Nelson looked out over the valley that stretched north, to his right, and south while on the side opposite him became a tall mountain in the Ozarks. He had grown up around here and always loved the great camping spots it had to offer. Just in front of him, and below, was the lake where he’d caught a 10 pound catfish. Well, it was a 10 pound catfish when he got it home and told the story the first time. The second time it was 12 pounds and just a year ago it had been a vast beast that must have been the love child of a blue whale and the Lochness Monster.
And just a few miles behind him, at the top of the hill and looking down on the valley was his childhood home. It sat at the edge of a tiny town in the middle of nowhere that wasn’t big enough to have a McDonalds or a Wal-Mart which was the thing that eventually made him move away. He enjoyed the camping and fishing convenience, but that wasn’t what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. Also, he knew everyone in town on a first AND last name basis and, frankly, he would always tell his ‘new’ friends, he simply didn’t like them that much.
But none of this entered his mind as he scanned up and down the tree lines. He did not get a sense of peace from the orange and yellow covered branches that covered the hills. And he got no enjoyment out of hiking the various trails that snaked their way down. He was assigned the area on purpose and gravitated towards this valley purely on instinct and that happening was no accident.
He had talked about the valley and his home openly and didn’t realize what consequences that would hold later. He hadn’t even realized it was a part of the interview but rather just thought a group of people were chatting while waiting for their superior. He didn’t know that as soon as you show interest in becoming a routine for the government, they start learning everything they can about you, just in case. And in his case, that paid off since, while routines are barely anything more than mindless drones in the war, routers, of which Nelson was, were far more important and valuable.
Routers were active officers in charge of variously sized routine brigades. Despite Nelson being assigned to a low population area he was in charge of just over one thousand routine soldiers due to the size of open area they had to secure on a regular basis.
To his left he saw a shack that you might wonder how it were still standing. He knew, or used to know, the shack well as it belonged to his uncle. He thought for a second and decided five soldiers could easily search and secure the building. Without words being spoken, four men and one woman from behind him quietly ran over and surrounded the shack, busted in, and quickly signaled back to him that it was secure. He was told, though wordlessly again, that an old man was found inside. He gave them orders to take him to camp.
At the same time he was giving them follow-up orders on where to take the uncle he once knew, he scanned the lake. There were hundreds of tents surrounding it. He considered the weather, rainy and cold, and the fact that it was a Tuesday, and knew these were runners. These were the defectors that needed to be secured, confined, and educated on how great it was and how lucky they were to be living in America during the great cleansing. And these were the most dangerous of all the defectors.
If you have a runner in the city, he or she might find other runners and they might find an old building to stay in. They might have a gun or two and definitely some knives, but a small brigade can easily take them over in a matter of moments. But anyone who heads out into the wilderness and gathers a large group of people to form a community living completely off the grid will have the equivalent of a small army with automatic weapons, possibly some explosives, and the upbringing to know how to use them properly.
This was why he had come here. He had not needed orders to be told there were people here. This was exactly why routers were assigned to the places they were most familiar. Once they were in the area their instinct would take over and the general orders of ‘cleanse all defectors’ would quickly translate into areas the router had grown up that would make sense to hide.
Nelson wouldn’t know anything about where runners might hide in New York City and the mission would be nowhere near as successful. And likewise, someone who had been raised in Manhattan wouldn’t have thought there would be anyone in this remote area or understand the need to sweep through the trees thoroughly.
Thinking about what it might take to overtake such a large encampment of armed runners was all it took for wave after wave of routine soldiers to start passing by him. It was a fury of feet crunching dried leaves on the ground fading to silence as he watched them get closer. It didn’t take long before he could see a ring of his men, hundreds upon hundreds surrounding the lake as he called for them to hold as he processed the incoming information.
Four soldiers surrounded a tent on the north side of the lake and from the bushes they hid behind could see two armed men. They could see them clearly because they were only a few yards away, Nelson could see them clearly because his soldiers saw them clearly. Nelson also heard their conversation and listened for a few seconds before disregarding it, a topical conversation on how many routines each had killed to get to the lake, as useless information. He then saw a group of eight tents surrounded by thirty soldiers. He saw the group of tents from all thirty perspectives and listened in. The alpha male in this group was worried they were being watched and thought there should be more uniformity between all the people who had come to the lake.
A few females told him he was being paranoid while another male agreed that they should be more proactive in securing the valley. Another female spoke up in defense of someone named Jonah who was apparently in charge of the area and confirmed that his sources had said no routine forces would be sent to the valley.
This was, of course, very good information and Nelson immediately relayed the name Jonah to all his troops around the lake. They immediately knew to specifically listen for all references of a Jonah and to identify him. He scanned the lake from the view of the hundreds of men around it and stopped on a clearing that had over 50 tents in it. He listened from all angles available and while he heard more mentions of Jonah, he did not actually see him.
He thought Jonah should be taken alive and immediately all soldiers understood.
Actually, every runner was supposed to be taken alive however there was an unspoken rule that if anyone showed great resistance they could be immediately cleansed. And since no one up the chain of command cared about ninety-nine percent of the people who did run there was no one counting or checking names of those killed. There was also a large grey area on what ‘great resistance’ even meant. Was someone refusing to go quietly by saying ‘no I won’t go’ the same as someone who physically resisted or even opened fire on soldiers? The answer was often yes, depending on who you talked to, a benefit of removing most emotions and memories from the military troops that were sent out.
Nelson scanned all the views of the lake one more time before silently thinking, ‘we should attack now’ at which point the giant group under his command silently moved forward and then started overtaking each individual campsite at the same time.
There was no chaos as they allowed no time for chaos to begin. There were shots fired on both sides but it all happened so quickly that the echoing ‘pops’ that rang throughout the valley sounded like popcorn, growing in frequency before quickly dying back down to 1 or 2 per second. In just under 5 minutes every one of the runners were chained up and being hauled off, except for those who had already been cleansed.
Nelson counted up and tallied those who had been killed during the quick battle. There were four males and two females, all holding weapons, and two children, a boy and a girl both who looked to be about twelve years old. Neither of the children had been holding weapons and it wasn’t immediately apparent what had happened, so Nelson dismissed it and moved on. There were no casualties to any of his routines which meant the mission was a 100% success. No casualty of war papers needed to be filed, which had more to do with the cost of creating and maintaining a routine than it did who the routine used to be as a person.
He thought about what would best be suitable for transporting these defectors to the education camps and decided on an airbus. He was immediately notified that his squadron was in line for airbus 4273-A and ETA was about 10 minutes. They requested confirmation on an appropriate landing area at which he looked just east of the lake below and spotted a large open field. He thought that would work fine and this time two things happened simultaneously. He was first notified that they had confirmed his choice for landing area and second, all soldiers holding camp students, which is what they were called once they were no longer fugitives, immediately turned and started walking in the direction of the open field.
In just under 25 minutes his group had arrived, assessed the situation, devised a plan, followed out his instructions, and airlifted over 500 runners to the nearest education camp. Since there had been no casualties he was notified that as a reward for his good efforts, 400 bonus credits had been added to his account and premium rations were en route for his brigades’ dinner that night.
He smiled, if a router could smile, alerted his men of the good eats they were to enjoy before spending his credits to order a new toy that would be delivered with dinner, before continuing to have his men cleanse the valley.
Nelson Connor had had a good day.