Below, you’ll find Chapter Seven of the Uncommon Bravery short story. If you’re interested in reading the chapters as they’re released, please subscribe to my newsletter.
Chapter 7 – Field Promotions
“Paige – I need the sheriff,” Knight called, connecting to the sheriff’s office channel as he paced, his eyes darting to the vid screen focused on the Ranger Battalion’s activities in the western valley.
“Sheriff has been 10-6 all afternoon. Randy and Jill are both out on calls and our comms are jammed. It’s crazy. I know it’s not my place, but I think you need to come in,” Paige answered with her over sweet Georgian accent.
“10-6? If Randy and Jill are on calls, that is an emergency. Where is he?” Knight answered, frustrated by the regularity of the sheriff disappearing with the ‘busy – unless urgent’ code.
“I’ve tried to raise him. You know how he gets,” Paige replied with a pout to her voice.
“Send me his vehicle location. I’ll find him,” Knight said, closing the comms.
“Problems?” Tinker asked.
“Sheriff is missing. Probably no big deal, but HQ can’t get ahold of him.”
“No big deal? Army Rangers are setting up in the western valley and we just found aliens in Greene Farm’s fields,” Tinker exclaimed. “We got a shit storm headed our way and the sheriff is missing?”
“He does this when he gets stressed. He likes to go fishing. Says it helps him get perspective,” Knight said. His AI chimed letting him know he’d received the Sheriff’s vehicle location. Pinching the coordinates, he tossed them to the large vid-screen.
“That’s not good,” Tinker observed. The vehicle’s last known location was on the eastern side of the river, ten kilometers south of where they’d seen the alien bug in the corn fields.
“Emergency protocol, authorization Deputy Lester Knight” Knight said, alerting his AI. “Break through privacy controls on Sheriff Elmore’s communications.”
“Robert Elmore has removed communication device and is no longer responding to communications,” his AI replied.
“Where? How long ago?” Knight demanded.
“Communication device was removed three hours forty minutes previous and placed within vehicle designation 1201.”
“Paige – establish a tactical channel with Deputies Randy and Jill. The sheriff is missing and his comms are down. I’m headed out to see what’s going on,” Knight said, jumping into Hill Buggy driver’s seat.
“How do I make it go?” He mouthed to Tinker, while waiting for Paige’s response.
“Um, Lester, I don’t know how to say this, but Randy and Jill bugged out,” Paige said. In the background, Tinker could hear a baby crying.
“What!? Wait. Where are you?” he said.
“We thought that’s what you were doing too,” she said. “The world’s going to crap, Lester. They say we’re losing the war and the aliens are coming. Almost everyone in town is heading west to Omaha. You need to get out while you still can.”
“Damn it, Paige. We’re supposed to be protecting people; we can’t abandon them!” Knight shouted into his comms.
“You should know …. Before I left, we got a call from Frank Daws. Clara Daws was lost in the Jelly river an hour ago. I’m sorry, Lester.”
“Say again. Did they find her? Is she okay?”
“Daws was asking for help. I told him none was coming,” Paige said. Knight could hear a man’s voice behind hers, demanding attention. He could just make out the man telling her to unlock the armory.
“Are you still at the station? What’s Toad doing there?” he asked, using Paige’s husband’s nickname.
Muffled, but still understandable, Paige’s voice was a harsh whisper. “It’s locked. I have to get the code from the Sheriff’s desk.”
“He brought Cassy and came to pick me up. We’re just leaving,” she said, her voice back to normal.
Muting his call with Paige, he quickly switched to the municipal channel and connected to the county’s emergency AI. “Identification, Lester Knight. I’m requesting emergency field promotion to acting sheriff. Sheriff Elmore is missing and senior Deputies Randy Botsworth and Jill Jackson are no longer in service.”
While he didn’t want to cause his friends trouble, things were rapidly spinning out of control and he couldn’t allow Toad access to the limited armaments of the Sheriff’s station.
“Information verified. Lester Knight, you are temporarily promoted to acting sheriff,” the AI replied.
“I’m declaring an emergency. Paige Thedford, Randy Botsworth and Jill Jackson are hereby suspended from active duty. Access to all facilities and vehicles are revoked,” he ordered.
“Acknowledged,” the county’s AI answered.
“Lester, what in the hell did you do?” Knight had never heard Paige cuss, much less raise her voice. “I’m locked out of the armory.”
“We’re wasting time sitting here,” Tinker said.
Knight looked up at his best friend and nodded. In addition to Paige and Tinker chirping at him, the AI was streaming a list of trouble calls from citizens.
“Jeremy Tinker, as duly appointed sheriff of North West Pottawattamie county, I hereby deputize you. Do you accept?” Knight said, grabbing the roll bar and swinging his legs over to the passenger seat of Hill Buggy.
“What in the heck? Are you serious?” Tinker asked.
“Damn it, Tinker, yes! We have trouble and I need you on the team,” Knight said.
“Well crap, sure,” Tinker said, jumping into the driver’s seat. As he did, his own HUD showed the upgrade in status as well as a giant list of emergency calls the department had received but not cleared. Most importantly, however, he noticed that Knight had been upgraded to acting Sheriff. “Where to, boss?”
“First, put this on,” Knight said, pulling a beige uniformed shirt from the backpack he’d stowed behind the seats.
“Really?” Tinker complained as he pulled on the shirt that was a bit too big in the shoulders, but otherwise fit okay.
“Tuck it in,” Knight continued as he donned a second shirt. “And, yes. People respond to the uniform and they have a small amount of armor to them. We need to get down to Highway 32, where it crosses the river. Clara fell in.”
“Strap in,” Tinker answered, not missing the fact that Knight had pulled on a belt, complete with holstered handgun.
“Are you listening to me?” Paige Thedford’s voice reminded Knight that she was still connected through her comm. Before he could answer, his stomach lurched as Tinker spun Hill Buggy’s large wheels and they dropped over the lip of the bluff.
“Damn it, Paige, get Toad out of the station and stop looting,” he answered. “I’ve suspended your employment. Be advised, your actions are being recorded and will result in conviction if you continue.”
“We’re being attacked by aliens, Lester. This is about survival,” she answered.
Lester dropped the call, knowing it was pointless to argue. He scanned the call queue that had grown to over a hundred and prioritized suspended Deputy, Randy Botsworth. “What’s up Randy?” Lester answered.
“My rig just shut down and I got a notice that Jill and I’ve been suspended,” Botsworth said, his voice carrying a good deal of anger.
“Where are you?”
“Just crossed in to Council Bluffs,” he answered.
“Is deputy Jackson with you?”
“Yes, Jill’s here. What’s that have to do with anything?”
“Elmwood is in trouble, Randy, and the two of you left your post,” Lester answered.
“You got no right.”
“Turn around and come back,” Lester answered. “You get back to Elmwood in the next hour, you can have your job back.”
“Can’t do that,” Botsworth answered. “They’re only letting traffic go one way and you shut down my rig.”
“Bull. You have lights and an official county vehicle,” Lester said. “I’ll turn it back on as long as you bring it back.”
“Not going to happen,” Botsworth answered. “Keep your stupid rig. Jill and I are going to take cover in Omaha. If you make it through all this, we’re going to finish this conversation, you read me?”
Knight shook his head as he dropped the second conversation in as many minutes.
“What was that about?” Tinker asked, taking a more direct route across the bluff. Instead of crawling along the side of the hill, he’d climbed back onto the plateau and was tearing across farmland north of Elm Bluff, spraying great clods of dirt from Hill Buggy’s paddled wheels.
“With Elmore out of action, the entire Sheriff’s department has gone crazy,” he answered. “They’re all headed to Omaha.”
“Thank the North American emergency broadcast,” Tinker said, dodging a piece of farm equipment that had been left in the middle of a partially harvested field. “They’ve drawn a line in the sand and Elm Bluff is considered the eastern front.”
“How’s that possible?” Knight asked. “This morning, they were saying there was no threat of invasion and that we were winning the war in space.”
“It’s real,” Tinker said, sliding the back of the buggy around a fence and turning south so they could run along the eastern edge of the bluff. “I can see bugs down there running in the open. All those cars look like they’re abandoned. Some of them are on fire.”
“What’s stopping those bugs from crossing the river?” Knight asked, his concern for Clara deepening. He knew her dad’s company had been given the task of blockading Highway-32 at the bridge across Jelly river.
“Look, there’s someone down there,” Tinker said, pointing so his AI would capture what he was looking at. He’d caught the flash of a bright light on the surface of the river and his AI followed it back to the riverbank where a man hung onto a thin tree branch. “He’s looking for someone in the river.”
“That’s Frank Daws,” Knight said, his AI finally connecting the data from Daws’ personal AI.
“Damnit, there she is. They’re tracking her, but won’t get into the water, they must not swim,” Tinker said. Two, two-meter-tall alien cockroach-looking bugs were running along the shore attempting to pluck a figure from the water. Even from this distance, Tinker could see that it was Clara.
“This might suck,” he warned and pulled one stick back and the other forward, violently. Hill Buggy responded immediately and turned hard, over the edge of the bluff. Instead of using the gravity assist to cling to the hill, he repelled from the cliff and catapulted out over the river.
“Frak!” Knight exclaimed, ineffectually grabbing the rollbar cage as they fell freely toward the river.
Tinker’s hands flew over the controls, making rapid adjustments as he trimmed the gravity systems, hoping to use them as shock absorbers. Having little experience with the maneuver, however, they landed hard on the river’s surface, throwing a great wall of water out from all sides. Sinking, he worked feverishly, and even as frigid water entered the open cockpit, the vehicle started to rise.
“You’re a crazy bastard!” Knight exclaimed. “There!” He pointed north of their current position.
Tinker jammed the controls forward and Hill Buggy lurched ahead, this time throwing a rooster tail of water up behind them.
“She’s in trouble,” Tinker said. “She’s having a hard time swimming. The water’s too cold.”
Clara had seen their approach and pushed away from the bank. In doing so, however, she’d lost the periodic contact with the river’s bottom that had allowed her to survive in the near freezing water.
Speeding past her position, Tinker swung the vehicle around and before Knight could stop him, jumped into the river, following Clara as her head dipped beneath the water’s surface. The shock of the water on his face and legs had been dulled by their previous dip and Tinker stroked powerfully toward his lifelong friend. Finding her, he wrapped a long arm around her waist and pushed hard toward the surface.
A bright light nearly blinded him has the two broke the surface and were pushed into the side of Hill Buggy. Unfortunately, the vehicle sat stationary and they were quickly swept beneath it in the fast-moving water. Emerging, coughing on the other side, a strong hand grabbed at his uniform shirt and held them fast.
“You been gaining weight?” Knight grunted as he pulled at his friends. The water’s force was almost too much for him and it was taking everything he had to hold them in place.
“Take her,” Tinker said, pushing the nearly unconscious Clara to Knight.
“I can’t, I’ll lose you both.”
Tinker fished his free arm out and found purchase on the frame of the vehicle. Awkwardly, he attempted to help Clara up to Knight.
Recognizing that Tinker had a good grasp of the vehicle, Tinker grabbed beneath Clara’s shoulders and hauled her into the vehicle. Just as he turned back to help his friend, he caught movement from the corner of his eye as a figure sailed toward Hill Buggy from the bank.
“Tinker, we have incoming!”
Without hesitation, Knight sat back into his chair and in a single motion, drew his handgun from its holster. Firing eight rounds in rapid succession, he hit the alien bug that had leapt from the river’s bank and onto the vehicle’s hood. He blinked in surprise as the bug seemed completely unaffected by the bullets he was certain had found their home, center mass. He screamed as a single pincer stabbed through his shoulder and pinned him to the seat.
Scrabbling onto the floor, Tinker slapped at Hill Buggy’s controls and knocked off the gravity assist. Immediately, the vehicle sank into the river and tumbled over. Knowing the vehicle was lost, he launched himself into the back and grabbed at Clara as they once again fell into the river.
“Boyancy controls recommended,” his AI announced softly in his ears.
“Accepted!” he answered, wondering why it hadn’t offered the option a few minutes before. The shirt he’d put on at Knight’s insistence inflated sufficiently to hold he and Clara above the water. With powerful kicks, he pushed away and swam for the opposite shore.
“I got you,” Frank Daws said as he pulled Clara onto the muddy river bank.
“Hypothermia, Frank,” Tinker managed, wondering why he hadn’t been affected as much by the cold as Clara.
“Understood. I need you to take her back to the shop,” Frank said. “We have a full blown medical station in the garage.”
“We lost our vehicle,” Tinker said, slogging along the river’s edge and pulling Knight out. “You should take her.”
“I can’t! Those alien asshats are going to figure out a way across that river if I don’t get it blocked off,” he said. “You take the overseer back.”
From the corner of his eye, Tinker saw a narrow pod floating down to sit next to where Clara lay coughing, wrapped in her father’s arms.
As if reading his mind about why he hadn’t used the machine himself, Frank answered, “overseer was tied to her. I couldn’t override it. Stupid machine.”
“We’ll send it back to you, Mr. Daws,” Knight said, holding his arm against his chest.
“Much appreciated. Now you get going.”