Whatever it Takes
CWO Lawrence Lanigan – he hated to be called Larry – rubbed the salt and pepper stubble on his chin. With the exception of a few strays on his scalp, Lanigan’s beard was the only hair left on his head. Normally, the few remaining scalp hairs would have been neatly shaven and Lanigan’s dome would have been as slick as Mr. Clean’s, but the past couple weeks had been hectic.
First had come the discovery of a group of survivors in an area called Union Creek. The area had not been on Lanigan’s radar prior to a chance encounter, several days prior, between some of his troops and a family hiking along a lonely road. The family had stumbled into the Union Creek area roughly a week earlier and had been offered shelter, food, water and a few supplies before moving on.
This piqued Lanigan’s interest on two fronts. On one hand, the family’s story identified the potential for a new area to be “mined” for resources. The story also gave Lanigan an idea for gauging the richness of the “ore”. Rather than blasting away the mountainside to see if there was a vein … Lanigan saw the potential to utilize soft probes to locate the combination of the richest caches of resources and the weakest protection of those resources – the mother lode!
Of course, just because soft probes might prove successful, there was no reason to abandon the tried-and-true methods entirely. Blasting was fast and effective.
After the discovery of Union Creek and the soft probe revelation, Lanigan had managed to finalize his deal with the local U.N. commander, one General Wei Tsu Tin. Lanigan despised Wei as a soldier, but he knew that he needed him as a partner. The FEMA camps under Wei’s command were both an outlet and a resource for Lanigan.
Lanigan grinned once more as he thought back to his first meeting with Wei. The two had come together under less-than-ideal circumstances. Lanigan had attacked the military hospital under Wei’s command. The facility was sacked for supplies. Nearly everyone in the hospital had been killed.
One notable exception was a patient who had jumped out of a third-story window and made a run for the woods, his hospital gown flapping open in the wind. When he finished laughing, Lanigan had sent one of his best men and three of his more expendable men after the little guy. None of them had come back.
Lanigan shrugged. Casualties of war.
Rather than come storming in with superior numbers and guns blazing, Wei had gotten word to Lanigan that he wanted to meet. Lanigan was wary, but agreed to the get-together. A general who didn’t want to fight raised all kinds of red flags, but the meeting held exceptional promise.
Wei had arrived, as agreed, with two of his troops. Lanigan had done the same. They had also agreed to arrive unarmed, but Lanigan was no fool. He carried a concealed pistol and had snipers on the roofs of two nearby buildings. He assumed that Wei had done much the same.
The meeting proved fruitful, but it was difficult for Lanigan to contain his disgust for Wei. The man obviously had neither scruples nor intestinal fortitude. Wei reminded Lanigan of many of the politicians he had encountered prior to the crash. The slime was almost physically tangible, oozing from Wei’s pores. Lanigan felt as if he needed a shower after the meeting was over.
In the end, Lanigan walked away alive and with pretty much everything he had wanted. Still, it made him nervous. Why would Wei acquiesce so easily? Certainly, Lanigan had the ability to make Wei’s life more interesting and enjoyable in exchange for access to the FEMA camps. Nevertheless, there was a whispering voice in the back of Lanigan’s brain that told him to keep his guard up and watch his back. Backstabbing was likely to be Wei’s primary modus operandi.
Now, only days later, the partnership was about to pay off. Lanigan had extracted several families from a number of the FEMA camps and unleashed them as his soft probes on the community of Union Creek.
Each family had been required to leave behind a member to ensure their cooperation. Feeding and sheltering additional people wasn’t that much of an inconvenience, considering the potential payback – especially if they weren’t fed or sheltered all that well.
Lanigan winced at a momentary twinge of guilt and then suppressed it. It was, after all, a dog-eat-dog world now. Maintaining one’s position as the top dog required certain … distasteful actions … and inactions. Lanigan purposely avoided checking in on the family members who had been held as collateral. What happened … happened. Live and let live.
Most of those held were children. Although Lanigan had no children of his own, he knew the power they held over parents. In fact, Lanigan’s own marriage had broken up over his unwillingness to settle down and have children. The lure of military action had been too strong. Once the taste of blood was in his mouth, Lanigan could no more resist it than a fox who had found the open door to the hen-house. His animal instincts rose up through thousands of years of civilization to create the man he had become, destroying his marriage and most of his other relationships in the process.
Lanigan stood alone, angry, pragmatic and very near the top of the heap that had once been the civilized world, willing to do whatever it took to stay there.