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Captain Baker was ready to go. The general passed on all the intel they had gathered, including the approximate number of Qi Jia soldiers in each region and the locations of the primary enemy bases in North America. Most of what he gave them matched what Danny had already shared—as provided by our African friend, Lazzo—and what they’d picked up from Qi Jia transmissions in the past month. They did, however, learn Puerto Rico had also been completely wiped out in the attacks and was now being used exclusively as a prison, controlled primarily by Libya. There had been no communication between Denver and Puerto Rico though, so it was anybody’s guess who might be held captive there. Americans? Qi Jia traitors and deserters? The president? Could our president possibly still be alive? No one knew.

The general explained that mainland North America was divided into eight enemy zones, each controlled by one of the seven attacking countries, with the last zone, Colorado, jointly operated. Who knew how accurate the troop estimates were anymore, but they were at least a baseline.

Northeast (Colombia): 45,000 troops.

Southeast (Libya): 110,000 troops.

Southwest (Mexico): 150,000 troops.

Midwest (Japan): 75,000 troops.

Colorado (shared): 20,000 troops.

Alaska B.C. (Russia): 275,000 troops.

Canada (China): 215,000 troops.

Northwest (North Korea): 65,000 troops.

In all, 955,000 troops. It didn’t sound like much until you considered, all told, we only had a hundred or so men to oppose them. This was more than a rematch of David versus Goliath. This was baby David with a pacifier and rattle against Goliath and an army of drones, missiles, and technology.

The one advantage we did have was that the Qi Jia army was mostly spread out across the entire continent. A rescue team might be able to bob and weave their way through without detection. The most dense population was in the former US states along the Mexican border—Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and southern California—where millions of Mexican citizens had moved north to claim free land. The other seven zones were almost strictly military. A small command base was set up in a central city in each of the zones, the only cities left intact and with functional electrical grids: New York City, Miami, Dallas, Chicago, Anchorage, Toronto, Seattle, and Denver. San Diego had also been spared—fully intact—but we knew that was merely to allow Tijuana to expand. San Diego was under Mexican control—and officially the command base for Qi Jia’s West Coast naval fleet.

To attempt a rescue, our troops would have to move one of our two aircraft carriers away from the Shield’s protective cover and out into the open Pacific, halfway between Hawaii and Los Angeles—about 1,300 miles. Our forces would then have to launch a couple AC-130 airships off the carriers for a single shot at dropping troops into the Rockies in Colorado. The planes would have to squeeze through a thin radar gap north of LA, find a safe airstrip to land on in Colorado, then refuel and wait for who knew how long for the rescue team to return. The rescue team would have to reach the bunker in Cheyenne Mountain, gain access to it, and lead the survivors to the airstrip for the flight back to the aircraft carrier—assuming it hadn’t been sunk yet.

If that wasn’t already risky and complicated enough, three hundred civilian survivors in Hawaii would have to be trained for critical roles in operating the aircraft carrier. They’d be sitting ducks waiting out there for the rescue team to come back. If Qi Jia caught wind of the carrier’s presence or intercepted the rescue team, it would be a total loss of the planes, the ship, and the people. All to save thirty-nine Americans in Cheyenne Mountain. In a nutshell… it was a stupid idea. If not the stupidest idea ever.

FOUR – The Pack (Danny)

Two Months Ago.
---------- (Wednesday. May 25, 2022.) ----------

A rescue attempt didn’t make sense to me—at least not this one—and I stated as much as soon as the general was off the phone. Baker started swinging at me right then and there. Unfortunately neither Deacon nor Royce were in the room. Blake wasn’t there either. I didn’t back down, but I was no physical match for the SEAL captain. The other men in the room finally separated us, and I was helped out of the room with a bloody face and almost certainly a couple broken ribs. When Governor Barnes and I ran into Deacon and Royce in the hallway, the Rangers wanted to go after the captain, but the governor talked them down. There was enough of a division in the forces already. He reasoned with them to let it go, and I backed him up. I told them to go pack up all their gear and bring it back to the governor’s office. I had an assignment for them.

An hour later, after a quick doctor visit—I was right about the ribs by the way—I was stretched out in Governor Barnes’s office with a bag of ice pressed against my face and another ice bag wrapped around my chest.

The stoic governor I was accustomed to was not in this room. This handwringing, deep sighing, head shaking man was the polar opposite of that guy. “I can’t keep him from going, Danny, no matter how little sense it makes to any of us.”

“You are the governor, sir.”

“Yeah, but what does that really mean? No one’s listening to me. And with General Niles encouraging him…”

“I know.” I was officially the same rank as Captain Baker, but also felt inferior.

“What else can I do?” Barnes was pacing. “Governor is just an empty title now. What am I really against a SEAL captain? Who’s going to follow me?”

“I will. And there are others.”

“I appreciate that, Danny. It’s just a tough spot to be. I think I’m in charge. Baker thinks he is. Neither of us should be.”

“You’re doing fine, sir.”

“Am I? I’m scared to death. Danny, I’ll be lucky if Baker doesn’t just shoot me. The son of a bitch is going to take all our good men out there and get them killed.”

I listened to the governor vent and thought about it for a minute. “Not necessarily.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, Baker and I both have the same rank. As governor you could split the troops in half, assigning half of them to each of us. We could have a draft, so to speak. There’s no way in hell I’m going with them, so make me in charge of homeland security. Give Baker control of the military. That’s what he wants anyway.” Barnes was nodding now. “If he goes out and gets everyone killed… there’s still half of us left. No matter what he says, he can’t challenge your authority on that. He doesn’t want to have a public showdown with you that he could lose—he doesn’t want this to go to a popular vote.”

“You’re probably right.” Barnes smiled and stopped pacing. “No, you’re absolutely right. It could work.”

“One more thing.” I set the ice pack down. I had his ear now. I had to push my luck.

“Shoot.”

“I want my own team on Redemption Island.” I stood up. “And a seaplane to keep out there and take us back and forth.”

“Danny, I don’t—”

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