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Thread: The Republic

  1. #21
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    Chapter 15

    “Stand up and fight you cowards!”

    The sergeant ran to the edge of the wall and sighted down his carbine, only to be felled by a hail of bullets. Private Matthias Horn kept his head down, hugging the ground. He’d never felt fear like this. He was ashamed of the whimpers that escaped his lips, the tears that tracked his cheeks. His hands trembled on the rifle as men ran back and forth along the battlements to take up firing positions.

    Matthias had been in the Waste for months; had survived many attacks from ragtag bands of scavengers sent out by those who worshipped strange gods with stranger rituals. Armed with makeshift weapons, they were lambs to be slaughtered by the Republican forces.

    The rebels were shooting at them with their own guns with surprising accuracy and startling numbers.

    They would never breach the walls, but many soldiers would die at this rate. He said a silent pray to the Sovereign to have mercy on his soul and ensure that his death bonus reach his mother as intended. His mother, a bakery owner in the Capital, would be alone now. His two brothers having died fighting rebels elsewhere. Her heart would shatter at losing her youngest son.

    A boot slammed into his stomach, knocking the air from his lungs. A corporal towered over him. “On your feet, private! Defend this wall.”

    Matthias rose to his feet, unsteady. “We need more men over here. Where are the 197th’s men?” His voice cracked.

    “Elsewhere. This flank is ours to defend. Kill those damn rebels!”

    The young private nodded and brought up his rifle. The rebellion had started long before he was born, in a nation birthed through rebellion and from the ashes of the world. He rarely knew what he was fighting for, rarely knew why he was being tasked with killing someone’s loved one.

    Matthias leveled the rifle at a rebel running across the vast expanse of desert. Even from distance, he could tell the enemy combatant was young. Skinny and unfed. His head was covered by shredded rags and he carried a shotgun.

    Matthias’s finger twitched as bullets pocked the wall beneath him. Rising from a slight cower, he put the rebel back in his sights. His thoughts briefly went back to his mother.

    He never heard the shot.

    ---

    The body disappeared
    from Giselle’s view almost as quickly as it had popped up. It had taken her four shots to find her target, unused to firing the long rifle that had been shoved in her hands after they had arrived at the fort.

    A steady staccato of rifle fire echoed from the slight rise of sand some distance from the fort. Covering fire for the poor souls who had been tasked with assaulting the fort. She was sure she’d shot six or seven of them who dared raise their head up.

    A legion of rebels ran across the desert. A number of cells brought together by Buck for one last push to begin toppling he deck of cards. There was no cover between the walls and the snipers for the others to hide behind. Only a mad dash to the walls where men carrying explosives would try to bring it down and hope they weren’t the first through the breach.

    She adjusted the bandana over her face in hopes to block out some of the smells of the Waste. The smell of death and destruction. The smell of the decayed and decaying. The smell of her time spent in this forgotten land.

    The conversation of automatic fire roared and lulled. Men fell on both sides as the sand was coated with the blood of the fallen. Amir was part of the assault squadron, but Giselle had lost track of him long ago. She tried not to think about if he had been killed. She would not tell his sister if he had.

    Sharp whistling preceded a series of explosion that shook the Earth with each impact and sent sand skyward. The sound of gunfire ceased and was replaced by ringing in Giselle’s ears. It came back all at once with the backdrop of men and women screaming in pain. Frantically, she checked her body for wounds. A sigh of relief escaped her lips as she’d missed the worst of it.

    A rebel from another group ran by, rifle in one hand and waving with his other. “We have to move! They’re shelling us.”

    Giselle curled into the fetal position as the whistling returned, followed by blasts walking closer to their position. She waited for the end. Waited to be blown apart and forgotten as a misguided rebel in the Waste.

    She was yanked to her feet by an older, rotund man with a weathered face. She could see his mouth moving, spittle falling into his graying beard, but fear racked her body as shock took over. He picked up the rifle and shoved it into her grasp. Taking it with shaking hands, she was shoved forward.

    Feeling the metal of the weapon, her mind cleared.

    “Run if you don’t want to die!” the gruff voice of the aged rebel rang in her ears.

    “To the fort! Forward!” another voice shouted over the din of the battle.

    “Find the spotter and kill ‘im!”

    Giselle ran out across the open desert with the rest of the snipers who had survived the first two waves of mortar shelling. The machine guns on the wall opened up on them, popping plumes of sand up at their feet.

    The old man ran by her despite his weight. His rifle held high on his chest as he high-stepped to keep his feet from sinking too far into the sand. The tattered denim shirt he wore fluttered in the wind as he charged forward.

    Then he went flopped backwards, his rifle fell and his hands clutched at his chest.

    Giselle stopped and zig-zagged as the tail end of the burst that had killed the man raked the sand near her feet. A second burst almost zeroed in on her moments before she dove to the ground and quickly crawled to the dying man.

    She rolled him onto his side and hunkered down behind him. Hugging the rifle to her chest, she could feel her body shaking again with fear. She listened to the man’s breathing become wet, shallow as his lungs filled with blood.

    He would die eventually, but she wouldn’t speed up the process for him. She would grant him no mercy as she was too afraid the gunshot would be heard over hundreds of others and clue the machine guns in on her position.

    ---

    “Preparations are complete, Colonel.”
    A captain handed Colonel Austin a small, black box. On top of the box was a switch and a green light illuminated his hand. “Transports are up and running as soon as you give the word.”

    The colonel nodded and continued watching the battle unfold in front of him. The Regulars were on the walls facing the rebels with his men covering their flank, the side of the fort which had road access and a way out.

    Trucks lined the road out of the fort behind him, engines running with masked men standing alongside them with their rifles at the ready. Only 50 of his men lined the walls above. The rest were ready to move.

    Turning to the captain who still stood at his side, Mark pointed to where they were standing. “Captain, I want your company here to cover the withdrawal. You will have 45 seconds to withdraw once the last truck has cleared the fort. I suggest you make haste.”

    “Yes, sir.” The officer saluted and began barking orders at his men to muster them where they were supposed to be.

    Mark turned on his heel and waved for the other men to mount up. Clutching the remote in his hand, he walked into the vehicle bay. Moments later, Lieutenant Colonel Rollins and two others of the 197th burst through the door that led to the soldiers’ barracks. Behind them, Colonel Greene and two of his aides scurried along in their wake.

    The aides cowered in fear, having never seen combat of this intensity. Hastily stuffed briefcases spilled open as they ran. Rollins barked for his men to “help” the young non-commissioned officers after they stopped to pick up whatever had fallen from their hands.

    “Your men are being overwhelmed, Andre,” Mark said when the man in charge of the fort stopped in front of him, “There are more of them out there than we can deal with if they breach the walls.”

    “They are nearly at the base of the wall. They will have explosives,” Jerad added.

    Colonel Greene looked between the two of them, panic in his eyes. “You have the men to push them back. We can push them back!”

    “You will be killed if we do not retreat now, Colonel. This fort is lost. I’ve sent my men to rally your battalion for a fighting withdrawal on your order. We will regroup and return to take the fort with reinforcements,” Mark said.

    The older man weighed his options. He could hear the battle getting closer. Men fell off the walls, dead or wounded. Others ran afraid of what was on the other side of the wall.

    “Colonel, they won’t kill you quickly. You’re the commanding officer,” Lieutenant Colonel Rollins goaded, “They’ll disembowel you with a dull knife if you’re lucky. If there are wastelanders with them, they’ll eat you alive. We can’t let you be taken.”

    Colonel Greene’s face twisted in disgust, knowing that wastelanders were famous for their cannibalism, having seen it firsthand. “Let’s go then.”

    Mark nodded. “Lieutenant Colonel, make sure the colonel gets to the truck safely. I’ll ensure that your men get out of here alive, Andre.”

    Jerad pushed Greene along towards the last truck in the convoy and all but shoved him into the backseat. He shut the door and hopped into the passenger seat as a sergeant ran around and got into the driver’s seat.

    Colonel Austin whistled for his men who were helping the aides, who were still struggling with their papers. He made pointed two fingers to his temple and feigned shooting himself in the head. Getting the order, the two soldiers stood immediately and shot the two young men.

    The Red Bars ran to the trucks as they pulled out of the fort. The last one would wait nearby for Mark as planned.

    The colonel walked over to the two dead Republican soldiers, pushing the corpses with his boot to make sure they were dead. He knelt and looked at the papers they were so fussed about. Regular correspondence from the Capital, requisition orders, rotation scheduled, all now stained with their blood.

    They died for their loyalty, their devotion to the order of the Republic and its army. The men on the walls would soon die as well for their loyalty and their desire to defend the fort.

    Some of his men would die as well. But not for their loyalty to the Republic.

    They were ready to give their lives for their loyalty to him and only him. The Harbinger’s Regiment was loyal to something bigger than the august halls of power in the Capital.

    He took one last look at the two dead boys on the pavement, shook his head and stood. He walked at pace out of the fort to where the truck was waiting for him. Before opening the door, he flicked the switch on the remote. The light began blinking before turning solid red. Satisfied, he tossed the remote into the sand and got into the truck.

    Colonel Greene raised an eyebrow at his arrival.

    “Let’s go, sergeant.”

    As the truck pulled away, Mark began counting to 45 in his head. At 40, an enormous explosion shook the Earth. Rubble rocketed towards the sky, chased by a fireball that rained ash on the desert below. An instant later, ammunition began cooking off creating secondary explosions that echoed throughout the Waste.

    ---

    Giselle followed the others to the ruins of the fort, almost as if in a trance. Her rifle dragged the sand as her eyes scanned the carnage ahead.

    The sappers must have miscalculated the amount of explosive to use. As one second, the walls stood with the soldiers on the parapets safe behind. The next, an almighty blast shook Earth and man to their cores as if the Judge had brought down his gavel to send them all to eternal damnation.

    The pained moans of men and women filled the air, ended by the occasional pop of gunfire. Pleas for water, for help, for mercy could be heard throughout the ruins Rubble, limbs and blood marred the sand. Entrails and flesh hung from burning buildings where soldiers had been all but vaporized by the blast. A thick film of dust hung in the air, swirling about as the wind began to pick across the desert landscape.

    Rebel and Republican bodies alike lay torn asunder. Men and women, very much enemies, now laying side by side in death. It was another victory for the rebels. Another win against the government. Yet very much so pyrrhic.

    Gisele knelt at the massive ditch that had been created by the explosion, the sand blackened and the wall now non-existent. She ran her hand through the sand at her knees, watching as it became lighter with each pass. The trench ran the length of where the wall once stood and some, and was as deep as she was tall in places.

    Gathering up her weapon, she stood and crossed through the shallower parts of the trench. An eerie silence descended as the fighting quelled. Few who were in the fort before the explosions remained alive and those who were had consigned themselves to death at the hands of the victors.

    The further she in she went, the more whole bodies she came across. All of them soldiers, in the black uniforms of the Republic. Many of them faced inward, away from the walls. In retreat. Many of them were without their weapons.

    A guttural war cry cut through the silence, followed by cheers from the rebels as they began running towards the main buildings in the compound. They abandoned their weapons, pain of the battle forgotten. Some knelt the rifle through the pockets of the dead soldiers for good luck charms or mementos of value.

    Giselle followed the horde to a vehicle bay that was filled with wooden crates. Men cracked open the crates and dropped the contents on the concrete floor. Guns, bullets, rations. Enough to sustain an entire regiment for months.

    That’s what they’d fought and died for.

    Amir walked up beside her. Battered and bruised, bleeding from various places, but otherwise on his feet and alive. They watched the scene in front of them in silence for a few moments. Their comrades getting their fill on much better food than they were used to, and claiming the best weaponry for themselves. “It looks like another win for the good guys.”

    Giselle looked to her left where two men were tearing the uniforms off the dead bodies, likely to use the coats for warmth. “Yeah. Another win.”

    ---

    The men sat in silence as the smell of diesel filled the truck’s interior. A storm had crept up. Roaring sand covering the convoy’s retreat from the fort. The wind howled outside and rocked the truck with gusts, each one stronger than the last.

    Colonel Greene’s eyes were wide with panic. His uniform covered in the blood of the men who attempted to protect him as they retreated from the fort. His brigade had been decimated by the explosions that ripped through the fortifications. He assumed he was the last man alive.

    The shame had already set in. They’d been forced out by the rabble of the Republic because somebody somewhere couldn’t secure their arsenal.

    And to be defeated with the mythical Harbinger’s Regiment covering their flanks.

    Greene turned on Colonel Austin. “This is your fault! You pulled your men out of the fight before it had even begun!”

    “I had no authorization to engage with rebel forces, Colonel. I would have been in violation of my orders had I done more than I had. You should consider yourself lucky to be alive.” His voice was calm and he didn’t look at the other officer. “Retreat was the only option once they’d breached the walls.”

    “You’re full of shit. The Commandant wouldn’t have authorized you to come gallivanting in the Waste without permission to shoot at a few people who are shooting at you. They wouldn’t want to lose their beloved 197th!”

    “You might want to watch your mouth. I don’t think the Commandant would want some disgraced bird assuming his orders on another man’s command.”

    Colonel Greene laughed. “You ran! If I am disgraced than so are you. This entire fucking clown show with balaclavas and hanging up women and children by their feet is a disgrace. You think you can hide behind fear? Not with me. I know where you all come from. I know about your so-called training. You will tell the Commandant this was your fault because of your cowardice and you will accept the firing squad that comes with it.”

    “If that were the case Andre, that my actions constitute some type of dereliction of duty, then I wouldn’t have brought the greatest traitor this country has seen to justice. A Republican colonel passing information to the enemy resulting in the deaths of hundreds of his own men. I believe that will absolve me of any perceived sin of cowardice,” Mark said.

    “What are you talking about?”

    Mark glanced over at the older colonel. “The highly classified information regarding the exact weak points and necessary materials needed to bring down the walls that you passed to the rebels.”

    “You honestly don’t believe that yourself! I would never betray the country in such a way. I will have you brought up on charges for even suggesting that!”

    “There won’t be any charges, Colonel,” Jerad said from the passenger seat.

    Greene pointed accusingly the man of lower rank. “You stay out of this.”

    “Jerad. Klaus. Would you two mind putting on your gas masks?” Mark said to Jerad and the sergeant driving the truck. They both did as they were told, albeit the man driving had some difficulty and needed the lieutenant colonel to hold the wheel for him. Mark reached under the seat and held a spare mask out to Greene. “You might want to do so as well.”

    The man retracted from the gas mask as it was dropped on the seat between them. “I’m not going out in this storm.”

    “Stop the truck, sergeant.” Mark took his cap off and pulled his own gas mask over his head. Sensing the situation, Greene hastily donned the mask he’d been offered. The lieutenant colonel was quick out of the truck. “Do you have family, Andre?”

    “What of it?”

    “I want to know who to tell about your suicide out here in the Waste. Your way of trying to repent for their souls.”

    Greene didn’t have a chance to question further as the door beside him was ripped open and he was yanked out of the truck and into the roaring storm. He struggling against Jerad’s grasp, but the younger man tossed him to the ground with ease.

    Mark got out of the truck and stalked around, kicking the aged officer back to the ground. With strong winds whipping overhead, the old man struggled to get to his feet. Following his commanding officer’s lead, Jerad landed a few kicks of his own to Greene’s midsection.

    The colonel withdrew his service pistol from its holster and pushed Greene onto his back with his foot. Seeing the pistol, the man raised his hands in a silent plea for his life. Mark grabbed the front of his gas mask as he leaned over him, pulling their faces close as he looked in the other man’s eyes. Fear and resignation resided in them.

    Pressing the pistol to his stomach, he fired five times. Mark holstered his weapon and ripped the colonel’s coat and shirt to expose the wounds. Pressing his hands down on Greene’s stomach, he allowed the blood to coat his hands. He rubbed the blood into his uniform before getting back in the truck.

    Using his combat knife, Jerad cut holes into the rubber of Greene’s gas mask and then returned to the passenger seat.

    The truck pulled off as soon as the doors slammed shut, leaving Colonel Andre Greene to die in the Waste.

  2. #22
    I gotta start from the beginning....

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  4. #23
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    Chapter 16

    Servants scurried about with trays of the choicest meats and other delicacies reserved for the most elite of the Republic. Men in fine suits and military dress uniforms sparred in conversations of politics, religion, and economics. Women on their arms or nearby giggled as they gossiped about the nation’s most recent scandals.

    Here, from the Presidential Palace, power radiated. The direction of the Republic and its policies were birthed in those august halls, during dinner parties and other gatherings of those closest to the President himself.

    Its opulence was unmatched in the most luxurious of the Republic’s city. A monument to the very power the seat of the presidency wielded. Statutes honoring the Sovereign, the Harbinger and the Judge were scattered about the building. Paintings of Republican war heroes adorned the walls. Those who had fought for the creation of the country itself. The guests were bathed in light from chandeliers, hung from high, vaunted ceilings.

    And in a building of magnificence, power, and majesty, a small group hung on the every word of a slouched, old man. Weathered by years of living in this new world, fighting to carve out his legacy. They looked upon him with reverence as if he were a God himself. On his suit was many of the military honors bestowed on his generals. In some corners of the Republic, he was known as a warrior king. Leading an army all those decades ago to topple a wasteland tyrant who had set up shop on the grounds where he would eventually build his Capital.

    Even those closest to him referred to him only as “Mr. President.”

    “There are only a handful of things that hold the Republic together,” President Clint Hutchinson said, his voice tired and gravely, “And above all of them are religion and unquestioned loyalty. The teachings told us of this great nation. Built from the ashes of heathens from centuries ago. We are the anointed ones, for lack of a better word.”

    “Try telling that to the insurgents, sir,” a man in the group said, “You would think that with all we do for them in the slums that they would be happy and accept their lot in life. We are not the ones who put them there. The Gods are.”

    “The rebels are godless. They do not fight with the blessing of the Sovereign as our army does. They are a pitiful enemy,” the president said.

    “Calling them our enemy gives credence to their misguided fight,” the president’s son and Commandant of the Army, Aaron Hutchinson, said.

    “If they rise against us then they are our enemy regardless of their ability to win, Commandant.” The old man tactically used his son’s rank to address him. A move to press the family’s power in a conversation where he already held all the cards.

    ---

    Outside of the Presidential Palace, promenades, gardens and orchards stretched out across 20 acres with the palace itself as the center. More statutes to the Gods pocked the grounds and a 10-foot fence ran along the perimeter.

    The only sound in the still night air was that of boots sounding out patrols on the grounds. Soldiers littered the area. Silent, stone-faced sentinels, these men were the president’s personal bodyguard. His most elite unit.

    They wore the black uniforms of the Republican Army, but its edges were trimmed in scarlet with golden attentes. Their most distinctive feature was the scarlet berets they wore, different from the black caps of the regulars. Stitched into the beret was the image of an eagle biting into its own wing, an ode to the Presidential Guards’ motto – “Our blood for the Republic.”

    A dozen soldiers were stationed at the main swing gate. Five stood outside, two on either side with an non-commissioned officer between them. The rest were behind stone walls inside the gate, rifles at the ready and pointing toward the main road at an invisible enemy.

    The sound of accelerating trucks reverberated through the quiet streets and moments later, a column of military vehicles screeched to a stop outside of the gate.

    Soldiers spilled out of the trucks as one broke from the column and turned into the driveway. The NCO showed no intention of moving or ordering his men to open the gate even when the colonel jumped out of the passenger seat of the truck in front of him.

    Without a word, the four sentries aimed their rifles at the other soldiers and chambered rounds.

    “By being here, you are in direct violation of Article IX of the Republican Constitution. Leave the area immediately or face court martial!” the low-ranking officer said, his hand moving to his sidearm.

    Colonel Austin stalked forward as his men raised their own weapons. The Harbinger’s commanding officer got in the NCO’s face. “I need to see the Commandant immediately. You will let me in.”

    “Under Article IX of the Republican Constitution, you are not authorized to be here. Leave now, Colonel.” The soldier stood his ground.

    Mark knew what he was risking by coming to the Presidential Palace with only half of his men. The rest having gone to glean some intel from Lieutenant Colonel Rollins’s sources. In short, he was risking sparking a civil war with an outnumbered force.

    “I heard you the first time, soldier, and I’m well aware of Article IX. That doesn’t change that I demand to see the Commandant immediately.”

    “You will have to contact the Commandant in the morning, sir. I have my orders.”

    Red Bars took up firing positions across from the Presidential Guardsmen, increasing the tension. The colonel stepped back waiting for a nervous finger to spark the conflict.

    “Guard! Attention!” On cue, all the Presidential Guardsmen snapped to attention as a similarly-uniformed woman stormed around the gate, a sneer on her face. The soldiers turned and saluted as she passed.

    Mark turned and waved for his men to lower their weapons.

    “I will have you brought up on so many fucking charges they will let me shoot you myself, Austin,” the woman said. She stopped in front of him and gave away nothing in height, adhering to the Presidential Guard’s strict requirement that the soldiers be tall. An intimidation tactic.

    She also wore three gold stars on her lapel. Like the 197th, the Presidential Guard answered only to the Commandant and to show the detachment from the regular army, the President ordered the officers be adorned with different insignias from their regular counterparts.

    “Colonel Kavanah, as I told your man at the gate, I need to see the Commandant.”

    “Frankly, I don’t give a fuck. You know Article IX clearly states only the Presidential Guard can be within ten square miles of the Palace. Yet, here I am looking at the Gods damn 197th sitting on the Palace grounds. So why should I turn a blind eye to this blatant disregard of a standing order which dates back to the Republic’s very fucking founding?”

    Mark reached in his coat and pulled out an envelope with the army’s seal on it. “I just came from the Waste, and I have reason to believe that the army’s been compromised with subversive elements at the highest ranks. The Commandant needs to see this letter now.”

    She looked at the envelope and back at him. He could see the wheels turning in her head, processing the situation. Colonel Jessika Kavanah was a smart woman. One who knew when to pick her battles and one who could see through bullshit. That’s how she rose to commanding the Presidential Guard despite women being few and far between in the Republican military.

    Her rank would reflect her command of a division of 10,000 men if it weren’t for what was or wasn’t swinging between her legs, but Republican generals were distinctly male, old, and cronies of the President.

    “Where’d you get that letter?” she asked.

    “Andre Greene wrote it.”

    “What’s it say? I need to know what to tell the Commandant to ask him if he wants to see you now.”

    “I’d rather tell him that myself.”

    The deliberation began again, and after a few moments, she said, “Tell your men to pull back outside of the Palace zone and I’ll take you to the Commandant.”

    “You all heard the colonel. Eleven miles out,” Mark ordered. The soldiers mounted up once more and pulled off the Palace grounds.

    Colonel Kavanah waited until the sound of the engines began to fade into the night sky. When she had sufficient proof the regiment was pulling out of the Palace Zone, she turned on her heel and started for the Palace. “Follow me, Colonel.”

    Mark put the envelope back in his coat pocket and did as he was told. The Presidential Guardsmen maintained their stiff salute until their commanding officer ordered them to carry on their watch as usual with a passing “as you were.”

    He knew Colonel Kavanah was still debating her decision. Her position was tenuous at best. She’d be a mail clerk if the Commandant had a son to install as a general. Despite being a capable commander, politics favored the weak and she would be second best by that standing.

    They walked, almost at a brisk march, in almost complete silence save for the sound of the patrols and her occasional response to verbal challenges to those patrols.

    The challenges seemed almost random. Dog called out in response to sword. Judge in response to street. Mark concluded each sector of security had their own challenge, and even at pace, Colonel Kavanah knew where she was on the grounds to give the proper response.

    The Palace rose above them like a titan as they got closer. Another squad of five soldiers guarding the grand doors that provided entrance to the President’s sanctuary.

    The soldiers snapped to attention and saluted as the NCO broke rank and opened the door for Colonel Kavanah. He stepped forward to block Colonel Austin’s entry.

    “Your sidearm, sir.”

    Kavanah looked back and shrugged. “Protocol.”

    Mark nodded, unholstered his pistol and handed it to the lower-ranking officer. The NCO saluted after taking it from him and stepped out of his way.

    Guards in ceremonial dress lined the entryway. Silent with their rifles shouldered. Kavanah turned towards one of them and ordered him to inform the Commandant of her need to meet with him immediately. The guard saluted and marched off into the dinner party.

    “This way, Colonel,” she called.

    Mark followed her up a winding staircase that took them to the third floor of the Palace. Rows of oak doors lined the hallway on either side. Halfway down the hall, Colonel Kavanah stopped abruptly and turned around.

    “What’s really in that envelope, Mark?”

    He raised an eyebrow. “I already told you. Greene is, or rather was, working with the insurgency. I would say this is a suicide letter, a letter of admission or something, but I haven’t opened it. That’s above my pay grade.”

    “Then how do you know what it is? Weren’t you dispatched to the Waste to help on a supply mission for Greene?” She took of her beret as she spoke, swept a few wayward strands of blond hair up and replaced it at the perfect, practiced angle.

    “He admitted it as a hoard of rebels were blowing up the outpost. Then he wandered off into a storm.”

    “Don’t think you can bullshit me because of our personal interactions. Greene was a career military man. He wouldn’t turn his back on the Republic for no reason. He had his eyes set on being a general and you’re telling me he was sucking insurgent cock?”

    “I couldn’t put it so eloquently, Jessika. As I said, he admitted to it. I believe this letter confirms that. My job is to run the counter-insurgency and Greene was feeding them information. Maybe they found out he likes to fuck kids or something. We’ll find out when the Commandant opens the letter.”

    She walked in a circle around him, sizing him up, scrutinizing. Her instincts told her to press for more, but her respect to the chain of command held her back. “Founders’ Day is in five fucking months. You want to do me a favor and get rid of the rebels before then so I don’t have to worry about an attack targeting PRESCA?”

    PRESCA was the code name used for the President, his cabinet and the highest ranking military officials. There were only two times a year they were all in one place, Founders’ Day and the day two weeks after when the President would take the oath of office after being re-elected in an election where he was the only candidate. Both events were security nightmares in the best of times.

    “I’ll see what I can do.” His eye twitched as he remembered his time frame.

    Kavanah’s eyes went to the staircase and she snapped to attention and saluted. Mark had to pivot to do the same as the Commandant and the President made their way towards them, a gaggle of aides trailing in their wake.

    “This better be good, Colonel Austin, if it couldn’t wait until tomorrow,” the Commandant said.

    “I’m sure he wouldn’t be here with a bloody coat if it wasn’t of the utmost important, Commandant,” President Hutchinson countered.

    Mark lowered his hand and looked down at his coat, covered in Andre Greene’s blood. “No, sir. There was a rebel attack in the Waste.” He looked at the aides behind the two officials. “This information is highly classified and a matter of national security.”

    The President shooed the aides away. “We can talk in my office.”

    “You come, too, Colonel Kavanah,” the younger Hutchinson said.

    “Yes, sir.”

    The four entered an office at the far end of the hall. The office matched the Palace’s appearance in its glory. The chair behind a massive oak desk looked more like a throne than an office chair. The Republic’s flag, black with two crimson stripes crossing the background, stood on one side of the desk and the military’s standard, a white flag with an eagle in the upper left corner, stood on the other.

    President Hutchinson shuffled around the desk and sat down with a sigh as his old bones all but creaked. His son stood to his right as the two officers stood at attention on the opposite side of the desk.

    The Commandant was the first to speak. “You were saying there was an attack in the Waste, Colonel Austin? Was this attack on the base you were dispatched to with the 197th to assist in resupplying Colonel Greene’s men?”

    “That’s correct, sir. We came under rebel fire yesterday in the early morning hours. As per my instructions, we were not to engage in direct combat and Colonel Greene’s brigade did most of the heavy lifting. A series of explosions led to mass casualties on both sides and we were forced to pull out,” Mark said.

    “How many dead?” the President asked.

    “While I cannot say for sure, as far as I know, Greene’s brigade suffered one hundred percent losses. The 197th loss up to two companies in the retreat. Lieutenant Colonel Rollins will have specific numbers on our losses soon.”

    President Hutchinson’s face turned red with anger and he slammed his fist down on the desk. His voice shook with fury as he spoke. “How could this have happened? Thousands of Republican soldiers dead at the hands of insurgents? And you tell me you were not allowed to engage in direct combat? Whose order was that?”

    Mark eyed the Commandant. “It was outside of the 197th’s combat theater. Per Parliament, we can’t perform combat operations with regular forces outside of the Republic’s cities. A failsafe.” The colonel reached into his coat for the envelope and placed it on the desk. “Additionally, Andre Greene was working for the rebels. He admitted to his treason and I ordered his execution. To safe face for his family, he walked into a storm without a gas mask as a form of suicide. I believe this letter corroborates Greene’s treason.”

    The President handed the letter to his son who did the honors of reading the multiple-page long rants of a madman crumbling under the pressure of trying to play both sides of the fence.

    “This is—This is fucking preposterous!” The Commandant threw the pages down as if they burned him. “You are telling me that this rebellious sentiment has gone to the highest ranks of the entire Army? Are you out of your mind, Austin?”

    “My job is to root out the rebels wherever they lay, Commandant. I don’t presume to understand how this virus spreads,” he countered, “Greene passed specific information to them that allowed them to coordinate a successful attack. That much is certain. What else he told them will never be known. We may be looking at a significant uptick in attacks in the Capital. There may be a threat on your life, Mr. President, given commanding officers’ knowledge of military movements.”

    “What do you think, Colonel Kavanah?” the old man asked, “As the commanding officer of the Presidential Guard, do you believe there is a credible threat on my life with the information Colonel Austin has just presented?”

    She looked at Mark then back at the President. “We do not take any threat lightly. If there’s a chance that a rebel attack could target you or your family, we will increase the details assigned to you until the threat has passed or been eliminated.”

    President Hutchinson then turned to his son. “And how do we eliminate this threat?”

    “It’s proving to be harder than I expected,” the Commandant conceded, “We should impose a curfew and step up patrols in the Capital and in other cities until order is restored.”

    “If I may, Commandant, I have a suggestion that would satisfy the elimination of the rebel threat,” Mark said.

    Aaron Hutchinson waved his hand, almost dismissively, but motioned for the colonel to proceed with offering his suggestion all the same.

    “Based on what we’ve gotten from informants and men we’ve arrested, there is a major rebel cell operating in the Slums, likely one of the biggest ones. We need to take the fight to them. We have superior numbers, superior tactics and superior firepower. I believe if we were to attack them, we could force them out of the city, if not destroy the entire cell.”

    “But the Accords,” the President said.

    “Have been repealed, sir. It’s time we bring this war to their doorstep. They’ve gained too many victories. This will crush their will to fight.”

    “Or you could be kicking the hornet’s nest,” the Commandant said.

    Colonel Austin’s eye twitched. How weak. “I cannot stress how vital I think it is that we put fear back into the rebels. This is the best way.”

    “That’s a large area for your regiment,” Kavanah added, “You’ll need help from the Regulars if you intend to contain them in the Slums.”

    Mark nodded. “You are right, but given the amount of leaks that could be in their ranks, I do not think we could trust them to not give this information to their insurgent buddies.”

    The President leaned back in his chair, his hands crossed over his stomach. He swiveled a bit to look at the flag of the Republic as he debated the course of action. He nodded slowly and leaned forward again. Raising an aging hand, he pointed at Colonel Kavanah. “The Presidential Guard will assist in the attack. The insurgency can’t fight off both of our most elite units.”

    “Fath—Mr. President, I don’t think we should be sending forces into the Slums. It could spark large-scale reprisals,” the Commandant said.

    “Then prepare the Regulars to stamp out such large-scale ‘reprisals.’ This is the course of action I demand, see that it is done.” The old man rose and the military officers snapped off a salute. As he left, his son all but scurried behind him, still giving his reasons why the army shouldn’t be sent to fight the rebels where they laid.

    Mark relaxed and took his gloves out of his coat pocket. “Your men aren’t rusty from lack of fighting, are they, Jessika?”

    The woman laughed, turning to leave the office. “Don’t worry about the Guard, Mark. We’ll kill two of them for every one the Harbinger’s take out.”

    “Challenge accepted.” The colonel chuckled, but an instant later he was all business again. “I’ll need a week to replace our losses. I’ll be back to detail my plans in the interim. Your input would be greatly appreciated.”

    “You know my watch schedule.”

    The two colonels fell into silence as they left the Palace, leaving Mark to his thoughts. The war he craved, the war the Harbinger demanded, was finally becoming a reality.
    Last edited by Caesar; 04-05-2017 at 11:54 PM.

  5. #24
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    Chapter 17

    The large cell was cold and damp. Soldiers patrolled along catwalks above, rifles at the ready. Dozens of mostly unclothed, emaciated, sickly men milled about like the undead. No beds were in the cell as those who decided to try to rest lay across one another like stacked logs. Coughs wet with phlegm and blood provided the only noise other than the sound of the boots striking metal overhead.

    Three blasts from a klaxon sounded causing the men to cover their ears and cower in fear, conditioned to be afraid of the sound. The soldiers on the catwalks stopped and chambered rounds as the prisoners were ordered to the ground.

    A large steel door was opened and four soldiers entered the cell and forced the prisoners back. Balaclavas covered their faces, partly as part of their uniforms but mostly to stave off some of the smell. Lieutenant Colonel Rollins, whistling and carrying a metal bucket strolled in behind them. His face was uncovered having become used to the stench of men who hadn’t bathed in weeks and slept in their own excrement long ago.

    The lieutenant colonel stopped in front of the men and poured out the contents of the bucket; chicken and turkey bones, undesirable pig parts, discarded food floating in a sludge-like mixture of liquids. The prisoners shifted closer like feral dogs at the sight. Some licking their lips with watering mouths.

    “Looks delicious doesn’t it, maggots? It’s all yours if you are willing to help me,” Rollins said as he backed away from the slop.

    A brave prisoner lunged forward for a meatier bone and was rewarded with a rifle butt to his head. The sickening thud cowed any wandering eyes who had thoughts that they could overwhelm the soldiers in the cell.

    Rollins laughed. “Well, that wasn’t smart.” He looked at the rest of the prisoners. “As I was saying, you all can fight over this if you help me. I’m looking for a specific maggot in the lot of you. This particular shit-stain has information I need. His name is Carl. Have any of you met Carl?”

    Eyes darted around the cell before three prisoners sprung up and grabbed another who was hiding in the back of the cell. They shoved him forward, allowing the wave of hands to take him toward their captives.

    “I’m not Carl!” the man, more resembling a skin sack of bones with splotchy hair and pocked skin that almost had a green tinge to it, yelled, “They are just trying to eat!”

    “Turn your arms over,” Rollins ordered.

    When the man hesitated, a soldier stepped forward and shoved him to his knees before grabbing his left arm and roughly turning the thin limb, exposing a tattoo on the underside of his forearm.

    “This is him, sir.” The soldier nodded and shoved away from the prisoner.

    “Didn’t your mother teach you not to lie, Carl?” the lieutenant colonel said with condescension in his voice. “On your feet, maggot. You need to come with us and I won’t ask you twice.”

    Carl stood up on shaky legs and stepped forward. Two of the four soldiers took up positions behind him as Rollins walked out of the cell. A prod with a rifle barrel spurred Carl into action as the other two soldiers fell into step behind the officer.

    As soon as the soldiers cleared the cell and the door had begun to close, the rest of the prisoners surged toward the slop that Rollins had left behind. Feral screams and the sound of fighting was drowned out by the door slamming shut.

    “Aren’t you glad you didn’t have to be a part of that, maggot?” Rollins asked over his shoulder.

    Carl didn’t answer. He focused on the boots of the soldiers ahead of him. In his time as a prisoner of the Red Bars, he’d learned that fighting for discarded food wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to him. He was probably heading for worse.

    He’d been in labor camps before. Shackled and forced to work for 14 hours a day, given little food and less comfort. The Red Bars knew they didn’t have to shackle their prisoners. Many of them were lucky to wake up each morning. Luck wouldn’t extend to trying to overpower any of them. They’d probably welcome the opportunity to toy with the dying men.

    They turned down a corridor that he’d never seen before. The lights were much brighter and other soldiers milled about. Some joked with one another, others relaxed at communal tables. Carl caught himself staring at the entirely different world from what he’d become used to.

    The soldiers were unmasked and without the imposing regalia of their regiment. Most of them looked like any other person save for weathered faces and scarred bodies.

    His mouth watered and his face screwed in disgust as one soldier threw an apple at another. He missed his target and the precious food was forgotten under a table.

    Another turn brought them to a security door. The lieutenant colonel punched in a series of numbers on a keypad and a buzzer sounded before he opened it and entered the room. Inside was a single table, two chairs and a swinging lightbulb over the table. The large sheet of paper was spread across the table with folders on top of it.

    The forward pair of soldiers stopped at the door and stood on either side of it. Carl hesitated and was shoved forward by the soldiers behind him.

    “Walk,” one of them commanded.

    Carl entered the room as Rollins sat down in one of the chairs. He looked up and waved for the prisoner to take the other. He glanced behind him as the second pair of soldiers entered the room and shut the door.

    Afraid of what was to come, Carl dragged his way to the chair. Panic bubbled in his stomach as he sat down. The sheet of paper was an enlarged map of the Slums.

    “Do you know why you are here?” the lieutenant colonel asked.

    Carl shook his head.

    “I don’t mean in this room. I mean here,” Rollins waved his hand in a circle. “Do you know why you weren’t killed on sight?”

    Again, he shook his head.

    “Does the name Louis Norris ring a bell?”

    “No.” Carl tried to remain calm, but his foot was shaking with nerves.

    “How about Buck?”

    “No.”

    Rollins shook his head. “I know you are lying to me. Now, I’m not saying you know the man personally, but you know who the man is. So, I ask again, do you know why you are here?”

    “I don’t know.”

    “You’re valuable. That’s absurd, ain’t it? Your worthless life will have meaning before you die. I just need you to answer a few questions and my men will take you out back and put a bullet in your head. This nightmare will be over, just like that.” He snapped for emphasis.

    “I can’t answer any questions. I don’t know who you think I am, but – ”

    “You’re a rebel. An enemy to the state. Don’t deny it. We know. There’s plenty of you that aren’t as committed to the cause as you and when presented with a silver or lead proposition, they take the silver and do as they are told.”

    “That’s bullshit.”

    The officer shrugged. “You can believe whatever you want. When you cross over, you can ask the Sovereign if what I say is true. Back to the matter at hand, I need you to identify some things for me.”

    “Fuck you. Just kill me.”

    “Is that what you want me to tell your daughters? That instead of giving them a second chance on life, their daddy just condemned them to Gods’ know what?”

    “I don’t have any kids,” Carl said with a bitter laugh.

    “Oh?” Rollins opened one of the folders and pushed out two photographs. Both were of two similar looking girls, no older than 5 or 6, playing in the courtyard of a church. Carl’s breath stilled at the images. “So, you’re telling me Steven lied to me when he told me you sent your daughters to this orphanage when you joined the resistance?”

    “Steven?! That’s who told you about me?! I’ll kill that motherfucker!”

    “See we think alike. I’m going to be killing Steven soon myself. He’s run out of uses. Stay focused though. He had his reasons for working with us, just like you do right now.” Rollins pulled a photo out of another folder and placed it in front of Carl. It was a blonde woman speaking with a priest, a backpack full of canned goods in between them. “Who is this?”

    Resigned to his fate and trying to save his daughters, Carl sighed in defeat. “I honestly don’t know who that is. I’ve never been to the orphanage myself.”

    The lieutenant colonel pulled out another image. This time it was of a brunette, covered in blood and holding a knife. “Fair enough. Would you say these women have similar builds?”

    “Sure, I guess.”

    “Do you know who this is?”

    “Yeah. I don’t know her name though. Just that she’s one of Buck’s couriers. She’s one of the ones that meets with the other bands around the city.”

    “Good. That’s good, maggot. You ever met with her?”

    “I was just a fighter, man. I didn’t pass along all the secretive shit.”

    Rollins nodded. “Interesting that there’s a chain of command in the rebel cells.” He pointed to the map between them. “I need to know where all the rebel and gang compounds are in the Slums.

    “I ain’t been to all of them.”

    “Tell me which ones you have been to.”

    “It’s not like you can go out there and do anything. We know about Parliament cutting deals for peace.” Carl laughed.

    Rollins ignored him and held up two pens, a blue and a red. “Blue for the gangs. Red for the rebels. Don’t play games with me or I will personally drive your daughters out to one of those human sacrificing cults or one of those that like them real young, if you know what I mean. A lot of fucking monsters in the Waste.”

    Carl’s face collapsed and he took the pens, beginning to circle blocks of buildings as he’d been instructed.

    ---

    An enlisted man approached the military truck that had slowed to a stop in front of him. With practiced movements, he opened the back door and immediately saluted. From the back of the truck, Aaron Hutchinson stepped down. In his ornate black uniform, the Commandant of the Republic’s Armed Forces looked more suited for a military parade than a battle.

    The commandant gave the soldier a tired salute in return as he stepped out of the way for the door to be closed. Where his uniform was finely pressed and immaculate from top to bottom, the bags that had begun forming under his eyes told of a growingly haggard man.

    Three days had passed since his father had given authorization to allow the Harbinger’s Regiment and the Presidential Guard to attack the Slums. Since that day, he’d spent much of his time imploring senators to call for a repeal of the vote which repealed the Yost Accords. However, the ones who voted for the repeal refused to change their votes and those who hadn’t wanted to see the decision fail spectacularly.

    It didn’t help that the most powerful of them, Senator James Taylor, hadn’t been seen in weeks. Nor had the rest of his family.

    A likely casualty of the Republic’s politics no doubt.

    As night fell over the Capital, all the commandant longed for was a quiet meal with his family and a good night’s rest.

    His home was modest in comparison to his father, or even the generals beneath him. It was enough for he and his wife and their three children. Besides, he feared something more opulent would make him a target soon.

    The smell of beef met him when he entered the house. His wife, Matilda, busied herself in the kitchen. She was a good woman, didn’t speak too much and kept house well. His seventeen-year-old son, Clint, sat at the table with a mess of books before him, texts on battle and warfare from the academy. His younger son and daughter were likely in their rooms waiting for dinner.

    Clint smiled and stood to salute his father as he took off his coat. “Evening, Commandant.”

    “A bit formal for the home, isn’t it?” the older man laughed.

    “Old Major King said as the future officers of the Republic, we should always respect rank even if we’re too tired to see the insignias.”

    “Fair enough, future officer of the Republic.”

    Clint, like many of the Republic’s elite’s sons, had been enrolled in a recently-opened military academy to train the next generation of the nation’s generals – a way to preserve the ruling class’s power and perhaps consolidate it.

    The academy was a brain child of the commandant himself. Between his hand being forced to hand command of the Presidential Guard to a woman from lesser beginnings, an able commander but a woman no less, as no suitable men presented themselves and another brain child of his quickly growing beyond his control, he needed to protect the Republic’s best interests with intelligent men to lead the armed forces.

    The man slumped into a chair, feeling his exhaustion deep in his bones.

    “You shouldn’t spread those bad habits,” Matilda chided and then she turned to her son, “Posture is very important.”

    “Tough day at the office, father?” Clint asked.

    Aaron Hutchinson nodded. “They are all tough days, my boy. It’s never easy trying to defend the Republic.”

    “The major says that we made a mistake when we signed the Accords the first time and now the problem is too big and can’t be controlled.”

    “Alright, General Hutchinson. What would you have us do?”

    “Insurgencies are wars of attrition, right? The insurgents can’t beat us in a fair fight so they’re going to keep picking at us until we give up. I think we just have to make it costlier for them than it is for us. Doesn’t the army outnumber them?”

    “You’re right. On all your points, but this is a strong enemy. It’s a mental thing. Every time, we arrest or kill one of them, four new ones sprout up feeling aggrieved or wronged. We have to show them the right way to think about things again. Killing them all isn’t really an option.”

    “Why not?”

    The commandant started to speak, but his wife intervened, “Because the Sovereign brought us from the chaos and we’re bound to maintain order. You’re also supposed to listen to your mother so go get your brother and sister so we can eat.”

    “Okay, mother,” Clint said before obediently doing as he was asked.

    Aaron shared a smile with his wife, silently thanking her for invoking the Faith of the Triunity’s creation story to answer their son’s question. Unfortunately, the Sovereign would not be happy as the Republic was very much in turmoil and there was less he could do about it every day.

    ---

    The two men were unmistakable opposites. Where Buck was pious, Rocco was a heathen. Where Buck was old and wise, Rocco was young and brash. And where Buck led through belief, Rocco commanded through fear. Nonetheless, their paths were intertwined the day Buck agreed to allow Rocco and his wasteland gang to join his group of rebels in the fight against the Republic. A fair number of concessions were made on both sides, but Buck got a field commander and Rocco got out of the Waste.

    As they sat in Buck’s apartment, many floors above the rest of his soldiers, huddled around a table and a map, the tension in the air threatened to tear apart the entire movement.

    “Why are we discussing running when we should be discussing where we’re going to attack next? We have them on the ropes. You don’t stop raining down punches when the other fucker is swaying on his feet,” Rocco said.

    The serene look on Buck’s face remained despite his subordinate’s language. “We aren’t discussing running. We are discussing relocating in the city. This is nothing new for my herd. It is a necessary evil in this battle we fight against the evil in the Capital.”

    “The evil, eh? That’s a colorful way to put it. I’m telling you there’s nowhere safer for us to be than here. The Republic can’t send its armies here and they don’t even know we’re here. We’re ghosts. If we relocate, we have to worry about neighbors not being as cooperative as the ones are here.”

    “I’m not asking your opinion. The Sovereign has spoken and this is the course of action,” Buck said with authority.

    Rocco laughed mockingly. “If this is the course of action, I’ll take my boys somewhere we want to be blinding running behind words of the supernatural.”

    The wastelander knew the power of his threat. Most of the rebels with them were unsure with killing, and only a select few didn’t turn tail at the sight Republican soldiers. His men were hardened, and needed. They inspired the weak among them to press on when faced with certain death even if their methods were bordering on barbaric.

    And Buck knew he needed them, too.

    “What would you have us do? There’s a real and potent danger of subversive elements in our crusade,” the old man said, “More so with the recent development of the pretender president’s death squads.”

    “We wait until after the vote is done if we move at all. Security is high. Too high. We have a few hundred here. They’ll notice a movement that large. We need to keep pushing them, though. Keep attacking. More coordination with the groups in the city proper. More attacks in the city.”

    “Large-scale actions in the Capital risk the blood of innocents. The Sovereign will not allow it and the Judge would not view disobedience to Her word favorably.”

    A menacing grin spread across Rocco’s face. “War is ugly. We can incite a revolt of the people if a few children were caught in the crossfire. Metro isn’t exactly known for their marksmanship under duress, after all.”

    Buck was quiet as he regarded the other man’s opinion. It was true that they garnered little support from the populace in the cities among non-combatants, either through belief they were already on the right side or through fear of retribution from the government. But he didn’t agree that blindly tricking the Republican soldiers or the police into killing their own was the best course of action to gain that support.

    He believed his rebels were holy warriors and to risk the favor of the Sovereign to gain that of man was not an even trade-off for him. Especially after the Sovereign had led them to many victories in recent times against Her enemies parading as a righteous government.

    “I must pray to the Gods on this decision,” he said finally.

    “You do that. I’m sure they’ll give us the right path to take.” Rocco’s voice dripped with sarcasm. After all, he was nothing if not a man of the Waste. There were no Gods there. Only man, hungry and violent.

    “There will be no action until the Gods have spoken their guidance,” the old man warned.

    The wastelander shrugged. “I don’t think my boys will mind getting some rest while you wait on that guidance from the other side. But do hurry the Triplets, the Republic will get its shit together soon and we’ll be back at square one.”

    Buck’s lip curled up at the blasphemous “nickname” for the Triunity, but he couldn’t punish Rocco as he would the others under his command for the same sin.

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