Chapter 16

Copyright© 2000 by Al Steiner

Sci-Fi/Post-Apocalyptic Story: Chapter 16 - When Comet Fenwell crashes into the Pacific Ocean one October day, it spells the end for most of humanity. Those that survive find themselves in a greatly changed world filled with different morals and the same old urges.

Caution: This Sci-Fi/Post-Apocalyptic Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa   Ma/ft   Fa/ft   Consensual   Reluctant   BiSexual   Science Fiction   Post Apocalypse   Group Sex   Sex Toys   Violent   comet crashes into earth story, end of civilization story

"You did what?" Michelle asked her co-wife, unsure if she had heard her correctly.

Chrissie looked shamefaced. "I seduced Maggie last night," she repeated. "I don't know what came over me. We were washing up together and we were naked and we'd been talking about... you know... how combat makes you horny and all and... well... I kept looking at her and before I knew it..."

"Yeah?" Michelle prompted, her eyes wide.

"Before I knew what was happening, I was touching her, and kissing her, and then... well... doing other things to her."

"Other things?"

"I ate her," she admitted, dropping her eyes to the ground.

"You... ate her?"

Chrissie nodded. "Yes," she whispered. "And then I made her get me off with her fingers."

"Jesus," Michelle said, unsure what else to say.

It was 6:45 AM, just before first light, and the teams had just geared up for the day's harassment missions. Chrissie had pulled Michelle aside after everyone was equipped, obstinately to talk to her about some tactical matter but in reality wanting to confess her sin of the night before. She had been wracked with guilt all night over what she had done, spending most of it tossing and turning instead of getting needed sleep. Though she had justified her actions in her mind when they were occurring, her justifications had not held up very well afterward.

Michelle pondered these facts carefully for a few moments, setting her M-16 down on the locker room bench in the weapons room to free up her hands. She took Chrissie into her arms and hugged her comfortingly, pulling her against her. Chrissie, who's own weapon was already sitting down, returned the embrace gratefully.

"I cheated on you guys," she said pitifully. "I'm so sorry."

"Shhh," Michelle soothed, stroking her hair with her fingers. "It's all right. Believe it or not, I'm not really that offended. I'm more surprised than anything."

"But Brett..."

"I don't think he would be that offended either," Michelle said. "It may be a double standard and sexist and all that, but its simple reality. Having a sexual encounter on the side with another woman is not the same as having one with a man. Not in the man's eyes and usually not in the woman's either."

"But I betrayed the vows we made," she said.

Michelle smiled. "We vowed to honor and respect each other," she said. "We vowed to be loyal to each other. We never actually vowed not to eat out another woman."

"What?" Chrissie said.

"Well, with Brett, that was kind of implied and with us, it was kind of implied that we not take other men, but we did not actually vow that part. Remember, we discussed the possibility that other women might come into the relationship in the future?"

"Well, yes... but... I thought that... well... I mean..."

"You didn't think that you would be the one to bring one in, did you?" Michelle asked.

"No. But what are you saying? Are you saying that Maggie should be part of our... our marriage now?"

"Not necessarily," she said, "but it's something that should be considered, isn't it? I like Maggie well enough and I know that she's lonely. I've also seen Brett giving her the eye on occasion as well. Now adding a member to a marriage is not something that should just be leapt into, but... it's something to think about."

Chrissie shook her head a little, overwhelmed. "Wow," she whispered. "This is just too much."

"Did Maggie like what you did to her?" Michelle asked.

"She was reluctant at first. But she didn't stop me or even push me away."

"Did she come?"

Chrissie smiled. "Oh yes. You've taught me well. She damn near beat me to death when she came."

Michelle giggled, giving her co-wife a last pat and then releasing her. She gave her a quick peck on the lips, a kiss that was just a little bit more than sisterly. "Maybe we'll all sit down with Brett sometime soon and have a talk about all of this. For now, I wouldn't let it stress you. We have plenty of other things on the plate that should be stressing you without adding that to the mix. How's Maggie taking it this morning? Will you be able to work together out there?"

"She hasn't said much to me yet, but I haven't sensed any hostility or anything. I think she's confused. The same way I was the first time you and I did that."

"Did what?" Michelle said, wanting her to say it.

"Made love," Chrissie said, giving her another kiss, a longer one.

"She'll work it out," Michelle said, feeling her face flush a little at the kiss. "In the meantime, why don't we go assemble? We have some asses to kick this morning, don't we?"

"Yep. Let's go kick 'em."

The Placer County Militia soldiers were very slow stirring out of their sleeping bags that morning to eat their meager breakfast and resume their march. To the very last man they were all living on less than two hours of broken sleep, much of which had been plagued by nightmares of the events that had befallen them. Brett and Jason's follow-up air attack at 5:00 AM - while it had only cost three lives - had had the desired effect of shattering the morale once more just when they had started to think that things had slacked off.

Bracken, with an untidy growth of stubble on his face and with dark circles under his eyes, gathered up his platoon commanders for a conference just before move out.

"We need to stop being so fucking predictable for them," he said, puffing on his third cigarette of the daylight hours. "That's why they're ravaging us so much. We're marching right along a corridor where they know exactly where we are and where they have time to plant their forces in our path. That shit needs to stop."

"How?" Colby, who was perhaps the most rattled of all the lieutenants, wanted to know.

"We need to spread out," Bracken said. "Instead of marching in a single-file column, we need to expand out to the sides. We're going to divide into two wide columns and we're going to march on both sides of those hills as we go and we need to keep plenty of space between men. Don't let one fucking burst from that M-16 they have take down a whole group."

"Navigation will be harder," Stu, puffing a cigarette of his own, said. "Our maps of this area aren't worth a shit."

"We have compasses," Bracken said. "And we've marched through this area in the past. It'll slow us down, that's true, but it'll also keep them from picking us off as easily."

Stu nodded, seeing the wisdom of this thought.

"And there's another thing," Bracken added. "This'll be a little harder for the men. Our ammunition usage needs to decrease. At the rate we're firing off our rounds, we're not gonna have enough bullets for the main attack when we get there. Tell your men that they are not to return fire when under attack unless they know exactly what they're shooting at. If they didn't see the flashes from the attack, don't shoot. We can't afford it."

Nobody disagreed with this statement of course - it only made sense - but everyone knew it was a decree that was going to be very difficult to enforce. Telling soldiers - especially conscripts who did not particularly believe in what they were doing - not to shoot when they were being attacked was akin to telling them not to breathe.

"And finally," Bracken said, "when we are attacked, we need to react faster in pursuit of the attackers. If we can kill one of these squads before they can get away, I believe we will go a long way towards ending this thing. Even better would be the capture or destruction of that helicopter - capture being preferable of course. So this is what we're going to do. When the attacks come, those soldiers that are immediately in the fire zone need to hit the ground and return fire. Everyone else needs to stay on their fucking feet and move as quickly as possible towards the enemy position to surround it. If your platoon is to the rear of the attack, you fucking run your men there. And I mean run. Run them as fast as you can and get around on the flanks of these fuckers. They're hitting us from two hundred yards or so. If we move fast enough, we can catch them. Is everyone clear on this?"

Everyone was clear.

"All right," Bracken said. "Brief your men and we'll move out in twenty minutes. Colby, Covington, your platoons will be on the points of both columns."

Michelle's team, slated for first attack this morning, had been atop of their hill for well over two hours now and still there was no sign of the approaching enemy. Part of that long delay was that they had been placed a little further south of the enemy than had been standard the previous day. The reason for this was so that they could plant a few of Steve Kensington's mines around the base of the hill and atop it, both to slow down their pursuers and to give them a little added surprise. But still, the Auburnites should have shown by now. Had they been slowed down that much by the previous day's attacks? Or was something else in the works? Michelle didn't know and her lack of knowledge made her antsy.

The other members of her team - Leanette, Hector, and Doris Campbell - were similarly antsy with the lack of the enemy's appearance. To help ease this nervousness, the four members of the team made idle chitchat - their voices kept just loud enough to hear each other - about the way things had once been in the world.

"Remember those stupid credit card offers?" Leanette asked with a smile, her rifle slung over her knees as her muddied face peered around a large tree trunk to the ground below. "Introductory rate of 5.6 percent! Credit line of five thousand dollars! They used to come in the mail every damn day."

"I remember them," Doris said, shaking her head a little. "They got your name from those supposedly private credit reporting agencies and mailed them off to anyone who a good rating."

"Yeah," Michelle said, peering through her binoculars to the emptiness below. "And after the three month introductory rate, the interest went up to freakin twenty-one percent."

"That's the truth," Leanette said. "I got into so much trouble with those things. I did all the finances at home and I had like six of those things that were maxed out. Here I was, the wife of a man who made ninety thousand a year and I had us more than thirty thousand dollars into debt that he didn't even know we had. Every month I would have to shuffle everything around just to meet the minimum payments and it was getting so that the utility bills and the house payments were getting paid late just to cover it. I was a basket case worrying about when John was going to find out about it."

"I wouldn't know about any of that," said Hector, the former landscaper. "If I cleared a thousand dollars a month it was a good month. My name never seemed to get on any of those mailing lists."

"See, Hecky," Leanette, one of his wives, pointed out. "You don't know how lucky you were. It was hell being upper class. Absolute hell."

"I know," he told her. "You were late paying me more than once, weren't you? Apparently the hired help was low on your list of priorities, right?"

"Sorry, babe," she said. "You did do a fabulous job of trimming my bushes though. Still do in fact."

Everyone had a laugh at this.

"It's funny how important all of that was back then," Doris said. "Money I mean. How much you got, how much you would get next year, whether or not you'd be able to afford that new Mercedes so that the neighbors would know you were still successful. All of that just went right down the toilet when that comet came in."

"Hopefully for good," Michelle said. "Things have been reduced to a much more basic need now; the need to survive. Now survival doesn't mean keeping the bank account in the black and the kids dressed in the right clothes so people won't talk. Now it means sniping at invading fascists who are trying to enslave us. All of this in just a few short months."

"Who would've thought," Leanette said wistfully. "Someday, if we live through this, we'll tell our children that we used to be able to pick up the telephone and have a pizza at our house in thirty minutes and that we used to worry about things like the rise and fall of the NASDAQ and how it would affect our retirement account. They won't have any idea what we're talking about. They'll be worried about whether the next year's crop is going to feed everyone, whether or not the glacier forming on the mountain is going to crush us, whether or not our gene pool is wide enough to continue the species."

"Like you said," Hector said, "we're down to basic survival now. In a way, maybe it's for the best for this fucked up species. You ever think of that?"

Before anyone had a chance to respond to this thought, Michelle spotted the first of the Auburnites coming into view to the northeast. "Troops coming into view," she said calmly, though with unmistakable command in her voice. "Everyone get ready."

Everyone immediately dropped the subject at hand and picked up their weapons. Rifles were trained out over the terrain and eyes peered into scopes as more and more men came into view. It was immediately recognized that something was different this morning.

"They're all spread out," Michelle said, seeing that the tiny figures were stretching all the way across her field of view from left to right instead of marching in a loose line. "It looks like they've learned a few things."

"Michelle," Leanette, who was on the far left side of the group, suddenly spoke up. "They're stretched all the way over to the far ring of hills."

She looked that way, seeing that Leanette was correct. Instead of merely marching in the relatively flat and featureless corridor along the edge of the mudfall, there were now well over a hundred troops moving over the hilly, rough ground to the west as well. These men also were spread considerably out as they marched, with no two men closer than twenty feet of each other. "Oh shit," she said, feeling a worm of dread working into her. "If they keep coming at us this way, half of them are gonna be on our left flank when they get into range."

"Which is probably why they're doing it," Hector said, a trace of fear in his voice. "They're trying to surround the hills we've been attacking from."

"They're heading right towards Brett as well," Doris said. "Michelle, what do we do?"

"We need to get Brett and Jason the hell out of there," Michelle said. She put down her binoculars and picked up her radio.

"But what about us?" Leanette asked.

"We hunker down," she said. "This is just one hill out of hundreds. They'll have no reason to climb it to check it out unless we give them one. We stay put until they pass us."

Everyone looked at each other nervously at these words. While the militia was passing below, they would be completely cut off from support or extraction. If they were discovered up there on the hill, they would be easy fodder.

"Hatchling two to mother bird," Michelle said into the radio. "Do you copy?"

"Mother bird here," came Jason's rather tired sounding voice. "Go ahead, hatchling two."

"Wolves are in view," she said. "They're spread out widely and they're going to pass on both sides of us. We're not going to feed them. We're going to hibernate instead."

There was an extended pause and then Brett's voice came on the radio. "I copy that, hatchling," he said. "Do you need emergency extraction?"

"Negative," Michelle said, unfolding her map. "You wouldn't get to us in time. We'll be all right. Their path will take them right to your nest though. You need to unfold your wings and go find another nest." She put her finger on a ring of hills to the far west. "I would suggest going west of the area in grid B-5, that's Bravo-five. That will put you well west of their position. You can circle around from the north to pick us up after they pass."

"Copy that," Brett, who was undoubtedly looking at a copy of the same map, told her. "Hatchling one is located at grid Delta-5. Are they in the path of the advance as well?"

Michelle consulted her map, tracing her dirty fingernail over the reference grids and quickly locating the small collection of hills where Chrissie and her team had been dropped. "Yes," she said into the radio. "If they stick to the same manner of marching, they'll pass on both sides of that grid as well. You'd better get them out of there."

"Unfolding the wings now," Brett said. "Can you give me an alternate drop point for them?"

Michelle took a deep breath, not really wanting to make such an important and potentially life-threatening decision on her own. That was Brett's job Goddammit! But she was the one looking at the troops right now, not him, and she was the one in the best position to estimate their advance. She continued to run her finger over the map for a moment, taking several glances down at the slowly approaching soldiers and comparing the terrain with the map. She keyed up her radio. "They seem to be staying east of the edge of the Charlie grid on the map. If you put them on a hill somewhere near B-5 and can find a LZ west of there, they should be able to feed some of them in another hour or so. But have them keep a sharp lookout."

"Copy that," Brett said, his voice clearer now and the distinctive hum of the engine noise now in the background. "We're taking off now. Keep hunkered down until they pass and I'll pick you up just to the north of your location. Keep yourselves hidden and let me know if there's trouble."

"Will do, mother bird," Michelle said evenly, knowing of course, that if there was trouble, there would be nothing Brett or Jason would be able to do about it.

It took the Auburnites more than fifteen minutes to pass their location once they got close enough for detection to be a serious worry. They moved slowly, carefully, their weapons out in front of them at the ready, their eyes searching the hills around them for signs of attack. Each step they took was a cautious one, the steps of soldiers in enemy territory - a sharp contrast from the carefree gait of the previous day.

Atop of the hill Michelle and her team were flat on their bellies in the mud, pine needles pulled over the top of them for camouflage, their faces thoroughly covered in mud. They kept their weapons flat against the ground as well, although in easy reach in case a last stand became necessary. At Michelle's direction they lay facing outward in four different directions, their feet forming the hub of a wheel. They watched anxiously as man after man on both sides went by the bottom of their hill on their march. Many of them looked upward towards the hidden squad, their eyes searching for danger, many of them probably seeing the brown lumps that looked like just another collection of mud in the trees without recognizing it was four people in hiding.

As they went by, Michelle had a very nasty thought. The mines that they had laid at the base of the hill! What if one of the Auburnites decided to cross from one side of the march to the other at that particular point and blundered across the trap? True, it would disable the soldier in question, but it would also alert the other soldiers that there was something about this particular hill that maybe needed a closer look. Michelle kept this thought to herself - although Hector and Leanette both had it independently themselves - and simply kept watch on her sector. No soldiers decided to cross over. No one went anywhere near where the mines had been set.

Finally, at long last, the last groups of widely spread Auburnites marched by. They checked their rear continuously, obviously fearful of an attack from behind, but they continued on, eventually, thankfully, moving off to the south and the tip of the mudfall three miles beyond.

"Christ Almighty," Michelle breathed when the last of them were more than two hundred yards away. "I don't ever want to go through that again."

"You ain't shittin'," Hector said, rolling up a bit and twisting around so he could continue to keep an eye out on the retreating figures.

"Let's keep ourselves down," Michelle told everyone. "They're still way too close for comfort. Leanette, you keep an eye out to the north, just in case they have a rear-guard back there we don't know about."

"Right," she said, helping herself to Michelle's binoculars and taking up position. She began to scan the area to the north of them.

Michelle pulled out her radio, which she had switched off when the Auburnites had come close to prevent an unexpected transmission from giving them away, and switched it back on. She keyed up. "Mother bird, this is hatchling two. Are you out there?"

Jason's voice was full of obvious relief to hear her voice. "We're here, hatchling two. What's your situation?"

"Wolves have passed by us without getting a sniff of us. We're ready to head on out."

"We're in the air right now, five minutes past dropping off hatchling one at their new nest. We're currently hanging around grid Bravo 4, maybe three minutes from your location. Give us a nest and we'll be there."

She unfolded her map and looked at it for a moment, quickly deciding upon the base of a hill that was about a quarter of a mile to the north of them. She gave Jason the coordinates and had them confirmed back to her. Just as everything was set, she had a sudden thought. Why should this entire mission be for nothing? "Stand by for a second, mother bird," she said slowly. She turned to her squad. "How we looking?"

"They're still moving away," reported Hector, who was watching the backs of the Auburnites.

"How about to the north?" she then asked Leanette.

"Empty," she reported. "If they have a rear-guard, they're keeping it way to the rear."

Michelle looked out at the wave of troops to her south for a moment. "How far away do you think the closest of them are now?" she asked Hector, who was perhaps the best of them at estimating distance.

He shrugged. "Maybe a little more than three hundred yards. Far enough that they shouldn't be a bother to us."

"But close enough so that we could still be a bother to them?" she asked.

Three faces turned to her, their eyes wide.

"You're the riflemen," she challenged. "You think you can hit moving targets at more than three hundred?"

Two of them could, aided mostly by lots of shooting practice prior to deployment and the almost complete lack of wind to throw the bullet off course. They made some adjustments to their scopes and sighted in on the backs of three of the soldiers. While they drew beads on their targets, Michelle updated Brett and Jason as to what they were doing. Finally, after assuring each other that they were ready, they counted to three and squeezed their triggers. Leanette's shot passed within six inches of her target, which happened to be none other than Lieutenant Roberts, who was in charge of the reserve platoon. At nearly the same instant that Roberts heard something go whizzing by him, Hector's bullet smashed into the back of Sergeant Lyon's head, carrying a good portion of his brain out through his face. He dropped like a rock, never having known what hit him. Even as he was in mid-fall, Doris' bullet performed perhaps the most dramatic feat. Still traveling considerably faster than the speed of sound, it entered the backpack of Private Henson just below his sleeping bag. It burrowed through a box of 5.56 millimeter ammunition, exploding the gunpowder in several of the shells before burying itself into his right kidney. To those watching it appeared as if a small bomb had suddenly detonated in Henson's backpack. He staggered forward three more steps before falling screaming to the ground.

Those in the rear of the militia reacted quickly, throwing themselves down and training their weapons to the rear. Since no one had happened to be looking back at the moment the shots had been fired, no one knew where the attack had come from (which did not prevent five of them from blindly returning fire anyway). Michelle deliberately gave away their location by firing an extended burst with her M-16 at the prone soldiers. She wanted them to know what hill the fire had come from and though none of her bullets hit anyone, the muzzleflashes from her shots served this purpose.

"Let's go," she said, scrambling for the far side of the hill just as the return fire started to roll in.

They quickly put the hill between themselves and the Auburnites and began to run north, towards their pickup point. A quick circle around the next hill and there was the helicopter, idling on the ground, the doors open. They climbed in, shut the doors, and a minute later they were airborne and out of the area.

Five minutes later the entire reserve platoon of the Placer County Militia approached the hill, weapons out and ready. Lieutenant Roberts knew that the attackers were long gone but he had been ordered by Bracken to check the hill anyway, to see if there was any wounded or dead. One by one his troops fanned out over the base and finally, one squad began to ascend it. Roberts, who would be responsible for giving report on what was found, stuck to the rear and then, once they were half-way up, started following them while the rest of the platoon fanned out towards the front.

He walked over the same ground that his men had just trod upon but somehow he managed to step in one place where no one else's foot had happened to come down. Without warning, something exploded beneath him with a sharp crack and a bright flash of light. It felt like someone wearing steel-toed boots had kicked him harshly in the balls. He felt an intense burning in his crotch and in the inner portions of both legs. He looked down and saw that his entire lower body was dripping blood onto the muddy ground. His pants had been shredded in the crotch and he could see muscle and fat tissue hanging by pieces of tendon and shredded veins. While the men around him dove to the ground at the sudden explosion, he gasped in shock as the pain intensified. He fell forward, his hands grasping at the bloody remains of his reproductive organs and wished to lose consciousness. Unfortunately, until he was "put out of his misery" five minutes later by his first sergeant, that did not happen.

"It's some sort of homemade mine, sir," Sergeant Costigan, the new leader by default of the reserve platoon, told Bracken when he met with him twenty minutes later. "It was buried just under the mud in a small hole in the ground. When Lieutenant Roberts stepped on it... well..."

Bracken looked at the remains of the mine that had killed his second most senior officer. The shotgun shell that had been fired by the mousetrap was still wedged into the hole, empty of the powder, wadding, and birdshot pellets. The force of the detonation had cracked the piece of lumber quite badly but, as evidenced by the success the weapon had had, that hadn't really detracted from the effectiveness much. He threw the device down, reluctant respect for the ingenuity of those Garden Hill people worming into his brain. "Clever," he said. "We're dealing with some very devious minds here, Costigan, wouldn't you agree?"

"It would seem so, sir," he said, still shuddering at the image of Roberts' shredded private parts. It had actually been a relief to end his suffering, to silence his screaming with a bullet to the head.

"What affect did witnessing this have on your men?"

"They're rather shaken," Costigan said, giving a rather broad understatement. "It would've been better if that thing would've just killed him outright. Seeing what it did to him... well... it was not very pretty, sir."

"No, I don't imagine it was," Bracken sighed. "And you say there was no way of detecting the presence of this thing before he stepped on it?"

"It left a hole in the ground after it went off," Costigan said doubtfully, "but no one saw it before that. I don't know, sir. Maybe if we knew to look for things like that, we'd be able to find them. I just don't know."

"We're going to have to keep our eyes out for more of these little Garden Hill surprises," Bracken said. "If they planted one, they'll plant others."

The militia continued its march around the first of the mudfalls, keeping themselves spread out and straddling the row of hills from which the previous day's attacks had come. The safety that this tactic gave them lasted only as long as it took for Brett and his strike groups to recognize and adapt to it. Here came the advantages of mobility that the helicopter offered. No matter where or how the militia marched, there was always a place to attack them from and it was only a simple matter of predicting their advance and moving a team to a spot where they could get away safely. The mountains were full of such places.

Chrissie's squad hit the middle of the advancing militia shortly after 11:00 AM, firing from a well-protected hill to the west of them - the same hill that Michelle had suggested they occupy. Two soldiers were killed outright by the initial shots and one was badly wounded. Chrissie's automatic fire with the M-16 was not as effective as it had been the previous day - the Auburnites had learned quickly to throw themselves down when people started to drop - but she still managed to inflict one more death and one more serious injury before her clip ran out and her squad fled their ambush site.

The militia platoon tasked with examining the site of the ambush was wary of the mines that they now knew their enemy to possess. They stepped gingerly around, their eyes searching for depressions in the mud or other signs of the devices. They saw no such thing. Even so, Corporal Janders' left foot managed to find one of the devices the hard way. Though his crotch was spared much of the brunt of the shotgun shell blast it was only because the inside of his left calf and thigh absorbed most of the pellets. Though his favorite appendage was saved from too much harm, his life was nonetheless sacrificed because his left leg was now a bloody mess of torn flesh and shredded muscle. Despite his begs and pleas that he could walk, just give him a chance, he was shot in the head by Lieutenant Powers and, after his weapons, ammo, and food were stripped from him, left to rot there.

The next ambush took place a little more than two hours later. Michelle's squad was able to kill three and wound one with the initial attack. Though the militia rushed at them at top speed, as per Bracken's orders, they could not catch anything but another glimpse of the helicopter departing to the south of them. This time Bracken did not allow a platoon to approach the hill from which the attack had come. He wanted to waste no further men to mine warfare and he suspected that they would not have obeyed the order to walk there anyway.

Before the sun set that night, bringing darkness to the land, two more ambushes occurred, costing them five more lives. With each attack Bracken tried to shift formations and course of travel but they still happened with frightening unexpectedness from a direction that no one had happened to be looking in. Each time his troops gave pursuit and each time they were able to do no more than catch a glimpse of the retreating helicopter.

"It's like we're being attacked by fucking ghosts!" one sergeant, angry and frustrated and scared, proclaimed as he stood over the dead bodies of two of his men. "How the hell can we fight back against this?"

"We'll get them," Bracken soothed as best he could. "They'll slip up and we'll get them. This can't go on forever."

His words sounded like a lie, even to himself.

The militia bedded down at 8:00 PM that night, knowing that the nightmare attacks out of the darkness would surely commence at some point. They spread themselves out widely, over an area of more than a hundred acres, with no man putting himself any closer than thirty feet from another man. Twice the usual number of guards were posted around the perimeter and in the middle of the formation, all of them equipped with automatic weapons and powerful flashlights. They braced themselves for attack and they were not disappointed.

The first hit came shortly before 10:00 AM, from the north of them. There was no warning beforehand, no sound of a helicopter engine, nothing. Suddenly tracers were slamming down into the ground, moving from one sleeping bagged figure to the next with devastating accuracy. The attack lasted less than five seconds, just long enough for the guards to begin returning fire. Entire clips of ammunition were blasted into the dark sky in the general direction that the tracers had come from, but with no aiming point and no visual reference, none of them came within twenty yards of the helicopter. Just as the guards were reloading and starting to take count of the wounded, more tracers slammed in, this time from the northwest. The guards themselves were now the targets and two of them were mowed down by lightning bursts of 5.56-millimeter shells. And again, before an accurate defense could be initiated, the attacker disappeared.

Follow up attacks took place at 12:30 AM and at 3:00 AM, each of them killing an average of two soldiers per firing run. It wasn't a lot, but it was enough to keep the militia awake and trembling, to keep most of them on edge and scared. By the next morning the exhaustion that resulted would start to affect judgment.

And little did the militia know that back in the town they had left behind, other events were taking place that would have a profound effect on their future.

Lieutenant Livingston was currently second-in-command of all the troops remaining in the Auburn township - second only to Barnes himself. He was a long-standing veteran of the militia, his service in it stretching considerably back to before the fall of the comet itself. He had personally led the assault on the town of Colfax and Grass Valley. He had once served in the United States Army as a military policeman.

At 1:45 AM, while the rest of the militia was lying awake some fifteen miles to the southeast, trembling in fear of another air attack, he was sound asleep and snoring in his bedroom, Mindy, the favorite of his three wives, sleeping soundly beside him. Mindy was naked, as was Livingston himself - they had engaged in a lengthy session of sexual congress before retiring four hours before. Mindy had no idea what was about to occur - she was not one of Jessica's inner circle. Livingston certainly had no idea either.

The door had been left open as they slept but neither heard the stealthy footsteps of Madeline, the junior of the three wives, and Kendall, the senior of them, as they crept out of the bedroom down the hall and made their way down to the kitchen.

"Are you sure," Kendall, who had never been more scared in all her life, asked her companion quietly, "that the other women are going to go through with this too? If they don't, we're going to be burned at the stake in the morning."

"We're going through with it, aren't we?" Madeline, or Maddie, as she was known, asked with cold logic. "The others will do it too."

"But if they don't?" Kendall asked. "What happens then?"

"Then all is lost. It's a chance we'll have to take. To tell you the truth, it'll be worth it in any case. Now let's get it done."

Kendall offered no further protests. Slowly, carefully, Maddie opened a kitchen drawer and removed a huge butcher knife of the sort that was usually used for chopping very large cuts of meat. It was a knife she had spent a good portion of the previous day rubbing obsessively with a whetstone and it was now nearly sharp enough to shave with. She hefted it, testing its weight for a moment and liking the way it felt in her hands. "Let's do it," she said, holding it down near her side. She opened another drawer and pulled out a two-cell flashlight. She handed this to Kendall, who took it blankly, keeping it turned off. Without waiting to see if her companion would follow, she began tiptoeing towards the stairs.

Kendall, feeling her body surging with nervous adrenaline, feeling her very hands trembling, started after her. The dice had been thrown.

They made their way upstairs and then down the hallway until they were standing outside the darkened master bedroom. They could see nothing but they could hear Livingston snoring lightly and both knew the interior of the bedroom intimately. They made their way to the side of the bed and paused.

They didn't talk, didn't make a sound until Maddie, the knife in her left hand, gripping it by the handle, said: "do it."

Neither Livingston nor Mindy reacted to the voice. Both however, reacted when the flashlight was suddenly switched on, its beam spearing Livingston's head with illumination. Their eyes flew open at the sudden barrage of light but neither had any time to react to what happened next. Livingston was lying on his back, the covers pulled up to his shoulders, his arms beneath them. While he blinked in confusion and his sleep-muddled brain tried to figure out just what the hell was going on, Maddie reached forward with her right hand and grabbed him by the hair on the top of his head. With a sharp jerk, she yanked his head backward, exposing his neck. While he tried to free his hands from beneath the covers to fight back at this sudden attack, Maddie chopped downward with the butcher knife, it's edge slamming into his throat, just below the bulge of his Adam's apple. With a vicious, powerful stroke, she pulled it across, slicing deeply into his neck, severing his trachea as neatly as she would have the neck of a chicken. Blood began to spray into the air, both from the gaping wound and from a partially severed right carotid artery. She finished her swipe and then stepped backward, out of reach, her knife blade now red and dripping.

Livingston sat up in bed, his eyes wide in disbelief and fear, his hands abandoning their attempt at defense and going to the wound on his neck. He tried to scream but no sound came out but a pitiful, dying gurgle. He tried to inhale and found it impossible. His eyes grew wider, his hands tightened around his throat, trying desperately to repair the irreparable damage.

"There, you motherfucker," Maddie spat, her eyes blazing. "There's the motherfucking God's law for your ass!"

"Maddie!" Mindy suddenly screamed, her face a terror as she saw the second mouth that had been added to her husband, as she saw the blood spurting out onto the linen. "What are you doing?"

"I'm killing this piece of shit," she said. "Now shut the fuck up unless you want some of it too."


"Shut up!" Maddie barked. "You just sit there and don't say a fucking thing!"

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