THE TYRANT GODS
Rafael Ward Book Three
Free Preview of Chapter One Below
Hannah MacKenzie paced the once grand lobby of the Hotel Congress in Tucson, Arizona. Nearly nine hundred miles southwest of Horeb, their headquarters in Denver, Colorado. Except, they were Horeb wherever they went now. The army had taken the name of the HQ. Horeb was the seed and the tree. The pebble and the mountain. The storm and the flood.
Before her stood the one hundred and eighty-seven soldiers of Bravo Company, at attention, three rows deep, waiting for her to speak. MacKenzie hated their waiting. She hated their anticipation. It weighed on her like battle fear, that moment of terror chilling up and down the body’s nervous system a split-second before the first bullet flies. It made her want to delegate this process to a subordinate.
Not a chance, she thought.
Allowing fear to prompt her actions, to make her pass off her responsibility, would be a betrayal of herself, of her soldiers, and of God. It would be a betrayal of her guiding hand, the Seer. While there were few things she liked less than disciplining a soldier—and nothing she liked less than making discipline public—this was too crucial a violation to let go.
“Private Grierson,” she announced, the lobby’s acoustics making shouting unnecessary.
Grierson came forward. “Yes, General!”
General. An empty rank. A title, nothing more. MacKenzie had come back from Spain five months ago shaken and hesitant. The Seer had noted it immediately. He’d asked her the very question she’d been thinking. Did she want to give up her command? She’d said no, but he knew better, and he told her what she needed to hear: that she was of more use to God in the field. He insisted that was His plan all along.
Still, she doubted. She doubted herself. She doubted God. For the first time, she doubted the Seer, but when he insisted, she accepted. Colonel Thomas Aldrich, the Seer said, would be promoted to general and would take over operations in Colorado. She would return to the field to commission Horeb’s first special forces unit: Bravo Company. It was a job for a major or a colonel, but she, still a general, reviewed each dossier in Horeb and chose her soldiers personally. Including Private Grierson.
Grierson was a good solider. Strong, dedicated, and likely for promotion. The kind of soldier you could clone a hundred and eighty-seven times and guarantee Bravo Company would never lose a battle. The last person MacKenzie thought would break rank and violate radio silence.
“Do you have anything to say in your defense?” MacKenzie asked.
Grierson looked momentarily uncertain. “No, sir.”
“Major Chavez,” MacKenzie said to her second-in-command.
Chavez came forward to stand beside Grierson. He was a good officer, if somewhat overly fanatical. More interested in clean weapons than clean footlockers. The chatter among Bravo Company was that they appreciated him but didn’t much like him.
“Sir,” Chavez said. “I don’t believe we need to abort.”
MacKenzie was caught off guard by the major’s statement. She’d intended for him to make a disciplinary recommendation not a tactical one. Certainly not one that mentioned aborting.
“Aborting is not an option, Major,” MacKenzie confirmed, irritated by the implication giving up would ever be an option for Bravo Company. Especially now. A delay at this stage would forfeit the advantage they’d gained in the last seventy-two hours. In a blitzkrieg advance, the entirety of Second Brigade had charged from Horeb to Tucson, with minimal fighting at the District Border. The revolution had begun, but it would not sustain itself. MacKenzie and the Seer had worked out a detailed plan for these first days and weeks, a plan Aldrich was implementing with audacity and precision, and Bravo Company was the key. They were the only ones who could pull off the rest of the operation to split the Republic’s Southwest District forces in half. They were the only ones who could convince the Republic their precious Wall was in danger. The only ones who could be trusted to take the Wall at Nogales, sixty miles to the south. “Recommend sentence.”
“Private Grierson broke radio silence,” Chavez said, “potentially compromising the operation. I believe the private’s actions are grossly negligent at best. Treasonous at worst. I recommend stoning, as for an apostate in David’s Kingdom of Israel.”
Of course you do.
Grierson stared dead ahead, her face expressionless.
“Negative, Major,” MacKenzie said.
“Sir?” Chavez said.
MacKenzie lined up Chavez with her best glare. She was angry now. She didn’t like being questioned. She didn’t like hiccups in her operations. She didn’t like this damn hotel. It was old and cold, despite a late autumn heat wave. It was annoyingly historical, with placards everywhere about some bank robber named Dillinger who’d been arrested here more than a century earlier. An event Rafe would surely know about, and be willing to lecture on.
Thinking about Rafe made her even angrier. It made her want to forget discipline and dismiss the company. It made her want to order the assault immediately, intelligence and diligence be damned.
You’ve lost your peace, the Seer had told her before asking if she’d like to return to the field, surprising her that anyone could think she’d ever had a measure of peace. Now, however, she was sure she had lost something of herself. She’d forfeited her command of Horeb. Her soldiers were ignoring orders and questioning her command.
This last, she would not abide. Her command was all she had and all she was.
“Private Grierson,” MacKenzie said. “You will be removed back to Horeb for punishment.”
Grierson choked out two words: “My son.”
“Your son what?” Mackenzie asked.
“My son, sir!” Grierson said, speaking quickly, her words tumbling over themselves. “I had to leave him when I joined. His father couldn’t see God’s plan. I had to leave him, and his father took him to his parents’ place. I couldn’t let him be caught in the middle.”
MacKenzie had reviewed the private’s service records as she had for each of Bravo Command’s soldiers, but she’d only glanced at her personnel file. Had it mentioned a family? A son?
“Sir,” Chavez said. “If I may, the private believes her ex-husband took her son to Nogales. She was trying to warn him to leave town in advance of our arrival.”
For fuck’s sake!
“And I’m only being informed of this now?”
“He’s only twelve,” Grierson cried. She broke rank and approached MacKenzie, her steps trembling, her right hand over her heart.
Chavez cut Grierson off, herding her back in place, shouting down her objections in a grotesque display of callousness that should have been the antithesis of what they were fighting for. Watching Chavez belittle Grierson forced MacKenzie to imagine what she might do to protect her own child in an impossible future in which she could be a mother. She imagined doing nothing. She imagined being a good soldier, disciplined enough to never consider saying fuck it to her duty and her revolution.
Then she imagined a baby girl cradled in her arms. She imagined her father, who’d spoken his final words to Rafe and not her, holding a red-headed granddaughter.
“Private Grierson!” she announced. “You will be placed on restricted duty at Horeb until I either return or send orders otherwise. Understood?”
Grierson stood once more at attention but couldn’t stop the tears from rolling down her cheeks. “Yes, sir!”
“Major Chavez,” MacKenzie said. “Your inability to maintain discipline and foresee this security risk is extremely disappointing. You will accompany Private Grierson to Horeb where you will receive a demotion in rank. You will both be redistributed according to Horeb’s needs.”
A murmur ran through the lobby. Relieving the major of command on the eve of such a crucial operation was not good for the op or for morale. She needed to replace Chavez immediately with a seasoned commander who already had the soldiers’ respect.
“Captain Talbot,” MacKenzie continued. “You are promoted to major and will take ops command. I want two teams of three each. First team, assess the extent of the comm leak and name all possible targets. You have two hours. Second team, extract the Grierson boy and plug all potential leaks.”
Talbot stepped forward, clearly already staffing the two teams in his head. “Yes, sir!”
“We set out at zero-three hundred. I don’t need to tell you how important this op is. Once the Wall comes down, our Mexican comrades can join us in restoring Faith to those who’ve been deprived of it for too long. Understood?”
The response came swift, one hundred and eighty-seven strong: “To Canaan!”