Welcome to Panama

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Joe remains silent as he sets his jaw firmly. The tension in the air is almost electrifying as the general continues to stare at Joe, waiting for a response. My thoughts cast back to Will's earlier comment on how things couldn't get any worse; apparently they can. The soldiers overhead remain poised and focused, staring at our every move. A handful of men have their weapons aimed at us, should we try something in the presence of the general.

Exhaling slowly, Joe's shoulders remain tensed as he finally acknowledges him in return. "General Sinter."

Narrowing his eyes at Joe, he replies, "Welcome to Panama... I never thought that I would have the pleasure of your company again, after the day that you abandoned your brothers in the squad."

The general straightens his immaculate military uniform; he casually takes out a cigar from his pocket, chews off the end and then lights it before he continues, "You are a wanted man, corporal. You're wanted as a deserter of the fight against the Infection."

Joe stares at him and speaks through gritted teeth, "I had no choice but to leave. Do you think it was easy to do what I did?"

My heart flutters as I whisper nervously at Joe, "What's he talking about, Joe?"

The general holds up his hand to stifle Joe and then continues to puff on his cigar. "Corporal Hudson swore his allegiance to protect this country, to rescue humanity from the brink of the apocalypse, to stand tall with his brothers shoulder to shoulder and fight against the Infected."

He pauses momentarily and glares at Joe, unblinking as a look of shame and anger crosses his face. "Corporal Hudson deserted his duty for you."

Joe straightens with an air of defiance. "That's correct, sir. I chose to save the lives of my niece and nephew after my sister and brother-in-law were killed by the Infected. Alyx and Tommy would have died. They were only kids, Sinter."

With a blank expression he stares at Joe with cold eyes. "How heroic of you, corporal, but to be a soldier, you have to make sacrifices, and that means making difficult choices. I am sure that I can speak for everyone here in this compound, when I say that we have all made difficult choices at some point in our military careers."

Out the corner of my eye, I notice that Tommy is standing with his fists clenched, breathing erratically. If Tommy flips out now, they will kills us all.

Joe tries to shrug off the general's spitefulness and stands tall. "So if you're supposedly still saving lives, why aren't you out there? Why are you holed up in in this god damned walled village? What did you call this place? Panama?"

The general glares in response. "It's called Panama, corporal, because of the entrance into the compound. This gate system has become a highly efficient security measure for the wellbeing of all the occupants here in Panama. The compound had succumbed to the Infected much in the same way your sister's town did. We received a clean-up order and were told to reinforce the walls so that operations could commence once more."

Joe furrows his brow. "What operations?"

The general practically spits his response, "That's classified information, corporal. Ironically, if you had continued your duty in the squad, then you would know the answer to that question."

The general gestures behind himself. "But I'm sure that you are intelligent enough to deduce that this place has never been a civilian town, quite the contrary in fact."

He continues to stare at us as his eyes darken even more. "Now as you can imagine I am a busy man and don't like to waste my precious time on deserters, but before you can enter Panama, you're all going to have to remove your clothes. It's standard procedure for anyone that wishes to enter the compound."

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