Flight of the Claymore -chapter 23

Chapter 23
Mobile Command Post for Amazon Supreme Command Von Bencher, Day 6 of the Relief.
Victor Von Bencher could not believe what he was reading. All across New Texas his forces were being forced to retreat. Of the twenty-eight divisions he had started this war with, eight have either been captured or destroyed. As for the mercenary regiments only six of them were still in the field fighting. The other eight regiments had either been captured or wiped out. Of the remaining seven carriers only two of them were in the super carrier class. Between them, and the medium class carriers, their squadrons of fighters and bombers were holding the advance of the Death Dealer battle groups to just under 70 miles a day. The battleships of his support fleet have been able to cut off the costal roads limiting the Death Dealers to using inland routes only.

Not that it mattered. The Death Dealer divisions were still spreading out from the Great White Desert. When he found out that the Engineer Battalions of the Death Dealers cleared both of the passes through the Franklin Mountains in just thirty-seven hours he almost ordered the recycling of his Chief Intelligence Officer. The woman had made the prediction that the clearing the passes would take more than seven days. Because of that prediction Von Bencher had ordered the Third Army Group to take the long away around the mountain range. That powerful Army Group was now out of position to attack the White Sands Base. Even worse the Death Dealers fourth and fifth Battle Groups were now in position to attack his forces from the rear. With full air support from the Base.

Victor scowled as a Comm Tech approached him with a new stack of reports. “How bad is it, Private?”

“The outer provinces reports sir.” As all the Private said as he handed over the reports. Once Victor had them in his hands the Private retreated to the far end of the MCU. He wanted to be as far away as possible. Von Bencher’s temper had gone by leaps and bounds over the past few days. He had already gunned down a Sub Commander for daring to suggest that they retreat from the Eastern Continent.

Victor slowly read over the reports from the outer provinces. As he read Victor began to form a picture in his head of the situation. The picture wasn’t very bright. In truth, it was extremely bleak. The light and medium Infantry Divisions he had assigned to those areas were fast becoming outnumbered by a growing guerrilla force. These small bands of fighters were using hit and run attacks to demoralize his Infantry in the outer provinces. They have even managed to stage simultaneous rocket attacks on nine of the Fire Bases. The guerrillas had done this not once but five times in the past ten days.

Yet it was the reports coming out of Nowhere that were the most worrisome. Of the five mercenary battalions he had sent in to quell the guerrilla actions four had been totally destroyed. The heads of those dead mercenaries were found atop spiked polls lining the two roads leading into the frontier town. The brutality of the attacks on the mercenary units was reaching an unheard-of level. The one battalion that had reached the town sent back a report of what happened to the other units then went silent. Not one word has been heard from them since.

The other disconcerting report of guerilla activity was out of Bounty Hunter County. The sniper attacks there had reached an all time historical high. Not even in the great wars of the twentieth century were the number of sniper attacks so high or so varied. Officers, enlisted, NCO, combat, combat support, it didn’t matter to the snipers in Bounty Hunter County. It was as if the people of that county were trying to live up to their name. At last count the number of deaths by sniper attack had reached a staggering nine-hundred and sixty-four. With more coming in each day.

The reports from the Cut and Shoot area of operation wasn’t much better. The supply depot there has been under constant mortar attacks for the last five days. Those attacks had crippled the supply depot and surrounding fire base. Greatly weakening his abilities to conduct combat operations in the area. The more Victor read the madder he became. It was the last report that finally pushed him over the edge.

“GODS BE DAMNED!” At this outburst all the command staff for the MCU made sure they were facing towards their screens. “THIS CANNOT BE HAPPENING!”

Sum Commander Markus Stone was the only one brave enough to confront Von Bencher when he was this enraged. “Supreme Commander what’s happened?”

Von Bencher sighed then looked down at the report in his hands. “The High Council has been arrested. All of our supporters with the Parliament have been killed to the last man or woman. The Empress has sent six full Death Dealer Battle Groups to our home worlds. Even now Death Dealer Combat Divisions are sweeping across the Home worlds destroying all military resistance that comes before them. Not even our greatest battleships and supercarriers have been able to stand before those accursed Shinigami battle platforms. The home world systems will be lost to us in a matter of days. Everything we have done here has been for nothing. All we can do now is order a full withdrawal and try to escape this planetary system. We are all that remains of the next step in human evolution. We must survive so that the Amazons do not fade into history once again. We the Amazon Collective Military Class as a whole are doomed. Yet we can save our society.”

“I shall begin making preparations for our evacuation at once Supreme Commander. I can have a fully fleshed out plan in six hours, sir.” Stone was thinking fast. He had not expected for Von Bencher to tell him the home world systems were lost. The very concept was beyond his comprehension. It was beyond the comprehension of most clones within the Warrior cast. The idea that their home worlds’ military defenses could be so easily swept aside sent a chill of uncontrolled fear down Stone’s spine. Then a thought occurred to him. “Sir, why would the Military class be doomed? The Death Dealers do not massacre POW’s.”

Von Bencher sighed as he did not want to discuss the Clone Armies that defended the home worlds. Yet, Stone had earned the right to know the truth. “Let’s step outside Sub Commander. This is a topic for Command level Officers only.”

The two men walked out of the MCU and off to the far side of the compound to one of the most isolated areas. Von Bencher pulled out a pack of mini-cigars, handed one to Stone and took one for himself. After lighting up Von Bencher took a deep drag and exhaled. He looked out on the surrounding Command Group vehicles. Looking over at his XO Victor made up his mind.

“This does not go beyond us Stone. As it is now I am committing High Treason against the Collective by telling you this. The Home Guards are not your normal Warrior clones. The truth of the matter is they are either one of two people. One is used for ground forces while the other is exclusively used as aerospace pilots. Haven’t you ever wondered why you never see them without their tactical helmets. It’s because they are the same person over and over with no variation. They are also programmed with unconditional loyalty to the Collective. They will never surrender. They will continue to fight suicidality to the last man. The only way to stop them, is to kill them all. Do you understand now why I said our class is doomed?”

Stone thought about what Von Bencher just told him. “Sir, are you saying that once the Death Dealers confront the Home Guard it will be kill or be killed? That there will be no quarter given by the Home Guard or the Death Dealers?”

“No, that is not what I was saying. The Death Dealers would be more than willing to give quarter. It is the Home Guards that will be the problem. Their very programing will force the Guards to fight to the death taking as many Death Dealers with them as possible. Like I said earlier the Home Guards are suicide troops.”

Stone stared at his Commander in utter shock. The idea that the Collective would break the one law that could bring the Empire down on their heads was almost too much for him to handle. Using clone tech to expand and populate was one thing, as it allowed for there to be multiple variants within each class, but to duplicate a single clone to infinity for the single purpose of building an army was a direct violation of the cloning laws. Then to make those clones nothing more than suicide troops broke every moral conviction of the Amazon Collective. It was just too much for Stone to take in at one time.

“How could the High Council allow such an unequivocal crime sir?”

“Don’t you get it Stone?” A voice from behind him grabbed his and Von Bencher’s attention. They both turned to see Emily Calisto standing smirking. “Our great and glorious leaders knew all about those clones and what they were to be used for. They just don’t care. As far as they are concerned you, me, Supreme Commander Von Bencher, and the enter New Confederate Expeditionary Force are expendable. They can replace us with their perfect Home Guards at a moment’s notice if we become unpredictable.”

“Care to explain how it is you know such sensitive information Flight Leader?” Stone demanded of Emily.

“Because I pay attention to what goes on around me Sub Commander Stone. Unlike you, I can ill afford to just accept the party line. I do that, and I’m dead meat. Nothing more than a clone awaiting the recyclers. Something you need to remember Sub Commander Stone. You’re just like me. One mistake away from the next batch of new cloning material. Which for you means you get dropped into the vats still kicking and screaming as the liquefaction chemicals work their way through your system. At least they’ll put a bullet through my head before that happens.”

With that Emily tossed the man a salute and walked away. Stone grounded his teeth as the she-male pilot walked away without so much as a how-do-you-do or go frack yourself. “Sir, I know that we need that he-bitch right now, but must we put up with her insufferable attitude?”

“Unless you can find me two-hundred, gods be damned, pilots that can match only half her skills then yes. Before you go bragging about how we outnumber the Death Dealers in pilots and aircraft I want you to think about something. Until just a few days ago our aerospace regiments only had to deal with twenty Second Gen Death Dealer pilots. Now, they have had more than thirty with more coming online every day. Normally, I would agree with you about our numbers giving us the advantage. Not here, not now, not any more. Not against these types of pilots with those new fighters of theirs. With just one of those twin-tailed devils they have been able to practically derail our battle plans. Now they have over sixty of them according to our satellite scans. Not even our most advanced fighter can match the speeds of those fighters. The KV-81s are a match for those F1-5E Strike Eagles but that is all. Even those damned Strike Eagles are nothing to scuff at. In the right hands those fighters can tear apart any fighter we throw at them. Just look at what’s happened over the Franklin Mountains.” Von Bencher finally stopped when he ran out of breath. “The truly depressing part is we currently lack the resources to combat these new Death Dealers in the sky. Everyday we lose more and more pilots. Yes, we have the planes but no one to fly the damned things. Unless we turn clones into suicide pilots. As much as I wish we could implant the needed knowledge in those canistered clones we lack the needed programing to make it work.”

“How did this happen sir? Death Dealers have honor. They would not intentionally target downed pilots. As much as I hate to say this, they are better than that he-bitch we have flying for us.” Stone was doing his best to understand how they could have come to such dire straits. “There is no way they could be so blood thirsty.”

“YOU IGNORANT ASS!” Von Bencher screamed at the top of his lungs before reigning in his anger. “We left them with no choice. It was all my fault. Those four cities that we DESTROYED forced us into this situation.”

Von Bencher looked out towards the morning skies as he took a heavy drag off the cigar. “Stone, we started all of this on the orders of the High Council, yet we will finish it on our own. Order all of our divisions to commence combat withdrawal. Evacuation protocols are now in effect. Contact Admiral Klaus, pass the order for him to rally his battleships. He is to abandon the coastal roads and fortify the Spaceport. As for his Carriers he is to use them as to ensure the security of the Spaceports airspace at all costs. Am I understood?”

“Yes sir. What of the air regiments covering the retreat? Should I recall them as well?”

Von Bencher scratched his head and took another drag off his cigar. “Leave ‘em. They can at least buy our troops time to escape.”

Stone just looked at his Commander and nodded his head. He turned and walked away leaving Von Bencher to contemplate the fate of his command. He had been given his orders and now he would carry them out. He knew that the situation was now at desperation levels. Until now Stone had believed that they could still win. With the arrival of the Death Dealer Battle Group and its combat divisions, that hope was now dashed. The taste of defeat was already heavy in his mouth and heavy on his heart. It was the taste of ashes and blood.

In the skies over the Western front.
Major Robert ‘Scooby’ Heartlow banked his F1-5E Strike Eagle into a steep dive. This was his second sortie of the day. He and his wingman Captain Randal ‘Shaggy’ Cain had been running Combat Air Patrol missions for the third Combat Team. Over the last seven hours the enemy air support had been slacking off at a steady pace. To the point that the few enemy fighters they were now seeing were second string. Gone were the KV-81’s and IL-2 Sturmovik, in their place were CF-105 Arrows and CF-100 Canucks. While not normally front-line fighters they were not to be taken lightly. Either one of the two fighters could ruin your day in a hurry.

At seventy tons the two heavy fighters packed a massive punch. Both fighters were armed with twin, 40mm Gatlin cannons, a 70mm Harconain Cannon, 4 PCCs, and 8 PPLs as standard weapons. They were also capable of carrying up to 30 tons of external ordnance. Either in air-to-air missiles or ground attack bombs. They were excellent multirole fighter/bombers, and in the right hands deadly as hell.

As Scooby dropped towards the deck Shaggy was hot on his heels. Their target was just over the next ridgeline, the MCU for the APS and heavy tank battalion that was tying up the 3rd CT just outside of Broken Bend. A small town on the Big Catfish river, this was the second objective for the 3rd CT. As it stood, Hearlow and the other Eagle drivers would soon be forced to used external drop tanks to continue operations. They were already stretching the ‘legs’ of the Eagles to their limits. AS much as he wanted to undergo the upgrade to the new Second Gen Death Dealer Pilot package Colonel Andria Cole had turned him down. The reason for his rejection was one he hadn’t expected. He had a choice to make. If he underwent the upgrade he stood an extremely high chance of coming out Claymore.

The idea of waking up as a Claymore was not one that Heartlow was ready to face. Still the thoughts of having the reflexes that the new pilots had was tempting. He greatly admired Terresa Cole. The young woman had done more than any other pilot on New Texas for the war. He had been the one to put her in for the ICV after her actions against the Peacemakers. He wanted to put her in for the ICMH but had been informed that he couldn’t, due to regulations. Some bullshit about rank and command authority. It seems that while Terresa flew with his old Test Pilot Squadron she was never a member of his Squadron. She had been a TDY pilot only.

Heartlow’s thoughts were brought back to the here and now by his nav guide sounding his crossing over a way-point. Making a thirty-degree turn towards the Southeast. With a flick of a switch Heartlow changed his heads-up display from air-to-air to air-to-ground-attack. Keying his mike Heartlow contacted Cain.

“Starting my approach now, Shaggy. Over”

“Copy that Scooby. Keep your eye out flack and anti-air missiles. Over”

“Copy that Shaggy. I don’t feel like walking home. Start your run in five mikes. Come in on the ninety. How copy? Over”

“Five mikes before coming in on the ninety. Over”

With the plan of attack in place Heartlow pushes the throttles forward. With the increase in speed Heartlow drops even lower towards the ground. At just over twenty meters from the ground he rocketed over the rear-guard unit for the enemy command unit. Spotting the MCU and its support vehicles Heartlow drops his crosshairs on the heavy wheeled vehicle and pulled the trigger. Even as he pulls back hard on the stick to gain altitude two Mark four Hawkeye ground-attack missiles race towards the MCU. Even as the air-defense units turn to engage Heartlow, Cain came in hard and fast from the ninety-degree mark on the compass. Just as Heartlow had done, Cain targeted the MCU. Only instead of firing two missiles Cain fired four with only two striking the MCU. The other two destroyed the communications relay and radar control vehicles.

As Cain raced off towards the west, Heartlow looped over and targeted the command post a second time. As he dropped towards the ground targeted the other vehicles firing off his remaining six ground-attack missiles. Pulling out of the dive Heartlow rolled hard left and headed back towards WSRD. Not to be out done Cain had swung wide and came back in for one more attack. He was able to get off the remaining missiles before his luck ran out. He never saw the 25mm Gatlin ADA gun until it was too late. The depleted uranium slugs slammed into the portside of his aircraft. Stitching a line of holes starting at the nose going the full length of his Eagle. Three of those holes were in line with his cockpit. Keying his mike Cain called out to Heartlow.

“Scooby, I’ve been hit. Hit hard brother. Over”

Heartlow came back quickly. “How bad Shaggy? Over”

“I doubt that I’ll make it back to base, boss.” In his cockpit Cain started to cough blood. “They really tore me and Gracie up bad, boss man. Over”

Heartlow had by now swung round to fall in behind Cain. As he pulled along side his wingman from behind Heartlow got a good look at the damage. Smoke was starting to pour from the portside engine. The whole portside wing and tail rudder were punched full of holes. Heartlow knew that there was only one anti-air gun that could produce that amount of damage in such a short time. The fifty-ton armored track mounted 25mm Gatlin gun MR-72 Thor. The fact that Shaggy was still flying was testament to the survivability of the F1-5E. Heartlow could also tell that his wingman wasn’t going to make it back to base.

“Punch out Shaggy. I’ll radio in your position. Over”

The cough that came across the radio let Heartlow know that his suggestion wasn’t one that would be smart. “Sorry boss man. But it look’s like I’ll be riding Gracie in. I won’t survive the punch out. Do me a favor. Let Glinda know that she was one hell of a pilot, and I’m sorry for not making her promotion party. Over”

“Now you listen to me AIRMAN. You’re going to reach down and pull that gods be damned ejection lever. You do not have permission to FRACKING DIE ON ME! DO YOU UNDERSTAND SHAGGY?” Heartlow was screaming at the top of his lungs towards the end.

Not that it was doing any good as Cain was rapidly losing blood. Captain Randal ‘Shaggy’ Cain shoved his visor up out of the way and looked out the canopy at his long-time wingman and boss. Saluting Heartlow one last time Cain pushed forward on the stick going into a steep dive. Cain knew they were over the forward edge for the line of battle. He spotted his target fired off the last of his missiles just as his portside engine gave up the ghost and exploded.

Two-hundred feet above him Heartlow watched in horror as his friend and wingman died the way he lived. Fast and furious, at the controls of a fighter doing Mach 3 with his ass on fire. Heartlow was pissed off and wanted to kill something. With twelve air-to-air missiles, a full load of autocannon rounds, not to mention the main guns Heartlow had more than enough firepower to put a hurting on the enemy ground troops. Pushing the nose of his fighter over into a dive Heartlow went hunting for Amazon ground units. It didn’t take him long to find them either. While his missiles weren’t designed for ground attack that didn’t mean they were useless. The pure kinetic energy of their impacts would damage or destroy most soft or light armored vehicles. Not to mention the explosive power of their unexpended fuel.

The target he wanted appeared on his HUD. Not the one he want the most, but it would do. A fast-moving light infantry battalion out in the open. Heartlow let his anger flow as he targeted the fleeing enemy battalion. With the cold-heart of a true predator of the skies Heartlow over road the autotargeting locks of his missiles and fired. The twelve missiles raced away from his fighter on suicide runs that would each take on Light Infantry Vehicle with them to hell. As he dropped into his strafing run Heartlow pulled the triggers for his autocannon and beam weapons. Even as the infantry tried their best to escape the burning vehicles Heartlow burned them down with his lasers. Turned them to ash with superheated plasma with his PPCs. Blew them to pieces with high explosive rounds from his autocannon. He rained down death and destruction on the lone unit.

Climbing out of the strafing run Heartlow checked the round count for his autocannon. He was shocked to realize he had burned through all but twenty-eight rounds. That was when he got a look at the heat buildup for his weapons. He was so far into the red zone that it would take him a good eight to ten minutes to bleed off enough to safely operate his weapons again. With a heavy hart Heartlow turned towards base. He had done his best to avenge the death of his friend and wingman.

Keying his mike Heartlow contacted the ATC back at White Sands. “Whisky Serra this is Scooby come in. Over”

“Do you have traffic for us Scooby? Over”

“Mission accomplished Whiskey Serra. Returning to base. Total destruction of enemy Mike, Charlie, Uniform. Total expender of all munitions. One loss, I’m coming home alone. Over” the report was as cold as it was clinical. For Heartlow it was just a fact of life that pilots die. The old saying that a pilot’s life revolves around two of the four classical elements was true. They live in the air and die by fire.

The air traffic controller back at White Sands understood the meaning of the message. Far better than most, REMF’s ATC’s knew the men and women who went on those missions. They also prayed for their returns. “Copy. Come left to heading two-nine-five and climb to four-zero-zero-zero. Hold for gas station link up Scooby. And sir. Shaggy was a damned good man. Out”

Heartlow had gotten to know each ATC operator by their voices over the last year of his duty at White Sands. The voice of the young woman sitting deep in the shadows of the ATC Center belonged to Staff Sergeant Lisa White. Heartlow knew that of all the ATCs she would take Shaggy’s death the hardest. The young woman truly cared for the pilots in her charge. Most especially Captain Randal Cain.

White Sands Planetary Command Post
Terresa had secured a GP medium tent to use as her squadron’s Headquarters CP. It also gave her a place to give her briefings for the up coming deep strike missions to her squadron. Case in point the raid on Huston Spaceport. Using three corkboards and printed maps of New Texas, Terresa went over all the intel that had been gathered. Their primary target was the cloning dropships.

The three Monolith class dropships would take a good deal of damage before succumbing to their attacks. They couldn’t use standard Hawk ground attack missiles for this attack either. No this was one time that Terresa would really go outside the box. The FB-11A2 may not have the carrying compacity of a heavy bomber, but they do have a wide range of weapons to choose from.

“Boss, I think we need to forget about the Hawks completely.” Major Robert ‘Spider’ Cocks said from where he stood. “There are thirty Mark two eight-hundred-pounder Bridge Killers over at the depot. I know that they’re freefall bombs and dumb as hell; but they’ll get the job done. They can punch through ten feet of reinforced concrete and have a blast radius of three-hundred feet.”

“Won’t work Spider. Even with those steel tipped heads they’ll lack the penetration power unless you drop them from forty plus. I say we use the new Rockeye canister bombs. They can be dropped from a lower altitude and are programable.” Captain Jerry ‘Rabbit’ White put in his opinion.

“I hate to tell you this Rabbit, but Spider might have the correct idea.” The third Captain held up his hand to stop his wingman. “The Rockeyes are good for area targets. We’re hitting point targets with hardened defensive armor. We need a bunker buster type of weapon.”

“Okay I can see that Smoke. What do we have in the inventory that can get the job done at low altitude?” Terresa asked of her section leaders.

“Um… to be honest ma’am. We just don’t know. We’re still learning about the new FB-11A2s. Chief Daily has pointed out that they are faster, have a better flight performance envelope, with a greater range, and atmospheric operational ceiling. Your guess is better than ours as to what the new birds can carry.” Major Cocks told her with a small smile. “I wish that Colonel McQueen was here to help.”

“You’re not the only one Cocks. Trust me on that. Frack, people I’m winging this shit. Major Cocks you should be the one running this squadron not me.” Terresa said bluntly. Only to have the other pilots start laughing.

“Colonel Cole, ma’am. You can stand there and protest all you want, but it won’t help. We all know better. You may be winging this shit, but we’ll still follow you. You just need a little more seasoning that is all. You’ve already proven that you can lead this band of nut jobs. The only reason I was wishing Colonel McQueen was here is that man can give you the specs on just about every damned missile or bomb in the inventory from memory.” Cocks cracked.

“Excuse me sirs, ma’am. But I think I found the answer to our problem.” The youngest member of Terresa’s squadron said with a smile. Terresa waved for the young Flight Lieutenant Second Class to speak up. “Our birds normally carry six ground attack missiles or gravity bombs. So they should be able to carry these.”

Terresa looked over the table screen that held the ordnance suggestion. “Okay Ratchet, how many of those bitches are we going to need per bird for the job?”

“That is where it gets a little iffy ma’am. I figure that with each bird carrying the normal mixed loadout of fourteen anti-air missiles the best we can hope for is two of these GPS guided bombs. After that the problem is the way we’re going to have to deliver the bombs.” There was a strained look in Ratchet’s eyes.

“Sir, have you ever heard about the tactic of dive bombing?” all of the gathered officers shook their heads no. Lieutenant Kindra ‘Ratchet’ Stone sighed as she was hoping she won’t have to explain the tactic. “It takes two things. The first is a high-performance aircraft that can handle a steep dive.”

“What is the second?” Terresa asked when Kindra stopped there.

“A pilot that is fracking half-crazy with balls the size of giant ape’s.”

“Well that is one requirement we have in spades around here.” Cracked Major Cocks which got most of the gathered officers chuckling. “Tell us these GSP guided bombs. What exactly are the specs for those beauties?”

“We currently have them stockpiled in five weight classes. Two, three, four, five, six, and seven-hundred pounders. Each is tipped by a triple hardened nose cone for deep penetration strikes on fortified bunkers. They used to be called ‘bunker busters’ until the Mark twenty-fours came out.” Kindra was interrupted the sounds of klaxon sounding three times in the distance.

Terresa looked over at her XO and commander for the two section of her Squadron. “Who has CAP Duty, Spider? Not what squadron, but which pilots?”

“Oh hell! We got both the six-twenty-eighth and four-oh-worst run CAP missions, Ma’am. They’ve been swapping the ground attack runs with air-to-air. No telling who’s going in hot, ma’am.” Cocks like the others knew what that triple blast meant. A heavily damaged fighter inbound requesting an emergency landing.

‘Terresa I have the information for you. It’s Major Heartlow. He’s coming in on a wing and a prayer.’ Lilly was silent for a second before giving the bad news. ‘Terresa, I think I better tell you before someone else does. Shaggy went in during their last mission. No chute. He never had the chance to bailout. I’m sorry.’

Terresa looked around the tent. Before calling out. “WRAITHS ATTENTION!” as one her squadron jumped to their feet. “BLUE SKIES! BLACK DEATH! FREEDOM’S PRICE!”

As one Terresa’s squadron picked up the time-honored salute to a pilot dying in the line of duty. A salute that has been given far too many times over the past month. “BLUE SKIES! BLACK DEATH! FREEDOM’S PRICE!”

“Who went in Colonel?” Major Cocks asked as he saw the first tear forming in Terresa’s eyes. He knew it had to be one of the old 628th R-n-D Squadron. Not bothering to ask permission Cocks walked over to the file cabinet that Terresa had stashed three bottles of moonshine. Pulling out two bottles and glasses Spider Cocks began to issue out shots of the moonshine to the Wraiths.

Terresa waited until every member of her squadron had a glass of the clear liquid. Raising her glass high. “Ladies and gentlemen. I give you one of the finest pilots I ever had the pleasure of flying with. Captain Randal ‘Shaggy’ Cain. May he fly with the Angels as he soars above us!”

As one the Wraiths downed the moonshine before shouting one more time. “BLUE SKIES! BLACK DEATH! FREEDOM’S PRICE!”

Terresa looked over at Major Cocks. “Spider you have the command. Find me a fracking pile driver. Screw the fracking scalps. As far as this mission goes there is no collateral damage. I want those dropships turned into scrap metal on the airfield. Have I made myself perfectly clear?”

If the ice filled tone of her voice hadn’t gotten the message across, the golden crosshairs in her eyes did. Colonel Terresa Cole may have been his commanding officer for only a few days but Robert Cocks had already learned her danger signs. Not that he didn’t have plenty of advice from the Wild Cards Command Lance. The fact that his commanding officer was the love interest of the Crown Price had at first set him and the other commanding officers on edge. That was until Prince James broke out four bottles of real Earth Prime Kentucky Whiskey.

After that the two command staffs got along fabulously. The Wild Cards were able to fill the command staff in on most of their CO’s little quirks and what to look for when she was pissed off. They had heard about the golden crosshairs but had yet to see them. Having now had that pleasure Robert was going to find what she wanted. For some reason he feared the wrath of his petite CO more than the guns of the enemy right now. He along with the other members of the triple seven watched as she walked out of their CP. Only Kindra dared to ask where she was going.

“Lieutenant, just find us something that’ll turn those dropships into scrap. Let me worry about the CO. Right now, she needs to be left the frack alone.” Robert said with a grave look in his eyes. “I believe that she and Scooby are about to do one of two things. Neither of which the higher ups are going to approve.”

“What’s that sir?”

“They’ll either get pissing drunk. Which is what I hope they do. Or they’ll load up their fighters and go hunt River Sluts.” Robert walked to the tent’s opening. “And Lieutenant, for all of our sakes pray they get drunk.”

“Wouldn’t it be better if they when with the second option sir?”

“With as pissed off as she is right now, not to mention how Scooby must feel the answer is no, Kindra.” Robert looked back at her. “Take a real good piece of advice here Kindra. Never let emotions get in the way of combat. You do that, you end up dead. Emotions make you sloppy. You get sloppy, you make mistakes, and no matter how good you are, you make a mistake even a rookie can turn your ass into a bloody cloud in the sky. Thus, ends the lesson.”

With his lesson on combat over for the day Robert Cocks walked outside the tent. He too needed to find someone. He wasn’t about to let Captain Bill ‘Iceman’ Turner find out that his life-partner wasn’t coming home from some REMF. The two pilots may not have been open about their relationship with the higher ups, but everyone knew that Randal and Bill had decided that New Texas was their last assignment. They had made plans to buy a small piece of land on the Eastern continent when their hitch was up and settle down. Now, those plans would never happen.

Just south of the town of Nowhere, New Texas frontier.
Samantha Price lay just behind the low roadside shrubby. Using the high-powered spotters scope Sam scanned the incoming troop formation. Even at more than two kilometers the distinctive camouflage paint pattern stood out like a sore thumb. It was also one that Sam knew extremely well. Anyone who had served in the last Succession War would know this unit.

Keying the mike in her tactical helmet. “Black Star base this is Black Thorn One, Over. Come in Black Star base.”

“Black Thorn One, this is Black Star base. Over”

“Good news Base. We have been relieved. I repeat, we have been relieved base. Over” There was a smile in Samantha’s voice. For the first time in a month Samantha Price felt real relief at the sight of an armored convoy.

“Can you confirm your last transmission Black Thorn One? Did you say that we were relieved? Over.”

Sam wanted to scream at the base radio operator but knew that they were only following the SOP she had put in place. “That is a roger Black Star Base. We have friendlies inbound as I speak. Tell all units to stand down. We do not want to piss off our relief. How copy? Over”

There was a long pause before the radio operator answered Sam. “Black Thorn One. This is Black Star Base. Your orders have not changed. You are to engage any units on that road until confirmed by higher authority as being friendly. Over”

Samantha almost blew her top hearing that last transmission until she remembered who was most likely standing in the CP. “Base you can tell Richards and his rump ranger Cutter to frack off. This is one unit that we do not want to screw with. They will leave nothing but ashes in their wake. I repeat order all of our units to stand the frack down. Over”

Sam was not surprised one bit when the voice of Tom Richards came over the radio instead of the operator’s. She and the old man had, had more than one fight over who was running the combat operations for the local militia. “This is Six shooter One to all Black Thorn elements. Black Thorn One is relieved of command. Engage that incoming enemy force. Out!”

Sam knew that there were a few young men and women within the local militia that looked up to Tom Richards and would follow his orders. The rest had learned that Sam was the one that had the real combat leadership skills. Hoping to try and stop the bloodbath that would ensue by engaging the Death Dealer Unit marching towards them Samantha keyed her mike and opened a wide band broadcast. “Thorn Rider two-four to Black Devil six. Come in Black Devil six. Over”

Of all the Death Dealer units to be heading towards her small backwater town the 1st Special Service Force, or Black Devils, was one the last ones that Samantha wanted to be on the wrong side of. The Black Devils were not known for their forgiving nature in combat. If they were marching towards her now that meant their backup was less than a mile behind them. It also meant the fifth most feared Armor Power Suit unit was less than four kilometers away and bearing down on them.

There were five APS Units in the Empire that scare the holy shit out of any Infantry trooper on the battlefield. The first was the Royal Command Lance, better known as the Storm Chasers. The second most feared were members of the Royal Bodyguard, the Hounds of Hells, a Scout lance of the Hell Hounds. The third belonged to the Royal Bodyguards for the Queen of High Winds, Tatiana’s Bowmen. A Fire Support lance made up of A1-3R Archers. The fourth was the Command Lance belonging to the Crown Price, the Wild Cards. Yet it was the last unit that drove Samantha to such desperate measures as to broadcast on an open channel. The four medium APS lances for Alpha Company 1st of the 72nd Armored. Better known to the rest of the universe as the Devil’s Bastards. Their camouflage scheme was designed to enhance their myth.

“Come on. Someone fracking answer me.” Sam prayed as she opened the channel again. “Thone Rider two-four to Black Devil six come in. Over”

“Black Devil six to Thorn Rider two-four. Is that you Sergeant Major Price? Over”

Samantha Looked towards the skies. “Thank god they answered.” Keying her mike. “That’s a roger Black Devil six. Good to hear your voice. Over”

“Good to hear yours as well Thorn Rider. What is your position? Over”

“Four klicks to your front-line Black Devil. Hold your position until further contact. I got a FUBAR that needs to be straightened out. How copy? Over” Samantha knew that she couldn’t come right out and say what was really going on. Not over an open and unsecured net.

“Roger that Thorn Rider Two-four. Holding until further contact. Black Devil six. Out” the net went silent as the Commander for the Black Devils halted his unit.

Sam turned to Jimmy Kimble her radio operator. “You pass along to every last member of our force the following message. ANYONE and I do mean ANYONE that shoots at that Death Dealer unit. I will personally GUT THE FRACKING IDIOT WITH MY BARE HANDS! Am I understood Jimmy.”

“Yes ma’am. Understood. Load and clear Sheriff.” Jimmy Kimble like the others of the local militia had seen the Sheriff mad before. Yet he had never seen her like this. Not even when she caught him and Joey Preston running bootleg shine through the county five years ago.

Sam stood up and started to run towards town. As she moved across the fields surrounding Nowhere, Samantha Price deployed her bio-armor. Gone was the Town Sheriff. In her place was Sergeant Major Quick Silver Price. One of the meanest, toughest, bad assed, Cav Scout Snipers that had ever had the pleasure to serve in Queen Tatianna’s Children of the Stars. Quick Silver Price approached the town she moved in such a manner as to avoid being spotted by the outer perimeter guards. She knew that Tom Richards was finally making his play to be the next political leader of New Texas. By first removing the outsiders from the equation. That meant no Death Dealers could be seen as coming to the rescue of Nowhere.

It didn’t take her long to work her way around to the back of the Black Star Bar and Grill. With an ease born from long honed reflexes and training Sam slipped through a rear window. Once inside Sam didn’t bother with using nonlethal tactics. She killed the four men guarding the bar area of the building. Moving over to the store room Sam quickly freed Jerry McGregor, and Mary Beth Holland. Both of whom had been on duty in the CP. Better known as the basement of the Black Star Bar and Grill. She warned them to say nothing as she cut away their bonds.

Once Sam had freed her friends she pointed to the rear of the building and signaled for them to leave. Both Jerry and Mary Beth followed her silent orders. They knew that Samantha was about to deliver justice to two very stupid men. Once they were clear of the building Sam went to the basement door. Deploying her Close Quarters Combat blades Sam slipped down stairs with deadly intent. So quiet was her descent into the basement that none of the occupants noticed her arrival until it was too late. Sergeant Major Samantha Price lived up to her nickname of Quick Silver.

The three guards surrounding the stairs were dead before they could even draw a bead on her. Let alone react to her presence. With nothing more than a casual flick of her wrists Samantha flicked the blood from her blades as she turned on Tom Richards and Dale Cutter. Both men started to reach for the pistols at their hips when Sam’s PPL flashed once burning a hole just above them in the celling.

Snarling through gritted teeth Sam let them know just how pissed off she was. “I told you Richards when this all started not to cross me. I warned you that I would put a bullet in your fracking head if you tried. I told you that you could take all the credit in the world and I wouldn’t give a shit. You just had to stay out of my way. You just couldn’t leave well enough alone. You had to go and try once last time to make a name for yourself. Did you even know who you were about to take on?”

“Nothing more than a pack of yellow belly Yankee invaders. Just like we’ve been dealing with for the last month. Something you should understand if you were a real Texan. Instead of a sympathizing pointy eared, bootlicking, ass kissing, Imperialist Elf cunt. Should have hung your ass a month ago.” Dale Cutter spat out with pure hatred filling his eyes. “Don’t need your kind around here polluting the blood.”

Sam didn’t even think twice. Her katana cleared its scabbard with blinding speed as she crossed the room. Its blade flashed in the harsh light of the bare bulb of the basement’s only light. Dale Cutter dropped to the floor dead with his head rolling away towards the radio operator’s feet. Steve McEntire had to fight the need to throw up at the sight of his boss’s bloody head at his feet. Tom Richards couldn’t believe his eyes. In all of his years as a Cattleman he had never seen such unadulterated violence. The cold-blooded way with which Sam had killed his foreman sent a chill down his spine. When Jim Henshaw fired his pistol into her back Richards was sure that the woman would drop over dead.

Instead the bullets just flattened out against her bio-armor. Of the three men still in the basement none of them was armed with a weapon that could hurt the Death Dealer. The truly sad part was none of them realized it as Richards, Henshaw, and McEntire emptied their sidearms into the small woman’s back. Quick Silver Price let her katana do her talking for her. McEntire lost his arms at the elbows as Sam spun round and dropped her blade drop through the tender joints. Continuing her attack Sam swept her sword through Henshaw’s thighs. That one attack left both men with bloody stumps where limbs once were.

Standing up straight to face Richards, Sam pulled a small cloth form the belt that held her scabbards. With slow and deliberate movements Sam wiped the blood from the blade before returning it to its scabbard. “I told you Richards that I would put a bullet through your head if you tried to double cross me. I don’t want you to think that I’m not a woman of my word.”

Before Richards could grasp the meaning of her words Sam pulled and fired her sidearm. It was the same pistol she had been forced to use to keep the secret of this man’s private little army from the Amazons. Even as the spent shell bounced around on the floor Tom Richards brains were splatter over the wall behind him. Sam never took her eyes off the dead man as he dropped slowly to the floor of the basement. Slowly spreading his blood and brains even further down the wall. As Sam holstered the semiautomatic pistol she turned towards the stairs.

As she reached to the top the steps she was greeted by Jerry and Mary Beth. With them were seven men and five women all dressed in the uniform of a deputy. They were her deputies, and all were loyal to Sam to a fault. As one they snapped to attention. “Call for the meet wagon Mikey. The basement is full of body bag filling.”

“On it boss.” The senior deputy turned to the others. “Okay people. We got a crime scene to process. Lucius pictures. Cate measure and sketch. Danny find the coroner.”

Sam just chuckled as she walked away. Leave it to Mike O’daily to just go with the flow. Like all of her deputies the man just didn’t give a shit about her being a Wood Elf. To them she was their Sheriff and that was all that mattered. As Sam walked by the bar Jerry handed her an ice-cold beer with a smile. “Look’s like it’s time to turn things over to the pros Samantha.”

“You can say that again Jerry.” Taking a pull of the beer Sam turned to Mike. “Oh and Mikey. Send someone out in a cruiser to escort in our relief.”

“I’ll take care of that myself boss.” With that Mike ran outside to his cruiser. As he tore off down the road Sam sat back and proceeded to quietly get drunk. Jerry McGuire placed a fresh beer in front of Sam along with a box of Orion cigars.

“Looks like you get to finally stand down Quick Silver. The rest are on the House.” Jerry told her with a friendly smile. Mary Beth sat down beside her after giving Sam a tight hug and kiss on the cheek.

“The only question now is when are you going to finally settle down find a decent man and get married Sheriff Price?” the older woman gave Samantha a quirky smile. “After all, we can’t have our hero ending up in the old maid’s home.”


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