SJardine,  Thoughts

[Excerpt]Battle Hymn (America Rising #3) by William C. Dietz

As people fight to survive the aftereffects of more than a dozen meteor strikes, a group of wealthy individuals conspires to rebuild the United States as a corporate entity called the New Confederacy, where the bottom line is law. As a second civil war rages, with families fighting against families on opposite sides, Union president Samuel T. Sloan battles to keep the country whole.

After the fateful battle with her sister, the New Confederacy places a price on Union Army captain Robin “Mac” Macintyre’s head, causing bounty hunters to try to kill her. Mac will do all that she can to help Sloan reunify the country by reclaiming a strategic oil reserve in the heart of Confederate territory, and freeing hundreds of Union prisoners of war from appalling conditions in Mexico. But, to truly have peace, they will have to take down the New Confederacy’s leadership–and that includes Mac’s father, General Bo Macintyre.

Thanks to the generosity of Daw Books, we’re pleased to be able to share an excerpt from Battle Hymn (America Rising #3) by William C Dietz due out on February 20th. Read on, and we hope you enjoy!  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below and make sure to look for a giveaway of the first book in the series, Into the Guns, in the next couple of days!


Chapter One

You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.

—Nelson Mandela

East of Albuquerque, New Mexico

It was three in the morning. The past two days had been spent infiltrating troops into the hills east of Albuquerque, New Mexico. It would have been impossible without the snowstorm. But, thanks to the poor visibility, Union forces had been able to enter the area without being spotted. And one of those soldiers was the President of what had once been the United States of America.

However, even though Samuel T. Sloan was commander in chief of all armed forces, Captain Nick Black was in command of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry Brigade from Fort Carson, Colorado. Because, as Sloan’s military attaché put it, “You aren’t qualified to lead a squad, much less a company.” And Sloan knew it was true.

So why was he there? Crouched under a tree? Waiting for the signal to attack rebel-held Albuquerque? Because it was important to walk the walk, that’s why. He was popularly known as the “Fighting President,” even though he could just as easily be called “the accidental president” since he had never run for political office.

The global disaster took place on May Day 2018, when sixty-plus meteors streaked through Earth’s atmosphere. Some struck the Pacific Ocean, sending tidal waves surging east and west. Others continued on, and one of them exploded over Washington State. The force of the blast was twenty–thirty times more powerful than the explosion that had leveled Hiroshima during WWII.

The secondary effects were even more devastating. Especially the widespread dispersal of particulate matter into the atmosphere. So much particulate matter that the amount of sunlight reaching the surface of the planet was reduced by 15 percent. Plants died, the animals that fed on the plants died, and the humans who relied on both died. Millions upon millions of them.

America was hard-hit. Not only by the stuff in the atmosphere, and the effect that it had on crops, but by the meteors that struck Denver and Washington, D.C. In the blink of an eye, the top echelons of the federal government were annihilated, and Secretary of Energy Sloan became president.

Sloan had been in Mexico on May 1. And by the time he made it back and managed to assume the presidency his badly shattered country had descended into chaos. There were pockets of civility. But large swaths of the country were controlled by warlords, religious groups, or no one at all. And that opened the way for a group of Libertarian oligarchs to form a new government in the American South. The Second Civil War followed.

Now, after many months of conflict, the Union Army was about to drive the Confederates out of Albuquerque. That was the plan, anyway. And some of the necessary groundwork had been laid. Thanks to arms supplied by the Union Army, a chief named Natonaba and a thousand Navajos put the squeeze on the Confederate supply line that led up from Texas—and into New Mexico.

As a result, the rebs had to send heavy armor up Highway 285 north every time one of their convoys headed for Albuquerque. And, because the city was well within the reach of the Union Air Force, the Southerners couldn’t fly the supplies in either. All of which meant that the Confederates were running short of everything. That included food, fuel, and ammo.

The bastards did have one thing going for them, however—and that was the civilian hostages who were being held at key locations in the city. A situation that kept Union forces from bombing Confederate troop concentrations—and forced them to attack on the ground.

Sloan’s thoughts were interrupted as his platoon leader spoke on the radio. “This is Archer-Six. Move out. Watch those intervals and rotate the people on point every fifteen minutes. Over.” Sloan knew that the person on point would have to break trail for those who followed. That made it necessary to rotate people through the one slot in order to spread the work around. Not to mention the risk since the person on point was more likely to trigger an IED or catch a bullet.

Of course the lieutenant colonel in command of the battalion knew that. So, rather than send her people down the network of trails that could easily be booby-trapped, Barkley ordered each platoon to find its own way to the extent that was practical. And thanks to the mostly low, scrubby growth that covered the hills, her strategy was working.

To ensure that her troops didn’t get lost, Colonel Barkley had assigned local guides to each platoon. They were supposed to occupy the two slots right behind the point man and in front of the platoon leader.

As for Sloan, he was number eighteen in a twenty-six-person platoon, five of whom were green berets assigned to protect him. That in spite of Sloan’s opposition to any form of executive privilege. But Secretary of Defense Garrison and the rest of the cabinet were adamant. Sloan could accept the bodyguards or they would quit en masse. White House Chief of Staff Wendy Chow had been selected to deliver the message. “If you get yourself killed, or if the rebs manage to capture you, everything we’ve worked for will go down the toilet. So accept some bodyguards or run the administration by yourself.” Sloan had no choice but to agree.

Thanks to his night-vision gear, Sloan could see the soldier in front of him as she passed between snow-laden trees and circled a snowcapped boulder. Sloan’s snowshoes kept him from sinking into the powdery stuff. But they were clumsy, and his knees were starting to ache.

About three miles. That’s how far they had to go in order to reach Kirtland Air Force Base, which was located adjacent to Albuquerque’s International “Sunport.” Kirtland had been home to the Materiel Command’s preimpact Nuclear Weapons Center a couple of months earlier.

But when it became clear that the rebs were going to going to capture Albuquerque, it had been necessary for air force personnel to destroy key parts of the facility as they withdrew. The ruins would make a good place to rally, however, and prepare for the final push into the airport, where more than a hundred civilian hostages were being held.

What were conditions like? Were the prisoners being fed? And what about the children? At least a dozen of them were being held in the main terminal, according to intelligence reports. Assuming all went well, this would be their last night in captivity.

Sloan had hoped to free Albuquerque earlier in the war but couldn’t do so without pulling much-needed soldiers out of the east, where General Hern couldn’t win without them. But thanks to recent successes, troops were available.

Sloan saw a flash of light and heard a loud bang. He raised the M4 but couldn’t spot any targets. “This is Archer-One,” Lieutenant Orson said. “We have a man down. No medic required. Keep moving.”

It seemed that the platoon’s point man had been killed by an IED, or a mine, in spite of the decision to stay off established paths. But where were the paths? Under many inches of snow, that’s where . . . And it looked as though the platoon had strayed onto one of them.

Had the enemy heard the explosion? Or seen the flash? Perhaps. But the curtain of steadily falling snow might have been sufficient to conceal the flash and muffle the sound.

Sloan winced as he slip-slid past the point where the charge had gone off. A body lay in a patch of blackened snow—and a badly mangled arm pointed the way. Sloan felt something cold clutch his stomach. Would he be next? Why not me? Sloan asked himself. Maybe it’s my turn.

As soon as the platoon arrived on level ground, it began to move more quickly. Speed was of the essence. Especially if the enemy knew they were coming. A hill rose to the right and forced them to circle around it. There were still no signs of an enemy response, which gave Sloan reason to hope that the explosion had gone unnoticed.

His knees were on fire by then, and Sloan wanted to rest. Five minutes would be enough. But no, that wouldn’t be possible until they arrived at Kirtland. And there was no way in hell that he would request something the other soldiers couldn’t have.

After crossing a large open area, the platoon arrived at an unplowed road. Sloan had studied a map of the area and knew it was Pennsylvania Street NE, a street that would lead them to Kirtland AFB. And that was good. The fully loaded pack and TAC vest were starting to make themselves known, and Sloan’s shoulders had begun to ache, a sure sign that he should work out more often.

Not Lieutenant Orson, though . . . he fell out of line occasionally and let the rest of them pass before shuffling up to the head of the column again. Why? To check on his soldiers, that’s why. Because they were his responsibility. And Sloan admired him for it.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the vague outlines of buildings began to appear through the veil of steadily falling snow. There were what might have been fuel tanks off to one side. And even though the very top of the com tower was lost in the grayness up above, Sloan could make out the bottom third of the structure, along with the equipment shed nearby.

The only tracks were those left by the people in front of Sloan, and that was promising. If the enemy knew the force was there, surely they would have come out to fight by now?

Orson led the platoon through a shattered door into what had been a fitness facility. After posting sentries, the platoon leader told the rest of his soldiers to take a bio break. It felt good to remove the snowshoes. A couple of green beanies followed Sloan as he went out to take a pee. It was annoying, not to mention intimidating, but there was nothing he could do about it.

By the time Sloan reentered the gym, the rest of the battalion was preparing for the final push. He wanted to pester Colonel Barkley but knew it would be counterproductive and managed to restrain himself.

Sloan took the opportunity to mingle instead. All of the troops knew who he was, and most were willing to talk. And that was part of the mission Press Secretary Besom had given him. “Shoot the shit with the troops,” Besom said. “They’ll write home about it, some of their anecdotes will appear in the hometown paper, and you’ll score some points.”

Sloan knew that “points” were important with an election coming up in a few months. But he wanted to talk to the soldiers and took pleasure in doing so. He was busy chatting with a tech from Iowa when Colonel Barkley appeared at his side. “Sorry to interrupt, Private . . . Can I borrow the president for a moment?”

“Yes, ma’am,” the soldier replied, and drifted away.

Barkley was a little under six feet tall. Sloan figured the officer was in her forties. But she looked older because of her prematurely gray hair and the damage that years spent in the field had done to her face. Barkley’s eyes were gray and fearless. “So far, so good, Mr. President. Thanks for making the rounds. The troops like you, and no wonder. Lots of politicians claim to love the military but wouldn’t dream of risking their own lives.”

“It’s an honor to be here,” Sloan replied. “Are we running on schedule?”

Barkley nodded. “The other battalions are in position and ready to move out. After we depart, we’ll double-time our way up to the main terminal. Chief Natonaba and his people will launch a feint on my command. Then, if everything goes as planned, the attack will pull most of the rebs over to the north side of the building. That’s when we’ll force our way in.” Barkley shrugged. “Who knows how things will go after that.”

“Yeah,” Sloan said. “Who knows?”

Barkley smiled. “So, you’re ready?”

“As ready as a desk jockey can be.”

“Good. Please do me a favor, Mr. President.”

“Sure, name it.”

“Don’t get killed. It would be bad for my career.” With that, Barkley turned and walked away.

Sloan laughed, and was still grinning, as Orson led the platoon out into the snow. They began to jog. The local guide led the way through a maze of buildings and over onto what Sloan knew to be the airport’s north runway. A single set of tire tracks was visible. A perimeter patrol? Yes, that would make sense. But, thanks to the poor visibility, the rebs hadn’t been able to spot the white-clad invaders.

There were no indications that planes had been arriving or departing, however. And that was to be expected. The airport was shut down except for the rare C-17 loaded with critical supplies. The platoon passed a wrecked plane, though . . . A passenger jet perhaps? Caught on the ground when the city fell? Most likely. A white shroud covered its remains.

Sloan was tired by then. He was a runner . . . But most runners don’t carry fifty-pound packs. His breath came in short gasps, and it was hard to keep up with the 120-pound private in front of him. She was carrying fifty pounds, too . . . And showed no signs of flagging.

The runway lights were off, consistent with the citywide blackout imposed by the Confederates. But cracks of light could be seen around the edges of the terminal’s windows and hinted at life within. Sloan was trying to imagine the scene inside the building when muffled explosions were heard. He knew that was the diversion . . . The one intended to pull rebs over to the north side of the terminal building.

Night turned to day as the airport’s lights came on. Suddenly, the column of soldiers was fully lit and exposed to machine-gun fire that originated from the top of the terminal building and some ground-level pillboxes. Soldiers fell as streams of tracer converged ahead of Sloan. He went to one knee and returned fire. A rooftop machine gun fell silent as a rocket struck it.

“Follow me!” Lieutenant Orson shouted as he led the platoon to a door. A noncom ran forward. He was armed with a shotgun and fired two breaching rounds into the lock. The door sagged, and the sergeant pushed it out of the way.

Orson was the first person through the doorway, and the first to fall, as a reb fired half a magazine into the officer’s lower extremities. The next soldier killed the Confederate, only to be cut down himself.

That was when Sloan found himself standing in the entryway. He’d fought before and been to the range since. The M4 carbine seemed to fire itself. Someone was screaming epithets at the Confederates as they fell. And it wasn’t until all of them were down that Sloan realized the truth. The steady stream of obscenities had originated from him.

Now, with no one in front of him, Sloan yelled, “Follow me!” A flight of stairs led to the first floor. And Sloan was halfway there when two green berets passed him. A body came tumbling down as one of them fired upwards.

Then the Union soldiers hurried up to the main floor, where a metal door barred further progress. “I have the code,” the sergeant with the shotgun said. Three blasts from the twelve-gauge were required to get the job done, and Sloan was the fourth person to enter the terminal through the door marked gate 11. He expected to encounter resistance, but the waiting area was empty. The persistent rattle of gunfire could be heard in the distance, however, and Sloan’s thoughts were with the hostages.

A number of experts had been consulted during the planning phase of the mission. All of them agreed that there were two possibilities. If the rebels who controlled the airport were fanatical followers of the so-called New Order, they would probably slaughter the hostages in order to terrorize the North.

But if the rebs were regular rank-and-file soldiers, they would be hesitant to kill civilians. Even if they were ordered to do so. Especially since they’d been members of a unified army six months earlier and been trained to avoid inflicting civilian casualties. And everyone believed that the second proposition was the more likely of the two. But were they correct? Sloan was about to find out.

He signaled for silence and led the platoon down a hall, past a row of empty food stalls, and through a security door. And that was when Sloan saw them. The hostages were an island of humanity sitting in a sea of trash. Airline blankets, empty food containers, and cast-off water bottles were strewn everywhere.

Children were crying, and adults had their hands clasped behind their heads, as two soldiers stood guard. They were armed with assault weapons and looking south, toward the sounds of fighting. What to do? Call on the soldiers to surrender? And run the risk that they would open fire on the prisoners? Or shoot them?

They’re regular soldiers, Sloan reminded himself. Good people in a bad place. They don’t want to commit mass murder. Stick to the plan.

Sloan looked left and right. The platoon was waiting for him to make the first move. He stepped forward. “Union Army! Place your weapons on the floor and take two steps back.”

The rebs raised their rifles as they turned, saw all of the weapons aimed at them, and stopped. “Don’t shoot!” one of the rebs said. “I’m putting my rifle down.”

Sloan heaved a sigh of relief, and was about to move forward, when a hostage stood. She had frowsy hair, a full figure, and was wrapped in a winter coat. She yelled something incomprehensible. That was followed by a loud bang and a flash of light. The woman ceased to exist. The force of the explosion threw Sloan onto his back. And that’s where he was, staring at the ceiling, when a green beret bent over him. “Mr. President? Were you hit?”

Sloan ran a quick inventory. “No, I don’t think so. Help me up.”

Once on his feet, Sloan was confronted with the worst carnage he’d ever witnessed, and that included the bloodbath in Richton, Mississippi. A bright red bull’s-eye marked the spot where the woman had been standing. The individuals closest to her had been ripped to shreds. Body parts were strewn everywhere. Many of the people who were farther out from the explosion had been wounded, and Union soldiers were applying first aid. The horror of it stunned him. Sloan saw a hand lying nearby. A child’s hand. His stomach heaved, and he threw up. Once the nausea passed, he straightened up and made use of a sleeve to wipe his mouth. “Why?” Sloan demanded of no one in particular. “Why?”

“Because the people in charge knew the soldiers wouldn’t want to kill the hostages,” Colonel Barkley said as she arrived next to him. “So they planted a fanatic in the crowd. It’s supposed to teach us a lesson.”

Sloan looked at her. “What lesson is that?”

Barkley’s expression was hard. “Even if you win, you lose. That’s what they want us to believe.”

The firing had stopped. The colonel’s radio-telephone operator (RTO) spoke to her. “The airport is secure, ma’am.”

Sloan should have felt a sense of satisfaction. He didn’t. “Even if you win, you lose.” That was a good description of the war, any civil war, and the reality of that threatened to crush him.

Biloxi, Mississippi

Rest and relaxation. R&R. That was the mission Major Robin Macintyre and 1,326 other members of the military had been sent to the recently “liberated” town of Biloxi, Mississippi, to accomplish. Except the people of Biloxi didn’t believe that they’d been liberated. No, they were pretty sure that they’d been conquered, and the knowledge didn’t sit well. And that was evident in the hotel clerk’s surly manner. “Your room will be ready in an hour or so. Perhaps you’d like to check your bag and take a stroll through town. You own it, after all.”

Mac raised an eyebrow. There was no point in responding to the barb, and she didn’t. “Okay . . . Who should I give the bag to?”

“Henry will take care of it,” the clerk replied as he brought his hand down on an old-fashioned bell. “Enjoy your stay.”

He didn’t mean that, of course, since the clerk was clearly a loyal Confederate, who hoped that Mac would die and join the rest of her kind in hell. Mac forced a smile. “I will.”

Henry was a wizened old man who might have been in his eighties. Could he be a Union sympathizer? Based on the wink Henry gave her, Mac thought he was. She followed him across the lobby to the bell stand on the far side. Massive columns supported a coffered ceiling, potted plants served to define separate conversation areas, and louvered windows were open to the outside. But even though the room looked as if it had been there for a hundred years, Mac knew the hotel had been built just after Hurricane Katrina, back when real estate was cheap.

After placing Mac’s overnight bag in a storage room, Henry gave her a claim ticket and a card that had his name scrawled on it. “If you want some good gumbo, go to Louie’s,” he said. “Tell the front man that Henry sent you and give him this. The gumbo won’t be any cheaper, but the cook won’t spit in it.”

It was, Mac decided, a valuable lesson in political reality. Even though the North had been able to reclaim New Orleans and establish a foothold in the Deep South, they had a long way to go before winning the hearts and minds of the people who lived there.

Biloxi was untouched by fighting and surrounded by Union troops, so stepping out of the hotel was like entering a bubble, a place where things looked normal even if they weren’t. Most of the people on the street were soldiers, about 70 percent of whom were male and eager to find some female companionship. But outside of the bars and beach casinos, there wasn’t much for them to do other than walk up and down the main drag.

Mac wasn’t interested in the bars. But she did want to do some shopping and was disappointed to discover that items like shampoo, quality underwear, and chocolate bars simply weren’t available. Because of shortages? Perhaps. Or maybe the shop owners didn’t want the Union soldiers to have them. No, Mac thought, that’s silly. But the idea persisted.

Mac was able to buy a top, shorts, and sandals, however . . . And went back to the hotel to put them on. The third-floor room was large, and a tiny balcony looked down onto the street.

After donning her new clothes, Mac returned to the first floor and left the hotel. She was hungry by then. It took fifteen minutes to find Louie’s. The reception was cool at first. But, after giving Henry’s card to the maître d’, Mac was shown to a nice table that looked out onto the street. Her drink arrived quickly, soon followed by a nice salad and a big bowl of gumbo. Sans spit? She hoped so. And it was a welcome change from the steady diet of Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) that she had grown accustomed to.

After paying an exorbitant bill with a wad of OC (Occupation Currency), Mac exited the restaurant and began the trip back to the hotel. Soldiers hit on her, and one of the street vendors attempted to hang a necklace around her neck. That was when Mac felt the familiar itch between her shoulder blades. It was the same sensation she’d felt in nightclubs when some guy was checking her out, and on the battlefield, just before somebody took a shot at her. So she turned to check her six. There was nothing to see other than the constant flow of soldiers.

You’re battle happy, Mac told herself as she made her way up the street. A good night’s sleep will put you right.

Once she was back in her room, Mac took a long shower and reveled in the seemingly limitless supply of hot water. Then it was time to don a tee shirt with army emblazoned across the front and a pair of pink socks. 

Mac brushed her teeth, removed the baby Glock from her AWOL bag, and checked to ensure that it was loaded. The habit of sleeping with a pistol had begun shortly after the meteor strikes turned everything upside down and wasn’t likely to go away anytime soon.

Mac turned the lights off and crawled into bed. It was not only huge, but soft, in marked contrast to the surfaces she’d slept on for months. Mac enjoyed the feeling at first.

But, after tossing and turning for fifteen minutes, she realized that the mattress was too soft. For her, anyway. So Mac got up and pulled the coverlet off the bed. After laying that and a pillow on the floor, she lay down and pulled the comforter up around her shoulders. She fell asleep three minutes later.

Mac was somewhere pleasant, with someone she liked, when the noise awoke her. That didn’t take much. Not for a soldier who’d been on the front line for months. Her hand went to the Glock as she heard the creaking sound again. It was coming from the direction of the door that opened onto the balcony. Or was it? Maybe she was hearing noise from the street or the room next door. You’re wound tight, Mac told herself. Get a grip.

There was a streetlamp outside. And as the door swung open, a silhouette appeared. He, or she, paused as if to look around. Then the intruder raised a long-barreled pistol and fired. The reports were muffled. A suppressor? Yes! All of those thoughts flashed through Mac’s mind as she fired the Glock three times. It was loud by comparison, and as muzzle flashes strobed the room, the figure slumped forward.

Mac rolled free of the comforter and stood with the pistol pointed at the balcony door. Were more gunmen about to enter? Mac backed up to the point where she could access a wall switch. Light flooded the room.

The would-be assassin had fallen forward over the foot of her rumpled bed. Black-edged holes marked the bullet holes in one of the pillows. It appeared that the jumble of bedclothes had been enough to give him the impression that she was in bed. Shit! What the hell was going on? Was she looking at a thief? Someone banged on the door. “Security! Are you all right? Open the door.”

Mac went over to stand next to the door. Her training kicked in. Never assume. Was it security? Or was a backup team trying to get in? “A man tried to kill me,” she said through the door. “I shot him. He’s dead. If you are who you say you are, you have a master key. Use it . . . And come in with your hands on your head.”

Mac heard a click, saw the door open, and stood ready to fire as a man entered. Then she remembered how she was dressed. Or wasn’t dressed. But it was too late. “I’m Enrique,” the man said. “Please point the pistol somewhere else.”

Mac lowered the Glock. “Okay, sorry about that. But it pays to be careful.”

Enrique was thirtysomething and wearing a blue blazer with khaki slacks. Just like all the other security guys she’d met. He looked from the body and back to her. “What happened?”

“It’s like I told you. That bozo came in off the balcony and tried to kill me. Look at the pillow. You can see the bullet holes. His nine mil is on the floor.”

Enrique frowned. “Why are you still alive?”

“I was sleeping on the floor.”

Enrique eyed Mac as if to make sure she was serious, looked at the comforter, and nodded. “You’re military?”


He nodded. “I am going to reach inside my coat and remove my cell phone. Then I’m going to call the military police.”

Mac smiled thinly. “Go for it.”

As Enrique made the call, Mac took the opportunity to enter the bathroom and put a uniform on. For the sake of modesty, yes, but for another reason as well. If Mac was going to deal with some MPs, she wanted to do so as a major, rather than a girl wearing a tee shirt and panties. So she was fully dressed by the time the MPs arrived.

“I’m Sergeant Kirby,” the lead investigator said. “This is Corporal Kinney, and that’s Private Nagata.” Kirby had dark skin, a round face, a slim body. He looked from the body to Mac. “So, Major . . . What happened?”

Mac told the story again as Nagata pulled a pair of latex gloves on and began to search the body. Light strobed the walls as Kinney took photos. “Here’s something interesting,” Nagata said, as Mac’s narrative came to an end. “Check it out.”

“It” was a piece of much-creased paper, which Kirby handled with great care. He scanned it, did a double take, and turned to Mac. “Look, Major, you’re famous!”

Mac could hardly believe her eyes. The flyer said, “wanted dead or alive!” across the top. And there, immediately under the header, were the words: “Major Robin Macintyre, Commanding Officer Mac’s Marauders, for war crimes.”

That was followed by a photo which, surprisingly enough, was quite current. And no wonder. She’d seen it in the New York Times a month earlier. What the hell? After scanning the flyer, Mac read it again. The description was accurate. She had been born in ’93, she was twenty-seven, and her mop of hair was brown.

As for the text under the heading “Criminal Record,” some of that was true and some wasn’t. Mac had been court-martialed, found guilty, and sentenced to four years in prison. President Sloan had pardoned her as part of a plan to return low-level offenders to military service and the battlefield. Had favoritism been involved? Yes, most certainly, since she had saved Sloan’s life—and he’d been forthright about his interest in her.

But the rest was grade-A bullshit. Especially the line that read: “After being pardoned by Union President Samuel T. Sloan, Macintyre and her band of criminals committed numerous crimes, including kidnapping and the murder of her sister, Confederate Major Victoria Macintyre.”

The truth was that Victoria had been killed by a crazed Confederate deserter two weeks earlier. As for kidnapping, Mac had been involved in snatching the Confederacy’s Secretary of Energy, but that was a legit thing to do during a war.

Then there was the reward. “Upon delivery of Major Robin Macintyre to the proper authorities, or DNA evidence proving her death, the government of the New Confederacy will pay a reward equivalent to $100,000 in gold or silver.”

That was bad enough. But the real shocker was down in the left-hand corner of the page in small font. “By order of General Bo Macintyre, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Confederate Army.” Bo was her father! Her estranged father, yes, but the wanted poster still came as a shock.

Bo and Victoria had always been close. To some extent, that was the result of a natural affinity based on two similar personalities. But there was something more going on as well, and that was Victoria’s determination to secure all of her father’s affection, by any means necessary. It was a need that put Victoria at odds with both her mother and her sister. And Mac’s insistence on going her own way had done nothing to close the gap with Bo.

But a death sentence? That represented a new level of hostility where Bo was concerned. Did he actually believe that his youngest daughter was responsible for his oldest daughter’s death? Communications weren’t perfect due to the war, and Mac had been present when her sister died. So maybe he did.

There was another possibility, too . . . Bo was Chairman of the Confederacy’s Joint Chiefs. Maybe he was under pressure to disown the daughter who not only fought for the North but had gained a considerable amount of notoriety for saving President Sloan’s life? Would Bo Macintyre sacrifice Mac for his career? She couldn’t rule it out. That realization triggered a flood of sorrow. The kind of grief she might have felt had her father been killed. And, in a way, he was dead to her. Or maybe he always had been. “So what do you think?” Kirby demanded.

“I think I’m worth more than a hundred thou,” Mac replied. “And I want a different room. This one is too messy.”

South of Winston-Salem, North Carolina

General Bo Macintyre was standing on one of the four landing pads that were clustered around the topmost section of Confederate Defense Tower 26. The structure was three hundred feet tall, and located just south of the New Mason-Dixon Line. It, like the identical towers located to the east and west, had been constructed before Bo was named as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

Had Bo occupied that position when the idea was initially put forward, he would have reminded President Lemaire and his cronies of another chain of fortifications that were supposed to keep enemies out. And that was the ill-fated Maginot Line. It consisted of concrete bunkers built all along France’s borders with Switzerland, Germany, and Luxembourg.

Unfortunately, the seemingly impregnable defenses had a weak spot near the Ardennes Forest, a flaw the Germans were not only aware of but eager to exploit. Doing so allowed them to split the French-British defensive front, leading to the famous evacuation at Dunkirk. The French surrendered six weeks later.

And defensive towers like the one Bo was standing on were proving to be equally vulnerable. Six had been bypassed or destroyed, allowing Union forces to push down along both banks of the Mississippi River and link up with an amphibious force in New Orleans, the same city where, Bo was convinced, his daughter Victoria had been murdered by her sister. Bo winced and pushed the thought away.

The point was that the Union had been able to effectively split the Confederacy in two. And that’s why Bo was in North Carolina. He was there to boost morale and keep the eastern half of the country in the fight. If they could continue to hold, Bo believed that the Yankees could be driven out of the South. Unfortunately, winning, as in conquering the North, was no longer a realistic possibility. A fact that President Lemaire and his sycophants had yet to accept.

That was the big picture. But as Bo brought a pair of binoculars up to his eyes, he was thinking about the brigade arrayed in front of him. According to the reports that Bo had read, the Union forces were under the command of Major General Suzanne “Bunny” Smith. She’d been two years behind him at West Point, and while Bo didn’t know Smith well, he was familiar with her reputation.

The nickname “Bunny” stemmed from the fact that Smith was so physically attractive that her male classmates thought she could qualify as a Playboy Bunny. But that had everything to do with nothing. From what Bo had heard, Smith was competent, hard, and aggressive. So why was Bunny sitting on her butt? Because she’s waiting for something, Bo concluded. Something I won’t like.

And that prediction was borne out when his aide, Major Brian Arkov, arrived. He was slightly out of breath. “It’s time to pull out, General . . . They’re sending a helicopter up from the Dungeon.”

Bo knew that the men and women stationed on Tower 26 routinely referred to the windowless complex underneath the central column as “the Dungeon.” He lowered the glasses. “Time to go? Why?

“Union paratroopers are landing south of us, sir. It looks like they’re the anvil, and General Smith is the hammer.”

“The Hammer,” would be a much better nickname for Smith in Bo’s opinion. “Cancel the helo, Brian. We’re going to stay.”

Arkov wore rimless glasses, and he looked like a stern headmaster at an elite school. He frowned. “Is that wise, General? If you were to be captured, or killed, it would be a severe blow to the war effort.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Bo replied. “But I can assure you that I won’t be captured. As for killed, well, there are plenty of generals in Houston. One of them will step in. Think about it, Brian . . . If we leave, how would that look to a private? Or to the citizens of North Carolina?

“Besides,” Bo added. “Colonel Katz is rolling north with two cavalry battalions. And once he gets here, we’ll be able to push Bunny back across the New Mason-Dixon Line. All we need to do is hold on.”

Arkov looked doubtful. “Sir, yes, sir.”

“Pass the word,” Bo said. “This ain’t over till it’s over. Tell the CO that I want every clerk, cook, and tech geared up and ready to defend this installation.”

Bo’s self-confidence was contagious, and Arkov grinned. “Yes, sir. I’ll tell him.”

“Good. And one more thing . . . I want him to launch every attack helicopter he has. I want them in the air, and I want them to hit those paratroopers hard. That will force the Yankees to slow down and soften them up for Katz.”

Arkov tossed Bo a salute, turned, and ran toward the elevators located in the central column. Bo walked out to the edge of the platform, looked down, and eyed the berm that Smith’s troops would have to cross. It was defended with machine guns, mortars, and 20mm Gatling guns. And that wasn’t all. The tower’s C-RAM system stood ready to detect and destroy incoming artillery, mortar, and rocket rounds before they could cause damage. And a surface-to-air-missile battery was located on the next platform over from where Bo stood. It swiveled left and right every now and then, like a dog sniffing the air. Bo turned his gaze to the north. Come on bitch, Bo thought. Let’s see what you’ve got.


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