Authors: Nikki Landis
A Post-Apocalyptic Romance
Freedom Fighters Series Book One
The sky was dark above, almost pitch black, lending an eerie quality to an already miserable and dreary night. Heavy clouds blocked whatever silent beams of moonlight dared to brighten the impenetrable darkness. In sparse efforts it burst through, breaching the gloomy expanse, only to be quickly distinguished, as if the urgency of the moment had issued a quiet rebuke.
Not even a hint of moonlight was the result, the ebony night stretching before us as we awaited our shipment, the one that would change everything and tip the scales in this long and tedious war. The shipment, as we called it, contained a weapons cache in addition to a bulk delivery of crucial supplies that included guns and ammunition, but more importantly it contained explosives and large grade weaponry like rocket propelled grenades (RPGs). It was exactly what we needed. And it belonged to the enemy. Our enemy.
All-out offensive has never been our strategy. We had foolishly tried in the beginning, motivated by false courage, and bolstered by hate. The result had been devastating. We were greeted with staggering numbers of fatalities for our efforts. Senseless deaths.
The vast graves dug across numerous fields and cities were a constant reminder that smart premeditated warfare, strategical planning, and surprise were the attributes that would win the war for us. We would use our intellect and perseverance because the cost, the brutal cost, had been high. Too high.
We needed weapons. Heavy weapons like tanks, turrets, and machine guns. In the beginning we had only our wits. Our drive. Our determination. But the years had changed the war. Changed us. Even changed me.
We weren’t enough men to stage that kind of war, not against the power of this enemy, so we fought back in every way possible. We grew bolder in our victories. The smallest victories, the merest gain, gave us renewed hope and vigor. We fought hard enough that the enemy couldn’t ignore us. Not then and not now. That was the point. That single focus spurred us on.
to be heard. We wanted them to know not everyone feared them, not everyone would stand by and watch them butcher innocent people. Push, push, push against the ever present enemy at our gates. Never did we yield, never did we relent. We would continue to fight back, any way we could, however we needed, for as long as it took, and as long as this enemy endured. The alternative was to let them win. Let them bury us. It was unthinkable.
The thought was a complete contradiction to my present situation. As much as I believed in our mission, I had doubts about our current leadership. Darren inspired dedication. Or at the very least, demanded it. He was a man to be feared, as determined to lead the rebellion as any one person could be, and yet, his inability to grasp the full picture of the war would ultimately prove our undoing.
I never thought I would be standing on the frontlines, ready to give my life for a cause that counted us only as numbers, leading us like sheep to the slaughter. It didn’t matter what Darren and the others thought. It didn’t matter what we were told. Sheep. That’s what we all were. And we did what we were directed to do. We went where we were led. That’s what sheep do.
As sheep we held the front lines. We found our targets. We caused destruction. Missions were finished. Defeats. Victories. Fighting. Chaos. We pushed at the enemy. We did our job. We were soldiers…and it did not matter. As long as we won. As long as we continued to push. As long as we gained ground against the enemy. Victory. At all costs.
This was the leadership that led the refugees. This was the legacy we were given. The singular focus of every effort. Darren was a good leader but his passion was misplaced. He thought we all made a difference. He thought each individual person counted. He thought that fervor, heart, and drive made a difference. But he was wrong. Dead wrong. The enemy had proved it. Over and over again. Only numbers change things. High numbers. Only brute strength. Death. Destruction. Fear. Intimidation. Not people.
Darren did not listen to me, at least not in that regard. He met with his officers and made the plans. They would strategize. They would consider the targets and the price. The Intel would be passed along and I would fight. It was all I had left. Myself. Nothing. War. It was everything now.
The war had left many of us alone, many of us broken, and even more of us in need. At least those who had survived. I tried to think of myself as one of the lucky ones. I had survived. I had made it through the last hellish months and years without maiming or capture or torture. I wanted to be glad about it, or at least grateful, but I was not. Bitterness, anger, and resentment for the militia blocked any attempt on my part to acquiesce to the feeling.
Here I was, standing on the corner of Refugee Road, hidden amongst the dense bushes and overgrown trees. Brown mottled everything, scattered about the road and country side. The darkness did not conceal the deadened foliage that surrounded us. Winter had been brutal and it was not yet over. The bleakness matched my soul, as dry and barren as the fields that surrounded me.
My face was painted in camouflage, a dark cap pulled low over my head, my slim body dressed all in black. I blended easily into the ebony night, as seamless as the transition from dusk to sunset. My eyes had long since adjusted to the darkness, accurately pinpointing the objects nearby. I knew the trees and foliage, I knew the area through the forest and beyond. Shadows lingered around me, shifting and sulking behind the trees, but nothing was truly hidden, not when it was so familiar.
Shivering, I awaited the caravan of death that brought the long awaited ammunition delivery and resupplied the enemy. And it is death to some of us. That observation was true. Me. The refugees. Them. It did not matter because death was not particular. Death did not play favorites. Some of us would make it tonight and others would not. Fate would decide. Those who did survive would live to fight another day. And another. And another…
The enemy hadn’t counted on us. The massive number of refugee soldiers who fought so tirelessly, so mercilessly to tip the scales of this never ending war, and make it become less of a massacre to our people. They had not counted on our resolve, our hardened hearts. We were willing to die. Willing to give the ultimate sacrifice.
In most cases, those who fought did so without fear. To be fearful you had to have something to lose. You had to have something to go home to, a loved one, people to return to, or a life to be lived. Most of us did not have anything left. There was nothing to return to, nothing to salvage. No one that waited. For many of us, the fight was
“Lizzie, are you ready?”
Tamara was crouching next to me, watching the road. Her lowered voice shook me from my reprieve. We were scouts tonight. Our objective was simple. The two of us would signal the rest of the refugee fighters. Once the caravan was spotted, we were to quickly backtrack to the line and help ignite the explosives. The first truck would go up in flames, blocking the way and stopping the caravan.
The chaos would buy us the time we needed. Darren had received decent Intel on this shipment from a captured militia deserter. We had a good plan. We had been successful with this kind of endeavor before. There was not a reason to think the plan would fail.
Chalk it up to my perpetually negative mind but I always thought there was a chance the enemy could outsmart us. It was with a sense of trepidation that I answered Tamara.
“Yes, I am ready. It’s pretty dark out but I think we stand a good chance. It should buy us extra cover,” I answered, whispering in the cool night air.
As good a chance as any other night I supposed.
“Yep,” she replied.
It was misty out tonight. A light wet fog hovered above the ground, blowing around eerily in the low level street lamps. The ones that were still lit and working at any rate. Long curling vapors stretched across the broken asphalt like the gnarled fingers of a horrific monster, intent on ripping flesh to shreds. It was a testament to my vivid imagination that I almost believed the mist could do it. Almost. But not quite.
Visibility was not the best but I had almost perfect vision. There was never a need to squint to see down the dilapidated road, passed the curve where the caravan would emerge. Darren counted on me. He believed in me. I needed to focus. Glancing often at the road, I honed my concentration, not wanting to miss the caravan as it approached.
We waited in silence for long minutes, both of us still shivering. The temperature was dropping and falling fast. It was getting colder by the minute. I wore three layers tonight, two under my military issue fatigues, but it did not stop the cold from penetrating the material and lodging deep into my bones. The layers succumbed rather easily despite my frustration, like the material was not there at all.
I moved around a little, staying crouched low and hidden, trying to move my circulation. Anything to get the blood pumping and make myself warmer. I was not very successful.
“Do you hear something?” Tamara asked suddenly.
I listened for a minute. Nothing…and then a low distant rumbling. I could hear the faint sound of an engine roar, and then another close behind. Soon it was the sound of multiple vehicles approaching. It had to be the caravan.
“I think it is the caravan. Let’s make sure before we leave,” I told her, watching the bend at the far end of the road.
About a minute and a half later the first vehicle edged around the bend, confirming it was the exact caravan we anticipated. It was time. I sprang to action as we jumped up quickly and ran back, skirting the tree line, and dropping in next to Darren. His eyes were already on me. I nodded my head and we waited for the first truck to reach the marker.
Taking a couple of hasty breaths, I tried to relax the thunderous beating of my heart. I felt the familiar and welcome surge of adrenaline as it coursed hot and heavy through my veins. We were silent as it approached, nobody moving, stiff from the chilly moist night air and breathless from the excitement. Fear of early detection made us rigid in the cold, frozen like human popsicles, on the hard and dampened earth.
I pushed the lever down on my dynamite box just as Tamara and several others did at the exact same moment. The simultaneous coordination of our efforts produced a loud reverberating boom that plumed smoke up into the air, exploding the first truck, and sending debris flying in all directions. The ground shook and rumbled with the force of the blast. Some of the street lights flickered and swung precariously in the air, dangerously close to shattering sharp shards of glass and raining it down upon our heads. I dropped to the ground and flattened like a leaf just as a large piece of metal bumper whizzed past my head.
The explosion was followed by loud screeching and a resounding crash as several of the trucks careened into each other in the confusion. Thick black smoke billowed into the air, reducing visibility, and causing a chorus of coughing to erupt among the refugees. The sudden halt sent militia soldiers pouring from the trucks, in much larger numbers than we had anticipated. The Intel was not entirely correct on that crucial point. Someone lied.
In the mass confusion and smoky air the soldiers began shooting into the night with amazing and deadly accuracy. Bullets flew through the air around me, some lodging into the trees above my head, and others slamming into the flesh of fallen bodies. In horror, I saw several of my comrades fall. Blood spurted and covered the ground. With sudden realization I knew the ambush was going to fail. I had to get out of here. I had to retreat. And fast.
Self-preservation kicked in, thanks to the adrenaline from my flight or fight response, and I ran toward the trees. Slipping and sliding across the bloody asphalt I literally smacked into a hard body, the force of the hit knocked me backwards, and I ended up flying into a pair of strong arms. Caught, I reacted instinctively and kicked the militia guard in the shin, elbowing him in the gut at the same time. Just as Darren had shown me. More than once. He released me immediately, groaning loudly.
Surprised that he let go so easily, I tried to bolt and run from the tall guard that had found me. He smirked. I was not fast enough to elude him. He grabbed me instantly, and roughly, staring into my eyes with a fierceness that staggered me. For a brief moment he did not move and I mistakenly thought he would release me. His sharp intake of breath combined with the dark frown on his face above his bandana filled my heart with fear.
He abruptly turned directions, heading away from the safety of the trees, and heading back toward the line of military trucks. They were swarming with soldiers now, most of them shoving and pushing on my fellow refugees, and stuffing them into the back of the overloaded militia trucks that resembled fattened Thanksgiving turkeys. The thought was random. I’ll give you that but it flitted out of my mind as fast as it had entered, the sheer ludicrousness of the idea caused me to stop suddenly and I almost landed on the ground.
Avoiding the carnage around me proved more difficult with each passing moment. The guard grabbed me by the collar roughly and shoved, nearly spilling me into the dead and lifeless body of a friend. Tamara. Oh God, no.
I sucked in a huge breath and nearly panicked. By sheer will I slammed the reaction down into my body, saving the grief for another time, and glared at the guard. Instantly angry, trying to fight my captor, I struggled against the hold he had on my arms. He laughed lightly and slowly tightened his grip like a vice. I gasped in pain as my eyes darted back to his face.