CHAPTER 13 Drive or Shoot
“When am I going to drive?” John asked as he loaded a rifle and set it down near him, picked up another rifle, loaded it and placed it next to the other one.
“I don't know what you’re complaining about, you’re riding shotgun,” Marcus said, yelling over the engine as he drove.
“Yeah, because riding shotgun is much cooler than manning the mounted fifty,” John said sarcastically.
Dan laughed to himself but kept a watchful eye out while manning the machine gun.
“Besides,” John continued to complain, “You only offered the ‘drive or shoot’ option to Dan. Why?”
“When you have seniority,” Marcus explained, “then I’ll offer the ‘drive of shoot’ option to you too. Now load those rifles.”
John picked up a third rifle loaded it, but kept it close to him, ready to be fired. One of the Coalition soldiers rode with and manned the radio.
“Sir,” he said, “Mr. Edwards reports that he has received the coordinates of the enemy artillery units and is deploying his soldiers to destroy them.”
“Good,” Marcus said. “Please notify Colonel Nieber that as soon as the first artillery unit is destroyed, he is to order to his troops to evacuate towards that unit.”
“Yes, sir,” the soldiers replied as he pressed the transmission key.
Marcus looked at the GPS display in front of him and noticed that they were less than a mile from their target. Soon they could see and hear the
artillery unit in the distance.
“There!” Marcus shouted and pointed at their target. John, Dan, and the Coalition soldier, Private Hedges released the safety on their weapons and took aim.
The crew of the artillery unit was in the process of reloading the cannon when a hail of .50 caliber machine gun fire shredded them and the cannon. Marcus circled the unit as the others opened fire and drove in closer to verify that the crew was dead and the cannon disabled.
Marcus quickly drove away to their next target as Private Hedges reported their status.
“Sir,” Lt. Vale said, “The first artillery unit has been destroyed.”
“Start evacuating our troops in that direction,” Nieber ordered
“Yes, sir,” Lt. Vale said and began relaying orders to soldiers that were in Cotton Ridge.
Although one of the cannons had been destroyed, the soldiers in Cotton Ridge didn’t feel there was much of a difference as shells continued to fall and explode in the settlement. Even Lt. Hall was surprised when he heard orders to evacuate every soldier towards the southwest.
“Acknowledged,” he practically shouted into his radio before he ordered his troops to follow. Some ran and the few that still had horses carried the wounded and moved as quickly as they could.
One of the rounds Taylor and his team fired ignited the shells and destroyed the cannon and crew in the process. Taylor admired the explosion momentarily before he put the vehicle into gear and drove off to the next target.
Marcus could see the next cannon in the distance and sped up, hoping that they would have the element of surprise like the last time, but he noticed that the cannon stopped firing. As they sped closer, Marcus saw muzzle flashes then heard the sound of gunfire and the bullets striking their vehicle before Marcus swerved the vehicle out of the line of fire. Caught off guard momentarily by Marcus’ sudden erratic driving, Dan managed to return fire. Marcus turned the truck towards the cannon and this time John pulled a grenade from his pocket, pulled the pin but held the safety lever until they were close enough for John to toss the grenade next to the cannon crew. As the grenade exploded, Marcus skid the truck to a halt and looked back at the damage they had done. That’s when he saw Private Hedges slumped over, dead from his wounds. John was reloading rifles when he noticed what Marcus was staring at. Marcus snapped out of it and drove on.
A Republic motorcycle scout noticed a column of smoke and rode towards it. He stopped close to the cannon and immediately noticed the dead crew and what was left of the matted cannon. The scout activated his radio and reported the situation. He then saw dust being kicked up in the distance and looked through his binoculars to see mounted Coalition soldiers riding towards him.
“Sir, are you sure about this?” one of the soldiers asked Lt. Hall.
“Those are our orders, Sergeant,” Lt. Hall answered. “Get the wounded back to base, but anyone who can fight comes with us.”
“Sir, look!” the same soldier pointed out a motorcycle speeding off in the distance.
“We won’t catch it,” Lt. Hall said, “but we can follow it. Let’s go!”
Lt. Hall and his troops rode after the Republic scout.
“Sir,” Lt. Vale said as he looked up from his terminal, “two more cannons have been neutralized but we have lost contact with Mr. Turner’s group.”
“What about Lt. Hall?” Colonel Nieber asked.
“He’s acknowledged your orders, sir,” Lt. Vale answered, “and reported that he and his team are in pursuit of a Republic scout.
Back at the Republic base near Hope, Seth and the driver Ed Baker take advantage of the confusion shooting enemy soldiers as they emerge from their tents or as they try to take cover from the truck that has been driving around the base; a captured Republic truck that had been refitted with steel plating to protect its passengers but had portholes for the passengers to shoot out and had concealed a machine gun nest in the rear its passengers firing upon any Republic soldiers that stumbled within sight.
Outside of the base the fifty or so men and women volunteers they could get together fought through the little resistance that remained at the gates and entered. Most were armed with whatever they could find and were complemented by the few that had firearms. Lisa Bowen rode into the base with them and exchanged her high-powered rifle for a compact machine gun.
When Lisa entered the base, most of the Republic soldiers were dead; their bodies were being looted for weapons, clothes and any valuables. She rode her way to the command tent and smiled when she saw her husband waiting for her. She dismounted form her horse and hitched it to the nearest tent post.
“Did you find anything interesting?” she asked Seth.
“Other than the usual propaganda?” Seth asked. “Just orders to take as many supplies and conscripts from as many settlements as they could. How’s it going out there?”
“They’re mopping up,” Lisa said. “Too bad you had to lose the uniform…even though it made it look like a sociopath.”
Seth walked up to her and held her by the waist.
“Let’s call in the trucks and get this stuff back to Hope,” he said. “Then, I’ll see if I can’t put something together for you.”
He trailed off noticing that they were no longer alone. One of the men cleared his throat.
“Sir?” he asked and then reported once he had Seth’s attention. “We did recover something from the commanding officer’s quarters.”
He handed Seth a small envelope. Inside, were photographs and a hand drawn map of Ashland. The photographs were Ashland’s city walls with areas marked with pen. On the map, there were Xs around the city.
“They were planning to attack Ashland,” Lisa said. “Why?”
It took a moment for Seth to come up with the answer, “The archives. They’re after the archives.”
Despite the loss of Private Hedges, Marcus and the others had to press on. He drove to the next target. As soon as the cannon came into sight, Marcus slammed down the gas pedal, but his expression turned to fear when he realized what the puff of smoke and the thunderous sound meant. He quickly jerked the steering wheel to the right but had turned so quickly that it threw Dan off the back and the truck began to skid towards the rocket that had barely missed them. Before he could correct for the skid, the truck rolled over before landing and stopping on its side; the top of the vehicle facing away from the cannon crew that had started to fire upon them as one of them loaded another RPG.
Dan was able to roll away from his fall, leaving him sore but not out of the fight. He took off his rifle and quickly put its crosshairs on the Republic soldier that was loading an RPG. He fired and watched the soldier fell back through his scope. Dan cycled the bolt and was about to fire when he heard the sound of a motorcycle behind him. He turned over and missed the motorcycle that rode past him and towards the overturned truck.
John had pulled himself free from the crash and was helping Marcus from the truck; the roll bar saved their lives but both of them hit the ground when shots ricocheted near them. They saw the motorcycle race past them and turn around to make another pass. Dan rolled to a kneeling stance aimed for another of the cannon crew and fired. He swore to himself as he only hit him in the shoulder; he cycled the bolt again and took aim for the scout who was making his pass on his motorcycle. He hesitated to fire when his line of sight fell on Marcus and John as they were using the overturned truck as cover.
The scout fired his MP5-K with one hand while he accelerated the bike with the other hand. Marcus was brave enough to take a peek and saw that the scout was riding closer; closer than he should. He picked up a rifle that was dumped out by the roll, held it by the barrel, waited for the motorcycle to get closer and stepped out. Marcus held the rifle like it was a bat and swung the butt of the rifle into the scout’s chest, and knocked him off his bike. The stock of the rifle was broken and bent near the trigger well, forcing Marcus to drop the rifle.
Dan took aim again at another of the cannon crew; there three left including the one he wounded. He fired again and killed again. As he cycled the bolt yet again he could see through his telescopic sight that one of the soldiers had finally figured out where the shots were coming from, but it was too late. Dan cycled the bolt but quickly slung his rifle and few his pistol as ran to the cannon.
Behind the cover of the cannon, he could see the three Republic troops and the wounded soldier whom saw him and reached for his rifle. Dan fired quickly into the soldier’s chest and his body went limp. He kicked the rifle away from him just to be sure.
“Marcus, John!” Dan shouted. “Are you all right?”
Marcus poked his head around the overturned truck and shouted back, “We’re fine!”
He noticed that Dan was pointing in the direction behind them where the scout rode in from. There was a group of people on horses riding towards them, and they were armed. John handed Marcus a new rifle and readied himself for a fight. Dan took up a defensive position by the cannon and readied his rifle.
The group on horseback slowed as they approached and Marcus lowered his rifle when he recognized the Coalition uniforms. Marcus looked up as they stopped, and one of them allowed his horse to take a few steps closer to Marcus.
“I’m guessing you’re Marcus Turner?” Lt. Hall asked.
Marcus stood up and slung the rifle over his shoulder.
“Yes, I am,” Marcus answered.
“Colonel Nieber has been asking for an update,” Lt. Hall explained.
“Unfortunately, we lost our radio the same time we lost Private Hedges,” Marcus said.
Lt. Hall handed him his radio and Marcus pressed the transmission key, “Nieber, this is Turner.”
“About time,” Colonel Nieber’s voice replied. “I was beginning to worry.”
“Glad to know I’m missed,” Marcus said.
“What’s your status, Mr. Turner?” the voice asked.
“We’ve taken out three cannons,” Marcus spoke into the radio, “but I feel we would be better off going for the head of the beast.”
“How do you plan to do that?” Nieber’s voice asked.
“Does your satellite show a large gathering of enemy troops?” Marcus asked.
There was a moment before Colonel Nieber answered, “Yes, about two miles north of your position. What do you have a mind?”
“Have your forces, whatever you have left, go there,” Marcus said. “Turner out.”
“What are we going to do?” Dan asked him.
“You and John are going with Lt. Hall to that camp and raise hell,” Marcus answered.
“What about you?” Dan asked.
“I’m going to the same place,” Marcus walked over to the scout that was unconscious and stripped away his weapons before removing his helmet and jacket. But as Marcus removed his jacket, the scout began to regain consciousness. Marcus quickly grabbed the helmet and swung it into the scout’s head, knocking him out again. He put on the jacket and helmet and slung his weapon over his shoulder, but let it hang at his side. He started the motorcycle and rode it back to the others.
“I’ll try to make it easier for you when you arrive,” Marcus shouted over the motorcycle before closing the helmet’s visor and rode north.
Lt. Hall turned to Dan and asked, “Is he stupid or suicidal?”
“Mostly stupid,” Dan answered. “John, how’s the truck?”
John inspected the overturned truck and shouted back, “Surprisingly enough we should still be able to drive it, but the fifty is useless!”
Dan made his way to the cannon and smiled when he found that the RPG launcher wasn’t damaged in the firefight, and there were six rockets stacked neatly nearby.
The scout’s gloves were a little tight on Marcus’ hands, but it didn’t bother him too much and he wouldn’t have to wear them for too long. He headed directly north, but hoped it was the right direction and that he didn’t already pass the camp, but fortunately, he could see the camp and veered the motorcycle towards it. He quickly debated his approach to the camp and reasoned that he would draw less suspicion by approaching one of the makeshift gates.
It was more of a checkpoint protected by a machine gun nest than a gate; a sentry on foot waved at him to stop. But as soon as the sentry recognized that he was a scout, he waved him through. Marcus returned the wave and rode into the camp; he started searching for his prey. He stopped at a clearing in the camp, checked the weapon that he took from the scout and made sure it was loaded before letting it hang back down at his side. Then, he saw something that was completely out of place but Marcus guessed was not surprising of the True Republic. There was a man sitting in a leather armchair under a canopy, in front of a tent fortified with sandbags. Marcus knew that had to be his target. He revved the engine and turned the throttle forward, accelerating the bike towards the man in the leather armchair.
With his free hand, Marcus took the safety of the MP5-K to the “off” position. The man in the leather armchair saw him approaching, sprung up from his chair and threw his drink to the ground. It was an officer, and he appeared to be yelling at Marcus. From what he can tell, the officer wasn’t yelling about his impending doom, but about all of the dust the motorcycle was kicking up. Marcus took aim and fired and killing the officer, and rode past him and the armchair and into the fortified tent hoping to shoot any other officers but found no one else. He rode back to the officer he killed and was disappointed that it was only a Colonel. He rode again into the tent, looking for anything he could use.
He quickly picked up some grenades, stuffing them into his pockets along with some magazines of rounds that matched his rifle. There was a commotion far outside the tent, and Marcus could hear people yelling and running. Although the tent was fortified, it would only be a matter of time before he was outnumbered and gunned down.
Marcus revved the bike before he drew the MP5-K, and rode out of the tent, catching the soldiers running towards the tent off guard. He shot them before they could react and rode towards the nearest machine gun nest and fired at the gunner whom was only slightly more aware of Marcus, but it wasn’t enough to keep him alive. Marcus shot another soldier, let the gun drop to his side and pulled out one of the grenades and pulled the pin with his teeth, and was surprised that it worked. He rode by a group of soldiers and dropped it at their feet. As they tried to fire upon him, the grenade exploded killing most of them and drove a few into cover. Marcus pulled out another grenade and pulled the pin with his teeth again and saw that he was riding towards a fuel depot and some resistance. He lobbed the grenade towards the tanks of gasoline, grabbed the bike’s handlebars by both hands and skidded away as he turned the throttle all the way forward to make his escape.
The trucks that he rode around caught most of the shock wave, allowing Marcus not to be effected by the blast. Republic soldiers were briefly in chaos and started to open fire upon him, but Marcus noticed that not all the shots were at him; they were firing at the Coalition forces that had just arrived.
Dan was driving the truck this time while a Coalition soldier rode shotgun and fired his rifle at any enemy they passed, and John who was strangely happy, fired rockets from the RPG launcher as quickly as he could, destroying tents and vehicles as they rolled into his sight. Another Coalition soldier fired from fired from the back of the truck, covering their escape. Behind them, Lt. Hall and his troops rode into the camp taking out the soldiers Dan and his team missed.
With Republic soldiers concentrating on the attack by the Freedom Coalition and now arriving Ashland forces, Marcus now had the freedom to continue causing havoc. He shot two more Republic soldiers as they were firing at the Coalition and emptied the magazine on his MP5-K. Marcus reloaded the weapon and realized that it was the last magazine. The sound of a .50 caliber machine gun caught his attention and he rode the motorcycle to the source, another machine gun nest. The gunner swung his weapon towards Marcus and opened fire. Marcus was barely able to escape on his bike; the bullets fell close behind him. As long as the gunner was firing at him and not anyone else, Marcus was happy to play the target. He rode between the tents, shooting Republic soldiers that crossed his path until he rode his bike into one and the impact threw him off the bike.
The machine gunner turned his attention back towards the Coalition, but kept watch in case Marcus came within sight again. He fired upon Coalition troops, forcing them into cover, and saw something out of the corner of his eye and swung his weapon in that direction. He held his fire as he saw one of his own run to the side of his nest and fire at the Coalition soldiers. The machine gunner swung his weapon back towards his enemy to fire, but he was jolted by gunshots. He looked up and saw the Republic soldier that ran up to his nest was now standing over him, the muzzle of his rifle still smoking. Marcus jumped into the machine gun nest and kicked the soldier’s body away from the machine gun, threw off the Republic uniform jacket and aimed the weapon at the nearest group of Republic soldiers and opened fire. Once they fell to the ground, he signaled to Lt. Hall as he rode by, who immediately recognized him. Lt. Hall rode up to Marcus with his troops.
“You get around, Mr. Turner,” Lt. Hall said.
Marcus looked back at the destruction he caused.
“I guess I do,” he said. “Where’s my crew?”
“They’re meeting up with your friends from Ashland,” Lt. Hall said. The sound of gunshots quickly became scarce. “It sounds like we’re just finishing up now.”
General Reed lit a cigarette as he and his adjutant rode in the back of a truck that was normally used for patrols. There was barely any room in the back, and the only reason he allowed his adjutant to sit with him was that he like to be informed. His adjutant, was listening to an ear piece and taking notes. He turned towards the general and the look on his face already told him that there was no good news. It wasn’t a surprise though, considering what the last twenty-four hours had been like.
Twenty-four hours ago, the technicians that the general had assigned to examine the cases found the tracking devices, which meant that Cotton Ridge was probably under surveillance, and they probably knew he was there, and that they were coming for him. Fortunately, the general knew how turn a bad situation into an opportunity. He knew that if just packed up shop and left they would just follow him and try again. But, if they thought he was still in Cotton Ridge they would send an army to get him. All he had to was set the trap.
Having your own army has its benefits. The soldiers set up explosives in the building which held the cases and conveniently when his spacious, armored SUV was parked. He’ll miss it but he could always have another one made. The trap had to be convincing. Although he was willing to sacrifice his SUV, he was not willing to sacrifice all of his troops for a trap, but if left Cotton Ridge empty his hunters wouldn’t take the bait. He decided to leave some of his troops behind, just the ones he wouldn’t miss. The general ordered one of his colonels to set up artillery positions around Cotton Ridge quickly and to level the settlement when that first explosion went off. He left the details to Colonel Vester, but the expression on his adjutant’s face told him that Colonel Vester failed.
“He’s dead,” the adjutant reported, “the rest of our soldiers at Cotton Ridge, and our cannons are gone.”
General Reed nodded, understanding the news and was quiet for the rest of the trip to their headquarters.
Colonel Nieber met Marcus and his crew at Cotton Ridge where Coalition soldiers were searching for survivors. Medical teams were treating the wounded. Colonel Nieber approached as they stepped out of the truck. He was flanked by two soldiers who kept their attention to their surroundings and kept their weapons ready.
“Mr. Turner,” Colonel Nieber smiled as he shook his hand. “The Coalition and I are grateful for you and Mr. Edwards’ help.”
Marcus noticed that Paul was also with them.
“I’m glad we could be of some help,” he said.
“Fortunately,” Colonel Nieber continued, “we were able to get a lot of our troops out of Cotton Ridge thanks to you.”
“So what happens now?” Marcus asked.
“We’ve lost a lot of good people,” Colonel Nieber said, “but we delivered a serious blow to the Republic.”
Marcus could feel a speech coming on.
“You two have shown that anything could be accomplished despite overwhelming odds,” Colonel Nieber said.
“Then I suggest that an alliance be formed between the Coalition and Ashland,” Taylor said.
“Mr. Edwards,” Colonel Nieber said, “I appreciate the sentiment but I am in no way authorized to start an alliance with anyone. I can however make a suggestion to my superiors.”
There was a moment of Déjà vu.
“That’s it then,” Taylor said. “Thank you for the help, but your assistance is no longer required.”
“Of course not,” Colonel Nieber said. “We are going to compensate you for your assistance. The Coalition is willing to share whatever weaponry can be salvaged with Ashland, but you’ll have to find the means to take it back.”
“That seems fair,” Taylor said reluctantly.
“And for you, Mr. Turner,” Colonel Nieber said, “we will give you twice the payment you were supposed to receive for delivering the case.”
“I thought the suits you sent to Ashland said we shouldn’t be paid,” Marcus said.
“What are you talking about?” Colonel Nieber asked.
“I was debriefed by three representatives in Ashland,” Marcus explained.
“Mr. Turner, we never sent anyone to Ashland to debrief you,” Colonel Nieber said. “Besides, you were going to be paid no matter what. Actually, if possible, we like to hire you on.”
“I appreciate the sentiment,” Marcus said, “but I’m not interested in a military career.”
“That’s too bad,” Colonel Nieber said.
Before the colonel could continue, one of his soldiers interrupted and whispered in his ear. His mood suddenly became sullen and he was about to turn around and walk away when he said, “There’s something you should see.”
The True Republic headquarters in the west was a mansion that was more of a fortress surrounded by watchtowers and patrols. The general lived and operated within the mansion and spent most of his time in his office since he got back.
At the moment, he was working on a bottle of whiskey when his adjutant knocked on the door.
“Come in,” the general said and his assistant entered the office holding a small, rectangular device and set it on the desk in front of the general.
“Sir,” he said, “this arrived for you this morning. The technicians have swept it and found no tracking devices or any booby traps.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant,” the general said. “Could you get me another bottle please and hold all of my calls. I don’t wish to be disturbed.”
“Yes, sir,” the lieutenant saluted before he left.
The general looked at the device and noticed that there was a seam along its side and found a latch. He opened it and found a screen and a keyboard inside, and remembered the word “laptop” from his youth. The device beeped and the screen lit up and revealed an image of a woman’s face.
“Good evening, General,” she smiled as she spoke. “I believe we can help each other out.”
The general poured some more whiskey into his glass, sat back in his chair and said, “I’m listening.”
Marcus and his crew entered a warehouse with Colonel Nieber and Paul Fielding. It was quiet despite the number of Coalition soldiers that were inside. The only sound that could be heard was that of a camera recording in stills the bodies of the original inhabitants of Cotton Ridge. There were hundreds of bodies laid neatly together and their skin was powder white from the lime. Marcus and his crew had seen death before but never on this scale, and never with so many innocent lives taken. The lime had become light red clumps where the victims had been shot, and there were rows of bodies arranged in no particular order, but one could only guess that the Republic had taken families, lined them up together and shot them. The bloody drag marks from the entrance also suggested that they were executed somewhere else and then brought into the warehouse to be disposed of. Marcus watched as a chaplain from the Freedom Coalition diligently said a prayer for each of the victims as he moved from corpse to corpse. The chaplain stopped when he saw Marcus and approached him.
“Do you have family here, sir?” the chaplain asked.
“No,” Marcus eventually answered. “Do you know what happened here?”
“From what I’ve been told,” the chaplain explained, “they were killed several days ago. All of them dead so the Republic could use this place as a base.”
“Thank you,” Marcus said and the chaplain continued with his work.
“Mr. Edwards,” Colonel Nieber said, “I will do everything I can to make an alliance with Ashland work even if we have to do it unofficially.”
“We will need more than an alliance between the Coalition and Ashland to fight the Republic,” Taylor said.
“It will take some time,” Colonel Nieber said, “but it can be done. It must be done.”
I would like to thank everyone for reading, and I would really appreciate any constructive feedback you could give me. Thank you again for your time.