“Dark Horse” Prologue

Monday June 16, 2008

7:38 PM Eastern Daylight Time (EDT)… 5:38 PM Mountain Daylight Time (MDT)

The Situation Room of the White House, Washington D.C.

Plates of food sat untouched on the large conference table. All, but two, of the conference chairs were empty and still perfectly placed around the conference table. A steady stream of senior presidential advisors moved smartly in and out of the Situation Room. No one lingered to sip coffee or lounge in a chair. The tension in the air was palpable.

At the end of the table, two men were hunched intently over a speakerphone. Behind them a three-foot by four-foot aerial map was taped to the wall. The map depicted a high definition section of Route 20, five miles west of the East Entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Colored stickers and pins filled much of the map.

Five small, digitally prepared block labels were at the center of the map’s markings. At closer inspection, one could see that the yellow labels weren’t block shaped, but bus shaped. To one side of the labels was a large, light blue post-it note. The note read:

Ambush of 5 school buses & 5 personal vehicles- 3:45 PM (EDT) …Received confirmation from USMC Commandant 3:57 PM (EDT)

305- 6th graders…27 civilians … 3 Marines (lightly armed)…Total 335
60 al-Qaeda terrorists (approximate)…heavily armed
Terrorist Mission: Kill all children plus accompanying civilians

“What was that? What did he say? Can’t he hold the satellite phone closer to his mouth?” asked President Jed Adams to General Randy Rexman, U.S.A.F., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“I missed it too. There is a lot of static. We’re simply connected to an open channel on a satellite phone that is lying next to Bobby Ridger. Remember, he’s nearly a quadriplegic. He does have some movement in his hands and arms, but we’re talking inches,” said the general.

“Bobby, what is your situation? Are you holding or have they broken through?” asked the president nervously.

No answer.

Urgency and anguish was obvious in his plea, “Bobby, I repeat. What is your situation? Are you holding or have they broken through?”

“Who is this?” asked a groggy Bobby Ridger.

“The president and General Rexman. You’ve been giving us battle updates for the past two hours.”

“Where is Annie? She’s gone. Everything is blurry,” stuttered Bobby.

“He’s slipping in and out of consciousness. He’s concussed, maybe even wounded,” whispered the general to the president.

“Corporal Ridger, what is your status?” asked the general slowly and clearly. The firmness of his command activated an ingrained response in the former Marine.

He responded with slurred speech. “General, one of their grenades blew up part of the school bus I’m using for cover. I’m lying under the engine block. The bus is on fire and there is smoke everywhere. The gas tank hasn’t blown yet but it won’t be long before it does.”
“Corporal, give me your visual status on the location of Gunnery Sergeant Miller and Major Daniels,” said the general.

“Yes, sir. Hold on, let me look.” The fingers of his left hand loosely gripped a pair of binoculars. With great difficulty, he rolled onto his stomach and inched his arms and elbows towards his chest. Ever so slowly, he gradually raised his binoculars to his eyes and searched the hillside. There was no sight of either Brice Miller or Chet Daniels.

“They’re missing! Where’s Annie?” he mumbled.

“I say again, corporal, give me your visual status on the location of Gunnery Sergeant Miller and Major Daniels,” said the general more forcefully.
7:40 EDT (5:40 MDT)

“Wait! Wait! Yes sir, I see them. They’re by the stone ledge, near the top of the hill. There are lots of trees and bushes, but I can see Chet clearly, he’s in the open. Brice is behind him partially hidden by some trees. They’re approaching a man who is lying against a log with a white flag fluttering near him. That’s their command post. That’s their leader. He’s been directing their attack. Where’s Annie?” muttered Bobby again.

“Corporal Ridger are you in contact with Gunnery Sergeant Miller and Major Daniels?” asked the general.

“Sir. I can hear them on my headset, but they can’t hear me. My transmit function is busted. All I hear is them moving through the brush. Oh shit!” said Bobby.

The president and general heard the distant crack of a single shot over their satellite phone’s speaker.

“What’s happening?” commanded the general.

“The man on the ground was a decoy. He was dead. Their leader came out of the bushes twenty feet to Chet’s side and got the drop on them. Major Daniels turned to shoot him but the bastard shot him in the lower body. The major is down!” cried Bobby.

Silence.

“Listen to me son. Help is on the way, but you’ve got to stay with me. Do you understand?” pleaded the general.

“Yes, general,” said Bobby weakly. “Let’s see. Their leader is yelling at Brice and the major. He demands the children come out from behind the buses.”

“No, no!” cried the president over the speaker.

There was no response.

Bobby’s eyes fluttered and he lost consciousness. As his head thumped against the paved road, his radio headset bounced off his head and settled atop the satellite phone.

Both the president and general craned closer to their satellite phone’s speaker, struggling to hear the weak transmission. From Bobby’s headset, they heard a distant voice.

“Never, asshole!” Followed by two distinct gunshots, the first louder than the second.

The gunshots stirred Bobby’s consciousness. With a supreme effort, he raised his binoculars again towards Chet and Brice’s position on the hilltop.
“Oh, God no!” cried Bobby.

“Report, report Corporal Ridger,” demanded the general.

“He’s hit! He’s down! The bastard shot both of them at point-blank range with his pistol. Brice and the major are dead!” cried Bobby.

“Son, you’ve got to collect yourself,” offered the general kindly.

There was no answer. Bobby had lapsed into unconsciousness.

The general repeatedly called for Bobby over the next few minutes, but there was no reply.

Ever so slowly, Bobby began to re-emerge from his unconsciousness. He first felt the cold pavement against his check and then noticed the absence of sound. His surroundings were totally silent. His blurred vision was like looking towards the sky from the bottom of a swimming pool. Was this heaven? Was he dead?
His minds eye began to come to life as he studied a white tour bus that was parked at a crazy angle across the road from him. Feet, lots of feet were racing towards him from each end of the bus. Then, as if someone turned on the lights in a dark room, he realized what was happening. Fuck, we’re being overrun! He spoke animatedly into the satellite phone, “We’re being overrun. We’re being overrun.”

There was no acknowledgement, other than “Bobby Ridger, come in. This is General Rexman.”

Puzzled, Bobby looked at his phone and saw that his mute button was on. He fumbled with the key at first, but eventually managed to disable it. He was about to speak when a dozen feet appeared on the terrorist’s side of the timber bunker. Kathy and Lynne, a pair of fearless and grandmotherly female bus drivers, had constructed the fortified bunker from discarded roadside shoring timbers between the second and third school buses.

7:46 PM EDT (5:46 PM MDT) The Situation Room, the White House

Suddenly, four loud blasts from a shotgun and the screams from dying men burst from the speaker. Startled, the president and general bolted upright from their hunched, cramped sitting positions.

“Empty!” said a woman’s voice angrily. Her voice was as clear as if she were sitting at the end of the table.

“You die, infidel whore!” wheezed a man out of breath from running, his accent distinctly Arabic.

They heard a sharp thwack, a woman’s muffled cry and the sound of a heavy object being dragged over what sounded like a pile of lumber.

“Shit, that was one of the female bus drivers with a shotgun. She and her friend were posted next to Bobby between the second and third buses, behind the timber bunker. They were the last line of defense for the children hiding below the retaining wall,” said the general despondently.

Bobby whispered quietly into the satellite phone.

Radio static. “…on us.” More garbled radio static.

“Was that Bobby?” asked the president.

“Couldn’t tell. It was garbled,” responded the general.

The sound of more footsteps and the shouts of al-Qaeda terrorists poured from the speakerphone. Then, they heard the distinctive, evil voice of the man who had struck the female bus driver. He spoke to his men in Arabic. Neither the president, nor the general understood a word he said, but from the reaction of his men they understood his meaning. The killing was about to begin. His men were stomping their feet and slapping their sides in excited anticipation of the bloodletting.

For what seemed like minutes, but was only seconds, the disquieting fog of imminent disaster lay heavy in the room. Both men’s heads were bowed as if in prayer.

A young Marine corporal quietly slipped into the room and handed General Rexman a message. The general quickly scanned the message and pushed it across the conference table to the president. The president read it in a glance and sighed.

TOP SECRET
Flash Z Message
162346Z JUN 08
FM: NSA
TO: POTUS
CC: CJCS, CNO, CMC, SDHS, DFBI
SUBJ: Yellowstone Defense-Marines, civilians and 305-6th graders.
Weak transmission analysis; Cpl. Bobby Ridger reports… “They are on us. We’ve been overrun!”

A moment later, the president and general’s worst fears were realized when they heard a loud voice proclaim, “Children of the infidel, you die,” accompanied by the distant screams of children. Then, the horrific sound of deliberate gunshots…crack…crack…crack.

The president’s large fist crashed into the speakerphone sending plastic phone parts flying in every direction.

“God damn motherfuckers will pay for this,” swore the president.

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