Tanner hunched over the wheel of the speeding HMMWV and flexed his shoulders as he fishtailed slightly around a tight corner in the gravel road. He had been driving hard, pushing the limits of the vehicle as well as his driving skills, for nearly two hours. The HMMWV regained traction and straightened out as Tanner tilted his head to the left and cracked his neck.
The man in the passenger seat next to Tanner relaxed slightly and then gritted his teeth as another sharp angle appeared in the road ahead.
With the HMMWV’s headlights masked by red lenses, the hard left seemed to jump up at them out of nowhere. Tanner lifted his foot off the accelerator and cranked the wheel hard to the left and then back to the right to steer into the skid around the corner. Once the HMMWV had righted itself, Tanner feathered the fuel to add a bit of speed rocketing the Hummer straight out of the curve.
Recognizing that the two five-ton military trucks directly to his rear were falling behind, Tanner dropped his speed. The convoy tightened as the two big trucks regained the distance they had lost.
Radio silence was in effect so the drivers of the two cargo trucks said nothing. Tanner was pretty sure he knew what they were thinking, nonetheless. He doubted if it was complimentary.
Tanner leaned back in his seat and grinned just a split second before everything around him was engulfed in a ball of fire and his HMMWV was launched into the air.
The FMC crew had seen this before. Each man had a pretty good idea of what would happen next and what they needed to do to minimize the damage to their vehicles as well as potential injury or casualty.
The two cargo trucks skidded to a halt and then split into a Y, flanking the upside-down HMMWV. The second HMMWV also skidded to a halt. As quickly as the tires stopped moving, the HMMWV’s driver goosed the accelerator and cranked the wheel spinning the heavily armored vehicle in a 180 degree spin covering the convoy’s rear. The skidding stops and the half-circle spin created a cloud of dust on the country road.
Three men quickly exited the HMMWV and took cover near its rear while the fourth manned the .50 caliber machine gun mounted in the vehicle’s turret. The four men manning the five-ton trucks also exited, taking cover inside the ring of vehicles. One man from the HMMWV and one from the second five-ton truck made their way to the lead HMMWV now resting on its roof and began extracting the occupants. This all happened in a matter of seconds.
In roughly the same amount of time, small arms fire began to rain down from the hillsides surrounding the four vehicles.
Tanner wiggled his massive body through the bent passenger door of the Hummer and then reached back inside for his helmet. He felt a bit woozy but everything seemed to be in the right place and in one piece. The man in the passenger seat hadn’t been quite as lucky. His right leg appeared to be badly broken. One of the other team members was already applying a SAM splint to the man’s leg.
As Tanner regained his hearing, the sound of the .50 caliber and his teammates’ M4’s comforted him. Once the two teammates were out of the rear of the wrecked HMMWV, everyone re-mounted the vehicles while the .50 cal gunner provided cover. Tanner rolled a HE grenade into the carcass of the Hummer as he swung into the back of one of the five-ton trucks and flattened himself to take advantage of the truck’s metal sides.
The tailing HMMWV accelerated in the direction from which they had just come as the two five-ton trucks did the same in reverse. As the drivers put distance between themselves and their attackers, the small arms fire withered away.
Just below the top of the highest hill, a man dressed in Woodland Camouflage looked down on the smoking wreckage of the HMMWV and spoke into his radio’s microphone.
“They’ve reversed direction,” the VOX function on the radio picked up the man’s voice and transmitted it to nearly 50 of his troops scattered around the area. “Pull in the dragnet.”
“Roger that, Chief,” came a solitary response.
Lawrence “Chief” Lanigan, had, indeed, been a Chief Warrant Officer in the U.S. Army prior to the crash. After a fairly amazing 20 year military career, Lanigan had retired five years before the crash. Within months of his retirement, Lanigan watched his marriage and most of the rest of his life slowly self-destruct. He found that he simply could not adapt to civilian life.
Since the crash, Lanigan had assembled and developed a mutual assistance group, of sorts. Over time, the group had grown larger, more violent and more sophisticated. In the last month, Lanigan had begun trading with the U.N. commanders at the FEMA camps scattered around the cities of Omaha and Lincoln as well as some of the larger towns in eastern Nebraska.
His group was populated by numerous former members of military and law enforcement – most of whom had grown weary of trying to survive on their own. Few of the men had families. The majority of those who had families after the crash had lost them somehow. By and large, the group was angry at the world and equipped with the skills to do something about it.
Tanner’s crew paused briefly to regain their bearings and reorganize their convoy and then headed off into the night … straight toward Lanigan’s “dragnet”.