***Author's note: This is a prequel to the story After the house of cards had fallen. The characters are completely different but it is set in the same universe.***
Lieutenant Jason Hall unconsciously clutched the hand guards around the barrel of his rifle tighter in despair as he saw the individual faces of the people along the side of the road he was passing by. Most of the dispossessed Americans he passed as they headed northwest along Route 60 had lost and fearful looks as the scattered bands fled the outlying suburbs of Glendale and Phoenix, Arizona for the relatively safer FEMA camps closer to Wickenburg. He and his undermanned platoon mounted in three armored humvees were at that moment heading in the same direction but would soon be heading west to a secured airbase to drop off a very important passenger.
Uneasy about the stream of refugees walking beside the road Lieutenant Hall grabbed and keyed the microphone off the radio mounted next him. “Road Warrior Two and Three,” he said, “keep watch on any people in distress. I don’t care if our special guest misses his presidentially ordered flight to Washington; I’m not leaving anyone to die on the side of the road.”
“Roger that One,” Sergeant First Class Nate Rhett, Hall’s platoon sergeant said radioing back promptly from the last vehicle in the small convoy.
“Sir, with all due respect my biggest desire is to get this little creep as far away from me as possible as soon as possible, but will do LT.” Corporal Valero radioed back from the middle vehicle carrying their guest vehicle. Valero, nervous about his comment, looked over his shoulder at the young man positioned in a special seat haphazardly mounted between the two rear seats of his humvee. Despite wearing full body armor and Kevlar helmet making him look like a soldier Valero sneered at the pudgy sleeping figure in disgust. The two privates sitting in the seats on either side of the sleeping civilian nodded their heads in quiet agreement.
Back in Hall’s vehicle, Private Morris asked the unspoken question that was on everyone’s mind. “Lieutenant, if shithead is so important why didn’t they just send a helicopter to pick his ass up back at the firebase or even at the mansion he and his friends were holding up in?”
Hall wondered that as well at first but the answer he got from the base commander before heading out on the mission was so disturbing he hadn’t wanted to think about it again, still though the private deserved the answer. “All available aviation assets are being used in the northeast deploying private security contractors to augment troops trying to quell the uprising. Shit has gotten so bad that the lack of money and shortages in supplies has grounded the Air Force and the just about all the navy has been recalled to port. We are so short in manpower that airmen and sailors have been assigned ground duties like us.”
Morris leaned back in shock. “Private security contractors? You mean the president actually went out and hired mercenaries’ to occupy part of the United States?”
Hall knew that the private was from Maine, which was part of the Group of Thirteen states that refused to recognize the legitimacy of the 2024 election results and because of that was receiving special attention from the president for challenging her power.
As the lieutenant and the soldiers of his small platoon watched for people in dire need of help it was easy to see that most of the civilians heading toward the FEMA camps had long since realized that their privileged position in the world had ended. Until restoration of some form of order to the country, allowing commerce to move unmolested again basic items like food and gas would be rare or nonexistent. Still though, West would occasionally see one of the refugees look his way with eyes outraged that he or she now had to walk like some homeless person they use to ridicule.
The lieutenant observed the hungry and bedraggled people stumble under the weight of hopefully just essential items carried in backpacks or shoulder bags marching toward the camps. However, countless items like laptops, bulky electronics, and even small kitchen appliances littered the road redundant to the newly emerging reality of an America tearing itself apart.
Former suburbanites hanging onto the fading middle class lifestyle, the disruption in the flow of fuel and food to the area stores caused by the civil unrest that had erupted after the 2024 election had quickly shattered their much-practiced sense of entitlement teaching some valuable lessons in the space of a year.
These lessons started on Election Day when the media that night announced the victory of the daughter of a former Vice President to the Presidency of the United States over the senator from, and former governor of, the state of Massachusetts; the second African-American nominated for the highest office of the land by a major party.
The huge national maps used by the networks to signify which states the candidates had won were overwhelmingly colored red causing several of the commentators to remark this was the biggest upset since Truman had defeated Dewey almost a century before. The surprised looks on their faces was caused by most national polls that even up to the start of voting suggested that the actual outcome was going to be the reverse of the huge red maps that hung above them.
During the campaign, the senator from Massachusetts had pulled together the fractious elements of his party and forged another alliance with the disenfranchised poor and minorities promising that nothing would stop them from restoring the promise of America to all her people. As much as the other party tried to destroy the man and his family, they could find nothing on him. The senator was even able to turn the tables on their attempts to discredit him to his advantage.
The senator’s party demoralized and in disarray long before the disaster of the 2012 election, began to rally with huge crowds swamping his events and drawing large numbers of independents upset with how the other side had over the intervening years had brought disaster to the country both domestically and overseas.
The day after the election the nation held its breath in surprise and dismay as the apparent victor spoke of continuing the country’s traditions and upholding cherished values. The apparent loser did his best calm his restless followers speaking of American unity and fairness of the democratic process. His words soon came back to haunt him and the nation as both unity and the fairness of the democratic process proved to be complete illusions.
The situation began to unravel when a video recorded from a cell phone and posted on the internet showed touch screen computer at a polling place that refused to register a vote for the senator from Massachusetts. Repeated attempts to clear the screen and start again only brought the same result with finally even the paper printout used in case of a recount showing a vote for the daughter of the former Vice President. The country adopted such voting computers nationwide after the 2014 midterms in an attempt to streamline and quicken the voting process. That one video started an avalanche of similar complaints that escalated as people who were standing in extremely long lines complained that as the mandatory federal poll closing time hit their time zone denied them a chance to vote.
Accusations and arguments quickly became fights, which grew into riots all across the country with the National Guard called out to restore order. In thirteen northeastern and Midwest states where the daughter of the former vice president won very surprising and lopsided victories the governors of those states signed a joint petition urging an independent investigation of the election in a hope to stem the violence. When the outgoing president refused and the new president-elect commented that this was just a ploy to steal her victory those governors, which eventually came to be called the “Group of Thirteen”, launched their own investigations. Huge and glaring irregularities soon became apparent but the big break came when an employee of the company that manufactured the voting computers found himself caught on video bragging about writing programming code for the computers in certain states to alter election results.
Law enforcement agents in several states seized suspected computers, in some cases detaining federal employees, and found the alleged programming code inside the computers. For anyone even remotely clear headed it was obvious that the 2024 election had been blatantly stolen.
Renewed rioting erupted and this time the National Guard in many areas was overwhelmed and in some cases joined the rioting. With National Guard troops ineffective at best active army troops were then deployed into the cities in an attempt to stop the violence but their numbers were far too small and the destruction and rage far too great for them to be successful.
Believing that her legitimacy was being challenged the new president declared martial law, mainly in the Group of Thirteen states and ordered dawn to dusk curfews and shoot to kill orders given to the troops. Protesters in those states refused to obey the curfew. Scenes of civilians dying in the streets soon played all across the nation on television screens until national security concerns shut down most of the satellite feeds. For many minorities they saw the election fix and the troops opening fire mainly in their neighborhoods as the final insults to their dignity and citizenship. Community organizers in defiance of martial law took the protests to the peaceful suburbs and the violence soon followed. Accusations went back and forth as to who fired the first shots in the suburbs, whether it was protesters, attacking the predominately-white homeowners or the opposite didn’t matter.
Troops did their best to contain the violence in the urban areas but with anarchy spreading beyond the city limits the new president decided to remove the federalized National Guard and active duty forces from more "reliable regions" and use them where the government had lost control. With travel unsafe commerce began to fail with store shelves and gas stations running empty. The spiral out of control continued to accelerate as those relatively peaceful sections of the country cut off from federal forces found themselves fighting increasingly desperate fellow citizens with some groups out to defend their way of life at all costs or some who were out to settle ancient scores. But lost amid all the fighting was that most were just struggling to survive.
As blood flowed in the streets only a very few understood that the bonds of kinship and trust that were the true foundations of a country were dissolving with the very meaning of the United States of America quickly becoming a memory.
“I hate that fat bastard,” the young private said out loud knocking the lieutenant out of his reflection.
Hall did as well, the easy mission described to him by the colonel commanding the firebase outside Phoenix had long since worn thin first having to rescue then transport the spoiled son of a United States senator. This mission was suppose to be a reward for intercepting a truck load of enhanced RPG’s and assault rifles that an egotistical and deranged blowhard of a Latin American dictator had begun smuggling into the United States now that ethnic and class warfare had erupted. Previous shipments had made parts of the Southwest stretching from San Diego to Brownsville absolute war zones. In the space of a few months the street gangs that use to be confined to the troubled inner cities had exploded outward into the suburbs becoming excellent guerrilla fighters even engaging in firefights with army troops.
The basic plan had been simple, taking relatively secure roads Hall’s platoon was to drive to the desert estate of the senior United States Senator from the state of Connecticut and her big corporate CEO husband just south of Apache Junction and rescue their son who had been holding up there since the violence in the country had gone from bad to Hell on earth.
The trip down was without incident and the small convoy arrived at the main house not to find college kids cringing in fear from the violence suffering from the lack of food or water but young adults whose only reason for asking for rescue was because the estate’s backup generator had ran out of fuel. The trouble began as the collection of children of the rich and famous gathered outside the main house realizing that the three small humvees had nothing in the way to fuel or supplies to allow them to continue their party.
The addition of the senator’s son, who came stumbling outside minutes later still drunk, only made matters worse when it was explained to him that this was a rescue mission. The pudgy, spoiled product of America’s elite became irate and refused to leave upon learning that there would be no limousines for him to ride back to civilization much less for his friends. Having close to a small riot on his hands and given their collective social standing among the powerful Hall radioed back to the firebase as to whether he needed more vehicles for the extra people. Coming straight down from the fortress that Washington DC had become Hall was told to grab the senator’s son and leave the rest behind.
With .50 caliber machine guns mounted on two of the humvees and an automatic grenade launcher mounted on the other the senator’s son accepted his rescue while his friends retreated inside the mansion pleading for some sort of help to get the generator going.
Given the suffering Hall had seen since the country began to tear itself apart, he left the group behind with a clear conscious. The trip to the secured airbase became a living Hell with several encounters with armed roving bands giving strong evidence that the situation was continuing to deteriorate. All the while their civilian passenger taunted them saying how they would pay for leaving his friends behind once he talked with his powerful mother and father who was personal friends with the president. His arrogance and condescension seemed to know no bounds, especially since he was surrounded by men with loaded automatic weapons.
As the collection of FEMA camps outside Wickenburg appeared Route 60 turned west and the final leg of their journey brought a small lift in the morale to the group. Even with the likelihood of being reassigned into the chaotic streets of Phoenix at least they would be actively engaged and not babysitting a pathetic individual.
The flat terrain they had been traveling on was slowly giving way to rolling hills, low ridgelines, and numerous washouts, all perfect places for an ambush. “Road warriors,” Hall said over the radio, “watch the ridgeline on our right. It’s close enough to be a perfect hiding place. Warrior Three make sure the .50 gunner is covering our rear. ”
The words hadn’t been out of Hall’s mouth for a second when the convoy’s first sign of trouble was the glint of metal along the same ridgeline that had first raised the hairs on the back of the lieutenant’s neck. For those looking in the right direction they would have saw the smoke trails of three RPG’s heading for the convoy. The trailing humvee carrying the platoon sergeant and three other soldiers went up in a ball of flame with the RPG scoring a direct hit. The burning vehicle spun around and flipped off the road coming to rest in a gully.
“Warrior Three is gone!” someone screamed over the radio.
By instinct, the drivers in the two remaining humvees floored their vehicles while the gunners opened up with the .50 caliber and the automatic grenade launcher raking the ridgeline giving the convoy a few seconds before the attackers could get off the next volley of RPG’s.
“Keep hitting that ridge, we are still in range for those rockets, and as soon as we pass that next washout turn southwest off the road. We are screwed if we can’t lose these guys among the hills!” Hall screamed over the radio.
“What if there is a second ambush waiting out there?” Hall’s driver, Private First Class Ross, asked as he struggled to control both his fear and the humvee.
“We have no choice; we have no support and no other options.” He said angling his rifle out the window to fire off a few rounds just to burn off frustration over this mission, the loss of his men in the rear humvee, and the fucking situation in general.
Hall knew it was a good idea until the first mortar round impacted in front of his humvee sending a wave of shrapnel into the front window creating a chaotic spider web of cracks that made it impossible for Private Ross to see anything. The shit really hit the fan as the second and third mortar rounds impacted in front of his vehicle and beside the second.
Hours later Lieutenant Hall and the last survivor of his platoon, the young Private Morris, are hiding in an abandoned farmhouse miles off the main road they had been traveling. While no other ambushes awaited the two remaining vehicles in Hall’s platoon as they tried to escape off the main road the guerrillas had three of their own humvees and gave chase. The lieutenant didn’t have much time to wonder if the humvees had been captured off other soldiers or were they the latest evidence that desertion rates in the army were escalating with the deserters often joining the guerillas.
A vicious game of hide and seek among the hills and gullies started that cost Hall his men just to protect the worthless slug cowering in the corner of the darken room they were all hiding in. The guerillas had more than likely given up after losing two of their humvees but by that time Hall and Morris were on foot dragging their charge who had lost all his arrogance and soiled himself several times as the small group sought some sort of refuge.
Out of the wreckage of the last two vehicles the surviving soldiers had pulled out a man-portable radio and called for help. Despite the overwhelming desire of Fortress Washington to have the senator’s son safely delivered to the secured airbase it was still over two hours away and the base had nothing at that time that could be sent to retrieve the civilian and the two soldiers. Orders were given for them to find a hiding place and await rescue sometime the next day.
Finding the deserted farmhouse was viewed as a blessing by all three. A well provided water for drinking, there was a small stash of canned goods for food, and the biggest prize of all was a hand-cranked emergency radio. Drinking canteens filled with cold well water and eating cold beans they tuned into a BBC news shortwave broadcast.
“…..leader of the South Carolina militias captured the state house in Columbia today and declared himself provisional governor. Fighting continued in the southern part of the state but General Jacobs said he was confident that order could be restored to the entire state within a few weeks. Jacobs went on to call for joint meetings with other militias in nearby states that had suffered from the pullout of federal forces. Militia forces in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi quickly responded favorably to the idea.
In Utah, state leaders defended their decision to seal the borders to the rest of the nation and begin sending away refugees. The governor and Mormon Church leaders could not be reached and were reported to be in secret conference in the state capital. No word was given over the subject of their closed meeting.
Finally, the US president made a brief appearance today leaving her undisclosed location and arriving in Fortress Washington. The president announced that she had received the support of the senior senator from the state of Connecticut for her policy of hiring foreign military contractors to assist American troops and American military contractors in quelling the uprising that has been going on in the Group of Thirteen States. The senior senator, not a member of the president’s political party, called on her state to accept the election results so Connecticut could lead the nation back to peace…”
Private Morris could not take his eyes off the grown child of the senator and after turning down the volume of the radio found his hands reaching for his rifle. “Lieutenant, when did they say we could expect a pick up?” He asked feeling strangely numb but certain.
Lieutenant Hall looked over at the private and carefully made him lower his weapon back down. “Sometime tomorrow afternoon Morris,” he said. It was then that all the images that had collected in Hall’s mind began to play out. The bloodshed and the suffering of the many while the rich continued to live their lives untouched and the powerful still played their games. In spite of himself Hall felt his hand reaching for his sidearm, part of his mind knew what he was about to do was cold-blooded murder but he knew enough of history to understand for decades craven little cowards like the civilian they rescued, even now whimpering in the corner had played games with the country oblivious to the effects. For so long they were protected by money and power and now with both spent the bills were coming due, but the innocent were having to pay the price for their greed and arrogance.
No one heard the single shot that rang out in the night and the next afternoon when a corporate helicopter carrying private military contractors landed close to the farmhouse, a search inside found nothing except fresh blood covering a wall in one of the bedrooms. After an investigation of the surrounding area several burned and damaged humvees were found along with the bodies of several soldiers and suspected guerrillas. The body of a civilian, determined to be the missing senator's son, was found next one of the burned out humvees dead from a single shot to the head. Nothing and no one else was found and due to the deteriorating situation in the state orders came down from Fortress Washington that all further searches were to be abandoned.
Today's Cartoons - (*click on images to enlarge*) (Bill Bramhall, New York Daily News) (Dave Granlund, politicalcartoons.com) (Peter Brookes, The Times, London) (Jack ...
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