we can’t get any reliable information. However, it appears that from our spies in North Texas that General Davis is going to continue his drive south towards Austin."

"Well, let's hope he continues to move slowly and predictably. If we can continue to lull them into a false sense of invulnerability they will let there guard down. That, gentlemen, may be the chance we need to end this war once and for all."

General West did not want to correct the president about his forces lulling the U.S. military into a false sense of invulnerability. The truth of the matter was that the United States simply outclassed them in military hardware and experienced soldiers.

However, there was a chance that Davis may become careless and that would be the best time to strike. General West knew that as soon as this meeting was over, he would need to head north and prepare his troops for the last assault President Tucker wanted.

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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 30

By Dwayne MacInnes

T.J. ran from one ruined building to another. A heavy rain fell from the night sky The clouds obstructed any moonlight that normally would have filtered down onto Houston. This was both a blessing and a curse. The blessing because the city had a strict curfew and anyone found outside after 9:00 P.M. would be arrested. It was a curse because T.J. could not see much in the darkness.

To make matters worse, all lights had to be blacked-out by nightfall as well. The military was not taking any chances in allowing the rebels any aid in assaulting the city. The city was now completely cut-off from the surrounding countryside.

T.J's foot splashed into a large puddle. The former oil executive cursed under his breath. He dearly needed stealth. The U.S. military were not the only ones after his hide. The Venezuelans were also interested in him. He owed them a lot of money and now he was sure that they were tracking him.

The soaked man dressed only in a dirty and torn business suit shivered as he finally huddled inside an old overturned dumpster. The U.S. military and local law enforcement were able to reestablish law and order only a few days ago. However, by that time, many buildings had been set ablaze. It was in these ruins that T.J. had stayed. He was hiding amongst the debris and constantly on the move. He had to stay ahead of the Venezuelan hit squad that Mr. Vargas had after him.

T.J. buried himself inside the garbage that was still partially inside the dumpster. He shoved wads of paper down his wet shirt to help towel himself off. Then he wrapped himself inside a mysterious fabric. It could have been a tablecloth or even a bed sheet at one time. It mattered little to T.J. he only wanted to use it to help keep warm.

Sleep did not come easy anymore. Between the shivering cold, the fear of a hit squad shooting him, and the U.S. armed forces arresting him, T.J. could only close his eyes after extreme exhaustion finally overcame him.

In a fitful dream, T.J. could hear voices speaking in Spanish. T.J. awoke shuddering in fear. He listened intently praying it was only his mind messing with him. Then he heard something fall over and crash onto the ground.

"Maldita sea!" a voice swore above a whisper.

"Cállate!" a second voice whispered harshly.

A third man's voice whispered, "Dónde esta el hombre?"

"No sé"

T.J. cautiously poked his head out of the dumpster. He could see three men in the early dawn light working their way through the burned-out building. They were carefully walking towards his hiding spot.

Fright overtook T.J. and he bolted from the dumpster. He ran through the soggy charcoal littering the street. He did not have any idea of where he was going to go, but he needed to flee before the three men captured him.

"Allí!" one man shouted as he pointed towards the fleeing oilman.

T.J. did not waste time to look over his shoulder. He let the adrenaline in his system carry him onward. He heard a pistol fire behind him. The bullet slammed into a steel girder near T.J's head with a metallic clank.

Another shot whistled past T.J's head as he ducked behind a brick building. T.J. gained the street and wasted no time in crossing it. He could hear the footsteps of the men pursuing him. T.J. ran down an alley.

As he passed broken wooden crates and dented garbage cans, T.J. found himself in a dead-end alley. A tall brick wall prevented him from exiting the far end. Another shot flew past and lodged itself into the brick wall. Chips of broken brick pelted T.J. as he stopped in his tracks.

T.J. raised his hands and quickly turned towards his pursuers. The three men laughed as they slowly walked towards the younger Murdock.

"Señor Murdock," one of the assassins spoke with a heavy accent. "You owe our employer a lot of money. I do not suppose you have it on you. Because if you do and you hand it over to us we might let you go for another day."

The assassin's companions laughed at this. T.J. slumped to the ground on his knees. His hands shook in fear above his head.

"Please," Murdock begged. "I do not have the money. It is utter chaos out there. Once things return to normal, I'll get the money."

"That is enough Señor Murdock," the man said with a sneer as he took another slow step towards T.J. "Your begging only sickens us. However, I suppose Señor Vargas would enjoy it."

The man turned towards a companion and spoke in rapid Spanish. The companion laughed and pulled out his compu-phone. Then he proceeded to record T.J. on his knees shaking.

"One more time with the begging, por favor, for the camera."

T.J's mind went blank. A cold dread seized his heart. He knew that he had finally reached the end. These men would finally kill him and he was utterly helpless to prevent it. Tears began to roll down his cheeks.

"Sirs," T.J. sobbed. "Show some mercy. If you let me go I'll give you more money than you can imagine."

The leader laughed, "I do not know. Señor Vargas, you see, has paid us a lot of dinero. This we have, you have nothing to offer us in exchange. Muy triste, Señor Murdock," the assassins raised and pointed their pistols towards T.J's head.

T.J. was thankful that his clothes were still soaked as he wet his pants. He closed his eyes and turned his head away with his hands shaking uncontrollably above his head. He flinched as three shots rang out in the alley.

It took a few seconds for T.J. to realize that he did not feel any pain. His brain raced for an answer and the only one that came to mind was that the assassins were toying with him.

"Mr. Thomas Jefferson Murdock?" a voice asked in an American accent.

T.J. opened his eyes and looked up at a squad of soldiers with smoking rifles. A sergeant walked forward and stepped over the bodies of the dead assassins.

"I am Staff Sergeant Murphy," the man said. "I am here to place you under arrest."

T.J. smiled and then he laughed as he lowered his hands. "Sergeant, those are the most beautiful words I have ever heard."

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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 31

By Dwayne MacInnes

George Murdock entered the sterile hospital room. There were guards outside guarding the room as well as some inside. The man in the bed with I.V. tubes in his arm was barely recognizable. The gaunt and unshaven man in the bed vaguely resembled his son.

George would not have known his son was at the hospital if it was not for Staff Sergeant Murphy. The sergeant stood near the bed where T.J. lay recovering from his excursions.

Murphy nodded towards George and stepped away from the bed. "We were close to losing him to some Venezuelan assassins."

"Thank you," George responded sincerely as he approached the bed.

T.J. looked up at his father with hollow, haunted eyes. Although the hospital staff had cleaned him up, T.J. still showed the effects of being on the run for days. He was a lot thinner than the last time the two had met and he sported a four-day scruff of beard on his face.

"Father," T.J. smiled when he recognized his dad standing next to him.

"Take it easy, son," George gently assured his son. "You have had quite an adventure I hear."

T.J. chuckled a bit before replying, "More like a damned fool of a mistake. You are too kind."

"Well, some of life's lessons we have to learn the hard way."

"It looks like I'll have plenty of time to continue my education," T.J. smirked as he nodded his head towards the soldiers.

"Did you talk to the lawyer I sent down here?" George inquired.

"Yeah, if I cooperate with the feds on Venezuela's involvement in arming the Texans, they'll cut me a sweet deal. Probably only have to do a year or two."

"I pray you took the deal."

"Maybe a couple of weeks ago I would have laughed the man out of the room, but not today. The past week really drove home some harsh lessons. You'll find me a changed man from now on. I'm sure you'll even say I've grown up.

George smiled again as he squeezed T.J's shoulder, "You'll have your old job back when you get out."

"Wow, it must be my lucky day," T.J. joked. "I am rescued in the nick of time, I may get off lightly for my stupid mistakes, and now I'm reinstated back in the family and the business."

"Well, we've both learned a couple of things," George acknowledged. "Hopefully, this madness will end soon. There are some nut-jobs out there who are bombing the properties of any business they think is cooperating with the United States. That is what happened to our headquarters. Thank God, no one was there."

"I was," T.J. said frowning as he remembered the suicide pilot plunging his aircraft into the building.

George Murdock looked down at his son with a puzzled expression on his face.

"I'll tell you about it later," T.J. said. "But right now I need some sleep. I haven't been in a real bed for nearly a week."

* * * * *

Military vehicles rushed by the armored command vehicle where General Davis made his headquarters. Around the cramped compartment, officers stood staring at a 3D holographic image of Texas.

"Okay, it looks like the Republican forces are gathering here near San Angelo," Davis stated as he pointed at the city with his laser pointer. "If our intel is correct they have rushed nearly every piece of equipment and personnel they could spare to stop us at this location."

A colonel spoke up, "Sir, if we know that they are there, certainly, we could move around them leaving a token force to tie them down."

"No, colonel. We are going to hit them with everything we have with us."

Several officers broke into small conversations. They could not believe what they were hearing.

"Sir,"a major broke in. "We need to move swiftly to get to Austin. We should not tie ourselves down with a battle that could last for days or even weeks."

General Davis smiled, "I can personally assure that it won't last quite that long."

* * * * *

The scouts came back to announce that the U.S. military were taking the bait. It would not be long now before battle commenced between the United States and the New Republic of Texas. General West only prayed that the ancient museum pieces they were using would be enough to slow down and even defeat the U.S. military.

Soon small arms fire broke out in the distance. That would be the advance guards firing on the advanced elements of the U.S. forces. Shortly there after, artillery pieces from both forces started firing at each other.

General West was in a reinforced command post dug into the ground a few miles back from the front lines. He had his officers assembled and ready to relay any orders that they needed to send. Malware from the United States still infected most of the computers in Texas. Therefore, the Texans relied on ancient radios for most of their communications. Very few of these had scramblers.

"The air units from the United States are headed towards us," the communications officer stated.

"It's now or never," West sighed. "Send in all of our air units."

* * * * *

In the air above the battlefield outside San Angelo, old Cobras, Apaches, Little Birds and UH-1 Hueys battled against the more modern U.S. helicopters. Missiles streaked across the air as the choppers dove and jinked to gain an advantage over their opponents. Soon, the sky was ablaze with helicopters and missiles exploding sending the burning debris crashing into the ground below.

Higher in the sky the F-104s and 105s battled the U.S. F-22s and 35s. The older jets were no match for their more nimble and modern adversaries. However, they did not go down with out taking a few of the newer fighters with them. Fire, scrap metal and bodies rained down from the heavens into San Angelo and the surrounding area.

On the ground, the infantry fought each other. The defenders were greatly outnumbered. However, they had laid down some stout defenses and they took a heavy toll on the invading U.S. forces. Both sides brought in support vehicles, tanks, and artillery fire.

The final battle for Texas independence had begun.

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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 32

By Dwayne MacInnes

The night sky was pitch-black as the heavy rain clouds still obscured the moon. The cargo planes continued to make their runs to resupply the U.S. forces still garrisoned in Texas. Fighters, as well as radar jamming planes, always escorted the cargo planes. The Texans learned long ago never to try to shoot down the crafts. They never could hit any planes with their antiaircraft guns and rockets. Furthermore, the projectiles from the guns and launchers tended to fall back to earth inflicting more damage to the Texans than the U.S. forces.

So, it was without the knowledge of the Texans that these planes were actually dropping off paratroopers. These soldiers were sent to reinforce the garrisons at the military bases as well as those guarding the oilfields. All night long airborne troops parachuted into Texas in the black of night. They were carrying some arms and ammunition, but little else.

M1-A1 Abrams Tank

The next morning General West witnessed another of his venerable M1A1 Abrams tanks go up in flames as an M-3 Schwarzkopf fired upon it with the plasma Gatling gun atop its turret. The main gauss-gun fired its projectile at an armored vehicle. The solid shot from the gauss-gun penetrated the light armor of the vehicle and proceeded to exit out the other side. The vehicle, other than two gaping holes in its side, was relatively undamaged.

Some sappers from the New Republic of Texas managed to disable the M-3 by knocking off one of its tread with an old RPG-29 Vampir. However, the tank could still fire its guns and it did. At least, until another round from the Vampir penetrated the reactive armor near the tanks fuel tank. Soon smoke and flames were now billowing from the M-3 Schwarzkopf.

West adjusted his field glasses and surveyed the carnage around him. Trees were felled and burning amongst the wreckage of vehicles, homes, and bodies. Much of San Angelo was burning and there was little either side could do to contain the conflagration. Fortunately, the wiser inhabitants had left the city before the battle began.

"Sir," interrupted a major. "Our left flank is starting to falter. Do you think we should send in some reserves?"

General West frowned as he shook his head. He had committed all the reserves he could spare earlier that day to strengthen his center. Only his right so far seemed to be holding its own. He did not dare ask for more forces from the garrisons remaining in the south.

The general cursed when he thought about it; he had lost all of the remaining combat aircraft that Texas had in the air battle the previous day. He was down to a handful of helicopters, and his tank forces were dwindling rapidly. The only bright spot was that the U.S. forces were not trying to outflank his troops and instead opted to fight the final battle here.

West turned towards the major, "See if General Howe can spare some troops on the right flank to help out the left. We will need the remaining reserves to plug any holes or to use in a break out if the enemy surrounds us."

The major saluted and hurried off. The officers did not dare use their radios with the U.S. forces so close. Thus, they had to resort to couriers. West yearned for an old-fashioned telephone -- or better -- military grade radios.

But, he knew he had to make due with what he had. San Angelo was at the hub of U.S. Highways 67, 87, and 277 as well as State Highway 208, the Houston Harte Expressway, Loop 306 and FM 2288. This strategic significance alone determined San Angelo as the place of the battle.

It was important that the Texans did not lose 87 southern route so that if worse came to worse they could pull back and set up another defensive position. Another point of fortune was that the U.S. forces were either not mindful of this or just did not care.

Map Showing San Angelo

An aide ran up the stairs and arrived into President Tucker's office winded. The man took a few deep breaths before he began to speak. However, even with those breaths the man still huffed and wheezed before he could make his report.

"Calm down, lad," said the president from behind his desk.

He was pleased that the tech-boys had finally fixed his desk computer. A few others were now functioning as well. Nevertheless, the process was taking longer than anyone would have liked -- except the United States of course.

"Sir, the Americans are headed towards us," the aide finally said between deep breaths.

"What?" exclaimed Tucker. "I just got off the radio with General West and he claims that he has them tied up in San Angelo. In fact, I've ordered some more troops and materiel to San Angelo to offer assistance."

The man shook his head as he finally brought his breathing under control. "No sir, these troops are flowing in from West Texas. There are also rumors that the United States is moving troops in from the occupied port cities as well as Louisiana."

Tucker put his head in his hands. This was always a possibility that they considered, but they figured that the United States would like to minimize their impact in Texas and only send one force. "We better get West on the line," Tucker said in a demoralized voice.

"Sir, all of our radio signals are being jammed," the aide continued with his bad news.

"What about that superstation that we have Limbeck broadcasting from. Certainly the megawatts that are coming out of there could blast through anything."

"I'm sorry sir, we are completely cut-off."

"Do we have any eyewitness accounts of these armies moving through Texas?" asked the president.

"Yes sir, but we don't know which ones to believe. We are getting hundreds of accounts. Some say the forces will be here in an hour, and some say in a day."

"How about our garrisons? Are they not putting up a fight?"

"Some are. But they are easily overwhelmed. The sad thing is that most are simply surrendering their entire forces."

Tucker did not know if he could take any more bad news. He would have to hurry if he wanted to get out of Austin before the United States military entered the city.

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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 33

By Dwayne MacInnes

Mayor Warren Locke and Officer Amanda Hughes walked hand in hand through the ruins of Fort Hood. If one were to look at the military base from the air, it looked like one giant pockmarked debris field. There was not a building undamaged and several burned out tanks, cars, helicopters, and trucks littered the grounds.

However, the base was still firmly within the United States Army's hands. All personnel, not on guard duty, were hunkered within the underground bunkers around the perimeter. For every day since they seceded, the Texans had fired artillery rounds and missiles into the base. They also made a few direct attacks -- all to no avail. LTG Groves refused to give in to the Texas rabble, and his expertly laid defenses were able to keep even the most fanatical attackers outside the perimeter.

However, today a new turn of events happened. There were no artillery or missile attacks. There were no snipers or suicide bombers. In fact, for the first time in months, one could hear the sounds of birds singing in the morning air.

The only other noise was that of tanks, U.S. tanks, rumbling into the base which were followed by trucks and other vehicles. Soldiers were also marching in through the battered gates in a seemingly endless number.

Locke knew that the tide of the siege was starting to shift when an element of Airborne Rangers parachuted in the previous night. A night drop was a dangerous thing; however, from the news Locke received, these drops were going on all over Texas.

When the sun rose in the morning, the rebels had pulled out of their defenses and by all accounts had left Killeen. Many had left their arms, uniforms, and vehicles strewn across the broken landscape.

Locke and Hughes, both wearing borrowed military fatigues, walked over toward General Groves who was speaking to another general. Groves noticed the two people approaching him, and he motioned for them to come over.

"These, General Burns, are our lovebirds from Killeen," LTG Groves said as he introduced the two. "They have been a guest here since the whole situation began. Locke here was the mayor of the city and if I remember right, a sworn bachelor."

Mayor Locke smiled, "Well, I guess the stress of combat brings people together. Plus, I owe Amanda my life. She brought me here and managed to get herself shot."

General Burns looked at the young police officer and smiled, "I'm amazed that everyone hasn't been shot here."

"Sir, I was wearing riot gear at the time," Hughes offered.

"So is the war over?" Warren asked.

"We have three different armies sweeping through Texas. Most are experiencing very light resistance. A fourth army in the north has the reb army pretty much tied down," stated Burns.

General Burns looked around at the wreckage strewn across the base. He noticed a lot of tanks and military vehicles from the previous century blackened and burned dotting the landscape.

"What the hell!" he said. "It looks like the rebs emptied every museum to arm their army."

LTG Groves laughed, "That is exactly what they did."

* * * * *

Flash Limbeck frantically looked for some way out of Austin like most of the military and civilians. The streets were more chaotic than when the riots took place a couple of weeks before. Cars were stuck in gridlock, people were carrying what few possessions they could carry, and a few fights were breaking out.

Limbeck knew that when the United States military entered into the city they would begin looking for collaborators. Being an escaped prisoner from the United States as well as a propaganda tool (many were calling him Texas Rose) he would be lucky if he was not shot on sight. Limbeck did not know where he would go, but he knew he could not stay in Austin.

Rumor had it that President Tucker had fled earlier in the day leaving his staff behind. What little military and law enforcement that remained in the city were completely overwhelmed with the task of restoring order in Austin. Fires broke out around the city and this time they were burning unchecked.

A man ran into Limbeck, and in the process, lost an armload loot. He had rings of gold, bracelets of silver, and pearl necklaces. The man had obviously looted a jewelry store.

"Watch where you are going!" yelled the man as he scrambled to pick up his ill-gotten gains.

Horns, shouts, and gunfire punctuated the air as the social order of Austin continued to break down. A man ran into the crowded streets with panic plastered on his face. Another man soon followed and proceeded to gun the first man down in front of everyone.

"Dirty bastard!" the gunman shouted. "He tried to steal my suitcase."

The gunman then realized that he was no longer carrying his suitcase and must have dropped it in the chase. The man spun around and tried to retrace his steps as he disappeared into the crowd of humanity jostling on the sidewalk.

Flash had to get off the street. It was more dangerous out here than in a building. Even with the risks of fire, Limbeck realized he prefered the relative safety of some department store or apartment building to the anarchy in the streets.

Flash ducked into a recently looted electronics store. The mesh grating over the windows lay bent on the sidewalk. The shattered glass window offered Flash the means to enter the building.

Limbeck walked into the store. The lights flickered above and revealed empty and overturned shelves. The cash register lay on its side on the floor. The till was empty save the Oil Dollars that remained untouched inside the tray.

Flash cautiously wove his way through the debris and found a back door. Limbeck tried the knob. It turned freely in his hand and the door opened to reveal a set of stairs leading down into a basement.

As Limbeck descended the stairs, he realized the cacophony of the streets receded. He flipped a light switch and a single light above offered him some illumination. The basement had not escaped the notice of the looters. Again, overturned shelves and broken electronics littered the floor.

There was a door in the far wall of the basement. Limbeck crawled over the broken shelving and made his way to the door. He tried the knob, but it did not turn. Flash noticed the keyhole in the door. He tried the knob again this time shaking the door as if he could unlock it with force.

"Go away!" shouted a voice from the other side of the door.

"You have to let me in," pleaded Limbeck.

Two gunshots burst through the wooden door and the bullets penetrated Limbeck's chest. As Flash slumped onto the floor trying futilely to staunch his spurting blood the voice on the other side of door replied, "The hell I do!"

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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 34

By Dwayne MacInnes

General Davis was in his command vehicle when he got word that General West of the New Republic of Texas wanted to seek terms for surrender. He immediately called a cease-fire. Within minutes, the constant crack of rifle fire and the deep thud from the artillery and tanks with the resulting explosions came to a sudden end. The silence was almost deafening.

It was less than an hour later when an old Humvee carrying a white flag escorted by a U.S. light armored scout vehicle drove into General Davis's camp. The vehicles stopped short. The U.S. soldiers exited the scout vehicle and stood at-ease until General West with his entourage exited the Humvee.

General West followed the U.S. soldiers toward the command tent where Davis stood in anticipation. The U.S. soldiers stopped at the door as did General West's aides. General Davis extended his hand towards West.

"General if you would join me inside," Davis offered as West returned the handshake.

The two men entered the command building followed by one soldier from each side and the door closed behind them. Inside there was a small folding table with a holographic computer built in. Right now, the computer was off. There were two chairs around the table.

"General," Davis said offering General West the chair opposite of him.

The soldiers from both sides stood off to the side.

"If you do not mind I have been recording the event with the mini-cam," Davis stated motioning to the small camera in the corner of the command tent.

A tech had placed it there only a few minutes before. General West solemnly nodded his head, "Sir, I thank you for your kindness."

"Think nothing of it. So, let's get down to brass tacks."

"First, if I may beg a question," said General West.

Davis nodded his head.

"Is it true that President Tucker and most of his cabinet have been captured?" asked the general.

"Yes, it is. If you need confirmation I can get you a direct line to the president who is currently under guard behind our lines."

"I believe you," West stated. "It is not becoming for two old war dogs like us to lie to each other."

"No, it is not," agreed General Davis.

"Well, sir what are your terms?" West asked General Davis in a matter-of-fact voice.

"President Ramirez has instructed me to be very lenient," General Davis said as he turned on the tabletop computer.

Both parties could read the terms on the holographic screen. "All enlisted personnel in your army are to be paroled. They may return to their homes, but they must surrender their arms accept any personal arms allowed under the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. All officers are to face a military tribunal to determine the extent of their role in the rebellion. Most will end up with the same terms as the enlisted personnel."

The two generals continued to read the terms laid-out on the holographic tabletop computer screen. After another hour of haggling over the finer points, General West finally accept the terms offered by General Davis.

The two men stood and shook hands again before they departed the command center.

"Sir," said General West. "I will address my men and we will begin to disarm immediately."

"Thank you, General," Davis replied. "I am glad that this unfortunate event has finally ended."

West turned and saluted Davis, "Unfortunate event indeed. Where did the dialogue end?"

"I don't really know," General Davis replied pensively. "If people were quicker to use dialogue than guns, we could have spared a countless number of lives and an unknown amount of damage."

General West nodded and exited the command tent. His aides stepped in line behind him as they approached the Humvee. One soldier from the United States army started to sing The Yellow Rose of Texas. Soon another joined him and then another until all the assembled United States soldiers joined in. General West with tears in his eyes stopped and saluted the soldiers before he entered the Humvee.

* * * * *

Cobb had made his way to Sante Fe when he heard of the defeat of Texas. He found a secluded alley and broke down in tears. His dreams and the country he loved instantly vanished. Now, at best, he was a drifter -- at worst, a war criminal.

He still had his Colt .45 Peacemaker tucked inside his light jacket. He also had a small amount of plastic explosives that he carried in his leather satchel. Inside were a blasting cap, a timer, and a remote detonator.

After a few minutes, Cobb recovered himself. He looked at his reflection in a dirty window. The face that stared back at him was sunken, sporting a small growth of facial hair, and a goodly amount of dirt. He realized he looked more like a homeless man than a soldier from Texas.

Cobb finger-combed his greasy black hair and put his dirty cowboy hat on his head. The first order of business, Cobb determined, was to clean himself up. He did not have any money -- at least, nothing that would be of use in Santa Fe or any where for that matter. So, he walked around until he located a homeless mission.

Cobb had little problem gaining admittance. He could spin a pretty good tale when he needed to. So before long, the mission accept a Roger A. Pyle into their roster, a recovering alcoholic and roving homeless person. Cobb shared a room with another man, a man that kept to himself, which suited Cobb just fine.

Cobb needed time to think, a job to find, and a plan. Texas may have surrender, but Cobb had not. He knew that he could still deliver one last blow for Texas independence.

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Texas Wildfire

Chapter 35

By Dwayne MacInnes

President Ramirez had aged significantly since he took office about a half year before. His hair was now almost completely gray, wrinkles now lined his eyes and brow. Not to mention, he must have lost a good fifty pounds.

Despite all this, Ramirez was happy. The war was finally over. Most people felt that he had handled the war correctly. The United States military was reestablishing order inside Texas. Once the situation stabilized, work would begin on reconstruction. Ramirez stressed that the work be done by the local Texans, especially since most were now unemployed. He also stressed that the military would not harass the locals but instead work with them.

The president had flown into New Mexico to tour the bombed sites in Littleton. The citizens hailed him as a hero and the president, under extremely heavy guard by the Secret Service, mingled and shook many hands. The Secret Service finally convinced Ramirez that it was for his own safety that he should return to the armored limo after touring the sites.

Inside the limo, Ramirez sat next to his old friend and chief of staff, Todd Schneider. "Did you enjoy yourself?" Todd queried as he took some notes on an electronic notebook.

"Yeah, you know what? I did," Ramirez said waving to the crowd outside the limo. "I feel like a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders now that the war is over."

"The war may be over, but we still have to pay for it," Todd replied as he looked up from the notebook.

"Yes, I know that, but for now let's enjoy the victory."

"Humph," was all Todd replied as he looked down at the notebook again. "Okay, you have a school play to attend in Santa Fe. You will meet your wife and daughter there tonight."

"Ah, yes, the domestic life. How sweet it is to enjoy it again," Ramirez smiled.

* * * * *

Cobb rode in the back of the taxicab on his way to work. With his new name of Roger Pyle, he found work as a janitor. It was of the utmost importance that he arrive on time.

As the cabby weaved through traffic, Cobb reached into his satchel and pulled out a small ball of plastic. He placed the plastic ball underneath the front seat of the cab. He then pulled out some wet hand wipes and proceeded to wash his hands. Then he slid the bag with the wipes under the driver's seat.

"Did ya hear the president is going to be in town today?" the cabby said making small talk.

"Yeah," Cobb said as the cab pulled up in front of the school. "Say, I would like to have a cab available when I'm done with work." Cobb slipped the cabby an extra $50.

"Yes sir, I will be in the area all night. I will do my best to respond. You can reach me at this number," the cabby replied giving Cobb a business card. "Call me when you are ready."

"Thanks," Cobb said as he entered the school's rear entrance. A Secret Service agent searched Cobb and checked his ID before allowing him to enter. Once inside Cobb headed towards the basement boiler room.

* * * * *

Ramirez sat in the balcony seat with his family enjoying the school play. The children often missed their lines or delivered them in a stilted voice. Still, the president enjoyed every minute of it. He almost forgot that the Secret Service surrounded him and that they were constantly monitoring the halls.

In the basement, Cobb tended the boiler. A Secret Service agent would enter and occasionally watch him work. However, the agent would soon leave and patrol another area of the school.

The Secret Service had gone over the school with a fine-tooth comb looking for explosives and guns. Having found none, they determined that the school was sufficiently safe for the president. They also searched every person who entered the building.

Cobb went over to an old metal washbasin, pulled out some bottles of bleach, and poured them into a mop bucket. He placed an old dirty mop into the bucket and proceeded to mop the floor around the boiler.

A Secret Service agent checked in and watched Cobb mop the floor for a few minutes before returning to his patrol. The smell of bleach was not out of the ordinary for cleaning a school.

Once the agent left, Cobb rummaged through his tool kit and found his small remote. Cobb then reached into his pocket, pulled out his compu-phone, and dialed the cabby's number. After a quick conversation, Cobb disconnected and waited.

It was five minutes later that the cabby called Cobb to let him know that he was waiting outside the school. Cobb picked up the remote and smiled as he pushed the button. Immediately after he depressed the button, the school shook as the cab exploded outside.

Secret Service agents immediately sprung into action and sprinted either outside to the wreckage of the cab burning in the streets or to the defense of the president. In either event, they left Cobb alone in the basement by the boiler.

Cobb then walked over to a large gray plastic garbage can next to the boiler's intake vents and removed the lid. A strong odor of bleach wafted into the air as he poured the contents of the mop bucket into the garbage can that was now half-full of bleach. Next Cobb grabbed several yellow bottles from his cleaning supplies and walked over to the large mop bucket. Putting a wet rag to his mouth and nose Cobb proceeded to pour the bottles of ammonia into the garbage can and watched the fumes as the heating vent hungrily sucked them up.

* * * * *

Secret Service agents instantly surrounded Ramirez and his family once the explosion rocked the building. People in the audience were screaming in fear and the children on stage ran back and forth as teachers and parents tried to reestablish order to the chaos breaking out.

No one notice the strange vapor pouring out of the vents until people started to cough. The balcony above the auditorium soon had the noxious fumes of chlorine gas enveloping it as the heating vent in the balcony blew the deadly gas out.

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Texas Wildfire

Epilogue

By Dwayne MacInnes

Terrorist Attack Kills President and 132 others

AP: Santa Fe - The terrorist attack at the Ridgedale Elementary school in Santa Fe, New Mexico yesterday killed President Ramirez, and 132 others. Included in the list of the dead are the first lady, Amanda and their 5-year-old daughter, Renee. The president and his family were in New Mexico to commemorate the victims of the Littleton bomb raid and to celebrate the victory over the New Republic of Texas. The activities included attending a school play in Santa Fe. The exact nature of the attack is still under investigation by the FBI. However, the Secret Service reported that they had completed a thorough search of the school building before the president's arrival and did not turn up any bombs or guns.

What investigators know is that shortly before the chlorine gas attack inside the building, a taxicab exploded in the streets outside the school. It is unknown at this time if there were multiple people involved in the attack or if it was the result of a lone operator. There is speculation that a dissident group from Texas may have been behind the attack.

An investigator who asked to remain anonymous due to the ongoing investigation believes that the chlorine gas originated in the boiler room in the basement. In the basement, investigators found the body of the janitor, Roger Pyle near the boiler. The FBI is looking to the cause of death and as to whether Mr. Pyle may have been a terrorist. A garbage can with a mixture of bleach and ammonia was located underneath the main air intake for the boiler. According to experts, the fans of the boiler would have been sufficient to pump the deadly gas throughout the school

Experts also state that there was enough chlorine gas produced to cover the three stories of the school building and to incapacitate everyone inside before anyone could escape or open a window. Rescue workers had to enter the building using breathing apparatus to pull the bodies of the victims out of the school. The only survivors so far have been three Secret Service agents who were near the front door when the taxi exploded. Two are stable condition and a third is in critical condition at Community Hospital.

Vice President Alexander Lloyd was in Canada for an economic summit meeting with the Prime Minister. On his flight back to Washington, D.C., the vice president underwent a quick swearing in ceremony as the new president. When asked if he would seek reprisals against Texas for the attack if there were a link he commented, "It is too early at this time to start talking about retaliation. It appears at this time that the attack was the action of a single person or a small group. As it stands, President Ramirez did not want any further actions taken against Texas so as to allow its readmission into the United States as smoothly as possible and I intend to follow the same policy."

In the aftermath of the bombings in Littleton last month, President Ramirez's approval rating soared from a dismal 19% to 95% with a 3-point margin of error. There were polls still being conducted gauging the public's opinion of the victory over Texas when the attack took place at Ridgedale Elementary.

The president and the first family will lie in state in the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. and already huge crowds of people are lining the streets mourning their deaths. Thousands have been holding vigils outside the White House and leaving cards, small gifts, and burning candles outside the White House gates.

In New Mexico, the victims have been also receiving a similar reaction. People from across the nation have been pouring into the state to attend the funeral services planned for later in the week.

The nation already emotionally tormented by the attacks in Littleton and the war against Texas are now mourning the deaths in the recent school attack. Many people have likened Ramirez's death to those of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. Some have pointed out that he had successfully concluded a war and will be the first to have a 52 star flag draped over his casket.

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