By E. J. D’Alise (Disperser)
Copyright 2004 – 2013
Ed had returned with the Humvees bringing supplies, and we spent an hour discussing our next course of action. One of the Humvees had remained in front of the church, while the other had taken Ed back to the compound. His arm had been in a sling and he looked a little pale, but otherwise seemed okay.
We did interrogate the radio man. He was found hiding in the attic in the church, and confirmed he had not bothered sending a message out. We considered having him send one as if the attack was still in progress, but neither Ed nor I thought he could pull it off. The Cardinal would just have to wonder what was going on at his latest outpost. In a way, this too served our purpose.
Henry, the radio man, also confirmed what we suspected. No report had been sent back to the cardinal of our first encounter with the troops, and he told us the next scheduled report was in four days. We planned to let the other side wonder what was going on, but the missing scouts could make their way to a town controlled by the cardinal’s men. Even so, they would not know much.
I was not sure if I was ready, but I headed to the church.
The whole town was inside. The prisoners were in the jail, four guards were keeping them company. I had eight of our men up in the mezzanine, and another six behind me. I stood in front of the altar, waiting for the murmurs to quiet down. The people were packed shoulder to shoulder in the pews, center aisle, and both side aisles. I saw some kids, but not many. I guess there was not much hope for a future here either. The murmurs quieted, and all eyes turned my way.
I looked out at the silent crowd. Some faces showed concern, but most wore a neutral expression; they had weathered a number of regime changes through the years, and this appeared to many as yet one more. They stood there waiting to hear a proclamation of the new rules.
I opened with an apology.
“We were not looking for a fight, but it came to us, and we did not back away. I’m sorry it was at your doorsteps, and I am sorry about the carnage out there. There are too few of us to have allowed for a different course of action. Surprise was our only advantage.” As I spoke, I looked throughout the crowd. I had their complete attention.
“Soon the Cardinal will know about us, and he’ll have to respond to our actions.” Another pause; you could have heard a pin drop.
“We don’t plan to sit here and wait. We plan to march on other towns, and liberate as many as we can. To that end, we ask you take responsibility to both rule and defend yourselves, and as part of that, for some of you to join us as we move from town to town.”
Still quiet, the town folks gave me their undivided attention.
“I will not sugar-coat this; it is a war we are embarking on, and we do so because we are not willing to give up our freedom for promised security. Our goal is a network of towns willing to commit resources and manpower to defend that freedom from any who would deny us of it.”
A low murmur was spreading through the crowd, so I raised my voice, and continued.
“We won’t force you to do anything. We can help with elections, and we can provide weapons, and we can help set up basic training.” The crowd had quieted, and I finished my piece. “But if you do not make those choices, we are not going to be responsible for your protection.” I did not mention they would then be considered a threat, but it might have dawned on a few of the people present.
I paused and looked at a few who were raising their hands for attention.
Most of the questions were about helping with elections and formation of a militia. I told them they had a few days to discuss amongst themselves how the elections should be conducted. I offered in example the organization of our compound, and stressed the importance of both a civilian government and a strong military to back it up.
Some of the questions touched on the numerous dead, and I promised the cleanup will begin immediately after the meeting. A few questions concerned the prisoners. I told them they would be interviewed individually, and that a decision would be made on their fate before we left. I explained that I had given my word that no harm would come to the survivors. If it came to it, they would travel with us to help carry supplies and do chores.
This triggered more questions. I cut them short by saying that until they are interviewed, I can’t say much more about them.
“We don’t know how many are hard-core bad guys, how many meant well, and how many were just pressed into service. My personal view is that if you wear the uniform, you have made your choice, and are willing to die for it. Our original plan called for no survivors, but survivors we have, and I mean to keep my word about no harm coming to them.” I saw a few more hands rise, but I held up my hand. “No more question until you guys organize, and elect someone to speak for all.”
A couple of voices rose from the crowd.
“One of them killed my husband.”
“One killed my son.”
A few others I missed, but I got the gist. I waited for them to finish, and within a minute, everyone was quietly waiting for my reaction.
“My word does not cover killers, but I will want to know for sure which of the survivors were involved in any killing of townspeople. We’ll cover this tomorrow. A couple of things; there are two of the Cardinal’s men on the loose out there. We hope they have left the area, but we don’t know that. Hence, there is a curfew in effect from twilight to first light. Anyone walking around at night is likely to get shot without warning. Second, we are asking for volunteers to help with the cleanup. If you want to help, please wait here. The rest should go home and mull this over. I suggest a town meeting later this afternoon. You can use this church, and if you request it, one of us can attend; otherwise it’s your show.”
With that I turned, picked up my rifle, and headed off to the side. As I did, many conversations broke out, but I did not wait around to listen. They needed to work this out on their own.
I made my way to the house, and fired up the radio. I spoke with John and got an update on the wounded. Hanging up, I put Joshua in charge, and headed out to the Humvee. As I left for the compound, the cleanup was already underway.