Tuesday, July 23, 2019
The Shrewd King 1.1: Regrouping
Chernovsky knew he was making a total hog of himself, but he could not stop.
The table was set with a loaf of bread, butter, cornbread-and-chili and scrambled eggs with greens. A pitcher of fresh milk was in the center of the table.
It felt weird to be inside, out of the sun and wind.
The political elite of Kates Store and Pray Church were seated around the table, patiently waiting for him to slow down. They would have to wait a while.
Kates Store had more people sitting at the table, even though it was only ten square miles. It had been organized longer and it had a 12-month head-start on organizing. Pray Church was closer to fifteen square miles but it had been hit harder by Ebola and it was still sorting itself out.
Rick Salazar, Jonathan O’Brien, Wade Hawk and Margaret White were the representatives from Kates Store. Pastor James, Luke Salazar and Sheila Gault represented Pray Church.
Even though it was a crowd by recent standards, the participants all sat with a minimum of two feet between chairs. The new etiquette demanded that conditions which fostered "accidental touching" be avoided at all costs.
Chernovsky looked with longing at the “pumpkin” pie. Mrs Shaw had whipped it up of Butternut squash, cream, eggs and a little bit of honey. Chernovsky could have eaten half the pie and not noticed that it was seriously deficient in sweetness, at least by last year’s standards.
Rick levered a respectable wedge of pie out of the pan, put it on the plate and slid it over to Chernovsky.
Then Rick opened the meeting.
“You told me that the raiders are operating differently. You said it might be worth changing how you are deployed.” Rick said.
The other members around the table nodded their heads.
Chernovsky’s force had been positioned like a blast shield three miles north of Pray Church's extreme northern edge. They parsed the waves of refugees and street gangs fleeing the horrors of Ebola devastated Lansing and Delta Township.
They let the refugees free-flow through.
They killed every member of gangs, without exception, without questions and without mercy.
They had outposts that eyeballed the groups that percolated south. If the group had the appearance of a family group, then it was stopped at the “frontier” and the group was either in-processed or sent away by the residents who manned the barricades. Sheila Gault was one of the heavy-lifters among the group who manned the barricades.
If the group was too homogeneous for gender (biased toward males) and age (predominantly men between 15 and 25) or if aggressive behaviors were observed, then hostile intentions were assumed and they were killed with prejudice. Chernovsky had deemed it unlikely that a Benedictine Monastery would be likely to evacuate south down Canal Road.
Chernovsky used to play football in college. He had been a starting linebacker in a strong, Division II program for three years. He believed in training, physical fitness, training, organization, training and ruthless pursuit.
Chernovsky drilled his fighters fifty hours a week for three months before the first hostiles started to trickle out of Lansing. The hostiles met a buzzsaw that was worlds away from the low-level sniping and two-in-the-morning drive-by shootings that defined their environment.
Things changed during the last week of April. In retrospect, it was clear that their operation was being probed by another, organized force. Then, two days ago, the hostile force attempted to ambush and annihilate Chernovsky’s force.
They were almost successful. Their ambush failed because of Chernovsky’s insistence on multiple layers of paranoia, particularly with regard to communication.
“I overheard some of your fighters talking about how many fighters they killed. It doesn’t seem possible.” Pastor James said.
“How many are they saying now?” Chernovsky asked. He was always amused by how much they exaggerated.
“Before we get into that, how many do you think you killed?” Rick asked. It had been a matter of much speculation in the two communities. The fighters used silenced rifles and the communities rarely knew when a conflict had occurred.
“I figure three hundred dead hostiles.” Chernovsky said.
That was a staggeringly high number. Chernovsky had started with thirty-two fighters, counting himself and attrition whittled that down to twenty-five. One had been drummed out for being a bad fit. Four had been killed during operations and two had been seriously wounded.
“Bullshit.” Wade Hawk offered his opinion.
Chernovsky was used to people who offer their unvarnished opinions. He used to call them “Coach”.
“Your opinion.” Chernovsky said. “I counted one-hundred-sixty dead on the roads and figured about that many crawled off the road before they died.”
Rick’s eyebrows shot up. “160 bodies on the road?”
“Yeah. And I picked a stretch of road where the grass was short and it was easy to count the bodies that were off the road. Actually ran 1/3 on the road and 2/3 managed to get off the road before dying.” Chernovsky said.
He modestly left off the number who had turned tail and hauled-ass north, out of Chernovsky’s area of operation.
“What are my guys saying?” Chernovsky asked.
“Fifteen-hundred.” Pastor James said.
Now it was Chernovsky’s turn to be surprised. He cautioned his fighters to keep their heads in the game and to not "look at the scoreboard.” Of course, the men kept score, they simply stopped telling Chernovsky.
The original estimates were that as many as a thousand “hostiles” might pressure Pray Church’s northern frontier.
Unbeknownst to Chernovsky and the rest of the people seated around the table, the fighters had “salted” their ammunition with biological and chemical agents that made a solid hit invariably fatal. It might take three weeks, but if the wound was anything more than a simple, grazing wound that was fully exposed to the air...the wounded person was a walking dead-man.
The actual number of hostiles who were Killed-in-Action due to the actions of Chernovsky’s fighters was much closer to fifteen-hundred than to the lower numbers.
“What we have to do is decide if the original mission needs to be changed.” Rick Salazar said. “The number of gangs who are pushing in from the north has fallen off a cliff even as we are being pressured from the east and west.”
"Nyssa thinks the epidemic has mostly burnt itself out by now." Rick said. "The areas urban areas are filled with corpses and are still hotter than hell. Every corpse is filled with viable virus and there are tens of thousands of them."
"But Nyssa says that the people who are still walking around are pretty likely to be 'clean.' " Rick said. "The fact that they are not dead is convincing proof that they were able to avoid the Ebola virus and the Bubonic Plague.
"Does that mean that people moving into Pray Church and Kates Store don't have to be put into quarantine?" Sheila Gault asked, surprised.
"No, they still have to be isolated for forty days." Rick said. "But what Nyssa was saying is that we don't have to freak out if there is incidental contact. That is, the person who experiences doesn't need to be put into quarantine. A simple hot, soapy shower and washing of clothing is enough."
“The organized attack was a big surprise, as well.” Rick continued. “We found one of the two vehicle that blew through the Eaton Rapids defenses on the M-99 bridge. It had six dead in it. It was a Lincoln SUV that hit a tree and the impact killed everybody onboard. We are still looking for the other vehicle.”
“Does anybody else have something to add?” Rick asked.
Sheila Gault cleared her throat. She had been instrumental in processing the refugees flooding out of Lansing. “I am starting to get families asking if they can contract their labor in exchange for food and lodging.”
“Things are grim out there. Hardly anybody has the tools or seeds they need to make it through the next 2 months, never mind through next winter.” Sheila said.
“I think we need to get everybody on the same page regarding how we deal with these families. I can see the advantage: We need the labor. But I can also see a lot of potential for abuse.”
“You are looking at enemies from the outside. I fear that we might have enemies within the walls if we are not careful.” Sheila concluded.