LXVI
Cleansing

"… and if the GOP really gave a damn about the working class like they claim in campaign speeches, then they wouldn't be wasting time with this little scare tactic they're using. A civil war? My ass! Right now, they should be focused on getting food and vaccines to the cities before –"

"Greg Waits? You listen to this commie bastard?"

Boomerang was in the middle of a nice dream; well, he thought it was a nice dream, but his mind went completely blank after he was rudely woken up. He had fallen asleep with his headphones on, and was woken up when they were harshly pulled away from his right ear and then snapped back into place. It left a nice red mark. His eyes were blinded by the ceiling light at first, but they quickly adjusted to the sight of a tattooed comrade leaning over him. He had to look around to remember where he was. It was the barracks, and he had fallen asleep on his bed with a small fan running on the shared nightstand. After a quick glance around, he realized it was midmorning and the barracks were empty.

"And what should I be listening to? That right-wing nutcase Somerfield?" Boomerang countered. Roo could only shrug. He didn't like talk radio, no matter who said what. Boomerang went to sit up, but the pain in his belly caused him to suddenly stop. "Why are you waking me up? I'm still on R&R for about eighteen more hours!"

"You need to get up and put on your dress uniform," Roo said. "You're going to act as the representative of the enlisted soldiers when the Major and Captain go to deliver a death notice."

"Who died?"

Roo shrugged again, "Some darky from McGill's squadron."

"Why doesn't she go?"

"Big hole in her foot."

"I have a hole in my stomach, isn't that a little more severe?"

"Shut up and man up, Boomerang. This is an order directly from the Major. You know Skip will knock you clean out if you disobey."

It took all of his effort, but he did manage to eventually sit up and swing his legs over to the side of the bed. He took a moment to wipe the sleep from his eyes. "Skipper used to never listen to the brass. What's up with him?" he asked.

For a third time, Roo shrugged. "No idea, but you've got to admit, Major Raymond sure ain't like those guys that led us in Asia. I kind of like him."

To that, Boomerang had nothing to say. For the first time in a long time, he dug out his full dress uniform. It was a brilliant white with olive accents; an olive colored cord ran from the chest to the shoulder, the gloves were a white satin and the boots matched in color. The ceremonial hat was a slouch cap, olive in color with a white cord and a golden pin on its brim. At the side of every SEA-SAC member in full dress was a ceremonial saber, held on by a Sam Browne belt. It was gaudy; its design was meant to inspire the otherwise irregular gang of mercenaries to act like real soldiers. It didn't work too well, and the SEA-SAC went down in history as a wild, uncontrollable group of screw-ups.

When cloth touched his skin, Boomerang shuddered. Maybe one day he could grow fond of the uniform, but certainly not on that day. Despite his injury, he held himself stable and strong. Was it the uniform that did that, or his sense of pride? Either way, the undeniable chill that rocketed up his back forced him to question his doubts. With all the energy he could muster, he made his way to Percy's office. Once there, the Major commented, "A saber? I like that. Let's look into getting all of my men one, okay Captain?"

Then it was down to business. The Major, Captain, and Corporal all piled into a Humvee and took the short trip to Roddy's home. He was married but without children. Like many others in the Company, he had settled down nicely in Union. Many had chosen the apartments the Major had constructed, but quite an amount also bought houses. The cheap price of land and houses in the impoverished town was inviting to those whom had always wanted a place of their own but could never afford it. There was one street in particular which had been dubbed "Soldiers Row," where nearly every house was occupied by members of the Easy Eight. It was this street where Roddy had lived.

The sight of the slow Humvee creeping down the beaten road caused many in their homes to hold their anxious breaths. They knew of the fighting, and could easily recall the sight of two well-dressed pilots making their stop at a pregnant woman's house on that same street just a day or so ago. How many of Percy's men had already lost their lives in this seemingly futile struggle? Four? Five? Six? How much longer until it was forty, fifty, sixty? Percy knew at that moment that he couldn't allow another person of his Company to die. He would not be able to forgive himself. Whatever it took, no matter how long the path or how difficult, they were going to win and he wouldn't let a single death go to waste.

Finally it rolled to a stop. Hesitantly, the Major looked out the window and saw the modest brick home waiting for him. He sighed loudly; the action caught Boomerang off guard. Percy waited patiently for the driver to get out and open up his door. Once it was open, Percy placed his cap square on his head and stepped out. The driver saluted as the Major, Captain, and Corporal all filed out. In the rear, Boomerang caught his eyes wondering; first at the Captain, then up to the sky, then the freshly mowed lawn, then the flowers that were in full bloom, then the back of the Major's head, until he finally stopped his line of sight at the front door.

They reached the steps and Boomerang felt his heart stop. Why was he so nervous? Where was the sweat that covered his palms coming from? Was he about to shake? He couldn't understand the sudden rush of emotions that gripped him. Again he heard Percy sigh. The Major turned to face the Captain and she nodded at him. Percy's knuckles rose up and rapped on the door in quick strikes. The door opened promptly, and there to greet them stood a petite but lovely Mexican woman who couldn't have been a day older than twenty-one. Immediately upon seeing the Major, the woman's hands went up to her mouth in order to halt a defiant gasp of shock. Before Percy even opened his mouth, she was in tears, probably unable to hear anything he said.

"Ma'am, I – " he stopped himself. The Major was nearly overcome as well. He regained himself. "I regret to inform you that your husband, Specialist Roddy Zamora, has been killed in action…"

Boomerang didn't hear anymore. He could faintly make out the Major's voice, but his attention was too focused on the distraught woman who crumpled to the ground. Mackenzie had knelt to comfort the hysteric woman, but what good would an embrace from a stranger do? He felt powerless. Even though he had no association with the deceased or the grieving, he couldn't stop the tears that fell from his eyes. A shaking hand reached up and ripped off the slouch hat that covered his reddish brown hair. He placed it against his aching heart and then knelt. The sudden movement caused Percy to stop speaking and turned to see what was happening. The woman, too, caught the sight.

A young man, not even twenty, in full dress with his hand and hat placed against his heart; his youthful eyes, tearful and closed as he faced the ground; one hand against the earth to keep him steady and not a single sound from his body but his heartbeat. He knelt to her as though he were a slave kneeling to his master; he bowed before her like he was a subject bowing to his queen. He submitted himself to her agony. Roddy's widow broke away from Mackenzie, outstretched her arms and said, "No. No. Please stand."

She grabbed him under his arms and lifted him. He stared at her, wide-eyed and confused. "But, ma'am. I just… what can I do for you? Tell me. Anything, please. I… I just…"

She embraced him, and into his ear whispered, "Please fight for him – and win."

The tickling of her soft voice against his ear stayed with him long after they departed. He couldn't get the sight of her out of his mind. He lost himself completely in his thoughts. Situated back in the Humvee, his eyes stared distantly out the window at the passing scenery. There was a quiet conversation between the Major and the Captain that Boomerang ignored. Eventually, he had no choice but to partake, because the Major called to him specifically.

"Corporal, do you have any family?"

The question seemed a bit random, but he answered it regardless. "No, sir. My parents died when I was little, so I started rambling after that. All the way up to New York. When I was – I don't know, thirteen? – some guy asked me if I wanted to eat something other than moldy thrown out fast food. It sounded like a good gig, and the next thing I know, they're sending me to Asia hoping I'll cut a few of the bastards down before I die."

"I would like to say, 'That's good,' because it means I won't have to deal with this if you ever die. However, I'd prefer it if you stayed alive. I'm sorry for dragging you out here when you were on R&R. I just wanted someone detached from the squadron to represent the enlisted soldiers. Thank you."

"Uh, no sir, it was an honor. When I think about how much pain I would feel just from losing a friend, much less a spouse…" he couldn't finish. He was too young to think about such depressing things. Despite his profession, he tried to avoid the thought of death. "You know, Major, I was wrong. I do have a family. It's my comrades in the SEA-SAC. And maybe, one day, I will count the Easy Eight as part of it, too."

"To me, you are already family," Percy told him. "So please remain safe as long as you can. For now, I want you to get some rest and heal properly. We'll need your energy not only for battles, but also training any new recruits. I will be counting on you and your comrades."

They dropped Boomerang back off at the barracks. The Corporal never forgot that day for the rest of his life. He had a while to chew on the words the Major told him, and he couldn't help but feel a deep amount of respect for the man that had just recently became his commanding officer. Percy, however, did not think twice about what he had said. First of all, it was an honest admission of the heart to a person that he respected, as he did for all of his soldiers. Secondly, there were more pressing matters before him.

After taking control of Leavenworth, he had been handed a large amount of criminals of which he had no use. He spent several hours in counsel with Mackenzie and Goldwin. The trio decided they only had one option. They would give the soldiers a chance to work for their freedom by fighting against America, or they would be killed on the spot. All death row inmates would be executed immediately. Unfortunately, if a big percentage of them chose to join Percy, he would then have to outfit and retrain them; there was no guarantee he could trust them. Yet if few agreed, they would be forced to slaughter hundreds of men. It was a decision the trio alone would live with.

Percy grappled with doing the deed himself or splitting the task up between the three of them. Mackenzie silenced such ideas and volunteered to do it herself. At first, Percy argued vehemently against it, but eventually caved when she refused to give in. She did, however, agree to have several male escorts. Percy simply did not trust her to safely walk into a cell of a convicted felon alone. The timeline for her to ask all four hundred prisoners to choose their fate was only twelve hours. Percy wanted the deed done as soon as possible. As a result, as soon as they delivered the death notice, the two officers made their way to Leavenworth.

Once arriving, Percy was whisked away as he was briefed on the situation inside the Fort. As it was, most soldiers had submitted themselves to Percy. This was done not because they were siding against the Americans, but because they were simply following the orders of General de Rojas. Only a few firefights had broken out since de Rojas surrendered the fortress, and all of them were quickly quelled. Since attacks from an outside enemy persisted (although none were deadly), most soldiers were convinced Major Raymond was not there to conquer them, and that de Rojas and given command to him so they could team up to stop the insurgency. In other words, the majority of them were blissfully ignorant, and all because they choose not to face the facts. They didn't want to believe it.

Mackenzie allowed Percy to take on the paperwork by himself. She grabbed herself a pistol and a bagful of loaded magazines. The two escorts she picked were random: Sergeant Torres and Corporal Wellborn Jr. (Roo was chosen because Boomerang had adamantly requested the Captain get him away from the barracks long enough for him to complete his R&R). Upon briefing the two men on the situation, Torres agreed to the plan as "the most rational way to deal with them." Roo on the other hand, wordlessly protested by defiantly crossing his arms over his chest.

Mackenzie saw the gesture and asked, "What is it, Corporal?"

"Well, nothing too big, Captain. But I mean, you're just going to shoot them? Doesn't seem fair in the slightest," he said. "I was a criminal once, you know? Then the government came and said they'd free me if I fought their damned war. I can't help but relate to them."

"If you don't like it, feel free to kill me the moment I raise my gun."

The statement struck a chord with Roo and he couldn't muster an argument. He wasn't sure if she was brave or simply wishing he would shoot her. He realized the task ahead of her was quite daunting; she had to decide the fate of over four hundred men, and their lives would be saved or destroyed by the mere clenching of her finger against the trigger. He tried to imagine himself doing such a thing. The thought made him sick to his stomach. For that alone, he found her to be much braver than he could ever be. Yet the full weight of the task didn't settle inside his mind right away.

The first cell they went to was occupied by two rather docile men. When the door was opened, they remained seated at their respective places and only glanced at the newcomers. They didn't even ask what it was Mackenzie wanted. She had to speak first. When she did, she informed them that the commander of the fortress was now Major Raymond, and the Colonel in charge of the prison was no longer "in a place of authority." Then she gave them their options: they could pledge loyalty to Percy, and thus declare war on America, or they could "finally pay for their crimes."

The first man to speak started his sentence with a slight laugh. "You kidding me? You think just 'coz we're a bunch of crooks we'd betray America? You know what I did to land in here? I executed those bastards in Greece. The ones that sold out our men to that faggot Brunhart."

She recognized the man immediately. "You're Sergeant Matthew Welch," she said.

"What of it?"

She shot him in the head. The other man in the room didn't even flinch. He just asked, "What was that for?"

"The Major would never allow a murderer of civilians into his troop," she informed him.

"Then would he allow a spy turned traitor?" the man asked. She tried to observe the man through his glasses, but the glare prevented her from seeing his eyes. His face was also covered, from a week's worth of hair growth. He adjusted his glasses then turned back to whatever it was he was reading. "I was an Operations Officer for the CIA. They called me Brutus. 'Et tu, Brute?'"

"Marcus Sherrard?" Mackenzie guessed.

"The one and only," he said with a small nod. "I have already betrayed America, will She mind if I cheat on Her once more?"

"What would stop you from betraying the Major?" Roo questioned.

"If he refuses to give in. Can he, a mere man, truly save this country? No, I doubt it. Even as men die here in Leavenworth and around the country, the people will not be concerned as long as they have a job to make money and goods to buy with that money. I didn't betray my country in an attempt to make myself wealthy. It wasn't for power. I did it out of spite. I hate this place. What a joke that I'm imprisoned here."

"But you will aid the Major?" Mackenzie asked.

He nodded.

Such was the case throughout most of the cells they visited. Many were killed simply because of their crimes. She could not allow them to wear the Easy Eight patch, and she was certain that Percy wouldn't want them to, either. Others were killed before even opening their mouths. In one cell, both men ambushed her the moment the door opened, so Torres and Roo had no choice but to shoot them immediately. The amount of men she killed didn't even hit her until she placed a third magazine into her pistol. Three entire magazines had been shot through. She tried to do the math in her head to figure out the amount of blood she had spilled but gave up due to a headache.

Comfort came in the form of Torres. The Sergeant placed a hand on her shoulder when he saw her shoulders heave. He said to her, "Remember that all the pain you're going through right now can be shared at any time. I'm here. Don't push yourself. If you ever get tired, just give me the gun."

She shook her head, "You're a good man, Torres. This is a sin for the officers of my Company only."

"I am a member of your Company now, Captain. I may not be commissioned, but we are part of the same team. We are one and the same."

"Thank you, Sergeant. All I ask of you is your loyalty to us."

"You already have it."