Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Dark Winter: Chapter Two

Chapter Two


“David spoke to me with his father’s voice and looked at me with his father’s eyes.  He said things to me that only his father should know. A demon must possess him! For he knows of me those things that only one man should and that is his father.  He asks me, why I have grown so suddenly old and acts afraid when I tell him he is my son.”  -- Recorded transcript Zebunissa Akinyi.  Burundi outbreak syndrome ZT952




People had been saying for a while that Detroit couldn’t get any worse.  Detroit always managed to defy these expectations.


The Jewel of the Midwest had once been a beehive of activity.  Square mile after square mile of clean grey factories producing what looked like an unending and unendable cold golden flow of wealth.  Immaculate streets were widened again and again as this flow turned into the mightiest of rivers.


There was plenty for everybody and everybody knew it.  Detroit built monuments to itself and to it’s power.  Masonic temples the size of vast cathedrals.  Elaborate and ornate fountains creating gardens of water.  Magnificent opera houses and gigantic theaters crenelated like castles, rich museums, zoos and aquariums all to provide playgrounds for the intellect. Beautiful, rich and luxurious hotels to rest the bodies of awed visitors.  While it’s kings built palaces for themselves, skyscrapers tall enough to dwarf the ambitions of King Nimrod of fallen Babylon soared to heaven, vaulted by the city’s hubris.


The beehive was always starving for more worker bees.  But along with those came the inevitable drones.


Clean grey became dusty grey, and then filthy grey, and then finally greyish green with rot.  No longer a beehive, but a disorganized swarm of maggots devouring a broken ox that was still breathing.  The once magnificent buildings ripped apart from the inside in the unending thirst for copper.  Pipes and wiring savagely torn from the walls. Wood paneling pried out with groaning shrieks from the walls.  Windows broken because...why not?  Gutting the once beautiful and leaving only crumbling ruins behind.


When the zombies first moved in, almost no one noticed.


Major Clarence Wagner, Michigan National Guard, had been to the  ruins of actual Babylon.  They looked good by comparison.


The former Marine and former Army Ranger’s features settled comfortably into a scowl.  He shouldn’t have to be out here, himself.  Majors were supposed to be able to trust their subordinates with something this routine.  Unfortunately, it had become obvious he couldn’t.  


This mission was vital and it had to be done right.  


Morale was the biggest problem in executing this op.  He understood that, naturally.  Soldiers tended to come from more regressive homes.  They really couldn’t get the big picture or understand how important it was that it be carried out.  Wagner did.  He always had, and somewhere inside he felt massively vindicated that he was finally able to make the kind of difference in America that he hadn’t been able to in Iraq or Afghanistan.


The important thing is to stop thinking of them as Americans, think of them as them, he thought to himself as he watched Haskins’ platoon approach a cluster of them.  


“Unload your weapons, place them on the ground, and take five paces backwards!” Lieutenant Haskins barked.


The civilian mob stared open mouthed as soldiers with American flags on their shoulders bore down on them.  


It was real.  It was happening.


“God damn it! How we supposed to defend ourselves!” One voice in a group of black men yelled back at Haskins.

“If you do not disarm immediately, we will open fire!” Haskins snapped.


Major Wagner nodded to himself approvingly as the group of men wearing green armbands one by one, then as a group, hesitantly and angrily unloaded their weapons, then placed them cautiously on the ground.


Lieutenant Haskins ordered his team forward and they quickly set about scooping up firearms.


Such a disorganized rabble, Wagner thought to himself in disgust.  What did they think they were going accomplish with that ridiculous collection of weapons?  Hunting rifles, shotguns.  All kinds of pistols.  And of course a couple of tricked out AR-15s.Those really made his blood boil.  Wagner didn’t agree with the President about everything but he was absolutely right about that.  No civilian has a right to a combat rifle.


Truth be told, so far as Wagner was concerned no civilian had a right to any kind of firearm.  The Second Amendment was a ridiculous holdover from the earliest days of the United States.  Maybe it had been needed in it’s day, but that day was over and done with.  It wasn’t like Congress was still issuing letters of Marque and Reprisal. Wagner shook his head at the stupidity of it.  It was a good thing this chance had been recognized by higher authorities for the opportunity it was.


“How we supposed to defend ourselves, huh?” The man screamed again.


“You’re not supposed to.  You’re supposed to call the police,” Wagner had had enough of this shit.  


“The police?” the man blinked in disbelief before bellowing out a loud bitter laugh.  “I supposed to call the Po-leese?”


“Last month they was proud as shit they could be here in half a mutha fuckin hour!”  Another man revved himself up before screaming, “They ain’t fucking coming at all now!”


The man’s reply infuriated Wagner.  Like that gave any of these civilians the right to take the law into their own hands.  “The police will come eventually. Prepare a safe place and barricade in it, in case any of the Zom...any of the Afflicted attempt to enter your homes!”  Those were the instructions everyone had been given by the government.  They needed to listen to it.  They needed to be made to listen to it.


A man in the back who kept his hair short and was wearing a two hundred dollar gray parka marked Cabela's, said loudly, in a clear and articulate voice from the back, “this seizure constitutes a violation of Posse Comitatus” he looked Wagner directly in the eye challenging him,  “as an officer of the court I demand...”


“Lieutenant  Haskins, detain that man!” Wagner ordered.


“Whut!?” His articulation slipped a little at that.  A little bit of streets suddenly burned in his eyes.  “On what charge?  What are you arresting me for? As an Officer of the Court, I demand...”


“Nobody said you were being arrested,”  Wagner said with a professional smile. “You are being administratively detained and quarantined because of potential exposure to SOD.”  And for being an NRA house nigger, he added silently to himself.  African-Americans like him are the absolute worst.  Traitors to their own class and for what?  A few scraps from the white man’s table?  A few pats on the head?  Good nigger!  You get a biscuit!  


The man’s eyes went wide with shock but not fear yet.  Wagner was certain the fear would come in a moment or two.  


“Haskins read him his rights.”


Lt. Haskins swallowed but began.  “Sir, you are being detained by federalized authorities in Michigan under the provisions of Emergency Executive Order...” Haskins began to drone.


“No,” the man said in a small voice, then louder, “NO!”


“For a period of no more than forty days,” Haskins continued in a dead voice.  “You have the right to communicate indirectly with family members via electronic mail three times per day...”


“I gots a wife!”  The black lawyer was genuinely starting to panic.  As two soldiers began to pat him down.


“You have the right to an attorney,” Haskins kept on.


“She’s pregnant! We got a two year old!”  His arms were jerked quickly behind his back and his wrists zip tied.  The soldiers had the routine down at this point.  They knew he’d panic in a moment and fight.


“You have the right to file a protest with the civil courts regarding your confinement,” Haskins sped up.


“Please don’t do this!  How can they defend themselves without me?”  He openly begged.


“Do you understand these rights, as I have explained them to you?” Haskins rushed to a finish.  He didn’t want to think about what he was doing or what would happen because of it.


The man went quiet for a moment, getting a hold of himself.  Then replied in voice that belonged in a Baptist pulpit, “I don’t understand how these are rights.” His voice built,  “I don’t understand how you can invent the law and believe it legal.” Then thundered his damning peroration, “I DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW YOU CAN CALL YOURSELVES AMERICAN SOLDIERS!”  


“I think he’s Flashing, level II restraints and throw him in the truck,” Wagner was tired of listening to this Black Conservative bullshit.  “Send him to the Observation Site.”


A field expedient bite guard, a dog’s blue rubber chew bone  to be exact was jammed into the lawyer’s mouth and tied around his head.  Humiliated tears were starting to trail down his eyes, as he was picked up by the elbows and dragged to the back of the five ton


Haskins turned to the group of men took a deep breath and opened his mouth to speak.


“Carry on Lieutenant Haskins!” Wagner interrupted..


Haskins hesitated, clearly torn, then he shut his mouth and replied, “yes, sir!”


That was exactly why I was needed here, he thought to himself.  He needed to keep a close eye on Lieutenant Haskins.  The kid was a bit soft on them.


At the last detention, Haskins had actually told the crowd, “someone better be looking after this man’s family. Because I’m going to be back tomorrow.”


It defeated the whole point of the exercise, so far as Major Wagner was concerned.


He wanted them frightened.  He wanted them scared enough to obey the authorities like they were supposed to.  Wagoner needed Haskins to think of them as THEM. The kid needed to view these civilians as the other.  


The random (or not so random) selection of a troublemaker lead to a very desirable end state so far as Wagner was concerned.


Fear.


Fear meant order and order was his real objective.  He knew there was no way to keep all these civilians alive.  A lot of them were going to die, he knew that at this point, but a lot more would die if everything dissolved into chaos.


Order was the only real hope.


Time to head for the next...


A woman’s voice screamed.


It wasn’t a frightened scream.   


It wasn’t capable of being frightened. It was the long rasping scream of a throat scarred by it’s own howling rage.  


“Get the fuck inside, NOW!” Haskins screamed at the group of men they had been searching.  They had stood like deer in headlights when they heard the scream.  Suddenly they ran in a mad scrambling, directionless panic trying to find any place, anything that might offer a moment’s protection.  Though a few of them had the sense to grab their weapons off the ground  before running.


“Mount up!” Wagner shouted.  He briefly watched as Haskins men rushed back to the Hummers and five tonnes. The trucks didn’t have any canvass covering for this mission.  The soldiers were exposed to the cold November air.  They had groused and bitched about it. But now they were glad for the clear field of fire as well as the height the trucks afforded.  


Wagner heard his radio operator calling it in. “...Zombie Tango troop inbound baring


Major  Wagner pounded on the hood, “button it up!”  There was a series of frantic clicks as the men inside his hummer locked him out of it.  


Wagner was already sprinting for the lead five ton. Foot on the tire, up over the wheel well and into the back of the back of truck.  He took up station next to the M-240 machine gunner.


Wagner clapped his Steiner-Optik binoculars to his eyes and started his threat scan. It didn’t take long.


There she was.  No mistaking one of them at this point.  Squatting on on her haunches, so filthy there was no way to tell what race she had belonged to before SOD had stolen her from humanity.  Hair so matted with blood and filth it stuck to her back like a stream of brown clay.  The hair at the sides of her head had been torn out by the roots.


Did one of the other zombies do that to her? Wagner briefly wondered.  Or had it simply found a convenient way to keep its hair out of it’s yes.


It stared at them again with eyes so bloodshot they were as pools of thick red mud.  It cocked its head to the side like a curious dog.  Then lifted its jaw, filled its diaphragm, and bayed its fury high and loud.  The sound clawed at Wagner's spine worse than a hundred fingernails on a blackboard.  


“Permission to engage, sir?” the machine gunner begged.


“Denied,” Wagner said with cold authority.  Inside he rather wished the man had used ‘Bad Initiative,’ combined with ‘Poor Judgement’ and just fired his weapon without asking him.  


The ‘Howlers’ as they were now called, seemed to act as scouts or pickets.  It was hard to tell which because no one was studying  zombie behavior patterns in any detail yet.  Once the Howler spotted a nice juicy clump of humans, it would start screaming until a pack of them arrived.  


That was a big part of reason that the administration had finally gotten off it’s ass about gun control.  Civilians had quickly figured out the fastest path to safety was to shoot the Howler.  


So Wagner was finally, finally able to carry out his most cherished dream and exercise proper confiscatory gun control.  


The downside was that the administration had also issued some very restrictive rules of engagement.  After what the press was calling the Cleveland Massacre, it had been deemed necessary.  A national guard unit had shot a seven man troop of Zombies (Zulus at the time) who were attacking them.  The press had feasted on it for a couple of days.  At the time the Zombie troops were brand new.   No one had seen one before that day. And that troop had been all African-American.  There were uploaded videos everywhere.  


Worse were mothers who thought their babies could have been saved.  Rivers of tears pouring down their faces as they cradled dirt and blood caked heads in their laps.  Then screaming loudly when faceless men in biocontainment suits tried to pull them off the corpses of their children. Finally shrieking that if the government wanted to save them, they would have been saved.   They were just sick, they weren’t the monsters everyone was saying they were.  Instantly, a lot people started saying - in loud angry voices - that they would never have been shot if they were white.


Riots had started almost immediately.


And then they stopped just as fast.  Zombies, it turned out, liked rioting.


A lot.    


Currently the Rules of Engagement strictly forbade the use of firearms against Zombies.  Non-compliant gun owners were a different kettle of fish entirely.  The press, thank God, was completely ignoring those incidents.  Except for the Faux News Network of course.


But, for now, the standing order for Zombies was...


“First squad, Capture Team! Up!”  Haskins ordered.


Nine men jumped out the back of the second truck and rushed towards the Howler.  If they could get the damn thing locked down fast enough a mob of the things wouldn’t have time to home in on her.


The zombie tactics were simple, but reasonably effective.  A Howler would act as rallying point.  A pack would gather. They would keep looking at each other, and looking at whatever group of unafflicted they were targeting.  When they thought they had  enough, they would rush.  Or sometimes just rush, anyway.  Zombies weren’t that good at math.


So taking down the Howler was job one.  


And they could. Not. Shoot. It.


The nine man team formed a semicircle as they advanced at a double time.  Three beaters on each wing armed with police batons and wearing hockey gauntlets with the three man net team in the middle.  


The zombie kept up it’s keening cry as the soldiers pressed in on it.


“Is it saying anything to the others?” the gunner next to Wagner asked out loud.


“Cut the chatter,” Wagner ordered.  Although he frequently wondered the same thing himself.  Were they communicating at all?  Did they have any brains left that could do that?


The capture team closed in.  Now, it would get messy. The zombies never ran.  Ever.


When the soldiers got within ten feet of her, the Howler charged on all fours, still screaming but it’s voice suddenly reached a high soprano.   It galloped right for the center of the team.  Good, Wagner thought.  This one will be easy.


It wasn’t.


The Howler suddenly slammed to stop, jerking a pivot on its heel and launching itself at the beater at the end.  It came in low, striking like a snake. The private on the end wasn’t set for it.  The zombie had caught him between steps when all of his weight was balanced on one leg.


“Shit!” Snarled Wagner.


The Howler was on top of the man.  Even as the rest of the squad rushed to save him, truncheons high.  The private screamed more in terror then pain as Howler sunk her teeth into his shoulder.  Her head thrashing as her broken teeth tore into him.


“Backpedal and net!” the squad leader ordered. He’d’ just lost one man, he didn’t want to lose anymore.  The squad skipped back a half step and the net was cast over the howler and the
screaming private.  


“Now!” he roared and rushed back in.  The men grabbed it’s arms and legs pulling it off their squad mate.  It’s neck was pinned to the ground with a boot, the net peeled back.  And another chew toy bite restraint was carefully inserted.


Wagner had been worried that he wouldn’t be allowed to use the things anymore.  The day before, there had been a huge internet dust-up by activists about using them. They were viewed as demeaning to the Afflicted.  Chew toys simply weren’t acceptable.  That morphed into any kind of bite restraint was unacceptable  as well as being racist.   Fortunately, Twitter had gone down last night and it still wasn’t working as of today.


Haskins’ squad had the Howler hogtied.  They carried it to the third five ton truck.  The one that was covered.  The one they had just stuffed the lawyer into.


The medic approached the private who had just been bitten.  He hesitated before coming any closer.  He put on the exam gloves and raised his hands very hesitantly towards the Private.  


That Private couldn’t even be twenty, Wagner thought to himself sadly.


The kid, was wide eyed and shaking, his face dead white.  No one who had been bitten had yet failed to come down with SOD.  Everybody knew it.


His voice cracked as he waved off the medic, “Don’t bother doc.  I won’t mind it in a little bit.”  The kid dropped his web gear.  Opened one of the pouches on it and pulled out a bite restraint.  He put the dog’s rubber bone in his own mouth and tied it around his head as he walked to the waiting third truck.  Another soldier, the one who had picked up the Private’s web gear, walked beside him with tears in his eyes.  He said a few unheard words to him.  When they reached the truck.  He zipped tied his friend’s hands together and helped him get inside, then he zipped tied his feet as well.


Wagner watched as the second soldier pulled an envelope out of the web gear he was carrying.  There was a public mailbox close by, the soldier looked at for long moment.  Clearly made a decision and stuffed the envelope into his cargo pocket.


Wagner was pissed.  All of this, he thought to himself, because this pussy of a machine gunner had to put me on the spot by asking my permission to fire.  Wagner’s head snapped over to him,


“You’re relieved.  Get on the third truck.”


“Sir?” The machine gunner asked in a high voice, that made Wagner’s teeth grate.


“You’re on guard duty.  They need an extra body now.”


“Yes, sir,”  It was a perfectly legal order.  There was nothing he could do about it.


“Starner!”


“Suh!” A big kid with a Texas accent answered.  


“You’re on the two-forty!” Wagner ordered.


Starner got a big smile on his face.  Wagner was pleased.  That idiot wouldn’t bother with awkward questions like, “do I have permission to fire?”


Wagner hopped down off of the five ton and nodded to his Lieutenant, “Smart work.  Your men are very impressive.”


The standard, “Thank you, sir,” was said with dull eyes and a duller voice.


Wagner gripped Haskins shoulder.  The men needed to think he was ruthless.  Really that was all about maintaining standards, but they should also see he was a little caring.  They needed a bit of theater like that, “I know it’s hard son.  Losing a man here, isn’t like losing one in the Sandbox or the Rock Pile.”


“Sir...”


Damn it, he’s gonna talk to me, Wagner thought to himself.  


“Make it quick...” What was Haskin’s first name again? “We still have work to do, Bryan.”  Was it Bryan?


“Sir, it would really help morale if we still had a separate place for our own men.  Instead of just dumping them into Gen-pop at the Treatment Station.


There was no longer any treatment going on at the Treatment Stations.  It just wasn’t possible anymore.  A few people were muttering about them being concentration camps. But honestly at this point keeping the Afflicted tied to their cots was about the best anybody could do.  


Wagner had looked in on the treatment station in Lansing earlier that morning before heading out here.  He had gone to visit one of his wounded, just like a good CO is supposed to do.   There had been some effort to segregate cops and soldiers a couple of days ago but now that wasn’t possible. Segregating by sex was now the priority.  The idea apparently was that the female zombies needed to be protected from sexual abuse.  


If you saw the inside of a Treatment Station, you knew that idea was tragically hilarious.


It was a scene from Dante.  The smell hit you before you got anywhere near the door.  Human sewage, acrid and raw, married to the cloying stench of piss.   Rows upon rows of cots with snarling,writhing lumps of sallow flesh lashed down to them.  There weren’t any hospital gowns to go around by now and there wouldn’t have been any point to them if there had been.   The howling cries of the Afflicted bounced off the concrete walls amplifying, and refining the screams to a deafening symphony of the damned.  The Afflicted were being kept warm with red heat lamps, lighting every surface with the dull scarlet glow of a distant, unearthly fire.


Even worse than the mindless screaming was the terrified confused begging and pleading of the Flashers.  Those zombies who were temporarily seeing life out of the eyes of their long dead ancestors.  A horrifying babel from the Tower of Babel. Strapped naked onto cots and being carried into hell itself.


The nurses - or were they attendants? Or were they tormenting demons? - Wagner couldn’t decide which was most appropriate. Those who saw to the needs of damned, trudged from cot to cot, covered head to foot in full Mopp 4 chem biohazard gear.  The green uniforms were rendered black by the light of the heat lamps.  They would have been terrifying to look at except for the comical addition of hockey gauntlets. All that they could do at this point was perform only the most basic functions of hydration and feeding through tubes.


Hygiene was provided for by a high pressure hose.  The ground beneath the cots were thick slats with about an inch of space between them. The shit and piss was sprayed off the cots and sluiced down between the slats.


Treatment Station 27 had been Michigan State University’s Swine Teaching and Research Center


“Which one is your man?” a muffled voice had asked him through a gas mask.


“Manion,” Wagner replied with a dry rasping voice.  “His name was Derek Manion.”  Wagner blinked at himself for having said, ‘was.’  He already knew Manion was dead and what was left was just a raging husk.


I should just leave.  There is no point to my being here at all, he thought to himself as he was lead to a naked man who didn’t yet have a tube in his mouth, and was tied with zip ties and nylon cord to a cot.


Manion, he thought, appeared to have caught his eye.  Held his gaze.  Did he recognize him?  Was that even possible?


The blood red eyes appeared to be pleading with him about something.  Manion didn’t look angry at all.  Did he have something to say?  There was a slight beckoning of jerk of his chin.  


Wagner, incautiously, leaned over to hear what the man had to say.


The attendants placed a hand on his shoulder, “Sir, don’t do that.”  


Wagoner turned his head to chew the man out, just Manion’s teeth clicked shut on where his cheek had just been.  “GGGRROOOOWHHHHHaaaaaaa!” Manion howled at him.


Wagner reeled backwards in terror as Manion snarled, biting at the empty air where he had been.  One bite was all it took.  Everybody knew that at this point.


Wagner had turned on his heel and fled.


Back in Detroit, Wagner sighed, then assumed his command posture.  Back straight, eyes forward.  Right hand resting on his M9 pistol butt, left on the hilt of his Kaybar. Then he scowled. Where the hell was his Kaybar? Damn it he’d lost his knife somewhere. Annoyed, he snapped at his Lieutenant,  “Look Haskins, I understand that...”


BRAK-A-BRAK-A-BRAK-A-BRAK-A  


BRAK-A-BRAK-A-BRAK-A-BRAK-A  


The M-240 had fired into life.  Full power seven point six two cracked the air over their heads at supersonic speed.


“Mount up! Mount up!” Haskins yelled as he sprinted for the lead five ton.  “Drop the fucking Howler and go!” He screamed at the men who were still trying to drag the zombie to the third truck.


Wagner was closer to his hummer then his five ton.  He sprinted up the back of it’s clamshell and pounded on the top hatch.  “Open it! Open it!”


There was a cascade of boots stamping on pavement as his men charged back up into the trucks


“CEASEFIRE! CEASEFIRE!  STARNER, LOCK THAT SHIT DOWN!” Wagner heard Haskins yell.  


Wagner had sudden change of heart over his choice of Starner.  God, was his career over? Am I going to prison for this?  How many Afflicted are dead? One Howler could have been swept under the carpet but not this.  Wagner thought as he heard Haskins barking, “Ceasefire Starner! Ceasefire, you fucking idiot!”


“Sir, the hatch is jammed, get on the truck, sir!  Get on the truck!” A muffled voice cried from the inside of his hummer.


No time for that.  No time.  Wagner started scanning, where Starner had been firing.  


He instantly forgot about Afflicted casualties.


God, there they were and they were closing fast. The hoard that the Howler had summoned.  Maybe about twenty of them.  Twenty!  No one had seen troop that big yet.  The zombie troops weren’t supposed to get that big.


On they came. Bent over and galloping on all fours like a platoon of psychotic apes, in ripped and tattered clothing.   Blood red eyes silently focused. All of these beasts were naked from  waist down.  Pants seemed to be a major inconvenience for them.  They didn’t seem to mind shirts and jackets as much. One was almost comically dressed in a three thousand dollar William Fioravanti jacket and tie but with his bare cock swinging between his legs.


Almost comically.


There was no screaming, no growling.  This was a hunting pack closing in for a kill.  


“Forward! Forward, then right!” Wagner commanded. Gripping the lip of the hatch as tightly as he could.


The convoy lurched into life.  Gears grinding. Diesel engines roaring.  Smoke belching out of tall smokestacks., Heading dead ahead forward toward the charging pack.


Fifty yards between them.  This is going to be tight, Wagner thought in a controlled panic


Now forty yards.  The standing orders directly from the White House was to de-escalate if you couldn’t capture the individual zombies. But those Rules of Engagement were two days old.  Two days was a lifetime ago, now.  Two days was another world entirely.


Thirty yards.  He could see individual faces now.  The red eyes peering out of filthy crusts of dried blood on their faces.  Lips peeled, jagged broken teeth through open panting mouths as they ran.  Panting in what felt like the anticipated animalistic pleasure of ripping him apart with their mouths.


Twenty yards.  They aren’t animals though, Wagner knew.  Four of them were left dead in the street by Starner’s fire.  Animals would have been frightened.  Fear wasn’t even a concept to these things.


Fifteen yards. They were at the intersection now.  “Turn now damn it! Turn!” Wagner yelled at his driver who suddenly swung the steering wheel viscously hard.  Wagner’s fingers peeled off the turret, and his guts turned to water as he felt himself being hurled over the side of his Hummer and into street.  His shoulder hit the ground, the pavement graveling at his clothes.  As he tumbled.


He rolled up on to his knee pads, the plastic skidded briefly.  Oh God. Oh God. Oh God.  He tried to sprint and pain shot through his ankle.  Wagner limped frantically toward the trucks.  The lead one sped by.


They weren't’ going to stop for him.  He knew they weren’t.  He’d given orders that covered this eventuality.  “In this situation, no one is to stop for a man who goes overboard.  So don’t go overboard!” He had laughed and they had laughed with him.


This was it, he was going to die in the streets of Detroit that he had left as a kid.  Killed by a gang  after all.


“MAJOR!” A soldier had clammered over the side, his feet on the running board, one hand clenched the truck’s railing and the other an open life line to Clarence Wagner.


One that Wagner knew he couldn’t reach.  But instinctively he lurched forward anyway, his own hand frantically outstretched as the charging zombie troop closed in him.


The five ton suddenly swerved towards him.  Arms slapped as Wagner seized a wrist whose hand closed like a vice on his own.  He jumped with what little he had left as Starner yanked him upward, “Gotcha, sir,” Starner said as Wagner gripped the side rails. Then he spared one hand to grip Starner on the shoulder in silent thanks.


Wagner looked back just in time to see the third truck making a hard high speed turn.  The five tons high center of balance shifted so radically it lifted off is right tires.  It was balanced for one moment on three of it’s six wheel as it sped along, about to tip over on it’s side.


The driver skillfully tapped the brakes and twisted the wheel sending it crashing back down to all six tires.


There was a gear grinding down shift as it the third truck tried to regain lost speed.  Wagner watched in impotent terror as he saw the zombies start to claw their way into the back of the truck.  


He couldn’t see anything now. Just hear the frantic muffled screams from the underside of the canvas and he knew the prisoners...his prisoners... were being slaughtered.  


Suddenly there was the loud, distinct, and very unauthorized blast of .44 magnum, from the bed of the third truck. Followed by four more shots. Then after a pause a fifth.


Later, the convoy pulled into the temporary command post at the Pontiac Silverdome.


Wagner stepped carefully down from the five ton truck. He motioned Haskins to come with him and limped back to investigate the prisoner’s truck.


It was like an IED had gone off inside of it.  Wagner recognized the uniform of the corporal who had been on the M240.  The one he himself had sent to his death.  


The corporal had been carrying an unauthorised Taurus snub nosed .44 magnum.  He had killed the three zombies that had gotten into the truck.  That had taken five shots.  The Corporal has saved the last round for himself, when he had seen that he had been bitten.


The private who had been bitten was dead. The black NRA lawyer no longer had a bite restraint on. A zombie had bitten through the restraint tie to get at his face..  He was still alive however, he turned slowly and shakily to face Wagner.


No need to send him to the Observation Site now. He would go straight to a Treatment Station.


Wagner knew he should have cared in principle.  This hadn’t been what he wanted for the man.  But he didn’t really care either, other than how this might affect his career.  He considered the matter briefly, and came to the conclusion that it was unlikely to matter in the long or short run.  After all, he was on the record of suspecting the man was SOD positive.  Now he unquestionably was.  Good call, Major Wagner .


One last thing to take care of, Wagner thought to himself.


“Stay here a minute, Bryan,”Wagner told Haskins.  Then he yelled, “Corporal Starner!”


Starner came loping up with a huge Texas sized grin on this face.


Wagner looked at Haskins expectantly for a moment, then clearly gave up on something before saying, “Corporal Starner assume the Position of Attention.”


Starner blinked a little in surprise, dropped his smile and brought his heels together.  Chest elevated, fists light clenched and thumb down the seam of this trousers.  He had expected some kind of award but not this quick.


“Corporal Starner you are  a suspect involved in an illegal shooting incident this day. You are relieved of all duties and are under arrest. You will be investigated for violation of the following articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice...” Wagner began.


Starner thought it was a joke at first but then he began to get a sinking feeling in the pit of stomach when he heard the man whose life he had just saved say, “You have the right to remain silent....”


Lansing State Police Post


Chelle’s eyes were scratchy and her lids kept getting dragged down.  Four hours sleep a night for three nights.  Last night no sleep at all.  The phones keep buzzing and buzzing, she moaned inside her her head.   A flooding  stream of calls were overflowing the banks of the 911 hotline.  


SOD was causing a ripple effect.  People were stressed eight ways from hell.  It was like the middle of a bad heat wave when everyone was hot and itchy and just putting one foot in front of the other.  Stretches your patience like you are lifting up a piano by the piano wires.  And then wires start to break.


The black neighborhoods were getting very dangerous for anyone.  Urban departments were gearing up for riots.  Those folks were so scared.  God, who could blame them.  It wasn’t just African-American’s who were getting SOD but it was hitting them the hardest.  And it was hitting them so fast.  People were starting to open carry.  The official orders were to disarm them.  No one had died over that yet, but Chelle had a sick feeling that would change before too long.  At least, no one is shooting at cops more than usual...
...yet.  


Except for other cops.


Tooly was dead.  Clean shooting and no choice about it.  Nobody blamed Jim at all, except for Jim.  


On top of this gigantic heaping, helping of bullshit, they were actually going ahead with the Great Divide game today.  University of Michigan versus Michigan State University.  Why in hell hadn’t that been canceled?


Even during normal years it stretched the capacity of both the Lansing PD and the State Police.  But this year...My God, what were they thinking!


Chelle’s phone vibrated.  She couldn’t listen to the ring tone anymore and now she shuddered when it shuddered.


“Detective Sergeant Vasquez,” she managed.


“Sergeant, this is Assistant Attorney General Braylon Medina.”  The voice was so strangely warm and happy.  It was from such an alien world, a place where horrifying things didn’t happen to innocent people.  It actually cheered her up for a moment.


How’s life in Attorney General land, patron?” her voice suddenly lilted, into a sing song Spanish that spoke of sultry Florida nights.


Well enough, good to talk to you again,” the voice appeared startled by her tone, had answered her in the same tongue.


Cultured spanish was warm, soft and comforting to her just now in her half dream state.  Vile illiterate open sewer Spanish she was quite familiar with.  So much so that at this point she avoided her birth tongue if she could help it.  But this was the tone of words she first heard sitting on Abuelo’s lap as he sang her lovingly to sleep. The disgusting stink of his gigantic cigars a warm childhood memory.


“It is a pleasure for me as well,” she said, wondering if the walls had always had fading paint jobs that clashed so badly with each other or if it was just the constantly moving shadows that weren’t really shadows.


“There are a couple things I need to finish up about the Cahn matter,” Medina said.


“Oh, to business so soon.  Quite rude you know,” Why the hell am I teasing an assistant AG.  This is career suicide, a distant voice screamed at Chelle.


He laughed again.


Oh good, Chelle thought to herself from that far away place.  I still have a job. Then..is that really a good thing?


“Hang on, I’ll call right back,” Medina said in english.


“Okay,” Chelle said to a dead connection.


She blearily looked around the room.  Everybody else was in at least as bad a shape as she was. A couple of the uniforms were leaning up against a wall, basically standing asleep.   Mike was smoking again, after fifteen years.  Geoff had given up on Red Bull and was now dropping Ripped Fuel four caps at a time.


Geoff had a blood pressure issue.  Chelle needed to do something about that.


“Geoff, could I have a couple?” Chelle pleaded.  


Then her phone went off again.


“Hey it’s Medina again,” said the Assistant AG.  “Look I know, it’s late...”


Is it? Chelle briefly wondered.  Okay, I’ll take your word for it.


“...but I’ve got a priority case from the AG herself.  She wants you and me to follow up on it.”


“Um, Mr. Medina,” Chelle began formally.  “We are swamped at the moment.”


“I appreciate that, Detective Sergeant,” came the reply, “I really do, but as of now you are off your regular duties.”  There was slight pause from the other side of connection.  “Go home and get a good night’s sleep.  We’ll start first thing in the morning.  Who is your boss, by the way?”


On the one hand, she was so achingly grateful for the possibility of  a full night’s sleep she was ready to give Medina a full court press, go to town, complete blowjob.  Swallow or facial, his choice.  


On the other, everybody else was going to be working through the night.  Everybody else was staying in the fight.  Everybody else was doing their job and she was going home. She felt a crushing weight of guilt. She was abandoning her friends, colleagues, and comrades to go do something for herself that they couldn’t.  


“That is an order detective,” Medina said, “See you in the morning.”


Feel guilty later.  Blame the orders.  Drink now and pass the hell out, Chelle told herself.



The last apple had fallen as the first snows came. It was a small apple.  A SweeTango.  On a small orchard, on a small farm. It sat alone and ripe resting in snow for a few minutes gleaming in the twilight.  It  was buried by the snow and vanished uneaten within minutes.


In Michigan's early days those eighty acres were the secret dream of unremembered generations.  The fragile hope of families that had lived on the borderlands of Scotland and England.  The dream of a world where there was no landlord to pull the forelock to in submissive salute.  Where there were only honest neighbors that kept blood feuds within the perfectly reasonable boundaries of personal honor and cattle theft.  


My land and mine to me.  


By the mid twentieth century, that farm had become the hallmark of grinding poverty and personal degradation.  A place that could barely pull a hand to mouth subsistence from the ground.  


Or at least it seemed so from the outside anyway.  Though not to the owner who found no degradation in honest work or for his wife who was never so poor that she couldn't  pick up her own front yard.


It’s previous owners would have been both amazed and rather worried to discover that their farm had somehow become something of a luxury item.    


Major John Castillo was almost home and was bracing himself for a very familiar stab loneliness.  He took a deep breath, slowly let it out as he turned into the driveway.  The lights were out in the farmhouse, of course.  Logically, it would have been pretty worrying to see them on.  That would have meant there was someone inside his warm home, waiting for him to come in out of a cold early winter’s night.


The hobby farm had been Charlotte’s idea, (sigh) of course.  Her ideas had a circle of life that was tragically short.  The trip from utter obsession to complete neglect usually took about a month.  This time her temporary life’s work had been organic farming.  John should have taken that as a warning sign that Charlotte was drifting away from him again.  He should have watched her a little more closely. Too busy this time. Recruiting command had a minimum ninety hour work week. This time he missed it and she finally slipped away from him.


Much to his surprise, Charlotte’s fleeting hobby had taken root in John.  It was a hobby he didn’t mind for once and when it came to Charlotte’s hobbies that was saying something.  He was an early riser, so spraying her organic crops with pesticide before she got up didn’t really inconvenience him.  pH tests were easy to do.  Soil temperature was a little more tricky, he had to create some on the spot Native American gibberish about frost patterns and the way the birds were circling for her to buy why she should delay planting for two more weeks.  Charlotte had eaten that shit up. She always did.


The boy that John had been had sworn that there was no conceivable set of circumstances that would make him take up farming again.  Yet here he was growing actual food out of the actual ground just like a real farmer.


Well, it wasn’t the first promise  to himself that he had broken.   


John couldn’t face going into the house just yet.


He went to the barn to check on the pigs. An established habit from before his family was stolen from him.  In those days it was to check and see if they had been fed.  He wanted to trust his sons but in the words of his grandfather.  ‘One boy is a boy.  Two boys are a half a boy.  And three boys are no boy at all.’


John had three boys.


He also had three rather hairy Mangalitsa hogs.  All of them squealed in delight at the sight of him.  Well, someone loves me.


John mentally kicked himself for the self-pity as he fed them.  John had named them Food Animal One, Food Animal Two and Food Animal Three.  He was not planning on becoming attached.  Their fat content would get them rejected by the American Pork Council, but on the upside it would create in them an extravagant porcine deliciousness that hasn’t been commonly seen in America for forty years.  


He made a mental checklist of everything he would need to get done around the place on Sunday.  He was behind on all of it.  His boys had done most of chores at the farm.  It taught his sons the virtues of mindless drudgery and the joys of back breaking manual labor.  Oh and the dignity of shoveling manure.  John believed in all of it wholeheartedly.  


A couple of the barn cats deigned to hiss at him in passing.   Yes, they’d be fed too.  He supposed it was a little much to hope that the boys would tame them as well as feed them, but they were after all boys, not girls.  Technically, those were “his” cats.  Not that they would acknowledge that legal relationship, you understand, or any relationship that required a demonstration of gratitude on their parts; they were, after all, cats - not dogs.  But John knew that whether or not he liked them, they were his responsibility and that meant that he had duties towards them.  Water and shelter primarily.  A little food but not enough to make them fat or lazy. Just enough to keep them around while they fulfilled their end of deal and murdered vermin for him. Sadly, vet care was part of the deal, so far as John’s sense of honor was concerned.  Which meant a couple of times a year he was obliged to  grab a shrieking, spitting, living Vitamix  with external blades plus teeth and stuff it into a cat carrier and then haul it to his very sarcastic veterinarian.


He turned off the lights and shut the door behind him. The snow was getting thicker, “Christ, I can barely see the house from here,” he muttered to himself.


John staggered inside and managed to push the door shut behind him.


He turned on a light and walked into the TV room.  A bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel completely arrested his attention.  


He stood looking at the bottle for a few moments and the promise of relief from pain that it offered him.


“That way lies madness,” he said to himself.  


Then he added, “so does talking to yourself.”


His ears were burning from the cold.  He looked at the white Marine Corps barracks cover that afford those ears no protection from the environment and wondered why the hell was he still wearing it?  


Why was he still in Marine Corps?  Sticking it out until retirement was starting to look like a sucker’s game at this point.  It didn’t matter in the least that Charlotte had been the one to run out on him.  She was going to be entitled to fifty percent of his fifty percent pension.  Effectively giving himself  25% of his bare bones unmodified base take home pay as a soon to be O-5.  And giving his soon to be ex-wife and Professor Boyfriend (who already had a six figure income) annual revenue that was big enough to cover the lease on a Mercedes 600 S Class.  Or maybe just a decent sized third home someplace in Florida.  John knew that Garrison already owned outright a cabin (sorry, cottage) up in Petoskey.  He had made a point of bragging about it to John when he had dropped off his boys.


John, on the other hand, could only live on that if he didn’t mind moving into a trailer park.  However, a pittance of a pension is still a pension.  Bailing now, when he was so close to the twenty year finish line, was a lot like cutting off his nose to spite his face.  


On the other hand,  if his nose had been screwing some damn sociology professor behind his back, why not?


Then there was the matter of how old he was.  He was really only qualified for one line of work.  His peak performance years as a “Security Contractor” at whatever the hell Blackwater was calling itself this week, were right-freaking-now. He wasn’t going to improve with age.


If he quit now and moved over seas...Hell, depending on what country he went to work in, he wouldn’t have to pay Charlotte a goddamn cent.  


And the price tag for that would be never seeing his children again.  


Of course, he wasn’t really seeing them now.  Alternate Weekend Dad is no Dad at all.  They weren’t his anymore or at least they soon wouldn’t be.  They would drift away from him.  Were probably drifting already.


Josh was thirteen and being an amazing pain in the ass for both Gary and Charlotte.  Old enough to be considered a man in parts of the world where indoor plumbing was only an outlandish dream.  Already a bit rebellious because of his age and now angry as hell with his Mom and loathing his Mom’s new  boyfriend.  Garriosn the Boyfriend was quite amenable to getting Josh out of his house at this point.  But John wanted him there to look after his little brothers if at all possible.  Charlotte however wanted him off to Camden Military Academy in South Carolina.  Family tradition from her side of the family of course.  Although given the state of her family, that in itself was reason enough to not even consider it.


Garrett was eleven and buried in his own little projects,  most of them culinary in nature and terrifying in outcome.  Shocker thought Garrett had something there in terms of talent.  One of the few times his wife had agreed with his best friend.  Although for much different reasons.  Shocker saw a drive for artistic perfection on those occasions that Garrett would condescend to make something as mundane as fried chicken.  Just the right amount of heat from paprika, an aroma of thyme and an underlying taste of lemon from brining the chicken for a day.  Charlotte, in his view, had only seen talent because she wanted to see one of her children show a talent for something fashionable.


Brett was the one both he and Charlotte were really worried about.  He was nine and already almost as big as Rick.  Hyper intelligent and very taciturn. Very sparing with his words for a nine year old.  Brett had given himself the ASVAB screening test just to keep himself occupied when he had been hanging around his Dad’s Recruiting Station one day.  He had scored an AFQT of 99.  Which put his IQ better than five standard deviations above the norm.  


Shocker really did know what he was talking about when he said that Brett would  never quite fit in without a lot of help.  He wasn’t an Aspergers, even though that is what the all knowing Gary was insisting he was.


It was terrifyingly out of character when Shocker, completely out of the blue, had worriedly asked John one day if there were any indications that small animals had been tortured around his place.  John had been shaken enough by that question to keep a very sharp eye out for any indications of that.  John wasn’t completely certain that the answer to Shocker’s question was, “no.”   


Gary wanted Brett to start in on his undergrad  degree in couple of years rather than bother with high school.  John, on the other hand, wanted him to learn how to interact with people his own age.  Brett needed John more than the other two at this point in his life.  He needed someone to teach him how to be human being.  And beyond that how to be a man and a father.  It wouldn’t come easily or naturally to Brett.  


Gary was about the worst father figure imaginable for his youngest son.  The only thing Gary cared about was intellect that was utterly devoid of morality.  The monster that would make of Brett was well known to John Castillo.  He had fought the results of men like that when they had impressed their will upon a pliant and easily frightened world.


John couldn’t let himself cry.  Men didn’t cry.  


No. Leaving the boys was out.  And if he stayed in and tried to make himself a lifer, the Marine Corps would whisk him away far from Michigan.  So he would lose the boys, anyway.


John hung his uniform on a hanger to preserve the all important military creases.


He wandered into the kitchen in his underwear looking for a highball glass.  He walked past a full length mirror in the hall and struck a couple of bodybuilder poses.  Not bad.  Not bad at all, even for man in his mid thirties. In truth, still pretty good looking for a man of any age.  Although he used to look alot better.


The economy was awful and wasn’t going to improve anytime soon.  In fact, it was due to get one hell of a lot worse.  If he quit now and stayed in Michigan, he would actually have to try to farm for a living.  Not a great idea on forty acres.


He looked back at his uniform, his eyes catching his award tree, and he was forcibly reminded of the travesty that took place in his office this afternoon.


Sergeant Major Richard (Shocker) Cahn, stood at attention, passively.  A careless, far away look in his eyes as the Public Affairs NCOIC snapped several pictures of him in his dress blue uniform.  His once formidable Liberty Tree, now pruned down to two rows of ribbons.


Bronze Star with gold star in lieu of second award, now absent.


Navy Cross, now absent.


Purple Heart with two gold stars in lieu of second and and third awards now absent.


Medal of Honor, now absent.


John was standing behind General Darlene Sertorio at parade rest while he watched his best friend and right hand man being disgraced and publicly humiliated at the whim of the President of the United States.


There was quite a bit more from Shocker’s ribbon tree that was gone as well but those were in Shocker’s words, “just ‘squat to piss’ ribbons anyway.”  When a completely expressionless General Sertorio had informed him that he was to be stripped of his valor for the amusement of the spoiled children of the Northeast elite, Shocker’s face had looked completely numb.  He then carefully broke the frame of his awards and decorations holder at the second row.


Looked at the bright ribbons for a moment.  Then threw them into the nearest garbage can.


The Kerensky girl had been present at the time and dived after it.  She fished it out, carefully wrapped it tissue and put it in her purse.  John noted that she was the only one who was showing any outward sign of anger of this dishonorable, pitiful, degradation of a man who in a better age should have been untouchable.  She was the only one allowed to  be angry of course.  And she had made the most of it.  Snarling something in Russian about men who were disgusting half women and were even proud about being half women.  John was grateful.  Nobody else was allowed to say anything.


Nobody else is even allowed to show anything, John had thought to himself.  


The order had been signed by the worst Secretary of the Navy the United States of America  had ever seen.  A vile little courthouse politician who hadn’t even finished his own term of required service as a naval officer.


Some SJW blogger had bothered to look up the ribbons on the Sergeant Major Cahn’s uniform after seeing a recent picture of him and had set off tweetstorm demanding that such a monster shouldn’t be allowed to wear his awards in public.  The meme caught fire.


The White House had quickly looked up the relevant regulations and found it did, indeed, have the authority to order Sergeant Major Cahn not to wear them.


The pictures being taken were to be released in tonight’s White House press package.


John had been standing behind her.  General Darlene (Ma) Sertorio had  stood expressionlessly at parade rest as well.  Her face carved in ice, her eyes even more distant than Shocker’s. Behind her back, her free hand was clawing and raking the air.  Her fingers straining to tear and gouge.


John poured himself an extremely generous glass of bourbon.  It was all academic at the moment, anyway.  Nothing was official but the entire U.S. military was about to be put on Stoploss.


He was one of the few men who knew it.


The entire United States military was on standby for Dark Winter.


Treatment Station 27
Earlier that day.


“Manion,” he had heard a deep voice say.  Cillian’s eyes locked on to the man what had mispronounced his name.  Another crusher, important one.  Or maybe the Chief Screw of the place himself.


The crusher he was talking to had pointed at Cillian once Chief Screw had misnamed him.  The large man came over to him.  


As he came closer, Cillian who was justly proud of the fact that he was almost literate, saw the big man wasn’t a screw at all. He had the word Army emblazoned on his blouse and on the other side the name, Wagner.


Cillian put on a right good show for him. Acting like there was something vital important he had to tell this Wagner.  


The Wagner started to lean in.  This was starting to look promising indeed.  The Wagner had a strange looking barker on his right hip.  It was just out of reach of his own hand but that was perhaps as well.  First, he wasn’t sure how to use a barker like that.  Second, the shiv on his left was within reach and Cillian O’Manion most certainly knew how to use one of those.


““Sir, don’t do that.”  The crusher rightly and properly warned his man just as Cillian’s fingers delicately slipped around the haft of the big knife Wagner was carrying.


“GGGRROOOOWHHHHHaaaaaaa!” O’Manion wailed banshee like at him. Gnashing his teeth and howling like a wolf at the moon.  The Wagner obliging stumbled backwards in terror of the beast before him.  Politely failing to notice he had left his pig sticker behind.  Cillian slid the cold blade under his thigh during his performance.


Well, something went right today, Cillian O’Manion thought to himself.  Let’s see if something else will as well.


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