Lost Angeles

Zombie or Post Apocalyptic themed fiction/stories.

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CaptainCrunch
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Lost Angeles

Post by CaptainCrunch » Fri Jan 24, 2020 10:29 pm

Chapter 1
Chula Vista, California
Hands pressed flat against cheap oak paneling like a perp about to be frisked, Wade MacArthur paid dearly for the excesses of last night’s tequila binge. For those transgressions, the porcelain gods demanded a sacrifice, and Wade appeased them by regurgitating everything eaten or drunk in the last 24 hours. Once, then again, and again.

Wiping his mouth with a filthy bath towel, he reached for an aspirin bottle on the sink’s edge. Like the toilet, it was a moving target, spinning in slow-mo on the tip of a top. A little Kentucky windage after a cold shower helped him stuff those tiny pills into his pie hole.
After scrubbing his sweaty pits with the same towel, he gargled blue mouthwash and wiped his scraggly beard. The freak in the medicine cabinet’s mirror reminded him of someone he once knew.

Behind him, a plumpish woman moaned, her bare skin glowed in the afternoon sunlight that shafted through dirty window curtains.
She was a stranger.

No cause for alarm, just it a bit disconcerting that he couldn’t recall her name.

Not that it mattered in the grand scheme of things, she was nobody’s mama, hadn’t worn a property jacket when they’d hooked up.
Still, it bothered him that the woman had insinuated herself into his private chamber, and he couldn’t remember how or why he’d allowed it.

Then, it came to him, slowly.
She was a prize. Yeah, a trophy, sort of... won after a fist-fight.
In a cage? MMA?
Wade’s brain was recovering, waking up, slowly.

Hell no, it was a drunken brawl in the parking lot.
No, it was more than that, she was an informant, an operative.
Someone he’d recruited, seduced a year ago to spy on the Devils.

Wade studied his blurry Rolex Mariner between bloodshot blinks.

“Aww, crap! C’mon Stan, we’re late.”

He pulled his dirty jeans on and rifled through a cheap rattan hamper for his least smelly T-shirt, selected the best of the worst and wrestled it on. It was black, with a red Grim Devil’s Motorcycle Club logo silkscreened on the back.
Snatching his keys and a Glock G27 subcompact pistol from the dresser drawer, he stepped through a minefield of bedroom clutter, out the mobile home’s door into blinding daylight.

Thirty minutes later, Wade’s Harley roared into the loading bay of an empty warehouse near the outskirts of Brown Municipal Airfield. Across the cavernous void, he detected four figures in the dark, gathered around the hood of a screaming-purple Suburban.
A flashlight blinked, inviting him in.

Wade cut the growling Super Glide engine and dropped the knurled chrome kickstand. He unbuckled his helmet and propped it on one of the ape hanger handlebars. Kicking a leg over the seat, he felt a stab of pain in his hip. The wound was an old one, the reminder of a war in a middle eastern sandbox. A war he’d give anything to forget.

Gingerly, he walked back to the hog’s rear end and pulled his guns and extra magazines from the old leather saddlebags. Sucking up the pain, he strode tall toward the four uniformed lawmen men gathered around a laptop.

The slap of Wade’s cowboy boots on concrete echoed in the derelict building that was once a distribution center for imported textiles.
Drawing closer, he noticed the Suburban was battered and had patched over bullet holes on the side panels.

"Well shit howdy, look what the cat dragged in," Border Patrol Tactical Unit commander Pete Garcia said.
"Garcia, you asskisser, who put you in charge of this doomed operation?" Wade replied, somewhat surprised.

They exchanged a fist bump.
“Been a long time, pendejo.”
“Yeah, nice outfits, you guys mug a boy scout troop?”
“Really Wade? You should talk. The ’70s have a BOLO out on you for those hippy leathers you’re wearing.”
“Not likely, José. Those meatheads yours?”
“Two of my graduates, agents Williams and Henderson. Behind the wheel today, Officer Murillo from the Chula Vista Police department."

Wade shook hands all around. Heads shaved, the BORTAC agents looked like carbon copies of each other, twin bodybuilders on steroids. They made it a point to squeeze hard. Wade almost felt his hand bones cracking but said nothing. He wouldn’t give them the satisfaction.

Garcia and his acolytes wore standard green Border Patrol jumps. The female cop, Murillo, wore utility blues and held a riot helmet resting in the crook of her arm. Her dark hair was pulled back in a bun, regulation style.

She was a baby.

“First time on a strike team?”
“Yes sir,” Murillo nodded.
“Piece of cake. Stay sharp,” said Wade.

“Getting down to business, this is Otay Mesa Self Storage, on Otay Mesa Road and Heritage Road. The entrance to the units is on Camino Maguiladora," Garcia said, enlarging a Google Earth map that glowed on his laptop screen.
"To the north is Brown Municipal airport. West of the target are thirty acres of undeveloped lots. South and east are industrial parks. This here is an Arco station on the corner.“
"SWAT and ATF agents are in place inside the storage facility. ATF has a surveillance van across the street at the Goodwill Outlet parking lot and the DEA and local PD have unmarked cars at the filling station and the outlet.”
“We’ll be in position at the opposite end of the entrance. Wade, you’ll ID the perps. The moment the two parties meet at the storage unit, give me the signal. On my command, agents inside the facility will surround them while we move in to make the bust. Any questions?”

No one spoke.

“OK. Let’s roll.”

Garcia closed his laptop and slid into the shotgun seat. Wade strapped in behind him and the driver started the engine as the doors slammed shut.
No stranger to violence, Wade checked his weapons, an HK UMP submachine gun in .40 S&W and the Glock. The others did the same. Metal clicks and slaps filled the Suburban as they left the warehouse and sped down the dusty road. Single-story bungalow dwellings painted in subdued colors blurred past their heavily tinted windows.

The armored Suburban smelled like dried blood and antiseptic, even with the air conditioning running at full blast. Wade felt a chill creep through him wondering what other grunge, smelly or not, resided in the cracks and crevasses of the SUV’s interior. Captured only days ago on a raid against the Tijuana Cartel, it still bore Mexican tags.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Special Agent Wade MacArthur, fifty-two, looked a decade older than his actual years. Sixteen months under deep cover with the Grim Devils motorcycle gang had aged him fast. His beard was long and scraggly and his graying hair was pulled back in a braided ponytail. Both of his arms were inked with tattoos.

Garcia popped a stick of chewing gum in his mouth and turned around.

"You look like shit, Wade," he said.
"That mean we won’t be going out on a second date?”
“Depends. I gotta tell you though, undercover work’ll burn you out faster than a desk job in DC. When your gig is up why don’t you come on down to Texas? I could use a prick like you at BORTAC boot camp.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Before I forget,” said Garcia, reaching into a large duffle bag, “A little traveler’s insurance from the local constabulary.”

He handed Wade an armored vest. Wade nodded and put it on.

“So what’s the story behind the story? All I have is a bare-bones outline of the mission,” said Garcia.

"Two days ago I overheard a conversation in “church” that some Devils stole one hundred fifty AK-74s from a warehouse at Fort Irwin. They infiltrated the Army base as contractors and are funneling the weapons to the Tijuana Cartel. The Devils don’t need ‘em, they already have an arsenal of automatic rifles, machine guns, bombs and grenades.”

“Why haven’t you guys busted them already?”

“We don’t know where they’ve cached their weapons. DOJ claims they intend to castrate the Devils, annihilate them in one fell swoop. For that, they demand rock-solid evidence and as far as they’re concerned, the evidence we’ve presented isn’t enough.”
Garcia deflated, shook his head. “Politics, as usual.”

Wade shrugged, said, “The Devils have cultivated strong affiliations with the Mexican traffickers. They’re ramping up production and distribution of crystal meth, but it’s not enough to meet demands. So, our chapter president authorized a deal with the Notorious KraZy Boyz, the Triad’s biggest street gang and drug conduit in San Diego county. What it boils down to is this; automatic rifles are being traded for more smack and the mother-of-all deals is going down this afternoon at Otay Mesa Self Storage. The Devils have two semi’s on standby for the transfer.”

Garcia whistled softly.

Wade pulled a cigarette out but didn’t light up. “Pete, the guns are why I’m here. Why‘d you guys get pulled into this?”

“Eastside Vatos leader, Ricardo ”Chuey” Madrigal has insider ties to the Tijuana Cartel. As you know, he’s the nephew of Don Emillio Carreras, the cartel’s Jefé. My orders are to snatch him up. Special Operations Group wants Chuey for the intel he can give us about Carreras and his organization. Who knows? maybe we can turn Chuey into a snitch,” said Garcia.

“Not likely. Chuey‘s as hardassed as they get. You’ll be lucky to get anything out of him,” said Wade.

“We‘ll get him to talk,” agent Williams interjected.

“What about you Wade? Aren’t you worried your biker buddies will rat you out when they see your ugly mug wearing POLICE on your body armor?” said Garcia.
“They won‘t see me. I’ll be watching you guys do the takedown from the comfort of the surveillance van.”

“All dressed up and nowhere to go,” said Henderson.

Wade eyeballed Henderson. Really? Was that a dig, rookie?

"What can we expect from your biker bros, Wade?” asked Garcia, quickly, moving the topic back to the mission.

"Most likely it’ll just be the VP, the sergeant at arms and three or four warlords. But don‘t let the scant numbers fool you. My -- these guys are true one-percenters. They won’t hesitate to kill anyone that gets in their way. They’re well organized, many of them are ex or active duty Army and Marines who’ve been in combat overseas. Don’t be surprised if you see Uzis and hand grenades, they pack heavy.”

Wade saw agents Williams and Henderson exchange hungry glances. Officer Murillo involuntarily shrank in the driver’s seat.

"Roscoe “Beast” Redmon is the Devil’s San Diego chapter VP. The prez is currently a guest of the state in Pelican Bay, so Roscoe pretty much runs the day to day operations. 6-foot-4, 250-pounds, Roscoe has a record dating back three decades. Drugs, armed robbery, extortion, prostitution, gun-running, you name it, he’s done it. Once shot a rival gangster in the face in a drive-by. He’s been in and out of prison for most of his life. Has deep ties to the Aryan Brotherhood and sports a swastika tattoo on the back of his neck and an SS symbol on his right hand.”

Wade paused to take a sip of bottled water. “Second in command is Rick ”Knucklehead” Slayton. 5’8”, 200 pounds. He’s the sergeant at arms, responsible for keeping the brothers in line and enforcing the Devil’s code of conduct. The man is pure evil incarnate. Like Beast, Knucklehead has a long rap sheet and has done hard time. He’s a serial rapist, a sex trafficker and has ties to the Ukrainian Mafia. Rumor has it he’s tied to the Clintons. My sources claim he’s responsible for over a dozen killings but no one is willing to testify against him in court. Knucklehead’s ex-Army, did two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He’s an expert in urban warfare tactics, probably the best shooter in the club. He’ll be there to cover Beasties’ six.“

Wade stopped for a moment to make sure the GNC Bobbsey twins were listening. They were.

“Whoever else shows up today is anybody’s guess. Could be any of the seventy-plus patched members.”

“Mind if I ask you a personal question agent MacArthur?” said Henderson.

“Shoot.”

“How do you do it? Living a lie, always looking over your shoulder. Rolling the dice with your mortality and your sanity... ‘Can’t be the pay or the recognition. Chances are no one will ever know what you’ve done unless you write a book and sell the rights to Hollywood. And chances of that panning out are slim to none at best. Is there some weird thrill in playing low-life dress up and rubbing shoulders with scumbags? Just curious, no disrespect intended.”

Henderson glanced at Williams, who suppressed a laugh.

Garcia rolled his eyes at Henderson, who just smirked and shrugged.

Wade replied, “Yeah, Henderson, it’s the same hard on you rookies get dressing up like shrubs and playing with big black guns. I can see this takedown is right up your alley, you and your giggling girlfriend, Williams here. Let’s just hope neither of you fouls your pretty BORTAC gunny sacks when the bullets start flying.”

“Henderson, please cut the trash talk, you have absolutely no talent for it,” said Garcia.

“Is that an order or an observation, boss?”

“You figure it out.”

“Yes sir,” spat Henderson.

Smug bastard.

“To answer your question troop,” Wade said, “Whatever thrills undercover work might offer, they’re few and far between. Sure, I like getting paid to be a scumbag. Who wouldn’t? But it’s not about the money or the adrenaline rush. It’s about the overall mission to keep chaos at bay and preserve our American way of life. In plain English it means I happen to believe in the greater good, a concept I’m sure you and your latte-sipping BFF do not fully understand yet, given the moral ambiguity of your entitled generation.”

Williams and Henderson seethed like chained pit bulls.

Please come work for me, Wade, thought Garcia.

”Almost there,” squeaked Murillo.

Detached, Wade watched as they fidgeted with their gear. It struck him that the usual pre-mission pucker factor the rest of the team was experiencing was absent from his own emotional state. There was no anticipation or fear. Staring danger in the face for long stretches at a time tended to dull those emotions.

“You know it’s time to walk away when you stop being afraid,” a fellow undercover agent had once told him.

Wade decided then and there his time had come.

Soon as the op was over, he’d shave the ZZ Top beard, get a decent forty dollar haircut, and destroy his alter ego for good.
As for his professional life, he was still undecided. The ATF was one of the smallest of the Federal law enforcement agencies and nearly a quarter of its agents worked undercover assignments at one time or another. There was no shortage of advice or shoulders to lean on within the ranks.

The executive staff, well, that was another matter. It was well documented that ATF management sometimes failed to take measures to protect its agents from retaliatory threats once they came in from the cold.

Garcia’s offer to become an instructor at BORTAC was growing on him.

They zoomed through a yellow light two blocks from Heritage Street. Blue and red lights flashing, a California Highway Patrol motorcycle officer jumped into traffic behind them.

Wade shot Garcia the trace of an amused smile.

“You’ve got to be kidding me, said Garcia, ”Pull over, everybody roll your windows down, get your badges out.”
They sat facing the storage facility a half-mile away for what seemed like an hour. The CHP officer took his time calling in the stop. Wade looked around. The neighborhood was industrial park shabby, resembling a south of the border shantytown. Most of the lots were fenced with razor wire. Rows of rusting conex containers were sprayed with overlapping layers of gang graffiti.

Bone jarring bass thumped from a Buick Regal lowrider with skinny tires and wire spokes. As it cruised past them, the passenger-side homey leaned out of the window and shot a middle finger followed by a Pee Wee street-gang hand sign.

Placing the speed trap here was a clever choice, Wade thought. Most Tijuana bound tourists would be eager to fly through the dilapidated barrio as fast as possible. But a veteran Highway Patrolman would have left the gaudy SUV with Mexican tags and bullet holes alone.

“Newbie,” said Garcia, as if reading his mind.

“Indeed.”

“I wouldn’t have pulled us over.”

“Me neither.”

The look on the young officer’s face was priceless when he saw the badges and guns.

“Step on it Murillo,” said Garcia.
Garcia placed a finger on his radio earphone and cocked his head. “Strange. I just lost my...”

The SUV’s engine quit and they coasted to a stop.

There came a flash of light, so bright, it illuminated everything in the car despite the heavily tinted windows.

Then, a deep rumble and a howling wind that blasted them with sand and rocks and blew out the windows.

The strike team stepped out of the battered SUV and watched in stunned silence as twin mushroom clouds climbed above San Diego, flashing rainbows of radioactive death.

Agent Williams dropped to his knees, wept bitterly, certain his wife and children were obliterated in the blast.

Agent Henderson just stared at the roiling clouds containing the superheated ashes of millions of San Diegans, as they spread across the stratosphere and blotted out the sun

“I’ll be damned,” Garcia finally said.

“Aren't we all,” replied Wade.

Before anyone could react, officer Murillo swallowed the muzzle of her service revolver and pulled the trigger.


Homer, New York
The night was still young, and he was already tired, having prepared and expedited more than sixty orders since the start of the dinner rush.

Eighteen-year-old executive chef Jax Montoya took a two-minute break in the alley behind his parent's restaurant on a busy Saturday evening.
He wiped his sweaty face with a kitchen towel and took a long gulp from his water bottle. Weekend shifts were exhausting; wakeup at 4:00 AM, hit the farmer’s market soon thereafter, prep and cook for the next twelve hours, then clean and sanitize everything for tomorrow.

But marathon gigs in the hot, cramped kitchen made up for break-even weekdays.

Overall, business had never been better. Word of mouth and an aggressive social media campaign placed Casa de San Juan on the culinary list of must-visits in upper New York, and Jax, fingers crossed, hoped the family endeavor might soon attract a Michelin reviewer with a coveted star in his pocket.
A Michelin star would do much to catapult Jax closer to his 5-year masterplan; first, become the youngest guest judge on the Restaurant Network's television series "Battle Cuisine" and after that, host his own cooking show.

Jax was well aware he possessed the looks and the charm the public limelight required of a celebrity chef in the making. Good genetics, combined with a disciplined workout schedule kept him in top shape despite the temptations of a Caribbean cuisine loaded with sugars, starches, and complex carbohydrates.
All that aside, there was no question Jax was passionate about food. His signature dishes fused traditional flavors with innovative techniques and whimsical platings; unique, compelling, desirable, as one food critic described a spoonful of Jax’s offerings at Homer’s annual Harvest Festival.
A ringtone assigned to his fiancée chirped in his back pocket.

“Hello,” he said.

“It’s me,” she said, sharp as a traffic cop’s whistle.

“What’s up? Hey did you get to see the Prez?”

“No, but everything’s closed on campus. We’re lockdown while he does his fundraising speech. Now I’m stuck here til he’s gone. I should have left town this morning.”

The glow of a cigarette at the far end of the alley caught his eye. It flared brightly as the Mexican owner of Roma Pizzeria, a retired cop, took a long drag. A busy night for him too, Jax thought.

Smartphone cradled against his shoulder, he heaved a greasy trash bag into a dumpster while his girlfriend kvetched about her crummy day at Syracuse University.

He responded to her rant with the usual "Yes dears, Uh-huhs and O.K.s." Jax picked his battles with Jenna wisely. Especially now that her last ultrasound confirmed she carried his child.

Suddenly, his phone died, then everything else stopped all at once. Electric lights winked off, the restaurant's canned salsa music ended mid-stanza, and traffic on Main Street came to a standstill.

It was so dark and quiet that he could hear the faint whisper of wind through the maple trees.

Unusual. A rolling brownout?

He'd never encountered a brownout. Those happened in the big cities, not in places like Homer, here in the sticks.

Curses and the slam of a door as the ex-cop pizza boss returned to his workplace by cigarette light.

Jax tried to redial Jenna, but his phone wasn't working, even after he shook it and tried the on/off switch. He could have sworn it was fully charged.
Then came a muffled roar from above. Jax looked up, searching for the source of the noise. As his eyes adjusted in the twilight, he saw something that looked like a meteor flash across the sky.

Next came a jarring rumble that sounded like thunder, and he watched in horror as a trio of massive fireballs bloomed in slow motion, just over the horizon.

Oklahoma City, OK
Michael Parker was about to slide his car key into the ignition slot when the deafening roar of multiple explosions, followed by superheated shockwaves, rocked his car on its leaf springs.
Mike curled tight in his seat as the devil himself blasted through the '65 Mustang, shattering the windshield and windows.
He heard himself screaming in the maelstrom as the car teetered on its side and nearly toppled over.
Then it tilted back, bounced on its tires and settled with a groan.
Dazed, he found himself staring at the car's pedals, covered with thousands of bits of safety glass.

Where am I?

Mike slowly lifted his head.

His wife's cellophaned, dry cleaned clothes lay rumpled on the passenger side seat.

Through the hole where the windshield used to be, he saw people covered in blood, some lying on the pavement, others sitting on the sidewalks, some shambling on the hot pavement like lost sheep.

He opened the car door and staggered outside.

Thick black smoke roiled around him, caused him to choke and gag. It came from Tinker Air Force Base, just a few miles away.

Someone attacked us. Terrorists? Oklahoma City had more than a few Jihadist radicals and sleeper cells. Not common knowledge. Politics kept those facts from the public, but Mike was privy to those secrets, at least in a roundabout way. He was a prosecuting district attorney for Oklahoma County.
No, terrorists don't have that kind of firepower, he reasoned. Those blasts came by something much more potent than a home-made bomb.

"We're at war," he mumbled.

A foreign country just attacked Oklahoma City

Oh God, Laura!

Mike stumbled back to his Mustang, dropped into the driver's seat, and tried the ignition. To his relief, the Mustang's V8 started up with a throaty growl. He closed the door and put it in gear.

What came next was a jumbled sequence of surreal events that played like a horror movie before him as he approached the freeway onramp.
Cars had collided on the interstate. Some burned furiously, others smoldered, glowing black and red. The highway was littered with them, as far as the eye could see.
Through the haze Mike saw a Peterbilt tractor that had jackknifed and tipped over, its trailer had separated and tumbled through the median into the opposite lanes, crushing a half dozen vehicles before it stopped.
By now, most of those who’d been killed in that crash were respectfully covered. An ambulance crew, also caught up in the gridlock, ministered to the wounded.

Mike felt no compulsion to lend a hand.

More than a few people stared at him with hard looks as he slowly picked his way through the scene of the accident, no doubt wondering why his car worked while theirs didn't. He downshifted, cut the wheel and climbed up the freeway embankment, shooting past the gridlock.
Mike braked to a stop in his driveway. Sooty ash from the firestorm swirled like gray snowflakes that covered everything and made the neighborhood around him seem colorless and dead.

Head throbbing, hands trembling, he paused to catch his breath. According to his wristwatch, thirty-six minutes had elapsed since the unthinkable had occurred.

El Paso, Texas
With thousands of northbound vehicles entering the United States every day, El Paso – Ysleta had become one of the busiest alternate Land Ports of Entry in Texas. Wait times there could last for up to four hours.

Big Jim was sweating bullets and not just because it was 103 degrees in the shade. Something wasn't right. He crept the old Dodge Ram diesel closer to the U.S. border crossing, a supermax load of cocaine hidden in the truck's gas tank.

Twice a week, the 22-year old liberal arts major/golf instructor from Texas State University drove the primer gray truck across the border to pick up drugs.

It was part of the deal. As long as Big Jim muled for the cartel, his tuition would be paid, and his academic records would reflect the stellar intellect he did not possess.

On the return trip, the merchandise was dropped off at J & H Auto Supplies, one of many fronts for the Juarez Cartel's U.S. distribution hub.
Big Jim would magically receive a passing grade on his exams that week, despite the fact that he never took them. Next, a fat envelope would be delivered to a P.O. Box address in his name. It contained a generous cash stipend. He usually spent most of the money on his high-maintenance girlfriend, Natalie.

She was filthy rich. Nat’s parents were old money; Texas oil socialites, movers, and shakers who paid to play in political/philanthropical arenas.

Their daughter Natalie was the most eligible bachelorette he’d ever met. She was book-smart, good-looking... in warpaint anyway, and down-to-earth despite her silver spoons and gold rings. She was as innocent and gullible as milk-fed veal before slaughter.
A trait he exploited to his advantage.

They met at a golf tournament in Austin, where he swept her off her feet. They spent the night together in the best executive suite at the Four Seasons Hotel. The next morning he insisted they keep their budding relationship secret until he graduated from Texas U and secured a spot on the board of directors in his father’s investment firm.

Truth be told, Big Jim had more in common with the beggars, peddlers and street performers making their rounds among the gridlock at the border crossing.

Unfortunately, Big Jim’s scheme to marry rich and live idly came to an end when he found himself falling in love with her.
The real turning point came when he discovered she had Leukemia. When he confronted her about it, she simply stated that he was the reason she was still alive.

Natalie was aware of his deception, and her final goal in life would be to offer him something more valuable than the temporal things he lusted after.
On her last day, she whispered “So little time to get it right, Jim. It doesn't matter what you accumulate in this life. You can’t take it with you into the next. Listen to your conscience before it's gone.”

Tears streaming down his face; real ones, he replied, “I don’t know how, Nat.”
“Then learn to,” she said.
“Please don’t leave me, not now,” he sobbed.
With the trace of a smile she nodded, “OK.”

She died, boney and withered while he slept in a chair next to her bed.

This is my last time, he decided.

He’d keep the money and use it for a fresh start, perhaps in California, or maybe Oregon.
A car honked behind him. Big Jim massaged the accelerator with his foot and rolled an inch forward.
Green-clad U.S. Border Patrol agents, armed with drug-sniffing dogs and guns worked their way through the crush of northbound vehicles jamming eleven border lanes.

All around him, tourists snapped selfies, bought churros and knickknacks to relieve their boredom in the stalled parade. Waving off a one-legged windshield washer, Big Jim checked his watch. Forty-five minutes had passed since he merged onto lane seven.
Finally, the Ford Escort in front of him reached booth seven. Moments later, it glided past the yellow painted barriers and orange and white cones. The mini stoplight ahead changed from red to green. It was Jim's turn to be scrutinized.

The cartel had bribed one of the CPB agents to turn a blind eye. Drug runs were scheduled to coincide with his shift. Big Jim's pulse quickened as he neared the booth. The friendly guard was nowhere in sight.
"Your passport, please," said the new agent in the booth.
Big Jim handed it over.
"What were you doing in Mexico?"
"Picking up junk car parts for J & H Auto. We refurbish 'em"
"Where are you headed?"
"Home. U.T. El Paso."
After inputting Big Jim's I.D., the agent studied his computer screen. Big Jim presumed he was looking for incriminating priors in multiple databases.
"I need you to drive to Secondary Inspection, over there."

Crap! Did he find something suspicious?

He drove through the vehicle Xray machine.
"Any drugs or weapons in the truck?" asked another agent.
"No, sir, not to my knowledge."
"Park over there."

A black officer with a mean-looking German Shepherd pointed his finger at Big Jim and motioned to pull the truck over for inspection. His velcro name patch read "Harding."

Did the cartel’s insider rat me out?

"Exit the truck. Stand over there," said Harding.

Hardass Harding.

Big Jim did as he was told, placed his hands in his jeans pockets to keep them from shaking. Eyes darting, he desperately searched for an avenue of escape should the drugs be detected.

Nada. If they bust me, my life is over.

Officer Harding led the eager dog around the car, prompting him to sniff the rocker panels, the dash and under the seats.
That's it; I'm done with this crazy shit... If I make it out of here, he thought.
"Stay, Sugar," Harding said to the dog, as he inspected the engine compartment solo because it was too hot for the animal. Afterward, he jumped Sugar to the truck bed where a pallet of rusty car parts was lashed down with ratchet straps.

The deception seemed to be working; the dog made several feisty passes but didn’t detect the hidden cargo through the stench of grease and gasoline.
Feeling a bit less vulnerable, Big Jim wiped the sweat off his face with a bandana.

Suddenly, a massive explosion, followed by a hot blast of air, knocked him flat on the pavement.

Big Jim saw Harding and his drug-dog lying still on the ground.

People were screaming, running through the smoke and dust.

His head felt like a kettle drum was being pounded by a maniac.

Then, he gathered his wits and took advantage of the situation. Big Jim quietly slid into his truck and drove away. In the rearview mirror, a humongous tower of smoke reached into the sky as hundreds of people swarmed the border crossing.
He burned rubber and barreled down the interstate, weaving through stalled traffic like a Saturday night street racer.

“I quit! I quit!’” he screamed until he was hoarse.

Later, he stopped in the middle of nowhere, trembling with exhaustion.

Quitting the Mexican Mafia was the same as ratting on them. Punishment would be absolute.

OK, think Jimmy boy. One crisis at a time.

Running isn’t an option. They’ll find me. No choice but to hope one of those 3-letter alphabet orgs in the Feds ‘ll give me witness protection if I drop some names.
Question is, which one? CIA? FBI? ATF?
U.S government and civics was not his strong suit.

Who am I kidding? Those bastards’ll leave me high and dry with my ass hanging in the breeze. Shit! Shit! Shit!
Ok, get a grip damnit!

And then, there’s the coke. I still have to deliver it so they don’t hunt me down and cut my head off.

Unknown to Big Jim, the missile that obliterated everything in his mirror should have landed at Fort Bliss Army Base, fifteen miles north.
But the Chinese Dongfeng-5 ICBM, secretly launched from an underground facility in Venezuela, had smashed through a Lear jet on reentry, damaging the perfectly conical nose just enough to slightly alter its trajectory.

Too low and too fast for the guidance system to correct itself, the missile augured straight into El Paso – Ysleta’s terminals in its final moment in flight.

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CaptainCrunch
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Re: Lost Angeles

Post by CaptainCrunch » Sat Jan 25, 2020 11:40 am

Lloyd Parker's Residence, Oklahoma City
Lloyd breathed a sigh of relief as he watched his oldest son Mike, and his family arrive in their 1960 Volkswagen Kombi Deluxe Microbus. Soon as the parking brake was set, Lloyd's wife, Pam rushed out to greet her first-born and her precious grandkids.

Lloyd’s sons were chips off the old block, both were classic car junkies through and through, from their first rat-rod model kit to their latest junkyard or estate sale acquisitions and restorations.

Though Mike and Ray were as different as salt and sugar, both agreed on one thing; cars were high art, in a practical as well as an altruistic sense.

The thought struck Lloyd that their passion for vintage cars might have been the difference between life or death today, as the only cars running didn't depend on microcomputers to drive them.

Understandably, Mike and his wife Laura looked frazzled, but Jason, 5, and Melissa, 8, were full of pent up energy.

"Hi Grand Pa, hi Grand Ma!," they screamed, running at full bore, competing to deliver pint-sized hugs and tiny kisses.

For a moment Lloyd savored their sweetness, an escape in the midst of this damned catastrophe.

"I could use a drink dad," mumbled Mike after a tepid handshake.

Just then, #2 son Ray arrived and parked his primer-gray '59 Chevy Apache. He parked the vintage truck behind Mike's van.

"Thank you God," whispered Lloyd, both sons and their families accounted for.

Ray's pretty Filipina wife Naomi quickly exited the cab, her mascara streaked by a trail of black tears.

"What's happening Lloyd?" asked Naomi, shaking.

"We've just been attacked,” Lloyd said hugging her as she shivered in his embrace.

“You’re safe here, we’re all safe here, all of us,” he said.


Lloyd released her as Mike took Naomi’s hand. "I tried to get the news on T.V. and the web, but there's no power on our block," said Naomi.

"There's no power anywhere. I think we were hit with ICBM's. The grid's probably fried," said Mike.

"What about fallout, pop. Are we in danger?" asked Ray.

"Mike can probably answer that question better than I can, son."

He led his sons into the study while their wives took the kids to the living room.

Lloyd produced a bottle of Jim Beam and three glasses from the wet bar.

"Mike, what's your take on all of this?" Lloyd asked, passing him a drink.

Mike accepted the drink but answered before chugging it. " Most likely it was an EMP that took out our electricity. The missiles that followed were conventional, not nukes as far as I can tell. They decimated Tinker Air Force base, destroyed our bombers on the ground," replied Mike, quickly downing his shot. Lloyd refilled his glass.

"How do you know that?" said Ray.

"I have my sources. Besides, just one multi-warhead nuke would've obliterated most of Oklahoma City. We were hit with at least a dozen missiles. If they'd been nukes, we'd all be fused to the ground right now."

Mike took a lesser sip of the amber liquid, then continued. "Bastards."

"Any idea who did it?" asked Lloyd.

"The Chinese."

"Why China? Why not the Russians?" asked Ray.

"Really? Dude, haven't you heard the news? China invaded Taiwan. We're at war," spat Mike.

"I don't have time to sit on my butt and watch the news, I'm working double shifts now that my mechanic quit on me," replied Ray angrily.

"Well, it's not like it just happened out of the blue. They've been rattling sabers ever since the special election in Taipei last month."

Ray had a blank look on his face.

"Taiwan declared their independence -- you have no idea what I'm talking about, do you. Time to pull your ignorant head out of your ass baby brother, and get with the program."


"You sanctimonious..."

"Alright knock it off you two. We have enough to worry about," said Lloyd angrily.

Silence.

"Sorry bro. I'm still in shock," said Mike, offering his little brother a fist bump.

"You're a prick, but I forgive you," said Ray, quickly bumping big brothers fist.

Mike shook his head. True to form, little brother Ray only quit when he got the last word in.

"I still don't get why China would attack us. What do we have to do with Taiwan?" said Ray.

"We're Taiwan's allies. Our Seventh Fleet is most likely battling China's navy and air force as we speak. Maybe even launching strikes on the so-called Peoples Liberation Army targets on Chinese soil. The Chinese probably had contingency plans to hit us with a preemptive strike all along," said Mike.

"So what's our plan pop? We getting out of this Okie death trap or what?" he continued, holding his shot glass out for a third refill.

"All in due time, Michael," said Lloyd, pouring a generous dollop of whiskey into his trembling glass. Lloyd poured a finger's worth for himself as well and gulped it down.

The family bug out was a three-story, six-bedroom log cabin located in the Ouachita National Forest. An avid outdoorsman, Lloyd had purchased the property as a weekend getaway and a source of rental income.
The drive to Broken Bow usually took four hours from their home in the suburbs of Oklahoma City. Now that the interstates were clogged, he had no idea how long it would take them to get there.

"Here's one myth debunked," Lloyd said, holding up his wristwatch. "Still works."

"That's because a watch is too small for a High Altitude EMP to affect it," said Mike.
"It took out my car's radio though," said Lloyd, "makes me wonder what else it could have damaged."
"We should check all the wiring on our cars tomorrow before we leave," said Ray.

"Tomorrow?" said Mike.

"We're hunkering down for the night," said Lloyd. "The freeways are gridlocked, and there's a lot of desperate people out there. It's not safe to leave right now."

"It won't be any safer tomorrow either, I don't think it's over yet. We could be in for a second or a third strike. I vote we bug out to Broken Bow as soon as possible, meaning right freakin’ now" said Mike.

To Mike’s surprise, Lloyd nodded. It was the first time he’d seen his father, the family’s patriarch fold in agreement.

"Goes without saying. But we can't rush off half-cocked. We need to take a hard look our options and come up with a plan. We' need to check our vehicles before we make any attempt to bug out. Just because they're still running doesn't mean they weren't damaged by the EMP."

Mike looked up from his drink. "OK. Tomorrow then. At least we don't have to worry about radiation fallout. Not yet, anyway."
Lloyd continued. "We need to assess our escape route. I'm hoping the highways will be less congested further out. There'll probably be fewer encounters with people as well. On the other hand, if the interstates are impassable, there's a power line road that'll get us close to Broken Bow."

"So let's take the road less traveled. We can check the wiring right now. It won't take long."

"It would be suicide to go off roading in the boonies at night."

All three were silent for a moment. The shock of the missile attack was wearing off. Just staying alive would become an epic struggle from now on, not only for themselves but for their wives and the children.

Mike slid his shot glass to Lloyd for the last refill. "Damn. Guess I can kiss my 401K goodbye."

Lloyd topped off all their glasses. No sense in saving the 12-year-old Signature Craft Bourbon for a rainier day.
Mike downed his drink and settled down. "Alright, we bug out tomorrow.

****
Homer, New York
Jax and his parents gathered around a cluster of emergency candles at the kitchen table.

"So, what now?" Jax asked.

"We wait for the power to come back on. I'm sure someone's working on it. In the meantime, we shelter-in. First, let's seal up the house just in case," said his father, Marco.

Jax nodded and stood up.
For the next two hours, Jax and Marco taped the windows and doors shut and hung yards of plastic sheeting over them while his mother Bridget filled up the bathtub and the sinks. They spent the rest of the night transferring their emergency supplies from the garage to the house.

When they were done, Jax made an announcement. "Dad, I'm worried about Jenna."

Marco said nothing, well aware where Jax was going.

Jax continued, "I need to find her."

"It's too dangerous to go out looking for her, son. She's probably fine."

Jax shook his head. "I can't leave her alone after everything that's happened tonight. She's only 30 miles away. I'll be back. I promise."

"Please Jax," said Bridget, eyes pooling.

"I'm sorry mom, she’s my fiancée. I gotta go."

Marco felt a lump growing in his throat. Everything he poured into Jax over the course of his eighteen years were suddenly manifest in that desperate moment. Marco was sick with worry but at the same time he could never be more proud of the boy he’d raised to manhood.
He hugged Jax and whispered, "Be safe son."

The night sky glowed eerily from fires that burned in the distance.

Jax stepped out into the darkness. He slung a small ruck over his shoulder that contained a first aid kit and several plastic bottles of drinking water. He was armed with a Ruger .308 hunting rifle. A folding knife was clipped to his front jeans pocket, and he carried a heavy-duty 4-cell Maglite in his free hand.

He entered the garage and carefully lowered his Motobecane touring bike from its ceiling mount.

An hour or so later, Jax peddled furiously up Highway 81 North. It was past midnight, and he saw no one on the road.

Stashing the touring bike behind a grove of oak trees, he cut across University Avenue on foot where charred cars and trucks had been abandoned with their doors left open. Decorative trees and shrubs were gone from the sidewalks. A cyclone of fire had swept through earlier, had consumed everything organic.

The stores had been looted. Windows were smashed, and doors were kicked in, debris and rubble-strewn about the streets and sidewalks.
Jax could hear the roar of the fire now, and the smell of the burn assaulted his nasal passages. Embers floated like fireflies in the wind. He tied a bandana around his nose and mouth.

Almost there.

Turning onto Irving Avenue, he reached the outer edges of the flames and could go no further. The heat was unbearable and stung his eyes.

There were no standing buildings. Sadler Hall where Jenna resided, was gone.
So too were the surrounding structures including Lawrinson Hall, the College of Law building and Carrier Dome.
Instead, Jax saw smoldering craters, collapsing structures, where foreign missiles had reduced the campus to a flaming bar-b-cue.
She could be alive. She might've escaped somehow, he hoped.

No.

He knew she was gone. She was in her dorm when she called him on the phone.
Suddenly, he was on his knees, crying.
****




El Paso, Texas

Like most industrial buildings in Logan Barrio, J & H Auto Supplies was a squat concrete structure, shoehorned into high-density real estate. Two rolling doors and a wrought iron fence that encompassed the front and corner sides were all that was needed to hide the drug trafficking operation.

The sun had long set when Big Jim nosed his truck into the chop shop’s driveway. He switched the ignition and lights off.

From the shop’s candle-lit shadows appeared a bald, muscled Sicario and two street soldiers. Chuey wore a starched wife-beater t-shirt and long, baggy basketball shorts. spam Air Jordans, a 24-carat gold rope necklace and a banana-clipped AK-74 rifle completed his workday ensemble.

Beneath his flashy threads and jewelry, Chuey had so many tattoos that Big Jim could barely see an unmarked spot of skin below his face. In the dark, it made Chuey’s Aztec face seem to float, unconnected to the rest of him.

“Orale carnal, you look like you seen the boogeyman,” said Chuey, as Big Jim opened the door and peeled himself off the sweat-sticky bench seat.

“Sorry, I’m late. There was some kind of explosion at the border like a gas line blew up or something,” said Big Jim.

Chuey stared at him impassively with bloodshot eyes. He was flying, Big Jim noted; Chuey was always high on something.

“Maybe that’s why we got no electricity here,” said Chuey between sniffles and a nasty hacking cough.

Big Jim held his breath surreptitiously and looked way. White-hot sparks illuminated the center repair bay, cast flashes of light and shadow as a yard welder chopped a newly stolen Camry in the dark.

“Yeah, maybe, replied Big Jim. “Except it was more than that. It was weird. There were hundreds of cars on the highway. It was like, virtually every car and truck was stalled except mine and some other dudes crappy VW beetle.”

Big Jim watched Chuey’s eyes narrow.

“What are you telling me, cabrón? You lost my shipment?” Said Chuey, pointing the AK’s sleek black muzzle at Big Jim's chest.

Big Jim felt his stomach churn and quickly explained what he meant.

“No, it's right here, in the truck. You asked if I’ve seen a ghost, so I’m just telling you what I saw, that’s all. Plus, our friend at the border crossing was absent today. They pulled me out of the line and did an inspection,” said Big Jim.

“That right? I’ll check into it,” replied the gangbanger, lowering the rifle.

Chuey relaxed and gave Big Jim a gold-toothed grin. He smacked the hood of the truck. “Look, man, they’ll never find nothing. Border guard or no border guard. This baby is protected by Santa Muerte, our Lady of Holy Death. Payload’s totally undetectable, delivery one-hundred percent guaranteed.”

“Yeah, I know. They let me pass,” Big Jim replied, fidgeting with his keys. He didn’t want to stand around talking about Chuey’s Mesoamerican demons, he just wanted to go home, take a shower and get wasted while watching ESPN's latest golf tournament.

“You ready for next Wednesday’s run to Vegas?”

“Yeah man, wouldn‘t miss it for the world,” Big Jim lied.

“Good, esse. Be seein’ ya,” said Chuey. Big Jim slid into a second truck, an exact replica of the F-250 he’d just returned and fired it up. The truck rumbled as he backed it into the street.

“Yeah, Wednesday,” said Big Jim to himself, driving away.
****

San Diego
t was no surprise to Wade that there were military vehicles on the road. Many had been shielded or parked under hardened shelters. The same held true for their aircraft - those not destroyed by the missiles or the firestorms.


A three-vehicle convoy of Marines stopped to pick them up. They were actually a touring group of Marine Band Musicians, homeward bound after a goodwill tour of Baja California's coastal investment properties. Pete and his Bortac agents decided to ride back to a staging area with the Marines. Wade had them drop him off at the hangar where his Harley was parked.

San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento were gone, destroyed in a matter of seconds. Wade was certain the ATF field offices were gone as well. There was no going back. Wade realized he was on his own now. Perhaps after a time, an equilibrium would occur, a restoration of order. But for now, chaos would rule, even with the inevitable declaration of martial law.

Wade was better prepared for an SHTF situation than most people. He had two residences; one, his undercover crash pad in a Chula Vista trailer park, and the other, a cabin in Wrightwood, San Fernando National Forest. Both were located far enough inland to be relatively safe from fallout, he reckoned. But the cabin was more remote, less likely to attract visitors. That's where he would go.

The Harley started right up with a few kicks, and soon he was on the road. He passed scores of abandoned vehicles, their passengers clueless, wandering on the highway, waiting for help that would never come.

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Re: Lost Angeles

Post by idahobob » Sat Jan 25, 2020 12:46 pm

Quite a start! This has the possibility of being a good 'un! :clap: :clap:
People who are rather more than six feet tall and nearly as broad across the shoulders often have uneventful journeys. People jump out at them from behind rocks then say things like, "Oh. Sorry. I thought you were someone else."

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Re: Lost Angeles

Post by CaptainCrunch » Sat Jan 25, 2020 10:29 pm

idahobob wrote:
Sat Jan 25, 2020 12:46 pm
Quite a start! This has the possibility of being a good 'un! :clap: :clap:
Thanks, Idahobob!

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Re: Lost Angeles

Post by CaptainCrunch » Sat Jan 25, 2020 10:45 pm

Three Years Later, 33.7361° N, 118.2922° W, a region once known as San Pedro Harbor, Southern California, formerly, of the United States of America.


The tungsten bolt exploded against a CONEX box above Freddie Washington's head, peppering him with molten steel fragments. He screamed as his bloody scalp sizzled like fat on a greasy griddle.

Smothering the embers with his hoody, he stumbled deeper into the junkyard that had once been his gang's turf; the Port of Los Angeles.

"Whaddup homey? You all mine now," boomed a sing-song Karaoke voice.

Another projectile sliced through the windshield of a rusting Hyundai Sonata, detonating inside the long-abandoned car. Stunned by the blast, Freddie collapsed and curled into a fetal ball as heat and shrapnel blew past him.

Ears ringing, he heard Karaoke dude's companions laughing, urging the China-gangsta-man to keep rapping.

"Come on brudda, why you run? No chance you get away. You gonna die today."

Freddie heard the rumble of a pickup truck's diesel engine. He shivered uncontrollably, partly from exhaustion, mostly from malnourishment, and the fear of being captured by such a ruthless predator as Karaoke Dude.

Next came the sound of tires squealing on the blacktop like pigs in a slaughterhouse.

Now! Go!

Freddie ran like a hundred-yard dash sprinter, arms and legs pumping furiously, muscles blazing with lactic acid.
There was no way he could outrun them, he knew that, but maybe he could find some cover in the bowels of the port's terminal, buy some time, gain an edge. Maybe get lucky for once in his life and escape.

Dodging between rusted gantry cranes, Freddie ducked behind a SHOJIN container, over-sprayed with the Chinese script; Triad graffiti.
He paused to catch his breath and pressed himself flat against the dirty slab-sided container.
His belly churned. Hands-on knees, he keeled over and vomited the little food he'd eaten that morning. Hunger had driven him to forage solo in Triad territory, and he sorely regretted that mistake.

Deep down, Freddie knew he had no one to blame for this predicament but himself. The Triad and its local affiliate, the KraZy Boyz street gang were notorious for their sadistic ways. Worse, they practiced cannibalism, not the ancestral kind; where an enemy’s flesh was ritually devoured for the power it presumably held.

No, this modern version of cannibalism delivered nothing more than a daily source of high-protein calories on an industrial scale never before seen in western society, or anywhere else for that matter.

Dust devils swirled trash around his feet as a rogue breeze blew past him. He staggered blindly, seeking shelter from the wind, and almost twisted his ankle in the groove of a railway track. The hot afternoon, thick with post-nuclear smog only made things worse, as though mother nature too, wanted him dead.

As the wind subsided, he spotted an opening in the labyrinth and beyond it, the remains of the Vincent Thomas Bridge.
Buoyed by the hope of escape, Freddie straightened up and wiped his mouth on his forearm. Looking down the narrow corridor between containers, he pushed off and started running again.

Whatever his fate today, he vowed he wouldn't participate in his own murder by surrendering.

No way.

He ran as fast as he could, quite possibly a little faster than he'd ever run in his entire life.

Only a hundred paces away from the perimeter wall! If he could make it across the terminal's parking lot and hop the fence, he would disappear into the urban sprawl.

For a moment, Freddie believed he could make it.

They called him again, made animal noises and whistled.

Halfway across the lot, something that felt like a sledgehammer punched Freddie between the shoulder blades and lifted him off his feet.
He was flying like a bird.

Then the ground came up fast, and he crashed face-first into it.

From the depths of his being floated memories and emotions, some familiar, some long forgotten. A spasm, electric, unsympathetic, jolted him awake. He tasted blood and dirt, felt footsteps approaching. With great difficulty, Freddie turned himself over and flopped on his back. Blood had turned his sweaty T-shirt crimson and sticky.

The bolt had passed clean through him, narrowly missing his heart. But it destroyed one of his lungs and shattered his rib cage, fired shards of bone and cartilage into his soft tissues.

A sense of resignation washed over him, and he stopped struggling. There was no point resisting, death was inevitable, just a matter of time.
The last thing he saw was the gangster that killed him.

"KraZy Boyz," he panted as his eyes lost focus and fixed on the hereafter.

Legs straddling Freddie’s cooling corpse, Joey "China boy" Chao, as he was commonly referred to by his American underlings (behind his back), slung a TenPoint Venom crossbow over his shoulder and tucked his vintage Oakley wraparound sunglasses into his blazer pocket. He nudged the dying body with the toe of his crocodile-skin boot, carefully avoiding the pools of congealing blood spreading on the cracked asphalt.

Those expensive knockoff boots were a gift from Uncle Ma, most excellent chairman of Hong Kong's largest crime syndicate, the Red Dragon Triad.
Actually, the boots came from one of Uncle Ma’s trusted courtesans. Uncle Ma always left such details to the happy, chubby Indochine woman he called his number one dragon lady. She certainly had a “je ne sais quoi,” that Uncle Ma deemed acceptable and appropriate.

Truth be told, Joey hated the boots, at first. He would have preferred a Rolex or a Patek Philippe Henry Graves watch, proper gifts given his status and accomplishments to date.

Nevertheless, the humble cowboy boots, now broken in and comfortable, had grown on him and had become one of his favorite fetishes. Perhaps, in part because they represented ideals he should have hated but secretly admired; ideals that were foreign to his own worldview; concepts like independence, self-reliance, or even a free-market model of trade...

Joey rarely involved himself with street-level operations. He wasn't a common Triad foot soldier, following orders like a robot. In fact, Joey Chao wasn't a KraZy Boy at all; he was something else altogether.

Brilliant and visionary, Joey had been educated in America before the collapse and had risen through the ranks to become one of the Triad’s most trusted managers. But when the sun rose today, and he untangled himself from the busty Mexican girl that had sold herself for a meal and a pinch of poppy tar in his private crib, Joey felt an urge to get a little more dirt under his manicured fingernails.

He would be leaving America tomorrow, and Joey wanted something other than numbers and statistics to reflect on during the long voyage home.
He pushed the still hazy memories of the night's excesses to the back of his mind and focused on the task at hand.

"Check his pockets and take him to the boat," Joey told his two bodyguards in rapid-fire Cantonese.

They quickly frisked the dead boy but found nothing of interest.

"He's clean," said the bodyguard Joey had nicknamed ‘Snaggletooth.'

The other one, ‘Lazy Eye' nodded in agreement.

Sliding into the truck's cab, Joey drew a Cartier lighter and an 18-carat gold Colibri cigarette case from his Bill Blass blazer pocket. From the glittering case, he extracted a carefully rolled joint and lit up. He caught a glimpse of his burly bodyguards in the rearview mirror as they manhandled the black boy's corpse into an ice chest bolted to the truck bed.



Less than a mile away, Jax Montoya bolted upright. For a split second, he wasn't sure if he'd fallen asleep on watch or had just been daydreaming.

Was that was a human scream?

Adrenaline surging, Jax swung his binoculars toward the noise and reached for his shotgun.

Scanning left to right; he spotted a dark figure near the dockyard fence, almost a mile away. The boy lay on the ground bleeding, a blood trail streaked across the pavement behind him.

Then, a black pickup truck entered his sights. The vehicle braked beside the figure.
Jax adjusted the focus. Three impossibly well-dressed Asians stepped out and approached the victim.

"Triad," Jax muttered to himself.

The sudden realization that he'd just witnessed an execution chilled Jax to the bone. He blinked away the sweat from his eyes and refocused. The victim's banger clothes and red bandana identified him as a local street soldier, probably trying to defend his turf.

Jax's heart was racing.

What now?

Hands shaking, he grabbed his walkie-talkie and keyed the transmitter twice -- code for trouble brewing.

Thankfully, a single static click confirmed his teammates received and understood the cryptic message, despite his nervousness and revulsion.
Jax took a shallow breath. Swinging his binos in the opposite direction, he spotted Mike and the rest of the team crawling out of the destroyed mini-mart they'd just foraged. Their rucks were bulging with loot.

Rotted eye cups pressed against his face, Jax slung the binos back to the dockyard.

The dead boy was gone, and the pickup truck was driving away.

"Triad thugs just murdered a local banger," said Jax before anyone could ask him why he’d cut their scavenge session short.

"Where are they?" said Mike, AR-15 low but ready.

"Somewhere in the docks. They left in a pickup."

"So what are we waiting for? Let's get the hell out of here," said Big Jim, flinging his ruck into the truck's bed.

"Right. Let's go," said Mike, thumping the cab's hood as he and Doc jumped into the bed with their backpacks.

"Mount up newbie," said Hanna to Jax, holstering a Smith & Wesson .38 special before sliding into the cab's bench seat.

Still shaken, Jax entered the cab and buckled up. It wasn't the first time he'd seen someone killed in cold blood. Not by a long shot. That it still bothered him gave him a small measure of peace with himself. But not much.

Big Jim turned the engine on and pushed the stick into first gear. The old Ford F-250 lurched forward with a wheeze. Jax braced himself with his legs as they rumbled forth.

Through the dirty passenger window, downtown San Pedro lay in ruins, spectacular in a post-apocalyptic kind of way. What had once been the most significant commercial port in the world was now the epitome of hell on earth.
Word of mouth said it was a salvo of strategic intercontinental ballistic missiles, "shock-and-awes" from a People's Liberation Army Base in China. Those missiles had turned the port city into a wasteland. Firestorms had ravaged it for a full week.
Like so many other places, years ago.

According to Mike, the real target had been the Port of Long Beach, where the U.S. Navy had a shipyard and a weapons depot, and where South Korea based their commercial overseas shipping. But missiles and fire don't discriminate when two ports share the same deep water bay. Long Beach was obliterated, and San Pedro had been reduced to molten ruins.

"How'd it go down?" said Big Jim.

"What?"

"The killing back there. Did you see them do it?"

"No, not really," Jax replied, wanting to forget. "So what'd we score?"

"Chef Boyardee raviolis. Almost a pallet full back there. Bumble Bee Tuna. Some cans of instant coffee. Doc even found some virgin over-the-counter meds."

"Sweet."

"Yeah. We'll come back for the rest of it tomorrow."

Jax nodded but didn't mention that he wouldn't be volunteering for extreme assignments like this one. It didn't mean he wouldn't have to go on forage runs. Almost everyone had to on a rotation basis. It just meant that he wouldn't volunteer for anything, ever again.

Jax leaned back into his seat and glanced to his left. Driving the truck was Big Jim, a twenty-four-year-old stud from Texas. At six foot six, Big Jim was the tallest and strongest guy in their group. He reminded Jax of the pre-collapse, All-American type, the kind of guy you'd expect to see scoring touchdowns at TSU games on Saturday afternoons. Except Big Jim had never played football. He was a golfer.

Squeezed between Big Jim and Jax sat Hanna, their resident Lizzie Borden. She had the ax and the whacks to prove it. Other than that, the girl was a complete mystery to Jax. Hanna hadn't talked about her past very much. She had mentioned something about attending community college in Detroit.

Strapped in behind them in the truck bed's welded rear-facing bench seat sat Mike and Doc. Mike, the group leader hailed from Oklahoma.
The black guy with the Spike Lee glasses was Doc. Doc was from Chicago, had been a Navy Corpsman in his previous life. He was a long way from home, like everyone else that had managed to survive the third world war and the global pandemic that followed it.

Home was the remains of Griffith Park Observatory, a spot shared with another group of out-of-staters. It sat on the south-facing slope of Mount Hollywood. It was a good spot to shack up, well away from warring factions that lived in the Red Zone.
On a clear morning, they might see portions of the LA basin, Hollywood, perhaps even the Pacific Ocean. Clear days were rare, though; nuclear smog still dominated the skies.

Jax felt a shiver creep down his spine as he recalled murder he'd just witnessed. So casual, yet so savage. The dead victim's body taken, stuffed into a container in the pickup's bed.

The scene reminded him of a Youtube video, before the fall, of course.

It was titled "Chinese Takeout". The video was security camera footage of someone's pet German Shepherd, abducted in broad daylight from their fenced patio in Beijing. A van pulled up to the residence and two masked men approached the barking dog with pole-mounted neck restraints. In less than 30 seconds, the captured dog was pulled over the fence and deposited into the van.

Like the poor dog, the dead boy would soon become food for the masses.

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Re: Lost Angeles

Post by 91Eunozs » Sat Jan 25, 2020 11:33 pm

Great start!
Molon Latte...come & take our coffee order
Doctorr Fabulous wrote:... It's fun to play pretend, but this is the internet, and it's time to be serious.
zengunfighter wrote:... you don't want to blow a tranny in the middle of a pursuit...
woodsghost wrote:... A defensive gun without training is basically a talisman. It might ward off evil, but I wouldn't count on it.

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Re: Lost Angeles

Post by CaptainCrunch » Sun Jan 26, 2020 10:03 am

91Eunozs wrote:
Sat Jan 25, 2020 11:33 pm
Great start!
Thanks 91Eunozs!

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Re: Lost Angeles

Post by idahobob » Sun Jan 26, 2020 10:08 am

That was revolting! Keep it up! :awesome:
People who are rather more than six feet tall and nearly as broad across the shoulders often have uneventful journeys. People jump out at them from behind rocks then say things like, "Oh. Sorry. I thought you were someone else."

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Re: Lost Angeles

Post by CaptainCrunch » Sun Jan 26, 2020 6:38 pm

Chapter 2
Snaggletooth drove the pickup as they made their way to Terminal Island, where their ship, M/V Guangdong XVI bobbed like a cork in the gentle swells of the ruined harbor’s berth.

M/V meant the ship was a Motor/Merchant Vessel. Guangdong was the ship’s homeport, therefore, like a hundred ships so named before, this one bore the same monicker, except for the numerical suffix after the name. The ship was Joey's brainchild. A modified fish factory vessel, it employed a small crew of thirty-six maritime sailors and specialists. Most of the ship's sea-faring functions were automated and required little oversight or intervention. Except for routine maintenance and upkeep, the ship pretty much sailed itself.

Joey Chao sank deeper into his leather bucket seat and exhaled as Asian Fantasy curled from his nostrils, like the vapors of a slumbering dragon. The aroma was bold and pungent, reminiscent of Joey's favorite Moroccan hashish, but the high peaked softly, almost imperceptibly.
Eyes closed, the Triad boss drifted back to his childhood, where on the red soil highlands of Jiangxi Province sat an ancient village.
For centuries, Its windblown streets, dusty, unpaved, and earthen houses lay nestled together against the elements.

There was no indoor plumbing, no central heating. Their water came from a well located in the center of town.
“Dug by Chilong himself, the vicious mountain dragon that ruled the highlands and plains along the Yangtze River, from Zhejiang to the Hubei regions,” said his illiterate father, with a twinkle in his eyes.

Joey laughed until tears ran down his face as his father’s rough hands tickled his tiny ribs. Father’s bedtime stories grew more legendary with each retelling.

Village life revolved around the growing and harvesting of cotton and rapeseed and grapes, in almost perfect isolation from the rest of the known world.

Another toke; the last one, for today, he decided.

He remembered the funeral procession, somber and silent, as it made its way through the outskirts of the village to a freshly dug grave. In the ox-drawn cart lay a casket. Joey's father had suddenly died of a massive heart attack in the fields.
There were a few polite glances as they lowered the coffin, but little empathy was offered as the six-year-old boy’s tears streaked dirty trails down his cheeks.

Someone murmured, "He’s Èmó, a demon, just like his father.”

“Go to hell,” hissed an old woman, who kindly gathered the sorry boy in her boney arms. She’d been his father's companion, after the death of his mother. This special auntie took him in and sent word to his blood-uncle Jien that his brother had died and his nephew needed a place to stay.

A week later she helped Joey pack a small suitcase with a single change of clothes. She waved farewell as he stepped into a crowded bus, bound for Kowloon.

The journey took longer than expected because the dilapidated bus broke down and its replacement had taken a wrong turn at Huizhou junction.
For a week, they ate grasshoppers and grubs, roasted in campfires, drank muddy water from a nearby creek and slept in the broken bus as the howling wind blew across the barren plains. Some complained, but most of the passengers were country-folk like Joey, used to a life of hardship with few modern conveniences.

Though shy and reserved, Joey managed to make friends with the bus driver, a widow from a nearby province, who took him under her wing.
This new auntie kept him fed and warm, provided sanitary oversight and the companionship he desperately needed. A week later, the adventure was over when the rescue bus arrived.

Joey's eyes grew wide as the bus wove through the treacherous mountain pass and approached the great city of Hong Kong. Uncle Jien met Joey at the bus station near the airport. He was small in stature and had kind eyes. Jien placed an arm around the boy's skinny shoulders, and together, they walked to his new home.

Joey soon learned that his distant relative expected him to earn his keep. After school, he was pressed into service in his uncle's meat factory where he learned to butcher dog and pork in a steamy kitchen that also served as bed and board.

At night, the tiny factory transformed into an opium den where Joey catered to his uncle's customers' whims and needs. He grew up in the squalor of strip clubs and gambling halls, where he learned how to pickpockets, traffic drugs, and fight.

There were happy times though; somedays he would climb up to the roof and in the fresh air, with other children, drag discarded mattresses and box springs to jump on. Or sometimes after school, he'd sneak into a theater and watch movies. His favorites were modern-day gangster flicks.
When he turned sixteen, opportunity knocked on his door. He was recruited by a local triad, first as a collector and enforcer, where his inner dragon had been awakened, and his conscience was seared forever after a brutal act of murder.

Later, he excelled as a bookie in the gaming parlors, taking bets on sporting events and games of chance. When his new benefactor, "Uncle" Ma realized that Joey had a talent for numbers he was removed from the brutal streets of Kowloon and sent to the United States for formal education.

The truck hit a deep pothole and interrupted his thoughts. Joey swallowed another greedy toke and continued his trip down memory lane.

He recalled his college days at Berkeley where he majored in economics and worked two part-time jobs to put food on his dorm room table, while his entitled classmates threw keggers, organized raves and partied the nights away. It was there, after enduring the constant mispronunciation of his Chinese name that he adopted the monicker "Joey."

"What's your secret Joey?" they asked, oblivious in their chemical stupor.

"Hard work, you should try it," he replied.

Not entirely true.

Though he had little schooling, he possed a photographic memory and could recall the minutest detail on command. Joey excelled in his studies, and after four grueling years, he graduated Summa Cum Laude, thanks to that secret.

When he returned to China, Joey learned that the slums of his youth had been torn down and replaced by an amusement park. The Triads had changed too. With the handover of Hong Kong to mainland China, the police launched a series of large scale raids to break up the transglobal syndicates, wiping out many of their competitors.

Uncle Ma had seen the writing on the wall, and the Red Dragon Triad ran their operations in secret. They became less brazen, quietly running their rackets and morphing into semi-respectable businesses. Joey adapted to the new paradigm but never lost his feral edge. Manipulation and extortion ran deep in his veins. One-upmanship was his creed.

After the brilliant blackmailing of two pesky mainland Politburo representatives with Thai hookers, Uncle Ma promoted Joey to upper management where he became acquainted with the priveledges of rank. A generous stipend provided a luxury apartment, expensive suits, jewelry, and cars. Joey dined in Hong Kong's finest restaurants, danced and drank at the poshest discos.

Nevertheless, a lifetime habit of industrious labor drove Joey to work on a plan that would make him indispensable to Uncle Ma. In his spare time, he spent innumerable hours creating the economic models that would one day catapult the Red Dragon Triad into the most powerful international cartel on earth.

Then war broke out, and everything changed.

Joey moistened his fingers and snuffed out the joint. The day wasn't over yet. The boy's body would be dropped off at the M/V Guangdong.
There, the corpse would be cleaned, drained, and screened for diseases. Then, the vital organs would be harvested and preserved for medical transplants.

Joey had no interest in the processing of those he hunted, the thought of it made him ill. That grisly task was left to the specialists aboard the ship.
Three fresh kills today, he mused. Hunting humans was thrilling. It gave him a much-needed diversion from the mundane routine of supervising the local affiliated gangs and managing the flood of Chinese immigrants that arrived every day.

Repopulating America had been his idea too, and it had expanded the Triad’s sphere of influence exponentially.

He still needed to swing over to the captured oil refinery in El Segundo -- one of the few still operating on the west coast at the moment -- and check on production. They were up to 250,000 gallons of carb diesel and gasoline a day under Joey's accelerated schedule. While most of America was still in the dark, the refinery had its own independent power plant to ensure Joey's daily quotas were met on time. The final product, be it gas or oil would be sold on the black market to the international cartels.

They were the only ones who could afford it.

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Re: Lost Angeles

Post by CaptainCrunch » Sun Jan 26, 2020 10:12 pm

Chapter 3
Los Angeles River
"Roscoe Redmond you black-hearted sumbitch I'm gonna put a bullet in your brain and cut your head off," whispered Wade MacArthur, while trying to center the crosshairs of his Leupold scope on the outlaw biker’s bobbling head.

The occasional whine of blood-thirsty mosquitos were the only other sounds to break the veil of silence surrounding him.
He ignored the tiny vampires, certain that once they drank their fill, they’d shrivel up and die of alcohol poisoning.

It was nearly twilight, making a headshot too tricky for his aging eyes, so Wade decided to go with a center mass shot, just to be safe.

No surprise that Roscoe survived the war and its aftermath. Roscoe was a roach, and roaches die harder than most vermin. Sure, Wade might have forgiven Roscoe, ignored his lawlessness, his perverse transgressions after the SHTF. After all, Wade was no longer obligated to the ATF, or to the U.S. government. Both had ceased to exist.

But a man had to make a living somehow, and hunting men was the only skill he’d ever cultivated. Some men became first responders, others became businessmen, community leaders, lawyers, accountants, professional athletes, whatever. Wade was never cut out for those jobs. He was a hunter, a soldier, sometimes a killer, for profit. And, with all the craziness going on, business was picking up again. Settlements were turning into townships, charters were being drawn, leaders elected, and a return to the western ideals of modern society had begun.

Gangsters, though still in abundance, were slowly losing their iron grip over civilized folk. Even the Chinese Triad invasion appeared to be slowing, having been contained within the coastal regions of the Red Zone.

Yes, business was booming for men like Wade MacArthur.

Wade spat on the ground, recalling his deep-cover days with the Grim Devils. It had taken him almost a year to earn his patch-in - full membership status in the Grim Devils Motorcycle Club. Prior to being accepted as a Devil, Wade endured the torments of being a “hangaround,” then a “prospect”, beholden to the whims of every patched member in the gang and to any menial task they threw at him. From fetching drinks and lighting cigarettes to cleaning toilets and polishing other member’s bikes, Wade had humbled himself and shown respect to the criminals he pledged to destroy.

Prospecting was a probationary strategy all outlaw motorcycle gangs employed to weed out the undesirables and educate the wannabes that showed a glimmer of promise. It was also a way of keeping undercover infiltrators out.

The Devils hired a private investigator, a morally neutral ex-cop to do a background check on Wade, but the hired detective couldn’t crack his cover. The final test came in the form of a polygraph exam where Wade was interrogated for two grueling hours while surrounded by a group of sweaty Devils. Wade knew he’d be brutally tortured, then killed if he flunked the exam. He’d be cut up and dumped in the Mojave desert, food for the scavengers that happened upon him, never to be seen again. But Wade beat the polygraph, he fooled them single-handedly and earned their trust. He was patched that night and the debauchery that followed was legendary.

There were no congratulations from the Bureau though, only orders to delve deeper for evidence to shut the Grim Devils down for good.
Wade did as he was ordered, collecting, recording and disseminating the information BATF lawyers wanted. Somehow, despite his best efforts, it wasn’t enough.

Along the way, the lines between professional detachment and the human need for companionship blurred and he had made some unsavory friendships.

There were genuinely good times too. Once in, he found himself surrounded by a brotherly love and acceptance that he’d never experienced before. The Devils were tight, like a family. Weekend runs with his gangster brothers, tearing down the highway in long, precise columns, were awesome. Wade glanced at the fading horned skull tattooed on his forearm; proof of his devotion to Roscoe and to the club. The brand was required of all club members. He planned on having it removed after the takedown, but there it remained, the evil grin and eyeless sockets, staring back at him.

A breeze rustled through the vegetation along the edge of the riverbank below. Wade reckoned the wind was inconsequential at this distance. The .308 Winchester/7.62x51mm NATO round would fly true and deliver destruction as promised - Wade knew this because he made his own reloads.

Some 50 miles long, the Los Angeles River flowed from the mountains through Los Angeles County to its mouth in Long Beach. Fed by rainwater and snowmelt, it was one of the few free-flowing rivers left in Southern California. After the war, it became home to thousands of survivors who set up their shanty towns and hovels on either side of the concrete channels. Anarchy reigned in those communities, and it was a haven for homegrown criminals and gangsters. Thus, the alluvial flood plains were a good source of information, where Wade would sometimes start tracking his target.

Again, no surprise that it was also a favorite haunt of the Grim Devils Motorcycle Club, where they extorted the locals, trafficked drugs and ran book and brothels for barter. Roscoe had a knack for fouling everything around him. After tailing him and his buddies for a week, Wade finally caught him alone near the ruins of Carson.

Now Wade had him. Roscoe was dead, but he didn't know it yet. Wade kept the crosshairs on Roscoe's big beer gut as the biker squatted next to his motorcycle, a small tool bag unrolled by his boots. Roscoe's bike had broken down in the Red Zone, and he was desperately trying to fix it in the dark.

Wade squeezed the trigger. A quarter of a mile away, Roscoe collapsed as the sound of the shot reverberated against concrete. Then, he saw Roscoe crawling to cover, a blood trail behind him. The bullet had passed through his right thigh.

"Damn."

It was supposed to be a center mass shot.

Wade slung his rifle.

"Come on, Stan," he said to his dog. "Let's get this over with."

Roscoe was bleeding out but still alive when Wade crept up through the weeds growing out of the concrete.

“I knew it was you all along, asshole,” panted Roscoe, lips wet with blood and spit. He laughed briefly, then started coughing. When the fit was over, he pointed a crooked finger at Wade.

“You were never one of us, you could never be one of us. Shit birds like you...”

Wade shot him through the left eye. Roscoe’s head snapped backward and he folded like a puppet.

“And you still talk too much,” said Wade, picking up the spent cartridge.

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Re: Lost Angeles

Post by 91Eunozs » Mon Jan 27, 2020 10:27 pm

Nice... keep ‘em comin’!
Molon Latte...come & take our coffee order
Doctorr Fabulous wrote:... It's fun to play pretend, but this is the internet, and it's time to be serious.
zengunfighter wrote:... you don't want to blow a tranny in the middle of a pursuit...
woodsghost wrote:... A defensive gun without training is basically a talisman. It might ward off evil, but I wouldn't count on it.

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Re: Lost Angeles

Post by CaptainCrunch » Mon Jan 27, 2020 11:06 pm

Chapter 4
Riding in the truck bed sucked, no matter how you looked at it. You were exposed to the elements, and to every threat, real or imagined, planned for or not. The truck bed made you a target, vulnerable beyond all reasonable expectations when on safari, as their team leader, Mike often called their scheduled forage trips. And with an idiot like Big Jim behind the wheel, anything could happen to take this unpleasantness beyond all reasonable limits...

More than once today he’d pounded on the truck’s roof when that moron took a corner too fast. There was something seriously wrong with that overgrown white boy.

Nevertheless, their forage was done, it was time to head home. Doc, whose real name was Devon Hughes laid his rifle across his lap, kicked his feet up on the pile rucksacks and tried to get as comfortable as possible. Truth be told, this pick had exceeded their greatest hopes or expectations. In addition to the food they so desperately needed, Doc had uncovered a stash of over-the-counter remedies hidden beneath the rubble of a store fixture.
A dozen bottles of aspirin, assorted cold and flu medicines, antiseptic ointment, rubbing alcohol and even a small first aid kit, hermetically sealed in uncrumpled shrink wrap.

It was a miracle he’d found those precious items. It had been a long time since Doc or anyone else in their group had come across medicine or medical supplies. Apart from what he'd taken from St. Alexius Medical Center when he left Chicago, he couldn't recall replenishing his dwindling stash. Every single store, clinic, and hospital north of the Red Zone had been picked clean long ago.

Doc opened his ruck and carefully inspected the goods, one by one. Some of the meds had passed their expiration date, but they were still useful. He knew that a patient's will to live was just as crucial as the remedies he used. There was no conflict of ethics in using placebos to help someone survive a bit longer.

‘Glad you came on this one?" said Mike, half smiling.

Doc rolled his eyes.

“Sorry, Doc. I know this is hard on you, bad back and all. But I’m just grateful you were a part of this. Your expertise is priceless. We probably wouldn't have found that stuff on our own," said Mike.

"We got lucky. The meds'll make things a little easier for us,” Doc replied. He thought about their injured under his care. Of the 36 folks that made up their group, one had a broken arm, several had symptoms of the flu, and an expectant mom would be giving birth any day now.

"So who's the new kid?" Doc asked, changing the subject.

"Who, Jax? He's from New York. We ran into him last week on the mid-town forage. Said he was new to these parts and wasn't attached to a group. Seemed like a good kid, so I offered him a place with us."

"That so."

Mike laughed inwardly. He'd seen that look before, and it was Doc's alone.

"Actually, It was almost a stand-off. He was there before us, at the market, so by all rights, the store was his. But instead of challenging us, he backed off and offered to share the pick."

Doc said nothing but his silence demanded more information.

"Trust me, he isn't a drifter; there's no guile in him."

"So what can he do?"

"He says he can hunt. Knows how to process game. Said he ran across some wild boar in the hills not too far from us."

"You believe him?"

Mike shrugged. "If he's telling the truth, we can use his help to expand our foraging into the wilderness, away from the Zone. Maybe bag some game for a change. He was a chef before, so maybe he can help make our meals a little more palatable. The way I see it, if he doesn't live up to expectations, we part ways, and nobody gets hurt."

"OK." Doc returned to sorting his meds, ending their brief conversation.

Mike stared at the ruins all around them. Jax reminded him of his younger brother Ray, who had died of pneumonia last year. Gone too, were his father Lloyd, his mother and Ray's wife, Naomi. Of his family, only his wife Laura and his two kids remained alive.

"Did you say something, Doc?" Mike asked, snapping back into the present.

"I said I think we're lost. I don't recognize any of these landmarks."

Mike silently cursed for allowing himself to drift.

Doc was right. The sun had set, and they were still in the Red Zone. Getting into post-mortem San Pedro had been relatively easy. Earlier today they'd penetrated the city using residential side streets; the freeways and avenues were impassable, clogged with abandoned vehicles and rubble. It had been painfully slow going at times, but they'd arrived in downtown San Pedro by noon. That gave them several hours to forage before they had to call it quits and head back home.

But getting out of the city was becoming more of a problem than getting in.

Mike turned and rapped on the rear window.

"We lost Jimbo? This is the third time we've passed through here," Jax said, catching Mike's stern expression in the rearview mirror.

Hanna was snoring softly on his shoulder. She had fallen asleep an hour ago, and Jax didn't want to wake her.

"Jim?"

He waited for a reply, but Big Jim didn't answer. He was too busy grinding gears and trying to pick his way through the charred remains of a multi-car pile up.

"Dude, what’s up?"

"What Jax? Can't you see I'm busy?"

"Yeah, I can see that."

"So what do you want?"

"Just wanna get out of here alive."

"What do you think I'm trying to do?"

The weird pitch in his voice made him sound like a whiney kid. For a moment, Jax regretted putting Jimbo on the spot. He was OK, and Jax rather liked him. At least most of the time. Right now, though, Jax was pissed at him for being such a tool.

Hanna stirred from her slumber and blinked.

"What the hell?" she said, taking a hard look through the windshield.

"That's what I said," Jax replied.

Hanna was looking a shade paler than usual. She shook her head and started muttering obscenities.

Lloyd knocked on the glass again and pointed to the glovebox.

Jax understood and nodded.

The map lay under Big Jim's heavy .50 caliber Desert Eagle pistol. The hand cannon had no ammo left in its clip. Jax pushed the brushed chrome paperweight aside. He unfolded the hand-drawn map and tried to make sense of it. Big Jim's frustration was understandable. Some of the scribbles on the map were impossible to read. The problem was that most of the street signs there had been torn down or in some cases, switched. Locals had done that to keep foragers off their turf.

"Somehow we got turned around," Jax said, "We're heading east, we should be heading north."

Big Jim suddenly stomped on the gas pedal and turned the steering wheel hard left. In the process, he sideswiped a rusting Mercedes Benz in the middle of the street. They bounced off the car's front quarter in a shower of sparks. The Mercedes skidded sideways across the pavement with a groan. The maneuver slammed Jax against the door and almost tossed Hanna on his lap. Big Jim hit the brakes and screeched to a stop.

"DAMN YOU!" Hanna shouted.

Jax caught a glimpse of a boney drifter behind them in the rearview mirror. According to common knowledge, drifters and baskets were the mentally impaired. Left to fend for themselves after the collapse, they wandered the streets like ghosts, abandoned and alone.

"He came out of nowhere," Big Jim said.

Mike and Doc jumped out of the truck bed and walked to the cab.

Big Jim's expression turned into a scowl. "Uh-oh," he said.

"Uh-oh what?" snapped Hanna.

"We're overheating."

Jax, Hanna and Big Jim dismounted and joined Doc and Mike around the steaming hood.

Hanna was cursing like a sailor. "Just call home and have them send another truck," she said, switching one of their walkie talkies on.

"Really Hanna, call home with a walkie talkie? Are you really that stupid?" said Big Jim.

"Shut up Jumbo; this is all your fault!" Hanna spat, "Damn corn-fed pig farmer."

"Skank Detroit crackwhore."

"Cut the crap," Mike said, fanning the steam away as he looked under the hood. The rusty old truck was held together with cannibalized parts and duct tape.

"Radiator's shot."

"Can you fix it?" asked Doc. He leaned over the engine compartment for a better look.

Mike shook his head and wiped his hands on his blue jeans. "We're walking out of here."

F-bombs exploded all around.

"OK, enough already. Make sure your weapons are loaded. Keep your eyes open and don't shoot anything unless I give the order. If we run into a gang, retreat in the opposite direction, quietly." Mike continued, "Pay attention to your surroundings. Keep your wits sharp and don't let your mind wander. Stay in the middle of the street as much as possible and don't let yourselves get cut off or trapped".

Mike's gaze settled on Jax's eyes. "From now on, no more talking -- hand signals only."

Jax's ruck felt like it weighed a ton with all those ravioli cans shifting around inside. He hoisted it on his back, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. "Sometimes, when things are spiraling out of control, the best thing to do is relax for a minute and get your head in the game," his dad used to say.

Dad coached little league baseball, loved the sport passionately. Jax, an adequate shortstop, and team strikeout king loved it not so much.

"I'll take point, Jax you take the rear. Rest of you sort yourselves. Lets move," Mike said.

There was a sliver of moonlight to guide them through the labyrinth of burned up buildings and cars. Jax glanced back at the truck.

Things just got a lot more complicated.

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Re: Lost Angeles

Post by Lettuce Pray » Tue Jan 28, 2020 8:38 pm

Dude, this is really good. Your characters are both believable and interesting. I can't wait to see what's next.

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Re: Lost Angeles

Post by CaptainCrunch » Tue Jan 28, 2020 11:50 pm

Lettuce Pray wrote:
Tue Jan 28, 2020 8:38 pm
Dude, this is really good. Your characters are both believable and interesting. I can't wait to see what's next.
Thanks very much, Lettuce Pray!

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Re: Lost Angeles

Post by CaptainCrunch » Wed Jan 29, 2020 12:06 am

Chapter 5
Running parallel to the headlands that had once been Rancho Palos Verdes, Joey Chao and his bodyguard Snaggletooth braced themselves against the speed boat's console as they crashed through choppy waters. The sea spray was cold but invigorating as twin Mercury outboards churned a roostertail behind them.

El Segundo Refinery and its oil field lay 22 miles northwest of Terminal island. The easiest route from there was by boat, not car. What might take an entire day overland through the rubble of Torrance only took 45 minutes by sea in the Guandong’s Zodiac skiff.
Joey ignored the icy needles assaulting his exposed face as they rode the swells. A black oilskin duster kept his tailored business suit dry and immaculate underneath.

On a sudden whim, Joey’s gloved hand thrust the throttles forward to the stops, unleashing the full fury of the outboards and causing Snaggletooth to stumble backward. Joey laughed but quickly grabbed the man’s jacket and steadied the seasick bodyguard.
Poor Snaggletooth looked like a drowned rat. Enough torture for one night, Joey decided, as he decelerated back to cruising speed for a smoother ride.

“You OK?” said Joey.

Snaggletooth nodded, trying not to heave.

Funny, how such a big, powerful brute could be reduced to a whimpering child by a little motion sickness. “Don’t you dare throw up in my boat,” warned Joey.

The huge man fixed his eyes on the shoreline and swallowed his vomit.

It was a stroke of luck that the refinery hadn't been damaged by missile strikes or the raging firestorms that followed. Just to the north, Los Angeles International Airport had been targeted and obliterated. Like the port of Long Beach, the airport and its neighborhood had been turned into eighty square-miles of toxic wasteland.

It was pure luck that Joey discovered the refinery, abandoned, but intact, amidst the rubble. A year ago, he spotted the distillation towers in the distance. Curiosity piqued, Joey assembled an incursion team made up of the ship's engineers and a small army of KraZy Boyz for security.
They inspected the refinery complex, and it's adjacent oil field and declared it repairable. Most of the damage there was sustained during the EMP blast.

But luck had nothing to do with the plans he envisioned for it. Joey sent a detailed report by freighter to Uncle Ma with a request for the experts, replacement parts, and labor to operate the derelict plant. A month after that, the first group of specialists and their families arrived from China, along with new transformers and assorted electrical equipment. Six months later, El Segundo Refinery was slowly ramping up production, and the Red Dragon Triad was in the oil business.

Joey throttled the motors back to a purr and swung the boat's wheel inland as they approached a small pier on the beach. One of the refinery's cars, a well-maintained Mercedes Benz idled quietly in anticipation of his arrival.

"Wait here, I'll be back in a little while," Joey told Snaggletooth.

As he watched the Mercedes disappear into the rolling hills, Snaggletooth shot Joey the middle finger, behind his back.

At the distillery, Joey was followed by an entourage of twenty staff engineers and maintenance managers as he inspected the network of pipelines and towers on his way to the executive office building. It was standing room only in the small conference room where Joey took the podium. The room was decorated and furnished with food and wine. Joey cleared his throat.

"As you know, I'm going home tomorrow, and this will be the last time I'll address you in person. I have an announcement to make, but before I do, I'd like to thank Planning and Strategies Manager Cao Dejiang and Director of Operations Yu Chen for their tireless efforts in realizing this grand vision we all share," he said in Cantonese.

There came a smattering of polite applause as he waited for their reaction.

"Second, I congratulate all of you for doing your part in making this plant operational again. Because of your efforts, we have electricity, steam, and water treatment facilities. Your dedication and commitment as managers have not gone unnoticed. I commend you for that and charge you to strive to exceed the standards set before you."

A little more applause followed, less enthusiastic this time.

"As of today, we have refined nearly two million barrels of crude oil. Next week, the first supertanker from Pengerang is scheduled to arrive in the Port of Los Angeles to pick up its first load of diesel and gasoline. Thanks to you."

Joey initiated the next round of applause. This time they showed a proper amount of enthusiasm, at least for a bunch of morons, he thought.

"That's not all. As my way of saying thanks, each of you will receive an extra ration of food and drink for the next two weeks. A container ship is offloading it's cargo in San Pedro as we speak. I have it on good authority that Director Ma has spared no expense to provide the finest delicacies and spirits from the mainland."

Joey smiled like a benevolent crocodile as tepid applause withered on the vine.

Truth be told, he despised these immigrant mainlanders almost as much as he hated giving speeches. Most of these hirelings were ignorant communists. Like common beasts, they had to be beaten and cajoled regularly to make them perform. Fear was the language they understood best.
Just a week ago he'd culled the herd, made examples of a dozen drones whose efforts were subpar. The slackers were rounded up and taken away, never to be seen by their workmates again. Only Joey and a few of the crew on the M/V Guangdong knew where they ended up; in the eggrolls and canapés, stacked high on plastic platters in one corner of the stuffy room.

"Enjoy the feast everyone," Joey said, stepping away from the podium quickly to shake a few hands before his getaway.
***
They walked at a brisk pace, keeping clear of the debris on the street, looking for movement in the surrounding shadows. Jax turned and checked six every ten paces, as Mike had taught him.

Being tail-end Charlie was a sign of trust. As the newest member of Mike's group, Jax was grateful for the opportunity to prove himself worthy. Still, it sucked to be the caboose at the end of the train. As the last man, he was easy pickings, should the shit hit the fan. And this was just the start of their journey out of the hellhole they called “The Zone.”

Ten minutes later, Mike paused at an intersection for a quick compass reading. He signaled left, and they turned north. Yet another strip mall, storefronts smashed and burned. Abandoned cars, their doors ripped off, tires long gone. At the intersection, the shell of a metro bus, pockmarked with bullet holes and blackened by fire lay tipped on its side. A Sheriff's Department cruiser with shattered windows and no wheels sat on concrete blocks.

Mike suddenly stopped and motioned for everyone to drop. Per protocol, everyone took a knee, rifles pointing outward, forming a loose, defensive phalanx.

Mike charged his M-16 as he ran back to them in a crouch. "Dogs," he said.

Safeties clicked off. Jax reckoned he had enough ammo for one reload.

"Wild dogs are just as dangerous as gangbangers. Maybe more so. Dogs eat everything they come across, even the putrid dead. If their bites don't take you out, their diseased slobber will infect and kill you," Doc whispered to the rest of them.

“Shit. Just like Komodo Dragons. And on top of that it’s so damn dark tonight,” said Jax to himself.

Soon, they heard claws clattering on the pavement. The dogs were panting and growling. It was nerve-racking not being able to see them as they drew closer. Jax swore he could hear his heart pounding.

A moment later the pack appeared at the intersection a block away. He counted eight of them.

"Turn, you stinking mutts," mumbled Hanna.

But they didn't.

Half a block away they stopped and started sniffing the ground. Jax knew they had picked up the team's scent. The Alpha lifted his head and stared in his direction, muzzle drooling, eyes flashing in the dark.

"Light 'em up," said Mike.

A dozen shots reverberated off the derelict buildings. The air smelled like gunpowder.

Most of the dogs were dead. Two had managed to scamper away and vanish into the darkness. Doc shined his flashlight on their remains, a scattered bloody heap on the sidewalk.

"Damn it, Doc, turn the light off!" whispered Mike, covering his eyes to preserve his night vision.

"Sorry."

The din in his ears faded. Jax focused on the spot where the beam of light had been and heard one of the dogs whimpering. Big Jim pulled a crowbar from his ruck and finished the job with ruthless efficiency.

He caught Jax’s wide-eyed stare.

Big Jim shrugged. “Wild or not, I hate it when animals suffer.”

"Let's move before we draw more attention to ourselves," Mike said.

Everyone picked up their spent brass, to be reloaded later. No words were spoken as they resumed formation and walked away at a fast pace. Jax was sure they had awakened the entire block.

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Re: Lost Angeles

Post by idahobob » Wed Jan 29, 2020 8:49 am

You are feeding the MOAR monster just fine! :awesome:
People who are rather more than six feet tall and nearly as broad across the shoulders often have uneventful journeys. People jump out at them from behind rocks then say things like, "Oh. Sorry. I thought you were someone else."

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Re: Lost Angeles

Post by 91Eunozs » Wed Jan 29, 2020 8:29 pm

Thanks for the Moar!

Will be interesting to get some more back story on how they all wound up together...and will be very interesting to see how our merry band fares when/if they meet Joey and company.
Molon Latte...come & take our coffee order
Doctorr Fabulous wrote:... It's fun to play pretend, but this is the internet, and it's time to be serious.
zengunfighter wrote:... you don't want to blow a tranny in the middle of a pursuit...
woodsghost wrote:... A defensive gun without training is basically a talisman. It might ward off evil, but I wouldn't count on it.

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Re: Lost Angeles

Post by Catshooter » Thu Jan 30, 2020 12:21 am

I like it. Clean, smooth & easy to read.

One thing I did notice is that agent swallowing the barrel of her service revolver. Nope. There's probably some tiny Podunk town (like the one I live in) somewhere that a still uses a sixgun, but no Fed has been issued one in a long, long time.

Please keep going, I need MOAR!


Cat

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Re: Lost Angeles

Post by CaptainCrunch » Thu Jan 30, 2020 1:29 am

idahobob wrote:
Wed Jan 29, 2020 8:49 am
You are feeding the MOAR monster just fine! :awesome:
Thank you, sir!

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Re: Lost Angeles

Post by CaptainCrunch » Thu Jan 30, 2020 1:31 am

91Eunozs wrote:
Wed Jan 29, 2020 8:29 pm
Thanks for the Moar!

Will be interesting to get some more back story on how they all wound up together...and will be very interesting to see how our merry band fares when/if they meet Joey and company.
Thanks and yes, there will be BLOOD!

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Re: Lost Angeles

Post by CaptainCrunch » Thu Jan 30, 2020 1:57 am

Catshooter wrote:
Thu Jan 30, 2020 12:21 am
I like it. Clean, smooth & easy to read.

One thing I did notice is that agent swallowing the barrel of her service revolver. Nope. There's probably some tiny Podunk town (like the one I live in) somewhere that a still uses a sixgun, but no Fed has been issued one in a long, long time.

Please keep going, I need MOAR!


Cat
Thank you, Cat. If you want Moar, I'll be happy to comply.

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Re: Lost Angeles

Post by Johan » Thu Jan 30, 2020 9:25 am

Thank you!!
I like this story...

Pleas keep the MOOAAAR comming!!!
Firepower...
-Is One Bullet that Hits!

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Re: Lost Angeles

Post by CaptainCrunch » Thu Jan 30, 2020 10:00 pm

Johan wrote:
Thu Jan 30, 2020 9:25 am
Thank you!!
I like this story...

Pleas keep the MOOAAAR comming!!!
Thanks Johan!

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Re: Lost Angeles

Post by CaptainCrunch » Thu Jan 30, 2020 10:23 pm

Chapter 6
"The boilers need maintenance, comrade," said M/V Guangdong's captain, Zhu Peng in Mandarin. He tucked a worn clipboard under his armpit and turned to face Joey, who leaned through the overhead hatch, a tense furrow forming on his suntanned forehead.

"How long will it take?" shouted Joey in Cantonese, just to spite him.

The ship’s captain understood Joey’s dialect and the elitist insult behind it. Peng shrugged indifferently. The ancient, ethnic feud between Chinese northerners and southerners often simmered beneath the surface when they attempted to parlay. Mandarin was the language of the communist mainlanders and Cantonese the tongue of the upwardly mobile Hong Kong islanders.

"A day, perhaps two, at the very least,” Peng finally answered, after Joey’s face turned to the appropriate shade of rage.

Joey's fingers were drumming against the hatch, but his tone remained measured. "Captain, I'm sure you are aware that I have a schedule to keep."

Captain Peng slowly pulled a pack of Haomao's from his coverall pocket and shook it. Extracting a cigarette, he lit up, unimpressed by Joey's icy glare. A puff of acrid smoke from the side of his thin lips swirled in the hot compartment. The smell reminded Joey of an old suitcase that had just been opened after decades in the attic.

"As do I comrade Chao. If we neglect preventative maintenance, the Guangdong may be further delayed from reaching her homeport."

‘Comrade,' Joey thought. The old dinosaur was a hardline Maoist, clinging to an antiquated ideology that had died years ago. It was communist hardliners like Peng and his cronies that started World War III and plunged civilization into the stone age. Because of Peng, China's major cities were polluted wastelands, and Joey's beloved Hong Kong, once verdant was now a radioactive landfill.

Peng was unrepentant. That was what Joey most hated about him.

The captain's withered face remained stoic. Only his eyes shifted slightly, showing no trace of interest in Joey's concerns.

Three men, the boiler gang, stared up at Joey. Their seasoned faces were hard and insolent. Coveralls stripped to the waist and tied off, their massive shoulders glistening with sweat.

Old China.

"I want this ship underway in twenty-four hours Captain Peng. You can finish up whatever's left to do when we're at sea."

"Patience comrade. One who is burning with impatience will never eat hot porridge," said Captain Peng, the ghost of a smirk on his nicotined lips.

The boiler gang laughed. It took a fair amount of Joey's self-control to keep himself from shooting the proverb-quoting bastard and his henchmen, but he knew better than to argue with the ship's master. The old man had once been a decorated officer in the People's Liberation Navy. Uncle Ma himself had picked him to command this vessel.

The ship's captain turned away without adding anything else and resumed his discussion with the boiler gang.

"Let me know when we are ready to make way," Joey shouted in vain.

He slammed the hatch shut before the captain could reply and turned to his cowering bodyguard, Snaggletooth.

"Tomorrow we hunt. Be ready at sunrise."

"Yes, boss," he stuttered.
***
Captain Peng had no intention of replying to Joey’s outburst. Instead, he returned to his Dou Di Zhu' Struggle Against the Landlord' card game with two of his members of the boiler gang. The third crewman waited anxiously for his turn in the round-robin.

After a high-risk bid in the Bridge-style game, Peng won the Landlord spot while his boiler snipes competed against him as the workers.
With two Jokers in his hand, Peng was about to drop a Nuke on the other players when Joey Chao had interrupted them. He decided then and there to take his time with the ship's maintenance schedule, just to needle Joey Chao, who at the smallest inconvenience would explode like a fumbled hand grenade.

Most satisfying to torture him to the point of aggravation.

Lately, Peng had become an expert at pushing Joey's buttons. He hated the entitled Hong Konger, with his Western ways and his myriad perversions. Glorified Triad scum like Joey were nothing more than criminals, worthy only of long sentences in a Laogai labor camp.

Yes, a re-education camp, the likes of which the state had once imprisoned thousands of Falun Gong-practicing deviants like Joey Chao, subjecting them to starvation, psychiatric abuse, torture, and other corrective methods of thought reform. The notion of Joey toiling behind razorwire from sunrise to sunset, then enduring two hours of ideological indoctrination until he was broken in body and mind gave Peng a warm feeling in his gut.

"The Landlord wins again," said Peng, throwing his Jacks on the table. His companions groaned and stacked two more cigarettes on Peng's growing pile.

Peng collected his winnings and announced it was time for him to turn in for his usual four hours of sleep.

After a cool shower and a slug of whiskey in his stateroom, he stared at a photo hanging by his bedside. His handsome son, Xi, a navy fighter pilot, had been killed in the Battle Taiwan Strait at the start of WWIII. The picture had been taken while on duty aboard the aircraft carrier Liaoning.

A hero sacrificed in battle like so many others.

Peng had imagined him dueling in the skies over Taiwan when fate had claimed him. He later learned that in the midst of the frenzy, the People's Aircraft Carrier Liaoning was obliterated when it was struck by American torpedoes and cruise missiles before even launching its first aircraft.
Peng had fought in that battle as well, on a different ship, as part of the Peoples Liberation Navy amphibious forces assaulting Taiwan. As commanding officer of a Yuting III-class landing vessel, Peng had witnessed the bloody invasion of the island with his own eyes from the bridge of his ship, "Dongting Shan."

The reason for the invasion: Taiwan had broken Beijing's 2005 "Anti-Secession Law," which stated that China would use military force if Taiwan declared independence. The Chinese Communist Party insisted that reunification with the mainland would be achieved at all costs. After two months of civil unrest, Taiwan's newly elected president announced their unilateral independence from the mainland. The civil war that started in 1927 between the Communist Party of China and the Nationalist government of Taiwan would finally come to a bloody end.

Standing on the crowded bridge of the Dongting Shan, Peng adjusted his steel helmet and slightly loosened the straps of his life preserver. They'd been at battle stations for two days, and the extra weight left him fatigued. Peng's landing craft was part of a massive armada of People’s Liberation Army/Navy (PLAN) ships and merchant marine vessels carrying the invasion troops and their supplies. Despite having little sleep over the past 48 hours, Dongting Shan's crew was excited and anxious for a fight. Peng's intelligence officer remarked that at last, they would see combat, the cure for the malaise Chinese military strategists called "peace disease."

The intelligence officer was also the ship’s designated political officer, a pariah even to the most dedicated goose-stepping Maoist hardliner afloat.
Peng ignored him but wondered if the cavalier officer’s hot crush for violence would remain when enemy fire shredded the ship’s complement like pork in a pressure cooker.

The slugfest began at midnight as the PLAN fleet steamed through the shallow straits of Taiwan. Brilliant flashes bloomed into orange fireballs in the distant darkness. Cheers erupted as the officers and enlisted men of the Dongting Shan celebrated the start of the invasion.

Except for Captain Peng, who’d seen enough death and destruction in the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War, to find any kind of joy or frivolity in killing people.

The beach landing unfolded as planned. Peng’s ship picked her way through natural and man-made barriers above and below the waterline. Meanwhile, situation reports (sitreps) from other invasion units poured in from every available data link, from secured comms to semaphore. Peng learned that a massive missile attack by the 2nd artillery corps and bomb runs by J-15 land-based fighter bombers were carried out against Taiwan's early-warning radars, missile sites, naval bases, and airstrips.

Two hours later, Chiashan Air Base, on the island's eastern coast had been flattened; its runways pockmarked and out of commission. A thousand paratroopers floated down like snowflakes from Y-20 heavy airlift transports into the heart of enemy territory. At the same time, twenty helicopters hovered over troop barracks, despite withering fire as a special forces squadron fast roped to the ground.

Simultaneously, China's military cyber warfare specialists from unit 61398 targeted base communications systems, computers, and satellites. They seized control of their computer networks and planted viruses designed to jam communications and destroy military software.

At 0:530, after six hours of murderous combat, Peng's ship, one of forty in the first assault wave was ordered to move in.

Two of their sister landing craft were sunk by enemy submarines. Sailors and Marines lucky enough to survive the explosions and abandon ship were themselves abandoned by their strike force comrades. There would be no rescue for them in the choppy waters, they were consigned to the deadly riptides and hungry sharks. Countless other merchant ships struck mines that had been hastily sown off the coast.

Captain Peng managed to slip by them and began offloading his 250 Marines and their supporting tanks onto the mudflats, his ship's twin Type 76 naval guns chattering deadly cover fire.

The resistance was stiffer than expected. Somehow, the Taiwanese Air Force managed to get several squadrons of F-16 fighters and AH-64E attack helicopters airborne, flown by well-trained pilots and equipped with land-attack and anti-ship cruise missiles. Two divisions of American made M60A3 tanks converged on the beachheads, firing high explosive rounds into the Chinese troopships at the pier, killing scores of men waiting to disembark. The morning skies were smudged with crisscrossing missile contrails and ribbons of smoke from falling aircraft.

Taiwan's tiny but modern Navy had four American Kidd-class destroyers, a handful of frigates and a dozen or so missile patrol boats. Most were sunk in the first hour of the battle but not before unleashing deadly salvos against China's amphibious fleet. Casualties on both sides began mounting.

Peng’s ship, Dongting Shan was hit by artillery rounds aft, killing several crew members and injuring two. Damage control reported steering had been knocked out and only one screw was functional. Moments later, an air-launched cruise missile hit them amidships, killing nearly a quarter of the Chinese Marines.

Peng recalled the tremendous explosion, then a wave of intense heat and the crunch of folding metal. The ship lurched violently, invisible forces tossing him high into the air and slamming him against the bulkhead. Staggering to his knees he felt the deck wet and sticky with warm blood.
A sailor opened a hatch and was driven backward by a raging fire amidst pitiful cries and screams. Shrapnel and machine-gun fire clattered against the bridge, shattering the windows as black smoke poured in from other burning vessels on the beach.

Flames shot skyward from the forward hold. The remaining Marines in the troop compartment were trapped in the furnace, roasted alive like street-food on a Saturday evening stroll.

The last thing he remembered that night were strong arms lifting him up off the sizzling deck, dragging him out of the burning bridge. Recovering on hospital ship 833 ‘Nankang,' he overheard an orderly say that Beijing had launched cyber strikes against U.S. and NATO command and control centers around the world.

Peng knew the implications of those words. If the orderly's news was accurate, it meant the invasion of Taiwan had become the opening battle of World War Three.

The wheeze and rattle of Guangdong's steam turbines spared him from further torture. Peng awoke at zero-dark, heart racing, shrouded under bedsheets, damp and sticky with sweat. He settled down and lay still on his rack, stared at the blackness surrounding him. Peng knew those bad dreams and unwanted memories would never stop haunting him in this life, and perhaps continue to do so in the next.

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