This book should be available now, so this is the last snippet.
Come The Revolution – Snippet 35
I didn’t have to wait long for Zdravkova, although I was right on the verge of dozing off when she led a half-dozen people from her reserve squad back down the street.
“Hey, Killer. Got a minute?”
She waved the squad back toward the headquarters and stood facing me, assault rifle’s stock balanced on her hip.
“Ammo,” I said. “This ain’t working.”
She shifted her weight impatiently. “You asked for the job. Make it work.”
“Well, it’s easy to make it work for me. Let me know how many rounds you want, and of which calibers and magazine styles. We’ll deliver them to you as soon as possible. The thing is that’s not going to work so well for your kids on the firing line. Once the shooting starts, it’s too late to screw around with that kind of bureaucratic bullshit. I want to push the ammo to your folks so it’s there when they need it, but I can’t.”
I got to my feet using the wall for support, feeling every stage of the move in my knees and back. I’d already been tired before the firefight, and nothing drains your reserves like a big shot of adrenaline followed by a crash. Also I was a little drunk. Zdravkova slung her rifle over her shoulder and looked at me.
“Sure. I’m just tired, that’s all. Little out of shape, too. I gotta take these unused magazines and the empties back. Can’t just leave them lying around. Give me a hand?”
I picked up a couple partially-filled bags of magazines with my left hand and Zdravkova grabbed the others. We started walking back toward the clinic.
“Got any more in that bottle?” she asked
I chuckled. “Sorry, Greenwald’s the man with the slivovitz. He was headed back this way to the clinic. So look, I want to push ammo forward to units but we can’t because we don’t know what they need. We got some different calibers and all, but the real headache with all these different civilian weapons is magazine compatibility. Since the magazine is also the power source, we can’t really get around that. Even after sorting out all the one-offs and oddballs, we still have fifteen different magazine styles with only very limited interchangeability.”
She looked at me — glared at me is more like — but after a couple seconds her scowl softened and she nodded. “Yes, that’s been worrying me, too.”
“The supply of magazines is already a bottleneck,” I said. “We’re trying to fabricate some more of them, but that’s harder than just making flechettes, and we’re short some of the raw materials we need for the battery components. Turns out it also takes a lot of power to fabricate stuff that complex. We’re bumping up against our wattage ceiling already; all this rain means the solar panels haven’t done us much good, so we’re pretty much tied to the LENR generators.
“As the fighting gets more intense, medical and ammo fabrication are both going to need more juice. Your folks have to get really serious about recovering spent magazines and getting them back to us in good shape.”
“Fair enough. I’ll make sure they do. But how do we solve the magazine compatibility problem?”
“Well, either reorganize your squads and platoons, or swap the weapons you have within your existing tables of organization. Ideally each squad should have one pistol magazine style and one long gun style. That way we can at least assemble squad packs and make sure they’re stockpiled close to where the squad’s supposed to fight.”
She shook her head impatiently. “I can’t limit a squad to one long gun type. I need to spread the RAGs around, put one or two in each squad with the veterans, who are also usually my squad leaders. Without two RAGs up on the barricade tonight, no telling what might have happened.”
I thought about the fighting back on the barricade, how the two guys with RAGs had kept firing, spacing their bursts, and telling the others what to do, where to lay their fire. So it wasn’t a coincidence those guys had the best weapons. Maybe Zdravkova knew her stuff.
“Yeah, I can see that,” I said. “Well, if every squad has a RAG or two, that doesn’t really complicate putting together squad packs, since all the RAGs are magazine-compatible regardless of their mark number. At least the Army got that right. We’ll just throw RAG mags in each ammo sack and then custom load the rest of the stuff in it. I’ll limit our magazine fabrication to the RAGs, too. Sounds like those are the guns we absolutely have to keep fed.”
That was as good a solution as we could come up with so we walked on in silence for a while.
“You’ve been in combat before,” she said after we’d walked half a block. “I read that about you.”
“Little bit. Not as much as you’d think.”
“I’m sort of making all this up as I go,” she said, and then we walked on for a few steps. I got the feeling she wanted to ask me something but didn’t know how.
“Near as I can tell you’re doing fine,” I said finally.
“If there’s anything you see . . . well, I’m not touchy about advice.”
“Then that must be the only fucking thing you’re not touchy about.”
To my surprise she laughed.
“Okay,” I said, “here’s my only piece of advice. No matter what’s happening, always make sure you’re the least excited person in the group. Look around. If anyone’s less excited than you, take a deep breath and calm down.”
“Always?” she said.
“When people are on the edge of panic, they follow the person who isn’t. I know what I’m talking about; I’ve been scared shitless many times, and I always respected the people whose eyes weren’t popping out of their skulls.”
She laughed again.
“So,” I said, “you get the nickname Killer before or after you stopped practicing law?”
She looked at me from the corner of her eye without turning her head. “After. Definitely after.”
“Why the career change, if you don’t mind me asking?”
Our boots made soft crunching sounds on the carpet of trash underfoot, the sound louder here where the building walls were continuous on both sides and the street narrow. Ahead, over the tops of the buildings to the north, I could see the faint blinking red light of the uBakai Army hoverplat high up in the sky, making its slow transit around e-Kruan Arc.
“Oh, I just got tired of being a cog in a machine that eats Humans,” she said after a while. “I defended all these people and eventually I figured out all I was doing was giving the leatherheads an excuse to congratulate themselves on their fair-mindedness. After all, every member of the parade of Humans bound for long-term detention had a Human counselor to argue their case. What more could they ask? So there’s that. Then, when my husband left me for a younger woman, I began feeling an urge to blow things up.”
I looked over at her, but if she was smiling it was on the inside.
“Well, in my experience, you can get some real growth and progress out of explosive therapy,” I said. “Had much opportunity to try it out?”
“Not so far, but the prospects are looking up.”
I wondered if her seeing all those clients railroaded by the Varoki had maybe saved my life, made her decide not to participate in one more judicially-sanctioned lynching. Sometimes our fate hangs by a strand that slender.
We dropped our bags at the ammo distribution point in front of the clinic. Zdravkova headed inside, I guess to look for Greenwald and his slivovitz, and I walked over to the communal soup kitchen and dormitory, both of which were still works in progress. I needed to get something to eat and then some rack time or I was going to fold up.
I was surprised to see Nicolai Stal hanging around the door.
“Evening, Sasha. Heard was some excitement.”
“Yeah. Took a few casualties, too, but I don’t think anyone died. What brings you here?”
He smiled. “Oh, couple interesting refugees just come in, look for sanctuary. Do not like dining and sleeping facilities, think should get better treatment because related to very big hero.”
“Who?” I asked.
His grin got broader. “Claim to be father and sister of famous Sasha Naradnyo.”
I just looked at him for a second and then shook my head. “That’d be a pretty good trick, seeing as how they both died twenty-seven years ago on Peezgtaan.”
“Da, and these two look alive to me. Since nobody knows Sasha actually here, or even alive, must have believed was easy lie. Like to come along, see faces when meet real Sasha.”
He led me across the soup kitchen to a table in back and I saw a man and woman huddled with blankets around their shoulders and bent over their soup. As we approached, the man, sitting across the table facing me, looked up, and then he stood up and let the blanket slip from his rounded shoulders. The room seemed to sway from side to side as I looked at him. His hair was gray instead of black, his face more lined, and he’d put on some weight.
“Hello, Aleksandr Sergeyevich,” he said. “Do you remember your sister, Avrochka?”
The woman turned and looked up at me. She was the news feeder I’d noticed earlier, the one named Aurora, now looking dirty and somewhat haggard, but the family resemblance was clear.
No wonder she’d reminded me of me.
“It could be plastic surgery,” I said, but Doc Mahajan shook her head.
“The DNA results are conclusive. The man is your father. He is also the father of the woman, and the mitochondrial DNA she shares with you indicates you both have the same mother. As near as I can determine, they are exactly who they claim to be.”
“But how? They both died on Peezgtaan in a food riot.”
“How do you know that, Boss?” Moshe asked. He offered me the slivovitz but I waved it away. I was punchy enough as it was. Zdravkova took it instead and downed a swallow. The four of us sat in the cramped privacy of Mahajan’s office at the clinic, which now also doubled as a supply storage room.
I thought back to that day twenty-seven years ago.
“There were food riots all over the place,” I said. “My father, mother, and sister went out to try to find something for us to eat. I don’t remember why they left me in the apartment. Maybe I was sick or too small or something. Hours later my mother came back alone, beat up and in shock. She died in bed a few days later.”
“She told you the other two were dead?” Doc Mahajan asked.
“No, she never spoke again. She never even acknowledged my presence after she came back. I’d always assumed the others were dead. Why else would she go into such deep shock and depression?”
There was something more than that, another reason it couldn’t be them, but I didn’t want to say it. They wouldn’t understand.
“Who knows, Boss?” Moshe said. “People do crazy things. Maybe she really thought they were dead.”
“Then why didn’t they come back? Where have they been all this time? And showing up here the same time I did . . . that’s too crazy a coincidence.”
“Perhaps,” Doc Mahajan said, “but their being here is not all that unusual. Aurora did several features on Sookagrad within the last year and a multi-part investigative series on corruption in the Inter-Archology Park District. She made a number of contacts here. That she and her father would seek sanctuary here is understandable. Really, Sasha, it is your presence which is the anomaly.”
“Maybe so, but if they’ve lived here is the city for a while like you say, and they know who I am, which they clearly do, why didn’t they ever contact me?”
“Go ask them,” Zdravkova said and then looked at me with those hard, angry eyes. “Or are you afraid?”
I wasn’t about to admit it to her but hell yes I was afraid. If your family’s been dead for almost your whole life, see how you feel if they start showing back up again one day. What do you say to them? “How you been?”
The thing is, I’d actually been dead for a little while, and when I’d been dead there’d been people there — wherever “there” was — who’d welcomed me. All those people had already been dead, including my whole family. It was sort of comforting, and had taken some of the edge off the fear of death since then, knowing that’s what was waiting. What I couldn’t figure out now was how my father and sister could have been there in dead-people-land if they weren’t ever actually dead.
“Okay,” I said, getting to my feet, “guess I’ll go talk to them.”
Moshe offered me the bottle again and this time I took a good slug.