I fell deeply asleep. I guess it worked out for me since I didn’t have to be blindfolded to get to the camp. I woke when Starke was giving the command to dismount.
I stepped out of the APC expecting something resembling an abandoned Army base. Instead I was greeted by trees bordering a parking lot. Still a bit sleepy I muttered “Wal-Mart?”
“Feds know where all our bases are. Also, they’re using them. Figured it’d be best to go some place to hole up where we wouldn’t get shot.” Starke was grinning as he handed me a rucksack filled with the spoils of our battle. I nodded dumbly and shouldered the ruck.
Guererra walked by me and spoke just loud enough for me to hear “Welcome to FOB Assrape.”
At my look he chuckled “You want to keep an eye on your six, otherwise you’re going to get volunteered for something . . . unpleasant.”
“Thanks for the warning.”
Guererra and Patrell shared a laugh and set to unloading the APC. Starke walked over and pointed at a CONEX box still attached to a semi-tractor. “Command.” he moved his finger slightly to indicate another CONEX container surrounded by armed guards “Supply.”
There were groups of civilians milling around aimlessly near the boxes. Starke jerked his chin toward the group “That’s the Third Michigan Regulars. Civilians that found us and were conscripted.” Starke eyed them with obvious distrust. “They’d join the Feds in a heartbeat if the Feds could feed them three squares a day and keep them warm and dry.”
I nodded but kept my mouth shut. I didn’t come here to join some sad sack cannon fodder unit. I had just about made up my mind to thank Starke and his crew for the ride and see about getting further down the road when Guererra looked over my shoulder and announced “Command on the prowl.”
I hadn’t been in the military long, but I knew enough not to look where Guererra had indicated. As it turned out that was unnecessary. Their commander, a soft looking Major made a beeline for Starke, causing all the men in the crew to snap to attention.
“Sergeant! Did you intend to report in sometime today or were you just going to hang out with your new friend here?” Dwyer tossed a brief disinterested look my way.
Starke snapped off a salute “Sir. We just returned and were unloading our cargo, sir.”
The Major looked Starke over and glanced at the now mostly empty APC. “Very well, Sergeant. The instant you’re finished here, you come find me. Have one of your men get your friend here settled.”
With that the Major strode off. “Nice to meet you, too.” I said to his retreating form.
“Don’t sweat it, Finn. He spent most of his career behind a desk until just recently; he means well. And he’s committed to the cause. He’s just trying to get used to being in the field and in combat.” Starke stared off at the Wal-Mart for a second “I’d probably be as headfucked as him if I had to do his job.”
Starke had O’ Toole introduce me to the civilian component of the camp. At first I wondered if I’d done something to piss Starke off, but it occurred to me that he chose O’ Toole because he was a civilian too.
Discrimination was alive and well here. Military and civvies kept their distance and seemed to have set up their temporary camps as far away from each other as possible. I noted some women who appeared to be unattached had strung their camps out closer toward the military side.
O’ Toole wasn’t talking much which suited me fine. “Driscoll!” A man with a mustache out of the Civil War looked up our approach. When we got closer than shouting distance O’ Toole made a hasty introduction “Driscoll this is Sigurdsson. Show him around and keep him out of trouble.”
Driscoll extended his hand “Jim Driscoll.”
“I’m Finn. Good to meet you.”
“So I take it you’re not military since O’ Toole brought you to us.Civilians don’t normally get to ride with the Mikes. Where’d you come from anyway?”
I didn’t really feel like rehashing John’s death and the fight with the Feds, so I kept it vague. “You said Mikes. What’s that about?”
Driscoll grinned “Kind of a poke at the military guys with all their alphabet soup chatter. They’re not that bad really. Dwyer just keeps ’em busy.”
“Dwyer? That the Major in command of this…camp?” I chose my words carefully because hobo love palace while seeming appropriate might cause some upset.
“Yeah. He’s just such a joy, too, let me tell ya.” Driscoll rolled his eyes. “Dwyer has been in charge since I came here two months ago. He was the one that instituted the no fraternization rule for the Mikes. Got to keep them,” Driscoll paused for effect “pure.”
I was sure there was some kind of message there but I wasn’t going to waste time figuring it out. I’d spent time in enough hostile environments personally and professionally to know when the soup was going to reach a boil. I did have questions though and since Driscoll seemed ready to talk I hung around.
“Two months you’ve been here? The Feds haven’t found you?”
Driscoll shook his head. “They’re busy with the remnants of the civilian militias. Those guys had more firepower than the government knew. At least until the MVDF came along.” Driscoll began slowly drifting toward the supply CONEX box and I followed. “There’s a militia camp north of here,militia mind, not connected with the Mikes. They’ve been pounding the Feds with mostly captured equipment and they keep moving around.” Driscoll smiled “The Mikes here have been trying to establish contact with them, but those guys think any form of government they didn’t personally approve is not to be trusted.”
The supply area had a smell about it. People say you can smell fear or desperation. I didn’t smell anything but people living rough, eating the same food and living in cramped conditions. If anything the smell was that of the comforts of the old world falling away. Humanity returning to what it was meant to be. That and coffee. The smell of coffee coming from the supply area was so pungent it was making my mouth water.
Driscoll stepped carefully by the Mikes assembled here and made his way to the front of the supply line. The supply clerk was a young woman with blonde hair that looked like it hadn’t been washed in a month. Driscoll pointed to me “New guy here, Cheryl.”
Cheryl was busy writing and didn’t give me more than a cursory glance. “Identification please” she said this as she turned to grab a styrofoam cup and fill it with coffee. She pushed the coffee toward me across the desk and continued writing distractedly. I patted down my pockets. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had my license or been asked to show it.
I stuck my hands in pockets containing rounds for the revolvers until I came across a small familiar rectangle. I drew out my battered wallet and withdrew my license handing it to Cheryl. She glanced at the identification for a moment and then looked up at me.
“Velkommen.Snakker du Engelsk?”
I blinked. “Yes. Quite well, too, from what I’m told. Mange takk.”
Cheryl smiled. “Sorry. It’s not everyday you see a name like Finn…”
I cut her off before she could say my entire first name. “Understood. I still have a lot of family in Norway, but my branch has been here since the 1600’s.” I searched my bank of expressions for ‘smile, non threatening’ and think I came up with the appropriate one since she didn’t immediately recoil. “As best I know, the last Sigurd in my family was busy setting England on fire in the eighth and ninth centuries.”
Cheryl handed me back my license. I made a note to throw it away. Even if the government–some government–managed to restore order, I wasn’t going to be participating.
I offered my thanks and took the cup of coffee Cheryl had poured. She gave me a half-smile. “Sorry, it’s one cup per person per day. You’re new so you’re entitled to two. Try and make it last.”
I stopped mid gulp. “Thanks for the heads up.”
She smiled and wrote something down on a piece of paper and handed it to me. “I’m off-duty in a while. This is your camp identification. If you need something, bring it back here and give that number to whoever’s on duty and if they can help you they will.”
I didn’t mean to hang around here longer than was necessary. I reached for the piece of paper, but Cheryl held onto it smiling at me “you know, in case you want to get some clothes or something.”
She let go of the paper and I looked down at my ghillie suit. John’s dried blood covered a large portion of the front and I probably had some on the back as well. I folded the paper and stuck it in my pocket. I thanked her and wandered off to check out the command area.
I was greeted by an officious young man with dark skin and a bad case of razor burn. He shoved a clipboard into my chest “Name and service number?”
I stared at him. “You want my serial number?”
He shook his head “Service number. You’ve been issued a service number haven’t you?” He looked at me “Oh, sorry…you’re old military. Yes, serial number then. We’ll get you converted to a service number later.”
I realized that with my ghillie suit, new ruck and rifle slung over my back the kid likely took me for a current service member. I reeled off my name and serial number to him.
He looked at me then “You’re new right? MOS?”
He stared at me for a minute longer “Marines? 0300 is…”
“Infantry.” I supplied
He nodded and shoved the clipboard deeper into my sternum. “Sign and date. See Tech Sergeant Ruiz for assignment to quarters.”
I laughed inside and wandered up the steps into the CONEX box like I belonged there. I intended to look around and see if this snowball was going to survive the microwave, but apparently Ruiz had been watching.
He strode over and gave me a curious look “salute or shake?”
“Uh, shake.” I said and extended my hand.
“Welcome aboard.” he shook my hand and continued ” I have some forms for you over here.”
I had to laugh “Of course you do.”
Ruiz sat down behind a small laptop with a sigh “okay let’s get the basics. Name, rank, service number.”
“Sigurdsson, E-3.” I hesitated at the service number thing having just gone through this. “I haven’t been assigned a service number, but I have my serial?”
Ruiz eyed me up and down “E-3? who’d you piss off?”
I stood there silently unsure how to respond. Ruiz smiled at me, “You look a little old to be enlisted still.” he continued “Okay, so E-3, MOS?” I sighed having a bit of a flashback to days gone by.
Ruiz stopped typing briefly when I told him my MOS and stared at his monitor”Oh, lance corporal . Sorry, Marine. We got people from every branch here.” Ruiz wrote something down on a piece of paper and handed it to me. “Take this to supply, they’ll get you outfitted.” He looked at my cobbled together gear “They catch you on leave or something?” I was about to respond with a witty go fuck yourself but he just shook his head “Anyway, go get geared up. Supply will give you your BDU’s and whatever else you need. Get cleaned up and report back to Major Dwyer when you’re finished.”
I meant to be down the road, but the idea of new gear and a shower was appealing so I headed back to supply. Cheryl was still behind the little desk inside the CONEX box. She smiled at my approach ‘Velkommen, Finn.”
I smiled and handed her the slip of paper Tsgt Ruiz had given me. She stared at it blankly for a minute.
“Sorry, I didn’t realize you were military. Why didn’t you say something?” She looked at me with new eyes “Beards aren’t regulation. The Major may want you to shave.” she grabbed two sets of BDU’s and a shaving kit no doubt courtesy of the Wal-Mart. She looked at my rifle next and paused thoughtfully. “We’re short on full auto’s, but we may have ammo for that. What is it?”
“.243” I said hopefully.
She blew air out in a silent whistle “Let me check.” She left the desk and was gone for several moments before returning with several boxes of ammuntion for me. “Sorry, it’s just Remington white box. We don’t have much in the way of surplus ammo even for standard calibers.” I noted one of the boxes was labeled .357 JHP.
She smiled when she saw my look “My dad has the same gun. And .357 rounds are something we have a bit of; if you were carrying a 9mm or a .45 you’d be just about S.O.L.”
I gathered the things she had set out for me and asked her to point me in the direction of the showers.
She pointed at the Wal-Mart building proper. “The building still has power, but the lights are off. You have a flashlight?”
I told her no and she handed me a flashlight with a giant piece of wood taped to it. “Sorry, flashlights are getting scarce. You’ll have to turn this in after you get cleaned up.” I nodded and took the flashlight, looking for a place to secure it. “There’s a laundry facility inside, too.” She wrinkled her nose slightly “you may want to get that washed” she said indicating my ghillie suit.
I thanked her and made my way toward the building.
I decided to drop off my ghillie suit before hitting the showers. I handed it to a woman there, a civilian apparently, and thanked her. I hoped the stitching would hold.
I turned on the flashlight and entered the building. Another civilain, this time male, was waiting just inside. “Showers?” I asked and he pointed wordlessly to an employee locker room. “Can I take my gear in there?’
He nodded “Stick it in a locker, just don’t shut it. Otherwise we have to cut it open.”
Upon entering the locker room the smell of mold hit me. I shined the flashlight on a row of lockers and shoved my ruck into the first unoccupied one I saw. I didn’t have to worry about closing the door, as the locker barely contained the near empty ruck as it was.
I stripped down and shoved all my clothes into the locker as well. Standing naked in the locker room in the dark I let out a long sigh. I was ready to find a bed and crawl into it for a year or so.
I shined the flashlight toward the emergency shower stall and stepped in. As the water hit me I could see it was discolored when it reached the shower floor.
“Goodbye, John.” I said and hung my head to let the water wash over me.