By E. J. D’Alise (Disperser)
Copyright 2004 – 2013
I sat quietly during the drive back to town, my head swimming in thoughts. Damn it!! I was a problem solver. Something came up, I analyzed it, came up with a solution, and that was it.
Except these were messy problems, and what I thought were solutions only complicated matters. I had considered going to speak with Toni, but decided against it. I was not sure I would have been able to handle it. Doubts welled up uninvited.
I did not want to reconsider my position, but I could not help it. Despite my intentions to remain emotionally unattached, I already cared . . . no, loved, both Toni and Lindsey. If anything were to happen to them, I would feel no less of a loss than I would if I did allow them to be a greater part of my life.
In truth, they already were a large part of my life. They just did not know how much. Was that fair to them? Toni had been right in saying I would only cause more hurt for both of us.
My thoughts were interrupted by our arrival in town. I went to meet with Joshua. After giving him an update on the status back at the compound, he updated me on progress so far. There was more than I had hoped.
The town had agreed on a ruling council. Not much experience, but the best of intentions. With a little help they would be fine. Thirty one people had agreed to join us. Joshua had turned away three of them for having families. Two more were turned away because of prior injuries. All five volunteered for the permanent police force, currently slated at forty five. The plan was to have three groups of fifteen officers in rotating eight hour shifts. The rest of the adults in the town would always be on call if trouble came up, following the model we used at the compound.
The prisoner interviews were completed, as well as the identification of two prisoners that had been involved with killings of civilians. There may be more among the wounded prisoners back at the compound. Unfortunately the killings occurred during their mopping up of the gang that had occupied the town, and it was hard to tell if they were accidents, or the intent had been to purposefully kill some civilians to keep them in line. I would have to deal with that issue as well.
Some disturbing things came up in the interviews. Some of the Cardinal’s men we killed had families that were held hostage in undisclosed locations, while others really believed they were helping to bring order to a world in chaos. I was once again reminded very little separated us from the Cardinal.
We justified our actions by saying we were the good guys, but they could easily make claim to the same argument. Ultimately, we acted by favoring our survival over theirs, but it did little to bring me comfort; we still killed people who may have been victims of circumstance.
A few of the prisoners expressed a desire to remain in the town as opposed to going back to the Cardinal’s ranks. This was a dicey preposition. The townspeople may not be too interested in having them here. Then there was the worry they were still the Cardinal’s men, planning to do some damage if the opportunity came up. Again, something I would have to deal with.
I told Joshua to call and get Ed’s opinion on all of it. I then headed out to check on our and Ed’s people. If I was going to lead them, I should at least learn their names. And I needed to find out what their story was. Jim and I had discussed it, and our best bet was regular Army, under direction of some sort of government. Before I left, Ed would have to come clean. I wanted to know whom I was fighting with, and if anything, what I was fighting for.
The opportunity came that evening.
“The best definition I can give you is police force.”
Ed was sitting across from me in the empty meeting room. “A number of armed forces bases sealed themselves off as soon as it became apparent just how bad it was getting out there. We had a heck of a time keeping soldiers from leaving to take care of their families, and some did leave . . . but absolutely no one was allowed in once we sealed off.”
His eyes got a faraway look. His face was slightly flushed, and his jaw clenched as he sat quietly for a few moments. He turned to look directly at me.
“I know you went through some of the same thing. But imagine what it was like for people who were used to, and had been trained, to help even at the risk of their own lives. But we were in contact with other bases; we knew what happened when rules were relaxed. Some of the bases were literally wiped out.” He paused, once again struggling with memories that were best left buried.
I took the opportunity to ask a nagging question. “Whom do you report to? Is there any government left at all?”
“Washington is pretty much wiped out. If there are people there, they don’t know how to contact the outside world. Our assumption right now is for the worse case; there is no elected ruling national body.”
The notion struck me full force. I never fully considered the implications, but now that I did . . . bad, bad indeed.
“So who’s running what?” I asked, “and what are you and your group doing out here?”
“After we surmised the infection has slowed, we began to get refugees from places that had been hit by gangs. Like you, we took in some, tested them, and convinced ourselves of two things. One, we’re in a lull. I don’t know how long it will last. Perhaps a few years, perhaps decades, or perhaps it will never return. No one knows.” Ed paused to drink from the glass of water.
“Two,” he continued, “it’s really bad out there. After much discussion, we decided we needed to be out there, and at least try and bring some order.” Ed showed some life, some resolve that went to his core as a soldier. I could see he saw it as his duty to be out here, helping as much as he could.
“The problem is there are not many of us left, and we cannot abandon what’s left of the bases. Out of roughly 400 bases in the US, there are less than 50 left capable of any operations at all, and even then only in small groups. We monitor what little radio traffic there is, and try to address the worst areas, hoping to find local help.” He leaned back, looking at me.
“How are you supplied, and how do you move over long distances?” I was trying to imagine launching operations in a land essentially filled with hostiles, or at the very least suspicious and fiercely independent survivors.
“Horses, mules, and sometimes cows. We go out in small groups, have radio contact, and keep to uninhabited areas as much as possible. In an emergency we can get airdrops at night, during bad weather, to mask the engine noise. We still have a number of planes operable, but nothing of significant tactical value. Besides, we’re in limited supply of pilots.” Ed gave me an apologetic smile.
We sat in silence as I mulled things over. After a few minutes, I wanted to know more.