GGGGRRRRRAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!! E screamed as she buried her hatch into the skull of the raider – well up the side of the cheek of the hatched head. Her left hand twisting her Kabar that had slipped between his ribs and into his right ventricle. His life faded from his eyes . . . .
E awakened with a growl and the touch of a smallish hand on her ankle. No one walked up and shook her out of her nightmares . . . a lesson learned years in the past.
She focused, drew a deep breath, cleared her vision and looked into the concerned eyes of Willie.
“OK grams??” Willie asked, her voice tinged with concern.
“Yes child . . . . just reliving the first date with your granddad. It was memorable.” E allowed the dream and some of the memories to fade. “Long ago and far away” she mumbled. “What do you need Willie?”
“I’d like to borrow the Ruger M7 7mm mag, dozen rounds or so and I could use a few more mags for my 1911, I’m only carrying three. Fred and I are getting ready to head out – he’s riding by in the next half hour or so. We’ll see what we can see to the southwest; maybe pick up a scout getting sloppy.”
E shook her head - wondering yet again what this beautiful 15 year old was doing calling off a weapons inventory like she was shopping for their next meal. A sigh passed her lips and she rose from her plush leather chair – a little luxury Brad had given her for their 25th anniversary – and headed to the armory with Willie.
Her requested weapon was drawn with a dozen hand loads for the 7mm and half dozen magazines for the 1911. She walked with her granddaughter to the barn, helped her saddle Malud – and odd mix of Clydesdale and Tennessee Walker – and waited with her for Fred to arrive.
“You let me off easy tonight little one.” E said, looking Willie in the eye. “Nah Gram, time just slipped away. Besides 20 reps for you doesn’t seem like much of a challenge, I’ll get a chance to get even down the road”, as a knowing smile settled across her mouth. “I suspect you will child, I suspect you will.” E knew better that to think Willie had forgotten their little side bet after the morning range trip. She’d keep an eye on this girl to see what she came up with.
They both turned towards the road as they heard Fred cantering up. Turning towards Willie, E gave her a quick reminder, “Keep your mind on your business missy and not his butt!” She watched for Willie’s reaction – a bit of a gleam in her eye.
“But it’s such a nice butt gram!” Willie replied – playing along with gram. Both knew this was deadly business, but a little banter helped take the edge off a bit.
Fred dropped from a canter through a trot and walk to finally halt in front of the two women. His horse, Thumper, carried him easily. E did a quick scan of his weapons – a well-used Glock 17, half dozen magazines and his family’s AR10 slung on his back with three magazines in his chest rig. It would do.
“Take good care of my granddaughter young man!” E ordered, just a bit of an edge to her voice.
“Yes Ma’am, I intend to! We’ll check in by land line once we complete our sweep and take our positions. We’ll launch a flare if a shit storm happens E!” Everyone that took up a guard position carried a couple slap flares as a call for help. It was primitive, but it was effective.
“Fair enough you two, Keep your head in the game – you can fool around later after your shift if over!” Just a touch of a wicked grin crossed her face; it was not lost on Willie or Fred. Obviously she knew their relationship was “advancing”. Ah well, there would be time to sort that out later.
“OK gram, I’ll keep my hands off him!” Looking at E her face became serious – “Our head is always in the game gram – I remember your three rules . . . . each and every day!”.
“I know child. Be safe! Now get your ass in gear – time’s wasting!”
With that “blessing” Fred and Willie headed off at their usual easy canter – Malud and Thumper changing leads as they headed down the road.
E checked her watch – 6 PM, still a couple hours of daylight left and just at the beginning of the 3rd shift of the day. She headed for her “control bunker” – a reinforced concrete bunker built into the same hill as their home. While it started as the bunker for their section alone – over the years it had grown into providing communications for the county’s security forces. Gramps had been there at the beginning when the security forces were built on the back of the sheriff’s department. Her dad had assumed command after gramps passed and she had taken the reins when her parents had been killed a number of years back. Should the need arise, Brad could join her to manage his officers as well.
There were a couple of operators on duty per 6-hour shift, each sitting in front of a 1970’s patch panel. E shook her head and reflected once again that in 2093 their primary communications gear for the security of the entire county was over 120 years old . . . “How can that be” she muttered to herself.
“Make a sweep ladies – pay particular attention to outpost six please.” E requested.
“The sweep” was done at the beginning of each shift. The operator plugged into the outpost’s jack ID, pressed the “ring” button and expected to have a conversation that went something like:
“One” came the short reply into her ear. “Status” the operator asked. “Quiet and clear Ma’am! Replacements just walked in, we’ll overlap for an hour and they’ll be headed home.” “Thanks One – chat with you again in 6. Out”
And so it went. The county they were located in was approximately twenty five miles square. Operator One position handled the South and East boundaries, Operator Two position the West and North boundaries. There were outposts around every two miles – 50 in all. Each operator was responsible for communications with approximately 25 outposts. And, should the need arise, additional operators could easily be added to the mix.
And so the polling went, including outpost six which was located near where Willie and Fred were headed, until E was satisfied that at least for now, in this moment in time – all was quiet.
There was a “rise” – and not much more than that about ten miles south west. That was Fred and Willie’s destination. A combination of easy trot and slow canter got them there about 7:30PM with an hour or more of usable daylight left. There was a fighting position that had been built at the “peak” – low to the ground, well-fortified and with its own comm line. As young as they were – Willie 15 and Fred approaching 20 – they were exactly what E wanted, focused on their job. Reports of a raiding party coming up from the south had popped up repeatedly over the past two weeks. They had picked some bad fights and had been “thinned” a bit leaving dead along their trail. Current estimates of their strength was around thirty to fifty raiders. Typically raiders would retire after such losses – these were not. Perhaps their home base was gone, perhaps they had been forced out – regardless, they appeared determined even if the reports on their armament had them on the weak side.
Raiders always sent out scouts – usually a single rider on one of their faster horses. Few used motorized transport nowadays. Scouts would look for prey, report back and then it was “on”.
The rise in sight, Fred and Willie picked up their scanning. Anything could indicate that someone either passed by or was coming. Thumper and Malud had great “noses” and no reluctance to share their concern of another horse or human in the area. Broken branches, physical tracks, puffs of dust . . . all taken in with the ease of old hands. Still, they saw nothing. A small pond offered the horses great shelter, water and nearby grass insured they could snack while Willie and Fred had a look around from the position at the top of the peak. Their approach was quiet, focused down the ridges and out into the flats . . . looking, looking, looking.
BBAAHHLLAAAMMM! Rang a shot, a scruffy looking fellow was standing at the entrance to their destination, a smoking SA revolver in his right hand. Willie’s response was simply automatic – a quick draw and two rounds hammered the man’s chest. A ping rang out – “Shit!!! Armor!!”” Willie had joined her hands by then and smoothly lifted her point of aim to the man’s nose. A single trigger press and he dropped like a rock. The longest three seconds of her young life.
“Fuck that hurts!!!” Fred was pressing his gloved hand over his right thigh. “Shit, shit, shit – where the hell did he come from??”
Fred was bleeding pretty damn bad. Willie popped one of her flares insuring that help was on the way. Then she grabbed a length of cord she always carried in her pocket. Two loops had been tied in it, one at an end and a second about eight to ten inches away. She ran the cord around Fred’s leg about three inches above the wound and centered between the two loops. Luckily the wound was on the outside of his leg, no danger of an arterial hit. And, it looked like it had simply gouged a channel through his leg – he was missing meat but he’d live. She wadded her bandana over the wound, threaded the other end of the cord through the end loop and cinched it fairly loose with a half hitch. She finished applying make shift tourniquet by tying off the remaining cord to the second loop. She inserted a spare magazine between the two loops and used it as a windless to tighten the tourniquet until the bleeding diminished significantly. Finally she tied it in place with the remaining length of cord. It wasn’t pretty but it worked.
“Nice work there missy – now drop your hardware slow and easy.”
Willie looked over her left shoulder only to see scout number two holding a big assed revolver level with the middle of her back. She looked at Fred, willing him to sit still. Her arms came up slowly and her hands were well away from her body.
“Shit, you’re nothing but a little squirt! How the hell did you shoot Ralph??” You’ll have to pay you know. The Boss will want to find out what you know. Once you spill your guts, well . . . I suspect we’ll have the pleasure of your company! That your boyfriend?? Care to tell him good bye??”
The gun started to move towards Fred, a grin pasted on the raider’s face. . . .
As his head simply disappeared in a pink mist.
“Holy crap Willie – how’d you pull that off?? I thought this was our last ride together!” Fred shook his head in amazement. Willie simply shook – a tremor rolled through her body as it realized all that had happened in the past 5 minutes or so.
“Wasn’t me Fred, it wasn’t me!” A deep breath calmed her as George Talbot walked around the side of the fighting position. He carried an old 30-06, his first hunting rifle that was pushing nearly 80 years old. “What the hell you two kids doing way out here?”
“We were going to see whether the raiders were scouting our area.” Willie replied, “I guess we have our answer. Two none the less! Why are you way out here George, I thought it’d be another 10 minutes or so before someone responded to my flare.”
“You’re probably right Willie – I’ve been tracking this whitetail for the past little bit, just happened to be downhill when I heard the shots. I saw your signal and headed on up as quiet as I could. That gent seemed to mean you both harm so I thought I would resolve the issue for you!”
“We’re certainly more than in your debt George! Thanks!” The adrenalin rush was bleeding off as a cold sweat began to appear on both Willie and Fred. “Take a seat Willie, I can hear your party coming, I’ll keep watch for a few minutes until they get here!”
Willie sat next to Fred, gathered herself and took a ragged, deep breath. Then she cleared her head and checked on Fred’s tourniquet. All seemed good as a couple of guards from post six arrived going full tilt.
Pleasantries were exchanged, Fred was helped onto Thumper and Willie and Fred – along with the returning shift from post six, returned to the compound.
About halfway back they could hear Sam as he was charging towards them – E well forward in the saddle, her battle face on full display.
Sam planted and came to a sliding stop.
“You two alright??” “Fred, how you doing?” E asked, looking at his bandaged thigh.
“We’re fine gram, we’re fine. We need to invite George and his family to Sunday dinner though, he literally saved our asses up there.” Willie was “back” – focused, in control.
“Let’s get Fred to Doc Horton, then we can chat. I sent a crew up to fetch the bodies and find their horses, perhaps they’ll have been sloppy and we’ll find some intel. I asked Sara and Harry to take your watch tonight. Once Fred is settled, we’ll debrief.
“Yes Ma’am, I’ll put the horses away and meet you at the docs.