United We Stand: A Post-Apocalyptic Novel of America's Coming Civil War (Ava's Crucible Book 3), page 1
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Technical information in the book is included to convey realism. The author shall not have liability or responsibility to any person or entity with respect to any loss or damage caused, or allegedly caused, directly or indirectly by the information contained in this book.
All of the characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people, places, or events is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2018 Goodwin America Corp.
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I would like to thank my Editor in Chief Catherine Goodwin, as well as the rest of my fantastic editing team, Jeff Markland, Frank Shackleford, Stacey Glemboski, Sherrill Hesler, Paul Davison, and Claudine Allison.
I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished! Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
Ava’s breath steamed out of her mouth like fog in the crisp morning air. She held her AR-15 on the hood of the GMC Sierra, peering through the scope at the people on the opposite side of the Red River. Her green tactical vest filled with extra magazines pressed tightly against the side of the vehicle. Slight flurries of snow melted instantly upon landing on the warm hood of the pickup truck. “It sure doesn’t feel like Christmas.”
“Let’s see what you say after we get Foley back.” Ulysses jerked his prisoner out of the back of the truck.
Heavy steel trusses supported the long, two-lane bridge which crossed over the shallow but extremely wide section of the river. On the other side of the slender roadway was Texas, the place Ava had called home for thirty years. But no longer; her home state had fallen. Oklahoma was where she laid her head at night. It was where she lived with her father and best friend.
If the trade to get Foley back transpired without a hitch, she’d have everyone that mattered to her . . . in Oklahoma. It still wouldn’t be Texas, but it would have to do.
Roughly twenty-five Oklahoma militia members were entrenched along the banks on either side of Ava. They kept their rifles trained on a similar number of communist militants who lined the far side of the river. The Social Justice Legion fighters wore their standardized black hoodies and red armbands, pointing their AK-47s at the patriots positioned on Ava’s flanks. The tension in the midst of this Mexican standoff could not have been more elevated.
Ava took a deep breath to still her anxiety and turned to her father. “You don’t think they’re going to try anything, do you?”
Ulysses tightened the zip ties on Chip’s wrists, then spun duct tape around his mouth. “For Chip’s sake, I sure hope they don’t.” Ulysses patted the backpack on Chip’s shoulders. “He’s got two bricks of shrapnel-coated C-4 strapped to him. Wouldn’t be anything left of him but a smear on the pavement.” Ulysses pulled the detonator out of his pocket and placed it on the hood of the truck. “The catfish in the river below would have a heyday. It’d be like manna from heaven to them.”
Ava knew he was trying to lighten the mood for her, but it wasn’t working. Her heart was heavy. If the exchange went as planned, it would be a first. Nothing ever went as planned. And this time, the stakes were higher than ever before.
For three days, she’d thought Foley was dead. Even though she wasn’t yet married to him, she’d mourned like no widow ever could. Then, when she’d learned that he was alive, hope sprang to life in her innermost being. Yet, at this moment in time, that very same hope hung like the Sword of Damocles above her head, an ominous instrument of destruction, which threatened to destroy her. If the exchange turned sour and Foley died, she’d have to mourn him all over again.
Ava muttered to herself. “Hope is a fickle thing; it has the power of life and death. I don’t think I could survive losing him again.”
Her phone vibrated. She pulled it out of her jacket pocket and read the text aloud. “It’s Raquel. She said to send Chip out now.”
Ulysses shoved the prisoner toward the front of the truck. He said to Ava, “Keep your eye on that scope. I’m not going to let him start walking until they send Foley out.”
Ava closed one eye and looked longingly through the rifle’s optics. Her heart sank when she saw Foley. He was a long way off, but she could see that his face was badly bruised and he needed crutches to walk. She let the rifle rest on the hood of the truck. “Dad, I’ve got to go help him across!”
“No, Ava. I understand that this is emotional for you. It’s emotional for me, too. But we have to be smart. It’s the best thing you can do for Foley.”
Ulysses slapped Chip in the back of the head. “Start walking—nice and slow. Keep that backpack on until we’re gone. Make sure your friends don’t do anything that might make me nervous. That wouldn’t be good for your health.”
Chip nodded and began his lengthy trek over the bridge.
“And thanks for the information. Don’t mention what you told me to your friends and I promise to keep things hush-hush on my end. We both know you’re a coward and only in it for the money, but that can be our little secret.” Ulysses smiled.
The prisoner paused to turn and look at him, his eyes filled with anger and defeat. He nodded in capitulation.
Ava watched while Chip walked away. “Do you honestly think he won’t tell them about all the information he gave up?”
Ulysses shook his head. “He doesn’t want to admit to handing over all of that, even though he knows we’ll use the intelligence. People like Chip are more concerned with their status than the actual outcome of the conflict.”
“If we win, his status will be a war criminal.”
Ulysses nodded. “That’s a real possibility to Chip. But if he fesses up to what he gave me, he may very well be executed by the Markovich regime. Staying quiet about it is his least-bad option.”
Ava studied Foley through her scope. She looked on in anguish, unable to assist the man she loved so much. In the distance, Foley seemed weak, swinging his good leg forward and wincing each time he had to put his weight back on the crutches beneath his arms.
“Come on, come on, come on!” Ava said the words as if they might grant strength and comfort to her returning lover. Of course, it didn’t help. Foley’s progress across the bridge was pained and sluggish, but she just wanted to get him out of harm’s way and back home.
“Please, Foley, try to hurry,” she whispered to herself.
She saw the black-hooded SJL fighters begin to peel off the opposite bank into the shrubbery behind them. “Dad, why are they withdrawing so soon? The exchange hasn’t taken place yet.”
Ava thought she heard a noise in the distant sky. She lifted her rifle to scan above the horizon. “Is that a helicopter coming in from the Texas side?”
Ulysses followed her finger. “Three choppers.” He dropped his field glasses and let them dangle around his neck. Ulysses picked up his radio and called out to the militia members assisting him and Ava with the trade. “This thing is going pear-shaped. Everybody, be ready to engage on my command.”
Ulysses quickly transitioned from the radio to the bullhorn with which he addressed the enemy forces on the other side of the bridge. “I’m going to let you guys in on a couple of little secrets. For one, we’ve got backup forces on your side of the river. Also, your beloved Chip there has two bricks of C-4 in his carry-on luggage. Both are coated in generous layers of lead shot and nails.
“So basically, if we don’t go home, you don’t go home. Whoever your commanding officer is, he needs to tell those choppers to turn around right now. Chip has one minute for the birds to be out of sight or I’ll disperse his fragments evenly between Texas and Oklahoma.”
Chip turned to look at Ulysses with an expression of horror, then turned to begin running toward the Texas side of the bridge.
Ava yelled to Foley who was near the halfway point. “Come on, Foley! Try to hurry!”
Ava’s hope faded into fear, watching Foley struggle just to stay upright on the crutches. “Dad, we have to get him off the bridge. They’re obviously trying to pull a fast one on us.”
Ulysses held the detonator in his hand. “Wait a few more seconds. I’m hoping those choppers are going to turn around.”
Ava looked at the three black objects in the sky getting closer. “I don’t think they believe you about the reinforcements from Byers being behind them. And I’m not sure they really care about Chip. We need to get Foley, and we need to do it now!”
Ulysses held his binoculars up one last time. “They’re not turning. Come on, let’s go. You drive. I’ll ride in the back of the truck and help Foley into the bed. Back up to Foley’s location. That way you can gun it once he’s in the truck.”
Ava already had the driver’s side door open. “Let me hold the detonator. If you get in a firefight while you’re picking up Foley, you won’t be able to get to it. If they shoot at us, I don’t want that piece of garbage getting away.”
Ulysses hesitated but tossed her the detonator before getting in the back of the truck.
Ava started the engine and began slowly backing up toward Foley. She could hear the sound of the helicopters’ rotors slicing the air. The sound grew louder.
Ava was still a few yards away from Foley when she heard the first wave of gunfire coming from the choppers as they flew over and peppered the militia members on the Oklahoma side of the river. She gunned the engine pushing the back bumper to within inches of Foley. “Hurry!” She watched as Ulysses helped him into the back of the truck.
Ulysses yelled over the radio to the militia, “Target the engines of the helicopters. We’ve got no surface to air weapons. It’s our only hope. Everyone shooting 5.56, focus on the hostiles on the ground. Anyone with 7.62 or larger, direct your fire toward the choppers.”
Ava slammed the shifter into gear and stomped the gas pedal. The back tires spun and smoked, propelling the truck forward, toward the Oklahoma side of the bridge. The choppers made another pass overhead, raining down a hail of bullets ahead of their path.
TINK, TINK, PLUNK! Several rounds hit the Sierra when the helicopters passed over. Ava growled with anger at having been double-crossed yet again by Raquel and the Social Justice Legion. “You’re not keeping up your end of the bargain, then neither am I!”
She glanced up at the rearview, first to see if Foley was okay. He was lying down in the back and she could not see him. She could see her father returning fire on the hostiles at the other end of the bridge. She could also make out a team of three people working desperately to get the backpack off of Chip.
“I told you to stay down and leave me alone. You should have listened, Chip.” She held the detonator high in the air to ensure the signal would have the best position for transmission.
Ava glanced up to see the fireball in the rearview, a pillar of smoke reaching toward the sky. The van near where Chip had been standing was charred, missing the windshield, and spattered with soot and singed blood.
Her mind was focused on the task at hand, on getting Foley and her father out of danger. Yet she still noted how different she felt after watching Chip being disintegrated compared to the demonstrator at the stadium. Previously, she’d been frozen in horror at the thought of her own barbarity. This time, however, she found herself fighting back a certain sense of satisfaction. “This is not who I want to be.” She remembered her father’s warnings, that war would change her, and that once that part of her was lost, she could never get it back.
Ulysses banged on the rear window and shouted, “Drive past the guardrails, then turn off-road and head back toward the river. The bridge itself is our only cover from the helicopters.”
Ava huffed, knowing the direction of the river was also the direction of the hostiles on the ground. But her father was right. Outrunning the helicopters couldn’t even be considered. Fighting them from a position of cover was their only hope.
In You, O Lord, I put my trust; Let me never be ashamed; deliver me in Your righteousness. Bow down Your ear to me, deliver me speedily; be my rock of refuge, a fortress of defense to save me. For You are my rock and my fortress; therefore, for Your name’s sake, lead me and guide me. Pull me out of the net which they have secretly laid for me, for You are my strength. Into Your hand I commit my spirit; You have redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.
Ava sped down the dirt path which ran alongside the bridge. At the first section tall enough for the truck to fit under, she parked beneath the cover of the roadway.
Ulysses jumped out of the back. “Help me get Foley under the truck. Choppers could still fly low and spray the truck with gunfire. He’s in no condition to move fast.”
Ava hurried out of the cab and around to the back, complying with her father’s instructions. When she saw Foley’s face, battered and bruised, a knot formed in her throat. But this was not the time for a breakdown. Crying would have to wait, or she might have a whole lot more to cry about.
“Hey!” She forced a smile in an effort to keep his spirits up.
His reply was weak and labored. “Hey, yourself.”
“It’s good to see you.” She clenched her jaw to keep her lip from quivering.
“It’s good to be seen.” He grimaced in pain as Ulysses and Ava hoisted him out of the truck bed and onto the ground.
Once he’d managed to squirm under the truck, she gave his hand a squeeze. “I’ll be right back.”
“Got an extra rifle?” he asked.
“Let us take this one.”
“I can still pull a trigger. Trust me, I’m not going to try and play hero, but a little cover fire might come in handy.”
Ava nodded and removed the strap of her AR-15 from her shoulder. “Here.”
He reached up and took the rifle. “What are you going to shoot?”
“I’ve got an AK in the back seat of the truck. Dad thinks it’ll have a better chance of taking down a chopper anyway.” She pulled the spare AR magazines from her vest and placed them on the ground beside Foley.
Foley nodded and closed his eyes, as if he were saving his strength for an engagement with the enemy.
Ulysses called over the radio, “Get under the bridge! It’s the best cover we have.”
Several of the Oklahoma militia members emerged from the surrounding bushes and charged toward the bridge.
“Ava, look alive. They’re coming around for another pass!” Ulysses took aim at the helicopters coming toward them.
“Roger that! Keep your sights on the choppers. Wait till you can see the pilot’s face to fire.” POW, POW, POW! Ulysses spun around to engage the Social Justice Legion fighters on the opposite bank.
Ava fought the urge to tuck down behind the concrete support and hide until the chopper had passed by. When she could make out the pilot, she opened fire. Ta, Ta, Ta, Ta, Ta! She aimed toward the windshield and the top engine cover.
Ulysses looked up at two large spider-web cracks on the front windshield of the chopper. “Good job. You at least made it hard for them to see.”
The next chopper flew by and the machine gunner unleashed a barrage of fifty-caliber gunfire toward Ava and Ulysses.
“Get down! Get down!” Ulysses ran toward her and pushed her to the ground. Bullets struck inches from her face.
Ava watched the dust being kicked up by the giant lead projectiles striking the ground by her head. As soon as the chopper had passed by, she jumped back up and emptied her magazine on the rear of the aircraft. Several of her rounds struck the tail of the helicopter and the rear rotor ceased from spinning. “I think I hit it!”
Ulysses joined several of the other nearby militia members in a gunfight with the remaining Social Justice Legion fighters. He picked up his radio. “Byers Militia, looks like that chopper is going to have to set down over by you. Why don’t y’all send a welcoming committee to meet them?”
“Roger,” a man replied over the radio.
Other author's books:
- Embers of Empire: A Post-Apocalyptic Novel of America's Coming Civil War (Ava's Crucible Book 2)United We Stand: A Post-Apocalyptic Novel of America's Coming Civil War (Ava's Crucible Book 3)Behold, Darkness and Sorrow: A Post-Apocalyptic EMP-Survival Thriller (Seven Cows, Ugly and Gaunt Book 1)EMP Survival Box Set: Seven Cows, Ugly and Gaunt: A Post-Apocalyptic Saga of America's Worst Nightmare
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