Tag Archives: apocalypse

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 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 49 -Belt Fed Revolution

Sarah came to my quarters that night and did actually look at my wound which was healing well. Sako and Tikka fought with each other over who would get to swarm over her first  when she finished. Sako pulled it out by a nose, literally. Tikka was on his way to flop down on Sarah’s foot when Sako jumped over him  snout-planting into the floor by her feet.

Sarah bent down and rubbed Sako’s head. “I’ve checked you out, now tell me what’s going on and make it quick. I don’t have much time tonight.”

I waved Paige over. “Show her what I gave you.”

Paige hiked up her skirt and slid out the hammer I’d given her. Sarah took the hammer from her and examined it, smacking the head against her palm.

“Okay” she nodded appreciatively “what do we do now?”

I grinned at her. “Had a chance to see any of the camps men tonight?”

Sarah nodded. “I treated three for dehydration, a couple of sprained ankles, various muscle strains and tears.” She stopped speaking for a moment, appearing to think ” One of the guards looked like he fell down a mountain. Broken foot, broken nose, dehydration and a hyper extended elbow.”

“Yeah. It’s going to get a lot worse, too.” I smiled and took the hammer from her. “How many women are in this camp?”

“forty-three  healthy ones, seven in different stages of pregnancy, five including myself too old to be much use for anything. . . ” she paused again looking up at the ceiling “13 girls between the ages of eight and 15.”

I considered that for a minute. “110 men? Not including Michael?”

“Or yourself” she nodded.

“Solid. Can the women get out at night? Or is someone always watching them?”

“We can go to the bathroom,or to the kitchens or if someone sends us on an errand . . . why?”

I laughed and picked up Tikka. I wished I’d watched more spy movies so I could get my evil laugh down.  I discussed the plan in depth with Sarah and she filled in the blank spots I had concerning how the camp worked.

“The next few days I’m going to get started, but I need a meet with Michael first. If anything goes wrong in the meantime or I need to change the plan I’ll send Paige to you with the details. Will that work?”

Sarah nodded, her shoulders showing signs of tension “Paige, if you come to me, you’ll need a good reason beyond your mark. When you’re out in public clutch at your stomach every now and then or fake a fainting spell. Michael and the rest of these bastards will be delighted to think you’re pregnant.”

Paige looked wide eyed at Sarah but nodded, eyes cautiously darting my way.

Sarah held up a calming hand to her “I think if he were going to try that it would have already happened.” Sarah gave Paige a reassuring smile and took the hammer from me to give back to Paige. “Just do as we’ve discussed and let’s  all hope this works.”

****

After Sarah left I laid down on the bed prepared to rest a little before the evening meal was served. Paige had to go and help out with the preparations leaving me alone with my thoughts.

No matter how many times I did the math and tried to factor in my luck I was still coming up short. At best I was outnumbered two to one and had only the possibility of exhaustion and random injuries to act as a force multiplier.

I was going to die.

I closed my eyes and sat back against the wall and pictured my grandfather. He had been a good man. He worked hard, he never let his family go without, and most importantly he loved his grandchildren. I summoned up a picture of his face from long ago and tried to recall his voice. I could only recall a sort of warbling distorted sound I’d heard coming from a tape cassette of him singing.

The memory made me smile but when I opened my eyes I was still faced with the fact that I was going to die. I’d come to peace with the thought of death and hadn’t really been bothered by it even as a child. The only exceptions I had were dying as my grandfather had, riddled with cancer or from old age.

For some reason that thought made me smile even more. How many times had I heard people, even those that counted themselves as men say that they wanted to die peacefully in their beds at the age of 100?

I wished I had a copy of the Hávamál with me, but the words I needed came to mind as though I read from the page.

A coward believes he will ever live 
if he keep him safe from strife: 
but old age leaves him not long in peace 
though spears may spare his life.

Death was what brought me to where I am.  No sense worrying about it now. Before I could follow this train of thought too far Sako and Tikka jumped down off the bed alerting at the door. I removed my Ka-Bar from my boot and stuffed it into my back pocket and opened the door quickly, surprising Donnelly yet again.

“I have some of the things you asked for sir. The rest of it should be here by tomorrow, though we’re having a little trouble getting you a blackboard.” He said holding out a first aid kit, several packages of clotting agent and and small bag to contain everything.

I began stuffing things inside the bag then realized Donnelly was still standing there.

“Yes?”

He smiled and held out one more item “It took some looking but managed to get this for you  myself.”

Wonders never ceased. Donnelly had brought me a fixed power monocular with night vision. It was substantially larger than the one I had lost, but well worth it for the night vision capability. I opened the box and slid the monocular out examining it carefully.

“Well done, Donnelly. No running for you tomorrow.”  I smiled and shut the door in his still smiling face. Of course, no one was going to be doing any running tomorrow, but I’d let him have this little reward.

****

Dinner that night was thankfully quiet. Michael was present only briefly and that to tell us all that he would be away for the next few days handling military concerns. His cryptic statement wasn’t lost on me, but I didn’t have a chance to question him about it.

I gave a note to one of Michael’s guards asking that it be delivered immediately. The guard, one of the stone- faced ones I’d been working with earlier nodded and stuffed the note in his pocket.

I was quietly eating my dinner which consisted mostly of steamed –once upon a time–frozen vegetables and doing my best to eavesdrop on the conversations taking place around me.  As was often the case when I wasn’t perceiving a threat I let my mind wander. It must have been a while because the next bite of food I took was somehow cold.

Several of the men had left the dining area including the man on my left who was suddenly replaced by the bearded, smiling face of Preston. I nodded a greeting to him and dipped a bit of broccoli in a garlic butter sauce and chewed on it contemplatively.

“I hear you were some kind of war hero?” Preston said without any sort of preamble. “You get to go play in the sandbox or ? ” He let it hang there.

“I was in Iraq for a bit.” I said suddenly wary “I don’t think anyone would call what I did heroic by any stretch.”

Preston laughed and put his hand on my shoulder. “Don’t be modest now. Michael’s been telling us your stories. We all wanted to hear them from you, but Michael said you were kind of . . .” he trailed off searching for words “touchy, I suppose. No offense.”

My stories? What had he been telling these people? I thought about telling Preston I hadn’t seen Michael for more than a few minutes since I’d been here, but stopped when I noticed all conversation had ceased and a crowd had gathered behind me.

“That so?” I said picking up another of the mushy vegetables and chewing it slowly.

Preston nodded enthusiastically “He told us about the time you were in Ramadi and about how you cut down all them Iraqi’s working as a sniper.” He smiled at me then “My boy, my youngest son, he was in Fallujah. Got hit by an IED. He lived for a while, they even sent him home” I heard the tone of his voice change and knew this pain was still fresh for the big man “so we at least got to say our goodbyes. . .”

I turned and presented my hand to Preston. “Thank you. Thank you for your son’s and your families sacrifice and please, accept my sincere condolences.”

Preston’s eyes were watering and the dam was about to burst. I stood and took my plate, handing it to one of the women that had served our food. Ramadi? What in the ever living fuck? I hadn’t even heard of Ramadi until years after my time in service. I could count on one hand the number of magazines I’d expended in combat while I was there.

I went back to my quarters pondering the game Michael was playing here. I couldn’t confront him head on about it, but I wanted to know why he was lying to his people. I felt bad for not immediately disabusing the crowd of the notion that I was some hero, some superman-sniper from the movies, but I couldn’t do that just yet. Not until I knew what Michael was about.

Chapter 48 -Belt Fed Revolution

Sako and Tikka decided that if the bed was good enough for me it was good for them too. When Paige woke me just before dawn, both dogs were curled up by my head deep in the kind of sleep that only small animals and rocks know.

“I saw Gene a few minutes ago, he’s probably coming to get you.” She said as she helped me move the sleeping dogs so I could get out of the small cot.

“Gene?”

“Gene Donnelly? I saw him following you around yesterday?” She was still looking out the window, keeping watch as I had asked.

“Don’t do that.” I said as I looked for fresh socks and slipped on my boots.

“Do what?”

“Don’t make something a question when it’s meant to be a statement. Drives me nuts.”

“Sorry. Habit.” She gave me a brief smile though eye contact still wasn’t being made.

“Here,” I said, doing my best to tidy up the bed “get some sleep if you can.” I hurried to finish dressing before Donnelly came back. “Don’t let the dogs push you out of bed. I’m not going to be upset if you make them sleep on the floor.”

Paige smiled as she bent and picked up Tikka who was straining mightily to lick her face. “It’s okay–I like them. I don’t mind sharing.”

I glanced out the window just in time to see Donnelly heading my way. I quickly tucked my new Nagant revolver into my belt and stuffed my Ka-Bar into my boot, securing it hastily with my boot laces. I could hear the foot steps approaching the door as could Sako and Tikka who remained silent though they stared intently heads cocked to the side. I told them they were good dogs and swept the door open before Donnelly decided to barge in.

Donnelly was surprised to see me waiting for him as was evident by the lack of speech and rapidly blinking eyes.

“Sleep in this morning, Donnelly?” I said as I strode past him headed toward the area where the crate of hammers had been put out. I hadn’t exactly memorized the camps layout, but the truck was still parked where it had been the previous night.

Donnelly fell in quickly beside me “Sir? We’re supposed to be at the range this morning?”  Without slowing, I  smacked him with the back of my hand hard enough to sting but not draw blood.

“You did not meet me with a cup of coffee and you have been warned about making statements into questions.” I picked up the pace a little eager to get to the tools. I arrived at the crate of hammers and saw sheets of plywood next to the hammers along with a couple of bags of cement. The heavy equipment still hadn’t arrived and I began to wonder if our PT would be conducted digging trenches.

“Donnelly, where is the rest of the gear for the rifles?” I could see his brain working as he converted whatever he was about to say into a statement.

“A-At the range, sir. Came in a couple of hours ago. The men will be assembled out there by now, waiting for you.”

“First rule of combat, Donnelly: no plan ever survives initial contact. I’m going to hit the head and you are going to go find me some coffee. Everything else can wait.” Donnelly started to sputter, but I didn’t want to hear it. It’s hard to build a reputation as a diva if you take the time to listen to people.

****

I did my best thinking in the bathroom. Some things never change. I had to come up with more delaying tactics that weren’t readily apparent and as I hid out  in the bathroom I came up with something resembling a strategy.

I waited until I heard the sound of footsteps before exiting the head. Donnelly was stood before me sans coffee. I was not happy. I held up a hand before he began to speak.

“I don’t want to hear your excuse. Do you have something to write with?”

Donnelly reached into the pockets of his cargo pants and withdrew a pen and small pad. I took the materials and wrote a note. I tore the sheet off and stuck it to Donnelly’s forehead.

“The note reads ‘I am incapable of following orders’. You will wear this all day or until you return to me with a cup of coffee.” I continued to write on another sheet taking time to carefully consider the items I needed then handed the sheet to him.

“I’ll need these things as well, to conduct training. Take it to Michael and get back to me as soon as you deliver the message.” I handed Donnelly back his things and walked off to the training field.

****

When I arrived men were arranged haphazardly over the training field, standing here and there in groups without any sign of order.  If anyone here had any sort of military training it was not evident in their appearance. This would work for me.

I gave a sharp whistle and heads turned in my direction. I saw two people actually assume attention, but the rest just continued to mill around. I searched my memory wondering if I’d ever seen the movie ‘Patton’ but I couldn’t recall anything other than an actor standing in front of a flag.

One of the men that had come to attention had the good sense to call it out, causing everyone on the field to assume a version of the pose and attempt to form themselves into ranks. It was damned amusing.

“I am Stephen Johanson,” I said pronouncing the first part of the last name as ‘Joe’. “I am going to train in you in the proper operation and manipulation of the M91/30 Mosin-Nagant Main Battle Rifle” I saw plenty of blank stares I was hoping indicated  their level of familiarity with the big rifle.

The crates had been delivered to the field along with the useless scopes. I picked one rifle out of the crate and checked the action feeling a bit of warmth in my chest at the familiar sound and feel of the bolt as it moved.

“When I am through with you, you will be able to shoot these rifles more accurately than any multi-thousand dollar AR platform you ever owned or fantasized about.”

I saw Donnelly goldbricking his way toward me with no coffee evident. These people really did not understand the relationship I had with that bean. I gave a quick shake of my head and resumed speaking to the men.

“However.” I said smiling at them  “Before you even touch a live round of ammunition, we will have PT. You will be starting off with a run of 2 miles, led by our own Mr Donnelly here.”

Donnelly arrived just in time to hear me designate him as the Temporary Master Fitness trainer much to his surprise.

Donnelly handed me a note and bent over taking deep breaths from the exertion of walking a message back and forth.

“You have 30 minutes to run two miles. You will not pass Mr Donnelly at any point during the run: anyone finishing the run ahead of Mr Donnelly will run an extra mile.” I turned and did my best to smile magnanimously at Donnelly. “If Mr Donnelly cannot complete the run in 30 minutes you will all be doing push ups until I get tired.”

I handed the rifle I was holding to Donnelly and clapped him on the shoulder. “Go.” I told him and watched the horror on his face as he tried to figure out how to run carrying the rifle. “Everyone, step up and get a rifle. As soon as you have a rifle, start running!”

These men didn’t know it yet, but no one was going to be completing the run in time regardless. I hadn’t mentioned to anyone that I had no idea how far two miles was, nor had I marked out a course for them to follow. I just wanted to make them as tired as possible.

****

After the last man departed I quick time jogged back to the camp to look for Sarah. When I found her, she was doing an inventory of the medical supplies on hand at sick bay. She gave me the prim smile I had come to expect and continued looking at the bottles and plastic cartons laid out before her.

“Can I borrow you for a minute?”

Sarah looked up at one of the men that was posted outside the sick bay and nodded. We walked away from the guard, hopefully far enough to be out of earshot, but still visible.

“I need you to come by and check my progress later” I said in a voice loud enough it should carry back to the guard. I made a show of pointing at my still bandaged area and wincing.

Sarah nodded and began to pull up my shirt. “I’ll do it right now, You don’t need special . . . ”

I stopped her and looked deep into her eyes “I need you to come by tonight and check on this.”

Sarah nodded but made her own show of looking at my wound and giving me a reproving look. “You should have come by sooner!” she said, raising her voice. “I’m busy now, but you should be okay until I’m free tonight. I’ll come by and check on you then.”

I thanked her and jogged back to the training area. I didn’t see anyone coming back just yet and I imagined it had to be close to time for people to return. I took the note Donnelly had brought me out of my pocket and read it while I waited.

“Brother Stephen,

I have received the list you sent and we should be able to get the items you need by the end of today or tomorrow at the latest. I intend to visit you shortly to oversee how the army is progressing. Understand though this will not be a formal inspection as I know you’ve only just begun and have much to do. I have faith that you will be able to bring an army to the field of battle soon.

Yours in Christ,

Michael.”

I didn’t know which god to thank but I was grateful for every delay that I could get away with causing. I folded the note and put it back in my pocket. I looked up and saw the entire group of men returning at a walking pace behind Donnelly.

When he finally got close I noticed that the top of Donnelly’s shoes and his pant legs had drying vomit on them. He wasn’t alone. Several others, mostly the older men and those that were terribly out of shape all looked like they taken a minute to relieve themselves of their breakfast.

“Wonderful gentlemen, you’ve completed your run in only 45 minutes! Stack your rifles up over here and let’s get ready for push ups!” I heard a few groans but no actual complaints.

After the rifles were stacked neatly the men all dropped down onto their stomachs, wisely trying to take a break to catch their breath.

“If you do not have a rifle I better see your butt up in the air, holding at rest position! No one told you to lay down! It is not nap time, gentlemen! Now, UP!”

I had to demonstrate what the rest position was for them, but I’d had a pretty easy day, plenty of water to drink, and was full of energy. I could’ve held the rest position for hours. I was almost tempted to, knowing that would be almost as stressful for them, but I wanted them bone weary, every muscle group protesting.

“DOWN!”

I did several push ups since I was full of energy then sprang to my feet and began counting off as they tried to complete the exercise and smiled a bit as I saw several in the group stop to vomit again. I got bored watching them do push ups after a while and set them on flutter kicks to increase my entertainment level.

It didn’t take long until I saw my first recruit pass out. It wasn’t as much fun for me, but if I could kill a few this way I wasn’t going to be terribly upset. I kept an eye on them and saw a couple more collapse, either from exhaustion or dehydration I couldn’t be sure, but it was close enough for me.

I called a break, dismissing them to quarters. I didn’t figure too many of them would be up and about to cause trouble tonight, but now I had to get ready for my second group, the guards.

The guards were supposed to be the best of what Michael had to offer. I chuckled silently. These elite few were going to get real Marine Corps training. And I could not wait.

I didn’t have to wait long for them to show. The elite force consisted of about 20 guys all with their own rifles and gear. I dispensed with the formalities as they all formed up on the field.

“Gentlemen, get ready for PT. You have 18 minutes to run 3 miles.” I smiled at their expressionless faces. “Now go.”

Chapter 39 -Belt Fed Revolution

Time passed. I don’t know how much. I was only vaguely aware of things happening around me. I got bits of conversation and was lucid most of the time, but they must have been feeding me morphine at a pretty good rate.

The next thing I remembered in any detail was a lot of movement, noise and being jostled around.The voices around me contained a hint of urgency and a good deal of anger, but I couldn’t piece together what the issue was. I saw faces unfamiliar to me, all of them seemed to be pretty angry  as they ordered me to be quiet and stop thrashing around. I was in one of the boxes and it was moving. I was strapped to a bed and from the feeling the bed was bolted to the floor. There were periods of silence and I was thankful for that, but I was a little more concerned over the fact that I was strapped to a bed inside a semi-trailer and there weren’t any people coming  to tend me.

I wondered if the peace talks hadn’t gone well. Maybe the Feds had come. Could I be a prisoner of war? I decided to operate as if this was the situation until I saw evidence to the contrary. The straps on the bed weren’t leather, but ratcheting tie downs that had padding wrapped around them where they crossed my torso.

I wiggled around in the bed trying to free my arms. Every so often I’d feel a sharp pain in my groin and abdomen and I’d have to stop until the pain subsided and the nausea left me. I kept working at it and eventually managed to get my right arm free. Luck was still with me as the mechanism for the ratchet strap was visible meaning I would at least be able to reach it.

My fingers fumbled with the mechanism for about a year. I wasn’t making any progress with it. I was either too weak to lift the buckle or just not deft enough to work the mechanism. I gave up for a while and let sleep drag me back down.

When I next woke I saw that all my efforts had resulted in the reopening of my wound.  There was a bloodstain slightly larger than my fist down by my hip. I forced myself to clear my head and think about how to get free. I pushed on the strap across my torso and was relieved to feel it give a bit.

I pushed the strap down far enough that I could extract my left arm . With both arms free I was able to release the buckle on the straps across my torso and waist.  The strap across my feet was an entirely different matter. I couldn’t sit up enough to reach that strap and when I tried I was overwhelmed by the pain from my wound.

I tried to use the rails on the side of the bed for leverage to push myself up but I was too weak and my ass was pretty firmly enveloped in the mattress meaning I had to move my weight plus the mattress to get anywhere.

I was soaked in sweat and exhausted. I was prepared to give up for now  and try again after a brief nap, but if I had been taken prisoner that might be a bad– potentially fatal–idea. I braced myself against the bed rails once more and pushed for all I was worth. The top of my left foot was now caught just under the strap and I tried to kick or at least get my hips and leg moving. With a concentrated effort I finally got my foot free.

I smiled as I sat back in the bed and passed out.

****

I woke up feeling clammy and cold. both my feet were now free and I was able to swing my legs over the side of the bed. The trailer seemed to be stationary at the moment which was great because my legs felt rubbery and only barely attached to the rest of me. I looked around for a weapon but no scalpels or convenient bludgeons had been left lying around for me to find.

I took the bloody sheet off the bed and wrapped it around my midsection, tying it as tightly as I could so as to apply pressure to the wound, hopefully staunching the flow of blood. I continued my search for a weapon but aside from a few empty saline bottles and other medical supplies there really wasn’t anything I could use.

I looked back at the bed and had a small flash of insight. Moving as quickly as I could, I grabbed all the straps that had been used to hold me in place and tied the buckle ends into a knot forming a makeshift flail. I folded the ends over and tied another knot so that all the weight of the buckles and S hooks were at one end, giving me a six pronged weapon.

I shuffled to the back of the trailer to roll open the door and make my escape. As I did this I felt the truck start up, idling in place for a bit before  it started moving. I grabbed the handle and pulled the door open just enough to get through the opening and fell to the pavement.I hit the ground and rolled hoping there were no trucks following the one I’d escaped. I managed to get to a clump of bushes and instantly vomited up the entirety of my stomach.

The truck had been stopped at a rest area. The building itself was gone, burned to the foundation, but a few picnic tables remained as well as some outdoor kiosks that had maps and information on local attractions.

According to the map I was in a place called Wayland. It wasn’t familiar to me, but the map showed that I was about 80 miles from Lansing. I managed to walk  toward the forested area behind the remains of the rest stop, looking for a place to hide in case my captors came back. I made it to the woods, losing the bed sheet I’d tied around my midsection in the process. The ground was pretty much all the same; there were no natural depressions I could hide in.  There was a large pine tree which had branches extending to the ground and I decided to make that my base of operations.

I crawled under the tree and immediately passed out.

****

When I woke I was no longer under the pine tree. I couldn’t remember moving, but apparently I had left the cover of the pine tree and was now propped up against a different tree. There was an odd unfamiliar pressure on my leg . I forced my eyes fully open and was greeted by a large raven looking at me questioningly as it perched on my leg.

I regarded the bird calmly for a moment before I spoke. “Nothing for you today, Huginn. Or Muninn. Whichever one you are. Go and tell the All-Father I’m not dead yet. ” My voice was dry and thin like paper. “You want my eyes, you come back when I’m dead. They’re all yours.” With that I waved the bird away and watched as it flew a short distance to alight in one of the trees.

“Okay. Point taken. If I don’t get moving you’re going to eat my eyes. Got it.” I pushed myself to a standing position and began to walk. I didn’t know which way to go so I concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. I fell into a depressing rhythm of take a few steps and stop to catch my breath or wretch for a few minutes. I was sure any hunter nearby would think it his lucky day, hearing a lovesick moose hanging about in the forest and come along to put me out of my misery at any moment.

Things became really interesting when I began to pass out. I had resigned myself to my fate and was ready to die here. I wasn’t really bothered by this. I had ended my life as a warrior and was going to die a death that my ancestors could respect. While I wasn’t actually dying on one of Midgard’s many battle fields, I was dying free and alone. I didn’t believe that I would see Valkyrie’s and as a reconstrucionist Heathen, I  had my doubts about seeing Valhalla, but I would die a free man and that counted for something in my book.

I realized that I had passed out in the middle of a small trail in the woods and dragged myself off the trail to lean against a tree. There was a small tree branch nearby that looked like it might have been sheared off during a storm which was just long enough to be used  as a staff. Using the staff as a counterbalance I managed to take a few more shuffling steps. My head was pounding and I was so dizzy I had to force myself to look only at the ground ahead of me. Trying to look at the sides of the trail made me feel as though I was in the outer ring of a centrifuge. I knew death was coming for me now. I could hear it calling my name, but I continued walking; whether it was toward death or from it I couldn’t say. I only knew that I had to keep moving. I was resigned to dying, I just wasn’t resigned to giving up. 

Chapter 34 -Belt Fed Revolution

As a Heathen turning the other cheek has never really been an option on the board for me. I’m flexible though and I’d like to think a rational man. I could forgive being struck. That’s the way men handle things. Shooting up my Jeep on the other hand, that was something I was going to need some payback for.

The jackhole that had shot up my Jeep was also the very same that hit me as my new militia friends were covering my head with a pillowcase. The pillowcase was flannel and I liked it. I greatly preferred it in fact to the place I now found myself which I could only assume was a long- abandoned service station.

Large yellowing plexiglas greeted me, heavily scuffed and covered with the same initials I had seen earlier, PLM. The murky light coming through the windows was still enough to keep me at a disadvantage. There were people moving around in the small space, but they kept themselves between me and the light effectively making them little more than shadows.

After some conversation a second chair for my interrogator was produced and shortly occupied by someone with a flashlight which was pointed at my face. I recognized the voice as someone from the fight at the gas station, but it wasn’t the leader who had remained mostly in the truck during that encounter.

“You with us?” the voice began. “Hello?”

“If this is the way you treat all your guests, I’m going to be leaving a very negative note on my feedback card.”

“Sorry about all that. Some people don’t know how to treat valued customers.”  It was good to know people had a sense of humor still. “So what are you then? I mean no offense, but you don’t look like a SEAL, but hey,  FedGov’s gotta be scraping the bottom of the barrel too, am I right?”

“You think I’m a Fed? Wow, yeah they would be scraping the bottom if they sent me. Good looks aside, that is.” I paused. There was no laugh this time. Screw him, I know I look good. “I’m just a guy trying to find a safe place to hole up and ride out our collective failure.”

My captor’s posture changed. “Our failure?”

“You don’t think we have a part in this?”  He didn’t respond so I carried on  “We let the government do this to us.  We had plenty of opportunities to ‘correct’ our ‘leaders’, but we just sat back and let them run the country into the ground all the while thinking we could vote our way out of it, or we’d elect the right guy and he’d fix everything. Tell me you don’t see how ‘we the people’ could have done something before it got to this point?”

The flashlight turned off. “Yeah.” he laughed “I’ve heard something like this before.” This time everyone  in the room laughed.

I was blinking, trying to clear the after image of the flashlight from my eyes. “Does this mean I can go? Don’t I have answer two more questions?”

Another voice chimed in, this time I recognized their leader.  “We know you’re not part of FedGov” He said,the word seemed somehow strung together. “What we don’t know is who you are working for?”

“I’m working for the real Michigan Militia. MVDF.” I looked to the shadows where the voice was coming from “They paid me with a Jeep Cherokee. I think you may have seen it?”

An uncomfortable silence passed. I could see movement from the shadows as several people left the room.

“You have my apologies for that.” He cleared his throat before continuing “However, you’re working for the government and that makes you an enemy of the Patriot’s Liberty Militia.”

I stifled a laugh. “The government? As I understand it these guys are fighting the same people you are. Maybe you’ve heard that old saw ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend?’ I mean, I’m not trying to tell you how to run your war, but maybe you ought to consider at least having a sit down with them?”

Quiet laughter filled the room. “That what they told you? They’re fighting FedGov? Hate to bust your bubble son, but you’ve been had.”

****

Things got a might friendlier after that. I wasn’t exactly welcomed as a long lost kinsman, but I was offered some water and taken to sit at a table with the PLM leader and others.

“So they told you they’re fighting FedGov, eh?”

I shook my head.  “Not so much told me as showed me.” I recounted the fight that had taken place between Starke’s crew and the Fed forces, skirting around things like John’s death and my desire to leave Starke and his friends to their own devices while we got out of dodge.

“What rock is it you lived under?” I couldn’t see who said this. Apparently this little meeting had become a bit of entertainment drawing in a lot of the militia members to fill the room behind us.

Mr Leader waved his hand and the room quieted. “You got a little less than half the story. It’s true FedGov tried to declare martial law, but they did so at the request of the governor.” the old man drew out a pipe and a small pouch. As he was packing it he raised an eye “Hope you don’t mind. Even if you do, though.” he shrugged and left it at that continuing to fill his pipe.

“It’s true, I think, for the most of them–the NCO’s that is–that think they’re fighting FedGov. Their command structure isn’t exactly sharing information down the chain.” He paused to light up his pipe, an aroma of cherries filled the air in the small space. “I was part of that chain. I commanded the 3rd AO–that’s Detroit, by the by–So I know what was going on. Now it may be true what you say, that you were with a group that fought FedGov forces, but the truth of the matter is they and probably those they fought didn’t know the truth of things.”

Somewhere in the distance I heard a small generator kick on as it began to grow dark. The men of the PLM affixed plywood to cover the windows of the small building, while others went out to secure the perimeter. Loud fluorescent lights came on inside. I wasn’t exactly pleased when I saw them beginning to make coffee as I recognized the container they were drawing it from.

“Oh yes, please help yourselves to some coffee.” I intoned wondering what else was going to come up missing from my supplies.

Mr Leader nodded and smiled “Spoils of war, friend.” he tapped his pipe on the edge of the table adding “your donation is greatly appreciated.”

“So what’s my part in all this? If you’re going to kill me, then how about we just get to the show?”

“Your part in all this is you get to be our inside man. You can tell us what they’re planning. Tell us something about troop strength and armament.”

“Actually, no. I can’t tell you any of that. What I can tell you is why I’m here, because that’s what I know. Their man, Major Dwyer?” heads nodded as I mentioned the name “He tasked me with making contact with you, so you could be brought into the fold–as it were.”

Coffee was served. It was weak, but hot and I enjoyed it.

“To tell you the truth, I’m not sure anyone on that side is entirely in-the-loop on what the plan is. It’s possible even their officer’s believe they’re fighting for freedom from the Feds, as you call them.”  Mr Leader leaned forward in his chair and looked me in the eye “That being the case, let me make you a counter offer.”

Chapter 33 -Belt Fed Revolution

The town appeared largely empty. There were lights on in a few buildings, especially those nearest the highway, but I couldn’t see movement in any of them. Since I wasn’t doing such a great job of getting noticed by being obnoxious, I decided to act like a typical looter instead.

I saw a gas station-convenience store and decided to make this my target. If I could get gas without being hassled that was a bonus, but I figured if there was a group protecting this town, this gas station would probably be on someone’s priority list.

I shut the Jeep down by one of the pumps and got out, slinging my new rifle over my shoulder. The gas station building was a squat brick affair with a blue metal awning surrounding the top. The roof was designed to keep the rain and snow off while you pumped gas with and had a few flourescent lightbulbs that intermittently flickered away above my head.

I was being watched. I didn’t know where my observer was, but I had definitely gained the interest of the locals. Now I had to hope they didn’t decide to just blow my head off before having a word. I looked around again to see if there were any lumps in the nearest grassy areas that looked out of place, but other than some opportunistic graffiti artist who had painted his or her initials –PLM–on the gas station door and some other things nearby, everything appeared correct in its setting.

I approached the door to the gas station with my head slightly down, keeping my eyes moving back and forth. I reached out to pull open the door to the little gas station building and heard a voice call out in an almost conversational tone.

“That’s about far enough.” said the voice, coming from behind the blue metal awning.

I couldn’t get a fix on the person the voice had come from, but I guessed it was about two feet to my right and above me.

“Funny ain’t it? It’s always the last place you look.”

The voice was silent for only a moment. “Why don’t you get in your vehicle and head on back down the road. There’s nothing for you here, ‘cept maybe a quick an’ nasty death.”

“Aw, but you make this place sound so exotic.” I kept my eyes moving between the awning and the plexiglass windows of the gas station. “There a place around here where I can get some water? Maybe barter for some gas? Famous last words, right? I’m not a looter.

“This is our gas. Everything in town belongs to us now. Get in your truck and get down the road.”

I was pretty sure I was being stalled. The warning wasn’t forceful or threatening enough to make me feel like I was in immediate danger, so I kept watching the reflections in the gas station windows waiting for the real welcome wagon to show up.

“Okay, no problem.” I said. ” Look, let me just get some water for the road. Maybe we can trade? I don’t have much, but maybe I have something you need?”  I grinned when I heard it. The thing about there not being a lot of manmade noise to provide  a screen meant sounds travelled a lot further.

This was especially true when the thing you were trying to screen was a diesel engine that was practically screaming as you accelerated in a blind panic.

I had expected their version of a quick reaction force to at least be subtle. This expectation was shattered when I saw the black Ford F-450 plodding on toward me. Diesel’s were great for a lot of things, but impressive acceleration wasn’t really one of those things.

My new friend on the rooftop wasn’t talking now. I was guessing they figured any single individual that approached their little haven would be shitting themselves by now at the sight of the big shiny black truck coming their way. My pants however, remained unshat. I was in fact pretty confident I could shoulder my rifle and  put a round in the driver of the truck, but I refrained. Such asshattery, fun as it may be, was like to get me killed.

Someone had gone to great expense tarting up the Ford with big chrome smoke stack style exhausts poking up out of the bed and a chrome grille with flames and a skull with red glowing LED eyes. Awesome. I bet if I were looking a the back of the truck there’d be some naked lady mudflaps –with erect nipples–hanging behind the dually’s fender flares.

I made a note to tell whomever was running this show that when you’re trying to make a statement, bullets say it best. I had to decide now how interesting I wanted to make this. I would settle for ‘not dead, but pissed off’ for now.  There was an ice chest next to the gas station door, the large kind that was used to store twenty pound bags of ice. I opened the door and used the lower lip like a step to climb the ice chest and vault myself onto the roof.

The watchman on the roof was alone with just a radio and a Kalashnikov. There wasn’t a lot of room up here and he had remained lying in the prone for concealment. I didn’t have to cover much ground to get to him.

I mounted him and put my knee in the middle of his back placing all my weight there and then evening it out by putting my other knee on his neck. I grabbed one hand and threw a readied zip tie around his wrist. He fought briefly to keep his other hand free, but I shifted my weight from his back to his neck and the additional pressue and subsequent lack of oxygen there took the fight from him.

Once I had him secured, I snatched up his AK and sat my rifle atop the awning. The big Ford pickup was tearing up a field just a few yards distant now making a straight line for the gas station. I ejected the magazine from the AK and extended the bayonet.

The driver of the truck obliged my plan by pulling up almost next to the ice chest. All four doors of the cab were flung open almost as one and people spilled from the inside to take up flanking positions.

I hoisted the AK above my head shouting at them “Geirtýr! Sigr!” and sent the  AK  hurling like a spear through the big trucks windshield, the bayonet sticking nicely in the dash. I ducked as soon as I launched the gun and waited for a salvo to come my way.

“Hold your fire!” I heard someone below yell at the assembled group. “Okay, mister! You let our man go and come on out!”

I laughed . “Lemme think about that for a minute.”

I looked at my captive and shook my head. What was that old quote about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result?

“You okay?” My captive was red-faced and ready to spit nails I had no doubt, but I didn’t think I’d done him any permanent damage.

“Screw you!” he spat, his face growing redder.

“Noted.” I shimmied  behind him grabbing his ziptied wrists and pulling him up to his knees. There was an unmanly expression of pain and some swearing, but he got to his knees easily enough. I crouched behind him and got him stood up. If some wanna- be- hero had an itchy trigger finger, I’d rather someone else finds out.

As my captive reached his feet, I heard someone let off a three round burst and I yanked my captive back to his knees. Talk about swearing. This guy let off a string of expletives that would have made a drill instructor smile.

I lay on my back and laughed. I yelled out “Nice shooting there, quick draw! Just remeber friendly fire gets returned by friends when you least expect it!”

I heard several voices yelling and one voice responding in protest.

I went through the process of getting my captive stood up again and called out “Okay! Now that we’ve figured out who’s going to be shooting who in the back during your next outing, how about we all be real cool and have a little talk?”

Another voice, calmer, called back “A’right. Come on up to the edge and let us have a look at you.  Jim, you okay?”

“”I’m fine! I ain’t hurt!’ said my captive.

I pulled him close and spoke in a voice only he could hear ” ‘Kay, Jim, we’re going to walk nice and slow to the edge.  Just remember if you get shot here, it won’t be in the back, so you best hope you’ve no enemies down there.”

Jim nodded and we took the couple of steps to the edge. I still hadn’t identified a face to put to the voice. I smiled as I stepped to the edge and pointed at the truck. “See, I mean you no harm. I even gave you his rifle to show my good intentions.”

A man standing by the driver’s door said something in a voice I couldn’t hear, but I got the gist which was I’d ruined his baby. There was a quick heated discussion that took place between that man and the someone still in the cab of the truck.

This went on for a few seconds and ended when the man at the driver’s side door turned and fired several rounds from his shotgun into my Cherokee.

Bastard.

I drew my revolver and thumbed back the hammer. I saw several muzzles raise uncertainly in my direction.

“Hey partner? I’m going to need your insurance information!” I yelled as I tried to make my profile as small as possible behind my meat shield. I heard a couple of chuckles at that and then the man in the cab stepped out on the driver’s side and waved.

He was wearing a giant stetson cowboy hat and black BDU’s. “The fuck is it with cowboy hats now? There’s no cowboy’s in Michigan for fucks sake …”

I was talking to myself but my captive responded “We got cowboys all over these days.”

I  grabbed my rifle, and gave a wistful look over at my second shot up Jeep in less than a month and let out a sigh. I walked Jim up to the edge of the roof over the ice machine and gave him a little push backwards as I took a chance and jumped over the edge first and onto the ice machine.

I made it all the way to the ground before I got rushed and thrown to the pavement. As I was being flex-cuffed I looked over at the man nearest me and asked “What? Are you guys Michigan State fans?”

I thought I heard laughter before things went all grey and fuzzy around the edges.