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Monday, September 2, 2013 (11:52 p.m.)
War is Hell
To describe Mrs. Fetched as “peeved” would be like describing water as “damp.” Livid might be a little closer. A little.
OK, obviously I’m still alive to tell you about what happened. I’m even not wounded or anything. I wasn’t sure how long I’d stay that way once I got back to FAR Manor, but she said very little. A hug, “I’m glad you’re safe,” and straight to bed. She wasn’t exactly in the mood to talk though, which is letting me get the aftermath put together. Anyway, here’s what happened.
The shooting started, I posted and closed the laptop. My cellphone was ringing before I even had a change to finish stuffing the computer in my pack.
“The news says there’s shooting!” Mrs. Fetched yelled. “Where are you?”
“I hear it too, but I’m at the rear. I’m fine. I obviously can’t say everything else is fine, but I’m out of harm’s way.”
“Can you get out of there?”
“Not right away. But we’re OK back here.”
One of the couriers — a skinny guy on a college cross-country team — came pelting back. “We need the medics up front, now!” he gasped, then grabbed a water bottle and downed it.
“Roll out!” Sgt. Pepper yelled. “You too,” he pointed at me. Oh crap.
“We’re moving out,” I said, trying to keep it vague. “Pray for these people, OK? I’ll call you as soon as I can get a moment.” I hung up and switched to camera, and narrated as we double-timed it to the front lines. I still don’t remember the gunfire stopping, but I must have at the time: when I reviewed the video I said something hopeful as we reached the lines.
Chaos, as expected. People on both sides of the road were milling around, it looked like several dozen wounded on either side, sergeants on both sides still screaming at the troops to cease fire you assholes, stand the fuck DOWN even though nobody was even pointing a weapon anymore. I slapped the phone shut and turned to one of the medics. “You need a stretcher bearer or anything?”
“Yeah,” he said. He tagged a courier, standing and gawking at the scene. “You too. We’ve got a tent a few hundred yards back; I’ll lead y’all there the first time. We’ll load the casualties on the stretchers, you just have to carry ’em. Move quick but be careful, you don’t want to drop ’em. Got it?”
We nodded and immediately got to work. People made way for us; the courier (whose wind is better than mine) took the front and called “wounded coming through, make way!” and that seemed to help a lot.
On the second trip, the guy on the stretcher was facing me. “You’re the reporter, ain’tcha?” he said.
“Word’s got around. You ain’t one of us, but you’re bein’ fair about your coverage.”
“I’m trying, anyway. You sure you should be talking?”
“It’s my shoulder, they didn’t pop a lung. Just don’t jostle me.” The medics had wrapped the shoulder, but it was bloody. He laughed. “Lots of guys out here figured you’d clear the hill with one jump as soon as the shooting started.”
“Yeah… and I’m gonna catch hell from my wife for not doing just that! She was on the horn right away.”
He laughed harder, then winced. “Ah shit. It hurts to laugh that hard. Don’t make me laugh.”
“OK, sorry. What happened down there?”
“They started it. Accidentally, anyway. General Mayhem got on a bullhorn and told the Tennessee boys to disperse in ten minutes or be arrested for unlawful incursion, or something like that. The officers on their side told ’em to stand firm, and things got pretty tense. After the ten minutes were up, we were ordered to disarm the Tennessee boys and take ’em into custody. They gave us zip ties to tie their wrists with.” He reached under himself with his good hand, wincing a little, and brought out a handful of long plastic zip ties. “So we started across the road, everyone started yellin’. Some of the Tennessee boys stood their ground and wrestled with us, some of ’em backed up and pointed their guns. One of ’em was pointin’ his rifle at me, stumbled on something, and his gun went off — so I guess that makes me the first casualty of the war, huh? Well, all hell broke loose and you know the rest.”
We got to the tent, and the medics took charge. “Can I get you to repeat that on camera a little later? I’m a little busy right now.”
He nodded. “Yeah. Like I said, you’re OK. I’ll wait here for ya.”
I only had to make three or four trips — the medics drafted some privates to carry as well, and we got all the wounded off the line pretty quickly. Some of them had Guard uniforms; I heard neither side’s medics were being choosy about whom they picked up, and that was fine with me. Unfortunately, several people on both sides were dead… which is to be expected when you’re exchanging gunfire with people 20 feet away.
The courier who’d called in the medics found me. “Colonel Mustard wants you up front,” he said. “He and the Tennessee commander are negotiating a cease-fire, and they both want a recording.” He held back a bit so I could keep up, and led me back to where I’d interviewed the Tennessee commander just an hour or so earlier. It seemed like it had been a day or two already. The Tennessee guard was already leaving, marching up the road and ignoring the occasional jeer (quickly hushed) from the militia, but spared me a glare or two. The news helicopters were circling like noisy buzzards, a lot lower than earlier, and it was a wonder a couple of them didn’t collide as thick as they were.
I spared thirty seconds to call Mrs. Fetched and explain the situation (and emphasize that I was safe), then waded in, turned off the phone, turned on the camera, and kept my mouth shut. The “negotiations,” such as they were, were pretty small potatoes compared to what was (and still is) going on in Atlanta, Nashville, and Washington. I’m guessing, at this point, that Planet Georgia will give up their border claims in exchange for water rights… which is all they really wanted in the first place. A more unfortunate aspect of this skirmish is that people in the northern Plains are starting to talk about doing the same thing over the Ogallala Aquifer. Like I said, the water wars are going on tour.
It took a few hours for the ambulances to carry off the wounded. The hike back up the canyon was exhausting, which made the ride back home pretty quiet. My second cellphone battery was getting low, but I figured it would be good for a few minutes (especially if I turned off the phone part), so I went for one last interview. “Did you guys think it would end up the way it did?”
Derisive snorts and a “hell no” or two. But the guy in the back seat with me said, “Y’know, we knew it could end up like it did. Or worse. At least I knew. I just figured it wouldn’t.”
“What would you have done different if you’d known there would be some real shooting?”
“Oh, we’d’a still come,” he said, and the others nodded. “But… I guess I’d’a mugged a cop for his body armor first!” The battery wheezed out to all of us sharing a laugh.
And now, I need to edit down all my stuff, which could take half the night. Then start answering some of the 100+ emails from media people. I guess Colonel Mustard gave them my address… they want raw footage, cooked footage, pictures, interviews with me(!), the kitchen sink, etc. Getting shot might have been more merciful.