Monday, September 2, 2013

one of two today

This is one of my old blogs I’m deleting. Here in its entirety.  
The other blog is:

That one is too difficult to cut and paste, so this is your official notice.  If you want to read it, do it soon.  I’m wiping it out in a week.  Also, this is NOT your article for the day.  I’ll be posting that around noon or 1pm.



By James M Dakin

Copyright 2009

Sleep was shit, of course. Not that you could expect it to be anything else in the late afternoon. Long ago, back in the Alice In Wonderland era that was fast becoming a blur ( if for no other reason than to preserve his sanity ) and people had regular jobs with functioning power and currency and etcetera he had once been a casino supervisor that for some God awful reason had a shift start at 4 a.m. It was a small casino as those things went, in a small town, and it wasn’t like the casino owners felt it was their civic duty to lighten traffic by staggering the different department work shifts to avoid a huge surge of traffic at eight to eight thirty in the morning. Hell, if every employee from all three shifts was working together the traffic flow was unlikely to noticeably increase. And while small in a small town it wasn’t like it was that small, like a mobile home fell off the hauling truck and skidded to a stop on the side of highway Fifty and at first they turned it into a bar but the one hunter that stopped by during elk season got drunk and trashed the place so they turned it into a brothel but even by rural Nevada standards they were some pretty rough looking characters and even at half price they didn’t drum up enough business outside of Crazy Coyote Carl who came down out of the hills once a year with some gold dust and a hard on with the tensile strength of a dog chew bone kind of small casino. No, it was middlin size. So, small for Carson City, which used to be a nice place to hang your hat for a couple of years until you found a nicer place to live, like the guano splattered mouth of a cave in danger of collapsing, but recently had its uncharacteristically large share of California asshats that sold their real estate at the up tick of the bubble and moved everywhere else to spread their perverted brand of socialism. That pretty much killed Carson. No, the only possible reason for starting the shift at four Goddamn AM was to personally fuck with the undesirables. You can’t really fire them although the state is pretty tolerant of peon mistreatment. And even though the casinos used to be as well paying and as well perked as Union jobs until the casinos discovered that slowly severing decent living wages from their salary slaves translated into bigger swimming pools for upper management, not to mention that malnourishment helped the better looking female workers not yet losing their teeth to crack succumb to the advances of said management, they still found it prudent to observe the older rules dictating that it wasn’t good public relations to fire at will. So you gave them a really shitty shift, hoping to get them to quit on their own. What better shift than four in the morning?

Trying to sleep at six in the evening until two in the morning had been a little bit like this. Not that you got a full nights sleep, but even as a nap it was pretty piss poor. It was about eight o’clock in the evening and the last four hours had been toss and turn and cat nap. So of course the captain had been aware of his aide-de-camp shuffling around and trying to make coffee quietly. Doing a piss poor job of it too. Really, they were in friendly territory but was that any reason to abandon noise discipline? Everyone else seemed to do okay with it. Not that he was as concerned with being quite in enemy territory since this far away from water the likelihood of encountering anyone was remote. But he certainly was concerned with getting some sort of sleep. But there had been little reason to get all cranky with the guy. He couldn’t sleep because of the schedule. Not because they would be in battle in under eight hours. He usually didn’t have the stress affect him until the last minute. It was because mother nature had designed regular human beings to sleep at night. Wasn’t deep REM sleep something like one to four? He remembered hating graveyard shifts then and he sure as hell hated them now. The difference being that before it was a stupid ass job with little solid purpose behind it other than catering to the vices of idiots. Gas station convenience stores or casino’s or whatever. Coffee, cigarettes, gambling. Yeh, gasoline too. That was an addiction that had been bad for everyone. He certainly missed those days. Putting forth little to no effort and making not only enough to live on with shelter, transportation, a half serious girlfriend that wouldn’t marry you because your financial prospects were on par with a Pilipino ghetto trash picker but she still put out every once in awhile while she saved up enough herself at a shitty job to afford boobs to move up the social ladder, but also having enough left over for beer, the occasional joint and eating out once in a blue moon. At the time, it seemed a graveyard job was pure hell. Now, it was good tactics.

“I’m up, Lieutenant. For the love of all that’s good and holy, give me the damn cup of coffee before I bite off your fucking head. When you give me coffee you’re my favorite person and I wouldn’t want that to change at all. Failure to deliver the correct caffeine dosage in a timely manor is grounds for a poor performance review.” Of course he had to grimace indicating a smile of sorts so the lieutenant wouldn’t be offended or worried. The kid was pretty decent, did a fairly good job. As good as it was going to get until they threw his ass into combat, scared the crap out of him, and took a bit of starch out of his attitude. God, how much longer before “take the starch out” had absolutely no meaning as to its origin, when no one knew what starch was? One generation? But the L.T. was a bit of a broom up the wazoo type and tended to take things too seriously. Which he assumed was a bit of a job requirement. Can’t have the help cutting it up with the boss. Not in the field anyway. Back in the officers club with alcoholic beverages it would be a good tension release. But if he wanted to relax a bit now he would have to find Top so he would have someone to shoot the shit with. Top had been a real NCO and had served three tours in Afghanistan back in the day. Being smarter than the captain, he had turned down an officers commission. But he had held his new officers hand many a time, kept him from being too stupid and saved his life a few times. He was one of the few who could tell the Cap to go perform anatomically impossible actions upon himself, and he often did. He just didn’t have to do it very often anymore.

“Lt. LeMont, thanks for the coffee. Did all squads already report in?” Of course they had. The corporals and sergeants knew there jobs. Just like asking stupid questions was his job. Do things by rote and you always discover the mistakes. It was like checking the aircraft controls every time. You felt stupid but it saved your life. Not that he ever flew, but being a wing nut decades past had forced a bit of that culture into his head. He wished he had another cup of coffee, but even though it wasn’t impossible to get anymore now that they were on the Chinese payroll, it was strictly rationed. Just like cigarettes. Just like metal cased ammo. And as you might expect most it was the same quality as the old Chinese shoes-crap. Glad to get it now, even so. The coffee was Indonesian and most hideous. He knew the chinks ( well, okay, ChiComs was a bit nicer and it certainly didn’t hurt to be nicer to the only source of imported modern necessities-every conceivable trade route in the lower forty eight was a heavy free fire zone ) traded with South America. They still had some oil. Chilean copper and Brazilian ethanol. Couldn’t they get coffee? The Indonesian shit almost tasted like tea. He remembered once back in the Happy Shopping days. He had gone into a dollar store, where the plastic made in China crap was actually only a dollar ( obviously a bit before hyperinflation, wasn’t it? ), and found a ten or twelve ounce foil bag of coffee for a buck. Real Colombian coffee had just hit four bucks a thirty three ounce can ( they were of course shocked at the time ) so it must have been a twelve ounce bag, otherwise why get excited about such a super bargain? He bought a few bags, took it home and tried it. The shit tasted worse than the original instant coffee, back in the late seventies or early eighties when generic first came out and the ingredients were literally the scrapping off the factory floor. When inflation first kicked modern American ass and the only way to get a bargain was to buy poor quality. As putrid as that swill was, the Indonesian dollar store coffee was far worse. It literally tasted like fucking tea. Fucking Commie tea. He has held a theory about tea and communists ever since the ex-wife. She didn’t like coffee. And even though commies were cunts, and she was worse so it was a bit unfair to equate her to them, life is unfair so henceforth all those who didn’t like coffee were communists. When coffee taste like tea, the entire universe is out of kilter. He chocked it down anyway, and liked it because at least it was technically coffee. And the cigarettes, they tasted like shit out partially digested bamboo shoots rolled in TP. Panda? Or was that their beer brand? Who the hell knew. They tasted like crap. The ammo was steel cased, no way to reload it. That worked to their advantage. Not that reloading supplies were available, much. But the option would have been nice. Well, they were The game in town, weren’t they?

He drifted over to the Headquarters group. They were of course all packed up and ready to go. Not that it was that hard anymore. You carried all your gear rolled up inside a wool blanket and draped it over a shoulder. Just like you were going to go fight in the War Between The States. No vehicles, so there wasn’t a lot of crap that accumulated. The newbies always brought way too much stuff and the veterans never said a thing. Let them discard it half way through the march ( the rear unit was a coveted position since the boys could pick up choice pieces, strap it to the messengers or scouts bicycle and sell it for something later, sometimes back to the newest batch of recruits ). You needed your rifle, canteen, knife, ammo load and blanket. And not a whole lot else besides a few days rations. Jerky and roasted corn flour didn’t take up much room. A blanket over one shoulder, a sack across the other, a chest bandoleer and a few items on your belt. Not much else survived marching. Everyone marched, even the bicyclists. They pushed their machines loaded down with extra supplies. There was another damn necessity that only the Chinese supplied, bike parts. If they didn’t go to rust, you could find a million bike frames and rims, almost all the old big store discount variety of a suburban version of a mountain bike. Okay, perhaps not millions since most metal scrap had been shipped over to China before oil got too high to justify those kinds of low weight shipments ( you could ship over an old engine block in the same amount of space as a few junk bikes squished together ). But you still needed fresh chains and tires and tubes and brake pads. Without the bikes they wouldn’t have mortars. Oh, they were small enough launch tubes, being modern metal and not the cast iron bastards like a hundred and some years ago, but the ammo was black powder and primitive heavy. The ChiComs didn’t mind equipping you, as long as you completed their mission for them, but they were very careful how high up the food chain you went militarily. They always wanted the option of sending in a few teams to sat radio back the GPS numbers of your hovel so they could discipline the wayward sons with a missile to two. It was actually funny as hell in a way that Americans had so quickly taken the place of Afghan freedom fighters and the Chinese had taken the place of imperialists. But they weren’t stupid enough to spend ten percent of their GDP occupying the place they wanted resources out of. They did it a lot cheaper and a lot smarter. If you could believe it, northeast Nevada took three sardine cans of AK ammo, a few fifty five gallon drums of saltpeter, ten cases of cigarettes and a few cans of coffee to bribe the indigs into pacifying an area surrounding one of the globes major gold producing areas. It could have been a bit of a falsehood of course. The scuttlebutt in the barracks always had to be taken with a grain of salt. But it should have been in the ballpark, just considering how much ammo his snipers got and how few cigarettes were in a monthly ration. So, bikes were like everything else. Not enough to do everything you wanted, so they were restricted and rationed. The troops got to combat just like the French Foreign Legion, march or die motherfucker.

He drifted over to Top, killing time while a private got an ass chewing. It probably wasn’t much, he recognized a vet rather than a NUG. But Top was probably not in a great mood either. And it never hurt to keep the boys on their toes. The experienced ones even recognized the Top’s moods and knew when to blow off a reprimand. “Corky, you stupid ass son of a syphilitic whore. Probably the same whore who only charged me five bucks to pop out her glass eye and skull fuck her, then charged me another three to dildo her up the ass while she blew me, which let me tell you was really worth the expense since she only had one tooth left and as long as she was careful I got a full on gum job. If I ever met a stupider son of a bitch I would cut off my left nut and hand it to you as a prize. The same left nut that your mother gargled like a cup of Listerine. You could have the testicle your mother licked like a candy cane until her mouth went dry. Seriously, are you that much of an idiot? Did Baby Jesus Himself wake up one morning on the wrong side of the bed with a bad hair day going on, pissed off because he couldn’t get some the night before, and bellow to the heavens that he had created the most retarded piece of shit mother fucking son of a bitch ever and his name would henceforth be known to one and all as Mother Fucking Corky? Do you pick your teeth before you wash your hands after you took a big shit? Would you reach under the lawn mower to get the branch out while it was still running? Would you stick your dick in a pencil sharpener if it had a picture of a female taped over the opening? Get the fuck out of my sight you silly stupid ass licking foul bastard”. When that was done, he went over to Top. Before he could say anything, Top gave him a sad look, imploring a sympathetic response from his leader. The look had the suffering of all the people through all the ages deeply etched upon it. A look that begged for the answer how mankind itself could have latest as long as it did with such stupid idiots run around and being allowed to procreate.

“Cap, let me tell you a joke. Three men were at the recruiting office of the CIA. The recruiter stands in front of all three, starting his presentation. He explains that there is a very good reason why their wives have come along with them for this interview. Gentlemen, he says, I want you to kill your wives. If you can do that, you have what it takes to be an operative with us. He hands a twenty year old a loaded revolver and ushers him into the appropriate room. A few minutes later, he comes out and explains that he is a newlywed, loves his wife with all his heart and can‘t kill her. The recruiter says he understands, dismisses the man and hand the thirty year old the pistol. After about five minutes he comes back out and says that while the fires of passion have faded, he has been with his wife a long time and he still loves her. He can‘t kill her. The man is excused from the room and the recruiter hands the third man, forty years old, the gun. The man goes into the room, immediately there are six shots, scuffling, furniture being knocked over. The recruiter runs into the room to see the wife dead on the ground. The man says, some son of a bitch puts blanks in here so I had to strangle the twat.”

“I never heard that one before. That’s pretty damn funny. Why are you telling me?”

“That one always cheers me up after I deal with one of those assholes. My wife died in a riot. I always wished I could have killed her myself. You know, when law and order was a hit and miss affair. When I could have gotten away with it. Always hated her, after I came back from the war. Bitch was cheating on me. I figured it was my due”

“Damn, Top, don’t hold back, tell me how you really feel.”

“Do I ever blow smoke up your ass, Cap?”

“You had any coffee, Top?”

“Shit, the gas is so corroded it doesn’t matter how many times you clean the stove. It won’t even bring the water to a full boil before it clogs up. Can’t use this greasy shit wood for a fire with its smell and smoke. Not that it probably matters, but then this circle jerk group would think my example let them create bonfires, set off firecrackers and light their farts. You know they watch us like a hawk. Like a bunch of fucking hens sitting around clucking at each other. Fucking soap opera. I swear I can smell their unwashed pussies from here.“

“Ah, Top…Do you think you need a cup of coffee to calm down? I can use my stove. It really would be my pleasure. I usually only see you this riled after a few beers and before you got laid for the month.“

Top didn’t seem to hear him. “I’d drink a Pepsi except that shitbird Jose beat me at cards this morning and won it. Fuck me running.” Wow, that was harsh. A Pepsi was actually one of the things made in China that was an improvement over ours. Most likely because they used real sugar instead of corn syrup. But really rare, a luxury. ”Do I look like one of these pansies? Can’t shut the fuck up and soldier? Do I ask for a whole lot? A little caffeine, I’m asking for the whole fucking world on a silver platter served by a naked Angela Joleen. Was that her name, the bitch with the big lips?”

“I’m pretty sure that was the last sex symbol we were concerned with. Christ, how old was Bo Derek or Rachael Welch? Their tits must have been hanging down to their knees even five years ago. Unless they had plastic surgery. I’m pretty sure theirs were real to start with. But a bit of surgery to keep them from pointing straight down should have been okay. I never could stand the Barbie Doll tits. Fucking plastic. I mean, if a tattoo of a dragon or whatever looked hot on a young gal, but was outright hideous when she was wrinkled and all stooped over from being as old as God himself, how bad were unwrinked, undrooping boobs going to look? Like an abomination, I would wager. Doesn’t that occur to anyone involved in the beach boob brood? That shit is just nasty to think about. Can you picture your grandmother with tits that belong on a twenty year old? Do you feel my pain, brother?”

“Cap, you are too cute. You know you can always cheer me up with tits. Even grandma tits.”

“So, we are ready to sally forth and smite the heathen masses who have had the audacity to affront all that is good and just, our call being righteous, our path lit from the heavens above, our mission ordained by the holiest of beings?”

“Fucking A, my bitch. And when we get back, I want either a new stove or a pair of tits”

Right now, Private Smith ( probably not his real name, but what the hell, paranoia was a full time exercise before the collapse for criminals. And what could he have done that was any concern now? Drug use? Not paying taxes? Not being culturally sensitive to Obammy’s race of half breed? Thinking the Constitution had rule of law in the last century and a half? Who gave half a crap anymore? ) would really have liked a Pepsi himself. No coffee for the rank and file in the field. Water was too heavy to carry for such luxuries. Your group leader couldn’t do a heck of a lot if you got shot ( plenty of opiates to help you cope with a wound, but very little in the way of intensive care or antibiotics ), but they sure paid attention to your sanitation as well as how hydrated you were. No coffee, no caffeine, you took your water ration and didn’t waste it. Oh, Jose had a Pepsi, the little shit. He probably also had a bunch of other good stuff like brothel chits ( only four a month, which a few could do with less and a few needed more, so the barter value was high enough ) and liquor ration ( one bottle a month, and strangely was of higher trade value than the brothel ) tickets. He played a mean game of poker. Smith knew enough not to play him, and he was new to the outfit. He couldn’t figure out why anyone else did, unless they were really bored or really stupid. He knew that soda was not great for you, not while marching. But he was tired as hell and it was another six hours of marching. He would kill for caffeine. And they had been on the road an hour. Barely dark. He knew it was psychological. But his body knew there wasn’t going to be any sleep tonight and it was already bitching to his brain. How long had he gone without refined sugar or caffeine? Months and months. It had been all they could do to eat enough to survive. So it couldn’t have been physical addiction. It had to be the minds way of refocusing away from the lack of sleep, drudgery and looming stress. Focus on something you can’t have, something you had fond memories of.

Smith knew he wasn’t exactly cut out for this life. Soldiering was a messy business. Oh, the odds were good you survived your twenty. Expansion was rapid enough that after a minor number of front line battles you started getting promoted. Not that being up there in rank kept you safe. But safer. You were in harms way, but not right up front. But you were nothing but a ground pounder. Straight up infantry. This wasn’t the high tech mechanized army where most troops were support personnel. This was low tech and almost everyone was out in the field. The NCO’s were at the edge of the formations, the skirmishers had mobility for some safety. The officers on the nearest hilltop or in the rear. Mortarmen had to be somewhat close to the field. But nobody was truly safe, you were still within bullet or shrapnel range. And he knew he was in at a good time. There was still fighting contained to northern Nevada. He knew they would eventually get into Salt Lake and the Idaho region. Vegas one of these days? Surely California. They would secure the Sierra water source and then have to attack the flatlanders. This army didn’t seem to like being on the defensive. He didn’t mind, himself. He had never been a history buff, but the classes they taught him now could be interesting. Such as how the defenders of castles had to outlast starvation and worry about diseased corpses being catapulted over the walls. Far better to stay on the offensive. Not that they had much choice right now, their sponsors required the surrounding areas to the mines to be completely pacified. He did wonder what they would do when it wasn’t prudent to continue on the move. It wasn’t a great idea to push past Salt Lake City into the Rockies. Or up into Idaho as long as they stayed reasonable in their trading practices. Most of their grain came from there ( but none of their potatoes- one of the few things that grew well here ).

And it wasn’t prudent anyway. From their anthropology classes ( at first Smith thought all this book learning was weird, instead of just more drill and maneuver, but it was explained that broad strategy wasn’t wasted even on field troops. He wasn’t sure why, but as long as he paid enough attention it got him out of the sun or cold for a time ) they learned about food procurement dictating culture and how you couldn’t mix nomadic with stationary agriculture without conflict or wasteful infighting . There were camps here, but they didn’t keep many people stationary. It almost seemed policy to rotate everyone at a high velocity. You stayed with your unit, but nobody got comfortable anywhere for long. The classes were also babbling something about some old middle eastern guy talking about the role of luxury leading to decline of empire, but some things were too much for his brain and he didn’t retain them. He saw how the old way of SUV’s and office jobs made too many people fat and lazy, but how did staying in one house make you soft? Well, regardless of all that, he hoped to get up in rank enough to be a bit safer by the time they really spread out. When the fighting started involving larger numbers.

Right now Smith was at the beginning position, flintlock musket. They didn’t have percussion, not yet. It was a decided disadvantage in wet weather, but the one thing the Great Basin had little of it was wet weather. And since black powder was hard enough to procure, it had been decided that flintlocks lowered their trading disadvantage by at least doing away with the need for the chemicals for primers. Flintlocks were easy enough to switch over to percussion, but the chemicals were the weak link. Hardly any ore was available with nineteenth century technology anymore as the surface areas had been striped long ago and heavy machinery and electricity were needed for mining. The ChiComs could import that for gold, but they surely didn’t much care to take on that expense for other metals. An American, spoiled since before birth with an overabundance of petroleum, couldn’t prioritize energy use like other cultures could. Luckily, at least as far as self-sufficiency in military supplies went, that talent had been shared by their top leadership here and so while there had been times when lack of smokeless or primers were dangerous, their training had minimized that. They weren’t taking long range casualties like they had at first from full power battle rifles. The supplies of even reloads were quickly exhausted as legions of TV commandoes started the collapse with long firefights of semi-automatic, another casualty of the inability to grasp resource scarcity. There were imports available, still, of modern ammunition. But not surprisingly they were sold dear and used as a strategic trade, being restricted. He had even heard rumors of a Chinese naval expedition to eradicate pirates who had been supplying ammo to the highest bidder. They wanted no undesirables to have the ability to fight. Even their “friends” were given very little. So now, the flintlocks put up the heavy fire, skirmishers provided mobile fire, mortars the support weapons and the snipers got the smokeless ammo to neutralize long range modern weapons in the few instances they presented themselves ( long range being relative of course ). And to take out tantalizing targets such as officers or camp followers ( nothing got the enemy to surrender quicker than the wives and kids taking casualties-although Smith wondered if he could ever do that ).

Basic training had been one month, marching in formation being the favorite activity. If there had been one or two activities that someone didn’t ever want to repeat in life, basic training surely had to be one of them. As Top gleefully explained “Followed by your mother walking in on you masturbating and a getting colon cancer screening. He didn’t care what those gay ass bitches on TV were saying. “Get screened for colon cancer. It’s easy. CBS Cares!“ CBS cares about you shoving a six inch diameter PVC pipe up your ass so the doc can shove his Polaroid Instamatic up there and take a few choice pictures. Wow, that looks like a polyp, let’s stick a scalpel up there too, root around, maybe set up camp. Sure it was easy. They knock you out and you wake up with your asshole stretched further than the time you spent the night at Father Ignatius’ or when you went in to pay a late tax bill, after fees, interest and penalties. Then you get a good anal stretch one more time when the bill comes due since your medical insurance doesn’t cover preventive measures, screenings, preexisting conditions or anything pertaining to the field of medicine. And has a two thousand dollar deductible. After that the faggot actors, swooning at the memory of Rock Hudson, who honest Injun was never gay, it must have been that blood donation , aren’t interested in your ass anymore because it isn’t nice and tight anymore after the PVC pipe. And yet, even after all that, even after your ass virginity is gone, you will swear that was a good time compared to what is for most of you a second round of basic training. We will make it the worst month of your life. I voted that if any of you dickless, assholeless cum slurping morons hadn’t in fact ever served in the military before, hadn’t experienced the life altering miracle that was the Big Green Weenie, you should not be allowed in my beloved unit. I’m not a heartless soul, I would even have accepted former Jarheads, despite the extreme brain damage inflicted upon you in the Corp. But I am not an officer, may Baby Jesus in all his glory be praised hourly, and thus even though I am always right I didn’t get my vote counted. So needless to say some of you jerk wads will be going through training for the first time”.

“I implore thee, I beseech thee, get the fuck out of my sight at once. Turn around and scamper away like the scurvy dung beetle that you are. How you could be approved by others is at once both incomprehensible to me and the source of great distress. I know that my officers, despite not being enlisted men, are basically smart individuals. How else would they themselves been selected to join the best goddamned military unit since the great Swede Gustavus Adolfus swept into Europe proper and kicked some ass back when cannon was first being effectively used. How else? Because gentlemen, this fine military outfit makes very few mistakes. Not while I am here anyway. Once my black heart has been poisoned one too many times by the likes of your putrid faces, I may succumb to health issues and expire, secure in the knowledge that Odin himself needs to see my beautiful face everyday of the afterlife. Then, and only then, you all might be stuck in this shithole without me and live to regret that. So the only explanation that I can conceive of is that you lied to be here. You piece of donkey offal motherfucker. How dare you enter into my presence under false pretenses! Every one of you maggot cock suckers drop down and start doing pushups until I get tired!“

After that was loading exercises. Stock into your hip. Unwind the breech plug. Paper cartridge into the breech, rewind the plug. Pierce paper through the firing hole, fill with fine powder and set the hammer back down. Wait for order to fire. And again, each time the recoil feeling like a mule kicking, your shoulder different colors by days end. Despite that wonder your forefathers never had, a rubber recoil pad. And barely any thing else for training outside formation marches and loading exercises. Thousands of dry fires, hundreds of live. Discipline was easy. Screw it up three times in training and out you go. Promotion depended on surviving battle and winning enough marksmanship competitions. You moved up to rifled flintlock and were then out of front line shock troop position. Snipers, using smokeless rifles, were damn hard to get into. They were the best shots. If you could run like a rabbit, you could get into the scout/messenger corps but it wasn‘t exactly a step away from danger. The theory was you needed to run both to demonstrate your stamina and train for when your bike broke down. And the bikes didn’t need the wear and tear from too much training. Smith had gone all over this with the other guys. You needed to know what your options were. He knew they weren’t in the support corps. MP’s, gunsmith, powdermen, petermen, cobbler, weaver, etc. You needed real world experience, no on the job training except promising apprentices. And wounded vets got the first option anyway. Which is as it should be, that being pretty much it for retirement. You could get out after your tour, but if you stayed a lifer you could stay in barracks and eat in the chow hall until you died. But you also worked every day of that. Sure, after twenty or surviving a major wound you got into an easier job in support. It was a bit like half retirement. But it would never be the fishing or golfing in Arizona type of retirement. The unit took care of you but you still earned your daily bread. There was no surplus for non-workers. And the military ate first even though sometimes that came close to not enough. Even after a few years after the shit settling down. Well, he hadn’t been an accountant or a cop or a tradesman. And he wasn’t pretty enough for the brothel. And he hadn’t had an aptitude for any of it either. So infantry it was. That or ranching, and he had already failed at that after three days. It was a serious employers market.

Here had been stories from outside. Stories that, if true, made you pretty happy to be here instead of there. An almost immediate return to serfdom. They might call you sharecroppers, but between taxes to the local chief and being compelled to buy from a crown monopoly store, you were pretty much a slave. And that was the lucky ones who had a local warlord to keep the enemies from attacking. There were still plenty of areas where there were no stabilized ruler, where there was shifting borders and continuous war. Southern California for one. China wanted the oil in the LA basin. Mexico didn’t officially want their land back but there were plenty of unofficial groups that were trying to plant the flag there anyway. If you were smart and or lucky you had a cistern or a lot of water barrels, because the primary target for control was the pipelines. There were white enclaves trying to survive there. Some idiots were always trying to control the farmland despite the need for stability for irrigation and delivery. And even the need to bring in fertilizer. Oregon was much better for farming, but since California had started out with so many people there was a lot more fighting over less than desirable resources. It didn’t have to make sense, there was no other choice.

Marching wasn’t much of a bother. Who hadn’t had awhile to get used to walking everywhere? They stopped five minutes each hour, and it wasn’t hot out. Not marching at night, that you had a hard time getting used to. There had been times when it was so flippin cold you didn’t feel your feet at the end of the march. But SOP was march during the dark when you were attacking. No dust columns. And attack at the end of the march after just enough time to drink your fill without enough time for your muscles to cool down. So the problem was really the marches destination. A pre dawn attack. March all night right into combat. Oh, they could see their targets well enough, after the mortars had started fires everywhere. That was another job he didn’t want. The guys with the mortars marched ahead first to get set up ( they had a small security escort, since it is kind of hard paying attention to threats pushing a bike with a hundred pounds up hills, but it was still a bigger risk. The downside of infantry first was the increased noise level as the groundpounders sat around waiting for the crews to set up, plus the mortar crew being exposed from the rear ) and start launching for the few minutes until the musketeers came in. So if there were any ambushes set up, who got it? Get ambushed ahead of the column and the theory was the main force could arrive to help. That was a great theory on paper, but since there really weren’t as yet rear areas that could be secured well the lines could shift that theory was what they had to work with.

The captain was in much better spirits than, say, Private Smith. For one thing, he had a stomach full of coffee. For another, he wasn’t going to end the march in a front fighting position. But mostly because the First Sergeant hadn’t gotten in a better mood and so it vastly amused his officer to be in the finest spirits imaginable. Nothing pisses off a person in a foul mood as someone in a happy one. So the captain enjoyed tormenting Top. Oh, he imagined he might pay for it later. Perhaps when he was hung over and vulnerable. But he was enjoying himself too much. Oh, he did a good enough job keeping noise down. But there was a half moon out and Top could see him clowning around. Skipping past. Stopping once in awhile with a huge shit eating grin and wave happily. Whistling under his breath the High Ho song. He would goose an occasional unsuspecting trooper. Especially if he knew the guy was a bit homophobic. It really was fun messing with people. At first, after the initial period of being stiff and afraid, he consciously modeled himself after the whacko surfing officer in the movie Apocalypse Now. Napalm in the morning, bitch!! That shit was priceless. And being a crazy bastard did endear you to most of the troops. Not just acting crazy, either. You had to let yourself go, go shithouse rat nuts. Not to the point of incapacitation or allowing it to effect your tactics. But crazy enough to enjoy fighting. If you enjoyed the shit, they had an easier time overcoming their fear. And you helped yourself out as well. Fear was normal, but you needed that edge to propel yourself past it. His was the goofy time edge. And wasn’t a bit of that just getting in touch with your reptilian brain anyway? Letting yourself do what comes naturally, killing the other bastard before he killed you. Yes, he was enjoying himself. Once again into the breech, dear fellows. Despite the stress he knew would hit, the weak bowels and the dry mouth and the inevitable brief halt in coherent thought, the rush afterwards was worth it. And it was a bit strange. He had once been a rather meek and mild fellow. Avoided any kind of adrenalin rush activities, just a boring geek who liked books. And he had always been an over analyzer. Think first before you do anything. But that first time he had been forced into a fight surprised him. He did good enough to have enough confidence to try in again. On purpose. So, finally, he had presented his calling card. How do you prove your mettle? You wait for a fight and help attack the enemy of the guy you want to work for. Happy times, he still got the occasional drink bought for him over that one.

Top, however, was not looking forward to the coming action. The shit certainly didn’t come natural to him, despite the experience. He knew the captain couldn’t help himself but that was no help putting up with the irritating asshole. Oh, he was a good officer. He came with the fear of combat conquered, which was a big help. But more importantly he had listened to the experienced veteran to learn all the rest of what he needed to know, not allowing rank to interfere. And he had been a natural leader after a few mistrials early on. But the man could try the patience of Job. Always so fucking happy. Wheee, look at me! I’m going to go try to get shot. Top had been shot once or twice, but back in the day. Good medics and good medicine and good recovery facilities. None of which existed now. Now was especially not a good time to get shot. And not a time to be enjoying it. Crazy cunt. Not that he would ask to serve under any other officer. They knew each other and worked well together. And that saved lives. Theirs and their men. Still, he was a silly twat.

The hours passed quick enough, considering it was a long boring march. As they all were. But boring was good, it beat getting shot at. O’Dark Thirty a bicyclist finally came back towards the column, his red LED light set on the predetermined blinking pattern to identify a friendly. He gave one short ring of his bell at the start of the nearest hill, in case no one saw his lights at first. It wouldn’t do to shoot up your own guy, alert the enemy and waste a machine all because your troops were marching with their heads up their ass. It was a bit comical at first, the resistance to installing the bells. What macho “Elite Troop” ( as in most organizations, everyone either tried to be thought the best or envied others they thought had that title ) wanted a kids bell on his mean lean off road machine? But Top told them if anyone bitched anymore they would get an even gayer bell, the rubber bulb type. Plus, one of the bikers picked up his machine and threw it at one of the infantry and took out a tooth. That dampened the hazing, mostly. Top got all pissed off and started wading into the melee but the Captain thought it was pretty cool, started talking about leaving the tooth under a pillow for the tooth fairy. And of course that got him going off on another tangent completely. “So, tell me Top, what do you leave from the tooth fairy anymore? I mean, it had to have been a bit insulting in the past, leaving worthless nickel clad copper coins under the pillow, or worse a piece of paper. If I was the tooth fairy I would want some real silver or gold backing my visit. My reputation is on the line. I mean, sure, the old coins are worth something now with the copper content, but back then they held almost no value. Not with the amount of heavy industrial mining they did. Copper was two pounds an hours labor for the lowest wage job. Now it is ounces, if not less. More than what we make, even with all the bennies. Let me tell you, if they had official whorehouses when I was in the service there would have been no way I would have gotten out before thirty years. They would have had to put a crowbar between me and free pussy and force me to retire. I can’t believe it when I hear you asswhores complaining. Where else do you get free food, free sex and are allowed to kill almost anyone? Fucking ingrates. So, what do you put under a pillow now? Ammo is too expensive. And no one is minting new coins yet. The same or crap coins? It might be worth more, but the negative connotations are still there, from before. It can’t be beef jerky because that might wake you up too soon. Just think about it, get back with me. No reason to answer now before you give it some honest thought. But I will be waiting.” He wouldn’t really, he would forget pretty soon unless someone remembered. But they had forgot about the fight at the moment. And then never continued the hazing. Although no one knew for sure if that was because Top would kick their ass or because nobody wanted to hear the Captain ramble on again about it.

The rider dismounted the bike and started walking alongside the captain, their heads pressed together so they could whisper. “Okay, Sir, you’re about four miles out of Wendover at this point. I only saw two fires, one at each freeway exit on both ends of town. I didn’t see but one man on each post and they looked keen on staying awake, not on paying attention. The freeway blockade is just down from the east end onramp and has no fire. As best I could tell there were two guys. They were more alert, but their attention is all on eastern traffic. Best I could tell the west side of town has no highway observation post, almost as if they expect the guy at the end of the off ramp to pay attention to that. How, I don’t know since he’s got no night vision. As sloppy as all that is, I can’t imagine roving patrols. That’s about it.”

One more hour of marching, ten minutes to rest and water. Then attack. Before they went any farther, they did a weapons check. Better now than close to town in case of inadvertent noise. The whispers went up and down the column. Breeches were opened to check for ball, nipples checked for protruding flint. Knives were loosened in sheaths, bayonets scabbards checked. The few snipers eyed their magazine rounds and checked the pouches again for stripper clips. Everything had been in order before the march, but it never hurt to double check, and it was most troops nervous tick to constantly check anyway. Better to ease their minds now. The captain checked his revolver, made sure his aide was checking his carbine. There might be opportunity for fighting if he got lucky. He didn’t think his aide could hit anything, but he was a semi-bodyguard and did carry a back up weapon the captain could use if they had the time or inclination.

Unlike the last few hours of marching, the last leg went quick. Most of them had more on their minds than marching. The captain started quick marching up and down the line after the same bike messenger appeared again and confirmed no change. Half the column was directed straight ahead to cover the north strip of the town, the other half crossed the freeway and paralleled it, planning on coming in on the west side. Three fire teams were sent on the double to provide back up to the sentry killers and then occupy the highway barricade. Rifled muskets also tried to get a bit ahead to occupy ideal high points.

When the lookout on the spec op teams saw the advancing columns, he signaled his partner and they moved in to take out the sentries. Once done, a whistle was blown, one short blast. That was the signal for the musket ranks to advance without stealth, the mortars to begin, and if the west and north columns had been too far apart it was the signal that the other sentry removal team better be damn quick and finish their business. Incendiary rounds started detonating, setting buildings and brush ablaze. The captain didn’t have much of a high point to occupy since he couldn’t be too far away from foot messenger. But it wasn’t too hard to keep track of the immediate area. Not that he could do much but run things by the book unless he was told of developments that conflicted with that. Then it was seat of the pants. The muskets nor the snipers had fired yet, no targets being available. Even the new guys held up well. And those that showed signs of bringing up their arms had sharp eyed NCO’s to yell down their nervousness.

The captain yelled over the detonations, “Give me a clearing team. Team Bravo, that two story white store.” The team went into action, one man swinging a sledge at the door and instantly shouldering in the door and dropping to the floor, his two mates charging in with revolvers. The bottom was cleared swiftly, most likely only the front and storage room. A few minutes went by and there were a few shots from the upstairs. You could see the flashes behind the curtains, you certainly couldn’t hear anything. The team leader emerged and waved to enter. The captain and aide, two messengers and Top went inside to take up a vantage point upstairs. The entry team took up security. As they went up the stairs the yell went up for first column to kneel.

“Take Aim! Fire!” The musket line fired with thunderous noise. As soon as that died the second column was ordered to shoulder arms and then to fire, the first breaking off left and right to the rear. The second column would then be heading to the rear. Third column immediately shouldered and fired. First was already reloaded. There was no more muzzle loading. The Ferguson Rifle had demonstrated as far back as the Revolutionary War the advantage of breech loaders. Unfortunately for Britain, at the time the Industrial Revolution was still in its infancy and the concept of interchangeable parts had still not displaced individual craftsmanship in manufacture, both of which doomed the experiment. Post collapse, chemicals were in short supply but manufacturing was still possible with low tech. Hence, the anachronism of flintlock with the advance of breech loading. The trigger guard was unlatched, then turned counterclockwise to open to turn the plug to open the breech. A wrapped ball was dropped in ( the top half of a paper tube ), a pre-measured powder charge added from the paper tube bottom. A stick of grease was rubbed on the exposed screw of the breech plug. If ungreased, the plug could jam up in as few as three discharges. This sometimes had the effect of staining the left hand of the operator, from the partially burned powder and grease mixing and dripping. This was quickly picked up on from non-musketeers and used in the joke about feeling up non Caucasian females, although in a slightly cruder form. Once the screw was greased the tube was released to hang from its belt cord, the breech was closed, the primer powder horn was used to fill the pan, the hammer was cocked and you could then fire. There was no appreciable difference in loading times between rifle and musket since one no longer had to force a bullet down a rifled barrel. And the musketeers did use Mini balls to increase accuracy ( which was why the muskets had good sights despite usually being useless after smoke filled the space between them and the enemy after the first shot ). But there were less rifles than muskets for two simple reasons. One, it was harder to manufacture the rifling. And two, marksmanship both needed practice and motivation. Promotion to a position farther back meant rifles were rare and coveted.

All three ranks once again fired, then after a short pause to allow the third rank to reload the order was yelled to fix bayonets. The two volleys had been designed to clear most of the individuals abandoning the buildings. If nothing else it would have been a good reason for them to turn around and run the other way. The muskets waited for orders to march, the mortar barrage slackened ( the ammunition was not excessive, being only what had been carried by bike ) and the marksmen continued to fire at any targets available. As those began to peter out also, the whistle was blown again three times. Cease all support fire. “Forward…March!” The ranks of musketeers moved forward in formation, the first rank with leveled arms affixed with bayonet, the rear two held at port. Once the short distance through town was completed the ranks fell out at ready reserve. The north group which had volleyed but not swept with fixed bayonets began clearing buildings which were not afire. Revolvers being a bit more complicated to manufacture, they were still in short supply. This meant clearing buildings with rifles, an unpleasant business due to the less than stellar tool. The normal tactic was to simple bully into each room and try to overpower resistance with numbers.

Rank one, using the sledge hammer from the professionals, forced their way in and immediately fanned out downstairs. Immediately following them were the second rank that charged upstairs, if there was a second story. Third rank kept an eye outside. The first man in had screamed “We won’t shoot unless you resist”. It was at best a fifty/fifty chance that would work but at least it increased the teams survival rate somewhat. Most folks were in no mood to surrender, especially since the invaders had fired explosives without warning and mowed down those pouring out of burning buildings. But sometimes it worked. This took some time and after the first hour, with dawn on the horizon, they were relieved by those in reserve. It wasn’t quite time to fall into an exhausted sleep, but it was easier staying awake knowing it wasn’t too far away.

When the captain had stationed himself up at the top floor of a small general store ( these one horse towns had kept their old style buildings at first through lack of funds to modernize and then through a willingness to cater to the tourist trade that needed distractions besides gambling and prostitution ) it hadn’t increased his vantage point a whole lot. True to form, the wind only blew when you didn’t need it. Such as in winter when it was already cold enough. In the summer when you wanted a cool breeze you rarely got the freight train types that occurred the rest of the year. At most enough of a soft breeze to keep the dust on you at all times. And when you needed black powder smoke to dissipate? Forget about it. All he could do was wait around and wait for the messengers to come in. The first one carried word that the east freeway barricade had been secured with no casualties. He sent that messenger to look for the mortar teams to tell them to fall in behind the advancing column when done. There would be a delay and this was when a secured building firing on the musketeers could cause problems. Until they had mortar back up ( each team had a reserve they didn’t use in the initial bombardment ) the snipers were about all that they could count on. Well, you did what you could with the men you had on hand.

“Pretty much over, Cap. Pretty fucking anti-climatic, wasn’t it?”

“That it was, Top. But give it a few days, we’ll be somewhere else. I’m sure it will be much more exciting. But, hey, as a wise man once said, it’s all good ‘cause Charlie don’t surf.”




  1. Damn, I read that whole thing, that was good . You should give your self a biscuit and a gold star.

    1. WHOA! Hold on there, pilgrim. I certainly deserve a biscuit but a gold star reminds me of a special ed student getting points just for trying.