Our civilization is unique in history and
renowned the world over for the value it’s
always placed, historically, on ideas,
in and of themselves—and for the way it’s
always put those ideas into action.
by Jim Davidson
Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
"'My mind,' he said, 'rebels at stagnation.
Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram or
the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can
dispense then with artificial stimulants. But I abhor the dull routine of
existence. I crave for mental exaltation. That is why I have chosen my own
particular profession, or rather created it, for I am the only one in the
― Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of Four
Ben Stone stood next to his truck. As first on the scene, he was incident commander. His first move had been to get his teams across the Dolores River. The highway running down the Paradox valley from east to West through Bedrock and just South of Paradox, Colorado highway 90, made a slight curve to the South to reach the Dolores River bridge, then immediately curved back to the north to rejoin its line of approach toward Bedrock. Getting east of the river provided access to bluffs overlooking the road, closer on the South side than the north. Ben wanted the high ground.
He could see the long level stretch of highway, rising slowly to a low ridge line. He'd need spotters on the bluffs above that ridge, both sides of the road.
His radio crackled to life. "Bedrock incident commander, this is Immobiliser Twenty. I am taking the active at Montrose county airport headed to your location. Can you give sit-rep?"
As he grabbed the microphone to reply, Ben could see the first vehicles of the line from Paradox arriving behind him. One of the drivers rolled down the passenger window on his truck. It was Judge Finney. He'd come to Paradox for the afternoon session to scope out the competition to his court back at the county seat. Like everyone else in the region, it seemed, the judge had a good rifle, plenty of ammo, a tactical vest, helmet, and radio. He and Ben had known each other over a year.
Finney said, "Where do you want me, Ben?"
"I need you to take the right side of that ridge up there, get high, find cover from what's coming down the road from the east, and before you head up, get someone else to take the left side," said Ben, raising the microphone by way of explaining his terseness. "I've got aircraft inbound, gotta say a few words to them, now."
Finney nodded and put on his emergency flashers, then opened his driver door to flag the next vehicle in line to move up even with him.
"This is Bedrock incident command, Ben Stone. Immobiliser Twenty we have incoming vehicles on Highway 90, Red Rangers out of Denver. They killed Scott Hitchens. What can you do for us?"
There was a pause and some static, then, "Binary epoxy. I'll be over your location in fifteen minutes. Immobiliser Twenty-one is already in your area and fully loaded. I'll drop first, then Twenty-one will come through with the fixative. Takes about three minutes for full effect. Do what you can to keep their gunners distracted?"
Binary epoxy was developed in 1946 by Sylvan Greenlee. Two chemicals are applied in liquid form and react immediately to harden. Much work had been done in this area in the decades since, and the private labs which had been springing up around the country after 3D printers began effective tool production had worked on developing non-lethal variants. They had reduced the curing time so the resin and hardener would begin working to immobilise whatever they were sprayed on in the first minute, and be fully hard within three, all without killing the targetted person.
Ben shook his head. "Immobiliser Twenty, I expect to be in a firefight in five minutes. Do your thing, but don't coat any of my people please. If you can freeze them, great. If not, we'll do things the old-fashioned way. We'll be holding a line from the first ridge east of the Dolores River bridge. And send someone with the solvents so we can unstick people later."
"Roger that, Bedrock commander. I will drop two hundred gallons of solvents by parachute in those fields opposite the general store. Care package has instructions for use. Tell your front line to use eye protection if they have it. Going silent now, out." Immobiliser Twenty might save some lives, but right now Ben needed fewer distractions.
At that moment, Jane Harris rolled up in her truck. She was a sight for sore eyes. Her .50 cal machine gun was mounted on its tripod in the truck bed behind her, and she'd brought several riders in the cab and bed of her truck. They were all loaded for bear.
"Hi, there, incident commander. Where ya want us? " Jane asked.
"Jane, I need you up to that first ridge. Quick as a bunny. Park on the centreline facing back this way. Get your team on each side of the road, up high, best marksmen at the ready. Melvin Finney and it looked like Todd Hailey are up there now, advance scouts. When you see the Reds come over the next ridge line, give them a few rounds of tracer. I'll hear when that happens. If they stop, great, wait for air support inbound. If they keep coming or start coming again, use API on their engine blocks. I want them stopped. Immobiliser Twenty and Twenty-one can do the rest, God willing," Ben smiled. "Which means eye protection and if you have air filter masques get them on. We'd like to believe in the accuracy of air dropped binary epoxy but be careful. "
Jane nodded. "Greasing engines, then. Any idea how many vehicles?"
Ben shook his head, "Not really. There's a bus fully loaded and several pickups. Scott Hitchens said that much before he bought it. So keep me posted when you see them. If you're loading a belt, figure five tracers and twenty API. After that, shooter's choice."
Jane nodded again, faced forward, and gunned her truck down the highway.
Ben knew he'd done what he could about his front. Now he deployed teams at the river bridge to keep the road into Bedrock and his line of retreat secure.
Teddy was upset. He enjoyed being a bully, hurting other people. But cops were part of the structure of tomorrow. Killing cops was a bad thing. And there was a dead cop back at the junction.
"Darla, why did you shoot that cop? Why?!" Teddy was practically screaming. Tears streamed down his face. Teddy had been a Red Ranger for three years, and usually enjoyed his work. Then again, usually his work didn't involve being stuck in a school bus for hours and then involved in a firefight with police.
Darla wasn't born a woman. She was still pre-operative, but she was determined to be taken seriously. Right now she was driving a bus full of her comrades. Teddy needed to stop screaming, stop crying, go sit down and take his job seriously.
"Teddy, stop. Listen. The supreme revolutionary council of Greater Denver put me in charge. We have to go stop that kangaroo court from convicting our man. That's the mission. Everything else is secondary. Your life, my life, the lives of all these comrades, we're expendable. The mission is vital. And that wasn't a cop, it was a sheriff's deputy," said Darla.
Teddy did stop crying. "What difference does that make?!" he screamed. "Law enforcement officers aren't to be killed. That goes against doctrine!"
Darla gritted her teeth. Exhaled.
"Teddy. Sit down. Shut up. Or I'm stopping here and we're leaving you," Darla ground out through a clenched jaw. " You can walk back to Denver."
Teddy sat, jaw nearly unhinged it had dropped so far, but quiet at last.
Just then, Darla saw the technical ahead of her crest the hill they'd been climbing for the last few minutes. She used the term technical for any pickup truck deployed for military purposes. In this case, there was a 75 mm recoilless rifle mounted on a tripod in the truck bed. She knew it well, having led the team out to confiscate the recoilless from an avalanche safety crew some distance from Telluride two years gone by. Her success on that mission was one of the reasons she'd been assigned command of this one.
Cresting the hill herself, she panick braked. The technical was stopping in front of her, and there were bright lights coming straight at her. Tracer rounds!
Grabbing the dash-mounted microphone, Darla radioed, "All units stop. Contact with enemy. Stop behind the military crest of this ridge. If you can see over this ridge, you will be spotted. Anyone over the ridge, back up now."
Matching words to deeds, Darla put the bus in reverse. But her orders had been broadcast in the clear, encrypted communications not being available to her team. As she looked in her mirrors to see the vehicles behind her clearing the way, she heard a very loud CRUMP in front of her.
The engine block of the technical that had been first over the hill had been Jane's first target with her armour piercing incendiary (API) ammo, per Ben's instructions. The bus, though, was problematic because its engine was at the rear. A zero casualty solution would have to wait for the bus to turn around.
Meanwhile the crew of the vehicle that had just been disabled positioned themselves to serve the 75 mm recoilless mounted in its truck bed. Taking up her binoculars to be sure, Jane could see the tube turning in her direction. The tripod mount for that big gun would be right in the middle, between the two front seats and just a few feet beyond. She estimated the position she'd need to hit.
There was absolutely no time to call in this situation or get higher "authority" for her action. Moreover, her team was not paralysed by a lengthy chain of command. Jane would report to the incident commander after taking defensive measures, not before. She had autonomy in the field, just as she did in all the rest of her life. She was sufficient authority unto herself.
Matching her sight picture with the location of that tripod in her mind's eye, she took the shot. Another round of API streaked out and smashed through the front windshield, the rear wall of the cab, and into the tripod. The 75 mm tube was launched by the resulting detonation in a satisfying arc upward.
"Nice shooting, Jane," came Judge Finney's voice over his in-the-clear citizen's band radio. Jane frowned but kept her eyes forward.
"Neil," she said to one of her team members, "I didn't think the judge had one of our radios."
Neil Wallace knew better. He and his brother worked on radio gear all the time. He knew everything about their field radios, including who in the valley had equipment that would interface. He said, "No, that came over CB."
Thinking of her crew being further compromised, Jane said, "Would you please have someone tell that boomer to stop yapping on the clear channels...? Or have someone haul a crypto-radio to his location."
Here her secondary train of thought was interrupted by her primary focus. The bus from Denver had pulled forward into the oncoming traffic lane and was headed for the far shoulder. Sure enough, it was about to present its tail. Clearly they wanted to turn around, the direct reverse approach being blocked by something Jane couldn't see.
Mentally calculating the bus driver's path, given a steep drop off the shoulder, Jane lined up her target for the location she felt the engine should be when the bus would need to stop and back up to complete its turn. Knowing she could get it wrong, she planned to walk the next series of rounds into the bus's likely manouevres. Five shots ought to be plenty.
They were. The bus was now disabled. One of the rounds went through a rear window, though, and made the first dead Red of the day. Moments later, the door up front opened. The right side of the bus was toward Jane's position, so she had a perfect view of the short staircase from the driver level down to street level. She depressed her barrel.
The first four passengers bolted from the door and hurried around the front end of the bus, concealing themselves from her view. If they all did so, Jane was content to let them run away.
Alas, it was not to be. As the fifth Red came out, that person stepped the other way, clearing the door for additional people. Jane could see an AK-74 come up to fire at her, so she let go with another API round into the pavement a few feet in front of the gunner. A moment later, a spray of asphalt and gravel smashed into the Red, who fell. The same shrapnel also took the legs from under one of the Reds who had exited to head around the front of the bus. That one managed to crawl away.
About a minute later, the sound of breaking glass could be heard from up ahead. No doubt the team leader inside had determined to have the rest of the Reds exit away from the gunfire. Well, they were bound to clever up eventually.
Jane sighed. It looked like more shooting would be a little while.
Mark Wallace came forward with a sand bag followed by a line of others. He had filled the sand bag with dirt from the roadside ditch. He now slung the bag into the truck bed and stepped aside, turning to go get another. A small crew were filling sand bags, and the rest of the team were hauling them to reinforce Jane's position. Good team.
As he passed by, Jane said, "Mark, get some bags down by the rear tyres. I don't want to ride my rims if I can avoid it, in case we have to bug out."
Mark smiled and nodded, and headed back for another sandbag. One of the folks in line behind him dropped her bag to protect a rear tyre, and Jane returned her attention forward. Other than a complete lack of Red Rangers, she didn't see much different. The recoilless tube was down. The crew of the technical had gone over the ridge line. Judging from the lack of motion inside, the bus was probably empty as well. Only the body that had been shredded by asphalt and shrapnel was visible, and it wasn't moving. A great deal of blood was coming down hill, though.
There was a lull.
Jane didn't like it. She needed more information.
Pulling her microphone toward her, she keyed it. " Bedrock incident response, all teams, anyone have eyes ahead on the Reds? "
"I do," said Todd Hailey. He had gone up the bluff, free climbing. It was something he enjoyed. And it wasn't that steep a slope anyway. Now he could look down past the ridge and see everything. Vegetation provided concealment, but he knew better than to rely on it. He was carefully positioned, and looking eastward so there was minimal chance of sun glint at this time of the afternoon revealing his binoculars as long as he was fairly careful.
Todd continued, "They're still milling around. There seems to be some sort of breakdown in their command structure. Nobody seems to have a grip on what to do next."
There was a pickup directly behind her, and it was stalled out. The driver must not have put in the clutch when they stopped. Now they were having trouble getting it going. Idiot! Must have flooded the engine.
Silently cursing fools and stick shifts, Darla shifted herself out of reverse. She pulled ahead, cutting sharply to her left, and letting the bus come to just past 90 degrees. But the shoulder dropped off in front of her, and she didn't want to get hung up, so she grabbed the gear shift to put it into reverse.
BOOM! Boom-boom-boom! Boom!
Her ears ringing, Darla could see the engine was dead. No point trying to restart. Looking back, she could see Billy's body and blood all over the far end of the bus.
"Aaagh!" shouted Darla, panicking. " Everybody out! Get your gear and get out, fall back east of this ridge line." Darla threw the front doors open.
The first of her team began to exit and head left, past the shoulder drop off and around the front of the bus.
Teddy sensed his moment. He and Darla were lovers, and he was still upset about being yelled at. He had taken the threat to be abandoned to walk back to Denver very seriously. He was 19 years old.
Grabbing up his backpack, he filled the aisle for a moment, getting it onto his shoulders. Then taking his rifle in hand he went down the steps and, instead of following the others to the left and around the front, he stepped right. He would provide covering fire for his team to get to safety.
Looking far down the road to the next ridge line, he could see the barrel of the enemy gun, just at the horizon line. The bottom of the vehicle was hidden by the crest of the ridge. Someone had done a good job of parking, on the centre of the road, facing away from him. There in the bed of the truck was the gunner who had disabled the technical and the bus. Teddy raised his rifle. Before he could get his cheek welded to the stock the enemy gunner had fired.
Time seemed to stand still for Teddy. His rifle wasn't in position, and his body was flushed with adrenaline. He saw that the gun barrel had been depressed so it wasn't lined up directly on him. Part of his mind wanted to make his body move, but everything seemed to be slowed down. His muscles were not aligned with the advanced time sense he was experiencing. The enemy's shot hit the ground about three feet from him. Teddy saw the pavement shred apart, and shrapnel and asphalt rise from the road.
He tried to throw his arms out in front of him and his body barely responded. Pieces of road and shrapnel slammed through Teddy's thighs and abdomen. At that moment, his consciousness let go, and his point of view rose up about three feet, drawing back so that he seemed to be above and behind his entire body. He watched it crumple and begin to bleed. Then everything went a bright white.
Darla heard the round hit the ground and looked up in time to see Teddy's mangled body fall back and slump down. Darla screamed his name.
"Nooooo! Teddy! Nooooo!" Darla screamed again and again. But his body was lifeless. Blood was pooling around him and beginning to flow downhill. Some part of Darla's mind thought of molecules of Teddy being washed into the Colorado river after many months of rain and eventually winding up in the Sea of Cortez. But that part of her mind was blocked by hysteria.
Seeing that her commander's mind was blown, Nikisha reversed her grip on her rifle and smashed out the window next to her. "Everybody, break the windows, get the glass out of your way, and get out on the uphill side. NOW!"
Nikisha could see that Darla wasn't thinking at all, just pounding her fists against the window above where Teddy's body lay on the pavement. Not saying a word, she grabbed Darla around the neck with her left arm, and by the right elbow with her right arm. She turned and faced the uphill side of the bus, pushing Darla's head out the broken window. Darla had no time to work out what was happening before she was defenestrated.
Seeing what Nikisha was doing, Micky Jones was quick witted enough to grab Darla's shoulders and step back. Almost as if the two of them had planned it, Nikisha and Micky had Darla standing on the highway behind the bus.
Nikisha now checked the rest of the bus. All the Red Rangers were out, but several had left packs. One had left a rifle. She began chucking these out the windows on the uphill side of the bus. Shouldering the left behind rifle, then her own, she climbed out. Micky helped her get down.
"Listen up!" Nikisha raised her voice. " Look at me now. I have two rifles. One of you left your rifle on the bus. Who left your rifle?"
Everyone looked around. Several raised their rifles to show that they had not left theirs behind.
Nikisha could see Sammy's shoulders slumped. He turned to face her.
"It's mine. After Teddy bought it, I freaked out. I'm sorry." Sammy looked at his feet.
Nikisha walked up and slapped the butt of his rifle against Sammy's head, knocking him flat. She threw the rifle down atop him. Then she looked around.
"All of you are imbeciles! We were briefed. You knew we were going into hostile territory. Were you ready for combat? No. You were on vacation, weren't you? Just going down the highway. We smashed through that checkpoint back there and iced that deputy and then you went back to daydreaming." Nikisha was furious.
She looked around. Everyone's attention was on her. Nikisha liked having their attention.
"Fine! Darla's gone off the deep end. Micky, wake Sammy up and send him under the bus. See if he can help Teddy. I dunno, maybe Ted's not dead," Nikisha said. She looked back east down the road they had just come up. At the far end was the station wagon they were planning to use for an ambulance.
To her satisfaction, one of the medics was running toward her now. It was Johnny. Good. He'd do.
"Okay! Fire teams, I need you to spread out. Move these pickup trucks to both sides of the road. Get someone who knows how to drive a stick shift up here, pronto. Do I have to think of everything? Move it!" Nikisha was still angry. Her goading voice prodded several into action.
As she watched the vehicle that had blocked the bus from reversing back over the hill was started and moved toward the southern edge of the road. Another pickup took the north end.
"Don't go too close to the ridge line. Keep below the military crest. Remember your training!" Nikisha was shouting, and finding that she enjoyed it. She walked over to the sobbing Darla and slapped her across the face.
"Snap out of it! You are supposed to be in charge here. Teddy's a casualty of war. Get yourself together, or you'll face a firing squad!" Nikisha could see from the frenzied look on Darla's face that her words were not having much effect.
Micky came up. He said, "Sammy grabbed Teddy's shoulders and pulled him this way, back under the bus. Johnny's doing what he can."
Her attention distracted from Darla, Nikisha turned and looked at Johnny. He was applying tourniquets to Teddy's legs. The rest of the ambulance team was kneeling around Teddy's body, blocking Nikisha's view. For over a minute she stood there fascinated by the blood and activity.
Micky came up and tapped her shoulder gently. Nikisha turned her head and looked at Micky. "Look," he said, " Sammy thinks we can get the 75 mm back in action. The tube isn't damaged. He wants to crawl up and drag it back. He'll be exposed, though, so we need to provide covering fire. What do you think?"
Nikisha wasn't part of the recoilless rifle squad. She looked around. Where was Pedro?
"Pedro!" she shouted, and scanning the north edge of the road, saw Pedro look up and head over.
As he came up, Nikisha looked at her watch. Only twelve minutes had elapsed since the tracer rounds had come at them. Nikisha raised her eyebrows. It had seemed quite a bit more like an hour.
Pedro was standing next to her. She looked at him and frowned. "What can we do with that tube out there? Sammy wants to drag it back here. Is there any point? He'll be out in the open out there. "
Pedro shook his head. He thought some more. Shook his head again, "No, I don't know, but the tripod is gone. We could maybe put it across the bed of a pickup. But there's no way to adjust elevation. And I'm not sure it isn't damaged worse than it looks. I guess we can see once it gets back here. I just don't know."
Nikisha looked at her feet. This ought to be Darla's problem. She looked at Darla, who had stopped crying, but was completely enraptured by the work going around Teddy's body. If Teddy was dead anyway, that wouldn't go well. Anyway, being in charge seemed better than following orders.
Micky shouted, "Incoming aircraft! Look at that thing! It's huge!"
The Stratolaunch was the world's largest aircraft. It had been designed to take rockets up toward the top of the atmosphere to launch out into space. This one was carrying an enormous tube, wide and long and very fat. There were two fuselages, one on either side of the blimp-like tube. On each wing there were three jet engines.
Nikisha was fascinated. It was big, it was in the sky, and it was diving at them. Before she had time to decide what to do, she saw the tube separate from the plane. The rest of the plane levelled out, the tube kept coming. Part of her attention noticed the plane making a gentle turn to the West, toward the afternoon Sun. The rest of her attention could see the payload coming down and down and down. Right on top of them.
Micky had the presence of mind to shout, "Get under the vehicles! Take cover!!!" With that he dove under the tailgate of one of the pickup trucks.
Seeing the sense in this suggestion, Nikisha rolled herself under the bus.
The sound and the tremors from the enormous tube seemed to fill the world with noise and shock. Then the liquid hit. Everything was slimed.
Nikisha lay in a puddle of goo for a few moments. Then she rolled herself out from under the bus and stood up.
Just then, a crop duster zoomed down on them, following the line of the road, dumping its part of the binary epoxy. The fixative hit the Red Rangers who were still on the road. Then the pilot made a second pass to get those on one side, and a third pass to the other side of the road, before heading West.
Somewhat dazed from these experiences, Nikisha reached up across her chest with her right hand and started to claw at the slime. All around her she could see others doing the same. Everyone was coated and trying to get this stuff off, and it wasn't coming.
Standing next to the bus with a handful of goo, Nikisha started to wipe her hand against the side of the bus. But the goo wouldn't unstick. It was getting harder. Now her hand was stuck to the side of the bus. She tried to bend her other arm, and it was stuck, too.
She couldn't look around, but Nikisha was sure that her entire team was immobilised.
[End part thirteen, continues in part fourteen]
Jim Davidson is an author, entrepreneur, actor, and director. He is the cfo of KanehCN3.com and the vision director of HoustonSpaceSociety.net You can find him on Twitter.com/planetaryjim as well as Pocket.app and Flote.app also as planetaryjim. He appreciates any support you can provide as times are very difficult. See the Paypal link on this page, or Flote.app for crypto options. Or email your humble author to offer other choices.
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