Standing in the Storm
Last Brigade, Book 2
© 2017 by William Alan Webb
Standing in the Storm
© 2017 by William Alan Webb
by Dingbat Publishing
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Thank you for respecting the
hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction.
Names, places, characters, and events are entirely the product of the
author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance
to persons living or dead, actual locations, events, or organizations
Angriff — General of the Army. Nick the A to those who fear
him. Idolizes George Patton’s tactical genius and persona, but not
as fussy as Patton about personal appearance and decorum. Like
another hero of his, Winston Churchill, Angriff is sometimes accused
of courting danger. As a three-star general, he led tactical missions
more suited to a captain or lieutenant, usually against direct orders
not to do so. His career survived because of his popularity with his
men and the public, and his record of success.
Janine Marie Jackson
Angriff — Nick’s wife, a victim in the Lake Tahoe ‘incident.’
Mary Randall, nee Angriff — Older of Nick’s two daughters.
Lieutenant in the US Army, executive officer First Platoon, Alpha
Company, 1st Tank Battalion. Call sign Bulldozer One One
Two. Married to Captain Joe Randall. Nicknamed Tank Girl.
Cynthia June Angriff
— Nick’s younger daughter, caught in the same attack as her
Lt. General Norman
Vincent Fleming — Executive Officer of the 7th
Cavalry, also the Brigade S-3, Operations. Norm is Nick Angriff’s
best friend, dating back to their days in OCS. Both men enlisted and
worked their way through the ranks, an almost impossible feat.
Fleming is the man Angriff trusts above all others.
Major General Dennis
Tompkins — Survivor of the Collapse who did not go cold, but
instead lived fifty years in post-Collapse America, leading his team
of five survivors.
Daniel Randall — The best helicopter pilot in the brigade.
Married to Morgan Randall. Call sign Ripsaw Real.
‘Bunny’ Carlos — Joe Randall’s best friend and co-pilot.
Plotz — AH-72 Comanche commander and Joe Randall’s wingman.
Sergeant Andy Arnold
— Alisa Plotz’s co-pilot.
‘Zo’ Piccaldi — One of the two best snipers in the Marine
battalion, friend and secret love interest of Lara Snowtiger.
John Paul Thibodeaux
— best friend to Dennis Tompkins during their fifty years
wandering in the wilderness.
Paul Hausser —
One of Tompkins’ five survivors.
Sig Zuckerman —
Another member of Tompkins’ final group of five.
Derek Tandy —
One of Tompkins’ five.
Monty Wilson —
One of Tompkins’ five.
PFC Lara Snowtiger —
Marine sniper, a full-blooded Choctaw. Snowtiger embraced her
heritage and is versed in Choctaw lore. She is considered as good as
any sniper in the 7th Cavalry, including Zo Piccaldi.
Franklin Walling — Promoted to his present rank by Angriff, he
commands the headquarters staff and manages Angriff’s day-to-day
Sergeant Major of
the Army John Charles Schiller — Trusted subordinate who runs
the day-to-day routine for Angriff’s headquarters. Angriff often
asks Schiller for advice.
Emerson Schiller — Brother of Sergeant J.C. Schiller, he is the
brigade’s S-4, Supply Officer, and is considered a savant at supply
chain organization and utilization.
Lt. Colonel Roger
‘Rip’ Kordibowski — Battalion S-2, Intelligence Officer.
Colonel Todd Berger
— Commander of the Marine Recon Battalion.
Ricci — Commander of the Tank Battalion.
Spears — Barracks Sergeant for the female Marines.
Malkinovich — First Company Commander, Tank Battalion. Call
sign Bulldozer One One.
Major Harold ‘Harry
the Hat’ Strickland — Executive Officer of the 1st
Marine Recon Battalion.
Captain Martin S.
Sully — Commander of Dog Company, 7th Marine
Tensikaya — Commander of First Platoon, Alpha Company, Tank
Battalion. Morgan Randall is his executive officer.
Howarth Claringdon — Executive Officer of the Tank Battalion.
Lt. Colonel Ashley
Wisnewski-Smith — 7th Brigade S-9, Civil-Military
Ian Jones —
Civilian Head of Construction and Maintenance Department.
Wilson Dupree — Communications specialist and computer whiz.
(Frame) Rossi — Crew chief for Tank Girl.
crew of Joe’s Junk
Staff Sergeant Joe
Ootoi — Nicknamed ‘Toy.’ Gunner.
Marscal — Driver. Although born in the USA, Tanya has a faint
Ukrainian accent because both of her parents emigrated from their
homeland and she picked up traces of the way they spoke. She is also
fluent in Russian and Ukrainian.
Bright-Hu — Loader. Widowed, husband was Paul Hu, pronounced
with a long ‘U.’
Force Zombie, a/k/a ‘The Nameless’
Green Ghost —
Longtime subordinate of Angriff’s and currently his S-5, Security.
His real identity is unknown, as the Nameless only have code names.
Angriff trusts him completely.
Original member of TF Zombie. Wise-cracking member of the team. He
and Green Ghost have known each other since childhood.
One Eye —
Original member of TF Zombie. Nickname refers to his personality.
Original member of TF Zombie. Taciturn, a specialist at explosives
Replacement addition to TF Zombie, Glide is an ultra-dangerous
computer specialist. She is gorgeous, and an 8th degree
Nipple — Green
Ghost’s twin sister. Most think she is psychotic, but like her
brother, her reflexes are off the chart.
Replacement addition, the newest member of the team.
Nabi Husam Allah
— The Caliph of the Caliphate of the Seven Prayers of the New
Prophet, self-proclaimed prophet of Allah. In truth, he is Larry
Armstrong, a criminal conman. His adherents are fanatically loyal.
el Mofty — Emir of New Khorasan. His original name is Richard
Lee Armstrong, brother of the Caliph, Larry Armstrong. He bears the
title of Superior Imam, second only to the Caliph himself, who is the
Supreme Imam. These titles were created by the Armstrong brothers to
elevate them above all imams in Islam. He is also second in command
of The Sword of the New Prophet, the military arm of the Caliphate.
a/k/a Manahil Bashara — Sister of Larry and Richard Lee
Armstrong, mother of Sati Bashara.
Ibrahim Yaseen —
Counselor of Production for the Province and one of the men el Mofty
suspected of being a spy for the Caliph.
Muhdin — The top-ranking general in New Khorasan.
Sati Bashara —
Senior Aga and oldest nephew of Emir Abdul-Qudoos Fadil el Mofty,
appointed head of the province of New Khorasan, a region of the
larger Caliphate of the Seven Prayers of the New Prophet,
encompassing parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and old Mexico. He is the
second most powerful lieutenant in New Khorasan.
Childhood friend and constant companion of Sati Bashara.
Wazid — Friend
Paco Mohammad —
Born in old Mexico, Paco led a band of friends and relatives north
looking for food and shelter. Confronted by forces of the Amir of New
Khorasan, Paco decided to convert to the Amir’s brand of Islam
rather than be wiped out, becoming, in effect, a throwaway mercenary
Richard Parfist —
Lived in a village far outside of Prescott, until General Patton’s
Guards raided the village.
Lisa Parfist —
Richard Parfist’s wife.
Kayla Parfist —
Richard and Lisa Parfist’s 15-year-old daughter.
Rick Parfist, Jr. —
Richard and Lisa Parfist’s 12-year-old son.
Govind — Chief
of the Western Apache.
Gosheven — The
middle of the three brothers.
Govind’s youngest brother.
New Republic of Arizona
Lester Earl Hull,
a/k/a General George Patton V — Warlord leader of the New
Republic of Arizona.
Cranston — Second in command to Lester Hull and commander of
the military forces of the New Republic.
The Last Brigade
series is my homage to the armed forces of the United
States and all others fighting to keep the world free of tyranny. The
world view the series presents is, at its core, pretty simple:
America and those who stand with her are the good guys. There may be
(and are) some bad people within those armed forces, but the vast
majority do so for all the right reasons. This book and others in the
series represent my ideals on patriotism, and I make no apologies for
that. If you’re looking for America-bashing, you won’t find it
But this is not an
essay. These books are designed to be fast, fun to read, a little
over the top, and, maybe, bringing an important issue or two to the
forefront. I don’t know about you, but reading a thriller about
average people doing average things doesn’t sound very exciting to
me. It might be realistic, but I read to be entertained, and I don’t
find that entertaining. A good thriller using average people as
characters would have them doing extraordinary things, things that
are over the top, things they would never do otherwise. Many
writers have mastered the art of confronting a normal person with
dangerous events, thereby forcing their characters to take actions
they never dreamed they would take. Heck, it’s an entire sub-genre
of crime novels and thrillers.
My books take this
premise a step further. I start with extraordinary people and then
have them do extraordinary things. For example, few real people would
carry a fifty-caliber Desert Eagle pistol into combat, like Nick
Angriff does. I can think of a dozen reasons why it’s a terrible
idea. For one thing, seven rounds is a small magazine. For another,
the recoil using such a pistol one-handed would require massive wrist
strength to rip off multiple rounds quickly. And yet Nick does this
and I think it’s really cool, and apparently so do a lot of others.
A real person could never do that… but what if they could? If
someone else had written this series, I’d be all over it, because
it’s fun. I’m a fan of this genre. It’s the kind of thing I
like to read, and that’s the only thing I know how to write.
Nick Angriff is the
amalgamation of every hero I’ve ever read about, from George Patton
and Erwin Rommel to Conan the Barbarian and Sergeant Nick Fury. He is
able to fire his Desert Eagles with pinpoint accuracy while riding in
an armored personnel carrier down a bumpy African road, because he is
Nick Angriff. He can do it; others can’t. Why? Because he can,
that’s why. Likewise, in real life, lieutenant generals don’t
lead tactical rescue missions into the jungles of a hostile nation.
Nick did it in Standing The Final Watch because it was fun.
This is, after all, science fiction, with a touch here and there of
fantasy. I’m going to take liberties where I think them appropriate
in the interest of telling a better story. And, just for the record,
the Angriffs have physical abilities in the top 0.1% of humanity. If
non-fiction is more your cuppa, then I’m with you there! I write
Early versions of this
book had every technical detail you can imagine, from the precise
model number of an APC (I even had a serial number in there) to how
various small arms worked and why. The order of battle for the
brigade was right out of the Army manual. But the book was s-l-o-w.
So I’ve played fast and loose with the organization, the events,
the way things lay out, and the dialogue of the military characters.
Is it the way someone might speak in combat? Not always. But is it
fun to read? I think so. And if I’m right, then I’ve done my job.
If you are preparing to
read Standing In The Storm but have not yet read The Ghost
of Voodoo Village: Short Story and Bonus Chapters for Standing The
Final Watch, you might consider doing so first. There are a
couple of sub-plots in Bonus Chapters that are mentioned in
SITS and become significant in books three and later. Green
Ghost’s origin story, The Ghost of Voodoo Village, would
also explain a number of lingering questions about him and his
Standing The Final
Watch has been a major success. I wish to thank all who invested
their precious time and money with me. There is a trust burden on a
writer to deliver the best possible story to the reader who spends
the money to read it. Please know that I work hard at my craft. I
want you to feel your time and money are well spent, and I will never
forget that any success I may have is because of you, my readers.
May God bless you all!
In the west a storm is brewing, and another in the east,
south a tyrant lurks, less man than vicious beast;
in between, at the mercy of the swarm,
Until brave Americans
shield them, by standing in the storm.
Sergio Velazquez, “Standing In The Storm”
About me died the world I knew,
In its place a new world
Where masses worked for a privileged few,
Just like the
old world that I knew.
The ruling clique held tight the
Around the neck of common folk;
Ignoring the freedom of
which they spoke,
Until the little men awoke.
Sergio Velazquez, from “Yoke”
the force that compels a man to risk his life day after day, to
endure the constant tension, the fear of death… the steady loss of
his friends? What can possess a rational man to make him act so
hours, June 25
“What’re we looking
at, G.G.?” Vapor said. After a quick look, he lay on his back on
the hill’s reverse slope.
Green Ghost propped his
elbows on the crest of the hill and adjusted his binoculars. After
following the old highway for two days, he and his crew had deployed
on opposite sides when a vehicle came up from the south. He focused
One hundred yards away,
three men stood around a Honda sedan. With the sun at his back, he
could distinguish every detail of them and their vehicle. Dust coated
the car, including the two jerry cans and spare tire tied to the
roof. Painted on the driver’s door was an upright crescent moon
crossed by a scimitar. The meaning could not have been more obvious,
even without the Arabic script below it.
late teens or early twenties. They haven’t missed any meals,
either,” he said. “Clothes are well made, no holes or patches.
Green Ghost lowered the
binoculars and gave Vapor a sideways look they both knew meant knock
Green Ghost brought the
binoculars back to his face. “Yeah, all three are carrying. Looks
like M16s; could be M-4s, though.”
gibberish on the car say?” Vapor asked.
“You know it’s
Arabic. At least it’s supposed to be; the grammar is awful. It says
new prophet word.”
“So it’s Islamic?”
“I don’t know.
That’s question numero uno for those three… damn!”
He shifted the
binoculars to focus on a slight rise on the other side of the
highway. Holding his left hand straight up, he extended five fingers,
meaning don’t shoot unless you have to.
Two hundred yards away, Wingnut extended his own arm with his fingers
making the Okay sign.
“If this goes to
shit, aim for the tires. We need prisoners.”
“What could possibly
go wrong?” Vapor said.
Green Ghost ignored the
sarcasm. Setting aside his M16, he stood up in full view. The driver
had climbed into his seat and the other two had their doors open.
Once they were inside the car, Green Ghost’s crew could not stop it
“Hey!” he yelled,
waving his arms. “Up here!”
The car emptied. Its
occupants ran to the other side and brought their rifles to bear on
the man who’d appeared out of nowhere. Green Ghost took a step down
the hill, keeping his hands up. He took a second step, then a third.
One shot echoed across
the desert and kicked up dust to his right.
“No!” he screamed.
“Don’t shoot, don’t shoot. I’m unarmed.”
More bullets whizzed
past him. A round grazed his shoulder and he dove for cover in a
shallow depression behind a brittlebush. Bluish petals settled in his
Vapor returned fire on
full automatic. His initial rounds chewed up both drivers’ side
tires. Targeting this new threat, they returned fire, pinning him
“Where the fuck are
Wingnut and that lunatic sister of yours?”
On cue, Wingnut and
Nipple opened fire behind the three men. One twisted and jerked as
rounds tore into his back. The other two spun to return fire, too
late. Nipple never missed and she put three rounds into the face of
the man on her left. Wingnut squeezed the trigger on full automatic
and four rounds hit the other man in his chest.
Even before the firing
stopped, Green Ghost was running downhill. Rounding the front of the
car, he smelled gasoline, and leaped over a stream pouring from under
the car. The man Nipple had shot was missing half of his head, so he
checked the other one. Despite blood-soaked clothes, the chest rose
and fell in shallow breaths. Grabbing him by the armpits, Green Ghost
dragged him off the highway.
Nipple and Wingnut
approached, eyes to their scopes.
“Put dirt on that
gas!” he said. “A fire could attract their butt buddies.”
started heaping dust onto the puddling fuel. Wingnut popped the hood
and inspected the engine for damage.
As they worked around
the car, Green Ghost lifted the dying man’s head and patted his
cheek. “Hey, don’t die on me yet. What’s your name? Where are
The man’s eyes
flickered open, but it was obvious he could not see.
“Tell Sati I died
facing my enemy,” he said in a whisper. “Tell him… I prayed to
the prophet… with my last breath.”
“Who are you? What’s
“May Allah protect
our beloved new prophet.” The man convulsed several times and
coughed blood. Then he went rigid. After a long exhale, his body
relaxed. Green Ghost wiped his bloody hands on the corpse’s pants.
“The heap’s shot to
shit,” Wingnut said. “And those cans are full. If this goes up,
we need to be far away.”
Green Ghost stood and
inspected the damage. “We need to work on your marksmanship.”
“Hey, I put him down,
“You put the car down
with him. Do you like walking that much?”
“I didn’t blow out
the tires,” Wingnut said. He changed the subject. “Did the burp
tell you anything?”
He nudged the dead man
with his boot. Flies buzzed into the corpse’s open mouth.
“Yeah,” Ghost said.
“I’m just not sure what.”
Wazid steered the
pickup truck past another sinkhole and accelerated to twenty miles
per hour. The further he drove southwest, the more broken the old
highway became. So far he had seen nothing of Paco and his men. Now,
five miles from his friend and leader, Sati Bashara, he pulled to the
right shoulder and cut the wheel hard left to turn around. But over
his left shoulder, he spotted a body lying close by in the desert. He
stopped in the middle of the road and lifted the M16 off the truck’s
passenger seat. He chambered a round.
In a crouch, he walked
across the hot pavement. He paused, twisting at the hips to ensure
nobody lurked nearby. Satisfied, he walked into the desert and knelt
beside the prone figure. He brushed a scorpion off the man’s cheek.
The man wore the
khaki-colored cotton uniform of the Caliphate. Dried blood crusted
the back of his shirt. He could not have been dead long, since no
scavengers had yet feasted on his corpse.
“Why did you come
this way?” Wazid muttered.
A prairie falcon
circled high overhead, its shadow racing over the arid landscape.
Wazid ignored it.
Behind him, two figures
covered in dirt and sand rose from shallow pits. They made no sound.
Wazid had no warning before a sharpened iron spike struck the base of
his skull, where the first cervical vertebrae joined the spine. The
bones shattered with a loud crack! He
toppled to one side, with only a rattle to mark his death.
The prone figure, no
longer quite so dead, jumped up and helped the other two drag the
newly dead man into a shallow, pre-dug trench. Using a shovel, they
refilled the hole until it was nothing more than a flat patch of
desert. Together they rolled a large boulder onto the grave.
Sweating, they turned
to leave. Then they heard a voice and looked at each other.
“Wazid, where are
you? Come back right away. Wazid, can you hear me?” It went on like
that without stopping, faint and muffled but audible.
youngest of the three said. The oldest shook his head.
They erased the blood
and footprints at the kill site, careful to brush away their own
tracks. One of the men inspected Wazid’s still-running truck.
Standing on the seat, he looked over the cab roof and nodded once.
Govind pointed southwest and the man in the truck drove off in that
direction. He and the remaining man then crossed over a small hill,
where three horses stood tethered to a mesquite tree. Daylight faded
as they rode off and vanished into the gathering darkness like ghosts
of the desert.
controls the past, controls the future.
Psalms of the New Prophet, Chapter 7, Verse 21
south of Green Ghost
hours, June 25
Sati Bashara stood next
to his battered Toyota pickup. He watched a prairie falcon fold its
wings and dive. Skimming inches above the desert floor, its talons
reached down and snatched its prey. Flapping skyward, it made for a
distant ridgeline, dangling a snake in its claws.
“Where are they?”
Bashara said. “Why do they not answer?”
“I don’t know,
Sati,” said his best friend, Haleem. “Maybe their radios broke,
or the batteries died. Maybe one blew a water hose, and the other hit
a deep hole and turned over. How should I know?”
“We cannot wait on
Wazid or Ibrahim any longer. Keep trying to get them, but the day is
dying and we must move on.”
Two other trucks cooled
on the shoulder of the highway, turned off to save fuel. Bashara
smelled death and destruction nearby, even if his companions didn’t.
Aside from the scent of decomposing bodies, smoldering ashes filled
the air with tiny bits of carbonized rubber, like pollen. In a
pristine desert, scents like charred truck tires acted as a beacon
for those who could detect them. Sage, creosote, the indescribable
earthiness after a rainstorm… those scents defined his childhood
memories. His mind knew how the desert should smell. It didn’t
smell that way now.
“Death is close,”
he said. “There has been fighting near here.”
“How do you know
“I smell it.”
“But where, Sati? We
are low on fuel and the sun is fading. We have been gone longer than
expected and your uncle awaits our return.”
“My uncle awaits
answers, Haleem, and we have none to give him. Would you like to be
the one to tell him we failed to find Paco? Because that I will not
do, even if I have to walk back.”
Bashara raised his nose
again like a tracking dog. He turned in slow circles, moved side to
side, and walked a few paces in one direction, followed by the
reverse. He did this for three minutes and stopped.
“There,” he said,
pointing to the ridgeline on their right. “They must have pulled
off the road. Let us find their tracks.”
Leaning against the
second truck, arms folded, Haleem rolled his eyes when Bashara wasn’t
looking. He wound his finger in a circle, which meant let’s
go. Driving into the open desert in late afternoon did not seem
like a great idea, but it wasn’t his decision.
“Slamming into a hole
could break an axle,” he said.
“Then do not slam
into a hole,” Bashara said. “You are my dear friend, Haleem, but
do not dispute me again.”
Haleem drove with care
as the light faded, leaving Bashara to search for fresh tracks. After
a few minutes he pointed out the right window.
“There,” he said.
Dozens of tire imprints veered toward the ridge, following an old,
crushed-stone road. They speeded up, heedless of holes, ruts, or
rocks. Haleem crossed two bridges without slowing down. The rattle of
the timbers made his heart race.
Deep shadows lay close
to the ridge. In the twilight, Bashara saw what had happened to the
missing men. He spotted dozens of blasted cars and trucks, like a
sprawling graveyard of elephants. The skeletal shells lay contorted
like bodies twisted by rigor mortis.
They parked on the
outer edge of the killing field and crawled through the wreckage.
Bodies and chunks of scorched metal lay scattered as if from a
tornado. Bashara did not have to warn them to be wary of snakes and
He knelt and inspected
the first few bodies they found, turning his head from the stench.
Hordes of maggots crawled in the putrefied flesh. Scavengers had
gnawed many of the corpses to bare bone. Flies swarmed the noses and
mouths of the living. Despite the parasitic insects, Bashara held his
hands palm down over the bodies. He seemed to sense their spirits.
said, “you and Azeez go there and see what you see.” He pointed
to the plateau high against the sheer rock wall of the ridge.
“As you wish, Sati,”
Abulfazl said, and the two men trotted off.
As the afternoon waned,
Bashara stood and walked further into the carnage, picturing in his
mind what had happened. His other men spread out to look for
survivors. It seemed impossible anyone could still be alive after
three or four days in the open desert, but they looked anyway. Some
of his men climbed the rocks, while others joined Azeez and Abulfazl
on the plateau. All held rifles at the ready.
Bashara picked up
various bits of metal and turned over a glob of hardened meat with
his boot. He had no idea what, or who, it had been. Shell casings
littered the ground. Many came from much larger caliber weapons than
the rifles Paco’s men had carried. He leaned close to the holes in
the vehicles, sniffed them, and ran a finger over the seared but
smooth edges. The ripped metal was not jagged. Only high velocity
rounds melted metal like that.
Abulfazl and Azeez ran
back down the ramp, shirts drenched with sweat. Bending over, hands
on knees, they gulped air for a few minutes before they could speak.
Abulfazl said, still gasping for breath. “Three trucks, two of ours
and another one. There’s a long wall of rocks, low, about this
high.” He indicated a height halfway up his thigh. “Many dead
men, all ours. Whatever killed them, Sati… they were ripped apart.
Animals have been chewing them as well.”
“The trucks,” Sati
said. “Can they be driven?”
Abulfazl shook his
head. “Destroyed. Burned out. There is nothing to salvage.”
“Sati, over here!”
He jumped up and
followed the sound of the shouting, almost stepping on a ruined head
lying crushed beside a leg and foot. Slowing down, he trudged forward
until he found Haleem kneeling beside a man propped against a truck.
Crusty blood covered his upper torso. The man’s left leg had turned
purple and swollen to twice its normal size. His head lolled to the
side, but his chest rose and fell with shallow respiration.
Bashara knelt beside
Haleem and raised the man’s head. Ants crawled over his face and
Bashara brushed them away. Lifting his water bottle, he wet the man’s
cracked lips. When the mouth parted, he poured a few drops into his
throat. His movements were deft and efficient. His long fingers
explored for wounds or broken bones, and he took care to be gentle.
“Who did this, Paco?”
he whispered into the man’s ear. “If you can hear me, you must
tell me who did this.”
Paco Mohammed tried to
lift his right hand, but couldn’t. “Agua,” he said in a dry
Bashara let him drink
all he wanted.
voladores,” he said, and this time his voice was strong enough to
be heard. “Monstruos voladores gigantes. Con grandes alas y una
marca blanca en un círculo.” Giant flying
monsters, with large wings and a white mark in a circle. “I
looked into the eyes of the monster and saw the souls of the men it
Bashara and Haleem
shared a glance, and Bashara patted Paco’s cheek. “You have been
through much, my friend. We will take you back, and you will heal,
and there we will talk more.”
But Paco reached out
with his good right hand and grabbed a fistful of Bashara’s shirt,
pulling him closer. The rasp in his voice blurred the words. “I am
not loco, Sati. This sun has burned me, but my mind is not cooked.
They were monsters, I tell you. Giant monsters with wings on their
heads, and a grande blanca mark on their side. And things my
grandmother called letters; I don’t know what they said. And
hanging below the belly of the monsters were guns like I have not
seen before, guns that killed my men before they could move. When the
monsters flew overhead, the bullets, they fell like hail.”
said. Paco’s story began to make sense.
“Yes, big guns. And
rockets. When I was just a young boy, mi abuela told me of such
monsters. When she was a girl, they would come and kill the men of
her village in Mexico. She said they were terrible. She called them
helicopteros, and she said they had guns. They were monsters from
Hell, she said.”
Bashara’s eyes narrowed and he drew in the sand with his finger.
“This mark you saw, Paco, did it look like this?”
“Si.” Paco nodded.
“Good, Paco, good.
Now the letters, did they look anything like this?” Again he drew.
“That is them!”
Paco said. “How did you know, Sati? What do they spell? Who killed
Bashara stood and
motioned his men to load Paco into a truck. “He is close to death.
We must go. Be gentle but quick. We will drive through the night.”
“But Sati,” Haleem
said. “The night… it’s very dark. The moon is new.”
“Do as I say. Have we
heard from Ibrahim or Wazid?”
“We cannot wait. They
will have to make their own way back.”
hand grabbed Bashara’s pant leg. “Please, Sati, tell me who
killed my friends?”
“I do not know for
certain, Paco. We know of men beyond Phoenix with such a mark on
their vehicles, but they have not been our enemies in the past. I
have met one of their lower-class leaders, a man they call Slick. He
is an infidel, uncouth, not schooled in the ways of the New Prophet.
In the past it has been convenient to cooperate with them in certain
matters. They have been reliable, but if they have found such power
and become our enemies, then my uncle must know.”
“What is this mark,
Sati? What does it mean?”
“It is a star, Paco.
These men bear the mark of an old enemy. If what you say is true,
then your men were killed by helicopters of Los Estados Unidos.”
“But there is no more
“I pray to our
beloved New Prophet that you are right,” Sati Bashara said. “But
it would appear to be otherwise.”
is sinful that serves Him who alone knows the will of Allah.
Psalms of the New Prophet, Chapter 1, Verse 2
Khorasan (formerly Tucson, AZ)
hours, June 26
Yet another golf ball
soared aloft and sliced left into the rough. Richard Lee Armstrong
wanted to scream, but held his back-swing long enough to regain his
composure. For three decades he had suppressed his identity, and so
the placid smile he wore as a permanent mask fit his persona. Instead
of kicking his golf bag, he displayed the tranquility befitting the
Emir of New Khorasan. But just because he had mastered his facial
expressions did not mean he was happy.
The golf clubs were not
the problem, nor the choppy greens or rough fairways. Improvements to
the course required manpower and water he did not have anyway. The
real problem was the balls; they all had nicks and cuts. No matter
how much he practiced, a damaged golf ball did not go where aimed. In
the early days new golf balls had been common, but those days were
long gone. His followers had scoured New Khorasan, the city once
called Tucson, for new ones, but found none.
The Emir of New
Khorasan, Superior Imam of the Foretold Caliphate of the New Prophet,
had worked hard on his golf swing over the years. His latest drive
first sailed skyward in a perfect arc. Then the air aloft caught a
cut in the ball’s side and spun it off course, ruining his hard
work. When the ball landed in a patch of scrub, he stood silent for
several seconds with a serene look that hid his rage. All that
Standing behind the
first tee, the other members of his foursome clapped. They were his
most senior lieutenants. He turned and smiled, but Richard Lee
Armstrong knew kissing ass when he saw it. He had trained himself to
read body language and facial expressions. He believed that under the
right circumstances he could read people’s minds. For thirty years
that talent had kept him alive at the top of a dangerous and
fanatical religious cult. He did not need exotic methods to know that
some within his inner circle would slit his throat if they knew the
truth about him. The man known as Richard Lee Armstrong had not
existed for thirty years. In his place stood Abdul-Qudoos Fadil el
Mofty, Virtuous Servant of the Most Holy Who Holds the Fatwa,
Superior Imam and Emir of New Khorasan.
“Thank you, my
beloved friends,” he said. “But that is not necessary. Muhsin, I
believe it is your turn, is it not?”
Ahead, slaves tended
the fairways with primitive rakes and shovels. More slaves uprooted
cacti and bushes that had sprouted on the field of play, all of them
watched over by guards with rifles. Behind them, a team of
sun-scorched men in ragged clothes dragged a stripped-out pickup
truck across the fairway. In the pseudo-wagon’s bed was a
perforated metal tank that rotated as the vehicle inched forward on
skids. The tank dispensed wastewater from the septic system installed
at the Superior Imam’s villa, beside the eighteenth green.
The knot of golfers
were halfway down the fairway at Hole Five when Muhsin covered his
eyes and stared back in the direction of the first tee. A vehicle
approached at high speed, raising a dust cloud on the gravel pathway.
“Abdul, is that not
Sati’s truck?” he said, pointing.
The Superior Imam
shaded his eyes. Despite wearing aviator sunglasses, the glare made
his eyes water. He studied the vehicle and smiled. “My nephew has
returned. Let us hope he brings good news.”
The truck parked in the
shade of a mesquite tree. It had not stopped rolling before Sati
Bashara jumped out and trotted over to his uncle. Sweat matted the
khaki cotton shirt to his chest. Touching fist to breast, he bowed
from the waist. His uncle lifted his chin with a finger and motioned
for him to stand.
“My sister’s son is
a respectful man,” he said, patting his nephew’s cheek. “What
news, Sati? Did Paco recover our stolen slaves?”
“Uncle, Paco met
disaster. His men are all dead and their vehicles destroyed. Paco
himself lives. We found him gravely wounded and I feared that he
would not survive the trip back, but he did and is with the doctors
Superior Imam said. “All of them? And their vehicles destroyed?
This is a severe blow. Go, refresh yourself and put on clean clothes.
We will discuss this matter in two hours, after prayers.”
“But Uncle, I believe
I know who did this!” Sati said.
The Emir laid a hand
upon his nephew’s shoulder and looked him in the eyes. “I do not
want you to miss any details, Sati. This is of utmost importance. We
must discover all that you know and decide what actions to take.
These are grave matters and should be dealt with after Asr. Now, go.”
As Sati drove away, the
Emir turned to his companions. “Muhsin, I believe it is your turn?”
Light flooded the room
through sheer window covers. With no air-conditioning, the Arizona
sun could heat a room to dangerous temperatures. The great room on
the ground floor of the Emir’s villa was no exception. On a normal
afternoon, heavy cloth drapes kept the room in deep darkness, as cool
as possible. But for important meetings, the Emir preferred its
bright natural light to the cooler basement rooms, where the
primitive lighting necessary underground gave him a headache.
Seven people sat at a
large, round wooden table. Besides Sati Bashara and the Emir of New
Khorasan, Superior Imam Abdul-Qudoos el Mofty, the Five Counselors
were also present. These men were his advisors and lieutenants, the
Emirate’s Ruling Council. In theory, they carried out his commands
and helped him rule the Caliphate’s western province. In practice,
he suspected at least two spied for his brother, the Caliph. They all
wore well-woven white cotton robes over duck cloth pants.
In a far dark corner
sat another man, shadowed and silent. He was always there in the
background, watching, listening, but never speaking. Few men knew his
title and only one man knew his name.
Emir said to open the meeting, “as some of you know, my nephew
brings dire news about those we sent to retrieve a group of stolen
female slaves. Sati, please tell us what you found.”
The younger man stood
and bowed to each of his six tablemates in turn, ending with his
uncle. “My news is not good, blessed Superior Imam.”
His uncle raised a
hand. “We know you are a respectful man, Sati, but here you may
dispense with such things and get on with our business. You are among
friends and, I should say, admirers, and may speak freely.”
“As you wish, Uncle.
We found Paco near a steep ridgeline far to the northwest. His men
were all dead. Some terrible weapon destroyed them. Many had arms or
legs ripped from their bodies, and some had no heads. Huge holes
punctured the vehicles, like bullet holes, only larger, and the metal
around the holes was smooth, as though melted. The damage appeared to
be from heavy machine guns.
“Two of the vehicles,
large trucks, apparently tried to escape but were blown up.
Completely destroyed. This could only have been from explosives of
some type. My guess would be missiles. We found no survivors other
than Paco, and while he was alive when we arrived here, the doctor
says he may yet die. He has many wounds and lost much blood before we
found him, and there is always the danger of infection.”
“Were Paco’s wounds
in the front, Sati?” said the Emir. “Was he facing his enemy?”
“His wounds were
severe, Uncle. Dried blood covered his body. I could not tell where
the bullets struck him.”
“Come now, Nephew.
You are an experienced soldier. You must have an opinion on this.”
“Answer my question,
Sati. Paco has been a good and faithful servant since he accepted the
true faith, but if he fled the enemy, then he has shown weakness in
his belief of our beloved New Prophet.”
Bashara bowed his head.
“If I must answer, my guess is that Paco was struck in the back.
But there may be an explanation. When we found him, Paco was awake.
At first I thought him delirious, for he described being attacked by
what he called giant flying monsters. But these monsters were
familiar to him through stories told by his grandmother. She told him
such creatures had often attacked their village, in the time before
Allah’s Punishment of the Great Satan and the rise of his New
Prophet. She named these monsters helicopteros.”
Emir said, sitting forward and leaning on his elbows. The tips of his
index fingers met in a steepling gesture and he rubbed his lips with
What is more, Paco said these helicopters had markings. One was a
white five-pointed star, and the other was letters. He cannot read so
he drew them for me in the dirt. They spelled U.S. Army.”
Ibrahim Yaseen, Counselor of Production and one of the men the Emir
suspected of being a spy for the Caliph. “There has been no U.S.
Army for decades. The man is mad from his injuries.”
Bashara said, “I do not say he is correct. I merely report to you
what he said. And yet… Paco took twenty-five trucks and cars with
him, and more than one hundred eighty armed men. With my own eyes I
witnessed the fact of their destruction, and I can say with certainty
that something very powerful destroyed them. What that was I cannot
say, but Paco had never seen a helicopter before, and does not know
that we have any, so it seems unlikely he could imagine such a
“He knew of them from
his grandmother,” Yaseen said. “You said so yourself. Is it so
unreasonable that in his pain those nightmares came back to him? To
me this makes much more sense than to believe the army of our mortal
foe has come back to life and is attacking us with helicopters!”
There were grumbles of
approval from several others, until the Emir motioned them to silence
with a curt hand chop. “My nephew does not lie,” he said, almost
Yaseen touched his
forehead to the table. “No, Beloved Prince and Superior Imam, he
does not. If I gave offense, then please forgive an old man. I meant
only that we cannot blindly trust the words of a superstitious man
who has lain gravely wounded in the sun. Sati is blessed of Allah,
and shines like a star in the eye of the New Prophet.”
“I took no offense,
good counselor,” said Bashara. “But if it is proof you wish, then
perhaps I have it. The place where we found Paco and his vehicles was
beside a sheer-sided ridgeline. Jutting from the side of this wall of
stone was a flat platform two hundred feet above the desert. This was
not a natural formation, but had been carved and smoothed at some
time in the past. To accomplish this would have taken many men and
many months, but with large machines it could have been done quickly.
There was also a long ramp leading to this platform, wide, straight,
and smooth, made of crushed stone. It is my guess that the army of
the United States constructed it long ago, although to what purpose I
“Go on,” the Emir
Bashara sipped water
and cleared his throat. “Atop this platform we found more of our
brave warriors, most of them dead with the same terrible wounds found
on the others, but not all. Some had gunshot wounds any at this table
would recognize. The others… my lords, my words are not sufficient
to convey what these men looked like. They had been thrown aside like
a child’s toy, and many had been struck on their left side.
Remember, this platform is two hundred feet high. As our men went up
the ramp, this would have meant that on their left was nothing but
empty air. Whatever shot them, and they were shot with a very large
gun, whatever it was came from something in the air. If that was not
a helicopter, then I do not know what it could have been.
“Further back on the
platform was a low wall of rocks, and behind it we found hundreds of
shell casings. M16 shell casings.” Reaching into his pocket, Sati
dropped a few of the empty casings onto the table.
“Many people use the
M16,” Muhdin said. “That proves nothing.”
said. “But there is more. Three trucks were on the platform, the
two stolen along with our workers and a third we did not recognize.
All had been burned. However, the third one still had markings we
could read on the door. Although faded and old, the letters
definitely spelled U.S. Army.”
“Bah!” Yaseen said.
“This is pointless. There is no United States Army, and there has
not been for more than forty years!”
waited until the murmuring around the table died down. His uncle did
nothing to quiet his counselors. If he was ever to become a great
leader, Bashara had to earn his own respect. Inspecting the faces of
the Counselors for indications of their thoughts, Bashara didn’t
break contact whenever one of them looked him in the eye. Finally,
when he judged the moment right, he spoke again in a louder voice.
“There is a little
more evidence my lords might wish to see,” he said. “Although the
trucks were burned, we did find a few items that survived the fire.
The first was this…”
He tossed a half-burned
sheet of paper onto the table. Much of the typed message had faded to
invisibility, but the addressee was still legible, as was the
letterhead. Dated nearly fifty years before, it was a sheet of
stationary from the office of the commanding general, 1st
Infantry Division, United States Army, addressed to a Major Dennis
Next, Bashara emptied
the contents of a canvas sack onto the table. Sifting through a pile
of items, he hefted a faded green jacket with the outline of the name
Tompkins on the left breast, and a square American flag stitched onto
Yaseen said nothing,
nor did any of the others. They stared at the foreign objects as if
Bashara had emptied a sidewinder onto the table. Nothing symbolized
their hatred of infidels more than the American flag.
“My friends,” the
Emir said, “what we see cannot be, and yet it is. Sati, we struggle
to explain this. Have you any thoughts about how the impossible might
“I do, Uncle,” he
said. “And the explanation may not be as shocking as you think. In
my times scouting in the desert, I have come across a band of
criminals with whom we have sometimes done business. You know them as
the Army of the Republic of Arizona. They claim to be successors of
the Army of the United States, and are based in a small city
northwest of the place infidels once called Phoenix. I believe their
town is called Prescott.”
“Ah, yes, those
people… aren’t they led by a man who claims to be an American
“A General Patton,
yes,” Bashara said.
The Emir smiled.
“General Patton was a famous American general during the second
great war. Either this man has a sense of humor, or those who follow
him are stupid…”
“They are infidels,”
Yaseen said. “Of course they are stupid.”
“Infidels are foolish
to deny the word of Allah,” the Emir said in a condescending tone.
“But some are quite clever in their own way. Stupid and foolish are
not one and the same, Yaseen. And they can be dangerous. If they
attacked Paco, this means they feel powerful enough to challenge us.
It is a declaration of war. We know very little about them, but we
cannot be certain they are equally ignorant about us. ‘The wise man
overestimates the power of evil and guards himself accordingly.’
Surely you do not disagree with the New Prophet?”
“No,” Yaseen said,
outmaneuvered. “All blessings be upon him. But why are we so
certain it was them who attacked Paco? It makes no sense. If they
wanted to attack us, why steal a few females? And then why use their
most powerful weapons to destroy a relatively insignificant force
sent in pursuit? It is madness. If they truly mean to fight us, all
they have done is give us warning of their helicopters, so that we
may take countermeasures.”
Bashara started to
respond but his uncle stopped him with a raised hand. “Yaseen makes
a good point. You have had dealings with these criminals, have you
“Only in passing,
Uncle. They rarely move east or south of Phoenix. I have met one of
their commanders, a lower ranking man, I believe. He bears the
uncouth name Slick. He was not impressive, but he was with other
soldiers, and they drove Humvees. They bore American M16 rifles and
they wore American uniforms, like this.” He held up the jacket. “It
is my understanding they grow much food, and cotton for cloth, and
trade slaves for fuel with others as far west as the Pacific coast. I
cannot say why they would attack us now, but I am convinced that is
Emir said, “it is obvious my nephew believes what he says is true.
It is also obvious that if these infidels are leftovers from the
American military, they feel strong enough to attack us now. Since
they have not done so in the past, something must have changed. The
loss of Paco’s men and their vehicles is not a crippling blow —
we are very powerful, after all — but it is worrisome. It is also
insulting to us as Followers of the New Prophet. Either they have
grown strong and confident, or they believe we are weak. Or they are
not to blame for this.”
“Uncle, I know what
Paco told us he saw. He was not lying.”
“I believe you, Sati,
but Paco is not a learned man.” He looked at his Counselors, who
all nodded agreement. “And yet, for such a man to imagine seeing
letters spelling out U.S. Army, and a white five-pointed star,
on a machine he did not know existed, is impossible. Do you not
agree, my trusted friends?”
Even Yaseen had no
choice but to agree.
“Then if these
infidels deliberately attacked members of my Emirate, who were
carrying out the will of our New Prophet, we must consider them as
now our sworn enemy. The might of the Western Province must be
gathered and sent against them.”
“What of their
helicopters?” Muhdin said.
“As you each know,
when this was the American city called Tucson, there were stores of
United States military weapons here. Do not forget the weapon the
Americans named Stingers. Those shoulder-fired anti-aircraft
rockets can destroy any helicopter, and we have them.”
“Yes, my lord, we do,
but should we not have the same concern for these Stingers as we do
for all of the older military equipment?”
“Muhdin, do you not
think we will have alternate plans in case the rockets fail? Do you
not believe in my leadership? Where is this timidity coming from?”
Muhdin leaned forward
until his forehead touched the table. “I meant no insult, my
prince. Your vision and leadership are an inspiration for followers
of the New Prophet everywhere. If I am cautious, it is because we
have so little information on our enemy.”
“Lift your head,
Muhdin,” he said. “Your loyalty is not in question. You are my
most trusted general.” His tone, however, indicated Muhdin’s
loyalty was very much in question. “We must be aggressive, yes, but
we must also be cautious. And we will. I want scouts sent forward to
find out everything we can about these infidels. I want routes
searched and water sources found. Avoid the city of Phoenix. If we
move west, it will be with a great host and preparations must be
complete within two weeks. Yaseen, I charge you with accomplishing
“Two weeks?” Yaseen
said. “My lord, it will take more than two weeks for the scouts to
“Four weeks, then.
Let us be prepared. I want to take every man we can spare, and every
vehicle. Whether or not these infidels are responsible for the attack
on Paco, the time has come for this province to move west, and to
bring the truth of the New Prophet to those unfortunates who have not
heard his word. We are not yet ready to seize Phoenix, but this city
of Prescott will give us a western presence until we can. We must do
this for our own security, if for nothing else.”
“I will do my best,”
“I want this
accomplished, Yaseen. This is my will.”
The call for Sixth
Prayers ended the meeting. After his nephew and Counselors filed out,
he admired how the sun turned the desert red-orange as it sank in the
west. Minutes passed and shadows deepened in the corners of the large
room. The temperature cooled. The Emir drank some water and sat.
The silent figure
wrapped in the shadows of one corner had not spoken or moved during
the meeting. He was old. Even as a young man, he had been small in
stature, and age had shrunk him to little more than a bent dwarf. He
seldom spoke. No one on the council knew his identity, and none ever
everything,” the Emir finally said, slipping into the vernacular of
Richard Lee Armstrong. “I want your opinion.”
“Everyone has an
opinion,” the old man said. His raspy voice scratched out the
words. “That doesn’t mean they should be heard, or that their
opinion is valid.”
“Don’t be a
smartass. I didn’t ask someone else for their opinion; I asked you.
Are you saying your opinion isn’t valid?”
For a long moment, the
old man did not answer. His back ached from sitting in one place for
so long, so he sat and stretched.
“Don’t be a
dickhead. My opinion’s as valid as it ever was. But why are you
asking me this shit? I think you know what to do. You have two
choices. Clearly, the authority of the Caliphate itself has been
challenged, and by extension the worthiness of Allah’s New Prophet
and his message. You can’t let that go unanswered or this whole
thing unravels. The big question is, who did it? And I think you
nailed that one. It has to be a remnant of the old American Army. It
can’t be anything else.”
“Okay, let’s say
you’re right,” the Emir said. “Why would they do such a stupid
thing? Surely they must know we’ll come after them.”
“They think you are
weak, Gift of Allah.”
The Emir pointed a
finger at him. “I’ve told you before about your smart mouth.”
“So fucking shoot me.
I’m too old to care any more. They don’t fear the Caliphate and
believe they’re strong enough to challenge you, probably as a
prelude for moving into Phoenix.”
“You said that I had
two choices. Let’s assume what you say is true. What do you
recommend I do?”
“Two paths split the
road, but I don’t see where you’ve got a choice. You must either
do nothing, which would be monumentally stupid, or you must move
against them with every man and vehicle you can muster. You must use
overwhelming force to crush your enemies, to drive them before you
and listen to the wailing of their women.”
“You quote our
“I quote myself. I
wrote that whole stanza for him. Some blood and fire now will mean
less war in the coming years.”
“War is good. It is
the nature of Man to fight,” the Emir said. “Did not the Most
Blessed New Prophet also say that?”
“Stop it, Richard.
I’m getting tired of having you repeat my words back to me.”
“I’ve told you
never to call me that.”
“Like I said, shoot
“I might just do
“Good. Put me out of
my misery. It’s hot as hell and every muscle in my body hurts…
but assuming you don’t, you have to crush these people. You can’t
let this go unchallenged, but that doesn’t mean you have to be
reckless. Take some time to prepare for war, to manufacture weapons
and train soldiers and gather stores of food. One should only attack
when one is either ready to strike a first, decisive blow, or when
one has been provoked and has no choice. Since we don’t have the
first option, we must settle for the second. But remember what
America’s last great general said about that… if you attack,
attack to destroy.”
Hands behind his back,
the Emir paced the room. It had grown dimmer as the sun set, but he
did not call for lamps or candles. “So I have no choice but to
attack, unless I wish to be seen as a coward?”
“I can’t control
circumstances, but that’s how I see it.”
“Can’t you? I
wonder. All right, go. Get some dinner. Shall I send up a girl?”
The old man half stood,
half fell out of his chair and slumped off down a dark hallway. The
Emir watched him go, as though if he stared hard enough at the old
man’s back, he might be able to read his thoughts. For his part,
once enveloped in the friendly embrace of darkness, the old man shook
not fled, I am not done,
Don’t burn me on your pyre;
I do not
fear the rising sun,
And my rage will not expire.
Fragment from anonymous Viking saga, circa 900 A.D.
hours, June 30
Joe Randall rubbed his
eyes and yawned. He was still on restricted duty because of his neck
injury. Not being one of the on-call air support crews for the day’s
lurps, he could have slept as long as he wanted. And Randall loved to
But it was impossible
with all the noise in the hallway outside his quarters. Unable to go
back to sleep, he slipped on his flight boots and stumbled off
looking for coffee.
While waiting his turn
at the coffee urn, Alisa Plotz and Andy Arnold slid in behind him,
dressed for action. Alisa was his wingman, although they had not seen
each other since the attack more than a week before.
“Damn, Joe, you look
worse than usual,” she said.