Geographically distinct units were formed from the Northwest Militia, as planned, late in the April of the fifth year. To avoid confusion amongst the local citizenry that they protected, they designated those at the original retreat as “Todd Gray’s Company” and those at Kevin Lendel’s house as “Michael Nelson’s Company.” The responsibility for patrolling was divided along a line east-west between the retreats.
Todd Gray’s Company was to patrol the northern half of the sector, while Michael Nelson’s Company patrolled the southern half. Separate CB channels were assigned to each Company for locals to use to contact either Company.
On the 5th of May, Mary was in the garden plot transplanting some young tomato plants that had been started in the greenhouse a few weeks earlier. As she was methodically digging holes for each of the plants, she heard a strange engine noise in the distance. Just moments after she first heard the noise, she was astonished to look up and see two light aircraft approaching from the south. She dropped her trowel, snatched up her AR-15, and ran to the house. By the time she was in the house, the Mallory Sonalerts were wailing, and everyone at the house was at their “stand-to” positions, scanning their assigned sectors of fire.
“Does anybody have any idea where those planes came from?” Mary asked. Sitting at the C.Q. desk, Jeff shrugged his shoulders, and reached over to turn off the “panic button”, silencing the piercing alarm.
The engine noise was clearly louder now. From the LP/OP, Terry called in on the TA-1: “They’re pusher prop jobs, twin seat, tandem style. It’s hard to tell, but it looks like there’s just one pilot in each. They’re definitely circling us. Everybody stay put.” The planes circled the house a second time, just a hundred yards above the ground.
From the front of the house, Todd declared: “Hey, wait a minute, it looks like they’re getting ready to land. Yep, they are landing down on the county road.” The two planes landed in rapid succession on the straight stretch of county road below the house. Todd was surprised by how short a distance it took for the planes to land and come to a full stop. The planes looked identical, except for their color. One was painted dark green. The other was tan. He heard their engines roar up in tempo as the planes turned and taxied back to the front gate. The planes came to a stop at the front gate, and their engines shut down.
Both pilots lifted their canopies and took off their headphones, almost in unison. Two figures, one tall and one short, hopped out of the planes, wearing BDUs and tan boots.
Todd shouted loud enough for everyone at the house to hear: “They are painted drab, but those sure don’t look military. Have any of you heard of anyone in the area that owns an ultralight?” There was no reply. Todd pondered for a moment. “Hey, you know, Dan told me that Ian Doyle was in an ultralight club.
I sure wish Fong was still here. He’s probably seen pictures of Ian’s plane. He said that it was a zippy little thing, and I think he said that it was a two-seater.”
“Who is this Ian fellow?,” Rose asked.
Mary answered, “An old college buddy of Todd and Dan’s. He has a wife and daughter. That might be him in one of those planes down on the road.”
Ten minutes later, after a cautious squad-sized approach by the bounding overwatch method, Todd and Ian Doyle were sharing hugs. “Wow! Long time no see. What brings you here?”
“It’s a long story, Todd. Suffice it to say that we left town in a hurry when a very large number of muy malo hombres took over. It was muy peligroso there. So we did some Van-dammage–just to whittle them down, you understand–and then we took off. It took a few inquiries in Bovill, but we found your place here easily enough.”
Todd took a long look at the plane behind Doyle, staring at just below the wing root, where it was stenciled EXPERIMENTAL. He said insistently, “You can tell me the whole story later. First tell me about these ultralights. They are really a sight to behold.”
Ian turned to caress the fuselage of the flat forest green-painted plane behind him. “To begin with, technically, they aren’t ultralights, although they use a lot of the same design features. Legally, these birds are classed as light experimentals. These birds are both Laron Star Streaks. I paid just under $30K for mine, when I picked it up new from the factory in Borger, Texas, back in ‘98. We towed it home in it’s trailer behind our Suburban. The Star Streak comes with a lot of standard goodies like dual controls, an ICOM radio, electric start, electric brakes, three position half span flaps, electric trim, and a pretty complete set of VFR instruments. I added a GPS navigation box and active noise reduction headphones to this one. It’s essentially a poor man’s general aviation plane, but legally it’s a light ‘experimental’. But it’s too heavy to be classed as an “ultralight” under the FAA regs.”
“With its enclosed canopy, it’s one of the best light experimentals for long range flying. In fact, one guy flew a similar model Laron from London to Beijing and wrote a book about it. As I’m sure you know, the main advantages of ultralights and light experimentals is that they are so thrifty on gas, and have a super short take-off roll–usually under 200 feet–and very low stall speeds. The Star Streak only weighs about 400 pounds, empty. The other neat thing about our Larons and most similar light experimentals and ultralights is that they are not restricted to av-gas. In ours here, for example, you can burn any grade of gas down to about 85 octane. If I adjusted the carb jets, I suppose they would even burn ethanol or methanol. Luckily, I haven’t had to try that yet.”
Doyle turned to the trim woman with an olive complexion standing beside him. She appeared to be around 35 years old. “I’m sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. This is my wife Blanca. I’ve written to you about her, but we haven’t seen each other face to face since college, so you’ve never had a chance to meet.”
The attractive woman in BDUs extended her hand, and Todd shook it firmly. Gray said quietly, “Encantado.” She replied in a soft accent, “A pleasure finally meeting you, Meester Gray.”
“As you probably recall from my e-mail, I met Blanca when I was stationed down in Hondo,” Doyle continued. “That was back in my ‘Terry and the Pirates’ days, when I was a lieutenant–not too long out of transition training. She was a civilian working in flight ops at Tegucigalpa. Blanca was already a qualified single engine pilot when I met her. Talk about love at first sight, eh conchita?” Blanca smiled and blushed, nodding her chin to her shoulder.
Gesturing to the other plane, Ian said, “We swapped for Blanca’s Laron just after the stock market tanked. I got it from an old fart civilian who was in the Phoenix Metro ultralight club. He bought this one as a kit. He said that it took him almost two years to build it in his spare time. He finished building it in ‘99. It had very low hours clocked on the engine. His was stored in the same style enclosed trailer that we had for mine. I traded him my Sten gun, a suppressor with nomex cover, a whole bunch of magazines, and 1,000 rounds of nine millimeter ball for it. Fair enough swap, I suppose, since unregistered and suppressed submachineguns don’t grow on trees. We could both see the handwriting on the wall by then. He knew what I needed, and I knew what he needed: I needed some more transportation, and he needed some more firepower. I asked him why he wasn’t planning to bail out of Phoenix. He said that his wife refused to budge an inch. They had their whole life wrapped up in their house. Since he was stuck there, he didn’t need the plane, but he certainly needed a serious self-defense gun.”
Doyle stepped toward the back of the fuselage, deftly ducking under the wing, and went on: “The Star Streaks cruise at just over 120 miles an hour at 80 percent power, which is pretty fast for a light experimental. Of course, that seems like crawling when you are used to wearing an F-16, but I like ‘em. The cockpit layout is even similar to a Falcon. Not exactly fly-by-wire controls, though. This model uses a 85 horse Hirth F-30 engine. It’s a great little plant. It just hums along and sips gas–only about five gallons an hour at 80% power. Both of these planes are identical except for the propellers. Mine uses a four blade composite, but the prop on Blanca’s is the older composite three blade. The Hirth is a powerful little engine. It will make the Larons climb at 2,500 feet per minute when it is in normal configuration with just one man on board, but of course a lot slower the way we have them loaded down right now. The planes have a rated useful load of 500 pounds. I’m afraid that we exceeded that limit when we took off from Prescott. Between the heavy load and the high elevation of the airport, our takeoff distances were outrageously long–at least, that is, for a light experimental. But luckily, we had a long straight stretch of road to take off from.”
Blanca looked around anxiously. “Ees there anywhere where we can put theeese birds where they whon’t get stolen?”
Mary answered, “We’ll put them both in the Andersen’s big hay barn, just down the road. It’s a nice dry barn. The wings should hopefully fit through the front. It was left open on that side to let the big New Holland harvester in. It’s a three-sided affair. The farm is deserted, and the barn is almost empty now. They gave us permission to use the place. Don’t worry–when the planes are pushed to the back of the barn, no one will see them there. And, as further insurance, it’s just within line of sight of our LP/OP, up on the hill.”
“Ell-Pee-Oh-Pee?”, Blanca asked, quizzically.
“Sorry, Blanca. I’m afraid that we are used to talking in ‘acronese’ around here, and not the Air Force acronym dialect you’re probably used to. LP/OP is a ground pounder acronym for listening post/observation post.” Pointing to the nearby hill, Mary explained, “Basically it’s a glorified hole in the ground. If you look very closely, you can see it up on the hill there. It has a good view of the area. It’s for observation in daylight, and for listening at night.”
Moving the planes into the barn took only a few minutes. They were able to taxi the planes under power to within 20 feet of the barn. From there, they were pushed in by hand. Going in, the planes’ 30 foot long wingspans cleared the entrance with just a foot to spare on each side. As they were pushing the first plane in, Mary asked, “How many gas cans have you got in there, and how far can you fly without refueling?”
Doyle pointed through the canopy at the rear seat area, and cited, “Originally, the Star Streaks only had a range of around 320 miles at 80% power. The main tank is 14 and-a-half gallons. But I added some big bladder tanks to both planes. They aren’t connected directly to the primary fuel system. I cheated and installed a couple of little Black and Decker Jackrabbit hand pumps along side the front seats, with extra long hoses. To transfer fuel from the bladder to the main tank, you just put the Jackrabbit in your lap and crank away. The bladder tanks extend our range to about 480 miles without landing to refuel, when we are at max takeoff weight. If we were in a light configuration, they could maybe even go 550 miles.”
Ian’s plane came to a rest with the tip of its nose less than a foot from the rear wall of the barn. He inched past the nose and walked around to the other side of the plane, talking as he walked. “They are both quite a bit lighter right now, since we have less gas and we had to barter some of our stuff for fuel.” He tapped on the Plexiglas with his index finger and said, “I have these five gallon gas cans strapped into the back seats of both birds, but they are nearly empty, too. Aside from some clothes, sleeping bags, tools, and aeronautical charts; most of the weight on board is fuel, oil, guns, ammo, water, and MREs. You know, just the essentials in life. At present we’re down to less than 8 gallons of fuel between the two planes…”
Mary interjected, “Don’t worry about that. We still have over four hundred gallons of stabilized unleaded premium in the tank here. It will only be good for another year or two, so we might as well use it up. I think that it’s 92 octane, but I’m not sure. I’ll have to ask Terry–she’s our logistics honcho. But she’s up at the LP/OP right now.”
After they had pushed the second plane in, Todd declared, “Don’t worry about all your gear, we’ll come down with the pickup truck later this afternoon and take it up to the house.”
Before they left the planes, Doyle used a socket wrench to remove the nose wheels from both planes, and buried them under some loose hay near the front of the big barn. “They won’t be going far without these,” he said. As they walked out of the barn, Ian slung his suppressed MAC-10 over his shoulder. Blanca did likewise with a stainless steel folding-stock Mini-14 GB. Todd was disappointed to see that they didn’t carry any extra magazines. He made a mental note to correct that glaring deficiency.
As they walked, Blanca was bemused at the way the militia members walked at 5 yard intervals. “Why are you walking so far apart?,” she asked with a laugh.
“Force of habit,” Mary explained. “In case of an ambush, you are at much greater risk if you are bunched together.”
They chatted amiably as they hiked back to the Gray’s house. Once they were inside, Rose served up an early lunch of raw carrots, apple slices spread with reconstituted peanut butter, and freshly baked bread. It was over lunch that Ian and Blanca started to recount their story. Mary set a TRC-500 to the “VOX” setting, so that Terry Layton, who was still up at the LP/OP, didn’t feel left out.
Munching on some bread, Ian began, “The 56th Fighter Wing had just started a rotation to Saudi. It was just two years before the Crash that we switched back from a tactical training wing to a tactical fighter wing. I came on board just a few months into the transition. Anyway, when all the trouble started, since I was the wing maintenance officer, I was stuck back at Luke, catching up on paperwork. I was also taking a idiotic mandatory ‘Diversity, Sensitivity, and Sexual Harassment’ class. The frickin’ class lasted a whole week. I had orders to catch up with the wing in late November. But then, when the riots got going in earnest, they planned an emergency redeployment of virtually all of the close air support aircraft in the Air Force inventory back to the States. Some weenie at the White House must have dreamed that one up. Our wing was going to deploy to Hurlburt Field, down in Florida. Criminy! Could you imagine F-16s and A-10s versus rioters? Talk about over-kill! I never heard what happened to our squadrons after that. I was too busy with problems of my own–like finding drinking water for Blanca and myself.”
“And your daughter?,” Mary asked.
Doyle’s face clouded with emotion. Stiffening, he replied, “Linda didn’t make it, ma’am. She died five years ago. She was in Detroit, doing her annual six week long ‘Grandmom and Grandpop’ visit with my folks. It was the first time that she was old enough to go on a commercial plane by herself. Blanca wanted to stay home to relax, do some pastels, and a bit of surfing the Internet. We were home-schooling her, so Linda wasn’t on a normal school year schedule. Blanca and Linda liked to go up to Michigan in the Fall. They get some nice Fall colors up there.”
Ian paused and looked at the ground. “By the time we realized the magnitude of the situation, most of the flights had been canceled, and the few that were still flying were booked solid. In retrospect, what I should have done was played “you bet your bars” and commandeered a D-model Falcon to zip up there to get her. Instead, I took the conservative route and just hoped that the riots wouldn’t last long or spread outside the downtown area of Detroit. I also figured that if worse came to worse, my dad’s gun collection could handle any rioters that came down their block. I was wrong. I got a call from one of their close neighbors who managed to make it out of Detroit alive. She said that looters got really pissed when my dad shot some of them. They torched my dad’s house. Killed them all. I still feel like such a fool. I could have saved my folks and my daughter’s life.”
Blanca squeezed Ian’s hand and said softly, “Don’t do thees, E-an. We can-no change history.”
Mary’s eyes were wet with tears. “I’m so sorry, Ian. I’m so sorry, Blanca. ”
Doyle shook his head from side to side and muttered, “Dwelling on it won’t do any good. In times like these, you just have to suck it up and drive on.”
Todd said a silent prayer. Then he looked up and asked, “So what happened to everybody at Luke?”
Doyle snapped out of his reverie and recounted, “To call it mass desertion would be to put it mildly. The mess halls only had limited food supplies, and we only had enough MREs on hand for short-term contingencies. I’m sure some of the overseas air bases had better stocks, but nobody ever expected a disruption of re-supply of food in CONUS! When it became clear that the food wasn’t going to last long, virtually everybody started to disappear. And when they went, they took a lot of equipment, fuel, and nearly every scrap of food on base with them. The Base Exchange, the commissary, and the mess halls were stripped clean. When I say everybody, I mean everybody. There wasn’t a soul from 56th Log or 56th Medical left on base. Even the whole Support Group basically vanished in about three days time. By the time I decided to pack it in, Luke was a ghost town. There were only seven pilots and about 20 ground crew guys left on the post. Most of them were young bachelors. By that point, I was the senior ranking officer on the base, so I could do pretty much anything I wanted. I was the de facto base commander. I just called a formation and released the remaining personnel on base on ‘indefinite leave.’
Unfortunately, my options were pretty limited. You see, there wasn’t a single aircraft left on the ramp, or a single military vehicle left on post. By then, there were just a few POVs. Even the fuel trucks had disappeared. Now you’ve got to understand that they had 217 birds on the property books, mainly F-16 Cs and D models. Of those, they were all either out on the Saudi Arabia rotation, or off on “emergency” flights that all mysteriously ended up being one-way missions. At least three F-16s, and the general staff Lear were out-and-out stolen. No flight plans were filed. The guys who took them just figured that they could get away with it. They just taxied out at O-dark-early and took off. And there was nobody left in the tower to say ‘boo’ about it. Those four had been the last airworthy planes on the base. The few planes that were left were just some stripped hangar queens.”
“After that ‘gentlemen, you are released’ speech, I spent the rest of that day looking for fuel containers. Every gas can available had already walked off base. The only good sized containers I could find were some hydraulic fluid drums. But I was afraid that the fluid left in them would contaminate the gas. So I ended up scrounging a bunch of empty 2 liter pop bottles from dumpsters around the BX. I drove home that evening with almost 140 gallons of av gas in the back of the Suburban. I never went back to Luke after that.
We were living off base in a rental flat-top in Buckeye. It’s basically a retirement community. When I got home, I talked things over with Blanca. We decided to hang tight for a few days. We packed up, but packed light. It was like one of those life boat games–’Now if you could only take five items, which five would they be?’ The end result was that Blanca and I had to leave a lot behind. We spent a lot of that time listening to the radio for reports on the rioting. Only a couple of AM stations were on the air by then, and the news they were handing out was pretty sketchy. None of it sounded good. They spent half the time repeating the same FEMA ‘Stay calm, remain in your homes, order will be restored shortly’ tape. What a pile of bull. The tape even recommend calling 911 if we saw any looting in progress. I laughed and said, ‘Oh yes sir, will do.’ The phones had all been dead for several days.”
“Our next-door neighbors had a police scanner. That was the best thing for monitoring where there was trouble happening. This was at the time when Phoenix and Tucson were burning down. Major chaos, let me tell ya. Once the looting started spreading out into the suburbs, we agreed that it would be bad news to stay in the Phoenix area much longer. Bright and early on a Tuesday morning, we wheeled the Larons out of their trailers, and bolted on the wings and tails, right there on our front lawn. It only took about fifteen minutes each to assemble and pre-flight them, since we’d had plenty of practice before, putting my bird together for weekend jaunts.”
“While we were loading our gear, most of the neighbors just stood there and gawked. A few helped out with the fueling process. We handed our next-door neighbors the keys and title to our Suburban, and the keys to the house. I told them that anything inside was free for the taking. By then, we knew that we weren’t ever coming back. Then we taxied off the lawn, down the driveway, and out the court. We hung a left, throttled up, and took off from Hastings Avenue. Some of the neighbors stood at the ends to block car traffic for us. Must have been quite a sight for the retirees. We flew from there straight to Prescott–that’s in northern Arizona. We planned to stay at my cousin’s place.”
“My cousin Alex was a senior salesman with J&G Sales, a big gun distributor up in Prescott. With that job, I figured that he would be pretty well squared away, at least in terms of guns and ammo to barter for anything he could possibly want. Prescott is partly a resort community, and kind of a haven for gun nuts. J&G was there, Ruger had a factory there, and there were lots of custom gun makers, barrel makers, and stock makers. One little outfit there made elephant guns on custom magnum Mauser actions before the Crash. Big .416 Rigbys and that sort of thing. The last I saw of them, they were still producing some smaller caliber long range guns in H-S Precision Kevlar-Graphite stocks. They sold them on a barter basis. Real tack drivers.”
“Prescott is not a big town, but it took us a while to locate Alex, since the phones were out there by that time, too. I hitched a ride from the airport, while Blanca stayed behind to guard the planes. From talking with Alex’s neighbors, we discovered that he had hired out as a security man for some Tucson banking fat-cats. They had a pretty elaborate hidey hole set up just north of Prescott. There were four families living at the compound. At first they didn’t want to take us in. Then they saw the firepower that we had with us, and they changed their minds. Officially, we were “security”, just like my cousin. We had it pretty soft there, compared to most folks. We had plenty of water, and enough food to get by. We were in no hurry to leave.”
“Things were pretty quiet there for four full years. A little local trouble, but nothing worth mentioning. Then we started hearing about this gang of escaped convicts and assorted riff-raff that was slowly working its way up from New Mexico. Refugees told us that it was originally two gangs that combined into one big super gang. They would hit a town, linger a week or two, strip it clean, and then move on to the next one. They were like a swarm of locusts. There were over 300 of them by the time they made it up to the Prescott area. Rumor had it that at least one of the two gangs had been doing this town-to-town hopping all the way from south Texas. By then they were getting pretty good at it.”
“I took a recon flight in my Star Streak down to Wickenburg when they hit there, and it wasn’t a pretty sight. They just swept through the town in one big mass of vehicles. Many of the houses were abandoned, ‘cause folks had heard they were coming and didn’t want to be around when they did. Basically, they burned down any house that anyone was shooting from. Then they went from house to house, taking anything of value. Even from the air, I could see them dragging some women out of houses and raping them on the sidewalks. We’re talking total scum of the Earth. It made me wish I was flying a fully armed Fighting Falcon instead of my little Laron. I could have really kicked some tail. These guys were absolute savages, Todd.” Doyle stopped for a few moments, and then added, “I got shot at some when I was on that flight, but I didn’t find any bullet holes in my bird when I got back.”
“Just three weeks ago, the gang was making their way up the Agua Fria, and hit the little town of Mayer. About 80 of us from town, mainly men, went on a little preemptive strike when we heard that the gang had moved into the town of Humboldt. Blanca, Alex, and I were all on the raiding party. We knew that Prescott would be next, because we were just 12 miles up the road. A Navajo kid about 13 years old, who escaped from Humboldt just after they arrived, gave us the layout. He even volunteered to go back in to town to scout which buildings the looters were in. That was a real help in planning the operation.”
“Our little raid didn’t have much in the way of military precision, but we sure did some damage. We knew that we couldn’t kill them all, so we decided that the thing to do was to concentrate on their vehicles, especially their armored cars and APCs. We hit them at just after three in the morning. Since we were all on foot or horseback the last two miles in, they didn’t know we were coming until we were already in their midst. They had the buildings that they were occupying lit up like Christmas trees. Our little Navajo scout had told us in advance which buildings they’d be in. We were only fully engaged for about five minutes. It was fast and furious, but like I said before, we did some serious Van-dammage.”
“In the first couple of minutes, we had the advantage, because most of the looters were asleep. They made me the point man, since I had the only suppressed weapon in the raiding party. When I shoot Winchester Q-Loads–those are special low velocity subsonic rounds–this thing doesn’t make much more noise than a loud hand clap.” Doyle held up the stubby Ingram M10 for a brief display, unscrewing the nomex-covered suppressor. “The term ‘silencer’ is really a misnomer. A ‘can’ like this is really just an elaborate sound muffler. Again, you can still hear the shot–sounds like a loud hand-clap. The normal sound is reduced so much that you can even hear the clack of the bolt going forward with each shot.”
Doyle screwed the suppressor back on the M10 and set it down on the window seat. “Sorry, I digress. Getting back to what happened in Humboldt… I got the chance to personally drop three of their sentries, shooting my MAC in the semi-auto mode. I don’t mind saying that it felt real good, after what I’d seen them do in Wickenburg. At first, we were the only ones shooting. Once the looters rolled out of bed and started shooting back, it was another story They had a lot of fully automatic weapons, grenades, and rocket launchers of some sort. They really started hosing us down. Before they did though, we had torched more than 40 vehicles with Molotov cocktails. Apparently, we got every one of their APCs and armored cars.”
“Our retreat out of Humboldt was let’s say ‘less than organized.’ Only 29 of us made it back to Prescott alive by noon. Two more guys straggled in the next evening. Of the 31 that made it back, only three had been wounded, and those were all minor grazing wounds. Oddly enough, all five of the men and women who were on horseback were among those to make it back without a scratch. Not even any of the horses were hit. Either they were real lucky, or cavalry is making a comeback. My cousin Alex never made it back from the Humboldt raid.” Ian skipped a beat, and then went on: “The looters didn’t show up the next day or even the day after. Blanca and I waited at the compound, with the Larons loaded, fueled, and ready to go.”
“Three days after our raid, they came into Prescott, and they must have been plenty pissed. The gang rolled in just after dawn. They didn’t seem to care how many losses they were taking, and they immediately started to torch every building they got to. Blanca and I didn’t wait until they made it to the north side of town. Everyone at the compound was by then either in town manning the barricades, or had headed for the hills. Most of the remaining stuff at the retreat went with two families that had a pair of GMC motor homes. They were headed for Flagstaff.”
“At that point, we realized that discretion was the better part of valor, so we took off, too. We used a nice long straight stretch of road that started a quarter mile north of the compound. I had taken off and landed there many times before during the five years we were there. When we wheeled around after take-off, we could see that almost half the buildings in the downtown area were on fire. We didn’t stick around to see how things ended, but I’m afraid that the looters must have taken the town. Even though they didn’t have any armored vehicles left, they had superior numbers and superior firepower.”