Sam drove the Jeep down the side of the hill, following Garrett’s Jeep, Sid and Yvonne behind them in the third. They pulled past the smoking remains of the two booby-trapped semi-trucks.
“Be careful, there might be more mines,” Ted yelled as the group gathered. The off-roaders were on the next ridge, keeping watch.
“We’re not going to learn anything from this mess,” Sam said.
“You got that right, partner,” Tex said, Jules nodding in agreement.
“You know where the tracks start up again, though, right?” Shelly asked Sid, who was staring at the ground.
“They used dirt bikes,” Sid said, pointing. “Looks like at least five. Last night, if I had to guess.”
“There’s probably still some bad guys around, then,” Yvonne said.
“That why off-roaders watch,” Jules said. “We follow tracks?”
“Yeah, but I’d better take the lead,” Sid said.
“I’m driving,” Yvonne said. He nodded, and everybody got back in their vehicles. Yvonne pulled in front, and they followed the motor cycle tracks up the next ridge, where the off-roaders were waiting. The Jeeps stopped, everybody getting out and gathering. Garrett nodded to the leader, and motioned them to come over.
“No cover here for the enemy,” Tex said. “Makes it a little easier.”
“We need to watch that far ridge,” Garrett said. “There’s a huge plain on the other side. The next ridge after that one is half a day’s drive in a Jeep.”
“Where does that road lead?” Shelly asked.
“Southwest,” Garrett said. “Miles and miles of rugged terrain. Eventually you’ll run into Morena Village to the east, but there’s forks. One of them leads down to Tecate.”
“Mexico?” Shelly asked.
“Yep,” Garrett said.
“How much further are we gonna go?” Erica asked.
“That’s a good question,” Sam said.
“I think we should go on until we find end of dirt bike tracks,” Jules said. “Those aren’t long range. We should find spot where they came off the trucks.”
“He’s right,” Garrett said. “We need to remember that the off-roaders are with us, though. We don’t want to run them so far that they can’t get home. They’re not long range either.”
Jules’s phone dinged. He took it out and looked at it, his brow furrowed.
“What now?” Sam asked.
“We just invade Mexico with armor. More armor showing up at Dodge City, staging to continue. Far east and west ends of enemy front rush towards border at same time. Ivan make women and children get in mine.”
“We’re expecting an attack?” Erica asked. “We should get back there.”
“Not troops,” Jules said.
“Then what?” Yvonne asked.
“Ivan afraid invasion of Mexico bring EU response,” Jules said.
“Crap, he’s afraid we’re gonna get bombed,” Ted said, “and he might be right.”
“I’m gonna take a quick run down there,” Sid said. “You guys hang out here.”
“I’m going too,” Yvonne said.
Sid nodded. They got into their Jeep and drove towards the last ridge, the off-roaders ahead of them.
“You don’t think they’d use this back way to march right in here, do you?” Tex asked.
“I was thinking the same thing,” Ted said, looking at his phone. “The western tip of the enemy line isn’t that far from the entrance to this area, as the crow flies.”
Garrett laughed. “Yeah, but as the crow flies isn’t so hot unless you’ve got Jeeps, and they don’t.”
“It’s that area we went through before, isn’t it?” Sam asked, looking at Erica. “Where we met.”
“Yep. They’re on foot, though. Lots easier than taking vehicles over that ground.”
“It’s a lot of miles to walk,” Garrett said. “They’d be sitting ducks during a lot of it, especially with the US Navy and Airforce getting involved.”
“The Airforce isn’t involved, are they?” Sam asked.
“They send B-1s into Mexico a couple hours ago, to take out the enemy’s artillery,” Jules said.
Ted shook his head. “We need to get home in a hurry. They aren’t coming through here.”
“I’d have to agree,” Garrett said. “Too long of a walk. They’ll get on Highway 94.”
“Somebody call Sid,” Jules said. “We go.”
“Looks like he stopped already, partner,” Tex said. They watched as Sid got out of the Jeep and walked in front of it a few steps. He froze, then motioned to Yvonne to back the Jeep up.
“He found a mine, I’ll bet,” Ted said, squinting to see in the distance.
“Yvonne is motioning for him to come back to the car,” Sam said. “Dammit, get out of there, Sid.”
“Good, he’s going,” Shelly said.
Sid got back in the Jeep and Yvonne backed up another fifty yards. Then she was out of the Jeep, aiming her sniper rifle. She fired a shot, which echoed through the area. Then she fired again, and there was a huge explosion, much bigger than a single mine.
“That was a trap,” Sam said, watching dirt and rocks falling. “Glad they were back as far as they were.”
“Here they come,” Tex said, watching them get into the Jeep and k-turn, heading back to the ridge at a good clip.
“They really think we’re stupid,” Shelly said.
“No, I think they hope we check at night,” Jules said. “Men we fought came to check, clean up. Found we hadn’t tripped their trap, so they decided to do ambush.”
“Yeah, partner, I think you’re right,” Tex said. “We need to high-tail it home.”
Yvonne and Sid drove up, skidding to a stop. Sid got out, a big grin on his face. Yvonne was shaking her head.
“The enemy is pretty tricky,” Sid said, “but not tricky enough.”
“I think we’d better be careful on the way home,” Sam said.
“Why?” Erica asked. “You think there’s still some of them out here?”
“Look at that area down there,” Sam said, nodding towards the huge plain. “There’s nowhere to hide. We can see all of it for miles.”
“True,” she said. “What’s your point?”
“Where are the vehicles that the commando team came in?”
Jules glanced at him, then looked around nervously at ridges further out, which they hadn’t checked. “He right, we go now, watch backs on way.”
“Yeah, I think you’re right,” Garrett said. “Let’s have some of the off-roaders in front of us, and some in back, just in case.”
The lead off-road rider nodded in agreement, then closed the visor on his helmet and started his engine.
The group took off for home.
Ji-Ho directed the armored vehicles towards the entrance of the Dodge City property, as far from the city as he could get them. There were over forty vehicles there now. Ed walked over to him.
“All of the women and children are in the mine,” he said, “and the warriors are in defensive positions with some of the citizen recruits who arrived last night.”
“How many men that?” Ji-Ho asked.
“Eighteen thousand, give or take. The rest are leaving for the western tip of the enemy’s line in about fifteen minutes.”
“Good, I tell commander of armor,” Ji-Ho said. “They here for support.”
“Why’d you move them all over here?”
“Ivan’s idea,” Ji-Ho said. “If EU sends airstrike, it not right on top of town.”
“Would they really do that?”
“EU destroyer fire on American citizens in Portland, remember?”
Ed scratched his chin. “Yeah, you’re right. Not used to thinking about these folks as bad guys, I guess.”
Ji-Ho’s phone dinged with a text. He looked. “Ivan want meeting in intelligence room.”
“Let’s go, then.”
Ji-Ho motioned to the armor commander, who trotted over.
“More news?” asked the man, pulling his helmet off his head.
“We have to go into meeting. Main force of citizen recruits will be leaving soon. Get ready now. You follow them, Captain Carlotta?”
“That’s the plan,” he said. “Thanks for your help.”
“Thank you,” Ji-Ho said.
Carlotta smiled, put his helmet back on, and trotted back over to the others in his command.
“Ready?” Ed asked.
“There two battle wagons not yet in siege mode,” Ji-Ho said as they got into their Jeep. “Last two that got new tires. Let’s put them in and then go to mine shaft.”
“You got it.” They drove back to town, ducking into the last two battle wagons and putting them into siege mode on the way.
“That ought to protect them,” Ed said.
“If we get airstrike, they be toast,” Ji-Ho said.
“Then why bother?”
“Might not get airstrike. Enemy forces might overrun, head here. Battle wagons in good spots. We just get in and open fire.”
“Oh,” Ed said. “Got you.”
The Jeep rolled down the main street of Dodge City and parked, Ji-Ho and Ed going into the mine entrance, nodding at the armed warriors who were placed around the area.
“Nice and cool in here,” Ed said.
“Yes, is,” Ji-Ho said. They saw two figures racing towards them. It was Haley and Karen.
“When are our men coming back?” Haley asked.
Ji-Ho smiled. “Ted texted, on way home now. May take some time.”
“So, they’re done back there?” Karen asked.
“Yes, for now,” Ji-Ho said.
Karen shot Haley a worried glance. “I won’t feel better until they’re here.”
“Come, we go to meeting,” Ji-Ho said. “Okay?”
Karen glanced at him, then back at Haley, her red hair swaying. “Let’s go. I want to hear what’s going on.”
The intelligence room was nearly full, Ivan standing in the front, next to a large TV monitor which displayed video from nine cameras mounted around Dodge City. Ji-Ho approached him.
“They’re moved away?” Ivan asked.
“All the way to highway entrance. They be gone soon anyway. Citizens nearly ready to leave.”
“Good. Just heard from Jules. They’ll be back here in about twenty minutes.”
“What did they find?” Ji-Ho asked.
“UN Commandos, mine fields, and a big booby trap.”
“No. All survive?”
Ivan shot him a grim look. “Lost one off-roader.”
“Uh oh,” Ji-Ho said. “So sorry to hear. Armor not good enough?”
“Head shot,” Ivan said, looking like he wanted to change the subject. His phone rang, and he excused himself, walking away with it to his ear.
“He didn’t look happy,” Trevor said, walking up to Ji-Ho with Kaylee.
“Lost off-roader in back country,” Ji-Ho said. “Ivan takes hard every time. Not cut out for this business.”
“Nobody likes losing people,” Kaylee said softly. “Sam and the others are okay?”
“So far,” Ji-Ho said. “On way home now.”
Ivan came back over, shoving the phone back in his pocket.
“Good news?” Trevor asked.
“Mr. White and Mr. Black are on the way to El Cajon,” he said with a wicked grin. “They finished their task up north earlier than expected.”
“What task?” Ji-Ho asked.
“UN officials attempted infiltration in San Francisco, to lay groundwork for renewed assault.”
Ji-Ho chuckled. “How many did your men kill?”
“All of them,” Ivan said. “They’ll find out where the local UN base is. Guess what will happen next?”
Trevor and Ji-Ho cracked up, Kaylee looking on with worry in her eyes.
“Hey, look, the citizens are pulling out,” Trevor said, pointing to the TV screen.
“Ah, perfect,” Ivan said.
“What’s the meeting about?” Ed asked.
Ivan chuckled. “Postponed.”
Ed shook his head. “You called the meeting just to get everybody in here, didn’t you?”
“You found me out.”
“Is there something you know that we don’t?” Trevor asked.
“EU forces are angry,” Ivan said. “That’s the truth.”
“They can’t fly in here, though, can they?” Kaylee asked.
“Yeah, what about the US Air Force?” Trevor asked. “I heard what they did down south.”
“If they hit us, they won’t send manned bombers or fighters,” Ivan said.
“Then what?” Kaylee asked.
Ji-Ho’s eyes narrowed. “Cruise missiles.”
“Where would they launch them from?” Trevor asked. “Didn’t the remaining EU Navy ships leave the west coast after the Portland incident?”
“They still have a couple of ships south of here,” Ivan said. “They’re in a dry dock in Ecuador.”
“US Navy should bomb,” Ji-Ho said.
“That would be a mess from a diplomatic standpoint,” Ivan said.
Ji-Ho chuckled. “We’re sending bombers and armored vehicles across border into Mexico now. Horse already left barn.”
“They attacked us from Mexico with artillery,” Ivan said, “and they’re sending a few hundred thousand troops our way, too. Our actions can be portrayed as self-defense.”
“It’s really just baloney,” Ed said. “We’re at war with the EU and their UN allies. We can defeat them. The sooner we accept that and go after them, the better.”
“I’m not disagreeing,” Ivan said. “I’m deferring to General Hogan, though. He wants to take out Daan Mertins and his remaining team. He thinks if we can do that the EU will lose interest in this adventure and back off.”
“He right, we not want big battle with EU,” Ji-Ho said. “US armed forces still strong, but manpower was depleted by the enemy infiltration. We win any battle on our soil. We can project power with Navy and Airforce, but we don’t have massive assault troop forces to back up.”
Ivan nodded. “You and General Hogan are on the same page.”
“You don’t think the EU would have nuke warheads on those cruise missiles, do you?” Kaylee asked quietly.
“They wouldn’t dare,” Ivan said. “We still have our nuclear capability, and it’s under the control of the Air Force and the provisional government in DC. If they hit us with a nuclear attack where there’s no doubt that they were directly involved, there’s gonna be a lot of Europe on fire in a hurry.”
“Yeah, Islamists don’t have cruise missiles,” Ji-Ho said.
“They floated nukes into our harbors,” Kaylee said.
“The maniac Islamists did that, with help from North Korea and Iran,” Ivan said. “This would be completely different.”
“Would we survive if they did hit us that way?” Kaylee asked.
Ji-Ho shook his head no. “Mine shaft deep, but not deep enough. Not shielded by steel. Not sealed.”
“Let’s not go there, folks,” Ivan said. “They aren’t going to hit us with nuclear weapons. They’ll try to hit the armor and the citizens before they can join the fight at the border, if they do anything. I wouldn’t bother if I were them.”
“Why not?” Ed asked.
“Not enough bang for their buck,” Ivan said. “Our forces will be spread out along the road. It would take a lot of missiles to kill many of them. There’s really no infrastructure they could take out here which would stop us from fighting them, either.”
“That true,” Ji-Ho said. “Cruise missiles good to blow up installations. Not so good to hit multitude of people on open ground.”
“They might take out the saloon,” Willard said, walking up with Elmer and Susanne. “That would be a catastrophe.”
Susanne shot him a disgusted glance as Elmer cracked up.
“Finished with the ethernet cable runs?” Ivan asked.
“Yep,” Elmer said. “We should think about adding more generators. Maybe even placing some down here and drilling exhaust holes. If they hit the mill, we’ll lose our main source of power.”
“We wouldn’t need a lot of capacity,” Willard said. “Keeping the laptops powered up doesn’t take that much juice.”
Ji-Ho’s phone dinged. He read the text. “Sam and others back in town. Asking why citizens aren’t in back camping area.”
“We’ll brief those guys when they get in here,” Ivan said.
Doug looked through his binoculars at the armor column moving south from the border. Behind them were the surviving Marines. Armed off-roaders rolled along on either side of the column. Conrad walked over with Jorge.
“They’re on their way,” Jorge said, turning towards the south and squinting in the bright sunshine.
“I wish we had more troops on the ends of their line,” Conrad said.
Doug handed his binoculars to Jorge, so he could look. “Where’s Meyers?”
“Down there with his troops,” Conrad said.
Doug shook his head. “I don’t see him.”
“He’s in one of the armored vehicles,” Conrad said. “A personnel carrier. They’ve got video screens, the apps, and a direct line to headquarters routed into his rig.”
“Mobile command post, huh?” Jorge said, handing the binoculars to Conrad.
Doug chuckled. “Heard that the forces staged at Dodge City are on their way to the western tip. Hope there’s enough folks.”
“They’ve got a whole battalion of tanks with them,” Conrad said, handing the binoculars to Doug.
“How many is in a battalion?” Jorge asked.
“Twenty-two battle tanks and some support vehicles,” Conrad replied. “Wish we had four times that.”
“What about the eastern tip?” Doug asked.
“They have more citizens there, and more tanks too,” Conrad said, “but some of the tanks are old M-60s.”
“The western tip is M-1s?” Doug asked. Conrad nodded yes. “The most advanced models they had at Pendleton.”
“The enemy is gonna crap their pants,” Jorge said.
There was a loud crash below them. Railroad tenders were dragging cars away on the tracks, one of them coming loose and falling over.
“Damn, what a mess,” Doug said. “That’s gonna take days to clear.”
Jorge nodded. “Yeah, we need more artillery rounds. Hell, we need more artillery pieces, too. It’s gonna be rough getting them here until that train track is back in operation.”
“The main part of the battle will be over before we solve that issue,” Conrad said.
“What’s that?” Jorge asked, pointing at the southern sky. “Is that a drone?”
Conrad squinted, looking too close to the sun, the white missile-shaped object coming into view. His eyes grew wide. “Get down and hope for the best.”
“What is that?” Doug asked.
“Looks like a cruise missile,” Conrad said as he got down in the dirt. “Get down, dammit.”
Jorge and Doug hit the dirt as the missile approached, flying at low altitude. It went over their heads.
“Where’s it going?” Jorge asked.
“Town,” Conrad said, as the explosions started to the east of them. “Dammit, here comes two more.”
“My family is in town,” Jorge cried as the missiles flew over them, going to the same target.
To be continued…
Book 5 of the Bug Out! California saga has been published. It’s available in both e-book and paperback!
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The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”
Copyright Robert Boren 2018