My wife gave me some advice years ago, just before I deployed for the first time to Duluth.
“Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,” she told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
We were newlyweds, and she, a member of a fundamentalist, underground church, was never comfortable dispensing advice to her husband. Maybe this was why it stuck with me.
I had joined Rosemary’s small congregation in the Minneapolis District’s Northeast Zone shortly after we began our courtship. In those days the Counter-Insurgency Office had not yet begun its crackdown on radical churches. I had never before heard, let alone considered, most of the the liberal doctrines espoused by her church.
I embraced the theological and political teachings of the church with a convert’s zeal. I devoured books about liberty, individualism, and natural rights – all woven inextricably with Christ-centered, Biblical morality.
Fellow believers gathered twice weekly for services and teaching, and it was at one such meeting the summer before we married that I received a prompting from the Holy Spirit: our pastor had taught a sermon on “warriors of the Lord,” and my heart nearly burst from the realization that I should become such a warrior, though fighting for the Lord in a less direct way than my scriptural predecessors.
I began the enlistment process in August. Rosemary and I married in October. I deployed in January. She stood on the platform of the high-speed rail station to wave goodbye as I headed to my duty station in Duluth, where insurgents had begun a winter offensive.
My faith remained private but not secret. I was required by the Frontier Corps to disclose my affiliation with the church, but I pledged my greater allegiance to the state and our leaders.
I continued to study and read with fervor, but I knew that my studies would be discouraged by the Corps. Rosemary sent me as many old-fashioned Christian books as she could find, and these dog-eared volumes piled up in my footlocker as I read and reread them. The military training was intense, physically and mentally, but I committed to remain spiritually strong as well.
My deployment was to 1st Urban Division, based in Duluth. My first unit was 3rd Infantry Brigade, 12 th Battalion (the Prairie Dogs), Calhoun Company. I bunked with a platoon of mixed experience: a non-comm who had served through hard fighting in Deseret, another who had been “across the St. Lawrence” in the amphibious landing on the insurgent Quebecois stronghold at Montreal, and a handful who were on second or third deployments in Duluth.
Our platoon leader was a lieutenant named Victor “Vic” Sessions. Lt Sessions was famous to all of us because his father had been a renowned admiral in the United States Navy before continental unification, had served as a Senator, and had been assassinated by terrorists when we were young. His son Vic, my lieutenant, had been given a commission immediately out of college, and he carried himself like an officer, even in his mid-twenties.
The Corps suited me. The everyday routine, the camaraderie, and the relentless pursuit of self improvement – these advantages were noteworthy above and beyond the technical knowledge I was gaining in technology, tactics, and leadership. My only meaningful regret was the time apart from my wife. My first deployment to Duluth lasted eighteen months after three months of basic training, with irregular leave home. Rosemary and I suffered through the time, knowing it was for a greater purpose. On my trips home, I would celebrate Sunday Communion with our congregation, and during one of those weekend trips I met a small group of other believes in the basement of our church. I made the case for enlisting in the Corps, and a number them, perhaps prompted by the Holy Spirit as I had been, committed to join.
One such recruit was Lincoln Lenox. He was seven years my junior, just out of secondary school. He was from one of our congregation’s most dedicated families. He joined the service two years after I had, and at a much younger age, and we did not see much of each other, being two of over 25,000 corpsmen deployed along the North Shore.
By the time I ran into him again, after he had been in for more than a year and I had recently begun my second deployment, he had already risen to the top of his recruitment class. His quiet confidence – a product of his superior upbringing – and his fearlessness had earned him the respect of the promoting officers.
We had fallen out of touch, but we happened to be seated opposite one another on the train from Duluth to the Twin Cities before overlapping weeks of leave. In my experience as a convert, I had noticed that those born in the faith tended to divide broadly into three camps: those who believed without doubt and proceeded from this foundation to edify themselves and share the word with others, those who wanted to believe but struggled, and those who did not want – for whatever reason – to believe.
Had I been told to guess before our meeting on the train, I would have guessed Lincoln to be in the first group: his family was of such caliber and my opinion of him was so high that I could not imagine him harboring doubts.
It soon became clear, however, that this was not the case. He was excelling in the service but at the expense of his testimony in higher things. He seemed wistful for the faith of his childhood. He was the fifth of six children, and his older siblings had no doubt helped to ground him. Now, quickly elevated to a position alone atop his squad, he recounted faith-building childhood experiences with such nostalgia that I felt genuine regret that I had recruited him to the Corps.
Truth be told, I was dispirited by Lincoln’s uncertainty, so I quickly shifted the conversation to our other shared experience: the Frontier Corps. He brightened immediately, and we passed the next forty minutes of the trip discussing small squad tactics and his combat experiences in Duluth. I had had few – he clearly was the better disposed for the street fighting that was typical of counter-insurgency operations in Duluth.
I appreciated his experience and his insights, and I settled in to listen to stories of various urban raids, including a two week manhunt following the terrorist ferry bombing in Duluth harbor. I had followed the events following the attack, of course, and was impressed by Lincoln’s proximity to the action.
I returned to my duties in Duluth. In three years, I had risen to be a non-commissioned officer. I did so by staying disciplined, learning my role, and not taking any risks. Eventually I moved out of the unit to Anoka Company to serve as an administrative liaison for a Battalion commander, a major with a reputation as a desk jockey. Devil dogs like my squad-mate Lt Sessions or my recruit Lincoln looked down on the work, but I brought my talents to the position and did not owe anyone an apology. The move also allowed me to maintain my military weapons and tactics training while getting closer to the real decision-making apparatus within the Frontier Corps: the General Staff.
We were on a run back from an intel tower – a “spook stack,” enlisted boys called it – the first time Vic Sessions saved my life. Our truck, powered electrically to save on petrol, was forced two blocks up a hill by a demolished building across the lakeside road. We were slowed over some particularly rough conditions in the heart of the “Second Rib,” a strip of ruins and craters that had been fought over, lost, and retaken several times during the insurgency.
Major Crow had just leaned forward to ask the driver if we ought to get out to push when a round blasted through the windshield and into the cockpit, hitting him in the center of the forehead. His body jerked backward, blood shot forward and straight up, and the driver veered hard to the right. The truck turned over into a gravel filled ditch.
The major was dead, there was no doubt about that. The three of us who survived – the driver, a grunt, and I – pulled ourselves from the wreckage, staying low to the ground. Whoever had fired on us was somewhere ahead, probably moving. I had just my holstered pistol on me – I still carried my rifle at all times, but it was stowed in the trunk, elevated about twelve feet overhead in the overturned truck.
The grunt fired wildly ahead, emptying his clip. While he unloaded, I heard my com-set beeping in my ear. I caught the automated distress signal and knew support was on its way.
Just moments later, a squad of corpsmen descended in Mech Combat Suits, fully armed. They set a perimeter around the wreck and extracted the commander’s body. One of the corpsmen approached and explained calmly that an armored carrier was arriving soon. In the meantime, he herded us back toward the truck to wait it out.
At that moment, a mortar round landed and detonated nearby, just atop the ditch, scattering gravel and knocking the Mech trooper off his feet. Dust from the impact blew up into my face, filling my mouth with grit and blinding me. While I staggered backward, trying to holster my weapon before I shot someone, a firm hand took my arm and pulled me back down the hill.
“You’re okay.” I recognized the voice: Lt Vic Sessions. I wiped at my eyes with the back of my hand. He was in light armor. He motioned for me to help pull the downed Mech trooper down into the ditch. “Watch him,” he said to me and disappeared up the hill on to the road.
I busied myself checking on the Mech trooper, who had been knocked unconscious by the mortar blast. I heard scattered gunfire, but the sound receded into the distance.
That evening, at mess, the men were discussing a new rumor: a special unit was being rolled out. Though there was some dispute about the nature of the unit – assassination, espionage, black ops – there was unanimity that it would be covert and selective. Such talk is the grist of enlisted life and I would not have thought twice about it had it not been for my experience days before with an insurgent ambush.
I returned to the Twin Cities District for Major Crow’s funeral, spent a long week of leave with Rosemary and our young son, Duncan, and returned to Duluth where I had been reassigned to 1st Battalion, Fargo Company. A move like this was typical of a liaison officer; following the death of a commanding officer, the administrative staff were generally reassigned, scattered laterally to other Battalions or even across Divisions. It seemed like a demotion, however, to serve now at the Company rather than Battalion level. I reflected that perhaps my limited combat valor was hampering my career, even in an administrative role.
Since it was in a different Battalion, Fargo Company was unknown to me. I was assigned to the liaison role with the company commander of Fargo, told only that he was new to the position and would benefit from my two tours of experience.
The conference room for our first briefing was typical of Camp Justice: sturdy, unadorned metal tables; a small lectern; a projector hovering in the center of it all; a North American Union flag in one corner; framed photographs of the Trilateral Presidency along a wall.
I took a seat to the right of the lectern, where the company commander would stand. I was puzzled to see Victor Sessions enter next. He took note of my surprise and smiled, and I noticed then the double bars on his collar. He was now a captain and the company commander. He had received the rumored promotion.
The briefing was high-level: the Company’s purpose, which was pursuit and engagement of high-value targets on short notice; the command structure; and a roster of the soldiers selected, which I scanned: Lincoln Lenox had made the list and his name starred with an asterisk to reflect general commendation.
The Company would be separate from the traditional command structure, however. It was being spun out of 1st Brigade as a paramilitary unit. We would operate independently in order to maintain secrecy and flexibility.
So it was that I found myself in a small temporary office with Captain Victor Sessions. After some short niceties and perfunctory questions about one another’s families, we took out the Company roster.
“Any other fundies in the unit that you know?” he asked. It was his way to get straight to questions like this.
I made a show of scanning the list, but I would not divulge the religion of any of the other corpsmen in the unit. It was common knowledge that some members of the armed insurgency were fundamentalists and that had cast a shadow on all religious members of the service. Captain Sessions knew me to be religious from our days in the platoon together in Calhoun Company, but as far as I knew he did not realize the depth of my sympathies.
“No, Captain,” I said finally, after a minute of review. “None that I know.”
“Alright, good. I know you and trust you, but I specifically requested that no other fundies be selected. We’ll be dealing with specific, actionable intelligence in this unit.”
We continued on with our review, discussing the constitution of the platoons, the soldiers’ capabilities, and the unit’s training timeline. I left late with the dossiers of four high-value insurgent targets thought to be operating in the district.
I was awakened in the middle of night four months later by my com-set. Intelligence had been received placing a target, Peter Fawkes, at an insurgent church in the Third Rib, at the center of the most contested region in the district.
The Company’s ready platoon had already scrambled in choppers and were en route. A follow-up team would be fifteen minutes behind in armored trucks. Capt Sessions insisted in being close to the action and was in the follow-up group, but he had left specific orders for me to rendezvous at the church pending the all-clear signal.
I wrangled a service truck from the motor pool and drove myself. Dawn was still an hour out, and I was conscious of the head lamps as I drove northwest along the lake and then left up the hill. I arrived without trouble, however, and was greeted by a Fargo Company sentry as approached the church: Lincoln Lenox.
“Hello, Sergeant,” he said to me when I lowered the window. He cradled a rifle in his right arm. “Captain Sessions says you’re to meet him the rectory.”
Lord of Life was built in a faux colonial style: heavy wood pillars out in front, a wide facade, and what was once a tall steeple, now cracked and fallen across the roof. I jogged up the steps and into the church. I followed signs downstairs to the rectory, greeting corpsmen by name as I encountered them. Two full platoons was 48 men, and they all seemed to be milling about in the church. Their readiness made me nervous, and I announced myself loudly as I entered the rectory.
Sessions was there, skimming over an electronic reader. A man sat at the table next to him, looking forlorn. He wore a Roman collar and had dark patches beneath his eyes.
“We got him,” Sessions said loudly.
“Excellent,” I said. “What condition?”
“Conscious, for the time being,” he said. “Psych-ops will be sending a team in the morning to interrogate him, but he’s all ours for at least two hours. I’ve got some scores to settle, and I figure this is my chance to work him while he’s still off the grid.”
“Captain Sessions,” said the clergyman, his voice rising, “I thought we had an agreement. It is one thing to invade a church to capture someone you believe a criminal – it’s surely another to torture him there.”
“My attache Sergeant Dupont is here now,” Sessions said, motioning toward me. “You may file any grievance with him. In the meanwhile, I have things I must attend to.”
“No, Captain.” Roberts stood up and hobbled over. He held his right leg out to the side and slid it along the ground to walk. “You have destroyed the church’s bell-tower with your attack this morning, you’ve completely taken over the building, and now you’re using my rectory as a jail. I know many in the community who want this fighting to end, and they will work with you to end it if it’s in their interest. But word of this insult will get out. You have your prisoner. Take him out of here to be deposed.”
Session’s swagger deflated as the pastor dressed him down. He appeared to consider the pastor’s words.
“You’re right,” he said after a long pause. “My sincerest apologies. I will work to fix it immediately.”
He called over a lieutenant, gave orders for the company to return to base, and turned to me.
“You to stay behind with a detachment of two corpsmen. Assist Pastor Roberts in any way you can to return this church to working condition.”
We passed five days restoring the church. The damage to the bell tower was irreversible, so I had it pulled down and an engineer from the command company’s Anoka Company transferred to assist with the redesign. Colonel Bill Morningstar was a vain, self-important man who believed his role was more important than it was and gave it less effort than he should have. His commanders at Anoka Company were willing for this reason to lend him to unimportant duties such as our resurrection of Lord of Life Church.
In this week, I avoided Pastor Roberts, fearing superstitiously that he as a man of God would be able to divine my true beliefs and the sympathies I carried in my heart. I kept all of our conversations professional and did not exchange a single word of personal or even idle conversation with him.
I shared my quarters with the two enlisted men assigned to the detail. I had considered for a brief moment requesting Lincoln, but knew that he would dislike such a caretaking duty and that I had no real reason to choose him other than our common faith. The quarters were in the lower level of the church: a wide, low room lighted with long, white fluorescents. The room was used for the weekly religious instruction for primary aged children, and its walls were covered with signs and posters quoting the most obvious verse from the Bible and imploring the youth to live in accordance with the church’s principles.
Based on the light reading afforded by the posters and by a few handouts stacked about the room, this church did not appear to teach anything that contradicted the state-centric teachings of the government. In fact, I found it increasingly hard to believe that Pastor Roberts, teaching and preaching such a watered-down brand of Christianity, could have anything whatsoever to do with the insurgency
The evening of the fifth day, Captain Sessions visited to check our progress. He seemed pleased by the overall state of things. Morningstar had taken to the pinnacle reconstruction with surprising seriousness. Perhaps the gravity of church work had touched him in a way that military infrastructure could not. He had converted the wide base of the tower into a tall blockish platform, atop which he had affixed a large stone cross taken from some other church, probably already demolished. The look was monumental, and Morningstar took obvious pride in the result.
The captain’s visit that day meant dinner for all of us. His father, the Admiral and Senator, had brought up his family with these sorts of festivities, and Sessions recalled the tradition when he could.
Morningstar, Roberts, and I showed him around the restored facilities: the worship hall, classrooms, and rectory. Fargo Company had operated out of the church for nearly twelve hours, and 50 troopers can do significant damage over such a long period, even unintentionally.
“What’s your take on religion, Morningstar?” said Sessions over dinner. Samson and Munoz, the two enlisted men detailed to the church with me, had prepared a soy roast with a raspberry glaze. Fine cooking, given the circumstances: the kind of thing Vic would expect for a special occasion.
“Don’t have one. Raised without it, and I never really needed it. I guess I’ve done well enough without.”
“How about you, Samson? What’s your take?” He was working around the table. Samson, and Munoz as well, seated across from him, gave similar, insubstantial answers. Both of the men were 20 years old and from urban districts.
Then it was Roberts, who began sermonizing, using broad generalizations about “something greater” and “the Higher Power.”
“Yes, certainly, but aren’t there actually facts you believe?” said Sessions. His question seemed to me to be a sincere inquiry, but Roberts did not take it as such. His tone became clipped and impatient.
“Of course. But I did not want to bore you with such trivialities. The broader truths are what are important. We’ve fallen from the ecumenicalism that God would have preferred.”
“God is dead?”
“Pardon me…that God prefers.”
“Excellent! An actual truth claim. Well, I think you might find disagreement with our good Sergeant Dupont. I can’t believe you two lived together for five days and never discussed his church. Well, the cat’s out of the bag. Pastor Roberts, Sergeant Dupont here is a fundie. Belongs to a fundamentalist congregation in the Twin Cities District.
There was a deep silence around the table. All eyes were on me, save the captain’s as he scanned the expressions of my cohorts for some response. I, in turn, looked at him as he sat back to let me explain myself to Roberts. As I have said, I had disclosed my church affiliation at the beginning of my career, and Sessions had been in my platoon and no doubt knew the most superficial facts about my faith.
“Yes, I am a Christian, and as such I believe that true religion demands we believe in certain historical facts. It’s more than slogans and truisms. Religion makes us accountable, both in what we do and – more importantly – in what we believe.
“Christ was a man, not a fiction or myth as revisionists claim, who lived perfectly, taught us true religion, and died for our sins. There’s no way to salvation but through him.”
I glanced around the table, and they were still watching. Morningstar looked stunned. Roberts frowned. Samson, younger and perhaps hearing this for the first time, looked interested. But Munoz, a young man I did not know well, met my eyes. A fellow believer, I supposed.
“Well done!” said Vic. He took a bite of his soya. “‘True religion demands we believe.’ I love it. But I’m afraid, Sergeant, that you can have your ‘Christ’; my religion is the Corps.”
The others clapped the table at his wit, and we continued on with our dinner. Later, Roberts and I were left alone while Vic and Morningstar smoked out front and the enlisted men cleared the table.
“You’ve got a lot of nerve upstaging me like that. In my own church.”
“I didn’t mean to upstage you, Pastor. The captain asked me a question and I answered it according to my conscience.”
“Lay off the hyperbole. We’re both Christians, we both study the same books, and I’m sure we’ve got the same doubts. It seems to me that there’s a lot of truth out there to be learned. How can you be so sure you’ve picked the right one?”
“There can’t be many truths. Truth, by definition, is unalterable, universal, and unique. All of my principles derive from my faith.”
“Then your principles are shallow, because faith changes. You’ll see things that will change it, and then we’ll see which is deriving which. Sessions is a patriot, but he’s also a butcher. You go along with it because you’re either naive or a hypocrite.”
He stormed away from the table, leaving me to consider a half-full glass of whiskey.
The officers returned from their smoke, and Vic declared that we would pack up and leave immediately. We loaded up the gear, said a perfunctory goodbye to the pastor, and departed.
The formation of Fargo Company to conduct special operations in the District was part of the Corps’ overall strategy of expanding the fight against the insurgency in Duluth and all along the North Shore of Lake Superior. Two additional brigades were brought in from the Dakota Territory, and two battalions transferred into the Prairie Dogs having rotated out of post-offensive operations in Winnipeg. In the North American Union post-merger minor uprisings popped up like so many brushfires.
My role as the Company liaison kept me in an administrative role, where I was content to identify and pass along information when I could, but on rare occasions I saw combat.
Such a situation occurred in the autumn more than a year into my deployment in Fargo Company. Our forward platoon had eliminated an insurgent target within a fortified residential area and had discovered a bomb-making lab beneath the apartments. A chopper airlifted me and Sessions there; we arrived just as the insurgents launched a counteroffensive bombardment, and we narrowly escaped into the basement of a maintenance facility.
A half squad had taken cover there as well. A young corporal, ruddy faced beneath his gear, greeted us within the cellar door, rifle raised. He pointed it down and saluted us. “Three more Fargoes in the room ahead and another squad farther in.”
One of the three in the room was unconscious. I hurried forward to assist. Our scanners within the basement were spotty, and I could not locate any of the Company’s four medics within range. Another of the three was wounded, cradling his left arm. He had pulled away his personal armor and had fashioned a sling with a nylon belt.
The third greeted Sessions and explained that they had entered the basement right behind another Fargo squad, who had entered in pursuit of insurgents.
I was surprised they had called us into the zone with fighting still taking place, but thought better of asking – at best it would reflect that I wondered at their professionalism, at worst I would appear a coward.
Sessions knelt beside the unconscious man as if for an inspection – he knew less first aid than any of us – and picked up the man’s rifle, tossing it to me. He shouldered the other unused rifle.
“Let’s follow that squad in. See what’s happening.” He trotted toward the doorway. The past months of following the action from behind, adjusting strategies, debriefing: these things must have always strained against his desire to fight.
I, on the other hand, did not feel his urgency. My first thought as I picked up my pace to follow him was of my wife, Rosemary. I had not seen her in nearly six weeks and imagined the communique from battalion command informing her of the explosion, ambush, or building collapse that had taken my life.
“Pick it up,” said Sessions.
I took the rifle off my shoulder so I could run faster. The power was out in this part of the building and the captain had turned on the flash mounted on his right shoulder. I did not dare suggest slowing, much less stopping.
An explosion shook the ground as we turned left into a wider hallway. We felt the blast before we heard it, and the subsequent roar knocked me to my feet. There was gunfire from up ahead, though it was muffled in the reverberation of the cement walls. Sessions was moving ahead, crouched down, and I grabbed my rifle to follow.
A figure popped out of a doorway between us. In a quick second I visually scanned him: a male, over two meters tall, lightly armored, holding a pistol in good form, pointing it at Vic. I fired a burst from my rifle. Six rounds, centered on the figure’s midsection. The light chest piece the man wore split on the side and he pivoted toward me and fell backward.
Another figure emerged from the doorway, his pistol leveled at me. I rolled to the left as he fired, and I heard Sessions fire in return. I could hear the ring of bullets skipping on the concrete to my right and I could smell the acridity from my rifle as I somersaulted over it. I came to a crouch next to Sessions. We had backed into an alcove with a good view of the hallway.
I looked back and forth. No additional movement. Sessions shook my shoulder. He was speaking to me, but it sounded as if he were speaking through heavy canvas. He gestured toward the doorway the two attackers had come through. I pointed farther down the main hallway, in the direction of the explosion that had precipitated the firefight. He shook his head and start moving across the hall in a crouch. I gave him three paces and followed.
Inside we found a maintenance room. Pipes and electrical conduits ran overhead. A water heater sat idle in the corner. A floor grate had been pulled aside, and a makeshift rope ladder hung down, secured to the piping.
“A rat’s nest,” he said. He spoke into his communication relay back to the half squad standing guard at the entrance. “Ten minutes jog east, beneath the second apartment tower. We need four men.”
We waited for reinforcements in the room. There were strips of emergency lighting on along the floor and ceiling moulding so we were not in total darkness, but with the utilities off the room quickly became stuffy. The air flowing from beneath was stagnant and odorous. A sewer? I was not sure, and I could not access the building plan on my heads-up display with the spotty wireless. I was impressed with the captain for remembering the complex’s layout in detail.
Sessions watched the hallway while I watched the grate. I heard noises from the tunnels beneath, but none close enough to identify them. I imagined boots falling.
There was no doubt when the reinforcements arrived minutes later. A squad of nine regular infantry, guided by Lincoln Lenox. He saluted Captain Sessions.
“Sir, the sentry out front directed me here. Said you’d called for reinforcements.”
“Excellent initiative. Who’s commanding the infantry? Besides you?”
Lenox indicated the man, and Vic went to speak with him and explain the situation. Lincoln stepped into the utility room. He pulled off his helmet. I was sweating underneath my gear.
“Didn’t expect to see you here.” He said to me with forced casualness. I was unsure whether to admire the effort or detest the insincerity.
“Just another day at the office. We were following in a Fargo squad that was pursuing some insurgents.”
Lincoln explained that this had been his squad. They had pursued the insurgents through the basement, up into an apartment entry, and out into the courtyard. He had further pursued a single individual back toward the maintenance entrance, where he – and the insurgent – had encountered the infantry reinforcements that were already in route when Sessions had radioed in. Having completed the circuit, Lincoln guided the infantry down to our position.
Sessions had no doubt heard a similar story from the infantry lieutenant, who was given the unenviable task of ordering his squad down the tunnel to clean up any resistance there.
“And the explosion?” I asked.
“A mine, detonated from the ceiling.” The insurgents had been using low-tech, improvised explosives like mounted mines to great effect. Construction licensing required builders to install a variety of monitoring and maintenance devices, all housed in small mounted utility boxes. Insurgents used these to camouflage their explosives during small-force engagements.
“The mine got Munoz,” said Lincoln.
“That’s too bad. He was a good man.”
We did not dwell on the casualty for long. The captain swept us back out into the courtyard, where Fargo Company reformed by squad. He liked a motivational debrief in theater when possible, and the infantry reinforcement had given the residential enclave the feel of a Frontier Corps camp. I stood at his side as the men gathered around in a semicircle, two abreast by squad, in order of rank. Immediately, the absences in the formation were evident.
“Today was a bloody day for Fargo Company. You fought like wolves today. Or, better yet, like those dogs used to chase down rats. The insurgents, they’re rats, and you boys have dealt them a serious set back today. According to the reports I’ve compiled from the squad leaders, and the corroboration from the support infantry that arrived shortly after us, we captured or killed 18 of the sons of bitches.”
The men cheered.
“And believe me, those who are currently in the ‘captured’ category are only going to get closer to the other category if I have anything to say about it.
“We lost some good troopers today – both killed and wounded. Our Company will not be the same without those who aren’t coming back. The rebels who are responsible for this will pay. Deep in those tunnels, Sergeant Dupont and I were deafened by an improvised mine and by an exchange of gunfire. But that’s firecrackers compared to what we’re about to bring them. We’re going to light up the night. We’re going to use every trick, tactic, and technology to root them out of their dens, chase them into the streets, and stamp them out.”
The men cheered again. I cheered along, though I felt trepidation. Perhaps it was the unpleasant experience of the combat, the let-down after the adrenaline rush, or the recognition of my own cowardice. It could have been a sense that my faith was undermined, that what I had experienced in the hallway alongside the captain was wholly incompatible with my understanding of an omnipotent, caring God. Or it may have been an abstract sense of my own responsibility, the fear that not only was I actually a sympathizer, far too deep into the military structure to recognize myself as such, but that the information I had been feeding unanimous insurgent contacts was now being used against my own unit.
On a brutal, cold December evening Sergeant Lenox approached me at the NCO club. I was not one to drink to excess, but the holidays were a time where I felt the separation from Rosemary and Duncan most acutely. I had sent them an early communique and then headed to the club for a strong drink.
Snow had been threatening for days, and the first flakes had begun to fall when I arrived. Lincoln approached with a drink in either hand. He nodded toward my glass.
“Almost done? Come, sit with me and we’ll chat over another.”
We took a table on the side of the room opposite the exit, where the lighting was dimmed. He was much like he had been on that train two years before: nervous and chatty, making awkward, perfunctory small talk. I tried to put him at ease, speaking of his family and news I had heard of them from Rosemary.
This seemed to agitate him even more, however. We had finished the first round and ordered a second when Lincoln finally got around to the reason for the conversation.
“I would like a commission, but that won’t happen if they know I’m a fundamentalist. You’re known to be, and you’re only allowed your leadership role in the Company by the captain’s leave.”
The truth of the matter was that my role as liaison was hardly a leadership role at all. It was increasingly clear to me that I would never be receiving a commission, due at least in part to my religion. I did not tell him this, however; I could not muddy the waters on that point when there was the larger point that he wanted to discuss: his faith.
He explained the benefits, well known to me, of keeping his faith secret, but he was still troubled by the idea that hiding it would betray the faith of his father.
“He knows,” I told him. “Your faith is your own business. I’ve never told anyone. At times God calls us to proclaim openly, and at others to worship privately. But your nerves, this anxiety, it’s deeper than that.
“The spirit within you causing you this discomfort – that is a demon. It will continue to eat at you, fill you with doubts, inflate your ambition. You don’t want to run from the faith, Linc. You must run back to it. I know that the only way you’ll be saved is Christ. You know it, too.
“Keep it to yourself and stay in the Corps. Someday, guys like us will arrive at the front door of our church, and the church will need someone to fight back. The best thing you can do now is keep learning.
He seemed to agree. He did not say so, but he nodded throughout and his face relaxed visibly. He even smiled. We chatted some more, catching up on some company operations, and we stood up to take on the cold. I thanked him for the drinks.
“Let me introduce you to someone,” he said abruptly.
“Sure, she’ll still be around.”
I had no idea who he had in mind, but we were both loose from the drinks and the night seemed young. He led the way outside, where the snow had started falling in earnest. We turned left down the base’s main road and toward the motor pool.
“We’ll have to drive a ways back toward the harbor,” he informed me.
Compared to the military sterility of the NCO club, the bar we entered a half hour later was filthy. Lincoln walked confidently to a back corner table, where an East Indian woman sat alone, reading a paperback book. Her hair was pulled back and tucked under a gray cap. She reminded me of a French partisan from the 20th century.
“Sergeant Gordon Dupont, Libby Singh. Libby, this is my friend Gordon. I know him from church in the Twin Cities.”
She took my hand and motioned for us to sit. “From church,” she repeated. “You’re a religious man? Don’t answer that. It doesn’t matter to me. We’re each entitled to our conscience. Are you interested in philosophy, too?”
I said I was and she slid the book across the table to me. “ The Road to Serfdom ,” I said, reading the title. I had heard of it in my studies.
A waitress arrived and took our drink orders. Libby ordered something stiff from the bar. Lincoln and I followed suit. We started talking about the book, about central planning, individual freedom, and the role of the government. I realized I had sat down without removing my coat.
The drinks arrived, and Libby asked me questions about my church, my small family, and the congregation. Another while passed. Libby looked over my shoulder and shifted in her seat. “A friend just arrived. Keep thinking what you’re thinking. I’ll be back in five.”
While she was away, Lincoln asked me what I thought of her. I asked him to clarify the context. Colleague? Friend? Lover? He was not sure.
“What are we doing here? Who is she?”
“I met her last summer. We have fun together.”
“That doesn’t answer my question. What does she do?”
“I don’t know. That guy she’s with, he’s got some business moving goods in and out of the district.”
“Contraband?” I leaned forward and lowered my voice to a whisper. “Linc, this is crazy.”
She returned, a young man in tow. He looked military to me: upright posture, short hair cut, but he wore no insignia and introduced himself to me simply as Buck. The three of them chatted while I sipped at my drink. Was this my fifth? It was not my habit to drink at all, much less heavily, and it had begun to affect me. My cheeks were numb, and I struggled to pay attention to the conversation as it passed.
I ended up seated next to Libby. Buck was speaking fervently with Lincoln about something. I could not follow. Libby asked me about the church again, then about my faith, and then about liberty. I answered honestly – it was refreshing just to tell someone about the things that motivated me. I believed that God granted our rights; the government should just protect those rights.
She agreed and nodded to the the book. “That’s what makes this so prescient. He foretold of our time in this book.” She took out an old-fashioned pen. “Would you sign my book? We’re kindred spirits.”
We were, and I was drunk, so I did. I signed in my neatest block letters: “Your Kindred Spirit, Sergeant Gordon Dupont, NAU Frontier Corps.”
Another round, Buck paid. The remainder of our time at the bar became foggy, a fog which was lifted suddenly by our egress into the cold night air. The flurries had cleared, leaving a half inch layer of snow beneath some stars.
We piled into our military issue truck, slate gray with the striped insignia of the NAU Frontier Corps on the doors. Linc drove, Libby next to him. Buck and I were in the back, seated across from three of Buck’s comrades. They spoke in muffled tones as we drove up into the hills.
Twenty minutes, just as the steel interior of the truck was heating up, and we stopped. Libby called back that we were to disembark.
We were high above the city now, looking down the hill toward tiny pinpoints of lights – the urban center of the Inner Harbor on the right, and diffusing concentrations along the North Shore of the lake. We were on the ridgeline that ran perpendicular to the lake for many hundreds of miles. Linc had parked the truck where the paved two lane road was blocked by heavy concrete barriers marking the edge of the Urban Management Zone. Beyond was the Rural Management Zone, where unauthorized entry was a crime punishable by hard labor – even for military personnel.
The group was making its way past the barriers, and I had no choice but to follow. I felt vulnerable suddenly with no weapon, and I realized that our security was at the whim of these strangers. They were not strangers to Lincoln, and I found some consolation in that.
Soon we turned right onto a small dirt trail. Most of the group had lamps out, and the path was sufficiently illuminated that I did not fall. None the less, the walk was treacherous. We continued to climb, and the snow made the terrain slick. I noticed, however, that there were tracks ahead of us – someone had taken the trail relatively recently. I could also see that branches hanging over the trail had been sawed off, not at the trunk, where it would have been conspicuous, but above and below: sufficient space for hikers to carry gear.
I lost track of the time. The walk had sobered me, and I began to enjoy the freshness of the air. In the city, by the lake as polluted as it was, the stench of industry was everywhere, even in the insurgent districts. But here, walking, there was none of that. It was clean and crisp, sharp in the nose and the throat.
We emerged into a clearing, where a number of small campfires burned beneath a canopy of webbed camo netting. There were probably twenty people already here, some sleeping between the fires, but most on the outside, chatting together. Crates were stacked neatly on the outside edge of the clearing.
Buck motioned to them when I looked. “Our business. We bring people what they want but can’t get. The State’s set up rules. We break the rules so that people can still get what they want. And we profit.”
He offered me a cigarette, which I accepted. I rarely smoked – it was frowned down upon generally and specifically in the church – but I felt deviant being here. The buzz hit me immediately, and I turned away from Buck as if reading the blocky lettering on one of the crates.
“Hey, Sergeant.” It was Libby, yelling at me. She waved me over and introduced me too quickly through a group of four. They were a hard looking bunch – many openly wore weapons, and all had on heavy, dirty clothing. The men were not shaven, and the women all wore their hair short.
“So, the question is,” Libby said, “what do your soldier friends need? We have contacts north and south, so if it’s something growable, we know people. And lab stuff, we’ve got that, too. Producers in Minneapolis, in the Rust Sprawl, and even out west like Denver and PacWest. The idea here, and I’ve already told Linc about this, would be that you two just distribute. You don’t have to handle the selling or money or nothing like that. Just distribute. In exchange, you get a cut.”
Libby and her four friends looked at me for a long moment.. “Sounds good,” I said finally. “Lincoln and I will work out the details.”
“Then we’re in business.” She went to a footlocker away from the fires and came back with a small metal box. She displayed several neat rows of brightly colored square tablets.
“Absome,” she said. “To celebrate. It’s like the soma the State issues but much more substantive.
We passed the box and I took a pill, sliding it under my tongue like soma. The intoxication pushed out by the weather barreled back. The absome not only slowed time, it warped space. I felt my face go numb, I saw the orange of the fire blur into the snow beneath. Time seemed to slide past me. Around me. Stalled above me.
Suddenly, the dark sky above, muted by the canopy, was dominated by the sun. It was morning. My mouth was gummy and sticky. My head pounded. I located Lincoln and prodded him awake. It was well past reveille and most of the camp was up. Lincoln muttered an awkward goodbye to Libby and we went back the way we came, trotting quickly down the trail, which had dried somewhat in the sun.
We got back to the dirt road and started for the truck. We were AWOL, and getting picked up in the RMZ would make matters worse. I wanted to be angry with Lincoln, but I was more frustrated with myself, and so we double-timed in silence.
We pulled into the motor pool at the Forward Operations Base at noon. The corporal who checked in the vehicle looked sideways at us but did not say anything. As he scanned the vehicle and checked our IDs, Lincoln finally spoke to me away from the corporal’s hearing.
“I understand you’re nervous, but try not to worry – I’ve thought of something.”
Sure enough, he had. I returned to my barracks, cleaned up, popped two derm uppers, and made it to Company HQ before lunch was out. By then, Lincoln had already prepped an electronic file reporting his insertion of a “dummy truck” in a suspected insurgent pocket. Major Mortenson, Lincoln’s previous company commander, had signed the order. When Captain Sessions returned to the office, he reviewed the file and told me he was unhappy we had gone out of pocket; despite this, he seemed to enjoy the spontaneity of it.
We never heard another thing about the incident. Lincoln would later only explain that he had served well under Mort and knew when he could lean on him for a favor.
As operations moved northward along the lake, we ran into increasingly residential areas again. The three middle regions of the District were devastated – only pockets of survivors remained through the bombings, retributory attacks, and infantry assaults. But out on the edge of the Second Rib and into the First there were old neighborhoods, where homeowners still lived behind high stone walls and makeshift gates. Refugees, too, were packed into a series of large transitional camps. These were fonts of crime and insurgency, and as our lines moved closer, how to handle them was utmost in the minds of General Command.
Sessions was promoted to major and was invited to attend regular assessment meetings. I joined him as a liaison and meticulously noted any off-hand bits of intelligence.
The last of the snow had melted when we conducted a dawn raid into one of the refugee camps. It had been set up of modular units years before, meant to be temporary, but as more refugees came in from the protracted fight in the hills, the camp grew and the center became more permanent. Shacks were built against the original mods, and those reinforced, and soon the camp was a maze of steel streets and constant, shifting change.
Instead of starting at the edge and working our way in – dangerous to be exposed to the blind corners and unexpected dead-ends – we hit the target from above. We picked up three combat engineers from Morningstar’s company, and they cut through the layers of overlapping metal into the center of the camp. Four fire teams descended and fanned out, holding a small perimeter. A full platoon followed, charging into a modular housing unit that had been identified by an informant as a safehouse for insurgent leaders.
As the lead platoon entered the mod, the crackle and pop of an improvised explosive echoed over the radio. From the chopper, I saw the blast rip through the shacks like a wave. The mod itself erupted in all directions, throwing debris as high as where we hovered over the camp. The helicopter rocked side to side in the shock wave. Sessions was screaming orders into his headset, calling for the two reserve platoons to drop in immediately. He started buckling up his own gear to join them.
I followed suit. It would not do to have the major plunge to his death while I watched from 100 feet overhead. As the two platoons dropped onto the rooftops, they were fired on from below, from slits randomly positioned across the metal. Our chopper-based snipers returned fire while the shock troops continued down into the tunnels. We listened for a report back and, hearing none, started down ourselves.
I pulled on my mask, which provided ten minutes of oxygen as well as an electronic display that clarified threats. I disabled the heat sensing goggles. Bits of flaming plastic and upholstery from the mod still floated in the air within the metal tunnels, which were charred and smoking. The reserve platoon had moved ahead of us and were pulling downed troopers from beneath the debris. I worked with the 2nd Platoon medic, Corporal Cho, identifying the wounded and carrying them to safety first.
I struggled with the troopers’ armor – it was lightweight but still cumbersome – and I repeatedly caught edges of the suits’ shoulder pads or boots on jagged metal dislodged by the explosion. I could comfortably carry a 200 lb man, with gear, but I found myself exhausted after just two trips. The heat was oppressive, and the air within the mask was choked and uncomfortable. I tried at one point to remove the mask, and found the air outside even worse: foul and sulphuric.
I started back for a third. I turned to see one of the choppers attempt to land atop the shanty structure, which gave way beneath as if made of paper, and the pilot quickly lifted off again.
We were forced to airlift the wounded out one by one, lifting them into the helicopters with an improvised harness and gurney. Sessions glowered upward from our entrance point into the tunnels, no doubt frustrated that there was no easier access.
That night as we debriefed final casualties numbers were called in from the base clinic: six dead, five out of action, four more wounded. 4th Platoon had taken the hardest hit, losing four enlisteds and their lieutenant, Frank Anderson.
Lincoln Lennox, covering the side of the modular unit when it had blown, had received severe burns on the left side of his face, but they were superficial only. He had been shielded by a heavy structural beam which remained intact against the blast. Military doctors had performed a quick graft to encourage regeneration. Word would come a week later, as I took a week’s leave at home with my family, that Linc had been offered a commission and would take over leadership of 4th Platoon.
I noted at the small swearing-in ceremony, when Lt Lenox reaffirmed his solemn oath to defend “this North American Union and her Triumverate Presidency,” that he seemed dazed by the honor. He was now an officer of the Frontier Corps, the domestic armed service given the duty of protecting the nation from within. It was something very few from the enlisted ranks would achieve.
Shortly thereafter, Fargo Company was deployed along the very hills Linc and I had visited the winter before. Whether he continued to visit Libby, I did not know. But our deployment there was easy, compared to the urban fighting we had performed for 18 months before.
This was to be a cooling-off period. We operated outside of the conventional structure as a paramilitary unit: no uniforms or special insignia, Sessions in complete command and rarely questioned by superiors. But the disastrous raid on the refugee camp had resulted in 17 Fargo casualties, 32 civilian casualties – not one a confirmed insurgent – and many destroyed homes. Counter-insurgency strategy required the cooperation of the locals, and the refugee camp raid had been a major setback.
We set up ambushes along the trails that ran into the district from the Rural Management Zone, patrolled the foothills looking for unauthorized camps, and spent evenings spying down into the city from our vantage point high above.
The stationary camp was easier on the unit, and morale remained high, but like in all encampments cliques began to form among the troops and rumors began to spread. The most pernicious was that Lt Lenox was being investigated for insurgent sympathies. Perhaps because of my own activities, or just our shared faith, I was sensitive to the innuendo. I also knew it was grounded, intentionally or not, in essential truth. So I decided to see how much they knew.
Using the major’s system permissions, I accessed the Counter-Insurgency Office’s dossier on Linc. The CIO was the intelligence arm of the organization of which we, Fargo Company, were the military wing. As in most things military, the left hand did not know what the right hand did.
There was no sign that the CIO knew about Libby or her Syndicate friends. But, unlike in the military file, Lincoln was tagged as an “active Christian” and “strong believer.” A subsequent psych evaluation concluded he was “ambitious” and “self-aggrandizing,” characteristics he had acquired from Sessions over two years in Fargo Company.
The research reminded me of the train ride Linc and I had shared years before. I was content with my Sergeant’s chevrons. I was in a relatively light combat role in a unit that allowed me to fulfill my higher calling and stay, for the most part, out of harm’s way. In contrast, Lincoln wanted something more. My contact with the insurgency was safe and intermittent and controlled, but Lincoln’s criminality seemed to me to be haphazard and agitated.
We returned to active combat after a three month hiatus. Our first significant action came shortly after our relocation to a small base that was situated south of the harbor’s industrial quarter: processing facilities, mineral storage warehouses, foundries, and dry-docks. All had been abandoned from their original uses when the mines on the Iron Range were shut down and shipping was moved into the Inner Harbor, Chicago, or off-shore to China and Europe.
Insurgents and the criminal gangs had taken up residence throughout the area, like rats, as Sessions said. Our unmanned reconnaissance gliders had picked up an increase in activity around a complex of old ore smelters and storage depots. We received intelligence about a specific building and scrambled quickly.
Linc’s 4th Platoon was responsible for the far edge of the perimeter. Because the buildings abutted the lake, there was always the risk that the targets would attempt to flee on to the lake, in which case there was little we could do. But if they attempted to flee along the shore as the net tightened around them, we set up a backstop to hold up their escape.
The quartermaster had installed cameras on the scopes of every trooper in the unit. We had five screens in our command center – one for each combat platoon – and we toggled between views on each using a small handset.
Duluth’s hilly terrain made signal transmission and reception spotty, and attempts to improve it by installing additional broadcast towers were foiled by insurgent saboteurs. This meant that the high-quality streaming from the scopes to our command center was often replaced by the time-honored method of radio, which was dependable if not cutting edge.
As the Company tightened the noose about the smelting facility, the feed was cut entirely. Sessions quickly switched to the radio frequency to continue monitoring. The troops, for their parts, were unaware of the break in the stream, since they were only transmitting and not receiving. All of their communications were still handled by radio over their helmet head-sets.
We recorded the radio transmissions for our reports and tracked the timing of the first engagement. Immediately, 2nd Platoon made contact with insurgent sentries. 1st Platoon, entering the complex from the south, ambushed three trying to escape the smelter. No word from 4th Platoon until Lenox ordered the squad on point to remain stationary while the reserve squad spread out to widen the patrol area. After this preliminary maneuver, accomplished with no complications, Lincoln himself took position with the point team and immediately IDed a group of hostile contacts. He held position until they had come within range of the squad and they opened fire.
It should have come on with no issues, but someone on the channel identified hostiles between the two squads, and – given the low light and difficulty of identification in the circumstances, Lincoln ordered his entire platoon back to their Z Point, where they were to await their full complement before reengaging.
In the ensuing retreat and reformation, the insurgents they had contacted slipped west under a bridge that crossed a wide drainage canal. They had a 90 second head-start by the time 4th Platoon was back together, and Lincoln decided to pursue with one squad.
As they came onto the cement embankment of the canal and fanned out to look for signs of the insurgents, Lincoln’s scope came back online and started transmitting back to us. We saw the greened shapes of the night vision and the soft glow of the heat sensors. A group of four small figures moved several hundred yards ahead, making their way through another overpass and into a bombed out office center that abutted the industrial complex.
Lincoln divided the squad and ordered one fire team up onto the road above and around the edge of center. He led the other straight down the ravine toward the overpass. An insurgent rear-guard – a single individual fighter – emerged from between the structural columns of the bridge and was immediately taken down by the right flanking point of the fire-team.
I was completely caught up in watching the pursuit, and I failed to note that the action in the industrial complex had not ceased. I glanced at a different monitor: 1st and 2nd Platoons had gained entrance to the smelting facility itself and captured two insurgents alive. 3rd Platoon had split into squads and covered both north and south approaches from the facility while 4th pursued the group into the office center.
The offices were a long row of exterior entrances. With the break at the overpass, we had lost visual contact with the insurgents, and the fire-teams slowed their pace and fanned out across the grounds. Any flicker of heat, any movement detected by the night scopes, and the rest of the squad was to be immediately informed.
Nothing. The squad combed across the grounds in under five minutes, stepping quickly but quietly through gravel and metal fragments from some ancient explosion – whether sabotage or controlled was unclear. Lincoln requested clarification from command whether to continue pursuit north or double back to check the offices. Maj Sessions quickly answered: back to the offices for close examination. “But be quick about it.” I think he was impatient knowing there were two prisoners to be interrogated.
Lincoln took point and entered the office building’s main entrance from the west. The foyer was a large, multi-story gallery with long staircases running up the north and south walls. A heavy marble reception desk stood in the center of the room, long since unused, chipped and its equipment gutted. He moved along the north wall toward the staircase. He did not turn on his light due to the night vision.
Once at the base of the staircase, Lincoln radioed out for Melendez and Dasouza to enter along the south wall. They did so and immediately came under fire from the top of the staircase. He ordered the rest of the fire team – Daniels, Betancourt, and Crist – to take up positions in the center of the room to cover Melendez and Dasouza. Lincoln then proceeded up the north stairs, and turned right on to the mezzanine landing. He kicked open a door and found a utility room.
Rushing through, he kicked open the opposite door and tripped into the midst of three unidentified figures, presumably the hostiles. The feed, already difficult to follow, became impossibly chaotic when Lincoln apparently threw himself behind a column and exchanged fire with the insurgents, who then escaped through the utility passage he had just come through. By the time he radioed back to the rest of the team, the three had slipped away.
At this point, the other three platoons had rendezvoused and were headed back to HQ. Sessions ordered 4th Platoon to follow suit. I met Lenox and his team for a quick debrief, and it was just by chance that we entered the Command offices together as the first of the prisoners was being escorted out of the major’s private interrogation room. Sessions liked to work the prisoners before they were officially processed and sent along to Psychological Operations. They were often beaten brutally there, and this was no exception.
It was exceptional, however, because the prisoner we saw was Libby Singh. Her head was down as she was dragged to the makeshift jail in the back of the command center, but we saw the blood caked around her mouth and the bruises already appearing about her eyes.
Over two years, we had killed or captured seventeen insurgent leaders, including Troy Bakstrom, Nicholas Hillsdale, and Esteban Tiannen. We also counted seventy-six insurgent fighters killed by our unit. We had put them on the run, had destroyed safehouses, bomb labs, and supply depots. Our counter-insurgency psychology operations team had begun circulating the rumor in the civilian population that our success was due to the scores of infiltrators throughout the insurgency. According to the story, even some of the insurgent leaders were feeding us information, for which they were allowed to remain at-large.
The opposite was in fact true. It was the ability of the insurgency to always remain ahead of us, to remain quite nimble despite being repeatedly decapitated, that aggravated Maj Sessions most. I began to sense his frustration, and I worried that he would begin to suspect “security issues” in the unit.
The Frontier Corps, like most of the NAU’s armed forces, relied heavily on drone surveillance aircraft for intelligence. They flew thousands of feet overhead, out of sight of the naked eye, and transmitted back to HQ data on heat, electrical use, and traffic. In addition, they sent back photos of the area for detailed analysis by a small squad of intelligence analysts. They then relayed their findings to intelligence “briefers,” who surveyed the information and sent it along to command with various urgency level notations.
Fargo Company was a first response to new intelligence. Our urgency level notation was One. Orders came through intelligence to our division command and then straight to us, bypassing the ordinary chain. This was in the interest of timeliness – often a raid succeeded or failed on the edge of two minutes – and because we received our orders from a higher source than other companies.
Early on a fall morning we received an electronic transmission of high-res photos and accompanying data overlays from a drone that had flown over the hill side of the Third Rib twelve minutes before. It clearly showed two heavy trucks pulling out of a small encampment partially hidden by an old highway overpass. By chance, an analyst had been tracking the drone at the time, and he tracked the trucks to a church we were familiar with: Lord of Life. Two figures walked to the trucks, which then departed, one north and the other west into the hills.
I loaded what I could of the images to my individual data port for future, private, analysis and contacted Maj Sessions, who stormed into the command tent less than ten minutes later.
“That son-of-a-bitch,” he said, watching the video suspended over the projector. “How long’s this been going on?”
None of us could have known, so we did not respond.
“Do we know where the trucks went?” he asked.
“The drone traveled on southwest, so we could only get a heading. We lose contact about halfway to an RMZ entry point at the top of that hill.” I indicated the point on a separate projection – a topographical map of the district. This was where Lincoln and I had first met Libby’s Syndicate friends. My heart beat a bit harder in my chest at the realization.
“So we don’t know who they were or where they went…”
Another silence as we watched Sessions circle the image.
“Well, someone knows.”
We loaded up into three trucks. Sessions absently ordered a platoon along. I suggested 4th. He agreed, and Lincoln rode up in the cab of the second truck next to me.
I debriefed him on the situation. A strange expression crossed his face when I told him where we heading, but he recovered and was stoic for the remainder of the trip.
When 4th Platoon unloaded, Linc split out one fire team to patrol the perimeter of the church grounds. The entry was gated and closed, so we had to radio through to the building via the gate’s security monitor.
Pastor Roberts himself answered. “What can I do for you?” he asked in a calm, patient voice, contrasting the tension of the major’s voice.
“Checking in on some reported insurgent activity in the area,” he said.
“Nothing to worry about here, Major. We are neutral in this fight. All are welcome, none are turned away, but we do not offer any support to either side.”
“Then we’re here to worship. Open the gate or we’ll open it.”
Roberts turned off the security monitor. The gate opened slowly.
“We can only guess what he was using that minute to prepare. Take care up the drive.”
Our convoy turned up the cobblestone drive leading to the east entrance to the church. A fifteen foot retaining wall dominated the south lawn of the grounds, and the driveway first approached the wall then turned right to curve around the hill and then back left. The hill offered no advantage for a potential ambush: it was uncovered, the hill behind it was steep enough that it would impede any ambusher’s quick escape, and it was not really high enough to offer any clear advantage against a truck like those that approached. None the less, our driver slowed as he took the turn. Our gunner reported movement along the south side of the church, from up the lawn, and swiveled his turret to meet the threat.
A rocket-propelled shell streaked away from the church, flying over the top of our truck and hitting the one behind us. I was not worried – the trucks were armor plated and sturdy against any ordnance that could be fired from a shoulder-mounted weapon. It meant one less gunner, however, as he would have taken cover. Our gunner let loose with a barrage, peppering the side of the church indiscriminately. Morningstar’s beloved pinnacle toppled over.
Sessions ordered the trucks to accelerate around the bend.
“Sir, shouldn’t we dismount? And approach on foot?” asked his XO, Lt Higgins, no doubt feeling trapped in the metal confines of the truck.
“Not here. That’s what they’re expecting, and they’re ready for it.”
The truck kicked up gravel as we accelerated the remaining hundred yards toward the building. Another rocket, this one hitting the front of the third truck and pushing it right.
We skidded to a stop and disembarked, fanning out toward the east and south exits. Lincoln ordered a fire team atop the wall to watch the approach and another to stand sniper watch.
The remainder – 15 troops – stormed the church building. We knew that there was at least one hostile inside, and Sessions ordered him and Pastor Roberts caught alive.
I was “delta” in a five-man team that entered the building on the east and headed straight for the rectory off the basement. Lincoln led the squad. We quickly descended the stairs into the lower level, switching positions between halls, covering one another. We reached an intersection that I knew: one hallway straight into the Learning Center where I had bunked with Samson and Munoz so long ago, and one left to the rectory and church offices. Lincoln motioned me left, the other three on the fire team continued straight.
I stepped around the corner and looked down the length of the hall, watching for movement in or out of the doorways on either side. Lincoln, following behind, tapped a plastic box next to me at shoulder level.
“A thermostat,” he said over the radio. “You need to check it and call out before we advance.”
He was correct. With the improvised explosives the insurgents used, such a device would easily fit in the mounted case there. I moved to flip open the box, to confirm that the case was clean, but Lincoln held it shut.
“I’ll handle it, Sarge,” he said. I was embarrassed by the oversight. I moved ahead, scanned another intersection, and waited for Lincoln. After several minutes he finally advanced past me.
“Any issues?” I said, referring to how long it had taken.
“Keep moving,” he said flatly.
He moved ahead of me and picked up the pace. We arrived in the rectory just as the main force upstairs radioed down.
“No sign of the insurgent,” said a corporal. “But we’ve got the pastor, and the major has put him under arrest. Wants someone to prep the office for interrogation.”
Lincoln slung his rifle over his shoulder and took off his helmet. “I’ll sweep the room, Gordon. You stand guard out here.” He stepped into the pastor’s office
Sessions escorted Roberts into the rectory five minutes later, followed by a couple of enlisted men.
“Roberts is under house arrest,” the major said unnecessarily. “Have you swept the office? I want to make sure he can’t contact anyone.”
“Yes, sir,” said Lincoln. “We disconnected his communications port and set up a black box to disrupt any other wireless signals coming or going, in case he’s got something hidden away.”
“Good. That should be enough. Let’s get him locked in there.” Lincoln motioned for the two enlisteds to get the prisoner. “I want a crack at Roberts before the psych-ops get here. That bastard has got some explaining to do. I’ve called in a squadron of drones to search the area, but he was probably able to warn them first. He’ll know where they’re headed, and I’m going to get it out of him.”
This was typical. Sessions often took the opportunity to “interrogate” insurgent prisoners when he could. I remembered Libby Singh’s bruised face from the raid on the smelting facility. I must have looked uneasy, because Sessions rolled his eyes.
“Take a squad back to base,” he said to me. “No use having 20 of you standing around when 10 will do. Report in to Higgins there and keep the whole team up on high alert. If you get word from me or the spooks I want to have a strike team on the move within five minutes. If they’re fleeing into those hills we’ll need to be quick to follow.”
I left Sessions in the rectory with Lenox and the two enlisteds and headed up to the Worship Center to pull together a squad to take back to base. We spent five minutes getting our gear and loaded into the least damaged truck.
I drove, Corporal Cho next to me, the remainder of the team in the back. As I pulled away, Lenox jogged to the passenger side of the truck, so I stopped. He opened the passenger side door and raised his sidearm chest high.
“Out of the truck, Cho,” he said.
“Get out of the truck and just walk back to the church. Don’t look back or I’ll shoot Dupont.”
Cho climbed down and walked stiffly toward the church. Lincoln climbed up into the seat. His breathing was quick. He lowered his pistol and pulled down the PA to speak to the squad in the back.
“Gentlemen,” he waved to them through the viewing panel. “Lt Lenox here. Change of plans. Dismount for a moment.” He paused a second and repeated the command. They filed out, and as the last hopped down to the pavement, Lincoln motioned for me to drive.
“Quickly. But don’t look like you’re driving quickly.”
He waved to the sentry at the front gate. Cho must not have radioed down yet, because the sentry waved us through. We drove for a half kilometer before he had me pull to the shoulder to switch seats.
“So this is it,” he said once we had started again.
I sat silently, not knowing what he had in mind. I was not worried for my safety, but I was uncomfortable with his erratic behavior. He took an easy left turn out onto the two lane road headed toward the lake and started a meandering story about how he had ended up introducing me to Libby and her Syndicate friends the winter before.
It had started the spring before I met her. The brigade psych had told Lincoln to take a week’s leave to unwind. Rather than head home, Linc had tried to secure credentials to take a commuter tram to one of the small townships out in the country, a tiny one called Virginia three hours north up into the old mining country. This was an unconventional request, particularly for such a young enlisted man, and his request had been denied.
This denial had only piqued his interest, however. He began asking around at bars if there was any way into the zone without papers.
“Not without getting shot,” said an old man at one of the seedier bars on the harbor. “The Rural Management Zone is strictly off limits without papers. Either you sneak around and don’t get caught. Or you find yourself some papers.”
So Lincoln began to ask around about getting papers. In the process he met Libby Singh. She was not a smuggler herself, but she ran in the same circles as those types, meaning she could help him get counterfeit travel docs. In exchange, he began bringing her information about troop movements, or discarded copies of after-action reports, or hard copy maps: things she could use to support intelligence from other sources.
They started meeting, though infrequently, and eventually as often as every-other week, assuming they were both able, all communicated through one character messages sent over the web.
It was a relationship that Lincoln had never experienced before: forbidden, fulfilling, and thrilling. Seeing her captured and tortured had snapped his will completely.
“I want out, but there’s only one way for me. I’m going to kill that son-of-a-bitch Sessions. Today.”
“What? How, Linc? We’re driving away.”
We had reached an access road to the lakeside drive. He pulled the truck to the gravel shoulder of the road.
“I left Roberts with that undetonated mine. The one from the thermostat.”
“There was a bomb in the thermostat?” The realization hit me harder than any of Linc’s confessions.
“Yeah. Roberts is waiting for his meeting with Sessions and he’ll blow them both to God’s waiting arms.”
I was stunned. I did not respond.
“You’re my friend, Gordon,” said Lincoln. “I wasn’t going to leave you in that church when the bomb went off. I owed you an explanation. And I need your Company access codes. I’m going to break Libby out of jail. We’re running away, into the wilderness.”
The moment for nerves passed. Linc had already admitted to me a conspiracy to kill our commanding officer. Unless it was an extraordinarily elaborate ruse, he had put me in his confidence.
I slipped my data port from my forearm. I keyed in my passcode and disabled the bio-encryption. “That’ll lock you out in a half hour. Make good use of it.”
He put the truck in gear.
“So this is where I leave you.”
“Before you go,” I said through the open door. “You’re going to have to do something that indicates a struggle. I can’t just wait here on the side of the road for a half hour.”
He considered this for a moment then reached into a small pocket on the front of his shirt, inside his armor. He broke open a derm – an illegal one, by the colorful design of the packaging – and motioned me forward. When I leaned toward him, he gently applied the derm to the soft skin on the side of my neck and before I knew chopped down on top of it, knocking me backward out of the truck. The derm, situated right at my throat, cut into my neck and took effect immediately.
I don’t remember hitting the asphalt.
I returned to the Twin Cities for leave with my family. News of Lincoln’s desertion had already become public; the Frontier Corps had declared him a fugitive and terrorist and, weeks later, that he had been tracked down and killed in a firefight.
In the meantime, I had made contact with his family through the church, and I had rounded the edges of the story. I explained that he had been traumatized by his experiences in Fargo Company, and that he had slowly descended into depression and desperation. Most accepted this – it was easier to think of him as a victim and a failure than as a deviant.
I returned to service in an admin position in Minneapolis. The rumor had already circulated of an insurgent raid on a military prison in Duluth that had freed a number of rebel leaders there. The Frontier Corps had retaliated, of course, and the government had announced that all of the at-large leaders had been killed or recaptured. But the rumors, shared over a drink or through rogue news sites on the web, were that most remained on the loose, in small compounds scattered across the region.
I imagine Linc on one of these compounds, in a covered camp like the smugglers’ in the hills above Duluth. I imagine him reading the Bible, Libby Singh at his side, reading her own book, and they come together for a brief embrace before settling in for the night’s sleep.
Richard Walsh is a writer, husband, father, and accountant. He’s a fan of science fiction, basset hounds, libertarianism, and Twitter. Visit RichardBWalsh.com for updates on Richard’s upcoming work and connect with him via email or on Twitter at @rbwalsh_scifi.
The Frontier Corps is the branch of the military established to fight rebels on American soil. Sergeant Gordon Dupont must reconcile his loyalty to family, religion, and country. Major Vic Sessions hates the insurgency and will stop at nothing to destroy it. And Lincoln Lenox is a soldier with no reason but to keep fighting, until he meets a beautiful smuggler. Set against a backdrop of insurrection and religious intolerance in a dystopian future North America, Fargo Company tells the story of three men bound by valor, honor, and violence.