Recent Statuses

8 mos ago
Current "I HAVE NO BAN AND I MUST CRINGE." Rest in peace to the last of the good men in this world. I will shed a thousand tears and pour a hundred 40s of Olde English.
1 yr ago
I know I said I "change my status every year" but it has been three years. So...
4 yrs ago
I change my status every year.
5 yrs ago
"You went to the Chaplain, who also kicked you out. How do you antagonize a Chaplain?"
1 like
5 yrs ago
Current status: Bumming cigarettes off of a Chilean guy.


I'm Evan and I make poor life decisions.

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A LONE MAN IN WHITE stuck his crampon into the thick ice walls of a mountain that towered high above the Alpine Republic. He swung a pick with a harsh grunt into the sparking-white cliff, grunting with exertion. With a labored lift of the head, he could see the ledge was a mere few feet above him. His tired legs, exhausted from hours of climbing, were renewed with energy. He continued his climb, the ice chipping and crunching underneath his tools as he struggled upwards.

Finally, he swung his leg above the lip of the cliff and swung the rest of his body up behind it. He found himself laying face down on flat ground. He leapt up, jumping into the air, and offered a cheer to the empty mountain range. It echoed below and beyond him, and he took a minute to observe the Alpine Republic's fantasy-world landscape. With warmth in his heart, he smiled to himself. He thought of the stories of paradise that had been told to him in his Alaskan youth. From his pocket, the man in white withdrew a picture of Sarah Palin that he kissed dearly. The prize was almost in sight.

He trudged forward as the wind began to pick up. Snow and ice cut at him despite his cold weather gear. He walked for an hour until he found a cave nestled at the peak of the mountain, whereupon he stopped and rested. Inside was a treasure too great for a mortal man. The man in white sighed; he would have prayed, or knelt, or hoped to a higher power, or played the stations of the cross against his chest if religion wasn't a decrepit institution. Instead, his self will and the invisible hand pushed him forward.

It was exactly what he he was looking for. An aura of light surrounded the pillar of ice. Perched atop it, frozen to an immaculately sculpted base, was a golden AR-15 rifle. The man in white approached it, the Angel Moroni singing to him angelically. His cold fingers were warmed by the scene, heat radiating from the barrel as if it had just shot down three protesters in the far North. The man in white felt his feet life off the ground as an otherworldly power took control of his mortal body. He grabbed the AR-15: it came unglued from the ice effortlessly.

Holding the ancient weapon in his hand, the man in white charged the handle and loaded a round into its breech. He looked towards the mouth of the cave, towards the snow-blind and windswept landscape ahead of him.

"With this weapon," he declared, hoisting the rifle high into the air, "I shall bring libertarian glory to the Alpine Republic!"
Saint-Nazaire, France

He was in too much shock to feel the pain. In a mess of sparking wires, ruptured pipes, and twisted metal, Mohammad clutched and clawed at anything that might get him out. Electricity, tinged an unfamiliar green, arced across open conduits and liquified whatever got in the way into hot molten flows. His glasses had been broken and scattered across the deck and he couldn’t move the left side of his body. He flailed and whipped his right arm, seeking something firm to hold onto as he felt the catwalk collapse under his body.

The metal snapped, the deck swinging downwards a few degrees and sliding him into the warped remains of the safety railing. He felt his body impact the rail and stabilize, barely hanging on from what seemed like an abyss below. He remained there, his head too jumbled to form any cohesive thoughts as he passed out.

He awoke to the touch of something grabbing underneath his arms and sliding him into a basket of some sort. A haze of the encroaching pain darkened the edges of his vision as he grunted and groaned. Through the blurriness, he saw a masked figure in a bright orange suit clip a carabiner onto a series of ropes above them. The figure waved, and Mohammad’s body lifted off the ground. Through the maw of jagged metal, he emerged from the darkness as the person on the basket raised his hand up to grab onto something. Hovering high above the deck of a ship, a helicopter was painted the same shade of orange as the suited figure.

Limp and hazy, Mohammad felt the whupping of the helicopter blades in the air upon his body. The orange suited man stepped over him, head ducked low, through the open side hatch of the craft and pulled Mohammad in by the shoulders. He rolled out of the basket onto what felt like a canvas stretcher parallel to the helicopter’s open bay where another masked, orange-suited man hurriedly rushed back and forth between blinking machines and pulling medical instruments from brightly color-coded pouches secured to the wall. Two straps were secured across his legs and his torso to tie him down during the movement as the helicopter lurched forward and sped away.

In the cabin, the two rescuers got to work. Their orange armor, a civilianized version of the military’s CED suits for hazardous Langium contamination, bore nametags on their breastplates and Gendarmerie Maritime emblazoned across their backplates. The simple black-and-yellow anchor insignia of the Gendarmerie’s coast guard service adorned their left shoulder. A painted red and white paramedic’s cross was situated on the other. Their helicopter had been dispatched from a littoral search and rescue station thirty minutes previously after police in Nantes had reported a large explosion from the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard.

Mohammad was, so far, their first patient. The fires on the ship, now listing in its drydock with subsequent explosions sending rippling aftershocks through the shipyard, were only growing. The scope of the accident was only beginning to manifest as additional first responders being scrambled from across western France. Helicopters, both civil and military medical evacuation craft, buzzed past the Gendarmerie Maritime bird on its way to any hospital that would take it. The pilot and copilot talked hurriedly over the emergency frequency in the cockpit, their thesis remaining the same: “We have a Langium-contaminated patient and we need immediate emergency trauma aid.”

Mohammad groaned as the pain grew on him. He was now acutely aware that the entire right side of his body was hot and burned. He tried to struggle against the restraints in an attempt to writhe from the flashes of sharp pain shooting through his body while the flight medics injected him with needles. The medics, using large syringes, had a pharmacy of medications that they needed to apply. The first shot inhibited the growing amount of harmful Langium contamination spreading throughout the body by delivering an impotent and harmless NLC compound to be absorbed by the important organs. The medical theory, at least, was similar to iodine treatments in radiological incidents: the organs would be saturated enough by Langium-based compounds that they would not take in harmful contamination.

The next round of treatment focused on the immediate external burns, which proved to be the most painful for Mohammad. The burns were an ugly cross between electrical and chemical burns, leaving the arm and torso of the engineer blistered and bleeding. A strange green and grey coloration had developed in the burns: a deeply unsettling sight even to the flight medics, who had been trained only on years of conventional injuries. The pilots repeated their request for immediate first aid, adding in that the patient was now a major burn victim.

A hospital at Nantes confirmed that their facilities were cleared for Mohammad’s arrival and a receiving team was readying for the helicopter. Mohammad was their first call for severe NLC exposure, and they knew that the night was still young. Their best efforts were the standard treatment of water and loose bandages across the exposed skin. Blood and fluids still seeped endlessly into the cloth. The medics endlessly rotated out these bandages when they became too saturated, throwing them haphazardly into a biohazard bag in the corner of the cabin. The medications delivered became more specialized, a cocktail of Langium-based substances to desperately combat the increasing severity of the contamination.

The flight lasted another ten minutes. As the life support machines messaged readouts about Mohammad’s health and status, the medics adjusted accordingly. As his oxygen level lowered, the lead medic made the decision to hook the patient to a flight ventilator for supplemental oxygen. More bandages were applied to the burns, and more stabilizing medications were applied. Laying on the stretcher, fading into unconsciousness again, Mohammad was now kept alive by a myriad of machines and technology. He never felt the helicopter touch down on the helipad of the CHU de Nantes university hospital.

The flight medics slid open the door of the still-running helicopter and the pair hoisted Mohammad’s stretcher onto a waiting gurney attended to by a cadre of trauma doctors and nurses. One of the flight medics identified the lead doctor on the case and rushed over to her, handing a document case full of the extensive treatment log that they had kept of medications applied during the flight. Over the roaring chopping of the helicopter blades, he asked her if she had any questions via the CED helmet’s loudspeaker. She had none. As quickly as the Gendarmerie Maritime had come, they had to leave as well. Another radio call came in for a dockworker who had been severely wounded in the explosion. The orange-suited medics rushed back to the helicopter which wasted no time taking off again.

The dockyard at Chantiers de l’Atlantique was ablaze as electrical fires caused systems explosions and conventional fires in the surrounding buildings. Fire engines from across the region had arrived to combat the flames. Dozens of trucks searched for any fire hydrant they could find, attaching to the water main in Saint-Nazaire and throwing foam and water onto the fires before they could spread any further. Workers, engineers, and staff fled the scene in wild crowds. The police at the shipyard, still dressed in their riot gear from their earlier encounter with protestors, had been redeployed to herd the panicking workers into safe zones far away from Langium exposure.

A train of emergency vehicles crowded outside the shipyard as French leaders were awoken with news of the developing disaster. The local police and fire, desperately trying to battle the otherworldly flames from the ship, placed calls to the only people they knew with training: the Paris Fire Brigade.

Paris, France

In a Parisian apartment, the landline in the kitchenette rang suddenly at three in the morning. In bed, sleeping face down into his pillow, Commandant Alex Lejeune reacted by putting another pillow on top of his head. He was alone in his apartment; his wife and kids having gone to visit their grandparents for the weekend while he stayed behind and rested from a long week at work. The phone rang again a few minutes later and Alex was awoken by the lighting in his bedroom slowly turning on. In the corner, a monitor flickered to life and cast a ghostly green glow over the dim room.

Monsieur Alex,” said the soft female electronic voice of the apartment’s digital assistant through the room’s speakers. “The telephone has rung twice, and the number is the BSPP charge of quarters. I am programmed to alert you to a potential work emergency.”

Alex rolled over again and stared up at the lights as the telephone rang for a third time in the other room. He muttered a curse to himself as he got out of bed in his undershirt and boxers and stumbled to the hallway. He still felt the previous night’s whiskey: a small nightcap, but he was getting middle-aged now. The apartment’s assistant, whom he called Francine, turned on the lights automatically as he grumbled his way into a bathrobe and walked to the kitchen. He pulled the phone off of its dock and groggily answered: “Commandant Lejeune speaking.”

“Sir, we received an emergency telefax for an industrial accident at Chantiers de l’Atlantique’s drydocks. Initial reports indicate that a Langium-reactor has suffered a huge explosion,” said the firefighter on the desk. “They’re working the coordination piece but they’re calling the sapeurs-pompiers along with our NLC response teams.”

“Jesus Christ,” Alex muttered. “Okay, give me an hour to get ready. I’m coming in, we’ll start dispatching our on-call companies.”

The duty firefighter acknowledged and hung up. “Francine,” he called. The AI blinked a light on the kitchen’s monitor in response. “Forward all calls to my work number,” he commanded. “I’ve got to go in for something. And can you start a cup of coffee while you’re at it?”

Alex headed into his bedroom and opened the closet where his dark blue and red-striped firefighter’s uniform hung. In the kitchen, the coffee maker whirred as a cup was rotated on a revolver-like platter to the nozzle of the machine. He quickly threw his pants and shirt on, taking a second to throw some deodorant on in lieu of a shower, before lacing up his boots. On his way out the door, he grabbed his duty belt that hung by the door and checked his pager: eight more messages from different officers in the Paris Fire Brigade, all telling him to call them. Commandant Lejeune would have to wait until he got into the office.

The headquarters of the Troisième Groupement d'Incendie, the on-call subordinate unit of the overall Paris Fire Brigade, was already a hive of activity when Commandant Lejeune arrived at the gate. After hurriedly scanning his ID card through, he parked and rushed into the office with a slight jog. Officers were beginning to appear, each of them called in by the charge of quarters, and were making arrangements to dispatch their emergency fire services. Some were coordinating with Nantes to find out more about the situation and who was already there: nothing was worse than creating a traffic jam by sending too much equipment through all at once.

The Commandant arrived at his office and hung his jacket up just as the phone began to ring. It was the first of many phone calls that night as the sapeurs-pompiers loaded up their equipment and readied their vehicles for convoy operations. Outside his window that looked into the motor pool, he could see the fire engines lining up at the gate while police vehicles from the Gendarmerie flashed their lights and sirens to clear traffic in the early morning rush hour. In other parts of the city, helicopters were already being spun up to deliver the most critical aid and personnel while the fire engines were on their way.

It was a historically frenzied operation, one that Commandant Lejeune had never heard of before. But something told him that a reactor accident in Nantes was going to be a very complicated call. Deep in his gut, he felt that they simply didn’t know the full extent of the damage and this was going to be a very bad day. He kept working anyways, running the phones through to the different companies that were being dispatched. It would be noon by the time the first BSPP assets arrived at Chantiers de l’Atlantique.
Belmopan, British Belize
August, 1955

Captain Lopez walked forward at the high ready, his eye focused through the radium-painted tips of his Mondragón rifle’s sights. Ahead of him, a distinctly official British soldier held his hands clasped in front of his waist. Atop his head lay a worn round officer’s cap and his shoulders bore the two diamonds of a First Lieutenant. His formation behind him looked down at their boots, hands over their heads as more Mexican soldiers marched out of the fields to surround them. Captain Lopez stopped in front of the officer and lowered his rifle. The two stared at each other; the British officer parsing his complicated emotions silently before moving his hand to his leather belt holster.

Lopez’s hands jumped but he kept himself composed. His executive officer had arrived to the left of the commander. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Lieutenant Mun͂oz jolt his weapon back towards shoulder level and bark a command to stop. The commander, acting quickly, grabbed the barrel Mun͂oz’s rifle and forced it back down. The British officer’s eyes were wide, his right hand paused on the latch of his leather holster. Lopez nodded at him. Shakily, the lieutenant unclasped the cover and withdrew an ancient-looking Webley revolver pointed carefully towards the ground. He extended it out in his hand.

Lopez reached out with his left hand to take the piece from the lieutenant. It felt light in his hand, unloaded and harmless. The Mexican commander brought it up to eye level and inspected the officer’s sidearm: he had never seen an authentic British weapon so up close and personal before. Without another word, the British lieutenant repeated the process with his pistol belt, removing it from his waist and handing it over. Lopez nodded again, taking the leather holster and replacing the revolver in its pocket before handing it off to Mun͂oz.

“What’s your name?” asked Captain Lopez simply.

The British officer hesitated. “First Lieutenant Baker, Lloyd S.,” he answered in his accented Spanish. “Platoon commander of 3rd Platoon, Company A, Belize Rifle Regiment.”

He looked five to ten years younger than Captain Lopez. Lieutenant Baker was practically a boy, probably a recent graduate from their Sandhurst academy. Lopez remembered his time as a lieutenant, how he didn’t know about anything. At least he had a strong captain to guide him: Baker was out in the middle of nowhere with no guidance and no superiors.

“And these are your men?” Lopez asked, gesturing towards the British soldiers who were now submitting themselves to checks and inspections by the Mexican paratroopers. There were roughly a dozen men left out of the small guard force in Belmopan. Anything of value was taken from their person. Militarily, this meant maps and notebooks and useful objects like compasses or field gear. Other items like watches, rings, and money from the prisoners’ pockets also found their ways into the rucksacks of the Mexican men.

Belizean townspeople had begun to congregate on the outskirts of the barracks now that the shooting had died down. At first, cautious men emerged from hiding to inspect what had happened. They were soon engaged in conversation by the Mexicans spreading out throughout the streets to secure and inspect other parts of town. Soon after, women and children appeared as well after hearing that the invaders were friendly and spoke better Spanish than the British. They talked to the Mexican troops, confused. Was this a liberation for them, or a conquest? Not even the Mexican soldiers knew.

Lieutenant Baker sighed, looking back at his formation. He turned to Captain Lopez. “What are you going to do with us?” he asked cautiously. The scenes of Mexican soldiers looting valuables from his platoon had not inspired confidence in their treatment, but so far nobody had been beat or otherwise abused.

“We have orders to escort all prisoners to an exchange point with military police,” Lopez answered. It was customary. Officer to officer, he knew that the British platoon commander deserved to know the situation. “The military police will transport you to a prisoner of war camp.”

“You really went all out, didn’t you,” Baker mused. “And we had no idea you were coming until your planes dropped you in the fields.”

Lopez shrugged. He didn’t have an answer for that either. They were both just doing what they were told. “We are going to remove the British occupation from this country. That’s our job here.”

Baker sighed dejectedly. He had no way to contact his higher command and inform them about the surrender. For all he knew, the regimental leadership in Belize City were just not arriving to work clueless of the situation in the outskirts of the country.

From behind Lopez’s shoulder, First Sergeant Kan emerged from a throng of headquarters soldiers moving into the town to set up their command post. Hulking above the shorter commander and muscles rippling underneath his uniform shirt, he simply asked if the British officer spoke Spanish. Baker affirmed that fact with his reply.

“I don’t like you,” he growled intimidatingly, “and you sure as hell don’t like me.”

Baker, caught off guard, clutched his hands into fists with his knuckles white.

“But rules are rules and I have orders,” he instructed. “You are to be quartered in your barracks after we inspect it for arms and equipment. You’ll be guarded. You will be fed. Where is your senior sergeant?”

Baker nervously turned back to the formation and called a sergeant over. His lack of stripes and terrified demeanor denoted him as a lower NCO, inexperienced as a platoon sergeant. Perhaps he was a replacement for a killed superior. First Sergeant Kan took the British man aside to lay out the rules of their custody, hammering home the facts to a man who could barely stand up straight and shook like he had just stepped into harsh winter without a jacket. Lopez looked at the scene, then turned back to Baker.

“Right, I’ll leave you to your quarters,” Lopez said. He motioned his hand for a party of NCOs and paratroopers to move forward and prepare their captive quarters while he turned away to Lieutenant Mun͂oz.

“Have the platoons checked in via radio?” he asked his executive officer. The younger officer nodded as they both started walking back towards the company command point. It had been moved into town, in the backyard of a farmhouse where the soldiers were busy raising radio antennae and setting out their maps and graphics on top of a weathered white wooden table. The operations sergeant was beside the house, talking to the owner about how they were going to need to occupy the land for a little bit until they moved out. The Belizean farmer nodded solemnly, looking at the Mexican soldiers rushing back and forth across the town.

Captain Lopez walked through the wooden fence’s gate and unbuckled his helmet with a heavy sigh. He tossed it onto a chair near the map table and set his rifle down leaned up onto it. He followed by stripping off the uncomfortable web gear that he had worn throughout the assault, solely keeping the holster that he had received from Lieutenant Baker on his hip. The British officer’s pistol belt sagged heavily on Lopez’s skinny waist: the Brits fed their men quite a bit out in the colonies.

“Morning, sir,” one of the operations soldiers greeted him. It was Especialista Reyes, his radioman. The bulky manpack radio was leaned up behind him and a cable had been connected to a portable antenna that now reached high into the air. The platoon leaders were squawking at each other on the static-filled net, setting up their security positions and pulling men off the line to handle priorities of work like cleaning weapons or eating for the first time that day.

Lopez returned the greeting as he rummaged through his heavy rucksack for a notebook and his pens. On a separate radio, someone was trying to raise their sister company who had dropped in a few kilometers south and was securing another town on the western flank. All of the Brigada de Fusileros Paracaidistas were committed to closing the western passes to Guatemala before the mechanized 2/a Brigada Blindada rolled into the country. They had just finished preparations at Mérida in Yucatan state and were staged on the border at Chetumal for their attack.

The Brigada de Fusileros Paracaidistas, including Lopez’s company, would wait in Belmopan for the day before regrouping with two other companies and beginning the 25-kilometer push to the twin towns of Churchyard and La Democracia. Other units would secure the rear area as glider-borne reinforcements would deliver support units to build up the area. All of this was being coordinated on the radio. They knew that the element of surprise was going to be lost any hour now, especially as the sleepy Belizean towns woke up. Word traveled quickly, and it wasn’t like the Mexicans could kill anyone who could spread a message of invasion.

Lopez sat down with Lieutenant Mun͂oz at the map table as the executive officer began writing down the things that he needed to do. He was a good officer and knew his role well: the executive officer wasn’t merely the second in command, but handled the day-to-day tasks that kept the company running. He, along with First Sergeant Kan, coordinated for the mundane things like food and supply, medical treatment of the injured, maintenance of the weapons, and now the movement of enemy prisoners. It was a lot on his plate, keeping with the fine tradition of XOs being the most overworked junior officers in the military.

As they worked, the distant sounds of gunfire picked up again in the still morning air. Lopez stopped writing and looked over his shoulder down south to where a friendly company of paratroopers was fighting. He turned to Reyes, who was sitting on a bag of flour eating rations out of a can next to the radio. “Make sure the platoons know to expect action soon,” he said to him. “I’m not sure if that’s a counterattack or just residual fighting. But we got off easy here.”

Reyes acknowledged the order and got onto the radio to repeat it out to the subordinate officers. They all repeated their same acknowledgements as the message went further down their chains of command.

For the day, however, nothing happened. Mexican soldiers watched the road to La Democracia but nobody ever came their direction to investigate. Dismounted patrols throughout the jungle to their north and south never yielded any enemy scouts or reconnaissance soldiers. Aside from the sporadic fighting earlier that day, the west of Belize was quiet. The British never had many forces in Belize to begin with, of course, but it was curious that there was no attempt to fight back against a brigade of Mexican soldiers who had just dropped from the sky into their territory.

Lopez had heard from the colonels that this whole operation was to split the Brits in two and take advantage of their commitment to the war with Japan. Maybe they were right, maybe the British really had allocated most of their manpower to the Pacific theater.

Men rotated in and out of resting that night, holing up in their mosquito nests to keep the damned insects away from them. The jungle, filled with diseased and malarial troubles, was no place for man. Lopez wondered how the rural folks did it, as he himself was a city boy from Guadalajara. Camping was a vacation for him, not a way of life. Because of that, he had found himself a sofa to sleep on in the first floor of their command post’s building. The owner, an elderly Belizean man, kept to himself in the second floor since talking to the operations sergeant, but Lopez could hear him sneak downstairs to use the kitchen for food.

Lopez, half asleep and half naked in his undershirt and skivvies, opened his eyes to see the old man in pajamas holding a candle as he crept across the creaky floorboards. Lopez shifted, sitting up and letting his field blanket fall softly to the floor. The Belizean man turned around, freezing in his tracks. “Oh, I’m sorry to wake you sir,” he said meekly. The candle cast a flickering light across his worried face.

“It’s alright,” Lopez said, shrugging it off. “I hope I’m not-“

“No, no,” the farmer said. “I talked to that, uh, Sergeant Delgado earlier. You are free to come and go, you will be here for only a few nights.”

“That’s right,” Lopez replied groggily. “I, uh, we’ll leave you be after that. I hope we didn’t scare you too bad coming in.”

The Belizean man placed the candle in a holder on the wall and shuffled over to a chair to sit down in. “I never thought war would come to Belize, at least not in my lifetime.”

“Well, the Briti-” started Lopez. The old man shook his head and crossed his arms.

“The British have been here. They don’t bother me,” the old man sighed. “Would I like it if we were our own country? Sure. But ‘Belize’ or ‘British Honduras’, I just sell my harvest.”

He looked over Captain Lopez’s uniform, noticing the shiny rank insignia on his collars. The old Belizean man asked him if he was an officer.

“Captain,” simply replied Lopez. He frowned, noticing the upset look on the Belizean man’s face.

“So you’re in charge?”

“I am, yes,” Lopez said. “Of my little company, at least.”

“Then you’re the sensible one here,” the old man said. “Listen, I don’t care much about the great game of countries. But I care about my family and my people. I know you’re not stopping here in my little town, once you leave. You’re going to the capital.”

Lopez nodded. “Of course. We have to.”

“My kids and grandkids live there now,” the old man stated firmly. “They went there for school and work. Nobody wants to be a farmer anymore. You know how it is.”

Lopez nodded again, listening to the old man.

“Well, when you get there, there will be fighting. The people who live there… I need you to keep them from getting hurt. I know you don’t want to hurt us, I watched you. You shot at the British but you let them surrender. You weren’t shooting at us. Your men don’t shoot at us. You’re just playing the game of politics. Keep us in mind when you get to Belize City, Captain.”

The old man smiled at Captain Lopez, satisfied. He rose from the chair, his joints and bones creaking and cracking as he bent down to retrieve the candle. He shuffled towards the kitchen again but paused when he got to the doorway. “Do you want anything, Captain?”

Lopez, still processing the conversation, looked up at the figure of the old farmer. He gestured to his rucksack in the corner with some tin cans inside glinting in the candlelight: “No, I- I have my rations.”

The old man squinted, then shook his head again. “Dios mío,” he muttered in paternal disapproval. “You army boys with your canned food. Tell you what, I will get with the town tomorrow and we will make you all something.”

“I think, sir, that would be appreciated,” Lopez said with a heartfelt nod. “I’ll look forward to it.”

The old man grunted in approval before vanishing into the kitchen. Captain Lopez laid back down on the sofa, turning to his side. Outside, the night was dark and quiet. The Mexicans had dug into their fighting positions with small shovels, laying down prone with eyes down the dirt roads leading west. Others patrolled the town in silence. The night would be just as quiet as the day, with only the semi-frequent radio checks coming through the command post’s radio speakers to punctuate the calm.

Captain Lopez awoke to the sounds of roosters calling in the new day with sunlight shining through the windows of the farmhouse. He rose up off the sofa, stretching his arms out and searching for his uniform when he smelt a familiar smell. On the side table, an aged porcelain cup had been placed with steaming coffee inside. Captain Lopez looked around the empty room, then to the stairs that led to the second floor of the farmhouse. He took the cup of coffee and felt its warmth in his hands. The company commander blew across the top of it to cool the heat before drinking: it was strong and black. He smiled, looking back towards the stairs where the old man lived. Then he began to gather his uniform and get ready for the day.
A collaboration with @Jeddaven.

Almont, Upstate Wastes

At some point the night prior, Sanjay had gotten kicked out of the whorehouse. Hours of binge drinking and mixing every chem he could put his hands on had severely impaired his decision making: he wasn’t sure about the specifics, but he was pretty sure the fateful question of “can I put it in your butt?” didn’t go over well. His final resting place, after stumbling from closing bar to closing bar, appeared to be a ditch on the side of a cracked prewar road outside a decrepit looking and burned-out neighborhood. He awoke to orange rays of sunlight shining into his face and had obviously been robbed blind.

After patting down his pockets, he realized that everything had been taken from him. All his caps had vanished, his gun was absent from the holster, and the cool breeze flowed between his open toes where someone had stolen his boots. He had a pounding headache and smelled the pungent aroma of vomit in the skeletal frame of a dead bush. Sanjay gripped at the rocky lip of the ditch and, with great effort, heaved himself onto his feet. The world swirled around him and he took a minute to collect himself further before clambering back onto the road. Pebbles and rocks dug into his bare feet as he sighed and put his hands on his hips, looking back towards Almont.

The road back into town wasn’t actually that long, but Sanjay felt like he had just finished a marathon by the time he stopped for a breather at a burned-out suburban house. He plopped down onto an old degraded couch in front of a garage door where a prewar car had long since caught fire and burned itself out in the driveway. He looked around at the neighborhood, scarred and burned from the war. Nobody had thought to repair it, but instead the people of Almost had left it to the elements. It was strange to Sanjay: he was from the Bronx, and his neighborhood had even suffered the effects of an airburst atomic weapon during the war. That didn’t stop his ancestors from rebuilding.

He continued his walk through the streets, carefully stepping around piles of shattered glass or the sharp skeletal remains of those who were unlucky enough to be outside in the blasts. He didn’t quite remember coming out this way, but found himself back in the inhabited city soon enough. Sanjay approached a gate made out of junk and scrap metal, where two men stood leaning against the walls or sitting down outside. One of the guards, reading a magazine and sitting in a lawn chair, lazily called for Sanjay to stop before groaning and sitting up. He grabbed a laser pistol from a picnic table that had been dragged over before walking over to the drunkard.

“What brings you here?” he asked apathetically.

“I, uh, I’m just trying to get back in,” Sanjay stuttered, looking around at the checkpoint. The other guard had gone off to smoke a cigarette.

“And where do you come from?”

Sanjay stumbled for his badge, before realizing that had been stolen from him too. “I, uh, my name is Corporal Sanjay Knight, New York SecDiv!”

“I know who you are, dude,” the Gunner shook his head. “You’re wearing that goofy blue shirt like the rest of the drunk assholes from downstate.”

Sanjay narrowed his eyes. “Then, uh,” he searched for the words, “it would be wise for you to let me in. Official business.”

The Gunner shook his head again and shrugged. “Official what? You mean getting your shit back? The last shift told me some New Yorker was running shoeless out the gate chasing some thieves away, drunk as fuck. Must be you. You smell like a brewery, man.”

Sanjay turned around and then back to the guard. The only response he could offer was a meek yes.

“Heh, fine, I’m just giving you a hard time.” He gestured to the empty holster on Sanjay’s belt: “You obviously don’t have shit on you anymore, I’m just gonna let you in to go find your people. You New Yorkers like to hit each other with paperwork and that’s a fate worse than torture to me. Much rather just get the shit beat out of me and get it over with.”

Sanjay looked awkwardly at the Gunner, who chuckled as he returned to his lawn chair. He sat back down in the aged seat with a heavy thump before picking up his magazine. With a careless flick of his hand, he ordered the other guard to heave open the heavy junk fence. The other guard grabbed it by the edge and heaved until there was a person-sized opening along the road. “Head on in,” he said to Sanjay, who slipped through the opening with no further questions asked.

Back in Almont, the town looked as much like a carnival as a warzone. Broken bottles littered the grimy street, much to Sanjay’s annoyance. He tiptoed around the stains of vomit, some pools of blood, and even the corpse of a radroach that was blocking half the sidewalk. Other partygoers stumbled around like him, shambling back to guesthouses or apartments. A Gunner walked the streets, whistling a tune from the radio that played softly from one of the open windows nearby before stopping. He cocked his head as he sized up a hungover sailor before kicking a carefully-aimed can at the man’s legs. The sailor made a confused bark and looked around wildly before seeing the Gunner walk away laughing. Sanjay continued on.

His trek to the “nicer” side of town, if one could call it that, was just as monotonous. It was dirty and grimy. The buildings, even the occupied ones, looked abandoned. Nobody cleaned in Almont, unlike the City. SecDiv would round up prisoners for minor crimes and work off hours from their sentence; Sanjay had done that guard detail a few times. It was mostly boring work watching thieves sweep trash into a dumpster under the supervision of a SaniDiv trashman. The worst part, at least for a man with a pounding hangover, was hearing the insane cackling voice of Hathaway.

By the river, he found what he was looking for. A cafe that was marketed as something like an oasis from the degeneracy of Almont. For every ten looking to drink, there was always the one straight man. They found solace here, with strong coffee brewed in the back and food that wasn’t a greasy pub affair. If there was anyone respectable left in town who could take him back to the City, they were here. Sanjay barged in through the door, huffing and puffing, before he collected himself. Taking a second to straighten his sweat-stained shirt and tuck it back into his pants that smelled of dirt and body odor, he became self-conscious that he still was barefoot.

He walked up to the counter where an attendant in an apron and a cocked chef’s hat was reading a magazine. Absorbed in the pages, he paid no attention to Sanjay. The SecDiv man simply stared at the waiter for a moment before gargling a painful-sounding “mhm” from his throat. The waiter looked up: “Damn, man, are you alright?”

“Yeah,” Sanjay answered. “I mean, maybe. You got any water?”

The waiter raised an eyebrow, then gestured for Sanjay to wait. He went to the back to rummage through a shelf and get what he was looking for. He tapped his foot while he waited, the shoeless foot making a slight sound against the tile floor. The waiter returned with a bottle of water. Sanjay instinctively grabbed it out of the man’s hand and popped the cap, chugging it. The liquid burned as it made its way through his throat: irradiated. He finished it in one pull, slamming the empty plastic bottle down on the counter.

“That’s, uh, one cap,” the waiter said annoyedly. He frowned at Sanjay, who made a show of patting his pockets.

“I, uh, shit,” he said in feigned surprise. “Fuck, I got nothing.”

“Well you gotta pay,” flatly said the waiter.

“Maybe there’s something I can do, man,” Sanjay bargained. “Like, uh, wash dishes or-”

Behind him, a towering figure appeared over Sanjay’s shoulder. He turned around to see a flash of scarlet and a brawny muscular man looking down at the both of them. Sanjay’s heart dropped at the sight of the man, who could easily pass as a wrestler.

Then, the stranger smiled. Strangely, it put Sanjay at ease. “Looks like our buddy here has had quite the night, eh?” he said with a thick and unfamiliar accent. “I’ll buy him the water.”

He withdrew a bright blue bottlecap from a pocket on his red coat and turned it in his fingers. “It’s no Nuka Cola, sorry,” he apologized. The cap had a red maple leaf adorning it.

“Cap’s a cap,” accepted the waiter as he took it. He tossed it into a mason jar filled with a variety of other bottlecaps.

The man turned to Sanjay and extended his hand.

"Sergeant Adams, Royal Canadian Mounted Police," the man said, beaming a friendly smile all the while his hands were protected by light brown leather gloves. "Wish I had some purified water to share with you, but we're on strict rationing until we get to New York."

Sanjay looked the man up and down, then frowned. He wasn't sure what to think of the fellow who didn't shake his hand and could definitely beat him up. He said he was mounted; sure, he was dressed like a rider. He blinked. “Where’s your horse?” asked the dumbfounded SecDiv man.

Adams laughed, shaking his head. "I'm here to protect a diplomat on a riverboat. When I'm not on shore leave, I mean! Horses don't like being on small, rattling watercraft, eh?"

“A diplomat?” Sanjay looked around at the town outside of the cafe. The maniacal laugh of the DJ echoed through the streets again. Someone fired a gun somewhere, but nobody cared. It was simply diplomacy in Almont. “Who the hell is trying to be diplomatic here?”

"Almont's the halfway point." He explained, following Sanjay's gaze. "The hosers've learned not to mess with us here. We've got an agreement with the DJ - he keeps the river clear for our traders, we help him fight the other Gunners."

Skipping over what a “hoser” was, Sanjay still sounded confused. He tried again: “So you’re a mercenary then.”

"It's a diplomatic agreement he has with my government. Canada. Ronto. Ever hear of Ronto, or see those stubby little drink bottles? Ronto's where those come from." Adams continued. The poor man was probably still just incredibly hungover, he thought. "The RCMP, we're Ronto's federal police. Bodyguard duty is part of our mission.”

“Ronto, Ronto,” Sanjay mumbled under his breath. He searched for the information. Most of the traders he accompanied stopped at Almost to transfer goods and went back home. He hadn’t met anyone who had traveled any further up the river. He had heard that it was dangerous, especially the further into the vast Upstate they traveled. Maybe he had seen some crates labeled “Ronto” before, but the mention of Canada meant nothing to him. “No, never met anyone from there,” he admitted after a while. “This is the farthest up I go. Only for the tour money, you see… New York only pays me to go to Almont and back.”

"Well, now you have!" Adams shrugged, patting his revolver. "We do a good job of keeping Northwest New York safe. You say New York's paying you, though... Does that mean you work for them? Government, or mercenary work?"

To Sanjay, Adams was practically living in a different world. And with his accent and dress, he may very well have been. Sanjay had never seen any of these “Canadians” in Northwest New York - which was a strange thing to call the Hudson side of the Bronx anyways. “Corporal Sanjay Knight, New York SecDiv,” he proclaimed with some measure of exhaustion and defeat. It hadn’t impressed the Gunner earlier and he felt like Sergeant Adams wouldn’t feel intimidated either.

“Some asshole stole my badge or else I’d show it to you,” he added meekly. He gestured to his shirt. “Still got this, though.”

Sanjay, unfortunately, was quickly proven right. Adams looked down at Sanjay's shirt, briefly noting the faded patch of a blue torch with an orange flame on his left shoulder and nodded, satisfied. "Did said asshole steal anything else? You look like shit - reminds me of when I first joined the Mounties. I got so skunked the first night that I felt like my head'd explode the next morning."

“I ain’t got shit,” said the SecDiv man. “I get the badge and the gun, but the shoes? Come on, man, that’s low.”

"At least you didn't get dragged off by raiders. You got a ride home, at least?" He replied, glancing back over his shoulder.

“Yeah, about that,” Sanjay chuckled nervously. “Found myself in a ditch in a bombed out suburb outside the gates. Maybe they tried dragging my ass off but I, uh, fought them off.”

Adams shook his head in disbelief. “You got a ride home?” he repeated.

Sanjay looked at his bare feet. “No, late for the boat. These old sea captains leave right when they’re supposed to. Don’t go looking for stragglers, SecDiv or not.”

"Well, sounds like you could use one, then. We're heading down the Hudson in a day or two, if you'd be so kind as to join us." Adams beamed. " 'Course, can't say I'm doing it entirely out of the kindness of my heart, eh? After all, we have been trying to get in touch with you New-Yorkers."

“I’m not authorized to do that,” said the SecDiv man. “I’m a Corporal. You’d have to talk to the City.”

“I mean, I’ll take the ride,” he added hurriedly. “Well, under one condition. There’s a friend of mine out here we gotta find. He never came looking for me since I didn’t make it to the boat. I think he’s still here too… he was pretty fucked up before I left with, uh, a friend.”

"Deal." Adams said, tactfully refusing to inquire further. He slipped off the glove on his right hand before holding it out for a shake.

Sanjay shook it, more confident than he was before in this stranger of a tall man. They finished their drinks in the cafe, Adams downing a cup of coffee while they made small talk about each others’ hometowns. They paid, or rather Adams fronted the bill, and left back onto the streets of Almont. Immediately overtaken by the flash of brilliant light in the streets, Sanjay took a second to compose himself again. The few bottles of water didn’t help much, but he knew Charlie was out there in town somewhere.

“You said we got a day or two, right?” Sanjay asked. Adams affirmed the timeline. “Well, Charlie is around somewhere. I say we head towards the bars again. This guy will probably be around there somewhere.”
Brussels, Belgium

In the situation room, an intelligence watch center located in the OTAN alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, a staff of multinational officers scurried about furiously. Fax machines whirred and printed off pages of documents and reports which were hastily collected to be analyzed by a myriad of different working groups and departments. The buzz of chatter and discussion filled the air as officers talked over plans and new intelligence coming in. The whole office smelled strongly of coffee and the officers, some with five o’clock shadows and bags under their eyes, looked like they hadn’t slept much for days. Televisions played out scenes from across the Atlantic, showing the deteriorating circumstances in Canada as years of pent-up frustration was finally boiling over.

An assassinated prime minister, someone’s lucky hit with a thrown brick, had unleashed total pandemonium across the country. Militias broke out from hiding, riding the wave of resentment to independently conduct raids and attacks against American outposts and patrols in the occupied country. The streets of Canadian cities had been ravaged by car bombs and improvised explosive devices as a wave of revolution swept across the country. Like the OTAN staff had suspected, it was the Quebecois that kicked off the show: now the resistance groups were finally rolling out to press attacks on American forces.

Capitaine Clara Fillion was exhausted, slumped over her desk with her head in her hands as she fought the urge to fall asleep face first into her keyboard. Beside her, a West German colleague reached for a slice of pizza that had been ordered for their cell in lieu of a dinner at the cafeteria downstairs. Too much information was coming in for anyone to leave for longer than a smoke break. She felt her eyes getting heavier as sleep began to overtake her, before the telephone on the desk rattled her awake. Hurriedly grasping for the phone in a startled rush, Capitaine Fillion answered automatically:

“CJ3 CAN CUOPS,” she blurted out, announcing her office using the unwieldy military staff designation for OTAN’s international staff planning division, current operations in the Canadian theater. “Capitaine Fillion speaking.”

The familiar voice of her staff section’s boss answered her from the other end: “Clara, Colonel Dupree here. We just got out of a meeting with the Président du CMO. He’s going up to the Secrétaire Général to brief him on the situation, but it’s highly likely we’re going to mobilize to go into Canada. Get your team and wait for me.”

Clara, now wide awake with surprise, hesitated for a moment. “Yes, sir,” she said simple. Colonel Dupree thanked her and hung up while she spun around in her chair to the West German officer next to her. He stared at her with a raised eye, finishing a bite of his pizza silently.

“Kohl, the colonel is coming down,” she said, barely containing her emotions. “Big fuckin’ news, I think OTAN is actually going to mobilize for this thing.”

Fillion jumped up from her chair and walked out to the floor of cubicles that her group worked in, announcing that they all needed to head to the conference room immediately. Her small staff of junior officers and senior sergeants all obliged, and she found herself sitting in the conference room for ten minutes waiting for the colonel to arrive. Just as the clock struck nine in the evening, the door swung open to reveal the tall, slender frame of Colonel Dupree. She called the room to attention and was quickly told to sit back down.

“Evening, everyone,” the colonel said. He practically collapsed into his chair at the head of the table. “I just spent a good long meeting with the CMO,” he said, referring to the Comité Militaire de l'OTAN that formed the highest military headquarters in the alliance. It was unusual enough that a Colonel, a comparatively low-ranking officer for them, was invited there. “And they recognize that we need to act fast with regards to Canada.”

The staff sat silently. “The Secrétaire Général is going to make a decision later tonight and then publish the order, and I fully expect our own president to make a statement and give the go-ahead in the morning. In the meantime, the Canada operations staff is getting picked to deploy.”

There was silence, then soft murmuring between the officers. OTAN had never deployed a battlegroup outside of Europe before. They didn’t realize that there was even a possibility that their staff section could be sent overseas. Fillion pursed her lips and shook her head. She had a husband and two children living in Brussels, what was going to happen to them if she left?

The colonel frowned, concern washed across his aged face. “I’m aware that this is so sudden, but the situation is worsening by the day and OTAN has decided they need to act to stabilize things before it gets too late. The good news for you is that this is now being picked up as a battlegroup command, which is currently being organized. I’m giving you all a few days off to pack your bags and settle your business here before we deploy. But once you’re back, it’s going to be straight on a plane or a boat or however the hell we’re getting over there.”

Clara Fillion found herself in her car an hour later, uniform top thrown onto her passenger seat along with her beret and a cigarette between her fingers dangled outside the car window. She kept promising her husband that she would stop smoking, but the army made it harder and harder to quit with every development. At the very least she refused to stink up the interior of her 1987 Renault with cigarette smoke, if only because the carseat in the back of her rearview mirror reminded her of the consequences. She started the ignition, a misnomer of a term now that most vehicles since ‘82 had been produced with hyper-efficient electrical drive systems, and waited the few seconds for the system to start up.

Her car’s bulky information display ran through its boot code before displaying a fast-moving screen of maintenance data. All the stats were green, which she assumed meant good: she was an artillerywoman by trade, not a mechanic. The screen skipped to the FM radio embedded in the car console, which picked up the Brussels radio station that she usually tuned to. The soft beat of a hip-hop song played over her muted speakers as she looked into the backup camera display on her mirror and reversed out of the parking spot. She drove on autopilot out the gate of the OTAN compound and turned onto the main throughway that led her skirting around Brussels to her home.

A million possibilities raced through her mind. The threat of combat was all but nonexistent, the pressing issues of her life were all she could think about. Was her will up to date? How about power of attorney? Did she need to open up a shared bank account with her husband? What about childcare? When would she be able to mail home? Her first son’s birthday was coming up in two months, she would definitely be missing that. The pager in her uniform pants pocket buzzed and she withdrew it to check the message on the screen. It was Colonel Dupree publishing some info on the staff group page: I just got 7 days of leave approved for all of you, come back once you’ve got some rest.

Three minutes later, as she turned into the exit lane for her neighborhood, the pager buzzed again. Fillion waited a minute as she merged into her proper lane before checking the pager. FR President will give a message at 0800 tomorrow – strongly advise watching.

Paris, France

François-Jean de Mer knew fully well that the cigarette and coffee breakfast was a joke among the international community about the French. He chuckled softly to himself as he stubbed out the cigarette, smoked down to its filter, and finished the last of his dark black coffee. With a sigh, he stood up from his table on a balcony outside of the governmental offices in central Paris. He had been up all night, conversing with military commanders and the OTAN Secrétaire Général. All of the information had resulted in one conclusion: it was time to head back to Canada.

Through a series of hallways deep within the complex of the office, he was escorted by a member of his press corps. The officer chattered nonstop about optics and tone and how to deliver the script that he, admittedly, had also written all night on short notice. Nobody in the building had slept. Such was life when the world seemed to be buzzing with conflict. Président de Mer nodded along, staring at the sheet of paper in hand and trying to commit the words to memory as best as he could. A teleprompter would be there, of course, but de Mer talked fast and often outran the words scrawling across the prompter. It had been quite the gaffe back in 1988.

He reached the podium, the familiar lights shining onto his stage while members of the French and European journalist community filed into the room in front of him. Behind him, the symbol of the French government eloquently occupied a tasteful background. It looked perfect for the television cameras, of which there were at least a dozen pointed at him. Such was life in the seat of Europe’s most important power. Président de Mer smiled softly, his trademark way of setting the crowd at east, before clearing his throat: “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,” he said. “I know it’s a little early. But things are moving fast and we need to get ahead of the situation.”

He confidently shuffled the papers in front of him and sat them down on the lectern. Looking into the teleprompter in front of him, the words of his speech began to flash across the screen:

“If has been an eventful few weeks for the Canadian nation,” he began. He stood up straight, confidently yet softly reciting the words of his statement: “A miscarriage of justice has enraged the long-oppressed people of Canada, and now they are expressing their frustrations. What the Canadians are feeling now is entirely justified – we have grappled with the reign of authoritarian rule ourselves, and have a long history of revolt against unjust governance.”

He paused to look around at the press corps ahead of him. “Yet as it has been demonstrated, the current Canadian government has failed to safeguard the safety and security of its people. Basic services and securities have failed across the nation, and millions of people are in danger of harm because of this tragic lack of governance. The international community has long agreed to a declaration that we owe the world a responsibility to protect from tragedies such as this. We saw the great humanitarian tragedies of the Second World War and the worldwide devastation of The Visitation and we agreed that this would be no more.

It is in concordance with this understanding that France and OTAN are organizing a task force to deploy to Canada as quickly as possible. The world sees the impact of this catastrophe daily on television news and on the Internet. We need to right these wrongs before more of our friends in the Canadian nation suffer. OTAN has pledged to uphold the new standards of international peacekeeping and stabilization. 28 million Canadians need help from the international community, and it is our responsibility to ensure they can live their proper lives.

I understand that this is the first deployment of OTAN outside of its borders since the alliance was reformulated in 1984. Rest assured, this is the work of almost a decade of planning and structuring to ensure that OTAN carries out the righteous application of justice in the world. We need to be a global force for good, ensuring the safety and stability of people who cannot otherwise fend for themselves. I give my word that France will use her military forces to maximum effectiveness in ensuring the prosperity of the Canadian people. Thank you.”

He nodded to the camera as the words ended on the teleprompter and the crowd erupted into a sea of raised hands and shouted questions. He was advised, rightly so, to not answer any of them. He waved the press corps goodbye as he left through a stage door on the side of the room and a public affairs officer rushed to the podium to stymie the flow of questions and accusations in the room. Président de Mer vanished into the backstage of the briefing room, heading back to his office where more reports and plans surely awaited. After all, this was only the beginning.
Puebla, Puebla
August, 1955

Captain Lopez felt the all-too-familiar weight of his gear constrict his movement as he awkwardly shuffled forward on the flight line. Loaded down with a large rucksack rigged between his knees, a stiff weapons case on his leg, a bulky parachute on his back and another on his stomach, he walked like a stiff penguin to the open door of the transport aircraft ahead of him. He and 29 other paratroopers each bore a “1” marked in chalk on their parachute bags, which led them to a corresponding aircraft with the same number written on its door. The engines were already roaring, so the jumpmaster physically grabbed everyone’s shoulder and loudly counted off to confirm all personnel were aboard.

Captain Lopez climbed into the fuselage of the plane, turning his head to observe the tarmac as he did so. The other members of his company were loading into four other identical planes, each shuffling orderly in a similar line. Captain Lopez would be the first to jump and First Sergeant Kan, at the end of the fifth chalk, would be the last: a way to ensure accountability of all their soldiers. The officer took his seat as the number-one man by the door, waiting for the rest of his chalk to take their seats. They crammed in on the benches, facing each other in silence as the jumpmaster finished his count and closed the door behind them.

The jumpmaster gave a thumbs up to the man closest to the pilots’ cockpit, who loudly thumped on the cabin door to confirm their presence. Inside the cockpit, the pilots chattered with each other on the radio and then to the Puebla airport traffic control tower. It was time to go. The plane lurched forward as its chock blocks were removed and the engines increased power. It taxied from its loading position onto the long runway, neat and orderly like the paratroopers on the ground. Captain Lopez heard the dull buzz of the propellers get louder and felt the plane rattle and shake: a few seconds later, they had lifted off.

Captain Lopez had thought after the brief that the battalion leadership had given him the prior week. It was going to be Mexico’s biggest and longest ranged airborne operation ever, and perhaps the biggest in history. Puebla was over a thousand kilometers to the drop zones in British Belize: the transport planes would be pushing the endurance of their aircraft with a two-thousand kilometer round trip. The pilots, too, were prepared for a flight of nine hours. Every nonessential component of the aircraft had been removed, from their protective machine guns to armor plating on the wings and fuselage.

The good news was that Britain lacked any sort of air defense capability in Belize. They barely had a regiment in Belize City, underfunded and undermanned and with a poor reputation as a castaway job for mess-ups and incompetent officers. The British maintained a squadron of Great War-era biplanes at the city’s dirt and soil airstrip, rarely utilized for anything more substantial than officers’ leisurely trips to the beach. The Mexican aircraft would have no problems flying through Mexico, then cutting directly across neutral Guatemala undetected. In the meantime, a division of motorized soldiers had staged in Yucatan State to rush down Belize’s main highway as soon as the paratroopers had secured the eastern flank.

He fell asleep to the dull thrum of the propellers, nesting himself within his bulky gear until he felt somewhat comfortable. Four hours without even a bathroom break would pass by better with sleep. Some of his soldiers read, others fiddled with their equipment, and more sat silently as they stared out the window. Lopez thought of his wife as he fell asleep: their goodbye at the gate to Puebla base was short and sweet. Even with the uncertainty of the conflict ahead, they were both sure that he would be back soon enough. The whole campaign was designed to be quick and decisive, to strike before serious resistance could be massed. It was more political than military.

The commander awoke sometime past Villahermosa as his executive officer nudged him. The young lieutenant had been awake the whole time, keeping an eye out for the checkpoints of the flight. Villahermosa was the last major Mexican city with a significant airport for the planes. Any malfunction in flight requiring an emergency landing would require them to turn around and make their way to the town. Otherwise, they had to press forward. The pilots had not reported any issues, so the squadron continued. Thirty minutes later, they had passed the border into Guatemala. Beneath the aircraft, it all looked the same: dense, green jungle.

Guatemala came and went, another quick leg of the trip. As the morning son shone its way through the windows of the cabin, the jumpmaster suddenly hollered from his seat by the door: “Fifteen minutes! Red light!”

The cabin became illuminated by the glow of bright red bulbs with the thud of an electrical circuit completing. All of the paratroopers had it drilled into them to prepare for the jump. They checked their equipment and the equipment of the man across from them, just to make sure that nobody had crossed or twisted straps and loose buckles that could be fatal in a jump. The jumpmaster yelled out the time in increments of five: ten minutes to go, then five minutes. At the three minute mark, he called for the jumpers to stand up.

Lopez was on autopilot, like all of his previous jumps. Stand up, hook up, get checked. The jumpmaster did what he was trained to do, checking all the equipment one last time before returning to the cabin door. He opened it and slid it on its rail to let the wind come rushing through the cabin, knocking Lopez back a step as he braced for its force. The jumpmaster looked down at the drop zone, a large clear farm field that had been cut into the jungle by Belizean plantation owners. He gave one look back and flashed a thumbs up to the soldiers. The red light switched to green, and the paratroopers rushed out of the door.

The commander didn’t think about the fact that he was in the air until the ground came up very fast to meet him. He instinctively braced for the fall, landing onto his legs, hip, and back like he had been trained. It never got easier: it still felt like getting hit with a sack of bricks. As he got up from his landing, he looked up at the sky to see rows of Mexican paratroopers each with parachutes opened heading straight for the ground. Groups of men scrambled to ditch their reserve chutes and open their weapons cases, regrouping in small formations to find their proper squad and platoon leadership.

Lopez found his executive officer nearby, struggling to cut the parachute cords with his knife. They had gotten tangled around his rucksack and were not coming off without a fight. He managed to cut the chute away just as Lopez arrived, rifle in hand, to take a knee. “Lieutenant Muñoz,” he said. “Let’s get oriented. Are we in the right drop zone?”

Lavulo rolled over and jumped up from the ground, reaching for the map case that dangled from a strap around his shoulder. Inside was a map of the drop zone and attack plan with directions of confirmation already written on a piece of paper with it. He took his compass from a pouch on his belt and quickly confirmed where they were. They had already figured out two identifiable mountains that they should have been able to see from the drop zone and gotten the back-azimuths. The numbers on the compass matched what they had calculated during their planning: they were in the right spot.

Lopez’s radioman, a short teenager named Reyes, jogged towards the captain and his lieutenant with the whip of his radio flailing wildly in his step. He took a knee next to the two officers and extended the telephone to his commander. “Sir,” he said breathlessly, “First and second platoons have organized and are ready to go. Third and fourth platoons are still reorganizing.”

“Thanks, Especialista,” Lopez replied. “Let them know we’re in the right drop zone and we’re to move into town when everyone is set. Send reports of injuries to First Sergeant Kan.”

Reyes nodded while Lopez observed the field in front of them. They were a kilometer or two outside of a small town in western Belize by the name of Belmopan. It sat at a critically important intersection between the main highway and a western offshoot and housed a platoon of British troops. Other paratrooper companies were dropping into similar towns to take out their local British units: in keeping with classic military theory, Captain Lopez had four-to-one odds against the defending British. A company was the ideal instrument to use against a platoon in defense. Not that the British appeared to know they were coming; the morning was still.

Eventually, third and fourth platoons reorganized and assessed their statuses. Only a handful of soldiers had been hurt from the jump, mostly broken or sprained legs and ankles. Every jump, especially combat jumps, were predicted to sustain these casualties even before contact with the enemy. They had been collected by the First Sergeant and the company’s detachment of medics, who would treat them at the company command post until they could be evacuated. With their reporting, the company immediately set into motion initiating their attack.

Captain Lopez made his way forward to the first platoon’s position, who were holding a line facing northeast to the city proper. They had seen nobody yet, but their element of surprise was undoubtedly going to be broken by some farmer seeing the planes and paratroopers on his way out to the field. The riflemen and machine gunners had nestled themselves into positions behind dirt mounds and irrigation ditches, awaiting orders to move forward. His other platoons were maneuvering into assault positions to form an “L” shape and flank the town. Once the first and second platoons initiated contact, the third and fourth platoons would sweep through and destroy the British garrison there.

Captain Lopez arrived just in time to see a lone light blue police car drive slowly up to the road some hundred-and-fifty meters away. Close enough that the Mexicans could see a pair of policemen emerge from the coupe, bobbin helmets silhouetted against the fields behind them. They appeared to be looking for something but couldn’t yet see anything. Through the scope of his rifle, Lopez could see that one had a pistol on his hip and the other was heading back to the trunk of the car. A sergeant on the Mexican line, receiving a nod from his platoon leader, reached for a megaphone that was strapped to his belt kit.

“Attention, attention,” he blared through the tinny-sounding voice amplifier. “Step away from the car and lay down your weapons. You will not be harmed.”

The policemen jumped in fright, ducking to the ground. One of them reached for his hip as a squad’s worth of Mexican soldiers emerged from the crop field in front of him, rifles drawn and pointed at the pair. They yelled in Spanish for him to surrender and drop the weapon, their voices all shouting over each other. The Belizean policeman changed his mind, yelping and raising his hands high in the air. “Okay! Okay! What the fuck?” he exclaimed as a Mexican corporal rushed forward to take his weapon. His partner similarly placed his hands high above his head, stepping away from the car.

“What the hell? Who are you?” he repeated, eyes wide in fright. The Mexican platoon bounded forward out of their positions to the road and he got a good look at their gear. Everyone’s helmet bore a white stenciled “MX” and the squad leaders wore large brassards with an embroidered Mexican flag on their right shoulders. “Mexico?” he stuttered, turning back to his partner. Before he had time to ask any further questions, a soldier had forced the policeman to the ground and was tying up his hands with a piece of rope. He slipped a blindfold out of his pocket and over the man’s face before forcing him up and rushing him to the prisoner collection point behind the platoon lines.

Lopez lowered his scope and turned to congratulate the sergeant with the megaphone. They were instructed to offer the British an opportunity to surrender first before shooting and try at all costs not to kill the Belizean local police. Knowing the town of Belmopan had only a few policemen, he only had a handful of prisoners that he needed to detain. The platoon reformed into a line past the now-abandoned police car and continued their bound further towards the town.

Belmopan was a squat farming town of only a few buildings, none of them more than two floors tall. Mostly made of wood with tin roofs, the town had everything a rural farmer could ever need: a general store that doubled as a clinic, a bank, a one-room schoolhouse, and a pub. Everything else was an automobile trip away to Belize City sixty kilometers to the east. The British blockhouse was the only thing made from concrete, a barracks building for forty soldiers located at the exact intersection the Mexicans were to take. It was three hundred meters north of their current position, well within visual range. Captain Lopez rushed forward with the platoon to where they took up more fighting positions in the fields outside the town.

In the distance, a man dressed in khaki held a Lee Enfield rifle hesitantly, pushing the brim of his tommy helmet out of his face with a palm. The Mexicans advanced through the crops, staying off the road where they had just taken the policemen prisoner. The British soldier could see the plants rustle as the Mexicans silently bounded to the edge of the fields just another hundred meters shy of him. He had no doubt heard the confusion down the road but didn’t know what to make of it.

He squinted, thinking he saw figures in the fields ahead of him. The Mexican sergeant with the megaphone turned it on again and, this time in English, offered a warning: “Attention, attention. This is the Mexican Army. You are severely outnumbered. Drop your weapon and surrender.”

The Brit, who appeared to be in his late forties, dropped his jaw and fell to a knee in the middle of the road. “To arms! To arms!” he shouted back to the blockhouse behind him. Before he could get the rifle shouldered, someone on the Mexican line fired a single round. The other paratroopers in the line immediately erupted into a volley of rifle fire that cut down the British soldier in the road before he could even shoot back.

Over Reyes’s radio, Captain Lopez heard the platoon leader report that they were firing upon a British position in town. The second platoon acknowledged as their machine guns swept the blockhouse perimeter from a position three hundred meters to Lopez’s west. The roar of automatic gunfire broke through the calm of the morning and the commander watched as bullets impacted across the concrete barrack’s façade. Someone inside pulled an alarm, and an air raid siren broke out in a screeching wail across the town. The Mexicans held their fire to await further commands before a team of four British soldiers came rushing out the front of their barracks armed with rifles.

The Mexicans fired again at the troops, forcing the British to scramble for cover behind crates and barricades in their supply yard. Some of them shot back, the high velocity rounds whizzing overhead of the Mexicans who were still camouflaged behind the lush crops of the town’s farms. Lopez turned around to see Lieutenant Muñoz and Specialist Reyes ducking into a small muddy ditch. Muñoz was white as a ghost, more so than his usual pale complexion, clutching his rifle with one hand and the map case with another while Reyes was rapidly chattering away on the radio’s hand mic. Someone on the firing line shouted “watch right!”

A pair of British soldiers had raced around the corner of a squat single family shack, both in berets. Only one of them appeared to have a rifle; the other held a revolver with a lanyard tied to his pistol belt. They both ducked down, surprised to have run into the enemy, and attempted to fire back. The rifleman squeezed off a trio of shots, clumsily charging the bolt on his rifle between each one, before a burst of machine gun fire raked across him. The soldier died instantly, his corpse jolting with the impact of the .30 caliber rounds into his chest as blood sprayed from his back.

His colleague panicked, jumping up from the ground and dropping his revolver as he sprinted towards the concrete barracks across the road. It was his last mistake, as he was shot down in the road by a volley of fire in the violent chaos. He buckled dramatically under the bullets, falling to the ground with his hand dramatically outstretched in front of him. Three British soldiers lay dead in the road with another seven sprawled out across the barrack’s parade lawn, killed as they rushed out of the door with no chance to fight back. Sporadic fire answered the Mexicans’ attack from the windows of the barracks as the defenders organized into a somewhat coherent defense. The building was already peppered with bullet holes as it sustained a violent attack from both ends.

At Lopez’s position behind the first platoon, he saw the fruits of his training manifest. Sergeants and officers were now racing behind their firing lines shouting at their soldiers to conserve ammunition. In the excitement of first contact, the paratroopers had seemingly forgotten about control and measured firepower. Hundreds of shells littered the muddy ground between the crops as the rate of fire slowed to a manageable rate. The squawking of Reyes’s radio could now be heard as officers and radiomen chattered in the background. The platoons were getting another series of status reports from their sergeants: ammunition, casualties, and equipment status was all sent up to First Sergeant Kan with the company command post.

An awkward silence befell the battlefield, punctuated only by the distant blaring of the air raid siren. The paratroopers reloaded in between British potshots as the sergeants ran amongst themselves and figured out a plan of action. The solution in first platoon was a volley of rifle grenades, which was approved by their platoon leader. “Grenadiers!” bellowed the officer from his position, “shoot two grenades to their bunker!”

Two grenadiers hurried forward from other positions, equipment jostling as they darted and dodged through the crop field. Affixed to the front of their semi-automatic Mondragón rifles were silver-colored grenades with fins. Secured straight to the bayonet lug and fired with the simple insertion of a blank cartridge to their open breech, the rifle grenades could easily fly the hundred meters from the Mexicans’ line to the British position. Lopez much preferred to attack with them, as opposed to sending teams of men dangerously close to bunkers and trenches with hand grenades. The two grenadiers dove into positions in a ditch next to the platoon leader who aggressively pointing out their target.

One after another with heavy thumps, the grenadiers shot off their projectiles and dove back into cover. Sunlight glinted off the rounds as they sailed through the air before slamming into the building. With quick thuds, two explosions rocked the barracks and kicked up clouds of dust and concrete fragments. Lopez looked through his scope to see cracks in the concrete wall, shattered windows, and large chunks missing from the British barricade. It seemed to silence the enemy, however, as a minute passed with no shots fired from either side. In the background, the platoon leaders debated over the radio on if they could see anyone moving.

Another minute passed as Lopez wondered what was happening. The air raid siren that had been blaring the entire time suddenly cut out, sending the small town of Belmopan back into its early morning silence. In the distant jungle, exotic birds chattered again. The smell of gunfire and carbon mixed with the humidity and dew. Through his scope, Lopez saw a rock sail out of the front entrance to the barracks with a white rag cut up and tied to it like a flowing tail. His eyes widened and he turned back to Reyes: “Cease fire!” he hissed to the Specialist.

Reyes echoed it through the radio, which was then repeated by the officer of first platoon to his sergeants. All of the paratroopers laid with their guns pointed towards the British barracks as a man in khaki emerged cautiously, legs shaking, from the entrance with his hands high in the air and a white undershirt. Lopez moved up, slowly and carefully to ensure that he wouldn’t spook either his men or the British into any reaction, and tapped the first platoon’s megaphone carrier on the shoulder. He gestured to the man that he needed the device and the sergeant duly gave it to his commander.

Lopez stood up, still camouflaged behind a mass of vegetation in front of him, and turned on the speaker: “Can you speak Spanish?” he asked calmly, knowing that the answer was probably yes. British forces in Belize usually had to be able to speak to the local population.

“Sí,” came the reply, a shout in a heavy foreign accent. It sounded like the Brit had learned his Spanish from Spain instead of Mexico. He continued to walk onto the parade field, leading a line of British soldiers without weapons and their hands on their wide-brimmed helmets to a loose formation behind him. Over the radio, the fourth platoon’s leader reported that they had moved a machine gunner to have an eye on them in case they tried anything. Lopez doubted that they would. He brought the megaphone to his lips and, after looking to Lieutenant Muñoz behind him, stepped out of the field and into full view of the British just a hundred meters away.

“This is Captain Dominic Lopez of the Mexican Army,” announced the commander. “We accept your surrender.”
Like New York medical faction. I'd be happy to collab some time on that with Maine.

Yeah, the implication on that is they're an NPC for everyone to use (that's why they're a faction, not like a component of government.) Figured I'd just write up the actual sheet. But they would definitely be in Maine.

Obviously you'd write them like, say, the Followers of the Apocalypse... probably not going to have doctors kicking down doors and shooting people in the face.
The Wasteland Aid Society

Red Hook, Brooklyn

A row of battery-like objects protruded from a steel shelf. Each of them were slotted into hundreds of ports along dozens of rows of these shelves, each of them flashing blinking green lights to nobody in particular. They all made a low humming noise and radiated warmth into the room around them. Upon closer inspection, these batteries were hundreds of energy cells and electron charge packs sitting in gigantic charging banks. A man in a black suit with a gaggle of technicians wearing mismatched jumpsuits inspected one of the charging shelves.

The man in the suit ran his hand over the energy cells until he picked one at random to yank out from the socket. The flashing green light turned yellow as it waited for the battery to be reinserted to finish its charge. The energy cell was still warm to the touch and carried a noticeable heft in his hand, like a loaded magazine. Its metal was dented and scratched. The labeling and letting from the original manufacturer had long since worn off. But prewar technology was robust, with these energy cells capable of being recharged dozens of times over before it was time to totally throw them away.

“How long does it take to charge these?” asked the man. While he had managed the company’s up and coming energy weapons department, he was never inclined towards the specifics of the technology.

“Well, about two days for a full charge. We’re working on another set of charging banks in the back specifically for overcharged cells, which should take four days,” explained a technician in a red jumpsuit tied around his waist. He wore a faded undershirt bearing the logo of an old world baseball team in Brooklyn. The manager nodded and stuck the energy cell back into its slot. The light turned back to a flashing green.

The manager’s name was Mario Leonetti and he had just overseen the opening of this particular assembly line for Brooklyn AA&E. Famed in the region for its weapons production, Brooklyn AA&E’s iconic stamp could be found on its signature goods: arms, ammunition, and explosives. Usually consigned to restore and produce a sizeable selection of conventional firearms and ammunition, Leonetti spearheaded the development of an energy weapons refurbishment branch. The rows of charging banks, themselves found in the basement of a RobCo facility in the industrial hellscape of Jersey, had been fixed up and put to work recharging spent energy packs. It was the first tangible success of the project.

“May we continue?” he asked the technicians. They all nodded and shuffled out the door, following another lower manager in a white short-sleeved shirt out the door. Only a pair of employees remained in the charging room to monitor the status of the energy cells on a desk with a computer terminal placed nearby.

Across the hall of the old brick building was their open-floor workshop. Lined up in neat rows were workbenches and workstations cluttered with tools, parts, gadgets, and components. Mechanics, highly talented and gifted technicians from across the city, had been hired to work on energy weapons in this bay. Across their desks was a wide assortment of laser weapons, plasma guns, and a fair share of more exotic armament. Most of these were gutted and disassembled with technicians working determinedly to fix them. From the corner, Leonetti heard a slam and turned his head to see a mechanic loudly thumping the stock of a laser rifle against the desk. He grinned and walked over.

“What’re you working on?” asked Leonetti, a measured air of genuine curiosity in his voice. The mechanic looked up from the chamber of the laser rifle, clutching a flashlight between his teeth. He quickly removed it and put it down on the desk.

“Sorry about that, heh,” he said, looking back to the chamber of the gun. “This sonofabitch right here,” he motioned towards some vague internal piece of the rifle, “is supposed to reciprocate. It’s stuck, so I figure if I can give it an ‘ole slam then it should come unstuck.”

Leonetti squinted but couldn’t make heads or tails of the part that the mechanic was referring to. Instead he just nodded his head: “Well I’m sure if you keep smacking it like that you’ll get it out of there in no time. Good work from you, son.”

He returned to his entourage of technicians and surveyed the room again. A rack of weapons laid against the opposite wall, each of them in various states of disrepair. Rusted, broken, or missing components. Leonetti had asked specifically for a cut of AA&E’s revenue for this branch. To front the operation, he had paid dozens of contracted scavengers to loot for energy weapons that others may have missed or thrown away. It now looked like his big bet was paying off. AA&E had asked the City Council for The Economist’s input on laser weaponry and other high technology sites, and a mercenary crew was dispatched to the RobCo facility in Jersey that yielded the energy cell chargers. Right on the money, as per usual.

Leonetti returned to the hallway where the floor manager was standing, idly chatting with one of the technicians about something. All Leonetti could understand was some technobabble about the overcharge banks having electrical issues. He figured it was a problem, like usual, with the old technology. He had confidence that they would figure it out eventually. The floor manager noticed Leonetti’s return: “How’s it looking, boss?” he asked.

“Pretty good in there,” Leonetti replied authoritatively. “You guys are really putting in the work I like to see. We’ll have those laser guns out of there in no time, right?”

The floor manager nodded vigorously. “Oh, of course. Two or three weeks tops and we should have a whole bunch of guns to sell off,” he casually assessed. He looked at a clipboard that he had been holding tucked under his arm and nodded again. He repeated his timeline of three weeks.

“Good, good,” Leonetti said, crossing his arms. He checked his watch in a feigned display of hurry. He always had work to do, and often used that as an excuse to cut social engagements and tours short regardless of the specifics. “Well thanks for showing me around today gents,” he announced as he clapped his hands together. “I’ve got to run… sales is going to love this news. Keep this up and you boys might be getting a nice bonus for your troubles.”

Almont, Upstate Wastes

“I’m getting tired of hearing that fuckin’ kook on the radio,” grumbled Charlie from his bunk.

The half-crazed mayor of Almont had just wrapped up his rambling “newscast” of the afternoon, talking about… something. Charlie tuned out the insanity and tried to get back to the music instead. Unfortunately for him, there wasn’t much this far north. New York’s comparatively more civilized DJs had long since turned to static as they rounded the bend of the Hudson south of Newburgh. Local settlements sometimes had their own radio stations, of course, but those were more for communication and less for entertainment. After a certain way up the river, Hathaway’s madness was the only sound they had.

Sanjay shrugged in his chair as he set down another card. He had gotten used to playing solitaire in his spare time. Another sailor was up on the deck, keeping watch for the dangers of the wasteland. Luckily for them, this trip had so far been uneventful. Maybe the dreary weather was keeping people away. After all, nobody liked to be stalking around the mountains in soaking wet clothes and boots. The weather was still forecasted to be like this for another few days; it was good enough of a cover to get them to Almont and mostly back to New York before it let up. Charlie was just glad that Sanjay had been right about it being an “easy job” for once.

They were a few hours from docking at Almont. The rain pattered at the boat as most of the crew took cover beneath the structure of its bridge. The dull thrum of the engine propelled it further up the river, unceasingly beating against the mild current and light winds of the Hudson. Charlie dozed back to sleep after checking his watch, realizing that morning was yet to come. Their ships had gotten awfully good at scheduling their docking at Almont.

Charlie was awoken from his sleep with a light push. He opened his eyes to see Sanjay standing above him, clad in combat armor. The plated vest, a relic of the old NYPD riot teams, was painted dark grey to match the rest of his uniform. He clutched a carbine in his hands. “Charlie, man, we just docked!” he said as he jostled the sailor from his sleep.

The sailor grumbled again, swinging his legs out of his bunk. He shooed Sanjay away, urging him to head topside while he changed. Charlie wore a pair of underpants and a plain white shirt as he stumbled to his personal locker. Inside were his work clothes: he much preferred a blue jumpsuit with nothing underneath. Anything besides the jumpsuit was too much of a chore in the steamy humidity of New York’s summer. The weather was changing to become much cooler, however, as fall fast approached. He had heard that once upon a time the trees would change colors to shades of orange and red before the leaves fell for winter: not anymore. The land was still too scarred from the war.

Charlie went to work on the boat mooring it to the dock. Almont was nothing like New York. It looked and felt like an active warzone in a carnival. Neon signs lit up all sorts of establishments of sin in town: bars, casinos, brothels, and everything in between. A loudspeaker played the same deranged rantings of the mayor that permeated the airwaves from his radio station. All across the dock was a flurry of activity as the shipment began to be unloaded. A team of local mercenaries had been hired, under Sanjay’s supervision, to guard the pier where the sailors were offloading their wooden boxes. They stood in a tight line, clutching bats and blunt instruments.

Out of the corner of Charlie’s eye he saw a trio of kids, no older than their early teens, try to make a break for a crate that had been set down close to the line of mercenaries. They scrambled out of the shadows, one with a bright red flare gun that he waved wildly in the air. The kid hopped over a crumbled concrete barrier and, to his own surprise, discharged the flare gun straight into the ground next to the foot of a guard. His friends realized that they had blown their cover and rushed away, leaving the teen to his fate. Sitting down on his rear, staring up at the mercenary and clutching the flare gun, his eyes widened. The merc spared no words, strategically lining up the teen’s hand with his bat and smacking the gun away from him.

The would-be thief yelped in pain and evacuated himself into the shadows, clutching his hand. Charlie just shook his head. Vagrant kids were a constant annoyance. He was sure he’d find them begging for caps in an alley later that night. Sanjay turned to Charlie, shrugging with his carbine in hand. He was under orders not to fire inside the city limits unless absolutely necessary: the former Gunners were trigger happy about that sort of thing. Charlie kept unloading the wooden boxes, stacking them neatly next to a weathered wooden shack marked “DELIVERY.”

The captain, satisfied that the cargo was completely offloaded after an hour’s work, hobbled himself off the barge. A stiff leg that never quite healed from a break crippled his movement. Tucked under his arm was a clipboard with paperwork and forms that TraDiv needed from the registered merchants: another cause for griping from the old man. He met with a merchant on the pier who appeared equally as apathetic as the sea captain, merely scribbling a curved line on the form to act as his signature. Another, far more traditional exchange happened as well when the merchant passed the captain a clinking bag full of caps.

The captain hobbled his way back to the ship and motioned for the sailors to cut out and go about their business. He had briefed over the intercom when to expect a muster the following morning: seven AM sharp. Failure to show up used to be punished with a beating, back in the old days. Now, it was more than sufficient to just sever the contract right then and there and leave the tardy sailor stranded alone in Almont. Most of the crew would prefer a beating. Charlie lit a cigarette as he went back down belowdecks for his things. Sanjay followed: he had to trade in his carbine for a sidearm before going out on the town. Company policy dictated that they couldn’t have anything bigger than a handgun out in Almont.

Sanjay ditched his armor and opted for the simple blue uniform shirt, like usual. Charlie couldn’t have been bothered to change out of his jumpsuit. They both filled their pockets full of caps, strapped on their holsters, and went out on the town. Almont was rough and grimy, dangerous and shady. Like a pack of migrating animals, the sailors all headed in one direction to the neon-lit entertainment neighborhood. They would be safer in their massive group, and they all knew the bars and clubs of Almont had little tolerance for allowing violence. Armed guards patrolled the streets, breaking up fights and fending off potential troublemakers. After all, it was far more lucrative to have a drunk New Yorker spending caps at the bar instead of going home empty-handed after getting robbed.

Charlie and Sanjay peeled off from the group once they hit the strip of bars. They had one objective, and that was to get absolutely blackout drunk at their favorite establishment: Stella Supreme’s. Jubilantly, Sanjay practically kicked in the door to the dive bar. He always made a point to come to this place when they were in Almont, if only to see the one special girl that he always liked to spend a night with. Without fail, she always frequented the bar at Stella’s, and she was there again that night. A tall brunette with a cigarette in her mouth, she smiled when she saw the pair: “Back again, huh? I thought you’d miss me.”

Sanjay sidled up to her and flipped some caps on the table while Charlie ordered some liquor. His goal that night was to get as drunk as possible on the cheap, and with cash to spare to bring some bottles back home with him. Almont was half the price of New York for almost everything, especially luxury goods like alcohol and chems. As Sanjay tried to pay for more attention from his friend, Charlie fed himself shot after shot. Minutes passed that turned into hours as Stella’s got more and more packed. Charlie dropped deeper into his state of intoxication as he kept drinking. He danced with the girls, argued with the guys, and in the middle of things lost sight of Sanjay.

It was close to midnight when Charlie said, or rather slurred, something to the wrong guy. He didn’t quite remember what he did wrong, only that he took a haymaker of a punch to the face in response. With all the coordination that his drunk self could muster, he swung back. He didn’t quite remember if he connected or not. A gang of four people rushed him and before he knew it, he had taken a swing of something heavy to the back of his head. He blacked out before he hit the ground and woke up sometime later still drunk in an alley with a figure towering over him.

“Come on, man,” said the figure. Charlie groaned and covered his eyes as the rays of the sun peeked through the scrap-metal awning that provided him shade. The blurriness resolved as he got his bearings: he was curled up next to a dumpster with empty pockets, no gun, and blood staining the front of his jumpsuit. He rolled over, putting his hands on his head, struggling to get a good look at whoever was standing next to him. It was two people: one in a white lab coat of some sort, while the other dressed in a black turtleneck. The man in the coat kneeled down and laid a bottle of water on the ground.

“Who are you?” he grumbled. The man in the lab coat was not actually a scientist, and in fact looked more like a doctor. He was stern behind a pair of thick glasses, entirely unamused with the scene.

“I’m the guy who found you kicking around in this alley,” deadpanned the doctor. He motioned to the water: “Drink this. You got your ass kicked.”

“Fuck,” mumbled Charlie as he sat up. The doctor stuffed his hands in his pockets and looked around. Charlie noticed a silver watch on the man’s wrist and asked what the time was. Nine in the morning. Way past manifest. Charlie swore again, cursing the company policy. He was out of this contract’s pay and had to figure out how to get out of Almont. He took a swig of the water and looked back up at the doctor: “You seen my buddy around?”

“You had a friend? Would have been helpful in that fight.”

“Yeah, well, the kid ran off chasing a broad,” Charlie said. He spat blood onto the concrete before chugging some more water.

“You sailors are all the same,” the doctor sighed. He extended his hand out and offered to help Charlie up. The sailor steadied himself to his feet and got a better look at the man. The doctor wasn’t an average physician: he wore the distinct armband of the Wasteland Aid Society. Charlie had seen them around and figured they were some sort of charity and volunteer group but had never talked to them beyond that. He figured they gave food and medicine to the needy or, in his case, picked up drunks off the street.

“Trust me, you’re fucked. Missing your friend and you missed your boat,” the doctor explained. The man in the turtleneck next to him clutched a rifle in his palms, staring down the alley to make sure they weren’t suddenly attacked. The Aid Society always seemed to travel with bodyguards, seeing as they were as close to pacifists as one could get in the wasteland. “I’m the best friend you’ve got. We’ll go looking for your buddy and hopefully get you out of here in one piece.”

Sanjay was just as drunk as Charlie was and probably was still in Almont as well. The pair desperately needed to regroup and figure out a way to get back to the city. He cursed himself again, wondering how he could be so stupid as to get his ass beat at a bar in Almont. Out of options, he nodded and finished off the water.

“Yeah, good idea,” he told the doctor.
New York's "foreign" policy on slavery is probably just as compromised as its ability to reach. Like, obviously no slavery where it can be enforced. But New York isn't going to be picking fights with slavers to liberate things if they don't have to.

A key thing to note is probably its relatively healthy Railroad network. Synths moved between DC and Boston probably often settle there, and I can imagine the New York government giving refuge and shelter for the Railroad while also rooting out Institute covert operations. This would probably extend to "regular" slaves too.

I see New York less as an official body going around freeing slaves but more like a permissive environment for folks like the Railroad or a Followers of the Apocalypse type group to grow and base out of.
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