suspend disbelief - have an adventure
is Strong-Arm. The targets are coming into range. What are your orders?"
His voice comes static-laden over the walkie-talkie. He didn’t change batteries
before taking position.
“Hammer-Fall, stick to
the plan. We’ll wait to meet the delegation. You’re there to support us if I
give the signal. Remember, this is a mutually beneficial relationship where
nobody has to get hurt. Understand?”
There is no sympathy in his voice. I think he doesn’t want to have peace. We
can’t live without the Folk, but they don’t really need us. Give them ten to
fifteen more years and we’ll be obsolete unless we can trade city stores.
“Rangers, this is
Hammer-Fall, by numbers and call sign, sound off when ready.” There’s a few
tense seconds. Maybe as much as six seconds before the first sniper realizes
what’s going on.
Clay-Mouth, ready,” Clay-Mouth stutters into his radio. He is my most
dependable shot. He’s farthest from the meeting site at five hundred yards.
I’ve seen him pick off squirrels at that range. His stutter only really comes
out when he’s calm. In a fight he’s all business with no time for defects. The
fact that he’s calm now is both reassuring, and frightening.
Frenzy-Coil, in position.” He giggles as he speaks. Frenzy-Coil is disturbed.
That’s the only way I can describe it. As long as he’s on a short leash he’s
okay, but if left to think for himself things become troublesome. The same way
unpinned hand grenades become troublesome. I don’t trust him further than I
could throw a knife at him. That’s why he’s only fifty yards from the target
Dragon-Dance, ready.” Dragon-Dance should rightly be my second in command, but
doesn’t want it. He’s a skillful shot and unbeatable in hand-to-hand combat.
The things I’ve seen him do with a knife make me shudder in my sleep. I hope our
enemies feel the same way.
Snake-Eyes, in position,” Snake-Eyes pipes into his microphone. Snake-Eyes is
the worst of the best of my snipers. He’s also the youngest combat soldier and
has seen the least action. He was promoted to Ranger only the month before.
He’s an excellent shot at three hundred yards or less, but doesn’t take his
position with the seriousness it deserves.
the Folk are coming into sight. Remember, if I drop the red flag kill them all.
If they fire upon us first, kill them all, otherwise wait for my signal.”
We’re standing in a big
circle of city streets with greenspace about two hundred feet across. In the
center is a monument to some forgotten war fought by earlier generations. I
could probably find a book about it at the library, but I really didn’t care.
The Folk knew where to meet us and couldn’t sneak up on us. My Rangers and
Strong-Arm were stationed on roof buildings close to the meeting zone.
At the west end of one
of the streets a horse comes into view with a rider on it. The rider reins in,
and waits a few tense moments. He’s no doubt looking for an obvious trap. Being
point sucks. I wave the white flag tied to a hockey stick over my head. Barely
heard over the wind swirling through the deserted city, he whistles. More
riders, far more than we agreed to, come around a corner and down the street.
“Johnathan, you dumb
fuck,” I mutter. He’s got twenty riders with him, and twenty-six horses. Six of
the horses are double hitched to wagons hauling their barter.
“He looks short,” one of
my guard says.
“He is. He pledged six
wagon loads, not three,” I agree.
“No, I mean – I thought
he would be taller.”
“Are you serious?” I
look at the warrior. It’s Jacob Miller. He’s well over five feet tall.
“I’m just saying I
thought he would be taller,” Jacob replies.
“He’s twelve. He’s tall
enough to speak for his people.”
“Just like you,” Hans
“Let’s not get into this
right now,” I warn. “If we show weakness this could turn ugly really quick.”
“As ugly as that fat
chick?” Jacob points to one of the riders. The Folk are just out of ear shot
and approaching at a funeral pace.
“She’s not fat,” I check
with my field glasses. “She’s pregnant. Damn.”
“So what?” Hans laughs.
“The Folk don’t have to choke the chicken. Good for them.”
“You don’t understand
what this means,” I warn.
“Mike Hamilton!” the
leader of the Folk shouts from his horse.
“John Folz,” I raise my
hand in greeting.
“It’s been a long trip,”
John nudges his horse closer.
“And apparently a
dangerous one judging by the fact you brought four times the agreed upon number
of soldiers and only half the rations.”
“Times are rough. We
went through three ambushes to get here. I lost troops.”
“And you lost cargo
too?” I ask.
“Uh, yeah,” he lies.
“Don’t lie to me John.
Y’all might look cozy in your flannel shirts with you weapons pointed lazily at
the ground, but I think you’re trying to pull a fast one.”
“No I’m not,” John says
a little too quickly.
“Where’s the rest of the
meat?” I ask.
“Three wagons. That’s
all you’re getting.”
“Thirty winter coats.
That’s all you’re getting in return.” His face goes red and tears start to well
at the corner of his eyes.
“That’s not fair!” he
finally howls. There’s yet another tense moment as the Folk look to their
“John, did you seriously
expect to get the full hundred winter coats, mittens and boots, for half the
“No, but I expected at
least fifty. That would be fair.”
“We’re not talking about
fair John. We had a deal. You broke the deal. You fucked your people not me.”
“I speak for the
Alliance of Country Folk!” John screams. “You will give us those coats and
boots, or we’ll take them!”
“John, be reasonable,” I
“Listen you old fart. We
want those supplies.”
“Well I want food you
agreed to deliver for my tribe,” I shout back, interrupting him. “But instead
you bust the deal. So here’s what’s going to happen. You can give us that food,
and we’ll let you ride out of here with thirty winter outfits. You bring the
rest of the food you agreed to before October and you can have the rest of the
supplies we gathered in good faith.”
“But I need fifty,” he
“Then you can bring the
food or decide which twenty of your tribe freezes to death. We’re done. Drop
the wagons and hitch up to the red one behind me. Jake, take twenty bags out of
the trailer. We’ll wait for you to do that.”
“Sure thing,” Jacob
shoulders his rifle and then goes to the back of the red trailer.
“This isn’t fair!”
Johnathan cries. Several of his riders are either crying or fingering the
triggers of their weapons.
“John, you’re twelve
years old, right?” I ask.
“Yeah,” he wipes tears
away with the sleeve of his shirt.
“If you want to see
thirteen I suggest you take your crew and go home to get the rest of our food.
A tribe is only as strong as the chain between its leader and its weakest link.
Right now, you’re both for the Folk.”
“What makes you think
you’re so smart,” he spits at my feet.
“I went to high school,”
I answer. I had only started high school when the plague hit, but a freshman in
grade nine was still high school.