Choices: A Montana Killer
The Price of Liberty
FICTION – ALTERNATE TIMELINES
by Andrew Parker
A huddled group of ragged, painfully thin men and women occupied the center of the abandoned lumberyard. They stood listless, silent, heads bowed and staring at the bare earth of the courtyard. They wore a mixture of worn, often carefully mended uniforms with fresh mud and bloodstains. Several wore makeshift bandages.
Above them, on the roof of the lumber sheds, guards dressed in the crisp green and brown battle dress of the Army of the Directorate of North America sat watching the prisoners. Their auto-rifles hung loosely in their arms; there was no danger of these people seeking escape.
Also watching the group of POWs was a group of three men in the long-empty office of the establishment. They peered through the flyspecked window. Both doors were open in a useless attempt to disperse the stench of mildewed plasterboard and rotted carpet. A short man with a major’s oak leaf on the collar of his battle dress uniform read a list of the recently captured prisoners. Beside Major Ted Williams stood a much taller, blond man with a sharp-featured face. Though dressed in regulation DNA Army uniform, his collar and epaulets bore Russian captain’s insignia, the three gold stars and single red stripe. The third man, Sergeant James Paul, stood behind the two officers, rifle slung over his shoulder.
Major Williams looked out at the group again. A dozen of them; five women, seven men. Their unit insignia and rank markings had been ripped from their uniforms, but he knew they ranged from a first lieutenant down to a private; members of various National Guard and Allied Western States Army units. All of them were half-starved and exhausted from the continuous pressure his battalion had been putting on their units here in the Yellowstone Valley for the past six weeks.
Behind him, the NCO also studied the group. He’d seen a lot of prisoners now, almost as many as he’d seen dead. He wondered if Jack, his older brother, had looked like these, when had had been captured a decade ago, before he died in an Alliance POW compound in Utah. But he couldn’t raise the bitterness that usually ate at him to hate these people: they were just too pitiful. The Major interrupted his thoughts.
“This is a completely worthless group, if I ever saw one.” Williams turned to the Russian. “Can you use any of these, Vassily Stefanovitch?”
The tall Russian’s English was virtually without accent. “No, Major Williams.” He looked again at the scrawny group and shook his head. “The labor we could get from these would be less than the fuel needed to haul them to Denver.” He was reminded of the prisoners taken when Kiev fell to the New Union forces, reuniting all the Russias.
“To say nothing of their rations.” The commander nodded to himself.
Williams turned and began to walk out of the room, dropping the list on the floor. “Dispose of them here.”
The NCO looked blank for a moment, before horrified realization flooded his face. “S..s..sir? You want me to do what?” His voice quavered.
Williams stopped short at the door in surprise. “You heard me, Sergeant,” he said without turning around. “Dispose of those scum here. Now.”
James Paul had heard, and understood. He realized that the moment he had feared for the last ten weeks was here. Seeing the emotionless way Major Williams had executed more than a dozen “rebels” or “bandits” on the battlefield had been one thing. He had justified the single bullet to the brain as just punishment for their “crime” of fighting. But witnessing the officer crushing the bodies of a mob under the big tires of his command car had made Paul realize what kind of man Williams was. That judgment was confirmed when the major had killed a hundred civilians with a massive shelling of Glendive to flush out a single FWS platoon, leveling a tenth of the town.
Until now, Jim Paul had successful argued to himself that he could not be responsible for the major’s actions, as he could not control the major. And perhaps, he told himself, Major Williams was justified in his actions; it would take harsh, ruthless men to reunite the nation.
Jim was not a strong-willed person. He’d always been one to go along with others. He’d followed the crowd into the Reunion Party back home in Illinois, and then into the Army. He had no great moral convictions. He had been disturbed by the killing, but not enough to do or even say anything. He’d killed in battle, and was this really different?
He surprised himself by what he did now.
He looked at the forlorn figures through the filth of the window. They were people just like him; just like his girlfriend, now dead after an Allied States bombing raid on the ruins of Chicago. Perhaps born in Great Falls or Salt Lake rather than Indianapolis or Springfield, but still people caught up in a great convulsion as irresistible as any natural catastrophe.
“No, sir. I will not.”
Williams had already passed through the open door, and now he spun around in shock. “What did you say?”
“Sir, I will not be able to dispose of these people.”
“Let me make myself more clear, Sergeant James. Pick out a squad, and execute those criminals out there. Then,” and he paused in thought, “burn this wreck down to keep the bodies from stinking up this town anymore than it already does.”
Paul found himself automatically turning at the tone of command in Major William’s voice. He slung the rifle off his shoulder and then stopped himself.
“No, sir.” He gripped the rifle hard. “You must not have understood me. I will not kill those people. That is both…” he found himself searching for strange words. “It is illegal, and immoral, and wrong.”
The NCO found himself starting to lift his rifle, as though to emphasize his words.
Unnoticed by either NCO or major, the Russian officer still stood at the window, looking out at the doomed prisoners. It was as though he did not wish to seem to observe the dispute between the two native soldiers of whom he was guest, subordinate, and sometime instructor.
But as the sergeant started to add more words of argument and justification, Captain Vassily Stefanovitch Suslov saw the gesture with the rifle. Standing at the apex of a triangle, he was able to draw his sidearm, a PPK, and fire without endangering his superior officer.
The 400-grain bullet splattered Sergeant James Paul’s brains onto the rotted wallboard across the room before he realized he was dead.
Williams looked down at the fallen NCO with just a trace of sadness. Outside, the guards had started at the shot, but the huddled prisoners seemed not to notice. The Russian stepped over the body and clapped his superior on the shoulder. “A flawed tool should be disposed of quickly. I’ll have Corporal Kelly take care of your task.”
The dozen muffled shots were not even heard outside the deserted town center.
The short story “A Montana Killer” (aka Choices) originally took place in Wyoming or Montana, sometime around 1995 in an alternate timeline. Here is a brief synopsis of its venue.
The generally poor condition of the United States following Vietnam, and the Nixon and Carter administrations grew worse in the 1980s as various Democratic and Liberal Republican presidents presided over a declining nation, while China, the USSR, and countries such as fundamentalist Iran expanded their influence across the world. And the Soviets, under less Ami pressure, did NOT collapse.
By 1990, conditions had deteriorated to the point that the Federal Government was basically a dictatorship held hostage to the welfare mobs of the great urban areas. Attempts to reconcile food and entertainment needs with European and Pacific security demands and a growing libertarian underground finally led to open revolt. While the first violence and rebellions started in the metropolitan zones of the Atlantic Seaboard and Pacific Coast, the spark found the best fuel in the less populous states of the Rocky Mountain West. Led by Utah, Wyoming and Colorado, a dozen western states and provinces, organized as the Allied Free States of America, fought most of the rest of North America.
Basically impoverished, both the AFSA and USA were quick to take foreign assistance: the AFSA from Latin America and China, and the USA primarily from the USSR. In the USSR’s case, that included (at their peak) more than 15 divisions. While mostly used to keep order in the South, many of these fought alongside US units in the main Theatre of War, the Colorado-Kansas Operational Area, and in the more thinly-occupied but still hotly contested Texas Operational Area and the Northern Plains Operational Area (Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas), where “Killer” takes place.
ABOUT THIS STORY
As usual, war brings out both the worst and the best in Mankind.
Although set in an alternate timeline, it could still lay in our own future.
ABOUT THIS STORY
Originally written in 1991, updated in 1994, revised in 2003 and 2019. ©2019 by Nathan A. Barton