Thanks to Napoleon for giving me some awesome material to work into a really nice twist for this update.
"A" Company of the 75th Battalion of the Freistaat Pennsylvania Grenzschutz had been slogging through the same miserable New Jersey swamp for the past two hours, bearing down on the location where Hess' man reported the plane going down. The only GOOD thing was that most of the giant, mutated predators were smart enough to avoid such a large group of humans... Unfortunately, some weren't, but they were quickly dispatched without incident. Well, all of them except that one Dragon Snapper that bit a chunk out of one soldier's leg, but it was killed before it could do any further damage and the medics patched the man up good enough that he could limp along with the rest of the unit. The Dragon Snapper itself, since this particular area was rad-free (at least according to the RADIACs the company had along), was hung up from a tree for retrieval later: Like their normal-sized cousins, they made pretty good eating, and the men were getting tired of MREs (or as the men called them, Meals Rejected by the Enemy).
Major Lautenslager was somewhat lost in his thoughts when Oberwachtsmeister Mark Eichenlaub, leader of the point squad, motioned for the company to halt and get down. Hauptmann Sean McDowell crept up and whispered, "What is it, Oberwachtsmeister?"
"Movement at 10 o'clock, about 150 yards," Mark whispered back, "Looks like soldiers... I don't know of any bandits maintaining any kind of formation like that."
McDowell nodded and raised his low-light binoculars and scanned the area Mark indicated and murmured, "Yeah, I see them.... YUP! Definitely Soviets... I've never seen any bandits in these parts toting AK-47s. I'm going to tell the Major." Carl then crept back and relayed the news to Ryan.
Ryan nodded and whispered, "Thanks, Hauptmann, I guess I'd better make our presence known before they stumble on top of us and someone gets shot." He then pulled a megaphone out of his pack, pointed it in the direction of the Soviets and said, "Ahoy! Do I have the pleasure of addressing Comrade Premier Stalin?"
Ivan and Dead Silence had been trudging through the never-to-be sufficiently darned swamp for what seemed like an eternity... Ivan let out a muttered curse when they passed a tree that even he was sure they'd been by several times before. Just as he was about to launch into an angry tirade, a loud voice boomed across the swamp, "Ahoy! Do I have the pleasure of addressing Comrade Premier Stalin?"
Ivan nodded to Dead Silence, indicating that he should try and spot the speaker, then cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted, "Who is it that want's to know?"
Ryan raised the megaphone back to his mouth and replied, "Major Ryan Lautenslager, 75th Battalion Pennsylvania Grenzschutz."
"Show yourself, then, Major," Ivan bellowed back, "But slowly, I wouldn't want any unfortunate misunderstandings." Ryan raised both hands and stepped forwards slowly until he came out from behind the bushes the rest of the company was hiding behind. Seeing the olive-green uniform, with its prominent Iron Cross, Ivan relaxed a bit, but squinted his eyes and demanded, "Comrade Major, where is the rest of your men?"
"Just behind those bushes, Comrade Premier," Ryan replied, nodding towards the thicket he came from, "An entire company, too... We figured you guys might need some assistance. The Diplomatic Liaison Officer the Governor assigned for you is with us as well, Comrade Premier."
Ivan nodded, "Then have this Diplomatic Liaison Officer come out."
Ryan turned his head and shouted, "Mr. Hess, the Comrade Premier requests your presence."
A few seconds later, a man wearing a tan trenchcoat, fedora and chomping an unlit cigar stepped out of the bushes, and it was all Ivan could do not to laugh: No doubt, if I were to cut this man in half,
Ivan thought, He'd have 'SPY' written the whole way through him.
Smiling for the first time in ages, Ivan snorted, "Ah I see you people get your diplomats from the same hiring pool as we do, Comrade Major." Waving his hand, he continued, "Now I'd be most happy to take this assistance of yours, if it means getting me away from this wretched swamp and closer to your governor's summit."
Ryan waved the "All Clear" signal, and the rest of the company filed out from their place of concealment and fell into position around the Soviet Premier, and his surviving men. Soon they were silently making their way back to the Grenzschutz base camp. The only time Ivan talked to Ryan or Hess was when he asked why they bothered to hang and then retrieve the Dragon Snapper that they killed earlier, only to find out that those living in relatively radiation-free areas were not only safe to eat, but considered a delicacy. "We'll be sure to pack some along for the summit, Comrade Premier," Agent Hess grinned, "The Governor will really love ya for it!"
By the time they got back to camp and got Stalin and Hess on their way to Harrisburg, Ryan found James, Bernie, Erik, Carl, Lt. Gunner Patterson and Special Agent Welch waiting for them, along with a priority message from the Governor.
"He says that we're being recalled and transferred to Fort Indiantown Gap... Well, except for McCoy, Von Blucher, Dietrich and Sofie, of course, they've been invaluable in convincing the various tribes to take our settlement offers," Welch said. The offers in question were fairly simple: In exchange for land in the border areas, access to the full suite of social services the Freistaat had to offer as well as pardons for past crimes committed, the tribes only had to take the pledge of alliegance and help defend the eastern border areas against other raiders and bandits as well as help with the decontamination work currently being undertaken at Philadelphia and surrounding areas. So far, almost a thousand New Jersey tribesmen had taken the Freistaat up on its offer.
"What? Why?" Ryan asked, "I thought things were going well!"
Welch sighed, "Oh, it isn't anything DIRECTLY to do with you, and the Governor's going to continue the project: He's sending the 45th Battalion to relieve us sometime tomorrow morning... They're also bringing Quonset Hut kits and such to convert our outpost into a permanent base in the area..."
"What is it, then?" Ryan asked, his patience starting to wear thin after everything else that happened during the day.
"My no-good traitorous, back-stabbing, murdering, girlfriend-stealing cousin's making his move," James growled, "The Governor got word from his spy network in Spruce County, at least what's left of it, that Harry is going to be marrying that sleazy tramp Sally McDowell before the week is out! Not only that, but his brother Bart is marrying one of the Flemmings!"
To everyone's surprise, Hauptmann McDowell and Ryan began laughing when they heard this news.
"What's so dadgum funny, uh, sir?!" James demanded of Hauptmann McDowell, "That's your relative Harry is going to be marrying!"
McDowell suddenly glared at James and snarled, "She is NOT any kin of MINE, Unteroffizer!"
Ryan put his hand on McDowell's shoulder and said, "Whoa, hoss! I don't think they know anything about ye olde blood feud between the 'true' McDowells and the turncoats." He then turns to James and asks, "This Sally is one of the 'Northumberland' McDowells, right?"
"Yeah, that's right, sir," James fumed, "She's the clan chief's daughter and she WAS going out with me until my lousy, no-good rat-fink cousin swiped her!"
"Actually, Harry just did you a favor," Ryan replied, "and at the same time, proved that he's not only a traitor and murderer, but also suicidally insane!"
"WHAT?!" James gaped, "What's that supposed to mean, sir?"
"What the good Major means," Hauptmann McDowell interjected, "is that the so-called 'clan chief' in Sunbury is just a figure head.... If you want the REAL leader of the Black McDowells, you'd be better off lookin' in Bloomfield."
Everyone in the tent blanched at the name of the infamous capitol of the dreaded Perry County Prowlers. James looked almost sick. "Jeebus H. Cripes! You're telling me that I was DATING a relative to the boss of one of the most ruthless buncha outlaws since the Hole in the Wall Gang?"
"Yup," Ryan replied, "I can see why the Governor is moving us to Indiantown Gap... That's our biggest Army base in the Northeast region and the closest one to Shuylki... er, Spruce County. Looks like Harry's making a land grab about the same time Governor Herndon is holding his summit to form a hopefully permanent union with some of the other key players in the state."
"Yes sir," McDowell added, "But it looks like ol' Harry managed to forge an alliance with someone who could almost make HITLER look nice... Granted, they won't do anything right away, but mark my words: As soon as Sally pops out a few kids," McDowell paused and pulled his finger across his neck in a throat cutting gesture, "Harry Robertson is going to fall victim of an 'unfortunate accident' and his kids will be raised up by the Perry County McDowells, and all the Robertson lands will become part of the Prowlers' turf!"
"How do you know all this?" Bernie asked.
McDowell nodded and said, "Right, you all had better sit down, because even the short version is a long story." As soon as everyone made themselves comfortable he continued, "The McDowell family is one of the oldest families in Pennsylvania... As a matter of fact, we still own the original farm that my first ancestors settled sometime around 1700... Grandpa Seamus has the original land grant framed on his wall, and I've seen it many times and I can tell you for a fact that it is signed by none other than William Penn himself! Anyways, this farm is located near the town of Markes, which is in Franklin County, one of the Freistaat's Core territories. During the French 'n' Indian War, there was a fort where the town was called 'Fort McDowell', and the road linking all the frontier forts together, including Fort Necessity and Fort Bedford, was called the McDowell road, so you can see how important my family was back in the day." When everyone nodded, he continued, "Well, during the Third Great War, and the Rebellion, it was my family that helped keep order in Franklin County, along with the Lautenslagers, Bonebrakes, Dortys and Brakes, and they're part of the reason why Franklin County was able to fortify its borders even before the Freistaat formed and kept the Fulton County Felons at bay during the worst of the war."
Sean then paused and said, "Of course, some members of my family didn't like the idea of the Freistaat, and figured the only good German, Pennsylvania or otherwise, was a dead German... So Great-Grandpa George exiled Black Bart McDowell and the other malcontents with the help of the Pennsylvania Grenzschutz. Things were hunky-dory for a couple of years, but then a new bandit gang started raiding Path Valley and parts of Cumberland County.... It didn't take long for us to figure out that Black Bart was leading this new mob, and the tipping point came when they sacked Newburg." Sean sighed, "They massacred the whole town: Women, children, babies, they even killed all the dogs and cats and put the rest to the torch. So what happened next was Governor Erlich decided to teach them a lesson: He got together an entire Battalion of his finest troops, including six Tiger tanks, and launched a reprisal raid against them under the command of Great-Grandpa George."
He looks around at his audience, seeing rapt attention on their faces and grimly continues, "Well, they was waiting for us... The battle was a long, bitter affair, with ghastly casualties on both sides, but since we had better training and equipment, we eventually sent 'em packing.... Of course, at this point Great-Grandpa George realized that we didn't have the kind of troops to actually HOLD any significant territory, so he just went Blitzkrieg on them, torching their factories and crops, and then pulled back to Duncannon, the old Perry County Seat, while the Luftschutz bombed Bloomfield, Blain and Millerstown. We still hold Marysville and Duncannon, but only because they're up against the river and surrounded by mountains. For a couple years after, there were some nasty battles fought along the border with Frankin and Cumberland county, as well as raids back and forth between Dauphin and Juniata counties, but since then both sides have gotten tired of all the killing for no particular gains... Last twenty years or so, the Prowlers would attack some border fort and raid Cumberland County or try to raid into Path Valley once or twice a year, and we'd bomb their factories. It was kind of like some kind of sick family tradition... Of course I was wondering why they hadn't did their usual raid this year... I guess their trying to expand into Schuylkill, I mean Spruce County would explain why things have been so quiet that way."
"This is bad," James said, "If the Robertson holdings fall to the Perry County Prowlers, they could possibly take out the Freistaat! I mean, there's all sort of hidden bunkers and who knows what else in Spruce County!"
"True that," Ryan Mused, "But there is some silver lining in this cloud: There is no love lost between the Perry County Prowlers and the other major outlaw gangs... Heck, the Felons, Bandits and Hooligans are even somewhat manageable, as long as you're willing to pay their 'tolls' for hauling goods on the turnpike through their territory. Just hearing that the Prowlers are making yet another land grab MIGHT convince them to join us if the Governor asks nicely... I guarantee that the Robber Baron will jump at the offer when he hears about this! He's been fighting with the Prowlers over control of Raystown Lake and its hydroelectric plant for years."
"Well, that's interesting and all," Gunner yawned, "but I think we'd all best turn in... We've got a long day ahead of us tomorrow."
Ryan nodded, "Right, I'm going to let the rest of the men know what's up... We'll be on our way to Fort Indiantown Gap Tomorrow... Good Night, and sweet sleep." Note: The pre-revolutionary war history of the McDowell family is all true, including the part about the original Lang Grant signed by William Penn.... My dad, when he was still working as a general contractor, did some work for old Mr. McDowell, who showed it to my dad when he found out my dad was interested in colonial history.