Tag Archives: prepper fiction

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.

Advertisements

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 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.”

Chapter 42 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Savages?”

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

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

“Muslims?” I asked hesitantly.

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

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

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

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

“Tell me what I can do.”

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

Chapter 39 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

I crawled under the tree and immediately passed out.

****

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 38 -Belt Fed Revolution

I ran to the improvised front gate falling in beside the  guard  kneeling there as he returned fire into the growing dusk.  “Corporal! Sit-rep!” I asked as I knelt next to him and leveled my rifle out toward a group of vehicles at the farthest edge of the Wal-Mart parking lot.

“Not sure, sir.  Guard duty was ’bout the same as every night  then Stevens just goes down. Looked like  he was shot the throat…” I didn’t need to ask who Stevens was. I could see the bodies outside the gate already bled out. I eased myself between the Corporal and the wall and raised my rifle, resting the forward part of the stock on my left arm using the scope to scan the vehicles.  It was only about 150 yards away, but I couldn’t see faces only  feet and the top of an occasional head.

I continued scanning for a few moments seeing occasional muzzle flashes from under the vehicles and hearing the reports of rifles with no idea where the rounds were landing. Even though I didn’t have a great shot to take, I did have a .300 Winchester Magnum and that made up for a good deal  of the cover my targets were hiding behind at such a relatively close range. I was watching the furtive movements behind the vehicles when the Norns stepped up and began snipping threads.

The first kill was pure luck. I happened to be looking at one of the trucks as one of our unidentified OpFor ran between vehicles, leaving his head exposed for a second as he passed by the truck’s sliding rear window.  I almost missed the shot but just then time  slowed to a crawl. As soon as I saw the bill of the man’s ball cap enter the opening I squeezed the trigger and the man disappeared from sight.At the moment I couldn’t actually say I had hit the man, only that I had fired and seen him drop.

My next opportunity came when I saw a head using cover poorly. The top of another ball cap peaked out just behind a mirror of a big truck, the kind used for hauling horses. I squeezed the trigger gently and smiled a bit when I saw the hole appear in the mirror and the hat get ripped from the head it had been on.

Within moments the entirety of the camp had turned out and began taking up positions around and on top of the Wal-Mart building. The people on top of the building allowed us to set up almost in an enfilade-defilade position.

Without a word from anyone firing began en masse. If I had to guess I’d say this was just random shooting as I wasn’t seeing a lot of enemy bodies dropping given the amount of lead we were sending downrange.

The OpFor group was larger than I’d guessed .Their reinforcements began to move up on foot in small groups from the road that lead to the Wal-Mart.  I knelt back down and began to pick them off as quickly as I could. I wasn’t exactly Gunny Hathcock out here, but I was dropping people as fast as I could work the bolt.

I dropped the expended magazine and yelled “Reloading!” though I’m not sure to who. Everyone was busy dishing out their own personal size servings of whoop-ass just then. I slammed a fresh magazine up into the mag well and gave it a tap just to be sure but for some reason it wouldn’t seat. I pulled the magazine out and gave it a quick shake and a tap against my leg trying to get the rounds to settle into the magazine then realized I must have shot up every round of  the .300 Win Mag I had. The rest of it was back at the Jeep in bag I hadn’t been able to take with me because of my knee. The magazine I held in my hand was filled with .338 Lapua which was mostly useless to me just now.

I cursed and shoved the magazine into my pocket. I pulled out the BFR thinking at least I could shoot fairly accurate from kneeling. I had a target lined up and fired. The shot came nowhere near the target I had selected.I took aim again thinking I might be able to walk a shot in. I took a second to slow my breathing and make sure adrenaline wasn’t giving me a case of the shakes.

I focused on one truck I noticed sitting at the far edge of the parking lot. The truck looked familiar for some reason. It was the same truck I’d shot through the mirror to get at the tango that had been hiding there. I gave the truck a long look and was pretty sure I was looking at a black Ford F-450 with most of the front end torn off.

****

“Cease fire! Cease fire!” I stuck the BFR back in my belt as I walked up and down the row of soldiers and armed civilians nearest me calling out “Cease firing!” until eventually the word started spreading down the line and the rate of outgoing ordnance dropped to a crawl.

“Get someone up to the roof and tell them to stop shooting!” I  grabbed a civilian near me and yelled an order I didn’t know if he was capable of carrying out, but I didn’t have time to do any hand holding. I started calling out for Starke who was a bit further down the line than I had walked.

Starke was taking the cease-fire call as an opportunity to deal with the M-16 he was carrying which had double fed on him in the midst of the fight. “Starke! I need you to go get everyone to stand down.”

Starke finally cleared the malfunction in his weapon before he agreed. “Sure thing. What’s going on?”

I winced slightly “I think I might have just shit the bed here. Just try and get everyone calmed down.”

Starke gave me a shrug and headed off to make sure everyone had the order. I began looking around for towel or t-shirt or anything large enough to serve as a white flag. I finally found a civilian who was wearing a dingy, sweat stained A-frame shirt and told him to surrender it or risk getting shot by the OpFor, or if they couldn’t be arsed, I’d find someone on this side to do it.

The man looked more than a little perplexed, but took off his shirt and handed it to me. I made a quick search for a broom or something I could use to  keep the soiled garment away from my face. It’d be cool if I could use it as a flag pole too,  but fire from the PLM was picking up speed and I had to give up the search.

With no firing coming from our side I walked back to the gate and stuck the shirt out giving it a wave. Firing from the other side must have hit a lull about then and I took it as a sign that my decision to sue for peace had been accepted.

I stepped out and waved the flag over my head and felt a weird tugging sensation in my abdomen. Awesome. I survive the firefight unharmed only to pull a muscle during the surrender.

I continued walking forward for a bit, waving the t-shirt over my head while hearing the occasional shot being let off. I was about a quarter of the way to the PLM’s improvised cover when I heard someone from their side yell out “Cease Fire!” I saw heads poke out over the hoods of cars. One of those heads belonged to General Leader and it began moving toward me.

He walked at a brisk pace. I was glad because I suddenly felt very tired. The muscle I had pulled felt like it was on fire. I put my hand on my abdomen to apply some pressure to the muscle and felt a warm, sticky substance there. My hand came away bloody and breathing suddenly seemed like chore.

I staggered a few steps  as I tried to turn around before I fell to my knees.

****

I was surrounded pretty quickly by people from both sides. There was a tense stand-off going on out in the middle ground. Starke rushed out  and began hauling me backward by the sleeve of my BDU shirt. Others from the MVDF camp were trying to help him while maintaining a defensive stance with the PLM.

“Starke!” I thought I yelled but apparently my voice wasn’t all that loud. “STARKE?!” I tried again this time grabbing his wrist with my free hand.

He wasn’t listening, instead focused on dragging me back to the camp. I had a brief surge, from adrenaline or some other substance I didn’t know. I  managed to turn  to the point where  Starke had to drag me almost face first. I manage to get to my knees and fully grab his wrist. He finally stopped pulling for a second.

“They’re not enemies . . . ” Starke must have thought I was in shock as he started trying to drag me back once more.  “Adam! Damn it!” Starke stopped again.

“What the fuck? What? What’s so important? You’re shot in the gut here how about you just hold off on the long meaningful conversation until you get patched up?!”

I ignored him and pointed to General Leader. “He’s the head of the PLM . . . not an enemy.” Fuck, why was it so hard to talk? The words coming out of me felt like cement blocks being mixed in my mouth and turning solid as I spoke. I suddenly felt weak, weaker than I could ever recall and was overwhelmed by nausea.

I noticed now there were bodies all over inside the camp. People were running around tending to the wounded. It was a scene of pure chaos, but I had to get through to Starke. “Truce . . . declare a truce. Go meet with them. . .”

“Yeah, fine! I’ll give him the fuckin’ keys to the city if you’ll just shut up and let me get you taken care of!”

I relented and things got really fuzzy. I heard Starke say “asshole” but if it was directed toward me I couldn’t tell.  I couldn’t tell much of anything except that I seemed to be floating, no longer being dragged, but facing down, looking at the pavement moving below me as I floated along.

Chapter 32 -Belt Fed Revolution

I went to bed that night with a stomach full of deer liver and onions, the heart sauteed with carrots, I shared with Starke and his crew who provided me a Guinness Extra Stout to wash it all down. It had been ages since I’d had a drink and I must have been somewhat dehydrated to begin with as the one beer made me drunker than I can ever recall being.

Sleep was fitful. I had dreams of my old life. I dreamt of being late for work and behind on paperwork. For some reason my dream self found this all terrifying, but on waking I had trouble recalling why such  things would be of concern. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and sat up in a small tent. I couldn’t remember having crawled into the tent the night before or who might have been displaced by my lightweight self crashing here.

At least I had remembered to take off my boots. I rolled out of the little tent and fished out a pair of my new socks and laced up my Cadillac’s.  I needed water, but wanted coffee. It occurred to me I should have checked to see if the CONEX box with the Wal-Mart stuff in it had a French press. I’d sold myself too cheap.

As much as I felt Dwyer’s policies were unfair to the civilians under his charge, I didn’t feel like sharing my small hoard of coffee with them and given Dwyer’s edict of the previous day I wasn’t sure what my status in the camp was. Things weren’t nearly as bad as I expected.

Patrell came by as I was getting my ruck sorted and handed me a small leather pouch. He took one look at me and started laughing. “Rough night, bro?”

“Hel if I know. I slept through most of it.” I replied as I opened the pouch. Inside was a key and a piece of paper. The key had a stylized Ram’s head logo on it which I regarded with some puzzlement. The slip of paper was a small hand drawn map with details on how to access a cache of gasoline stored nearby and a warning not to use more than five gallons.

Patrell saw my confusion and pointed over toward the Wal-Mart parking lot “I got sent out to find your little request. Hope you like it.” I looked in the direction he pointed and saw a 2001 Jeep Cherokee, black with tinted windows and sporting a small lift.

“Foo-ken A, man.” I smiled impressed with his choice “You want a cup of coffee?” Patrell as it turned out went around prepared for situations exactly like this and produced a small camp coffee pot and and a bottle of water to cook it up with.  We walked over to the Jeep and Patrell set up a small cookstove on the macadam and set the water to boil. This kid really did come prepared.

We stood about silently for a bit watching the water heat up. “Hey!” Patrell almost jumped at my sudden exclamation “This thing got a radio?”

Patrell looked at me like I was new to the century. “Yeah man, it’s got a pretty kickin’ system too. I mean, not as nice as my ride back home, but y’know, nice.”

I grinned at him  and asked “I don’t suppose in the effort to get stuff out of Wally-World the CD section was touched was it?”

Patrell shrugged “hell if I know man. Why, you needin’ your country music fix?”

“Eat a dick.” I told him as  I proceeded to look in the Jeep. There was a knock-off maglite secured in the rear. I snatched it up and took off at a run.  Patrell fell in behind me.

“The hell’s so important man?” he called out as we ran for the store.

“Gotta have some tunes!!” I said and laughed as I trotted up to the open entrance.

Dreams really do come true.

****

I didn’t spend a lot of time looking through the music offerings, but I came up with a winning soundtrack pretty quick. Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Motörhead, Sabaton  and much to my surprise Amon Amarth’s ‘Fate of Norn’s’ album. I may only be driving a few miles but I fully intended to rock the entire way.

I started the Jeep, the familiar inline six engine making the right sounds as I put it into gear. I chose Amon Amarth to go in the CD player first and selected ‘Pursuit of Vikings’ as I left the parking lot. The sound system was set up for bass heavy music, but with a bit of fiddling I managed to get it to produce the sounds I wanted.

The Jeep had a nearly full gas tank and a happy Heathen behind the wheel. Now came the part I was dreading. I had to come up with some sort of plan to find the militia group Dwyer was interested in and in the process not get my head blown off by the same group.

I switched CD’s to listen to Sabaton’s ‘Forty to One’, which seemed entirely appropriate, a song about a small force of Polish soldiers holding off the German Wehrmacht in World War II. I drove the Jeep in the same way I would have driven mine, which was to say slowly as I got on the freeway to go the few miles to the town where the militia was thought to be holing up.

I hadn’t come up with much of a plan, but I thought if the briefing I’d received from Dwyer was accurate I might do well just to try and get spotted.  The exit to the town was approaching and aside from being one of the few vehicles I saw on the road, I thought maybe doing something to get myself noticed might be a good plan.

I slowed as I approached the exit ramp and coasted over into the breakdown lane. I was checking for hostiles, but more importantly for my purposes, I needed to get a look at the terrain. The area next to the off ramp looked manageable so I shifted into four wheel drive and did something I’d always wanted to do. I drove off into the little area just to the right of the breakdown lane. Once I’d hit more or less level ground, I floored it.

This Jeep wasn’t as near like mine as I would have preferred, but in typical Jeep fashion it performed without a problem. I accelerated hard, causing the ground– which usually only saw the occasional riding mower– to be torn up, mud flung everywhere. I turned the wheel hard over and did a couple of donuts and did my best attempt at a hill climb toward the areas that ran next to the road.

I stopped when I felt one or more of the tires leave the surface. I’d decided that I’d had enough fun for now and proceeded to slowly climb up out of the little pit.

I made it back to the shoulder and got out to admire my handiwork. I had managed to cover the Cherokee with a good thick coat of mud. I nodded and muttered to myself as I walked around the vehicle checking the tires “Field expedient camouflage? Check!”

I hadn’t heard anything from the town and while I wasn’t exactly sitting there with a pair of Big Eyes I hadn’t seen any potential  hostiles checking me out either.

Okay genius, what now?

Time for plan B. I climbed back into the Jeep and cranked up the sounds. I chose my favorite song by Iron Maiden. ‘Run to the Hills’ and drove into town.

Chapter 30 -Belt Fed Revolution

I dried myself off and dressed, gathering my gear so I could head back outside. Fortunately people weren’t expected to shave in the dark. There was a five-gallon bucket filled with water next to a mirror taped to one of the CONEX boxes.

I was a little surprised when I saw myself. The face in the mirror was edging toward gaunt and my eyes looked almost like deep sunk bruises. My normally pale complexion had taken on a ruddy tone from exposure to the sun and my beard –while not overly long– had gotten very bushy as had my mustache, both of which were changing color turning from a dirty blonde to a lighter color with streaks of red.

I opened the shaving kit which consisted of a disposable razor, shaving cream and a no-alcohol aftershave. I laughed and zipped the kit up mumbling to myself   “not bloody likely.”

I returned the kit and the flashlight to the supply sergeant that had taken over for Cheryl. I asked for and received a ‘hat,sun,hot weather,’ a.k.a a boonie hat. The sergeant handed me one in Army ACU pattern. I tucked the string up inside the hat and stuck it on my head and went to see if my ghillie suit was done.

A different woman greeted me at the laundry and looked at me with no comprehension when I asked for my ghillie suit back. After several attempts at explaining to her what a ghillie suit was, she waved me back behind the counter and showed me everything that was waiting to be put in one of the industrial dryers.

I saw the beaten rag of my burlap poncho and pulled it out. The stitching had held up well and the burlap had even frayed a bit in the washer. The blood stain was still evident though greatly reduced. “Just can’t get rid of your ass, can I trucker boy?” I laughed and hefted the burlap which had to weigh close to a metric ton now that it was wet. I asked the lady if she had a garbage bag and she gave me a used canvas tote with an apology

“Garbage bags are a hygenine imperative. You have to get them from supply if you want one.” It was obvious from her tone this had to be one of Dwyer’s rules. I thanked her for the tote and stuffed my suit inside.

Base security wasn’t exactly lax, but with so many civilians around the guards weren’t paying close attention to people wandering about inside the perimeter. I sat down at one of the communal tables and was marking the routes of the guards seeing where the biggest hole in their patrol was when I felt the slight breeze that had been blowing suddenly change.

I saw a pair of boots –highly polished– standing next to me. “Major.” I said without turning to look at him. He didn’t say anything for several moments and I knew what was expected. I stood and gave him a somewhat flippant salute.

“You’re military then? What sorry sacks-of-shit they dig up these days.” He looked me in the eye, not predator to predator but simply a man used to making  prolonged, uncomfortable, eye-contact. I was betting he was a big hit with the ladies.

“Have you received a duty assignment yet?” I’m sure he was used to either getting fear or respect generated by his oak leaves, but I had been a civilian for way too long to go in for that.

The predator in me was working his way to the surface. This man struck me as a bully and I had never cared for bullies. I drawled a “Naw,sir” at him and waited for whatever was coming next.

He surprised me by nodding “All right. Come see me in command and we’ll get you squared away. Have you had a chance to eat?”

Had I misjudged him? Maybe Starke had the right of it. The man was just trying to do his best to get by; the only difference was he was the one everyone looked to for answers. “Sir, no. I just got out of the shower, sir.” I straightened up a little.

The corner of his mouth twitched up in what I was guessing passed for a smile. “Beards aren’t normally regulation, but I’m not going to bust balls over it. I wouldn’t want to dull a razor shaving that thing off anyway.”

I squinted slightly. Was that a joke? “Yes, sir.” I replied and smiled back uncertainly.

He laughed and clapped me on the shoulder. “Right. Get some food in you and I want to see you at 1430 in my office.”

“Aye aye, sir.” I waited until he moved around me to relax a little bit. I sat back down and resumed watching the guards. It occurred to me I had no watch or any idea what time it was. The sky was overcast so I couldn’t get an exact fix on the sun. I scanned the area and found a group of civilians standing single file in a line leading into an area hidden by several stacks of pallets.

I joined the line guessing correctly it was for chow. The civilians in line all stared at me like I decided to set myself on fire and hang around to enjoy the blaze. One by one they all stepped to the side to let me pass to the front. I felt a tapping on my shoulder and turned around. “Mikes don’t wait.” O’ Toole said with obvious disdain. I felt slightly embarrassed and excused myself, stepping out of the line entirely and wandering away from the group.

I saw Patrell standing by the supply area, an eyebrow raised as I apporached. “One of us now, huh?” He shook his head and I could only shrug.

“Guess so.” Right now all I wanted was to get away from everyone, but it seemed everywhere I looked was filled with people military or civilian. “Hey, what time is it, Patrell?”

Patrell had on a digital watch with an oversized dial. He turned the dial toward himself and said “1345.” I thanked him and looked for a place to hide until I could make my escape or until I had to go meet with Dwyer.

There was a trailer parked right against the building with the kind of ladder Wal-Mart employee’s would have used to stock high shelves. I climbed the trailer and saw that there was about a 6 foot difference between it and the roof of the building. I looked around to see if anyone was watching.

If I messed this up it was going to be embarrassing. I ran and jumped at the wall grasping the edge and managed to pull myself up pretty easily. I was duly impressed considering I’d done this carrying all my gear.

I no longer had my monocular having lost it sometime during the fight with the feds, so I had to satisfy myself with using my scope to see the area.

I unsnapped the lens covers on each end and extended the guns bipod to its fullest height. I looked around scanning the area until I found one of the guards I’d been watching earlier.

“Killing anyone in command is a court-martial offense.”

****

I was glad I had wrapped my rifle sling around my wrist or it would have been a neat little mess on the ground below.

Cheryl was smiling beatifically “What are you doing up here?”

“Just trying to get the lay of the camp.”

She put her hands on her hips and laughed “Well you’re certainly forward!”

I stopped and ran the exchange back in my head. When I saw my error I hung my head “Yeah, sorry. not what I meant. I was just wondering how big the camp is?”

Cheryl put her hand on my elbow and turned me back toward the trailer I had jumped up from. “Anyone else would probably turn you in as a Fed spy for doing that, but I’m going to give you a break because you’re new here and Starke vouched for you.”

Even though Cheryl had been smiling and laughing there was nothing funny here. I had not missed the fact that her hand had never been more than a few inches away from her sidearm during the entirety of our exchange. I swung my legs over the edge of the roof and let myself down gently.

No matter. I had a good enough idea of where to probe the perimeter to escape. I decided to head over to command and see what Dwyer had to say. At the very least I might get another cup of coffee before I sneak out.

As I approached the CONEX box the guards on duty there saluted me.I guessed it was probably habit for them to salute uniformed people they didn’t recognize. I thought about the few times I had pulled guard duty and realized they probably didn’t even see me, they we’re just saluting out of habit so some dipshit officer didn’t get his panties in a twist.

I climbed the steps into the command CONEX and waited while a sergeant I didn’t recognize advised me that the Major was running behind. Moments later Starke appeared and grinned at me “ready for your meet with Dwyer?’

I nodded “As I’ll ever be. Does he tend to run late?”

Starke shrugged it off “Grab a cup of coffee if you want. Command doesn’t have the same restrictions on the stuff.”

I asked for and received a cup of coffee from the sergeant at the desk. As far as I was concerned the meeting was already a win for me. Starke and I passed the time talking about duty assignments and making small talk about the base. after a while Dwyer appeared and waved us in to his makeshift office.

 Office was really stretching the term. Dwyer’s office was a corner of the CONEX partititoned off with cheap wood paneling  and contained a small cheaply made computer desk with a ‘ruggedized’ laptop computer open on the desk. Dwyer waved us into a couple of plastic chairs sat in front of his desk,dispensing with military formalities.

Dwyer typed something briefly into his laptop and sighed tiredly as he waited “Finn Sigurdsson. Served one tour in Iraq as part of the 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit out of Camp Lejune. Injured while escorting a convoy of HMMWV’s at Prince Sultan Air Base, separated from the Corps without benefits…” he trailed off as he read giving a brief shake of his head. “Long and the short of it is, welcome back Marine. You’ve been drafted into the service of the Michigan Volunteer Defense Force.”

“Drafted?” I looked to Starke who was concsciously avoiding eye contact with me. “My pension getting reinstated, too?”

Starke decided to join the fray “Look Finn, the truth of it is we need every body we can get. The Feds are busy elsewhere and haven’t committed their full strength here, but the problem is  we aren’t just fighting the Feds. Some of the militias want to scrap as well. We need someone who can act as a go between.”

Starke eyed me hopefully.

 I looked at Starke. “I should’ve killed you when I had the chance.”

Starke laughed and Dwyer remained silent watching the exchange. “I’m guessing my option, should I refuse, is death?”

Dwyer shook his head ‘No. We’re not the feds. You can refuse if you want.” I could feel the but coming. “But unfortunately we can’t allow you to leave if you do refuse.”

I ran through several scenarios in my head. I could easily shoot my way out of the CONEX box, but I didn’t think I’d be able to escape the camp.

Under my breath I muttered “Welcome to FOB Assrape.”  Aloud I said “All right damn it. What do I have to do?”

Chapter 29 -Belt Fed Revolution

I fell deeply asleep. I guess it worked out for me since I didn’t have to be blindfolded to get to the camp. I woke when Starke was giving the command to dismount.

I stepped out of the APC expecting something resembling an abandoned Army base. Instead I was greeted by trees bordering a parking lot. Still a bit sleepy I muttered “Wal-Mart?”

“Feds know where all our bases are. Also, they’re using them. Figured it’d be best to go some place to hole up where we wouldn’t get shot.” Starke was grinning as he handed me a rucksack filled with the spoils of our battle. I nodded dumbly and shouldered the ruck.

Guererra walked by me and spoke just loud enough for me to hear “Welcome to FOB Assrape.”

At my look he chuckled “You want to keep an eye on your six, otherwise you’re going to get volunteered for something . . . unpleasant.”

“Thanks for the warning.”

Guererra and Patrell shared a laugh and set to unloading the APC. Starke walked over and pointed at a CONEX box still attached to a semi-tractor. “Command.” he moved his finger slightly to indicate another CONEX container surrounded by armed guards “Supply.”

There were groups of civilians milling around aimlessly near  the boxes. Starke jerked his chin toward the group “That’s the Third Michigan Regulars. Civilians that found us and were conscripted.” Starke eyed them with obvious distrust. “They’d join the Feds in a heartbeat if the Feds could feed them three squares a day and keep them warm and dry.”

I nodded but kept my mouth shut. I didn’t come here to join some sad sack cannon fodder unit. I had just about made up my mind to thank Starke and his crew for the ride and see about getting further down the road when Guererra looked over my shoulder and announced “Command on the prowl.”

I hadn’t been in the military long, but I knew enough not to look where Guererra had indicated. As it turned out that was unnecessary. Their commander, a soft looking Major made a beeline for Starke, causing all the men in the crew to snap to attention.

“Sergeant! Did you intend to report in sometime today or were you just going to hang out with your new friend here?” Dwyer tossed a brief disinterested look my way.

Starke snapped off a salute “Sir. We just returned and were unloading our cargo, sir.”

The Major looked Starke over and glanced at the now mostly empty APC. “Very well, Sergeant. The instant you’re finished here, you come find me. Have one of your men get your friend here settled.”

With that the Major strode off.   “Nice to meet you, too.” I said to his retreating form.

“Don’t sweat it, Finn. He spent most of his career behind a desk until just recently; he means well.  And he’s committed to the cause. He’s just trying to get used to being in the field and in combat.” Starke stared off at the Wal-Mart for a second “I’d probably be as headfucked as him if I had to do his job.”

Starke had O’ Toole introduce me to the civilian component of the camp. At first I wondered if I’d done something to piss Starke off, but it occurred to me that he chose O’ Toole because he was a civilian too.

Discrimination was alive and well here. Military and civvies kept their distance and seemed to have set up their temporary camps as far away from each other as possible. I noted some women who appeared to be unattached had strung their camps out closer toward the military side.

O’ Toole wasn’t talking much which suited me fine. “Driscoll!” A man with a mustache out of the Civil War looked up our approach.  When we got closer than shouting distance O’ Toole made a hasty introduction “Driscoll this is Sigurdsson. Show him around and keep him out of trouble.”

Driscoll extended his hand “Jim Driscoll.”

“I’m Finn. Good to meet you.”

“So I take it you’re not military since O’ Toole brought you to us.Civilians don’t normally get to ride with the Mikes. Where’d you come from anyway?”

I didn’t really feel like rehashing John’s death and the fight with the Feds, so I kept it vague. “You said Mikes. What’s that about?”

Driscoll grinned “Kind of a poke at the military guys with all their alphabet soup chatter. They’re not that bad really.  Dwyer just keeps ’em busy.”

“Dwyer? That the Major in command of this…camp?” I chose my words carefully because hobo love palace  while seeming appropriate might cause some upset.

“Yeah. He’s just such a joy, too, let me tell ya.” Driscoll rolled his eyes. “Dwyer has been in charge since I came here two months ago. He was the one that instituted the no fraternization rule for the Mikes. Got to keep them,”  Driscoll paused for effect “pure.”

I was sure there was some kind of message there but I wasn’t going to waste time figuring it out. I’d spent time in enough hostile environments personally and professionally to know when the soup was going to reach a boil. I did have questions though and since Driscoll seemed ready to talk I hung around.

“Two months you’ve been here? The Feds haven’t found you?”

Driscoll shook his head. “They’re busy with the remnants of the civilian militias. Those guys had more firepower than the government knew. At least until the MVDF came along.” Driscoll began slowly drifting toward the supply CONEX box and I followed. “There’s a militia camp north of here,militia mind, not connected with the Mikes. They’ve been pounding the Feds with mostly captured equipment and they keep moving around.” Driscoll smiled “The Mikes here have been trying to establish contact with them, but those guys think any form of government they didn’t personally approve is not to be trusted.”

  The supply area had a smell about it. People say you can smell fear or desperation. I didn’t smell anything but people living rough, eating the same food and living in cramped conditions. If anything the smell was that of the comforts of the old world falling away. Humanity returning to what it was meant to be. That and coffee. The smell of coffee coming from the supply area was so pungent it was making my mouth water.

Driscoll stepped carefully by the Mikes assembled here and made his way to the front of the supply line. The supply clerk was a young woman with blonde hair that looked like it hadn’t been washed in a month. Driscoll pointed to me “New guy here, Cheryl.”

Cheryl was busy writing and didn’t give me more than a cursory glance. “Identification please” she said this as she turned to grab a styrofoam cup and fill it with coffee. She pushed the coffee toward me across the desk and continued writing distractedly. I patted down my pockets. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had my license or been asked to show it.

I stuck my hands in pockets containing rounds for the revolvers until I came across a small familiar rectangle. I drew out my battered wallet and withdrew my license handing it to Cheryl. She glanced at the identification for a moment and then looked up at me.

“Velkommen.Snakker du Engelsk?”

I blinked. “Yes. Quite well, too, from what I’m told. Mange takk.”

Cheryl smiled. “Sorry. It’s not everyday you see a name like Finn…”

I cut her off before she could say my entire first name. “Understood. I still have a lot of family in Norway, but my branch has been here since the 1600’s.” I searched my bank of expressions for ‘smile, non threatening’ and think I came up with the appropriate one since she didn’t immediately recoil. “As best I know, the last Sigurd in my family was busy setting England on fire in the eighth and ninth centuries.”

Cheryl handed me back my license. I made a note to throw it away. Even if the government–some government–managed to restore order, I wasn’t going to be participating.

I offered my thanks and took the cup of coffee Cheryl had poured. She gave me a half-smile. “Sorry, it’s one cup per person per day. You’re new so you’re entitled to two. Try and make it last.” 

I stopped mid gulp. “Thanks for the heads up.”

She smiled and wrote something down on a piece of paper and handed it to me. “I’m off-duty in a while. This is your camp identification. If you need something, bring it back here and give that number to whoever’s on duty and if they can help you they will.”

 I didn’t mean to hang around here longer than was necessary. I reached for the piece of paper, but Cheryl held onto it smiling at me “you know, in case you want to get some clothes or something.”

She let go of the paper and I looked down at my ghillie suit. John’s dried blood covered a large portion of the front and I probably had some on the back as well. I folded the paper and stuck it in my pocket. I thanked her and wandered off to check out the command area.

I was greeted by an officious young man with dark skin and a bad case of razor burn. He shoved a clipboard into my chest “Name and service number?”

I stared at him. “You want my serial number?”

He shook his head “Service number. You’ve been issued a service number haven’t you?”  He looked at me “Oh, sorry…you’re old military. Yes, serial number then. We’ll get you converted to a service number later.”

I realized that with my ghillie suit, new ruck and rifle slung over my back the kid likely took me for a current service member. I reeled off my name and serial number to him.

He looked at me then “You’re new right? MOS?”

“0300.”

He stared at me for a minute longer “Marines? 0300 is…”

“Infantry.” I supplied

He nodded and shoved the clipboard deeper into my sternum. “Sign and date. See Tech Sergeant Ruiz for assignment to quarters.”

I laughed inside and wandered up the steps into the CONEX box like I belonged there. I intended to look around and see if this snowball was going to survive the microwave, but apparently Ruiz had been watching.

He strode over and gave me a curious look  “salute or shake?”

“Uh, shake.” I said and extended my hand.

“Welcome aboard.” he shook my hand and continued ” I have some forms for you over here.”

I had to laugh “Of course you do.”

Ruiz sat down behind a small laptop with a sigh “okay let’s get the basics. Name, rank, service number.”

“Sigurdsson, E-3.” I hesitated at the service number thing having just gone through this. “I haven’t been assigned a service number, but I have my serial?”

Ruiz eyed me up and down “E-3? who’d you piss off?”

I stood there silently unsure how to respond. Ruiz smiled at me, “You look a little old to be enlisted still.” he continued “Okay, so E-3, MOS?” I sighed having a bit of a flashback to days gone by.

Ruiz stopped typing briefly when I told him my MOS and stared at his monitor”Oh, lance corporal . Sorry, Marine. We got people from every branch here.” Ruiz wrote something down on a piece of paper and handed it to me. “Take this to supply, they’ll get you outfitted.” He looked at my cobbled together gear “They catch you on leave or something?” I was about to respond with a witty go fuck yourself but he just shook his head “Anyway, go get geared up. Supply will give you your BDU’s and whatever else you need. Get cleaned up and report back to Major Dwyer when you’re finished.”

I meant to be down the road, but the idea of new gear and a shower was appealing so I headed back to supply. Cheryl was still behind the little desk inside the CONEX box. She smiled at my approach ‘Velkommen, Finn.”

I smiled and handed her the slip of paper Tsgt Ruiz had given me. She stared at it blankly for a minute.

“Sorry, I didn’t realize you were military. Why didn’t you say something?” She looked at me with new eyes “Beards aren’t regulation. The Major may want you to shave.” she grabbed two sets of BDU’s and a shaving kit no doubt courtesy of the Wal-Mart. She looked at my rifle next and paused thoughtfully. “We’re short on full auto’s, but we may have ammo for that. What is it?”

“.243”  I said hopefully.

She blew air out in a silent whistle “Let me check.” She left the desk and was gone for several moments before returning with several boxes of ammuntion for me. “Sorry, it’s just Remington white box. We don’t have much in the way of surplus ammo even for standard calibers.” I noted one of the boxes was labeled .357 JHP.

She smiled when she saw my look  “My dad has the same gun. And .357 rounds are something we have a bit of; if you were carrying a 9mm or a .45 you’d be just about S.O.L.”

I gathered the things she had set out for me and asked her to point me in the direction of the showers.

She pointed at the Wal-Mart building proper. “The building still has power, but the lights are off. You have a flashlight?”

I told her no and she handed me a flashlight with a giant piece of wood taped to it. “Sorry, flashlights are getting scarce. You’ll have to turn this in after you get cleaned up.” I nodded and took the flashlight, looking for a place to secure it. “There’s a laundry facility inside, too.” She wrinkled her nose slightly “you may want to get that washed” she said indicating my ghillie suit.

I thanked her and made my way toward the building.

I decided to drop off my ghillie suit before hitting the showers. I handed it to a woman there, a civilian apparently, and thanked her. I hoped the stitching would hold.

I turned on the flashlight and entered the building. Another civilain, this time male, was waiting just inside. “Showers?” I asked and he pointed wordlessly to an employee locker room. “Can I take my gear in there?’

He nodded “Stick it in a locker, just don’t shut it. Otherwise we have to cut it open.”

Upon entering the locker room the smell of mold hit me. I shined the flashlight on a row of lockers and shoved my ruck into the first unoccupied one I saw. I didn’t have to worry about closing the door, as the locker barely contained the near empty ruck as it was.

I stripped down and shoved all my clothes into the locker as well. Standing naked in the locker room in the dark I let out a long sigh. I was ready to find a bed and crawl into it for a year or so.

I shined the flashlight toward the emergency shower stall and stepped in. As the water hit me I could see it was discolored when it reached the shower floor.

“Goodbye, John.” I said and hung my head to let the water wash over me.