August – 2093, 227 Julian
“Quad 2 command – OP 19, you there Rick?” Hank’s mind was working overtime. They had raiders in and around the 21 bridge as well as the 150 bridge. And the remaining 50 or so raiders from the initial probe somewhere to their south . . . . with 300 more in the wings . . . . just to seize the bridges . . . . “Breathe damn it – breathe!!” He worked to calm himself . . . the future would come, his immediate worry were the raider probe to his west. He needed to make sure Rick was rolling on the probe on 150.
“OP 19 – Quad 2 command – Roger that Hank, I’m here.” Rich Symington was doing the same – trying to control his focus. He had no problems taking orders – and few giving them to his response team. “The big chair” had a different feel that he was still trying to get used to.
“You been monitoring the traffic between 19 and command?” Hank was sure Rick had been, but this was no time for assumptions.
“Roger that, I have two response teams headed for Monroe – nice and quiet like. Both have a set of NVG – figure it will be nearly dark before they can get down to business. We’ll find them Hank, we’ll find them.” Roger could see the preparations being made both in his command center and out the windows that looked towards main highway south.
“OK Rick – good idea on the NGV, I’ll draw a pair myself. With any luck they’ll have a nice big cook fire tonight, make our work a hell of a lot easier!’ We’ll be headed out within the hour. I’m also going to send a team south across 84 – the leftovers of their primary probe have to be down there somewhere – sooner we find them, the better. Good hunting! OP 19 out!” Hank was more than ready to get moving.
“OP 19 – Quad 2 command, roger that. Out”
With Quad 2 rolling, it was time to bring his own quad up . . .
“Quad 3 control, OP 19” . . . you online Sheila?” Sheila Johnson was the commander for Quad 3. Hank knew she’d be there, there was a lot of work to and she’d be nowhere else.
“OP 19 – Control, Roger that Hank. Good work with our visitors . . . shitty intel by the way. “ Sheila had no idea but would as soon as E held her commanders brief.
“Yes Ma’ma – could have been better. I need Team Two to join me at the airport in Avon. Were I a raider and I needed to keep an eye on things – I’d set up an observation hide in the wooded area just north of the river. There are a couple small ponds for horses, plenty of cover . . . it’s as good a place to start as any. Have them bring a pair of NVG as well, might help sort out things.” Hank had run the region around in his head. The river was over 200 feet wide and there was one good sized pond and a couple smaller ones. They had obviously not gone cowboy as the raider team that hit OP18 had. He needed a place to start and that was it in his mind.
“Roger that, they’re geared up for 5 days, they’ll head that way is a few. Should be there in an hour or so. I suspect they’ll “tip-toe” just a bit, no need to alarm our “guests”. Sheila had been calling up her response teams since the alarm first went up. Her piece of the pie was a six-square mile chunk in the southwest corner of the county. Her Quad 3 Command Center was roughly in the center making the max travel distance under 4 miles in any direction. She could have boots on the ground within an hour – regardless of the point of attack. This layout was repeated in the remaining three Quads. It made defense of the county “nimble” – easily swung in one direction or another. Teams remained within their Quad unless a substantial threat was seen. Then, response teams moved throughout the county in the direction of the oncoming threat.
“Quad 3 Command – OP19, thanks Sheils. Be advised that E will probably be bringing in some response teams from the north. You should be hearing from her soon. We also need to double team the OP – now! E wants two full teams – one up, one in the rack. Prepare them for a up to a 30 day stay. You don’t have the whole picture yet Sheila – please, get them rolling ASAP!” Hank didn’t want to give her the whole story, it was more important to get moving towards Avon but if she could get things moving a bit quicker, it would be to everyone’s advantage.
“What the hell aren’t you telling me Hank! Something I need to know?” Sheila hated to be in the dark and Hank was NOT helping.
“Just too much intel to give you Sheila – but a true shit storm is headed our way. Sooner you can get teams rolling, the better. E should come up on net within the hour. Right now my – our – problem is another raider recon team scoping out 21. There’s also one around 151 – Rick’s teams are on that one. My intent is to have them captured and dead by morning.”
“OK Hank, I read you – the team should be underway soon. I’ll have them flesh out their supplies a bit first. Anything else?” Sheila heard the urgency in Hank’s voice – he was ready to get rolling.
“Well . . . on a personal note . . . I hear congrats are in order. Hear you have a daughter-in-law in the works!” Time was short, but a few minutes to tweak Sheila I bit was worth the delay.
Sheila let a snort roll out and caught her breath . . . “It would appear so. I assume Brad filled you in? Dumbass was lucky the raider couldn’t shoot for shit and that Willie and Doug were there to save his young ass! I talked with him at Doc’s awhile back, seems that the bleeding is down to just a little seepage now and then. A couple of weeks should have him pretty much back on line. He told me about Willie’s “claim” on him . . . pretty funny to listen to his voice. Typical male, no idea what’s good for him. I like her, honestly could not be happier.” Fred being shot was a real shock – but not as much as Willie’s “claim”. She expected it down the road, but she had no real problem with it. She surprised herself when she stopped and noticed she was actually happy with it actually!
“Well congrats Ma’am – can “grandma” be very far away.” He ended with a chuckle . . . “OP 19 out.”
“You better be out fella!! Grandma . . . no frickin’ way, I am much too young! Quad three command out.” And both got on with more deadly work – Hank to find the raiders and Sheila to double her defenses and to get things rolling for the reserves. If E had her undies in a knot – talking about a “shit storm” – real trouble was headed her way. No need to wait . . . she dug out the county OPLAN and started reviewing her check list.
Hank approached Avon quietly and slowly from the northeast. No need to make themselves conspicuous – a “nothing here – move along” kind of approach that was designed to keep them out of the raider’s crosshairs. The airport was southwest of Avon with a couple good sized hangers along the east side of the runways. There were a couple of aircraft – old aircraft – that got flown once a year if they were lucky. Otherwise, nothing but empty space was left from a more affluent time.
As Hank and his team road into the open door of the north hanger bay, he noticed that Andy was already there. He and Andy went back to Africa – along with E and Tony and Brad. They had been in tight scrapes over the past 40 years, and Hank suspect more were on their way.
“What the fuck’s goin’ on Hank. Sheila said we have a raider party around here, said you took one out at OP19 . . . care to fill me in?” Andy stood relaxed but stared right at hank.
Hank had heard that tone from Andy many times in the past – and he liked it. He was one of the most intense and focused warriors – and he was a true warrior in every sense of the word – he knew. He was glad they were taking these assholes on together.
Everyone gathered around to listen to the brief rom Hank. A couple walked towards the doors to stand sentry – but they could hear most of the brief. Hank was quick, took them through the three raider probes and the follow-on company that was taking the role of decoy. Past that, it could wait.
“Questions?” Hank looked around at the two response teams.
“What makes you think there down by the ponds? They could be anywhere.” One of Andy’s team asked Hank.
“Just a guess, but with the job of monitoring the bridge, that dictates that they be nearby. The river is over 200 ft. wide, and I’d want to be north of the river, not south. And, there is cover and ponds available within the woods there as well. It’s as good a spot as any to start. Any other questions?”
There were none. Everyone did a final gear check – mags were removed and checked, sidearms were press-checked, plates reseated, pouches checked to make sure they were secure . . . along with each team member’s own personal ritual. Men at arms had developed individual “systems” since man first picked up a club. Today, these were a bit more involved but served the same purpose – to settle nerves, get their head in the game and to prepare for battle.
“OK, I want three 5-man teams. I want one to take the east edge of the wood lot, one the west – along 21, I’ll go with the third, down the middle. There’s a service road that connects the three ponds north to south. If you make contact, capture if possible – kill if necessary. Any final question?”
With that, they secured their mounts and headed south in three ragged lines of march. Travel time, briefings and final preparations took them to the very cusp of sunset. There was cover along 21 that they used to hide in the shadows to shield their approach. Just north of the wooded area they split into their three patrols. August in the Midwest can roll a couple different ways – hotter than hell, early fall or the typical rich smell of summer turning to fall. Late rains insured that this was the nature of things this year. In a normal year Hank and Andy would be out marking deer trails and getting ready for a bow hunt next month. They had walked these woods together hundreds of times – they knew the feel, knew the sounds and knew the smells . . . . and things didn’t smell right. Could it be that easy?
Hank touched Andy’s shoulder . . . “You smell that? Smells like horses to me . . .” Almost on cue a smallish and rather ratty looking horse came walking up from the pond on the very northern edge of the woods. Looking down Hank could see that it was hobbled allowing the animal to graze yet insuring they wouldn’t travel very far. Moving toward the edge of the pond the remaining four horses could be seen in the shadows – either drinking or working their way through some of the grassier patches along the edge of the pond. The smells changed just a bit – bacon . . . really, could they be that stupid? The team moved around the eastern edge and towards the southeastern corner of the pond – the apparent source of supper cooking.
BLAMMMMM BLAMMMMM . . . . and a sledge hammer smashed into Hank’s chest. All of a sudden he notices he was on his back and trying to suck air into his lungs. The rest of the team scattered, hitting the ground and pulling in behind any handy cover – trees, stumps, a rock outcrop – anything they could find.
“You OK old man?” Andy was next to Hank running a hand over his chest looking for blood or any other sigh of real damage.
“Who the fuck you callin’ old asshole. And if you want to cop a feel, ask me out on a real date! Damn that hurts, gonna be more than a little tender for a bit I suspect.” It’d been a hell of a long time since Hank had taken a couple in the chest – he was just glad it was from a handgun. If it had been from a rifle he’d be suckin’ down a couple cold ones with old friend from Africa by now. He’d live with the pain.
“Got a plan?” Andy was pleased his friend was still the asshole he’d known for the past 40 years – he’d hate to lose him.
“Let’s make this easy – let’s just stay behind cover, lob a couple rounds down range and wait for the cavalry to save our ass. We should be able to hold their attention, don’t ya think?” Why make this hard Hank thought.
“Roger that, I’ll let the team know.” And with that Andy belly crawled to the rest of the team and each began to send a round down range every once in a while when they could identify a muzzle flash.
Within about five minutes they noticed a couple rounds coming from the northeast, about 200 yards to their right and from the northwest, across the pond. Within 15 minutes, all return fire had stopped . . . Hank waited another 5.
“LAY DOWN YOUR ARMS, FACE DOWN ON THE GROUND, HANDS BEHIND YOUR HEAD, LEGS CROSSED. THIS IS NOT A REQUEST – DO IT OR DIE NOW!” Nothing was heard so Hank and a team member moved in, well covered by the rest of the team. Hank saw the first facedown and rolled out from behind a tree. He knelt, moved their weapon away and felt for a pulse – they were gone. Two more were behind a downed tree – one had taken a round just above their ear and was visiting with old friends in hell. The second had a severely wounded leg and a round through an arm. He was disarmed and a team member assigned to guard him. The forth was found at the base of a tree, probably from a sniper hide. There wasn’t a scratch on him but his neck was at an odd angle and a touch of the back of his neck confirmed a broken neck. One left “Where the hell is he?” Hank wondered. CRRAAAKKKKKKKK! A rifle shot rang from across the pond and a second sniper fell virtually at Hank’s feet. He rolled onto his back and took a couple ragged breaths . . . looked at Hank . . . . “Fuck you asshole – you’re all gonna die soon!” A couple deep coughs and he simply turned his head and went off to hell.
Hank and Andy returned to the survivor – he was in a bad way. “Gather their weapons, strip their gear and ammo, gather their horses and take all of it to the hanger. I want a couple of you to plant these assholes, put them along the east edge, they can at least be fertilizer for spring planting. Andy and I are going to chat with this last fellow.”
They dragged the survivor deeper into the woods, shared with him the events at OP19 and asked him for confirmation of what they had heard. After a little “convincing” he opened the floodgates and confirmed things down the line – trouble was headed their way. Once Hank was satisfied he sent the raider to join the rest – food for next year’s crops.
Andy sat nearby – he’d observed the “questioning” . . . . “Different times.” He thought.
Hank walked over, took a seat and took a deep breath. His chest still hurt like hell – but it was improving little by little. “We need to find what’s left of the company that’s out there. It sounds like they’re beat to shit, but they must be true fanatics for the “Sons”. They need to be dealt with soon before they can do real damage.” He was already running scenarios through his head – 50 Sons of Missouri in full “rampage mode” – not a good thought, not good at all.
“Agreed, let’s send a couple guys back with the horses and gear, we can spend the night in the hangar, formalize some plans, check in and head out first thing in the morning. OK with you?” Andy fully agreed with Hank, they needed to find these guys, and find them soon. But, to go plunging through the woodlot and along the river in the middle of the night – they could do better than that.
“Roger that, right there with you. Let’s head back to the hanger.” With that, they dragged the dead raider to the edge of the woodlot and added him to the rest of the bodies to be buried. While members of the team finished this, the rest gathered weapons and gear, horses and headed back to Avon and the hanger.
“Could not have gone much easier than that.” Hank thought – and he was right. Everyone deserved to have things go easy once in a while. He’d just have to wait to see if their next encounter ended as easily as this one had.