Chapters 1-4 can be found HERE.
Chapters 5-8 can be found HERE.
Chapter 9-12 can be found HERE.
Chapter 13-16 can be found HERE.
Chapters 17-19 can be found HERE.
Chapter 20 can be found HERE.
Chapter 21 can be found HERE.
Chapter 22 can be found HERE.
Chapter 23 can be found HERE.
Chapter 24 can be found HERE.
Chapter 25 can be found HERE.
By E. J. D’Alise (Disperser)
Copyright 2004 – 2013
“OK, here some other questions. I’ll fire them off; you give me the short answer. We’ll discuss after; deal?”
“Pretty smart,” said Ed, smiling, “don’t give the other guy the chance to spin any yarns. Someday you’ll have to tell me where you learned all this. OK, shoot.”
“Who runs things?”
“No one, each base is independent.”
“How many people all together?”
“All together, probably around 250-300 thousand, but of those only about half of them are fighting troops.”
“Who are you?”
Ed looked at me, looked down, and then faced me square on. “I am a retired general who finds himself back in the action with too much to do, and not enough resources to do it with.”
“Do you run things?”
“Only out of the base in Indiana, yes.”
“What’s your eventual goal?
Ed hesitated . . . “I don’t know. I hope for order, but fear I will not live to see it. Even Elly might not live to see it.” He used his hand to rub his chin. “Right now I just want to keep things under control.”
I sat in silence; Ed sipped on his water. I sighed, grabbed my own glass, and summarized our current situation, as much to sound it out as to ensure I wasn’t missing anything.
“The way I see it, we’ve started something we cannot stop. We both agree the best recourse is to keep going at them, and not let them come to us.” I took a drink, and continued. “What worries me is mobilizing an ever increasing army, supplying them, and eventually controlling them.” I took another sip of my water.
“We did good today because we had a relatively small group. But we’ll grow. We’ll have people and operations that will not be under our direct control. We’ll eventually get to the point where we’ll not look much different than the Cardinal.”
Ed sat looking at me for a few moments. “You don’t trust soldiers.” There was no rancor or malice in his voice.
“I don’t trust leaders, Ed. Especially those I have not met. And I trust military leaders less.” I took a deep breath. “Ed, I don’t trust you either beyond a certain set of circumstances. At some point the military will get the idea they need to control the civilian population. They’ll start to make rules. That could be good or bad. My experience is it tends toward bad. And my experience is the military will act as a united entity; you will go along with whatever the consensus of the other commanders will agree on.”
“Fair enough. You might be right or wrong; I don’t know myself. But right now we have a more immediate problem.”
“The Cardinal.” I said.
“The Cardinal.” Ed echoed. “We have maybe four or five decent weather months to get this done, ‘this’ being loosely defined as getting rid of this guy. Then winter sets in. If we don’t have it handled by then, we’re looking to settling in and waiting four to five months for spring. We don’t have those kinds of resources and supply lines. As it is we’re going to be stretched thin.”
I thought back to just a few weeks ago . . . my biggest worry was adjusting to Toni being on patrol with me. Now I sat here contemplating mounting a military campaign against a unknown foe, though unknown territory, hoping we can recruit supplies and troops along the way.
“Ed, I’m happy . . . we’re happy to join your group, help out, and fight along side you guys. But I am no military leader. What worked here, for our compound, worked because we were small and had limited number of scenarios to deal with. And we always worked hard to control the situations we encountered.” I wanted a drink of water, but I continued. “You asked me to lead, and yet I know you have capable leaders under you. What makes you think I am the man for the job?”
Ed flexed his healing arm. “I have leaders, yes. But they are trained for a different kind of warfare. And none have as much combat experience as you do. You may not have the schooling, but you have the experience. And you are smart. And you are ruthless.”
That last did not come across as a compliment, but I said nothing as Ed continued. “You have no concept of acceptable casualties. You don’t like to put any of your people at risk. Those who come up against you rank well below your own men, and you plan accordingly.”
I cleared my throat. “Ed, are you looking for a killer to unleash at the enemies? I might qualify, but it’s not a role I want. Yes, it was my plan we executed today. But I’m not happy about it. We can’t go from town to town butchering everyone who stands in our way. My resolve will quickly wane the farther I will get from my compound.” I held my arm up, keeping him from interrupting. “And a couple of other things; why would your men even want to follow me, and why you, a general, have from the get-go deferred to me? That does not fit in with what I know of generals.”
Ed waited to make sure I was finished, then shifted his posture more upright.
“I’m not looking for a killer. I’m looking for someone I can trust to not get ideas for personal gain, someone who will care for every person under their command, and someone who can make the tough decision when they need to be made.”
Ed got up to stretch, and picked up his glass as he did so. “As far as my men, you’ve already proven yourself. They have no problem having you lead, especially since your men are likely to defer to you anyway.” Ed wiped the ring the cold glass had left on the table.
“Besides, it’s only until I recover well enough to take over.” I looked up at him as he continued. “I know your main concern is the compound, and that’s where you want to be. Much the same way as yours with you, my men are my family. I want to be with them as soon as I can.”
He stopped, closed his eyes for a few seconds, then sighed. He opened his eyes, and I could see they were moist. He sat back down before continuing.
“As for the last question . . . when we closed the gates to our base, my wife was outside those gates. She was infected, and as much as I wanted to go out to her, she made me promise to take care of Ellie, to stay with her on the base.” Ed paused, and wiped a tear from his cheek.
“DC, she was everything to me. Everything I ever did, I did for her; I did for our future together. I wanted to go to her, but she made me promise . . . I lost everything that day.” Ed turned to me, perhaps sensing the obvious question.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he continued, “Ellie means a lot to me, but she’s an adult. She has her own life to lead, and in a way, I think I’m holding her back from living that life. She thinks she has to take care of me.”
I waited silently as he took a sip of water, and then grabbed a tissue to blow his nose. It’s not often you see a tough old bird let his defenses down, and see the man behind them..
“I’m tired, DC. I deferred to you for the same reason your people do, and the reason my people defer to me; it’s easier to follow than to lead. It’s easier to let others take on the burden of responsibility. It’s easier to follow the tough decisions someone else made, than to shoulder the weight of those decisions. I’m just tired.”
We sat there in silence, each buried in our own thoughts. Ed digging out from under the painful memories he voiced, and me toying with the danger of slipping into my own rabbit hole of doubt and insecurity. I spoke first, mostly to stop myself from heading down that hole.
“OK, let me mull things over,” I said, “and we’ll have a few more conversations about just what we’ll be doing . . and what’s left to do here and in town.”
The End (well, not really, but The End for now)
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ o o o o o o ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
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. . . my FP ward . . . chieken shit.