Chapter 1-4 can be found HERE.
Chapters 5-8 can be found HERE.
By E. J. D’Alise (Disperser)
Copyright 2004 – 2013
The next day, the three person teams began their training. It took almost a week, but we worked out strategies, agreed on signals, and reviewed procedures.
My first patrol with Toni was the hardest, but every succeeding one got a little easier. We did not encounter any problems, and I felt the reassurance I had given Jim in my room was closer to being a reality than it had been when I had spoken the words.
Toni and I did not speak about her sister or what she had said, and since I had handed off my class to John, I did not see her outside the team strategy sessions.
Even then, our interaction and conversations were strictly professional, always with Jim or others present. We discussed team tactics, shooting patterns, and other pertinent items relating to a three-person patrol. I was happy to leave it at that.
Toni was good; she could lay down an accurate field of fire out to 300 yards. She was capable of hitting targets to almost 800 yards, but at that range the rate of fire would be slow. For tactical support, we decided a good range was anywhere from 50 to 150 yards, depending on terrain and situation.
Her XM25 took a 20 rounds magazines, and she carried four spares. Jim and I each carried our carbines and four 30 round clips, but we decided to add M1014 combat shotguns, clipped to our backpacks, as additional insurance. They were for close quarter action, in case we were rushed.
As part of the preparations, the teams also set up defensive shooting positions along various retreat routes. The idea was for individual team members to leap-frog back as the other provided cover fire.
All the preparation put the compound on edge. Everyone went about their business, but you could feel the tension as we waited for more definite news of this new threat.
We did not have long to wait. I was sitting next to Lindsey, eating lunch, when 8 year old Jack came running in.
“The sentries spotted people coming up the road from town. They’re about four miles away. Hurry!”
One of the few good things about Illinois – it was flat. You could see things coming, especially from a high vantage point like say, a tower.
I met Jim and Toni suiting up, and joined them. Jim kept glancing my way. He wanted to see how I was reacting to a potential live-fire situation and having Toni along.
I was calm, perhaps because she would be responsible for my safety more than I would be for hers.
Suited up, we headed out at a good pace. The hope was to arrive at the two mile mark ahead of them, and set up. One team was out on patrol, on the opposite direction. They were coming in to join with another team, and both teams would set up about a half mile behind us. As we trotted along, we were kept informed of the location of the group coming from the town. The astronomical binoculars on the tower sure came in handy.
We had a ten minute wait once we set up. Jim and I were behind concrete guardrails on either side of the road. The guardrails were there because of a ditch that came in on Jim’s side of the road, went under it, and once out on the other side followed the road back toward the compound.
The ditch was our means of retreat. Toni set up about eighty yards behind us, and 40 yards to our left. From her position, she covered the other end of the concrete railing, a possible hiding place, and would cover our retreat until we were parallel with her position.
From her current position, she would not be shooting over our heads. Her cover was the bank of a dirt road running at an angle from the main road. If things went badly, she would cover our retreat until we set up at the first fall-back position, and then follow the dirt road to where it intersected with the main road, set up, and again cover our movement. The road curved at that point, making it easier to retreat along the ditch. In theory, no one should have been able to advance any closer than the position we were at right now.
That would put a good 200 yards between us and any hostiles. After that, we should be able to count on some support from the other teams.
Looking through my binoculars, I counted twelve people approaching. Ten were in uniforms – a squad. These guys did not look like gang members. They were soldiers, or at least made to look like soldiers. They were followed by a man wearing a robe, and a guy carrying a flag. The flag was white with a green cross on it.
I looked back at the soldier’s uniforms. They wore a small green cross on the left side of their chest . . . good target point, I thought. Just then, one of the soldiers adjusted his shirt. The whole front moved; they were wearing vests. I spoke into the small two-way radio. “Head shots,” I said. I released the button. “Got it,’ answered Toni. I looked over at Jim. He had heard. We waited.
The group continued on. I did not think they had seen us, until at about 50 yards they began to fan out. They were either supremely confident I their abilities, or they were extremely stupid. I was hoping for the latter.
“That’s far enough!” Jim yelled. The group stopped.
The middle soldier looked older, and carried himself with confidence; he was likely the squad leader.
“We bring you an offer from the Cardinal of Springfield. Join us, and help us bring peace and order to this area.”
“Not interested,” replied Jim.
The man looked around him.
“You’re making a mistake,” he resumed, “the Cardinal offers protection, but he does not take kindly to those who would not follow.”
As he finished I spoke into the radio again, loud enough for Jim to hear me as well, but not so they would. “Fat one in the back stays alive until we can question him. On my mark, on the count of three . . . mark.”
Three, two, one . . . three shots rang out nearly simultaneously. I took the left, Jim the right. Toni started in the middle. Her shot snapped the head of the speaker rearward, spraying the flag bearer with blood. The first guy I’d shot had not even hit the ground before I had hit the next two on my side, and likewise for Jim. Toni was just slightly slower.
I took out the odd one, while Jim got the flag bearer. Both were moving by then, reacting to the initial shots, so we double-tapped them just in case our aim was off. We practiced these patterns in our shooting range with various numbers of theoretical hostiles. We emphasized gun control and accurate shooting.
The whole thing had taken a little under three seconds. The robe worn by the survivor had several blood splatters on it, probably mixed with some brain matter. The guy looked like he was in shock. He looked around at what until a few seconds ago had been his protection.
Jim and I stood, and started to walk toward him. Our rifles were pointing to the people on the ground. I was pretty sure they were dead, but we don’t take chances.
The man regained his senses. He opened his robe with one hand and reached in with the other as he crouched. Toni’s shot hit him on the leg and dropped him on his other knee. Her second shot shattered his drawing arm spinning him halfway around. I knew there was a reason I liked her.
He slowly laid down as we made our way through the bodies. There were no other survivors. We reached the wounded man. The back of his robe had a large version of the green cross. I walked around to face him.
“Please . . . help me.” I squatted five feet away from him. Jim stood a little apart.
“Let’s talk,” I said.
The meeting room was loud with the sound of multiple conversations. Jim and I sat waiting for everyone to get in. Lindsey was sitting on my other side. She looked a little tired, probably from worrying about Toni. Toni was not in the room. She had pulled sniper duty and was currently in the tower.
The last of the stragglers walked in and made his way to a spot along the wall. There were some empty chairs, but many preferred to stand. Slowly, conversations quieted down, as people turned their eyes to Jim.
“This will be a quick summary of the current situation, and will be followed by discussions on how to proceed. I encourage everyone to read my full report on-line.” He paused and looked around. His face was tired and drawn.
“A few hours ago we killed a group of armed men that were headed here from town. First, they were not the regular lot from the town. These were well armed, wore uniforms, and marched under a flag.” Jim paused.
What he had to cover next was touchy. Religion in the compound was a private affair. Many of the people practiced according to their individual beliefs. Some met in regular groups to carry on pre-SV-1 rituals as best they could. By consensus, public expression was kept to a minimum, and policy only peripherally reflected religious beliefs.
It was recognized by most that our policies may be viewed as harsh, but that were in fact governed by an underlying morality. Those who may have had a problem with our survival methods were silent on the subject.
Dr. Carlin was by far the most vociferous opponent of some of our methods, but his objections were not borne out of religious conviction.
Jim drew a deep breath and continued.
“The flag had a single green cross on it, and one of the men was some kind of priest.” People stirred, and Jim raised his voice to continue.
“Before any of you form any opinions, we believe this is a religious sect in name only. They are primarily an army marching under a religious symbol. The ‘priest’ bought his position as spiritual leader of the town, and prior to that he had run a forced labor farm near Springfield. He had approached the leader of this sect, handing over control of the farm in exchange for a town of his own.”
“How do you know all this?” asked George. Jim looked at me before answering. “The man was wounded, and survived for a while. He talked.”
Other eyes looked my way. I met their looks without reacting. Whatever they thought, no one offered any comments.
Jim continued with the summary of what we had learned. The sect was well organized, well equipped, and led by someone who called himself the Cardinal of Springfield. It was unclear if the religious background was legitimate, or made up. What was obvious was that the enforcement arm of the sect was at least in part composed of ex-military personnel. They had access to weapons as good as ours, and it was rumored they even operated some helicopters when resistance was particularly strong.
They had begun an expansion out of Springfield a year so ago, and had been radiating out consolidating enclaves, towns, farms, and other groups.
They offered posts to leaders who were willing to join them. They killed those who did not. The gang running the nearby town had tried to bargain with them, holding out for additional compensation. Soldiers had come in during the night, and had cleaned house.
By morning, the town was under new management, with soldiers stationed through the town. Fliers with new rules were handed out. The penalty for disobeying was harsh. They did offer protection and the assurance that as long as the people obeyed the rules and paid fees to the Cardinal, they would come to no harm.
Fees consisted of food, goods, services, or anything the Cardinal and his men needed. One interesting tactic was to offer rewards to those who were first to join them. Leadership positions and reduced fees were the more popular rewards.
Interestingly, they offered people the opportunity to police themselves; if they took care of dissidents and malcontent, the involvement from the Cardinal’s soldiers were minimal. If situations warranted for the soldiers to become involved, a larger segment of the population suffered.
This prompted a question from Dr. Carlin. He asked if there was a chance some of the people we killed had been pressed into service and were innocent victims. Jim did not answer. This crossed into my realm of responsibility. He looked at me, and held his gaze without saying anything.
There was a reason I seldom spoke. Invariably, my involvement in any conversation resulted in spirited discussions. It was never my intention, but it usually ended up that way. And there was the other reason. People did not want to be reminded of certain things. Too bad; this was a serious issue and it needed pretty fast and decisive action. I nodded at Jim, and I stood up as he sat. I looked around the room.
I could have gone into all sorts of philosophical, practical, and logical arguments. I opted for the short and brutal reality.
“The moment they decided to not die for their freedom, they decided to die for the Cardinal.”
Looking directly at the doctor, I continued, “We don’t have the resources nor can we take the risk of evaluating each potential threat in shades of gray.”
The doctor opened his mouth to speak, but I raised my hand and cut him off by continuing. “We voted on this long ago. Anyone coming to our doorsteps armed is considered a threat. They are asked to leave . . . once. Then they are dealt with. Anyone from the town would have known this. Their overconfidence, and lack of caution, told me these men were not from the town. This was confirmed by the farmer turned priest.”
I paused, waiting to hear any comments. There were none. I continued to the bad news.
“For us, the consequences of this group moving through the area are far reaching, and not good. From my conversation with the priest, resistance is answered by swift and disproportionate retribution. As much as we may not be looking for a war, we will have one on our hands.”
I stopped speaking, as the noise level in the room increased. Dr. Carlin stood, and asked for quiet.
Turning to face me, he asked what I feared was on many of the people’s minds. “We can’t afford to go to war with anyone. We don’t have the resources. And by resources I mean expendable troops. Have you condemned us to be decimated by these people?”
Before I could answer, the room was once again buzzing with side conversations.
Jim stood and banged his cup on the table. The room quieted. He took a deep breath, looked at me, and spoke in an even voice.
“Most of us, not all, but most of us, were at one time or another under the rule of some warlord, gang boss, or plain bully. Perhaps we have forgotten how bad it is. Perhaps, it is not as bad as it used to be. I don’t know. But one thing is certain. This is a conflict we could not have avoided. There is no way the Cardinal’s men would have left a strong, armed compound behind their lines as they continued their expansion.”
The room remained quiet.
He sat before continuing, “There is no doubt in my mind, having listened to the priest, that we would have had to give up all of our weapons, and agree to be ruled by some representative of the Cardinal.” Jim looked around the room. “Who here would have voted last week to give up our freedom and autonomy?”
No one spoke. I was still standing, so almost all the eyes were trained on me. Dr. Carlin was also standing. He too looked at me.
He spoke as he sat down.
“So what do we do? What are our options?”
The big question; no one was going to like the answer.
“We have to go on the offensive.” I let the words hang as I too sat back down.
The room remained silent, and I continued.
“I wish we had someplace we could retreat to, but we have no idea what we would face. In all likelihood we would be invading other people’s territories, and we are too large a group to move safely. We could sit and wait here. I’m sure an attack would come, and if they have mortars we would be sitting ducks. There are about ninety troops left in town. They may call for reinforcements, but it’s not likely. That leaves us the option to take the fight to them.” I paused. “One thing is certain; once we begin, there will be no stopping.”
I raised my voice over the murmur filling the room. “We stand a good chance against the local force. But once news reaches the Cardinal, he will have no choice but to respond. He cannot let a challenge to his authority stand unanswered.”
The room broke into several conversations. Jim once again stood and banged his cup onto the table.
“Everyone please listen. We still need to go and clean up the bodies. We’ll resume this meeting in the morning. We’ll decide on a course of action then.”
People got up to leave as Dr. Carlin raised his voice, stopping everyone on their tracks.
He addressed me with a question. “DC, are you invoking Article One?”
That was what people did not want to think about; the thing that made them uncomfortable about me. The reason I had so few friends. Article One dealt with changing our decision-making process from a democratic vote, to a single person acting as de facto dictator; a military dictator.
The group of eleven had met only once, and Article One had come out of that meeting. It was argued that on certain situations we could not afford to be discussing every choice of action.
In certain situations, a central unquestioned authority would make all the decisions. That person could assume the authority by invoking Article One. No discussion. Everyone agreed.
And I was the person. What made people uncomfortable was the fact that I am also the eleventh person – the tiebreaker. Even though the decision had been nearly unanimous, it had been my proposal that had been voted on. And even I wondered if people agreed with me because they felt intimidated.
Jim had been voted civilian leader partially in response to the passing of Article One. Not that it mattered. People always looked at me on important decisions.
And I always deferred to Jim. I never undermined his authority, but it did not diminish the reality that I was different. I had the authority, in certain situations, to ask people to risk death.
Few knew just how much the responsibility weighed on me, as it was not something I burdened others with. The only redeeming thing was the fact that the vote had never been revisited. There was a measure of trust in my judgment, regardless of any disapproval to some of my methods.
I weighed the question. This was not the time to answer it. “I’ll let you know tomorrow morning.”
That evening, after returning from the cleanup, I spent a few hours with John, monitoring different radio frequencies for any news regarding the Cardinal or his troops. Since we did not monitor constantly, it would be only by chance if we came across any information. We did not.
Of course, this did not mean anything. It was a good bet the remaining soldiers and their leaders knew something happened to their squad. It was also a good bet a report would have been sent. Then again, maybe these leaders would not want to bother the Cardinal with a problem they had not solved yet. They may be waiting to report a solution along with the problem, and that would buy us some time.
I told John to hang it up, but he said he would sit a while longer. I went back to my room, and tried to get some sleep. I’m sure I was not the only one who found it difficult to surrender my worries to the blissful nothingness of sleep.
My mind drifted back to seven years ago. I had just buried my parents and brother. My younger sister and I grabbed a few supplies, and left the city.
Before the net went down, I had been in contact with a small farm where people were trying to set up a refuge from the gangs. That’s where we were headed. I felt both Jessica and I would be safer outside the city.
I promised her everything was going to be alright. Just fifteen, having lost most of her family, Jessica clung to me as the last remnants of the life she had known.
We traveled ten to eleven miles a day, camping at night. We avoided people and places, traveling a zigzag path through the small towns and isolated farms of central Illinois.
It took us three weeks to reach our destination. We marched into the compound, relieved to have made it. The farm housed nearly sixty people, mostly families.
The attack came the same night we arrived. We had few weapons; still, we fought with what we had, but it was no contest to the well-organized gang.
Many families were killed. Jessica and I were caught trying to escape. I fought, but was knocked out. I awoke tied to a fence, along with a number of other people. The gang that had attacked us was piling bodies for a pyre.
At first I did not recognize her. Her face was caked with dried blood, and her clothes were torn. She had fought. She had paid the price. And it was me that had brought her here to be raped and killed.
My sister; I had been her protector, and I had failed her. She may have called out my name, but she had died with her cries unanswered.
It did not matter that within a few months every one of the gang’s members were dead; twenty-two of them.
They had made the mistake of selling the survivors to a forced labor farm. After a week, I had the chance to overpower a guard and escape. Before leaving, I had a long conversation with the owner.
He died slowly, and told me a lot. He told me where to find the gang that provided him with workers. I did not bother rescuing the others, an oversight I regretted in later months.
I had a mission to accomplish, and accomplished it did. I don’t remember all of them. All I remember is that I got more creative as I went on. The last two took a long while to die. I wanted to make sure there were no others.
My sheets were damp with sweat. I got up, changed my clothes, and walked outside. The compound was quiet. A few rooms still had their lights on. I made my way to the kitchen. Maybe a light snack would help settle me down.
The night was cool, but comfortable, and as I made my way across the courtyard, I glanced up at the tower. Walter and Josh were scheduled to be up there. One of them was making their way down in a hurry. I changed direction and ran toward the base of the tower. It was Josh, one of the three people that maintained our livestock.
I startled him, as I was there when he reached the bottom. But he recovered fast.
“There is someone out there!” he whispered. He pointed vaguely southwest as he spoke. “We did not see him until he reached the clearing. He backed up pretty quick, but we both saw him through the night scopes. I was just coming to get you.”
Damn! This was quick. Was this a scout, or was there a sizable force out there?
“Wake the others. Everyone! Get them to their posts. Get the children underground. Move!”
As he ran off I climbed the stairs to the tower. I had to get Walter out of there. The tower was vulnerable to RPG attack, and it was not nearly as fortified as the building. It could withstand small arms fire, but that’s about it. I helped Walter grab the gear and headed back down.
By then, most of the compound was up and about. People were running to their posts, their rifles in tow. Some of the heavier weapons were already set up, and just needed to be manned.
As Walter headed to his designated area, Jim came running up to me. He handed me my rifle, and a few clips. “Do we know what’s out there?” he asked while trying to control his breathing.
“No,” I replied. “One guy confirmed at the edge of the clearing, and I don’t like that he got that close. Could be more we don’t know about. And the fact that they are moving at night implies all sorts of things, like training, night goggles, and someone who knows tactics. We should not have waited. We should have taken the initiative.”
We headed off to the southeast machinegun nests. As we got near, we crossed Toni heading to one of the sniper rooms. She would be paired with Walter. They would cross-shoot out of the shooting slots. Neither would be directly in front of the opening. They would set up on forty-five degree angles, to minimize being hit by a lucky shot into the slot. Chances were anyone shooting into the slots would do so head-on or at a slight angle. They should be safe.
Overlapping fire from the other shooting positions would insure complete coverage. The machinegun nests were at each corner of the building. They were mounted on horizontal rails, and could cover a one hundred and twenty degree arc. Each corner had two machine guns covering every side. These rooms had the heaviest fortifications, as they were the most likely to be targeted.
By now everyone would be at their posts. We all waited. Both Jim and I scanned the perimeter of the clearing. The snipers would be doing the same. I put down the scope, and pushed the intercom.
“Open channel for all. If anyone sees anything, report. Have your earplugs ready. Once we start shooting, switch off the intercom and put them on. We’ll communicate by runners. I’ll ring the fire alarm for three seconds for a cease-fire. Acknowledge, in order.”
I listened and counted along as stations one through twenty-six sounded off. We were ready. For what, I did not know.
The knot in my stomach reminded me I was responsible for the protection of eighty-one people. I did not want to cloud my judgment, but the fleeting thought crossed my mind that I had not been able to protect even one, when it really mattered.
My focus returned as a stick with a flag began waving just at the edge of the clearing. At first I thought it was the flag with the cross, but this looked smaller and white.