Getting By
Chapter 14

Copyright© 2010 by Shakes Peer2B

"Welcome to our little community, doc. I'm Gavin Thompson." I reached out to shake his hand.

"I-I'm Ralph Mondale. I guess I owe you an apology."

"No," I told him, "all you owe me is to keep your pledge to abide by those rules."

"Nonetheless, I am grateful to you, and sorry I went off on you like that. Here, you'd better let me take a look at that arm."

Arm? What was he talking about? He grabbed my left wrist, and the twinge as my reflexes started to pull away finally clued me in that something was, indeed, wrong with that arm. In fact, it was starting to hurt like hell! I looked, and sure enough, there was a bullet hole in my left sleeve, about mid-bicep, and blood was soaking the fabric of my fatigues. Crap! When did that happen? My mind raced backward, going over the gun battle, and I realized that I had felt an impact on that arm about the time I shot the second gunman.

I didn't resist as Doctor Mondale ripped open my sleeve. "I'm afraid I don't have much in the way of medical supplies..."

"There are some in the pack on my saddle."

Humphrey wouldn't let the doctor near him, so I had to retrieve the pack, which hung from my saddle horn. Ralph whistled as he took inventory of the contents of the pockets.

"Somebody knew what they were doing when they packed this. I thought you said you didn't have a doctor with you."

"Nurse," I replied, "but she seems to know her stuff."

"Well, this is pretty well thought out. She even provided gloves, irrigation materials, and suture kits. Let's get that sleeve off."

I sat in silence, gritting my teeth against the growing pain as the adrenalin from the fight wore off. The doctor cut off my sleeve with a pair of bandage scissors from the pack, and then said, "This is going to hurt a bit."

I grunted through my teeth as he sluiced the wound with something wet and runny, then used forceps to probe deeply into it, finally coming out with a thread or two.

"It's through-and-through, and seems to have missed the bone, but I want to make sure there's no other foreign material in there before I close it up. The trauma to the surrounding tissue is what hurts most in this type of wound, so I'm going to give you some pain-killers..."

"Save those for somebody who needs 'em," I cut him off. "I can't afford to be drugged up right now."

"But..."

"It's a different world, doc. Don't go handing out pain pills for minor stuff. We may eventually find ourselves in a real battle. If that happens, we'll want them for the seriously wounded. I'll hurt, but I'll survive, and meanwhile, I'll stay alert."

"Well, I hope you won't have any objection to my closing the wound and giving you some antibiotics, just in case."

"Let's wait and see if it gets infected before we use up the antibiotics. I know they don't have a very long shelf life, but you never know when you might need them for real. Just close it up and bandage it for now. That bullet would have been pretty hot when it went in, so let's hope the heat killed any bacteria it brought with it."

Dr. Mondale shook his head, "That stuff may have looked good on the silver screen in those old Westerns, but we know a lot more now. The threads from your sleeve certainly took some bacteria into the wound with them, and God knows what else has gotten in there while you walked around punching people and giving orders. I'm giving you the antibiotics, and if you're lucky, and no infection sets in, in a few days I'll suture it up and you'll be good as new in about six weeks."

"You're the doc, but don't go overboard, okay?" I could overlook the 'punching people' comment. Hell, I guess I'd be a little touchy about it too.

Fortunately, the bullet hadn't mushroomed as it went through, so both the entrance and exit holes were fairly clean. The doc gave me a shot, then applied some kind of cream to a couple of gauze pads, applied one to each hole, and wrapped more gauze around my arm.

"That cream is a topical antibiotic. It will work with the shot I gave you to combat infection. Keep that covered and the area as clean as possible. When we get back to your base camp I'll finish closing it up."

Finally, with my arm in a sling, I went over to see if Grey Eagle needed help. He seemed to have the food and water distribution well in hand, so I went to where John stood with his tribesmen.

They had recovered their weapons from wherever the bad guys had hidden them, but I took them around to the other side of the pack horse and offered them M16s. The two older men stayed with their trusted rifles, but John and a younger man accepted the swap and a few loaded clips. Both had done time in the Army and didn't need instructions on how to use the weapons. The younger man mounted his horse and took off along the group's back trail, just to make sure they hadn't been followed by more of the bandits.

John introduced me to the two older men before mounting up to patrol the periphery of the group.

"Chief Westley, I am pleased to meet you. Did many of the Mohave survive the Sickness?"

"So far, we number only fifteen - eight men, seven women. We are still scouting for other survivors."

"And you, Chief Morales? You now lead the combined tribes?"

"No," he laughed, "I now try to learn how to lead the combined tribes. As you have pointed out to these people, it is a very different world, and I'm not sure I have the understanding of what that means for us that you seem to have for your people."

"Maybe you should have read more Science Fiction," I laughed with him. "That seems to be the only readily available source for predictions of how such a world will be."

"Perhaps you are right. I see the Apache found you. Did he tell you of his vision?"

"He did, and I have to say, it's pretty spooky. I'm not sure it's good for me to know about that vision, quite honestly. I simply can't afford to start thinking that my destiny is pre-determined."

"As well you should not. Our history is filled with stories of mighty warriors who were destined for great things, only to be brought up short because they thought nothing could keep them from that destiny."

"I understand from Grey Eagle that you wish to discuss a treaty?"

"I do," he nodded, "but perhaps it should wait until we are safely inside your 'fortress in the desert.'"

"Perhaps you're right. Have you eaten?"

"We are not as hungry as these people. When they have eaten, we will see what's left."

"Okay. I'll help you break camp, and leave the packhorse to help carry some of the load, and then I will head back and make sure preparations for your arrival are complete. Are there any who can't walk?"

"Only one," he pointed to a young man with a crudely splinted leg. "They have been carrying him. His leg was broken in a fall before we found them."

"Then let's put him up behind me when I go, and we'll get him set up in the infirmary while we prepare for your arrival."

I walked over to where Grey Eagle had handed out food and water to the last of the group. His eyes twinkled as I approached.

"That was inspired, using your horse as a distraction for the gunmen," he said.

"Distraction?" I grinned, "I just wanted him out of the line of fire! That's one fine horse and I didn't want him shot."

Grey Eagle glanced at the sling and bandage on my left arm. "Bad?"

"Through-and-through. No bones broken, so it'll heal okay."

"You got an extra one of those fancy rifles for an old man?" He pointed with his chin at the M16. "You got off six shots to my one."

He counted? My eyebrows rose, but I showed him the selector switch - safe, semi-auto, auto. "This is the M16A2. Auto gives you a three round burst instead of full auto. There should be a couple more, along with clips, in the other side of the pack. Don't give 'em to the new folks yet. I'm still not sure how much we can trust them."

Turning to the sojourners I spoke loudly enough for everyone to hear.

"Has everyone read the rules of conduct? Is there anyone who hasn't?"

No one indicated they hadn't, so I continued. "Is there anyone who does not agree to abide by those rules?"

They looked nervously at each other, and a hand rose in the back of the group.

"Is it true that we'll all have to learn to fight?"

"Yes. We are still relatively few and the more trained warriors we can bring to any battles we have to fight, the better our chances of survival. We'll try to keep women and children to the rear, but that may not always be possible. I don't know about you, but if I were a woman and the men were unable to hold off the enemy, I would not want to wait helplessly for whatever fate the enemy has in store for me. This way, at least, the women have a chance to aid in their own defense. Does that answer your question?"

"It does. I'm in." A slight red-haired woman separated herself from the crowd. "I'll be damned if I'm going to leave myself helpless for the likes of these again!"

She jerked her head in the direction of one of the dead gunmen. Heads nodded in agreement.

"While I sympathize with those of you who have been brutalized, I want to make sure you're not under any illusions, so make sure you're also aware of the provision that everyone over 15 makes babies. For now, simply as a practical consideration, we will not be performing abortions."

"What!? Why not?!" This from several of the women, including Tracy Mondale.

"First, we have no sterile operating room or recovery room environment, and second, as abhorrent as it may seem to you right now, we need to preserve as much DNA for the gene pool as possible."

"You mean we're going to be stuck raising the children of these, these gangsters?"

"I mean that we as a community will raise all of the children born to us. In these times, any child is a gift and we cannot afford to waste time over 'choice' or 'right to life' discussions. For the record, before the Sickness, I was pro-choice. Times have changed. What was once a world with too many people, which gave us the luxury of debating such moral questions, is now a sparsely populated world with humanity on the very brink of extinction. If we don't want to go the way of the dinosaurs, we need to use these prodigious brains that nature has bestowed upon us and make rational choices about some very emotional topics. I am not unsympathetic; I simply do not have the luxury of allowing sympathy to sway me. For you, one choice is still available. Come with me or strike out on your own."

"Some choice!" Another woman said bitterly, "accept the relative safety of your armed camp and be forced to bear unwanted children, or go off on our own and become the victims of others like these!"

"I did not create this situation, ma'am. I have only tried to make the best of it for those of us who remain. While, in some ways, the new situation simplifies our lives, it does nothing to make them easier. There will continue to be difficult choices to make, and this one, unfortunately, I cannot make for you. I have done the best I can by giving you the choice you have before you."

Surprisingly, I found I had an ally in young Tracy.

"Listen to us," she said caustically, stepping forward to face the crowd. "Here is Mr. Thompson offering help, and all we can do is to complain that it's not the kind of help we want! We are lucky he is here at all, and even luckier that he's willing to take us in. If it means giving the world a rapist's baby, then that's what I'll do, just for the opportunity to not have it happen again!"

There was a murmur of agreement, and a general nodding of heads, then the crowd stepped forward and, one by one, with a nod, a handshake, or an introduction, indicated their willingness to go along. Including the doctor and the fellow with the broken leg, I counted twenty three - an addition of twelve women and eleven men, including a ten year old boy.

Breaking camp was relatively easy, since they had little to begin with. Seems the four armed men had come along after the ones who initially robbed them, and not finding any material goods to steal, had helped themselves to the women. They had still been at it when the Mohave arrived. They had enough warning to set up their trap, blending in with the victimized group. Once they heard the tale of our community, the bad guys thought they would slip in with us unnoticed, as part of the group, and take over.

I found a cook pot and poured out some water for Humphrey. He sucked it up eagerly, but declined when I offered more, so I passed the pot to Grey Eagle for his mare and the pack horse.

Dr. Mondale had made a better splint for the young man's broken leg, using the materials in Cora's pack and was as ready to go as he was going to get. I mounted Humphrey a little awkwardly. At first I was reluctant to use my left arm at all, but it proved nearly impossible to mount that way, so I gritted my teeth and tried not to voice my pain as the bullet-torn bicep took part of my weight. Once in the saddle, I had to pause a few moments to let the waves of pain subside before walking the horse over to where the fellow with the broken leg stood, propped up by a couple of other men.

I relinquished the left stirrup as the doctor and a couple of the others helped him hobble into position. Getting him up behind me was a comedy of poor coordination, but finally, without doing any more damage to his leg, he sat on Humphrey's rump, holding around my waist.

I bid the trekkers farewell and put Humphrey into a canter that I hoped would be a bit easier on the broken leg than a trot. My dark skinned passenger didn't complain.

"I'm Gavin Thompson." I told him over the beat of the gelding's hooves.

"How do you do?" He replied politely, with a mixture of accents from Great Britain and India. "I am Sandeep Krishnamurthy. I cannot tell you how pleased I am to make your acquaintance, and especially that of your beautiful horse."

"You may have cause to not be so appreciative by the end of the ride," I chuckled. "Fifteen or twenty miles can be hard on legs and buttocks unaccustomed to riding."

"Oh, not to worry. In India, I played polo regularly. I only came here about two months ago, so perhaps my backside is still in the proper condition."

"Really? May I ask what you came here for?"

"Oh, I am a software engineer. I came with colleagues to visit Las Vegas for a trade show, but while they gave their wages to the gods of chance, I went to visit your famous Hoover Dam. I have always been fascinated with dams. It is amazing that such a dam was built in the Great Depression."

"Familiar with such dams, are you?"

"Oh no! It is only a hobby of mine. The engineering of huge structures such as dams that can harness the power of nature is fascinating!"

"Hoover Dam must seem like an antique, compared to some of the newer ones."

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