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Standing in the Storm

The Last Brigade, Book 2

William Alan Webb


Smashwords Edition

Copyright © 2017 by William Alan Webb


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Dingbat Publishing

Humble, Texas

Standing in the Storm

Copyright © 2017 by William Alan Webb

ISBN 978-1-940520-73-5


Published by Dingbat Publishing

Humble, Texas


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without written consent, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.

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Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are entirely the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to persons living or dead, actual locations, events, or organizations is coincidental.

Cast of Characters


The Angriff family

Nicholas Trajanus Angriff — General of the Army. Nick the A to those who fear him. Idolizes George Patton’s tactical genius and persona, but not as fussy as Patton about personal appearance and decorum. Like another hero of his, Winston Churchill, Angriff is sometimes accused of courting danger. As a three-star general, he led tactical missions more suited to a captain or lieutenant, usually against direct orders not to do so. His career survived because of his popularity with his men and the public, and his record of success.

Janine Marie Jackson Angriff — Nick’s wife, a victim in the Lake Tahoe ‘incident.’

Lieutenant Morgan Mary Randall, nee Angriff — Older of Nick’s two daughters. Lieutenant in the US Army, executive officer First Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Tank Battalion. Call sign Bulldozer One One Two. Married to Captain Joe Randall. Nicknamed Tank Girl.

Cynthia June Angriff — Nick’s younger daughter, caught in the same attack as her mother.


The Americans

Lt. General Norman Vincent Fleming — Executive Officer of the 7th Cavalry, also the Brigade S-3, Operations. Norm is Nick Angriff’s best friend, dating back to their days in OCS. Both men enlisted and worked their way through the ranks, an almost impossible feat. Fleming is the man Angriff trusts above all others.

Major General Dennis Tompkins — Survivor of the Collapse who did not go cold, but instead lived fifty years in post-Collapse America, leading his team of five survivors.

Captain Joseph Daniel Randall — The best helicopter pilot in the brigade. Married to Morgan Randall. Call sign Ripsaw Real.

Lieutenant George ‘Bunny’ Carlos — Joe Randall’s best friend and co-pilot.

Lieutenant Alisa Plotz — AH-72 Comanche commander and Joe Randall’s wingman.

Sergeant Andy Arnold — Alisa Plotz’s co-pilot.

Sergeant Lorenzo ‘Zo’ Piccaldi — One of the two best snipers in the Marine battalion, friend and secret love interest of Lara Snowtiger.

John Paul Thibodeaux — best friend to Dennis Tompkins during their fifty years wandering in the wilderness.

Paul Hausser — One of Tompkins’ five survivors.

Sig Zuckerman — Another member of Tompkins’ final group of five.

Derek Tandy — One of Tompkins’ five.

Monty Wilson — One of Tompkins’ five.

PFC Lara Snowtiger — Marine sniper, a full-blooded Choctaw. Snowtiger embraced her heritage and is versed in Choctaw lore. She is considered as good as any sniper in the 7th Cavalry, including Zo Piccaldi.

Colonel Benjamin Franklin Walling — Promoted to his present rank by Angriff, he commands the headquarters staff and manages Angriff’s day-to-day schedule.

Sergeant Major of the Army John Charles Schiller — Trusted subordinate who runs the day-to-day routine for Angriff’s headquarters. Angriff often asks Schiller for advice.

Colonel William Emerson Schiller — Brother of Sergeant J.C. Schiller, he is the brigade’s S-4, Supply Officer, and is considered a savant at supply chain organization and utilization.

Lt. Colonel Roger ‘Rip’ Kordibowski — Battalion S-2, Intelligence Officer.

Colonel Todd Berger — Commander of the Marine Recon Battalion.

Colonel Michael Ricci — Commander of the Tank Battalion.

Sergeant Norma Spears — Barracks Sergeant for the female Marines.

Captain Robert Malkinovich — First Company Commander, Tank Battalion. Call sign Bulldozer One One.

Major Harold ‘Harry the Hat’ Strickland — Executive Officer of the 1st Marine Recon Battalion.

Captain Martin S. Sully — Commander of Dog Company, 7th Marine Reconnaissance Battalion.

Lieutenant Akio Tensikaya — Commander of First Platoon, Alpha Company, Tank Battalion. Morgan Randall is his executive officer.

Major Fitzhugh Howarth Claringdon — Executive Officer of the Tank Battalion.

Lt. Colonel Ashley Wisnewski-Smith — 7th Brigade S-9, Civil-Military Cooperation.

Ian Jones — Civilian Head of Construction and Maintenance Department.

Private Howard Wilson Dupree — Communications specialist and computer whiz.

Sergeant Frances (Frame) Rossi — Crew chief for Tank Girl.


The crew of Joe’s Junk

Staff Sergeant Joe Ootoi — Nicknamed ‘Toy.’ Gunner.

Corporal Tanya Marscal — Driver. Although born in the USA, Tanya has a faint Ukrainian accent because both of her parents emigrated from their homeland and she picked up traces of the way they spoke. She is also fluent in Russian and Ukrainian.

Martha ‘Marty’ Bright-Hu — Loader. Widowed, husband was Paul Hu, pronounced with a long ‘U.’


Task Force Zombie, a/k/a ‘The Nameless’

Green Ghost — Longtime subordinate of Angriff’s and currently his S-5, Security. His real identity is unknown, as the Nameless only have code names. Angriff trusts him completely.

Vapor — Original member of TF Zombie. Wise-cracking member of the team. He and Green Ghost have known each other since childhood.

One Eye — Original member of TF Zombie. Nickname refers to his personality.

Wingnut — Original member of TF Zombie. Taciturn, a specialist at explosives and chemicals.

Glide — Replacement addition to TF Zombie, Glide is an ultra-dangerous computer specialist. She is gorgeous, and an 8th degree Krav Maga.

Nipple — Green Ghost’s twin sister. Most think she is psychotic, but like her brother, her reflexes are off the chart.

Razor — Replacement addition, the newest member of the team.


The Sevens

Nabi Husam Allah — The Caliph of the Caliphate of the Seven Prayers of the New Prophet, self-proclaimed prophet of Allah. In truth, he is Larry Armstrong, a criminal conman. His adherents are fanatically loyal.

Abdul-Qudoos Fadil el Mofty — Emir of New Khorasan. His original name is Richard Lee Armstrong, brother of the Caliph, Larry Armstrong. He bears the title of Superior Imam, second only to the Caliph himself, who is the Supreme Imam. These titles were created by the Armstrong brothers to elevate them above all imams in Islam. He is also second in command of The Sword of the New Prophet, the military arm of the Caliphate.

Evie Armstrong, a/k/a Manahil Bashara — Sister of Larry and Richard Lee Armstrong, mother of Sati Bashara.

Ibrahim Yaseen — Counselor of Production for the Province and one of the men el Mofty suspected of being a spy for the Caliph.

Ahmednur Hussien Muhdin — The top-ranking general in New Khorasan.

Sati Bashara — Senior Aga and oldest nephew of Emir Abdul-Qudoos Fadil el Mofty, appointed head of the province of New Khorasan, a region of the larger Caliphate of the Seven Prayers of the New Prophet, encompassing parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and old Mexico. He is the second most powerful lieutenant in New Khorasan.

Haleem — Childhood friend and constant companion of Sati Bashara.

Wazid — Friend of Bashara.

Paco Mohammad — Born in old Mexico, Paco led a band of friends and relatives north looking for food and shelter. Confronted by forces of the Amir of New Khorasan, Paco decided to convert to the Amir’s brand of Islam rather than be wiped out, becoming, in effect, a throwaway mercenary force.


Civilians

Richard Parfist — Lived in a village far outside of Prescott, until General Patton’s Guards raided the village.

Lisa Parfist — Richard Parfist’s wife.

Kayla Parfist — Richard and Lisa Parfist’s 15-year-old daughter.

Rick Parfist, Jr. — Richard and Lisa Parfist’s 12-year-old son.


The Apaches

Govind — Chief of the Western Apache.

Gosheven — The middle of the three brothers.

Gopan — Govind’s youngest brother.


The New Republic of Arizona

Lester Earl Hull, a/k/a General George Patton V — Warlord leader of the New Republic of Arizona.

Colonel Norbert Cranston — Second in command to Lester Hull and commander of the military forces of the New Republic.

Author’s Foreword


The Last Brigade series is my homage to the armed forces of the United States and all others fighting to keep the world free of tyranny. The world view the series presents is, at its core, pretty simple: America and those who stand with her are the good guys. There may be (and are) some bad people within those armed forces, but the vast majority do so for all the right reasons. This book and others in the series represent my ideals on patriotism, and I make no apologies for that. If you’re looking for America-bashing, you won’t find it here.

But this is not an essay. These books are designed to be fast, fun to read, a little over the top, and, maybe, bringing an important issue or two to the forefront. I don’t know about you, but reading a thriller about average people doing average things doesn’t sound very exciting to me. It might be realistic, but I read to be entertained, and I don’t find that entertaining. A good thriller using average people as characters would have them doing extraordinary things, things that are over the top, things they would never do otherwise. Many writers have mastered the art of confronting a normal person with dangerous events, thereby forcing their characters to take actions they never dreamed they would take. Heck, it’s an entire sub-genre of crime novels and thrillers.

My books take this premise a step further. I start with extraordinary people and then have them do extraordinary things. For example, few real people would carry a fifty-caliber Desert Eagle pistol into combat, like Nick Angriff does. I can think of a dozen reasons why it’s a terrible idea. For one thing, seven rounds is a small magazine. For another, the recoil using such a pistol one-handed would require massive wrist strength to rip off multiple rounds quickly. And yet Nick does this and I think it’s really cool, and apparently so do a lot of others. A real person could never do that… but what if they could? If someone else had written this series, I’d be all over it, because it’s fun. I’m a fan of this genre. It’s the kind of thing I like to read, and that’s the only thing I know how to write.

Nick Angriff is the amalgamation of every hero I’ve ever read about, from George Patton and Erwin Rommel to Conan the Barbarian and Sergeant Nick Fury. He is able to fire his Desert Eagles with pinpoint accuracy while riding in an armored personnel carrier down a bumpy African road, because he is Nick Angriff. He can do it; others can’t. Why? Because he can, that’s why. Likewise, in real life, lieutenant generals don’t lead tactical rescue missions into the jungles of a hostile nation. Nick did it in Standing The Final Watch because it was fun. This is, after all, science fiction, with a touch here and there of fantasy. I’m going to take liberties where I think them appropriate in the interest of telling a better story. And, just for the record, the Angriffs have physical abilities in the top 0.1% of humanity. If non-fiction is more your cuppa, then I’m with you there! I write that, too.

Early versions of this book had every technical detail you can imagine, from the precise model number of an APC (I even had a serial number in there) to how various small arms worked and why. The order of battle for the brigade was right out of the Army manual. But the book was s-l-o-w. So I’ve played fast and loose with the organization, the events, the way things lay out, and the dialogue of the military characters. Is it the way someone might speak in combat? Not always. But is it fun to read? I think so. And if I’m right, then I’ve done my job.

If you are preparing to read Standing In The Storm but have not yet read The Ghost of Voodoo Village: Short Story and Bonus Chapters for Standing The Final Watch, you might consider doing so first. There are a couple of sub-plots in Bonus Chapters that are mentioned in SITS and become significant in books three and later. Green Ghost’s origin story, The Ghost of Voodoo Village, would also explain a number of lingering questions about him and his sister.

Standing The Final Watch has been a major success. I wish to thank all who invested their precious time and money with me. There is a trust burden on a writer to deliver the best possible story to the reader who spends the money to read it. Please know that I work hard at my craft. I want you to feel your time and money are well spent, and I will never forget that any success I may have is because of you, my readers.

May God bless you all!


William Alan Webb,

18 January 2017

In the west a storm is brewing, and another in the east,
In the south a tyrant lurks, less man than vicious beast;
Innocents cower in between, at the mercy of the swarm,
Until brave Americans shield them, by standing in the storm.

Sergio Velazquez, “Standing In The Storm”

About me died the world I knew,
In its place a new world grew;
Where masses worked for a privileged few,
Just like the old world that I knew.
The ruling clique held tight the yoke,
Around the neck of common folk;
Ignoring the freedom of which they spoke,
Until the little men awoke.

Sergio Velazquez, from “Yoke”

Prologue


What is the force that compels a man to risk his life day after day, to endure the constant tension, the fear of death… the steady loss of his friends? What can possess a rational man to make him act so irrationally?

James McPherson


The Sonoran Desert

1647 hours, June 25

“What’re we looking at, G.G.?” Vapor said. After a quick look, he lay on his back on the hill’s reverse slope.

Green Ghost propped his elbows on the crest of the hill and adjusted his binoculars. After following the old highway for two days, he and his crew had deployed on opposite sides when a vehicle came up from the south. He focused the lenses.

One hundred yards away, three men stood around a Honda sedan. With the sun at his back, he could distinguish every detail of them and their vehicle. Dust coated the car, including the two jerry cans and spare tire tied to the roof. Painted on the driver’s door was an upright crescent moon crossed by a scimitar. The meaning could not have been more obvious, even without the Arabic script below it.

“They’re young, late teens or early twenties. They haven’t missed any meals, either,” he said. “Clothes are well made, no holes or patches. Leather shoes…”

“No split-tails?”

Green Ghost lowered the binoculars and gave Vapor a sideways look they both knew meant knock it off.

“Weapons?”

Green Ghost brought the binoculars back to his face. “Yeah, all three are carrying. Looks like M16s; could be M-4s, though.”

“What’s that gibberish on the car say?” Vapor asked.

“You know it’s Arabic. At least it’s supposed to be; the grammar is awful. It says new prophet word.”

“So it’s Islamic?”

“I don’t know. That’s question numero uno for those three… damn!”

“Waddup, bwana?”

“They’re hauling ass.”

He shifted the binoculars to focus on a slight rise on the other side of the highway. Holding his left hand straight up, he extended five fingers, meaning don’t shoot unless you have to. Two hundred yards away, Wingnut extended his own arm with his fingers making the Okay sign.

“If this goes to shit, aim for the tires. We need prisoners.”

“What could possibly go wrong?” Vapor said.

Green Ghost ignored the sarcasm. Setting aside his M16, he stood up in full view. The driver had climbed into his seat and the other two had their doors open. Once they were inside the car, Green Ghost’s crew could not stop it without gunfire.

“Hey!” he yelled, waving his arms. “Up here!”

The car emptied. Its occupants ran to the other side and brought their rifles to bear on the man who’d appeared out of nowhere. Green Ghost took a step down the hill, keeping his hands up. He took a second step, then a third.

One shot echoed across the desert and kicked up dust to his right.

“No!” he screamed. “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot. I’m unarmed.”

More bullets whizzed past him. A round grazed his shoulder and he dove for cover in a shallow depression behind a brittlebush. Bluish petals settled in his dark hair.

Vapor returned fire on full automatic. His initial rounds chewed up both drivers’ side tires. Targeting this new threat, they returned fire, pinning him down.

“Where the fuck are Wingnut and that lunatic sister of yours?”

On cue, Wingnut and Nipple opened fire behind the three men. One twisted and jerked as rounds tore into his back. The other two spun to return fire, too late. Nipple never missed and she put three rounds into the face of the man on her left. Wingnut squeezed the trigger on full automatic and four rounds hit the other man in his chest.

Even before the firing stopped, Green Ghost was running downhill. Rounding the front of the car, he smelled gasoline, and leaped over a stream pouring from under the car. The man Nipple had shot was missing half of his head, so he checked the other one. Despite blood-soaked clothes, the chest rose and fell in shallow breaths. Grabbing him by the armpits, Green Ghost dragged him off the highway.

Nipple and Wingnut approached, eyes to their scopes.

“Put dirt on that gas!” he said. “A fire could attract their butt buddies.”

They immediately started heaping dust onto the puddling fuel. Wingnut popped the hood and inspected the engine for damage.

As they worked around the car, Green Ghost lifted the dying man’s head and patted his cheek. “Hey, don’t die on me yet. What’s your name? Where are you from?”

The man’s eyes flickered open, but it was obvious he could not see.

“Tell Sati I died facing my enemy,” he said in a whisper. “Tell him… I prayed to the prophet… with my last breath.”

“Who are you? What’s your name?”

“May Allah protect our beloved new prophet.” The man convulsed several times and coughed blood. Then he went rigid. After a long exhale, his body relaxed. Green Ghost wiped his bloody hands on the corpse’s pants.

“The heap’s shot to shit,” Wingnut said. “And those cans are full. If this goes up, we need to be far away.”

Green Ghost stood and inspected the damage. “We need to work on your marksmanship.”

“Hey, I put him down, didn’t I?”

“You put the car down with him. Do you like walking that much?”

“I didn’t blow out the tires,” Wingnut said. He changed the subject. “Did the burp tell you anything?”

He nudged the dead man with his boot. Flies buzzed into the corpse’s open mouth.

“Yeah,” Ghost said. “I’m just not sure what.”

a

11 miles south

1649 hours

Wazid steered the pickup truck past another sinkhole and accelerated to twenty miles per hour. The further he drove southwest, the more broken the old highway became. So far he had seen nothing of Paco and his men. Now, five miles from his friend and leader, Sati Bashara, he pulled to the right shoulder and cut the wheel hard left to turn around. But over his left shoulder, he spotted a body lying close by in the desert. He stopped in the middle of the road and lifted the M16 off the truck’s passenger seat. He chambered a round.

In a crouch, he walked across the hot pavement. He paused, twisting at the hips to ensure nobody lurked nearby. Satisfied, he walked into the desert and knelt beside the prone figure. He brushed a scorpion off the man’s cheek.

The man wore the khaki-colored cotton uniform of the Caliphate. Dried blood crusted the back of his shirt. He could not have been dead long, since no scavengers had yet feasted on his corpse.

“Why did you come this way?” Wazid muttered.

A prairie falcon circled high overhead, its shadow racing over the arid landscape. Wazid ignored it.

Behind him, two figures covered in dirt and sand rose from shallow pits. They made no sound. Wazid had no warning before a sharpened iron spike struck the base of his skull, where the first cervical vertebrae joined the spine. The bones shattered with a loud crack! He toppled to one side, with only a rattle to mark his death.

The prone figure, no longer quite so dead, jumped up and helped the other two drag the newly dead man into a shallow, pre-dug trench. Using a shovel, they refilled the hole until it was nothing more than a flat patch of desert. Together they rolled a large boulder onto the grave.

Sweating, they turned to leave. Then they heard a voice and looked at each other.

“Wazid, where are you? Come back right away. Wazid, can you hear me?” It went on like that without stopping, faint and muffled but audible.

“Govind?” the youngest of the three said. The oldest shook his head.

They erased the blood and footprints at the kill site, careful to brush away their own tracks. One of the men inspected Wazid’s still-running truck. Standing on the seat, he looked over the cab roof and nodded once. Govind pointed southwest and the man in the truck drove off in that direction. He and the remaining man then crossed over a small hill, where three horses stood tethered to a mesquite tree. Daylight faded as they rode off and vanished into the gathering darkness like ghosts of the desert.

a

Chapter 1


Who controls the past, controls the future.

Psalms of the New Prophet, Chapter 7, Verse 21


8 miles south of Green Ghost

1719 hours, June 25

Sati Bashara stood next to his battered Toyota pickup. He watched a prairie falcon fold its wings and dive. Skimming inches above the desert floor, its talons reached down and snatched its prey. Flapping skyward, it made for a distant ridgeline, dangling a snake in its claws.

“Where are they?” Bashara said. “Why do they not answer?”

“I don’t know, Sati,” said his best friend, Haleem. “Maybe their radios broke, or the batteries died. Maybe one blew a water hose, and the other hit a deep hole and turned over. How should I know?”

“We cannot wait on Wazid or Ibrahim any longer. Keep trying to get them, but the day is dying and we must move on.”

Two other trucks cooled on the shoulder of the highway, turned off to save fuel. Bashara smelled death and destruction nearby, even if his companions didn’t. Aside from the scent of decomposing bodies, smoldering ashes filled the air with tiny bits of carbonized rubber, like pollen. In a pristine desert, scents like charred truck tires acted as a beacon for those who could detect them. Sage, creosote, the indescribable earthiness after a rainstorm… those scents defined his childhood memories. His mind knew how the desert should smell. It didn’t smell that way now.

“Death is close,” he said. “There has been fighting near here.”

“How do you know this?”

“I smell it.”

“But where, Sati? We are low on fuel and the sun is fading. We have been gone longer than expected and your uncle awaits our return.”

“My uncle awaits answers, Haleem, and we have none to give him. Would you like to be the one to tell him we failed to find Paco? Because that I will not do, even if I have to walk back.”

Bashara raised his nose again like a tracking dog. He turned in slow circles, moved side to side, and walked a few paces in one direction, followed by the reverse. He did this for three minutes and stopped.

“There,” he said, pointing to the ridgeline on their right. “They must have pulled off the road. Let us find their tracks.”

Leaning against the second truck, arms folded, Haleem rolled his eyes when Bashara wasn’t looking. He wound his finger in a circle, which meant let’s go. Driving into the open desert in late afternoon did not seem like a great idea, but it wasn’t his decision.

“Slamming into a hole could break an axle,” he said.

“Then do not slam into a hole,” Bashara said. “You are my dear friend, Haleem, but do not dispute me again.”

Haleem drove with care as the light faded, leaving Bashara to search for fresh tracks. After a few minutes he pointed out the right window.

“There,” he said. Dozens of tire imprints veered toward the ridge, following an old, crushed-stone road. They speeded up, heedless of holes, ruts, or rocks. Haleem crossed two bridges without slowing down. The rattle of the timbers made his heart race.

Deep shadows lay close to the ridge. In the twilight, Bashara saw what had happened to the missing men. He spotted dozens of blasted cars and trucks, like a sprawling graveyard of elephants. The skeletal shells lay contorted like bodies twisted by rigor mortis.

They parked on the outer edge of the killing field and crawled through the wreckage. Bodies and chunks of scorched metal lay scattered as if from a tornado. Bashara did not have to warn them to be wary of snakes and scorpions.

He knelt and inspected the first few bodies they found, turning his head from the stench. Hordes of maggots crawled in the putrefied flesh. Scavengers had gnawed many of the corpses to bare bone. Flies swarmed the noses and mouths of the living. Despite the parasitic insects, Bashara held his hands palm down over the bodies. He seemed to sense their spirits.

“Abulfazl,” he said, “you and Azeez go there and see what you see.” He pointed to the plateau high against the sheer rock wall of the ridge.

“As you wish, Sati,” Abulfazl said, and the two men trotted off.

As the afternoon waned, Bashara stood and walked further into the carnage, picturing in his mind what had happened. His other men spread out to look for survivors. It seemed impossible anyone could still be alive after three or four days in the open desert, but they looked anyway. Some of his men climbed the rocks, while others joined Azeez and Abulfazl on the plateau. All held rifles at the ready.

Bashara picked up various bits of metal and turned over a glob of hardened meat with his boot. He had no idea what, or who, it had been. Shell casings littered the ground. Many came from much larger caliber weapons than the rifles Paco’s men had carried. He leaned close to the holes in the vehicles, sniffed them, and ran a finger over the seared but smooth edges. The ripped metal was not jagged. Only high velocity rounds melted metal like that.

Abulfazl and Azeez ran back down the ramp, shirts drenched with sweat. Bending over, hands on knees, they gulped air for a few minutes before they could speak.

“Up there,” Abulfazl said, still gasping for breath. “Three trucks, two of ours and another one. There’s a long wall of rocks, low, about this high.” He indicated a height halfway up his thigh. “Many dead men, all ours. Whatever killed them, Sati… they were ripped apart. Animals have been chewing them as well.”

“The trucks,” Sati said. “Can they be driven?”

Abulfazl shook his head. “Destroyed. Burned out. There is nothing to salvage.”

“Sati, over here!” Haleem said.

He jumped up and followed the sound of the shouting, almost stepping on a ruined head lying crushed beside a leg and foot. Slowing down, he trudged forward until he found Haleem kneeling beside a man propped against a truck. Crusty blood covered his upper torso. The man’s left leg had turned purple and swollen to twice its normal size. His head lolled to the side, but his chest rose and fell with shallow respiration.

Bashara knelt beside Haleem and raised the man’s head. Ants crawled over his face and Bashara brushed them away. Lifting his water bottle, he wet the man’s cracked lips. When the mouth parted, he poured a few drops into his throat. His movements were deft and efficient. His long fingers explored for wounds or broken bones, and he took care to be gentle.

“Who did this, Paco?” he whispered into the man’s ear. “If you can hear me, you must tell me who did this.”

Paco Mohammed tried to lift his right hand, but couldn’t. “Agua,” he said in a dry voice.

Bashara let him drink all he wanted.

“Monstruos voladores,” he said, and this time his voice was strong enough to be heard. “Monstruos voladores gigantes. Con grandes alas y una marca blanca en un círculo.” Giant flying monsters, with large wings and a white mark in a circle. “I looked into the eyes of the monster and saw the souls of the men it had eaten.”

Bashara and Haleem shared a glance, and Bashara patted Paco’s cheek. “You have been through much, my friend. We will take you back, and you will heal, and there we will talk more.”

But Paco reached out with his good right hand and grabbed a fistful of Bashara’s shirt, pulling him closer. The rasp in his voice blurred the words. “I am not loco, Sati. This sun has burned me, but my mind is not cooked. They were monsters, I tell you. Giant monsters with wings on their heads, and a grande blanca mark on their side. And things my grandmother called letters; I don’t know what they said. And hanging below the belly of the monsters were guns like I have not seen before, guns that killed my men before they could move. When the monsters flew overhead, the bullets, they fell like hail.”

“Guns?” Bashara said. Paco’s story began to make sense.

“Yes, big guns. And rockets. When I was just a young boy, mi abuela told me of such monsters. When she was a girl, they would come and kill the men of her village in Mexico. She said they were terrible. She called them helicopteros, and she said they had guns. They were monsters from Hell, she said.”

“Helicopters?” Bashara’s eyes narrowed and he drew in the sand with his finger. “This mark you saw, Paco, did it look like this?”

“Si.” Paco nodded. “Pero blanca.”

“Good, Paco, good. Now the letters, did they look anything like this?” Again he drew.

“That is them!” Paco said. “How did you know, Sati? What do they spell? Who killed my men?”

Bashara stood and motioned his men to load Paco into a truck. “He is close to death. We must go. Be gentle but quick. We will drive through the night.”

“But Sati,” Haleem said. “The night… it’s very dark. The moon is new.”

“Do as I say. Have we heard from Ibrahim or Wazid?”

“No, nothing.”

“We cannot wait. They will have to make their own way back.”

Paco’s blood-caked hand grabbed Bashara’s pant leg. “Please, Sati, tell me who killed my friends?”

“I do not know for certain, Paco. We know of men beyond Phoenix with such a mark on their vehicles, but they have not been our enemies in the past. I have met one of their lower-class leaders, a man they call Slick. He is an infidel, uncouth, not schooled in the ways of the New Prophet. In the past it has been convenient to cooperate with them in certain matters. They have been reliable, but if they have found such power and become our enemies, then my uncle must know.”

“What is this mark, Sati? What does it mean?”

“It is a star, Paco. These men bear the mark of an old enemy. If what you say is true, then your men were killed by helicopters of Los Estados Unidos.”

“But there is no more Estados Unidos.”

“I pray to our beloved New Prophet that you are right,” Sati Bashara said. “But it would appear to be otherwise.”

a

Chapter 2


Nothing is sinful that serves Him who alone knows the will of Allah.

Psalms of the New Prophet, Chapter 1, Verse 2


New Khorasan (formerly Tucson, AZ)

1033 hours, June 26

Yet another golf ball soared aloft and sliced left into the rough. Richard Lee Armstrong wanted to scream, but held his back-swing long enough to regain his composure. For three decades he had suppressed his identity, and so the placid smile he wore as a permanent mask fit his persona. Instead of kicking his golf bag, he displayed the tranquility befitting the Emir of New Khorasan. But just because he had mastered his facial expressions did not mean he was happy.

The golf clubs were not the problem, nor the choppy greens or rough fairways. Improvements to the course required manpower and water he did not have anyway. The real problem was the balls; they all had nicks and cuts. No matter how much he practiced, a damaged golf ball did not go where aimed. In the early days new golf balls had been common, but those days were long gone. His followers had scoured New Khorasan, the city once called Tucson, for new ones, but found none.

The Emir of New Khorasan, Superior Imam of the Foretold Caliphate of the New Prophet, had worked hard on his golf swing over the years. His latest drive first sailed skyward in a perfect arc. Then the air aloft caught a cut in the ball’s side and spun it off course, ruining his hard work. When the ball landed in a patch of scrub, he stood silent for several seconds with a serene look that hid his rage. All that practice wasted!

Standing behind the first tee, the other members of his foursome clapped. They were his most senior lieutenants. He turned and smiled, but Richard Lee Armstrong knew kissing ass when he saw it. He had trained himself to read body language and facial expressions. He believed that under the right circumstances he could read people’s minds. For thirty years that talent had kept him alive at the top of a dangerous and fanatical religious cult. He did not need exotic methods to know that some within his inner circle would slit his throat if they knew the truth about him. The man known as Richard Lee Armstrong had not existed for thirty years. In his place stood Abdul-Qudoos Fadil el Mofty, Virtuous Servant of the Most Holy Who Holds the Fatwa, Superior Imam and Emir of New Khorasan.

“Thank you, my beloved friends,” he said. “But that is not necessary. Muhsin, I believe it is your turn, is it not?”

Ahead, slaves tended the fairways with primitive rakes and shovels. More slaves uprooted cacti and bushes that had sprouted on the field of play, all of them watched over by guards with rifles. Behind them, a team of sun-scorched men in ragged clothes dragged a stripped-out pickup truck across the fairway. In the pseudo-wagon’s bed was a perforated metal tank that rotated as the vehicle inched forward on skids. The tank dispensed wastewater from the septic system installed at the Superior Imam’s villa, beside the eighteenth green.

The knot of golfers were halfway down the fairway at Hole Five when Muhsin covered his eyes and stared back in the direction of the first tee. A vehicle approached at high speed, raising a dust cloud on the gravel pathway.

“Abdul, is that not Sati’s truck?” he said, pointing.

The Superior Imam shaded his eyes. Despite wearing aviator sunglasses, the glare made his eyes water. He studied the vehicle and smiled. “My nephew has returned. Let us hope he brings good news.”

The truck parked in the shade of a mesquite tree. It had not stopped rolling before Sati Bashara jumped out and trotted over to his uncle. Sweat matted the khaki cotton shirt to his chest. Touching fist to breast, he bowed from the waist. His uncle lifted his chin with a finger and motioned for him to stand.

“My sister’s son is a respectful man,” he said, patting his nephew’s cheek. “What news, Sati? Did Paco recover our stolen slaves?”

“Uncle, Paco met disaster. His men are all dead and their vehicles destroyed. Paco himself lives. We found him gravely wounded and I feared that he would not survive the trip back, but he did and is with the doctors now.”

“Dead?” the Superior Imam said. “All of them? And their vehicles destroyed? This is a severe blow. Go, refresh yourself and put on clean clothes. We will discuss this matter in two hours, after prayers.”

“But Uncle, I believe I know who did this!” Sati said.

The Emir laid a hand upon his nephew’s shoulder and looked him in the eyes. “I do not want you to miss any details, Sati. This is of utmost importance. We must discover all that you know and decide what actions to take. These are grave matters and should be dealt with after Asr. Now, go.”

As Sati drove away, the Emir turned to his companions. “Muhsin, I believe it is your turn?”

a

Light flooded the room through sheer window covers. With no air-conditioning, the Arizona sun could heat a room to dangerous temperatures. The great room on the ground floor of the Emir’s villa was no exception. On a normal afternoon, heavy cloth drapes kept the room in deep darkness, as cool as possible. But for important meetings, the Emir preferred its bright natural light to the cooler basement rooms, where the primitive lighting necessary underground gave him a headache.

Seven people sat at a large, round wooden table. Besides Sati Bashara and the Emir of New Khorasan, Superior Imam Abdul-Qudoos el Mofty, the Five Counselors were also present. These men were his advisors and lieutenants, the Emirate’s Ruling Council. In theory, they carried out his commands and helped him rule the Caliphate’s western province. In practice, he suspected at least two spied for his brother, the Caliph. They all wore well-woven white cotton robes over duck cloth pants.

In a far dark corner sat another man, shadowed and silent. He was always there in the background, watching, listening, but never speaking. Few men knew his title and only one man knew his name.

“Gentlemen,” the Emir said to open the meeting, “as some of you know, my nephew brings dire news about those we sent to retrieve a group of stolen female slaves. Sati, please tell us what you found.”

The younger man stood and bowed to each of his six tablemates in turn, ending with his uncle. “My news is not good, blessed Superior Imam.”

His uncle raised a hand. “We know you are a respectful man, Sati, but here you may dispense with such things and get on with our business. You are among friends and, I should say, admirers, and may speak freely.”

“As you wish, Uncle. We found Paco near a steep ridgeline far to the northwest. His men were all dead. Some terrible weapon destroyed them. Many had arms or legs ripped from their bodies, and some had no heads. Huge holes punctured the vehicles, like bullet holes, only larger, and the metal around the holes was smooth, as though melted. The damage appeared to be from heavy machine guns.

“Two of the vehicles, large trucks, apparently tried to escape but were blown up. Completely destroyed. This could only have been from explosives of some type. My guess would be missiles. We found no survivors other than Paco, and while he was alive when we arrived here, the doctor says he may yet die. He has many wounds and lost much blood before we found him, and there is always the danger of infection.”

“Were Paco’s wounds in the front, Sati?” said the Emir. “Was he facing his enemy?”

“His wounds were severe, Uncle. Dried blood covered his body. I could not tell where the bullets struck him.”

“Come now, Nephew. You are an experienced soldier. You must have an opinion on this.”

Bashara hesitated. “Uncle, please…”

“Answer my question, Sati. Paco has been a good and faithful servant since he accepted the true faith, but if he fled the enemy, then he has shown weakness in his belief of our beloved New Prophet.”

Bashara bowed his head. “If I must answer, my guess is that Paco was struck in the back. But there may be an explanation. When we found him, Paco was awake. At first I thought him delirious, for he described being attacked by what he called giant flying monsters. But these monsters were familiar to him through stories told by his grandmother. She told him such creatures had often attacked their village, in the time before Allah’s Punishment of the Great Satan and the rise of his New Prophet. She named these monsters helicopteros.”

“Helicopters?” the Emir said, sitting forward and leaning on his elbows. The tips of his index fingers met in a steepling gesture and he rubbed his lips with them.

“Yes, helicopters. What is more, Paco said these helicopters had markings. One was a white five-pointed star, and the other was letters. He cannot read so he drew them for me in the dirt. They spelled U.S. Army.”

“Impossible!” said Ibrahim Yaseen, Counselor of Production and one of the men the Emir suspected of being a spy for the Caliph. “There has been no U.S. Army for decades. The man is mad from his injuries.”

“Esteemed Counselor,” Bashara said, “I do not say he is correct. I merely report to you what he said. And yet… Paco took twenty-five trucks and cars with him, and more than one hundred eighty armed men. With my own eyes I witnessed the fact of their destruction, and I can say with certainty that something very powerful destroyed them. What that was I cannot say, but Paco had never seen a helicopter before, and does not know that we have any, so it seems unlikely he could imagine such a thing.”

“He knew of them from his grandmother,” Yaseen said. “You said so yourself. Is it so unreasonable that in his pain those nightmares came back to him? To me this makes much more sense than to believe the army of our mortal foe has come back to life and is attacking us with helicopters!”

There were grumbles of approval from several others, until the Emir motioned them to silence with a curt hand chop. “My nephew does not lie,” he said, almost hissing.

Yaseen touched his forehead to the table. “No, Beloved Prince and Superior Imam, he does not. If I gave offense, then please forgive an old man. I meant only that we cannot blindly trust the words of a superstitious man who has lain gravely wounded in the sun. Sati is blessed of Allah, and shines like a star in the eye of the New Prophet.”

“I took no offense, good counselor,” said Bashara. “But if it is proof you wish, then perhaps I have it. The place where we found Paco and his vehicles was beside a sheer-sided ridgeline. Jutting from the side of this wall of stone was a flat platform two hundred feet above the desert. This was not a natural formation, but had been carved and smoothed at some time in the past. To accomplish this would have taken many men and many months, but with large machines it could have been done quickly. There was also a long ramp leading to this platform, wide, straight, and smooth, made of crushed stone. It is my guess that the army of the United States constructed it long ago, although to what purpose I cannot say.”

“Go on,” the Emir said.

Bashara sipped water and cleared his throat. “Atop this platform we found more of our brave warriors, most of them dead with the same terrible wounds found on the others, but not all. Some had gunshot wounds any at this table would recognize. The others… my lords, my words are not sufficient to convey what these men looked like. They had been thrown aside like a child’s toy, and many had been struck on their left side. Remember, this platform is two hundred feet high. As our men went up the ramp, this would have meant that on their left was nothing but empty air. Whatever shot them, and they were shot with a very large gun, whatever it was came from something in the air. If that was not a helicopter, then I do not know what it could have been.

“Further back on the platform was a low wall of rocks, and behind it we found hundreds of shell casings. M16 shell casings.” Reaching into his pocket, Sati dropped a few of the empty casings onto the table.

“Many people use the M16,” Muhdin said. “That proves nothing.”

“Truth,” Bashara said. “But there is more. Three trucks were on the platform, the two stolen along with our workers and a third we did not recognize. All had been burned. However, the third one still had markings we could read on the door. Although faded and old, the letters definitely spelled U.S. Army.”

“Bah!” Yaseen said. “This is pointless. There is no United States Army, and there has not been for more than forty years!”

Undeterred, Bashara waited until the murmuring around the table died down. His uncle did nothing to quiet his counselors. If he was ever to become a great leader, Bashara had to earn his own respect. Inspecting the faces of the Counselors for indications of their thoughts, Bashara didn’t break contact whenever one of them looked him in the eye. Finally, when he judged the moment right, he spoke again in a louder voice.

“There is a little more evidence my lords might wish to see,” he said. “Although the trucks were burned, we did find a few items that survived the fire. The first was this…”

He tossed a half-burned sheet of paper onto the table. Much of the typed message had faded to invisibility, but the addressee was still legible, as was the letterhead. Dated nearly fifty years before, it was a sheet of stationary from the office of the commanding general, 1st Infantry Division, United States Army, addressed to a Major Dennis Tompkins.

Next, Bashara emptied the contents of a canvas sack onto the table. Sifting through a pile of items, he hefted a faded green jacket with the outline of the name Tompkins on the left breast, and a square American flag stitched onto each arm.

Yaseen said nothing, nor did any of the others. They stared at the foreign objects as if Bashara had emptied a sidewinder onto the table. Nothing symbolized their hatred of infidels more than the American flag.

“My friends,” the Emir said, “what we see cannot be, and yet it is. Sati, we struggle to explain this. Have you any thoughts about how the impossible might be possible?”

“I do, Uncle,” he said. “And the explanation may not be as shocking as you think. In my times scouting in the desert, I have come across a band of criminals with whom we have sometimes done business. You know them as the Army of the Republic of Arizona. They claim to be successors of the Army of the United States, and are based in a small city northwest of the place infidels once called Phoenix. I believe their town is called Prescott.”

“Ah, yes, those people… aren’t they led by a man who claims to be an American Army officer?”

“A General Patton, yes,” Bashara said.

The Emir smiled. “General Patton was a famous American general during the second great war. Either this man has a sense of humor, or those who follow him are stupid…”

“They are infidels,” Yaseen said. “Of course they are stupid.”

“Infidels are foolish to deny the word of Allah,” the Emir said in a condescending tone. “But some are quite clever in their own way. Stupid and foolish are not one and the same, Yaseen. And they can be dangerous. If they attacked Paco, this means they feel powerful enough to challenge us. It is a declaration of war. We know very little about them, but we cannot be certain they are equally ignorant about us. ‘The wise man overestimates the power of evil and guards himself accordingly.’ Surely you do not disagree with the New Prophet?”

“No,” Yaseen said, outmaneuvered. “All blessings be upon him. But why are we so certain it was them who attacked Paco? It makes no sense. If they wanted to attack us, why steal a few females? And then why use their most powerful weapons to destroy a relatively insignificant force sent in pursuit? It is madness. If they truly mean to fight us, all they have done is give us warning of their helicopters, so that we may take countermeasures.”

Bashara started to respond but his uncle stopped him with a raised hand. “Yaseen makes a good point. You have had dealings with these criminals, have you not, Sati?”

“Only in passing, Uncle. They rarely move east or south of Phoenix. I have met one of their commanders, a lower ranking man, I believe. He bears the uncouth name Slick. He was not impressive, but he was with other soldiers, and they drove Humvees. They bore American M16 rifles and they wore American uniforms, like this.” He held up the jacket. “It is my understanding they grow much food, and cotton for cloth, and trade slaves for fuel with others as far west as the Pacific coast. I cannot say why they would attack us now, but I am convinced that is what happened.”

“Gentlemen,” the Emir said, “it is obvious my nephew believes what he says is true. It is also obvious that if these infidels are leftovers from the American military, they feel strong enough to attack us now. Since they have not done so in the past, something must have changed. The loss of Paco’s men and their vehicles is not a crippling blow — we are very powerful, after all — but it is worrisome. It is also insulting to us as Followers of the New Prophet. Either they have grown strong and confident, or they believe we are weak. Or they are not to blame for this.”

“Uncle, I know what Paco told us he saw. He was not lying.”

“I believe you, Sati, but Paco is not a learned man.” He looked at his Counselors, who all nodded agreement. “And yet, for such a man to imagine seeing letters spelling out U.S. Army, and a white five-pointed star, on a machine he did not know existed, is impossible. Do you not agree, my trusted friends?”

Even Yaseen had no choice but to agree.

“Then if these infidels deliberately attacked members of my Emirate, who were carrying out the will of our New Prophet, we must consider them as now our sworn enemy. The might of the Western Province must be gathered and sent against them.”

“What of their helicopters?” Muhdin said.

“As you each know, when this was the American city called Tucson, there were stores of United States military weapons here. Do not forget the weapon the Americans named Stingers. Those shoulder-fired anti-aircraft rockets can destroy any helicopter, and we have them.”

“Yes, my lord, we do, but should we not have the same concern for these Stingers as we do for all of the older military equipment?”

“Muhdin, do you not think we will have alternate plans in case the rockets fail? Do you not believe in my leadership? Where is this timidity coming from?”

Muhdin leaned forward until his forehead touched the table. “I meant no insult, my prince. Your vision and leadership are an inspiration for followers of the New Prophet everywhere. If I am cautious, it is because we have so little information on our enemy.”

“Lift your head, Muhdin,” he said. “Your loyalty is not in question. You are my most trusted general.” His tone, however, indicated Muhdin’s loyalty was very much in question. “We must be aggressive, yes, but we must also be cautious. And we will. I want scouts sent forward to find out everything we can about these infidels. I want routes searched and water sources found. Avoid the city of Phoenix. If we move west, it will be with a great host and preparations must be complete within two weeks. Yaseen, I charge you with accomplishing this.”

“Two weeks?” Yaseen said. “My lord, it will take more than two weeks for the scouts to return.”

“Four weeks, then. Let us be prepared. I want to take every man we can spare, and every vehicle. Whether or not these infidels are responsible for the attack on Paco, the time has come for this province to move west, and to bring the truth of the New Prophet to those unfortunates who have not heard his word. We are not yet ready to seize Phoenix, but this city of Prescott will give us a western presence until we can. We must do this for our own security, if for nothing else.”

“I will do my best,” Yaseen said.

“I want this accomplished, Yaseen. This is my will.”

a

The call for Sixth Prayers ended the meeting. After his nephew and Counselors filed out, he admired how the sun turned the desert red-orange as it sank in the west. Minutes passed and shadows deepened in the corners of the large room. The temperature cooled. The Emir drank some water and sat.

The silent figure wrapped in the shadows of one corner had not spoken or moved during the meeting. He was old. Even as a young man, he had been small in stature, and age had shrunk him to little more than a bent dwarf. He seldom spoke. No one on the council knew his identity, and none ever dared ask.

“You heard everything,” the Emir finally said, slipping into the vernacular of Richard Lee Armstrong. “I want your opinion.”

“Everyone has an opinion,” the old man said. His raspy voice scratched out the words. “That doesn’t mean they should be heard, or that their opinion is valid.”

“Don’t be a smartass. I didn’t ask someone else for their opinion; I asked you. Are you saying your opinion isn’t valid?”

For a long moment, the old man did not answer. His back ached from sitting in one place for so long, so he sat and stretched.

“Don’t be a dickhead. My opinion’s as valid as it ever was. But why are you asking me this shit? I think you know what to do. You have two choices. Clearly, the authority of the Caliphate itself has been challenged, and by extension the worthiness of Allah’s New Prophet and his message. You can’t let that go unanswered or this whole thing unravels. The big question is, who did it? And I think you nailed that one. It has to be a remnant of the old American Army. It can’t be anything else.”

“Okay, let’s say you’re right,” the Emir said. “Why would they do such a stupid thing? Surely they must know we’ll come after them.”

“They think you are weak, Gift of Allah.”

The Emir pointed a finger at him. “I’ve told you before about your smart mouth.”

“So fucking shoot me. I’m too old to care any more. They don’t fear the Caliphate and believe they’re strong enough to challenge you, probably as a prelude for moving into Phoenix.”

“You said that I had two choices. Let’s assume what you say is true. What do you recommend I do?”

“Two paths split the road, but I don’t see where you’ve got a choice. You must either do nothing, which would be monumentally stupid, or you must move against them with every man and vehicle you can muster. You must use overwhelming force to crush your enemies, to drive them before you and listen to the wailing of their women.”

“You quote our beloved leader.”

“I quote myself. I wrote that whole stanza for him. Some blood and fire now will mean less war in the coming years.”

“War is good. It is the nature of Man to fight,” the Emir said. “Did not the Most Blessed New Prophet also say that?”

“Stop it, Richard. I’m getting tired of having you repeat my words back to me.”

“I’ve told you never to call me that.”

“Like I said, shoot me.”

“I might just do that.”

“Good. Put me out of my misery. It’s hot as hell and every muscle in my body hurts… but assuming you don’t, you have to crush these people. You can’t let this go unchallenged, but that doesn’t mean you have to be reckless. Take some time to prepare for war, to manufacture weapons and train soldiers and gather stores of food. One should only attack when one is either ready to strike a first, decisive blow, or when one has been provoked and has no choice. Since we don’t have the first option, we must settle for the second. But remember what America’s last great general said about that… if you attack, attack to destroy.

“Schwarzkopf?”

“Angriff.”

Hands behind his back, the Emir paced the room. It had grown dimmer as the sun set, but he did not call for lamps or candles. “So I have no choice but to attack, unless I wish to be seen as a coward?”

“I can’t control circumstances, but that’s how I see it.”

“Can’t you? I wonder. All right, go. Get some dinner. Shall I send up a girl?”

“Not tonight.”

The old man half stood, half fell out of his chair and slumped off down a dark hallway. The Emir watched him go, as though if he stared hard enough at the old man’s back, he might be able to read his thoughts. For his part, once enveloped in the friendly embrace of darkness, the old man shook his head.

a

Chapter 3


I have not fled, I am not done,
Don’t burn me on your pyre;
I do not fear the rising sun,
And my rage will not expire.

Fragment from anonymous Viking saga, circa 900 A.D.


0330 hours, June 30

Joe Randall rubbed his eyes and yawned. He was still on restricted duty because of his neck injury. Not being one of the on-call air support crews for the day’s lurps, he could have slept as long as he wanted. And Randall loved to sleep.

But it was impossible with all the noise in the hallway outside his quarters. Unable to go back to sleep, he slipped on his flight boots and stumbled off looking for coffee.

While waiting his turn at the coffee urn, Alisa Plotz and Andy Arnold slid in behind him, dressed for action. Alisa was his wingman, although they had not seen each other since the attack more than a week before.

“Damn, Joe, you look worse than usual,” she said.


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