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Chapter 57 -Belt Fed Revolution

What makes the grass grow? 

A smile came to my face as I recalled a line from a movie. These ladies were killers of a type that would put most men to shame. They weren’t superbly trained or excellently equipped but they made up for those short comings with an absolute dedication to finishing the job.

Michael’s body lay still on the ground where it had been left; a mangled wreck so tainted even the dogs wouldn’t go near the remains. No overstatement that as Sako and Tikka followed me around and made haste to step away from the  meat spoiling in the heat of a new day.

I felt myself at something of a loss. My work here was done–this demonstrated to me by the women organizing a group to hunt down the men who’d escaped in the chaos–and I didn’t exactly feel needed or welcomed now. Sarah was the lone hold out among the women. She would talk to me, meet my gaze and acknowledge my existence; to everyone else I was a ghost.

Small groups of women had begun to return now with prisoners. The men were bloodied and disheveled from their flight and subsequent capture. This was not of my doing; the women were doling out their own brand of justice to their captives.  One of the male prisoners found this out in a hard and utterly final way that the balance of power had shifted fully. The man’s guard attempted to push him into a kneeling position alongside his comrades; the man refused and attempted to strike the woman. The female guard wasted no time as she drove her bayonet deep into the man’s guts angling down so that the tip of the bayonet protruded high up on his thigh.

I was just beginning to understand the monster I had helped create when I was interrupted from my observations by a tap on the shoulder.

“You’ll be leaving soon I suppose.”

I looked at Paige and saw no hint of the woman I’d met mere days ago. “Soon as I can find transportation.” I said as I took in the lovely shell that was Paige.

“Leave the dogs.”

It was an order. I though I might refuse for a moment, but I decided to let it go: Sako and Tikka could make their own choice. Even if I had refused her it would have been to her back: she hadn’t waited for a response when issuing her edict.

I stared at her retreating form as the dogs made themselves busy chasing each other around my legs. For a moment I considered drawing my revolver and putting a single round in the back of her head, but after what I had witnessed here I thought it might be biting off more than I could chew.

“I guess the hero doesn’t get the girl after all. Apparently western culture has been wrong all these years.”

Sarah looked worse for the wear. Her prim smile was still fixed firmly on her face, but there was no trace of humor in her eyes. Her gray hair looked as if it had been arranged by a visually challenged lunatic, spilling off her head in a loose braid that sprouted wild hanks of hair everywhere.

“They also lied about the heroine looking like she just stepped off a fashion runway, too.” I said without making it plain to whom my comment was directed. We all looked like shit.

“I suppose. So you’ll be leaving soon?”

I half snorted half laughed at the statement. “Yes ma’am. I thought I might stay for a bit and offer you some advice on how to fortify the place . . .” I let my offer hang in the space between us for a moment.

She paused for a few minutes, remaining silent so long I almost thought to simply walk away, but finally nodding her head she spoke “That would be helpful.” She went quiet again before adding “I could use some advice on how to handle the prisoners brought back as well.”

Before I could tell her to kill them all my brain jumped in ahead of my tongue for once. “Use them as labor. The ones you can reintegrate get brought back to the fold, the ones you can’t–” I shrugged “work them till they drop then turn them into fertilizer for your gardens.”

Sarah considered this thoughtfully for a moment before nodding her agreement  “Those were my thoughts as well. I was actually hoping you might offer a different solution .” she paused just briefly “but perhaps there’s some humanity left in them yet. Maybe . . .” she looked at the faces of the men kneeling some yards away and let out a heavy breath “maybe they can be rehabilitated.”

“Rehabilitation is a myth, Sarah. You bring these men back only after you’ve watched them for a long while. You have a doubt about one of them, you put him down right then.” I said holding her gaze before eventually turning to look at Michael’s remains “if you need reminding about why that’s necessary . . .”

I thought she looked embarrassed for a moment but the resolve I’d seen in her earlier quickly returned. “No. You’re right, but . . .” There was conflict evident in her features. “But, Finn . . . ”

I held my hand up to stop her. “Finn is gone. I’m just The Heathen now.” I smiled “That doubt you have about trying to be kind to these men who abused you? That’s the old world. That world is used up now, just like my name. You want to lead these women, keep them safe, you have to put that away.”

She looked defeated but nodded. “Thank you, Finn.” she said putting a touch of tenderness into her words.

I shook my head. “That world is dead, Sarah. Trust me; bury it along with your compassion. Man can only overtake. Whether it’s the highway or the highway of life man cannot rest, cannot be happy merely to pass his fellows, he must overtake them. And even then the happiness that brings him exists only as long as there are no others in his sight.”

Sarah smiled “I hope you’re wrong.” I could see the spark being reignited in her eyes and hoped that spark would build up a fire strong enough for her to lead.

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Chapter 56 -Belt Fed Revolution

“Nasty habit” I muttered to myself as I slid over the top of the berm amidst a volley of gunfire from behind me. This was combat evolved. I had been in several hairy situations but never anything quite this dumb had I yet  attempted.

I laid flat on the ground for a moment just trying to listen. A group of men were making their way toward the rifle crates by attempting to  skull drag.  Whoever taught them this technique was going to get a thank you card from me. As the men moved their butts rose into the air just enough to make them stand out even in the deep pool of inky darkness that existed this far away from the floodlights.  I cursed my luck when it occurred to me I’d left my nightvision back in my quarters. I adjusted my position on the ground waiting until I saw the tell-tale movement again. I swung the Mosin in their direction and angled my body as best I could to make the shot, laying as I was on my left shoulder.  Once again Iron Maiden’s ‘Run to the Hills’ popped unbidden into my head as I saw a butt rise up into the night.  I fired slightly in front of the shape hoping to score a hit in the torso. I couldn’t guarantee that I hit the man, but that particular hill stopped moving shortly after I pulled the trigger.

I saw another movement there; this time a head raised up to look around. The head stayed raised for several seconds and I didn’t hesitate trying my luck as I snapped off a shot in that direction. This time I didn’t have to guess whether or not I’d hit as I saw the head shape become tragically malformed in an instant. The other men that had been trying to sneak up to the weapons suddenly realized that not only were they in a combat situation, but were taking direct fire.  Lacking discipline or a better idea they stood up and ran for it.

A volley of fire from behind me answered their impromptu retreat cutting the men down as they fled.

I proceeded to low crawl in the direction of the house hoping the women wouldn’t be so effective in their firing if they should see me. As I crawled along I heard the sound of wounded men calling for their mothers. The irony was not lost on me and I altered course in the direction of the first voice I heard. As I approached the man I could see that his wound was actually little more than a flesh wound, just a graze on his neck.  I pulled the Mosin up so I could grasp hold of the fore stock and plunged the bayonet deep into his neck, eventually pulling it out when I heard a satisfying gurgling noise.

I continued crawling, the only sound coming to my ears was that of my own efforts in crawling along on the dewy grass. I risked a look back toward the berm but my vision being so affected by the floodlights I couldn’t make out any details on this moonless night. I stopped crawling and let out an audible sigh and thought–why did my life of late seem to be composed of doing utterly stupid things?  I was overcome by the desire to laugh. I’d done a lot of stupid things sure enough; I’d also succeeded beyond all reason in doing them.

I knew the All-Father wouldn’t let me go on like this forever but as long as he appeared to be on my side. . .  “Ah what the Hel.” I said and stood up and waved to the women behind the berm “CHARGE THE HOUSE! NO PRISONERS!”

****

Not being shot immediately in the back was a good sign. I slung the Mosin over my shoulder and began limping quickly toward the house in the still night. Either everyone had died out on the field or their good sense had taken hold and they’d decided not to turn out for the fight.

I moved as fast as I could manage firing off the occasional shot as I went–if I saw a man down I meant for him to stay that way. I covered the ground to the house much faster than I would have imagined as I encountered no resistance along the way. As I approached what I thought might have been the guard I’d tried to shoot earlier I saw the look of relief flood his features when he recognized me.  I raised the .357 and put him down before he could form the words to ask what was happening.

I paused there a second standing over his body, making myself a lovely target. It wasn’t often I got this chance, I thought, and I had been silently asking Odin for a lot of help. I leaned down over the man and drew the valknut on his forehead.

I spoke quickly then into the night air “Odin! Mighty Destroyer!  Beloved of Frigg! Accept now the sacrifice of blood I offer; this man killed by my hand. I take nothing from him, leaving all to you”  I reached down to check his pulse and was surprised to find the man was still breathing.  Sweet Louise  in hand I drew the blade across his throat dispatching him to the finality of afterlife.

It sounded a little crazy to say those words outside of a dream, but I had nothing left to hold me back. In days gone by I’d often pictured what living free might be like, but even then I could not have summoned up this image.

The back door of the house swung open its frame banging against the weathered siding as another of Michael’s minions stepped through the portal. I raised the Nagant revolver to fire at him and saw the confused look cross his face. I pulled the trigger only to hear the hammer fall on an empty cylinder. I tossed the gun to the ground and leapt at the man, Sweet Louise in my hand. The blow wasn’t movie perfect severing a body part in slow motion as I landed, but it was effective enough as I managed to draw the blade across his face at least temporarily blinding him.

He stumbled away from me, the shock of being wounded by a man he thought an ally no doubt causing his mental gears to gum up.  I swung the knife again this time making good contact with his throat. The blood flowed from his neck like a river.

I heard a noise I couldn’t identify, like thunder speaking words. As  I knelt down to draw the valknut on another offering, the noise abated.The sound was me. I had found my warcry, though the contents of such were a mystery to my ears. I stood over the fallen form and shouted it again and I knew: this was it. This was freedom.

I entered the house without thought or care. I was beyond gone and thought only of  the blood I had yet to spill. No one was visible in the living room area and I had my doubts that anyone was still in the house at all, but I had to check. I ran into the meeting room where my troubles had begun anew with the reappearance of O’Toole. Part of me hoped that Starke hadn’t deprived me of the chance to kill him just yet.

The meeting room was open as was practically every drawer in the place. Michael was getting away, I knew, but he had stopped to find something.  I stood there indecisively for a minute to see if my brain would magically supply the answer. I couldn’t wait. As I turned to go search the basement I heard a noise outside and saw several figures run past the house’s front window. A truck was weakly turning over somewhere out front. The thought struck me like a bolt of lightning; keys!

The trucks had been used several times since our run into town to gather the supplies for the range and the keys couldn’t just be left with the trucks overnight or they’d risk losing both them and likely a few women.

I unslung the Mosin and charged the front door, roaring now, bellowing like a wounded animal. I dropped to my knees as I cleared the door and took aim at the plethora of figures in front of me not caring if they were men or women. I fired indiscriminately hoping the driver of the truck would set himself up for me by turning on the headlights.

I waited for several breaths firing and loading as people ran past where I knelt. None of the trucks headlights came on and I began to think I had either miscounted the vehicles I could see or Michael was already gone. I stood up and fed rounds into my revolver and the Mosin as if I was on autopilot, until suddenly the Gods smiled on me. No headlights, but there, I saw the grass light up as the driver of the truck stepped on the brakes.

The truck was too far away. I’d never be able to cover the distance in time. I took the Mosin in one hand and knelt again in the wet grass, listening to the screams all around me as the remaining men tried desperately to figure out where the enemy was. I couldn’t see into the cab of the truck, but I could see the windshield.  I used the Mosin’s sling to force my arm into an inverted triangle and rested my elbow on my knee.

I squeezed the trigger and immediately cycled the bolt. The truck had not stopped moving but I could see the spiderweb of cracks where I’d scored the hit. I fired two more shots and still the truck came on, nearing the point where it would have to turn out of the driveway to enter the main road. I cycled the bolt once more and forced myself to become aware of my breathing. As soon as I finished my abbreviated exhale I squeezed the trigger scoring yet another hit on the windshield. I ejected the round and slammed the bolt home, firing again before my next inhalation of breath and waited.

The truck continued forward but  its forward momentum was lost, the wheels turned straight again no longer trying to make the turn. I heard a cheer go up and looked behind me where several women had gathered and taken up firing at my target. I did not speak then, only my warcry came out, still a mystery to my ears as I stood and charged the truck.

Men were poring out the back of the box truck now but they posed no threat to anyone. As soon as their feet hit the ground they began running in no particular direction, just so long as it was away from the sound of gunfire.

I opened the driver’s side door of the now motionless truck and pulled the body out. I shook my head at the figure that hit the ground and laughed seeing a group of five shots no bigger than a softball in the man’s chest. I buried the Mosin’s bayonet in the corpse and drew my revolver as I cautiously peered into the cab, seeing a small figure huddled on the passenger’s side footwell.

With a strength I didn’t know I had I jumped toward the cab, grabbing for the exterior handle as I felt my foot land awkwardly on the step. As I made contact with the handle and braced myself I felt the revolver slip from my grasp. I stared down in surprise, the light from the truck’s interior showing the blood that now covered most of my torso and hands.

Michael was crouched into a ball and trying to make himself even smaller as he clutched a sawed-off shotgun to his chest. Michael let out a terrified yelp as I hit the side of the truck and pointed the shotgun at me. I couldn’t reach Sweet Louise without letting go of the grab handle I was hanging onto. As  I tried to find my balance and reach forward to grab at Michael, the door behind him opened, multiple hands reaching in to snatch him away.

I jumped down off the truck searching for my revolver in the light spilling out of the truck’s cabin. I spotted the gun under the trucks fuel tank and grabbed it   hurrying now to get moving in the direction of whoever had stolen my prey.

I ran to the passenger’s side of the truck and saw a group gathered there in a tight circle, their backs to me. I saw movement from the circle followed shortly by a scream that touched a part of my brain long-buried by millenia of evolution. I pushed my way through the circle  and saw a lupine form huddled there atop another.  My brain almost refused to accept what I saw, but there was no denying what was plain.

Sarah rose from Michael’s now naked form, her mouth bloodied as though she’d been trying to apply lipstick with a spray gun. I looked around the circle at the women’s faces seeing the vacant hate filled stares mirrored on every face.

I watched for a while as one by one the women took turns kneeling down to mark Michael as he had marked so many of them. Each time a woman knelt the scream that brought chills to my internal predator would issue forth again and again.

Michael begged for mercy alternately calling on his God and trying to plead with the crowd. More women had gathered now in the circle and I turned away knowing I would not get the chance to exact my own revenge.

Eventually the night fell to near silence, the only noise audible was the sound of animialistic grunting and flesh noisily torn by teeth.

Chapter 54 -Belt Fed Revolution

I was waiting for the women to show up and staring at the sunset lost in my own thoughts. The Feds blowing up Nuke plants had at least one interesting side effect. Sunsets were really interesting now, with colors straight out of an artists dreams. The pretty colors only made me sad though, knowing it might never be safe to fish in my homeland again. I’d never spent a lot of time fishing Lake Michigan. Or swimming in it. Or hanging out on the beach. It was something I took for granted. I always assumed the lake would be there when I wanted to visit.

The women were turning out for our first practice session much more quickly than the men had done and seemed to have better discipline to boot. Donnelly, still hanging around after the men’s practice, paced nervously back and forth a few feet away.

“You can relax, Donnelly. No more holding targets for you today–you can go on back to your quarters if you like.” I tried my best to sound friendly, but the truth of the matter was I’d be just as happy to use Donnelly for a target so the women could get a crash course in what a human body looks like when a high velocity projectile tears into flesh.

With a relieved sigh Donnelly stopped pacing and blazed a trail away from the range. “Thank you, sir. Good luck with your training .” The way he said the last word tickled something at the back of my brain, but whatever it was didn’t set off an alarm.

I was wiping down the board I’d used to explain ballistics ad nauseam to the men when I heard Paige speak up behind me.

“Pretty as a picture, isn’t it?” She said, her eyes still fixed firmly on the ground.

I guessed that she had likely been looking at the sunset. “And deadly.” I added.

“What is? The clouds?” she asked, risking a quick confused glance from the sky to me.

“Yep. Feds hit the nuke plants on the lake. Or so rumor has it. Gods willing the wind will keep the worst of it away from here, but I . . .” I was forced to break off as Paige walked quickly away from me. The sounds of her distress were obvious even if I couldn’t see her tears.

Sarah made her way quickly to my side with a reproachful look set on her features. “What did you say to her?”

“Nothing, really.” I shrugged. “She was talking about the sunset and I told her it was because the Feds blew up two nuke plants to keep them from falling into citizen control.”

Sarah tsked softly, shaking her head “Her family’s from Bridgman. That’s where one of the plants is. . .was.”

I looked blankly at Sarah. I’m sure I was supposed to feel something or say something to make things better, but even as awesome as I thought I was there’s only so much I can do, especially about things that had already occurred.

Sarah continued to look at me and until she realized I had nothing to offer. She  gave me a slight roll of her eyes and pressed on. “I’ve brought fifty-two women. Most of them are healthy enough; two are pregnant but in the early stages still. Will that be enough, you think?”

“I’d be a lot happier if Force Recon sent a group our way. About 15 guys would do.Throw in a couple of 203’s on their M4’s and we’d have a party.” I tried to muster up a smile “But we will make it work with what we have.” Sarah turned away and I muttered under my breath “or die in the trying.” I saw her head snap back around and I tried to give her an encouraging smile but I’d used up all my facial expressions for one day.

****

The women had even less training than the men. More than half of them had never even held a rifle, much less a beast like the Mosin. I offered up a quick plea to All-Father Odin, god of the slain and a similar plea to Thor, the warder of Midgard. My Gods weren’t the kind that tended to help people just because they were worshiped by them, but I figured it couldn’t hurt. I thought about it for a moment and offered up another plea to Tyr and Freyja just on the off-chance the other two weren’t interested.

The women had several things working in their favor. Enough that I started to feel a small glimmer of hope that we might actually succeed.  The biggest plus for them is that unlike the men, they weren’t afraid to admit they didn’t know much about rifles or shooting. After I demonstrated loading the rifle and working the action I had to stop and answer several questions. I was pleased that none of the questions were ‘when are we going to shoot?‘ as it had been with the men.

The next thing the women had working for them was that they listened. I wouldn’t say either group were what you would call fast-learners but the women usually only needed something explained or demonstrated one time to understand what was required or expected of them.

The training progressed at a fantastic rate since I didn’t have to worry about teaching them how to break down and clean the rifle although I did have to explain why the open bolt kept falling out of the rifle when the trigger was pulled which happened several more times than I was comfortable with. My greatest concern so far was whether or not the women would be able to operate the Mosin-Nagant since it could occasionally require tremendous force to close the bolt or get the rounds loaded into the internal magazine.

I didn’t know all their names, but I was impressed by a small blonde woman with short hair who probably weighed the lesser part of 100 pounds. As we ran through loading drills her bolt stuck and she couldn’t get it to close. Without asking for help or guidance she sat the butt of the rifle on the ground and shoved the bolt closed with the heel of her foot. Several other women who had the same problem began to mimic this and soon anyone that couldn’t get the rifles bolt to close were using this method. Turned out it worked pretty well for opening the bolt, too.

The final advantage the women had over the men was my own self. I was trying to actually teach them how to be deadly with the rifle. This included the use of the bayonet and showing how well the rifle functioned as a club when all else failed. I watched as the women plunged their bayonets into the ground, fierce looks composed of hatred and rage dancing about their normally dulcet features. If I had a week or two I could make these women into a deadly force to be reckoned with but I wasn’t counting on having more than a few days.

****

After the women’s practice was ended I stole a moment to speak with Sarah. Small beads of sweat had sprung up on her forehead as she had spun the Mosin around and practiced giving butt-strokes to add to her lethal repertoire. She walked toward me, prim smile painted on her face right hand rubbing her shoulder against the effects of the vicious impact from the big rifle.

“What’s our schedule looking like?” I was flooded with memories of the first few shots I’d taken with the M91/30 and trying desperately to keep the grin off my face.

“Two more days should do it.” She winced and continued to rub her shoulder “I’ve been leaving hammers in places they can be gotten to in a hurry. I’m more than a little worried though that some of the ladies may not wait. If that happens. . . ” She let the consequences of that scenario hang in the air.

“Understood. Do your best to keep them calm. Surprise is the one thing we need to keep on our side if we’re to have a chance.” This time I found my reassuring smile and showed it her, though Sarah clearly was not buying. “Proper planning prevents piss poor performance.” I said and gave her a wink. “It’s just a couple of days they have to wait. If I can work it out, I may have another surprise or two in store. Everyone just has to be patient.”

Sarah sighed heavily and nodded, grasping my hand and squeezing for all she was worth. “I’ll do what I can.” She said and fixed a grim smile to her face as she turned to leave.

****

I returned to my quarters where Paige was waiting cross-legged on the bed absent-mindedly petting Sako and Tikka. She stared off into space and tried to think of comforting words to offer her, but nothing really came to mind. Instead I sat next to her and took my .357 out of my improvised blowout kit to  clean it.

“Sarah told me why you were upset. I’m sorry about your family.” I waited for a response but she was gone. I wasn’t really planning on doing therapy for these women and the longer this went on the more it seemed my limited skills would be of little use. Paige may have been too damaged to repair. I could only hope she held it together long enough to point a rifle downrange and inflict some damage. I finished with my revolver and tucked it back into my blowout kit and began to drift off.

Paige went to stand by the window. I didn’t know if she was standing guard or just staring at the sun hoping to go blind. As I lay on the bed trying to relax with the zombie at the window I felt a small furry body plop down next to my head with a sigh as though he shared my misgivings about getting out of this place.

I was asleep for what felt about a minute when I heard a voice quietly, but frantically urging me back to consciousness.

“Wake up! WAKE UP!”

I felt my upper torso being shaken by what felt like the worlds smallest tornado. My eyes popped open and I noted the sun had gone down. “What time is it?” I asked as I started pulling on my boots.

“I don’t know! Late!” she hissed “Something is . . . “

Chapter 52 -Belt Fed Revolution

Starke and I started our walk out to the range with O’Toole and several guards trailing us. Tool had the sense to walk behind us creating a little buffer so Starke and I could speak.

We walked on in silence for a while before Starke spoke up. “Okay, I’ll go first. What the fuck, Finn?”

“Yeah. Yeah.” I chuckled forcing myself not to use any body language in our communication.  “I’m trying to figure that one out myself. How close are your guys?”

“Not very.” he replied “We’re scouting fall back locations. The main body is over 35 miles west of here. Tell me what you need though, maybe I can help out?”

“Did you bring a fire team with you? Enough strength to take this location–because this place is FUBAM.”

“FUBAM?” He asked.

“Fucked Up Beyond Ability to Measure. This place is seriously lacking just a few things to be stone-age compatible.”

“Give me the short and sweet, Finn. My balls are already trying to crawl up inside of me.”

“Slavery. Little fucker treats the women like property and marks them if they displease him. Threatened to mark me too. Religious fanatic, kills anyone not subscribing to his particular brand of crazy–er Christianity.”

I could hear the shrug in his voice “Muslims? I killed plenty of them myself. He’s not the only one to do so since the shit hit the fan. And it’s gone both ways.  Christians in Detroit weren’t exactly treated well . . . some were allowed to evacuate though.”

I stared Starke down as we walked. “You killed Muslims–I’m assuming–because they presented a threat to your Marines, not out of some disagreement about the proper day on which you sacrifice the goat.”

“True enough. Old prejudices. So what can I do?” he asked as he offered me another pinch of his chew.

I lowered my voice to a whisper “Save Tool for me. I mean to kill him myself.”

“Yeah.” I saw him nod his head “We’re definitely going to have a talk about that after we leave. I’ll let him live, but I can’t make any promises about keeping him physically intact.”

“Fair enough.” I said with a laugh “You have comms with the–what are you all calling yourself now?”

“Michigan Volunteers. Our affiliation with the MVDF has kind of fallen to the wayside. We’ve got communications with units close to use, but they’re two man scout teams like us. Patrell and Guerrera are a few miles down the road. We have two other teams in about a 15 mile radius. I can get them here if . . .”

“No time. I have to end this soon. Best thing you can do for me is draw some of his troop strength away. I think we can handle the rest.”

“We?” he asked as he turned to look over his shoulder at the guards following us. “We who?”

“Myself and the women. I gave my word that I would get them clear of this and that’s what I aim to do.”

“Roger that. You think you’ll be able to join us for our festivities?”

“Lansing?” I shrugged slightly “Adam,” I began “War to my people is holy. So much so that we have not one, but four Gods of war. I’ve gotta be honest with you– since this all started I’ve felt like I’m home–but I just want to be on my own. I’m not meant to be around people. Normal people anyway.”

Adam nodded “I’ve been doing some reading– a little bit of research since we met. Isn’t building a tribe supposed to be an important part of your life as well?”

“Innangard–people very close to me–are important. They don’t necessarily have to form a body in which we all physically exist.”

“Don’t be a dick, Finn. I’m not trying to ask you out on a date here. We need you, the Resistance, needs every body it can get. Join us.”

“You realize you’re asking a dead man to help you out? There’s no guarantee I’m walking away from this. Or if I do that I’ll be physically capable of doing anything useful.”

“Yeah, I’m sure this group of warriors, will be the end of you. Meet me in Lansing?”

I gave in. I couldn’t be held responsible for breaking my word to him if I was dead. “I’ll try.”

****

We arrived at the range with just enough light peering through the gathering clouds to make the marked grounds visible. Starke looked at the layout approvingly.

“Looks like home to me. You’re going to train his guys here?”

I smiled “I’m going to turn this into Náströnd.”

I saw Starke raise an eyebrow at me, but I didn’t explain. We walked through the range as it was laid out, Starke offering a few helpful comments here and there about things I had forgotten.

“You have equipment to dig the trenches?” He asked distractedly.

I pointed back toward Michael’s house “Bobcats up there.  Etools if those don’t work.”

“Wait one.” Starke said and walked off to speak to one of the guards. When he returned he was hiding a smirk. “Got something for you.”

A few of the guards took off toward Michael’s house and a moments later the natural sounds of morning were interrupted by the Bobcat engine’s firing up. Starke made a show of changing one of the markings on the field so that the trenches would be connected, allowing those inside to advance or retreat as necessary.

When the guard returned with the Bobcat, Starke immediately began directing him on how and where to dig. The guards not being true professionals did what men tend to do in this situation and gathered around to watch the work.  Starke stood next to me watching and occasionally calling out a command to be relayed to the equipment operator.

I watched the work beginning with some interest. I was starting to focus more on the work than the problems at hand when I felt something poke me in the back. I looked at Starke who was grinning like the Cheshire Cat. I reached behind my back and smiled as I gripped the barrel of my .357 .

Starke gave me a wink and held up a finger. I felt something else tap against my back and grabbed that as well, feeling the breath catch in my throat as I felt Sweet Louise’s kydex sheath in my hand. I stowed everything in my improvised blow out kit and gave Starke a nod of thanks.

After a while the trench was coming along nicely and the things I’d asked to have brought out began to arrive, including a chalkboard. Starke looked at me questioningly when he saw the board being set up. It was my turn to wink at him and smile.

****

Dawn fully broke over the range as I called for Donnelly to sound the call and get the troops assembled. As the men began to turn out I sent them all off to get entrenching tools to deal with the dirt the Bobcat was churning up.

The men set to creating a berm in front of the trenches with the excess dirt. Starke smiled at the progress and came over to speak to me.

“How much do you charge to shoot here?” He smiled admiringly at the at way the men were all working to get the range finished.

“More than you’d be comfortable paying–I hope.”

Starke nodded all traces of humor leaving his features.  Tool came over and stood next to us making our conversation come to an uncomfortable halt.

“Your boss is headed out.” Tool said, jerking his head toward Michael’s house.

Starke turned to look and saw a golf cart coming our way. “Hate to do it man, but we’ve got to get moving. we’ve got to rendezvous with another scout team and get our exfil on.”

“You going to take some recruits with you?” I asked watching the golf cart like a cat tracking a mouse.

“Kind of depends on what he says.” Starke nodded his head toward the approaching golf cart “If he’ll let us we’ll take as many off your hands as possible.”

“Works for me.” I offered Starke my hand and we shook. “I’ll see you in Lansing.” I said and turned away before he had a chance to show me his idiot grin.

Chapter 51 -Belt Fed Revolution

We sat around the table trying not to stare at each other but largely failing.  Michael looked at us expectantly waiting to hear the tale.  I had no doubt he’d make one up later if this one didn’t suit him.

I maintained eye contact with Starke for as long as I could. I saw O’Toole wince and his head whip around to look at Starke.  The two of them exchanged a brief look before turning back to me.

“Boys care to tell us what happened since we last met?” I asked searching my expression database for congenial smile I think I pulled it off, but without a mirror I never knew for sure.

Starke cleared his throat and stood unfolding a map. “You may recall last time we met the MVDF was pulling out of one of their forward operating bases. My group joined up with another militia at almost the same time. . . I think you know our new leader?”

I nodded. “I think we met, but I don’t recall his name.”

Starke nodded and continued to look at the map. “Well you were kind of busy last time I saw you. What ended up happening with you guys? The PLM was busy bugging out of the area after the nuke.”

All talk ground to a halt.

“Nuke?” my voice was a whisper and I was sure I’d misunderstood him.

Starke nodded and took a marker and made two X’s on the map. “Not like thermonuclear weapon, but nuclear material. Here at Palisades nuke plant and then down the coast at Cook Nuclear. The populations from those areas were swarming the nuclear plants, looking for aid, electricity maybe. Maybe they wanted to play some Madden. Who knows?”  Starke shrugged. “Anyway, the people overran the guards at the one plant, here” he pointed at one of the X’s “the Feds, they tried to drive them out but with their resources spread so thin they didn’t commit enough resources.” Starke and I shared a laugh at that. “So after some fights back and forth, the Feds they realize that maybe they don’t need to take the plants. . . maybe they just keep the people from having them.” Starke shrugged again. “You can do the math there.”

We all stared quietly at each other for a while. Eventually some more coffee was brought out. Starke sat down and turned in his seat looking at me. Michael wasn’t there as far as we were concerned nor was O’Toole. This conversation was just between us.

“So most of the lower southwest quadrant is considered uninhabitable. No telling how they fucked up the lake. . .” he trailed off for a minute lost in his own thoughts. “We had wounded we had to evacuate because we didn’t know how far the fall out was going to spread. . .” he raised an eyebrow at me.

I kept my expression neutral as I swallowed that. I had escaped from friendlies. I am a genius. I nodded to Starke and hoped he knew that I got the message.

“Where did you hear all this? Were there survivors or what?”

Starke shrugged and leaned forward placing is arms on the table. “Survivors? Probably. Hell if I know. We heard it from an Indian News Station. India, indian. Caught it on shortwave.” He laughed here “I don’t know how much of it is propaganda, but India actually sounds relatively stable now. Of course that because they nuked the living shit out of Pakistan, but y’know, give peace a chance an’ whatnot.” Starke whipped out a can from his back pocket and offered it around making a question into a statement. “Chew.”

Michael and O’Toole passed, but I leaned forward and took a pinch,completely  ignoring Michael’s disapproving look.

With the offer of tobacco it was my turn now to talk which I did with some care. “I was in a firefight. It was a weird one. It was really hairy at first, but I was on my gun and was taking the enemy down as fast as I could work the bolt.”

Starke and O’Toole both nodded since they knew this part well. “There was a lull in the firing and even though we were winning I held out the white flag when I realized the unit was friendly.” I smiled “We were all kind of confused in that fight; tough to tell the good from the bad when they don’t wear uniforms you immediately recognize.” I said veiling the reference to their new urban camo outfits  in my comments.

I saw the ‘fuck you’ in Starke’s eyes but kept on talking. “I went out thinking the other side realized I was trying to sue for peace and then I took a shot ” I pointed to my side “in the back.”

Starke’s eyebrow’s flew up, but as he was facing away from Michael the expression was hidden from him as well as the fact that Starke’s eyes locked onto O’Toole. The implication was unmistakable.

“Good ol’ friendly fire.” I said and locked eyes with O’Toole “I’m sure you’ve all been through that before. Or may soon. Happens when you work with a bunch of untrained types.” I let the threat hang there though there was really nothing I could do about it at this point.

Starke gave me a nod, his jaw clenched tightly shut.

Michael decided to interject at this point “Well that’s terrible news. Terrible!” he shook his oversize head sadly. “To think that the government would do such a thing to their own people!”

We all nodded our agreement.

“So what brings you guys to our little slice?” I asked.

Michael smiled broadly his eyes practically sparkling “These fine men have brought news. There’s going to be a fight soon. ”

“That so?”

Starke nodded. “The Feds have holed up in Lansing. Several unconnected groups are heading this way. Final push and such. We’re out scouting, hoping to find supplies or recruits.” Starke shifted in his seat a bit to look at Michael. “Your leader here was telling us you’re raising an army for him.”

“Trying to. I just got here, really. These guys are green. Like pine saplings.” I looked at Michael, since this was our first chance to really discuss such things it probably came as an unwelcome surprise to him. “Of course, I’m not in charge here so I couldn’t commit forces one way or the other. If I had to send anyone it’d be the guards. They’ve got the gas tanks for a fight and at least some discipline.”

Michael nodded at my assessment, looking displeased. “So be it then. I’d be happy to support this effort, even though it cost me dear. Do you boys know when this fight is going to take place?”

Starke looked at me. “Not too soon. Probably the next couple of weeks at the soonest. Of course, if you like we can take your men with us and start getting them trained up.”

Michael nodded “Yes. Yes, indeed. I think that’d be just fine.”

“Michael, I don’t know if you are aware, but Mr Starke here was also a Marine.” I smiled at the little psychopath “his experience may be invaluable. If I could have him look at the range set up, he might remember some things I’ve missed.”

“That would be fine. I’d welcome the help and I’m sure it’ll make your job easier as well.” Michael nodded and smiled as though indulging a small child. “The sun will be up shortly if you gentlemen can spare the time?”

“Be happy to help.” Starke confirmed folding his hands in front of him, waiting I think, to be dismissed.

I saw my chance and took it “Uh, gentleman, if you don’t mind I’d like a minute to speak to Michael, alone.”

Starke nodded, standing up and seizing O’Toole by the arm. “Sure thing.” he said pulling O’Toole along after him.

Michael hopped down off his chair and waved at a nearby guard “See that these men get some food and water. Replenish their supplies, too.” The guard nodded and escorted them from the room.

“Michael, I’ve been hoping to have a minute of your time. I hope you don’t mind.”

Michael’s thought’s was not truly present but he nodded and resumed his seat at the table.

“I know this may not meet with your approval, but given current happenings I feel it may be more than a good idea. It’s a necessity.”

Michael focused on me with tired eyes. “If you need something else, just tell John . . .” he started to wave me away.

“Well not exactly.” I said.

He raised an eyebrow at me “Okay. Out with it.”

“If you’re thinking about taking on the Feds then we’re going to need all hands on deck.” I put the idea out there and waited for him to seize on it.

“What do you mean, brother Stephen?” He asked. Michael was aging before my eyes. Slumping into his seat almost impossibly growing even smaller.

“I’d like your permission to train the women–those that are fit–how to shoot. Not the physical training the men have gotten, but as a last line of defense for home ground.” I gestured to the area of the camp behind me.

Michael nodded and thought about it for a moment. “No. Absolutely not. It is not woman’s work to make war. Women are here to serve men, to please them,  rear children, and take care of the things we must needs let slip in order to wage this war against the heathen.”

“Have you ever heard the name Simo Häyhä?” I asked changing tactics.

Michael shook his head. “I can’t say that I have brother.”

“Simo Häyhä was a Finnish sniper in World War II. During the course of his service, he managed to kill 505 enemy combatants. That happened over the course of one year. From 1939-40. There was only one more sniper that even came remotely close to matching his skill. Her name was Lyudmila Pavlichenko. She killed 309 men. ” I leaned forward to indicate how sincere I was “They killed almost 1,000 men between them, using the very rifle you were so far sighted to provide for your men. Your army.”

Michael sat back in his chair locking eyes on me, searching for something. Finally he let out a sigh and nodded. “All right. You may train them.” he held up a stubby finger “With the understanding that they are the last line of defense.”

“Thank you, brother.” I smiled “When this war is over, I think you will be regarded as a prophet for your vision.”

Michael smiled tiredly “God willing brother. I am just here to do his will.”

I turned to leave but stopped “Brother Michael, you look tired. Are you well? Should I send for Sarah?” I smiled down at him “We need you to strong. We can’t have you leaving us before you’ve served your purpose.”

Michael smiled at me and nodded “I want that more than anything brother. But I’m fine. I just need to get some rest.” He hopped down out of his chair and took my hand in his own “I’ll send for Sarah later, when I’ve had some rest just to make sure. I thank you for your concern brother. It’s touching to know that humanity still knows compassion even in these dark times.”

I closed my other hand around his and smiled “You just concentrate on keeping your strength up. We need you to be strong for a while longer.”

I chuckled inwardly. Stay strong at least until I have a chance to bathe my knife in your blood.

Chapter 49 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Or yourself” she nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

I was going to die.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes?”

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 48 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

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

“Gene?”

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

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

“Do what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

“Can I borrow you for a minute?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Brother Stephen,

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

Yours in Christ,

Michael.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“DOWN!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 47 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

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

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

“Do?”

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

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

“You digged . . .”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What things?” I asked slightly perplexed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That is a question, Donnelly.”

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

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

Donnelly blinked and was silent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paige nodded but she clearly wasn’t buying it.

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

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

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

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

Chapter 46 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I nodded “You have my word on it.”

****

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 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.”