Half-Century

We celebrated my wife’s 50th birthday today at a Melting Pot restaurant.  Food was good; it was fun.

Oh:  cannibals.

[EDITED:  clarity added; note to self:  don’t make posts after a Martini, a bottle of wine, and a snifter of single malt Scotch]

“Defiant” – Episode 7 (part 1)
    “Everyone wake up!  On your feet!”
    Their sergeant walked along the line of sleeping and resting men, calling in a low voice, jeans and a patched flannel shirt; his blue armband with a hand-written ‘S’ on it.  They weren’t on the front line, but they were only about one hundred yards from the Columbia River.  And no one knew how many boats had made the crossing to the south.  Joe Kreeft stood slowly, his muscles stiff from sleeping against a cinderblock wall for the night.  The eastern sky showed only the lightest tint of color.  To the north was black.
    “Wonder what we’ll see, today?”  He muttered.  There was a small snort from his right.
    “I hope it’s that Jap ship anchored mid-river,” Phillip said softly in reply.  He looked toward Joe.  “If those rumors were even one tenth true.”
    A big if, Joe thought.
    Yesterday had turned into what was likely the most screwed up and confusing day since the country fell apart, seemingly overnight.  First the alarms, the race to get his bag and rifle, the scramble to find the right truck, Nichole appearing out of nowhere….
    He paused for a moment to touch the silk now tied about his neck like a bandanna.  When that asshole, Barns, joked, “looks good on you, Miss Kreeft!”  He’d shut him up with, “what’n the hell did your girl give you?”  All on the truck laughed.  At Barns.
    Of course, Joe knew better:  someone he’d known for less than an hour was not ‘his girl.’  Then again, why did she single me out of all that chaos…?  There was a sharp *brrrraappp!* from their left, where the bridge was.  Everyone who’d been standing dropped to a crouch.
    “Sounded like one our machine guns,” Phillip said.  “Guess somebody was on the bridge… wonder if any of the regulars still have night visions optics?”
    “Sure as hell hope someone does,” said Steven, to Phillip’s right.
    There was no repeat firing.  The sergeant came down the line again.  Time to go.  Joe hoped that today, somebody knew where.
    When their truck left the campus, third of four in a convoy, he wondered if the driver of the lead truck was lost or drunk.  They should have crossed the Willamette in ten minutes:  it took twenty.  As they did, Joe and everyone else looked south at the warship, idle on the dock.  Across from him, Steven turned back around to face Joe.
    “Be nice to have that sumbitch on our side!”  He huffed.  “Dammit.”
    Joe said nothing.  Like that would happen.  He allowed himself one last look… huh?  A motorcycle racing towards the pier… the trucks were off the bridge and the image gone.
    “Shit.”  Phillip next to him said.  He was holding a small radio to his ear.  Everyone looked at him.  “Boats on the river… Fort Vancouver under heavy fire…”
    “This ain’t no effing raid,” Steven said.
    “…we’re to get off just before the bridge…”  He turned white.  Everyone in the truck stiffened.  “We… we may have already lost the island.”
    He lowered the radio and stared down.
    Someone he didn’t know starting talking quickly.  “”Hey…!  We’re just militia!  They can’t expect us to storm an island!  We…!”
    “We don’t know jack right now,” Joe growled at him, “so let’s not start crying like schoolgirls, right?!”  The other quieted.
    Going due-north on I-5, it seemed even the lead driver was unable to screw up something that simple.  They were slowing, though.  Leaning out, he saw they were coming up on more trucks ahead of them.  Good in one sense:  the more militia, the better.  Bad in another:  a huge traffic jam was forming.
    They stopped.  Shit.  He shook his head.  Looking around, it looked as if they were just shy of Lombard Street.
    “Everyone OUT!”  He looked to see the LT stand up and yelling from the lead truck.  He must be an officer, even if in the militia:  slacks, not jeans.  The LT held his scout rifle over his head.  “We’re not doing anyone any good here!  It’s only two miles; you think someone else is going to save your homes?!”
    He readied himself to jump down, then briefly stood.
    “Follow me!”  He shouted.  The platoon roared in approval and started scrambling out.
    Everyone froze at the other roar:  from the sky.  Then the thuds from the north.
    “What the hell…”  Joe asked to the sky, “was that?”
    No one moved.  Another salvo came over.  Missiles!  They cheered again, following the LT at a jog down the ramp, left, then north onto old Interstate Avenue.  More salvos came overhead.  They were all cheering and waving.  Joe glanced at Phillip, trying to keep up.  He saw the look.
    “Yeah:  the warship; it has to be,” Phillip said, sweating.  Little guy was not in the best of condition.  Fortunately the LT slowed them to a walk.  They’d likely jog again shortly, then walk the last half mile.  Arriving on a battlefield tired was stupid.
    “How… I mean…why….”  Joe tried to collect his thoughts.  “The Japanese, fighting for us… there’s no alliance, no reason….”
    “We’re an island,” Phillip said, catching he breath.  “Think about it:  after the Breakup, this city and the Valley to the south are cut off with almost no resources.  Just like Japan.”
    Others in the squad were listening.  They all knew Phillip was brighter than everyone else.
    “Then again, the ship got here yesterday.  I can’t imagine Mayor Johnson concluding a treaty that fast,” he shook his head as he slogged along, staring at the ground.  “But there’s no way a ship’s captain would act like this without orders….”
    “Then maybe they knew about the attack beforehand!”  Barns yelled.  “This is just their chance to take us over!”
    Some looked at him in disbelief, but Joe also saw some took him seriously.
    Phillip carefully shook his head.
    “I don’t think so,” he said seriously.  “They could certainly destroy us, but… transport a brigade across the Pacific, with a full logistical tail?  No… not even the Chinese could pull that off, now.  Ugh!”
    He grunted as they resumed their jog.  Joe tapped Phillip’s shoulder and pointed at his bag.  The smaller man gratefully handed it over.  No one asked to take his rifle.  That would have been insulting.
    They crossed over the Columbia Slough.  There were faint popping noises ahead.  Small arms fire.
    So it was just a happy coincidence, Joe thought.  A memory caught up with him; he almost tripped over his own feet.  Last night, when they’d met Nichole…she’d been singing….
    Singing a song in Japanese.
    No.  No way… he thought.
    The LT was talking with Brigadier Tessmer.  A regular, and in overall command.  Tired with his friend Phillip knowing everything, Joe used his bulk to shoulder his way through the crowd to a point he could at least hear.
    “… a backup for over two miles.  You’ll have to feed units in piecemeal as they arrive…”
    The general snapped his pen in half.  “I hear incompetence in Texas is being rewarded with crucifixion; maybe we…”  He trailed off and shook his head.
    “Thank you for your report, leftenant, ”take your men two thousand yards east to Bridgeton; shoot anything and anyone in the water.  Keep your men close together… they’re militia.  No panic.  Clear?”
    “Sir!”  The LT saluted and waved at his team of twenty two to follow him along Marine Drive.
    They have us on defense; thank God, Joe thought.
    Twenty minutes later, they were strung out a klick-wide, rifles pointed at the empty marina along the river.  The sun was low in the western sky.
    “They won; not us.”
    “Sorry, Phil?”  Joe said to his friend a few yards to his right.
    “The Japs.  This is their win.  But,” he coughed slightly and spat, “I still don’t get it; we’re just here.  Wonder what moved them?”
    Joe’s left hand came up to his neck for just a moment.
    “Yeah.  Me, too.”
    Back in the pink sky of early morning, their platoon shuffled out of the line, following a sergeant from the regulars.  No questions, no answers.  ‘Sides the automatic fire down the bridge just a while ago, things had been quiet.  Maybe the Jap ship took out enough that they could all go home— The sergeant turned.
    “We’re crossing with three armored cars and a regular Company and two of you militia platoons in reserve,” he announced.  “This is for the relief of Fort Vancouver.  One militia platoon with the two cars will cover the north end of the bridge, the regulars will proceed on while the other militia unit scout’s beneath the bridge.  We shall re-establish contact with the Fort.  Questions?”
    There were none.  No one in Joe’s platoon bothered to look at each other; why spread their fear?
    That sergeant walked off into the disappearing dark.  Their own LT, looking like he didn’t sleep at all, pushed his way slowly through his men.  He climbed up and perched himself atop the Gage Scout Car.  He rapped sharply on the hood.
    “Let’s move out.”
    With a prayer that the Japs had driven the rest off, Joe and the others followed their  lieutenant at a trot north across the I-5 bridge.  They took no fire as they crossed Heyden Island, and deployed as they were told once they reached the shore of former Washington State.  Their Fort was only a mile to the northeast.
    Joe found a foxhole just off the left of the bridge and dropped into it, breathing heavily.  Can I go back to school, now?
    “Third platoon militia!”  He heard his LT call.  Shit.  “Second platoon finally made their sorry asses here!  They’ll take our positions!  Form on me to check under the bridge!”
    To his credit, the egotistical little snot started walking past Joe, filthy slacks and all, with his rifle pointed vaguely forwards, confident his men would follow him.  It was because of his attitude that they did.  Slowly, reluctantly, but they did.
    Second platoon was running across the bridge, jumping into the just-vacated foxholes.
    “Hey, ElTee!”  Barns called.  “Why us?”
    Their officer didn’t stop.  “Because we’re here; no one else.”
    It was dark under the dual, four lane span of the bridge.  Moss and mushrooms were everywhere.  They picked their way carefully.    They moved from west towards the east.  Thus sun was just over the horizon.  Upriver, Joe thought, were the hydroelectric dams that kept them in power; that kept them alive.  If they ever lost those….
    They were almost clear when there was some movement up under the bridge supports.  By now, out of curiosity, Joe had tailed Phillip to just behind the LT.
    The officer pointed his rifle.  “Stand up!  Slow!”
    Shapeless forms, they rose without a sound.  Three, then one, did.  The three were much taller.  They wore dirty woolen shifts, with a cord about their waist.   Joe didn’t know why, but he thought they looked like religious fanatics.
    “Jesus.”  He heard Phillip mutter.
    The three didn’t just have their heads shaved, more liked scraped.  Eyebrows, too.  Scabs covered their heads.  Impossible to tell if they were male or female.
    “Forgive us, master!”  One of them lisped, the sneer in its voice obvious.  “We were told there was a feast in Portland, so we all came.”
    It dropped to a crouch.
    “But then bombs fell!  Death, death!  And no time to eat!”  Cried the figure.
    What?
    Even softer, Joe heard Phil again:  “Oh my God….”
    The LT shook his head a bit.
    “You are now prisoners of war.”  He said clearly.  ” Come along quietly, and you’ll be treated with—”
    The one who spoke stood.  It and the other two shuffled forwards, pulling the fourth on a leather lead.  It was a naked girl, maybe six.  Her left arm was gone; there was a primitive tourniquet, but her eyes were crying.
    “What… who…?”  The LT was lost.
    “So sorry, master!”  The one holding the lead said, eyes huge and wild.  “This is our meat.”

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