Saturday, April 23, 2016

Dark Winter: Chapter Three

Evert Kramer here for ESPN!  We are here in beautiful East Lansing on this cold and snowy autumn day  for Michigan’s annual Great Divide Game.  The Spartan’s are hosting the Wolverines this year for the annual battle for the ownership of the Paul Bunyan Trophy and all the bragging rights that go with it.  It is going to be a great game this year.  You wouldn’t think anyone had even heard of SOD from the sound the crowd is....


You would have thought that the partying would have been restrained this year. Maybe a little more down trodden with all the problems of a world pressing down upon them. There was no source of news that wasn’t bad news.


But if anything, it was the opposite.


It wasn’t so much that everyone forgot about the end of the world coming down on them, they hadn’t. It was just that that there had been such a massive strain of tension building over the whole country, over the whole world for the past month. At first, there were a few reports of a really bad new disease in Africa called Sudden Onset Dementia.


That was alright though, there was always some horrible new disease in Africa, the sensible people thought.


Then they brought home that poor embassy guard. The Science Deniers had stupidly said he shouldn’t have been allowed back in the country. That was wrong, of course. The protocols for disease containment were good enough, the sensible people were told. And in their turn, they confidently told everyone else.

One case of SOD turned into five after one day.

Inside of seventy two hours, all twenty four Level 4 biocontainment beds in the United States were filled.

Two days later, the Preppers bugged out. The sensible people were trying to pretend that they were only concerned about all of the various acts of racist misogyny that the Preppers were likely to commit now that they weren’t being closely monitored on Twitter. Although what was really starting to worry some them was that the Preppers were actually gone. The canary in the coal mine had dropped off it’s perch.

This was starting to feel very real.

The Observation Sites and the Treatment Stations had been set up so the hospitals could be cleared of the Afflicted.

Okay, SOD was serious but it was all under control, wasn’t it?

The President had addressed the country. He had said all the things he was supposed to say. You could tell it was important because he had the Vice President standing beside him wearing his serious face when he said it. The President had then sent “Old Mike” off to Africa to do a concerned goodwill tour.

Then came the plane crash and the old vice president was gone. Now, the president wasn’t making appearances. There were rumors that were starting to make the rounds over that. It was all racist nonsense, but there was also a sense of where there’s smoke, there's fire.

Life was still going on, it was just going on under a very black cloud. There was the kind of stillness you get right before a really bad thunderstorm. The sun had risen, but it felt like it rose in a sky that was a troubling deep red-orange. Something was coming and you knew it.

There wasn’t a real run on anything, yet. People were just changing their shopping patterns. Canned food instead of fresh. Buying the thirty two pack of toilet paper instead of the four. A new pair of hiking boots instead of running shoes. It was looking to be a very hard winter. Some precautions just make sense is all.

Shotgun shells instead of a new console game.

The general mood had been getting worse all week. People were finding excuses not to leave the house as much. Children were getting pulled out of school quite a bit ahead of Thanksgiving. This year’s crop of college freshmen dropouts weren’t waiting for Christmas to quit school . They were all gone now.

And then, all of a sudden, it was time for the game. Or rather, The Game.

And instantly, all the pent up worries were flushed. The Friday night partying before game day was more like a rioting this year. It was time to party like there was no tomorrow because it was suddenly starting to feel like there wasn’t going to be one.

There was definitely an edge to it. Jokes that weren’t all that appropriate were laughed at a little too loudly. Partiers got a lot more drunk, a lot more earlier. A few of the band members who were guarding Sparty this year brought baseball bats. Painted green and white, of course. It was all a joke, naturally.

Minor vandalism took on a sharper tone, this year. A Prius that had a huge sticker with the President’s logo on rear window had had vodka bottle smashed right in the center of O of the logo. There was a feeling in the air that a few debts were going to be repaid in ill afforded coin.

As for the girls...


“The Good news is I’ve found your bra, Stacia,” Jessika smirked.

“And the bad news?” Stacia did not need this. She was wearing sunglasses at nine at AM and was delicately massaging her temples.

“The Omega Kappa’s have built a shrine around it.

“Oh, God!”

“Does it involve Marty?” Kelly asked with a smirk..

“Yes! It! Does!” cried Jessika.

Stacia buried her head in her hands.

Marty the Moose had showed up in the Omega Kappa house sometime in the early nineties. He was, by any measure, a competent if moth eaten example of taxidermist art. No one was quite certain how he’d got there. His arrival was a thing of mystery, a thing of legend... But there he proudly stood. A tie that was alleged to inspire...humor...around his neck. An oversized Spartan cap on his head. And now, apparently, an expensive Victoria’s Secret lace bra draped gracefully between the tines of his antlers.

“Just go ask for it back,” Jessika only said it because it needed to be said.

A muffled, “I can’t,” leaked out from under Stacia’s hands. “Could one of you?”

She paused “maybe...”

“No.”

“No.”

“No.”

“Fine,” came a voice from the outside their door. It was a warm contralto that sounded tired and had a slight slavic accent. “Say, ‘thank you, Aux!” The slightly slavic voice commanded.

“Thank you, Aux!” a trio choursued.

“Thanks, Mom,” cried Stacia, who then winced.

I’m your Grad Assistant, not your mother, Oksana Kerensky growled to herself. Not that there isn’t a lot of difference between the two. But if I was their mother, I would have imparted unto my idiot quartet of daughters the knowledge of a thing called, ‘earning a reputation.’ How it takes years to build and a whisper to destroy.

No point, Aux decided to herself once again, as she headed downstairs. Too many voices have over-invested themselves in rank stupidity. They are committed to it, put years of their lives into it. Built up immense ramparts in defense of their stupidity. Examining the paradigm they’ve built for themselves is long past being the remotest of options for them. No, they must actively recruit new girls to their viewpoint so that their stupidity may grow and flourish.

“Hey! Uh, Aux aren’t....aren’t you forgetting something,”: said a very worried female voice.

If I tried, I would be accused of “Slut Shaming.” In my case this would be entirely accurate, Aux thought to herself. But they are never in the least concerned with woman slut shaming woman. . Even though it is only women that ever do it. No. It is the “Phallocentric Patriarchy,” that does the slut shaming so far as they are concerned. As far as I can tell the “Phallocentric Patriarchy,” consists of one Biloxi stump preacher broadcasting on his Youtube channel.


Ridiculous, Aux thought to herself as she rounded the bannister heading down the last flight of stairs. Men love sluts. They just won’t marry one.


“Oh God! It’s her!” came a nearly choked whisper, from the first floor.

It is all about diminished value. In a state of nature a woman could reasonably be expected to reproduce an average of seven times. More, if she had a high status mate who would make certain her children were provided for by the junior women of his household. Add in high infant mortality and she would end up with four viable lines of descent. That was it really, for a woman; she only had four shots at immortality.

Bare supple golden legs appeared at the top of the landing. Long and well muscled.

Fine. It was unfair. That a man could reproduce as many times as he could get an erection. Definitely unfair, but so is the rest of life in this fallen world.

A thick but well trimmed light golden thatch covering the mons venus appeared above the legs, framed by the gentle swaying of her round hips, then the soft concave curve of her firm belly as she continued her descent. A fit line dividing her belly left from right travels up from her navel to her...

Genetically, it makes sense for each child have a different father, particularly in the tiny fifty person communities that we lived in for sixty thousand of our seventy thousand year existence. But sociologically, it makes zero sense if no man would claim those children. No real chance for her genetically diverse brood to survive if a woman was slut.

...Firm upturned breasts that tautly swayed with each one of her descending steps.

A game that was deeply unfair to women, yes. Yet any trained geneticist knows that throughout the entirety of human history, eighty percent of human females had reproduced and passed on their genetic inheritance. But only forty percent of males have.

Heads turn to watch her glide to the front desk. The view from the rear was almost as perfect.

Who was really winning the game. Up until now that is?

Do I try to get through to them? Is there anything that resembles a point? The simple piercing truth is that the kind of man who is willing to marry a slut is not a man worth having. He is either desperate (invariably with good reason) or simply a pervert.

“Sorry, my room keys are locked in the head, yet again,” Oksana said to desk clerk apologetically. It was annoying. There had been a few peeper incidents on that floor a few years back. Now there was an automatic outside lock on the bathroom door on the girls floor. It kept unwanted visitors out and if you left your room keys in the bathroom, it kept you out as well.

Smiling faintly he handed her the bathroom key with shaking fingers.

Oksana Kerensky nodded her thanks and headed back upstairs. Every eye glued to her bottom.

Your reputation is vital to you as woman. Look at me just now. I walked right through the middle of the lobby stark naked and no one even considered trying to hit on me. They all knew better.

Twenty minutes later and Aux was headed out the front door. There was a couple of half hearted attempts to pick her up which she shot down in passing, almost unconsciously.

“Well, where are you?” she appeared to be calling out to the world in general

“Ar-row-wor-rro-woo- woo,” came the whining response of a Malamute/Elkhound mix breed with eyes as blue as her own. He crawled frantically up to her, dragging his tummy on the ground The whining turned ecstatic when she started scratching behind his ears with firmly arched fingers. The dog’s front paws slapped at the pavement alternately as his tail joyously pounded the ground behind him.

“Come on, I have to rescue some unmentionables from your owners and I don’t want you crossing Hagadorn alone, today.”

Conan was smarter than his owners, (okay that didn’t take a lot). Omega Kappa had adopted him as a mascot two years ago and named him after the fictional nordic barbarian for his thick black ruff and deep blue eyes. They would occasionally try to teach him to play frisbee. This consisted of throwing the frisbee at Conan and yelling, “catch it, you moron.” Conan would nimbly dodge it, then stare at the frisbee on the ground long enough to make his point. Finally, he would walk away in obvious boredom and disgust. He was bred (more or less) to be a working dog. Give me something to do, he was saying. A big sled to pull would be nice. If you have a Polar Bear I could maul, that would be even better.

The Omega Kappas would routinely tie him up around nine when they all left for classes, planning to untie him when they got back at four. Conan would invariably free himself long before then. And he always came looking for Aux.

Oksana Kerensky set off at brisk jog with Conan glued to her heels. The air was cold and piercingly sharp. They both loved it.

A ridiculous clown car of a full size van came whipping around the corner at that point. Barreling down on top of them at least twenty miles above the speed limit. Conan gave a yipping whine as Aux savagely yanked him back on to the curve.

“Walmart Wolverines!” Oksana Kerensky snarled in an acid voice.

Nothing both gathers and divides Michiganders like the war between Michigan State University in East Lansing and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

To people from the other forty-nine states, that is to say, sane and practical ones, it looks for all the world like a battle between the Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea. They both have Michigan in the name, they are both colleges. What difference could there possibly be between these two eternally warring tribes? They then go on their way, content in their ignorance. Understandably so. Good for them.

Largely, the rivalry between MSU and U of M is a class war within Michigan itself. Though oddly, one with expected champions reversed.

Michigan State University is a Morrill Grant Moo U. Owned and operated by the State of Michigan. It started life as the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan in 1857. While the humanities department is deeply ashamed of this, MSU has never lost sight of its roots. It’s Ag and Natural Resources program remains its bread and butter. Entrance, while quite difficult, is hardly impossible for the children of Michigan’s hardworking middle class families..

It is the seventh largest university in the United States with a campus boasting the biggest non-military cafeteria in the country. It contentedly carries itself with middle class pride. Neither the administration nor the faulty is happy about this.

The Spartan fans are as you would expect. Just graduated alumnists who want to come back to their old stomping grounds to try and relive their undergrad days for a weekend. Which mostly involves being drunk off their asses before eleven AM. There are of course the older fans. The ones who are in their late fifties and on up. For them the MSU campus is a place to show off their success. They have the high end german automobile and the high end wife to go with it. A three car garage and a five figure mortgage payment. They can afford to be shaken down by the university and they rather enjoy it. They’ve made it and they want everyone to know it. Spartan fans are ultimately Michigan’s respectable bourgeois.

On the other hand we have...

The University of Michigan or as it is better known Michigan. It is the older of the two schools, it started life in 1817 as the Catholepistemiad. If you are asking yourself ‘What the hell does that word even mean?’ you aren’t the only one. At the time, Governor Cass referred to it as the "Cathole-what's its name?" While Justice James V. Campbell said the name was "neither Greek, Latin, nor English” and that it was clearly and frighteningly, “a piece of language gone mad.” Its name set a tradition of incomprehensible semantic content, which culminated in the nickname it awarded itself: The Harvard of the West.

There is no denying however that the “Harvard of the West” is indeed the more prestigious of the two schools. It unselfconsciously calls itself Michigan, in much the same way that New York calls itself, The City. There is only the one that matters.. It attracts old money. Attaches itself to fashionable left wing politics. It has formidable research labs and vast endowments. The one thing it doesn't have, say it’s detractors, is students from Michigan. A charge that while not entirely fair, is not entirely a lie either. U of M has an out of state acceptance rate that routinely soars outside the boundaries laid down as law by the state. But those out of state students come with a lot of old money attached, so everyone is content to ignore the law.

You would expect from that description that the Wolverine’s fan base would be the Thurston Howell the Third type. Bond traders named Bunky and Pongo, who flew in from Hamptons and are staying overnight at Scooter’s place in Grosse Pointe. They’ll be swilling Plymouth gin and devaluing Scooter’s new Bentley by barfing in it. Then downing a couple of Bullshots in the morning before heading out west to rub elbows with the plebeians in Lansing. Right before giving them their well deserved annual drubbing, of course.

This mental image of the typical Wolverine fan isn’t too far off. Except the bond traders are in the UAW. They’ve never left Michigan. It was an F-150 they were puking Captain Morgan into and the RV they are sleeping it off in is currently parked in Flint. But the guy who owns it is called S’Cooter, he looks just like the mechanic from the Dukes of Hazzard. And while the three of them are headed off to Lansing to jeer at MSU, they never actually went to U of M at all.

If asked why they root for the rich guy’s school, they will reply, why root for the one anyone can get into? Even though they couldn’t.

They are known in East Lansing as...

“...Walmart Wolverines!”

The fifteen year old van had been dipped in Maize and blue with an M made of yellow tape plastered on the side, slammed on the brakes and threw itself into reverse.

The driver’s side window was already down when it pulled level with her. “Did you say something?” A man wearing a surgical mask that was dyed maize and blue asked her in a low voice.

“I. Said. Wal-Mart. Wol-verine.” Aux glared at him. “Do I need to say it more slowly or do you need a moment to clean the stupid out of your ears?”

The van door suddenly creaked open loudly, and the pot bellied owner of the surgical mask hopped out and started towards Aux.

“Deke, come on man,” said another man’s voice from the passenger side. “Not here. Okay. Not here!”

‘Deke’ wasn’t listening. He stalked forward “You think you all eight kinds of special because you go to this shit school here?” Even through the mask, Aux smelled some very cheap bourbon.

“Get back in your car, now,” Aux said clearly and frostily.

“Why? Couldn’t you get into the good college in this state, huh?” Deke was yelling now, really working himself up.

“Deke, I am serious, do not do this here!” The other guy in the van had been down this road before.

“I just come here to watch a football game and you think you got a right to get all up in my grill? Huh?” Deke was starting to holler at this point.

Aux was getting a little worried as this point. Not because of the man. She had zero doubts in her mind as to her ability to outrun the fat drunk. The problem was that she couldn’t do that and hang on to Conan, who was silently straining on his collar. Barking would have been preferable. Growling would have been better still. The drunk might have figured out that the dog was serious. But Conan was dead silent and was focused in on Deke’s throat.

The dog was setting himself up for a real neck ripping attack. If she released him for second to run, herself, he would launch.

It wouldn’t be good for Conan. Depending on the damage he did to the asshole, he might have to be destroyed.

“I did one tour in Iraq, you cunt! You think you are better than me!” Deke was in full-on drunk rage.

Aux was hanging on to Conan’s collar with both hands now, more angry than scared. She also felt humiliated, because she was probably going to have to allow this moron to punch her once or twice to get it out of his system. She was a Russian girl, she could take a punch at need. But it was going to be hard to both roll with the punch and keep a hold of the dog.

“Deke, I’m telling you...” The passenger left his obviously empty threat hanging in the air.

Aux was going to have to do something entirely against her nature to get out of this. “I’m sorry,” she could barely push the words out of her mouth. “I shouldn’t have spoken to you like that.”

“Oh, is that right?” Deke asked with angry sarcasm. “Is that just fucking right, bitch?!”

Aux could tell he was too far gone. He was going to punch her anyway. Well, if it looked bad enough - if it looked like she had been in danger of “grievous bodily harm” as the legal term put it - it could give Conan a bit of legal wiggle room if he was defending her.

“I dont have the right to be better then you,” Aux stated calmly.

“No, you damn don’t!” Deke was going up to full steam.  He didn't care about getting an apology.  He just wanted to feel he was justified for what he was about to do to a girl he didn't know.  He pulled back his fist.

“DEKE!”

“I just am,” Aux finished and turned her head, hoping he wouldn’t break her nose that way.

A large something exploded past Aux’s shoulder and into Deke.

It took a while to cut the sharp biting cord that had bound Cillian’s left wrist, using as he had to, his own left hand to do the slicing. He glanced about, carefully taking note of the crushers’ activities around the asylum before he cut the one that was binding his right. Once he had their routines down, the cords on his feet were no trouble in the least.

Now to find some clothes and make his most timely exit.

He slipped off the cot and hunkered down low to the floor. Disgusting, it was. Covered in the shit of the poor lunatics chained here. Twas a pity indeed nothing could be done for them. But there was nothing to be done. Cillian O’Manion needed to make good his escape.

Carefully walking and crawling in the hellish red light, he made his way towards the door where he had made his most unwelcome entrance.

There was ten feet separating him from the door. He made it in a dash. Slamming it open and finding himself in an alcove with three men.

Two crushers and a huge naked black man.

“Give us a hand damn it, this one almost got lose!” a crusher yelled over his shoulder without looking at Cillian.

Cillian considered the matter and chose to give him the hand with the knife in it.

He ran up behind him pulled his chin back and started sawing at his throat. The big African fella grabbed the other poor sot by the head and pulled him neck first into his mouth. The Cillian had known hard brutal men in the Five Points. This big one would have left them all whimpering like children had they seen him at work on the crusher.

When Cillian stabbed the blood soaked knife into the base of the crusher’s skull. it was as much a kindness as it was practicality.

That left him with the problem of the African.

The solution seemed obvious which was to kill the degenerate cannibal and run off.

But the huge black man seemed calm enough now that the crushers were dead. And for some reason...for some sense of...kinship - could it be? It felt unutterably wrong to kill him. He kept staring at Cillian without anger or indeed without any kind of emotion.

Carefully, cautiously, gingerly and not at all sure why he was doing it, Cillian cut the binding of the big fella’s ankle and then he leapt back. The African exercised his leg a bit then started tugging on the one that was still bound. Not really interested in Cillian at all, he was. He just turned back to his lunch.

This second time he crept in to cut the other cord, it was more worrying. He stayed at the ready with Wagner’s knife in his hand waiting to see if the beast would strike.

It rolled onto all fours and began to prowl around but he seemed quite content to ignore Cillian O’Manion.

The biggest problem with any jail break he knew was that the screws and the crushers would only have to be focused on one man. Himself in point of fact.

But what..oh, what if they had to focus on more than one? If all the good folks in the room he had just exited were of the same mind as this child of Dark Continent? If all those howling lunatics were happy to ignore him but go screaming after the crushers?

Cillian O’Manion smiled. Somehow...in some way that he couldn’t quite fathom he knew they would.

Two men in Marine Corps dress blues are taking a walk in the Beal Arboretum. The Marines of Special Marine Air Ground Task Force 192, had been keeping a very low profile on university grounds. The President of the University, Garrison Wheaton was very unhappy about them being there at all. So they had stayed in civvies. Today, however, a detachment of them would be helping with the opening ceremonies. As such, the station commander and his Sergeant Major were obliged to wear dress blues, as well.

It had snowed the night before, and it was starting to look like the snow was going to stick around until spring. Given how crowded the school was today they had still managed to find a place for a quiet word.

“So, where was Ma last night?” John asked Shocker.

“I don’t know and I’m not asking,” Shocker replied firmly.

Major John Castillo jerked his head upwards. Hopefully it was just an accident.

There was little doubt in John’s mind that left to her own devices, Corporal Kenzie Styles was going end up a corpse by the railroad tracks. Falling to her death from a garage parking lot while drunk off her ass was in perfect keeping with her lifestyle.

John nearly stumbled over actual railroad tracks at that point.

Richard “Shocker” Cahn looked down himself, “train tracks at a university?” The tops of the rails shone brightly in the chilled morning air.

“MSU is an Ag school. It used to be easier transport cattle by rail,” John said. “I’ve got friend. Clancy McGrath, who told me about that. He’s retired train engineer. Got his start in that in the Marine Corps back when we ran our own trains.

“When did you take up trainspotting?”

“Fuck. You.” John said without rancor.

Neither man wanted to talk about Shocker’s change of fortune. Neither man had any real doubts about what had happened to Corporal Styles. John, however, was quite a bit more shaken by it. Quite a bit more in denial over it. You don’t handle problems in the Marine Corps like that. It’s not the way you do it. It is not done.

Shocker wasn’t really fazed. He knew exactly what General “Ma” Sertorio was capable of, if her back was to the wall. Although he was somewhat annoyed. He would have arranged a less conspicuous alibi for himself, if he had known what she was planning.

There was also the potential problem of the car he had stolen for her use that night. He had not anticipated it having to survive a run in with the Michigan State Police’s forensic lab with regards to a murder investigation. Michigan’s lab boys were really first rate.

He was probably going to have to take the damn thing to that auto crusher in Alpena. The one who had a very understanding owner for the right price. He groaned inwardly at the thought of an eight hour round trip. He wasn’t going to get any sleep at all this week.

“John, any idea where the recent...unpleasantness leaves me?” Shocker was pretty sure where it left him but he always valued John’s opinion.

“Technically Sergeant Major, I’m not supposed to tell you,” John almost laughed. “The reality is, I have no fucking idea. If you were anybody else, the Marine Corps would either cut you some kind of deal to get you out on a General Under Honorable discharge. Or if you were close enough to the end of your contract, just wait for your enlistment to run out and hit you with a ‘for the good of the service’ RE4.”

“I suspect they want me gone a little too much to let me wait around for two years,” Shocker said with surprisingly mild regret.

“The Senator from New York State wants your ass on a stick, Shocker,” John said with disgust.

“Well, of course,” Shocker smiled calmly, “I’m the face of the ‘rape epidemic’ in the military.”

“Which means they will probably pursue Court Martial for everything and try to get you to plead down to anything.” John shrugged, “Right now, it's a lose-lose situation for them. Senator Rutnick, in her infinite stupidity, wants to end the entire military judicial system and turn everything over to the civilian courts.”

“That was my read, John,” Shocker replied. “If JAG doesn’t Court Martial me due to the minor problems of there being no evidence against me, but quite a bit of evidence that Styles was a pathological lying cunt, it’s proof positive so far as Senator Rutnick and her twitter army is concerned that the military justice system is a cis-gendered patriarchal privilege factory of female sexual abuse.

If on the other hand,” he continued, “JAG does go ahead and try to prosecute and I am acquitted, well there it is, proof positive that the military justice system is inadequate because it does not deliver on-demand lynchings to feminist Senators from New York.”

Better for everyone, Shocker thought to himself, if I could just be allowed to continue on with Plan A and fucking desert. They’d probably be happy to help me do it.

Shocker inhaled the cold November air sharpy through his nose and held his breath for just a moment, steeling himself. I can give John two weeks to finish things up here and then I have to go. For the good of everyone, most especially myself. I need to jump in a hole and pull the hole in after me.

Something caught his eye down the railroad tracks. “Greatest Show on Earth,” he muttered. Oh yes, the Smithson Brother’s Circus was supposed to be performing at the university. God, what had they been thinking? The poor bastards were now under an injunction by some imbecile on a court bench for using elephants in an inhumane manner. The right wing legal sphere was laughing themselves sick over the incompetence of the ruling but it was probably going to be a couple of weeks before they would be able to move on. The circus’ train was now more or less impounded. Amtrak and the other rail companies were having to route around it. A few diehard student protesters could barely be heard chanting at the empty train in the distance.

John stopped and Shocker came instinctively to a halt beside his only real friend in the world. Well, they had discussed what they had needed to discuss. Back to work.

“I need to go find my charge,” Shocker said.

“I thought she gave you the day off from bodyguarding?” John said with a smile.

“She isn’t allowed is to give me a day off,” Shocker growled coldly.

“Well, there are worse jobs in the Marine Corps,” John offered. He could tell Shocker didn’t mind the job all that much.

“I’ve enjoyed collecting body parts more,” Shocker said. His first meeting with the Kerenskys had been complicated and difficult. He smiled at the memory. Shocker like complicated and difficult.

"I’m looking for Doctor Kerensky,” were Shocker’s first words to her.

The spectacular ice white blonde hadn’t looked up from her desk. “The door was locked,” she lit her next cigarette from the dying ember of her last one.

“I’m sure...it thought so,” said Shocker.

Now she looked up. “I am armed,” she forcefully stated to a strange man with a shaved head.

“In a gun free zone?” Shocker feigned a quizzical look, chiding her with a worryingly confident smile.

“Yesss,” the girl had drawled, “I am.”

“Good for you. What with?” He probably seemed oddly and casually curious for a man that had just committed felony breaking and entering.

She kept eye contact with him. “That door has a Medeco lock. Did you use a bump key?”

“Yes, of course,” he answered. “the gun?”

“That would be a very specialized bump key, nothing you could get from Ace Hardware,” she replied, then bristled in anticipation of his reaction before naming her preferred and persecuted weapon of choice, “Chiapa, Rhino.”

The bald man’s large shoulders started bouncing up and down with repressed laughter.

“You do not appear to be wearing body armor. Nor do I suspect,” she affected a speculative pause, “that you are from Krypton. So a .357, no matter how odd the gun that fired it looks, is likely to have some effect on you. Bullet placement is always the most critical element of course,” she said with thoughtful tone of voice.

“Without question,” Shocker had smiled warmly, confidently, and dangerously.

“You can take me at my word that I’m an excellent shot. Or you can look to your right,”she indicated with a glance, “at my trophies.” .

The wall was papered with tri-gun tournament awards.

“I saw them when I came in. I believe I’m looking for your father, Ms. Kerensky,” he said.

“It’s Doctor Kerensky, actually,” Aux had said.

“Oh, Well done. He must be proud of you.”

“I. Am,” had come a very gravelly voice from behind him. “And is there a good and sufficient reason for me to not be staving your skull in?”

Maxim Kerensky was gripping what looked like a very heavy Guard-Max umbrella close to it’s tip, The handle was nearly a cue ball of iron and the shaft was carbon fiber. He was holding it across his back, like it was back scratcher.

The old man knows broadsword. Shocker had thought to himself, Ukrainian Guard, looking at Maxim Kerensky’s stance. A little old fashioned and the position of the elbow will be a dead tell whether he’s going to strike left or right. But I can see why Gernal “Ma” Sertorio wasn’t worried about me keeping him out of trouble. The thing is his daughter doesn’t seem to need all that much help, either.

This is make work, Shocker had thought to himself in exasperation. Ma is keeping me occupied for some damn reason.

“So, Little Chekist. Who sent you?” Maxim had rumbled.

“I should argue we don’t have a Cheka in this country but I’m afraid I would be more or less speaking in the past tense,” Shocker meandered regretfully. “Regardless, General Sertorio sent me,” Shocker had finished.

Eyebrows the size of Siberian sables lifted in surprise, “All right, not a Chekist.” They lowered again, “but also nothing of interest to me. You will go now.”

“Actually, I’m here for young Doctor Kerensky,” Shocker had measured his amused words carefully.

Maxim Kerensky’s grey eyes narrowed like a Russian Wolfhounds, “I defy you..” His knuckles cracked as he clenched his umbrella tighter “...to come up with something even more life threatening to say to me”

“I have been assigned as her bodyguard,” Shocker had answered.

“Not interested,” Aux snorted. “I will look after my own body.”

Shocker mentally bit his lip on that one. Through the haze of cigarette smoke was a woman whose body was well worth guarding. You’d think she would happily take all the help she could get.

“Dee would not have sent an inexperienced killer, my Kothok,” Maxim stated while lowering his umbrella to a ready position. “My kitten.”

Aux gave her father, the look. Or at least she tried to give him, the look. It worked on everyone else but it clearly had never worked on her father.

Shocker was drawn back to the present when he heard John say, “I’m headed back to my office,” John said.

“Is this MEPS Saturday?” Shocker asked with a smile.

“Nope, that was last Saturday,” John gave a snorting laugh. Last Saturday was another time, another universe. The only thing I was worried about back then John thought to himself, was making my station’s recruiting mission. Nobody was saying it but there was going to be a draft soon. Active recruiting wouldn’t be needed anymore.

They nodded to each other, and started on their separate ways.

Shocker’s way would start by pulling out his Galaxy 5S smartphone to begin tracking young Doctor Kerensky’s smartphone.

And John ‘s would take him past what had been MSU’s animal science hog facility. It had been shuttered for a while but had recently been reopened and drastically repurposed. Currently it was SOD Treatment Station 24.

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