Oscar Mike – Chapter Three

STEN

“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”

-Charles Darwin

The room was flush with the aroma of metal filings and machine grease. And the acrid smell of burnt metal was also there, the telltale signs of forgers at work. The few open windows in the factory shop had managed to keep the air quality bearable, but it did nothing to remedy the heat situation. Whether it was the result of an unseasonably hot summer, or of melting down steel and nickel to make castings, the entire floor was predestined to feel like the eight ring of hell.

Braun’s obsessive face wiping could attest to that. His wet, clingy shirt and the way his khakis were sticking to his legs were another indication. He couldn’t imagine how anyone on the floor could stand the aprons, gloves and protective goggles they were forced to wear. Were it not for the hot metal components they were required to handle, he was sure they would all have stripped down to their skivvies a long time ago.

As they walked between stations on the assembly line, the foreman – the venerable Art Mitchell – showed him the fruits of their operation. Between wiping his face, Braun made entries in his notebook, noting the numbers and models produced.

“Our total haul for this past week was one-hundred and eighteen SMGs, eighty-nine service pistols, and two-hundred bayonets. Our intakes accounted for roughly two tons of recycled slag, a mix of steel, iron, nickel, tin and copper. And we managed to get just enough zinc from you people to fashion the firing pins.”

Braun nodded, making a note of it. He knew an appeal when he heard one, and would have to run that by the higher ups. Ever since they had set up shop, Mitchell and his workers had become the sole source of weapons and munitions for the town militias. His designs were seen on just about every city block now, the proliferation of weapons models that were well-dated, but ideally suited to modern needs.

But as always, expanded production meant that more resources would need to be obtained. The slag heaps and waste materials generated by the war could expect to keep producing plenty of iron and steel for the time being, but rare minerals and chemicals like zinc and chromium were quickly running out. Which meant resource extraction, in the old fashioned sense, would once again need to resume.

There were departmental rumors that some Smithsonite mines was being contemplated south of the capitol. Apparently, it was part a larger scheme to rebuild Socorro now that it too had been repopulated. But he could not say with any confidence that it was true, or assure Mitchell and his people that these proposed mines would become a ready source of zinc compounds, or even that they had a group of chemical engineers on hand that could extract it for him.

Such was the nature of things in his new role. He had learned to become a cog in an apparatus that was simply trying to get things done and see to a rising tide of production and manufacturing needs. At the center of it all was the rapidly expanding population of the region, people who had been fleeing the undead hordes and looking for a safe place to set down. Beyond simple shelter, food and water, all anyone had wanted back then was to know they could go to sleep at night and not spend their days in constant fear.

But now, with the cities of Santa Fe and Albuquerque resettled and rezoned, and dozens of townships besides, the more intricate matter of how to meet the less basic needs of their inhabitants was always on everyone’s mind. Beyond food, shelter and water, people were once again in need of basic comforts, and had to be organized to produce and distribute them. Braun heard much from each and every group he was tasked with listening to – the Agro Co-Op, Utilities, Weapons, and Materials – and knew much about their problems. But proposing solutions was beyond his pay grade. Gathering relevant information and making recommendations to those who actually had the power to do things, that was what he was he was tasked with. And according to those he reported to, it was a very important task.

Which reminded him – another thing in his job description was to investigate complaints made by other groups and see if he couldn’t find out what the source of the problem was. In this case, it was the people who kept track of weapons distribution that had asked him to inquire.

“I understand you experienced a drop in production back in early April.”

“Ah, yes,” said Mitchell, suddenly sounding grave.

“Okay. Any reason why that would be?”

“It’s simple, really. Our smelters and production lines run on electricity. And when the electrical grid is intermittent, our equipment stops working.”

“Right…”

Mitchell continued, still sounding and looking very much irate. “You may have heard about the brownouts we periodically deal with in town here? I know it’s not as common up north where you were from, but down here, it’s a way of life.”

“I’m sorry, sir. I’ll make a note of – ” he stopped short as his mind backtracked to the one nugget that stuck out in that last complaint. “How’d you know I was from up north?”

“Are you kidding?” Mitchell ran his hand up and down the length of Braun’s profile. “The buzz cut hair, the khaki pants, the way you walk… everything about you screams infantry, son. And people do talk.”

Braun frowned. “People have been talking about me?”

“Yeah. A lot of my workers were happy as hell to know that they were reporting to a former grunt now. They figured having someone who actually understood the nature their work, instead of some pencil-pushing bureaucrat, would make life easier.” The way Mitchell punctuated this with a grunt told him exactly what he thought of the end result.

“Well, as I said, I am new to this.”

“We all are, son. I guess we just do the best we can.”

Braun didn’t reply. Putting his pen to the pad again, he made the note, as promised. If he was going to avoid any such mistakes in the future, he needed to let his superiors know that they needed to do a better job of communicating with other departmental superiors. Otherwise, guys like him were going to wind up looking stupid in front of guys like Mitchell. He was sure to spell it in all uppercase letters and underline it twice.

BETTER INTERDEPARTMENTAL COMMUNICATION.

“Anyway,” Mitchell said, sounding suddenly uncertain. “What happened to get you stuck with us down here?”

“Long story,” Braun said hesitantly.

Mitchell chuckled. “Piss off the wrong person, huh?”

Again, Braun didn’t reply. Eventually, Mitchell nodded and let it drop.

“Shall I show you some of the fruits of our labor?”

Braun shook his head and tapped his pen against the notebook. “No, I think I got all the information I need right here.”

“I meant, would you like to see the firing range. We set one up so we could test fire every weapon that rolled off the line.”
Braun felt suddenly piqued. He hadn’t been expecting a hands-on demonstration. “That would be… lovely.”

A few minutes later, and Braun found himself in a large storage room on the buildings ground floor. The air was much cooler, and the smell immensely improved. Instead of the tangy odor of grease, filings and molten metal, there was the familiar smell of cordite.

They stood together, Mitchell and he, looking down range from a series targets – which in this case consisted of standing two by fours that held up sheets of foam insulation cut into the profile of men. Directly in front of them was a long counter covered with guns and open cases of ammunition. Braun recognized the three models: a short stock semi-auto rifle, a submachine gun that resembled an old STEN, and a Colt automatic.

The sum total of everything Mitchell and his crew had been working on since they first set up shop. Mitchell motioned to the nearest weapon, which happened to be a copy of their standard submachine gun. Braun stepped forward and took hold of the weapon. He noticed an inscription carved on the side.

Freak Killer 2.0

He raised the weapon to his shoulder, tested the sights and the weight.

“You recognize what that is, don’t you?” said Mitchell.

Braun nodded, lowered the weapon to get a better look at the assembly. In essence, the weapon was just a single, long tube of metal, a wiry metal stock, and a magazine sticking at right angles to it. The front end was especially long, thanks to the addition of the built-in suppressor.

“A venerable old design. How did you know how to recreate it so exactly?”

Mitchell crossed his arms. His tone became that of a proud father. “I had a set of the old blueprints at home. Metal working has always been my vocation, and old firearms my passion.”

“No wonder the Council saw fit to put you to work here.”

Mitchell laughed. “Well, the way they saw it, someone needed to be making sure we had a supply or replacement bullets. And no offense to your friends there, but most of our guns didn’t take five-five-six or nine millimeter ammo. Once they formed a militia, it just made more sense to create a standardized set of weapons and ammunition.”

“Hence the Freak Killer?”

Mitchell began speaking in proud tones again. “I was hard-pressed to come up with a model that was both easy enough to produce but reliable in the field, and simple enough to strip down and reassemble that someone could do it with a bare minimum of training. STENs were the perfect concept – designed with simplicity and a minimal number of components in mind.”

“Not to mention minimal expenditure of materials,” said Braun.

“Well observed. Perfectly suited to our purposes, wouldn’t you say?”

Braun raised the weapon again and chambered a round. He aimed at the nearest target, and squeezed. The weapon let off a metallic clack, and a small thunk sounded in the target down range. He took in, and let out, a small breath as he lowered the weapon, an old habit.

“Not bad,” he said. “And quiet too.”

“Stealth is another thing we non-military types take seriously. Loud gunshots have a way of drawing the infected to towards you. Don’t imagine you grunts ever worried about that, huh?”

Braun shrugged. “No. Drawing them in was kind of what we wanted to do. Easier to kill that way.”

Mitchell shook his head. “Well… you’re in our world now. Try to adapt.”

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