Chapter 20: Mark Jones, April 11th and 12th, Year 1

There are times when I hate being right. I expected the FLDS to act up and I knew that Hiram would lead from the front. Hearing that he and half his men had been captured didn’t surprise me. The news of what had happened to the Southern Expedition spread like wildfire through the Fortress. The Salt Lake Troopers were popular. Many of our citizens had been rescued by the SaLTs.

Hiram Rockwell was a Mormon Sir Galahad. He tried to hide it by putting up a tough front and cursing a lot, but the man was a saint (pun intended). His defining trait and the source of his strength was that he was an amazingly simple man. He was only able to believe in one thing at a time and he never had doubts. He believed in his God, and the absolute necessity of doing the right thing regardless of the consequences. For a guy who was really good at violence, he gave off an unusual sense of inner peace. He knew who he was and was ok with it.

To tell the truth, Hiram was a little scary. You did not want to be someone he thought was evil, but we live in scary times. Whether you believed in the presence of true evil or not, it was comforting to know that Hiram was at your back standing between you and the forces of darkness.

When our citizens heard that he and his men had been trapped by the FLDS, they got pissed. Our entire community was united; our people wanted our men back and the FLDS punished.

I knew that there was no way that we could rebuild the US if we allowed pockets of wacko cults and dictatorships to exist. For all the reasons that I had discussed with Hiram, Art, and Jim, we needed to let the FLDS take the first shot against us. Logic convinced me that I was doing the right thing. I got everything I wanted and I felt like shit.

As soon as I got word of what had happened in La Verkin, I called an emergency council meeting. There weren’t any dissenting votes. We were now officially at war with the FLDS. The only way out of war was if our men were released unharmed. I had approval to go down south with all the active duty SaLTs.

Our homeland defense force was made up of the Valkyries and the Reserves. The Valkyries are an all women defence force of about 2000 women led by Helen Hansen and Emma Dietrich. They weren’t SaLTs but they all knew how to shoot. All of them had been toughened by their experiences over the last year. Many of them had watched helplessly as vampires and zombies fed on their loved ones. They were women defending their families and their homes. I wouldn’t have wanted to attack them. Art Bingham and the rest of the council were in charge of the reserves made up of around 1000 older men and teenage boys. I was confident that the Fortress would be safe in our absence.

The SaLTs couldn’t leave until Beiger Industries finished modifying our Mark II Armored Personnel Carriers. Before the Outbreak, Sara Beiger had been a moderately successful sculptor. Lisa was her manager and life partner. They had gotten married in Canada. They now owned Beiger Industries, one of the largest and most successful start-ups post-Outbreak. Their focus was on metal fabrication and their primary customer was the ‘government’. Life is full of irony. Before the Outbreak Sara and Lisa were peaceniks and had demonstrated against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were now the largest military suppliers in Utah which likely meant the entire world. The Beigers didn’t have a problem killing vampires and zombies but the thought of helping the SaLTs fight and even kill other people was tearing them up from the inside. They hid it well. The Beiger’s knew all the captured SaLTs personally. They wanted them back safe as much as anyone else.

The National Guard Armory at Camp Williams was a crucial supply source for us. The Beigers were scrambling to fit interchangeable mounts for the M2 .50 Caliber Heavy Machine Gun (HMG) and M252 81 mm Mortars on top of our APCs. In War World I and II, 50 Caliber Heavy Machine Gun rounds were used to take out tanks. The M252 Mortar was accurate up to 3.5 miles and could fire fifteen 81 mm rounds a minute. There wasn’t a wall or fortification in Utah that couldn’t be taken down by 81 mm rounds.

In politics, perceptions matter. I decided months ago that our greatest threat wouldn’t be from zombies or vampires but other humans. Fifty caliber machine guns and mortar rounds were overkill or useless against monsters. It would have been more efficient to have these mounts made when the APCs were first built. I could not risk looking like I was preparing to take down other American citizens until it was absolutely clear to even the most diehard peace activist in Fortress Salt Lake that we had been attacked first.

There were five hundred survivors from Cedar City that needed transport back to Salt Lake City. The plan was to bring ten lightly armored metro buses and all four of the APCs we had left. The buses were ok for daytime travel but were death traps at night. A vampire could claw through one in seconds.

By late evening, the mounts were ready. All the APCs had two interchangeable weapon mounts installed on the rooftop observation decks. The M2 HMGs were placed on the mounts in front of the APC and the M252 Mortars on the ones in the back. We brought extra weapons for the APC in Cedar City.

At first light we left the Fortress. It took eight-and-a-half hours to get to Cedar City. Hiram and his men had done a good job clearing I-15. The entire highway was clear and we only came across a few zombies.

After Hiram and the others were captured, Corporal Jackson decided that the East Center Street Ward was no longer secure. He moved all the civilians to the Cedar Ridge Golf Course Clubhouse. He figured that even though the building had not been fortified, the civilians would be safer there overnight.

When we arrived, it was a mad house. The events of the past 24 hours had left the civilians on the edge of hysteria. No one had gotten any sleep. Luckily they had not been attacked in the night. Most of the zombies in Cedar City had been destroyed and the Southern Expedition had killed a vampire in Cedar City two nights ago. Vampires are territorial. The odds were good that we would not get another in the area for at least a week.

It was too late in the day to send the civilians back to Salt Lake. I took some time to help calm down the civilians and answer questions. We fortified the area as best we could while sentries with dogs scouted stood guard. At nightfall, we packed as many of the women and children into the APCs as we could and the rest of us slept in the clubhouse and the metro buses. With twenty sentries and the dogs, there was little chance of us being surprised during the night. We had brought steel panels to armor the clubhouse from vampires but it would take days to install them. The situation was suboptimal. Still we were reasonably secure.

I am a light sleeper. Snoring drives me crazy. Get a few guys in one room overnight and I will guarantee that at least one will snore. Rank has its privileges and I got a room to myself. I made sure that a .44 magnum revolver and my sword were close at hand.

My revolver was a tool. I love my sword. It’s the only irreplaceable thing I own. Its previous owner had paid over a hundred thousand dollars for it. There are probably only a couple hundred swords of equal quality and almost all of those were in Japan.

I had finally fallen asleep when I felt a tap on my forehead. Like I said I’m a light sleeper. The slightest noise usually wakes me up. My men would have knocked before entering my room. As I opened my eyes, I used one motion to draw my katana and strike at a dark figure standing over me. My sword clanged as it hit something metallic. My blade was almost twisted from my grasp.

I thrust myself up out of bed into the figure. As I struggled to free my weapon, I kicked at the intruder’s knee. I was surprised when I didn’t make contact. My balance was thrown off. Something hard hit me just behind the corner of my right jaw. The world exploded with pain. For a split second, I blacked out.

I heard a chuckle, “That’s a nerve cluster. A poke there is usually quite painful. It’s a good place to strike if you want to get someone’s attention without causing any real harm.

Look, I know this looks bad–me being in your room uninvited but I don’t want to hurt you. I just want to have a conversation.”

My troops were well trained. We had sentries out. Whoever this was, he could not have gotten into my room without disabling my men. No one hurts one of mine and gets away with it. I lunged. I had one goal. I was going to bury my sword into this asshole. When I felt my blade hit metal, I pulled, shifted directions and lunged again. Each time I thrust, my blade was caught.

This wasn’t working. I jumped back and reached down toward my revolver. ‘Shit!’ It wasn’t there. Just as I realized this, I my right hand went numb and I dropped my sword.

“Director Jones, I just hit your ulnar nerve. That’s why you dropped the katana. I also took the liberty of removing your revolver before I woke you.

It’s been fun sparring with you but that’s not why I’m here. I know you have no reason to believe me but I assure you that I haven’t harmed your men and I have no desire to hurt you.”

“You call beating the shit out of me sparring?”

“I apologize for waking you up without notice, but really, all I’ve been doing, since I woke you, is defending myself.”

“Who the hell are you? Why are you in my room?”

My opponent lit a candle and set it on a table. He was about my height, maybe a tad shorter. He was in his late 20’s, early 30’s. He had a runner’s build. He was a lot stronger than he looked. He was the first person I’ve met who made me feel slow. I looked at his weapons.

“What the hell! Are those hand rakes?”

He grinned and then twirled two 6-inch long three pronged garden tools around his hands and wrists like he was in a low budget martial arts movie. He even made a “waah” sound. He would have been funnier if he had been mocking someone else but he was still funny. Even though he made me feel like a bumbling idiot, I had to chuckle.

He said, “Actually the proper name for these tools is hand cultivators, four dollars and ninety-nine cents retail from the Sears catalog.

I’m sorry about the nicks my cultivators made on your sword. I’m sure that the damage will buff out.”

I started laughing. My sword had been designed to cut through armor. I knew it hadn’t been permanently damaged. He was skilled enough to be telling the truth. I believed him when he said that he hadn’t hurt my men. I liked to think I was a badass. I had a museum quality hundred thousand dollar samurai sword, and had just gotten my ass handed to me by a guy holding ten dollars worth of gardening tools. I leaned up against the wall.

“Tell me what you want. I guess you’ve earned a conversation with me.”

“Allow me introduce myself. I’m the FLDS Prophet, Ari Levin.”

I reached for my sword.

“Hold on. Hold on. Please do NOT make me use my garden tools. Please, hear what I have to say.”

I stopped. He was right. Garden tools or not, I was outclassed. If he wanted to kill me, I’d be dead.

“Ok, have your say.”

Levin told an interesting story. He became the FLDS prophet shortly after the zombie outbreak. Since then the FLDS had split into two factions. One led by him, the other by one of his wives who happened to be a psychotic sadist. The factions had been on the verge of civil war when his psychotic wife captured Hiram and his men.

Levin swore that he didn’t have the political pull to save my men. He predicted that his wife would kill them one by one over the next few weeks. He said that he would be happy if I wiped out the FLDS in Hildale and Colorado City. He asked that I leave his people alone. He said that they were located 16 miles east of Colorado City. After he said his piece, he shook my hand and calmly walked out of my room closing the door behind him.

I followed him. He wasn’t in the hall. I called out for my men. We got the dogs and searched the whole clubhouse. We couldn’t find him. None of my men were injured. In fact I was the only one that had even seen him. I was tempted to start yelling but I controlled myself. Levin was skilled enough to make me look incompetent. It wasn’t my men’s fault.

After we went through the clubhouse three times without finding any sign of Levin, I called off the search. I didn’t buy the idea that the FLDS prophet had supernatural powers but the guy was good. I couldn’t figure out how he had disappeared. I decided that I believed his story. He could have easily killed me while I was asleep. He didn’t. There was no reason for him to lie.