Heads up muchachos, here’s a surprise for y’all. Feast your eyes on this: a sneak preview of a chapter from the upcoming sequel to Alea Jacta Est! The book will be called Sic Semper Tyrannis and I’m aiming for publication in early 2015 (I know, I know, you really liked The Sequel as it’s title, but I wanted to stick with the Latin theme…). I’m not going to tell you everything, but I can tell you that Erik, Ted and the gang will face their toughest challenges yet. As is evidenced in part, below. Enjoy!
Sic Semper Tyrannis
MAJOR ALEKSEI STROGOLEV FROWNED as he surveyed the chaos in front of him. “These people are insane. It defies all logic!” Another bullet ricocheted off the armored side of his BTR.
It was looking more and more like his little adventure to the north had been a bad idea after all. Stroglev rolled his eyes. He would never hear the end of it from Stepanovich, now.
“Why are they still shooting at us?” asked one of the other vehicle commanders.
“I don’t know,” replied Strogolev. “But you are ordered to hold your fire. We will show nekulturny cowboys that we are not here to fight. Remember, our mission is to reconnoiter the area and render aid and medical support to civilians where needed—I will try to diffuse the situation. Let’s take up defensive formation, just like in the last town. Everyone sit tight.”
“Major Strogolev! I have a man down—repeat, one of my men has just been killed by a sniper!”
“**** it! I gave orders that no personnel were to be outside their vehicles!” roared Strogolev.
“Four, you’ve got civilians attaching something to your—”
The warning got cut-off as an explosion rocked the convoy. Strogolev watched in horror as one of the bright blue triangles on his GPS-screen winked out. According to his computer, he just lost one of his BTRs—along with the 12 men inside.
“Command, this is Two—they placed a bomb on the side of Four!”
“Permission to return fire!” begged another vehicle commander.
This was quickly getting out of hand. Strogolev scanned his bank of monitors and watched as dozens of Americans appeared around the corners of buildings to cheer. A hail of rounds began to bounce off the thick armored-skin of his BTR. The Americans had signed their own death-warrant. So be it. Random pot-shots were one thing, IEDs were quite another.
“Civilian or not, all units, return fire! Repeat, fire-at-will!” he ordered.
Strogolev felt his own massive vehicle rock back when the main gun went off. He grinned as he watched the corner of a gas station disintegrate in a hail of brick and rubble. The commander watched as a few men staggered from the rubble and tried to escape. Buildings to the left and right started to crumple under the assault of his little task force.
Strogolev’s gunner next shot targeted the gas pumps. The resulting dramatic explosion caused all sorts of whooping over the radio net.
“They’re retreating!” called out his lieutenant in the other BTR. “Permission to pursue!”
“Granted,” replied Strogolev without hesitation. “But remain within our defensive network.”
“Da, Comrade Major.”
Strogolev watched on the BTR’s computer screens as three vehicles separated from the main column and raced to the north and west. Their tracer rounds lit up the twilight conditions like lasers. Hey keyed the mic attached to his helmet and spoke: “The rest of you, follow my lead. We head north. We will make camp on the outskirts of this…town.”
As the command vehicle rumbled past a sign thanking them for visiting “Florida’s Friendliest Hometown”, Strogolev frowned. Yup. He would never hear the end of this from Captain Stepanovich. The little expedition north had met with nothing but resistance. Despite a few casualties and the embarrassment of having to fight skirmishes with civilians he had been ordered to help, Strogolev was now more determined than ever to push forward.
Just before sunset the previous day, he had stood on the top of his BTR and trained his field glasses north along the Atlantic Coast. In the far distance, just peaking over the horizon, he had seen his target: the great white Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center. It was only a day away.
Another bullet deflected off the BTR’s heavy armor, making a curious, high-pitched whine.
“Taking fire on the left flank,” warned the voice of another vehicle commander.
Strogolev shook his head in amazement of the stubborn, misguided Americans. “Return fire as needed—remember, we are here to help these fools.”
“As you command, Major Strogolev.”
“I want all troops to remain in their transports,” added Strogolev. “No more casualties. We are within spitting distance of our objective and we will not be turned back by this rabble.”
ERIK HAD PULLED THE SHORT straw and sat half-way up the launch tower, his back to the cool steel framework. His long legs stretched out pleasantly in front of him, he casually surveyed the coastline to the north. Every now and then he could hear a comment from Pinner or Ted as the two men scavenged for anything at all useful down in the Visitor Center.
HQ had radioed that Ted was to set up his outpost at the Visitor Center for the time being and await further instructions. They were to monitor their surveillance equipment, report anything unusual and keep a wary eye out for the Russians that were rumored to be in the area.
Erik grunted. Rumors. It was always rumors. First it had been rumors of the White Hand people back in Sarasota. Then there were rumors of the Brotherhood, moving south out of Tampa. Then there were the rumors of the President’s death—he had been assassinated; nope, he had simply had a heart-attack from working too hard; no, the White House had been nuked by the Russians…
Erik swung his large binoculars around to the south and scoured the coastline. If the rumors were correct, the Russians were trying to make a run up the coast and—
Erik tensed as he focused the binoculars on the black plume of smoke that rose in the distance like a withered finger, pointing at the sky. He quickly pulled out the map from his backpack. His finger traced a the roads heading south from KSC and stopped at the first town. The northern tip of Cocoa. Pretty much the only thing in that part of Merritt Island.
He grabbed his radio and keyed it with fingers that suddenly were trembling. “Ted! We got trouble!”
A few tense heartbeats later, Ted’s voice broke squelch: “What’d I tell you about names?”
Erik cursed under his breath before taking a calming breath. “Got it—but look, we got smoke south of us. Check the feed.”
He picked up his binoculars again while he waited for the inevitable confirmation. It wasn’t too long before Pinner’s voice called out, “He’s right, sir—I got a pretty good plume due south of us.”
“Location and distance?” asked Ted.
“I think it’s Cocoa, or at least a subdivision on the north side,” said Erik. He watched as the camera equipment he had helped install on the side of the launch tower slewed to its new target, electric motors whirring.
“I agree,” added Pinner.
“Too close for comfort. All right, let’s regroup. Everybody bring it in.”
“Roger that,” replied Pinner.
“On my way,” said Erik as he hastily repacked his gear, keeping a wary eye on the smoke in the distance. He couldn’t be completely sure, but it looked like it was getting larger. He took one last look with the binoculars.
“Hey,” he said into the radio. “There’s a second fire now. Whatever is going on, it’s spreading.”
“Understood—can you tell if it’s in the same area or closer to us?”
Erik put the binoculars back in his pack. “Negative. Looks about as far away as the first one.”
“Roger that. Get down here. We’re gonna go check it out.”
MAJOR STROGOLEV TURNED IN a circle and examined the battlefield. He grunted. Battlefield. The word had all sorts of evil connotations, but never more so when applied to what he was looking at, now. There were no real enemy combatants, just the bodies of wounded and dead Americans who had decided to attack his convoy. They had ignored the red cross symbols painted on the sides of half the BTRs in the group. They had hidden around corners and used drug stores, gas stations, even a pre-school—thank God it had been deserted—as cover to snipe at his men.
And they had manged to completely disable a state of the art armored personnel carrier with nothing more than an improvised explosive device. He shook his head. Until now, he had thought IEDs were something one only encountered in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The thick black smoke drifting up into the windless sky from the dead BTR made a parallel line with the smoke from the gas station. The ugly black smears stood out vividly against the brilliant blue dome of the sky. He tilted his head back and took in a deep breath, inhaling the salty air as he plotted his next move.
Clearly the Americans could not be approached in an official capacity. He had been ordered to bring food, water, and medicine to the people still along the coast. They were rumored to be near the point of starvation, since the major lines of commerce and transportation had shut down months ago. No one—it had been reported—had seen fresh food in these parts since the beginning of the summer. Months without fresh food and water.
No wonder they act like animals. They’re half-starved and probably sick.
He knelt and picked up a piece of debris from the destroyed BTR and examined the charred, twisted piece of metal. He dropped it back into the pile at his feet and sighed. They have forced my hand and begun hostilities. They leave me little choice but to respond in kind in order to achieve my objectives.
Decision made, he stood up and dusted off his uniform. “Yuri,” he said over his shoulder.
“Yes, Major?” asked his temporary lieutenant.
“Recall the scouts and send them north. We’re going to push through whatever resistance we encounter. I want combat formations, main weapons ready-to-fire.”
“Yes, sir!” barked the junior officer. He began speaking into a microphone and issuing orders to the convoy.
Strogolev looked to the north. Cape Canaveral beckoned to him.
I should turn around and regroup with Stepanovich. Now that the Americans have decided to attack us, it will only escalate. A small, stubborn voice replied in his mind, But we’re so close to Kennedy…I can’t turn back now.
An idea occurred to him. Strogolev walked over to the crew hatch and reached inside for a local map, looted from one of the deserted beach-shops at their landing site. He unfolded the crinkly paper and spread out the map on the side of the BTR.
“Orders acknowledged, Major. We are ready to roll,” said his lieutenant.
“Very good,” mumbled Strogolev. He traced a finger along the road his convoy was traveling. It lead straight north along the coast, to Port Canaveral and into the the Kennedy Space Center proper. He examined the strategic position of KSC in relation to the rest of the state. It was a little more than halfway up the Atlantic coast.
His gaze settled on Miami—the initial beachhead of the Russian-Cuban forces. The great metropolis had crumpled in hours, giving itself to it’s new masters with reckless abandon. From there, he had rolled north with his commander, Colonel Doskoy, unopposed into Fort Lauderdale. The entire souther third of the state had been in Russian/Cuban hands in less than a week. Those that opposed their arrival had fled before their advance, leaving only supporters, the invalid, aged, or prisoners behind.
And there had been peace. After a few little flare-ups in small towns like the one he was traveling through at the moment, the citizens of Florida had come to accept their Russian and Cuban “liberators”. They readily took the food and medicine offered by Strogolev’s forces and had even been polite about it.
He pulled out a pencil and drew a rough line across the state—that was where the American home-guard had established itself as a deterrent to further expansion of what the American’s had started calling the Occupied Zone. The pencil traced from Tampa on the west coast to Orlando, and then stopped at Cocoa Beach. He moved the pencil north and circled the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral.
“If we take The Cape, we break their line and turn their flank.” His frown deepened. “And if they want a war, we’ll give them one.”
YOU SURE THIS IS a good idea?” asked Erik. He crouched low by the corner of a pastel colored building on the southern border of Port Canaveral.
“Absolutely not,” was the tense reply over his headset.
Erik grinned and shook his head. “I don’t see anything from my position.”
“Negative visual,” replied Pinner’s deep voice from three blocks away.
“Keep watching,” ordered Ted. He was about a block away from Erik, holding down the middle of their very thin line. All around them, the local citizens were gathering to assault the approaching Russian convoy.
Erik heard footsteps behind him and turned to see a teenager approach, carrying a bolt action rifle complete with a large scope. “You one of the army guys?” he asked, voice cracking.
Erik grinned. “For now. Who you with?”
“35th Volunteers. Jacksonville. This is my first chance at the Commies…” Beads of sweat trickled down the younger man’s forehead as he gripped his rifle with white knuckles. He leaned around the house. “Seen any yet?”
“Nope,” said Erik. He leaned back against the wall. “But listen closely…” He held up a finger to his lips and closed his eyes. “You can hear their APCs…low rumbling sound.”
The young man closed his eyes and grew still. After a moment he opened his eyes wide. “By God, you can!” He took a nervous glance again around the corner of the building. “I can’t see ‘em, where they at?”
“We got a location on the convoy?” asked Erik.
“Best guess about one mile out. You got any reinforcements yet?”
“Yes, sir,” said Erik, sizing up the nervous teenager next to him. “They’re a little skittish.”
Pinner’s laugh sounded tinny but heartfelt. “You should have seen the way you looked a month ago…sir.”
A rifle shot echoed in the distance. The boy next to Erik flinched and nearly dropped his rifle.
“Cut the chatter—let’s keep the net open. I think Ivan just got here. You all know your orders…good hunting!”
“See you after,” said Erik. He looked up at the clear blue sky and prayed silently for strength, good aim, and solid cover. Then asked God to get him out of this mess as quickly as possible.
“Oka hey,” replied Pinner’s voice.
A loud boom rolled through the air towards them from the south, sending birds darting into the sky from nearby trees.
“Is that t-them?” asked the boy.
“Yes,” said Erik. He gently put a hand on the teenager’s arm and pull the rifle down to a usable position. “Take it easy, man. You got a nice sniper rifle there. Let’s set up on the roof of this building, here. Get you behind an air conditioner unit or something where they’ll never see you.”
The youth blinked through the sweat dripping down his face and grinned. Courage seemed to flow back into him. “Yeah…” he cleared his throat. “Yeah, sounds good, man. Let’s do it.”
Erik led the way around the back of the building and up the fire escape ladder to the roof, his newfound partner close on his heels. In the distance, the sound of a stiffening firefight crackled and echoed all around them. There were short bursts from what to Erik’s ear like M-4s or ARs, followed by some sharper rat-tat-tat-tats that had to AKs. Every now and then a single loud crash—he figured that had to be the heavy weapons on the vehicles—would silence everything for a moment.
When they were safely ensconced behind an air conditioner, hidden in shadows with a clear line of fire down the wide four lane road that would lead the Russians right to them, Erik clapped his partner on the back and said, “Okay, we’re all set. I’m going to lay down here and take a nap. Wake me when the Russians show up.”
The teenager’s eyes looked ready to pop out of his head. “W-what?”
Erik flashed a grin through his beard, red as the hair on his head. “Just kidding, man. I’ll be right here on the other side of this air conditioner. I’ll call out the shots and you start poppin’, okay? You got a longer range with that thing than I do with this.” He held up his government issue M-4.
“Yeah, sure,” said the kid.
Erik settled himself and pulled out his binoculars. He scanned to the south, looking for movement that would give away the location of the firefight. There was smoke starting to roll up into the sky to the southwest. Another plume suddenly emerged, a little closer. A tremendous noise, louder than a clap of thunder suddenly hit them.
“The hell was that?” asked the teenager. He adjusted the grip on his rifle and peeked through the scope again.
Erik checked the focus on his binoculars. “Explosion…looks almost due south of us. Either we took out one of their vehicles or they just blew up something big.”
“Stay frosty, boys,” advised Ted’s voice. “Just got word from a runner that the Russians have breached the line. They’re still rolling north. Should be in sight any minute. Weapons free!”
“Hooah,” replied Pinner’s voice.
“Roger that,” said Erik. He relayed the message to his partner. The teenager wiped sweat from his brow and swallowed audibly.
“Hey,” he said. “You ever kill someone?”
Erik didn’t lower his binoculars. “Yeah, a few.” He watched a palm tree to the south, it’s top sticking up over a flat topped building, swaying back and forth. The tree toppled over. “Have you?”
Erik pulled back from the binoculars. “How old are you?” he asked.
“I’m almost 16. My birthday’s another month away.”
Jesus. Is that all we have left? Kids? Erik turned his attention back to the south. He saw movement and raised the binoculars. Bingo.
“I got visual!” Erik reported into his radio. “I see three BTRs, a couple transports…”
“Oh ****, there they are,” said the teenager. “Look at ‘em all!”
“Roger that, we’re moving to secondary positions,” replied Pinner’s voice.
“Stay on, ‘em!” said Ted. “I’m shifting the milita to hit them on their left flank. Lot more than I expected…”
“What do I do?” squeaked Erik’s sniper.
“Look through your scope there, line up the cross hairs on a target, squeeze the trigger. Easy.” Erik rolled his eyes at the young man’s nervousness. “Okay—this helped with me. Pretend it’s a video game.”
“A video game? Those are real Russians down there!”
“Trust me—this is just like Modern Combat, you ever play that?”
“Hell yeah, I was head of my clan before the power went out. I sure miss that game.”
“Well, there you go—pretend it’s just another mission in the game. Now hurry up before they get too close!”
“Viking,” called out Ted’s voice. “See that third APC?”
Erik adjusted his binoculars. “Roger that, Bulldog.”
A plume of white smoke shout out of the trees that lined the street. Erik caught a glimpse of a flash of light and then so a brilliant explosion consume the front half of the third Russian APC. The lead vehicles peeled out to the left and right trying to go into evasive action. Another missile shot out between two buildings on the other side of the road, narrowly missing the weaving armored vehicles. A building absorbed the missile with a cloud of smoke and fire.
“Got one!” yelled Ted.
“Nice shooting!” said Pinner.
“Uh,” Erik said, “They’re not stopping…”
“I see it, I see it!” replied Ted’s voice. The gunfire continued unabated but was now accompanied by the thunderous blasts from the Russian heavy vehicles.
“There’s so many of them!” Erik’s partner wailed. A bullet ricocheted off the air conditioner next to the young man and he cringed, nearly dropping his rifle.
“Hey, calm down, it was just a lucky—” Erik ducked when another round impacted the rooftop nearby. “Okay, maybe they spotted us.” Three more rounds kicked up pebbles and bits of masonry. “Yeah, they definitely spotted us! Come on,” he said, grabbing the kid’s shoulder. “We gotta go—now!”
The boy-sniper jumped up and scrambled for the emergency ladder.
“Hey, don’t forget your rifle!”
Erik sighed. It was no use—the kid had already scaled the side and was on the ground by the time Erik snatched up the long gun. “Viking is on the move—we’re compromised. Got a Russian patrol closing on our location!”
“Get out of there man! They’re running over all of us. Looks like the militia is falling back, too.”
“Roger that!” Erik said as he got himself over the edge of the roof in a shower of incoming rounds. When he had his feet safely on the ground he immediately took off running north, for the safety of the treeline behind his building. Without warning, he saw everthing go white and was thrown through the air.
When he was able to kick-start his lungs again and suck down enough air to cough, he did so and rolled over onto his back, feeling the pebbles and debris roll off his body in the process. He raised a shaky hand and shielded his sensitive eyes as he looked at the remains of the building he had occupied just moments before it had been destroyed.
“Jesus,” he coughed. “That was close.”
“Viking! Viking, come in! You still there?” shrieked Ted’s voice over the radio, now some ten feet away in the dirt.
Erik struggled to his hands and knees, still shaky from the effects of…whatever the hell had destroyed his sniper position. He eventually made his way through the abandoned lot to his radio. He slumped down on his back again, gasping for breath.
“Yeah,” he said. After another cough to clear his lungs of dust, he wiped the grime fro his forehead and brought the radio to his lips again. “Viking’s here. The hell was that?”
“Hell if I know…looked like a missile came out of the blue. I didn’t see it launch.”
“I think Ivan’s got himself a drone, sir,” said Pinner’s voice. It sounded like he was running.
“Christ. All right—fall back to the bridge. We gotta get north of them and cut off their access to the rest of the island. Let’s haul the mail, boys!”
“Hooah,” replied Pinner’s deep voice. “I’m almost there.”
Erik coughed again and got to his feet. “I’m on the move.” As he turned to begin his run north, he saw a glint in the sky to the south.
“They do have a drone…” As he watched, a missile was deployed, the white exhaust trail snaking down to the ground on the other side of the ambush area. The ground trembled beneath his feet and a plume of smoke and dust erupted over the treetops to the south. A thunderclap drowned out the sounds of the skirmish. He sprinted north and warned his squad-mates of the drone as he entered the treeline.
The North Courtenay Parkway bridge, just north of A-1A, was the only reasonable access point for the Russians to reach KSC. It was only a few blocks north of the ambush site, but Ted had guessed that the local militia would slow down the invaders just enough for the three soldiers to set a booby-trap.
Erik hoped they had enough time. He sprinted across the McDonald’s parking lot and straight up the middle of Courtenay, relishing the shade as he crossed under A-1A’s overpass. Ted waved at him from the north side of the Courtenay bridge.
“Hurry up, sir,” warned Pinner’s voice in Erik’s ear. “I see some Russian foot-mobiles at the McDonald’s behind you. I think they’re trying to secure the bridge for the rest of the column.”
Erik didn’t bother to reply but put all his energy into getting his ass across the drawbridge. He did his best to ignore the burning in his chest and focus on the hollow sounds he boots made as he galloped across the steel middle section of the two-lane northbound drawbridge. A rifle shot behind him told him that the Russians had a visual.
Go, go, don’t look back, just run! A round exploded one of the windows of the bridge control tower in the middle of the river. Erik ducked the falling glass and ran for his life across the second half of the bridge.
“Just keep moving, man—we’ve got you covered. Light ‘em up, Pinner!”
Erik flinched again as twin rifle shots rang out—this time from in front. Another ricochet sounded behind him, way too close for comfort. He continued his mad dash across the bridge and didn’t stop running until he passed the end of the guardrails on the north shore and collapsed into the first dense little copse of trees.
Pinner leaned out around the largest tree and pulled Erik behind better cover. Then he carefully raised his M4 and fired off another shot. He looked down at Erik and grinned. “I got Viking, Bulldog. Bridge is clear.”
“Good—All right, here goes nothing. I hope these locals know what the hell they’re doing. Blowing the bridge in three, two, one…”
“Open your mouth!” Pinner said as he turned away from the bridge and cupped his ears.
Erik lay on his back and closed his eyes, but he did open his mouth. The next thing he knew, it felt like he was flying. Then he was on his back again and the world was reduced to a high-pitched ringing. He coughed some more and cracked an eye open, looking for Pinner.
The Indian a was on his knees, coughing, but gave him the thumbs-up. A massive cloud of dust was drifting north and billowing up into the sky. It blotted out the afternoon sun brought an early twilight. Erik could see bits of debris falling from the sky all around them, some making large splashes into the calm Canaveral Barge Canal.
“Good Lord,” Erik said, coughing. He rolled over to his hands and knees and tried to get up.
“Well,” said Pinner, leaning against the tree. “I think that shut down the bridge for a while.”
“Ooorah!” roared Ted’s voice of their radios. “These rednecks know how to party! Holy **** that was awesome! I never expected a home-brew to go up like that!”
Erik shook his head to clear his thoughts. Two explosions in one afternoon was enough to send him into shell-shock. He was starting to feel a bit light-headed and his hands were shaking. The last time he’d felt so out of sorts had been in the parking lot back home at the Freehold, when he’d killed the escaped prisoner that had tried to attack Brin and Susan…
He ignored the excited chatter that was going back and forth between Ted and Pinner. His mind was telling him he still wasn’t safe, despite the fact that the Russians milling around on the south back of the canal could do nothing at the moment to reach them other than take pot-shots with their rifles. God I just want to leave…run north with Brin…
Those two little words shot through his spinning mind like lightning and he was suddenly on high-alert.
“Where’s the wheels, Pinner? They got a drone in the air—I spotted it before we beat feet here. We gotta get the hell out of here before that thing takes us out. They’ll be looking for blood, now.” Ted’s voice had a distinct urgency to it.
Pinner’s smile vanished. “I stashed the HumVee over that hill there.” He turned to Erik and helped him to his feet. “Let’s go get the Major.”
As always, if you want to stay informed on the latest book releases (ahem…there’s a new novella coming out later this month!) and get exclusive content, join the Freehold! Sign up for the Freeholder Update today and get all you need to know about future books in your email. Don’t worry, I hate spam as much as you do–you can expect to get 1…maybe 2 emails from me a month. If I have a really good month and release more than two books, well…we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Rest assured you won’t get a bunch of junk mail.