By E. J. D’Alise (Disperser)
Copyright 2004 – 2013
I let my words sink in.
“The secondary objective is just that; we’ll offer the choice, help a bit, but our main objective is to get rid of the Cardinal. We’re hoping others will see the benefit, but if need be we’ll do it alone.”
Again, it was the son who spoke, betraying no emotion. “Are you planning slaughters like this one?”
That was a very good question, indeed. One I wished I knew the answer to.
“Paul, right? Well Paul, I don’t know. We had little choice here. If we get enough of a group, it may be we’ll see the Cardinal’s men retreat and leave us the towns. But, eventually, someone will make a stand.”
I paused to frame my words, and to crystallize my thoughts on the matter.
“Let me say this clearly. I would kill every one of them before I see any of my people hurt. My actions were, and will be, driven by that truth. Right now I have no plan because I don’t know what we will face. One thing I do know . . . my aim is for everyone who marches with us to get back home alive. Whatever it takes.”
I grabbed the revolver and holstered it before continuing. “I don’t enjoy killing, but it has long since stopped causing me concern when there is a need, or when it cannot be avoided.”
The group was quiet. The father had sat quietly, absorbing it all, and now spoke.
“What if I tell you of a way you can gain a near-instant army, or at the very least diminish the Cardinal’s?” All eye turned to the man, except the son’s; obviously he already knew what the older man was about to say.
“I’m listening.” I responded.
He continued, leaning forward as he spoke, his face showing the earnest look of a person with a mission.
“Many in the Cardinal’s army are people whose families are hostages. My own wife and daughter are being held in a small town north of Springfield. I don’t know how many towns there are like it, but that one alone holds about two thousand hostages; women, some men, and lots of kids. There are about two hundred troops guarding them.”
“Hold it right there. I need to bring someone else in here.” I motioned to one of the guards. “Get Ed, Joshua, Guy, and Greg over here. And bring a map of the state.”
I turned back to the prisoners. ‘How many are here because they have to? How many have family being held?”
Even as the hand went up, I wondered how many who died in our attack had no more interest in being soldiers to the Cardinal’s ambitions than protecting one’s wife and kids. I probably paled a bit, but if anyone noticed, they gave no sign of it.
The door to the conference room opened, and the others came in, fanning out behind me. I quickly brought them up to speed, and we all leaned over the table as a beat up map was unfolded and spread out.
“Show us, Paul.” I said.
The father and son both stood. Both were named Paul, but it was the father who took the lead. He pointed to a small dot about 30-40 miles north of Springfield.
“My wife and daughter are being held in this town. It took me a long time to gather information of their whereabouts, and longer still to get details about the place.”
The two Pauls remained, as did the other prisoner with family held hostage, Brent. The other two prisoners left under guard. The ensuing discussion ranged broadly from the implications of this news, to the strategic advantages it may pose, and finally to the potential of exploiting it. Eventually, the arguments for liberating the hostages became so compelling as to shift the discussion into planning.
There was the peripheral question of how to notify the families of the hostages we freed, but first we had to free the hostages. The challenge was freeing them with minimal casualties; especially children casualties.
Ed fixed his eyes on me, and spoke the obvious.
“We need someone on the inside. Somebody good. Probably more than one.”
The direction this was heading sent a chill down my spine. Jim spoke for me, and voiced the question I was having difficulty in forming.
“Who do you have in mind?” he asked.
Ed’s eyes lingered a moment on me, then shifted to Jim as he answered.
“Toni, Elly, a couple younger women or kids, and one or two older ones.”
The fact Ed was offering up his daughter spoke both to his commitment to the plan, and his ability to make decisions based on sound tactical reasons. It also put my visceral reaction to shame. He kept me from voicing my summary judgment nixing the idea of putting women in harm’s way.
Jim spoke at me, demanding my attention.
“DC, can I speak with you a moment? In private?”
I looked around the table, every one of the faces looking back. I nodded toward the door, and Jim and I headed out in the hall. Jim looked around, and started speaking in a whisper.
“DC, I know how you feel. Well, I don’t know how you feel, but I know how I feel about having Elly walk into that camp. The point is, she’ll have a choice. Everyone has a choice. And neither you nor I can make that choice for them. They are not precious heirlooms to be kept safe; they are human beings, as capable as any other, and with the ability to make these choices for themselves.”
He spoke fast, not letting me answer to any of his points.
“But more than that, you would have no hesitation if we were planning on sending men. That is your one weakness DC . . . you are a chauvinist. You think women are to be protected, sheltered, and kept from harm. And some need that. But so do some men, and yet you have no hesitation ordering men in combat situations.” He took a breath.
“Jim,” I started “it’s not . . .”
“Let me finish!” Jim said, forcibly interrupting me. ” . . . Look, I would follow you to the ends of the Earth, but you have a blind spot. The strength of men and women of iron wills not only forged this country, but the world. It took a long time for countries to recognize the contribution of women. Don’t dismiss their hard-won right to be treated as equals because of your own fears. It is not your right to do so, and it is their right to not follow you if you are not willing to recognize that.” He stopped and looked at me.
“Wow. How long have you been preparing this little speech?” I asked, cracking a smile to break the tension built up in the exchange.
Jim did not smile back. “Since Toni joined our camp. Since Elly was offered as a hostage. Since Clay was brought in bleeding and near death. Since Irene stepped up to do what needed to be done.” Joe hesitated, but continued. “You can’t associate what happened to your sister with every . . .”
“Enough!!” I raised my voice, and I too no longer smiled. “Do not presume to know how, or to what extent, those events shape my actions.”
I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and looked around at the walls that surrounded us. I continued in a low voice, all the while longing for the simple life of just a few weeks ago. Our world had indeed expanded, and again I wondered if I was suited to it.
“You make some good points, but many of those feelings were there before . . . before my sister’s death. Ultimately, I feel responsible for everyone, man or woman, in this compound, and I don’t want anyone to die under my watch.”
I turned to look at Jim in the eyes.
“. . . but yeah, I have blind spots.” Damn, it sucks to admit out loud stuff one would rather not examine too closely.
Jim looked back at me for a few seconds, and then spoke in a normal voice. “So, where does that leave us, DC?”
I turned and headed back into the conference room, Jim following me in. “We’ll ask for volunteers,” I spoke to the room, sweeping my eyes around each face, “and Ed, Jim, Guy, Greg, Joshua, and myself will vet each volunteer. Once we know who and how many we have, we’ll consider how we do this. Pass the word; general meeting in one hour. Everyone is to attend, no exceptions.”