Tag Archives: Heathen

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 50 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

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

I fell asleep without even realizing it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paige nodded and smiled almost making eye contact with me.

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 47 -Belt Fed Revolution

Luck was with us.The truck o’ hammers roared to life without even a hesitation.  John assured me he knew of a place nearby that had several Bobcat type machines that could be used to set up the range the way I had specified.

I was enjoying the silence during the ride which naturally, being called John, he had to ruin with attempts at small talk.

“What did you do?” he asked startling me out of my reverie.

“Do?”

“Yeah.” he smiled trying to be congenial. “Before all this. What did you do?”

“I digged holes.” I said and looked back out the window.

“You digged . . .”

I cut him off. There was no need for this conversation and besides I had other things on my mind.

“What was that place we passed on the way in? It looked like it had electricity.”

“Oh, that. It’s a library. After we took the town, a few of the people that agreed to live by God’s decree were allowed to remain and keep certain services running.” the emphasis he put on decree told me that he was a true believer.

“Awesome.” I said this mostly in response to my internal monologue about the fanaticism in which I found myself enveloped. “So let’s stop there. Maybe some books I can use to help build Michael’s army.” I had no doubt that if I’d suggested we stop just so I could nose around an immediate denial would have resulted followed by John either eventually caving in or his untimely death. I was good either way.

John nodded enthusiastically “That’d be a great idea! And while we’re there I can send an email to my family in Florida . . . I’ve been worried about them. I pray every night that God keeps them safe or if he can’t, that he’ll take them to heaven swiftly.”

“Sometimes all you can do is pray.” I muttered trying not to show my excitement that there was internet service here.

“Amen, brother. Amen.” John reached over and patted my hand.

I watched him out of the corner of my eye. I didn’t know their jargon well enough to continue this line of discussion so I hoped that he was satisfied. I watched the streets of the town and saw people going about what had become their daily business. As far as I could see Michael had begun his ethnic cleansing locally. No one here had so much as a tan.

We reached the library after a few minutes more silence had passed. I tried not to tip my hand by bolting out of the truck and rushing to a computer in the library.

In front of the squat building several vendors were present  selling various items  off small folding tables. I glanced at the assemblage of junk uninterested but stopped when when a man reached into a squirming cardboard box and pulled out a puppy.

The man was thin and had clearly held a job that involved him being office bound, probably behind a computer screen most of his day. I looked in the box and saw there was one more puppy inside. Both dogs looked to be German Shepherds. The man jabbered something at me and I looked at his face for the first time noticing his jaw was greatly swollen with a lump the size of a baseball  just under the jawline extending down to his neck. He held the puppy out to me and smiled the hole in his mouth showing several recently broken teeth.

I couldn’t understand what was being said and I had more important things on my mind so I waved him off giving the puppy’s head a scratch as I walked away.

****

Inside the library was a bored looking woman with a still slightly plump figure. I had seen only men walking around in the town and assumed that Michael had either killed, driven off or just taken the town’s women back to his camp. The fact that this woman was essentially wandering around loose and appeared no worse for wear told me something was clearly amiss.

John smiled at her and turned to me “You’re in for a real treat now. This is Miss Janie, Michael’s sister.”

I stuck out my hand without hesitation and smiled. “Pleased to meet you.”

She shook my hand and smiled politely back. Miss Janie was a woman of no words. I waited for her to speak. She only looked at me. I broke eye contact and looked at John hoping he had something to add but he was stood there smiling mindlessly at her.

“May I use one of the computers?” I asked feeling a weird creeping sensation up and down my spine.

Miss Janie smiled and pointed to a set of carrels with dark computer monitors in them. I left John to stand and look at Miss Creepy and sat down at the computer.  I was surprised that the internet was still working; I felt starved for news.

I checked the national news providers and websites, starting with CNN and Yahoo. The news there was clearly regurgitated government spew, but there was still some worth to it. The Netherlands and Germany had left the European Union and shortly thereafter, Germany had subsumed several former nations under one umbrella forging the Independent Teutonic Union. The most amusing note in that story was that Germany had ‘invited’ France and after what was reported as a staunch refusal France quietly joined the ITU in the middle of the night after German peacekeeping forces had volunteered to help stabilize the region. As American military personnel had been forced for one reason or another to return to the States, the new Teutonic state gobbled up equipment stored at bases across Germany. The equipment  had been labeled ‘irretrievable’ by the powers-that-be giving Germany a powerful and well equipped new army.

Greece, Spain and Portugal were smoking craters by most reports, their populations having run rampant when it was clear the government could no longer provide services or even food for them. Italy held out the longest of all, but was eventually overrun when the conflicts of multiple factions spilled out beyond their unofficial borders turning the whole of the country into a war zone.

The result of all this turmoil lead to the German ITU stepping forward as a leader in Europe and putting together a new territory which now stretched from Hungary to a few miles inside what used to be Spain. This was accomplished with the aid of their Scandinavian cousins, but with the understanding that the newly formed Imperial Norse Coalition, made up of Norway, Sweden, Denmark,Finland and a few Finno-Ugric border states–would retain their independence.

In most of the former European Union a wholesale slaughter was declared against Muslims and others whose only crime was having an Arabic sounding name.

The governments of several countries had apparently even offered a reward for those of Arabic descent to be turned over to authorities for immediate deportation. Most  vessels requisitioned for the task of transporting people back to the Middle East either sunk or disappeared shortly after launch.

England was no help to anybody, being embroiled in a new civil war on three fronts. Between the resident Muslims, the Scottish and the Irish, the whole of  the communications  grid in Great Britain had gone dark. Despite calls for peace from several countries including the U.S., Blighty was undergoing a bloodbath not seen since my Ancestors stepped foot on that ground.

There were, strangely, no reports of what was happening in Michigan to be found anywhere in the mainstream media. I crossed my fingers and typed in westernrifleshooters.wordpress.com and hoped that the site was still up. The site hadn’t been updated in a couple of weeks, but contained a few reports on similar pacification efforts the government had enacted in California, Texas, and Idaho, but there was little news available other than that.

I typed in battlefieldusa.wordpress.com and hit enter. The site had news that was a couple of days old, but provided a little more information. Californian’s had fought off a takeover attempt by the resident Mexican population and had pushed most of them across the border into Mexico and the Baja Peninsula. Word had it that a new group of Mexican fighters had amassed near Edinburg, Texas and were getting ready to push into the region.  Fed forces had showed up in Texas armed for bear, bringing B-52’s with thermobaric fuel-air bombs, typically referred to as Daisy Cutters determined that there would be no second Alamo. California had been particularly troublesome as the citizens of that state had managed not only to defeat the Mexican uprising, but also pushed out the Feds shortly thereafter.

No information was available on what had happened in Idaho, but rumor had it  the situation was similar to what was happening here in Michigan. All reports were showing that the government was stretched thin trying to put down uprisings that kept sparking like wildfires.

I finished up by trying to look at a few other sites but they had either been shutdown or not updated in months. I sat back satisfied with what I’d learned. I wanted to check on how things had been going between in the fight at the Federal Reserve, but I got a tap on the shoulder from Miss Creepy. She pointed to her wrist and then to a sign next to the monitor that indicated computer use was limited to 15 minutes per patron.

John had been busy not chatting with Miss Creepy, so he had a few minutes left  on his terminal. I told him I would be waiting outside when he was through, but I don’t think he heard me.

****

I stood outside and stretched since my knee had a habit of getting stiff if I sat for more than a few minutes. The puppy hawker had a customer at his little table and the men were arguing over one of the puppies. I wandered over curious to see if the other man could actually understand the guy with the broken jaw.

I stood there for a couple of minutes, getting a smile from Mr Brokejaw and being mostly ignored by the other guy. They were haggling over the price of the puppy and going back and forth over items the other man– his distinguishing characteristic being mostly dirt and a hair style I’d heard referred to as a ‘Jew-fro’– had to trade.

I decided to get back in the truck and leave the men to their dickering when I heard Mr Afro making his final pitch.

“That dog barely weigh ten pound man! I ain’t givin’ you alla dis when it gon’ cost least dis much just to fatten him up!”

Mr Brokejaw tried to redirect the negiotiations by holding the dog up by the scruff of his neck, pushing it out toward me, smiling and saying “Tayth guh!”

I stopped and turned toward him. “Are you trying to sell me this dog? To eat?”

Mr Brokejaw smiled and nodded thrusting the puppy at me again. I looked at Mr Afro careful not to stand too close lest his cloud of dirt jump on to me.

I pointed at Mr Afro “You are trying to buy this dog, for what? A meal?”

“HEY! Fuck you man! Tryin’ get up in my bidness! Go mind ya own fuckin’ bidness, mothafucker!”

That was enough for me. I smiled at Messieurs Afro and Brokejaw. It had been a long while since I’d let my predator out to play. I drew the Nagant revolver and shot two rounds into Mr Brokejaw’s face dropping him with a slightly surprised look still on his mangled features.

Mr Afro froze for a second also looking surprised. In my left hand was my new Ka-Bar. I turned swiftly and jammed the blade into Mr Afro’s throat, twisting the handle up toward the top of his head. Mr Afro’s torso was drenched in a gush of blood as I continued to press the tip of the blade up into his soft palate.

Since he was taking his time to die regardless of the help I was giving him, I knelt down beside Mr Afro. “You. Don’t. Eat.  Dogs.”

I figured it was only fair to explain his transgression to him though he would never have a chance to repeat it. I prised loose the Ka-Bar and watched Mr Afro gurgle and thrash a bit as he finally bled out.

I saw that John was a few steps behind me and lowered my gun. He stood staring at what I’d done and then nodded.

“Trash.” Was all he said as he walked past them to the truck.

I went over to the box where the puppies were and held out the blade to the puppies and let them have a taste. It was only fair since they were going to be a meal for Mr Afro or some other depraved monster.

I wiped the blade off on my pants after the puppies had cleaned it of blood. The little balls of fur sat in the box looking at me expectantly. I nodded at their curious looks and picked them up out of the box and started toward the truck. As soon as my back was turned the other vendors who had stood watching descended upon the corpses stripping them of everything possible they could sell. I glanced back for a second watching as a scuffle broke out between two vendors,  each of whom were in possession of one of the late Mr Afro’s shoes.

“Whoa,whoa,whoa! You can’t bring those things in here!” John was holding the passenger’s door closed with one hand.

“What things?” I asked slightly perplexed.

“The DOGS! What do you think?!” he said as he slammed a hand down on the door locks.

“What? I can’t bring Sako and Tikka in the truck? They’re harmless.”

John shook his head. He was resolute. “You are not taking those things with you. I don’t care! You’ve done too much already!!! How am I going to explain those things to Michael?!?” he cried.

I looked down at my dogs and then smiled up at John. “If you refer to Sako and Tikka as those things one more time, I will put you out with the rest of the ‘trash’. Now, open the fucking door and take me back to the camp or you can go back alone.” I let the unspoken threat hang in the air between us.

John sat there unmoving. I shrugged and walked away carrying Sako and Tikka in the crook of my arm trying to keep them in check as they wiggled and strained wanting to be put down.

I had gone about a quarter mile when I heard the box truck rumbling up the road behind me. I stopped and stood off to the side of the street as John pulled up next to me.  He stopped the truck and leaned over to open the door. I climbed in and sat the puppies on the seat between us, enjoying the ride back  in silence.

****

It had gotten to be late in the afternoon and we still were not yet back to camp. Sako, Tikka and I had become fast enamored of each other and I spent a good deal of my time playing with them during the ride.

Sako was busy chewing on my finger when a thought occurred to me. “What’s the deal with Miss ” I almost said Creepy but caught myself “Janie?”

John lit up like a Vegas street. “Oh, it’s something of a miracle! When the devils minions rose up the first time years ago, she was just a young woman. Miss Janie had a vision. Michael, Miss Janie and their Mother were leaving church one night–now Michael was still a boy, barely five years old– a group of godless niggers jumped them! Right at the church! Miss Janie she tried to talk sense to them.” John was practically vibrating in his seat as he recounted the tale “Well one of them heathen blacks threw something and it hit Miss Janie, but she didn’t go down!, No, sir! She stood up straight and tall, blood just drenching her all over!” I noted that John’s voice had begun to rise in pitch. Sako and Tikka noticed it too and began emitting a stressed whine. “Miss Janie she was overcome with the spirit of the LORD! I tell you, she started speaking in tongues and the spirit came over her so strong that she gouged out that heathen asshole’s eyes!” His voice reached a crescendo at the last word he spoke.

When he picked up the tale again his voice was hushed as if in awe “The spirit was so powerful, Miss Janie bit off her tongue. Them niggers killed Michael and Miss Janie’s mom.  Raped Miss Janie too, all except the one she blinded.” He shook his head. “Police showed up of course, useless as ever in time to clean up” he laughed harshly “might as well be janitors with guns, much use as they were.  Those boys didn’t do hardly no time in prison of course.”  John’s voice was picking up steam again “When Satan’s minions rose up this time, Michael came to lead us and we went right to those niggers houses and strung them right the fuck up!” John bounced in his seat and clapped his hands joyously “How we celebrated that night.” He gave me a conspiratorial smile “Miss Janie, she kissed me on the cheek. After.”

I considered all this but said nothing, trying to digest the information and all the ramifications it held. By the time John had finished his story we were within sight of the camp. The work crew had not yet shown with equipment needed to prepare the rifle range.

Not surprisingly to me, the other group that had disappeared with the Mosin parts had not returned either. Maybe things here weren’t quite as neatly sewed up as had originally appeared.

It turned out to be largely irrelevant. Michael had been called away by some urgent matter and had left camp with his personal god-squad shortly after we had gone to town.

I told John to have someone unload the truck we’d brought back and where ever the stuff ended up we’d make that the tool shed. I grabbed one of the hammers and stuffed it into a belt loop, then gathered up my puppies and headed off to my quarters.

I was intercepted by Donnelly before I took more than a few steps.

“Sir? You’re supposed to be instructing the men?”

“That is a question, Donnelly.”

He cleared his throat “Sorry, sir, I’m just trying to remind you?”

I stopped and turned toward Donnelly. “The gear we were sent to retrieve has not yet arrived, thus no instruction will be taking place today. Secondly, next time you ask me a question that is meant to be a statement, I am going to cut off your fingers and feed them to my dogs.”

Donnelly blinked and was silent.

I turned and began walking back to my quarters once more. I had just managed to get the door open and was bending to set Sako and Tikka on the ground when I saw a shape move in the shadows of my room.

The puppies had no problem with this and rushed the figure while I stood with the door partially open trying to decide between slamming the door shut or just shooting at the movement.

My dilemma was resolved in a heartbeat when a tremulous female voice came from the shadowy figure. “W-w-welcome home.”

I didn’t recognize the voice, but if it was a woman from this camp she probably didn’t pose much of a threat to me. My choice in words was eloquent as always as I dealt with the unwelcome surprise “Cocksucker!”

The woman blinked and retreated at the sound of my voice. I stepped fully into the room and pulled shut the door behind me. Sako and Tikka liked her right from the beginning which was good.

I smiled at her and held my hands up trying to appear as non threatening as possible. “Excuse my language. I wasn’t expecting anyone. . .”

I moved over to my cot and sat down. Today had been oddly exhausting.

She nodded and kept her eyes glued to the floor. “I’m Paige. I’m your . . . your woman.” she said and began to move toward the cot, slowly unbuttoning her blouse.

“Easy there, keep your shirt on!” I said holding up a hand to stop her. She didn’t appreciate my sense of humor. Women never did. “Look, I get the way this camp works, okay? But you are not my woman.

She looked uncertainly at me. I looked at the bandage that covered her partially exposed breast and felt sick at the idea of anyone trying to bed this woman right now, especially me.

“Did Sarah talk to you? Talk about me?”

Paige shrugged slightly. “She said you could be trusted.That-that you were different somehow. . . ”

I laughed a rare genuine laugh. “Yep. You could say that.” I held out my hand and Tikka came over to sniff it. I patted the bed and he stood on his hind legs to check it out. Satisfied, Tikka did his best to Jump on the bed but wasn’t quite large enough. I helped him out a little and within moments we were joined by Sako.

I relaxed on the cot and played with the dogs.  Paige moved to the corner farthest from me.

“I don’t want you like that Paige.” I said as a yawn fought to escape me.

The look on her face would have been comical at any other time.

“Let me rephrase. I’m not interested in being your master, having you serve my ‘needs’ because it’s your duty.  Understand?”

Paige nodded but she clearly wasn’t buying it.

I shooed Sako and Tikka off the bed and stretched out. “We are where we are, Paige.  For now you’ll have to keep up appearances, do what any other woman would do around here–clean up, take care of the house, those kind of things–but the only thing I’m going to ask you to do is stay awake.” I untied my boots and Paige hurried over to pull them off me.

I held up my hand again to stop her. “Just keep watch while I’m asleep. Anyone looks like they’re heading this way, you wake me up before they get here. Okay? That’s all I need from you.”

Paige looked unsure, but nodded an stepped away from me moving to stand by the window to keep watch as I asked.

“Oh yeah. . . and watch the dogs while I’m away. Don’t let them tear the place apart and try to make sure they get fed.” I told her as I turned over toward the wall. I felt something poking me in my side. “Here. This is for you.” I said as pushed myself up and removed the hammer from my belt. ” Keep it hidden, don’t use it unless you have absolutely have to. Appreciate it if you don’t beat me with it in my sleep.” As I was falling asleep I thought I heard a small laugh from her, but it might have been just a part of a dream.

Chapter 46 -Belt Fed Revolution

Michael turned away from me apparently satisfied that I was falling into line.  He walked back toward the crate of rifles and finished pulling off the blanket, to reveal a few large cardboard boxes sat next to the weapons crates.

“At least one of us thought ahead” he boasted as he turned the box around so the label could be read. “I know these are the best scopes you can get. When you get back you can have the men attach them to their weapons.”

I smiled appreciatively and opened the box pulling out one of the Leupold scopes. I’d never used a Leupold myself, but I was aware that they were considered one of the best commercially available scopes you could buy. I made the appropriate ‘ooh and ahh’ noises as I examined the scope, but didn’t bother to tell Michael that unless he had a gunsmith handy these lovely pieces of equipment were about as useful teats on a male hog.

Before we left to retrieve the rest of the Mosin parts I asked to be given a tour of the range where we’d be doing our shooting. Michael gave us permission to tour the facilities and shortly a golf cart appeared to take us out to what was just a large empty field.

I raised a hand to shield my eyes and looked off into the distance. I saw nothing but undeveloped land.

“I hate to be a problem here, but I’m not going to be able to properly train riflemen here.” I turned to Michael to head off his anger before it got brewing “if you want men who can shoot like Marines we’ll need to change . . . everything.”

I explained to Michael how a Marine rifle range was set up and the equipment we’d need to make this happen. The mood swings he was experiencing here were probably going to lead to one tuckered out little dictator, but to his credit he listened to me and told John to take a crew with us into town to get the tools and supplies needed.

What I needed more than anything was to get away from Michael and his insanity. I asked John to assemble the men we’d need to get the supplies and then asked Michael for his permission to walk alone back to the house.

Michael was having none of it, instead assigning a guard and my aide-de-camp Donnelly to shadow me as I made the walk back. Donnelly was unarmed as far as I could see and the guard with me wasn’t particularly attentive. I considered trying to take his rifle and make my escape now that we were far enough away from Michael’s guards. I grunted and shook my head a bit. I couldn’t just flee. I had given my word.

Even if it killed me, I was going to help the women escape this place and Gods willing do unspeakable things to Michael until even death wouldn’t be enough of a release.

****

When we finally entered the town I was surprised to note that there were still people there. Even more of a surprise was the fact that some of the businesses were open and at least one of them appeared to have electricity.

Inside the gun store was pretty much as John had described, all of the guns had been taken and most of the ammunition as well. I noticed that the few boxes of ammunition remaining were mostly old mil-surp stuff .303 Enfield and the like as well as some unusual calibers like .22-250, .204 Ruger and several dozen boxes of 16 gauge shotgun rounds. Michael’s people had secured the store against further incursions by bolting steel shutters over the broken windows and leaving a patrol to keep an eye on the place.

One cabinet that had not been opened caught my eye. I grabbed a flashlight from one of the work crew and shined it over the display and shook my head. The Gods. They can be cruel and capricious. Or perhaps Michael’s god -squad showed up before the looters had a chance to crack this particular nut. On the whole I’d still bet on the cruel and capricious Gods and their sense of humor.

I looked around until I found the right tool. A Ka-Bar. It hadn’t really hit me that I no longer had my Sweet Louise until I held this new unmarred version in my hand. I jammed the blade of the Ka-Bar into the display case and worked it around until I managed to crack the wood around the lock. I smiled as I lifted out a nearly pristine Nagant  M1895 revolver . Even better was the fact that it had been retrofitted with a cylinder allowing it to fire modern ammunition.

I went into the back room and found a couple of cases of .32 Magnum rounds and loaded the revolver, smiling secretly inside. John however was not about to let me walk away with the gun.

“Michael gave me specific orders. You are not to use or have a weapon except during training! I will not  allow you to take that gun.” John threatened.

I did the only thing I could think of. I placed the barrel of the gun against his eye and put my finger on the trigger.

“Your choice, Johnny boy. I can take this revolver and you can tell Michael and get marked for your troubles or I can mark you right here and now and free you from that that ever happening again.” I said waiting for him to make his choice. I gave him a little time to consider before speaking again. “Or option three, I take the revolver, you don’t say anything and continue to suck down oxygen.”

John swallowed hard and nodded “Okay, take it!Just keep it hidden! And please don’t take the knife . . .at least do that, okay?!”

I smiled at him. “This knife is not a weapon, it’s a tool.” I sheathed the knife “And yeah it’s going with me. Sorry.” I kept the revolver pointed at his face until he recognized this was non-negotiable.

When, after a while, he offered no further protest I lowered the gun, wedging it into my belt and lowering my BDU shirt over it. I’d figure out a way to carry it hidden later. “Oh, and John? let’s keep all this between us all right? If we get back to camp and anything goes awry. . . well let’s just keep it between us. Health reasons. Right?”

John nodded and let out a deep breath. “Fine. As far as I know you grabbed that while I was looking for the rifle kits. Deal?”

I nodded “You have my word on it.”

****

The work crew loaded up everything left in the store and then disappeared, leaving us to go and find another box truck.  We were going to hit a hardware store and afterward we needed to find a place that had heavy equipment to get the range set up properly. I was hoping none of Michael’s people had any experience with heavy equipment so my stalling tactic could be pushed even further as a reason his people weren’t getting trained.

We found a delivery company across town with several large box trucks and a couple of flat beds. We checked out the trucks and discovered that most of them were loaded with cargo of some sort or another, mostly useless things like telephones and office equipment. One truck, mostly empty had one pallet up near the cab. I climbed in to see what the box contained. A smile struck me briefly as I removed the plastic and prised open one box with my Ka-Bar.

I knew I could sell this as necessary, assuming the truck started. John climbed in behind me to see what I’d found. “Tools. This will save us a little time at the hardware store anyway.” I held out a titanium hammer with a skeletonized frame and a wicked looking head.

John nodded disinterestedly and tossed the hammer back in the box. “Cool. Let’s see if we can get the truck started; I’m ready to get this done and get back.”

I looked at him hoping my predator wasn’t poking out. “Sure thing. Let’s be about it!” I smiled and we climbed out of the truck. Cruel and capricious the Gods may be, but sometimes, just sometimes they tossed you a softball.

Chapter 45 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Head? The . . . ?”

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

“Are you asking me or telling me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 44 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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