Chapters 1-4 can be found HERE.
By E. J. D’Alise (Disperser)
Copyright 2004 – 2013
The meeting room was filled. The only ones not present were the sharpshooters manning the towers, and members of the two teams out on patrol.
There was no structured seating, but most people gravitated to the same locations. The chairs were arranged two and three deep around a long table.
As I sat, I was surprised to have Lindsey come and sit next to me. She did not say anything, and did not look at me. Usually, but not always, Jim sat next to me. I looked around the room. All the other newcomers sat at the table, a quarter of the way around to my left. I continued scanning the room.
Jim was on the other side of Lindsey. He got up, and started to speak.
“OK. I presume everyone is settled. Let’s get started.”
He explained to the new members how things worked. Everyone held at least two jobs, more if they wanted. He told each newcomer what we thought their best fit would be, but gave them choices for other positions as well. Jim assigned a contact for each individual, and encouraged our new members to spend some time over the next few days asking questions, and thinking about what they wanted to do.
Some things were mandatory; shooting practice twice a week, and hand to hand combat three days a week. The two youngest children were not required to shoot, but they still attended training in self defense.
The compound went through a lot of ammunition. Luckily, we had large amounts of both factory rounds, and supplies for reloads. We also owned a number of exotic weapons, night scopes, and some other deadly toys. Two of the families who had joined us had been in the National Guard. When the rest of their unit was wiped out by the virus, they asked to join in exchange for access to their armory.
We had carried in a large amount of stuff and stored it in the basement. Much more was buried in sealed containers at various hidden locations outside the compound. What we could not carry we had destroyed. No sense leaving the stuff for the gangs to find.
We even had a couple of armored Humvees with 50-caliber machine guns mounted on the back. They were stored in the ambulance bay along with our two ambulances. All four vehicles were kept in good working order, but they were never out. Knowledge of their presence would make us a more attractive target than we already were. We kept them for emergencies only.
Jim did not touch on any of this, though it was known to all but the newcomers.
He continued with his speech. Everyone was required to partake in regular maintenance rotations. The idea was to get all as familiar as possible with the workings of the compound. While some were more proficient than others at individual tasks, the idea of specialization had been discarded because of the risk of casualties. Knowledge was to be shared. Each adult member of the compound was required to attend classes on various aspects of compound living. This held true from the laundry to the emergency room, and applied to everyone.
Classes were mandatory, scheduled by Jim, and they provided some structure and purpose to the day. He assured everyone this still left plenty of leisure time. He also urged everyone to get a hobby, or develop some interest outside their regular duties. Except for the patrols and hunting parties, everyone stayed within the compound.
Disputes were rare, he continued, and counseling teams were formed when they occurred. Usually a compromise was reached between the parties. Jim explained the system worked because the group was small and close knit, but that the most important thing was communication.
He stressed no one had to be worried about voicing opinions, and that each individual’s opinion was going to be heard and considered. But he also warned that group consensus ruled.
With one exception; if consensus could not be reached, a group of eleven people would meet. Ten would be chosen to represent various sides of the issue in question. If needed, the eleventh would have the tie-breaking vote. The eleventh was chosen from a pool of five people elected every year by the whole group, including all children eight years and older.
Once a decision was reached, it would not be reconsidered for six months. This gave the parties time to see how the compromise worked. The group of eleven had only met once. Jim did not elaborate further.
There were a few questions, but for the most part people were anxious to get going. Jim adjourned the meeting after reminding everyone this meeting did not replace the regular weekly meeting. I sat as everyone filed out. Lindsay also waited, and did not get up until I moved to exit. She walked ahead of me, and went over to Toni who was waiting in the hallway. Together they walked off with their contact. I watched them leave before following Jim to our next duty.
The clean-up team was waiting for us. They carried insulation suits and some shovels. All were armed. Jim and I suited up. We headed out towards the site of yesterday’s encounter. One of the other teams was already in the area, scouting for possible hostiles. This was the least favorite part of my job; burying the dead.
It was a dangerous but necessary aftermath to these encounters. There was a chance the town would send someone to check up on the missing men, but I had a hunch the guys that had been sent out here had been expendable, and that no one expected them to return, with or without the vaccine.
We got back a few hours later. The evening patrol was just getting ready to head out. They carried night scopes, as they would not return until well past midnight. No other patrol would go out until morning, but the tower was manned round the clock. It had been a few years since the last night attack, but we still took precautions.
~ ~ ~ o o o ~ ~ ~
The next month went by fast. I split my time between patrolling and the scheduled yearly overhaul of the solar panels. We had been lucky to salvage them from an abandoned farmhouse, and we had since gotten spares from other houses. Still, it was paramount to maintain them.
I did take the time to read the updates on the newcomers. Tom and Laurie had taken over the classes for the kids full time, relieving the four people who filled the roles before.
One of them was Dr. Carlin, who now could have more time to concentrate on his work. We were in contact, via short wave radio, with a couple of facilities – one in Michigan and one in Arizona – who were also researching the virus.
In addition, Tom dabbled in carpentry, and joined our other carpenter in helping with scheduled maintenance. Laurie was an accomplished seamstress, and joined the team of four women and two men who maintained our existing clothing, fixed linens, and made clothes for the growing children. Norma, one of the other ladies, was teaching her how to work with hides.
Norma’s husband had been a trapper and a hunter. He had been killed when our hunting party had crossed paths with a small gang on the move. His son had taken over the hunting duties, and was teaching others how to trap, hunt, clean game, and how to clean and treat hides.
Walter was a quiet young man, good with a gun, and an excellent trapper and hunter. He carried his father’s name, and had obviously learned well. He had also been somewhat reclusive since the death of his father. I was glad to read the note about his interest for Diana, the legal aide. They were close in age, and I thought they might make a good pair. She was helping Dr. Carlin cataloging and documenting results of his research.
I put the update down and sipped my water as I thought about potential conflicts. Walter, Jim and I, and two other men were unattached. The other two men were both named John. One had never married, was forty years old, and helped with computer system maintenance. He may conceivably be interested in one of the women.
The other was a widow, was in his early fifties, and maintained our two short wave radios and our walkie-talkies. His thoughts were still dominated by memories of his wife. It would take some extraordinary event for him to show any interest in the newcomers.
I did not know about Jim, but I doubted he would compete with Walter. I was not sure if he would have any interest in either Andrea or Toni. I told myself it was none of my business.
I spent a lot of time with Jim, and we had never talked of women, or potential mates, probably because deep down we both believed the future to be bleak. Neither of us harbored any hope for major improvements within our lifetimes. Caring for a wife, or even a girlfriend, was likely to be a hindrance . . . yeah.
I picked up the report again. George was a musician in addition to being a Librarian. He had started music lessons for the kids and interested adults. The lessons were held in one of the unused operating rooms. The room was almost sound proof; a good thing, at least for now.
His wife Sandra had joined the household team, helping clean the facility. In addition she was taking classes to help as a part-time nurse. Tess attended school, and spent time helping her mom when not in class. She did take up piano lessons, but spent little time with the other kids. I would take some time for her to learn that it was safe to leave her mother’s side. Years of living in terror had left their mark.
Andrea – the receptionist – had shown a strong interest in electrical and power plant maintenance. She was also learning how to maintain the vehicles. Go figure. She probably had been pushed into her job by her family, and just now finding out there were other things of interest.
There was also a small note she was assisting Jim in planning the schedules. I tried to picture them together. Despite his position, Jim was a pretty shy and reserved person. Whatever passion he brought to the job it never broke the surface. From what I had seen, she was poised and soft-spoken. Her job as receptionist must have given her some people skills, and I guessed that if anything were to happen between her and Jim, she would have to initiate it. Then again, I could be reading more into this than was there.
That left Toni and Lindsay. I hesitated; it felt like I was intruding. Nonsense! It was my job.
Lindsey came into my mind as I took another sip of water. The girl had taken to sitting next to me at the weekly meetings. After the first few meetings, people left the seat next to me open if she happened to be a little late. When our schedules coincided, she sat next to me in the cafeteria. She never spoke, and hardly looked at me. We must have looked a strange pair, sitting there in silence.
One change I had noticed was her eyes. They gained some life, and I even caught her smiling, whenever she interacted with the younger children. She had practically adopted the 4-year-old, Kim, and seemed a different person when playing and taking care of him. She was just as good with the other kids, and could be found with them most of the time. But when not around the children, the Lindsay I had first seen resurfaced. Her eyes empty and distant, hiding whatever lay underneath the surface.
I resumed reading. Besides spending time with the kids, both Lindsay and Toni had taken to the shooting and hand-to-hand combat classes. Lindsay was a good shot, but Toni was in a class of her own. Both had become good enough to serve sniper duty. Not that Lindsey would have to – not unless we were in serious trouble.
For Lindsay, competing in both the shooting and hand combat was a game. She enjoyed going up against her sister at the range, and enjoyed the physical aspect of combat training. George had suggested we start dancing classes for the kids – and adults – after watching one of the sessions. Seemed like a good idea. Kids had a lot of energy.
Toni was another matter. She worked in the kitchen, and helped with the garden, canning, and planning meals. But she really took to the shooting range, and even more so to the hand-to-hand combat. She added the knife fighting class to her schedule, and trained all the time. Her instructors noted she seldom repeated mistakes, and she was lightning-quick. She also helped with weapon cleaning, maintenance, and target practice reloads. She pushed both herself and Lindsey to learn and improve.
I put the report down.
I knew well what drove her. She had no intention of being a victim ever again. The thought crossed my mind that she would rather die than be captured by a gang again. Then again, so would I.
Unbidden memories flooded back, and I slammed the report on the table. I got up and walked outside onto the yard. I felt hot, and my hands were shaking. Taking a few deep breaths, I started to relax as I watched Lindsey and Kim on the swing set. She looked at me and waved. Surprised, I waved back before I realized I was doing so. I put my hand down, turned and went inside.
I really hoped this was not a child’s infatuation. I did not want to be responsible for causing her any pain. More than likely she saw me as a father figure, or even her rescuer. I was the one that had killed the two who escorted them to us.
Damn. I was not used to asking for help, but I needed to head this off. I would speak to Jim. Maybe he and Dr. Carlin could help. As I walked off, I was not sure what they were supposed to help with.
~ ~ ~ o o o ~ ~ ~
Another week passed. Lindsay now smiled at me more often, even when Toni was around. Toni’s expression never changed, matching the emptiness in her eyes. If it bothered her to see her sister smile at me, she never gave any indication.
I had spoken to Jim about it, and he and Dr. Carlin agreed it was best not to confront the girl. She had just started to come out of her shell. Not likely, but if this was infatuation, it was best to proceed carefully. They would speak to Toni when the opportunity presented itself. I was hoping they would get to it before the start of my rotation as hand-to-hand combat instructor.
A few days later I was in my room trying to read. My mind was wandering, and as I sat holding a book and staring at the wall ahead of me, I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. Instinctively I became aware of how my gun was aligned, and the draw angle. The compound was safe, but old habits die hard.
I looked at the door opening. Toni was standing there. With the light behind her, I could barely make out her face. We looked at each other for a few seconds.
“You’re taking the place of our brother . . . her brother.”
She stood a second longer, then she was gone, and I squinted at the light from the now empty doorway.
She had not hanged around long enough to notice the color drain from my face, or the sweat forming on my forehead.
I needed to compose myself. Class started in a half hour.
Empty the mind; concentrate on each breath. In . . . out . . . each breath a little longer and slower than the preceding one. The sound of air entering and leaving my lungs was all I concentrated on. That, and in slowing the pounding of my heart.
I entered the classroom a few minutes late, dressed only in light sweats. It was one of the few places I did not carry my guns. Four students were waiting, sitting in a semi-circle. Three were newcomers; Andrea, Tom, and Tess. I was glad to see Tess venturing out without her mother.
Jack, on the doctor’s staff, was a repeat student. The doctor insisted all members of his staff should know how to handle potentially dangerous patients.
I, on the other hand, I was pretty sure dangerous patients would be dead long before they ever made it to our facilities. John, the short wave radio operator, rounded out the group.
John always attended my classes. I had been his original trainer, and I had asked him early on to help me. He described the moves while I executed them with the students. I was both relieved and disappointed to notice Toni was not there.
We began our warm-up exercises, pairing them off boy-girl, boy-girl. I found that combination gave the women the confidence not to be intimidated by men, and it taught men not to underestimate women. John began describing what we were going to do, while I helped the pairs set up.
Toni entered the room as we were ready to start. She bowed and sat waiting. Everyone else was already paired. I motioned her to get up and come over. The thought crossed my mind that hand-to-hand combat was to be our first physical contact; not the most auspicious beginning. The unbidden thought gave me pause; the beginning of what?
The class resumed. We went through a few simple avoidance and counter-attack maneuvers, to be executed before the other person had a good hold on you. We repeated them until everyone had the basic idea. They would have to practice it until it was second nature, but for now we moved on.
We covered basic defensive and offensive techniques, and repeated the more difficult moves. Some had minor variations depending on what the attacker or defender did. John kept a steady discourse describing the individual steps. Toni and I sometimes demonstrated the moves a few times in slow motion to show the others proper form. She avoided looking directly at me. She fixed on a point in space somewhere in front of her, and seemed to be on automatic.
Concentration had replaced the empty stare. It transformed her looks in a good way, and I found myself wishing she would smile.
However, at every break, the empty stare returned. Then again, few people had ever seen me smile. The hour was nearly over. John urged everyone to practice while the moves were still fresh in their mind. He was about to dismiss the class when Tess asked if we could demonstrate how all of what they had learned came together.
I hesitated, but Toni had stood, and was already in her stance. This time she was looking right at me, and there was life in her eyes.
She was fast. She fainted left, and swung right catching my open side, knocking my leg forward and flipping me to the mat over her leg. I kept rolling and came up in time to deflect a grab at my wrist. Rather than follow through with a punch, I pushed her away. She pivoted on one foot, sweeping my feet with her other leg. I had already jumped up, but now I had no way to react the force of her arm coming across my chest. As I fell she rolled with me and ended up with one arm around my neck, and the other pulling my arm up behind my back.
There was a small pause, and she whispered in my ear.
“You shouldn’t pull your punches.”
As she finished speaking I doubled up under her, rolling forward as I twisted sideways while grabbing the back of her head. She got her wind knocked out of her as her back hit on the floor and my full weight slammed into her. Before she recovered I had her on a choke hold. A few more seconds and she would have passed out.
John spoke as I released my hold and jumped up.
“Now, that is a correct choke hold; one arm around the neck, the other helping apply pressure. As you can see, the one arm alone was not as effective as there are a number of ways to break the hold. Even with the correct hold, you still have to be ready against possible attempts to scratch your eyes, rip your nostrils, or having your opponent trying to bite you.”
John’s speech had been longer than the actual fight. Toni had rolled on her back and was massaging her neck. I offered my hand. She hesitated, the grabbed it and I pulled her up. I was probably mistaken, but I could swear her mouth was fighting back a smile. Maybe it was just the effort of rising.
Whatever it was, by the time she was upright her blank expression and empty eyes had returned.
“That concludes today’s lesson,” said John. “Remember to practice, and we’ll see you in two days.”
I bowed at the students, and they bowed back. I waited until they filed out of the room. Toni did not look back. After they had gone I flexed my arm; she had nearly dislocated it. In truth, had she been intent on holding me, I may not have been able to escape her hold. I had been fortunate that she relaxed a bit when she spoke. I pitied any guy who tried to make her his next victim. Actually, no, I did not.
~ ~ ~ o o o ~ ~ ~
I arrived at the group meeting a few minutes late. There was an open chair next to Lindsay. I hesitated, thinking I would stand, but Jim stopped and waited for me to sit. I made my way to the chair and sat.
Jim resumed, “As I was saying, we are picking up some chatter on the short wave. There is a new group making their way down from Springfield. It’s all rumors until they get close to a town, then the radios go silent. Our guess is they are confiscating the radios, possibly killing the operators.”
Many of the people looked over at John, who repositioned himself in his seat. We only transmitted to the other medical facilities, and never conversed with anyone local. We monitored for any information, but did not want to give away information to potential enemies.
“In view of this unknown threat, we are going to add one member to each patrol team. They will carry sniper rifles and provide cover fire in case of an encounter. We are asking for volunteers, but I have a list of people we have in mind, along with a few backups.”
Jim proceeded to read the list. All of the men were in the room, but before any of them spoke, Toni stood.
“I would like to volunteer for the patrols.”
The room was silent for a moment. Many of the people looked my way. I sat, controlling my breathing and focusing on the cup of water I had carried in.
“We . . . don’t send women out on patrol.” Jim said.
“Why not? I’m probably your best shooter, and can take care of myself.” Toni’s voice was calm.
I looked at her. Her expression was as blank as always. But her eyes held a spark of defiance.
“I can be of more use in the field, than in the kitchen.”
Jim shook his head. “Combat is not the same as training Toni.”
He did not sound terribly convincing. After all, that was the whole purpose of training; to get people ready for combat.
Toni was not going to let it go. “It is my duty to contribute in what I do best. It is my right to volunteer, and it is my desire to help with the survival of this compound.”
Jim was caught in an uncomfortable position, but he had nothing to counter her argument. My stomach was in knots as I knew what the inevitable outcome would be.
“Fine. We’ll review tactics for three men . . . person . . . teams after we finalize the roster.” He sat back down and looked at me as the meeting broke up around us and people filed out.
A minute later, Jim, Lindsey and I were the only ones left in the room. Lindsey had waited for the others to leave before looking to each of us in turn; she looked panicked. Finally she put her hand on my arm and waited for me to look directly at her.
Her voice shook. “I could not talk her out of it. She’s my sister . . . please, I don’t want to lose her.”
“We can’t order her not to.” Jim said, “It’s her . . . “
“I know.” Lindsay interrupted, keeping her eyes locked to mine.
“I know. It’s her choice,” she continued, “ . . . but you can take her on your team. She likes you; you can keep her safe!”
I removed Lindsey hand from my arm, stood, and headed out the door.
“You don’t know what you are asking . . . “ started Jim.
I stopped at the doorway. I heard my voice say it; “Okay.”
It was the first time Lindsey had ever heard me speak. As I turned and went through the doorway, I realized it was also the first time Toni had ever heard me speak. I stopped and looked at her standing there, just outside the door. I could hardly focus on her. She may have tried to speak, I don’t know. I just turned and headed off.
Jim came to see me later on. We spoke of nothing for a while as he danced around the issue, but he was obviously concerned.
After a pause in the conversation he flat out asked, “Are you going to be able to handle it?”
I’m sure part of his concern included his own safety. He wanted to know if Toni’s presence with us would put all three of us in danger . . . not because of Toni herself, but because of me. I did not answer. I had been asking the same question of myself for the past hour.
“DC? Did you hear me?”
I looked over at him. I held out my hand, fingers extended; it was rock steady.
“I’ll handle it. I think it would be more of a problem is she joined another team.”
Jim looked into my eyes, and appeared satisfied.
“I need some sleep,” he said. He got up and left, closing the door behind him. I switched off the table lamp and sat there in the dark.
The End (well, not really, but The End for now)
I do hope it was an enjoyable read.
Chapter 9-12 can be found HERE.
I’ll be posting the third segment in a few days.
~ ~ ~ o o o ~ ~ ~
Astute persons might have noticed these doodles, and correctly surmised they hold some significance for me, and perhaps for humanity at large.
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. . . my FP ward . . . chieken shit.