This takes place after "Why We Fight". In my universe, the battle with New Bern took place in the early spring, with Heather and the ten men from Jericho being gone for several months.
Full Circle, Chapter One
The private had spent the past hour unloading supplies from all three choppers that had arrived from Camp Liberty. It was cold this morning, requiring the use of his gloves as he used a hand truck to cart goods into the various tents. His military unit was setting up a small base camp along the state road outside of Jericho, Kansas, one where their forces could patrol the local roads and maintain the peace. Today's cold snap didn't bother him as much as the patrols did, seeing hometowns much like the one he had grown up in turning into wastelands of crime and unrest. They had just broken up a major skirmish between the town of Jericho and a neighboring city. This was America, not some third world country.
He started unloading the last helicopter and removed the second row of netting holding the crates in place.. A small movement in the back caught his eye and he looked twice wondering if he had just imagined it. Setting aside his hand truck, his removed his sidearm from his hip holster and unlocked the safety. Grabbing his small mag light from his belt, he clicked it on and flashed the beam toward the back of the small cargo area. The light caught another glimpse of motion and he heard a scratching sound.
Moving slowly, he backed down the ramp outside, holding his gun aimed at the inside of the chopper cargo hold. "This is Private Simpson requesting backup at chopper 449," he called into his walkie talkie.
A minute later, a full squad arrived and surrounded the military helicopter, aiming their rifles and several flash lights at the open door. He filled in the commanding officer on duty, Sergeant Walker."Whoever is in there, come out with your hands up!" The sergeant called out. Several large flash lights lit up the interior cabin but their beams did not have the correct angle to reach into the back of the cargo hold.
There was a slight movement inside and a cough. A shadow moved.
"Drop any weapons, put your hands on your head and walk outside slowly." Sergeant Walker ordered. Soft clicks broke the silence as safety switches were flipped, arming the rifles the squad aimed at the opened doorway.
Private Simpson held his sidearm ready to back up his comrades. In this day and age, it could be anyone trying to get aboard their vehicles. Local rebels often tried to steal supplies or weapons. Every now and then, a refugee would attempt to sneak into their camps. Not many were usually successful, however. He considered that someone could have gotten by the outpost security and hid in the helicopter while he was transporting goods into the command post tent. Security was a top priority but he may have been lapse in paying attention. He found it hard to believe that someone had gotten aboard in Camp Liberty. They would have been outside in the cold for several hours by now. The chopper cargo holds were not heated.
Slowly, a blinking figure stepped into the light. Pale skin, white shirt, blue pants-an outfit that looked like something from the medical tent. Shoulder-length brown hair. It was a woman.
The spring morning had dawned cold and bitter, nothing like the recent respite of warming weather. It was a frigid reminder that winter was barely over. Clouds filled the skies hiding the rising sun and a brisk wind blew, making it seem even colder. The townsfolk of Jericho had risen at dawn and walked up the hill to the cemetery overlooking the town. Though it had been a long walk to make without the use of vehicles, it seemed like the entire town of Jericho had come out for the funeral of former Mayor Johnston Green.
Jake Green stood by his mother and brother beside the raised platform holding the coffin of his father. He hated the formality of the suit and tie he wore, but he knew how much it meant to his mother to have as much normalcy on this day as possible. The whole town, despite the cold weather, was dressed in their Sunday's best beneath winter coats.
Several people spoke during the brief ceremony, including Major Gray Anderson and Deputy Jimmy Taylor. It felt awkward to hear so much praise about his father; to know that the life of his father had been shared by so many. He could just imagine the humble expression of his father, looking down from heaven now and seeing the many people he had influenced by his long life as mayor, leader and friend to so many in Jericho.
Jake glanced about the crowd. Stanley, Mimi, and Bonnie stood together, and even Robert Hawkins and his family had come. Dale, Skylar Stevens and many of the younger generation were also here. They were the children, parents, and grandparents of Jericho. Johnston Green had been mayor of Jericho for three decades and his father before him. And now he was gone, killed in the battle with New Bern. Grief washed over Jake anew and he remembered his father's dying words. 'I'm proud of you.' Those were words he never expected to ever hear from his father. And now he was gone.
Reverend Thomas finished his eulogy and asked for everyone to bow their heads in prayer. A low rumble of motors echoed in the distance. Once not long ago, the sound of an approaching vehicle would not have been given a second thought, but in this post-apocalyptic age when you could not tell friend from foe, most residents were learning to distrust the strange sound of loud vehicles and several people looked off into the distance.
A hushed murmur echoed throughout the crowd and Jake followed the curious glances to where two military vehicles were climbing up the hill toward the cemetery. He assumed they were from the military that had just arrived, the ones that had stopped the fighting. They had started establishing an outpost outside of town. Couldn't they leave them alone right now? He felt the heaviness of the loss of his father weighing down his shoulders and in every breath he took. The empty numbness resonated in his chest and his head still pounded as he recalled the horror of watching his father die. The lack of sleep, the weariness of battle and stress were all paying a heavy toll on his body and spirit.
Not to be stopped, the reverend called for prayer again and began a solemn prayer of remembrance for lost loved ones and for the mighty Johnston Green who had been called home to be with the Lord.How many months ago had it been since he was here to see his grandfather's grave? That was the day that everything changed and gone to hell. His mom had been here with him. They had been here not long ago for a small private ceremony for April. And now, another funeral, another tragic loss in his family.
His eyes closed, Jake squeezed his mother's hand in his, offering what comfort that he could. Her hand was cold, making him wish they had brought gloves. She was dressed in a beautiful suit, one that matched the color of her eyes, but not well suited for cold weather. In her other hand, she held the carefully folded U.S. flag the former military members of the town had given her. Since there was no real Department of Defense to ask for a military funeral, Jericho had made its own with many of the town's veterans dressing in uniform to honor his father's military service.
"Amen," the reverend said loudly and voices around him echoed amens in response. Jake realized he hadn't heard a word of the prayer itself, but had definitely felt the sentiment. Looking up, he felt tears filling his eyes again. It was the end of an era in this small town and in his life. His father was gone. The ache in his heart permeated throughout his body, combined with the cold of the morning. He still wasn't sure he could face the reality of what had happened. He wanted to go home and go to bed, to then wake up and discover that all of this this had been a bad nightmare.
Most of the crowd left the grave site and began the long walk back to town. Fuel was still in too short supply that even the funeral for their best, former Mayor Johnston Green, couldn't warrant the use. His mother had insisted. A horse drawn wagon, just like a real military caisson, had drawn the flag covered coffin up to the cemetery with most of the town following it. The horse and wagon were already on their way back to town.
Now, only the Greens, Mary, Emily, Gray Anderson, and the deputies Jimmy and Bill remained at the grave, as if unwilling to say their final goodbyes. Gail Green, looking older than Jake had ever remembered her seeming, stepped forward to lay a beautiful bouquet of silk flowers on the coffin and gave it a long, loving caress. Tears streamed down her cheeks. His parents had had one of the best marriages ever; rock solid, filled with love, understanding, patience and respect. He knew his mother was overwhelmed with grief.
Jake glanced at Eric, following his brother's gaze to the nearby grave of April. He knew the anguish on his brother's face mirrored his own. Too many deaths had hit his family this year… had hit this town. He clenched his hands into fists. People he had grown up with and known all his life had died in the past months. Old friends and new they had lost. The lack of power and food, the long winter, crime, and now war were slowly wearing down the town. He remembered seeing many of the same faces several nights ago when they had passed guns out to every able-bodied person, when they all had looked so innocent, not ready for the realities of war. But now, only weariness, shock and grief remained. He had seen the same look in the eyes of the local residents abroad in war torn lands. Hard times did that to people. He just never imagined it happening in his own hometown.
"It's time to go, Mom," he heard Eric say softly. He heard the emotion in his brother's voice and he nearly broke down himself again. Fighting back tears, he felt a soft hand take his. Emily leaned gently against him, lending him her support. He gave her a brief glance of gratitude.
Eric put an arm around the shoulders of Gail Green and pulled her back a step. Men removed the wooden platform beneath the coffin and began lowering it into the ground. Jake stepped up next to Gail and put his arm around her from the other side. His mother seemed so small and fragile. And cold, he noticed as he felt her shiver. They needed to get back to town to warm up.
"Can I help you?" He heard Gray Anderson in the distance. He had almost forgotten about the military trucks and saw that a small crowd of people had stopped to watch the military drive up. For once, Jake was glad to have the new mayor around to handle things as he had been doing in the past couple of days while his family dealt with his father's death. Jake didn't want to deal with town matters, not now, but he knew that would change soon. People kept looking at him expecting him to tell them what to do, especially now that his father was gone.
"We're here to see-" and Jake didn't hear the rest. It was muffled by the sounds of shovels digging into the dirt in front of them. His father's grave was near those of Jake's grandfather and grandmother. He tried to think of them together now in heaven. It was a small family plot and he tried to not think of the space next to his father, reserved for his mother. He sighed back a sob, not wanting to break down again.
"I'm the mayor of Jericho, I can help you on-" Gray sounded angry.
"This is personal business," a voice replied.
Silently, the Green trio left the grave and began making their way back toward the road with Mary and Emily walking beside them. Jake noticed that Robert Hawkins had already disappeared down the road with his family. Hawkins had been suspicious of the military from the time they arrived to break up the conflict, but Jake hadn't had the chance to talk to him about it.
"Jake Green?" The same voice called out and Jake looked up. The owner of the voice belonged to a face he vaguely recognized from his visit to the nearby military outpost when they had brought him in to give his statement.
"Yes?" He felt the curious stares of everyone around him.
"We need you to come with us, please." The name label on the man's uniform read Lt. Williams. The officer stared at him with a steady stare that he knew well-the look of being annoyed at having to deal with civilians. Jake gave the unit a more thorough look. There were two Humvee trucks carrying about eight soldiers. He had noticed from their patrols outside of town that they never went far without a decent sized party. The two drivers remained at the wheels while the others had fanned out into defensive positions, guns at the ready.
"What's this about?" Eric asked, suspicious, coming to his brother's defense.
"CO's orders." Commanding officer. Jake wasn't really sure what branch of military they really worked for, but he did know that they had put a swift end to the fight with New Bern at Richmond's farm two days ago. Since then, they had had little contact with Jericho except for a debriefing where they had taken their statements. He knew they had taken statements from Constantino and some of his men as well. Lt. Williams gave a nod to behind the Greens and their small group. ""We're sorry about the timing, but we've had an incident at the outpost that requires your attention."
Jake glanced at his mother, seeing her tear-streaked face. He didn't want to make a scene, not now. Whatever it was obviously couldn't wait. "All right."
"Mom-" he started as he turned to his mother. He imagined that the military probably needed additional questions about the battle answered.
"Go if you need to." Gail Green's strong voice commanded. She had that serious look in her eyes. He wasn't sure if he heard disapproval in her tone or not.
Jake looked over and saw the soft blue eyes of Emily and the tired expressions of Jimmy and Bill in their deputy uniforms.
"Come on, Mom," Eric took off his coat and put it around the shoulders of their mother and wrapped his arm around her. His brother would take care of her.
Jake nodded to his brother as the small group left and started to walk back to town. He climbed into the Humvee next to several of the men and blew his breath over his cold hands, envying the warm winter uniforms of the militia. Someone had obviously provisioned this unit well, he noticed.
The three mile drive out to the outpost was over in minutes, reminding Jake of how much they used to take cars for granted. Nowadays, fuel was saved for emergencies and everyone walked. The hike would have taken him at least thirty minutes on foot.
The loud engines of the Humvee made conversation difficult so he didn't even bother trying, not that he was in the mood for it. Jake wanted to get this over with then head home to be with Eric and his mother. They needed to be together right now.
The first thing he noticed as they approached the outpost was how much it had expanded since he had been here yesterday morning. There were more tents, a defined and patrolled perimeter and more tanks and trucks. Toward the rear was a landing area for helicopters, where three of them now sat quietly, their cargo doors open. Several fuel tankers had already arrived, which was a sure sign that this outpost was here to stay for a while. Jake wasn't sure if that was a good or bad thing. He still had an uneasy feeling in his stomach about this. They all had that strange flag on their uniforms and a similar flag now flew from a flagpole in the middle of the camp. He had been told they represented the new federal government in Cheyenne.
When the military had appeared out of nowhere and put a stop to the fighting, Jake had been torn between relief and rage. He wanted revenge, to hurt the people who had killed his father, killed Heather and were hurting Jericho and its people. He had wanted to strike back and hard. But deep inside, he knew they were out gunned and out manned. If they had had more mortars for the tank, they would have had a chance, but Jonah had taken the mortars and bailed on them. The military intervention had saved a lot of lives, but the outstanding question was how the military had known about the battle to begin with. Jake had suspected Hawkins had something to do with it at first, but Hawkins had been just as surprised as he was when they showed up.
The trucks stopped briefly at a manned gate for a quick security check before heading inside the ring of tents. They stopped outside one of the larger tents and several of the soldiers on the truck climbed out, including Lt Williams.
"This way." The lieutenant nodded at the tent. The soldier guarding the entrance to the tent saluted and stepped aside. The heavily insulated fabric of the tent's doorway opened into a small hallway with several rooms off to each side. Command post tent, Jake figured. Lt. Williams didn't stop and kept walking toward the back.
It was much warmer inside and Jake saw several space heaters in the rooms as they walked by. His eyes slowly adjusted to the dim light as he followed the lieutenant. He caught glimpses of cots, lockers, and portable desks covered in neatly stacked paper and maps. Dim lighting lit the hallway and rooms off to each side, powered by a generator that he could hear running outside. At the end of hallway was an opened door inside a wood frame with windows on either side covered in a thin plastic sheeting. They walked through the door. On the left was an office guarded by a solider who snapped a salute at the lieutenant. More plastic covered the window openings, making it impossible to see inside. He was guarding something or someone, but before Jake could look more closely, the lieutenant stopped, blocking his view.
"Jake Green," a deep male voice came from the office on the right as a man joined them.
"Colonel Hoffman." Jake nodded to the command officer of this outpost and stopped himself from adding 'sir'. He recognized the colonel from yesterday. He had spent an hour giving his version of the altercation with New Bern in a briefing to the colonel and several officers. They had recorded his testimony and taken notes. Constantino had given a statement too, but they hadn't heard much more from the Colonel since then other to warn them both to put their weapons away, go home and stay away from each other.
Colonel Hoffman gave Jake a glance, noticing his suit. Lt. Williams whispered something to the colonel and the officer nodded.
"My condolences to you and your family." Col. Hoffman said in a way that made Jake appreciate his sincerity. "I'm sorry we had to interrupt you at such an inappropriate time, so I'll come straight to the point. We had a breach of security here this morning by someone claiming to be a resident of Jericho."
That surprised him. "I assure you, most of the town was up at the cemetery this morning." Jake said, though he supposed anyone could have taken advantage of the funeral as a distraction and used it for no good. It sounded like something Jonah might have his gang do to test security.
"This person claimed to have no family here and had been out of town for a while, which made us suspicious, especially after since she was the one to tip us off about the skirmish between you and New Bern." Col. Hoffman continued. "But she said you would vouch for her."
Jake was curious now, but the plastic covering the windows was not transparent enough to make out much in the other room. The colonel had said "she". What women did he know that weren't in town and hadn't been at the funeral? And what was this about tipping them off about New Bern? His mind wasn't working that well today, the pain of his father's death was weighing him down, the numbness and anguish still heavy in his chest and he hadn't slept more than a few hours in the past three days.
The colonel nodded at the soldier by the door, who opened it. Inside the small office, this one bigger and more brightly lit, was a desk, a military-issue cot, a space heater, various boxes, a portable white board, and locker at one side. At the desk was a soldier guarding a woman with brunette hair sitting handcuffed in a chair. Her eyes lifted at the sound of the door and met his; light blue-gray eyes that took his breath away. He thought she was dead. His heart pounded as recognition shot through him.
"Heather."(To be continued...)