Edge of Valor: A Post-Apocalyptic EMP Survival Thriller(11)

Worse, the paramilitary team he’d sent ahead of him had neither returned nor checked in.

With an irked sigh, he watched the guardsmen organizing the staging area, readying the supplies, and loading them onto the transport vehicles. He kept his own men close.

His most trusted contractors served as his bodyguards. At least ten surrounded him, skilled paramilitary operators dressed in black fatigues, combat boots, and chest rigs, outfitted with Berettas and M4s.

He’d recruited them years ago for his private security firm, conducting special operations off the book for the alphabet agencies who wanted plausible deniability. He’d given it to them.

He’d handpicked former military or law enforcement with black marks in their files. He preferred the morally bankrupt.

They made better soldiers and more efficient killers. Zero moral qualms to take into consideration.

The General cracked his swollen knuckles. His arthritis was acting up again. The stale, chilly air gnawed at him, but he refused to shiver or reveal any weakness.

He was no longer young. Pushing seventy-one, he’d always boasted a rugged toughness, his broad chest sagging only in the last few years. Now, his body ached in too many places to mention.

He missed his cushy office next to the Governor’s at the George W. Romney Building on Capital Avenue in Lansing. The overstuffed leather chair, the whirring generators, and his tumbler of favorite cognac. He missed ice.

War was a young man’s game.

He belonged at the top of the food chain, where he could rest and relax in luxurious comfort—not out here in the wild, enduring cold, hunger, and discomfort.

Those behind expansive desks had earned the right to command death with the push of a button.

Only, there were no buttons to push anymore.

Ah, but he’d chosen this, hadn’t he? He’d let his thirst for vengeance and sense of poetic justice lure him from the sumptuous luxuries of the governor’s office. Simple things—ice on command, power at the flick of a switch—represented the new opulence.

For a purpose, he told himself. A little longer, and he’d return victorious, the man responsible for demolishing the Syndicate.

Not only that—he’d consolidate more power and influence than any politician in the Midwest.

Lauren Eubanks, the Secretary of State, had remained behind to whisper in Governor Duffield’s ear and undermine the General at every turn. She disliked him, distrusted his sage advice, and resented his rapid rise to power as the Governor’s trusted military advisor.

A plain woman with a stern, suspicious demeanor, Lauren Eubanks was intelligent and competent. Unusual for a politician, or a woman.

The General hated her.

She was also the next in line of succession if something unfortunate were to happen to the current governor of Michigan, Henry Duffield. A fact never far from the General’s mind—or plans.

He’d left his assistant, Osborne—a sniveling, obsequious little man—behind for a singular purpose.

He’d make his move soon, when the time was right.

Politics was a game of chess: sacrificing pawns, obfuscating with the bishop while invading with the rook for checkmate.

He was the General. The epitome of the behind-the-scenes shadow, the string-puller, the puppet master.

One of his contractors jogged up to him. It was Tyrone Gibbs, one of his best men, the one he’d sent to retrieve Sutter.

In his mid-thirties, he was trim but muscled, not an ounce of fat on him. Loyal, capable, and a talented sharpshooter. Blotches of blood spattered his wrinkled uniform; his brown skin was sheened with sweat beneath a layer of soot and dirt.

Gibbs saluted. “Sir.”

“Status report,” the General barked.

“The nihilist group were untrained, though well-armed. We had them in hand. And then—”

“What the hell happened?”

The tendons on Gibbs’ thick neck stood out like cables. He looked like he wanted to strangle someone. “We had to abort.”

The General’s lip curled in disdain. “You failed?”

Gibbs didn’t answer, but the impotent anger flashing in his dark eyes told the story.

Rage flared through the General, sharp and hot. “Where are the others?”

“Sir, I’m the only one.”

“The only what?”

The man scowled like it hurt him to say it. “The only survivor.”

The General scoffed. “That’s impossible.”

“Sir, a secondary force interfered. A spec ops soldier, it had to be. Had to be someone with considerable combat experience. He was good. Really good. We were focused on servicing our targets, and this guy took advantage of our tunnel vision. He took us by surprise. And he had help. They ambushed us outside Vortex Headquarters. I lost five men in sixty seconds.”

The General glowered at him. “Unacceptable.”

This spec ops soldier couldn’t be the same one Sutter had warned him of: the man who’d murdered the General’s daughter.

But perhaps it was.

It made a terrible sense. How many super soldier vigilantes could be running around Southwest Michigan?

He glared over Gibbs’ shoulder. “Where the hell is Sutter?”

“Dead, sir.”

The General blinked, taken aback. That wasn’t the response he wanted to hear. He needed Sutter for intel on these Fall Creek hooligans. It was the only reason he hadn’t ordered his men to eliminate Sutter, too.

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