"I just don’t think I’m needed here anymore, Dex..." Katie Karl sat across a makeshift table from her long-time friend, Dexter Simpson, sharing a quiet moment. Her feet were propped up on a crate, and her stance was less rigid than before they arrived in Gomorra.
She really wants this, he realized. Katie really wants to leave.
"Look at this," Katie continued, pointing at the Confederate soldiers frantically shuffling around them. "I wa never trained for this. I’m not a soldier. This isn’t my war anymore."
Dexter fought back his first response, knowing that Katie wouldn’t understand. She had never served in the military. For her, the struggle in Gomorra had never been about the Confederacy or the Union, the price of freedom, or the value of ghost rock. It was about defeating evil – plain and simple.
"There’s nothing here for me, Dex. It’s time for me to move on." The deafening silence that followed reminded Dexter how long it had been since he had spoken. Katie had always been talkative, and he was more than happy to let her guide their conversations most of the time. But she was fishing for him to intervene this time...
"Dex," Katie interrupted his meandering thoughts. "Are you all right?"
Dexter blinked, bringing Katie back into focus before him, and considered her for one last, critical moment. "Maybe you’re right," he said finally.
"What?" Katie was startled by Dexter’s response. He had always been vocal about Gomorra, and its need for the Rangers’ brand of justice. Of all her troops, she expected him to oppose her decision the most vehemently... which made his next words all the more biting.
"Gomorra’s changing, Katie. We both know it. The last year’s just been the calm before the storm. We saved this town – all of us – from something none of us quite understand. We bested the devil. But that victory came with a hefty price." Dexter’s eyes burned with the fire of deep resignation as he stood and turned out toward the swarming sea of military uniforms milling back and forth outside their tent. "The outside is paying attention now. Gomorra’s important. We’re news. And when something’s popular, everyone wants the lion’s share..."
Katie joined Dexter outside the tent, and observed the Confederate throng as it fell into line flanking a railway that bisected the camp. Stillness overwhelmed the scene, lending an oppressive atmosphere to the stuffy confines of the cavern walls around them. The resourcefulness of the Confederate Army never ceased to amaze her. They actually carved out a mountain, she marveled, just as the first sounds of an approaching rail car flooded the chamber.
The men and women flanking the tracks snapped to attention as the rail car lurched between the stout support beams at the entrance to the hidden base. Only one extra car – a private cabin – was attached, and neither bore any identifying marks or insignia. Two privates stepped up to open the cabin door and greet the occupants as they exited.
"Speak of the Devil," Dexter muttered as the Confederate commander briskly advanced from the train to inspect his troops. Behind him, a second figure – wearing an ironed dress uniform – took the stance of his second-in-command.
The commander – Brigadier-General Patterson, they were told – observed the gathered soldiers for a long moment, then turned and stalked the cavern, heading toward the command bivouac. En route, Katie stepped out in front of him, holdering out her arm in greeting. Formality always annoyed her, Dexter thought, smiling inwardly at her simple – but effective – snub.
"Hello, Brigadier-General," she said bluntly. "I’m Katie Karl."
Patterson considered Katie for a moment, then clasped her hand and pumped it sharply. "The Ranger..." he mused.
"Yes, sir," Katie responded, her eyes trailing toward the general’s second, who staggered behind, his gait uneven and stilted with aged rigormortis.
She could spot one hiding in a graveyard. Dexter smiled to himself again.
"This is Sergeant Slade," Patterson said, by virtue of Katie’s notice. "He and I have worked together a very long time. You don’t have to worry about him."
"Well, you’ve got the right perspective for the job," Katie said, studying the smiling corpse behind Patterson. "Gomorra demands a healthy attitude about death."
"So I’ve heard." Patterson nearly smiled, betraying the grim determination he had offered his men. Dexter silently hoped that the general was less uptight than he had let on so far; he’d worked for hard-ass commanders before, and wasn’t ready to deal with another.
"You’re a soldier," Patterson observed, watching Dexter now.
"Yes, sir," Dexter responded, without turning. He knew that Katie understood what he had said, and that she was already walking away. He also knew why she had to leave. As she’d said, this wasn’t her war anymore.