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The UN peacekeeping force is in tatters…
…but China remains.
The American people finally rally to defense of their own country. Can the effects of the disinformation campaign be rectified?
The world has never seen America’s wrath like this before.
The United States reveals a new superweapon and threatens to use it to settle the score, but China is waging a new type of total war. The insidious details of the Q program are revealed to the world stage, inciting widespread rage.
It’s time for payback.
The global conspiracy to topple America is finally exposed, and its leaders are systematically hunted down by Task Force Avenger. The stage is set for the final clash between the last remaining world powers, China and America.
Will new allies emerge?
If you love fast-paced action and political intrigue, you’ll love this fourth installment of the Falling Empires Series.
Get it now.
The Falling Empires Series is best read in order, as each book builds upon the previous work. The reading order is as listed:
Book One: Rigged
Book Two: Peacekeepers
Book Three: Invasion
Book Four: Vengeance
Book Five: Retribution
Release date: February 17, 2020
Publisher: Front Line Publishing, Inc.
Print pages: 547
Content advisory: No profanity or sexual content
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Fort Tejon State Historic Park
Staff Sergeant Mack jumped a bit when he heard the series of explosions. The morning had otherwise been silent, so it caught him off guard. The engineers were dropping both of the overpasses along the edges of the state park and Interstate 5. The entire 1st Marine Division had been beaten out of LA County. Following their tactical withdrawal, the division had been split up into two forces. Regimental Combat Team 5 was fighting the PLA as they moved up the coastal part of the state, doing what they could to slow or delay the enemy. RCT 7, on the other hand, had the task of trying to keep the PLA from breaking out of southeastern California into Nevada and northern Arizona.
Mack’s group, RCT 1, had the unenviable job of trying to keep the Chinese bottled up on this side of the valley before Bakersfield. If the Chinese broke through their lines here, they’d have a straight shot all the way up to Sacramento. The valley, of course, was the prized possession the Chinese were really after—it was the bread bowl of the entire state. It represented more agricultural output than nearly any region in China. Properly managed, the valley could meet a substantial portion of China’s agricultural needs for generations to come.
“You think dropping those bridges is going to slow them down?” asked Lieutenant Ambrose as he sat down next to Mack. The two of them could easily see the valley leading toward their positions from their perch.
Staff Sergeant Mack shrugged. “Probably not. But it’ll make people feel better. If you ask me, they’ll just move infantry around the interstate and secure the area from the rear. Then they’ll bring in construction equipment and move the rubble so their tanks and other vehicles can make it through.”
Ambrose snorted at the dreary assessment. “Aren’t you full of optimism, Staff Sergeant?” he asked sarcastically.
“I’m just being realistic, sir. It’s what I’d do if I was in their shoes, and you would too.” Mack paused for a minute, contemplating. “I know this is our last line in the sand, so to speak, but we don’t have enough combat power to slow these guys down, sir. That National Guard brigade took a brutal mauling covering our retreat back to this position. Did you see how few of their vehicles and men made it back to our lines yesterday? They’re spent, LT, just like most of RCT 1.”
“That may be so, Staff Sergeant, but we have to stay positive for the men,” Ambrose countered. “They’re going to need your help more than ever in the coming days. Things are going to get rough when they decide to push us off this perch.” The LT waved his hand around at the land around them.
“It’d be a lot easier if we had the state and the people on our side, then. At least half the population out here hates our guts. Heck, we got shot at by a farmer the other day while out on patrol. We even yelled out that we were US Marines. He just yelled for us to ‘go back to Sachs country’ and continued to shoot at us.”
With a look of concern on his face, the LT asked, “What did you guys do with the farmer?”
“We shot him. He wouldn’t stop shooting at us, and I wasn’t about to lose any of my Marines to some turncoat, so we shot him dead. He didn’t cause us any more problems after that,” Mack replied angrily as he kicked some dirt with his boot.
“We have to do our best to hold the state or at least slow the Chinese until reinforcements from other parts of the country can arrive and help us out,” Ambrose insisted. The young Marine officer was having a hard time dealing with the civilians attacking them too. No one was happy about it, but those were the cards they’d been dealt.
“I wonder how the rest of the division and III MEF is doing along the coast,” Mack said. “Part of me wishes we were the ones fighting along the coast. There’s a lot more vegetation to hide and fight in than out here. We’re pretty out in the open if you think about it.”
Lieutenant Ambrose let out a frustrated huff. “I heard from the CO that half of III MEF ended up getting diverted to Hawaii, so we don’t even have most of their combat power here to help us like we were supposed to.”
“What? When did that happen? I thought that was the whole reason we took the Port of LA.”
“It was,” Ambrose confirmed. “But half of the division was sent to Hawaii to beef up their positions. They ended up having to recapture the Johnston Atoll, Wake Island, and Midway from the Chinese who had seized them all and were looking to add them to their unsinkable missile platforms in the Pacific. I heard we only have one carrier strike group in the Pacific, so there’s some real concern the Chinese might capture Hawaii.” The LT paused for a moment as he took a drag on his cigarette. “As it is, Staff Sergeant, we can’t really get a lot of supplies flown into the island from the States, and certainly there’s no resupply coming from California or even Oregon. The entire Pacific and the West Coast is a bloody mess.”
As the two of them were talking, they heard the sound of aircraft flying overhead. Every now and then they’d hear an aerial battle taking place in the skies above them. Sometimes they’d even see a parachute descend to the ground below. If the pilot appeared to be reasonably close to their positions, they’d send a team out to go fetch them. Sometimes they’d end up returning with a Chinese prisoner, other times they’d come back with an American Air Force or Marine pilot.
Just as they were about to resume their conversation, the pitch of the noise coming from the fighters changed, and Mack realized whatever was above them, it was suddenly coming down to attack them. Staff Sergeant Mack looked up and pointed. “I think that’s one of those Flounders again!” he exclaimed. “You know, the JH-7s they told us to be leery of.”
“Time to hit the deck!” Lieutenant Ambrose yelled. The two of them dove for some cover and watched as the aircraft continued their attack runs.
Ambrose grabbed his radio. “Incoming aircraft, incoming aircraft. Take cover, over!” he shouted, alerting the units below.
A second later, they saw several missiles streak away from one of the aircraft as it turned hard and lit up its afterburners. Moments later, they heard several loud explosions but couldn’t quite see what had been destroyed. Then the planes circled back around. They appeared to be lining up for an attack run on the troops scattered about in the hills and woods of the state park.
As the fighter bombers got closer to their positions, they cut loose a swarm of rockets into the valley and hills where the Marines had taken refuge. Then the warplanes pulled up hard and sped away. Two Stinger missiles shot up through the underbrush and immediately gave chase to the retreating fighters.
The Chinese planes spat out flares to distract the heat-seeking warheads. One of the Stingers went for the flares, while the other one detonated just behind the engines of one of the Chinese planes.
“I think one of the engines blew up,” Sergeant Mack told Ambrose. “Check out all that flame and smoke.”
The pilot ejected as his plane lost control. The aircraft blew up shortly after that. The pilot’s parachute filled with air, and he began his slow descent to the earth below.
For the next thirty minutes, Chinese warplanes showed up in larger numbers as they sought to attack the Marine position. However, shortly after the Chinese aircraft began arriving in larger groups, US fighters joined the fray.
While the knights of the air fought it out, the King of Battle made his presence known. A rolling crescendo of artillery fire rained down on the valley and the ridgelines where the Marines held their positions. Explosion after explosion rocked the area, sending debris and shrapnel in all directions.
At one point, the artillery barrage on the state park had gotten so bad, Staff Sergeant Mack wasn’t sure there would be anyone left alive.
They must have moved an entire brigade’s worth of artillery, he thought. This is insane.
The attack lasted for nearly two hours. Once it had finally let up, Mack stood up and looked around for his Marines. Fortunately, everyone had dug a fighting hole for this very reason. The one thing they’d been forced to learn rapidly when fighting the Chinese was that they loved artillery. They’d hammer an area for an hour, or three or four, and then launch their ground assault.
Staff Sergeant Mack knew their strategy. He was concerned that the Chinese had been using the hours-long barrage to move their infantry into place.
Sure enough, within the first few minutes of the barrage finally letting up, he heard the unmistakable shriek of a PLA officer’s whistle.
“Everyone up!” Mack screamed to his squad. “Man the trench line now!”
The other squad leaders began yelling the same thing at their men. In an effort not to give away their positions, the Marines had dug several trench lines just below the top of the ridge. They’d also built a secondary line that was directly on top of the ridge, in case they needed to fall back.
On the reverse slope, the Marines had dug another set of positions where they’d ridden out the bombardments. The logic was that if they gave the enemy something to shoot at, they’d focus their attention there and not where the Marines were actually hiding.
As Mack reached the top of the ridge and looked down at their two defense lines, he smiled. Those positions looked like a moonscape. The PLA had pounded them relentlessly, but no one was there. Their strategy had worked. Despite hours of artillery attacks, very few of their men had been injured or killed.
Seeing his predesignated position, Mack jumped into one of the six-man trenches. His M240 gunner soon joined him. Mack had also swapped out his M16A2 for one of the newer M27 IARs; this significantly upgraded his squad’s firepower and gave them a real boost.
While everyone was filtering into the positions, bullets started to crack and snap all around them. Looking down the ridge, Mack saw a veritable wall of humanity attempting to race up to them. It was almost like a tsunami wave steadily rising towards them, threatening to overwhelm and envelop them—only this wave was not made of water but of angry Chinese soldiers hell-bent on killing them.
The sight sent a chill down his spine. Turning his emotions off, Mack fell back into his training, just as he had done so many times before.
“Open fire! Give ’em hell, men,” Mack screamed. He raised his M27 to his shoulder and began firing single-shot rounds at the incoming horde as accurately as possible. The enemy was three hundred meters away, but they were steadily gaining ground.
Several of the M240 gunners opened fire, sending sheets of hot lead down the ridge, cutting down huge swaths of enemy soldiers. The two other M27 gunners also joined the fray, and then the rest of the company began to place well-aimed shots at the enemy.
At this range, killing the enemy required a lot more skill and technique than what the Chinese soldiers were showing. The PLA soldiers were just aiming their QBZ-95s up the ridge and firing a few shots indiscriminately in between running forward and pausing long enough to catch their breath. Every now and then, Mack would spot a handful of soldiers sporting the newer LR17 battle rifles, which were very much like the Army’s M4, tricked out with Agoc sights, forward handlebars and other convenient attachments that made killing one’s enemy easier.
Mack and his squad had only been in the trench line firing for maybe two or three minutes when he heard the familiar sound of mortars flying over their heads towards the enemy. The mortar rounds landed directly on the ranks of the charging infantry, throwing metal fragments everywhere.
Sergeant Mack allowed himself to breathe for just a moment. The mortars were effectively blunting the enemy’s relentless assault of the hill. He flipped the unlock lever for his machine gunner, who swiftly changed out the barrel before it overheated.
Unfortunately, the reprieve was short-lived. While the mortars were decimating the enemy ranks, six Chinese C-10 attack helicopters fired a barrage of antimaterial rockets right at the Marine positions. Then the choppers raked their lines with their chin-mounted 14.5mm Gatling guns.
“Take those damn choppers out!” someone yelled to the Stinger operators.
Seconds later, a pair of Stingers flew out towards the killing machines. The appearance of the missiles caused the C-10s to break off their attack run and take evasive maneuvers. Fortunately for the Marines, both missiles found their marks and two of the helicopters crashed to the ground in a fiery mess.
An American F-15E swooped in low over the Marine positions and fired off four air-to-air missiles, which summarily obliterating the remaining enemy helicopters. When the F-15E banked hard to the left to get back over friendly lines and gain more altitude, dozens of strings of enemy tracer rounds flew out from every which direction after the American warplane. While the Eagle pilot managed to evade what looked like a carpet of anti-aircraft fire, a missile streaked down from higher altitude and blew the plane apart. Mack didn’t see a parachute, so he figured both pilots must have been killed.
They saved our lives and it cost them theirs, he thought.
He shook his shoulders out and returned his attention to what was directly in front of him. The enemy had recovered from the mortar attack and was once again charging up toward them. They were now just under 150 meters away.
Mack aimed his M27 at a small cluster of enemy soldiers and squeezed the trigger once, hitting the man he was aiming at in his right shoulder. Adjusting his aim slightly to the left, Mack fired another round, hitting a second guy. Then he dropped below the lip of the trench to reload his rifle. A string of rounds hit the sandbags right where he had just been.
One of the guys in his squad that was standing next to him grunted as he clutched his chest and then fell backwards into the trench. Mack saw he had been hit just above his body armor. Blood was pulsing between the man’s fingers as he tried to slow the bleeding. Then he coughed. Blood spewed out of his mouth. Sergeant Mack knew immediately that his squadmate was dying. He’d been hit in the lungs, and they were already filling with blood. The young man didn’t have much time, maybe a minute or so before he’d be gone.
Mack saw fear in the young man’s eyes. He’d probably put two and two together just like Mack had done. He knew he was going to die.
Despite all the shooting, screaming, and death going on around them, Mack placed his rifle against the side of the trench wall and reached for the man’s free hand. Looking him in the eye, he said, “Don’t be afraid, Pinkman. I’m here with you. You aren’t alone. You did a great job. You did everything you could to help your brothers, and I couldn’t be prouder of you than I am right now.”
Tears streamed down the young man’s face. Then he let go of the bullet wound and reached into his cargo pocket. Blood was still leaking out of the wound, but it wasn’t gushing like it was before. His body was starting to fail, but he held out long enough to place a bloody envelope into Mack’s hand. With his dying breath, he said, “Give this to my parents. I want them to know that I’m no longer angry at them, that I still love them.”
The man’s grip suddenly loosened, and his hand fell to the ground. His head drooped down to his chest and he was gone.
Wiping away his own tears, Mack shoved the bloodied letter into his pocket and grabbed his rifle. It was as if the world around him had come to a complete halt as he spent the last minute of Pinkman’s life with him, holding him and reassuring him that he was loved and his brothers were proud of him. A second later, though, the sounds of war rushed right back into his head and reverberated throughout his body. Each explosion felt like a body blow as the sound waves hammered his senses.
Looking around him, Mack could see that maybe a quarter of their platoon was dead, while at least another quarter had been wounded in some fashion but was continuing to fight. They all knew if the enemy broke through their positions, they’d be killed for sure and the rest of the valley would be at the mercy of this marauding army invading their country.
Gripping his rifle handle tight, Mack looked down at the charging soldiers. They were now within a hundred meters. They were getting close—close enough that Mack could see the raw emotions of fear, anger, hatred, and determination written on their faces.
Mack flicked the selector switch on his M27 from semi to full auto and squeezed off controlled bursts of automatic fire into their ranks. He knew this would burn through his ammo, but he had to slow the Chinese down and do what he could to stop them from overrunning his position.
Soon after, Sergeant Mack dropped his second magazine of the battle; he slapped the next one in place and hit the bolt release. He changed positions slightly and proceeded to fire another set of controlled bursts into the enemy ranks. As soon as he’d cut down three or four enemy soldiers, the gap would fill up with more soldiers charging from the next row below. It was pure murder what Mack and his platoon were doing to these men, but if they didn’t keep killing them, they’d be wiped out themselves.
Over the constant roar of machine guns and rifles firing at each other, Mack heard an F/A-18 Super Hornet, flying low along the valley. As the aircraft flew over the enemy positions, a series of cluster munitions released across their positions. Intermixed with the cluster bombs were a handful of Mk 82 Snake Eye bombs. Between the cluster munitions and the 500-pound dumb bombs, the enemy was severely hammered.
The attack started to falter and lose steam, but the enemy officers continued to blow their whistles, urging their soldiers onward. Just then, nearly a dozen smoke rounds exploded over the tops of the enemy positions. The smoke rounds threw dozens of little smoke canisters down into the PLA soldiers’ positions, which immediately began to blot out the Marines’ ability to see them.
Oh, this isn’t good, Mack realized. If he and his men couldn’t see the Chinese soldiers, they’d be able to charge right up to their positions.
Then dozens of smoke rounds dispersed right over the Marine positions. At this point, Mack knew he and the rest of the Marines were in trouble. The enemy was going to smoke the entire area out and force everyone to fight practically at point-blank range, which would favor the attackers, not the defenders.
Mack heard their platoon leader, Lieutenant Ray Ambrose, yell out. “Everyone, fall back to your secondary positions!”
Sergeant Mack grunted. He couldn’t see squat—maybe moving to a new position might help.
Before leaving, Mack grabbed Pinkman’s remaining rifle magazines. He knew he’d need them. Then he reached over to set off the series of claymores they still had out there.
The first claymore he tried to detonate didn’t go off. Damn it, the artillery must have severed the detonator cord.
He grabbed for the second clicker and depressed it several times in rapid succession, just like he had done many times before. This one blew up immediately. Mack couldn’t see if he had hit anything, but he wasn’t waiting around to find out either. He repeated the process with the remaining two clickers and then ran to their fallback positions.
While they waited for the next wave, the M240 gunners swapped out their barrels and attached additional belts to the ones they already had in the weapons. The Marines knew they wouldn’t have time to do these tasks when the enemy emerged from the smokescreen. By the time the Chinese reached their first defensive line, it would place the enemy soldiers no more than fifty meters from them.
The one blessing Sergeant Mack could perceive, however, was a shift in the wind. It was now blowing over the ridge top and moving down the slope, pushing the smokescreen further down into the valley and exposing the PLA infantrymen a lot earlier.
The Marines wasted no time in taking advantage of the change in situation. As soon as the Chinese soldiers emerged from the smoke, the Marines resumed firing, killing as many of the enemy soldiers as they could as they continued their relentless charge up the hill.
“Staff Sergeant Mack!” shouted Lieutenant Ambrose.
Mack spotted the LT waving for him. He jumped up and ran over to him. “What do you need, LT?” he asked as he plopped down next to the lieutenant.
“Gunny Crockett is dead. Staff Sergeant Matz was also killed. You’re my new platoon sergeant. We have to hold this position until our rides show up.”
Staff Sergeant Mack felt his jaw hang open from surprise. “What do you mean until our rides show up? Are we leaving?”
Ambrose nodded, his disapproval evident. “Yeah. The entire RCT is going to try and pull back to Camp Nelson in the Mountain Home State Forest. No idea what the plan is once we get there, but we’re supposed to get ready to move in twenty mikes.”
Mack fired off a couple of short bursts at an attacking group of enemy soldiers, then turned back to the LT. “They do realize we’re in the process of trying not to get overrun right now, don’t they?” he asked. The enemy was already at their first line of defense.
“I know, Staff Sergeant. The captain is over there trying to repulse this attack as well. We have some fast movers inbound. When they plaster the enemy positions, that’s when we’re supposed to beat feet down to our rides.” He pointed further down the road behind them, where there were several long lines of LAVs, JLTVs, and a few amphibs. “Just make sure the rest of the platoon is ready to move. I’m going to go tell Third and Fourth Squad; I need you to make sure First and Second Squads are ready.”
The LT didn’t wait for any further comments. Despite incoming enemy fire, he dashed off to Third and Fourth Squads’ positions so he could tell them to be ready to move.
Mack made his own way back down the line and passed the information along to his Marines, firing a burst from his M27 every time he stopped moving. The enemy was now less than forty meters from their positions.
At that point, Mack yelled, “Start blowing the claymores!”
Seconds later, one by one exploded all along the line. Swaths of enemy soldiers turned into a bright red mist of pulverized flesh from the barrage of tiny steel ball bearings. The antipersonnel mines acted like giant scythes, cutting down nearly everything in their paths for a solid ten to twenty meters. Further back, they were still hitting soldiers—the small metal balls that would often break bones or blow tiny holes through their bodies. The claymores were brutal but incredibly effective for the type of fighting they were doing.
Four F/A-18 Super Hornets swooped over their positions, releasing more cluster munitions and 500-pound bombs on the enemy charging their positions. When the fighters made a second pass, they used their cannons to strafe the Chinese soldiers that were practically right on top of the Marines.
“First and Second Squad, fall back!” Sergeant Mack yelled.
It was controlled chaos. The Marines stopped firing at the enemy, and under the cover of the air attack, they ran like hell down the ridge to get in the waiting vehicles. The gunners on top of the vehicles and the LAV turrets were all aimed up at the Marines who were running toward them. They were ready to cover their retreat should the enemy manage to crest the ridge.
Mack made sure to pull up the rear of the position. He wanted to make sure none of their guys got left behind. He helped a couple of the wounded guys maneuver down the trail and got them seated inside the vehicles. As soon as the last Marine was loaded up, the vehicles peeled out. They headed down the road that would lead them through a series of ridges in the park to the other side of Interstate 5, where the engineers hadn’t destroyed or blocked the road yet. It was a race against time to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the enemy they were retreating from.
Once inside the relative safety of the vehicles, a couple of the soldiers broke down and shed a few tears for their dead comrades. No one said a thing about them crying. The guys just needed to let those emotions out so they could go back to killing the enemy when the time came.
As they moved back onto the Interstate and picked up speed, Mack ordered, “Start reloading your magazines! There’s a stash of ammo in this LAV.”
Corporal Phillips dropped a few f-bombs. “I can’t believe we’re retreating again, Staff Sergeant. We’ve been leaving one position after another now for nearly two months. I’m tired of retreating.”
Many of the others nodded their heads in agreement. The troops were getting frustrated by defeat after defeat. It was demoralizing to be constantly losing friends fighting on a hill, only to have to fall back and give that hill up to the enemy.
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