Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Dark Winter: Chapter 22

“Where the hell the government at?


“Where’s the government at, huh?  They no food on the shelves. My EBT ain’t been filled an it two days past due for that! The cops ain’t comin cept to try steal everybody guns! A tank of gas cost the same as month’s rent!   Lights is going out and it’s *bleep*ing winter.  
“Where the government *bleep*ing at?!?!”


Passerby, street interview  WJBK Fox 2 News


Apple’s breath was a fog in the cold, her teeth chattered when she didn’t pay attention to them but that had nothing to do with the cold.  She was dizzy all the time now.  The headaches would not stop. Andrea would hold her hair when she had to barf.  Andrea was in withdrawal too, but she had it nowhere near as bad as Apple did.


Maia Hall looked more threatening now than it did before.  There were gargoyles nested on the roof: Marines in defilade sniper positions using the crest of the roof for cover.


Barbed wire surrounded the building now, and it was as if Maia Hall welcomed it, felt more comfortable if it was embraced and ornamented by concertina wire with armed killers crennellating her roof.


Why did they bother with the barbed wire, Apple wondered.  It would do nothing to Zombies, except slow them down.  


Then she asked herself an unfamiliar and strange question.  Was that the point of the wire, to slow down Zombies long enough to get a good shot at them?


Apple started to uncontrollably shake again, although this time it had nothing to do with withdrawal. She hated thinking like this, her thoughts were all sharp and cold.  They were so painful now.  Apple liked her thoughts warm and soft.  She couldn’t sleep now, for the clear  thoughts piercing her mind.  


She got control of her shakes.  That was good because she didn’t want to worry about wetting herself again.


Apple was proud of herself for being able to keep her voice from cracking when she spoke to the creep in uniform at the checkpoint in front of Maia Hall.


“May I help you, Ma’am?” The Marine asked with professional politeness.


“I’d like to speak to Jessika Fallows?”


A few minutes later, her good friend...


Jessika was her good friend, right? Apple had done everything she could for her. She had taken her under her wing.  She even hooked her up with Lile, what more could she have done for Jessika, right?


...Jessika came out to the checkpoint.  Apple noticed something about Jess for the first time.  Jess didn’t really seem pleased to see her.


“Hey, Apple,” Jessika sighed. “What can I do for you?”


The, ‘hey, Apple,’ was all wrong, Apple felt.  There should have been excitement about seeing such a good friend after so long.  Maybe she was tired from the all the...work they were doing there.  Apple skipped over that last part - the rumors about what they were doing in the lab made Joseph Mengele look like Mother Theresa.  


But Apple assured herself it was all a lie, or at least some of it was a lie in Jessika’s case.  Because she needed Jessika just now.


“Hey, Jess I was hoping you could do something for me?”


“Maybe,” Jessika gave and even more tired sigh,  “it depends.  Apple, we are really busy.”


So I heard.” She nearly bit her own tongue.  Damn it, Apple! She cursed herself.


Her good friend’s face turned to stone.  “Okay. Look, give me call some other time,”  Jessika said as turned around and started back.


“No Jess, please,” Apple pleaded as she lurched after Jess, grabbing her arm.


“Ma’am! Please step back behind the gate!”  The Marine barked at her which made her head throb even more.  


“Fuck off!” screamed at him  and then focused Jess.  “Please.  I need help.  They don’t have any Xanax at the pharmacy.  At any of the pharmacies anywhere!”  Apple wailed in bewilderment, “I need it.  I really, really need it. You don’t know what this is like for me!  I hurt all the time now.  They didn’t have anything to eat at dining hall this morning but dry cereal.  There wasn’t even any milk.  Just cereal and I need my Xanax!”


“Apple,” Jess said worriedly.  “We don’t have any kind of serotonin reuptake inhibitors we just don’t need them.”


I need them!” Apple shrieked, dug in heels and started trying to drag her out of the compound.


“Ma’am, release her immediately!” The Marine shouted.


“Shut the fuck up!” she screamed at him again.  


“Let go of me!” Jessika yelled.


“You are going to help me!” Apple ordered. “Or else!


Apple’s world exploded with an impact, her vision turned yellow.  She staggered backward and looked down.  Blood was dripping on her shoes, she quickly worked out that it was coming from her nose.


She looked at the Marine and realized she had been punched in the face with the butt of his rifle.


“Goodbye, Apple!” She heard Jessika say as she walked back to Maia Hall.


This isn’t over, Apple promised herself.

John was headed out to surrender to Wagoner.  Wagoner had agreed to not charge Top Anguiano.  If the little shit was too busy he might even remember that promise, John thought to himself.  Although in truth he kind of doubted it. Wagoner cherished his petty vendettas.


He had done what he could.  His wife...Ex-wife damn it!  Could look after the boys.  Charlotte would land on her feet, somehow.


Garrett, or the man currently in possession of Garrett, wanted to be turned loose.  If half of what he had heard about that individual was true then Garrett, or at least Garrett’s body, could look after itself.


Was that one problem less?


John stopped for a moment to watch a scuffle at the checkpoint.  But decided not to intervene.  His Marine seemed to have that one under control.  Besides, it wasn’t his problem, anymore.


This was the end.  Project Seldon would proceed elsewhere, he assumed, but not here in Michigan.  Here, there was only going to be a disastrously incompetent oppression.  It would be like the current President writ large, with no brakes and no end in sight possible.  


Dark Winter indeed.


He trudged on towards a leering Colonel Wagoner.  Well, what went around came around, there, John thought to himself.  Back in the day Shocker and I should have just bowed and scraped to that  little prick like he wanted.  He would have ignored us then.  Wagoner would probably still have a career in the Marine Corps come that.


Utter defeat was very calming, in a way.


No more worries.  


No more problems.  He had done his best with very limited resources.


You got the touch!


“Damn it,” he groaned to himself slowly.


You got the po-we-er!


“It’s not the despair, I can live with the despair,” John quoted a John Cleese movie.


When all hell’s breakin loose, you’ll be riding the eye of the storm!.


“IT’S THE HOPE!” He shouted.

Colonel Wagoner was getting pissed.  Castillo was about to get locked down and charged with murder, which was going to pay off a lot old debts so far as he was concerned.


Then Castillo stopped short, yelled something about “hope,” then held up one finger in a wait a minute gesture, while he answered his phone.


Wagoner was too shocked to move, or even be really mad.


He caught bits of Castillo’s conversation.


“Well, of course it's you, Dickhead, nobody else has that ringtone...” Castillo paused a moment


“I worked that one out.  How many people did you kill doing it...” Now he looked exasperated.


That many?” Another pause.


“Okay good to hear, now get them back here.”  He stopped and then  “Why do you need his number?”


He got an answer he seemed to like.  “Oh, yeah, that would work.”  


“Castillo!” Wagoner had had enough time to work up a full head of steam at the jackoff.


“In a minute!” Castillo said with such unconscious authority that Wagoner was momentarily cowed. John turned and started walking back to Maia Hall. Then Wagoner was furious with himself.  “Castillo! If you aren’t back here right this second the deal is off.”


Wagoner’s own phone blew up at the point.  The ringtone was Jennifer’s.  He pulled out his phone and looked at the text.  


*Cahn has escaped. We don’t know where he is.  He murdered three soldiers and two policemen.   He has Charlotte Castillo and Oksana Kerensky with him.  They are accomplices to this ...


Wagoner stopped reading.  Her texts are always a damn phone book, Wagoner raged to himself while he ran for his Hummer.  This were going to get hot in a second.


“MARINES STAND TO!”  He heard Castillo echoing in the distance.


Wagoner was already in his Hummer. “Go! Go! Go!”  He screamed at his driver.

“Check fire! Weapons tight!”  Top Anguiano bellowed into his mike.  Then he turned to Major Castillo and whispered, “with all due respect sir, is there a reason we aren’t killing that dick hole?”


“I don’t know who his second in command is,” John said. “It might be someone competent. That would be a bad thing.  If they just charge in right now, we’re screwed.  Wagoner won’t do that.”


“Sir, not to be a bitch here, but how are we not screwed?” Top asked plaintively, his voice still a whisper, “We’ve got tractor trailers here but we aren’t going to be able to get Teamsters to drive them, now.  Our own people can’t do that and run the Mogadishu Mile at the same time.  We have tons of gear and hundreds of lost in the sauce recruits, and worse, civilians to move.  To say nothing of livestock. We only have a handful of Marines that are any use at all in a firefight and, frankly, all of them have been on Recruiting Duty for too long to be anything close to combat readiness.  Shooting up Zombies is one thing.  Shooting up trained soldiers, even if they are Nasty Guard, is something else.  I’m not in favor of surrender but what else can we do sir?”  


“All true, Top,” John nodded. “However, Wagoner won’t attack without overwhelming forces.  He’ll want to be able to blame subordinates if there is too much in the way of collateral. It’s about seventeen hundred now.  Pre dawn should be at about Oh Seven.  Proper sunrise at...call it round about zero seven thirty plus.  


“I’d attack at four myself but Wagoner will want to micro-manage as much as possible. So he will wait for daylight.”  


“Shot at sunrise is traditional, sir” Top said with a shake of his head.


“If all goes according to plan, (terrifying words I know) we will be pulling in next to the U.S.S. Ponce at about that time. Giving us about twelve hours to utterly loot this temple of higher learning down to the bricks.   We are bugging the hell out at zero five.  That is our drop dead time.  Anything and anyone not embarked by then gets left behind. Including me.”


“Sir, with respect you appear to be forgetting something.”


“Advise me, Top. What is it?”


“A way out?”


John smiled.  “Shocker is covering that one, Top.”


The room was kept dark; it seemed to soothe him.  Or if not soothe, at least he was slightly less violent.  Less screamy.  They didn’t want to gag him again, but the White House was impossible to sleep in with his screaming all night, and people had to sleep here.
 
Brandon said to the First Lady, “You need a rest.”
“I’m fine, Brandon,” she informed him coldly, with a cracked voice.  Her eyes red and hollow, she hadn’t forgiven him for transferring his loyalty to Jack O’Hara.


Allwhite considered reasoning with her for a few and then decided she was beyond reason.  “No, you damn well aren’t!  You need to take a shower.  You need to eat something and keep it down this time.  You need get a few hours sleep in a bed and,” Brandon then stuck in the knife to the hilt,  “you need to take care of your children! How long has it been since you’ve seen them?” He pointed to the thrashing body strapped to the bed. “Would he want this?”


She looked over sharply at Brandon who had tears pouring down his cheeks.


That got through to her.  


“No,” she whispered quietly and then got shakily to her feet.  


“Thank you, Brandon,” She said as he hugged him. “Thank you so much.”  He walked her to the door with his arms around her shoulders.  “Brandon, could you stay with him for just a little bit?  You don’t have to wait until I get back but just for a little bit?”


“No problem at all, Ma’am,” Brandon Allwhite said with a barely controlled tremor in his voice. “I’m glad you asked me.  Truly I am.”


She smiled. Then stopped smiling as she looked at the writhing form of her husband from the doorway, as Brandon closed the door between them.


Brandon looked at the straining, insanely violent living corpse of the man he loved.  The man he had wanted to believe in so badly it had seemed as if he was lost in a dream world when he served him.


“Do you remember that show you recommended to me, sir?” He asked the President. “That one from the 1990s? Babylon 5?” Brandon sat down beside him.   “America’s first nerd president, you called yourself.  You know how you said you identified with the G’Kar character?  


Brandon gave his fake laugh. ignoring the contortions the President’s body was going through in its need to kill him.   “I remember your favorite quote of his, the one when he was talking about an ant, ‘I have just picked it up on the tip of my glove. If I put it down again, and it asks another ant, "what was that?”  How would it explain? There are things in the universe billions of years older than either of our races. They're vast, timeless, and if they're aware of us at all, it is as little more than ants, and we have as much chance of communicating with them as an ant has with us. We know, we've tried, and we've learned that we can either stay out from underfoot or be stepped on.’


“I wanted to be like that, sir.  I wanted to be like you, or at least,” and here, Brandon flirted with unfamiliar pangs of true honesty, “how you viewed yourself.


“Jack is about to march over to the capitol building and into the Senate chamber. He is going to arrest three Senators.  Then he will try to shutdown the Congress, like he was Charles I of England.  I think that plan will end about as well as King Charles’ plan did,” Brandon said, as the monitors started to scream.  “There was only one way to stop it


“Sir it turns out I’m more like Vir Cotto, than G’Kar,” Brandon said, as he pulled a loaded syringe out of his jacket.  “I don’t want to know the things I know.”  He inserted the needle in the injection port of the president’s intravenous line.  Brandon started to cry again, “I don’t want to do,”  he said as he pushed the plunger down. ”the things I’ve done.”


A short time later, he left the President’s bedroom while the doctors were rushing in.  Alarms were shrieking and men were shouting, “Code Blue! Code Blue!”  


He pulled out his phone. Brandon was now important enough to have the Chief Justice on Speed Dial and he would be needed for the ceremony.


“Company, Att-hutt!


John Castillo stood at attention in front of his assembled Marines, Top Anguiano at his side -  Shocker no longer being his right hand man.  Besides, he had Shocker setting up a few surprises.  Cahn had taken some of the surviving football players and a few of the Frat boys that had decided to sign on with him for that.  What they were doing was unskilled labor and he needed to have all of his Marines here for this.


“At ease.  Gentlemen, this isn’t going to take long.  By now, you know what’s coming down the pipe.  Some of you have to be pretty damn uneasy about it,” John sighed.  “I get that. I’ll spare you the sales pitch because most of you are better salesmen than me at this point.


That brought the polite, gentle laughter of some very hard men.  


“Well, my brothers, here is the deal: you have to choose which side you are going to fight in during a civil war.  And you have to do that now.”


A hand went up.


“I will not be taking questions.  You don’t have to ask questions just to pretend you are paying attention.  Not for this.  Besides, I am the one asking the big question here.  Are you going to side with the Omaha government or the Washington government?  That’s it.  


“As far as I’m concerned your contracts with the USA have now expired.  That government has violated the terms of its existence too many times for me to keep faith with it.  There is a constitutional convention of states being held in Omaha, right now.  Whatever constitution emerges from that convention, I will be swearing my allegiance to it.  But as of now, you are all free men.  


“If you wish to follow me, I will be proud to have you and will give my all for you.  If you wish to leave - you are now discharged.  No harm, no foul.  You may take your rifle and whatever ammo you have on you and go now. But be advised, gentlemen, the other side will view you as deserters.


“If you wish to sign on with Washington, you will be interred, here on campus.”


They were all disarmed already.  John had had them stack arms before this group hug.  No point in pointless temptation.


“I will do what I can to treat you as lawfully combatant POWs who honorably surrendered but I am leaving you behind.  You are RE4’d at that point.  You aren’t changing sides again”


John Castillo used his boot to draw a line in the snow.  


“Gentlemen, you know the deal.”


After five minutes no one crossed the line.  Not even Montgomery and John wouldn’t have blamed him.


John fought off tears.  Men don’t cry, he told himself.  His men can’t see him cry.  He could betray no weakness at all.  They needed that.


“Come to the position of attention.  Raise  your right hand and repeat after me...”


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