Playing with them; ideas, that is. If you’ve not guessed, this sequence will be whiplash between current time at The Dalles and Nichole’s three day diary as they got there.
“Defiant” – Episode 22
They cantered four abreast along the highway, chancing the wet road. His civilian charge was between the last two Regulars. Three and three, the Militia came up last. As they passed under the old US 197 bridge, Reilly finished furiously cranking at the radio. He handed the headset to the Captain, cranking slower.
“Captain Muller, 104th Cav detachment, calling. We’re a third of a mile from the fort. Situation?”
Reilly tried to look everywhere at once, including at the Captain. Ah. Perhaps they won’t die today. He noted that what little irrigated greenery there was in town dropped to nothing. It had been scorched earth from here to Boardman when he was a kid. Now, with no irrigation, it was scorched earth maybe as far as the Snake River.
“I see,” the Captain called. “That creek along Lower Eight Mile Road clear? Huh.”
He watched his officer listen some more. Uh, oh.
“There’s a what coming from the Deschutes?!”
Reilly knew from growing up in Pendleton much further east that the Deschutes was a major south-to-north tributary of the Columbia, cutting through the drylands east of the Cascade Range. During the Breakup, his parents had died just within sight of it.
“Then we’ll rendezvous with you at the Fort. No, of course you’ve command, but I’ve a political with me. Yeah. No, not so much.” He heard his Captain sigh. “You’ll understand once we’re there. Yeah, see you in a bit, Mitch.” He handed the radio back.
“Sir?” Reilly asked. He shook his head.
“Sergeant,” the Captain called to his left. “At trot to the Fort.”
The sergeant gestured into the air, knowing those behind were watching. Those that didn’t had been flogged and discharged a long time ago. Their unit slowed. They moved northeast through the drylands. As they closed on what was once Patterson Park to their left, they looked up at the new fort on the hill to their right. Fort Reilly.
“You’re father was one hell of a man, trooper,” the Captain said quietly to his best scout.
“Yes. Sir.” Was his quiet reply.
Fort-Captain Blaine was coming down with four others. One of them horribly out of place: what little clothes he wore was mostly skins, with some rough spun cotton over his shoulders. Tattoos and scars across his face and chest; feathers in his hair. He might have been Caucasian, but under the desert sun of east Oregon, who could tell? Not even in half a generation, and we’re facing mounted steppe warriors, the troopers’ Captain thought.
This is so not the 21st Century I was expecting.
They pulled up a dozen feet from Muller and his troop.
“We’re asked to a parley.” Blaine said with a blank look. He and Muller had known each other for years.
“Really. How nice, for you.” Muller replied. Theater for the barbarian. “Normally, they just scream and leap.”
No movement from the savage.
Blaine made an elaborate shrug. “Perhaps they want to settle down? There’s good land far to the – ”
“Enough. My master awaits.” He spoke in sharp, clipped English. Well, how much can you forget in two years? “You’ve a political with you?” He asked pointedly at Muller.
He kept his face still. Just how many sympathizers did they have in the City?
“There is one that speaks to the Mayor, but not for him. Is that clear?” This was completely beyond what his assignment was meant to be. The not-so barbarian squinted at him.
“Sure.” He gestured right, further up the Columbia valley.
Muller looked to Blaine.
“Reilly, Schmidt, Clarke… and Haven. On me!” He called. “The rest to the Fort with the sergeant.”
He made a small motion with his left hand. The sergeant tapped his pommel. Ready to go at a moment’s notice.
“Sir!” His men – and one woman – called.
They rode in silence for a while. The barbarian kept looking back. Perhaps realizing her peculiar situation, the Captain’s guest trotted forward until she was next to the two officers and the envoy. Who scowled.
“Why is this woman here?” He growled.
“You wanted the Mayor’s ear; this is it.” He watched the contempt on his face.
“Your Mayor employs women for war.” He spat onto the ground. “Weak!”
“Our Mayor makes unusual allies; witness the crushing of your invasion with your cannibal friends,” Muller replied carefully, looking at the girl. “Perhaps you should think more and talk less. Or, do you speak for your master?”
Another scowl, but silence.
They drew up just shy of the Avery Rail bridge.
“My master expects us there,” he pointed ahead, “at the Deschutes River mouth.”
“How nice for him,” Captain Blaine answered. “But this,” he gestured to his right, “is fantastic ambush country, so we think we’ll await your master here. You’ve half an hour.”
He smiled. The envoy could be at the original meeting place in five minutes at a gallop.
“Or we go back and ready our artillery.”
The barbarian snarled and began to speak.
“And call on our allies; and their missiles.”
He shut his mouth and turned his horse sharply. He galloped off.
Not dead yet, Captain Muller thought. From the corner of his eye he caught Haven saying something to Clarke. She ducked her head as she replied to him, but quickly raised it again. Like Reilly, she’d learned to look everywhere. True: if they were taken, it would go the worst for her. Dammit.
“Blaine? There’s that goat track about 1000 yards back. You think we can fall back while we wait?”
The other captain suppressed a smile. “You don’t think they’re trustworthy?”
“Fu—” Muller began. Blaine waved.
“We’re falling back while we wait,” he called, “about 1000 yards!”
Captain Muller thought about military history. If Philip Sheridan, the Union Army’s greatest cavalry commander, had deserted to the Red Indians after the Civil War, this is what is what he would have looked like.
That small, dark man, on his huge horse. Like the envoy, skins and homespun. There’s no way that the interior of the State went so savage so fast; it must be an affectation, Muller thought. The small man looked back and waved over his right shoulder. A large cart was pushed forwards. By slaves? Muller could not imagine horse-soldiers performing such a menial task. The cart stopped half-way across the twenty feet that separated them. The short man gestured again.
“As a gesture of goodwill, I return your dead.” He voice carried with no tone. “This is the 110th Cavalry Detachment.”
Blaine’s breath caught while Muller stared at the cart. The flayed skins of men. Eighteen men.
Where, oh where, he thought, were the Warthogs, now?
Being stationed on the frontier, Blaine replied first.
“Thank you for once again demonstrating your barbarity,” he said simply. “Was there anything else?”
The small man didn’t move.
“We don’t know why the Japs helped you. But, we do know they’re gone.” He sat back in his saddle just slightly. “They were a few hundred with a dozen missiles. We,” he opened his arms, daring them to violate the parley, “are hundreds of thousands!”
He leaned forwards again. “Submit!”
“We are soldiers,” Blaine replied easily. “We cannot submit; we can only kill you.”
Their enemy offered a toothless smile.
“There is the ear of the Mayor amongst you?”
No one moved while the girl walked her horse forwards a few paces. Her flak vest and helmet make her no different than those about her. Well, her chest, Muller thought.
“Speak.” She said in an odd tone. Muller wanted to drop off his horse to his knees for some unknown reason. The short man gripped tightly at his reins.
“You! Girl! Tell Johnson he has three days to surrender! I shall show some mercy if he surrenders! Otherwise, I shall make a desolation and call it peace!”
“Kah, kah!” She laughed at him harshly. “So you know Tacitus and seek to threaten them; threaten me?!” She stood up in her stirrups.
“Horse-lord! I’ve seen things you cannot imagine! My family and I can make a Hell on Earth you cannot imagine!” She was shouting in a way that made everyone’s flesh crawl.
“I could declare myself the Empress’ Regent and you would beg to lick my feet!” Her voice was now echoing all the way across the river valley. Captain Muller was trying to assess just who was the enemy here.
“Shall I name your four strongholds?! Shall I nuke them from orbit?!” She was screaming now. Muller saw the militiaman, Haven, bring his shying horse forwards a bit.
“Damned witch!” Their leader spat. “You wouldn’t dare! The open codes…!”
The Captain watched the girl arched her back: her face to the sky.
“’I AM THE BONE OF MY SWORD…’” She began.
“Tschch!” The barbarian leader of the northwest steppes turned his horse sharply and rode off. He recalled too much from his days as an NCO in the US Air Force. Codes were codes.
Nichole hesitated. Gil was next to her in a moment.
“Are you okay, Nichole?”
He didn’t call me ‘Five!’
Internal data read ten percent power. EMERGENCY.
She fell back into her saddle, then dropped left into Gil’s arms.
“Take me to the dam. Please.”
Captain Muller watched the entire exchange.
“Go! As fast as you can!” He called to the Corporal of militia. Gil shifted to hold Nichole and rode off. He watched them go. After a moment’s thought, he detailed two more to follow and protect them.
What in the Hell just happened, he thought?
Did they win that?