World War IV: Alliances- Book 0, страница 1
World War IV: Alliances
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Table of Contents
World War IV: Alliances
Chapter 1 – 2071
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Chapter 1 – 2071
With the sun dipping behind the mountains in the west, the fading light cast a brilliant glow over the fields. The tall blades of wheat wavered and caught the dying light, offering the illusion that the ground had liquefied into gold. Which, for Frederick Mars, was close to the truth.
Thick layers of dust and earth that caked Fred’s body crumbled from his arms as he peeled the gloves off his hands. He cracked his knuckles, wincing from the stiffness, and took a moment to admire the rows of churned earth and let out a satisfied grunt. The horse attached to the plow whinnied, and Fred unhitched the stallion, which nodded in gratitude. “Long day.”
Fred ran his rough, dirtied hands down the soft black hide of the animal. “Still, it beats the other places we’ve been stuck in.” Dust blew from the horse’s nose as he puffed and shook his head, tossing his black mane back and forth across his neck. Fred gave the horse a firm touch. “Well, I don’t miss it.”
The horse’s hooves kicked up sprays of dirt as Fred led the animal back to the barn. Periodically through the walk, Fred continued to grab his right hip. Any movement, any sound, any feeling that made him uncomfortable triggered the motion of reaching for his sword. It was a habit he hadn’t been able to break since the war, and it was an affliction he thought he’d never cure.
While the nightmares had stopped a few years ago, he lost track of the number of nights he woke up in a cold sweat, screaming nonsense that his wife, Mary, could never decipher, or the self-loathing that came along with it. Whiskey only numbed the memories so much, and he discovered that no matter how much he drank, or how stinking drunk he became, he was never able to rid himself of the horrific atrocities of war.
When the past became so burdensome to deal with that it was affecting his future, Mary forced him to open up. And while the depletion of his memories helped, he watched it change Mary, or at least the way she looked at him. The differences were subtle, like the way she lingered before she touched him, or the way she’d avoid confrontation with him. But even with everything she learned about the things he’d seen, the things he’d done, he knew she wouldn’t leave. The woman was a rock. And if he thought he could get angry, god help him if she ever did.
Fred tossed a pile of feed into the horse’s bucket while he brushed him down and wondered if animals felt those memories of war. He wasn’t the only one that traded a blade for a plow after they’d won, but there were times Fred was certain the horse missed the battlefield. God willing, the animal would never get his wish to go back.
Fred turned, and his youngest came sprinting into the barn with nothing but a pair of shorts on, covered from head to toe in dirt. “Sam, what are you doing, son?”
“I found the biggest lizard you have ever seen.” The boy proudly lifted up the reptile clutched in both hands, grinning like a man who’d just found El Dorado. “Do you think Mom will let me keep it?”
“About as much as she’ll let you eat dinner like that,” Fred answered. “Let the animal go, and get washed up. Supper will be ready soon.”
The boy lowered the lizard with a defeated frown, and Fred couldn’t help but chuckle as the boy sulked away. On Sam’s way out, his eldest son, Kit, brushed past him, leading his own horse in from the fields. He ruffled his brother’s hair as he passed, and Sam pushed him away, offended. “I hate it when you do that!” Then he sprinted off.
Kit grabbed the feedbag and dumped what was left into the bridle for his black mare. “I swear he spends more time catching lizards than he does doing his chores.”
“Only because you keep helping him,” Fred said, giving his son a grin. “You bail him out too much.”
“He’s only seven.” Kit peeled his gloves off and rubbed his hands, the skin raw and red. “He shouldn’t have to worry about chores as much as I do.”
“And you shouldn’t have to worry about life as much as I do,” Fred retorted. Kit was only a boy of seventeen but spoke, worked, and acted like a man in his thirties. Fred feared that the same burden of duty and honor that had plagued his life so much had been passed on to his son. “How’s the west field?”
“Found some rot on a few stalks, but it doesn’t look like it’ll spread. I think I caught it in time.” Kit picked up the water bucket and splashed his face, sending streaks of dirt down his face and neck. “It shouldn’t affect the harvest.”
Fred watched Kit brush down his horse. His eldest son was becoming a man right in front of him, and it wouldn’t be long until he ventured out on his own. Fred walked over to him, and while his son was thicker than he was, Fred still had six inches of height on him. He knew he’d grow taller, but he took Kit by the shoulders and looked down on him like he did when he was little. “I’m proud of you. You’re turning into a good man, one that I know your grandfather would be proud of as well if he were still here.”
Kit blushed and stared at the tip of his boots. “Thanks, Dad.”
“Finish washing up. I’ll meet you inside.” By the time Fred made it to the house, the sun had completely disappeared, and the only light that offered him any guidance were the candles in the windows of his home.
This was his favorite part of the day. Just before walking up the front steps, he stopped, taking in the sight of Sam helping Mary set the table for dinner through the open window. The home itself wasn’t half as beautiful as who was inside it.
It was a beauty he appreciated every day, never taking it for granted. This place was a beacon of life, while the lands beyond it still decayed of a rotten waste from a war long ago fought not by men, or guns, or swords, but by computers and buttons. It was a war that had cost billions of lives, or so his father told him.
Billions. It was a number he couldn’t fathom, one that sounded more of legend than fact. But still, he knew there was truth to it. He’d seen the harsh lands and broken cities that his father had once said stood as marvels of civilization, now merely empty husks of what they were. But here there was no decay, the skies were clear, the water was clean, and the soil black and rich.
The smell of dinner escaped the kitchen and filled Fred’s nose the moment he set foot on the staircase. And in the same instant, his hand reached for his right hip and grabbed at the cloth of his pants in such haste that he almost ripped through the fabric.
A powerful heat hit Fred’s back, and a rush of orange light along with it. He turned to see flames engulf the barn and embers and ash float into the night sky, fighting for attention against the night’s stars. Fred sprinted to the barn, the heat only becoming more scorching the closer he moved to the flames. “Kit!” But before his worry had a chance to escalate, his son came rushing out, guiding their two horses by the reins and out of the inferno.
The horses trotted off, and Kit collapsed onto the dirt, sucking air, his lungs polluted with the thick carbons of smoke, his face caked in soot, with burns up and down his arm and right shoulder. Fred scooped his son up and rushed to the house, where Mary and Sam were alr
“Sam! Get back in the house now!” Fred’s tone sent the young boy back inside quickly. It was odd at how easily the authoritative voice reserved for the battlefield returned. “Mary, wet clothes and a bucket of water, now!” His wife disappeared and returned in a flash, and when Fred placed the cool pieces of cloth over his son’s charred flesh, Kit winced.
“Dad.” Kit pointed to the fields, where subsequent blazes had been set. The weeks and months of work taken to sow the fields only took seconds for the flames to consume.
Fred scooped Kit up and set him on the couch in the living room, with Mary following closely behind. “Stay here.” Fred rushed down the hall and the staircase that led to the cellar. A large wooden chest rested in the corner, and he flung the lid open.
Neatly folded uniforms rested inside, which Fred removed hastily and grabbed the rifles and pistols underneath. He clutched two rifles with one hand then holstered the pistol in his belt, grabbing both ammo and gunpowder. Just before he shut the lid, he saw the faint glimmer of steel, and he pulled the sword from the chest as well.
Back upstairs, the flames had circled the house, licking the edges and trying to make their way inside. In between the roar of the growing fires, he heard the pounding of hooves. He double-timed it to the living room, where Mary already had Kit to his feet. “Mary, stay with the children, take them into the cellar.”
“Dad, I can help.” Kit tried separating himself from his mother, but the pain from the burns had sapped whatever strength was left. Bits of charred cloth intermingled with red and scarred flesh on his arm. Kit’s eyes were bloodshot from the heat and smoke, and he struggled to keep his eyelids from staying shut. He could barely stand, let alone hold a gun.
Still, Fred knew the boy could shoot. He pulled one of the pistols from his holster and slammed the handle into Kit’s palm. “Take your brother, and head out to the storage cellar. Stay there until we come for you or morning light. If you don’t see us, head into town and get your uncle.”
The moment Fred extended the pistol to Kit, Mary snatched one of the rifles off of Fred’s shoulder along with ammo and gunpowder, which she packed down into the muzzle. Before Fred had a chance to protest, she held her hand up. “If it’s clan raiders, you’ll need the help.”
Gunfire shattered the kitchen window, and the three of them ducked to the floor. Six men on horseback passed across the backdrop of fire and smoke circling the house. Fred held Kit’s chin, looking his boy in the eye, and closed Kit’s fingers tight around the pistol’s handle. “You don’t let anything happen to you or your brother. Understand?”
“Yes, sir.” The light from the flames flickered in Kit’s eyes. Mary gave him a kiss and helped him down the hall until he had enough grit to stand on his own. When she returned, she huddled close to Fred by the living room wall.
Without a word, Mary grabbed Fred’s hand and squeezed. He set down the rifle and powder in his hands and pulled her close, kissing her hard on the lips, huddled underneath the front windows. “I love you.”
“I love you too.” Fred picked up the rifle. The gun felt heavy in his hands, heavier than he remembered, but despite the time that had lapsed, the fluidity returned with ease. “You stay in here by the window, and use the house as cover. Wait for your shot, and keep an eye on anything that tries coming around the left corner of the house. I’ll watch the right.”
Mary nodded, and Fred gave her one last kiss before he burst out the door, dropping to one knee, and fired, his shot burying itself into the leg of one of the riders, sending him to the ground and his horse trotting off to escape the flame and smoke. The other riders returned fire, and Fred rolled right, evading the shots behind the porch bannisters. He stuffed the powder and lead down into the muzzle while bullets splintered the finished wood and shattered the glass of windows.
With one of their men already down, the raiding party split into two, each group heading to a different side of the house. Fred ducked low, keeping a bead on one of the riders to his left. The horses sped past. He squeezed the trigger, and the bullet zipped by the bandit and sent up a tuft of dirt behind the horse.
The heat from the flames surrounding the house had become unbearable. Fred’s clothes were soaked with sweat as he rushed back inside to join Mary at the front windows. “They’ll try and come through the back.” He looked to the couch where Kit had lain and found a comforting relief as well as a gut-wrenching stab that his boys were gone.
Both Fred and Mary hacked and coughed from the smoke making its way inside the house, replacing the smell of freshly baked goods with the harsh scent of charred crops. The thump of hooves rounded the left side of the house, and the end of Fred’s rifle followed the sound until the riders came into view out front beyond the window. He fired, killing the horse, and the rider dropped to the ground as the second rider raced for cover on the opposite side of the house.
Fred poured more powder and lead down the rifle’s barrel when the back door thundered open with a smack that echoed through the house. Fred shoulder-checked the kitchen table, knocking it to its side, and pulled Mary as he dashed behind it for cover as bullets peppered the thick oak Fred had wedged between him and his wife.
“I didn’t think the clans had that many weapons after the treaty,” Mary said, keeping her head low while the wild shots redecorated the inside of her kitchen.
“They didn’t.” Fred rose from behind the table’s barrier, lining up the small iron sight on the rifle. The raiders swiftly moved through the house, darting behind furniture, walls, anything that would shield them. Fred had fought the clans before, seen them on the battlefield. They relied on savagery, brute force, and the beating of their war drums. But the way these raiders moved, the way they fought, it was evasive, tactical.
Flames devoured the living room, rushing toward them like a fiery freight train. Fred grabbed Mary by the hand and sprinted out the front door, his lungs struggling to filter the heavy smoke. Once outside, both he and Mary collapsed in the dirt, wheezing. The rifles lay at their sides, and Fred did his best to keep his eyes peeled for the raiders.
A burst of adrenaline coursed through Fred’s veins from Mary’s scream, something he hadn’t felt since the Island Wars. With lead and death and fire surrounding him, flashbacks of screams of dying soldiers under his command filled his ears, and he did his best to silence them with the pull of his finger against the trigger.
A bullet bit him in his right thigh, and he collapsed to the dirt. Heat from both the fires in the fields and the blaze from the house closed in. He felt Mary’s hand reach for him, and he stumbled to his feet, the pain in his leg shooting up through his back.
The warm splash of blood trickled down his calf and into his boot. Mary did her best to hold him up, but Fred kept falling. “Go.” He couldn’t be sure how many times he repeated the words, but each time he did, Mary only pulled on him harder.
Vibrations rippled through the ground as Fred caught a glimpse of one of the riders bending around the corner of the house, still on horseback. Fred pulled the pistol from his belt, too weak to lift the rifle, and as the rider drew his own weapon, Fred fired, sending the bullet through the raider’s chest, knocking him off his horse.
The horse trotted to the road between the flaming fields and disappeared into the smoke. Fred rose to his feet, clutching Mary with his arm, and the two of them limped forward, trying to follow the direction of the horse. At least lead them away from the boys.
Gunfire erupted behind them, and the last three raiders made their way out of the house, with the flames creeping up to the second floor. Mary turned to shoot, and when she did, a bullet caught her in the stomach.
Fred watched her face upon contact. The twist of her mouth, the shock in her eyes, and the inward curl of her body as the impact of the bullet sent her backward. Fred caught her before she hit the ground, but another bullet to his back caused the two of them to give wa
The rifle that was in Fred’s hand fell from his grip and landed in the dirt next to him. He reached his hand out, and his fingertips grazed the stock, but before he could wrap his fingers around it, the raider kicked it away and stuck his own rifle barrel in Fred’s face.