Authors: William W. Johnstone
Tags: #Science Fiction
“Yes, we certainly did. So that’s what they were fleeing from. Well, that’s one mystery solved.” He looked at the doctor. “But won’t the same thing happen here should thousands try to flood your city?”
“No, General. We won’t permit it. We’ve reached maximum capacity. It’s a terrible thing to say, but some of us have to survive to rebuild. We’ve already sent out hundreds to the smaller towns to start over, and so far, it’s working to a satisfactory degree.”
“I know the feeling, Doctor. Believe me, I do. It’s hard to turn people away.”
“But sometimes necessary.”
“Very much so.”
The citizens of Marrakech had not allowed their city to turn into a slum or be looted by vandals and thugs. In the face of everything that had happened, they had maintained order and their dignity and pride. That had helped pull them through the years of bad times.
In every space available, someone was growing a garden. On the outskirts of the city, chickens were being raised in huge numbers. The people of Marrakech were not going to be defeated; they were going to pull out of the ashes of war and prosper.
The airport stayed busy around the clock, huge cargo planes bringing in supplies for the once-beleaguered city. The railroad leading to the city was useless, for vandals had destroyed miles of track, rendering it inoperable.
“How about Essaouira?” Ben asked the colonel. “I’ve not yet sent my Scouts over there.”
“Forget it,” the colonel was blunt. “It’s been looted and sacked so many times it’s only a hulk of what it used to be. Pirates used it for a time, but even they finally abandoned it and moved on, some of them moving on down the coast to Agadir. South from there …” He shook his head. “…1 don’t know. We lost radio contact with the Canary Islands a long time ago. I don’t know what is happening there. Probably pirates have taken over the islands. That would be my guess. But… who knows for sure. Allah, alone.”
“Then I guess Agadir is next on our list of scenic places to visit,” Ben said with a smile.
“You’ll have a fight on your hands there, General.”
“It helps to break the monotony, Colonel.”
The Rebels took a secondary road from Marrakech over to Agadir and were met by Scouts miles from the city.
“We’ve got a fight coming, General. Pirates occupy the city, and I have never seen a scummier bunch anywhere.”
“How are they armed?”
“Light weapons, mostly. We didn’t see any heavy stuff.”
“Women, mostly. Only a few kids. The women are, well, where I was raised we used to call them road whores.”
Ben smiled. “I get the picture. Well, I suppose we’d better get busy. We came here to take out the garbage, so let’s do it.”
“Take out the garbage,” Paula repeated, walking up with Dr. Chase. “What an insensitive phrase to use when one is about to wage war against another human be-ing.”
Jersey, who had been eating a candy bar, looked at the woman, wrapped up her candy bar and stuck it in her pocket, belched, and walked off.
Ben turned his head to hide his quick grin. Jersey did not much care for Paula Preston. She was fond of referring to her as “That whiny liberal bitch.”
“That young lady does not like me,” Paula said. “And I cannot imagine why.”
“You’re a politically correct liberal,” Ben informed her. “That’s why.”
“I certainly am,” she replied indignantly. “And there is something the matter with that?”
“Paula, this is neither the time nor the place to discuss it. I am about to start an assault on that town.”
“Aren’t you going to ask them to surrender?”
Ben sighed. “No, Paula. I was not planning on asking them to surrender.”
“Well!” she huffed up. “I think …”
“Lamar, would you please take this woman to the rear
of the column?” Ben had lost his patience. “We are about to move in and if those pirates in the town have mortars, it’s going to get very dangerous up here.”
“Of course, Ben.” Lamar took Paula’s arm and gendy but firmly led her away.
“That woman is a fruitcake,” Beth muttered.
“Yeah, boss,” Cooper said. “How come we always get stuck with the yoyos?”
Ben smiled, his quick burst of temper fading as rapidly as it came. “I suppose the best answer to that is the one the prostitute gave when a customer asked her how she ever got in the business.” Ben chuckled. “Just lucky, I guess.”
The pirates had no stomach for a fight against professionals. Before the Rebels could even move into position, die pirates were scrambling for their boats and attempting to head out to sea.
They didn’t get very far.
Rebel helicopter gunships had been hovering just out of sight and sound of the small city. When die pirate ships were just out of the harbor, the pirates thinking they had gotten clear, the gunships swooped in, low and fast and deadly, machine-gun and cannon and rocket fire rocking and rolling. The harbor became a watery grave for the pirates, who learned a hard lesson about the Rebels diat day: They gave no quarter and asked for none. War was not a game to them … it was a profession.
“Send teams out to scutde those boats still floating,” Ben ordered. “Clear die harbor. We’re going to need it.”
“We’ve got a few prisoners,” Corrie said, after acknowledging Ben’s orders and transmitting them.
“Bring the officers to me.”
The pirates, Ben surmised, had spent their youth watching too many old pirate movies; they obviously envisioned themselves as real swashbucklers: Earrings in both ears, bandannas around their heads, tattoos on every available patch of skin.
“They all speak English,” Jersey informed him.
Ben looked at the pirates and then laughed at them. “Which one of you is Tyrone Power and who is Errol Flynn?” he asked.
The four men scowled at him.
Beth came in and laid a piece of paper on the table Ben was using for a desk. Ben read it, his expression changing into a deep frown. He glanced up at the men. “Which one of you gave the orders to slaughter the civilians before you tried to sail out?”
The pirates all grinned. One hawked up phlegm and spat on the floor.
Ben nonchalantly lifted a pistol from his desk and shot the spitter in the knee. The pirate hit the floor, howling in pain, both hands holding onto his bloody and ruined knee.
The others started jabbering in a mixture of languages, all pointing at the other.
“It’s a slaughterhouse in town, boss,” Cooper said, stepping into the room. He gave no more than a cursory glance at the man screaming on the floor. “These bastards killed all the old people. Shot them, hanged them, and killed them in other ways too disgusting to mention.”
“Only a few kids in town, boss. Some of the older people left alive said most of the kids were seized along with the young women several months ago and sold.”
“Any idea where?”
Cooper shook his head.
Paula stepped onto the porch of the home. She heard
the squalling and rushed into the house. She pulled up short at the sight of the man writhing in pain on the floor. “My God!” she blurted. “What’s happened here?”
“I shot him,” Ben told her. “And I’m about to hang these others. What do you want, Paula?”
“You’re going to hang them?”
“Yes. You want to watch?”
“You’re not serious!”
Jersey laughed at her.
Paula’s eyes narrowed in anger. “You can’t just hang these men, Ben. Not without a trial.”
“You wanna bet?”
Ben thought Paula would barf all over her combat boots when he hanged the pirates, including the man with the busted knee.
“Eased his pain,” Ben said, looking at the pirate swinging from a makeshift gallows. “All right, let’s prowl the town and see what we have.”
The elderly had been shot and hanged and burned alive and tortured to death and killed in every manner a criminal degenerate mind could dream up … for sport, their bodies left to rot under the sun. The stench was overpowering.
“Get the troops into protective gear and clear these bodies from the streets,” Ben ordered. “Before Dr. Chase starts jumping up and down and screaming.”
“I do not jump up and down, Raines,” Lamar said, walking up behind Ben and team. “However, I might raise my voice from time to time.”
“Where is Paula Pureheart?” Ben asked.
Chase sighed, feigning great patience. “The lady had a very gentle upbringing, Raines. She is just not accustomed to your crudeness and vulgarity.”
“Yeah, Lamar. Right. Her ancestors came over on the Mayflower and all that.”
“That is probably true, Raines.”
“Mine were here first,” Jersey said with a smile. She put one hand on her hip and with great British affectation, said, “I’m quite the lay-dy.”
Chase could not hide his grin. He shook his head and said, “What a bunch of characters. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do. Good-bye.”
Lamar gone to oversee the setting up of his MASH units, Ben said, “Okay. Let’s find me a temporary CP. Down by the port area. We’re going to have ships coming in shortly with supplies and more water trucks. Not long after we leave here, we’re going to have one hell of a long, dry pull ahead of us.”
Agadir had once boasted a population of over a hundred thousand. Now there were approximately five thousand people left in the city, mostly older women.
“Any able-bodied man was taken and sold,” Rebel intelligence told Ben.
“And no idea where?”
“What about the Canary Islands. Anything firm yet?”
“Not really. We know it was a haven for pirates for a time. Then for some reasonas yet unknown-the pirates left the islands. They didn’t leave much behind them.”
“No communications at all from the islands?”
“Nothing. Not a peep. Flyovers show many of the cities and towns on the islands have been destroyed by fires. We don’t know if they were deliberate or accidental.”
“But the flyovers can detect nothing that would pose a threat to us.”
“That’s correct, sir.”
“Very well. Thank you.” The briefing over, Anna asked, “We going to visit those islands, General Ben?”
“Not this time, Anna. We don’t need them for any base, and if they don’t pose any threat there is no point in going.”
“No people over there?” she asked.
“Heatseekers show very few of them.”
“So where do we head next?”
There are lots of towns and little villages between here and Laayoune, Anna. And then … we’re in the desert, into Mauritania and crossing the Tropic of Cancer.”
“Not much along the way, huh?”
“Not much. Not once we get away from the coast.” Ben looked out the window: black smoke was drifting lazily toward the blue of the sky. The troops were burning the bodies, for the flatbed trucks carrying the earth-moving equipment had not yet reached the main column. They were about a half a day behind, accompanied by tanks and a company of heavily armed Rebels. Many of the bodies were so badly decomposed Dr. Chase took one look and ordered them all burned immediately.
“I wonder if it’s going to be this way all the way down to Bottger’s territory?” Corrie asked, standing with Ben by the window.
“Worse, probably. The further south we go the more populated the land. What about the other battalions?”
“We seem to be catching the worst of it, boss. All the battalions are reporting burying or burning bodies, but not as many as we’ve found. Ike says Egypt was a piece of cake, no trouble at all there. He’s going to hug the coast through the Sudan and Eritrea.”
“Nothing new after we received that report?”
William W. Johnstone
“Ships have docked and offloaded. Shoving off shortly. Planes in and out with no trouble.”
“Miss Priss is about to make an entrance,” Jersey called from the open door.
Ben smiled. “Be sure and show her right in, Jersey.”
Jersey muttered something under her breath and Ben laughed aloud.
Paula Preston entered the room and marched up to Ben. “General, I need to make a report to my government.”
“Of course, Ms. Preston. Corrie will be only too happy to get an up-link for you. That is, providing your government has managed to allocate enough money for radios. The last report I got was they were very busy sending federal agents out into the countryside gathering up weapons from private citizens.”
Paula stared at him for a moment. “Sarcasm is not necessary, General. I am very much aware of your contempt for my government.”
“I really doubt, Ms. Preston, if you fully comprehend the depth of my disdain.”
“Perhaps we can discuss the merits of our respective governments at some later date, General.”
“Anytime, Ms. Preston. Corrie, see if you can get through to, ah, her government, please.”
“That should prove to be a good trick,” Corrie mumbled.
“I’m sure you’ll succeed, dear,” Paula said to her.
“Only if they have enough sense to find the on/off switch … and flip it in the right position,” Corrie popped right back.
Paula sighed with the great patience of a career diplomat.
Ben laughed at the expression on her face.
It was turning out to be a very interesting trip.
A vast emptiness stretched out before the column, seemingly void of any living thing. The Rebels had left the looted and burned city of Laayoune behind them, after doing what they could for the few thousand residents left.
It was almost unbearably hot, and to make matters worse, the Western Sahara and the bordering nation of Mauritania were in the grip of a long drought, and the sun burning every living thing. The Rebels had removed their shirts and stripped down to T-shirts in an attempt to cool off during the day; at night it was sometimes downright cold. During the day, no vehicle air-conditioning could be run because of overheating.