Thursday, January 15, 2015

Part 116




"Am I in trouble?" I asked carefully.

"No.  Should you be?"

I shook my head.  "No.  It's just when someone says they have something you need to think about it usually means that whatever you are doing isn't giving them warm and toasty feelings."

She chuckled softly.  "OK, I suppose at your age I would have thought the same thing.  And to a certain extent you are right ... what you are doing now doesn't give me warm and toasty feelings but you are old enough to screw up your own life and I shouldn't have to go around with a burp rag and clean your chin."

I shrugged.  "OK then what do you need?"

"I don't need ... well, yes in a way I do.  First I want to know if you have any serious plans or ways to support yourself."

Trying to keep an open mind and not be totally bug-eyed suspicious I asked, "Why do you want to know?"

"It isn't simple curiosity if that's what you are wondering and trust me, I have no desire to be your social worker.  However, I'm in a catch-22 here.  Where you've been the infrastructure has broken down so badly that a kid your age running loose isn't unusual and for the most part no one cares.  Am I wrong?"

"Not exactly.  There are people that care just ... I don't know ... it kinda depends on where you are.  Some places would probably try and do something to help and some places will just let you be but keep an eye on you and some might run you out with extreme prejudice."

She nodded.  "OK and that's fine as far as it goes because usually the population density is low.  You must have been lucky to avoid a lot of predators because I have seen the reports; abuse is pretty rampant in the east."

"I didn't avoid it per se, I just learned to deal with it and not get ... uh ... handled.  My time in the city taught me that."

She gave me a penetrating look.  "Well that explains a few things.  But now on to the rest of why I asked.  The further west you go - at least compared to the east - the better the infrastructure; at least until you get towards the Pacific Coast and then things get screwed up bad again with lots of incursion from the Mexicanos and from what pirates groups that get passed the Navy and militias.  In the center of the country we still have some large urban centers that are relatively unscathed by the infection.  They've had to learn to make do without a lot of things like interstate imports, which has whittled down the population quite a bit as medications and medical treatments became unavailable, but they are still more densely populated than other areas in the country currently are.  As such you have to understand that rules have been instituted, and at least in part I'm responsible for enforcing them."

I gave up not being suspicious and I asked, "What kind of rules?"

"You can't just run wild.  You'll inevitably run into trouble of some type.  And while you might not mean to cause any of it, you'll get rounded up just like those who did start it."

"So you're saying I should go back where I came from."

She shook her head.  "Not precisely.  You've definitely got some options.  You're sixteen, that means you can join the militias or the military as a contractor of some type.  You can't be active duty until you turn eighteen - we still try and pretend to be civilized in this country and don't and won't draft below that age - but it doesn't mean that you won't see action."

I sighed.  "I've fought puss brains for two years.  I was hoping to find some place I could just hole up until they all died."

She shook her head.  "Not gonna happen Short Stuff.  The infection is too pervasive and in fact we may never totally be rid of it.  And we've still got too many people that are idiots and spreading the problem rather than containing it."

"What about those puss brain dude ranch things that the scientists were building?"

She got a very negative look on her face.  "They are already failing.  Hordes do not behave the way single and small groups of infecteds do.  The resources required to manage such groups are cost prohibitive as well as unrealistic to expect other people to simply give up.  The designers of what you are calling the 'puss brain dude ranches' did not take that into account, or chose to ignore it.  The security for those facilities are failing and we are being called in to deal with the resulting increase in wild infecteds."

Her words painted a really weird picture in my head.  "What the heck is a wild infected?"

"It is an infected that is non-contained; one that is running loose, causing problems, and/or scaring people."

"Any puss brain, especially one that isn't contained, should scare people.  They'll eat all your stuff 'cause they don't have any self control."

"What you have to understand is that the population in this area don't understand the full scope of the issue.  They were also much less prepared than they thought they were to deal with a large influx of infecteds.  They blinded themselves by believing in the idea that the ... er ... puss brains were being dealt with by the authorities.  They thought they could turn the problem over to someone else and they wouldn't have to concern themselves with it."

I told her, "That's dumb."

She nodded.  "So it turns out to be.  But that's where you come in."

"Huh?"

"Look Short Stuff ... um DeeDee.  I got a good report about you from your officer friend ... that Major Watson.  Seems not much scares you."

I shook my head.  "Plenty scares me, I just don't let it freeze me up and make me useless.  Last thing I want to be is puss brain chow."

"Realistic and honest.  Even better," she said with a small grin for my benefit.  It isn't that she was trying to be my friend, it was more like she didn't want to be my enemy.  Then she had to spoil it by saying, "But we are back to the issue of your future plans."

I looked her square in the eye and asked, "What do you want from me?"

She nodded.  "Straight to the point, even better.  The plain fact is that our unit has lost several people.  AWOL is not uncommon these days as we are reduced to using people unsuited to military life and discipline, people get overloaded and short circuit, they get tired of all the work involved, or they simply want to go find their families.  We don't have the security to bring them back in or frankly to punish them when they are caught or found.  At best, unless there is a serious civilian grievance against them, we pack 'em up and send them to a labor camp but that doesn't solve the issue of being short staffed."

"I thought you said I was too young for active duty."

"You are, but I can sign you on as a contractor.  My women's patrol group is pretty tight.  They were all regular army and served several tours together overseas before Z-Day and as a result newcomers to the patrol have a hard time fitting in."

"Even Lucy?"

"Even Lucy," Sgt. Shadwell said.  "And for the record she wasn't always like this.  She suffered a head injury during the early days and her unit covers for her.  No one says anything."

The message was implicit.  Keep my mouth shut about Lucy being "different."  That was fine by me.  As long as her being different didn't put my life at risk it was no biggie.

After thinking a moment I asked, "You think me being younger will make it easier?"

She shook her head in the negative.  "No, that is actually a mark against you.  But ... ok, was that cooking this morning a one off or are you that creative on a regular basis?"

I looked at her and then answered, "I'm used to making my own way and using whatever is around.  Plus my mom was pretty good at making a small paycheck and a small house go further than it should have.  My brother was in scouts and I learned some stuff from him and Dad taught me about wild foods and things that Mom didn't teach me.  So ... yeah ... I guess I can do stuff like that on a regular basis if I need to."

I got a sly grin for that response.  "Good, good.  Ok, here it is ... the women's patrol needs a cook.  They'll have reason not to run over you too much because you feed them and if you take off or get reassigned they'll be back to doing it for themselves again and you saw how enthusiastic they were about that.  You're used to being mobile in rough territory which will be another plus given our upcoming assignment, and alone on a regular basis too which is even better.  You've made it this far so you're obviously a survivor and should be able to take whatever they try and dish out until they get smart and accept you which will be a major headache I won't have to deal with anymore.  We've got supply issues which you will get explained to you."

"What's the catch?" I asked thinking it sounded too easy. In my experience things that were too easy always have a catch.

"Pay comes in credits once a month and coincides with a patrol's RNR which means it usually gets spent and then they are broke until the next RNR.  The credits aren't accepted everywhere so you'll have to convert the credits to whatever passes for local currency but whatever is considered currency in one area may not be considered currency in another.  You have to send money to any family members - though in your case that won't be a problem - rather than a direct deposit as was usual in the past because the banking system is no longer functioning on a national level due to the currency issues.  You wear a uniform at all times to set you apart from the mercenaries, freelancers, and the militia who may or may not have their own uniforms.  Not everyone is happy with the military operating on national soil so you'll have some of that to deal with.  Obviously there is going to be danger involved and some deprevation ... you might be able to control one or the other but not necessarily both at the same time."

"That's just life happening," I told her after hearing the last bit.

She nodded.  "Agreed.  And there are other things that make life difficult but they are relatively minor all things considered.  If you sign up I'll make sure you get outfitted though sizing may be an issue for some items.  Now, you wanna hear the perks?"

I nodded cautiously.

"Well, pay may be once a month but you'll get paid one way or the other.  The last thing the government wants to do is have a large, unhappy military force to deal with.  Two, you'll get fed.  It won't be steak and potatoes but again, no one wants a large, armed group of trained people hacked off and cranky.  As part of this you'll also get your personal hygiene needs met.  Don't blow that perk off because I hear from women in other patrols that in some areas feminine hygiene products will literally bring their weight in silver."  That gave me something to think about as my monthlies have been hit or miss for a long time but when they hit I was happy Mom had always been old school and sewn our pads.  I blanked at the thought of sharing that bit of news as she continued.

"Three, you're government issued weapon will also be fed which means you aren't having to wait in line for days for reloads that may or may not fire.  There are rules governing firearms in most locations but that's to keep the mercs from running amok rather than being aimed at regular civilians or active duty personnel."

She went over more pros and cons, all of which I refuse to write down because my fingers are getting cramped and I need to try and sleep before our next stop which is the resupply point.  So yeah, as you can guess I signed on.  I don't have anything else to do.  When you don't have anything to go back to all you have left is to move forward.  I just hope that I am moving forward in a direction that doesn't get me killed.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the posts Kathy, have a blessed day.
    Wayne

    ReplyDelete