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BEGINNINGS MARY PAT'S STORY

VIEWS: 3 PAGES: 38

									                  BEGINNINGS: MARY PAT'S STORY
                                 by
                          Jose J. Clavell
                                and
                        Roger C. Pettibone


                       Chapter One: Rodney

On Route from Fairmont to Grantville, WV
Early Sunday morning, ROF Event day

     What do you do when one of your best friends is in the
doldrums? His problem become your problem.
     My name is Mary Patricia Flanagan, Mary Pat or MP for short
and my problem was sitting on my old Volvo's passenger's seat.
The friend in question, Rodney Totman had been
uncharacteristically depressed for the last several weeks and I
had been unable to pull him out of his funk. Neither had I been
able to get to the root of his problem. At least in that
respect, he remained characteristically Rodney, or as he
preferred since starting college, Rod. The young man could be
the poster child for stubbornness. Luckily for him, that trait
was balanced by his caring, gentleness and dry wit.
     At least I had not been alone on my concern for Rodney. My
roommates, Elizabeth Pitre and Caroline Platzer had tried to
cheer him up too. Caroline, usually shy and quiet, went so far
as forcing him to take her to the movies hoping that he would
open up there. Sadly, it didn't work. Beth was the next to try.
Thanks to an English mother, she could be at times the very
image of Her Majesty's Representative to the apartment. Beth
first tried being the perfect Englishwoman with understanding
and reason. When that failed, she read him the riot act in her
American father's full Louisiana Cajun persona. Although a very
impressive display, -- Beth cusses in French Patois -- all was
for naught as Rod remained quiet and depressed. So once more,
Rod and his problem had dropped back in my lap and I was quickly
finding myself at wit's end.
     I've known Rod for more than half my life. Like my four
brothers and me, Rod grew up in the gypsy lifestyle of Air Force
families. After first meeting at grade school, Rod and my kid
brother David had bonded. Assisted by our fathers' frequent
                           Beginnings -- 2

shared assignments they became lifelong friends and the bane of
Security Policemen through the service. Two years ago, Rod had
showed up unexpectedly on my second day at West Virginia
University with orders from David to watch over me. Our
friendship had blossomed.
     Now, both of us were now on route to the town of Grantville
to attend a wedding, which promised to be the social cap of my
senior year at WVU. I had been looking forward to an opportunity
to take a well deserved and much needed break from two tough
years studying for the bachelor's of nursing degree paid for by
the Army. Accepting Rita Stearns's invitation to her wedding was
a no-brainer. After all, Rita the blushing bride and her
roommate Sharon Nichols had been both good friends and next door
neighbors for those two years and part of the small circle of
close friends that I had made at WVU. Rodney was also a good
friend of the groom, Tom Simpson, and a fellow football team
member. It was natural that I had used that as an excuse to get
him to accompany my roommates and me to Grantville. I had hoped
that during the trip, we could have some kind of breakthrough as
our time together was coming to a close. One more month would
see me with a bachelor's degree, a commission as an Army Nurse
Corps lieutenant and orders to return to active duty.
     Rod and I had left Morgantown early that morning, ahead of
my roommates. Beth was not a morning person and the last that we
heard when we left the apartment was Caroline threatening bodily
harm if she didn't hurry up. Normally, one car will have
sufficed for the four of us; however Beth was driving to the
wedding in her old Buick. After the wedding, she was taking
Caroline home to Maryland and driving on to her father's house
in Virginia to drop off the first carload of her stuff. The car
had been packed the night before and was another reminder that
our time together as roommates was quickly ending.
     I finally decided to try to hash through Rod's problem. To
regain his attention, I reached over and turned off the CD
player. Rod had reclined his seat after we started the trip and
with his eyes closed had been listening to a hip-hop CD,
effectively preventing any conversation. Rod opened his eyes at
the interruption. "Rodney Daniel Totman, I can't stand it seeing
you like this, so no more excuses. Tell me what's really going
on. I may not be able to help you but at least you will be able
to get it off your chest."
     After staring at me like I'd grown an extra eye or
something, Rod turned his head away and just watched the passing
countryside. I waited him out, concentrating on the winding road
ahead. Finally, he turned back to me. "MP, do you remember
Clarisse?"
                           Beginnings -- 3

     My open expression of distaste at the memory of Rod's
wanna-be Goth ex-girlfriend was all the answer Rod needed.
     "I see. Well, did I ever tell you why we broke up?” Seeing
my confused look he continued, “No, probably not. I haven't told
anyone. Clarisse found out that my father is in the service.
According to her, he is just another warmonger and a baby
killer. I told her that he was serving, so she could have the
freedom to sprout her bullshit freely and then told her to take
a hike."
     I didn't reply right away as I struggled to control my
temper but promised myself that young Clarisse was due for an
attitude readjustment on Monday. Beth, who was also due to be
commissioned next month, wouldn't mind at all lending me a hand.
"Good for you, Rod. I know that you and your dad are not on
speaking terms right now but it was nice for you to come out
like that in his defense. Were you really in love with her?"
      "Love? Heck no. She was fun to be with but it was not
really love. In the back of my mind, I knew that none of the
women in my life, my dear departed mother, my sister, your
mother or even you would ever approve of her. So, I never
allowed it to become too serious."
     "Thanks, I think. I wasn't aware that you rate our opinion
so highly. However, if she wasn't that important to you, why the
doldrums? You have been moping around for almost two weeks.
Beth, Caroline and I have been worried sick about you." I
glanced at him for a second to make the point.
     "Sorry for all the trouble. It's my father. I have not
really spoken to him in almost three years. I had been blaming
him for not being at my mother's side in her deathbed all this
time. You probably heard that he was in one of his secret
deployments with your dad and arrived too late to the hospital."
     I maintained my silence, willing him to continue, as I felt
both relieved and guilty. Relieved it was not something more
serious but guilty that I had not pushed for a rapprochement
between Rodney and his dad sooner. In one of those strange
twists of fate and military life, Rodney's dad, Command Chief
Master Sergeant Totman worked for my dad as his senior enlisted
advisor. Although my father, the General, had been known to
state occasionally that it was actually the other way around and
he worked for the Chief. However, there was no doubt in anyone's
minds that they had been close friends since the Air Force had
put them together. Obviously, our two families had also grown as
close as the differences in grade allowed. I knew that Dad, then
a Colonel, had never really forgiven himself for not getting his
friend back on time.
     "Clarisse made me realize that I had been a jerk all these
years for blaming him for things that were not under his
                           Beginnings -- 4

control. My mom never did blame him. At the end, she tried to
tell me but I never listened." Rodney finally bowed his head,
letting his tears run down his cheeks.
     By this time, we had arrived in Grantville. I drove into
the designated parking area near the church set my brakes,
turned the engine off and released my belt. I took Rod into my
arms and let him sob quietly for a while. After a while, he
straightened in the seat and I watched as he composed himself.
     "I'm sorry, MP. I didn't want to cry like a baby and mess
your dress. Three years without talking to my dad, what a waste.
I just hope that he can forgive me."
     "Rod, screw the damn dress! Why you didn't tell me before?
I could have helped you; there was no reason for you to go alone
with all this, my friend. Your father loves you. Of course, he
is going to forgive you."
"I hope so because, I have been gathering the courage to call
him and apologize. I don't know if you have noticed but I got a
stubborn streak a mile wide which I got from him."
     "You? No, I never noticed", I commented sarcastically with
a sly smile.
     "Ouch, touché! You know me as well as my own family. Do you
think that I can find a phone around here?" He asked, giving me
his usual wide grin, the first one that I'd seen in a while.
     "And running water, too but why you don't wait until after
the ceremony, I'm sure that they have pay phones at the high
school. You have the rest of your life to grovel at his feet.
But frankly I doubt that he is going to give you too much
trouble. His heart is as big as yours."
     "You think so? Thanks, that helps a lot. Yes, I will wait
and make the call from the school. Anyway, is early and he may
sleeping in late. He is usually not a very happy camper first
thing in the morning."
     "Don't you say? I wonder who I know around here with the
same problem."
     "Ouch again, I supposed that I am going to pay for the next
two weeks, uh?" Rod asked me as he followed me to the church.
     "Buster, you bet, that will show you to ask for help early.
I wish I knew where those two went to." I looked around for Beth
and Caroline as I watched the guests file into the church. The
ceremony was ready to start.
     "Well, presuming that Beth's corpse is not back at the
apartment, cooling as we speak. I am sure that they will be here
shortly; Caroline would make sure of it."
     "I know, but Rita is not going to be very happy if we miss
the ceremony. Hey look, here they come!" It was with a great
relief that I saw Beth‟s Buick entering the parking lot.
                           Beginnings -- 5

     "I told you so. Let me go ahead and find us some seats."
Rod told me as he walked into the church.
     I waited for my roommates to join me and then together we
sat with Rodney at the pew that he had saved for them in the
back of the church. Moments later the wedding march started and
the congregation stood up to welcome the radiant bride and her
proud brother.

                   Chapter Two: Mary Patricia

Grantville, WV
Granville Senior High school
High School Parking Lot
Sunday, ROF Event

     The wedding ceremony and the reception that followed was
not the worst or the best that I've ever attended. The ceremony
was charming, but the occasion of another wedding always reminds
me of family. My three older brothers have all found mates and
David seemed to be getting serious with Linda. Every time that I
baby sit for my adorable nieces and nephews, I feel my
biological clock tickling. Maybe Mom was right and it was time
to look around for Mr. Good Enough.
     It's a prospect that I have not seriously considered before
now. I'm getting closer to 30 and with school almost over, maybe
it is really time to start looking. At my last visit to Colorado
to see my parents, Mom drove the point home by organizing a
parade of eligible up and coming young Air Force officers.
Exasperated, I testily reminded her that, being in the Army,
long term prospects with Air Force men were doomed from the
start. Mom had just given me the special smile that always
foreshadowed trouble in the family. Her next dinner guests had
been up and coming young officers wearing the right uniform
color, army green. I'm certain that Congress had never
envisioned some of the side effects that their legislated
requirement for a joint staff service tour for any officer
career advancement would bring, namely providing service mothers
everywhere, a greater field of appropriate matches for their
offspring; not that Mom needed any help. It was well known in
the Flanagan clan that Fiona O'Hara-Flanagan enjoyed a well
deserved notoriety as a relentless match-maker with an almost
perfect record.
     Rod left my side early during the reception to go seek a
pay phone after dutifully harassing the new groom. Beth,
Caroline and I paid our respects to Tom's parents, which turned
out better than expected when we found out that Mr. Simpson and
Beth's dad had served together on the Joint Staff before
                           Beginnings -- 6

retirement and knew each other. Afterwards, Beth and Caroline
went off to the dance floor, to bask in the attention of the
available single men. With no one around to talk, I walked to
the school parking lot in search of fresh air and a place to
think. After a short while, a couple of guys my age approached
and offered conversation. They identified themselves as members
of Rita's brother union and invited me to join them in the
partaking of wedding spirits. I had been warned that the school
didn't allow any alcohol on their premises and the rule was
being strictly enforced today by the patrolling gimlet-eye
school principal. It's funny how earnestly the locals hid their
drinking from the school building. I accepted a beer and nursed
it – facing away from the building, that Principal looked mean -
- as other miners and their ladies joined in the conversation.
Everyone was interested in meeting one of Rita's college
friends, and I quickly found out that several of the group were
military veterans that had served in the Gulf or Haiti, or
reservists or national guardsmen that had served or were on
orders for the Balkan theater. They, in turn, had been equally
impressed with my active army service stories. Civilians never
thought those tales were particularly funny but those in the
know, that had been there, done that and got the brown t-shirt,
considered them hilarious in a safe high school parking lot in
the middle of a Sunday afternoon.
     Then with no warning, everything changed. I instinctively
took cover behind a pickup, covering my eyes and neck, seconds
before the flash and thunder vanished. It had been an intuitive
response, just as fast as during mortar attacks in Somalia and
part of the sixth sense peculiar to my family.
     I am and always will be an Air Force SAC brat and my mind
had gone suddenly blank with the abject fear of our worst
nightmare coming true after the flash and thunder. Growing up in
bases of the now defunct Strategic Air Command as a bomber
pilot's daughter, the theme of nuclear war was a frequent and
most unwelcome shadow over our home. Mom always did her utmost
to steer the conversation away from those subjects when we were
young. However, it was easy to overhear conversations between
fathers, whose daily jobs were to be surrogates for the four
horsemen of the apocalypse, regarding weapons yield and CEPs if
you were quiet enough. Conversations, that were then difficult
to forget when the Bomber Wing's practice takeoff scrambles
shook houses and schools in the surrounding area with the sound
of screaming jet engines at full military power as the whole
base went into security lock down. No knowing at those times if
it was another practice alert or the beginning of Armageddon.
These memories formed the basis for many of my nightmares as a
                           Beginnings -- 7

child and no fewer of my adult ones. Now the nightmare
threatened to become reality.
     I was surprised but relieved when the heat, pressure wave
and ground shaking of the expected nuclear detonation failed to
follow the flash and thunder. After a reasonable time, my
conscious mind started working again as the nightmare receded
and I began to wonder just partly in jest. --What kind of
strategic targets are located in West Virginia? – as I
cautiously peeked out from my refuge and watched other veterans
with combat experience in the crowd sheepishly picking
themselves up from the ground. After hastily making my excuses
to my new acquaintances, I made my way back to my Volvo to check
into my suspicions while looking around for Rod and the girls.
The car's engine started on my first try, easily rumbling with a
controlled growl and immediately putting me at ease. --Good, no
EMP pulse. -- However and curiously, when I turned on the CD
player/radio, I was unable to find any working stations,
including those of the Emergency Broadcast System. The CD
player, on the other hand, blared Rod's contribution to our
trip, assuring me of its working order. As if my thoughts
conjured him from thin air, Rod chose that moment to knock on
the passenger window, making me almost jump out of my skin.
Sheepishly grinning at him, I lowered the window.
     "MP, are you ok? What the hell happened? I was on the phone
with my dad, when it went dead," he anxiously asked me.
     "Yes, I'm fine. I don't have the slightest idea but we are
still alive" I replied resting my head on the steering wheel
after turning the volume down, "Other than that, I don't know
what happened. Maybe lightning hit a transformer?" I speculated
while turning the ignition off. I slowly got out of the car
while looking around. "It seems that we aren't the only ones
without a clue," I said, looking at the milling anxious crowd
swelling into the parking lot. I wondered where Caroline and
Elizabeth were hiding.
     "No kidding. I just saw Dr. Nichols and Mr. Simpson hit the
deck in the cafeteria screaming incoming", he told me in a rush.
"Even Rita's brother flinched and when at the same time the
electrical power failed, I almost peed on myself." Rod, a SAC
brat himself didn't have to voice the reason for his reaction.
"Elizabeth is back in the cafeteria helping Caroline to calm
down the kids."
     I looked up at my large friend, finding it difficult as
always, to reconcile his size to his age. Rod at 21 seemed
incredibly young and naive to my own jaded age of 28. "That's
only a normal combat vet reaction,” I explained looking at men
still trying to dust themselves off. "React now, ask questions
later and hope like hell that you are still going to be around
                           Beginnings -- 8

to laugh about it. If I hadn't been wearing my new nice
expensive green party dress, I would have done the same." --At
the first opportunity, I'm going to get rid of it. Something
weird is going on here and I don't want to be caught in a dress
that makes me feel like a target--.
      Rita's brother, Mike Stearns, and the local police chief
seemed to be holding an emergency meeting with a growing crowd
of UMWA members and locals in the parking lot. All wanted
answers but no one seemed to have any. Suddenly, someone noticed
smoke rising on the horizon. Stearns and the Chief, arriving at
the same conclusion, sprinted towards their vehicles while
shouting instructions to the impromptu posse following on their
heels. Shortly afterwards, a line of pick-ups and other vehicles
followed the Police Chief's jeep out of the parking lot. I
watched them leave while a sense of foreboding descended over
me.
      After their departure, the crowd continued to mill around
the lot. Rod and I sought the company of the WVU students party
around the bride and groom as Beth and Caroline joined us. They
were discussing, half jokingly, their future plans. It was a
subject of great interest to those present, as the majority like
Beth, Cat and I were just a month away from graduation. The
reception ambiance slowly returned to normal, as everyone seemed
interested in resuming the activities that had been interrupted
by the flash and thunder. However, I noticed that an increasing
number of the townsfolk started coming to the high school to
seek an explanation for the strange events and on arrival
mingled with the original guests or went into the school
building.
      The growing friendly atmosphere was suddenly marred when
the groom's father exited the building and after testing it one
more time, furiously threw his cell phone to the ground to the
acute embarrassment of both his wife and son. Seeing his
reaction, others checked their cells and found that like Mr.
Simpson, their phones were also dead. No one else followed his
example but many colorful curses were heard. That discovery
started feeding the general climate of uneasiness that began to
slowly permeate the area. So, when the van that left with the
other vehicles returned at a high speed with its lights on and
the driver honking his horn for all its worth, it was meet by a
very anxious crowd at the school building main entrance.
      "Chief Frost was shot! I have him in the back. I need help
to get him to the Nurse's office, now," the elderly driver
screamed over the crowd noise as he moved to open the van's rear
doors. "The road to Fairmont is gone! The black Doc told us to
bring Dan here." I was greatly surprised when my friend, Sharon
Nichols, was the first out of the makeshift ambulance followed
                           Beginnings -- 9

by an injured woman, apparently one of the locals, who someone
in the crowd assisted into the building. Sharon looked around
and addressed one of the teachers who quickly grabbed a student
and sent him running to the school building as fast as his legs
could take him. The student helped by a miner, quickly returned
with an army-type litter. One of the new arrivals followed him,
a middle-aged man, carrying an old fashion black leather medical
bags that screamed physician.
     Sharon went back into the van followed by the doctor.
Assisted by some volunteer miners, they transferred the police
chief on to the open litter. Then at a run they carried the
litter with the policeman towards the building. The new bride,
Rita, with groom Tom in tow intersected Sharon's path and fast
walked with her to the school, demanding explanations and
wanting to know about her brother and the rest.
     "I don't know what is going on, Rita. There's a dirt wall
across the road now. We were surprised by this girl that came
running over the wall pursued by these two strangely dressed men
who wanted to catch her. They shot the chief, but not before he
managed to kill them. The girl ran off and your brother and my
dad took a group of men over the wall because they think that
there are more of those guys. Maybe they are the source of the
fires. Dad told me to bring the Chief back but I'm afraid that
they're going to need back up and most likely more medical
assistance," she told them in a rush while walking.
     The rest of their exchange was lost when they went into the
building, but that had been enough for me. I didn‟t needed the
sound of bugles to recognized the call to duty as I turned
around and like many of those present, including Elizabeth and
Caroline started running towards our cars with Rod closely on my
heels. "What are we going to do now, Mary Pat?" he asked as he
followed me to the Volvo. Beth and Cat kept going towards Beth‟s
Buick, and probably with the same thing in mind.
     "I think that Dr. Nichols may need my help, Rod. So, I'm
going to drive over there with my medic bag."
     "Not without me, you won't," Rodney replied.
     "Rod, it may get dangerous," I insisted.
     "MP, I play college football. I've seen dangerous up close,
plus you're my friend and my ride. I don't plan to let you out
of my sight today, that's final," he stubbornly responded.
     "All right, you can come with me. I can always use the help
but first, guard the car, I need to change," I told him as I
opened my car trunk.
     I had brought a clothing change and some toiletries in case
I needed to remain overnight. 'However, a red top, shorts and
sneakers doesn't seem practical now to go traipsing around the
woods with people shooting at you.' So I picked up my dirty BDUs
                          Beginnings -- 10

instead, the same ones that I had angrily stashed in my trunk
together with the rest of my equipment, at the end of my last
reserve weekend. I'd been so mad then at that jerk of a Platoon
Leader; I hadn't brought the BDUs into my apartment as I usually
did for cleaning. Frankly, I can hardly wait until next month.
It will be my last drill with the Reserves and a welcome return
to the real army.
     "I'll be back," I told him over my shoulder in an
accidental Terminator imitation and almost sprinted toward the
building carrying my uniform and boots. 'Slow down, girl. High
heels in this parking lot may kill you faster than any enemy.
Note to self, add to killing short list, whoever designed these
damn heels.‟ I saw Beth digging into the boxes in her back seat
as Caroline checked the trunk. Knowing Beth‟s organizational
skills, they would be a while digging out appropriate clothing.
     I found an unoccupied women's restroom on the school first
floor and went in, quickly shedding my dress and stepping out of
my heels. First, the brown t-shirt went over my head, covering
my definitively non-regulation underwear, then I stepped into
the pants, tightened the belt and put on my wool socks. My hands
and actions followed a familiar, comforting pattern I had
repeated a thousand times in my military career. Nevertheless,
the deep sense of foreboding that I had from earlier was now
screaming in my head just as it had done in Somalia. The
screaming providing extra speed to my fingers. After lacing and
blousing my boots, I used the mirror over the sink stand to put
my hair up. The mirror wasn't really necessary as I could have
performed that familiar action in the dark with my eyes closed
and my hair would have still had ended in the same usual neat
and ordered style. The face that I saw in the mirror was
attractive, clearly Irish but not a knock out. It looked young
enough that I still got occasionally carded to my embarrassment
and my so-called friends‟ amusement. It also reminded me of
home. The fiery red hair, that I had inherited from my loving
dad and shared with my aunt, had been a source of delight to my
brothers growing up, all of them brunettes like Mom. They still
could get my Irish temper easily up, just by using my despised
childhood nickname of Annie, as of Orphan Annie. The determined
blue eyes always reminded me that I am my mother's daughter, a
sort of comfort during hard times. Thinking of my family, made
me pause for a moment to say a short prayer for their safety
while struggling to keep my own anxiety under control. I
finished dressing by putting my shirt, cap on, and then exited
the restroom, ready for action. It had taken me much less than
eight minutes to change.
     On the way back to my car, I tried not to snicker aloud as
I watched Caroline presenting a battered pair of cowboy boots to
                          Beginnings -- 11

a dejected Beth. Her prized Corcoran boots, a gift from her dad
after she earned her jump wings, were still under her bed the
last thing that I saw then. At least she was able to put
together a complete set of her ROTC BDUs, dirty of course, from
her rolling dumpster. Closer to my car, I noticed that the van
driver had a large crowd of miners, WVU students and locals
around him. He seemed to be organizing the response to the
incident because most of the group dispersed to their vehicles
as I passed by them. Some of them, pausing, had giving a
thoughtful look at my uniform. Probably thinking, like Beth and
I did earlier, that the objective of the game now was not to be
seen and Sunday's best was definitively not going to cut it.
     "No need to hurry anymore, warrior Princess." Rod told me
when I approached the car. "While you were in the restroom, the
doctor that we saw earlier left in an ambulance with an EMT team
and some armed folks." The worry that I saw in his eyes belied
his jocular words.
     Taking a deep breath, I tossed my dress and shoes in the
back and proceeded to take charge, reminding myself to keep
projecting reassurance regardless of my own fears. "Rod, help me
get out the equipment from the trunk. I need those strong manly
arms of yours," I asked him, falling into our usual friendly
banter as a way to steady both our nerves.
     "MP, what's plan B now?" Rodney asked curiously, as he
followed me to the back of the car.
     I thought for a second before replying. "Since we no longer
need to go help Sharon's dad, I think that she could use our
help here instead and some of my equipment," I explained while
lifting the false trunk floor.
     His eyes widened a bit as he looked at the treasure trove
in my trunk. "Geez, MP, you could furnish an Army-Navy store out
of the stuff you've got there!"
     "Family habits, kiddo. When Dad gave me the Volvo on my
last birthday, I just kept the kit ready in the trunk." Like
most military families, ours kept a substantial emergency kit
ready in the family car. Mom, a born organizer, kept her trunk
ready with enough supplies, clothing, and money to see the
family through an immediate emergency. Without really thinking
about it, Mom's habits had become mine. Rodney's dad on the
other hand, was a native of West Virginia, a former Green Beret
and a superb outdoorsman and had trained him and his sister to
live of the land. Let us say that in my family, no one can make
a fire with two sticks even if our lives depended on it, so we
had learned to plan and prepare just in case.
     "You remember the stuff that we were always supposed to
kept keep in the car, ready to run away from trouble?" I kept
talking as I dug out equipment. "Like if the balloon have really
                          Beginnings -- 12

going up, we were supposed to drive upwind as fast as we could,
and hope to outrun the bombs." --As if, I thought, Mom would
really have left Dad behind. -- The same, of course, applied to
my brothers and me, I guess. I don't think any of us would have
bailed out. "Ooof, here, grab that out from under. But when
you think about all the stuff that you should carry in your car
for emergencies, most of this makes sense."
     Rodney snorted before replying, "Yes, I remember but you're
the first person that I've seen still lugging this stuff around
since the fall of the Berlin wall and the Y2K bug. Funny, I
never took you for a survivalist."
     "Har, har, very funny." As I turned to hand Rod the last
satchel, I noticed him staring abstractly at the logo on the
back. He started talking in a strange tone that immediately
caught my attention.
     "MP, I told you that I was able to talk to dad for a while
before we were cut off. You were right; he not only accepted my
apologies but actually apologized first. By the way, he told me
to say hi to you."
     "That's great, Rod, I am glad for you. Are you planning to
meet him soon or were you cut off before you could make any
arrangements?" I asked him before taking account of his very
uncomfortable look. "What are you not telling me?" I demanded.
     "Er… my dad was not alone. Someone else picked up the phone
because he was still in the shower." His face started to blush
with a deep crimson color.
     "Rod, it has been more than four years since your mom
passed away. Your sister got married and you went away to
college. Naturally, Your dad deserves to find someone to
alleviate his loneliness. I'm glad for him." I told him as I
concealed my amusement to his obvious embarrassment.
     "MP, I know all that." Rod hesitated for a second, as if
weighing his next words. "However, the woman with him was… your
aunt Heather." Rodney actually flinched but with his hands full
was only able to shut his eyes tightly and wait for the
explosion.
     "What was my aunt doing in your dad's quarters?" I started
asking without thinking before figuratively stopping dead in my
tracks. "Oh, I see." I finished in an uncharacteristic little
voice. In my last call home, my mother had hinted that Heather
had finally made a romantic connection with her help and it
looked like the real deal. However, she never told me who he
was. Now as I felt my own embarrassment heating up my cheeks,
everything clicked together.
     Surprised at my mild response and feeling back in safe
ground, he continued. "Exactly and before you start, I don't
mind Heather at all. Actually, I'm impressed with my dad; your
                          Beginnings -- 13

aunt is a gorgeous redhead." As he noted my arched eyebrow and
dirty looks aimed at him, Rodney quickly added. "I mean for an
older woman."
     "Nice save, knucklehead. But something tells me that you
are not telling me everything."
     "Well, dad finally picked up the phone in the bedroom and
we made our peace. I think that your aunt had gone back to the
kitchen to give us some privacy. Maybe to start breakfast, who
knows? However before the phone was cut off, I distinctly heard
her running back, screaming at my dad for us to get away from
here. Then the lines went dead."
     I just stood there, paralyzed, blinking once or twice as I
felt the blood rushing out of my head. I wouldn't dare ignore
Heather's warnings, no one in my whole family would dare - I
mean the time she knew about... well, let's just say she was
just too damn spookily accurate. "Oh, shit” escaped from my lips
before I could stop myself.
     Rodney smiled at my very unladylike response. "Yeah, I
thought so. We're royally screwed, we just don't know how yet,
right? Do we tell the girls?"
     I took a deep breath and handed the last case to Rod. "No,
we'll just alarm them without any reason. Besides they would
never believe it and Heather could be wrong."
     "Well, she never had any problems finding me and David
regardless where we hid when we were kids.” Yes, my Aunt Heather
has an amazing ability to find people or stuff, a very useful
talent for an Air Force cop, I thought as Rodney continued. “At
least, the voodoo princess might believe us."
     "Beth don't practice any voodoo."
     "She threatened to put a hex on me!"
     "You walked on her in the shower!"
     "She forgot to lock the door, it was an innocent accident."
     "The door was closed; you were supposed to knock first. I
thought you had better manners. Besides, she doesn't believe in
voodoo."
     "Then why did she show me the rag doll with the
Mountaineers uniform and a pin sticking out its butt?"
     "I don't know why but I notice that you've been on your
best behavior since that time."   I stopped and took a breath,
looking at him. "I think that we're babbling. I'm scared, are
you?"
     "You bet, I don't recall Heather ever being wrong."
     "Me neither. However, I don't plan to wait, babbling
nonsense, for the other shoe to drop as long as there are people
that could use our help. What would your father or mine do if
they were in a similar position?" I asked him.
                          Beginnings -- 14

     "I don't know about your dad but mine would probably go
with the old fix bayonets, lock and load and follow me!"
     I looked around and decided I had everything I thought we
could use at the school. The only remaining personal item in the
trunk was my pistol belt and holster. Those were still attached
to my LBE, so instead of taking it apart, I quickly donned the
whole setup, making sure that it settled comfortably. I then
unlocked a hidden compartment in the right side of the trunk
that contained my personal M9 Berretta pistol, a gift from my
oldest brother. I smoothly cleared the weapon, loaded a full
magazine, put it in safe and placed it in my holster. The extra
magazines went into the empty ammo pouch. Finally, I took the
large medic aid bag from Rod and put the strap over my left
shoulder. Now ready, I closed the trunk with a final thud.
     "Sorry, I'm short on bayonets. My Beretta will have to do."
     My face must have looked like a drill sergeant, because Rod
straightened up and threw me an exaggerated salute. "I'm glad
that you brought the howitzer," he said.
     "Beth carries the real howitzer in her trunk. Compared to
it, my pistol just a peashooter! Do you want me to carry
anything?"
     "No, I'm good. Hey look around, you're not the only one
packing", he said. "I think there's a regular NRA convention
going on. How I wish I'd brought my hunting rifle, I feel so
underdressed," he continued with a big ironic but wishful smile.
     His comment brought my attention back to my surroundings.
Almost every man present and some of the women were wielding an
impressive collection of handguns, rifles and shotguns. Some of
them had also changed from their Sunday best to hunting attire,
mostly old BDUs, so I no longer stuck out like a sore thumb. At
the same time, a group of pickups trucks headed by the elderly
driver's van and a police cruiser were leaving the lot with the
apparent intention of reinforcing those who had left earlier. I
was not surprised when I saw Beth, a future Military Police
Lieutenant cheerfully waving at us as she rode by in the
cruiser. Beth and I had made a point of practicing in the campus
firing range at least once a month. That didn't stop me from
being a little bit worried about her, but Elizabeth was a grown
woman and able to take of herself. As I shrugged, accepted that
and waved back, I heard Rod restating the obvious.
     "Wow, there goes Beth, the not-so-long arm of the law. I
wonder where Caroline went? It's starting to look like an army
camp here." Rodney commented.
     "Not even close, Rod, but I'm afraid that we're going to
end up wishing that we were in one. However, I feel sorry for
anyone trying to take on this mob." I replied as I started a
quick walk towards the school.
                          Beginnings -- 15

     After a hesitation, Rod's longer strides caught up before I
reached the building "Say MP, if your aunt marries my dad, would
that make me your cousin?"
     "What?" I twisted in surprise, and almost stumbled, as a
laughing Rodney passed by and held the door into the school
building.

                      Chapter Three: Beulah

Grantville, Southern Thuringia Region
Grantville Senior High School
2d Floor, Nurse's Office
Sunday, Post ROF Event

      Once in the building, we got directions from one of the
miners we encountered in the hallway. I led the way upstairs
towards the nurse's office. On the way up, we passed the school
administrative office, lighted by emergency power, where a group
of people listened intently to a tall, bearded, heavyset man
with a ponytail seated at a computer. The man was one of the
earlier arrivals I had watched, and he had seemed to move by
with a hasty determination. He sounded as if he was about to
lose his patience and looked ready to crush the keyboard as we
walked by.
     "I already told you, the damn computers are working fine. I
can see everything on campus that is on emergency power but
there isn't a fucking Internet for me to access. I already tried
it at home and believe me, my equipment is better than this
Mickey Mouse set up. And before you ask, my satellite TV
connection is out, too." I missed the reply but the loud bang
as his fist hit the desk made me jump, followed by words that
make me wince. "Shit, you just saw the flash and thunder. Did
that looked to you like the goddamn Millennium bug?"
     Rod and I exchanged worried glances. The same idea was
clearly running through our minds; Heather's other shoe was
already dropping. "Are you sure that we're going in the right
direction?" he asked me as he looked anywhere but the computer
room. Rod enjoyed working with computers and electronics, but he
seemed determined to ignore the implications for the moment.
     "We're already there," I told him as I saw the office sign.
Before I could say anything else, I saw the gimlet eye principal
helping out a bandaged woman that I immediately recognized as
the local who had arrived in the van with the wounded policeman.
A commanding soprano voice floated out the door.
     "Ed, don't forget to get me those supplies, please and for
the rest of you, out, out." We sidestepped as a large group of
people left the office in a hurry pursued by the same voice. "If
                          Beginnings -- 16

you are not bleeding or hurt, you are in my way, so out, out!"
The last straggler hurried through the door. "Not you Dan
Frost, get back on the table! I am still working on you. I don't
care if you are the Chief of Police you're my patient now. There
are enough men out there helping and they don't need you to look
over their shoulders, bleeding. So lay back in the table before
I shoot you again," we heard as the door closed.
     The exasperated words made me hesitate at the door, and I
looked over at Rod. "You go first," I mouthed.
     "Are you kidding me? You're the one with the pistol! You go
first. Besides my hands are full," he shot back with a wide
grinning smile before taking two big steps back.
     "All right, you chicken, I'll go first." I Then took a deep
breath, opened the door and walked in closely followed by
Rodney, who stopping at the doorstep, easily blocked the
entrance with his body.
     The owner of the exasperated voice was a petite, strong
looking, silver haired elderly woman wearing a surgical mask and
gloves. She was expertly finishing the sutures in the large pale
man lying on the examination table. Sharon was at her side,
equally masked and gloved, holding a tray with suturing and
bandaging supplies. Our entrance attracted everyone's attention.
     "Oh good, the National Guard is here, maybe someone can
tell us what's going on" the woman stated.
     "Not really, Miss MacDonald. Do you remember the friends
that I talked to you about? These are my friends, Mary Flanagan
and Rodney Totman. They were wedding guests, too." Sharon
explained. "Hi MP, Hi Rod, I was hoping that you guys would show
up. This is Miss MacDonald, she's a local nurse and the
Principal, Mr. Piazza, asked her to take charge here."
     "Nice to meet you, ma'am", both of us chorused at the same
time.
     "Sergeant, are you the nursing student in the Army
scholarship program?" Miss MacDonald asked.
     "Yes, Ma'am, I am." I replied almost going to attention,
unconsciously responding to the authority in the nurse's voice.
     "Good, I sent Mr. Piazza out with a list of the materials
that we are going to need here. He is also going to try to round
some of the medical personnel in town but I suspect that
initially we are going to be on our own as they are going to be
busy handling their own casualties. Sharon told me that the road
to Fairmont is blocked, so we are going to have to handle any
other casualties here. Assume that we are going to have a mass
casualty situation with more gunshot wounds expected. Can you
prepare the classroom next door as our casualty ward? We are
going to use this office as the main treatment area. Young man,
are you feeling ok?"
                          Beginnings -- 17

     "Just a little dizzy, ma'am," Rodney replied. I turned
around and immediately noted that Rod was pale and deliberately
avoiding looking at the wound. Before I could ask him what was
wrong, the woman spoke to me.
     "Sergeant, can you take your friend to the classroom until
he feels better?"
     "Yes, ma'am. Come on, Rodney." I took a firm grip of Rod's
arm, noticing how cold and clammy his skin felt. When we reached
the classroom, he dropped my supplies in a corner and I found a
chair and forced him to sit down with his head between his
knees. That Rod made no protest showed me how bad he felt. A few
moments later, his color improved and he was able to sit up. I
gave him a liter of bottled water from my bag and watched him
closely. "Come on, Rod. Drink the whole thing." He obeyed me
with the same alacrity that he had showed as a kid, making me
smile. He quickly started looking more embarrassed than
afflicted.
     "I feel better, MP, Thanks. I'm sorry that I am acting like
a baby today. I didn't know that someone could bleed that much
and then she was sewing his arm."
     "Easy there, tiger. Not everyone is cut out to be a doctor
or a nurse nor is everyone guaranteed to react well the first
time exposed to a trauma scene. One of my classmates passed out
in the skills lab when we were learning to draw blood. She
recovered and continued her classes. You will do fine."
     "Thanks, I feel better already. I'll go downstairs, find
Mr. Piazza and arrange for some cots and stuff. You go back
there and help, I know that you're going to be better at it than
me."
     "Are you sure, Rodney?"
     "Yeah, I told you, I feel better. One thing, don't mention
this to the guys; I will die from embarrassment if they knew
that I almost passed out looking at a little blood."
     "You got it, tough guy. I'll see you later."
     "OK, now go" Rob made motions to shoo me off. Giving him a
friendly pat, I returned to the nurse's office.
     "How's your friend doing?" Miss MacDonald asked me as she
finished dressing Chief Frost's wound. Sharon, a trained
paramedic, gave me an understanding grin.
     "He's fine, just dizzy, ma'am. He's never been exposed to a
situation like this and the blood got to him. He's off to find
stuff to set up a ward. "I replied.
     "Well, it got to me, too" the cop piped in.
     "You were shot, Dan. I expect people to pass out in those
circumstances. It's nothing to be ashamed of," Miss MacDonald
replied.
                          Beginnings -- 18

     "I'm not ashamed at all, Beulah, I'm still around. The
perps are not, that's all right in my book," he said smugly.
     "Well, I am glad that you're still around. Don't let this
go to your head but you're probably the best chief that this
town ever had," she replied while carefully placing his wounded
arm in a sling.
     "Ahhh, Beulah. I didn't know you cared," the grimacing
chief said.
     "I do care, so stay on the table and rest," she ordered
while gazing at him with a smile. "Sergeant, Sharon tells me
that you are almost finished with your degree," Miss MacDonald
continued with barely a pause.
     "Yes, ma'am. Some lectures, one or two presentations,
finals and then graduation. I'm planning to spend my leave time
with my parents in Colorado and then report to the basic officer
course at Fort Sam in August."
     "Do you have any idea where the Army is going to send you
afterwards?" Chief Frost asked me in a curious tone.
     "No, I'm still waiting for my orders but I suppose that one
of the training medical centers. I was once assigned to Walter
Reed, Sir."
     "Walter Reed, you say?" Miss Macdonald interjected. "I was
assigned there prior to my discharge from the service. That sure
brings me many fond memories. I was an Army Nurse during the
Korean War and for a short time afterwards. Is the Officer's
club still open?"
     "Sorry, ma'am, It's been closed for many years. They built
a hotel for the patients and their families, the Malogne House,
where it used to be. The only club left on post is the enlisted
club in the barracks complex."
     "That's a shame, I danced many nights away and got at least
two marriage proposals there. Ahhh, to be young again." Miss
MacDonald wistfully replied.
     "You did, ma'am?" Sharon smiling asked her.       "Please,
just call me Beulah. Yes, but I was never really cut out to be
an army wife or army life for that matter. So, when I separated
from the service, I returned home to Grantville."
      "Well, it's a damn shame, Beulah, but I'm glad that you're
here to take care of me." Chief Frost stated.     "Thank you,
Dan, but don't feel sorry for me. My life, my choice, marriage
and children were not in the cards. However, I have always felt
that I have tons of kids in this town. The ones that I helped
deliver or took care through the years, they have been a great
comfort in my old age," she responded with a grin. "But enough
about my non-existent love life and advancing years," Beulah
continued. "Wyatt Earp here could use some fluids, preferably as
                          Beginnings -- 19

an IV. Are you any good with an IV, Sharon? My hands are not
what they used to be."
       "Not me, I need more practice, how about you MP?" Sharon
asked.
       "I guess I'm fairly competent, between school and the
Reserves, I've kept in practice. You'll be amazed how many
otherwise sensible folks suffer heat stroke during Army Reserve
weekends. Do you have any equipment here or do you want me to
use my own supplies?" I asked Beulah.         "Yours, Sergeant,
the school never saw the need for IVs, although too many of the
youngsters on our football team are trying to make it to the
Mountaineers and tend to have the same problem as your
reservists. I think that the school has depended on our
volunteer fire department to see them through until now. Let's
start with Normal Saline, if you have it, for now. Sharon, there
is an IV pole in the back room, would you get it for us,
please?" Beulah commanded.
     Both of us jumped into action. Sharon gathered the IV
supplies from my bag as I washed my hands and Beulah took the
opportunity to obtain a fresh set of vitals signs.
     "Dan, all your vitals except for your pulse are in normal
range. Your pulse is somewhat elevated due to blood loss but the
fluids will help. I don't think you will need a blood
transfusion but the doctors will make the final decision later."
     "That's fine, Beulah, I just wanted something for pain and
the damn bullet out of my arm and you took care of the bullet,"
he replied.
     "Like Dr. Adams told you, it was a bleeder but relatively
simple to take care of. I saw a lot worse in Korea. As soon as
the supplies get here from the pharmacy, I'll give you something
for the pain and start you on antibiotics like he ordered. What
do you want to do with this bullet?" She asked showing him the
small emesis basin with the piece of lead.
     "Place it in a plastic bag, dated and then I want yours and
Sharon signatures on it."
     "Chain of custody, correct?"
     "Correct. I am absolutely sure that it was a righteous
shooting, but the State Police may want to make their own
investigation. So don't lose it." Beulah replied with a laugh to
his mock order as she proceeded to follow his instructions.
       At this time, I remembered something. "Miss MacDonald?
Please, check my pack, left top pocket. That's where I carried
my extra strength Tylenol. It's not morphine but it will help
you with the pain, Chief. I am sorry that I don't have anything
stronger," I added while setting up my supplies and preparing
the IV.
                          Beginnings -- 20

      "That's ok, Sergeant. Although, I bet that if I check the
student's lockers, I will find some good stuff," the chief
commented.
      "Dan Frost, behave, our kids are not that bad," retorted
Beulah.
      "You know that I'm kidding, Beulah. Not having a big drug
problem in town was one of the top reasons that made me take
this job in the first place. It's a nice town to bring up kids,
ladies," he addressed Sharon and me.    "That's what I have been
telling my father, Chief. I want him to move out here, away from
the violence in the city," Sharon responded.
     "Is he ever going to do it, Sharon?" I asked.
     "I truly don't know, MP. At times, I think so but he is as
stubborn as I am or I am as stubborn as he is. I'll definitely
bring up the subject again after things calm down," Sharon told
me with a smile.
     "Chief, are you ready?" I asked after donning latex gloves,
prepping his arm and placing a tourniquet on his upper arm.
     "No, but let's do it anyway. Oh, I hate needles. Are you
any good?" he asked me mockingly while closing his eye.
     "Never had any complaints yet, at least from the live ones;
tell me chief, what happened over there," I asked him while
expertly finding a vein in his forearm and deftly inserting the
IV catheter in.
     "Beats me, Ouch! This poor girl knocked me down then these
two SCA rejects shot me. That's Society for Creative
Anachronism, ladies; they like to pretend to live in the middle
ages. Oddly enough, these guys felt like real soldiers to me,
the third world kind and not like the usual folksy SCA types.
Glad that I was able to take them out but there is definitively
something strange going on. I see that you're carrying your
service side arm. Normally, I would object to any open display
of firearms but right now it looks like you're doing the right
thing."
      "All done, Chief and I agree with your assessment about
the strange situation. So do most of your folks. It looks like
an armed camp out there." I told him while securing the needle
to the forearm and starting the fluid infusion.
      "It is? That's just great." The Chief commented as he
mournfully shook his head. "Well, I hope that Mike Stearns and
the union guys can keep everyone under control. We don't need
any accidental shootings today. Say, you did a good job there,
Sergeant. I almost didn't feel it, thanks." The Chief told me
while admiring my handiwork.
      "You are quite welcome, Sir. Miss MacDonald at what rate
do you want this IV."
                          Beginnings -- 21

      "Let's give him half a liter wide open over 15 minutes and
the rest at 125cc an hour. You certainly did a good job there,
Sergeant Flanagan. I like the way that you kept him busy
talking. Here, Dan, swallow the Tylenol." Beulah instructed
while handling him the medications and then a glass of water.
"As soon as the young man has the classroom set up with the
cots, I'll move you there. That way, you can get some rest and
we will keep the room available for treatment. I also want you
to push fluids and get something to eat as soon as you feel like
it. Sergeant, can you see if your friend is ready?" she asked me
as Chief Frost smiled at her take charge attitude.
      "Yes, ma'am", I replied. Before I could reach the door, it
flew open. A brown haired teenage girl entered like a missile
aimed towards Beulah. "Aunt Beulah, they're bringing more
wounded. Uncle Frank sent a message ahead to Mr. Piazza and he
sent me to tell you that they are at least fifteen minutes out,"
the young woman told Beulah in a breathless rush.
      "Calm down, Julie and thanks, now go out there and find us
more help, scoot." She ordered the young woman while pushing her
out of the door. "Sergeant Flanagan, see to the classroom,
please. Sharon, go out there and see what happened to our
supplies." Miss MacDonald's words prodded all of us into action.
     When I walked in to the makeshift ward, I saw that Rodney,
assisted by his friends from the WVU football team, had stacked
all the chairs at the back of the classroom. They had found and
placed five cots in the room. As I took in the scene four of the
guys lead by the groom, Tom Simpson, brought a sixth open cot
with Caroline hanging on for dear life on it. As she passed me,
she was able to mouth "help" before dissolving into giggles. Rod
had also managed to find and then set up some movable dividers,
which would afford their future patients some privacy. Extra
blankets, pillows and linen had also been procured for each cot.
When he saw me, he smiled and took a bow while presenting his
handiwork. I smiled back, and returned to report to Beulah. I
grabbed a few of the football players, and got them to carry
Chief Frost in a litter back to the classroom while I pushed the
IV pole with the IV bag behind them.
     "Here you are chief, a nice cot and a soft pillow", I told
him while the guys helped him move to the cot. "Let me take
those shoes off and Rodney has a nice blanket for you."
     "Thank you, Sergeant, and guys. Sorry to cause all this
trouble," he replied.
     "It's not a problem at all. Just rest, and if you need
anything, ask Rodney here," I told him.
      "Glad to help, Chief, just ask for anything," Rodney
assured him.
                          Beginnings -- 22

     "If you don't mind son, something to drink please; bleeding
is a mighty thirsty business."
     "Not a problem, sir, I got us a cooler with soft drinks and
bottled water. So, name your poison," Rod eagerly asked him.
      "Water, would be fine. Are you one of the football
players?" Chief Frost asked him.
      "Yes, sir, how did you know?" He replied while opening a
water bottle.
      "Son, you are bigger that I am, a lineman, right?" He
asked him curiously.
      "Guilty, sir," Rod laughingly responded.
      "Well, you can start by explaining to me what your coach
has been doing this season. WVU is the laughingstock of the
whole conference," the Chief dryly observed.
      "Well, I am one of the pawns, however…" Rod responded
entering a detailed sport discussion with Chief Frost. Tom and
his buddies quickly chimed in and in seconds the whole
mountaineer season was being dissected, analyzed and mourned
over.
     Chuckling, Caroline and I used the opportunity to flee the
bastion of sports related male testosterone. Caroline went back
towards the cafeteria to keep Rita company and let her know
about her new husband's whereabouts as I returned to the nurse's
office to report. In the hallway, I ran into Sharon on her way
back from her assignment. Overhearing the conversation next
door as I opened the door, Beulah grinned and commented. "Guys,
as long as they have football, they're ok."
     With four brothers of my own, I quickly agreed. "Right you
are, ma'am."
     Sharon piped in, "Beulah, Mr. Piazza told me that the
supplies are on the way. Like you predicted there have been more
casualties but nothing serious so, we'll have to wait now."
     "The wait is always the harder part of this business,
dear," Beulah, told her before addressing me. "Have you seen
much combat, Sergeant?"
     "I joined too late for Desert Storm, ma'am but I was in
Somalia in '93. It was bad especially during the raid, but I'm
sure that your Korea was even worse." I set up the last of my
equipment on the counter by the sink. Sharon sat on an
examination stool in the corner to follow our conversation.
     "Korea was a real war. We lost around fifty three thousand
in three years in Korea versus fifty eight thousand in thirteen
years in Vietnam."
     Sharon looked startled. "Wow, I never realized it had been
that bad, now I understand those that call Korea, the forgotten
war. My Dad is a Nam vet but he never talks about it."
                          Beginnings -- 23

     "So is my father and neither does he. Somalia may not have
been a real war, but it was real enough for me." I said, "More
than real enough for my family too and when I returned from
Mogadishu, I could not recall ever seeing my father so angry.
When my family took me out for a welcome home dinner, my mother
had a hard time getting him to shut up at the officer‟s club
before he make a scene.”
     Sharon snorted before replying. “MP, your dad had the right
to be angry. You are his little girl and almost got killed over
there; the pieces of cloth and metal that they gave you were not
worth a single hair out of your head, in my humble opinion.”
      “Pieces of cloth and metal, officer‟s club, what am I
missing here?" Beulah asked.
      "I got a purple heart and a Bronze Star for Somalia. My
father, mother and three of my brothers are active Air Force
officers," I replied as embarrassment creped into my voice. I
always feel funny discussing my family military pedigree and
usually try not to go into too many sordid details. However,
this time, I couldn‟t backed out of it as Sharon chimed in from
her corner. "That's not quite the total picture, Beulah. Her dad
is an Air Force general and her kid brother is at the Air Force
Academy. The Flanagan‟s were a service family long before
Orville took his airplane for a spin at Kitty Hawk." Surprised,
Beulah stared at me forcing me to pick up the tale.
     "Yeah, the family lore stated that our military service
started when two Flanagan brothers were recruited into the Army
straight off the boat from Ireland and sent to fight the
Indians. One of their kids, my great granduncle played monkey-
wrench and passed tools to Orville Wright, while they were
preparing the flyer for the military acceptance trials at Fort
Myer in 1908. He was a cavalry officer and Myer a Cavalry post
at the time, and he was unlucky enough to make the discovery
that horses don't like airplanes too much. Strangely enough, he
got hurt shortly before the trials start and missed them.
Luckily, for him, he was not hurt seriously but another officer
had to take his place as liaison officer. That officer,
Lieutenant Selfridge, was killed in the world‟s first fatal
aircraft accident. That didn't stopped my great-uncle from
becoming military aviator number four and the family has
remained around military aviation since that time, first in the
Army Air Corps and later in the Air Force." Yes, you can say
that my family is air-minded but usually that revelation about
my past was immediately followed by the „question‟. Knowing what
to expect, I brace myself for it.
     "Wow, that long? This is really impressive but if you don't
mind me asking, Sergeant, why aren't you in the Air Force?"
Beulah curiously asked.
                          Beginnings -- 24

     There was a long pregnant pause while a guilty looking
Sharon and I looked at each other as I thought to myself, Bingo,
and then I slowly replied. "It's a long story but the short
version is that apparently I am the only Flanagan ever born in
modern history without the flying gene. I suffer from terrible
airsickness when I get in an airplane."
     "I can vouch for that, Beulah. We went to Bermuda for
spring break last year with our roommates and I had the seat
next to her. It made it for a really interesting flight," Sharon
added with a grin.
     Funny, I thought, I don’t remember you having such a good
time as you kept passing me the barf-bags. "I did warn you,
that's why I prefer cruise ships. Anyway, almost everyone in my
family, including my kid brother David is or was in the Air
Force. So, I decided to blaze a new trail by returning to our
roots and joining the Army. Later, I decided that I wanted to
become a nurse like my mother and my grandmothers before her. So
here I am," I concluded while feeling that it was the lamest
excuse ever concocted.
     Beulah sympathetically chuckled but quickly returned to
business. "Sharon, would you mind, going out and finding Mr.
Piazza again? I would like to find out what happened to my
supplies. Sergeant, can you check the chief?"
     We both readily agreed and departed. I checked in the
classroom, and finding everything ok, returned to report. "He is
doing fine, Miss MacDonald. His dressing is intact, pain is
under control and his color has returned. They've also moved on
to dissect the NFL."
     "I told you, guys and sports is a wonderful medicine, but
please call me Beulah. All this Miss MacDonald this and Miss
MacDonald that and the occasional ma'am are giving me Korean War
flashbacks."
     I chuckled; Beulah's non-nonsense attitude reminded me of
my formidable grandmothers and made me feel at ease. "Beulah, it
is. You can call me Mary Pat or MP for short just never Annie or
Orphan Annie."
     "Let me guess, your brothers."
     "Yes and an unfortunate short haircut as a child.
Occasionally being the only redheaded girl in a house full of
black haired boys was less than a thrilling experience."
     "I can relate to that. I only had one brother and there
were times growing up around here that I swear I would kill him
with my own hands but now that he passed away, I miss him
terribly. Enjoy their company as much as you can."
     "Yes I know, Beulah. I love to pieces my brothers, my
parents, my sisters-in-law, nephews, nieces and all my crazy
                          Beginnings -- 25

extended family. I could not imagine living in a universe
without them."
     "I know how you feel, Mary Pat. When my brother died, I
found myself without a family. Luckily, for me, the whole town
became my family. Just take my advice, find a good man and start
your own family. Don't wait until you're an old maid like me,
kiddo."
     "I hear you and my mother has been trying to tell me the
same thing. Well, I almost finished with my degree. I can now
dedicate myself to the pursuit and capture of Mr. Good enough."
     "Mr. Good enough?" Beulah snorted, "I don't remember being
that cynical at your age. Oh well, I wish you luck." She paused
for a second. "Mary Pat, call me a nosy old lady but can I ask
you a personal question?"
     "Of course, Miss Mac…I mean, Beulah."
     "With almost everyone that you love in the Air Force, why
are you really in the Army?"
     "I get airsick, ever since the first time I took a flying
lesson." I tried hard to sound casual, while trying to conceal
the sudden knot in my stomach.
     "Aha! I sense a story in that one."
     The knot got a little tighter. "You certainly go straight
to the point. It rather reminds me of my mother and my Aunt
Heather, but they're family. You've known me for less than an
hour and you went straight to the point."         Beulah laughed
softly. "I've been a nurse for close to fifty years, after a
while reading people become second nature. It will come to you
too; you just need to get some more years under your belt. As
you seem close to your family, I am going to take a wild guest
and assume that any problem is somewhat connected to them too.
So you can't seek their help and counsel, right?"
     "Beulah, you are spooky." –Yikes, another Aunt Heather
type, I thought, how I always manage to find someone like her.--
     "No really, just a keen observer of human nature. Ok, Mary
Pat, here's the deal. You are probably never going to see me
again after today. This is a great opportunity for you to get it
off your chest. I can't promise that in our short time together
before the arrival of chaos we are going to be able to solve
anything but you will feel better and who knows, it may be a
first step in that direction."
     Beulah MacDonald's calm confident manner made me feel that
I could trust her. It's always been hard to make myself talk
about personal problems, though, and I never feel like the right
words are there. Slowly, my first words started to drip out and
then the flow strengthened until it felt like the floodgates
started to come open.
                          Beginnings -- 26

     "As a child, I never suffered from airsickness; my mother
tells me that they could not get me out of airplanes. Other
little girls played with dolls, I have stuffed planes." I
stopped for a moment, as happy memories of my childhood came to
my mind and a sad little smile crossed my face. The first plane
ride that I remember was at age three, when belted in the front
seat with Heather, then ten, I went up in my late Grandfather‟s
Stearman biplane. It was glorious and I still miss him and his
plane. Beulah politely waited for me to continue at my own pace,
while she continued cleaning the office.
     "My airsickness started shortly after my sixteenth birthday
when I was old enough to start flying lessons. Physically, there
was nothing wrong with me. However, every time that I went up, I
suffered such a degree of vertigo and nausea that it was
impossible for me to kept down my meals from the prior week,
much less fly the plane. That shoot down my dreams and I felt
that I had let my father down. When I also failed to gain
admission to the academy, the shame became more than I could
bear. So, after a semester in a civilian college, I dropped out
and joined the army to become a medic. My parents thought that I
had lost my mind and for a time we didn't speak with one
another. It was a terrible time for us."
     "Poor girl, however that brings us back to my original
question, why not join the Air Force?"
     "I wanted to take care of people and most Air Force
hospitals and clinics are located on bases that operate
aircraft. Call me crazy but with my deep seated feeling that I
have failed my dad and family, I did not want to be near
airplanes anymore."
     "No, you're not crazy, I've seen it worse and it makes a
weird sort of sense but I thought that you knew that the Army
also operated airplanes?"
     "Beulah, I was a snot nosed know-it-all nineteen year old
Air Force brat. It was an article of faith for us that only the
Air Force operates real aircraft. I don't have to tell you that
I have outgrown those beliefs."
     Beulah snorted as she placed a clean sheet over the
examination table. "I'm glad that inter-service rivalry is alive
and kicking. I remember having to patch up soldiers after
altercations with other services on weekends. However, there's
more to this story, isn't there?"
     "Darn, you are good and you're right. During my assignment
to the airport hospital in Mogadishu, I made friends with the
hospital catholic chaplain. He asked me when I felt my calling
to care for others, and that caught me by surprise. I still
don't understood why, as I spent as much time as a child playing
nurse as I spent playing pilot. I told him as much and he then
                          Beginnings -- 27

suggested that in my subconscious mind I had already made my
choice between being a nurse and a bomber pilot. It really made
sense to me at the time. Growing up, bombers were only used to
carry nuclear weapons and standoff cruise missiles. I had never
been too keen on being one of the horsemen."
     "Horsemen? You lost me there again, Mary Pat."
     "The horsemen of the apocalypse, Beulah; I suppose that I
saw one too many post nuclear holocaust movies together with all
the conversations of my father and his fellow pilots that I
overheard as a child. I still have nightmares about the whole
thing."
     "Let's see if I got this clear. He thought that your
airsickness and nausea was psychosomatic? Hmmm, interesting, I
see how it could easily end up like that. Have you sought any
professional help?"
     "No, no until now. I just don't want to talk to anyone in
my family. The whole deal still seems a bit shameful."
     "Well, knowing something and accepting it are sometimes two
different things," said Beulah. “I think a good counselor might
help you work through that. Perhaps you can find someone through
your school or the army?"
     "That's a thought, maybe after I finish my finals next
month. Phew, why did that feel like you put me through the
ringer?"
     "I am sorry, Mary Pat but how do you feel now? You look
more relaxed."
     "Actually a lot better, thanks. I guess that with
everything going on, I didn't notice that particular problem
hadn't gone away." I realized that the knot on my stomach had
slowly disappeared as we spoke - maybe she had something there.
     "Well, I am glad for you but you should really make time
for that counseling. At least enough that you can enjoy travel
by plane again. However, I dare said that you were led to the
right career choice. You have the makings of a great nurse and
personally I think that as a nation, we need more nurses and
fewer bomber pilots."
     I smiled at the compliment but just then, Sharon entered
the office carrying a box of intravenous fluid bags and followed
by a teenage girl and two boys carrying the other long expected
supplies. "Beulah, I got our stuff and I think that you know my
helpers."
     "Sure I do. Hi kids. Thank you, Sharon."
     The three teenagers chorused a happy "Hi, Aunt Beulah"
while they stacked the medical supplies on the counter. The girl
then went and hugged Beulah and kissed her cheek."
     "Thank you, kids. Ladies, this young woman is Kimberly
Chaffin. She was the last baby that I delivered before I retired
                          Beginnings -- 28

and as you can see she is almost ready to start her own family."
The young woman flushed and smiled as her companions laughed
aloud.
     "Sheesh, Aunt Beulah, it's going to be a while. I want to
go to college for my teaching degree first. Anyway it's not like
I have a boyfriend or any prospects." The significant look that
she gave the taller of the two boys cut short his laugh as his
neck become redder than her cheeks."
     Beulah squeezed her shoulder as she laughed at his
embarrassment. "These two strong looking gentlemen are her
brother Dallas and his friend Noah Wilson. The three of them
play in the school band and actually had a quite nice garage
country band going. Sadly, their fourth member just joined the
Marines. Have you heard anything about James, Noah?"
     "Got a letter from him from Parris Island last week, Aunt
Beulah, he wrote; quote 'I am a maggot in a maggot world,'
unquote. It looks like he's having the time of his life although
his Drill Instructor seems to have it in for him. Apparently,
James's dad was his DI and now he wants to repay the favor.
Knowing Duke, I am sure that he wrote the man and told him not
to cut him any slack, poor James."
     "Yeah, right, I bet that you two can't wait until your
graduation next year to join him."
     "Of course, Aunt Beulah, who wants to remain in a one
streetlight town forever? Noah and I want to go see the world."
Dallas told us.
     Boy, did that sound familiar, and just hearing it from
someone so young made me feel positively ancient. - -Well, good
luck young man, you're going to need it. - -I wished silently as
I turned to help Sharon unpack and stock the supplies.
     "Perhaps but for the moment, I need your help, kids. Can
you go downstairs and help with the casualties?"
     "Sure, we'll help, Aunt Beulah. Everyone out there is
talking about the flash and thunder; apparently the roads out of
town were cut off, maybe by landslides. Anyway, with no phone or
electricity, helping is the best entertainment around." Noah
chimed in before leading his friends out of the office.
     "Thank you, kids. Ok, ladies, I see that you're ahead of
the game. Let's have some IVs ready to run. I think we are going
to need them." Beulah told them when the door again flew open
and an anxious Julie ran in.
     "They're here, at least four of them, maybe more. Mr.
Piazza sent me to tell you," she told us in a rush.
     "Ok, ladies, Showtime, let's meet them. Julie, prop the
door open," Beulah commanded while leading the way out of the
door. "Rodney, we'll need you and a few of your buddies out
here," she called as we passed the classroom.     Rod, Tom, and
                          Beginnings -- 29

a couple of others joined Sharon and I as we first followed
Beulah down the hallway and then waited at the top of the
stairs. A sudden commotion and an increase in the noise level
alerted them to the arrival of the casualties. Leading the group
and coming up the stairs was Dr. Nichols, a distinguished
looking middle age black man with no shirt, but with an obvious
air of command. He looked much relieved as soon as he saw his
daughter, Sharon. However, as soon as he recognized Beulah as
the person in charge, he went straight for her.
     "Miss MacDonald, I presume? James Nichols. I am sorry that
we have to meet under these circumstances but Dr. Adams
recommended you highly and told me that you were in charge here.
He's coming behind us with Harry Lefferts. I have a white male,
mid 30s to early 40s that was beaten, tortured and has lost a
lot of blood. He's going to need extensive suturing and
probably, if we can arrange it, a blood transfusion. He's the
worst of the lot," he calmly told her while shaking her hand.
     "Please call me Beulah. It's a pleasure to meet you, Dr.
Nichols. Your daughter has been a great help. Let's take your
first patient directly into the nurse's office. We've set that
up as our primary treatment room. Mary Pat, can you and Julie
lead the EMTs in there? What's the condition of the rest of the
patients?" She asked while leading the group towards the
makeshift hospital.
     "I have a man in his 50 or 60's who is suffering a heart
attack. He seems to be stable at this moment but I would like to
give him Aspirin as soon as possible. I have also a white female
in her mid 30s to early 40s, the wife of our first patient. She
has been beaten and gang-raped. Harry Lefferts was shot while
fighting off her attackers and Dr. Adams is working on his wound
in the ambulance but he will be up shortly," he told her,
finishing his report.
      "That young man never knows when to stay out of trouble. I
have set up the classroom near the office as a ward. We can
place the poor woman and the men in there with Chief Frost.
Sharon, you and Rodney, lead the guys to the classroom and help
them settle the patients down. Make sure that she has some
privacy and get a woman to sit with her. Anything else, Dr.
Nichols?"
     "Yes, they don't seem to be able to speak English and it
sounds to me like an odd version of German," he told her.
     "Well, we may have some German speakers around here. I'll
ask around."
     "I speak German, Miss Macdonald." Rodney announced.
     "That's great, young man. Will you explain what we are
doing to them, they look scared."
                          Beginnings -- 30

     "Sure thing, Ma'am," Rod replied as he led the stretcher
bearers carrying the old gentleman to the classroom.
     "Where did they come from?" Beulah asked Dr Nichols
curiously.
     I turned away to follow the stretchers, but the next words
made me stop and look back.
     "That's not quite the right question, Beulah". Nichols
replied as he stopped with a worried expression on his face. The
expression made Beulah stop, too. Dr. Nichols took a deep breath
before he continued in a muted voice attempting to keep their
conversation from the rest of the onlookers. "It's not where
they come from as much as where we are right now, I mean, where
the whole town is located right now? Because, between us, I
don't think that we are in the modern U.S. anymore!"
      With my mouth hanging open, I swung around to look for
Rod. As my eye passed a reflection off the window in the door,
I could have sworn I saw Aunt Heather anguished face looking at
me.

                     Chapter 4 – God's will.

Beulah MacDonald's residence
Grantville, Thuringia Region, Southern Germany
Tuesday, day 7 Post ROF Event
0430 Local time

     Unable to sleep, I carefully slid off the bed that I shared
with Caroline and Elizabeth, making sure that I didn't wake them
up. This was their first non-interrupted night sleep since the
event, and they could use the rest. Beulah's late brother's king
size bed was a tight fit for the three of us but we didn't mind
sharing, preferring and needing the company under the
circumstances. In the dark, I silently got dressed in the
donated clothing that the townsfolk had made available to their
unexpected and now seemly permanent guests. As I made ready to
leave the bedroom, Catherine whimpered in her sleep and I
stopped to caress her head, soothing her. The poor dear, it had
been a rough week for everyone in town but those of us that been
cut off from our families were taking the brunt of it.
     At least, Rodney and I had each other. Sharon had her dad
but Beth and Cat, like most of the wedding guests, were now
completely alone in this strange new world. Of course, the
dilemma was not only limited to us. Dr Adams‟s whole family had
gone shopping to Morgantown prior to the event and now was in
the ranks of those left behind. He was not the only one in town
in that position. There was still a lively debate about which
were the lucky ones - those who came or those left behind.
                          Beginnings -- 31

Sharon and Dr. Nichols were now his guests, at the same time
that they provided him much needed companionship in his empty
house.
     I repositioned the covers over the girls before slipping
out of the room. As the oldest of our group, I figured they and
Rodney had become my responsibility. Our last two years together
seem to have prepared me for this role and I'm not one to shirk
my duty - that's just not the Flanagan way. As I crept down the
hallway towards the stairs, I stopped by Beulah's door and
listened closely to her slow and deep breathing.
     I was worried about her; seventy years is too old to be
traipsing around in time. Heck, almost twenty-nine was too old
in my own opinion. Beulah had been a tower of strength for our
group and the health care team slowly being put together.
However, in her unguarded moments, I could see the toil that
hardship, stress and her arthritis was taking on her. It was
bound to get worse; since we were cut off from twenty-first
century sources, the town stock of medicines, especially
analgesics was going to quickly disappear. Just another thing to
add to the long list of things that increasingly combined to
make this century version of 'Mary Pat's excellent adventure', a
real sucking proposition.
     Carefully, I descended the stairs, which like most of the
wood floors in this old house, creaked. I took a blanket to wrap
around my shoulders from the linen closet under the stairwell.
In the living room, Rodney was soundly asleep on the couch, his
feet dangling from the somewhat short end. At least his sleep
seemed peaceful. He had refused the offered guest quarters at
Dr. Adams, preferring to remain with us. I was touched and
grateful for his decision, as I found myself needing his
friendship and company now more than ever.
     Closing the door silently behind me, I exited the house and
stood on Beulah's front porch for a moment or two before finding
a seat on the porch steps. It was chilly in the early morning
and to add to our woes, we were told that the European weather
in this century was in the grip of a cool period better
described as a mini-ice age.
     Securing the blanket around my body, I found a more
comfortably position and looked up at the stars. The power plant
was back in operation but only half the streetlights were on, an
attempt to save the now valuable light bulbs as much as
possible, and part of Rita's brother's build down plan. It
allowed me an uninterrupted gaze at the night sky undimmed by
the light pollution so prevalent in big cities.
     As a child, some of my fondest memories were of Dad,
packing up the family over the loud protestations of my mother –
who liked her fireplace and her warm bed, thank you very much –
                          Beginnings -- 32

to go camping and stargazing. While I helped Mom prepare warm
drinks and sandwiches, he led my brothers in the setting up of
the family telescopes. On his lap, I learned my constellations
while he gave the family impromptu astronomy lessons. My mother
would playfully accuse him of being a frustrated „astronut‟,
which usually led to her being pursued around the campfire to
our great amusement. Laughter can conceal truth, because I
suspect that Dad would have loved to fly into space. Now my
brother Pat, the test pilot is well on his way to fulfill Dad's
dream by proxy. Last I heard, his application for Astronaut
pilot training was in the final stages. Sadly, now I'll never
learn if he makes it up there.
     Nevertheless, my father's astronomy lessons had taught me
to enjoy watching the night sky as I did during my deployments
to the Balkans and Somalia. It also allowed me to appreciate the
subtle differences that confirmed to me our travel back in time.
An unexpected sob escaped my throat and my vision grew dim with
unshed tears as I realized once again that everyone that I held
dear was lost to me forever. As I cried, I felt the front door
opening behind me and immediately knew who was up at this time
of the morning.
     Rodney sat bedside me and without asking for my consent,
used his blanket to cover both of us as he put his arm across my
shoulders, bringing me closer to his body. I rested my head in
his chest as he rested his chin on top of my head. Funny, I
never notice how cold I was getting until the warm of his body
averted the beginning of chills. I also gave him credit for
letting me be for the moment. When I finally got myself under
control, I wiped my eyes before looking up.
     "Sorry, Rod, I didn't want to wake you up." He looked tired
we all looked tired.
     "It's ok, MP. I couldn't sleep anymore. I just had another
dream with my dad and it woke me up."
     "Bad?" I asked him concerned.
     "Not bad at all. How old is Heather?" I was surprised by
his non-sequitor reply.
     "Aunt Heather? I think around thirty-seven or thirty-eight.
She's still a young woman, why?"
     "I may end up with a passel of brothers and sisters that
I'll never meet."
     "You're worried about that? I'm still working around the
idea of them together. Wow, my mom is really good." I told him,
smiling despite my tears.
     "Yeah, Aunt Fiona is a holy terror. You know it crossed
through my mind, to call her and seek her counsel after I broke
up with Clarisse."
                          Beginnings -- 33

     "No, you didn't." Although, I had to confess that the idea
had some merit.
     "Well, I never got to it." He stopped while looking to a
far away place. "Now, I never will have the opportunity." The
anguish that I felt in his voice pierced my heart and I hugged
him closely.
     After a while, I decided to broach a subject that I had
been thinking sporadically about since the event. "Rod, do you
believe in God's will?" I asked as I looked into his eyes. I saw
the thought running around his head.
     "You mean that we were supposed to be here? I have never
really put too much thought on it. It really sounds better than
being the butt of a joke of cosmic proportions or an accidental
occurrence, but why?"
     "Think about it. Your mother escaped East Germany - I think
that her ancestors came from somewhere to the north of us - met
your father and had you. If I remember well, you didn't speak
English until you started kindergarten and now that we need a
translator, here you are."
     "I think that you're reaching MP. So you are here because
you're a nurse?”
     “Maybe, it could certainly explain my airsickness but let's
think about the wedding. You realize how many times it came
close to no happening at all? We're talking about Rita and Tom,
WVU's own campus soap opera. Just the chance that she might lose
it and pop her mother-in-law was enough inducement to make all
of us want to come. I lost track of how many times they broke
up and then got back together and believe me, in case you
forgot, Rita is not the reserved, quiet and shy type."
     "You ought to know, MP. Beth, Cat and you were just one
door down from Rita and Sharon's apartment. Usually my first
clue was when Tom punched another hole in the dormitory wall.
Funny thing, everyone knew that they were madly in love since
the first time they met, and long before they even realized it."
Rodney replied returning my smile.
     "So is it His will that we are here? In that situation, He
does really work in mysterious ways. I still feel we are living
in our very own X-Files episode and when I wake up everything is
going to be back to normal. The problem is that I can't wake
up."
     "I know how you feel, kiddo. It seems we are destined to
live the rest of our existence in the year of our Lord of
sixteen thirty-one."
     "It sucks, MP. I wonder how this is going to affect our own
time."
     "Well, according to Hayes Daniels…" I started explaining
but Rod quickly interrupted me.
                          Beginnings -- 34

     "Your new boyfriend, the bearded guy from the school, I
presume?" He asked with his most innocent look, I gave him a
sharp jab in his ribs in reply.
     "Stop it, he is NOT my boyfriend."
     "Ouch! Well you two seemed very engaged in a conversation
at the Sanitary Commission office yesterday."
     "He accused me of not caring enough about his damn
computers. I invited him to put them where the sun never
shines." Rod winced, since he's known me long enough to have
seen my temper in action. "Anyway, he told me that we are living
in a new universe, something to do with Quantum or Chaos theory,
I could not keep them straight while refraining from choking him
with my own two hands. Bottom line, we will be creating a
different future that will not affect theirs."
     "Yeah, he seems to be an expert in gaining friends and
influencing people. You two could be a good match."
     It irritated me that Rodney seemed serious about the whole
thing. "Just drop it. Anyway, I saw you with Priscilla Berry
yesterday, too."
     "Your mini-me?"
     "Rod, you are horrible." However, I couldn't keep the smile
out off my face. I was surprised when that slip of pretty blonde
girl showed to the office two days ago in BDUs so new the
creases could cut corners.
     "What? I wish you could have seen your expression when she
popped to parade rest in front of your desk and reported in.
She's even shorter than Caroline." I poked him in the ribs again
as he convulsed with mirth. It was good that his humor seemed
somewhat recovered from our collective nightmare. Likely or not,
we need to start living again.
     "Yes, she is but if I recall your eyes seemed ready to roll
out of your eye sockets and your tongue almost hit your shoes.
Let's not forget your pathetic attempts at a scintillating
conversation."
     "Ok, I admit it she is easy in the eyes. However, she don't
like jocks, she told me so."
     "That's strange because she asked me a lot about you.
Obviously, she found you intriguing. There is no accounting for
taste."
     "Har, har. Really? Wow. I'll have to think about it. What's
the schedule for today?"
     "Well, I have to find out about the printing resources.
Pricilla's manuals need to be recopied, so we can use them as
textbooks. It was a stroke of luck that she arrived on leave
from advanced individual training the day before the event, bad
for her but good for us."
                          Beginnings -- 35

     "No really, MP. I talked with her a little bit and she told
me that she probably would have killed herself if she had stayed
behind. She is where she wants to be. Maybe you have something
there with your idea about God's will." Rodney hesitated for a
moment and I knew what he was going to asked me. "Have you
thought about…suicide?"
     "No, have you?" I replied fearful for his answer.
     "Heck no, someone needs to watch over you." He told me as
he hugged me.
     "Same here but I am afraid there are some that may choose
that route. The whole situation seems ready made for a mental
health emergency, but everyone seems to be able to function so
far. I think that Rita's brother saved many people with his take
no prisoners‟ attitude during the town meeting. In times like
this, we need leaders. He definitively is one."
     "Yes, Mike is a trip. So, what else we got going?"
     "I had a couple, the Sullivan's, that made an appointment
to see me this afternoon. They used to be in the Army Medical
Department and now run one of the assisted living facilities. We
can certainly use all the trained help that we can find."
     "I suppose that we ought to go back to bed then but I can't
sleep anymore, MP."
     "Same here, Rod." Suddenly, a thought ran through my mind
and I buried my face in his chest as I started crying again
without being able to stop.
     Rodney patted my head, by this time probably growing
accustomed to expect any of us breaking in tears at any moment.
"There, there, Mary Pat. What now?"
     "Sorry, Rod but I just realized that my Dad would never
walk me down the aisle nor will I have my Mother with me in the
delivery room for my first child."
     He pondered for a moment before replying. "You're my buddy
and apparently thanks to your Aunt, seemingly my only relative
in the here and now. I will walk you down the aisle whenever you
meet Prince Charming. For the delivery room thing, you had
better talk to the girls or Beulah. Remember, I get dizzy with
blood.”
     His comments stopped my crying and I started laughing until
I got hiccups and had to stop. Together, Rodney and I sat in
easy silence watching the stars dim and the increasing
brightness of sunrise.

                 Chapter Five: The Call of Duty
                          Beginnings -- 36

Grantville, Southern Thuringia Region
Headquarters, US Sanitary Commission
Main Street
Three Months Post ROF Event

     "Come on, Mary Pat, hurry up." I didn't bother to reply to
Caroline but hurry to finished the last alteration in the letter
displayed on the computer screen before sending it to the office
laser printer. The letter, itself, was a simple combination
goodbye message and will to be opened in case of my death. The
final order of business before departure, so to speak, as early
today I had gone to mass and gotten communion with Father
Mazzare. As I waited, I realized that this was the third similar
letter that I'd prepared in my military career and almost a
family tradition. My Grandfather, The Colonel, did then before
every bombing mission through WWII and Korea. My father did his
during his Vietnam tour and now it was my turn. I remember
writing my first „final‟ letter before departing for Somalia in
93‟ and the second when I deployed to the Balkans. Those had
been addressed to my parents and brothers. The one being printed
now was only addressed to Beulah, Rodney and the girls. Like the
first two, I hoped to shred it, unread, at the end of this
operation. Nevertheless, as I learned at my Grandfather‟s knee,
there should be nothing taken for granted when you go to war. So
I, a practical person like them, dutifully wrote the letter
again. Of course, the emotional impact was different this time.
-- Been there, done that. -- I was a combat vet, but there was
still a numb hole in my gut whenever I thought about my missing
family.
     Since Murphy was an optimist, there's always a new crisis
to deal with. This time, it's the not so small matter of the
army that is converging on Badenburg. Unless we managed to
obtain a victory, a decisive one, the whole thing could become
moot, and it was time to go. I picked up the letter from the
tray, signed it and stuffed it in an envelope addressed to
Beulah and left it on top of her desk. Then I carefully powered
down Hayes‟s beloved computer system.
     -- That's enough, Flanagan, stop stalling and get a move-
on. – I thought as I Walked around the workplace, turning off
the lights and carefully closing the cubicles doors before
grabbing my equipment and BDU cap. I was the last member of the
commission staff in the office; most of them were already
waiting for me at the assembly point and the office will remain
closed until we return, victorious or otherwise. The entrance
mirror gave me my last chance to inspect for stray hairs or
loose buttons. The army heading out is decidedly informal, but
soldierly pride is an old habit for me. --Especially now as we
                          Beginnings -- 37

deploy for our first combat operation--, I thought as I checked
the placement of my lieutenant‟s bars. I then closed and locked
the door, and drove with Catherine to the assembly point.
     It had been a bit of a struggle to get past „General‟
Jackson's embedded anti-feminism, but Beth, Priscilla and I were
the only real active duty army in Grantville, -- heck, anywhere
in the seventeen century -- the rest being retirees, National
Guardsmen or reservists. In the end, it proved impossible to
exclude us. Although, he found some satisfaction in keeping us
out of the combat arms of the new army.
     So, six weeks after what everyone was now calling the Ring
of Fire, Beth and I were formally commissioned as second
lieutenants in the Army of the United States. Boy was that a
somber and bittersweet affair. Beulah insisted that the
ceremony be held on the approximated date when we would have
been commissioned back in the twenty-first century. A rite of
passage in my family that I was very familiar, as I've watched
my brothers and cousins receive their commissions. Somehow, the
sound of our full names - Mary Patricia Flanagan and Elizabeth
Louise Pitre - being announced as we were called to have our
bars presented still sent shivers down my spine. Out of the
corner of my eye, even Beth looked a bit spooked too.
Surrounding us were a majority of the WVU students who had been
at the wedding, friends, new colleagues and members of the
provisional government, all with smiles and cheers.
     The commissioning oath was administered to us by the senior
officers known to us, Captain Beulah Ann Macdonald, U.S. Army
Nurse Corps, retired, assisted by First Lieutenant Daniel J.
Frost, Military Police Corps, USAR retired. „General‟ Frank
Jackson was noticeably absent. We solemnly swore to uphold and
protect our new constitution, still being written, against all
enemies, foreign and domestic. Following long established
tradition, Beth had the honor of receiving bars and crossed
flintlock pistols once worn by Chief Frost. I received a set of
gold bars and the caduceus once worn by Beulah as a combat nurse
in Korea, a great honor for me. Although, I tried to smile, I
found difficult to forget that once I had expected my own Mother
and Father to pin my bars. I had to fight back tears as Beulah
pinned her bar on my collar.
     As Cat made the turn into the assembly area, I returned to
the present. Our 'infantry' had left the day before, 289 men
strong plus Scottish Cavalry and support personnel, to set up
positions and scout the area with a big Grantville send off.
However, there were still lots of enthusiasm to see our MASH
unit off today. The crowd was in a festive mood as the high
school band went into another patriotic tune. It seemed that the
whole town had come to bid their medics goodbye or made sure
                                               Beginnings -- 38

that the rascals left town. I smiled at that, congratulating
myself for the first almost humorous thought this morning, an
improvement in my disposition from the last two months.
    After a quick hug to Caroline, --I had said my goodbyes to
everyone before going to mass this morning--, I jumped out of
her truck. Stopping to give another quick hug to Beulah, who was
waiting for us, before climbing into my assigned SUV just barely
in time. Rodney, my driver, gave me a quick smile as he started
the vehicle. I then watched the lead vehicle of the convoy
moving out with Beth as the convoy commander in the passenger
seat pumping her right arm with a closed fist up and down. The
standard army hand signal to prepare to move out, as she
traveled the length of the MASH‟s circus like procession. Her
vehicle was followed by the first of the escort APCs loaded with
her „military policemen‟. As Rodney drove us into our place in
the cue, I looked into my side mirror and saw Beulah with her
arm across Caroline shoulders as both waved like many others. I
returned their wave before making myself comfortable in the seat
happy to still have a home and a „family‟ to come back to. The
high school band had switched to a melody hauntingly familiar,
'The girl that I left behind Me.' A tune that American troops
have marched to war for over two hundred years. I think that
it's playing was singularly fitting as a new American army takes
to the field for the first time and our new old world was up for
a rude awakening. Regardless of what waited for me in the
future, one thing I was sure, I would make my parents and family
proud. I couldn‟t do less, is the Flanagan way.


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