Tag Archives: apocalypse porn

Chapter 45 -Belt Fed Revolution

I spent a pretty restless night in my quarters with nothing to do and too many thoughts running through my mind to permit sleep to come. I did drift off here and there, but would wake at every strange noise.

Whatever you could say about Michael and his people, they were certainly dedicated. I kept a watch on my watchers and other than seeing them be relieved by other guards there really wasn’t much slack in their routine.

I finally settled in at some point during the night sitting on my bed with my back against the wall just as the sky was beginning to lighten. I must have drifted off again because I found myself unsettled and confused by my surroundings when I heard my door opening.  I have always been lucky in that when I wake up I am instantly awake with no noticeable lag in my cognitive faculties; the door hadn’t opened far when I jumped up off the bed and planted my foot against the bottom, placing all my weight against the door.

Whoever was trying to enter my quarters yelped in pain as I forced the door closed on his foot.

“Ever heard of knocking?” I asked, lowering my center of gravity and leaning as fully into the door as I could. My uninvited guest pushed on the door  trying to withdraw his trapped foot while calling me some unseemly names. He managed to do all this without swearing which was impressive.

“Pete’s sake, SORRY!” He finally relented and stopped pushing against me “I was sent to wake you.We don’t knock here or lock doors. Michael says it’s against the rules of fellowship!”

I satisfied myself with a peek around the door frame and saw that the guard wasn’t holding a rifle so I eased the pressure off and let him withdraw his foot. “You might want to mention these ‘rules’ to new people. May save someone a broken foot . . . or worse.”

Part of me still wanted to cup-check the guy for opening my door without knocking. I stood aside and let him enter “Is there coffee?”

The guard shook his head and smiled apologetically. “No coffee here. Not allowed, sorry.” The guard, who according to his name tape was called Donnelly handed me a small ditty bag full of hygiene products and a towel “takes some getting used to, I know. I used to drink a pot of coffee with my morning coffee, y’know?” he laughed.

“Let me guess, gruel for breakfast? Bread and water for lunch?” I muttered as I pulled on a fresh pair of socks.

“No sir, not quite. Although I think this morning’s breakfast is oatmeal . . .”

I stared at Donnelly until he quit talking. “Where’s the head in this place?”

“Head? The . . . ?”

“Where is the bathroom? Look, if you’re going to be barging into my room it’s only fair that you make an attempt to know things so that when I ask questions answers are on deck, yes? Now, where is the head?”

“Uh, yeah. Yes, sir, follow me.” Donnelly was flustered but at least he knew the layout of the camp. We eventually made our way to the  head following a winding path through several tents which I would not remember to arrive at a fairly well equipped outdoor shower setup complete with a several composting type toilets.

Donnelly came to a version of parade rest as I pulled the curtain closed to handle my ablutions. I pulled the curtain aside slightly and saw Donnelly standing there staring disinterestedly out at the camp. “Uh, you’re dismissed?”

Donnelly turned his head slightly toward the sound of my voice “No sir. I’m to escort you and be and your aide-de-camp. You need something I’m your man.”

I grunted angrily “Fine. Go get me a cup of coffee. Do not return without one or you are fired.”

****

The Gods ruled in my favor. As I stepped out of the little shower area Donnelly  held out a cup of coffee, a wisp of steam rolling out of the mug. It was instant coffee but I drank it down with the same relish I would have a cup of Starbuck’s finest.

I had to consider what I was going to teach my students. I’m a damn good shot, but how do you explain a lifetime of doing to someone? I didn’t even know what kind of weapons we’d be using. I handed the empty cup back to Donnelly and strode off as though I knew where I was going. Donnelly sounded rather perturbed as he caught up to me.

“Uh, Sir? Um, the field is this way, but we–well, you– have to meet with Michael first?” Donnelly said trying to get me to break stride.

“Are you asking me or telling me?”

“Well, uh, I’m–I guess, I . . . ” he stammered

“What did I say, Donnelly? You must know things when I ask, otherwise one of us is going to look pretty dumb, when he’s standing alone and I have wandered off to find another cup of coffee. Now, are you asking me or telling me?”

“I’m, uh. . .  I’m informing you, sir. Michael told me to bring you over to him before you got started.” Donnelly stepped around to place himself in front of me. “Please, sir?” Donnelly held out an arm to redirect me toward my meeting.

I relented and let Donnelly lead me away.  As we walked I began to notice how the camp was laid out . The land appeared mostly flat but formed something of a natural bowl shape with the outer edge of the bowl being a little over a foot higher than the main concentration of buildings.  The living quarters were arranged close together yet a good distance away from Michael’s house, making me wonder if that was intentional. There weren’t any guard towers, but given the shape of the land high towers weren’t necessary.

There were a lot of things that could have been improved here in terms of security, but if the guards were even partially attentive getting out would be impossible, which left me with one option. I was going to have to bring someone in.

Michael was busy discussing some logistical matter with a man I’d not seen before but he stopped long enough to wave me to a seat.

“Stephen, I want you to see what you’ll be working with” he waved at a large square shape covered by a moving blanket “and discuss some further training with you. Tell me, brother, do you think you can train your fellows? Do you think you can make these men into an army?”

I was caught off guard by this. He may as well have asked me if I could run a successful space program. I needed to stall him on this. No way was I going to train an army for this light bulb and anyone in their right mind–by my estimation anyway– would be trying to train a guerrilla  force, not a conventional army. I didn’t intend to share that little nugget with him either.

The storm clouds gathering behind his eyes told me that hesitation was not the expected answer so I tap danced around the mine field a little to appease him. “It’s just kind of a lot to consider. I mean, do you have anyone else with military experience or am I supposed to do this on my own? I can handle things like PT and drill and the like, but I need a whole support structure . . .”

I let him to chew on that a little. My refusal to immediately give him a yes had forced an uncomfortable pause into the discussion. I hadn’t forgotten his threat to mark me either. If he tried though, he was likely to find out that I presented a much different challenge than a terrified woman who hadn’t even attempted to fight back.

Michael suddenly smiled, his little shark’s teeth gleaming dully in the early morning light. “That is how I know God has sent you to lead my Army, brother! He never just gives us what we need, he gives us a challenge, makes us  work for what we need!” Michael grabbed our hands attempting to pull me and the still unknown man to the floor “let us pray! Let us give our thanks to God!”

I resisted. It was a mistake. I knew it was a mistake but I could not do it. I covered as best I could by clutching my knee and grunting a little.

“Sorry, about that. If I get down, I may not be able to get back up again.” I let out a weak chuckle, but the look in his eyes let me know that I’d crossed a line.

Michael smiled slightly “Of course. That was thoughtless of me to forget your injury.” He stood and brushed off the knees of his pants. “No matter. Come see what I have for you!” The change in his voice wasn’t fooling me, he was pissed. Fortunately for me none of his guards were around so he could put me in my place.

Michael proceeded to the boxes and began to pull the moving blanket off. I saw one corner and immediately knew what awaited me and the torture that awaited those I was responsible for training.  The faded green wooden crates were so familiar to me I had a psychic flash of exactly what the rifles would look like down to the thick coat of cosmoline that would undoubtedly cover them.

I opened the crate and was greeted by the bane of the modern rifleman, the Mosin Nagant 91/30.  I nodded appreciatively and withdrew one of the rifles and worked the bolt. The action was smooth even with the peanut butter thick coat of cosmoline. I pulled the trigger and slid the bolt all the way out. The protective grease on this shipment had been forced into the barrels. I let out a heavy sigh.

“Well, this is good in a way. The first thing I’ll be teaching is rifle maintenance.” I looked inside to the bottom of the crate “Where’s the rest of it?”

Michael looked confused for a brief second “Oh, don’t you worry, brother. We’ll have ammunition out at the range for you.”

“Yeah, that’s great obviously. But I mean where’s the rest of the kit? The sling and bayonet?”

His face was totally crestfallen “The. . . bayonet?”

I nodded “These come with a whole kit usually. I mean we can do without most of it, but the bayonet and sling are almost as important as the ammunition.” I stood there smiling blandly at him waiting for him to lose it. The great thing about the M91/30 was that even without ammunition or a bayonet it made one Hel of a club. I stopped myself smiling as I envisioned the steel butt plate crushing Michael’s skull after I’d bashed him five or one hundred times for good measure.

The locus of Michael’s anger shifted. “John?! Where are the things I need for my rifles?!”

John. I shook my head. It always had to be some fuck up called John.

John backed water both verbally and physically, raising his hands to ward off being marked.  “This was all there was when I paid for them! I–I I’ll go back, right now and look? Most of the guns are gone but almost everything else was untouched after the townsfolk broke in!!!”

I decided to step in. It’s not that I felt any special attachment to people called John, but I really didn’t want to see this sadistic circus act get rolling.

“I can go with him. The Mosin’s bayonet sort of looks like a screwdriver. I doubt most people would realize it was a weapon.” I offered waiting to see if Michael was capable of backing down twice in one day.

Michael reached up swiftly grabbing John’s crotch and squeezing until he dropped to his knees. “You will take our brother and get everything left in this store. When you are done, report back to me immediately and we can discuss your inability to conduct a simple task.”

John’s face was a deep shade of red and a high keening noise was beginning to escape his pursed lips yet he managed to say “Yes, Michael!” before he was released, folding up in a fetal position with his hands between his legs.

Michael spun toward me so fast I almost raised the rifle  to deliver a butt-stroke to his head. “You will lead them. You will make me an army. You will do this or I will put the mark of Cain on you so all will know you for what you are!”

I wasn’t looking to have my beautiful self marked in any capacity. Michael was making it clear now that he had been pushed as far as he would allow for one day and I honestly wasn’t prepared to argue without having several rounds of 7.62x54r loaded in this rifle for the guards that would try to enforce his edicts.

I raised my hands to try and calm him. I leaned over and helped John to his feet and led him away from Michael’s reach and put myself between the two of them.

“Of course I’ll do as you ask. May we go and get the kits to complete the rifles?”

Michael instantly demurred, his tone and expression changed, looking as if I had hurt his feelings. “Certainly, brother! I can’t expect you to make the omelet if I don’t give you eggs, now can I? Go forth now, gather what is needful.” He smiled broadly “soon you shall bring us glory for his name!”

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Chapter 44 -Belt Fed Revolution

Sarah and another woman carted Michael’s victim away and dinner was thankfully cut short after another prayer ritual was performed. This time Michael asked his God to guide him and give him strength. I seconded the last part. He was going to need all the strength he could get if I had anything to say about. After all he was small and I didn’t want him to die too soon.

Before I could escape back to my quarters, Michael waved me over to him. I counted the number of men surrounding the little psychopath and determined that I could take out maybe two of them before I was subdued or outright killed. My plans were forming up to be a little more specific than that so I shelved the plan for now.

“Brother Stephen, I want you to begin your training tomorrow. I need you to teach my men how to shoot straight so we can put down the heathen and their government masters once and for all.” Michael started walking away from me and I thought we were done until one of his protection detail gave me a gentle shove in the back of the head with the barrel of his rifle. I covered the ground Michael had walked with a step and a half catching him in mid-lecture ” . . . to shoot as if you have been born to it is indeed a gift from our Lord. And that’s what I need you to do. Teach your brothers to shoot like they’ve been doing it all their lives.”

“All right, Michael. I should be able to do that.”  Sure and next I’ll teach them the Jesus-trick of water walking, but I didn’t say that aloud.

Michael smiled and waved me close as he stopped walking. “One more thing, brother…if you ever interrupt me again when I’m disciplining a woman I will mark you and have you cast out as if you were one of them.” 

I stiffened slightly and drew myself up to my full height. I did the math in my head again. If I took the guard immediately to my left and used him as a shield I might be able to kill all of the protection detail and drag Michael off before more guards could respond.

I was pretty sure this would work, but I couldn’t just leave people here with this sick fuck. It was that thought that stopped me. Since when did I give a shit about something that was so clearly not my problem? Maybe not taking my meds had turned me normal. I shuddered at the thought.

I smiled at Michael, not caring if my internal predator showed through or not. “You got it, boss.” and I turned toward my quarters not waiting to see if I had been dismissed or not.

****

I was a little surprised to find when I got back to my quarters that no one was waiting for me. I figured there would be at least a little ‘welcoming committee’ to show me the error of my ways, but if I was going to train them I’d need one functioning eye and finger to do it so maybe they’d just wait until I was through.

I still didn’t have a weapon and as far as I was concerned I couldn’t get any deeper into enemy territory which meant I probably wasn’t going to do much sleeping.

I was saved from needing to pace or do push ups to keep myself distracted by a knock on the door.  I thought if this was the welcoming committee they were being uncharacteristically polite.

I was surprised to find Sarah waiting, medical supplies in hand. “I’ve come to check on you.” She pushed her way into my quarters surreptitiously poking the bandage covering my side making me groan and wince slightly. She looked at one of my guards who tried to make his way in as well. “Oh! Are you going to help me? I could use a hand swabbing out the pus in the wound crater . . . if you can handle the smell.” she smiled brightly at the guard.

I thought the guard was literally going to vomit when she mentioned the smell and started putting on a pair of gloves.  Sarah offered him a pair only to have him back quickly out of the room with a muttered “we’ll be right outside if you need a hand.”

Sarah chuckled and shook her head. “What a pussy.”

After extracting a few necessary things from her bag she had me lay down so she could check on my wound. “I wanted to thank you for what you did. I also want to tell you what an idiot you are, but mostly I want to thank you. There’s no telling what he’d have done if you hadn’t stepped in when you did.”

“Yeah. You want to explain exactly what the fuck this” I gestured to indicate everything  “is all about?!? Why, when that little monster treats women like he does, have you stayed? Why hasn’t someone driven a shrimp fork into his eye? No pun intended!”

Sarah shushed me and poured something cold into the gunshot wound making me gasp. “Keep your voice down.” she said, her tone of voice roughly the same as if she’d asked me to pass the salt. “Michael treats me well because there are no doctors here and he needs treatment.” her eyes darted to the door “I stay because of what you saw tonight. I can’t let him do that to people.” She shook her head and sighed heavily. I thought I saw her eyes moistening. “I can’t let that happen and not do something!” She took a cloth from her kit and dabbed at her eyes. “Anyway, he wasn’t like that right away or we wouldn’t have stayed. It’s only been the past couple of months, since they took the town that he’s turned into a monster.”

“Yeah, about that. What do you mean they ‘took the town?’ ”

“After Preston and his son joined up with Michael, he thought he had enough people–men–to force the sheriff out. The local police had been dissolved months before that and the sheriff’s department was stretched thin. It wasn’t so much a negotiation as it was a firefight; the sheriff lost.” Her eyes darted once more to the door “I can’t stay much longer without causing someone to ask questions. . . look, I wouldn’t ask this of you if I had another choice, but I don’t think I can stay here much longer even with my skills.” Sarah was strong. Stronger probably than most men would have been in her situation. She never really cried, but even I could tell what this was doing to her. “I can’t leave either. At least I can’t leave the women here behind. You may be our only chance to get clear. To be free again.”

Good luck to ya, sweetheart. First neck I can snap that has a gun slung around it, I am outta here. You’re welcome to follow in my wake, but don’t expect me to wait on you. These were all things I should have said.

Instead I sighed and nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I’ll do what I can. But when I go, I go if you’re ready or not. And be aware, it’s going to be bloody. I can’t envision any exit from here that doesn’t involve a protracted fight.”

Sarah smiled and leaned forward and kissed my forehead. “Thank you. I’ll do what I can to make our exit a little less bloody. I’ve got to go now, but I’ll be in contact soon. Your wound is healing nicely so I won’t be able to use that as an excuse to see you very often and I’m kept busy as it is. . . it’ll have to be Paige.” She nodded talking mostly to herself now.

“Page? What like you’ll write letters?”

Sarah stared at me for a second uncomprehending “Paige is the woman you saved tonight. She’s yours.” Now it was Sarah’s turn to look like she might vomit “You own her now.”

Chapter 42 -Belt Fed Revolution

In a lifetime that seemed so far removed I couldn’t even be sure it was me that lived it, I’d dealt with plenty of people who had special challenges and needs. The fact that Michael was a little person didn’t mean much to me, but that he was able to make himself a leader in the times of America the failed enterprise certainly struck me as unusual. As soon as I’d heard the name in fact I pictured a tall blonde man who looked like he’d spent most of his time at the gym.

Michael, this Michael, didn’t even have a beard. He looked soft even in these times which was already becoming a rarity. He wore a short-sleeved button up shirt with vibrant blue pinstripes, buttoned all the way to the top that stretched around his paunch with black slacks that were starting to show the signs of frequent wear. When he offered his hand to me it was soft, without the slightest trace of callouses and his nails appeared to be manicured.

I was almost sure this had to be a dream. I tried for a minute to make the room turn into a drakkar–a Viking longboat– but no matter how hard I concentrated Michael’s beardless face remained in front of me.

Huh. Okay, so I was in fact awake. This made me somewhat happy as I had noticed the tracings of abdominal muscles beginning to form on my midsection no doubt a combination of not eating much and humping around enough gear to keep a small SpecOps team supplied.

I took Michael’s hand expecting it to be clammy, but was a bit surprised when I was greeted by a firm handshake belied by his size and, happily, a dry palm. “Finn…” I coughed and cleared my throat “Pardon me. Name’s Stephen.  Thank you for taking me in here…”

Michael waved a hand as if to make my words vanish. “Well, what kind of Christian would I be if I turned away a man in need?”

I nodded mutely and bit back the responses that would normally meet such an awesome softball question like that. Fortunately I didn’t have to work to fill in that awkward pause as Michael pressed ahead.

“I’m told you’re a soldier? Are you a real soldier or one of those that likes to play soldier in the militia? I tell you we’ve seen our share of those young men! Wouldn’t know their behinds from a bee hive if it were stinging them!” Michael laughed as if this were the greatest joke ever told.

“Marine. Not a soldier” I confirmed for him. “I was doing some special work for the MVDF and . . . ”

Again his little hand waved through the air as if wiping my words from existence. “Yes,yes. I heard going up north to find your family. All very noble.” Something in his tone had changed and I looked into his eyes, letting my inner predator have full reign.

I understood then. If Michael had been an average sized man this would have made sense from the start.  The eyes that stared back at me would have made my predator retreat and look for a different avenue of attack, had Michael been of full size. Seeing the danger close up and knowing he had seen the same I switched to a different tack.

Being a little person I doubt that people had paid a great deal of attention to Michael. He probably hadn’t had to work as I had to fit in to society since most people were already regarding him as different. Not that this was much of a surprise. Until recently most people were so numb–I had to stop myself laughing–people were so numb to danger they’d allowed this to happen. The irony wasn’t lost on me, but I couldn’t be sure Michael would understand why I suddenly found this whole situation hilarious.

The thought of people reading books and playing video games to create lives where they might feel something, to experience anything outside of the numbing barrier they’d created to insulate themselves suddenly struck me as so ridiculous I couldn’t hold it in any longer.

Laughing was one of many social skills I was only technically proficient at but Michael was apparently right about the same level as I was with it so he didn’t notice my laughter being out of place or wrong sounding, taking it for laughter at his earlier jape.

Michael joined in with me, laughing as we were at two different things it didn’t seem incongruous to either of us that the laughter went on longer than was appropriate. “Right! So here we are. We have need of man with real experience against the savages. What say you? Interested?”

“Savages?”

Michael nodded all trace of  levity having left his features. “Those that have polluted this great country for far too long. Taken from her people and given back only strife. The savages that have tried to force their culture on us; they take and they take and they take, but they give nothing back. They refused to assimilate and force us to choke on their  culture, their religion, sending us nothing but criminals and terrorists whose only thought is to divide and sew seeds of discontent!!!”

This I had seen before. The preacher had taken his pulpit and was not so much talking to the congregation but shouting at the walls, unheeding , uninterested in whether or not those around him were interested in the message. No, he was on a personal mission and those in his way would either be consumed by the fire that drove him or used to fan those flames into brilliant sparkling life.

“Muslims?” I asked hesitantly.

Michael shot to his feet “Yes! The muck dwellers from the great desert! The heathen and the misguided souls led by the devil practicing witchcraft in their shadowy lairs!” The door opened and the guards looked in, but Michael would not allow his sermon to be interrupted “Those devious servants of Satan, streaming over our borders to take from us, drive this great land to its knees, bankrupting us financially, culturally, morally!!!”

One of the guards looking in added a “Praise Jesus!” to the rant but Michael didn’t even break stride. “The Mexicans, the Blacks, all those who have not embraced this country fully must, I say they MUST! Come to Jesus and be part of his love or they must be culled from the herd! No longer will they be allowed to take and take without ever repaying, for the good book says in Thessalonians if a man does not choose to work, neither shall he eat!”

I understood how this man came to lead. His rhetoric certainly spoke to the underlying currents that had been running through America for years, though he conveniently failed to note that–in Michigan at least–more of his people, white ‘Christians’ had been welfare recipients than had any other group. They’d been the chief purveyors of drugs as well, especially methamphetamine and marijuana, but I knew I was a stranger in a strange land. Confusing things with facts would undoubtedly lead to a bloody end for me and I hated to see their work go to waste so soon.

I had no doubts that I could kill him quickly, but the guards who I noted were armed with funky looking bullpup type rifles were another matter all together. I considered Sarah’s warning a minute before responding. Michael, a sheen of sweat built up on his forehead had probably not noticed my delay just yet.

“Tell me what I can do.”

Michael smiled, a toothy sharks grin  and exclaimed “Glory be to God!”

Chapter 41 -Belt Fed Revolution

I did not know the words yet I understood the language. I had looked into his eyes and immediately knew everything that was necessary for my survival. Follow his orders, burn everything, make them pay for the death of his father.

He recognized me somehow, knew me for his own and he smiled, clasping my hand in his as he threw his head back and laughed wildly  clamping his other hand around the back of my neck he looked into my eyes and I was frozen, watching the small golden ring that circled the pupil of his left eye, writhing, alive in its own right giving the truth to his name telling me “Brenna þá, Finngeir! Sonur minn brenna þá alla!”

And with that he turned back to leading his men not hearing my whispered “já, Jarl Sigurd. . . ” I drew my sword and stumbled along after him to set the English village alight.

The dream was comforting somehow, but short lived. Maybe I just liked it because someone –even if he had to be a product of my fevered consciousness–managed to pronounce my name without making it sound like ‘finger’. The dream dissolved fully when I heard the lock click open. I was instantly awake, but kept my eyes closed.

“I know you’re awake.” Sarah said as she closed the door behind her “I heard the change in your breathing.” She smiled again as she sat down a small collection of tools in an aluminum pan and sat next to me on the bed. “Keep your voice down. There are guards outside that door.”

I nodded and let her tend to my wounds. “Thank you. . .  for everything” I said in a voice scarce above a whisper. She nodded and yanked off the gauze that had welded itself to my side with blood. I think it was safe to assume that the guards outside were mollified with the sounds of pain coming from the room being so very genuine.

“You’re going to have to meet Michael soon. He leads here and is very . . . strict about his followers and their beliefs.” She paused until I nodded. She gave me the little prim smile I had seen earlier and swabbed the hole in my side.  “I’m going to assume that since you haven’t tried to call the guards or disabuse me of the idea that you’re of a Pagan faith, that we’re on the same page here?”

“Heathen.”

She snorted laughter “Oh my. He would just love to hear that!” she shook her head and started putting her tools away. “You just keep that little nugget to yourself and maybe you can get out of here alive.”

“I don’t understand. Why are you doing this? Helping me?”

“I joined this  group with my husband, Oscar, five years ago. Oscar and Michael knew each other from church and we all shared a desire to be prepared. We realized that things were going to get bad and we started looking for a place where we could ride out the worst of it.” She sighed tiredly  “Michael had been buying property here and invited us and some others to come out before things finally hit the fan. Course we didn’t know then how loopy Michael would get. He’s convinced that this is God’s punishment somehow. He thinks he’s God’s Chosen One.” Almost to herself she saidI think that’s why he changed his name to Michael anyway.”

“What about you? You’re not one them? Not a Christian?” She regarded me cautiously for a moment before speaking.

“I’m a Deist. Like most of the Founding Fathers?” she waited until I nodded again. “That quote of Jefferson’s:  it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg? That’s been my stance on it for more years than I care to admit to living.” Sarah stopped to make sure my dressing was secure and with a nod she stood and grabbed up her tools “Just make sure that you nod and smile when it’s appropriate. . . ” She hesitated and turned away before speaking quietly “since there is no rule of law here except that which Michael says it’s just better to go along. You don’t want to end up like the others.”

“Others?”

Sarah shook her head and would say no more. She knocked twice on the door and said “coming out!” stepping back as the door swung inward for her. She turned back before leaving and said “God bless. You get some rest and I’ll be back later.”

I waved her goodbye  back and sat back against my pillow. “The fuck have I gotten myself into?” I opened the bible and pretended to read in case one of the guards stuck his head in. I was in the middle of a bizarre tale about the Christian God sending a bear to kill a bunch of children for making fun of a bald man when there was a knock at the door. I was surprised they would bother to knock but I responded anyway.

“Enter.”

Odin or Preston, I guess poked his head in “You decent?”

“Yes sir.” I nodded and smiled as instructed, not sure who I could trust. I waved Preston to the chair by the bedside. “I owe you a debt of thanks. I’m glad you convinced your son to bring me back.” I smiled weakly. Sarah had given me some pills but I hadn’t thought to ask what they were. Now it occurred to me one of the things she gave me was a pain pill as I felt all floaty and kitten-weak.

Preston smiled and gave his long white beard a tug, squinting at me. “I reckoned we owed ya anyway. You’re with them Voulnteer boys, right? I saw the remains of your uniform. . . ”

I nodded and decided that a lie might serve me much better than truth here. “I was with them, but they gave me leave. I was trying to get up north to check on my family. . . ”

That earned a smile. “Figured it had to be something like that. You don’t look like no deserter, but bein’ shot in the back like you were I kinda had to wonder.”

I tried to think how to explain that to him when I didn’t know what happened myself. “We were engaged with another militia gr–” I was cut short by another knock at the door.

A small round face with close set dark eyes peered into the room. “Hello brothers! How is every little thing?”

Preston turned back a smile plastered on his face “Michael! Just talking to our new friend here. Come on in, brother. Sit here, please.” Preston vacated his seat and waved Michael over.

Michael took the proffered chair and smiled at Preston, looking at him for several moments without saying a word.

“Oh! Pardon me, folks!” Preston gave me little wave and started to exit the room “Hope to speak to you again, soon.”

Michael waited a moment longer after the door closed and turned toward me. “Well, praise Jesus! You have the whole flock set a flutter!”

He smiled an oily little smile and extended his hand “Hello brother! My name is Michael.”

Chapter 37 -Belt Fed Revolution

Upon reaching the camp I noticed things were greatly relaxed compared to the last time I’d been here. The guards around the supply CONEX were still pretty rigid, but the rest seemed to have settled into a mode that spoke of resignation to their new lives. I could recall having seen this when I was deployed with guards that had been in country before Desert Shield kicked off. Sure, they’d still shoot you if you looked wrong, but they probably wouldn’t bother shouldering the rifle; they’d just shoot you from the hip.

I hit the little two-stroke’s kill switch and let our momentum carry us into the center of the camp which was the erstwhile Wal-Mart delivery area. I had to stand there and blink the grit out of my eyes for a few seconds before I could begin to engage in conversation.

“So what’s the plan?”

Starke shot back “You’re the guy with the plan, you tell me?”

Having seen which side of the loop we were both on, we decided to go Dwyer’s office for my after action report. I didn’t have to wait this time. Being escorted directly into Dwyer’s office suited me just fine. I had some questions that needed answers right now.

Dwyer looked up as we entered, appearing slightly surprised to see me. I waved his opener away before he said it “Yeah, I know you didn’t expect to see me so soon.”

Dwyer gestured to the plastic chairs in front of his desk. I stood back and let Starke take the one furthest from the door. As soon as he settled in, I stepped around behind the desk and drew my revolver, shoving Dwyer’s head down onto his desk. Starke regarded me with the same look I imagine he would have if I’d sprouted tentacles and began to dance. I stripped Dwyer’s sidearm from it’s large, ostentatious holster and pointed it at Starke.

“Relax. I’m going to ask the Major here some questions and I think you might want to hear the answers as well.” Starke nodded and held up his hands, leaning back into the chair slightly.

“Not that I don’t trust you, but I’m gonna need to relieve you of your sidearm as well.” Starke drew his 9mm from the shoot me  holster on his leg holding the grip with two fingers. “Now empty it.” I could see the rage building in Starke and I understood it. When you carry a weapon for so long you get used to its presence and for someone to take it from you carried the same feelings that might accompany having a finger removed with a cold chisel and a hammer.

Even though he didn’t like it, Starke ejected the magazine and pulled the slide back until it locked, letting the chambered round dribble down the mag well onto the floor and set the gun on the desk.

I did the same with Dwyer’s gun, a very nice chrome plated Colt chambered in .45 caliber with what appeared to be genuine pearl handles. A show piece I thought as I examined it. The gun fit Dwyer to a Tee.

“So question number one. Who are you working for?”

Dwyer didn’t answer immediately so I placed the revolver at the nape of his neck.

“What do you mean? I’m working for the governor, for the state of Michigan! Who else would I be working for?!” Dwyer wasn’t shouting which was good. I didn’t need to draw too much attention from the bored looking guards outside.

I considered his response for a moment before switching gears “Okay, let me rephrase. You are working for the governor who wanted martial law declared and wants to continue martial law, with the help of the feds. True or false?”

Dwyer began to try and bluster. This didn’t really work for me. Turns out in the new world there are quicker and better ways to get things done, so I drew my Ka-bar and slid my revolver back into the holster. Placing the blade between his index and middle fingers , I drew the edge over the soft web of  flesh there until I saw a little line of red appear.

Dwyer to his credit endured this well a sharp intake of breath the only hint that  he was not enjoying the days proceedings. Starke stood up and began to protest. I didn’t point the gun at him this time, only stared at him until he resumed his seat. I placed Ka-bar against Dwyer’s eye this time and repeated my question.

“Yes, damn it!Yes!!!”  I was glad that the threat of losing an eye was enough to motivate him as I really didn’t want to strip him naked and cut off his balls. “My orders come from the Governor himself! We want the Feds to know their place, but we don’t want them to leave!”

Starke stared at Dwyer now as if he, too, had grown tentacles and joined me in singing a duet of ‘No Greater Love’.

“Terrific. Now that we’ve answered the how full of shit is this guy question, hopefully we can proceed without need of further crude  demonstrations. Agreed?” I waggled the blade of Sweet Louise in front of his face slightly until he nodded. That was impressive considering he had most of my weight bearing down on his neck.

I stood just behind and to the left of Dwyer, letting him raise his head and rub his neck a bit. I was pretty sure that Starke, if he wasn’t on board was at least swinging that way, but I wanted to be able to cover the both of them just in case. There was one tense moment when Dwyer, apparently without thinking, turned slightly away from me and reached toward a drawer in his desk. My .357 was out of the holster and laid against his temple before he had a chance to close his fingers on the drawer pull.

He held his hands up “I just wanted to get the neosporin out of that drawer there” he gestured slightly with his head. I opened the drawer for him and saw that it did indeed have a tube of neosporin along with a compact .380 semi auto located just deep enough inside the drawer that most people would have missed seeing it from the other side of the desk.

I took possession of the little handgun and, wrapping my hand around the grip as I slammed my fist into Dwyer’s face twice in rapid succession. I had opened a small cut on the bridge of his nose and my hand was on fire from the impacts.

“If you have any ice in the other drawer, you just leave it there unless you want me to send you off to meet your gods.” Dwyer nodded and took a tissue from the box on his desk and placed it against the cut on his nose.

The voice in my head was insistent that I kill him, but I knew I couldn’t do that and hope to walk out of here alive. I took a moment to master my emotion and gave Starke a chance to chime in. “So why have we been killing the Feds if we’re on the same side?”

“The Governor considers it an ‘acceptable loss’. Plus there just isn’t a way to get everyone in the comm loop on this. We can’t exactly fake a battle!” Dwyer’s face had taken on a deep purple hue. I guess being made to answer to an NCO is a blood pressure trigger for some people.

I waved Starke back before he could say anything else. “So you sent me out to meet with the militia in the hopes that, what? They’d agree to your little plan and when they showed up you’d just slaughter them?”

Dwyer laughed. “Not entirely. We have a use for the so called Patriot’s but it’s a plan that’s already happened you see. We’ll be sending a patrol along shortly to pick up the survivors.”

“You total piece of shit. I was your bird dog?”

Dwyer regarded me calmly “In a sense. We knew where they were, but not what buildings they were using and it’d be wasteful to destroy the whole town, so we just added a little something to your Jeep.” Dwyer looked like the cat that ate the canary, his smile was wide “their headquarters probably went up in flames moments after you left.” He shrugged and smiled so broadly I thought his head might split open “I mean, I’m no pilot but I’m pretty sure the guns on an A-10 have incendiary rounds, right?”

A slight wisp of smoke wafted out the muzzle of my revolver before I had a chance to remind myself that killing Dwyer would likely mean a full on shooting-war to get clear of the camp. The room stank of gunpowder and quickly of urine and feces as Dwyer’s bowels let loose.

I swung to the door seconds before it flew open, two guards with M-16’s appearing there looking confused. Their confusion was short lived as they saw Dwyer’s lifeless body sitting behind his desk.

I pointed the revolver at the guard nearest me and fired before he had a chance to swing his muzzle toward me. The second guard wasn’t as slow in aiming, but had been about to order me to drop my weapon before I shot his companion. I dropped him with another round, his mouth still working wordlessly as he fell.

Starke reached for his gun then stopped holding up one hand “I’m on your side here, okay? But we have got to get this shit under control now. Just let me handle it and don’t shoot anyone unless you have absolutely have to.”

I nodded and thought if I made it through this, he and I were going to need to have a talk about my definition of ‘absolute’.  Starke took up his sidearm and reinserted the magazine, pausing for a second to grab the loose round from the floor and inserting it directly into the barrel.

“Okay, come on. We have to get to comms riki-tik.” Starake turned and left the room stepping over the bodies, not glancing back to see if I was following him. In the maze of CONEX boxes and regular semi-trailers there stood a small U-Haul style truck with several confused looking guards around it. They’d heard the gunfire, but no one knew where it was coming from or what they should do about it, so they kept their posts, but now in high alert.

One of the guards attempted to challenge Starke, but he stood down as Starke brushed by him saying   “The fuck out of my way before I shoot you in the dick, boy.” The guard and his compatriots chuckled nervously as we rushed the truck.

Starke raised the door of the truck and stepped inside walking immediately over to a gray phone and snatching it off its cradle before anyone inside had a chance to object.

“All civilian section leaders and all NCO E-5’s and above report to command immediately.”

The inhabitants of the commo truck began to ask questions, but Starke shook his head and held up a silencing hand “Command has issued a change of orders. Your squad leader will be by in a little while to explain.”

Starke looked at me and let out a pensive breath. “Let’s go. You have a meeting to lead” and was out of the truck before I had a chance to respond.

I stood there for a moment wondering if it was too late for me to sneak out of camp. Yeah, probably was.

Before I could formulate anything resembling a plan small arms fire erupted around the camp. I turned back to one of the comms techs and told him “if there’s a general order to get everyone moving, issue it now. After that, I expect everyone in here to get suited up and get out there ready to build a wall of lead,brass and flesh.” I paused for a moment the comms tech was a slightly pasty faced and overweight kid who probably spent most of his time playing Modern Warfare instead of learning how to operate a rilfe. To the blank stare I said “How read?”

The kid jumped up out of his seat and pressed a button before responding “Sir, yes sir!” I muttered something about being called ‘sir’ under my breath and exited the trailer, the sound of small arms fire still intermittently filling my ears.

Chapter 36 -Belt Fed Revolution

It was the worst of injustices. The buckshot had not only taken my windows, but my sound system. I could really go for some Judas Priest right now. Motherfuckers.

I was approaching the turn off to the MVDF when I saw the top of the ramps had been blocked off.  Trucks had been rolled into place and their tires flattened to make them almost immovable. Awesome. Looked like I was hoofing it. I slung my rifle and almost hit the pavement as I got out of the Jeep.

My knee buckled under my weight causing me to flail wildly to try to keep my balance. I managed to stand up by grabbing onto the mirror to take some pressure off my knee. I stood there for several minutes wincing and cursing, waiting for the pain to abate.

I hobbled off to the roadside and sat for several minutes flexing the muscles in my leg, hoping that I’d be able to get underway. I tried several times to walk, but with each step I’d nearly lose my balance as my knee refused to cooperate. I ended up taking the sling off my rifle so I could turn the bipod 180 degrees, locking the legs back toward the stock. This wasn’t exactly the most ergonomically pleasing arrangement, but it made a decent enough cane to help me make it past the trucks at the head of the off ramp.

After clearing the end of the truck I saw something that struck me as surreal. A  large oak pedestal table sat about fifty yards away from the off ramp , complete with chairs. I scanned the area as best I could and noted nothing else that struck me as odd.

I approached the table after a good deal of time passed, hobbling as quickly as it was possible and saw on top of the table a yellow legal pad inscribed with details about myself and my vehicle written on it. I pulled out one of the chairs and sat down, placing my rifle on the table.

I read through the information several times, though there was nothing unusual to be noted about how I was described. Subject is white, approximately 210 lbs, 6’2″ , blonde hair, blue eyes and will likely be sporting a long bushy beard. Expect subject to be driving a Jeep (possibly a Cherokee) or other vehicle recognizable as a technical or specifically well suited to off-road travel (like a Toyota PickUp)–  I scoffed. A Toyota? Not bloody likely!– A side note in a different had been scribbled in the margin. I smiled as I read it he likes revolvers! 

I continued to flip through the legal pad and came across a couple of similar references to other individuals, though these struck me more as the ‘operator’ type of individual by description. Apparently I wasn’t the only bait floating around on this little stretch of the Shit River.

I noted all the descriptions had names at the top of the page then immediately next to it a code name. Great stuff; Snake-eyes, Ace,Wolverine and one called Nightcap. At least they weren’t all comic-book characters. I scratched out my own name and wrote next in its place ‘The Gentleman Caller’. I scratched that out as it was too long a code name and replaced it with ‘Heathen’.

My knee was feeling a little better and I was considering getting underway again when movement caught my attention. I flipped open the  lens covers  and pointed the rifle in the direction of the movement. I took me only a second to find him, a gangly young kid wearing an Army dress uniform which he was buttoning up hurriedly. I maintained my sight picture on him as he turned and appeared to be searching the grass he’d just been in when I saw more movement. I chuckled and shut my lens caps as I saw the kid help a young woman to her feet and get squared away, brushing grass and debris off her back.

My welcoming committee had apparently sneaked off for a little afternoon delight. Hel, I couldn’t blame them: it’s not like there was a ton else to do. Part of me thought I should report the kid for quitting his post without being properly relieved, but I reminded myself I wasn’t part of their military for a reason.

The young couple was saying their goodbyes and taking their time about it. I gave a quick sharp whistle and both heads jerked around to see me sitting at the table. I gave them both a polite little wave and did my best to remain expressionless as the kid hoofed it over to the table, his paramour melting into the scenery, no doubt with a reddened face.

I watched him approach. He had the standard issue side arm and nothing more. Dwyer must have figured they had this place on lock to leave just this poorly armed kid out here. I looked around the area again. Plenty of good hides around here, but if there was a sniper hanging out somewhere he was well concealed and smart enough not to give himself away.

The kid made it to the table and snapped off a hurried salute. “Sorry, sir!”

I laughed “Knock that shit off and straighten your gig line.”

His face went beet red as he bent over to examine his gig line and give his zipper a tug. When he was squared away he looked at the legal pad in front of him and flipped through a couple of pages. I helped him out by setting one of my revolvers on the table and giving him a patient look.

“You’re Finn,sir?” the kid smiled and sat down.

“Minus the sir.” I nodded.

“You weren’t expected back so quickly. I have orders to have you escorted back to the camp. . . without delay.” He smiled sheepishly at me.

“Relax kid, I’m not here to break balls.” I looked over my shoulder “Any chance you can get that moved?” I said indicating the truck blocking my Jeep.

“No, sir. I have an alternate means of transportation though, just wait one while I call it in.” At that he produced a cell phone and hit one button and waited.  He sat the phone down and looked at me “transport will be here in a couple.”

A couple of minutes passed and the kid did his best to make small talk, all of which I ignored. I heard a sound that I first took for a chainsaw motor, but realized it must be a motorcycle as it got closer. I saw the bike, it’s headlight taped WWII style to reduce its signature. Sat on top was Starke, grinning as he approached the table.

Starke didn’t bother with a salute, just gave me ‘the nod’ and asked “You ready?”

“Only if you intend to walk back to base.”

He frowned slightly “Whaddya–”

I cut him off. “I don’t ride bitch. Give me the bike and hoof it back to your camp or go get a car. Your choice. I’ll be right here, waiting.”

I heard him mutter ‘asshole’ as he got off the bike. “Can you ride one of these things?”

I nodded “Since you were pulling on your pecker like you were the first one to ever discover the thing.”

Starke rolled his eyes. “Fine. You drive, I’ll ride bitch.”

“I feel anything poke me in the back and I am going to leave you on the side of the road with a tension pneumo, you read me?”

“Jackass!” he said as I mounted the little bike and kicked it to life.

Starke got on the bike behind me . I felt him give my shoulder a quick thump and I dropped it into gear and headed off to the camp.

It had only been a couple of days and I was already tired of playing messenger boy. I made my plan to get out of the camp tonight, even if I had to cut throats to do it.

Starke tried to say something else but I gunned the little two-stroke motor and drowned him out.

Chapter 35 -Belt Fed Revolution

This was exactly what I wanted at this point in my life. And during the end of the world to boot. I wanted to be caught up in drama and games, especially when the loss of my life would be the end result.

No, wait. No, I wanted the opposite of that! That’s right, I remember now.

I had listened to Mr Leader or rather General  Leader and decided that I had no interest in who was right or wrong or who thought they had the best interest of the state at heart. I was content to let these lunatics slug it out between themselves and let the looters sort it out as they picked through the wreckage at the end.

“I’m going to do you a favor, Finn.” Mr Leader droned as he fiddled around with his pipe “I’m going to clue you into the big push, so when you’re talking to your friends over there in injun country, you have a semblance of a clue.”

“You know, actually, I don’t need to know–”

General Leader waved my objection aside “It’s all about Lansing. Detroit has been a statewide loss leader since before the turn of the century. There are manufacturing concerns there we’ll want to open when we start to rebuild, but for the most part we consider those locations to be hardened–more or less immune –to attacks from citizens. Lansing though,  is where FedGov is setting up their defenses. Lansing is where they’ve massed a good deal of their troop strength, but more importantly their leadership and the head of their logistics and supply ops are contained within the city limits.”

General Leader stopped and eyed me curiously for a moment. I couldn’t remember having fallen asleep, but from the way he was eyeballing me, I figured I must have been snoring. I hoped to get out of this soon, so I prompted him with “Uh huh?”

The General nodded and continued “The MVDF wants to get in there to push out FedGov, but not to oust them, just assert that they are in control of the state. The PLM on the other hand wants them out period; once that’s accomplished, Michigan is going to cut ties and declare itself an independent republic with a constitution based on the founders work that spells things out in plain language.”

“Uh huh. And you’re just the person to lead the Sovereign Republic of Michigan into a bright and glorious future?”

The General, his finger templed at his lips, smiled and shrugged expansively. “At least until the state gets back on its feet.”

“Mm hmm. Well, you can run your government, your state and your war without me, thanks. I’ll be your message boy, but that’s it. I made a deal with the MVDF. I do this thing for them and I walk. I’m offering you the same thing; no more, no less.”

He regarded me for a moment then smiled and leaned his chair forward so it rested on two legs “You’re not in a position to be dictating terms. You will do as you’re told or you will regret it.”

I leaned forward in my own chair until we were close enough that our noses nearly touched. “Actually, I’m in a perfect position to set terms. You can keep me here as a prisoner wasting manpower to guard me and resources to keep me alive or you can kill me. Either way your mission dies on the board.”

General Leader stayed face to face with me, the stench of pipe smoke radiating up to me “Or option three, we torture you until you feel like cooperating.”

I laughed in his face. “You have time for that? And do you really want to entrust someone you’ve tortured to carry your interests forward after that?” I shook my head and leaned back. “No. I’ll do my part and then I’m out. Take it or leave it.”

I was so good at making friends and influencing people. I thought maybe I could write a book about it, but like taking prisoners writing just wasn’t something I wanted to do.

General Leader considered this for a while. Finally he stood and made a gesture to one of his lackeys who disappeared outside, opening one of the large service bay doors. Moments later I heard a familiar sound as my Jeep was brought into the service bay.

The lackey handed me the keys with a sadistic grin. “Sorry ’bout yer windows.” was all he said.

The front windshield of the Jeep was intact but that’s pretty much where it ended. The buckshot had eaten up parts of the door panels and all the windows on the driver’s side.

This was going to seriously effect my trade in value. I opened the door and got in, my revolvers and Ka-bar were on the passenger’s seat and my rifle was in the back. I put the keys in the ignition and the Jeep turned over without complaint.

The General appeared at the driver’s side door and leaned in. “You’re right in one respect. I can’t make you do what needs done and expect it not to rear up and bite me on the ass. I can tell you you really need to think about the future, your own and that of the state. Think about what role you want to play in that future. You can either get with the winning team and help us rebuild, or you can be part of the trash and vermin that we end up dealing with.”

I shifted into reverse and looked into the rear view mirror. I could see the big Ford dually sitting outside. I looked back to the General. “Thanks for the advice, comrade. I’m sure we’ll all do what we can to help the Party obtain its goals and drive the unbelievers into the ground beneath our heels.”

With that I let out on the clutch, the Jeep whining loudly as I backed it up, and aimed for the Ford. I hit the gas a little and slammed into the front of the grille crushing the skull and its glowing eyes. The ersatz owner of the truck ran outside in time to see me back and slam into the front of his ruined ride a second time.

He stood there gape mouthed as I put the Jeep into first and rolled up next to him. I gave him a wink and stuck my hand out forming my fingers into a gun and mimicked shooting him.

“Be seein’ ya.” I said as I pulled away.

I looked up in time to see the rear of the pick up truck I had destroyed.  The erect nipples on the naked lady mudflaps would have glowed red with little LED’s just like the skull. I gave a shake of my head and accelerated toward the highway.

Chapter 28 -Belt Fed Revolution

Starke and Guererra were walking alongside the APC as we continued our crawl up to the the MRAP’s. Saying they had been in a fight was putting it lightly. The leading MRAP had almost completely burned down and was riddled with holes from something pretty large. The Second MRAP actually looked largely intact save for flat tires and several holes in the front leading to the drivers area. There was a large spray of red on the windows.

I pried my eyes away from the abandoned vehicles just in time to see the three men outside fade like ghosts into the surrounding area. I swung the PKT in a wide arc expecting trouble.

I had to risk it. “Tool? What’s going on here?” O’Toole wasn’t talking to me or hadn’t heard me. The engine suddenly cut off leaving only the remembrance of the sound ringing in my ears.  I felt a tapping on my foot and looked down quickly into the interior of the APC where Tool was standing with a not-at-all-regulation-issue shotgun that I think was called a street sweeper. Tool held a finger to his lips and pointed to the rear of the vehicle.

I craned my neck around to see what he was pointing at but saw nothing. “John! Get up to the driver’s seat and get us ready to get the fuck out of here!”  I hated whispering; I was no good at it.

I heard John below stepping over the vehicle’s cargo as he settled himself into the seat. “Can you drive this thing?” several moments passed.

“I think so.”

I calmed my breathing and forced myself to focus out. Nothing had actually happened and I was starting to get tunnel-vision. There was a light breeze blowing the high grasses around on the side of the road. I kept the PKT moving, my eyes looking past the sides of the barrel for any hint of movement. I had completed another sweep when I caught a flash out of the corner of my eye. I say flash because I have no other way to describe it: there was movement in the grass that was out of sync with the breeze. I had only a vague idea of where the three scouts had gone and a sudden icy feeling creeping down to grab hold of my testicles and give them a squeeze.

My boys had never lied to me before. “CONTACT LEFT!” I shouted and swung the PKT to where I had seen the odd movement and let off a measured burst. I put several such bursts into the area moving left and right of where I’d seen the movement. Nothing happened for several seconds and I was beginning to feel like I’d called for my mommy because the monster in my closet was threatening to break free.

I had almost entirely convinced myself that I’d just  been spooked when I saw the movement again. A man-shape popped up out of the high grasses with a tube pointed my way. I sent a controlled burst his way, the Russian-surplus ammunition ripping him in half. Before he had hit the ground, I saw more man-shapes popping up, these with AR’s in the M4 configuration.

I didn’t hesitate. As soon as I had a general bearing I began to fire in three round bursts, counting it off in my head. As I searched out targets I could hear intermittent fire from behind me. I saw something large and black being rising up from the same position as the man-shape with the rocket launcher and had a second to register the muzzle flashes before I felt the impacts in the APC’s hull.

I very bravely grabbed the pistol grip of the PKT while I crouched inside the APC and laid down some suppressing fire.I watched as the end of the belt zipped past my face and paused long enough to grab another belt and hurriedly attach the links to the other end. There was an explosion outside and a brief lull in the firing. I risked a look outside and saw a column of smoke rising up from the ground. I guessed this was the source of the explosion and was hoping that was a win for our side.

I caught fleeting glances of more man-shapes bolting for the treeline and I opened fire on them. It may not have been what some people think of as honorable, but I’d rather not give these people a second chance to kill me. I saw several of them fall under the barrage and let it go at that. I could have sent more rounds into the trees but I had this thing about using ammo unnecessarily.

Time passed very slowly for me. After some time I began to see more movement in the area I’d been putting rounds on and I saw movement toward those areas followed by strangled screams and shortly after, silence.

Man-shapes in gray began to emerge from the grass. Patrell and Guererra from the north, Starke from the west and O’Toole from the east. Starke smiled up at me “Good work, devil-dog.”

I smiled back. “Everyone okay?”

Patrell did a quick scan of his mates “Looks like we got one casualty.”

I looked at the four men all of whom appeared to be more or less intact. The strained looks on their faces told me the rest. I wiggled back inside of the APC.

****

There was little more than a shredded torso where John had sat. The interior behind him was sprayed with so much blood it looked like a bad horror movie. Patrell helped me carry him out and lay him on the side of the road.

“Why the hell was he sitting up there in the first place?” O ‘Toole. He seemed more agitated than usual.

“I told him to take your place when you bailed out.” I shrugged.

“Well who the fuck told you to do that?! You’re not in charge here!!!”

I clamped down on my response and looked at Starke. This was his crew, he had to make things right with them. After a few moments of uncomfortable silence it was clear Starke wasn’t going to jump in.

“I don’t know you people, okay? I’m an expeditionary unit of one, got it?  You all have some time together and that’s just tits, but you don’t clue in the new guy the fuck do you expect?”

Starke finally decided to weigh in. “It’s not Finn’s fault, it’s mine. I should’ve made it clear we suspected it was an ambush.” Starke paused to refresh his dip “The Feds have been known to leave some of their motor-pool specials out and pop a few caps in them to make it look like they fell into an ambush. They don’t have the parts to repair something and it makes perfect bait. Win-win.”

Tool tried to glare at me but I met his eyes and he looked away. Too late. I saw the fear.

“Anyone have an e tool?” I asked looking around for a place to dig.

“No time. If this thing starts up we gotta roll. Everyone check bodies for ammo and intel. Tool, check out the MRAP’s, see if there’s anything usable left.” Starke crooked his finger in my direction “You’re with me.”

I fell in behind Starke and we walked off into the high grass.

“I’ve only been in charge for about a month.” Starke said this without ever looking back. “I was 0311. The biggest decision I made was what weapon to use when we were going house to house, you know?” We had stumbled across a couple of bodies and Starke began searching their belongings for anything of use.

I stayed quiet and helped with the search. Starke for some reason seemed to regard me as an equal and clearly he needed to get some things off his chest. “I got thrown into this. I was hoping to go to school or at the very least try to go mustang and get commissioned. Maybe then I’d be better suited to lead, but –man–” he shook his head and looked at me imploringly “I’m lost, bro.”

I winced at being called bro. This man–this kid–was heading for a burnout. I couldn’t have that, not now, not if the regular Army was about to be crawling up our asses.

I tried my best to channel a Drill Instructor. Social Work fluffiness wasn’t going to help here. “Sarn’t I suggest you take a second to yourself if you need to pass some eye water. Go ahead, son, get it all out. I’ll wait. Soon as that weakness gets outta you, you better get yourself unfucked in a hurry. You pull real hard until you hear a pop and when you got yer head outta yer ass, you are going to lead these men and get the fuck out of this shit-hole in a godsdamn hurry, you read me?” I almost laughed at my cliched pep talk and wondered why Drill Instructors always sound southern to me.

Starke looked slightly taken aback. I guess it had been a while since he’d heard things laid out like that. “C’mon son, rub some ooh-rah on that axe wound and lets get moving.”

Starke laughed and with that seemed to be back to the cool, confident and dangerous individual I’d met earlier. We hoofed it over to the treeline careful to keep an eye out for any stragglers or rear guard from the ‘rabbits’ we just ran off.

We had a bit of luck and found some equipment, mostly rucks filled spare uniforms and energy bars. Starke collected weapons and magazines as he went stuffing them into one of the empty rucks he had claimed.

Eventually we circled around to the small crater where the ruins of a pedestal mount for a gun had been. The gun itself was toast, the barrel bent at a 30 degree angle and the receiver seemed to be less than half there.

“The fuck?” I asked of no one in particular.

“Satchel charge. Fuckin’ cabrón’s keep trying this shit. Hopefully they won’t figure out that guerrilla warfare is the new black.” Guererra revealed sharp teeth in his predators smile.

Starke seemed satisfied with his spoils. “All right. Everybody ruck up and let’s hope we don’t have to hump it out of here on foot.”

We made our way back to the roadside and I looked at John’s remains. I wouldn’t go so far as to say we were friends, but he had shed blood with me and for me and I owed him something for that. I couldn’t just leave him to rot on the side of the road.

“Wait one.” Everyone but Tool stopped where they were and turned toward me. I picked John’s body up and carried it over to the second MRAP opening the door and sliding him behind the wheel.

I looked back at the faces looking at me. “Maybe when they come along they’ll think he’s one of theirs and give him a proper burial.”

Three heads nodded in unison. I heard Patrell mutter condolences as I went to get into the APC. Starke had been keeping quiet the whole time. Part of him looked as though he wanted to give up.  Must have been the civilian part. The Marine said “Mount up. There’ll be time for payback down the road. Dunno about you all, but I’m gonna get me some!”

This was greeted with some ‘hell yeah’s’ and a few expletives directed toward those that had caused this. I said nothing as I took a seat and smiled as the APC roared to life. I used  the remnants of John’s ghillie suit for a pillow and drifted off to sleep as we  started to move out.

Chapter 27 -Belt Fed Revolution

I settled into the back of the APC  which had a lot less room than one would have imagined. Presently the back was filled with MRE’s and several boxes of ammunition for the vehicles gun.

Starke had assigned Tool to be the driver which I appreciated as it saved me from having to make small talk with the man. Starke sat down next to me with several papers in hand along with a ruler and a lensatic compass. I looked around at the interior of the APC and was given pause when I realized the lettering inside was in Cyrillic.

“The Hel is this thing?” I said out loud, but mostly to myself.

Starke looked up from his papers “BTR-80. We picked it up at an Army-Navy surplus store.” Starke folded his papers over the ruler and sat back for a moment. “The owner had this thing sitting outside for a few years. We were kind of surprised it started up.” He gestured to the boxes on the floor “That there’s for the little gun up top. We couldn’t find anything to feed the big gun.” at this he gave me a wink “So you see any thirty millimeter shells lying around you let me know.”

“Will do. The other armament didn’t look like a .50 cal.” I stated. I could make out the marking on the wooden cases of 7.62 once more but still I had no idea about the rest of it. Clearly I needed to learn Russian.

Starke nodded “PKT in 7.62x54r. Not much use against armor, but it’ll send the rabbits running.” Starke grabbed one of the wooden ammo cases and handed it to me. “You get to feeling useful sir, you help yourself to one of these boxes and check the belt links. We got caught in a pretty bad firefight outside of Paw Paw. The damn links wouldn’t feed through so we had to get out and personally hand them a can of whoop-ass.”

“Things are bad all over then?”

He nodded “We’ve been fighting the Feds pretty heavy on this side, but it’s nowhere near as bad as Lansing and Detroit.”

I paused for a brief second “The Feds? As in the Federal Government? Like regular Army?”

Starke laid his papers aside and took out a can of dip “Chew.” he said as he handed the container over to me. The last time I had put tobacco in my mouth I had been physically intact and too young to buy beer, but I took the offering gratefully. Starke took a dip himself and leaned back against the wall of the APC “You’re a Michigan boy, right?”

I nodded and Starke eyed me carefully. I was suddenly aware that there was the possibility of this ride coming to an immediate and bloody end.

“The MVDF got called up to help maintain order when the president placed Michigan under martial law.  The militia boys didn’t care too much for that idea and they made it plain.” He chuckled “Turns out those fellas had been buying and importing things a lot more dangerous than full auto AR’s and AK’s.” Starke closed his eyes for a second. I had no doubt he’d probably fallen asleep lulled by the soft growl of the BTR-80’s engine. His eyes snapped open “Yeah, so anyway, the militia’s got hold of some RPG’s, even got some homemade ones as I heard it, and some demilled anti-tank cannons from World War II. Give a man a lathe and he’ll fight you to the death.” Another wink.

“President’s decree of Martial Law didn’t set too well with the governor either it turns out. Especially when some Army weenie showed up and kicked the governor out of his office.” I had to raise an eyebrow at that. I hadn’t heard about a declaration of martial law, but given what I’d heard from others it wasn’t too surprising.

“So anyway, the governor gets good and pissed and starts contacting MVDF commanders secretly. The ones I guess he figured he could trust at least and started giving them orders to reach out to suspected militia leaders about joining forces.” he shrugged as if it were a given “turns out a lot of the militia boys were more than happy to join up and kick the Feds out.”

At this point Guererra poked his head in “Not just the militia’s either.I was regular Army, just home on leave when I got the call. I was in the MVDF before I joined the Army. Figured my oath was sworn to them first.”

Starke nodded “A lot of us feel that way. It’s one thing to ask for the National Guard to come in  and patrol the streets. something entirely different to start dropping ordinance on civilian targets.” The APC jerked to a halt. Starke jumped up front to where Tool sat. “Sitrep?”

Tool scanned the road “Patrell left a marker.”

Starke peered out the window then turned to look back at me “Think you can run that PKT?”

“A Russian gun? I would think a blind monkey could run it.”

Starke laughed “Yep. Pretty much.” He removed the magazine from his AR and checked it before putting it back in. Without a word Guererra appeared AR in hand and the two exited the vehicle.

I stood up as best I could and made my forward to the PKT and poked my head out into the brisk air. The smell of smoke was heavy on the wind. I couldn’t identify it at first but I knew it wasn’t wood smoke. I felt a little less than sure about my competency and wished there were a blind monkey nearby to give me a quick run down of the PKT.

“John, look in my ruck. There should be a small case in there with some glasses in it. Grab those then stand by with a couple of those belts just in case.” I was greeted by silence. It went on for a few beats before I called out “John? You with me?”

“Finn…um, I don’t see your ruck.”

“What?! Oh, shit…” John had done as I asked him and hidden my pack. For some reason I assumed the delay in him coming out after I called him was due to him retrieving my ruck. I thought for several moments but I didn’t recall seeing him with it when he came out.

“Shit,shit,shit. Is it back at that house, John?”

More silence. then “Yeah. I think so.”

I didn’t have much choice. I’d have to deal with it later. “Damn it. Okay. You still have your pack?”

He didn’t hesitate as long this time, but the response still wasn’t immediate. “Yes.”

I sighed. “Okay, hand me all the .500 ammo you’ve got. If you’re carrying any rounds for the rifle, separate those and keep them somewhere we can reach them in a hurry.”

John handed me more rounds than I could count and I stuffed them in every available pocket I had. I told John to make sure the shotgun was loaded and to be ready to jump out if I gave the word.

We waited for several minutes before Starke and Guererra returned. “Looks like the Feds had a pretty serious fight with somebody. There’s a couple of disabled MRAP’s up ahead. We’re going to pull up and see if we can’t scavenge a few things.”

Since we were the FNG’s here I didn’t really want to press our luck, but I figured this diversion was as close as I might get. “Sarn’t?” Starke looked at me “Sarn’t I left my ruck back at that house you picked us up at. You think…”

I didn’t get to finish my question. Starke started laughing “It’s gone, man. We’re crawling out of here for a reason. Feds aren’t far behind us. They’ve been trying to intercept us for a while but we’ve managed to evade,” He smiled wickedly “or at least slow them up. Sorry. Maybe you can get re-geared at our base.”

I didn’t fight it. Shit happens, right? I looked down and saw Sweet Louise hanging from her accustomed spot. I had several hundred rounds of ammo for both revolvers since I’d thought far enough ahead to split the ammo between John and myself. I was down to very little now, my guns, Sweet Louise and my improvised ghillie suit. An old saying from my time in the corps came back to me: Adapt, Improvise, Overcome.

“All right, sarn’t.’ It was all that needed to be said.

Starke nodded and called out “mount up!’ and we were on our way.

Chapter 24 -Belt Fed Revolution

I couldn’t remember having had this much fun in ages. Certainly not since gas became crazy expensive. Only the truly wealthy drove for pleasure now, but here I was, ripping through this field, the 33 inch tires on my Cherokee tearing up the ground flinging mud helter skelter. The young woman on the seat next to me was certainly enjoying this. She cried out “Look!” and pointed through the windshield to a pair of bobcats we had disturbed.

I tried to turn the Jeep toward the bobcats but the snow was everywhere and I wasn’t getting a lot of traction. I got us pointed in the right direction and hammered the gas pedal. It was too dark to see properly so I flipped on all of the off-road lights turning the Jeep and the area surrounding it into a small pale blue sun. Motörheads “Ace of Spades” was blaring away on the radio in an infinite loop.

From the passenger’s seat area I heard the sound of a belt buckle unlatch as she leaned over and kissed me on the neck. The song on the radio seemed to get louder in anticipation.

I woke up to near total darkness, my interior voice laughing and mocking at the same time.

Oh sure, it’s not because there’s a chick in your Jeep. That’s all normal. Uh huh. You know it’s not real because there’s a radio. Even your dreams are pathetic.”

I couldn’t really deny what the voice said. My dreams were kind of pathetic, but those were old world dreams. As meaningless now as dreams of dragons.

 There was a candle lantern near my bed, but my eyes were well accustomed to the gloom so I didn’t bother with the light.

I could see a familiar lump at the end of the bed. My ruck had been placed there with my boots lined up next to it. Someone had been busy while I was asleep. My BDU style pants were placed on top of my ruck and neatly folded along with my shirt. They even smelled clean.

I got dressed silently in the dark and sat down to slip my Cadillac’s on. For the first time in a while I  felt pretty decent. My back wasn’t bothering me, my knee hadn’t had much of a chance to complain yet and if my pants were any indication I had even lost a few more pounds. This end of the world stuff wasn’t too bad then.

I tried to sling my ruck, but as I grabbed one of the straps it became immediately apparent that its weight had almost tripled. I thought Stephen might have crawled in there, but chided myself and mumbled into the darkness “He’s far too tall”.

I reached into the pack and pulled out something anyone familiar with military surplus could identify immediately. A spam can. I couldn’t see what caliber it was, but given the guns I carrying I was pretty well assured I didn’t have anything that could chamber the contents of the spam can. I reached into one of the pouches on the back of my ruck and grabbed my little wind up flashlight.

I pressed the button and was rewarded with a watery light from the three LED’s. I couldn’t read the language, but  important stuff was plain. 7.62 something. Mosin? Kalashnikov? I shrugged and pulled the spam can out and laid it on the bed. There were two more in my ruck and I removed those also.

I wasn’t hearing sounds in the house so I assumed everyone else was still asleep. I made my way outside so I could get a fix on the sun and figure out what time it was. I opened the front door and saw Stephen sitting in a plastic Adirondack chair. His head moved slightly at the sounds I made and I knew that he was awake.

Propped up next to him on the arm of the chair was what I took at first blush for some AK variant, but it didn’t look quite right. The stock and foregrip were aftermarket polymer, but the length of the foregrip and barrel gave it away. A Romanian PSL. I had always admired these rifles and this one looked to be in fine condition.

“G’morning.”

“Morning, Stephen. Nice stick you have there.”

He smiled appreciatively. “There’s coffee. I made it the way my dad showed me, but I don’t know if it’s any good.” He gestured toward a blue metal carafe on a table with some coffee cups.

I said my thanks and grabbed up the carafe. It was still hot and I didn’t think it would be polite for me to use it as a coffee cup, so I settled for one of the small ceramic mugs and took a seat.

“Got some people comin’.” Stephen said and pointed toward a small two lane track that was probably a lot of fun on a snowmobile. I leapt to my feet and went inside, grabbing my .243 and hoped the lighted reticle scope still had some power.

I ran out and dropped down to one knee behind some concealing junk in the yard. “Um. . .  ” Stephen began “I invited them.” I looked back at him. Damn kid. He had this cool detachment thing down far better than I did. I looked through my scope anyway and saw people shapes at about 1500 yards.

Stephen held the PSL out to me. “Thought I might offer you a trade. My dad’s PSL for that.” He pointed at the rifle I held. I handed over the .243 to Stephen so I could examine the PSL. I pulled back the bolt and to my surprise a live round leapt out of the chamber. I grabbed it before it could hit the ground and examined it. Oh yeah. I was smiling inside, holding this familiar cartridge, running my finger around the odd rim that was part of its designation. 7.62x54r .

“Well as much as I appreciate the offer, Stephen, I’m kind of trying to travel light.” I winked at him before I realized he probably couldn’t see the expression in the faint light of dawn. “I can’t hump all that ammo around, unless you want to throw in a pack mule.”

He looked a bit disappointed, but handed me back my rifle without protest. “So who’s coming?”

“Couple of the neighbors. I went out last night and talked to ’em while you were sleepin’.” Stephen pulled the magazine from the PSL and reinserted the round I had ejected. “Some of ’em are in pretty bad shape already, so they were happy to come. Johnson’s tried to follow me right then, but I told ’em to wait an’ come  later.”

I cradled my rifle in my arms and sat down on a tired looking deck chair to drink my coffee and wait for the guests to show up.

****

Before Stephen’s neighbors began to arrive I went in the house and woke John. I wasn’t expecting trouble, but I’d rather be on my feet to meet it if it came our way. John was definitely not a morning person. I had to wake him two more times before I left him to stumble through getting dressed.

Stephen was talking to an older couple when I stepped through the door. Conversation stopped and I found all eyes on me, or more likely on the rig I was wearing and the gun I had slung over my shoulder.

The stragglers were coming in at this point so I waited for them to arrive and enjoyed another cup of coffee. Stephen was willing to give way too much for my rifle. I’d probably have traded him for a pound of coffee, but I wasn’t going to mention that.

Only a couple of them carried weapons. I had to wonder at that. Michigan wasn’t exactly known as a gun-shy state, but the few decent people I had seen lately with the exception of Stephen and his clan, weren’t exactly loaded for bear.

When everyone, including John was present Stephen began to hold a meeting. I stood up and introduced myself.

“Morning folks. I’m Finn” I smiled and nodded at the few that made eye contact “This is John.” John still grouchy stepped forward and offered everyone a sullen wave before collapsing onto one of the chairs.

“What’s yer part in this?” One of the neighbors, asked an elderly man with forest of stubble covering his face.

“Nothing, honestly. I helped Stephen out with a problem he had and he’s given us room and board for a couple of nights.” I waited for a further challenge, but the old man seemed satisfied.

The rest of the meeting was all Stephen. He made it clear to those assembled that John and I were temporary guests and we would be leaving soon. I offered what help I could as they discussed logistics and started making plans. More coffee was prepared and I helped myself. I figured it was a fair trade for the work I had done.

I made it around 11 am when the meeting broke for lunch. Stephen was a sight. He began working people individually while they ate, doing his best to swing them around to his way of thinking about issues they had argued over.

After lunch was over people wandered around and examined Stephen’s steading. Stephen let them look around but he wasn’t showing all his cards yet. I had seen him call a couple away from the barn and engage them in conversation as a distraction. I didn’t like the predatory looks on some faces but I chalked it up to people hard pressed to survive, seeing things they desperately needed.

I listened in on some conversations while doing my best to look like I was doing anything other than eavesdropping. I heard some talk I didn’t like, but I kept it to myself for now. The meeting resumed eventually as meetings tend to do. I was largely tuned out, watching a hawk circle on a thermal in the afternoon sun.

“Well, no offense Steve” My attention suddenly focused on the discussion “But I don’t think you’re exactly cut out to be our leader! ” I stood up at this point deciding to interject on behalf of my host. Stephen shook his head when he saw me stand, so I merely crossed my arms and stood there.

“This is my farm. You want to live here? Eat my food? Then you follow my rules. Don’t like it? You ain’t gotta stay.” I rubbed my chin and tried to hide a smirk. This kid was setting the standard for being the big boss. “If you don’t want to follow my rules, you’re welcome to go back home, but know this: once you leave, you’re out. I ain’t gonna take you in when you run outta food or can’t get water. We have to work together now, if we’re going to survive.”

The old man who had challenged me earlier spoke up “The boy’s right. Fer what it’s worth I wouldn’ta invited most of you here if it was my place.” He picked one of the troublemakers out “Dave, we all know you and your lady friend like that Metha-amphetamin shit.  What ‘re you bringin’ to the table Here?” My .357  in hand, I wordlessly  shot Dave in the head across the circle of those gathered. He slumped to the ground his head nearly falling into the small firepit we sat around.

There were screams and someone started crying. The old man looked at me gape-mouthed. Stephen just stared at me.

“Consider that express rehabilitation.” I picked a round out of my pocket to replace the one I had just fired. “Trust me. You don’t want or need people like that in your group. If you want to make it through this with half a chance everyone here needs to be healthy and willing to work.” I wasn’t telling Stephen that Ol dead Dave there was one of those I had heard talking about what they could take to sell.

I looked at the woman who had been standing next to Dead Dave and took aim once more. I fired and she flopped to the ground a few feet away, dead, but making a weird low-pitched whining sound with her last breath. I looked each of those still gathered in the eye. “You’re welcome. People say that. Usually after others thank them for the favor they’ve just received?” The old man laughed and spat “He’s a dirty fucker anyway! ” That was close enough to thanks for me.

“You can also consider that a statement on how serious is your situation if you’re in doubt of your hosts word.” I looked around and saw shocked faces still doing their immitation of a goldfish. “My name is Finn Arngeirr Sigurdsson. I killed these people. I’m happy to leave my fingerprints and a DNA sample if that will make you feel better, but trust me–no one is going to come along to punish me for that” I gestured toward the two bodies.

My ears were ringing a bit from the .357 but I heard the old man’s wife ask “What’d he say?” The old man flapped a dismissive hand at her and replied ” He said he’s some sorta Viking.” he looked at the two corpses “he was right about them at least. He did us a favor.”

The old man stood and offered me his hand “Thanks much Mr Viking.”

The old-timer didn’t see me roll my eyes at that as he retook his seat.

Stephen restarted the meeting after my little display and smiled as he asked “Anybody got any questions?” This kid was a natural.