Category Archives: Belt Fed Revolution

Belt Fed Revolution continues

I’ve finished Belt Fed Revolution: The Heathen. I’ll be publishing it as an e book for those interested in a copy they can read from beginning to end in an easier format. The Belt Fed Revolution story continues though, over at http://survivingcontact.wordpress.com/ as I continue the story on the east coast in Belt Fed Revolution: Surviving Contact. If you enjoyed BFR: The Heathen please swing on by and check out BFR: Surviving Contact.

Thank you and thanks for reading.

Chapter 58 -Belt Fed Revolution

The camp was already fading from sight in the trucks oversize mirrors. I left the women with some basic instructions for fortifying the place and before I said my last goodbye protective berms were being dug by the few male captives that remained.

I consulted the map that had been left in the truck by its previous driver and considered my options. Starke and the remnants of the Michigan Volunteer Defense Force were even now likely gathering near Lansing preparing for their push into our erstwhile capitol; the map though showed all the possibilities before me. Hadn’t I wanted to run off in live in the forest like some post-apocalypse version of one of Peter Pan’s Lost Boys? Where was that guy?

I rolled to a stop at the intersection of the town and glanced over at the newly abandoned library. I shifted the truck into park and grabbed a bottle of water, loosening the cap and taking a slow sip of water as I scanned around looking for possible ambush sites. With Michael dead and most of the camp’s guard fled or otherwise engaged there were no signs of activity. Word must have traveled fast; the little market that had been set up on the library’s sidewalk had been deserted, leaving only empty folding tables as any hint of the purpose.

Old habits died hard it seemed as I pushed down the stalk to indicate a left turn. I put the truck into drive and started my turn. From the passenger’s side of the cabin I heard a bark of protest. I looked over and saw Sako eyeing me almost curiously.

“Stuff it, pooch.” I told him as I made the turn and accelerated. Sako persisted, barking at me again as if to ask what it was I thought I was doing. I reached over and scratched his ears. “I’ve done my part here, okay? I paid whatever debt I had by saving those women.” Sako barked louder and scooted over closer to me. I thought maybe he needed to use the bathroom and pulled over to let Sako and Tikka out of the cab, setting them on the ground at my feet.

Tikka ran off to a nearby lawn to do his business while Sako remained sitting at my feet staring up at me. “Go on, Sako. Go!” I nudged him with my boot but succeeded only in moving him over a couple of inches. “What? What do you want? If you’re hungry you’re going to have to hunt or at least wait until later.”

Sako walked a small circle and sat down at my feet once more.  I looked off to see Tikka chasing leaves in a nearby yard. I refused to make eye contact with Sako.  Undeterred Sako began barking insistently, letting out a yip followed by a growl every few seconds. Finally, I caved.

“Be normal!” I said, giving him my best ‘you just pee’d on the rug and it’s just the end of the world for me’ voice. “Go play with your brother! Bark at an empty trash can, will ya?!” Sako sat at my feet, vocal and unflinching.

Tikka came back over and nipped at his brother’s ear then lay down, rolling on his back trying to entice his brother into play. “Yeah! What he said!” I attempted to point out the clearly superior behavior of his brother. Sako snapped at Tikka until his brother gave up and found joy in licking himself instead.

“You’re my favorite.” I said looking at Tikka who wagged his tail happily. Sako changed tacks now looking back the way we came and whining piteously. “Oh, for fu–are you kidding me with this?!” Sako wagged his tail once and looked at me with his head slightly tilted. “No. You be normal. You’re a dog not my conscience.” Sako let out an almost happy growling-bark. “No! You are not winning!” I shook my head. Under my breath I said “Oh yeah, this is normal. I’m arguing with a puppy.” Sako jumped up and began doing a little dance, barking and spinning in circles.

“I kept you from being Pup-burger helper.” I began, trying for some odd reason trying to guilt him into submission. Sako barked rapid fire nonstop barks and he spun around frenziedly. “Really?” I asked. I waited for several seconds in hopes that he might actually answer.

Seeing that all the action was in the barking and spinning game, Tikka joined in with his litter mate, pausing after a few circles to look up at me as if to ask why I hadn’t joined in the fun. “Et tu, Tikka?” I shook my head and did my best to convey to him my grave disappointment. “You’re no longer the favorite.” I told him as I bent down and scooped the dogs up and hustled them into the cab.

“I’m getting a cat.” I told them as I started the motor and began to attempt a U-turn in the big box truck. Sako started barking, even louder now, putting his paws up on the dash to look out the windshield as if to make sure I was actually going back. Sako barked and began dashing around the small cab taking turns looking out the windshield and looking at me. He barked once more, a louder, deeper sound this time as he began to find his big dog voice.

“Yeah, yeah. I’m going.” I reached over and put my finger on his nose. “And when I get there, I’m going to offer you two up for the stew pot.” I said nodding my head gravely at the both of them before continuing “And then, cat. A nice, quiet, non-judgmental cat.” Sako gave me a play bow, wagging his tail so hard his whole body shook with the effort.

I pulled back into the intersection and looked at the map once more and began tracing our route. I looked over at the dogs once more. “You know I’m going to be killed right?” I asked, looking them both in the eye. Tikka yipped happily and stuck his nose up against the windshield. “As long as you’re both okay with that . . .” I said offering them a chance to change their minds.

Sako moved next to me and lay down beside me on the seat. I turned the truck east, toward Starke and his crew. Toward Lansing.

 

Fin

 

Chapter 57 -Belt Fed Revolution

What makes the grass grow? 

A smile came to my face as I recalled a line from a movie. These ladies were killers of a type that would put most men to shame. They weren’t superbly trained or excellently equipped but they made up for those short comings with an absolute dedication to finishing the job.

Michael’s body lay still on the ground where it had been left; a mangled wreck so tainted even the dogs wouldn’t go near the remains. No overstatement that as Sako and Tikka followed me around and made haste to step away from the  meat spoiling in the heat of a new day.

I felt myself at something of a loss. My work here was done–this demonstrated to me by the women organizing a group to hunt down the men who’d escaped in the chaos–and I didn’t exactly feel needed or welcomed now. Sarah was the lone hold out among the women. She would talk to me, meet my gaze and acknowledge my existence; to everyone else I was a ghost.

Small groups of women had begun to return now with prisoners. The men were bloodied and disheveled from their flight and subsequent capture. This was not of my doing; the women were doling out their own brand of justice to their captives.  One of the male prisoners found this out in a hard and utterly final way that the balance of power had shifted fully. The man’s guard attempted to push him into a kneeling position alongside his comrades; the man refused and attempted to strike the woman. The female guard wasted no time as she drove her bayonet deep into the man’s guts angling down so that the tip of the bayonet protruded high up on his thigh.

I was just beginning to understand the monster I had helped create when I was interrupted from my observations by a tap on the shoulder.

“You’ll be leaving soon I suppose.”

I looked at Paige and saw no hint of the woman I’d met mere days ago. “Soon as I can find transportation.” I said as I took in the lovely shell that was Paige.

“Leave the dogs.”

It was an order. I though I might refuse for a moment, but I decided to let it go: Sako and Tikka could make their own choice. Even if I had refused her it would have been to her back: she hadn’t waited for a response when issuing her edict.

I stared at her retreating form as the dogs made themselves busy chasing each other around my legs. For a moment I considered drawing my revolver and putting a single round in the back of her head, but after what I had witnessed here I thought it might be biting off more than I could chew.

“I guess the hero doesn’t get the girl after all. Apparently western culture has been wrong all these years.”

Sarah looked worse for the wear. Her prim smile was still fixed firmly on her face, but there was no trace of humor in her eyes. Her gray hair looked as if it had been arranged by a visually challenged lunatic, spilling off her head in a loose braid that sprouted wild hanks of hair everywhere.

“They also lied about the heroine looking like she just stepped off a fashion runway, too.” I said without making it plain to whom my comment was directed. We all looked like shit.

“I suppose. So you’ll be leaving soon?”

I half snorted half laughed at the statement. “Yes ma’am. I thought I might stay for a bit and offer you some advice on how to fortify the place . . .” I let my offer hang in the space between us for a moment.

She paused for a few minutes, remaining silent so long I almost thought to simply walk away, but finally nodding her head she spoke “That would be helpful.” She went quiet again before adding “I could use some advice on how to handle the prisoners brought back as well.”

Before I could tell her to kill them all my brain jumped in ahead of my tongue for once. “Use them as labor. The ones you can reintegrate get brought back to the fold, the ones you can’t–” I shrugged “work them till they drop then turn them into fertilizer for your gardens.”

Sarah considered this thoughtfully for a moment before nodding her agreement  “Those were my thoughts as well. I was actually hoping you might offer a different solution .” she paused just briefly “but perhaps there’s some humanity left in them yet. Maybe . . .” she looked at the faces of the men kneeling some yards away and let out a heavy breath “maybe they can be rehabilitated.”

“Rehabilitation is a myth, Sarah. You bring these men back only after you’ve watched them for a long while. You have a doubt about one of them, you put him down right then.” I said holding her gaze before eventually turning to look at Michael’s remains “if you need reminding about why that’s necessary . . .”

I thought she looked embarrassed for a moment but the resolve I’d seen in her earlier quickly returned. “No. You’re right, but . . .” There was conflict evident in her features. “But, Finn . . . ”

I held my hand up to stop her. “Finn is gone. I’m just The Heathen now.” I smiled “That doubt you have about trying to be kind to these men who abused you? That’s the old world. That world is used up now, just like my name. You want to lead these women, keep them safe, you have to put that away.”

She looked defeated but nodded. “Thank you, Finn.” she said putting a touch of tenderness into her words.

I shook my head. “That world is dead, Sarah. Trust me; bury it along with your compassion. Man can only overtake. Whether it’s the highway or the highway of life man cannot rest, cannot be happy merely to pass his fellows, he must overtake them. And even then the happiness that brings him exists only as long as there are no others in his sight.”

Sarah smiled “I hope you’re wrong.” I could see the spark being reignited in her eyes and hoped that spark would build up a fire strong enough for her to lead.

Chapter 56 -Belt Fed Revolution

“Nasty habit” I muttered to myself as I slid over the top of the berm amidst a volley of gunfire from behind me. This was combat evolved. I had been in several hairy situations but never anything quite this dumb had I yet  attempted.

I laid flat on the ground for a moment just trying to listen. A group of men were making their way toward the rifle crates by attempting to  skull drag.  Whoever taught them this technique was going to get a thank you card from me. As the men moved their butts rose into the air just enough to make them stand out even in the deep pool of inky darkness that existed this far away from the floodlights.  I cursed my luck when it occurred to me I’d left my nightvision back in my quarters. I adjusted my position on the ground waiting until I saw the tell-tale movement again. I swung the Mosin in their direction and angled my body as best I could to make the shot, laying as I was on my left shoulder.  Once again Iron Maiden’s ‘Run to the Hills’ popped unbidden into my head as I saw a butt rise up into the night.  I fired slightly in front of the shape hoping to score a hit in the torso. I couldn’t guarantee that I hit the man, but that particular hill stopped moving shortly after I pulled the trigger.

I saw another movement there; this time a head raised up to look around. The head stayed raised for several seconds and I didn’t hesitate trying my luck as I snapped off a shot in that direction. This time I didn’t have to guess whether or not I’d hit as I saw the head shape become tragically malformed in an instant. The other men that had been trying to sneak up to the weapons suddenly realized that not only were they in a combat situation, but were taking direct fire.  Lacking discipline or a better idea they stood up and ran for it.

A volley of fire from behind me answered their impromptu retreat cutting the men down as they fled.

I proceeded to low crawl in the direction of the house hoping the women wouldn’t be so effective in their firing if they should see me. As I crawled along I heard the sound of wounded men calling for their mothers. The irony was not lost on me and I altered course in the direction of the first voice I heard. As I approached the man I could see that his wound was actually little more than a flesh wound, just a graze on his neck.  I pulled the Mosin up so I could grasp hold of the fore stock and plunged the bayonet deep into his neck, eventually pulling it out when I heard a satisfying gurgling noise.

I continued crawling, the only sound coming to my ears was that of my own efforts in crawling along on the dewy grass. I risked a look back toward the berm but my vision being so affected by the floodlights I couldn’t make out any details on this moonless night. I stopped crawling and let out an audible sigh and thought–why did my life of late seem to be composed of doing utterly stupid things?  I was overcome by the desire to laugh. I’d done a lot of stupid things sure enough; I’d also succeeded beyond all reason in doing them.

I knew the All-Father wouldn’t let me go on like this forever but as long as he appeared to be on my side. . .  “Ah what the Hel.” I said and stood up and waved to the women behind the berm “CHARGE THE HOUSE! NO PRISONERS!”

****

Not being shot immediately in the back was a good sign. I slung the Mosin over my shoulder and began limping quickly toward the house in the still night. Either everyone had died out on the field or their good sense had taken hold and they’d decided not to turn out for the fight.

I moved as fast as I could manage firing off the occasional shot as I went–if I saw a man down I meant for him to stay that way. I covered the ground to the house much faster than I would have imagined as I encountered no resistance along the way. As I approached what I thought might have been the guard I’d tried to shoot earlier I saw the look of relief flood his features when he recognized me.  I raised the .357 and put him down before he could form the words to ask what was happening.

I paused there a second standing over his body, making myself a lovely target. It wasn’t often I got this chance, I thought, and I had been silently asking Odin for a lot of help. I leaned down over the man and drew the valknut on his forehead.

I spoke quickly then into the night air “Odin! Mighty Destroyer!  Beloved of Frigg! Accept now the sacrifice of blood I offer; this man killed by my hand. I take nothing from him, leaving all to you”  I reached down to check his pulse and was surprised to find the man was still breathing.  Sweet Louise  in hand I drew the blade across his throat dispatching him to the finality of afterlife.

It sounded a little crazy to say those words outside of a dream, but I had nothing left to hold me back. In days gone by I’d often pictured what living free might be like, but even then I could not have summoned up this image.

The back door of the house swung open its frame banging against the weathered siding as another of Michael’s minions stepped through the portal. I raised the Nagant revolver to fire at him and saw the confused look cross his face. I pulled the trigger only to hear the hammer fall on an empty cylinder. I tossed the gun to the ground and leapt at the man, Sweet Louise in my hand. The blow wasn’t movie perfect severing a body part in slow motion as I landed, but it was effective enough as I managed to draw the blade across his face at least temporarily blinding him.

He stumbled away from me, the shock of being wounded by a man he thought an ally no doubt causing his mental gears to gum up.  I swung the knife again this time making good contact with his throat. The blood flowed from his neck like a river.

I heard a noise I couldn’t identify, like thunder speaking words. As  I knelt down to draw the valknut on another offering, the noise abated.The sound was me. I had found my warcry, though the contents of such were a mystery to my ears. I stood over the fallen form and shouted it again and I knew: this was it. This was freedom.

I entered the house without thought or care. I was beyond gone and thought only of  the blood I had yet to spill. No one was visible in the living room area and I had my doubts that anyone was still in the house at all, but I had to check. I ran into the meeting room where my troubles had begun anew with the reappearance of O’Toole. Part of me hoped that Starke hadn’t deprived me of the chance to kill him just yet.

The meeting room was open as was practically every drawer in the place. Michael was getting away, I knew, but he had stopped to find something.  I stood there indecisively for a minute to see if my brain would magically supply the answer. I couldn’t wait. As I turned to go search the basement I heard a noise outside and saw several figures run past the house’s front window. A truck was weakly turning over somewhere out front. The thought struck me like a bolt of lightning; keys!

The trucks had been used several times since our run into town to gather the supplies for the range and the keys couldn’t just be left with the trucks overnight or they’d risk losing both them and likely a few women.

I unslung the Mosin and charged the front door, roaring now, bellowing like a wounded animal. I dropped to my knees as I cleared the door and took aim at the plethora of figures in front of me not caring if they were men or women. I fired indiscriminately hoping the driver of the truck would set himself up for me by turning on the headlights.

I waited for several breaths firing and loading as people ran past where I knelt. None of the trucks headlights came on and I began to think I had either miscounted the vehicles I could see or Michael was already gone. I stood up and fed rounds into my revolver and the Mosin as if I was on autopilot, until suddenly the Gods smiled on me. No headlights, but there, I saw the grass light up as the driver of the truck stepped on the brakes.

The truck was too far away. I’d never be able to cover the distance in time. I took the Mosin in one hand and knelt again in the wet grass, listening to the screams all around me as the remaining men tried desperately to figure out where the enemy was. I couldn’t see into the cab of the truck, but I could see the windshield.  I used the Mosin’s sling to force my arm into an inverted triangle and rested my elbow on my knee.

I squeezed the trigger and immediately cycled the bolt. The truck had not stopped moving but I could see the spiderweb of cracks where I’d scored the hit. I fired two more shots and still the truck came on, nearing the point where it would have to turn out of the driveway to enter the main road. I cycled the bolt once more and forced myself to become aware of my breathing. As soon as I finished my abbreviated exhale I squeezed the trigger scoring yet another hit on the windshield. I ejected the round and slammed the bolt home, firing again before my next inhalation of breath and waited.

The truck continued forward but  its forward momentum was lost, the wheels turned straight again no longer trying to make the turn. I heard a cheer go up and looked behind me where several women had gathered and taken up firing at my target. I did not speak then, only my warcry came out, still a mystery to my ears as I stood and charged the truck.

Men were poring out the back of the box truck now but they posed no threat to anyone. As soon as their feet hit the ground they began running in no particular direction, just so long as it was away from the sound of gunfire.

I opened the driver’s side door of the now motionless truck and pulled the body out. I shook my head at the figure that hit the ground and laughed seeing a group of five shots no bigger than a softball in the man’s chest. I buried the Mosin’s bayonet in the corpse and drew my revolver as I cautiously peered into the cab, seeing a small figure huddled on the passenger’s side footwell.

With a strength I didn’t know I had I jumped toward the cab, grabbing for the exterior handle as I felt my foot land awkwardly on the step. As I made contact with the handle and braced myself I felt the revolver slip from my grasp. I stared down in surprise, the light from the truck’s interior showing the blood that now covered most of my torso and hands.

Michael was crouched into a ball and trying to make himself even smaller as he clutched a sawed-off shotgun to his chest. Michael let out a terrified yelp as I hit the side of the truck and pointed the shotgun at me. I couldn’t reach Sweet Louise without letting go of the grab handle I was hanging onto. As  I tried to find my balance and reach forward to grab at Michael, the door behind him opened, multiple hands reaching in to snatch him away.

I jumped down off the truck searching for my revolver in the light spilling out of the truck’s cabin. I spotted the gun under the trucks fuel tank and grabbed it   hurrying now to get moving in the direction of whoever had stolen my prey.

I ran to the passenger’s side of the truck and saw a group gathered there in a tight circle, their backs to me. I saw movement from the circle followed shortly by a scream that touched a part of my brain long-buried by millenia of evolution. I pushed my way through the circle  and saw a lupine form huddled there atop another.  My brain almost refused to accept what I saw, but there was no denying what was plain.

Sarah rose from Michael’s now naked form, her mouth bloodied as though she’d been trying to apply lipstick with a spray gun. I looked around the circle at the women’s faces seeing the vacant hate filled stares mirrored on every face.

I watched for a while as one by one the women took turns kneeling down to mark Michael as he had marked so many of them. Each time a woman knelt the scream that brought chills to my internal predator would issue forth again and again.

Michael begged for mercy alternately calling on his God and trying to plead with the crowd. More women had gathered now in the circle and I turned away knowing I would not get the chance to exact my own revenge.

Eventually the night fell to near silence, the only noise audible was the sound of animialistic grunting and flesh noisily torn by teeth.

Chapter 55 -Belt Fed Revolution

The door flew open beneath John’s heel as he burst in pointing an H&K MP5 at me. Two of the men from the camp followed behind him each awkwardly trying to enter my small quarters with the long barrel of their rifles preceding them by a good two feet.

“I’m taking you to Michael!” John screamed “I know who you are, Heathen!” he said, using the muzzle of the MP5 to punctuate his statement.

I let out a little sigh and held my hands up in surrender.Fair enough” I said as I moved closer to John “Let me guess, a little weasel faced rat-fuck called O’Toole had a chat with you?”

“Oh, yes. He had a lot of interesting things to say about you.” John smiled assured now of his victory he lowered the muzzle of the little sub-machine gun. “You and your whore will stand before the Lord’s Justice!”

Outside the door I saw lights turning on and faces appearing in windows. I smiled as I saw the gray hair and prim smile turned now to a rictus approaching the guard silently and painfully slow from behind. Alerted by the commotion and raised voices Sarah must have known where the trouble was most likely to happen.

“Does Michael know?” I asked trying to buy a little time for Sarah to get into position.

“Not yet, but soon Heathen he will have the truth!” The fanatical glee with which he spoke had caused his voice to rise at least two octaves.

I nodded. “And does he know that you let me take weapons?

John’s smile died on his face. “Oh, I don’t think he’ll care much. It’ll just be part of your deception that bring to light.”

I couldn’t control the laughter that bubbled up out of my throat. John and the guards were confused by my response. They had me dead to rights. Dead being the keyword here. Laughter was kind of an incongruous response. Kind of like telling someone you love them and they respond ‘I have a coffee cup,’  It just didn’t fit. I managed to get myself under control, dabbing theatrically at my eyes.

“What the hell’s so funny, Heathen?!”  John asked taking that last half-step forward so we were standing almost nose to nose.

“You a fan of 80’s music there, John?” I smiled, feeling the giggles getting ready to start-up again.

“What? 80’s music? What in the. . . ”

“Yeah. 80’s music.You know, like The Police?” I reached slowly under my shirt grasping Sweet Louise tight “They had that great song. . . what was it called?” I looked out over John’s shoulder. Sarah was close enough now  I could see the hammer in her raised hand. “Oh yeah, that’s it. Don’t Stand So Close To Me.”

I plunged Sweet Louise into John’s navel and began pulling upward  sawing back and forth at the same time. When I hit the sternum I pulled the knife out and pushed John backward as he spilled his guts out on the floor of my little quarters with a slight gasp.  The men John had brought with him were slow on the uptake, not realizing that the growing red puddle of viscous fluid covering the floor was a bad thing for them.  As John made contact with the man behind him I drew my Nagant revolver and fired three rounds into the man’s face and throat. From less than a meter away I couldn’t miss and the results were fantastic as the top of his head disappeared with the impact of the hollow points. The spray of blood from his throat was absorbed mostly by John’s collapsing form but still managed to spray a bit onto my face. Covered in blood. Home. I smiled and thumbed the hammer back as I moved my point of aim to the other guard.

The sound of the second guards Mosin-Nagant being fired was deafening inside the tight confines.  I blinked furiously trying to clear my eyes from the cloud of smoke issuing from the barrel of the big rifle and shaking my head as if it would clear the ringing in my ears.

Sarah’s hammer was buried in the back of the man’s skull  bits of brain had flown out of the wound to land on her face and arm. I tracked the relative position of the barrel and saw a hole in the floor near my right foot. I flexed my toes inside my boot and felt relieved when a hole didn’t magically appear in my Cadillac’s and start gushing blood.

John who hadn’t the decency to die after I had eviscerated him lay on the ground,  with a surprised look on his face trying to force himself to move through the shock of blood –and organ–loss. I knelt down beside him and slowly pushed Sweet Louise into his throat.

“You’re not a big dog, John.” I said as I felt the Ka-Bar’s blade hit the vertebrae  of his neck. When he stopped flopping around I yanked the knife out of his throat and wiped it on his shirt as I gathered up the MP5. I laughed as I inspected the weapon closely; the safety was still on.

“Should have stayed on the porch.” I clicked off the safety and smiled at Sarah. “Let’s get it on.”

****

I searched John’s body and came up with one more magazine for the MP5. Some part of my unoccupied brain wondered if Murphy might not have been a disguise Loki wore in modern times.

My plan had been relatively simple. Sarah would leave hammers where the women could get them. The women had only to knock their husband-captors unconscious and –hopefully–find a way to restrain them. Then the happy band would join together, Mosin-Nagant’s in hand and storm Michael’s house. End of. I failed to see how I had complicated things, but there was no point worrying about it now.

I saw a head poke out of a doorway and I fired a burst in that direction not waiting to see the body drop. Sarah had said some of the men that were part of this community weren’t bad, but had gone along with the plan . I didn’t have the time now, or the interest in trying to figure out who was who. I saw a male face and I sent rounds that way.

I was heading for the range as quickly as I could while trying to make sure I wasn’t walking into an ambush. John didn’t strike me as the kind of guy that would have a back-up plan when there was obviously no way he could fail. I smiled and thought of Paige’s hurried words that woke me. Leave it to a woman to mess up a man’s good plan.

In the shelters around me I saw part of the plan was coming off without a hitch. It looked like something out of a B horror movie; in houses where the lights had been turned on I could see female silhouettes  that appeared to be chopping wood. I gave it a mental shrug, kill them or incapacitate them, either way worked for me.

Everywhere were screams in the night. Some of them started out clearly sounding male and rose in pitch until they were indistinguishable from female cries. There was no time to investigate. Shoot and scoot was the name of the game and luckily to this point I hadn’t needed to do a lot of the former.

The men of the camp weren’t slow in responding to the sounds of trouble, but without communication their response was worse than useless. I cleared the corner of a shelter and saw two men carrying the lengthy Mosin-Nagant one-handed not ready for the trouble they were hurrying blindly to confront.

“Brother Stephen, what’s going on out here? What’s the problem?!” said one of the pair, dropping the muzzle of his rifle so that it pointed at the ground.

“Problem is you’re a bunch of assholes.” I raised the MP5 and pulled the trigger. It was hard to say which of us was more surprised at the resounding click that issued from the gun, but I didn’t hesitate in drawing my .357 and firing a round into each of their faces. I stopped long enough to pull the bolts out of their rifles. I figured it was a risk I had to take to avoid the possibility of being shot in the back.

I ejected the magazine from the MP5 and saw brass at the top . I flipped the gun over and tried to pull the bolt back but it felt as though it was almost welded shut. I dropped the MP5 and took a second to reload my revolvers.

In the weak light were a number of forms moving toward the range, but I couldn’t tell the women from the men. Surprise was still on my side though which meant no one who had reached the crates where the rifles were stored had begun shooting.

I crouched as low as I could manage and quickstepped to the crates. Several men were busy handing out rifles to everyone nearby.  I was close enough now for one of the men to recognize me. He made almost as if to offer a friendly wave and opened his mouth to speak.  I put on the best burst of speed I could manage and thrust the .357 into his mouth and fired.

Both guns out now I began firing at those targets closest to me. This time though the men did not hesitate in their response as some dropped to one knee and brought their rifles to bear. None of them realized that they were flanked by their women who had been given rifles as well.

The sound of the big Russian rifles firing almost as one was like being at ground zero of a fireworks display. The men were cut down like grass falling to a scythe, most of their weapons hadn’t even been loaded. Truly, I was a gifted teacher.

I felt a hand on my shoulder and swung around preparing to unload the remaining rounds in both revolvers into the target. I stopped when I saw the long blonde hair peeking out from a hastily made bun and handed Paige a rifle.

“Everyone into the trenches!” I yelled singling out two women standing still near the rifle crates “Start moving the ammunition over into the first trench. The rest of you grab a rifle.” I hastily reloaded my revolvers and tucked them into my belt, noticing the night suddenly felt very chill. I hadn’t remembered to put on a shirt and half of my torso was covered in drying blood.

People were poring out of the shelters now and the flood lights from Michael’s house were blazing out enough light that I had lovely silhouette targets charging my position. I raised the Mosin I had set aside for myself and began firing as I moved back toward the trench.

Even with the light from Michael’s house I couldn’t easily make out men from women. I took aim at the taller forms and let out my breath and pulled the trigger. I emptied the Mosin and handed it to Paige who exchanged it for a freshly loaded one and began reloading for me. When I took aim over the top of the berm this time there were fewer targets visible as those running for the trenches realized they were being fired upon and had fallen to the ground.

I had to take the chance. Every time I saw movement I fired– male or female I could not tell. I let the bullet decide. The women in the trenches with me had made their own decisions and were firing with wild abandon toward the camp. Even if they weren’t aiming they were doing a fantastic job of keeping the opposition pinned down.

I handed Paige the rifle and reached for the other one trying to keep my eyes on the field in front of me. Paige didn’t hand me the rifle but was desperately trying to tell me something. I could barely hear her words above the ringing of my ears, but I came to understand as she kept pointing at Michael’s house.

Lights had come on inside the house and I could see movement there as well. I nodded my understanding to Paige and motioned for her to hand me the loaded rifle.

Men stood around outside of Michael’s house looking out at the range and trying to decide what to do. I could see the forms and the motion but they were far enough away I couldn’t make out much else. I laid down atop the berm and took aim, slowly squeezing the trigger at the still forms in the distance. The rifle barked once and jumped, but the figure I had aimed at hadn’t moved. I cycled the bolt and repeated the process. This time I saw a splash as my round kicked up dirt at the limit of the floodlight’s reach.  I made an adjustment and took another shot, but still the man remained unharmed.

I handed Paige the rifle and took the reload from her. I knew my hearing was screwed up so I tried to speak and hoped I wasn’t yelling out my intentions for everyone to hear.

“I have to go get him! I’m going to the house to get Michael!” Paige nodded and surprised me as she leaned forward and gave me a brief hug. I checked the rifle to make sure the bayonet was firmly affixed and crawled out over the berm.

****

Chapter 54 -Belt Fed Revolution

I was waiting for the women to show up and staring at the sunset lost in my own thoughts. The Feds blowing up Nuke plants had at least one interesting side effect. Sunsets were really interesting now, with colors straight out of an artists dreams. The pretty colors only made me sad though, knowing it might never be safe to fish in my homeland again. I’d never spent a lot of time fishing Lake Michigan. Or swimming in it. Or hanging out on the beach. It was something I took for granted. I always assumed the lake would be there when I wanted to visit.

The women were turning out for our first practice session much more quickly than the men had done and seemed to have better discipline to boot. Donnelly, still hanging around after the men’s practice, paced nervously back and forth a few feet away.

“You can relax, Donnelly. No more holding targets for you today–you can go on back to your quarters if you like.” I tried my best to sound friendly, but the truth of the matter was I’d be just as happy to use Donnelly for a target so the women could get a crash course in what a human body looks like when a high velocity projectile tears into flesh.

With a relieved sigh Donnelly stopped pacing and blazed a trail away from the range. “Thank you, sir. Good luck with your training .” The way he said the last word tickled something at the back of my brain, but whatever it was didn’t set off an alarm.

I was wiping down the board I’d used to explain ballistics ad nauseam to the men when I heard Paige speak up behind me.

“Pretty as a picture, isn’t it?” She said, her eyes still fixed firmly on the ground.

I guessed that she had likely been looking at the sunset. “And deadly.” I added.

“What is? The clouds?” she asked, risking a quick confused glance from the sky to me.

“Yep. Feds hit the nuke plants on the lake. Or so rumor has it. Gods willing the wind will keep the worst of it away from here, but I . . .” I was forced to break off as Paige walked quickly away from me. The sounds of her distress were obvious even if I couldn’t see her tears.

Sarah made her way quickly to my side with a reproachful look set on her features. “What did you say to her?”

“Nothing, really.” I shrugged. “She was talking about the sunset and I told her it was because the Feds blew up two nuke plants to keep them from falling into citizen control.”

Sarah tsked softly, shaking her head “Her family’s from Bridgman. That’s where one of the plants is. . .was.”

I looked blankly at Sarah. I’m sure I was supposed to feel something or say something to make things better, but even as awesome as I thought I was there’s only so much I can do, especially about things that had already occurred.

Sarah continued to look at me and until she realized I had nothing to offer. She  gave me a slight roll of her eyes and pressed on. “I’ve brought fifty-two women. Most of them are healthy enough; two are pregnant but in the early stages still. Will that be enough, you think?”

“I’d be a lot happier if Force Recon sent a group our way. About 15 guys would do.Throw in a couple of 203’s on their M4’s and we’d have a party.” I tried to muster up a smile “But we will make it work with what we have.” Sarah turned away and I muttered under my breath “or die in the trying.” I saw her head snap back around and I tried to give her an encouraging smile but I’d used up all my facial expressions for one day.

****

The women had even less training than the men. More than half of them had never even held a rifle, much less a beast like the Mosin. I offered up a quick plea to All-Father Odin, god of the slain and a similar plea to Thor, the warder of Midgard. My Gods weren’t the kind that tended to help people just because they were worshiped by them, but I figured it couldn’t hurt. I thought about it for a moment and offered up another plea to Tyr and Freyja just on the off-chance the other two weren’t interested.

The women had several things working in their favor. Enough that I started to feel a small glimmer of hope that we might actually succeed.  The biggest plus for them is that unlike the men, they weren’t afraid to admit they didn’t know much about rifles or shooting. After I demonstrated loading the rifle and working the action I had to stop and answer several questions. I was pleased that none of the questions were ‘when are we going to shoot?‘ as it had been with the men.

The next thing the women had working for them was that they listened. I wouldn’t say either group were what you would call fast-learners but the women usually only needed something explained or demonstrated one time to understand what was required or expected of them.

The training progressed at a fantastic rate since I didn’t have to worry about teaching them how to break down and clean the rifle although I did have to explain why the open bolt kept falling out of the rifle when the trigger was pulled which happened several more times than I was comfortable with. My greatest concern so far was whether or not the women would be able to operate the Mosin-Nagant since it could occasionally require tremendous force to close the bolt or get the rounds loaded into the internal magazine.

I didn’t know all their names, but I was impressed by a small blonde woman with short hair who probably weighed the lesser part of 100 pounds. As we ran through loading drills her bolt stuck and she couldn’t get it to close. Without asking for help or guidance she sat the butt of the rifle on the ground and shoved the bolt closed with the heel of her foot. Several other women who had the same problem began to mimic this and soon anyone that couldn’t get the rifles bolt to close were using this method. Turned out it worked pretty well for opening the bolt, too.

The final advantage the women had over the men was my own self. I was trying to actually teach them how to be deadly with the rifle. This included the use of the bayonet and showing how well the rifle functioned as a club when all else failed. I watched as the women plunged their bayonets into the ground, fierce looks composed of hatred and rage dancing about their normally dulcet features. If I had a week or two I could make these women into a deadly force to be reckoned with but I wasn’t counting on having more than a few days.

****

After the women’s practice was ended I stole a moment to speak with Sarah. Small beads of sweat had sprung up on her forehead as she had spun the Mosin around and practiced giving butt-strokes to add to her lethal repertoire. She walked toward me, prim smile painted on her face right hand rubbing her shoulder against the effects of the vicious impact from the big rifle.

“What’s our schedule looking like?” I was flooded with memories of the first few shots I’d taken with the M91/30 and trying desperately to keep the grin off my face.

“Two more days should do it.” She winced and continued to rub her shoulder “I’ve been leaving hammers in places they can be gotten to in a hurry. I’m more than a little worried though that some of the ladies may not wait. If that happens. . . ” She let the consequences of that scenario hang in the air.

“Understood. Do your best to keep them calm. Surprise is the one thing we need to keep on our side if we’re to have a chance.” This time I found my reassuring smile and showed it her, though Sarah clearly was not buying. “Proper planning prevents piss poor performance.” I said and gave her a wink. “It’s just a couple of days they have to wait. If I can work it out, I may have another surprise or two in store. Everyone just has to be patient.”

Sarah sighed heavily and nodded, grasping my hand and squeezing for all she was worth. “I’ll do what I can.” She said and fixed a grim smile to her face as she turned to leave.

****

I returned to my quarters where Paige was waiting cross-legged on the bed absent-mindedly petting Sako and Tikka. She stared off into space and tried to think of comforting words to offer her, but nothing really came to mind. Instead I sat next to her and took my .357 out of my improvised blowout kit to  clean it.

“Sarah told me why you were upset. I’m sorry about your family.” I waited for a response but she was gone. I wasn’t really planning on doing therapy for these women and the longer this went on the more it seemed my limited skills would be of little use. Paige may have been too damaged to repair. I could only hope she held it together long enough to point a rifle downrange and inflict some damage. I finished with my revolver and tucked it back into my blowout kit and began to drift off.

Paige went to stand by the window. I didn’t know if she was standing guard or just staring at the sun hoping to go blind. As I lay on the bed trying to relax with the zombie at the window I felt a small furry body plop down next to my head with a sigh as though he shared my misgivings about getting out of this place.

I was asleep for what felt about a minute when I heard a voice quietly, but frantically urging me back to consciousness.

“Wake up! WAKE UP!”

I felt my upper torso being shaken by what felt like the worlds smallest tornado. My eyes popped open and I noted the sun had gone down. “What time is it?” I asked as I started pulling on my boots.

“I don’t know! Late!” she hissed “Something is . . . “

Chapter 53 -Belt Fed Revolution

“Now imagine a circle about ten inches around and at the center of it is your projectile as it flies downrange. Somewhere inside of that circle is what we refer to as the killzone.” I drew a circle representative of the maximum point-blank range with a dot at the center to represent the bullet. I risked a quick glance at my audience and saw a lot of bored looks but even more confused ones.

“Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of shooting.” I said taking another quick glance. Heads were raised and looked interested. Everything I did now was a delaying tactic. I could only hope that Sarah was taking advantage. “Ballistic coefficients are an incredibly important part of putting a round exactly where you want it. . .” I saw eyes roll as I turned back to the board and began writing out the formula for figuring out ballistic coefficient–or something close to it– and launched into a monotone and overly detailed explanation on the importance of ballistic coefficients and sectional density.

It was approaching midday and the men were already tired from their efforts in getting the trenches dug out for the range.  Summer was nearly here and while the temperature didn’t get much above the mid 70’s, sitting out under the sun listening to the least interesting lecture to concern shooting ever given was definitely taking a toll on the men.

The women were going to have a much different program from the men when I got the chance to train them, but for now I needed every second I could get to make my plan come to fruition.  No matter how well I got them prepared, I could only see death as our reward.

Fuck it. Win or lose I was going to make these men bleed. I was determined that they would have to claw and scratch like wild animals for every inch of ground they could gain.

****

Michael arranged a little treat for the men at lunch. While he had been off on his mysterious trips he had done some trading and came back with a case of macaroni and cheese as well as some prepackaged brownies. Great food for warriors.

I ate a little of the macaroni and avoided desert all together. A pit was starting to form in the pit of my stomach. Any plan I could come up with had to pass scrutiny by Murphy. I started to wonder how much the stress of worrying about something I couldn’t control was going to affect my leadership when it came time to drop the gloves and get to fighting.

This wasn’t the first time I’d experienced this. I’d never found myself scared while in combat– unless I had time to think. Right now time to think seemed to be the thing I had in great supply. I tried to recall the stanza from the Hávamál about fools lying awake at night worrying over a problem only to find themselves exhausted come morning, but couldn’t recall the exact wording. Wise words seemed cold counsel to a man heading to his last fight.

I pushed away from the table and loped off to the range . Shooting had always worked like xanax for me, relaxing me and silencing stray thoughts allowing me to focus. I barely noticed that as soon as I left the table the men I’d been lecturing stood up and wearily followed along behind me.

I had inspected the crates of Mosin-Nagant’s several times comparing barrels and finding most of them to be acceptable with only a few being almost to the point of needing to have new barrels. Set aside was one with the cleanest bore I’d found and it was this rifle I grabbed as I hit the range. I looked back over my shoulder and saw Donnelly a few feet away. I motioned him over and told him to hop in the trenches and take some targets with him. Donnelly looked dubious at my order but obeyed nonetheless.

I slid a round into the breech and stoof facing at a slight angle to my target with the rifle’s sling around my elbow to secure my stance.  I felt light as a feather as I slid the bolt home and became aware of my breathing. I took three deep breaths and rode out the last one to the natural pause and squeezed the trigger. I didn’t even care that I hit the target, or the slight yelp from Donnelly I heard somewhere between the trigger squeeze and the impact.

I waited until Donnelly moved back to the next trench before taking my shot. My mind was a perfect blank, consisting of only enough information to work the bolt and squeeze the trigger. Donnelly made it to the last trench and began walking back and forth with the target offering me the chance to engage a moving target at 300 yards.  The last round spent, I worked the bolt and watched the casing fly out and tumble to the ground.

Brass hitting the ground had to be my favorite sound. With my head now as clear as it was it was also the only sound. I came back to Earth and looked at all the recruits standing around staring at me with naked envy in their eyes. I slung the big Mosin over my shoulder and smiled at them all.  I saw eyes watching me, hopefully. Expectantly. I crushed their hope.

“My target is 275 meters or a bit over 300 yards away. The bullet travels at almost 2900 feet per second. What is my time of flight?” I couldn’t recall if I’d covered this with them–external ballistics bored me and I loved pretty much everything about shooting–so the blank stares that greeted my question weren’t a surprise.

“All right, gentlemen go grab your rifles.” the blank stares dissolved as the men  ran for the crates.

“I want ten men here on the firing line!” I yelled at the recruits standing at the crates inspecting the rifles. Slow movers caught my specially trained eye and I smiled “you three! Pick up these targets and get into the trenches!”

The men I singled out looked like they might wet themselves, but they took up the targets and spread out into the trenches. “On the firing line!” the ten recruits that had come first to the firing line snapped to attention. “First person to answer my question, gets to shoot! Now: what is my time of flight?” I  counted to ten. “Congratulations gentleman, your failure to answer has just earned you a one mile sprint. Next ten step forward!”

The next few stepped forward rifles at the ready but not a confident look among them.  “What is the ballistic coefficient for the 150 grain round fired from these rifles?” I saw a couple of them look around confused but one lightbulb stepped forward and spoke “Uh, .325? Sir?”

I tried to hide my surprise but I don’t think I did very well. I nodded “Commence firing.” I watched the men expend a magazine full of ammunition before I ordered the targets brought up. Of the fifty rounds expended eight had actually hit the targets.

“All right, secure your weapons and grab some pickets and get in the trenches. Next group, approach the line.” I thought I wanted them not to handle the rifles. but the more I thought about it I realized I needed the men shooting so that when the women took up weapons it wouldn’t raise too many questions from Michael. I didn’t intend to have the women running and doing crazy exercises I needed them to be as rested and relaxed as I could get them.

I let the men shoot in rounds and hoped the limited exposure I was allowing them would be enough. These guys were pretty terrible shots as it were. but like most men they were reluctant to admit or acknowledge their skills were sub par. I encouraged them as though they were the very image of Vasily Zaitsev and they ate it up even though the evidence was staring them straight in the face.

Every group of shooters exiting the trenches had to patch up their targets and hand them off to the group going in. This involved sticking a piece of tape over the holes made by the bullets which weren’t all that many.

The group I’d sent out for a run had returned and got worked into the lineup after they’d had a chance to cool down from the run. I didn’t want them learning how to deal with the adrenaline rush or pure panic of shooting in combat than they may have already gained.

Seeing the men getting battered by the heavy recoil being transmitted through the steel butt plate of the big Russian rifle was telling of a demoralizing all its own. They were men. They didn’t want to admit that the recoil from this relic was painful and in many cases almost more than they could cope with.

If I could keep this up. . .

I almost smiled. Hope is a dangerous thing to give a desperate man.

Chapter 52 -Belt Fed Revolution

Starke and I started our walk out to the range with O’Toole and several guards trailing us. Tool had the sense to walk behind us creating a little buffer so Starke and I could speak.

We walked on in silence for a while before Starke spoke up. “Okay, I’ll go first. What the fuck, Finn?”

“Yeah. Yeah.” I chuckled forcing myself not to use any body language in our communication.  “I’m trying to figure that one out myself. How close are your guys?”

“Not very.” he replied “We’re scouting fall back locations. The main body is over 35 miles west of here. Tell me what you need though, maybe I can help out?”

“Did you bring a fire team with you? Enough strength to take this location–because this place is FUBAM.”

“FUBAM?” He asked.

“Fucked Up Beyond Ability to Measure. This place is seriously lacking just a few things to be stone-age compatible.”

“Give me the short and sweet, Finn. My balls are already trying to crawl up inside of me.”

“Slavery. Little fucker treats the women like property and marks them if they displease him. Threatened to mark me too. Religious fanatic, kills anyone not subscribing to his particular brand of crazy–er Christianity.”

I could hear the shrug in his voice “Muslims? I killed plenty of them myself. He’s not the only one to do so since the shit hit the fan. And it’s gone both ways.  Christians in Detroit weren’t exactly treated well . . . some were allowed to evacuate though.”

I stared Starke down as we walked. “You killed Muslims–I’m assuming–because they presented a threat to your Marines, not out of some disagreement about the proper day on which you sacrifice the goat.”

“True enough. Old prejudices. So what can I do?” he asked as he offered me another pinch of his chew.

I lowered my voice to a whisper “Save Tool for me. I mean to kill him myself.”

“Yeah.” I saw him nod his head “We’re definitely going to have a talk about that after we leave. I’ll let him live, but I can’t make any promises about keeping him physically intact.”

“Fair enough.” I said with a laugh “You have comms with the–what are you all calling yourself now?”

“Michigan Volunteers. Our affiliation with the MVDF has kind of fallen to the wayside. We’ve got communications with units close to use, but they’re two man scout teams like us. Patrell and Guerrera are a few miles down the road. We have two other teams in about a 15 mile radius. I can get them here if . . .”

“No time. I have to end this soon. Best thing you can do for me is draw some of his troop strength away. I think we can handle the rest.”

“We?” he asked as he turned to look over his shoulder at the guards following us. “We who?”

“Myself and the women. I gave my word that I would get them clear of this and that’s what I aim to do.”

“Roger that. You think you’ll be able to join us for our festivities?”

“Lansing?” I shrugged slightly “Adam,” I began “War to my people is holy. So much so that we have not one, but four Gods of war. I’ve gotta be honest with you– since this all started I’ve felt like I’m home–but I just want to be on my own. I’m not meant to be around people. Normal people anyway.”

Adam nodded “I’ve been doing some reading– a little bit of research since we met. Isn’t building a tribe supposed to be an important part of your life as well?”

“Innangard–people very close to me–are important. They don’t necessarily have to form a body in which we all physically exist.”

“Don’t be a dick, Finn. I’m not trying to ask you out on a date here. We need you, the Resistance, needs every body it can get. Join us.”

“You realize you’re asking a dead man to help you out? There’s no guarantee I’m walking away from this. Or if I do that I’ll be physically capable of doing anything useful.”

“Yeah, I’m sure this group of warriors, will be the end of you. Meet me in Lansing?”

I gave in. I couldn’t be held responsible for breaking my word to him if I was dead. “I’ll try.”

****

We arrived at the range with just enough light peering through the gathering clouds to make the marked grounds visible. Starke looked at the layout approvingly.

“Looks like home to me. You’re going to train his guys here?”

I smiled “I’m going to turn this into Náströnd.”

I saw Starke raise an eyebrow at me, but I didn’t explain. We walked through the range as it was laid out, Starke offering a few helpful comments here and there about things I had forgotten.

“You have equipment to dig the trenches?” He asked distractedly.

I pointed back toward Michael’s house “Bobcats up there.  Etools if those don’t work.”

“Wait one.” Starke said and walked off to speak to one of the guards. When he returned he was hiding a smirk. “Got something for you.”

A few of the guards took off toward Michael’s house and a moments later the natural sounds of morning were interrupted by the Bobcat engine’s firing up. Starke made a show of changing one of the markings on the field so that the trenches would be connected, allowing those inside to advance or retreat as necessary.

When the guard returned with the Bobcat, Starke immediately began directing him on how and where to dig. The guards not being true professionals did what men tend to do in this situation and gathered around to watch the work.  Starke stood next to me watching and occasionally calling out a command to be relayed to the equipment operator.

I watched the work beginning with some interest. I was starting to focus more on the work than the problems at hand when I felt something poke me in the back. I looked at Starke who was grinning like the Cheshire Cat. I reached behind my back and smiled as I gripped the barrel of my .357 .

Starke gave me a wink and held up a finger. I felt something else tap against my back and grabbed that as well, feeling the breath catch in my throat as I felt Sweet Louise’s kydex sheath in my hand. I stowed everything in my improvised blow out kit and gave Starke a nod of thanks.

After a while the trench was coming along nicely and the things I’d asked to have brought out began to arrive, including a chalkboard. Starke looked at me questioningly when he saw the board being set up. It was my turn to wink at him and smile.

****

Dawn fully broke over the range as I called for Donnelly to sound the call and get the troops assembled. As the men began to turn out I sent them all off to get entrenching tools to deal with the dirt the Bobcat was churning up.

The men set to creating a berm in front of the trenches with the excess dirt. Starke smiled at the progress and came over to speak to me.

“How much do you charge to shoot here?” He smiled admiringly at the at way the men were all working to get the range finished.

“More than you’d be comfortable paying–I hope.”

Starke nodded all traces of humor leaving his features.  Tool came over and stood next to us making our conversation come to an uncomfortable halt.

“Your boss is headed out.” Tool said, jerking his head toward Michael’s house.

Starke turned to look and saw a golf cart coming our way. “Hate to do it man, but we’ve got to get moving. we’ve got to rendezvous with another scout team and get our exfil on.”

“You going to take some recruits with you?” I asked watching the golf cart like a cat tracking a mouse.

“Kind of depends on what he says.” Starke nodded his head toward the approaching golf cart “If he’ll let us we’ll take as many off your hands as possible.”

“Works for me.” I offered Starke my hand and we shook. “I’ll see you in Lansing.” I said and turned away before he had a chance to show me his idiot grin.

Chapter 51 -Belt Fed Revolution

We sat around the table trying not to stare at each other but largely failing.  Michael looked at us expectantly waiting to hear the tale.  I had no doubt he’d make one up later if this one didn’t suit him.

I maintained eye contact with Starke for as long as I could. I saw O’Toole wince and his head whip around to look at Starke.  The two of them exchanged a brief look before turning back to me.

“Boys care to tell us what happened since we last met?” I asked searching my expression database for congenial smile I think I pulled it off, but without a mirror I never knew for sure.

Starke cleared his throat and stood unfolding a map. “You may recall last time we met the MVDF was pulling out of one of their forward operating bases. My group joined up with another militia at almost the same time. . . I think you know our new leader?”

I nodded. “I think we met, but I don’t recall his name.”

Starke nodded and continued to look at the map. “Well you were kind of busy last time I saw you. What ended up happening with you guys? The PLM was busy bugging out of the area after the nuke.”

All talk ground to a halt.

“Nuke?” my voice was a whisper and I was sure I’d misunderstood him.

Starke nodded and took a marker and made two X’s on the map. “Not like thermonuclear weapon, but nuclear material. Here at Palisades nuke plant and then down the coast at Cook Nuclear. The populations from those areas were swarming the nuclear plants, looking for aid, electricity maybe. Maybe they wanted to play some Madden. Who knows?”  Starke shrugged. “Anyway, the people overran the guards at the one plant, here” he pointed at one of the X’s “the Feds, they tried to drive them out but with their resources spread so thin they didn’t commit enough resources.” Starke and I shared a laugh at that. “So after some fights back and forth, the Feds they realize that maybe they don’t need to take the plants. . . maybe they just keep the people from having them.” Starke shrugged again. “You can do the math there.”

We all stared quietly at each other for a while. Eventually some more coffee was brought out. Starke sat down and turned in his seat looking at me. Michael wasn’t there as far as we were concerned nor was O’Toole. This conversation was just between us.

“So most of the lower southwest quadrant is considered uninhabitable. No telling how they fucked up the lake. . .” he trailed off for a minute lost in his own thoughts. “We had wounded we had to evacuate because we didn’t know how far the fall out was going to spread. . .” he raised an eyebrow at me.

I kept my expression neutral as I swallowed that. I had escaped from friendlies. I am a genius. I nodded to Starke and hoped he knew that I got the message.

“Where did you hear all this? Were there survivors or what?”

Starke shrugged and leaned forward placing is arms on the table. “Survivors? Probably. Hell if I know. We heard it from an Indian News Station. India, indian. Caught it on shortwave.” He laughed here “I don’t know how much of it is propaganda, but India actually sounds relatively stable now. Of course that because they nuked the living shit out of Pakistan, but y’know, give peace a chance an’ whatnot.” Starke whipped out a can from his back pocket and offered it around making a question into a statement. “Chew.”

Michael and O’Toole passed, but I leaned forward and took a pinch,completely  ignoring Michael’s disapproving look.

With the offer of tobacco it was my turn now to talk which I did with some care. “I was in a firefight. It was a weird one. It was really hairy at first, but I was on my gun and was taking the enemy down as fast as I could work the bolt.”

Starke and O’Toole both nodded since they knew this part well. “There was a lull in the firing and even though we were winning I held out the white flag when I realized the unit was friendly.” I smiled “We were all kind of confused in that fight; tough to tell the good from the bad when they don’t wear uniforms you immediately recognize.” I said veiling the reference to their new urban camo outfits  in my comments.

I saw the ‘fuck you’ in Starke’s eyes but kept on talking. “I went out thinking the other side realized I was trying to sue for peace and then I took a shot ” I pointed to my side “in the back.”

Starke’s eyebrow’s flew up, but as he was facing away from Michael the expression was hidden from him as well as the fact that Starke’s eyes locked onto O’Toole. The implication was unmistakable.

“Good ol’ friendly fire.” I said and locked eyes with O’Toole “I’m sure you’ve all been through that before. Or may soon. Happens when you work with a bunch of untrained types.” I let the threat hang there though there was really nothing I could do about it at this point.

Starke gave me a nod, his jaw clenched tightly shut.

Michael decided to interject at this point “Well that’s terrible news. Terrible!” he shook his oversize head sadly. “To think that the government would do such a thing to their own people!”

We all nodded our agreement.

“So what brings you guys to our little slice?” I asked.

Michael smiled broadly his eyes practically sparkling “These fine men have brought news. There’s going to be a fight soon. ”

“That so?”

Starke nodded. “The Feds have holed up in Lansing. Several unconnected groups are heading this way. Final push and such. We’re out scouting, hoping to find supplies or recruits.” Starke shifted in his seat a bit to look at Michael. “Your leader here was telling us you’re raising an army for him.”

“Trying to. I just got here, really. These guys are green. Like pine saplings.” I looked at Michael, since this was our first chance to really discuss such things it probably came as an unwelcome surprise to him. “Of course, I’m not in charge here so I couldn’t commit forces one way or the other. If I had to send anyone it’d be the guards. They’ve got the gas tanks for a fight and at least some discipline.”

Michael nodded at my assessment, looking displeased. “So be it then. I’d be happy to support this effort, even though it cost me dear. Do you boys know when this fight is going to take place?”

Starke looked at me. “Not too soon. Probably the next couple of weeks at the soonest. Of course, if you like we can take your men with us and start getting them trained up.”

Michael nodded “Yes. Yes, indeed. I think that’d be just fine.”

“Michael, I don’t know if you are aware, but Mr Starke here was also a Marine.” I smiled at the little psychopath “his experience may be invaluable. If I could have him look at the range set up, he might remember some things I’ve missed.”

“That would be fine. I’d welcome the help and I’m sure it’ll make your job easier as well.” Michael nodded and smiled as though indulging a small child. “The sun will be up shortly if you gentlemen can spare the time?”

“Be happy to help.” Starke confirmed folding his hands in front of him, waiting I think, to be dismissed.

I saw my chance and took it “Uh, gentleman, if you don’t mind I’d like a minute to speak to Michael, alone.”

Starke nodded, standing up and seizing O’Toole by the arm. “Sure thing.” he said pulling O’Toole along after him.

Michael hopped down off his chair and waved at a nearby guard “See that these men get some food and water. Replenish their supplies, too.” The guard nodded and escorted them from the room.

“Michael, I’ve been hoping to have a minute of your time. I hope you don’t mind.”

Michael’s thought’s was not truly present but he nodded and resumed his seat at the table.

“I know this may not meet with your approval, but given current happenings I feel it may be more than a good idea. It’s a necessity.”

Michael focused on me with tired eyes. “If you need something else, just tell John . . .” he started to wave me away.

“Well not exactly.” I said.

He raised an eyebrow at me “Okay. Out with it.”

“If you’re thinking about taking on the Feds then we’re going to need all hands on deck.” I put the idea out there and waited for him to seize on it.

“What do you mean, brother Stephen?” He asked. Michael was aging before my eyes. Slumping into his seat almost impossibly growing even smaller.

“I’d like your permission to train the women–those that are fit–how to shoot. Not the physical training the men have gotten, but as a last line of defense for home ground.” I gestured to the area of the camp behind me.

Michael nodded and thought about it for a moment. “No. Absolutely not. It is not woman’s work to make war. Women are here to serve men, to please them,  rear children, and take care of the things we must needs let slip in order to wage this war against the heathen.”

“Have you ever heard the name Simo Häyhä?” I asked changing tactics.

Michael shook his head. “I can’t say that I have brother.”

“Simo Häyhä was a Finnish sniper in World War II. During the course of his service, he managed to kill 505 enemy combatants. That happened over the course of one year. From 1939-40. There was only one more sniper that even came remotely close to matching his skill. Her name was Lyudmila Pavlichenko. She killed 309 men. ” I leaned forward to indicate how sincere I was “They killed almost 1,000 men between them, using the very rifle you were so far sighted to provide for your men. Your army.”

Michael sat back in his chair locking eyes on me, searching for something. Finally he let out a sigh and nodded. “All right. You may train them.” he held up a stubby finger “With the understanding that they are the last line of defense.”

“Thank you, brother.” I smiled “When this war is over, I think you will be regarded as a prophet for your vision.”

Michael smiled tiredly “God willing brother. I am just here to do his will.”

I turned to leave but stopped “Brother Michael, you look tired. Are you well? Should I send for Sarah?” I smiled down at him “We need you to strong. We can’t have you leaving us before you’ve served your purpose.”

Michael smiled at me and nodded “I want that more than anything brother. But I’m fine. I just need to get some rest.” He hopped down out of his chair and took my hand in his own “I’ll send for Sarah later, when I’ve had some rest just to make sure. I thank you for your concern brother. It’s touching to know that humanity still knows compassion even in these dark times.”

I closed my other hand around his and smiled “You just concentrate on keeping your strength up. We need you to be strong for a while longer.”

I chuckled inwardly. Stay strong at least until I have a chance to bathe my knife in your blood.

Chapter 50 -Belt Fed Revolution

My quarters were empty except for the dogs. I slipped inside happy to be out of sight of prying eyes. I sat on the bed and removed my weapons, stuffing the Ka-Bar into the bag with my medical kit.

I kicked off my boots and slid my revolver under my pillow. I stared at the door and pondered what Preston had said. Why would Michael be making up stories about my past? What purpose did it serve? Between that and trying to figure out a plan to even the odds with the men of the camp my brain was working at full capacity.

I fell asleep without even realizing it.

There was a person laying next to me in the bed. My eyes snapped open, and I went into full alert. I caught a whiff of Paige’s natural scent. For a brief moment I felt her soft warmth pressed up against me and the rhythm of her snoring. I pushed myself up out of bed, my heart racing, layers of pathology suddenly reasserting themselves. It had been so long since I’d touched another human being for any purpose other than to kill I didn’t know what to do with them anymore.

Paige was rudely awakened by my movement. Her eyes popped open and she reached for her hammer. To me she whispered “What is it? Is something wrong?!”

I had my revolver in my hand and was sweating profusely. I lowered the gun, gently releasing the hammer as I did.

“Sorry” I looked at her.  I hadn’t realized how attractive she was until this moment. “Bad dream” I shook my head as if trying to clear the lingering remnants of my dream. “What–what were you doing in bed? With me?”

Paige’s face turned a lovely shade of bright pink. “I don’t feel so good. I just wanted to lie down–I didn’t think you’d mind.”

My brain kicked into neutral for a moment as I examined her. She had a long graceful, almost swan-like neck with blonde hair that reached down past her shoulders. I guessed she must have weighed only a bit more than she did now since she didn’t look quite as ‘deflated’ as the other women in the camp, even given her current circumstances.  When she’d lifted her dress to remove the hammer I’d given her it wasn’t exactly lost on me that she had, long, very shapely legs. I realized I was taking a mental inventory of her, breaking her down to component parts. I stopped when I thought of her breasts and how Michael had marked her. It didn’t actually serve to make her any less attractive, but it did stop my prurient line of thought when I remembered.

I felt my hand flexing on the grip of the revolver and  forced it to relax. I suddenly became aware of an odd feeling  below my waistline and quickly sat down. The last thing I needed right now was for Paige to freak out over a biological reaction I had little control over.

I tried to cover up more than my physical discomfort by engaging her in small talk.

“We haven’t really had much chance to talk since, ” I shrugged and looked around “well since we were thrust into this little arrangement.”

Paige nodded and smiled almost making eye contact with me.

I asked her the question I dreaded. “What do you do? Er, what did you do? You know, before?”

Ugh. I wanted to kick my own ass. I hated asking this question far more than I hated answering it. I took a breath and prepared to make small talk until the sun rose if it were necessary.

Paige smiled and rose to take the bait. We talked for hours into the night, and yes, I even answered the question about what I used to do back when there was a world and a civilization inhabiting it.

Paige and I switched places after a while, with me on the bed, Sako and Tikka curled up in my lap. I laughed, knowing that it would be considered incredibly stereotypical, but women really did enjoy talking about themselves, or failing that what terrible people their friends were.

I got a good chunk of Paige’s life story out of her before I drifted off again.

****

I was floating somewhere in between wakefulness and sleep. I didn’t believe the things my senses were telling me but they didn’t seem implausible either. In my own personal twilight I felt the warmth of a body pressed up against my own. On my feet were fur covered shoes filled with sharp little things that occasionally poked me in the toe or scraped across my ankle.

The scent of a woman was in my nostrils and it was enticing. Suddenly my feet were cold, my furry shoes gone and bouncing across the bed.

The movement of the dogs woke me up. They jumped off the bed and were sat in front of the door alerting to something there. My eyes snapped open as I saw the door begin to swing inward. I hurtled Paige’s sleeping form and threw a kick at the door frame slamming it shut with great force. Paige sat bolt upright in bed, reaching under the pillow for my revolver, handing it to me without being asked.

I gave her a quick smile and eased the door open. A red faced Donnelly was standing there doing his impersonation of a man about to die from some coronary event.

I let out a deep breath and surreptitiously handed the revolver back to Paige as I squeezed out the door.

I smiled at Donnelly as I approached him. No reason to make my prey bolt before I had a chance to kill it. As soon as I was within reach of Donnelly I seized him by the throat and drove him to the ground.

“The next time, Gene, you try and enter my quarters without permission will be the last thing you ever do. Have I made myself clear in this?” I asked slightly releasing the pressure I was applying to his hyoid bone.

Donnelly nodded. Flecks of spittle had formed at the corners of his mouth and stood in stark white relief to the bright red-going-purple of his face. I eased my weight off his chest and broke the hold I had on his throat.

Donnelly sat up hands at his throat and gasping for breath.

I looked at him. I had always been a fan of Wanderlei Silva and his propensity for soccer kicks must have rubbed off on me as I had to restrain myself from delivering my self-styled version of that kick to Donnelly’s head.

“Micheal or training?” I asked him in a voice that was almost a hiss.

He coughed more trying to calm himself and regain his breath. “Mi–Mi” he heaved.

I grabbed his chin and titled his face up to meet mine. “Michael?”

He nodded. and I let him go. Out of the corner of my eye I had seen Paige open the door, peaking out watching quietly with an almost joyous glee in her eyes. I stepped back into our quarters and began to get dressed.

I looked out the window and noticed how dark it was. I reckoned it to be around 0400 as I got my gear on and headed out the door toward Michael’s house. Donnelly was nowhere to be seen.

I kept my features expressionless but inside I was laughing, giddy as a school girl. Violence– it turns out–does solve problems. Must be in the application. Violence also cured what ails you apparently. As soon as I’d kicked the door shut my knee felt like a knife had been jammed into it, but know I was moving along at a decent lope, barely aware of any pain at all.

I reached Michael’s house and noted there were several guards there that had not been present before. There were in uniforms I probably would have laughed at at any other time being dressed in a combination of blue and black ‘urban’ camouflage patterns.

Two guards were on the door and those I did recognize. They waved me through without so much as a glance and into the house. I hadn’t seen the upstairs level of Michael’s house which was furnished in Early American-Creepy, complete with sepia toned photos of  what I guessed was Michael and his mother. I had to wonder how much Norman Bates was charging to decorate a place these days.

I was ushered into a room that was darker than the rest, mostly due to the heavy velvet wall covering that seemed to drink in the available light. I heard the sound of a motor starting somewhere outside and was instantly blinded as the house lights came on.

“Ah, here’s our Brother Stephen!” I felt someone take my hand and place it on the back of a chair as I tried to rid myself of the afterimage  while my eyes adjusted.

Michael continued “I’m so sorry, brother to have you woken so early. I know you have a full day of training and such to do today.” Something was placed in front of me. My sense of smell was working just fine. Coffee. I inhaled deeply of it. My eyes finally cleared enough I could make out Michael’s face as well as the guests seated at his table. One face smiled broadly at me, while the other gaped almost open mouthed.

“I wouldn’t have brought you here if it weren’t important. These two gentlemen are militia fighters like us. This is Adam Starke,” he said pointing at the Marine who was just a shot away from needing to hold his sides to contain the laughter “And this is. . .I’m sorry, was it Mr Toole?”

I shot Starke a look and the smile dropped almost instantly from his face, but it was too late. Michael had seen the recognition pass between the three of us.

I nodded and extended my hand. “Mr Starke. Nice to formally make your acquaintance. ” I turned and offered my hand to Tool who would not deign to shake it at first “Mr Toole.” I nodded to him. “Nice to see you both again.”