Edition 5: Serial Fiction: Avoiding The Searchers (Part 5 of 5) by M.F. Burbaugh
Previously, in Part 4, Johnathan and Tonie discover that the Underground had been compromised, and successfully relay the information to all the hideouts, but not before causing quite a bit of trouble for the Earthers. The Underground main HQ is blasted to pieces, and the pair barely manage to get out of enemy territory with their lives. Johnathan’s arm is broken, but the greatest pain for him is finding out that his uncle was alive and a traitor. John is home recovering and breaks the news to his mother and stepfather that he intends to have a life-commitment with Tonie and Milda.
The concluding episode of this series follows. GH.
“Well, if ya both can accept the possibility of a couple of daughter-in-laws, reckon it is okay with me.” I smiled my best smile.
He shook my hand and said, “Done.”
Mother was next, she wanted to verify. “Um, John, did you mean it?”
She kissed me.
“Look, your dad was a one woman guy. It was fine with me, but he knew I would accept a second as well—reality is different here than elsewhere, and if what I hear is true, three or even four women per man may become the new reality. We lost a passel of our already scarce men in this war. John, follow your heart, it will lead ya true. I know it will, and no, I have no problem. Tonie and Milda are both wonderful people and I seen the look. Both love you, though Milda will need to be persuaded of it.” She grinned, kissed my forehead, and patted my cheek. “I got some fresh canning to do.”
I was again alone. I heard the two littlest ones playing in the shack next door as mother was talking to them and laughing.
Finally Milda came in and proceeded to change the bandage. As she did she asked, “Well, did you ask Tonie to commit?”
“Yes, I did. She said no. You needed me more.” I stared into her eyes as she looked up.
“I told you, John, you know.”
I took her hand in my good one and pulled her down, “Milda, I scratched her itch like you said. She said no. I now ask you will you scratch mine and commit? Yes or no will do.” I pulled her close and kissed her lightly on the lips as she backed away. Confusion, then a few tears were welling in her eyes.
“John, dear John, she needs you, she wants you, honest. I know, I can’t ruin it for her now. She will say yes.”
“No, she was quite adamant, she wouldn’t unless…”
That got her.
“Unless what? John, unless what?” She started squeezing my hand and it hurt, she knew it too.
“Unless you would commit too,” I blurted, as I pulled my hand away shaking it.
She stood there the longest time and stared at me. “Can you do that? Not legally. Hell I know almost anything is legal, but can you personally accept us? After all, it was just your mother and dad.”
“Well, I talked to Fred, he said something about keeping it in the family.” I grinned as she punched me, then said she was sorry as she had hit my bad arm. She finished the bandaging in silence then sat on the bed.
“I don’t know. Tonie is so exciting, so full of life. Me, I’m just a klutz, you know that. I’ve loved you like forever, but I never thought of you as a lover; well, not until you refused me that is. Then it changed, I felt empty inside. Like I let life slip away, you understand? Tonie’s better at the words too.” She had the tears back again.
I took my good hand and hugged her. “Milda, I love you. Believe me I wanted to. It was hard, but I felt you didn’t really want me, so I didn’t. Can you love someone as both a friend and a lover?”
“I don’t know. Get better, I got to go.” She kissed me just a little differently this time, and was gone.
Four days later, and I had been up and around, the arm now in a solid cast and healing well. Word was spreading that almost two thousand of us attacked Fantasia and were deep in battle. Early word was heavy casualties, but at least 12 of the Searcher ships had been destroyed. I was back in one of the tunnels, looking for anything to use for gel containers to make more bombs. My old ammo bunker was now empty, all items in operation. I had found two plastic water bottles and an old pitch bucket they had used early on, to slap tar on the timbers.
Milda called from someplace, the tunnels reverberated with her voice.
“I’m here,” I said. Soon she found me.
“Good, the bottles make wonderful bombs. We just melt the gel, mix in nails, bits of rock, whatever we find, let cool, then add a blasting cap and seal it all with wax. Not sure the bucket will help any.” She smiled and took the bucket, the pitch had hardened long ago and it was a bit heavy. “Come check what I found too.”
She took my hand and led me down a few tunnels and stopped by an old couch. Without another word she stripped and lay down, “For real, John, scratch my itch, please?”
I scratched it.
“I accept your commit, John, I’ll take number two.” She kissed me.
“Why number two? Why not one?” I had to ask.
Milda was caught off guard as she was getting dressed. “Well, um, Tonie is older and deserves the number one.”
“No, Milda. Number one. I have loved you a lot longer than Tonie, and besides, you offered yourself first so that makes it official.”
“But you didn’t touch me!” she blurted.
“True, but it’s the thought that counts.” I smiled. She did too. “Besides, as number one I can ravish you until Tonie gets back and it is okay.”
She was going to hit me but remembered my cast, then kissed me. It was a yes.
I told Fred and Mother that Milda and I committed and Fred smiled. He and Mother moved back into the bunkhouse and said the love shack was the best honeymoon suite still in one piece. Milda was shy back in among the rest, but got over it. We spent several days on our honeymoon yet found we were both worrying about Tonie.
The war news was good. I was almost back in shape when Fred said they had a use for me and my 50 if I wanted to tackle a tough job. I told him sure and Milda started to protest, but Fred said, “You too Milda; you’ve been back here goofing off and having fun, but time you worked too.”
He filled us in: five people would go with us, armed guards. Take the 50 to Ghostwater mine and link up with our contingent for further word. We needed to move night and day, as fast as we could.
Milda was outfitted and armed with a single 9mm. I had the two 45s and plenty of clips. The guards carried the heavy rifle and the ammo cans as we covered three times the distance at twice the speed Tonie and I had done. Along the route we met wounded and burned people, and guards that were posted. The roads were being freed of mines, the people were appearing more often, and there was hope in the air as we took our planet back.
Milda wasn’t the klutz she thought. She learned to carry a pack and once fitted with real boots that supported her ankles, she found she was stable. We made good time and stayed in the open for a few hours sleep near Nellville. I showed her where we buried her family. Like Tonie, she cried.
We pushed on at a fierce pace. I wasn’t the leader, he was a Tough who had been home on leave when they attacked. A‘Tough’ was our equivalent of special forces or marines. He proved he believed in his name. Three of the other guards were complaining from the first step and he’d just smile and say, “Fall out and I shoot ya where ya sit; it will teach ya to volunteer for something.”
On but five hours sleep we made it to Ghostwater mine, Tonie and I had actually missed the entrance by only a few hundred yards. Billy met us, he’d been waiting there a week. Henry sent him as a runner; I was told he was good too.
“Rest, sleep, eat, bathe. We move on in eighteen hours,” our Tough said, and Billy laughed. I asked if he knew James’ mother. He didn’t.
Milda went one way, I another. The place was full of evacuated wounded, some were in terrible shape as the true horrors of real war started to sink in.
I found a kid who had heard James’ last name before. I followed him as he led me through the tunnel mazes. An elder woman, late forties, stood there. I verified she was James’ mother and she cried as I gave her the cross. I told her he was fine, and when I told her who I was she hugged me then kissed me. “You, you saved us all, I heard, thank you, and thanks for the cross.” When we were done, I turned and Milda was there, standing quietly behind me.
“Not sure I like being married to two legends. If I even mention your name I am swamped with people and the one I accidentally told I married you, damn, I thought she was going to kill me with questions,” she whispered.
“Well, if we want to get some sleep, might I suggest we keep our secrets to ourselves?”
She took my arm and we found our way back to our group. After a shower and clean clothes, we crashed in bunks. They had even posted guards to let us sleep, all of us were so bushed. The Tough snored like some cornered animal desperately gasping for its last breath, except it didn’t stop.
Milda smiled in the small light and hugged me, kissed me and, exactly like Tonie, snuggled into my stomach and pulled my arm around her.
I woke Milda when I got up. We found the food shack and ate a sparse, but nourishing meal. The air stunk of blood, alcohol and disinfectants. I suspect many people would die here, yet many would live as a result of the efforts of these people. Some, like James’ mom, looked like they hadn’t slept in weeks, and were little more than skeletal zombies, moving to some routine. No, these were the real heroes, the ones really sacrificing all they had to just try to help patch broken bodies and souls together.
Billy found us finishing some coffee. “Tough said get your lazy butts moving, we should have left eight minutes ago.” He smiled when he said it.
“Better not make him mad,” Milda snickered.
We grabbed our packs and headed for the entrance. On the way out I saw what I missed coming in—two state of the art, for real, 20mm Gatling guns with trays of ammo. One of our guards saw me looking at them.
“My uncle purloined them from the armory at the airfield when the Earthers attacked, figured we’d need them for something someday.” He grinned profusely.
“Smart uncle,” I said.
“Ya, but slow. Searchers got him,” he said sadly.
“We all lost someone, I ain’t no exception.” He remained quiet as we started to really step it out.
We headed almost straight toward Fantasia. You could hear shooting and rockets ahead. Tough grew more cautious. Had to admit, he was well balanced in economy of caution and movement, even slowed down, we were making good time. Billy led the way, pointing here or there to mines, traps, Searchers and the like. Finally, the shooting was close and Billy had us creep along in a squat along a wall of debris. It was lined about every ten feet with shooters. I saw SAWs, 5.56 rifles, ancient Russian Molsin 7.62s, American M14s for God’s sake. It looked like they stripped all the museums. We went almost to the middle of the wall, then down a hole into a large room full of people, some on field phones, some on long-wires, some on earpieces. A real, functional battle HQ built at the doorstep of the enemy.
I was taken by Billy to David Cornswell. A retired Space Force General, recalled to serve and save his planet. Our Tough saluted and reported the package delivered. He asked his orders and the general rattled off some guy and place, then the Tough and Billy were gone.
“Johnathan Frasier, I presume?” he said, and stuck out his hand. I shook it and he stared at Milda. “Who is this stunning creature?”
“I’m sorry, my new wife. Milda, this is General Cornswell,” I said.
He took her hand and kissed it. “Comment ça va belle dame?”
She blushed and answered back, “Je suis monsieur, assez parfait.”
They said a few more words, as I remembered she studied French in school.
“Fantastic!” the General said. “John, might I borrow her? We are using as many different languages on earpieces as we can, to confuse the Earthers. I think we have one out there speaks French too.”
“Up to her, Sir,” I said.
“Sally dear, a moment?” A lovely young lady, about 20, came over. “This is my wife Sally. Sally, this young lady is the famous Johnathan Frasier’s new wife. She is fluent in French and wishes to help. I think Jerry at post 7 speaks it, let’s see please?”
“Certainly, dear.” She kissed him and took Milda’s hand and led her away. I guess he saw my look. He had to be near 70.
He smiled. “I saved her from a group of pirates up north. I’m old, and she’ll probably kill me, but hell, only a few years left anyway, what a way to go. She asked and I wasn’t going to say no.”
I just nodded.
“So where is this famous Tonie I hear about? Thought they said you were an item?” he asked bluntly. I saw Milda turn and watch.
“Tonie is Milda’s half-sister. She is supposed to be up here someplace and she will become wife two if she still wishes.”
Milda came and gave me a light kiss, “She will, I promise.” Then she went back to Sally.
As I listened to the General, I heard Milda behind me, “Bonjour numéro sept, bonjour numéro sept, c’est HQ parlant.”
I couldn’t hear the answer, but she was soon reading things off a paper.
“If her sister is half as lovely and smart, you made a fantastic commit, sir,” he smiled.
“What you are here for is not your fame, which I am afraid has been slightly exaggerated,” he said.
I had to smile, “Ya, heard some of them, Sir.”
“Well, honestly, are you as good as they say with a rifle? Some stories are rather bizarre.”
“Dad and I took six of eight Tiger Bat championships in the last ten years, Sir. The two we lost were to Crazy Henry’s dead wife. Only by one shot, too.”
“Aha, Crazy Henry, smart as a fox that one. You know he was a General, then up and quit to go mining again?”
“Yes Sir, his wife told us. Tonie and I met him awhile back. He is helping at Ghostwater now. Blew his mine and took some Earthers with it.”
“I heard. Anyway, I need your 50 cal if you can handle it. Earthers got a fantastic sniper on their side. You even take a peek and pow, he gets you. From the description, it is an identical rifle to yours,” he said. “A very unconventional design I might add.”
I had goosebumps. If it wasn’t him, he supplied it. Only three were made; he, Dad, and some queen someplace got one. I filled the General in.
“I know Vincent, I was at one of his lectures. And yes, I knew he was your uncle, but I didn’t know he was here.”
“Afraid so. He was monitoring our earpieces. A special freq.”
The General turned and said something, then a few minutes later, “These from your ammo bunker?”
I looked for his mark and found it. “Yes, special crystals.”
“I know, ingenious. John, could you kill your uncle if needed?”
“Yes, he caused my dad’s death. Not a problem.”
“Billy!” He hollered and from outside the bunker the boy materialized.
“Sir?” he asked.
“Take him and all his gear to north 19. Be careful, tell Kyle to find him a snipe spot.”
“I wish you well. Take the earpiece, wear it, whoever is on the other end is our sniper. I’ve talked to him, claims 51 kills so far, and promised he’d save me for last.” The General snickered.
I took it and strapped it on. I left the mike dangling. Sounded like Unk; the bastard had an ego out of this world. He claimed to have the fastest reflexes of any human alive. I remember Dad backing him up on that.
I grabbed my pack but Billy said no, and hollered to someone. Soon, eight people had my pack, ammo and even my rifle as we headed out. Milda grabbed my arm and kissed me. “Be careful, husband.” She patted my back and went back to her French.
I followed Billy out and we skirted along what amounted to a wall of rubble. It had been built all the way around the damn spaceport. It took a while to get there, sometimes dodging Searchers, which I dropped with my 45s, to the admiration of the kids lugging my stuff. We were all the way up north and crawling carefully as the wall was lower here. About middle, a little off, was a HQ of sandbags and beams. We went inside and I met Kyle, a captain.
I told him who I was and he laughed. He heard all about me, both the BS and the truth. Tonie had been there until a couple days ago when she was moved to some new mission at the old airbase up north.
I asked him to try and get word to her we were here, that Milda said ‘yes’, and is with me. He questioned what I meant, but let it ride when I told him that was all.
“Okay, this shooter is good, fancy 50.”
I held up mine.
“Ya, just like it. Dares anyone to spar with him. He dropped 27 from here alone. We know where he shoots from—just not enough time to aim and fire, he always seems to shoot first.”
He took me to the line. They had set up an old fashioned periscope system. Kyle looked through it and moved it around. “There, the metal faced building. A mile and a half exactly to the window. Our Laws and even the 20mms can’t get it straight on and the overhang makes it impossible from above. We tried two of our Searchers, they couldn’t get close enough before they were destroyed.”
I looked through the periscope. He was almost right, it wasn’t a metal building, it was a portable forward observation post, nuclear bomb proofed. I’d seen one at the military display. Feet thick metal and ceramic composites in the slanted walls, self-contained air, water, and food. Anti-radiation foam washers. If they closed the hatches they were bomb proof up to a good size nuke. If Uncle was sniping from there he was pretty confident we had no weapons or shooters that could match his call. He forgot about me. Or did he?
I told Kyle what I had in mind, no one but me would actually be exposed. He laughed, “We could have done that weeks ago.”
“No, your 50s aren’t match quality. The man I’m hunting built three of these; his, mine, and one for a queen he was poking a few years back. I may still lose, but it will be skill and luck. He has surgically and chemically enhanced reactions.” I saw his look. “Some damn spy program he went through; all I know.”
He just nodded.
My plan was being carried out as photos were taken and holes made in the wall. Ten holes about a foot wide and half that high. When done, a few stones were placed in each one. It took two days to get it all ready.
I picked the third from the left and we waited. Finally everyone was in place and I put on the throat mike.
“Hey Uncle, I heard you call amateurs out; care to try a pro? Or are you as big a coward as the rest of the Earthers?” I didn’t have long to wait.
“Johnathan? I thought you blew up back there at the HQ. Shame. You really want to call your ol’ uncle out? Where are ya, boy?” he asked.
“North wall waiting to see if you’re a coward as well as a fool,” I told him.
“Your life kid, you know I won’t hesitate.” I felt the edge in his voice.
I was in position. “Say when, Uncle.”
He waited a minute as I knew he was getting in position.
“Now,” he said, and I signaled the line as I took down the rocks and put the rifle up. I scoped the window—he wasn’t there. I swung up and a little right. “Where ya at, boy?”
The other ports opened and pictures of me went up. He fired almost instantly. I spotted him, swung, and fired.
He said, “Smart,” about the same time I saw his rifle buck again.
I saw his scope explode as he fell, then I felt his impact as it threw me around. He was off, he took a desperate shot, and he knew it. I spun and fell, and remembered nothing else.
I woke to pain in the neck and shoulder. Tonie was there, as was Milda. I appeared to be in a bunk. in a bunker. Then I remembered it all. I tried to get up but Milda pushed me down. “No, don’t move. They got the bleeding stopped but sudden moves could start it up again.”
Tonie came up and said, “She’s right. That was dumb, calling your uncle out like that. I thought I taught you better than being foolhardy!” She laughed.
“His shot exploded the rock, a piece sliced you neck open. Doc said a fraction of an inch forward and it would have been over. The bullet tagged your shoulder too, really tore it up being so deformed,” she continued.
I saw the General come into view. “What a shot. Dead center of his scope, pow, at a mile and a half too. Guess not all the rumors were bull. Damn kid, great work. Tonie is living up to her legend too. She has 11 confirmed kills with that rifle of yours, all over a mile. Both of you, fantastic!” He shook my hand and left.
Soon it was Billy, Milda, Tonie and I left in the area. Milda shooed Billy out and they both sat on the bunk.
“Milda said she committed as first wife. I agree, it was a good choice, John. I also accept second, so get well, I got an itch.” Tonie smiled.
I started to speak but my throat was dry. After Milda gave me some water, I asked, “What were ya doing up at the airbase? And with who?”
“Aha, I detect jealousy?” she laughed. “I was with James and Lilly and Henry—not Crazy Henry, and a few others. We did what you said. Took back control of the satellite and been feeding spy info back here.
“We were losing people for strange reasons at the port. The General felt the Earthers had something we didn’t know about but we couldn’t get any information. Then I remembered what you said about the satellite. I talked to my captain at the time. He was later killed by your uncle, which was why it took them so long to find me. We left late at night, James was in charge and we moved swiftly. Only five days travel but we were surprised at the base by two trucks full of men, a few were pirates, and a few were real Earth troops. Lilly and Henry were wounded when they opened fire but James kept his calm and we withdrew some. They were shocked at finding us and withdrew as well, not without a few losses of their own. Next we were bombarded with Searchers but they were easy to take down, just like you said—shoot’um before they had a chance to do anything.” She stopped there, thinking.
“The pirates tried a quick rush, eleven of them, but I had your SAW and they all went to sleep, never to wake. From there it was just find and kill. The same two trucks were later seen running away as James got inside the control room quick enough to deactivate the explosives they set. That’s about it. We secured the site, took control of the satellite, redirected the feed, umm, contacted some local underground who took over the security, and tended our wounded. Then we came straight back here.”
They filled me in. I was kept knocked almost a week and still had bleeding problems. Tonie had been found and arrived six hours after my now-famous sniper duel. She took up my rifle and she and Milda started making Earthers pay.
“The general rushed the space port and destroyed an additional 11 support craft, one controller craft, and captured 8 support space ships as the rest of the Earthers left the planet in a hurry,” Tonie informed me.
“So, counting the 12 control craft already destroyed, it meant 23 destroyed, 8 captured That means 52 of the bastards got away,” I said.
“The craft did, not the Earthers. I doubt more than three or four of them were aboard each craft when they beat it,” Milda said. “We killed a lot.”
I was feeling bad for some reason. “Enough to make up for the 140,000 or more they butchered here? How many is enough?”
The General had come in and been quietly listening. He said, “Look, the Earthers were just like we said, pompous asses. They bet their technological savvy could beat any stupid miners. They didn’t take Eperia either. Forty million unprotected people and Earth couldn’t take it. From the reports only Hemmings Planet is in their control, but hell, they had 11,000 people tops, and they haven’t got all of them yet either. No, Earth has all but lost. Meeting in an hour, be there.”
I was escorted by two lovely wives to a chair. The general cleared his throat then began, “Listen up people,” he said to the large crowd in the old Space Port lounge area. It held 400, and there was standing room only with the spillover into all the halls. He had a mike so we all could hear him just fine. “First, any and all that were involved in any way with the underground, thank you, we won our planet back, but at a heck of a cost.” He hesitated a bit.
“I know we all lost loved ones. The bastards murdered anyone, and our own disgusting city pirates did even worse. We are still rounding up a few of them—they will be tried and executed if guilty. I promise!”
A few cheers went up.
“Order of business, a Council of Governors. They have one year to put us back together—they work for free, as always. Let me have the top 18 HQ leaders forward please?”
Fred, Crazy Henry, a few others I recognized, and five were women. All lined up in front of the general.
“We have twelve states, we need twelve governors. These are your choices. Once running again, we will hold the normal elections with this change, two terms are it. Never again will this planet have career politicians.
“Okay, voice vote. I hold my hand above and you only say ‘Ya’, nothing else.” He went down the line and pulled out the eight weakest. The rest were in. Six of the eight withdrew, their states were represented.
Surprisingly, it was Fred and Crazy Henry left for our state. The pair talked then Fred said, I go to fight, Henry will stay here as governor.”
Just like that, we had a new government. No prez or any such. Surprisingly, James’ mother was asked to volunteer for BA. If the governors had a tie over something, she came in as the Binding Arbitrator, heard both sides, and decided. Her only function. Milda said she was once a lawyer on Eperia, and was well respected.
The General continued, “Now, forces to deal with the rest of the Earthers are being mobilized. Fred will take applications for our force and they will go to the planet New Holland for training. Once all the Earth forces are neutralized, we will install permanent stations around it and remove anything that goes space-born.
“We need a fast council meeting, everyone leave for a couple hours. Meeting adjourned.”
Tonie, Milda, and I were among the first in line after the meeting and were politely informed we didn’t qualify for the force.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, please, listen up. Council has made the following rules. All applicants must be between 17 and 35 and unmarried. No exceptions for now,” the general said.
Many of us protested adamantly, but to no avail. We were needed at home to rebuild, and that was that.
Three years have passed, I am a father twice, and Milda is expecting again. We have picked up a few thousand people from two other planets—it was all that was left of them. Too few to survive.
Earth is contained and we understand there are riots there as their previous government collapsed—we had hung most of them. We now only stand-off in space stations.
Today we sit in the town square of the rebuilding Neville, with our children in tow, and stare at the new bronze statue of us. It was a beautiful work, but so bogus. The general said we needed our heroes.
Tonie and I were back to back, weapons raised as Searchers swarmed around. Tonie was down on one knee and clearly firing. I was out of ammo and clubbing one with the butt of my rifle. I had a foot on a dead guy with a ruptured rifle scope. In the back, and kneeling down over an ammo box, was Milda, reloading clips.
I felt sad in a way. The plaque said, Dedicated to Johnathan Frasier and his wives Tonie and Milda, who led the underground to a resounding victory against superior Earth forces, saving countless lives from certain death.
The exaggerations of our achievements had now spread planet wide, mostly through the non-stop efforts of Crazy Henry. Reminding people he was crazy did little to dampen the myths. He had a statue of himself and Billy in Ghostwater, and even the General had one somewhere in Fantasia.
Mother and Fred are happy. Fred went back to his mining. Mother gave me dad’s mine and farm as a wedding present, and stops by every day to spoil her grandkids. Jackson’s Hole was healing. We were healing too, but so many had died.
We put up proper grave markers and a little white fence around Milda and Tonie’s family but knew so many went unmarked.
The council no longer tolerated any non-workers in the cities. If found, they got a one way ticket to Earth.
Born in the post war era of 1947 and raised in the farm country of upstate New York, MF Burbaugh writes in the sci-fi/fantasy genres. He has published a large number of short fiction, as well as two novels, Circle of Seven (fantasy – IFWG Publishing, 2011) and We Were Legends (scifi – IFWG Publishing, 2011). He has two more novels coming out in 2012. He now resides with his wife of forty years in El Paso, Texas.
MF Burbaugh’s bio page at IFWG Publishing