Bugout! California Part 119 – Black Smoke

Ryan drove the hovercraft over the fire road, eyes darting between the road and the fuel gauge. Quarter tank. He scanned the sides of the road for red paint behind the brush. His repair job on the hovercraft was holding together. It purred along, smooth as silk. “I could get used to this,” he said to himself.

There they were. Two red jerry cans, behind the bushes, near a curve to the right. He shut down the engine, the craft sinking to the ground, and climbed out, rushing to the cans, taking them one at a time due to his wounded shoulder. The hovercraft’s tank took all of one can and half of the second. He put both cans into the back seat and got in, starting the engine and driving forward, a dull ache in his shoulder after wrestling the cans up to the filler on the side of the craft.

After cruising along for another half hour, he rounded a curve by a rock outcropping, and there were a multitude of men on horseback before him. He spun the craft in the other direction, almost going off the cliff, shutting down the engine so it would lower onto the skids. He could hear the horses whinny, and the men trying to calm them down. Garrett walked forward, holding his horse’s reins.

“Well that was interesting,” he said. “So glad to see you’re all right.”

“Hi, Garrett,” Ryan said. “Sorry about that. No brakes on these things. Figures we’d meet someplace like this.”

“How’s that shoulder?”

“I think the bullet when clean through,” Ryan said. “The Jeep kept going down the road past where we were trying to fix this thing. Oh, and my M60 is up the small ridge to the north of the road. I couldn’t take it and get down. Didn’t want to chuck it off the cliff.”

“We’ll look for it,” he said. “Here.” He grabbed a few water bottles out of his saddlebag and tossed them into the back seat of the craft. “That ought to hold you. Got enough gas left to get back?”

“Yeah, I think so,” Ryan said. “I could go with you guys if you need me to.”

“No, you get back to base,” Garrett said. “No sense in getting that wound infected. I’ll get the horses off to the side so you can pass. The terrain is a little rough on one side of this road, and there’s a cliff on the other. Not great.”

He turned and walked towards the rest of the men, and then a shot rang out, hitting the top of his hat, blowing it down the cliff. He hit the dirt, Ryan getting onto the ground behind the hovercraft.

“Shit, they followed me,” Ryan shouted.

Men started rushing forward with Winchesters, getting into position. One of them handed a gun to Ryan, and he cocked it and aimed.

“Where the hell are they?” Garrett asked. “That was my favorite hat. I’m gonna kill somebody for that.”

One of Garrett’s men chuckled.

“Fan out, guys, but keep your heads down.”

“The only place they could be is on that ridge over there,” Ryan said, pointing down the road. “Passed it about three hundred yards back.”

“I figured,” Garrett said. “Jamie, get that mortar out. Let’s give them a bad day.”

“It might just be one or two guys,” one of the other men said.

“You think one or two guys is gonna take a potshot at a hundred men?” Garrett asked.

“They did a good job of following me,” Ryan said. “They’ve got a vehicle of some kind.”

“Maybe more than one, boss,” Jamie said, bringing out the mortar. They placed it just around the curve, setting the range. Another cowboy brought over a crate of mortar rounds.

“Let’em have it,” Garrett said. Jamie smiled as he dropped a round into the tube. It popped and flew, landing behind the ridge about fifty yards. He made a fast adjustment and hit them again, this time setting off secondary explosions.

“Pay dirt,” Garrett said. “Let’s get down the road. They’ll try to run that way. Jamie, keep up the pressure.”

“You got it, boss,” he said, firing another round. Then there was a barrage of automatic fire coming at them. Ryan nodded at the hill, Garrett looking and seeing the enemy snipers up there. They both started firing with Winchesters, the sulfur smell and black-powder smoke rising. More gunfire came at them, but the first sniper rolled down the hill, shot in the shoulder, screaming in pain.

“C’mon, men, this way,” Garrett said, rounding the rock outcropping on the curve, then dropping, firing at men who were racing away on the road. Some of them returned fire wildly in a panic, only to be answered by about forty shots from the cowboy’s long guns, most of them dropping, a couple falling off the cliff on the side of the road. Mortar rounds continued to pelt the area as the cowboys rushed forward. Then Ryan saw the yellow Jeep.

“Hey, that’s our Jeep!”

“See it,” Garrett said, firing, hitting the rear tire, the vehicle going out of control and hitting the dirt wall on the left side of the road. More UN Peacekeepers rushed out of their hiding place on that side of the road and ran away, the cowboys closer now, filling the air with smoke and flying lead.

“Maybe Zac and Bradley were with them,” Ryan said, heading down the road with the rest of the cowboys. He got to the Jeep and looked inside. The back was empty, except for a lot of blood.

“They dragged somebody out of the back,” Garrett said, face grim. “Look at the blood streaks there. Still liquid.”

“Dammit, we probably killed them during the battle,” Ryan said, tears streaming down his face has he raced towards the back side of the ridge. There were bodies lying everywhere, some in several pieces. Then he saw it. Pieces of Zac, and some of Bradley’s clothing. He looked away quickly. Garrett got there, looking at the carnage, then turning away.

“One of them was hand cuffed to the ammo box that exploded,” he said. “Probably both of them.”

“Should we move ahead, boss?” one of the cowboys asked. “They didn’t all come in that Jeep. They’re probably driving away in trucks.”

Garrett thought about it for a moment, looking down, then looking at his men. “No, we go back to base. We can’t see these guys on our apps. They might have a much larger force waiting for us. We know where their main base is. We need to concentrate on taking that out, instead of splitting up our forces and chasing ghosts out here.”

“I agree,” Ryan said, wiping the tears from his eyes. He gingerly picked up what belongings of Zac and Bradley he could find, and then followed the cowboys back to the hovercraft and the horses. They headed for home, Ryan in the lead, but moving slowly to keep together with the rest of the men.


Ted was driving, straining to see out in the darkness, as they snaked their way along Nortonville Road.

“Spooky out here,” Haley said, pushing her blonde hair back on her head. Stacey was behind them, standing, looking out the windshield. Brianna was on the couch, watching him.

“Don’t fall down, Stacey. Maybe you should come sit by me.”

“In a minute,” Stacey said, turning to look at her, one hand on the back of the passenger seat. “I’m a little antsy.”

“I’m flat out scared,” Brianna said. “Sit next to me. Please?”

“Okay.” He settled next to her on the couch. “Don’t worry.”

“We’re going into battle,” she whispered. “I always worry. We’ll be brave when it’s time, though. We always are.”

“Yes, we always are,” he said, kissing her forehead. She nuzzled next to him. “I’m glad we’re together.”

“Me too,” Brianna said.

“There’s that last turn,” Haley said to Ted. “Black Diamond Trail. Wish we could go in with no headlights.”

“I don’t see any buildings around here,” Ted said.

“Did Jules say we were looking for buildings?” Haley asked. “I never heard him say that.”

“He didn’t,” Ted said. “This road looks smaller and darker than the last one.” He made the left turn onto Black Diamond Trail and slowed down. “Look, there. I see a glow.” He turned off the headlights and slowed down more.

“Sure that’s a good idea?” Haley asked. “Don’t run us into a hole.”

“It’ll be fine,” he said. Their phones all buzzed.

“Getting close,” Stacey said.

“How can they not know we’re on the way?” Brianna asked.

“Ivan says they didn’t chase us past the freeways,” Haley said. “They’ve got to shore up their control. Patriots are hitting check points up here, just like we did in SoCal.”

“You were dozing when that call went on,” Stacey said.

“Oh,” she said, “Sorry. Where are the patriots operating?”

“Concord, Antioch, Walnut Creek, Pleasanton, San Jose, Palo Alto, San Mateo, and San Francisco. Oh, and the Santa Cruz campus has been over run and is now on fire.”

“Geez,” Brianna said. “We’re going to win, aren’t we?”

“They’ll counter-attack,” Ted said. “You can count on that. Trust me.”

“There’s the clearing Jules was talking about,” Haley said.

“That’s only the first one. We’re going to the furthest one down. We’re going to surround these folks.”

“That’s probably the second clearing,” Haley said as they slowly rounded a curve.

“Yep, that should be number two,” Ted said. “See that road? That’s the access road for the communications installation.”

“I can’t believe they don’t have video cameras protecting the area,” Stacey said.

“They might,” Ted said. “Nothing much they can do. We’re here. We’ll take out that facility in about ten minutes, and there’s nobody they can get here to help them.”

“How many people are here?” Haley asked.

“According to Ivan, less than twenty. We’re here to take out the equipment.”

“That’s what the app is telling me,” Brianna said.

“Why so few, if this is such an important installation?” Stacey asked.

“To lessen the chances that one of us gets inside and spills the beans,” Ted said. “Of course, somebody did.”

“He’s not there now, I hope?” Brianna asked.

She’s not working tonight,” Ted said. “She’ll be missing when they try to find her tomorrow.”

Haley snickered.

“There’s our spot,” Ted said, slowly pulling off the road.

Who else is gonna be here with us?” Haley asked.

“Jules and Sparky,” Ted said. “Not sure about the rest. There’ll be three in the middle clearing and two in the first one.”

He drove forward to the line of trees, the glow of the installation visible.

“Don’t turn on any lights,” Ted said. “And keep down the noise.”

“You don’t think they heard the rig?”

“They might have,” Ted said. “We’re going into siege mode in a sec. I want to wait until Jules gets here.”

They sat silently, seeing a large dark hulk rolling towards them after about ten minutes.

“There they are,” Haley said.

Their phones all dinged with a broadcast text message. Stacey was already looking at his phone, and pulled it up. “Don’t go into siege mode until we get the signal, just in case they don’t know we’re out here yet.”

“I can’t believe they don’t know,” Haley said. “It’s quiet up here.”

“Wish we could see in there better,” Ted said. “Hey, use the sight for the forward and rear machine gun. That’s got night vision, remember?”

“Oh, yeah,” Haley said. She pulled the console out from the passenger side dash and aimed the reticle at the glow. “Hell, those aren’t buildings. They look like big storage containers.”

“They use those to fly drones out of, sometimes,” Ted said.

“The roofs are covered with dishes and other kinds of antennas,” Haley said, moving the reticle around. There’s a few cars parked outside, but I don’t see any guards walking around.”

“The metal on those containers is thick,” Stacey said. “Can we shoot through it?”

“The mini-guns probably can,” Ted said. “Don’t know if these grenades are strong enough or not.”

“We can always hit the antennas on top first,” Stacey said

“I suspect Jules will send us some instructions before we start,” Ted said. Haley looked at him, the lines in his face showing concern.

“You’re worried,” she said softly.

“This was too easy to approach,” he said. “Something doesn’t smell right.”

“What could they have?” Haley asked.

“I don’t know,” Ted said. “Maybe a lot of UN troops. Maybe some better hardware that we don’t know about.”

Another text message came through.

“Fire up siege mode,” Haley said, watching her phone screen.

Ted nodded, flipping a couple switches above his head. The metal plates slid into place, the sound of the motors seeming way too loud. Then there was another noise outside.

“Hear that?” Haley asked. “Squeaking.”

“I hear it,” Stacey said, rushing to the side window, trying to see what it was.

“Dammit, we might have to get out of this thing fast,” Ted said. “That sounds like a tank.”

“It’s getting closer,” Haley said, her eyes showing terror.

“There’s more than one,” Ted said. “Listen.”

“Hey, man, there are two tanks coming towards the middle clearing, where the road was,” Stacey said. “No, three.”

Ted’s phone rang. He looked at it. “Jules.” He put it on speaker and set it on the center console. “Are those tanks, Jules?”

“Yes,” he said. “TOW missiles in my storage compartment. They don’t see us yet. Going to middle clearing. I see through trees. Let’s get out before they attack and set up TOW launcher.”

“You got it,” Ted said, racing for the door, Stacey following. He turned. “If things get hot, fire at those communications buildings, then get the hell out of this death-trap.”

The women nodded as the two men left the coach, meeting Jules. He already had the TOW missile launcher out of the storage compartment, and was rushing towards the right side of the clearing, nearest where the tanks were. Then there was an ear-shattering explosion as the main gun of one of the tanks fired, hitting a battle wagon, pushing it several feet forward, fire coming out of the rear end.

“Dammit!” Jules said, struggling to get the tripod set up with Sparky. The tank fired again, blowing the battle wagon sky high. Another of the rigs in that clearing fired back at the tanks. The other battle wagons unloaded on the communications installation at once, the storage containers exploding in flames.

“That tank is pointing at another battle wagon,” Ted said. He slid a missile into the tube, as Jules looked through the sight. He pulled the trigger. There was a flash, and the tank blew up, spreading fire and metal all over the scene. The turret on the second tank turned towards them, aiming as Ted shoved another missile into the tube.

“Get women out of rigs,” Jules shouted as he fired another shot, hitting the second tank broadside, stopping it from moving, a small fire breaking out underneath. The turret continued turning towards them as Stacey ran to their rig, telling Haley and Brianna to flee. They took off, joining Shelly and Dana who Sparky had just warned. Jules fired again, hitting the turret just in time, blowing it off the top of the tank, a secondary explosion shattering the vehicle.

“There’s still one more,” Ted said, rushing over with another missile. The third tank fired, hitting a second battle wagon, knocking the rear top off, the mini gun breaking into pieces which rained down around the broken rig. Jules fired again, hitting the tank in the turret, stopping it. Two men tried to get out of the top hatch, a battle wagon cutting them in half with fire from its mini-gun. Then there was silence.

“My God,” Ted said. “How did Ivan miss this?”

“Not know,” Jules said. “Who we lose?”

“Gil and Tisha,” Stacey said, tears in his eyes. “Don’t know about the second one.”

“People may be alive in second one,” Jules said. “Come. Let’s look.”

“No, you stay here with that TOW missile launcher, and load it up again,” Sparky said. “We’ll go. We have no idea if that was all the tanks or not.”

Ted nodded in agreement, and they ran to the middle clearing. Shelly rushed over to Jules with Dana, Haley and Brianna joining them.

“My God,” Shelly said, hugging Jules for a moment. “Are you expecting more?”

“Not know,” Jules said. “Watch. We take out if more.”

“Some of our people got killed,” Brianna said. “Where’s Stacey?”

“He go with Sparky and Ted to check,” Jules said.

Automatic fire started up from the wreckage of the communications installation, several battle wagons firing more grenades into the scene, two of the mini guns firing up too.

“Get down,” Jules said.

After a few seconds Sparky and Ted came back.

“Where’s Stacey?” Brianna asked, a horrified look on her face.

“He’s comforting Robbie,” Ted said. “Gil bought it. That was his best friend.”

“No,” Haley said. “No no no.”

“What happened with other coach?” Jules asked.

“Cody and Allison,” Sparky said. “They’re both fine, but the mini-gun is toast. Coach probably still drives.”

“We blow up here if not, and take them away,” Jules said. He was on the verge of breaking down.

“You were right,” Haley said, hugging Ted.

“What right?” Jules asked.

“Ted said something wasn’t right,” she said.

Tex ran over with Karen, Justin, and Katie. “You okay, partner?” Tex asked.

“I fine,” Jules said.

“Damn good thing you had those missiles, or we’d all be dead right now,” Justin said.

The others nodded.

“We just checked out the communications center,” Tex said. “It’s toast. Completely destroyed.”

“What kind of tanks were those?” Justin asked.

“M-60 battle tanks,” Ted said. “Guess the California National Guard had a few.”

“Anybody follow the tracks to make sure there aren’t more?”

“Cody and Allison are doing that now,” Tex said. “We better get the hell out of here.”

“Yes, we leave. Cody rig drivable?”

“I think so, but it can’t defend itself,” Tex said.

“It’s still got the grenade launcher, and the front and rear guns,” Justin said.

“We check out. If not work, we leave it. Blow it up. Understand?”

“Yes, Jules, we got it,” Tex said. He trotted back to the middle clearing with the others.


To be continued…


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Copyright Robert Boren 2017


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