Ozark Retreat - Chapter 7*


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Ozark Retreat - Chapter 7

Brady and Star were taking a casual stroll along the parapet wall, as was there wont from time to time. Not on duty, just enjoying being out. They felt a jolt and Brady grabbed Star to steady her as the ground and the wall shook for long moments.

“Wow!” Star said. “Earthquake!”

The two hurried down off the rampart and away from the wall in case an aftershock toppled it, as unlikely as that was. They looked around. People were coming out of all the buildings to see what was going on.

Everyone waited tensely, but no aftershock came. Finally Brady and Star headed to the blast shelter, where the communications gear was still kept. “Any reports?” he asked as soon as he came in.

“Yeah. Everyone local seems to have felt it. I’m running the HF amateur bands to see how wide spread it was.”

Brady and Star sat and listened as the amateur began to contact their list of operating stations around the US. “Funny,” Amanda said after talking to quite a few people. “I figured it was the New Madrid fault, and the early communications kind of supported that. But I’m not getting anything from Wyoming or the Dakotas. There were a lot of survivors up there.”

“Yellowstone!” Brady said half under his breath.

“What?” asked Star.

“Yellowstone Caldera,” Brady explained. “It’s been acting up the last few years. It’s one of the super volcanoes volcanologists have recently discovered. If it has blown big time, it is going to be bad.”

“Even here?” Star asked, skeptically.

“Possibly. Probably. Not a lava flow, of course, but ash. Lots of ash. Possibly toxic ash.”

“How soon?” Star suddenly believed Brady.

“Probably a day or more. We have time to get the hatches battened down.” Brady turned back to Amanda. “Keep us informed.” With that he headed out of the shelter. Star followed.

Brady began to gather people together, sending some to get others. Star stood beside him as he began to explain what he thought was going on.

“What our people that are out helping the other MAG’s?” was the first question that came up after he finished describing the probable effects of a super volcano explosion and how it might affect them here.

“I’m going now to get on the radio with the other compounds,” Brady replied. “We’ll recall all of our people as soon as we can. Start getting things ready, like you would for fallout dust.”

“Star,” Brady said as the group began to disperse, “I didn’t see Barbara. She’s probably napping with the baby. Would you go check on her and fill her in?”

“Sure, Brady.” Star hurried toward Barbara’s family’s housing unit as Brady headed back to the blast shelter.

He sat down beside Amanda and got on one of the radios kept tuned to the frequency used for communications between the compounds.

Brady talked to each of the leaders, or their seconds-in-command, of all the MAG’s with which they had contact. There was mostly disbelief, though all had felt the earthquake. All agreed to send Brady’s people home as soon as possible.

With his people all accounted for Brady relaxed a little, but was soon up and supervising the preparations. Barbara left Jamie and Jane in the capable hands of the school teachers and went with Star to help with the preps. There wasn’t that much to do, but volcanic dust is abrasive and often times corrosive. Everything was put under cover that could be. A couple of tools were made up to brush ash from the tops of the greenhouses if it started to build up. Brady didn’t think it would, but the greenhouses were an extremely important part of their food production and he wasn’t going to take any chances with them.

Routes were planned to allow the equipment to plow important areas clear of the ash. Part of Brady’s initial planning had involved volcanoes. He had the materials on hand to make a pair of large cyclone air pre-filter systems for two of the U500 Unimogs. He put their machinist and welder on the job. The snow plows were attached and the trucks parked, ready to go.

Long handled brushes were made similar to the greenhouse ones to clean the windows on the Unimogs, since they would very likely be used during the ash fall. Using the regular wipers could easily scratch the glass as they dragged the abrasive volcanic dust across the windshield. It might not be much of a problem, since the windshields on the Unimogs were nearly vertical in orientation. But again, Brady wasn’t taking chances.

All the air handling systems in the buildings were cleaned and filters cleaned or replaced. Large pre-filters were fitted to the air intakes using up much of their stock of spare HVAC filters.

And then they waited. All the rest of that day, and all the next day. People were beginning to wonder if Brady had been wrong and began grumbling about not being able to go about their regular business. All doubts vanished that Friday morning when the ash began to fall. It was worse than any blizzard any of them had ever been in. It was dark as night. The ash cloud blocked out all sunlight.

The ash fall started heavy and it continued heavy. At rates up to four inches an hour. Four people suited up as they had for the fallout decontamination and went to the Unimogs to start clearing the inside of the compound of the first layers of ash. They continued to go out from time to time to do so as the ash fall continued unabated for three full days and nights.

The accumulation rate fell drastically after the third night, and the sky brightened, but ash continued to fall lightly for another week. They had kept the open areas of the compound cleaned very well during the time the ash was falling. It would be months before they got rid of the accumulations in all the nooks and crannies.

Brady suited up one day and used the Bobcat A300 with bucket to cut a short trench out in the deepest part of the ash fall outside the compound so he could measure it. Approximately four feet, eight and one-half inches had fallen in total. The working areas of the property were cleared, as well as the area around the compound.

It was going to be years before some of the areas around the property not used heavily were cleared. It was all the two Unimogs could do to clear a single lane to Juan’s farm. They tried using the big snow blowers they had for the Unimogs, but the blade wear was too great. As it was, using the snow plows was eating them up, but they were much more easily repaired.

The sunny days had been scarce before the volcano. Now they were nearly non-existent. The sky was hazy all the time. Even after it rained. And it rained a great deal. The rain did wash much of the ash away, at least on sloped ground. Large areas were cleared, the ash moving to the adjacent low spots, filling entire creek beds and gullies, even entire small valleys. In places the ash accumulated to thirty, forty, fifty feet and more.

And when it was still freshly wet it was like quick sand, though after it consolidated and the water began to run over the top of it rather than into it, it would hold up a person, but a vehicle would mire up immediately. Star found out the hard way when she and a team were on the way to check on one of the compounds with which they had lost contact.

The road she was driving on in Brady’s Suburban was clear most of the way. Star had been able to drive across a couple of low places in the road that were covered with ash. When she came to a point where the road dipped down into a swale Star assumed she could cross it. The ash was much deeper here than what it looked and the road was clear on the other side of the ash flow, perhaps a quarter of a mile away.

Star did ease onto the flow, but when it seemed solid she continued. By another six feet the front of the Suburban went down to the winch and Star stopped. Everyone got out and struggled back to the exposed pavement. The Suburban was still sinking, much to Star’s chagrin. She called it in to the compound and Brady sent one of the Unimogs out to pull the Suburban free.

“I’m sorry,” she said as soon as Brady stepped down out of the passenger door of the Unimog.

“Stuff happens,” he said softly. “Don’t let it bother you. I knew this was going to happen eventually. Though not with my Suburban.” Star blushed.

The Unimog easily pulled the Suburban out after they extended a cable to the trailer hitch of the Suburban. It had quit sinking when the tires had contacted the pavement under the ash. Brady had brought several five gallon buckets of water with Unimog and he started to get under the Suburban to clean the goo from the operating parts of the drive train.

Star saw what he was doing and insisted on doing it herself. She was covered with the stuff when she finally crawled out from under the truck. Brady took off the coveralls he had on over his regular clothing and gave them to Star to put on over her soiled things so she could ride in the cab of the Unimog rather than the back. She wanted to continue on the trip, but Brady insisted she go back to the compound and get cleaned up as soon as possible. The volcanic ash was proving mildly hazardous to the skin.

When Brady returned with the team later she was almost glad she’d got the Suburban stuck. Brady said it was bad at the other compound. None of the team said very much, but it was obvious from what they did say that the other compound was a total loss, with a total loss of life. Ash flow from the rains had scoured the side of the hill clean, taking buildings and all to the bottom of the valley. It must have happened suddenly. There were no signs at all of any survivors.

That was the worst occasion of the ash flow, but as contact was resumed Brady’s group found out that several of the other MAG’s, with compounds on the down side of the hilly country had suffered different degrees of the same thing.

Sam’s compound was still cut off. There were low spots on both entrance roads that were filled to the brim with the ash. They were digging out, but it was going to take a while. Brady dispatched a Unimog with a backhoe mounted to help when he found out.

From what information they were able to gather from the surrounding countryside, a good twenty percent of the post war survivors in the area perished due to the ash fall and its after effects. And that was before the winter set in.

The Ozarks occasionally suffered a severe winter, for, as Brady said one time, there wasn’t anything between the North Pole and them but a few four strand barbed wire fences. A person from Alaska would have been right at home in Branson that winter.

The snow fell like the ash and the rains had. Often and heavily. Again the various compounds that were mutually supporting each other were physically cut off from one another. They were able to maintain radio contact much more effectively than they had during the ash fall.

One of the groups went completely silent in January after asking for shipments of food. All efforts to contact them failed. Not even Brady’s group could conquer the snow and get to them.

As soon as the snow had diminished enough for the Unimog snowplows to make a dent in it, Brady headed out with as much food as they could spare, and two doctors and a nurse. It took two days to get to the compound. They found that they were too late. It looked like an internal battle had been fought over the last of the food. Not everyone died of hunger. More than a few had gunshot wounds.

Brady had all the bodies they could find moved into one room of one of the houses and the compound stripped of everything useable. They would come back in the spring to bury the bodies.

Spring finally rolled around, though late was hardly the word for it. Shortly after the snow began to melt quickly under spring rains two more compounds fell silent. There had been no pleas for help from either one of them. It was the two most remote of the MAG’s, about equidistant from Sam’s compound and Brady’s.

They each sent a team to one of the compounds. Brady and his team reached their assigned compound first. It was deserted except for three dead bodies lying out in the open, hands and ankles tied, riddled with bullets. Two men and a woman. All three looked gaunt. One of the men Brady recognized as Colonel Machabee, leader of the group. It was comprised mostly of ex military and their families.

They looked around the compound. It seemed to have been abandoned quickly, for there were still many useful items left, including a pair of generators and a full PV set up with battery bank and inverters. One of the generators was running. The compound still had running water. The kitchens were devoid of all food.

Brady shook his head. Other than the three dead people, there were no signs of a battle. There were no vehicles in evidence. Back in the Suburban, Brady picked up the microphone to call Sam and tell him what they’d found. Before he could key the mike the radio squealed and a woman’s voice came out of the speaker. “We’re taking fire! We’re taking fire! People are down! People are down!” There were sounds of gunshots in the background and then the radio went silent.

“Saddle up!” Brady called to his team. He led the way at the highest speed they could maintain toward the other compound. He called the compound on the radio and had them go to a defense posture. Brady heard Sam’s voice on the radio doing the same with his compound. At least Brady knew Sam was still alive.

They came up on Sam’s small convoy headed toward them at high speed. Both groups came to a halt and Brady climbed out of the Suburban.

“Over here,” called one of the members of Sam’s team, stepping out of the vehicle he was driving, an old Chevy pickup truck.

When Brady ran over he saw Sam sitting in the passenger seat of the truck, holding onto a bloody shoulder.

“Doc!” Brady called and waved him over.

Sam said, “Have him look at the others first. I’ve got several wounded. I can hang on for a bit longer.”

“What happened, Sam?”

“They laid low and ambushed us. They must have been monitoring our frequency and knew we were coming. One of them fired early, before we were in the kill zone, inside the compound fences. The rest jumped out and began firing. I saw one of them turn to the man that had fired first and shoot him in the back of the head. Everyone tried to turn around or back up and we just interfered with one another. But we finally got away from them. We maybe got one or two, but that’s all. It was a mess. We stopped when we got out of range and swapped injured drivers for uninjured and headed for your place for help.”

“We’ll do what we can. Do you think they are on your tail?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think so.”

Brady deployed his people in a hasty ambush just back the road a little ways in a sharp turn. Drivers took the vehicles well clear and came back to join the ambush. Brady sent the doctor and his nurse with Sam’s crew to Brady’s compound while he commanded the rear guard action.

Brady waited until almost dark before calling off the ambush. They loaded up and hurried back to the compound. It wasn’t good news when they got there. Three of the ten people Sam had with him had died. Three more had serious wounds, including Sam.

When Brady was able to talk Sam again, after he’d been seen to by the doctors, Brady got another shock. It hadn’t come up in the first conversation. “I saw Harvey Blankenship and two other men I recognized. It was Colonel Machabee’s group. They’ve gone rogue. I can’t believe it of the Colonel. His group has been a big help every time they were needed.”

“Don’t blame the Colonel. He’s dead. Tied up and slaughtered with two others. His men must have turned on him. There wasn’t a scrap of food in the place, though even if they had left for some other reason, they would have taken it. Why wouldn’t they have contacted us? We could have spared some food for them.”

“Us too,” Sam said.

Brady didn’t want to bother him anymore. The pain killer that Doctor Amos had given Sam was taking affect. And Sam obviously didn’t know any more than he’d stated.

Star came up to Brady. He was staring off into space, thinking. “Are you all right?” She asked, putting a hand on his shoulder.

“No. We don’t need this. I mean, a nuclear war and Yellowstone. Survivors shouldn’t be fighting survivors. It’s just not right!”

“I know, Brady. But we have to deal with it.”

“We will,” Brady said coldly. “With a vengeance. Come on. I want to talk to the other MAG commanders.”

It was the first time Star had ever seen Brady angry. He threw down the microphone and said a bad word. “I can not believe the others refused to join us in an attack! Don’t they realize we’re all at risk until this situation is resolved? They’ve turned rogue and killed their own. They are liable to do anything. We have to stop them as quickly as possible.”

“Do you think… what about the families?”

“I don’t know,” Brady looked glum. “This is not going to be simple. Would you go find Harry and Barbara? We need to brainstorm this. And check the security team. Make sure they are on high alert.”

“Okay,” Star got up and headed outdoors. Brady was depending more and more on her and she liked the feeling and the responsibility. After finding Harry and Barbara and sending them to see Brady, Star stopped at the MAG armory. She still carried her Walther in the inside the waistband, small of back holster, but she had taken to carrying one of the MAG’s Glock 21’s in a flap holster on her hip. Brady had checked her out on it before issuing it to her.

At her insistence, Brady had also trained her on everything else in the armory. She picked up a Steyr AUG from the armory and went to help the security detail. She joined the rovers on top of the wall, encouraging them and setting an example.

When Barbara and Harry showed up Brady took them and Dr. Amos to his housing unit for a private conference. “What is your take on this?” he asked, after filling them in on everything he knew about the situation.

“We have to address it quickly,” Barbara said. “As much as I hate violence, I think violence is the only response to this.”

“Me, too,” Harry said. “We have to root them out and destroy them. I don’t relish the idea of being on constant high alert, waiting for them to attack us.”

Dr. Amos didn’t respond, just nodding his head in agreement.

“Something we haven’t considered is the fate of those in the Lowry compound. Did they kill them all, or are they holding them?” Brady asked. “We very well may be risking innocent lives if we attack.”

“That place won’t sustain a double population,” Harry replied. “The Lowery MAG was scraping by as it was.”

“You think we might be able to infiltrate and scout the situation?” Harry asked.

Brady shook his head. “They are almost all ex military. I’m sure they are on alert now that what they’ve done is known. That fact is also going to make it difficult to attack successfully, without losing a lot of people.”

“I just don’t know,” Barbara said, her voice low. “I really don’t want to make this kind of decision, Brady. The survival aspects were okay. Some hard decisions had to be made, but this… A lot of people are going to die, no matter what we do.”

“I’ll back you, Brady,” Harry said, “Whatever you decide.”

“Ditto,” Dr. Amos said.

Their words were leaving the decision totally up to Brady and Brady knew it. “There is something bothering me about the Machabee compound,” Brady said after a long silence. “I want to check it out before I make a decision.”

The trio broke up and Brady went to the armory and then to the Suburban, ordered the gates open, and left the compound. Star saw the vehicle leaving and ran down to find out where Brady was going.

“He shouldn’t be going off by himself in a situation like this!” she protested, more concerned than she wanted to admit. She was ready to go after him in another vehicle, but Barbara and Harry talked her out of it, insisting that Brady would be more upset if they let her go than if he ran into trouble.

Brady took his time going back to the Machabee compound, not expecting an ambush, but too cautious not to take precautions. He made it to the compound without a problem. He parked the Suburban and got out, carrying an HK-91. He kept it at the ready as he wandered around the compound, searching for he didn’t know what.

Despite his care the voice from the edge of the forest caught him by surprise. “Turn around and put down your weapons! I have you in my sights!” It was a woman’s voice. It sounded scared, but firm.

Brady hesitated but the unmistakable sound of a pump shotgun racking convinced him. He laid the HK-91 down and then took the Glock 21 from its holster and put it down beside the HK.

“Turn around, too,” came the voice.

Brady did so, his hands out to his sides. She hadn’t told him to put them up. He tensed when he heard running footstep coming toward him. “Take two steps forward and stop.”

Brady didn’t move. When he felt something prod him in the back. He spun, knocking the barrel of the shotgun out of line with his body, continuing the spin with a low sweeping kick. His booted foot caught the woman in the ankles and she went down hard, the shotgun flying away.

When he stopped the turn and spun back around he suddenly realized that it was no woman, but a mere girl child. She couldn’t have been more than twelve or thirteen. She was huddled on the ground now, crying, her long blonde hair hanging down over her face.

“Geez!” Brady whispered, going to one knee to try to comfort her. “I’m not going to hurt you,” he said, reaching out to touch her shoulder. She shied back away from him.

“What is your name?” he asked gently, not trying to touch her again.

“You know who I am! You’re one of them!”

“Them? The people from this compound?”


“I’m not. I’m Brady. From the St. Louis MAG compound. Are you hurt? Can you stand up?”

“Really? You’re not one of them?”

“Honest. I won’t hurt you.”

The girl didn’t protest as Brady helped her to her feet. She took a step and almost fell. “Ow! My ankle!”

Brady went to one knee. He felt of her ankle. It wasn’t broken, but he’d obviously bruised her badly when he kicked her feet out from under her.

“I’m sorry,” Brady said, standing up again. “I didn’t know.”

She didn’t comment about the ankle, instead asking, “Do you have any food?”

It was her turn to tense when Brady leaned down and picked up his weapons. He holstered the Glock, and slung the HK. He stepped over and picked up the shotgun. It was a Remington .410 bore 870 pump. He handed it to her.

Her eyes got big. “You’re giving it back to me?”

“Yes. I want you to know you can trust me.”

“It’s empty,” she said.

“What? You braced me with an empty shotgun?”


“Come on over to the truck. I have some jerky and gorp.”

She was limping, but she followed Brady to the Suburban. He handed her the food and a canteen of water. She was tearing the jerky with her teeth, barely taking time to chew it. Brady stood silently, letting the obviously starving girl eat until she finally stopped and took a drink of water. “Thanks. I was starving. Can I keep this for later?”

Brady nodded. “Can you tell me what your story is?” His eyes kept scanning the forest and the entry into the compound, as she began to talk.

“We got really low on food.”

Surprised, Brady asked, “You’re a member of the group?”

She frowned. “Not any more! Not after what they did!”

“What is your name?”

“Claudia Machabee. Colonel Machabee was my Uncle.”

“Okay, Claudia, go on.”

“We got really low on food. They stopped feeding the ones that got sick during the winter and just let them die. Uncle Bob was against it, but Captain Meyers forced him to let it happen. Uncle Bob wasn’t the same after Aunt Jean died. Before he was really powerful. But he just couldn’t seem to tell people what to do after she died from food poisoning.

“Captain Meyers said it was your fault she died. Because you wouldn’t send a doctor to help her when she was sick.”

“What? We never got a call about anyone sick here!”

“Really? I bet Captain Meyers was lying about it. I caught him in a bunch of lies, but Uncle Bob wouldn’t believe me. Captain Meyers kept talking bad about your group. He scouted the place out he said and you guys were taking stuff from the other groups.”

Brady just shook his head. This Captain Meyers sounded like a head case.

“When it got really bad, Uncle Bob and a couple of the others stopped eating almost completely and began insisting we get help. He ordered Captain Meyers to contact you, but the Captain said you wouldn’t answer. That you were just waiting until we died to come take our stuff. I don’t know why Uncle Bob didn’t get on the radio himself to check, but he didn’t. He believed in the chain of command, he said. I don’t really know what he meant, but he wouldn’t do anything about Captain Meyers. I hate him!” Claudia’s eyes blazed. “He tried to do stuff with me, but I wouldn’t let him.”

“Where were your mother and father?” Brady asked.

Her face fell. “They sent me down here with Uncle Bob and Aunt Jean. They never got here.”

“I’m sorry,” Brady said gently. “Can you go on?”

Claudia nodded, sniffing back tears. “They tried hunting, but they said not much game survived. And Captain Meyers and some of them started talking about eating someone when they died. There were big arguments. I wasn’t supposed to hear them, but I did. Uncle Bob seemed to come alive. He was really mad. Then a few days ago one of the babies died and some of them were going to cook it and eat it. That’s when… I don’t know the word… Captain Meyers said he was taking over. They tied up Uncle Bob, Captain Murcheson, and Emily Waters. They were good friends with Uncle Bob and helped out a lot.

“A bunch of the women tried to stop the men from cutting up the body. Captain Meyers was looking at me funny. I guess I went kind of crazy. I sneaked into the gun room and got my shotgun and ran away and hid in the woods. My dad and uncle used to take me camping all the time. I can shoot good, but I was scared and forgot to take extra shells for the shotgun.

“Some men came after me, but I’ve been out in the woods a bunch, trying to hunt squirrels and rabbits the way Daddy taught me. I knew lots of places to hide. They quit looking after a couple of days, after I shot one of them. I don’t think I killed him because he was really cussing and screaming.

“I kept sneaking back close then, hoping I could run in and let Uncle Bob and the others go, but I couldn’t.” Claudia started to cry softly then, but continued with her story. “Then they brought them out and all the guys and some of the girls all shot them at once. Then they all got into the trucks and left. Some of the women didn’t want to go, but the others made them. I didn’t know what to do so I just hid in the woods. I was here getting water when the trucks came. I thought they’d come back, so I hid deeper in the woods. I guess it was you guys. I wish I’d come out then.”

“So that is why the generator was running. I couldn’t figure that out.”

Claudia nodded. She didn’t struggle when Brady took her in his arms and let her cry for a long time. Finally, when the even the sobs had stopped, Brady put her in the Suburban and headed back to the compound.

When Star saw the Suburban coming up the road in the near darkness she hurried down to the gate. But she waited until Brady gave the password and she gave the countersign before she opened the gates to let him in.

She stared open mouthed when she saw Claudia sitting in the front passenger seat of the Suburban. Hastily she closed the gates and then ran over to the Suburban. “This is Claudia,” Brady said. “Would you get her some fresh food and help her clean up? Have Dr. Amos take a look at her, too.”

“Come on, Claudia,” Star said, taking Claudia’s free hand in hers. Claudia clutched the shotgun, and the bags of jerky and gorp in the other. “My name is Star.”

“Hi, Star. Cool gun,” Claudia said, looking at the AUG.

Star’s eyes met Brady’s, but he just shrugged. She led Claudia off toward the women’s dorm unit. She notified the rest of the security crew that she was off the wall and would be for some time.

Barbara and Harry, as well as several others, came up as Brady headed for the community building.

Brady told the others they would be filled in later, and took Barbara and Harry to his housing unit for another private conference. After he’d related Claudia’s tale to them Harry said, “Jimminy Cricket! That’s all we need! Cannibals! I only thought that was in the pre-war fiction.”

Barbara looked sick. “A baby? I can’t believe it.”

“She has no reason to be lying,” Brady said. “I believe her.”

“Oh, I believe it. I just don’t believe it.”

“You think some of the other MAG’s will help us now, if we tell them about this?” Harry asked.

“I guess it’s worth a try,” Brady said. “I’ll contact them in the morning and try. We have to get on this quick. I don’t think that group will wait around long before they attack. Apparently the new leader has some kind of grudge against either the MAG, me, or both.”

“What was his name again?” Barbara asked.

“Captain Meyers,” Brady said. “Claudia didn’t use his first name.”

“That rings a bell,” Barbara said slowly. “Let me check the records over at the MAG office.

“Okay. I’d better fill in the others.”

The three went about their tasks. There was an uproar when Brady mentioned the cannibalism to the group gathered in the community meeting room.

Star came up to Brady after the news had been passed. “I’ve got her in the room next to mine,” she said. “The Doc said she’s fine. Just malnourished. I’ll make sure she gets enough good food to get her back up to par.”

“Thanks, Star.”

Barbara and Harry both came up to them at the same time. “I knew I’d heard the name,” Barbara said, glancing around to make sure no one else was close. Edward Kent tried to sponsor him. Meyers wanted to bring several people in with him to be our ‘Security Force’, quote, unquote. You nixed the idea immediately. Kent got mad and pulled out of the MAG. That was early on.”

“Don’t recall it at all,” Brady said. “I’ll take your word for it.”

“I’ve been quizzing everyone that helps with security patrols,” Harry said. “There have been reports of ‘maybe’ seeing someone in the woods, but every time a recon patrol went out, they found nothing at all.”

“Was probably Meyers or some of his people. I remember the reports. I laid it off to over-cautiousness. Should have taken it more seriously. That gives me a real sense of urgency, now,” Brady said. “If they’ve scouted us, they might very well attack much sooner than I first thought they might. I really hope the other MAG’s are willing to send people when I talk to them in the morning. For now I want to try to get some sleep.”

The group went their own way, with Brady headed for bed.

It was just past 4:00 AM when the alarm came over the speaker on Brady’s bedside table. Brady hastily dressed, grabbed his weapons and headed outside. The primary investors housing units were essentially soundproof. Brady didn’t hear the gunfire until he got outside.

He headed for the parapet walls at a dead run, the musette bag of spare magazines for the HK banging at his side. He reached the closest stairs just behind Star. She was carrying an AUG and wore a chest harness for her spare magazines.

The leader of the security patrol ran crouched over to join them. The three knelt behind the parapet wall and Tom Kieroff filled Brady and Star in. “Got them all around us now. They rammed the gates with a deuce and a half, under cover of sniper fire. I think most of the group was right behind the truck, expecting it to breach the gates. We got the flood lights on and took a pretty good toll as they were running for cover. Now they’ve spread out and are sniping from the trees all around.”

“Get Drusilla up here with her Barrett. They may have concealment, but they won’t have cover behind a tree from that .50 BMG of hers. Star, have whoever is on comms to alert the other MAG’s and see if any of them will send a force to attack from the rear. And then get more night vision goggles and hand them out as people man the walls. We’ll kill the lights when Drusilla is set so she can use the night vision scope.”

Crouching, Star ran for the stairs, and Tom went to get Drusilla. It was only moments later that Drusilla showed up on her own, carrying the heavy Barrett Model 82A1. She, like Brady, favored a musette bag for spare magazines.

Tom directed her to where the greatest fire was coming from. The team that had been on sentry duty put their night vision goggles back on and covered the lenses until Brady gave the signal to kill the lights. As soon as the lights died, Those around Drusilla set up a heavy covering fire while she took aim through the night vision scope.

Ten quick shots later and most of the incoming firing stopped, all around the compound. Drusilla ducked down and changed magazines. “Got four KIA for sure,” she told Brady, “and three probables. Don’t know about the other three rounds. Might have, might not.”

“Okay. Good work. Change positions and let the others spot targets for you. Don’t do more than two or three rounds at a time before you move.”

“Don’t worry,” Drusilla said. “I’m not making more of a target of myself than I have to.”

Brady let her and Tom do their stuff. He circled around and took the night vision goggles Star handed to him. She followed along as he headed for the gates. Tom had said they hadn’t been breached but he wanted to check for vulnerability there anyway.

Satisfied the gates would continue to keep out the intruders, he and Star went back up to the parapet wall and added their fire to their companions’. The fire from the woods had slackened considerably. They heard a whistle blast three times, and then three times more. The incoming fire ceased.

Drusilla continued to fire several more times, at the greenish figures scampering too close to the edge of the woods, heading for their recall point. When headlights flared down the entrance road, Drusilla and Tom, carrying the Barrett between them ran for the ramparts by the gate.

Quickly inserting a new magazine, Drusilla began firing a pattern toward the vehicle lights. Engines roared and the lights danced. Two vehicles were still sitting, lights on, when the others disappeared down the road.

The lights were turned back on and the compound stayed on full alert the rest of the night. When they had full daylight, a recon team was sent out wearing body armor, led by Tom. They maintained constant radio contact with Brady and the rescue force that was ready to go after them if they ran into trouble.

“No sign of anyone around,” Tom radioed in. “Expect for the bodies, of course. Haven’t found any injured. Man, you should see what that Barrett does to a body. And trees. At least one of the guys was killed from the splinters spalled out of the back side of the tree he was trying to hide behind.”

When the group came back in, Tom went over to Drusilla, who was standing by with the Barrett. “Did you have to hole the blocks in those two trucks? We could have used them.”

Drusilla just patted the receiver of the Barrett and said, “Sweet Sue here does what Sweet Sue does.”

With the way apparently clear, Brady dispatched the recon team out again to accompany two people in the Toolcat 5600T with a trailer to recover the nineteen bodies and gear of the slain. After that they took one of the U500 Unimogs and moved the deuce and a half, as well as the two dead vehicles up to the outside parking lot.

Dr. Amos reported to Brady shortly after that. No one in the compound had been killed, but three were seriously wounded, and six others had minor wounds. “Everyone should make it, except Dandy Two-Step. He’s iffy. He’s in a coma now. Only time will tell. We’ll do what we can. There just isn’t much we can do with a serious head injury.”

Brady nodded. They’d paid a price. So had the enemy. The loss of nineteen people had to have decimated their force, even if some of the Lowery group joined forces with Meyers. He didn’t want to wait to allow them to regroup. Brady decided they would go after Meyers and the group at the Lowery compound two days hence.

But they didn’t have to attack. Around noon the next day, a man came up the road waving a white flag. He was under the muzzles of half a dozen rifles the entire time. “Captain Meyers wants a parley,” he called up to those behind the parapets by the gates.

Brady was sent for. The man waited nervously until Brady showed up at the parapet. “Tell Meyers to come in with his hands up and empty, along with all his people. We’ll talk then.”

“Won’t do it. Look. He told me to negotiate for him if you wouldn’t agree to talk to him.”

“Nothing to negotiate,” Brady said. “Unconditional surrender or open war.”

“At least let me in to talk to you about it.”

“Bring him in,” Brady said, and headed down to the gate.

Through a spy hole, Tom told the man to take off all his clothes down to his shorts. The man began to curse Tom, but Tom calmly said, “It’s that or no entry.”

Star finally got to see the purpose of the pipe sticking out of the gate. Tom unlatched and pulled free the heavy assembly that plugged the outside of the pipe. He also slid back the cover to an opening on the top of the pipe, about in the middle of the projecting pipe. Star hadn’t noticed it before.

“Crawl in,” Tom told the man. There was more cussing, but the man did so, yelping at the coolness of the pipe on his bare skin.

Brady was standing by the opening of the pipe. He had his Glock 21 in hand. When the man’s head showed in the opening, Brady put the barrel of the Glock against the back of the man’s head. “Stop,” Brady said. “Listen carefully. You do anything at all stupid you will be shot. Now state your business.”

The man cursed loud and long, but he didn’t move. Brady held the Glock steady on the back of the man’s head. “The captain wants food for twenty people for a month, some ammo, and gas. We’ll leave the area and leave you alone if you do.”

“And if we don’t?”

“He’ll start killing hostages. The Lowery women and children.”

“Brady!” one of the sentries. “There’s two more out there. A man and a woman. The guy is holding a gun to the head of the woman.”

“Go tell the madman we’ll do it.” There were protests all around Brady, but he waved them away. “Go,” he said again and removed the gun from the man’s head. The man quickly dressed and ran down the road. He passed the man and woman and cut into the woods.

Brady turned to Tom. “Out the tunnels. No mercy.” Tom ran off.

Brady went back up behind the parapet. “You got a shot, Drusilla?” he asked. She was behind the parapet wall now with the Barrett. She had it sighted in on the man holding the gun on the woman.

“Oh, yeah. He’s dead meat you give the word.”

From the forest came an amplified voice. “You’re making the right choice, Collingsworth. And just to show you how serious we are…”

When the voice began to fade Brady yelled to Drusilla. “Take him!”

The Barrett sounded and the man fell before he could pull the trigger. But it didn’t save the woman. A dozen shots rang out from the forest behind her. She fell dead before she could take a step.

“Don’t do that again!” Brady yelled toward the forest. “We’re getting things ready right now! Give us time!”

Another man and woman stepped out into view. This time the man stayed right behind the woman, a gun to her head as well.

Again the amplified voice rang out. “You have fifteen minutes. If I don’t see those gates open I’ll kill a hostage every minute until they are.”

“Geez!” Brady barely breath. “Hurry Tom,” he added, also under his breath.

Less than a minute before the time limit shots began to ring out in the forest. The man holding the gun on the woman moved just enough for Drusilla to take him out. The woman fell to the ground. Brady couldn’t tell if she’d been shot or dropped on her own. He had his HK up and ready and when several people tried to cross the road to get away from part of Tom’s attacking force they were caught in the road and slaughtered from behind, from in front by the other half of Tom’s force, and from the side from the parapets.

Another group of armed and armored people stood ready at the gates. Brady gave the word and the gates opened just enough to let them out. They spread out and ran, zigzagging as they did so, to join the fight already in progress. In less than ten minutes it was over. Tom called Brady on the radio and Brady went out to join him.

Tom was standing near a man with his hands tied behind his back, under the close guard of two of Tom’s people. “This him?” Brady asked.

When Tom nodded Brady pointed the HK at him, but after a few moments of hesitation, let the muzzle drop. “There’ll be a trial,” Brady said. “You’ll get a chance you didn’t give these other people.”

“No, there won’t,” Meyers said and lunged at Brady. The two guards both fired. Meyer’s forehead bounced off Brady’s boots.

“What about the others?” Brady asked.

“I don’t think anyone else survived. I’ll go check.”

“What about the hostages?”

“See for yourself,” Tom said, pointing to spot at the edge of the road. Brady went over and stepped passed the first couple of trees, coming into a small open area. Some of Tom’s men were standing around the perimeter, but not interfering in what was going on.

The Lowery women were taking vengeance on the women from the Machabee group for the deaths of their men, and the treatment they’d received from them. There were cries for help and for mercy, but Brady turned around and left. The world could be a cruel place.

When it was all sorted out only one of the Machabee women survived. She had at least tried to help those at the Lowery compound. The Machabee children had been spared. Brady’s MAG took most of the Lowery women and children in, as well as the Machabee children. A few opted to go to Sam’s compound, when the offer was made. The Machabee woman worked out a deal with Juan and his wife to stay with them and work in trade for room and board.

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