Saving the Scapegoat
by Jenean McBrearty
I didn’t mean to intrude on the Federation neighborhood. I blame it on the foggy mist that rolled in the way it does in San Diego; it settled in the El Cajon valley obscuring the path from down Mt. Helix where I’d gone to remember the cross that once stood there. The only thing left is the granite slab that held it strong against the wind and I sat there for at least a half an hour. Then I started back down the foot hill, and heard voices speaking Cybelese⸺ the Federation dialect.
I hid myself behind a dirty white pick-up truck outside the perimeter of men seated on the ground, all laughing at male children—from four to ten, I guessed–who were playing with some goats. In the center of the circle was a fire pit with a roasting spit. Letting the children play with their dinner like a cats toying with mice, I thought, and turned to sneak away. But, the squeals of the goats got my attention and I watched as the children began hitting the goats, encouraged by the men, they wrestled them to the ground and hit them again and again, then choking them, letting them go and grabbing them by the legs as they tried to escape.
Finally, the goats, their necks broken by the twisting the older boys gave them as the younger boys held them still, stopped their plaintive cries. One of the men stood up and began yelling in Cybelese. I only recognized two words: Avay Awahid. Praise the Leader. And another man entered the ring, leading four young girls tied together by a rope around their necks. There was much shouting and with the noise covering the sounds of my footfalls, I ran like I was being chased.
I was on the top of the mountain before I stopped and washed my eyes with canteen water. It was a ritual I would engage in for weeks, trying to cleanse from my mind the cruelty I’d seen. I told myself they really wouldn’t kill the girls as they’d killed the goats, but I know better; their celebrations were allowed in their neighborhood no matter how grotesue. Everything was allowed. Rape, stoning, immolation of the living, drowning, beating, mutilation…at the time of the Sporos life-craft crash, our teachers called it galactic tolerance.
“Captain James,” Lt. Michael Franks said. “You haven’t touched your food. How do you expect to fight a battle with no energy?”
“This is a battle I’ve been preparing for all my life, Lieutenant. I’ve enough energy left to fight ten battles.”
“But to stay up all night praying? What good does it do?”
“It’s called a vigil.” Cpt. James put on his helmet, armor, and the white tunic emblazoned with the red cross over it. He wanted the Federation soldiers to see he was a soldier for Ault Regnum…the Old Regime. Those who surrendered, would be executed in the name of the King of Justice. They were the last words they would hear before a firing squad cut them down. And they would be counted. Everybody marked with a number.
“The government calls you a vigilante, Sir. We do have orders to cease hostilities.”
Captain James checked his clip to make sure it was full, and locked it into place. “Do you believe this enemy will cease hostility just because someone in D.C. signs a worthless piece of paper?”
“If I believed that, I wouldn’t be here and none of the other men would be here either.”
The fifty men, two men to an armored truck, revved their motors, and drove out Highway 8 to El Cajon. It was a road littered with garbage, old clothes, abandoned weapons and crippled vehicles. The remnants of six months of civil war between Federation and the Old Regime that was suppressed by National Guard. Only many Guard units refused the truce when they saw how Federation soldiers raped and butchered their enemies. It was clear the Old Regime forces were defending themselves and their property. The last straw was the rape of a five-year-old boy not twenty minutes after the Old Regime forces put down their arms.
Capt. James had held the sedated child in his arms, and vowed justice for Bobby Wheeler. He and his men were called the Renegade Brigade, and within the week, twenty-five more men had joined them.
The twenty trucks, followed by five A1 Abrams, rolled into El Cajon, the familiar acrid odor of decaying bodies and burning flesh filling their nostrils as they drove close to their target: the Federation Meeting House. It was Friday, and the entire neighborhood was inside, spearted by age and sex to learn the tenets of Federation governance. “We have the meeting house surrounded, Captain,” Lt. Franks whispered into his transmitter.
“Secure the doors, Lieutenant.”
Two SMAW-Ds fired just short of the doors, leaving the steps a pile of rubble that made escape almost impossible. As the panic-stricken “Feddies” fought to get out of the building, the M2 machine guns unleashed their payloads, the mass of bodies making the barrier more secure. Eventually, the people stopped coming.
“Get ready for return fire, men,” Franks yelled. The trucks backed away, and fired more RPG into the building. The roof caved on the left side, and as the Feddies attempted to dig out from under it, the soldiers drew nearer and guarded the crumbled wall with their M19s.
A bullet bounced off Franks’ helmet, and he fired an RPG in the direction of fire. “Bring in the tanks, Captain,” Franks radioed. “We’re ready to lower the boom.”
The Abrams drove into position with the trucks parked behind them, and fired their 120mm smoothbore cannons at the hole, reducing the meeting house to rubble. Captain James gave the cease firing order and climbed out of one of the tanks. He listened to the goats screaming with pain and fear.
The raid lasted a half an hour. The two other mosques in the city would be mobilize for an attack, but it wouldn’t come tonight. The Feddies wouldn’t know when the Renegade Brigade would strike again. Only James knew. But it would come again, and the next time there would be a hundred men, and ten tanks.
“I gave the cease fire order as General Sage instructed,” James said in his report.
“Then how the hell did the mosque get taken out, Captain?” General Sage shot back. “The federation leaders are outraged and vow to take retribution on the Mount Helix Renegade Brigade. How are we going to restore community relations if these vigilantes can’t be stopped?”
“We’re so close to the border, Sir. I think it’s the Cartels. They want to run their drugs and the Federationistas want to run theirs, and they fight. What can I say?”
“You can say where they got the kind of fire power to demolish a mosque in thirty minutes, that’s what you can say. There were two hundred and twenty people killed in that senate…meeting house, indoctrination school.. whatever I’m supposed to call it… the entire body politic.”
“Yes, Sir, I understand. Do you want me to do reconnaissance in Mexico?” James doodled a star and a crescent moon on a note pad, then drew an “X” over it.
“Hell no! The Mexican government will be all into our shit! I want you to catch these KKK freaks by whatever means necessary.”
“Yes, Sir.” Franks entered and gave him a quick salute. “Sorry, Sir, I have to go. My Lieutenant is here. Could be good news.”
“Keep me in the loop.”
James hung up and Franks approached the desk. “We caught a Feddie girl in the mess hall. She’s at the dispensary.”
“Was she wired?”
“No, she’s recovering from a FGM, and begging for protection.”
James grabbed his hat. “Let’s go.”
Twelve-year-old Lilliani said she was mutilated ten days before the attack on the El Cajon Meeting Mouse. She was given time to recover and had only bread, water, and fruit during her convalescence, according to Shelby, the interpreter.
“What’d the doctor say?” Capt. James said to Franks.
“He says she’s okay. No infection yet, but she’s weak. He gave her a B-12 shot and a bowl of beef stew.”
She stared at James and wrapped the cotton blanket around herself tight. Was he so intimidating?
“What’ll we do with her, Sir? Franks asked.
“Ask her where her parents are,” James instructed the medic.
“She says they’re dead,”
The girl sank to her knees in front of James, looked up at him, and folded her hands as if in prayer. “Americana,” she said.
The medic continued. “She says she wants to join the Old Regime. I don’t know what to make of it, Sir. You suppose she was converted?”
“By who? The tooth fairy? Put her back in the chair. I want to interrogate her.”
Shelby told her to sit in the chair and she obeyed, sitting still as a stone.
“Ask her, who is George Washington?” James said.
The medic listened to her answer, and said, “She’s the fourth wife of Ali Assar. She lost a baby last year and Ali was going to beat her, but a soldier stopped him. A soldier in an Old Regime uniform. He told her the Old Regime would protect her, and left. Ali beat her then.”
Big tears streaked down her face, and James gave her Kleenex.
“If she got through our perimeter, she can get out and get back. Put her in the stockade with a 24/7 guard and make sure she gets all the food she wants. From the looks of her, she’s been starved.”
I didn’t expect deserters, least of all a child bride of a savage who may or may not be dead. And who may or may not be looking for her. The doctor confirmed she’d had a pregnancy. We couldn’t verify if the child was alive or dead either. She said it was a boy. It was believable. Losing a son would incur a beating. Could traumas like that cause her to seek sanctuary with the enemy?
I told Franks to find the soldier who’d tried to intervene. It was almost an impossible order. Old Regime soldiers could be disciplined for interfering with Federation communities. Still, I figured it might be a Renegade, and anyone who joined up with us was willing to disobey any government order, and two days later, Franks brought Lance Corporal Byers to my office. “Do you recognize her?” I asked him.
“How can I? She was covered up from head to toe. But I can verify the incident; I did tell the son-of-a-bitch to leave a woman alone and I did tell her we’d protect her.”
“You speak Cybelese?”
“Just what I’ve picked up over the years.”
I knew immediately Byers was not only brave, he was smart. I couldn’t understand more than a few words of the language, much less learn it. “How the hell did you survive the encounter?”
“I was carrying an M16 A4 and he was carrying a leather strap.”
There was no way to verify the identity of the run-a-away. My policy was to kill any Feddie we saw, and this girl was a Feddie. Perhaps one of the rope yoked girls led into the ring of hell. What test could I devise to justify the risk to my men’s safety? I’d seen four-year-olds as vicious as any forty-year-old. Women were as lethal as any male Feedie. Perhaps they preferred the hereafter to the subjugation they suffered in this one. On the other hand, no goat ever detonated an explosive vest.
With the access to a Stealth 22 fighter jet and a B-2 bomber, the fate of the two remaining mosques in El Cajon was sealed. Major Fremont was the first pilot to join the Renegade Brigade, and the first to bring news from the outside since the official cease fire. The government shut down the internet, issued a news black-out on TV, and cell phones were only operable for ranks of Major and above. Fremont was stationed at the Miramar Naval Air Station, allegedly flew out on a routine coast patrol, and crashed into the ocean.
“They’re still in search and rescue mode,” he said. “While I was flying, I hacked a secure transmission from San Onofre nuke facility, and heard there’s a secret group called the Knights of Malta in Dearborn Michigan. That’s when I decided it was time to join you. The plane’s in a Harbison Auxiliary Airstrip hangar.”
“What are conditions in Dearborn?” Charles said.
Remember, there are over two and a half million Feddies there, so the campaign has to be on a grand scale,” Fremont said. “They mostly go on random night raids under the pretext of patrolling for looters. The plan is to wait for missiles to arrive from Moscow.”
“Breshnova is on board?” James headed for his liquor stash. If the American Old Regime was finally getting military aid, it was time to celebrate with something stronger than beer. He brought out a bottle of Riesling wine and rustled up three glasses.
“That’s just the Russians. The Poles, Czechs, Albanians and Hungarians are forming their own militias.”
“What about NATO?” Franks said.
“Disintegrating. Too many defections.”
James emptied the bottle, and handed out glasses. “Do you want to take command of the Renegades, Major?” He desperately hoped to be relieved.
“It’s you rodeo, Capt. James. You developed the template, and you know Southern California better than I do.” He unpinned his insignia and handed them to James. “Want to trade?”
They made the swap, and James laid out a map on his make-shift desk. Zero hour for the Alpha and Gamma Meeting Houses was 1600 on Friday the thirteenth. Their intel was they that the Alpha demolition had made it clear to the Feddies that the government could not protect the El Cajon Federation colony; they were stockpiling weapons in the meeting houses, and were negotiating with the Cartels for RPGs and 81 mortars.
James unrolled two drawings of the mosques marked with “exes” where the weapons were being stored. “Hit those marks and the meeting house become one big self-contained bomb, gentlemen,” James said. “Think you can do that, Fremont?”
“They’re not expecting precision from above. I’ll take ‘am out. Leave the clean-up to you.”
Why me, I wondered as I stared at the ceiling of my tent. When I was a kid, it was hip to root for the bad guys. Americans love an under-dog. I didn’t. I loved the champions who were first out of the gate and stayed in the lead until every last bastard got his comeuppance. No, making the decision to bomb the meeting houses wasn’t keeping me awake. It was Lilliani. The little girl with the sewn-up vagina that some fifty-year-old Feddie would hide away to hide his own depravity.
If she was going to be executed, having spoken the name of America and begged for sanctuary, he couldn’t order some grunt to do it. My soul was already burdened with the blood of a thousand anonymous aliens⸺because I didn’t know if they were really people or some sort of outer space animal⸺it was impossible to believe they could multiply so quickly. But if I killed Lilliani, I’d be seeing the wild desperation in her large black eyes for the rest of eternity.
She has to go back, I told myself. Maybe a prisoner exchange at the end of hostilities. But, who was I kidding? There would be no end to hostilities until every Feddie was dead, dying, or doing time in a prison cell. There could be no prisoner exchange because there wouldn’t be any prisoners; they killed every prisoner they captured. Anyway, what would she go back to? Certainly not loving parents. Maybe an American church would take her. If she blew the Catholics up, there’d be no hard feelings. The Pope would declare everyone a saint, and they’d soldier on.
Franks came by, and confessed to the same consternation. “The Doc fixed her up. She got an infection…maybe from us? Anyway, she needed anti-biotics bad. Now what?”
I didn’t have an answer. “You got kids, Franks?”
“No. Me and my wife were good citizens. Didn’t want to overload the planet. We put off a lot of things while the Feddies were popping them out like gum-ball machines; couldn’t afford a house so we rented, drove a ten-year-old car, recycled everything but poop…and then finally poop when the city sewer lines were bombed.”
Franks was the only soldier I knew who said poop when he wasn’t mad. “How’d you like to adopt a twelve-year-old?”
“Oh no, not me. I’d be scared every night of my life wondering when she’d turn on us. Call me a coward, but there’s something about throats and knives that makes me cringe.”
“That’s just what I was doing before you came in. Cringing. Can the Doc tell how old she is for sure?”
“I don’t know that much about alien girls’ private parts. You know a boy’s age range by whether his nuts have dropped, you know? But the Feddies hack up females at every age for every goddamned reason they can think of. Maybe Lilliani’s twelve, but maybe she’s sixteen and a spy. If there was a way we could tell…don’t they mutilate before the girl gets pregnant?”
“Like these dogs have rules?”
“Yeah, I know. It’s hard for me to fathom, too. But child murder isn’t one of my areas of expertise.” Frank’s fingers spidered through his hair. It’s his own way of concentrating, I think, so I let my thoughts traverse the problem too. I pulled my pistol out of its holster, and checked the clip.
Frank must have thought I’d made up my mind because he looked up quick, and said, “Wait. I got an idea. You ever read any history?”
“A little. Why?”
“We should do it the old fashion way. Random. We take six rifles, five blanks, one bullet, have somebody mix up the guns, we each take a rifle, and aim. Nobody knows which rifle fires the death bullet.”
It seemed cumbersome, but psychologically sound. “I suppose we could choose the six men by random, too. That way no one has to volunteer. They’re just carrying out orders.” We locked eyes. “Okay, so we’re cowards at heart. Good for us. We don’t want to kill this girl. But we never wanted to kill any Feddies, and where did that get us? Here. They want to kill us, and there’s no way out except to kill them first.”
Franks grabbed the chain he wore around his neck and kissed the medallion. “You know what this is?”
“The medal of Saint Get-us-off-the-hook, I hope.”
“Nope. It’s a quarter my Great-grandfather found at the World Trade Center. He was six-teen that day. Some firefighter gave his life for me, he’d say. He got out of the building, and when he was crossing the street, a woman’s purse hit the ground, and cracked open like a watermelon. In her change purse was four quarters. He gave each of his kids one of them, and my Dad gave his to me.” His eyes were the saddest I’ve ever seen. He reached for my pistol. “I’ll do it. For a firefighter and a lady who lost her purse. Don’t worry, the Doc gave her plenty of pain killers.”
It didn’t seem right. Lilliani wasn’t in New York in 2001. None of the Feddies were. Their ship was in trouble and we helped out, thinking at last Star trek and a solar federation was possible. We welcomed them as the answer to all our petty squabbles. We’re all brothers, we told ourselves. Now, we had to fight children when we could have destroyed men and saved little girls and goats from torture. I held fast to my pistol. “You stay here, and pray for me, Franks. Better she be dead, then I be wrong.”
The B-2 had Batman stenciled on the nose. “That’s my baby,” Fremont said, “and she’s loaded with two MOABs. El Cajon Valley with be El Cajon Canyon by this time tomorrow.” He climbed the ladder and got into the cockpit. “Want to hear the news?”
“You’re getting something?” Capt. James scrambled up after him.
This morning North Korea launched long-range low-grade nuclear
missiles that hit Seoul at two A.M. and Tokyo at two-twenty A.M.,
according to the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier monitoring
system. In response, the President gave orders for the carrier to
carry out defensive attacks on Pyong-yang, although Beijing had
asked for a damage assessment before the strike.
In other news, over two-hundred thousand Federationistas were killed
when the Far-right group, known as the Weisspunkt, set off high
powered explosives in Frankfurt, Germany. As many as fifteen blasts were heard throughout the night, as First Responders were overwhelmed by the carnage, as well as the singing of the German anthem. The United Nations Security Council has called an emergency meeting and condemned the attacks as violations of international law. Weisspunkt released the following message in response: Sieg Heil.
This broadcast will repeat in Spanish.
“Get in, James,” Fremont directed. “It’s our turn.”
“You mean it? Now? What about Friday the thirteenth?”
“Like Machiavelli said, punishment must be swift, certain, and lethal to be effective.”
Fifteen minutes later, the hangar door was open, and the B-2, AV 9 Spirit of California rolled onto the tarmac. Sixty-nine feet long, and one hundred-seventy-two feet wide, and carrying a payload of sixteen, two-thousand-pound bombs, it was a machine the Feddies would never see or hear.
They dropped two computer guided bombs into the front doors of the mosques, and the intel was right, according to the news reports. The Feddie’s explosive stash, though hardly detectable, was destroyed. From atop Mt. Helix, the Valley was one big fire pit. Perhaps, James thought, Lillianii was lucky.
When James returned to the Mt. Helix compound, Lt. Franks was hard pressed to maintain his military demeanor as he explained the frenetic activity swirling around them. “Radioman Halter reports news of the airstrike is all over the ham radios and got through to the local militias. They know we got game in the air, and started lining up. All two hundred of them. Recruits, but damn! These guys are ready, James. We’re trying to scrounge up uniforms for them.”
“We’ve got an army. What did you expect would happen when you wiped out the headquarters of the Federation threat in San Diego County? The government’s on its way and they’re here to protect you.”
“I thought we’d have plausible deniability…seriously, Franks, Fremont has gone to ground in Descanso and I have an alibi: you. How the hell are we going to feed two hundred and twenty-five men? And house them?”
“Yeah, there’s logistical problems, but we need fighters. As we speak, four platoons are already headed into the valley of death to neutralize what remains of resistance…and fight their way to Walmart and bring back supplies.”
James sank down on his cot. “Four platoons?
Franks fired up the hot plate to boil coffee water. “Militias from Bonita, Santee, Descanso, and Harbison Canyon. Don’t try sending them home. One guy made a sign to hang above the mess tent: Valley Forge.”
The Pentagon did send a delegation to the compound. No retro-Clive Bundy antics, just two armored SUVs escorting Colonel Calhoun’s limousine. I told him I’d sent a recon unit to ground zero, and congratulated him on the air-strike. As soon as they reported anything, I’d forward intel but it’d take a while without phone or internet service. He gave me a cell phone with a reserved line to General Sage. I considered it a condescending gesture, but Halter yelled alleluia!
“I can hack the line, clone it, and we’ll be in the communications business,” he told me, and grabbed the cell phone before I could get my finger prints on it.
“Work your magic, Sergeant,” I said, and me and Franks headed down the mountain to make our own survey of the situation. The meeting houses looked like the pictures I’d seen of the bombed buildings on the History Channel videos. Just piles of rubble surrounded by apartment buildings pocked by bullets and grenade holes, and littered streets. Broken glass, overturned vehicles, and burning dumpsters⸺evidence of looting was everywhere. What the bomb concussion didn’t destroy, the rioting finished off.
“It’s so quiet,” Franks said. “No outside markets. No celebrations. No parading on public streets.”
And no buses coughing carbon. No children’s voices. Only the distant staccato of machine gun fire. On day four since the bombing there was only sporadic engagement near the eastern perimeter of the city.
But…where were the survivors?
As we approached the shopping mall, we smelled the faint odor of garbage; by the time we reached the parking lot, we were choking on a stench that plaster and concrete couldn’t contain. The Cineplex marquee explained it all: El Cajon—-A Feddie-Free City. Those who couldn’t flee, were dead inside one of America’s late, great monument to commerce.
We didn’t discuss the realities of our war. Large populations meant fewer prisoners could be accommodated, especially when they weren’t used to manual labor to produce their own food. It took too much time to teach people to be productive, yet, they’d starve if we repatriated them to Planet Sporos. “Our problem? Our solution,” Lt. Franks said as we watched bus-loads of Feddies drive into the mall parking lot. “If the government hadn’t let them in, we wouldn’t have to figure a way to get them out.”
He was right, of course. Bad decisions have bad consequences. There were no non-combatants in Feddie enclaves.
We headed back to the compound. There was no pretending now. We were renegades in the fullest sense of the word, and soon we’d be taking the government head on in a full-scale civil war because of decisions made long before we were born. But, as the stream of relief militiamen came towards us down the mountain, I knew we’d win in the end. They filled their vehicles with purpose and canine warriors, wearing determination on their sweat-streaked faces, holding their AR 15s in loving embrace.
I pulled to the side of the road and stopped. “Listen, Franks,” I said, “do you hear that?”
“It sounds like….”
“A goat.” I walked towards the pleading bleating, and found the black and gray fellow tied to a bush. Somebody had left him to die. Probably ran when the bombs dropped. I cut his tether and carried him back to the jeep, the memory of how the Federation children were taught to abuse animals flooding my mind. If I had any doubts about the rightness of our war, they disappeared when I cradled the terrified, thirsty animal in my arms.
“Fremont on his way to the hangar,” Franks said. “Halter got through to him. Are we going to keep this guy?”
“You bet. What did Fremont say?”
“He needs a co-pilot for a trip to Dearborn Michigan.”
“Tell Halter to radio Fremont, and tell I’m on my way.”
* * * * THE END * * * *
Copyright Jenean McBrearty 2017