Sunday, January 22, 2017

Dark Winter: Chapter 21

Animal-Mutha: Welcome to First Amendment Radio.  This is the Animal Mutha coming to you live from a place I ain’t mentioning, with my partner in crime Jerry-Dee.  Emphasis on the crime, because we might get shot for this.  

Jerry-Dee:  We got all the news that is fit to suppress here.  Now that Hate Speech is an actual crime.  

Animal-Mutha:  Not a crime at all Jerry.  Not a crime at all! Just an Administrative Response,  which has been implemented to ensure that the Zombie Apocalypse remains a safe space for people everywhere.  

Jerry-Dee:  My apologies to our righteous and local dictator. Hey, Animal, did you see that Secretary of State O’Hara actually got asked questions today? I mean real questions. Like the reporters wanted him answer them or something.  How the fuck did that happen?  I didn’t even think the press knew how to do that anymore.

Animal Mutha: They have been serving up softballs for so long I figured they’d forgotten how to rocket one in there.

Jerry-Dee: “Rocket” is going a little far, Animal.  They were very careful to phrase things in terms of how lawless the legal gun owners in Clare were in refusing to be disarmed before the Nasty Guard murdered them.

Animal-Mutha:  There’s a sequel to that shit.  Jenny Kunt’s thugs are refusing to turn over the bodies to the families because they might have had SOD.  So they got hauled off to wherever the hell those corpses are being stockpiled.

Jerry-Dee: Jesus Christ!  Here’s the deal folks:  Don’t turn over your weapons and don’t be reasonable.  It’s time to fight.

Animal-Mutha:  Just so that we are completely clear here.  This is indeed an incitement to commit violence.  These guys are now an occupying army.  Treat’em like one.

--Right on The Left Coast, pirate broadcast

How vital was Oksana Kerensky?  

That was the question that was gnawing at Charlotte Castillo’s guts like a cancer.  Could the project proceed without her, Charlotte asked herself again and again as she climbed the steps that would lead her to Kerensky’s office.

Screw the project.  Can she save my Garrett, or is she more valuable as a bartering chip to get Dickie back?  Gregory thinks the it's the former, but I do believe Kent has cut him right out of the loop, Charlotte thought to herself.  I don’t blame her at all.

Mama is going to be thinking with only half a brains while he...Charlotte couldn’t let herself think about that.  While Garrett is in the condition that he’s in, we need her at full mental throttle.  At least John got her out of our hair for the time being.

It was becoming more obvious by the minute that everything was falling apart.  

America’s Leadership was now clearly and obviously deranged.  Charlotte was not going to trust the lives of her children to people who could be clinically diagnosed as mentally ill.  She gave an internal shrug; Charlotte could even deal with that if they were usefully mentally ill.  Just look at the rest of her family - none of them were sane but all of them crushed anything they set their minds to.  Sadly, the current political leadership of America, while clearly out of their minds, were not remotely useful.

Back to the question at hand.  Charlotte had come to the conclusion that the only way she had at her disposal was to find out from Oksana Kerensky, herself, how irreplaceable she was.  

Charlotte stopped before she knocked on Kerensky’s office door.  She stuck her hand in her pocket and loosely gripped the Beretta M9.  Kerensky was quite possibly in for an even worse day than she was already having.

Charlotte knocked with her free hand.

“Yes?  What is it?  What do you want?” She heard the Russian girl bark. Followed by a pause and then an abrupt, “Come in.”

Charlotte stepped inside and beheld an Ice Princess with big, red eyes.  She had been crying, obviously..  

There was a rather large arctic mutt in the room.  It’s blue eyes focused on her in suspicion.  It growled softly.

“Shhh, Conan, down boy,” Oksana said, her Russian accent only a faint purr,  “Ah, yes.  Mrs Castillo.  Very sorry about your son.  My father and I are working hard on this matter, I assure you.”

Oh yes, there was still Maxim Kerensky to be considered on any number of levels, Charlotte thought to herself.  Not the least of which would be revenge against her and what form that revenge might take.  She didn’t know the man that well.  Would he strike at her through Garrett?.  She should have considered that aspect and hadn’t.  She clearly wasn’t firing on all cylinders, either.

“Handsome dog you have there,” Charlotte said.

“Conan is a recent acquisition.  His owners were a fraternity that has fled campus for the joys of home life.  Conan dropped himself off at my dorm shortly before they left.  The boys in the Marine Pit have been making a fuss over him.”

“Of course they would,” Charlotte smiled genuinely, just a little.  Marines and their stray dogs.  She then dropped her smile. John and Chelle.  That stray dog.

On to the matter at hand.  Charlotte drew a hand up to her mouth and started to make half coughing sounds.

“Are you all right?” Oksana asked.

“I’m afraid I have an animal dander allergy.  Makes me quite the bother, I’m afraid,” Charlotte lied smoothly.

“Oh,” Aux looked down at Conan.  “Uh?”

“Could we perhaps talk outside for just a moment?”  Charlotte half coughed, half choked in feigned barely suppressed distress again.

“Of course,” Aux replied.  A few minutes later they were standing outside Giltner Hall.  

“If we could step away from the boys for a moment,”  Charlotte nodded to the Marines.  “I’d rather we discussed Garrett in private.”

Oksana nodded understandingly and led the way to a more secluded spot.  Charlotte smiled to herself.  So far, so good.  We now have privacy and an unhindered path to my car.  Her hand slipped into her coat pocket and found her Beretta.  Her expression hardened.

Aux noted the change, “I realized that you are concerned, Mrs Castillo. But there is not, as yet, anything I can tell you.  There is every indication that Garrett’s condition is not progressing to stage III. I realize that this quite distressing to you but it is, in truth, a good thing.  He should have progressed to Stage III hours ago There are some avenues of research that are starting to look very promising.”

Well that certainly sounded like bullshit, Charlotte thought to herself.  She made up her mind as she gripped the pistol butt.  “Doctor Kerensky...”

“Cahn,” Aux said.

“Excuse me?” Charlotte was momentarily poleaxed.

“It’s Oksana Cahn, now.”

Charlotte was frozen for a moment and then slowly pulled her hand out of her coat pocket.  Leaving the nine mil right where it was.

Change One; as everyone in her family always said whenever a plan went completely out of the window.

“That stupid cunt!” Jack O’Hara raged.

Brandon Allwhite swallowed hard.  You didn’t correct your boss in Washington.  He certainly knew that by now, but he didn’t feel comfortable with that kind of sexiest, abusive language being directed at one of their own.

Even if he was frustrated enough to agree, just a little bit, with his future President.

“What the hell was she thinking?” Sid Kelly’s voice moaned out from under fingers that were digging into his face.

Rutnick had really screwed up.  It was now obvious that the new Senate Majority Leader was in way over her head.  

Her meeting with Jack, according to her office rep, had left her a bit “out of sorts.”  Which was why she had agreed to a request by three of the Republican Senators to allow them to speak under a rather arcane Senate rule in order to condemn Van Djik and the entire Omaha government.  One, for forcing the ramrodding of a Supreme Court Justice through the Senate like this and, two, to make a collective plea for national unity.  In exchange they would waive the usual confirmation hearing theatrics and just confirm the man without a hearing.

‘Oh and one last thing, Liz?  We are all getting up there in years.  We sometimes, just occasionally, forget salient points, we’d like to be able to surrender the floor to each other if that embarrassing problem came up.’  

Senator Elizabeth Rutnick, the Senate Majority Leader, had agreed to all of it.  

The old-fashioned filibuster was now eighteen hours old.  The ancient Senate warhorses were taking it in eight hour shifts.  Nothing could be voted on in the Senate while they continued to speak.

“Sid, what’s the latest from Omaha?”  Brandon asked.

“Unsurprisingly,”  the old man graveled out, “President Van Djik’s eighteen Supreme Court Justices have cleared his rump Senate unanimously.  He should be swearing them in about now.”

“A colorful slate,”  Brandon grumbled in himself.  There were only three judges on it.  Five lawyers.  The rest were loyal GOP party hacks.  Including one lantern jawed actor from a turn- of the-century sci-fi western who had a noted fondness for wool knit caps.

Van Djik had also provided them with a new chief justice who was tottering on his last legs.  The man in question had been rejected for the Supreme Court on a baseless charge of racism back in the 1980s.  It gave Van Djik’s Rebel Court just a little bit of autocratus while giving the Democrats the middle finger.  Call it a two-fer.  

“Sir,” Brandon said.  “There might be some good news.  The Chief Justice of the real Supreme Court may be mad enough about this to be changing his vote.  Making it a four to three majority in your favor.”.

Jack looked at him sharply.  “Do you know? Or are you guessing, Brandon?”

“I’m guessing, sir.“  It was smarter to be honest here.  “But it’s not a bad guess.  There is a special session of the Court that has been called for tomorrow”

Sid considered, “He may be right Jack.  The High Nine do not want to become the High Twenty-seven. Exclusive clubs, above all else, like to stay exclusive.”  Sid struggled up off his chair, various joints popping as he did so.  “Not much else to be done tonight. I’m headed out.  If that’s Okay?”

Jack O’Hara waived his acquiescence, “Fine, Sid, get some sleep.  Brandon, stay for a minute.”

Sid was briefly startled by that.  Had the kid one upped him? But then decided, what the hell? I’m too old and too tired to care about young pups nipping at my heels. I’m done for the night.  Besides, I’m not really feeling myself.  

Sid thought he might be running a little bit of a fever.  And then left the oval office for the last time.

When Sid was gone, Jack O’Hara said to Brandon, “I need you to deliver a personal message from me to Senator Rutnick.  Two things.  First, Oksana Kerensky is turning herself back in”.  

Brandon was startled by that.  

“In exchange for handing herself over to our guys there in Lansing, she gets to say goodbye to Sergeant Major...Or rather, Private Cahn.”  Jack shrugged, “I guess she has a thing for him.  Anyway, she wouldn't do it until I gave my word that she could see him. Which I happily gave.”

“No kidding, sir”  Brandon said.  “If she wants candlelight and music, we can do that too.  Hopefully, Kent can hang on to her this damn time.”  

“That's the second part.  I am done putting up with Rutnick’s pet fuck-up in Michigan.  I need you send a replacement for Kent.  Somebody in uniform.  A General.”

Brandon had seen this one coming.  “I have someone in mind, sir.” Brandon liked Kent.  They really saw eye to eye on nearly everything. But Jack wasn’t as, (shall we say) tolerant of performance issues as the Old President.  First, losing the damn girl in first place and then, letting Kent’s idiot boyfriend shoot up that town in the middle of nowhere.  Yeah, there was something to be said for getting rid of dead weight, no matter how loyal it was.  Brandon had a guy that General Dillard had highly recommended on stand by already.  Brigadier General Nicolas Ciotti.

“Third, If I don’t have either a Senate confirmation or a  favorable SCOTUS decision by three o’clock tomorrow.  Here is what is going to happen next...”

John was burying himself in work.  It kept his mind off...things.  Also, if he didn’t bury himself in work, they were all going to die.  

Okay,  we have a destination.  Beaver Island.  John scanned the Ponce’s manifest.  He had an interesting and annoying collection of gear.  Four M1A1 Abrams tanks, which he would have preferred to just dump over the side.  Those gas hogs would be impossible to keep fed. The gas turbine engine was a brilliant idea back in 1975 when it was designed, but now it was an obvious supply liability.  It slurped down as much gas standing still as it did at full throttle.  Even the Jihadi’s had managed to screw up the logistics lines by targeting the gas trucks.   The LAVs, being diesel, were better news, although he had no trained drivers for them.  Five prototypes from the old Advanced Assault Amphibious Vehicle Program had been packed away.  They worked well enough, and were fully armed and operational but they were, however, just a bit sinky.  John would trust them about as far as he could carry them.  Also, no maintenance crews for any of these things.

Three UH-1Ys - the modern descendent of the workhorse of Vietnam.  One pilot (his Ops O) and no ground crews for any of them.  Frank could help there, John thought.  Amongst his trained sailors there was, he knew, one ground crew chief.   Four AH-1Z attack choppers.  Plenty of ammo and still no pilots or ground crew.  And that was it for airside. John had an exotic collection of paper weights, you had to give him that.   No fixed wing at all.  At least Frank was onboard with the program.  General Sertorio had finally read him in on the last few details of Dark Winter.  Ma had, at John’s request, gone out to the Ponce to make sure everything there was locked down. The truth was, he needed her out of his hair.  Because of Garret, she was going nuts, here.  

Getting the M-14s back was a priority, but that was now problematic, at best. John had been trying to feel out the generally supportive LtCol Wheeler on the subject.  “Wheels” had ignored his questions and tried to feel John out about the “bad situation in Omaha”.  John hadn’t been quite sure where Wheeler stood on the matter himself. The man lived in Grand Rapids, but had a strong Boston accent. John checked online to see if the man had made any political donations.  Yep, he had and they all went to Democrats.  John checked Wheels’ Facebook page and social media, aside from the usual kids and kittens stuff, the man seemed to be on an eternal quest to find right-wing reasons to vote Democrat.

John been hoping to bring Wheeler on board with the Dark Winter, but that was starting to look like a bad idea.  Which was a pity, because he was desperate for officers.  He only had two commissioned officers, and one of them was freaking Poon.  It was becoming pretty obvious that that Wheels and his men were off the menu.

Worse, Wheel’s reservists were standing between him and the USS Ponce.  Worry about that later, he prodded himself forward.

John briefly wondered how many conversations like this were going on now.  Old friends and comrades in uniform quietly feeling each other out on where they stood on the matter of which of the two governments was the “real” government.
On to things of brighter interest: he had an embarrassment of riches to pick from in terms of agricultural equipment and personnel.  He was going to need specialized trailers for the livestock.

He had Larson supervising the the loading of the trailers.  He would have preferred to use five tons for everything, but it was starting to look like he would need all of those for troop transport.

Now on to artillery...

“Sir,” the walkie-talkie buzzed out Top Anguiano’s voice.  “There is a Colonel Wagoner here to see you.”   

Or not.

Lansing Airport was almost completely abandoned at this point.  Once a flowing cascade of constant activity, a non-stop stream of passengers pouring through the dams of TSA security checkpoints.  Baggage being lugged. Parents greeting children with hugs and kisses or sending them away with tearful good-byes. Ridiculously overpriced books and magazines offered relief from boredom.  A small and equally expensive bar promised even more of the same, but for different reasons.  

Easy to sanitize rows of plastic seats were now completely empty.  They were facing opposite large, suspended tv’s, half of which were off and the other half remained glued to CNN International.  CNN stopped running commercials last night.  All of the cable news channels had done that.   Almost nobody was running entertainment programming at this point.  Everything was now news coverage.

The ghostly echoes of the dazed newscasters who were trying to sound like they knew what they were talking about bounced around the empty, open halls, colliding with each other until they were hopelessly garbled.

Added, now, to this mournful incoherent sing-song murmuring of the news wraiths came the sharp staccato of women’s shoes, clicking loudly on tiles that were once polished to a near mirror finish, but were now dully scuffed by a shower of military book stripes.

They came to an abrupt and startled halt. Gregory Medina.  The newly promoted Deputy Inspector Chelle Vasquez.  Charlotte Castillo and, finally, Okasan Cahn.  There were two other civilian policemen with them.

None of them had been told about the beating.

Private Richard Cahn once the hero of ///Fallujah  was staring at his shoes, brokenly.  Hand cuffed and shackled, he was still in a too-small dress blue jacket that was now hanging open, because the buttons had been torn off it.  The white tee shirt beneath was stained brownish red from the blood that dripped off of his face.   One eye was swollen nearly shut, the other was as red as a Zombie’s.  His upper lip was split and his cheeks were purple.

Medina looked sharply at Lieutenant Haskins, who ignored him.

Cahn listlessly raised his head and saw Oksana.  His gaze dropped again to his shoes.  He released a long, slow, tired sigh of utter and complete defeat.

“Who did this?” Oksana demanded of Lieutenant Haskins.  

He swallowed in embarrassment and stayed silent.  

“I asked you a question!” Aux snarled, her eyes narrowed to slits in contempt of the man’s cowardice, “Did you do this?  Were you hoping to steal this man’s honor by beating him when he was in chains?” She stepped up to Haskins face,  “Disgusting coward!”

“Ma’am, I...” Haskins began angrily.

“My judge did this to me,” Richard Cahn croaked.

“What did you do, Dickie?” Charlotte’s lilting Carolina accent was laced with familiar exhaustion.

“Something very stupid,” he stated quietly, still staring at his shackled feet..

“Obviously,” Charlotte shook her head tiredly.

“What happened?” Oksana asked quietly.

Without lifting his head Cahn said, “I asked him if he wanted to tear off my zipper too.  After all, everyone knows what Wagoner loves.”  He stopped at that point, and gave a broken half chuckle,  “Which reminded him of a joke that I started between him and the entire Marine Corps.”

Okasana was confused. but Chelle said, “Oh my God.  Is he that Wagoner?.”

Before Cahn could answer, Aux dove for him.  Grabbed his head in her hands and jammed her lips against his with every ounce of passion within her.

It was her last chance for him.  They had only been married a few days.  His mouth was warm and coppery from the taste of his blood.  She held on to it tight as her mind flashed back to their wedding night.

A diamond ring is supposed to symbolize something pure and indestructible.  According to modern divorce, statistics it more often symbolizes optimism untempered by life experience.  Although it unquestionably symbolizes DeBeers’ continued dominance in the diamond market.

Oksana examined her wedding ring in the light of the Audi S8’s richly red interior lighting as it sped through the predawn light towards Lansing.  It was fragile (albeit expensive) green jade with a tiger engraved upon it.  It would need care to survive.  Attention would have to be paid to it.  The tiger appeared to her eye to be both siberian and maternal.  

Well, her husband knew her that well.  It wasn’t the worst start.  

After the owner of the hotel jewelry shop had been somehow roused and brought in to open his shop for a single sale in the middle of the night to her new husband, the ceremony between them was as quick as it was personal.  It turned out they shared the same view on marriage, which was that it was none of the government’s damn business.

She looked up from her ring and at her husband.  At the very least, Richard Cahn was not conventionally handsome. He could wear a shaved head like no one’s business. His hawk-like features cut his profile into the pre-dawn light.  It reminded her of someone else she had recently met, but Aux was too tired to place it.  Shocker had the permanent skin tone of a man who didn’t tan naturally, but had been sun burned for so much of his life that the skin was now permanently a reddish khaki.  I’ll have to watch him for skin cancer later in life, she thought to herself.  

She studied him for a while longer.  Arranged marriages tended to be durable.  It starts with commitment and moves on from there.  

“Could you tell me about yourself?” She asked quietly.

Cahn considered for a moment and then replied, “no.”

Oksana nodded to herself in satisfaction.  Women have a strong drive to test the fitness of men, a necessary survival mechanism.  All men will say they’ll fight the sabertooth for you and your children, but women know that talk is cheap.  The need to test a male for the certainty of that knowledge is deeply ingrained in the genetic code.  Aux was one of nature’s few self-aware shit testers.

She then changed the subject.  “The marriage sacrament is important to me.”

Cahn thought for a moment before answering his own question, “You’re a virgin.”

“Yes,” Aux replied both pleased and embarrassed.

He sighed a little, “I understand.  But I’m not certain what we will be able to manage, given the deteriorating security situation.”  

She nodded.  Obviously, yes.  A full blown Eastern Orthodox service would be...   “I know you are Catholic but are you Christian?”  Possibly something she should have asked before ordering him to marry her.

“I try,” he whispered.  “I do try.”  His voice turned hoarse, “I pray for forgiveness constantly.”

“You aren’t allowed to cry in front of me,” Aux said sharply. “ You know that, yes?”

“Well, obviously,” Cahn replied, his voice back to it’s normal gruffness.  

“The ceremony we just performed for ourselves?  Is that similar to what goes on in the Mormon Church?”  

“I suppose so,”  Cahn answered, a little tired.

“But you don’t know for certain because you were never actually a Mormon.”

Her “husband” scowled slightly.  “Oksana...”  He stopped took a breath and then committed himself.  “Oksana.  My life began at fourteen.  If I told you more than that I would be making you an accessory to murder after the fact.”

She raised her eyebrow at that.

“You knew you were getting a killer,” Cahn pointed out.

She lowered her eyebrow again.  It was part of his “husband material” resume.  Especially given how fast the world was headed off a cliff.  “I hadn’t realized you had had to start so young.”

“Had to start”? He repeated her words rather surprised.  “You’re taking my side in that matter?  Apropos of absolutely nothing?”

“Naturally.  You are my husband.”

He actually looked a little bit frightened at that.  As if the concept of someone instinctively taking his side was a strange a worrying thing, the likes of which he had never before encountered in his life.

“Aux, we shall have to keep our marriage secret for a little bit.”

“How little a bit?” She asked a little coldly.

“Call it week, Oksana.  I have enemies and I don't’ want them to know that I now have a hostage to fortune.”

Dawn was breaking.  She would barely have enough time to take a shower when she got back to the dorm.

“MA’AM, NO!” Haskins barking voice dragged her unwillingly back to the present.

“Aux, stop it!” Chelle ordered.

Charlotte dove in behind her and grabbed her by the shoulder.  Clumsily getting in the way of Chelle, Haskins and her own police escort.

All of them more or less pulled her off of Cahn.

“Ma’am, you may not touch the prisoner!” Haskins ordered in a command voice.

Aux ignored it, “I’m his wife.  His wife!” She repeated with tears streaming down her cheeks.  Her eyes locked on Cahn’s

His head remained lifted for a moment, a single tear falling from his red eye on to his bruised cheek.  Then his head slowly fell again, in resignation.

“All right, Oksana, we have to go now.” Chelle said sadly.

“Come on, Darlin’,” Charlotte coaxed Aux.

“I love you,” Aux said through the tears, as she was dragged away.

She barely heard him reply, “Of course you do.”

“You have my phone number, yes?” Aux replied with gentle half smile, tears still elegantly sloping off of her finely chiseled cheekbones.

“Major Castillo, you are relieved for cause,” Colonel Wagoner said, with a very satisfied smile. “You will surrender your side arm, your identity card, and your cell phone.”

“Fuckoff, dick breath,” John said calmly.

“Major Castillo...”

“It’s Lieutenant Colonel.”  John interrupted.

“That promotion was illegally...”

“So was yours. Eat a bag of dicks.”

“You are under arrest on the charge of murder, as well as violations of the Posse Comitatus Act, in addition to illegal occupation and theft of civilian property.”

“Is there a reason I haven’t shot you, yet?”

Wagoner smiled very confidently.  “I have your wife.”

John laughed out loud.  “So has the president of MSU.  Try threatening me with something that would bother me.”

Wagoner spotted Top Anguiano standing behind John.  “Master Sergeant! This man is relieved and is under arrest.  You are ordered.  ORDERED! To take him into custody!”

Top Anguiano looked at Wagoner long and hard down his remarkably long Aztec nose for a moment, and then answered.  “Be advised, sir, I am not under any obligation to obey the orders of an officer from an foreign government.”

Wagoner blinked in disbelief.  “That is going to go very hard on you, Master Sergeant”

“We’ve  all seen what happens to men who surrender to you, sir,” Top replied.

“Castillo,” Wagoner once again addressed John.  “Don’t get your men killed for no good reason.  I have way more firepower and I’m not afraid to use it.”

“Actually, you are,” John said.. “You are terrified of using it.  You will undoubtedly kill a lot of civilians.  Just like you stupidly managed to do up in Clare, and on top of that, destroy all kinds of vital research.”

“We don’t need it at this point, Castillo.”  Wagoner leered.  “We’ve got Oksana Kerensky, as well.  Which means we’ve got the vaccine.  I’ll be outside for the next five minutes.  You have until then to surrender to me.  Both you, and now Pancho Villa there, as well.”

Wagoner confidently about-faced and walked jauntily out of the building.  

John turned to Anguiano and asked in an urgent voice,  “Top, have you seen Doctor Kerensky?”

“Not since early morning, sir.”

John’s mouth went dry.  If that was true, Wagoner would be storming the building, shortly.  A lot of people would be get pointlessly killed, and that son of bitch was in a position to blame it all on John.

Wagoner looked like he was going to totally skate on the Clare shooting, and that was making him very confident.  Not without reason - the press was more or less covering for him.

John sat down in a boneless slump.  Maybe the last time he could do so as a free man. Wagoner was the antsy type.  He would still want to avoid bloodshed between American troops.  If John waited four and a half minutes, he might be able to make a deal to save Top.

“I’m being sent to my death,” Shocker said.  “You know that, don't you, sir.”   

The man was a war hero and he was utterly panicked, you could tell just by how much he was panting, Haskins thought with deep sadness.

“That’s not for me to say, Private,”  Haskins said.

Cahn smiled, still breathing fast, “Yes it is, sir.  This country has been falling apart for years and now it’s just doing it faster.  You can’t hide behind regulations on this, sir.  You are making this decision about me, sir.  This one is on you.”

Haskins clamped his jaw shut and looked out the window.  “You are a rapist and a murderer and you are going to get what you deserve.”  Haskins couldn’t look Cahn in the eye.  He had read all about his case in the right wing media.  He knew the real background details.  Haskins even knew a couple of guys on recruiting duty in Detroit.  They had told him stories about Cahn’s “victim,” Styles.

“You know it’s a lie, sir,” Cahn told him quietly.  “Please let me go.  You know I didn’t do it.  You know I don’t deserve this.”  

Haskins’ clenched his teeth in anger, at the man as Cahn drawled out, “You. Know. It. Sir.”

Why can’t he be a big boy and just shut the fuck up about it?  Why does Cahn have to make this that much harder for me?  I’m not a bad guy.  I don’t want to do...this. I  just have to, Haskins thought.  And I just have to hope that the government will do the right thing by this man.

After all, it probably will.  It mostly likely will...after a while.  I have to believe that it will. Because it isn't my place to pass judgment on the Government and the Justice system.  That dickhead Wagoner was right about one thing, if I do that, the whole system collapses

“So, just following orders ,then?” Cahn asked with a gentle smile, his eyes staring at his boots, still panting like dog in August.

That question dug at Haskins.  Nothing was more important for a military man than mission accomplishment.  If you got asked what is the most important thing in an officer you were supposed to answer, “integrity.”  But the real answer was, “mission accomplishment”.  Lie, cheat, steal. It doesn't matter so long as the mission objective is reached.  There is nothing else for the professional military man.

Haskins looked at Cahn.  It’s not like this guy ever thought twice about it.  At the battle of ///NAME HERE OIF FIND IT LATER/// he had no shit, By God, killed twenty...twenty Iraqi soldiers.  He had emptied his M-16, dumped his Beretta M-9.  Grabbed an AK and drained that and then had snatched up an RPG and blown a cluster of them apart.  The last few he had killed with a bayonet. Haskins knew about all of that, because it was now required reading at West Point.

How many of those Iraqis had been hard corps ba’athist committed soldiers?  The answer was none, they were all drafted. But this Cahn had had a mission to complete and he completed it.  Good for him.  It’s not my fault that he fucked up later.

The smallest voices in the back of Haskin’s mind whispered, ‘even if he really didn’t.’

That small voice continued on, ‘in mandatory ethics class you learned that in 1947 at the Nuremberg Trials it was established and codified that, ‘just following orders,’ did not relieve a soldier of the moral responsibility for his actions.’

Haskins looked at the man sitting next to him again.  It’s not right and I know it’s not right.  I should...I should...I should...  That refrain went silent in his mind.

“Please sir.  Let me go free.  It’s so important to me that you tell me that you will let me go free.”

He was tempted for a moment.  Somewhere deep inside, he did know it was the right thing to do.  Then he backed away from that very hard-to-do Right Thing - that would cost him dearly.  Haskins chose the easier path at that moment.  Just don’t think about it, Haskins finally decided.  Just don’t. Nobody else does.  And  I’d lose everything if I did, the little voice in his head conceded.

“It’s okay, son,” Cahn sighed. The older Marine said in a quiet voice,  “I understand.  You’ve given me my answer.”

Haskins was silently grateful for the implied forgiveness.  It really wasn’t his fault, after all.


...something wasn’t right with the Sergeant Major’s tone.  It didn’t sound like forgiveness.  It sounded like...Judgement?

“Standards have been slipping all over,” Cahn said more causally, while still panting. “As an outstanding example,” The Marine swallowed and then looked Haskins in the face, smiling like a crocodile, calmy, with eyes as blood red in berserkergang as any Zombie’s, “I would have ordered my mouth searched after the girl kissed me.”  

Haskins felt the blood drain from his face as he reached for his M9.

Cahn’s fist blasted into his temple.  The rocking world turned gray for a moment as he almost lost consciousness.

Before Haskins was even close to recovery, he felt cold, thin steel slapping around his wrist with a mechanical crunch and then a second crunch as he was handcuffed to the bench.  Haskin’s daughter loved snap bracelets. She was always slapping them across his wrist with a wide, beautiful smile.  Haskins knew that he would never enjoy that again as he looked into Cahn’s cold expression.  He almost had his M9 aimed at Cahn when both of Shocker’s hands wrapped themselves around his hand and wrist, his thumb pinning the hammer in place.

Cahn remorselessly put all of his strength into torquing Haskins’ wrist.  Haskins screamed as he  felt the small bones going ‘crunch’ and electric shocks of pain jolt through his spasming hand.

Cahn plucked the M-9 away from Haskin’s useless fingers, and then hopped a couple of seats away from a man that was impotently flailing at him.   Cahn set to work with a small lock pick on the shackles around his ankles.    

“Honestly, the part that made this all so easy was the plastic cover block around the cuff’s keyhole,” Cahn said pleasantly as he worked.  “So long as that was still in place, it gave you a hell of a mental blind spot.  I simply could not pick those locks, so far as your mind was concerned.”

“PRISONER ESCAPING! PRISONER ESCAPING!”  Haskins screamed in terror and pain.

Cahn had one of the shackles free from one ankle and snapped it around his still-hobbled other, just to keep the chain out of the way.  He vaulted with silent, flowing and murderous grace over the rows of chairs.  Then soundlessly ran up to the wall and pasted himself against it at the terminal’s doorway.  Haskin’s pistol in the ready position.

The sounds of service boots rapidly approaching.

Haskins screamed, “NOOOOO! HE’S...”

His three men cleared the doorway at a charge.  The event was almost in slow motion for Haskins.  


The last soldier in the team went down. His head cracking forward.


His first soldier was collapsing before the last one had hit the ground.

The middle one turned.  The Hospital Corpsman.  Haskins saw a mask of professionalism on the kid’s face as he reflexively brought his M-4 to bear. He had a moment to feel a pang of pride for his kid, just as Cahn stepped into his turn, gripped the barrel of his weapon, and twisted it out out the way and he brought Haskins’ M-9 into contact with the kid’s eye.


“Stop it!”  Haskins screamed powerlessly at Cahn, as he held his cold, unfeeling, one-handed stance.  His frame was solid in his follow-through.  It was already over.

His men were dead at the hands of this monster and it was all his fault, Haskins knew.  He was the one who had screwed up.

“Fuck you!”  Haskin’s screamed at Cahn as he looked the the crumpled bodies of the soldiers who had trusted him with their lives.  “You do deserve it!  You do!  You fucking do!  You deserve to be executed!  You murdered them!”  His voice was so frantic he was spitting in rage.

“You can call it murder, if you like,”  Cahn granted calmly.  “My own view is that I made war upon them.  You see, Haskins, so far as I am concerned, the United States of America has fallen.  And while I don’t wish to waste hours arguing with you on this point, this fact is quite painful to me.

“My loyalty is now withdrawn from that heart-breakingly failed polity.  

Oh, there are and will be several little organizations claiming the mantle of United States government, just as there were several polities that claimed to be the Roman Empire long after the Caesars were forgotten ash. But now Shocker Cahn’s obligations are ended.  He lives free in the world.

The existence of the United States was based upon a Constitution and that is now clearly a dead letter.”  Cahn looked him in the eyes.  “You just proved that to me, sir.  If you had shown me an ounce of moral courage, if you had behaved as commissioned officer of United States of America should, this would have all been different.  I was quite willing to die for my country, but not if that country no longer exists.

“In truth, I am somewhat grateful to you, sir,”  he continued. “I am rather different. Some things are difficult for me and you have made a few things much easier,” he said as he brought the pistol up and fired.

They were seated, now, in another empty terminal

“I’m sorry about this, Aux.  You don't  know how much,” Chelle wanted to wrap her arms around her friend but she was a cop and Aux was... Was she a prisoner? What kind of prisoner was Aux?

Honestly, Chelle needed a good hug herself.  John was never going to forgive her for this.  Duty is duty, but there is an upward limit of what any man could be expected to take from his almost, but not quite, girlfriend.

She needed to talk to him, but at this point he wasn’t answering her calls.  

I need to quit this job.  I’d do it now.  This minute.  But then how would I survive? Chelle asked herself.  If you didn’t belong to a big and well-armed tribe in this new world, your odds of survival were looking pretty bleak.

“Is that our plane, or is it Private Cahn’s?” Charlotte Castillo was looking out at the flightline.  There was one plane on it.  A Gulfstream V with US markings was headed for their gantry.

“Yours, I think,” Chelle said.  Mrs Castillo, or John’s Ex, as she preferred to think of her, looked a little worried about something.

Well if you are worried, bitch it’s your own fault.  This was all your idea. Chelle thought. John’s Ex had made this happen with the promise of extracting herself, and only herself, out of the MSU compound and ride Doctor Kerensky’s...Cahn’s coat tails all the way to the CDC.  She hadn’t gone into any details at all about what she wanted out of that.  And no one in Washington had asked her any awkward questions.

Although a few were finally occurring to Chelle.  What did Charlotte really want out of this?

Suddenly there was a penetrating, overbearing concussive series of thumps.

Indoor pistol fire.

“I guess they decided an execution would be too messy,” John’s Ex said in that infuriating Carolina drawl of hers.  

The two cops who were escorting them already had their pistols out.  “Go!” Chelle ordered.

They were off at a dead run.  Chelle had drawn her own Glock 17.  Two handed grip, finger off the trigger.  

Most likely scenario was that Cahn made an escape attempt and was killed in the act.  

Second most likely made her stomach crawl: that Cahn had been executed ”while escaping.”  That would ease things politically for people in Washington.  

Her radio crackled, “Inspector, we have...(*WHANG*)”  

She heard the first shot over the radio. The next ones echoed through the hall. 5.56.  That was an M-4.  A feeling sickly dread oozed over her as she keyed the mike, “Jansen!  Jansen do you copy?  This is Inspector Vasquez! Do you copy?”


A third option now presented itself.  That Cahn had successfully escaped, and she had just killed two officers trying to capture one of the deadliest men on Earth.

She had to get the civilians out of here.

Chelle heard the soft click of the gun’s hammer before she turned.

“Don’t move, Vasquez,” She heard Charlotte Castillo purr.

“Mrs Castillo!... Partrona! What are you doing?” Medina blubbered frantically.

“Shu-u-ut. Up! Gregory,” She heard John’s Ex enunciate.

Okay, this is a pickle, Chelle told herself.  What was Charlotte’s angle?  What does she want? Has she ever killed anyone before? If she hasn’t, it won’t be so easy if she is looking me in the eyes.

Chelle started to slowly turn.  

“I said, don’t move,” Charlotte said, sharply.

Chelle continued slowly turning.  Is she willing to kill me to get what she wants, Chelle asked herself.  Their eyes met and it was as if Charlotte read her mind.

“I’m Shocker Cahn’s baby sister.  What do you think?”


Arvind said...

huge fan of dark winter. please update the list on the left with all the other chapters or create a dark winter tag. also, it seems like you are writing chapter by chapter, in an episodic manner for the site. it creates suspense and story points, but when you look at in all together, it weakens the whole fabric of the story. may i suggest that maybe you want to lengthen the chapters, or put up book segments?

thank you

Cataline Sergius said...

Okay. fair enough. I'll get the links tacked up.