9 Chapter 19 Ci Vis Pacem Para Bellum
Cottonwood was roughly thirty kilometers south of Redding and with the highway linking the two locations, the drive should have taken no more than thirty minutes. That was assuming one discounted the typical conditions of the roads, littered clogged by vehicle carcasses and impromptu road blocks. The Fortress had already ploughed through two such obstacles with relatively minor damage but Robert cursed the fickle workings of fate as they came upon a third multi-car pile-up. Stealing a glance over his should, he could see Nastia standing over Natalie who was laid out across the dining table.
The decision of whether to go around the roadblock or through it had been made by Cameron and he didn't disagree with the decision. He floored the accelerator and double clutched his way through to the higher gears as their speed crept past seventy kilometers yet again.
Seated in his usual place in the front passenger seat, Cameron grabbed the dashboard and shouted, "Brace for impact!"
The warning was unnecessary as everyone had grabbed on to the nearest fixture the moment they had felt the vehicle pick up speed. The scream of metal on metal was ear piercing as vehicles wreck pin wheeled like leaves in a hurricane, glass crunching beneath the heavy tires like cereal as the vehicle as metal screamed in protest, tearing gouges in to the armored flanks of the fortress.
Cameron breathed a sigh of relief until he caught sight of Robert's frown. Naval aviators, commercial airline and amateur pilots with sufficient flight time would have developed a "feel" for their craft, its controls becoming an extension of the pilots mind. The same held true for tank drivers and months at the wheel of the Fortress was essentially the same thing for Robert. He didn't need to look to know something was wrong, "What?" asked Cameron.
"Left front tire took a hit and its leaking air. I give us two minutes before its flat and two minutes after that we'll be dead in the water," was the dark reply.
Cameron cursed something at odds with the existence of God and existence itself, "Get on the radio to Redding. See if they can send a fast convoy to take Natalie," he paused, "and maybe some of our passengers." Robert had just picked up the radio as Cameron threaded his way through the maze of feet and legs until he was standing alongside Nastia, "Give me the bullet!"
The bullet was not a firearm round but the paramedic bullet for giving the rapid summary of a patient's condition, with the presentation of injuries and finished with treatment administered in chronological order, "Stab wound to the flank that has hit something. Secondary stab wound to the forearm. Third degree burns to thirty five percent body surface areas. Escharotomy performed to both legs and right forearm. Bilateral Tension pneumothorax relieved with needle thoracostomy. Crashed to bilateral hemopneumothorax. Two chest tubes in, total output seven hundred CCs of blood. Intubated to protect airway. Peritoneal lavage is positive. Ex-lap required. Pulse is weak and thready, blood pressure is low, and we don't have enough fluids to maintain volume and prevent blood pressure from bottoming out."
Having been a fan of the now defunct television series "ER," Cameron had a depressingly good understanding of everything he had just been told, a textbook illustration of an unstable patient sliding down a slippery slope towards death. For the moment the constant regular beating of the monitor was reassuring, "How long?"
"If we don't get her to a proper medical facility soon she won't make it till dawn." Nastia shone a flashlight in to Natalie's eyes and breathed a small sigh of relief, "Eyes still respond to light, indicating brain activity." Her knuckles dug in to Natalie's chest and she responded by trying to push Nastia away, "Weak response to painful stimuli. GCS one, two, two, totaling five."
"Cameron, Redding says that they can dispatch ground transport but that would take twenty, maybe twenty five minutes," reported Robert, "They could dispatch a chopper…"
"Get that chopper airborne, "Push as far as you can and then pop the floodlights!" The armory on the Fortress was kept well stocked and amongst its fully loaded arsenal were a trio of flare guns they had never used, "Nastia stay and pack whatever you might need and prepare to move her. Robert, give her a hand. Jaira," he hesitated, "and any who want to lend a hand, get a gun and follow me." Robert had allowed the vehicle to coast to a stop, and Cameron and Jaira had dismounted along with their scratch platoon of volunteers.
Inside, a discordant note sounded and Nastia blanched at the sound, "Robert!" she shouted as she placed the protective pads on Natalie's chest and ribs. She thrust the ambu-bag in to Robert's hands, "Squeeze once every three seconds. When I say "clear," lift the mask and don't touch her or you'll be blown across the room." The defibrillator gave off a high pitch whine as it charged, "In that red box, find me the phial marked Atropine." The unit beeped its readiness, ""Clear!"
Natalie jerked as the electric current passed through her body and Robert instinctively checked for a pulse, "Weak pulse," he squeezed the bag and the digital readout normalized, "How long?" asked Robert as he squeezed again.
The look on her face contrasted markedly with Natalie almost peaceful expression as Nastia ran through the motions yet again, "GCS, one, one, two… four."
"What's a GCS?" asked a bewildered Robert.
"Glasgow Coma Scale. Three tests for eye movement, verbal communication and motor skills. The maximum scores are four, five and six," she hesitated, "Four out of a total of fifteen…" her voice trailed off, and even Robert knew that was bad.
Outside, the patience of the sentries was rewarded, the dull sound of rotor blades cutting through the night. Cameron cocked the gun and fired, the flare streaked upwards on a tongue of flame popping with dazzling brilliance overhead. Natalie was already half out of the Fortress, strapped to the backboard, watching as the chopper came in low and disgorged four armed passengers. Peter was the first to step in to the light and given the circumstances dispensed with the pleasantries, "Your medic and I ride back with Natalie!"
Cameron hesitated, torn between his numerous responsibilities and finally nodded, "We'll get to Redding as soon as we can. Make sure your people are ready to treat eight women of varying ages, malnourished and victims of abuse."
Peter paused as the stretchered Natalie was carried towards the waiting chopper with Nastia alongside. Cameron slapped him on the shoulder, "Go!" before turning his attention to the Fortress's shredded tire.
The chopper lifted off and vanished in to the night, their volunteer sentries closing ranks around the vehicle as the three full time members of the crew turned to affect the necessary repairs to the shredded tire. In the past many truckers would have opted to save money by purchasing repaired or patched tires that would often shred under a heavy load, but they went with only the best. Working quickly they undid the screws and lifted the hinged armor plating before sliding under to position the jack to raise the cab.
In Redding, the chopper had landed on the hospital's roof and Natalie on to a gurney when the worst occurred, "Asystole!" Nastia was pushed back as a doctor and a pair of nurses worked frantically and succeeded in restoring a stable heart rhythm. The elevator was crowded with activity and Nastia breathed a sigh of relief as the elevator doors closed, leaving them alone on the roof. She needed the solitude, as she stared at the powered down chopper, the pilot running through his post flight checklists. "Please God," she whispered, "Let everyone get here soon."
The bolts were tight on the tire and it took several blows using a wrench and hammer in concert to pop them free. The ruined tire was discarded and a new one mounted and secured. The entire process had taken too long. Throwing the last of the tools in to the external locker, Cameron hammered the side of the Fortress and the returned to the road, plowing through another pair of roadblocks before Redding's watchtowers appeared out of the darkness, lit by moonlight.
Spotlights lit them up as they drew closer to the wall and they passed through the gates only to find themselves waiting as the guards conducted their usual through, time consuming sweep of the vehicle. But they were greeted by an open top jeep, the driver making good times through Redding's twisted streets to Mercy Medical Center. The tall building was shrouded in shadow except for the glow of florescent lighting spilling out through the doors.
"Elevators on the left, third floor, first right turn to the surgery waiting room," said their driver. Nobody thanked him, but he understood the hell of waiting ahead of them. Peter and Nastia were seated in the waiting room, doing exactly that and there was nothing anyone could do but join them. The seconds ticked by with unnerving slowness. Cameron searched through his pockets muttering under his breath. Jaira reached in to one of her own and pulled out a pack. She tapped it for several long moments, almost unaware that everyone's eyes were upon her as she ripped through the plastic wrap and then the paper tab to pull a cigarette before sliding the pack across the table.
Cameron snatched one and then started searching his pockets for something to light it with. Jaira shook her head and tossed her matches across the table to him, "Blew up a kitchen."
He grunted and lit up, taking a long drag before exhaling a cloud of tainted smoke. Peter studied the pair for a moment, and then reached for one himself. His first drag made him splutter, but he took a second and then a third, "When you need it most," he said to no one in particular. They seemed to take turns staring at the double doors and the red backlit words that made it clear surgery was in progress.
It felt like hours, and it was hours later when a doctor finally stepped out from behind those doors, and to Cameron, there was doom in her stride, as she gave them all the details, "Natalie suffered severe blunt and penetrating trauma. We've repaired the injuries to her liver, spleen and the punctured lung but there is nothing that we can do for the bruising to her heart and lungs. But she's made it through surgery. The burns I'm glad to say are not as severe as originally thought, mostly second degree that will heal, but scar. Barring any complications, she should make a full recovery with time."
The relief was palpable, the tension and worry draining away, a weight of their minds, "She going to be asleep for a few hours and then very sleep due to general anesthesia. We'll move her to Recovery and you can visit her when she wakes."
They resumed their vigil but were more relaxed and it showed. Somebody had thoughtfully brought in snacks and they had helped themselves to everything. They drank and talked until their cigarette butts overflowed several of their impromptu ashtrays. In their fugue state, it took them several moments to realize that a doctor had rushed past them in to the Recovery ward, and several more before anyone registered that it was Natalie's doctor. Collectively, their hearts did what Natalie's had done seconds before and stopped.
The more religious mumbled a prayer as they watched, spectators silenced with fear. The fight was one sided and lasted half an hour until the doctors and nurses were forced to concede defeat. They did whatever they could in the ensuing minutes to cope. Turning to their closest friends and cry as Cameron stood on leaden legs to face the doctor, "We believe that she developed a pulmonary embolism… a blood clot that travelled…"
Whatever else she said was lost to Cameron, who barely nodded, unable to take it all in. Jaira held his hand and gently pulled him in to the seat next to her, and did what she knew he couldn't and cried for them both. Others could fall to pieces but he couldn't. Somebody had to be the cold hearted one, the anchor for the rest of his team, his crew… her friends, and help them say goodbye.
Cameron led them to her bedside and whispered his good bye before stepping back to give the others the opportunity to say farewell. Peter hadn't even stepped in to the room, seemingly stuck in the doorway and when Cameron met the man's gaze. There was too much pain and anguish in those eyes, for him to be mourning the loss of just a friend. He gave the faintest of nods to Peter, gathered his still grieving comrades and left, leaving Peter to his grief.
Robert's raised eyebrow asked the question on everyone's mind and Cameron answered, "Our farewell party." The world they had inherited was one where relationships formed regardless of the challenges and distances involved. The fact of having someone to hold, even some of the time was more than many could claim. Cameron seemed almost robotic, pulling Jaira close to him, but he softened, as he held her tight, knowing just how lucky they were.
Peter found it hard to take another step in to the room, as he stared at her face. Her eyes were closed and if it were not for the blood that flecked her face, she could have been asleep. He sat down on the edge of the bed, reaching under the sheets until he found her hand and he held on to it, kissing the back of her hand gently. The footsteps were quiet, unobtrusive and Peter looked up and surprise marred his features as he took in the black fabric, the stiff high collar and the emblazoned cross "Father Arkwright," said Peter in greeting.
He lay a hand upon Peter's trembling shoulder, "Peter, may we proceed?" He nodded, without looking up or letting go of her hand, "My sister in faith, I entrust you to God who created you. My sister in faith, may you return to the one who formed you from the dust of this earth. Our Father, thou art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…." A single tear rolled down Peter's check as he left and pushed past those gathered.
It wasn't necessary even but Cameron blocked the corridor, "He needs some time alone to deal with whatever he needs to do." He hastily wiped his eyes, staring up at the ceiling for a moment to regain his composure, "Right now, we need to arrange a military funeral for a member of the Oregon National Guard."
By the time breakfast was served for the rest of Redding, they already knew what had transpired during the night, and Redding was over represented at dusk that same evening for Natalie's late evening funeral. Her simple pine casket was already balanced between the four of them, draped with the American Flag. Peter had asked to help bear the casket, but Cameron who refused him, firm but gently.
Every unnecessary human death was felt acutely by those who were left behind to mourn, but for the five that knew her best, it wasn't just another friend but family who had fallen and Cameron struggled with the short simple eulogy they had prepared, "Natalie Coltrane." He took a breath, to give himself a moment, to pause, to collect himself, ""Where we are needed, we are there" was and still is the motto of the Oregon National Guard. She fought where she was needed so that others could see another sunrise. She gave her up that which matters most to make life better for those who remain behind, and for those who continue to fight, every day, building a bright future, a better future against a dying world."He stepped back, snapping to attention as he gave her casket a crisp military salute. He turned smoothly to his crew, standing at parade rest, "Honor Guard! Present arms!" he barked.
They shouldered their rifles and the thunderous roar of their rifles, shattered the silence with a trio of volleys. They shouldered their rifles before each of them taking a corner of the draped flag. They held it taut as her coffin was lowered in to the ground, and finally, began to fold the flag following military tradition: Lengthwise twice and then diagonally, starting in a stripped corner until the folded flag rested in Cameron's hands. Turning he took two steps forward to address Natalie's only known next of kin, "Peter Sanchez, as her commanding officer, it is my high privilege to present you this flag. Let it be a symbol of the grateful appreciation that this nation feels for the distinguished service rendered to our country, and our flag, by your loved one." Peter took the flag with trembling hands and for the first time met Cameron's eyes, "Because you are the closest to family that she has," replied Cameron in a whisper to the question in Peter's eyes.
Any who had lived through Armageddon and its aftermath had seen and experienced more than their fair share of death. But no matter what the world had come to, the need for revenge was overpowering, and it provided the necessary focus and energy to do what has to be done.
Peter knew exactly where to begin when it came to revenge. He stared across the table at the gathered foursome, "You all know exactly what I want. My only question is will you help?"
"We know why you want to do it, but you can't expect people to risk everything, especially if failure is a possibility," countered Jaira, "You would have to wipe them out to the last man. Otherwise you'll have to deal with reprisals."
"You don't get it," snapped Peter, "And I don't get you. They took family and you hesitate when it comes to exacting justice!" his fist slammed against the table.
Cameron had the measure of the marine standing before him, and it was clear that Peter was trying to justify a personal vendetta. "What you want is a military campaign where no prisoners will be taken, You need to solve three problems: Not enough weapons, not enough people, not enough combat vehicles."
Nastia had a more important consideration, "They take, and they destroy. And now you want to do to them, what they have done to you. But what you don't see…"
"There isn't a philosophical argument that is going to change my mind! Are you going to help me or not?"
Nastia's response was abusive and in Russian, "You do what they have done and you become exactly like them. People will die, all for revenge, and no matter how many of them you kill, you won't bring those already dead back!"
"I know this is not going to make sense to you. But she's right, and when the blood is on your hands," Cameron hesitated. He knew what he wanted to say, but trying to put it in to words was nigh on impossible, "When you lead, people follow and people will die. Those deaths are forever on your conscience, the blood on your soul and it doesn't wash away, no matter how much good comes of it." He hesitated, "You want my help, you need to understand that I will help, but only if you let me lead."
Jaira head slapped him hard without affection or playfulness, "Are you crazy? This isn't some salvage mission. What you're talking about is total war."
Cameron nodded in agreement, "It is war, and we are already at war. First we're at war against the undead and then a second front against the Redeemers. We can't fight both at once and win. And for the moment, the Redeemers are a bigger threat. How long do you want them destroying lives and communities, helping the dead exterminate us? How many more innocent people have to become slaves? How many communities do they have to destroy?"
"That's just a convenient coincidence!" She jabbed her finger in his chest, and did the same to Peter, "Both of you are chasing revenge. I understand revenge but it's not a motive that I can condone, nor can I condone you risking the lives of others for your own selfish ends!" she rounded on Cameron, "I know you feel responsible, and guilty."
"About what?" he cut her off with a snarl, "About Natalie? You would be right! My decisions got us trapped in there, got us a truckload of refugees and got Natalie killed!" he shook his head, "You can call it vengeance," he turned to Peter, "You could be searching for vengeance. I'm seeking redemption… for more than just Natalie."
Quiet, thoughtful, and always insightful, Nastia had the answer to the puzzle Cameron had just presented, "Portland." She said. Cameron nodded, "You still blame yourself."
"If only it were that easy," his laugh was humorless, "Peter, you want my help then you let me lead the assault. You are way too involved in this. You can't lead much of anything."
Peter nodded. A concession that he knew he had to make but looking round the table, he knew that it would take more than just Cameron's support to get the rest on board. Robert cut in, "You have got something planned. And it's not just "ride out there and kill a few." What are you thinking?"
"Shasta Lake City," replied Peter, "There's a nest of Blessed Redeemers. I want it destroyed. That will make making Redding safer, especially since there is more than one group of these lunatics out there."
Silence hung heavy in the room, "Natalie told me about the weapons cache up at Parks Army Base. Said you have enough to outfit at least a hundred. Vehicles and heavier support weapons too. We'd hit them from afar with snipers and mortar artillery fire before we would go face to face with them.
"Wait a second. What artillery?" asked Nastia.
"We have 60mm mortars and rockets amongst our stockpile in Parks Base," said Cameron, "If you know about the mortars, then you know about the vehicles sitting there."
"Well that's great. Any idea where we can find enough people to fight the same number of crazies in Shasta Lake?" asked Robert even though the answer was obvious.
"Redding's population is just over three hundred. I can find the magic number of volunteers."
Jaira hesitated, "You've given thought enough to come up with something, I don't agree with the idea," she turned to Cameron, "Or the fact that you'll be leading this. For the two of you, this is personal." She shook her head, "But I'd be kidding myself if I said it wasn't personal for me too. The world isn't perfect. Count me in."
Nastia looked at her gathered comrades, and hesitated, "We've survived and helped rebuild wherever we can," Her gaze met Peters, "No hesitation, no second guessing when it comes to a fight. I guess we are in for the fight of our lives." she nodded firmly; "I'm in."
Robert just shrugged, "Where you lead, I guess I don't have a choice. Besides if statues are going to be built in anyone's honor, I want one of me too."
Cameron nodded, "Now all we need," Cameron nodded to Peter, "is for you to convince everyone else that this is a good idea, that they should all be a part of it." Cameron hesitated, "It should be on a voluntary basis, but that's your problem. All I am responsible for is the battle plan and actually leading in the field."
In the end, Cameron never found out what exactly Peter had said to gather the necessary number of volunteers, but sure enough, Peter found the volunteers enough for them to field an army, albeit a small one a hundred strong. From Peters own military experience, they were broken up in to individual units ten men strong – a platoon – that could be broken in individual squads of five. All of them were capable of precision fire and their real training was more about urban warfare and the brutal type of close quarter melee that they would face against opponents who would shoot back.
Cameron had taken the Fortress north to Parks Army Base and the trip was a little crowded with a total of twelve men and women aboard, most of them mechanics. It took them the better part of three weeks to repair and fuel the vehicles as well as load up on the needed weapons and ammunition to outfit the small army in training. Their return was on schedule, the Fortress at the lead of convoy of six heavy vehicles loaded with weapons and ammunition aplenty for all.
It took two months, for everything to fall in to place. Everything included field reconnaissance and intelligence gathering that helped fine tune the details of their assault strategy and now, the night before their departure Cameron ran through their plan one final time to the gathered Platoon leaders who would in turn brief their individual units., "If there are no other questions," he glanced at his watch, "Make a final check of your vehicles and equipment, and be ready to leave at 09:00."
Later that night, Cameron found that he had nothing to say as he held Jaira in his arms, and together they stared out the window, shrouded by the darkness of night. There was no telling how long they stayed like that, enjoying the simplicity of being together when she asked, "Tell me, honestly, do we have the right to make war on others?"
He stared out over Redding, its walls and the wilds beyond the walls, "There is no right and wrong in this Jaira," he kissed the top of her head as he marshaled his thoughts, "What we're going to do, is something that has to be done. We don't do it now; we may do this in a month or a year. But you know what scares me the most?" She shrugged and looked up at him, catching his eyes, shaking her head. "What scares me is that if we don't do this now, we may not have the numbers or the weapons to do it in the future."
She looked up at him, "How can you just sit there are say that war is inevitable? Is it because we're human that we have to destroy everything we touch like a virus or a plague?"
"Don't we already do that?" he countered, "The Blessed Redeemers have forgotten, what civilized human beings are. If we don't destroy them, they will destroy us." Words from a long-deceased friend came to mind suddenly, "Ci vis pacem, para bellum."
The following morning was perfect for history to be made. Just before nine and the sun was already casting its brilliant rays over the gathered crowd, mingling alongside their vehicles. Cameron watched them from the roof of the Fortress, Peter standing to his left with the rest of his crew close by. He simply watched as people said goodbye to each other. Some to husbands and wives, but all of them seemed to stop to say farewell to the children, for the future of Redding and humanity as a whole that they were setting out to fight for.
Cameron raised the bullhorn and suddenly found himself uncertain what to say, his carefully prepared speech derailed at the last possible moment. He floundered for and instant and then dove right in, "Good morning," his voice sounded freakishly loud to him, as he paused for a moment, getting used to the bullhorn's echo, letting the gathered crowd turn to him, "Si vis pacem, para bellum."
Latin grabbed everyone's attention, "We occupy a strange place in human history: We survived Armageddon, and now rebuild for our future. The darkest hours have come and gone and, in the light, after it, human civilization struggles to rise from the ashes. But we have failed. Where we needed civilization the most, it has crumbled the quickest."
A wave of mumbling swept through the crowd, and it was a clear indicator of the crowd's mood. He had their attention, he had them slightly angry, "If somebody should one day ask you, why you went to war, you have your answer: Si vis pacem, para bellum. The Blessed Redeemers," he poured all the hate and anger he could in to those three words, "do not share our dream of peace, which would let us rebuild. They only want war! So I say this: they want war, we give the a war, that will end all wars! A voice from beyond the ranks of gathered militiamen roared in opposition, "You will fight, and you will die! There are too many of them for us to make a difference!"
Thrown off balance for a moment, he pondered the words and hurled them right back, "We will fight and we may die." His hand lanced out like a knife, pointing towards the crowd where the voice had originated, "But you have already let our enemy win. The Blessed Redeemers win when we all do one thing," he paused for effect. He had the crowd's attention and he had them listening, now he had to trap then with logic and common sense, "Nothing. Nothing! Evil triumphs the moment good men and women refuse to oppose it."
"Those of us who march forward, to fight understand why we fight. We understand why: We can never have peace until these fanatics have taken everything that they can take from us!"" There was a scattering of agreement from the gathered and he pressed his point home, "To have peace, one must be prepared for war. We go to war to preserve peace. Ci vis pacem, para bellum means "If you want peace, prepare for war." Our preparations are made. Now, I give the order! And the order is to march!" he took a breath, "To war!" he shouted.
The silence after he spoke lasted a moment, then shattered by the applause of a single pair of hands from somewhere in the depths of the gathering. The applause was joined, scattered at first, like the first drops of rain until suddenly, there was a thunderous applause that echoed to the heavens, the roaring voices of support the thunder of a coming storm.
One hundred soldiers and a twelve-vehicle convoy with the Fortress in the lead pushed through the open gates. Redding Peacemakers, First Company made their way North to Shasta Lake City, to bring war to the enemy.