The Oral Histories of the New Ten Thousand
All the way and then some
and then some more!
©2009, Chris Hunter
This is a work of Fiction. It is based in part on the Alternate History World known as “Dies the Fire,” written and copyrighted by S.M. Stirling in 2004. The author agrees to abide by the Stirling Fan Fiction site disclaimer. This work is copyrighted by Chris Hunter in 2009, except for those parts derived from “Dies the Fire,” and its sequels, which are copyrighted by S. M. Stirling and used here by permission. All characters in this fiction are, in fact, fictional, and any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental, except where it is intentional and has the knowledge and consent of the named persons, who already know who they are and are mentally ready for the nasty things done to their namesakes.
Table of Contents
Commonwealth Encyclopedia and a forward by Maj. Minerva C. King 1st Duluth Pathfinders.
Memories of Ft. Campbell, Kentucky. Matt Stevens, Linda Louise Pavelka, Don Perkings and Command Sergeant Major Jack “Ralphie Boy” Norton.
Fort Campbell and points north.
— Introduction —
To many the change is summed up best in the quote made by Col. Jeffrey R. Pavalka (see related articles on, Pavalka Jeffrey, Dog Soldiers, 1st Pathfinder Group, Fargo Serum Run, and The Ballad of Buster) shortly before his death:
“Unlike the song, It was the end of the world as we knew it, but this time no one felt fine.”
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The Commonwealth Encyclopedia, 2nd edition. Commonwealth of Duluth — University Press, 2040
The Change is the name given to an event of unknown etiology that occurred on Tuesday, March 17th, 1998 at 8:15 PM DST. It caused a massive loss of life and destruction due primarily to a major change in the previous known laws of physics. The most predominate were changes in:
The ideal gas laws. Rather than being a simple three-dimensional shape relating temperature-pressure-volume, it is now at least a four-dimensional shape with a time component added in. Expanding gases behave more like liquids, only slowly expanding when pressure on them is released.
The nature of electricity. Electron locality in solids is changed, such that metals rather than having conductivity around 107 Sieverts/meter (what we consider a conductor) drop down to something closer to 10-7 Sieverts/meter (what we currently consider an insulator). Conductivity in polar liquids and gels (which tends to be around 1 Sievert/meter) is unchanged.
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[transcript: Maj. Minerva C. King 1st Duluth Pathfinders.]
Memorial Day Ceremony, Commonwealth of Duluth
Note: Memorial Day, the 4th of July and Veterans day are the three holidays the Commonwealth kept from the old USA.
You wouldn’t recognize them, these men and women who meet every year on the last Monday in May. They vary in ages, the youngest is less then 30, the oldest over 90. There is nothing special about them. They hold various jobs; important positions in the Commonwealth Government: teachers, farmers, craftspeople, ditch diggers, soldiers; the like.
But on this one day these ordinary people become more than the sum total of their parts.
They begin to arrive in the large field behind Trader-Ski’s Bar and Gill at 4:00 am, the time when the rest of the world is in it’s deepest sleep. Men and women wearing old berets of green or maroon felt, the “Smokey the Bear” hat, or camouflaged BDU caps. Some have silver wings on their chests, others a small unit crest. Slowly they begin to separate into small groups and you hear some laugh, some cry, the greetings of old friends, and the occasional soft curse. One hour before sunrise they are in position. Many in a precise military formation the rest standing in a loose but well ordered group behind them.
The colors are brought from their resting place inside the bar to the front of the formation and one by one each is uncased. The first is the flag of the Former United States Of America, frayed in spots and with some burn marks around the edges. Next is the flag of the United States Army, the battle streamers carefully arranged so that the one that bears the name Yorktown is prominently displayed. Then the flag of the 101st Airborne Division. Unlike the others this flag has only three steamers, the one bearing the name Davenport takes place of prominence. It is followed by the flag of the 5th Special Forces Group, like the flag of the 101st it has 3 streamers but the streamer with the name Quad Cities has the place of prominence here. The TRADOC flag is next, but this flag has only two streamers; the streamer bearing the name Minneapolis taking pride of place. The last is a flag unlike the others. It looks like a ragged bed sheet with a hand painted picture of a cartoon mouse-head with the words “God Damn Civilian cluster fuck!” emblazoned underneath. It’s one streamer simply states “We were there for it all.”
As the flag bearers proceed to their place at the front of their units an old man slowly marches forward. Centering himself on the assembly he comes to attention, then bellows out in a voice that defies his age. “First Provisional Corp, Atten–… tion!” “Re–… port!”
A chain reaction ripples through the formation:
“All accounted for!”
“All accounted for!”
“All accounted for!”
“All accounted for!”
“Dependent Gaggle One!”
“All accounted for!”
“All accounted for!”
“1st Training Regiment!”
“All accounted for!”
“1st Civilian Cluster Screw!”
“All accounted for!”
“506 Parachute Infantry Regiment!”
“All accounted for!”
“5th Special Forces!”
“All accounted for!”
“101st Airborne Division!”
“All accounted for!”
“1st Training Command!”
“All accounted for!”
“This God-damn Cluster Fuck you are saddled with!”
“All accounted for!”
The old man then does a sharp about-face and saluting the sky, bellows out, “Commander, First Provisional Corp, Army of the United States, All Accounted For, Sir!”
Smartly lowering his salute, he then bellows out, “First Corp, For-ward, March!”
As one they move out, singing their cadences, songs of fierce pride, great sorrow, desperate battles, friends, and loved ones lost. They march to a place just outside the old city limits, to the spot were their General died leading his command to safety. Here they will honor the dead, the famous like Peters and Scott, the common soldiers like Christianson and Robbly.
For on this day they are no longer teachers or farmers, craftspeople or ditch diggers, ordinary people with ordinary lives. On this day, they are once again the First Provisional Corp, United States Army. The men and women who are now called by many the New Ten Thousand. Who marched across half a country, and through the shadow of the vallley death in the hell of a world gone mad. And they fear no evil, for they were, and are without a doubt, the meanest bastards in the valley.
And these are their stories.
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— 1 —
— Interviews —
Matt Stevens, Linda Louise Pavalka, Don Perkings
[Transcript: Matt Stevens, US soldier, original member 1st Provisional Corp.]
I was never one of the movers and shakers, more like a fly on the wall, and that was mainly an accident. The night of the change I was riding my bike through the parking lot of Post headquarters on the way to PX for a beer, when it happened. Worst headache I ever had and a blinding light caused me to lose control of my bike and I crashed right into the curb and flew right over the handlebars; knocked the wind right out of me. So there I am lying flat on my back and the next thing I know the General himself is asking me if I am alright. See, back then the commanding General lived on Post and this General liked to walk over to Post headquarters every night about that time to check on things.
Now, look I didn’t know at the time it was the General. My glasses had come off, so that is why I snapped that smart-ass reply. “Well, I just landed on my ass and look like a fucking fool, but other than that, smart ass, I’m fine!”
But he was cool about it; just laughed and said,“That’s ‘I’m fine, SIR!’ soldier.” Then he asked me what happened and I told him. He got this funny look on his face said, “Me, too. Almost knocked me off my feet.”
I could tell he knew something was wrong right off the bat. Don’t know how he knew it; maybe it was the fact that all the cars had suddenly stopped running. There were always vehicles pulling in and out of the PX and and the fast food place next to it. Can’t remember if it was a Burger King or a Hardies. Never mind. There is always some activity around a Post HQ until around midnight. Not many crashes mainly because of all the foot traffic around HQ, so the speed limit was 15 miles an hour. [chuckles] I know, I know. To you that seems fast, but back then it was considered slow. And all the lights were out in the parking lot. But I think it was the quiet that let him know. See, back then the 101st Airborne was an elite unit and the Division Commanders came from the Special Operations field. The SF back then was like the Pathfinders are today, and the General was one of the best. Talk to a Dog Soldier sometime. They’ll tell you that when things get quiet the shit has hit the fan.
[Thousand yard stare…] It was just too quiet, like that night the fucking eaters jumped us outside Minneapolis when the [bitterness, but softly] fucking eaters jumped us and… [deep, shaking breath] Ah… Anyway, see, back then there was always background noise everywhere. I really can’t describe it, and lights; it never got dark as it does now. But… it was dark.
However he knew it, I could tell, just by looking at him that the General knew this was serious. He looked at me and said “Tell you what, son. Why don’t you come inside Post headquarters with me a rest up a little bit while I see what’s going on. If all the cars are like the ones here I might need you and your bicycle to do a little running for me.”
So I followed him inside. You think the Change was scary! You try being an 18-year-old private and being surrounded by a bunch of high brass. Now that’s scary! Made me wish I was a fly on the wall; never thought I would end up one watching history unfold. [slightly softer] And there were times I never thought I would live to talk about it.
And another thing, most people think for some reason the chaos started right away. Now maybe that happened in the big cities, I really don’t know because I wasn’t there, but on Post the chaos never started. The General saw to that, by God!
I’ll say this, that man really knew how to take charge. HQ was pretty well lit with chem lights. You have probably seen them at one of the family days at Fort Courage [soft chuckle, then snort] F troop! They mix two chemicals together and they make light. Well, back then we had these things called chem lights. You bent this tube and broke a glass vial inside and you got light for two hours.
First thing he did was walk up to the duty officer and ask for a report. Of course the duty office didn’t have much to tell. Mostly that the lights were out and that she had sent somebody down the basements to check the circuit breaker and tried to call the power plant but the phones were out.
The General said to her, “Thank you, you’re doing a good job. Stay calm. I’ll take a handful of those lights.” Next he walked over the communication center. He spoke to the NCO on duty and asked how coms were. The Sergeant on duty told him that everything was down. The General said “Okay, see what you can do to reestablish communications and let me know as soon as they come back up.”
I followed him as he headed to his office. The division Sergeant Major was there finishing up his work for the day along with the General’s senior aide; a young captain by the name of Thomas. The General look at his aides said “Tommy I think we better call the staff together — right now. With the phones down and everything else out, we’ll probably have to send somebody out to gather them up. Give this young man here the home addresses for the G1, G2, G3, G4 and the rest of the staff.” Then he looked at me. “Son, I want you to go to their homes. Give them my compliments and tell them to report to Post headquarters, ASAP. Then swing by the headquarters of each of the regiments and separate commands. Talk with the senior officer in charge there. Let them know that I’ve called a staff meeting and that we are working on the problem. I strongly suggest they call their staffs together and begin doing the same. Also for them to send a liaison to this headquarters as soon as possible. With the phones down were going to depend a lot on runners so tell him to send somebody with a bicycle, as soon as possible.”
The General thought for a moment, then looked at the Sergeant Major, “Jack what am I missing?”
The Sergeant Major said, “That’s a lot of ground to cover and I don’t think the kid is that familiar with the Post housing area. We better send some one with him, and cut down on the number of stops he has to make.” The General nodded his head and said, “Good idea. Tommie, I noticed that you rode that fancy new bike of yours in today. Go with, what’s your name, son?”
“Private Matt Stevens, Sir!”
“Go with Matt; you know were all the staff lives.”
“Jack, see who is here and who has bikes, then send them out in teams of two. If they are officers and can’t be spared, tell them to give their bikes to someone who can. Remember Major Regimental commands first, individual battalions second. Should be able to knock this out in a hour or two — so plan on a full staff meeting at,” he looked at his watch (it was a Rolex so it still worked,) 22 hundred. If the staff is unavailable, their deputies will do.”
The General then looked at the Sgt. Maj. “Anything else I forgot?”
The Sgt. Maj. replied, “They’d better swing by 5th Group headquarters, it’s on our way back. Who knows what those crazy SOCOM guys will do in a situation like this!
“We had better watch our wallets and bikes as those crazy bastards will steal them at a time like this if they think they need them. Ask them to send a senior liaison. It might be a good idea to swing by some of the DOD offices and speak with the senior civilian employee there, also.”
The General said, “Good!” then, “Okay Sgt. Maj. Make it happen.” Then he looked at me and said, “OK, Matt. You understand your orders.”
I said, “Yes! Sir!”
“Good. After you and Captain Thomas finish report back here and get with the Sgt. Maj. He will give you the home address for every one who lives on Post and a map of the housing areas. Go to their houses and let the families know that they will be coming home late, and most important not to worry. Then swing by my house. Let my wife know that I’ll be late getting home and not to worry. Oh! and tell her I would appreciate it if she fixed you something to eat, you’ll probably be hungry after all that riding around.”
The Sgt. Maj. cleared his throat. “Ah, General, maybe it would be a better idea if he asked my wife to fix him something to eat. Sitting down to eat a meal prepared by the Post commander’s wife could be a little intimidating for a young soldier like this.”
The General smiled and said “Nonsense, no offense intended, Sgt. Maj. But my wife is a much better cook than yours is.”
The Sgt. Maj. looked him dead in the eye and said, “Sir, that is only because the General, Sir, can not truly appreciate fine Cajun cooking, being from New England and all.”
The General smiled and looked at me and said, “Well, your choice. If you’d rather have some Cajun cooking that will burn the soles off your feet as the Sergeant Major suggests, fine! Of course, if I were a young soldier, I would definitely not risk the wrath of my commanding officer by offending him by insulting his wife’s cooking.”
Both the General and the Sgt. Maj. laughed. Then the Sergeant Major said, “Come with me; I’ll get the list of addresses.”
Now, I was a pretty stupid buck private back then, and seeing the Sergeant Major and the General joke around like that in such a serious situation kind of freaked me out. What I didn’t know was that that was one of the first of many command lessons I learned from both the General and the Sergeant Major. That when the situation is at its worst a good leader not only has to remain calm cool and collected, he has to look the part too. Because if you’re scared and freaking out the troops will know it and they’ll start freaking out to. That little piece of friendly banter between a senior NCO and a senior officer went a long way in calming my nerves and allowed me to do my job. I remembered that lesson right before the battle of Minneapolis; I was officially part of the senior staff then, and used it when everything went the hell in a hand basket.
But that’s another story for another time.
Anyway I spent most of that night going to various officer’s homes and command headquarters, running messages. And I did stop by the General’s house and his wife did fix me a meal. A really great lady she was, sad we lost her a few years ago. I must have did a good job, because the General kept me on as his runner.
And that’s how I became a fly on the wall of history.
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[First interview with Linda Louise Pavalka, Dependent wife, original member of: This God-damn Cluster Fuck You Are Saddled With! 1st Provisional Corp. Conducted at Trader-Ski’s Bar and Grill Commonwealth of Duluth]
Interviewer’s note: All of my interviews with Linda Louise Pavalka, took place at Trader-Ski’s Bar and Grill at her insistence. She explained that the place had so much history, and if you were going to remember and honor the dead it should be at a place that their spirits would find comfortable.
At our first meeting she thanked me for coming, introduced me to her student “Maggie;” Lady Margaret Akers of Japanese Hollow Barony in the Grass Valley of Montival.
She said she had brought Maggie for two reasons. One was to expand her education. Trader-Ski’s was not the type of place a young lady from an Associate’s household of the PPA would normally be found; but even if she did not become an artist it would help her as a lady running a great house to know something about how the people working for her played. The second was that she had done some checking and found out that I had been studying away from home for over five years and thought it might be nice for me to hear the latest gossip from home after we were finished.
What I understand now, but did not then, was that this is basic field craft, Pathfinder style; she was treating this as a veteran of the long march she was. When facing an potential enemy of unknown intent — always do so on a field of your own choosing, under conditions of your own choosing, and do something to place them slightly off their game. It is never a good idea to underestimate the woman who was counsellor to Colonel Debbie, good friend of Rainbow Honeysuckle Moonbeam Solomon, and married to Col. Jeffrey R. Pavalka. Any woman who can stand toe to toe with those individuals along with all her other accomplishments is no one’s fool.
Since all of us involved in this project were encouraged to use the writing style we felt best suited each interview I have chosen a first person narrative for this interview and several others. It is my feeling as a historian that in these cases it gives a clearer picture then simply recording what was said word for word.
After greetings and pleasantries were exchanged I asked, “Aren’t you a little worried? This place has a bit of a reputation. Is it safe for two unescorted ladies?”
Giving a astonished laugh she replied, “Trader-Ski’s? Young man, this is the one place in the entire world, where if I wished to do a portrait of a nude virgin, surrounded by bags of coco and coffee, I would not have to worry about being bothered; except for a few overly long stares from some of the younger men, and possibly some young women. Look around you, most of the men and women here are Pathfinders, and while they may be, as Jeff likes to say, crude, rude and socially unacceptable, they would never bother a lady.”
She gave me a very knowing smile, “Now, if Maggie were here looking for a little fun, not a good time, just some fun and maybe a wee bit of adventure, it would be a little different.” She then turned to her student,“Oh don’t blush so, girl! You’re a nice young woman from a good family, I know your customs back home are different, but I did speak with your father about this. We both agreed that making friends with a few nice young men and women, and even some dating if you would like, will hardly hurt you. In life it is very important to broaden your horizons, and make friends. You never know when it will come in handy.”
Turing back to me, “Thing are different from what both of you are used to in the West, but I can assure you that if Maggie said No! every one of them would respect her and stop. We raised them to know better.”
“In many ways these boys and girls become our children; children that sometimes we have to send to their deaths, but our children none the less.”
“I brought along quite a few of my sketches from those days, hoping to give you a better idea about those times. But,” and here a bit of exasperation crept into her voice, “I did not bring them all.”
“Honestly, why people what to see them or keep calling me the Great Artist Linda, I’ll never understand. Almost every one of the paintings or wood cuts I did based on them is on public display somewhere. And the four that are not can be seen easily enough by contacting their owners. If you would like to see them, I can make arrangements for you to do so.” She turned to Maggie, “Please make a note for me, I do have a tendency to forget.” Turning back to me, “So shall we get started?”
I asked my first question, “Where were you and what were you doing the night of the Change?”
“Well, Jeff had just returned from a six month deployment, so we were,” she paused and then smiled, “working very hard at getting re-acquainted. We really didn’t know anything happened. I don’t even remember the bright flash and pain that much. Don’t look so surprised! My husband and I had not seen each other in a very long time, and… Noooo, never mind, if you can’t understand that,” she said with a soft chuckle, “I am most certainly not going to draw you a picture!”
“It wasn’t until after midnight when a runner from Group Headquarters came pounding on our door that we knew something was wrong. He told Jeff that he was needed at Group HQ ASAP. Well, Jeff really wasn’t in the mood to hear that; neither was I. So he told the runner to just tell the Major he couldn’t be found.”
“Again! Such a surprised look! I know that we have a reputation for putting duty to the Commonwealth first, but those were different times. Just as dangerous, but more innocent in many ways. My husband had been out of the country for six months and wanted to spend some time with his wife.”
“The runner looked at Jeff with stunned disbelief, and said ‘Sarge, have you been paying attention to what’s been going on for the last couple of hours?’”
“Jeff looked at him and said ‘No I have not been paying attention to what’s been going on the last couple of hours. I’ve been busy! And I would like to get busy again! So why don’t you get on that little bicycle you rode up here on, take your ass back to headquarters, and tell the captain that if he needs to see me, he can see me in the God-damn morning!’”
“The runner just looked at him and said, ‘Sarge, try and turn on your lights.’ See the house was pretty well lit, candles everywhere, so we really did not notice anything.”
“I think it was at that moment that everything clicked and Jeff realize something serious was going on. A runner on a bike? Why not use the phone? Or even send the duty driver in a Hummer? No lights! I know this is hard for you kids born after the Change, but we had light any time we wanted it. It was like getting water from a tap, you just flipped a switch, turned a handle. Why was the Major bothering us on Jeff’s his first night home? But the big one, the one that really set Jeff’s teeth on edge, and caused him to, as I like to say, enter his ‘Steely Eyed Sergeant Mode’ was the fact that it was just too quiet.”
“I had a pretty good idea, too. To be married to a man like Jeffrey R. Pavalka, no woman (or now, men) can stay married to anyone who’s in special operations without developing a certain feeling for what their job is like, and how they think. It was the quiet; it was just too quiet. I looked at Jeff and I said ‘Honey, I think maybe it would be a good idea if you headed on over to headquarters and see what the Captain wants.’”
“He looked at me and said, ‘You sure?’ And I said, ‘Yes, this could be serious, and if it is I know you’ll want to be over there. If it’s not you can come home, and we’ll take up where we left off; we still have to christen the kitchen.’”
Just then there was a loud commotion in the bar. I knew from the sound it was a typical tavern brawl about to start. I was thinking perhaps Linda was wrong about this place and reached down for my staff in case I had to defend the ladies. Again, if I knew then what I know now, I would not have bothered.
I watched as Linda very calmly stood up and faced the two combatants. The first was an embassy puke, well, Guard. From his livery he looked to be a very young associate who had just gotten his spurs. Tall and lean, he had drawn a long sword and was threatening another man who was almost his exact opposite. Shorter and somewhat stockier, he had a strange looking knife in each hand and his stance was something I had never seen before. He was turned sideways like a fencer but instead of holding his arms out, he held his blades close to the hip and pointed directly at his opponent. A young bar maid stood behind him; crying.
The Guard yelled at Linda, “This is none of your concern, you old trout! I’m about to teach this peasent some manners towards his betters and he’ll learn just why it’s a bad idea to bring knives to a sword fight.”
That line caused everybody to glare. Calling any veteran of the 1st Provisional Corp a trout was dangerous at the best of times; calling Linda Pavalka one, especially in a tavern filled with Dog Soldiers was suicidal!
Linda’s voice took on a hard edge but she did not raise it above the level of polite conservation, and said, “Stand down, soldiers.” With a slightly harder edge when they did not immediately obey, “I said, Stand Down! I will handle this.”
Then she looked at the young man guarding the bar maid, and said softly, “soldier, please stand down and take care of the nice young lady, there. She looks shaken and probably could use a drink and some comfort.”
“Ah, mama, ah… Yes, Mama!” He then sheathed his knives and said to the barmaid, “Miss Jackie, why don’t you come with me and I will get you a brandy. It’s gonna be ok, I promise, Ok?”
“That’s right, little boy, do as your Mommy says; go and hide! I’ll just hunt you down later and teach you not to interfere when I’ve got my eyes and hands on a girl!”
Linda gave the guard a very cold look, “Young man you have made three very bad mistakes. The first was using a sword against a man armed with ballistic knifes, especially when you are not wearing armor. The second was calling the wife of the commander of First Group an old trout. While I am willing to forgive many a slight, Dog Soldiers can get very offended over things like that. Third, calling any Dog soldier a boy is just stupid! But what is even stupider is saying that you will hunt one of them down later. Even the Dúnedain show them proper deference when it comes to their skills, and if you wish to die, young man, there are easier and cleaner ways.”
The PPA embassy guard went grey and broke out in a cold sweat, (I could see it from my seat) and began muttering apologizes, as Linda walked up to him. She stood on tip-toes and put her face into the guard’s.
In a clear icy voice she said. “I am Linda Pavalka, and I realize that you were brought up in an environment different from this one. And because of the actions of that God Damn straight leg history professor and his wife you believe that any one who does not have a title is beneath you! Well, young man, this is The Commonwealth! And here you are not above anybody! Men like my husband and the General, those of us who made the long march, who gave so much to save the best of the Old United States and as many people as we could, made sure that That Would Never Happen Here!”
“You represent the worst of what should have been a noble dream, one held by a proud people! You are someone so fixated on status and your own self importance with the I want it and I want it now attitude. Because by God it is your right to have everything you want now! And any one who can not stand against you had better give you what you want pretty damn quick!
“It is only now, thanks to the actions of few great individuals in the past Wars, that this has changed. If that crazed self-centered history professor and his equally self-centered wife had been a millionth of the man and woman the General and Colonel Debbie were, not only would they have saved thousands more, but they would not have their offspring embarrassing them in public.
“So stand down, or challenge me formally, I am sure someone here will loan me a B-Knife, for I loath your kind.”
She then turned her back on the guard and walked back to the table. Took a deep breath and said, “I am very sorry if I gave offense to you or your people. You have much to be proud of and admired for. But I’m an old woman who once belonged to a great nation that spanned a continent. Its’ culture influenced the globe and its’ men and women walked on the moon and sent messages to the stars. We have lost so much, so very, very much. It’s why, when I look at people like that guard I almost want to cry, and when they act like bullies; go a little crazy. My God, we lost so much!
“Your Lord Protector was in many respects a great man, and his wife a great woman. But to throw away the best to live out their fantasies! It still causes many of us great pain.”
She then smiled and looked at Maggie doing a rough sketch of the recent event. “Good! You never know what will be important, so get the raw emotion down on paper as soon as possible and don’t forget your notations for what you can’t get down right now. When you are done, give it to me. I’ll keep it for a week, and ask you to draw it again from memory. Then I’ll give it back to you. I want you to see how your full sketch will look after the passage of time has changed your memories. Perhaps our friend here would be willing to offer his opinion about it the next time we meet.”
She then turned to me a knowing smile, “As teachers we must never let any opportunity for a lesson pass us by.”
“So where were we?”
“Jeff jumped into the shower; the water was still working, and I laid out his one clean uniform. Typical soldier gone six months and comes home with a rucksack full of dirty cloths and a hard-on. [This line shocked me at the time. But it is a very old saying going back to the early days of the United States Army Special Forces. The wives use wry humor to deal with their tough jobs.] He left and I sat down and tried to read a little bit, but I just couldn’t get into it. It was about an hour later and there was a soft knock on the door. I opened it and there was Shannon Johnson with a really scared look on her face.”
“I could tell she was scared, but I asked her what was wrong. That is the best way to handle things at a time like this, get them talking and then change the subject to something they have some control over ASAP. She said some one had just come and banged on the door and told Bobby ‘report to headquarters,’ “Why did they do that? The guys just got back off a six-month deployment! We’re supposed to have downtime for at least two weeks! Just what is the God-damn army doing? Just why did they have to drag him out of bed and back to headquarters in the middle of the night?”
“Now, Shannon was a new wife and she was new to special forces. And you need to understand that we, (and since the change the husbands), those of us who are married to the men and women of special operations are just as much a part of special operations as they are. Oh sure, we don’t go on the missions, we don’t risk our lives now that the long march is over. But honestly, I think we do have a harder job, making sure they remember just what it is they are doing this for. Otherwise it would be too easy for them to forget, too easy for them to decide that they should be the ones in charge.”
“And that is our job. We were the caretakers, no, correction! We are the caretakers for the men and women who are willing to walk in the dark places where others will not go so they can bring light to the darkness. We are the ones who they think of when they stand on the bridge and look evil dead in the eye and say, ‘you shall not pass!’ And they need us as much as the Commonwealth needs them.”
“So I fixed some instant coffee; the stove was out but I had learned a few tricks from Jeff, and we talked for bit. I knew the other wives would start showing up in a bit, we would talk and support each other. We ended up doing that quite a lot over the next few months, it helped a lot.”
“Like many, we had no idea just how trying the next few weeks and months would be.”
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[Transcript: Don Perkings, US soldier, original member 5th Special Forces Group & 1st Provisional Corp.]
Change night, I was in Trader Ski’s Bar, the original one at right across the main gate from Ft. Campbell, not the new one here. And because of that I was one of the first ones to figure out how serious the Change actually was. See, back then I was the NBC* NCO for 5th [Special Forces] Group. [*Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical. Similar duties and responsibilities as BioChem NCO in the Commonwealth armed forces, but with training in aspects of Nuclear warfare. Since the Change has made nuclear warfare impossible the NBC designator was change to BioChem for all Commonwealth forces.] Mostly we were focusing on chemical and biological warfare like we do now. Strange how the BioChem part has not really changed that much except for the delivery systems. And if some one had told me back then that I would have to worry about dead cattle being catapulted over the walls I would have laughed in their face. But I still knew a lot about nukes, and my first thought was “Shit! — Nuke! I’m dead.”
Then I heard Ski cursing and the poor guy sounded like he was going to cry. Now at first I thought he was hurt and I asked if he was OK. He said, “I’m fine. I just dropped the bottle of Glenlivet!” I hoped it wasn't his MS flaring up again. The man did like to push himself some and sometimes he went too far.
Now I like good booze as much as the next guy; now more then ever because it’s so hard to get, but the way he was carrying on you would think that it was the end of the world. [snort and laugh] Which it was but we didn’t know it at the time.
He just cried, “Don, this is from the 1959 Cellar Collection. It’s the type of scotch only God should own and even he would only bring it out on a special occasion!”
So I asked him, “Why do you have it out now?”
“Because unlike God, I’m not a snob.”
And when you come right down to it he wasn’t, even though he had every right to be.
See, it’s like this: Trader was a former Staff Sergeant who spend all of his time in the army assigned to Special Forces. He was not on the teams, and he was not fully qualified. Ski was always very, very specific about making sure that people knew he was only assigned to a special forces unit. That was very important to him. So much so that I asked him about it once when we had been drinking. He told me “I failed the Q. coarse, I made it through phase 1, I couldn’t make it through phase 2 and learn Morse code. It was no big deal, at the time I didn’t know I had MS and I decide that I simply had a problem learning Morse code. So the Army being the Army assigned me to 1st of the 1st on Okinawa. So I figured what the hell, I might not be Michelangelo but I’m good enough to mix the paint for the ceiling.”
And he was a hell of a “paint mixer.” The man spent more time down range than most guys on the teams did.
So in 1992 when the MS was diagnosed he found himself out on a Medical Discharge. He had been pretty smart with his money so he took everything he had, and along with a loan from the bank, built what he liked to call a very cool place.
It was a village style mini mall right next to a huge military surplus store across from the main gate. And it was a very cool place! It had a nice Thai restaurant, a pizza place, sub place , a hobby store called the Halfling, that specialized in role playing games, a sporting goods store with an indoor shooting and archery range, indoor/outdoor paint ball arena, barber shop, beauty shop, video store, shoe repair shop, book store, music store and a pawn shop, and of course the bar. The place was designed to separate soldiers from their money as painlessly as possible. And did a good job of doing it, too.
The reason he had the scotch out was that he had just closed a deal. He saw me sitting at the bar when he went to get it and said “Don, come on over. We’re breaking out the good stuff and there are some people I want you to meet.”
So I joined him at a booth in the back. There were a man and a woman sitting there and with an evil grin, he introduced me to Rainbow Honeysuckle Moonbeam Solomon. [soft chuckle] She hated that name! Ski actually introduced her as Rain Solomon. He said to me “Rain, here is going to be opening a pagan shop in the new expansion. Linda [Linda Louise Pavalka] and the Padre [Rabbi Gonzalez] talked me into it renting her the place. So what could I do? If I said ‘no,’ Linda would turn me into a frog and I stopped wearing green a long time ago.”
Rain gave him a dirty look, and I thought for a moment she was going to walk out, so I told her it was an in-house joke. Linda was the unofficial Wicca Chaplain for the Post, and The Padre was actually Rabbi Gonzalez, the 5th Group Chaplain. She smiled then; seems she had been corresponding with the Rabbi, and he had warned her about our particular brand of humor. The Rabbi had contacted her about some of the problems he was having counseling wiccan soldiers. He just did not know enough about the faith to do what he felt was an adequate job, and had found Rain’s advice very helpful. When he found out that she had recently retired from her accounting job so she could pursue her dream of becoming full time clergy he recommended that she come here. Sooner or later, Jeff would be reassigned, and Linda leave with him. It would be nice to have someone with experience that he and the other chaplains could turn to.
The other person was Paul Scott. Trader introduced him. “He’s the guy who created all those games I used to give you and Jeff [Jeffrey R. Pavalka] a hard time about.” Said he had convinced Paul to come here with his design team and give a demo of their new game tomorrow night before heading down to Nashville for a convention. And all for the price of a first class ticket, free room and board, first purchase option on his second born, and a sip of the 59.
He had a happy smile on his face. The man could smell a profit at 500 meters. Said he was going to be rich, and asked me if I could imagine how much money he was going to make on selling modules autographed by the design team, and the man himself!
And that’s how I met Scott, and Solomon, and yes I am talking about The Scott, and The Solomon, two of the Magnificent Seven. At the time I really wasn’t too impressed; Scott looked like a typical Geek and Rain? She was just some woman in her 30’s; hopefully not a new age crazy; that would drive Linda nuts.
Man! Was I wrong! But then again, how was I to know that inside Scott was more then just a game designer? There was a tactical and strategic planer with an attention for detail and the ability to think outside the box that was downright scary. And talk about a memory for obscure facts! Some of those things he pulled out of his head really saved our asses several times. Or that Rain was a herbalist, as well as a healer and spiritual advisor who offered comfort and hope to people of any faith.
Also, and I didn’t know it at the time, but there were two more members of the Magnificent Seven in the bar, too. Wolfgang Marks, that crazy warrior engineer from Austria, and his equally crazy partner David Tracker. And Ernie Peters was very close by.
“Or,” [slightly hoarse voice] “that all too soon, on a bridge just outside of Davenport, they would all add another proud legacy to the history of Special Forces. [pounds table hard] And God Damn that goat-roping pig-fucking straight-leg SOB Boss Man of Iowa. [spits on floor] Damn him to hell and his entire line for what he and his people did!”
[Takes moment to compose himself, then softly] “If Rain were here she would really be upset with me cursing some one like that. Probably would have given me hell and reminded me about Richardson and the support we got from the East-Siders of Des Moines, and the Teamsters. But still, damn that man straight to hell!”
Anyway back to Change night.
He called over to the bartender and asked her to break out some chem lights since the back-up generator hadn’t kicked in, and the emergency lights were on the fritz. She started snapping them and tossing them to the people there. Pretty soon the place had enough light to see by, and Ski looked down at the broken bottle, bowed his head and said in a very solemn voice, “Only the good die young.”
I laughed and said, “It could have been worse. I thought it was a pulse, and tried to assume the position. You only lost a bottle of scotch. I, on the other hand, could have been embarrassed!” I was trying to lighten the mood and expected him to laugh, or at worst, take a swing at me. But he got a funny look on his face and said, “You see a flash, too?”
It was then that we both knew something serious was going on. He looked over at Paul and Rain and asked them what they had just experienced, and they told him basically what I had. Bright flash of light, bad headache, and Ski said, “Guys, you had better stay here for a bit, I need to check on something. Don, come with me.”
We headed outside and the first thing we noticed was there were no lights and I mean no lights anywhere. The bar had a huge lighted parking lot, and was right across the street from the main gate. That could have been explained by a power outage. But the Post had it’s own power plant so even if the lights were off here they should have been on in the Post. Then the cars — all the cars had stopped, too. It looked like there had been a few crashes, but nothing too bad. The light must have just turned green and the cars just starting to move when the change happened.
There was one minor fender bender in the parking lot over by the Pizza place. A van with a wheel chair lift had hit a parked car while pulling in. The driver was Ernie Peters, and the soldier who’s car he hit was pretty upset at first. It was his first brand new car, and he had just picked it up from the show room. But when he found out Ernie’s daughter was in the back, he immediately went to help. He was a medic from one of the teams, never got his name, but he wanted to make sure Robin was OK before they moved her. I asked if there was anything we could do to help and he said he could use some light, and asked us to grab his bag from the back seat. So we gave him a couple of chem lights, and his bag. He gave Robin a quick but thorough once-over and then we helped them lift her out of the van. The medic told Ernie that she looked fine; since he had been going so slow it was the same as if Robin had accidentally bumped into a wall with her chair.
Then he said he was going to go out and see if any one else had been hurt. Told Ernie not to worry about the car; just leave the insurance info under the windshield wiper. He said, “Take it easy, sweetheart,” to Robin; grabbed his bag and was gone.
Ski told Ernie, “You might want to take your family over to the Thai Place. The seats are more comfortable and you might be here for a while. Tell Martha, the hostess, that the Trader said to make sure you were taken care of.”
What more can I say? He was that kind of guy.
I think it was after that that we both really noticed the quiet; it was just too quiet. I know this is hard for you kids born after the change to understand but there was always noise, background noise; cars, trucks, music — always something. And anyone who had ever been in combat knows that when things are that quiet the shit is about to hit the fan. Remember I was an NBC NCO. It was then that I started thinking that this was more then an EMP!
Ski led me out back, behind the mall and into a medium size warehouse; it was his personal work shop. He built it there because the area was zoned light industrial work and he really pushed the envelope on that one. He unlocked the door and opened it. I had no idea how that flash would affect his MS and was cursing myself for not asking that “Doc” to take a quick look at Ski before he headed out to the highway. So I decided to stay a little closer than he probably liked. I remembered how easy it was for an attack to affect his balance and he did not have his cane with him. The lights did not come on, so he grabbed a flashlight off the wall, cursed when it wouldn’t work; then grabbed a big long chem stick; broke it open so we could have some light. We walked over to a 55 gallon barrel that was filled with water and had a blasting cap inside it. The cap was hooked up by wires to an outside antenna. Any pulse big enough to cause this much damage should have set the cap off.
The cap was there and the floor was dry. Ski scratched his head, reached up and carefully removed the blasting cap wires from their connection to the antenna and then twisted them together. The he walked over to a work bench set up for electrical work and opened a very large box underneath it grabbed a small detonating device, took the wires from the blasting cap and carefully attached them to the two studs on the detonator. He called out “Fire in the hole!” and squeezed the charging handle. Now, that should’ve set off that blasting cap, but it didn’t.
He said to me, “I rigged up this this little thing back when the rumors started going around that the Russians might have lost some nukes and missiles. Lots of smart terrorists out there! I figured there was no way they could do an EMP; but I just thought, ’what the hell! better safe then sorry.’”
An electromagnetic pulse big enough to knock out all the his equipment would send a big enough surge of power down the antenna into that blasting cap. It would have popped!
The cap could have been bad, but I didn’t think so. Even if it was, the little charge light on the detonator should should’ve lit up, when I started squeezing it.
I looked at him and he looked at me, and I think that’s when we both realized that we weren’t hearing sounds coming from the shooting range. That place was well insulated, but even so you could always hear a very slight background noise of guns being fired. So we walked over to the range and looked inside. There were some people standing around trying to fire weapons that no longer worked. Idiots!!! Couldn’t see the target but still trying to fire!
I looked at Ski and said “I need to get back to Post and over to Group Headquarters and see what the fuck is going on.” He nodded his head slowly, and said, “Yeah, I think that’s a really good idea. I’ll see what I can figure out here, but I think it would be smart if we started planning for the worst. I know you really don’t think that much of these game designing guys, but if this is even 1/10 as fucked up as I’m beginning to think it might be, we are in one world of hurt! And some of these guys design games around things like this looks like.”
Trader said, “I’ll see if I can harness some of these people; maybe convince them that, hey! just for grins and giggles, while we are waiting for the lights to come back on and since the beer will get warm any way, we pretend that the entire world is just gone to hell right now and that the Army has asked us to come up with options. Maybe bring in some of the guys playing over at the Halfling, promise a $100.00 gift certificate or something for whoever comes up with the best ideas.”
“Remember what I said about these guys being good at what they do? If things are really bad, I may need you to get me in to see the Colonel. Not many people know just how detailed a simulation game these guys can do using nothing but paper and pencil.”
So I walked back to Post; maybe about a mile, maybe a mile and a half to Fifth Group Headquarters and checked in with the staff duty officer. That’s when I found out that everybody experienced the same thing — the flash of light the sudden head pain. I gave him a quick brief on what I had found out at Trader Ski’s, told him I was going to break out some war stock equipment to do some tests and see what I could find out. He asked me if I though it was really necessary, some of that stuff was really expensive and once you broke the seal on the package you could not use it again. I just shook my head and walked away, but I can’t say I really blame the guy. At the time all he knew was that this was a simple power outage, and wrapping your head around what I had seen at Trader Ski’s was a bit too much to expect from someone who had not seen it.
I spent the rest of that night with my team running tests. We had some really good equipment back there, all cased harden to survive a EMP pulse. The problem was it didn’t work. While I was doing that the Group staff met and called me to give a report. The group commander told me to come with him to Post HQ; he was going to talk with the General, and wanted me to brief their NBC people and pass on what we knew. I could see in the old man’s eyes that he was thinking the same thing I was.
Oh shit, we are so fucking fucked!
And that’s how I spent change night.
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[Transcript: From the journal of Command Sergeant Major Jack “Ralphie Boy” Norton, Division Sergeant Major 101st Airborne Division, Corp. Sergeant Major 1st Provisional Corp. Used by permission from the Norton Family]
Oh shit, we are fucked, Nothing is fucking working!!!! Nothing Nothing Nothing!!!!! How the fuck are we suppose to function! How the fuck are we going to get out of this FUBAR!!!!! If things do not change back we are so fucked!
Ok, soldier, you have had your snivel time, now shut up, suck it up, and drive the fuck on!
Now comes the hard part, figuring out how bad we are fucked and what can we do about it. Still not sure what happened last night, I was finishing up some work and getting ready to head home. Flash of light, head felt like it was going to explode. Then the lights went out. Nothing working right ever since.
The General showed up a few minuets later; he had some kid with him. Well, Nick had a habit of picking up strays. Poor guy, I thought he was going to shit his pants when he came into the office. Can’t blame him. Nick can even intimidate me at times and we go back to El Salvador and the PI. (Philippine Islands)
Man knows how to take charge and get things done. Call together the staff, let the commanders know that we are working on the problems, let the families know that their husbands and wives are ok but have a lot of work to do so don’t panic. Sent a message to his wife to get with the senior officer’s wive’s group and keep everyone calm, told me to have mine do the same for the senior NCO wives.
Always thinking that man is, nothing ever escapes him. Walked out of the office to head for the staff meeting and told me to see that Stevens is assigned to the HQ; said after the kid been privy to so much throne room gossip in the last 12 hours that we had better make him an official part of the palace guard. Told me the kid seemed smart so to list him as an aide-de-camp. I told him that was an office slot and orderly or driver would be correct.
Man snorted and said, “That is the modern usage. I’m going real old school here. Back in the good old days before radios an aide-de-camp was an extra set of eyes and ears who could run messages. So, now you know, list him as an aide-de-camp.” Told me to find him a few good buglers, too!
Staff is getting ready to start. Will try and write more later.
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— 2 —
— Movement Orders —
Linda Louise Pavalka, Matt Stevens, Don Perkings
From: Major General Burke
General Order Number One, 20 March, 1998
To the men and women of the 101st Airborne Division, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (ABN), 716th Military Police Battalion, U.S. Army Medical Activity, TN Valley District, Veterinary Command , U.S. Army Dental Activity. U.S. Air Force 19th Air Support Operation Squadron and U 621 Mobility Operations Group. The 3rd Region, U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division Command; C Company, 1st BN, 58th Aviation Regiment (CORPS); 61st Engineer Detachment; 95th Maintenance Company (TMDE); the U.S. Army 2nd Judicial Circuit Detachment; and the 902nd Military Intelligence Group.
Due to the nature of the present emergency and current inability of this command to contact any higher Headquarters, or make contact with the National Command Authority, myself and the other major unit commanders garrisoned at Ft. Campbell believe that we must operate as if a state of open hostilities exists between the United States of America and a power or powers of unknown origin, and abilities.
It is the sworn duty of every Soldier, Sailor, Airman, and Marine to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. With this in mind and with the concurrence of the other major commanders I have issued orders for all units to immediately begin to prepare for redeployment from Fort Campbell to a more suitable location. Since the nature and duration of this emergency is currently unknown, I have also issued orders, under my authority as Post commander, that arrangements be made for the dependants and family members to accompany us.
When the 101st was formed in August 1942 the first Division commander, Maj. Gen. William C. Lee, promised his new recruits that although the new division had no history, it would soon have a “rendezvous with destiny.” Today, fifty six years later, we have a proud history, a legacy where names like Normandy and Bastogne shine, and the term “Nuts” has it’s own special meaning.
Today, destiny has once again called, and once again asked it’s age old question: “How Far?” And once again we shall answer, in a loud and thunderous voice, “All the way! All the way and then some and then some more!”
So I charge every one of you who will be on this long march, from the youngest babe in the arms of it’s mother to the oldest member — to keep faith in yourself, your fellow soldiers, your unit, and your God. For once again, Destiny has called, and once again we answer, as we always have and always will:
“All the way and then some and then some more!”
Nicolas S. Burke
Major General United States Army
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[Transcript: Matt Stevens, US soldier, original member 1st Provisional Corp.]
So I became an Aide-de-camp, that’s a fancy term for a glorified runner. And boy, did I run. I learned more about Ft. Campbell in those three days before the meeting to decide whether to stay or go than guys who had been there over 20 years.
My days were pretty much the same for the first four days after the change. I ended up moving into the headquarters building; it made things a lot easier. I’d get up around four; collect the night’s dispatches and ride my bike over the General’s Quarters.
The General would already be up having breakfast, I would give him the dispatches and his wife, Col. Debbie would insist I sit down and have something to eat. I would always politely refuse, at least at first, but that woman was very insistent. Now, at the time I didn’t understand why. I thought she was just being friendly; she was, after all, a very gracious lady. Col. Debbie was a true lady, as kind and courteous to a young private as she would have been to the president of the United States.
You see, what I didn’t know, was that Deborah Diane Burke was not only the General’s wife, she had also been, until fairly recently Lieut. Col. Burke, United States Air Force. You see, the Colonel and the General had actually gone to the United States Air Force Academy together. See, back then the United States of America had four main military academies; the United States Military Academy at West Point; the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland; the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs; and the US Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.
Now most everybody believed that if you went to one of the service academies you automatically ended up in that branch of service, but that wasn’t the case. You could go West Point and take your commission and the Air Force. But in this case the General had actually gone to Colorado Springs, he had wanted to be a fighter pilot, but he failed his flight physical right before graduation. I guess his eyesight just wasn’t quite good enough to be a fighter pilot. I learned later that he barely failed, but back then becoming a fighter pilot was as hard as becoming a Pathfinder. Plenty of qualified people to choose from for not enough slots.
So the General spoke with the Army liaison and received a commission as a second lieutenant in the United States Army. He and Col. Debbie lost track of each other until they met again at the 20th class reunion. Col. Debbie was just in the process of retiring; she had gone into the intelligence field and her specialty was debriefing fighter pilots after their missions. She had this unique talent for putting people at their ease and getting information from them. Well, one thing led to another and they eventually married.
And Col. Debbie wasn’t just a simple housewife while she was married to the General! She did a lot of freelance work for several law enforcement agencies. She was one hell of an interrogator and from personal experience I can tell you she could get you to spill your guts without even knowing it.
So every morning while the General pretended to read his reports his wife was interrogating me on what was going on: things I’d seen, getting a handle on what type of feeling I was getting as I moved throughout the Post.
After breakfast it was always the same. The General would look at me say, “Get enough to eat?” and I would say. “Yes, Sir.” Then he would say, “Good, got a really busy day, lots of work to do — short time to do it in. So get back to Post headquarters. Talk to the Sergeant Major and see what he needs you to do.”
So I would ride my bike over to the Post headquarters and give the Sergeant Major my morning briefing. This is something that is very hard for a lot of people to understand, the fact that I would talk to the Sergeant Major about the General. Most people would considered this to be a sign of disloyalty, and nothing could be further from the truth.
In many ways an army is like a family; it has a mother and a father. The Commander is the father, the old man, the one you look to for leadership, and to make the right call. The Senior Sergeant is the mother, but if you want to live to a ripe old age, never call one that. They are the ones that pat you on the head or kick you right in the ass when you really need it. The job of the Sergeant Major was to ensure that his General was functioning at peak efficiency, and the only way to do that is to know the General’s mood and unfortunately, many aspects of the General’s personal life.
The Sergeant Major explain all that to me when he told me that I would now officially be part of the staff. He said, “since you have now been privy to the throne room gossip we’re making you part of the palace guard.” He also told me in very graphic detail just what he would personally do to me if I ever under any circumstances betrayed any of the throne room secrets.
[Soft chuckle] You know, I still expect that old bastard to come through the door and begin to beat the hell out of me for talking to you about this. Well, not really. I think enough time has gone by that the Sergeant Major would approve of this.
So that is how on Friday, 20 March 1998 I ended up sitting inside and being part of the meeting that changed history.
The General called a meeting of the entire division staff, the commanding officers of the separate independent commands on Post, the senior Department of Defense civilians, the head of the officer’s wives club, and the head of the NCO wive’s club, and a few civilians that I had seen coming into Post HQ from time to time.
One of them was the guy who owned the Strip Mall across from the main gate, the other was a guy who, at the time, thought of as that chubby old fart that had spend several hours in a meeting with the General and the 5th Group commander yesterday. We actually had to hold this meeting in the banquet room of the officer’s club, it was the only place large enough to hold that many people and their staffs.
I’d spent most of that morning making final arrangements, helping the various staff set up their presentations and basically just running around being as helpful as possible. By 1250 everyone who was to be there was there and at 1300 sharp the general entered the room. I started to leave, when the General said, “Stevens, with the computers out we have to do this the old fashioned way, so we will need you to help with the maps and such. Take a seat over there, and while I know this will be boring try to stay awake. He looked at the rest of the assembly and said that goes for the rest of you, too.”
Well, that drew the expected laugh and everyone got down to business.
First to speak was the chief of staff who gave a brief overview of what had happened over the last few days. Next the division G-2 and the S-2 of 5th Group gave a very short intelligence briefing.
It consisted of: what we don’t know:
Who or what caused this.
When or if they were going to attack again.
Where they were located, and how or even why they did it.
That as a Air Assault Division we had been, in effect, neutralized.
All that we really knew was that nothing worked the way it should, and the effect was covering an area as far north as Saint Louis, and as far south as Nashville. And from the intelligence gathered by the teams from 5th Group it appeared to be covering a much larger area.
The Division Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical warfare officer gave her briefing. It was basically a rehash of what the G-2 had said, that this was definitely not a EMP attack and definitely something of unknown origin.
What the Division G-4 had to say was even worse. Most people forget the fact that an Army hardly ever fights, but it needs to eat every day! The Post had used up most of it’s current food supplies, and in a few days would be forced to break out the MRE’s. Water was becoming a problem. The 326th had done an admirable job of rigging up temporary pumps; but that was only a temporary measure. Unless the Post was re-supplied and re-supplied soon we would run out of food in 90 days, and worse yet, water would become a major problem in less then two weeks.
The head of the Post hospital had an even grimmer report. It came down to this, you can not pack several thousand people together with out proper sanitation and not have an epidemic break out. Right now the infectious disease section was keeping things under control but just barely. Best estimate before a serious outbreak of typhoid fever, cholera, dysentery two weeks, probably plague soon after. And there was nothing that could be done about it. Worse yet it had already started happening in Nashville and Saint Louis!
The last to speak was the guy I thought was just some chubby old fart. [face takes on a slight embarrassed look] Look how was I to know that that chubby old fart was going to become one of the heroes of the Magnificent Seven?
I don’t remember all he said, but it boiled down to this. He was a game designer, and a very good one. In order for his game systems to be marketable they must be believable by geeks. And there is nothing that a group of geeks like to do more then sit around and tear something apart and find the flaws. They will argue for days and spend hours on research just to prove some obscure fact.
So for example a game based on a world were Napoleon had an atomic bomb at Waterloo, just would not fly. These systems had to be more subtle, say something along the lines of Major Patrick Ferguson surviving the battle of King’s mountain. But whatever event the game is based on, everything must be as close to what could be done in the real world as possible. In fact if he were trying to design a game about the recent events it would not sell! The premise is just too fantastic for suspension of disbelief for most people. It might make a fair science fiction novel, but that is about it.
Immediately after the change Trader Ski asked him and a group of gamers from the Halfling to come up with a game scenario based on what had just happened, but to operate under the assumption that it was permanent. Something for grins and giggles to kill time until the power came back on. Scott then went on to reminded everyone that these people might be geeks, but they were smart geeks, and that everything they came up with had an eerier similarity to what the staff had come up with so far.
The General then stood up and asked Scott to allow him to speak before he went on. He then asked if there was anyone in this room who did not think we were in a very bad and dangerous situation? After a brief pause to see if any one would speak up he then said, “Any one here think this situation is likely to change any time soon?” Again no response.
No one spoke, so he looked at Scott and said, “please continue,” and sat down.
Scott then told every one in the room that he and his team had played out every possible situation they could think of, talked about everything from probabilities, to farming. He even mentioned they brought in loaded dice to skewer the odds totally in their favor. Their conclusion: if we stayed, we died. Our only chance was to evacuate the Post and move to a better location.
The General stood again and said, “Ladies and gentleman, while the final decision will be mine and mine alone, I would like to hear from each and every one of you present. In order to keep the junior members present here from being influenced by the senior members I will start with the lowest ranking member present and go on to the highest ranking member present. Private Stevens, stay or go?”
I’ll tell you honestly, I almost wet my pants! I stood up, looked at the General and said, “Go, Sir!” I then sat down and watched as each and every one present stood up, was asked the same question and gave the same answer.
The General then smiled and said, “Good! I would have hated to have to force any of you along at gun point.” And the Sergeant Major said, and I swear he sounded like that character in the old cartoon Go Go Gophers, “Ah… Begging the General’s pardon, sir, but guns no longer work.” And the General replied, “Then, by God, if guns no longer work, we’ll just have to use swords!”
You would have thought it was the funniest joke in the world the way every one laughed. But it broke the tension.
The General then said, “OK, people once again, destiny has called on the Airborne. We have a Division to save, and George Patton ain’t coming to relieve us this time! So let’s get busy!”
And lord, did we get busy.
❀ ❁ ❀
[Second interview with Linda Louise Pavalka, Dependent wife, original member of: This God-damn Cluster Fuck You Are Saddled With! 1st Provisional Corp. Conducted at Trader-Ski’s Bar and Grill, Commonwealth of Duluth]
Our second meeting was more sedate then the first. I arrived early and was immediately shown to a quiet table in the rear. Before I was even seated a waitress arrived with a small glass of rye whiskey, a tankard of ale, and a plate of finger food. She smiled and said “Complements of the Trader himself, and I’m to tell you that your money is no longer good here.” She notice my puzzled look and explained that my actions during the altercation a few weeks back did not go unnoticed. I tried to explain that I didn’t really do anything, but she just smiled and said “Take it up with the Trader then,” and walked off.
Linda arrived shortly thereafter, I had expected to see her student, Lady Margaret Akers. I was a bit worried about that, expecting to have to comment on Lady Margaret’s sketch. While many things have changed under the reign of the High King, it’s still not a good idea to be in a position where you might offend the landed nobility of the PPA. When I asked about this Linda explained that Maggie was currently out at Ft. Courage, earning some pocket money by doing technical drawing for the Pathfinder School. She smiled and then said “but I think she wanted to see a bit more of that young private from our last meeting. Since he’s unable to leave post for another few weeks this gives her a good chance to get better acquainted.”
I said, “I’m sorry to hear he was being punished,” but she smiled and said that an opening for the current advanced cartography class came up, and that keeping the boy away from any of the PPA associates from the embassy who might have their blood up over the incident was merely a fortunate coincidence.
I started to laugh, I just couldn’t help myself, and said “I suppose it was also a fortunate coincidence that a slot in the Pathfinder basic course just happened to open up and in a show of corporation between the Kingdom and the Commonwealth a certain young associate happened to be selected to attend.”
Linda smiled once more and said, “But of course. Personally I think it will do the young man a world of good by letting him work off some of that excess energy. And considering what I heard the Chief Military Attaché threatened to do to him, I think he will find it a lot more pleasant.”
I had to smile at that, Jake sunna Jake sunna Jake of the clan Mckenzie is the grandson of one of the High King’s companions on the Great Quest. Even with only one hand he is not the type man you want angry with you.
With the small talk over I then asked my next question: “What happened the next day and what happened when you and the others realized that the ‘Change’ was permanent?”
Linda took a small sip of her wine and began.
“Like everywhere else, there was chaos, panic, and disorder. Fortunately it wasn’t as bad as the major cities, but it wasn’t a picnic either. Looking back on it now, I think that was the major reason the General decided we needed to leave. We could have stayed and that would have been easier in the short term. Outside of the main Post area it was mostly wilderness, heavily forested. There was more than enough food to last until we could clear land for crops. Don’t look so surprised; remember the majority of our people were very fit young men and women used to hard work and more importantly taking orders and working as a team. Five thousand men working together can clear a very large amount of land and have it ready for planting in a very short time. But it wouldn’t have worked, the troops would’ve had to much time to think about their homes and families far away. Soldiers in a crisis situations need a mission, something hard enough to challenge them, keep them focused, and with plenty of things to bitch about.
“But, and I mean no offense to you by this, I think that’s something you’ll find very hard to understand. You Changelings, you just don’t have the background to understand how different the professional soldiers of my time were from the professional warriors you are used to. It’s hard enough for many of you to understand why the Commonwealth soldier of today is a totally different breed form the professional warriors you are familiar with in Montival. So since we are drifting far off topic and this is a subject Jeff would be better at explaining it’s best to leave that for another time.
“So were was I? Oh, yes! Chaos, panic, and disorder. Those first two days I remember quite well, but the two weeks after that are a bit blury, just way too much to do, with way too little sleep.
“I spent most of the night talking with Shannon. Jeff came home a little after sunrise and Bobby showed up a little bit later. They went home and Jeff told him he would meet him at the main gate in an hour. I knew something serious was wrong; the guys had just returned from a six month deployment and while they would never admit it I could see that both Jeff and Bobby were pretty burned out. Normally they would have had two weeks of down time to recover before even starting to get back into shape to go out again. He gave me a kiss and said, “Sorry honey, I have to go out again, but only for a few days. They need a recon done.” I asked him if he could tell me where this time and he surprised me by saying Saint Louis, and surprised me even more when instead of packing his gear he began packing a bug-out bag for me. It was basic stuff mostly, about what I would carry with me if I was going out into the woods to do some hiking or to celebrate one of the Sabbats when we could make arrangements have them in the woods.” Linda chuckled softly, “When we first got married Jeff insisted on teaching me basic field craft. He said that if his wife was going to prance around naked in the woods she was going to know how to take care of herself if something happened. He didn’t want to have to worry about me getting lost while he was out on a mission. Later I began going out on my own, and I became a fairly good outdoors woman by the standards back then. It gave me something to do while my husband was gone.”
“We talked while we packed and I found out that all anyone really knew at this time was that this wasn’t an EMP, and no one had any idea how big the thing was. I told Jeff that if it was a localized effect it had to be a big one! If it wasn’t, a chopper or Hummer from Ft. Leonardwood would have been here by now. He smiled at me and said I had been hanging around with bad company to be able to think like that. Then his face got a serious look and he said, “Baby why do you think I’m assuming the worst? It’s starting to look like we are well and truly screwed! Look I’m meeting the rest of the team at the main gate, why don’t you come with me. After I take off, you can head across the street to Trader’s place, I’d feel a lot better if you pick up a couple of sets of new boots, some extra pairs of socks and any thing else you think you will need. Oh, and get yourself a good K-Bar, and a good Bolo Knife. Tell Ski you want one made by that Philipino family that works for him.”
“So after kissing my husband good-bye I headed across the street to “Trader Ski’s.” Trader had most of the shops locked up and several of his people were casually sitting out front. Nothing overtly threatening, more along the lines of saying “there are easier pickings elsewhere, move along now.“ One of them told me that Trader was out back in his workshop so I headed there. When I walked into the place one of the first thing I noticed was a group of people working on converting a bicycle into a pedal cab, the second was another group gathered around a table rolling dice and arguing, but before I had a chance to figure out what was really going on I spotted the Trader.
He was sitting in the back quietly giving instructions to a group of about ten people. As I walked closer I heard him say to them, “Tell Big Jack that I have one hell of a business opportunity because of what’s happening, but I need one hundred K cash right now. Tell him I’ll pay a 5% vig and cut him in for 5% of the profit, but I need the cash now and if he can’t do it I’ll go see the Russians because they know how to do business. Then go see the Russians and tell them the same thing. After that start to work your way down the list, pay cash, get what you need and tell them we’ll be there to pick up the stuff before sundown. If the stores aren’t open, well don’t get caught breaking in, and make damn sure you leave a check for the total cost of whatever you take plus 20% for any inconvenience caused, and make damn sure you leave a note explaining that, and that the place is secure when you leave! Any questions? Good! As soon as the guys get those bike haulers ready we’ll be out to pick it up.”
Then he looked up smiled at me and said “Don’t ask. And what can I do for you on this fine day?” I told him what Jeff had asked me to do, and he said, “No problem. Phil is out front. He knows you, so tell him I told him to let you in. Just leave a list of what you got by the cash register; we can settle up later.” Then he told me about Rain and how she was kind of stuck out here, because she was staying with friends in Nashville while she looked for a place here. And then about the Peters family stranded in the parking lot last night, mom, dad, little girl in a wheelchair. He looked me dead in the eye and said there was no way he could keep them here, but if I could put them up until something else could be found he would owe me a big one.
“Well I couldn’t exactly say no, but a big part of me was wondering just what he was up too. So I told him that if these folks were going to stay with me it would probably be a good idea if they picked up a few things when I did. He said “fine just write it down on a separate list.” That bothered me, I couldn’t figure out why he was in such a hurry to get these people out of his place. I knew he wasn’t trying to pull a fast one on me, even now he still has a reputation for driving a hard but honest bargain. But at the time I was really curious as to why he was so insistent on getting Rain and the Peters family out of there.”
It seemed as if a great sadness settled over Linda, and her voice took on a very melancholy tone.
“I asked him about it years later but even now I don’t think he will ever give me a straight answer. But I think Trader was one of the few people who truly understood deep down in his very bones just how bad things really were almost right from the beginning. There were a few people like that, the General, your Lord Protector, the Cutter Prophet, and that [said with very great anger] “bastard Boss Man of Iowa! just to name a few. Somehow they just knew how bad things were, how bad they were going to get, and that a lot of very bad things were going to have to be done to ensure the survival of their people. I know he didn’t want either Rain or the Peters family tainted by that, so he got them as far away as possible while still being safe.”
“My reasoning for this is simple: What I had just witnessed prior to our talk was one of the first acts of what later became known as the First American Volunteer Psychological Operations Unit, or as they are more commonly called F Troop. But again that is another matter for another time.”
So I spent the rest of the morning getting Rain and the Peters family fitted out with basic bug-out gear, and getting them settled in. Then the rest of the day I spent checking in on the various families in Jeff’s unit, and some members of my coven. While I was making my rounds one of Father Mike’s Chaplain’s assistances found me and said that both Father Mike and Rabbi Gonzalez, wanted me to join them at a meeting of the post’s Chaplains that was going on right now. When I arrived every one was discussing the best way to provide guidance without causing a panic. Every thing was going rather well until the post’s newest Chaplain who was part of a very conservative sect of Christianity arrived. Like a lot of people; the Change caused him to have a break down, and he was absolutely convinced this was God’s judgment for allowing Pagans, Jews, Muslims and all other non believers to live and to corrupt the teachings of the Lord. Since logic alone was not going to stop him from preaching this new gospel Father Mike came up with a simpler solution. He placed a fatherly arm around the boy’s shoulder then used that to get him into a choke hold until he passed out. They basically kept him locked up until the day before we left. A few days before leaving the General offered Honorable Discharges to any one who wanted to strike out on their own. I heard he took the offer, damned us all to hell and joined up with a group headed west.
So after a long day I was a little surprised when I was walking home to see so many people setting up their grills in front of their houses.
I don’t know who it was who came up with the idea to have a big BBQ but since all the meat in everyone’s freezers was going to go bad, it was a great idea. I don’t know how it spread so fast. But it was good idea and it helped bring every one together and went a long way in helping us get organized. You see all that day Colonel Debbie, the General’s wife, and Susan Perkings, the post Sergeant Major’s wife, along with most of the wives (and in a few cases husbands) of the various unit commanders, the senior staff, and their senior NCOs’ had been trying to meet with as many families as possible. They were walking through the housing areas talking to people. Telling them “No, we don’t know what is happening either, but the best thing we can do is keep calm and organize so our soldiers can do their jobs without having to worry about us.” Because so many people were grouping together it allowed them to get the word out to everyone. It really helped everyone hold it together.
It was Colonel Debbie who came up with the basic organization, it was simple and it worked. Every block chose a leader, every ten leaders chose a leader for their group and so on up the line. Which is how I ended up at the meeting on the 20th of March when we decided that our best option was to leave Ft. Campbell.
After that well… there’s just too much ground to cover. Lots and lots of little things; all needing to be taken care of. The stuff that never makes the history books, like collecting tricycle wheels to make pull carts, making a game out of teaching the children how march or at least stay together. Gathering up every useful item on post and sorting it into what has to be taken, what should be taken, what needs to be placed in secure storage for possible recovery later, and what has to be left behind. The Lord Protector of the PPA had it easy, he just had to take over a city and rule it, we had to take a city and move it.
❀ ❁ ❀
[Transcript: Don Perkings, US soldier, original member 5th Special Forces Group & 1st Provisional Corp.]
So after a night of running tests, I still had no clue as to just what the fuck was going on. It wasn’t an EMP; the earlier test at Ski’s place proved that and my later tests confirmed it. Couldn’t be biological, or chemical, unless someone somewere had a black project so far above my pay grade that even thinking about it would mean having my head cut off and put in a safe. I had been up for over twenty-four hours and so had most of my team, so I told the duty officer, “We’re going to grab something to eat and get some sack time.”
A runner woke me up early that afternoon, said I was to head over to the to the 902nd MI and check in with their Psy-ops people. I was a little pissed; my area was of expertise was NBC not Psy-ops, and I wanted to head ove r and see Ski, maybe find out if he and the Geeks had come up with anything.
But since it didn’t seem like a good time to go AWOL, I did what I was told. I did find out later that Ski had already seen the Colonel. From what I was told, he barged right into Colonel Scott’s office, threw a bolo knife down on the old man’s desk and said that if the Colonel would not give him five minutes of his time, then the Colonel was just going to have to kill him, because that was the only way he was going to leave his office without having his say.
Now I can’t swear that that’s true, but it does sound like something he would do. After their talk, they went and saw the General, and while I didn’t know it at the time, part of what they talked about led to me heading over to the Psyops unit.
I was one of the first one of my team to get there, and it seamed like damn near every soldier in the place was busy cutting stencils out of thin plastic. I saw one of the game designers I had met last night but didn’t get a chance to talk to him. I reported to the Officer-in-charge and she explained the plan to me. My team and I were to take several of the stencils they had made up and starting a mile out from post spray paint a message on any suitable surface. I have forgotten a lot of things over the years but I’ll never forget that. Probably part of my penance for what we did.
Fort Campbell has suffered a Biological Attack of unknown origin, and is now under quarantine!
It is strongly advised that everyone leave the immediate area as quickly as possible.
She then said that we were to tell everyone we met along the way that almost every one on post was either dead or dying and they need to get the fuck out of dodge as quickly as they could. “You guys will be going south,” she said. “So advise them to head towards Nashville. Tell them that the government has set up refugee camps there. If that doesn’t work have one of your guys pop one of these in their mouth.” She handed me a small box of antacids; the kind that foamed when you dropped them into water. “Have them start flopping around on the ground with the foam coming out of their mouths while the rest of you scream plague.”
I looked at her like she had gone crazy. I told her it was wrong — we should be out there doing everything we could to help until this thing blew over and things got back to normal. Hell, I knew this was just plain wrong!
She looked me dead in the eye and said: “So what happens if it doesn’t blow over? Look, Sarge, right now people are still in shock but tomorrow morning they are going to start to panic. We have enough supplies to keep everyone here fed; just barely. The last thing we need is a horde of scared angry civilians turning into a mob and descending onto the post. So it’s either start getting them to head away from the post now and maybe some of them might survive or face them with fixed bayonets and kill as many of them as possible before they overrun us!”
“Those are our God Damn options right now, Sergeant! We either do what is necessary, right God Damn Now, to ensure that this command stays together as a viable fighting force, or a couple of weeks from now we start killing each other over a crust of moldy bread. I don’t like it any God Damn more then you do, but at least I have the balls to do what needs to be done.”
I found out later that the Psyops guys had prepared that little speech and use it on every one of the teams they sent out. Bunch of cold blooded bastards! But it worked. My guys and I did what was necessary that day, and the following days after that. From staging corpses to look like they had died from plague, to issuing worthless purchasing orders to buy supplies. And who knows, considering what we later found out happened around the other post and bases it’s possible we saved more people in the long run by driving them away then if we had tried to provide aid.
In my head I know that if we had tried to save everyone we all would have died. That my actions helped buy us the time we needed to evacuate the post. But it still bothers me, even now after all these years.
❀ ❁ ❀
— 3 —
Load ’em Up! Move ’em Out!
We the willing, lead by the knowing, placed in a hopeless situation —
Have done so much, with so little, for so long, we are now able to
accomplish anything with nothing.
[Transcript: Matt Stevens, US soldier, original member 1st Provisional Corp.]
I must have covered every inch of Ft. Campbell at least five times over the next two weeks. The General really did expect me to be an extra set of eyes and ears for him. Every time I returned from delivering a message he expected a quick and concise report on what I had seen and heard. As soon as I was finished he would always ask me a few question. That was the old man’s way, he never pointed out where you fucked up, just asked a question that made you realize just how stupid you were. But here’s the thing, he never got mad or chewed my ass; he didn’t have to. He was one of those leaders that could read people so well he always knew what to say and how to say it to get the best out of them. For me it was a quick slap on the shoulder and saying “remember that for next time, it’s important.” For others, well let’s just say the story about him throwing his desk chair through the wall of his office is true.
So I got a crash course logistics, planning, observation and reporting, with a smattering of leadership, psychology, and engineering thrown in.
My God, we were busy! And to this day I still don’t know how we managed to pull it all off. I know the stories from out west, how the Change was somehow all the work of these mystic powers; never believed a one of them! And some watery tart living in a pond distributing swords is no basis for a system of government in my opinion! But, to each his own. And, if I was ever tempted to believe that this was all part of some master plan; the fact that we were able to pull this thing off — almost convinces me.
I saw a lot of what went on — mechanics with cutting torches and later with chisels and hack saws ripping apart tractor trailer rigs, pick up trucks and SUV’s cutting off every piece of excess weight so they could be pulled by people using parachute harnesses. Artillery units removing the tubes from the gun carriages and rigging them to haul supplies. Supply teams going through every bunker and warehouse; and thank God the Army never throws away anything, deciding what to take what to leave behind in secure storage in case we ever came back. The spoons pulling off miracles to make sure every one got at least one hot meal every day before we left. Somehow those glorious bastards managed to feed us all from existing supplies on hand and what they could scrounge, saving the MRE’s for the march.
They had some help from the SF on that; animal trapping is part of the basic survival course and it’s amazing how many deer you can bring in when you don’t have to worry about the game wardens, or what you take. That and that little trick of convincing all the locals in the area that a Bio weapon had hit the post and their best bet was to get the hell out of the area as soon as possible.
You know that little trick of “F troop” probably did more to save our collective asses then anything else. People were just getting to the panic point when they started posting the notices about Campbell being a death zone and to stay away. It didn’t drive everyone away but it did get enough of them out of the area that requisitioning supplies was a lot easier. Plus most of the people who stayed behind were the type of people we wanted to take along with us and many of them did come along in the end. And yes, it’s ghoulish that we sent people out to search every empty house and to gather up any useable supplies shortly thereafter, and the JAG vouchers telling the absent residents that they could file a clam against the Army were worthless. But no one ever and I mean ever took anyone’s personal property or food from them. Hell! In many cases the teams on foraging duty left supplies with those who stayed behind. And never forget we did courts-martial over one hundred people and hanged almost every one of them for looting and rape!
Desertion? No. Remember the General made it quite clear that anyone who wanted to strike out on their own at any time would receive an Honorable Discharge, and be allowed to take their personal gear and personal issue of TA-50 with them. We had a few takers as we got closer to people’s home towns, most returned after seeing what was left. And those that returned to the unit were allowed to re-enlist, with the understanding that they would have to complete the full term of enlistment or until released by competent authority, whichever came first.
And I don’t give a flying fuck what any one says, I know that trick we played on the local population really bothered the General! Yes, he did OK it. Major General Nicholas Burk was never a man to shy away from what needed to be done! Ever wonder why we stayed a Democracy rather than become some piss-ant little Kingdom like they did out west, and later on in Iowa. Ever wonder why the Commanding General of all Commonwealth Forces will address the lowliest civilian drunk in the street as Sir? It’s because General Nicholas Burk never once forgot that our Oath was to Support and defend the Constitution Of The United States against all enemies foreign and domestic! At the time he believed and so did the rest of us that the best way to do that was to keep the Division together as a fighting force! And you know what?! [slams hand down hard upon the table] IT WAS!!!!! And those God Damn Mother Fuckers who believe that Feudalism is somehow the natural order of things or God’s will…
“Forgive me, I’m getting old, where were we? Yeah supplies.”
Anyway, the effort put in by everyone! It was simply amazing. Take the 506th PIR! One of their guys was a Knight in the SCA and he started drilling them in how to use a bayonet effectively against someone in armor or armed with a club or a spear. Then later he organized every society member to do the same for the other units. The SF and the Sappers were going on long range patrols and marking every tube well along the route of march out to two hundred miles. Then later going out ahead of the main body to set up water and sanitation points, so at the end of the day’s march there was clean water, fuel, and sometimes even food if they got lucky.
And then there were the little things, Chaplains talking to soldiers; providing what comfort and support they could, groups of grade school kids learning how to march, God! those little ones were so brave. Scott and his Game Geeks, you know, they came up with dozens of games in their little spare time for the kids to play in camp and while on the march. And the MP’s, the ones who were dog handlers who rounded up every working dog they could find and harness trained them to pull wagons.
You know I was in the 5th Group area when that old hard ass, Staff Sergeant Whiteknight gave Robin Peters the dog cart he had built for her. It was big enough to carry her, her family’s gear and her wheel chair. And then he told her in a very gruff voice that with all that was going on he could no longer look after his two dogs, and since they came from Switzerland and were bred to pull carts he was wondering if she could take care of them for him. Spent almost all of what little spare time he had teaching her how to handle them. That old softie stopped by every night he could to check on her and her family, said it was to see after the dogs but he always had candy he had saved from his MRE’s for the kids, and a lot of times something useful for the family.
[voice breaking and a few tears roll down the old man’s cheeks] You know the day after the battle of Davenport we found his body. He was part of the group that went to reinforce The Seven on the Bridge. His body was surrounded by at least 20, maybe 30 enemy dead. And there was Robin, and what was left of her family. She with a spear in her hands sitting there in her little cart with the two dogs. They had spent all night on that stinking battle field because she refused to leave. She said that the Sergeant had saved her and her family from the bad guys after Daddy ran to fight at the bridge when the bad guys started coming across. Said she knew Daddy was gone, she watched as the fire got him, but he never quit; he was really brave and stayed fighting until the very end just like the Sergeant did and he was a real soldier! Daddy was safe from the bad guys but she was scared… [voice breaks, takes a couple of deep breaths to compose him self] …scared that some of the bad guys might still be around and try and eat the Sergeant. That little girl didn’t put down that spear, and she and those two dogs never left his side until after he was buried.
I think that’s enough for now.
❀ ❁ ❀
[Transcript: First interview with Christian “Trader Ski” Skalookski, former Commander First American Volunteer Psychological Operations Unit, aka “F Troop,” 1st Provisional Corp. Conducted at Trader Ski Enterprises LLC. Commonwealth of Duluth]
Shortly before leaving Trader-Skis Bar after my second interview with Linda Pavalka, one of the bar maids handed me a note. Hand written, it came straight to the point saying: Linda speaks highly of you and you have balls. If you still want that interview be at my office at 7:00 PM tomorrow night. It was signed with a large capital T and a capital S.
I was a bit surprised. When asked to join this project as part of my work at the Commonwealth University, I was told by everyone that getting an interview with the Trader was about as likely as flying to the moon.
An assistant ushered me into the Trader’s office. It was not quite what I expected. What I saw surprised me. It was a large open space, designed for work; not to impress visitors. It’s occupant was the same; a stocky older man just barely tall enough not to be called short. The type you wouldn’t give a second thought to if you passed him in a market, or ran into him at a pub. He shook my hand in greeting; a surprisingly firm grip given his age, and looked me directly in the eye. I felt a slight shiver run down my spine. I can’t exactly describe it but I knew just by looking at him that this was the type of man who would do everything he could to avoid a fight and come to a settlement, but once it started he would be totally and utterly ruthless.
He then walked me over to a large table and showed me the plans for his next great enterprise. An express freight route from Duluth to Boise, built to operate along similar lines of the old Pony Express, but using dog sleds rather then horses. Then he surprised me even more by saying he would need people to work with when they eventually expanded the rout to Montival and since my family ran a shall shipping company they might be interested. I said they certainly would, and he said “Good, just give me final approval on what you write about me and we’ll consider it a done deal.”
I told him to go to hell, and was ready to walk out when he laughed and said, “Easy kid, I knew you had balls, but I had to make sure you were honest. I’m getting old, and it’s time that a few things got put on the record. I wanted to make sure that the guy doing it would not try and sugar coat the bad, and gloss over the good. Too many so-called historians are more worried about what the local nobility or their peers at the University will think than in actually trying to get a good handle on what happened. I know I pissed you off, you know my reason for doing so. If you still want to do the job, fine; if not I’ll understand.”
I was still upset when I said “OK.” It’s probably why my first question was: “The stories and rumors about you and the infamous F Troop are very bad. Were you as bad as people say?”
The Trader’s face got a far off look and his voice took on a hard edge, and he said, ”No. We were much, much worse!“
You’ll need to know a couple of things so you can understand how we were able to pull off some of the shit we got away with during the first few days of the Change. I won’t bore you with the why, basically it was for the same reasons Arminger drove people out of Portland — to buy enough time to ensure our survival. Our motives, well I think they were better then Norman’s, whether our methods were better or worse… damn, that’s the question.
But I’ll leave that to God and history. God knows, me and the Raiders have an awful lot to answer for.
See, I was planning for something like the Change from the moment I got out of the service. A lot of folks thought I was a bit weird taking precautions against an EMP; you do know what an EMP is? NO. Ok, it’s basically something that we could have pulled off with the machines we had back before the Change. It would have caused something very similar, but it wouldn’t be permanent. Anyway with the downfall of the old Soviet Union, there were a lot of loose nukes floating around and some were attached to missiles and in the hands of some of the breakaway countries, and I was worried about something like that happening. Not enough to move out to hell and gone and start wearing a tin foil hat, but enough to take a few reasonable precautions.
One of them was buying the strip mall right across the street from the main gate at Ft. Campbell. See my wife, Newt, that’s Cindy’s nickname, was from the Philippines, once Newt got her citizenship we began moving her family over to the US. I was with 5th Group at the time, so most of them settled here and set up shop, mostly business that catered to the military, like they had back in Angeles City. It was a good investment at the time; allowed us to move all the family businesses to one location and room to expand. In a few years we had a good operation going; everything designed to separate soldiers from their money as painlessly as possible. Newt and I made sure that the family didn’t go out of their way to screw over the soldiers, easier in the long run because you can sheer a sheep over and over but only skin it once. You would be surprised how much good will, and money! you can generate simply by treating your customers with a little respect. We made quite a few good contacts out on the post that helped out a lot later on.
So right from the get-go, we were luckier then most. But the Change! God! Who could plan for something like that?! By the next morning I had a pretty good idea how well and truly fucked we were; that most of my plans were shot to hell and there was no plan B.
Newt and I talked for a bit. She said that she remembered her Grandfather telling her what it was like right before the Americans surrendered in the PI. He had told her that the people who made out like fat rats were the ones who realized that the American money would soon be worthless and used every dollar they could beg, borrow, or steal to buy up whatever they could before the Japanese took over. We had a fair amount of cash on hand, so I asked her to get together with her cousin and anyone else she could think of and begin making a shopping list. Then I got together with Jose; he ran a garage about half a mile away, told him we were going to need transportation in case we had to run and asked him to get working on it. Told him to use my shop, rather then his; the less people saw what we were doing the better. Then told him we would probably need something quick — like this morning quick — before people realized just how bad things were and stopped selling.
After that I walked over to the Halfling and talked to Scott. He had that look people get when they are scared and holding on. The guy had guts, the kind that matter in a situation like this. Let me tell you something, kid, anyone can be brave in battle; easiest thing in the world to do. Holding it together when everything has gone to shit; that takes balls.
Asked him what he and his Game Geeks thought of the situation. First thing he said was that if he even tried to market a game based on this scenario no one would buy it — bad didn’t describe it, and we were well and truly screwed. We were all going to die, as in dead Dave, dead. They’re all dead, Dave, going to die!
So I told him to stop sugar-coating it. That broke the tension like I hoped it would. He broke it down real quick. The first day would be a freebie, most everyone was still in shock and sitting around waiting for things to return to normal. Some of the really smart ones, and crazies like us, would be making plans for the worst, but the rest would just sit around and see what happened and wait for help. If things changed back by tomorrow, Great! We get on with our lives. If things don’t change back tomorrow, panic will start to set in. Three days, a week at most, total breakdown as everyone realizes how bad things are and begins to panic.
People will start running then, heading for where they think it will be safe. Nashville’s what 50 miles from here? With a couple of million people. How many of them you figure will head up here thinking the Army must know what’s going on and be able to help? So figure tomorrow the first of them start to arrive on bike, Friday and Saturday, the ones on foot. Figure by this time next week a-hundred maybe two hundred kay people — how long until food and water run out after that and they start rioting?
So I said, “Looks like we got two-three days to get ready to run like hell.” He gave me a wary smile and said “Yes, but I’m a little too old and fat for that.” Then he said there was one other option. There was no way the post could survive, but if the Division were to load up and move out as a unit, along with the families and civilians there was a chance they could make it. Not a good one, but a chance.
I told him to give me the odds, and he said, “Right now, best guess is 1 in 50, but me and my guys need more data.” He also said, “And the only way this will work is if the post does not get overrun in the next few days.”
So I told him and his boys to get something to eat and some sleep. Then to start working on two plans, one for us bugging out, one for the Division. But make sure everyone gets something to eat and at least 4 hours of sleep; it was going to be a long day.
I headed back over to the bar, saw that Tom had gotten a few of the younger guys with baseball bats out front and around back. Nothing really showy, just enough to send a message that there were probably easier pickings elsewhere. Told him to round up about ten-twenty guys and meet me in the bar. Then I went into the Thai place and checked on Ernie Peters and his family. They were on their way back to Colorado when the Change happened and ended up getting into a minor accident in the parking lot. I talked to him and told him what little I knew, then asked him if his girl needed any special medication or anything, and if they did talk to my wife.
Then I talked with Newt; was going to tell her to get all the available cash together, but should have known she would be three steps ahead of me. By the time Tom and his crew met us in the bar she had everything ready, so since the going had gotten tough; the tough went shopping. Ran into Linda Pavalka then. Jeff had told her to stop by and try and get a few things. So I palmed off Rain and the Peters family on her. Then I strapped my Bolo onto my belt, grabbed another one and headed out to the post.
Look what happened next was all my idea. I know some of the game geeks and Raiders have said they suggested it; but that ain’t so! I’m not proud of it, but sometimes in life you have to make a choice, us or them. I had already decided that come hell or high water me and mine were getting the hell out of Dodge. If I could sell my idea to the Brass on post — great, our chances would be better; but we were going. Either way I knew I’d have to buy some time, and I knew how to do it.
So I headed to 5th Group HQ. Scott and I had a history — we hated each other. See back when I was with Group and he was Captain Scott; he thought I was a slacker. Didn’t matter to him how much time I spent down range, that I could get a signal through when no one else could or that the Teams always requested, and some times insisted I run coms at the base camp. I could barely pass my physical fitness test and quals. Any way I figured if I could convince that son of a bitch, I could convince any one.
When I got there 5th Group was in high gear, but I knew the Sergeant Major; long story but I saved his ass back in the PI, so he owed me one. I explained what I knew and he brought me into see the Colonel. When I got into the man’s office, he was not happy. So I tossed that spare Bolo I had onto his desk, told him he had two options, listen to what I had to say, or take his best shot, cause either way some one was going to listen to what I had to say or I was going to die. The Sergeant Major saying that he would appreciate it if he would listen to me because he would feel really bad if he had to kill me when I killed the Colonel went a long way in convincing him he should hear me out.
I’ll say this, I never liked that bastard but he wasn’t stupid. He listened and then we all went over to Post HQ and talked to General Burke.
The General was a lot easier to talk too. After I gave my report, he said that if the Game Geeks were right and right now he thought that was a big if, how would he manage to keep the refugees away? So I told him.
First we start a rumor that the post had been attacked by a bio weapon and that damn near every one was dead and that any one who came close would die. We’d have to make it look good, soldiers in NBC suites posting official notices, taking bodies from the morgue and from werever we could find them, disfiguring the corpses and placing them were people would find them. Then we were going to have to send out Official Representatives and have them direct people away from post. Plus open the vaults in the finance office, and the post’s bank and begin buying things with what would soon be worthless money.
You know the old man was one tough old bastard, didn’t even bat an eye when I started outlining some of the things we would have to do. Told me to get my people together and get back here ASAP. Before he committed to this he wanted a full briefing for him and his staff.
So that’s how F Troop got started. We bought the Post the time it needed, and later helped clear the line of march so we weren’t overrun along the way. Saw a lot of the results of our handy work along the way too. Masses of dead in areas we told them were safe zones. Parents and their kids dead along the side of the road because they got sick or just couldn’t go on. I’ll never know how many people I killed by talking them into accepting worthless money, or gold, or what not for vital supplies. How many people turned eater because we striped the countryside bare?
There is a line from the Bible, goes something like this: “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” So I’ll leave final judgment to God. Me I think it was a fair trade, but I wish I didn’t have to live with it.
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[Transcript: Aaron Miller, member of the Swartzentruber Amish, civilian refugee with the Long March.]
I didn’t really notice the Change had happened. I know that’s probably hard for you English to believe but it’s true. Part of that was because I had just turned ten and like most children didn’t really notice much outside my own little world. But mostly because even back then we lived pretty much like we do today. It’s hard to know the power had stopped when you don’t use power, so for a ten year old boy there was nothing to notice.
But I think my mother and father knew, I know they were very worried after they returned from town on Thursday. I had to stay home and help clean out the hay barn because it was our turn to host the Sunday meeting, and supper afterwards. I was a little sullen; I liked to go into town. But there was too much work to do because nothing could ever be clean enough for mother on the week we hosted Sunday service! I didn’t like cleaning, I thought it was woman’s work, but mother and my sisters would be spending the rest of the week in the kitchen. What little free time she had would be spent making sure we men did what we were suppose to! Mother was always nervous any time we had the Sunday meeting at our home. I know some think it’s was wrong, but she took great pride in her cooking. But with all that happened since the Change I think God overlooks little sins like too much pride.
It was on Sunday when the soldiers came. I still remember it like it was yesterday. I didn’t know too much about soldiers back then, but I remember being surprised that they were so young. There were four of them, three of them waited outside and one walked in and talked to us. He said: “Sorry to interrupt your service folks. My name is Jeff Pavalka, and I’m a Sergeant First Class with the 5th Special Forces Group at Ft. Campbell. I have been send by the commander to let you know what’s going on, and being able to talk to every one at once will save a lot of lives. So I hope you’ll forgive the interruption, if it wasn’t necessary we wouldn’t be here.”
He then told us how the machines had stopped working. Then he told us how he had just came from Nashville, and how things were getting really bad there. It sounded really scary, people run out of food and water, out of control fires, rioting, looting, rape, and people getting desperate. Then he told us that people were already starting to head south into farming country, it was just a few, but it would keep growing each day. He said that in a week or two at most we would have thousands of hungry people here.
Someone asked what the police and the army was doing about it. And the Sergeant got a sad look on his face and said without their vehicles and weapons there was nothing they could do for the people there. What they were trying to do now was save as many people with skills and knowledge that still worked in this new world and that was why he was here. Nashville was gone, there was nothing they could do about that. And soon, once enough people got here we’d be gone too. There was simply no way that they could move enough soldiers south to protect us. “I’m sorry folks that’s just the way it is.”
Well that got people stirred up, let me tell you, and someone called out, “Just what can we do then!” And the Sergeant said, “that if we wanted we could travel north. He and his men; there were about a hundred of them in the area, would provide protection along the way, and a safe place for us to resettle. God knows you people have skills, knowledge, and tools that would help us a lot. But I need to know this afternoon, I wish I could give you more time, but we just don’t have it. Because if you are going with us we need to leave no later then Wednesday morning. Otherwise we will be overwhelmed by refugees. I’ll leave you to talk about my offer and decide.”
First thing after he left the adults sent us children outside, so I’ll never know exactly what was said. But as I got older I found out that it was a very spirited discussion, and it was my father that finally brought everyone around. He said that refusing to leave was our pride talking. That we were like the man who drowned in a flood and asked God why He didn’t save him. And God said, I sent three boats, you were the one who refused to get on. Father said he didn’t want to face God and have to explain why he let his family die, because he was too proud to help the English.
The next few days were a blur, get this, pack that, don’t forget to bring this! But Wednesday morning one week and one day after the Change we were headed north. I know the soldiers were surprised, not only by how fast we got ready, but by how far we could move each day. English! If any one had ever been to a barn raising they would know just how much work can be done when every one pitches in. And when you walk or take a buggy everywhere doing twenty miles a day isn’t hard. But that’s my pride talking, like everything else it was simply God’s will.
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[Transcript: From the journal of Command Sergeant Major Jack “Ralphie Boy” Norton, Division Sergeant Major 101st Airborne Division, Corp. Sergeant Major 1st Provisional Corp. Used by permission from the Norton Family]
Tuesday, the 31st of March, 1998
Tomorrow we march! Our force is only about the third of the size of Hannibal’s when he crossed the Alps, but it’s still pretty damn big. God, I wish we had a few elephants though!
Funny how things never really change. Almost 29 years ago I was a young scared private, in a place called Vietnam, waiting to take some useless hill in the morning, and the old Sergeant Major telling me that this ain’t nothing! Bastogne! Now that was something! So don’t you dare fuck up on something as small as this! Now I’m the one telling the troops this ain’t nothing! Hamburger Hill — Now that was something!
I wonder if thirty years from now people will even know if Bastogne or Vietnam ever existed?
God, they’re good kids though! Scared as hell but still driving on.
Nick [Major General Nicolas S. Burke] and I made the final rounds of the Hospital today. He wanted to say goodbye to men and women who volunteered to stay behind and take care of the ones hurt so bad there was no way to move them. Most of the volunteers were banged up themselves, I think most volunteered because they knew they would just slow us down. But there were a few who weren’t. Some civilians and retirees because they knew it was just a matter of time before their med’s ran out, and they were basically dead men walking. It was important to Nick, and to me, that we shook their hands, and looked them in the eye and told them how proud we were.
Christ! I wonder what’s going to happen to them. I hate leaving them behind! But I’m a soldier in the United States Army, not a fucking Marine, Marines can afford the grand gestures because no matter what, they always know that the Army will be there to backstop them if everything goes to hell! And I’ll bet dollars to donuts that if any Marines survive as a unit, that leave no man behind policy will go out the window PDQ! Grand Gestures make for Great Headlines, and Movies, but it damn sure doesn’t win wars, or make history! That is done by pragmatic bastards willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done while keeping as many of your people alive as possible. And that means doing what you have to do, no matter what the price. You just have to suck it up and drive on. But I’ll tell you this, when it’s my time and I have to face my maker, he better have a damn good explanation!
❀ ❁ ❀
— 4 —
The Long March
Yea, though I walk through the valley of
the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.
For I am the meanest bastard in the valley!
[Transcript: Matt Stevens, US soldier, original member 1st Provisional Corp.]
It was right after my first battle that it really hit me just how fucked up the world had become. It happened just northeast of Saint Louis. The battle itself wasn’t much, honestly it was just a well organized slaughter. It’s what I saw and did afterwards that changed me. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
To understand how every thing happened I have to explain a little how things worked on the March. The SF was responsible for all recon. About ¾ of them were spread out in a ten mile radius around the main body. These guys were our eyes and ears and provided early warning of any danger. The rest did lurp missions, they spent most of their time looking for supplies, and checking out possible laager points along our line of march. If they found something worthwhile, say a warehouse or a grain elevator, a striker unit was sent out.
Oh, sorry! Lurp spelled LRRP stands for Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol. A laager point is a place where we could secure and build a base camp. It's German in origin, means wagon fort, later it was used for any type of temporary military camp used during a march.
So! A striker unit was a battalion of infantry, with a company of bicycle dragoons and a platoon of engineers. If the site panned out they secured the area for a recovery team. A recovery team was a full regiment, along with civilian auxiliaries; mainly Amish teamsters and other specialists. Their job was to assess the area, and begin a full fledged salvage operation, grab what they could, and then return to the main body. The rest of the Division kept marching; we knew we were most vulnerable when we stopped in one spot. And Bloody Iowa proved us right.
Anyway, Command and Control was a bitch. I spent a lot of time on my bike running messages. I think I probably traveled 5 miles for every mile we moved forward. So when word came in that one of the LRRP teams had found a mixed freight train, the General sent me forward with the strike team. My orders were pretty straight-forward, get the commanders SITREP and then return as fast as possible. You get SITREP? Good.
It should have been a cakewalk, or at least I thought it should have been. Back then, well I was pretty naïve. I had no idea the depth of human stupidity, cruelty, and greed. Well, what can I say? I was young; I still had a lot of hard lessons to learn.
The scouts came back and said there was already a large group of people there, they estimated about three to five hundred. Now this shouldn’t have caused a problem! That train was over three miles long, and there was plenty for every one. Christ! When we finally started salvaging operations it was like Christmas morning. Boxcars full of food, clothing, and TOILET PAPPER!!!!!! No way could we carry it all out. So you would think that with more then enough for everybody we could have worked out a way to share this stuff! That’s when I got my first lesson, greed plus stupidity equals disaster.
Lt. Col. Colver sent a platoon forward under a white flag to negotiate with them. I tagged along — I figured the General would want to know what happened. Well that’s what I told myself, truth is I just wanted to get a good look at these guys. We hadn’t seen a lot of people since we started the march, and truth be told I just wanted to see some people not wearing BDU’s. They saw us coming and the guys with weapons started coming towards us, no big deal at first, everyone approached strangers with caution then.
When they were about 100 meters away they charged. And all I can say is ‘Thank God for training!’ and a Platoon Sergeant who didn’t freeze up. I just reacted to the commands—
“2nd and 4th squad one half step to the left!”
By the time they realized what we were doing it was too late for them to stop, we impaled over a dozen before they knew what was happening. The rest tried to overrun us, but it takes training and discipline to take on a formation of pike. We had it — they didn’t. End of story. So after what seemed like forever but was probably only a minute or two they broke and ran. By then the rest of the Battalion was coming up so it was just a matter of mopping them up.
I got another one of life’s hard lesson next. I looked down and knew that I had not killed the guy who had attacked me. I had nailed him in the gut, probably one of the worse places you can get hit. Not much the Docs can do about it, painful as all hell, and it takes you a long time to die. A lot of people might find this hard to believe, but it’s a lot easier to kill a man outright then to just fatally wound him. Especially like that. In all my time as a soldier I always hated it when I knew I had not gotten a clean kill. It takes something out of you. So I just stood there! God I’m so lucky no one ran me through. Then someone slapped me on the back and said “COME ON!”
Well, I followed and we ran the bastards down! Any one with a weapon in their hands was fair game as far as we were concerned. We captured a few of them. The rest? Well running from a pike man is just as deadly as running from a lancer. Basically, at that point it was nothing more then slaughter and from what I found out later, as far as I am concerned they had it coming. See what we didn’t know was that there were only about a hundred thugs, the rest were captives. Turns out we had run into a neo-Nazi biker gang, and these dick weeds were trying to set up their own little Reich. The reason they had rushed us was that they thought we were just another Guard unit. They though they would be running us down, since we came under a white flag and all that.
Any way, the rest were their slaves. And most of them ran off when the fight started, and I can’t say I blame them. Most of them came back later when they realized we were not going to hurt them. But there was this one group that didn’t run off. We found them locked up inside a boxcar that had already been emptied.
These were the ones the Motherfuckers were keeping around for sport. I went over with one of the medics, and what I saw tore my heart out. There was this mother, her face was so black and blue she didn’t even look human she was beaten so bad. She had been beaten to death, and there was this little boy holding on to her. Christ! The kid couldn’t have been more then 5 years old. He was — voice gets very hoarse and emotional he was bleeding. Ah! He was bleeding; the seat of his pants was all covered in blood. Then he looked up at me and then he looked at his mom and said: “See Mommy, I told you the Army guys would come and save us. So wake up Mommy! It’s OK now.” Then the little guy looked at me and— God! that little bastard was brave! And he saluted and said: “Thank you, Mr. Army guy; these people were really bad! They hurt Mommy. Can you help? I can’t get her to wake up.”
I asked him what happened, and he said it was the skinny guy with bad teeth. He said, “he beat up Mommy really bad and called her bad names when she tried to stop him from touching her. And that the bad man’s friends just laughed, while he did it. Then they laughed even harder when he hit Mommy so bad that she went to sleep. Then they left, but the bad man said if he couldn’t get it from Mommy he’d get it from me, and then the bad thing happened. Can you help my Mommy now? Please! I can’t get her to wake up.”
I looked at Doc and he gave me a helpless look and shook his head, then he started working on the kid. I knew it was bad when Doc took out a bottle of codeine and gave the kid two of them. That stuff was worth it’s weight in gold, literally! Doc leaned over and whispered in my ear.
“The mom is dead and the kid’s going to be lucky to last the night.”
I said, “Damn it, Doc can’t you do anything?” He just looked sad and said “if we could call in a medevac and get him to a hospital and a real Doctor maybe, but here?” I could tell he was as frustrated as I was. Then he said: “I got to go; there are others that I can save. Can you…?” and I said “Go, I’ll stay here.”
So I lied and told the little guy, (his name was Jon by the way —it’s important that someone besides me remembers his name.) I lied and told him that his Mom would be OK, but she just needed to sleep. So I made him as comfortable as possible and stayed with him most of the night. The meds had kicked in and I don’t think he was in any pain, but he was a tough little guy so if he was he didn’t show it. He said he wasn’t scared any more because the Army guys were here, and that eating MREs’ was really cool, and that I had to be really brave to jump out of airplanes, and fight bad guys, and when he grew up he was going to be a Paratrooper and kill bad guys like I did. I let him wear my Beret and told him he could keep it and that made him really happy. Then he curled up in my lap and fell asleep with a smile on his face. About an hour or two later he just stopped breathing.
By then we were no longer burying our dead, just wasn’t time, and it just seemed wrong to have them resting so far away for their mates. Instead we cremated them and carried the ashes for proper interment later. Before I left the next morning I spoke with Doc, and he made sure to collect Jon and his mother’s ashes for me. Later I was able to get him interred in the vault at New Arlington and listed on the role of the First Provisional Corp. I think wherever he is that would make him happy.
So the next morning I headed out with the Colonel’s SITREP. Most every one was in high sprits; that train was a major find! Not only toilet paper, but booze and beer too! I was traveling with a Platoon that was the escorting the prisoners we had taken. For some reason they weren’t as happy as we were; I guess there is just no pleasing some people. Once we were clear of camp some of them tried to make a break for it. Now I can’t really say I blame them much. Once they understood that things really had changed and that the area was under martial law— Let’s just say that the prospect of a fair trial in the morning, an appeal in the afternoon, and a fine hanging in the evening just doesn’t appeal to some people. I ended up chasing after this one guy, a real skinny fellow with bad teeth, skinned up knuckles, with bite and scratch marks all over him. I was sleepy from being up most of the night and I plain messed up on my thrust. I ended up sticking him through the kidney.
That was the final lesson I took away from all that. Battle-killing sucks, and watching someone die sucks worse. But every once in a very great while, well, both can be a downright pleasure.
❀ ❁ ❀
[Third interview with Linda Louise Pavalka, Dependent wife, original member of: This God-damn Cluster Fuck You Are Saddled With! 1st Provisional Corp. Conducted at Trader-Ski’s Bar and Grill, Commonwealth of Duluth]
The first thing I noticed when entering the bar was a large group of young “Dog Soldiers” celebrating in the back. I was surprised to see Sir Barton wearing the camouflage buck skin uniform and blackwatch cap of a Commonwealth Pathfinder, rather then his Association finery. And even more surprised to see that he was not wearing his sword, or dagger that marked him as a member of the PPA ruling class. In their place he was sporting two ballistic knives in quickdraw holsters and two hatchets on his belt. It was almost borderline scandalous! He had one arm around Lady Margaret and the other around the young private — now proudly wearing Corporals chevrons — that he had had the altercation with on my first visit. While public displays of affection and associating with the commoners are not exactly frowned upon in the PPA, ones as boisterous as this certainly are.
Linda smiled at me when I joined her, and explained that the Basic Course and the Advanced Cartography course had just finished their final qualifications. The school always gives them a 48 hour pass after quals so they can blow off some steam, and more importantly not be hung over at the graduation ceremony. After the ceremony the majority would be going on leave and after that reporting for duty with teams on the Fringe. So tonight they were cutting loose and saying their good-byes. She then informed me that while the Ceremony the day after tomorrow was not open to the public, if I wished I could attend as her guest.
I mentioned my surprised that Sir Barton was with them and on such friendly terms. Linda smiled and said, “time on the fringe will do that. It’s one thing to be in battle with vassals who have to fight with you, or risk losing their land and positions. Plus most Knights know going in that if they are left hanging they can ask for, and most likely receive quarter. And know they will be decently treated untill they are ransomed back to their family. It’s different to be deep inside the DZZ (Damn Zombie Zone; Eater Territory) as part of a LRRP team with people who don’t give a damn about your title or position. And if these same people are the type who would not only not pay a ransom, but insist on a ransom to take you back? That can force an attitude adjustment really quick.”
She went on to say that, “now that yon wayward Knight realizes that, and the confidence that comes from earning a position by merit and not by birth, I doubt if he’ll ever embarrass himself quite so bad again.” She then gave a small sigh and said: “It’s too bad Maggie will eventually have to return to Japanese Hollow. I think she and the Corporal would do well together. She had the basic characteristics of a good Special Ops wife. Strong, smart, exceptionally independent, won’t be dominated by any one, but just as important, doesn’t feel it necessary dominate her partner.”
I said that it sounded to me like she would make a good Operator, (Special Operations soldier) and Linda said, “No, she doesn’t have the edge. She could certainly handle the training, but the ones that not only survive but thrive, they’re different. I can’t explain the difference, but you know it when you see it.”
Linda then chuckled softly “You know, before the change my sister the feminist, would have given me a load of grief for talking like that. Followed by a sound lecture on how she was out there fighting for my right to be who and what I wanted to be. Followed by another on how I was betraying the sisterhood because I did exactly that! Gods above but our attitudes in the olden days must seem totally weird to you kids.
“But no, Maggie will return to Japanese Hollow, where I predict she will become a Great Lady of a Great House. And a powerful woman in her own right! If she had the inclination I know she could be one hell of a warrior, but as an operator out on the fringe, no. She would just be going through the motions, not living the life. But I’ll tell you this much, I would not have minded having her walk beside me on The March. No, not at all.”
Which led me, — or was I being led? I was never quite sure when dealing with Lady Linda — To my next question: What was it like on the march?
“They called us the “Walking Widows”, the SF and Sapper wives, and with good reason. The majority, dependents and refugees marched with their sponsors and their sponsor’s units. So, for example, a wife who’s husband was with the 1st of 506th marched with her husband’s unit. At the end of the day, unless he was on a Strike or Recovery team he was there to help out and share the hardships. Now my husband, bless his little Quien Es Mas Macho heart, sorry, classical reference there, was either out on a LRRP mission, or doing recon.”
She gave a heavy sigh, part frustration and part amusement. “Now that man! Comes home after six months; leaves that night then comes home long enough to tell me: ‘Sorry, baby but I’ve got to St. Louis and see if we can get an idea on just how big this thing is.’ Comes home two days later and it’s: ‘Honey I have to go rescue the Amish! I know it’s a bitch me leaving again but we really need em!’ So he rescues the Amish comes home, and I’m thinking great he’s home, he can help me take care of some of this crap! But nooooooo! It’s ‘sweetheart if it were up to me, but I have to go an help recover that supply of heritage seed. I know it’s a burden and all but we need seeds! It’s the only way we can guarantee that when we get where we’re going we can raise more then one crop!’ So once again for the millionth time in our marriage he’s off on some damn fool idealist crusade to the Goddess only knows were, while I stay and pack for a move. Then after the first week of the march he shows up, and once again it’s ‘sorry babe but,’ and so on and so on! I love the man, but there are times…
“The most frustrating thing at the time was seeing how alive he was. At first I thought he was just enjoying himself too damn much, and I was a little worried. But thank the Goddess, I was wrong. The day he brought home Buster, that’s when I knew. I found out later what happened on that mission, and it still gives me nightmares. It’s not that he enjoyed what he was doing, it’s just a byproduct of being a major player in the great game. I know because it happened to all of us, the ones that survived that is.
“But here I am rambling on like a senile old woman! Back on point!” she said.
“Walking Widows, but from our point of view it wasn’t that bad. SF is like family, a dysfunctional one for sure, but family nevertheless. And because of that there was some resentment from our fellow marchers. It was one of our wives that figured out how to modify a shopping cart by mounting it on a frame made of two by four’s and then mounting better wheels on the frame. It not only made them easier to push, but allowed them to carry more weight. Now we did share the information, but we also made sure we took care of our own, too. So there were bound to be some hard feeling there.
“Same went for most luxury items. As an auxiliary Chaplain I did hear a lot of complaining about that. But one: it was always share and share alike when it came to things needed for survival. And two: our husbands were out on the fringe almost all the time. If our men came across a something small that they could stick into their rucksack, say like a bottle of shampoo, or a cast iron Dutch oven, needles, thread, a box of tampons, or a few rolls of toilet paper, that was some thing completely different.
“Colonel Debby finally put a stop to that, it was at a meeting of the wives of senior officer and NCO’s. She informed all present that: Yes she was aware that the SF ladies were getting special treatment. Then she pointed at me and said she was also aware that the majority of SF wives had seen very little of their husbands since the Change happened. For example look at Chaplain Pavalka, Linda you’ve seen your husband what maybe 5 times since the Change? Ladies let me ask you, if it was your husbands out there, could you honestly tell me they would not be doing the exact same thing? Well most of them agreed, and as I understand it she spoke with a few of the die–hard ones afterwards. I was told she informed them that if they kept pushing this issue she would use her influence with the General to have their husbands reassigned to LRRP duty.” Linda thought for a few minutes, reminiscences flitting across her face.
“As a whole though,” she continued, “there was very little friction on The March. A lot of as the troops would call it bitching and moaning, but that’s only to be expected. I learned to truly appreciate the old saying: If you ain’t bitching you ain’t happy! Having something to complain about really does help keep your mind off how bad things really are.
“Now at the time I thought we had it hard, and compared to Iowa we did. But compared to what those poor people went through in Portland, Boise, and England to survive, we had a cakewalk! We never had to drive people out. We did banish a few for crimes, and sadly we had to hang even more because of our refugee policy. Very few soldiers, but they understood right from the get go that the General was not playing around. But no one was ever forced to leave so others could have more. In fact until Iowa we never had to fight off any starving mobs. General Order Number 7 clearly stated that we would offer as much aid as we could, and that any one currently residing in an area we were passing through was free to join us provided they were willing to subjuct themselves to our rules.
“The biggest reason we could accept refugees when most had to turn them away is this. Our Logistics system was good enough that food and water never became an issue. I know, when most people think about the dying times starvation is one of the first things that comes to mind. The reason food and water were never a problem was, we not only had people who knew what we needed, they also had a good idea were to find it, and how to move it. From what I saw and later heard for working with the troops I think the biggest reason for starvation along our route was not lack of food, it was because a lot of people had no idea where the food was once the shelves in supermarket were empty. That’s the best I can do to explain it, but if you would like to know more I do have a friend who was part of the Division S-4. If you would like I will ask her to speak with you.
“The same goes for water — this is just a personal opinion, but I think more people died from bad water then starved to death. Yes the high tech equipment for purifying large amounts of water didn’t work any more. But you would be surprised how quickly a company of engineers can rig up a pump for a municipal well. And a water purification system.
“There I go again getting side tracked, again! You asked me what day to day life was like on the march.”
Linda shrugged. “It was like the old description of combat, lots of boredom with a few exciting moments. But let me see if I can give you an idea what my typical day was like. First Call was at 6:00 am: get up, get dressed, check on the Peterson’s. They were the refugee family Jeff and I were sponsoring, though Robin was pretty much sponsored by the entire company. Depending on who’s turn it was, one of us would head over to the mess tent for our morning hot water ration. Everyone was allotted one liter of hot water every morning and every evening for personal hygiene. Since the water was almost boiling we could cut it with cold water. It wasn’t the greatest but it did the job well enough. That’s another thing that helped us survive, not only did it keep sickness down but it kept your spirits up.
“After that was breakfast; depending on what was on hand that could be anything thing from acorn bread to MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat). There was only one hard and fast rule about breakfast, it had to be hot. We were all eating out of mess kits, so clean up was easy and there was a hard-ass sergeant making sure every one cleaned their kit. With a sharp work and maybe a swift kick in the ass for those who slacked off.
“After breakfast we struck camp, then after 15 minutes of stretching exercises, we marched. The main body averaged 12 miles a day. Initially this took about 8 hours, after a month we could do it in 4. We would march for 45 minutes and then take a 15 minute break. Once we hit that day’s mileage we set up camp.
“As an auxiliary Chaplain I was excused from the duty roster, so while the Petersons set up our tents, I went out among the troops. Once security was in place the majority spent two to four hours at drill. We were using the M-1 short sike and M-2 short sword as our primary weapons then. I know calling the M-1 a pike offends a lot of the weapons Nazis, they were closer to long spears or halberds then pike. But the troops called them pikes, so pikes they were.”
She grinned. “Believe it or not working in the armory was one of the most popular jobs among the children. They loved making pikes, and I have to admit I did like helping out there from time to time. It was an impressive set-up. Once security was established the armorers set up shop. They had one semi trailer devoted to hauling their equipment and they could break it down, and be set up and producing weapons in less then an hour. You know it’s funny but over at the arsenal they still make pike is a manner very similar to the way we did back then. I think the only major difference is that they have better machinery and use hard wood rather then two by fours scavenged from lumber yards and construction sites. Soft woods aren’t the best but there was a lot of two by fours out there and when you’re pressed for time and materials you use what you have.
“Back then we used a table-saw that was powered by six people on striped down bicycles. They cut a two by four in half; the two by twos were taken to a specially built lathe. Like the table-saw this was also bike powered. Meanwhile the metal workers were making pike heads. Take a metal blank, grind it to shape, forge weld a ring on the end, then heat it up and heat shrink it on to the shaft. Hand that to a group of kids who then polished and sharpened the blade, and sanded the shaft smooth. They were kind of fun to watch, so proud and serious about the whole thing.
“And in the fine tradition of military Chaplains I lent a hand to whatever task the troops were working on at the time, from digging latrines, laying concertina wire, or washing pots and pans. Don’t laugh, KP is a vital component in any military operation. You know what happens when an army comes down with a bout of dysentery? So kitchen work, definitely classify it as military.
“On the civilian side, too numerous to count. The parachute riggers had brought their sewing machines with them, they were belt driven models so they were easy to modify. I remember there was this burley old Master Sergeant— that man could sew! And the surprised look on some of the wives faces when he would talk about the merits of various stitches. Laundry; well, Cindy Sanders grew up on a farm in the Philippines and knew how to make a washing machine out of a 55 gallon drum and a bicycle. So we ended up building several. Not only is clean clothing good for morale, it helps keep the troops healthy. Grinding grain for our daily bread. Tending the animals, as we got closer to Rock Island we began enlarging our herds. And always being ready for: “Chaplain, I have this friend who has a problem…”
“I felt sorry for the troops sometimes, their days were mostly made up of marching, drilling, and guarding. I think the rest of us who handled support duties, had a little more variety in our lives. Most people might think of us as the hewers of wood and drawers of water, but I think we got the best of the deal.
“Evening chow was like breakfast, but as a general rule of thumb there was always meat. We were marching through the corn belt and while there was not an excessive amount of livestock there was a lot of deer and other game. Advanced poaching — excuse me — advanced animal trapping is taught to every SF soldier in the Q course. The only thing we did not have a lot of was fresh fruits and vegetables. Funny thing was, most of the single soldiers truly hated fresh fruit and most of the sneaky little devils were passing their ration off to the kids. The General had to put his foot down on that one, as scurvy was a real possibility. But I never did figure out why most of them decided they just didn’t like candy any more.
“Then it was personal time until taps at sunset. People would talk, read, play cards. There would be a few pick-up games of softball or soccer; several sing-alongs, and even a play once in a while. Morale can be just as important to survival as food and water.
“At sunset the bugler would play taps, signaling the end of the day.
“And that was a typical day during the Long March.”
❀ ❁ ❀
[Transcript: Raven Muelhaut, US soldier, original member 101st Airborne Divisin 1st Provisional Corp. Conducted at Burke Hall Commonwealth University]
Because of my work as part of the cultural exchange program I was reasonably familiar with the campus at CU. I had met professor Muelhaut at a welcome mixer when I arrived in Duluth, but I could not say I knew her. So her request that we meet at a conference room rather then in her office on campus seemed a bit strange, but I simply chalked up to a little bit of academic eccentricity.
After initial greeting and small talk she thanked me for meeting her there, saying that she had been giving Linda‘s request a lot of thought and believed that it would be easier to explain the role of logistics on The March with a few visual aids. So feeling like a undergrad who had not prepared for that days lesson I took a seat and she began:
“To understand what I am about to explain,” she said, “I will first need to dispel one of the myths about pre-Change life that has cropped up over the years. That is the myth that all pre-Change people thought that food somehow magically appeared in the supermarkets and water somehow magically came for the tap.
“Almost all pre-Change Americans knew that food came from farms. It‘s hubris on the part of modern scholars to push this idea that people believed that food just somehow magically appeared in the market. They were also aware that there was a complex processing and transportation network necessary to turn raw goods into the finished products that they found on the shelf or the pure water that came out of the tap.
“The plain and simple truth is that none of them ever really thought about how it got from the point A to point B. Because of this when a crises of the magnitude of the Change happened the vast majority of them were simply unprepared. So to look upon them as a bunch of lazy ignorant lotus eaters is simply wrong.
“Now from the look on your face I can see that you‘re still a little confused. I can‘t blame you. In the world you grew up in food played and still plays a very important role in survival. Even today with east-west travel reasonably quick and convenient a few bad harvests in a row in any given area will lead to mass starvation in that area. In the pre-Change world a bad harvest in one area simply meant you paid a little bit more because food had to be shipped farther. This was a world where even in the dead of winter a common laborer could go into a supermarket and buy a quart of raspberries at a cost that was less then what they were paid for one hour’s labor.
“So let me see if I can explain this in terms that will be a little easier to understand.” Raven then picked up a frying pan that was resting on a table and handed it to me. She smiled and said, ”This frying pan should work as an example. I picked it up this morning at a shop on my way in. It‘s a common everyday device made right here in the city from taconite ore that was mined in Hibbing. As you know iron and iron products are our biggest exports. Cast iron is wonderful for consumer products. It‘s abundant and easier to obtain and work then salvaged steel.
“Now you and I both know that this frying pan did not just magically appear in the shop this morning waiting for me to buy it. It started out as taconite, which was taken from a freight car or from the reopened mines in Hibbing. The taconite was then transported to a smelting plant and turned into iron. The iron was then transported to a factory where it was cast into a frying pan. The frying pan was then transported from the factory to the store where I bought it.
“Pretty simple, right? OK now imagine that a major catastrophe happens right NOW! In order for you to survive you must have a frying pan! You can‘t have mine, I need it, what do you do?”
I looked at Raven and said I would go to the market and buy one.
“Good, so you head out to the market, but you moved too slow and the shelves are bare, there is not a frying pan in the city. What then?”
I said, “I‘d go to the factory and get one there.”
“Good!” She replied, “you know you need to go to the factory! So tell me, you‘ve been here a while now, and I would venture to guess that you know the city well. So tell me where‘s the factory?”
She had me there, while I was familiar with the city I had no idea where the factory was located. I could make an educated guess, but it would still require some searching. I guess I never gave it much thought, and told her so.
Raven smiled again and said, “Exactly, and if you look at it honestly why should you? You‘re a scholar, if you need a frying pan you can buy one. The likelihood of you ever finding your self in a situation where your life will depend on having a frying pan is so slim that it is a scientific impossibility that it will ever happen! Remember in the pre-Change world it was a scientific impossibility that something like the Change would happen! It was as unlikely as us waking up one morning and finding out that suddenly all metal turned as soft as butter and all wood sank like stone.
“In fact the only people who could speculate about such things without people thinking they were totally crazy were writers of fiction and the fans of their work. And any one else who did so, or believed it was possible and planned for it was considered a bit nuts!
“Now you have an idea of what the pre-Changelings faced! Most of those poor devils were hit by something so impossible for them to understand that their minds just shut down for a bit. By the time they could grasp what was going on it was too late. It was only the very lucky, or the truly psychotic that managed to survive and thrive. And judging by the way the world has turned out, the psychotics came out on top.”
I shook my head at that.
“Stop shaking your head. Take a good hard look at the actions of the Lord Protector, the Boss man of Iowa, and the CUT. Not the official histories; don‘t talk to the nobility, talk to the peasants and see what they remember. Those people, by the standards of the time, were high functioning crazies. Their actions in turn forced the lucky ones around them to dance to their tune. Think about it; over two hundred years of democratic tradition almost completely wiped out in ten years. Yes, yes, I know Corvallis is technically a republic, but you still answer to a High King. And no ifs, ands, or buts, Iowa and Boise only ever paid lip service to democracy while they went feudal. But I‘m not here to start a fight, just to explain the big part logistics played.”
She put the frying pan aside. “Now that you have a better understanding of how the the pre-Change world perceived certain realities, what I am about to talk about should be easier to understand.
“One of the biggest advantage we had was that Ft. Campbell was home to two rapid deployment forces. That meant that the whole division plus support elements, over fifteen thousand soldiers could be deployed to anywhere in the world. And! that meant boots on the ground with everything they need to fight, in under seventy-two hours. No I am not making this up! Now if you think that‘s something — the SF were expected to do it in twenty-four, but in all fairness they were a much smaller unit, and easier to move around.
“One of the reasons we could do that was we had these,” Raven picked up a small brown package and handed it to me. It was about nine inches long, six inches wide, three inches thick, and weighed a little over a pound. It was made out of plastic, that wondrous material that I wish we could still make.
“That,” she said, “is a Meal Ready to Eat, or MRE. Approximately nine hundred calories. At one a day it can keep a soldier in combat going for a week without a noticeable drop in performance. At two a day they can go for a month, and at three a day indefinitely!” She then pointed to a wooden box that was sixteen inches by nine by ten and said “That‘s how big a case of MRE‘s was. The cases were made out of cardboard by the way, so none of them survived. But this wooden one will give you an idea of it’s size. A case of MREs held 12 meals, 4 days worth of food. Oh and did I mention that it has a minimum shelf life of three years?”
I must have had a shocked look on my face for she said, “Yea I know, it‘s one thing to study about something in a book, another to hold it in your hands and know it‘s really real. Kind of mind blowing isn‘t it? Well prepare for some more.”
“At the time of the Change we not only had a thirty day war stock of MREs packed and ready to roll, but an additional thirty day supply to be used for humanitarian aid in the even of a natural or man-made disaster. But wait! There‘s more! Sorry, classical reference there. The military likes to ship in bulk, so rather then ordering them on a month to month basis they were ordered on a yearly basis, and a two year supply was kept on hand! Don‘t shake your head. If you think about it in pre-Change terms it actually makes a great deal of sense. Remember that these things had a legal shelf life of three years, and actually lasted up to five years in a climate controlled warehouse. So all you needed for storage was a warehouse that was fourhundred square feet. That‘s about the same space needed to stable a calvary regiment. It only made sense to order in bulk! It was cheaper to order in bulk, and it was faster for the factory to make them in bulk! I know, I know it‘s a bit hard to grasp having grown up in the world we live in now. I swear one hundred, two hundred years from now — tops! some scholar is going to be arguing that there is no way we could have made things like this, obviously there had to be aliens involved!”
She put the little package down. “So food, not a major problem!
“Now comes the tricky part: we had to move it. I know what you’re going to ask next, if we had so much food why did we march north? The answer is because we were stuck between Nashville and St. Louis. Let’s say we got lucky and only ten percent of the total populations from those areas made it to the post. That‘s roughly three hundred and fifty thousand additional people. With careful rationing and tight control, we had enough food to feed them for at most two months. Getting the hell out of dodge as fast as possible was our only hope for survival.
“So it was a tricky problem but not impossible by any means. First off, the post was like any major size city with a similar population. Soldiers only eat rations when in the field. The rest of the time the majority of them eat in the mess hall. So, like every other city, we were only three days away from starvation. The difference is that we had people who knew it! We also had the advantage of having a very good idea of how many people we had to feed, how much perishable food we had on hand, and how long it would last. That allowed us, unlike every other population center, to get the maximum use of what we had. We lost very little to spoilage, and we moved very quickly in securing the food supply in the surrounding area. Point of fact, even with the major influx of people in the two weeks prior to the March, we were so efficient that we did not have to start breaking out the MRE‘s until well into the second week. We were able to use that time to figure out the most efficient way to move them. And the kid who came up with that idea deserves the Medal of Honor in my opinion.
“How did we do it? We used semi trailers. I know, can‘t be done. Every one knows that moving tractor trailer rigs over any type of distance proved to be not worth the effort. They‘re too heavy and too big and if it could have been done, you would have been doing it in Portland. Heard it all before. And it‘s absolutely correct, unless you have a large amount of thermite available. Which we did. Not only did we have thermite, we had the people who knew how to use it, and we had the people who knew how to make it.
“Here’s how. The biggest problem moving a tractor trailer rig is the tractor. It‘s nothing but dead weight. But you need it, the trailer only has wheels on the back. Now I know that in several places they solved this problem by dropping out the engine and striping down the cab. Effective, but extremely labor intense, not to mention dangerous. Because we had thermite to work with all we had to do was this: You start by removing the drive shaft so the rear wheels can free wheel. Then place supports under the frame of the tractor. About midway between the drive wheels and front wheels seemed to work best. Next, hook up a specially rigged hand pump to provide air pressure to release the breaks. Follow that by placing a few thermite charges to cut the drive wheels free from the tractor. The supports kept the rest of the tractor from rocking back into the trailer, making it easier to back the trailer up. Now you have a trailer with a set of articulated wheels in front . After that and all you have to do is weld a few hard points to the frame, hook up a gang line, and start pulling. Generally took about two hours to make one.
“Being able to make them quick helped a lot. With an average load of twenty-two skids per trailer we needed close to a hundred trailers to pull our food alone. It‘s a shame we can no longer get tires now, those babies were wonderful!”
Now this shocked me! I started to imagine just what we could have done in Corvallis right after the change with a few trailers like that. I must have shown my shock because Raven just chuckled and said. “Like most great ideas, it seems pretty easy once someone explains how it works. But don‘t feel too bad, remember we had the tools and the know-how. Having the bodies to make it work helped a lot too.
“Now in addition to being able to bring a large amount of food with us we also had the additional advantage of having a good idea of where we could find additional food and water along our route. And people trained in whether it was safe to eat and drink. Going back to our frying pan, what if instead of having to search randomly for the factory, you knew a few things about the factory itself. Say for example you knew that the factory had to be along a river or next to a rail line to make getting raw materials, and moving its product to market profitable. That would certainly make your search easier, it would narrow down the area you have to search. Now imagine if in addition to this you have a map like this.”
She then unrolled a very detailed map and informed me that this was the standard military topographical map of the time. The scale was 1:50,000 and it was divided into a hundred grid squares of one square kilometer each. “Now,” she said, “since we know that the factory has to be along a river or a rail line we simply have to follow them along the map. And if you will look right here we see several black squares that are larger then the ones surrounding them. Those black squares represent buildings. Since larger building usually represent factories we now have a good idea of were we should look. Now, not only did these maps show building, they also showed wells. So not only did we have a very good idea were we could find food but we knew exactly were we could find water.”
I could certainly see the advantages of having such detailed maps. Then it hit me; it was almost as if someone lit a lamp in a dark room and I could everything.
I looked Raven straight in the eye and said, “You’re lying to me. No ruler would be stupid enough to allow you to have access to maps of that quality! I doubt even the High King would allow anyone but his most trusted vassals to have access to maps of that quality. I‘ve studied that time period, your ruler at the time, the President you called him. He despised the military! He didn‘t trust you, he was cutting your funding, and was in the process of purging a lot of the officers and senior enlisted! And if one thing is clear, your ruler did not trust you. Maps of that quality are just too valuable for a potential enemy, so no way would you have had them.
“And another thing, maybe, just maybe, it was possible for you old geezers to move fifteen thousand fighting men anywhere in the world in three days. But I doubt it. And even if you did, I doubt any ruler would allow you to be in a position to do so. Let alone one who held you in utter contempt. Allowing the people who you‘re screwing over the capacity of taking over his Country? That‘s just stupid! There had to be another reason! Your General was planning a coup, wasn‘t he!”
I felt very clever. — For about one second that is. That‘s how long it took for Professor Raven Muelhaut, Captain, retired, Army of The United States, and veteran of the Long March to give me a look that caused my blood run cold. It took her a moment to visibly gain control of herself, and if you would have asked me right then if I would have rather faced Lady Death in a duel armed only with a tooth pick or Professor Raven Muelhaut I would have said bring on the Asp! When she finally spoke it was in a very frosty tone.
“I am a former soldier of the United States, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; and that I would bear true faith and allegiance to the same! I was not, BY GOD! and more importantly WE were not some band of two bit mercenary‘s following some third world tin pot dictator! And WE did not BY GOD set out to do good like the Lords Protector and Bear, and end up doing right well! What WE were you dirty stinking nasty leg is what we are today, men and women of honor. American Soldiers.”
I watched as she took a deep breath and slowly let it out, and compose herself. It took her a few more seconds to visibly calm down and then she said in a soft, deadly voice. “I realize you are a Changeling, and therefore have no idea just how ludicrous your logic is, and how insulting that question was. Because of that I will answer it.
“No! We had those maps in case of a large scale natural or man-made disaster. They were there to provide aid to the people of the United States if need should ever arise.
“And if you don‘t believe me then I will leave you with this thought. The general could have became a king, and we all could of became lords. We Damn Well Didn‘t! And that is all I have to say on the matter. If you have any further questions related to my area of expertise, and can refrain form making wild speculations please contact my office to schedule another appointment.”
As I left two thought ran through my head, the first: These are people who will never be conquered; the most any one will ever be able to do is kill them. The second: Maybe feudalism, even with all it‘s obvious qualities and advantages for this new world, is robbing us of something. I don‘t know what it is but I can feel the loss.
❀ ❁ ❀
[First Interview with Jeffrey R. Pavalka, US soldier, original member 5th Special Forces Group & 1st Provisional Corp.]
Early the next morning — the military refer to it as zero dark thirty — two days after my interview with Professor Raven Muelhaut there was a knock on my door. I opened the door and found a very large man with eyes cold as ice staring at me. He was wearing the camouflage buck skins of a Commonwealth Pathfinder. Over his right breast pocket was an embroidered name tag that said Muelhaut, over his left a tag that read C.D. Army. Above that tag were two small black badges. The one closest to his heart was a dogs head superimposed over eagles wings, the one worn by fully qualified pathfinders. The one next to it, a black arrow head with several small green stars on it, was the symbol worn by those who had been part of a long range recon, or deep strike, in enemy territory. The stars denoted the number of actions.
I didn’t wet myself but my voice cracked when I said, “May I help you.”
“Sir!” he snapped, “Colonel Pavalka’s compliments, Sir! The Colonel requests your presence at this mornings training exercises and sent me to escort you, Sir! We’re pulling out in five minutes and I would advise you to dress warmly, Sir!” He then did a smart about-face and marched out of the building.
Five minutes later I found myself on a sled heading out of the city. I wish I could describe the trip, but it was pitch black outside. I could see nothing, and the only thing I could hear was the panting of the dogs and the soft swish of the runners cutting through the snow. I had to trust that these dog soldiers knew where they were taking me.
After two hours we stopped. I felt a hand on my shoulder and a low voice said, “Try not to talk we’re inside the training area. Get out of the sled, reach out with your right hand, you should feel my ruck, grab on and follow me. The old man is about fifty meters in front of us.
I was lead to a small clearing in the forest where I saw a old man warming his hands over a small fire, a deep chested brindle bull dog by his side. “Sir,” my guide said softly, “your guest.”
“Thank you Sergeant”, he replied, “I want you and your men to move to the west boundry marker, find a good laager point fifty to one hundred meters beyond that. See to your dogs and get some breakfast.” He then reached into his pack, pulled out a small bag and tossed it to the sergeant. “And since the kids know I always like a cup of coffee in the morning, and since some of sneaky little buggers can smell the difference between the stuff I buy and the issued variety, tell your team to have a cup on me. It’ll give us a chance to see how well they remember their OPORD and deal with the unexpected.”
“Thank you, sir.” the sergeant replied and then he vanished into the wood line.
The old man stuck out his hand and said, “Colonel Jeffrey R. Pavalka; my friends call me Jeff, you can call me sir. Welcome to annex one of the John Wayne school for gifted and psychotic children.” Then he gave a heavy sigh, “So tell me, kid, how does it feel to step on your dick wearing spiked boots?”
I stammered for a second or two, then he chuckled, “Relax, you don’t work for me so I’m not here to chew your ass. And I talked with Jake over at the embassy and reminded him that one of the problem with the really good ones, the ones with great potential, is that when you do fuck up, you fuck up spectacularly. And if you’re worried about Professor Muelhaut, don’t be. I know Raven; a week from now, after she re-examines things she’ll probably apologize to you for not being clear enough.
“All in all, no major harm done, but there are some places out there where somebody would use an incident like that to get rid of a spy and the knock on the door would not be someone offering you a pleasant ride in the woods, but some one who’s there to slit your throat.”
“But I’m not a spy, Sir! I’m just a visiting researcher from the University at Corvallis.”
“I know that. More important, so does my government. But I’m willing to bet that someone in your government asked you to keep them posted on what you see and learn here. Not the academic stuff, but how people live, work, play, and think.
That’s straight up intelligence, and both our governments really have no problem with that. It gives both parties a clearer picture of each other, and can help avoid potential mistakes. I don’t have to tell you that there is one hell of a lot of potential for misunderstanding between a feudal society and a democracy.”
’OK, I said I can understand that, but why are you telling me this?”
“Some day things might get a little tense between our two nations, and you might be called on to advise your government. It’s in our own self interest to make sure if that happens you know what the hell you are talking about. You can avoid a lot of trouble that way. My gut tells me you’ll give your people an honest opinion, not try and tell them what they want to hear, or worse yet fake what you don’t know and blow smoke up their asses.
“But enough of this, I understand you,” — the colonel turned around, pointed into the woods and yelled out. “You! Yes, you! The one behind the oak twenty meters out. Work on your camo and try again. And You! The speed demon trying to move up thinking I’m distracted. Great idea! Sucky execution! Remember in conditions like these people have better peripheral vision then in the day, and quick jerky movements are easier to spot then steady smooth ones. Try again! — wanted an interview. I could use some chow, so I’ll put the coffee on, you can ask your questions, and we can talk.”
[ Note to the reader, several times during our interview the Colonel stopped in the middle of a sentence to point out the shortcomings of the trainees during the exercise. In the interest of clarity I have left those comments out.]
“Ok” I said “first question, Eaters. Almost every one I have talked to knows they were out there, but the main body never had any contact with them. Considering how close you were to St. Louis, and the timing I would think that would have been a problem. Didn’t any of them ever try and grab some of your people?”
“No. But we were kind of like the 800 pound gorilla; we were just too damn big to mess with. But because of that what we ended up doing was driving the larger, smarter, and more successful groups of eaters, outlaws, and other assorted scum further north. In hindsight that’s something we should have noticed sooner, and paid a lot more attention to. That came back and bit us in the ass big time along the Iowa border, and gave those pig fuckers a chance to try and screw us. But at the time with everything else happening no one gave it much thought.”
He sipped at his coffee and stared out at the woods. “Sure we found signs, even caught a few bands of them. According to the division JAG (Judge Advocate General) we were well within our rights to try them and hang them. It also led to general order five, allowing for field sanctioning of any one caught engaged in the crime of cannibalism among other things. At the time we thought that was the reason we were no longer seeing sign. Wishful thinking on our part, what it did was just make them more efficient at hiding the evidence.
“We didn’t know how bad it really was until we were about a hundred miles north of St. Louis. The General woke up one morning and when he came out of his tent there were these two kids sitting in front. Brother and sister, sixteen and fourteen years old, respectively. From what I learned later their uncle had been, something called a historical archeologist. He studied the Indians of the north wood, and tried to recreate the way they did things to in order to get a better understanding on how they lived. I think it was kind of like what your Society people did before the change but he got paid to do it. From the time each turned five they would go up and spend the summer with him because he was studying how the tribes passed down their knowledge from one generation to the next. Then about two years before the change they saw a demonstration of horse archery and became obsessed with that. The night of the change was their parent’s anniversary and their folks had gone into the city to celebrate. Two days later they saddled up, grabbed their bows and headed out to find them. Things went bad, and let’s just say that like a few others who became famous after the change — they took a vacation from reality. They decided eaters were zombies; this was the apocalypse, and they had to kill as many as they could.
“Could have been worse, at least they didn’t start living in trees, calling a sword a bat’leth, or believing their knives were ground down from a maker’s tooth.
“But I would have loved to see the look on the old man’s face when these two kids, who had not only gotten into camp, but got through his SF screen, politely asked him if he could slow down the march. It seemed that we were driving the zombies so hard that it was getting harder and harder to kill them because they were moving all the time. Well the old man told them he couldn’t, we had to keep moving. They started to leave, and he told them that it would really help if they could show the us were the zombies were. So long story short — they ended up working with us.”
The old man paused and blew on his coffee. It didn’t need it, but he was remembering. “Let me tell you, there were some problems. These kids had some wicked skills, but they were still kids, and a little bughouse nuts to boot. My team was the first one to go out with them. I thought I was good but Gavin and Shannon were like ghosts. The only time we saw them was when they stopped to tell us not to make so much noise. They led us to a small eater camp; no doubt they were eaters, the fuckers had a baby roasting on a spit. There was about eight of them, not the best numbers — normally for a raid you want to outnumber the other guy by two to one — but our blood was up and we decided to take the bastards out. But before we could get into position there was a blood curdling cry from the edge of camp and I watched as Gavin ran through the camp, took out one with a war club, then disappeared into the darkness. At that exact moment there was another cry and Shannon came in from a different direction and did the same. It was like watching a well choreographed dance. As soon as one was finished, the other attacked from a different direction. After their third pass the eaters broke, and just started running. That was a mistake on their part, all they did was die tired. About two minutes later they both came back into the camp and began methodically crushing each one of the eater’s skulls.
“Well the Dai-uy, he was pissed. He walked up and said, ‘What the hell?!’”
I asked a question and he started out of his memories. “What? Oh, Di-wee? It’s Dai-uy the Vietnamese word for captain. By tradition the team leader of a Special Forces A-Team is referred to by the members as the Di-Wee.”
“Anyway, Shannon just looked at him and said, ‘They’re zombies! If you don’t destroy the brain, they’ll just get up in three days and start eating people again.’
“The Dai-uy took a deep breath and said, ‘Young woman, do you and your brother have any idea just how dangerous that was?! You could have been killed! Just what in the hell do you kids think you were doing? God Damn it! You’re lucky to be alive.’
“And Shannon just gave him a look of withering contempt, the kind that only a fourteen year old girl can pull of, and said. ‘Chill out, there were only like, eight of them.’
“Chief Glass put his hand on the Dai-uy’s shoulder, took him aside and very quietly explained that we needed to start thinking of these two as G’s instead of a couple of typical American teenagers. He’d worked with kids like this down in El Salvador, and right now we were in their back yard and are playing their game. He said, ‘If these two think we don’t respect them, they’re out of here, and they got skills we need. And if they think we are dissing them, we could end up on the receiving end of those very same skills.’”
“The Chief was right, those two proved that they were quite capable of taking care of themselves, and if necessary dishing out some serious hurt. So the Dai-uy apologized, and asked them if they would mind coming back with us and teaching us some of what they knew. They agreed. The two of them taught us a lot, and picked up a few tricks and some polish from us. But they refused to enlist, and once they learned land navigation they stopped going out with the teams. They still hunted zombies, they just preferred to do it alone once they could show us where a group of eaters was that was just too big for them to take out on their own. And they had an interesting idea of what too big meant, too. All in all they were good kids. I think they said they preferred to hunt alone because they didn’t want to disrespect us by saying we trampled around in the wood like a herd of elephants. That and I think that back then, going out with us made what they were doing a little too real for them. The division shrink summed it up best. They were just two normal kids who learned at too early an age that they were very good at killing people. So their mind created a way for them to cope. Eventually they gathered a following, though they never went anywhere near as far off the reservation as some I could mention. So in the end it all worked out for the good.”
Just then Malcolm the Colonel’s dog started growling and there was a blood curdling cry. A figure darted out of the woods ran straight at the Colonel and planted a tomahawk into the tree he was leaning against, and disappeared into the forest. The Colonel reached up measured the distance between the tomahawk and the top of his head and called out. “Execution outstanding, aim very good, still room for improvement on stealth. Come on in and warm up.”
A young girl suddenly appeared out of the forest and squatted down by the fire with an angry look on her face. She obviously did not like her grade.
“Easy, Pathfinder!” the Colonel said in a sharp voice. “You hesitated and gave the dog time to notice you. That can get you killed out on the fringe.”
“Fair enough sir,” she replied, “but what was wrong with my aim?”
The Colonel smiled and said, “Your Grandmother! I’m not in the mood for another one of her lectures about how standards have fallen. Remember kid, I used to work with her. If she found out I gave you anything better then a very good for placing a tomahawk blade a whole two finger widthes above my head — I’d never hear the end of it.”
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❀ ❁ ❀ to be con’t ❀ ❁ ❀