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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.

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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 50 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

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

I fell asleep without even realizing it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paige nodded and smiled almost making eye contact with me.

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 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 37 -Belt Fed Revolution

Upon reaching the camp I noticed things were greatly relaxed compared to the last time I’d been here. The guards around the supply CONEX were still pretty rigid, but the rest seemed to have settled into a mode that spoke of resignation to their new lives. I could recall having seen this when I was deployed with guards that had been in country before Desert Shield kicked off. Sure, they’d still shoot you if you looked wrong, but they probably wouldn’t bother shouldering the rifle; they’d just shoot you from the hip.

I hit the little two-stroke’s kill switch and let our momentum carry us into the center of the camp which was the erstwhile Wal-Mart delivery area. I had to stand there and blink the grit out of my eyes for a few seconds before I could begin to engage in conversation.

“So what’s the plan?”

Starke shot back “You’re the guy with the plan, you tell me?”

Having seen which side of the loop we were both on, we decided to go Dwyer’s office for my after action report. I didn’t have to wait this time. Being escorted directly into Dwyer’s office suited me just fine. I had some questions that needed answers right now.

Dwyer looked up as we entered, appearing slightly surprised to see me. I waved his opener away before he said it “Yeah, I know you didn’t expect to see me so soon.”

Dwyer gestured to the plastic chairs in front of his desk. I stood back and let Starke take the one furthest from the door. As soon as he settled in, I stepped around behind the desk and drew my revolver, shoving Dwyer’s head down onto his desk. Starke regarded me with the same look I imagine he would have if I’d sprouted tentacles and began to dance. I stripped Dwyer’s sidearm from it’s large, ostentatious holster and pointed it at Starke.

“Relax. I’m going to ask the Major here some questions and I think you might want to hear the answers as well.” Starke nodded and held up his hands, leaning back into the chair slightly.

“Not that I don’t trust you, but I’m gonna need to relieve you of your sidearm as well.” Starke drew his 9mm from the shoot me  holster on his leg holding the grip with two fingers. “Now empty it.” I could see the rage building in Starke and I understood it. When you carry a weapon for so long you get used to its presence and for someone to take it from you carried the same feelings that might accompany having a finger removed with a cold chisel and a hammer.

Even though he didn’t like it, Starke ejected the magazine and pulled the slide back until it locked, letting the chambered round dribble down the mag well onto the floor and set the gun on the desk.

I did the same with Dwyer’s gun, a very nice chrome plated Colt chambered in .45 caliber with what appeared to be genuine pearl handles. A show piece I thought as I examined it. The gun fit Dwyer to a Tee.

“So question number one. Who are you working for?”

Dwyer didn’t answer immediately so I placed the revolver at the nape of his neck.

“What do you mean? I’m working for the governor, for the state of Michigan! Who else would I be working for?!” Dwyer wasn’t shouting which was good. I didn’t need to draw too much attention from the bored looking guards outside.

I considered his response for a moment before switching gears “Okay, let me rephrase. You are working for the governor who wanted martial law declared and wants to continue martial law, with the help of the feds. True or false?”

Dwyer began to try and bluster. This didn’t really work for me. Turns out in the new world there are quicker and better ways to get things done, so I drew my Ka-bar and slid my revolver back into the holster. Placing the blade between his index and middle fingers , I drew the edge over the soft web of  flesh there until I saw a little line of red appear.

Dwyer to his credit endured this well a sharp intake of breath the only hint that  he was not enjoying the days proceedings. Starke stood up and began to protest. I didn’t point the gun at him this time, only stared at him until he resumed his seat. I placed Ka-bar against Dwyer’s eye this time and repeated my question.

“Yes, damn it!Yes!!!”  I was glad that the threat of losing an eye was enough to motivate him as I really didn’t want to strip him naked and cut off his balls. “My orders come from the Governor himself! We want the Feds to know their place, but we don’t want them to leave!”

Starke stared at Dwyer now as if he, too, had grown tentacles and joined me in singing a duet of ‘No Greater Love’.

“Terrific. Now that we’ve answered the how full of shit is this guy question, hopefully we can proceed without need of further crude  demonstrations. Agreed?” I waggled the blade of Sweet Louise in front of his face slightly until he nodded. That was impressive considering he had most of my weight bearing down on his neck.

I stood just behind and to the left of Dwyer, letting him raise his head and rub his neck a bit. I was pretty sure that Starke, if he wasn’t on board was at least swinging that way, but I wanted to be able to cover the both of them just in case. There was one tense moment when Dwyer, apparently without thinking, turned slightly away from me and reached toward a drawer in his desk. My .357 was out of the holster and laid against his temple before he had a chance to close his fingers on the drawer pull.

He held his hands up “I just wanted to get the neosporin out of that drawer there” he gestured slightly with his head. I opened the drawer for him and saw that it did indeed have a tube of neosporin along with a compact .380 semi auto located just deep enough inside the drawer that most people would have missed seeing it from the other side of the desk.

I took possession of the little handgun and, wrapping my hand around the grip as I slammed my fist into Dwyer’s face twice in rapid succession. I had opened a small cut on the bridge of his nose and my hand was on fire from the impacts.

“If you have any ice in the other drawer, you just leave it there unless you want me to send you off to meet your gods.” Dwyer nodded and took a tissue from the box on his desk and placed it against the cut on his nose.

The voice in my head was insistent that I kill him, but I knew I couldn’t do that and hope to walk out of here alive. I took a moment to master my emotion and gave Starke a chance to chime in. “So why have we been killing the Feds if we’re on the same side?”

“The Governor considers it an ‘acceptable loss’. Plus there just isn’t a way to get everyone in the comm loop on this. We can’t exactly fake a battle!” Dwyer’s face had taken on a deep purple hue. I guess being made to answer to an NCO is a blood pressure trigger for some people.

I waved Starke back before he could say anything else. “So you sent me out to meet with the militia in the hopes that, what? They’d agree to your little plan and when they showed up you’d just slaughter them?”

Dwyer laughed. “Not entirely. We have a use for the so called Patriot’s but it’s a plan that’s already happened you see. We’ll be sending a patrol along shortly to pick up the survivors.”

“You total piece of shit. I was your bird dog?”

Dwyer regarded me calmly “In a sense. We knew where they were, but not what buildings they were using and it’d be wasteful to destroy the whole town, so we just added a little something to your Jeep.” Dwyer looked like the cat that ate the canary, his smile was wide “their headquarters probably went up in flames moments after you left.” He shrugged and smiled so broadly I thought his head might split open “I mean, I’m no pilot but I’m pretty sure the guns on an A-10 have incendiary rounds, right?”

A slight wisp of smoke wafted out the muzzle of my revolver before I had a chance to remind myself that killing Dwyer would likely mean a full on shooting-war to get clear of the camp. The room stank of gunpowder and quickly of urine and feces as Dwyer’s bowels let loose.

I swung to the door seconds before it flew open, two guards with M-16’s appearing there looking confused. Their confusion was short lived as they saw Dwyer’s lifeless body sitting behind his desk.

I pointed the revolver at the guard nearest me and fired before he had a chance to swing his muzzle toward me. The second guard wasn’t as slow in aiming, but had been about to order me to drop my weapon before I shot his companion. I dropped him with another round, his mouth still working wordlessly as he fell.

Starke reached for his gun then stopped holding up one hand “I’m on your side here, okay? But we have got to get this shit under control now. Just let me handle it and don’t shoot anyone unless you have absolutely have to.”

I nodded and thought if I made it through this, he and I were going to need to have a talk about my definition of ‘absolute’.  Starke took up his sidearm and reinserted the magazine, pausing for a second to grab the loose round from the floor and inserting it directly into the barrel.

“Okay, come on. We have to get to comms riki-tik.” Starake turned and left the room stepping over the bodies, not glancing back to see if I was following him. In the maze of CONEX boxes and regular semi-trailers there stood a small U-Haul style truck with several confused looking guards around it. They’d heard the gunfire, but no one knew where it was coming from or what they should do about it, so they kept their posts, but now in high alert.

One of the guards attempted to challenge Starke, but he stood down as Starke brushed by him saying   “The fuck out of my way before I shoot you in the dick, boy.” The guard and his compatriots chuckled nervously as we rushed the truck.

Starke raised the door of the truck and stepped inside walking immediately over to a gray phone and snatching it off its cradle before anyone inside had a chance to object.

“All civilian section leaders and all NCO E-5’s and above report to command immediately.”

The inhabitants of the commo truck began to ask questions, but Starke shook his head and held up a silencing hand “Command has issued a change of orders. Your squad leader will be by in a little while to explain.”

Starke looked at me and let out a pensive breath. “Let’s go. You have a meeting to lead” and was out of the truck before I had a chance to respond.

I stood there for a moment wondering if it was too late for me to sneak out of camp. Yeah, probably was.

Before I could formulate anything resembling a plan small arms fire erupted around the camp. I turned back to one of the comms techs and told him “if there’s a general order to get everyone moving, issue it now. After that, I expect everyone in here to get suited up and get out there ready to build a wall of lead,brass and flesh.” I paused for a moment the comms tech was a slightly pasty faced and overweight kid who probably spent most of his time playing Modern Warfare instead of learning how to operate a rilfe. To the blank stare I said “How read?”

The kid jumped up out of his seat and pressed a button before responding “Sir, yes sir!” I muttered something about being called ‘sir’ under my breath and exited the trailer, the sound of small arms fire still intermittently filling my ears.

Chapter 33 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bastard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 30 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starke eyed me hopefully.

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 29 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

“Thanks for the warning.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Driscoll extended his hand “Jim Driscoll.”

“I’m Finn. Good to meet you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Velkommen.Snakker du Engelsk?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“0300.”

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

“Infantry.” I supplied

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

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

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

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

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

I had to laugh “Of course you do.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“.243”  I said hopefully.

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

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

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

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

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

I thanked her and made my way toward the building.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 28 -Belt Fed Revolution

Starke and Guererra were walking alongside the APC as we continued our crawl up to the the MRAP’s. Saying they had been in a fight was putting it lightly. The leading MRAP had almost completely burned down and was riddled with holes from something pretty large. The Second MRAP actually looked largely intact save for flat tires and several holes in the front leading to the drivers area. There was a large spray of red on the windows.

I pried my eyes away from the abandoned vehicles just in time to see the three men outside fade like ghosts into the surrounding area. I swung the PKT in a wide arc expecting trouble.

I had to risk it. “Tool? What’s going on here?” O’Toole wasn’t talking to me or hadn’t heard me. The engine suddenly cut off leaving only the remembrance of the sound ringing in my ears.  I felt a tapping on my foot and looked down quickly into the interior of the APC where Tool was standing with a not-at-all-regulation-issue shotgun that I think was called a street sweeper. Tool held a finger to his lips and pointed to the rear of the vehicle.

I craned my neck around to see what he was pointing at but saw nothing. “John! Get up to the driver’s seat and get us ready to get the fuck out of here!”  I hated whispering; I was no good at it.

I heard John below stepping over the vehicle’s cargo as he settled himself into the seat. “Can you drive this thing?” several moments passed.

“I think so.”

I calmed my breathing and forced myself to focus out. Nothing had actually happened and I was starting to get tunnel-vision. There was a light breeze blowing the high grasses around on the side of the road. I kept the PKT moving, my eyes looking past the sides of the barrel for any hint of movement. I had completed another sweep when I caught a flash out of the corner of my eye. I say flash because I have no other way to describe it: there was movement in the grass that was out of sync with the breeze. I had only a vague idea of where the three scouts had gone and a sudden icy feeling creeping down to grab hold of my testicles and give them a squeeze.

My boys had never lied to me before. “CONTACT LEFT!” I shouted and swung the PKT to where I had seen the odd movement and let off a measured burst. I put several such bursts into the area moving left and right of where I’d seen the movement. Nothing happened for several seconds and I was beginning to feel like I’d called for my mommy because the monster in my closet was threatening to break free.

I had almost entirely convinced myself that I’d just  been spooked when I saw the movement again. A man-shape popped up out of the high grasses with a tube pointed my way. I sent a controlled burst his way, the Russian-surplus ammunition ripping him in half. Before he had hit the ground, I saw more man-shapes popping up, these with AR’s in the M4 configuration.

I didn’t hesitate. As soon as I had a general bearing I began to fire in three round bursts, counting it off in my head. As I searched out targets I could hear intermittent fire from behind me. I saw something large and black being rising up from the same position as the man-shape with the rocket launcher and had a second to register the muzzle flashes before I felt the impacts in the APC’s hull.

I very bravely grabbed the pistol grip of the PKT while I crouched inside the APC and laid down some suppressing fire.I watched as the end of the belt zipped past my face and paused long enough to grab another belt and hurriedly attach the links to the other end. There was an explosion outside and a brief lull in the firing. I risked a look outside and saw a column of smoke rising up from the ground. I guessed this was the source of the explosion and was hoping that was a win for our side.

I caught fleeting glances of more man-shapes bolting for the treeline and I opened fire on them. It may not have been what some people think of as honorable, but I’d rather not give these people a second chance to kill me. I saw several of them fall under the barrage and let it go at that. I could have sent more rounds into the trees but I had this thing about using ammo unnecessarily.

Time passed very slowly for me. After some time I began to see more movement in the area I’d been putting rounds on and I saw movement toward those areas followed by strangled screams and shortly after, silence.

Man-shapes in gray began to emerge from the grass. Patrell and Guererra from the north, Starke from the west and O’Toole from the east. Starke smiled up at me “Good work, devil-dog.”

I smiled back. “Everyone okay?”

Patrell did a quick scan of his mates “Looks like we got one casualty.”

I looked at the four men all of whom appeared to be more or less intact. The strained looks on their faces told me the rest. I wiggled back inside of the APC.

****

There was little more than a shredded torso where John had sat. The interior behind him was sprayed with so much blood it looked like a bad horror movie. Patrell helped me carry him out and lay him on the side of the road.

“Why the hell was he sitting up there in the first place?” O ‘Toole. He seemed more agitated than usual.

“I told him to take your place when you bailed out.” I shrugged.

“Well who the fuck told you to do that?! You’re not in charge here!!!”

I clamped down on my response and looked at Starke. This was his crew, he had to make things right with them. After a few moments of uncomfortable silence it was clear Starke wasn’t going to jump in.

“I don’t know you people, okay? I’m an expeditionary unit of one, got it?  You all have some time together and that’s just tits, but you don’t clue in the new guy the fuck do you expect?”

Starke finally decided to weigh in. “It’s not Finn’s fault, it’s mine. I should’ve made it clear we suspected it was an ambush.” Starke paused to refresh his dip “The Feds have been known to leave some of their motor-pool specials out and pop a few caps in them to make it look like they fell into an ambush. They don’t have the parts to repair something and it makes perfect bait. Win-win.”

Tool tried to glare at me but I met his eyes and he looked away. Too late. I saw the fear.

“Anyone have an e tool?” I asked looking around for a place to dig.

“No time. If this thing starts up we gotta roll. Everyone check bodies for ammo and intel. Tool, check out the MRAP’s, see if there’s anything usable left.” Starke crooked his finger in my direction “You’re with me.”

I fell in behind Starke and we walked off into the high grass.

“I’ve only been in charge for about a month.” Starke said this without ever looking back. “I was 0311. The biggest decision I made was what weapon to use when we were going house to house, you know?” We had stumbled across a couple of bodies and Starke began searching their belongings for anything of use.

I stayed quiet and helped with the search. Starke for some reason seemed to regard me as an equal and clearly he needed to get some things off his chest. “I got thrown into this. I was hoping to go to school or at the very least try to go mustang and get commissioned. Maybe then I’d be better suited to lead, but –man–” he shook his head and looked at me imploringly “I’m lost, bro.”

I winced at being called bro. This man–this kid–was heading for a burnout. I couldn’t have that, not now, not if the regular Army was about to be crawling up our asses.

I tried my best to channel a Drill Instructor. Social Work fluffiness wasn’t going to help here. “Sarn’t I suggest you take a second to yourself if you need to pass some eye water. Go ahead, son, get it all out. I’ll wait. Soon as that weakness gets outta you, you better get yourself unfucked in a hurry. You pull real hard until you hear a pop and when you got yer head outta yer ass, you are going to lead these men and get the fuck out of this shit-hole in a godsdamn hurry, you read me?” I almost laughed at my cliched pep talk and wondered why Drill Instructors always sound southern to me.

Starke looked slightly taken aback. I guess it had been a while since he’d heard things laid out like that. “C’mon son, rub some ooh-rah on that axe wound and lets get moving.”

Starke laughed and with that seemed to be back to the cool, confident and dangerous individual I’d met earlier. We hoofed it over to the treeline careful to keep an eye out for any stragglers or rear guard from the ‘rabbits’ we just ran off.

We had a bit of luck and found some equipment, mostly rucks filled spare uniforms and energy bars. Starke collected weapons and magazines as he went stuffing them into one of the empty rucks he had claimed.

Eventually we circled around to the small crater where the ruins of a pedestal mount for a gun had been. The gun itself was toast, the barrel bent at a 30 degree angle and the receiver seemed to be less than half there.

“The fuck?” I asked of no one in particular.

“Satchel charge. Fuckin’ cabrón’s keep trying this shit. Hopefully they won’t figure out that guerrilla warfare is the new black.” Guererra revealed sharp teeth in his predators smile.

Starke seemed satisfied with his spoils. “All right. Everybody ruck up and let’s hope we don’t have to hump it out of here on foot.”

We made our way back to the roadside and I looked at John’s remains. I wouldn’t go so far as to say we were friends, but he had shed blood with me and for me and I owed him something for that. I couldn’t just leave him to rot on the side of the road.

“Wait one.” Everyone but Tool stopped where they were and turned toward me. I picked John’s body up and carried it over to the second MRAP opening the door and sliding him behind the wheel.

I looked back at the faces looking at me. “Maybe when they come along they’ll think he’s one of theirs and give him a proper burial.”

Three heads nodded in unison. I heard Patrell mutter condolences as I went to get into the APC. Starke had been keeping quiet the whole time. Part of him looked as though he wanted to give up.  Must have been the civilian part. The Marine said “Mount up. There’ll be time for payback down the road. Dunno about you all, but I’m gonna get me some!”

This was greeted with some ‘hell yeah’s’ and a few expletives directed toward those that had caused this. I said nothing as I took a seat and smiled as the APC roared to life. I used  the remnants of John’s ghillie suit for a pillow and drifted off to sleep as we  started to move out.