I hate PSD work.

One of the benefits of being in the Grex Luporum teams is that we can be mobile and unpredictable, moving quickly and often invisibly through the AO to get the mission done. When the mission is to act as a Personal Security Detachment, escorting a public figure, though, especially one who might end up becoming the next Prime Minister of Germany, it gets harder to stay unpredictable.

Which was why I wasn’t all that surprised when the lead vehicle blew up just short of the bridge over the Ochtum.

The armored Land Rover disappeared into a boiling black cloud that slammed out of the trees on the side of the road, the heavy thud of the detonation traveling through the ground toward us. I caught a glimpse of the vehicle a moment later, slewed halfway around with its back wheels against the median, the armored glass starred and a few hundred frag holes punched into the doors, as I keyed my radio.

“Contact, right.” The Land Rover that had been hit cracked its doors, the Germans who formed the bulk of Wenzeslaus Gorman’s official PSD sticking their MP7s out through the “V” and covering down on the flank the IED had hit them from. “Shift left, get off the X.” I felt for Meyer and Shultz, but the skinny, balding man with the wire-framed glasses in the back of my vehicle was the mission.

David Reyes was driving our vehicle, and he didn’t hesitate or ask questions. We all knew what needed to happen. As soon as Brian Hartrick had told us we’d be doing this, we’d practiced these sorts of scenarios until we could react to contact in our sleep.

After years of low-level warfare, and over a year of much more high-intensity warfare in Europe, we almost hadn’t even needed to practice anymore.

Bouncing up and over the curb, he sped past the stricken Land Rover, the weight of additional armor bogging our own vehicle down somewhat on the damp grass and earth in the median. We dropped into the opposite lanes with a jarring series of impacts, the other three vehicles in the motorcade following, as Meyer and Schultz covered us. So far, they hadn’t opened fire, which suggested that the attack was just the one IED.

I didn’t necessarily buy it, especially given some of what had been going on in Germany over the last three months since the New European Council had been gutted on the day of its own inauguration ceremony.

We roared into oncoming traffic, but fortunately the explosion had halted that, as nobody in their right mind wants to drive into an IED kill zone. Most of the Germans are still mostly in their right mind, never mind the influx of Middle Easterners and Balkan Islamists, most of whom were pretty close to batshit crazy in my experience. Even the ones that didn’t want to kill all the infidels. That meant we had a barrier of stopped vehicles in front of us, but we didn’t need to worry so much about a head-on collision.

David still had to get onto the brick sidewalk to the side of the road, since there wasn’t exactly a lot of room to maneuver, with both oncoming lanes taken up by traffic. We raced past two big BMW semi-trucks, then had to squeeze past a trio of sedans and smart cars to avoid hitting the light pole in the middle of the sidewalk.

Horns honked at us, but no more explosions rocked the midday bustle of Bremen, and I couldn’t hear any small arms fire, either. Maybe it had just been the one IED.

For his part, Gorman was calm. This wasn’t the first attempt on his life. It seemed that espousing common sense and a more decentralized Europe didn’t make a man particularly popular among some of the more violent groups running around since the fall of the EDC.

Not least, the remnant of the European Defense Corps itself. They were still lurking around Chemnitz, still a threat, but one that nobody wanted to deal with. Least of all the US Army, which was currently busily repeating every mistake we’d made for the last thirty years as they tried to hold down the violence in Germany and France in the aftermath of the war.

Some of them were even still insisting that the war was over. The wreckage and rising smoke behind us suggested otherwise.

People yelled and more vehicles honked their horns as we kept moving along the sidewalk, pedestrians jumping out of the way. I twisted in my seat to check behind us, seeing the follow vehicles still all behind us and staying close. Probably too close, given the IED threat.

David found a gap at the intersection and stomped on the gas as he pulled the wheel over, getting us back on the southbound lanes as we passed a massive IKEA and headed out of the commercial section of town, making for the overpass that arced over the autobahn. The other vehicles followed, even as Gorman got on the phone. From the sounds of it, he was talking to Meyers and Schultz, making sure they were okay and could get clear.

That said good things about the man. Despite my general distrust of politicos, I had to admit that what I’d seen of Wenzeslaus Gorman over the last week had somewhat impressed me.

I started to tense up as we got closer to the overpass. It was a choke point, and while we were now almost half a mile away from the kill zone, and no follow up attack had hit us yet, that did not mean I was going to relax. We’d been through too much since everything had gone sideways in Slovakia the year before.

David was driving fast, probably right at the edge of where he could keep the heavy Land Rover under control. Up-armored SUVs tend to have an even higher center of gravity than most, and if you maneuver too quickly, you can lose it fast. David was a hell of a driver though, which was part of why he was driving and I was riding shotgun. Sure, I was the team leader, which meant I had to keep track of everything and run comms, but Tony was my assistant team leader since Scott had gone down on the back stairway of the European Defense Council building, and he wouldn’t let Jordan drive the trail vehicle. He’d shoved his way behind the wheel himself as soon as we’d gotten ready to move out.

Scott’s death still stung, months later. Along with Dwight’s, and Phil’s, and a lot of other people’s.

We roared over the autobahn and kept going south. We’d planned on hitting the autobahn itself and heading east, toward Wildeshausen, where Gorman had his next meeting with several industrialists, but with the IED strike behind us, that plan was out the window. We kept going south, toward Brinkum.

“We’ve got a drone overhead.” Jordan was keeping an eye out. I craned my neck to try to see, but the reduced interior space on the inside of the Land Rover thanks to the armor package, never mind the distortion brought on by the thickness of the laminated armored glass, meant I couldn’t see much. It was a partly cloudy day, and the sun was shining brightly on us at the moment.

“Roger.” I switched channels for a moment. “This is Deacon. I need some counter-drone coverage over Brinkum, time now.”

“Deacon, this is Smiley.” Don Charron was one of our recent recruits, having hit his end of service in the Army, which hadn’t instituted a Stop/Loss for some unknown reason. Instead of heading home—which had been a bit of an issue with the airspace problems during the war—he’d joined up with us, and now he was holding down the Northern Germany TOC. “We’ve got a counter-drone swarm on the way, but it’s going to be at least fifteen minutes.”

“Roger.” Nothing to be done about it. The logistics and the time and distance were what they were. We’d already known we’d be on the outside of what drone coverage we could manage before we’d left Hanover that morning. I switched back to the team net. Unfortunately, the vehicle didn’t have a built-in radio—a major oversight, from my point of view—so we had to rely on our personal rigs, and the armor made those spotty.

We sped past Brinkum without incident, but that drone was still shadowing us. I got a glimpse of it as we went around the curve to the south of town. It didn’t appear to be armed, or one of the warhead-bearing kamikazes we still had nightmares about after the battle for Nitra. But it didn’t need to be. All it needed to do was tell the bad guys where we were.

“Is it still there?” Gorman had heard enough that he knew we were being followed.

“It’s still there, sir. We’ve got countermeasures coming.” I didn’t look back at him, but kept my eyes forward, watching the road and our surroundings. The good news was, we were on a highway, and unless they had IEDs set in all over the place, just in case, we’d be difficult to ambush.

Didn’t mean it was impossible, especially not with that damned drone up there.

“Should we take shelter until the drone is eliminated?” Gorman might be surprisingly common sensical for a pol, but he still wasn’t a shooter, and he didn’t understand a lot of this stuff.

“No, sir. That drone’s probably sending a live feed to whoever’s controlling it, so stopping and sheltering in place will only give them a stationary target.” As the team leader, I was stuck doing most of the talking. David had to concentrate on the road, anyway.

We were moving fast, weaving through the traffic, which was still pretty thin for the time of day. At least, it seemed that way to me, but some things still hadn’t stabilized in the New Germany. Or the New France, for that matter. That IED back there hadn’t been a unique occurrence. A lot of people were still being very cautious on a day-to-day basis.

We almost made it. But the highway opened up a bit at the intersection with Delmenhorster Street, and that was where they hit us.

A big semi-truck pulled out into the intersection and stopped, the driver’s side door opening and a figure pulling out what looked like an old M72 LAW, shouldering the tube before he was even out of the cab.

David hauled the wheel over, almost rolling the vehicle, as the guy in the cab fired the LAW. The rocket slammed past us, missing the rear of the Land Rover by inches, exploding against the low wall alongside the road. I caught a glimpse of the truck’s cab filling with smoke as shattered glass cascaded to the pavement.

Unfortunately, this had been better planned than we’d expected. Two SUVs swerved across the road to block the lane right in front of us. We were boxed in.

The traffic around us scattered like quail, as the SUV doors opened and several men piled out, one of them putting an MG4 in the “V” of the door and opening fire.

Muzzle flash strobed in the gap, and our windshield starred and clouded as bullets rained against the front of the Land Rover, hitting with a thunderous chorus of brutal thuds and bangs. “Get down!” I reached back to shove Gorman as low as possible even as David ducked below the steering wheel and stomped on the gas.

They weren’t expecting us to charge them. The machinegun fire slackened suddenly, and David yelled, “Hold onto your nuts!” Then we hit.

The impact rocked us, and I felt Gorman bounce off the seat behind me. I had braced myself, so I didn’t hit the dash too hard. David kept the gas pedal down, but while the Land Rover with its ten thousand pounds of extra steel and composite outweighed the two civilian SUVs, we still hadn’t been moving quite fast enough to shove them out of the way. We were stuck.

I’d already pulled the cover off my Wilson Combat SBR Tactical, and now I snatched it out of the gap between my seat and the center console. The need to stay somewhat low-profile—we were all in civilian clothes, for one thing, instead of our Triarii greens with the crossed-rifle patches—had precluded bringing our full-length LaRue OBRs on this op. So, while I would have preferred the full-power 7.62 NATO, the .300 Blackout was going to have to do the trick.

More bullets smacked into the laminate windshield, and I thought I heard an alarming crack. The armor wasn’t going to hold up much longer. “On three!” I had my weapon in one hand, my other on the door handle.

“One!” David was just as ready, his own SBR tucked under his left arm, the muzzle pointed at the ceiling.

“Two!” I already had the door unlatched. Gorman was down on the floor in the back, doing what he was supposed to do. A different sort of principal might be freaking out right then, demanding to know what was going on, but again, this wasn’t the first time someone had tried to kill Wenzeslaus Gorman.

“Three!” We threw our doors open at the same time, immediately dropping our weapons as we pushed out, fingers tightening on triggers before our muzzles had even come level.

As my vision cleared the smashed and clouded armored windshield, I spotted one of the shooters. Dressed in dark clothing and a black balaclava, he looked a little banged up, almost as if he’d been knocked down when we’d hit the crumpled Volkswagen Tiguan. He wasn’t moving all that well as he tried to bring his MP5 up to shoot me.

He was far too slow. I Mozambiqued him from about ten feet away, my first two shots hitting so close together that they sounded like a single report, just before I blew a smoking hole between his eyes, knocking him over backward and out of sight.

The SBR Tactical was suppressed, but we were running the supersonic .300 Blackout rounds. There wasn’t currently a lot of need for the subsonic, and the supersonic hit harder. The suppressors just meant we didn’t need earpro.

I stepped out, using the vehicle as cover, even as David’s rifle cracked off to my left, and more fire poured into the SUVs from my right, as the rest of the motorcade set up and broke seal to lay down cover fire. I spotted the Tiguan’s driver, looking a little dazed, as he tried to bring a G36 out to shoot at me through the cracked windshield. I shot him in the face, my first rounds going high and punching into his forehead as the glass diverted my rounds. Red spattered on the cracked and starred window glass.

Then I was rolling out as more bullets smashed into the attackers’ SUV, a hail of 7.62 fire punching holes in metal and plastic and shattering more glass. Jordan must have hauled Tony’s Mk 48 out of the back of the trail vehicle. We might have been rolling with lower profile weapons for the most part, but Tony hadn’t been willing to cover a couple hundred miles of still-unsecure German territory without a belt fed.

Yanking the rear door open, I grabbed Gorman. “We’ve got to go!” Chris and Greg had pulled up in the next vehicle, and they already had the doors open, Greg yelling at us to get in.

Keeping Gorman’s head down, I hustled him around the back of the smashed-up Land Rover. The front was riddled with bullet impacts, the hood and bumper crumpled from the collision with not just the Tiguan, but the older BMW next to it. The up-armored vehicles only had armor around the passenger compartment, not the engine.

Greg was shooting over his own open door at the SUVs. The man who’d fired the LAW at us lay on his face in the road under the semi’s cab, red spreading slowly out onto the asphalt, a gaping exit wound in the back of his head.

David crossed to the second vehicle with us, still slamming rounds at the bullet-riddled SUVs. More glass cascaded onto the road, and a car alarm was whooping, as I piled into the back of Chris’s and Greg’s vehicle, dragging Gorman with me. David piled in a second later, slamming the door and yelling, “Go, go, go!”

Chris already had the vehicle in reverse as Greg slammed his own door shut rather than risk having it swing closed on his leg. He pulled back and started a J-turn to get us going back north.

Just as he got us turned around and heading back the way we’d come, though, as the other three vehicles in the motorcade started to turn to follow, three more big trucks came down the pike, turning to block the road only a hundred yards away, men piling out of the back to spread out around them, taking cover behind the vehicles and their trailers. The first shots snapped past us, though they were shooting high, and hadn’t struck the vehicle yet.

We were cut off.

Power Vacuum Chapter 1

Peter Nealen

Peter Nealen is a former Reconnaissance Marine and veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. He deployed to Iraq in 2005-2006, and again in 2007, with 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Recon Bn. After two years of schools and workups, including Scout/Sniper Basic and Team Leader's Courses, he deployed to Afghanistan with 4th Platoon, Force Reconnaissance Company, I MEF. Since he got out, he's been writing, authoring many articles and 24 books, mostly Action/Adventure and Military Thrillers, with some excursions into Paranormal Fantasy and Science Fiction.

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