“I can’t believe we actually thought we had won the cold war. I mean… the Soviets went silent, man. Not too much major hostility in over twenty years. They even joined in our endeavors to make the world a better place and said they started dismantling their nuclear warheads. We should have known they wouldn’t have agreed to that unless they had a weapon that would bring us to our knees. And to think they put it into the hands of the only people that hated what America had become more than they did. What did they expect to happen?”
Sid, Former Scout Leader of the Command Group at a debrief three years after the Disease
Charles struggled to sit up in his bed inside his quarters at Fort Knox. His watch read 0850 hours. He only had ten minutes to get the General’s message broadcasted if he wanted to stay on schedule. He currently had doubts as to whether or not that schedule would be kept.
Charles waited a few moments to make sure his head was not going to begin pounding. He had been up most of the night at the officer’s poker game. Cigar smoke and vodka hung heavy on his breath. And he was not sure, but he thought he tasted vomit.
He took several labored breathes in an attempt to clear his lungs as he tried not to cough.
He managed to turn his head towards the door ever so slightly. As he did, a sharp pain pierced his skull behind his eyes. He winced.
A bright red manila envelope had already been slid under his door and undoubtedly contained words of reassurance and inspiration for his fellow brothers-at-arms followed by the familiar “Dictated. Not read” post-script. General Pavlov would never think to demean himself by typing on his own typewriter. Then again, Vlad was such a kiss-ass that even if the good General turned down his assistance, the second in command would inevitably follow him around like the little puppy he was until the General found something for him to do.
Charles struggled to his feet and kept his back bent low to the ground while he awkwardly stumbled towards the bright red envelope with gold lettering that lay ready for him to read, translate, encode, and spread throughout what was left of the Southeastern United States.
After a few moments of staring blankly at the Russian on the paper, Charles composed his thoughts and sat down. He began to tap out the General’s daily Message of Encouragement telegraph, in English not Russian.
Like most of the operatives still left in the United States, Charles had been born an American. And like most of the operatives still left in the United States, Charles was a bit rusty with his Russian. Although they had all been taught Russian from an early age, it was still their second language. Most of the operatives remaining in the United States had been mothballed long before the Disease struck. They no longer needed to decipher their orders from the coded message using a weekly decryption key, then translate to Russian, and then translate to their native English. Charles had found that efficiency in a second language tended to evaporate the longer it goes unused.
Since Russian was not his first language, Charles occasionally had trouble translating the General’s dry-witted, overzealous messages in the beginning of The Rebellion. General Pavlov seemed to hardly ever speak English and refused to have his messages written in what Vlad called a weak language. It took a while for Pavlov to warm up to the idea that translating the messages into English would be his best bet at communicating with the operatives that might still be active.
Ever since the beginning of The Rebellion, Charles had slowly begun to remember his Russian vocabulary. The sentence structure was the toughest part, but it had come back to him nonetheless.
Charles’s parents were Russian immigrants that came over on a work visa before the fall of the Berlin wall. His mother was only one month pregnant with him – a fact she neglected to disclose to the government official that stamped her visa. Charles always told the few friends he had that his mother did not know she was pregnant at the time, but he had learned otherwise as time passed.
He was born in New York and became an American by birth. His parents applied for permanent citizenship and after a three-year application process, they became nationalized citizens and moved to the “Heartland of America” – which apparently, his parents felt, was Kentucky. There he was put into the best private schools and grew up around kids that spoke with a southern drawl.
At first, Charles was surprised to hear his parents’ thick Russian accents whenever he would watch the home movies they had made before leaving Russia. It was then he started to question his parents about his heritage and about why they had left Russia in the first place. And eventually, about whether or not his mother knew about her pregnancy before they filed the paperwork for their work visas.
He was nine when his parents first told him the truth. he did not believe them at first. He would joke with his parents at the dinner table while they would entwine some of their true ethos into his bedtime stories.
Not until Charles got in a fight with some boys at school when he was thirteen did he begin to realize how different his parents’ way of thinking about the world really was.
The principal had called a parent teacher conference. Charles was scolded at school and forced to sit through a week’s worth of detention. It seemed that breaking the noses of two classmates and cracking several dozen ribs of another was frowned upon by Americans. Even though those classmates would joke about Mother Russia and about how his parents were worthless, Russian immigrants and that he should “go back from where he came from.” Their English had been atrocious considering they were in a private school. When he tried to explain to the boys that he was born in New York and was an American just like them that only brought further criticism about being a “Damn Yankee.”
Charles knew these boys did not respect intelligent discourse. He had tried and failed too many times and these boys thought they knew he would never strike back at them no matter how much they poked or prodded. But what these boys did not know was that for all of the hours of reading and studying philosophy, history, and politics his mother made him do outside of school, his father spent just as many hours training him in various forms martial arts.
Once he had asked his father to let him join a mixed martial arts course at the local gym, but his father would not hear of it. As punishment, Charles had to punch a boxing bag until his knuckles broke through the tape and were bruised and bleeding. That was the last time he asked his father for any assistance from the “weak Americans.”
So one day, on an unusually cool March afternoon when the criticism had been more than he could bare and when he had one too many practical jokes played on him at school, Charles struck back against the main antagonist of the group of bullies at his prep school.
Braxton was born into American royalty, or at least he was under that impression. It did no good to explain to him that Americans did not believe in royalty or that the founders of the country dismissed Monarchs centuries ago.
Charles found himself being accosted by the same group of boys that had been at him since primary school. Braxton was in a particularly frosty mood that day. He walked up to Charles and pushed. Hard. It took all of Charles’ balance and reflexes to keep from tripping over the brick wall that separated him and the landscaping behind.
“You talking to my girl, Yankee?”
“Braxton, I am sorry if you and Sally are friends. Had I known, I assure you I would not have asked her to the dance.”
“You dumb shit. I asked her out last week. We’re going. My dad’s gonna get us a limo. I doubt your poor immigrant parents could even afford one.”
“Braxton, my father is a biological engineer and my mother is a psychologist at—“
“Shut up you damn Yankee.” Braxton spit on Charles’ shoes.
Charles clenched his fists and dug his nails into his palms to calm his anger.
“Dammit, boys. Let’s teach ole Yankee a lesson.” And with that Braxton swung at his face.
Braxton was off balance and slow, but Charles was not expecting this much unprovoked physical aggression and he was caught off guard. Nonetheless, his training caused him to tilt his head into the punch just enough to cause the blow to glance off the side of his head.
Outside of his training with his father, Charles had never been physically provoked to this degree. He saw red.
And he saw that Braxton had thrown a haymaker and missed his mark.
The boy was in the middle of spinning around when Charles buckled Braxton’s knees with a swift side-kick, caught him by his long black hair, and slammed his head into the pavement.
Blood and maybe a three teeth lay at Charles’ feet. He could not be sure how many because he was too busy guiding the charge of another opponent into a suplex. He finished the boy off with a couple solid kicks to the ribs with the point of his toe as the boy lay sprawled out on the pavement. Numerically, Charles was still outmatched and had no intention of letting his fallen assailants back up to attack him again.
As the third and biggest of the boys squared up to box with him, Charles wondered if the boy had ever boxed or if it was something he just saw on television. He let his opponent’s first punch land square on his jaw.
The boy did not punch nearly as hard as Charles’ father. He let his composure slip and a smirk flashed across his face. That is when he saw the look of dread in his opponent’s face – this would be over soon.
Charles threw a lightning fast and deadly accurate left cross that landed in the soft tissue just below the boy’s sternum to collapse his diaphragm. He finished with a right uppercut as the boy’s body began to double-over. He could feel the boy’s nose break under the force of his punch. The last two boys decided it was better to run instead of continuing the fight.
As Charles got into his father’s car that had arrived during the skirmish, he could have sworn he saw a look of pride in his father’s eyes for the first time in his life.
It was that night that his parent’s told him that the bedtime stories he heard as a kid were real. There were bad guys in the world. They were the Americans and they would soon pay for their arrogance. And he would help see to that.
Charles learned the real reason why his parents had a child thirteen years ago. Not out of love, but out of a twisted sense of duty to their fallen country. He never really forgave his parents for forcing him into this way of life. However, since he learned of General Pavlov’s plan while in college, Charles reluctantly embraced the utility of his training and his position within Pavlov’s operatives.
As he finished tapping out the morning’s encoded message his telegraph machine, he took a long drink of vodka from his flask in a vain attempt to dull the piercing pain that had begun to envelop his skull.
*stop. on/behalf/of/mother/russia/general/pavlov/thanks/you/for/youre/continued/service/ stop. end/of/wire*
He rubbed his eyes as he let the vodka warm his throat and chest. He set the Morse Code signal to play behind the Emergency Broadcast System message he had setup and checked his watch – quarter after nine. Charles had found that vodka was a poor substitute for coffee in terms of alertness, but damned if it did not gets his blood flowing. Or at least help him keep his composure as his brothers in arms shoveled loads of horseshit into Pavlov’s ear at the 0900 briefing for which he was now fifteen minutes late.
Charles knew that in the next fifteen minutes the telegraph stations that were still active throughout the region would receive his transmission, decrypt the coded signals, and then transmit them to other stations and posts across the southeast, using the predetermined frequencies. These radio stations were the ones that were responsible for making sure Pavlov’s Rebellion had a steady supply of captives to serve as his manual laborers.
Charles had become Commander of Rebellion Intelligence at age twenty-five. It would have been a great honor except the Disease had wiped out over ninety-five percent of the operatives. But that percentage counts the operatives on the roll at the fall of the Soviet Union. Most of the operatives had gone rogue or stopped their annual debriefs long before the Disease hit. The only reason Charles remained here was because it was better than being out in the open – safer if not better. Here he still had to listen to the pompous General Pavlov commanding his meager Rebellion through the mouth of his lapdog Vlad.
Charles knew it was not a battle of countries anymore. It was a battle of them versus us. The Diseased against the few remaining pockets of civilized human beings left in the world. And he considered the group in charge at Fort Knox civilized only in the loosest sense of the word.
He had stop believing in Communism and the good fight against the American Empire before the Disease actually hit. The compassionate side of him came to despise his parents and their country for planning to use him and other children in their war. The pragmatic side of him realized the usefulness of the skills he was taught.
Charles was just glad he was able to maintain his credibility as an operative. He knew the fact that the Rebellion was shorthanded had not hurt his chances of maintaining a spot in the relative safety of Fort Knox.
As he began to pack up his things and head to the cantina for his breakfast rations before heading to the officer’s briefing room, he heard his receiver begin to tap out a message:
.- .-. . / -.– — ..- / – …. . .-. . ..–..
As the last beeps of the telegraph hung in the air, Charles quickly recounted the pattern he heard. It had been months since he had to translate Morse code, but he was still quick enough to make it out:
Charles was not sure who the hell would be responding to his message. He made it clear that all code translators were to dismantle their straight keys once he had become the intelligence commander. He hated being inundated with requests. It was always – “Help! Help! We need help!”
Everyone needed help, but Charles could provide none. The poor sons of bitches out in the field were lucky to still be receiving his updates about the Rebellion’s efforts. He walked back to the machine and put his finger over the key to reprimand the asshole that had sent the message when the person transmitting the message continued:
Only a select few in the Rebellion knew him by his legal name since he had changed it from Yuri to Charles when he turned eighteen and emancipated himself from his parents.
And although he had grown accustomed to a few of his classmates in college calling him Chuck, he knew of only one person that had ever had the audacity to call him Chucky.