Author Topic: Every Leaf In Springtime, Caravaneer 1 Fanfic  (Read 5714 times)

Firestorm

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Every Leaf In Springtime, Caravaneer 1 Fanfic
« on: August 28, 2015, 06:16:26 AM »
Description: takes place in the years before the events of the first game. As civilization crumbles around them, a family of Colorado ranchers is forced to fight for their livelihood, their freedom, and their very survival.

[Map should go here. See attachments]

Prologue:

The mules were freed from their pasture and loosed into the countryside. Paw hadn't been able to sell them and didn't have the heart to shoot them. Some other band of vagrants would likely do the deed, thankful for the steaks they'd provide.

The flatbed Chevrolet One-Ton was rusted as brown as the dust that for 50 years had held their livelihood and dreams. Their remaining possessions fit easily on the back, with room to spare for Paw, Maw, Chuck, Gail, Liz, Joe, Jess and little 6-year-old Billy.

The family took a last look around their 42 acre spread in the red-tinged morning light. They didn't have sunrise or sunsets in the Dust Bowl any more, just gloomy twilights that brightened into day or darkened into night. The house and barn were now half-buried by the dust and would soon be completely buried by the bulldozers of whoever the bank gave it to, not unlike thousands of forsaken homesteads they would pass through the cursed land on their way to the west. The adults and teenagers tried to keep a brave face as they hit the road, but none of them could manage it.  It was a Trail of Tears all over; even Baby Billy knew good and well that they may never see Avard, Oklahoma again.

***

Paw had done better than most in the so-called promised land, pulling the family up from starvation to mere insolvency. Chuck had done better still, using his experience from The War to start an earth-moving business. The family stayed close together, with most of the brothers and brother-in-laws hired on to the company. They married, had kids, built houses in lots that were still big enough for gardens, pastures, other trappings of their Okie upbringing. Paw still dreamed at night of pushing plows through his wheat fields, but he had to admit that there were worse places to spend his golden years than Bakersfield. Californians sure did like their swimming pools, and even Okies had their own uses for holes in the ground.

One day in October, the family gathered at Chuck's house. The family patriarch had a large spread to hold his equipment, plus a couple of horses, some goats, pigs, chickens, and a garden that boasted almost every vegetable that would grow at their latitude. There was also a well-covered swimming pool, with a patio of reinforced concrete that seemed a little too big for its official purposes.

Billy and his wife were the last into the fallout shelter that would safeguard half of their extended family. Housing a dozen somewhat cramped people, Gail's husband had built a more-or-less identical one on his ranch outside of town.

All the young children were sent to bed early—just another drill, as far as they knew. Some of the older ones stayed up to hear the president talk, unpacked supplies, or played backgammon and checkers. Billy took the next watch and spent a couple of hours sitting by the door, his infant daughter in one hand and an M1 Carbine cradled in the other. All ears were glued to the radio as they waited to learn whether or not the world would make it through the night.

<<My fellow citizens: let no one doubt that this is a difficult and dangerous effort on which we have set out. No one can see precisely what course it will take or what costs or casualties will be incurred. Many months of sacrifice and self-discipline lie ahead--months in which our patience and our will will be tested--months in which many threats and denunciations will keep us aware of our dangers. But the greatest danger of all would be to do nothing.

The path we have chosen for the present is full of hazards, as all paths are; but it is the one most consistent with our character and courage as a nation and our commitments around the world. The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender or submission.

Our goal is not the victory of might, but the vindication of right; not peace at the expense of freedom, but both peace and freedom, here in this hemisphere, and, we hope, around the world. God willing, that goal will be achieved.

Thank you and good night.>>

After the teens were sent to bed, Jess' fiancé was the first to speak. "Well, I didn't vote for the man but I don't guess I can disagree with him. Do y'all think they'll be anything left outside tomorrow?"

"Well, Gus, I reckon that'll be ole' Khrushchev's call to make." responded Chuck

"Wish he would stop calling it 'Cuber.'" said Jess. "We tried and failed once to get the Reds off that island, so if he has to keep talking about it then he might as well do it right."

"We should have listened to Patton in '45 and pushed them back to Moscow when we had the chance." said Chuck, "Wouldn't have liked it at the time, but me spending a few more years clearing minefields would of been a fair price to pay if I could ensure that my kids never have to do it."

Billy returned his daughter to her crib and helped himself to a coke. "I don't know if that's such a hot idea, Chuck. I learned what fighting communists could be when I lost a few toes in Chosin. Give 'em a home field advantage and I don't know how many of you would of ever come home to have kids."

"Well, Korea was as much Truman's to lose as theirs to win…" said his older brother, "but you do have a point."

Billy and Chuck's wives and Chuck's oldest son returned from the kitchen with plates of rice and coleslaw, passing them out to the other adults. "So, how much food do y'all got back there?" asked Billy's wife, hoping to steer the conversation towards their current problems and away from pointless political nonsense.

"Two or three years, depending on how well we ration." said Chuck. "Rice, pickled veggies and C-rations mostly; ain't gourmet by no means but hopefully we'll have plenty of fresh vegetables to eat."

Billy started to wonder if he should have gone to Gail's house instead. They would have beef.

"We can eat food from out of the garden? What about the radiation?" she asked.

"The initial radiation—from the blast itself— has little effect on plants. The fallout radiation probably won't hurt any of the plants that don't get touched by the fallout: peas in the pod, corn in the husks, potatoes in the ground, these would all be safe to eat so long as the outer layer was thoroughly washed."

"Okay, so what about the animals?" asked Billy

"It would be very bad if there's a blast too close to us, but they're in a stone barn with plenty of food and water. Y'all probably couldn't tell on the way in, but we took the bulldozers and mounded dirt around the walls, and the loft is full of hay. That'll help tremendously with fallout radiation."

"What about the pastures?" asked Mary-Jane, Billy's wife. "I know you've got several months of hay stored up, plus water from your pool and cisterns, but what good is it if you let them out in the spring and they start eating grass coated in fallout?"

Chuck took on a solemn look as he tried to answer this one. "Here again, if enough fallout comes our way there'll be nothing we can do for the grass eaters. Even a small amount may require decontamination; washing it down with the hoses or even scraping off contaminated topsoil and replanting the layer below it."

She shook her head doubtfullly. "If everyone tries scraping their topsoil, we'll have another Dust Bowl on our hands for sure." The words "Dust Bowl" sent chills down the backs of everyone old enough to remember.

"Good point, Mary-Jane. Some folks say that decontamination measures don't have to be all that thorough. Others say it won't be enough.  Fact is that most of this is theoretical; we won't know what'll happen during a nuclear war until we live through one.

And, contrary to what the agitators in Hollywood like to say, I think we will live. People were predicting that humanity would go extinct during the Dark Ages and the Black Plague, but we didn't. We learned how to overcome our problems, we saw it through and what followed was, well, the Renaissance. God willing, we'll make it through whatever comes tomorrow."

Chuck spent the rest of the night reading parts of two documents to his family: "Fallout Protection: What to Know And Do About Nuclear Attack" from the Department of Defense and "Radioactive Fallout On The Farm" from the Department of Agriculture. Both had been published in the last few years, both more informative than the old Civil Defense handbooks from the early 50's, which most of the family were familiar with.

The remainder of the night was spent in prayer and, eventually, sleep. Many of those old enough to remember dreamt of a rolling black blizzard that choked out the sky and smothered everything on the ground, withering the crops and starving the livestock like an Old Testament Plague. All wondered what kind of deadly dust would await them tomorrow.

***

Life continued after that night in October. The decades went by, the family grew larger and so did Bakersfield. The Central Valley bustled with suburban development, growing too metropolitan for many of the Turners. Some started to wonder if it was time to migrate yet again.

Bill slowed the little sorrel mare at the edge of a saddleback ridge and wheeled it around, grabbing his hip to make sure it was still in place. He waited for the other riders to catch up and called out to the closest as she drew near.

"You know what, Mary-Jane, I hate getting old!"

"There are alternatives, dear." she yelled back.

He took a moment to spit before replying. "So I've heard, but the existence of even less desirable alternatives does nothing to take away from the fact that I hate getting old!"

"You wouldn't hurt as much if you would stop trying to make that poor pony fly." declared his daughter as she closed the distance.

Bill knew that, but he also took a fair bit of pride in knowing that he could still outride the youngsters.

The Rocky Mountain branch of the family had gone Cowboy in a big way. Rachel, Bill's oldest daughter, had married a rancher's son and settled deep in the shadows of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near the town of Weston, Colorado. They owned a 900-acre ranch and generally leased another 900 acres focused on breeding seedstock Charolais cattle—a very small operation, by local standards. These were big, meaty beasts with wooly white hair; a very pretty breed of bovine. They also kept a number of donkeys, goats, turkeys, chickens, bees, even a few discount emus from some failed get-rich-quick scheme. No real market for giant birds, but they did taste good.

Too many animals on too empty of a landscape, thought Bill, who wondered how anyone could live like that. Oblivious to almost everyone not involved in American agriculture, there was still rivalry between planters and ranchers. Range wars had long ago given way to subsidy wars, but the sod-busting Turners and cow-punching McLintocks still had enough worldview differences and cultural nuances that their union at times felt like an interfaith marriage. It was, actually, though marriage customs were one area where Pentecostals and Baptists had few differences.

Still, George McLintock seemed like a good man. Rachel liked the life they were building, and they had given him some beautiful grandkids. They wouldn't be Okie by no means, but there were worse things you could do than letting your babies grow up to be cowboys.

The McLintocks, like the Turners, put their kids in the saddle not long after they started walking, and taught them how to shoot not long after that. After a day spent running up and down some of the steepest slopes on the continent, the party retired to the firing range to put some more holes in a rusted-out water tank.

"That your new Russian gun, George?" asked Bill, setting down his Parker-Hale 1200 at the end of another fusillade.

"Yeah, SKS, great ranch rifle. Kind of junky but it beats 30-30 for ballistics and .30 Carbine for knockdown power. Cheap too; going to get cheaper if more of them show up on the market. You should get one."

"I ain't using no commie gun; I saw the luck my brother had with their Belarus tractors."

George chuckled. "Fair enough, though surely you could appreciate the irony of using their own guns against them one day."

"I don't know if that'll ever happen; they seem pretty sincere about that Glasnost."

George shrugged.  "Maybe they are, maybe they ain't. Even if they are serious, I ain't convinced that Gorbechov alone can stop doomsday; there's still the hardliners in his own country, there's still China."

While speaking, he grabbed another box of 7.62x45mm bullets and started loading them onto his stripper clip. He wondered if he should modify the SKS to use Kalashnikov magazines.

"Anyway, you ain't saying that fallout shelters are a waste after I paid your family to build one for me, are you?"

"Be bad business if I said so before you paid." said Bill, with only the slightest trace of humour.

"Eh, nothing wrong with being prepared." he continued. "Bad things can happen, and it don't even need human malice if what we're hearing about Chernobyl's true; human stupidity will suffice. What I'm saying is that my family spent 40 years worrying about dictators on other continents when we really should have been worried about the ones over here. No Korean nor Viet ever tried invoking eminent domain on me so's he could turn my property into another strip mine."

George laughed. "Human stupidity? Been reading the Edward Abbey books I gave you?" he asked.

"Maybe."

***

"Once every 30 years." said Pawpaw Bill as he peered out the passenger-side window. "That's how often you see snowfall like this on the Kern River."

Paul McLintock didn't bother to tell his grandfather they were somewhere in the hills between the Canadian and Purgatoire Rivers. Known to the Spaniards as "El Río de las Animas Perdidas en Purgatorio": The River of Lost Souls in Purgatory. Fitting.

The Chevy Blazer clambered over old mine and gas roads that would have been hard enough without the unseasonably bad weather. Heavy snow in October used to be rare, but then winters were coming earlier and harsher these days. Summers were bad too. Scientists were still arguing about it being a sign of global warming or a new ice age, though an increasingly erratic power and communications grid meant that fewer people were listening.

What stations were still broadcasting spoke of ill winds from foreign shores: a nuclear war in Europe, or perhaps a meteorite in Africa, firestorms in South America or a supervolcano in Asia. An obvious media blackout made it even harder to explain the strange clouds in the sky that made the sun shine in an eery pinkish tinge.

Cities were in pandemonium. The annual fall food riots were already the worst that anyone could remember, and official reticence in the face of Armageddon had done little to help the situation. Paul had brought his brother and a neighbour with him, all heavily-armed. Their trip from the suburbs of Santa Fe had been uneventful so far but he took no chances. He still remembered last winter, when his sister came home with the windows shot out.

Pulling Pawpaw out of his nursing home had been controversial; their homestead was going to be crowded already, food would be tight and he was one more mouth to feed. But at the end of the day they knew they couldn't leave him to the mercies of the riotous hordes that were now bubbling out of the urban infernos. Besides, they all knew he probably wouldn't be with them once the snow stopped falling and they wanted to make the most of the time they had.

Pawpaw did what he could to pull his own weight that winter, though there wasn't much to do but keep the fire going and butcher starving steers. One freezing night he went to sleep and woke up walking through the green grass and red clay of home for a picnic at the nearest fishing hole in sunny Avard, Oklahoma. Those left behind had only cloudy days and the looming darkness.

Firestorm

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Re: Every Leaf In Springtime, Caravaneer 1 Fanfic
« Reply #1 on: August 28, 2015, 06:17:27 AM »
Chapter 1: Spring

It was early March before the ground thawed enough for the dead to be buried. In addition to Pawpaw Billy, a friend had died in a fall and a couple from up the road had lost their youngest child to the flu epidemic that was sweeping through the county. The McLintocks wore N95 masks to the funeral. It was hard on everyone watching that tiny homemade coffin go into the ground, and something they'd probably start seeing more often.

They still couldn't get to the nearest town by vehicle, and wouldn't have wanted to use their fuel for it anyway, but Paul was going to make it there by any means necessary. The family needed to restock on supplies while they could, they needed to pick up any mail that understandably hadn't been delivered, they wanted word from the Farm Bureau and County Extension Office on what the coming summer might be like, and they also wanted to check in with friends that they hoped were still alive. Moreover, the whole household was near-delirious from cabin fever and all of them were looking for an excuse to stretch their legs. Paul, his younger brother James and their sister Bethany saddled up their horses and set out at daybreak.

Pinyons and junipers looked very pretty when wreathed in snow. The hills around their ranch glistened in white crystals underneath a sky of polished blue. New green shoots were starting to emerge from where the snow was melting. A curious donkey foal followed their horses on the other side of the fence. Winter was finally coming to an end.

***

Rachel McLintock might have been pushing 50, but with a little help she could still out-wrestle every Charolais bull they had. She used to have a sister who told her that motherhood and the squalor of rural life would age her before her time. Said sister had poured a small fortune into eternal youth; she was living outside Pasadena and on her way to looking something like pickled plastic last time they saw her. Seemed like most who wanted eternal youth were instead conned into eternal life; there were worse things, Rachel thought, than an untimely death.

"All right, he's good to go!" yelled George. At that, Rachel pulled up the lever to the head gate. Two metal bars which had held the bull in a sort of headlock released their grip, allowing the giant animal to slip out of the small chute and back to his harem in the corral, none the worse for wear. A relatively simple mechanism, which made animal husbandry a hundred times safer and simpler for man and beast alike.

"Well, that's the last of them. I guess our herd's about as healthy as it was last year, just… smaller."

Thinning it down had been a dreadful experience. It wasn't that the McLintocks were averse to butchering their own meat, or that there was any question of what would happen to broodstock who couldn't breed any more. And certainly the slaughter of emaciated animals was a more merciful act than leaving them to die in the snow. But they could still remember which of their slain cattle bred well, which ones didn't, which ones gave meaty calves, which ones gave hardy calves… it was a mistake to think of livestock as pets, but destroying so many over the course of one winter had felt like cutting off portions of their own bodies.

"So our herd now stands at…" Rachel consulted her notebook "3 calves, 7 replacement heifers, 3 bulls, 73 breeding cows, quite a few of whom look like they'll be calving in the coming weeks… How many of the new births do you think we'll keep?"

"Not sure." said George. "Depends on what how quickly the taxman wants his pound of flesh. We'll know more when the kids get back."

Rachel had tried not to think about her kids' journey. The road to town was going to be dangerous even on horseback, and who knows what kind of miscreants might be sharing it?

"The donkeys had it about as bad as the cows," she continued. "2 foals, 5 mares, 2 stallions, which should still be enough to protect our property."

"There's also the horses: Ed, Edd and Eddy." noted George. They weren't really named that, but for some reason he thought the monikers were funny.

"One of our hives died off, though the other five should still be productive. We still have a rooster, 13 laying hens, 12 pullets and cockerels… we don't have to worry about eggs. Turkeys did about as well: both gobblers survived, along with 12 hens and 5 chicks."

"Well, we'll have to crunch the numbers to see if that's enough to keep you, me, dad and the kids from starving, but I think it's a start. We'll need a new milk goat, unless we start milking the cows."

"…or the donkeys." Rachel chuckled at that thought. "Though if we do that we might as well sell off the billy goats. Yeah, I guess our protein is taken care of, but man shouldn't try to live by meat alone."

"Oh? Why not?"

***

The two-hour trip was uneventful. Things didn't seem too bad in Weston: stores were open, so was the post office, they had running water and word was that the lights were still on in Trinidad. Very little food or fuel for sale in either place, but that wasn't surprising. The hardware store where Bethany used to work was still surprisingly well-stocked, and they made out an order for supplies to take home on their way back through town.

Segundo was also in pretty good shape, or at least not much worse than it had been before the winter.  They considered checking the big office of one of the local gas drillers, and while it looked deserted from a distance, the new razor wire fence and a fierce-looking sign warning that trespassers would be fired upon convinced them not to take a closer look.

The six-hour trip down Highway 12 and the Picketwire Valley was a little more difficult. Boulders and timbers blocked passage in some areas, there were abandoned vehicles and assorted junk scattered everywhere, and the sight of a few manmade barricades convinced them to avoid some parts of the road entirely. Sometimes they followed the old railroad grade on the far side of the river, sometimes they rode in the river itself.

"Does it seem odd to any of y'all that a highway originally built by pickaxe-wielding Mexicans and their burros can't be maintained by road crews and their bulldozers?" asked Paul as they rode along the south bank of Lake Trinidad. A chuckle and a shrug was the response.

Finally, his sister offered "…well, no gas and oil drilling back then, so landslides and earthquakes wouldn't have been so much of a problem. And the county road crews might be having the same shortages as everyone else. I heard someone in Weston say that they're focused on I-25 and the other big roads, don't have time or resources to worry about our neck of the woods just yet."

"Well then, what about this big lake here? If they can't maintain the roads, then who's making sure all this water don't find a way to drown everyone in Trinidad?"

By this point, they were nearing the earthen dam that protected the towns of Jansen and Trinidad. None of them knew enough about dams to judge how sturdy it might be, but a simple glance confirmed that the lake was indeed being neglected. They had heard and smelled the refugee-packed campground before they had seen it, part of the reason why they travelled on the opposite side of the lake. The water was littered with half-sunken pleasure craft and what they hoped was a mannequin or animal carcass. The only evidence of official authority was a Corps of Engineer truck perched haphazardly on the dam, passenger door hanging open and bullet holes in the side.

"Whatever problems they might have, the snowmelt will make them even worse." she said.

"That's a good point. Remember the time when it started raining, they couldn't get the spillway open and they were afraid it was going to burst? If that happens again and the snow melts quickly then it could be a disaster. Hey, James! What do you…"

James had gone some 30 yards ahead of his siblings, dismounting at the foot of the dam and carefully walking up it. The embankment offered a good view of the land downriver and he began surveying it with his binoculars.

He immediately wished he hadn't.

***

The Hanging Gardens, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, were reputedly built by King Nebuchadnezzar because his wife missed the green plants and trees of her homeland. When ranchers in the Rockies married flatlanders, they often let them play around with raised beds, greenhouses, maybe even a small orchard or garden plot. It hurt nothing and if it put fresh veggies on the table then so much the better.

Watching the activity from the safety of the back porch, Ben McLintock wondered if his son was letting things go too far.

"My granddad used to say that God made this country for buffalo. Serves pretty well for cattle, but it hates the plow. And even you Okies should know that you can't farm 8000 feet above sea level unless you bring your own dirt!"

Rachel grinned "Well then, why don't you come down here and help us with the dirt?"

What he said was true. Their property had no native topsoil to speak of; even the bottomlands had seen most of it carried away with the melting glaciers many eons ago. What they did have, however, was tons and tons of cow manure. Take that, put it in a giant heap with any other compostable material you can find, run it through the digestive system of a couple million worms, work it into the ground over the course of a quarter of a century, and eventually you might be able to grow something. To increase the mineral content, they even brought in some pulverized slag from the nearby abandoned mines and coke ovens. Gardening wasn’t easy at 8,000 feet above sea level, in fact it felt a bit like Heinlein's "Farmer in the Sky" at times, but they managed to pull it off. The growing season was fairly short, but this was offset by lots of sunny days; whatever was sowed would usually be reaped in abundance.

Although it improved their diets while reducing their grocery bills, it wasn't an "economical" use of land compared to letting the cattle graze it. They had 5 cherry and 20 plum trees planted, their garden had grown to cover a quarter of an acre, and that would have normally been the extent of what they wanted or would be able to maintain. But with the herd thinned so heavily, George had agreed to double the planting area temporarily. Whatever went into the new ground wouldn't be quite as productive—under-fertilized and quite probably under-watered— but they had plenty of seeds to plant and would hopefully have more once the kids got back.

The last winter hadn't really been so much colder, just snowier and longer. Minimum temperature had been somewhere around -27 F or -33 C, about the same as last year. It's official: they were in a new growing zone. No more cantaloupes unless they built greenhouses, then.

Beyond that, the question wasn't so much what plants they would grow this year (everything) as what plants would get the choicest placement. They had traditionally focused on nutritious, high-vitamin crops: corn, squash, beans, kale, lettuce, onions, celery, tomatoes, eggplants, basil and the like. This time they would put an emphasis on hardy, high-carbohydrate staples: corn, oats, barley, wheat, Jerusalem artichoke and potatoes. They would have a less interesting diet in the coming year, but at least they would be eating.

It had been exercise in faith planning a garden in the winter, deciding what would go where while a blizzard raged outside. It could still be weeks before they broke ground, but it was never too early to start thinking about it. Apart from placement and watering, their biggest concern would be to sustain themselves without hurting the soil in a climate that was becoming more and more unpredictable. That was going to be hard, and Rachel's own granddad could have said a thing or two about what happened when people asked more of the land than it could give.

***

Trinidad was five miles behind them and no one had said a word since leaving. Several commercial buildings had burned to the ground and many others showed signs of heavy looting. Snow remained unshoveled on about half the streets, garbage was ankle deep in some places. Police and armed citizens standing behind sandbag walls were a common sight in some areas, while others were packed with shell-shocked, haunted-looking wretches; refugees from up and down I-25. Lights were still on, which meant they probably wouldn‘t freeze, but they didn't look particularly nourished or hygienic. The whole city had a gloomy, rancid feel to it; maybe a cleansing wall of water would do the place some good.

It was a fair bet that the county tax office wouldn't be sending anyone to bother them; it was now home to several hundred of those living-dead refugees, which raised the question of who was paying for their heat and food. The ag extension agent hadn't had anything to say that the McLintock's didn't already know or strongly suspect. They didn't even bother browsing the remaining stores; they couldn't leave this City of Destruction for the Howling Wilderness soon enough.

The trip to Trinidad had been a waste in all but one detail: it forced them to accept a reality that they had been fighting even after the death of their grandfather. Bethany was the first to put to words what all of them now knew.

"Guys, it really is the end of the world, ain't it?"

Firestorm

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Re: Every Leaf In Springtime, Caravaneer 1 Fanfic
« Reply #2 on: August 28, 2015, 06:20:41 AM »
Chapter 2: Summer

As the weather got warmer, the arroyos of the McLintock Ranch ran steady with snowmelt. They invested most of their precious remaining diesel into building new reservoirs; more than the famously-stringent Colorado water laws allowed them to have, but they doubted anyone would mind. They also had a number of large rainwater-fed cisterns (also illegal) which were filled to capacity. Normally these preparations wouldn’t have been necessary; the cattle usually stayed watered on the property's streams and wells alone, but George thought it would be a good idea to put a few more drops in the bucket. It was a good thing he did.

The donkeys came into their own in the planting season. George had originally bought them from the BLM for use as livestock guard animals, but a donkey is a mediocre choice for that task; able to handle coyotes and wolves but insufficient against mountain lions or bears—and this was a problem when your property set near a State Wildlife Area known as Bosque del Oso (Forest of the Bear). However, they were strong, hardy animals who required little maintenance and who's small size allowed the garden to be more densely planted than would have been possible with tractors or horses.

Bethany was left alone in the garden one day while the others were out working cattle. Having finished weeding another furrow, she scooped up a dandelion puffball and gave it a blow. Suburbanites once considered the flower a noxious weed, one that they spent millions of dollars each year trying to eradicate, but the McLintock's always welcomed it into their fields and gardens. It was a nitrogen-fixing plant and herbal diuretic with roots that made good tea, leaves that made good salads, and petals that made good juice and wine.

There were a number of wild plants flourishing in the Colorado foothills. Rhubarb, shallots and asparagus could be found growing everywhere, and wild oats could be found in some spots. There was also bear, elk, deer, hogs, goats, turkeys, and various small game running wild in the hills. Nature seemed to be doing well, whatever was happening in the world of man. Reassuring thought. Paul even ate a few rats, which he claimed weren't all that different from squirrel. Bethany wasn't willing to go there just yet, even though she knew that people in Trinidad were doing that and worse. Hunter-gathering wouldn't be ideal but it could help as a supplementary diet, or an emergency fallback. Something to keep in mind.

***

Granola finished her plate and moved it to the side. "Shame we had to kill a buffalo." she said.

"Damn shame," affirmed Ghetto, "for all we know, he may have been the last one in the world."

"You two didn't say a thing when y'all were still hungry ." replied Melissa, kicking herself for letting out a "y'all". Gotta keep a professional face.

"I know, I'm just saying…"

"Don't. Next you'll say that robbery is wrong when you're not busy doing it. And if it makes you feel any better, that wasn't a buffalo, it was a beefalo: cow-bison hybrid, not an engendered species."

"Really? How can you tell" asked Roommate

"Eh, real buffalos are bigger, and they don't look so… cow-like." Normally she wouldn't have bothered to answer, but Roommate was the member she had known the longest, and her second-in-command. Melissa really had no idea what they were eating, but she wanted to keep morale up.

That was hard when sharing a cave with five other women. Or was this a mine? Her old man used to yammer about the old mines all the time, and he once said that some of them were dangerous. Bad air? Maybe, and if her girls all wake up suffocated one night it'll be all on her. It's always all on her, but then that's how it is when you're in charge.

So here they are, somewhere on public land northwest of Trinidad. Some kind of training ground maneuvering thing for the military. There were still scattered travellers on the nearby interstate and they would occasionally take what they needed from them. They didn't have the numbers or firepower for any real fights, so the preferred means of getting the goods was either smash-and-grab or seduction. Most of her girls were nothing much to look at but, well, these are desperate times.

"This place is nice, couldn't we just stay here?" asked Little Orphan Annie.

"No, we can't. Do you think we'll get a score like this every time we leave the reservation? Most of you have never held a gun in your life, much less hunted."

She wished she had payed more attention on those long-ago hunts her family used to go on. But it seemed so senseless at the time, gunning down wild animals or busting your ass growing your own food when the world was still full of perfectly good grocery stores.

"We try living like this long-term and we'd never make it through the winter. Things may be bad back in town but they do give us a few bread crumbs every now and then. So what we do is get whatever we can in there, get whatever we can out here and keep working at it until we can live on our own. Important thing is that we stick together."

They could all agree on that one. Women's Lib had never been taken seriously in America, and any pretence of it disappeared with the petroleum. Outside this little tribe of hers the girls would be favoured slaves at very best, more likely disposable screwtoys for the two-legged wolves (male and female) now roaming the earth.

"What about joining the work crews? Find a place on one of the farms?" asked Granola, weakly.

"You really want to try that again? Seeing how well it went for you and your friends in that little commune?"

Granola was silent after that; it wasn't something she liked talking about.

"Well I don't. I know first-hand what these jackass ranchers are like: 'I got mine, you can drop dead.' They were bad even before all of this happened, and now's the perfect chance to become the feudal overlords they always wanted to be. Anyone they take in will become their slaves, and there's only one thing they'll want from us women."

Even if it would work, Melissa had bigger plans than that. This was a new world—a bad world, but one that might offer… what was the word her teachers always used? Empowerment! Yeah, empowerment for those who really wanted it. And to have that, her little band of brigands needed to be kept together, out of the clutches of both the wolves and the Marlboro Men.

***

Grass is an amazing thing. One of the most drought, heat, and cold-resistant plants on the planet, coming back stronger than ever in the wake of fire and flood, able to grow where nothing else will, and filled with sugars and proteins. Unfortunately, human digestive systems can't make much use of it.

Ranching at its core is the art of turning grass into something more edible. For as long as humans stopped following and started domesticating the migratory grazers, livestock owners had spent a great deal of energy making sure their herds were getting the most out of the grass. The McLintock Ranch was divided into nine separate pastures, a third of which would generally be grazed at any given time except in winter, when the herd was spread equally amongst them. By this method they could prevent the cattle from overgrazing and ruining the grass in any one area. Cattle rotation was as important to the long-term health of a ranch as crop rotation was to the long-term health of a farm

Clouds of dust choked the ranch-hands as they drove the herd into the next pasture. It was the start of May and already getting hotter. The grass was getting a parched brown look to it while cracks were starting to form in the soil. It hadn't rained in a month and the cattle didn't seem happy.

George directed the overall migration while his sons and Dave Castro, a trusted neighbour (ex-brother-in-law, in fact), commanded individual units. Rachel ran the chuck wagon. There were six hired hands involved: three local boys who more or less knew what they were doing and a number of strangers who were getting their hands dirty for the first time in their lives. They didn't really need that much manpower, but the refugees needed food and George didn't believe in charity for able-bodied men.

Watching them at work, he had to wonder how long they'd stay able-bodied.

"The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." said George.

"Yeah, and remember that those guys are the exception to the rule. Most of their kind won't even try to do this kind of work." said Dave.

"Perhaps, but with machinery gone there's plenty of other tasks to be done. Not all of them are this hard."

"George, I grew up Denver, so I know what city people are like. They think that ANY form of manual labour is demeaning. Do you think some lifelong welfare queen or vampirizing banker is going to happily pick veggies and string barbed wire for you? They won't do it! They'd rather die than do it."

Prodding his horse forward, George called out orders to some of the hands. He rode over to offer direct instructions and then returned to his vantage point.

"Eh, I guess got a little more faith in my fellow man. I say just let them get a little hungrier and they'll learn an honest profession; either honest working or honest thieving."

***

"That looks like hard work." said Granola as she watched the maneuvers of the distant cowboys.

"Looks kind of fun." said Ghetto, scanning them through a telescope.

"It isn't." said Melissa. "Hey Sacagawea, you see anything interesting?"

Sacagawea put down the binoculars and pointed in the direction of the house. She didn't talk much.

Melissa had wanted to call her Dahteste, but no one knew who that was and even she wasn't sure on the spelling. Silent, stealthy Apache Warrioress of the Desert; her old X Studies classmates would have fallen over themselves to meet someone like her.

Never mind that her weapons skills were only slightly better than the others, or that her survival skills were rudimentary at best. Even her silence (sullenness, more like it) owed more to Xanax withdrawal than cultural traits. Another child of EBTs and television who would die about as quick as anyone if left alone out here. Sack wasn't some pure last specimen of a time when humankind lived in harmony with the natural world, she was white trash with a tan.

But she was a quick study. Her tracking skills were getting better and she was quick to spot distant movement. Sure enough, there seemed to be two or three people in the brushes behind the ranch house.

Their gang hadn't come for the Marlboro Men—not directly at least. They had learned of a planned raid on local ranches and decided to keep an eye on the suspects. They would let them go in, do their worst, take their risks, and then meet them afterwards for a proper thank-you. Like coyotes stealing fresh carrion from wolves.

Melissa knew that there was no one at the house except for an old woman and a teenage girl. Sucks to be them. Hopefully the robbers wouldn't make too much noise; if the others weren't alerted, there would be a chance to grab them and a lot of what they might leave behind. It was perfect.

***

Bethany's uncle brought his mom to visit while she was in the field, still a spry lady at 88 years of age. It was too hot for her to lend a hand with the plowing, so she retired to the kitchen to make some sumac lemonade.

Too hot for Bethany and her plowmate too. Heading to the barn. She decided to give him the day off and put one of the others to work that evening. Working in shade and twilight would be the only way to survive such a summer.

"Hired hands are probably heading home by now. Do you think the others will come home or camp out tonight?" she asked the donkey.

The donkey racked its head in a movement that looked a lot like a nod.

"Lazy bums. Bet my brothers are playing in one of the watering holes while I'm stuck here with the barley." He nodded again. "Crops are so boring, ain't they? Worse than the chickens. You can't even run around and chase…"

The donkey's ears went straight back. Not a good sign. Angry? At her? No, he's worried about something. Very worried.

As she turned towards the house, she saw a group of men emerge from the corner. All three were dressed in jeans and wifebeaters, all had knives on their belts, none looked friendly.

"Hello little girl. Um, is anyone else here? It's important, um, we need to talk to your parents."

"Haha! Yeah, talk to them about you."

They started giggling. In an instant, Bethany knew how the cows felt when staring down a pack of ravenous wolves.

In two seconds, the first man was on the ground and blowing bloody bubbles, a.45 Long Colt slug in each lung. Bethany had been an award-winning Cowboy Action Shooter, and her Ruger Blackhawk revolver barked at the attackers with a tempo that would rival most autoloaders. She used the Mozambique Drill on the third attacker, firing twice in the chest and then once in the head when he failed to stop. Headshot missed, but he nonetheless fell dead at her feet. One round for the last guy. Miss! armadilloarmadilloarmadilloarmadilloarmadillo!

Bethany lunged and shoved him off balance, dodged the knife, ducked away and broke for the house. He should have had no trouble against the sixteen year-old girl, but months on a starvation diet had seriously hurt his balance, reaction time and dexterity. But he was still stronger, and could probably outrun her. Then he'd have her all to his self. This was going to be a good day, he thought.

Making his way to the threshold of the door, he suddenly felt the strangest sensation. What's that sound? What's wrong with my legs? Why am I feeling so light-headed? It's dark. Why does my stomach hurt?

Bethany's shoulder hurt. It would hurt a lot more once the adrenalin wore off, but that wasn't important right now. Her great-aunt had seen everything and the shotgun on the mantle was loaded by the time she got inside. The last bandit dropped to his knees with a dazed, stupid look on his face. She adjusted her aim slightly and fired again, blowing off the top of his head. Splinters flew off the porch column, skull fragments and brain matter covered the front steps and the pretty stone walkway. Mom's little Archangel Gabriel statue was coated in red mist.

***

The rest of the family was three-quarters of a mile out when they heard the pistol shots.

"Sounds like Beth found a snake. Parboil?"

Shotgun blasts. She wasn't shooting snakes.

Bethany was still armed when George, Dave, Paul and James got to the house. Dave's mom had grabbed a rifle and was watching from the second story. George ran to his daughter and held her in his arms, thankful she was alive.

"I had to."

"You did good honey, it was them or you. Just remember that."

"I had to" she repeated, slowly. "If I let them live… huh… they might have sued me." She forced a chuckle.

Slowly regaining their composure, the focus turned towards the three corpses in the yard. Paul was already poking around the bodies. Food, water, knives, empty backpacks; didn't look like they had anything of value on them. He wondered if Bethany was going to need therapy. In this world? Take a number. James grabbed one robber by the feet and started dragging.

"What are you doing?" asked Paul

"Hiding the body."

For a second, everyone looked at James, their expressions a mix of shock and confusion.

"What!?" James exclaimed before anyone could protest. "I mean, we know it was self-defense, but will the government see it that way? Y'all know how these things can be, does Bethany need to spend months in court with some damn lawyer accusing her of violating their civil rights or something like that?"

"It's a big risk either way." said Paul. "Desecration of a corpse if nothing else."

"I don't like it either, but… way I see it…" started George "we don't know who these guys are. Maybe they're part of a gang, maybe it's just three random thugs. So they've either got someone who'll miss them or they don't. Either way, we don't need the attention… yet."

So it was settled. The only outside witnesses to the events weren't going to be an issue. Dave had returned from the barn and already had a couple of shovels in his hands. "Well, if you're going to 3-S humans, you'd better bury them good and deep."

"We ain't burying them." said George.

***

Their property was never so poorly defended after that day. Everyone wore a pistol and seldom did they leave the house without a long gun. The mess was cleaned up and before long looked like nothing ever happened. In time the McLintocks wouldn't worry about the cops; the government was nowhere to be found before the men had died, so why would they be around afterwards?

Paul was working in the barn when the government showed up. An official-looking lady came up the driveway in an SUV with a sheriff's deputy riding shotgun. Didn't even look in the direction of the compost, which relieved everyone.

What was her story, he wondered. Not with the bank, or she would be more heavily guarded. Obviously a state employee of some kind. Didn't have the predatory look of an auditor, and they too would be more heavily guarded. She might have been fat at one time, but didn't have the Deprived Addict look of most overeaters. So in a previous life she spent too much time behind a desk or car. Wearing shoes too nice to go where cattle have been. Her formal yet plain appearance indicated that she wanted to look friendly and approachable but still command a sense of authority. So she interacts with the public a lot. No clipboard, but she had a briefcase with more volume than some backpacks, so she handles a lot of information about whatever or whoever she works with.

DFCS? But we have no children here.

***

The McLintock's were becoming foster parents.

It was all voluntary, the State Social Worker had said. She also said that the IRS was alive and well and would soon come looking to collect. The Federal government had instituted a %30 percent sales tax on top of whatever Colorado and Las Aminas County wanted. Breeding cows were valuable and bartering was considered a taxable transaction. However, if they agreed to take in refugees—preferably young, old and infirm— their tax burden could be temporarily reduced or even waived.

It felt just a bit like extortion. Empty extortion too, if what George had been hearing was true. George McLintock didn't like that at all and might have summarily turned them away… if they hadn't gone ahead and brought the kids.

God, those kids. Two boys and two girls, ages 6 to 14. Ill-fitted clothes, gaunt faces, haunted eyes. All their worldly possessions in the back of the Suburban. Tax writeoffs didn't mean a thing when they saw them. George wasn't interested in having a talk with The Almighty about his lack of charity for orphans and widows, and he would never forgive himself if those they spent another day wondering where their next meal would come from. The Social Worker promised to check in soon, but for some reason they all knew they would never see her again.

The kids shuffled around, eyes to the ground, unsure of what would happen now. They reminded him of yearlings first let loose in a new pasture.

"Well… what do you kids know about ranching?"

Firestorm

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Re: Every Leaf In Springtime, Caravaneer 1 Fanfic
« Reply #3 on: August 28, 2015, 06:22:18 AM »
Chapter 3: Fall

Melissa's gang followed closely behind the robbers, only to quietly retreat after the shooting. They had seen everything, and were still yammering about it when they got to relative safety in the high country.

"Where did that gun come from?" asked Granola, "One minute it looked like she was dead and next it was like the Shootout at the OK Corral."

"Yeah, and that last one?" asked Ghetto "Gutshot him then blew his brains out! Gawd!"

"And then they filleted them!" exclaimed Roommate. "Dumped them in that, um… rotting-crap-and-trash, fertilizer-pit-thing?"

"Compost pile." said Melissa. "It's like I keep saying; these people are psychos."

"Really?" asked Little "They were just defending themselves, weren't they? Seems to me that the robbers deserved to die."

Melissa blinked. Little Orphan Annie, like all the girls, was already an accessory to murder at best, but the belligerence in her voice came as a surprise.

"That's right" agreed Ghetto heartily, "those men deserved everything they got and worse."

There were several voices of agreement, and for a moment Melissa was worried. Her gang didn't share her hatred of the Marlboro Men, or at least it paled in comparison to their hatred of wolves. That, she had to admit, was understandable. She needed to redirect this conversation fast.

"Well, I guess you guys are right. It's just that I hate to see us come all the way out here and then go home with NOTHING to show for it!"

For emphasis, she grabbed a rock and threw it down the hill they had just climbed, impressively causing it to cartwheel and tumble down a couple hundred feet. Showboating perhaps, but it worked.

Their minds were off the "psycho" faux pas, but that only improved her status slightly. They were all smarting over the wasted trip, and would soon be blaming her for being hungry and thirsty and hot and tired and having to go home empty-handed.

"Well, we got one good thing out of all this: a good lesson on why we don't hit ranches." said Roommate

There were nods of agreement and even some chuckles. And that was why Roommate had been assigned second-in-command. It was true; they still weren't strong enough to hit defended positions.

They would be, though. In addition to her raids, Melissa had several side projects going in the refugee camp. When she got home she was going to have an interview with two new recruits. Twins from California with lots of potential: strong, agile, sharp-eyed, and stupid. If they made the cut she would call them Thing 1 and Thing 2.

Sometimes she wished someone else could be assigned to hand out nicknames.

***

Hector, Alexa, Caleb, and Staci unsurprisingly knew nothing about ranching beyond what they had seen in Westerns; but, fed and sheltered, the adoptees adapted quickly to life with the McLintock family. They were just in time for the fall harvest season, and from mid-August until November would spend most of their working hours cutting hay, threshing grains, plucking corn, picking vegetables, and pulling up tubers.

"Diggin' fer 'taters an' throwin' 'em in a donkey cart…" moaned Alexia. "like a bunch of old Irish peasants out here!"

Alexia was an eleven-year-old black girl from the Mississippi Delta and easily the most dissimilar of the four kids. She had a Southern accent that was hard for even the ancestrally-Texan McLintocks to understand, but her parents had been farmers and she had a near-photographic memory of equipment and land use techniques that the McLintocks had never used before and mostly never heard of.

They would try using some of the ideas she had given them in the next planting season. However, most of it—labour-saving technology that had made large-scale, small-workforce modern farming possible—required a level of petroleum, electricity, and logistics that they would never live to see again. Wonders of a lost civilization.

"Don't knock it." said Rachel "How many other vegetables can you grow in any volume with nothing but sticks?"

Alexia laughed. "Just because it can be done don't mean it should be; look what happened to the Irish."

Rachel nodded approvingly; Alexia had been paying attention in their homeschool history classes.

The answer to famine, she thought, was flexibility. Wheat was seemingly universal. The main staple for pre-potato Irish had been barley, the Aztecs had amaranth and the Ethiopians had built their ancient empire on sorghum. The people of Scotland had sustained themselves on oats, Natives Americans and early pioneers had done the same with corn. They could focus their planting on any of those staples and more; anything but rice, really. Rachel had always wondered if haggis would go well with grits.

"Glad we don't have to do it all by hand." said Hector as he hefted another loaded bag into the cart, petting the donkey while he was there. Though he was the same age as Alexia, he looked quite a few years older and could work almost as hard as a grown man.

Rachel was glad for that too. Over the years, they had gathered a small fleet of vintage farm equipment from antique stores, the Internet, fellow survivalists, and the Amish community on the far side of the Sangre de Christo Mountains. Some was homemade. Most had been designed for large mules or draft horses, so George would often do a little welding or blacksmithing to suit their smaller American Quarter Horses and even-smaller American Standard Donkeys.

They had a surprisingly-sophisticated forecart built by an Amish company in Ohio, a two-and-a-half-ton wagon for the horses and a few smaller ones for the donkeys, a one-hundred-plus-year old heirloom turning plow, a cultivator about half as old, a seed drill originally designed for a jeep or ATV, a harrow built from a chainlinked fence, and some stoneboats built from wood pallets. They had no spreaders, no sprayers, no reapers or binders, no harvesters, no mowers, and no haymakers. These jobs were done with rented equipment or by hand tools and human toil. They weren't dispossessed peasants by any means, but the harvest was still a very labour-intensive time.

***

Caleb shoved another armful of oats into the hopper, careful not to get any limbs too close. This was one of the most dangerous tasks on the ranch; he took quite a bit of pride in being trusted with it. His six-year old sister sat at a desk with Ben "Granpa" McLintock and winnowed the few bits of chaff that made it through the machine. The two kids from suburban Seattle had never worked so hard in their lives, but they liked the thought having important jobs to do.

Threshing was one area that had been a cause for concern, labour-wise. They couldn't hope to separate the grains with flails and still find time for anything else. They did have a small foot-powered treadle thresher that had previously served them well, but it was showing its age and wasn't quite enough for the quantity of grain they had planted this year. A neighbour had a horse-powered thresher, but the price he asked for its use was too high for their liking.

Paul and James had gone to work on a solution, with Paul designing and James building a stationary engine which could do threshing or milling by donkey power. It was a concept as old as Ancient Egypt with a few modern touches: they cannibalized the treadle thresher to build it, and also added the drive shaft and differential of an old dump truck. The harness shafts could be adjusted for human power if it came to that or oxen if their dad's plan of using the Charolais as beasts of burden came to fruition. In addition to grain processing, it could probably be fitted with a generator and used to charge batteries, provide electric power, even keep refrigerators running. Solar panels and windmills did most of that at the moment, but they wouldn't last forever and replacements were going to be hard to come by.

***

"Oats: a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people."

"What?" asked James.

"Something I heard somewhere" said Paul. "I think it was supposed to be an insult."

"I don't see why. If you can only afford one type of crop, it would make sense to grow a type that'll feed your people and livestock both."

James stabbed his pitchfork into the cartload of garden waste, already steaming in the cold evening air, and loaded it into the silo. It would be preserved through a process of partial fermentation known as "ensilage" and fed to their livestock through the winter.

"Think Dave will cut our hay this week?" asked James.

"I hope so; it'll ruin if he waits much longer. Dad has it figured that between our silage and the hay he cuts for us, we should keep our cattle fed through even a bad winter."

"Good thing his rates are reasonable; I don't think we could have built a thresher and haybaler both."

***

Fall harvest fell short in many areas, as had been feared. The cold spring had hurt the wheat, the hot summer had hurt the oats, the lack of rain had hurt everything. They had read of people feeding their families on half-acre garden lots, but those people must have had smaller families, better half-acres or more skill than the McLintocks would ever have. They still had most of their two-year-long stockpile of food from before the collapse, and would probably never run short on meat, but a balanced diet still required occasional trips to the farmers market and grocery store.

Ben McLintock had always prided himself as a skilled builder, and he managed to put up two new bunkhouses for the growing number of men (and some women) living semi-permanently on their ranch. These were Spartan dwellings: one built from a couple of stock trailers and the other an unused storage shed, but they were better than what was being offered in town, food and board was dirt-cheap and they would suffice until decent cabins could be built sometime next year.

George still did what he could to avoid being stuck in the garden. It wasn't hard, not with so many fences on their property always in need of mending. He could usually be found riding the hills with one of his kids or a trusted hired hand. One day, he and Bethany rode to the far side of the property to fix the damage left by a stampeding herd of elk. A pounding wind blew dust and stinging ice pellets at them with the ferocity of a sandblaster.

"Almost starting to miss all the trucks from the gas companies." said Bethany, noting the road on the other side of their fence that use to run thick with them. The drivers used to wave as they passed by the cattle and fence crews, and would occasionally stop to chat with them. A lot of the ranching families didn't particularly trust or like the gas companies, but they tried not to blame the workers for the sins of their employers.

"Yeah, I have no idea what's going on with the coal-bed methane." replied her dad. "Someone in town said that it looks like they capped most of the wells, and the tree-huggers monkey-wrenched a bunch of the rest." He still wasn't sure wether or not he disapproved of that. "I think the methane drillers may be going the same way as the coal miners."

Several dozen different energy companies had spent the last 20 years sprinkling the Raton Basin with thousands of gas wells; little bald spots on the landscape that, when viewed from the air, made the whole region look like it had a terminal case of scabies. It had led to an economic boom for historically-impoverished Las Aminas County (or at least for the county seat and the officials who lived there), and it promised to bring cheap, plentiful, and environmentally-friendly fuel to America, freeing it from foreign markets and avoiding the nightmare scenarios long predicted by the Peak Oil types.

It had also been implicated in such environmental concerns as industrial chemicals contaminating waterways and drinking water, and the recent spike in earthquakes. And for all that the companies brought temporary economic benefits, the high production cost, high infrastructure requirements, low yields and rapid depletion of the wells meant that they were every bit as prone to booms and busts as the coal companies that had come before them. No, George wouldn't mind the passing of the natural gas industry, any more than his dad had minded the passing of coal.

Bethany had mixed feelings on the fate of unconventional gas; it was good that people in their area wouldn't have to worry about poisoned crops and cattle, or their own tap water bursting into flames anymore, but she had been holding out hope that she might be able to watch TV or drive a car again one day.

"So, think we'll camp out here tonight?" she asked.

"In this weather? Uh, we can if you're up to it."

"I can if you can. Might as well get used to cold wind."

"I don't get it though… if our state is slowly turning into a desert, how come it still gets so cold?"

Bethany thought about that for a moment. "Some deserts are cold. The Gobi Desert is cold, ain't it? I've heard that in some parts of Central Asia they have dustings of frost and snow every winter but it can go years at a time without raining."

George shrugged. "Fair enough. Maybe we should trade in these horses for yaks."

"Whatever we ride, we're going to need more of them." said Bethany. "Three horses for six riders wasn't enough even before we ran out of gas… and now I have four more siblings to share with."

***

It had still been almost hot enough to fry an egg outside when they started piling up wood for the winter. They drug down deadfall from wherever it could be found, sacrificed living trees when necessary, and broke the branches down into small sections that would fit into their furnaces.

"Do you think Dave would buy some wood chips off us?" asked James

"Doubt he needs to; that tractor can run off almost anything." Paul handed him another log to split. "Dave could just as easily use cow chips."

"Cow chips? Wouldn't want to stand downwind from that." James gave his axe a swing, splitting the log with little effort.

He was two years younger than his brother, but had half a head and about 70 pounds over him. James was a typical McLintock—swarthy, stocky and as meaty as the bulls they raised— while Paul was a slender, red-headed lightweight who took after his Momma's people. Their dad often joked that the Turners must have descended from prairie foxes.

"Hard work." said James as the two of them traded places.

"Cutting wood the old-fashioned way warms you up… twice;" sputtered Paul between chops, "once when you cut it… and once when you… burn it."

"Yeah? I think I'd be happy to be warmed up just once!"

They had both grown up on wood heat, but gathering fuel without any aid from chainsaws and log-splitters was a trying experience. Ranchers often prided themselves on being independent from the rest of civilization, and while they might have been better off than the average urban sophisticate, they really weren't the rugged individualists that their ancestors had been. They used the Internet to buy and sell livestock, they bred their animals with AI sent air freight, they moved their cattle out and their feed in over hundreds of miles of highway, the climate of their hay barns and the condition of their soil was maintained with the help of advanced computer software, even the trusty old horse had been long ago replaced by pickups and ATVs for "serious" work on most ranches.

And the McLintocks were better off than most. They had spent 25 years learning how to live without being so addicted to computers, oil, coal and electricity, and withdrawal was still hurting.

"Well, we have it." said Paul, "Thomas Jefferson's agrarian democracy! New York and Hollywood are probably ashes by now! No taxmen, no bankers, no BLM managers, no county commissioners, no welfare leaches, no one trying to take away our guns or our water or our land or telling us how to raise our kids! Sure is better than what we used to have, ain't it?"

James wasn't sure how to answer that. Those were all things that they had once claimed to want, and Paul didn't sound entirely sarcastic. Not having to pay taxes was good, but sometimes he wondered if things might have been better back when they were worse.

Firestorm

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Re: Every Leaf In Springtime, Caravaneer 1 Fanfic
« Reply #4 on: August 28, 2015, 06:23:08 AM »
Chapter 4: Winter

The wagon and two outriders made their way down the canyon road, carrying the last of the provisions they would need before winter entombed them. The snow wasn't sticking yet, but by tomorrow it would blanket the landscape and in a few days it would be almost impossible to leave their valley.

"Fimbulwinter" said Paul, grasping at the falling snowflakes.

"What?" asked his shotgun rider.

"In Norse Mythology, Ragnarok is preceded by the Fimbulwinter. Snow blows from all corners of the world, all plant life dies and mankind descends into despair and fratricidal war. Only two humans survive."

"Thought that happened last year." said the rider, leaning over to spit a wad of… what was that? Not tobacco; most couldn't even remembered what tobacco looked like.

"The fimbulwinter lasts three years…"

"Oh… that sounds… bad." He looked up into the grey sky and shuddered.

***

The politician stood in front of a bay window on the top floor of the only centrally-heated skyscraper in Denver. From here he had an excellent view of the Platte River and the tent cities that hugged it. Still teeming with head lice and human misery, but at least life still continued there. Oswald Raff made sure everyone knew who to thank for that.

Raff was a born conqueror of nations and ruler of men, formerly trapped in the body of a nebbish junior city councilman. When things went bad last year, his superiors in the city government all lined up to shake his hand, congratulating him on his promotions as they booked passage out of town. He had shed his old skin like a snake in the past year, and many of those superiors—the ones he found useful enough to keep—now worked for him.

A man in a blue general's uniform—almost as immaculately groomed as Raff's Armani suit— entered the room and walked to where the… what? councilman? city manager? mayor? governor? king? was standing.

"Weather reports are in." said the general, speaking around the stem of a clay pipe that he practically breathed through. "It's going to be cold, but not as cold as last year; we should make it through the winter with minimal losses."

Raff turned around, looked at the Major General holding the manila envelope, removed his cigar, and smiled. Normally he would barely acknowledge such a message, but he owed his most valued advisor that courtesy.

"We should be able to resettle more of them, then?" he asked, glancing back at the distant, sprawling tents.

"Yes sir. We could use some more hands at the ethanol plant in Masriah, or the fracking stations in Hara. Your call, Boss."

Masriah and Hara, formerly known as Walden and Hartsel, just as Qubba had once been Denver and Istanbul had once been Constantinople. General Schnittke never could understand why his boss wanted to rename every city in their territory; he didn't know if the Ottoman Empire was the best model to follow, and the whole thing almost seemed like a joke being played on people too afraid to laugh.

Raff took the report and read it over while the general repacked his pipe, glancing at the big No Smoking sign that his boss kept on the wall as yet another joke.

"Weather's going to be on our side for once? How reliable are these reports?"

"Well… we could use predictions from my old almanacs if you want. As for the weather… Gibbon did say that the winds and waves are always on the side of the ablest navigators."

Good for Gibbon, thought Raff wearily. He knew who that was, vaguely, and may have even read (or read of) Decline and Fall in college. His military advisor often made oblique references to the likes of Edward Gibbon, Oswald Spengler, and Arthur Toynbee. Raff had never liked history and had quit reading it as soon as the professors quit making him; reading those big books willingly seemed just a little weird to him.

General Schnittke seemed just a little weird to him, in a manner common to good military commanders. He had come from a prestigious military family and had once been a rising star in the US Air Force. That had helped tremendously in bringing the area's considerable military assets under the control of the Raff regime.

More than that, he made up a significant chunk of Raff's brain trust. He was a collector of old war memoirs and books on history and strategy. He had also spent his life studying the rise, peak, and decline of empires. In a way, he had seen himself as a loyal subject to a dying empire, hoping he could help it last long enough to spark something greater, and he had done what he could to make himself ready for whatever was coming next.

But he had no personal desire to govern, and still believed that a civilian government should control the military. Raff had the only known civilian government left between the Mississippi and the Sierra Nevadas. The General would rather see the region under the rule of a wannabe Caesar than no one at all, and that suited Raff just fine.

Raff retired to his typewriter and began pounding out a memo as he finished the report.

"More of our ethanol winds up in their stomachs than our cars, so we'll send them to Hara. They could come in handy later, when we expand towards Trinidad."

"Very well, sir."

***

Melissa watched in the firelight as her girls dragged the last of the drivers from his truck and hacked him to pieces. Grisly business, but they didn't want to leave witnesses.

Fighting in the nude had been an inspired tactic. She wasn't sure if that or darkness and speed had made it so difficult for the guards to fire upon them, but either way their gang of twelve had taken two tractor trailer-loads of food with only one dead and three seriously wounded.

That should be more than enough to keep them all through the winter. It was a fitting end to what would probably be one of her last actions in the field for awhile. There was simply too much going on with her businesses in the camps; she practically owned the Trinidad camp and was making significant inroads into Raton and Walsenburg. She was becoming less of a commander and more of an administrator—wasn't sure if she liked it, but that was what it meant to have power. She liked power.

"Clean up this mess and load up, girls! We got a meeting tonight and we don't want to be late."

***

Paul, James, their friends, and occasionally their sisters used to play airsoft all across the valley between home and town. One particularly favoured area was on the road they were now travelling, where a narrow cut had been blasted through the rocks. One band could always hide along the banks and fire down upon the other as they tried passing by; the road was a perfect death-trap.

Without announcement, James drew his Smith & Wesson Model 29 revolver and fired at an outcropping overlooking the road. A panicked figure emerged from behind it and the rider in the wagon hosed down the general area with his Browning Auto-5. Paul fought to keep the draft horse under control as two men with swords jumped from above onto the bed of the wagon. James' fellow horseman fired his Beretta M1951 Brigadier at the swordsmen, only to fall with a scream as an unseen shooter put a round in his side. Paul was grasping at a nasty-looking gash on his shoulder, and the shotgun rider was finishing off one of the melee men with his Bowie knife. James switched to his M1A Springfield and laid down fire on what he hoped was the last remaining gunman.

***

Joseph Berg walked alone through the cold, crowded, muddy camp. Not as bad as some government camps he had been in, which of course meant that the government had very little power here. The inevitable kids running wild in the streets all looked like they were keeping a close eye on the strange new man, the inevitable drunks laid out beside their tents were often drinking tea and not whiskey and likewise had their eyes peeled, and the inevitable wandering wretches clothed in raggy blankets seemed to have oddly gun-shaped lumps beneath them. Anyone who might pose a threat to their queen would quickly know that his continued survival in her realm was by her grace alone.

Several hours later, he and Melissa finalized their agreements over another round of what she claimed was vodka. It wasn't good but it was wet and was going to leave him tipsy, and that was good enough for him.

"So, I get all the supplies my jeep can carry in exchange for… what? I don't rob you if you if you don't rob me? You don't get too involved around the Cimarron River and I'll avoid the Purgatoire. You'll help me in a fight if I do the same for you? Is that about it?"

"There'll be trading agreements later I hope, but that's about it for now." Melissa replied.

"You wanted a friend and you had to look in the Oklahoma Panhandle to find one?"

"Nope." she drawled. "Thing is, you ain't much stronger or weaker than I am, and your rate of growth is about the same as mine. We're far enough away that we don't have to be rivals and we're close enough that we could be friends. You get what I'm saying?"

He nodded. Melissa had a hick accent that was almost as thick as his, and the drinks were making it hard for her to hide it. For some reason, he though that was funny.

"And you've heard about governments reforming in Colorado and Texas. I know we can't trust everything we hear about every self-proclaimed new government, but if one of them does get off the ground it could be a problem. They're doing something big near Pueblo and there's nothing but empty grassland between there and here."

Joseph had heard something about that. Some sort of kibbutz they were wanting to build on public lands in that area. Nirgendwo? Weird name.

"Yeah? And what if I just take these gifts, go home and send them my thanks for getting rid of the competition?"

Melissa crooked her head. "If that first group is Denver? I die with the satisfaction that you'll be next."

Joseph Berg feigned indifference. Melissa's fire-topped head concealed a very big brain, just like her graceful anatomy concealed a scary predator instinct. What would she have been if none of this had happened? Would have gone far in Corporate America no doubt, right up until her inevitable burnout and painful slide into emaciation or obesity, depending on which drugs the therapists put her on.

What she said was absolutely true. Anyone coming to Trinidad from the north would be bounded on two sides by mountains. They could try pushing onward through the Raton Pass, or head west or southeast over even nastier terrain… or they could head east across the flat-as-pancake grasslands that would eventually take them to his front door.

And they'd treat him the same way they treated her. Most governments frowned upon petty stealing and killing, and they frowned even more upon sophisticated protection rackets—which is to say that they frowned upon organized crime from those too disorganized to call themselves a government. Yes, if real government was coming, it wouldn't hurt to have a friend. If it wasn't, well, at least she was a hottie.

***

The kids were trying to make snow-angels in what was more ice than snow when the wagon showed up, corpses thrown over saddles or lashed along the outside because they didn't want any more blood on the winter provisions. The wounded were tended to on sight; their hired man wouldn't mount a horse for two months and Paul's broken left clavicle would predict weather for the rest of his life, but a low-velocity bullet and a very dull blade meant that neither injury was life-threatening.

Disposing of the robbers was a muted affair this time; a neighbouring ranch had seen several rustlers killed and when the police showed up they wouldn't even take the survivors into custody; their official suggestion had been to either shoot them or hire them.

Christmas was likewise a muted affair. No electricity meant no Christmas lighting. Limited firewood meant a slightly chilly house where the inhabitants walled off unused rooms, pulled their mattresses into the living room to sleep at night, and wore their sweaters indoors (the children thought this was odd, though the McLintocks had been doing it since before anyone outside Georgia had ever heard of Jimmy Carter). There was no tree inside the house because the Mclintocks had never understood why an unoffending tree needed to die to help commemorate the birth of their Lord and Saviour.

Meals came in the form of stews; mostly beef and venison of course, but really anything that moved could find its way into the pot. There were very few presents and most were very simple, though the gift of warmth, food, and life was seen by all as a gift enough. George and Rachel still worried about their missing oldest daughter and the newer kids all missed their families, but overall it was a happy time.

With the passing of the solstice, the Northern Hemisphere began its slow turn back towards the sun. Days got longer and warmer, a new growing season drew near, and things continued as usual on the ranch. New calves were born and those most suited to the new conditions were kept as part of the breeding herd. In time, they were able to replace their losses from the terrible winter that had taken Pawpaw Billy, and their Charolais cattle would become known throughout the region as excellent multipurpose meat, milk, and draft animals.

Firestorm

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Re: Every Leaf In Springtime, Caravaneer 1 Fanfic
« Reply #5 on: August 28, 2015, 06:24:45 AM »
Chapter 5: Hump Day!

An ox in the strictest sense is a mature steer (castrated bull) trained to pull a plow, wagon, or other load. Most any cattle breed can be used for oxen, though some are more suitable than others. Cows can be used as oxen, but they won't calve or produce milk if subjected to really heavy work. Young steers, stags and freemartins (naturally-infertile bull or cow), or uncastrated bulls can be used, but they generally don't have the training, temperament, or musculature for heavy work. Fertile bulls in particular could potentially have the same problems as stallions; violently shirking their duties to chase after any heifer that caught their fancy.

The McLintocks had experimented with oxen in the past. They had a couple of yearlings deemed unsuitable for breeding who they decided to keep as working steers to pull their stoneboats (a sort of homemade sled used for moving stones, hay bales and other bulky objects). Amusing waste of time for people who quit watching TV when Randolph Scott died, but it was really never an economical use of their beef, their grass, or their pasture space. It took about four years to raise an ox who would move about two miles an hour, and at the time it was felt that there was nothing an ox could do that the horses and donkeys (or mules, should they choose to get one) couldn’t do better.

The new dark age had changed the equations somewhat, with humans moving slower and not begrudging animals for doing likewise. Oxen were still the strongest and most durable draft animals around, which came in handy in a world where teamsters and their teams were often shot at. They could live off forage alone while working, where most large horse and mule breeds required supplemental hay or oats. Yokes and chains for an ox team were cheaper and more easily made than collar-and-hames harnesses. And, if it came down to it, a lame ox rendered more meat than a lame horse or mule.

The McLintocks still weren't in the habit of… emasculating their own registered breeding bulls, but an awful lot of them were being sold to other ranches to sire steers who, in a few more years, would fit that bill nicely.

There were countless abandoned vehicles lying dead on the roads and, as a side project, they went into the wainwrighting business. Engines, transmissions, and other dead weight would be discarded, shafts or tongues added, brakes rebuilt or replaced. Pickups were often sliced in half and had their beds turned into cargo carts, while cars were stripped down to the chassis and built back up as wagons. They even found a number of camper shells that could be mounted gypsy-style to wagon beds. Most any form of horseless carriage could theoretically be horsed, though their weight and awkwardness lent them more to oxen.

Always nice to have one business expedite the growth of the other.

***

The small, slow convoy pulled into town one morning, with passengers all dressed in their Sunday best. Most of the McLintock clan was on their way to church, with a number of their ranch-hands and a few neighbours riding along for mutual protection. Services were held on the second Sunday of each month, as had once been common for rural congregations whose pastors serviced multiple far-flung churches and whose members couldn't leave their homesteads on a weekly basis.

Several sermons would be preached over the course of the day, meaning that actual hours in the pew remained more or less the same. There would be breaks in the service for lunch and dinner, and members came in and out at random to tend to their animals or perform other necessary tasks—less devout members might step out for a discreet smoke or drink; frowned upon but not forbidden. It was a chaotic environment for the uninitiated and had a very Great Awakening/Circuit-Rider feel to it.

"Sure seems weird, going to church to eat." said Hector as he sat with the other kids in the back of what had once been a Chevy Tundra, bare feet dangling off the open tail gate.

"Really?" asked Alexia. "Your family was Episcopalian, didn't they hold communion every Sunday?"

"Yeah, but that's not the same as a full-on picnic." Hector replied.

"I like it though" said Caleb. "Dinner on the grounds and Sunday School is just about the only chance we ever get to meet any kids our own age."

"We never had Sunday School in the Primitive Baptist Church" said Alexia. "And most churches I ever visited that did didn't do much with it besides drawing pictures and singing goofy songs. But if you think potlatch dinner is weird, just wait until they have their foot-washing."

"Actually, Alexia, I don't think we've ever done foot-washing at this church." said Rachel from the front seat "I don't think many churches outside the South do anymore. We did it in the Pentecostal church when I was growing up… maybe we should start again."

"Might be a good idea," said Alexia "seeing how much trail dust we bring in with us."

By now, the wagons were in sight of the vacant lot used by the congregation for parking. There were still a couple of pickup trucks and a few tractors pulling flatbed trailers—all running on wood-gas, methane, ethanol, biodiesel, or even steam. Most people walked or rode bicycles, there were quite a few saddle mounts and a number of wagons pulled by all manner of beast: horse, donkey, mule and ox. It was a scene that would have suited the area quite well, circa 1910.

And in the far corner of the lot, a crowd of people were gathered around something that shattered the 1910 image completely.

"Never thought I'd see one again."
"Where can I get one?"
"Ugly as sin."
"Won't last a week in this climate."
"Horse built by a committee."
"GUESS WHAT DAY IT IS!"

***

Someone had gone and rode a camel to church.

He was a traveler from Arizona, riding with friends along the Old Santa Fe Trail to deliver trade goods and mail to somewhere up along the Arkansas River. Paul spoke to him briefly, and learned that one-humped Dromedary camels were becoming a common sight in the Southwestern deserts, just as two-humped Bactrians were becoming more common to the north.

Paul remembered something about how the US Army used camels on an experimental basis for surveying the American West; a project that had gone well until the outbreak of the American Civil War. His dad had even been to a grave in Vicksburg where one of those camels, captured by the Confederates from its fort in West Texas, had died in battle. One of the stranger episodes of American history, and something that he would keep in mind for later.

The day continued as usual, the service was good and there wasn't an empty seat to be found. There seldom was; hard times did wonders when it came to filling up the churches and the taverns. Evening came and people started making their way home. Some camped out on the grounds and made the trip in the morning. George McLintock asked a few of his second cousins if they would sell some more hay and buy some more cows, confirmed that one of the deacons would show up at his ranch in a few weeks to serve as their chaplain, and headed for home in the early twilight.

Church in the new era was important for many reasons beyond the assembly of believers. Service, prayer meetings, revivals, weddings, baptisms and funerals were among the few opportunities that rural families had for interacting with the rest of their community. Tithes and special charity events served as the only social safety net available to many members, and Sunday School was the closest thing to formal education that many of their children would have. And the church was as important of an economic hub as it was a social hub, with flea markets and auctions taking up many of the off days. The McLintocks themselves sold about as many donkeys and cattle there as they did in the stockyards, which made sense when one considered how many of the congregation were in one way or another related to them.

***

Paul, James, and Hector were going to the San Luis Valley to do some cow-trading with the Amish. Their family had dealt with them for many years and had come to admire much of their lifestyle. Didn't care much for the pacifism—at least not so long as they shared a world with predators of the four and two-legged variety— and they had been very worried for the Plain People ever since the wheels of civilized society had come flying off. But apparently God and their irreverent, heavily-armed English neighbours had watched over them and they were doing just fine.

This 100-mile drive would be their longest journey in a year and a half, and one of their first steps outside Las Aminas County; they were eager to see what life was like on the other side of the Sangre de Christos. All they really knew about the rest of the world came from local gossip and the radio. If you believed what you heard on the radio, you believed that United States was still a functional entity under the authority of at least five presidents, four kings, two emperors, a chief executive officer, and a khan.

Bethany and a couple of the hands rode with them as far as the Purgatoire River, where they would meet up with some travelers from Texas heading to Alamosa on business of their own. They had met them over the radio and came to a mutually-beneficial agreement: the Texans would hire on as drovers for the rest of the trip and the Coloradans would work as guides through the canyons and over the mountains.

"McLintocks?" asked the apparent leader of the Texans.

"Yup. Name's Paul, these are my brothers." Paul dismounted and shook his hand.

"Clark MacCoy. Glad to meet you people; it'll shave fifty miles not having to go through Aguilar or Walsenburg."  Clark was a leather-faced young man with an impressive mustache. A jovial, somewhat chunky-looking guy, but didn't look like someone to be trifled with.

Paul wondered why he felt the need to travel with them in the first place. The pay wasn't going to be great, and passage wasn't particularly difficult. He suspected that the out-of-place flatlanders were just a little intimidated traveling along a River of Lost Souls in Purgatory and climbing over a Blood of Christ Mountain, but he wasn't going to say so.

"Not going to slow you down is it, following behind our cattle?" he asked instead.

"Not really, we wouldn't be going no faster anyway, not with that Eye-talian peddler over there and his slow-as-Christmas camels."

Overhearing this, the Italian—Milloshi, Paul thought he had been called—gave an extended middle finger in reply. Camels? Paul made a note to have a talk with him.

"Well we're happy to have you just the same." said James. "Noticed that several of your boys have tin on their chests, y'all up here looking for a man or something?"

"As a matter of fact we are. Truth be told, we're looking for a man and a woman."

***

Nirgendwo meant "Nothing" in German. And that, Joseph and Melissa had decided, was fitting.

Having grown up in the midst of the Sangre de Cristos, Melissa had never fully realized how imposing they were. Peaks reaching to the heavens and ridges that stretched across the country allowed for very few lines of drift. It wasn't an accident that I-25 had been built alongside the D&RG and ATSF railroads, which often followed the Loving-Goodnight Cattle Trail, the Santa Fe Trail, and the pathways of fur trappers, explorers, and half a dozen native tribes.

Riding back home in the back of a nondescript sedan, she could see a storm on the prairie that would soon be bringing rain or dust, depending on how much moisture was in it. To the south, she could see more clouds rising from an approaching herd of cattle. Not a particularly big herd, but they were getting bigger by the month and Melissa was making sure she had her cut. The craggy old path over Raton Pass had been a toll road once, and thanks to her it was again.

The… colonial governor of Nirgendwo (not his real title, not that it made a difference) had known about that, and hadn't been overly bothered by it.  "So you're into thieving? You like to scam and extort and plunder and kill? Fine. Have your fill of it, so long as you don't do it within my area and don't hurt the commerce of Nirgendwo. Oh and by the way, do your marketing in Nirgendwo; we don't ask questions and we’ll pay good money."

That wasn't what he actually said, but it was close enough.

And it really was money! Silly little sheets of paper with the faces of well-known and somewhat little-known dead people on them, something neither of them had ever expected to see again. Eventually it was supposed to become the sole legal tender for all transactions in the state, eliminating the barter and even gift economy (she hoped that last part was just poor wording, because Melissa had a hilarious mental image of little old ladies locked in irons for knitting wool socks for their newborn grandchildren). He had thrown them both a fat roll of the bills as a gift, with a strong advisory that they not try any counterfeiting.

"What do you think, Joseph? Can we use this stuff for anything besides toilet paper?"

Joseph Berg laughed. "Kindling? Oh, I don't know, some people still try passing off US Dollars in trades, so maybe in a couple of more years…"

"You know, this might not be a bad thing. Plenty of things you can do with fiat currency, even if you're not making your own."

"Fiat currency? That another word you learned at one of our institutions of lower learning?"

"I can show you what words I learned at our institutions of lower learning, armadillohead!"

Joseph conceded the point. Hard currency from a weak state would mean a lot of things for them. Harder to trace than stolen goods, for one thing. Money allowed for money laundering, and anything they tried to tax, ban, or ration could be smuggled. It opened up a new world of possibilities, and if the government gave only a pretence of trying to stop them…

"They're running a protection racket, and we're the hatchet men." he said, holding up his roll. "'Bout time the bastards paid us; they have a better scam going than we ever dreamed."

"I know. But it's more than a protection racket. That guy in Denver has half the state thinking he can keep them alive. He offers protection and continued survival, all he asks in return is obedience and loyalty. That's power."

Obedience and loyalty. Melissa understood obedience, but not loyalty. She had feigned loyalty to her conservative parents and her liberal professors alike, but only when it seemed useful to her. Was she loyal to Joseph Berg?

No, not really; not outside of business and bed. He didn't seem to know that, and that Raff guy wouldn't have to either. This wasn't the long arm of the law coming to rebuild the old wastes and smite the evildoers. This is a feudal overlord who may be in the market for local vassals. And would she make a good Duchess of Trinidad? Had a good ring to it.

So Denver/Qubba wasn't a threat. That was good, but there was still an unresolved problem back home: mean-looking lawmen from Texas who were asking too many questions and taking too much interest in her and Joseph's doings. They were gone now, hiring themselves out on some cattle drive over the mountains (what a world: where even cops have to earn their keep!), but they'd be back before long and it had her people worried.

Firestorm

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Re: Every Leaf In Springtime, Caravaneer 1 Fanfic
« Reply #6 on: August 28, 2015, 06:25:32 AM »
Chapter 6: On the Trail

They buried one of the lawmen in the hills overlooking the San Luis Valley.

He had been riding flank when they found him on the ground with a broken neck, his horse still standing by his side. Nothing much could be offered but a wooden cross, a few words over his rock-filled hole, and a couple verses of Amazing Grace.

There had been other injuries as well: one broken leg from someone misjudging how close he was to an oncoming tree, a torn rotator cuff, some broken ribs, and pretty much all the workers were acting like they might drop dead at any minute. It led Paul McLintock to question some of the decisions he had made; taking so many greenhorns on a stock drive had been a gamble, and it was worsened by going through smaller, more rugged mountain passes in hopes of avoiding the bandits and toll collectors who stalked Highway 160 around La Veta.

"Don't tear yourself up about it." MacCoy had said as they set up camp that night. "Could of been any one of us; he knew the risks, and I'll see to it that his family's taken care of."

"Not what you expect though." said Pedro Montoya, a fellow deputy barely out of his teens. "I mean, every cop knows he has a dangerous job, even in a 'Poca Cosa' like Groom, Texas. But you used to have some idea about what those dangers were. You never thought you'd be run over by a cow or struck by lightning or die of pneumonia… these last few years I've lost friends to all those things. I think I miss the days when the worst we had to worry about was some drunk in a domestic disturbance."

"Or some distracted tourist on Route 66." said Deputy MacCoy.

***

"You know," said one of the gangsters, "maybe the cows will kill all these pigs for us."

"Maybe." said Ghetto, weakly.

Sitting on the crest of a nearby ridge, they had clearly seen the horse spook and dash its rider against the rocks. If that hadn't been fatal, the trampling by several dozen cows probably had been… or at least that's what she told herself. She had once considered herself a good Muslim, and that meant helping needy strangers. Watching someone die like that would fill anyone with pity. That was a crazy feeling, seeing as they were under orders to eliminate them.

Ghetto had a real name: Colette Jackson. Now that she had a command of her own, it was being used again.

Colette wasn't actually from the ghetto. Her parents had been, but they got out before she was born and had followed the whites into suburbia. White people would do that sometimes, letting a few tokens into their nice, overpriced neighbourhoods so that they could pretend to have learned their lessons from Civil Rights. They put on a good act, even though most were sanctimonious hypocrites every bit as bad as their ancestors.

But Colette didn't hate white people in general, not really. And most of the ones she met didn't seem to hate her. She had seen what became of cousins who stayed in the ghettos or siblings who went back, and had to admit that she had been comparatively fortunate.

She had been pursuing an English major at the University of Colorado when things started going crazy. Climate change: ice caps melting, killing droughts in the interior while hurricanes slammed against the coast. Crazy! Like Katrina in every major city and no help coming, ever. So going home wasn't an option: things were bad in Colorado but Home was probably underwater.

When things get bad, people run with their own kind. The college people could argue against that all they wanted, but anyone who ever saw the inside of a prison knew it was true. But there weren't many blacks in Denver, and none of them knew what to do when things went Medieval and everyone had to grow their own food.

There was a girl from class who was drawing others to her. Country girl: smart and mean. Collette knew what a useful combination that could be. No chance for Black Power in the Rockies, but maybe Girl Power still had momentum. So she ran with Melissa; didn't like some of the things she made them do, but she kept the crew alive when no one else could have.

And now they were becoming respectable! Working for some guy in Pueblo who worked for some guy in Denver, only those towns had new names now. Melissa was helping them integrate Trinidad into their government, and former gangbangers like Colette were now officers in her private army… or so Melissa claimed; Colette still felt like a 'banger. A lot of things were changing, some things were not.

"I don't get it, Col. Those hillbillies ain't got nothing on us, we could just ride down there, kill who we need to, take what we want, and get out of this sandbox. I don't see why we sneaking around like this!"

Colette continued scanning her quarry through the binoculars. "Of course you don't. That's why I'm boss and you ain't."

Her squad was mostly filled with blacks and whites who wanted to be black (she ruefully wondered what she had done to make Melissa yoke her with that burden); a bunch of Panthers stalking through cowboy country. The whole thing seemed so crazy. Sometimes bands of shotgun-toting ranchers would ride up on them, and you never knew if it was going to be "Get off of my property niggers!" or "There's a better place to camp on the back section. Would you folks like to come in for dinner?" The whites were unpredictable, and mean when they wanted to be, and the Mexicans and Indians were even worse. Even the handful of local blacks weren't fun to deal with. And Melissa didn't want her pissing off the locals any more than she had to, so, like a panther, she had learned to move through the countryside without being seen.

"Look, this goes right and we'll get everything we want without a shot being fired. We don't want a shootout with those ranchers; I've seen what they do to people who underestimate them. We try talking first, and if that don't work we'll shoot them."

***

A cold front was moving through Colorado, and the sky was brown with the dust it carried. Fortunately, the steep hills and valleys protected the McLintock's homeplace from the worst of it.

McLintock Ranch was becoming a community unto itself. While most of the hired men had families in nearby settlements, a few brought their wives, sisters, and children with them. Only the hardiest of these were suitable for the cow and fence crews, but some made for good record-keepers, cooks, launderers, beekeepers, and garden workers.

The plum and cherry trees were doing well, and the McLintocks were amazed that no more of them had died. They had been neglected somewhat last year, but Rachel would spend the spring and summer trying to remedy that now that she had more help. The trees had always given bountiful harvests, and they also provided what modern sustainable-energy types liked to call "passive solar heating": the lush green leaves shielded their house from the heat of the sun in the summer, while falling off and letting sunlight through in winter.

George and Ben were doctoring an injured calf and Bethany and Caleb were working with the fence crews, which left Rachel, Alexa, and Staci to tend the orchard. It was mulched heavily, which could have made the area attractive to vermin, but aggressive trapping took care of that. Rachel grabbed a fallen limb and gingerly picked up a dead pack rat—just big enough for the back of the work glove she wanted to make— with the thorns.

"What you think girls, stew or sausage?"

"Yuck-a-doodle!" yelled little Staci. Staci was the pickiest eater in the family, and would often spend the better part of her meal removing the "yucky stuff" from her plate (which she gave to Hector, who swallowed it whole). It would be a very long time before she became as omnivorous as Paul or James.

Alexa just grunted. She was still sore over Hector being taken on the cattle drive and not her. She was constantly reminding everyone that she was probably a better rider, almost as good with a rope and his equal at least with a gun.

"You'll get your chance," Ben had told her. "But we can't risk losing all our junior ranchers on one stock drive. You got to figure you're dealing with the dumbest, orneriest critter on God's green earth. A cow is nothing but trouble tied up in a leather bag, and a horse ain't much better. Trust me, you're a lot safer with the plums."

It might be true, but she didn't have to like it.

***

Sunrise came late that morning. Wind swept across the open San Luis Valley floor and carried mountains of dirt into the air, stripping the soil from one place and suffocating it in another. Paul and James sang an old Woodie Guthrie song as they saddled up for another day:

"There's a long black cloud a-hanging in the sky, honey
There's a long black cloud a-hanging in the sky, baby
There's a long black cloud a-hanging in the sky
Weather's gonna break and hell's gonna fly
Baby, sweet thing, darling"
 
"So, how much dust can there be in one storm?" yelled Milloshi.

"About two hundred tons in a big one." said Paul "And this ain't a big one."

Winds gusted at about 20 miles per hour and visibility was down to about half a mile; miserable, but not bad enough to stop the drive. The cowboys wore goggles and bandanas to protect them from the asthmatic dust. Their white Charolais had turned tan from the constant blasting and, with little chance to wash, they were worried that they'd have skin problems from it. Animals were much harder to control under these conditions.

The drive had a definite order to it. Scouts rode ahead of the main body, cattle and cowboys followed their trail, the remunda (fresh horses for the cowboys, who would often need two or three spares over a 12-hour shift) followed behind them, the chuck wagon and Milloshi's freight wagons followed them and his camel-train was well in the back.

Paul had talked to him about his animals and they seemed perfectly suited for travelers and freighters. He had offered to sell a breeding pair, but Paul was starting to realize that the beasts were not so useful for ranching: other animals were generally scared of them, they weren't as fast and maneuverable as horses, and Paul suspected that their soft hooves would have more trouble in rocky, muddy, or icy terrain. Even if he wanted something more heat-resistant than a horse, he couldn't see much a camel could do that a mule or hinny couldn't do better.

Milloshi kept telling him what a good opportunity he was passing up. He had heard that before, as had his parents and probably grandparents. Over the years, plenty of people with more money than sense had been roped into pyramid schemes involving some form of exotic critter: once it was ostriches and emus, later alpacas and llamas, then miniaturized pigs and cattle. Occasionally the McLintock's would buy them for pennies or even get them for free when the owners realized that they couldn't profit from their "yard pets"; they were invariably eaten. Camels may well have a future in the West, but probably not on their ranch.

The day dragged on with little change in the weather. The animals, which had travelled nearly single-file in the mountains, were now kept close together so that none of them would be lost in the storm. Paul followed compass bearings that he hoped would take them to the south of Fort Garland, and wondered if the strangers who had been following them since they left the canyons were still around.

***

The dust-storm was winding down by evening, such that they could see Fort Garland to the north by the time they stopped to camp. They built a simple lean-to from scrap metal and a downed cedar fence, cooking snake and locust over a cow pie fire. Someone started strumming on a banjo. All around they could see the ruins of centre-pivot irrigation systems.

"Barley fields, that's what most of these used to be." said James. "You know, if grandpa was here he would probably give us a long rant about it being 'them damned things' that's the cause of all this."

"He might be right." said Paul. "For years we've been draining the aquifers, denuding the soil, growing crops where they never should have been grown, running cattle where jackrabbits can't live. We made all the same mistakes we made in the 1930's, and this time…"

"HELLO THE CAMP!"

The cowboys jumped to as three figures materialized from the gloom. An emissary of some kind. Sharp-looking military fatigues, sunglasses, black berets. They looked… out of place.

"Howdy there. Is there something I can help y'all with?" asked Paul.

"You the trail boss?" asked the apparent leader of the party.

"I am. Paul McLintock's the name, most of these cows are from my dad's ranch."

"Going west? We are too, we're wondering if we could hire on with you."

"Are you, now?"

"Yeah. My name's Collette, there's about six of us. We've got a good vet, we can all ride, we all know how to work, we're all good shots and you're going to need that soon in case you don't know."

She left it to him to wonder why.

"I see. Well… you're a little late to the party, ain't you? We've only got another day or two on this drive; should be able to handle that with the help we got."

"What help? Them… lawmen that's riding with you?"

"Done fine so far. And if you really wanted the job you should have spoke up several days ago, when you first started following us."

She was caught. Colette wasn't overly surprised by that, and she hadn't actually expected them to hire her. So on to Plan B.

"Okay, okay, you got me. Actually, I'm an officer of the law myself. We're looking for a band of murderers and thieves masquerading as police officers, and we think we've found them."

She provided Paul with a simple little card with her name and face on it, identifying her as an officer in the Nirgendwo Regiment. It didn't mention any law enforcement power, but if asked she'd just point out that all of Colorado was effectively under martial law. Paul read the card and the note on the back, signed by the town leader and undersigned by someone in… Cuba!? oh, Qubba.

"Hmm. Hey Clark, looks like you're under arrest!" Deputy MacCoy, who had been listening from the campfire with the others, got up and approached the party.

"That's right. By order of the local magistrate, we'll be taking you and your accomplices to Nirgendwo. If you cooperate, you can expect a fair trial."

"Now wait just a minute!" Paul tried not to yell. "You ain't taking my hired men while we're still on a drive! Arrest them after I pay them if you want but they stay here until then."

"You sure you want to play that, Marlboro Man?"

Colette was confident. Paul figured that she outnumbered them, outgunned them, or thought she did. What to do now? Might as well call her bluff.

"Mr. MacCoy," he said genteelly, "if grandpa was here right now, I think he would ask if the flap on your holster was snapped or unsnapped."

"Snapped, my Yankee friend" said the deputy, in his best Rock Hudson voice.

Colette raised a hand in capitulation; she had seen this movie too.

"You know what? I'll give you time to think it over. I just want you to know that no good's going to come from harbouring fugitives."

She and the others retraced their steps, vanishing into the darkness as suddenly as they had appeared. Paul looked around at the others, then down at his pistol. That group was going to be a problem.

Firestorm

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Re: Every Leaf In Springtime, Caravaneer 1 Fanfic
« Reply #7 on: August 28, 2015, 06:26:14 AM »
Chapter 7: Ambush

For the moment, Paul, James, and Hector were quite rich. They had brought over a hundred head of high-grade registered cattle into the valley and their buyers had bought them all. Most had paid in precious metals but a few preferred to barter: medicine, salt, rice, a wagon and mule team, several good riding horses, coke for blacksmithing, some deep-cycle batteries, blasting caps, ammo and primers, even a few gallons of diesel.

Stockyard fees were just short of extortionist, so the McLintocks sold directly to farms and ranches whenever possible. It took longer, but they had time to kill. They had been told it was illegal, but they got away with it.

Everywhere the story was the same: new rules, new regulations, and above all new taxes decreed by someone called Oswald Raff. He had a growing army of ruffians (Raffians?) scouring the countryside to make sure they were collected. For all their talk of anti-bandit measures, those who didn't pay or complained too loudly seemed to have extra bandit trouble. Paul wondered if the Cubbans they had met earlier had something to do with that.

Milloshi's people had their own trades to ply. Paul had been worried when he saw that trio of juicy-looking wagons roll away, but the freighters seemed surprisingly self-assured. In several days, they returned to Alamosa without incident and finally set a course for home. Whatever problems were going on in the San Luis Valley, they would be away from it in another day. They had done pretty good for themselves.

Then the bullets started flying.

***

The closest rider was about 600 yards out, indistinct movement to a naked eye, when they opened fire. Collette rested her scoped RPK light machinegun on a lumpy knapsack and carefully squeezed off single shots. The gun was really just an oversized Kalashnikov; never intended for precision shooting, but Collette was good enough to use it as such. Not like they had many choices.

Only two of her crew actually had sniper rifles, really just heavily-modified M14s. Three more had bolt-action hunting rifles. That meant six soldiers on the firing line, with six more hanging back with Kalashnikovs and Uzis. This against fifteen hostiles who, when she had been in their camp, had been armed with Colt revolvers, Berretta pistols, Remington shotguns, and a few Winchester rifles. She knew they had hidden their real firepower, but how heavily armed could they possibly be? The plan was simple: soften them up with snipers and send in the gats.

Her orders technically instructed her to kill them before they reached their buyers, but that would have left her with a bunch of big, slow, stupid, stinking cows that her gang would either have to sell locally in an unfamiliar market or drive over a hundred miles to the fences in Nirgendwo. Hell with that! Doing it this way would fetch better spoils, even if the local bartenders and pimps had taken their cut of whatever the cowboys earned.

Dropping from their horses and diving for cover, their targets looked less like humans and more like cockroaches scurrying from the light or ants fleeing from the heat of a magnifying glass. But there was nowhere to run, not with them adrift in that ocean of sand and juniper and her crew sitting on the crest of their tall rocky island.

A few of the ants were going down and not getting up again. One horse went down and didn't get back up. Collette cursed; she had wanted to avoid that. The air was snapping all around her and shards of rock were flying from bullet impacts; they couldn't flee, so they were fighting. One of her shooters let out a yell and fell back down the ridge, another jerked and slumped forward as his head exploded. The cowboys had something that could cover the distance, and they knew how to use it. Not that it would save them.

***

Hector desperately looked around for his rifle scabbard. He had it with him when he bailed from his saddle, but now he only had a shotgun. Devastating if they had attacked from close range; almost worthless at a distance. He rolled away from a panicking horse as it nearly trampled him, then he scurried back behind his little juniper bush when bullets started landing around him. He had never been so terrified in his life.

The cop he had been talking to earlier lay lifeless only a few feet away, his .308 pump-action rifle still clutched in his hands. If only he could… but that gun got farther away the more he thought of going for it, and in a few seconds it was on the other side of the planet. He pressed himself into the sand and wished the ground would swallow him.

In a deafening hellscape of rifle fire punctuating the screams of men and horses, Hector heard something that somehow drowned it all out. Vengeful furies roared overhead and the evil black ridge where the snipers were hiding began to disappear in a hundred small explosions.

Hidden in one of the larger wagons was a tripod-mounted M2 Browning machinegun. The gunners removed the wagon cover and slewed it over the enemy positions; fire from the ridge ceased almost immediately when the big gun started humming. The gunners continued to fire short bursts while a small fireteam carefully made its way towards the ridge. The battle had lasted 19 seconds.

Carrying a police-issue AR15, James McLintock was the first to the crest of the ridge. Several bloody smears showed where their enemy had fought and died, but there were no bodies to be found. They had taken their dead and wounded and retreated in good order, unusual for bandits. All that was left was a cloud of dust heading into the nearest hills. Mount up and chase them down? No. If they're smart enough to fall back then they're smart enough to leave rearguards, and one ambush is plenty for one day.

***

Bethany put a bridle on the family's least ill-tempered donkey and rode bareback to the figure at the gate. The McLintock Family's Horse Herd now numbered six (Ed, Edd, Eddy, Edward, Edwina, Edina), but four of those were on the cattle drive and the others were never around when she needed them. Paul had promised he would pick up a few more from the Amish, but when Dad got back she would have some strong words about his stinginess to date.

The woman in a ratty grey uniform pulled her pickup truck to the big ranch house. The driver's wheel was on the wrong side, and there were several big leather bags in the bed. George and his fence crew were returning from the pasture when he noticed her standing on the porch.

"Registered letter for you, Mr. McLintock."

"Harriet! They told me you were still alive, but I almost wondered if you had gone back to the BLM."

"BLM would never have me back; don't have the right attitude to be an allotment manager."

"Yeah, " said Bethany, "no one leasing your allotments ever wanted to shoot you."

So… what brings you way out here?" George asked, "You running your old route again?"

"Um… no, yes. I mean… no one's telling me to do it anymore, but people still need mail delivered, and if doing it makes them willing to feed me, then…"

The McLintocks got the message. "I'll set another seat at the table." said Bethany. George invited her inside.

Harriet had always always loved the inside of the McLintock homeplace. It befitted a family of cowboys, with horse tack, photos of their best cows, and various livestock trophies decorating the walls next to the inevitable A.R. Mitchell paintings. The living room was connected to the home office and family library—or more accurately, the home office and family library had overflowed into the living room. Bookshelves ringed the walls and there were a couple of writing desks overlooking the windows. Cowboys with an intellectual side.

The house itself was old; not old enough to have been built with Ute or Apache raids in mind, but heavily influenced by houses that had been. Must have helped the owners sleep soundly; burning them out would require thermite at least, and the thick adobe walls looked like they could stop anything short of a cannon.
 
Before signing, George looked warily at the registered letter: simple envelope, no return address, no postage stamp. "So, what's this all about?"

"It's best that you read it for yourself. And when you're done… well, it's irregular, but there's a few things I'll have to tell you that couldn't be put in writing. New protocols for a new world, eh."

Instead of having his curiosity piqued, George stifled a chuckle at that verbal tick. Harriet Campbell: the only remnant of the United States Federal Government in at least 20 miles, and naturally enough she was from Nova Scotia.

***

Someone else must have put her in the saddle, because Collette didn't remember mounting up. She was too woozy to realize she was riding double, but she could tell that someone else was guiding the horse. That was good; whatever had happened wasn't bad enough to make her subordinates leave her to the buzzards.

Crazy how the part that hurt the least was the one most damaged. On her right shoulder she had an ugly, painful, but ultimately harmless bruise, probably a ricochet. Her left shoulder… she didn't even want to think about her shattered left shoulder. Her entire side was numb; something big and fast had smashed her elbow and furrowed down her biceps, and what was left barely felt like it belonged to her.

Could they have snuck into Alamosa and hit them when the wagons left? Too well protected, too many witnesses. Maybe if they had swarmed their camp at night… no. Her soldiers were pretty good at night fighting, but what if the other side was better? What if they had night-vision gear or parachute flares? No option to retreat then: they would have both been out in the open and the fight wouldn't have ended until everyone on one side or the other was dead. And there would have still been that big, evil gun; as deadly at night as it was in the day.

Surely they had done the best they possibly could, for all that it mattered. The thing to worry about now was making sure the surgeons didn't take her arm, and making sure Melissa didn't take her head.

***

Melissa found Roommate (Liz Haversham) tending her potted tomato plants, which she often did when mulling over bad news. The short, coded radio message had been vague (wouldn't be very short or much of a code if it wasn't), but they had a good idea of what had happened: the lawmen weren't dead; quite a few of those sent to kill them were.

The person who called in hadn't been Ghetto. No note of her dying in the action, but it was still a bad sign. Maybe she had botched something and didn't want to cop to it. Probably. Melissa liked Ghetto—it had been she who introduced her to Soul on Ice and the 48 Laws of Power— but she should have sent Sacagawea or even Granola to do this; at least they follow orders.

"Think they'll come back here?" asked Roommate, without turning to face her.

"*They* might. Don't think they'll be reinforced though; Joseph says the Texans are just about done with getting their lawmen killed in futile snipe hunts up here in Injun Country."

"Wasn't this area once a part of Texas?" interrupted Roommate.

"Long story. Claimed it, never controlled it. My guess is the cops will stay somewhere in the nearby hills to lick their wounds. Oswald Raff is looking to consolidate his hold in the west end of our county. If we can keep the Texans off our backs until winter, they shouldn't be able to trouble us next year."

"Consolidate…" Roommate leaned on her cane and ruminated silently. She had been doing that a lot since the accident that had killed Anne and badly injured her. The doctors said there was no sign of permanent physical or mental damage, but sometimes Melissa wondered.

"Is something wrong? I mean, if we don't grab it someone else will. The magistrate in Hara already has an outpost in San Luis, and…"

"Amish!" she interrupted again "The economy in the San Luis Valley is dominated by the Amish! Of course Hara had no trouble with them, do you expect the Amish to do anything other than bear it and say 'God bless you?' Those well-to-do residents who aren't Amish tend to be Mormon, who are almost as docile… for the moment…

"But if we go into the canyons, we're not going to be dealing with a bunch of peaceful farmers! The people in that area trace their bloodline back to the Land Grant days, or back to the Conquistadores, or even farther. They have fighting in their blood; they weren't too sad to see the last organized government go, they won't be too happy to see a new one come back, and I don't see how we're going to bring them in line without violence."

Melissa was taken aback. Her Second had clearly lost her mind, but there was good reason to keep her around. She had been right in her concerns about sending only one band to deal with the cowboys, just as she had been right about it being a good idea to work with qubba. She had been insightful even before the wreck, but now she seemed almost… prophetic. Weren't the oracles supposed to be crazy?

"Oh," Melissa said nonchalantly. "I expect they'll fight. I do not expect that they'll win."

"Melissa, when we were forced to start doing this, we said we would avoid fights if we possibly could. Sugar instead of vinegar and all, you remember. It didn't always seem like a good idea back then but it kept a lot of us from getting killed. But now, a war of conquest… it's a bad idea! We win and *maybe* we can pay for the expense of it all. We lose and… well, your days as Duchess of Trinidad are over."

"Heh, that's funny. C'mon, Raff promised us a full regiment at least. Between Nirgendwo and ourselves we could raise a couple more if we had to. That against, what, twelve percent of the county?"

"I don't know if it's a good idea to ask his help; why should he keep us around if we can't fight our own battles? In any event, they would still outnumber us."

"Yeah, but they're ranchers. Ever seen Marlboro Men try to organize anything? They hate each other as much as they hate everyone else in the world. How are they going to organize an army if they can't show up at town hall meetings without having a fistfight?"

Melissa was getting annoyed, but Roommate was getting tired. She dropped herself into a nearby bench and looked like she was about to doze off.

"Very well. Do what you think is best, but know that no one will have full control of events once they're set in motion. And if you bring outsiders in… I hope you have a backup plan."

"That's your job." Melissa turned and walked away. She needed to reconsider a few things.

***

The meal wasn't fancy, but it was filling. Harriet took a fairly small portion and, as was becoming standard nowadays, gave the family a list of acceptable trade goods for future services. They were someone surprised to see "dung" listed fairly high on it.

"So, just how many of you are there" asked George. He had gathered his wife and dad into the kitchen to read the letter, and wished his sons could be there too.

"Well… one of the other drivers is still working with us. There's my husband, his brother, my co-worker's brothers, several cousins. A hog farmer who provides us with methanol."

Rachel had read about hog and chicken farmers who started collecting the methane from their decomposing biowaste. The heat helped warm their buildings, the condensed methanol could be used as fuel, and the sterilized biomatter could be used for fertilizer. The Chinese and Indians had been doing this for decades and she wasn't surprised to hear of American cars running on gobar gas.

"How many postal services are there around here?" she asked.

"Several in this county, but I think we're the biggest outside of Trinidad. It's a good cover really, delivering messages to hide the fact that we're delivering messages."

Harriet was, to put it plainly, the courier for a preemptive resistance movement. Government was coming back: the kind that didn't ask whether or not you wanted its services and would make you pay for them irregardless. The McLintock's weren't anarchists; they believed some things needed responsible oversight and they wouldn't have opposed rulers who were "not a terror to good works". But Harriet had a frightening story indeed of the tyrant in Denver, how he was building up his empire and spreading across the Rockies like an all-consuming fire. She told them about his local enforcer, her lust for power and barely-veiled hatred of the country people. It was nothing they hadn't heard already, but hearing it from a trusted acquaintance would help separate fact from fiction.

"So, you're focused on organizing the ranchers?" asked George.

"And businessmen, but the Cattlemen's Association has far more survivors left than the Chamber of Commerce. Those represent our closest equivalents to a yeoman class and a merchant class, and both have the most to lose from banditry masquerading as law. You should hear about some of their schemes: mandatory livestock registration, anti-hoarding laws, rationing programs, top-down nationalization of the farm and ranch workforce."

"Good God!" exclaimed Rachel "We'll have to fight!"

"Yes you will, or else watch your children become de-facto slaves on their own land."

She took out a notepad and wrote down a location.

"Memorize that and destroy it. There will be a meeting on Monday and Thursday, whichever you can attend. I'll tell them to expect you."

***

"You okay, Hector?"

Hector rolled over and tried to pull himself up from the ground, but his muscles wouldn't obey. How long had he been there? Paul reached down and helped him on his feet; he didn't seem to notice the trickle of blood running down the back of his shirt and staining his pants.

Yeah I'm okay, he thought. My first time in battle and I didn't fire a single shot.

Hector's face was still covered in tears, his shirt was sprinkled in blood splatter from the nearby dead deputy, his pants were stained by something…else. Paul wanted to say something to his little brother, but nothing was coming. What would something like this do to the psyche of a 14-year-old?

"They cleared off the ridge!" yelled James, remounted and now triumphantly waving an M21 sniper rifle. "We're guessing four or five of them bit it up there."

"We going to follow the rest of them?"

"I don't think it's a good idea. Not with two of ours dead and two more wounded… speaking of which, you should have your back looked at; I think I can see bone."

Paul was visibly jolted by the reminder that he had been shot.

"Yeah… I think you're right."

Walking away, he started feeling the sudden rush of pain up and down his back, and the stickiness of his shirt made him wonder how much blood he was losing.

"Well, that leaves you and me," said James. "First things first: several horses scattered and we'll need to get them back. Think you're up to that, Hector?"

He nodded. He wiped the tears out of his eyes, dusted off his hat and made his way to pick a horse in the remunda. What would grandpa have said to that, wondered James? Courage is being scared to death, and saddling up anyway.

"Hey, kid.."

Hector looked back.

" …if it makes you feel any better, I think the cook pissed himself too."
« Last Edit: August 28, 2015, 06:51:59 AM by Firestorm »

Firestorm

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Re: Every Leaf In Springtime, Caravaneer 1 Fanfic
« Reply #8 on: August 28, 2015, 06:26:55 AM »
Chapter 8: Enemies of the State

Paul McLintock would be out of action for a good two weeks, and it would be even longer before he could do any heavy lifting. A steel plate was now holding his scapula together, and he would be setting off metal detectors for the rest of his life, assuming he ever saw one again. His dad told him that he now had a chip on both shoulders, the ranch's doctor warned him that something about his body seemed to draw bullets to it. Paul didn't put much stock in that; the previous injury had been caused by a sword!

Deputy MacCoy, on the other hand, had lost a lung and a portion of his small intestine; it was over three months before he was ready to travel. The news he was getting from Texas wasn't good: with three deputies dead and three more wounded, they were very tempted to shelve the case on Joseph Berg and let him have the barren northern wastes.

It was almost amusing how, in the fifteen days that the family had been separated, both branches had managed to commit high crimes against the state of Cuba, or whatever the bad guys called themselves. The children had been shooting at Raffians while their parents plotted rebellion against them.

One hot summer day, Rachel and Paul rode out with some of the hands to doctor a few torn ear tags and check the herd for pinkeye. They split off from the others near sundown, left the ranch and rode by moonlight through the high-country firs and ponderosas. It was a ten-mile journey to an abandoned coal mine. They tied their horses in the trees and headed behind a slagpile where several others were already gathered.

"Sure you weren't followed?" asked one of the guards.

"You sure no one's watching us?" Rachel responded.

Their next-door neighbour stepped aside and welcomed them to the meeting. She had wanted to bring James and Bethany too, but Harriet had recently asked that no household bring more than two members at once. About a dozen people were there now, up in the back of a secluded canyon with a conservative campfire providing heat and light; anyone who happened upon it would just see a bunch of friends out looking for someone's missing bull.

Most of those present, Paul realized, were tied together by blood or long-term friendship. Uncle Dave was there, so was Uncle Dave's brother. And Paul knew he had cousins in other groups very much like this. The local realtor and the owner of a big construction company was there too. Neither the pastor of the family's church nor the owner of their favourite bar was there tonight, but he knew that both were involved. Fair bet that most everyone they knew between here and Weston—so, most everyone between here and Weston— was involved.

There was a maelstrom of conversation going on at the moment but, being new to the whole thing, Paul found that he had nothing useful to say. He decided instead to listen:

"This Raff guy must have problems. Do you know what Qubba means in Arabic?"
"Can't be any worse than what Baghdad means in Arabic."

"They're building another Refugee Kibbutz out in Baca County. Okay Dee or something like that."
"Yeah, right where Lycan used to be. Might keep them off our backs for now."

"I've heard the Hermanos Penitentes are going to come out in favour of resistance. Will that hurt or help?"
"What about the Mormons?"

"I hear we're going to get some help from New Mexico."
"What help? Ted Turner riding to the rescue on one of his buffalos?"

"I don't know what good these panty-ante little gangs are supposed to do. There's never more than twenty of us."
Paul was about to jump into that conversation when another voice spoke his mind for him. "Well, if it's that many, you might consider branching out some more."

The voice cut through the chatter with an authority that quickly gathered the crowd around it. It belonged to an older man in a plain drab uniform, and even without that they could see from his bearing that he was former military. Harriet Campbell was standing with him.

"The purpose of a cellular guerrilla organization is not to openly confront the enemy; its purpose is to fight them covertly until open confrontation becomes possible. Small groups of trusted friends, like this one, are harder to find and less vulnerable to spies and traitors than a traditional top-down organization. As your power grows, you will in all likelihood form the nucleus of a growing resistance movement that can defend this land from whatever Qubba has in store for you."

"Like the Sons of Liberty?" someone offered.

"Exactly like the Sons of Liberty."

"Ladies and gentlemen." the mailwoman said, "This is Colonel Robert Rodgers, late of the Colorado National Guard and, before that, the United States Army Rangers. I know it's unexpected, but he just got here and I thought it would be a good idea if he got to meet you people as soon as possible. Sir…"

"Thank you, ma'am. First of all… the Ranger part? That was a very long time ago. Secondly… my being here doesn't change much; we still need to focus on stockpiling food, weapons, ammunition, and other equipment. Any news there?"

Rachel wondered just how open she should be with this stranger, but figured that no Qubban spy would care how many barrels of wheat she had hidden in the root cellar of an old abandoned homestead.

”We've cached our family's one-year food supply," she said, "that's more than thirty-five hundred man-days."

The officer nodded. Well that was something, but a year’s supply for a large family equalled about a month's supply for a middling company.

"McLintock, right? How are your mules coming along?"

"Um…" she was a little surprised that he knew about that. Harriet must have briefed him well before the meeting.

"Showing promise as pack animals; don't think they'll ever be very good for riding." said Paul.

"Alright. Phil, how are we doing with the coal-bed methane extraction?"

"With the resources we have?" said the man he had first spoken to and former gas well manager, "Without easy access to water and a reliable power grid, a herd of cattle produces about as much usable methane as our wells. We can run some generators and vehicles, enough to support your field hospitals, but not much else. We might be better off trying to reopen the mines and making coal gas, but either way I think your war's going to be muscle-powered."

No fracking then? Paul wasn't sure if that was that was so bad.

They spent several more hours discussing production and requirements. Smokeless powder wasn't too hard to make, neither were simple incendiaries and explosives, and they could probably even make some mortars and light artillery to fire them. They had a small pharmaceutical lab going; they would have sulfa and they could make penicillin, but not much. Someone had started collected, recharging and building their own batteries while someone else was producing portable solar panels. They expected that wireless communication would be heavily jammed, so they were desperately looking to stockpile more field telephones and radio-telegraphs, and even heliographs. Gas masks and dosimeters were being stockpiled too, just in case something truly catastrophic happened. There was a thousand more odds and ends to consider; even pencils and paper could prove vital for command and control of military forces.

Eventually, talk turned to the creation of the military that would use all this stuff. Rodgers acknowledged that they might need one at any minute, and offered some advice on how to get the ball rolling on its creation.

***

The McLintocks, and many others, must have been convinced that "bandits" would go on the warpath that winter. They had started subjecting themselves and their employees to paramilitary drills, and even hired outside consultants to help train them.

"So how long has your family lived in this area?" asked the new arrival.

"Paul would be able to tell you better than I could" said James McLintock. "The first McLintocks came here by following the Goodnight-Loving Trail out of Texas, all Lonesome Dove-like. Intermarried with some of the local Old Spanish families, who've been here longer than America itself. And then we've got a bit of Ute and Apache blood too, so I guess we've been here for awhile."

And you'll fight like Hell to keep your land, won't you? That'll be your greatest strength and weakness.

Tim Rodgers (no relation) was a former Marine Primary Marksmanship Instructor from South Carolina, who had come west shortly before the crash to help his aging aunt and uncle with their farm in Northern New Mexico. Having realized that he wasn't particularly good at farming, he had learned of more suitable work to the north and quickly offered his services.

"You know, we have the makings of a pretty nice fort right here" James continued, "we could set up a stone wall from the main house to the two bunk houses to the barn; use the corals as a basis for it…"

Tim tried to imagine the defensive setup. He had read about the old Spanish plaza system, where extended families built their houses in a sort of square to work as fortification against animals and Indians. Pioneer settlements had been built in that manner all around the world, but he had to wonder if it would work in this case.

"Maybe reinforce the buildings too;" he suggested, "use them to anchor a series of defensive lines?"

"Yeah. Yeah, that could work. It worked in Zulu."

Tim could tell that James liked to play the dim bulb in the family, and he was definitely the least bookish of them, but it was obvious that he was at least as smart as his more intellectual brother.

"There's another movie where they tried that… I'm sure you've seen it… what was it called? Oh yeah, the Alamo!"

James stammered. "The Alamo? Well…"

"Hey, it would be a great idea against a big raid or an enemy armed with small arms only, like what the British faced at Rorke's Drift. But against someone who can lay siege to you and brings artillery with them, or even a few heavy machineguns, you would only be postponing the inevitable."

James frowned. "Just how bad do you think it can get?"

"Ever seen an AH-1 Cobra gunship in action? How about an A-l0 Thunderbolt?"

"You don't think they still have any, do you?"

"I can't assume that they don't. And if they do, our only hope for survival is going to be to stay mobile so they can't bring heavy firepower down on us. That's why I mostly focus on fire discipline, individual combat movement and small-unit tactics. I want these men and women to be able to hit and run as quickly and efficiently as possible. If I can teach them that then I won't worry too much about not being able to spend enough time correcting their bad shooting habits."

That all made a lot of sense to James. Though, from what he could tell, Tim spent quite a bit of time teaching life-long hunters how to shoot. He must have thought that pretty, blue-eyed Bethany McLintock was a particularly terrible shot, judging by how much extra time they spent together on the firing range.

***

Paul sat precariously on the edge of his stool as he tried teaching the old heifer new tricks. One of the hired men held the wide-rimmed bottle for him, while another held her calf to the other side of her. For teaching a beginner, this worked best if you had a calf trying to get milk at the same time you were.

Wild Cow Milking—where a team of cowboys raced to rope an angry cow and hold her in place until they could get a few drops of milk out of her— was considered one of the most dangerous events in rodeo, and it wasn't hard to see why. They had the luxury of a headgate and squeeze chute to keep the struggling beast from trampling or rolling on anyone, but she could still squirm and kick well enough to break bones.

Except for when a calf had trouble feeding, the McLintocks had never bothered to milk their own cows before. Not enough time; milking required a very strict daily schedule that conflicted too heavily with other ranch chores, and Charolais generally weren't cooperative or docile enough to make good dairy stock. They had goats for milk, which could be safely handled by someone not involved in heavier activities: Ben, Staci, or the children of the ranch hands.

The ranch had gone without a milk goat for almost a year and a half, and Rachel had occasionally threatened to milk one of the donkey mares. One day she, Ben, and some probably-not-entirely sober ranch hands decided to try it. Ass milk (historically, it really was called that) was actually pretty good, but they weren't sure if all the biting was worth it.

But the resistance wanted more than those small animals could provide. In particular: they wanted cheese; a highly nutritious food which, when waxed, courtesy of the family's bees, had a reasonably lengthy shelf-life. It was going to be a labour-intensive operation with high startup costs that would require more grain and hay than their little ranch could provide.

Rodgers the Younger pulled in front of the barn with another truckload of "free" grain, and Paul helped him unload it once the milking was done and the cows were put to pasture. This task accomplished, he asked if Bethany was around. She wasn't, so Paul poured the visitor a cup of hot dandelion coffee, which he somewhat-reluctantly drank.

"I don't know how y'all convinced my parents to accept all of this." said Paul.

"What? Grain?" asked Tim.

"Subsidized grain, and subsidized milkers, and subsidized supplies to help build the new milking parlour. You're turning us into a bunch of welfare ranchers." Paul was grinning as he said it, but Tim could tell that he had a special disgust for that term.

"I don't understand, didn't your family take subsidies before… all of this?"

"Ours didn't; we didn't want the extra rules that might come from accepting handouts. Really, most of the profits from subsidies go to the big operators and the Jap and Brazilian megacorps who own their cattle. A ranch of our size would see very little, even if we were willing to take it."

"Sounds a lot like what I used to hear from poultry farmers back home." said Tim. "Tyson and Pilgrim's Pride take millions from the taxpayers while their contact growers live at their mercy. They force you to go into debt before you can work for them, collude with the banks to keep you in debt, and you lose everything if they ever cut your contract."

“I've heard about that." Paul took a long sip from his coffee cup. "Sounds like sharecropping."

"More or less. I hear it was getting about as bad for the hog farmers."

"Same story throughout American agriculture: our livelihoods get polluted and lawyered and taxed and banked and regulated to the brink of extinction, their demands that we get big or go home means that there's fewer and fewer of us each year, we have no hope raising our kids the way we were raised, then we're supposed to feel grateful when they offer to support us with a portion of what they stole from us."

Paul paused briefly, casting another suspicious glance at the grain.

"…and there's always going to be a catch. You take the king's coin, you become his man. So if we get beholden to this Resistance of yours and they eventually become just as bad as Qubba, then what?"

Good question, thought Tim. Probably asked by every sane person who ever took part in an act of rebellion.

"Well… in the first war for independence, the Founding Fathers had to accept a lot of things that they found odious—a professional army for one. It is possible that we're building the foundations of a system that our descendents will have to overthrow in the future, but is there any other choice?"

Paul meditated on that for a second. At that moment the young cowboy looked very old, even though Tim was pretty sure he had a couple of years on him. Finally, he chuckled.

"'Our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honour.' Reckon the last one's always going to be the hardest to pledge."

Firestorm

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Re: Every Leaf In Springtime, Caravaneer 1 Fanfic
« Reply #9 on: August 28, 2015, 06:27:38 AM »
Chapter 9: The Gathering Storm

Men in the McLintock family generally had long and healthy lives, unless something killed them; it was usually hard to tell that Ben McLintock was well into his 80's. But right now he looked old. Old and sick. His family had gathered around the table to read the letter they had been given.

"Hand-delivered." mused Ben.

"By men driving an armoured car." said George. "Wonder what they'll send when they actually expect resistance."

It was type-written, signed by Oswald Raff, with a proclamation declaring martial law throughout the State of Colorado. He promised to bring water, food, electricity, petroleum, modern healthcare, fire and rescue service, a law and court system, public education, air conditioning, hot showers, television, high-speed internet, antidepressants, cold beer, free porn... a few suckers might go for that, but most are probably going to wonder how they'll receive such luxuries when the people in Denver itself live on starvation diets in dark, squalid high-rise hovels.

That was the carrot. One of his secretaries had added a short, hand-written stick. It warned that the McLintock Ranch was due on this year's "emergency taxes" and that representatives would arrive in the spring to help with their financial problems. The penmanship was excellent and the wording was as polite as possible. There were no direct threats, but it did note that wilful tax evaders would be subject to severe prosecution.

Even more worryingly, all military-aged men and women were requested to go to the local courthouse and re-register for the Selective Services. That one settled any lingering questions of whether or not they were going to fight.

***

"Gobblegobgobgobble!"

Bethany and Staci nonchalantly brushed the turkeys aside as they checked the nest boxes for new eggs. Chickens were the primary egg-makers on the ranch, while turkeys were more valued for meat, but both had an excess and turkey eggs were somewhat larger and considered by many to be of a higher quality. Tim Rodgers, having been drafted into farm labour, followed behind somewhat more warily.

"I was just a kid the last time I dealt with turkeys. They tried to eat me."

"Find a way to die in here and they probably would." said Bethany. "Something my dad used to tell us when it came time for Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner is that, if the tables were turned, they wouldn't think twice about eating us. I was always getting too attached to the livestock, and my older sister was worse than I was."

"Your older sister? I didn't know you had one."

"Ain't sure if I still do. She never liked this lifestyle; left home several years before the crash and never looked back. She was in Denver last any of us heard. If I ever see her again… I'm afraid it might be in the crosshairs of my rifle."

Bethany paused at that thought, Tim took her by the hand and the two of them slid into each other's arms.

"Tim, it's going to get bad, ain't it?"

What could he say to that? The day before, they had run a workshop in the family's fallout shelter teaching mothers with young children how to get them into the little incubator-like gasmasks. One in three couldn't get themselves and their babies suited up in the few seconds they would have if their only pre-warning was the bursting of poison-gas shells. And it was hard to say how many of the contraptions would work if they were needed; some were reasonably new, high-quality models from ILC Dover and similar companies, most were surplus or even homemade.

"You're scared?" he asked.

"Are you?"

"Yeah..."

And what now? Tell her the old clichés about the horrors of war and how anyone who says they're not afraid is either lying or crazy? What did he know? Maybe he learned a thing or two in Parris Island, but she knew more about killing than he did—Bethany had told him about the three men she had planted in the worm garden. If she had been through that and was still scared by what was coming…

"You're strong, Beth. Whatever happens, you'll do alright. And besides, there's worse things to be afraid of…"

He looked at Staci, still frolicking around the coop without a care in the world, offering a gentle rub and a handful of feed to birds that were almost as big as she was.

"…turkeys, for example."

Bethany grinned and gave him a playful nudge.

"Turkeys are the least of your problems, boy. Once we're finished collecting eggs, we're moving on to the beehives."

***

Railroads had still been important to the economy of Colorado, even if their glory days were long in the past. The endless miles of track that once serviced the mines and corrals of the state had been gradually abandoned and deconstructed as the 20th century wore on, but the recent petroleum and methane boom had led to something of an industrial renaissance, and Denver was still a vital hub for intercontinental freight.

The BNSF railyard was wedged between I-25 and the Arkansas River like a giant field of iron in the shadow of the concrete mountains. Most of the rolling stock had survived and coal wasn't hard to find; cutting a deal with local museums gave the Qubbans a highly efficient means of tying their empire together.

Oswald Raff and General Schnittke pulled their coats tighter as they stepped from the limousine and into the pre-dawn darkness. A young Lieutenant saluted and started to say something, but his words were drowned out by the moan of a whistle and the hiss of escaping steam. Both men nodded politely and pretended they heard him anyway; probably nothing important.

"Never thought I'd welcome the chance to cram all of my men into boxcars." said General Schnittke

"It does beat a wagon train, doesn't it?" said Raff "Though we'll have to use those to keep your troops supplied."

"That… or local requisitions. Hopefully it won’t come to local requisitions; I doubt we'll make friends in Southern Colorado by making them carry the weight of five regiments."

The men fell silent again as a column of trucks rolled by. The rail yard was just too loud for conversation, so they decided to pick it up again in the relative quiet of their command carriage.

The units being loaded were parts of two regiments from Qubba's regular army. Most were former law-enforcement or military, equipped with some of the last functioning armoured vehicles in the West. They would be joined by three more regiments: two "special police" from the garrisons of Nirgendwo and Okaidi, and a rather eclectic force of "Mounted Regulators" under the command of the magistrate in Trinidad.

Although Melissa was theoretically in overall command, Schnittke and his staff were being sent to personally handle overall strategic planning, and to make sure that Qubban military forces weren't misused.

"So remind me again:" the General continued, "what do I do if she ignores the rebels and puts our troops to work building pyramids, or decides to invade New Mexico with them?"

"Shoot her? First try to convince her that it would be in her best interests not to squander the assistance of her sovereign. I know we could ask for a better representative, but sometimes dealing with barbarians is the price we have to pay to build a civilization."

Ah yes, the rough men, or women, who stand ready to do violence on our behalf. Still, Schnittke didn't like the ambiguity of his role and authority, and he also didn't like working with someone who—judging from the one time he had spoken to her by radio— seemed unnecessarily eager to start a war. To be fair, though, Raff's own bureaucrats were at least as much to blame for that.

There had been surprisingly little violence from the landowners so far, but few of them had accepted the Qubban emissaries happily, and he knew that the taxes wouldn't be extracted without some fighting. He hoped that they wouldn't have to carry out a full-scale military occupation. Surely most of the people in that area would understand the value of a stable regime, even if somewhat flawed.

Schnittke still had his occasional disagreements with the civil authorities, but society had always progressed in definite stages: from anarchy to despotism, from despotism to monarchy, and from monarchy to democracy. Something better than Raff's regime could be achieved, but first it would take a strong hand to move the forces of history in the right direction. Only then would men like Raff (and Schnittke) be unnecessary.

But would anyone else understand that? History would remember whatever he had to do in Southern Colorado, and he would be remembered as another Thomas Gage at worst or another Ulysses Grant at best, and Grant still had his enemies in parts of the country.

Ultimately, it didn't matter. Schnittke was a soldier, he would do his duty and let the politicians and historians worry about whether or not he had been right.

***

From the cover of the hills, the men in the dugout watched as another pillar of black smoke rolled across the empty brown plains. Visibility was good at this height; on a clear day, one could often see as far as Hoehne and the Purgatoire River. The military might of Qubba was in full view as it moved south, and the rebel observation posts made meticulous notes of every possible detail.

It was nothing more than a sandy hole in the ground filled with three men, their equipment, several days of accumulated waste and dreams of a bath. If he couldn't smell it, a casual observer could easily stand on it and not know it was there. In addition to concealment, they were fairly certain that nothing short of a direct cannon hit would endanger their shelter, and had several plans for escaping anyone who might spot them.

"They've got to know we're up here." said James McLintock as he peered through his mom's old bird-watching scope. "Wonder if it bothers them."

"I doubt it." said Tim. "They'll drive us off these ridges once the fighting starts, but right now they could care less if we see what they're up to. Look at what they're hauling on that train: artillery, tanks, armoured cars… and they only tarp them when the weather‘s bad. If they wanted to be discreet they would at least run the trains at night."

"And we have eyes in all the local towns." said James. He didn't know that for sure of course, but Harriet's shadowy bosses seemed like the types who would set up a decent spy network. "So we'd have a rough idea of what they're bringing in anyway. This ain't good country for hiding a tank."

"Ain't good country for much of anything." said Tim, immediately wishing he hadn't.

"Oh, it's good enough country if you know what to do with it." Paul laughed, even though he was clearly insulted. Then he scratched at the whiskers on his unshaved face.

"Y'know, most of this area was originally settled as part of the Beaubien and Miranda Land Grant, known later as the Maxwell Land Grant. In the time between the Mexican War and the Civil War, men like Lucien Maxwell had a vision of setting up farms and towns along the rivers, ranches on the plateaus and mines along the ridges. All this in harmony with the local Indian and Spanish settlements. Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico were going to become an economic and cultural powerhouse."

"I didn't know Southern Colorado was part of the Grant; I thought that was all in Colfax County." In all honesty, Tim didn't know much at all about the Maxwell Land Grant or the Colfax County War that had raged within it, beyond what he had watched and read in Westerns.  "What went wrong?" he asked.

"In a way, you answered your own question: no one knew where the Grant was supposed to be. The Mexicans initially created it as a hedge against Indian raids and American expansion. They never worried too much about the specific boundaries and official surveys weren't completed until the 1870's. By that time, the Department of the Interior had been giving out homestead applications for land that—lo and behold—they never had a claim to. Kept issuing them even after Congress and the Supreme Court sided with the Grant. A lot of people, including some who should have known better, thought it would eventually revert to public lands."

Lucien retired and sold the Grant in 1870. That's when things started going downhill. Squatters, vagrants, and outlaws had always been a nuisance, and the incompetent foreign investors who came after him only made things worse trying to police the region. Anyone who couldn't prove that they had properly purchased their property was forced to pay up or be evicted at gunpoint. Maybe the company was legally in the right, but the tactics they used were pretty much guaranteed to start a war. Between 1875 and 1887, over two-hundred people died."

"That ain't the half of it." said James McLintock, who had been quietly fuming throughout the history lecture. "Ranchers and miners who had settled in good faith and lived in the area for upwards to thirty years were declared vagrants overnight. Some of them had legally purchased their land already. The new owners didn't care; they sent out their hired thugs to extort whatever they could and kill anyone who spoke out against it. Even killed a Methodist preacher who had been working to organize the settlers. The crooks in Cimarron worked hand-in-glove with the crooks in Santa Fe to make sure they avoided any punishment. Hard to blame the settlers for trying to fight it, their reasons were at least as good as ours."

They lost of course. That's the problem with fighting for freedom, justice, and decency: you almost always lose. The Supreme Court came down on the side of the Grant in 1887 and that was pretty much the end of organized resistance. Lot of bad blood for decades afterwards, though. We still have family who won't talk about those times; we had ancestors on both sides of the war and it's a still a sore spot for the older generations."

Looks like it still is for the younger ones too, thought Tim Rodgers, though he didn't dare say that.

"Most of our family was lucky enough to have bought their land titles directly from Lucien and retained written records to prove it." concluded Paul. "They actually tried to take over the town of Weston, but that didn't really work out. Most of the Colorado portion of the Grant was eventually sold to John D Rockefeller's Colorado Fuel and Iron and, well, I'm sure you know the rest of that story."

He moved to the vision slit and pointed to a small collection of dilapidated buildings in the plains near the railroad, one of a dozen ghost towns that made you wonder if the end of civilization had visited Southern Colorado early.

"That used to be Ludlow."

Tim knew quite a bit about the Ludlow Massacre and the Colorado Coalfield Wars. In the first three decades of the 20th century, starving miners repeatedly demanded better working conditions from the richest man in America, and he repeatedly paid private agencies and the National Guard to slaughter them. Cities and counties were placed under martial law, mass arrests carried out, public assemblies banned, newspapers shut down, firearms confiscated, and summary executions for anyone who complained. It was the bloodiest suppression of organized labour in US history.

And it was going to happen again! Greed-crazed tyrants from afar were sending their hirelings to crush the bothersome locals. And here they were fighting on the side of freedom, justice, decency, and so on. The side that almost always lost.

***

General Schnittke rode with the coterie of local commanders through a wagon-ringed encampment holding a couple hundred of Melissa's Mounted Regulators, plus their families and what looked like the sum of their earthly possessions. The unit was indeed entirely-mounted, though he noticed that there were as many four-wheelers and motorcycles parked outside the tents as there were horses. That modern touch reassured him somewhat, even though approximately a third of Qubban regulars were likewise horse-bound.

The rank and file of the regulators were almost as scruffy as Joseph Berg, the man who had played a major role in gathering them together and seemingly commanded them. There was little standardization of firearms (though AK-pattern weapons seemed to predominate), no artillery beyond mostly-homemade mortars (and only half a dozen spread throughout the regiment), and internal leadership and organization was highly informal; almost tribal.

"It's like an army of gypsies" said the General dismissively.

"Yup" said Melissa. "Getting more and more like one by the day. Not as disciplined as you might want but they can't be much worse than whatever militias they run into."

"You really think these units will hold together once they're thrown into serious combat?"

"Nope." she responded flatly. "Oh, they'll fight as well as anyone so long as things are going exactly according to plan. But things never go according to plan, so they'll run or surrender the moment they face any real resistance. They're raiders, not soldiers."

"That's… surprisingly candid. So you don't plan on seizing trenches with them."

"What's the point of fighting an army if you can run around behind them and take whatever they were trying to protect? That's how we got them to sign on for us: come for the free guns and ammo, stay for the chance of war booty. I'll use the folks who have to be here to seize the trenches."

Schnittke thought she would say something like that. He had already reviewed their war plans; it disgusted him to the core, but he had to admit that the strategy was sound. The insurgents could never concentrate their forces on the front lines with these beasts in human form raiding homesteads and towns throughout rebel territory. Damage to enemy morale would be astronomical, and many would be reluctant to take up arms if it meant leaving their own homes unprotected. They would have to defend everything, and therefore nothing. Maybe that would give the rest of the Army a chance when they went into the hills with what he felt was a woefully-undersized force.

They had 5,000 troops in an area with a combined pre-crash population of 200,000. The population was still probably more or less the same; the death toll had been fairly high in Trinidad and Pueblo, but refugee migration and the Qubban government's own relocation schemes had helped balance things out. That gave him 25 troops for every 1,000 residents—well within what most counterinsurgency planners considered an acceptable ratio. But they were expected to occupy a land area of about 25,000 square kilometers, giving them far less than the 1.2 soldiers per square kilometer that had once been considered ideal. They would be doing it without the air support, mechanization and reliable communications that most post-World War II strategists would take as a given, and there were a lot of places to hide in those mountains…

"I wish your boss could send more troops." stated Melissa, who had at least as much cause for concern.

"He wanted to, but we can only afford to field so many regiments at a time. And what we didn't send could be needed if the Mormons or Texans decide to make a move while we're busy here. At least we'll be able to rotate fresh troops through fairly regularly, so making up for combat losses shouldn't be a problem."

Melissa considered that for a minute. She hated to admit it, but it was probably a good idea not to play all your cards when you have enemies on both borders. Maybe her now-handicapped henchwoman had killed enough Texans to keep them from sending any more cops to Colorado, but she couldn't know what they or some other enemy might do if Qubba showed any signs of being distracted. Keeping something in reserve would be a good idea.

"Well…" she continued, "our first tax collectors will be heading out in force after the spring thaw, and there may be an uprising even before that. Until then, we train and plan. It's going to be a very long winter."

Firestorm

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Re: Every Leaf In Springtime, Caravaneer 1 Fanfic
« Reply #10 on: August 28, 2015, 06:28:44 AM »
Chapter 10: Rally on the Green!

The people of rural Southern Colorado had unsurprisingly balked at the Qubban proclamation. A band of influential locals met in Stonewall to draft a Declaration of Independence for the newly-proclaimed Sangre de Cristo Republic, simultaneously declaring the scattered posses, militias, security teams, and ronda campesinas to be part of the Sangre de Cristo Free People's Army.

The rebel government had about 30,000 overt sympathizers locally. A tenth of those had been mobilized into armed groups, and it would be a daunting task to organize these independent-minded mavericks into coherent squads, platoons, companies, battalions, regiments, and so forth. Most volunteers provided their own horses and weapons, preferably semi-automatic rifles in 7.62 NATO or 30-06, though most any weapon from the last 150 years could theoretically be encountered.

There weren't enough squad automatic weapons or machineguns in general to go around, nor were there enough helmets or body amour for individual soldiers. There was little artillery beyond mortars and rockets, very few functioning vehicles, almost no armoured vehicles, and few explosives beyond satchel charges, dynamite and hand grenades. They did have at least one working Patriot missile battery and enough Stingers to make the Raffians think twice about sending in air support. They could mow down advancing infantry without a problem, but would come up very short against a mechanized enemy. Their ordinance department immediately went to work trying to remedy that weakness.

James McLintock let out a yell as he squeezed the trigger. A jet of fire lit up the evening twilight and reflected blindingly in the snow, and a cloud of stinging smoke hung in the air. The warhead landed with a snow-deafened thud some hundred meters downrange, close enough to where he had wanted to put it.

"Nice!" yell James. "Too much smoke and flame though; feels kind of like firing an arquebus."

"They weigh about as much as one, I think." replied newly-commissioned Colonel Robert Rodgers.

Warrant Officer Dave Castro—now of the Sangre de Cristo Ordinance Research Department— had agreed to let them test the weapons on his property, and the McLintocks suspected that he had a hand in making them. It looked like an RPG or Panzerfaust crossed with a Bazooka crossed with a big potato gun. Black powder was the most commonly-used propellant. The 2.5 kilogram warhead was usually filled with Ammonal. HEAT and HE rounds were standard, though flares, fragmentation, thermobaric, tandem warhead, and smoke rounds were also available. It had sights for direct and indirect fire and, with practice, could reliably hit a moving target at upwards to 200 meters.

"We're hoping to issue two or more of these to every squad, plus rifle grenades to every rifleman." said Dave. "Those will be copies of the French Luchaires and Israeli Refaims, mostly. They're all going to be either bullet-trap or bullet-through designs, so no need to screw around trying to load a blank into your chamber every time something outside of throwing-range needs blown up.

"All in all, it should give you guys a fighting chance against most armour, and you might find yourself using them quite a bit on infantry."

Dave had talked about this before. With so much of their quarry wearing Kevlar hides, there was a lot of debate about how vulnerable they would be to gunfire. America, Israel, and Russia had all been seeing the same thing in their recent counterinsurgency operations: most casualties during firefights had been caused by explosives instead of bullets. Some insurgent groups had gone to using three-man teams of one rifleman carrying extra rockets and offering close-range protection to two RPG gunners who were expected to do the real killing, almost like the pike-and-shot formations of old. Dave and a few others believed that the era of the automatic rifle as the primary individual weapon may be coming to an end.

The lone cowboy and his rifle was about as revered in the West as the noble samurai and his katana in Japan (even though bows and pole arms had been at least as important to the samurai for most of their history), so this wasn't a popular thing to say. Many counter-arguments were made regarding the lack of individual marksmanship among the most commonly-encountered insurgents of the recent past and why it didn't apply in their case, but almost everyone agreed that widespread distribution of heavy weapons would be worth the cost.

The people who made the RPGs predicted they would be highly effective against most APCs and the sides of an M2 Bradley fighting vehicle, but of little use against actual tanks. A TOW missile could knock out an M1 Abrams easily enough. A Javelin probably could if fired from the sides or rear. They didn't have many anti-tank missiles, but they were hoping that the invading forces didn't have many tanks. There had been talk of Milan missiles and RPG-29's being brought up from Mexico, but so far it was just one of many wild rumours.

***

Harriet Campbell arrived early in January with two separate deliveries. One was a facsimile of their new republic's founding documents, and the other was a series of militia activation papers for the McLintock household.

"The Sangre de Cristo Republic." mused Ben McLintock, "Well, I reckon we knew it was coming, soon as y'all separated the sheep from the goats."

Harriet smiled and sipped her "coffee" in silence. She liked old Ben, even if she wished he would learn to speak without resorting to John Wayne quotes.

"Republic… I like the sound of the word. Means people can live free, talk free, go or come, buy or sell, be drunk or sober— however they choose. Some words give you a feeling; republic is one of those words that makes me tight in the throat. Same tightness a man gets when his baby takes his first step or… his first baby shaves and makes his first sound like a man. Some words can give you a feeling that make your heart warm. Republic is one of those words."

The Alamo? Okay, that was appropriate, so long as you didn't put too much thought into how it ended.

"They ain't subtle on the Founding Fathers themes, are they?" asked James.

"What?" asked Paul dryly. "Unelected, unaccountable elites plunging their communities into a war that most have no stake in and many actively oppose?"

Ben groaned inaudibly, wondering how any grandson of his could be so malcontented. His daughter-in-law was probably the cause of that; he had warned George about the Okies.

Paul chuckled, and then he smiled.

"Must feel weird for you though, Harriet, working as their Paul Revere. Wasn't Canada the faithful child last time around?"

"Well, not all of us were Tories. Nova Scotia had a few small Patriot uprisings during the war. They even invited us to the Second Continental Congress. We didn't send delegates, but then technically neither did Georgia."

"Nothing unexpected here." said Bethany as she read over the activation papers. "Me, James, Paul, Tim, and Mom have all been mustered into the militia… Dad and Hector haven't been. Too old and too young?"

"That, and too indispensable." said Harriet. "Whatever else happens, we need to keep the ranches running."

Bethany nodded. "Mom reports to the field hospital in Segundo. All the boys are in the same company and probably the same platoon. I'm to report to one of the Special Assault Troops near Stonewall for service as a pack animal-handler for an anti-tank team."

She could never understand why Tim thought that was funny.

Bethany remembered how Harriet's last delivery included a copy of Field Manual 31-27: "Pack Animals in Support of Special Operations Forces" and FM 23-34: "TOW Weapon System", and a note asking that these be given to the best rider in the family. She would later learn that most families had at least one "specialist" picked out of the local recruitment pools for service in the Assault Troops. It was partially a matter of honour, and partially a way of evening out the suffering in what would be a very dangerous occupation.

"Everyone but Tim works for a living." she continued, referencing a bit of enlisted men's humour that he had taught her. "He gets a lieutenant's commission; non-commissioned officer's will be elected. Unless something changes he'll be the company's second-in-command."

"Hey Harriet, how come you didn't get a commission?" asked Paul. "Seems to me like you have the makings of a captain at least."

"I know! They passed up on some real talent, eh?" Harriet grinned knowingly. Perhaps she had… other obligations. Then she shook her head.

"Beyond the obvious problem of having military experience, there's a lot of reasons why it wouldn't work. I'm not a local for one thing, and the family I married into has no real social clout or history of leadership. I'm a religious minority for another; a Mormon where most Coloradans are Catholic and most rural Coloradans still take it seriously."

"Mormonism:" interupted Ben, "Nothing so hilarious could possibly be true. Or entirely bad."

Harriet frowned. Of course the only time he doesn't quote John Wayne, he segues into quoting Edward Abbey.

"I love you too, Ben, anyway…

"…put me in charge of a bunch of Trinidad townies and all of that might not matter, but with the old farming and ranching families the first things they'll ask you is where your grandparents are buried and what church you go to. Like I said to you guys once before, it's the Chamber of Commerce and Cattlemen's Associations that's behind all this—Hamilton and Jefferson working together again. I can't command because there's no place for me in either camp. It's the same reason why none of you can."

"Hey…" blurted James, and then he thought about it. The McLintocks had always been a little reclusive; their reputation—to what extent they had a reputation—was one of wildmen in the hills who didn't play well with others. And Baptists weren't much less suspect than Mormons. Moreover, the McLintock's had no use whatsoever for the Chamber of Commerce, and not much use for the Cattlemen's Association. If they were a little richer then maybe they could have bought their own unit like Southern Planters did in the Civil War, but James didn't know if anyone in the Sangre de Cristos was quite that rich.

"…actually, you're probably right." he conceded. "Don't think I ever wanted to be a captain anyway… though I'd like to think I would be a good sergeant."

"I think you would." said Tim. "Most of your subordinates will be your ranch-hands and their sons. They'll follow you into battle so long as you prove that you won't ask anything of them that you won't do yourself."

Stands to reason, thought Paul. Optimates leading Yeomen leading Campesinos. 'God made them high and lowly, and ordered their estate.'

"What about Tim." he asked. "He's an agnostic from South Carolina, how did he get a commission?"

"He's an ex-Marine. He could have been a Hindu from Albania with acute Tourette's Syndrome and they would have still commissioned him."

"Former Marine, ma'am; I was discharged honourably." he corrected facetiously. "And I'm not sure if the agnosticism is going to survive battle, or Bethany."

Bethany giggled. The little girl was indeed doing an admirable job of putting the fear of God into the big, bad marine.

"You know… I don't get it." said James. "I know why Oswald Raff and his cronies want to take this land, but what about his soldiers? What does the common man in Denver have to gain by killing us instead of working with us?"

"Lot of reasons." said Harriet. "Some of them are only in it for the pay-check or the chance to loot the area. Some of them are bloodthirsty psychos, or just bored. Some see it as being safer than whatever crummy jobs they were doing at home. And then a lot of them don't have a choice in the matter."

She wasn't sure if she should mention the next part…

"And then there's the propaganda. Good Lord, you should hear some of the stuff they have blaring day and night from their loudspeakers. Saying that you ranchers are a bunch of parasites who spent generations eating at the public trough, ruining public lands and gobbling up any subsidies you could get your hands on. And then when the time comes for you to give something back, you selfishly hoarded mountains of food, shot anyone who asked for any, and let your cows get fat while their children starved."

"That's not true!" exploded Ben. "We gave everything we could to others! Ran our emergency supplies completely dry doing it. We made people work for what they got when they could, and maybe we didn't give *everything* away, but what were we supposed to do? Starve ourselves just so a thousand strangers could die a few days later?"

Harriet remained silent for a good few seconds.

"You also gave a loving home to four orphans when you weren't sure if your own family would make it through the next winter. Look, I know none of that's true, but how would anyone in Denver know otherwise? They didn't know much about life out here before the crash. Now that they're a bunch of serfs. Serfs are not entitled to critical thinking, they'll half-believe anything they're told and follow any order they can't get away with ignoring. Doesn't make them good for much, but they excel as worker drones and cannon fodder."

There was an even longer pause as the family considered that. Bethany was the first to speak again.

"It's unimaginable. We've spent half a year getting ready to kill people en masse, and we never stopped to think that most of them really have nothing against us."

***

It was an unusually warm day and neither the ranch nor the militia needed his attention, so George McLintock rode alone to a relatively unused portion of his second-cousin's ranch. There were two small hills here connected by a saddleback ridge, neither of them obviously unique or interesting. The top of one was marked with a grassy depression and a few scattered bits of stone and mortar that had been some ancient homestead. The other was crowned with a mott of native cedars and transplanted Texas Live Oaks.

This had been the homeplace of his ancestors when they first came to Colorado. The oaks had been saplings when his great, great grandfather had brought them up from Texas; they still stood sentinel over his grave. The cemetery plot had gradually spread beyond the confines of the original rock wall, so simple wrought-iron fencing now kept the cattle at bay. There were, he felt, worse places to wait on the Resurrection.

George wasn't exactly sure how many of his family were buried here. Some of the oldest wood markers had long ago decomposed, and others were dedicated to people who had actually been interred elsewhere on the lone prairie. A few former employees—those rootless souls with no where else to go— had also found a place among them. A critical reading of the dates could often give hints of accidents, fires, epidemics and other distant tragedies… as well as a very recent one:

"Caleb Karlson McLintock
Aged 9 years, 8 months

Sleep on, our son, and take thy rest,
God called thee home, He saw it best."

He choked back tears as he remembered it. They had been so worried about human invaders that they didn't consider microscopic enemies. It was two weeks before Christmas when something like meningitis swept through the country like wildfire. Children were disproportionately affected, with half a dozen dead and double that blinded.

Their headstones and the inscriptions had come mostly from Los Hermanos de la Fraternidad Piadosa de Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno, or the Hermanos Penitentes. Born on the frontier of New Spain, this ancient order with its unusual customs had once been suppressed by Catholic and secular authorities alike, but it had come back in a big way after the crash and now offered its services to locals of all faiths. Their doctors had worked feverishly to save what lives they could, and their priests were there for the grieving of the dead. They would accept no payment for their services, but the McLintocks had anonymously donated their best milk cow as thanks for the kindness they had been shown.

He could still see a quiet, studious little boy on his first visit to the cemetery. As he helped clean up around the trees and replant flowers on the graves, he would occasionally ask who they belonged to and work out their ages from the dates on the headstones while reading the inscription. He had been the smart one, and his passing left a hole in all their hearts. Staci and Bethany in particular were taking it hard.

The inclusion of his birth-family's name had been Rachel's idea; there was no other sign that he had been adopted. To them he was like any other child; God had put him in their care for only a moment and then the time had come to let him go. George hoped he had done his best by him in that time. He knew he would see him again someday, and that was sometimes all that kept him going when he wondered how many more of his children he would have to bury.

***

The slushy snow and mud squelched underfoot as Second Lieutenant Kaminski stepped out of his M706 Cadillac Gage Commando. The little armoured car with its twin M60 machineguns was almost an antique, having been used in Vietnam for airport security and later sold by the hundreds to SWAT teams and third-world US allies, but maybe they would keep his revenue collection detail safe from some angry farmer and his shotgun.

"Little late to be ploughing my road for me," said the farmer as he eyed the equally-vintage M113 in his yard, with its field-expedient mine plough, "though I'm thankful for it all the same"

"I hope you are," the lieutenant said, "we'll be adding the cost of it to your debts."

The old man who had met them was polite. Achingly polite, like those creepy-ass Amish he'd met in San Luis. Most "English" debtors would scream and beg and threaten and generally make a scene, completely ignorant of their new status on the social ladder until an edifying rifle butt illustrated it for them.

Not this one; he just stood and smiled and mindlessly nodded his head as a lady from the tax office gave him a lecture on his duties to the greater community and how everyone needed to pull together in the hard times they were facing. Kaminski could have easily imagined her in another life as a vampiric petty bureaucratic who got her kicks from squeezing money out of the productive portion of the public; he hoped that someone on his route would put a bullet in her.

A truck was backed up to the house and Sergeant Francesco Manzoni was rummaging through it in search of anything saleable. His superiors had strict guidelines on what they could and couldn't cart off: leave at least one firearm per person, at least one vehicle or two draft animals per household, one cow for every ten acres, enough seed to plant forty acres of field. The state wanted tax evaders punished, but not crippled. "Rebels" on the other hand, could stand to lose anything on the auction block, up to and including their children.

Presently, the Sergeant emerged from the house with the two other civilians they had been forced to bring along, an auditor from Denver in a stupid monkey suit and an Apache liaison officer from Trinidad. They were carrying a bunch of rusty old .22 rifles, .410 shotguns, and even a few BB guns.

"The Rebel arsenal, sir."

Lieutenant Kaminski chuckled. They had been informed that the farm was a hotbed of rebel activity, with a full platoon of insurgents and a massive cache of arms and military supplies hidden in the basement. The empty bunkhouses and barren gunsafes attested to the fact that it had been.

"They couldn't have left more than thirty minutes before we got here." continued the sergeant. "We found hoofprints and tire tracks heading into the hills, and I doubt they could have gone far."

"They were either tipped off, or their lookouts are a lot better than we suspected." said Kaminski. "They left that old man and those peashooters here just to mock us."

"I'll bet he knows where they went." said the auditor absently, immediately wishing he hadn't.

"We could… make him tell us." said the liaison officer flatly. It was a thought that seemed to unnerve even Sergeant Manzoni.

The lieutenant looked at the farmer, then at the brown valley ridges and thick scrubby trees surrounding his farm. He had to have expected that they would ask him where the rest of his family and friends were, and he had to know that they were fully capable of forcing the truth out of him. For some reason, it didn't seem to bother him.

"Not my job. And I'm not taking my platoon into those hills without backup. Miss Whirlwindhorse, tell the farmer that he won't be charged with obstruction so long as he can satisfy his tax arrears. Mr. Simberg…"

"Well," said the auditor. "he could probably live without his haybailer, but I also found a very nice ox wagon in his barn. A local family makes and sells them along with their Charolais oxen. Should fetch a decent price if you have a way to tow it."

"I saw that thing" said Sergeant Manzoni. "Looks like it used to be a trailer. If there's a ball-coupler on the tongue then we shouldn't have a problem. It still had the original rubber wheels, so it shouldn't slow us down too much."

The old man retreated to his rocking chair and watched the soldiers hitch his wagon to one of their trucks. He waved goodbye as they got ready to pull out.

"Sergeant. Radio the company and tell them to be on alert. That farmer doesn't look like he thinks he's seen the last of his wagon."

***

Twilight was falling on the old lumber yard in the valley near Weston, which now served as an encampment for the local militia company. A herd of bighorn sheep watched from their hills as the men below went about their business. Even they knew that something strange was afoot.

The lantern cast a pallid light over the briefing room as the wind from a late winter storm started to thrash against the canvas. Lieutenant Tim Rodgers concluded his briefing of the squad leaders.

"So that's about it. If the shooting hasn't started yet, it will within the hour. Any questions?"

"What are we going to call this," asked Sergeant James, "the War of Farmer Hoffman's Wagon?"

There was laughter all around, and even Tim had trouble keeping his composure. The McLintock children had all made NCO; even Bethany was a corporal. Tim had expected to have at least one for a squad leader, but sometimes he wondered if the company could handle both of them.

"Didn't the Boer War start a lot like that?" asked one of the other sergeants.

"First one did" said Paul, "and the American Revolution started with a raid on an arms cache."

The only two wars in a two-hundred year span where the British Empire decisively lost. Reassuring thought.

"If that'll be all, gentlemen… we're cutting cross-country through Zarcrillo Canyon all the way up to the Apishapa River. Our regiment's rendezvous point is to the southwest of Gulnare. They want us in position above Aguilar before dawn and Captain Steward thinks we can do it by midnight. So let's get moving; it's an eighteen mile ride, in the dark, over some very bad country."

Firestorm

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Re: Every Leaf In Springtime, Caravaneer 1 Fanfic
« Reply #11 on: August 28, 2015, 06:29:38 AM »
Chapter 11: Assault on the Ridges

Lieutenant Kaminski fired his M4 carbine from the side door while surviving crew and passengers fled from the smoke-filled armoured car. He bailed out as another explosion rocked it, landing in a muddy irrigation ditch beside the road. Looking around, he saw that some kind of rocket had turned the lead M113 into a flaming wreck, while heavy automatic weapons fire was being concentrated on the two trucks carrying the bulk of their platoon. The battle was lost before it had even started.

He could see the tax lady sprawled in the middle of the road, a look of sheer terror on her face, blind eyes staring in his direction and a third eye added by a bullet that had torn through her forehead. The auditor was firing his pistol while nursing a nasty-looking buckshot wound. The Apache had emptied the rifle she'd been given before throwing it down and running for a marshy patch of tall bush and weeds to their rear. "What you mean 'we', white man?" She was the smartest of them.

Sergeant Manzoni shouldered an M136 AT4, rose slightly from behind a fallen timber, and returned fire with it. He couldn't tell if it did any damage, but the thunderous explosion did silence the ambushers for a moment, and maybe that would be enough to save their lives.

"Break for cover! Every man for himself!"

Kaminski turned and led the charge to the closest thing to safety. It was a seventy-five meter dash at least, and they would have to go almost over the top of an enemy fireteam. And if the attackers had put claymores in front of their positions then he was well and truly screwed, but there were no other options.

***

Juan Hoffman Rodriguez led an eight-man team of mounted troopers directly into the mass of fleeing men as the rest of his platoon followed behind with fixed bayonets. They fired revolvers at the few who continued trying to resist and beat down others with clubs and riding crops. It seemed like a type of fighting more suited to another century, but the sight of charging caballeros and footmen with pointy blades on their guns had a definite effect on the enemy's morale. They very quickly surrendered.

When the dust settled, they had taken thirty of the Qubbans captive and slain half as many. Four of his own had died—regrettable, but less of a butcher's bill than he had feared—and the pilfered goods seemed to be largely undamaged. It was a glorious first victory for the revolution, and a sufficient repayment for the insults his Uncle Hoffman had suffered.

"Señor Rodriguez, their commander and a few others escaped into the trees. Should we pursue him?"

"No Sargento, we must withdraw before more of them arrive. Bring up the pack train, secure my uncle's wagon and take what you can from their vehicles. Vamos, muchachos!"

***

A column of ruined vehicles appeared out of the gloom as Steward's Company rode on through the heavy sleet storm. It was about two hours after midnight, but all things considered they were making decent time.

An hour later, they were digging foxholes on the margins of the Front Range. Several small fires were burning below them in the streets of Aguilar, and the sound of scattered gunfire told of confused skirmishing that would last throughout the night. Out on the darkened plains, they could hear trucks on the highway and trains chugging up and down the railroad, bringing reinforcements for the coming assault against them.

Dawn was cold and frosty, though at least it had quit raining. By now, four companies of Cristo troops had assembled in the area with orders to delay any assaults into the hills. They weren't expected to hold against a determined attack, but they did plan on making their enemy bleed for any ground taken.

Sergeant Paul McLintock took stock of his position. He was on the crest of a fairly imposing cliff, on the north slope of what the maps called TV Hill, probably because it had once been good place for broadcasting equipment. The town of Aguilar was about eleven furlongs (2200 meters) north of his position, the paved county road that connected the town to I-25 ran along the base of the hills, coming six-and-half furlongs (1300 meters) at its closest. The railroad was a mile away, and the highway was a mile and a quarter. The sea of glistening flatland sat around 550 feet down below him, the summit of TV Hill was 150 feet up.

He got his first sight of the enemy to the north, just beyond Saint Anthony's Cemetery. A couple of companies had mustered in the low ground along the river last night. Mid-morning came, the church bell in town rang Terce, and the enemy began a steady advance towards his squad and the two others assigned to hold the north slope. By his estimation, they were going to be outnumbered at least eight to one.

And he hadn't even had breakfast.

***

As Sergeant James Mclintock surveyed the approaching horde with the scope of his M21 rifle, he wondered how they had seemingly materialized off the plains. Of course most of them had been concealed by the low embankments upon which the railroad and highway were built, but the prairie always seemed like a desolate void to a hill person like himself, as empty and featureless as the surface of the ocean. It was hard to remember that there were plenty of washes and gullies and pits and rises where a skilled commander could hide his troops.

"There must be a million of them!" screamed one of his subordinates.

"Nope." said James. "Not a million, probably no more than a thousand."

He couldn't have known that his estimate was actually pretty close, but he did know that his company had only around a hundred men holding the eastern slope. He hoped the odds were better on his brother's end of the mountain.

James knew that his was one of the more vulnerable defensive positions. Their entrenchments were partially built from the overburden of a nearby mine, and they were looking straight down the path of the narrow-gauge railroad that had once carried ore off the mountain. Bits of wood and metal were all that remained of what must have once been a fairly substantial set of track and trestles, but the steep grade that had been dynamited through the cliffs was still the best way of getting over the top.

There was a metallic chatter from several of the advancing vehicles, and the sound of .50 calibre and 25mm shells bouncing off the side of the mountain. There was a single flash of fire out on the prairie, and then an explosion on the top of the ridge behind them.

"HOLD YOUR FIRE, MEN! They're shooting blind, don't waste ammo and don't give away your position!"

No one fired back. Good men. The enemy commander couldn't be sure that anyone had bothered to occupy the ridges (though he would be a fool to think otherwise), and he was trying to goad them into showing themselves too early. That wasn't going to happen if James had his way; they were going to have to find him and root him out the hard way.

***

From the top of the hill, Captain Steward watched the hosts to his north and east as they moved against him. The Qubban advance had a definite order to it: in the front was a skirmish line of men mounted on dirt bikes and ATVs. Behind this was a number of jeeps, pickups and humvees (military and civilian) mounted with machineguns and filled with infantry, followed by bigger trucks and APCs with still more infantry riding on the roofs. Behind this were their heavier assets—M1 and M60 tanks plus a couple of M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles—ambling along slowly as if they didn't know whether they wanted to follow the charge or stay in back with the artillery.

He could tell what they were trying to do: swarm the defenders as quickly as possible, even if it meant taking casualties. And they would take casualties, with so many of their troops bunched up on the vehicles instead of on foot where they could make use of cover, but they would also more quickly get into a range where their automatic M16s and AK47s had a decisive advantage over semi-automatic M14s and bolt/lever-action hunting rifles. It was also possible, though in his opinion unlikely, that they either didn't understand the concept of a military crest or didn't think the militia would, and expected to be in defilade once they got to the base of the hills.

He watched as the enemy drew closer. 850 meters to his forward positions, 800, 750 meters. Within range of scoped rifles, but his troops continued to hold their fire as they had been ordered.

"Whites of the eyes, sir?" asked Lieutenant Rodgers.

"Not quite. Tell the mortars to prepare to fire."

The RTO relayed the order while the company headquarters continued to watch and wait. They were 700 meters out.

650 meters. 625...

"Fire mission!"

The Qubban advance was about 600 meters from the defensive lines, and still about 40 meters short of the piñons and junipers that blanketed the hills, when the first mortar shells landed. A lucky round tore through a pickup truck and disassembled it in a spectacular blast. Another shell burst above an M113, shrapnel falling harmlessly against the armour and not so harmlessly against the riders. Perhaps they had been more worried about landmines and RPGs than artillery, and now they were paying for it. Round after round fell from the six 60mm M2 and M19 Mortars. Platoon snipers and squad marksmen added their fire to the carnage, as did the company's single Browning Automatic Rifle.

***

James McLintock laid his crosshairs slightly in front of a running soldier—a fireteam leader, with a brown face and long black hair tumbling from under the helmet, hard to tell if it was a man or a women— and gently squeezed the trigger. His 10x Leupold Mk4 scope gave him a full view of what happened next. The bullet impacted on his (or her) upper body with a small puff of red mist, the figure continued running for a moment, not yet realizing that it was dead, and then crumpled to the ground as if it had tripped. James picked another target and fired again.

Almost all the Qubbans were wearing heavy body armour, and he was surprised by how resilient it made them. He was firing 175 grain boat tail hollow-points, which should give him better ballistics and knockdown power than the standard 7.62x51mm rounds, but he had still seen a couple of them take multiple rounds and keep coming. That was rare of course; even a non-penetrating round generally had enough spare foot-pounds to break bones, rupture organs, and burst arteries, but it still meant that he had to fire more rounds and take more time on what was already an overwhelming assault. He briefly wondered if he should have brought a heavier-calibre hunting rifle.

Ideally, they would have stopped in their tracks and hit the dirt to be whittled down by long-range rifle and mortar fire. Most of them didn't do that. They kept moving until they were amongst the trees, leapfrogging from cover to cover, tossing smoke grenades to further conceal their movement. Their vehicles pulled back to a safe distance and raked the hill with machinegun and cannon fire. He could hear one of his men screaming for a medic, and most of the rest were ducking down into their foxholes, unable to fire at the rapidly-approaching infantry. Then he heard the tea-kettle whine of incoming shells.

***

Captain Steward saw the explosions rising from the valley behind him, hoping his mortar teams had cleared the impact zones in time. Then he looked ahead and saw the blasts from the enemy's mortars. There were fiery explosions up and down the hill that blossomed into billowy clouds of burning white phosphorus. It didn't seem to be hitting anything but trees, and Steward was momentarily thankful for the wet, fire-suppressing sleet and frost that that he had cursed so often the night before, but it did almost completely obscure his soldiers' view of their enemies.

He could still hear scattered rifle fire from where his men were trying to shoot through holes in the smoke screen. The Qubbans would come charging through it soon, and not enough of them had died to stop the rest from taking the hill. It was time to go.

***

Paul was loading another magazine into his M14 when he received word to retreat. The enemy smoke screen was weak in his area and they were taking heavy fire, so they were going to have to provide their own concealment.

In contrast to the Qubbans, his squad didn't have very many AN M18 smoke grenades or homemade analogues. They did have a couple of simple potassium and sugar smoke pots; like an upscaled version of common smoke-making fireworks. These were set out, the fuses lit, they waited until they were shrouded in a nice thick haze, and they scurried over the top of the crest with the rest of the company. Their horses were waiting on the reverse slope.

"Couldn't stop them?" asked Corporal Amanda Cochrane—Paul's cousin— as she handed him the reins to his horse. Eager for action but one of their better wranglers, she was still smarting at having been made to stay back with the horse-holders while everyone else fought.

"Not all of them." said Paul, busily mounting up and entirely uninterested in having a conversation.

"Plenty more hills to die on." she said grimly.

The Qubbans were slow to pursue the retreating Cristos, burdened as they often were by 7 to 15 kilograms of Kevlar. They had also been left to pick through a line of barbed wire, landmines, and booby traps, but their engineers quickly cleared paths for them.

Half an hour later, the company was strung out on a slightly lower ridge, about three quarters of a mile to the southwest. Their foxholes had been dug pre-emptively, and another company was already in place on the hill. Their four 81mm mortars were already bombarding Paul's old foxhole, and their snipers were taking shots at the first of the enemy skirmishers to come into view. Round 2 was starting, this time it would be two hundred against a thousand.

***

"Awful nice of Captain Correa to share his ridge with us." said Lieutenant Rodgers.

"Don't know if he expected us to make it this far." said Captain Steward. "And anyway, they might as well share for the short time they can keep it."

The information they were getting on the radio hadn't been unexpected, but that didn't make it any easier to hear. Additional Qubban forces had been sent against Canyon Del Augua and the Apishapa River Valley. And they weren't restricting themselves to the canyon floors like the defensive planners had hoped they would. Infantry and cavalry swept the edges while tanks and APCs lent fire support from county roads, mining access roads, logging trails, railroad grades, shallow creek beds, cattle paths… anywhere they could go.

And their artillery was incessant. A 120mm mortar or 155mm field gun had a devastating blast radius, and whoever was directing them knew what he was doing. And they didn't seem worried about running out of ammo. Steward's company had lost nine men and four horses so far, almost all of them to shellfire.

From somewhere in the piñons came a single rifle shot, a chatter of automatic fire and the boom of a grenade or shotgun. Lieutenant Rodgers lifted his binoculars in the direction of the sound, but he could see nothing in the dense vegetation. Somewhere out there was a small detachment from his company; hand-picked infiltrators and marksmen who had gone to ground as the enemy passed over them, sewing chaos, shooting the invaders in the back, working to get around and behind their main thrust. The Qubbans were doing something similar, probing and infiltrating with small teams of scouts instead of a broad skirmish line. They weren't going to let them go this time without a bit of close-in fighting.

***

James McLintock found himself sharing a machinegun nest with what looked sort of like a baby MG-42. It was a CETME Ameli, which the gunner claimed to have traded from another Cristo company. They had taken it from the Qubbans the night before, who may have smuggled it up from Mexico. He was laying down on the trigger as the enemy drew closer.

They weren't using so much smoke this time. They didn't really need it; this hill had a sort of stair-step pattern to it that gave them plenty of places to hide (what Tim would call defilade). It was also strewn with more trees and boulders than the last one. They had already swept across the 200 feet of open ground that separated the two hills, and now it was 300 feet up and 500 feet away before they were in bayonet range.

Their vehicles had led the way on this one. Most had been forced to withdraw; an M2 Bradley was currently burning in the middle of a logging trail from a fatal RPG hit, an M1126 Stryker had misjudged its distance from a low cliff while reversing and was now sitting nose-up at the bottom, and an M113 sat dead in the water with a ruined tread and several holes in the side from a .50 calibre heavy sniper rifle. The lighter armoured assets retreated, but a couple of tanks sat impervious at the base of the hill, furiously lashing out at it with their massive guns.

James laid down a long burst of fire at the figures in the woods, no more than 200 feet from his position. Too close. One grenade from a M203 launcher had already landed in a foxhole with two of his soldiers, leaving nothing but their shoes. About a fifth of his squad was dead or wounded by now, and he couldn't understand why they hadn't been ordered back yet. Orders or not, he was just about done waiting.

"Come on, boys and girls! You know the drill, we're bugging ou—"

The next thing James McLintock remembered, he was seeing nothing but dirt. Someone rolled him over and quickly checked for wounds, he saw a soot-covered face yelling at him, but couldn't hear what it was saying until…

"James! James! JAMES! What happened, Sergeant? Why didn't your squad fall back?"

"Ugh… w… wh… wha…"

Lieutenant Rodgers and another soldier carefully helped him to his feet and slung his rifle over his shoulder. Taking a closer look at it, James noticed that the scope had shattered. So too, he felt, had his head.

"They left without you and I had to come back and save your ass. If we don't move we'll all be behind enemy lines."

This had been inevitable, Tim thought to himself. Withdrawal under fire is a dangerous manoeuvre for professional troops. For untested militia it was no surprise that eventually someone would get lost or a radio would fail or a runner would get shot down or someone would simply not hear or forget to issue the fall back order. When Tim realized this had happened he immediately led their reserves in a counter-attack to save the beleaguered squad. But who now was going to save him?

"You caught some shrapnel but I think you're okay. Can you walk?"

He could. And, fighting through his pain and disorientation, he looked over the bombed-out position to see the two machine gunners. One was dead and the other was clearly dying, but their gun still looked serviceable. He scrambled to where it lay, threw it over his shoulder and prayed to God that it wouldn't blow up when he tried to fire it.

***

It was ten furlongs to their next ridge, and Paul McLintock galloped with the rest of his squad across the broken plateau, up and down ravines, around trees and scrub, across fields of sagebrush and precariously open meadows. They had been pushed back by two miles in as many hours, and with the Raffians running roughshod in the surrounding valleys it was hard to say how long their path of escape would be secure.

"CONTACT!"

A mounted figure with an M4 carbine exploded from the dense undergrowth to their left and sprayed Paul's squad with automatic weapons fire. Three horses went down with their riders, with one getting up and impressively putting a single pistol round in the ambusher's eye. Several more hostiles charged forward to take his place, yelling like furies while shooting wildly.

It had never been part of their doctrine to fight while mounted, and Paul did not like being in combat while he was seven feet tall, eight feet long, and equipped with feet that were liable to run or buck at the slightest provocation. No time to move or dismount, though.

He had his M14 slung around his back and an extended-magazine Remington Model 11 in a scabbard on his saddle. In a blink he had the shotgun to his shoulder and was rapidly unloading it. The buckshot knocked a couple of the attackers right out of their saddles and the recoil almost did the same to him. It wasn't overly accurate, but seven rounds of double-ought buck—sixty-three .32 calibre pellets or over seven ounces of lead— didn't really need to be.

His horse, attuned to gunfire by training and countless hunting trips, held her ground like she was stuffed while bullets whizzed and zinged around her. The rest of his squad—most also brandishing shotguns—added their own fire to the skirmish and quickly killed or dispersed the attackers.

He saw a little green baseball flying over his head, and furiously spurred his horse to get away from the blast. He spotted the man who had thrown it as he desperately fumbled with yet another grenade. Instead of stopping to reload, he continued to press forward, readjusting the grip on his shotgun. He was moving about twenty-five miles an hour when he got close enough to smash it like a club into the grenadier's face. There was a loud crack and a gush of blood as he fell unconscious to the ground.

Paul wheeled around and screamed orders to his surviving troops. That charge may have been foolhardy, but it had caused a lot of damage while proving that the enemy was operating in their path of retreat. Some of his men were sent to provide overwatch while the squad got itself back together. Others were sent to wrangle loose horses, while more were tasked with tending to the wounded and setting up horse-drawn travois and litters for those who couldn't ride. Dead and wounded pack horses had their loads transferred, as did some of the injured saddle mounts. There were scattered pistol shots as they put the worst cases out of their misery. There wasn't much they could do for the human dead.

They found Amanda Cochrane curled up in her poncho beneath a sprawling juniper. Her eyes were closed and there was an oddly serene look on her face; were it not for the pool of blood beneath her, it would have been easy to think that she was sleeping. As Paul sheathed his Remington 11 and took up her Beretta AL391, he thought back to an annoying little cousin who used to ride around the ranch with his sisters and her little Paint filly.

She had grown up on the back of that horse, which was now trickling blood as it ran half-crazed in a circle around the tree. At least she hadn't died alone. Paul managed to calm the horse down and get a lead line on it; so badly wounded that it might never take another rider if it survived at all, but it was going to be all that Amanda's family would have left of her.

***

James was still a little woozy when he and Tim reached the third defensive line. And this one actually was a defensive line, with bunkers, two or three lines of trenches, strips of wire and landmines, and heavy machineguns and automatic grenade launchers spread amongst the eight companies of infantry that stretched the six klicks from the Apishapa River Valley to Canyon del Agua. There were two batteries of 75mm and 105mm pack howitzers behind the ridges, as well as several homemade Katyusha-style rockets.

They were somewhat surprised to see Colonel Robert Rodgers personally directing the defence of the ridgeline, using a Land Rover Defender as his command and radio platform.

"Move your men into the reserve trenches." he instructed Tim Rodgers. "Try to rally them as much as possible, they might be needed later."

"Yes, sir. Is Captain Steward here yet?"

"Getting a quarter-pound of shrapnel dug out of his butt. It's your company until he gets back, Lieutenant."

Some company it was, too. About a third of its members were out of action by now: dead, wounded, captured, run away, or fumbling through the hills trying to find their way to safety like he and James had been. Those accounted for went about checking their weapons, scrounging for ammo, patching minor wounds and grabbing something to eat and drink.

Tim was surprised by their tenacity. They needed rest, and they should be pulled back even further, but they would fight till they dropped if it kept their homes safe.

Trying to ignore the worst case of tinnitus he had ever experienced, James had a quick visit with the medics before returning himself to the line where ice-cold food and a warm beer were waiting (he turned down the beer; it would not do to be drinking should he meet God or his mother today). He had expected to get in trouble for allowing himself to be surrounded, but he was instead asked if he was up to serving temporarily as platoon sergeant. The plan was fairly simple: Colonel Roberts hoped to hold the Qubban advance on this ridge for the rest of the day at least. He wasn't sure if he could break them here, and there was only one more spot where the terrain allowed for a decent defensive line. If both fell, there was little they could do to halt the continued Qubban advance into the Spanish Peaks and beyond.

More worrying were the rumours of the Raffians pushing deeper and deeper into the canyons with their unstoppable tanks and unending artillery. They were threatening to turn the rebel flank near the old site of the Delagua mining camp. Their tank columns were already close to Gulnare, six miles behind them, but the officers seemed oddly unconcerned about that.

"Don't worry." Lieutenant Rodgers had said. "We have a secret weapon in the north."

"What kind of secret weapon? An Apache gunship with Hellfire missiles?"

"No. Your sister."

Firestorm

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Re: Every Leaf In Springtime, Caravaneer 1 Fanfic
« Reply #12 on: August 28, 2015, 06:32:06 AM »
Chapter 12: Battle for the Canyons

"They also serve who only stand and wait."

That quote was seeing quite a bit of use by the officers of the Special Assault Troop. Corporal Bethany McLintock knew her John Milton well enough to know that the well-known line was being taken out of context, but thinking on it did help relieve the tension they all felt.

It was too infuriating for words, knowing that fighting raged across the entire Front Range and waiting for the order to get up and do something. The most threatening enemy assaults were roughly following the Purgatoire and Apishapa Rivers out of Jansen and Aguilar, two towns that the rebels had hoped to take the night before. Their plans of grabbing the initiative in an offensive war had not been achieved, and now the Raffians were rolling them back ridge by ridge.

Orders to deploy came about an hour before noon.  From their camp near Boncarbo, they loaded into one of the few motor convoys available to the Sangre de Cristo Free People's Army. An ex-National Guard Hummer lead the way, followed by the trucks and trailers that carried their unit, followed by an old armoured car that probably hadn't fired a shot in anger since the end of World War II.

They guided lumbering pack trains off the road, up and over razorback ridges where no vehicle could follow. Seeing an isolated little valley spreading before her, Bethany could almost imagine that the world hadn't ended and she was just going on a family hunting trip, with the mules brought along to carry dead elk instead of live missiles. Then she heard the roar of her distant quarry, and it didn't sound at all like elk.

The Raffians had been using their biggest tanks aggressively. She had been told that they might do that. The multi-fuel turbine engines would be nice while they lasted, but there were serious questions of how long a medieval empire could keep them running. A wasting asset was meant to be used; it was no great concern to them if a few were damaged or destroyed in the war against the Cristos.

So far, very few of them had been. The RPGs weren't doing as well as had been hoped, even against the lighter troop-carriers. And few had fallen upon the anti-tank mines that had been laid out for them. So the militias lived in terror of phantom tanks that seemed like unstoppable, invulnerable killing machines. Some wondered if even the heavy guided missiles could stop them. She wondered herself, knowing full well that she would not survive if her weapon didn't work as planned.

***

"Broken ankle. Can you believe it? Five minutes in the field, I dive into a foxhole and I get a friggen' broken ankle! What are people going to think when they ask where I was in this war and I tell them I laid around uselessly in a hospital after a klutz injury like this?"

Rachel McLintock finished wrapping the young man's foot. The doctors had already done what they could for him; he had been one of their first combat casualties, and, judging from the shape of those who followed, he had been lucky to leave early. Of course, it was clearly weighing on his conscious to know that he would spend the day in a comfortable tent while the rest of his battalion was being blasted to smithereens scarcely two miles away.

"Doth God exact day-labor, light deny'd?" she quoted.

"Um, what?"

"It's part of a poem I used to read to my children. It means that no one's going to hold it against you for something that was completely beyond your control."

She offered a pair of crutches and helped him though the basics of tripedal movement. He seemed to take to it fairly quickly, though he was advised to keep off his feet for a few days and leave his injured ankle elevated as much as possible.

"Don't worry. You'll be fine in another few weeks, and we'll return you to your company long before the action's over. In the meantime, there's plenty of other jobs we can find for you right here. You can help with the blood typing, and we might even teach you how to run a typewriter. It's like a keyboard and printer without the computer; no software compatibility issues. I'm sure you'll get used to it."

That got a smile from the 18-year-old. Rachel watched him hobble off, just another testosterone-poisoned kid who wasn't going to let an injured foot stand in the way of risking his neck. Her next patient was more sobering, a white phosphorous casualty, full-thickness burns and serious blood poisoning, with practically no hope of survival. She would do what she could for him.

The blood and guts didn't really bother her. She had always had a strong stomach, and ranch wives were generally used to patching up their charges after disagreements with farm machines or half-wild cows and horses.

What really worried her was the thought of her own children coming in on one of those convoys of white-painted, red-crossed trucks. They had come in a steady stream since shortly after dawn, thinning or thickening with each new assault, skirmish or withdrawal.

The enemy had pushed steadily down the Purgatoire River Valley, overrunning Cokedale and reaching a fortified bend in the river almost two miles from their hospital. There were concerns that they would have to evacuate, but so far the rebel defenders had held their ground. They could hear the endless cacophony of gunfire, and see the pillars of smoke and blossoms of fire rising up over the battle lines. The fate of the Sangre de Cristo Republic was being decided just a stone's throw from their location.

The artillery didn't seem to be targeting the hospital, but Rachel had to wonder if a stray shot aimed at troops coming down the highway might somehow find them. All through the day they were rattled by shellfire powerful enough to make the ground shake. Or was that an actual earthquake? Was it possible for an artillery bombardment, like the injection of wastewater into deep disposal wells, to spawn its own earthquakes long after the event? It was certain the war would leave its mark on the canyon and its people, and she had to wonder if it would leave a home for any of them to go back to.

***

Alexia McLintock strolled from beehive to beehive, using her senses of touch, taste, smell, hearing, and general intuition to gauge their health. It was plain to hear that they didn't particularly like this surprising cold snap, but they seemed to be taking it reasonably well. The weight of the frames told her that most of them had plenty of food stored up, and she added more in the form of warm syrup where she thought it was necessary.

She couldn't feel or smell any sign of diseases, but someone else was going to have to confirm that for her. There were a few dead bees cast away at the openings of the hives, but that was to be expected. If the cold weather would clear out in a few more days, it didn't sound like the growth of their broods would be seriously stunted.

Five paces south, fifteen and a half west. She reached for and found the gate, opened it, and called for her dog, Jack Burns.

"C'mon boy. Barn." she said to her Airedale Terrier, and across the grass, gravel, and dirt they went. She could hear from their unquiet assembling that the yearlings in the nearby corral wanted hay, and if Hector did his job last night then she shouldn't have to climb into the loft to get it.

Mulching around the fruit trees, Ben watched his granddaughter going about her chores. To see her in action, it was impossible to tell that the meningitis had taken almost all of her vision. She could still see vague shadows and blurs of colour, but it wasn’t certain if she would be left with even that. She continued to amaze people with what she could do in spite of the blindness: anything from riding a horse to building fences to playing piano to hunting turkeys.

"Don't work too hard, Lex!" he yelled

"Me and Jack can handle it! At the rate we're going we should finish our chores with plenty of daylight to spare… hehe… not that we need it."

Jack Burns panted happily at the mention of his name. He nuzzled Alexia's hand and she reflexively rubbed his head and back.

The McLintock family didn't normally keep dogs; Rachel had mild pet allergies, George preferred cats (to the eternal concern of his father), and a few of the dogs they had owned had been killed trying to pick on the donkeys. On that not, they hadn't wanted their burros developing a tolerance for dogs, lest they also develop a tolerance for coyotes and wolves.

They had made an exception for Alexia's sake. The big black and brown ball of fur hadn't actually been a trained guide dog, but he was a good friend and that's what she really needed. They were practically inseparable, and her parents didn't mind having a very large, scary-looking animal to help keep an eye on her.

She actually noticed it before he did. Something was upsetting the donkeys in the westernmost pasture, and that was upsetting the donkeys near the house. Jack Burns whimpered, and then he growled. It didn't seem like any four-legged visitor, and there was no reason why humans should come from that particular direction.

"Grandpa… go get your gun!"

***

"Did you know that Gulnare, Colorado was named for a cow? I think that's funny. I also think hinnies are funny; I don't think I ever rode one before today…"

Bethany spoke frantically as she performed her last checks on the weapons system. She was speaking to no one in particular, and at the moment no one was listening. She often did this when nervous, and the rest of the squad paid it no mind.

They had entrenched behind a black slag heap, next to one of the mine adits that were so common in every ridge and canyon of Southern Colorado. In addition to her four-man team and their TOW missile, there were two two-man teams readying their FGM-148 Javelins and M47 Dragons, an old recoilless rifle that they hadn't bothered to unpack, several satchels of TNT and RDX, and a squad of infantry serving as a protective detail.

"It's a shame they collapsed all the mines once they quit using them." she said. "I heard that some would go for miles from one end of the mountain to the other, maybe if we found one intact we could use it for a sneak attack."

"Kind of like what the 'Cong did to us in Chu Chi?" mused one of her sergeants, suddenly interested in her idle chatter. "Actually, they never did seal them all, and some of the ones they sealed wouldn't be too hard to reopen. Wouldn't be surprised if a few are still standing."

"I ain't going back in those mines if I don't have to." said another. "I was in 'Nam too and I almost felt safer over there than I did underground in Las Aminas County."

A number of the older men in Bethany's units were miners; a small remnant of the thousands who had once lived and worked in the area. Many of the rest were younger former employees of the gas companies. That made sense; their skills with explosives and engineering would come in handy in the battle against Qubba and its steel beasts, as they probably wouldn't have enough missiles for all of them.

"Contact, six hundred meters! Here they come, men!"

Bethany saw them clearly through her magnified day sight tracker. Two tanks following on each side of the swollen stream at the bottom of the canyon, leading two company-sized columns of vehicles, moving about twelve miles per hour, flanked by small numbers of motorcycle and ATV-mounted infantry.

She noticed that several of the vehicles looked like they were carrying their own cages, being ringed with some kind of strange new armour. Were those… cattle guards!? That's what it looked like; they had stolen a bunch of cattle guards and bolted them to the sides of their vehicles. A sure sign of either ingenuity or insanity.

"GUNNER! TARGETS TO YOUR FRONT, ENGAGE TANKS FIRST, FIRE WHEN READY!"

"Be frustrate, all ye stratagems of Hell," she quoted. "And devilish machinations come to nought!"

She pressed the trigger. There was a small pop and electronic whirring as the launcher's thermal batteries charged and the missile's gyroscope reached its free-spinning speed. The process took about a second and a half, reminding her vaguely of the charging process on a flash camera.

There was a shot from the tube, a stream of fire in the air before them and a trail of smoke as the missile's flight motor accelerated to over 700 miles per hour. Following the distinct infrared beacon on the back of the missile, she could clearly see its robotic brain veer it upward slightly as the hapless target drew near. It dropped back down and landed directly in the open commander's hatch.

Bethany squealed in joy. The tank was flattened by the explosion, with huge pieces flying in every direction. Another explosion—from the Javelin—tore through the top of the other tank moments later, leaving a blazing-hot jet fuel fire belching from several places. A shot from the Dragon knocked the tread off one of the smaller M2 Bradley mini-tanks, and a follow-up shot sent it's turret flying through the air. Her team reloaded and fired into a weird-looking troop carrier (like an M113, but bigger and with an almost boat-like nose, Tim would later identify it as an AAV-7), disassembling it quite nicely.

The rest of the vehicles broke for shelter along the edges of the canyon. Surviving troops disembarked and began moving towards the ambushers. Their own infantry tried to slow the advance, but they were outnumbered five to one, and the enemy was out for vengeance. There was an explosion near Bethany's position followed by screams of agony. It was time to go.

***

George McLintock peered out of the sandbagged window with his Tasco Binoculars. He estimated that a thirty-man force was moving against his family's ranch, probably supported by a heavy weapons squad in the hills. He, Ben, a hired man and one of the milkmaids were the only adults present; the fifteen teens and children on the ranch were already safely inside their basement fallout shelter. They knew that holding against such odds was futile, but fully intended to sell the house at a heavy price.

Ben fired first, impressively blowing a running grenadier's head off at 500 yards with Pawpaw Billy's old Parker-Hale 1200. The hired man put a fist-sized hole in the chest of a machine gunner, and George laid the sights of his SKS on a soldier carrying what looked like a rocket launcher. Gunfire swept across the open pasture; three marauders died in the first volley.

The marauders, it turned out, were armed primarily with AKS74U's and M4's, all but useless at those ranges. They continued to advance under the cover of their one surviving M240 general-purpose machinegun. Two M2 Brownings lashed the house from a distant ridge, slowing digging away chunks of the thick adobe walls and collapsing the front porch in on itself. A single heavy mortar joined the fray as well—thankfully firing smoke instead of gas or incendiaries or explosives.

"Think they'll pull a Waco us?" yelled his ranch hand as the targets became scarcer.

"Burn us out? This place won't burn easy, and I think they want it in more or less one piece."

The marauders leapfrogged from one sparse patch of cover to another. At about 100 yards from the house, several crowded into a dip behind the split-log fence in the family's driveway. That had been what George was waiting for. He shouldered his RPG, checked for backblast, and fired an anti-personnel "beehive" round into their hiding place. It had to hurt, but it wasn't stopping them.

They tossed grenades through the windows and breached the house on all sides. Twenty-two men swarmed over it, looting what they could and searching for defenders to punish. They found a single corpse and a blood trail leading to a steel door that—short of using an explosive charge that would level the house— looked like it would take the better part of the day to breach. While he probably had the time, their commander wisely ordered his men to see if digging through the shelter's ceiling would be easier. He also sent a few men out to look for air vents to plug. With so many people in such a tight space, it shouldn't take long before the cowards had to come up for air.

***

Hector McLintock watched his home being swarmed and hoped to God that his dad and granddad got into the fallout shelter in time. Tim Rodgers had been right: defending against a determined, organized attacker would have been impossible; the escape tunnel had been his idea, and the family had reluctantly accepted the wisdom behind it.

Alexia waited silently with the younger children at the end of the tunnel, her sawed-off shotgun trained down the narrow, pitch-black corridor. Any approaching enemies would have to fight her on even terms down here, though she did hope her family remembered to announce themselves.

Four others, ages 12 through 15, were spread out at the bottom of the ravine waiting for Hector's orders as unofficial leader of the Youth Auxiliary. Most were armed with gifts from the Sangre de Cristo Free People's Army. The "regular" army had refused to take anyone under the age of 16, but they had gone household-to-household and offered arms and ammunition to any young militiaman who wanted something more than a .410 or .22 in the event that he found himself in a fight with a Kalashnikov-toting marauder. "Something more" usually meant carbine-type weapons like the venerable Winchester 92 and M1 Carbine or the newer Ruger PC9 and Berretta Cx4 Storm; light rifles firing pistol-calibre rounds, inadequate for frontline military use but suitable for junior shooters.

They could have come up in a worse position, but it would have been hard. The house was 400 feet away, and the machinegun and mortar position another mile beyond it. His preferred action would have been to launch an immediate counterattack on the marauders, preferably bushwacking their support teams and using their own machineguns against them. But could it be done?

Maybe. He knew of a little arroyo that would take him around the house and to the base of the ridge; a small group could follow it undetected. And the guys up there would probably redeploy to the house soon. If they were quick, they could hit them while they were moving and vulnerable. If successful, he could prevent the marauders from leaving his family starving and homeless. If unsuccessful, he would get himself and a lot of other kids killed.

Time to hunt.

Firestorm

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Re: Every Leaf In Springtime, Caravaneer 1 Fanfic
« Reply #13 on: August 28, 2015, 06:33:09 AM »
Chapter 13: Interlude

James McLintock sat by the road and watched as several captured vehicles were towed into "downtown" Gulnare. It was a late afternoon now. Getting colder and raining again, though he didn't think there would be sleet tonight. At least the cool air was helping with his boiling headache.

He more felt than heard the growl of nearby diesel engines, and the brilliant fiery blossoms against the darkened sky reached his ears as only a muffled rumble. It was strange how he could still pick up the lower-pitched sounds while the high ones were lost in the tinnitus. The doctors had told him that some permanent hearing loss was likely, but that he would hopefully continue to recover over the coming days.

They had been told that Qubban forces probably wouldn't attempt any further advances tonight, and it was unlikely that they would be dislodged from the ground they had already taken. He wasn't sure how much movement would occur tomorrow either. Given how badly they had hurt each other, it seemed like neither side was eager to resume their quarrel. They were tentatively lobbing rockets now, using weapons that ranged in sophistication from the modern Multiple Launch Rocket Systems to the Katyusha's of World War II fame to the oversized firecrackers like those used in 1814 against Fort McHenry.

Given his injuries, James was temporarily reassigned to a non-combat role. They needed extra hands to work on their new APC fleet, even if most of them were going to be planted in the defensive lines as pillboxes. Further evidence that the war was already bogging down; in a way, he kind of hoped that nothing big would happen while he was out of action.

***

The missiles lit up the night sky as they embarked upon their flights. Though almost a mile away, the flashes shone like strobes through the cracks and broken windows, casting evil-looking shadows on the sheet metal walls. In the surrounding hills there was a constant chatter of small arms and mortar fire as security teams tried to drive away the rebel infiltrators who sought to destroy the launchers.

"They say the big ones can hit any target this side of Santa Fe." said Collette Jackson, reclining in her bunk with an unfished memo and futilely trying to will herself through writers' block. "They go faster than the speed of sound, so you don't know they're coming until impact. Not very accurate, but the size of the warhead and the fact they can hit you at any moment without warning scares the crap out of the rebels."

"That so?" Granola asked, absently.

They were both too tired to sleep, and neither had gotten used to their new bunkhouse with its stained dirt floor, leaky roof, and noisy neighbours. The building had been an equipment shed of some kind, and a cattle barn before that; it still had the smells to prove it. The 80 acre farm was usually very crowded, but the battalion quartered there was on manoeuvres, which left the two "zampolits" to themselves for the night.  There were no other diversions except a radio that didn't work and some cards for games they didn't know how to play.

"The rebels have them too. It was officially just a series of car-bombings, but some people are saying that they fired a few into the Denver area just to prove they could."

Granola was quietly contemplating the trickle of rainwater into a metal bucket beside her little folding table. She could clearly care less about the Qubbans and Cristos and the replica V-2s they were blindly lobbing at each other.

Collette hoisted herself from the bed, cradling her left arm in her right as she stood. She wore long sleeves to hide the scars and stitches where the flesh had been torn away. Slowly healing, it was a miracle that the .50 calibre bullet had left it with any life at all; she could feel down to her fingers now, and on a good day they could even grasp small objects.

"So… what do you think happened here?" she asked, hoping to find a more interesting subject.

"On just this farm, or the area in general?"

Collette shrugged, sort of; it was a hard gesture to make with only one good shoulder.

"Well… it was still a productive operation once upon a time, thirty or forty years maybe. The original owners got too old to run the place, their children moved away… after that the land was either fallow or leased out to people who treated it like how most people treat rentals. After the crash a bunch of their descendents came back from the cities and tried their hand at subsistence farming. Shouldn't have been too hard to keep themselves alive, but that's all they could do."

"Yeah, I can buy it. How do you come up with a theory like that?"

"Same story throughout America. Spend enough time around rural decay and you get pretty good at writing the autopsies. I guess the same would be true if you spend enough time in the inner-city."

Collette Jackson, alias Ghetto, nodded.

Granola had a real name… but it had never been offered nor asked. She didn't talk much about her previous life, but had apparently been born in a commune in the Rocky Mountains. It was one of a few that had survived the 70's, still waiting for industrial society to collapse beneath its own weight. They had hoped to weather the storm and replace the oppression, injustice, and brutality with a new world of peace, equality, and harmony. That hadn't happened, but most of the hippies who could grow their own food—and find a way to defend or hide it— had done reasonably well while the Establishment burned around them.

Granola's people hadn't been so lucky. She was wandering aimlessly across the prairie, wearing rags for clothing, half-starved and near-catatonic, when Melissa's gang found her. No one but Melissa and Liz Haversham ever got the full details.

"What happened to the owners?" asked Collette.

"Suspected of aiding the rebels and deported. Sent north to work one of Raff's public works projects while he sends some of his people to operate the farm. They'll probably do a lot better with it; all they really need to prosper is expertise and irrigation."

Collette muttered under her breath; something about how anyone who owned what the Qubbans coveted could always be suspected of aiding the rebels and deported. She groaned and tossed aside the intransigent memo.

"Granola, what are we doing here?"

"You're here to review the Regulators and make a report on their continued feasibility, while I oversee the arrival of the new managers."

"You know what I mean. This war… all the blood spilled… in one day we lost a fifth of the troops we committed and a third of our tanks… all so we could advance eight miles at best. Maybe Liz was right, what if there's nothing we can do to beat them…"

There was an explosion in the direction of the missile launchers. A big one, as if something had hit one of them. Someone was shooting back.

"…short of loading VX into some of those things and fumigating the whole region? And what would that accomplish? Can't tax corpses."

"Don't even joke about that!" snapped Granola. The thought was terrifying enough even without the risk of retaliation, but they knew the rebels had access to mustard gas, and strongly suspected they had nerve gas too. She knew what would happen if it was used: three-fourths of the front-line Qubban forces were unprepared to fight on a chemical battlefield, and almost none of the reservists or civilians were. And they had already proven that they could strike at the very heart of the Qubban Core.

"Look, I don't like the way things are going either, but we can't lose our heads over it. We underestimated them and they hurt us, that's all. Tomorrow is another day, and we'll do better tomorrow. And besides, Liz was hurt almost as badly as you were, and she isn't taking it as well. I wouldn't take what she says too seriously."

"Liz is losing it, I think…" conceded Collette.

The missiles stopped firing. There was no more sound of incoming or outgoing shells, and no more shooting in the hills around the farm. The only sound outside was a soft patter of gentle rain on a sturdy tin roof; it was the loudest thing either woman had ever heard.

"…great, now we'll never get to sleep."

***

It wasn't until the next afternoon that Lieutenant Kaminski and the remnants of his unit made it to Walsenburg. Expecting to face a firing squad, he was instead hailed as a hero for warning his command of the imminent rebellion and then successfully extracting himself and many of his men from the hands of the guerrillas. They promoted him to captain and put him into another mechanized infantry company, this one equipped with newer Stryker and MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles.

There wouldn't be much to do in the coming days. Exhausted and overextended, a stalemate developed between the Qubban and rebel forces. Both sides dug in and reinforced their fronts, launching raids and counter-raids to test and probe each other's defences. Kaminski found himself on garrison duty in the town of La Veta, defending the area from attacks by Cristo raiders, as well as angry locals.

On what would have otherwise been a perfect late-spring evening, he pulled into the airport north of town that now served as their forward base. Several of his vehicles sported scorch marks and twisted metal, and a few were trailing visible little tails of smoke.

"Local trouble?" asked First Sergeant Fransesco Manzoni, still Kaminski's senior NCO.

"Yeah, locals with landmines. And a recoilless rifle of some kind, but we took care of that. Killed or captured eighteen hostiles at the loss of three vehicles, at least one of which should be recoverable."

Kaminski turned and looked south towards the Spanish Peaks, visible from almost any spot in the Cuchara River Valley, before continuing.

"Privates Ferrero and MacLean will both receive a citation for bravery; had it not been for them we would have taken twice as many losses and probably caught half as many prisoners."

"Yes sir. I'm guessing we'll need to requisition a new vehicle for them as well?"

He had seen both hitch-hiking with one of the Cougar MRAP's, their Oshkosh M-ATV presumably being one of the vehicles left smoldering on the open range.

"Yeah. Something with an auto-cannon this time."

Though sending either of them into battle would have been a war crime in the old world, the two teenagers had proven themselves to be highly competent soldiers. Ana Ferrero was agile and smart, Stewart MacLean could carry two loaded rocket launchers in addition to his standard combat gear. Both were crack shots. They were two of several soldiers he had been watching for possible use in the "special assignments" that were being discussed by higher command.

Kaminski went to speak with a platoon leader, giving the Sergeant time to more closely inspect the damage. The three lost vehicles translated to three dead, six wounded and two missing. They had indeed brought back 18 enemy corpses and prisoners, though about six of the latter looked like civilians who had only been out to watch the fireworks. They would be detained and interrogated anyway; maybe they saw something useful.

Presently, the captain returned, still giving suspicious glances at the big mountain in the distance.

"You know, someone up on that mountaintop with a good, long-range thermal scope could be watching every move we're making down here. Might account for all the ambushes."

"It might. Shall I send a patrol up there?"

"All they would find would be another ambush." said Kaminski, ignoring his subordinate's sarcasm. "This one's going to lead to punitive actions by Qubban police. More forced relocations probably, and that's just going to make even more of the locals shoot at us."

"We'd probably deport them all if he could house and feed them or find enough loyalists to run their farms."

"That would be the smartest thing to do. Until then we need to get ready for more trouble. There's going to be another assault on Cuchara Pass in a few days. If it succeeds then we won't have so many leakers through the Great Dikes, and then maybe things will get better here. It's just a matter of getting over those damned mountains."

Captain Kaminski gave the finger to both of the Spanish Peaks, and Kruger Mountain for good measure. Sergeant Manzoni briefly contemplated the sight of insignificant Man insulting the haughty mountains, and headed for the mess hall.

***

"Are you sure they can't see us down there? I think their CO just flicked the bird at me."

"The airport is over eight miles away; he can't see us, and I don't care how good this gear is, you can't possibly make out an extended middle finger at that range."

It was easy to imagine. Paul was amazed by the quality of the optics that the Sangre de Cristo Republic seemed to have on hand. It worried him too, because he knew that whatever the Qubbans had was probably better.

For the last few weeks they had been fighting all over southern Huerfano and northern Las Aminas County. It was mostly squad and platoon-sized skirmishes punctuated by mortar strikes and artillery duels; there were comparatively few casualties in the constant give and take. The only breaks in the routine occurred when one side or the other launched a raid. Paul and Tim were fairly often dragooned into one taskforce or another and sent as far as Walsenburg or San Luis to set explosives, lay ambushes, assist the local partisans, or, as they were doing now, conduct reconnaissance.

"Maybe we should have invested more in making recoilless guns instead of handheld-launchers. Locals sure took a bite out of them today, didn't they?" asked Paul.

"Yeah. Lost a few teeth doing it, too." said Tim, scowling. "If they were smart they would offer their services directly to the Free People's Army, not spend their time playing Wolverine."

"I don't know about that. They're helping us a-plenty by keeping thousands of Raffians tied down in supposedly conquered territory. And from what I've heard we've got quite a few regular John Singleton Mosby's out there."

"There's also a few Juan Hoffman Rodriguez's out there; self appointed generalissimos trying to swarm enemy positions just like they swarmed the Rio Grande."

Paul didn't like that kind of talk; he reframed from reminding his commanding officer that the Rodriguez family had probably crossed the Rio Grande while Jefferson was penning the Declaration of Independence, were possibly related to the McLintocks, and had probably marched alongside the McLintocks with General Sam Houston.

He had a point, though, that it had been a mistake for Rodriguez to attack Aguilar without orders. He had taken the town and then pressed on for the railroad, where tanks and an armoured train had cut him down in the open. It reminded Paul of something he had read somewhere: the brave and rash die quickly in a war.

"That's the problem with these people." Tim continued. "They won’t coordinate, and they don't want to follow orders, especially orders to retreat. They'd rather die than abandon their property and that's invariably what happens. Fighting the invaders life for life might not be a bad idea if we weren't outnumbered—but we are, and we have no idea how badly we'll be outnumbered before it's all said and done. We need to fight smarter."

Paul nodded mindlessly. A lot of that sounded a little bit like Monday Morning Quarterbacking, but then a lot of it made sense.

"Word is they're gearing up for another major assault here." he offered. "Do you think they'll rotate us back to the Front Range before that? Maybe let us visit home when they do?"

"I hope so." said Tim. "There's some things I need to take care of there."

***

Bethany and Tim tied their horses and found a nice spot for their blanket amongst the aspens and Douglas firs overlooking a remote mountain valley, defiantly green in spite of yet another summer drought.

June was hot and dry again, and among the awe-inspiring mountain peaks, the couple could see towering pillars of smoke where forest fires burned out of control. The weather put a damper on the war, with neither side able to launch major attacks while trying to keep their soldiers from dropping like flies from thirst and sunstroke. Crops and livestock weren't doing well either, being tended mostly by old men and children who had the added burden of protecting them from enemy raids.

The official reason for being so far from home was to keep an eye out for marauders or Qubban Army infiltrators, but Bethany relished the chance to introduce her beau to the forests and canyons where she had run wild in her childhood. Their day had been spent following the same little-known backroads that Paul had used to bring Pawpaw Billy up from Santa Fe; how she wished Tim could have met him.

The McLintock Household had slowly pulled itself back together in the wake of the last raid. Young Hector had done the family proud, taking the high ground from the enemy, turning their own guns on the faction in the house, and keeping them pinned down until the cavalry arrived that night. Very few of them escaped alive.

Three of their own had died, the house and barn had both been badly damaged, much of their garden was destroyed, and roughly an eighth of their livestock had been killed or stolen. And they had already donated most of their food stockpiles to the war effort. The next winter was going to be a lean one.

Though at least the war effort was willing to donate back. Repairs to their ranch were being carried out, ironically, by POWs who had been offered pay, extra food, and other privileges for their labour. Bethany felt reassured by the fact that both sides were still willing to take (non-marauder) prisoners and treat them reasonably well; many of those brought to the ranch even hoped to stay on after the war ended.

"I always liked it here." said Bethany as she rested her head on Tim's shoulder, wishing she could get the war out of her mind for just a moment. "You visit a place like Tercio, you can almost imagine that the world hasn't really changed that much."

"Tercio, huh." Tim mused, running through his mental dictionary of high school Spanish. "And there's a Primero and Segundo along Highway 12?"

"There was a Cuatro in a canyon to the west. It went all the way up to Sexto or Septimo I think… reckon they just started numbering them when they ran out of Colorado Fuel and Iron officers to name them after." Bethany chuckled, and Tim did too.

"You're saying the Rockefellers put as much thought into the names as they did the quality of life?"

"Tercio was said to be one of the nicer company towns, for whatever that's worth… but yeah, more or less. I've been told that there were over two thousand people living here at one time. Grandpa says his dad used to tell him about how the coke ovens lit up the sky with a hellish red glow… real Pits of Mordor stuff."

Tim could scarcely imagine Tercio Valley having ever been hellish. All that remained of that vast industrial undertaking were a few brick piles where the ovens used to be, some rotting scraps of wood near what might have been the depot, some faint old foundations to mark a couple-hundred houses, the inevitable slagheaps, a well-preserved cemetery and a lonely three-story limestone building: the company store to which the residents had once owed their souls. Bethany hadn't been entirely correct about the valley; it had changed quite a bit over the last century before returning to what it might have looked like at the time of Creation itself.

"The whole world is going to look like this one day, ain't it?" asked Bethany, seemingly reading his mind, "Everything we ever make is going to crumble to dust and blow away. They'll be nothing to prove we ever existed except for our trash."

"Wouldn't be so bad if it did. I could make myself very happy in a place like this one day, assuming I had someone to share it with."

Bethany looked at him.

"Tim, I love you."

"Mmhmm, and I guess there's only one thing left to ask…"

He got up from the blanket and kneeled before her.

"Yes?" she trembled.

"Bethany… you don't think our kids will be gingers, do you?"

Bethany snorted; she felt like she had been kicked in the gut. It took several seconds before she regained her composure.

"Well, I… really don't know. What do you normally get when you mix brunette and blond?"

"Sand?" Tim suggested. Bethany laughed and thought about it some more.

"Well, my sister and brother are redheads. So is my mom and several of her siblings and cousins. Not so many on my dad's side, though, and everyone says I look like my dad."

"So what are the risks? Four in one?"

"Yeah, that sounds about right I guess."

"Good! I always wanted gingers! At least two of them! So that means… eight kids total?"

Eight kids? That wouldn't be so hard. Mom did it.

"But, if red hair is an Okie gene, well, I don't know about that…"

"What's wrong with Okies?"

"Ben once told me that when the Okies left Oklahoma and moved to California, the IQ's went up in both states."

Bethany laughed. "You know, Mr Rogers, it ain't my grandfather you should be talking to, it's my father."

Tim nodded grimly. "Yes, Mrs Rogers, I guess that would be proper… I think I'd rather face the barrel of a Qubban tank."

"That wouldn't be so hard. I've done it."

Firestorm

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Re: Every Leaf In Springtime, Caravaneer 1 Fanfic
« Reply #14 on: August 28, 2015, 06:34:08 AM »
Chapter 14: Streets of Cimarron

"I still don't like it," said Melissa. "Have you ever been over Raton Pass? It was hard enough even before the crash, it won't be easy marching an army through it now."

Located in Downtown Trinidad, Old Firehouse No. 1 had been converted from a children's museum to the regional military command centre. It was not a particularly large building, and General Schnittke had been amused to learn that it had once simultaneously held the town's jail, fire department, and administrative offices. ("If you commit arson in Trinidad, they put you under the engine that put your fire out.") It now overflowed with maps and charts and received hundreds of reports a day which were carefully reviewed by Melissa, Joseph, or one of their direct subordinates.

It was not particularly secure either, but the government had secured an agreement from the rebels not to attack civic infrastructure so long as mass arrests and deportations of civilians cease. Some had suggested that they deal more ruthlessly with the rebels, but the general felt that they were better off treating them like misguided fellow countrymen; Appomattox would be a better outcome than Wounded Knee or Fallujah.

"Do you have any better ideas?" he asked. "We could end this rebellion if we could take Stonewall, but we've tried attacking from every other direction, and every time we've been stalled. Raff says that if we can't break the stalemate he'll find someone who will, and I'm not sure I can blame him."

"No one said this would be easy, General. I can see the logic behind wanting to squeeze them on all sides, but I don't know if a full-scale invasion of New Mexico is the right way to do that, and I doubt New Mexico will either."

It was, he had to admit, ironic how he had initially been sent in part to prevent the thing that Oswald Raff was now pressuring them to make plans for. New Mexico still had a government—or more accurately, it still had people in the middle of the state who once worked for the government and sometimes made proclamations to the effect of implying that they still had power. They had asked both sides in the revolution not to let their quarrel spill into Colfax County, and until now both sides had more or less complied.

That didn't mean that no fighting occurred south of the 37th parallel; patrols and raiders on both sides often tried "going under" the other's defences—not knowing that they had strayed into neutral territory, of course. And Melissa strongly suspected that the rebels imported food and ammunition from sympathizers to the south.

Her Regulators had intended to make that harder; going to ground in the hills between the Canadian and Purgatoire Rivers and raiding caravans when they weren't raiding homesteads, but that too had not been going to plan. The civilian population was more well-defended than expected, and they reacted to the looting and plundering with shocking rancour. Regular Qubban soldiers who had been captured in front-line combat were often treated better than they had been in their own units, but those suspected of marauding were deemed to sit outside the common laws of war. It hadn't taken many impalements before most of the Regulators lost interest in whatever booty the region might hold.

"We can't let the rebels have a sanctuary, and we can't let them have a free highway to move supplies into the war zone. That's two things we learned in Vietnam. This should have happened months ago."

"I know, I know." said Melissa "I just hope we don't have an early snow this year. And I hope we don't have any major resistance in the passes."

"Resistance? What resistance? You're supposed to already be running the Raton area, aren't you? We have the rebels pretty well pinned down, and there's no one in New Mexico who can stop us, not unless the National Rifle Association still has their Whittington Center open."

***

The little convoy of trucks and jeeps sped through the pre-dawn darkness up rocky arroyos and around stands of sagebush and juniper, their slitted headlights offering only the slightest aid in keeping them from slamming into boulders or careening over cliffs. General Robert Rodgers and his entourage waited for them at the bottom of a nondescript ravine in the high desert.

"Sure wasn't easy finding your little campsite. Boy, do I miss GPS."

Two men had left the vehicles. Rodgers had a fair guess of who the one speaking was.

"Glad to have you back, Deputy MacCoy."

"Um, I am not here, actually. Neither my office nor my state have any knowledge of my presence in Colorado and I would get in a lot of trouble anyone found out that I was breaking our declaration of neutrality by being here. You will receive no support from Texas."

Rodgers frowned. The guy from Utah had said something similar.

"With that out of the way… how can I help?"

Also the same thing the Mormon said.

"That depends a lot on Mr Sheppard. How about it, are you really here?"

"The way I see it," said the New Mexican, "I'm the only one who should be here. I'm not sure if we've reached Colorado yet."

It was somewhat strange for the recently-appointed commander of the Sangre de Cristo Free People's Army to be meeting in the middle of nowhere under cover of darkness. But then they were working under strange circumstances.

The fact that his army wanted their command to say semi-mobile in the event that Stonewall fell meant that their commander could go anywhere he wanted and bring a good portion of his war-room with him. Robert Rodgers led the tri-state taskforce into the large tent, which crudely resembled the insides of that pretty limestone firehouse in Trinidad. He wasted no time in bringing them up to speed on the pending crises.

"You're sure about this?" asked Jack Sheppard to the de facto head of the Sangre de Cristo's intelligence agency.

"My source was in the room when they agreed on it." said Harriett Campbell, "It's a fact, sir: Colfax County will be invaded by a force of up to regiment-sized strength."

"And we’ll be cut off from the rest of the world if they succeed; it could mean the end for us" said General Roberts. "So what can we do about it?"

"We can move a mechanized battalion into the area:" said Sheppard, "16 tanks, 30 IFVs and APCs, 14 towed guns, a little less than 600 troops..."

"You managed to get SIXTEEN tanks running?" blurted General Rodgers "That may well be more than they have!"

"Our employers are nothing if not generous." he noted.

The Coloradans blanched at his mention of his "employers"; those would be the remnants of major petroleum companies who had banded together in the ruins of Española and Las Vegas (known in Qubban propaganda as "The Deep Hole and The Damned Place", and not unfairly) to protect their mutual interests, and those interests apparently included slowing Qubba's southern expansion. They had recently offered their assistance to the Sangre de Cristo Republic and had asked for nothing in return for their gifts of fuel and munitions. Few expected that to last.

"The problem with my men is that their training is haphazard and their combat experience all but nonexistent. And, well, they're mercenaries; most of them are refugees from the burned-out suburbs of Santa Fe and Albuquerque, and they don't really care who controls the Sangre de Cristos.  I'm not saying that they won't fight, just that you can't expect any acts of selfless heroism from them."

Or at least I wouldn't think so, Jack thought; you certainly can't expect it from me.

"Understood. What about the locals? Surely they'll be armed individuals and community militias. Which side will they choose."

"I think I can answer that" said Harriet Campbell, "most people in Colfax County who support us have already crossed the border and joined up. The rest are going to stay neutral at best. There might be some resistance, but the magistrate in Trinidad has been working in the Raton area for awhile now, trying to convince them that Qubba either won't come over the pass permanently or it'll be good for them they do. A lot of her marauders were recruited from the former inmates at the Springer Correctional Center."

"What about us then? Any experienced troops we could send down to help."

"There's about sixty men in a depleted Special Assault Troop near Weston that we could send to Cimarron. We could probably reinforce it with about twenty or thirty New Mexicans."

"Do it."

***

Captain Kaminski cautiously led his dismounted company through a breach in the barbed-wire fence made by an M2 Bradley that was now burning to their front. No way to tell who's side it had been on.

"Heavy enemy forces reported on the other side of town, sir." yelled the RTO. "HQ says to hold here and wait for support… we're getting reports of entrenched infantry, artillery support, tanks… sir, where the Hell did the Cristos get tanks!?"

These weren't Cristos, thought Kaminski, and no elements of the New Mexico National Guard should have gotten here this fast.

So who were they? "They" or "them" or "the enemy"—he had spent most of the day skirmishing in and around Raton with them, and they still didn't have a name.

There was a thunderous explosion on his left and Kaminski turned to see… yup, an M1 Abrams tank moving steadily down the dirt road some two clicks out. Well beyond the range of his AT-4's, and their TOW team had been disintegrated while still in it's Stryker. Nothing he could do but order his troops into cover and hope for a miracle. And, hearing the sound of jet engines gradually fill the air, he had a feeling that the he wouldn't have long to wait.

***

"Brrrt!"

"Brrrrrrrrrrt!"

"Brrrt!"

The 30mm cannons fired a round that was bigger than a beer bottle. One of them could go through the armour on a tank; eighteen hundred per minute could practically cut a tank in half and that's exactly what they proceeded to do. A path of destruction was laid down on any hostiles that dared to show themselves on open ground. Napalm bombs killed many who thought they would be sheltered in scrub along the hills. Bethany McLintock caught glimpses of the carnage from her position 20 miles away on the fortified banks of the Vermejo River.

"Dear God, they're being massacred!"

Three A-10 Thunderbolt II ground attack aircraft came roaring low over the plains. She would later describe the sound of a "Warthog's" GAU-8 cannon as the Fart of Death, but at the moment it was the most terrifying thing she had ever witnessed. It got even worse when she realized that they were heading her way. armadilloarmadilloarmadilloarmadilloarmadillo!

A thousand yards behind her position, the strange-looking attachment on top of one of their five-ton trucks came alive and robotically pivoted towards the oncoming foes. A streak of light belched from each arm and rose to meet the planes, three shoulder-launched missiles joined in the defence, and there were suddenly two brilliant fireballs in the sky. A Gatling gun mounted on one of the APC's opened up on the last plane, which broke away trailing smoke. There were two parachutes floating to the earth when the fireworks ended, which surprised everyone unfamiliar with the design of the aircraft.

"That's our Roland!" yelled one of the New Mexicans. Noticing the quizzical looks on his allies' faces, he offered an explanation: "It's an old Euro missile that we imported in the early 80's because everything we made back then was crap. The Army only got 27 of them before the Stingers and Patriots came on line, so they gave them to an air defence battalion in the New Mexico National Guard. We found the missiles and launcher in a boneyard near McGregor Range and managed to refurbish them. Old, but still useful."

Bethany wondered what had caused the Qubban Air Force to launch their little kamikaze raid. Neither side had launched air raids until now, because both sides knew that the enemy had an advanced air defence network. Did they think that this wouldn't be true in New Mexico, or did they just not care? She would likely never know.

Very little sleep was had that night. While she personally seemed to be in little danger, the terrain between Raton and Cimarron was alight with shellfire and explosions. It reminded her of the scenes of tank-on-tank night fighting from countless World War II films; very different from the war as they had known it to date.

Morning broke over a thousand smouldering wrecks. Both sides used the same equipment, and differing insignias and paint schemes were hard to make out when they had been burned, so she couldn't even begin to tell who, if anyone, had won. Word came down the line after breakfast for the infantry to prepare to receive a heavy armoured and mechanized assault with artillery and possibly air support, so that answered that.

***

Rachel and several others woke up and carried their shovels to the hospital's cemetery. They would bury at least a dozen more today, and would probably leave a few empty pits for tomorrow's dead.

"We're going to have to find another cemetery soon, Angela."

"I know it. I'm just glad we haven't had to dig any more mass-graves lately."

"Seems like sometimes we bury more of them than we save. I'm just glad the fuel and morphine stocks are holding out; I live in fear of us having to start sawing screaming patients' legs off by lantern light."

The both shuddered at that thought. As bad as conditions were in the field hospitals, they knew that things could easily be a lot worse.

Not much had changed in the war. The Qubbans had been pushed back to the shores of Trinidad Lake, but the land between it and Burro Canyon seemed to change hands by the day. There had been some talk of renewing the long-range artillery strikes against targets in Trinidad, but negotiations had precluded this and, though some were calling for a more aggressive conduct in the war, Rachel was happy that the Sangre de Cristo Republic was working to minimize the risks of collateral damage. Cuchara had fallen in the north, but they hoped to recapture it in the coming weeks. There had even been another raid in the west over Culebra Peak, but that was also expected to fizzle. The only real change in the war had been in Colfax County. For something so terrible, she could have never imagined that war could be so boring.

The only interesting points were on the home front. Having survived his talk with Dad, Tim had popped the question to Bethany and done it right this time. The wedding was scheduled for the spring of next year, and they could scarcely imagine that their girl was getting hitched. They both looked forward to the day that their guns could go back up on the mantles and they could start looking for a good place to raise a family. Bethany wanted to go into poultry, whereas her still-ornithophobic fiancé wanted to grow an orchard. Whatever choice they made, Rachel thanked God that her kids could still think hopefully on the future amidst such a bloody present.

***

Planes and now choppers spent the morning diving down from out of the eastern morning sun, strafing Cristo and New Mexican positions and, even worse, bombing the artillery that held the Qubban ground forces at bay. They had shot down a few, but the Qubbans had sent more than a few. They fell back from the Vermejo River far lower on manpower and ammunition than they wanted, and sold their positions at a far cheaper price than they had desired. A defensive line that had been hoped to hold for at least half the day had only lasted for two hours.

One cause for celebration came as the Qubbans set up their bridge-laying equipment. A flight of six modified crop dusters came in low off the northern mountains, dropping cluster bombs and firing guns and rockets into the packed bridgeheads. Having relied on the support of their own airforce, the Qubbans had not thought to bring Stinger missiles. Lucky fire by machineguns and autocannons eventually managed to shoot down or drive off all the rebel bombers, but their brief reign of chaos gave the defenders time to set up elastic defensive positions in Cimarron.

***

"Wait for it… wait… wait… BACKBLAST CLEAR, FIRE ONE!!!"
 
The blast from the huge shoulder-launched weapon shrouded their team in dust and smoke. An even greater explosion covered the enemy tank as it rolled down Highway 64. She couldn't be sure if they had hit it; it kicked and veered as if damaged, but didn't seem to be stopping.

"FIRE TWO!!!"

The New Mexicans had said that the Mexicans had said that the Russians had said that the RPG-29's they had been given could go the long way through an M1 Abrams, but hopefully she wouldn't ever try that. As the dust cleared from the now-immobile tank, she could see from the blast marks that it did a decent job against the side and turret.

"Fall back, stay in cover!"

Their new RPG's bore very little resemblance to the RPG's/Panzerfausts/glorified-potato-guns that had come out of Uncle Dave's basement. They were long, heavy, fairly simple bazooka-like launchers that fired fairly sophisticated dart-like cartridges which were about as big as a missile from her TOW—of which her unit was fresh out of; they had used up pretty much all of their own anti-tank weapons in the defence of the Vermejo River.

"Alright men, reload and get ready to move!" she yelled, having taken the place of the squad's wounded Sergeant. "We've got Bradleys and support troops moving along our side of the river, we're going to set up on 11th Street and try to…"

Her voice was drowned out by the sound of the double-wide trailer they had been lurking behind disintegrating. Enemy infantry added to the fire, and Bethany realized that she might not have to move at to find those Bradleys and their support troops. She responded with her M4 carbine, one of her privates exposed himself just long enough to fire an M203 grenade launcher, receiving a 25mm shell in place of his head. Bethany noticed one the RPGs on the ground; she shouldered it and, feeling just a little bit like a lemming, prepared to expose herself just long enough to fire it.

***

"WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING IN CIMARRON!?"

Melissa's roar actually caused the windows to shake. Joseph Berg and General Schnittke were both impressed. Should one of them say that she may have been right about invading New Mexico? No, no they probably shouldn't say anything just yet.

"Can anyone explain it to me? How is that we launch a sneak attack into neutral territory, and find that our enemy got there before us? How does that work?"

"You have a leak, that's the only explanation." said General Schnittke. "Someone high up, too. I have internal affairs combing through my command and I suggest you do the same to yours."

Yeah, that'll sure raise morale, thought Melissa, treating your subordinates like potential spies. Though it probably wouldn't be a bad idea.

"I'm glad Raff got those non-aggression pacts worked out when he did." said Schnittke. "Now that we don't have Texans or Mormons breathing down our necks, we should soon have enough airpower to overcome their air defences and maybe make a difference on the ground."

"They can't take Trinidad at least." Added Berg. "I've raised two new battalions of fresh Regulators to make sure of that. They should be at least as good as what we recruited when this started, so better than any of the reinforcements Qubba's been sending lately."

"Schnittke, I'm as glad as you are that your boss finally got his head out of his ass and started treating this like a real war, but aircraft won't do a bit of good if we've already lost on the ground. We stripped our regiments bare to equip that New Mexican incursion, and most of what we sent won't be coming back now. And Joe, if your Regulators are the best that we can do then we are well and truly screwed. Conventional war is no longer and option, boys."

Melissa dropped into her chair and picked up the phone on the desk. She started dialling.

"You both know what we have to do now. We either prepare our terms of surrender or we take this war to the final level."

Joseph Berg looked on impassively. General Schnittke's blood chilled. He knew exactly what that meant: Melissa was going to order the use of poison gas against rebel strongholds. The rebels, of course, would most certainly respond in kind.

In his mind, he could see the doors to Hell swinging wide open.